Astronomy and Particle Physics

Written evidence submitted by the University of York (APP 01)

1. I am a serving Head of a Physics Department in a UK university. I have also served on many national (STFC and EPSRC) advisory bodies, serve on review panels for many international funding agencies (Germany, Belgium, the USA, Australia etc.) and have been a member of several international panels producing reports (European Science Foundation and the OECD Global Science Forum).

2. The present inquiry is established to investigate the impact of STFC operations and financial cut backs on astronomy and particle physics. The STFC in fact supports three areas of research activity, astronomy, particle physics and nuclear physics. All three have suffered in recent years and it is unclear why the committee’s deliberations should be restricted to just two of these areas.

3. The level of support for astronomy, particle physics and nuclear physics should reflect both the level of academic activity that the UK judges appropriate for these subjects, but must also recognize that these are some of the most attractive areas of physics to young people and are what often encourages young people to pursue science at school and to take degree level courses. Hence they provide the pull to bring talented young people in to form the science workforce that the country needs in the future.

4. In addition to this, nuclear physics has many practical applications in power generation (around 20% of the electricity in use around you at the moment), medical applications (more than a quarter of readers of this will receive a nuclear based medical intervention in their lifetime), in industry (standards, oil exploration, smoke alarms etc.) and in defense (a prime responsibility of Government). As numerous reports (both industry and government sponsored) have revealed in recent years, there are looming skills shortages in the power (nuclear rebuild) medical (operation of new radiation equipment in hospitals) and defense (aging workforce resulting in crucial skills loss). These other strategic needs for the country need to be recognized and balanced in the support provided for nuclear physics, for it is through the university research activities in this area that many of the skilled people needed for these areas come.

5. As a recent survey sponsored by the Research Councils of a number of European countries (including STFC) reveals, the funding on nuclear physics in the UK is at a level of one tenth of that in our competitor countries (

Professor Brian Fulton
Physics Department
University of York

6 February 2011