Astronomy and Particle Physics

Written evidence submitted by Heads of Nuclear Physics Research Groups in UK (APP 10)

1. We are writing as the Heads of the Nuclear Physics Research groups in the UK. Between us we have a wide range of experience of research funding at both national and international level.

2. The present inquiry is established to investigate the impact on STFC operations in astronomy and particle physics arising from reduced funding, particularly capital spending. The STFC in fact supports three areas of research activity: astronomy, nuclear physics and particle 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. Nuclear physics will also suffer from the reduction in capital spending. Funding for nuclear physics research was already critically low, before the present round of reductions

3. The level of support for astronomy, nuclear physics and particle physics should reflect the level of academic activity that the UK judges appropriate for these subjects. It 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. They provide the attraction that brings talented young people into science. These people are then the science (and engineering) workforce that the country needs in the future.

4. Nuclear physics has many practical applications in power generation (around 20% of the electricity in use around you at the moment with a likely increase following new build), medical applications (imaging and therapy are both areas were nuclear physics understanding and research is vital), in security (nuclear techniques are widely using for detecting special nuclear materials and other radioactive substances being moved covertly) 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, medical and defense sectors. There is a strategic need for the country to  recognize that the balance in the support of research needs to provide for nuclear physics, for it is through the university research activities in this area that many of the skilled people needed are first attracted.

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 ( )

P J Nolan, P A Butler University of Liverpool J Tostevin, W Catford University of Surrey

J Billowes, N Walets University of Manchester A Bruce University of Brighton

R Wadsworth University of York M Freer University of Birmingham

P Woods University of Edinburgh J Smith University of the West of Scotland

G Rosner University of Glasgow J Simpson Daresbury Laboratory

15 February 2011