Astronomy and Particle Physics - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Supplementary written evidence from the Institute of Physics (APP 17a)


1.  In 9 March 2011 oral evidence session, Gavin Barwell MP queried the increase in the resource allocated to particle physics and its justification. The increase in particle physics "resource" is a displacement from shortfalls in the allocation of "capital"; in terms of both human capital and R&D, the particle physics resource has declined sharply in the past five years. Below we offer a more detailed response to this.

2.  Appendix D1 of the STFC Delivery Plan for 2011-12 to 2014-15 is shown below. In total this shows an increase of approximately £15 million over the period 2011-12 to 2014-15. This increase covers the "resource" element of the particle physics budget.

2011-122012-13 2013-142014-15
Particle Physics
International subs—CERN81.81 89.3690.4592.43
Development11.1211.44 12.9714.15
Operations (M+O) & exploitation30.50 30.5630.8731.84
Studentships and fellowships9.80 9.709.599.79
Total Particle Physics133.23 141.05143.89 148.21

3.  "Operations (M+O) & exploitation" funds the grants (mostly to universities) that support core technical staff and PDRAs. This shows a modest increase of £1.4 million (5%) and given the prevailing inflation rate is likely to result in a net reduction in PDRAs. The majority of the increase in the particle physics "resource" is in the CERN subscription; however, this has to be considered together with the "capital" line. The CERN subscription will in fact have a net decrease of approximately £20 million2 over the next five years after CERN announced expenditure decreases in December 2010 in response to the economic downturn.

4.  The Drayson Review recommended that the international subscriptions including the CERN subscription be ring-fenced in the Science Budget. The CERN subscription is paid from both the "resource" line (see Appendix D) and the "capital" line. The significant reduction in STFC's "capital" budget has meant that more of the CERN subscription is now being paid from the "resource" line. In 2010-11 £63.6 million of the £96.5 million CERN subscription was paid in "resource", however, in 2011-12 this rises to £81.8 million and £89.4 million in 2012-13. The increase in "resource" spent on the CERN subscription is due to the significant reductions in "capital" budget. In 2010-11 £58.5 million of STFC's subscription (£32.9 million to CERN) came from the "capital" budget. This £58.5 million is reduced to £46.2 million in 2011-12 and becomes £27.6 million in 2014-15. In essence an additional £30 million of international subscriptions (around 50% of this in the CERN subscription) in 2014-15 will be paid from "resource" line compared to 2010-11 to ensure the subscriptions remain "protected" in light of the significant reductions in capital budgets.

5.  Thus, as already mentioned, the noted increase in particle physics "resource" is simply a displacement from shortfalls in the "capital" allocation; in terms of both human capital and funds dedicated to R&D, the particle physics resource has declined sharply in the past five years. Even before the merger of PPARC and CCLRC to form STFC, a reduction of 15% in PDRA and technical staff posts was implemented in 2006. Subsequent cuts as a result of STFC's two prioritisation exercises have further reduced the number of PDRA and core technical staff by 33% resulting in a net reduction between 2005 and 2010 of over 35%. The "flat-cash" Operations & Exploitation resource allocation, with a 5% inflation rate, will result in a further 10% cut over the Spending Review period such that over a 10-year (2005-15) period particle physics, in terms of human capital, will have been cut by 50%. This is in contrast with our international peers.

6.  In addition to cuts in human capital, R&D budgets—a significant fraction of which are predicated on "capital"—have been cut significantly. In 2011, particle physics has only three R&D projects in receipt of significant funding: SuperNEMO; CERN/LHC-upgrades; and MICE. The funding for these projects beyond 2012 is uncertain and the lack of breadth (and vision) in funded research is again in stark contrast to our international peers.

7.  Our peers continue to invest in the next generation of particle physics experiments owing to their potential to stimulate growth and to train the next generation of engineers and physicists skilled in precision mechanical engineering, digital electronics, distributed computing and advanced numerical analysis. A review3 of over 150 companies involved in the construction of the LHC highlighted that 38% of the companies developed new products, 42% increased their international exposure and 44% improved their technology-based knowledge. The return on the investment in CERN is very similar to that from investment in ESA, ie that every £1 invested in a company returns approximately £3 to the company in terms of new contracts and enhanced capabilities. The companies engaged with ESA mostly enhanced their market share in the space industry whilst companies engaged with CERN predominantly enhanced their market share in sectors outside of particle physics. In some cases the returns on innovations in particle physics are rather rapid (eg the world-wide web invented at CERN in 1989) and some are on a longer timescale; for example, the capacitive touch-screen now used on all smart phones was developed at CERN4 in the late 1970s. Current developments5 in particle physics include bespoke accelerators for cancer therapy (using protons) and micro-electronics as retinal prosthetics to restore sight to patients suffering from degenerative retinal diseases.


8.  In addition, a question was asked in the oral evidence session about the Virtual Institute. This is an initiative by a group of astroparticle physics researchers to secure funding from STFC to help mitigate the current crisis in astroparticle physics research, by ensuring a viable level of UK activity in the following ways:

  • Providing core funding to strengthen UK involvement and sustain UK leadership in astroparticle physics experiments and projects (focusing on astrophysics with energetic particles, and fundamental physics with particles of astrophysical origin), and thus retaining university and industrial expertise and capability in technologies and techniques for projects (eg optoelectronics, fast electronics and low-background sensors).
  • Providing a focus for the community and a forum for the discussion of strategy, including the future for astroparticle physics experiments at the Boulby facility. It is recognised that, particularly in the current financial climate, a consolidation of UK astroparticle physics effort in a smaller number of projects is necessary and a Virtual Institute is considered to be an effective way of achieving this. The Virtual Institute would actively engage the astroparticle physics community in seeking out new scientific opportunities.
  • Supporting astroparticle physics theory and collaboration between theorists and experimentalists, with the aim of improving the discovery and study potential of future instruments and enhancing the UK impact in the scientific exploitation of those instruments. It is proposed that the Virtual Institute should provide support for staff and PDRA time, engineering expertise, prototyping of hardware and travel, and also hold regular meetings and scientific workshops. At least part of the Virtual Institute budget should be allocated dynamically to increase flexibility and to allow rapid response to new opportunities. Theoretical activities would be included at the 10% level, significantly strengthening the existing links between theory and experiment as well as generating new links between theorists in different areas of astroparticle physics.

9. The level of activity that could be achieved under different funding scenarios over the next three years is outlined below:

  • £0.5 million a year—maintain a minimum level of involvement (but eroding UK leadership roles) in perhaps two projects, which will sustain some capability in core astroparticle physics disciplines in the UK.
  • £1 million a year—sustain leadership roles in the design phases of major particle astrophysics projects, including essential exploitation of existing instruments.
  • £2 million a year—as above but also allow considerable prototyping of instrumentation, increased engagement of UK industry, enabling a major UK contribution to the construction phases of future astroparticle physics projects.

10.  Reaching a funding level of £2 million a year by around 2014 would provide for capital investment in the construction of at least one next-generation astroparticle physics project (eg CTA, LUX-ZEPLIN and/or EURECA), ensuring leadership roles that are sustainable into the exploitation phases.

11.  The astroparticle physics community is awaiting a response to the proposal for a Virtual Institute from the STFC, which is expected within the next week or so.

The Institute of Physics

16 March 2011



2 The UK subscription to CERN is approximately 20% and will reduce by approximately 27m CHF (£18 million) over the five year period.




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Prepared 13 May 2011