Bid to boost science profile

May 4, 2007

The creation of a new Science and Technology Facilities Council has been described by academics as a "visionary" move that could give UK science more global clout and help attract investment in big projects.

Scientists who attended the launch event in London last week were upbeat about the new body, which has been formed through the merger of the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

But a few had concerns about the future focus and priorities of the new council, how it would be organised and structured and whether individual voices would be lost within the diverse community it aims to represent.

The council's remit will cover all the programmes, activities and facilities previously covered by the CCLRC and Pparc, plus responsibility for research in nuclear physics, which has been transferred from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

This leaves it with a portfolio that includes astronomy, particle physics, particle astrophysics, nuclear physics, space science, synchroton radiation, neutron sources and high-power lasers. In addition, it is responsible for operating the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire and the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh.

Ali Zarbakhsh, a lecturer in physical chemistry at Queen Mary, University of London, said it was an "extremely bold and visionary move" to create a council that sought to represent the interests of such a broad range of scientists from both academia and industry.

He added: "What we don't know yet is what the final council will look like.

One would hope that it will have the vision to support all these people who do not have a common voice because they come from such diverse areas."

Jim Hough, director of the Institute for Gravitational Research at Glasgow University, said that the council had the potential to address problems that the UK has had in the past in attracting investment for big European science projects.

But Martin Barstow, head of physics and astronomy at Leicester University, was worried about whether the absence of the word "research" in the title of the council signalled a change in focus.

He said: "We need to ensure that the council's structures reflect what we want, which is research at the centre of its focus."

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