Council cuts 'public engagement' awards

November 12, 2009

A cash-strapped research council has axed an annual round of funding aimed at boosting the standing of particle physics in the public consciousness.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has announced that it is cancelling its "large awards for public engagement", expected to run this autumn.

It has blamed its "overall financial situation" for the decision, and has also said it is to reduce the size of its small awards, which closed last month.

Cancelling the large awards is expected to save the STFC about £140,000, although a spokeswoman said the council hoped to resume "some version of the scheme" next year. She said the council "had to reduce some areas of expenditure in order to retain a balanced programme", but she insisted that public engagement work was not being abandoned altogether. The STFC typically issues two large awards each year of about £70,000 each - although they can be as large as £100,000.

These fund projects that are "expected to have a significant regional or national impact", and the money is considered important for attracting young people into science.

In the past, successful awards have included funding towards a new gallery at Leicester's National Space Centre, a space-themed educational workshops tour around disadvantaged schools, and a programme of summer activities at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

Andy Fabian, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, criticised the decision, which he said would limit the ability of STFC-funded scientists to encourage more people to pursue careers in science and technology.

He said: "Astronomers and space scientists have used the relatively small sums available from the STFC to devise innovative and effective public engagement projects which connect the public with the world-class research carried out in this country. At the very least it allows them to see how their taxes are spent."

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