The name of Peter Warry, who was this week appointed chairman of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, may not ring many bells. His role as chairman of Victrex plc, which describes itself as "a global leader in high-performance plastic and materials technology, production and market development", has hardly brought him to prominence in academia.
Yet 52-year-old Professor Warry - who has been an industrial professor at the University of Warwick since 1993 - is well known within industry and Whitehall. His previous roles include chief executive of Nuclear Electric, special adviser to the prime minister's policy unit during the Thatcher years and member of the deregulation task force in the Department of Trade and Industry.
The nuclear industry connects Professor Warry to his predecessor, Bob Hawley. The two men worked together during the tumultuous times that culminated in the privatisation of nuclear power in the dying days of the last Tory government. Professor Warry was chief executive of Nuclear Electric when it merged, against the wishes of the Scots, with Scottish Nuclear to become British Energy. Dr Hawley became chief executive of British Energy with Professor Warry as executive director.
Managing conflict is a skill that Professor Warry will need in his new role. At its meeting next month, the PPARC board must decide exactly how it is going to pay for membership of the European Southern Observatory. It will cost £70 million to join the ESO, plus an annual membership fee of £12 million. The government has given the PPARC an extra £20 million towards the joining fee, but the balance must come from within the PPARC. Support for existing telescopes will have to be axed.
Professor Warry will also be involved in addressing the trouble brewing at Cern, the European particle physics laboratory. Its new atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, is said to be up to SFr750 million (£310 million) over budget. Physicists are fearful that the science will suffer when the machine starts work in 2005. They are pressing for an external review of the costs or a review of Cern's financial management structure.