Physicists face budget dilemma

December 4, 1998

Particle physicists and astronomers are drawing up plans for coping with a static budget following a disappointing allocation of funds as part of the comprehensive spending review, writes Alison Goddard.

They must choose among various projects including a European space mission to survey cosmic microwaves, a European particle physics experiment that could reveal why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe, a trip to Mars and an attempt to track down the unknown matter that makes up 90 per cent of the mass of the universe.

"It is a matter of what we can squeeze in and what we have to kill," said Ian Halliday, chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. The options will be discussed at a council meeting today.

PPARC has also postponed a decision on whether to take part in a European particle physics experiment that will investigate the properties of quark gluon plasma - the primordial soup of particles that existed immediately after the Big Bang. The research council is trying to drum up interest in the broader physics community and will now take a decision at the end of next year.

Last year the physicists drew up a road map to outline the funding choices to be made in their field. It showed that if the PPARC budget received an annual increase of just 2 per cent in real terms, then it would not need to kill off any planned experiments.

Physicists argued that this increase would correspond to the fraction of the country's gross domestic product invested in PPARC science remaining constant. However, last month's allocation left the subject with almost level funding in real terms.

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