AFTER three decades at the sharp end of theoretical physics research, Ian Halliday, head of physics at the University of Wales, Swansea, will swap his laboratory for the board room in April, when he takes over from Ken Pounds as chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, writes Julia Hinde.
Professor Halliday, 57, said:"There is clearly a cost in moving. But there is a feeling in the community that someone needs to do these policy jobs." A member of PPARC council since its formation in 1994, he has been involved in science decision-making on a part-time basis for at least ten years, first at Imperial College, London, where he has spent most of his professional career and, more recently, at Swansea.
"When I was 25 and 35 I was an archetypal, 'let's solve the equation' scientist. I have been a player in science, but have experience also of the policy side," he said.
As a theoretical particle physicist who uses powerful supercomputers to study the underlying structure of matter, Professor Halliday raised Swansea from being a 2-rated department in the 1992 research assessment exercise to a status of 4 in 1996.
Professor Halliday said he had "a ruthless attitude to resources and money", which he thought would be appropriate when the research council's science committee reassesses its spending, and the European Space Agency and Cern request further investment.
"There has been a feeling that PPARC council has not been sufficiently involved in science decisions, that somehow it has been astronomy versus particle physics," Professor Halliday said.
"But now the science committee has started prioritising and looking at the implications, saying that if we give money to something, what will it mean for other projects in the future?" As these future priorities are decided, small players in the research world may feel reassured that Professor Halliday has worked at smaller establishments, as well as the biggest and most prestigious universities. He is proud of improvements to physics at Swansea, and of the university's two 5-star departments.
"I think it would be appalling if these were damaged by giving money to just the big boys. I started at Edinburgh where I was a student of Peter Higgs, the inventor of the Higgs particle. The department was small but it produced the goods. I would not like to see the system define that away," he said.