UK government commits £300 million to international science projects

The UK is to commit £290 million to three international microscope and telescope projects.

March 11, 2014

Universities and science minister David Willetts said the government has pledged £165 million towards the construction of European Spallation Source, a giant neutron microscope to be built in Lund, Sweden. This amounts to about 10 per cent of its total construction costs.

He also pledged £100 million towards the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope currently being built in Australia and South Africa, and £25 million towards the European Space Agency’s Plato mission, which will launch a space telescope to search for planets orbiting other stars.

He said the investments would see British scientists and businesses “working together on some of the most exciting scientific projects of the future”, and generating £150 million for the UK economy every year.

“Investment in science is a crucial part of this government’s long-term economic plan. It’s about investing in our future, helping grow new industries and create more jobs – and that will mean more financial security for people across the country,” he said.

Speaking at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire today, he said UK participation in the Plato project would be a boost for the UK’s £9 billion space industry.

“The potential [exists] for a cutting edge mission to find a rocky planet with signs of life, using UK sensors, read by UK electronics, using UK software, on a mission led by a UK scientist, Don Pollacco, based at the University of Warwick. This is a new era for British space,” said Mr Willetts.

He said the neuron microscope, which will be 30 times more powerful than existing microscopes, would aid the development of better computer chips, cosmetics, detergents, textiles, paints, fuels, drugs, batteries and plastics.

Meanwhile, he hoped the investment in the Square Kilometre Array would pave the way to allowing the UK to continue to host the project’s headquarters, and to lead in the development of its software and IT systems.

“The pursuit of scientific curiosity like this is worthwhile in its own right. But a scientific challenge on this scale will also drive huge technological advances,” he said.

Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society said: “Many scientific projects can only be pursued through such large-scale collaboration, and it is great that the government has decided that the UK will play its full part.

“UK science is quite literally reaching for the stars and opening up galaxies of opportunity for British firms by investing in these projects.”

Paul Hardaker, chief executive of the Institute of Physics, said: “It is involvement in these sorts of projects that will keep the UK at the forefront of global science.”

Last month the government committed to consulting over a long-term plan for investing in science infrastructure, including international projects.

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