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RAS PN 07/52: RAS 'dismay' at deep cuts to UK astronomy research

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 April 2010 13:38
Published on Friday, 14 December 2007 00:00
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) today expressed its deep disappointment at the cuts package announced by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The Society believes that this will cause great damage to astronomy research in the UK.

In response to concerns raised by the RAS and others, John Denham MP, Secretary of State at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) has announced a review of funding for UK physics research. The RAS welcomes this review and will be urging the Government to support and fund a vibrant programme of research in astrophysics and related disciplines.

ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY PRESS INFORMATION NOTE
Date: 14 December 2007                 For Immediate Release
Ref.: PN 07/52
 
Issued by:
Dr Robert Massey
RAS Press Officer
Royal Astronomical Society
Burlington House
Piccadilly
London W1J 0BQ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 / 4582
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

RAS website: www.ras.org.uk

RAS: ‘DISMAY’ AT DEEP CUTS TO UK ASTRONOMY ANNOUNCED BY STFC

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) today expressed its deep disappointment at the level of cuts to UK astronomy research announced by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). These savings amount to at least £80m over three years, with a further £40m likely to be cut to create headroom for UK involvement in new projects.

The RAS does however welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, John Denham, that he is setting up an independent review into the health of physics. The Society will participate fully in the review, where it will express its belief that the vitality of physics in the UK depends on a vibrant programme of ‘blue skies’ research in areas such as astrophysics.
 
Cuts announced include UK participation in the Gemini South observatory in Chile, all UK involvement in ground-based solar-terrestrial physics facilities, UK high-energy gamma-ray astronomy research, UK involvement in the astronomical observatory on La Palma, and large cuts (~50%) at the Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh.

Projects, some of which will be cut subject to the current Programmatic Review being carried out by STFC, include: 25% of grants, the UK InfraRed Telescope, ground-based gravitational wave astronomy, involvement in the Dark Energy Survey, the Zepplin3 underground search for dark matter, the Liverpool Telescope, the Merlin radio telescope and Astrogrid.  These will all have to compete against new project proposals for a contingency fund set aside by STFC.

The RAS welcomes the concession by STFC that they will seek to negotiate continuing access to the Gemini North observatory on Hawaii, as requested by the Society two weeks ago. Without Gemini North, UK astronomers will have no access to giant telescopes in the northern hemisphere and will find it increasingly difficult to compete with their peers overseas.

Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, President of the RAS commented:

'I welcome John Denham’s decision to review physics funding and the RAS will be keen to be involved, but this needs to be set against the immediate impact of these cuts on UK Physics Departments. The Government needs to recognise that astrophysics, space science and solar system science make a direct contribution to the UK economy through spin-off and knowledge transfer on time-scales which can be surprisingly short.

The students and postgraduates that we train are highly skilled and sought after by industry and the financial sector.  Astrophysics and particle physics are major attractors of students, including international students, into university physics courses.  For example, my Physics Department at Imperial College receives 40% of its research funding from astrophysics, space science and particle physics and 90% of our students said that these fields were the reason they chose to study physics. Astronomy and space also play an important role in attracting school-children towards science.’

NOTES FOR EDITORS

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally.