Cautious Welcome for UK Research Council U-Turn on Gemini Observatory Funding

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) appear to have given UK astronomers a temporary reprieve over their access to the Gemini Observatories in Chile and Hawaii. As previously reported on the Universe Today, UK astronomers were stunned at the decision to totally pull out from the international collaboration with one of the worlds most advanced telescope systems. It now appears that the STFC is reinstating the British share in the project by negotiating a reduction in funding, rather than negotiating its withdrawal from the project.

Last month, the council responsible for the UK’s funding of astronomical and physics research announced that the country would be pulling out of the highly successful Gemini Observatory project. The reason? To help plug the £80 million ($160 million) hole in their finances. After calls to the British government for financial aid fell on deaf ears, drastic measures to cut the £4 million ($8 million) per year investment to the project seemed like one of the options open to them. Reaction to the news led to speculation from some academics that UK astronomy was being “deliberately sabotaged”.

STFC funding cuts have proved highly unpopular since it inherited the debt from the two previous councils (the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council – PPARC – and Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils – CCLRC) the STFC was merged from in April 2007. Many UK scientists are bemused by the cutbacks, blaming hugely expensive projects (such as the Diamond Synchrotron in Oxfordshire) for going over budget. There is the prediction that the UK may have some of the finest research facilities in the world, but due to job cutbacks from the funding deficits, there will be nobody to carry out the research. Some scientists have even highlighted recent cutbacks by campaigning for change to the STFC and government funding of research councils.

Although the STFC has altered its position on Gemini funding, astronomers remain cautious as discussions continue over the future of British involvement. For now, the UK will be involved in cutting edge astronomy research till the summer at least. Beyond that, some cutbacks seem ominous, but at least the “hasty” decision to pull out of the project has been revoked for the time being.

Source: BBC

2 Replies to “Cautious Welcome for UK Research Council U-Turn on Gemini Observatory Funding”

  1. Heh. British scientists seem to me to have been quite canny on this one, for the most part peddling the line that this outcome wasn’t what government intended, everybody means well, etc.

    That means the government can quietly change tack, while all the while claiming that every decision made was exactly the right one at the time, and no person associated with the government has been incompetent, oh no, perish the thought.

  2. Hmmmm. Hopefully this will give the pollies some time to realise how important an issue this actually is.

    Seriously, I think a publicity campaign by some professional and amateur astronomers from the UK may be in order here. The public (in general) holds a deep fascination with astronomy. It is one of the few sciences that excites and inspires people from all walks of life, no matter what their current level of knowledge is or educational background, their age or (dare I say it) their religious creed. It is something everybody can enjoy and draw from. A series of free (and advertised) public astronomy seminars would get people involved, with the dual goal of firing the public’s imagination and love of the night sky, and explaining current threats and issues relevant to astronomy such as this current funding issue, light pollution etc. etc.

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