Mega Merger for U.K. Science

Dan is a deputy news editor for Science.

The U.K. government announced yesterday that it is going to put all of its big-ticket physical sciences eggs into one basket. Starting on 1 April 2007, disparate projects from ground-based telescopes to high-powered lasers will all be funded by a single organization. Science Minister David Sainsbury said in a statement that the new body "will enable the U.K. to play a leading role in the next generation of large scale physical science projects."

The main purpose of the U.K.'s eight research councils is to distribute grants to university-based researchers, but some of them have additional roles. As well as awarding grants, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) pays the U.K. subscription to large multinational projects such as the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland, as well as managing telescopes abroad. The Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC), on the other hand, doesn't award grants but manages Britain's two national research centers: Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Daresbury Laboratory. PPARC and CCLRC will now be merged to create a new Large Facilities Council.

The new council will retain PPARC's grants as well as funding for nuclear physics shifted from another council. Both houses of Parliament must approve the new council, but the government hopes to have it up and running by next April with a budget of about $980 million for 2007-'08.

Particle physicist Brian Foster of the University of Oxford says he is "cautiously optimistic" about the merger but adds that the new council's success "depends on whether the government puts in the resources to make it work. ... PPARC was not viable in the long term." But, he adds, the new council, because of its size, will have a "better chance" of holding its own.

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