How to fix Physics

February 5, 2008

SUPA supremo Ian Halliday was recently SUPA CEO Ian Halliday in Strathclydeasked by high-ups in the Scottish Executive “what should we tell DIUS and STFC about how to protect Physics funding in HEIs and the UKATC ?” Ian asked Team SUPA to chip in our bits. Well, I fed him exactly what I would have said to anybody, so here it is :


  • Short term : a large part of the current crisis stems from STFC inheriting underprovisioning by CCLRC, causing an unexpected step change in problems for particular segments of physics. There is therefore a strong case for targeted assistance from DIUS. This should be primarily for protecting grants income rather than changing STFC policy decisions, and should be aimed at smoothing out problems. The chaos comes from d£/dt.
  • Empower the Physics HEI community. We are problem solvers and can do a good job if trusted. First and foremost this means improve engagement with the HEI community – not “consultation” but “engagement”
  • Restructure so that delivery is separated from policy and funding. STFC has a massive conflict of interest, as did CCLRC before it. Scotland can easily do its part here via the ATC and EPCC; the elephant in the room is the power and influence of RAL. (Apologies to my RAL chums – this is a political statement, not a technical one)
  • Make the case for economic impact of Physics, including fundamental physics. This is partly on (long term) technology return, but mostly is about skills; training of people at all levels, and attraction of young people into science.


  • Restore some key parts of programme, and allow ATC to diversify.
  • Allow ATC to pursue external contracts in order to stabilise its income stream. Decide who holds the operating risk.
  • Separate and protect the historic and cultural aspects of the Royal Observatory; these are properly a Scottish affair, whereas the ATC science programme is UK.
  • Engage politically to help establish ATC as a European (not just UK) centre, with aim of stability and international subscription return.
  • Help establish ATC as part of a Scottish Knowledge Exchange agenda.