How to fix Physics

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.

6 Responses to How to fix Physics

  1. Very Anonymous Physicist says:

    Yes Andy, I agree.
    I would also add that a change of bodies at the top is required.

  2. ivegotthistape says:

    Good to see a public acknowledgment that the UK ATC has had to operate under much more severe restrictions than its cuckoo sibling in Oxfordshire. The engagement with Europe you mention (code for closer links with ESO) would surely benefit from political intervention. It is high time we saw some serious action from the Scottish Exec and Parliament to stop the dismemberment of the Royal Observatory. Otherwise ATC will start to lose its superb engineers and scientists, and on a timescale of weeks rather than years.

  3. andyxl says:

    To very anonymous : I know everybody is baying for blood, but I see this as distraction from the real issues. Plus, before you bomb the palace you have to have your puppet regime ready, otherwise long suppressed evil forces take over instead and instigate a rule of tyranny.

  4. Kav says:

    I think that many believe that the long suppressed evil forces have already taken over…

  5. andyxl says:

    ah but thats because you are an STP guy … STP and solar people always refer to us normal astronomers as “the dark side” … and we have kinda noticed that STP has been savaged..

  6. Kav says:

    I know you guys have noticed and the reactions of many, many astronomers have been appreciated. Even us STPers know this is bigger than just us, it is important to salvage as much of PP and astronomy as we can and try and make sure that something like this cannot happen again in the same manner. Just because I think bits might be dull doesn’t mean they aren’t worth saving – other people more familiar with them know their worth!

    As to the “dark side”, if you remember, all you have to do is make the right choice, pick him up and throw the Emperor down the well. Of course following the analogy to its logical conclusion we would also need to blow Polaris house up with the help of the local folk of Swindon. Hmmm.

    sorry, sorry, could not resist 🙂

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