Government urged to look again at Liverpool Telescope
13 May 2011
House of Commons Science and Technology Committee give support to LJMU’s Liverpool Telescope and National Schools’ Observatory
Press announcement from the Science and Technology Committee:
In a report published today, the Science and Technology Committee warned that the UK’s prominence in astronomy and particle physics, and its ability to attract and inspire the next generation of scientists in these areas, could be at risk if reduced budgets hit the UK’s growth prospects, reputation and expertise.
The Committee declared that mechanisms must be put in place to stop issues like the National Schools’ Observatory (NSO) to which the Liverpool Telescope is central, falling between ministerial, departmental, and research council responsibility. Professor Mike Bode, Institute Director and Professor of Astrophysics at the LJMU Astrophysics Research (ARI) Institute gave evidence on 16th March, together with colleagues from Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Liverpool universities. Expert witnesses also included school students active in the NSO projects who appeared before the Committee on 9th March.
The Committee stated that ‘outreach is essential to inspire the next generation of scientists’ and the report identifies scope for a more dedicated and defined outreach role for researchers and institutions funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Existing networks of strategic partners should be exploited to develop an outreach programme for schools and opportunities to employ researchers with a dedicated outreach remit should be investigated.
The robotic 2m Liverpool Telescope figured largely in the deliberations of the Committee, alongside concerns for the whole future of the UK’s capability to observe the northern sky. The evidence of the school students was followed by that of experts such as Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, acting President of the Institute of Physics, who also stressed the value of the Liverpool Telescope and the NSO.
Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The importance of projects like the National Schools Observatory must not be underestimated. We heard first hand from students the value of the Liverpool telescope for their studies. It will be a serious blow if the UK loses such a vital educational tool and we urge the research councils to do everything they can to find a solution.
He concluded: “The idea that subjects like astronomy and particle physics do not provide immediate economic returns and therefore can be sacrificed at the altar of cutbacks is a nonsense. Other countries are getting it right: invest in science and innovation now and reap the longer term rewards of economic growth. If the UK is seen to send out a message that these scientific fields deserve to be relegated to lower divisions, what hope is there for inspiring the next generation of scientists?”
LJMU added the following comments following the Science and Technology Committee press announcement:
Professor Mike Bode said: "Appearing before such a committee is an important and rather daunting experience, and the school pupils were a hard act to follow. The Committee were certainly extremely well informed and serious about their concerns and their report reflects this."
Professor Iain Steele, Director of the Liverpool Telescope added: "I am very pleased that the committee recognised the importance of continuing to have UK-owned telescopes in the Northern hemisphere. This is the sky above our heads, and to put ourselves in a situation where we can't observe it would not only be scientific madness but also risk losing the link between what we as professional astronomers do and the public who support our work."
Dr Andy Newsam, Director of the National Schools’ Observatory commented: "Astronomy appeals to children from all backgrounds and at all ages, which makes projects like the National Schools' Observatory essential steps towards careers in science and technology. It is therefore very encouraging to see recognition of the importance of the work we are doing here in Liverpool to the future prosperity of the whole country. We hope STFC and the Department for Education can work with us to ensure this continues.”
Read The Liverpool Daily Post report at:
Notes to editors
Astronomy sees a reduction in both its resource (-8%) and capital (-59%) budgets by the end of the next four years compared with 2010/11, with an overall fall of 21% in the total (resource plus capital) astronomy budget from £100 million in 2010/11 to £79 million in 2014/15. In contrast, particle physics sees a small increase in its total (resource plus capital) budget of 5% over this period (from £158 million to £166 million), although increases in its resource budget (+27%) masks a large fall in the capital budget for particle physics (-56%). See Table 2 on page 9 of the report for full data.
Science and Technology Committee
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