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Going. Going. Gone.

The other listing on eBay for the Lovell Telescope, the one that wasn't reported to eBay and removed, ended after I left work on Thursday last week. The winning bid? A cool £9,999,999.99. And this time, it didn't even come with a free death ray.

Posted by Megan on Monday 17th Mar 2008 (16:34 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

And the nominations are...

The Jodcast has been nominated for a Sir Arthur Clarke award! We are shortlisted in the category of "Best TV/radio Presentation" alongside Martin Redfern & Heather Couper (for "Britain's Space Race" on BBC Radio 4, producer and presenter respectively) and Quentin Cooper (presenter of Material World on BBC Radio 4). Nominees in other categories include Stephen Hawking ("Inspiration Award"), Sir Richard Branson ("Best Individual Achievement" and "Space Entrepreneur"), Piers Sellars ("Inspiration Award"), Maggie Aderin ("Outreach

Award for the Public Promotion of Space") and the Faulkes Telescope Project ("Achievement

in Education")! The winners will be announced at the end of the UK Space Conference (used to be BROHP) on Saturday 29th March 2008.

Posted by Megan on Monday 17th Mar 2008 (16:10 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

John Denham - webchat

Earlier today, John Denham (Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills) participated in a "live" webchat. Members of the public were encouraged to submit their questions in advance, so I did just that. I didn't ask why they had managed to spell skills as "skiils" on their website. Anyway, here is my question together with his response.

Megan: "Increasing the supply of people in science, technology and engineering" [a quote from the DIUS website] is going to be very hard to do when there are such high profile issues as the current funding problems within the Science and Technology Facilities Council. Do you accept that such problems will lead to the perception that there is a low chance of a long-term career in STEM subjects, and therefore both a reduction in the number of students taking these subjects at A-level, and an increase in the number of young, qualified researchers taking jobs overseas?

John replies: It is important to increase the number of young people choosing to study STEM subjects. There was a very welcome increase in the number of applicants to university this year. It is important that the debates around the STFC programme are not conducted in a way that gives the impression that British science is in anything but good health.

In my view too little attention is being given to the real increases in research budgets across the science disciplines, and the major investments that are being made in new research facilities. Diamond, for example, has recruited 300 scientists and engineers in that past year or so.

Did he answer the question? Well, he's a politician, what do you expect.

Posted by Megan on Thursday 13th Mar 2008 (16:20 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

One careful owner

Well, after reaching over £5,000,000 in bids this afternoon, the listing for the Lovell Telescope (as reported by The Register) has now been removed from eBay. There are more stories and comment pieces appearing every day, including this from the MEN: "Why save Jodrell?". There are three relevant petitions up on the Downing Street website, too. One on "Jodrell funding", one on "radio astronomy" (which both basically say the same thing), and one on general science funding which, personally, I think is the more important of the three. Yes, eMERLIN is under threat, but so are a large number of other no less important important projects. If any of them get cut, it is a great blow to science in this country at a time when politicians keep saying how important it is to encourage kids to take up STEM subjects.

There is now an official statement up on the Jodrell homepage describing the situation and emphasising that no decisions have yet been made, we have to wait for the consultation period to end.

Meanwhile, I've been plodding away trying to analyse a huge dataset which my computer is struggling to cope with. ISIHAC was brilliant last night. Very, very entertaining, as ever. They gave everyone in the audience a kazoo and had us joining in with some of the games. At the end we all joined in with a rendition of "Anything you can do, I can do better", and even Humph joined in with his trumpet - now that's something you don't see every day! Off climbing tomorrow evening, need some exercise.

Posted by Megan on Tuesday 11th Mar 2008 (16:06 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

Now I've seen it all...

Jodrell Bank is up for sale on eBay, not once, but twice. This whole situation is getting very depressing, not just the fact that Jodrell is under threat, really this is only a very small part of a much wider problem which just isn't going to go away. There have been comments that it's all a political stunt to try and get more money out of the government - put well known and high profile experiments on the list of threatened projects, wait for the media to get hold of it and stir up public opinion to the extent that pressure is put on the politicians to increase funding. I very much doubt that this is going on, to me it would seem a rather risky strategy. But I'm only a postdoc and not wise in the ways of science politics.

This evening I'm going to take my mind off things for a while and go and have some fun. I'm taking my Mum to see the I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue tour in Buxton. Brilliant.

Posted by Megan on Monday 10th Mar 2008 (16:13 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

We're all dooooomed........

Well, the news of the potential loss of funding for MERLIN - and the resulting implications for the future of the Observatory - has been picked up by the press (Guardian article from Tuesday). Today there was a large article in the printed Times, quickly followed by stories in the online versions of the Guardian, Daily Mail, BBC News, Manchester Evening News and the Register, amongst others. Prof Simon Garrington, director of MERLIN, has issued a formal response to the STFCs document which was released on Monday, ranking the project as low priority.

Statements from the government and STFC state that no funding decisions have been taken so far. The document released on Monday was the result of the programmatic review and does not represent actual decisions. The consultation period continues until March 21st, after which small panels will be set up to review each area of the programme before actual funding decisions are taken. The trouble is, those decisions will have to be made quickly before the start of the new spending period.

Watch this space.

Posted by Megan on Thursday 06th Mar 2008 (16:55 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe...

Today, the science board of STFC are holding a town meeting in London to discuss the outcomes of the Programmatic Review (pdf, doc). This review looked at all the projects which are funded through STFC and prioritised them based on the recommendations of the Science Board. This afternoon, members of the Science Board will answer questions from members of the community of researchers which work on these projects. The statement from STFC says that no funding decisions have been made yet, but there will now be a period of consultation (until 21st March 2008) with the community before decisions are approved.

There are actually two science committies: PPAN which covers particle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics, and PALS which deals with physical and life sciences, so this covers a wide range of scientific projects and concerns a large number of researchers across the country. For astronomy, PPAN has looked at a lot of projects and facilities and ranked them into a series of groups:

The examples above are from the list in the report, but there are many more mentioned there which I haven't included here. Discussing which projects are likely to be funded, the report says:

"As an approximate guideline, the funding that we anticipate being available for programmes in the PPAN area could cover the High, Medium-High, and a significant part of the Medium-Lower categories."

This, on the face of it, looks bad for MERLIN. The report goes on to say, however, that decisions on the investment programme will consider results of consultation and "the strategic importance of projects in the international context and as part of a pathway to future development". Specifically, they talk about five projects in this context and have this to say regarding MERLIN:

"The current planning assumption is that support be withdrawn from 1 April 2009. However, e-Merlin has been delayed substantially from the original start-date of 2006 that was assumed when PPARC made a commitment to support its operations, and early 2009 is now about the time when e-Merlin will be starting surveys. The cost of construction of e-Merlin is being borne by NWDA. STFC plans to discuss the situation with NWDA and the University of Manchester, mindful of the potential strategic link with SKA."

Another project which gets a specific mention, not unsuprisingly given the events of the last few months, is Gemini:

"The UK remains a partner in Gemini until at least 2012, but the intention is to sell 50% of our time on the two telescopes from 2009. Options remain to contribute to the Aspen instrumentation programme. There is a need for a strategic review of future provision for ground-based astronomy beyond 2012, balancing the access to ESO (which in the future will include GTC in the northern hemisphere), Gemini, Subaru, JCMT and other ground-based astronomy facilities within the context of a capped overall budget."

So, basically, we have to wait and see what happens. As many people have been commenting already, the release of this document and the meeting this afternoon are going to lead to something of an academic bunfight. Many people affected are passionate about their subject and truely believe that their project is worth funding. All these projects are doing good science, there just isn't enough funding to go around and something has to give. It's not going to be pretty.

Posted by Megan on Monday 03rd Mar 2008 (14:37 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

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