Archive for Dune

Newsflash: New Chair at STFC

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 22, 2018 by telescoper

As a quick piece of community service I thought I’d pass on the news of the appointment of a new Executive Chair for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), namely Professor Mark Thomson of the University of Cambridge. Developments at STFC will cease to be relevant to me after this summer as I’m moving to Ireland but this is potentially very important news for many readers of this blog.

Professor Thomson is an Experimental Particle Physicist whose home page at Cambridge describes his research in thuswise manner:

My main research interests are neutrino physics, the physics of the electroweak interactions, and the design of detectors at a future colliders. I am co-spokesperson of the DUNE collaboration, which consists of over 1000 scientiests and engineers from over 170 institutions in 31 nations across the globe. The Cambridge neutrino group splits its acivities between MicroBooNE and DUNE and is using advanced particle flow calorimetry techniques to interpret the images from large liquid argon TPC neutrino detector.

I’ve added a link to the DUNE collaboration for those of you who don’t know about it – it’s a very large neutrino physics experiment to be based in the USA.

On the announcement, Prof. Thomson stated:

I am passionate about STFC science, which spans the smallest scales of particle physics to the vast scales of astrophysics and cosmology, and it is a great honour be appointed to lead STFC as its new Executive Chair. The formation of UKRI presents exciting opportunities for STFC to further develop the UK’s world-leading science programme and to maximise the impact of the world-class facilities supported by STFC.

This appointment needs to be officially confirmed after a pre-appointment hearing by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee but, barring a surprise offer of the position to Toby Young, he’s likely to take over the reins at STFC in April this year. He’ll have his work cut out trying to make the case for continued investment in fundamental science in the United Kingdom, in the face of numerous challenges, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish him the very best of luck in his new role!

ESA Endorses Euclid

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on June 20, 2012 by telescoper

I’m banned from my office for part of this morning because the PHYSX elves are doing mandatory safety testing of all my electrical whatnots. Hence, I’m staying at home, sitting in the garden, writing this little blog post about a bit of news I found on Twitter earlier.

Apparently the European Space Agency, or rather the Science Programme Committee thereof, has given the green light to a space mission called Euclid whose aim is to “map the geometry of the dark Universe”, i.e. mainly to study dark energy. Euclid is an M-class mission, pencilled in for launch in around 2019, and it is basically the result of a merger between two earlier proposals, the Dark Universe Explorer (DUNE, intended to measure effects of weak gravitational lensing) and the Spectroscopic All Sky Cosmic Explorer (SPACE, to measure wiggles in the galaxy power spectrum known as baryon acoustic oscillations); Euclid will do both of these.

Although I’m not directly involved, as a cosmologist I’m naturally very happy to see this mission finally given approval. To be honest, I am a bit sceptical about how much light Euclid will actually shed on the nature of dark energy, as I think the real issue is a theoretical not an observational one. It will probably end up simply measuring the cosmological constant to a few extra decimal places, which is hardly the issue when the value we try to calculate theoretically is a over a hundred orders of magnitude too large! On the other hand, big projects like this do need their MacGuffin..

The big concern being voiced by my colleagues, both inside and outside the cosmological community, is whether Euclid can actually be delivered within the agreed financial envelope (around 600 million euros). I’m not an expert in the technical issues relevant to this mission, but I’m told by a number of people who are that they are sceptical that the necessary instrumental challenges can be solved without going significantly over-budget. If the cost of Euclid does get inflated, that will have severe budgetary implications for the rest of the ESA science programme; I’m sure we all hope it doesn’t turn into another JWST.

I stand ready to be slapped down by more committed Euclideans for those remarks.