Big science: public investment in large scientific facilities, sixtieth report of session 2006-07, report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence

Government invests in a range of large scientific facilities to support and develop the nation's science base, with over £860 million allocated since 2000 to construct 10 new large scientific projects. These programmes include: a Diamond Synchrotron (costing £383 million) to produce intense X-rays and shorter wavelength emissions for examining structures at molecular and atomic level; a new research ship, RRS James Cook, to conduct oceanographic and marine studies (a budget of £40 million); and a new Antarctic research station (with a budget of £34.7 million) for monitoring climate, ozone and space weather. Following on from a NAO report on this topic (HCP 153, session 2006-07, ISBN 9780102944198) published in January 2007, the Committee's report examines how large scientific facilities are delivered and the how their value is assessed. Findings include that the first two projects have been delivered largely to time and budget, but other projects still at an early stage are forecasting slippage, with five of the six most mature projects forecasting significant increases in the initial estimates for operating costs. Research Councils have not always sufficiently evaluated options for locating new scientific facilities and have had difficulty in attracting a sufficient number of bidders for contracts to help build new facilities. Performance indicators used by the Research Councils and project teams for monitoring the success of these facilities are not always sufficiently comprehensive or measurable, and if the UK is to maximise the value of these facilities, it needs to attract more young people into science to make good use of the research capacity now being built.

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