UK Pulls Out Of ILC

The UK is planning on cutting the budget of its Science and Technologies Facilities Council over the next few years, ending British involvement in several large scale scientific projects, including the ILC. The STFC document laying out its plans through 2012 emphasizes CERN and the LHC, and has this to say about the ILC:

We will cease investment in the International Linear Collider. We do not see a practicable path towards the realisation of this facility as currently conceived on a reasonable timescale.

In combination with recent remarks from the DOE, the current situation of the ILC proposal is not encouraging. Most likely it will require the discovery of new physics at the LHC of the sort that the ILC is the right tool to study in order to make the case for going ahead with it.

More about this here and here.

Update: More here, here, here and here. These budget cuts seem to be especially problematic for astronomy research, with particle physics not as badly affected as the UK retains its commitment to CERN and the LHC.

Update: More here. Best headline about this so far: Boffins slashed in big-science budget blunder bloodbath.

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31 Responses to UK Pulls Out Of ILC

  1. Coin says:

    Let’s say that the case is not successfully made that the ILC is the most appropriate followup to the LHC’s findings, and the ILC ultimately gets scuttled (or at least suffers more dropouts like with the UK here). What happens then? Will this mean that that’s money which simply won’t get put into physics investment? Or will this just mean some other project gets attention diverted to it instead?

  2. Flip says:

    Thanks for the post, PW! Could you shed some light about what this means for the 10-20 year outlook of particle physics experiments? If the LHC’s results end up making a compelling case for an ILC, would the STFC turn around and recommit to the linear collider?

    What is the significance of having national funding agencies committed at this [early] stage, especially if there is apparently no commitment to prevent them from walking away after a government spending review? Does this just mean that there’s less R&D? If so, does this indirectly weaken Europe’s bid to host the ILC (if it were to be built)?


  3. woit says:


    I don’t know much about how UK budget decisions are made, so it’s unclear to me whether and how this decision could get turned around at some point during the next few years. It seems to me that they have decided that the ILC project is too far off, likely to be in the US, and quite possibly will never get built, so R and D on it is a good target for cutting when they have a budget problem.

    One big problem for the ILC is that if it takes several more years before there’s an LHC-based case for building it, at that point CERN’s CLIC technology may have proved itself. CERN will have the money to start building it as LHC and LHC upgrade costs wind down 10 years from now. If CLIC is feasible and can be financed in Europe, there’s not much of a case for the ILC.

    At this point, if I had to bet about what will be going on 20 years from now, it would be on a strong CERN program at the energy frontier involving CLIC and an upgraded LHC, with a weaker program in the US based on Project X at Fermilab and various neutrino experiments.

    But maybe the LHC will discover something that will change everything…


    Building the ILC would require a sizable part of the US HEP budget + new money. If it’s not built, the new money wouldn’t go to particle physics, might go elsewhere, or just might not increase the US fiscal deficit so much. There would be more money from the total particle physics budget available for other particle physics projects, e.g. things like Project X that Fermilab is considering.

  4. Pingback: UK Physics Investment Decimated | Cosmic Variance

  5. Coin says:

    There would be more money from the total particle physics budget available for other particle physics projects, e.g. things like Project X that Fermilab is considering.

    Well… something else I wonder about. If you look at the Project X web page they say: “The use of the Recycler reduces the required charge in the superconducting 8 GeV linac to match the charge per pulse of the ILC design; aligning Project X and ILC technologies.” I’m not sure what this means– exactly what synergy does Project X get from its “alignment” with the ILC? Would the Project X project by itself be in some way less useful than Project X would be were it running contemporaneously with the ILC?


  6. woit says:


    One selling point of the Project X proposal is that it would use some of the same linac technology as the ILC, and thus potentially help with the engineering needed for the ILC. One reason for highlighting this is just that Project X and the ILC are in some sense in competition for US HEP funds, so this is supposed to help sell the idea to ILC proponents worried that Project X means no ILC.

  7. Coin says:

    Oh, I see. So the idea is just to share engineering costs by reusing technology, not that like the similarities between the two accelerators would make it easier to do combined experiments or somesuch?

  8. Peter Woit says:


    Right. I don’t know of any plan to combine operation of the accelerators in any way, this is about the acceleration technology.

  9. Roger says:

    I’m a Brit working in Europe now. I think this should be understood in the context of the funding reorganisation last year which created the Science and Technologies Facilities Council. This replaced the PPARC agency which only handled particle physics and astronomy and is a kind of super research council including (amongst other things) particle physics, astronomy, laser and condensed matter physics. There are severe cost overruns on certain projects, including the “prestigious” (i.e. built in the UK) Diamond light source meaning that everyone else who shares the Diamond funding pot must take a cut. In the olden days of PPARC if there was a cost overrun for, for example, a particle physcics project the astronomers would take a cut on the understanding that this help would be reciprocated if astronomy was faced with a funding problem. This worked fairly well and none of the cost overruns were as severe as those faced at the moment. Overrun estimates for Diamond I’ve seen are for 160 million dollars. In effect, particle physics and astronomy are bailing out a wholly unrelated discipline, which through bad luck or bad contingency planning is in a crisis.

    The ILC happened to be one of the superficially easiest items to chop. Its especially unfortunate in that the UK was one of the countries which jumped on the ILC very early, much to the surprise of physicists in many other countries. To invest so much, so early and now to pull out with inadequate consultation (very much unlike the way PPARC used to operate) is rather silly.

    I know many people who are/were engaged on the ILC program. I know they put their heart and soul in the project and fully believed in it. They were also producing some cutting edge work on accelerators and detector technology. I really feel for them.

    Most physicists I’ve spoken to seem to think that this is a result of incompetence rather than a deliberate, though underhand, attempt to cut back on particle physics which traditionally enjoys large budgets and therefore attracts much envy from other disciplines. I don’t know what to think.

  10. lostsoul Ph. D. says:

    Money has been poured down the drain in the UK over the past 10 years or so, ostensibly, in the main, on ‘good things’ like health and education (and the odd war, of course), but in a way that has generated little of value for the taxpayer. Now the men in charge are embarking on a frantic and short-sighted cost-cutting/ face-saving exercise. When they pull out of the Olympics you will know that things are really bad; until then they will target anything whose decimation they think that they can get away with. And who amongst the electorate gives a monkey’s about science of any persuasion these days?

  11. Arun says:

    The prospects in the US are even more bleak, if the dire warnings of requiring a taxpayer bailout of the banks are true (see my blog for details).

  12. young_physicist says:


    The subprime mess is going to hit the uk pretty soon (I mean we will have our own borrowers defaulting) so I expect it is not just us banks that will have to be bailed out. If this causes a recession then the future for particle physics may become quite bleak indeed when goverment cuts spending due to reduced tax intake etc.

  13. Jon says:

    None of this is as a result of cuts in UK Government spending as implied at top of your article, in fact STFC funding is up 13% over next 2 years I understand, and science spending overall has doubled in real terms over last ~10 yrs. The current problems seem to be the result of over commitment mainly to new Diamond facility, as indicated by previous poster. Apparently capital spend for Diamond came in within contingency but operating costs appear to have been severely under estimated in the new Full Economic Costing model for staff recently introduced in UK. Previously separate Astronomy and PP funding is now having to bear the costs of this error following merger into wider STFC. Potentially head(s) should roll at STFC…?

  14. Big Vlad says:

    could someone who understands these matters please explain the implications for particle theory in the UK? Will theory be heavily affected by these cuts?

  15. Walt says:

    Arun, that article is wrong on a key point. Mortgage originators have to take back mortgages, but most of the subprime mortgages don’t originate with banks, but with specialized mortgage originators — most of whom are likely going to go out of business. Defrauded investors, foreign or domestic, are going to get nothing, and no bank bailout will be required on that account.

  16. Peter Woit says:

    Arun and Walt,

    I happen to find the whole mess in the banking system fascinating, but please, this blog is not the place to discuss it. Surely there are ones run by people who actually know a lot about this.

  17. DB says:

    This UK announcement doesn’t really affect the prospects for the ILC which is essentially a US project with some modest international support tacked on. As a member country of the CERN consortium the UK remains very well placed to participate actively in HEP research.
    If the core political will is absent in the US, as I believe is currently the case, then the ILC won’t get built, period.
    The UK may well prove to be useful fall-guy to blame, it has a long history of bureaucratic cock-ups associated with the funding of large science and engineering projects, but this shouldn’t distract anyone from the core issue around the ILC: does the US have the stomach for this or not?
    And I am sceptical about the continuing political will in Europe in support of large HEP projects. The LHC almost didn’t make it past the politicians – CLIC – and I have confidence that the technical issues will be solved – will be many times more expensive and I just can’t see it passing.
    It would be a great pity if a misplaced confidence by the US in Europe’s willingness to continue to do the heavy lifting in experimental HEP were to lead to the LHC being the last major collider to be built.

  18. Peter Shor says:

    Isn’t the decision on whether to go ahead on the ILC entirely dependent on what is found by the LHC? If the LHC doesn’t find any new physics that the ILC might shed some light on, it seems very difficult to imagine it getting funded no matter how gung-ho people are at this stage. On the other hand, if the LHC results require further study by an ILC or similar accelerator, then won’t such an accelerator almost certainly be built eventually (at least in the absence of massive economic or geopolitical catastrophe)?

    One question this brings up is: why is anybody doing any planning studies now? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until after the LHC is built, and then start planning for the next accelerator? It seems to me that this would only delay the project marginally, and would save money if turns out that it’s not worth building an ILC at all.

  19. Roger says:

    Peter Shor

    One legitimate (though not great) argument is that much detector expertise would be lost if there isn’t a continuous program of R+D at UK laboratories.

    ILC research is not only accelerator-related, there is/was in the UK significant effort in developing an appropriate vertex detector and calorimeter.

    On an unrelated note, the UK invested substantially in the ILC, with the encouragement of the then research council. Many of the same research council folk are present in the new body and they’re now singing a totally different tune about how unrealistic the ILC is. Its true that the likelihood of an ILC has decreased recently but its construction was always uncertain. Heads really should roll for this planning debacle.

  20. Peter Woit says:

    Peter Shor,

    The problem for US particle physicists is that the Tevatron will become more or less obsolete once the LHC is working well, and at that point the US will have no accelerator at the energy frontier. This may happen within a very few years from now. So US particle physicists need a plan for what to do next, and until recently the ILC seemed the best bet. The hope has been that getting the planning done and everything ready to build the machine would mean that, once LHC results came in, they would be ready to go. If they wait for LHC results to get started on planning, there will be a long period in the US with nothing even being built, and an even longer period without a high-energy machine.

    The costs for the kind of planning they have been doing are relatively small, it’s the construction costs that will be large, and most of this is for work trying to develop technology that ultimately will be useful, if not on the ILC, perhaps elsewhere.

  21. Roger says:


    The planning costs were very large for the UK both in terms of the R+D budget and the manpower which was devoted to this effort.

    The ILC wasn’t a relatively small back-office affair but a rather high profile activity.

  22. Peter Woit says:


    Thanks for the clarification. My comment was about the amounts involved relative to the construction cost for the ILC, not the absolute amounts, which are significant. Actually, how much exactly has the UK been spending per/year on the ILC that will be eliminated by this decision?

  23. Peter Shor says:


    Training the next generation of physicists with detector expertise is useful, at least assuming that accelerators will continue to be built (which I assume depends on what the LHC sees). But the decision of whether to build the ILC still has to be years away.

  24. Peter Woit says:

    Peter Shor,

    The people working on the ILC have been hoping for a construction decision in 2010. This is probably not realistic, unless the LHC very quickly comes up with results of just the right kind (e.g. a spectrum of new particles of mass low enough to be studied at the ILC).

  25. Pingback: UK young physicists speak up against STFC funding cuts « An American Physics Student in England

  26. NEW Reader says:

    Hi Peter,

    I get nearly all of my particle physics news from NEW. I have a simple question:

    With the future going the way it is, (and as I had asked many – and *sigh* – many a times before), would it be a good life-long decision to study the subject?…

    I love studying particle physics / mathematical physics, but am rather in a quandary as to its relevance – especially experiment-based particle physics – for the future, which seems increasingly being sqeezed into the marginal arena of academic / scientific pursuits; I fear within thirty years particle physics will cease to be of relevance unless there is a applicable defense and/or other high-profit-generating marketable involvement.

    Do you share some of my concerns? Is the particle physics community losing some of its post-SM excitement in the early ’80’s?

    Thanks for allowing me the post.

  27. NEW Reader says:


    Also, I just happended to chance upon your “Holy Grail of Physics” post (post # 3) via Wikipedia. I read Mark Srednicki’s and your opposing views on the topic (actually, didn’t understand much… :)); but I’m wondering if you have notes from your QFT course of Steven Weinberg’s, and whether – with your permission (obviously) – you might like to send a copy to me.

    [PPS: How do you make links? Don’t understand much webpage-technology stuff.]

  28. Peter Woit says:

    NEW reader,

    The Weinberg course was on the quantization of gauge theories, and this material is in the second volume of his three volume series on QFT. The books are definitely more useful than my notes would be.

    As for the future, mathematics is doing well, so anyone interested in the mathematical end of things should consider pursuing a math degree. For particle physics in general, a lot depends on what happens at the LHC….

  29. Roger says:

    New Reader,

    The future of the “traditional” high energy collider physics program is uncertain and, as PW pointed out, much depends on the LHC. However, there is more to particle physics research than high energy colliders. A symbiosis between particle and astrophysics has been occuring in recent years and cosmic ray experiments may well, for example, become the principal tools for particle physicists in the future.

    I can foresee a time when particle physics is less prominent than it is today but, since it is one of the few truly fundamental areas of science, I doubt if it will ever become a marginal activity. The best and most curious minds will always be attracted to the most important questions.

  30. NEW Reader says:

    Thanks to both of you for the respective responses.

  31. young_physicist says:

    British citizens and residents may wish to sign this petition in protest against the announced cuts to particle physics and astronomy (which do not just affect the ILC, but also many other less well known research programs):

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