to the Chairman and to the Chief Executive of the
Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC)
May 8, 2006
Dear Mr Warry!
Dear Professor Mason!
The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) mission addresses, among its primary objectives in scientific excellence, the attraction of young people - representing the future generation of scientists and engineers - and the stimulation of public interest in research and technology. In consequence, PPARC has implemented its science and society programme to ensure public engagement and public accountability which also includes explicit support of schools and colleges. In our view, these initiatives need to be broadened, not only because of the lack of students in scientific disciplines but also in order to oppose the dominance of financial and commercial values which appear to replace the social, cultural, educational and ethical quality in our society. Thus, approaching the public, schools and colleges must not be considered activities in the backyard of the scientific community but important initiatives at the front door of science and research.
At this point we wish to draw your attention to the radio propagation studies, analyses and experiments conducted by radio amateurs. The sum of all ham radio stations is a network of large geographical extent which monitors almost all frequencies in HF, VHF and UHF more or less permanently. In consequence, radio amateurs observe radio wave propagation phenomena which are typically neglected by scientific, commercial and military radio services. Nevertheless, all these phenomena ultimately reflect dynamical processes in the earth atmosphere and also in the near-earth space environment.
To interpret their observations, radio amateurs refer to other scientific research - which explains the radio amateurs' interest in government-sponsored research programmes. Thus, radio amateurs are grateful to all scientific institutions supporting knowledge transfer and the public understanding of geophysical research. PPARC has explicitly documented these objectives in its funding policy and scientific projects funded by PPARC play an important role in amateur radio propagation studies, including, for example, the UK ionosondes, EISCAT and other projects.
The following overview demonstrates the broad spectrum of amateur radio studies; they concern all levels of the earths atmosphere, the near-earth space environment and also future ham missions to the planets:
These studies are supported by professional scientists providing suggestions and, in particular, scientific data which may be compared to the findings in ham radio. It is important to note that our British radio amateur colleagues, in particular, play a major role here because the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) has implemented a board of radio amateurs which is permanently supported by professional scientists, i.e. the Propagation Studies Committee (PSC). PSC has contributed to the understanding of radio wave propagation over many decades and documents the benefits resulting from the co-operation between scientists and radio amateurs. No other country has a similar institution.
Therefore, the community of radio amateurs is deeply concerned about the investment strategy for PPARC's science programme for the next two financial years 2006/7 and 2007/8. This strategy will indirectly affect amateur radio and this particularly applies to the funding threat to the UK ionosondes. The steadily declining number of European ionosondes has impacted our studies for a long time. Being amateurs, we are not in the position to judge financial strategies discussed within the scientific community; nevertheless, your decisions generate high awareness within the community of radio amateurs.
The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council is therefore requested to review its funding policy not only from a financial perspective but also from a cultural and educational perspective. The cultural perspective results from the fact that professional research stimulates private initiatives such as ham radio propagation studies and these spread scientific interest, knowledge and methodology into the wider community. The educational perspective results from the fact that young radio amateurs interested in the geophysical background of radio communication may be influenced to study physics and engineering at universities and scientific institutions; this is demonstrated by the large number of professional scientists holding amateur radio licences. We fear that PPARC's investment strategy will not only result in a cut of funding affecting scientific projects, it will also cut an important factor in the recruitment of young scientists. Experienced radio amateurs will be less able to encourage young radio operators to consider the application of science in radio engineering if the scientific community demonstrates a lack of interest in, for example, ground-based ionospheric radar measurements by terminating all its successful projects and facilities.
It appears that your investment strategy undermines our arguments promoting science and research in the ham community and we believe that this is contrary to PPARC's mission statement. From a long term perspective, we fear that geophysical and solar-terrestrial research will no longer play a role in amateur radio; ultimately, short-term cost reductions will cause extra expenditure in the recruitment of young scientists and this may have damaging consequences for long-term industrial competitiveness.
We hope that you will, therefore, reconsider the cost-reduction programme and specifically the proposal to close the UK ionosondes.
With best regards,