Big Money, New Machines

Young scientists will be among the beneficiaries of four new large-scale research facilities to be built over the next 10 years. The German science ministry ( BMBF) last week announced support for the projects to the tune of ?1.6 billion, giving the green light to a high magnetic field laboratory in Saxony's Rossendorf, a new atmospheric research plane for the German Aerospace Center (DLR), a heavy ion and antiproton accelerator for the GSI institute in Darmstadt, and a free electron laser for the Hamburg-based DESY research centre (see box). At the same time, the ministry put other projects on hold. Among those pending are DESY's ?3.4 billion TESLA linear accelerator and the controversial European Spallation Source (ESS).

"The decision today will give basic research in Germany a new impetus," according to German science minister Edelgard Bulmahn, who claimed that it would secure German research's "top international position." For the first time in 10 years, the German government has committed to investing in new, large-scale projects, and the move "opens up new prospects and provides planning security for German researchers," the minister said.

It's a view shared by scientists. Volkert Harbers, head of flight operations at DLR, which will be home to the new research plane, HALO, explains that it will benefit "the scientific community as a whole. All fields in airborne research, whether it's atmospheric physics or remote sensing, will benefit from it." Furthermore, "the new plane will support a number of research projects in which many Ph.D. candidates and postdocs will work," he points out. Similarly, in Hamburg, DESY believes that its new free electron laser will benefit the quality of research and lectures at its partner universities.

Projects That Received BMBF's Endorsement:

  • A new ?24.5 million laboratory for high magnetic field generation for basic research will be built at the Research Centre Rossendorf near Dresden. The federal government will cover 50% of the cost, with the other 50% being contributed by the Free State of Saxony.


  • A new aircraft for atmospheric research will replace the current, 26-year-old plane. HALO will cost about ?97 million and be operated under the leadership of DLR in collaboration with 31 other research institutes.


  • The new x-ray free electron laser TESLA X-FEL is to be built at the DESY research centre in Hamburg. Because of the boost it will give to its location, the German government is prepared to cover half of the ?673 million cost of this European project. Talks on European cooperation will commence soon to enable a decision on construction within the next 2 years. The construction period will be approximately 6 years.


  • The Gesellschaft für Schwerinenforschung's ( GSI's) international accelerator facility will make it a leading European physics centre. The German government expects that at least 25% of the ?675 million total cost will be shouldered by European partners.

The ministry's decision-making process was a novelty for German science. It was based on, and closely echoed, input from the scientific community in the form of recommendations on nine projects made by the German Science Council ( Wissenschaftsrat) in November 2002. These gave the Rossendorf and HALO projects unconditional support, and the GSI and DESY projects received general support, provisional on adjustments being made to the proposals. BMBF's dismissal of ESS came as no surprise because the Wissenschaftsrat had assigned this project, together with three others, to the category of projects that could not be endorsed at their current stage of development.

"ESS is definitely not a national project," asserted Bulmahn; rather, "it can only be realised on an international scale with other partners." But though "potential European partner countries like Great Britain, France, and Italy are currently not interested in pursuing ESS," Bulmahn felt reassured that German physics would not suffer severe setbacks as a result. "Compared to other countries, the supply of neutrons in Germany is very good," she said. Bulmahn added that BMBF is currently considering an offer to join the U.S. spallation source project in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, the outlook for TESLA is much better, and not only because the Wissenschaftsrat had given it a higher rank than ESS. DESY will receive extra funding through its general budget to continue preparations for a TESLA-type project, Bulmahn announced. TESLA is another international-scale project, and although various informal collaborations and proposals exist worldwide, DESY's concept for a linear collider is regarded as the most advanced, thus justifying the ongoing support.

DESY chair Albrecht Wagner welcomed the BMBF decision, which presents "enormous opportunities for TESLA." Like BMBF, DESY regards finding European partners for the project as the way forward. Current signs therefore place Hamburg as the front-runner to host the linear collider should it end up in Europe.

However, a question mark remains. BMBF is keeping a close eye on the current budgetary problems at CERN. The facility's money troubles make it hesitant to embark on very large scale science projects such as ESS or TESLA, BMBF says.

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