Scandal-Dogged Synchrotron Back on Track

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA--After months of turmoil, the troubled Australian synchrotron is pulling together under new leadership and churning out good science. That's the verdict of the facility's international scientific advisory committee (SAC), which wrapped up a meeting here on 8 March.

The elite facility was plunged into crisis in October 2009 after its managing board ousted Director Robert Lamb for undisclosed reasons. The sacking triggered a 4-month strike and the resignation of five SAC members. The synchrotron returned to full operation in April 2010, but drifted leaderless for months.

On 28 February, the managing board appointed crystallographer Keith Nugent as part-time director and physicist Andrew Peele as science chief. The popular appointments have boosted morale. "It's very clear the synchrotron is now science led," says SAC chair Ted Baker, an x-ray crystallographer at the University of Auckland. The synchrotron, he says, is "doing brilliantly" in terms of generating scientific publications and maintaining high-quality beamlines.

The challenge now, Baker says, is to convince officials in the State of Victoria and the federal government that things are back on track. The synchrotron has no guaranteed funding beyond June 2012, putting plans for more beamlines on hold. "It's critical that the Victorian and Federal governments understand what a jewel they've got," says Baker.