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Salvation in Sight for Australian Synchrotron

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—After months of uncertainty, a deal is taking shape to save the Australian synchrotron from going under.

The synchrotron here is one of just two in the Southern Hemisphere and has given Australian scientists access to powerful beams of light to probe new materials, proteins, and other substances. Last May, the synchrotron’s major backers—the federal government and the government of Victoria State, which hosts the facility—omitted funds for the synchrotron in their budgets beyond 30 June 2012.

An announcement about the facility’s fate will be made "in the near future," says a spokesperson for federal science minister Chris Evans. But ScienceInsider has learned that under a new agreement about to be inked, federal support for the synchrotron will be extended through the Australian Research Council’s Special Research Initiative, which awards large grants to university consortia. Monash University will lead the bid for the funds, says Ian Smith, the university’s pro vice-chancellor for research and research infrastructure. Smith says that the synchrotron will need at least AUS $100 million to operate over the next 4 years. The Special Research Initiative would provide about a quarter of the funds; universities would match that amount, and the remainder would come from the Victorian government, the New Zealand government, and three Australian government agencies.

The synchrotron is not quite out of danger. Australia’s corporate regulator, ASIC, could shut down its operations if guaranteed funding is not confirmed soon, says synchrotron Director Keith Nugent. “I’m not worried,” he says, “but I’ll be happier when the funding announcement is made.”