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Canadian astronomers mount lobby effort

Naturevolume 409page123 (2001) | Download Citation


Tired of meagre grant support and alarmed at their possible exclusion from international projects, Canadian astronomers are mounting an aggressive lobbying campaign to win more financial support.

Canadian astronomy is rated third in the world in terms of citations per paper, despite, Canadian astronomers claim, the government spending seven times less per head than the United States.

But Canadian astronomers say they will be unable to maintain their position without a significant financial boost. “The rules of the game have changed,” says University of Calgary astronomer Russ Taylor, president of the Canadian Astronomical Society. “Astronomy is becoming more international and the stakes are getting bigger.” More resources are needed, he says, for his country to participate in the observatories of the future.

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy, which is made up of academics and industrialists, has been formed to persuade the government to increase funding. “A campaign of this kind, which puts all astronomy under a single umbrella, is a first for us,” says Ralph Pudritz, an astronomer at McMaster University, Ontario, who serves on the coalition's executive committee. “We're slowly catching on to the American way of doing things.”

Pudritz chaired a national panel that authored a report, published last summer, which set priorities for Canadian astronomy over the next decade. The coalition wants to implement this plan. “We're making the case as an entire community, rather than vying for support for individual projects as we've done in the past,” Pudritz says.

High hopes: Canadian astronomers hope to join the Next Generation Space Telescope project. Credit: NASA

The coalition is calling for Can$16.4 million (US$10.9 million) per year over the next ten years for ground-based astronomy; about twice the current funding. The top priority will be involvement in the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, destined to become the world's most powerful radio telescope in millimetre and sub-millimetre wavelengths.

Last month, Canada's National Research Council and the US National Science Foundation reached an agreement to give Canadian astronomers access to ALMA and all major US radio observatories.

Researchers also aim to contribute to the designs of the Square Kilometre Array, a centimetre-wavelength radio telescope, and the Very Large Optical Array.

The coalition is seeking Can$75 million over ten years to allow participation in NASA's Next Generation Space Telescope and another Can$25 million for the European Space Agency's Planck mission to study cosmic background radiation.

Taylor and other coalition members were in Ottawa this week, lobbying members of parliament. “This is make or break for us,” says Pudritz. “If we're not part of the world observatories, recruitment efforts will suffer and we'll lose our edge within a decade.”


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