In a bid to answer perennial charges that it has short-changed science, the Australian government is to provide A$151 million (US$80 million) over five years for 15 major facility projects.

Bright outlook: Australian astronomers can look forward to more time on Gemini. Credit: GEMINI

Astronomers won the largest single grant, gaining A$23.5 million for studies using the international Gemini telescopes in Chile and Hawaii. But biotechnology was the most favoured field overall, with total funds of A$47 million for four projects, reflecting the government's emphasis on research with likely commercial applications.

Intense competition for the grants, which were announced on 21 August, meant that only about one in six of the 86 applicant projects was successful.

Nonetheless, Australian astronomers can now double their observing time on the 8-metre Gemini telescopes. They will also develop instruments to help Australia's bid to host the proposed international Square Kilometre Array radiotelescope.

The second-largest single grant, of A$18 million, will help to establish a neuroscience facility based primarily in Melbourne for studying and treating schizophrenia and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Stem-cell research got a smaller grant for a new cell-engineering centre at Monash University in Melbourne.

Research at synchrotron light sources will continue with a A$14.8-million grant for Australian beamlines at facilities in Japan and the United States.

Other projects to win backing include facilities for proteomics and genomics, a photonics foundry, a livestock genetic database, a marine station for oil and gas exploration in tropical waters, and a centre for wine research.