Astrophysicist at Cambridge University, who is studying the Milky Way and hopes to play an important role in the next major European Space Agency (Esa) project, has been forced to hand over his coordinating role to the scheme after a dispute over Northern Ireland’s Brexit line of Northern Ireland agreements.
Nicolas Walton, a researcher at the Institute of Astronomy, on Friday reluctantly handed over his leadership role in the Marie Curie-wide European network research project worth 2.8 million euros to a colleague in the Netherlands.
The European Commission wrote him a message that British scientists could not hold leadership positions because Britain’s membership in Horizon Europe’s flagship funding network (HE) of £ 80 billion had not been ratified.
Walton was to head a doctoral network linked to the Essay Gay mission, which displays nearly 2 billion stars in the Milky Way.
He is just one of the few British physicists approved for a HE grant, but now has to take a passenger seat in his own project.
Carsten Welsh, a physicist at the University of Liverpool who received 2.6 million euros, also from the Marie Curie network, for long-term research on a new plasma generator, also faces the same dilemma – move to the EU or transfer leadership to an EU institution to provide a research .
“As the UK’s association with Horizon Europe is not complete, we now run a real risk of losing leadership in this consortium and being marginalized.
“It’s really heartbreaking given the long and extremely successful experience of scientific cooperation between the UK and the EU,” he said.
Both Welsh and Walton say the loss of their role in research networks is only part of the picture. With Horizon Europe comes a place in the ring in larger projects worth billions of euros involving networks of academia and industry.
“The damage has already been done … our influence is fading,” Welsh said.
Walton’s coordinating role came along with the opportunity to become part of a European team that is determining the scientific rationale for Gaia’s successor of 1 billion euros, the Esa Voyage 2050 program, and to train a new cohort of astronomers.
“It’s about jobs and the economy, and ultimately it makes the UK a more prosperous society,” he said.
Last week, EU Ambassador to the UK Joao Vale de Almeida acknowledged that British science could be a “victim of a political stalemate”.
Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society, said: “The window for the association is closing quickly and we need to make sure that political problems do not hinder a sensible solution. We have always been very clear that the association is a key outcome for the defense of decades of collaborative research and the benefits it has brought to the lives of people on the continent and beyond. ”
Welsh is considering his options and said the UK proposal to join with alternative funding is “fantastic in principle”.
But he says it’s not a replacement.
“Although the UK Guarantee Fund for Research and Innovation provides vital financial support and allows UK institutions to contribute as associate partners (without EU funding), this means that UK institutions can no longer run projects, can no longer be responsible for project stages and overall it feels like the UK is losing important leadership. ”