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1 Talk to ACL Staff by Professor S F Edwards
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is quite a difficult thing, I think to explain all the facets of the Council's policy, because so many different things have gone into the changes that have taken place and that will take place in the future. So I wonder if I could give you just a very brief discussion of the historical points, the things that have caused all the changes that take place, and then really I think the best thing is to just ask you to ask any questions of me and I will do my best to answer them.
There are several big things that have happened in the last 10 years. Some are very remote from this Laboratory at first sight, but they still have an enormous impact on the Council as a whole and I have got to emphasise that point.
Things - decisions may seem a bit strange or perhaps arbitrary when looked at from one Laboratory but if you look at the Council as a whole you see the picture somewhat differently because, of course one has got to have the attention paid to the welfare of all our staff not just one section of it.
Well, the first thing that has made a major change is in our most expensive subject, which is High Energy Physics. As you know there has been a major development all in High Energy Physics, and given that Britain subscribed to the great accelerators in Geneva it has inevitably meant: that our expenditure on High Energy Physics becomes a very massive part of our budget and given that we have gone into CERN it is inevitable that under any financial restriction the Council has to look very hard at the money it is spending on its two major accelerators. This came to a crunch in my predecessor's time when he had to decide which of the two accelerators could go on because we didn't have enough money to run both of them, and it vas decided to close the accelerator in Daresbury after of course a period in which the scientific programmes could be wound up and to continue running the accelerator. at the Rutherford Laboratory across the way.
Now this meant that the Daresbury Laboratory was losing its main purpose in life. However, science keeps moving and new things came up for that Laboratory to take on board. It was decided that the subject of Nuclear Structure demanded a new accelerator and a brilliant new design was thought of and the Council agreed to build a new machine in Daresbury. I would emphasise though perhaps that some people here think of Nuclear Physics as one entity, the new machine at Daresbury has got nothing at all to do with the one that is being closed. It is a completely different branch of science. It still comes under the Nuclear Physics Board, but it is quite different.
At the same time other problems arose at Daresbury which have led to the decision to build a new machine there to produce radiation, that is still after - oh heavens - 7 months waiting approval from the Treasury. Why they are - well I don't know - but anyway it is completely cryptic what happens in the Treasury. Sometimes we get approval for high projects virtually by return of post and other times, as in this case, which incidentally is the only project of this kind in the world and will put Britain in a world beating position, and we wait 7 months for a reply. Anyway the point I am getting at is that Daresbury by about 1979 will be an entirely different Laboratory from the one which existed a few years ago. It is simply doing a completely new brand of science. Daresbury also had a large computing section and this computing section services the High Energy Physics programme there and that, of course, is being closed down. So we have the position of the changes in High Energy Physics since it is a very important subject it docs influence all the other things that we do.
The other thing that is more directly related to this Laboratory is what shall we say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, that whereas this Laboratory was the only one which originally offered a service to the whole nation, it has now been repeated many times over in the Universities - not of course the same thing - please don't misunderstand me. The Universities computing laboratories are much cruder institutions than the one one has here and for the most part all they do in effect is simply offer computing time and they do not offer it under the guaranteed conditions as the Scientific Services Laboratory does, but nevertheless there has been an absolutely enormous increase in the computing power available in the nation.
The third thing that has arisen is that when I became Chairman we had a Forward Look, a five year Forward Look in the normal Government manner and a budget we will be faced with in 1976 will be about 8 million pounds less than the one which was in the Forward Look of two years ago, and if we get 8 million pounds less we have got to do 8 million pounds less of science. There is no escape from that, that is the ruling. It is not for me to make judgments as to the way the Government distributes its reduction. It is clear there is an enormous over-run of public expenditure in this country and all I would say is that - though please don't quote me outside this building - we've got off rather lightly on a cut of that magnitude, because other people have done very much worse and I think the policy of the Secretary of State has been to shield us to some extent, but nevertheless 8 million pounds is an awful lot of money and we have got, therefore, to make some economies in the way we operate.
Well then, the position we are faced with and were faced with, as your Director said, when we tried to produce a new pattern for our establishments, was that establishments were doing different things to what they have been doing in the past. We were faced with a severe reduction in our budget and we had to try and regroup our Laboratories to make the most economical use of our resources. In particular we were faced with the problem that we had a Computing Laboratory here, another Computing Laboratory in the Rutherford Laboratory and a third Computing Laboratory at Daresbury. Now I am using these words in a very general sense. Please don't think that I am trying to equate these different sections, I am not, but nevertheless they all had SRC staff in them and it was clear that with the big changes taking place in the hardware end of the Council we had to make some changes.
Now, from a purely management point of view the obvious thing to do is to move the Atlas Laboratory to Daresbury. I am not saying this for any other reasons at all, but purely as a management exercise. We have got in Daresbury a Laboratory which will have two major sections and to be a full and rounded Laboratory it is entirely logical that it should have a big computing section. The original purpose of that computing section has past, it was a support for the High Energy Physics. The logical thing was to move Atlas there and that Laboratory would take over the Atlas function and we did think for some while on those lines, to see if they were feasible.
However, a completely new issue arose, which I think is very welcome indeed and what arose was a demand from the engineering community in this country for a very much more elaborate computing service than they have ever had in the past. Now I would like to emphasise the point again that your Director made in his introductory remarks. It is no good doing a thing well, you have got to do something the people want. That is the framework that SRC has to live in and that is the framework that has been laid down by the Government. We are an organisation, not primarily to do science, but to permit other people to do science. In doing that one does science oneself, but I do wish to emphasise that this is the way the Government has interpreted our charter and that is it.
Well, I referred previously to new developments at Daresbury - there will, of course, be new developments at Rutherford in the same way and new developments at Appleton. Appleton used to be the Radio Research Station, it is now essentially our Space Science Laboratory. The Rutherford Laboratory has taken on a neutron beam unit which has become a very elaborate affair and is doing tremendous work both here and in Grenoble in France. We have hopes of also another major project at Rutherford. The point I am making is that science throws up new things and our job in SRC is to have enough control over our budget to take on board the new things as they appear and develop them. In the same way that means that we have got to squeeze things that were there in past and if the worst comes to the worst actually shut things down that were in the past. Well, in the computing field the Engineers have come forward and demanded - not demanded - asked for a much more elaborate computing service and it is not for me go into the technicalities of this, I am sure people here can do it very much better than I can, but briefly, it is not so much that they just take blocks of computer time but that they directly interact with the computer and therefore they can do engineering design in an immediate way so that they are speaking to the computer all the time. This is quite a complicated business. It will require newer hardware and new software and it will require a major effort on the part of the Council. When the Engineers came forward with that suggestion, at the same time when these proposals were discussed in SRC, the Department of Industry felt that this was a major departure which it applauded very heartily and it also felt that here was a chance where something entirely lacking in Britain could come into existence. There is in France a National Computing Centre or Facility, I don't know the words that are used, which is a major centre for computational science and technology, not doing the job of giving computer time to scientists or anything like that but developing computers and their applications and there has not been anything like this in Britain. I think many people have felt that given the massive amount of money and the relative strength of our industry compared with the industries in France and Germany for example that really this was something that we ought to have in Britain. So when the proposal came forward for an Engineering Interactive Facility to be supported by SRC the Department of Industry felt that certain parts of their computing effort could be joined to this to make a kind of Federal Institute and this Federal Institute would then rival and we hope would eclipse in fact that of our French colleagues. Now you will appreciate my position here that I can only speak for SRC. The Department of Industry has definite groups of its activity which it wishes to join with the SRC activity, but I am sorry, I hope you won't press me on this. It is not my business to say they arc looking at this and they are looking at that because you wi1l appreciate, just as people are anxious about the plans that SRC is making, there wi11 be people in the Department of Industry who are very anxious about the plans they are making. So it is not for me to say that, it is for their Chief Scientist to tell them what has happened. But as I say it now they are very much in earnest, they really do intend to come in on this.
So what is the picture we have then? The picture we have is a large Laboratory in the North of England with a computing section, which has not got a clear remit at present. We have got a new facility demanded by the Engineers. We have a great increase of computing capacity in the country as a whole. We have a need from the Department of Industry to weld together a National Computing Centre and we have some general shortage of cash, which suggests very strongly to us that we should try to rationalise our activities.
Well now, how do we propose to try and put these needs together? What we are proposing is this; that the new interactive facility will come here to Chilton; that the Department of Industry will move part of its activities, perhaps all of them, but that is not for me to say, to Chilton also. So that the present Atlas Laboratory will be the starting point for a new National Computing Centre. What we are proposing at Daresbury is to give that Laboratory a task which was done previously by this one and to some extent by Daresbury itself, that of supporting scientists who want to have computer time and want some support - in the scientific work they are doing as against computer science. So that our plan, therefore, will be that there will be a computing group at Daresbury, a very substantial group, but its orientation will be very much to the scientific need, it won't be developing computer science as such and certainly not developing hardware. It will service that Laboratory and it will offer a substantial part of the Atlas services as we know it here. This, incidentally, does fit in with the new developments at Daresbury because they will have a substantial machine, the new machine for producing X-Rays and Ultra Violet and so on. It will be right in the middle of Physics and Chemistry as we know it.
What we are proposing at Atlas is to develop the interactive working centre here and with the Department of Industry to bring other groups here and have this as the Centre for a National Computing Laboratory. I think it looks as if it will come off, as far as SRC is concerned it will come off and we are essentially committed to this. I can't commit other people, but it does look as if we will have - I think Dr Howlett will say at long last - the real National centre for Computing in the Chilton area.
Now with this there obviously are some changes in structure which I think I should go into. The first point is that there is going to be a substantial change in all our major Laboratories. Let me go back to Daresbury for the moment. The situation was that was founded as a High Energy Physics Laboratory. It will, in future, do three quite different things and I do not feel that it is the least bit sane to have three Directors of that site. You have got to have a Director of that Laboratory and essentially then he will have three people who will run three sections of that Laboratory. Now we are in a complicated situation in the organisation of the new Laboratory here in Chilton. On the one hand they will be part of a National Campus but I would like to emphasise the plans at present are for a Federal structure. In other words we finance our bit of it, the Department of Industry finances its bit of it, if other Departments come in then they will finance their bits of it. So we hope they will use common services and have some very general agreement amongst themselves on how to operate. Nevertheless we do not see that as a thing which is run by one Director. On the contrary I think our view is that the whole of the present Chilton site, which will have High Energy Physics, Neutron Beam work, we very much hope the major Laser facility and the SRC part of this new National Centre, would become under the direction of a Director overall for the Chilton site and our section of the new National Laboratory will have its own Head who will report to that Site Director of the whole of the Chilton complex.
We hope that all this can come about essentially I would like to say starting now, though I assure you that we will have absolutely full consultation with your representatives on the way we do things. I would hope, however, that we could start planning it now and over a period of perhaps three or four years the whole thing will be brought to some kind of completion. It is not a desperate hurry, we have got to do it properly, but I would think that over that kind of period of time we can do it and we will obviously have to look into the details of it very closely and so Council is going to set up a Committee which will have representatives of all the interested parties to try and work out the plans in detail. I hope when this goes ahead it will put SRC into a position of being able to get the best of modern equipment. We have in the past I think in this country had very superior equipment to most parts of the world. I am sure most of you will know this, but I would like to emphasise this again that for example the service we are able with Atlas and with the Computer Board in this country to the Universities in this country, is immensely superior to that given in the United States. There are, of course, great computers in the US, but they nearly all sit behind locked gates and you cannot get at them. Our public service is immensely superior to the ones you get abroad and I would hope we can keep this up and the Council has set aside money to re-equip its Laboratories with the best of equipment. The difficulty is, and I will be quite frank about this, is that the merits and the decisions in equipment are very difficult. I hope we will get this sort of thing sorted out but I find it quite an uphill struggle because one depends on so many different factors in deciding how one goes about it.
Well, the changes I have outlined obviously can cause disruption to certain members of staff. It is clear that some of the jobs people are doing here we would think of as being done in future in Daresbury. Some of the jobs people are doing here might turn out to be more logically done in the Department of Industry section of the National Laboratory. I am being deliberately vague about this. I do not think one can be absolutely precise about it, until one's gone into all the details and had full representations from the Staff Side and the Scientific Side and we get a proper dialogue in this, but as I see it I would imagine some people who are definitely, shall we say on the science end of the Atlas activities, as against the computer end of its activities would be invited to go to Daresbury.
I would imagine that when the Department of Industry sets up its section of this Laboratory here that some of the staff here would be invited to move thee, which may be down the corridor, I don't know how it goes, but there will be some sort out of staff. As you will appreciate anyway that when there is a big movement like this not all their staff would want to move here and that would mean that there would be spaces here. So there will be some kind of shake up. I mean it is absolutely inevitable it seems to me given the great shortage of money that we are experiencing, and these really major changes which, I am afraid, we have to make to our Laboratories so that we can give a proper accounting - we are using public money to do science - in the best way possible. But I hope it will all turn out well and I think at this point I had better stop, I am sure there are things I have left out. I will just throw it open to ask people to ask any questions and I will do my best to answer them, only I hope you will appreciate that some of the things I have said are a bit vague, simply because that is the way it is. It doesn't do us any good to make definite pronouncements on things which we haven't really made our minds up on or alternatively which we haven't done a proper consultation with you yet.