Section 3 of this report and the publication record of staff at the Armagh Observatory demonstrate the completion of a wide range of research projects and individual contributions to astronomical advances during 2004, in addition to the activities described in Sections 4 and 5 of this Annual Report.
The astronomers have also brought to Armagh significant amounts of external funding as well as students, visitors and research staff, and played an influential role in the professional advancement of astronomy and in public understanding of science and education. In recent years -- as shown in Table 1 (p.) -- the Observatory has regularly obtained substantial levels of non-DCAL funding to support its research, maintaining a high level of activity throughout this period and an exceptionally high public profile. During the past five years alone, astronomers at Armagh have averaged almost 35 publications per year in refereed scientific journals, and have appeared in or been quoted in newspapers and other media at least 250 times per year. In short, the Armagh Observatory is a flourishing astronomical research institute which continues to play an influential role both in professional astronomy and in public understanding of science and education.
With sufficient resources to carry out its work, the Observatory remains in a strong position to continue this activity and to play an influential role in both UK and international astronomy for years to come. However, the announced flat funding for Financial Year 2004/2005 put severe constraints on the Observatory's ability to sustain its programmes of research, outreach and public understanding of science. Although the position was largely recovered by the end of the year, with a welcome uplift in funding announced during September 2004, it was by then too late to employ a third Observatory-funded research student. The recruitment of only two such PhD students during 2003/2004 and 2004/2005 is bound to have a negative impact on the Observatory's future RAE results.
The organization's capacity to plan strategically is now being put at risk by the Department's apparent inability to provide it with a secure core funding line. Moreover, the lack of additional research development funds is placing severe constraints on the organization's ability to position itself strongly for the next Research Assessment Exercise. There is a clear risk that a decade of improved performance in virtually every aspect of the Observatory's activities (see Figure 2, p.) could be undermined by systemic underfunding.
For the Observatory to avoid falling into this trap it requires a stable level of core funding adequate for its needs and sufficient to support a reasonable number of research-active staff. In 2001 there were 8 such staff in post, but this has now fallen to 6 and there is a clear need to recruit at least 2 and preferably 3 or 4 such staff, preferably young, ambitious and promising research scientists.
It is noteworthy that the Observatory is the oldest scientific institution in Northern Ireland, the longest continuously operating astronomical research institute in the UK and Ireland. It remains a fully functioning, viable and successful research institute. In addition to its scientific research, which generates cultural capital, it presents a vibrant, positive image of Armagh City and District -- and of Northern Ireland -- on the national and world stage, and makes a major contribution to both DCAL departmental objectives and to the wider initiatives of the Northern Ireland Programme for Government. This report has summarized what can be achieved; the key task for 2005/2006 is to work with the DCAL to obtain a stable level of core funding, and to obtain resources to secure the recruitment of additional research staff. This is to maintain current activity and to lay a strong foundation for the forthcoming Research Assessment Exercise, which has a census date 31 October 2007.