Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Particle astrophysics

The Science and Technology Facilities Council particle astrophysics programme is helping to answer some of the fundamental questions of the Universe. It focuses on gravitational waves, gamma ray astronomy, neutrinos and the search for dark matter.

Partners involved:
Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

The scope and what we're doing

Programmes funded by STFC in particle astrophysics focus on the areas of gravitational waves, gamma ray astronomy, neutrinos and the search for dark matter. These programmes aim to achieve STFC’s science challenges.

Gravitational wave detectors offer an opportunity to see the Universe from a new perspective, opening up a new field of astrophysics. Detectable gravitational waves will come from huge astronomical events, such as colliding black holes or supernovae. Investigating these events will provide information on pulsars, compact binaries, the origins of our Universe and provide an insight into the secrets of our Universe.

The Cherenkov Telescope Array will be a major step forward in sensitivity and precision for high energy gamma ray astronomy and will address key questions in astrophysics and fundamental physics.

Direct detection of dark matter is the subject of competing projects worldwide based on liquid-xenon and argon technologies. UK groups are positioned to participate in collaborations using either of these technologies. LUX ZEPLIN is a next-generation experiment to detect and study dark matter in the US.

Why we're doing it

Particle astrophysics is a field of research emerging at the intersection of particle physics, astronomy and cosmology. It uses infrastructures and methods to detect a wide range of cosmic particles including neutrinos, gamma rays, cosmic rays, dark matter and gravitational waves.

Particle astrophysics research aims to answer fundamental questions such as:

  • how can we explore and understand the extremes of the Universe?
  • are the particles described by the standard model fundamental, and how do they interact?
  • what is mass – how do particles get heavy?
  • where does gravity fit into the standard model?
  • what are the properties of neutrinos and what is their role in cosmic evolution?
  • what is the origin of cosmic rays?
  • why is there an imbalance between the existence of antimatter and matter?
  • how can high energy particles and gravitational waves tell us about the extreme universe?

Particle astrophysics is also underpinned by theory, and the UK is renowned for the originality and depth of its contributions to theoretical physics.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Funding opportunities

Funding for particle astrophysics exploitation can be obtained through the particle physics or astronomy consolidated grants programmes, as well as the gravitational waves consolidated grant.

Search for funding opportunities.

Strategic Review of Dark Matter

In 2019, STFC undertook a strategic review of dark matter research in the UK to:

  • establish a clear strategy for longer term investment that maintains a UK presence at the cutting edge of the field
  • takes into account future opportunities
  • possibly leads to hosting a third generation instrument.

This review considered the 2012 Strategic Review of Dark Matter, how the recommendations from that review had been implemented; the current programme and recommended a strategy for future investment. It involved a community consultation exercise.

Read Dark Matter Strategic Review 2020.

Who to contact

Nuclear and particle astrophysics programme

Jamie Parkin, Head of Nuclear Physics and Particle Astrophysics


Melanie Kidd, Programme Manager, Nuclear Physics and Particle Astrophysics


Governance, management and panels

The Particle Astrophysics Advisory Panel provides a link between the Science Board and the particle astrophysics community, and represents the needs of the community to STFC.

STFC is also part of the Astroparticle Physics European Consortium (APPEC). APPEC aims to facilitate and coordinate particle astrophysics in Europe by developing long-term strategies, expressing the views of European astroparticle physics in international forums, and establishing a system of peer review assessment applicable to projects in which APPEC members are involved.

Last updated: 22 June 2023

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