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Austria pulls out of Large Hadron Collider

Particle physics means nothing to me, says Vienna

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Austria has announced plans to pull out of CERN, the international science alliance which runs the world's most powerful particle-punisher - the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) - and whose people invented the world wide web.

"I feel bad about every membership that we cannot keep up," said Science Minister Johannes Hahn on Friday, announcing Austrian plans for the pullout. He added that CERN membership currently absorbs 70 per cent of Austria's funding for international projects, and the withdrawal will allow various other initiatives to be funded.

Hahn also sought to characterise the Austrian move as a "pause" rather than a permanent break with CERN, and said that he hoped for "a new kind of cooperation" with the Franco-Swiss based collider organisation.

Top Austrian particle-smash boffins weren't pleased.

"This is a catastrophe," famed Vienna physicist Walter Thirring, a major cheese at CERN from 1968 to 1971, told AFP. He added that other nations might follow Austria in pulling out of the organisation, perhaps imperilling the LHC.

The Collider should have been operating by now, but following initial switch-on last year it suffered serious damage following a cooling failure. It's now expected to start seriously banging hadrons in the second half of this year.

Recent comments by the UK's new science minister and former medtech biz-cat Lord Drayson, to the effect that Blighty might need to refocus its science spending on more lucrative areas rather than LHC-style pure science, met with a robust response from CERN. Thus far there have been no other signs that the UK intends to follow Austria's example. ®

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