LONDON—Europe has decided to remain at the forefront of condensed matter research with an agreement by nine countries to start building the $500 million European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) next year in Grenoble, France.

At the same time, the United Kingdom has bolstered its reputation for remaining out of step with the rest of European science by refusing to pledge its support for the ESRF at a key meeting last month. Although the British Science and Engineering Research Council has helped to plan the new machine since it was proposed a decade ago, it cannot by itself raise sufficient funds to provide the 15 percent expected by its partners.

Ironically, Britain already operates the leading X-ray machine, SERC’s Synchrotron Radiation Source, at the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire. The machine has been upgraded recently to increase its brightness, and ESRF is regarded as its successor. The two will be complementary, with...

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