UK firms not backing research say physicists

A fundamental cultural change in university physics departments, is resulting in `industrially relevant research gaining in esteem’, says a report by the Institute of Physics. But there needs to be a similar cultural change in the attitude in British industry. Physics research is increasingly important in sectors such as semiconductors, opto-electronics, sensors and new materials, […]

A fundamental cultural change in university physics departments, is resulting in `industrially relevant research gaining in esteem’, says a report by the Institute of Physics.

But there needs to be a similar cultural change in the attitude in British industry.

Physics research is increasingly important in sectors such as semiconductors, opto-electronics, sensors and new materials, while in chemicals and environmental technologies the importance of physical as well as chemical processes is becoming increasingly recognised, says the report.

It was produced for the institute by the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, based on interviews with 70 people in 14 universities and seven companies.

In the UK, `the industrial sectors where physics research is potentially most relevant are not particularly strong in international competitiveness,’ it says.

Scientists may have to look abroad for partners, it warns.

It found that smaller companies tended to be unable to commit to financing university research on a significant scale, while larger companies had generally reduced their research and development spending.

Even where a university-industry link is established, says the report, UK companies are viewed as less likely than their overseas competitors to develop the technology to commercialisation.