Where the money is

I was reading this weekend in January’s physicsworld some curiously contrasting articles on the state of physics funding in various countries. The UK has recently announced some serious cutbacks to their international collaborative projects, in an attempt to claw back 40 million pounds that was mis-spent a couple of years ago following an accounting error.  Whoops. For example, there will be the complete withdrawal by the UK from my favourite Large Hadron Collider experiment, ALICE.

Meanwhile, Japan’s physicists are nervous after some major budget slashing by its government. There are fears that major research facilities there, such as the Spring-8 synchrotron in Hyogo, will be under the knife, perhaps to fund the new government’s ambitious election promises.

However, across the Pacific, in the US, things are looking a bit rosier, at least if you work in the ‘right’ bits of physics. The National Science Foundation will get a 7% increase on its budget, and NASA a 5% increase. And just across the channel from the UK, France is dishing out a 35 billion euros stimulus package to its university and industy research programmes.

And in the same issue, there’s an article looking at where the ‘top’ 158 physicists in the world began their research, and where they are now.  Of these, 30% were born in the US, but 67% of them are based there now. And those based in the US have about a 16% higher ‘h-index’ (a measure of a scientist’s research output) than those based elsewhere.

For what it’s worth, I’ve also done up a quick count of the job adverts in the back of the magazine. It (if you haven’t guessed) is a UK magazine, and out of 13 adverts for jobs, four of them are based in the UK, and nine elsewhere in Europe.

I’m not sure what conclusion I should come to from these ramblings (safest not to come to any conclusion given the selectivity of my data source), though it does indicate what most physicists know already – if you want to do well in physics research, you have to be mobile. And particularly mobile in the direction of the United States of America.

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