NORWAY: Basic physics evaluated

An international panel of distinguished physicists has examined 48 research groups involved with basic physics at Norwegian universities and research institutions. Five have been graded as excellent and some are world-leading.

The panel believes Norway is now in a financial position to contribute more actively to the global long-term strategic development of basic physics with up to 160 new physicist positions created at a cost of NOK120 million (US$20.3 million).

The purpose of the evaluation, which took one year, was to have a critical review of Norwegian physics research and give a feedback on how Norwegian research is meeting international challenges.

The productivity of research articles is low compared to Sweden and Denmark, and also compared to other sciences in Norway.

In some fields of physics, such as subatomic physics and complex systems, there is to day a well-.functioning national coordination. In other fields this is lacking, and should be established.

The committee is in particular recommending increased mobility, both within Norway and internationally. A major expansion is needed, and the Norwegian pattern of employing own graduate candidates in recruitment positions should be opened up for recruits from outside:

"It is certainly a healthy order to require, as many departments do abroad, that Ph.D students be primarily recruited from other universities than those where they got their master degrees, or that post-docs are not accepted among the PhDs of local production, or that professional positions are widely announced. To contribute ideas from somewhere else is after all one of the most useful things a newly employed scientist can do," the report said.

The report exemplifies how important basic physics research is for developments in nano-technology, quantum optics and quantum computers, DNA-technology, PET-cameras and other advances in medicine, solar-cell technology, the World-Wide-Web and other advances in information technology. Basic physics thus can be seen as an important long-term investment and since Norway has the resources needed, this is the basis for the committee's expansion proposal.

The report will be discussed by the National Research Council who ordered it. A national follow-up plan will be worked out on the basis of the proposed recommendations.