IOP Chief Executive Q&A

13 August 2015

On the 1st July IOP Chief Executive Prof. Paul Hardaker attended the IOP South Central Branch's committee meeting where he answered a number of questions that had been sent into the branch. Here are the results.

Q.  What are the Institute’s policies regarding climate change, for example, does the new building aim to be eco-friendly?

A.  The IOP is fully in support of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) view of climate change.  The IOP and other organisations have issued a statement on this issue. The new IOP building at King’s Cross will aim for at least an Excellent rating with the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM®).  The new building will be as energy-efficient and sustainable as possible.  For example, it will have a passive heating and cooling system, two ground source heat pumps, a blue roof... [see http://kingscross.iop.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/IOP-Exhibition.pdf]

Q.  What is the scope of IOP fundraising activities?

A.  Fundraising is a challenge for the IOP – in order to deliver all of the ambitions in the new strategy we will require an income of about £18.5 million a year to keep them going.  Publishing brings in around £10 million, membership fees although around £1.5 million, do not cover the cost of services to members so are a net cost to the Institute.  Therefore we need to raise a further £8.5 million.  We have had some progress; to date there is some other income (~£3.5 million) for education projects such as ‘Girls in Physics’, where the Institute is working to understand and address the issue of girls’ under-representation in physics post-16. However much of this funding comes from Government and we expect this to be under pressure from the next spending review round.  To address this funding gap the Institute has started the IOP campaign, ‘Opportunity Physics’, which aims to raise £10m (slightly more that our minimum target of £8.5m) over 5 years.  The IOP has two professional fundraisers to help to achieve the income target.  Currently they are provided by a specialist fundraising agency, but over the next few months we will be looking to recruit two new people in to the staff team.

Q.  What are the expected changes in funding over the next few years, in support for physics awareness at the local level?

A.  Over the next few years, we are prioritising membership level activities and so we are expecting to at least maintain the current levels of funding, if not grow.  Outreach and regional funding in particular may increase; and we will be working much more closely to support Branches in sharing good practice and in helping to deliver the key targets from the new strategy and in bidding for more sponsorship and support to develop activities at the local level.

Q.  Gender inequality is forecasted to remain in Western countries for the next 70 years.  What is the IOP's stance on this and what proposals do they have to tackle the issues?

A.  The IOP wants everyone to have equal opportunities in physics, this up front as one of the Values in our new strategy (http://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2015/page_65146.html ).  We are working across the board to encourage participation by girls and a broader range of under-represented groups.  The IOP has funded research to look at the causes of underrepresentation and now aims to use the results of this.  Some examples of our work over the past 24 months on increasing participation in Physics are outlined below:
o Raising aspirations in physics (http://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2014/page_64464.html)
o Opportunities from Physics (http://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2014/page_63750.html)
o It’s Different for Girls (http://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2012/page_58292.html)
o Closing Doors (http://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2013/page_62090.html)
o Gazing at the future (http://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2015/page_65643.html)

One target in the new strategy is to increase the proportion of 16-19-year-olds studying physics by 10%, and to increase the proportion of girls doing so by 10%, both within 5 years.  Part of the strategy involves role models, getting girls taking physics at A level to go back to primary schools to increase awareness of physics and explain why it’s a good subject to do.  
The answer to the next question is also relevant to this topic;

Q.  How he feels about the postdoc position and linked to this, how can academia become more family friendly e.g. more stable in early career, more accepting of part-time working and make better use of existing technology to reduce the travel burden

A.   The IOP already supports early career physicists, providing opportunities to broaden their professional development; however this has a higher priority in the new strategy, and particularly in helping post-docs and those in very early career stages to build their networks and strengthen their professional development.  It has developed the Juno Code of Practice, this is a set of actions recommended by the IOP to address the under-representation of women in physics higher education, and encourages University Physics departments to meet the standard and become Juno Champions.  It encourages departments to be more flexible.  The IOP would like to see the Juno Code of Practice extended into companies, schools and into EU physics departments (we are currently bidding for Horizon 2020 funding to help do this).

Q.  Should there be a more unified stance across funding councils against e.g. funding cuts rather than a "my research is more important than yours"?

A.  All economies that grow and create jobs have a strong science base where government is investing as a % of GDP.  There is now recognition of this as an important factor for the UK to return to growth and to compete internationally.  The Science and Engineering Research councils are getting much better at coordination, and the Institute has strong working relationships with all of them.  We are working with the funding councils and sister societies across science and engineering to present a consistent evidence-based message on the value of science.  We also have much stronger working relationships with key people in Treasury who look after the science funding allocations than we did in the last Comprehensive Spending Review.

Q.  Where he thinks the most exciting emerging areas of physics are and why?

A.  See below for answer, combined with the Q about challenges

Q.  How he feels we should balance blue skies research against investing in research with a clear and exploitable purpose.  How funding should be split across the arts and the sciences?

A.  Government funding looking at the whole is currently split very roughly 75-25 balance, between blue skies, applied research projects, noting that in the application areas industry will also be expected to invest contributing funding, and that as a split seems to work well, although we need to work harder as UK plc to increase industry investments in science and the science base.  There is a tension, which I think is a healthy tension, and whilst I can understand very much Government’s drive to see return on investment in science, through economic value and in job creation, I also know that they understand the value in basic research and in the need to ensure that there is enough space for us to be creative.  The Government do understand the need for a pipeline, also that acceleration in some areas is economically desirable.  With regard to art, the IOP is involved in bridging the gap between society and science, and in persuading people of the cultural importance of physics alongside the arts and music  – working with the arts plays a part in that and in some of the outreach activities, are we are developing a programme of work on this which we hope will be jointly funded with the arts community.

• Q.  What he would like from IOP members?  E.g. in an ideal world should we all be more engaging/ pro-active/ fighting for physics say?
• A.  Enthusiasm is of course very welcome and an active and committed volunteer base as we cannot deliver the new strategy without the help of our membership.  This question could be asked the other way round, as the Institute exists to serve the interests of its members and is keen to improve the dialogue on what people would like to get from their membership.  Often when we talk to members we find that we are doing things that are of interest to them but that we are not as good as we should be at communicating that out so that people know the impact we are having.

Q.  What are the challenges for physics in the next 10/20/30 years?

A1.  There’s a funding challenge for physics as a discipline, it’s currently spread between constrained Govt Depts, BIS and Education for example, much investment is flat compared to inflation so there are knock-on effects.  We know there’s a skills gap, the interdisciplinary nature of work now is a challenge.  So are income, growing certain communities and age groups of membership, and having the right core skills at IOP “HQ” as needs change, for example for us to bid for more external funding ourselves.  We’re improving the situation, we now have a focus from our new strategy, we’re buying a freehold building, stabilising the funding stream, growing the delivery partners and strategic relationships and developing our programme of continuing professional development.

A2.  For progress in physics,  the exciting areas are also challenging, so this answer is combined with the answer for the Q above, Where he thinks the most exciting emerging areas of physics are and why?

One of the great things about physics is that this list is potentially very long.  There are many exciting areas – to share a very personal perspective and from many years working as an atmospheric physicist, the development of the first integrated earth systems models is really exciting, because to model the whole earth system is an achievement that will not only help our understanding of the climate but lead to much greater understanding of physical processes in and around our planet.

In astronomy, we are making real progress in understanding the universe; dark matter/energy, observing gravity waves and the CMB which shows the signature of the Big Bang in the skies.  Also the re-emergence of space exploration missions, Rosetta is a good example of what can be achieved, where we feel sure we will see evidence of life, and new telescopes that are rapidly increasing our capability to observe Goldilocks planets. John Pendry’s cloaking and invisibility work, this is fascinating because it’s a cutting-edge application of physics, but derived from simple experiments with Snell’s law, school level physics, and done by someone having fun with some equations which is now having such huge impact.

Quantum technology is seeing a huge growth in investment and has potential to make transformation change to communications, information technologies and computing 2-d materials, e. g. graphene flakes, these are transformatory technologies for manufacturing if we can learn how to manufacture these on large scale.

Photonics is often underplayed but we are world leaders in this area in the UK and it will play a large part in government thinking of how we grow and develop the new great technologies, this is an important industry sector to the UK.  
Plastic electronics, e. g. roll-up screens, perhaps fusion technology? just looks fun.

The trouble is, where do you stop with physics, it’s all exciting...

Q.  What should the priorities of the IOP branches be?  e.g. where should we be spending our branch money, and what should we be doing!

A.  The branches are the local connection between the Institute and its members – different branches have different needs and requests for funding are varied.  Visits and lectures are standard branch activities.  The IOP wants to do more to help branches roll out the new strategic plan, and will provide support and guidance where requested. Suggestions are welcome on new innovations that will help us deliver a stronger connection with our communities.  Branch focus is to reach out to those communities, and the branch events are to help members share their enthusiasm for physics.