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Physics: investing in our future

The UK needs a clear, comprehensive and long-term vision for research and development (R&D), which instils confidence among researchers and innovators, and unleashes ingenuity wherever it is found. Changes are needed so that each of the core pillars of the physics R&D system – discovery, business innovation, people and infrastructure – is providing the support needed to drive a step change in the performance of the UK’s R&D system.

The IOP is developing a blueprint for the future to unlock the full potential of physics R&D for society and the economy. The following principles will guide the development of a thriving physics R&D system in the UK:

Clear vision and stable policy environment

The UK needs a clear, comprehensive vision for R&D and stable policy environment, to build confidence among the research community and potential investors.

Long-term funding

R&D funding must be long-term and sustainable, to enable people and disruptive ideas to flourish and drive tomorrow’s breakthroughs.

A broader range of excellence

Funding and governance processes must recognise and nurture a broader range of excellence across all types of institution and all stages of research.

Versatile approach to career progression

Approaches to career progression and skills development must be versatile enough to prepare people to succeed in a variety of R&D careers, to foster innovation across the whole economy.

Inclusive to people from all backgrounds

Learning and working cultures must be welcoming and inclusive to people from all backgrounds, to build a thriving, diverse physics R&D workforce. 

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The potential of physics

Physics will continue to transform our world in the coming years. A new wave of technological innovation is about to break. Emerging technologies, enabled by UK physicists’ breakthroughs in fields such as materials science and quantum physics, promise to radically transform the way we live and work, and create new business opportunities and open up new markets. 

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While we cannot predict the breakthrough discoveries of the future, we can create an environment in which they will flourish. The ideas, researchers and institutions that will fuel tomorrow’s breakthroughs need nurturing today.  

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Business innovation

Physics-based businesses are renewing efforts to boost growth through innovation, with two thirds expecting to increase their R&D spending over the next five years, and can therefore propel progress towards the 2.4% R&D investment target.

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Major challenges are preventing the UK from developing the workforce needed for physics research and development (R&D) to thrive. Employers are struggling to find people with the requisite skills among the current workforce, forcing them to scale back planned R&D. Too few young people are choosing physics-related education and training beyond the age of 16, to fuel future innovation. And both of these problems are compounded by a lack of diversity among those studying and working with physics, which limits opportunity and innovation outcomes. 

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Cutting-edge domestic infrastructure, as well as access to major international facilities and collaborations, are essential to positioning the UK as an R&D leader and location or partner of choice for overseas researchers, innovators and businesses.

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Download the full report

Our aim is to present a blueprint for the future so that the UK meets and then exceeds target levels of public and private R&D investment and we transform the physics R&D landscape.

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