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In the coming decade, which industry sector will benefit the most from physics research?

By Hamish Johnston

Illustration of some of the sectors that are benefiting from physics research

Illustration of some of the sectors that are benefiting from physics research.

What physics-related industry employs 30,000 people in the UK?

The answer, according to the Institute of Physics (IOP), is the country’s extremely successful space industry – which has been expanding steadily for decades and continues to develop an impressive array of satellite and related technologies. Indeed, the space sector has enjoyed an average annual growth rate of 7.5% since 2008. Not bad going when you consider that the rest of the UK (and much of the world) has been in an economic slump.

Space is just one of the applications of research covered in Physics: Transforming Lives – a 68-page report prepared by the IOP in partnership with EPSRC and the STFC, both of which fund physics research in the UK.

The report is a collection of 11 case studies that looks at the societal and economic benefits of the physics research done in the UK. As well as the space industry, Physics: Transforming Lives looks at how physicists using the Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire have helped develop a vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease. It also describes how pioneering work on liquid crystals done in the UK means that Britons continue to benefit from substantial royalties from patented technologies.

Other topics covered in the report include the contributions of UK physicists to the development of radio-frequency identification tags, cancer treatment and energy-efficient technologies. You can download a copy of the report here.

After reading the report, we were inspired to ask the following question in this week’s Facebook poll.

In the coming decade, which industry sector will benefit the most from physics research?

Computing and communications
Environment and energy
Medicine and biotechnology
Other (please supply via a comment)

In last week’s poll we asked you “Do ‘real scientists’ take research trips instead of holidays?”. The question was inspired by a quote from a new book by the eminent biologist Edward O Wilson, in which the author makes the provocative statement that real scientists do not take vacations. Wilson believes that top scientists should instead take field trips or temporary research fellowships in other institutions. 62% of our poll respondents agreed with Wilson, while the remaining 37.5% disagreed with the premise.

Thank you for your participation and we look forward to hearing from you again in this week’s poll.

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  1. I think industry of computing and communications will benefit most from physics research because of development of metamaterials,optical computing and communication, and even quantum computing and communication though we still don’t know the exact reason why there is phenomenon such as entanglement and superposition which would be understood partly or whole by the advancement of particle research.

  2. “When it comes to physics research then I personally think that space industry would greatly benefit most from it as it deals with various metals and materials and its components along with the quantity would help in aircraft and rocket manufacturing.


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