Funding for basic research

6 October 2017 | Source: Funding for basic research

IOP Ireland recently made a pre-budget statement on the importance of funding basic research in Ireland.

Over the past decade funding in this area has been decimated, particularly with the withdrawal in 2012 of the Science Foundation Ireland Research Frontiers Programme.

Physics is an essential field of knowledge, underpinning progress across all other sciences and engineering and contributing significantly to the economy. However, there is a crisis in the funding of physics research in Ireland: researchers nationwide in fields including, but not limited to, astrophysics and particle physics cannot access funding for their research – even the basic funding necessary to present results at international conferences (travel, subsistence and conference fees). Without additional support physics research in Ireland, and ultimately the research and growth that it underpins, faces a precarious future.

The Institute warmly welcomed the introduction earlier this year of the Irish Research Council’s Laureates programme. The intention of this programme was to make a minimum of 24 awards valued between €400k and €600k in its first round of awards and was targeted at early and mid-career level researchers in any discipline across both the sciences and humanities.

While the Laureates programme is very welcome it excludes mid to late career scientists (anybody over 40) and also, as the awards are relatively large, its impact is somewhat limited. The Institute suggested that funding for basic research should be of the order of €20 million annually and that this budget should be pegged at a level of around 12% of the SFI annual research budget.

The Institute also called for a small travel fund of the order of €0.5M annually. One easily implementable solution to the current problem of many STEM PhD supervisors having no travel funds would be to double the annual €2500 that IRC funded PhD students currently receive and allow supervisors to use up to half it. This is based on €5000 per physics researcher per annum for around 100 recipients. This would require no additional administration.

Such a combination of funding would be of enormous benefit to Irish physics, supporting the basic research that is essential for the future of Ireland and allowing Irish researchers to leverage external sources of research funding.