Physics is an important basis for innovation. Understanding the fundamental principles of nature is indispensable for applications in modern technologies, materials sciences and engineering. Furthermore, physics facts and methodologies have migrated into life sciences, information technology and even social sciences or economics, to name only a few. Hence, physics is indispensable for addressing complex, inter-disciplinary societal problems of the future, and Grand Challenges such as demographic change, sustainable energies, environmental and climate preservation, mobility and health, societal resilience and systemic risks.
Promoting physics and its adjacent areas nationally and internationally is a key objective of the German Physical Society (DPG), the largest physical society world-wide. DPG now has over 60,000 members, half of them being under the age of 29. Approximately 80% of physics graduates will eventually pursue a career in business or industry; others will continue to perform research at the frontier of our knowledge. Consequently, physics and physicists will be among the key contributors to the European Research Agenda.
With the present paper the DPG offers its comments on the Green Paper of the European Commission in preparation of the Common Strategic Framework for EU Research and Innovation funding.
1. Research on big unsolved problems in physics is a long term investment in innovation.
The mission- or curiosity-driven approach to answer big unsolved questions is both an element of human culture and of innovations. Current big questions of physics include the origin and evolution of the universe, the microscopic structure of matter, the fundamentals and applications of quantum systems, and the formation of complex patterns, including the physics of biological, social and economic systems. Understanding nature at ever more fundamental levels has proven to be a crucial long term investment for future generations, even if it does not always lead to immediate or even predictable applications. Hence, basic physics research must continue to be a major component of the European Research Agenda.
2. The promotion of junior scientists is an investment into the future of science and technology.
EU research advancement must make stronger efforts to improve education, mobility and career opportunities of researchers in all areas, particularly new research fields. The “Marie Curie Actions” should be continued and funding improved. The programme should be available to different instruments, e.g. infrastructure networks. In addition, junior research groups, similar to the DFG’s Emmy-Noether programme, should be eligible. Outstanding young talents should be able to apply for the (co-)funding of their own post. Funding of doctoral programmes should be increased. Measures should be taken to make working for a doctorate and for research in Europe more attractive to junior scientists from countries outside the EU, by providing financial incentives and reducing immigration and residence permit barriers. The future framework programme must continue to further support and promote equal opportunities for young female researchers. Moreover, EU funding must strengthen the reconciliation between work and family life.
3. Scientific excellence must be the superior criterion for EU research funding.
Scientific excellence must be the central and superior criterion in assessing and selecting applications for EU research funding. This includes excellence on the part of review committees. The pool of reviewers must consist of experts of undisputable reputation, to be identified through established procedures such as election by peers or recommendations by major science organisations.
4. Funding of basic research is of central importance.
The innovation-related subject areas of the framework programme as well as the big societal challenges must contain a sufficient amount of integrated, focused and mission-driven basic research as their indispensable basis. This is to be distinguished from curiosity-driven research which should be allocated its own place and sufficient funding within the programme, with instruments such as the ERC, infrastructure programmes etc., to lay the foundations for long-term innovations and economic development.
5. The European Research Council is a success model and needs increased funding.
The ERC, with its focus on individual research, has established itself as a successful institution which is open to funding excellent and innovative projects in all scientific areas. It should be further reinforced. This requires, in particular, an increase in the ERC budget for the further expansion of investigator-driven frontier research.
6. Key Enabling Technologies are important instruments for reinforcing the industrial and technological advancement of the EU.
DPG supports the identification and funding of Key Enabling Technologies. They are, to a high degree, based on the results of physics research and constitute an important contribution towards reinforcing the industrial and technological advancement of the EU.
7. The continuation of collaborative research is of central importance.
Collaborative research and collaborative projects have proven to be an excellent instrument and should be continued in the future EU framework programme. Furthermore, it is necessary to include sufficient room for bottom-up projects in the new research framework programme. Inter-, trans-, and cross-disciplinary research should be specially supported to overcome structural and knowledge deficits.
8. Support for Research Infrastructures must be reinforced.
Funding for existing and new Research Infrastructures, both at the national and the Pan-European level, must be substantially increased. New funding models, both for the construction and operation of Pan-European Infrastructures, need to be developed. Operation of Research Infrastructures must be based on the concept of Open Access and should receive appropriate funding from EU sources.
9. Societal acceptance of EU funded research should be further increased.
Research and research results at a high scientific standard constitute a cultural value in themselves. Substantial public relations efforts should be undertaken and funded in order to convey this message and, thus, further increase the societal acceptance of EU funded research, particularly clusters and large projects. The DPG further stimulates a wide range of substantial European research awards and prizes to honor outstanding or societally relevant research achievements.
10. Simplification of EU funding administration is urgently needed.
It is one of the highest priority requests of DPG to drastically simplify administrative processes within the EU framework programme. The level of reporting should be reduced to a minimum. Scientific support in Europe should be transparent, flexible, user-oriented, and based on mutual trust.