Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The top-10 research projects

Research investments in crisis times.

The economic crisis has both dramatic and surprising consequences. The credit crunch is curbing the industrial activity, deglobalization and protectionism are surfacing, the euro is challenged, public deficits and unemployment rates are surging ...
But, interestingly enough, most of the stimuli plans injecting trillions of dollars in the economies include provisions to boost R&D as research and innovation are seen by the politicians as one of the few available lifelines.
The stimuli plan breadcrumbs (2-3%) devoted to R&D are quiet substantial when seen from the research community (for example: 21 B$ in the US). They amount to doubling the yearly budget of some research organizations.
So, in this credit crunch times, research ends up with a lot of money to spend, which is, at first sight, good. But when the immediate needs are covered, the main question becomes: what to do with and how to spend this bonanza in a year or so.
We, researchers, have always said that long term and sustained investments in research were more efficient than changing policies and short term vision, even if large support are temporarily given, but here we are.
Hiring researchers/engineers/post-docs for one year would make no sense, neither would buying expensive equipments on which neither manpower nor maintenance could be secured. Moreover it would not serve the stimulus plan goal to save the money for covering long term research. Then what ?

One possible way would be to get more international and to jump start a couple of world-wide large scale research projects relying on the international sharing of the long term running costs.
This would imply a reshuffling of the current investment plans and projected budget spendings, but it would be worth the effort. As a side effect, it would make basic research more global.

But which projects ? what are, today, the top-10 science projects that could benefit to the world from this unplanned large support. Let me propose here a few selection criteria (you may comment).
The project should be:
  • Of great scientific importance
  • Internationally accepted as such
  • Technologically ready, but
  • Advanced enough (not to be obsolete once built)
  • Serving a large community (optionally larger than the initiator field)
I can see a few examples in particle/accelerator physics, nuclear physics, astrophysics, space, nanotechnology, life science, computing... but I do not want to bias your comments.

Let's have a short survey:

What is your favorite, most needed project ?
(see status of the survey after submitting)

RoadMaps and long term planning:
Many long term R&D forecasts have been prepared these last years in science, in general, and in some more particular fields (energy, health, particle physics, astroparticle,..). Each plan has often been made at the country level or, in the best case, at the regional level (EU), but none have been discussed at the international level.
A compilation of the various plans may help fore coming discussions:

If you have been involved in such a roadmap discussions or, simply, if you happen to have read such a document, just fill the following form.