Gloom lifts for science

March 9, 2007

Physics and chemistry are making a comeback with a growth in student demand. Tony Tysome reports.

Scientific subject heads have forecast a bright outlook for academics seeking jobs in physics and chemistry in the next few years despite the general gloom that has surrounded the disciplines after a series of course closures.

The prediction comes as pockets of growth have begun to emerge in science, engineering and technology subjects that, until recently, appeared to have fallen on hard times.

The trend has been buoyed by the latest student applications figures, which indicate strengthening demand for places in physics, chemistry, mathematics and most forms of engineering.

Tony Ashmore, registrar at the Royal Society of Chemistry, said that this year's 11 per cent rise in applications for chemistry places continued a four-year run of rising numbers that was bound to translate into more academic posts.

He said: "These are signs that things continue to improve for the discipline, with some institutions that had dropped pure chemistry now reinstating it. I hope that this will give institutions greater confidence to take on more staff."

Philip Diamond, assistant director at the Institute of Physics, said the findings of a recent survey conducted by the IoP suggested that physics departments would soon be seeking young new academics to replace a high proportion of staff approaching retirement.

"Departments that are expanding will be looking to hire more staff and are going to be feeling pretty positive about the future," he said.

Liverpool University's physics department is among those hiring staff. It has been given the go-ahead by managers to hunt for established and rising stars to back its expansion plans.

Its latest recruits include Max Klein, a leading expert in elementary particle physics, and his wife, Uta Klein, a senior particle physics lecturer.

Paul Nolan, head of the department, said the recruitment drive was tied in with ambitious plans to expand student numbers.

Meanwhile, one of the UK's smallest chemistry departments, at Bangor University, has become one of the country's fastest growing and is making key appointments to maintain momentum.

Geoff Ashwell, former professor of nanomaterials at Cranfield University, arrived at Bangor with six PhD students last week, adding to an unrivalled 85 per cent growth in student numbers in the chemistry department over the past year. The department is about to advertise for five new postdoctoral research assistants.

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