Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from Professor Alun Jones, the Institute of Physics

  1.  The Institute of Physics is an international learned society and professional body for physicists. With over 26,000 members it looks after the interests of professional physicists and promotes physics education, understanding and application to all. Institute of Physics Publishing, a wholly owned subsidiary, is a major publisher in physics.

  2.  We are pleased to respond to the Science and Technology Committee's inquiry into EQUAL. A broad range of innovations which can extend the active period of people's lives depend on the application of physics and exploitation of the skills of physicists. These range from developments in medical diagnostic technology, through transport and the built environment, to IT, communications, leisure and learning. The Institute is keen to encourage and foster research, development and application in this area within the physics community.

  3.  Sadly, we believe that the objectives and achievements of the EQUAL initiative have not been effectively disseminated. Before putting together this submission we asked if colleagues were aware of EQUAL, its aims, its activities and outcomes. Those questioned were clearly not well informed, with most being unaware of the initiative.

  4.  Public availability of information on EQUAL is very poor. The DTI/OST web sites are the obvious places to search for information yet they contain no comprehensive summary of activities falling within the initiative or related to it. The provision of such reference information is particularly important in our view, since so many public and private sector departments and bodies are, or could be, involved.

  5.  Neither could we find details of the opportunities for individuals and organisations to become involved in EQUAL initiatives.

  6.  The Institute believes that the provision of reference data of this kind, with links to sources of further information, should be a minimum requirement for dissemination.

  7.  For these reasons we are not able to comment on costs and outputs of the initiative, its effectiveness or success.

  8.  The Institute was pleased to note that The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) are contributing to the EQUAL initiative and that brief information on their projects is available on their web site.

  9.  We note that EPSRC support is concentrating on the built environment. We would point out that the physical sciences have the potential to make a significant contribution to many more aspects of extending quality of life for older people.

  10.  The limited information on EQUAL that is provided on the various web sites is frequently very old, or undated. This presents a misleading picture of the status of the initiative.

  11.  In contrast, the Institute is aware that one of the key themes of the current phase of the Foresight Programme is The Ageing Population. We know that, along with a thematic panel concentrating on this topic, several of the Programme's subject panels have set up working parties specifically addressing issues associated with the ageing population.

  12.  The Foresight Knowledge Pool does not show the obvious links between this aspect of Foresight and EQUAL.

  13.  We believe that Institute of Physics' members are aware of the emphasis on issues relating to The Ageing Population in the current round of Foresight, partly through dissemination activities undertaken by the Institute itself.

  14.  The Institute has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the OST to conduct an Associate Foresight Programme addressing the contribution of physics to the Foresight themes of The Ageing Population and Crime Prevention. In April 1999 we organised a full day meeting, Physics and Foresight: Science in our Lives, during which invited speakers both set the context, with data on socio-economic trends, and illustrated technological innovations which will address the issues. Almost 100 people took part in the meeting, representing both scientific and end-user groups.

  15.  The Institute has published the proceedings of this meeting[1]. Complimentary copies have been provided to all participants, to all the relevant Foresight panels and freely, on request. Copies are provided herewith for the Science and Technology Committee.

  16.  Following on from Physics and Foresight: Science in our Lives The Institute has conducted a major web-based survey to catalogue research and development that is being or could be conducted within the broad physics community which could impact on The Ageing Population and Crime Prevention. Pre-publication copies are provided herewith[2].

  17.  This survey has shown that, whilst the potential contribution of physics in these thermatic areas is great, actual work in this area is very limited. In addition, the links between the science and engineering community and end-user groups for these topics are very poor.

  18.  The Institute believes that this result confirms that the impact of the EQUAL initiative on the activities of a key group of potential contributors to its aims has been insignificant.

  19.  Finally, therefore, The Institute believes that government should consider the benefits of providing funding, directly or through the Research Councils, specifically to enable physicists and other scientists to work towards products and processes which will support the challenges and opportunities of the ageing population as a continuing part of the EQUAL initiative.

10 January 2000

1   Physics and Foresight: Science in our Lives, August 1999. Back

2   Physics and Foresight: Consulting the Community, December 1999. Back

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