I had the great privilege to be asked to attend the 50th Anniversary of the International Center for Theoretical Physics [ICTP] in Trieste which was held over 5-9 October 2014. This was a wonderful experience for many reasons.
Of course, ICTP is well-known as a world hub of theoretical physics and a leading international center in physics education, but I had an especially personal reason to feel honoured with this invitation. As a PhD student in 1991, I attended an ICTP Winter College on Ultrafast Phenomena, and seeing at first hand the commitment of leading international scientists to leave their well-equipped labs for a few weeks and commit their time to training students from all corners of the world made a lasting impression.
At the 50th Anniversary event, I spoke at a Round Table on the “Next 50 years of Optics” in the distinguished company of Roy Glauber, Alain Aspect, Peter Zoller, Massimo Inguscio and Eugene Arthurs. We were asked to give opinions on how we thought optical science would develop in the future – this was of course a natural theme for discussion on the cusp of the International Year of Light 2015. Moreover, the amazing news from Stockholm during the week announcing Nobel prizes in light science for both physics and chemistry energized the discussions and debate, and reminded us just how important a field optical science is in so many ways.
One point that I made in my presentation was to ask the audience to think not only about the research topics of the future, but also the research environment. How will universities and institutes be organized in the future? And what about research funding? The last 50 years have seen many changes in the way research is supported: from periods where fundamental research was very strongly supported, to periods where it seems that only applications were funded, to the current environment of Horizon 2020 with its three pillars of excellence, industry and societal challenges.
Projecting forward to 2065 of course requires long-term thinking, but this is precisely what basic science is all about. With the status and mandate of an International Year, 2015 is an ideal opportunity for us all to begin to think about what we can do to influence long term trends in management and funding of research. The timing is perfect as Horizon2020 accelerates and as EPS begins closer engagement with the European Commission through an office based in Brussels.
But whether we succeed is up to us. Let’s not miss this opportunity to make a difference!