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Physics is making big bucks in the Scottish economy

From telecommunications and aerospace to pharmacology and IT systems, a range of industries in Scotland are dependant on the application of advanced physics.

A report, Physics and the Scottish Economy, released today, Thursday, 13 September, by the Institute of Physics in Scotland (IOP), shows that more than £8 billion of Scottish economic output is contingent upon physics.

Scotland is making more of physics in its economy than the rest of its UK partners. Often stereotyped as a complicated academic discipline, physics research and its application are crucial to many 21st Century industries.

Alison McLure, National Officer for IOP in Scotland, said, “Physics teachers in our schools and researchers in our universities provide a vital role advancing the education of physics in Scotland. The relevance and applications of physics however go far beyond the classroom or the laboratory and are used to enhance some of the key sectors in our economy, such as manufacturing and telecommunications.”

The report quantifies the scope of physics in the Scottish economy but also calculates its value. While just over four per cent of Scottish workers are involved in industries that depend on physics, the sector punches far above its weight by contributing ten per cent to the nation’s economic output.

Iain Ferguson, Policy Executive at CBI Scotland, said, “The physics-based sector adds real value to the economy and is of growing importance. Employers across Scotland recognise this and are reaching out for employees with relevant skills and understanding.

“The CBI has been putting pressure on government to encourage more students to stick with science so that employers have less trouble recruiting and for young people to make the most of the opportunities that this exciting and wide sector offers.”

The Science Strategy for Scotland was launched by the Scottish Executive in 2001 to ensure that there are enough science students to meet national needs; to increase the effective commercial exploitation of the latest research; and to increase general appreciation of science in the community.

A 2006 progress report by the Scottish Executive suggested that real strides have been made, including the establishment of the SME Collaborative Research Programme, a public sector research group that helps small- to medium-sized businesses with scientific and technological research, and the launch of Science Matters, a three year initiative run by Careers Scotland to promote the uptake of science careers during secondary education.

David Lockwood, Managing Director of Thales Optronics, a world leader in the design and manufacture of advanced electro-optic systems, employing 700 people, 550 of which are based at its headquarters in Glasgow, said: “Having a large number of physics literate graduates is an advantage for any economy and it’s something that should be a path more recognised and encouraged in schools. Unfortunately there is still a shortage of physics and engineering graduates in Scotland despite physics graduates being very attractive to a wide range of employers. Thales Optronics’ success is built on physics and we need a constant flow of individuals with expertise to maintain it.”

Charlie Wallace | alfa
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