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
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
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
15. The Institute has published the proceedings
of this meeting.
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.
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
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
Physics and Foresight: Consulting the Community, December 1999. Back