‘Fields of Physics experiment’

The notions of research quality vary across fields of science, sometimes dramatically so. This is why the R-Quest team believes that examining conditions of high quality research in multiple research fields is an important step to understanding notions of quality. But what if conditions of research vary across sub-fields of sciences? What about conditions that are not conventionally regarded in research literature?

These are the questions that the ‘fields of physics’ experiment in Manchester Institute of Innovation Research seeks to answer. In the experiment, we hypothesise that research quality notions might be affected by the extent to which the ‘site of accountability’ and the ‘site of knowledge production’ in a research field overlap.

From the point of view of a researcher, local laboratory-based research fields are an illustration of a case where the ‘site of accountability’ and the ‘site of knowledge production’ overlap. Research fields organised around shared, offsite international research facilities exemplify a complete disconnect between the ‘site of accountability’ and the ‘site of knowledge production’ from a researcher’s standpoint. Social science fields and humanities provide examples of different degrees of partial overlap.

One of our working hypotheses is that dominant notions of research excellence are negotiated and institutionalised through different mechanisms depending on the degree of overlap between the ‘site of accountability’ and the ‘site of knowledge production’.

To test this hypothesis we intend to map and study the mechanisms of negotiating and institutionalisation of notions of research excellence in three physics research fields. These are:

  • Heavy flavour physics is a field that ultimately looks for the evidence of physics beyond the Standard Model by looking for and measuring matter-antimatter symmetries in quarks and other very small particles. Research in this field can be theoretical or experimental. Experiments in heavy flavour physics tend to be on a very large scale and require powerful equipment, such as the one found in CERN.
  • Quantum many-body physics with ultracold atoms is a field of lab-based physics. Quantum gases are created by cooling atoms to temperatures close to absolute zero, at which point they take ‘quantum gas’ form, which can be manipulated to study laws of quantum mechanics. In this field, research results depend much on the expensive and sophisticated equipment, which is usually purchased by universities for campus-based research groups.
  • [Provisional] string theory is a theoretical physics field that also seeks to uncover physics beyond the standard model, but through the methods of mathematics, not particle experimentation.

Empirically, we will initially attempt to map the intellectual structure of the three fields. We will use conventional bibliometric techniques as well as some experimental methods, such as co-nomination sampling. We will then link the individual researchers to their immediate groups and to their employing organisations. We will proceed with interviewing a selected number of academics in each of the three fields, investigate the local context as well as the national research spaces in order to understand the dynamics of production of high quality research.

Researchers involved in this experiment are Maria Nedeva, Duncan Thomas and Maria Karaulova.