Physics Research Institutes

Physics Research Institutes


institutions at which research is conducted in physics. Such institutes work both on problems, which are of basic importance to the development of all of science, and applied problems. There are thousands of physics institutes throughout the world, which are variously called scientific research institutes, research centers, laboratories, and the like.

Until the second half of the 19th century, physics research was conducted only at laboratories run by universities and other higher educational institutions and by academies of sciences and at private laboratories of individual scientists. The laboratories eventually gave rise to the first physics research institutes, which often were not administratively independent. For example, one of the oldest physics research institutions is the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University (Great Britain; founded 1871), which in the late 19th century was the world’s largest research center.

With the growth of industry, the larger companies, particularly those specializing in the production of the newest machinery and instruments, established their own physics research centers, at which scientists worked on general scientific problems as well as production-related problems. For example, important results were obtained in the theory of optical instruments at the laboratories of the Zeiss plants in Germany, which were directed by E. Abbe in the late 19th century. The laboratory of the Bell Telephone Company in the United States (founded 1877; since 1885, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company) has won world renown. It has grown into an independent system of physics research facilities known as the Bell Telephone Laboratories, which conduct applied and basic research in many areas of physics.

Beginning in the early 20th century, various laboratories of higher educational institutions and private companies reorganized into physics research institutes. For example, the laboratory founded in 1894 by H. Kamerlingh Onnes at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands eventually developed into the world’s leading center for the study of low-temperature physics, while the physics laboratory at the University of Manchester in Great Britain, directed by E. Rutherford, became one of the world’s leading research centers. The Radium Institute was founded in 1914 on the basis of the laboratory of the University of Paris that was headed by M. Sktodowska-Curie. As early as the beginning of the 20th century, the intensive development of physics led to the need for administrative and financial coordination and centralization. The importance of various research results for the military led to the involvement of government agencies in coordinating research and to government financing of physics research institutes.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the establishment of international physics research institutes became a form of international cooperation. The first such institute was the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen, which was directed by N. Bohr (Denmark, 1920; it now bears Bohr’s name) and which became a world center for basic research.

In the second half of the 20th century, expenditures on scientific research have increased sharply in developed countries to as much as a few percent of the national income. The never-ending search for new results has necessitated the construction of costly experimental facilities and entire complexes of such facilities as nuclear reactors and charged-particle accelerators in nuclear physics, elementary particle physics, plasma physics, space physics, and other fields. Government financing of research has increased in many areas of physics, special agencies to coordinate and regulate such research have been established, and national programs for the development of science have been prepared. Certain institutes began concentrating on specific areas of research. This engendered the creation of numerous specialized physics research institutes and fostered international cooperation in research and the establishment of large international physics research centers and coordinating organizations, such as the European Center for Nuclear Research (Centre Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire; CERN), the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), the European Physical Society (EPS), and the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Atomic Physics (NORDITA), founded in Copenhagen in 1957.

In the United States the most important research in physics is conducted at what are known as national laboratories, which comprise complexes of physics research institutes that are concentrated around the largest experimental facilities and that are united either under single departments or by research areas that are similar or mutually complementary. The most important government agencies to which many physics research centers have been subordinate include the National Bureau of Standards (founded 1901) and the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC; 1946). Among the areas the AEC’s facilities have done research in are nuclear physics and technology, elementary particle physics, and plasma physics and related research and development. The AEC was abolished in 1974. The military research of its facilities was taken over by military departments; the main facilities became part of the newly created Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). The most important facilities over which ERDA has authority are the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies at Oak Ridge, Tenn.; the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (involved in the Manhattan Project and the development of nuclear weapons; site of a linear accelerator referred to as the meson factory, constructed in 1970), which is formally affiliated with the University of California; the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. (with a neutrino observatory and a 33 gigaelectron volt proton accelerator); the Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, 111.; and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory at Batavia, 111. (built on the basis of a 400–500 gigaelectron volt synchrophasotron). These laboratories work chiefly in nuclear physics, elementary particle physics, accelerator physics, and instrument-making and study the effects of radiation on matter.

The laboratories of many US universities have become major scientific research centers, such as those at Princeton University’s James Forrestal Campus (formerly the James Forrestal Research Center), where space research and research in plasma physics and other areas are conducted. The Institute for Advanced Study, to which leading theoretical physicists of capitalist countries are invited to conduct individual research, is also located in Princeton, N.J. The scientific research centers of the University of Chicago and Columbia University (New York) are important, as well as the complex of laboratories of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which it shares with Harvard University. The Stanford University Research center is also of major importance, as is the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), which is run by Stanford University in conjunction with ERDA. The Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory conducts research primarily in nuclear physics and physical chemistry, and the Lawrence Liver-more National Laboratory is primarily concerned with plasma physics. Research in solid-state physics, magnetism, nuclear physics, and other areas is conducted at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pa. Major corporations such as General Electric, Westinghouse, General Dynamics, International Business Machines, Eastman Kodak, and Polaroid have their own physics research facilities.

Extensive guidance in coordinating physics research and developing research programs in the United States is provided by the American Physical Society (founded 1899) and the American Institute of Physics (founded 1931 as an association of several scientific societies in different areas of physics).

In Great Britain the physics research facilities of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority conduct work (as of the 1970’s) in nuclear physics, elementary particle physics, and plasma physics. The authority’s main research centers are located in Harwell, including the Rutherford high-energy laboratory and a laboratory in Chilton for the study of high-energy particles using the NIMROD synchrophasotron; and in Daresbury and Colem, where research in controlled thermonuclear fusion is conducted. The Bristol Laboratory conducts similar but more varied research. Important research in theoretical and experimental physics is conducted at the physics research establishments of large universities such as Oxford University, which has a nuclear physics laboratory, Cambridge University, site of the Cavendish Laboratory, and the universities of Birmingham and Manchester. Basic and applied research has been undertaken at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London. A group of physical research institutes, involved primarily in nuclear physics, are operated by the Scottish Universities’ Research Reactor Centre at Glasgow. Applied physics research is conducted at the research centers and laboratories of private companies. Nongovernmental organizations that provide information and coordinate research include the London Royal Society and the Institute of Physics, which amalgamated in 1960 with the Physical Society in London.

In France the government plays a major role in the administration and regulation of the work of physics research institutes. The Atomic Energy Commissariat, set up in 1945 under the direction of F. Joliot-Curie, conducts both basic and applied research in such areas as nuclear physics, nuclear chemistry, high-energy physics, plasma physics, and controlled thermonuclear fusion. It operates four research centers: the Grenoble Nuclear Research Center, the Cadarache Nuclear Research Center, the Nuclear Research Center at Fontenay-aux-Roses (a Paris suburb; an atomic reactor was started up here in 1948, and the construction of one of the largest Tokamak-type facilities in the world was completed in 1975–76), and the Saclay Nuclear Research Center (near Paris; founded 1949).

The National Center for Scientific Research (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; CNRS) is another major government organization in France that maintains a network of physics research institutes, including the group of physics laboratories at Bellevue. The CNRS laboratories in Strasbourg-Cronenbourg include a nuclear research center and laboratories of nuclear physics, scientific instrument-making, accelerator physics, and theoretical nuclear physics. The CNRS complex at Orleans includes a center for high-temperature physics research, an ionospheric research group, and a cyclotron service. The CNRS research center in Grenoble includes laboratories in electrostatics, magnetism X rays, and the study of the properties of matter at ultralow temperatures. The following CNRS physics research institutes are also well known: the electronic optics laboratory at Toulouse, the theoretical physics laboratory in Paris, and the center for nuclear spectrometry and mass spectrometry at Orsa (near Paris; storage rings were placed in operation in 1972).

In the Federal Republic of Germany, physics societies occupy a key position in the organizational structure of the system of physics research institutes. The leading such society, the Max Planck Society (until 1948 the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of Science; founded 1911), alone maintains more than 40 research institutes, of which about one-half conduct research in various areas of physics. Research in nuclear physics and technology is coordinated by the German Atomic Forum (Düsseldorf). The independent German Research Society in Bad Godesberg has been created to centralize financial assistance to institutes and to coordinate research. The largest physics research institutes in the Federal Republic of Germany are the Institute of Plasma Physics at Garching near Munich, the Scientific Research Institute of Radiation Physics in Stuttgart, the Institute of Nuclear Physics of Heidelberg, and the Institute of Physics and Astrophysics in Munich (nuclear physics, plasma physics, cosmic rays, elementary particle physics, astrophysics). Major research centers are located in Dortmund (the Institute of Spectrochemistry and Applied Spectroscopy) and at Karlsruhe and Jülich near Aachen, where powerful nuclear reactors are concentrated (the Institute of Experimental Nuclear Physics and the Institute of Theoretical Nuclear Physics). There are a number of large physics research facilities centered on the electron synchrotron with storage rings (DESY) in Hamburg, which is the largest in the Federal Republic of Germany. The laboratories of universities and higher technical schools in Bonn, Hamburg, and Aachen also conduct important physics research.

In Italy all research in physics, except research in nuclear physics and elementary particle physics, is organized and directed by the National Research Council of Italy (founded 1923), which maintains more than 70 institutes and laboratories (of which 36 conduct basic research) and 108 research centers. Research in nuclear physics, elementary particle physics, accelerator physics, cosmic-rays physics, and plasma physics is directed by the National Committee for Nuclear Energy (founded 1960), which maintains laboratories in Frascati (founded 1953), where the largest charged-particle accelerator with storage rings in Italy is located, and the Enrico Fermi Center for Nuclear Studies in Casaccia, among other establishments. Research in nuclear physics and elementary particle physics is coordinated by the National Institute of Nuclear Physics. As part of the overall development of southern Italy, the Sicilian Center of Nuclear Physics and of the Structure of Matter was founded in 1955. The Center for Nuclear Studies at Ispra functions within the framework of CERN. The International Center for Theoretical Physics (founded 1964), which is directed by A. Salam, is located in Trieste. Its main objective is to enable gifted scientists from developing countries to work at the scientific level of advanced countries.

Atomic energy institutes and research centers were created after World War II in most Western European countries.

The Albert Einstein Institute of Physics in Haifa (Israel) is a major physics research institute. In Japan many physics research centers have been established by private companies, the largest of which conduct not only applied research but basic research as well. The laboratories of many Japanese universities are essentially physics research centers, working principally on fundamental problems, for example, the Institute for Solid-state Physics at Tokyo University. Physics research is regulated and coordinated by government agencies: the pure science section of the Science Council of Japan (founded 1949), the natural sciences section of the Japan Academy, and the Scientific and Technology Agency of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (since 1956). The oldest physics research institutes directly subordinate to national or local government agencies include the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research in Saitama Prefecture (founded 1917), the Kobayashi Institute of Physical Research in Tokyo (1940), and the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute in Tokyo (1956).

A network of physics research institutes is being created in India. The leading institutions are the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad (founded 1947), the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Calcutta (1951), and the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Bombay (1957).


The first physics research institution in Russia was the Physics Office, which was established at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1725 (in the period 1912–21 it was called the Physics Laboratory of the Academy of Sciences). Physics research, which was considered the province of private individuals and consequently received virtually no financial support from the government, was conducted mainly in small laboratories of physics departments of universities and other higher educational institutions in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kharkov, Kazan, Iur’ev (Tartu), Odessa, and Kiev. The Institute of Physics in Moscow, the first major scientific research institute, was founded only in January 1917.

The rapid growth of the network of physics research institutes began after the victory of the October Revolution of 1917. The State Roentgenologic and Radiological Institute, which attracted many leading scientists, was formed in 1918 at the initiative of A. F. Ioffe and M. I. Nemenov. Its optics division, headed by D. S. Rozhdestvenskii, soon became the State Optics Institute, which made significant contributions to the science of optics and to the development of the opticomechanical industry. The physicotechnical division also became an independent physics research institute and, under the direction of Ioffe and after a number of changes, became the Leningrad Physicotechnical Institute, which played an important part in the establishment of Soviet physics and the training of scientific personnel. The V. I. Lenin Nizhny Novgorod Radio Laboratory, which became a major center for research in radio physics and radio engineering, was organized in 1918 in the city of Gorky by M. A. Bonch-Bruevich. That same year, the Institute of Physics and Biophysics was established in Moscow on the basis of the Institute of Physics. The Physics Laboratory and the Mathematics Office of the Russian Academy of Sciences were combined in 1921 to form the Physicomathematical Institute. In 1934 its physics division was made an independent institute and transferred to Moscow. Under the direction of S.I. Vavilov it became the Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, a leading physics research institution.

In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the Ukrainian Physicotechnical Institute in Kharkov (1929), the Institute of the Physics of Metals in Sverdlovsk (1932), the Siberian Physicotechnical Institute in Tomsk (1928), and the Physicotechnical Institute in Dnepropetrovsk (1933) were established on the basis of the research groups of the Leningrad Physicotechnical Institute. The Institute of Physical Problems of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR was created in Moscow in 1934 under the direction of P. L. Kapitsa. The Crystallography Laboratory of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, organized in 1938, became the Institute of Crystallography of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in 1943.

Nuclear physics and power engineering developed in connection with the problem of the utilization of atomic energy, and specialized physics institutes were organized, of which the Institute of Atomic Energy emerged as the leading one (Moscow; founded 1943). The Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics (Moscow; 1945), the Institute of Physics and Power-Engineering (Obninsk), and the Institute of Radio Engineering (Moscow) were formed, as well as nuclear physics centers in Kiev, Tashkent, Tbilisi, Minsk, Riga, Alma-Ata, Sverdlovsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Melekess, and elsewhere.

The organization of institutes for research in high-energy physics was connected with the construction of charged-particle accelerators. The Institute of High-energy Physics was founded in the village of Protvino (near Serpukhov in Moscow Oblast) on the basis of a 76 gigaelectron volt proton accelerator, one of the largest in the world (started up in 1967).

In the 1950’s and 1960’s research in many fields of physics intensified, including solid-state physics, semiconductor physics, the physics of low temperatures and high pressures, radio physics, and electronics. This led to the creation of a broad network of specialized physics institutes of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Among these institutes are the Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics (founded 1953), the Acoustic Institute (1953; the Academy of Sciences provides scientific and methodological supervision), the Institute of High-pressure Physics (1958), the Institute of Solid-state Physics (1963), the Institute of Theoretical Physics (1965), the Institute of Spectroscopy (1968), and the Institute for Nuclear Research (1970), all located in Moscow or Moscow Oblast, and the Institute of Semiconductors (1954–72) and the B. P. Konstantinov Leningrad Institute of Nuclear Physics (1971, both in Leningrad.

The Institute of Nuclear Physics (Novosibirsk), the L. V. Kirenskii Institute of Physics (Krasnoiarsk), and the Institute of Semiconductor Physics (Novosibirsk) function as part of the Siberian Division of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. The academy’s Urals Scientific Center includes the Institute of the Physics of Metals (Sverdlovsk) and the Division of Polymer Physics (Perm’), while the Kazan Branch includes the Kazan Physicotechnical Institute, the Dagestan Branch maintains the Institute of Physics (Makhachkala), and the Bashkir Branch includes the Division of Physics and Mathematics (Ufa).

Table 1. Principal physics research institutes in the USSR
Academy of SciencesInstituteLocation
1A settlement in Riga Raion
2ln Tashkent Oblast
Azerbaijan SSR ...............Institute of PhysicsBaku
Armenian SSR ...............Institute of Physics ResearchYerevan
 Institute of Radio Physics and ElectronicsAshtarak
Byelorussian SSR ...............Institute of PhysicsMinsk
 Institute of Solid-state Physics and SemiconductorsMinsk
 Institute of Heat and Mass ExchangeMinsk
 Physicotechnical InstituteMinsk
Estonian SSR ...............Institute of PhysicsTartu
Georgian SSR ...............Institute of PhysicsTbilisi
Kazakh SSR ...............Institute of Nuclear PhysicsAlma-Ata
 Institute of High-energy PhysicsAlma-Ata
Kirghiz SSR ...............Institute of Physics and MathematicsFrunze
Latvian SSR ...............Institute of PhysicsSalaspils1
 Institute of Physics and Power EngineeringRiga
Lithuanian SSR ...............Institute of Physics and MathematicsVilnius
 Institute of Semiconductor PhysicsVilnius
Moldavian SSR ...............Institute of Applied PhysicsKishinev
TadzhikSSR ...............S. U. Umarov Physical Engineering InstituteDushanbe
Turkmen SSR ...............Physicotechnical InstituteAshkhabad
Ukrainian SSR ...............Institute of PhysicsKiev
 Institute of Nuclear ResearchKiev
 Institute of SemiconductorsKiev
 Institute of Theoretical PhysicsKiev
 Physicotechnical Institute of Low TemperaturesKharkov
Uzbek SSR ...............Institute of Nuclear PhysicsUlugbek2
 S. V. Starodubtsev Physicotechnical InstituteTashkent
 Institute of ElectronicsTashkent
Table 2. Principal physics research institutes in socialist countries
1Near Prague
2Near Berlin
3Near Warsaw
Bulgaria ...............Institute of Nuclear Research and Nuclear Power EngineeringSofia
Cuba ...............Institute of Nuclear PhysicsHavana
Czechoslovakia ...............Institute of Nuclear PhysicsRes1
 Institute of Nuclear ResearchRes1
German Democratic Republic ...............Institute of High-energy PhysicsZeuthen2
 Central Institute for Nuclear ResearchRossendorf
Hungary ...............Central Institute of Physics ResearchBudapest
 Nuclear Research InstituteDebrecen
Mongolia ...............Physicotechnical InstituteUlan-Bator
People’s Democratic Republic of China ...............Institute of Nuclear PhysicsPheniang
Poland ...............Institute of Nuclear ResearchSwierk3
 Institute of Nuclear PhysicsKrakow
RumaniaInstitute of Atomic PhysicsBucharest
VietnamInstitute of PhysicsHanoi

Physics institutes that conduct extensive research in various areas of modern physics have been established in all the Union republics. Table 1 lists the main institutes which are affiliated with the academies of sciences of the various Union republics.

Physics research institutes have also been established at a number of higher educational institutions, for example, the Institute of Nuclear Physics at Moscow State University, the Scientific Research Institute of Physics at Leningrad University, the Scientific Research Institute of Radio Physics at the University of Gorky, and the Scientific Research Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Irkutsk. Physics research is also conducted in specialized research institutes of the ministries of various branches of industry.


In the people’s democracies, physics research before the establishment of popular government was conducted mainly at universities. Physics research institutes devoted to the study of the uses of atomic energy were founded in the mid-1950’s at the academies of sciences and various government departments. Research reactors, accelerators, and other facilities, on which the research of a number of institutes in socialist countries are centered, were constructed with aid from the USSR. An important stage in the establishment of these physics institutes was the founding in 1956 of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, which essentially acts as a coordinating center for basic physics research in the socialist countries.

The most important physics research institutes of the socialist countries are given in Table 2. There are also physics research institutes in Prague, Bratislava, Peking, and Belgrade. Physics research in socialist countries is also conducted at universities.

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