acteristics of big and little science. Each offers particular research capabilities, and each presents certain challenges to be overcome.
Big science programs generally pursue broad scientific goals perceived to be of national importance. They are costly and technically complex and incorporate many experiments. As a result, they tend to be defined and managed by committees of administrators, and they require long planning and selling phases. Funding must generally be sought from Congress on a project-by-project, and sometimes year-to-year, which results in a large measure of uncertainty. On the other hand, the archetypal small science project is run by an individual or by a small team of researchers with its own specific research goal. These projects are less expensive and can be implemented relatively quickly. Funding for small science is typically obtained by submitting grant proposals to compete for core program funds within an agency.
Ideally, the large body of experimental results and discoveries coming out of small science help define and fashion the big science programs, which in turn provide platforms for many additional experiments. Unfortunately, many observers believe that this synergism has been deteriorating. Within the field of space physics, this report examines funding mechanisms, the nature of the research community, and the conduct of research itself to see how these factors have evolved over the past two decades.
An examination of data from relevant professional associations, and an intriguing though limited NASA survey, reveal a growth in the space physics research community of roughly 40 to 50 percent from 1980 to 1990. The median age of academic researchers is rising significantly and most dramatically among those who describe themselves as experimentalists. Of the graduate students who responded to the NASA survey, only 10 percent were involved in instrumentation. In an empirically driven field such as space physics, this is a cause for concern.
Since 1975, overall federal research funding in all fields has shown a steady increase, resulting in greater than 40 percent growth (adjusted for inflation) from 1975 to 1990. University-based researchers have been the primary beneficiaries of this growth. Although the data are harder to come by, relevant Figures from NASA and several universities indicate that the growth in funding for space physics research has been comparable to these overall trends.
However, these figures lump together many different kinds of projects and funders. For example, one element of space physics funding is the base-funded (or core) program, which is the primary source of support for small science endeavors. This report looks at base-funded programs at both NSF and NASA