John Mather is one of several Americans who won Nobel Prizes last year. He and fellow astrophysicist George Smoot were rewarded for their discoveries in cosmic microwave radiation.
The prize for chemistry also went to an American – Roger Kornberg.
Scientists across the Atlantic have swept up a great many Nobels in the past forty years, putting Europe in the shade.
From 1966 to 2006, EU countries racked up around 70 all together, to the US’s more than 200.
The issue has become political – all the way to the bank.
The US shows a strong inclination to life sciences as well as space and the earth, giving physics and materials science less importance. The EU balances its efforts in all the major fields, but in technology and innovation, the US is the uncontested leader.
In terms of global expenditure on research and development, Europe is outstripped by both its North American and Asian rivals. The competitors each represent closer to one third of the total world spending, while Europe’s share is closer to one quarter.
What kind of a future are European budding scientists promised? Experts say the EU’s declared goal to have the members spending three percent of GDP on research by 2010 looks unrealistic, considering the EU average hovers around two percent.
French researchers continue to protest over inadequate conditions. Veterans say 20 years ago almost all recent graduates could find jobs; But with dozens of excellent candidates vying for a single position, national funding cuts are a boon to overseas employers ready with better offers.