News Release

Cambridge’s global reputation in Physics and Astronomy recognized in REF 2021

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Cambridge

The results from the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF) have highlighted the global impact of Cambridge’s research in the field of Physics and Astronomy.

99% of Cambridge’s overall submissions within the Physics and Astronomy Unit of Assessment – to which our departments made a significant contribution – have been rated as ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’, demonstrating the major impact that researchers in our departments are making every day. The Times Higher Education’s rankings placed Cambridge at #2 for Physics and Astronomy in REF 2021 as measured by “research power”. This metric includes both the volume and quality of the research.

The REF is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions and is undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies: Research England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland. 

Among the data submitted by universities and other institutions are case studies that describe the impact of their research – where they have made a difference to society, health, the economy, for example. 

The Department of Physics and the Institute of Astronomy returned some 148.2 academics to the REF, a slight reduction of 5.1 compared to the previous exercise in 2014. Within the Physics and Astronomy unit of assessment, 64% of Cambridge’s submissions were awarded the highest rating of 4* overall, meaning they are ‘world-leading’. This is a significant increase from 38% in 2014. A further 35% of submissions were rated 3* overall (internationally excellent). The average weighted score – the ‘grade point average’ – for Physics and Astronomy is 3.63. This moves up from 3.29 in 2014.  This metric ranked the Cambridge Physics and Astronomy submission in 3rd place nationally.

The Departments scored 1st in the UK for impact, which has been a consistent theme over many years with its strong concern for real world value over a whole variety of activities. This is showcased by the REF which recognises its major societal value for the UK. One particular strong impact has been the book “Sustainable energy – without the hot air” which has opened up the science and influenced UK climate policy (see below).

The Department also particularly supports many young research fellows at early stages in their careers who go on to provide major impact in permanent roles in other UK universities and across the world.

Professor Andy Parker, Head of the Department of Physics, said: “This recognition of our world-leading science and how it supports society is particularly pleasing, and demonstrates the importance of our work in tackling the challenges facing the country, and indeed the world.”   

Professor Richard McMahon, Director of the Institute of Astronomy, said: “It is an enormous pleasure to thank and congratulate all my colleagues for their research achievements, which have been recognised with these excellent results.”

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, added: “I would like to congratulate and thank everyone who has taken part in this year’s REF for all their hard work, which we believe has paid off in these results. What we see today is not just the excellence of Cambridge research, but also the breadth of its impact, with researchers across many disciplines bringing a fresh perspective on how we tackle major problems facing our world today.” 

For the purpose of Cambridge’s submission, each eligible researcher across all academic disciplines was assigned to one of 30 units of assessment (subject areas). Each unit was judged by three criteria – outputs (such as publications, performances and exhibitions), their impact, and the environment that supports research.  

Our global research 

Cambridge research spans all seven continents, covering more than 100 countries, from the Arctic to Zambia. Our researchers partner with organisations in these countries to ensure that our collaborations address local needs and benefit those communities most in need. 

Explore our global impact page (Impact Map | University of Cambridge) to find more.

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