Use and productivity of contemporary, multidisciplinary Big Science

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The use of very large instrumentation, usually called Big Science, became an important part of Western science systems after World War II, with nuclear and particle physics at the center. Throughout the Cold War era, however, science policy priorities and objectives gradually shifted and in parallel therewith, new uses of Big Science emerged that were oriented to the study of materials and later also the life sciences, two areas that grew in global importance toward the end of the 20th century. As the Cold War wound down, the rationale for the old Big Science waned but the new applications of reactors and particle accelerators grew in breadth and importance, and today, dozens of Big Science facilities in Europe and the USA provide neutrons, synchrotron radiation, and free electron laser to a multidisciplinary community of users predominantly from the academic sector. These users visit the facilities temporarily to do experiments as part of their ordinary scientific work, which means that the functional differentiation between facilities and users has been accentuated and institutionalized: facilities provide resources for experimental work, and users do science and produce results. This functional differentiation creates some challenges for the evaluation of the performance and quality of these very expensive facilities, which this article discusses on the basis of qualitative and quantitative data, problematizing the role of contemporary, multidisciplinary Big Science in a science system that is growing more and more reliant on performance evaluation.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • Big Science, performance evaluation, quality assessment, natural sciences, productivity, governance of science
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)486-495
Number of pages10
JournalResearch Evaluation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Oct
Publication categoryResearch