South Korea: world’s only country that invests big time into scientific research

South Korea is an advanced country that invests heavily into scientific research studies, with the hope of bagging Nobel Prize some day for their work. The results are already showing as South Korea overtakes China and USA in terms of GDP spend on scientific research: Concerted efforts have been made by industry experts into thriving basic scientific research. More than 4% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is spent on Scientific Research. This indicates that it spends double the amount spent by China and European Union. Thus, it is the country that spent the most on scientific research.

Although there have been many successful ventures between the government and industry in South Korea, about 75% of grants for R & D are attributed to industry while the remaining 23% is provided by the government. About 2% of grants are obtained from other sources. The experimental research industry is worth 38.4 billion USD, whereas resources allocated to basic and applied research is almost similar at 10.6 billion USD and 11.5 billion USD, respectively.

How is the experimental industry functioning in South Korea?

In an ordinary building in Daejeon, one would never imagine a sophisticated lab conducting an advanced experiment, but that is the true picture of science in South Korea. Although the first floor of this building is still being renovated and developed into a lab space, there is a secret pit into the basement. In the basement, a sophisticated lab is developed for research experiments. What catches my attention is a cylindrical apparatus made from precious metals, copper and gold.

Young researchers are building a prototype to understand axion-the particle believed to be a principle component of dark matter. The main objective of these researchers is to solve the mystery of Universe and how human life originated on Earth. In South Korea’s leading university of science and technology, physicists are offered 7.6 million USD per year as federal grant. The university is none other than KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology). What’s out-of-box here is the risk aspect of the project, because the existence of axions has not been proved yet, let alone its association with dark matter.

At a time when “March for Science” has been carried out in the United States, the encouragement received by the South Korean Government is truly appreciative. To encourage advanced research experiments in basic sciences, President Park Geun-Hye announced that it would increase funding for basic science by 36% in 2018. In the year 2017, South Korean government made concerted efforts, making its expenditure on science equivalent to 5% of GDP.

South Korea is making immense in achieving its ambitions in scientific and technology

Although many science policy makers and some renowned scientists say that it won’t be possible to sustain such generous spending on science amid a looming economic crisis, optimistic results are not too far away—Only 11 Korean students stayed back in the USA after receiving their PhD degrees in science and technology in 2008 from an American university; this data was released by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2014.

South Korean government’s policy makers are trying to drive hard basic science amidst its stupendous progress in industrial applications involving science and technology: South Korea is world leader in the manufacture of smartphones and semiconductors; their quality standards are high and they offer products at an economical value. Thanks to South Korean conglomerates LG and SamSung, the country has filed 4590.92 patent applications in 2014; this figure far exceeds Japan, the closest contender with 3659.39 patent applications. The US stands a distant fourth at 1611.20.

In terms of proportion of researchers, South Korea is just slightly less than the Scandinavian countries (Finland, Denmark, Sweden). As per employment statistics in 2013, there are 12.84 researchers per 1000 people in South Korea. Its closest contender Japan stands at 12.84, while USA is far behind at 8.81 researchers per 1000 people. Since 2005, its publication output has more than doubled and today it is has overtaken Spain in terms of volume; however, Japan still leads the race in terms of publication output. Most South Korean scientists publish papers in chemistry, physics, engineering, and life sciences.

Final verdict for success: partnerships between industry and academia

In Research & Development industry, South Korea has received maximum funding from its corporate giants: Samsung, LG, and Hyundai. As per the latest data released by the government, 63.7 trillion won (South Korean currency) was spent on R & D. More than 2/3rd of these resources were provided by industry, with estimated funding being as high as 49.2 trillion won. Although there is a steady rise of partnership between industry and academia for R & D ventures, most research facilities set up by industries are clandestine. That’s why the secretive, yet sophisticated laboratory in the basement of ordinary building seems a normal scene in South Korea.




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