What’s your smartphone got to do with the International Space Station?

Hoarding design: What’s your smartphone got to do with the International Space Station?

Much of the technology we take for granted in our daily lives owes its existence to basic physics research.

Take your smartphone. The cameras now used to take selfies were first developed for telescopes, while location services used by any app are made possible by satellites, and the space programmes that put them there.

There’s a long and distinguished history of innovative physics research having an impact on the real world, and experiments on the lab bench quickly becoming products on the store shelf. Meanwhile, physics-based businesses are worth about £80bn to the UK – 8.5% of its total economic output.

Those figures are from the latest in the series of reports we produce on the value of physics to the economy, one of the ways in which we try to ensure that government has evidence on the importance of physics, so it can make better-informed decisions on funding. Similarly, we publish case studies on how physics research has impacted on society – often in unexpected ways.

Our annual Innovation Awards recognise and celebrate the companies at the forefront of this kind of impact, awarding those that have successfully addressed a commercial need through physics-based innovation. Trophies are presented at high-profile events involving leading politicians.

We’ve also begun to take an active role in building partnerships between universities and businesses. A pilot programme of open innovation is focusing on the food-manufacturing sector, bringing together academics and industrialists to explore new ways to collaborate. We’re confident that physics will continue to help create things that people want to buy.