Payback Time for Austrian Research?

BERLIN--Austria's attempts to persuade the European Union (EU) to help bankroll a major research center there could get a boost from a new analysis by an Austrian policy institute. The analysis, published this month in an Austrian high-tech journal, finds that the Alpine nation isn't getting enough bang for its schillings spent on international science projects.

Richard Winklhofer of Vienna's Institute for Applied Economics, who is conducting an ongoing study of Austrian research, contends that Austria isn't benefiting enough from the 464 million schillings ($43 million) it invests each year in efforts such as the European Space Agency and the CERN particle-physics lab in Switzerland. According to his analysis, only about 25% of Austrian spending for such projects leads to spin-off technologies, while Austrian experts would like to see a figure closer to 60%. "Austria is in a difficult situation," says Winklhofer. And the country is already at a disadvantage, Winklhofer found, because it spends only 1.5% of its gross domestic product on R&D, compared to 2% on average for EU nations and over 2.5% for the United States and Japan.

To help turn this "research deficit" into a surplus, Winklhofer suggests that Austria press harder for EU officials in Brussels to help pay for proposed scientific research centers in Austria. Two such projects are now being considered: the $375 million "Eurocryst" crystal-research center for studying advanced semiconductor technology, and the $200 million AUSTRON pulsed neutron spallation source.

While Austrian scientists have been pushing AUSTRON for years as a competitor to the United Kingdom's ISIS spallation source, Eurocryst now looks like a better bet. After Austrian officials gave a Eurocryst presentation in Brussels in September, a high-ranking EU official said the application had "a good chance" of gaining approval. Austria is hoping for preliminary EU decisions on both projects this spring.