Research at Scotland’s oldest university amongst the highest quality in the country.

12 May 2022

Over 98% of research carried out by the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews is world-leading or internationally excellent, according to the results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) published today (Thursday 12 May 2022).

The REF – a detailed analysis of the research strengths of all UK universities – found that St Andrews excelled in a number of key research areas – including Physics.

Professor Ian Bonnell, Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “Physics and Astronomy has consistently achieved a top 10 ranking in the UK over the past twenty years by GPA. Our research outputs have increased both in terms of impact and quality. The hard work of all our staff across the School is reflected in the fact that 98% of our submission to REF2021 has been rated as world-leading and internationally excellent. The percentage of world-leading (4*) research in Physics and Astronomy in St Andrews has increased by 18% compared to 2014.”

St Andrews Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Sally Mapstone FRSE said: “The overall quality of our research has increased significantly since the last REF in 2014, we have cause to celebrate the achievements of several of our Schools whose research is rated amongst the best in the UK, and the fact that over 88% of the research we produce in this small corner of Fife has been held to be world-leading or internationally excellent is a remarkable achievement.”

Although REF itself explicitly does not rank universities according to research strengths, the metrics it produces are widely used in the higher education sector and in the media to benchmark research performance.

According to these figures, using the method of Grade Point Average (GPA), St Andrews was ranked 3rd in Scotland and 28th in the UK, one of six Scottish universities ranked amongst the top 50 research institutions in the UK. The School of Physics and Astronomy ranked 1st in Scotland, and 8th in the UK, by GPA.

Research at the School of Physics and Astronomy, which REF judged to be world-leading and internationally excellent, spans activities in astronomy, condensed matter physics and photonics, including world-leading and internationally excellent impact achieved in the following areas:

  • Commercialising Airy Beam Light Sheet Fluorescence Microscopy
  • Shining a light on subsea safety with side emitting optical fibre lighting systems
  • Commercialisation of wearable light sources for improved treatment of acne and skin cancer
  • Commercialisation of high-performance millimetre wave feedhorn antennas