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Isn’t it true that bigger is better in this case? Paychecks, traffic signs, and (in our opinion) bathrooms are all examples of this principle. But what about science? Big science, a term established by physicist Alvin Weinberg in the 1960s to describe large-scale scientific activities focused at addressing the world’s most urgent issues, benefits both the scientific community and society at large.

Given the critical, interconnected issues we face today, the market for big science is primed for opportunity (think climate change, poverty, and pandemics). Big science is seen as a potential solution to these concerns by industries and governments all around the world, and they are investing billions in big scientific activities.

What Exactly is Big Science?

Big science refers to large-scale scientific research that is usually funded by a national government, several government agencies, or international organizations. Large-scale scientific projects are notoriously difficult to put together. They need costly equipment, buildings, and methods—hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars—that are much above the financial capacity of a single scientist, a group of scientists, or a corporation known as “small science.”

While small science is not in any way unnecessary or irrelevant (big science would not exist without small science, and small science can benefit from big science in specific ways), big science projects can often provide faster, more comprehensive solutions to extremely difficult problems that small-scale projects cannot. Big science, in a nutshell, refers to large-scale research with large-scale goals that need large-scale funding.

Who is funding Big Science research, and why are they doing so?

According to BCC analysts, between 2021 and 2025, global governments and international organizations will spend more than $180 billion on big science efforts, offering opportunities for tens of thousands of suppliers across hundreds of enterprises.

Many industries, including aerospace, construction, mechanical, and electronic and electrical, will get major contracts from massive research projects over the next few years, providing crucial assistance for top industry players to brand, develop, and grow their firms. Despite the fact that major research projects account only a small amount of large contractors’ income, such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, they may be a critical engine for their long-term success.

Furthermore, sophisticated material manufacturers—metals and alloys, polymers, ceramics, crystals, and others—will discover new opportunities in huge research projects that often need functioning in challenging environments.

Big Science Research Projects: Nuclear Power and Aerospace

There’s no doubting that safer nuclear technologies like Generation IV reactors (also known as Gen IV reactors) and fusion are vital in reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the planet. In the past, nuclear power facilities have generated difficult-to-control radioactive waste, culminating in disasters like Fukushima in 2011, Chernobyl in 1986-, and Three-Mile Island in 1979.

Global communities have proposed a number of next-generation nuclear plants that support green energy. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), which is currently being built, is the world’s largest reactor of its kind. ITER is a magnetic confinement fusion (MCF) project established in France that has the support of 35 countries, including the United States, the European Union, China, Russia, Japan, India, and South Korea, all of which are scientific powerhouses. ITER’s goal is to provide safe, clean, and unlimited energy on Earth by replicating the sun’s fusion processes.

Governments in these countries will have spent more than $15 billion on ITER by the end of 2020. Another $11 billion is expected to be spent in the project during the next five years, from 2021 to 2025. This effort benefits not only the countries participating, but also the vendors that are needed to finish the project. ITER will rely on 2,300 European suppliers from a wide range of industries, including construction, vacuum vessels, cryogenics, magnets, diagnostics, electric supply, ceramics, metals and alloys, and others. Over the next two decades, the effort will invest more than $1 billion each year in these providers.

One of the most notable big scientific initiatives in aerospace is the Artemis program, a US government-funded multinational human spaceflight venture aiming at putting the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024. Artemis also hopes to deliver humans to Mars in the 2030s.

This massive project is overseen by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA), the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the Ukrainian State Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA), the Australian Space Agency (ASA), and the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB).

As of June 2020, the NASA Office of Inspector General estimates that $35.2 billion has been spent on Artemis, with another $50.5 billion projected in the future years. Orion, the Space Launch System (SLS), Exploration Ground Systems (EGS), Lunar Gateway, Human Landing Systems (HLS), and other research and development programs will be supported.

Big Science Trends to Watch

  • Aerospace is the most profitable area in large science, with $11.8 billion in funding and 40.5 percent of all major scientific project expenditure in 2020.
  • With $10.7 billion in significant scientific expenditures in 2020, North America has the biggest percentage of important scientific investments in the world, accounting for 36.8% of worldwide spending.
  • Large research initiatives often use metals, alloys, polymers, ceramics, and other materials that can withstand harsh conditions. Significant research projects will produce a demand for advanced materials worth more than $36 billion over the next five years.
  • Metals and alloys are the most prevalent advanced materials used in large science projects, accounting for 55.2 percent of all advanced materials used in big science projects and generating revenues of $3.2 billion in 2020.
  • According to BCC Research, significant scientific efforts will produce more than $100 billion in income for 20,000 to 30,000 suppliers throughout the world during the next five years.

For Additional Intel into Big Science

Read Big Science: Worldwide Markets, a new report from BCC Research that provides an overview of the worldwide market for big science, including a market size estimate and assessments of global market trends, growth rates, drivers, limitations, and major industry organizations and contractors.

About BCC Research

BCC Research is a boutique market research firm with a broad variety of industry experience. We provide market information in 25 sectors, including Life Science, Environment/Sustainability, Materials, Sensors, and Commerce, and we’re committed to supporting academics, business experts, and innovation teams.