UK tops Europe's research centres

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BRITISH SCIENCE has come out top in a survey of European centres of scientific excellence.

London has beaten Paris and Moscow as the leading research centre in Europe, with scientists in the British capital publishing more high-quality research papers than any country on the Continent.

Cambridge also comes first as the place where more of the best science is produced per head of its population, compared with any other university city on this side of the Atlantic.

''The message is pride. British scientists can hold their heads up,'' said Christian Matthiessen, professor of geography at the University of Copen- hagen, who has spent over a year assessing the scientific output of 39 European centres.

Scientists in London produced nearly 65,000 research papers between 1994 and 1995, compared with nearly 46,000 by Parisian researchers and 40,000 by scientists based in Moscow.

Taking into account the differences in population size, Cambridge scientists were the most productive, publishing 81 research papers per head of the city's population. Oxford was second with 41 papers a head.

Professor Matthiessen said it was the first time anybody had tried systematically to study the relative scientific prowess of different urban centres, although companies wanted to know which city was the best for investment in research and development.

''Investors are very interested in knowing the research base of a city. They want to establish which cities are strong in a particular area,'' he said.

The Danish team spent a year defining the boundaries of different urban centres and decided that some cities, such as Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht, were so closely integrated that they could be treated as one centre.

Urban centres, such as Oxford and Reading, Edinburgh and Glasgow and Manchester and Liverpool, came behind Berlin, but out-performed the German centres of Munich, Frankfurt and Cologne.

Professor Matthiessen said that, although London was much larger than many other capital cities in Europe, and had an inbuilt advantage of size, it would still rank highest in the league table.

''The sheer size of the research community in London is very large, but they are very productive,'' he said.

London came top in six out of ten leading categories of research, excelling in the fields of biochemistry, medicine, neuroscience, immunology, environmental sciences and biotech- nology. London scientists produced the most research papers in more than half of the 162 fields of science analysed by Professor Matthiessen.