, Volume 86, Issue 2, pp 527-540

First online:

Critical mass and the dependency of research quality on group size

  • R. KennaAffiliated withApplied Mathematics Research Centre, Coventry University Email author 
  • , B. BercheAffiliated withStatistical Physics Group, Institut Jean Lamour, CNRS—Nancy Université—UPVM

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Academic research groups are treated as complex systems and their cooperative behaviour is analysed from a mathematical and statistical viewpoint. Contrary to the naive expectation that the quality of a research group is simply given by the mean calibre of its individual scientists, we show that intra-group interactions play a dominant role. Our model manifests phenomena akin to phase transitions which are brought about by these interactions, and which facilitate the quantification of the notion of critical mass for research groups. We present these critical masses for many academic areas. A consequence of our analysis is that overall research performance of a given discipline is improved by supporting medium-sized groups over large ones, while small groups must strive to achieve critical mass.


Critical mass in research Research quality Research policy Research assessment exercise Agence d’évaluation de la recherche et de l’enseignement supérieur Research excellence framework Research funding