, Volume 86, Issue 2, pp 527–540 | Cite as

Critical mass and the dependency of research quality on group size



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 



We are grateful to Neville Hunt for inspiring discussions as well as for help with the statistical analyses. We also thank Arnaldo Donoso, Christian von Ferber, Housh Mashhoudy and Andrew Snowdon for comments and discussions, as well as Claude Lecomte, Scientific Delegate at the AERES, for discussions on the work of that agency.


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Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Applied Mathematics Research CentreCoventry UniversityCoventryEngland, UK
  2. 2.Statistical Physics Group, Institut Jean LamourCNRS—Nancy Université—UPVMVandoeuvre les Nancy CedexFrance

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