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Korea Spends on Science

In a departure from previous policies, South Korea is spending heavily on basic research in hopes of both boosting its economy and earning the nation a Nobel Prize, Nature News reports.

In 1999, Korea spent just over 2 percent of its gross domestic product on research and development, but in 2014, it spent nearly 4.3 percent of its GDP, or about $60.5 billion, on R&D. Percentage-wise, Nature News notes that that's more than what either Japan or the US spend on R&D. And Korea plans to increase its spending to 5 percent of its GDP by 2017, and President Park Geun-hye's administration has said it would further increase annual basic science funding by 36 percent by 2018.

"The big hope is that the country can innovate its way out of a looming economic crisis — and win a Nobel Prize in the process," Nature News says.

However, that goal may be difficult to attain, it adds, as many Korean researchers have gone abroad to pursue their careers and as Korean academic culture has focused on exams and deference to professors, and on single-author papers. Further, Korea's hopes for a Nobel were high about a decade ago when stem-cell research Woo Suk Hwang claimed to have developed stem-cell lines from cloned human embryos, but were then dashed when he was found to have fabricated some of his work.

Still, to pursue basic research, Korea has been building up an Institute for Basic Science as its answer to the Max Planck Institutes in Germany or the Riken Centers of Japan, and some 26 IBS centers have opened. But even with this focus on basic research, scientists warn that a Nobel might not be forthcoming.

"The people in Korea should understand that scientific results are not necessarily repaid by some greater prize like the Nobel," Sunchan Jeong, director of the Rare Isotope Science Project, says.