New Big Science in Belgium. Transformation and Adaptation of SCK•CEN 1991-2022.


Van Paemel Geert, (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KULeuven)),

SCK•CEN Mentor

Coeck Michèle,, +32 (0)14 33 21 80

Expert group

Centre for Education and Knowledge Management

Short project description

The reorganization of SCK•CEN in 1991 was the starting point in the formation of a new profile for the organization. Although its political and financial support had decreased, and the public attitude had turned against nuclear power production, SCK•CEN was able to establish new academic and commercial partnerships. It accordingly diversified its research objectives. The new MYRRHA project, partly funded by the European Commission, focuses on research of the treatment of nuclear waste products, and the investigation of materials to be used in nuclear fission and fusion reactions. This new orientation fits the international development of what has been termed the ‘New Big Science’. The new frame questions the position of Belgium as a small country in the international collaboration between nations. The European context calls for an increase in size but also for a distribution of costs, control and benefits. The New Big Science also touches upon the management of uncertainty in what has been called the Risk Society.

The project aims at a better understanding of the current challenges facing New Big Science facilities. The organizational transformation which SCK•CEN underwent in the 1990’s and the articulation of a new, ambitious project (MYRRHA) can be used as prime topics for the investigation of the scientific, political and social issues surrounding the building and management of large research facilities. It will also review the relationship between science and politics, and the place of big infrastructure organizations within the overall structure of the national science system.

The minimum diploma level of the candidate needs to be Master’s degree in history or in social sciences. Knowledge of French (and if possible Dutch) is needed to work on the archives. The candidate needs to have a background in contemporary history and preferably be acquainted with the history of modern physics and the history of Belgium.


  • Crease, Robert P. Crease, & Westfall, Catherine (2016) “The New Big Science,” Physics Today 69, 30-36.
  • Hallonsten, Olof (2016) Big Science Transformed. Science, Politics and Organization in Europe and the United States.

The minimum diploma level of the candidate needs to be

Master of sciences

The candidate needs to have a background in

Physics , History, or Political and Social Sciences

Estimated duration

4 years
Before applying, please consult the guidelines for application for PhD.