Open Access in physics

Open Access (OA) is already an integral part of the publication and information structure in physics. What is striking is that the self-archiving of pre-prints plays a very big role in this field.

Preprints have a long tradition in physics. Even before it became possible to make documents available electronically, a paper-based culture of preprint distribution developed in the 1960s, especially in high energy physics (HEP). The reason for this was the time delay between the submission of a manuscript to a journal and the publication of the journal article. In view of this preprint culture, it came as no surprise when the arXiv repository was founded by Paul Ginsparg at Las Alamos National Laboratory on 14 August 1991. Even today, arXiv is a model for disciplinary repositories. It has been operated by Cornell University Library (CUL) since 2001. In 2010, CUL started to develop a sustainable business plan for arXiv, and since 2013 the repository has been financially supported by those libraries and research organisations worldwide that represent its heaviest institutional users. A large share of the costs continues to be borne by CUL and the Simons Foundation, a private foundation whose mission is to support research in mathematics and the basic sciences (see Tobschall: arXiv - Who pays? Auf der Suche nach Nachhaltigkeit).

In the light of this publication culture, it is not surprising that the so-called "green road" is the dominant OA strategy in physics, and that the number of articles in OA journals is comparatively low compared to the number of pre-prints that are self-archived.

The conversion of subscription-based journals into OA journals is being supported by a pilot project in high energy physics entitled SCOAP³, which funds the publication of HEP articles and journals under a gold OA model.

Open Access journals

The first OA journal in physics - the Journal of High Energy Physics (JHEP) - was originally edited and published by its owner, the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA). Because the funding model did not prove to be viable, JHEP was converted into a subscription-based journal in 2004. The publishing of the journal had already been taken over by IOP Publishing in 2002. JHEP has been published by Springer since 2010; it was converted back to a purely OA journal in 2014.

To date, OA journals have not had it easy in physics, as the previous example shows. Apart from a few exceptions, OA journals have not yet been able to match the scientific reputation of subscription-based journals.

Two further examples of OA journals in physics are:

  • New Journal of Physics: Editors: the Institute of Physics (IOP) and the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (DPG); First issue: 1998; Scope: articles from all sub-fields of physics; High energy physics (HEP) papers are funded by SCOAP³.
  • Optics Express: Editor: Optical Society of America; First issue: 1997; Subject area: optics

The pilot project SCOAP³ (Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics) is an international partnership of libraries, funding agencies, and research centres that have joined forces to fund scientific publications in the field of high energy physics. By 2014, five journals had been converted from a subscription-based business model to an OA model within the framework of the project. Moreover, the articles from the field of high energy physics in five other journals are now published in OA. The ultimate aim of the project is to replace subscription fees with fair and market-appropriate publication fees.

A continuously updated list of OA journals can be found in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and the Electronic Journals Library (EZB):

Disciplinary repositories


arXiv is a disciplinary repository for physics and related disciplines that has been operated by Cornell University Library (CUL) since 2001. The preprints are either drafts of journal articles before refereeing and publication, or preliminary findings or discussion papers that have not yet been formally published elsewhere. When submitting preprints for the first time, authors are, as a rule, required to get an endorsement from an established arXiv author who has written a certain number of papers from within the so-called endorsement domain of an arXiv archive or subject class. Users with recognized academic affiliations may be exempt from the endorsement process. arXiv is a disciplinary repository with simple functionalities and - compared to peer review - reduced mechanisms of quality assurance. Many publishers in physics enable manuscripts deposited in arXiv to be directly submitted to their journals.

CERN document server

CERN publications, preprints, talks, and lectures are deposited in this document server.

HAL - Hyper Articles en Ligne

HAL is the country-wide institutional repository of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). It is sponsored by five major French research organisations, and a large share of its holdings are physics publications. CNRS-funded scientists are expected to deposit their publications in HAL.


PhysNet indexes documents deposited in institutional physics repositories worldwide by harvesting the metadata via OAI-PMH. Indexed documents include research reports, preprints, bibliographies, theses and dissertations, educational resources, computer programmes, etc.

Literature searches in physics

INSPIRE-HEP is a cost-free digital database for publications and preprints in the field of high energy physics. It is a collaborative project on the part of CERN, DESY Fermilab, and SLAC. In addition to standard information about the publication, for example bibliographic details and links to full texts, the individual records include references and citations. In this way, INSPIRE-HEP facilitates the generation of author pages with citation analyses. Moreover, INSPIRE-HEP offers information on HEP institutions, experiments, and conferences. Important sources of information such as and the NASA Astrophysical Data System are integrated into INSPIRE.

Key players

CERN is probably the leading protagonist of OA in physics worldwide. It has always played a leading role in all important initiatives relating to OA, for example in the financing of SCOAP³. In the Open Access Policy for CERN Physics Publications, CERN authors are requested to publish their articles in gold OA. CERN aims to reach 100% gold OA for its research results by the end of 2016.

In Germany, the Max Planck Society, DESY (Helmholtz Association), and the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB) in Hanover are very active, especially with regard to the sustainable financing of OA business models. They are the three national points of contact for SCOAP³, and they all participate in the financing of arXiv. TIB organises the participation of the German universities in SCOAP³ via the national project SCOAP³-DH. In addition, it is responsible for financing the German universities' contribution to arXiv in the arXiv-DH network. Together with the Max Planck Society and the Helmholtz Association, it thereby ensures the payment of the German community's share of arXiv's costs.

Open science

There are numerous different efforts to implement open science in physics. Programming codes are often published as open source, and a wide specialist community can participate in the development of new functionalities. Publication is carried out on special project pages by the participating working groups at the respective institutes. As a rule, infrastructure organisations are rarely involved. Examples of open source programmes in solid-state physics are ABINIT and QUANTUM ESPRESSO.


Content editor of this web page: Dr. Gernot Deinzer, UB Regensburg.