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FYI Number 91: July 19, 2001

NRC Committee's Recommendations for the Future of Physics

The highest priority research areas for physics in the coming decade, as identified by the NRC's Physics Survey Overview Committee in its recent report, "Physics in a New Era: An Overview," are highlighted in FYI #90. This FYI provides details of the committee's nine recommendations. "They are meant," the report says, "to sustain and strengthen all of physics in the United States and enable the field to serve important national needs."

The committee's recommendations follow, with selected explanatory text from the report:

Recommendation 1: INVESTING IN PHYSICS.

"To allow physics to contribute strongly to areas of national need, the federal government and the physics community should develop and implement a strategy for long-term investment in basic physics research.... The Physics Survey Overview Committee believes that...the federal investment in basic physics research relative to GDP should be restored to the levels of the early 1980s."

Recommendation 2: PHYSICS EDUCATION.

"Physics departments should review and revise their curricula to ensure that they are engaging and effective for a wide range of students and that they make connections to other important areas of science and technology.... Greater emphasis should also be placed on improving the preparation of K-12 science teachers."

Recommendation 3: SMALL GROUPS AND SINGLE INVESTIGATORS.

"Federal science agencies should assign a high priority to providing adequate and stable support for small groups and single investigators working at the cutting edge of physics and related disciplines."

Recommendation 4: LARGE FACILITIES AND INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATIONS.

"While planning and priority setting are important for all of physics, they are especially critical when large facilities and collaborations are necessary.... Planning and implementation for the very largest facilities should be international. The federal government should develop effective mechanisms for U.S. participation and leadership in international scientific projects, including clear criteria for entrance and exit."

Recommendation 5: NATIONAL SECURITY.

"Congress and the Department of Energy should ensure the continued scientific excellence of [DOE's] Office of Defense Programs' national laboratories by reestablishing the high priority of long-term basic research in physics and other core competencies important to laboratory missions."

Recommendation 6: PARTNERSHIPS.

"The federal government, universities and their physics departments, and industry should encourage mutual interactions and partnerships.... The federal government should support these programs by helping to develop protocols for intellectual property issues in cooperative research."

Recommendation 7: FEDERAL SCIENCE AGENCIES.

"The federal government should assign a high priority to the broad support of core physics research, providing a healthy balance with special initiatives in focused research directions. Federal science agencies should continue to ensure a foundation that is diverse, evolving, and supportive of promising and creative research."

Recommendation 8: PEER REVIEW.

"The peer review advisory process for the allocation of federal government support for scientific research has served our nation well over many decades and...should be maintained as the principal factor in determining how federal research funds are awarded."

Recommendation 9: PHYSICS INFORMATION.

"The federal government, together with the physics community, should develop a coordinated approach for the support of bibliographic and experimental databases and data-mining tools. The use of open standards to foster mutual compatibility of all databases should be stressed. Physicists should be encouraged to make use of these information technology tools for education as well as research. The bibliographic archive based at Los Alamos National Laboratory has played an important role and it should continue to be supported."

The report, "Physics in a New Era: An Overview," can be read online at the Board on Physics and Astronomy web site: http://books.nap.edu/books/0309073421/html/index.html.

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