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FYI Number 105: August 3, 2004

House of Representatives Supports the World Year of Physics

The field of physics and its practitioners received commendation on Capitol Hill before Congress left town for August. In recognition that next year has been designated the World Year of Physics by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, on July 7 the House of Representatives passed a resolution in support of physics and physics education. "This resolution encourages the American public to take note of the physics used every day and encourages them to learn more about it," said its sponsor, Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI). "I hope that the American people will observe the World Year of Physics by supporting physics education and research. I encourage physicists and educators to engage the public, especially the children, in physics to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers."

The World Year of Physics in 2005 will be an international celebration of the field, timed to honor the 100th anniversary of the publication of Albert Einstein's groundbreaking papers on the special theory of relativity, the photoelectric effect, and Brownian motion. In the U.S., the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Institute of Physics are leading efforts to organize events during the year, but individual scientists, teachers, physics departments, laboratories, science museums and other groups are encouraged to plan local events in their communities. More information on the World Year of Physics can be found at http://www.physics2005.org.

The resolution, H.Con. Res. 301, was introduced by Ehlers for himself and his fellow physicist in Congress, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ). Other cosponsors of the resolution were Democratic Reps. Brian Baird (WA), Michael Honda (CA), Edward Markey (MA), Jim McDermott (WA), Donald Payne (NJ), Vic Snyder (AR), and Delegate Madeleine Bordallo (Guam). In describing it on the House floor, Ehlers said, "This resolution recognizes the important contributions of physicists to technological progress and the health of many industries.... As a physicist, I recognize the physics principles that are part of our everyday lives. From mechanics and gravity to optical technologies that enable our CD players, physics is all around us. Through physics we can explore the depths of the universe and black holes, as well as the tiniest parts of the atom.... I think it is just absolutely marvelous that we can explore our world in both the smaller and larger directions and have not reached its limits at this point." Ehlers praised the American Physical Society for promoting the World Year of Physics, and thanked Reps. Baird and Holt for their work on the resolution, noting that he and Holt, "as the two physicists in the Congress, have worked together closely on many issues."

Baird remarked that he and other Members of Congress often turn to Ehlers and Holt for help in understanding technological issues. Physics, he said, "underpins all of science in some way, and so much of our technology deals with the most fundamental understanding of the properties of matter. Emerging fields such as nanotechnology, information technology and biotechnology are substantially based on the results of fundamental discoveries in physics."

"Through physics," Holt said, "we can explore the diverse phenomena from the existence of black holes to the composition of the atom and nucleus. Understanding mechanics, gravity and propulsion allowed us to develop machinery, bridges and rockets while knowledge about electricity and magnetism and matter led to lasers, light bulbs, telescopes, fiber optics, the internet and the huge market of consumer electronics." He added that "Physics research will help us to solve major new challenges in homeland security and find new energy sources."

The text of the resolution acknowledges the contributions of physics to "knowledge, civilization, and culture," its impact on "many emerging fields in science and technology," and its "vital role in addressing many 21st-century challenges." "Therefore, be it resolved," the resolution states, "by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), that the Congress -

"(1) supports the goals and ideals of the World Year of Physics, as designated by the General Assembly of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics;

"(2) encourages the American people to observe the World Year of Physics as a special occasion for giving impetus to education and research in physics as well as to the public's understanding of physics;

"(3) encourages all science-related government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, and the media to highlight and give enhanced recognition to the role of physics in social, cultural, and economic development as well as its positive impact and contributions to society; and

"(4) encourages all those involved in physics education and research to take additional steps, including strengthening existing and emerging fields of physics research and promoting the public's understanding of physics, to ensure that support for physics continues and that physics studies at all levels continue to attract an adequate number of students."

The resolution has been sent to the Senate, but with Congress out of town until after Labor Day, very little time will be left to deal with the FY 2005 appropriations and other critical legislation before the November elections. That leaves prospects uncertain for Senate action on this resolution.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3094

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