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FYI Number 113: September 20, 2006

Comment Requested on Condensed-Matter and Materials Physics Report

A National Research Council committee has just released an interim report on the scientific challenges facing condensed-matter and materials physics research. The committee is encouraging feedback on this report, which is one of a series of similar reports that are being produced by the National Research Council's Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences, Board on Physics and Astronomy.

Six studies are in various stages of completion in a decadal study entitled, "Physics 2010." As explained on the Board's website (http://www7.nationalacademies.org/bpa/projects_physics_2010.html), "The decadal survey of physics serves two broad purposes: (1) it provides a periodic snapshot of the field that is useful for tracking and understanding the evolution of the science and (2) it provides a process whereby emerging opportunities can be identified and developed. Ultimately, the decadal survey is both inward- and forward-looking." FYIs on the first two of these studies can be read at http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/064.html on elementary particle physics and http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/105.html on atomic, molecular, and optical science research.

"Condensed-Matter and Materials Physics: The Science of the World Around Us: An Interim Report," was produced by the 19-member Committee on CMMP 2010: An Assessment of and Outlook for Condensed-Matter and Materials Physics. The committee is co-chaired by Mildred S. Dresselhaus of MIT (and the chair of the AIP Governing Board) and William J. Spencer of SEMATECH. This report is sponsored by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

The last decadal study, issued in 1999 (see http://newton.nap.edu/catalog/6407.html#description ) serves as the foundation for this latest effort. The committee released this 15-page report on September 14, which can be read in a PDF format at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11730.html

The Solid State Sciences Committee of the Board of Physics and Astronomy solicited community input in the preparation of the interim report at a February meeting and at meetings of the American Physical Society, American Chemical Society, and the Materials Research Society. Focus groups were also convened at universities and national laboratories, and a community input website was established (http://www7.nationalacademies.org/bpa/CMMP2010_Community.html). A fourth meeting is being planned. Additional feedback is sought, and can be sent to cmmp2010-input.nas.edu

In the report's Preface, the co-chairs explain that the committee "has been asked to review recent accomplishments and new opportunities in the field; identify its potential future impact on other scientific fields; consider how it contributes to meeting national societal needs; identify, discuss, and suggest priorities for construction, purchase, and operation of tools and facilities; examine the structure and level of the current research effort and funding; and make recommendations on how to realize the full potential of CMMP research." The final report is to be issued next spring.

The committee then describes eight important challenges that will require "significant advances in both fundamental science and materials-based technology." These challenges are:

"How do complex phenomena emerge from simple ingredients?"
"How will we generate power in the future?"
"What is the physics of life?"
"What happens far from equilibrium and why?"
"What new discoveries await us in the nanoworld?"
"How can we extend the frontiers of measurement and prediction?"
‘How do we revolutionize the information age?"
"How can we inspire and teach others?"

This interim report concludes with both optimism and concern: "As the committee lays the foundation for its recommendations for the effective organization and support of CMMP research in the United States, it will look back to the history of past successes, and, most importantly, examine the current position and likely future of U.S. research and technological innovation relative to the rest of the world. Here, the news is not good: domestic funding for basic research in CMMP has been essentially flat for the past decade. The field is growing, as evidenced by the increase in total publications, but the U.S. output remains flat. . . . CMMP is an important area because of its tight coupling to society, economic growth, and national objectives. . . . To remain among the world leaders in CMMP, the United States should be participating more fully in the growth of the field. To appreciate the magnitude of the problem, one must recognize the inertia in the system: the U.S. research community still benefits from the science conducted and the scientists trained years ago; the lower levels of current funding will have increasing impact in the future. When considering key recent advances in fundamental CMMP, this effect may already be more pronounced than is currently appreciated. For instance, foreign researchers have led the charge in the discovery of new types of superconductors and advanced magnetic materials. In these important areas, the United States may already be falling behind."

The report then concludes: "With sufficient resources, the United States will strengthen an indispensable component of the nation's capacity for economic competitiveness—its leadership in CMMP basic research."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3095

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