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Decadal Report on Nuclear Physics

Richard M. Jones
Number 114 - August 31, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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A decadal survey issued in late June by a National Research Council committee concluded that the “nuclear physics program in the United States has been especially well managed,” and offered recommendations to guide the program in future years.

“Nuclear Physics: Exploring the Heart of the Matter” is the fourth decadal survey of nuclear physics conducted by the National Research Council (NRC).  The survey was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.  Stuart Freedman of the University of California, Berkeley chaired the 19-member committee producing the report; Ani Aprahamian of the University of Notre Dame served as Vice Chair.  The report was prepared under the auspices of the Board on Physics and Astronomy; Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences of the National Academies.

The Committee on the Assessment of and Outlook for Nuclear Physics, which started its work in April 2010, was charged with the following Statement of Task:

“The new 2010 NRC decadal report will prepare an assessment and outlook for nuclear physics research in the United States in the international context. The first phase of the study will focus on developing a clear and compelling articulation of the scientific rationale and objectives of nuclear physics. This phase would build on the 2007 NSAC [Nuclear Science Advisory Committee] Long-range Plan Report, placing the near-term goals of that report in a broader international context.

“The second phase will put the long-term priorities for the field (in terms of major facilities, research infrastructure, and scientific manpower) into a global context and develop a strategy that can serve as a framework for progress in U.S. nuclear physics through 2020 and beyond. It will discuss opportunities to optimize the partnership between major facilities and the universities in areas such as research productivity and the recruitment of young researchers.  It will address the role of international collaboration in leveraging future U.S. investments in nuclear science. The strategy will address means to balance the various objectives of the field in a sustainable manner over the long term.”

The committee addressed this charge in a 264-page report that was released in a prepublication version in late June.  About half of the report is devoted to a discussion of various “science questions” on the structure of atomic nuclei, nuclear astrophysics, quark-gluon plasma, the strong force and internal structure of neutrons and protons, and fundamental symmetries.  

This chapter is followed by a 33-page discussion of the societal applications and benefits of nuclear physics in medicine, national security, energy, and other innovations and technologies. The report also has chapters on global nuclear science, and “nuclear science going forward.”  A final chapter highlights the committee’s findings and recommendations.  These include strategies for the full utilization of current facilities, the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, underground science, university-based programs, forefront-computing resources, streamlining funding agencies’ management procedures, and R&D on an electron-ion collider. Chairman Freedman summarized the committee’s findings in a 25-minute formal presentation at the July 19 meeting of the President Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST) that is available on an archived webcast.

Accompanying the decadal review is a report brief and two videos that are available here.  

Changes in the outlook for federal spending and the likely impacts these changes will have on nuclear physics research were also discussed at the July PCAST meeting during a question-and-answer period following the formal presentation, and are reviewed here. This discussion can also be viewed on the archived webcast, starting at 25 minutes into the discussion. 

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics