Decadal Report on Nuclear Physics

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Publication date: 
31 August 2012

  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.