APS News

APS Views

APS Goals

By Judy Franz, APS Executive Officer

franz According to the APS Constitution, "the objective of the Society shall be the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics." I think that almost all of our members know that while this remains our primary goal, the current activities of the Society can only be contained in this one sentence if it is given the broadest possible interpretation. When we organize sessions on "careers in physics" at our meetings, we are trying to help physicists find jobs, knowing that without jobs it will be difficult for them to "advance the knowledge of physics" in any productive way. When we organize training sessions to prepare scientists to work with elementary school teachers in promoting "hands-on" science, we may "diffuse" a small amount of physics but we are really hoping to interest and inform all students so that they will become better citizens and perhaps in the future help "advance" physics in some indirect way. When we select and sponsor a congressional fellow each year to work as a staff member on Capitol Hill, we believe that we are helping in a broad program to provide Congress with scientifically trained personnel to better inform their decisions for our country. If our fellows "diffuse" some physics to Members of Congress and other staffers, this is a terrific bonus.

What then are the goals of APS? My counterpart in one of our sister scientific societies informed me recently that his society had, after a major strategic planning effort, agreed upon seven major goals, and he challenged me to provide a list of goals for APS. Since APS has not gone through a similar planning process, I can't put forth the Society's seven goals. Nonetheless, I have taken up his challenge on a more personal basis and am prepared to state my eight goals for APS. Many of these will be shared with most APS members, but others may be controversial. If this controversy stimulates you to write to APS News or to me with your own goals for APS, then I welcome it. Hearing from many of you on this issue will help the leadership and staff of APS do a better job of guiding the Society.

Goal #1: To maintain a large, committed membership that is broadly representative of the national physics community as a whole and includes interested foreign physicists. I think that APS is first and foremost a membership society and without a large, active membership we would quickly become impotent. Yes, we could publish journals and hold meetings, but so can commercial providers. What gives the Society substance is that our 40,000 members are, to a large extent, the physics community. That allows us to act and speak for the physics community, and make sure that its voice is heard. We realize that we have to do this cautiously and that our members may often disagree with one another. We do this through the APS Council, the governing body of the Society, which is elected democratically and advised by a large number of committees that involve several hundred members in this process. The leadership of the 31 APS units: divisions, topical groups, forums, and sections, actively involves at least another 300 members in APS governance.

Goal #2: To publish the preeminent physics journals and have them serve the world physics community. Having said that we are primarily a membership society, I have to follow this closely with stressing how much pride we take in our journals. I believe that continuing to make these journals outstanding has to be a top APS priority; 2/3 of the APS staff are employed in this endeavor. This is the primary way that we "diffuse" the knowledge of physics, and we are extremely pleased that we can serve the world physics community in this way. Authors, referees, editorial boards, subscribers, and readers come from all countries where physics is active. We must continue to serve this very diverse community.

Goal #3: To bring physicists together from around the world to exchange key ideas and information by holding a variety of meetings that are viewed as central to this purpose. APS holds or jointly sponsors 15-20 meetings a year that bring together more than 10,000 physicists to discuss exciting new research results, physics education and other topics of importance to the physics community. Together they cover most fields of physics and clearly fall within the central objective of the Society. These meetings, whether large or small, should continue to be a high priority of the Society.

Goal #4: To work to enhance the resources that are available for physics research and education. More so than ever before, "advancing and diffusing the knowledge of physics" take expensive resources. We in the physics community know that this is the case. Whether it is a huge particle accelerator, the Hubble telescope, a synchrotron light source, a high power laser, or new equipment for a teaching laboratory, resources are critical and seem to be harder and harder to obtain. For this reason, the APS has expanded its Washington Office staff and put more effort into trying to encourage the physics community to communicate the need for increased support of science to federal and state government officials as well as the general public. With the enactment of new legislation, our enhanced activities required us to register officially as a lobbying organization and report every six months our expenditures on such activities. I believe that the positive response of the physics community to this cause has made it well worth these efforts.

Goal #5: To work with the APS units to enhance their ability to accomplish APS goals and the more specific goals of each unit. Each of the 31 units of APS has its own mission and bylaws. At the annual Unit Convocation, representatives of these units share with each other some of the highlights of their activities. The range of these activities is truly impressive, and I think that everyone who attends the Convocation is proud to be part of a Society that is doing so many good things. APS staff works with the units in many different ways to help them with their programs, and we believe that it is one of our very important functions.

Goal #6: To assist the physics community in working to enhance physics and to achieve the national (and international) goals of peace, prosperity, and improved education. Physicists are prominently engaged in such activities, and I think APS is in a unique position to help them do more. The important national study that APS did some years ago on directed energy weapons, our more recent investigation of the biological effects of electromagnetic fields, and our grassroots lobbying activities to maintain the country's helium reserves are just three examples of important contributions of the physics community to society. The APS allows physicists to be heard on such issues as opposing "equal time" for creation science and the theory of evolution, promoting science literacy for all, and deploring politically based restrictions on the travel of physicists to international scientific conferences, to quote from just a few APS Council statements.

Goal #7: To work to ensure that all students in the United States and throughout the world have the opportunity to be exposed to physics, and that those who excel have the chance to participate in advanced study and research. The work of the APS Committee on the Status of Women in Physics and the Committee on Minorities in Physics has had a major impact on bringing women and minorities into the mainstream of the physics community. I believe strongly that these efforts must continue. In addition, the Committee on the International Freedom of Scientists continues to work to insure that the physicists around the world are allowed to participate fully in the physics community. APS statements include the sentence: "The APS condemns harassment of scientists based on their religious beliefs or ethnic origin." I am proud of these endeavors.

Goal #8: To broaden the meaning of "physicist" to include all those who are trained in physics, regardless of their current field of employment. This last goal might not be on everyone's list, but I feel very strongly about it. For too long, we physicists have been defining people out of the community instead of welcoming people in. How often have you heard the words "I used to be a physicist" or "I was trained as a physicist but haven't been one for a long time."? The problem- solving skills and approach to life that one gains with a physics education do not disappear if one takes an industrial job, or becomes a consultant or a university administrator. At a time when many of our young physicists are entering a diversity of careers, they would like to hear from their senior colleagues that they will remain part of the physics community. I know that the leadership of APS is committed to this idea.

In next month's APS News, we will print the 1996 APS Annual Report. Let us know if you think that we are doing the right things. Keeping APS members involved in the Society is my #1 goal. We need to hear your views on how best to do this.


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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin