APS News

Physical Review Focus

The APS announces Physical Review Focus, a free on-line service that explains selected research articles from the APS journals at a level accessible to most APS members. The web site provides short, readable explanations, roughly at the level of a first year physics graduate student. Initially, PR Focus will select approximately two papers per week from Physical Review Letters, but it is expected to cover all of the APS journals eventually.

Since the main goal of the service is to improve communication among physicists from different specialties, the selection criteria will differ from those of a research journal. Papers will often be chosen based on educational value and intrinsic interest to non-specialists, rather than simply on scientific merit. Research that is particularly well-covered by other sources may also be passed over in favor of less-publicized work.

"PRL was once supposed to be accessible to everyone in physics," says Martin Blume, the APS Editor-In-Chief, who has directed plans for the project. "PRL was a place for rapid publications of broad interest, but today-although authors still submit their most significant work to PRL-they write mainly for their close colleagues." Blume hopes PR Focus will "make a dent in the comprehensibility gap" among physicists. He adds that PRL is among the best physics journals in the world and he would like PR Focus to improve public visibility for the most broadly interesting scientific results.

The PR Focus web site went "live" on 16 March, the first day of the APS March Meeting, featuring stories on condensed matter and high energy physics. One article explains a report of the first quantitative analysis of superconducting vortices using a relatively new time-resolved imaging technique. The second story reviews the three latest papers on the top quark mass from the large Fermilab collaborations.

The idea for such an on-line publication has been circulating at APS since 1996, under the tentative title Highlights. The title was changed to PR Focus to better reflect the nature of the selection process. David Ehrenstein has been hired as the writer and editor and the URL is http://focus.aps.org which is also accessible from the APS home page.

Meet the PR Focus Editor

The APS has hired David Ehrenstein, a physicist and science writer, to develop a new electronic journal featuring physics highlights. Ehrenstein joined the Society in February, and will work with APS Editor-in-Chief Martin Blume to develop Physical Review Focus, initially designed to be a web-based electronic journal focusing mainly on articles appearing in Physical Review Letters. As the project develops, coverage of relevant articles in other APS journals will also be included, and a print counterpart may be added.

Ehrenstein received his PhD in biological physics from the University of Illinois in 1994, working under Hans Frauenfelder on the physics of myoglobin and other proteins. He spent the next two years as a postdoctoral fellow studying the biophysics of the inner ear and as a part-time science writer at the National Institutes of Health. Prior to joining the APS staff, Ehrenstein was an intern at Science magazine, where he authored research news and science policy articles for the magazine and the ScienceNOW web site. His prior experience also includes a summer stint in 1993 as a radio journalist for Science Update, a nationally broadcast radio program produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin