Sessler Reviews the APS
Sessler Reviews "Glorious" Past, Sees Hopeful Future in Retiring Presidential Address
|Read full text of Andrew Sessler's retiring presidential address.|
APS Past President Andrew Sessler (University of California, Berkeley) invoked a glorious past as evidence of a hopeful future in his traditional retiring presidential address, presented during a session at the APS Centennial that also honored the recipients of thirty-one of the prizes and awards given by the Society in 1999. [see special honors section, APS News, March 1999]
Sessler first reviewed a few highlights of the last century of physics, beginning with the discoveries of the electron (1897), radioactivity (1896) and X-rays (1895), moving through to the explosion of revolutionary breakthroughs and technological developments that now form the backbone of modern society. He also commented on the ways in which the sociology of physics has changed in the last 100 years. "No longer does a single professor, with one student, work in a physics building basement or attic with antiquated, dusty and inadequate equipment," he said. "Most physicists work in large groups, with large machines, which require travel, with consequent impact upon teaching and presence at the home facility."
In addition, rapid improvements in communication and transportation — jet airplanes, faxes, emails and the like — have helped globalize the physics enterprise, making it much easier to keep current with the work of researchers throughout the world. Funding practices have also changed since the beginning of the 20th century, when research was supported modestly by private foundations, universities, industry, and even by physicists themselves. Today most financial support of physics has come from the U.S. government, in recognition of the importance of physics research to the continued economic growth and well-being of the country.
And the APS has evolved right along with these social and institutional changes. In particular, Sessler emphasized the transition from a primarily research-oriented organization to one concerned about broader social concerns and impacts related to the physics enterprise. Sessler cited 1953 as a pivotal year in the changing nature of the APS. That was the year when Allen V. Astin, director of the National Bureau of Standards, was fired over a battery acid that the NBS found to be "worthless," prompting the APS Council to integrity of scientists in government service. It was also the year that J. Robert Oppenheimer found himself the subject of a federal investigation on alleged breaches of security, with subsequent revoking of his security clearance. The incident caused the APS through then President Hans Bethe to protest the unfairness of the reprimand, which he believed was "based on policy disagreement," in 1954. That was the year when the McCarran Immigration Act was invoked to deny a visa to Paul Dirac, who had been invited to spent a year at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton.
According to Sessler, the precedents for social awareness and action set during the 1950s continued into the turbulent 1960s and beyond, with the formation of the Forum on Physics and Society, and of committees devoted to women and minorities in physics, national science policy, and federal funding of scientific research. By the 1980s, international activities also moved to the forefront, with the Society's highly successful scholarly exchange program with China, and a program to aid colleagues in the former Soviet Union in 1992. And in the last decade, growing concern over the careers and professional development of physicists, and the relation of the Society to applied physics, resulted in the establishment of respective committees and subunits devoted to addressing those issues.
Sessler described the APS today as being "in excellent shape; it is far and away the strongest physical society in the world and one of the strongest professional societies in America." But he views the Society's key source of strength as the excellent officers and staff, the many volunteers that keep the various units, committees and programs in operation, and an excellent journal referee system to maintain the high quality of papers published in the Physical Review.
In terms of the future, Sessler cited the impact of electronic publishing, continued fractionalization of the physics enterprise (and hence within the APS itself), science education, and public information and outreach as among the critical issues the APS must face in the coming years. Yet he remains resolutely optimistic about the Society's ability to meet those challenges. "Because we are able to stand on the shoulders of giants — namely, the shoulders of all those who preceded us and built the Society into its present state — we are ready to move on to the next 100 years," he concluded. "Our future looks good. I think it will be even more glorious than our glorious past."
The full text of Andrew Sessler's retiring presidential address is listed below. Dr. Sessler's APS historical remarks were based on materials in the exhibit, To Advance and Diffuse the Knowledge of Physics — 100 Years of the APS, and a forth coming brief history of the APS by Harry Lustig.
Looking Backwards, Looking Around, Looking Forward
Retiring Presidential Speech
Andrew M. Sessler
March 24, 1999
It is an honor to be the president of the Society who has the special privilege of speaking at the Centennial. As such it is appropriate — even obligatory upon me — to devote this speech to the APS rather than using this opportunity to describe my own special corner of physics. There will be nothing, in this talk, about colliders, electron, proton, or even muon kinds, crystal beams, laser accelerators, or collective accelerators.
My plan, then, is to talk to the history of the APS, the present status of the APS, and the future of the APS. Of course I am not much of a historian, so you will probably find my description of the past in fault; I can only say this is one person's view of the history. Others have, and more will have, other points of view. Someday, perhaps, a true historian, sufficiently removed in time from the present will be able to look back with an un-biased eye, sort all this out, and write a definitive history.
My discussion of the present will bring in the subjects of the well-being of our Society. I will raise many deep and thoughtful questions about which no one — least of all I — has the answers. But we should be contemplating these questions, at some level, much of the time. I can say that I have been "forced" to think about these matters for almost four years and, therefore, I can describe to you the issues, even if I can't tell you the answers. Our Centennial is a good time to consider these matters.
Looking to the future of physics, well, I am smart enough not to try that. Would someone 100 years ago even have mentioned relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, the Standard Model, the big bang, AGNs, black holes, quasars, pulsars, superconductivity? Or practical things like the laser, the transistor, semiconductors, FM and TV, computers, faxes, e-mail, the Web, fiber optics, nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors, radiation treatment of cancer, MRI scans, radio astronomy, jet airplanes, space travel, and so on? Clearly not. Why should we think we can, now, predict the future of physics any better than they could then?
Before turning to my main topic; namely, the APS itself, I want to make a few comments about physics in this last century and, also, about the changes in the sociology of physics during this last century. And, this is a good point for me to acknowledge the help, in preparing this report, of Rolf Sinclair, Amy Halsted, and Harry Lustig.
A Century of Physics
As we look at science history, this last century was an incredible century for physics. The century started with three fantastically important discoveries: the electron (1897), radioactivity (1896), and X-rays (1895). Planck's explanation of the blackbody curve was done in 1900 and so the century started, exactly at t=0, on the path of quantum mechanics. We were to see the exquisite development of quantum mechanics, atomic theory, nuclear theory, particle theory, condensed matter theory, relativity, astrophysics, and then all the derivative kinds of physics such as chemical-physics, bio-physics, material science, modern non-linear dynamics, fluid dynamics, and on and on.
Well, I can't — and won't even try — to talk comprehensively about the physics of the last century. But we, at the APS, have developed a number of items that can help one explore that fascinating past.
First, at the level of high school students and college students, we have the wall chart, which all of you have seen. We are sending it to every high school in the country, and making it available on the web; we hope that this tool will go a long way towards educating students (as well as interesting them in physics).
Second, at the level of the educated general public, we have also produced a coffee table book, "A Century of Physics", with wonderful pictures and a compelling text about the adventure of physics. I hope each of you buys at least one copy, in order to explain to your parents why you chose this career over whatever it was they wanted you to do, and in order to explain to your spouse and children why you are so fascinated by physics that you often neglect your family. (I know, I have been one of the worst offenders.)
Third, we have made a speakers booklet, which list possible colloquium speakers covering the wide sweep of physics. Your department, laboratory, organization, would be well-advised to invite these physicists, all selected both for their competence and for their ability to speak well.
Fourth, there are the Centennial Symposia going on here, this very week and,
Fifth, there are the wonderful exhibits put on by the Divisions and the Society itself.
Sixth, there is the special Centenary Issue of the Reviews of Modern Physics, "More Things in Heaven and Earth", which I urge all of you to purchase. The essays are delightful and educational. They paint a rather complete picture of physics at the fin de siecle.
Finally, there are some interesting articles in the latest edition of Physics Today and a photo collection of outstanding physicists of the last 100 years.
With all this material I believe that informing yourself will be easy and, I dare say, most interesting.
Sociology of Physics
The change in the structure, and manner, of doing physics research, through the Century, is truly remarkable. No longer does a single professor, with one student, work in a physics building basement or attic with antiquated, dusty, and inadequate equipment. Most physicists work in large groups and with large machines, which require travel (with consequent impact upon teaching and presence at the home facility).
And, of course easy communication, and easy transportation, has made most of us very aware — almost instantly aware — of advances made by our colleagues throughout the world. How different than at the start of the Century. Yes, the jet airplane, faxes and e-mails have changed the face of physics.
Even more of a change has occurred in the pattern, and nature, of funding of physics. Up until about 1940, i.e., for the first 40 years of our Society, physics was supported — very modestly — by private foundations, universities, industry, wealthy individuals, even by physicists themselves. The role of the Federal Government was small. We can remind ourselves of those days when the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations and private sponsors (Yerkes, Lick) funded the ever-bigger telescopes that mapped the structure of the universe, while at the same time they gave support to geophysical and nuclear research. Lawrence's first cyclotron of a consequential size was made possible by the gift of a magnet by the Federal Telegraph Company. And in those days The National Research Council Fellowships (funded by the Rockefeller Foundation) supported many physicists, such as E. U. Condon, Lee A. DuBridge, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and John A. Wheeler, just to name a few.
Things changed in the 1940's. In a few years the scale of physics research increased by orders of magnitude as the Federal Government funded wartime research. As World War II ended it was clear that only Federal funding could continue this level, while the Vannevar Bush Report articulated, and advocated (with success) the Federal Government remaining in basic research. The postwar growth of US physics, and its preeminence internationally, has been due to Federal funding.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) set key precedents in funding physics research — both in the freedom it gave researchers to choose topics, and in its allowing researchers to do physics with a minimum of interference.
The Manhattan Project left behind a legacy of laboratories. The AEC picked them up and turned them into National Laboratories. They also established new laboratories, many associated with universities, and thus became large supporters of both research and training in physics.
The NSF, established in the early '50s, kept up the pattern established by the ONR and AEC. It restricted support to academia, thus assuring a strong university based research structure, combined with teaching and training. The result, as you know, is unequaled anywhere in the world.
I think I don't have to remind you of the present great facilities of physics. You are aware of Fermilab, LIGO, The Advanced Photon Source, Doublet III, and the Spallation Neutron Source (now under construction), and on and on. These, and many other facilities required major investments. They were initiated by physicists, endorsed by laboratories or universities, supported by wise program managers and, finally, by the various administrations and the US Congress.
The post-1940 support of physics has mostly come from a Congress that has realized the importance of physics research, and that has given a considerable freedom to the funding Agencies to judge how best to support it. Ultimately, the support comes, of course, from the US taxpayers.
Now I haven't talked at all about the very important role of private and public universities, or of the significant contribution of industry, but I wanted to emphasize the important role, and changing role, of the federal government.
Early History of the APS
On a bright day in May, one hundred years ago, 38 physicists, called by Arthur Webster and welcomed by Michael Pupin, gathered at Columbia University, talked a bit about aims and policies and then resolved that "a physical society be formally organized". They appointed a committee to draft a constitution, officers were elected, and so the American Physical Society was formed. The physicists included one who worked in industry, one who worked for the government, and two women. The motivating force was Webster, but the first president, was the distinguished physicist, and first US professor of physics, Henry Rowland. Albert Michelson was elected as the second president. Webster would become the third president.
The second meeting of the Society took place in October with an adoption of the constitution, three contributed papers and a presidential address by Rowland. The address was entitled, "The Highest Aim of the Physicist" and is as timely today as it was 100 years ago. Rolland made a strong call for basic, over applied, research, and although this concept very much dominated APS thinking for the next 50 years — much to its detriment, I would say — it was probably quite properly called for, in America, at the turn of the century.
The APS did take to making eminent foreign scientists honorary members; the first was Lord Kelvin in 1902, followed by Svante Arrhenius in 1904, and then H.A. Lorentz and Emil Wiechert in 1906. This practice has been discontinued.
Let me remind you that The Physical Review had been started, in 1893, at Cornell, prior to the formation of the APS, by Edward Nichols. Relations between the two groups was always fine and they joined forces on January 1, 1913; 20 years after the first formation of the Physical Review with full control (and associated responsibility) being transferred from the then editors of the Physical Review to the officers of the APS.
The First Seventy Years
The first 70 years of our Society were devoted, almost exclusively, to the furtherance of research physics: conducting meetings and publishing the Physical Review. The early meetings of the Society were mostly at Columbia University. In 1921 "a sensational device" was introduced; namely a time clock. Soon geographical sections were formed; the first being a New England Section in 1932. Then physics sub-field divisions were formed; the first, in 1943, being, what is now, the Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics. Others soon followed, by 1970 there were 8 divisions.
Financial concerns related to the Physical Review were paramount for much of this period. They were particularly acute during the depression years. Let me not burden you with the details; suffice it to say that we weathered that period and today the Physical Review has become the world's premier journal; it publishes more than 100,000 pages a year.
Arthur Webster tried to get the APS, "to take up pedagogical questions, but without success". He was so insistent that in 1907 the Council said, "all pedagogical matters lie outside the province of the Physical Society". And that lead to the formation of the American Association of Physics Teachers in 1930.
Pedagogy wasn't the only thing the Society rejected. In 1928, a series of Source Books in the History of Science under the leadership of astronomers and mathematicians, were under way. However, the APS Council said, "that it was not advisable to endorse this publication at this time". Much later, the American Institute of Physics formed the Niels Bohr Library and the Emilo Segre picture collection.
Applied physics vs. basic physics has been very much an issue throughout the history of the Society. Already, in the 20's, the Optical Society, the Acoustical Society, and the Rheology Society had been formed. In 1930 Paul Floote was appointed chairman of an APS Committee on Applied Physics. His report said, "Dissatisfaction exists on the part of many physicists that the activity of the APS… is not representative of physics in its broadest scope". Foote recommended a reorganization, along the lines of the American Chemical Society, with as a start, the formation of an Applied Physics Division and a Mathematical Physics Division. This was not accepted by the APS, and the consequence was the formation of the American Institute of Physics, in 1932, with the APS, the OSA, the Acoustical Society, the Rheology Society and the AAPT under its umbrella. In later years more societies joined the AIP and it now is an organization comprising 10 Societies. The AIP publishes 8 research journals, 11 translations of Soviet Journals, and, in addition, Physics Today, The Industrial Physicist and Wonder Science.
It is interesting to look at the political activities of the Society. Perhaps the first was the defense of Ed Condon in 1948, when he was Director of the Bureau of Standards, and two years after he had been president of the APS. He was attacked by the House Un-American Activities Committee, but defended by the administration itself as well as by many in the scientific community — including the APS. He was quickly cleared by the AEC of all allegations.
A second political activity was in 1953. Allen V. Astin, Director of the National Bureau of Standards, was fired over a battery additive that the NBS found "worthless". There was consternation and much action within the scientific community. The APS Council called for rules of ethics for scientists in government service: "It is the duty of a scientist to investigate scientific and technical problems by openly-stated objective methods without shading his conclusions under political or other pressures".
A third political activity came in 1953 when Luis Strauss was appointed chairman of the AEC. Four days later he initiated a security and loyalty check of J. Robert Oppenheimer. One year later, a hearing was held and a judgment was rendered in May, 1954. On June 12, 1954 the APS Council, Hans Bethe was president, issued a statement decrying the removal of clearance and including the statement, "Charges based on policy disagreement appears to be customary in Russia but we regard them as not only morally reprehensible but also very harmful to our national welfare…He is reprimanded for his "lack of enthusiasm" for the program after it was officially adopted. To require such subservience to an official position as a proof of trustworthiness is to prevent the development of the best thought".
Note, that the Council action came "after the fact" as far as helping Oppenheimer was concerned. Nevertheless, I put this action down as the first political stand by the APS. True, it had advocated the formation of the NBS in 1900, but that was hardly a controversial stand. And, true, it had advocated adoption of the metric system in all government departments in 1906, but that was simply the start of the APS being "ahead of its time". And, true, it had, just three months after the end of W.W.II, decided to treat German and Japanese physicists in the same way as it treated other foreign members, but that was an internal matter. This was the first time that it disagreed with the government and stood up and said so.
In the very same year the McCarran Immigration Act was used to deny a visa to P.A.M. Dirac, who had been invited to spend a year at the Institute for Advanced Study. As Dirac said, concerning the application, it was "turned down flat". The action was protested by W. Bleakney, John Wheeler, and Milt White in a letter to the NY Times, but the APS did nothing. True, in 1952 the APS had issued a general statement pointing out the damage to the country from the many visa denials to foreign scientists wishing to attend conferences in the USA.
The Last Thirty Years
It was on Oct. 2, 1964 that physicist Mario Savio spoke while standing on the roof of a police car in Berkeley. Thus started the Free Speech Movement, which by the year 1968, had spread throughout the world. At the same time the 60's was a time of great social change. These two forces buffeted, even, the Physical Society. In fact, the Society so-changed that it went from being almost politically inactive to becoming one of the most active, if not the most active, Society in the country. It also went from a society primarily concerned with physics as such, to one concerned with physicists as individuals: their training, their jobs, their freedom of investigation and travel, etc. The story of how these changes happened is, perhaps, the most interesting part of the history of the Society.
In 1967 Charlie Schwartz, of Berkeley, wrote a letter to Physics Today urging physicists to oppose the Vietnam War, but the editors refused to publish it on the grounds that it didn't deal with "physics as physics" or "physicists as physicists". In 1968, Schwartz proposed an amendment to the APS Constitution that would have opened up the Council to consideration of very many issues. The Council was quite against this change and even wrote a statement, which was sent with every ballot, telling each member why the Council recommended a negative vote. The proposed change failed.
These activities sparked many letters to Physics Today concerning to what extent the Society should become involved with societal issues. Some argued that physicists had no special competence, the meetings and publications would become diluted, the relation to the federal government — our primary funding source — would be hurt, and that there exist many advocacy organizations that physicists could join if they so-desired. Arguments on the other side were also presented.
Meanwhile, Martin Perl, of Stanford, and Schwartz stated a new organization, called Scientist for Social and Political Action. At the APS Washington Meeting in 1969, there was a debate on the program called "Technical Aspects of the ABM", but the talks touched many non-technical aspects as well. More than 2000 listened to the debate, and the new organization marched 250 strong on the White House, visited the science advisor and over 60 senators.
In 1971, Robert March, of Wisconsin, proposed a second Constitutional Amendment, similar to Schwartz's, but less contentious; it also failed.
Meanwhile, in January, 1969, Brian Schwartz, then at MIT, started a petition calling for a new division of the Society devoted to physics and society. Due to the strong support of A.M. Clogston, of Bell Labs, Joel Primack, then of Harvard, and Seymore Koenig of IBM, the Council decided to poll the membership. The subsequent overwhelming support led to the formation of the Forum on Physics and Society in January 1972; Earl Callen was first chairman.
The Forum organized sessions which added a new dimension to APS Meetings. The Forum was, also, instrumental in initiating the concept of Congressional Fellows. In recent years we have added Media Fellows.
The Forum was followed, in 1974, with the formation of the Panel on Public Affairs (POPA), with chairman Philip Morse and then Herman Feshbach. The Committee, unlike the Forum, was empowered to prepare Council Statements on many societal issues and, also, to undertake studies. Through the years, but not in the last decade, it has carried out studies on the efficient use of energy, the potential of photovoltaics, reactor safety, and directed energy weapons.
The Committee on the Status of Women in Physics was formed in 1971 and the Committee on Minorities in 1972. By the late 70's, with the Society clearly concerned about the broader aspects of physics, many different Forums and Council Committees were formed.
POPA, because of Bernard Cooper and Edward Gerjuoy, became very active in helping physicists whose human rights were abridged, and, in 1980, spun off the Committee on the International Freedom of Scientists. In subsequent years, the Society became very involved in efforts to help physicists whose human rights were abridged. I need only mention the names of Yuri Orlov, Andrei Sakharov, and Fang Li-Zhi to remind you of the dozens of physicists that the Society helped.
International activities led, in 1981, to the development of a sub-group (later an independent committee of POPA) and so was formed the Committee on International Scientific Activities. Today, international activities are led by Irving Lerch.
There were two special international programs that I would like to mention. The first was the 1983 program to bring exceptionally promising Chinese physicists to the US for a period of two years. This program was the result of efforts by Robert Marshak, Joseph Birman and Benjamin Bederson. It brought 48 scholars to the US and greatly helped China move quickly into the modern world of physics.
The second special international program was the APS program to aid colleagues, in the former Soviet Union, at a time of great need. This effort, primarily in 1992, was initiated by Ernest Henly. Efforts resulted in raising funds from members (115 k$), the NSF ( 100 k$), and private foundations (1.25 M$). All of which went a great way towards helping our colleagues both directly and in stimulating others.
In 1988 there was formed a new Council Committee, now called the Physics Policy Committee (PPC). The PPC is concerned with public policy that affects physics. This should be contrasted with POPA that is concerned with public policy subjects having a physics component.; that is, how physics affects policy. Actually, the Society had been moving in this direction since 1984, when it first opened its Washington Office and when it first appointed Robert Park. By 1995 the Office had been greatly expanded and split in two, with an Office of Public Information and an Office of Public Affairs headed by Michael Lubel. The latter is heavily into lobbying Congress, in which capacity they frequently call upon your help.
Careers and professional development of physicists has more and more become a matter of concern to the Society under the direction of APS Associate Executive Officer Barrett Ripin, although historical roots go back to the employment crisis of the 70's. A big step forward was the formation of the Forum on Industrial and Applied Physics in 1995, and a focus on alleviating the causes of employment problems of the mid-1990's by emphasizing diverse career options open to physicists. In 1998, the Council formally recognized the importance of continuous attention to the professional well being of physicist by establishing the Committee on Careers and Professional Development.
Another subject of long-time concern to the Council has been the relation between the Society and applied physics. Most physicists who are active in applied physics are located in National Laboratories and industry. Many of these have little association with our Society. Perhaps this is a result of the attitude with which the Society started out, perhaps it is because of the formation of the Optical Society, etc., perhaps it is because of the existence of the IEEE, perhaps it is because the AIP was formed. To what extent these physicists should be, can be, in our Society is an issue, amongst others, being addressed by the Forum on Industrial and Applied Physics, formed in 1995.
The last thirty years has seen a great fractionalization of the Society. The first division was in 1943, by 1970 there were 8 divisions, and today there are 14 divisions, 7 topical groups, 5 forums, and 7 geographical sections.
Finally, in this history I should note that the Society moved from NYC to College Park in 1993. The decision was made in 1990 by, at first, a tie vote with all the elected officers voting for College Park and all the staff officers (except one abstained) voting for New York. A subsequent vote of 6 to 3 was to move to College Park if the AIP decided to move (as they did).
The financial success of the Society, going from a state of "living from hand to mouth" to the present state, and the continued excellence of the Physical Review can only be ascribed to devoted, talented, and just plain wonderful physicists who served as its officers during the years. In recent years, there were Editors-in-Chief: Samuel Goudsmit, David Lazarus, Ben Bederson, Treasurers: Shirley Quimby, Joseph Burton, Harry Lustig and Secretary, later Executive Secretary: Karl Darrow, William Havens, and Richard Werthamer. We all owe them, and their predecessors, deep appreciation.
The Society Today
The Society, today, is in excellent shape. It is far and away the strongest physical society in the world and one of the strongest professional societies in America. We have 41,800 members with (roughly) 25% in industry, 25% in national laboratories, and 50% in academia. Not only are we respected for intellectual leadership, but we are also financially strong, with total assets of 80.2 M$, but certain liabilities so that our net assets are 62.8 M$. These are monies which we hope never to need, but which can — if necessary — carry us through difficult times.
One contribution to our strength is that of the fine staff. Our three leading officers, the Executive Officer, Judy Franz, the Treasurer, Tom McIlrath, and the Editor in Chief, Marty Blume, are all excellent. They have behind them a staff, of about 200 — approximately equally divided between the editorial offices in Ridge and headquarters in College Park. The staff is augmented with a great network of volunteers; namely you people, who serve on the Council, and on Society Committees.
A second contribution to our strength is the strength of each unit, divisions, topical groups, etc. Each has officers and numerous committees, dealing with meetings, newsletters, Fellowship, prizes, etc. These positions are all filled with volunteers !
Most importantly, is the system of Referees. There are 25,329 physicists in the Physical Review data base and, in 1998, 13,040 (of which 52 % were outside the United States), were used. Without this contribution our publications would collapse. Your role is vital !
In short, then, our Society owes its fine shape, to the many tireless contributions of its volunteers and to the strength of its staff.
The Near Future
I have already indicated, and you know, how dangerous prognostication can be, so I will be detailed only about the very near future.
What are some of the big issues facing the Society ? Right up there, has to be the transition from paper publishing to some future publishing mode that surely involves — maybe even exclusively — electronic publishing. Already, all of our journals are available electronically. For us, this transition is vitally important, for the fiscal health of the Society is dominated by the publishing arm of the Society. Besides questions of paper vs. electronic there are questions of purchasing modes of subscriptions, library consortia, etc. It is evident that this subject will be a big one for very many years.
There are, of course, questions of membership and of meetings. Associated with that is the fractionalization of the Society. Is the fractionalization completed or will it continue to go on ? Future officers must grapple with how the Council will be structured and, closely related to that, in what sense we remain one society.
The Society is presently concerned, to some degree, with the careers and professional development of its members , and the availability of the discipline to minorities and women. The health of physics is clearly dependent upon the number and quality of physicists, as well as to the kinds of positions they have. To what extent the Society gets involved with these matters — and how much it leaves to other Societies — are subjects it must consider in the years ahead. Closely related, is the Society's concern with the well-being of physicists throughout the world. I suspect this will be an on-going activity as human rights require a continual battle.
I would think that the relation between the Society and applied physicists — most physicists — will be a subject of continuing concern. To what degree can we get them involved with the APS, when their primary interest is in (say) lasers (and the Optical Society fills their needs), or semiconductor devices (and the IEEE fills their needs), is a matter for future officers to ponder.
There is, also, the matter of science education of the young. Our present, rather extensive program, under Ramon Lopez, is a result of The Campaign for Physics which brought in $5 M for this effort. Some of the kids in schools become physicists, but most don't. To what extent should our Society be concerned about science education in K-12 and colleges? Physics, if you will, for the non-physicist. Here, of course, we must work with other societies, but just what our involvement should be is a matter that will require continued consideration.
The Society is very international: 70% of our published papers originate from foreign countries, and many of the US papers have foreign co-authors. More than half our subscriptions — in considerable degree, where the money comes from — are from foreign locations. To what extent we engage in international activities and which activities we engage in, are subjects that will require continued attention.
The APS's interaction with our larger society is, perhaps, one of the biggest questions facing us. First, there are the issues that effect our discipline. We have become a lobbying organization and I suspect this activity will be maintained and ever grow. Secondly there are societal issues in which physics plays a major role. How we involved we get with these matters is a subject that will require continual attention.
Besides this work on particular issues, there is the question of general education and information to the public about physics. Here we have started Physical Review Focus (which has been very well-received by the press) and, also, some other activities in public outreach. Follow-ons, to some of our Centennial activities, such as the public lectures and the wall chart and the coffee table book, are a distinct possibility. Just how much we do, and what we do, will, surely, be important topics in the years ahead.
The Far Future
Our president, in his APS News interview in January, looked rather far ahead. I can do no better than to quote Jerry Friedman:
"We have had 100 years of spectacular physics achievement, and we can envision comparable achievements for the future. There's no question that the intellectual questions to be answered are very deep and manifold. There will be major discoveries that we can not anticipate as well as revolutionary new technologies, and much more interdisciplinary work".
Similar thoughts were expressed by E.U. Condon, then Director of the NBS, at the 50th celebration of the APS: "It is an exciting and challenging game. It is lots of fun being a physicist, and I am sure the physicists are going to have a lot of fun in the next half-century if the are allowed to work at physics".
Those thoughts are still applicable today, but these seem to be more serious times and although doing physics will always be fun, we think that "fun" is not enough justification for the continued health of physics. Jerry Friedman said, in that same interview, that the activities of the Society must, besides the traditional role of service to its members, involve informing the government, and the general public, of the intellectual and practical benefits of science, and enhancing educational levels of excellence.
His sentiments are exactly the same as mine and, I trust, the same as yours. With unanimity of view and, more importantly, because we are able "to stand on the shoulders of giants"; namely, the shoulders of all those who precede us and built the Society to its present state, we are ready to move on to the next 100 years. Our future looks good. I think it will be even more glorious than our glorious past.
- Bedell, Frederick, "What Led to the Founding of the American Physical Society", Physical Review 75, 1601 (1949).
- Phillips, Melba, "The American Physical Society: A Survey of its First 50 Years", Bull. of the APS 35, 1274 (1990).
- Lustig, Harry, "A Brief History of the American Physical Society", Draft (1999).
- Pake, George, "The APS in 1977: Public Service in an Era of Unlimited Growth", Physics Today, April 1978, 23.
- News and Views: The Oppenheimer Case, Physics Today, July 1954, 4.
- News and Views: The Astin Case, Physics Today, June 1953, 20.
- Marshak, Robert, "APS and Public Issues", Physics Today, May 1983, 9.
- Casper, Barry, "Physicists and Public Policy: The Forum and the APS", Physics Today. May 1974, 31.
- Final Report of the American Coordinating Committee on the APS China Program 1983-1991.
- Lerch, Irving, Summary of FSU Programs, June 1993.
[ top ]
©1995 - 2014, AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.
|Editor:||Barrett H. Ripin|
|Associate Editor:||Jennifer Ouellette|