APS News

APS Reps Attend Third World Congress of Physical Societies

On December 15 and 16, 90 delegates representing 40 national and regional physical societies assembled in Berlin for the third World Congress of Physical Societies. It was convened by both the European Physical Society and the German Physical Society (DPG), with EPS President Sir Arnold Wolfendale presiding. Wolfendale is the former Astronomer Royal of the United Kingdom and a past-president of the Institute of Physics. The last Congress was held in Tokyo in 1995.

The event was timed to coincide with the conclusion of the centennial of the advent of quantum theory by Max Planck, who published his revolutionary tract in the Annalen der Physik on December 14, 1900. To honor this seminal event in the history of 20th century physics, the delegates to the Congress were invited to a Jubilee session in the Schauspielhaus in the center of Berlin and near to the venue of the World Congress. The German Minister for Science and Research, Edelgard Bulmahn, addressed an open meeting attended by scientists, students, and numerous non-scientists. This was followed by scientific addresses by Nobel Laureates Klaus von Klitzing and Claude N. Cohen-Tannoudji.

The delegates convened in the Magnus-Haus, a recently restored 18th century structure in the center of Berlin, which serves as DPG's Berlin headquarters. The meeting focused on three themes: public understanding of physics, raising the profile of physics in the schools, and the strengthening of physical societies. Driving the Congress was a recognition that not all was well with the public face of the physical sciences. While government investment in science in the industrialized nations remains strong, and public confidence in scientists remains high, enrollments in physics-especially in the universities and colleges-is in general decline.

American Institute of Physics Executive Director Marc Brodsky gave a well-received presentation on the new science spots being produced by AIP for television. APS President James Langer chaired the sessions on physics education and gave a talk outlining some of the current APS initiatives. There was consensus that teacher education is an essential element in improving physics education in the secondary schools. An interesting feature of this discussion was the apparent commonality of problems in both the developing and industrial countries. However, the most intractable problem in the developing countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia was government indifference to the role of science in education.

APS Executive Officer Judy Franz presented a talk on the importance of national governments to the health of physics research and education in each country and the role of physical societies in promoting physics to governments and the general public. The role of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics was discussed by Burton Richter, a former APS president and currently president of IUPAP. He described the role of the commissions and special working groups in planning major new facilities and invigorating international exchange. IUPAP is the only instrument for providing physicists with a structured forum for strategic planning in the international arena. Agreements for the next generation of accelerators and the need for broad based consensus on research priorities makes IUPAP indispensable as international facilities augment national programs in the pursuit of frontier research.

Wolfendale introduced the most controversial topic: brain drain, not only in the third world, but also in Western and East-Central Europe. He saw the continuing drain of scientific talent from East-Central Europe, the Former Soviet Union and other countries as a threat to their future scientific integrity and recovery. He charged that American and - to a lesser extent - European practices bordered on the predatory and suggested that governments importing talented scientists contribute financially to their countries of origin. Richter took strong exception, pointing out that many of the problems in Western Europe were self-inflicted and that it would be damaging to introduce artificial impediments to free exchange. He also pointed out that the mobility of scientists was essential to the economic development of the nations of the Asia-Pacific region and to Europe itself.

In the final session of the conference, a number of resolutions were presented and discussed. These resolutions will undergo editorial review and then be circulated to the conference participants for their approval. APS will make these available on the web when they are finalized.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette