APS News

CPU Phase I Report Asks Eleven Big Questions

Michael Turner
Michael Turner ponders the future of the Universe. (Jessica Clark/APS)
Eleven key questions at the interface between physics and astronomy form the basis of the Phase I report of the Committee on Physics and the Universe (CPU), which was established by the National Academy of Sciences and is funded jointly by NSF, DOE and NASA. (See the July 2000 APS News article) Based on discussions and input from the scientific community, as well as the CPU committee's own deliberations, the committee believes these questions address an emerging model of the universe connecting "fundamental physics at the most microscopic scales to the properties of the universe and its contents on the largest physical scales," said Michael Turner (University of Chicago), chair of the CPU study committee, who summarized the report's contents during a special evening session at the APS April meeting in Washington, DC.

The Phase I report recognizes that in order to realize the extraordinary opportunities at hand, a new, cross-cutting approach is required that will draw on the techniques of both astronomy and physics, telescopes and accelerators, and ground-based and space-based instruments. Another potential obstacle is the fact that the science in question crosses not just disciplinary boundaries, but those of three separate US funding agencies: the DOE, the NSF, and NASA.

According to Turner, the CPU committee has moved on to Phase II. That report will put forth a strategy to enable each funding agency to look beyond the traditional boundaries of physics and astronomy, and hopefully take a broader view both of its own mission and of the traditional boundaries between it and the other agencies. In addition, the strategy will include a prioritized list of science initiatives, as well as suggested concrete mechanisms for coordination and cooperation within and between the DOE, NSF, and NASA.

The full text of the Phase I report from the CPU study can be found online at http://www.nationalacademies.org/bpa/projects/cpu/.

The Top 11 Questions at the Physics/Astronomy Interface

  • What is the dark matter?
  • What are the masses of the neutrinos, and how have they shaped the evolution of the universe?
  • Are there additional space-time dimensions?
  • What is the nature of the dark energy?
  • Are protons unstable?
  • How did the universe begin?
  • Did Einstein have the last word on gravity?
  • How do cosmic accelerators work, and what are they accelerating?
  • Are there new states of matter at exceedingly high density and temperature?
  • Is a new theory of matter and light needed at the highest energies?
  • How were the elements from iron to uranium made?

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