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In the May 2001 issue of APS News, James Langer advocates reforming APS meetings. While I share his concern regarding declining APS membership and the importance of maintaining unity within the discipline of physics, I did think that his comments regarding a possible combination of the present April General Meeting with the Fall the Division of Plasma Physics meeting a bit misleading. The issue is hardly "small, independent unit meetings" - the DPP annual meeting is already substantially larger than the April general meeting. Like Langer's description of the March general meeting, the DPP meeting features many parallel sessions spread out over five days. This is hardly the sort of "small focused event" which could be held at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara or at the Aspen Center.
The 1998 proposal to combine the DPP meeting with the present April General Meeting provoked much spirited debate within our community. Concerns raised by members of the DPP at that time included a reduction in the number of cities with appropriate facilities; the possibility of increased room rates at larger hotels near convention centers (cost becomes a paramount concern when your budget is under stress); the inevitable scheduling problems in large meetings with parallel sessions (which often result in those presentations which you particularly wish to attend being scheduled simultaneously with each other or with your own presentation); and the general fatigue which results from trying to absorb too much information in too little time.
A combination the DPP meeting with the April general meeting remains a live issue. However, if my colleagues and I are to be persuaded to take this step it is important to address the very real concerns raised by our members.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Editor's Note: The author wishes to clarify that the above letter represents his personal opinions, not those of the DPP Executive Committee, on which he serves.
I wholeheartedly support President Langer's argument on the back page of APS News. I have attended the APS March Meeting essentially every year since my second year in graduate school in 1991. People often complain that it is too big, and it is certainly useful to also attend smaller more focused meetings. However, the March Meeting is very important both scientifically and, more abstractly, for building a sense of community. Especially as a young student I loved the excitement and the sense that so many fields were open for me to enter.
I checked out the website featuring slides and audio from the MgB2 Session (May 2001, APS News) and was impressed. However, something jumped out at me, which leads to a lot of questions about the physics culture. Why did these speakers, whose presentations were important enough to have over a thousand people in attendance, use transparencies and not a laptop and projector like every non-physics conference I've been to?
From my experience both in and out of the physics community, the problem seems not to be a willful rejection of technology, but rather ignorance of tools that both the business world and other academic disciplines (e.g. engineering) take for granted. Physics students are shortchanged by the isolation of their departments from the real world. Maybe it is time to encourage physics students to work summer internships in industry so they can bring back this knowledge to the physics community?
Carnegie Mellon University
I was greatly interested by the article in the May issue of APS News on Galileo and the telescope. But I was disappointed that you did not mention that one of the "background stars" he described in his very carefully recorded notes has recently been identified as the planet Neptune, which was very close to Jupiter at the time he was observing that planet's inner moons. [See C.T. Kowal and S. Drake, "Galileo's Observations of Neptune," Nature, 287, 311-313 (1980)]
Specifically, Galileo recorded on January 28, 1613 that the distance between two "background stars" seemed to have changed from the previous night. A tribute to his powers of observation and careful recording of results indeed!
Yorktown Heights, New York
It is strange to me to think that there are many people defending the ideas of evolution as if it were the ultimate theory which explains the origin of the universe and biological life on earth. Even if the unfounded links between species (which are very different from the found changes in same species) are to be found, evolution couldn't yet be thought of as a universal and unquestionable truth.
For example, Newton's concept of absolute time was the truth in his day. Today it is well known and proven that time is relative. New theories are constantly being developed, and new experimental facts discovered. On the other hand, some interpretations of creation as found in the Bible can and do need to change. These historical facts tell us that there is a point on which creationists and evolutionsts cannot disagree: science reveals how transitory is human knowledge. It is my opinion that, as time goes by, science will help Christians understand Genesis better.
Heron C.G. Caldas
Minas Gerais, Brazil
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