APS News

Letters

Investment in Physics is Fundamental

The articles on physics and society recently published in APS News present important points of view on fundamental research in physics. However, they fail to present the perspective of a Congressional appropriator or a federal program officer. Science in general, and physics, in particular, are expensive. In 2000, a $100,000 research grant consumed 12 average income tax returns. Any conscientious public servant wishes to see the public receive maximum return on its investments. Applied research promises returns on that investment in the foreseeable future (5-10 years). Fundamental research, if it is truly fundamental, cannot promise economic returns. When researchers try to do so, their arguments become so tenuous that thinking people question them with good reason. Thus the case for investing in fundamental research must be that it fills our intellectual stockroom with knowledge of the world around us. Twenty or fifty years in the future, an industrial developer can pull these concepts, experimental results and techniques off the shelf for economic benefit. Physicists cannot foresee what research will be economically important any more than investment counselors can tell exactly which start-up will become the next IBM. Physicists must make the case that investment in fundamental knowledge of our world will provide the foundation of future economic security even though they offer no sure economic return in the short run. We cannot expect busy public servants to understand the nuances of cutting edge physics research nor can we make emotional appeals promising miracle cures for terrible illnesses. Instead we must appeal to the good business sense and sincere concern for the future of the country that characterize elected and appointed public servants.

Ruth Howes
Ball State University

Whose Hand?

Reference is made to the article on W. Roentgen and the discovery of X-rays in the November APS News. It looks like you are propagating an error concerning the x-ray shown on the bottom of the page. The x-ray shown is not an x-ray of Roentgen's wife's hand, and I doubt very much that it was taken on November 8th 1895, the very day that Roentgen discovered X-rays.

The same error appears in the July 19, 2001 "U.S. News and World Report", where, on page 58, the same x-ray is identified as that of Mrs. Roentgen's hand.

The x-ray in question is actually that of the hand of Professor von Kolliker of Wurzburg's Physical Institute and was taken on January 23, 1896. You can find this correctly identified in several places, among them in "The Story of X-Ray", published in 1963 by the General Electric Company X-Ray Department in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

If you want to see an actual x-ray of Mrs. Roentgen's hand, refer to page 6 of "Radiologic Science for Technologists" by Stewart Bushong published by Mosby in 1980. Comparing the two x-rays, one sees that the they are clearly different, particularly with reference to Mrs. Roentgen's ring, which is not that of Professor von Kolliker. And how about the size of her hand in the mis-identified picture...rather large for a female isn't it?

Joseph A. Keane
Pearl River, New York

Alternative Theory to Eliminate Tornadoes

To eliminate tornadoes on Earth, require all driving to be on the left in the Northern hemisphere and all driving to be on the right in the Southern hemisphere. This follows from the theory that the seeds of tornadoes arise when cars and trucks pass each other in opposite directions on the highways. These passings result in local vortices which can be either amplified by the Coriolis Effect if the senses of the two rotations are the same or damped out if the senses are opposite. Since the Coriolis Effect results in counter-clockwise rotation in the Northern hemisphere, one would want the driving to be on the left to produce tornado seeds that are rotating clockwise.

Alan C. Cummings
Pasadena, California


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Editor: Alan Chodos
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