APS News

Council Seeks Units' Advice in Raising All Prizes to $10,000

Acting on a recommendation of the Task Force on Prizes and Awards, the APS Council at its November meeting moved one step closer toward requiring all major APS Prizes to carry a minimum stipend of $10,000 by the end of 2006. It will revisit the issue at its next meeting in April, after the various units that would be affected have had a chance to offer their advice.

While six Prizes are already at or above this level, the remaining twenty are not, with current stipends ranging from $7,500 down to $3,000. If Council passed the requirement, the way to meet it would boil down to the following choices: (a) raising the additional resources needed to bring the Prize up to $10,000; (b) allowing a Prize that is currently given annually to be awarded less frequently; or (c) allowing a Prize to be reclassified as an Award, which in the APS system is less prestigious and not subject to the monetary restriction. Some Prizes might even disappear altogether.

The motivation for the recommendation is the feeling that anything less than $10,000 is no longer a significant sum for a major Prize, according to Myriam Sarachik, APS President-elect and Chair of the Task Force. "This is especially clear when the stipend is divided among several recipients," she added.

Sarachik noted that, for example, the Buckley Prize in condensed matter physics is one of the oldest and most prestigious of the APS Prizes, but its $5,000 stipend is the same as it was in 1972, when that amount was much more significant. The Prize currently has an endowment of more than $150,000, meaning the requirement could be met by raising the less than $50,000 needed to bring it up to $200,000. APS policy allows 5% of the endowment to be spent annually on the stipend of the Prize.

Even closer to the goal is the Bethe Prize, which currently has a stipend of $7,500 and an endowment of $195,000. The units associated with this Prize are Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Plyler Prize for Molecular Spectroscopy, which has a rich tradition going back to 1977. It has no endowment at all, and has been funded by annual grants from the Crouch Foundation. Recently, however, the foundation informed APS that their resources did not permit maintaining the Prize at its $5000 level, necessitating a reduction in the stipend to $3000. Thus the APS would either have to raise the full $200,000 endowment, or else find another funding source willing to offer annual support at the $10,000 level.

Several other Prizes are similar to the Plyler Prize in that they are not endowed but rather rely on grants from foundations or from companies. These must be renewed periodically, which can sometimes lead to sudden loss of support, as happened recently to the Maxwell Prize in Plasma Physics, when the company supporting the Prize went out of business. Members of the Division of Plasma Physics were fortunately able to secure alternate funding, and there are plans to begin raising an endowment for the Prize.

The Task Force on Prizes and Awards was established last summer to survey a broad range of issues concerning the APS honors program, as reported in the August/September APS News. Its report includes ten other recommendations besides the one to raise the monetary level of prizes.

Sarachik noted that the recommendation for higher stipends was also a feature of an earlier task force report, in 1998. "The $10,000 lower limit on Prizes is long overdue," she stated, and added that the Task Force will now canvass the units to get their views, and then report back to Council. Members of these units, or other interested parties, are also urged to contact members of the Task Force if they wish to express an opinion. The contact information for Task Force members is available on the APS web site.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette