APS News

Physicists Descend on the "Indy City" for 2002 APS March Meeting

Approximately 5,000 physicists will descend on Indianapolis this month for the annual APS March Meeting, the largest conference sponsored by the Society. The APS last visited the city for its April meeting in 1996, and since then Indianapolis has undergone a significant revitalization campaign that has resulted in a vibrant downtown, including an expanded convention center, several new, first-class hotels, as well as many new restaurants in all price ranges.

Concentrating as usual on condensed matter and materials physics, this year's array of technical sessions will include such topics as superconductors, proteins, conjugated polymers, nanoclusters, semiconductors, multiferroics and magnetoresistive oxides, among others. There will also be five sessions and more than 70 papers devoted to the latest research results on magnesium diboride, a newly discovered superconductor treated at length at last year's March meeting in a mammoth all night session dubbed "Woodstock II." [See APS NEWS, May 2001] There will also be numerous sessions on topics in applied physics, such as complex "small world" networks, the future of information technology, science policy, international cooperation, climate change mitigation, and science education. A sampling of session highlights is below. The complete program epitome and abstracts can be found online at the APS website, under meetings.

"Smart Paint" and Cellular Sensors

Revolutionary advances in microfabrication and bioengineering are beginning to undercut some long- standing scientific assumptions about constructing and programming computers. MEMS components are becoming less expensive, such that it may soon be possible to combine logic circuits, microsensors, actuators, and communications devices integrated on the same chip to produce particles that could be mixed with bulk materials, such as paints, gels and concrete. "Imagine coating bridges or buildings with smart paint that can sense and report on traffic and wind loads and monitor structural integrity of the bridge," says MIT's Gerald Sussman, one of the featured speakers in a session on the future of information technology. And thanks to the astounding progress in understanding the biochemical mechanisms in individual cells, it may soon be possible to construct digital logic circuits out of cells that function as sensors and actuators as programmable delivery vehicles for pharmaceuticals and as chemical factories for the assembly of nanoscale structures.

Paul Horn of IBM's TJ Watson Research Center, this year's recipient of the APS George Pake Prize, will kick off the session with a discussion of the role of basic research in the information technology industry. Other speakers will address the topics of silicon based quantum computing, and whether our thoughts may one day control machines through cortical prosthetics that could extract and utilize motor and sensory commands. According to DARPA's Alan Rudolph, these commands have already been shown to drive a peripheral device in the control of a robotic arm.
[Session M2, Wednesday, March 20]

Sweet Smell of Success

Basic physics research has yielded numerous breakthrough technologies that have revolutionized the modern world around the globe and provided substantial economic benefit in the process. Speakers at a Wednesday morning session will describe several examples of such industrial success stories. For example, the Global Positioning System (GPS) has given rise to host of commercial consumer applications that generate billions of dollars each year, and is changing the way we determine where we are, as well as revolutionizing many fields of scientific research. Other speakers will discuss the economic impact of liquid crystal displays, optical fibers for telecommunications, automotive emissions control and physics applied to oil and gas exploration.
[Session L7, Wednesday, March 20]

It's a "Small World" After All

Life is the most complex physical system in the universe, exhibiting an extraordinary diversity of form and function over a broad range of size scales, and yet many of its most fundamental and complex phenomena scale with size in a surprisingly simple fashion. "Regardless of size, almost all life is sustained, and ultimately constrained, by fractal like hierarchical branching networks, optimized by the forces of natural selection," says Geoffrey West of Los Alamos National Laboratory, who will lead off a session on complex real world networks with a description of his quantitative unified theory explaining the origin of universal scaling.

He will be joined by Luis Nunes Amaral of Boston University, who has studied the statistical properties of a variety of real world, so called "small world" networks, including the neural networks of C. Elegans, food webs for seven distinct environments, transportation and technological networks, and numerous social networks.
[Session L5, Wednesday, March 20]

That Darn Carbon

Climate change advocates extol the virtues of developing alternative energy sources to ultimately replace fossil fuels. But Princeton University's Robert Socolaw believes that the global energy system can continue to be dominated by fossil fuels throughout the 21st century without an unacceptable rise in the concentration of atmospheric CO2. The key lies in capturing and storing a substantial fraction of the CO2 by-product of burning fossil fuels, such as in geological formations like deep saline aquifiers. Other speakers include John Stringer of EPRI, who will discuss carbon management in the electric power industry, and Exxon Mobil's Brian Flannery, who will approach the subject from the perspective of the oil industry. John Turner of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will close the session with a counterpoint discussion of renewable energy technologies.
[Session G7, Tuesday, March 19]

Trafficking in Complexity

Anyone who has ever experienced the frustration of being stuck in a traffic jam will be pleased to learn of the existence of researchers like Michael Schreckenberg of Germany's University of Duisberg, who specializes in the physics of transport and traffic. Over the last decade, the investigation of the complex behavior of traffic dynamics has become an active field of interdisciplinary research, due in part to an influx of experimental data from sensor measurements, as well as improved modeling techniques from statistical physics. The detailed knowledge of traffic dynamics is not only of scientific interest, it is necessary for practical applications. With the help of online data from measurements of flows and speeds, it is possible to construct a complete picture of the actual traffic state with real time simulations, according to Schreckenberg, and a reliable traffic forecast should be possible, although the impact of driver reaction on the forecast remains unclear.
[Session U7, Thursday, March 21]

Putting a New Face on Physics

Roman Czujko, director of the American Institute of Physics' Statistical Research Center, will give the latest data on education trends for African Americans and Hispanic Americans with bachelor's and PhD degrees. Czujko will identify the physics departments that produce the most such degrees and describe the characteristics that successful departments have in common. He will be joined by Fernando Ponce of Arizona State University who will address the integration of hispanics in physics.
[Session D4, Monday, March 18]

Communicating with Congress

Now more than ever, in an uncertain economy and domestic terrorist threats, the scientific community needs to make itself heard on such issues as federal funding, climate change, and ballistic missile defense. But many physicists have no idea how to get started. Introducing scientists to the whys and wherefores of the American legislative process is the focus of a special panel discussion featuring Washington insiders who will present the best techniques for communicating with Congress and the Executive Branch. Topics to be discussed include the differences between the science and policy worlds, how decisions are made in the policy world, and the best way scientists can provide input for those decisions, as well as opportunities for the scientific community to participate in Congressional visits.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette