APS News

Here Comes the World Year of Physics

You may well be asking yourself, what's that logo? Ask no more. It's a reminder that the World Year of Physics is only a little over a year away, and it's a call to action for the physics community to take part in a unique opportunity for public outreach.

The year 2005 will feature events, exhibits and other physics-related activities worldwide. The APS is spearheading US participation, which ideally will involve the entire physics community in a collective effort to inform and excite the public about their field.

Last fall [APS News, December 2002] we reported that, following an initiative of the European Physical Society (EPS), the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) passed a resolution declaring 2005 to be the World Year of Physics. The choice of 2005 commemorates the centennial of Einstein's "year of miracles" in 1905, when he created the special theory of relativity, postulated the existence of the photon, and used Brownian motion to demonstrate the reality of atoms and to estimate their size.

In the year since the IUPAP resolution, the APS has been hard at work on its plans for coordinating the American activities associated with WYP 2005, under the general theme of "Einstein in the 21st Century." A preliminary web site, www.physics2005.org, has been set up, where people can register to receive information as it becomes available. The site will keep track of and coordinate WYP projects around the country, including several that will be organized by the APS, with help from the NSF, the DOE, and NASA.

Many of the projects are aimed at students at various levels, and APS is working with its sister societies, the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and the American Institute of Physics (AIP) in organizing them. If funding becomes available, there will be a poster contest for elementary school children, a challenging "physics quest" for middle-schoolers, and, at the high-school level, a project to measure the radius of the Earth involving partner schools in different parts of the country (or perhaps in other countries) working cooperatively. In addition, about 20 "physics on the road" teams, based at universities and science museums, will bring demonstrations and hands-on activities to schools all across the US. APS is also planning to work with science museums nationwide to encourage them to mount special physics exhibits in celebration of 2005.

Recently APS has e-mailed chairs of all the physics departments in the US, bringing the World Year of Physics to their attention, and suggesting that they schedule at least one event for the public, such as a public lecture or an open house, during 2005. "The World Year of Physics can only have a real impact if the whole physics community gets involved," said APS Executive Officer Judy Franz. "This is not an APS event, like our centennial four years ago. We are happy to act as coordinators, but we really hope to have extensive participation at the local level."

Efforts are underway to introduce a motion in the UN General Assembly to have it declare 2005 the International Year of Physics (as opposed to the "World Year of Physics" declared by IUPAP. The designation of an International Year requires UN approval). If successful, this declaration would raise the profile of the World Year of Physics and give it added visibility in countries around the world.

Since its introduction by the EPS, the logo has been subject to divergent views regarding its interpretation. To physicists it signifies a light cone, while to the general public, most of whom have never heard of a light cone, it most frequently is seen as an hourglass, symbolizing Einstein's profound insight into the relativity of time. The colors are probably merely decorative, but it has been suggested that, in the light cone interpretation, the future is blue because we are rushing toward it and hence it is blue-shifted, whereas we are moving away from the red-shifted past. No one has yet provided a convincing theory of the green and yellow colors of the diagonal members.


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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette