APS News

Global Representatives Gather To Plan World Year of Physics

World Year of Physics logoSixty-two physicists representing 29 countries gathered in Montreal, Canada, on March 20-21 for the second preparatory planning conference for the upcoming World Year of Physics in 2005. In addition to Canada and the US, participants hailed from such far reaches as Botswana, Ghana, Indonesia, Tanzania, Slovenia, South Korea, India, Taiwan, Japan, Albania, Moldova, Poland, and Serbia and Montenegro, as well as from Western Europe and South America.

"This workshop was a truly global event, in keeping with what we hope will be a worldwide celebration of the centennial of Albert Einstein's miraculous year of 1905, and more generally of the excitement and promise of physics in the 21st century," said Vinaya Sathyasheelappa, APS World Year of Physics Coordinator and a principal organizer of the conference.

The APS is spearheading the US effort for 2005, with the main goal of generating widespread activity among physics departments, national labs, and other suitable organizations around the country. More information can be obtained at the special 2005 web site, http://www.physics2005.org.

Among the highlights of the two-day workshop was a plenary lecture by Clifford Will of Washington University in St. Louis, who related the story of how Einstein's relativity has been tested experimentally. For instance, on May 29, 1919, a total solar eclipse clearly showed the bending of starlight, a key prediction of relativity. The event made Einstein a household word, to the extent that British historian and best-selling author Paul Johnson pegs the dawn of the modern age to that date in his book Modern Times.

Ironically, the field of relativity languished in the ensuing years until its revival in the 1960s with the launching of a systematic program to experimentally verify its predictions. For example, in the 1970s, measurements of the decaying orbit of a neutron star around its companion revealed the effect of gravity waves, and the Gravity Probe B, launched April 17, 2004, is a 16-month experiment designed to test Einstein's prediction that a rotating body drags spacetime around with it.

Several international projects were discussed at the meeting, including an ambitious scheme to send a light signal from person to person around Earth on the night of April 18, 2005, the 50th anniversary of Einstein's death, starting from Princeton where he died. Obstacles like the Pacific Ocean would be overcome through the use of fiber optic cables. Also discussed was an international physics talent search, and a project to create a web site hosting contributions of "Stories in Physics" in many different languages.

An international poster contest, a cultural heritage project, and a project aimed at using architectural features of school buildings to teach fundamental physics concepts were among the other international activities considered at the meeting. In addition, an Einstein@home project, modeled on the popular SETI@ home, was described by Caltech's Teviet Creighton. The idea is to search for gravitational waves by farming out data gathered by LIGO to personal computers. The computations would run in the background, enabling the public to contribute significantly to ongoing physics research.Those interested in participating can get more information at http://www.einsteinathome.org

Two sessions of the meeting were comprised of reports from the various representatives on their respective countries' or organizations' plans for the World Year of Physics. Judy Jackson of Fermilab reported the launching of Interactions.org in April 2003, intended to enable particle physics labs to share resources and develop common scientific methods with the ultimate goal of increasing global support for research. She also described plans for "Reality Particle Physics," in which participating labs would choose two to three physicists to have their daily research activities documented on the Web over the course of 2005. "We hope to tell the story of particle physics research as it unfolds in real time around the world," said Jackson.

Two workshop sessions rounded out the meeting, one on how to deal with the media, and the other on outreach through physics demonstrations. The latter was organized by several members of American "Physics on the Road" teams, who will be traveling the country in 2005 as part of the World Year of Physics celebrations.


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