APS News

NRC Releases "Physics of the Universe" Strategic Plan

Two years ago, the National Research Council (NRC) laid out 11 key scientific questions at the intersection of physics and astronomy in a report entitled "Connecting Quarks to the Cosmos".

Earlier this year, in response, an interagency working group of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) released a prioritized strategic plan for efforts across several government agencies to address those 11 questions.

Exploring the nature of dark energy receives high priority in the new report. Other areas considered ripe for "immediate investment" are the study of dark matter, neutrinos, proton decay, and the nature of gravity, while longer term objectives include research into the heavy elements, nuclear astrophysics, the birth of the universe, high density and high temperature physics and high energy cosmic ray physics.

The new report, entitled "The Physics of the Universe: A Strategic Plan for Federal Research at the Intersection of Physics and Astronomy," is available at http://www.ostp.gov/html/physicsoftheuniverse2.pdf. The main participating agencies are DOE, NSF and NASA, although NIST and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) also receive mention.

The NSTC Interagency Working Group on the Physics of the Universe assessed priorities based on the potential for scientific advancement, the timeliness or urgency of each question, the technical readiness of projects, and the need to fill gaps in the suite of projects to address each question. It did not address cost and budgeting issues, nor how these projects fit in with goals, projects and facilities in other areas of physics or astronomy.

A summary of the report's recommendations in priority order, divided into near term and longer term efforts, can be found in the sidebar.

— Audrey Leath, AIP

Immediate Investment

Dark Energy: Three projects to investigate Dark Energy are recommended: a still-to-be-defined NASA/DOE Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM); a study of "the weak lensing produced by Dark Matter" by a ground- based Large aperture Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST); and observations of galaxy clusters by space-based X-ray and ground-based Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) observations.

Dark Matter, Neutrinos, and Proton Decay: NSF and DOE should collaborate to "identify a core suite of physics experiments" for research into Dark Matter, neutrinos, and proton decay; and NSF, a scientific roadmap for an underground laboratory facility.

Gravity: Two efforts are recommended: enhanced numerical relativity research for more accurate simulation of gravitational wave sources; and "the timely upgrade of the Laser Inter-ferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) and execution of the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission."

Future Investment

Origin of Heavy Elements: The report calls for DOE and NSF to develop roadmaps for the proposed Rare Isotope Accelerator (RIA), and for "the major components of a national nuclear astrophysics program."

Birth of the Universe: DOE, NSF and NASA should jointly develop "a roadmap for decisive measurements" of cosmic microwave background polarization.

High Density and High Temperature Physics: NSF, DOE, NASA, and NIST should generate a roadmap for major components of a "balanced, comprehensive" national high energy density physics program; DOE and NSF should develop a roadmap for upgrading the luminosity and maximizing the impact on high energy density physics of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC); and at least one of NNSA's major compression facilities should include a high energy, high intensity laser capability.

High Energy Cosmic Ray Physics: DOE and NSF should work to "ensure that the Pierre Auger southern array [under construction in Argentina] is completed" and "consider plans for a possible northern array."

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette