APS News

Meet the New Editor-in-Chief

Gene Sprouse takes over the reins of APS publications from Martin Blume.
Martin Blume (on the left) and Gene Sprouse
Gene Sprouse is the new APS Editor-in-Chief, replacing Martin  Blume, who has retired. Blume had served as Editor-in-Chief since the beginning of 1997.

The APS Editor-in-Chief, one of the Society’s three operating officers, has responsibility for all APS research journals–the Physical Review, Physical Review Letters, and Reviews of Modern Physics–and in addition oversees the editorial staff and the journal production staff associated with them. Sprouse took over the position on March 1.

After attending MIT as an undergraduate, Sprouse received his PhD from Stanford in 1968, and joined the faculty at Stony Brook  University in 1970. He became full professor in 1979, and served as department chair from 1990 to 1996. Last year he was promoted to Distinguished Professor. He served as director of the Nuclear Structure Laboratory at Stony Brook from 1984 to 1987, and again from 1996 to the present. His research interests include nuclear structure, neutral atom trapping, and laser spectroscopy of  radioactive atoms. Sprouse was elected an APS Fellow in 1984.

Starting in 1995, Luis Orozco (now at the University of Maryland) and Sprouse led a team at Stony Brook to study the element francium with laser trapping techniques. Francium has no stable isotopes, and is extremely rare; “There’s only about an ounce of it on the Earth,” says Sprouse. They produced the francium in Stony Brook’s superconducting LINAC, and then succeeded in transferring the atoms into a magneto-optical trap for further careful study of the atom’s properties. Francium is the heaviest alkali atom, and holds  special interest because its atomic properties can be calculated with high precision, says Sprouse. It can be used to study fundamental interactions, in particular the strength of the weak interaction between electrons and quarks in the atom, and the effects of the weak interaction in the nucleus. These effects have already been observed in cesium, but in francium, they are much stronger and should be easier to measure, says Sprouse. The Stony Brook accelerator has recently shut down, so Sprouse’s collaborators will carry on the francium work at TRIUMF, in Vancouver, while he turns his primary attention to the APS journals.

When he’s not investigating the atomic properties of francium,  Sprouse might be found in his kitchen, baking bread–his specialty is baguettes.

Now, he’s starting a new endeavor: leading the APS journals. Sprouse says he views his new position as a challenge. “There are  very interesting things going on in the publication business. I’ve been teaching at Stony Brook for 36 years, and I’m ready to try something new,” he says. He began attending meetings and visiting with staff last fall and then worked full time with outgoing EIC Blume for several weeks before officially taking over the position.

Overall, Sprouse believes the APS journals are in good shape right now. “I think they are really the top physics journals in the world. They’re generally very healthy right now, and we have to protect that,” he says.

Nonetheless, there are major challenges facing the journals, says Sprouse. The primary one is dealing with more open access to the journal content. “The APS has been a leader in the move to electronic access and now all of the journals back to 1893 are available electronically. In addition, the APS copyright agreement is exemplary in that authors can post the published version of their article on their own web site.” However, many proponents of open access insist that all of the journal content should be freely available to anyone who wants to read it without paying for a subscription. This presents a problem of how to fund the important peer review process and cover the other costs of making a journal available.

“We have a start on open access with the ‘Free to Read’ initiative,” Sprouse notes. “Free to Read,” which has been available since September, allows anyone to pay a fee to designate any APS journal article “Free to Read.” Those articles are then freely available online, without a subscription. So far, nearly 100 articles have been designated “Free to Read,” says Sprouse. “It’s there for anyone who wants to use it.” APS also has two online journals that are entirely open access: Physical Review Special Topics–Accelerators and Beams, and Physical Review Special Topics–Physics Education Research.

Another challenge Sprouse will have to deal with is the growing number of submissions and ever-increasing size of the journals. “People want to submit papers to us, and that’s great,” says  Sprouse, “But it will require more editors and more staff to maintain the journals.”

Sprouse says plans are underway for a number of enhancements to the journals, some of which have already begun. “Another experiment that has recently been started is the Editors’ Suggestions in PRL.  

Editors are picking papers of more general interest, and highlighting those that we think are especially helpful and encouraging for readers venturing outside of their main areas of study. This seems to be going well,” he says.

“We also have a project called the journal innovations initiative. We’re looking at different ways to enhance the web version of the  journal,” says Sprouse. The potential improvements include an advanced search function and various ways to present information about which articles are being downloaded heavily and which papers are referring to which other papers. “We’ve also had some discussions about enhancements to content, such as podcasts,” says  Sprouse.

Sprouse also believes APS should do more to recognize referees, whose work is essential to the success of the journals. “The APS  recognizes outstanding contributions to physics by elevating a  percentage of its members to fellowship. I think there’s an analogous contribution made by referees. I’d like to initiate a way that we could recognize referees. They are crucial to the journals,” he says. The details of any such recognition program would still have to be worked out, says Sprouse.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff