APS News

Turning 50, PRL Plans a Banner Year

PRL 50th Anniversary logo This year, Physical Review Letters celebrates its 50th anniversary. Special events as well as special features in the journal and online are planned.

PRL was first published in July 1958 when Editor Sam Goudsmit started the journal as an experiment. It took the brief contributions that would have been published as letters to the editor in Physical Review, and collected them in a separate journal in order to make important results available quickly.

“Physical Review Letters was the first letters journal, and it is still the best. The 50th anniversary is a great time to look back at the outstanding physics we've published in PRL, but also an opportunity for us to introduce some exciting new improvements on which we are working,” said APS Editor-in-Chief Gene Sprouse.

A number of activities are planned for PRL’s golden anniversary year, including special sessions and receptions at the March and April Meetings, a symposium and banquet on Long Island in June, and special events at several meetings around the world.

These sessions will include talks on the history and future of the APS journals, as well as talks about the history of the physics that has been published in the journals. At the March Meeting, invited speakers include Gene Stanley, Charles Slichter and Marvin Cohen. At the April Meeting, invited speakers include Michael Turner and Michael Peskin. PRL editors will also speak at these sessions.

In the journal itself, a series of editorials written by PRL editors and guest editors will discuss some of the issues associated with publishing the journals, both in the past and today. Alternating with the editorials, PRL will print essays on the history of physics covered in PRL. Approximately one editorial or essay will appear every other week.

There are several motivations for these activities in celebration of PRL’s 50th anniversary, said PRL Managing Editor Reinhardt Schuhmann. “It’s great for outreach, both to thank referees and contributors, and also to raise the profile of the journal,” he said. “I think the main reason to do it is because it’s actually very interesting to look back and to think about what issues we were facing in the early days of PRL,” he said.

Schuhmann said he had noticed several things that struck him in looking through previous editorials. For instance, on PRL’s 25th anniversary, an editorial stated that Sam Goudsmit’s “revolutionary idea” had been replacing hot metal type and letterpress printing with “cold” type and offset photolithography. “It’s not really what we think of as the revolution of PRL now,” said Schuhmann. However, while cold vs. hot type is no longer an issue, response to changing technology is always relevant for the journals.

A special website (http://prl.aps.org/50years), to be launched in early January, will also provide additional content and features for the 50th anniversary year. The site will include a timeline highlighting important events in the history of the Physical Review journals, with other events included for context. In addition, each week in 2008, the website will feature a few milestone Letters from each year of the journal’s existence, starting with 1958. These entries will be compiled by former Editor-in-Chief Marty Blume, and will each include a short description of the paper and explain its significance.

Along with these enhancements for the 50th anniversary, some longer-lasting changes are underway with the Journal Innovations Initiative. “We’re revamping our journal websites in general,” said PRL Associate Editor Sami Mitra, who is working on journal innovations as well as the 50th anniversary website.

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