APS News

Focus on APS Topical Groups

Group on Instrument and Measurement Science

By Michael Lucibella

This year’s March Meeting marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Group on Instrument and Measurement Science (GIMS), where they will celebrate their quarter century with a tribute to the group’s founder Lawrence Rubin.

As its name implies, the primary focus of GIMS is promoting the development and dissemination of the best tools and techniques for making all classes of precise measurements. Because the need for accurate data is integral to all fields of science, members of GIMS represent a broad cross-section of disciplines.

Innovations from the instrumentation and measurement technologies have had a huge impact in every scientific field. Laboratory applications are constantly pushing the cutting edge of research and spurring innovation. Devices such as the boxcar integrator and the lock-in amplifier which were just making their debuts when the group was starting are now commonly found in labs around the world.

Outside of pure scientific research, developments from the field can be seen in a wide assortment of practical applications as well. Medical technologies, such as MRIs, PET and CAT scans all depend on the sort of precise instrumentation that emerges from the cutting edge of GIMS research. This ability to precisely scan and interpret data is used in countless commercial electronics ranging from cell phones to television sets.

The group’s membership often reflects where the major fields of study are in physics today. Anyone with an interest in measurement science can join GIMS, so the most popular disciplines tend to have the largest numbers of members in the group. Some of the most prominent areas of specialization include research into all manner of scanning probes, synchrotron radiation instruments and high-field magnets. In addition, technicians devising new technologies for low temperature physics and acoustic and photo-thermal research play a major role, reflecting the constant need for new techniques in these fast- moving fields.

Founder Lawrence Rubin said that he originally conceived of the group as a forum where the latest research about instrumentation and measurement techniques could be shared. At the time he saw information about the different techniques of measurement scattered across numerous different fields of physics.

“The whole idea is to get publicity to newer techniques and newer equipment,” Rubin said, “Lord Kelvin once made the statement that if you can’t measure something you don’t know anything about it.”

One of the original inspirations for the group came when Rubin was working at the High Field Magnet Lab at MIT. During his time there, he saw what he described as many thousands of people who had come to test their experiments within the powerful magnetic fields generated at the lab. He took notice of the need for precision measurement that all of the experimenters shared. In addition he served as an associate editor at the Review of Scientific Instruments, a publication devoted to scientific instruments and techniques. He was struck by the need for a dedicated organization for physicists and technicians to come together to share their research.

When GIMS was founded it was the first APS topical group. Rubin continued to work closely with RSI to help publicize the latest research, and remained active in GIMS until his retirement in 2004. Rubin said that though the technology may have changed over the years, the group’s direction has always stayed true to its original focus on bringing the newest and best information to its members.

Today the group comprises over 600 members, many of whom are expected to attend the annual March Meeting. One of the major highlights at each of the meetings is the presentation of the Joseph F. Keithley Award for Advances in Measurement Science, given each year to an individual who has made a major contribution to the field. This year APS will be honoring Robert Schoelkopf of Yale for developing the single electron transistor to better take high frequency mesoscopic measurements.

In addition, GIMS continues to promote the latest research and developments through the journals it keeps a close association with. Al Macrander, former Chair and the current Secretary Treasurer, is also the current head editor of RSI, continuing the group’s close affiliation with the Review. In addition, member Carolyn MacDonald serves as the editor-in-chief of X-ray Optics and Instrumentation.

“GIMS has reached out indirectly to instrumentalists and young scientists by facilitating personal contact with journal editors,” Macrander said, adding that it maintains a close connection with the Keithley Company as well.

Macrander said they are expecting over 200 members to attend the March Meeting. Members will be presenting about 100 papers on topics ranging from real-time monitoring of electron spins, to the use of pulsed magnetic fields to study the structural properties of materials.

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Editor: Alan Chodos