New Group Focuses on Energy Research
By Lauren Schenkman
The Topical Group on Energy Research and Applications is only a few months old, but its members are already working hard to connect the many types of physicists investigating how to generate, store, use, and transmit energy in a world with diminishing resources.
“Energy now is one of the major national or international issues that interest a broad range of scientists and engineers. It’s important to our society and the environment,” said GERA interim secretary and treasurer Joseph Poon of the University of Virginia. “APS has this topical group to have physicists engage [with] this problem and contribute to solving it.”
GERA was conceived in December of 2008, when Judy Franz, then executive officer of the APS, raised the possibility of forming an energy topical group in an email to division members.
“A couple of years ago I noticed there was a tremendous interest among young physicists in energy and the role they could play,” she said. In 2007 and 2008 Franz initiated workshops on energy research for graduate students and post-doctorates at the March Meeting, and in both years it attracted many more attendees than could be accommodated. “This led to me to think there was probably an interest in the physics community as a whole, and one way to focus that would be a topical group.”
Over a thousand members responded in favor of creating a topical group on energy research. “It was clear that this was something people wanted APS to do,” Franz said.
Since becoming an official topical group in May, GERA has grown to about 140 members from across the spectrum of physics.
Energy research involves different disciplines and different length scales so we have to think about it very broadly,” “Poon said. “The topical group will help to stimulate discussions among physicists who do all kinds of things.”
That’s just what GERA has set out to do this year, said interim chair Robert McGrath, who recently retired as provost of Stony Brook University. The group has planned an exciting program of energy-related activities for the 2010 April and March Meetings.
“That’s when we’re really going to launch things,” McGrath said.
At the “April” Meeting in February in Washington, DC, GERA is sponsoring an invited session of broad overview talks on sustainability, nuclear energy, and the importance of alternative energy to national security. A second session co-sponsored with the Division of Physics of Beams explores energy applications of beams and particle accelerators. Attendees interested in energy issues can also look forward to a plenary talk on climate change and the possibility of talks by senior government officials that touch on energy research subjects, McGrath said.
At the March Meeting, GERA is sponsoring an invited session of talks on a broad range of topics on energy research and applications ranging from the role of basic science on our energy future to energy materials design and discovery, and to materials tolerance under extreme conditions. A second invited session co-sponsored with the Division of Materials Physics focuses on the current status and future of materials for solar to electricity conversion. GERA rounds out the program with four focus sessions co-sponsored with the Division of Materials Physics, Division of Polymer Physics, and Forum on Industrial and Applied Physics on hot topics in energy research.
The two-year tradition of a March Meeting energy workshop for graduate students and post-doctorates will continue this year under GERA’s auspices. The workshop will feature a panel of speakers from industry, the national laboratories, and academia, exploring the status and prospects of a wide variety of budding renewable energy technologies.
“Mostly it’s going to focus…on how does one enter the field of energy research, what are the prerequisites, and the funding outlook,” said Julia Hsu of Sandia National Laboratory. “The committee chooses…people we know will give a good introductory talk and who are energetic speakers…young physicists will be interested.” Hsu, who helped organize the first two workshops, urged interested graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to apply as soon as possible since seats are limited.
McGrath said GERA is currently preparing for fall elections and planning to publish an electronic newsletter via the web to make it easy for physicists to stay abreast of recent developments across disciplines.
McGrath said he hopes that coming years will see GERA expanding on their current activities and growing as a group.
Poon said that GERA, besides linking diverse fields, helps recognize the importance of basic energy research. “We cannot depend on just existing materials and systems alone,” he said. “We need to continue to discover new things and have breakthroughs, so basic research is a very important component.”