Q: What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the physics community right now? A:
Four interrelated issues are the most compelling to me. As you might imagine, the first is research funding. For the past 30 years, inflation-corrected funding for physical sciences and engineering research has remained essentially flat, hurting the physics community and the nation in ways we know well. The President and Congress have clearly recognized the need for significant funding increases, but it is not at all clear that appropriations will follow.
Also extremely important is the state of pre-college physics education. Only about one-third of high school physics teachers have a physics or physics education degree. If this situation is to improve, academic physics departments must work cooperatively with schools of education.
(Third), if the nation is to have the physicists and physics teachers we need, we must increase the number of physics majors significantly, including the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in these professions. The importance of women to the field is illustrated in part by AIP (American Institute of Physics) data that indicate that while the total number of people earning physics bachelor’s went from about 5,300 in 1972 to about 3,700 in 1999 and then rose again to about 5,000 in 2004, the numbers for women increased from about 400 to 1,200 over the same period. Without the increased participation of women, the decrease from 1972 to 2004 would have been dramatic. Efforts to attract African-Americans and Hispanics have been considerably less successful.
The fourth issue is ensuring that our journals remain viable in the face of movements toward open access. It’s vital to maintain the journals’ peer review and editing systems. Finding financing for them within an open access system is difficult.
These are all endeavors in which the American Physical Society has been active prior to my becoming president, and my intention is to help push them along.