Volume 27, Number 2 April 1998
Announcing A Celebration,
At The Columbus APS/AAPT Meeting
LEO SZILARD: A SYMPOSIUM IN CELEBRATION OF THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTH.
Leo Szilard--physicist, inventor, biologist, writer, and sometime diplomat--was the first to conceive of the nuclear chain reaction, the essential features of the carbon-uranium reactor (incollaboration with Enrico Fermi),, the cyclotron, the linear accelerator. He proposed and drafted in 1939 Einstein's letter to President Franklin Roosevelt, which led to the Manhatten Project; and he gained, during a private meeting in 1960, Nikita Khrushchev's assent to a Moscow-Washington Hotline.
His interests ranged from statistical physics to information theory to biological evolution, from atomic physics to nuclear strategy and deterrence. His novel, The Voice of the Dolphins, is a parable of the technical prowess and moral limitations of our times. This "man behind the bomb" (as biographer William Lanouette puts it), was also a man who attempted many times during 1945 to prevent the atomic bombing of Japan. Szilard devoted his life primarily to increasing the likelihood that the ever more powerful fruits of science would be used for humanity's benefit.
Greetings from the Embassy of the Republic of Hungary, Istvan Szemenyei, Counselor for Science and Technology
"Szilard As An Inventor: Accelerators and More," V.L. Telegdi, University of California at San Diego, and CERN
"Leo Szilard: Physics, Politics, and the Narrow Margin of Hope," William Lanouette, Author of Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, The Man Behind the Bomb
"The Roots of Leo Szilard and his Interdisciplinarity," George Marx, Eotvoes University, Budapest
"Toward A Livable World," Edward Gerjuoy, University of Pittsburgh
Laszlo Baksay, University of Alabama and Kossuth University, Debrecen, Hungary, presiding.
Sponsored by the Forum on Physics and Society, the Forum on International Physics, and the Forum on the History of Physics.
At the APS/AAPT meeting in Columbus, on Saturday at 14:30 (2:30pm).
It is with deep sadness that we report the death of David Schramm in a plane crash last December. Dr. Schramm, 52, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, member of the National Academy of Sciences, and Chair of the Aspen Center for Physics, was a candidate for vice-chair of the APS last year. A private pilot, he was en route from Chicago to Aspen when his plane crashed in eastern Colorado. He was a leading expert in cosmology, especially in applying nuclear and elementary particle physics to Big Bang nucleosynthesis and supernovae, and many of the leading astrophysicists in the world were his students. In addition to his academic accomplishments, Schramm was an influential figure in governmental science policy and was a superb popularizer of astrophysics. His death is a great loss to physics, and we will miss him.
U.S.-CERN LHC Agreement
On December 8th, representatives of the US and CERN signed an agreement outlining American participation in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The Collider is a 7 TeV on 7 TeV proton-proton collider, which is expected to begin operations in 2005. The United States agrees to provide $531 million in services and goods; $450 million from the DOE and the balance from the NSF. Brookhaven, LBL and Fermilab will use $110 million to design and produce advanced systems for the accelerator's interaction regions, $90 million will be used for procurements from U.S. industrial firms.. The U.S. will also provide an in-kind contribution of components valued at $331 million for the massive detectors. The American contribution will provide roughly 10% of the total cost. Energy Secretary Pena said that the agreement marked "the first time the U.S. government has agreed to contribute significantly to the construction, through domestically-produced hardware and technical resources, of an accelerator outside of our borders". NSF Director Lane characterized the LHC as "a quantum leap forward for international cooperation in science and technology, and it also represents a technological challenge of grand scale and proportion". More details can be found from FYI #148 and FYI #152.
In a recent issue of Nature, a group of physicists announced that they have "teleported" the polarization state of a photon. Several years ago, Charles Bennett of IBM pointed out that one could use an EPR-like setup to instantaneously transmit the polarization state of one photon to another photon which could be a long distance (even light years) away. Of course, since the initial polarization state is random, it is impossible to transmit information superluminally, as Bennett correctly pointed out. The experiment was successfully carried out. There could be important implications for the development of quantum computers. Alas, the authors referred to the phenomenon as "quantum teleportation", and, in the words of Bob Park, "the word 'teleportation' acts like a sex pheromone on trekkies, causing them to swarm in a high state of excitement". Most news reports on the subject discussed applications to a Star-Trek style transporter, conveniently ignoring the fact that superluminal transport of information did not take place (as well as the difficulties in scaling the process up by 23 orders of magnitude....).
End of the Westinghouse Search for Young American Scientists
The Westinghouse search may be ending. This highly esteemed award has been the highest honor that high school science students can achieve.Over the years, Westinghouse scholars have gone on to win 5 Nobel prizes and scores of other honors in science and mathematics.Recently, Science Service, the non-profit organizationthat administers the awards, was told to look for a new sponsor.Since it acquired CBS two years ago, Westinghouse had been morphing from a technology company to a media giant. Last month, it changed its name to CBS Corp.
Chinese Save American Science
Just when many American scientists thought that the U.S. had reached rock bottom levels of massive scientific illiteracy in the form of UFO-obsessions, psychic fortune tellers, cold fusion, etc, and just when we had reached the highest peaks of embarrassment in talking about our science public-education fiasco, who should come to our rescue but...China!
A front page article of the November 7, 1997 issue of the Wall Street Journal concerns Professor Sun Shili and his Chinese UFO Research Association's use of government grants to harness UFO technology for the benefit of Chinese society. As Professor Sun says, "UFOs are faster than any airplane or car. We hope to use the UFO phenomenon to resolve China's energy and efficiency problems."
Some of the members of Shili's group are deeply involved in research to exploit UFO technology. For example, Liu Zhongkai, an official at the Beijing Meteorological Bureau, has invented something that he describes as a magnetic field that produces as much as a third more energy than it requires to run. He claims that his magnetic field can alter time. "If you live to be 100 on Earth, in my UFO you will be able to live at least 100,000 years."
As to how these people imported UFO technology without ever having been inside a UFO, Ma Ruian explains," I've studied many photographs of UFOs. In physics, you can work backward to figure out the theory."
Professor Shili, who used to do translation work for Mao Zedong, explains that doing UFO work isn't easy, "Working with UFOs is more complicated than translating for Mao."
Good News From Washington!
During the past few years, federal support for basic scientific research has been declining. Now, in the words of APS President Allen Bromley, "the activities of scientists throughout the country have produced a remarkable turnaround in the way science is treated in Washington". In particular, the National Research Investment Act (S1305), sponsored by Senators Gramm, Lieberman, Domenici and Bingaman, will "invest in the future of the United States by doubling the amount authorized for civilian basic scientific, medical and pre-competitive engineering research during the next ten years" In a letter to the President, the above co-sponsors said that "it is imperative that we reverse the recent trend toward decreased federal investment in basic and pre-competitive research if we are to sustain robust growth over the next several decades....We believe that this winter is a critical time for establishing R&D investment as a national priority. Both parties have largely cleared the decks with respect to the agendas they have been pursuing for the last two years and both are seeking new political initiatives to advance. Moreover, recent changes in the projected five-year revenue outlook give both parties more room to maneuver within the confines of the balanced budget agreement." The bill was unanimously endorsed by the APS Executive Board in November, and a similar statement has been endorsed by the presidents of 106 professional societies representing 3 million scientists. As a result of this shift in Washington, research budgets generally rose by 5 to 7 percent for FY 1998. The role of the APS and its members is descibed in detail in the January issue of APS News. It appears as if a lot of hard work is finally paying off. There remains much to be done, of course. The bill does not explicitly appropriate funds, and no companion measure is in the House. In December, Dr. Bromley asked all APS members to contact the White House, which was preparing the President's FY 1999 budget. This seems to have worked. The White House's FY 1999 budget request is unprecedented, calling for increases at 11% in the NSF and DOE budgets, with an 8% (5%) increase in overal basic (applied) research. Vice President Gore said that research was one of "the top priorities in this budget". Congress seems to agree. White House sources claim that the letter-writing campaign was a factor in the turnaround. The Administration claims that the costs can be paid from the tobacco settlement.
Representative Ehlers on Science Policy
"Literary intellectuals at one pole--at the other, scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension - sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding"--C.P. Snow, 1959.
Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), the only physicist in Congress and vice chair of the House Science Committee, quoted C.P. Snow in an address at the University of Maryland in November. His talk, (see FYI #140), discussed bridging the gap between scientists and non-scientists, and he called on physicists to participate in policy formation for "the good of your country and for your science". He said it has "become fashionable to be ignorant about science" and noted that most Members of Congress are "woefully lacking in scientific knowledge". He criticized Congress for not differentiating between basic and applied research, as exemplified by the move some years ago which called for the NSF to engage in "strategic research". House Speaker Gingrich and House Science Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner have asked Ehlers to conduct a study leading to the writing of a new federal science policy, which is to be forward-looking and is to outline the roles of the federal, state and international governments, industry and universities.
In remarks last fall, Ehlers laid out the rationale for this study: "The basis for our economic engine in this nation is science and technology. The discoveries that we make today are going to fuel the economy 30 to 50 years hence, just as today our economy is fueled by the discoveries of three to five decades ago. Thus it is very important for us to have a national science policy that reflects that change in atmosphere between the U.S. and the rest of the world, that reflects the change in science, that reflects the change in foreign relations, and that, in particular, reflects the change in economic structures in theworld today."
This effort started with a meeting of 35 prominent scientists and policy makers, and a similar meeting with "early career" scientists. In each meeting, Ehlers posed a series of policy questions to formulate an overall "vision." These same questions are posted on a science committee web site where Ehlers invites citizen participation.
The questions are: "1. On what broad national goals should federal science policy be based? 2. (a) What is the government's role in supporting basic and applied research? (b) How can the government best encourage an effective level of industry investment in pre-competitive research? 3.How can the nation enhance and make the most effective use ofgovernment/university/industry research partnerships? 4. What is the most effective role for the states in supporting university research, and how can the federal government best support that role? 5. (a) Given the increasingly international nature of science, how can the nation best benefit from and contribute to international cooperation in research? (b) What types of multilateral science agreements are needed to facilitate international collaboration? 6. How can the federal government best help meet national needs for science and math education at all levels? 7. How can the nation most effectively leverage federally funded R&D in the face of increasingly constrained resources?"
Ehlers will hold six hearings relating to this study between March 3rd and April 22nd on topics including "defining a science and technology vision," science education, partnerships/collaboration, international science, and "funding sources for research." Dates and a brief statement describing each of these hearings can be found on its web site at http://www.house.gov/science/science_policy_study.cfm This site contains the questions listed above, background materials, and other items of interest. In a section on this web site entitled "We Need Your Help" several issue areas are listed. The science community is also asked to provide information on the hearing topics. Given the magnitude of what Rep. Ehlers and his staff want to accomplish, individuals responding to Ehlers' invitation should bear in mind an observation made on the study's web site: "Remember, the more we have to read, the greater the risk we'll miss your key conclusions!"
Ehlers, who wants this to be an accessible document for his colleagues, describes it as being "concise, coherent, and comprehensive." The target date for the study's completion is the middle of this year. A longer term goal is possible legislation.
Jack Gibbons Retires, Neal Lane to OSTP, Rita Colwell to NSF
(From FYI #29) Three prominent scientists are changing their positions here in Washington. Dr. John Gibbons, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, has announced his retirement. President Clinton announced his intention to nominate NSF Director Dr. Neal Lane as Gibbons' replacement. Replacing Lane, the President said, will be Dr. Rita Colwell, currently the President of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.
Gibbons tendered his resignation to President Clinton . Gibbons wrote: "It has been an extraordinary honor and privilege to be your science advisor for over five years. I am grateful for the remarkable opportunity to cap my four decades of public service by serving you and our
country. While I remain committed to your success, I believe that now is an appropriate time to submit my resignation, to be effective March 15, 1998. I look forward to continuing my efforts to build bridges between people, disciplines, and institutions."
His letter continues, "I take my leave with a sense of deep humility and immense pride -- humility in being associated with great American scientists who have gone before me, pride in this nation's unmatched scientific establishment. The tools of science and technology have provided greater strength, greater resources, and a greater quality of life for all Americans. In private life, I will work as hard as I have in the White House to keep us on the path to scientific preeminence, as well as to ensure that science and technology nurture the values and ideals that gave us birth as a Nation."
President Clinton accepted the resignation with regret during a speech at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Clinton thanked Gibbons for his years of service in Washington. Before coming to the White House, Gibbons was the Director of the congressional Office of Technology Assessment.
Commenting on his resignation, Rep. George Brown, Jr. (D-CA) said, "I don't think any science advisor ever served in more trying times for science than did Dr. Gibbons. Crowded by efforts to shrink the deficit, shouted at by ideologically driven voices of irrationality, and sometimes prodded by friends who thought he should do more, Jack's term was not all sweetness and light. But Jack spoke forcefully for reasoned policy and legislation, and he will be remembered as a principled advocate for science in a time when irrational forces might have capsized the enterprise. Jack also worked persistently within the White House to defend science budgets from the competing claims of other worthy needs. The result of those efforts is the superb set of proposals to support science and technology in the President's 1999 budget. In short, Jack is leaving at the top of his game and reaping the applause he so richly deserves for a job well done. We are very old friends and I believe that Washington will be a less interesting place without him."
Gibbons worked with the President and Vice President for more than a year to select his replacement, Neal Lane. Of Lane, Rep. Brown said, "Neal Lane has done a terrific job at NSF. Stepping into the post at OSTP will require that he shift his focus from what is best for the Nation's academic research system to a broader conception of what is in the National interest in all aspects of science and technology. I am sure that he is up to the task and will be an able and talented advisor who will make his mark in White House inner circles." Lane's nomination will go to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, chaired by Senator John McCain (R-AZ).
Dr. Rita Colwell, nominated as the new director of the National Science Foundation, has a Ph.D. in marine microbiology from the University of Washington. She has served on the National Science Board and has been the president of the American Society for Microbiology, the International Union of Microbiological Societies, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Brown said of Colwell: "Rita Colwell has a terrific track record at AAAS. Her experiences both in Washington and academia make her a great choice to head NSF. I look forward to working with both Dr. Colwell and Dr. Lane for many years to come." The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Colwell's nomination. Senator James M. Jeffords (R-VT) chairs this committee.
The "Dual-Career Couple Problem"
As the number of couples in which both members are trained in science increases, more and more people are facing issues in finding two science-based jobs in the same geographic location. Many scientists are forced to give up or drastically scale back their careers, others are forced into long-distance commuter marriages, nearly all "science couples" must make major compromises. Given that there are more male scientists than female, a much higher proportional of women scientists must deal with this problem (which thus perpetuates the high male/female ratio in science). In an effort to document the scope of the situation for physicists, and find examples of solutions to the problems which arise, Marc Sher (News and Electronics Editor of P&S) and Laurie McNeil (past chair of the Commission of the Status of Women in Physics) have put together a questionnaire. Respondents are asked to describe the positive and negative responses of employers to the problem, the effects on their career plans, children, etc. They hope to put the results together this summer, and write up an article for either Physics Today or APS News this fall. The questionnaire is available at http://physics.wm.edu/survey/
Two reports have recently appeared which address a growing problem in academia--the extensive use of part-time and adjunct faculty. Although a more pressing issue in the humanities (where up to 50% of faculty are part-time/adjunct), it is a serious problem in the sciences, where 25% of faculty are part-time. This problem is related, of course, to the dual-career couple problem noted in the above news item. Two reports have just come out detailing the problem and recommending solutions. One is by the American Federation of Teachers and can be found at (http://www.aft.org//higheduc/partime.cfm). The other is a report by eight professional organizations, including the AAUP and the American Historical Association and can be found at (http://www.chnm.gmu.edu/aha/). Among the recommendations of both reports are limitations on the use of part-time faculty; giving part-time faculty salaries linked to those of full-time faculty, rather than wages per credit hour; giving part-time faculty rank and eligibility similar to those of full-time faculty; giving contracts as far as possible in advance of classes, and ensuring a much greater degree of job security than currently available.
Radon and lung cancer
In What's New (20 Feb 98), Bob Park reports that the report of the National Research Council on Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation deals solely with radon. Its purpose was to consider new evidence on residential lung-cancer risk obtained since the 1989 report. The report blames radon for about 18,000 lung cancer deaths per year, mostly (90%) among smokers. The new figures are still based on a linear-no-threshold extrapolation from data on uranium miners. The panelists insisted that repair mechanisms that may produce a threshold for penetrating radiation (WN 30 Jan 98) are not relevant to alpha particle damage. The report acknowledged that a threshold could exist and not be identified from the data. (cf., articles in this issue) A day earlier, a group called Radiation, Science & Health, held its own press conference to argue that, even at the highest residential exposures, radon is not only harmless, but beneficial. Studies by physicist Bernard Cohen (cf. Physics and Society,Jan., 1997) found lung cancer rates are consistently lowest in areas where radon levels are highest. Such "ecological" evidence was dismissed by the new report, which relied entirely on case control studies. As Park says, "this is reminiscent of the debate between physicists and epidemiologists in the EMF wars. The physicists were right."