The issue which precipitated the intense interest of many physicists (and their organizations) in the problems at the interface between science and society during the last half of the twentieth century was the initial construction and use of nuclear weapons. It still holds our attention today in the form of the planning for contemporary use of nuclear weapons and as the recurrent attempts to understand and assess responsibility for its initial developments. Tightly linked to the problem of nuclear weapons is the issue of nuclear reactors as mobile and stationary power sources.
In this issue of Physics and Society, J. Altman illustrates the contemporary interest of German physicists in the problem of nuclear weapons and international security. With the comments of A. DeVolpe, we return to the question: should we be planning to use nuclear weapons in the course of "ordinary events"? And L.Wolfenstein reminds us that there are still unresolved questions in the U.S. system for procuring and maintaining nuclear weapons.
The issue of responsibility for creating and maintaining nuclear weapons, though contemporary, seems to be most popularly examined via the lens of the past. The play Copenhagen and the reactions of its audiences continue to fascinate me and many of my colleagues. (Even though I, and perhaps many of these colleagues, first started pondering the issues of responsibility raised by the play many years ago with the appearance of Sam Goudsmidts Alsos and Robert Ruarks Brighter than a Thousand Suns.) An immediate question is why the very different reactions to the play by American and European audiences? W. Liebert gives some German insight into this question while J.Salomon looks at it from a French perspective. H.Lipkin asks us to look beyond the WWII competition between Allied and German physicists over the creation of nuclear weapons to the apparent lack of competition with respect to non- nuclear weapons. And I, together with my old colleague B.Pugel, again puzzle over the apparent ability of W. Heisenberg to forget his past weapons activities. Observing ones past self is apparently still an observation, subject to the distortions of the present observing "instrument".
The contemporary issue of nuclear power vital in a day of increasing pollution due to fossil fuels and threatened access to, and continued availability of, these fuels requires continued examination of those notorious events which demonstrated the non-benign aspects of the "civil atom". Then most notorious is Chernobyl, which is examined here again by two French authors, J.Frot and A. Aurengo, and engineer and a physician.
A major manifestation of the physicists interest in "science and society" is our recently renewed interest in the science education of the general public as well as that of our successor generations. J. Marque has some interesting if disturbing comments about the education of future scientists. L. Lerner and A. Melott add to our unease about the science education received by many of our fellow citizens, though they do suggest some ameliorative approaches. A. Hobson reminds us that we cannot separate the fundamental science education of future scientists from that of the general public. Finally, though not included in this journal, our readers should be aware of recent efforts by our colleagues in the Division of Particles and Fields to introduce the lay public to the future of particle physics as well as to illustrate how forefront physics can lead to important practical applications in medicine and technology. They have produced a full-color- illustrated brochure called "Quarks Unbound" which will be distributed to all high-school physics teachers. It will also be available on the web at (/dpf/quarks_unbound.cfm).
It should be clear that issues of Physics and Society have important implications to present and future societal actions, both here and abroad, as well as providing clues for understanding past actions. I hope that our readers will share their thoughts on these subjects with their colleagues via submissions to this journal.