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The conference will review the contributions that physics has made to society in the past, and formulate a plan for the contributions that it can and should make in the future. The conference is partially a follow-up to a broader United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in the summer of 2002. Four themes have been chosen: physics and economic development; physics and health; energy and the environment; and physics education.
Several international conferences have been scheduled for 2004 on these topics, and will serve as preparatory meetings for the 2005 World Conference—the first time the international physics community will focus its collective attention on these themes, and the interplay between them.
Attendance of about 500 people is anticipated. Conference organizers are particularly eager to attract participants from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, as well as from more developed countries, and the organizers hope to be able to provide travel grants for as many as half of the attendees.
"Physics has contributed greatly to the health and economic well being of people around the world. However, the contributions have not led to equal progress in all parts of the world," said APS Director of International Affairs Amy Flatten.
For example, most East African countries have research programs in renewable energy. Certain donors have helped initiate such programs in response to the region's needs (and its many sunny days). But the research efforts have been uncoordinated, so despite the 20-year effort, 80% of African households are still without electricity.
"Unless a coordinated program is created to apply the region's physics expertise, renewable energy may continue to be an interesting research topic with little prospect of contributing to economic development," said Flatten.
Among the hoped-for results of the 2005 World Conference is the establishment of new international partnerships. More than 200 such partnerships were launched at the 2004 World Summit.
"Developing scientific capacity requires more than just educating graduate students and postdocs in the developed world and returning them to their home nations," she said. "It requires partnerships of policy makers, scientists and industrialists from both developing and developed nations, for jointly executed, action-oriented projects."