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January 2011 (Volume 20, Number 1)
Q: How well do you think the society is serving its members? Are there any areas where you think APS programs could be enhanced?
I haven’t heard complaints that there are large areas of our membership that are underserved, but in addition to adapting to our growing foreign membership, we underserve our younger members, both students and young researchers. The membership of the APS has a large component of students and young researchers, yet they are not well represented in our policy committees, at our meetings, etc. I would like to see how we can both facilitate better representation in these society activities and we should try to understand and respond to whatever issues there are for this important component of our membership.
Q: What do you see as the Society’s role in public policy?
The APS can and does play important roles in studies of policy issues that involve physics and related technologies. We play an important role in influencing policy decisions on such issues. It is important to realize that our government has few elected scientists or technically knowledgeable members. Therefore, it is incumbent on the science community to help inform the government on policy issues that involve science and technology. Our PPC and POPA committees, and more generally our Washington DC office, play important roles in this area. I am interested in understanding how we might or should evolve the mission of the Washington Office, both because of the expertise we have to offer, coupled with the needs for having an informed government.
Q: What do you see as the Society’s role on international issues?
It is a fact that the APS membership has become more international, as the practice of doing science has become more international. As I said above, we must be responsive to this important and growing constituency in our membership, and beyond that, there are selective opportunities in the world where the APS can make a difference. Emerging countries are developing an increasingly educated scientific community, but have little tradition and few local organizations like the APS to provide the type of home for physicists that are provided by the APS. For that reason, we are beginning to look at possible partnerships in such countries that can be mutually beneficial and can help them develop their own equivalents of the APS. Another important area of concern relates to the globalization of science research, such as the large international collaborations needed to build and operate large facilities. The APS can help assure that such facilities can be carried out in ways that as much as possible are responsive to international needs of scientists to participate and are free of politics.
Q: In recent years, APS has been increasing its focus on education and outreach. What do you think of these efforts and how will you guide them?
We have a very active and effective education outreach program. The opportunities are much greater than what we can do, however, with our small staff and effort, so we must make sure we choose areas with the largest impact. We are active in efforts that educate the public, and this can have a large payoff. We are also making efforts toward broadening the diversity of our discipline and more generally in improving physics teaching. I am enthusiastic about these efforts and hope that I can help us focus on efforts where they will make a difference.
Q: How will you guide APS through the current difficult economic times?
APS finances are stable. We are a non-profit and the services we provide are matched to our income, and are monitored carefully by the treasurer with advice from our budget and finance committees. Our reserves have largely recovered from the losses during the economic downturn. The biggest uncertainty is the future support of our journals. University libraries are under growing financial pressure, and publishing is becoming more electronic and open access. It will be a challenge to maintain our high-quality journals and respond to these changes.
Beyond the APS, there are a larger number of financial issues facing science and science funding. I believe the role of the APS in this area is to help enable our membership to educate our government officials and funding agencies of the value and importance of science and support for physics research in particular.
Q: How did you become interested in physics?
As a young child, I had two distinguishing passions, first an early love of mathematics and second, an intense curiosity to understand the world around me. Little did I know that physics represented a wonderful merger of these two passions, with mathematics being the crucial underlying tool to understand the physical phenomena that interested me so much. Eventually, I put that together and the rest is history!
Q: What have been some of your career highlights?
I have had the fortune to have been involved in a series of forefront fundamental physics experiments in particle physics and gravitation. Being able to learn about the physical world through ambitious forefront experiments from the idea stage, to a concept for addressing the questions, to an experimental design, and finally to an actual experimental device leading to new science has been and remains the highlight for me. I have had the good fortune to have gone through this process several times on forefront physics experiments.
Q: Why did you choose to run for the APS presidential line?
I was nominated and asked to run for office. I had never thought about it before and despite my initial reluctance, due to having many other commitments, I decided to run because I thought I could make a difference (in a positive way). I hope I am right!
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Editor: Alan Chodos