APS News

October 2018 (Volume 27, Number 9)

Physics at the Shortest and Longest Scales

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By Urs Heller and Erick Weinberg


The first issue of The Physical Review, with five articles, appeared in July 1893. Over time the journal grew in both size and stature, becoming the world's leading physics journal. In 1970, motivated by the continued growth, the single all-encompassing journal was divided into a family of four journals, Physical Review A, B, C, and D, with the shared title denoting a pledge to maintain the standards for which The Physical Review had become known.

125 Years logo

Physical Review D (PRD) was to cover physics at the shortest—subnuclear—and the longest—cosmological—distances and times. The close connections between these two regimes were perhaps not as well appreciated in 1970 as they are today. The journal was divided into two parts. D1, focusing on the more experimental and experimentally-oriented theory papers, appeared on the first of the month, while D15, containing articles on more formal theoretical topics, was published on the fifteenth. Today articles are published online as soon as they are ready, rather than in semi-monthly batches, but the designations D1 and D15 remain.

The early years of PRD coincided with the development and acceptance of the Standard Model of particle physics. Indeed, in its first year one of the journal's most cited articles, the Glashow, Iliopoulos, and Maiani (GIM) paper on the fourth quark and the GIM mechanism appeared. Another top-cited paper, “Confinement of Quarks” by Kenneth Wilson was published four years later.

In those years the journal was almost entirely devoted to particle physics. In the first two issues of 1970 only two articles, out of 95, were concerned with gravitation, cosmology, or astroparticle physics. By comparison, 40% of the papers published in PRD in 2017 were devoted to these subfields. A notable precursor, Bekenstein's “Black Holes and Entropy,” appeared in 1973. Eight years later Guth's paper on the inflationary universe, PRD's all-time most cited paper, appeared.

If one were to pick up a current issue of PRD and compare it with one from the early 1970s, one would notice changes beyond the evolution of the science and the shifting distribution among subfields. Perhaps the most obvious change is in the sheer size of the journal. In 1970, PRD published 912 papers; by 2017 this had increased almost four-fold, to 3470.

Most of this growth has come from outside the US. In 1980, 57% of the papers published in PRD were from the US, while in 2017 78% were from elsewhere. The referee base has also expanded; 73% of the referees consulted in 2017 were outside the US. Almost half of the journal’s Editorial Board is based outside the US. PRD, like the entire Physical Review collection, has become truly international.

Another change over the past half-century is the increased size of collaborations. The advent of experimental collaborations with authors numbering in the thousands, in high energy physics and now also in gravitational waves, has often been remarked upon. Less noticed has been a trend toward increasing collaboration in theoretical work. In 1970, 45% of PRD papers were by a single author. In 2017 this had fallen to 11%.

The growth of the journal has made it increasingly difficult to keep aware of notable developments outside one's immediate sub-subfield. In an attempt to counter this trend we have begun highlighting articles that the editors find to be particularly important or interesting. Announcements of these Editors Suggestions are posted on the journal's home page, together with a brief summary and a link to the article itself. We have highlighted 250 Suggestions since the first one in 2014.

Of course, it is not as easy to pick up an issue of PRD as it once was, and not simply because the issues have become heavier. The hard-copy journal is becoming a thing of the past. Today, the overwhelming majority of users access the journal online, and the online article, posted as soon as it is ready, is the version of record.

Today much of the physics literature can also be accessed online through the eprint server at arXiv.org. The arXiv began in the high energy physics community, and has been almost universally embraced by those working in this and many other fields. Roughly 98% of the papers in PRD are posted on the arXiv, usually at or before the time of submission to the journal. Thus one of the traditional roles of the journals in these fields, the dissemination of new scientific results, has largely been taken over by the arXiv. However, the journals still have an essential role to play. Peer review acts as a filter, often leading to corrections and improvements in the process.

The transformation of the scientific literature from hard copy to online has led to a movement for open access. Last January APS joined the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3—see APS News, December 2017). Under this agreement, the high energy physics articles in PRD are published as open access papers without the authors being required to pay a publication fee.

Much has changed over the almost half-century since PRD began, but the central goal has remained constant. We aim to accept those manuscripts that are scientifically sound and that significantly advance physics. In this effort we will treat all authors fairly and without regard to national boundaries.

Urs Heller is an Editor of PRD and has been with the journal since 2002. He received a diploma in physics at the ETH Zürich and a Ph.D. in theoretical high energy physics at Rutgers University. Lead Editor Erick Weinberg joined PRD in 1996. He received his Ph.D. in physics from Harvard in 1973. After a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study, he moved to Columbia University, where he is now a Professor of Physics. He is a former chair of the department and an APS Fellow.

Review Particle PhysicsReview of Particle Physics Celebrates its 60th Anniversary Edition in PRD

The 60th anniversary edition of the Review of Particle Physics (RPP) is now online in Physical Review D. The biennial compilation of particle properties, topical reviews, and physics facts is part text book and part encyclopedia.

For the full story, visit aps.org/publications/apsnews/updates/anniversary60.cfm and go to journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.98.030001 for access to the RPP.

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APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik

October 2018 (Volume 27, Number 9)

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Articles in this Issue
IGEN Takes the APS Bridge Program to the Next Level
Physics at the Shortest and Longest Scales
Parker Probe En Route to Solar Rendezvous
Quantum Information Science in the National Spotlight
Small Box, Big Physics: Putting Together PhysicsQuest
APS Addresses Decline in International Student Applications to U.S. Physics Ph.D. Programs
Out in Physics: Gaining Visibility and Acceptance
Millie Dresselhaus Fund for Science and Society
This Month in Physics History
Profiles in Versatility
News from the APS Office of Government Affairs
FYI Science Policy News From AIP
Education and Diversity News
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