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By John Rumble, Steven Lambert, and Robert Doering
As we contemplate our world today and its future, we cannot help but marvel at the incredible changes in our daily lives brought about by industrial physics. A quick glance around an office reveals a smartphone, computers, printers, LED lights, digital sound systems, flash drives, with microelectronics, nanomaterials, lasers, and micro-magnets. These are transformative technologies and have created the 21st Century as we know it. How has this happened and what role does industrial physics play? To help answer these questions, the APS Industrial Physics Advisory Board has just released its report on The Economic Impact of Industrial Physics on the U.S. Economy, available at the Impact of Industrial Physics on the U.S. Economy page.
Defining Industrial Physics
The fascinating findings of the study show that an estimated 12.6% of the U.S. economy can be ascribed directly to the practice of industrial physics, among other impacts summarized below.
APS thanks the financial supporters of this study:
Rather than simply reporting the findings, however, we want to address the larger issue of how the physics community can invest in the future so coming generations can benefit from physics advances being developed on whiteboards and lab benches today.
The economic impact found in the U.S. is broad, affecting many economic sectors, and results from a wide range of contributions from physicists as well as people who understand and use physics in designing, manufacturing, and using today’s complex systems, machines, instruments, devices, and materials. We believe the impact is a direct result of the dedication—on the part of industry, academia, and government—to support the richest and most innovative physics community in the world. Below are recommendations designed to continue the impact of industrial physics in the future.
APS is in a unique position to influence the U.S.-based physics academic community. These recommendations build on that strength and add focus to improving the readiness of physics-degree students for industrial careers. Our colleges and universities can ensure that all scientists and engineers have strong exposure to physics training as part of their basic requirements. APS can also provide exposure to industrial careers through webinars, national and sectional meetings, and industrial lectures at schools.
The APS Office of Government Affairs has strong interactions with Congress and government agencies that support physics. The following recommendations build on that existing work.
Industry can take actions that catalyze the flow of physicists and physics to companies in the future. APS can help to encourage industrial engagement via:
American Physical Society
The following proposed activities align directly with the new APS Strategic Plan goals. The APS Industrial Physics Advisory Board is ready to provide support and additional information as appropriate.
Students and Practicing Physicists
More than 50% of graduating physicists enter industry to find exciting and rewarding careers. The companies for which they work and the careers they pursue range from highly entrepreneurial technological start-up firms to well-established technology leaders to finance and banking to data analytics. The diversity of possibilities reflects the power of modern physics education, which emphasizes formulating the correct questions and being rigorous in developing answers based on facts. Some suggestions for students to expand their physics horizons include:
Call to Action
Industrial physics is alive and well and provides innumerable benefits to physics, physicists, and society. It is critical to nurture the industrial physics enterprise and to ensure that it remains a major source of innovation, economic growth, and a positive influence on the future. All physicists, regardless of their interests, can participate in the rich environment. Let’s help its continued success.
John Rumble, Jr. is a chemical physicist and owner of R&R Data Services in Gaithersburg MD. He is also 2019 Speaker of the APS Council. APS Industrial Fellow Steven Lambert is a solid-state physicist who spent 27 years working in the hard drive industry in California. Robert Doering is a senior physicist and research manager at Texas Instruments, Inc. in Dallas, TX and a long-time contributor in physics societies. He is current chair of the APS Industrial Physics Advisory Board.
Industrial physics is a major contributor to the economic well-being of the United States.
Industrial physics contributed approximately 12.6% of value added (GDP) to the U.S. economy in 2016, about 2.3 trillion dollars.
Direct employment related to industrial physics was about 11,500,000 people in 2016, which accounted for almost 6% of total U.S. employment.
U.S. exports by physics-based sectors are about 1.1 trillion dollars (2016), which is approximately 20% of the value added (GDP) produced by those sectors.
In the period 2003 to 2016, approximately 70,000 degreed physicists joined industry.
Between 2010 and 2016, over 340,000 U.S. patents with the classification of physics were granted to U.S. companies.
In 2015, U.S. physics-based companies made internal R&D investments of over 150 billion dollars.
Between 1966 and 2016, the value added (contribution to GDP) in the physics-based sectors of the U.S. economy grew by a factor of 22. At the same time, the GDP grew by a factor of about 4 (both in 2016 constant dollars).
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik