50 Years of Physical Review A, B, C, and D

Enduring discoveries. Tomorrow’s advances.

By Matthew Salter and Michael Thoennessen

For the past 127 years, the Physical Review journals, published by the American Physical Society, have existed to serve the global physics and physics-related research community. Since their inception in 1893 the journals have set the standard for excellence in scholarly publishing and have continuously evolved to meet the changing needs of authors and readers, introducing innovations such as Reviews of Modern Physics (1929)—the world’s most cited physics reviews journal—and Physical Review Letters (1958)—the world’s most cited physics journal.

In 2020, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the launch of Physical Review A-D—another major evolution of the Physical Review journals portfolio in the service of the research community—and will celebrate the proud heritage of our journals as well as looking to the next 50 years of the Physical Review journals. To celebrate, amongst other activities we plan to:

  • Feature landmark articles: Throughout the year each journal will highlight on its website influential papers from its long history.
  • 50 for 50 Discount: For articles submitted in 2020, APS is offering a 50% reduction of article processing charges (APCs) for authors wishing to publish open access in the prestigious titles Physical Review A-E. This offer also extends to Physical Review Letters as well as the more recently launched sister journals Physical Review Applied, Physical Review Fluids, and Physical Review Materials.
  • Engage the Next Generation: The future of scientific publication rests with the communication preferences of the future scientists. Thus, we will hold author engagement sessions for early career scientists at APS and other major meetings around the world to collect input and feedback to continue to optimally serve the community in the future.

Originally, The Physical Review—the largest journal in the portfolio—was published as a single volume of high-quality articles spanning all aspects of physics and physics-related research. This approach worked well for the first 77 years of the journal’s life, but by 1970 it had become clear that the needs of the community would be better met by reorganizing the single printed volume—by then a monthly behemoth several inches thick—into a series of smaller high-quality topical journals each serving a focused research field and allowing readers to locate the newest information most relevant to their research. Thus were born Physical Review A (PRA, General Physics), Physical Review B (PRB, Solid State Physics), Physical Review C (PRC, Nuclear Physics) and Physical Review D (PRD, Particles and Fields). While the main intention of dividing The Physical Review into several smaller journals was to provide more closely focused venues for dissemination of groups of related research fields, it is said that the development was also welcomed by researchers and librarians alike for making it easier to lift printed volumes on and off library shelves!

50 years Physical Review logo

Backpage Physical Review book

The last volume of The Physical Review was a behemoth several inches thick.

In the ensuing 50 years, the Physical Review portfolio has continued to grow, both in number of journals and published articles in response to the demands of the community, and now numbers 14 peer-reviewed journals that in 2019 published more than 20,000 research and review articles. Some sense of the rate of growth of the journals can be seen by considering the fact that the December 1995 issue of Physical Review B alone contained more articles than the entirety of The Physical Review December edition in 1969. In addition to growth, the scopes of Physical Review A, B, C and D have continued to evolve to keep pace with the development of physics, which among other things led in 1993 to the creation of Physical Review E (PRE) covering statistical physics, plasmas, fluids, and related interdisciplinary topics out of Physical Review A which was refocused on atomic, molecular, and optical physics. In recent years, the portfolio has continued to grow and diversify with the launch of other focused journals publishing articles in applied physics, fluid dynamics, and materials research.

The Physical Review journals took another important step in serving the research community in 2011 by the introduction of a hybrid open access option to all of the research journals in the portfolio (Reviews of Modern Physics, as a specialty reviews journal is the only exception). Since that time authors have had the option to make individual articles in the Physical Review hybrid journals available open access immediately on publication upon payment of an APC. This move continued the Society's record of leadership in open access publishing that began as far back as 1998 with the launch of the pioneering open access journal Physical Review Accelerators and Beams (PRAB), followed by Physical Review Physics Education Research (PRPER) in 2005. In 2011 the APS introduced the highly selective Physical Review X (PRX)—the world’s highest impact open access physics journal. In 2019 this was joined by the fourth and newest fully open access member of the family, Physical Review Research (PRResearch) that shares the acceptance criteria of the main Physical Review journals.

As Physical Review A, B, C, and D and the rest of the portfolio chart their future course into the next half century they will be guided by the APS Strategic Plan: 2019, created by the members, leadership, and staff of the American Physical Society and published at the start of 2019. At the heart of this blueprint is the mission of the APS journals to serve the global scientific community by providing the preeminent international venue for the curation and dissemination of physics and physics-related research. To achieve this goal it will be necessary to further grow and diversify the publishing footprint of the Physical Review journals and develop more publishing options to meet the needs of our authors and allow them to navigate the evolving landscape of institutional and funder mandates. The future is one of challenge and opportunity and will require the Physical Review journals to display the flexibility and capacity to change in response to the needs of the community that have been their hallmark.

Over the last 50 years Physical Review A, B, C, and D have established an excellent reputation for quality and integrity continuing the tradition of the original Physical Review. As with other journals in the portfolio, they are well respected in the community because of their high quality peer review and professional, fast, and efficient editorial handling.

The editors and staff of the Physical Review journals are committed to continuing this tradition in the future. We will continue to publish enduring discoveries and tomorrow’s advances in fulfillment of the mission of the APS: “To advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics for the benefit of humanity, promote physics, and serve the broader physics community.”

Matthew Salter is APS Publisher and Michael Thoennessen is APS Editor in Chief.

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

February 2020 (Volume 29, Number 2)

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2020 APS President Philip Bucksbaum
APS Efforts to Combat Sexual Harassment in Physics
The Forum on Industrial & Applied Physics
The APS March Meeting Heads to Denver
Ending Sexual Harassment in Physics (July 17, 2019)
Brewing an Interest in Fluid Science
Mount Wilson Telescope Receives APS Historic Site Plaque
Education and Diversity News
This Month in Physics History
Office of Government Affairs
FYI: Science Policy News from AIP
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