APS News

March 2024 (Volume 33, Number 2)

Science Policy Highlights

By the FYI team | February 16, 2024

Credit: Ryan Postel/Fermilab

Fermilab in winter 2023.

New DOE fusion head sketches out vision

Jean Paul Allain, who took the helm of the Department of Energy’s fusion program last summer, recently detailed his priorities in a major presentation to the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC). Allain said he will push to expand collaborations between academia and industry, including through new Fusion Innovation Research Engine (FIRE) Centers focused on “use-inspired, use-defined” research that addresses key gaps in fusion materials and technology development relevant to building a pilot fusion power plant. Allain also said he intends to launch a program to explore potential alternatives to tokamak-based fusion reactors, and to establish research centers focused on advancing plasma science and exploring ways to apply plasmas “in every part of life.”

Stressing the increasing global interest in fusion energy, Allain estimated that China is spending roughly $1.5 billion a year in the field and is taking actions along the lines of those proposed in the U.S.’ own long-range plan for fusion, which FESAC published in 2020. Allain noted DOE has asked FESAC to report back by fall 2024 on what elements of the fusion program should be prioritized to support both the long-range plan and the White House’s “bold decadal vision” for the development of fusion power plants.

Fermilab operations contract up for grabs

In January, the Department of Energy began accepting proposals for the contract to operate Fermilab, the foremost U.S. laboratory for high-energy particle physics research. Fermilab’s managers have come under scrutiny in recent years in part due to large cost increases on the lab’s flagship neutrino project, which contributed to the lab receiving a low performance grade from DOE in 2021. The lab has been managed since 1967 by the Universities Research Association, a consortium of research universities. The last time the contract was put up for competition, in 2007, URA partnered with the University of Chicago to form the lab’s current contracting entity, Fermi Research Alliance LLC. URA and the University of Chicago are seeking to continue operating the lab. Another bidder is Associated Universities, Inc., which operates astronomical observatories on behalf of the National Science Foundation.

Former science committee chair, Eddie Bernice Johnson, dead at 89

Former Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who chaired the House Science Committee from 2019 to 2022, died on Dec. 31 at the age of 89. Johnson began her career as a nurse before turning to Texas state politics in 1972. She was first elected to represent her Dallas-area district in 1992 and served as a member of the House Science Committee throughout her time in Congress. She rose to lead the committee’s Democratic membership in December 2010, continuing in that role until her retirement. Johnson was the first woman and first African American to chair the science committee since its establishment in 1958. She worked to maintain the committee as a haven for bipartisan cooperation, including while developing provisions for the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, the committee’s signature achievement during her time as chair. The act includes measures that aim to increase the diversity of the STEM workforce, a cause she championed.

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Editor: Taryn MacKinney

March 2024 (Volume 33, Number 2)

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Articles in this Issue
As Academic Journals Move Toward Open Access, Some in the Industry Take Action to Reduce Inequity
Headed to APS April Meeting 2024 in Sacramento? Here’s What You Should Know.
This Month in Physics History
Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Whose 1967 Discovery of Pulsars Landed Her Supervisor a Nobel, Tells Young Physicists, “Don’t Second-Guess Yourself”
What Comes After Football? Astrophysics.
Leaders of Eight Physics Societies Convene in Washington
APS Bridge Program Grad Takes on Plasma
Opinion: Physics Needs Community Colleges
Proposed Changes to H-1B Visa Rule Would Hurt STEM in the United States, APS Argues
Science Policy Highlights