APS March Meeting in Portland Oregon, March 15-19, 2010

FIP sponsored or cosponsored two sessions:

B8, FIP, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Redux: The Physics of Global Catastrophes and Global Counter-measures
T8, FIP and FGSA, Panel Discussion: Emerging Scientific Powers in the East: China

These sessions are summarized below.

Social Events

The FIP hosted a RECEPTION on March 16, 2010 which was co-sponsored by OCPA (Overseas Chinese Physics Association), ACIPA (American Chapter of Indian Physics Association), IrAP, Iranian American Physicists Net-work Group, AKPA (Association of Korean Physicists in America), and the APS Office of International Affairs. There was time for ample discussion and learning about each other‘s interests. "Ex pats" from Iran, Turkey, Tai-wan attended the reception as well.

The Taiwan Physical Society hosted a reception for its members, Chinese background physicists, interested west-ern physicists and their guests on March 17, 2010.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Redux: The Physics of Global Catastrophes and Global Countermeasures

Reported by John Clark

Sponsor: FIP
Chairperson, John Clark, Washington University, St. Louis

In the last book of the New Testament, Four sinister and mysterious Horsemen appear whose presence signals apocalypse and whose characters are widely interpreted as allegories for catastrophes befalling humanity at the End of Time: war, famine, pestilence, and death. 

These ancient themes were revisited from the modern perspective of network analysis by a panel of distinguished scientists at the 2010 March meeting in an FIP-sponsored invited session: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Redux: The Physics of Global Catastrophes and Global Countermeasures. Nothing could be more international than the end of the world, or than international scientific cooperation toward averting this fate in its multifarious forms. Physicists, obsessively curious by nature, are not immune to fascination with end-of-the-world scenarios.  But since they are just as obsessive problem-solvers, they can be easily stimulated to think of ways of avoiding or mitigating apocalyptic events. Moreover, globalization in the ubiquitous formation of worldwide networks of all kinds is on everyone's mind these days. The more complex a network (made of nodes and causative links or connections between the nodes), the more ways there are for things to go wrong. Adding more and more connections between nodes tends to move a network into an unstable dynamical regime, leading for example into chaos. Complex systems generally have nonlinear behavior, implying that small causes can lead to large and unexpected consequences. By extension, globalization of political, economic, and social systems is fraught with unintended consequences. Advances in the statistical physics and dynamics of such complex global networks can sometimes give us fair warning of disasters that may befall us before they become inevitable.

In organizing the Apocalypse session, four modern counterparts of the biblical horsemen were identified, representing global pandemics, modern warfare (international terrorism/nuclear holocaust), environmental doom, and world-wide economic collapse. Each of these "renormalized horsemen” was addressed by a speaker with unique expertise and high visibility. John Clark (FIP Past Chair) chaired the session. Mark Newman (University of Michigan), a world leader in the field of complex networks, was invited to lead off with a general overview of network properties that engender vulnerability or instead foster resilience (failure versus robustness): "Failure and robustness in networks"; Alessandro Vespignani (Indiana University) explained how physics, network analysis, and computing can help fight off global pandemics, Kathleen Carley (Carnegie Mellon) reviewed progress in developing network science for deterrence of the terrorism/nuclear horseman: "Forecasting techno-social systems: how physics and computing help to fight off global pandemics"; Jonathan Katz (Washington University) explored realistic geoengineering scenarios for dispersing aerosols in the stratosphere to induce global cooling: "Global Response to Global Warming: Geoengineering with Stratospheric Aerosols";  and H. Eugene Stanley (Boston University) described remarkable advances in quantifying extremely rare events through application of statistical physics to large bodies of data on economic fluctuations: "Economic Fluctuations and Statistical Physics: Quantifying Extremely Rare Events with Applications to the Present Worldwide Crisis".

The session was very well received, with attendance running in the range 200-300 and lively discussions generated by each talk. The session was one of those selected by APS for a press conference, in which the chair and speakers gave brief presentations and answered questions from representatives of the science news media. Subsequently, an article reporting on the session, "Big or Small, Financial Bubbles Burst Alike", by Laura Sanders, appeared Science News, April 10, 2010, Vol. 177, \#8, p. 11.

This article highlights the discovery, by Gene Stanley and his co-workers, of the striking empirical scaling law that governs financial bubbles.

John Clark is Past-Chair of the FIP. He is Wayman Crow Professor of Physics and Chair in the Department of Physics at Washington University. His research interests are the Quantum Mechanics of Many-particle Systems, Dense-matter Astrophysics, Neural Network and Computational Neuroscience, and Quantum Control.

Panel Discussion: Emerging Scientific Powers in the East : China

Reported by Noemie Koller

Sponsors: FIP and FGSA
Chairperson, N.Koller, Rutgers University

The last few years have seen an enormous surge in scientific development in China, India and South East Asia countries as evidenced by significant growth in basic science research, the strengthening of institutions of higher learning, the development and innovation in their technical infrastructure, the increase in international collaborations, as well as changes in the demographics. This session focused mainly on China while future events will consider the role of science and education in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and will report as well on the status of research in Australia and New Zealand.

Three aspects of the issues were selected for discussion related to the science being carried out and the scientists of all ages who are at the forefront of the developments in China, Taiwan and the United States.

J. Raynien Kwo, President of the Physical Society of Taiwan and Professor in the Department of Physics National Tsing Hua University presented the "Progress and Prospects of Physics Research and Education in Taiwan". She emphasized that the remarkable progress in physics research and education in Taiwan was supported by a steady governmental commitment at the level of 2.62% of the GDP as well as by the vital Taiwan high tech industry. The scope of these investigations encompasses high energy and astrophysics, nano and condensed matter, semiconductor and optoelectronic physics. International collaborations with the LHC, KEK, ALMA and Pan-STARRS groups have flourished. The early trend of outflows of BS physics majors to the western world for advanced studies has reversed dramatically as there are now lucrative jobs available in Taiwan. In addition, there is a healthy inflow of high quality science manpower of well trained PhDs and senior scholars returning to the homeland. Concerted efforts for scientific exchanges are being taken to connect to international societies. The bright outlook of physical science in Taiwan is anticipated to have far-reaching impacts on South East Asia, China and worldwide.

Professor E. G. (Enge) Wang is the General Secretary of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Director of the Beijing National Laboratory for Condensed Matter Physics and a Professor at Peking University. He talked about "Physics in China: the Past and Next Decade". Professor Wang assessed the status and future direction of research and education in the natural sciences disciplines in China resulting from the unprecedented changes in pace and stability of economical developments over the last decade. He described his own theoretical work on surface physics and the discoveries made in his laboratory at Peking University, and gave an overview of condensed matter research in other institutions in China.

Professor Zhi-Xun Shen from Stanford University presented a cultural and historical perspective of the development of Physics research and education in China, "Education exchange and impact to Chinese Physics". The first Chinese student sent to the US, Mr. Hong Rong (Yung Wing) received a Bachelor's degree from Yale in 1854. Even though education carries an enormous weight in Chinese society Chinese students had to complete their scientific training abroad. No PhD had been awarded in China before 1981. In 1980 Professor T. D. Lee convinced the authorities to initiate the now famous CUSPEA (China-US Physics Examinations & Applications Program). Chinese students who passed a special examination were invited to come to the best US universities to continue their studies. In a decade 915 students were admitted.

Many of these students stayed in the US where they contributed to significant advances in many areas of physics. But the CUSPEA alumni contributed to reconnect the Chinese Physics community and the world community, and now are returning to China where they are contributing to science and science management, commercial enterprises or investment businesses. China has gone through one of the most dramatic social transformations in human history and now is poised to interact with the rest of the world. This growing physics community is faced with new national and international responsibilities and challenges. International cooperation is growing and new collaborations will accelerate the process.

And finally we heard the views of the young generation of students, Mr. Yang Yang from Duke University who described how "Students made in China contribute to the world", or, paraphrasing, "From Nanjing to Durham". Mr. Yang belongs to the generation that followed the CUSPEA program. He earned a BS in theoretical physics at the University of Nanjing under the new educational system developed in China. In his talk he also described the historical background of the importance of education in the Chinese family and the great efforts made by those that could make it to the US or Europe to pursue graduate education. But he moved on to describe how the system works today, the extensive courses necessary to obtain a degree in the Chinese system, the difficulties of learning English, the cultural differences brought about by the American dream and American apple pie, the separation from family (Confucius said that one shouldn't travel too far away when one's parents stay at home), the visa requirements, the fear of returning home for a family visit without guarantee that the visa will be extended, the costs of living abroad. He then posed the big question, "Are we going back? Which was answered with a no by the previous generations but is increasingly regarded as a real possibility by the younger generations who do find employment in China. The globalization of the world is also a factor as American Universities are opening campuses in the East. The regular talks were followed by a lively discussion with the audience.

Mr. Yang Yang, graduate student at Duke University, and Prof. Enge Wang, Director of the Peking National Laboratory for Condensed Matter Physics

Mr. Yang Yang, graduate student at Duke University, and Prof. Enge Wang, Director of the Peking National Laboratory for Condensed Matter Physics, who spoke at the session on Emerging Scientific Powers in the East: China

Noemie Koller, Chair of the APS Forum on International Physics, is a Professor in the Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy. Koller’s specialty is Nuclear structure and Ion-Solid Interactions.

Disclaimer - The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on International Physics Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.