F O R U M O N P H Y S I C S & S O C I E T Y
of The American Physical Society 
April 2007 
Vol. 36, No. 2



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Election Results:

The election is over.  There were 729 on-line votes cast, and 55 paper ballots received.

Winners are:

Executive Committee:   Philip Taylor, Benn Tannenbaum

Vice-Chair:   Don Prosnitz

Chair-Elect:  Andrew Post-Zwicker

Sec-Treasurer:  Pushpa Bhat

Marc Sher

Obituary – Mike Casper

The Forum on Physics and Society sadly lost one of its founding fathers, Mike Casper at the age of 68 in Northfield, Minnesota, home to Carleton College.  (For the history of the Forum, see Physics Today, May 1974, and Physics and Society, January 1999).  The Forum was founded in the tumultuous times of the early 1970s, and it has continually proven that it can debate the complicated issues with balance.  It took vision to understand that physics has large impacts, both good and bad, and that the American Physical Society should examine the larger aspects of these topics.  Mike was, first of all, a kind human being that we are proud to have known.  He impacted our lives in a very positive way.  And he could be a lot of fun as well.  To engage Mike in conversation, you should have done your homework, because he carried out thoughtful research on the big physics and society topics of the day.  It was Mike’s idea to establish the Forum’s Szilard and Burton–Forum Awards in 1974.   Mike understood that scientists are motivated, not only to discover the truth, but also to be recognized by their peer group.  Most of us have experienced the thought that we want our physics colleagues to know what we have discovered in the lab or on paper.  This means more to us than telling the story to our parents, who probably don’t understand what great work we have done.  Physics and society research is usually not the fodder of tenure and promotion, but Mike realized that a few carrots can help convince over-worked physicists to examine some of the details of global temperatures, arms race instabilities induced be MIRV and ABM, or free temperature of 5 to 20 degrees from internal heat with R30 walls.  There is a long list of accomplishments of good physics applications to society by members of the Forum.  Mike was a key founder of a forum that was greatly needed and that continues to be a vibrant force.

Mike obtained his PhD in particle theory at Cornell University in 1966 but soon found that he needed to reach beyond traditional research to the “less-established” areas of physics and society.  Mike was indeed a dedicated public interest scientist.  Here are some of the things he did during his career, cut too short by illness:  Mike established the TACTIC program at the Federation of American Scientists, which set up groups of physicists to lobby their representatives in most of the 435 Congressional Districts.  He also organized the FAS Nuclear War Education Project and published its newsletter, Countdown.   Mike played a large hand in organizing the APS Congressional Fellowship Program, which was then copied by many other scientific societies.  Mike initiated the Nuclear War Graphics Project, which created slide sets on nuclear weapons, civil defense, and star wars used by hundreds of activists in their own presentations.  He served as Executive Director of the Minnesota Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.   Mike ran for Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota in 1978 on an energy conservation platform.  Mike was a key advisor to Paul Wellstone in his run for the Senate, and after Wellstone’s victory, joined him in the Senate as a policy advisor.  Mike co-founded the Science, Technology and Public Policy Program at Carleton.  As part of the Program, he worked intensely for six months every year with half a dozen student interns who tackled a problem at the interface between science and society, such as nuclear weapons and disarmament, agriculture, alternate energy and HIV/AIDS policy.  In what is probably Mike’s most fitting legacy, many of these students were profoundly affected by this work and later went on to careers in public interest science and related fields.  Among them is Rush Holt (D-NJ), who credits Mike as a major influence in inspiring him to consider a career in public service.

Mike wrote three books: Revolutions in Physics (a Physics for Poets text with Richard Noer), Powerline (with Paul Wellstone, concerning the struggles of Minnesota farmers to stop an HV  powerline from crossing their land), and Lost in Washington (about his disillusioning experiences as a Senate staffer).  One of his greatest strengths was that he was willing to leave the confines of academia and work directly with citizens to improve their lives.  Mike received the Forum Award in 1984 for promoting public understanding of issues related to nuclear weapons, arms control, and energy.  He also was awarded the Minnesota Alliance for Progressive Action’s Progressive Activist Award in 2002 for his years of activism and leadership.  But, more importantly than his accomplishments, Mike was a good friend, who was visionary, brave and loyal, and he is greatly missed.

Dave Hafemeister, Cal Poly University

Joel Weisberg, Carleton College

Statement from Incoming FPS Chair:

It has been a pleasure and honor to have served this past year as incoming chair of the FPS.  My main role in this regard has been to chair the FPS Program Committee for the March and April meetings.   As I also served on the APS task force for the April meeting I was able to promote directly our goal of helping create "thematic" meetings.  This year we focused on Energy and Climate Change, and also on Nuclear Proliferation, two topics that I expect will continue to remain high on our list.  We are having an "Energy Day" at the April meeting, and two of the plenary speakers at the April meeting, Steve Chu, and Jim Hansen, will be speaking on Energy-related issues, and we are involved with joint sessions with the Division of Nuclear Physics, and Fora on International Physics, History, and Education .  The climate change and nuclear proliferation sessions at the March meeting, organized by Barbara Levi and Ben Tannenbaum were very well attended, and we are hoping the sessions in April are similarly popular.    As I begin my term as Chair my goal will be to continue to increase the visibility of the Forum, both through the sessions at our national meetings, as well as other events, and also to promote active APS members to fellowship in the APS through our Forum.   I look forward to working with Exec. Committee members, as well as Forum members in these tasks, and am eager to hear from any of you with suggestions as well as offers of volunteering to help in any of these tasks.

Lawrence M. Krauss

Student Fellowships in Physics and Society

The American Physical Society Forum on Physics and Society (FPS), in partnership with the Society of Physics Students and the APS Forum on Graduate Student Affairs, proudly launched the Student Fellowships in Physics and Society this year.

The primary goal of the Student Fellowship in Physics and Society is to provide research and project opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students interested in physics and society, and to raise the awareness of applying physics to problems in society as a career and as an important undertaking by members of the physics community. 

There are three objectives of the program. 

  • First, some students who are exposed to issues where physics impacts societal issues will choose to make careers in this area.  These students will provide a badly needed younger generation of technically literate policy researchers, analysts, and leaders. 
  • Second, there are many more technical issues on the interface between physics and society than there are physicists working on them.  Putting talented young people to work on these problems will help society and the physics community. 
  • Finally, students involved in projects applying physics to social issues will communicate their excitement to fellow students and faculty members in their institutions and nationally, thus raising the awareness of the entire physics community.

The Fellowships are open to undergraduate or graduate students in physics who will be awarded up to $4,000 each to support a project that applies physics to a societal issue.

The 2006 fellows are:

  • Lee Massey, an undergraduate physics student at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls; and a mechanical engineering undergrad at the University of Minnesota.  Mr. Massey will be preparing a report on “the current state of research in the filed of alternative renewable fuel sources for use in vehicles and their realistic possibilities, shortcomings, and the challenges that are being faced during research and development.

  • Eric Flumerfelt and Matthew Salvitti, both physics undergraduates at Juniata College.  Their project will address the fundamental misconceptions amongst high school students and undergraduates about radiation, such as failing to understand the distinction between irradiation and contamination.  Specifically, they will develop an educational module on radiation that will accompany a larger project underway at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories studying the detection capabilities of radiation portal monitors.



Philip W. Hammer




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