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Summary BACKGROUND Physics encompasses the broad search for basic knowledge and the search for technology applicable to urgent societal problems; the research is pursued in many different institutional settings including national laboratories, government laboratories, industrial research centers, and universities. A single volume that attempted to portray both the full scope of these activities and the many roles of physics on the national scene would be unmanageable. Consequently, the main body of the Physics Survey is presented in a series of reports prepared by panels of the Survey Committee one report on each major subfield of physics and one on scientific interfaces and technological applica- tions. These seven reports, together with this Overview, collectively constitute the Physics Survey, Physics Through the 1990s. The subti- tles are · An Overview · Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics · Condensed-Matter Physics · Elementary-Particle Physics · Gravitation, Cosmology, and Cosmic-Ray Physics · Nuclear Physics · Plasmas and Fluids · Scientific Interfaces and Technological Applications
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2 PHYSICS THROUGH THE 1990s: AN OVERVIEW This Overview summarizes the findings of the panels (the panels are listed in Appendix A) and addresses issues that broadly concern physics. The role of physics in society is discussed in Chapter 1. Highlights of the progress and the opportunities in each subfield are presented in Chapter 2. Future needs and recommended action are described in Chapter 3. In addition, there are three supplements on issues that cut across the individual fields: international aspects of physics, education and supply of physicists, and organization and support of physics. PHYSICS AND THE NATION We are witness to one of the most exciting times in physics; major advances are to be found in every field. In particle physics theories of the electromagnetic and weak forces have been unified with one theory that explains electromagnetic and radioactive decay phenomena in a consistent manner. The particles that carry the weak interaction that were predicted by the unified theory have been observed. The multi- tude of subnuclear particles that have been generated by high-energy particle accelerators can now be described in terms of small families of elementary particles called quarks and leptons. The forces that hold quarks together are beginning to be explained by particles called gluons. In nuclear physics, after decades of work in which studies of nuclear systems succeeded in revealing the behavior of the particles (called nucleons) that make up atomic nuclei, we now have the possibility of creating an entirely new state of matter one in which the constituents of the nucleons themselves (quarks and gluons) emerge to form a plasma. In plasma and fluid physics, magnetically confined plasmas have been created at densities and temperatures that approach the condi- tions required to produce a fusion reaction in which nuclei merge with a release of energy. These conditions have also been approached using lasers, with which physicists have compressed pellets to many times their liquid density. Studies of fluids and plasmas have led to dramatic progress in understanding turbulence and chaos. The revolution in the field of atomic, molecular, and optical physics caused by the laser continues. Spectroscopic accuracy has been enormously enhanced, and new atomic and molecular species have been discovered. In condensed-matter physics, techniques developed to explore the nature of phase transitions (changes in the state of matter from, for example, liquid to solid) have helped to elucidate disordered systems. States of matter found nowhere in nature have been created artificially, and unexpected phenomena such as the quantized Hall effect have
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SUMMARY 3 been discovered. In cosmology and gravitation new observational techniques are transforming the study of the universe. The confluence of cosmology with elementary-particle physics and condensed-matter physics has created a new picture of the origin and development of the universe. Experimental gravitational physics is emerging as a new discipline. Viewed collectively, these discoveries in physics are among the greatest achievements of our time. The impact of physics extends far beyond the satisfaction of manes desire to understand nature, for physics is a central discipline that contributes theoretical concepts and experimental techniques to all the other natural sciences, to technol- ogy, and to medicine. Physics is a vital component of such national programs as energy development, environmental improvement, and security. Discoveries in physics have generated entire industries such as microelectronics and optical technology. By helping the nation to maintain technological leadership. physics constitutes a driving force in our economy. UNIVERSITIES AND SMALL-GROUP RESEARCH Concern is felt in all of physics for the health of the nation's university research institutions that will educate the next generation of physicists. Retirements from physics department faculties will begin to occur at an increasing rate starting in the early 1990s. To meet the need for faculty replacements, steps should be taken to ensure the continued ability of universities to attract highly qualified young physicists to work in an academic setting. This need is particularly acute in fields where research is carried out by small groups. Such groups make an exceptionally strong contribution to educating new physicists. To enhance the attractiveness of academic research, the difficulty in obtaining modern instrumentation in university research laboratories and the difficulty in obtaining support for research groups must be addressed. The resources required represent only a tiny fraction of the nation's total research and development expenditures. For our univer- sities to maintain preeminence in physics and train graduate students at the highest level, the support for university-based research must be increased to ensure that it can compete at the forefront of physics. LARGE FACILITIES AND MAJOR PROGRAMS Large national facilities and major programs in physics are essential for forefront research. To assist the Congress and funding agencies that are responsible for the planning of these facilities and programs, the
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4 PHYSICS THROUGH THE 1990s: AN OVERVIEW panel reports on each of the relevant subfields describe priorities in detail, justifying the proposed facilities and programs and explaining the process by which recommendations were formulated. These find- ings are summarized in Chapter 3 of this Overview along with a brief discussion of priority setting in physics. SUPPORTING PHYSICS RESEARCH The support of basic research in physics and all the physical sciences, which is essential to ensure the future technical leadership of this country, is approximately 2.5 percent of the total research and development expenditures in the United States. The fraction spent on basic research is not large compared with the total research and development expenditures, and a healthy physics research enterprise is well within the nation's means. MANPOWER The production of Ph.D. physicists has remained stable for more than a decade. However, the proportion of foreign-born students has steadily grown; today about 40 percent of our entering graduate students are from abroad. Young physicists have increasingly found work in industry; approximately one third of the new Ph.D.s leave physics research. At present, a balance exists between the supply of and demand for scientific manpower in physics, but it is precarious and could be upset by a change in the career patterns of foreign-born scientists or the creation of large government programs. Starting in the 1990s, however, the faculty retirement rate will begin to increase in universities and colleges throughout the nation, and we can predict a shortage of qualified applicants for academic positions. Such a shortage would have most serious consequences not only for the quality of undergraduate and graduate education but also for the quality of basic research in the universities. Further, because a majority of those trained as physicists are now engaged in applications or engineering, the increasing technological focus of the U.S. economy may increase demand for physics graduates even more rapidly. In most of the sciences in the United States, the number of male scientists has decreased, but the number of female scientists has increased to fill the gap. The number of female physicists, however, remains small; steps should be taken to realize the potential of this untapped resource.
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SUMMARY 5 INTERNATIONAL POSITION OF U.S. PHYSICS For 40 years, the United States has been the world leader in physics research, but the situation is changing rapidly. During the past decade, both the Western European nations and Japan have fully recovered from World War II and have reassumed an aggressive role in science. In many areas where previously we were clearly ahead, these nations are now fully competitive. Their re-emergence in the field of physics benefits science as a whole, but the United States can and must retain a competitive edge. Without it an essential factor in maintaining our economic well-being will be lost.
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