Since 1994, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has produced five reports examining various aspects of atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) science: the 1994 decadal study, Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Science: An Investment in the Future; its supplement, Atoms, Molecules, and Light: AMO Science Enabling the Future (2002); the next decadal study, Controlling the Quantum World: The Science of Atoms, Molecules, and Photons (2007); Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation (2013); and Opportunities in Intense Ultrafast Lasers: Reaching for the Brightest Light (2018). In this appendix, the committee considers the impact of these reports and the response to their report recommendations. To emphasize the historical nature of the issues discussed in this report, the committee also comments on the National Academies report Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics (1986).
ATOMIC, MOLECULAR, AND OPTICAL SCIENCE: AN INVESTMENT IN THE FUTURE (1994)
In the 1994 study Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Science: An Investment in the Future, the panel arrived at three priorities for AMO science in the immediate future. Key facets of these recommendations were as follows:
- A pattern of support that maintains and enhances responsiveness of AMO science to national needs by ensuring the healthy diversity of the field and the strength of the core research;
- Research into highly promising new technologies for the control and manipulation of atoms, molecules, charged particles, and light; and
- Research into new and improved lasers and other advanced light sources.
Clearly, over the past 25 years the AMO community has seen rapid developments in laser technology, with a number of new emerging areas such as laser frequency combs, attosecond science, and coherent lights sources covering infrared to extreme ultraviolet. All areas of AMO science have been strongly impacted by these advances in laser technologies, which are reflected in the current report. The same is true for the control and manipulation of atoms, molecules, charged particles, and light. This is the core part of the AMO field, and researchers have seen revolutionary developments in capabilities of controlling individual particles. In fact, the community has moved beyond the point of single particle control and is now entering a new stage where these individually controlled particles are brought together to realize new experimental platforms for quantum information science, a field that is largely born out of AMO science in the mid-1990s.
The 1994 report also had some specific comments about the future of AMO science. Some science and technology trends foreseen at that time have in fact been realized.
Other predictions and trends have been more ambiguous, were avoided, or did not come to pass:
- A shift in federal funding away from defense agencies did not result in a serious erosion of basic AMO research. Department of Defense (DoD) support of fundamental science and AMO has remained strong, and continues to be vital to AMO science in the United States.
- The reorganization or reduction of industrial and federally funded laboratories may have been detrimental to the U.S. program in AMO science. Starting in the 1990s, large industrial laboratories devoted to AMO research have largely disappeared.
Some concerns noted in this 25-year-old report continue to resonate today and need addressing:
- Support for such essential core work in AMO science can still be negatively affected in times of limited funding by pressure to support research in more exotic areas.
- Many young scientists are still unable to find permanent positions.
- The U.S. AMO program is still losing ground relative to other countries, specifically those in Europe and China.
Other recommendations of the 1994 report are also still quite relevant:
- “The panel recommends that balanced involvement of the field in both basic and strategic research be maintained through the broad-based support structure that has developed for the field.”
- “The panel recommends that the responsiveness and value of the field be further strengthened by developing closer ties with those areas and agencies that benefit and stand to further benefit from AMO science but that have not traditionally had strong links with the field, such as health, transportation, and environment. Institutions and agencies concerned with progress in these areas should also participate in the funding of AMO science.”
- “The panel recommends that the federal agencies emphasize support for single investigators and small groups and rely on merit review for exploratory as well as strategic, goal-oriented basic research.”
ATOMS, MOLECULES, AND LIGHT: AMO SCIENCE ENABLING THE FUTURE (2002)
In 2002, a brief update to 1994 decadal, Atoms, Molecules, and Light: AMO Science Enabling the Future, was published. The intent was “(1) to delineate the connection between AMO discoveries and technological applications throughout society and (2) to highlight recent advances that will play an important role in shaping the landscape of scientific discovery and technological invention.” This update was not tasked to produce additional findings, conclusions, or recommendations and was mainly a brochure; however, one key scientific highlight worth mentioning following its 1995 discovery was the Bose-Einstein condensate.
CONTROLLING THE QUANTUM WORLD: THE SCIENCE OF ATOMS, MOLECULES, AND PHOTONS (2007)
In 2007, a subsequent full decadal study of AMO science was conducted: Controlling the Quantum World: The Science of Atoms, Molecules, and Photons. The report shows considerable awareness in linking AMO to national priorities—such as those outlined in the President’s State of the Union in 2006 and the FY2007 budget request—and connecting with important watchwords for the future such as “coherence” and “control.” Some of its key recommendations are still quite salient today and reinforce recommendations in this report:
- “The federal government should recognize the high cost of scientific instrumentation on research budgets and plan accordingly.”
- “The funding agencies should reexamine their portfolios in theoretical research to ensure that the effort is at proper strength in workforce and funding levels.”
- “The federal government should implement incentives to encourage more U.S. students, especially women and minorities, to study the physical sciences and take up careers in the field. It should continue to attract foreign students to study physical sciences and strongly encourage them to pursue their scientific careers in the United States.”
The other key recommendations in the report may have been addressed, but to what extent is unclear:
- “In view of the critical importance of the physical sciences to national economic strength, health care, defense, and domestic security, the federal government should embark on a substantially increased investment program to improve education in the physical sciences and mathematics at all levels and to strengthen significantly the research effort.”
- “AMO science will continue to make exceptional contributions to many areas of science and technology. The federal government should therefore support programs in AMO science across disciplinary boundaries and through a multiplicity of agencies.”
- “Basic research is a vital component of the nation’s defense strategy. The Department of Defense, therefore, should reverse recent declines in support for 6.1 [basic] research at its agencies.”
The report also laid out a set of grand challenges with relevance to this report, as follows:
- A revolution in precision measurement from a convergence of technologies in the control of the coherence of ultrafast lasers and ultracold atoms;
- Potential contributions to fundamental problems in condensed-matter science and in plasma physics in ultracold AMO physics, especially after the development of coherent quantum gases;
- Advances across AMO science, condensed-matter physics and materials research, chemistry, medicine, and defense-related science due to new high-intensity and short-wavelength light sources, such as X-ray free-electron lasers;
- A revolution in imaging and coherent control of quantum processes—made possible by ultrafast light sources—in the internal motion of atoms within molecules;
- Opportunities in molecular and photon science for atom-by-atom control of quantum structures with far-reaching societal applications; and
- Multiple approaches to quantum computing and its potential application to data security and encryption.
The response to this report has been promising. In addition, at least two of the grand challenges above proved worthy of follow-up reports of their own: one on the future of optics and photonics (2013), and the other on high-intensity light sources (2018).
OPTICS AND PHOTONICS: ESSENTIAL TECHNOLOGIES FOR OUR NATION (2013)
In Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation (2013), optics and photonics are cited as a key enabling field for economic growth with a need for an authoritative vision. The report aims to (1) help policy makers and leaders decide on courses of action that can advance the economy of the United States, (2) provide visionary guidance and support for the future development of optics and photonics technology and applications, and (3) ensure a leadership role for the United States in these areas. Several field-specific recommendations are made in the report that are outside the scope of the present report; however, the first key recommendation is relevant:
- The committee recommends that the federal government develop an integrated initiative in photonics (similar in many respects to the National Nanotechnology Initiative) that seeks to bring together academic, industrial, and government researchers, managers, and policy makers to develop a more integrated approach to managing industrial and government photonics research and development (R&D) spending and related investments.
This key recommendation was responsible for the formation of the current National Photonics Initiative (NPI). The NPI, as stated on its website, has since become “a collaborative alliance among industry, academia and government seeking to raise awareness of photonics—the application of light—and drive U.S. funding and investment in five key photonics-driven fields critical to U.S. competitiveness and national security.” Like the National Nanotechnology Initiative before it, the NPI has also become the model for other national science initiatives, such as the National Quantum Initiative.
OPPORTUNITIES IN INTENSE ULTRAFAST LASERS: REACHING FOR THE BRIGHTEST LIGHT (2018)
In Opportunities in Intense Ultrafast Lasers: Reaching for the Brightest Light (2018), the committee was formed to assess the merit and extent of the scientific and technical advances that intense ultrafast lasers could afford the United States if such research was pursued. The concept for the report came out of the Committee on Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Sciences, a standing activity of the National Academies that operates under the auspices of the Board on Physics and Astronomy, and was motivated by three factors:
- Recent breakthroughs in ultrafast high-power lasers and the underlying technology;
- Nearly a decade of community network building in Europe with programs like Laserlab-Europe, Photonics21, and Horizon 2020, taking the advice recommended to U.S. agencies in the 2002 SAUUL report; and
- Initiation of the first stage of the Extreme Light Infrastructure project to build several petawatt facilities at a few key sites in Europe.
Many useful field-specific recommendations resulted from this report and are actively being addressed across the federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
ATOMIC, MOLECULAR, AND OPTICAL PHYSICS (1986)
The 1986 study Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics, chaired by Daniel Kleppner, was the first National Academies decadal survey of physics to include AMO science explicitly. The report identified promising research opportunities in AMO physics and made general recommendations in addition to many subfield-specific comments. Of particular note, the committee made overarching recommendations that connect with this report, including the following:
- Continued base support for experimental and theoretical research;
- Invitations for proposals from agencies to address the lack of theorists, possibly by creating centers, workshops, or summer schools where students and active theorists could come together for varying periods of time.