4 An Era of Change
We live in a world shaken by change. The Cold War has ended. A global economy is emerging. The information technology revolution continues apace. Social and economic systems are struggling to adapt to new ways of doing business. Economic strength is replacing military strength as the barometer of greatness. High technology, once confined to the developed nations, is propagating through the world literally at the speed of light. This era of rapid and pervasive change has profound implications for our future.
Science is also undergoing unprecedented change. The great industrial laboratories—the engines that have driven technology for the past half century—have adjusted to the realities of the new global marketplace and changed both the scale and scope of their long-term R&D investments in the physical sciences. Under pressure to balance the federal budget, the U.S. government is reducing its discretionary expenditures, the category that includes federal support for science. At the same time, many other countries are increasing their investments in long-term R&D. The debate about the appropriate roles in R&D of industry, government laboratories, and the universities is set against this backdrop of constrained resources and increased global economic competition.
In the next century, the United States will need to respond to world tensions arising from economic competition, regional military conflict, competition for energy and other strategic resources, and global environmental issues. These new international challenges differ from those of the Cold War past, and addressing them cost effectively will require continued scientific advances. National issues related to security, the environment, and energy resources will also need to be confronted. Condensed-matter and materials physics will play a pivotal role in ensuring the nation's prosperity in this new world.
This report demonstrates that condensed-matter and materials physics lies at the heart of modern technology. Advances in communications, computing, medicine, transportation, energy, and defense have all been enabled by new materials and materials-related phenomena. Research in condensed-matter and materials physics, pushing forward the frontiers of both science and technology, provides much of the fundamental underpinning for these advances. Its success has been one of the great sagas of the 20th century.
As we enter the new millennium, the field of condensed-matter and materials physics is evolving in several important directions. It is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, with progress often being made at the interfaces with other disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, engineering, materials science, and atomic and molecular physics. Partnerships across disciplines and among universities, government laboratories, and industry have become essential to assemble the resources and diverse skills necessary to continue advancing our knowledge. The emergence of national facilities, from atomic-resolution microscopes to powerful synchrotron and neutron sources, has transformed both the practice and the substance of the field. These developments foreshadow a condensed-matter and materials physics community more closely connected with industry and with the rest of science, and armed with experimental and computational capabilities that were not even imagined just a few decades ago.
The 21st century will bring significant challenges to condensed-matter and materials physics. Foremost among these challenges is ensuring the future vitality of the field and its continued ability to enhance our quality of life. The shift of the major industrial laboratories away from long-term, funda-
mental research in the physical sciences leaves a significant gap in the nation's scientific infrastructure and its ability to transform the fruits of research into applications. The economic impact of this shift may not become apparent for decades, because of the time required for fundamental scientific advances to be incorporated into new products. If U.S. industry no longer can support basic research at the levels it once did, then the realities of global economic competition place the burden for support of such research squarely on government. Our nation must move quickly to determine the scale and form of this governmental responsibility.
Innovation is the key to developing breakthrough technologies. It must continue to flourish despite the resource constraints that are sending shock waves through the R&D system. Constrained resources mean that hard choices must be made, but the system must adapt in a way that preserves the nation's ability to innovate and enables us to meet the challenges of the future.
Progress in condensed-matter and materials physics, as in many other scientific fields, will require continued investment in major facilities for experiments in such areas as neutron
scattering and synchrotron radiation. These facilities provide capabilities far beyond those available in individual laboratories. Though they have been developed and supported primarily by the condensed-matter and materials physics community, they also serve thousands of scientists and engineers in other endeavors, such as structural biology and environmental science. The construction and operational costs of large facilities, however, force us to consider carefully their budgets relative to those for other R&D initiatives and to look more closely at the role and impact of the internationalization of science.
Finally, increased cooperation will be required among universities, government laboratories, and industry to leverage existing resources and to ensure the effective integration of science and technology. These interactions will be facilitated by modern communication and information technologies.
We face an era of vast opportunity for condensed-matter and materials physics and the technology it enables. Just as the transistor, the optical fiber, and the solid-state laser have strengthened our economy and changed our lives, new developments in quantum engineering, nonequilibrium phenomena, and biomaterials (to name just a few highlights) hold out the promise of revolutionary breakthroughs in the next century. To fulfill this promise, the condensed-matter and materials physics community will need to build on the unique strengths of universities, government laboratories, and industry, finding new ways to meet the challenges of our changing world.