Issues in Physics and Astronomy, Winter/Spring 2011
The newsletter of the BPA
In this issue:
- Astro2010 Update
In a recent meeting of the Space Studies Board, the Administrator of the NASA, Charles Bolden, discussed the priorities of several decadal surveys of space science, including the Board on Physics and Astronomy report New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (NWNH, also known as Astro2010) , the decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics prepared in cooperation with the SSB that was released in 2010.
- BPA Highlights
The Board on Physics and Astronomy met at the Beckman Center of the National Academies in Irvine, CA for its fall 2010 meeting on November 6-7, 2010. With standing committee and ad hoc committee chairs in addition to the BPA members in attendance, the meeting kicked off in earnest with a discussion on the recent board review conducted by the BPA’s parent division within the NRC, the Division of Engineering and Physical Sciences.
- Physics Education
The most recent study undertaken by the BPA is on undergraduate physics education. This will be a two-part study ...
The last of the 2010 decadal studies, on nuclear physics, is well underway and the report is expected to be released in the late spring 2011.
The Committee to Assess the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) has been assembled and is chaired by Andrew Lankford (University of California at Irvine).
- Standing Committees
- WRC-2012 Views
- Inertial Confinement Fusion
The study on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems is underway and conducted its first meeting in Washington, D.C. in December 2010, its second meeting in San Ramon, CA in late January 2011, and its third meeting March 31-April 1, 2011 in Albuquerque, NM.
- Upcoming Meetings
NASA Administrator Bolden Endorses BPA-SSB Astro2010 Implementation Report
In a recent meeting of the Space Studies Board, the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Charles Bolden, discussed the priorities of several decadal surveys of space science, including the Board on Physics and Astronomy report New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (NWNH, also known as Astro2010) , the decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics prepared in cooperation with the SSB that was released in 2010. While emphasizing the key role that the decadal surveys play in NASA program planning, he pointed out the difficulty of early realization of the priorities of the surveys given the current rather bleak budget outlook. In particular, he discussed the challenges presented by implementation of the top recommendation of NWNH for large, space-based projects—the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). Some options for dealing with these challenges were presented in the recently-released Astro2010 Implementation Report co-chaired by Adam Burrows (BPA Chair) and Charles Kennel (SSB Chair). Bolden stated that NASA is committed to pursuing the option of a joint NASA-European Space Agency project to build WFIRST. The remainder of this article, based on the Astro2010 Implementation Report, describes the events leading up to this decision.
NWNH outlines a scientifically exciting and programmatically integrated plan for both ground- and space-based astronomy and astrophysics in the 2012-2021 decade. However, late in the survey process, the funding outlook shifted downward considerably from the guidance that NASA had previously provided to the decadal survey. Since August 2010—when NWNH was released—the projection of funds available for new NASA Astrophysics initiatives decreased even further because of the recent delay in the launch (and its associated additional costs) of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) . These developments jeopardized the implementation of the carefully designed program of activities proposed in NWNH.
Before NWNH was released, NASA had been considering a commitment to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Euclid mission, and in response to the budgetary circumstances described above, NASA proposed that the United States consider a commitment to Euclid at a level of approximately 20 percent in its FY 2012 budget request. This commitment, NASA proposed, would be undertaken in addition to initiating the planning for the survey’s highest-ranked, space-based, large-scale mission, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). According to NASA, participation in Euclid could provide the U.S. research community with access to dark energy science data, which is one component of the science program proposed for the WFIRST. Euclid is proposed for launch in 2018, while NASA has reported that, under the current circumstances, WFIRST might not launch before 2022. NWNH envisioned WFIRST to launch in 2020 following a 2013 start.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) requested that the National Research Council (NRC) convene a panel to consider whether NASA’s proposal to participate in Euclid is consistent with achieving the priorities, goals, and recommendations, and with pursuing the science strategy, articulated in NWNH. The assembled panel, the Panel on Implementing Recommendations from the New Worlds, New Horizons Decadal Survey, also investigated what impact such participation might have on the prospects for the timely realization of the WFIRST mission and other activities recommended by NWNH in view of the projected budgetary situation. The panel included former members of the NWNH authoring committee and other individuals involved in relevant aspects of the Astro2010 decadal survey process.
The panel convened its workshop on November 7, 2010, and invited stakeholders from both Europe and the United States, from the relevant agencies (NASA, ESA, OSTP, NSF, and DOE), and from the scientific community, to attend and to present their views. On short notice, these individuals graciously agreed to participate in the workshop: preparing presentations in response to questions prepared in advance by the panel and the NRC; answering additional questions from the panel members; and providing their own candid observations on relevant matters. The workshop presentations identified several tradeoffs and the panel captured these tradeoffs in considering four primary options (the panel did not rank these four options in any particular order):
- Option A: Launch of WFIRST in the decade 2012-2021;
- Option B: A joint WFIRST/Euclid mission;
- Option C: Commitment by NASA of a 20 percent investment in Euclid prior to the M-class decision; and
- Option D: No U.S. financing of an infrared survey mission this decade
In its deliberations, the panel made use not only of the testimony from external participants, but also of the decadal survey report itself. NWNH was the primary resource used by the panel in arriving at its conclusions, and the panel was careful not to contradict NWNH, either on particulars or on strategy, as it dissected the issues and pursued its charge. The panel’s report emphasized that the 2010 decadal survey provided integrated advice that was explicitly designed to be robust for the entire decade. NASA’s rapidly changing budgetary landscape highlights the urgency of establishing an independent committee to advise the agencies on implementation of the decadal survey priorities to ensure that appropriate community advice is available to the government. [The NRC Governing Board Executive Committee has authorized the creation of such a committee, with the power to prepare annual reports and ad-hoc studies focusing on implementation strategies for the NWNH priorities.] The report also stated that the NWNH recommendations remain scientifically compelling, and that the decadal survey process remains the most effective way to provide community consensus to the federal government to assist in its priority setting for U.S. astronomy and astrophysics.
Committee on Implementing Recommendations from New Worlds, New Horizons Decadal Survey Membership
National Research Council, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2010.
National Research Council, Implementing Recommendations from New Worlds, New Horizons Decadal Survey, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011
Casani, et al., “James Webb Space Telescope Independent Comprehensive Review Panel: Final Report,” October 29, 2010 (publicly released on November 10, 2010).
Highlights of the Board on Physics and Astronomy
The Board on Physics and Astronomy met at the Beckman Center of the National Academies in Irvine, CA for its fall 2010 meeting on November 6-7, 2010. With standing committee and ad hoc committee chairs in addition to the BPA members in attendance, the meeting kicked off in earnest with a discussion on the recent board review conducted by the BPA’s parent division within the NRC, the Division of Engineering and Physical Sciences. This review, chaired by Jon Bagger (Johns Hopkins), found that the BPA is a healthy, well-regarded board. The review panel endorsed the previous review (completed in 2007) and noted that the BPA had implemented those earlier recommendations. The current review did make several recommendations for the board, including working more with professional societies in order to increase the visibility of the board and its reports, and considering if there is a need for greater intellectual breadth in its membership given that many issues are arising outside of the traditional academic silos.
The standing committee chairs spoke next, beginning with Committee on Radio Frequencies (CORF) chair Jeff Piepmeier (NASA-Goddard) who reviewed recent activity (filings, and the CORF “Views” report) and then discussed progress on the development of a study that would explore management and policy issues relating to the active scientific uses of the spectrum. This study would complement the recent Spectrum Management in the 21st Century report that focused on the passive scientific uses of the spectrum. Plasma Science Committee (PLSC) chair Mike Brown (Swarthmore) joined by phone to review PLSC status and was followed by Committee on AMO Sciences (CAMOS) chair, Steven Pratt (Argonne). Both PLSC and CAMOS are individually tackling the stewardship of and follow-up on the two Physics 2010 decadal surveys for their respective fields: Plasma Science: Advance Knowledge in the National Interest (2007) and Controlling the Quantum World: The Science of Atoms, Molecules, and Photons (2006). After lunch, BPA member and chair of the Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee (CMMRC; formerly known as the Solid State Sciences Committee), Monica Olvera de la Cruz (Northwestern) gave a brief update on several proposals in development within the CMMRC including possible studies of high magnetic field science and the relationship between ceramics and metals. (For more details on the standing committees see their brief articles in this newsletter.)
In the ensuing discussion of BPA ad hoc activities, CORF chair Jeff Piepmeier discussed what has happened since the release of the Spectrum Management report. The FCC is moving on its National Broadband Plan, and the Executive Office of the President has gotten behind these FCC objectives. Stuart Freedman (UC Berkeley), chair of the Nuclear Physics decadal Survey, spoke on the status of his committee and their projected timeline. Committee to Assess the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) chair Andrew Lankford (UC Irvine) discussed the committee’s inception and progress and made comments on the breadth of membership expertise necessary to conduct its task. The DUSEL committee conducted its first meeting in December 2010 after Dr. Lankford’s presentation at the BPA fall meeting. Similarly, the Undergraduate Physics Education Research and Implementation chair-designate, Don Langenberg (U. Maryland) provided an update on his startup activities. The UPE committee, officially appointed in December 2010, held its first meeting in March 2011. A report on the initiation of the Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems study was provided by co-chair Ronald Davidson (Princeton) via teleconference with the aid of BPA member and IFE committee liaison Riccardo Betti (U. Rochester). This committee held its first meeting in December 2010. (For more details on the ad hoc committees please see their individual briefs in this newsletter.)
The second morning of the meeting was used for discussion of and reflection on standing committee and ad-hoc committee practices. This session was motivated by a desire to reexamine the role of the board (and its committees) and to look for ways to enhance its value to the various BPA audiences (the physics and astronomy communities, researchers in related fields, the general public, the agencies and societies that support those communities, and its sponsors). One idea was to utilize roundtables where program managers can sit at the table with the board/standing committee to participate actively in discussing issues. During this session it became clear that there are several areas where the members may benefit from establishing and discussing best practices. BPA members Laura Greene (UIUC) and Paul Fleury (Yale) volunteered to educate themselves before the next board meeting and bring their insights back to the Board. In particular, they will focus on “orientation” information that new board members could use in order to get up to speed on Board activities. Such an orientation was suggested in response to the 2010 Board review.
The meeting ended with a discussion of the stewardship of New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (NWNH), the astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey. NWNH recommended a decadal survey implementation assessment committee and the BPA is working with the NRC’s Space Studies Board (SSB) and with NASA, NSF and DOE to develop an NRC candidate to fill this role. This discussion featured BPA members, Astro2010 chair Roger Blandford (Stanford), and several SSB members.
Since its board meeting, the BPA has continued to discuss how an NRC committee on astronomy and astrophysics would be able to achieve the tasks outlined in NWNH. Also, Jim Drake (Maryland) is working on a white paper on laboratory astrophysics for the Board.
The spring board meeting will take place at the Keck Center of the National Academies in Washington, DC on April 29-30, 2011, during which the board will hear from managers of federal programs that support research in physics and astronomy as well as the chairs of several ad hoc committees. The Board will also hear a science talk on detecting gravitational waves using atom interferometry and will revisit its discussion on the role and value of the board and standing committees.
BPA Membership and BPA Staff
Status of Undergraduate Physics Education Study
The most recent study undertaken by the BPA is on undergraduate physics education. This will be a two-part study, with the first part focusing on Physics Education Research (PER), that body of research that studies how physics is taught and learned. This part of the study will include having the committee discuss progress and outstanding issues for the field, and a synthesis of findings from this body of research. The second part of the study, drawing in large part from the efforts of PER, will address the more general question of how to improve undergraduate physics education on a more broad and sustained basis in American universities. This part of the study focuses on four groups of students—those intending to major in physics, those who plan on becoming teachers of physics and physical science in K-12 grades, those students studying physics who plan to enter other science and technology fields, and those students enrolled in a physics course who do not plan to go into teaching or a science/technology field. After identifying those programs and best practices that are effectively providing a quality physics education to these groups of students, the study will recommend strategies for how to more broadly deploy the lessons learned from these programs. The committee is being chaired by Donald Langenberg, chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland and conducted its first meeting in March 2011.
Committee on Undergraduate Physics Education Research and Implementation Membership
Status of Nuclear Physics 2010 Study
The last of the 2010 decadal studies, on nuclear physics, is well underway and the report is expected to be released in the late spring 2011. The study is to build upon the long range plans developed under the auspices of the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (NSAC), and among its goals is to broadly assess research in this field and how efforts in the United States mesh with research being conducted elsewhere. One of the committee’s principal tasks is to recommend a strategy on how to best align future efforts in the United States with research done globally in this field. The committee has also been tasked with addressing more general questions such as whether the present mix of facilities and research support here in the United States are appropriate, what are the scientific rationale and objectives of nuclear science and how does the field and those objectives fit in a broader national context. The committee, led by chair Stuart Freedman (University of California at Berkeley) and vice-chair Ani Aprahamian (University of Notre Dame), held three of its meetings in 2010 and its final meeting was held in February 2011 in Irvine, California.
NP2010: An Assessment of and Outlook for Nuclear Physics Committee Membership
Status of DUSEL Study
The Committee to Assess the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) has been assembled and is chaired by Andrew Lankford (University of California at Irvine). This study principally will be assessing the science questions that could be addressed if an underground research facility, referred to as DUSEL, is built in an abandoned gold mine in Leeds, South Dakota. Most of the research being considered for the site would take place approximately a mile underground or deeper. At this depth any significant trace of cosmic rays is eliminated; a necessary prerequisite for a number of the experiments being considered. These include detecting the presence and characteristics of neutrinos, studying the possibility of proton decay, and investigating some of the faint patterns generated by the effects of dark matter and dark energy. While most of the projects planned for DUSEL are physics- and astrophysics-based, the existence of research space this deep underground provides unique study opportunities for other disciplines as well. Several opportunities have been identified in the areas of geosciences and biology, and discussions have taken place about potential cross-disciplinary work.
The committee held its first meeting in Washington, D.C. on December 14-15, 2010, which began with talks from the study’s sponsors, Joe Dehmer and Ed Seidel from the National Science Foundation and Dennis Kovar from the Department of Energy. These presentations were followed by a series of talks giving an overview of the DUSEL project and the principal science that could be studied there. On the second day of the meeting, the committee heard from Michael Witherell (University of California at Santa Barbara) and Mark Zoback (Stanford University), who head up program advisory committees for DUSEL; from Pier Oddone, director of Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory, which is developing a neutrino source for a long baseline neutrino experiment whose far detectors would be located at DUSEL; and from Barry Barish, former member of and now consultant to the National Science Board.
The committee held its second and third meetings in February and March of 2011 respectively. The report was planned to be released by mid-summer of 2011; however, the committee is working hard to release its report before the National Science Board meeting taking place in May.
Committee to Assess the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) Membership
Standing Committee Updates
Highlights of the Fall Meeting of the Committee on Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Sciences
The Committee on Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Sciences’ fall meeting was held on October 16-17, 2010 at Biosphere 2, located outside of Tucson, Arizona. The first day of the meeting focused on precision measurements and their connection to "the basic laws of nature," one of the six compelling research opportunities discussed in the AMO2010 decadal report, Controlling the Quantum World. The committee heard from Peter Graham (Stanford) on a proposal to use atom interferometry to detect gravity waves and axions; Gerald Gabrielse (Harvard) on long-term experiments to measure the electron magnetic moment and the fine structure constant, as well as efforts to produce and characterize cold antihydrogen; Jonathan Sapirstein (Notre Dame) on quantum electrodynamics and new measurements using muons that indicate a discrepancy in the size of the proton; and Norval Fortson on efforts to measure the atomic electric dipole moment. The speakers also discussed sociological challenges of obtaining funding for cross disciplinary work, in this case AMO-style experiments with high-energy physics implications, and in particular the challenges of funding high-risk/high pay-off projects that can span one or more decades. The committee spent much of the remaining meeting reviewing the status of several study proposals the committee is drafting, and discussing ways in which CAMOS can better serve the NRC and AMO research communities. Among the longer-term objectives of the committee is enhancing communications both within the AMO community and with groups outside the AMO community that have related interests.
Committee on Atomic, Molecular and Optical Sciences Membership
Highlights of the Plasma Science Committee
At its fall 2010 meeting the Plasma Science Committee (PLSC), chaired by Michael Brown (Swarthmore College), welcomed new members Margaret G. Kivelson (University of California, Los Angeles) and Andrew M. Sessler (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) of the NAS, and Miklos Porkolab (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and recognized member Michael Mauel’s (Columbia University) new role as vice-chair. The committee heard updates on the ITER project, the NRC’s Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy study that was just getting underway (also see the IFE article on page xx), and progress on the NRC’s ongoing Heliophysics Decadal Survey. The committee also held discussions on the challenges and opportunities in medium-scale plasma experiments (such as the Large Plasma Device, or “LAPD”, at the University of California at Los Angeles) and the challenges and opportunities in industrial plasma science research. Outside of its fall meeting, the committee has been discussing stewardship of the Plasma2010 report, Plasma Science: Advancing Knowledge in the National Interest (2007), and a few areas of interest including a study focused on laboratory plasma physics. (The March 2011 PLSC meeting will be covered in the next issue of the BPA newsletter.)
Plasma Science Committee Membership
Highlights of the Fall Meeting of the Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee
The Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee (CMMRC) met on October 21-22, 2010 at the Beckman Center in Irvine, California. The principal focus of CMMRC’s fall meeting was research being conducted using high magnetic fields—fields strong enough to unveil interesting characteristics of the matter being studied. This focus ties into a study proposal developed at NSF’s request to assess various aspects of our country’s high magnetic field research capabilities. Janice Musfeldt (University of Tennessee at Knoxville) discussed work performed by her group and others in studying the electronic and magnetic behavior of novel materials, including magneto-elastic coupling that occurs in the extreme conditions provided by high magnetic fields. Dr. Musfeldt’s talk was followed by a presentation from Ian Fisher (Stanford University), who discussed some of the science drivers in his field of expertise involving highly correlated materials, and specifically how he and others use strong magnetic fields to study unconventional ground states and phase transitions of different materials. The second day of the meeting began with a presentation from committee member Collin Broholm (The Johns Hopkins University), who discussed studies that combined high magnetic fields and neutron scattering to study a wide range of materials from the protein crystallography of biological structures to state wave functions in highly correlated metallic systems. The final speaker in this session was Stanley Opella (University of California at San Diego). Dr. Opella discussed work he and others performed in the biological fields, using nuclear magnetic resonances as a powerful spectroscopy for studying biological materials. The committee ended its fall meeting by reviewing progress in developing several studies and long-range plans for the committee.
Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee Membership
Highlights of the Fall Meeting of the Committee on Radio Frequencies
The Committee on Radio Frequencies (CORF), chaired by Jeffrey Piepmeier (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), welcomed new members Sandra Cruz-Pol (University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez), Loris Magnani (The University of Georgia), Timothy Pearson (Caltech), and Gregory Taylor (University of New Mexico). CORF filed comments in February 2011 with the Federal Communications Commission on how the proposed usage of the V-band might affect radio astronomy observations in the 42.5-43.5 GHz band due to out-of-band interference. CORF did not meet in the fall of 2010 and is currently planning its spring 2011 meeting. The committee is also discussing a proposal for a follow-on study to the “Spectrum Management in the 21st Century” report that would focus specifically on the active (i.e. transmitting) scientific uses of the radio spectrum.
Committee on Radio Frequencies Membership
Views of the NAS and NAE on Agenda Items at Issue at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2012
Radio astronomers and Earth remote sensing scientists perform otherwise impossible scientific observations of our universe and Earth through the use of passive, or "receive only," techniques. These techniques employ both advanced receiver technology (with extreme sensitivity) and complex noise reduction algorithms, but even with such technology their measurements are very vulnerable to interference from man-made transmissions. The emissions that radio astronomers receive are extremely weak - a radio telescope receives only about one-billionth of one-billionth of a watt (10‐18 W) from a typical cosmic object. Similarly, Earth remote sensing scientists observe the noise floor itself and extremely weak variations therein.
As stated in Spectrum Management for Science in the 21st Century, “complex rules govern the occupancy and use of the electromagnetic spectrum, both nationally and globally” (NRC 2010). The World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC)—organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) of the United Nations, and conducted every three to four years—is a gathering of official delegations from over 140 nations. At these WRCs national government officials meet to negotiate proposals, called Agenda Items, that would change international spectrum usage regulations. National governments work internally and with their regional counterparts to develop consensus positions on each Agenda Item, and national delegates then bring their respective positions to the WRC to negotiate with other delegations before a final vote on each proposal.
WRC Agenda Items are very specific in nature, and propose narrow but potentially substantial changes to the usage of the spectrum that can have significant impact on users. Since the vast majority of spectrum allocations are for the active, or transmitting, use of the spectrum, scientists must be party to the discussion in the lead‐up to the each WRC to ensure they continue to have access to the spectrum and to voice their concerns about potentially‐adverse effects on passive scientific operations.
By request of the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, an NRC committee was convened to provide guidance to U.S. spectrum managers and policymakers as they prepare for the WRC in order to protect the scientific exploration of the Earth and Universe using the radio spectrum. The committee’s report, released in August 2010, identifies and discusses Agenda Items with relevance to radio astronomers and Earth remote sensing researchers and states the committee’s conclusions and recommendations to Administrations preparing for the next WRC, which will be conducted in early 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Status of IFE Study
The study on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems is underway and conducted its first meeting in Washington, D.C. in December 2010, its second meeting in San Ramon, CA in late January 2011, and its third meeting March 31-April 1, 2011 in Albuquerque, NM. The committee has made site visits to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories. The committee will prepare a final report that will assess the prospects for generating power using inertial confinement fusion; identify scientific and engineering challenges, cost targets, and R&D objectives associated with developing an IFE demonstration plant; and advise the U.S. Department of Energy on its development of an R&D roadmap aimed at creating a conceptual design for an inertial fusion energy demonstration plant. Led by co-chairs Ronald C. Davidson (Princeton University) and Gerald L. Kulcinski (NAE, University of Wisconsin at Madison) the committee will meet again on June 15-17 in Rochester, NY to include a site visit to the Laboratory for Laser Energetics. Its subsequent meetings are yet to be scheduled. The committee plans to hear presentations from representatives of various foreign ICF programs, the U.S. commercial nuclear power industry, and domestic ICF researchers at its future meetings. The interim report, which will provide guidance to the DOE on FY13 program planning, is expected to be released in the fall 2011. The final report will follow in late spring/early summer 2012.
Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems Membership
Spring 2011 Meetings
Undergraduate Physics Education Research and Implementation (March 18-19)
Plasma Science Meeting (March 25-26)
Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (March 25-27)
Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems (March 30-April 1)
Atomic, Molecular and Optical Sciences Meeting (April 5-6)
Board on Physics and Astronomy Meeting (April 29-30)
Condensed Matter and Materials Research Meeting (May 2-3)
Committee on Radio Frequencies Meeting (May 16-17)
Undergraduate Physics Education Research and Implementation (May 31-June1)
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