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Issues in Physics and Astronomy, Winter 2012
The newsletter of the BPA

In this issue:

Science Topic—

Recently Completed Studies—

  • Euclid Study Completed on an Expedited Schedule
    Soon after the publication of the New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy & Astrophysics decadal survey report, NASA reported results of negotiations carried on during the decadal deliberations with the European Space Agency (ESA) for a possible 20% NASA contribution to the Euclid mission...

Recently Initiated Studies—

  • High Magnetic Science Committee Appointed
    The original science drivers for the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (NHMFL) principally rested in physics and materials science, yet over the course of the past 20 years the state-of-the-art instrumentation available through the NHMFL has become increasingly used by disciplines beyond condensed matter physics and materials science, including biology, chemistry, and geology...

Ongoing Activities—

  • BPA Fall Meeting Highlights
    The Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) met at the Beckman Center in Irvine, CA for its fall 2011 meeting on November 6-7, 2011...  
  • Undergraduate Physics Education Study Update 
    The Committee on Undergraduate Physics Education Research and Implementation, chaired by Don Langenberg, is a study designed to identify and address some of the principal challenges and opportunities facing undergraduate physics education and the physics education research community...
  • Inertial Confinement Fusion Study Update
    The sixth and final committee meeting for the study on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems (“IFE committee”) took place February 22-23, 2012 in San Diego, CA at the General Atomics research campus...
  • Nuclear Physics Decadal (NP2010) Study Update
    The last of the 2010 decadal studies, on nuclear physics, is nearing completion...
  • BPA Standing Committees
    Updates of CAMOS, CAA, CORF, CMMRC, and Plasma Science

Newsletter for the Division on Engineerings and Physical Sciences

  • DEPSNews
    The Division on Engineering and Physics Sciences (DEPS) of the National Academies publishes a monthly newsletter that reports on current and upcoming activities for the entire Division.  

SCIENCE TOPIC—
Topological Phases of Matter Offer New Potential Device Capabilities1
Gregory A. Fiete, University of Texas at Austin

Condensed matter physics is largely concerned with the properties of various states of matter, such as solids and liquids, as well as the transitions between them.   However, not all solids are alike—some are crystalline and while others are amorphous.  Moreover, not all crystalline materials are alike, either.  Nickel and copper are metals that possess the same crystal structure (face-centered cubic), but nickel is ferromagnetic at room temperature while copper is non-magnetic down to the lowest temperatures measured.  Physicists have found it useful to make finer and finer distinctions between materials in order to categorize their responses to pressure, temperature, electric fields, and magnetic fields, which has proven useful for a wide variety of applications in electronics.  However, all the distinctions between the phases described above (as well as others conventionally used) are entirely based on quantities, or symmetries, that can be defined locally in space, such as the lattice structure, electrical current, or the magnetization.  Until quite recently it was thought that all phases of matter could be completely classified and understood in terms of locally defined quantities and their symmetries.  Physicists now know this is far from correct. 

It turns out that one also requires global information about the quantum state of a material to completely determine its response to external perturbations and this has broad implications for future applications of materials in devices.  The influence (and sometimes complete dominance) of the global properties of a many-body quantum wave function on observable behaviors illustrates a deep connection between quantum mechanics and the mathematics of topology that has only recently begun to be appreciated.  The discovery of this connection has opened a new chapter in the development of our physical understanding of the universe. 

One way to illustrate the basic idea of topology in physics would be to imagine an ant walking on the surface of a much larger doughnut-shaped object.  For small excursions from a starting point on the surface, the ant could only determine that it is on a curved surface, and might think it is just walking on a sphere.   However, if the ant is allowed to explore the entire surface—that is, move globally—it would discover that in fact there is a “hole” in the surface that he can walk around in two different ways to come back to its starting point (the short way around “through” the hole, and the long way “around” the hole itself—see figure).  The ant’s path around the doughnut in these two ways form two distinct ``non-contractible” loops.  By contrast, any route the ant takes on a sphere that returns to its starting point forms a loop that can be shrunk or contracted down to a single point.  In this example, the presence or absence of non-contractible loops on the surface provides a global means to distinguish the doughnut from the sphere.   It should be apparent that a deformation of a doughnut (into a coffee cup shape, for example) that does not tear it in any way would not change the number of contractible loops.  Thus, the number of non-contractible loops is a type of “topological invariant” that remains unchanged under deformations.  In quantum systems, it is the pattern of entanglement in the many-body wavefunction that forms “loops” in the system that effectively explore the global topology, often more transparently in momentum space rather than real space.
 

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Physicists have discovered that a number of quantum phases realized in experiment exhibit responses to temperature gradients and electric fields (applied voltages) that are determined either completely or in large part from a topological invariant, and are therefore quite impervious to material non-idealities which would act as a kind of deformation to the system’s wavefunction.  Topological phases have been shown to exhibit orders of magnitude improvements in the precision and robustness of their responses compared to non-topological materials making them highly attractive for any application that would exploit their topological features.  While the set of such known materials is rapidly growing, we will focus here on the two most heavily studied systems—the quantum Hall effect and time-reversal invariant topological insulators.

In the early 1980s discovery of the quantum Hall effect, a two-dimensional electron gas, typically formed at the interface of GaAs and AlGaAs, is subjected to a perpendicular magnetic field.  Because of the magnetic field, an in-plane current of electrons experiences a Lorentz force that bends particle’s trajectories towards one edge and leads to a Hall voltage across the sample in a direction transverse to the current.  In the quantum Hall effect, the ratio of the current to the transverse voltage, known as the conductance, is quantized in units of e2/h, where e is the charge of the electron and h is Planck’s constant.  The precision of the quantization is remarkable—it can be better than 1 part in 10^9!  The international resistance standard is now set by the quantum Hall effect, with the fundamental unit of resistance, the von Klitzing, named after the discoverer of the effect.  The underlying reason for the precision of the Hall conductance in rather imperfect experimental systems is the presence of a topological invariant known as the “Chern number”.  The Hall conductance turns out to be proportional to the Chern number, with the constant of proportionality e2/h.  Thus, in the example of the quantum Hall effect the topological invariant determines the response to electric fields.

The quantum Hall effect is of great historical importance in the study of topological phases because it provided the first concrete (and for a while the only) experimental example and because it laid the groundwork for further discovery.  From the point-of-view of applications, a key shortcoming of the effect is that it typically appears only at very low temperatures, on the order of a few Kelvin or smaller, which makes it impractical for use in any room-temperature device.  (An important exception is the room temperature quantum Hall effect observed in graphene.)  Nevertheless, the theoretical study of both the integer, and particularly the interaction-driven fractional quantum Hall effects has been essential in stimulating a number of new directions within physics, notably certain sub-areas of quantum magnetism, quantum information, topological quantum computing, and topological insulators of various varieties (there are many).

The study of topological phases received a boost in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century that has propelled it into the mainstream of physics.  Seminal theoretical work within the groups of Charles Kane at the University of Pennsylvania and Shoucheng Zhang at Stanford University drew in part on the theory of the integer quantum Hall effect to show that a new topological phase of matter could appear in which the physics of relativistic spin-orbit coupling takes over the role of the magnetic field (i.e., no external fields are needed, but materials with heavy ions producing large spin-orbit coupling are required).  Materials exhibiting this new phase are called time-reversal invariant topological insulators, or often just topological insulators for short (even though the shorter name has since come to apply to a broader class of phases that do not necessarily preserve time-reversal symmetry).   Within a couple years of the theoretical prediction, two- and three-dimensional (recall quantum Hall effects are purely two dimensional) topological insulators were experimentally discovered, some with bulk excitation gaps (a quantity setting the energy scale for stability) larger than room temperature–immediately opening the door for a new class of electronic devices based on topological quantum many-body physics.

The salient feature of a topological insulator is that it is insulating in its bulk, but conducts electricity and heat along its metallic surfaces.   The metallic boundaries of a topological insulator are “protected” by the bulk topological invariant, so they are robust to dirt and defects (provided time-reversal symmetry is preserved).   Moreover, the electronic structure of the surfaces is unlike anything encountered in nature before, and this forms the basis of nearly all the potentially novel applications of these materials envisioned thus far.  A partial list of potential applications includes spintronics, fatigue-resistant multiferroics, tunable optical modulators, high-precision photon polarization measurement through a giant quantized Kerr rotation, fast and low-power interconnects, high figure of merit thermoelectrics, and a platform for topological quantum computation based on Majorana fermions.

The vast majority of topological insulators are not “exotic” materials by the standards of the condensed matter physics and materials science communities.  The two most heavily studied are the relatively simple binary compounds Bi2Se3 and Bi2Te3, which are well-known thermoelectric materials.  However, the main challenge on the experimental front has been to reduce the residual bulk conductivity of the materials, which is unacceptably high and threatens to overwhelm the effects of the topological metallic boundaries.  Near the beginning of 2010, the best materials had less than 1 percent of their electrical conductivity along the boundary, while the best materials at present approach 90 percent or more boundary conductivity with strong hope for further improvements in the near future.

In parallel with the optimization of known topological insulator materials for applications, there is a significant push towards new topological systems that exhibit physics that relies in an intrinsic way on electron-electron interactions. The topological insulators discovered to date are driven entirely by spin-orbit coupling and possess electronic states that are well described by weakly interacting band theory methods conventionally used in the study of semiconductors.  Theoretically, systems with physics driven by electron-electron interactions are expected to exhibit fundamentally richer behavior than those driven by spin-orbit coupling alone, and this could open yet more avenues for devices based on the special precise and robust responses of topological phases.  The coming years will likely see major advances in this area and the United States is in a good position to play a leadership role in this new science. 

1The ideas contained herein are the views of the author.

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RECENTLY COMPLETED STUDIES—
NRC Completes Assessment of a Plan for U.S. Participation in Euclid on an Expedited Schedule
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Soon after the publication of the New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy & Astrophysics decadal survey report (NWNH), NASA reported results of negotiations carried on during the decadal deliberations with the European Space Agency (ESA) for a possible 20% NASA contribution to the Euclid mission. The Office of Science and Technology Policy then requested that the NRC convene a panel to evaluate whether NASA’s Euclid proposal is consistent with achieving the priorities, goals, and recommendations, and with pursuing the science strategy, articulated in NWNH. The panel, chaired by Adam Burrows and Charlie Kennel, concluded in its December 2010 report that “a 20% investment in Euclid as currently envisioned and as presented by NASA is not consistent with the program, strategy, and intent of the decadal survey.”  Subsequently, NASA announced that it would not be pursuing an investment in Euclid. 

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Over the following year, NASA announced the JWST replan and the WFIRST Science Definition Team developed in greater detail a WFIRST reference mission design and characterized WFIRST’s scientific potential. In October 2011, the European Space Agency selected Euclid as one of its M-class missions.

At the November 9, 2011 joint meeting of the NRC’s Space Studies Board and the Board on Physics and Astronomy NASA requested the NRC to initiate a study to “[d]etermine whether a proposed NASA plan for a U.S. hardware contribution to the European Space Agency (ESA) Euclid mission, in exchange for U.S. membership on the Euclid Science Team and science data access, is a viable part of an overall strategy to pursue the science goals (dark energy measurements, exoplanet detection, and infrared survey science) of the New Worlds, New Horizons report’s top-ranked, large-scale, space-based priority: the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).”  NASA’s proposal was to make a small contribution of around $20 million in hardware—a significantly smaller level than that proposed in 2010—to the Euclid mission in exchange for U.S. membership on the Euclid Science Team and science data access. 

Shortly after the joint meeting of the Boards, the NRC formed the Committee on the Assessment of a Plan for U.S. Participation in Euclid to address this task.  Owing to the mid-February deadline for NASA’s preliminary confirmation to the European Space Agency (ESA) of its interest in participating in the Euclid mission, the committee was assembled on an expedited schedule.  The committee held its first and only meeting in Washington, D.C., on January 18-20, 2012, with the intention of completing and releasing its report by January 31, 2012.  The assembled committee comprised former members of the Committee for the Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics and other individuals with relevant scientific expertise, including some who served on the decadal survey’s panels. 

It was clear to the committee from the early stages of the study that it would be impossible to fulfill its task without discussing both Euclid and WFIRST in detail.  Thus, at its only meeting the committee heard from experts and stakeholders from both Europe and the United States.  On short notice, these individuals graciously agreed to attend (either in person or remotely) and (1) made presentations in response to questions prepared in advance by the committee, (2) answered additional questions from the committee members, and (3) provided their own candid observations on relevant matters. In its deliberations, the committee made use not only of the testimony of these experts but also of the NWNH decadal survey report itself. 

At the meeting, the committee heard that the Euclid mission will employ a space telescope that will make potentially important contributions to probing dark energy and to the measurement of cosmological parameters. Euclid will image a large fraction of the extragalactic sky at unprecedented resolution and measure spectra for millions of galaxies. Meanwhile, WFIRST has a broad, wide-field, near-infrared capability that will serve a wide variety of science programs of U.S. astronomers, including exoplanet research, near-infrared sky surveys, a guest observer program, and dark energy research. 

The committee was also keenly aware that it was not charged to consider any alterations to the NWNH science priorities, understanding that the survey committee was aware of Euclid’s development and its science goals and that NWNH did not recommend Euclid as sufficient to satisfy the survey’s science priorities.  The committee also understood that it was not charged to make recommendations to the European Space Agency. Nor was it charged to make any recommendations on the current NASA planning for the WFIRST mission.

The committee’s report concluded that “U.S. participation in Euclid would represent a valuable first step toward meeting one of the science goals (furthering dark energy research) of NWNH for WFIRST. However, Euclid on its own does not provide a viable alternative for achieving the broader NWNH goals for the WFIRST mission, nor does it achieve the more ambitious goals for WFIRST’s dark energy measurements.”  Following that, the committee recommends that “NASA should make a hardware contribution of approximately $20 million to the Euclid mission to enable U.S. participation. This investment should be made in the context of a strong U.S. commitment to move forward with the full implementation of WFIRST in order to fully realize the decadal science priorities of the NWNH report.” It continued with additional guidance for NASA: “In exchange for this small, but crucial, contribution, NASA should secure through negotiation with the European Space Agency both a U.S. position on the Euclid Science Team with full data access and the inclusion of a team of U.S. scientists in the Euclid Consortium that would be selected by a peer-reviewed process with full data access as well as authorship rights consistent with Euclid policies still to be formulated.  Understanding that a financial commitment could grow beyond the initially envisioned amount, the panel goes on to recommend that “NASA should seek independent community review of any financial commitment for hardware expenditures beyond $30 million for Euclid.” Finally, recognizing the synergies between existing and planned facilities, the committee pointed out that “the combination of data from planned U.S.-led ground-based surveys with Euclid and WFIRST data will enhance the science return from both the ground- and space-based surveys, and that a coordinated, strategic approach to managing these joint data sets could position the U.S. community for a leadership role in their scientific exploitation.”

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Subsequent to the report’s release, NASA began the process of engagement with ESA to participate in the Euclid mission through the provision of near-infrared detectors. 

The committee’s report, Assessment of a Plan for U.S. Participation in Euclid, is available for free as a PDF from The National Academies Press.

2Portions of this article text are taken from the committee’s report.

Web site for the Assessment of a Plan for U.S. Participation in Euclid

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RECENTLY INITIATED STUDIES—
Newly appointed Committee to Assess the Current Status and Future Direction of High Magnetic Field Science in the United States

The original science drivers for the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (NHMFL)—a laboratory created by the NSF in 1990—principally rested in physics and materials science, yet over the course of the past 20 years the state-of-the-art instrumentation available through the NHMFL has become increasingly used by disciplines beyond condensed matter physics and materials science, including biology, chemistry, and geology.  The NHMFL also has found applications beyond basic science, serving many applied fields from medicine to the petroleum industry.  Instrumentation has evolved and new possibilities have opened up, leading to the need for an assessment of future opportunities for these facilities.

The Committee to Assess the Current Status and Future Direction of High Magnetic Field Science in the United States is the most recent study to be undertaken by the BPA and its membership was appointed by NRC chair Ralph Cicerone in January 2012.  The committee is charged to assess the needs of the U. S. research community for high magnetic fields, and to determine the status and identify trends in the use of high magnetic fields throughout science and technology.  Based on this assessment, the committee will provide guidance for the future of both magnetic-field research and technology development in the United States, including funding responsibilities and the evolving roles of a centralized magnet lab and university-based facilities.  The committee will also address trends in the disciplinary makeup of the user base and consider how the infrastructure should be optimized to meet the needs of the next decades.  Dr. Bertrand Halperin of Harvard University will chair the committee and the committee will conduct its first meeting in March 2012.

Web Site for the Committee to Assess the Current Status and Future Direction of High Magnetic Field Science in the United States

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ONGOING ACTIVITIES—
Highlights of the Fall Meeting of the Board on Physics and Astronomy

The Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) met at the Beckman Center in Irvine, CA for its fall 2011 meeting on November 6-7, 2011.  BPA Chair Adam Burrows opened the meeting in closed session with an introduction of the new members, followed by the annual discussion on composition and balance of the board membership.

The open session began with updates on the BPA’s standing committees.  Monica Olvera de la Cruz, BPA member and chair of the Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee (CMMRC), provided an update on the CMMRC’s recent activities, including a CMMRC-led short study to describe societal benefits from condensed matter/materials research. This study’s report will be directed at policy makers and the general public and will describe several examples that illustrate how basic science research leads to technology developments that benefit society in various areas such as energy and health.  Olvera de la Cruz also discussed study proposals developed by CMMRC on computational materials research and future information and communications technologies.

Stephen Pratt, chair of the Committee on Atomic, Molecular and Optical Sciences (CAMOS) briefly reviewed two focus sessions held at recent CAMOS meetings on Extreme Light (held in Spring 2011) and Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (held in Fall 2011); both topics are among the six priority areas highlighted in the AMO2010 report, Controlling the Quantum World.  CAMOS has also been working on a study proposal on quantum information science that would focus not only on assessing the status and trends of the field, but also how the United States fits into the global quantum information science community, as well as the funding structure within the United States for this area.  However, Pratt also noted there has been some difficulty lining up sponsors for the study. The BPA then discussed the pros and cons of merging this proposal with other BPA proposals.

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Michael Brown, chair of the Plasma Science Committee (PLSC), spoke next.  Brown reported that plasma science is funded in large part by the Department of Energy’s Office of Fusion Energy Science and that there is a growing emphasis within DOE on fusion energy, embodied by U.S. participation in ITER and in the NIF facility.  The PLSC committee is concerned about support for basic plasma science, especially those areas which don’t relate to fusion energy, and so the PLSC committee is organizing a workshop that assesses the current state of and need for basic plasma science.

Dave DeBoer, chair of the Committee on Radio Frequencies (CORF), spoke next and commented on interference problems for satellites and ground-based radio observatories that are arising from the increased demand for wireless devices and services.  DeBoer discussed CORF’s role in defending scientific users of the spectrum, noting that CORF submitted an FCC filing in August 2011 on a recent FCC Notice of Proposed Rule Making on automotive radar at 77 GHz.  In that response, CORF stated that radar manufacturers should be required to work with representatives of the radio astronomy service community to minimize interference.

The meeting then shifted to presentations on BPA ad hoc committees, starting with a presentation from Stuart Freedman, chair of the nuclear physics decadal committee, NP 2010: An Assessment and Outlook for Nuclear Physics.  Freedman briefly discuss what has happened in the field since the previous nuclear physics decadal report (published in 1999), mentioning several major accomplishments: the discovery of a near perfect fluid in relativistic heavy-ion collisions at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) located at Brookhaven National Laboratory; the precision determination of the electric and magnetic form factors of the proton and neutron at Jefferson Laboratory (Jlab); and the final resolution of the solar neutrino problem and direct evidence for neutrino oscillations with the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) and the Kamioka Liquid-scintillator Anti-Neutrino Detector (KamLAND).  He also discussed the status of the NP2010 committee’s report, saying that the report should go into review in late 2011* and that the committee hopes to release the full report to the public in early 2012. [*The NP2010 report went into review in December 2011.  See the NP2010 update article for more information.]

Andrew Lankford, chair of the Committee to Assess the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), presented the findings, conclusions, and recommendations from the DUSEL report, An Assessment of the Science Proposed for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), released in July 2011.  The DUSEL committee concluded that the initial suite of experiments proposed for DUSEL composes an excellent science program, and also that a national underground research facility would foster stewardship of research communities in physics and in other fields as well as provide an excellent opportunity for education and outreach to the public.  [To read the complete report, please visit the National Academies Press web site.]

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Ron Davidson spoke next, discussing the study on Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems (led by co-chairs Davidson and Gerald Kulcinski).  He explained that the study will cover all three ICF approaches: heavy ions, lasers, and pulsed power.  Davidson noted that the committee is looking at numerous concepts and technical challenges and that a separate target physics panel, chaired by John Ahearne, is looking at issues specific to target physics. The main committee has held five meetings and expects to hold an additional meeting in early 2012.  An interim report providing guidance to the DOE for FY 2013 is currently in the NRC's review process,* Davidson reported, and the final report (hoped to be completed in late summer of 2012) will include discussion of the relative technical dispositions of the various approaches. [*The IFE committee held its sixth meeting in February 2012 and the committee’s interim report was released on March 7, 2012.  See the IFE update article for more information.]

Concluding the first day, the board discussed possible future studies, including a discussion of a study on the links between science and society that would provide information to decision makers who may not completely understand the role of federally funded basic research programs. 

Don Langenberg, chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Physics Education (UPE) Research and Implementation, opened the second morning’s session by presenting, in closed session, an overview of the UPE committee’s progress.  The UPE study, started up in early 2011, is designed to address some of the principal challenges and opportunities facing the undergraduate physics education and education research communities.  [See the UPE update article for more information.]

BPA member Monica Olvera de la Cruz gave a summary of the new study to Assess the Current Status and Future Direction of High Magnetic Field Science in the United States that was funded in August 2011.  Over the past 20 years the instrumentation available through the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (NHMFL) has become increasingly used by disciplines beyond condensed matter physics and materials science (the original science drivers) including biology, chemistry, and geology, and has also found applications beyond basic science in many applied fields.  Additionally, Olvera de la Cruz stated, international competition in high magnetic field science is increasing. This study will assess the status and trends in high magnetic field research and provide guidance for the future of both magnetic-field research and technology development, including funding responsibilities and the evolving roles of a centralized U.S. magnet lab and university-based facilities.  Olvera de la Cruz reported that is it expected the committee membership will be completed in time to hold the first meeting in early 2012.*  [*Since the BPA meeting, the committee was appointed and the first meeting has been scheduled for March 12-13, 2012.  See the High Field Magnetic Science article for more information.]

Greg Fiete, of the University of Texas at Austin, then gave a science talk on emerging opportunities and challenges in quantum electronics.  Fiete’s talk focused on discoveries and advances that have risen from the study of topological phases of matter and he noted that because of recent advances in time-reversal invariant topological insulators, the best materials available now approach 90 percent of their electrical conductivity along the boundary (up from less then 1 percent in 2010), and there is the expectation of further improvements in the near future.  In parallel with the optimization of known topological insulator materials, Fiete said there is also a significant push towards new topological systems that exhibit physics that relies in an intrinsic way on electron-electron interactions. This could open yet more avenues for devices.  [See Dr. Fiete’s article, Topological Phases of Matter Offer New Potential Device Capabilities, for more information.]

The BPA meeting then transitioned to a joint session with Space Studies Board (SSB) members to discuss the status of U.S. astronomy and astrophysics.  This session started with a brief discussion among the members present on a WFIRST-Euclid study that the two boards would soon undertake together.*  This study is to evaluate a proposed NASA hardware contribution—which would amount to roughly 10 percent of the total mission hardware costs—to the European Space Agency mission called Euclid.  A previous proposal for a 20 percent contribution from NASA to the Euclid mission was the subject of the Implementation panel report, released shortly after the Astro2010 decadal survey, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, which concluded that the proposed 20 percent contribution would not be consistent with Astro2010 report.  Several BPA and SSB members noted that the implications for this new WFIRST-Euclid study are large, not just for science in the United States, but also for future international collaborations. [*The Euclid Study was initiated in December 2011 and its report was released on February 3, 2012.  See the Euclid Study article for more information.]

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Diving into an update on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), Rick Howard, the JWST program director at NASA, reported that since the JWST replan, great progress has been made in FY2011 and JWST is now on track for launch in October 2018.  He reported that the technical status of the telescope and instruments, the sun shield, and the spacecraft is good and most of the hardware is over 90 percent complete, but he also noted that optical bench cracks are delaying the near-infrared spectrograph.  Howard also gave a summary of the so-called JWST “breach report” provided to Congress, and explained the new budget profile.  Under that profile, Howard said it is possible to accelerate critical activities, which would in turn retire some risk earlier than currently provided for.  An additional $1.2 billion is required, and, while it will not come out of Earth sciences, it will delay some future missions that were planned for after 2015.  The details of those delays were not available.

Staffers from the relevant House and Senate committees gave some remarks on the legislative outlook for JWST and stated that the outlook is optimistic that it will receive about $500 million in FY2012, but future funding is still unknown.  NASA is not expected to get additional money for its top line to account for funding JWST, so offsets will probably need to come from the Astrophysics division and possibly the Planetary Sciences division of NASA.  Jim Jensen, of the NAS Office of Congressional and Government Affairs, then gave his perspective on legislative developments and noted that we are facing a dire federal budget with a possibility of sequestration.  Jensen said that while there might be changes in the political balance of the House and Senate in the 2012 elections, the margins of majority will be slight and it is unlikely the budget will be resolved prior to the February 2013 budget.

The BPA then heard from NASA, NSF and DOE representatives, who reviewed the outlook of federal programs.  Waleed Abdalati, Chief Scientist at NASA, reminded the board that NASA has three top priorities: the International Space Station; investment and movement toward getting astronauts beyond low earth orbit, which includes the Orion (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) and Space Launch System; and the JWST.  In this budget climate, Congress is looking more closely at all programs, Abdalati said.  While NASA must avoid incurring insurmountable risks and balance is critical, Abdalati expressed the view that the United States should not shy away from the bold endeavors that define NASA, such as flagship missions. Paul Hertz, Chief Scientist in the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA, reviewed progress in accomplishing the recommendations of the NRC decadal surveys, including informing the board of the selection of two astrophysics missions for the explorer program phase A study—the Fast Infrared Exoplanet Spectroscopy Survey Explorer (FINESSE), which will use a space telescope to survey more than 200 planets around other stars, and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which will perform an all-sky survey to discover transiting exoplanets in orbit around the nearest and brightest stars in the sky. 

Jim Ulvestad, from NSF’s Astronomy Division (AST), reviewed the AST program and noted that cumulative budget changes for AST are significant and will have a long-term impact, and he said there are signs that the AST budget will continue a downward trend.  The AST Response to budget shortfalls, Ulvestad said are that no new unsolicited mid-scale proposals will be funded in FY 2012, and that after the release of the President’s budget in Feb 2012, AST may need to be prepared for divestment of individual facilities or restricting observatory operations. Glen Crawford, from DOE’s Office of High Energy Physics (HEP), gave an overview of the HEP program, noting that the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) was installed on the International Space Station and is performing as expected, the Dark Energy Survey (DES) imager is complete, and DOE is on schedule to complete all DES deliverables for CD-4 by January 2012.  Additionally, under the Cosmic Frontier program, Crawford said, the DOE contribution to LSST—the camera and associated instrumentation—is a high priority.

The BPA meeting concluded with a closed session discussion on the general outlook for the 2010 surveys and lessons learned from Astro2010 and Implementation panel.

The spring board meeting will take place at the Keck Center in Washington, DC on April 27-28, 2012.  The board will hear updates from representatives of various federal programs and will receive briefings on recently released BPA reports.

BPA Membership Roster web page

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ONGOING ACTIVITIES—
Update on the Undergraduate Physics Education Study

The Committee on Undergraduate Physics Education Research and Implementation, chaired by Don Langenberg, is a study designed to identify and address some of the principal challenges and opportunities facing undergraduate physics education and the physics education research community. The committee will also identify how best practices for undergraduate physics education can be implemented on a widespread and sustained basis.  In preparing its report, the committee will assess the status of physics education research (PER) and discuss how PER can assist in accomplishing the goal of improving undergraduate physics education best practices and education policy.  As discussed in the previous newsletter, the committee’s first meeting was held in Washington, DC on March 18-19, 2011 and the second meeting was held on May 31-June 1, 2011 in Irvine, CA. 

The committee’s third meeting was held in Irvine, CA on July 25-26, 2011.  At this meeting the committee heard from one speaker, Dr. Sam McKagan, on the PER User’s Guide web site she is developing.  That guide is a new resource where physics educators (college faculty and K-12 teachers) can learn about PER and how to apply it in their classrooms.  The remaining portion of the meeting was conducted in closed session, where the committee made progress in developing the report.  They discussed the report audience and structure, reported on working group progress and assignments, and began developing findings and conclusions.

The committee’s fourth meeting, held entirely in closed session, was conducted in Woods Hole, MA on September 22-24, 2011.  There the committee continued its work in developing the report.  After the fourth meeting the committee held several teleconferences during which it was decided that a 5th meeting was needed to work out several remaining details.  This meeting was held in Washington, DC on January 13-14, 2012, during which the committee spent time in small breakout groups working on the various sections of its report, and further developed the report’s findings, conclusions and recommendations.

The committee currently is finalizing the report and plans to have the report enter into NRC report review in late March or early April of 2012 with the goal of releasing the report in early summer 2012.

Web Site for the Committee on Undergraduate Physics Education Research and Implementation

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ONGOING ACTIVITIES—
Inertial Confinement Fusion Study Update

The sixth and final committee meeting for the study on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems (“IFE committee”) took place February 22-23, 2012 in San Diego, CA at the General Atomics research campus.  With the recent completion of the requested interim report, the committee, led by co-chairs Gerald L. Kulcinski (NAE, University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Ronald C. Davidson (Princeton University), was ready to charge towards the finish line on the final report.  The final report will assess the prospects for generating electrical power through the use of inertial confinement fusion; identify scientific and engineering challenges, cost targets, and research and development objectives associated with developing an IFE demonstration plant; and advise the U. S. Department of Energy on its development of a research and development roadmap aimed at creating a conceptual design for an IFE energy demonstration plant.

In the open session, the panel heard from Jeffrey Quintenz of the National Nuclear Security Administration about the status of the National Ignition Facility’s (NIF) National Ignition Campaign (NIC) and its plans after the 2012 fiscal year.  Mike Dunne from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) presented the panel with information on the current status of NIF, as well as the Laser Inertial Fusion Energy (LIFE) project.  The panel also heard public testimony from Charles and Harold Helsley of the Fusion Power Corporation, and John Barnard of LLNL.  After the public session and some discussion, the panel toured the General Atomics target fabrication research facilities to view the state-of-the-art in inertial fusion target development, production, and rapid delivery methods.

The committee is making the final adjustments to the report for the review process.  The report should be in review this spring, and the final report will be available in late summer/early fall 2012.

Web site for the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems committee

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ONGOING ACTIVITIES—
Nuclear Physics Decadal (NP2010) Study Update

The last of the 2010 decadal studies, on nuclear physics, is nearing completion.  The principal focus of the study is to broadly assess research in this field building upon the long range plans developed under the auspices of the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (NSAC), and to consider 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 is led by chair Stuart Freedman (University of California at Berkeley) and vice-chair Ani Aprahamian (University of Notre Dame) and has completed its pre-review version of the report.  That report, now in review, is expected to be released in spring 2012.  Release of the report will be accompanied by the release of a professionally produced video that will highlight the major points of the report and the nuclear physics’ contributions to society.

Web site for the NP 2010: An Assessment and Outlook for Nuclear Physics committee

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ONGOING ACTIVITIES—
Standing Committee Updates

Committee on Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Sciences (CAMOS)

The Committee on Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Sciences’ fall meeting held its fall meeting on October 3-4, 2011 in Washington, D. C.  As part of its responsibilities in providing active stewardship for the AMO sciences’ decadal study Controlling the Quantum World, CAMOS held a focus session on one of the six discovery areas recognized as having great scientific promise in that report—nanoscale science. The committee heard from five speakers: Paul Weiss (University of California, Los Angeles), Vladimir Shalaev (Purdue University), Ray Beausoleil (HP Laboratories), Konrad Lehnert (JILA, a joint institute of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology), and Luke Lee (University of California, Berkeley). Topics covered included nanoelectronics, metamaterials and plasmonics, applications of nanophotonics to information technology, nanomechanical oscillators, and applications of nanophotonics to biological physics. A summary of those presentations and the discussion that followed is available on CAMOS’ website.  The committee spent much of the remaining meeting going over study proposals that it has been working on as well as developing a new proposal, and discussing ways in which it can better serve the NRC and AMO research communities. 

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Web site for the Committee on Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Sciences (CAMOS)

Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics (CAA)

The Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics (CAA), a joint standing committee under the auspices of the BPA and the Space Studies Board, is in the process of being stood up following a hiatus during the astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey that resulted in the report, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (available for free download at the National Academies Press web site).

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The overarching purpose of the CAA is to support scientific progress in astronomy and astrophysics and assist the federal government in integrating and planning programs in these fields. The scope of the CAA will span the full range of astronomy and astrophysics research, both in terms of subfields within astronomy and astrophysics (e.g. cosmology, star and planetary formation, and particle astrophysics), and observational platforms (i.e. ground- and space-based), and will include cross-disciplinary areas such as the search for extra-solar planets.  The CAA will monitor progress in implementation of the recommendations of the New Worlds, New Horizons (NWNH) decadal survey and build upon the mission of the decadal survey. The need for careful monitoring is underscored by the fact that some of the survey's recommendations are associated with a set of triggers and decision rules. Other developments that may signal the need for reassessments include cost growth and/or changes of scope in the project baseline.

To carry out its mission, the CAA may formulate and oversee ad hoc studies related to the implementation of the NWNH decadal survey and on issues in astronomy and astrophysics more broadly.  The membership of these ad hoc studies will be drawn from the CAA and the wider astronomy community, according to the needs of the particular task.

The committee’s membership is expected to be finalized in March 2012, holding its first meeting in spring 2012. For the full statement of task and to stay apprised of the CAA’s activities in the future, please visit the committee’s web site.

Web site for the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics (CAA)

Committee on Radio Frequencies (CORF)

The Committee on Radio Frequencies (CORF), chaired by Dave DeBoer (UC-Berkeley), convened its fall meeting on October 14-15, 2011 at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, at which it welcomed new members Todd Gaier (JPL) and Jasmeet Judge (U. Florida).  CORF discussed several of its activities at the meeting, including a draft presentation to the FCC staff to educate them on the basic scientific and engineering principles of radio astronomy and Earth remote sensing.  The committee also continued discussion of organizing a workshop to raise awareness of spectrum management for science, a way of stewarding the 2010 report, Spectrum Management for Science in the 21st Century.  CORF filed comments in August 2011 with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on how the proposed usage of fixed radars at airports for monitoring the movement of terrestrial vehicles in the 76-77 GHz band might affect radio astronomy observations.  CORF did not oppose sharing in this band; however, in light of the primary allocation of this band to the radio astronomy, CORF believed that rules increasing the average power density limit for automotive vehicular radars operating in this band should not be considered unless radar manufacturers are required to work with representatives of the radio astronomy community to minimize interference with radio astronomy observations. CORF also filed comments in February 2012 on sharing the 78-81 GHz band with a service permitting fixed radars at airports to monitor foreign object debris. CORF recommended that such a service should be a licensed one, and one with a requirement for coordination with certain RAS facilities.  CORF is currently planning its spring 2012 meeting.

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Web site for the Committee on Radio Frequencies (CORF)

Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee (CMMRC)

The Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee (CMMRC) met on November 4-5, 2011 at the Beckman Center in Irvine, California.  The meeting’s focus departed from the typical agenda of science talks on hot fields.  Instead, it invited five speakers to discuss how to communicate about research to the general public and in particular, the need for that communication and how to do it effectively.  This topic ties into several projects being worked on by the CMMRC and the BPA.  The committee heard from Paul Weiss (University of California at Los Angeles), Cherry Murray (Harvard University), David Tirrell (California Institute of Technology) and Jennifer Ouellette, author of several science-based books and formerly the director of the NAS’s Science and Entertainment Exchange. The committee spent the rest of the meeting developing a brief report that describes some of the recent areas where materials research has produced significant benefit for society.

Web site for the Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee (CMMRC)

Plasma Science Committee

At its September 23-24 fall 2011 meeting, the Plasma Science Committee (PLSC), chaired by Michael Brown (Swarthmore College), welcomed new members Andrew Bailey (Lam Research Corp.), Juan Fernandez (LANL), and Sergei Krasheninnikov (UCSD). The committee heard updates on the ITER project and the DOE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences outlook, as well as an update on the National Ignition Facility.  The committee spent the majority of its time discussing a potential workshop on basic plasma science and its research needs.  The NRC’s 2007 plasma science decadal survey, Plasma Science: Advancing Knowledge in the National Interest, highlighted this important, diverse subject as one in particular need of strong support.  The workshop would outline the forefronts of this broad field, and highlight the ways the research advances work done not only in plasma and fusion research but in many other fields.  The committee is now organizing its spring meeting scheduled for March 30-31 in Washington, DC.

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Web site for the Plasma Science Committee

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Newsletter for the Division on Engineerings and Physical Sciences
DEPSNews

Want more information?  The Division on Engineering and Physics Sciences (DEPS) of the National Academies publishes a monthly newsletter that reports on current and upcoming activities for the entire Division. To subscribe to DEPSNews please visit the subscription web page.  DEPSNews Archives are available online.

 

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