Issues in Physics and Astronomy, Winter 2013
The newsletter of the BPA
In this issue:
Recently Completed Studies—
- Undergraduate Physics Education Study Report Released!
Chaired by Donald N. Langenberg of the University of Maryland, the Committee on Undergraduate Physics Education Research has produced a report designed to identify and address some of the principal challenges and opportunities facing undergraduate physics education and the physics education research (PER) community...
- Inertial Confinement Fusion Study Report Released!
The Committee on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems and its supporting Panel on Inertial Confinement Fusion Target Physics released their reports on February 20, 2013...
Recently Initiated Activities—
- Committee to Survey the Active Scientific Use of the Radio Spectrum Initiated
To support the presidential initiative for Spectrum Management for the 21st Century, a presentation of current and future needs of scientific users of the spectrum is in order. In recent years, the explosion of new wireless technologies has significantly increased the demand for access to the radio spectrum...
- Highlights of the Board on Physics and Astronomy Fall 2012 Meeting
Presided over by chair Dr. Phil Bucksbaum and vice-chair Dr. Debra Elmegreen, the Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) held its fall 2012 meeting at the Beckman Center of the National Academies in Irvine, CA on November 10-11, 2012...
- High Magnetic Field Sciences Study Update
The Committee to Assess the Current Status and Future Direction of High Magnetic Field Science in the United States, chaired by Bertrand Halperin of Harvard University, is tasked with assessing the needs of U. S. research communities for high magnetic fields and then, based upon this assessment, providing guidance for the future of both magnetic-field research and magnet technology development in the United States...
- BPA Standing Committees
Updates of CAMOS, CAA, CORF, CMMRC, and Plasma Science
Newsletter for the Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences—
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.
RECENTLY COMPLETED STUDIES—
Undergraduate Physics Education Study Report Released!
Chaired by Donald N. Langenberg of the University of Maryland, the Committee on Undergraduate Physics Education Research has produced a report designed to identify and address some of the principal challenges and opportunities facing undergraduate physics education and the physics education research (PER) community. The committee has also been charged with identifying how best practices for undergraduate physics education can be implemented on a more widespread and sustained basis. In the report, the committee assesses the status of PER and discusses how PER can assist in accomplishing the goal of improving undergraduate physics education best practices and education policy. In conducting its work the committee held a total of five meetings. The report, Adapting to a Changing World—Challenges and Opportunities in Undergraduate Physics Education, was released to the public in prepublication form, in March 2013. The following text is adapted from the summary and first chapter of the report.
Today, higher education must prepare graduates for an international arena in which being competitive requires the ability to learn new things, understand complex systems, manage large sets of data, think creatively and critically, communicate and collaborate. As a discipline, physics has much to contribute, not only for the subject matter--the phenomena, concepts, and theories--but also for the disciplinary practices of empirical and theoretical inquiry.
Higher education as a whole is beset by change on many fronts: changes in the student populations, transformations in societal needs, financial pressures, and technologies that enhance and threaten to replace the college and its classrooms. Students’ perceptions, attitudes, social networks, demographics, and the environment in which they develop have changed profoundly over the last several decades, and failing to understand and address today's non-traditional students threatens to undermine our effectiveness in preparing scientist and a science-literate population for the coming generations. In STEM fields especially, these developments are forcing faculty to rethink their roles as teachers and researchers: they must understand pedagogical advances, identify the needs of current-day students, effectively employ new technologies in all aspects of their professional lives, and help prepare future K-12 teachers.
Addressing these challenges requires that the physics community take a close look at the issues related to undergraduate physics education. Some students are attracted to take and major in physics by the beauty of its intellectual approach and finesse of the related experiments and apparatus. Too often, however, physics has been cast as a subject that only a tiny elite could truly master and as a result, capable students are choosing not to pursue physics and other STEM majors. Many students only take physics as a required course in another major's curriculum and, in fact, only slightly more than 1% of students who take an introductory physics course end up obtaining an undergraduate degree in physics. Research in physics education and cognitive studies has revealed far more about the way humans learn physics than was previously known and this knowledge can potentially enable the physics community to improve the learning of physics and its methods. However, doing so will require that physics faculty become more aware of these developments and be willing to adopt them. As shown in this report, recent developments in physics education research, computer-based instruction, and social networking can guide undergraduate physics education to more positive outcomes.
The need for the physics community to engage the many challenges facing undergraduate physics education and to solve them using a research-based approach that generates sustainable improvements is the driving force for this report. This committee's judgment is that substantial improvement of undergraduate physics education will benefit the physics community, our students, and our nation and must be undertaken because of the many challenges facing physics education today. This also includes the effective preparation of high school physics teachers and the education of a workforce whose competencies requires critical thinking, abstract analytical skills, and some knowledge of how physics relates to what they are doing.
As noted in the report summary, several themes emerged in the course of the committee’s work (these challenges and potential solutions are explored in detail in the report in chapters 1 through 3):
- Physics is Fundamental and Foundational: Undergraduate physics education provides students with unique skills and ways of thinking that are of profound value to the students and to society.
- Systemic Tensions: The familiar college environment in which physics is currently taught is subject to powerful, rapidly changing external forces, and U.S. physics departments will either adapt and improve or fade.
- Major Challenges: Current practices in undergraduate physics education do not serve most students well.
- Improvements Exist: Substantial improvements in undergraduate physics education have been made with existing knowledge and resources in a variety of contexts; encouraging and preserving these gains requires a symphony of efforts by many different participants, and improving on them requires continuing research and development.
- Scientific Approach to Physics Education: Future improvement of undergraduate physics education depends critically on a vigorous physics education research enterprise and effective application of its findings.
The committee recognizes the difficulty of implementing change in the current environment of financial pressures and diminishing support for the physics enterprise. The report strongly encourages faculty, departments, administrators, funding agencies, and professional societies to take a scientific approach to their own practice and to inform themselves of the research and development that can help the physics community make measurable and desirable improvements in undergraduate physics education. In the fourth chapter, the report offers suggestions and recommendations to each of these groups whose active and concerted engagement is essential to building a successful future for undergraduate physics education. The following is a summary of key recommendations; additional detailed recommendations are presented in the report.
- Individual physics faculty should improve their courses, using objective evidence to judge success.
- Department leadership should create a culture of continuous improvement in which educational innovation is encouraged, sustained when it succeeds, and tolerated when it fails.
- Academic leadership should encourage faculty groups to seek improvement and should reward faculty and departments that are successful at implementing positive changes.
- Funding agencies should support positive change at all levels and should support fundamental educational research, development, adoption, and dissemination.
- Physics (and other) education researchers should focus some of their efforts on critical areas, including improving fundamental understanding of learning and instruction, and developing and disseminating improved assessment tools and instructional methods and materials.
- Professional societies should emphasize the importance of education research and play a major role in the dissemination of its results, recognizing those who successfully improve instruction.
The report summary closes with a famous quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”
The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences. The report is available for download for free as PDFs on The National Academies Press website:
Adapting to a Changing World—Challenges and Opportunities in Undergraduate Physics Education
Web site for the Committee on Undergraduate Physics Education Research and Implementation
RECENTLY COMPLETED STUDIES—
Inertial Confinement Fusion Study Report Released!
*Portions of the following article is reprinted from an NAS News Brief prepared by the NAS Office of News and Public Information; the original News Brief is available online.
The Committee on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems and its supporting Panel on Inertial Confinement Fusion Target Physics released their reports on February 20, 2013.
The committee’s report assesses the prospects for generating electrical power through the use of inertial confinement fusion, identifies scientific and engineering challenges, cost targets, and research and development objectives associated with developing an IFE demonstration plant, and advises the U.S. Department of Energy on its development of a research and development roadmap aimed at creating a conceptual design for an inertial fusion energy (IFE) demonstration plant.
The potential benefits of successful development of an inertial confinement fusion-based energy technology justify investment in fusion energy research and development as part of the long-term U.S. energy R&D portfolio, says the report An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy from the National Research Council. Although ignition of the fusion fuel has not yet been achieved, scientific and technological progress in inertial confinement fusion over the past decade has been substantial. Developing inertial fusion energy would require establishment of a national, coordinated, broad-based program, but achievement of ignition is a prerequisite.
"The realization of inertial fusion energy would be a tremendous achievement capable of satisfying the world's ever-growing need for power without major environmental consequences," said Ronald Davidson, professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University's Plasma Physics Laboratory and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. "These possibilities form an extremely compelling rationale to continue R&D efforts toward this goal."
Inertial fusion energy technology would provide an essentially carbon-free energy source with a practically unlimited supply of fuel. IFE relies on a process in which a fuel pellet the size of a pinhead is compressed by an external energy source, raising the temperature and density enough that the nuclei of the some of the fuel atoms fuse together, releasing nuclear energy. The aim is ignition, in which the fusion energy produced by the initial compression causes the remaining fuel to undergo fusion.
"The fuel used in the fusion process is lithium and deuterium; deuterium is derived from water and therefore virtually unlimited," explained Gerald Kulcinski, associate dean for research and director of the Fusion Technical Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who served as co-chair of the report committee. "And unlike nuclear fission plants, it would not produce large amounts of high-level nuclear waste requiring long-term disposal. The potential is for a sustainable energy source that could power the Earth for millions of years."
U.S. research on inertial confinement fusion has been supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy. NNSA's objective is nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship, but much of the R&D is also applicable to IFE development. There are several external energy source or "driver" technologies under development: lasers, particle beams, and pulsed magnetic fields. NNSA's National Ignition Facility, located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, recently completed a National Ignition Campaign aimed at achieving ignition. While much was learned in the process, ignition was not attained. In view of this result, the committee concluded that a range of driver technologies should continue to be pursued, rather than choosing a single technology at this time.
In conjunction with the committee’s work, the panel, chaired by John Ahearne (Sigma Xi), carried out an assessment of the current performance of various inertial confinement fusion target technologies, and identified the R&D challenges to providing suitable targets on the basis of parameters established and provided by the main committee. The panel also addressed the potential impacts of the use and development of current concepts for inertial fusion energy (IFE) on the proliferation of nuclear weapons information and technology.
The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Both reports are available for download for free as PDFs on The National Academies Press website:
An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy
Assessment of Inertial Confinement Fusion Targets
Web site for the Committee on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems
Web site for the Panel on Inertial Confinement Fusion Target Physics
RECENTLY INITIATED STUDIES—
Committee to Survey the Active Scientific Use of the Radio Spectrum Initiated
To support the presidential initiative for Spectrum Management for the 21st Century, a presentation of current and future needs of scientific users of the spectrum is in order. In recent years, the explosion of new wireless technologies has significantly increased the demand for access to the radio spectrum. The increased demand has led to discussions in both government and industry about new ways of thinking about spectrum allocation and use.
Scientific users of the radio spectrum (such as radio astronomers and earth scientists using remotely sensed data) have an important stake in the policies which will result from this activity. A survey of the scientific uses of the spectrum (up to 3 THz) by passive (receive-only) means was conducted by the NRC, resulting in the 2010 report, Spectrum Management for Science in the 21st Century. Identifying the potentially dire interference situation posed to NASA’s in-orbit and planned passive remote sensing observatories and to NSF’s ground-based radio astronomy observatories, the report had a significant amount of impact in the Administration and Congress, and NASA has requested that the NRC embark on a similar study to explore the current and planned scientific use of the spectrum by active means and the current and potential vulnerabilities and problem areas.
This new study will assist spectrum management decision makers in balancing the requirements of the scientific users of the spectrum with other interests. The committee will describe the science that is currently being conducted using the radio spectrum for transmission and measurement f these active signals and will identify the spectrum requirements necessary to conduct this research. Then, taking into account current and planned future capabilities and scientific needs, the committee will explore what spectrum requirements will be needed on a technically detailed level in order to ensure the successful prosecution of the science. The committee will also assess potential threats to its science in the context of the electromagnetic environment. Lastly, the committee will consider and recommend strategies to ensure access to the most critical scientific capabilities. The committee will comment on the spectrum use by the relevant scientific communities for applications such as active microwave remote sensing (i.e., airborne and space-based radars) of Earth to observe environmental phenomena, incoherent scatter radar studies of the Earth's ionosphere and radar astronomy of Solar System objects, but will not make recommendations on the allocation of specific frequencies. The committee will not make recommendations on communications operations (i.e., transmission of data) that support the scientific uses of the spectrum described above.
This study will be carried out by an NRC committee over a period of 24 months. The committee membership will be appointed by the NRC chair early in 2012 and it is expected that they will meet about four times while preparing their report.
Highlights of the Board on Physics and Astronomy Fall 2012 Meeting
Presided over by chair Dr. Phil Bucksbaum and vice-chair Dr. Debra Elmegreen, the Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) held its fall 2012 meeting at the Beckman Center of the National Academies in Irvine, CA on November 10-11, 2012.
Starting off the presentations, Dr. George Crabtree, chair of the Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee (CMMRC), reviewed recent activities for CMMRC and discussed future plans. He noted that in the area of condensed matter and materials research, NSF and DOE have established their own report strategy, independent of the Academies, which has produced a number of reports that have been received quite well within the federal agencies. Recent reports from agency-coordinated panels include the July 2012 NSF Materials 2022 Committee report, Developing a Vision for the Infrastructure and Facility Needs of the Materials Community, and the September 2012 DOE mesoscale science report, From Quanta to the Continuum: Opportunities for Mesoscale Science. To adapt to this situation, the CMMRC is seeking to identify needs and issues that will arise farther into the future and to help conduct timely studies to respond to these issues. Several promising topics CMMRC has under consideration include: 1) the value that basic materials research has in everyday life, which would be targeted at the general public and new Congressional staff; 2) computation in materials research with a particular focus on software development and data management for condensed matter and materials research ; and 3) women and minorities in condensed matter and materials science, which would look into the slow progress in increasing their populations in the fields over the last 15 years.
Next, the board heard from Dr. Chris Monroe, chair of the Committee on Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Sciences (CAMOS). CAMOS generated a proposal for a study on quantum information science (QIS) several years ago and received some interest in the study from agencies funding research in this field, including the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), but, so far, CAMOS has not been able to find enough support to initiate a study. In discussions with BPA members it was suggested that CAMOS consider ways to refocus the study by, for example, focusing more on the science rather than industrial aspects of QIS, such as quantum computing and cryptography, and perhaps expanding its scope to more disciplines. CAMOS is also working on a study idea in the area of intense and ultrafast physics and has begun talking with potential sponsors about that study. Lastly, Monroe mentioned that CAMOS is interested in the preparation of a 10-15 page pamphlet on the current research taking place in several focus areas identified in the 2007 AMO decadal survey.
Continuing with presentations on the BPA standing committees, Dr. David DeBoer, chair of the Committee on Radio Frequencies (CORF), updated the board on CORF activities. He first reviewed some benefits of the remote sensing and radio science communities, including applications to weather prediction such as hurricane forecasting, and benefits to long-range climate studies. In the past few years, CORF has aimed to maintain a “shared use, shared responsibility” approach, particularly when responding to FCC notices including recent filings on topics such as deployable aerial communications and a broadband public safety network. CORF is starting up a new ad hoc committee that will provide the U.S. government with input from the scientific community on several agenda items at the upcoming 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference, and this committees’ report is expected to be ready in the summer of 2013.
Plasma Science Committee (PLSC) chair, Dr. Mike Mauel, spoke next about recent activities of his committee. One issue that the plasma science community currently faces is how to increase participation in plasma science at universities while strengthening connections with related fields. A second issue is how to maintain the strength of the magnetic fusion and plasma physics community in the United States throughout the construction period of ITER, during which funding for the community will be particularly constrained. There is a charge before DOE’s FESAC committee (Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee) to review and assess the non-ITER priorities and identify what the U.S. program should focus on while ITER is under construction. In the past the NRC has weighed in on this type of question and so in parallel the PLSC has considered organizing a workshop on opportunities in fundamental plasma sciences.
The Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics (CAA) was reestablished earlier in 2012 and one of its co-chairs, Dr. Paul Schechter, updated the board on recent CAA activities. The CAA is co-chaired by Schechter and Dr. David Spergel and is charged with stewarding the Astronomy and Astrophysics decadal survey (Astro2010). NSF and NASA are both sponsors of the committee. Since its reconstitution, the CAA has held several committee teleconferences and one in-person meeting, held in Washington, DC in June 2012. Among the issues that they have started to discuss is the potential impact of constrained agency budgets on astronomy and astrophysics. NSF’s budget has been essentially flat, which severely constrains their ability to fund all of the activities recommended by the Astro2010 report. In an effort to address the situation, NSF commissioned a FACA advisory committee to prepare a review of its portfolio and the plan coming out of that review recommends that NSF divest some of its telescopes and facilities. It is anticipated that the administration’s FY2014 budget request will contain provisions implementing this or a similar plan. NASA’s budget is similarly constrained and so this is an import topic for the CAA. Schechter highlighted a few of the issues that would be discussed at the approaching workshop on lessons learned in recent NRC decadal surveys: 1) whether decadal survey prioritizations should focus on missions or science or a combination thereof, and whether decision points should be included; 2) the role of cost assessments in NRC decadal surveys; 3) mid-decadal updates; and 4) international cooperation and projects. In the ensuing discussion, BPA members noted that it may also be important for the CAA to consider issues related to the United States’ Opens Skies Policy, which makes data produced through research funded by the United States available to scientists worldwide even though some other countries do not have similar policies, in addition to the other issues associated with international cooperation.
After lunch, BPA program officer Mr. David Lang updated the board on the status of the ad hoc study on prospects for inertial confinement fusion (ICF), for which he is the study director. Lang noted that since the spring BPA meeting the committee report cleared security review and went into the NRC peer-review process in August 2012. The committee hoped to release the report to the public in the fall of 2012.* In the discussion with the board, members expressed concern for how the report might be received within DOE since the National Ignition Facility had not yet achieved ignition, but Lang noted that the study was planned to be very forwarding look and comprehensive, and would considering a variety of approaches to inertial fusion energy, and so it should be valuable to the community. (*Since the BPA meeting, the ICF report, An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy, was released to the public in February 2013. For more information please see the Inertial Confinement Fusion article.)
Departing from the discussion focused on BPA activities, the board next heard a presentation focused on science from Dr. Andy Lankford of the University of California at Irvine. Dr. Lankford addressed the recent observation of a resonance at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN that could be due to the long-sought Higgs particle. Although the Standard Model in physics has been astonishingly successful, several big questions remain and experiments carried out at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN are designed to address some of them. A particularly important question is: What is the origin of particle masses? A possible answer was proposed by Peter Higgs and is known as the Higgs mechanism. The mechanism involves a broken symmetry and an associated particle (known as the Higgs particle or “Higgs” for short). This mechanism is incorporated in the Standard Model of elementary-particle interactions developed by Steven Weinberg. The Standard Model has been remarkably successful at predicting the results of experiments in high-energy physics.
There are three things necessary to study the Higgs particle (or any other phenomenon in the relevant energy range): a sufficiently powerful accelerator, sensitive detectors, and a large computing grid to store and analyze the huge amounts of data produced in the experiment. The LHC, and the ATLAS experiment in particular, were designed to meet those needs. The ATLAS experiment measures time, charge, energy and position of particles resulting from collisions in the LHC. By combining the results of experiments taken over a two-year time period, the ATLAS team was able conclude that there is only about a 2 in 1 billion chance that the fluctuations seen in the energy range in question are the result of a random background fluctuation and that therefore a new particle has indeed been found. Evidence for the existence of this new particle was also seen by the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at CERN. On the basis of these results, ATLAS announced the discovery of a “Higgs-like” boson in July 2012.
The next step, Lankford said, is to gather more data and thereby more precisely characterize this new particle through measurements of its couplings with other particles and verify the consistency of its properties with those envisioned in the Standard Model. Additional experimental data may be able to address such questions as: (1) If this new particle is the Higgs then why is it so light? and (2) Is the Higgs mass stabilized by new physics? In 2013 CERN will shut down portions of the LHC to complete improvements, after which it will increase incrementally the luminosity and energy of the beam, which will open up new territory for experiments. Lankford concluded by noting that the accomplishments of the ATLAS project to date are the result of the superb performance of the LHC, the cooperation of international collaborators, and the power of the world-wide LHC computing grid.
In a late afternoon section on ad hoc committee activities, Don Langenberg (Maryland), chair of the Undergraduate Physics Education Committee, gave a closed session update, noting that the report is currently in NRC review and the committee hopes to release its report to the public this coming winter.* BPA Director Jim Lancaster gave a brief update on the dissemination efforts for the nuclear physics decadal survey report, Nuclear Physics: Exploring the Heart of Matter, which was released earlier this year along with two dissemination videos. Closing the discussion on ad hoc activities, Bert Halperin (Harvard), chair of the Committee to Assess the Status of High Magnetic Field Sciences in the United States, reviewed the progress of his committee in preparing its report. It is expected to enter into NRC review before the end of the year and hopefully be released in late spring.** (*Since the BPA meeting the undergraduate physics education report, Adapting to a Changing World—Challenges and Opportunities in Undergraduate Physics Education, was released to the public in March 2013. Please see the Undergraduate Physics Education article for more information. **Since the BPA meeting the magnetic sciences report entered review in February 2013. For more information please see the High Magnetic Field Sciences article.)
The second day of the meeting was conducted in closed session and devoted to upcoming activities and new developments. It included discussion on the Physics 2010 Workshop under development, as well as various issues in physics and astronomy that were raised in the course of the meeting. Those discussions led to the formation of several small working groups which were tasked to look into several issues and report back to the board.
The BPA’s next fall board meeting will take place at the Beckman Center of the National Academies in Irvine, CA on November 2-3, 2013.
Web site for the Board on Physics and Astronomy
High Magnetic Field Sciences Committee Update
The Committee to Assess the Current Status and Future Direction of High Magnetic Field Science in the United States, chaired by Bertrand Halperin of Harvard University, is tasked with assessing the needs of U. S. research communities for high magnetic fields and then, based upon this assessment, providing guidance for the future of both magnetic-field research and magnet technology development in the United States. In preparing its report, the committee will also address the status of and 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.
The committee held four meetings during the period from March to September 2012. At those meetings, the committee received presentations from federal agency representatives, the chair of the 2005 NRC study on high magnet field science, representatives of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, representatives from magnet-development and magnet-user industries, and scientists involved in various disciplines that utilize high magnetic fields. The committee began drafting material for its report shortly after its first meeting and the draft entered NRC review in February 2013. The report is expected to be released in prepublication form in the spring of 2013, after it has completed the NRC review process. The final publication will follow several months later.
Web site for the Committee to Assess the Current Status and Future Direction of High Magnetic Field Science in the United States
Standing Committee Updates
Committee on Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Sciences (CAMOS)
The Committee on Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Sciences’ fall meeting was held on October 1-2, 2012 at the Beckman Center in Irvine, California. Much of the meeting was spent on a potential brochure that CAMOS is considering developing that discusses opportunities in quantum information and ultrafast sciences, two areas identified in the decadal survey for AMO sciences as particularly promising. The remainder of the meeting involved presentations from two speakers who discussed industrial applications of atomic, molecular, and optical sciences. The first speaker was Mark Kasevich, from Stanford University. Dr. Kasevich discussed work underway in his laboratory that uses atom interferometry as extremely sensitive sensors. By measuring the relative phase shifts in the de Broglie waves of cold atoms, the sensors are able to directly read angular and linear displacements, which can then be used in accelerometers and gyroscopes. Among the many applications envisioned for such devises are GPS-free precision navigation, network time synchronization and, in the geodesic regime, the measurement of earthquake hazards and oil and mineral surveys. Dr. Kasevich also noted that there are a number of potential uses in basic science, including low-frequency gravitational wave detection, tests of general relativity, and measurements of the time variation of fundamental constants. The second speaker was Mike Anderson, from Vescent Photonics, Inc., located in Boulder, Colorado. Dr. Anderson discussed a number of products that Vescent has under development or on the market. These include compact diode laser systems that can be used by scientists and engineers for locking, as shutters, and for wavelength references. Other products include liquid-crystal waveguides and electro-optic beam steerers that have a number of potential applications in the communications and other fields. A summary of those presentations and the discussions that followed is available on CAMOS’ website.
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), co-chaired by David N. Spergel (Princeton University) and Paul L. Schechter (Massachusetts institute of Technology), was reestablished as a joint standing committee under the auspices of the BPA and the Space Studies Board following the conclusion of the 2010 astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey. The committee met in-person for the first time on June 4-6, 2012 in Washington, D.C. The meeting featured talks from federal representatives from NASA, NSF, and DOE, as well as conversations with the leadership of FACA committees relevant to the field. At this meeting Alan Dressler (Carnegie Observatories) and Paul Hertz (NASA) unveiled NASA’s receipt of two 2.4-meter telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office and the implications therein, including the possibility of using one of these new assets to address science envisioned to be accomplishable by the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), the mission recommended in the astronomy survey as the top-ranked, space-based mission in the large category. This announcement received wide coverage from news outlets including the New York Times.
Following the June meeting, the CAA held a WebEx meeting on July 27, 2012 to hear a presentation on the final report of the WFIRST Science Definition Team. Neil Gehrels, NASA WFIRST Study Scientist, presented the report’s findings. Paul Hertz, Director of the Astrophysics Division also spoke about what NASA is doing in response to the report. The committee held another WebEx meeting on September 7 to hear a presentation on the report of the Portfolio Review Committee. Daniel Eisenstein, chair of the committee, delivered the presentation. Jim Ulvestad, Director of the Astronomy Division at NSF, discussed how the NSF was going to move forward procedurally. Another WebEx meeting was held on October 16 to hear presentations on the final reports of the NASA Gravitational Wave Mission Concept Study from Tuck Stebbins (NASA) and the NASA X-ray Mission Concepts Study from Rob Petre (NASA). The CAA held a WebEx meeting on November 7 to hear about the NASA Astrophysics Division’s work on its Astrophysics Implementation Plan.
The CAA met in-person on March 6-8, 2013 as part of the first-ever NRC Space Science Week. The morning of March 6 was devoted to plenaries with all four space science standing committees of the NRC; the afternoon was held in conjunction with the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science and focused on exoplanet research. The agenda on March 7-8 focused on conversations with representatives from NASA, NSF, and DOE. The committee focused its discussions on the mid-decade review, the NASA Astrophysics implementation plan, the NSF Portfolio Review Committee’s report, the OIR system, and plans for its next meeting and schedule of future activities. The CAA plans to hold several teleconference-based meetings before its fall 2013 meeting. More information about CAA is available on its website.
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 12-13, 2012 in Bishop, CA and Big Pine, CA. The meeting began with a fascinating tour of the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA) located outside town. CORF saw the antennas, control room, and engaged in discussion with observatory staff. CORF then returned to the valley from whence they came and visited the Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO), where the committee toured the grounds and heard an informative talk on the facility’s capabilities and history.
CORF discussed the transpirings at a recent RAFCAP meeting which member Ken Kellermann attended. In particular, Australia is trying to set up Radio Quiet Zone for the Square Kilometer Array, China is dealing with self-generated noise for its FAST telescope, windmills continue to be an interference issue in Spain, the Netherlands, and Sweden, and Japan is concerned about broadband over powerlines. Consultant Mike Davis then talked about the ITU Commission 7 Working Parties Meeting in Ecuador in Summer 2012 he attended, which was the first such meeting after WRC-12. Of note, radio astronomy does not have primary responsibility on any of the questions for WRC-15. Also, automobile radar was a big topic of discussion—in fact, two individuals from the German auto radar community attended. The next edition of the ITU radio astronomy handbook will be published around fall 2013.
CORF next discussed its outreach efforts to the FCC, the IEEE Terahertz Interest Group, and the radio astronomy and Earth remote sensing community. The committee worked to refine the message of “Shared Use, Shared Resonsibility.” CORF also proposed publishing a boiled-down summary of the Spectrum Study as a slim document for outreach purposes.
The committee convened the next morning in Big Pine, CA and discussed its upcoming report in which would provide an independent perspective on agenda items at issue at WRC-15 which are relevant to radio astronomy and/or Earth remote sensing. One question was whether CORF itself had the expertise necessary for such a task or if gaps exist such that additional members were needed. The group reviewed its statement of task and then went through the agenda items in detail to determine their relevance.
CORF then discussed a number of other items, including a possible “Shared Spectrum, Shared Responsibility” workshop, the scientific boiler plate for CORF filings, the variegated issues surrounding Channel 37, outreach to the Americas, other prominent issues, and finally plans for next meeting.
On October 1, 2012, CORF filed Comments in the Matter of Amendment of Part 90 of the Commission’s Rules (WP Docket No. 07-100) Implementing a Nationwide, Broadband, Interoperable Public Safety Network in the 700 MHz Band (PS Docket No. 06-229) Service Rules for the 698-746, 747-762 and 777-792 MHz Bands (WT Docket No. 06-150). In these Comments, CORF discusses the proposed new rules for aeronautical mobile use of spectrum at 4940-4990 MHz (4.9 GHz band) and the potential interference impact on Radio Astronomy Service (RAS) observations in that band. More.
On January 25, 2013, CORF filed Comments in the Matter of Expanding the Economic and Innovative Opportunities of Spectrum Through Incentive Auctions (Docket No. 12-268). In these Comments, CORF discusses the nature of observations by the Radio Astronomy Service (RAS) in the 608-614 MHz band (i.e., Channel 37) and the remainder of the television band (TV Band). More.
The committee is currently planning its spring 2013 meeting to be held on May 15-17 in Washington, D.C.
Web site for the Committee on Radio Frequencies
Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee and Plasma Science Committee
Due to limited funding, the Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee and the Plasma Science Committee did not hold fall meetings in 2012 and both committees have postponed their spring 2013 meetings. Updates will be made available on the respective committee web pages.
Web site for the Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee
Web Site for the Plasma Science Committee
Newsletter for the Division on Engineerings and Physical Sciences—
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.