Skip to Main Content
  Contact Us
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Board on Physics and Astronomy
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences


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

In this issue:

Recently Completed Studies—

  • Nuclear Physics Decadal Survey (NP2010) Report Released
    Nuclear physics is a discovery-driven enterprise aimed at understanding the fundamental nature of visible matter in the universe.  For the past hundred years, new knowledge of the nuclear world has also directly benefited society through many innovative applications...

Ongoing Activities—

  • BPA Spring Meeting Highlights
    The Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) met at the Keck Center of the National Academies in Washington, DC for its spring 2012 meeting on April 28-29, 2012...
  • Inertial Confinement Fusion Study Update
    The sixth and final committee meeting for the study on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems took place on February 22-23, 2012 in San Diego, CA at the General Atomics research campus...
  • 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...
  • High Magnetic 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

BPA Staff News—

News from outside the BPA—

Newsletter for the Division on Engineering 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.


Nuclear Physics Decadal Survey (NP2010) Report Released

*The follow article is reprinted with minor edits from an NAS News Brief prepared by the NAS Office of News and Public Information; the original News Brief is available online at

Nuclear physics is a discovery-driven enterprise aimed at understanding the fundamental nature of visible matter in the universe.  For the past hundred years, new knowledge of the nuclear world has also directly benefited society through many innovative applications.  In the fourth NRC decadal survey of nuclear physics, the Nuclear Physics 2010 (NP2010) committee report, Nuclear Physics: Exploring the Heart of Matter, outlines the impressive accomplishments of the field in the last decade and recommends a long-term strategy for the future.  This report builds on the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee's 2007 five-year plan and commends the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation for effective management of the U.S. nuclear physics program.  Recommended priorities for the future include exploiting recent upgrades of nuclear physics facilities, the timely completion of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, the development and implementation of a targeted program of underground science, and the creation of two national competitions for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. 

"The recommendations in this report will help ensure a thriving and healthy field that continues to benefit society from new applications at an accelerating pace," said Stuart Freedman, professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley, and chair of the committee that wrote the report.  "The impact of nuclear physics extends well beyond furthering our scientific knowledge of the nucleus and the nature and origin of visible matter.  Nuclear physics is relevant to the most important of today's problems in energy, health, and the environment."

Sophisticated new tools and protocols have been developed for successful management of the largest projects in nuclear physics, the NP2010 report says.  But to keep the U.S. program nimble and competitive, the committee recommends that federal agencies develop streamlined and flexible procedures tailored for initiating and managing smaller-scale nuclear science projects.

The NP2010 report also advises the theoretical nuclear science community to develop a plan for exploiting the rapidly increasing power of modern computing, and to establish the infrastructure and collaborations now in order to take advantage of these capabilities as they become available.  Additional priorities for the field should include continued investment in accelerator and detector research and the possible development of an electron-ion collider.

Two videos have been prepared in conjunction with the NP2010 report to illustrate several of its main ideas.  The videos are suitable for classroom use and clearly articulate the scientific rationale and objectives for nuclear physics, placing near-term goals in a broader international context. The videos are available online.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.  The committee roster and other information about the study can be found on the NP2010 committee web site.  A prepublication version of the report is available for free download on the National Academies Press web site, and a Report in Brief PDF is available online as well. 

Web site for the Committee on Assessment of and Outlook for Nuclear Physics (NP2010)




BPA Spring Meeting Highlights

The Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) met at the Keck Center of the National Academies in Washington, DC for its spring 2012 meeting on April 28-29, 2012.  Presided over by chair Adam Burrows, the open session began with talks from NSF representatives from the physics, materials research, and astronomy divisions. 

Dr. Ian Robertson, director of the NSF Division on Materials Research (DMR), reviewed DMR’s current organization and budget, and several of its ongoing activities, including the recently established Materials 2022 committee, a subcommittee of the NSF Mathematical and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee.  The Materials 2022 committee was convened to help DMR develop a vision for the facilities and instrumentation needs of the materials community in the coming decade.  When asked about the how DMR will manage the budget to support a network of centers while still ensuring a large fraction of support for single investigators, Robertson stated that roughly 50% of the budget currently goes toward single investigators and DMR is focused on keeping that balance.

Dr. Joe Dehmer, director of the NSF Physics Division (PHY), gave an update on the activities in PHY and stressed that PHY has been concerned about its role in science innovation.  The PHY strategy toward supporting innovation has three components: advancing intellectual frontiers, developing the intellectual capital to activate the ecosystem, and seizing opportunities to apply new knowledge to practical needs.  Dehmer reminded those present at the BPA meeting that the importance of the role of basic research for future innovation is not well understood in Washington and needs constant reinforcement.  Dehmer also reviewed the PHY budget, noting that although the total NSF budget requested by the Administration for FY2013 increases by almost 5 percent, the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Division (MPS) of NSF increases by only 2.8 percent and the PHY budget increases by only 1 percent.

Dr. James Ulvestad, director of the NSF Astronomy Division (AST), presented an overview and update on the current AST activities and budget.  Ulvestad’s take-away message was that ground-based astronomy is very healthy, with significant new capabilities coming on line this decade and with new discovery opportunities. However, budget constraints mean that starting any new initiatives and maintaining a healthy community will require tough priority choices and divestiture of some unique capabilities.  Under a best-case scenario, Ulvestad reported that the AST budget request, was $60M-$70M below the budget scenarios outlined in the NRC’s Astro2010 committee report New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (NWNH), and serious modification of the current portfolio and of expectations of AST will be required in order to respond to any Astro2010 recommendations.  On a brighter note, LSST, the top recommendation for the ground based priorities in NWNH, is moving forward, having passed NSF Preliminary Design Review and phase 1 of DOE’s Critical Design Review (CD-1).  In other news, AST is going to conduct a Portfolio Review as recommended by NWNH for a flat budget, with the goal of positioning ground-based astronomical research in the United States for future success. 

2010_New Worlds New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics

NSF AST was followed by a talk on NSF Spectrum Management from Dr. Tom Gergely, program manager for the NSF’s Electromagnetic Spectrum Management (ESM) program, and Dr. Andrew Clegg, program manager for NSF’s Enhancing Access to the Radio Spectrum (EARS) program.  Gergely reviewed the most recent World Radiocommunication Conference held in Geneva in January and February 2012, during which he informed the board of an update to the ITU footnote concerning spectrum use of passive services above 275 GHz (Footnote 5.565).  The range of this footnote has been expanded to include spectrum up to 3 THz and the list of bands used by earth remote sensing as stated in this footnote has been updated as well.  Other topics discussed at the recent WRC meeting included high frequency oceanographic radar that can be used to track tsunamis, and protection of a band allocated to the passive Meteorological Aids service that is used for lightning research.  Future WRC items that would be of interest to the physics and astronomy communities include the potential abolishment of leap seconds and a review of short range vehicular radars.  Gergely noted that the NSF is interested in receiving input from the NAS on these and other relevant upcoming WRC agenda items.  Gergely’s presentation was followed up with a presentation from Clegg on the recently initiated EARS program—a new NSF initiative to invest in interdisciplinary research that can improve the efficiency by which radio spectrum is used or improve access to the radio spectrum for presently under-represented populations.  The EARS program will provide opportunities to academic and small business researchers to create innovative new spectrum technologies and policies, and will benefit the general public through improving access to the spectrum and efficiency in use of the spectrum.

Moving to a presentation from NASA, Dr. Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA, provided an update on the budgets for SMD and for the divisions within SMD, and then reviewed current and planned activities.  The budget for SMD has changed from $4920 million in FY 2011 to $5074 million in FY 2012 and then down to $4911 million in the Administration’s FY 2013 request.  Hertz reported that review committees at both the agency-wide level and within SMD have reported positively that the JWST mission plan is executable and that the mission is currently within its planned budget and on track to launch on schedule in 2018.  Hertz also reported that since the release of the NRC report, Assessment of a Plan for U.S. Participation in Euclid, NASA has moved quickly to come to an agreement with ESA on a hardware contribution for Euclid that will result in a total contribution cost from NASA in the range of $40 to $50 million dollars.  The final U.S. hardware contribution to provide the detector subsystems differs from the hardware NASA suggested to that NRC committee, a change due in large part because the original proposal would not have been possible within the observatory schedule.  This change was agreed to by NASA because it will be important to be involved in the science and the additional cost could be accommodated within the total cost recommended by the NRC committee and within SMD’s budget.  The WFIRST mission has completed one design reference mission and a second more-constrained design reference mission is underway.The final report of the WFIRST Science Definition Team is due in June 2012.  However, the President’s budget request for NASA includes no new starts for missions in any science areas so it does not appear that WFIRST will launch in this decade.  Hertz noted that NWNH assumed a funding wedge of about $3.7 billion, and $3.0 billion for their pessimistic budget, but in reality the budget wedge is closer to just $800 million.  This wedge will be used for augmenting the SMD Astrophysics’ explorer missions and suborbital orbital programs, for conducting a Senior Review starting in FY 2015, and for funding augmentation to the core research program as recommended by NWNH.


After a lunch break, Dr. William Brinkman, director of the DOE’s Office of Science, spoke with the board.  Brinkman noted that when the current administration came into power in 2008 expectations were higher, and the Office of Science was looking at a doubling budget over the next 10 years.  Now all those plans have been set back because the budget has not been increasing and it isn’t clear what impact the next election will have on future spending.  Turning to touch more specifically on the programs within the DOE Office of Science, Brinkman noted that environmental science has been reoriented in recent years towards biology—particularly biofuels and climate—but there are still many outstanding questions such as how CO2 interacts with soils, microbes, and oceans.  In speaking on the high-energy physics program, Brinkman noted it is likely that CERN will be able to confirm the discovery of the Higgs within the next year.  Brinkman also noted that another important outstanding issue for high-energy physics is charge-parity (CP) violation, but that the route forward isn’t clear.  Nuclear physics has two facilities currently operating, RHIC and CEBAF, and another facility underway: FRIB.  However the administration’s budget request for FY2013 doesn’t include money for FRIB.  All three facilities have well-defined missions, but one issue the Office of Science is looking into is how to afford three facilities on a budget of only $550 million per year. In fusion energy sciences, Brinkman noted that the international tokomak project ITER would take a large portion of the currently planned budget.  Although he thought a little sacrifice will be essential, it would be very hard to make further reductions from the remaining domestic fusion program.  Brinkman continued by stating that the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC) has been charged with reviewing this situation of balancing the program within the current budget constraints, and is to report back to the agencies by the end of the year.  In other areas, Brinkman noted that advances in computing have contributed to a very dynamic growth in a number of areas of science research.  For example, materials scientists can now calculate many parameters of thousands of different compounds, which saves a large amount of money.  In extending our capability to exascale computing, two of the big issues that will need to be addressed are the power requirements and the number of transistors that will be necessary. 


Following Brinkmann, the Board heard from Joel Parriott, JD Kundu, and Arti Garg with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and from Gerald Blazey with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).  In her presentations, Garg briefly reviewed the history of discretionary spending and federal agency research spending, pointing out that three-fourths of R&D budget goes to two federal agencies, NIH and DOD, and that the NIH budget represents half of the entire discretionary non-defense R&D budget.  Garg also reviewed the FY 2013 priority R&D areas identified by the White House—clean energy, advanced manufacturing, wireless communications, robotics, climate change and sustainability, and big data—as well as tax code and patent system reform and noted that the Administration’s budget themes for FY2013 are deficit reduction, making tough budget cuts, and making investments that will encourage growth in the economy.  When asked where basic research fits within the White House R&D priority areas for FY 2013, OMB representatives said that it isn’t explicitly included and that the connection between basic research and innovation and job growth could be articulated better.  Commenting on investments in ITER, the OMB and OSTP representatives stated that, even though there are a lot of partners involved in the project, a cap on discretionary spending implies that funding ITER has the potential to affect the entire program.  In discussing the NRC decadal surveys, OMB and OSTP representatives told the board that these decadal surveys are taken very seriously and in certain offices they are used for reference every day.  They went on to note that identifying the science priorities is very important and, because resources are limited, recommendations that will be robust to changes in the environment are important.  The federal agencies are interested in input when deciding between projects, but designating technical requirements of specific projects can’t be too explicit because of budgetary considerations.

In the afternoon the board heard from various Department of Energy program managers, starting with Harriet Kung, associate director for DOE Basic Energy Sciences (BES).  Kung reviewed the FY2012 BES appropriations, noting that BES has had to make some difficult decisions this year.  Although the budget request included an increase close to $200M over FY2011 appropriations, the final BES budget was only increased by $10M.  After BES staff spoke with Congress and informed them that continuing with this lower budget jeopardizes BES programs, Congress did allow BES to proceed with two facility upgrades, one on the Advanced Photon Source (APS) and the other on the Linac Coherent Light Source-II (LCLS-II).  However, to help maintain balance in the BES program under the constrained budget, BES has found it necessary to operate its science user facilities at below optimum levels.  For FY2013, Kung told the board that the BES budget request includes an increase of $111 million over FY2012 funding.  When asked why the FY2012 budget dropped as it did, Kung replied that it was part of an overall drop in the budget for the DOE Office of Science.  Kung also reviewed several BES program highlights, including highlights of BES user facilities.  She noted that the National Synchrotron Light Source II under construction at Brookhaven National Laboratory is on track to be finished early and will be the largest ring-based source in the world.  Kung also mentioned that research done at the Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) has resulted in the publication of more the 1,000 peer-reviewed papers, and more than 30 Science magazine and Nature magazine articles.  When asked about the balance between facility upgrades and support for the science, Kung said that she is concerned about providing enough support for the research, but the balance is impacted by the budget appropriations that are out of BES control. 

The board next heard from Jim Siegrist, associate director for DOE’s Office of High Energy Physics (HEP). Siegrist reviewed leading budget issues for HEP—including the zeroing of the ILC R&D budget and the lack of funding for the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE)—and he expressed concern that the lack of new facilities for HEP science threatens the future of the DOE HEP program.  Siegrist said HEP will continue to keep the pumps running to keep Homestake Mine—the proposed site for a deep underground Science and engineering laboratory—clear of water, but the future for the Homestake Mine and the LBNE are still uncertain.  When asked about upcoming 2017 CERN negotiations, Sigrist said they are beginning to think about how U.S. scientists could be impacted and, though they haven’t yet thought about how to obtain community input, HEP will need help from the community.

Tim Hallman, the associate director for the Office of Nuclear Physics (NP) in the DOE Office of Science, first reviewed recent highlights of work supported by NP including the discovery of anti-Helium-4, the heaviest anti-nucleus discovered to date, and confirmation of a new state of matter that was first seen at RHIC.  He then discussed the FY 2013 budget and the implications of that budget.  The FY 2013 budget request for DOE’s nuclear physics program provides resources for continued U.S. leadership in discovery science, including resources for tools necessary for scientific and technical advances, so that the United States will continue to have some of the premier research capabilities in the world.  Speaking of future years, Hallman cautioned the board that DOE’s nuclear physics program, like other DOE science programs, is potentially facing very challenging budgets and that NP will work with the community to mitigate negative impacts and to ensure continuation of the highest priority, highest impact nuclear science research.  When asked about FRIB, Hallman said that when FRIB is ready to move forward, community input will be needed on how to prioritize investments. 

Ed Synakowski, associate director of the DOE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences (OFES), spoke next.  Synakowski discussed the priorities of the DOE fusion program, budget constraints, and goals for the future.  He stated that fusion science is at a remarkable place right now, ready to move forward in meeting energy needs.  In discussing ITER, Synakowski stated that the increase in funding for the international ITER program was accompanied with a similar decrease in the remaining OFES program.  Synakowski also informed the board that a new charge has been given to the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee to look at program priorities under various budgetary assumptions.

Closing the presentations on the first day, Allan Hauer, chief scientist in the Stockpile Stewardship Program of the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) presented to the board an update of NNSA activities and sponsored research.  He informed the board that despite budgetary constraints, advances in high performance computing continue.  For the National Ignition Facility (NIF), ignition remains an important goal and pursuit of ignition will continue,  but other HED priorities will receive increased priority and more shots will be devoted to non-ignition experiments after the National Ignition Campaign concludes.  Hauer also touched on NNSA’s sponsorship of academic research and academic outreach and noted that over 500 faculty and students were involved in the first 5 Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) Alliance Centers under the Academic Strategic Alliance Program (1998-2010). 

On the morning of the meeting’s second day, the Board heard two talks on current issues in science policy. Bill Press, from University of Texas at Austin, discussed his tenure on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Among other topics, he described their efforts in the areas of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, STEM education, and the use of government radio spectrum. Dr. Press also reported that PCAST is expected to issue a report on the science and technology enterprise shortly.  Rob Socolow (Princeton University) then spoke of his efforts serving on the American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs (POPA).

Ronald Davidson (Princeton University), co-chair of the study on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems, followed the early morning session and discussed the recently released interim report on inertial fusion energy and the status of main report.  He expects the main report to enter review in the summer and to be released in late summer.  David Spergel (Princeton University), co-chair of the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics (CAA), spoke next about a quick study conducted under the auspices of the CAA.  The report produced through that study assessed NASA’s proposed plan for U.S. participation in the European Space Agency’s Euclid program.  It concluded that U.S. participation would represent a valuable first step in meeting one of the science goals in the Astro2010 decadal survey, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (NWNH), for the WFIRST mission but that such participation is not a viable alternative to WFIRST, the top space-based priority of NWNH.   The report also contained several detailed recommendations on appropriate investments and involvements in the Euclid experiment.  Dr. Spergel then reported on events that had transpired since release of that report.

After lunch the Board went into closed session where it heard from board member Stuart Freedman (University of California at Berkeley) on the findings and conclusions from the nuclear physics survey, NP 2010: An Assessment and Outlook for Nuclear Physics, and from other board members on the status of the other decadal-surveyed fields.  The remainder of the meeting was spent discussing future activities for the Board, such as a study on active use of the radio spectrum proposed by the Committee on Radio Frequencies.

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




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 on February 22-23, 2012 in San Diego, CA at the General Atomics research campus.  The committee, led by co-chairs Gerald L. Kulcinski (NAE, University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Ronald C. Davidson (Princeton University), worked diligently over the following months to bring its final report to completion before entering classification review by DOE and, subsequently, the NRC review process. 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 addition to the main NRC committee addressing the above charge elements, a target physics panel established by the NRC is carrying out an assessment of the current performance of various inertial confinement fusion target technologies, and identifying the R&D challenges to providing suitable targets on the basis of parameters established and provided by the main committee. The panel is also addressing the potential impacts of the use and development of current concepts for IFE on the proliferation of nuclear weapons information and technology. The public version of the panel’s report will be released alongside the main committee’s report.

The final report of the main committee is presently in NRC review, with the goal that this report be released in the fall of 2012. The committee’s interim report was released in early 2012.

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




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.  The committee has also been charged with 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 previous newsletters, the committee has held a total of five meetings, with the fifth meeting taking place in Washington, DC on January 13-14, 2012.  Since January, the committee has been engaged in revising its report and shortly before the publication of this newsletter, the report entered into NRC report review.  Once the report is deemed to have met the concerns and issues raised by reviewers it will be publicly released. Current expectations are that the report will be available for public release by the end of 2012. 

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




High Magnetic 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.  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’s first meeting was held in Washington, DC on March 12-13, 2012.  The committee first heard from representatives of the sponsoring programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).  Dr. Guebre X. Tessema from the NSF’s Division of Materials Research discussed the history of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (NHMFL) and the principal goals that they hope to achieve through the study—to find out what the next 20 years should look like, for the NHMFL in particular and more generally, for the areas of science that use high magnetic fields. NSF is interested in input on topics such as: the scientific opportunities that can be addressed with high magnetic field science; the magnet technologies that will be necessary to advance the field; and stewardship models for both the field and the NHMFL.  Dr. Andrew R. Schwartz, from the DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences, gave an overview of DOE’s involvement in supporting magnetic field sciences and related facilities.  Dr. Schwartz noted that DOE is particularly interested in the committee’s findings on what are the exciting areas in high magnetic field sciences and what will be needed to achieve the science, including capabilities at neutron and photon scattering facilities.  Peter Moore, from Yale University, then spoke as chair of the committee that wrote the 2005 NRC report, Opportunities in High Magnetic Field Science.  Dr. Moore discussed some lessons learned from that previous study and gave advice to the committee on how to approach its task. 

During an afternoon open session the committee heard from several folks affiliated with the NHMFL—Greg Boebinger, Lucio Frydman, David Larbalestier, and Charles Mielke.  These speakers discussed the science drivers, magnetic facilities, and magnet technologies at the NHMFL.  The remaining portion of the first meeting was conducted in closed session, during which the committee reviewed its statement of task and the presentations made in open session.  The committee also discussed the balance of its membership, planned visits to the various NHMFL sites, made initial writing assignments, and identified potential speakers for its second meeting.  With regards to its composition, the committee decided that it needed additional expertise covering magnet technology and its applications to plasma, fusion, and high energy physics. To that end, Joseph Minervini, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was appointed to the committee.

The second meeting of the committee was held in Washington, DC on May 17-18, 2012.   The committee heard from a number of speakers.  The first set of speakers were agency representatives of federal programs that support research using high magnetic fields—DOE’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences, DOE’s Office of High Energy Physics, and NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.  This was followed by a session on the magnet technology industry in which the committee heard presentations from Alexis Malozemoff, a consultant to AMSC (formerly the American Superconductor Corporation); Jim Hollenhorst, with Agilent Technologies; and Gerhard Roth, with Bruker BioSpin.  The industry speakers focused largely on advancements in high-temperature superconducting magnet technology and NMR magnets, and the challenges that the industry is facing in moving toward the next level of magnets.  In a later session, the committee heard from Peter O’Connor of University of Warwick about the ion cyclotron resonance (ICR) community and from Collin Broholm of Johns Hopkins University on neutron scattering.  Dr. O’Connor discussed how ICR is, among other applications, advancing the petroleum industry through detailed studies of fragmentation mechanisms and molecular structure that may lead to an improved understanding of compound migration of liquids such as oil in rock.  Dr. Broholm noted that a new generation of high-field neutron scattering experiments could impact a broad range of materials science.  Dr. Broholm also noted that through the NHMFL, the United States leads in many relevant magnet technologies, but currently there is no funded project that applies this magnet technology to neutron scattering. 

On the second day of this meeting, the committee heard three presentations on facilities stewardship from Ian Robertson of NSF, Patricia Dehmer of DOE, and Patrick Gallagher of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Each of the speakers highlighted several different types of stewardship models they’ve encountered and pros and cons associated with those models, as well as some practical lessons learned from personal experiences for facilities stewardship.  Next the committee heard from the chair of the NHMFL Users Committee, Janice Musfeldt (University of Tennessee), who highlighted trends in the overall user population and several perceived challenges facing the community of high magnet field users.  The final speaker was Jim Valles of Brown University, who discussed soft condensed matter experiments involving high magnetic fields.  Among other things, Dr. Valles noted that nearly all organic materials are bio-diamagnetic on a small scale and that it is possible to align bio-molecular assemblies in magnetic fields and to counteract the force of gravity through magnetic levitation.  These studies could lead to an alternative way to simulate low gravity for scientific experiments.  The rest of the second meeting was conducted in closed session, in which the committee continued to discuss writing assignments, the report content, and plans for the third meeting.

The committee’s third meeting, held entirely in closed session, took place in Irvine, CA on July 19-20, 2012.  At this meeting the committee continued its work on the report, including the development of the report’s findings and recommendations.  In breakout sessions small groups worked together to flesh out draft text for the report’s sections and its findings and recommendations.  The committee’s fourth meeting took place on September 29-30, 2012 in Irvine, CA..  At this meeting the committee held a brief open session where several committee members gave verbal reports of what was learned during site visits to the NHMFL facilities at Los Alamos, Tallahassee, and Orlando.  The remainder of this meeting was conducted in closed session where the committee continued to refine its draft report and the report’s findings and recommendations.  The committee’s report is expected to enter into NRC review later in 2012, after which it should be released early in 2013.


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




BPA Standing Committees

Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics

The Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics (CAA), a joint standing committee under the auspices of the BPA and the Space Studies Board, has been re-established after a hiatus during the astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey that resulted in the report, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The CAA is co-chaired by David N. Spergel (Princeton University) and Paul L. Schechter (Massachusetts institute of Technology) and will meet on a yearly basis.  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. For the full statement of task, and to stay apprised of the CAA’s activities, please visit the committee’s web site.

2010_New Worlds New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics  2010_panel reports--new_worlds_new_horizons  2011_2020_vision_overview_of_nwnh  2010_implementing_recommendations_from_nwnh  2012_assessment_of_us_participation_in_euclid

Web site for the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics


Committee on Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Sciences

Quantum control, one of the six science challenges recognized in the AMO decadal survey, was the subject of the science focus session for CAMO’s spring meeting.  Herschel Rabitz, Princeton University, began the session by providing some general considerations on optimal control in chemistry, some of the implications of those efforts for other areas of science, as well as potential applications. Marcus Dantus (Michigan State University) then spoke about using phase control of pulsed laser light to study and manipulate chemical states.  After discussing progress that has taken place in wave packet manipulation, he outlined some current applications that include studying chemical reactions, developing coherent control of electronic states and transitions, and determining the role that similar processes take in nature.  The committee then heard from Thomas Weinacht (State University of New York in Stony Brook), who discussed work on strong-field control of molecular ionization and dissociation by using shaped ultrafast optical pulses.  Committee member Tamar Seideman (Northwestern University) then discussed efforts to coherently align complex systems using moderately intense laser fields and some of the potential uses of this technique, such as assisting in molecular assembly and providing more control in efforts to study the nature and behavior of such systems and how they engage with their environment.  The final speaker, Mikhail Lukin (Harvard University), discussed work involving the control of nitrogen vacancies in diamond, which provides a robust solid-state/atom hybrid system for manipulation and control.  Potential applications being explored include use of the spins in the nitrogen vacancies as solid-state qubits and as probes in biological systems. [The PDF summary of Quantum Control is available for download]

Following the quantum control session, the committee heard from representatives of agencies that support AMO physics.  Wendell Hill discussed some of the goals of NSF’s program, including centers having AMO focus, as well as efforts at the NSF to encourage cross-disciplinary work.  Jeff Krause then discussed the short-term outlook for Basic Energy Sciences funding at DOE, including some of the upgrades being planned for or are underway at facilities such as LCLS that. Riq Parra then spoke about the Air Force Office of Scientific Research’s AMO program, including recent reorganization efforts that are geared towards making interaction between programs easier.  Finally, Jamil Abo-Shaeer discussed DARPA research program in the AMO area, including work on sensors, the use of radiation pressure for cooling and heating, and optical lattice emulators.


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


Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee

The main focus of CMMRC’s spring meeting, held at the Keck Center in Washington, DC on May 7-8, 2012, was a series of talks on Self Assembly, Functionality, and Complexity.  Bartosz Grzybowski, Northwestern University, began by discussing some of his and others’ work in non-equilibrium dynamic nanomaterials.  Self-assembly is a key feature in many of these materials, and by choosing which nanomaterials to start with, one can produce crystalline, semi-crystalline, and polymer structures with many interesting features.  Alex Travesset, Ames Laboratory, then spoke about work involving the self-assembly of bio-inspired materials.  He noted that in nature, such systems are tuned for self-assembly and do so with exquisite precision.  His and other groups have had success in developing general strategies for assembling materials such as polymer nanocomposites.   The final speaker was Robijn Bruinsma, University of California at Los Angeles, who spoke about functionality and complexity in viral self-assembly. Current efforts in materials science include using viruses as scaffolds on which to grow crystals.  Because every virus is slightly different and differences can produce varying functions, viruses are seen as a versatile assembly mechanism for different types of crystals.  Following the three presentations, the committee and presenters discussed some of the issues associated with moving to more complex, functional systems, and how to more effectively shift from the discovery to the design of new materials. 

CMMRC also heard from representatives of the agencies that support materials and condensed matter research. Linda Horton (DOE/MSE) discussed recent developments in the Department of Energy’s  (DOE) Materials Sciences and Engineering Division.  She noted that they have one facility under construction, an update of the Synchrotron Light Source, and that the Energy Frontier Research Centers are undergoing midcourse reviews.  Mesoscale sciences is a new area that they’re in the process of defining, while other areas in planning stages or newly underway are the materials genome initiative and the early career research program.  Janice Hicks (NSF/DMR) then discussed the National Science Foundation’s Division of Materials Research.  She began with budgetary information, noting that DMR has been fairly flat in the last several years, which they consider a positive, given the current economic climate and budgetary constraints. Of the roughly $300M annual budget, half goes to individual researchers and 20% to facilities.  Among their new initiatives is the materials genome project, with additional areas of focus being data repositories, data mining, and the interdisciplinary area of sustainability, a joint effort of chemistry, engineering, and materials.  The final agency speaker was Joel Parriott, from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  Dr. Parriott began by providing a brief overview of OMB’s make-up and operations.  He then discussed the annual budget timeline and the role that overall budget priorities play in designating dollar amounts for the different OMB Resource Management Offices and then for each Office, the agencies that Office is responsible for.  He noted that the case for supporting a field such as materials research, with its direct connections to applications, is easier to make compared to other fields.  One of the areas that OMB  is working on is how to fund facilities that are used by a number of fields but run by a single division in one agency. 


Web site for the Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee


Committee on Radio Frequencies

The Committee on Radio Frequencies (CORF), chaired by Dave DeBoer (UC-Berkeley), convened its spring meeting on May 17-18 in Washington, D.C. The meeting began with a presentation from Lee Mundy (U. Maryland) on the technical capabilities and science goals of the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA), a configurable radio astronomy array with 23 antennas and 2 correlators. Next, Ron Repasi from the Federal Communications Commission spoke about issues that might be of interest to CORF, including the progress on the National Broadband Plan. CORF then held a roundtable discussion with Michael Marcus and David Britz, who attended on behalf of the International Wireless Industry Consortium. The conversation focused on cooperation between active and passive users of the spectrum in the terahertz region of the spectrum and how the two communities could encourage such interaction. The committee next heard from Tom Gergely (NSF), Tom VonDeak (NASA), and (John Zuzek) on the outcomes from the recent WRC-12 and what issues their agencies are watching for the next WRC in 2015. Andrew Clegg (NSF) then delivered a talk on spectrum issues surrounding cubesats—miniaturized satellites for space research that have a volume of exactly one liter (10 cm3), weigh no more than one kilogram, and typically use commercial, off-the-shelf electronics components. Betsy Edwards (NASA) then spoke about the NASA Earth Science Division’s current and planned missions. CORF then held a discussion with Tom Power (OSTP) about the President’s spectrum policy and efforts on the National Broadband Plan.

The next morning, Paul Feldman (CORF consultant) gave a talk on developemtnts at the FCC of particular interest to CORF and offered possible courses of action for the committee to consider. CORF also spent time discussing cooperative spectrum sharing and stewarding the Spectrum Management for Science in the 21st Century study, and returned to its planning of outreach to the Americas and its presentation to the FCC. CORF also filed comments with the FCC in May 2012 on tank level-probing radars at 5.925-7.250 GHz, 24.05-29.00 GHz and 75-85 GHz. CORF did not oppose the sharing of spectrum in this band with these radars, subject to the protections proposed in the original notice.  CORF suggests, however, that in order to facilitate resolution of any possible interference issues with radio astronomy (RAS) observatories, that manufacturers of these radars’ equipment also be required to maintain a database with information on the purchasers of such equipment, and to place that information in a publicly accessible database. CORF also filed comments in July on a petition by Qualcomm regarding air-to-ground mobile service at 14.0-14.50 GHz. In these comments, CORF notes that an aeronautical service transmitting down to Earth in this band could cause significant interference problems for RAS facilities. It further notes that Qualcomm has properly proposed that operators of such a new aeronautical service be required to enter into coordination agreements to protect RAS facilities. However, such coordination will likely be considerably more challenging than coordination with the RAS by other commercial users of this band, such as operators of aeronautical mobile satellite services. Accordingly, careful consideration of and commitment to solutions will be essential if this new service is authorized.  CORF again filed comments in July on utilizing rapidly deployable aerial communications architecture (DACA) in response to an emergency. In these comments, CORF expresses support for exploring the use of DACA technologies to facilitate emergency response in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic event.  CORF notes, however, that in evaluating frequency planning and minimizing the potential for harmful interference, consideration must be given to passive scientific use of the spectrum.  Indeed, some passive scientific uses of the spectrum might help to mitigate the effects of some natural disasters.  CORF is currently planning its fall 2012 meeting.

2009_spectrum_management_for_science_in_the_21st_century  2007_handbook_of_frequency_allocations

Web site for the Committee on Radio Frequencies


Plasma Science Committee

The Plasma Science Committee (PLSC), chaired by Michael Brown (Swarthmore College) and vice-chair Michael Mauel (Columbia U.), met on March 30-31 in Washington, D.C. The committee heard an update on the ITER project and the DOE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences’ (OFES) budget and programmatic outlook from Jim Van Dam, Director of the Research Division in OFES. Dr. Van Dam, in particular, noted that the FY2013 budget was constructed in a constrained environment and with a long?term view, and that it reflects the Administration’s high priority in research relevant to clean energy with near?term payoff, noting that cuts are realized in most of the non?ITER parts of the FES program. Regarding ITER, he reported that the project is moving ahead swiftly in construction, and the U.S. needs to keep pace to the best of its ability. Dr. Van Dam also provided his perspective on the 2007 NRC plasma science decadal survey, Plasma Science: Advancing Knowledge in the National Interest, highlighting a number of actions undertaken by DOE in response to that report. Kirk Levedahl, NNSA Program Manager for the National Ignition Campaign (NIC), next gave a talk on inertial confinement fusion (ICF), the NIC, and high energy desntiy science post-FY2012. He noted that ICF experiments, including ignition, are key elements of the NNSA plan to advance nuclear weapons assessment and certification, and that the NIC and National Ignition Facility are transitioning from a program to pursue ignition through pursuit of a defined schedule of activities to one driven by scientific exploration and discovery. He also mentioned that the ignition effort will continue as part of the ICF Program post in FY13 and beyond. Next, Steve Gitomer, Program Director for Plasma Physics at NSF, gave an overview of plasma physics research activities at NSF.  Specifically, he talked about the NSF/DOE Partnership in Basic Plasma Science & Engineering, NSF Career Awards, and conference/workshop grants, and then described the broad variety of plasma science research funded by NSF. Martin Greenwald, MIT and Chair of FESAC, then discussed his committee’s discussions, which focused on the general budget pressures, the current and future funding for ITER and its impact on the OFES budget, the possible exploration of opportunities afforded by long-pulse international machines, and research in materials and enabling technology. He noted, in particular, that FESAC issued a formal statement to Dr. Bill Brinkman noting its concern about the viability of the U.S. fusion program under the current budget outlook. Arti Garg, Budget Examiner for the DOE Office of Science at OMB, next described the budget process and where OMB sits in it. She also outlined the President’s 2013 priority R&D areas. Chris King, Staff Director at the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, next gave his perspective on the outlook for plasma science, ITER, and the nation’s overall budget situation. Concluding the day’s activities, Ron Davidson, Princeton and Co-Chair of the NRC inertial fusion energy study committee, gave a report on his committee’s activities and summarized its interim report, Interim Report-Status of the Study “An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy.” During the following day’s activities, conducted in closed session, the committee discussed presentations from the previous day and worked on a letter to the BPA to raise their concerns about the outlook for the field.


Web site for the Plasma Science Committee




BPA Board Director Announcement

Don Shapero retired in June as director of the BPA after 38 years at the National Academies.  He will continue to assist the BPA part time, serving as Senior Scholar for the Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences. Dr. Shapero received a B.S. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1964 and a Ph.D. from MIT in 1970.  His thesis addressed the asymptotic behavior of relativistic quantum field theories.  After receiving the Ph.D., he became a Thomas J. Watson Postdoctoral Fellow at IBM.  He subsequently became an assistant professor at American University, later moving to Catholic University, and then joining the staff of the National Research Council in 1975.  He took a leave of absence from the NRC in 1978 to serve as the first executive director of the Energy Research Advisory Board at the Department of Energy, but returned in 1979 as special assistant to the president of the National Academy of Sciences.  In 1982, Dr. Shapero started the BPA and, as director, played a key role in many NRC studies, including the last three surveys of physics and the last three surveys of astronomy and astrophysics.  Dr. Shapero is a member of the American Astronomical Society and the International Astronomical Union, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society.

Jim Lancaster has succeeded Dr. Shapero as director of the BPA.  Dr. Lancaster joined the BPA as a program officer in March 2008 and has been responsible staff officer for a number of studies, including the recently released report An Assessment of the Science Proposed for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), Research at the Intersection of the Physical and Life Sciences, Frontiers in Crystalline Matter: From Discovery to Technology, and Selling the Nation’s Helium Reserve.  Prior to joining the BPA, Dr. Lancaster served on faculty at Rice University, where he taught introductory physics to science and engineering students, and as a staff researcher, where he participated in experimental investigations of the interactions of highly excited atoms with electromagnetic pulses and surfaces.  During his time at Rice, Dr. Lancaster received both the Wilson Prize for outstanding doctoral thesis in physics and astronomy, and the APS teaching award for his work as instructor of undergraduates.  He is the co-author of over 25 peer-reviewed articles and is a member of the American Physical Society.  In addition to his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in physics from Rice University, Dr. Lancaster holds a B.A degree in Economics from Rice University and a J.D. degree from the University of Texas.  Prior to entering the field of physics, Dr. Lancaster practiced law for over 12 years, specializing in the financial structuring and restructuring of businesses.

2011_dusel  2009_research_at_the_intersection_of_the_physical_and_life_sciences  2009_frontiers_in_crystalline_matter  2010_selling_the_nations_helium_reserve




News from outside the BPA—
2012 Nobel Prize in Physics

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded jointly to Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland "for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems."  Both Dr. Haroche and Dr. Wineland are members of the National Academy of Sciences and Dr. Wineland was a member of the BPA's Committee on Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Sciences in the early 1990s as well.  For more information please visit the Noble Prize web site.




Newsletter for the Division on Engineering 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 also available online.