Is STEM education being left behind?

National Public Radio recently interviewed APS Director of Public Affairs Michael S. Lubell in a story concerning whether strong STEM provisions will be included in a final bill for the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (formerly known as No Child Left Behind).

Listen to the story.

Scientists Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald Win Nobel Prize for Neutrino Research

The Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to scientists Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald for their research regarding the neutrino oscillations, leading to the discovery that the particles have mass.

APS News Writer Emily Conover covered the news in the story below:

The Nobel Prize in physics was awarded today for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, an observation that revealed the unusual behavior of these misfit particles, and indicated that neutrinos have mass. The prize honored two scientists who were instrumental in making the discovery: Takaaki Kajita of the University of Tokyo, for his work on the Super-Kamiokande experiment, and Arthur McDonald of Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, for his work on the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) experiment.
Neutrinos, which are produced in a variety of nuclear reactions and were once thought to be massless, come in three types — electron, muon, and tau. But we now know that these identities, known as “flavors,” are not fixed. In a series of large-scale particle physics experiments performed deep underground, scientists showed that neutrinos oscillate from one flavor to another.

In 1998, the Super-Kamiokande experiment saw evidence of oscillation in muon neutrinos that are produced when cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s atmosphere. Physicists measured the number of muon neutrinos coming from directly overhead, and compared that to the number from below, which traversed a longer path — through the Earth — to reach the detector. They saw fewer muon neutrinos from below than expected, indicating that the neutrinos changed flavor during their long journey.

SNO clinched the case for oscillation in electron neutrinos produced by the sun. They observed the expected total number of neutrinos, but fewer electron neutrinos than predicted, indicating a flavor change. The prize honors the leaders of the two collaborations, who worked with their many colleagues to secure the results. On the phone during a press conference announcing the prize, McDonald emphasized the contributions of his collaborators, saying, “There’s great camaraderie associated with this work, even though it took many years working to try to accomplish it.”

APS President Sam Aronson said of the prize, “APS congratulates Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald on the Nobel Committee’s recognition of their important work on the behavior of neutrinos, and in particular the ability of the particles to change form, which indicates that neutrinos have mass. The discovery has major bearing on the structure of the universe as well as the physics of the nucleus.”

Takaaki Kajita (left) and Arthur McDonald

Takaaki Kajita (left) and Arthur McDonald

McDonald, an APS fellow, previously won the APS Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics in 2003. Kajita received the APS W.K.H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics in 2002.

A number of key papers from their groups were published in the APS journal Physical Review Letters and are free to read:

Gray Arrow Evidence for Oscillation of Atmospheric Neutrinos
Gray Arrow Measurement of the Rate of νe + d → p + p +e Interactions Produced by 8B Solar Neutrinos at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory
Gray Arrow Direct Evidence for Neutrino Flavor Transformation from Neutral-Current Interactions in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory
Gray Arrow Physics offers a Landmark Focus article by PRL Editor Robert Garisto. Neutrinos Have Mass

LHeP2 featured on Amarillo NBC station

Liquid Helium Purchasing Program (LHeP2) enrollees are already experiencing the program’s benefits – more reliable and affordable liquid helium. And now word is starting to spread. Following a recent story in APS News, KAMR Local 4 News, the NBC affiliate in Amarillo (TX), reported on the program and its importance to LHeP2 participant Catherine Clewett, assistant professor of physics at West Texas A&M University. The TV report can be viewed here.

Visit the LHeP2 homepage to learn more about the program. Readers interested in joining the program should contact Mark Elsesser, APS senior policy analyst, by Sept. 25.

APS welcomes new STEM-Ed Fellow

APS is excited to welcome Ramon Barthelemy, the 2015 APS/AIP STEM-Ed Fellow, who will be working on STEM programs in the U.S. Department of Education. Ramon received his B.S. in 2010 in astrophysics from Michigan State University and Ph.D. in 2014 in science education from Western Michigan University. During the 2014-2015 academic year, he served as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, conducting research on gender issues in physics. Ramon has a long history of service within the physics community, most recently as a member of the AAPT Committee on Women, the APS Committee on LGBT Issues in Physics, and on the national working group for LGBT+ Physicists. He will begin his fellowship September 2015. The APS/AIP STEM-Ed Fellowship is a part of the AAAS Executive branch Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellowships.

Comprehensive Senate Energy Bill Approved by Committee

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 with bipartisan support (18-4 vote) last week, after three days of markup and the approval of several amendments. Both Republicans and Democrats issued press releases.

Included in the comprehensive package were portions of Sen. Lamar Alexander’s “E-Competes Act,” which authorizes 4 percent annual increases for DOE’s Office of Science and ARPA-E for five years. Additionally, the bill directs DOE to establish at least two partnerships – between industry, academia and national laboratories – for the research and development of exascale computing.

Other provisions in the bill that may be of interest to APS members include:

  • Helium: The U.S. government would continue its exit from the helium business. The bill would grant to the lessee of a natural gas well “a right of first refusal to engage in exploration for, and the development and production of, helium on land that is subject to the lease…” An accepted amendment offered by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) would require that environmental reviews for helium-related projects be completed on an expeditious basis.
  • Critical Minerals: Lisa Murkowski’s American Mineral Security Act of 2015 is included in the legislation. This section of the bill would establish R&D programs to promote efficient production, use and recycling of critical minerals and to develop alternatives. It would also call for the U.S. Geological Survey to establish forecasting capabilities for critical mineral reliance, recycling, price, etc., although the focus would be largely domestic. Additionally, Murkowski aims to reduce permitting time with a number of new requirements to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal permitting and review processes.
  • Energy Efficiency: Both parties tout the bill’s provisions to improve energy efficiency, including a smart buildings initiative and provisions of Portman-Shaheen. However, the bill also repeals several measures, such as the residential energy efficiency standards study and the procurement and identification of energy efficient products program.

Although the bill passing out of committee marks the first step of broad energy policy reform in eight years, putting too much stock into the legislation reaching the president’s desk is premature. There is no timetable for the bill to be heard on the Senate floor, and intel suggests several senators would require additional amendments to secure their votes. Additionally, the House is working on its own, less comprehensive, energy bill.

The APS Office of Public Affairs continues to track legislation impacting its membership and to advocate for their interests.

From NPR’s Science Friday: Interns at national labs do real science

Summertime usually means a lot of internships for eager students across the country. In some cases,
they are relegated to menial tasks such as making copies, running errands and filing papers.
Not so at the national science laboratories.
NPR’s Science Friday produced a story on interns at Brookhaven National Laboratory where they are working on projects that affect solar cells and superconducting magnets, among other scientific topics.
Photo credit: NPR’s Science Friday
Read the story

ASEE Board Recognizes Physics as Vital to Engineering Education


The Board of Directors for the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) recently adopted the following statement:
The ASEE Board endorses the recognition that academic preparation for high school students hoping to complete a college degree in engineering or engineering technology should include a full year each of chemistry, physics, and mathematics. The year of mathematics should be at least to the pre-calculus level; a year of calculus is preferred.

Engineering, which relies on the fundamental principles of physics, provides a rewarding career pathway and is a vital cog in America’s innovation economy. With the jobs of the future demanding even greater science proficiency, we have much work to do. In 2013, for example, only 1.37 percent of high school graduates took and passed the AP Physics B exam; and just 0.78 percent passed the AP Physics C exam. These rates are simply unacceptable in a 21st century economy dependent on a STEM-educated workforce.

To address the alarming statistics, it is essential that high schools offer physics courses ubiquitously, and that they recruit highly qualified instructors to teach them. We need solidarity between educators in different STEM disciplines to make the kinds of changes in K-12 education that will equip students to find jobs in an innovation economy.

The ASEE board just took a great step in the right direction, and APS looks forward to working with ASEE on other education issues in the future.

DCMP Chair-Elect Promotes APS Helium Initiatives at Congressional Hearing

Credit: Karen Sullivan

Professor Halperin during his testimony. (Credit: Karen Sullivan)

“For many scientists, including me, liquid helium is our professional lifeblood,” stated William Halperin, professor of physics at Northwestern University and chair-elect of APS’s Division of Condensed Matter Physics, during his testimony to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

Halperin was joined by four other witnesses – Anne-Marie Fennell (U.S. Government Accountability Office); David Joyner (Air Liquide); Walter Nelson (Air Products & Chemicals); and Tim Spisak (Bureau of Land Management) – who testified during the subcommittee’s July 8 oversight hearing on The Helium Stewardship Act and the Path Forward.

The Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 (Act) averted the pending shutdown of the Federal Helium Reserve and allowed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to continue to manage its operations until 2021, the new date established for the reserve’s permanent closure. The act also aimed to develop a competitive domestic helium market, but two years after it was signed into law, there are questions surrounding BLM’s implementation and interpretation of the act.

While the hearing was mostly focused on how BLM can improve and expand competition in the domestic helium market, Halperin informed the committee on the importance of liquid helium to the scientific community, the community’s concerns regarding its availability, and steps APS is taking to help academic researchers. Briefly, his testimony highlighted:

  • The impacts of helium’s volatility, both in price and availability, on the scientific community.
  • The early success of the helium brokerage APS launched via a partnership with the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the American Chemical Society (ACS). The program has produced savings for all enrollees and helped some researchers gain access to liquid helium for the first time.
  • The need for academics to reduce their helium demand going forward. APS, ACS and the Materials Research Society are beginning a joint study aimed at determining the best path forward for transitioning as many academic researchers as possible to systems that recycle and reliquefy helium.
  • The benefits in keeping the Federal Helium Reserve open beyond 2021, noting the impact to the research community could be immeasurable.

Halperin’s testimony can be read in full here.

U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) showed particular interest in Halperin’s message, using all of her initial five-minute allotment for questions to follow-up on his testimony. Lummis’ questions enabled Halperin to further discuss the importance of stability in both price and supply of liquid helium for the scientific community.

The APS Office of Public Affairs continues to lead efforts to help alleviate the issues academic researchers face with liquid helium procurement. For more information on the liquid helium brokerage or other APS activities concerning liquid helium, please contact Mark Elsesser, APS senior policy analyst,

Wonder and awe for cheap: New Horizons


Three billion miles and nine-and-a-half years ago, NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft to explore our solar system. Today, New Horizons will snap close up pictures of Pluto and send those pictures back to earth, a journey that will take four-and-a-half hours at the speed of light. And the world is tuning in, with huge amounts of media coverage. The Internet, including the popular website Reddit, is exploding with news.

We are all very excited about New Horizons! But that excitement is coupled with wonder about what the future will bring and how NASA will manage to generate wonder and awe with an ever decreasing budget. Case in point: Construction on the New Horizons spacecraft began in 2003, when the NASA budget was $18.9B in constant 2014 dollars. And now? NASA’s budget has shrunk by more than a billion dollars to a projected $17.6B in 2016.

NASA has a great history of doing awe-inspiring science. To pass down that history to future generations, Congress must chart a new, upward course for NASA’s budget.

Senators seek input on how to improve R&D, innovation

South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner recently teamed up for an op-ed in The Hill Newspaper, outlining a plan  to gather input from the scientific community on ways to improve R&D, innovation.

Read the piece.


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