APS Disappointed in NRC Rejection of Petition Urging Barriers to Proliferation

APS regrets that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rejected the Society’s petition requesting a change in the agency’s licensing rules to review proliferation risks associated with new nuclear fuel technologies.

About 2,400 people wrote to the NRC in favor of the APS petition, including the nation’s leading experts in the field of nuclear weapons, nuclear power and nuclear proliferation, as well as members of Congress.

Read APS press release.

Scientific societies unite to announce Photonics Initiative

The National Photonics Initiative will work to increase photonics R&D, grow the U.S. economy and improve national security

The American Physical Society (APS), IEEE Photonics Society, Laser Institute of America (LIA), the Optical Society (OSA), and SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, recently announced the launch of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), a collaborative alliance seeking to unite industry, academia and government experts to identify and advance areas of photonics critical to maintaining U.S. competitiveness and national security

“Life without photonics is almost unimaginable. From the moment you wake up to the alarm on your smartphone, to swiping your credit card to pay for coffee, to logging into your computer and connecting with the world through the Internet, photonics makes it possible,” said OSA CEO Elizabeth Rogan. “The NPI will work to advance photonics in the areas that are most critical to the US, like improving the economy, creating jobs, saving lives and sparking innovation for future generations.”

Photonics generates, controls and detects light to advance manufacturing, robotics, medical imaging, next-generation displays, defense technologies, biometric security, image processing, communications, astronomy and much more. Photonics forms the backbone of the Internet, guides energy exploration and keeps men and women in uniform safe with night vision and physiological feedback on the battlefield.

In 1998, the National Research Council released a report, “Harnessing Light,” which presented a comprehensive overview of the potential impact of photonics on major industry sectors. In response, several worldwide economies moved to advance their already strong photonics industries. The United States, however, did not develop a cohesive strategy. As a result, the US lost its competitive advantage in a number of cutting-edge technologies as well as thousands of U.S. jobs and companies to overseas markets.

“The EU, Germany, Korea, Taiwan, and China all recognize the importance of photonics, and have taken action,” said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. “The U.S. Department of Defense, for example, has long supported photonics, but more photonics research is needed to maintain our national security in the face of non-traditional threats. The time is now for the U.S. to make the right investments in the crucial capabilities of the future.”

In 2012, the National Research Council released “Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for our Nation” that called for a national photonics initiative to regain U.S. leadership in key photonic-driven fields. In response to that call, the NPI was established to raise awareness about photonics and the impact of photonics on our everyday lives; increase collaboration and coordination among U.S. industry, government and academia to advance photonics-driven fields; and drive U.S. funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining U.S. competitiveness and national security.

The NPI offers an opportunity for us to show how critical it is for federally funded research to flourish in this country,” said Kate Kirby, executive officer of APS. “So many of the technologies that we use have come from the results of basic research funded by the federal government.”

As part of the NPI effort, more than 100 experts from industry, academia and government collaborated to draft a white paper detailing recommendations to guide funding and investment in five key photonics-driven fields: advanced manufacturing, communications and information technology, defense and national security, health and medicine and energy. New opportunities in these fields such as 3D printing, more efficient solar power, improved nuclear threat identification, more accurate cancer detection and the growth of Internet speeds and capacity, offer the potential for even greater societal impact in the next few decades.
“There are thousands of companies that have sprung up in the last decade or so that produce the photonics devices and systems that we all depend on now, but there’s plenty of room for growth,” said Richard Linke, executive director of the IEEE Photonics Society.

In order to capitalize on new opportunities and regain global leadership and economic prosperity, the white paper also provides key recommendations to the United States government that apply across all five of the fields:
• Drive funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining US competitiveness and national security-advanced manufacturing, defense, energy, health and medicine, information technology and communications
• Develop federal programs that encourage greater collaboration between US industry and academia to better support the research and development of next-generation photonics technologies
• Increase investment in education and job training programs to reduce the shortage of technically skilled workers needed to fill the growing number of photonics-based positions
• Expand federal investments supporting university and industry collaborative research to develop new manufacturing methods that incorporate photonics such as additive manufacturing and ultra-short-pulse laser material processing
• Collaborate with U.S. industry to review international trade practices impeding free trade, and the current US criteria restricting the sale of certain photonic technologies overseas.
The NPI maintains that fulfillment of these recommendations will position the United States as a global leader in photonics research and development, and will grow the U.S. economy and add jobs at home.
“Our objective is to direct funding intelligently to research, implementation and education and training, with the ultimate goal of restoring US competitiveness, thereby improving our security, our economy and our quality of life,” said LIA Executive Director Peter Baker.
For a complete copy of the white paper and for more information about the NPI, please visit: http://www.LightOurFuture.org.

About the NPI: The National Photonics Initiative (NPI) is a collaborative alliance among industry, academia and government seeking to raise awareness of photonics and the impact of photonics on our everyday lives; increase cooperation and coordination among US industry, government and academia to advance photonics-driven fields; and drive US funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining US economic competitiveness and national security. The initiative is being led by a coalition of scientific societies, including the American Physical Society (APS), the IEEE Photonics Society, the Laser Institute of America (LIA), the Optical Society (OSA) and SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. For more information, visit http://www.LightOurFuture.org.
Emily Pappas
+1 202 448 5208

Defending NSF and Scientific Peer Review

lamar-webIn a rebuff to House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s investigation of the way the National Science Foundation does business, Acting Director Cora Marrett refused to provide the Committee with reviewer comments on five social science research projects it is funding. Arguing that doing so would seriously breach the integrity of the peer review process, Dr. Marrett instead offered to brief the committee on how NSF selects among the many research proposals it receives each year. She also promised to provide general information on how the five grants of concern pass muster.

House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX)

Chairman Smith expressed disappointment with the NSF response, and Committee staff said the refusal was simply a “bump in the road” to obtaining reviewer comments. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson was so alarmed by Chairman Smith’s request to the NSF that she wrote to him on April 26, expressing her concerns: “I cannot stand by silently as you continue this political intrusion into one of our Nation’s and indeed, one of the world’s most important scientific organizations.”

The request for reviewer comments followed the leak of a draft bill which would require the NSF director to certify that every grant is of “the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and … is not duplicative of other research project being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies.”

Taken together, the draft bill and the request reveal, at best, a lack of understanding of the NSF mission and the long-standing practices the Foundation follows in its highly admired proposal review process. Ranking Member Johnson noted in her letter to Chairman Smith, “In the history of this Committee, no Chairman has ever put themselves forward as an expert in the science that underlies specific grant proposals funded by the NSF.  In the more than two decades of Committee leadership that I have worked with…I have never seen a Chairman decide to go after specific grants simply because the Chairman does not believe them to be of high value.”

Both actions drew a strong rebuke from the scientific community, including APS President Michael Turner (NSF Assistant Director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, 2003-2006), who joined 17 former NSF assistant directors in signing a May 8 letter to Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice-Johnson, which stated that the Committee’s treatment of NSF “…represents a very dangerous precedent and puts Congress in the position of second guessing the scientific judgment of experts with significant credentials in their respective fields of science. If the investigation suggested in this letter goes forward, the Committee’s actions will create a chilling environment that will severely damage a merit review system that is the envy of the world.”

Don’t Let American Science Suffer From Federal Spending Cutbacks

In today’s edition of Roll Call, APS Director of Public Affairs Michael Lubell opines on the thought-provoking matter of keeping science as a key driver of the American economy.
Read the column.

APS Members Join Together to Contact Congress

Each year, as a service to our members, APS manages the Contact Congress booth at national meetings.  The booth is a place for APS members to reach out to their representatives and senators about policy issues that affect us as physicists.  This year, members signed different letters during the March and April meetings; both stated the devastating effect sequestration is having on the American scientific enterprise and the need for lawmakers to reverse the cuts to science accounts in next year’s budget.

As physicists, we understand the need for consistent communication with congressional staff that has a high turnover rate.  With more than 1,000 letters signed at the March meeting, and the numbers still coming in for the April meeting, our letters are reaching every Senate office and almost every House office.  However, we know that sending a letter alone is not sufficient. And while the Office of Public Affairs will follow up, we urge you to do the same.  A two-minute phone call discussing how federally funded scientific research is critical to a modern America will help to ensure the effectiveness of Contact Congress.

Don’t take your grant for granted! Let Congress know how important science is to not only scientists, but to them, their constituents, and America as a whole.


Staff member Jodi Lieberman hands out an “I support science funding” sticker to an APS member who just signed the letter.

Highly Trained Physical Science Teachers Needed to Educate Students for High-Tech Economy

Read this compelling op-ed by Stamatis Vokos, physics professor at Seattle Pacific University, which underscores the importance of training physical science teachers.


President Obama touts students’ innovations, federally funded research at White House Science Fair

“This stuff is really cool!” President Obama excitedly stated during yesterday’s third annual White House Science Fair as he praised research projects and innovations from 100 students across the country. The students’ projects had previously won the attention of regional science competitions.
Obama enthusiastically talked about the student projects, which included a collapsible, bicycle-powered energy water sanitation station that filters E.coli from water. High school students Payton Karr and Kiona Elliott of Oakland Park, Fla., designed the bicycle, which the president tested while clad in a business suit and dress shoes.

Evan Jackson, Alec Jackson and Caleb Robinson – elementary school pupils from McDonough, Ga. – garnered the president’s attention for their “Cool Pads,” innovation. They designed pads for football players containing sensors that help keep the players from overheating on the field.
“Gatorade is also included,” the president pointed out, smiling. Obama said the science fair was a way to show respect for researchers who toil in labs and whose work often lead to innovations that strengthen our economy and make our lives better.

Obama also used the occasion to note that federally funded scientific research should not be gutted. Instead, he borrowed the line from his State of the Union address: “Now is the time to reach a level of research of development not seen since the height of the Space Race.”
The president also noted that science is not a partisan issue.
“America has always been about discovery, and invention, and engineering, and science and evidence. That’s who we are. That’s in our DNA. That’s how this country became the greatest economic power in the history of the world. That’s how we’re able to provide so many contributions to people all around the world with our scientific and medical and technological discoveries,” he said.

APS Commends President Obama’s FY 14 Budget for Science

APS applauds President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which prioritizes scientific research, spurs innovation and keeps the nation on a path toward economic prosperity.

APS is pleased the president’s budget reflects the priorities of key scientific agencies that are crucial to our nation’s competitiveness and economic growth — the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Aeronautics & Space Administration. Scientists funded by these agencies are engaged in cutting-edge research that has generated solutions to the country’s most pressing challenges, spawned new technologies and provided the foundation for spinoff businesses and jobs for Americans.

APS recognizes the president had to make difficult choices at a time when the nation is dealing with mounting deficits. And we believe he made the right choice in the case of science. If the U.S. wants to ensure a strong economy for the future, then the country must focus on scientific research, education and innovation — a proven strategy leading to job creation and sustained economic growth.

“Members of Congress should follow the president’s lead. They should also recognize that science is not a partisan proposition as Eric Cantor signaled recently in his speech to an American Enterprise Institute audience,” said Michael S. Lubell, director of public affairs for APS.

Congressman Rush Holt joins new APS Mid-Atlantic Section

The newly formed Mid-Atlantic Section of the APS got a big boost when physicist and Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) joined its ranks. Holt is one of two physicists in Congress.  The other is Bill Foster, of Illinois.

In a letter  he wrote to the section, Holt congratulated its founding members and emphasized the dual role that scientists have to advance knowledge and weigh in on important national issues.

Holt represents central New Jersey. Before winning office, he was Assistant Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and a professor of physics at Swarthmore College before that. He is a Fellow of APS.

Read more.

Fiscal Year 2013 Appropriations

The final fiscal year 2013 (FY13) Continuing Resolution (CR) which will fund the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year passed the House and the Senate and is awaiting President Obama’s signature.  In the wake of the sequester and continued fiscal tightening, federally supported physical sciences basic and applied research is at its lowest level since 2002 – approximately $5.5B.  The $5.5B reflects ~$500M less in federal funding of physical sciences research compared to FY12, and ~$1.1B less than in FY10.

Now that the final appropriations are known (President Obama is expected to sign them), the question is, what affect will the cuts have?  The National Science Foundation (NSF) is already at historic lows for grant success rates, and although NSF will receive less of a cut compared to other areas of government, researchers will have an even more difficult time securing funding.  In a letter to Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski, NSF director Subra Suresh said he expects NSF will have to award 1,000 fewer grants each year.

The effect on national labs will be felt throughout the research community.  Reduced operating time at research facilities coupled with furloughed national lab employees will make doing good science an increasingly far-off goal in a nation that has been steadily losing its appetite for “big science” in the last few decades.

So, what can we do now?

FY13 is now “in the books,” but the FY14 appropriations process is under way.  During the next week, take two minutes to call your senator’s or representative’s office.  Give them a few examples of how important federally funded scientific research is and ask them to support future research by restoring the funding to federal science agencies in FY14.  Let them know that, as a nation, we must undergo some fiscal “belt-tightening,” but cutting funding to the primary driver of economic growth is not the right path to fiscal solvency.  We need to let them know that federal spending in scientific research pays off many times over, and that science is one investment we must make.

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