2013 Nobel Prize in Physics Announcement

Peter HiggsFrancois Englert

This year’s Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to Francois Englert at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles and Peter Higgs from the University of Edinburough, for developing the theories of the Higgs field and Higgs boson. Collectively, their research explained why elementary particles have mass and provided the foundation for the Standard Model of particle physics that unifies the weak and electromagnetic forces.

Read entire APS announcement.

APS President Michael Turner congratulates the Nobel Laureates, CERN (the laboratory where the Higgs particle was discovered), physics and all of science.  Read his letter to Rolf Heuer, director general of CERN. 

Scientific Enterprise Hangs in Balance Following Federal Government Shutdown

More than 800,000 federal workers were furloughed yesterday after Congress failed to pass a budget to fund the 2014 fiscal year.  As the nation wonders about the next steps to solve the crisis, the U.S. scientific enterprise hangs in the balance.

In the meantime, APS wants to know how the shutdown is affecting your critically important scientific research. Share your stories with us by emailing opa@aps.org.

For more information about the shutdown, read the AIP Science Policy Bulletin: http://www.aip.org/fyi/2013/143.html.

Shutdown threatens science

A government shutdown will stop crucial scientific projects and delay new technologies, resulting in the loss of jobs for Americans.  Read Kenneth Rudinger’s column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel outlining a few scientific achievements and why a shutdown threatens continued discovery.

Senate Passes Helium Bill: Action by September 30 Deadline Still Not Assured


On September 19, the Senate took an important step forward in voting to pass a substitute amendment to H.R. 527, its version of a helium bill.  The vote, 97-2, underscored the fact that ensuring a continuous supply of helium from the Federal Reserve is not a partisan issue but an issue of national concern.

The legislative victory is the result of countless meetings, prodding and advocacy carried out not only by the APS, but also the hard work and dedication of a coalition of end users.  The end users, including those in the medical imaging and semiconductor communities, have formed a cohesive advocacy force that can take a lot of credit for the victory in the Senate.

But, it’s not over yet.

Until the House acts on the Senate bill, the clock continues to tick down to Sept. 30, at which time the Bureau of Land Management begins shutting down operations for the helium pipeline.  So, we need to keep the pressure on.  As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!”

Cutting Science Funding Starves Future Generations

The United States needs to wake up to the following reality: It is in the process of undermining the foundation of future economic growth, which in no small measure depends on science, education and infrastructure.  Read my column in today’s Roll Call newspaper, outlining how the U.S. is losing its global scientific leadership.

Averting the Helium Cliff

Congress has just six legislative days to approve legislation preventing the shutdown of the federal helium reserve operated in Amarillo, Texas by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

It’s really a no-brainer.

Helium benefits Americans who need MRIs (it is necessary to operate the machines), and the crucial gas plays a major role in the fabrication of semiconductors produced by high-tech manufacturers such as Texas Instruments, Intel, Samsung, Siemens, Qualcomm and General Electric. It is also vital for conducting research in many scientific fields.

If Congress fails to pass legislation averting the reserve shutdown, a loss of helium could hurt jobs and the U.S. economy, delay MRI treatments and cripple scientific research.

Supporters of legislation, including scientific societies, high-tech industries and universities, recently wrote to House and Senate leaders, asking them to approve legislation and send it to the president before Oct. 1.

The smart thing to do is to get the legislation passed before it’s too late.

The following is the letter to House and Senate leaders:

Sept. 9, 2013

The Honorable John A. Boehner, Speaker of the House
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Leader
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader
The Honorable Mitch McConnell,  Senate Republican Leader
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Speaker Boehner, Leader Pelosi, Leader Reid and Leader McConnell:

The undersigned companies and organizations, representing a broad range of U.S. industry and research entities that contribute to America’s economic and scientific leadership, request that Congress act urgently to approve legislation to secure the helium supply and send this legislation to the President before October 1.

Helium is an essential input into large number of manufacturing processes and a key material for the scientific research community, and a significant number of jobs, economic output, and exports from the United States depend on a continuous supply of helium. Helium is also critical to products and systems that support our national defense and homeland security, and it is needed to operate the thousands of MRI devices that play a key role in our health care system.

Congress must act immediately to avert a shortage of this essential commodity. Under existing law, the Federal Helium Reserve – a federal facility that provides approximately 50 percent of domestic supplies of helium – will no longer be authorized after October 7 to sell to private entities that help drive our economy. The House has overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill (H.R. 527), and the Senate is considering bipartisan legislation (S. 783). It is imperative that Congress act in advance of this deadline.

Science and Defense Suffer Due to Sequestration

As sequestration continues, so does the harmful effect it has on scientific research, which has led to numerous life-saving innovations, including armored vehicles that protect our troops from improvised explosive devices. Robert Freihaut, a former engineer with General Dynamics Land Systems, recently wrote about the important connection between science and America’s defense capability in the Detroit News.

Read the piece.


After Higgs, physicists offer vision to unravel mysteries of universe

After nine days of intensive discussions at the University of Minnesota, nearly 700 particle physicists from about 100 universities and laboratories concluded nine months of work with a unified framework for unmasking the hidden secrets of matter, energy, space and time during the next two decades.

Read Press Release.

STEM Education has a place in immigration reform

Today, APS was one of 62 organizations that signed on to a letter urging the House to make support for STEM education a part of immigration reform.  You can read the letter here.

The House is currently considering the SKILLS Act, an immigration reform bill.  APS has no position on immigration reform, and the letter does not state any position on the specifics of the SKILLS Act; however, a clause for funding STEM education programs from H1-B visa fees was stripped from the SKILLS Act, and in the letter APS is supportive of reintroducing the clause.  APS recognizes that redirected fees from H1-B visas are a substantial boost to STEM education in the U.S.

The Senate bill already contains the clause stripped from the House version of the bill.

Commerce/Justice/Science Appropriations Update

The House and Senate Subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies recently passed their respective appropriations bills, but they have yet to receive floor votes.  Even if the bills are passed by each chamber, they are so far apart that conferencing them seem unlikely at this time.

Request in Billions of Dollars


President’s Request































NASA Science








The sharp contrast in appropriated amounts begins with the House and Senate budget committees. House appropriators are working under a total discretionary spending cap of $966B, with $414B for non-defense discretionary.  The Senate appropriators are working under a total discretionary spending cap of $1,058B, $91B more than the House.  Moreover, the $91B is entirely located in non-defense discretionary where Senate appropriators are working with $506B. 

For the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Senate appropriates a similar amount to President Obama’s budget request, though it is lower in Research & Related Activities (R&RA).  The Senate would provide $7.42B to NSF, $6.01B for (R&RA), $210M for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC), and $880M for Education and Human Resources (EHR).  The Senate appropriations are a significant increase over the sequestered funding NSF received this year.  Additionally, the Senate appropriations bill includes language praising NSF for its “merit-reviewed, competitive process,” noting that companies such as Google got their start with an NSF grant. 

The House opted to stick more closely with the FY13 sequestered funding that NSF received.  Overall, the House bill would provide $7.00B to NSF, $5.68B for R&RA, $182M for MREFC, and $825M for EHR.  Of note is the fact that the House appropriations bill admonishes NSF and instructs NSF to “improve its ability to articulate the value and scientific merit of its research grants and explain the peer review process that results in research funding decisions.”  Such a statement from House appropriators speaks to a growing concern among House Republicans that the NSF is not appropriately stewarding taxpayer dollars, and that Congress may need to step in with greater oversight.  One example of increased oversight: House Science Committee Chair, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), recently sent a letter to NSF Acting Director Cora Marrett requesting confidential information on five grants NSF chose to fund. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) appropriations did not contain language as ideologically divided as NSF, but still there are significant differences in funding.  The House bill would appropriate $609M for Scientific and Technical Research Services (STRS) and $55M for Construction of Research Facilities (CRF).  The Senate bill would appropriate $703M for STRS and $60M for CRF.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) would receive similarly scaled funding from the House and Senate bills.  The House bill would appropriate $5.45B for OSTP and the Senate would appropriate $5.66B.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Office of Science is, again, similarly scaled in funding between the House and Senate.  The House bill would appropriate $4.78B for NASA Science and the Senate would appropriate $5.15B. 

What is worrisome is that science has long been a bastion for bipartisan effort.  A decade ago, Republicans and Democrats joined together to pass America COMPETES in a bipartisan effort.  These days, however, the bipartisan landscape is shifting toward partisanship. And the ideological divides mean that not only is another Continuing Resolution likely, but also that mission agencies must focus on winning political battles rather than overcoming scientific hurdles. 



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