Important National Research Council Physics Report Released

Share This

Publication date: 
25 August 2006

"Controlling the Quantum World," a report just released by the Committee on AMO2010 of the National Research Council, charts the important contributions which atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) science research have made, the promise that future research offers, and how the federal government can most effectively support these advances. While the report focuses on these fields, it provides recommendations and cautions that can be applied to many other types of basic research.

This 224-page document is one of a series of reports in a decadal survey that National Research Council committees will issue on various fields in physics. A report on elementary particle physics was released this spring (see The 17-member Committee on AMO2010 - An Assessment of and Outlook for Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Science of the Board on Physics and Astronomy, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences, was co-chaired by Philip H. Bucksbaum and Robert A. Eisenstein. The National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy sponsored this study. The American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America, both Member Societies of the American Institute of Physics, as well as AIP itself, assisted in the preparation of this report. A pre-publication draft of this report is now available at; enter "AMO2010" in the search box.

"The purpose of this report is to identify the most promising future opportunities in AMO science based on what is known at this time," the report's Executive Summary states. The report reviews how fundamental physics research in these fields has contributed to improvements in the quality of life, national security, homeland defense, economic competitiveness, health, environment, and education, among others.

The report gives generally high marks to the support of the federal government for research in these fields, stating: "Given the budget and programmatic constraints, generally the federal agencies questioned in this study have managed the research profile of their programs well in response to the opportunities in AMO science." The committee noted that most of the funding increase has occurred at DOE, NIST, and NSF. The report later cautions: "The committee notes with concern the decline in research funding in general and in basic research funding in particular (the so-called 6.1 budget), at Department of Defense (DOD) agencies. This is troubling especially because fundamental scientific research has been a critical part of the nation's defense strategy for more than half a century."

Funding will be of critical importance to addressing six broad "grand challenges" that the committee identified. The committee notes that there are "very significant added pressures . . . on research group budgets" because of the high cost of instrumentation and the complexity of the science involved. Attention and funding must continue to be provided for theoretical research. Finally, "AMO science is an enabling component of astrophysics and plasma physics but is not adequately supported by the funding agencies charged with responsibility for those areas."

The report also discussed workforce challenges. The committee "agrees with many other observers that the number of American students choosing physical sciences as a career is dangerously low. Without remediation, this problem is likely to open up an unacceptable expertise gap between the United States and other countries." It also noted the importance of international collaboration to future advances in these fields.

Of particular note to policy makers is Chapter 8, which examines the current status of AMO physics program support. The chapter offers a number of program conclusions regarding support for atomic, molecular, and optical science that apply not only to these fields, but more generally to physics and basic research in other disciplines.

CLARIFICATION TO FYI #102: In 2001, the Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee, under the National Research Council's Board on Physics and Astronomy and Space Studies Board, produced its decadal survey, entitled "Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium."