<html><head /> <body> <META http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-16"><title>Reflections and Concerns for the Future of Physics</title><meta name="keywords" content="application,astronomy,atomic,awe,biography,complexity,cursor,data,defence,dera,education,electron,evaluation,experiment,funding,kingdom,longair,malcolm,owl,polymer,research,science,semiconductor,society,solid,technology,university,weapon,physics,"><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; " align="center" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td style="background-color:silver; border-color:white; border-left-style:none; border-style:none; " width="730"><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; ">Reflections and Concerns for the Future of Physics</span></td> </tr> <tr> </tr> </tbody></table><br><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:medium; " align="center" bgcolor="white" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td height="131" width="669"><p><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small;"><strong>Editors Introduction </strong></span><span style="font-family:Verdana; "></span><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "> In this story Malcolm Longair reviews the social and commercial influences on physics research. He stresses the importance of viewing physics as both a pure and commercial science. He advocates the importance of adequate funding for research and education in physics and the need to emphasise the many diverse ways in which physics research benefits society.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Let us look briefly at some of the economic and applied aspects of the work of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. We are very strongly encouraged to exploit high-tech developments, and the picture gives some examples of the sorts of collaborations which a laboratory such as ours must develop nowadays in order to remain at the forefront. In the case of the Astrophysics Group, I would like to describe the CURSOR system developed by Peter Duffett-Smith. This will be a very inexpensive method for locating where you are anywhere in Great Britain.</span></p> <p align="center"><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><IMG src="1543_Slide58.jpg" id="2076" type="3" align="center" width="300" height="225" name="" url="1543_Slide58.jpg"></span></p> <p><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Much of the work in the Polymers and Colloids Group is done in collaboration with Unilever, which is very interested in the types of science which Athene Donald and her colleagues are carrying out. Although Unilever have their own facilities, they appreciate the access they have to expert physicists in an academic environment for carrying out collaborative research.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">We have an interesting situation in the department, where the Semiconductor Physics Group has very strong links with Toshiba, while the Microelectronics Research Centre has a long-term collaboration with Hitachi. These long-term collaborations are very important in that these companies help provide micro- and nano-fabrication facilities for these research groups.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In the Physics and Chemistry of Solids Group, there are strong links with the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) and with the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), partly because the group contains leading experts in ultra-high-speed photography. These studies are of great importance in understanding, for example, how windscreens shatter. I've already mentioned optoelectronics and the foundation of Cambridge Display Technologies, which has been an outstanding success.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">So, one of the important messages is that, whilst we have our pure science aims, we also encourage physicists, where appropriate, to take an interest in these types of exploitation activities, but we put no pressure on them to do this. These applied activities develop when they come naturally out of the research activity, and it is to everyone's benefit.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In considering the future of physics, what we strive to do is to continue to find new ways of doing physics, and that can mean many different things. It can mean increasing spectral and spatial resolution and sensitivity, exploring new regions of parameter space, increasing the size of datasets, undertaking qualitatively new types of physics, finding new applications of concepts in physics and so on. Physicists will undoubtedly continue to advance on all these fronts. There is also a need to be aware of advances in the cognate sciences, particularly in the fields of biological physics, medical physics and chemistry.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Let me mention three different aspects of these future developments. The first is this issue of complexity, massively nonlinear systems and self-organised criticality. At the level of fundamental physics, we see this most strikingly in the area of strongly interacting systems of electrons. Everyone agrees that there is a new physics of relevance to many different disciplines in these studies. It is, however, just part of a trend towards the study of what I call massively nonlinear systems, where quite new phenomena may occur. An example of this involves the remarkable results of studies of self-organised criticality.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">A beautiful example is the physics of rice piles and sand piles--they seem to me to be perhaps the archetype of something which ought to be explainable by physics but for which we cannot yet give any analytic result. It looks terribly simple--you simply pour sand onto a sand pile and ask what the angle of the sand pile will be as I keep pouring sand onto the apex of the pile. Remarkably, there is no simple piece of physics which can predict what that angle should be. The reason is that the way in which the angle of the sand pile is determined is by the occurrence of avalanches. These are massively nonlinear phenomena, yet they result in some form of overall regular behaviour. My own belief is that there is excellent physics lurking in the understanding of these phenomena.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">A second great challenge is how to cope with the very large data-sets which can be generated by modern physics experiments and how to compare these data with the results of large-scale simulations. An example close to my own heart is the large-scale structure of the universe. This is now known in greater and greater detail observationally, and supercomputer simulations are providing more and more detailed predictions of what is expected in different cosmological scenarios. How can we confront the theories most effectively with the observed Universe? I suspect this takes us into the area of visualisation, which I believe will become an essential tool for the physicist.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">A third challenge is the ability to use advanced technology to reduce the costs of very large projects to feasible figures. One of the interesting issues is: What is the upper limit of what can reasonably be spent on a scientific experiment? We actually know the answer. Empirically, we know the answer is a few billion dollars. That is the sort of figure which can reasonably be expected to be funded, if the big science really is demonstrably very important indeed. My own view is that many of these huge projects are now world projects, where any particular nation, even the USA, cannot expect to play a dominating role. For individual physicists, they have to take the decision as to whether or not that is the sort of physics they want to become involved in.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">One lovely example from astronomy is the OWL project, OWL standing for "Overwhelmingly large telescope." This project is to design a 30-100-metre optical-infrared telescope, and that's really big. The present state of the art is 8- to 10-metre-class telescopes, and each of these can be built for about a hundred million dollars. Now if you simply scale things, what would be the cost of a 100-metre optical-infrared telescope? If you were to use the current scaling laws, which scale roughly as D2.5 , then it would be quite unaffordable. But the astronomical technologists say, "Well, if you compare where we were when the Palomar 5-metre telescope was constructed with what it would cost to build the same-size telescope now, we've obtained about a factor of 50 to 100 in improvement in cost-effectiveness." So, if we start thinking about the problem of building a 100-metre telescope in the same terms, we should aim to achieve a further factor of 50 in cost effectiveness, and then we can build the OWL for a billion dollars.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">You may say this is all pie in the sky. I will respect your opinion, but I don't think these people are talking nonsense. There is a real technological challenge in asking, "Let's see if we can do something radically different which breaks the conventional wisdom about how we should build our telescopes." Part of the argument is that computing power is much cheaper steel, so let's find ingenious ways of using the enormous computing power now available to us.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">What are my concerns? I have a number of concerns about physics, but many of them apply equally to all academic disciplines in the UK. Physics is fantastic, and I am absolutely convinced that it will continue to be fantastic. One of the things I worry about is the gross underfunding of research and university education. I suspect I am speaking to the converted in this room, but one figure which I learned last Friday is that the cost of university education per student in the UK is 40 percent less now than it was 15 years ago. You may ask, "How have we been able to maintain our excellence in teaching and research through that period?" The answer is, "We've been all working 50 percent more than our official hours and we've neglected the infrastructure of our laboratories, both in facilities, fabric, support staff and administrators." Everybody in academic life knows this, and it is a message we have to get through to government. Matters cannot go on as they are, or we will really fall behind. In fact, we are already behind our competitors within Europe.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Although I've concentrated upon physics, obviously many of the things that I've talked about have very practical application for the benefit of society as a whole. I'm not going to make a big play of this, but the examples I have given above indicate the reality of the way in which discoveries in basic physics translate into applications of genuine value to society. I believe that throughout the physics community we have an excellent record of applying our physics for the benefit of society.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">I also feel very strongly about the intellectual underpinning that physics provides for all the cognate sciences. In my view, it revolves around the ability to take problems and mathematise them in a nontrivial way. It is very easy to go to any textbook and find a particular formula for doing a straight line correlation diagram. But what we really want are individuals who are able to look at data and analyse experiments with real insight and imagination, whether it is in the social sciences or the physical sciences.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">I also believe that we should not be bashful about saying that we do physics for its own sake. It is a fact that physics is one of the most intellectually challenging disciplines because it is not at all easy to understand why we mathematise things the way we do. It takes a great deal of experience and lots of really hard work to understand what physics is really about, and there are no quick fixes. But the end result is as satisfying as anything which can be achieved through the whole of human endeavour.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">I am a great disbeliever in the two cultures--I really cannot persuade myself that there is any intrinsic difference between the imaginative study of Charles Dickens or of the physics of black holes. After all, half of our universities are full of students in the arts, humanities and social sciences. And why are they supported to study these subjects? They are studied because they are profoundly interesting subjects in their own right and expand the minds of those who study them in wholly creative ways. It is a tragedy that nobody says this out loud. We should be proud of the fact that we study physics, English literature, archaeology and so on because they are fantastically interesting. They stretch our minds and develop our creative abilities. I haven't seen that stated in any government document, and I think that is a tragedy.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Finally, we need reasonable funding for research. Tycho Brahe made some remarkable contributions to astronomy and the nature of our physical universe. During the 20 years Tycho built and operated his wonderful observatory, he was given 1 percent of the gross national product of Denmark. This should be compared with the total funding for all types of research in the developed countries at the present day--about 0.5 to 1 percent. We are not asking for vast amounts of money to support of our research, but it does seem to me that guaranteeing a long-term commitment to a 1 percent figure in real terms would be an enormous boost for UK science.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; font-style:italic; ">This story is taken from a lecture on the future of physics given by Malcolm Longair at the London School of Economic and Political Science on May 15, 2000. Copyright The London School of Economics and Political Science.</span></p> </td> </tr> </tbody></table> </body></html>