AIP | Matters
-- -- January 17, 2012

Fred Dylla Director's Matters

By H. Frederick Dylla, Executive Director

Stars big and bright over Texas

AAS meeting logo The American Astronomical Society drew close to 2,700 astronomers and other scientists from around the world to Austin, last week for its winter meeting, and I was fortunate to be among them. There was plenty of exciting science going on to engage student and professional conference goers alike. If you peruse the AAS's blogs, tweets, and news reports, you will find it easy to become mesmerized by the mysteries and beauty of the cosmos from the modest perspective of an earthling.

From the left: AAS President Debra Elmegreen, Heineman award winner Robert Kirsher, and Fred Dylla.  Photo by Kelley Knight Heins; copyright 2012 American Astronomical Society. AIP is honored to share the venue of the AAS meeting to confer a number of prestigious awards. In what's become an annual tradition, AIP and AAS present the Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics—established in 1979 to recognize excellence in the field—is a typical highlight of this meeting. During the awards ceremony the previous year's awardee receives their prize and the current year's winner is named. It was my pleasure to present the 2011 award to Robert Kirshner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics "for his sustained and enduring contributions to our understanding of supernovae and cosmology." Kirshner's seminal work was a precursor to finding evidence for dark energy and the expansion of the universe. Among his many distinctions, Kirshner mentored and was thesis advisor to both Adam Reiss and Brian Schmidt, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics last October.

During a special AIP-sponsored press reception, we also celebrated two recipients of the AIP 2011 Science Communication Awards for works related to astronomy and astrophysics. 2011 AIP Science Writing Award winners Vicki Oransky Wittenstein (left) and George Musser (right) pose for a photo op with Fred Dylla. Vicki Oransky Wittenstein's book, Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths, earned her the award for exemplary science writing for children. Wittenstein tells the story of one boy's inspiration to become an astronomer, who later succeeds in opening up the entirely new science of exoplanet detection and research. Author George Musser was recognized for his outstanding Scientific American article, "Could Time End?" General relativity makes the uncomfortable prediction that time ends in spacetime singularities. However, Musser points out that the theory has its shortcomings; his article explores several research programs that treat the end of time as a process rather than an abrupt event.

Another highlight for me was the chance to meet with a small focus group of AAS volunteer leadership and undergrad and graduate students. Fred Dylla with focus groupMy goal was to gather information from this vibrant community of their awareness of AIP programs and services, and to seek their suggestions for how AIP's work could be more relevant to them in the various stages of their careers. The conversation again pointed out to me that members of Member Societies often have little awareness of many of AIP's programs and services but deem them valuable upon engaging in such discussions. We clearly have work to do to better promote our programs. One takeaway was the students' interest in the SPS publication Journal of Undergraduate Research. We'll likely place more emphasis on promoting this journal to the undergraduate community as an option to publish their first research efforts.

Left image: Peter Nguyen (left), SPS reporter and SPS Executive Committee member, with another student at the AAS/SPS Evening of Undergraduate Science. Right image: Allison P. M. Towner of the University of Arizona explains her research.

AAS places heavy emphasis on student involvement, and SPS was present to support their efforts. SPS exhibited during the student orientation and sponsored two undergraduate meeting reporters: Heather Bloemhard of New Mexico Tech and Peter Nguyen of the University of Florida. The highpoint for most students was last Tuesday's AAS/SPS Evening of Undergraduate Science. AAS Executive Officer Kevin Marvel and Press and Education Officer Rick Fienberg worked with SPS Director Gary White and Assistant Director Tom Olsen to welcome nearly 75 students for a reception, poster session, and an invited presentation by Sandra Faber of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Faber, a renowned expert in the study of the evolution of galaxies and complex structures, spoke about her career and the challenges that students face as they look ahead to graduate school and careers in astronomy.

On the last morning of the meeting, Alan Leshner, the executive director of the AAAS (the publisher of Science Magazine), gave a frank talk on the need for all members of the science community to improve their abilities to communicate the value, importance, and excitement of science to all segments of the public. He especially emphasized the value of "going local"—bringing science to your friends and neighbors through lab visits, science fairs, science cafes, and visits to neighborhood schools. He felt this was an especially important message to give the astronomy community since the public holds a special fascination with the "last frontier."
Publishing Matters

AIP unveils brand design for its portfolio of journals

new journal covers AIP Publishing is moving into 2012 with a refreshed design that unites the AIP collection of top-cited journals across all delivery methods. Through this effort, AIP aims to bring higher visibility to its respected suite of physical science journals. The redesign of the journals' online presence, printed issues, and display materials conveys a strong, consistent branding message for all AIP titles. Moreover, each new issue features a cover image, drawing attention to our authors' important work.
Physics Resources Matters

2011 SPS Outstanding Chapter Awards

Each chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS)'s 800 chapters around the world is very individualized with regard to the interests of its members, its physics and astronomy departments, campus atmosphere, and geographical setting. Despite this diversity, the national office is able to gauge chapter health through the chapters' annual reports. Chapter reports are the prime opportunity for chapters to showcase their activities, celebrate their successes, and cull out areas for improvement. Submitted reports also help members of the SPS National Council designate exemplary chapters for SPS Outstanding Chapter Awards. Forty-five such awards have been granted thus far for 2011, with more to come!

The following are highlights noted by SPS zone councilors:
  • The University of Southern Mississippi hosted a Nobel laureate and had exceptional involvement in SPS national programs and outreach in their local community.
  • Michigan Technological University makes a great push to keep alumni involved, while still looking toward the future and actively recruiting new members.
  • Utah State University hosted the biggest public science event of any SPS chapter in the nation—dropping 20,000 bouncy balls from a helicopter!
  • The Colorado School of Mines is an extraordinary chapter, hosting great outreach events, being involved on campus, and encouraging their members to become active in the professional physics community.
  • The University of Missouri–Kansas City's outreach program makes great use of demos, and their YouTube channel has one video with over 16,000 hits!
For the complete recipient list and more highlights, visit the SPS website.

Left image: Members of the Mount Holyoke SPS Chapter at the Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (NCUWP) conference at MIT. Right image: The winning entries in the Central Washington University SPS Chapterís Edible Car Competition.
Off the Press
Radiations cover
Coming Up

Thursday, January 19

  • Physics Today Advisory Committee meeting