Science and Our Future
March 3, 2013
Yesterday morning, it was my pleasure to give a welcome to the 2013 Virginia Middle School Science Bowl.
As you know, we have hosted both the High School and Middle School regional science bowls at Jefferson Lab over a number of years. We also have a leading role with DOE to mount the national science bowls.
Yesterday morning, the auditorium was already full at 8 a.m., five minutes ahead of my advertised start time. The atmosphere was lively with children of all ages - from the youngsters here to support their older siblings in the competition, to high school students showing off maturity and participating in the organization of the day, to coaches and supporting teachers. Outside were the volunteer teams from Jefferson Lab.
It was a captured audience and, as it turned out it, matched perfectly my planned welcome, which contained the following points:
Being moderately old, I can remember when, at least in my country, there were few televisions, and there were no cell phones. A lot of the work that I did for my Ph.D. thesis involved skillful manipulation of an HP35 calculator; we actually learned to use slide rules, but only engineers were seriously using them actively in their work. The first class at Manchester University in Computing Science started a year ahead of me in 1965, but the computer on which I did my analysis would have filled a good piece of the room and been less powerful than a cell phone. What we use today in everyday life is, at most, a couple of decades old. Ours has become a technological society.
If we look at the medical world, doctors depend on X-rays, on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), on Isotopes and Positron-Electron Tomography (PET) scanners. Accelerators abound, many hospitals have electron accelerators and use them for the treatment of various kinds of cancer. Rarer, but becoming increasingly important, are the larger proton accelerators used for hadron therapy. We have an example down the road in Hampton, the Hampton University Proton Therapy Unit. This was pushed very hard by President Bill Harvey of Hampton University, and its technical director during construction was Thia Keppel, now leading Hall A at Jefferson Lab. Again, it is a technological society.
Over the past year or so, there have been two reports that discuss the future of nuclear physics. One was the national academy study, Nuclear Physics: Exploring the Heart of Matter, http://sites.nationalacademies.org/BPA/index.htm. A second, the Tribble Subcommittee report on implementing the 2007 Long Range Plan, which was accepted at the beginning of the month by the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee, see http://science.energy.gov/np/nsac/reports/.
Both reports were very supportive of the work we do at Jefferson Lab. The reports value highly the basic, fundamental nuclear physics research in which we probe and describe the subatomic world using profound theories that allow us to understand how the world developed from the big bang, through the creation of hadrons, including nucleons to the formation of nuclei and the whole of chemistry and understanding the ways that stars are formed.
Perhaps more importantly, both these reports ruminated on the impact that lack of support for science will have on our technological society. It will affect our ability to understand and maintain the technology we have, and importantly it will compromise our ability to take our society forward into more scientific discovery and technological development.
But, let’s assume the fiscal cliff and sequestration are passing aberrations. Let’s assume that we do provide the funding to make the discoveries. “Who will make those advances?” I asked.
The auditorium was primed. As I paused, several in the audience pointed to themselves. The segment of society in the Jefferson Lab auditorium at 8 a.m., on Saturday, March 2, understood its role. It is our youth who will make the scientific discoveries and the technological developments of the future.