AMO report takes U.S. government to task

WASHINGTON, D.C.-The federal government should reinforce its commitment to research in atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) science, according to a new report from the National Academies’ National Research Council.

WASHINGTON, D.C.-The federal government should reinforce its commitment to research in atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) science, according to a new report from the National Academies’ National Research Council. The report, which highlights six main “challenges” in physics that could directly impact the technology and economy of the future, also stresses the importance of research and education in the physical sciences.

“During the past century, U.S. research in AMO science has benefited our country enormously through the development of global positioning systems, advanced medical equipment, and atomic clocks, to name just a few applications,” said Robert Eisenstein, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report and retired assistant director of the National Science Foundation. “Although the United States has led much of this research and development so far, the new questions in the field are more daunting than ever. We will not be able to maintain world leadership without a strong commitment to basic research in this area.”

AMO science has made possible many advances in electronics, energy, medicine, and national security. And over the past decade, Nobel prizes have been awarded to 10 researchers in the field. Some of the most successful AMO technologies are laser surgery, screening technologies that detect hidden weapons and toxins, and high-speed telecommunications. The field is now poised to address many urgent needs, such as finding new sources of energy, detecting new diseases, and enhancing the security of information sent over the Internet. AMO science will also play an important role in gaining a better understanding of the laws of physics, probing the behavior of matter at extreme temperatures, and learning about the properties of nanomaterials.

While funding for AMO science at the U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and National Institute of Standards and Technology has increased by an average of 26%, funding for the physical sciences overall has remained flat and at times decreased over the past decade. The Department of Defense saw its funding decline substantially for both AMO science and basic research as a whole. This policy is not a wise or effective long-term strategy if the goal is to maximize the nation’s overall strength, the report says. It adds, however, that recent proposals to increase federal funding for the physical sciences are reassuring.

Maintaining U.S. leadership in the physical sciences in general and AMO science in particular depends on more than simply money, though, the committee said. The nation must be alert to new and more efficient ways of conducting research in AMO science. In addition, AMO scientists must be fully informed about scientific developments in the rest of the world and stay engaged in international research, the report says.

More in Home