The Physics Survey and the Committee on Gravitational Physics

Jim Hartle, UC Santa Barbara

Once a decade, the National Research Council's Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) conducts a survey of the fields of physics. The most recent was the eight volume Physics Through the 1990's in 1986, familiarly known as the ``Brinkman Report'' after the chair of the survey committee. This was preceded by the ``Bromley Report'' in 1972. The BPA is now carrying out a new decadal survey entitled Physics in a New Era under a committee chaired by Dave Schramm.

These surveys play an important role in conveying the consensus of the scientific community on past achievements and the future priorities to decision makers in Washington, both in funding agencies and the Congress. They are also an opportunity to strengthen the understanding of physics generally and foster its support. It seems likely that the new survey will be particularly important as it comes at the start of a period of constrained funding for science.

The Committee on Gravitational Physics

The new survey will include a volume on each of the major branches of physics, as well as an overview volume. For the first time there will be a separate volume on gravitational physics prepared by a Committee on Gravitational Physics (CGP). The members of CGP are:

James B. Hartle, Chair, University of California, Santa Barbara Eric G. Adelberger, University of Washington Abhay V. Ashtekar, Pennsylvania State University Beverly K. Berger, Oakland University Gary T. Horowitz, University of California, Santa Barbara Peter F. Michelson, Stanford University Ramesh Narayan, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Peter R. Saulson, Syracuse University Joseph H. Taylor, Jr., Princeton University Saul A. Teukolsky, Cornell University Clifford M. Will, Washington University

The first meeting of the CGP will be in Washington on October 7-9, 1997. The committee hopes to have finished its task by summer, 1998.

The objectives of the report are as follows:

Describe the progress in gravitational physics in the last decade.

Identify the scientifically promising directions for the next decade, and describe the experimental, observational, and theoretical resources that are required to pursue these directions.

Describe the relationships of gravitational physics to neighboring areas of science, in particular, astrophysics, particle physics, cosmology, and mathematics.

Assess the standing of the US effort in gravitational physics relative to that in other countries and identify opportunities for international collaboration.

Examine career patterns and opportunities for scientists in gravitational physics and assess the implications of these for the support of students, post-doctoral researchers, and faculty.

Input to the Committee

The committee invites input from scientists working in gravitational physics that are related to the above objectives, and the individual members of the committee would be pleased to discuss such input. Input should be sent to the chair by e-mail at or by letter at:

James B. Hartle Department of Physics University of California Santa Barbara, CA 93106

As an aid to focusing input, the following are some of the kinds of questions that the CGP will be seeking answers to. This list is not meant as an opinion poll, and it is not expected that every input will address all questions. What would be most helpful are brief, reasoned arguments supporting definite directions in research and funding. Responses like ``X-theory should have the highest priority, Sincerely, Prof. Z '' are therefore not helpful. On the other hand, copies of your grant proposals are probably too long and too specific. Please try to be realistic. It is commonly agreed that we are facing an era of constrained support for science, and the best that can be hoped for for the NSF budget is level funding. Even if such projections prove overly pessimistic, it is better to be prepared for underfunding rather than the reverse. Responses concluding that the funding for theoretical gravity should be tripled or that we should construct accelerators at Planck energies are also not helpful.

1. What, in your view, are the most outstanding achievements in gravitational physics in the past decade?

2. What, in your opinion, are the most promising directions for research in gravitational physics in the next decade?

3. What resources -- in people and facilities -- are needed to realize these opportunities?

4. What are the most persuasive arguments that the nation should allocate these resources in competition with other opportunities in science?

5. What should be the top priorities in the NSF program on gravitational physics, and what should be the lowest priorities, assuming a level or declining budget?

6. Large facilities or projects are becoming increasingly important in some areas of gravitational physics -- GPB and LIGO for example. Large facilities like LISA and STEP are proposed. How important are these projects for the progress in gravitational physics and which are the most important?

7. What should be done by funding agencies to improve career opportunities for gravitational scientists, and how important are these improvements compared to preserving the existing core research program?

8. How does the US effort in gravitational physics compare with that in other countries? What are the implications of international competition in the area and what are the desirable opportunities for international collaboration?

9. Theoretical progress in some areas has come to increasingly depend on large computer simulations that require collaborations of many scientists. How important are these efforts, what are the resources required, and what is the best way to organize these efforts.

10. Is there adequate theoretical support for the prediction and analysis of presently planned and future experiments?

11. To what problems in astrophysics, cosmology, and high energy physics can gravitational physics contribute to and what areas of gravitational physics research, both theoretical and experimental, should be emphasized from this point of view?

12. Should we foster greater cooperation and interaction between high energy theorists and gravitational theorists working on fundamental questions in quantum gravity? If so what is the best way to achieve this?

13. What is your view on the role research in gravitational physics plays in the education of people who go on to do useful things outside the field?

14. What other issues concerning the future of gravitational physics should the CGP address, in your opinion?

Further Information

The BPA website: The Physics Survey website: The CGP website:

Jorge Pullin
Wed Sep 10 15:05:58 EDT 1997