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Date:  July 24, 2006

Contacts:  Patrice Pages, Media Relations Officer

Megan Petty, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <>




U.S. Should Reinforce Its Commitment to Research

in Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Science


WASHINGTON -- The federal government should reinforce its commitment to research in atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) science -- the study of atoms, molecules, and light, and related technologies such as lasers and fiber-optic communications -- says 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 addressing the challenges identified by the committee, which include gaining a better understanding of the laws of physics, probing the behavior of matter at extreme temperatures, and learning about the properties of nanomaterials – man-made materials a billionth of a meter in size.


Research activities in AMO science in other parts of the world are as creative, diverse, and robust as those pursued in the United States, the report notes.  While no single country can yet match the overall U.S. program, the sum of European research efforts does.  For example, Germany and Austria have made investments in AMO science that, in some cases, surpass U.S. investments in its most effective and well-funded laboratories.  Also, Europe and Asia have built research facilities that are essentially the equal of U.S. facilities or that have no equal in the United States.


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 percent, 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.  For example, there has been a steady move over the years toward the creation of centers and large facilities where many teams of scientists can gather and collaborate.  Also, government agencies and universities have increased their financial support for teams led by a single investigator and expanded some single-investigator efforts into the activities of larger teams.  The federal government should encourage these approaches to doing research by creating appropriate grants and fostering cooperation between public institutions and the private sector, the committee said.


Another way to maintain the vitality of the physical sciences -- including AMO science -- in the United States is by persuading more American students, especially women and minorities, to study the physical sciences and encouraging foreign students graduating from U.S. universities to continue their scientific careers in the United States, the committee said.


AMO scientists must be fully informed about scientific developments in the rest of the world and stay engaged in international research, the report says.  Foreign scientists should be encouraged to come to the United States to collaborate with their American counterparts and attend meetings and conferences.  Similarly, U.S. scientists must be able to travel abroad for the same purposes, the committee added.


"What motivated this study were the tremendous advances achieved in AMO science over the past several years," said Philip Bucksbaum, committee co-chair and a professor at Stanford University.  "We can now use lasers to heat matter to a million degrees or cool it to temperatures a billion times colder than outer space.  We can also use lasers as strobe lamps to take snapshots of chemical reactions that last less than a millionth of a billionth of a second.  These investigations are not just revealing new fundamental science, but also inspiring new innovations to overcome our greatest global challenges." 


The report is the second in a series of studies on the state of U.S. science in various areas of physics.  The first, Revealing the Hidden Nature of Space and Time: Charting the Course for Elementary Particle Physics, was released in April and recommended priorities for the U.S. particle physics program for the next 15 years.  Several other reports will be completed in the next two years.


The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.  The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  It is a private, nonprofit institution that provide science and technology advice under a congressional charter.  A roster of the committee, which includes three Nobel laureates, follows.


Copies of Controlling the Quantum World will be available this fall from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or order on the Internet at  Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


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[ This news release and report are available at ]


pp: Science Policy



Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

Board on Physics and Astronomy


Committee on AMO2010 – An Assessment of and Outlook for Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Science


Philip H. Bucksbaum* (co-chair)

Professor of Physics

Department of Physics

Stanford University

Stanford, Calif.


Robert A. Eisenstein (co-chair)

Sante Fe, N.M.


Gordon A. Baym*

Nuclear Physicist, and

George and Ann Fisher Distinguished Professor of Engineering

Center for Advanced Study of Physics

University of Illinois



C. Lewis Cocke

University Distinguished Professor

Department of Physics

Kansas State University



Eric A. Cornell*

Senior Scientist and Professor Adjoint


University of Colorado



E. Norval Fortson*


Department of Physics

University of Washington



Keith Hodgson


Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, and

Howard H. and Jessie T. Watkins University Professor of Chemistry

Stanford University

Stanford, Calif.


Anthony M. Johnson


Center for Advanced Studies in Photonics Research, and

Professor of Physics and of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering

University of Maryland-Baltimore County



Steven M. Kahn

Cassius Lamb Kirk Professor in the Natural Sciences

Department of Physics and Stanford Linear Accelerator Center

Stanford University

Stanford, Calif.


Mark A. Kasevich

Professor of Physics

Stanford University

Stanford, Calif.


Wolfgang Ketterle*

John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Kate Kirby


Institute for Theoretical Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Cambridge, Mass.


Pierre Meystre

Regents Professor of Optical Sciences and Physics, and

Chair of Quantum Optics

University of Arizona


Christopher Monroe

Professor of Physics

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor


Margaret M. Murnane*


JILA, and


Department of Physics and Electrical and Computer Engineering

University of Colorado


William D. Phillips*


National Institute of Standards and Technology

Gaithersburg, Md.


Stephen T. Pratt

Senior Chemist

Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne, Ill.


K. Birgitta Whaley

Professor of Chemistry

University of California





Michael H. Moloney

Study Director



* Member, National Academy of Sciences