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By David Voss
The APS Innovation Fund (IF) was launched in early 2019 to encourage APS members to develop fresh approaches to serving the physics community (APS News, March 2019) in line with the Society's new Strategic Plan. Applicants were encouraged to think big, from advancing global engagement to fostering equity and inclusion in physics.
More than a hundred pre-proposals were received by mid-March, of which 10 full proposals were considered by the selection committee. Four of these were ultimately selected for funding at levels between $50,000 and $100,000 per year for two years, with a fifth proposal still under consideration.
"It was surprising that we received over a hundred proposals in a six-week time period," said APS President David Gross, co-chair of the selection committee. "I take that as an indication of the enthusiasm of APS members and staff for this initiative. I'm also very pleased that APS has been able to respond and launch the project so quickly."
Funded projects need to align with the APS Strategic Plan that was rolled out earlier this year and funds will not be used to support existing projects. "The Innovation Fund is a new initiative," explains APS Director of Project Development Theodore Hodapp, co-chair of the selection committee. "It is inspired by the APS Strategic Plan and will capture thoughtful and forward-looking ideas from our members. Our intent is to promote innovative ideas that engage the community and improve the discipline.”
The four funded proposals are:
More Humane APS Meetings through Machine Learning: With multiple tracks and thousands of talks, the large annual APS meetings can be overwhelming. This project would test whether machine learning and natural language processing could help improve the member experience at APS gatherings. The goal would be to accurately identify talks on similar subjects and help attendees plan their schedules more effectively. Meeting organizers could also use these algorithms to better sort abstracts to reduce overlap and streamline the conference experience. Project Lead: Tim Atherton (Tufts University).
APS Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Alliance (APS-IDEA): Physicists have been increasingly concerned with matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion within the field. This project will bring together representatives from about 30 physics departments to form a national leadership network to exchange ideas, explore effective practices, and develop strategic plans. By leveraging existing initiatives of APS and other organizations, the goal is to transform the culture of physics to advance equity, promote diversity, and establish an inclusive profession. Project Leads: Edmund Bertschinger (MIT), Geoff Potvin (Florida International University), and Monica Plisch (APS Programs Director).
Informing and Activating the U.S. Physics Community in Nuclear Threat Reduction: Today, the global threat from nuclear weapons remains grave and is worsening. In addition to concerns about existing nuclear arsenals, international tensions continue to rise over the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation. This project will educate and reengage the powerful voice of the physics community and the APS membership on this pressing and globally important issue. A team of experts will visit physics institutions, present overviews, conduct discussions, and build a coalition of volunteers to advocate for nuclear threat reduction measures. Project leads: Stewart Prager, Alex Glaser, Zia Mian, and Frank von Hippel (Princeton University); Steve Fetter (University of Maryland).
U.S.–Africa Initiative in Electronic Structure: Strengthening relationships throughout the international physics community is a core part of the APS mission. This project will create a platform for collaborations between African and U.S. physicists in the form of workshops for participants to meet and identify common interests in the field of electronic structure calculations. The first workshop will take place in Africa, followed by a second workshop in the U.S., after which African researchers will visit a U.S.-based research group to give seminars and collaborate on a research project. Project Leads: Omololu Akin-Ojo (East African Institute for Fundamental Research, Rwanda), Richard Martin (University of Illinois), and Renata Wentzcovitch (Columbia University).
APS expects to put out a call for another round of IF proposals next year. "It was a selective process and a lot of work, but I look at this kind of activity as an experiment," said Gross. "I think it's really important for APS to do what scientists do all the time: experiment and see what happens. I have a lot of respect for physicists and, when given resources, they are very imaginative."
The Innovation Fund Committee: David Gross (co-chair, APS President), Ted Hodapp (co-chair, APS Director of Project Development), Andrea Liu (APS Council Speaker-Elect), John Rumble (APS Speaker of the Council), Francis Slakey (APS Chief Government Affairs Officer).
For more details on the Innovation Fund, visit the fund web page.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik