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By Jonathan Bagger
Editor's note: In December, incoming APS CEO Jonathan Bagger met with APS staff to introduce himself and answer questions. We asked him to prepare an edited version of his introductory remarks for the entire membership of APS.
It goes almost without saying that I am both excited and honored to be joining the American Physical Society as its next CEO. I look forward to building on the many accomplishments of my predecessor, Kate Kirby. But before I speak about APS, I should tell you a bit about myself.
I grew up in New Jersey, the oldest of four children, and the only one who went into science. My journey started in middle school with a terrific physical science course. We had great fun doing experiments almost every day, discovering our own laws of physics, with greater or lesser success. Every so often, the teacher, Matt Kashuba, stepped in and nudged us back on track. It was a wonderful experience. (High school physics was another matter; the labs with water and ripple tanks were memorable for all the wrong reasons.)
I went to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where I had an amazing freshman year course taught by Bruce Pipes. Oh, did we struggle, but my friends from that experience remain friends to this day. (One alumna of that course, Frances Hellman, is now APS President-Elect.) For me, that experience sealed the deal, and in due time I went off to graduate school at Cambridge and Princeton, where I studied theoretical physics. I then took positions on the West and East Coast, eventually landing at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
I spent twenty-five years on the faculty at Johns Hopkins. I lived in Baltimore City and raised my family there. I grew to love the city and the community. I also grew to love Johns Hopkins. It was a wonderful place to grow, especially as over the years I came to know and appreciate the dedication of its medical faculty. Their sense of mission had a profound effect on me and on my career.
Seven years ago, I was approached to lead TRIUMF, Canada's particle accelerator center in Vancouver. The lab had its origins in nuclear and particle physics, but over the years its mission had grown to include materials science, nuclear medicine, and even commercialization. To me, TRIUMF epitomizes physics in action—crossing boundaries to make a difference in the lives of real people.
At TRIUMF, physicists work with chemists, biologists, and physicians—and with engineers, technicians and tradespeople. All come together as one multidisciplinary community. That's the magic of TRIUMF. I am honored to have served as its Director, and there is no question that I will miss it. But now it's time for me to return to the United States, to Maryland, and to my home in Baltimore.
I have a long history with APS. Over the years, I've served on the editorial boards of Physical Review Letters and Physical Review D, and as chair of the Division of Particles and Fields, a member of the APS Council and Board, a member and chair of various APS committees, and most recently as chair of the APS Task Force on International Engagement.
I am excited by all that is happening at APS. The Society has made great progress in building a modern and responsive organization. I am pleased that so many staff and volunteers have contributed to its success.
Looking forward, I see an organization with great potential, but I also see one facing significant challenges across many fronts.
Journal publishing is vitally important to APS, but it is facing enormous challenges globally, not just at APS. The publishing landscape is changing quickly, and we have to change with it.
The pandemic has upended the model for scientific meetings, but it has also opened new possibilities. What is the best way for our community to gather in this new era?
Programs and membership must evolve to serve a new generation of APS members, many of whom have different expectations from their elders.
Government affairs needs to speak loud and clear about the value of science and of international collaboration in a world where both have become suspect.
There are challenges and opportunities along each of these dimensions. Together with our members and their elected leaders, we will have to examine each of them. They are all important pillars of the Society. How can we do better? Myself, I think they reinforce each other in critical ways.
My vision for physics more generally is both broad and inclusive. When I was being trained in physics, we placed high walls around ourselves. If something was too complicated, we’d say, "oh, that's chemistry," or if it was a little too messy, we’d say, "oh, that's biology." But that attitude is a luxury we can no longer afford.
Today, across the globe, society is facing existential issues in many areas, including climate, energy, infectious disease, and food security. Progress will require multidisciplinary, multigenerational, fact-based solutions. Physics, with its collaborative culture and analytic approach, has much to offer. And frankly, if we don't step up, our field will become irrelevant.
Addressing these issues will require cooperation and collaboration, with many people engaged, each bringing their own talents and perspectives. We will need all hands on deck—no matter their race or gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation or national origin—no matter whether they're academic or industrial or international. Together, we need to build a welcoming and inclusive physics community.
And how can we do that? Part of the solution, I am convinced, lies in changing our culture. It seems to me that our physics culture is one of the barriers to inclusiveness. We need to challenge our assumptions and to eradicate inappropriate and unacceptable behavior.
I was delighted to receive the AIP TEAM-UP report, which addresses many of our cultural issues head-on. Through my role at AAAS, where I was Chair of the Physics Section, I made sure that the report was featured at the recent AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle.
More recently, I was pleased to hear about the APS Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Alliance (APS-IDEA) program. I encouraged TRIUMF to join because APS-IDEA offers an opportunity for Canadians to learn from their American colleagues, and likewise, for Americans to learn from the Canadian experience. Thank you for including our lab!
I am also pleased to support the APS Delta-Phy (Change Physics) program, which under the leadership of APS President Jim Gates, offers additional hope for changing the culture within our field. We need to look at ourselves in the mirror—our culture and our values—because in the end, addressing our shortcomings will open our doors and make physics better for everyone.
Since I'm coming to APS from TRIUMF, I'd like to share our laboratory’s values with you. About four years ago, we embarked on a year-long process of community consultation, the end result of which was a set of values to live by. I think they might even apply more generally:
Excellence and Integrity: We have a passion for excellence in all that we do. We are decisive, bold, courageous and compassionate. We take responsibility for our actions, our commitments, and our contributions to the larger community.
Safety and Accountability: We respect the health and safety of our workers, our visitors, and our neighbors. We build quality into our processes and seek continual improvement in all of our systems. We embrace transparency and authenticity and hold ourselves and each other accountable.
Equity and Inclusion: We empower our workforce and foster an inclusive work environment, enriching our science and our community. We value teamwork and open communication to ensure that everyone belongs, and all voices are heard. We respect each other, take care of each other, and support the success of all.
During the pandemic, our values proved helpful as we navigated the uncertainty together. We used them to guide our actions and to hold each other accountable. This past summer, they provided a framework for difficult lab-wide discussions about racism and its manifestations in Canada and abroad.
I am so proud that TRIUMF’s values came from our community, and that equity and inclusion were held to be as important as safety and accountability—quite a statement from the employees of a licensed nuclear facility.
APS has values too, and those values must guide interactions between our members and our staff, our members with each other, and also our behavior as representatives of our community. Together, we can build a welcoming and inclusive physics community.
See also the interview with Jonathan Bagger in (Physics Today Online).
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine