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By Abigail Dove
From climate change to cybersecurity to nuclear safety, physics principles are deeply tied to many of today’s most pressing global issues. This is especially apparent in today’s COVID-19 era, requiring an understanding of viral particle diffusion and the development of reliable and efficient mechanical ventilators. Against this backdrop, the APS Forum on International Physics (FIP) is a home for physicists who are passionate about advancing the international diffusion of physics knowledge and fostering collaborations among researchers across the world. Core to the Forum's mission is the understanding that global collaboration drives scientific innovation and that international cooperation and exchange in physics education and research is essential for strengthening science across the world.
FIP is a global community with significant participation of scientists abroad. Approximately 34% of FIP’s nearly 4,000 members are based outside of the United States (compared to 23% of APS members overall), with members hailing from Canada, India, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy, to name a few. FIP also has considerable engagement from young physicists: 42% of FIP’s members are graduate and undergraduate students or early career scientists (i.e., postdocs and junior professors).
According to outgoing FIP chair Luisa Cifarelli (University of Bologna), a unifying theme across FIP’s activities in the near future is the promotion of physics for development. “I am convinced that FIP should increase and foster its engagement toward scientifically emerging countries,” she remarked.
Incoming chair Alan Hurd (Los Alamos National Lab) explained that a great deal of FIP’s early development work has been with a handful of specific partner countries—including Jordan, Iran, and Pakistan—which already have excellent institutions and research facilities in place. As FIP grows, the goal is to engage with an even wider array of developing countries, including those without a strong existing physics infrastructure.
Along these lines, one of FIP’s major outreach programs is Physics Matters, an online colloquia series for students and early career scientists in developing countries. Newly launched in 2020, the first Physics Matters series consisted of five weekly seminars on topics ranging from the measurement of cosmic rays at unprecedented northern latitudes to the fundamentals of navigation systems and timekeeping to the 2019 redefinition of the SI base units (see APS News May 2019), all of which are still available to watch on FIP’s Facebook page. A second Physics Matters series is slated for 2021, hopefully with the addition of live online colloquia to further increase engagement.
Cifarelli, who spearheaded the development of Physics Matters, explained that FIP’s long-term goal is to enlarge the audience for Physics Matters to as many developing countries as possible, possibly in collaboration with other APS forums such as the Forum for Early Career Scientists (FECS; see APS News January 2019), the Forum for Graduate Student Affairs (FGSA), and the Forum for Outreach and Engaging the Public (FOEP; see APS News October 2019).
FIP also sponsors a number of invited sessions at both the APS March and April Meetings, bringing awareness to the wider APS community about international perspectives on science, funding, organization, and international cooperation. Past sessions have highlighted examples of physics research conducted in the developing world, the importance of science diplomacy, and the role of physics in addressing global issues—often in collaboration with FECS and the Forum for Physics and Society (FPS; see APS News September 2020).
Additionally, FIP sponsors a number of travel programs to support and empower scientists in developing countries. For example, FIP recently more than doubled its contribution to the APS International Travel Award Program (IRTAP), which supports visits for collaborations among partners from developed and developing countries. Furthermore, FIP’s Distinguished Scholars program provides financial support to bring outstanding students from outside the US to APS meetings, which, as Cifarelli pointed out, can be a “career-changing experience.” FIP also sponsors the biennial Wheatley Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the development of physics across the globe.
Looking to the future, the FIP executive committee’s goals for the Forum are two-fold: Looking outward, to expand FIP’s influence internationally; looking inward, to increase diversity within FIP’s ranks.
On the former, Hurd described FIP’s aspirations of establishing APS sections and chapters in scientifically emerging countries and working to convene international leaders of the physics community, especially other national physics societies and APS’ European counterpart, the European Physical Society. To this end, FIP recently established an ad hoc Outreach & Communication Committee as a task force to improve FIP’s visibility, promote its activities, and recruit members from institutions and research centers around the world. Furthermore, FIP’s biannual newsletter was revamped in 2020 to facilitate online dissemination worldwide.
On the latter, both Cifarelli and Hurd underscored the need for greater diversity in FIP, particularly when it comes to gender (currently the group is composed of only 17% women). Of course, this issue extends beyond FIP to physics more broadly and STEM as a whole. “A major issue is the perception about the importance of science and of scientific education worldwide, […] especially concerning women. This perception is far from being as wide as it should be,” noted Cifarelli. “Analyzing international data on women in physics could be very illuminating,” added Hurd, in order to identify the factors most associated with women’s engagement in physics.
Overall, FIP stands out as an important bridge between APS and the global physics community, at a time when international collaboration is more crucial than ever. More information can be found at the FIP website (engage.aps.org/fip/home).
The author is a freelance writer based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine