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July/August 2021 (Volume 30, Number 7)
By Tawanda W. Johnson
Many physicists do not follow an academic path after graduation, with a significant number instead choosing careers in industry, including starting their own businesses. APS remains committed to helping those entrepreneurs by providing access to technical findings in its scientific journals and reports; hosting conferences that encourage the sharing of ideas; providing guidance and support through its careers and professional development programs; and advocating for robust research budgets for key federal science agencies.
Adam Steele, owner of ZeroK NanoTech, a business based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, that develops and commercializes new technologies that utilize laser-cooled focused ion beams for nanomaching, said Physical Review Letters played an integral role in helping him start his business.
“It helped answer the question of how many atoms could we capture from a background vapor and extract into a slow beam,” recalled Steele, who added that technical findings in Physical Review Letters and Physical Review A were instrumental in guiding him as he launched his business.
APS Publisher Matthew Salter said he was pleased that Steele found the Society’s journals useful.
“The Physical Review journals publish some of the most impactful and important research in physics and physics-related research, serving a wide range of user communities ranging from theoretical and experimental physics through to topics of interest to applied physicists in academia and industry,” explained Salter.
“We are proud of the role that the Physical Review journals play in supporting all researchers and entrepreneurs who are inspired to use their scientific talent to address global challenges.”
Salter continued, “Although all of the Physical Review journals are world-leading in their fields, our core focused journals, Physical Review Applied, launched in 2014, as well as Physical Review Fluids and Physical Review Materials, launched in 2016 and 2017, respectively, are likely to be of particular interest to industrial researchers and entrepreneurs.”
APS meetings and conferences offer additional avenues for entrepreneurs to gain insight into launching new businesses, with the meetings representing opportunities to test new ideas as novel scientific results are shared and discussed among attendees.
Steele first presented his invention of a focused ion-beam system at the APS Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics (DAMOP) meeting a few years ago.
“I found the DAMOP meeting useful in the same way that I found the journals; it was a chance to learn about the latest scientific results in laser cooling,” he said, adding that he thinks the meeting is also a great way to recruit future employees.
Similarly, entrepreneur Gil Travish, who developed field enhanced emitters for X-ray sources, gleaned helpful information for his company Vibo Health while attending the APS March Meeting in 2018. Travish discussed his findings with colleagues and with vendors with experience on e-beam guns.
The Society has also utilized career and professional development programs to encourage and support entrepreneurship among its members. Launched in 2016, the purpose of the NSF-funded PIPELINE program is to develop and disseminate new curricular and co-curricular approaches to physics innovation and entrepreneurship (PIE) education. Examples include relating physics content to its real-world applications, building students’ communication skills, and familiarizing students with basic business concepts.
“Motivation for this project stems from the fact that 90 percent of physics graduates, including half of all PhD recipients, find employment outside of traditional faculty positions—yet there are very few experiences incorporated into the standard undergraduate physics degree that explicitly help to prepare students for these career eventualities,” said Crystal Bailey, Head of Career Programs at APS.
“There is also strong evidence that physics programs that provide engaged learning environments focused on future career development have higher retention rates and improved student experiences, and that future employability is an especially important factor for students from underrepresented groups when choosing a major.”
A newly released report, Educating Physicists for Impactful Careers, provides an overview of the PIPELINE project, including curricular approaches that were designed and tested among the institutions participating in the three-year project.
“We hope that this report helps [faculty members] build the case for what they are trying to do. We also hope that we can seed a community of practice so that educators can share the approaches they are developing more broadly,” added Bailey.
APS Government Affairs (GA) also does its part to support APS members on the entrepreneurial path by advocating for robust budgets for federal science agencies that support projects “across the R&D continuum, from foundational and use-inspired research to tech transfer and commercialization,” said Mark Elsesser, GA Director.
The author is Senior Press Secretary of the APS Office of External Affairs.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine