Physics is not well served when everyone is searching for answers
to the same handful of true/false questions. We need to encourage
physicists to ask questions that are not just the popular ones.
Unfortunately, managed priority funding is often pushing in the
wrong direction. We need to include study of issues for which no
consensus of priority exists.
In an ideal world, a physics proposal would be short and without too many details. When answers are found, those answers should imply a new round of questions. Doing exactly what was promised in a proposal may be inconsistent with real progress. The AGS accelerator at Brookhaven Lab was proposed 50 years ago with a few page proposal that indicated the technological possibility of building a new machine. No specific physics results were promised.
Many Nobel Prizes resulted from this one or two page proposal.
Mathematics is important but you must have phenomenology to have physics. We need math to connect our observations together and our models have been, and always will be, the inspiration for novel mathematical ideas. But conceptual experiments are not the same as experiments. If we are not dealing with measurements, we are not doing physics. Observation is part of measurement but the best physics experiments are active experiments, where we are the causal agent in interesting phenomena.
Applied collaborative projects,
involving overlap with engineering or other sciences, will always be
important. However, the value that physicists bring to the table
derives from the unique core perspective that basic physics research
creates. That physics perspective is connected to the broad base of
research and inquiry that we associate with the legacy of the 20th
century environment. It involves an appreciation of that which
connects all areas of physics together. The irony is that that
common perspective can come from research that is diverse in
specific goals. The legacy of how we have done experiments in the
past has made us useful contributers to cross disciplinary
If we (and more importantly our students) become too distracted by helping with research outside of basic physics, working on questions rather tangential to core physics ideas, we risk losing our connection to the basic research approach that gives us credibility. The training and participation in the great legacy that was 20th century physics is the reason we are valued today. That which makes physicists valuable in interdisciplinary collaborations can be lost if we don't preserve our core approach. We need to maintain our core mission to keep our value to interdisciplinary partners.
Physicists should be building the tools for their experiments, not just buying them off the shelf. I consider electronics essential to experimentation and we should be at the forefront in developing the new electronics gadgets that we need to measure things that have never been measured before. A university should do all it can to provide the infrastructure for such in house fabrication
Physicists should be using computers
in novel ways like they have in the past. We should be on the front
lines in development of new applications and new approaches.
Remember, it was high energy physics that developed the World Wide
Web. Today, security concerns have greatly reduced the likelihood
that new things can be done with computers. We need to resist the
idea that computers are a commodity to be regulated. To satisfy
security concerns, we may preserve 90% of what is done with
computers but lose the 10% of really new things.
The regulation of the Internet, based on satisfying the majority of users and reducing the likelihood that unexpected things will happen, can destroy our prospects for new things, things that cannot be anticipated by any committee but things that will change the future.
The relationship between models that we build and the phenomena that we measure is always at the heart of physics. Questions about the role of measurement in Quantum Theory are always central to our understanding and can be barriers to our making progress in physics. Phenomena that provide explicit insights into the relationship between microscopic theory and macroscopic measurement are always important.