Priorities Committee Report – Opportunities and Concerns


            The Department of Physics Long Range Plan was updated by last year’s Priorities committee and distributed to the faculty in the summer of 1999. This report presented an updated list of high priority items for the Department. The highest priority was given to taking any necessary action to correct the current financial situation in the Department. There was also a series of suggested appointments in specific areas. This report was the first since the introduction of the Enhancement Initiative Process by the University. The list of high priority appointments reflected this process and the already submitted initiative proposals. In particular the 1998-99 Committee gave high priority to completing the non-linear dynamics initiative with the appointment of a second experimental physicist, to the appointment of a faculty member in Nano-electronics, and to the implementation of the Cosmology initiative. Other high priority items were associated with appointments in some of the core groups in the Department, including the continuation of a search for a Condensed Matter Theorist. Also included were recommendations to strengthen groups in the nuclear and particle physics area with the addition of a theorist working in the area of Quantum Chromodynamics and an experimentalist working in nuclear physics. These latter two recommendations were to maintain the vitality of these strong groups and were contingent upon the retirement of current faculty. This year searches in some of the areas have been carried out and currently the Department has three outstanding offers for appointments in non-linear dynamics, nano-electronics and condensed matter theory. The Cosmology Initiative, although currently not supported at the University level, does have the blessing of the Dean and a search has been initiated for a Director of the Cosmology Center.

            Given the departmental financial situation, exacerbated by the need to provide startup funds for the three new faculty members, it is unlikely that there will be any additional appointments within the next year, and possibly longer. For that reason the Priorities Committee decided not to carry out a detailed update of the Long Range Plane. Therefore this brief report is to be treated as an addendum to last year’s report, and the recommendations in last year’s report are unchanged. Next year depending on circumstances may be the appropriate time to carry out the complete series of presentations and deliberations needed to update the Long Range Plan. However, we do wish to point out some potential opportunities and concerns which have come to our attention over the past year. Also the committee did hear several presentations by members of the department, and we comment on them here.

            First and foremost we wish to endorse strongly the highest priority item in the previous report. We must solve the Department’s financial difficulties. Not to do so would prevent us from taking advantage of future opportunities to hire outstanding new faculty. To attract such faculty we will need to provide the resources necessary for them to initiate a strong research program.

            Discussions between the current Chair, past Chair and high-level University administrators and Dr. William Phillips, Nobel Laureate, have been ongoing for 2-3 years. We wish to go on record as strongly supporting all efforts to make Dr. Phillips a faculty member at Maryland and to provide the resources necessary to nucleate a world-class research program in atomic physics here at Maryland.

In this regard the committee had a presentation by Professor Alley who proposed a specific candidate working in the area of fundamental quantum mechanics. An appointment in this area might well be coupled to an initiative in atomic physics.

            A presentation was made by the Gravitational physics group, both experiment and theory, in which they proposed the hiring of an experimentalist working on the LIGO project, followed by the hiring of a theorist/phenomenologist who would focus half his/her efforts on the simulation and analysis of LIGO data and half on more traditional gravitational theory.  A strong case was presented and given the long history in this field at the University of Maryland, the committee was sympathetic to maintaining an effort in General Relativity through LIGO. Unfortunately the time to hire for the initial phase of LIGO is now, and with the current commitments the Department is unable to do so. The next opportunity would seem to be associated with Phase II of LIGO, several years from now, and the next Priorities Committee should look again at this area.

            The Plasma group requested a near term hire in basic plasma experiment in response to several retirements and one departure from the group and consistent with recommendations in the recently completed IPR external review.  Considering the ages of the theory group, they also felt a theory hire is required in the not too distant future, possibly in computational plasma physics.  The committee feels it is important to maintain a strong plasma group, a leading group of the department.  However, we would expect that an appointment in experimental plasma physics would have to be in response to unique opportunities that might augment other strong research efforts on campus, such as non-linear dynamics or the high power laser studies. In theoretical plasma physics we would endorse the appointment of new faculty members as retirements from the group occur. In light of hiring constraints over the next few years, creative use should be made of existing connections with other units (IPR, IPST, EE, etc.) to allow the possibility of a hire sooner than might otherwise be possible.

            Finally we comment on the new Center for Scientific Computation and Mathematical Modeling Enhancement Initiative that has succeeded in receiving campus support. As proposed, the Center will have a director (a search for the director is already underway) and three state lines which can be used to provide joint appointments with other departments for perhaps six faculty members. This is a unique opportunity and the Physics Department should be major participants in the Initiative and the Center. One of the areas of research indicated in the original proposal was that of computational plasma physics, and the Center may provide the needed impetus to hire earlier than would be dictated by retirements as mentioned in the preceding paragraph. The Committee also heard a proposal for hiring a new faculty member working in the computational area of lattice QCD. The TQHN group made a strong case, and we believe that such an appointment would fit nicely within the Center. Such an appointment would be consistent with the recommendations of the previous Priorities Committee, and as in the case of Plasma Theory could move the time scale forward. In addition, although no specific presentations were made, one can clearly see a case being made for appointments associated with the Center in both Condensed Matter theory and Gravitational theory.