Status Report

AIP FYI #75: Physics of the Universe Strategic Plan

By SpaceRef Editor
June 14, 2004
Filed under , ,
AIP FYI #75: Physics of the Universe Strategic Plan

Two years ago, the National Research Council (NRC) laid out 11 key
scientific questions at the intersection of physics and astronomy in
a report entitled “Connecting Quarks to the Cosmos” (see FYIs #67
and #68, 2002). Earlier this year, in response, an interagency
working group of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC)
released a prioritized strategic plan for efforts across several
government agencies to address those 11 questions. Exploring the
nature of dark energy receives high priority in the new report.
Other areas considered ripe for “immediate investment” are the study
of dark matter, neutrinos, proton decay and the nature of gravity,
while longer-term objectives include research into the heavy
elements, nuclear astrophysics, the birth of the universe, high
density and high temperature physics and high energy cosmic ray

The Bush Administration’s emphasis on setting milestones and
measuring results of federal programs, spelled out in the
President’s Management Agenda, has led to a plethora of recent
roadmaps and strategic planning documents for federal R&D
investments. Some of these documents, like a report by a High
Energy Physics Advisory Panel subpanel on long-range planning (see
FYI #12, 2003), address only a specific discipline. Others, like
the DOE Office of Science 20-year facilities roadmap (see FYI #150,
2003), span a broader range. The Interagency Working Group relied
on many of these previous DOE, NSF and NASA planning documents for
input as it determined what projects, facilities, and facility
upgrades would be needed to address the 11 questions of the NRC

The new report, entitled “The Physics of the Universe: A Strategic
Plan for Federal Research at the Intersection of Physics and
Astronomy,” is available at According to OSTP
Director John Marburger in a February 2004 letter accompanying the
report, it represents “a new approach for coordinating and
prioritizing research programs across the government to explore an
emerging scientific frontier.” The main participating agencies are
DOE, NSF and NASA, although NIST and the National Nuclear Security
Administration (NNSA) also receive mention.

The NSTC Interagency Working Group on the Physics of the Universe
assessed priorities based on the potential for scientific
advancement, the timeliness or urgency of each question, the
technical readiness of projects, and the need to fill gaps in the
suite of projects to address each question. The group “focused its
work on the large-scale projects needed to support research
activities aimed at understanding the physics of the universe,” but
noted that “concomitant investments in theory, simulation, data
archiving, and user groups are essential” as well. It did not
address cost and budgeting issues, nor how these projects fit in
with goals, projects and facilities in other areas of physics or

A summary of the report’s recommendations in priority order, divided
into near-term and longer-term efforts, follows. In the report,
each recommendation is accompanied by a detailed discussion of the
scientific question, relevant agency projects and proposals,
findings that provide justification for the recommendations, and in
many cases a suggested time frame for implementing the


Dark Energy:

Three projects to investigate Dark Energy are recommended: a
still-to-be-defined NASA/DOE Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM); a
study of “the weak lensing produced by Dark Matter” by a
ground-based Large-aperture Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST); and
observations of galaxy clusters by space-based X-ray and
ground-based Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) observations.

Dark Matter, Neutrinos, and Proton Decay:

NSF and DOE should collaborate to “identify a core suite of physics
experiments” for research into Dark Matter, neutrinos, and proton
decay; and NSF should take the lead on conceptual development and
formulation of a scientific roadmap for an underground laboratory


Two efforts are recommended: enhanced numerical relativity research
for more accurate simulation of gravitational wave sources; and “the
timely upgrade of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave
Observatory (LIGO) and execution of the Laser Interferometer Space
Antenna (LISA) mission.”


Origin of Heavy Elements:
The report calls for DOE and NSF to develop roadmaps for the
proposed Rare Isotope Accelerator (RIA), and for “the major
components of a national nuclear astrophysics program.”

Birth of the Universe:

DOE, NSF and NASA should jointly develop “a roadmap for decisive
measurements” of cosmic microwave background polarization.

High Density and High Temperature Physics:

NSF, DOE, NASA and NIST should generate a roadmap for major
components of a “balanced, comprehensive” national high energy
density physics program; DOE and NSF should develop a roadmap for
upgrading the luminosity and maximizing the impact on high energy
density physics of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC); and
at least one of NNSA’s major compression facilities should include a
high-energy, high-intensity laser capability “to observe and
characterize the dynamic behavior of high-energy-density matter.”

High Energy Cosmic Ray Physics:

DOE and NSF should work to “ensure that the Pierre Auger southern
array [under construction in Argentina] is completed” and review its
results to “consider plans for a possible northern array.”

Audrey T. Leath

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.