For the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, faults and fractures are opening up in the political landscape of Europe which pose severe threats to science and scientific cooperation. The Brexit is only the most spectacular development to this day; populist, isolationist, and anti-European movements are on the rise in other European countries, or are in power already. A continued erosion of European cohesion will violate fundamental values and undermine best practices which all physicists take for granted today: free cross-border collaboration, unrestricted communication and mobility of researchers and students, and equal access to European funding and infrastructures.
From several reports and podcasts, it seems that Europe’s leaders are not expecting a smooth ride in 2017 after a year marked by political upheaval, extremist attacks, unchecked immigration, and a rising military instability worldwide. Britain is struggling with its Brexit, America will soon inaugurate a new and surprising president. Elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany will certainly be important factors for European political stability in this New Year.
My name is Eva and I have been the chair of the European Physical Society (EPS) Young Minds (YM) project since last July. In 2010 I finished a degree in Computer Engineering and 3 years later I joined the Optics and Photonics Research Group of Castellón in Spain (GROC). Now I am doing my PhD at the University Jaume I in Castellón, and sometimes I wonder how a computer engineer can be the chair of a Committee engaging physics students in outreach. Here is a possible answer.
On the evening of the 23 June 2016, I was at an Awards Dinner for the Royal Academy of Engineering, which is held each year to recognise excellence in engineering of all varieties. Talking to colleagues around the table that night, the majority were sure that the UK electorate would vote to remain in the EU. Although only one person I talked to admitted to having voted to leave, I was not convinced that this was going to be such an easy victory for the Remain Campaign. I had been worried for some time that many people from “my generation”, who had voted to join the European Community in the last referendum in 1975, were coming out in force to reverse that decision.
Like many physicists in the UK, I spent the final Friday of June in shock. Voters in Britain had just opted by a margin of 52% to 48% to leave the European Union (EU) – and suddenly nothing in the world seemed to make sense any more. I’d never really thought a majority would want a British exit (Brexit) from the EU. As with the referendum over Scottish independence from the UK in 2014, I’d assumed voters would come to their senses at the last minute.
It’s now two months since I accepted the Presidency of the German Physical Society, the DPG: a great honour for any German physicist, but also a great responsibility. With over 60,000 members, the DPG is the largest society devoted to physics in the world. It binds itself and its members to advocate for freedom, tolerance, truth and dignity in science, and to be conscious of the fact that those of us working in science have a particularly important role in society, being to a large extent responsible for the development of society. To me, that means that organisations like the DPG, and indeed the European Physical Society, need to look very closely at education as the basis to both the progress of science and of society.
A round table on the theme “Physics for Development” was organised during the Council Meeting of the European Physical Society (EPS) on 1 April 2016. There is no doubt that science and technology are essential elements to meet the challenges for sustainable development. Fundamental and applied scientific research lay the foundations for new methodologies to identify, clarify and provide solutions to global challenges. Science contributes to social and technological progress, improving the quality of life through advances in medicine, agriculture, energy supply, education, communication, etc. Science is also in itself a way of crossing national, cultural and mental borders by fostering international cooperation.
The Nuclear Physics European Collaboration Committee [NuPECC] has just started the process for the preparation of a new Long Range Plan (LRP) for nuclear science in Europe. A new European strategy document is indeed needed since the last one dates from 2010 and because these documents are important references for research in the field over a period of 5-7 years.
In our role as researchers and teachers we work to increase the knowledge, use it and transmit it to new generations of scientists.
At the same time, our global citizenship is often confronted with technical, cultural, ethical and social issues needing scientific knowledge not available to the average citizen. Direct engagement with the public helps us to understand their interest for science and their doubts and concerns.
Born during the Cold War, the Pugwash movement gathers physicists who promote the peaceful use of science.
Many scientists were shocked by what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, even among those who had supported or taken part in the Manhattan project. In 1955 Einstein teamed with mathematician and Nobel Prize laureate in Literature Bertrand Russell to sign and promote a manifesto encouraging scientists to work for a peaceful use of science and attach more importance to the survival of the human species rather than political beliefs: …
An equitable gender balance in physics would be beneficial for the quality of research and education, which are key elements in the economic, social and cultural development of our Society. The under-representation of women in physics is very widely debated and is central for a Society caring about the well-being of its members.
Democracy relies on an educated population. High quality schools and teachers, classrooms open for all and interesting and exact teaching materials help to teach successive generations. The western world has known 70 years of peaceful co-existence. And although there is considerable turmoil in the world, parts of Asia, Africa and South America are also experiencing unprecedented growth. There are more people that are receiving a high quality education than ever before.