NASA Laboratory Astrophysics Workshop
Laboratory Astrophysics: Without it there is no Astronomical Science
- Martin Harwit, Proceedings of the NASA Laboratory Astrophysics Workshop 2002, p. 17.
Dear Members of the AST Senior Review:
Every generation sees major enhancements in the spatial and spectral resolution of new telescopes and detectors. With this comes a parallel demand for a more extensive and more precise understanding of the atomic, molecular, solid state, and nuclear processes underlying the observed astrophysics. Laboratory astrophysics is therefore the foundation for much of astrophysics and will remain so for many generations to come.
Ensuring the success of present and future astrophysical research thus requires strong support for laboratory astrophysics. However, the current state for laboratory astrophysics in this nation is extremely tenuous. It is unlikely to survive another generation without a focused effort on ensuring that future scientists are trained to continue this critical area of research. The failure to do so threatens our ability to interpret and understand present and future spectroscopic observations. It also calls into question the spending of such vast sums of monies on new observatories and facilities if we will not be able to analyze and interpret the collected data.
Under the current administration of American universities, research and education in laboratory astrophysics does not fall under the purview of any particular department (i.e., physics, astronomy or astrophysics, chemistry, geophysics, applied physics, applied mathematics, chemical engineering). During the past decade, discussions at a number of laboratory astrophysics workshops and meetings have made it clear that there is a gradual erosion occurring in regards to faculty positions that are principally devoted to the education and training of future laboratory astrophysicists.
The 2001 Decadal Survey identified Laboratory Astrophysics as an area requiring particular attention. The NASA 2002 Laboratory Astrophysics Workshop produced a White Paper identifying workforce development and retention as a critical need for the field. Dr. Farid Salama reported this and other findings from the White Paper to the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee during their February 4-6, 2004 meeting.
In order to reverse the trend and to create new tenure-track faculty positions in laboratory astrophysics, we would like to propose that the NSF establish a program of "bridged positions" that provide (through a competitive process) partial salary, start-up funding, and research support for new faculty members.
There is a precedent for this in that the Upper Atmospheric Research Section of the Division of Atmospheric Sciences established and ran such a program for a number of years (Faculty Development in the Space Sciences, NSF 04-582). That program was designed to fund three to five new positions per year for durations of three to five years at typical award size level of $200,000 - $400,000 per year. Creating a program for Faculty Development in Laboratory Astrophysics in the Division of Astronomical Sciences would help to ensure the survival of laboratory astrophysics. The creation of three to five new faculty positions over the next five to ten years throughout the country would provide the seeds necessary to educate, support, and inspire future generations of laboratory astrophysics. This in turn would help to ensure a successful future for the field of astrophysical research as a whole.Respectfully yours,
Dr. Daniel Wolf Savin, Columbia University
On behalf of the membership of the Science Organizing Committee for the NASA-sponsored Laboratory Astrophysics Workshop 2006
Dr. Nancy Brickhouse, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Prof. Steve Federman, Chair, University of Toledo
Prof. Victor Kwong, LOC Chair, University of Nevada at Las Vegas
Dr. Farid Salama, NASA Ames Research Center
Dr. Daniel Savin, Columbia University
Prof. Phillip Stancil, University of Georgia
Prof. Joe Weingartner, George Mason University
Prof. Lucy Ziurys, University of Arizona