Three Leading Physics Groups Gather Headquarters Under One Roof

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MD.--Right now there are 24 acres of mud, grass, and trees. But when construction is completed by the fall of next year, two of the United States' largest physics societies will leave their cramped offices in New York and join a third group in moving to a brand-new, spacious, five-story office building just outside Washington, D.C. The move is designed to improve professional information gathering and interaction with government policy-making institutions and other scien

Sep 14, 1992
Ron Kaufman

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MD.--Right now there are 24 acres of mud, grass, and trees. But when construction is completed by the fall of next year, two of the United States' largest physics societies will leave their cramped offices in New York and join a third group in moving to a brand-new, spacious, five-story office building just outside Washington, D.C.

The move is designed to improve professional information gathering and interaction with government policy-making institutions and other science organizations, according to officials of the three societies. In addition, the proximity of the groups will facilitate better program development beneficial to all of their members, the officials say.

Dubbed the American Center for Physics (ACP), the new headquarters--whose plot lies to the east of the University of Maryland's College Park campus--will become the official home for the American Physical Society (APS), the American Institute of Physics (AIP), and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). The trio are the nation's three largest nonprofit physics societies, with a combined membership of more than 150,000.

APS and AIP are the societies leaving their current facilities in New York to join AAPT, which is already located in College Park. "The original impetus to move at all," says N. Richard Werthamer, executive secretary of APS, who participated in the July groundbreaking ceremony, "is because our present facilities in New York City had gotten inadequate. Not only have we outgrown them, but they are outmoded and extremely crowded."

Construction of the 120,000-square-foot structure should be completed in about 15 months. APS and AIP will also be moving the editorial offices of their respective publications--two of which are Physics Today and The Physical Review. Though many sites were considered, the Washington metropolitan area had many attractive qualities, leaders of the three organizations say. "Essentially," says AAPT executive officer Bernard Khoury, "we want to keep our members informed about what's happening in Washington with respect to science appropriations." He says the group's publications, newsletters, and annual meetings will be vehicles for this new information.

However, he says, the societies will neither target specific scientific projects, like the superconducting supercollider, nor be involved in any congressional lobbying. Yet other than the potential for greater access to government agencies and Capitol Hill, the new living arrangements will have minimal effect on the basic functioning of the societies, says Kenneth Ford, executive director and chief executive officer of AIP, which has 10 member societies. The institute not only publishes journals, but also provides a number of information services for practicing physicists. Ford says that ACP will probably have few, if any, employees and is a corporation formed solely for the purpose of owning the property and operating the buildings at the Maryland site.

"As far as the physics community goes," he says, "the focus is not on this new entity, the American Center for Physics, but should remain on the individual entities, APS, AAPT, and AIP." Stephen Maran, an astronomer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and a member of the American Astronomical Society, an AIP member group, is optimistic about the move. "Being closer to Washington, D.C., will definitely help AIP deal with government organizations and science foundations, which are all based there," he says.

Khoury notes other advantages to the relocation. "Because we are in a consolidated location, we expect to develop programs in coordination with one another in a way we've only been able to do marginally in the past," he says. "I think it's going to improve professionalism in the physics community." Khoury says creating programs and organizing meetings will be easier than in the past. He anticipates conferences on recruiting women and minorities into physics and on new technologies in the classroom. "Hopefully," Werthamer says of ACP, "this will usher in an era where the world physics community thinks of itself as a whole."