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Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Science: An Investment in the Future
in the United States amounts to somewhat over $100M per year, provided primarily by the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and Department of Defense. If support provided by U.S. industry and through U.S. federal research and development laboratories is included, the total funding for AMO science in this country approaches $1B per year. The return on this investment is substantial. The panel estimates that AMO science is an important enabling factor in industries accounting for about 9% of the nation's GNP. Overall, the products of AMO science influence over 20% of the GNP (U.S. Industrial Outlook 1992: Business Forecasts for 350 Industries, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1992).
Despite its impact, AMO science is a "small" science. That is, it is dominated by the work of single investigators or small groups. This mode of research has proved to be an effective vehicle for creative and innovative science and has resulted in many notable discoveries. Students who graduate with backgrounds in AMO science acquire a broad range of knowledge and skills and are valuable contributors to many areas of science and technology.
The report highlights recent advances and discoveries in AMO science. Through examples, it illustrates many areas of application, including industrial technology, manufacturing, and processing; information technology, high-performance computing, and communications; energy; global change; defense; health and medical technology; space technology; and transportation.
Three case studies—"Lasers," "Manipulating Atoms," and "Buckyballs and Carbon Nanotechnology"—are included that show different stages in the transfer of basic scientific knowledge and technologies to direct applications and marketable products. The special role of AMO-science-based measurement techniques, instrumentation, and sensors in the nation's manufacturing industries is also discussed. Funding, research infrastructure, and education and human resources are also addressed.
The report identifies a number of concerns about the future vitality of the U.S. programs in AMO science and its applications. Substantial support for the field has come from defense programs within the Department of Defense and Department of Energy. Conversion of defense research and development funding to commercial objectives could result in serious erosion in the support of AMO science. Industrial research and development laboratories, which have supported substantial AMO science research activities, are reorganizing and cutting back. Demand for PhD graduates is down in all fields, a trend that is less of a problem for AMO graduates because of their broad training and practical skills. There is also concern within the AMO science community that the United States is losing ground to other nations in many areas of AMO science.
The recommendations presented in the report include guidelines to federal agencies on general priorities. Mechanisms to help mission agencies establish specific priorities are suggested. The report further recommends that the agencies