Monday, February 14, 2011

The best future for chemical physics

Ahmed Zewail has a thoughtful piece The future of Chemical Physics which concludes:

If chemical physicists look ahead with intellectual curiosity to examine the fundamentals of nature, unswayed by fad or funding, I believe that the discipline will be here to stay.

Here are a few other extracts which resonate with me:
opportunities in this century are even more exciting than, and as significant as, in the past, provided that we do not restrict our vision to orthodox boundaries and keep in perspective the core objective of chemical physics....  providing new tools and defining new concepts, but with the lens being focused on significant questions in emerging areas of molecular complexity which span the gamut of applications at the frontiers of chemistry and biology.
Breakthroughs will continue to emerge when applications of visualization methods extend into systems of thousands of atoms and cells, and when the pertinent concepts are generalized with the help of “simple, but not too simple” theories. Computations should be considered as tools, keeping in mind that large-scale computations without a “final” theoretical condensate (or better yet, a “simple equation”) are like large-scale experiments which produce numerous results that do not boil down to a meaningful finding. From both experimental and theoretical studies, the ultimate goal is to provide an understanding of the function from knowledge of structure and dynamics on different length and time scales. 
the discipline of chemical physics will become merely a service to other fields only if sight is lost of its primary objective; namely, to provide the fundamental concepts and the new tools that enable understanding and control of the systems behavior, from molecules to cells. The technological benefits will follow, as history has taught us...
He also invokes the image and multi-disciplinarity of the great renaissance painting, The School of Athens, by Raphael, shown above.

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