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AIP marks 90 years of advancing the physical sciences

22 November 2021

Though the American Institute of Physics was founded primarily as a publisher, throughout its history it has also sustained programs that serve its member societies and the physics community at large.

AIP's old headquarters in New York City.
In 1957 the American Institute of Physics moved into this building on 45th Street in New York City. Today AIP is headquartered in College Park, Maryland, and AIP Publishing is based in Melville, New York. Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

In 1931, as a response to the financial crisis of the Great Depression, leaders within the American physics community formed a corporation for the “advancement and diffusion of knowledge of the science of physics and its application to human welfare.” The new American Institute of Physics (AIP) comprised five societies with a combined membership of 4000: the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America (now Optica), the Acoustical Society of America, the Society of Rheology, and the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Today, nine decades later, AIP consists of 10 member societies with a collective 110 000 members, and an additional 27 affiliated societies. The history of AIP is one of looking forward, exemplified by its early adoption of online publishing, its creation of student programs, and its current work toward equity and inclusion.

At its founding, AIP published three journals, the Review of Scientific Instruments, the Journal of Applied Physics, and the Journal of Chemical Physics. AIP has also published periodicals on behalf of its member societies, and in the 1950s it launched several additional scientific journals to meet the needs of researchers in the continually evolving field of physics. AIP also was one of the early pioneers of online scientific, technical, and medical publishing. Applied Physics Letters became AIP’s first online publication in 1995, and starting in 1997, all AIP journals were made available online to subscribers.

Publications were crucial to the initial growth of AIP, and the revenue generated from AIP-owned publications has enabled the institute to hire staff dedicated to programs that serve its member societies and the physics community at large. The programs cover education, history, career resources, and government relations. AIP’s programs now include the following:

  • Society of Physics Students
  • Niels Bohr Library & Archives
  • Center for History of Physics
  • Statistical Research Center
  • GradSchoolShopper
  • Career Network
  • Inside Science
  • FYI: Science Policy News from AIP
  • Physics Today
  • TEAM-UP Task Force
  • AIP Foundation

AIP’s history programs work in collaboration to preserve and make known the history of modern physics and its allied fields. The Niels Bohr Library & Archives provides reference services, books, photos, and access to archival material, and the Center for History of Physics offers scholarly support and educational resources. AIP’s in-house holdings include a collection of textbooks, monographs, and related publications; more than 30 000 photographs and other images; more than 1500 oral histories with notable physicists; archival records of AIP and its member societies; and other records and personal papers of a select number of scientists.

Looking to the future of AIP: Q&A with CEO Michael Moloney

Moloney is the ninth chief executive of the American Institute of Physics.

KAT OVERLAND: Looking back, what do you think were the most significant changes in AIP’s history?

MICHAEL MOLONEY: AIP has evolved continuously over its nine decades of advancing the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity. Clearly the expansion of AIP’s membership to now include 10 member societies and 27 affiliated societies that span a broad diversity of disciplines within the physical sciences has been a key foundation of our work.

Early on, AIP began publishing its own journals, initially focused on applied physics. This impactful move provided AIP with the financial means to launch products and programs that would support the federation and the physical sciences enterprise. Evolutions in AIP’s suite of activities have continued to be key to meeting the demands of our mission. Establishing Physics Today, the Niels Bohr Library & Archives, AIP’s Statistical Research Center, FYI: Science Policy News, and the Society of Physics Students are some of the key milestones that continue to impact the physical sciences enterprise through advancing our understanding of science and how discoveries are made.

The spinoff of AIP Publishing in 2013 and the launching of the AIP Foundation in 2020 have positioned the AIP enterprise for success—with each part having a tailored governance structure, programmatic focus, and professional team designed for success. At AIP that has led to our launching a strategic transformation in this 90th year to deliver on our overarching strategy of advancing the physical sciences with a unifying voice of strength from diversity. Stay tuned for AIP to continue to change in the decades ahead.

OVERLAND: Where would you like AIP to be 90 years from now?

MOLONEY: On my first day on the job at AIP, I was asked by a team member what my priorities were for the institute. My answer to that question today is the same as it was on that day in March 2018: I believe my tenure at AIP is focused on positioning the institute for a second century of existence that will be at least as impactful as AIP’s first century. I can’t see nine decades out into the future to understand exactly what that means, but I do know that the transformation we launched this year, and for which we have been planning for the last three years, is focused on delivering on the strategic vision of AIP adopted by the Board of Directors in September 2019.

We are engaged in building on the success of the last 90 years to enhance AIP’s role as a vibrant federation that advances the success of its member societies. We will do that by providing the means to pool, coordinate, and leverage the diverse expertise of those societies and associations, which represent nearly 120 000 members of our global physical sciences community, in pursuit of a shared goal of advancing the physical sciences in the research enterprise, in the economy, in education, and in society.

As an institute, we are investing to enhance our role as a center of excellence using policy analysis, social science, and historical research to promote future progress in the physical sciences. These are the essential elements that are foundational to the pursuit of our mission, and I and the whole AIP team are working hard to ensure our foundations are strong as we head toward our centenary and into our second century.

OVERLAND: What should the priorities of science organizations be?

MOLONEY: Science and the organizations that support the conduct of science are always focused on providing benefit to humanity. Those benefits are multidimensional. At the highest levels, our science—as has been so clearly demonstrated during the COVID-19 global pandemic—advances our capability as a society to remain healthy, innovative, secure, and prosperous. And this is done by a determined focus on pushing out the frontiers of human knowledge.

AIP, our member societies, our affiliate societies, and those individual scientists, engineers, teachers, students, and practitioners across the physical sciences have also realized that pushing out the frontiers of knowledge must be more inclusive and accessible to all of humanity. At AIP that means we are committed to leading the physical sciences community toward an impactful understanding of how to be more welcoming and supportive of the full diversity of physical scientists throughout their education and careers. Every day at AIP, just as is done at other science organizations, our number one priority remains positioning the institute to deliver on advancing, promoting, and serving the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity. In doing so, we also embrace our unique opportunity and responsibility for advancing equity in our community.

In 2013 AIP formed a wholly owned subsidiary, AIP Publishing (AIPP), to carry out the institute’s scholarly publishing mission and set a track for growth in the industry. AIPP’s portfolio of journals supports its mission to identify and promote discoveries with the potential to advance the physical sciences. The titles reflect the expanding diversity of research across a broadening range of disciplines and the rapidly evolving world of scholarly publishing. Researchers submitting work to an AIPP journal may choose to publish their manuscript in one of the dedicated open-access titles or to make their article open access through the Author Select option. AIPP’s commitment to open and accessible science is facilitated in part by several Read & Publish agreements, which aim to increase open-access output and expand the reach of scientific discoveries across the physical sciences. As of 2020, AIPP’s portfolio included 32 peer-reviewed journals, eight of them fully open access. AIPP launched an eBooks Program at the end of 2020 and completed the acquisition of University Science Books earlier this year.

Though AIPP is now responsible for science journals, AIP still has three editorially independent publications: Physics Today magazine, FYI: Science Policy News from AIP, and Inside Science. First published in 1948, Physics Today is distributed as a membership benefit to all individual members of the 10 member societies and the Society of Physics Students. FYI, which began in 1989 as a newsletter sent by post, is an authoritative science policy news service and email newsletter that also consolidates information about federal science budgets, legislation, and leaders. And launched in 2000, Inside Science is an online news service that produces breaking news stories, features, essays, and news videos for the general public.

To serve future generations of physicists, AIP offers programs to provide career resources and support physics education. AIP founded the Statistical Research Center in 1958 as a resource for data on education, careers, and diversity in physics, astronomy, and other physical sciences. The Society of Physics Students is a professional association explicitly designed for students and their advisers. Membership, through collegiate chapters, is open to any student interested in physics. Within the Society of Physics Students is Sigma Pi Sigma, the national physics honor society, which elects members on the basis of outstanding academic achievement.

Timeline of AIP.
Credit: American Institute of Physics

As times have changed, so has the imperative for more work in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the physical sciences. In 2017 the AIP Board of Directors commissioned the Task Force to Elevate African American Representation in Undergraduate Physics & Astronomy (TEAM-UP) to investigate the persistently low representation of African Americans in the physical sciences among bachelor’s degree recipients. Its findings, detailed in the report The Time Is Now: Systemic Changes to Increase African Americans with Bachelor’s Degrees in Physics and Astronomy, were published in 2020. The TEAM-UP project continues today with workshops supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation, webinars, and efforts to help physics and astronomy departments implement the report’s recommendations and develop action plans for systemic change. The overarching goal is to at least double the number of bachelor’s degrees in physics and astronomy awarded to African Americans by 2030.

Last year AIP launched the AIP Foundation to advance the charitable, scientific, and educational mission of the institute by generating philanthropic support for its programs. Nobel laureate John Mather, former NASA administrator Charles Bolden Jr, and former NSF director France Córdova (chair) were among the renowned scientists named to the board of trustees.

Since its founding, AIP has worked to advance the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity by serving its member societies and enhancing their offerings. Today AIP is a federation that collaborates with and facilitates partnerships among the member societies to advance science and support the well-being of the physical science enterprise. AIP works with the member societies on issues such as improving diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the physical sciences; preserving the rich history of the varied disciplines represented by the AIP member societies; connecting the scientists of tomorrow to the breadth of fields in the physical sciences; and supporting their organizational missions in an ever-changing world.

AIPP and the future of academic publishing: Q&A with CEO Alix Vance

Vance is the second chief executive of AIP Publishing.

KAT OVERLAND: What do you think have been the most significant changes in AIP’s publishing history?

ALIX VANCE: One of the most lasting and impactful changes is the shift from print to digital. While we take it for granted today, digital distribution was a huge, and important, first step in our progress toward the democratization of science. Scientists have rapid access to the latest discoveries from anywhere in the world, which in turn accelerates the pace of research discoveries and enables collaboration. AIP Publishing’s Scitation platform connects over a million readers and contributors in 195 countries every month.

Open-access publishing represents another big step toward making science more equitable by removing barriers to access. AIP Publishing launched its first open-access journal, AIP Advances, a decade ago, and now 20% of our articles are published open access. We’re committed to accelerating the transition to a future where research results—articles, data, methods, code—are available to everyone.

OVERLAND: What should academic publishing be prepared for in the future?

VANCE: The ways researchers find and engage with content is already changing. Users increasingly access, interact with, and engage research outside the traditional institutional environment. Articles, data, methods, and code are published as unique research assets and are deposited across a dispersed ecosystem. Atomized snippets and versions of content are available and distributed across the web. Publishers are no longer the only, or even the definitive, source for scientific output.

But there’s an important role for publishers to play in this networked future: to link research assets, to connect global scientists, and to amplify distribution of research in order to accelerate scientific discovery and global progress.

OVERLAND: What is your vision for AIPP’s future?

VANCE: We envision a future in which a global network of scientists contributes to an authoritative, equitable research process, wherein knowledge and people are connected to inform and extend scientific discoveries. AIPP serves as a catalyst to help the community of authors and researchers solve some of the most urgent societal and scientific problems.

Skye Haynes is a digital content coordinator for AIP in College Park, Maryland. Kat Overland is a digital marketing analyst for AIP in College Park. Amanda Sulicz is an associate editor at AIPP in Melville, New York.

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