With its introduction in 1962 to meet the pressing need for rapid publications in applied physics, Applied Physics Letters (APL) established itself as an innovator, and its history is replete with milestones reflecting its continuing evolution. To better serve its community, APL has followed trends in the field, embraced new developments in scientific publishing, and met the changing needs of the physicists around the globe.
Lesley F. Cohen’s appointment as APL’s first female and non-U.S.-based Editor-in-Chief in the journal’s 57-year history represents a new and important milestone, no doubt the first of many during her tenure.
Professor Cohen has been on the Imperial College London faculty since 1991, where she has served as head of Experimental Solid State Physics and has been active in leading initiatives to advocate for early career researchers and women in science. Her career began with a BSc in Physics at Bedford College in 1983, and her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 1987. After doing a postdoctoral fellowship at Polytechnic University of New York, she joined its faculty in 1989.
AIP Publishing spoke with Professor Cohen recently about her perspective on APL and the milestones she envisions for the coming years.
AIPP: What do you hope to accomplish during your editorship?
LC: A lot — from the moment Judith Driscoll, the Editor in Chief of APL Materials, rang me up to tell me about the opportunity to lead APL, I have been energized about it. First and foremost, I want to ensure that APL retains its status as one of the most highly cited journals in applied physics. To this end, I am looking forward to working on disseminating leading-edge scientific and technological breakthroughs across established and emerging fields and serving a global community of innovators communicating next-step solutions to today’s societal problems.
AIPP: Do you anticipate any changes planned for the short term or over the next few years?
LC: APL has always attracted scientists and engineers who have great fondness for the journal and loyalty to its not-for-profit ethos and commitment to serving a wide community. That’s one area where I see an opportunity. I would like to step up our efforts to introduce APL to the new generation of scientists and engineers who may know little about its esteemed history. These researchers are bombarded with an ever-increasing selection of journals and are often driven by journal impact factors when they select where to publish their frontier research. I want to invest in, strengthen, and develop APL so that it provides a distinctive offering to these emerging scientists – to bring them into the fold, so to speak.
I envision a number of changes right off the bat. First, we will introduce a new type of invited article, called Perspectives, to provide a platform for communication and education. We hope to help guide the development of leading-edge fields of research by providing short insightful viewpoints and guidance on the essential next steps for them to become more competitive and/or useful as in applications. We want to make sure we’re serving the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of many fields of physics.
At the same time, we will continue to focus on APL’s core mission: publishing concise, up-to-date reports on significant new findings in applied physics, emphasizing rapid dissemination of key data and new physical insights. APL has built a strong reputation offering prompt publication of new experimental and theoretical papers reporting applications of physics phenomena to all branches of science, engineering, and modern technology. That won’t change.
AIPP: What are the key emerging research topics in your field? How will you decide on themes for the journal?
LC: Topological states of matter offer new paradigms for discovery and application, and quantum matter and quantum technologies are areas that are undergoing rapid development. APL will expand to cover these key emerging areas. APL selects themes that have relevance to the scientific challenges that our society faces in health, energy, and communications and this will continue during my tenure.
AIPP: What are some of your proudest accomplishments?
LC: My proudest accomplishments relate to the people I have worked with and guided, seeing them grow and develop. I have graduated approximately 35 Ph.D. students and have worked with similar numbers of post-doctoral fellows. I am also proud of the work I’ve done to change the culture within Imperial to make it a more inclusive and supportive environment than it was twenty years ago.
AIPP: What advice would you give to early career researchers?
LC: I do that frequently and always include some variant of the following: “Follow your convictions, but always pause to give yourself a chance to see the complete 360 degree picture.” That advice is as relevant to data analysis as it is to career planning!
AIPP: As well as being a prominent voice for early career researchers and postgraduates, you have also been a passionate campaigner for women in physics. Can you tell us more about that?
LC: I see my role as providing perspectives that help to drive cultural changes to support gender equality at universities in the United Kingdom and around the world. In 1996, I wrote a booklet, Voices from Women in Science, which led to a number of opportunities to promote diversity at Imperial College. I served as Imperial College’s first Academic Ambassador for Women and chair of the Committee for Academic Women. I sit on the Juno Transparency and Opportunity Committee (the “Juno Committee”), which was formed to implement the Institute of Physics code of practice and address the under-representation of women at all levels in physics – undergraduates to faculty. We have made discernable progress, which has been recognized with our department receiving Juno Champion status and Athena Silver Swan Awards. I was very honored to be the inaugural recipient of the Julia Higgins medal in 2013 for accomplishments in this regard