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Physics in the FY 2016 Budget

Disciplinary Analyses, CHAPTER 21

Aline D. McNaull

In this chapter:


  • The Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE-SC) funding would increase by 5.4 percent in FY 2016. Within SC, Advanced Scientific Computing Research would increase by 14.8 percent while Fusion Energy Sciences would decrease by 10.2 percent.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) requests a 2.2 percent increase for the Math and Physical Sciences Directorate. The Division of Physics would increase by 0.9 percent over the FY 2015 appropriations while the Materials Research Division would increase by 2.9 percent. 
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) requests an increase of 29.6 percent. The Scientific and Technical Research program requests an increase of 11.7 percent.


Physics is a branch of the natural sciences that involves the analysis of matter, motion, space, and time. It is a discipline that contributes to the advancement of new technologies and the development of energy sources and defense-related technologies; strengthens national security; and provides foundational research for agriculture, manufacturing, telecommunications, and healthcare.

Physics research is predominantly funded through DOE-SC, NSF, and NIST.  Additional federal support for physics is included in the budgets for the Department of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the United States Geological Survey. 

Science and technology programs at the Department of Defense would receive $12.3 billion under the President’s request. The request for basic research is $2.1 billion, a decrease of $188.8 million or 8.3 percent, while applied research and advanced technology development programs received increases of $65.4 million and $138.0 million, respectively. 


The Department of Energy Office of Science is the leading source of funding for basic research in the physical sciences. DOE-SC supports basic energy research through six program offices, and funds physical sciences research as well as interdisciplinary research in nanoscience, materials science, and advanced computing. 

DOE-SC funds 10 of the 17 DOE laboratories which support SC scientific programs. The office’s national user facilities provide researchers with large-scale infrastructure including accelerators, colliders, supercomputers, light sources, and neutron sources. In FY 2014, over 30,000 researchers from academia, industry, and government laboratories performed research at these facilities. 

DOE-SC also manages the Department of Energy’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs which are aimed at stimulating innovation within small businesses through a competitive awards program to meet federal agency needs. 

The Office of science supports physics research through the following programs:

Basic Energy Sciences (BES): BES supports fundamental research to understand, predict, and ultimately control matter and energy at the electronic, atomic and molecular levels. This research provides the foundation for new energy technologies and development of new materials, and supports federal energy, environmental, and national security objectives. In FY 2016 BES will support ongoing core research activities including five x-ray light source facilities, two neutron source facilities, and five Nanoscale Science Research Centers. BES will continue funding the Batteries and Energy Storage Energy Innovation Hub, and the request includes additional funding for the Energy Frontier Research Centers. 

The BES budget request of $1.8 billion represents an increase of $116.1 million over FY 2015 appropriations.

Biological and Environmental Research (BER): BER advances world-class biological and environmental research programs and scientific user facilities to support DOE’s energy, environment, and basic research missions. BER programs support fundamental research to improve understanding of biological, climate, and environmental systems. 

In FY 2016, BER will continue to support the international Human Genome Project. Together with DOE’s Joint Genome Institute, BER is pursuing research activities to develop biofuels. In FY 2016 climate and environmental research activities will focus on climate predictions and contribute to the Next Generation Ecosystems Experiments.

The BER budget request of $612.4 million represents an increase of $20.4 million over FY 2015 appropriations. 


The National Spherical Torus Experiment at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. | Credit: DOE

Fusion Energy Sciences (FES): FES supports research to expand understanding of matter at high temperatures and densities to develop a fusion energy source. The FY 2016 budget request for FES supports increases for the operation of the National Spherical Torus Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U) user facility and provides funding for hardware to contribute to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. 

The FES request of $420.0 million represents a decrease of $47.5 million below FY 2015 appropriations. 

High Energy Physics (HEP): The HEP program seeks to understand how the universe functions at the most fundamental level by examining matter and energy, exploring space, and probing the interactions of elementary particles. The FY 2016 HEP budget request implements recommendations contained in the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) report which outlines a 10-year strategy for U.S. particle physics research. HEP supports experimental physics in the energy, intensity, and cosmic frontiers as well as theoretical and computational physics and accelerator stewardship.

The FY 2015 request of $788.0 million represents an increase of $22.0 million over FY 2015 appropriations. 

Nuclear Physics (NP): The NP program supports research of all forms of nuclear matter and the interaction between the fundamental particles that compose nuclear matter. The three focus areas of NP include Quantum Chromodynamics, Nuclei and Nuclear Astrophysics, and Fundamental Symmetries.

The FY 2016 budget request provides increases for research, operation of facilities, and construction. Funding for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider facility is maintained at the FY 2015 level. NP will continue support for the Isotope Development and Production for Research and Applications subprogram and will optimize operations of the ATLAS facility. 

The FY 2016 request of $624.6 million represents an increase of $29.1 million over FY 2015 appropriations.


The National Science Foundation (NSF) supports all fields of fundamental science and engineering.  The agency funds research in traditional academic areas as well as “high risk-high payoff” research, collaborations and projects. 

NSF supports physics through the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences and through the Major Research Equipment and Construction account.  The FY 2016 request prioritized advanced manufacturing; clean energy research; science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education; and cross-disciplinary initiatives like a new endeavor at the nexus of food, energy and water systems.

The NSF FY 2016 budget request of $7.7 billion represents an increase of $379.3 million, 5.2 percent, over FY 2015 appropriations. 

Division of Physics (PHY): PHY supports fundamental research that impacts many fields of science. Physics research contributes to NSF-wide priorities and cross-cutting programs including the Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century Science and Engineering (CIF21), the Research at the Interface of the Biological, Mathematical and Physical Sciences (BioMaPS) program, and Understanding the Brain, which includes the BRAIN Initiative. 

The PHY budget request of $277.4 million represents an increase of $2.4 million, or 0.9 percent, over FY 2015 appropriations. 

Division of Materials Research (DMR): DMR research focuses on the behavior of matter and materials, creation of new materials, and improving understanding of materials phenomena. The DMR budget request of $315.8 million represents an increase of $8.8 million, or 2.9 percent, over FY 2015 appropriations.

Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC): MREFC supports the acquisition, construction, and commissioning of major research facilities and equipment. Initial planning, design and post-construction operations and maintenance are funded through the Research and Related Activities account. No new projects have been proposed for FY 2016. 

The MREFC budget of $200.3 million represents a decrease of $0.5 million, or 0.2 percent, below FY 2015 appropriations. 


The National Institute of Standards and Technology facilitates industry research and supports U.S. industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology. NIST supports physics research through the Physical Measurement Laboratory, the Material Measurement Laboratory, the NIST Center for Neutron Research, and the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology. 


Students visit the NIST Center for Neutron Research. | Credit: NIST/Boutin

The NIST budget request of $1.1 billion represents a $255.8 million or 29.6 percent increase over FY 2015 appropriations.

The Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML) develops and disseminates national standards, and the activities performed at the lab range from measurement research to provision of measurement services, standards, and data. PML supports research in time and frequency, medical radiation, electronics, optics, mechanical metrology, fluid dynamics, weights and measures, and public health. 

The Materials Measurement Laboratory (MML) is a national reference laboratory for measurements used in material, biological and chemical sciences. MML research includes materials science and engineering, measurement science, biosystems, biomolecular measurement, and chemical sciences.

The NIST Center for Neutron Research operates a national center for research focusing on thermal and cold neutrons. The center provides neutron measurement capabilities and conducts a broad research program using neutron measurement techniques.

The Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) supports nanotechnology research in nanoscale measurement, fabrication and characterization metho


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