I haven't read the full report yet, but I had read the interim report and know several of the people who put this thing together. I think the substance is definitely there, though I do wonder if the summary suffers because of the decision to write the grand challenges in language for the consumption of the lay public. The challenges are:
- How do complex phenomena emerge from simple ingredients? Phrased this way this challenge sounds rather naive; the whole point of condensed matter physics is that rich phenomena can be emergent from systems with many (simply) interacting degrees of freedom. Still, this gets to the heart of the discipline and many outstanding questions. Why can one material system exhibit metallic behavior, superconductivity, and antiferromagnetic insulating order with only minor tweaks in composition? Figure that one out, and win a trip to Stockholm.
- How will the energy demands of future generations be met? This is clearly not the purview of condensed matter alone, but there is little doubt that our discipline can contribute here. Photovoltaic materials, supercapacitor and battery electrodes, catalytically active materials, light/strong composites, novel superconductors for transmission.... There are any number of reasons why investing in CMMP is an intelligent component of a sound energy policy.
- What is the physics of life? This is really a biophysics question, though certainly condensed matter physics is closely relevant. At the very least, the principles and methods of condensed matter physics are highly likely to play roles in unraveling some of the basic questions in living systems (e.g., How does the chemical energy released in the conversion of ATP to ADP actually get translated into mechanical motion in the protein motor that turns the flagellum of a bacterium?).
- What happens far from equilibrium and why? This is a good one. Equilibrium statistical mechanics and its quantum form are tremendously useful, but nonequilibrium problems are very important and there exists no general formulation for treating them. Heck, any electronic transport measurement is a nonequilibrium experiment, and beyond linear response theory life can get very complicated. Add in strong electronic correlations, and you are at the frontiers of some of the most interesting work (to me, anyway) going on right now.
- What new discoveries await us in the nanoworld? Wow - this one really sounds like a sixth-grade filmstrip title. I would've preferred something like, "What new physics will be found when we control materials on the nanoscale?" The ability to manipulate and engineer systems with precision approaching the atomic scale lets us examine systems (e.g., single quantum impurities; candidate qubits) that can reveal rich physics as well as possible applications to technology.
- How will the information technology revolution be extended? I don't know.... While this is certainly a useful goal of CMMP, and this point clearly encompasses exciting physics relevant in quantum computation as well as things like plasmonics and nanophotonics, I'm not sure that this is really a physics grand challenge per se - more of an engineering challenge.
The report also emphasizes the fact that research funding in the physical sciences, particularly CMMP, is lagging that in other nations these days, and that this is probably not to our competitive advantage. The demise of long-term industrial R&D in the US has not helped matters. None of this is news, really, but one major purpose of reports like this one is to send a message to Congress. Hence the use of non-physicsy language for the challenges, I'm sure.