I'm a sucker for lists. Who isn't? They're fun and, at their best, highly educational. They encapsulate a lot of knowledge in a small space. Lists are also a fine source of material for late-night beer-fueled debate.
And speaking of lists: circa 1975 pure chance led me to a little book on the physics shelf of the Caltech campus bookstore. It was a shockingly inexpensive hardback, a product of the subsidized Soviet publishing industry, and I bought it. The title was Key Problems of Physics and Astrophysics, and at its core was a list. The author was V. L. Ginzburg --- who this year was awarded a share of the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on superconductivity and superfluidity.
Alas, Vitaly Ginzburg's little book is no longer with me. In 1988 or thereabouts I lent it to a visitor who needed something to read during an imminent transcontinental flight. He promised to return it, but somehow never did. I think he was a semi-famous engineer, a senior member of some high-level S&T advisory committee, an aerospace industry executive ... far far above my pay grade, needless to say. Over the years I've entirely forgotten his name. Sic transit ...
But I still remember Key Problems clearly, including its cheap paper and hip-pocket-sized format. A week or two ago I happened to search online and discovered http://www.physics.rutgers.edu/colloq/ginzburg.pdf --- a copy of Ginzburg's more recent essay, "What problems of physics and astrophysics seem now to be especially important and interesting (thirty years later, already on the verge of XXI century)?" Yes, it's a rather unliterary translation, but the substance of the article shines through. (It appeared in the original Russian in Uspekhi Fizicheskikh Nauk in 1999.)
Ginzburg brings to his list a lifetime of experience, a superb instinct for what's critical, and a fountain of creative energy. His current set of thirty key problems, slightly edited and abridged:
Ginzburg explains, at a moderate level of technical detail, what these labels mean and why he deems each topic both important and approachable. I find it heartening that I can more or less understand what perhaps two-thirds of these problems are about. Perhaps drinking Potomac River water hasn't utterly fogged my wits ... yet.