Breakdown of the year

By JoAnne Hewett | January 11, 2006 12:45 am

As Mark has recently discussed, Science magazine has just reported on what it regards the science breakthroughs of 2005Evolution in action was the winner. Tacked onto the end of that article describing the top exciting revelations that science provided in 2005, was a sidebar of a more somber note:

Breakdown of the Year: U.S. Particle Physics

It’s a painful read, yet very true. Let me quote the first couple paragraphs:

Particle Physicists in the United States would probably like to forget 2005. Budget woes forced the cancellation of two major experiments just as researchers were about to start construction. That leaves none in the works to replace those currently studying particles called quarks. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) asked physicists to consider which of two existing particle colliders they would rather shut down early to save money.

Researchers around the globe fear that if U.S. particle physics withers, so will the entire field….

The article then continues to describe the two major experiments that were cut. Fact check: actually it was three major experiments. BTeV at the Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory, and MECO and KOPIO at Brookhaven National Laboratory. BTeV would have studied CP violation and rare processes in the B meson system in a way that is different from that being explored in the current B-Factories at SLAC and KEK in Japan. MECO would have probed electron to muon conversion to a level 3 orders of magnitude further than current limits, and KOPIO would have observed an extremely rare, yet information ladden, rare decay of the K meson. The folks at DOE cancelled BTeV without any input from the scientific community. The folks at the National Science Foundation set up two committees for the Brookhaven experiments, one to evaluate the technical feasiability (these were extremely intricate and complicated experiments!) and one to evaluate the scientific merit. I was on the second committee, and Congress in its infinite wisdom cancelled both MECO and KOPIO before our report was even circulated.

Next the article describes the ongoing process of studying the possibility of an early shutdown of the B-Factory at SLAC or the Tevatron collider at Fermilab. The DOE has farmed this decision out to a committee, and I’m on that one too. Fact check: the Science article pits one experiment against the other and that’s simply not true. We are charged with evaluating the early shut down of neither, one, or both experiments. Our first round of deliberations are not yet public, but I will say that I found the discussions in our meetings to be downright scary at times.

The article did bring one important point home: after the planned shutdown of the Tevatron at Fermilab in 2009, there will only be one particle physics experiment running in the United States. That will cease operations in 2010 and at that point, there will be no, zero, zilch, nada experiments on-line in the USA. Luckily, Europe and Japan (and now even China might be getting into the action) have invested heavily in particle physics and the field is not only alive but thriving in these regions. As excited as we are about these overseas experiments coming on-line, the future of particle physics in the USA is depressing, discouraging, and downright worrisome.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and the Media
  • lharris

    If they shut down the Tevatron, then what will happen to Fermilab?

  • Georg Wrede

    In a country where books like The Final Theory (by Mark McCutcheon) rise to bestseller lists, it is no wonder nuclear physics have become obsolete.

    What if each and every person working with the exact sciences, would buy a copy of the book and send it to G. Bush, with a note “is this what you want America to become?”

    Of course he wouldn’t understand. But the issue might get brought up in the media.

  • Slacrates

    What’s so worrisome about it? Particle physics is expen$ive and the returns aren’t that great. We’ll survive.

  • A

    US fails to have the main hep experiments since 20 years: SppS collider eclipsed the Broohkaven accelerator; LEP worked better than SLD, and LHC will hopefully be more important than TeVatron.

  • Dissident

    The higher energies you want to explore, the more expensive it gets, the fewer experiments you can afford. You’d be facing this problem even if funding were stable or growing at the same rate as the economy at large. European countries, being small and impoverished after the war, faced it half a century ago and solved it by coordinating their efforts at CERN. The US got away with running its own show for a while longer, but the SSC was the end of that line. If there is to be anything at all after the LHC, it will have to be a truly international effort. If I were on that committee of yours (heaven forbid!) I’d be looking closely at this precedent:

  • Anonymous

    Slacrates, do you even know what the returns are? You should:

    A, you should read this article too. One of the returns of an American accelerator is that it trains young American scientists: it does not have to be the best machine in order for students to learn something and then go off and excell in other fields.

  • Dissident

    Anonymous, if those young American scientists are to go off and excel in other fields, let them train in those other fields. If they are to stay, let them contribute to a machine with real discovery potential. Building national machines just for the sake of building national machines would be a complete waste of resources.

  • Sean

    And of course it’s not just particle physics. We’re living in a science-unfriendly atmosphere in this country right now.

  • Mark

    Who is suggesting building national machines?

  • Dissident

    #9: “Anonymous” in #6.

  • Anonymous

    Dissident, for a dissident, I’m surprised how “inside the box” you are being.

    Mixing things up is what leads to great discoveries and advances in technology. 100 years ago, if you got all the scientists working on a better way to distribute the printed word, then today you’d have the best damn printing press with moveable type ever conceived by man. Or you could have funded basic “useless” research – then we get quantum physics, lasers and eventually a laser copier and printer.

    Surely, a great way to train someone in medical technology is to send him to school and have him major in it. But someone who was instead trained at Fermilab is going to have unique abilities and knowledge. To borrow from evolution, she’ll be diversifying the gene pool of her field. And diversity ultimately leads to unexpected and otherwise improbable advances.

    It would be foolish to scrap something as prolific as an accelerator and then use the money to invest in each of the individual things that the accelerator was accomplishing. You’d be paralyzing science by sectioning it off and severing its neural pathways (I’m down with metaphors today).

    Also, discoveries are still made with “inferior” machines. There are many things that one can look at with an accelerator, and you can’t do all of them at CERN. Just like you can’t use one telescope to look at the whole sky.

  • Anonymous

    Whoops! When I was talking about “American scientists” I didn’t mean to imply that accelerators in the US are good for US use only. But certainly it’s the payoff to Americans that US taxpayers care about.

  • Clifford

    Anonymous: – Very very well said indeed! More good science has been done by serendipity than by committee. It seems that we’ve cut off several opportunites for the former….


  • JustAnotherGradStudent

    I have seen papers occasionally on hep-ph proposing the Tevatron for alternate experiments. Does anyone know the status of this?

  • Dissident

    Anonymous, building accelerators and the detectors that go with them is engineering, not science. By itself, it’s an activity as unlikely to lead to new scientific breakthroughs as trying to come up with a better IC manufacturing process (to mention a related commercial activity) or space transportation system (to mention one which is state run, but shouldn’t be).

    It’s only running the machine that can lead to new discoveries, and that can only happen if the machine opens up a new physics window: higher energy and/or better precision. Both cost money and money is scarce, so you need to put what you have where it’s most likely to make a difference. Another accelerator operating in known territory would make as much scientific difference as a replica of the Apollo program.

  • Dissident

    Clifford: serendipity is great if you can afford it. Experimental HEP is long past that stage. Therein lies the rub.

  • Anonymous

    It’s only running the machine that can lead to new discoveries, and that can only happen if the machine opens up a new physics window: higher energy and/or better precision.

    Untrue. Physicists at accelerators must request “beam time” to run their experiments, and not all experiments can be accomodated. The sexy, mainstream ideas usually get preference (Higgs search, CP violation, etc.) while other experiments vie for the leftovers. An additional machine, even a less powerful one, adds more beam time and therefore more science opportunities. Also, it’s nice to have independent confirmation of those mainstream ideas.

    Dissident, you should work on a committee that grants beam time to researchers – that would be interesting. :-)

  • Anonymous

    Another accelerator operating in known territory would make as much scientific difference as a replica of the Apollo program.

    Just to make sure we’re clear, an accelerator is not an experiment – it provides high energy particles FOR experiments. Yes, it would be a waste to keep doing the same experiment over and over, but that’s not what goes on at FNAL, CERN, etc. They can use their beams to explore different territories.

  • Dissident

    Come on Anonymous, how many ways are there to collide two particles? You have an accelerator and a couple of detector complexes which took a decade or two and thousands of people to design and build. You let this monster run and collect the data. Yes, you can sweep the beam energy and maybe play games with polarization, but that’s about it. The main freedom left at this point is in the data analysis. If you want to make substantial changes to the experiment itself, as mentioned in #14, you are again talking about years of work and thousands of hands. This kind of idea was bandied about when LEP was growing old too (I vaguely remember proposals to convert Delphi to a heavy ion experiment) but the problem is always the same: the cost is so high that it’s very difficult to justify the substantial diversion of funds from the top of the line stuff.

    As for putting me on a committe, I believe that would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. For the committee.

  • Anonymous

    Come on Anonymous, how many ways are there to collide two particles?

    OMG… LOTS and LOTS!

    (that’s the FNAL experiment page – not all of them are accelerator-related, sorry)

    Each particle experiment is its own thing, not just new data-mining.

  • Dissident

    #20: Anonymous, that list contains 2 (two) collider experiments: CDF and D0. The rest are either technology development projects like E901 and NICADD, collaborations unrelated to accelerators (CDMS sits in a mine and looks for dark matter, the Auger observatory looks at cosmic rays, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is hopefully self-explanatory) or fixed target experiments which, judging from a cursory look at their web pages, are mainly analyzing data taken back in the 90s. I believe the latter are what you are thinking of when speaking of beam time. Yes, it would certainly be possible to keep dumping Tevatron beams into fixed targets and collecting more data of this kind; but would it be worth the cost?

  • Anonymous

    I did say they weren’t all accelerator related – the experiments are categorized better as you scroll down. Anyway, there’s a lot you can do with a source of relativistic particles – we shouldn’t be so quick to pack it up simply because it’s no longer the best. At some point, a cost-benefit analysis will reveal that the instrument is defunct, but I’m not sure that people understand all of the benefits.

  • Arun

    We’ll still have the world’s best string theorists!

  • JoAnne

    Dissident: Gosh, I don’t even know where to start. I think I’ll just say that it appears that you are either not very well informed or very jaded by a bad experience. Let me comment on just one point: there is alot of science involved in designing and building the detectors and accelerators for particle physics. The science in developing new acceleration techniques is just being explored and is a basic research effort with lots of possibilities (my favorite is plasma afterburners – sounds cool doesn’t it). There are also lots of technological spin-offs that are discovered in this process (such as the world wide web).

    Anonymous: Thanks much for trying to educate Dissident and keeping a rational discussion in this comment thread.

    lharris: Fermilab has a few proposals for future projects. It is the job of the second cmttee mentioned in the post to sort them out. We will tackle this later this spring. Nonetheless, the Tevatron will be shut down in 2009 at the latest.

    Arun: Think for a minute – where does the support for string theorists come from? Support for theorists, even string theorists, is always piggy-backed to experimental projects.

    A: LEP may have accumulated more Z bosons than SLD, but SLD has some of the most precise measurements in the world of some properties of the Z. They would have measured B_s mixing too, if they had been allowed to run for one more year. Sorry, but I always like to remind people of that. SLD was one of the best experiments I’ve seen.

  • Dissident

    JoAnne, since you provide no specifics I have no idea what you might be referring to.

    1) What is not “well informed” in posts #5, #7, #10, #15, #19, #21? If there are factual errors, please do tell; I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s interested in having the facts straight.

    2) What’s “jaded” about wanting to pool national resources in an international collaboration modeled on ITER (which is what ILC is going to be, if it’s going to be anything at all)?!?

    I am thoroughly puzzled.

  • David


    I will try to back up some of JoAnne’s statements as best I can. I will say right now that developing accelerators, which is a part of accelerator physics, is definitely science and not simply engineering. Unfortunately not many people know much about this field and simply lump it in as a part of high-energy physics or particle physics. Accelerator physics also encompasses the physics of beams which involves a great deal of research. There are a tremendous amount of effects due to high-energy particle beams because these beams involve packets of many electrons known as bunches. There are several instabilities that can come about as they are accelerated, for example, due to interactions of the head of the bunch to the back of the bunch as well as beam-beam effects from collisions and so on. These are effects that are not easy to understand that involve many experiments, intuition and simulation. I knew a grad student who did a thesis on just one type of instability that occurred in the damping rings which involved years of experimentation, developing and applying theory as well as simulations. The physics of beams alone simply involves a tremendous amount of research because one is dealing with many-body particle interactions.

    As to my background, I completed my graduate studies at SLAC in accelerator physics after which I decided to make money in Silicon Valley as an engineer , so I’m familiar with the differences. Even with this background, they are certainly many people in the field more qualified than I to discuss accelerator physics in detail.

    I worked in a group that studied advanced accelerator concepts whose main focus is to research ways to achieve higher accelerating gradients, specifically with linear electron-positron colliders. In order to achieve higher energies during beam collisions there are really only two ways to achieve this: 1) longer accelerators which means more real estate or 2) higher accelerating gradients (energy per unit distance). In terms of real estate, the problem is even worse because they can no longer accelerate electrons and positrons along the same linac. We cannot afford to bend the path of the beams like they did with SLC. The energy loss would be too great. Therefore, we need separate linacs for the electrons and positrons in which we must point them at each other at the collision point.

    So, how do we achieve higher gradients? This might sound like engineering, but there is a great deal of science that involves questions we don’t have the answers to. Using a normal conducting linac (made out of OFE copper) we can’t simply dump a lot of power into the accelerator cavities. There is a phenomenon known as RF breakdown that occurs from large electric fields. Accelerator cavities are under vacuum to accelerate beams. Because of the design of such cavities and the need to accelerate beams, there are areas that have perpendicular components of the electric field on the accelerator surface. When the fields are high enough, gases adsorbed into the surface of the copper are ripped out and literally destroy the vacuum for a small amount of time and prevent higher gradients from being reached. Sometimes these issues go away and as whatever it was got burned up, so the power can go higher. Eventually though, you reach a point in which the problem never goes away. The problem is, no one really knows what the cause is. There are theories and experiments and whatnot, but the answer isn’t wholly known. What causes something to eventually be an emitter and never go away? Are there different ways we can treat surface for vacuum to get rid of this? Are there fundamental upper limits to field strength (gradient)? This is an interesting area for research and experiments, and a lot has been done on it.

    Another impediment is known as pulsed heating in which surface magnetic fields create eddy currents that heat up the surface of the copper. This occurs so quickly that the inertia of the copper prevents thermal expansion and causes stress on the surface. A typical accelerator is hoped to operate at 30 pulses per second or so, so in an accelerator structure some parts of the surface will see stresses 30 cycles per second. Now you are in the region of cyclic thermal stress in which you have to be careful about cyclic fatigue that can lead to surface microcracks in the structure over a period of time. This is bad for a multibillion dollar accelerator that we would want to last for at least 20 years. What properties of the material are influenced by high-power, high-frequency microwaves? What role does surface preparation have? How do we test for this and ensure that a structure will actually last for 20 years under a proposed operating condition?

    Another avenue of research is in the use of superconducting accelerators. One nice property is that they don’t suffer from pulsed heating because they don’t heat up. However they have other issues. Since they don’t have resistive losses they have the property of having high Q’s which is good for resonant cavities. The downside is that once an electron bunch is accelerated through the cavity, the bunch leaves behind wakefields that don’t damp out quickly enough because of the high Q. It not only affects other bunches that enter the cavity later, but also affect the back of the first bunch itself. This involves another type of instability that can happen.

    Other interesting areas of research that I was not formally involved with include plasma wakefield acceleration (similar to the afterburner JoAnne mentioned). This involved shooting a high-energy beam into a plasma in which the wakefields that are generated by the beams passage actually accelerate the bunch. This involves an incredible amount of experimentation and applying physics to areas that are not well known. The interaction of the beam with the plasma as well as the interaction of the beam with itself is rather complicated and at the current forefront of research. Many physicists are working on this exciting area. They are trying to achieve gradients of 100’s of GeV/m. Another avenue of research has been the application of lasers to accelerate electrons.

    Of course there are a number of different areas of accelerator research. There are electron guns, free-electron lasers, inverse free-electron lasers, synchrotron light sources, etc. Basically, accelerator physics and the physics of beams are big fields that are not very well known to laymen and even other physicists. There is a lot of publicity when it comes to particle physics (experimental as well as theoretical, including string theory), but unfortunately that’s all one hears about. So I am not surprised, but disappointed, that one just thinks of the accelerator as engineering. Certainly they are made for the purposes of studying particle collisions, but there is a great deal of physics and ongoing physics research in accelerators.

  • Dissident

    David, thank you for the long post. It’s not like I’m unaware of or denying the difficulties of accelerator (and detector) development, but I apply the following simple (and AFAIK standard) definitions:

    1) If you are trying to make nature do something, e.g. accelerate a bunch of particles, you are doing technology.
    2) If you are trying to figure out how nature works, you are doing science.

    Unlike scientific knowledge, accelerators are not an end to themselves, they are just technological tools which we use to do science. The development of new technological tools is certainly crucial to the development of science, but it is not science (and JoAnne, claiming that the WWW was a spinoff of accelerator development is such an impressive stretch that you may want to give a full-time political career serioius consideration; I hear the Governator’s job will be up for grabs soon).

    As far as fundamental physics is concerned, we all know the top-of-the-line, qualitative questions which need to be answered next (after all, they have been the same for decades):

    Where is (are) the Higgs(es) (or did we get spontaneous symmetry breaking all wrong)?
    Is supersymmetry realized in nature?
    Is there another level of compositeness (i.e. preons)?
    (Some would like to add them newfangled large extra dimensions to the list. All right then. But only between parentheses.)

    Here accelerator experiments do indeed rule supreme: only the LHC (Real Soon Now) and the ILC (hopefully) hold out the hope of answering these questions. So these experiments are – must be! – the top priority of the HEP community, which should therefore think long and hard about the wisdom of committing limited resources to other projects before the ILC has even been given a price tag (let alone granted funding).

    Going further down the wishlist of fundamental physics we find quantitative questions which fall in the realm of the good old standard model, but which it is nevertheless desirable to sort out, since any theory claiming to be more fundamental should be able to reproduce at least some of the standard model parameters (no matter what landscapeologists say): we need to know these numbers in order to compare them with predictions from candidate theories. Neutrino masses and mixing matrices are the obvious example. Accelerators can and do help there, but so do astrophysical and even commercial (nuclear reactor) sources. Experiments at this level still hold out a remote possibility of catching a first glimpse of non-standard physics (e.g. from the muon’s anomalous magnetic moment), but don’t hold your breath. They are well motivated but can nevertheless be sacrificed in a pinch (because better guidance can be expected from the top-of-the-line experiments, and if not, it’s easier to get back to these approaches later than the other way around).

    And then there are experiments which are performed for no good reason at all, as recently noted by Lubos:

    Alas, “no good reason” is not synonymous with “no reason” when the taxpayers are footing the bill…

  • JoAnne

    Dissident: I am sorry to be slow in answering you, but I have had a hectic day, shuttling from seminars to meetings all day. Capped off by an evening, swiftly turning to late night, in which I am desperately preparing a talk.

    So let me be brief. David in #26 did an excellent job in explaining the as-yet unknown science being explored in developing advanced accelerator techniques. I am sorry to hear that you consider this technology and not new science. It is certainly funded by basic science grants. Actually, perhaps we are missing the boat here – if we could convince folks that it was technology instead of basic research, then we could get better funding!

    Regarding your disbelief that the World Wide Web was invented by scientists for the use of High Energy Physics data transfer, was funded by HEP basic research sources, and is indeed a spin-off of HEP, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am straight in my facts. The World Wide Web was born at CERN: please see this. Please also take a look at a recent article in Symmetry magazine which highlights the birth of the web and shows a photocopy of the original memo outlining the basic idea of the web.

    Time to return to my talk….

  • Dissident

    #28: No JoAnne, you are not straight on the facts. Everybody knows that the WWW was invented at CERN (I hope). But this had absolutely NOTHING to do with accelerator development! It was an effort by two employees of the then data processing department (one of whom I’ve had the pleasure of discussing this at length with, so please forgive me for skipping that link of yours) to come up with a better way to organize, cross-link and disseminate the large numbers of documents which was being generated by the CERN community: texts and figures, scientific articles, project proposals, technical reports and so on and so forth. It could (and most likely would) equally well have happened in any well-computerized organization with massive document storage and dissemination needs.

    As for the technology vs. science issue, it is of course not unusual, in the course of technology development, to come up with questions about some aspect of nature which haven’t been previously answered. Sometimes such questions can lead to interesting science, but in general the reason they haven’t been answered is quite simply that nobody would be interested were it not for the technological application under consideration. Has accelerator “science” led to any significant scientific insights of general interest, or just to answers needed for accelerator development? (And yes, of course it’s being funded with basic science grants, like any piece of technology being bought or developed for basic science use; HEP is the only thing it’s good for.)

  • Plato

    Can I just say this was very interestng read, all around.

    Iceman :)

  • David


    So the development of the transistor by Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain for which they won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956 is considered technology and not science?

  • Dissident

    As you surely know, by Alfred Nobel’s will the prize in physics is awarded “to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics”:

    The transistor is obviously an invention, thus a technology. Given its enormous importance, this Nobel prize has to be one of the least controversial ever. BTW, feel free to note that it came out of a commercial lab. 😉

  • David

    Yes, but as you’ve noted, it’s within the field of physics, which is science. Even though discoveries lead to technological breakthroughs, I would consider it science. It appears that you believe science represents fundamental research, which I think is highly debatable (what we’re doing now). Also, the commercial aspect doesn’t unnerve me, because as you know, science research requires money. We can’t count on the government to supply all the money for such research.

  • JoAnne

    Excuse me Dissident, but regarding the birth of the web, you say:

    It was an effort by two employees….to come up with a better way to organize, cross-link and disseminate the large numbers of documents which was being generated by the CERN community

    If that’s not the definition of a spin-off, then I don’t know what is. It’s true that other people/places could have done it, but the fact is nobody else did.

    Given that CERN is financed for the building and operation of accelerators (presently the LHC, LEP at the time of the WWW), I think it is perfectly legitimate to say the WWW is a spin-off of accelerator development.

    It looks like we just disagree. On the definition of what does and does not constitute science as well. I cannot concur with what I see as such a narrow minded view.

  • Arun

    Re “world’s best string theorists” I was being facetious. The end of HEP experiments in the US is the end of particle physics in the US is what I really think.

  • Dissident

    #34: “If that’s not the definition of a spin-off, then I don’t know what is.”

    Gee, I guess you could try the standard definition, based on the TECHNOLOGY being spun off, rather than on something happening to came out of an organization which also FUNDS utterly unrelated activities. By your logic, it would be perfectly valid to describe Tokamak reactors as a spin-off of Siberian dissident camps; after all, both were funded by the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

    I have no problem believing that somebody capable of such breath-taking conceptual leaps must also find the conventional distinction between science and technology “narrow minded”. Personally, I’ll stick with Feynman’s line to “keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out”.

  • JoAnne

    Indeed Dissident, it takes some effort to keep my curiosity-driven brain from wandering off of our safe infrared brane and out into the bulk of extra dimensions.

    Arun – I couldn’t agree with you more and I hope that at least some of our more theoretical colleagues have given some thought to this.

  • Slacrates


    If the rewards are so great I suggest YOU and your buddies get some money together and build yourself a SSC. I’m sure the physicist will pay you to use it.

    The taxpayers don’t need to fund your little pet projects. There are other ways to train scientists.

    Beggars can’t be choosers.

  • Slacrates

    JoAnne and David:

    The Spallation Neutron Source is an advanced accelerator that doesn’t have any problems getting funding. It’s not a giant high-energy machine but it will provide useful science, technology, and accelerator technology.

    This is the direction accelerator physics is going in; smaller but more specialized machines. Accelerator Physics is doing fine without building every machine that you draw up.

  • Slacrates

    Sorry for the flood


    Your link to the Fermi web site: I didn’t claimed that science wasn’t useful. Because it says “Fermi” do you just take it as scripture (they don’t have any self interests, nah)? Are other people (taxpayers) allowed opinions?

    I want to reassure you that the training of scientists at accelerator labs isn’t in jeopardy. There are many accelerators in the US.

    BTW the www may have been created for HEP but the internet was created for national defense. No internet–no www

  • David


    I was not defending building every machine that can be drawn up. I was simply responding to the statement that accelerators were just engineering. I have nothing negative to say about SNS or any other facility and neither was I implying that the accelerator field was in trouble. I’m fully aware of the different projects on the horizon like the conversion of the linac at SLAC to LCLS and I was not advocating that accelerators should only be made for studying high-energy particle physics. I’m also not the type to get on a pedestal and say what deserves funding and what does not. I just wanted to share my experience in the field as I saw it.

  • JoAnne

    Well put, David. Can I just say “ditto!” And add that when I whine about the lack of funding for particle physics, I certainly do not mean to imply that other fields are less worthy of funds. I do believe that particle physics is underfunded in the US, but so are the rest of the physical sciences as a whole.

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  • A

    To JoAnne (#24): SLD gave one important result: the polarization asymmetry, which LEP could not measure. On all the rest LEP has more statistics. Later SLD was terminated, and LEP explored higher energies.

    My main point in #1 is not that LEP was a few times more important than SLD, but that it seems that US physicsts like to believe that the opposite is true, and started Tevatron RunII a few years before LHC. Clearly, the hope is anticipating some discovery by a few years. From a “sociological” point of view, this seems a good (maybe unavoidable) choice. But, in any case, from the point of view of physics, a lot of money could have been used in better ways.

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  • Boaz

    I know this thread is a few months old, but I just found it and wanted to comment.
    Dissident in #29 asks:
    “Has accelerator “science” led to any significant scientific insights of general interest, or just to answers needed for accelerator development?”
    I don’t think that this needs to be answered in the affirmative in order for aspects of accelerator research to be considered science. Why isn’t it of general interest to know the limits on how fast we can accelerate stuff? I bet there are many people that find that just as interesting as the interactions and interchanges between fundamental particles. An electron can go 0 to 60 in how many seconds?!!!

    That issue aside, one can still try to answer the question. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the research mentioned by David has other applications, but I don’t know so much about those issue in particular. One answer is that a beam of charged particles can behave like astrophysical systems interacting gravitationally. Also, the study of non-linear dynamics in general is quite advanced in beam physics and I would be surprised if it didn’t find applications elsewhere. Actually, beam and light optics have much in common and I believe there has been some fruitful interplay.

    Just because Dissident (and many others) are not interested in accelerators and beams as an end in themselves, doesn’t make work in trying to understand them not science. Is a biologist’s studies of some obscure animal’s endocrine system not science just because most people don’t care (or know) about that animal? I think that what people don’t appreciate is that accelerators take on a life for themselves. They are objects existing in the world with phenomena that are not necesarrilly well understood. The exploration and modeling of these phenomena is science in the same way that biology or chemistry or plasma physics is science. Whether or not a given person finds the subject interesting or not is not a good criterion to judge whether an activity is a science.

    So, overall, accelerator/beam physicists should continue working to apply what they learn to other systems in the world. This isn’t required in order for what they are doing to be the same sort of activity as is standardly considered science, but it is probably necessary (barring some wide-spread love affair with accelerators for their own sake) in order for it to be recognized as science by many others.

  • lambda T

    *ding* End of round one!

    Whew! There are a lot of different perspectives here, all of which are interesting, and I just have a few comments…

    1) I agree with David in that accelerator physics and high-energy physics are not one and the same. Accelerator physics indeed does include much more than one would naively think. And an accelerator physicist needs to know physics, as well as have engineering skills, in order to actually develop and build an accelerator that will do what is needed in order to study the desired phenomenon. Technology helps to further science and science helps to improve technology.

    2) If funding is being cut in the U.S. and other countries, is there any way to combine funds in order to maximize the amount of money that can be used to run experiments?

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