It’s happened! A $13 million donation from the private sector has been given to continue operation of the Relativisitc Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The press release is here. RHIC’s generous benefactors are the Renaissance Technologies Corporation ( an investment firm dedicated to the use of mathematical methods) and members of the Board of Directors of Brookhaven Science Associates. Jim Simons, a member of the Board and President of Renaissance Technologies, initiated and led the drive to raise the money. Simons is a mathematician by training and is a rather famous one at that – physicists know him from his work with Shiin-Shen Chern. This boost in funds allows RHIC to operate a full schedule of 20 weeks this fiscal year.
Discoveries at RHIC were named the Top Physics Story of 2005 by the American Institute of Physics. The RHIC detectors discovered the long-sought-after quark-gluon plasma, but found that it behaves as a quark-gluon liquid instead. They have a list of important measurements yet to be performed to determine the properties of this liquid.
I have written a few posts (such as here and here) whining about the dearth of funding in the United States for basic research in the physical sciences. (OK, my whining usually focuses on particle physics, but that’s only because I’m closest to my own field.) I do so because I want to ensure that the public is aware that US science is hurting. A common thread in the discussion to these posts (pardon my paraphrasing here) is that if the science is really all that important and interesting, then why doesn’t the general public pony-up? Well, it is and they have. Today, Jim Simmons joined the Kavli Foundation in making substantial contributions to basic physical sciences research. I firmly believe that the majority of US citizens support a strong Federally-funded science program – this belief is generated from the number of cab-drivers, shop-owners, people sitting on airplanes, etc, that I have found to be genuinely excited about how the universe works. This donation should increase public awareness and I hope the Federal government takes note.
This is the best news I’ve heard in a long time. RHIC is making fundamental discoveries, and now they can continue to do so. At least for one more year.