Well, a lot of us are reading a certain 140 page document that was released yesterday. The National Academies Committee on Elementary Particle Physics in the 21st Century (“EPP2010″) released its final report at a public briefing. It is entitled “Revealing the Hidden Nature of Space and Time: Charting the Course for Elementary Particle Physics”, and it is available as a pdf file at this page.
Just so you know what this is about, the committee – made up of several of the most distinguished scientists you can think of – describes its charge in the preface:
The principal charge to the Committee on Elementary Particle Physics in the 21st Century was to recommend priorities for the U.S. particle physics program for the next 15 years. Described in the Executive Summary and more fully presented in the Overview, the committee’s considered response is laid out in detail in the main text of this report, which begins by discussing the scientific challenges in particle physics and conveying the current status of the U.S. program, and then presents the committee’s consensus on the best way to sustain a competitive and globally relevant U.S. particle physics program
A few glances reveal that there’s just excellent material in the report, and I will make it the top item on my reading list for the next day or two, as a report like this is a good way of stepping away from the daily grind and reminding us (at least in part) about what we’re up to in this endeavour.
Skipping ahead to the findings and recommendations, they break down the key questions into three categories:
â€¢ Can the forces between particles be understood in a unified framework?
â€¢ What do the properties of particles reveal about the nature and origin of matter?
â€¢ What is dark energy, and how has quantum mechanics influenced the structure of the universe?
Then they proceed to describe propects for addressing these questions within the context of the worldwide effort to do particle physics, but particularly focussing on the U.S. role, suggesting key strategies for the future. There is a lot of focus -as there should be – on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the International Linear Collider (ILC). (If you don’t know much about those experiments, please follow the links I put in their titles, and also have a look through the archives of this blog. JoAnne, among others, has done some excellent writing about them.)
Here are the Findings and Recommendations of the Committee, snipped from the pages for you (please read the rest of the document though, for context, data and more in-depth discussion):
Finding 1: The LHC Experimental Program
The study of LHC physics will be at the center of the U.S. particle physics program during the coming decade.
Action Item 1: The LHC Experimental Program
The highest priority for the U.S. national effort in elementary particle physics should be to continue to be an active partner in realizing the physics potential of the LHC experimental program.
Finding 2: Achieving Readiness for the ILC
An aggressive approach to the realization of the ILC is the central element in a new strategic plan for the U.S. program in particle physics.
Action Item 2: Achieving Readiness for the ILC
The United States should launch a major program of R&D, design, industrialization, and management and financing studies of the ILC accelerator and detectors.
Finding 3: The Benefits of Hosting the ILC
Hosting the ILC will inspire students, attract talented scientists from throughout the world, create a suite of high-technology jobs, and strengthen national leadership in science and technology.
Action Item 3: The Path Forward for the ILC
The United States should announce its strong intent to become the host country for the ILC and should undertake the necessary work to provide a viable site and mount a compelling bid.
Finding 4: Opportunities at the Interface of Particle Physics, Astrophysics, and Cosmology
Elementary particle physicists have an extraordinary opportunity to make breakthrough discoveries by engaging in astrophysics and cosmology research that probes energies and physical conditions that are not available in an accelerator laboratory. The investigations simultaneously search for new laws of nature and advance understanding of the origin, evolution, and future of the universe.
Action Item 4: Coordination of Efforts at the Interface of Particle Physics, Astrophysics, and Cosmology
â€¢ Scientific priorities at the interface of particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology should be determined through a mechanism jointly involving NSF, DOE, and NASA, with emphasis on DOE and NSF participation in projects where the intellectual and technological capabilities of particle physicists can make unique contributions.
â€¢ The committee recommends that an increased share of the current U.S. elementary particle physics research budget should be allocated to address the questions identified above.
Finding 5: Neutrino and Proton Decay Probes
A program of neutrino physics, including, eventually, a detector large enough for sensitivity to proton decay, offers a probe of unification physics.
Action Item 5: A Staged Neutrino and Proton Decay Research Program
The committee recommends that the properties of neutrinos be determined through a well-coordinated, staged program of experiments developed with international planning and cooperation.
â€¢ A phased program of searches for the nature of neutrino mass (using neutrinoless double beta decay) should be pursued with high priority.
â€¢ DOE and NSF should invite international partners to initiate a multiparty study to explore the feasibility of joint rather than parallel efforts in accelerator-based neutrino experiments. Major investments in this area should be evaluated in light of the outcome of this process.
â€¢ Longer term goals should include experiments to unravel possible charge-parity violation in the physics of neutrinos and renewed searches for proton decay. There may be a valuable synergy between these important objectives, as the neutrino charge-parity violation measurements may require a very large detector that, if placed deep underground, will also be the right instrument for detecting proton decay.
Finding 6: Precision Probes of Physics Beyond the Standard Model
Studies of the patterns of weak interactions (particularly rare decays and CP violation in the quark sector), dipole moments, table-top tests of gravity, and lepton flavor and lepton number violation offer a window to search for and more precisely define the physics that could lie beyond the Standard Model.
Action Item 6: Precision Probes of Physics Beyond the Standard Model
U.S. participation in large-scale high-precision experiments that probe particle physics beyond the Standard Model should continue, but the level of support that can be sustained will have to be very sensitive to the overall budget picture. Only very limited participation will be feasible in budget scenarios with little to no real growth. Participation in inexpensive, smallâ€”scale, high-precision measurements should be encouraged in any budget scenario.
There’s a lot more than this! Please read the report. It’s only 140 pages, which is not much to digest given what it is about. I’ve just lifted out the bare bones of the findings and recommendations, and you should read the several paragraphs written under each one, and all of the discussion and data preceding- to get the best sense of what this is about.
Do feel free to discuss what you think of all of this in the comments. I’d very much like to hear opinion about this. Also, you can throw up several questions that one of us or another reader might be able to say something useful about.
[Update: There are also discussions going on about this at Not Even Wrong, and Uncertain Principles. Have a look and join in on those blogs too, if you like. Which reminds me - sort of funny that I have to say this - let's try not to make this another tedious discussion about how research activity into string theory has doomed the future of particle physics, ok? We've had several of those, and you can look into our archives for the very first one we had, and see that the arguments and opinions have not changed.]