The Future, By Committee

By cjohnson | April 27, 2006 12:24 pm

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:

• Can the forces between particles be understood in a unified framework?
• What do the properties of particles reveal about the nature and origin of matter?
• 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
• 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.
• 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.

• A phased program of searches for the nature of neutrino mass (using neutrinoless double beta decay) should be pursued with high priority.
• 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.
• 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, small—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.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Academia, Science
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  • Alexey Petrov

    It appears that there is some consensus on what to do in the future — put all eggs in one basket (i.e. build a linear collider). No other US collider projects are even discussed… this is a bit troubling (see for example William Foster’s (former FNAL Proton Driver Project leader) resignation letter here). But particle physics does not end at the energy frontier! Other experiments also do interesting physics: for example, a B-factory is there not only to measure sin2beta or to “test Unitarity triangle” but also to do some great studies of QCD!

    Why not build something intermediate-sized (say, a super-B factory) at Fermilab before buidling the ILC? Just to test how this purported international collaboration (with shared funding) would work in practice? Why not build a super-B factory based on a small-scale linear collider at Fermilab? Like the one advocated by the Europeans as a testbed for ILC (see this for example). It could also be useful as means to acquiring experience with linear collider technology for folks at FNAL…

  • Plato


  • Tony Smith

    Alexye Petrov says that for the USA to be putting “… all eggs in one basket (i.e. build a linear collider) … is a bit troubling … see … William Foster’s … resignation letter …”.

    William Foster’s resignation letter says in part “… A refusal to pursue any HEP alternatives to the ILC has already destroyed the accelerator-based HEP physics programs at DESY in Germany, at SLAC in California, and (to a lesser extent) at Cornell. It will be a tragedy to see this destructive course of action applied next to Fermilab, the last remaining high energy physics accelerator lab in the U.S. …”.

    Another issue that is not discussed in the resignation letter is that the ILC is supposed to be an international project, and it is by no means certain that Asian interests will contribute money unless the ILC is located in Asia (a quote from the Japanese perspective is that you cannot see the Pacific Ocean from the Illinois prairie). Indeed, even if the USA cannibalizes all eggs other than the ILC and pursues a USA-ILC doggedly, Asian interests might prevail (the USA is, after all, a big-time debtor to them) and the USA might end up without even the ILC.

    As William Foster’s letter says, “… It is truly a shame that our steamship seems to have a committee of captains who believe that the ductility of carbon steel rivets at freezing temperatures is just a political problem. …”.

    In earlier times, the USA physics leadership did the Manhattan Project and built the Fermilab collider.
    How the mighty have fallen!!

    Tony Smith

  • JoAnne

    I interacted with this panel several times during the course of 2005 – I was asked to give them a presentation on the physics of the ILC, I was on the HEPAP subpanel that wrote a report addressed to the panel, and I was on an ad-hoc committee formed to address a set of questions the panel had posed to the community. So, I know quite a bit about the process this panel used to reach their conclusions.

    I will write an in-depth CV post on the EPP2010 report over the weekend, once I have had time to fully digest it. (Note that I have previously blogged about the EPP2010 panel here and here.)

    At this point, let me just say that at first read, this is a FABULOUS report and is very well written. It contains precisely the type of language from the type of people it takes to be noticed in the hallways of Congress. It will go a long way towards strengthing the resolve of the US to continue in high energy physics – for all HEP endeavors -, something which is not presently guaranteed.

  • JoAnne

    Clifford: The size of the US HEP theory budget, whether it be the string theory portion or not, is not even on the radar screen compared to what this report is addressing.

  • JustAnotherInfidel

    Hypothetically, if the US was the major underwriter of the ILC (i.e. at least half of the funding), why would it not be located in the US?

  • Elliot

    I just have to ask why one of the committee members is a Medical Doctor. (Harold E. Varmus). He is a Nobel Prize winner but apparently is not a physicist by training.

    I just find it curious.


  • Flip Tanedo

    Some naive questions from the point of view of graduate students (and soon-to-be-graduate-students) in the field: What role does this report play in any potential future congressional support for HEP? It’s great that the national academies support HEP, but at the end of the day the committee (modulo its chair) seems to be composed primarily of HEP faculty supporting their field. Is there any reason to believe congress will listen?

    Also–with respect to the concerns over pushing for the ILC over smaller, complimentary projects: HEP in the past decade has blossomed beyond the “bigger, higher energy machine” paradigm to include smaller and medium scale experiments (including B-factories), cosmological/astroparticle experiments (such as WMAP and SNAP–which seems to be having its own funding concerns), and neutrino experiments. However it sounds like the direction of Beyond the Standard Model searches will be so heavily influenced by what is found (or not found) at the LHC that it seems premature to be be saying much about whether the “second priority” is the ILC or other projects Perhaps this is because I do not understand the time scale of preparing for a project or, as noted in Bill Fosters resignation letter, the steps that can be taken before full funding is committed.

    At any rate, if the ILC is built and if it is built in Asia or somewhere other than the US, what does this necessarily mean for the EPP2010 goal of US leadership in HEP? Presumably, as with the LHC, US institutions/scientists/funding would play a major role in the machine and its experiments no matter where it is built. What are the concrete benefits of having such a facility in one’s own country? Would the scenario be different if the US was instead the hub for some of the other complimentary HEP experiments that were mentioned? (e.g. Super B-factory, etc.)


  • Tony Smith

    JustAnotherInfidel asks “… Hypothetically, if the US was the major underwriter of the ILC (i.e. at least half of the funding), why would it not be located in the US? …”.

    Here are some quotes from a September 2001 Physics Today article:
    “… as … Snowmass 2001 … progressed, it became increasingly obvious that something of an informal consensus was emerging: Building a high-luminosity linear electron- positron collider … was, for most participants, the obvious next big undertaking of the world particle-physics community. …
    How and where should this … linear collider be built?
    With …[its]… price tag … it is obvious that the world community would not build more than one such machine. …
    There was talk, for example, of putting the … linac at Fermilab, a prairie location that might accommodate an eventual lengthening upgrade … more easily than the proposed DESY site. …
    But one cannot see the Pacific Ocean from the Illinois prairie. This geographic truth was pointed out rather bluntly at Snowmass by KEK director Hirotaka Sugawara. He reminded his audience that the joint work on the copper linac design in the US and Japan was undertaken with the understanding that the machine would be sited somewhere on the Pacific Rim, presumably in Japan or California.
    Sotoru Yamashita of Tokyo University was more specific: Europe already has the LHC. … he argued, it was now Japan’s turn to build an energy-frontier machine. …”.

    I know that article is 5 years old, but I doubt it the geopolitical position of Japan has changed, and they could easily say “build it here in Japan and we (rich creditors) will pay half of it, but it you build it in Illinois we won’t contribute anything”.
    That would then bust the USA budget calculations, and put the international status of the ILC into a turmoil similar to the mess that led to the cancellation of the SSC under Clinton.

    Only about a year ago a Science magazine article said:
    “… To remain active, Fermilab’s Butler says, “a large number of U.S. physicists at the Tevatron are already planning to work at the LHC; they have exit strategies.” But Butler isn’t
    happy about the new venue. “This field is being outsourced,” he says. The one big hope for U.S. accelerator physics is the ILC. …
    the cost, estimated by DOE at $12 billion, of which the host country would presumably
    pick up half. … is … too expensive …
    Barry Barish … who heads the ILC design group … doesn’t accept DOE’s projected price tag. “There’s no way you can get me to talk about cost” until the design group completes some preliminary studies, he says. “But I don’t buy $12 billion.”
    For Butler and other physicists, the projected completion date for the ILC in the middle of the next decade is another huge obstacle. “The schedules put up are frankly incredible and don’t do justice to the effort,” Butler says.
    But a timetable that puts the ILC at the end of the next decade or beyond would leave an entire generation of physics students without access to an accelerator in the United States. …”.

    As you may have noted by reading the EPP2010 report, it takes Barish’s approach of deliberately omitting ANY specific cost estimate, only calling the ILC a “multibillion-dollar facility”.
    Maybe such an obvious failure to acknowledge the giant purple elephant in the room is “precisely the type of language from the type of people it takes to be noticed in the hallways of Congress”, but it is not clear to me that such notice will be favorable on the part of key congressmen (or their staff) who can remember back to the days of the SSC.
    After all, a major part of being a congressman (or staffer) is to deal in dollars, and a blank check stands out like a red flag to such people.

    If Congress insists of some sort of cost cap, and if such a cost cap involves half the money coming from outside the USA, then it seems to me that Japan will have a de facto veto power over the project.

    Tony Smith

  • Clifford

    JoAnne (#6): I very much agree.


  • JoAnne

    Tony (#10): The single most stupid thing anybody could do is give a precise cost for a project, any project, before the studies/calculations/design are far enough along to give an accurate cost. The first cost number you make public is what sticks in people’s minds, it always changes when the studies are completed, and it’s suicide to put a guess out until you know what it actually is. That was one of the many problems with the SSC. Regarding the ILC, those folks are trying to avoid this mistake. They readily admit it’s multi-billion, but at this point they honestly don’t know precisely how much. A year-long study is being performed now, with a few options for sites, and will be finalized at the end of the calendar year. Then we can make a reasoned judgement.

  • Jeff

    My good friend was one of the NRC staffers who helped put this report together and just from knowing his dedication to an honest, bright, and fulfilling future for HEP, I have the utmost confidence that this report does it’s best to layout an achievable strategy.

  • Kramer

    Elliot(#8) –

    I suspect the reason why Varmus is involved has less to do with his Nobel Prize (although a nice credential to have if you can get it) than his generally thought to be impressive track record leading the NIH for six years and subseuent tenure as the president of the Sloan-Kettering Cancer center.

    In short this is a guy who has large science credentials but also significant experience directing both large intellectual endevours and institutions with huge budgets.


  • Tony Smith

    JoAnne said “… The first cost number you make public is what sticks in people’s minds …”.

    Yes, and the DOE cost estimate of $12 billion (made public in discussion leading up to the Science article) is now that number.

    When Barish said “… I don’t buy $12 billion …” without giving any alternative dollar amount, or range of dollar amounts, he just reinforced the $12 billion figure in the minds of people, including relevant people like congressmen and their staff.

    If $12 billion is OK politically, then EPP2010 could have said something like:
    “The DOE estimate of $12 billion may or may not turn out to be supported by more detailed estimates, but we feel that it is a favorable indicator of the financial viability of the ILC”.

    If the $12 billion is really “too expensive” to be achievable politically, then EPP2010 should have attacked it, saying something like:
    “We realize that if the ILC cost were to be the DOE estimate of $12 billion, the ILC might be risky financially, but we believe that the DOE estimate is too high, and we are in the process of doing a more accurate estimate that we expect to complete by the end of the year.”
    The downside of that approach is that the DOE estimate may turn out to be accurate (or low), and the ILC may really be “too expensive”, but it that turns out to be the truth, you should be prepared to live with it.

    Tony Smith

  • Vince

    I read an article in the NY Times about this, and it says, “Physics in America is at a crossroads and in crisis…”

    Also, “If that does not happen, particle physics, the quest for the fundamental forces and constituents of nature, will wither in this country, it said.

    “Failure to build the machine, the International Linear Collider, in the United States, the panel said, would force American particle physicists to do their research in Europe, where a major machine is to come online next year, and other places, perhaps Japan.

    “The blow to American physics would erode the base of science and technology that has fueled innovation, provided intellectual and cultural inspiration and bolstered national security over the last century.”

    Can anyone tell me why this is true, if it even is?

  • Tony Smith

    Vince quoted a New York Times article as saying “… Failure to build … the International Linear Collider, in the United States, the panel said,
    would force American particle physicists to do their research in Europe … and other places, perhaps Japan.
    The blow to American physics would erode the base of science and technology that has fueled innovation, provided intellectual and cultural inspiration and bolstered national security over the last century. …”.

    Vince then asked “… Can anyone tell me why this is true, if it even is? …”.

    In this era of globalization, I share Vince’s puzzlement with respect to USA policies.

    If it is OK to send manufacturing jobs from the USA to China, and phone service / backoffice jobs to India,
    why should the USA insist that some future collider be physically located in the USA ?

    If USA physicists can work with CERN in Europe and KEK in Japan, then why must they insist that the ILC be located in Illionois at Fermilab?

    If the argument is that the USA must protect Fermilab jobs in Illinois, then why is it OK for other USA jobs to go to China, India, etc ?

    Tony Smith

    PS – Please note that I am NOT an advocate of sending jobs out of the USA to cut labor costs to slave labor levels, thereby making rich corporate owners even richer. My point is that if it is OK to treat USA manufacturing workers that way, then why should physicists be treated differently ?
    Maybe if the USA physics establishment were on the front lines of organizing opposition to outsourcing USA jobs to slave labor countries run by iron-fisted dictators,
    then their hands would be clean with respect to a plea to save Illionois physics jobs,
    but I have yet to see that happen.

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