A Path Forward

By JoAnne Hewett | May 4, 2006 6:26 pm

A much anticipated report on a future path for particle physics was released last week. It has provoked a storm of attention in the press. It’s written by a panel of wise experts and the Chair is making the rounds presenting it, and will be at SLAC tomorrow (Friday) morning. We are expecting a full house.

This report could be one of the most important events to happen in high energy physics in the last decade. It has the potential to have tremendous influence on how our field evolves and to ensure that the US retains a strong program. It is worthy of much thought and discussion. And, of course, another post on this blog! Clifford and others reported the breaking news last week, and now we’ve all had the time to actually read the full 140 pages of the report and think about what it says. I’ve also since heard two presentations from two panel members, and there is more to be learned from just reading alone. So here is yet another synopsis:

Caveats: First, I must make some confessions. (1) I gave input to the panel. I was asked to present the physics case for the International Linear Collider (ILC) to the panel. In fact, I was the only speaker they heard which outlined the actual measurements that the ILC could perform. (I wasn’t nervous while giving the talk or anything…) I also served on a panel which wrote a report for the panel outlining the role of the ILC in the era of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). That report was a lot of work, but we are pleased with how it turned out. A snazzier version will make its public debut next week, and CV fans will be the first to read all about it. I also served on an ad-hoc committee to address a set of questions posed by the panel. CV readers even helped on that one!
(2) I am tickled pink with this report! I very strongly support the International Linear Collider. I believe that it will be necessary to decipher what is found at the LHC – it also has the potential to directly study dark matter particles in a controlled laboratory environment. In addition, I would like to see the US host the ILC because I care deeply about the vitality of the US high energy physics program in particular, and the US science program as a whole.

Some Background: Particle physics is in crisis in the US. Our accelerators and experiments are being shut down, one by one, with no new particle science to take their place. Our budget has been stagnant for over a decade and we can’t afford to start any new experiments. In the long term, we never recovered (in many ways, actually) from the cancellation of the Superconducting SuperCollider. Meanwhile, Europe is pouring money into the field spending twice as much, in actual dollars, as the US; Japan alone invests half as much as the US; and China, Korea, and India are all starting new initiatives. It is obvious that we are losing our competitiveness and yes, there are concrete examples (e.g., the late start-up of one of our neutrino experiments MINOS, and the lack of ability to develop our detector technology for the ILC.)

Should we care? That’s the question. Us particle physicists have been pressing for more support for years. We strongly believe that our science is exciting and is fundamental to the health of the US physical science program as a whole. We have argued the case over and over. And that’s the point – arguing for your own survival, while necessary, appears self-serving. Not to mention the current national environment where if you don’t put a new gadget into the average Joe/JoAnne’s hands every week you are considered useless.

So, the National Research Council of the National Academy of the Sciences decided to step in. Their Board on Physics and Astronomy formed a panel to (1) Identify, articulate, and prioritize the scientific questions and opportunities that define elementary-particle physics, and (2) Recommend a 15-year implementation plan with realistic, ordered priorities to realize these opportunities.

So far, this sounds like every other panel formed over the last decades. Except for one major difference: the Academies appointed a diverse and very high level membership to the panel. Very distinctive people (heavy-hitters if you like), far outside the world of high energy physics, served on this panel. This was a highly unusual composition for such a committee. Reading between the lines, one could think of this as a test for US particle physics – is it worth saving or not? High risk for us.

Panel Members:
The panel was chaired by Harold Shapiro, President Emeritus and Professor of Economics at Princeton University. Sally Dawson, physics department chair and particle theorist at Brookhaven National Lab was vice-chair. Half of the panel consisted of high energy theorists and experimenters, including two Nobel prize winners (David Gross and Jerome Friedman) one European and one Asian physicist. The other half were scientists from other fields and non-scientists. These included eminent astrophysicists and astronomers, prominent condensed matter physicists, accelerator physicists, biologists, and experts in public policy (particularly science policy) such as former presidential science advisor (Neal Lane), the former CEO of Lockheed-Martin (Norman Augustine), the head of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Nobel prize winner(Harold Varmus), and the head of the EOP Group (Joseph Hezir). You know these people are important – they have their own wiki pages!

These are all very busy people, who took a year out of their lives to learn about particle physics! Most importantly, they are leaders – experienced, skeptical, and strong-willed individuals. One simply does not pull the wool over their eyes – they immediately spot a hole in an argument and zero in on it. I can personally vouch for the fact that their questions were tough, and even hostile at times. They were not necessarily favorably pre-disposed towards particle physics.

The Process: The panel met 6 times in the US, 3 times in Washington DC, once each at SLAC, Fermilab, and Cornell. In addition, they took field trips to visit the major foreign national high energy physics laboratories CERN, DESY, and KEK. At each meeting, members of our community were asked to give presentations and were grilled afterwards (all open to the public). There was opportunity for open (non-solicited) presentations from the community, and panel requested community input in the form of letters. Everybody had the opportunity to give input to this panel. All of the input is collected on the panel’s website.

Single Most Important Conclusion: Particle physics passed the test. YES! The panel concluded:

  • Simply stated, given the excitement of the scientific opportunities in particle physics, and in keeping with the nation’s broader commitment to research in the physical sciences, the committee believes that the US should continue to support a competitive program in this key scientific field.
  • Particle physics plays an essential role in the broader enterprise of the physical sciences. It inspires US students, attracts talent from around the world, and drives critical intellectual and technological advances in other fields.
  • The field of particle physics is entering an era of unprecedented potential.
  • The results of the committee’s analysis have led to its chief recommendation. The United States should remain globally competitive in elementary particle physics by playing a leading role in the worldwide effort to aggressively study Terascale physics.
  • It didn’t have to turn out this way – the panel could have concluded otherwise. High risk. High pay-off.

    Panel Recommendations: Here are the recommendations, listed in order of priority, with some paraphrasing on my part for brevity.

  • Fully exploit the physics opportunities at the LHC.
  • Adopt an aggressive approach for the realization of the ILC. The US should launch a major program of R&D, industrialization, and management studies for the ILC.
  • The US should announce its strong intent to host the ILC and perform the work necessary to produce a compelling bid. The panel can’t endorse immediate decision on the ILC in the US due to uncertainties in cost and possible LHC discoveries. However, we should make it so that 5 years from now the US will be the premiere site for the ILC, if at the time we choose to build it.
  • The connection between high energy physics and astrophysics and cosmology should be strengthened. An understanding of high energy physics is needed to interpret astrophysical data. Such scientific opportunities and priorities should be coordinated jointly by the NSF, DOE, and NASA, with an increased level of funding from traditional particle physics sources.
  • A neutrino program should be determined through a well-coordinated staged effort developed with international planning and cooperation, avoiding duplication.
  • US participation in large-scale precision physics should continue, but at a level sustainable within the overall particle physics budget. Participation in small-scale precision studies should be encouraged.
  • Some Comments:

    In listening to the presentations the past week, it is clear that the panel worked very hard to arrive at this list of recomendations. It is their conclusion that hosting the ILC is the best path forward to maintaining vitality and strength to the US particle physics program and hence US physical sciences program as a whole. They believe that a major investment at this time in a large-scale accelerator-based neutrino or flavor physics program would significantly shrink and weaken the field.

    Also, when the report talks about US leadership in particle physics, what is meant is that the US should be a leader. Not the leader, but one of the leaders in the world. They are very careful to emphasize this point!

    Interestingly enough, these are essentially the same set of recommendations as those contained in a 2001 report from a panel solely constructed of high energy physicists.

    In his announcement of the report, Shapiro was asked if the US can afford to spend so much money on basic science in a time of tight budgets. His reply was (recall he is an economist):

    the US’s economic vitality isn’t won in a day, but in a generation. It will wither away if we only pick the fruits off the tree planted in the last generation and don’t nourish the tree that will feed the next generation.

    What’s Next: The particle physics community needs to decide whether it will rally around this report or not. I feel strongly that it should. This is a golden opportunity that numerous people have worked hard for, and we should take every advantage of it. It won’t happen again.

    Yes, going for the ILC is a huge risk, and the strategy may not work. But the reward would be tremendous. Looking at our other options, and thinking of the science we would miss out on, in my humble opinion, how can we not take the chance? The trick, however, is to invest in the ILC without killing off everything else – that’s for another committee to figure out! High risk, high pay-off.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

      Fantastic post, JoAnne, thanks for making the effort. It’s true that particle physicists have been arguing strenuously for the continued importance of their field, and it does seem awkward at times; it’s good to have a world-class panel think the issues through and come to the same conclusions. If anything, as a group we (scientists and academics in general, really) are far more skeptical and cantankerous and self-undermining than most groups that are asking for money from the public trough.

      Putting outsiders on the panel was a stroke of genius. Let’s hope someone listens to what they say.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

      Thanks JoAnne…Excellent and informative post…. Fingers crossed for luck on this!


    • http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/~rknop/blog/ Rob Knop

      Doing the ILC without killing everything else off is the key. If any one lesson was learned from the whole SSC business, that should be it….

    • Rufus

      Surprise, surprise, the physicists decided they need more money and bigger facilities. Just another self-serving interest group….

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

      Rufus, you missed the entire point! Go back and read the post again. Harold Shapiro, economist, and Norman Augustine, Lockheed-Martin, and Neal Lane, ex-presidential science advisor, and Harold Varmus, biologist, and Joseph Hezir, industrialist and the astro and condensed matter scientists decided that particle physicists need more support for the health of the US. It’s not our statement, it’s theirs!

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

      Rob, one major lesson we learned from the SSC is that science funding is not a zero-sum game. If money is taken away from one scientific project, then it is transferred to battleships and science as a whole loses money. When the SSC was cancelled, all areas of the physical sciences noticed a decrease in their budgets – no other field of science received the SSC’s funding. It was lost.

      We scientists need to learn that when we circle the wagons, we should shoot outwards and not inwards.

    • Chris W.

      Typo alert: Astromony

      (I guess I’m warding off depression by focusing on trivialities…)

    • Chris W.

      More typos: alot, particurly, advistor, opportuninty, managment, stengthened, reccomendations (with the help of MS Word)

      [This is a valuable post, and deserves to be widely read. I offer these little copy edits with the latter in mind. Feel free to delete this and the preceding comment.]

    • Jon

      As a graduate student in particle physics this report makes me dispair for the field. The people pushing the ILC have done a very good job of making it appear that there is a binary choice, kill particle physics or build the ILC as soon as possible. They’ve been very successful at eliminating virtually all other viable programs in the US such as kaon physics, BTEV, reactor neutrinos, and the proton driver. It’s not mysterious fairies which have canceled or rejected every single experiment proposed in the past 5 years in the US, it’s committees like this one. So now particle physics has been forced into a double or nothing bet on the ILC. Unfortunately, I think the US government when forced to choose between the footing the bill for the ILC or watching particle physics die is going to wave bye-bye to particle physics.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

      Thanks, Chris W. Sure wish we had a spelling checker!

    • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

      We scientists need to learn that when we circle the wagons, we should shoot outwards and not inwards.

      That is a unique design for a collider :-)

    • Chris W.

      In my dark moments I fear that the budgetary priorities and overall management of the federal government’s finances pursued by the current administration have been designed to set the stage for dismantling the legacy of the New Deal and much of federal support for research, which is a tradition that largely established itself in the period during and following FDR’s presidency.

      The intention—again, suspected in my dark moments—is to run the government in such a way that this outcome will become a fait accompli. No viable alternatives will be open to legislators, regardless of their beliefs in the intrinsic merits of the programs being cut or eliminated, or the potential availability (or rather lack thereof) of alternative sources of funding.

      From this perspective it is at least somewhat comforting that the research effort in these areas is becoming more internationalized, although I don’t know the “replacement value” of the work underway or being planned in Europe and Asia. Nevertheless the consequences for scientific research and education in the U.S. could be tragic, and could take many decades to reverse, even if the will to reverse them can be sustained and bolstered.

    • Chris W.

      As a follow-up to Jon’s comment, here is an excerpt from Bill Foster’s resignation letter from his position as leader of the Proton Driver Project at Fermilab, and from Fermilab itself:

      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. Unfortunately, those in the driver’s seat (the DOE Office of Science and those in HEP who are advising them regarding the ILC) appear hell-bent on betting the future of the field on something that is patently technically impossible — namely the “fast track” construction start of the ILC on any time scale faster then ~2013, with a corresponding completion date any time before ~2020.

      The symptoms of this illness are already apparent. In good times and bad, funding for High Energy Physics continues to fall behind those of other fields of science. The 8% increase in the president’s FY07 budget for HEP pales behind the 25% increase for Basic Energy Sciences, and puts HEP last in line among all areas in the Office of Science. This 8% increase, if it survives, will make the HEP budget essentially flat since FY05. It also appears from the FY07 budget that HEP has once again lost the next $B-class construction slot, which is going to yet another light source, at BNL. (Interestingly, this light source proposal was tied with the Proton Driver for priority in DOE’s “20-year Outlook”). Thus the reason for HEP’s declining budget is brutally apparent: while different fields of science are proposing a range of politically and technically feasible projects, the Office of High Energy Physics is putting forth only a $10B mega-project on a technically infeasible time scale.

    • David B

      My area is Chem. Phys. and I think it is important to support the ILC. However, we need to keep in mind that HEP is not the only area of science with funding problems. In fact, there are more areas than I’d like to think about that are in some difficulty. I’d suggest that we need this kind of effort for most of science in general as well as HEP.

    • JoAnne

      Folks, we need to keep a perspective on the proton driver. Bill Foster wrote a spicy resignation letter. However, the proton driver is a multi-billion dollar accelerator project at Fermilab in need of an experiment. What is known as an off-axis neutrino experiment could use the beam from a future proton driver, providing that a single parameter in the neutrino sector has the correct value. We don’t know the value of that parameter yet – it may simply be too small for any future neutrino experiments to take useful data on the neutrino sector. How can we spend serious money on a proton driver (which has no other use) until we know the value of that parameter? Meanwhile, some R&D funds for the proton driver are in the present budget – it’s just difficult to see how or why we should spend more.

    • JoAnne

      Jon, in the words of our previous president, I feel your pain about Fermilab. Truly. I come from a lab with a very strong history in high energy physics – many major discoveries and 3 Nobel prizes! And yet, in just 2 years (or less) our accelerator will be transferred to another area of science and high energy physics experiment will no longer be performed at the lab. I won’t even mention the technology choice for the ILC….

      In particular, I was a strong supporter of BTeV. If the expriment had been well supported all along, it would have progressed faster and may had been taking data today.

      It’s a sad time for all of us.

      David B – Thanks and I couldn’t agree with you more. We all need to support each other and raise the awareness of the need for more support for all of the physical sciences (in which I include chemistry).

    • http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/~rknop/blog/ Rob Knop

      When the SSC was cancelled, all areas of the physical sciences noticed a decrease in their budgets – no other field of science received the SSC’s funding. It was lost.

      Yes — so the thing to do is to make sure that not too many sacrifices are made going in to a big project, because you aren’t going to see them unmade if the big project is cancelled. A big, long-term project is also, alas, a big political target, and you never know what politics are going to do in the future.


    • Belizean

      As much as we’d all enjoy perusing reams of (processed) ILC data, it’s hard to believe that this particular investment of $10 billion is the one that will maximize yields to the United States. Yes, I’d like to see it built here, too. But we shouldn’t lie to ourselves.

      Let’s be honest. If the question is “How do we obtain the greatest increase in scientific knowledge per dollar spent?”, it’s a safe bet that the answer isn’t “build the ILC”. We’d probably be better off creating 10,000 $1-million prizes for solving any one of the 10,000 most difficult scientific questions.

      I suspect that the chief reason for the committee’s recommendation is that it did not in fact set out to answer this question.

    • http://apetrov.wordpress.com/ Alexey Petrov

      Re 18: “…be better off creating 10,000 $1-million prizes for solving any one of the 10,000 most difficult scientific questions”
      Excellent idea! And the prize number 1 would be for “how to experimentally figure out the origin of mass and other related problems without building an expensive collider!” :-) Unfortunately, not all the problems can be solved with paper and duct tape…

    • http://apetrov.wordpress.com/ Alexey Petrov

      Re 16: “In particular, I was a strong supporter of BTeV. If the expriment had been well supported all along, it would have progressed faster and may had been taking data today.”

      Well, in light of the recent CDF results on Bs mixing it might be good that it wasn’t built… but of course we didn’t know that then. Yet, BTeV was a perfect experiment that was supposed to be Fermilab’s flagship experiment from the point when the CDF/D0 are done to the point when the ILC is built. Now the situation in HEP looks more like if NASA were to scrap everything and redirect all their resources to mission to Saturn or something (in principle, the technology is there! :-)). What are the arguments (if any) against building a linear-collider-type super-B factory (like the one that Europeans are proposing to build near Rome) at Fermilab as an intermediate step?

    • Maynard Handley

      How accurate is the following model for physics in the US?

      Once upon a time there was a thing called WW2. Physicists in the US allowed the US to win that (through, not least, radar and fission weapons) with pretty minor damage to the US. This was followed by the cold war during which physicists through fission weapons, spy satellites, detection systems and so on, helped the US govt do what it wanted. Now, and this is the crucial point, was there, at least implicitly, a quid pro quo understanding through all this time — the physicists will give the US govt some of their time and skills, and the US govt will, in return, fund what these physicists want funded (which was essentially HEP)?

      If this model is correct, one can imagine things having changed recently. In truth, no-one threatens the US even slightly, not like WW2/the Cold War. Osama is a fine Emmanuel Goldstein for GWB to drag out on public occasions, but even he doesn’t regard terrorism as any sort of real threat (vide the endless stream of revelations we hear regarding malfeasance in this area, from refusing to kill known terrorists when it was possible because they were more useful as political rhetorical devices through the very idea and pointlessness of the Iraq war through the childish lack of planning at every stage of that war). In the absence of such a real threat, the US govt feels no need to have to keep the physics (and general science) establishment happy.
      Perhaps once China is wealthier and gets some science based attention (the obvious candidate is their talk of a manned moon mission) this will change, but for now this seems to be the situation.


    • Belizean


      You’re right. It’s really amazing that the party has lasted as long as it has.

    • collin

      Thanks for posting this JoAnne. I just finished reading the report
      last night (I’m a slow reader), and I must say, I’m not as
      enthusiastic as you are. The field of Particle Physics is facing
      uncertain times– we’ve gotten just about all the useful information
      from current projects that we can about the Terascale (though
      certainly not all!) and we don’t really know what’s going on. The LHC
      is about to turn on, and we think it’s going to give us some tangible
      clues as to what’s going on with electroweak symmetry breaking and
      possibly dark matter and other current puzzles. In the midst of this,
      the field is telling Congress and the funding agencies that *the* way
      to proceed is with the ILC. Very little respect is given to Nature

      While I’ll grant that the ILC is most likely the best way to continue
      exploring the Terascale, it’s possible it won’t be. The scenario I
      have running through my head is that by 2010, all the funds for US
      accelerator based particle physics are going into the LHC and the
      ILC. But the LHC finds nothing but a 160 GeV Higgs. No clues as to the
      dynamics of EWSB or to the Heirarchy Problem or to the nature of the
      dark mass are found. If this is the case, I’m terrified Congress will
      say, “You found nothing you told us you would at the LHC, so there’s
      no reason to fund the ILC.” Congress then takes away all the money and
      puts it into battleships, just like the SSC. The field is obliterated
      and all that’s left is particle astrophysics and cosmology. Honestly,
      I wouldn’t blame them.

      I think a more appropriate message to Congress is that Nature is a coy
      mistress, and we need to be prepared for whatever she may give us. To
      me, this does mean continuing on with the ILC planning. But it also
      means investing more in accelerator physics, especially a muon
      collider (for a Higgs factory or neutrino beam). It means
      continuing to run the Tevatron and CDF/D0 as stripped down precision
      (rather than discovery) machines to keep a stream of students coming
      through this country, even if it is dwarfed by the LHC. Also worth
      noting, once you turn off the Tevatron, you’ll never get it back. And
      it’s certainly possible the LHC might see something only the Tevatron
      could explore more fully. It means investing in reasonable scale
      precision measurement experiments. I don’t necessarily mean BTeV, but
      I probably do mean an experiment like CKM.

      The concern of the committee seems to be that if we don’t fund the ILC
      right now, someone else will. I don’t see that happening. The ILC will
      require an international collaboration to build with the host country
      putting up roughly half of the funds. This is true whether or not it’s
      built here or abroad. It will require Europe, the US and Japan all
      agreeing on one site and one technology, and any one party can drag
      their feet (for example, Europe might drag their feet b/c they want to
      see CLIC chosen or they’re over their heads with the LHC). So, by
      pushing the start date of the ILC a little in the future, we would be
      much better positioned to maximize our resources when the LHC tells us
      what Nature has in store for us.

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    • Will

      “The trick, however, is to invest in the ILC without killing off everything else – that’s for another committee to figure out! High risk, high pay-off.”

      Actually, it is must be and will figured out by each of us who gets HEP-related proposals to review. If as reviewers we take the stance that “it’s not ILC, so I score it low priority,” then the prospect of an ILC will likely damage our field. If we realize that LHC will likely see 2 upgrades before any possible ILC data arrives, that RHIC upgrades may offer exciting physics before 2020, then we will be more careful not to choke off inventiveness and innovation in our field before ILC. The opportunity for prudence and wisdom is ours, not some blue-ribbon panel’s.

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