Top scientists met at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, this past weekend, in the first of a series of face to face meetings which will help determine the course of particle physics in the United States of America for the next decade.  This was the first face to face meeting of the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel.   The community of physicists at and around Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory is only the first which will get to have its say. P5’s difficult task will be to strongly recommend which projects will get priority and which will wither.  In the words of one attendee “there will be suffering,” in the short term.  So it is important to make sure whatever we sacrifice is worth it.  


The major options discussed were supporting the International linear Collider, supporting the R&D for, and the gradual construction of a Muon collider, as well as accelerator based neutrino physics.   Issues raised during the town hall focused on the politics of funding whatever the community decides to do, and quality of life issues for the next generation of physicists who will have to live crucial years in anyone's life with whatever the panel decides. 
Submissions of suggestions can be made to the panel at this website. 


The three major options. 

Physics cases were made for American participation in the international linear collider (ILC). There are many sound scientific reasons to build the ILC and for the USA to take an active part in the project even if it is not built here.  Contrary to popular belief, even though the LHC made the discovery of the Higgs, and it was a primarily European undertaking, there was a significant American contribution to the project.   The physics case rest on the fact that the ILC is a scaling up of existing technologies to achieve interesting new results. As Michael Peskin more or less put it, we know how to build something like the ILC right now.  Furthermore there is international political support for building the ILC.  That may not ever be the case again unless we do it now.  Taking part in the ILC has the advantage of sharing the cost, and risk across many nations.  Legislators, the ones who will really have the final say in whatever is done, as they ultimately control the funding, will like that aspect.  Most locations for it would be in remote areas.   There are pros and cons to that (compare to the quality of life issues faced at Los Alamos ).  A big pro is that land in remote areas is cheap.  The con is you create a small insular enclave of people and there can be real negative psycho social results in that kind of a situation.  

Physics cases were made, in a rather less official manner, for a muon collider.  The Muon collider would have many advantages.  According to Mary Anne Cummings of Muons Inc and Northern Illinois University, the total final cost of a muon collider sited at Fermilab, would be about 10 billion dollars.  However, that total cost would be spread out over many years, and at each stage in the construction this facility would be able to conduct meaningful research.  I wrote of the muon collider at length earlier this year.   While in general the total cost going up means that the likelihood of the device being built decreases as the square of the cost…. the muon collider’s piecemeal design means that each piece of the device can be thought of as a separate project.  Budget items that are small, incremental and which add jobs and prestige in the United States of America will always have very strong congressional and presidential support.    A big con for betting the whole program on a Muon collider would be that further research may prove we can’t build one for the next 20 to 30 years.  There are issues of muon cooling, and building detectors that will work in the environment created by the muon collider.  Something tells me these are solvable problems.


Neutrino physics were also discussed at great length.  I did not attend that portion of the conference however, I will say a little about it.  The neutrino is an accepted part of the standard model (SM) which shows beyond SM effects.  According to one of the best theories in the history of science the neutrino should be massless.  However, the neutrino has been observed to have a mass.  Furthermore, it has been observed to spontaneously change from one type of neutrino to another and back.  The Standard model could be called wrong, if it wasn’t right about so many other things, for that reason.  So there is a sound physics case for the LBNE.  We need to fully understand how neutrinos behave to understand particle physics at this level.  A working group local to Fermilab recommended that America should contribute to the ILC and go ahead with the LBNE.


Participation from young scientist as well as seasoned citizens of the community.


For some reason this humble correspondent got the email to attend.  I can only think it goes back to something I did at the 2013 April APS meeting.   Someone I talked to, or something I signed up for.  Maybe it is because I have been thinking about these issues for a long time. In all humility there were others of my age and stage who should have known/ been told about this meeting.   Without laying blame, there has to be a real concerted effort to make sure people who have committed their lives to particle physics in the USA, no matter their stage of career, have a voice in this process.   There are issues of life trajectory at stake here.


 These are issues that one does not need to be a senior scientist to have an opinion on.


Do young American high energy physicists want to spend a considerable portion, if not all of their career abroad?  That means finding a mate here who wants to travel over there or finding someone there. Especially if one wants children, do you want to raise children where ever the device will be sited? Career wise which device offers the most opportunities to discover new physics?  A device that will confirm what we already know is needed, but that can’t be enough.  Early career scientist need to have room to grow.  As one attendee, whose name I did not get put it, when the main ring at Fermilab was put down, the first director of the lab, Robert R. Wilson had a vision for a possible future superconducting collider…which became the Tevatron.  Whatever we do can’t just be a Desertron, built to crown one or two lifetimes of achievement.  The device must provide fertile soil for others to grow and prosper in.  Numerous other issues that have little to do with physics and everything to do with physicists lives are at stake and must be given weight.

In a country the size of ours with the numerous career options, and every type of land and climate, many young Americans will be leery of leaving for the long haul.  In my opinion long term particle physics in the US needs indigenous laboratories and top flight facilities.  Simply being able to remotely use devices in other countries won't keep up the political support, and talent will dry up.

Coupling to society, “there will be suffering”.

Unless I am mistaken on the name, it was Vladimir Baranov of JINR Dubna who made the point very eloquently and forcefully that particle physics must couple to the real needs of society in order to keep its funding level.  A presentation by a very nice gentleman, who’s name escapes me…this was done at a town hall meeting…so there is no listing of who gave those presentations…showed the proportion of particle physics funding decreasing steadily with time. Basic energy science’s funding increased over the same period.   Vladimir Baranov made the point that discovering the Higgs, while important, doesn’t cause that trend to reverse.   We need to relate our work as particle physicists (Or in my case an astroparticle physicist)to the needs of real people.  When real everyday average people can see real tangible results from particle physics itself, we will ensure our funding. 


To that I answer that understanding particle physics right now, is simply the end of a long process of mankind learning from smashing things together.


Two million years ago an ancestor of us all smashed one rock into another and found that sometimes sharp slivers of rock come out.  Over millions of years of bashing rocks we found out how to cut up food and defend ourselves.  All of that started out from a pointless looking possibly accidental activity…and one Australopithecus having the insight to see how bashing those rocks could lead to better sharper tools.    Now two million years later we look at fire, sharp knives, and the ability to fend off predators as common place.  A couple million years back…fire was the Higgs boson of its time.


Post by theBlueGalaxy.

(The first physicist, Simpsons style.)

In the more immediate future particle physics can easily lead to new ways to treat diseases like cancer. Advances in medical and computer science and communication.  We can only speculate on what we may find,and the only way we can know is to look. If society supports the efforts of a small number of us we have, and will again, revolutionize the way humanity as a whole lives in ways almost as fundamental as fire, or electricity.

To get to those achievements we will have to sacrifice research to fund construction of one or two new facilities.  There will have to be sacrifices as research will get less funding in the meantime, and hence suffering.   That means longer times to graduation and less money for grants, and RA ships. As one person feared the big fish have away of protecting themselves. Hopefully that can be mitigated by making sure there is always a place for pursuing alternative paths with honor and dignity. Just in case the big project, whatever it is, does not pan out.

Too long; didn’t read:

The P5 meeting at Fermilab featured talks from top scientists who will contribute to the plan for the future of particle physics in the United States of America.  The main questions are will we support the ILC and how much.  Will we support the development of the technology for a Muon collider?  Will we support the LBNE?  What are the ramifications for the lives and futures of the particle physicist who are coming down the line both in the next five years, and those who are only now in middle school?   P5 will need to address all of that.