Friday, October 23, 2009

A lease on life for the Tevatron?

Fermilab's Tevatron, seen from the air.
This just in from Science Insider—2010 may not be the end for big particle physics in America. It looks like Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and the head of the DOE Office of Science, William Brinkman, are fans of keeping big science alive. The Department of Energy is going to ask Congress for money to run the Tevatron at Fermilab in 2011. According to the American Institute of Physics, which has been keeping up with the recent proceedings of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel:

"We want to keep alive high energy experimentation in the U.S., but need continued strong justification," Brinkman said, adding the science case made to Congress for future research is "not a simple story."

The Fermilab Tevatron, which currently holds the title of world's most powerful particle accelerator, and will do so for as long as the Large Hadron Collider continues to be plagued by troubles, has been given expiration date after expiration date.

Science writer Lizzie Wade visited Fermilab on her Summer of Science road trip to eight national laboratories. She asked one scientists in CDF, one of two collaborations hunting the Higgs with the Tevatron, when he thought this expiration date would finally come around:

He said, "They’ve been talking about turning the Tevatron off since I came here in 1999, so I have no idea."

The two collaborations at the Tevatron, CDF and D0, are racing the LHC (and each other) for the first glimpse of the elusive Higgs boson. While they haven't spotted it yet, they're narrowing down the energy ranges in which it can exist. Earlier this year, D0 announced that they'd measured the mass of the W boson to unprecedented accuracy, allowing them to "squeeze" the Higgs mass into a tighter range of possible values.

The Tevatron has narrowed down where the Higgs can hide.

Until the LHC powers up, the Tevatron is the best tool we have to try to understand the fundamentals of the universe; persistent delays at the LHC make a strong case for keeping the Tevatron alive. Symmetry reports that some graduate students who hoped to pull new physics, and a Ph.D., out of the LHC's operations, have become frustrated with the delays and have migrated to the Tevatron so they can work with real data.

The price for another year of operations at the Tevatron is $20 million. How much is this in the world of politics? A little googling turned up an interesting comparison: in the campaigning leading up to the 2008 presidential primaries, Hillary Clinton racked up $20 million in debt.

Wired ran a story in September on a 79-year-old born-again Arkansan multimillionaire who bought the old site of the Superconducting Super Collider, that late, great disappointment in big American science, with the intention of turning it into a secure data storage facility. Former President Bill Clinton and Congress killed the Superconducting Super Collider in 1993 after the Department of Energy had already sunk $2 billion into warehouses and 15 miles of tunnel in Waxahachie, Texas. Unfortunately, the multimillionaire unexpectedly died a few months after buying the property, the data storage project was abandoned, and the SSC is on sale again—for $20 million.


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  2. Here is an excerpt of an interview of Frank Wilczec from the MIT (Nobel laureate 2004) in Newsweek :

    “ If you just take the particles we have and extrapolate their known behavior, you run into contradictions--You start to contradict basic principles of quantum mechanics or common sense. There has to be a deviation of some kind from the laws we have at present when you go up to high energy : if there is not a new particle, then we’ll need different laws. That would be maybe even more profound than finding new particles—if we have to give up quantum mechanics or change what we mean by the laws...”