Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Bird's eye view - not yet

If scientists are careful people, engineers are cautious people.

We went down to the Barnstormer's club official June meeting. We had two miniature wireless cameras and were ready to interview and send the cameras aloft. But weather intervened --- too much wind. And a bolt of lightning in the distance made the club president a little too nervous. "I'm not a risk-taker," he said. Engineers are cautious people (except the Swedish physicist. He was ready to go). They sure love our miniature spy video cameras, though.


tickmeister said...

This is a great blog, thanks for alerting me to it.

Recurring theme seems to be the upcoming budget cuts. How much does the US spend on high energy particle physics such as is being done here? How does the current budget compare to years past. Who are the other major national players and what do they spend? Need a little perspective here to understand what is really happening.

Also, where is the new lab that was mentioned being built?

Clayton said...

Glad you like it!

You're right --- a major theme is the budget cuts, since it represents how this administration (and in some sense, the general public) feels towards high-end science. On Feb 7, the day we were interviewing Leon Lederman, the Bush administration announced Fermilab would receive $303 million in 2006, down from $310 million in 2005, and down from $311 million in 2004. At the national level, the cuts go across the board, including National Science Foundation education programs getting cut by 12 percent. And the FY 2006 budget for the entire office of science is $3.46 billion - a decrease of almost 4 percent from FY 2005. In 2002, Congress made a pledge to DOUBLE the NSF funding. Since then, they haven't come close ($2.9 billion short).

Here's a bit from a speech given by Chairman Vernon Ehlers of the Environment, Technology, and Standards sub-committee to the bush administration's science people:

"I am particularly concerned about the trend of the current budget request that reduces the Education and Human Resources budget at the National Science Foundation by more than $104 million, or 12 percent. This dramatic decrease is unparalleled in other parts of the federal science and technology portfolio."

Fermilab must cut 100 jobs, the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) must cut 60, and plans for a new Rare Isotope Accelerator (as well as Fermilab's BTeV, which we address) were cancelled. And though it's outside the scope of our story, Bush's ignoring and distorting of all environmental science is well-documented.

All this while the Department of Homeland Security's science and technology is enhanced by more than 10 percent. And the Bush objective of going back to the moon and to Mars, which many scientists believe will be enormously expensive without much scientific value (as the Hubble is scrapped --- something of extraordinary scientific value).

Anyway, that's a bird's-eye view. I think you are right in suggesting we need perspective --- hope that provides some.

As for the other lab, it's called CERN and it's being built near Geneva, Switzerland. It will have nearly 10 times the power of Fermilab, and when it goes online in 2007-ish it will most surely find the Higgs almost immediately (due in large part to Fermilab finding out where the Higgs ISN'T). Maybe I should write a post about CERN.

tickmeister said...

Where is the money for CERN coming from? I have never thought of Switzerland as a major source of scientific research. Maybe I'm wrong.

Also, how many people now work at Fermilab? A decrease from 310 to 303 million is only about 2%. Were the entire 100 layoffs coming from Fermilab? I wouldn't think a 2% funding cut would account for 100 layoffs unless the payroll is huge at present.

Clayton said...

CERN is a truly multi-national facility. CERN stands for Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire (European Council for Nuclear Research). It's really Europe's baby. The twenty member countries are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. They provide all the funding. None of those countries could afford such a massive facility alone, so by pooling their resources they can. Everyone says there's no real competition between Europe's facility and ours, and there is a lot of fluidity of movement between the two facilities, but don't let that fool you. Once CERN goes online, to paraphrase Ross Perot, the great sucking sound you'll hear is the brain drain as all US high-energy physicists pack up and head over.

As far as the funding, I should have been more clear. The major issue is the cancellation of the big project, BTev. That was a $200 million project, and now none of that money goes to Fermilab. Fermilab operates from massive project to massive project, each one paying the bills to stay up and running. By canceling BTev, the next big project, the DOE essentially pulled the plug on Fermilab's expenses. When the current experiment's funds run out in 2009, there will no longer be a new experiment to foot the bill, and Fermilab will have to shut down the particle accelerator, which is their primary purpose for existence.

So you're right, the downward trend in funding is disappointing, but not devastating --- I should have been more clear that the canceling of BTev is the real crisis. In addition, it made all the international collaborators pissed off because they had spent many millions of their own money and many of their scientists had made their careers around this project going forward.

There's a great link that communicates it all really well here

We interviewed Sheldon Stone, the guy quoted in that article, in his hotel room. He was pretty bitter.

Also check out this link.

Thanks for asking these questions --- it helps me to know what's clear and what's not.

tickmeister said...

Gotta' wonder about the long term prospects of CERN given the general sorry state of the various European economies, the train wreck of the EU constitution, and what seems to be the resurgance of nationalism throughout Europe.

Another thought that certainly won't be popular locally. Assuming that the new facility is properly funded, that it has 10 times the power of Fermilab, that the scientists will in fact be drawn there, and that the knowledge gained will be readily available worldwide, why not do it on their dime?