A Science, Space, and Technology Committee roundtable event today at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, IL, explored the future of U.S. high energy physics, particularly as it relates to the development of a deep underground science facility to study fundamental physics processes.
Committee Members Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) heard from key stakeholders regarding challenges and opportunities associated with ensuring U.S. leadership in science at the "intensity frontier"--physics research that explores fundamental particles and forces of nature aimed at unlocking secrets of how the universe formed and what it is made of.
The Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science is the primary federal supporter of high energy physics research, and is currently considering how best to move forward on a proposal to establish a major underground science facility to pursue underground particle physics research and examine these fundamental questions.
Hultgren, who moderated the event, expressed his support for maintaining U.S. leadership in this area. "The upcoming DOE decisions will weigh heavily not only on the long-term future of American physics research, but also on the short- and medium-term outlook for Fermilab and its world-class team of scientists and engineers," Hultgren said. "The challenge going forward is to find a way to do this within the reality of the current budget environment. We must prioritize and make difficult decisions that involve budgetary and scientific tradeoffs. In my opinion, this is exactly the type of research that should receive top priority from the government--cutting edge basic research and discovery science that will lead to major breakthroughs in our understanding of the world."
"We need to look at the future of American particle physics, not through the lens of politics, but through the lens of science, and determine where we can make the greatest impact with finite resources," said Biggert. "These strategic investments are a critical step in maintaining the talent and scientific leadership necessary to for us to meet the challenges of the 21st century. And it's at cutting-edge facilities like Fermi where the next generation of young minds will be inspired to pursue innovations here in the U.S. that will create jobs, cure diseases, and push the frontiers of science."
Fermilab Director Dr. Pier Oddone emphasized that a deep underground lab is critical to keeping the U.S. at the forefront of a highly competitive global physics research enterprise. "While the immediate program at Fermilab is world class, it will not stay this way into the future without developing forefront facilities and inventing new technologies to probe the intensity frontier. Without a national deep underground facility we will be condemned to carry on multiple generations of these experiments off shore and lose the benefits of having the world's vanguard deep underground laboratory in South Dakota."
Dr. Kevin Lesko, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientist and lead investigator for the proposed project, further highlighted the paramount scientific importance of the project. "The proposed physics experiments address questions central to our understanding of the universe--what makes up the majority of matter in the universe, and understanding the most perplexing particle in the universe, the neutrino, whose unusual properties might hold the key to the most fundamental questions of science," Lesko said.
Several other leading U.S. physicists participated in the roundtable event, including:
Dr. William Brinkman, Director, Office of Science, DOE
Dr. Jay Marx, Principal Investigator and Director LIGO Laboratory, California Institute of Technology and Review Team Co-Chair for DOE's Review of Options for Underground Science.
Dr. Mark Reichandter, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, SLAC and Review Team Co-Chair.
Dr. Andrew Lankford, University of California at Irvine, Chair of National Research Council (NRC) Committee to Assess the Science Proposed for a Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory
Dr. Milind Diwan, Brookhaven National Lab and Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE) Spokesperson.
Dr. Bob Svoboda, UC-Davis and LBNE Spokesperson
Dr. Michael Turner, Bruce V. and Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago & Vice-President of the American Physical Society
Dr. Ed Seidel, Assistant Director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, National Science Foundation
Mr. Mike Headley, Director, Sanford Underground Laboratory
Dr. Jim Strait, Particle Physics Division Head, Fermilab