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High Energy Physicists Hear Mixed Message from Washington Science Policy Leaders

Listening to a presentation at the HEPAP meeting are (l to r) : Presidential science advisor John Marburger; DOE Office of Science Associate Director for High-Energy Physics Robin Staffin; HEPAP Chair Melvyn Shochet; NSF Director Arden Bement (partially obscured); and NSF Physics Division Director Joseph Dehmer.
Photo credit: Alan Chodos
Listening to a presentation at the HEPAP meeting are (l to r) : Presidential science advisor John Marburger; DOE Office of Science Associate Director for High-Energy Physics Robin Staffin; HEPAP Chair Melvyn Shochet; NSF Director Arden Bement (partially obscured); and NSF Physics Division Director Joseph Dehmer.

Members of the High-Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) heard generally encouraging words about the prospects for physical science from three of Washington’s scientific decision makers, but they also were given a cautionary outlook for the construction of the International Linear Collider (ILC) over the next decade and more.

HEPAP, currently chaired by Melvyn J. Shochet of the University of Chicago, advises both the DOE Office of Science and the NSF about high-energy physics. Both Office of Science Director Ray Orbach and NSF Director Arden Bement addressed the group, as did Presidential Science Advisor John Marburger when the panel met in Washington in early March.

Orbach called himself “a child of Sputnik”, and described President Bush’s state of the union speech, in which he unveiled the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), as “a comparable moment to Sputnik”. But he worried that the 14% requested increase for the Office of Science would be a “sitting duck” in a year when most of the rest of US discretionary spending is being cut, and urged the physics community to support the request as it makes its way through Congress. Orbach said that if the request is enacted, DOE facilities will be able to operate at or near full capacity, and instead of 2200 people losing their funding, as happened last year, funding to 2600 PhDs and graduate students will be restored.

Commenting on the lessons learned from the Superconducting Super Collider, which was terminated by Congress in 1993, Orbach pointed to a decrease in the Office of Science budget in 1995, and said “if you kill a project in high-energy physics, the funding for condensed matter goes down. And I believe the converse is also true.” Noting the importance of support from all parts of the physics community for the ILC, he said “I’d like to see the APS make a statement and get all the Divisions behind it.” He also pointed out that the construction of the ITER controlled fusion facility, as an international project, was a model for how the ILC project should be managed.

Marburger traced the history leading up to the ACI, saying that the physical sciences had fallen behind while the NIH budget was doubling. “This administration was not negative toward the physical sciences,” he said, “but had priorities that made it difficult to fill that hole.” He added, “the ACI improves conditions for many, if not all, areas of physical science.”

But Marburger stressed that neither high-energy physics nor space science are among the areas explicitly covered by the ACI. “The priority and thrust is toward Basic Energy Sciences and other areas related to competitiveness. The ACI is neutral toward particle and nuclear physics.”

Marburger said it is dangerous to try to sell high-energy physics on the basis of its technological spinoffs. “Intellectual excitement drives the field,” he said. “We have a responsibility to share the excitement of the field with the people who are helping to fund it. Our sponsors are the people of the world.”

Bement characterized the value of high-energy physics as threefold: transformational science, technological impact, and the production of highly trained scientists who then enter diverse fields. He noted that $15 million would be added to the high-energy physics budget in the NSF research and related activities account, which he said would become significant over time as the budget compounded. He mentioned the RSVP experiment at Brookhaven, which had been planned to look for rare symmetry violating processes, but which was canceled last year “with great regret because of a complex set of reasons.” On the positive side, Bement cited NSF’s continuing involvement in the prospect of constructing a deep underground laboratory.



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Editor: Alan Chodos
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