Funding Runs Out to Keep Tevatron Alive
Despite recent efforts to extend its life, the Tevatron at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois will be decommissioned by the end of this fiscal year. In a letter to Melvyn Shochet, chair of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, William Brinkman, director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, said that efforts to find funding to extend the life of the machine had been unsuccessful, and it would be shut down for good in September.
“Unfortunately, the current budgetary climate is very challenging and additional funding has not been identified. Therefore, based in part on the [Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel] recommendation, operation of the Tevatron will end in FY2011,” Brinkman wrote.
Fermilab director Pier Oddone said that people at the lab found the announcement “disappointing” but not unexpected.
“Shutting down the Tevatron is something we have understood for a long time as something that is going to happen,” Oddone said. “In that sense this is not earthshaking.”
Before the completion of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the Tevatron was the most powerful particle collider in the world, so named because it could accelerate protons to energies up to one trillion electron volts, or 1 TeV. The Tevatron has been at the forefront of high energy research since it was completed in 1983. It was instrumental in the discovery of the top quark in 1995.
When the LHC came online in 2008, plans were in place to decommission the Tevatron in 2011. After the full startup of the LHC was delayed because of its accident, scientists at Fermilab pushed to extend the life of the Tevatron to try to beat CERN to the Higgs boson. An expert panel in October recommended that the life of the Tevatron should be extended for three years in hopes of first discovering the Higgs boson. Oddone said that the life of the accelerator would be extended only if additional funding could be secured, otherwise the shutdown would continue as planned. He added that there were no plans for any further cuts or shutdowns.
“Probably the sign is just the opposite. Running the Tevatron on top of the other programs would have been very taxing,” Oddone said.
All together, about 600 physicists were involved in the Tevatron’s research collaboration. Most are expected to move to other projects around the world, including to CERN. There are about 100 employees of Fermilab directly connected with the operation and maintenance of the Tevatron. Their fate is unclear as Congress has not yet approved a federal budget for 2011, making it difficult for the lab to plan ahead.
As for the fate of the massive detectors and nearly four miles of tunnels that make up the Tevatron itself, Oddone said that it will likely be cleaned up and opened for tours to the general public.
“It has not been easy to take people in to show them,” Oddone said. “This could be set up in a very nice way, with a couple of stops to give people a sense about how a machine like that works and how the detectors work.”