Volume 30 , Number 1 January 2001



For the past twenty-five years, the "holy grail" of particle physics has been the Higgs boson, the remaining undiscovered particle of the standard model. Now, there is evidence that it may have been detected at the LEP collider at CERN, but confirmation will have to wait for several years since the collider is being decomissioned in order to make way for the Large Hadron Collider, which will begin in 2006.

The greatest mystery in particle physics has been the origin of mass. In electrodynamics, the photon must be massless due to a gauge symmetry (classically, this is the same as the symmetry that says that you can add a gradient to the vector potential without changing the physics–this symmetry forces the photon to be massless). In the standard electroweak model, the weak interactions are mediated by gauge bosons, the W and Z. Just as in electrodynamics, the gauge symmetry forces the W and Z to be massless. Yet they have sizeable masses of 81 and 93 GeV, respectively. Similarly, the gauge symmetry forces all of the quarks and leptons to be massless, in contradiction to experiment.

The only way to give mass to the gauge bosons and fermions is the Higgs mechanism. This is very similar to the method in which the photon gets an effective mass in a superconductor; one introduces a scalar field (the Cooper pair in a superconductor), and the interaction of the gauge bosons (the photon in a superconductor) and fermions with the scalar field give them a mass. Thus, this mechanism requires the existence of a scalar field everywhere in space. No other mechanism for generating gauge boson masses is known. When the scalar field can be excited, the excitation is called a Higgs boson. It is an unusual particle in that its interactions with all particles are completely determined, but its mass is unknown.

It can be produced at an electron-positron collider in association with a Z-boson. The Higgs decays into two quarks, and the Z decays into either two quarks or two leptons. The mass range that can be probed is very sensitive to the beam energy---masses up to roughly the center of mass energy minus the Z mass can be probed. Over the past decade, the energy of LEP has gradually been increased, and the lower bound to the Higgs mass has gradually increased as well. It reached 70 GeV five years ago, and reached 110 GeV a year ago. This has caused increasing nervousness among theorists, since their favorite theory---supersymmetry–has a rather firm upper bound of around 130 GeV.

LEP ran at its highest energy ever this year. Plans called for LEP to shut down for good in October, so that construction could begin on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC will be able to cover the range of Higgs masses up to several hundred GeV. It is scheduled to begin in 2006. Suddenly, late in the summer, one of the detectors (ALEPH) at LEP found a couple of events that looked very much like a Higgs boson of mass 115 GeV. After much discussion, LEP was allowed to keep running for another month, until November, to accumulate more data. During that month, more events were found. For a Higgs mass of 115 GeV, the expected total signal for the entire LEP run is 3 events, with a background of 1.7 events. They detected 4 (including two different channels). This gave a 2.9 standard deviation signal. Although the experimenters argued for another few months of running next year (which could give a 5 standard deviation signal), CERN decided to shut the accelerator down. Continuing running would delay the LHC by a year, and cost a lot of money.

This is, of course, very frustrating for the LEP experimenters. If the Higgs mass were 112 GeV, they would easily have a 5 sigma detection; if it were 116 GeV, there would be no hint of a signal. If the Higgs boson really has a mass of 115 GeV, then it is likely to be detected in approximately three years at the new upgrade of the Fermilab Tevatron, before the LHC is comissioned. The politically interesting question of who would take credit for this discovery will be left as an exercise for the reader.


In September, a new National Academy report was issued by the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy. The title is "Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers: A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisers, Institutions, Funding Organizations and Disciplinary Societies". The report can be read at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309069963/html

The number of postdocs in science and engineering has doubled over the past twenty years to approximately 52,000. Three-quarters of these are in the life sciences.

The Committee noted that "One might expect that such a talented group of researchers, who represent some of the brightest lights of our nation’s human resources, would be offered the finest educational and training opportunities. One might also expect that these individuals would be helped to move efficiently and quickly into challenging employment where they can maximize their contributions. Indeed, the committee did find that many postdocs have stimulating, well-supervised and productive research experiences. However, we also heard from postdocs who are neglected, underpaid and even exploited…In many university settings, postdocs have uncertain status; they are neither faculty, staff, nor students. Consequently, there is often no clear administrative mechanism to assure their fair compensation, benefits or job security…This uncertain status contrasts poorly with that of graduate students, faculty and staff members, and with that of most postdocs who work in government or industry settings…. typical in academia of the life sciences and some of the physical sciences, pay and benefits are embarrassingly inadequate, especially for those with families. It is not comparable to that received by other professionals at analogous career stages. There is no standard health benefit package for postdocs. Many receive no health benefits for their families…".

The Committee gave numerous recommendations. The Chair, Maxine Singer (President of the Carnegie Institution of Washington) gave a brief summary in a public briefing. The ten "action points" are (1) Award institutional recognition and status commensurate with the contributions of postdocs to the research enterprise. (2) Develop distinct policies and standards for postdocs in the institutions where they work–most especially in universities. These policies can be modeled on those already available to students and faculty. (3) Develop mechanisms for frequent and regular communication between postdocs, their advisers, institutions and funding organizations. This communication should include clear initial expectations on the part of both postdoc and adviser. (4) Submit formal evaluations, at least once a year, of each postdoc’s performance. Without evaluations, some postdocs may be uncertain about their standing or progress. (5) Ensure that postdocs have access to health insurance and institutional services. (6) Set limits for total time as a postdoc. This should be approximately five years, including time at all institutions, and exceptions should be clearly described. (7) Invite the participation of postdocs when creating standards, definitions and conditions for appointments. (8) Provide substantive career guidance to improve postdocs’ ability to prepare for regular employment. (9) Improve the quality of data both on postdoctoral working conditions and on employment of postdocs. (10) Take steps to improve the transition of postdocs to regular career positions.

In addition to the full report, a Web guide containing resources and examples of "best practices" is available at http://www.national-academies.org/postdocs.


A new National Academy report entitled "Science and Technology in the Public Interest: The Presidential Appointment Process" was released in September by a panel of the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy, chaired by Dr. Mary Good. The full report can be read at http://www.nap.edu/books/NI000314/html/ The report finds that there are large numbers of obstacles to government service today, and that these obstacles have reduced the pool of talented people who are willing to serve in S&T presidential appointments.

The briefing began with several myths and realities. The first myth is that "there is no hurry in appointing science and technology leaders because they are coming to Washington primarily to manage long-term, slow-changing research programs". The reality is that these appointees are needed as soon as possible during a new administration, especially in choosing the assistant to the president for S&T. This individual is needed to help set priorities, plan strategy, and find qualified candidates for other S&T appointments. Another myth is that S&T appointees are drawn from a pool of qualified candidates that is virtually unlimited in breadth and depth. In reality, the pool is not broad enough. As an example, very few appointees are recruited from industry (only 12 percent in the Clinton years), and even these have too few with managerial experience in pharmaceuticals and chemicals, and even fewer in biotechnology and information technology. There are too many obstacles to government service. They note that "a term in Washington for scientists and engineers often means two steps backward for every step forward along a career path. They may lose touch with the cutting edge of their field and find themselves in an irreversible career shift toward management,,,,A move to Washington to undertake an appointment might require severing all ties with employers, forgoing pension benefits, selling stock, options, etc."

Another problem is the long appointment process---only 45% are completed within four months.

The following recommendations are made in the Report. (1) Initiate the appointment process for key S&T leadership early. The first important step toward building scientific and technical competence in a new administration is to ensure that the transition team has expertise in science and technology. Soon after election, the president-elect, with the help of these advisers, should quickly identify a trusted and respected candidate for the position of assistant for science and technology. This individual is needed early to help identify S&T leaders for agencies and departments, set priorities for the new administration and work out budget strategy. (2) Increase the breadth and depth of the pool of candidates by reducing the financial and vocational obstacles to government service. Because many restrictions are statutory, substantive change requires the participation of Congress. The Committee recommends that the president and Congress immediately establish a bipartisan framework---including representatives of the Executive branch, Congress and the Office of Government Ethics–to identify actions that can broaden and deepen the pool of candidates. The panel hesitated to recommend this step because of the time needed to design such a framework and implement reforms. However, given the complex legal nature of the issues, bipartisan discussion is the only practical avenue to long-term solutions. (3) Accelerate the approval process. The White House should streamline its own approval procedures and work closely with the Senate to speed the entire process. The president-elect should, in collaboration with the Senate, adopt the goal of completing 80-90% of appointments within 4 months, which was the norm from 1964 to 1984. If additional staff are needed to meet that goal, special funding should be requested from Congress.


Last spring, the President’s budget for science was extremely generous, with double digit increases for most agencies (that’s double digit percentages, not dollars!). The initial budgets from Congressional committees were far less generous, due to very severe ceilings on appropriations. Most appropriators at the time predicted that those ceilings would be lifted, and that the allocations would then increase. They were correct, and substantial increases were passed. The summaries below are taken directly from the American Institute of Physics FYI (http://www.aip.org/enews/fyi).

National Science Foundation: The NSF’s budget was increased by 13.6%, an amount which NSF Director Rita Colwell said "represents the largest dollar increase the Foundation has ever received, in real or constant dollars."

For perspective on this increase, note that a year ago, Congress approved an 8.4% increase for NSF. For FY 2001, the president requested a 17.1% increase. NSF's new budget is $4.426 billion. This is more than half a billion dollars over last year, or $529 million.

Within this total budget are several major categories of spending. The Research and Related Activities account increased by 13.2% to $3.350 billion. This is about 2/3 of the requested increase. In the conference report, specific amounts of money are provided for some programs (see below). NSF is instructed to distribute remaining funds "proportionately and equitably, consistent with the ratio of the budget request level." After allowing for the specified funding, this 2/3 figure can be very roughly applied to the original requests to suggest the final percentage increases for the subactivities tracked by FYI. With these caveats, the subactivity increases originally requested by NSF were: physics was to have increased by 18.0%, materials research by 15.4%, astronomical sciences by 13.7%, engineering by 19.6%, and geosciences by 19.5%. The final subactivity budgets will be determined by NSF and approved by Congress in the FY 2001 operating plan.

For some programs, a calculation is not necessary because Congress specified the funding. These programs are: $65 million for plant genome research, $215 million for the information technology initiative, $75 million for the biocomplexity initiative, $75 million for major research instrumentation, $1 million toward a new research vessel, and $5 million for a Children's Research Initiative. Of particular interest to physicists and astronomers is $150 million designated for the new nanotechnology initiative and $94.9 million for facilities within the astronomical sciences activity. Regarding the latter, the conference report cites the Arecibo Observatory, the Green Bank Telescope, the Very large Array, the Very Long Baseline Array, "and other facilities in need of such attention on a priority basis."

Besides Research and Related Activities, there is another budget for Major Research Equipment. There is both good news and bad news. First the good news: "The conference agreement provides the budget request level for all ongoing projects," including $45 million for the development and construction of a second teraflop computing facility and $12.5 million for the continued production of the High-Performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research. The bad news: "Budget constraints have forced the conferees to not approve funding for two new starts for fiscal year 2001 . . . the U.S. Array and San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth, and the National Ecological Observatory Network. This decision was made without prejudice and does not reflect on the quality of research proposed to be developed through these two programs."

Another major budget is that for Education and Human Resources. Congress approved an increase of 13.9%, as compared to the 5.0% requested by NSF. The new budget is $787.4 million, up by $96.5 million. As was done with the Research and Related Activities budget, funding was specified for some programs, including $75 million for EPSCoR, $10 million for the Office of Innovative Partnerships, and specified amounts for a variety of other programs and initiatives. Remaining funding is to be distributed proportionately and equitably, consistent with the original budget request. Also specified is funding for Polar Programs. NSF had requested an increase of 12.8%; the final bill provides 8.9%. This increase of $22.6 million brings FY 2001 funding to $275.6 million.

NSF Director Colwell released a statement expressing her appreciation to all of those involved in supporting the new budget. She stated: "This increase also puts us on the path towards doubling the NSF budget in five years, a goal championed by Senate VA-HUD Chairman Kit Bond, Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and more than 40 members of the Senate." Colwell continued, "This historic achievement validates the Administration's commitment to investing in fundamental research and education - and I thank President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Science Advisor Neal Lane, OMB Director Jack Lew and his staff for their leadership in helping to achieve such a great result. It was truly a team effort. While the VA-HUD agreement did not reach the President's request for NSF, the funding level provided is extraordinary and demonstrates how support for fundamental research and education is truly bipartisan.

"Along with Senators Bond and Mikulski, I personally thank House Subcommittee Chairman Jim Walsh and Ranking Member Allan Mollohan for their constant, steadfast support of NSF. I also thank all the VA-HUD subcommittee members in both the Senate and the House, House Full Committee Chairman Bill Young, Ranking Member David Obey along with Senate Full Committee Chairman Ted Stevens and Ranking Member Robert Byrd for their excellent leadership and consistent support of the Foundation's investments in research and education. They are true champions for these critical investments in the nation's future investments that will help improve the health, prosperity and well-being of all citizens in the 21st century.

"I also recognize the extraordinary efforts of leaders in the science and engineering community, as well as those in industry and academia on behalf of the Foundation's budget request. This result is due to the exceptional contributions of so many individuals, both at the National Science Foundation and in the broader community. I am grateful to all those individuals and organizations that have helped make this budget a reality."


The House and Senate have reached agreement on final FY 2001 funding for NASA, as part of the combined Energy and Water Development and VA/HUD appropriations conference report. Under the conference report, which President Clinton is expected to sign, NASA would receive a very healthy $14,285.3 million. This is more than Clinton, the House, or the Senate had previously proposed for the fiscal year that began on October 1. This funding level is 5.0% ($685.0 million) greater than NASA's FY 2000 appropriation, and 1.8% ($250.0 million) higher than the President's request.

Space Science, Earth Science, and Life and Microgravity Sciences would see increases over both their FY 2000 funding and their requests, while Human Space Flight would remain essentially flat. NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin's pleasure with the final conference numbers was evident in a press release issued on October 20. "This measure provides an excellent budget for NASA," Goldin said in the release. "The bill fully funds the President's program for NASA, including all high-priority initiatives - the Space Launch Initiative, Shuttle Upgrades, the International Space Station, and Living With a Star. The bill includes funding, as proposed by NASA, for two Mars rover missions in 2003."

NASA's plan for two Mars landers within its space science program is a recent proposal by the agency, developed after several reviews of the loss last year of the Mars Orbiter and Polar Lander missions. The agency submitted a revised FY 2001 budget proposal that would shift funds from other NASA programs to the Mars effort, demonstrating the importance NASA and the Administration place on a reinvigorated Mars program. The conferees support this proposal, which would provide $75.0 million for the Mars program as follows: $2.0 million from elsewhere within the space science account; $7.0 million from life and microgravity sciences; $20.0 million from aeronautics and space technology; $6.0 million from mission support; and $40.0 million from human space flight.

The conference report contains numerous earmarks and detailed language on specific reports and requirements that Congress expects, some in agreement with House or Senate report language, some that supersedes the previous language. (Recent language in the Senate report takes precedence over the earlier House language, and language in the conference report takes precedence over both. Theoretically, if a later report makes no mention of a certain requirement or earmark, the earlier text remains in effect.) The complete text of the VA/HUD-Energy and Water Development conference report can be found on THOMAS, the Library of Congress web site, at http://thomas.loc.gov . Go to "Committee Reports" for the 106th Congress and choose report number 106-988; the NASA portion begins on page 151. Highlights of selected portions of the report can be found at FYI #129 at http://www.aip.org/enews/fyi00.129.cfm.



The final numbers for the DOE are still unclear because of budgetary adjustments that were included in the bill after various appropriations were made. The effect of these adjustments is to reduce the amounts shown; by exactly how much is uncertain. One adjustment for about $38 million is for "safeguards and security costs." This is to be funded out of some, but not all, of the accounts in the over-all budget for DOE "Science." The other adjustment is for what is called "a general reduction." This general reduction of about $34 million is to be taken out of the Science budget in a way yet to be determined. These two reductions amount to approximately $72 million, or 2.2% of the total Science budget. In addition, the administration amended its first budget request. The saying, "the devil is in the details" applies to the following numbers, and the details are not yet known. While these numbers are fairly firm, minor changes are possible, depending upon how that general reduction is made. Finally, these are aggregate numbers, and do not reflect directed spending specified by Congress or changes in program content.

High Energy Physics:

Last year's budget was $703.8 million. For fiscal year 2001 the administration originally requested $714.7 million. The FY 2001 appropriation is shown as $726.1 million, an increase of 3.2% over last year. This FY 2001 appropriation, when subjected to the above reductions, could be $712.7 million.

Nuclear Physics:

Last year's budget was $355.8 million. For fiscal year 2001 the administration originally requested $369.9 million. The FY 2001 appropriation is shown as $369.9 million, an increase of 4.0% over last year. This FY 2001 appropriation, when subjected to the above reductions, could be $360.1 million.

Basic Energy Sciences:

Last year's budget was $779.4 million. For fiscal year 2001 the administration originally requested $1,015.8 million. The FY 2001 appropriation is shown as $1,013.4 million, an increase of 30.0% over last year. This FY 2001 appropriation, when subjected to the above reductions, could be $992.4 million.

The Basic Energy Sciences budget contains funding for the Spallation Neutron Source, which accounts for the large increase. The final bill states: "The recommendation includes $278,600,000, including $259,500,000 for construction and $19,100,000 for related research and development, the same as the amended budget request, for the Spallation Neutron Source."

Fusion Energy Sciences:

Last year's budget was $247.8 million. For fiscal year 2001 the administration originally requested $247.3 million. The FY 2001 appropriation is shown as $255.0 million, an increase of 2.9% over last year. This FY 2001 appropriation, when subjected to the above reductions, could be $248.5 million.