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CERN Director-General Robert Aymar sparked a mini-maelstrom within the US particle physics community with comments reported in the April 25 issue of the Tribune de Genève. The article quoted Aymar as saying that the LHC has caused CERN to go deeply in debt, and singling out American stinginess as a prime cause.
It turns out that Aymar was misquoted. In a clarifying statement to APS News, Aymar said that the Tribune had conflated his comments on two unrelated issues: CERN’s current debt, and the US contribution to the LHC. CERN’s debt was foreseen when the LHC was approved in 1996, and the institution is on schedule to repay all loans by the end of 2010. However, he is concerned that “the Member States have mortgaged the organization’s future,” since CERN will have “limited flexibility to invest in long-term R&D.”
Aymar does strongly believe that the US should contribute not just to the construction of the facility and its detectors, but also help offset its operating costs. "I would like to see all participating countries contribute to running costs in proportion to the benefit they stand to gain from the LHC," Aymar said."As things stand today, some 751 of CERN's 6775 users are Americans, while the US will contribute nothing to the running of the LHC machine."
Aymar argues that while traditionally in particle physics, each region has borne the full operating costs of its own facilities, times have changed. The movements of researchers from one region to another no longer evens out.
“The LHC is a unique facility, and will be a focus for the global particle physics community for many years to come,” Aymar told APS News. “It is reasonable, therefore, that the running costs be shared equitably between participants. I believe that we have to take this into account in financing both the construction and the operation of such facilities.”
Melvyn Shochet of the University of Chicago concurs with Aymar’s historical remarks, pointing out that Fermilab’s Tevatron collider-the energy frontier machine for several decades-has hosted many scientists from Europe and Asia. Those countries contributed to the construction of the detectors and their operation, while the US bore the accelerator operating costs. The US contribution to the accelerator construction costs at the LHC is actually unprecedented, according to Shochet, and the current agreement calls for accelerator operating expenses to be born by the host (CERN), per the long- standing tradition.
Shochet is the current Chair of the High-Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP), which supplies guidance on high-energy physics to both DOE and NSF.
Aymar’s comments in the Tribune de Genève preceded by one day the release of a report from the National Academy of Sciences, Revealing the Hidden Nature of Space and Time: Charting the Course for Elementary Particle Physics (see "Particle Physics at a Crossroads, Academy Study Finds"). That report concluded that "the highest priority for the US national effort in elementary particle physics should be to continue to be an active partner in realizing the physics potential of the LHC experimental program". The report states that "US research groups that will carry out research at the LHC need to be adequately supported, and the US should participate in upgrades of experimental facilities", but does not call for US support of LHC operating costs.
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