Reasons for optimism over US particle physics

Published 15 June 2008

A panel of experts advising the U.S. Department of Energy says that recent cuts in funding for particle physics research may not do as much harm to U.S. basic research as scientists initially thought

We have written about the decline of math and sceince educaion in the United States, and about the recent cuts by the administration of budget for basic particle physics research. It is good to see, then, that months these deep funding cuts, there are reasons for optimism. This is the conclusions of a panel of leading physicists at a meeting in Washington, D.C. last week. The panel was asked by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) to consider four possible funding scenarios — and how they would spend the money over the next decade. “We can’t do everything we’d like to do, it can’t all go as quickly as it should, but we can do a great deal,” says physicist Mel Shochet of the University of Chicago.

Among the big losers in the cuts were those involved in the International Linear Collider (ILC), which was suspended in December. The panel added that the need for the ILC is not yet proven and so construction should not be guaranteed. “It is so expensive, you have to show that it is necessary,” says panel chairman Charles Baltay of Yale University. Nevertheless, the panel concluded that the ILC will win back funding in all but the worst-case scenario. Its recommendations will go to a DoE committee for approval.