Making the Case for High Energy Physics Facilities

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Publication date: 
9 October 2003

Most of the recent machines for high energy physics research (LEP, LEP II, SSC, Tevatron Run II, and the LHC) have been "sold" to policymakers for the same purpose: seeking evidence of the Higgs boson and supersymmetry, Neil Calder of SLAC told the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP). As the research community begins to prepare for an international Linear Collider - which has been designated the highest priority for the U.S. particle physics program - the message "has to be different," Calder declared. Looking for new ways to generate policymaker and public support, and confronting hard choices on future construction projects, were the main issues on the agenda at a September 29-30 meeting of HEPAP.

The recommendation that a Linear Collider be the highest priority for high energy physics was put forth in a 20-year facilities roadmap, "The Science Ahead: The Way to Discovery," released by a HEPAP subpanel in 2002 (see FYI #12, 2003). As the roadmap only lays out possible options, the subpanel also advocated a new body, called the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5), to continually update the roadmap and set priorities among proposed facilities. The first report of P5, delivered by Abe Seiden of the University of California, Santa Cruz, responds to a charge to prioritize three projects proposed for Fermilab later this decade: CDF and D0 detector upgrades for Run II of the Tevatron (estimated cost $30.4 million and $28.6 million, respectively); a BTeV experiment to study B meson decays (estimated cost around $137 million); and a CKM (Charged Kaons at the Main Injector) experiment to study rare kaon decays (estimated cost around $100 million.)

Assuming a constant-level-of-effort funding scenario, Seiden said the P5 panel found Fermilab's plan to go forward with all three projects "likely to be too ambitious." He reported the panel's conclusion that the CDF and D0 upgrades "have the highest priority" of the three. The panel also supported construction of BTeV, expected to start in FY 2005 and operate during the early phases of the LHC. The panel did not recommend proceeding with CKM, based upon the budget assumptions and the acknowledgment that BTeV had what Seiden referred to as "a broader physics program at a comparable cost." Seiden said the panel felt that if BTeV was "the thing we want to do, we should do a good job" and "get it done in a timely way." He added that the panel's recommendations remained "robust" under small variations in the budget scenario. Noting that additional silicon upgrades to the Tevatron had been cancelled, many members of the research community expressed concern that the Tevatron Run II would not continue to receive priority from the funding agencies. Several called on HEPAP to reaffirm the importance of Run II. Robin Staffin, Associate Director for DOE's Office of High Energy Physics, reiterated DOE's intent to maintain Run II operations, support and research as "one of the field's highest priorities."

Several presentations focused on how the high energy physics community might better make its case to the public and to policymakers. Paul Hertz of NASA's Office of Space Science explained how, with input from the space science community, his office develops a strategic plan in which clusters of missions are focused on a few specific research objectives. Science writers are utilized to help prepare the plan, every program includes an education and outreach component, and substantial efforts are made to communicate results to the public, Hertz said. He noted that the researchers have come to accept that programs need to be described briefly in simple terms (what he called a "subway" or "elevator" pitch), and that specific projects are promoted in terms of how they support a particular research objective, even if their scope is broader. "You can't say, ‘this is going to do everything,'" Hertz warned; "it diffuses your message." In contrast, Neil Calder pointed out that every high energy physics project in recent years has been promoted for the same purpose: looking for evidence of the Higgs boson and supersymmetry. In preparing the case for a Linear Collider, he said, "we cannot do the same thing again!" He described attempts to develop a "sixty-second elevator pitch" for a Linear Collider, and warned that the community could not afford squabbles among itself or accusations of misusing public funds.

Judy Jackson of Fermilab informed HEPAP of efforts by press officers and communicators at high energy physics laboratories around the world to work together to increase support for particle physics worldwide. She received a great deal of appreciation from the HEPAP members for the collaborative efforts she cited, which include setting up a common newswire, image bank and website (; cooperating on strategic planning; and coordinating press releases when appropriate. "We've got to try to find a way," she said, "of talking about our science so people feel it has a direct and interesting impact on their lives."