Marburger's Views on Future of High Energy Physics

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Publication date: 
25 August 2003

"The opportunities in high energy physics have increased, not diminished, in importance during the past decade. But at the same time the opportunities in these other very attractive fields of science are also increasing, and very rapidly. What this suggests to me is that federal budgets for high energy physics are not likely to grow substantially faster than in the past." - John Marburger

At a Fermilab users meeting in June, OSTP Director John Marburger discussed the future of high energy physics and the nation's science enterprise in general. He shared his views on how particle physics might compete - and collaborate - with other fields of science, other federal science programs, and international projects. He emphasized that, with continued funding constraints likely, strategic planning is crucial to ensure the best mix of facilities and most effective leveraging of efforts. Selections from Marburger's speech follow:

IMPACT OF OTHER SCIENTIFIC FIELDS ON HIGH ENERGY PHYSICS: "[The] exceptional opportunities for high energy physics are occurring simultaneously with other profound changes in science. The same advances in computing and instrumentation that have been important for your field are having a profound effect on all other fields of science.... For the first time, it is possible to image, analyze, simulate, and manipulate ordinary matter at the atomic level. This is the domain of nanotechnology and biotechnology.... This is also the domain in which structures of astounding complexity emerge, and its exploration requires the ability to store, analyze, and visualize very large amounts of data. This new domain of complexity has its own new frontiers, new paradigms, and new social structures within the scientific community.

"Two important aspects of these emerging opportunities elsewhere in science are important for the future of particle physics. First, some of the new capabilities require investments in apparatus on a scale that formerly occurred only for high energy and space physics. Thus there are new competitors on the scene for large scale, expensive facilities. These include intense photon sources based on electron accelerators, intense neutron sources such as the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge, scanning electron microscopy, high field NMR devices, and specialized super-computing facilities. Second, the science opportunities created by these facilities are also fundamental, exciting, and demonstrably of greater relevance to human-scale issues than particle physics or astronomy. The phenomena they deal with are closely linked to the technologies important for national issues such as health care and economic competitiveness. They are important for homeland and national security. In short, they deserve, and are likely to receive, high priority for funding even in an era of tight budgets."

"The opportunities in high energy physics have increased, not diminished, in importance during the past decade. But at the same time the opportunities in these other very attractive fields of science are also increasing, and very rapidly. What this suggests to me is that federal budgets for high energy physics are not likely to grow substantially faster than in the past. The United States is investing approximately $800 million per year in high energy physics research, and slowly increasing. I do not think the rate of increase is enough to satisfy the current appetite for big projects in this field, including new accelerators, neutrino detectors, and space-borne observations. Some of these projects would seem to have very high scientific payoffs. Which ones? We have to answer that question quickly and carefully because there is danger of saturating the available budget with lower priority activities.

"The conclusion I draw from these observations is that there is a need for a new emphasis on, and perhaps even a redefinition of, strategic planning in high energy physics. As a first principle of planning, machines and instrumentation must be subordinated to a broader view of the field. Priorities for projects need to be justified by the expected science payoff in breadth and/or depth of discovery potential. Justifying accelerator construction on the basis of technology spinoffs has become a weak argument, in view of the much greater relevance to technology of the new bio-, nano- or complexity-oriented fields. By far the strongest argument for pursuing high energy physics is the human imperative to discover the nature of the physical universe. Even the discovery of the Higgs is not an adequate justification. It is the value that observing the Higgs adds for the elucidation of the whole picture that is important.... Now we have something even more exciting than the Standard Model. We have a set of cosmological mysteries including inflation, dark matter, dark energy, and matter-antimatter asymmetry, all of which must be related in some way to a bigger picture of which field theory and the Standard Model are a part. Choices of what activity to fund need to be related to their impact on filling in this picture. Theory, and a wide variety of experimental approaches all need to be evaluated together in this context."

"A second principle of strategic planning must be to acknowledge the impact of one area upon another. Expensive projects in one field definitely affect the chances of support for other fields, or for other less expensive activities in the same field. A rational science policy considers the complementary capabilities of agencies, and seeks to avoid duplication. This requires comparing the big science programs in NASA, NSF, and DOE.... It makes no sense for DOE to be building space-borne instrumentation designed to probe the mystery of dark energy, for example, without strong coordination with NASA. Nor does it make sense for NASA to be flying space-based experiments relevant to particle physics without strong coordination with DOE."

"A third important component of a new approach to strategic planning is the international dimension.... Today each developed nation understands the need to invest in the sciences that undergird their technologically intensive economies. Their choices of how to make that investment are influenced by the same forces I described earlier. One consequence of this that I foresee is that there will be less duplication of large facilities devoted to high energy physics, and more equal sharing of the burden of building and operating these facilities among nations.... I would like to see closer coordination in the planning of large-scale experiments in fundamental science among nations. We are all going to have to invest competitively in the science infrastructure for our technology-based economies. We should invest non-competitively in the science infrastructure for large scale basic science."

"National science policy responds ultimately to the needs of the science community. We are going to depend upon you and your colleagues for ideas about how best to plan the future exploration of nature, and how to use scarce resources wisely in the endeavor."

The entire text of Marburger's June 2 speech is available in PDF format at: .