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2009. Ready or not January 2, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in ATLAS, CERN, D0, Fermilab, LHC, politics, science.

We’ve made it through the first day of 2009. I have mixed feelings about this coming year.

  • Federal Science Funding Levels. The economy is crashing down around our ears. Business responds quickly (layoffs :() – government is a bit slower. If things followed their natural course of action that would mean science funding, along with everything else, will take yet another hit. However, the incoming Obama administration seems to be committed to spending the USA’s way out of this recession, so in the end funding might not change very much. I am hopeful that hard sciences funding will remain at least stable.
  • Federal Science Funding Directions. Climate change is what the Obama administration is focused on. There is a good chance that if you are researching something connected with climate change you may have access to increased funding opportunities. I would expect a funding profile similar to NIH’s funding during its years of increase. I would like to think that funding will spill over into the physical sciences – it should because there are connections between the physical sciences and clean air technologies. All of this is applied scientific research. I hope that the pure research funding gets an increase as well, as an investment in this countries future (particle physics is pure research, of course). I’m feeling neutral here.
  • Federal Science. Obama’s science team is just a BLAST of fresh air when compared to the current administration’s. After all, his DOE nominee is a Nobel prize winning experimental physicist. Even if the science advisor isn’t elevated to a cabinet position (PDF), there will be someone in the room that knows a great deal about science, research, and how it is done. Even if there are cuts to science funding, I’m very hopeful there will be intelligent cuts rather that unscientifically motivated cuts. I’m very hopeful in this respect.
  • State Universities. The economy in states is depressing. Some states, like my own (Washington) that rely on sales tax are being hit hard and very fast. State universities can’t escape that, obviously, and my university is no exception. Unfortunately, this usually translates to reduced raises, inability to counter offers from outside, reduced support for research, etc. In our own department I wouldn’t be surprised if some people left for other universities that, for whatever reason, were able to make good offers in this awful climate. There is, in fact, already evidence this is happening. The only consolation is most universities are in the same boat, and so most of them are having similar problems. I know less about private universities, but I do know the endowments of many of them are also having difficulty. I’m very downbeat about this: it will be a rough two years at least, I think.
  • My Science. When it comes to the Tevatron and the LHC… Well, I see no reason that the Tevatron shouldn’t continue to break records in luminosity (they just broke one earlier this week). And the experiments will continue to be flooded with data. While it is possible for one experiment or the other to have a catastrophic failure, I doubt that will happen. And they should continue to produce papers and science at a furious rate. I also am looking forward to real LHC collision data this year. While I hope it will be at the full 14 TeV, I suspect it is more likely to be at 2 TeV, just a hair above the Tevatron’s luminosity. We’ll hopefully know what the machine scientists think about that sometime in February. I’m really hopeful about this.
  • New Years Resolutions. Well, I made only one. That way I have a hope of keeping it: make bread more often. 🙂 I think there is a chance that I will keep this one. Especially now that I’ve said it publically. 🙂

Of course, this should also be a fun year, as noted by the Beacon News:

Frustrated with their failed attempt to destroy the world in 2008, the scientists at Fermilab and their counterparts at Switzerland’s CERN physics lab resolve to perfect their new device, the Large Planet-Sucking Black-Hole-o-Tron.

Here is to another great year of data collection and science at the Tevatron and first collision data at the LHC!



1. Michael Schmitt - January 2, 2009

Yes, I agree that 2009 looks gloomy when it comes to funding. This is true at private universities as well as state universities. Fellow citizens working in the private sector are not at all sympathetic to our plight, but they cheer the appointment of scientists to high advisory roles in the government. Like you, I hope that scientific research will manage to stay on course, somehow, in 2009.

I am very excited about the start-up of the LHC. As far as I understand, 14 TeV is out of the question for 2009, and we will run at 10 TeV. It would be too dangerous to ramp up the magnetis as high as needed for the 7 TeV beams. I had not heard anything about 2 TeV – is that new? We will start off with 450 GeV beams, which is less than half of the Tevatron beam energy (ACNET says 979 GeV this morning). I thought that we would then go to 10 TeV – maybe there’s a step inbetween that I don’t know about. There might be some interesting pdf comparisons to be made if there were both pp and ppbar data at the same center-of-mass energy…

2. gordonwatts - January 2, 2009

The rumors around the start up are all over the board. I’m sure what you say about 14 TeV is right – as far as I know with the repairs they will not have a chance to train the magnets at 14 TeV – they were orginally planning on doing that, pre disaster.

The 450 on 450 is the injection energy, so it makes sense to try it out. I wonder how much beam optics for collisions change as you ramp up the energy at the LHC? At the Tevatron they change a fair amount, so what you learn at one energy is quite different from another energy.

I’ve also heard the 2 TeV. During the months of speculation before anything official was said, this was the most common rumor. But it was ust that — a rumor. Since that what I’ve mostly heard is that the run plan will be finalized at a joint machine meeting sometime in Feburary. This was before the new team came in, but they were at the table when planning this. So I guess we have to wait until then for the final word.

I hope you are right! Whatever, there isn’t going to be much time to do a 450 run and then a 10 TeV run before the winter shut down if they start up in the summer. Unless the LHC works exactly as well as it was before the 19th! 🙂

3. Aleksie - January 6, 2009

I’m not sure about all private universities and colleges, in terms of faculty, but I know that a lot of schools in past few years went from “need blind” to “need conscious” for financial aid.

One of my goals this year is to make more bread, too. We started working with a bread starter in hopes of eventually having sourdough.

4. Gordon Watts - January 6, 2009

Aleksie – that is an excellent point. I have no idea what will happen to financial aid. I know that here at UW the $$ from the state goes towards faculty and staff salaries mostly. So it won’t have a direct impact on financial aid. But the aid comes from lots of sources – like the federal gov’t [I really have no idea how that breakdown works], and some of those are bound to be affected.

Sourdough is my absolute favoriate type of bread. When I was a graduate student I had a decent starter going – but it was never quite sour enough for me. 🙂 Good luck with that!

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