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Fermilab, aglow in the night, is a symbol of national pride and a face of U.S. particle physics. However, this lab, like a last old lion, is on the verge of death due to drastic underfunding.  (Source: Fred Ullrich/Fermilab )
Fermi earns a stay-of-execution thanks in part to a generous anonymous philanthropist

Particle physics is one of the most intriguing scientific fields, probing the nature of the very makeup of the universe itself.  However, over the last half decade, due to the growing economic crisis and various items such as war funding taking precedence in government budgets, the budget to help the U.S. stay leaders in the field of particle physics has been slipping.

The U.S. currently is down to only one remaining particle physics lab, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, associated with the University of Chicago and the lab was looking to be on the way out.  It had started in February rolling furlough program that slashed already scarce employee pay by 12.5 percent and forced them to take periodic unpaid leave. 

Now an anonymous donor has stepped in and donated $5M USD to the University of Chicago to try to alleviate these cuts and keep the lab open.  Even with the extremely generous donation the lab is still in trouble.  It plans to lay off 140 employees now, though it would have been an even larger number before the donation.  The donation has allowed the lab to offer voluntary layoffs before the involuntary ones start.

Fermilab Director Piermaria Oddone spoke of the gift stating, "This is very unusual.  It's not a building that carries a name. It's really a commitment to science and the nation and in particular to particle physics as a long-range important undertaking for our nation."

The good news has somewhat buoyed the sunken spirits of physicists at the lab.  Says Consolato Gattuso, an engineering physicist at the lab, "This is definitely a weight that has been lifted.  It gives us some light at the end of the tunnel."

Throughout the last five years, FermiLab's budget has been falling.  The U.S. Congress's last minute budget for 2008 cut FermiLab funding from $372 million requested by the Department of Energy (DOE) to $320 million, $22 million less than the lab had received in 2007.  The lab went into a state of crisis, forcing employees to take one week off unpaid every other month and work shorter hours.  Further, 200 of the lab's 1950 employees were scheduled to be cut.

The U.S. is in a particle physics competition of sorts with Europe to find the legendary Higgs boson particle first.  The cuts will allow Fermi's Tevatron Collider to stay operational, and continue the search.  Researchers remain optimistic that Fermi may find the particle before Europe's CERN lab turns on its more powerful Large Hadron Collider this summer.

Legally, Fermilab cannot officially accept the gift, but it will allow the University of Chicago to contract employees to work in the lab.  Over 50 employees have already left the lab, allowing it to scrape $1M USD in savings.

This is not the first time in recent years that the Congress has chronically underfunded the Department of Energy's physics research labs.  In 2006, Congress gave the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York so little money that it would have to shut down its Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider.   James Simons, a theoretical physicist and billionaire hedge-fund guru saved the Collider with a gift of $13M USD.

The officials at Fermi are extremely grateful for a gift, but fear it’s only prolonging the inevitable.  Brendan Casey, a Fermilab particle physicist states, "The grain of salt is that it really does nothing to change the uncertainty with regard to the future.  So there's some relief, but the underlying tension is still there."

The U.S. government may be forced to reevaluate its spending priorities as more experimental physics labs and other science programs go under and U.S. leadership in the sciences slips.  This would truly be an unfortunate loss for the country, most would agree.



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RE: $$$
By straycat74 on 6/2/2008 8:37:31 AM , Rating: 4
quote:
The U.S. Congress's last minute budget for 2008 cut FermiLab funding from $372 million requested by the Department of Energy (DOE) to $320 million, $22 million less than the lab had received in 2007


I believe that the Dems are the majority in congress.


RE: $$$
By dickeywang on 6/2/2008 9:08:22 AM , Rating: 5
From what I read from an open letter sent to all APS members by the American Physical Society Chairman Arthur Bienenstock months ago, the original budget plan passed by the congress proposed an amount larger than the number that President Bush expected, so he threated to veto it therefore the congress had to reduce the number which eventually leads to the funding cut in many field of fundamental science.


RE: $$$
By straycat74 on 6/2/2008 9:11:36 AM , Rating: 3
Then how did we get all of that money to drive an RC car on mars again, when we could have just sent this?
http://www.bermuda.ch/balduin/blog/gyromite.jpg


RE: $$$
By dickeywang on 6/2/2008 9:48:06 AM , Rating: 4
Sure, the Mars mission is probably the only science project that President Bush supports, but I think his motivation of doing that is purely political instead of scientific.

Now, Imaging your boss give you some very low budget, and then specifically tells you that one project, which would costs a large amount of $$$, should be done ASAP. What would happen to other projects that you have in hand? This is exactly the problem NASA is facing.

Years ago, I heard some physicists was making fun of the Mars mission by saying that "NASA is going to Mars, so we will never see them again".


RE: $$$
By masher2 (blog) on 6/2/2008 10:04:57 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
"Now, Imaging [sic] your boss give you some very low budget, and then specifically tells you that one project, which would costs a large amount of $$$, should be done ASAP. What would happen to other projects that you have in hand? This is exactly the problem NASA is facing.
Once again, NASA funding has increased considerably under Bush.

Under Clinton, NASA funding declined from $14.3B (1993) down to $13.4B (2000). Under Bush, it went from $13.4B up to $17.2B (2008), nearly a 30% increase.


RE: $$$
By Mitch101 on 6/2/08, Rating: -1
RE: $$$
By TheDoc9 on 6/2/2008 10:48:49 AM , Rating: 3
True that the gov. is terrible at budgeting because everyone wants there cut. But seriously, 320 million dollars is nothing to scoff at. The previous budget was 366, that's only 46 million more and you're telling me that they can't sacrifice a bit?

In any case, in discovering the Higgs Bosen we might shrink the planet into a small ultra dense particle about the size of a pea. /lexx


RE: $$$
By jcrash on 6/2/2008 11:17:01 AM , Rating: 2
In other words, not even enough to cover the increased in their gasoline costs under his administration.

Don't defend him. It is really, really a sad thing to see.


RE: $$$
By masher2 (blog) on 6/2/2008 11:22:35 AM , Rating: 1
NASA doesn't spend $4B on gasoline, sorry. And Bush attempted to raise NASA's budget even further. However, Congress complained bitterly over the cost of manned missions to the Moon and Mars, and thus those programs were not funded at appropriate levels.


RE: $$$
By Noya on 6/2/2008 12:25:18 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
Under Bush, it went from $13.4B up to $17.2B (2008), nearly a 30% increase.


I haven't looked up inflation numbers, but doesn't that barely cover the loss of USD value since Bush took office?


RE: $$$
By masher2 (blog) on 6/2/2008 1:29:25 PM , Rating: 3
> "I haven't looked up inflation numbers, but doesn't that barely cover the loss of USD value since Bush took office? "

If one converts to constant-dollars, the figure represents a 7% rise (i.e. NASA's budget rose 7% faster than inflation over Bush's term in office).

However, if one uses constant-dollars, the figures under Clinton are even more grim, as they represent a 25% decline over the same period.


RE: $$$
By BansheeX on 6/2/2008 1:34:38 PM , Rating: 5
Indeed, the dollar has lost about 40% of its value relative to other currencies in the past eight years.

It's sickening, however, to see disgust with Bush causing people to rationalize that this must mean voting Democrat this time is the correct decision. These two parties are practically the same now with regards to fiscal irresponsibility. Who started NAFTA managed trade? Who started the New Deal programs that are $60,000,000,000,000 underfunded over the next thirty years, even excluding pentagon waste? Who started Vietnam, Korea, Bosnia? All Democrat. Non-intervention is not a part of either platform, they simply take whichever side is politically profitable to get elected.

No, we badly need a libertarian-minded president with a record for cutting waste and ignoring lobbyists. And we're not going to get it, because the American people only try to think hard when it's too late and it hurts. They have the long-term memory of a drugged up lemming.


RE: $$$
By goku on 6/2/2008 2:25:37 PM , Rating: 2
Despite me being supportive of a libertarian president, there is a problem. A libertarian president would be cutting funding for NASA and projects such as this as well, even though it would actually benefit us all.


RE: $$$
By ChristopherO on 6/2/2008 3:01:38 PM , Rating: 3
Not true. Ayn Rand loved the space program.


RE: $$$
By Polynikes on 6/2/2008 7:05:11 PM , Rating: 2
I concur.


RE: $$$
By Ringold on 6/2/2008 2:43:35 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I haven't looked up inflation numbers


Masher already responded, but I'd suggest you look at the technology component of the CPI. It has been deflationary. Extreme deflation. If NASA has been able to leverage that, I don't know, but thats an indictment of government itself rather than any party if it hasn't been able to.


RE: $$$
By masher2 (blog) on 6/2/2008 9:42:13 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
"the original budget plan passed by the congress proposed an amount larger than the number that President Bush expected, so he threated to veto it therefore the congress had to reduce the number which eventually leads to the funding cut in many field of fundamental science.
Or Congress could have instead simply shaved a hair off the hugely bloated entitlement programs, rather than cutting fundamental science.

BTW, the "America Competes" bill promoted and signed into law by Bush last year, seeks to double federal spending for the National Science Foundation, the DOE Science Office, and dramatically increases funding for NASA, math, science, and engineering fellowships, and many other programs.


RE: $$$
By bodar on 6/2/2008 9:09:06 AM , Rating: 1
And yet they were not the ones who put us in Iraq. The war isn't financing itself, so maybe it would've been a good idea to not start a conflict that costs us $200 billion per year.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/17/business/17leonh...

Well, I guess it was a good idea if you happen to be in the war infrastructure business...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A41318-20...
http://houston.bizjournals.com/houston/stories/200...
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A619...


RE: $$$
By straycat74 on 6/2/2008 9:16:17 AM , Rating: 4
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=U.S._Se...

When you vote to send the troops into Iraq, you do put them there.


RE: $$$
RE: $$$
By straycat74 on 6/2/2008 9:40:48 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Their mission is to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors," said Clinton.


http://www.cnn.com/US/9812/16/clinton.iraq.speech/


RE: $$$
By bodar on 6/2/2008 3:11:20 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
General Zinni: Obviously, I think you know we went after missile production and missile repair facilities. We went after surface-to-air missile sites. In terms of getting down to individual pieces of equipment, my being able to tell you how many APCs or tanks or FROG missiles or whatever, we don't have that yet. That's part of the sort of more granular assessment that we will have to do. We may never know exactly.

Q: Certainly. But if UNSCOM has said that there's unaccounted inventories of missiles, artillery shells, bombs that they believe are filled with possibly chemical and biological material, did you hit any weapons depots or weapons sites where you believe there was chemical and biological material?

General Zinni: None that we know of. But again, I think you point out the reason why it was important to keep UNSCOM in operation and with full access. The only way we know is through UNSCOM.


Yeah, we blew up their infrastructure, including some SAM sites, ballistic missile production sites, and some "suspected" WMD plants, but we don't know if there was even anything to hit, let alone if we were effective.

http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript....


RE: $$$
By bodar on 6/2/2008 3:21:31 PM , Rating: 2
And if could don a tinfoil hat for a moment:

quote:
Current events

Less than a month after the movie was released, President Bill Clinton was embroiled in a sex scandal arising from his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Over the course of 1998 and early 1999, as the scandal dominated American politics, the US engaged in three military operations:

* Operation Desert Fox, a three-day bombing campaign in Iraq that took place as the U.S. House of Representatives debated articles of impeachment against Clinton
* Operation Infinite Reach, a pair of missile strikes against suspected terrorist targets in Sudan and Afghanistan three days after Clinton admitted in a nationally televised address that he had an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky
* Operation Allied Force, a 78-day-long NATO bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that began weeks after Clinton was acquitted in his Senate impeachment trial.

In a further coincidence, the missile strikes against Sudan and Afghanistan were announced by the White House moments before the beginning of a press conference in which Lewinsky was to give details of her appearance before Congress.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wag_the_Dog

Like I said, the Dems are no different.


RE: $$$
By bodar on 6/2/2008 9:29:12 AM , Rating: 3
You know, if I'm being honest, the Dems are no different, they're just on a smaller scale. I hold no illusions to the contrary. Corruption and cronyism are just another day in politics in the US and, I'd wager, all over the world.


RE: $$$
By lifeblood on 6/2/2008 9:12:09 AM , Rating: 3
I believe that the Dems are the majority in congress.

This statement, while true, fails to grasp the workings of our government. The Democrats have a majority in the house but not in the senate and the president is a Republican. If they send a budget to the president and he doesn't sign it they lack the votes for an override. That results in a stalemate that hurts everyone. They have very limited options.

My big complaint is that the writers of the constitution envisioned congress as being the counter weight to the president. The republicans in the congress have been anything but, giving the president everything he wants and looking the other way on anything questionable he does. You saw it during the Clinton years when the Democrats flocked to the presidents defense even though he had lied and cheated, and you see it now with the Republicans.

Where are the statesman our forefathers envisioned? In a country as great as ours I expect much better from our government. Naive, I know.


RE: $$$
By straycat74 on 6/2/2008 9:28:43 AM , Rating: 2
Then why is a Democrat the majority leader then?

(This is old news, but you seem to need to catch up)
http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/11/08/election.ma...

The other independent (not Leiberman) is a socialist, which puts him well inside the Democratic party.


RE: $$$
By straycat74 on 6/2/2008 1:27:37 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
The republicans in the congress have been anything but, giving the president everything he wants and looking the other way on anything questionable he does.


On the contrary, in "reaching across the isle", Bush did not veto anything that the Democrat congress put forth (only vetoes were for war spending), hence the increase in social spending. To bad the Democrats don't realize they have had a center, and maybe even a center-slightly left president.

Republican and conservative values will reduce spending and government bloat, but this president has behaved like a democrat, more so than a republican.


RE: $$$
By Ringold on 6/2/2008 3:00:24 PM , Rating: 2
You're on the right track lifeblood looking at the constitution, but pointed the finger in the wrong direction, I think.

The constitution is fine, and was fine, until 1860. Northern liberals and southern conservatives fiercely disagreed on the power of the federal government and independence of states. In a pre-1860 world where we tried to strictly follow the constitution, Bush wouldn't likely have the power he does, and Congress wouldn't yield near the influence it does on the common man.

However, we know how the Civil War went. Northern, big-government liberals pervailed, and Lincoln established a strong tradition of entirely ignoring the constitution in the process. The Bill of Rights may as well not have existed, but to draw a parallel with Iraq, it was considered audacious that Lincoln dare raise an army to defend DC without first getting Congress to rubber stamp it. Roosevelt picked up the same ball and ran with it; he made campaign promises that no American boy would die on foreign soil (playing to the isolationist mood) while simultaneously planning how to covertly mobilize for war.

Today, the constitution is a cute formality, for both parties. We could follow it the way the framers intended, but Scalia was interviewed on some left-wing show I came across. The interviewer clearly thought he was a neanderthal for holding an originalist view of the Constitution; she couldn't seem to believe that someone could not buy in to the "living constitution" view, where the meaning of the constitution changes to be whatever the unwashed masses want it to mean on the fly.


RE: $$$
By lifeblood on 6/3/2008 9:04:18 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, that fight goes back to the very beginning of our country. Federalists like Alexander Hamilton believed in a strong central (federal) government, while people like Thomas Jefferson believed in a limited central government and a very literal reading of the constitution. Obviously the federalists eventually won.

As with all things, this had both good and bad results. However, I think the end analysis will show it was good for us in the long term. Had the federalists not eventually won we would probably still have Jim Crow laws. And if we can't get a president and congress to agree on a unified policy, how do you expect 51 states (plus assorted territories) to agree on anything? And if you think federal politicians are corrupt, you should take a look at state politics. Local politics are even worse.


RE: $$$
By RjBass on 6/2/08, Rating: 0
"If you mod me down, I will become more insightful than you can possibly imagine." -- Slashdot

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