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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: Priorities
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 6/2/2008 8:54:11 AM , Rating: 5
Education is what it is. If laws didn't prevent teachers for throwing disruptive or pain in the ass students out of class things might be better off for the real students. The problems start at home, with pain in the ass kids who do whatever the hell they want (why we allow kids to believe this is beyond me) the further passing of laws to prevent any sort of discipline by parents further exacerbates the problem.

Want to fix it?
-Allow parents to raise their kids the way they see fit. (I could give 2 shits less if parent A spanks their kid for being a screwup, he deserves to know that being a screwup comes with harsh consequences). Ironically if they pull this as an adult they are punished accordingly (fired, jailed, etc...).
-Stop falsely believing that we should cater to the lowest denominator. If child A excels, and child B is mentally deficient, move child B to a slow class and move child A to an advanced class. Not all people are created equally, and nobody develops equally. The current stupidity of throwing kids with advanced learning capability in with kids who will end up flipping burgers since they can't get beyond basic mathematics is stupid. It only serves to hurt the kid who is capable while merely appeasing the kid who will never cut it. Yea, I know the parents (and lawyers they employ) are largely to blame for this, but its time laws were passed to stop this from happening. We also need to fail these students who do not measure up. If you can not complete the work required at the grade level your in, you fail and will repeat. You will continue to repeat until you either drop out or get it right. Passing students because they "improved" or "because we don't want them developing social stigmas that come with being held back" is absolute bollocks.
-Put more emphasis on the math/science courses. Stop asking what people "feel" about the problem and get down to "solve it, period, end of discussion". Problemsolving is a primary skill that is sorely lacking in most kids coming out of high school/college. Without the ability to problemsolve you generally don't do well in Math/Science/IT/Engineering, etc... but you can do just fine as a teacher/administrator/etc... it is also generally accepted that Math/Science/IT/Engineering fields are harder to prepare for, harder to perform (the work you do and the level you do it on typically requires higher level thought unseen in most other professions).

There, education problem solved. Instead of babysitting, we are instead cultivating the best/brightest and weeding out the losers who won't cut it. Yea, so the losers will be condemned to low paying or mediocre jobs for the rest of their lives. They end up there anyways, jamming them through the education system and doing damage to more capable students in the process is not helping anyone. We also put emphasis on important stuff. Business majors are not all that important. I can throw a brick and hit 15 in any direction. I can throw that same brick and hit only 1 or 2 Math/IT/Science/Engineers. There's also the steady rise in legal majors (which provide no input to society) which is further helping the decline in mental capabilities across the country.

For those that work in (and are good at) Math/Science/IT/Engineering, have no fear, jobs are plentiful and pay well. Other professions may or may not enjoy such things in the future.


RE: Priorities
By FITCamaro on 6/2/2008 9:20:58 AM , Rating: 3
Well Said!

And I plan to spank my kids regardless of what any law says. But I don't know any state where its illegal to. And the federal government hasn't gone that far yet(but I believe theres a few Democrats proposing legislation to make it illegal right now). As far as I'm concerned, if my kids hate me so much as to complain to the authorities, they can take the walk out of my home(they'll be back). My mom told me at age 10 if I didn't like the way things were in our house, "theres the door and don't let it hit you on the way out". I plan to do the same.

I turned out to be a productive member of society. The same can't be said for a lot of kids who's parents let them do whatever they want.


RE: Priorities
By JTankers on 6/2/2008 10:12:46 AM , Rating: 1
A bit off topic, but I live in Wisconsin and I believe (not verified) that spanking may be illegal here even when it is the parents doing the spanking, though unlikely to be forced to any large degree. I do know that it is rare here, and it is actually possible to raise kids without spanking. We don't spank and I think our kids respect us more for it, but it takes a lot more time and energy and emotional knowledge devoted to your kids...

But that is not why I am here, I want you to read what is going on at <a href="http://www.LHCFacts.org">LHCFacts.org</a>


RE: Priorities
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 6/2/2008 10:33:45 AM , Rating: 3
I've heard of the mini-black hole scare tactic before. It's nothing more than a scare tactic. Ignore it and proceed forward.


RE: Priorities
By straycat74 on 6/2/2008 10:39:57 AM , Rating: 2
You can tell a child how hot something is, but for some reason it really sinks in when they touch a hot stove, for example.

Spanking also prepares your kids for dodgeball in school, but since they don't allow that anymore, i guess it makes it less necessary.


RE: Priorities
By FITCamaro on 6/2/2008 12:11:52 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah I learned the lesson of "Don't touch that its hot!" when I stuck my hand in a pot of boiling water.

I learned the lesson of don't stick a fork in a light socket when I did that as well.

There's very few lessons I'd rather my kids learn by me telling them than them trying it themselves. Don't look down the barrel of a gun, don't play with chainsaws, don't smoke crack....


RE: Priorities
By straycat74 on 6/2/2008 1:00:50 PM , Rating: 2
I say that disproves darwins theory right there.


RE: Priorities
By Reclaimer77 on 6/2/2008 1:53:03 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
And I plan to spank my kids regardless of what any law says.


Plan on it ? Hell, I'm looking FORWARD to it !


RE: Priorities
By FITCamaro on 6/2/2008 2:46:03 PM , Rating: 2
Well then maybe you're one who shouldn't. :)

(Yes I know/hope it was just a joke).

In seriousness though, I hope I never have to spank my kids. I hope they're good without me having to punish them. But I know thats likely just a dream. And to me punishment is not "go to your room". Kids understand spanking. No psychologist is going to convince me that my kids will learn to like being spanked. Thats later in life. ;)


RE: Priorities
By elgueroloco on 6/2/2008 1:45:24 PM , Rating: 2
I totally agree with this. "No Child Left Behind" actually means "No Child Gets Ahead," because it mandates that education proceed at the rate of the slowest pupils. Because some kids have less, others are forbidden to have more. In other words, NCLB=academic communism.


RE: Priorities
By djc208 on 6/2/2008 2:49:47 PM , Rating: 2
All good points. I'd add the cultural stigma against being a "nerd". Why do we idolize sports stars over scientists. You have whole generations of kids who dream of being a basketball/football/baseball/sports star. While the scientists and engineers are practically considered social rejects.

How much time and energy do people waste on what star did what, which team won which game, and who's dating whom? If even a small percentage of that energy was directed at sites like this we might have more interest in funding places like the above.

I'm sorry but the scientists and engineers of the world have done a lot more good for society than every sports hero and pop star combined.


RE: Priorities
By Reclaimer77 on 6/2/2008 5:10:09 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
All good points. I'd add the cultural stigma against being a "nerd". Why do we idolize sports stars over scientists. You have whole generations of kids who dream of being a basketball/football/baseball/sports star. While the scientists and engineers are practically considered social rejects.


Gee thats a tough one. One path leads to riches, fame, fortune and hot women. The other path leads to going to school for 12 years only to end up at a physics labs thats threatening to be shut down. With very little to show for it besides personal satisfaction. And thats not even a given. The stigma of the typical engineer or scientist being overworked, underpaid and seldom laid sure isn't helping matters.

quote:
How much time and energy do people waste on what star did what, which team won which game, and who's dating whom? If even a small percentage of that energy was directed at sites like this we might have more interest in funding places like the above.


Not sure where your going with this besides some extremely idealist point. So you mean if I don't watch football this season I'll suddenly pick up nuclear physics and thermodynamics and help fund labs like this one ? Seriously, what are you even talking about ? DAMN those people trying to find entertainment !!! They should be funding the sciences !!!

Since you like pointing fingers. Why are you wasting all this " time and energy " posting on the Internet ? Huh ? Go out there and fund some sciences you slacker !!!

quote:
I'm sorry but the scientists and engineers of the world have done a lot more good for society than every sports hero and pop star combined.


True. So whats your point ?

I guess I would point out that without the huge tax revenue that professional sporting teams and the movie industry bring into the economy, the sciences budget would be a lot smaller...but nah. Never mind.


RE: Priorities
By Ringold on 6/2/2008 7:38:16 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The other path leads to going to school for 12 years only to end up at a physics labs thats threatening to be shut down. With very little to show for it besides personal satisfaction. And thats not even a given. The stigma of the typical engineer or scientist being overworked, underpaid and seldom laid sure isn't helping matters.


Well, okay. That's if you go the full PhD route and then choose to live on government cheese, a life of academics.

People that get science degrees and engineering degrees and then go and get real jobs in the private sector make more money than any other type of college graduate. Yes, lawyers can make a pretty penny, and some doctors do well, but in both fields wage growth hasn't been keeping up with inflation, while engineers earnings have been surging.

That makes the lack of engineers almost puzzling, because asides from the elite few who become sports stars, the majority of engineers are really the ones in America bringing home the bacon! If a hot little education major mama wants to snag a husband, she'd be best off hanging around the engineering departments of campus rather then just about anywhere else.

At least, if I was a hoe, that'd be my hunting ground.


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