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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 OrSin on 6/2/2008 9:36:10 AM , Rating: 2
In Saddam 20 years in power I think the people felt alot safer before we come in. This war have killed over 100000 Iraq. Sorry but Saddam was bad dictor, but at aleast he was a much more stablizing force then we are. And Iraq's dont want us there.

RE: Priorities
By Hulk on 6/2/2008 10:21:42 AM , Rating: 1
Hitler would have been more "stabilizing" to the world if he conquered it also.

Most of the conflicts since WWII would have been avoided.

Your statement is ridiculous. And the fact that you have time to BS around in forums (and complain about the governement( means that you have a pretty damn good life thanks to the hundreds of thousands of Americans that have died for your right to float through life and complain about the price of freedom not being free. Please think about it.

RE: Priorities
By smitty3268 on 6/2/2008 11:23:11 AM , Rating: 2
Comparing Saddam and Hitler is the ridiculous statement here. One was attempting to conquer the world, and the other hadn't done anything in over a decade and was pretty clearly incapable of threatening us.

Not that he was a good guy, or anything. If he had the power for all I know he could have ended up being worse than Hitler. But claiming he had the same destabilizing ability Hitler did is utter nonsense.

There have been polls which said flat out that the Iraqi people preferred life under Saddam Hussein than what came after, mostly because they had a much lower chance of being kidnapped by criminals or blown up by terrorists.

However, I believe those polls came at the height of violence and I haven't heard of any since the surge started to calm things down, so it may not be accurate anymore.

RE: Priorities
By Pottervilla on 6/2/2008 11:19:23 AM , Rating: 3
"at least fifty thousand rural Kurds ... died in Anfal alone, and very possibly the real figure was twice that number ... All told, the total number of Kurds killed over the decade since the Barzani men were taken from their homes is well into six figures."

"documented civilian deaths from violence" Avg. 88,000

Saddam killed more than the war does. And if any of the theories are correct about his connections with the very terrorists that are killing now, he was even worse than the statistics show.

Admitedly, Iraqi's are ready for us to go, but not because they dislike us; they fear that are presence is encouraging the rebels.

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." - Thomas Jefferson

"The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing." - John Adams

"If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves." - Winston Churchill

RE: Priorities
By FITCamaro on 6/2/2008 11:59:59 AM , Rating: 3
Ah so because he kept the secretarian violence in check, its ok that he killed tens of thousands of innocents?

RE: Priorities
By straycat74 on 6/2/2008 1:33:04 PM , Rating: 3
secretarian violence

How violent does it get in the corporate world, and what do these administrative assistants want?

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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