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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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Good Funding News, But Where is the Safety?
By JTankers on 6/2/2008 10:04:18 AM , Rating: 2
I am very happy to hear that science is getting more funding. It actually needs much more so that we can devote proper funds to proving the perhaps less glamorous task of proving reasonable safety.

Safety study is absolutely necessary when some very eminent scientists such as the inventor of Chaos theory's Rossler attractor are very concerned that we might rush into our own destruction because we don't take risk analysis seriously.

Is the following article of the day at fair, "Culture of Superiority?" about cultural differences that might be an impediment to analysis and communication of risks... It also speaks of the apparent use of educated betting odds to justify experiments that might end the human race... Is that reasonable?

Did you know:

The LHC Safety Assessment Group (LSAG) agreed with us that if cosmic rays produce micro black holes, they will be relativistic and travel too fast to be captured by Earth's gravity, whereas if LHC head-on particle collisions produces micro black holes they will be non-relativistic with some that can be captured gravitationally, either by the Earth, or by the Sun.

LSAG is also not assuming Hawking Radiation is valid in their new safety study.

Have you heard these quotes:

“ …after 50 months the earth to a centimeter would have shrunk. It would be nothing more there, not only no more life, there but also the earth would be… a small black hole.
-Prof. Dr. Otto E. Rossler

“ … the scientists are fully aware that it is not a project without a grave risk to the life of the Earth.”
-Dr. Raj Baldev

RE: Good Funding News, But Where is the Safety?
By masher2 on 6/2/2008 10:34:03 AM , Rating: 2
FYI, Rossler is a bit of a quack with no formal training in physics. His "eminence" in this field is nonexistent.

RE: Good Funding News, But Where is the Safety?
By JTankers on 6/2/2008 5:13:39 PM , Rating: 2
Actually even the anti-delay, no transparent review supporters call Prof. Dr. Otto Rossler eminent and distinguished . His abilities are well proven and they do include significant particle physics work. Look at his bio on Wikipedia and Scholarpedia.

Also so far, Dr. Rossler is the only scientist that has published Earth accretion math for peer review. This is a summary of what Dr. Rossler believes may happen (posted at > The Scientists > Comments:

"Rossler’s idea is that when a MBH accretes a charged particle, say electron, this will not go straight into the MBH, but will circulate around the MBH for a while, and by doing this, a magnetic field will be created which will attract positive and negative charged particles, each at the opposite poles of the MBH, thus accelerating the accretion rate."

Some links to Prof. Dr. Otto E. Rossler and his distinguished work (Dr. Rossler is extremely credible).

By masher2 on 6/2/2008 5:54:07 PM , Rating: 2
> "Look at his bio on Wikipedia and Scholarpedia"

You mean his bio written by random passerbys, fans, his own family members, and likely even you yourself?

I repeat my comments. Rossler has no credentials in high-energy physics or even physics at all; his refereed publications appear to be almost entirely in chaos mathematics and/or biology.

As for your own comments, I can only assume you're the same JTankers posting rudely truculent scientific fallacies all over the same "lhcfacts" website that regurgitates Rossler's arguments, forgive me if I take your comments with a grain of salt.

By Strunf on 6/2/2008 1:34:42 PM , Rating: 2
I'm pretty sure many scientists weren't that happy with nuclear research either and yet man got with it an energy source that could make our life better along with greatly reducing pollution and others...

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