Private donation helps Fermilab weather budget crisis

An anonymous donation by a private supporter has helped take some of the budget pressure off America’s premier high-energy physics facility, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, but more help is needed.


Batavia, IL – An anonymous donation by a private supporter has helped take some of the budget pressure off America’s premier high-energy physics facility, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) , but more help is needed. The U.S. federal government’s

inability to craft a 2008 budget compromise in December 2008

To keep continuing operations going , facility managers were instructed to stop work on a number of programs currently in the development, which represent the future of high-energy physics research in the U.S. Other belt-tightening moves include instituting a furlough program requiring all employees to take one week off without pay every 2 months, and a staff reduction of 200 jobs not directly required to keep the lab functioning. To date, the furlough program has been ongoing and 60 employees have voluntarily left the facility.
The donation of $5 million from a family who wishes to remain anonymous takes some of the immediate pressure off the lab. Earmarked specifically “for the future of particle physics in the United States,” the funds target the specific areas left unfunded by the continuing squabble between the Executive and Legislative branches of the U.S. Federal Government.
“It is a wonderful thing,” said Kurt Reisselmann, deputy head of the office of public affairs at Fermilab, “which has been inspirational to everyone at Fermilab.”
Reisselmann tempered his remarks by noting that the budget shortfall was $22 million, so the donation does not relieve the lab of the need for fiscal austerity. Even so, lab management was able to cancel the furlough program and use the additional talent to work on the threatened programs. “These programs represent the future of Fermilab when we turn off our premier experiment, Tevatron.”
Tevatron, currently the world’s most powerful machine for high-energy physics research will soon be superseded by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) being built at the European facility CERN, located on the Franco-Swiss border. Fermilab will share responsibility for operating the LHC. Fermilab operators will use a remote control room located in Batavia linked to the LHC over a secure intranet.
Some of the programs threatened by the lab’s budget problems aim at advancing parallel areas of high-energy physics that LHC cannot explore. That includes reaching previously impossible energy levels with leptons with the proposed International Linear Collider (ILC). Matter in the Universe consists of leptons (low-mass particles, such as electrons), baryons (high-mass particles, such as protons), and mesons (intermediate-mass particles that provide the glue to hold it all together).
LHC will be able to study mesons and baryons , which collectively are called “hadrons.” Circular synchrotrons, such as Tevatron and LHC, cannot operate on leptons because those particles radiate away energy too rapidly via synchrotron emission. Lepton research must be conducted using a straight-tracked linear accelerator (linac). Failing to press forward with the ILC would make it impossible to move high-energy physics research in a balanced way.
On the federal funding front, a supplementary budget resolution is working its way through Congress, but there is no guarantee it will make it to law. “This is similar to the situation last fall,” Reisselmann notes. Failure to complete a federal budget or pass a supplementary budget precipitated the present crisis. “We have to anticipate operating under another continuing resolution,” Reisselmann notes, “which is why we still need to move forward with our staff reduction.”
Fermilab still needs help to close the federal-funding gap. Interested corporations and private donors can provide much-needed additional funds by contacting Pier Oddone, director of Fermilab, or through the University of Chicago, which helps manage the facility.
C.G. Masi , senior editor
Control Engineering News Desk
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