Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=185308
Story Retrieval Date: 5/23/2013 5:15:04 PM CST
The Tevatron accelerator at Fermilab will be shutdown this fall, but Project X could fill its space.
Technicolor particle could bring new era of physics to light
On the heels of a discovery that could change the future of physics, Fermilab has another reason to celebrate.
The amended national budget drastically improved funding to the Department of Energy’s office of science by lowering cuts to 1 percent from 20 percent and could help Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory avoid major layoffs.
The original proposed cuts could have resulted in mass layoffs, and many – including Illinois’ U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin (D) – publicly expressed criticism of the cuts.
“When you’re talking about approximately 1,500 jobs on the line, you can’t overstate the regional impact of the havoc caused by the extent of the proposed cuts, as demonstrated by the public outcry against them,” said John Normoyle, Durbin’s press secretary.
Fermilab director Pier Oddone said cuts of that magnitude would have been catastrophic to the lab's operations and the actual funding changes will be much easier to handle.
“We still are handling a difficult transition in shutting down Tevatron and beginning new projects,” Oddone said. “With this level of funding we could handle it quite well.”
The Tevatron was the world’s most powerful particle accelerator until Europe’s collider at CERN eclipsed it, and Fermilab's atom smasher will shut down this fall.
Alan Schriesheim, director emeritus of Argonne, said avoiding layoffs is not only important for current research but also in recruiting the next generation of researchers.
“Research is a very people-intensive activity, so when you cut the budget it is not generally possible to save a lot of money by shutting off the lights,” Schriesheim said. “If you lay off people you can’t then do research. You don’t have the talent to do it. You have an effect on the next generation who then will decide not to go into the fields.”
Normoyle said the cuts would have stifled American innovation, especially in Illinois.
“If the House Republican budget (HR1) had become law, many companies that use Argonne’s facilities would have been forced to move their operations overseas,” he said. “Fermilab and Argonne attract the best and brightest minds to Illinois and create the kinds of high-paying jobs that are crucial to our long-term economic recovery.”
It was those bright minds at Fermilab who recently found what might be the biggest physics discovery in decades – a new type of particle called Technicolor that they found with detectors inside the soon-to-be-retired Tevatron.
Oddone said this discovery is exciting because it’s an alternative to finding the Higgs boson, a theoretical particle believed to give mass to all matter. “If you have these Technicolor particles you can generate what Higgs would do,” he said.
Physicists have been on the hunt to prove the existence of the elusive Higgs for years.
“Potentially it’s as big a discovery as Higgs would be,” Oddone said.
More data needs to be analyzed to confirm the discovery. Oddone said scientists have enough data to confirm or disprove it and hopes the analysis will be complete in the next few months.
If the discovery is confirmed, it would mean a whole new family of particles exists. The particles detected at Fermilab are of lower mass, but scientists expect that higher mass Technicolor particles would also exist.
Oddone said those higher mass particles would be easy to spot in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. Once Fermilab confirms the discovery, he expects the exploration to continue at CERN.
Technicolor isn’t the only innovative project on the horizon at Fermilab.
A new endeavor, known as Project X, would allow Fermilab to increase the flux of particles by a factor of 100. “Project X will give us the most intense machine in the world in terms of the number of particles it produces,” Oddone said.
Project X would generate high-intensity beams of particles allowing physicists to enter a new frontier of research. Fermilab plans to build the project inside the Tevatron.
Oddone said he hopes the project will be approved by the end of the year. If Project X gets the green light, Fermilab will spend a few years working on the design then await a final decision on the design and the project.
If all proceeds as planned, Oddone said the lab would break ground on Project X in 2014 or 2015 and it would be complete by 2020.
Schriesheim said funding forward-thinking projects such as these invests in the health of humanity in the future.
“Institutions like Argonne and Fermilab are essentially set on maintaining and improving the quality of all life by gaining new understandings of what goes into the nature of materials, [researching] all those items that are not quite here today but we wish would be here tomorrow,” he said.
According to Schriesheim, limited resources are a problem for researchers because budgets tend to cut out those items that will make an impact sometime in the future that can’t be defined yet in favor of short-term projects.
“I would hope that the nation continues to put money into its future. That’s what these institutions do. They bet on the future,” he said.