The U.S. Department of Energy decided to
save $35 million by closing our nation’s last high-energy particle
accelerator. High-energy physics is the science of the most fundamental
particles and forces of nature. Since everything we see is composed of
those particles and driven by those forces, high-energy physics is
generally considered to be the cutting-edge of science.
Shutting down the Tevatron at Fermi
National Laboratory effectively concedes leadership in high-energy
physics to other nations. Whatever future discoveries will be made in
this fundamental science, will no longer be made in the U.S.
For most of a century, the U.S. enjoyed a
commanding lead in high-energy physics. All six quarks, and most other
important particles, were discovered by American scientists using
American particle accelerators. The U.S. dominated the field, garnering
over half the Nobel Prizes, attracting the best and brightest young
scientists from around the world, and benefiting first and most from
spin-off technologies for medical, communications and military uses. I
believe particle physics will also enable development of new sources of
cheap, clean, and abundant energy.
The atomic bombs, which ended World War
II, were developed by high-energy physicists. We got the bomb before the
Nazis and Japan (both of whom had nuclear weapons programs) because we
had the best scientists and the best facilities. Imagine the cost we
might have paid if we had been second best.
The Tevatron was America’s last and
finest high-energy particle accelerator. American scientists at the
Tevatron were competing with Europeans to discover the next major
particle, the Higgs boson. DOE’s decision concedes that contest, and all
discoveries in this field for the foreseeable future.
With the last space shuttle launch
coming soon, the U.S. will no longer have the capability for manned
space travel. In this case, we will concede our leadership to the
It’s fine to proclaim that science is
essential, that we must invest in science, and that this is our “Sputnik
Moment”; but talk is cheap—mere political posturing. The DOE plans to
spend $30 billion this coming year and has “successfully obligated” $33
billion in stimulus funds. Yet, the administration isn’t willing to
spend 1/1000th of either sum to strive for leadership in fundamental
Our best and brightest scientists could
go overseas to assist in European or Japanese physics research programs.
Maybe it’s OK to outsource science. If so, we could save vastly more
money outsourcing the nation’s defense. Our young sailors could train on
British warships, allowing us to sell our costly aircraft carriers and
submarines to China.
Perhaps, our shores could be protected
by the British Navy, our soil protected by the French Army, and our
skies protected by the Luftwaffe.
Dr. Robert Piccioni
Author of "Everyone's Guide to Atoms, Einstein, and the Universe"
and "Can Life Be Merely An Accident?"