The Tevatron Comes to an End

[If you are a layperson interested in the faster-than-light neutrino claim, and you haven't yet looked at my recent ``open-space’’ post and the list of excellent questions laypeople have asked in the comments, you definitely should.  And ask your own if you want. That post also gives an organized list of links to my main posts on the neutrino experiment.]

Today is a sad day in American particle physics.  It is the day that Fermilab will shut down the Tevatron, once the world’s leading particle accelerator, which discovered and measured the mass and other properties of the top quark (the sixth discovered, and by far the heaviest), tested the Standard Model of particle physics in very great detail (confirming that everything I wrote in this post about the known particles is correct to the available precision of the experiment), and looked hard for the Higgs particle before being overtaken by the Large Hadron Collider.  But nature was not kind to this machine and its experiments CDF and DZero, in that nothing in its data about the elementary particles, other than the large mass of the top quark, took us by surprise (and even that only to a degree.)  [Though I should remind you that there are a number of interesting hints of new phenomena, as often happens as experiments come to an end, in the most recent results from the Tevatron (here's my favorite) --- but nothing that can yet be said to have stood the test of time.]  

What is sad is not that the Tevatron is over — its era had come to a close — but that its end reminds us that there will be nothing like the Tevatron or the Large Hadron Collider, or even other important but now closed facilities like the Stanford Linear Collider (an accelerator that made electron-positron collisions), in the United States for the forseeable future, probably for decades.  The period 1990-2010 saw the United States cancel project after project in high-energy physics, leaving the country with a vastly diminished research program, and a serious brain drain.  Europe now leads the way.

8 responses to “The Tevatron Comes to an End

  1. This is a trend that I lament so greatly! I currently work in credit risk analysis for government bonds. In this position I am exposed to some very interestingly wrapped credits, which have given me the idea that public-private-partnerships might be able to lead the way for bridge funding for science initiatives. As of yet most of the focus seems to be on sustainable energy, but I just don’t see why it should stop there. While I am not a scientist (I wish I had been), I value the sciences very highly and am actively looking for ways to keep them alive in the United States.

  2. Particle physicist hubris comes to mind – to think that the U.S. government should fund multi-billion dollar projects so that they can have “their own” facilities.

    The new reality is that these facilities are so expensive that multi-national collaboration is required – so that multiple countries fund a single facility. It would be wasteful for multiple countries to fund multiple facilities on their own.

    • I think you misread my statement here. The issue you raise is of course a serious one. But when a nation decides not to host any projects at home, what it gives up is the possibility of hosting future projects. Accelerator physicists in the US are growing old, and some are leaving the field; no new ones are being trained. When it comes time to do something in future, the US will not easily obtain the personnel or the expertise to do it. Giving up leadership in a field should never be done lightly, because the momentum, once lost, is extremely expensive to regain.

      The US government has essentially made the choice to give up its capability in high-energy physics. I think that is deeply unfortunate, and has many knock-on consequences. Perhaps I would worry less if I didn’t see the US giving up its leadership in many other fields — look at the Chinese investment in solid-state physics.

      Moreover, the suggestion is not that there should necessarily be competing facilities around the world that do the same thing. There were projects planned in the US that would have been complementary to the existing ones, and others that would go beyond the ones we currently have. There would have been research into the deep future. The entire field of high-energy physics suffers from the lack of US research commitment, and the joining of multiple countries is not enough to make up for it.

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