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Swan song for the Tevatron

By James Dacey at the APS April meeting, Anaheim, California

At the end of the September, the close of the US fiscal year, Fermilab’s star player, the Tevatron, is scheduled to be retired after a dazzling 25-year career.

Naturally, here at the APS April meeting there has been a lot of reflection on the achievements of this famous accelerator and the future of high-energy physics in the US.

Chris Quigg, a Fermilab physicist was presented here with the J J Sakurai prize for particle physics, and he told me that the discovery of the top quark was his pick of the Tevatron’s achievements.

“At the time that the collaborations made that discovery in 1995, what they did was almost impossible,” he said. “The number of events was very small, they had to master their backgrounds, and they had to be able to show that they could use a silicon vertex detector in the hadronic environment for the first time.”

On Sunday night the APS also assembled a special panel session to discuss how US physics is being affected by budgetary constraints. It included Fermilab director Pier Oddone and Carl Wieman who serves as chair of the Board on Science Education of the National Academy of Sciences.

All panel members seemed resigned to the fact that the decision not to extend the lifetime of the Tevatron will not be overturned, despite the continued appeals and the recent discovery by the CDF collaboration. Oddone spoke of how US high-energy physics will continue through involvement in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.

But Michael Lubell, APS director of public affairs, who chaired the session, made the provocative comment that big discoveries at CERN are seen as European achievements by the US government and the public. He argued that it will become increasingly difficult to convince US funding agencies to continue investing heavily in the LHC. “Let’s face it, what the government really wants to see is the American flag flying over CERN.”

I raised this issue yesterday with Mike Tutts, a physicist at Colombia University who is part of the ATLAS collaboration at the LHC. He feels that the big challenge will be communicating to the public the importance and excitement of the work being carried out at the LHC.

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