Funding and future plans discussed at Users’ Meeting

Energy Secretary Steven Chu encouraged the U.S. to make basic research a top priority in his public lecture at the 44th annual Users’ Meeting on Thursday, June 2. Photo: Reidar Hahn.

The benefits of fundamental research make it worth funding even in tough economic times, said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in his public lecture on Thursday, June 2.

Secretary Chu’s talk was part of Fermilab’s 44th annual Users’ Meeting. Chu’s sentiment echoed ideas set forth earlier that day in presentations by DOE High Energy Physics Research and Technology Division Director Glen Crawford and Fermilab Director Pier Oddone.

In his lecture, Chu acknowledged Fermilab’s many achievements in high-energy physics, which were made possible by U.S. funding for fundamental research. He then advised the U.S. to consider historical events when making budget decisions.

Chu argued strongly for including basic research in funding decisions, citing several historical examples of strong federal support for fundamental research during difficult economic times, and how that support fueled scientific advances ranging from the invention of the laser to the discovery of the helical structure of DNA.

“Innovation… adds immensely to the wealth of society,” Chu said. “At the heart of innovation is research and development, and at the heart of that is science.”

In addition to funding basic science, the U.S. must get serious about inspiring the next generation of scientific leaders in order to regain our position as a world leader in science and technology, Chu said.

An economic crisis puts policy makers in a tough situation when it comes to deciding how to appropriate limited research funds. Crawford noted that while supporting science is a strong bipartisan and presidential priority, the field of high-energy physics will have to continue to operate under a tight budget scenario in the current fiscal climate.

Oddone discussed Fermilab’s current and future programs and explained the laboratory’s vision for the future.

“The vision we have at the laboratory enables the U.S. physics community to tackle the most fundamental questions of our era,” Oddone said. “To do this, we want to bring universities and other laboratories into our program.”

That vision includes the continuation of current experiments and projects at the Intensity and Cosmic Frontiers, and continued support for the LHC and its upgrades. It also includes a strong future program, with emphasis on experiments at the Intensity Frontier, such as LBNE and Project X.

According to Chu, the U.S. needs to act now to make basic research a top funding priority.

“Time is running out and the train is leaving the station,” Chu said. “As we did during the Civil War, as we did during the time we thought we were losing the space race, we can also make the right decision, so let’s hope we do.”

Watch a video of Chu’s lecture online.

Christine Herman