Fermilab hosts congressional roundtable discussion

On Sept. 28, Fermilab hosted the U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space, and Technology Committee roundtable discussion on DOE’s Underground Particle Physics Programs. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Editor’s note: The video of the meeting is available here.

Representatives Randy Hultgren and Judy Biggert met at Fermilab on Sept. 28 to lead a discussion about the future of underground science and the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL).

Under increasing pressure to tighten the federal budget, the Congress members asked how world-class particle physics research could be maintained, while providing the best value for taxpayers.

“This program will bring major international participation to our shores and allow the U.S. to stay at the forefront of research in particle physics,” said Pier Oddone, director of Fermilab.

Oddone and others emphasized that the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE) will edge out a lead for the U.S. in the neutrino field, while taking advantage of the unique opportunity of having the perfect deep underground mine available in South Dakota. Oddone explained how LBNE will also create incentive for a new proton source, like Project X, which will effectively triple the power delivered to the experiment and keep Fermilab at the forefront of particle physics research.

“This is the optimum site for hosting neutrino and dark matter experiments,” said Kevin Lesko, the principal investigator of the DUSEL project.

“The stars are aligned,” he concluded. “We have all the pieces in place to make this happen, to have a very positive effect.”

William Brinkman, director of DOE’s Office of Science, expressed support for the program but cautioned that a limited budget will dictate the outcome.

“The DOE is being cautious in what we decide to do. We have not committed yet to either of these experiments or to the locations of the experiments,” he said. “We must be realistic about the possible budget.” Biggert emphasized her support for Fermilab’s work.

“I’m convinced that Fermilab’s going to hold an important role in the future of American science,” she said.

The meeting took a more personal turn during the closing comments.

“I came here from Peru because you could do great things here,” Oddone said. “And I really don’t want to lose that.”

Milind Diwan, spokesperson for LBNE, continued along the same line.

“I got into science because when I was a child I saw the astronauts walk on the moon,” he said. “And there’s no question that’s what inspired me.”

With that in mind, Hultgren said he wanted his children to have the same opportunities in studying science.

“Failure is not an option,” Hultgren said. “We cannot allow this on our watch to slip away and go somewhere else. We’re doing a lot but we need to do more. We need to reach out to more people and tell our story a little more effectively. These next months are pivotal for what’s going to happen in the next decades.”

Brad Hooker