A good close to the year

Fermilab Director Pier Oddone

This is my last Director’s Corner for the year, so first of all I want to wish you and your family happy and safe holidays! You have contributed to a very successful year, with many exciting scientific results, milestones for the construction of new projects and the very successful conclusion of Tevatron running after another record year.

Last week had many important events. In Washington, we received our “grades” from Bill Brinkman, the Director of the Office of Science. They are, once again, excellent and will qualify us for a further extension of our contract through 2016.

An important development over the weekend was the passing of the Consolidated Appropriations Bill by the House and the Senate, which gives us our budget for fiscal year 2012. It has a small reduction for high-energy Physics from the budget proposed by the President in February, but overall it is very good news, especially when we consider the present budget climate. The bill provided $21 million for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment, including $4 million of Project Engineering Design (PED) funds. We now have the PED funds for Mu2e and LBNE, as well as the required capital funds for MicroBooNE. We owe many thanks to our representatives in Washington and the staff of the House and Senate Appropriation Committees who work incredibly hard do the best for the nation’s science and technology with very tight budgets.

Another important milestone for us last week was the ground-breaking for the Illinois Accelerator Research Center (IARC). The IARC represents a partnership between the State of Illinois and the Department of Energy (DOE) aimed at maintaining and strengthening the leadership of the United States in accelerator science and technology. Our field has been the fountain of innovation for accelerators. As we push the technological envelope for our own accelerators, the by-product is often innovation that is implemented in many other areas of society. More than 30,000 accelerators are used worldwide in discovery science and applications to medicine, national security, and many industrial processes. DOE has designated the Office of High Energy Physics as the national steward of advanced accelerator science for all fields, giving us an explicit mandate to work with our academic and industrial partners in advancing this important field. This is a more direct step to economic and societal impact than purely through spin-offs. The IARC places us in very strong position to carry out this new mandate.

The final important event from last week was the next step on the path to the Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE) – a recommendation from the executive committee of the LBNE collaboration regarding how the experiment should be done. This recommendation culminated a two-year-long, very thorough process that included several external reviews. The executive committee had a strong consensus in recommending that the experiment be done deep underground at the 4,850 foot level in order to have the broadest program and the greatest reach for discovery science. The committee concluded that both the water Cerenkov and the liquid argon technologies could achieve the experiment’s goals. It reported a preference for the water Cerenkov detector, but noted that the scientific goals are the most important and that there is strong support for both technologies within the committee and the collaboration. The committee stated that the collaboration will support the final choice of technology, which will be made in consultation with DOE. Having two viable technologies at this time is strength, not a weakness. It will allow DOE to make a choice when it considers all the factors in steering this project through the funding thicket ahead.

All in all, a good week that prepares us for great New Year!