Staying competitive in the 21st century

Vladimir Shiltsev, director of the Accelerator Physics Center, wrote this column.

Vladimir Shiltsev

Last week I traveled to Austin, Texas, to attend the Advanced Accelerator Concept workshop. Participants heard about the great progress in various accelerator R&D activities, ranging from laser plasma acceleration to new methods to improve the performance of radio-frequency cavities. I noticed that attendees reported significant advances in these fields in Europe and China.

Fermilab participants gave several well-received presentations on the progress made on the assembly of our Advanced Superconducting Test Accelerator, our plans for a new type of storage ring in the ASTA facility and R&D toward a muon collider. The talks about our ASTA facility especially drew interest from prospective collaborators.

The most frequently cited talk of the conference was the presentation by our Associate Director Stuart Henderson. He outlined what the U.S. particle physics community expects from the advanced accelerator research community in order to reach our common goal of “socially responsible and financially affordable” accelerators that achieve the scientific goals of the Energy and Intensity Frontiers.

On my flight back to Chicago I read the latest issue of Physics World magazine. An article (registration required) by Manjit Kumar titled “When physics was ‘made in the USA’” caught my attention. The author reviewed David Cassidy’s book “A short history of physics in the American century” and posed the question, “Would an equivalent history of physics in the 21st century be all about China?” Despite all the arguments presented in Kumar’s article, I think the answer is not yet clear. If we act, the United States has the chance to maintain its leadership in many areas of science. In particle physics, in particular, the construction of a dedicated accelerator facility at Fermilab – Project X – would keep us competitive for several decades.

With such thoughts I landed in Chicago, the city of big shoulders. Upon my arrival at Fermilab, I was fired up to dive back into the work that the APC carries out for Project X. The very next day, I attended the Project X Physics Study workshop at Fermilab, which runs until June 23. I was pleased to see particle physicists from the United States and around the globe with great excitement laying out their plans for future experiments using Project X, which would provide multi-megawatt proton beams at various energies.

With strong collaborators, support from our funding agencies and our trademark “can do” spirit, Fermilab will remain a world-class particle physics laboratory for the decades to come. Together we can do our share to make sure that the United States will remain a leader in physics research in the 21st century.