Creative thinking during tight budgets

Mike Lindgren

Mike Lindgren, head of the Particle Physics Division, wrote this column.

This week we are in the middle of the annual DOE Science and Technology review. The preparation for this review has given us an opportunity to reflect on important questions about the quality of our science program, how well we are operating the facilities and how well we are serving the needs of our user community.

I don’t know anyone who enjoys being reviewed, but preparing for reviews does remind us of how much we accomplish. For instance, as we gathered information from the first months of accelerator operations after the shutdown, we were reminded of the immense effort that had gone into improving our experiments and test beam facilities and that they are going to perform even better than they did before the shutdown.

At the same time, these reviews also remind us that we can do better and that we need to set priorities. When some efforts only provide marginal improvements, we should focus our activities on new things or strengthen efforts that need help to make them world-class. A good example is the new Experiment Operations Center, which will occupy the current One North meeting space in Wilson Hall; construction will begin later this year. Consolidating Intensity Frontier experiment operations into one modern location for experiment and beam monitoring, access control and shifts will serve detector operations well for the next decade and beyond.

I always appreciate when people offer ideas to make things better, whether they are simple efficiency improvements in our daily work or big ideas about revamping our technical facilities by building state-of-the-art, integrated workplaces to better serve science.

My first reaction often is to say that budgets are tight, but then I remind myself that there is no better way to quash initiative than to tell people that. Instead, I challenge my colleagues and myself to figure out how we can accomplish at least some of these good ideas within our existing funding. That is not an easy task, but our lab has a history of being innovative and doing hard things. I believe we can embrace this as a challenge, knowing that if we do a great job, we will be serving the country and community well.

As we prepared for the review, I saw evidence for people who already think that way. We will take those good ideas, ask for more of them, work together to select the best and make them happen safely and efficiently.

Doing that while running experiments and operating this great research complex is not easy, but I think the people in the Particle Physics Division and across the laboratory are quite capable of it.