Physics Advisory Committee

What do CERN director general designate Fabiola Gianotti, former CMS spokesperson Sir Tejinder Virdee and Berkeley Lab Physics Division head Natalie Roe all have in common? They are all former members of the Fermilab Physics Advisory Committee. Since prehistoric times, the PAC has been the primary mechanism for Fermilab directors to solicit advice on the Fermilab science program from leading experts of the global particle physics community. We are very fortunate that the best and the brightest of our field are willing to travel long distances to devote substantial amounts of time and energy to helping us.

The PAC meets two or three times per year, but traditionally the summer meeting is a longer retreat allowing for more detailed discussions and considerations of scientific strategy. Our meeting last week was held at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center, where over four days the Fermilab management engaged with the 16 current members of the PAC, chaired by Daniela Bortoletto of Oxford.

Not surprisingly the PAC spent a lot of time discussing the rapid progress on the new neutrino initiatives, both the long-baseline DUNE/LBNF and the short-baseline SBN. They heard a report from David MacFarlane of SLAC, the chair of the recently formed Long-Baseline Neutrino Committee (LBNC). The LBNC is an offshoot of the PAC designed to concentrate on DUNE/LBNF and meet with the greater frequency merited by the fast pace and large scale of this evolving program.

The PAC gave special attention to SBN, the newly launched experiment that will combine the MicroBooNE, ICARUS and SBND liquid-argon detectors to understand short-baseline neutrino anomalies that might be related to sterile neutrinos. With MicroBooNE poised to begin data taking soon, we expect to learn an enormous amount in the coming year about how to efficiently reconstruct neutrino events in liquid argon. The laboratory will need to ensure a coordinated effort to rapidly disseminate this new expertise to SBN as a whole and to DUNE.

Another major role of the PAC is to give specific recommendations on the scientific and programmatic merit of proposals for new experiments. Last week they discussed an extensive proposal from the CAPTAIN-MINERvA collaboration, which aims to combine the CAPTAIN liquid-argon detector with the already operating MINERvA detector in the NuMI neutrino beam. The goal is to make measurements of neutrino interactions with argon nuclei that could eventually be critical inputs for extracting precise results from the DUNE experiment.

I have not even mentioned the extensive PAC discussions of our muon program, CMS, our test beams and the cosmic frontier. This is a hard-working committee! Even more important, I have found their advice to be frank and quite often adding new dimensions of insight, beyond our standard DOE review processes, on where we can do better. Thanks also to Fermilab’s Steve Geer and Hema Ramamoorthi for organizing and running this challenging meeting.