Friday, January 14, 2011

New Era For Fermilab

I was chatting with a few colleagues at work, and of course, the news of the end of the Tevatron was one of the topics. We were discussing the physics that we got out of the Tevatron, and that even years after it is shut down, there will still be work done on analyzing the data from it, and there will still be papers published. (Check out the current result on the possible anomaly seen in the top quark production.)

A topic of discussion that we had was the new direction that Fermilab will undertake once the Tevatron has been shut down. The so-called "Intensity Frontier" in high energy physics includes the study of neutrinos. It appears that Fermilab has a full investment in this area, with NuMI, MINOS, NOvA, and LBNE (and possibly a few others that I may have missed). In terms of the physics, these are very important experiments and could possibly produce amazing result. But how "unique" and attention-grabbing are they for the public?

During the heights of the Tevatron, even when it overlapped LEP at CERN, it was easy to point the uniqueness of the Tevatron to the world. It had the highest energy, it had the highest luminosity, etc.. etc. In other words, it was easy to sell it to the public as being a very unique machine, one of a kind. Now, after the Tevatron is gone, the LHC will have that crown and will have that "name recognition". While the various neutrino experiments at Fermilab are important, it can't claim uniqueness, at least from the point of view of a casual observer. Neutrino experiments are done elsewhere in the world. SNO in Canada, Daya Bay in China, and the more popular Super Kamiokande in Japan are three immediate examples. I'm not claiming that all these experiments and the one conducted or being planned at Fermilab are/will doing the same thing. They won't and aren't. But from the perspective of most people, even from physicists who are not in the same field, these experiments do not look different and unique.

So after the Tevatron, Fermilab will no longer have that singular, identifiable experiment that gives it its identity and recognition to the public. That is going to be hard to overcome.


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