Tevatron retires: The era of big American physics about to end

Sep 26, 2011 by Mira Oberman
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Main Ring and Main Injector as seen from the air. Image: Fermilab

The era of big American physics ends Friday with the retirement of the Tevatron particle accelerator, which has been recreating the Big Bang under four miles of Illinois prairie for 25 years.

The has been rendered obsolete by a more powerful -- the world's largest -- built in the Alps on the French-Swiss border by the European Center for (CERN), a consortium of 20 member nations.

It seems unlikely that the , which once dominated the field and reaped the rewards of discoveries and technological innovations, will be able to muster the resources to build the next big project.

Long-term funding is simply too hard to come by.

Instead, American physicists will concentrate on more precise -- and less expensive -- questions at home and work with CERN on high-energy projects like the search for the elusive 'God' particle.

"In our field we don't keep beating our heads if we have been outdone by another machine," said Pier Oddone, director of the , which operates the Tevatron.

"The idea is we shift to those areas where we can make the greatest contributions to understanding," Oddone told AFP.

"Sometimes the biggest discoveries come from smaller projects."

The Tevatron's retirement comes at a difficult time for American science.

NASA flew its last in July.

Government funding is being squeezed by a deep economic downturn and bitter budget battles on Capitol Hill.

And science itself has become politicized, with disbelief in evolution and human contribution to global warming now a litmus test for Republicans hoping to win the support of the party's conservative base.

Fermi's scientists say they cannot predict what the United States will lose by ceding to Europe.

The gains from Tevatron are far easier to quantify.

This undated image released by Fermilab shows the Tevatron accelerator just outside Batavia, Illinois, which uses magnets chilled to minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit (-268C), to move particles at nearly the speed of light. The era of big American physics ends Friday with the retirement of the Tevatron accelerator, which has been recreating the Big Bang for 25 years.

"The Tevatron has made phenomenal contributions to particle physics," said CERN's director general Rolf Heuer.

"Top of the list has to be the discovery of the top quark in 1995, but there are many more."

While expanding our understanding of the fundamental mysteries of the universe is a worthy accomplishment, the Tevatron has also led to a host of more concrete advances.

At the top of that list is the widespread use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines for medical diagnosis.

The superconducting wires used in MRI magnets were rare and prohibitively expensive until Fermilab essentially created an industry with Tevatron's demand for enough wire to circle the earth 2.3 times.

"No one imagined that there would be spinoffs that would eventually be important for saving your wife's life or your daughter's life or your grandmother's life through this medical imaging, yet that's exactly what happened," said Stuart Henderson, Fermilab's associate director for accelerators.

The next big discoveries at Fermilab could come from three new projects being funded in part by the $50 million that used to be spent every year on the Tevatron.

Scientists are currently building a dark energy camera, which will be able to scan the galaxy faster than any other telescope and aims to discover why the expansion of the universe is speeding up instead of slowing down.

They are also constructing the world's most powerful neutrino beam, which could help explain why the universe has more matter than antimatter and expand our understanding of its most abundant particles.

Project X -- if it secures funding -- aims to be the world's most intense proton accelerator.

"We're in a position here in the United States to really cement our leading role on unraveling the intensity frontier and Project X really provides a platform for us to do that over the next 20 to 30 years," Henderson said.

"If the US does not, I'm sure someone will pick it up and do it for us."

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User comments : 16

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Jayded
1 / 5 (7) Sep 26, 2011
Whilst amazing, driven by some genius minds and thoroughly dedicated to science it is sad that no one thought to patent those incredible discoveries allowing it to become financially viable.
Noumenal
5 / 5 (9) Sep 26, 2011
Like in the arts, sometimes, that shouldn't matter.
rawa1
1 / 5 (10) Sep 26, 2011
It's the wise decision. IMO we wouldn't find anything interesting in high energy sector at large colliders anymore. In aether theory the Universe appears like the landscape under the fog at both quantum, both cosmological scale or (even better) like the water surface observed with its own ripples. The more energy you'll put into such observation, the more the response will get dispersed and blurred, so you'll not see anything (albeit the remote observer would would still see its neighbouring reality clearly.)

The classical approaches of both experimental, both theoretical physics had simply hit their limits, which are following from random unparticle geometry of observable reality. More advanced approach would consist of application of smart combination of high energy physics and cosmological distances, than just brute force approach.
SpiffyKavu
5 / 5 (5) Sep 26, 2011
rawa1, I will limit my response to your second paragraph, lest I say something I regret. I assume that the first sentence is referring to your hesitation to accept the quantum, which is fine. But it does work; we predict quantities with fantastic accuracy. And even in quantum mechanics, there are at least a couple of approaches (not interpretations, but those too!). The Schroedinger/Heisenberg picture includes the "unparticle" things, while the path integral approach is pure particles.

And we are already looking at high energy (GeV) photons traveling cosmological distances. We are looking at TeV photons and particles with energies of 10^8 TeV.

People are looking at theories where forces are reflections of the boundary conditions (holography), where gravity and even spacetime are emergent concepts from a more fundamental principle. People are investigating a so-called aether (Einstein aether). Give these guys some credit; they know the problems very well.
fmfbrestel
not rated yet Sep 26, 2011
This facility would be perfect for large scale tests of Heavy Ion Inertial Confinement Fusion. Major source of cost would be building an accelerator, and hey, what do you know, here is a perfectly good one.
Callippo
1 / 5 (5) Sep 26, 2011
Give these guys some credit; they know the problems very well.
The formally thinking theorists got their fifty years of glory when they developed a working model of atom nuclei and astrophysics. But during last forty years the theoretical physics is retreating. Most of theories developed during last forty years just blown out (Higgs boson, supersymmetry, extradimensions, micro-black holes, superstring theory - not to say about many ad-hoced phenomenological predictions, like the fat strings, W' bosons, Z' bosons, preons, Randall-Sundrum gravitons, leptoquarks, low-mass superpartners, di-jet suppression of QGC, CPT violation etc.).

So we should simply ask, why is it so. MO it's not accidental, the observable world appears complex and fuzzy at the proximity, the symmetric and quantized at the intermediate scale and fuzzy and indeterministic at the quantum and cosmological scale again. It's simply the way, how huge random fluctuation interacts with the rest of random environment.
Callippo
1 / 5 (5) Sep 26, 2011
This facility would be perfect for large scale tests of Heavy Ion Inertial Confinement Fusion.
But the cold fusion is already working without such an investments.

http://coldfusion...vailable

The giant colliders are remnants of cold war era and arms race. We have no usage for them by now. The human civilization needs to starts its 2nd gold era by now - or we would face a much more serious problems in near future. What I'm missing at contemporary physicists is the responsibility for the future of human civilization - they just do care about continuity of their jobs and salaries like the lawyers, politicians etc..
aroc91
5 / 5 (4) Sep 26, 2011
But the cold fusion is already working


No it's not. Rossi is a fraud and the entire scientific community knows it. Pull his dick out of your mouth and move on.
Deesky
5 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2011
Pull his dick out of your mouth and move on.

That had me gagging! :)
Callippo
1 / 5 (4) Sep 27, 2011
Rossi is a fraud and the entire scientific community knows it.
Nope, what the scientists "knows" and recognize are just the results of experiments - everything else is politics and phillosophy. This is the principle of scientific method.

But scientific community didn't make any experiment regarding cold fusion at nickel, although this finding has been published before twenty years already. This is just a result of religious ignorance worth of medieval era - and now physicists itself paying for it with lost of their funding, because civilization has no money for their gaming.

Civilization runs out of fossil fuels (these fuels must remain cheap to power the large scale industry) - and the only viable solution is ignored with mediocre people, who are responsible for further progress. The consequences are undeniable: the civilization is becoming poor, not to say about ecological consequences of dirty fossil fuel burning.
fmfbrestel
not rated yet Sep 27, 2011
Inertial Confinement Fusion is NOT cold fusion! It is plenty hot, but just in a very small space. Laser confinement needs a huge facility for the lasers, and Heavy Ion confinement needs a particle accelerator.

Hey look! -- a giant particle accelerator! Hmm.. we can either use it to help research a promising energy technology, or we can just let billions of dollars of investment get turned into scrap.

For the love of fiscal sanity, can we please use the facility to do SOMETHING???
Callippo
1 / 5 (3) Sep 27, 2011
we can either use it to help research a promising energy technology
In which sense this technology is promising? Cold fusion is definitely cheaper, more scalable, free of radiation and radioactive waste. I can realize, whole crowds of physicists are desperately seeking for their new jobs by now, but what prohibits them to study just the cold fusion?

I'm pretty sure, if one would prove, the cold fusion effects are caused with WIMPS or Higgs boson, thousands of physicists would analyze them already...
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (3) Sep 27, 2011
In which sense this technology is promising? Cold fusion is definitely cheaper, more scalable, free of radiation and radioactive waste.

In the sense that it isn't fiction, for starters. Heavy Ion Inertial Confinement Fusion has an engineering problem, Cold fusion has a reality problem.
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (3) Sep 27, 2011
I'm pretty sure, if one would prove, the cold fusion effects are caused with WIMPS or Higgs boson, thousands of physicists would analyze them already...

Well, since Rossi is obviously failing at making money from Cold Fusion anyway, why dont they just take the wraps off of their "secret sauce" and ALLOW a scientist to study it? The only conspiracy surrounding Cold Fusion is one of deception by the "inventors".
rawa1
1 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2011
since Rossi is obviously failing at making money from Cold Fusion anyway, why dont they just take the wraps off of their "secret sauce" and ALLOW a scientist to study it?
At first, Rossi is not failing at making money. Rossi is in investment phase by now.

At second, this technology isn't secret at all. It has been published before twenty years in respected journal of italian scientific society.

http://www.lenr-c...xces.pdf

It's actually as free and public stuff, as you can ever imagine. Mr. Rossi just creates a fog around it in an effort to make his technology patentable. But the original founder of this fusion, Mr. Piantelli is much more opened in this sense.

http://coldfusion...esearch/

Actually, the only problem of scientists with cold fusion research are the scientists itself. All the problem is in their heads only. But we aren't paying scientists for making problems.
rawa1
1 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2011
Try to imagine, what would happen, if the cold fusion would turn out to be a quite relevant stuff and easy effect to study. Whole the community of physicists, who opposed it for twenty years would lost their credit immediately as an incompetent ignorants.

What's worse, the investments into alternative research would stop immediately. Why we should invest into inertial fusion, colliders, tokamaks or even nuclear fission research - if we could produce energy in easy to scale, reliable and safe way?

Would you support the cold fusion research under such a situation, being a theoretical physicist? No way...

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