Status Report

AIP FYI #110: Marburger’s Views on Future of High Energy Physics

By SpaceRef Editor
August 25, 2003
Filed under ,

“The opportunities in high energy physics have increased, not
diminished, in importance during the past decade. But at the same
time the opportunities in these other very attractive fields of
science are also increasing, and very rapidly. What this suggests
to me is that federal budgets for high energy physics are not likely
to grow substantially faster than in the past.” – John Marburger

At a Fermilab users meeting in June, OSTP Director John Marburger
discussed the future of high energy physics and the nation’s science
enterprise in general. He shared his views on how particle physics
might compete – and collaborate – with other fields of science,
other federal science programs, and international projects. He
emphasized that, with continued funding constraints likely,
strategic planning is crucial to ensure the best mix of facilities
and most effective leveraging of efforts. Selections from
Marburger’s speech follow:


“[The] exceptional opportunities for high energy physics are
occurring simultaneously with other profound changes in science.
The same advances in computing and instrumentation that have been
important for your field are having a profound effect on all other
fields of science…. For the first time, it is possible to image,
analyze, simulate, and manipulate ordinary matter at the atomic
level. This is the domain of nanotechnology and biotechnology….
This is also the domain in which structures of astounding complexity
emerge, and its exploration requires the ability to store, analyze,
and visualize very large amounts of data. This new domain of
complexity has its own new frontiers, new paradigms, and new social
structures within the scientific community.

“Two important aspects of these emerging opportunities elsewhere in
science are important for the future of particle physics. First,
some of the new capabilities require investments in apparatus on a
scale that formerly occurred only for high energy and space
physics. Thus there are new competitors on the scene for large
scale, expensive facilities. These include intense photon sources
based on electron accelerators, intense neutron sources such as the
Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge, scanning electron
microscopy, high field NMR devices, and specialized super-computing
facilities. Second, the science opportunities created by these
facilities are also fundamental, exciting, and demonstrably of
greater relevance to human-scale issues than particle physics or
astronomy. The phenomena they deal with are closely linked to the
technologies important for national issues such as health care and
economic competitiveness. They are important for homeland and
national security. In short, they deserve, and are likely to
receive, high priority for funding even in an era of tight budgets.”


“The opportunities in high energy physics have increased, not
diminished, in importance during the past decade. But at the same
time the opportunities in these other very attractive fields of
science are also increasing, and very rapidly. What this suggests
to me is that federal budgets for high energy physics are not likely
to grow substantially faster than in the past. The United States is
investing approximately $800 million per year in high energy physics
research, and slowly increasing. I do not think the rate of
increase is enough to satisfy the current appetite for big projects
in this field, including new accelerators, neutrino detectors, and
space-borne observations. Some of these projects would seem to have
very high scientific payoffs. Which ones? We have to answer that
question quickly and carefully because there is danger of saturating
the available budget with lower priority activities.

“The conclusion I draw from these observations is that there is a
need for a new emphasis on, and perhaps even a redefinition of,
strategic planning in high energy physics. As a first principle of
planning, machines and instrumentation must be subordinated to a
broader view of the field. Priorities for projects need to be
justified by the expected science payoff in breadth and/or depth of
discovery potential. Justifying accelerator construction on the
basis of technology spinoffs has become a weak argument, in view of
the much greater relevance to technology of the new bio-, nano- or
complexity-oriented fields. By far the strongest argument for
pursuing high energy physics is the human imperative to discover the
nature of the physical universe. Even the discovery of the Higgs is
not an adequate justification. It is the value that observing the
Higgs adds for the elucidation of the whole picture that is
important…. Now we have something even more exciting than the
Standard Model. We have a set of cosmological mysteries including
inflation, dark matter, dark energy, and matter-antimatter
asymmetry, all of which must be related in some way to a bigger
picture of which field theory and the Standard Model are a part.
Choices of what activity to fund need to be related to their impact
on filling in this picture. Theory, and a wide variety of
experimental approaches all need to be evaluated together in this


“A second principle of strategic planning must be to acknowledge the
impact of one area upon another. Expensive projects in one field
definitely affect the chances of support for other fields, or for
other less expensive activities in the same field. A rational
science policy considers the complementary capabilities of agencies,
and seeks to avoid duplication. This requires comparing the big
science programs in NASA, NSF, and DOE…. It makes no sense for
DOE to be building space-borne instrumentation designed to probe the
mystery of dark energy, for example, without strong coordination
with NASA. Nor does it make sense for NASA to be flying space-based
experiments relevant to particle physics without strong coordination
with DOE.”

“A third important component of a new approach to strategic planning
is the international dimension…. Today each developed nation
understands the need to invest in the sciences that undergird their
technologically intensive economies. Their choices of how to make
that investment are influenced by the same forces I described
earlier. One consequence of this that I foresee is that there will
be less duplication of large facilities devoted to high energy
physics, and more equal sharing of the burden of building and
operating these facilities among nations…. I would like to see
closer coordination in the planning of large-scale experiments in
fundamental science among nations. We are all going to have to
invest competitively in the science infrastructure for our
technology-based economies. We should invest non-competitively in
the science infrastructure for large scale basic science.”

“National science policy responds ultimately to the needs of the
science community. We are going to depend upon you and your
colleagues for ideas about how best to plan the future exploration
of nature, and how to use scarce resources wisely in the endeavor.”

The entire text of Marburger’s June 2 speech is available in PDF
format at:

Audrey T. Leath

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.