Published online 30 July 2008 | Nature 454, 563 (2008) | doi:10.1038/454563b

News: Q&A

Pier Oddone

The director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, talks to Eric Hand about the uncertain future of particle colliders in the United States.

FERMILAB

Did Fermilab welcome the $337.5 million for science in last month's congressional spending bill after a dismal 2008 budget?

Fermilab received an allocation of essentially $29.5 million, including $9.5 million to get Nova [a neutrino project] restarted — it had been zero-ed out in the 2008 omnibus bill. Nova is a project that needs to be done within a reasonable timescale and can't lose much more time. The other $20 million was used to avoid layoffs and to shore up staff. It eliminated the involuntary stage of our layoffs.

Delays at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, near Geneva, led to a push to continue running Fermilab's Tevatron. Was that a boon for your scientists?

Our scientists are involved in both colliders, so it's not an issue of it being a boon for us. It has always seemed to me that the prudent thing would be to run the Tevatron until it is clearly overtaken by the LHC, and that means having colliding beams at energy, with reasonable luminosities.

The Tevatron is the last US particle collider and will eventually be turned off. What then for Fermilab?

We still have the highest-intensity neutrino beam in the world. We have a project to greatly upgrade that, and it would give us a world-class machine at what we call the 'intensity frontier'. Ultimately, we'd go to Project X and that new beam line would go up to 2.5 megawatts. That's a very rich programme. In addition to doing neutrinos, you can tackle what we call rare decays or rare transitions.

But many come to Fermilab to work at the energy frontier. What will it mean not to have a collider in the United States?

It would be really depressing if we totally gave up on the energy frontier here. The energy frontier has moved: for quite a while, it has been in the United States and now it's going to Europe. We have aimed to have a critical mass [of expertise] such that once the detectors are running at the LHC, the experience of coming to Fermilab to do physics will be as rich as it would be to go to CERN.

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US budgets mean that the proposed International Linear Collider (ILC) will probably be hosted outside America.

The method of funding in the United States — year-to-year budgets, with surprises in the middle of a fiscal year — is clearly not a system that would allow you to have a partnership to build an international facility in the United States. It's symptomatic of a problem that I think needs to be fixed; perhaps by treaty, or by putting the money up front, the way we build big aircraft carriers. 

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