The Sun is setting on the American Scientific Community


Tevatron at night

The 4-mile in circumference Tevatron accelerator uses superconducting magnets chilled to minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit, as cold as outer space, to move particles at nearly the speed of light

The “God particle” may have to wait.

The Tevatron, a once-cutting edge Chicago-area particle accelerator run by the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and played a key role in the quest for the Higgs Boson or “God particle” was shut down for the last time Friday afternoon at 3:40 p.m. EDT. 

“We’re thinking of it as if we’re pulling the plug on our favorite uncle,” said Roger Dixon, who heads the accelerator division at Fermilab, on Thursday.

Helen Edwards, the lead scientist for the construction of the Tevatron in the 1980s, terminated the final store in the Tevatron by pressing a button that activated a set of magnets that steer the beam into the metal target.

Edwards then pushed a second button to power off the magnets that have been guiding beams through the Tevatron ring for 28 years.

A live broadcast of the event began at 1 p.m. EDT, allowing Fermilab staff and fans to watch the broadcast, hosted by Fermilab Director Pier Oddone.“Many exciting measurements and discoveries were made here which helped finalize the model by which we explain the behavior of elementary particles,”

Dmitri Denisov, a Fermilab scientist, told “That’s over 1,000 papers published, over 1,000 Ph.D.s defended along with the participation of 40 countries around the world.There’s plenty of research to keep Fermilab at the cutting edge, Fermilab’s physicists claim.

Denisov said he has plenty of data to analyze, enough to keep him busy for the next year.There are also efforts to build a new accelerator to study the universe in a new way — by producing the most collisions, rather than the most powerful.

The accelerator also would be capable of producing neutrino beams more intense than anywhere else to help study the particles that scientists theorize helped tip the cosmic scales toward a universe made of matter.

“The idea is to look for things that happen very rarely, and the way to find them is to create lots of examples and see if you find something,” said Steve Holmes, who’s in charge of the new venture, called Project X.

The proposal could cost up to $2 billion, but it has no funding yet. By early next year, Fermilab hopes to be able to conclude from Tevatron data that either the Higgs boson does not exist or that it’s still a plausible theory. Even if there’s evidence of the Higgs boson, it would have to be confirmed — and that would probably happen in Switzerland.

A large fraction of U.S. physicists will move to CERN’s LHC, while a substantial number will continue with new neutrino and energy frontier experiments at Fermilab,” Denisov said.

“From the DZero control room, goodbye, and good luck,” said Bill Lee, run coordinator for the experiment.

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The end of American atom smashing

Photo from United States Department of Energy

Photo from United States Department of Energy

After a quarter of a century, scientists operating underneath the surface of the Earth today will pull the plug on Tevatron, bringing the massive atom smasher to a screeching halt.

And just like that, another nail is hammered into the coffin for the American scientific community.Many scientists have touted Tevatron as the most successful atom smasher in the history of physics. Since 1985it has been operating outside of Chicago, Illinois and its technology has allowed experts to pinpoint some of the building blocks of the universe.Abroad, however, the Large Hadron Collider, a similar structure underneath the ground at the French/Swiss border, has usurped the Tevatron as the most powerful machine of its type. Its accomplishments since its construction in 2009 have been remarkable, and American investments domestically cannot compete with the research being carried out by the LHC.

In other words, the Tevatron is no match for what lies across the pond and underneath the Earth.

“The machine has discovered what it could discover within its reach,” Gregorio Bernardi tells The Washington Post. Bernardi is a physicist at Fermilab, the Energy Department facilities that has overseen the Tevatron for years.

At 2pm this afternoon, Bernardi will pull the plug on Tevatron. “That will be it,” he tells The Post. “Then we’ll have a big party.”

Other scientists don’t necessarily see a reason to rejoice, however.

Pierluigi Catastini formerly worked for Fermilab, but in recent years he left the States to help out with the LHC. Others have followed suit since the LHC began operation two years ago and more are expected to do the same.

“The LHC is almost brand new,” Catastini tells PC Magazine. “Many of the people I worked with at the Tevatron are now working at the LHC. The experiments are obviously bigger, but the atmosphere is like when I joined the Tevatron [in 2003]. People were very excited, we were all looking for something new. Now the future is the LHC. If you really want to be at the edge of the energy frontier, you want to be here.”

That edge once belonged to America but has become dulled in recent years. The science community suffered a similar blow only months ago when NASA retired their long-standing shuttle program, forfeiting the space race to other countries. Notably both China and Russia have continued to invest in a space program and look to beat out America towards the next major discovery.

Over 2,000 scientists are currently employed at Fermilab and many intend on staying to work on other projects. Its crowning glory, however, will be no more by this afternoon. With the Tevatron gone, those looking to continue their career in physics may follow Catastini abroad. The Chicago Tribune reports that 50 scientists have took off from Fermilab in recent times in order to work on the LHC. They add that almost half of the universities in America that have conducted research in the country have moved their studies away from Fermilab and over to Europe.

And even with a large staff as of now, earlier this year Fermilab asked 100 employees to volunteer to receive severance packages.

Even outside of the science realm, Americans are unsure that the retiring of Tevatron is a wise move. Speaking to the Tribune, Republican Congresswoman Judy Biggert said, “I think basic science is the most important thing that will help us to compete in the global economy.”

“We have to realize that basic science really drives industry and creates the jobs our children and grandchildren will enjoy,” added Biggert.

Meanwhile, Americans continue to suffer from an unemployment epidemic which earlier this week Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called a “national crisis.”

Fermilab will be hosting a live broadcast online of the Tevatron’s shutdown later today.

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