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FYI Number 124: November 11, 2002

Orbach on the Future of U.S. High Energy Physics

"I just don't want to be second in the world," asserted DOE Office of Science Director Ray Orbach in his remarks to last week's meeting of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP). Saying it "would be a dreadful loss to our country," Orbach urged HEPAP to produce a plan ensuring continued U.S. leadership in high energy physics research.

Orbach speaks with conviction and enthusiasm about Office of Science programs, while worrying about its budget and how other nations are positioning themselves to surpass American researchers. Orbach praised HEPAP as an "example of how an organization can work together" that could serve as an example to the physics community. Orbach bemoaned flat funding for physics research over the last ten years, saying that no field is more affected by this situation than high energy physics. Calling this condition "perilous," he remarked that accelerators are important to all research supported by his office.

HEPAP was briefed by Orbach about his office's strategic plan that will be issued in the spring of 2003. Part of this process is the compilation a 20-year "wish list" of desired $50+ million physics facilities. The next exercise (Orbach stressed the word "exercise") will refine this list and then compare it to various funding scenarios. Projected operating costs will be included. Under one funding scenario, the budget increases in authorization legislation now being considered by Congress plus succeeding 4% annual increases appears to be sufficient. Orbach noted that report language for the FY 2003 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill is quite supportive of such planning.

Looking at the immediate future, Orbach asked for HEPAP's assistance in prioritizing research at Fermilab and SLAC within the current budget environment. Scientific leadership must be maintained at both laboratories, he said. Orbach spoke at length about the imperative of American researchers being the first to observe the Higgs boson, saying it would be a great loss to the United States if another nation did so. "It would be awful if we were to miss this opportunity if we did not marshal our resources," Orbach told the committee. "It's a race . . . I don't want to be second in that race," he said. Congress, declared Orbach, strongly agrees with this goal. If the field's objective should be something else, HEPAP should make that known, Orbach stated.

Looking ahead to the construction of the Next Linear Collider, Orbach remarked that there is no conflict between the race to observe the Higgs boson and future cooperation on this collider. There is currently no international structure to support the future collider, but Orbach said that meetings are being held on cost and management structures. Orbach wants an estimate that he can have confidence in, adding budget and schedule problems for the Large Hadron Collider have created problems. Constructing the Next Linear Collider in the United States would be a tremendous asset, but would require a larger financial commitment. It is, he feels, "none too soon" to start working with Congress on this project.

Orbach concluded his remarks as he had begun: "I want to be the best high energy physics program in the world."

Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095

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