The internet has only been available to me in starts and fits these past three days. It began with my departure from home via San Jose Airport to Denver, then onto Chicago. For the fourth time in three months, I was on my way to give a talk. This time, as at Fermilab, it was personal – an invited seminar at the University of Chicago. I’ve been working on a seminar about recent results from BaBar in the area of leptonic decays of heavy flavor (bottom and charm mesons), inspired by my time in Moscow and my long love affair with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at and Exhibition” [LeptonsAtAnExhibition].
I arrived in the evening, and a short taxi ride later I was at the Quadrangle Club (“Quad Club”). This building was my introduction to the wider architectural choices of U. Chicago. Modeled on Oxford and constructed about 100 years ago, the university boasts large stone edifices. The Quad Club interior is all dark stone and wood paneling, boasting a “chess room” hosting matches between Grand Masters. A bar, several restaurants (for club members), and a series of room on the top floor mark the club. I stayed in room 6, right at the top of the stairs, with a view of the tennis courts behind the club.
I always rise early on these trips, and the next morning was no exception. I hit the sidewalk by 7:30, looking for a morning cup of coffee and something to eat. The next block over, no more than 100 yards from the Quad Club, was a student union and eatery. Armed with coffee, I went in search of the physics department. One street down, on Ellis, I turned the corner found the Enrico Fermi Institute, with red dots painted on the floor to lead you to the High Energy Physics elevator. My host, Ed Blucher, was in his office, and so started my day at the department.
As with most seminars, the speaker is treated to a scheduled round of conversations with faculty members. I met with four faculty members, all told, and had remarkable conversations with each of them. No two of them were engaged in the same research, but all were passionate about their work. Ranging from experiments at the Tevatron, to rare decay searches in Japan, the International Linear Collider, this group of professors spanned the space of modern particle physics. One thing that ran common through all conversations, though, was a deep sense of concern over the way in which U.S. HEP is being managed and planned. The dearth of projects starting in 2008-2009, coupled with the “clearing of the decks” by the Department of Energy to make a (necessary) gamble on the ILC, has a lot of people worried.
I want to pause here for a second, and expand on this sense of concern. A lot of people, particularly high-ranking uppity ups, have mistaken this widespread concern for something else: disinterest. The university groups, particularly in high-energy physics, all see the need for the ILC. Not only is there a range of physics inaccessible to the Large Hadron Collider, but such a machine is critical in building on our understanding of the discoveries of the LHC. Nobody can predict discovery, neither when it will happen nor what it will reveal, but we can all predict that one tool planned 20 years ago will not suffice to completely illuminate the mystery. A TeV, or multi-TeV, linear collider is absolutely critical to the science program, and through great science will train the next generation of U.S. particle physicists in accelerator physics and constructions, detector design and construction, high-throughput computing, and not least of all fundamental, frontier exploration.
Concern is not disinterest. Concern is a sense of foreboding, a sense that maybe the funding agencies have made some unilateral and risky decisions in what is already a risky venture. Risk compounds non-linearly, and wiping away U.S. neutrino physics, flavor physics, and discovery oriented collider physics to pave the way for a global-scale international project leaves us with a gap. The gap is what concerns us all. I think the analogy that best explains this is that HEP is about to fly over a vast ocean, a place where there are no islands of experiment on which we can land. We are leaving the safe continent of an active multi-disciplinary, multi-methodological approach to HEP for a distant continent of a single, vast multi-user facility. In between, the funding agencies have cleared the islands. The only thing that makes the flight palpable is the guarantee that we’ll reach our destination before we run out of fuel . . . assuming that land is even going to be there at all.
Returning from my digression, I had a refreshing sense of commonality after all of my conversations. I was introduced to the science, the architecture behind the science, and the view to the future. All of this culminated in my seminar, prefaced by cookies and coffee (safer than wine and cheese for a nervous speaker). The seminar seemed to go well, and I was encouraged to give this seminar at other institutions to spread the word about rare leptonic decays. Who would have expected that kind of response for what seems like so singular a topic?
Now I am returning to California. Completing this trip allows me to clear my personal decks of immediate responsibility. This is good, because I have to focus in the next month on my various fellowship applications. The charged Higgs workshop, my conversations with SLAC physicists, and this trip to U. Chicago, have all focused my thinking about what I want to do with my research in the next 5 years. Now I just need to land a job that will let me do it.
PS: I’ve heard an interesting phrase in the past few weeks, in reference to the demise of new funding for U.S.-based HEP projects except the ILC. “The DOE is clearing the decks to make way for the ILC.” I just hope these don’t turn out to be the decks of the Titanic, to borrow a political phrase.
.. [LeptonsAtAnExhibition] “http://steve.cooleysekula.net/talks/UChicago.pdf”:http://steve.cooleysekula.net/talks/UChicago.pdf