It happened . . . again

With all the hooplah about the proposed $700B bail out of bad Wall St. investments, the fact that the United States is now on a continuing budget resolution went completely unnoticed by the press. I’ll bet this escaped everybody’s attention. It didn’t escape physicists’ attention.

You can find links to the legislation in THOMAS, the Library of Congress search engine [1]. Of course, I was very interested in what was going to happen to the DOE research budget. After the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2007, which cut the FY08 basic research budget and led to cancellations of experiments and significant layoffs at National Labs, we were hoping for a “bump” in the Iraq War supplemental appropriations bill. Indeed, DOE science did get a tiny, tiny bump. $60 million dollars was appropriated for DOE, which was primarily used to stabilize the situation at Fermilab and restore some of the U.S. commitment to the huge international project, ITER. Many other areas of research were still stopped or zeroed out.

We were told in March that it was unlikely that the Congress would pass a single spending bill because of the fact that this is an election year. Nobody counted on the fiscal crisis, although being a subscriber to the notion of “black swans” this was by no means a real surprise [2]. The crisis made the passage of spending bills even LESS likely, and so we find ourselves living out the March Congressional self-fulfilling prophecy. Congress has not passed any spending bills for FY09, and tomorrow begins FY09.

So what has been passed? Just a week ago, the American Physical Society sent out warnings to members of the imminent passage of the Continuing Resolution. Rather than continuing the FY08 + supplemental funding, Congress was ignoring the supplemental and instead treating the FY08 omnibus number as the baseline spending cost. That was the story at the time.

On Sept. 27, the Congress appears to have passed the bill. What’s in it?

It’s locked tight. LOCKED TIGHT. The language is very clear:

The following sums are hereby appropriated . . . namely: Such amounts as may be necessary . . . for continuing projects . . . that are not otherwise specifically provided for in this joint resolution, that were conducted in fiscal year 2008, and for which appropriations, funds, or other authority were made available in . . .  the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 (Public Law 110-161)

In other words, any project named in last December’s bill is continued at the same amount. It gets worse:

Rates for operations shall be calculated . . . without regard to any amount designated in the applicable appropriations Acts for fiscal year 2008 as an emergency requirement or necessary to meet emergency needs pursuant to any concurrent resolution on the budget . . .

Again, if monies were appropriated in the Iraq War supplemental, that doesn’t get counted toward the continuation. The icing on the cake comes next:

No appropriation or funds made available or authority granted . . .  shall be used to initiate or resume any project or activity for which appropriations, funds, or other authority were not available during fiscal year 2008.

The continued funding can only be used for projects that were authorized for funding in 2008. If ILC was reduced to a single fiscal year quarter of spending in 2008, then no money can be transferred from another project to ILC to help continue the R&D effort in the U.S.  at more than one fiscal quarter’s worth of spending. In that case, that leaves $15M to be spent on R&D for the most ambitious collider project ever conceived, compared to the $60M that’s needed to make progress on such a machine. Never mind the zero money for ITER and the Fermilab future neutrino program.

To summarize: you get the money promised in the FY08 omnibus bill, which was a significant decrease below targets and a cut compared to 2007 when earmarks are removed, and you cannot reorganize money to help projects that were cut in 2008.

Screwed, anyone?



From Syracuse to Montreal

I gave my seminar at Syracuse yesterday. I had a very busy day – not a dull moment in the entire visit! I spent a lot of time meeting with faculty on the LHCb experiment, a B-physics experiment based at the LHC. While not one of the experiments that gets a lot of press, LHCb is no less critical. There is still much work to be done in the flavor sector, and as the data sets of BaBar and Belle age LHCb will step up to help answer some of the big questions about the universe.

One of these is the question of the unitarity of the quark mixing matrix in the Standard Model. The Standard Model tells us that when you break the electroweak symmetry and introduce mass into the theory (ala the Higgs Mechanism), you find the relationship between the up-type and down-type quarks to be describes by a single 9-element matrix, whose complex product with itself is unitary – that is, equal to the matrix equivalent of the number “1”. This unitarity property gives us tremendous predictive power over nature, but the property itself is something to be tested.

LHCb will become the key experiment aimed at measuring a parameter of the unitarity matrix: the unitarity angle called “gamma”. When you express the unitarity property of the quark mixing matrix, you obtain an equation that relate the bottom quark to other quarks. This formula can be visualized as expressing the closure of a triangle – that is a three-sided objects whose sides connect together into a closed shape. The internal angles of the triangle must add to 180-degrees. If you measure the angles, by measuring distinct natural phenomena each sensitive to one of the three internal angles, their experimental sum should be 180-degrees. If they don’t add up, then either the unitarity property is not respected in nature, or there are other particles competing with the quarks to cause the phenomena that are being measured.

LHCb will go for gamma, the third and (it seems) the hardest of the three angles. BaBar and Belle have made tremendous measurements of beta and alpha, and while attempts are being made to measure gamma it is proving very hard to do it with our data samples. LHCb is gunning for gamma.

My talk appeared to go very well. I got a lot of questions about the eta_b measurement, keeping me on my toes about my ability to describe the analysis cleanly and clearly. The after-seminar dinner started with lots more questions, and the topics of conversation proceeded in a delightful random walk from there.

I had a great time. I thought I’d be pretty worn out by now, but I feel pumped.

Today, I traveled to Montreal for my seminar at McGill University tomorrow. I got here early enough that I was able to spend some time walking the campus and talking to my host. The drive was pretty simple, and I rather enjoyed the grilling about my research from the Canadian border guard. It was specifically suggested that I must have some very interesting theories about the beginning of the universe. “None that are correct,” I responded.

Somewhere south of Syracuse

[Note: this entry was written on Sep. 28 but couldn’t be posted until today (Sep. 30). I have backdated the entry to keep the time flow linear]

On my way to SyracuseI arrived tonight in Syracuse, NY. The faculty member hosting me for this seminar went beyond the call of duty and graciously invited me to stay at his house outside the city. This is a beautiful area. Beyond the neighborhood extends a thicket of woods and fields while here it is old farm land, now a series of streets and homes.

My trip to Syracuse was fraught largely with success; one minor screw-up put me about 15 miles up I-87N before I realized I was supposed to be on I-90W. I nearly wound up heading halfway to Montreal a few days early! The turning around was easy, and in no time I was back on the right track.

Rain pours down on farmland in NYThe  weather was quite a mix on the way. As I headed north out of Connecticut and into Massachusetts, the cloudy sky briefly became a patchwork of clouds and islands of blue. Sunlight even warmed the inside of the car. As I turned west and crossed the border into New York, I hit a roaring downpour that slowed traffic to far below the speed limit and made even bright red tail lights hard to see. Between the wiper blades’ descent and ascent, there was blindness.

The drive was extremely pleasant, scored by a motley crew of audio played from my pocket PC. Diggnation [1], FLOSS [2], and Science Friday [3] merrily chatted as I drove.  Even with my little screw up on I-87N, the time flew by and before I knew it I was looking for my exit into Syracuse. Driving from place to place is so much more pleasant and engaging than sitting crammed into a crummy cut-rate airline, wishing the price of water were lower. I’ll take $4.70/gallon gas ANY DAY over the ill-conceived cattle car of a coach-class airplane ride.

My host took me to a great little pub near his house, which has “better food than a pub ought to” (which I agree with, in this case). I am very much looking forward to my time here, brief though it is.


On to Syracuse

It has been extremely rainy in the New England area for several days, thanks in large part to a series of tropical storms that worked their way north along the eastern coast. Today, a category 1 hurricane is parked off the coast, darkening our skies and giving us some drizzle but not making too much of a mess. Maine is in for it tonight, though, if it stays a Cat. 1 storm.

This is my last day in Connecticut. I am leaving in the early afternoon to drive north and west to Syracuse, NY, for my next seminar [1].I am very excited to continue my tour; I’m already getting nervous again. Ah, it never gets easier with practice.

One of the tangible benefits to me from this trip, apart from the pleasure of being scrutinized by colleagues, is that I get to think A LOT about the next step. I know that in the coming year that I will begin my first job search, hopefully get a few interviews, and then have to present my plan for research as a young faculty member. It’s the plan that matters – what are you going to do when you start working at a university or college?

There was a time when that plan was clearer to me. Lead with a transition to the LHC, while bringing to the institution the huge dataset of the Babar experiment. With BaBar cancelled months ahead of time, my fear is that such an offering is far less attractive than it used to be. While in reality the dataset of the BaBar experiment leaves a lot left to be done, the reality in funding is that it’s getting harder and harder to get grant money for BaBar. Instead, one has to be involved in something more relevant to current national science funding priorities. I have a deep interest in the LHC, in dark matter experiments, and in neutrino experiments. How to use these into a compelling proposal – well, that’s the tricky part, isn’t it?

I’ll have lots of time to think about this stuff. It’s five hours to Syracuse, five more to Montreal, and 11 from there to Columbus, where I’ll be for a talk on Friday.