My comments at today’s second P5 Town Hall Meeting

I am Stephen Sekula, an Assistant Professor of Physics at SMU conducting research on the ATLAS Experiment. These comments will be my own, and I will try to take a broad view. Let me begin by thanking the members of the Panel for this opportunity to speak, and let me also send my greetings to all of my friends and colleagues who are connected to this town hall. We certainly stand on the threshold of an era in particle physics where the questions are big, and the challenges to answering them are bigger. We have been presented with the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter. We have been granted a gift by the neutrino and its behavior, which lies partially within and partially outside the Standard Model. We have also been granted a new gift – the Higgs boson – which marks just how successful the Standard Model has been in the laboratory and whose properties need to be fully illuminated. But that model has not yet risen to the challenge of explaining mysteries like the nature of dark energy and dark matter. We know that something must lie beyond the Standard Model; what it is, we must discover.

There seems a general consensus in our field about these frontiers and their importance. The problem we are all faced with in the US is the reality of constrained budgets and national priorities that are not perfectly aligned with our own field’s scientific goals. This is our biggest challenge. At the end of this P5 process, while certainly the prioritization and the community consensus will be correlated with one another, they are not necessarily the same thing. We should not think of the P5 process as the end; it is the beginning of a much longer process of program-building, and there will still be left to us the work of convincing our colleagues inside and outside the field about the value of the P5 outcome.

We all know that not every project can go forward, or if they do go forward that there isn’t room for all projects to proceed with the fullest funding desired by its participants. It would seem prudent that the final report emphasize how the prioritization enables a US program that tackles these frontiers. For instance:

  • Explain clearly the measurements that define each area of the US program, and their role in advancing our understanding in that frontier. Articulating this will help students and post-docs see how and where they can advance their skills and leadership in this field.
  • More importantly, explain how the outcomes of those measurements avoid scientific dead ends and point the way to the next stage of the US program. How will continuity be assured by this prioritization? Answering this is how we will continue to attract and retain students and post-docs, and maintain excitement and interest in the field.
  • Explain how each endeavour leaves open the possibility for serendipitous discovery, which has always been an important part of defining new directions in the field. After all, it is the possibility of discovery that ultimately drives us into and forward through the field, even in hard budget times.

The worst thing we can do is assume that the prioritization speaks for itself. It obviously cannot. The report should have a voice that speaks for the scientific value of the prioritizaton, and how it advances US science by advancing US high-energy physics into the great frontiers of our time: dark energy, dark matter, and the nature of what lies within and beyond the Standard Model.

I thank you for your time and consideration.