The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

Catch a sketch

I’ve avoided the blog for the last few weeks, pretty much on purpose. The March 7-9 trip to Washington D.C. was one of the most singular and draining experiences of my life. It was terribly stressful and exhilarating, all at the same time. All in all, 29 of us spent two days and met with almost 145 Congressional offices, not including meetings we had with members of the Executive branch and Congressional subcommittee staffers. Pack in the debriefings at the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, where we inform members of those agencies about the mood on the Hill, and you’ve got one seriously exhausting trip. By the Friday of that week, I found myself on a MARC train speeding north to BWI rail station, where I planned to make the short trip to my Grandmother’s house for some much needed rest.

Despite my decompression at Nana’s that weekend, I found myself sore and congested with what would be the first of two successive colds. I also found myself desperate to dive back into my research and get serious progress on some of the major projects I hadn’t been able to address, namely the study of b→sγ and B+→τ+ν. My search for invisible decays of bottomonium is also looking pretty good, but Ihave to make progress on these other things or I’ll never forgive myself.

88 days. That’s how much time I have left, along with my excellent colleagues, to get a paper into review by the collaboration on each of the aforementioned physics topics. Any later than that, and the deadlines for the summer conferences close.

What else has been on my mind? Increasingly, I worry about my field. Not that there aren’t fantastic questions of structure and origin that abound in particle physics, begging to be addressed. No, I worry that we have this year a huge opportunity to sustain the current program of flavor physics and neutrino physics (one ramping down in 3-4 years, the other ramping up on the same timescale) while making serious inroads to the International Linear Collider (“”: If the LHC is the dynamite that will smash open the vast but hidden vein of rich physics ore, it is the ILC that will make sense of it all. The LHC is what is called a “discovery machine” – a machine designed not to make precision measurements of rare phenomena, but rather a machine to lay waste to the energy barrier that has long plagued my field, a barrier that left uncrossed will prevent particle physics from making serious progress. It’s a machine that turns on in just over one year, a fact that makes every nerve in the body of every particle physicist tingle with anticipation. But it’s also a machine whose waking will sound the call to start work on the ILC; whatever we find at the LHC in the next 20 years, we will only really make sense of it with a machine like the ILC.

So I am worried. For years, my field was told the ILC was a distant dream, that we should focus on other priorities. Now, with the President’s commitment to the physical sciences, the R&D budget for the ILC is expected to double. This gives my community, largely unprepared for action, an opportunity that if squandered may never come again.