Helium Policy

WFAA shot B-roll footage of me working in my office. Quick, look busy!

I was so busy this summer I forgot to shamelessly mention here that I was interviewed for a WFAA (DFW ABC affiliate) story on the importance of Helium to the nation, and the dangers of a shortage of Helium due to a lack of a national helium policy.

Helium is not just fun at parties; it’s a critical component in many major technologies. One of these is medical imaging; MRI machines rely on a large reservoir of liquid helium to cool the superconducting wire that makes possible the powerful magnetic field of the machine. Liquid helium is also critical to many areas of basic research, including the Tevatron and the Large Hadron Collider. The implications of a poor national policy for producing, storing, and distributing helium are severe.

You can check out the story on the WFAA website: http://www.wfaa.com/news/texas-news/US-runs-low-on-critical-natural-resource-thats-not-oil-122205019.html


Science Then, ScienceNOW!

Tomorrow night, NOVA will air the next in its series of science news magazines, “ScienceNOW”. The topics will be: the importance of sleep, and the Large Hadron Collider. I’d encourage everybody to watch this, especially those in physics and most especially those working on or near the LHC. Why? Well, first every physicist likes an ego boost. Watching yourself on TV is hard to beat (unless you are awkwardly swatting cameras away while refusing to answer questions, I guess). Second, the program talks about the role sleep plays in forming new memories, sorting out the mental noise from the mental signals, etc. I think that more physicists need more sleep, even at the expense of work.

Why? Watch the program and find out. But at the very least, we’ll all stop making stupid mistakes and maybe have some real breakthroughs, instead of just relying on routine and structure to get work done.

A bunch of us are getting together tomorrow night to watch the program. Some people we know are likely to be in it, and we’re always curious to see what **that’s** like!

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 (“http://www.linearcollider.org”:http://www.linearcollider.org). 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.