Fermilab TodayThursday, May 11, 2006  
Fermilab: The Challenge of Leadership
by Harold T. Shapiro, President Emeritus and Professor
of Economics and Public Affairs, Princeton University
Harold Shapiro
Harold Shapiro is chair of the National Academies' EPP2010 committee. (Click on image for larger version.)

As chair of the National Academies' EPP2010 committee, the last 18 months have been an intellectual adventure. The journey was sometimes discouraging, sometimes inspiring, and finally quite exhilarating as I came to more fully appreciate the thrill of the emerging scientific agenda in particle physics. I am grateful to have had this opportunity and delighted to have begun to understand (and come to share) the enthusiasm and excitement that currently characterize the elementary particle physics community worldwide. Indeed, particle physics is facing its most compelling scientific agenda in a generation. The task before our committee was to recommend a strategic vision and a set of priorities that would stand the best chance of enabling the U.S. program to fully participate in the unfolding of this agenda.

The product of our long effort, assisted mightily by our colleagues here and abroad, Revealing the Hidden Nature of Space and Time: Charting the Course for Elementary Particle Physics, represents our response to this challenge. Two of my colleagues from the committee, vice chair Sally Dawson and committee member Charles Shank, will be sharing the report with the Fermilab community this Friday. Just a few weeks later, and as part of the annual users meeting, committee member Norman Augustine and I will be at Fermilab, in part to discuss the report at greater length.

I am very pleased, however, that Pier Oddone invited me to address Fermilab in this column and I gladly accepted. Not only did I want to recognize and thank Fermilab, and in particular its director, for your assistance and contributions to the committee's work, but I also wanted to comment briefly on the report's implications for Fermilab. (Please read the report for a full accounting of the committee's analysis and recommendations; in these few words I am focusing on only a small portion of the broader discussion.)

Fermilab has been a critical component of many of the important scientific advances that have characterized the U.S. program over the last generation. These advances were the direct result of the dedication, hard work, scientific imagination, and visionary efforts of its staff and its visiting users and of the support of DOE primarily but also NSF and other government agencies. The recent scientific productivity of this laboratory is especially noteworthy: During the final few months of preparing the committee's report, we twice updated the manuscript to accommodate descriptions of exciting new breakthroughs at Fermilab (the B mixing measurement and the MINOS neutrino mixing measurement). Congratulations!

The committee began its analysis with a decision to seek a leadership strategy for the future that would also be characterized by the responsible use of public funds. U.S. leadership, together with that of our colleagues abroad, is important because it is key to reaping the scientific, technological, economic, and cultural dividends that come from advancing the scientific frontier. The responsible use of public resources is required because that is the obligation we all have in a world of finite means.

In our judgment the U.S. program in particle physics, despite a long tradition of distinction, is at a decisive crossroads. Not only has the program experienced a decade of stagnating support when programs elsewhere were expanding, but the most important experiments at SLAC and Fermilab are reaching the end of their useful scientific lives without a compelling follow-on strategy in place. As a result, the intellectual center of gravity and substantial intellectual resources are moving abroad just when the scientific agenda is especially promising. In these circumstances it is the committee's view that a failure to adopt a refreshed and compelling strategic vision and associated set of priorities would imply a decision to forgo leadership and commit ourselves to a much smaller effort in this critical scientific arena. Decisive and courageous actions are required if we are to sustain some U.S. leadership in particle physics. Indeed we were unable to identify a leadership strategy that did not involve substantial risks. The greatest risk, however, is to avoid any difficult decisions and stick to the current program trajectory since it would stand little chance of sustaining the distinction of the U.S. program.

I certainly acknowledge that our recommended strategy puts great responsibility on both Fermilab and the U.S. particle physics community. The committee deliberated at great length about selecting a strategy designed to ensure a leading position for the U.S. program in the next decade or two. Among its key priorities was the vigorous pursuit of the proposed International Linear Collider with the intention of becoming a significant leader in the associated R&D. In that way, if we chose to proceed, the global decision making process would find it compelling to consider and then select the United States, and hopefully Fermilab, as host. To meet this challenge is not an easy task, and this strategy certainly contains significant risks, but it is one that the committee felt promised the highest risk-adjusted rate of (scientific) return. Any number of factors could prevent this from unfolding as hoped, but the committee was finally convinced by two very compelling arguments: First, the science prize is worth it. Understanding and mastering Terascale physics is unequivocally and unarguably essential to U.S. leadership in particle physics over the next few decades. Second, Fermilab-together with the US community of other national laboratories and university based teams-has the intellectual resources and proven track record to make this happen, but only if it can be mobilized to a common purpose. Moreover, Fermilab scientists and engineers are participating already in ILC design activities, and the laboratory is considering how best to become involved in the development of a test-bed facility for the next stage of detailed design engineering.

The committee recognizes that this strategy asks Fermilab to bear a disproportionate share of the risks by taking the initiative now (before the ILC is certain), but the committee believes that Fermilab is up to this challenge and that the nation will stand by it. Moreover, if a leadership role is to be our objective, the risks associated with the committee's recommended strategy and its priorities are smaller than those posed by keeping to the decade-old trajectory of the program.

Charting the optimal path to implement our strategic vision and its recommended priorities is properly the focus of the particle physics community, and groups like P5 are to be commended for their efforts to get started on this. The successful implementation of the committee's recommendations will, however, require leadership from both the scientific community and its sponsors. With respect to the scientific community, Fermilab will have to play a-perhaps the-leading role. Indeed the committee could not imagine a healthy program without a strong and vital Fermilab. I believe that this is a significant challenge that will require the laboratory and the entire particle physics community to put all its heart and soul into the highest priorities that the U.S. program selects.

For any new strategy to succeed, it will require that some of our most distinguished scientists dedicate themselves to bringing the necessary scientific imagination, focus, and dedication to the entire effort. Fermilab should be central to this effort. Indeed the committee's ultimate hope was for Fermilab to be the site for the ILC. At the same time the committee fully supported the notion that such a decision needs to be arrived at through an international process that includes all partners in the enterprise. Clearly, however, if the United States accepts the EPP2010 challenge, Fermilab will be at the center of the U.S. effort and possibly of an international effort that will last far longer than the 15 years the committee was asked to consider.

For myself, I am looking forward to watching Fermilab lead this effort both through its own efforts and through strategic partnerships with other laboratories and university-based groups here and abroad.

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