Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 25  |  Friday, August 30, 2002  |  Number 14
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OSTP's Marburger Visits Fermilab

by Judy Jackson

I am personally excited about particle physics,” John Marburger, the Bush Administration’s director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, told a Fermilab audience earlier this month. Furthermore, he said, now is a great time to be a particle physicist.

“Experiment is driving theory at this moment,” Marburger said. “We need data. The Standard Model is great, but it is exciting to move into areas that are not predicted. All eyes are on this lab, watching for data. I wish I could stay here and work with you. The excitement of your discoveries will propagate through society.”

Marburger made his remarks during a day-long visit to Fermilab on August 1, in which he met with lab managers, addressed the Fermilab community and kicked the tires on a tour of CDF and the Technical Division’s LHC magnet center.

Discussions during the visit frequently centered on how to convey Marburger’s excitement about particle physics to others in government. He acknowledged the challenges currently confronting the field of particle physics, in particular the re-evaluation of the rationale for physics funding at national laboratories following the end of the Cold War and the long-term nature of the payoffs from basic science.

“The old Cold War rationale for science was replaced by an economic rationale,” he said. “This was scary to basic science, because investment criteria often require short-term payoffs. Basic science rarely creates new technology for immediate goals.”

Fermilab’s Mike Lamm (right) shows Marburger a superconducting magnet headed for the LHC at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. Nevertheless, Marburger urged listeners not to bemoan the shrinking funding levels for the physical sciences, in particular particle physics, but to concentrate instead on the scientific opportunities that will come from increased investment in the field. He stressed the link between particle physics and cosmology and urged particle physicists to make the case more clearly for the connection between research at the largest and smallest scales of nature, pointing to potential benefits from increased coordination of high energy physics and the space program. He said he believes the case for science has been made well in Congress and the administration, and that it has met with a positive response.“

“Congress is ready to support basic science,” Marburger said, “but the economy must be strong enough. And there are so many opportunities in basic science that you may have to stand in line, and you must prioritize. High energy physics has done a good job of identifying priorities, and it should get funded. It does get more expensive, so we must look for new ways to fund it by collaborating to spread the costs among many nations.”

"We need to get across a better understanding of how this science works."

Marburger and Marge Bardeen (standing, left), head of Fermilab’s Education Office, confer with local teachers undergoing training at the Leon Lederman Science Education Center.

In response to a question from Fermilab physicist Robert Bernstein, Marburger said he thought particle physicists had done a good job of educating others about the science that they do, but had not yet succeeded in conveying “how the science gets done” within government agencies. Until he began serving as OSTP director in mid-September 2001, Marburger, a physicist, was director of the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. His comments reflected a keen grasp of the funding challenges for physics research at national laboratories.

“Few in Congress understand that DOE owns about half of the physical sciences,” Marburger said. “Congress supports basic science, but they need to know what to fund in order to get the desired result. Who thinks about the Department of Energy in terms of cosmology and the Standard Model? We need to get across a better understanding of how this science works.”

In the area of potential roadblocks to international science collaboration as a result of visa restrictions in response to terrorist actions, Marburger said OSTP might be able to help.

“For big science projects, such as those in highenergy physics and astrophysics, international collaboration is regarded as essential,” Marburger said. “The Office of Science and Technology Policy tries to get involved when we hear of a proposal to hinder international collaboration. We try to forestall it, not just as a matter of sharing the cost, but because of the value of people from many countries collaborating on science. We are concerned about not over-reacting to the threat of terrorism and inadvertently shutting doors to contributions from foreign scientists. This is a delicate time. We try to help broker the needs of science and security.”

On the Web:
Office of Science and Technology Policy

last modified 8/30/2002   email Fermilab