WASHINGTON, D.C.--U.S. high-energy physicists have drafted a report that they hope will convince the government to back their next multibillion-dollar machine. The Next Linear Collider (NLC) is the centerpiece of a 20-year road map drawn up by the Department of Energy's High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP). HEPAP adopted the report today at a meeting here.
The linear collider will smash electrons and antielectrons together at about half a trillion electron volts of energy, at an estimated cost of $5 billion to $7 billion. The HEPAP plan ratifies the consensus hammered out at Snowmass, Colorado, last summer (ScienceNOW 24 July 2001) and calls for the host country to pay two-thirds of the bill. The panel recommends that the United States bid to host the facility at a site using existing expertise at a national laboratory such as Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, or the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Palo Alto, California.
But hosting in the U.S. would require an annual high-energy physics budget some 30% higher than the $716 million now being spent by the Department of Energy (DOE). Building it overseas--most likely in Germany or Japan--would mean only a 10% boost. If the budget doesn't increase by at least 10%, says Barry Barish, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and co-chair of the HEPAP subcommittee that drafted the report, "we can't have a significant role in the linear collider." James Decker, acting director of DOE's Office of Science, declined to comment on the budgetary implications of the proposal, although he said the plan would be taken "very, very seriously."
The breadth of the report should mollify high-energy physicists who are not associated with collider work: It also calls for discussion of other opportunities in particle physics, such as neutrino physics and cosmological tests of "dark energy" that seems to be causing the universe to expand faster and faster. Still, the panel made clear that its priority is the next collider. "[NLC] promises to be one of the great scientific adventures of our time," says Jonathan Bagger, a physicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and co-chair of the subpanel. "It's a rare opportunity and one that should be seized by the U.S."