Sigh. It’s official.
The Tevatron, Fermilab’s 4-mile particle accelerator that we came to know and love during the filming of The Atom Smashers, the cantankerous engine-that-could that made European physicists sweat and curse its surprising eagerness to find the Higgs particle, the ugly but appealing underdog that generated rumor after rumor after rumor after report after speculation that it might have already found the Higgs or is likely to find it, David-style, before its shiny new, expensive and fragile Goliath, has now officially reached the end of its rope.
Yes, the announcement came last week that the Tevatron would be shutting down for the last time on October 1, 2011. The US Department of Energy says funding will not be granted to keep it running until 2014 as previously speculated. Our friend John Conway wrote a nice long post on Cosmic Variance describing the history of particle accelerators in the US, and it’s interesting to read all the comments at the end from science-minded folks.
Complicating the matter emotionally is that there is a fair amount of support from US scientists to let the Tevatron die. The director of the lab, Pier Odonne, realizes that if congress were to find more money to keep it running, other aspects of research would have to be squeezed, putting neutrino research (among other areas) in jeopardy. “I do not support squeezing the funds for an extension of the run out of the rest of the high-energy physics community,” he wrote.
We talked to some scientists who were less than weepy-eyed as well. Most of them believe the Tevatron has run its course and to keep it alive will simply delay any prospects for building another more modern accelerator, probably a linear accelerator, at Fermilab, and to hopefully capture the big prize: the International Linear Collider. But another scientist we spoke to called it a “sad day:” “with no accelerators in the U.S., and no plans to build any, we have now become a neutrino and astrophysics country, in spite of our prestigious history in particle physics.”
I must say, given this turn of events, I’m proud of the work that we did in capturing some of the last years of the Tevatron in The Atom Smashers. And I’ll regret knowing that CDF and D0 (the two collision sites on the Tevatron) aren’t engaged in their cooperative / competitive dance any more, playing softball, cheering each other on while secretly grinning when the other makes a gaffe, and that Bob Mau and the crew aren’t donning protective suits and geiger counters as they tune up the old beast for another startup.
Progress must be made. But sometimes it’s hard to tell what constitutes progress these days.
Give ‘em hell for the next 10 months, Tevatron!