August 14, 2012
What does the future hold for nuclear physics research in the U.S.? We may soon have an answer as the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (NSAC) prepares to conduct a critical review of the nation’s plans in response to what are likely to be very constrained federal budgets beginning in Fiscal Year 2013.
For those of you who don’t know, the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee is a federally constituted advisory body to the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation (and, hence, to the government) on the national program for basic nuclear science research. Every five to seven years since 1979, NSAC has been asked to develop a Long Range Plan (LRP) for the field. In turn, NSAC, in coordination with the Division of Nuclear Physics of the American Physical Society, has worked closely with scientists active in the field to develop a plan. The very first of these Long Range Plans led to the construction of CEBAF. The most recent Long Range Plan, issued in 2007, had the 12 GeV Upgrade of the CEBAF accelerator complex and its experimental systems as its highest priority for the field.
It is not unusual for there to be complications in the realization of these Long Range Plans. In 2005, faced with stark funding prospects, DOE and NSF asked NSAC to provide advice on the implementation of the 2002 Long Range Plan, which had as its highest priority that we “increase support for facility operations especially our unique new facilities, RHIC, CEBAF, and NSCL which will greatly enhance the impact of the nation’s nuclear science program.” Many represented that discussion as a choice between closing Jefferson Lab or closing the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Lab. The subcommittee that conducted that review and submitted a report to NSAC was chaired by Robert (Bob) Tribble of Texas A&M. In the report, the subcommittee persuasively argued for the quality of the science across the board in nuclear physics. Budget relief soon ensued so that at least the main thrusts of the 2002 LRP were retained.
In the 2007 LRP, the leading recommendation was to complete construction of the 12 GeV CEBAF Upgrade to “enable new insights into the structure of the nucleon, the transition between the hadronic and quark/gluon descriptions of nuclei, and the nature of confinement.” Other recommendations covered the future construction of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, targeted experiments exploring fundamental symmetries, and some upgrades to the RHIC accelerator and experiments. At the present time, the 12 GeV Upgrade is approximately 70 percent complete, the RHIC upgrades have been completed, and the FRIB project at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University has made lots of progress towards construction. Indeed, with the help of the university/state, a considerable amount of preparatory construction has ensued. In addition, several fundamental symmetries projects have also made progress. The 2007 Long Range Plan also supported the development of accelerator and detector technology necessary to lay the foundation for a (future) polarized Electron Ion Collider.
Similar to what happened in 2005, this good progress towards full implementation of the 2007 LRP has been called into question as the prospects for funding in FY13 and beyond appear to be diminished. Dr. William Brinkman, the director of the Office of Science, and Dr. Edward Seidel, the assistant director of the NSF MPS Directorate, have charged NSAC with developing an implementation plan for the 2007 LRP. While the charge was somewhat different than in 2005, the general thrust was similar. “We seek advice from NSAC on implementing the priorities and recommendations of the 2007 Long Range Plan in light of projected budgetary constraints … .”
In response, the Office of Nuclear Physics and the National Science Foundation, in conjunction with the NSAC chair, asked Bob Tribble to again chair a subcommittee to conduct the review. Service on such committees is quite intense, so we, and I suspect the whole field, very much appreciate that Bob and his committee members have agreed to serve.
Of course, an exercise such as that embarked on by the NSAC subcommittee is only meaningful if the community participates. In the past couple of weeks, the Jefferson Lab community has disseminated a white paper (http://arxiv.org/abs/1208.1244) giving a coherent picture of the exciting physics program with the 12 GeV CEBAF accelerator complex. Messages also have gone out from the Jefferson Lab Users Group Board of Directors, suggesting that letters in support of the program might be appropriate. It is likely that a letter from the whole user community might be produced. In addition, there are town meetings being self-organized, and a “complete set” of town meetings to be held in the fall meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Nuclear Physics. A very nice paper has appeared (http://rd.springer.com/article/10.1140/epja/i2012-12092-7) from a group of interested theorists, describing the potential of a future electron ion collider for QCD. The design report of the Jefferson Lab design for a Medium Energy Ion Collider (MEIC) is also hitting the streets this week as the result of efforts from a number of collaboration institutions that worked along with Jefferson Lab. Not to be left out, some theorists had a meeting in the SURA headquarters in Washington, D.C., where they discussed the thrust of that community’s desires for future support. So, no lazy hazy days of summer, it’s all action.
In addition to the NSAC deliberations, the National Academy of Science Board of Physics and Astronomy also plays an important role. It commissions decadal surveys of the major fields of physics by various committees, which lead to a series of National Research Council (NRC) reports. The most recent nuclear physics committee was chaired by Stuart Freedman of UC Berkeley, LBNL and ANL. Freedman’s group has now issued a report in draft form, and Stuart also gave a presentation to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) (http://www.tvworldwide.com/events/pcast/120719/globe_show/default_go_arc...). Jefferson Lab is featured in the report, the online presentation and also in the ensuing discussion (also included in the online presentation) in which one member of PCAST comments on the unique attributes of Jefferson Lab in the international field.
The NSAC subcommittee has established a web page (http://cyclotron.tamu.edu/nsac-subcommittee-2012/) and will hold its next meeting on Sept. 7-9. At that meeting, there will be substantial presentations by each sector of nuclear physics - Relativistic Heavy Ion Physics, Nuclear Structure and Astrophysics, Fundamental Symmetries and Medium Energy Physics. There will be talks from rapporteurs, followed by laboratory-centric presentations lasting three hours, as well as a closed executive session involving the committee and lab management.
In our case, our main presentations are associated with Medium Energy physics. Nevertheless, because of the breadth of the impact of the work we do, there will be Jefferson Lab user presentations in other sessions. The committee has posed a number of questions, some of which are general and some specific to Jefferson Lab. Bob McKeown is taking the lead in developing our responses, including written responses to the questions and the presentations. Sebastian Kuhn, the chair of the UGBOD, has requested input on responding to the subcommittee from any Jefferson Lab users (https://wiki.jlab.org/cugwiki/index.php/NSAC_subcommittee_feedback).
Finally, let me note that this exercise is not being conducted in a vacuum. In the congressional mark-ups of the Congressional Budget (The President’s Request), there was a request to the DOE for a report essentially identical to the NSAC report. So, all in all, the presidential elections will not be the only dialog that will be followed closely by nuclear physicists and others this fall. It is important to do our best to clearly articulate the importance of the mission of Jefferson Lab and the importance of the physics being pursued by our users from across the world.