Nuclear Physics Long Range Plan

Nuclear Physics Long Range Plan
June 26, 2014

For a couple of years now, we have been waiting to get started on the next nuclear physics long range plan (LRP). What does that mean? Well, those involved in nuclear physics in the United States expect to participate periodically in a process that culminates in the writing, and eventual submission by the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (NSAC), of a report that will lay out the broad path for the field for the next 5-10 years. We like to say that the exercise takes place about every five years. Previous reports have been dated 1979, 1983, 1989, 1996, 2002, and 2007. 

The Long Range Plan reports contain a thorough exposition of the field and relatively few, but thus important, recommendations. Why are they so important? The fact is that the members of the field and the funding agencies have developed a reputation for following the recommendations in these reports. The first of these Long Range Plans (in 1979) laid out the scientific case for what became Jefferson Lab, and the achievements of the field and its directions over the past seven years are easily identified in the 2007 LRP, which recommended as its highest priority the 12 GeV Upgrade of CEBAF.

The long range planning process can spend some time in gestation. It begins with discussions between the DOE and NSF, the NSAC Chair, and senior members in the field. A bad budget situation is usually not a good time to expend effort planning a future; there is only one plan that is sustainable under continually falling budgets, and that is the plan that no one wants, the one that kills the field. On the other hand, when a plan is more than five years old, it loses relevance.

Eventually there comes a charge. This happened on April 23 in a letter to Don Geesaman, Chair of NSAC, signed by Patricia M. Dehmer, Acting Director of the Office of Science at DOE, and F. Fleming Crim, Assistant Director, Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the NSF. It calls for a report by October 2015.

The modus operandi is to form a working group, which expands on the NSAC membership and brings in a broad spectrum of senior members of the field. Thus far, you may know from your own invitation or that to a friend who some of the other members of this working group are. We anticipate a public announcement of the full list soon, perhaps at the June 30 NSAC Meeting.

A feature of the process is the role of the Division of Nuclear Physics of the American Physical Society. It takes responsibility for organizing Town Meetings, in which the different subfields (nuclear structure/nuclear astrophysics; fundamental symmetries; and QCD, which includes both hadronic and relativistic heavy ion physics) can exchange views and discuss the potential content of recommendations that they might like to see in the eventual report. Nuclear Theory is mixed in with each of the subfields. Often these discussions are supplemented by white papers, which, in even more detail and granularity, articulate the field.

After several months the LRP working group and others come together in a “resolution” meeting in which the last rounds of presentations are made and the working group puts together, discusses and argues the merits of the recommendations to be made. Of course, there can be tension in this whole process, but its worth has been proven in the past.

NSAC is asked to work with budget guidance provided by the agency, but, importantly, it has the flexibility also to produce nuanced advice in this area. This flexibility proved to be very important for the deliberations of the 2012-13 Tribble Sub-Committee, which was charged with producing a “Report to NSAC in Implementing the 2007 Long Range Plan” in advance of the 2014 President’s Budget Request. Within the literally interpreted budget constraints, dire impacts would have resulted. The eventual report spelt out these consequences, thus “answering the mail” but also offered a proposed “modest growth” budget. The initial President’s Budget request following that report indeed provided for the “modest growth.”

The physics interests of the Jefferson Lab community have a major focus on the investigation of quarks and gluons and their distributions in nucleons and nuclei, and on the spectroscopy of mesons and baryons, which enable in-depth studies of quantum chromodynamics (QCD) and perhaps an understanding of confinement.  It is also clear that the physics interests of our community extend well beyond a focus on QCD and include nuclear structure physics and fundamental symmetries (physics beyond the standard model of particle physics).  In addition, our theory group has a broad set of interests and has its own user community associated with the lattice QCD collaboration and other analysis connections across the world. This means that there will be many facets of the field in which we will have interest.

It will be our job to articulate the excitement of the 12 GeV era of experimentation and the potential of an electron ion collider, “our” physics, and to understand and appreciate that of other communities. It will be especially important for all involved to note that the real strength of the field has been its ability to write a report which the broad community can support and in which the hopes have been realistic. Like every scientist associated with Jefferson Lab, we are eagerly preparing for this opportunity to help shape a bright future for the field.