Phase Change

Phase Change
June 16, 2009

Phase change is a phrase used in physics to indicate a change of the state of matter. For example, some materials can be in the solid, liquid or gaseous phases. Water can be ice liquid water, or steam. Chemically, it is essentially the same entity, but looks, feels and behaves quite differently.

Sometimes the change of phase happens very quickly, sometimes relatively slowly. Toss an ice cube into a hot fire and the water doesn’t stay very long as a solid, passing rapidly through the liquid phase and very quickly into steam.

Similarly, the 12 GeV Upgrade Project is experiencing change. For several years we have been in preparation for the project, doing research and development to provide a reasonable basis for our designs and our plans. Typically, we have been working toward the next review with a fairly short horizon. The system, the environment in which the project existed, was forgiving. Not quite keeping the schedule on R&D did not lead to any dramatic consequences. Delays in completion of some project engineering or design work could be absorbed by compression of the remaining effort prior to Sept. 30, 2009.

In October last year, with the formal approval for the start of construction, things started to change. And with the funding injection from the full FY20009 appropriation and the injection of stimulus money, it’s a new game - it’s a new phase.

In the new phase, the presence of funding exposes the next layer of difficulty. We may see that not having assigned the appropriate resources to a design task means it hasn’t yet finished. We may see that not having taken that final design decision means that we are not quite ready to put out the next requisition. No requisition, no start of work by the company providing the cavities, or the magnet, or the fiber, or the hole in the ground.

For those in the project this phase change is palpable. Managers are feeling the pressure. “I can’t start this work at university X without an MOU. … Why did the director not yet sign that MOU? ... Where is it stuck? ... And that requisition? ... Didn’t I put it in the project manager’s electronic input tray? It’s for several million dollars - maybe I’d better e-mail up the chain.”

But wait. That purchase is not on the critical path. It is not the thing that today limits the date on which the project will finish. Agreed. But the last thing we want is a project in which EVERYTHING is on the critical path!!!

We have talked of a tension for several months now; the tension between delivering on important physics with the current program and getting on with the 12 GeV Project. That tension will continue. But the project needs to move forward. The issue involves most of us - users, physicists, technicians, engineers, administrators, procurement (now there is a hot post at the moment!) - even the Director feels the urgency. Each of us needs to respond and some of us will find that our work assignments change to help advance the project.

If we have not already done so, many of us will soon sense this rise in temperature. The project has made the first phase change from ice to water. Now is the time to warm the water. If we can do that and get the water hot, maybe we can avoid boiling the water in the future. That phase change would be a lot less pleasant! This way, we can all look forward to an amazing new scientific capability for our international community.