So, I’ve been gone a bit (again), sorry. I’m not sure you really want to hear about my trials and travails in teaching undergraduates Classical Electromagnetism, although a nice story on my class did appear in the New York Times yesterday (Prof. Sciolla is a colleague, we were teaching two different sections of the same class, and Ms. Rimer visited hers). I can discuss this TEAL business in another blog, if there is demand.
Made it back to CERN in October briefly, and now during the MIT break in January. Pretty quiet over here, but I sense after last fall’s exercises in Cosmic Ray running and “almost Beam” running, people are gung-ho to apply what was learned and sharpen our preparations to improve our “readiness for beams”. This is a good thing. Exactly when we may see some more beam? The $1,000,000 question – but there is a workshop in early February which is expected to produce an updated schedule for 2009. It would be very good to see beam this year.
In the meantime, there’s the continual plight of Science Funding in the US – noone is quite sure what will happen, but everyone is quite happy about Obama’s science team – Energy Secretary Steve Chu (a fellow member of Project Steve!), Nobelist and Director of LBL certainly is cogniscent of the issues in HEP, and John Holdren, President’s Science Advisor, also recognizes the importance basic science can play in everybody’s life (even if they don’t realize it). Before the legislative branch recessed, there was some indication that funding for science would be bundled into the Economic Bailout legislation, but I haven’t heard any update. Otherwise it is a continuing resolution, which would be bad – I don’t want to go into what bad means, it’ll depress me.
However, two things I caught recently encourage me – first, a document from the National Academy of Science (executive summary for free) which notes the link between National Security and Technology, and among other things finds
US national security and economic prosperity depend on full global engagement in science, technology, and commerce
although most of the note is about export rules, but it does recommend lifting the rather stringent Visa requirements for foreign scientists coming in to the US. Having had collaborators who spent 5 hours in Border Control after a trans-atlantic flight, and excellent prospects whom we simply could not hire due to Visa restrictions, I can see where this may have a direct benefit on Science, and the demonstration of the benefit of investment in scientific pursuits on other aspects is certainly something to be applauded.
Second was an guest opinion in the New York Times (you can tell how I get my news when I am at CERN, huh?) from Stanford PhD. biologist, who uses the LHC as an example of Big Science – to (mis)use his metaphor, if you want to reach the fruit at the top, you need to build a big ladder. He is advocating something a little different, Citizen Science, where ordinary citizens gather eg. ecological data for survey purposes, but even the LHC has its own version – LHC@Home, where you can put spare cycles on your home computer to work for LHC. I think there are even some variants out there, but you can use google, right? Anyway, the good omen is that scientists outside the arena of Particle Physics are recognizing the reasons behind why “Big Science” is the way our field works, and even seeing how the developments of our field (large scale computing, synchrotrons were his two examples) are benefiting other scientific disciplines which lead to direct ramifications for the public at large.
All this is fairly heartening from my point of view – evidence that we are moving away from a situation where science pursuits were seen as a luxury, towards the recognition of the cross feeding between different scientific endevours and the realization of the importance of the role science plays in our societal “pursuit of happiness”.