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Ken Bloom | USLHC | USA

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Prioritizing the future

As I’ve discussed a number of times, the United States particle physics community has spent the last nine months trying to understand what the exciting research and discovery opportunities are for the next ten to twenty years, and what sort of facilities might be required to exploit them. But what comes next? How do we decide which of these avenues of research are the most attractive, and, perhaps most importantly, can be achieved given that we work within finite budgets, need the right enabling technologies to be available at the right times, and must be planned in partnership with researchers around the world?

In the United States, this is the job of the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel, or P5. What is this big mouthful? First, it is a sub-panel of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, or HEPAP. HEPAP is the official body that can advise the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation (the primary funders of particle physics in the US, and also the sponsors of the US LHC blog) on programmatic direction of the field in the US. As an official Federal Advisory Committee, HEPAP operates in full public view, but it is allowed to appoint sub-panels that are under the control of and report to HEPAP but have more flexibility to deliberate in private. This particular sub-panel, P5, was first envisioned in a report of a previous HEPAP sub-panel in 2001 that looked at, among other things, the long-term planning process for the field. The original idea was that P5 would meet quite regularly and continually review the long-term roadmap for the field and adjust it according to current conditions and scientific knowledge. However, in reality P5’s have been short-lived and been re-formed every few years. The last P5 report dates from 2008, and obviously a lot has changed since then — in particular, we now know from the LHC that there is a Higgs boson that looks like the one predicted in the standard model, and there have been some important advances in our understanding of neutrino mixing. Thus the time is ripe to take another look at the plan.

And so it is that a new P5 was formed last week, tasked with coming up with a new strategic plan for the field “that can be executed over a 10 year timescale, in the context of a 20-year global vision for the field.” P5 is supposed to be taking into account the latest developments in the field, and use the Snowmass studies as inputs. The sub-panel is to consider what investments are needed to fulfill the scientific goals, what mix of small, medium and large experiments is appropriate, and how international partnerships can fit into the picture. Along the way, they are also being asked to provide a discussion of the scientific questions of the field that is accessible to non-specialists (along the lines of this lovely report from 2004) and articulate the value of particle-physics research to other sciences and society. Oh, and the sub-panel is supposed to have a final report by May 1. No problem at all, right?

Since HEPAP’s recommendations will drive the the plan for the field, it is very important that this panel does a good job! Fortunately, there are two good things going for it. First, the membership of the panel looks really great — talented and knowledgeable scientists who are representative of the demographics of the field and include representatives from outside the US. Second, they are being asked to make their recommendations in the context of fairly optimistic budget projections. Let us only hope that these come to pass!

Watch this space for more about the P5 process over the coming eight months.

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