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USLHC | USA

The Higgs, Particle Physics, and How Science Works

Seth Zenz
Friday, October 25th, 2013

Last week, I was in Arlington, Virginia to give a talk at a cybersecurity research workshop called LASER 2013.  Why did they want to hear a particle physicist speak?  Well, this particular workshop is focused on “properly conducted experimental (cyber) security research,” so they want to hear from people in other fields about how we run experiments, publish the results, and think about science in general.  So I gave a talk, slightly over an hour long, that used the Higgs boson to illustrate the giant experiments we do at the LHC, the social organization required to do them, and their results.  I said a lot of things here that you don’t normally say explicitly as part of a particle physics conference, and I also heard what sort of experiments one can do in cybersecurity research.  We had some very interesting discussions about how experimentation and data analysis really work, and I really appreciate the opportunity I had to participate in the workshop.

You can watch my whole talk here, and I would definitely appreciate your feedback:

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Women at CERN: A Professional Perspective

Seth Zenz
Monday, October 14th, 2013

Can you think of anything that all the men who won the Nobel Prizes in science this year have in common? I’ll give you a hint: the answer is already in the question. In fact, out of 195 people awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics since 1901, only two have been women: Marie Curie in 1901 and Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963.

I have been thinking quite a bit about the status of women in science and what we say about it lately, ever since reading the most recent posts on the subject here on Quantum Diaries. Both were written by James Doherty: “Girls, at CERN – loads of ’em!” and “Five Lessons from a Summer at CERN” (formerly titled, in part, “Italians are Hot,” and still with a subsection by that name). I think it should become clear that I don’t approve of James’s tone in some places, although I understand that he was aiming to convey his experience as a summer student in “an open, honest and light-hearted way.” At the same time, Quantum Diaries is a place for voices from the physics community: writers here usually don’t speak for anyone, but we are supposed to be representative. So, if we are going to talk about the issues faced by women in physics, we also need voices from professional particle physicists, who have thought and learned a bit about where gender inequalities arise and their implications for our field. In that spirit, let me put forward my viewpoint, along with links to many other views I’ve found educational; I’m sorry to say that from my perspective there’s a bit less to be light-hearted about.

Particle physics is my job. I come to CERN every day and work with my colleagues to learn more about the universe. Some of my colleagues are women. Some are men. Some are Italian. Who they are, how they look, or what they’re wearing cannot be my foremost concerns. If I don’t look all of my colleagues in the eye and listen to what they’re saying, then I am doing poorly at my job. I’m likely to suffer for it later, because whoever I didn’t listen to probably said something I need to know. The starting point is to treat everyone professionally and with respect.

Easy enough to agree with so far; I think almost everyone would. The problem is that, well, we still have a problem. As Pauline Gagnon wrote here last year, more and more women are joining our field, but they are still greatly underrepresented. Unless you believe that women are inherently bad at physics – and there are pretty straightforward reasons to believe that that can’t possibly be causing the imbalance – then something is going wrong somewhere. A lot of excellent potential physicists are deciding against physics as a career at one stage or another, or perhaps never learning about it in the first place, or are even being pushed or nudged out by sexism. Anywhere we lose potential colleagues makes our work poorer.

Where is it going wrong, and what can we do about it? Well, my experience actually isn’t very informative. I have never seen an example of deliberate ill-will toward female participation in physics, and indeed I’ve only recognized a few situations that were even accidentally awkward. But bias can be unconscious and difficult to recognize. As a scientist, I know two things:

1. Just because I’ve never seen something, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
2. I can read what other people have written to learn about stuff.

So here are some articles and blogs I have found enlightening, in particular on the question of what actions we can take as scientists to help bring about more even participation by women:

The literature on women in science, technology, engineering, and math is enormous, and I’m very far from knowing all of it well. Do you have a favorite article or study, especially on what we as scientists can do better? Post the link and I’ll add it below.

Update, Oct 16: Some suggested links (thanks, Ben, Sarah, and Ken!):

Update, Oct 21 (thanks, Marga!): http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/10/a-ripple-of-voices-against-sexism.html

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2013 Nobel Prize — Made in America?

Ken Bloom
Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

You’re looking at the title and thinking, “Now that’s not true! Francois Englert is Belgian, and Peter Higgs is from the UK. And CERN, where the Higgs discovery was made, is a European lab, not in the US.”

That is all true, but on behalf of the US LHC blog, let’s take a few minutes to review the role of the United States in the Higgs observation that made this prize possible. To be sure, the US was part of an international effort on this, with essential contributions from thousands of people at hundreds of institutes from all over the world, and the Nobel Prize is a validation of the great work of all of them. (Not to mention the work of Higgs, Englert and many other contributing theorists!) But at the same time, I do want to combat the notion that this was somehow a non-US discovery (as some have implied). For many more details, see this link.

US collaborators, about 2000 strong, are a major contingent within both of the biggest LHC experiments, ATLAS and CMS. I’m a member of CMS, where people from US institutions are about one third of the membership of the collaboration. This makes the US physicists the largest single national contingent on the experiment — by no means a majority, but because of our size we have a critical role to play in the construction and operation of the experiment, and the data analysis that follows. American physicists are represented throughout the management structure (including Joe Incandela, the current CMS spokesperson) and deep in the trenches.

While the detectors were painstakingly assembled at CERN, many of the parts were designed, prototyped and fabricated in the US. On CMS, for instance, there has been US involvement in every major piece of the instrument: charged particle tracking, energy measurements, muon detection, and the big solenoid magnet that gives the experiment its name. Along with the construction responsibilities come maintenance and operational responsibilities too; we expect to carry these for the lifetime of the experiment.

The data that these amazing instruments record must then be processed, stored, and analyzed. This requires powerful computers, and the expertise to operate them efficiently. The US is a strong contributor here too. On CMS, about 40% of the data processing is handled at facilities in the US. And then there is the last step in the chain, the data analysis itself that leads to the measurements that allow us to claim a discovery. This is harder to quantify, but I can’t think of a single piece of the Higgs search analysis that didn’t have some US involvement.

Again, this is not to say that the US is the only player here — just to point out that thanks to the long history that the United States has in supporting this science, the US too can share some of the glory of today’s announcement.

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Another day at the office

Ken Bloom
Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

I suppose that my grandchildren might ask me, “Where were you when the Nobel Prize for the Higgs boson was announced?” I was at CERN, where the boson was discovered, thus giving the observational support required for the prize. And was I in the atrium of Building 40, where CERN Director General Rolf Heuer and hundreds of physicists had gathered to watch the broadcast of the announcement? Well no; I was in a small, stuffy conference room with about twenty other people.

We were in the midst of a meeting where we were hammering out the possible architecture of the submission system that physicists will be using to submit computing jobs for analyzing the data in the next LHC run and beyond. Not at all glamorous, I know. But that’s my point: the work that is needed to make big scientific discoveries, be it the Higgs or whatever might come next (we hope!) usually not the least bit glamorous. It’s a slog, where you have to work with a lot of other people to figure out all the difficult little details. And you really have to do this day after day, to make the science work. And there are many aspects of making science work — building advanced scientific instruments, harnessing the power of computers, coming up with clever ways to look at the data (and not making mistakes while at it), and working with colleagues to build confidence in a measurement. Each one of them takes time, effort and patience.

So in the end, today was just another day at the office — where we did the same things we’ve been doing for years to make this Nobel Prize possible, and are laying the groundwork for the next one.

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A Higgs Nobel? And to Whom?

Seth Zenz
Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

The smart money for this year’s Nobel Prize, it seems, is on Peter Higgs and François Englert to win for developing the theory of the boson that bears one of their names. Awarding the prize to the two of them would, of course, be a great oversimplification of assigning credit for that theory. Robert Brout, who worked with Englert, died in 2011 and so is ineligible for the prize. Gerald Guralnik, C. R. Hagen, and Tom Kibble published independent work on the same problems at the same time. All six shared the 2010 Sakurai Prize “for elucidation of the properties of spontaneous symmetry breaking in four-dimensional relativistic gauge theory and of the mechanism for the consistent generation of vector boson masses,” but the Nobel rules are more restrictive.

If the Nobel Prize goes to only two of six theorists, it is certainly in the tradition of the prize, whose structure implicitly assumes that great scientific breakthroughs are made by great people through well-defined leaps of genius. More often, though, theoretical work is incremental. Ideas are exchanged, developed partially by one person before being expanded upon by the next. The positive way to look at it is that the prize would be symbolic, awarded to two people who represent a broader effort.

Of course, the main reason the Higgs boson is of interest right now is the experimental work done in finding it! Could there be a Nobel Prize for that? Well, I can’t see any way to award an individual for the efforts of thousands of people over decades. An untold number of “little” problems have been solved by those people in building a bigger and better accelerator, and bigger and better detectors, than have ever been built before. So what I would like to see is the Nobel Committee changing its traditions and awarding the physics prize to CERN along with the theorists.

A prize to CERN would again be symbolic. Not everyone who made important contributions to finding the Higgs works at CERN. Thousands of the contributors worked at United States labs and universities from the very beginning, for example. But as the center of the LHC effort, it does represent all that work. Not a sudden flash of genius, but lots of hardworking people tackling tough scientific and technical problems. In other words, the way great science is usually done.

Flip Tanedo, Katie Yurkewicz, and the Higgs boson

Katie Yurkewicz, Flip Tanedo, and the Higgs boson. (Originally for this contest in Symmetry.)

For a more humorous take on all this, please see this Scientific American article on the early awarding of the prize to the boson itself. My favorite bit is this: “A member of CERN’s PR division also wore a large, squishy Higgs costume, doing his best to mimic the behavior of the fleeting particle as he whizzed from one end of the room to another, hid and emerged from behind a curtain and breathlessly answered questions about gauge symmetry and vacuum fluctuations.” As you can see at right, this is frighteningly close to what some USLHC communicators have actually been involved in.

The real Nobel Prize in Physics will be announced next Tuesday, October 8. So stay tuned!

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CERN’s universe is ours!

Ken Bloom
Sunday, September 29th, 2013

This past weekend, CERN held its first open days for the public in about five years. This was a big, big deal. I haven’t heard any final statistics, but the lab was expecting about 50,000 visitors on each of the two days. (Some rain on Sunday might have held down attendance.) Thus, the open days were a huge operation — roads were shut down, and Transports Publics Genevois was running special shuttle buses amongst the Meyrin and Previssen sites and the access points on the LHC ring. The tunnels were open to people who had reserved tickets in advance — a rare opportunity, and one that is only possible during a long shutdown such as the one currently underway.

A better CERN user than me would have volunteered for the open days. Instead, I took my kids to see the activities. We thought that the event went really well. I was bracing for it to be a mob scene, but in the end the Meyrin site was busy but not overrun. (Because the children are too small, we couldn’t go to any of the underground areas.) There were many eager orange-shirted volunteers at our service, as we visited open areas around the campus. We got to see a number of demonstrations, such as the effects of liquid-nitrogen temperatures on different materials. There were hands-on activities for kids, such as assembling your own LHC and trying to use a scientific approach to guessing what was inside a closed box. Pieces of particle detectors and LHC magnets were on display for all to see.

But I have to say, what really got my kids excited was the Transport and Handling exhibit, which featured CERN’s heavy lifting equipment. They rode a scissors lift that took them to a height of several stories, and got to operate a giant crane. Such a thing would never, ever happen in the US, which has a very different culture of legal liability.

I hope that all of the visitors had a great time too! I anticipate that the next open days won’t be until the next long shutdown, which is some years away, but it will be well worth the trip.

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Aces high

Ken Bloom
Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Much as I love living in Lincoln, Nebraska, having a long residence at CERN has some advantages. For instance, we do get much better traffic of seminar and colloquium speakers here. (I know, you were thinking about chocolate.) Today’s colloquium in particular really got me thinking about how we do, or don’t, understand particle physics today.

The speaker was George Zweig of MIT. Zweig has been to CERN before — almost fifty years ago, when he was a postdoctoral fellow. (This was his first return visit since then.) He had just gotten his PhD at Caltech under Richard Feynman, and was busy trying to understand the “zoo” of hadronic particles that were being discovered in the 1960′s. (Side note: Zweig pointed out today that at the time there were 26 known hadronic particles…19 of which are no longer believed to exist.) Zweig developed a theory that explained the observations of the time by positing a set of hadronic constituents that he called “aces”. (He thought there might be four of them, hence the name.) Some particles were made of two aces (and thus called “deuces”) and others were made of three (and called “trays”). This theory successfully explained why some expected particle decays didn’t actually happen in nature, and gave an explanation for differences in masses between various sets of particles.

Now, reading this far along, you might think that this sounds like the theory of quarks. Yes and no — it was Murray Gell-Mann who first proposed quarks, and had similar successful predictions in his model. But there was a critical difference between the two theories. Zweig’s aces were meant to be true physical particles — concrete quarks, as he referred to them. Gell-Mann’s quarks, by contrast, were merely mathematical constructs whose physical reality was not required for the success of the theory. At the time, Gell-Mann’s thinking held sway; I’m no expert on the history of this period of history in theoretical particle physics. But my understanding was that the Gell-Mann approach was more in line with the theory fashions of the day, and besides, if you could have a successful theory that didn’t have to introduce some new particles that were themselves sketchy (their electric charges had to be fractions of the electron charge, and they apparently couldn’t be observed anyway), why would you?

Of course, we now know that Zweig’s interpretation is more correct; this was even becoming apparent a few short years later, when deep-inelastic scattering experiments at SLAC in the late 1960′s discovered that nucleons had smaller constituents, but at that time it was controversial to actually associate those with the quarks (or aces). For whatever reason, Zweig left the field of particle physics and went on to a successful career as a faculty member at MIT, doing work in neurobiology that involved understanding the mechanisms of hearing.

I find it a fascinating tale of how science actually gets done. How might it apply to our science today? A theory like the standard model of particle physics has been so well tested by experiment that it is taken to be true without controversy. But theories of physics beyond the standard model, the sort of theories that we’re now trying to test at the LHC, are much less constrained. And, to be sure, some are more popular than others, because they are believed to have some certain inherent beauty to them, or because they fit well with patterns that we think we observe. I’m no theorist, but I’m sure that some theories are currently more fashionable than others. But in the absence of experimental data, we can’t know that they are right. Perhaps there are some voices that are not being heard as well as they need to be. Fifty years from now, will we identify another George Zweig?

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You Learn Something New Every Day

Seth Zenz
Friday, September 13th, 2013
The new display in the CERN cafeteria

The new display in the CERN cafeteria

One of the remarkable things about working at CERN is that there’s always a lot going on, even in this “quiet” year when the LHC’s shut down – far too much for anyone to keep track of what everyone else is up to. This morning, I saw a new accelerator status page up on the big displays in the cafeteria. I didn’t recognize the beamlines in the picture – it’s definitely not the LHC or the accelerator chain leading up to it – so I tweeted about it, and rather quickly got a reply from a friend of mine in the accelerator division.

It turns out we’re looking at CTF3, a test facility for research toward the Compact Linear Collider (CLIC), a multi-TeV electron-positron machine that might be built in a few decades. I knew that technology for CLIC was being actively studied at CERN, but I never thought much about what sort of facilities were here or what they were called, until they showed up on the display at breakfast. This is a very good place to learn something new every day!

I have no idea why they put the CTF3 beamlines on the display today, but maybe it’s because something interesting will happen soon? You can watch and find out for yourself here.

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Inspired by the Higgs, a step forward in open access

Kyle Cranmer
Thursday, September 12th, 2013

The discovery of the Higgs boson is a major step forward in our understanding of nature at the most fundamental levels. In addition to being the last piece of the standard model, it is also at the core of the fine tuning problem — one of the deepest mysteries in particle physics. So it is only natural that our scientific methodology rise to the occasion to provide the most powerful and complete analysis of this breakthrough discovery.

This week the ATLAS collaboration has taken an important step forward by making the likelihood function for three key measurements about the Higgs available to the world digitally. Furthermore, this data is being shared in a way that represents a template for how particle physics operates in the fast-evolving world of open access to data. These steps are a culmination of decades of work, so allow me to elaborate.

Four interactions that can produced a Higgs boson at the LHC

Four interactions that can produced a Higgs boson at the LHC

Higgs production and decay measured by ATLAS.

Higgs production and decay measured by ATLAS.

First of all, what are the three key measurements, and why are they important? The three results were presented by ATLAS in this recent paper.  Essentially, they are measurements for how often the Higgs is produced at the LHC through different types of interactions (shown above) and how often it decays into three different force carrying particles (photons, W, and Z bosons).  In this plot, the black + sign at (1,1) represents the standard model prediction and the three sets of contours represent the measurements performed by ATLAS.  These measurements are fundamental tests of the standard model and any deviation could be a sign of new physics like supersymmetry!

Ok, so what is the likelihood function, and why is it useful?  Here maybe it is best to give a little bit of history.  In 2000, the first in a series of workshops was held at CERN where physicists gathered to discuss the details of our statistical procedures that lead to the final results of our experiments.  Perhaps surprisingly, there is no unique statistical procedure, and there is a lot of debate about the merits of different approaches.  After a long discussion panel, Massimo Corradi cut to the point

It seems to me that there is a general consensus that what is really meaningful for an experiment is likelihood, and almost everybody would agree on the prescription that experiments should give their likelihood function for these kinds of results. Does everybody agree on this statement, to publish likelihoods?

And as Louis Lyons charred the session…

Any disagreement? Carried unanimously.  That’s actually quite an achievement for this workshop.

So there you have it, the likelihood function is the essential piece of information needed for communicating scientific results.

So what happened next?  Well… for years, despite unanimous support, experiments still do not publish their likelihood functions.  Part of the reason is that we lacked the underlying technology to communicate these likelihood functions efficiently.  In the run up to the LHC we developed some technology (associated to RooFit and RooStats) for being able to share very complicated likelihood functions internally.  This would be the ideal way to share our likelihood functions, but we aren’t quite there yet.  In January 2013, we had a conference devoted to the topic of publishing likleihood functions, which culminated in a paper “On the presentation of LHC Higgs results”.  This paper, written by theorist and experimentalists, singled out the likelihood associated to the plot above as the most useful way of communicating information about the Higgs properties.

An overlay of the original ATLAS result (filled contours) and those reproduced from the official ATLAS likelihood functions.

An overlay of the original ATLAS result (filled contours) and those reproduced from the official ATLAS likelihood functions.

The reason that these specific Higgs plots are so useful is that more specific tests of the standard model can be derived from them.  For instance, one might want to consider beyond the standard model theories where the Higgs interacts with all the matter particles (fermions) or all the force carrying particles (vector bosons) differently than in the standard model.  To do that, it is useful to group together all of the information in a particular way and take a special 2-d slice through the 6-d parameter space described by the three 2-d plots above.  To the left is the result of this test (where the axes are called κ_F and κ_V for the vector bosons and fermions, respectively).  What is special about this plot is that there is an overlay of the original ATLAS result (filled contours) and those reproduced from the official ATLAS likelihood functions.  While my student Sven Kreiss made the comparison as part of a test, anyone can now reproduce this plot from the official ATLAS likelihood functions.  More importantly, the same procedure that was used to make this plot can be used to test other specific theories — and there are a lot of alternative ways to reinterpret these Higgs results.

Great! So where can you find these likelihood functions and what does this have to do with open access?  I think this part is very exciting.  CERN is now famous for being the birthplace for the world wide web and having a forward-looking vision for open access to our published papers. The sheer volume and complexity of the LHC data makes the conversation about open access to the raw data quite complicated.  However, having access to our published results is much less controversial.  While it is not done consistently, there are several examples of experiments putting information that goes into tables and figures on HepData (a repository for particle physics measurements).  Recently, our literature system INSPIRE started to integrate with HepData so that the data are directly associated to the original publication (here is an example).  What is important is that this data is discoverable and citable.  If someone uses this data, we want to know exactly what is being used and the collaborations that produced the data deserve some credit.  INSPIRE is now issuing a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) to this data, which is a persistent and trackable link to the data.

So now for the fun part, you can go over to the INSPIRE record for the recent Higgs paper (http://inspirehep.net/record/1241574) and you will see this:

The INSPIRE record for the recent ATLAS Higgs paper.

 

If you click on HepData tab at the top it will take you to a list of data associated to this paper.   Each of the three entries has a DOI associated to it (and lists all the ATLAS authors).  For example, the H→γγ result’s DOI is 10.7484/INSPIREHEP.DATA.A78C.HK44, and this is what should be cited for any result that uses this likelihood.    (Note, to get to the actual data, you click on the Files tab.)  INSPIRE is now working so that your author profile will not only include all of your papers, but also the data sets that you are associated with (and you can also see the data associated with your ORCID ID).

The H→γγ likelihood function.

The INSPIRE record for the H→γγ likelihood function.

Now it’s time for me and my co-authors to update our paper “On the presentation of LHC Higgs results” to cite this data.  And next week, Salvatore Mele, head of Open Access at CERN, will give a keynote presentation to the DataCite conference entitled “A short history of the Higgs Boson. From a tenth of a billionth of a second after the Big Bang, through the discovery at CERN, to a DataCite DOI”.

I truly hope that this becomes standard practice for the LHC.  It is a real milestone for the information architecture associated to the field of high energy physics and a step forward in the global analysis of the Higgs boson discovered at the LHC!

Update (Sept. 17): The new version of our paper is out that has citations to the likelihoods.

Update (Sept. 18): The data record now has a citation tab as well, so you can distinguish citations to the data and citations to the paper.

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Prioritizing the future

Ken Bloom
Monday, September 9th, 2013

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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