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Posts Tagged ‘NSF’

Snowmass Came and Passed. What have we learned from it?


Skyline of Minneapolis, home of the University of Minnesota and host city of the Community Summer Study 2013: Snowmass on the Mississippi.

Hi All,

Science is big. It is the systematic study of nature, so it has to be big. In another way, science is about asking questions, questions that expands our knowledge of nature just a bit more. Innocuous questions like, “Why do apples fall to the ground?”, “How do magnets work?”, or “How does an electron get its mass?” have lead to understanding much more about the universe than expected. Our jobs as scientists come down to three duties: inventing questions, proposing answers (called hypotheses), and testing these proposals.

As particle physicists, we ask “What is the universe made of?” and “What holds the universe together?”  Finding out that planets and stars only make up 5% of the universe really makes one pause and wonder, well, what about everything else?

From neutrino masses, to the Higgs boson, to the cosmic microwave background, we have learned  much about the origin of mass in the Universe as well as the origin of the Universe itself in the past 10 years. Building on recent discoveries, particle physicists from around the world have been working together for over a year to push our questions further. Progress in science is incremental, and after 10 days at the Community Summer Study 2013: Snowmass on the Mississippi Conference, hosted by the University of Minnesota, we have a collection of questions that will drive and define particle physic for the next 20 years. Each question is an incremental step, but each answer will allow us to expand our knowledge of nature.

I had a chance to speak with SLAC‘s Michael Peskin, a convener for the Snowmass Energy Frontier study group and author of the definitive textbook on Quantum Field Theory, on how he sees the high energy physics community proceeding after Snowmass. “The community did a lot of listening at Snowmass. High energy physics is pursuing a very broad array of questions.  I think that we now appreciate better how important all of these questions are, and that there are real strategies for answering them.”  An important theme of Snowmass, Peskin said, was “the need for long-term, global planning”.  He pointed to the continuing success of the Large Hadron Collider, which is the result of the efforts of thousands of scientists around the world.  This success would not have happened without such a large-scale, global  effort.  “This is how high energy physics will have to be, in all of its subfields, to answer our big questions.”

Summary presentations of all the work done for Snowmass are linked below in pdf form and are divided into two categories: how to approach questions (Frontiers) and what will enable us to answer these questions. These two categories represent the mission of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science. A summary of the summaries is at the bottom.

What is the absolute neutrino mass scale? What is the neutrino mass ordering? Is CP violated in the neutrino sector? What new knowledge will neutrinos from astrophysical sources bring?

What is dark matter? What is dark energy? Why more matter than anti-matter? What is the physics of the Universe at the highest energies?

Where are the new particles that modify the Higgs, t, W couplings? What particles comprise the dark matter? Why is the Higgs boson so light?

The growth in data drives need for continued R&D investment in data management, data access methods, networking. Challenging resource needs require efficient and flexible use of all resources HEP needs both Distributed High-Throughput computing (experiment program) and High-Performance computing (mostly theory/simulation/modeling)

Encourage and enable physicists to be involved in and support local, national and world-wide efforts that offer long–term professional development and training opportunities for educators (including pre-service educators), using best practice and approaches supported by physics education research. and Create learning opportunities for students of all ages, including classroom, out-of-school and online activities that allow students to explore particle physics

Our vision is for the US to have an instrumentation program for particle physics that enables the US to maintain a scientific leadership position in a broad, global, experimental program; and develops new detection capabilities that provides for cutting edge contributions to a world program

Is dark energy a cosmological constant? Is it a vacuum energy? From where do ultra high energy cosmic rays originate? From where do ultra high energy neutrinos originate?

How would one build a 100 TeV scale hadron collider? How would one build a lepton collider at >1 TeV? Can multi-MW targets survive? If so, for how long?

To provide a conduit for untenured (young) particle physicists to participate in the Community Summer Study. To facilitate and encourage young people to get involved.
Become a long term asset to the field and a place where young peoples voices can be heard

Several great posts from QD (Family, Young, Frontierland), Symmetry Magazine (Push, Q&A, IceSlam, Decade), and even real-time updates from QD’s Ken Bloom (@kenbloomunl) and myself (@bravelittlemuon) via #Snowmass are available. All presentations can be found at the Snowmass Indico page.

Until next time, happy colliding.

– Richard (@bravelittlemuon)

Community Summer Study: Snowmass 2013 Poster

Community Summer Study: Snowmass 2013 Poster


Happy 5th of July, everyone! For my inaugural post here on Quantum Diaries I thought it would be fun and somewhat fitting to write about one of my favorite parts of being a scientist: public outreach. The terms “public outreach,” “science outreach,” or just “outreach” are all used interchangeably by researchers and our funders, e.g.,  The National Science Foundation and The U.S. Department of Energy, to mean when scientists hold public lectures or demonstrations in order to tell people all about their present work or field of science. One example of outreach familiar to everyone reading this blog is Quantum Diaries itself. The innovations made in social media (think Twitter) have made it possible for physicists around the world to share with everyone, including other scientists, the exciting, ground-breaking research we do. On top of that, it can all happen with just a few key strokes and track pad taps.

Department of Energy, DOE, Office of Science LogoNational Science Foundation, NSF, Logo






To list all the reasons why outreach is beneficial and useful would make this post much, much longer than I intend. Though, there is one reason for reaching out to the public I feel worth mentioning: it’s a unique way of saying “thank you.” Equipment like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, Fermilab’s Tevatron, and NASA’s Hubble Telescope are all examples of publicly financed science experiments, each with the goal of helping understand how the Universe came to be. Economically speaking, such projects can only be constructed with federal assistance. However, these so-called “high risk, high reward” projects have given us, as unintended consequences, new methods of cancer treatment and even the World Wide Web. The Large Hadron Collider alone has pushed computing technology to an impressive new standard. Without the public’s help many of our greatest scientific achievements may not have ever been actualized; this is why scientists are always hesitant and worried when budget discussions pertaining to science funding become politicized.

A neat fact of life is that there are so many different ways of saying “thank you” that are entirely institution- and regionally dependent. For instance the physics lab Fermilab, which is located in a suburb of Chicago and actually doubles as a nature preserve, has a hugely successful program called Saturday Morning Physics where local high school students, regardless of scientific background, can learn all about modern physics. The University of Chicago and The University of Wisconsin, as well as many other universities, hold annual shows featuring hours of physics demonstrations that can be literally explosive. MIT uniquely has its Splash Program where advanced undergraduates are invited to tell participating high school students all about their favorite topics, like the Science of Cooking, and often includes demonstrations (or tasty samples!). A grand example is CERN’s gigantic wooden dome named The Globe. This 30-meter tall, perpetually pine-smelling, building provides the surrounding French and Swiss communities (CERN is on the French-Swiss boarder just outside of Geneva, Switzerland) continuously updated exhibits on the history of the Universe and on the works of famous physicists like Einstein. The Globe also acts a venue for public lectures where everyone is invited to hear from scientists from various fields, not just physics. Just pull up a web browser and search your favorite university along with the words “science outreach,” or even just “biology outreach.” I promise you will immediately find tons of fantastic information.
CERN's Globe

Well, I hope you enjoyed my first post. Future ones will mostly be about really neat particle physics updates but there will definitely be the occasional awesome-application-of-science-but-not-necessarily-physics post. Here is a sneak peak of an update-in-progress that I hope will be a big hit. Until then though you can find me on my personal outreach Twitter account @bravelittlemuon. Send me a message or post a comment below; I would love to hear about your outreach experiences!


Deadline day

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Did you see any physics professors who looked both tired and relieved today? It could be that they had just submitted their grant proposal to the National Science Foundation in advance of this afternoon’s deadline. The Division of Physics in NSF, which includes Experimental Particle Physics, does one round of proposal review a year, and proposals are always due on the last Wednesday in September, which was today. The EPP program provides so-called “base” funding for many university research groups that work at the LHC, including mine, and that meant that today I and my colleagues were submitting a proposal for grant funding for the next three years.

Writing funding proposals is arguably the most important thing that I do as a professor. Our particle physics group at Nebraska, which is led by five professors, currently employs five graduate students and six postdoctoral researchers. Our NSF grant pays these people their (admittedly modest) salaries, and we must make sure that we get our funding to ensure that our young physicists, all of whom are doing work that is important for the success of our experiments, remain in our employ. Without this funding, it would be hard for us to carry out any research at all. Student tuition and stipends and postdoc salaries are in fact by far the largest component of our grant budget; these grants ultimately go towards the education and training of the next generation of leaders of our field. Travel expenses are another major component; it’s not cheap to get to CERN.

It is worth mentioning here that the NSF is one of the sponsors of this very Web site. I’m really quite grateful for their support, and I always try to remain aware that it is the hard-earned tax dollars of people who live and work in the United States that are supporting our work.

Writing these proposals is not easy! The NSF has some very specific rules on how proposals are to be written. Not conforming to the guidelines can lead to the immediate rejection of a proposal without review, so you need to observe them very carefully. The main body of the proposal is limited to fifteen pages of text. This limit is in place to keep the review process manageable; as a reviewer, I sure don’t want to have to read too much. But this means that we are trying to describe the past and proposed future activities of a sixteen-person research group in that fifteen pages, and it is a huge challenge to do that concisely while still conveying just what it is that you are doing. A more local challenge is actually coordinating the writing efforts of five professors. I quarterbacked our proposal this time, and I had to be very aware of how different colleagues had different, um, attitudes about deadlines.

But once we had pulled all the text together, and organized all the supporting documents, and worked out all the technicalities of the budget with the university accountants, I was able to read through the proposal and really be proud of how much our group is doing, and how much we think we can do over the next three years. You don’t always get that perspective in your day-to-day work, so it is refreshing to look at the big picture now and then. Will the peer reviewers of the proposal see it the same way? I’ll let you know sometime in the spring.