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Posts Tagged ‘Snowmass’

I know that the majority of the posts I’ve written have focused on physics issues and results, specifically those related to LHCb. I’d like to take this opportunity, however, to focus on the development of the field of High Energy Physics (HEP) and beyond.

As some of you know, in 2013, we witnessed an effectively year-long conversation about the state of our field, called Snowmass. This process is meant to collect scientists in the field, young and old alike, and ask them what the pressing issues for the development of our field are. In essence, it’s a “hey, stop working on your analysis for a second and let’s talk about the big issues” meeting. They came out with a comprehensive list of questions and also a bunch of working papers about the discussions. If you’re interested, go look at the website. The process was separated into “frontiers,” or groups that the US funding agencies put together to divide the field into the groups that they saw fit. I’ll keep my personal views on the “frontiers” language for a different day, and instead share a much more apt interpretation of the frontiers, which emerged from Jonathan Asaadi, of Snowmass Young and Quantum Diaries. He emphasizes that we are coming together to tackle the biggest problems as a team, as opposed to dividing into groups, illustrated as Voltron in his slide below.


Slide from presentation of Jonathan Asaadi at the USLUO (now USLUA) 2013 annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. The point here is collaboration between frontiers to solve the biggest problems, rather than division into separate groups.

And that’s just what happened. While I willingly admit that I had zero involvement in this process aside from taking the Snowmass Young survey, I still agree with the conclusions which were reached about what the future of our field should look like. Again, I highly encourage you to go look at the outcome.

Usually, this would be the end of the story, but this year, the recommendations from Snowmass were passed to a group called P5 (Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel). The point of this panel was to review the findings of Snowmass and come up with a larger plan about how the future of HEP will proceed. The big ideas had effectively been gathered, now the hard questions about which projects can pursue these questions effectively are being asked. This specifically focuses on what the game plan will be for HEP over the next 10-20 years, and identifies the distinct physics reach in a variety of budget situations. Their recommendation will be passed to HEPAP (High Energy Physics Advisory Panel), which reviews the findings, then passes its recommendation to the US government and funding agencies. The P5 findings will be presented to HEPAP  on May 22nd, 2014 at 10 AM, EST. I invite you to listen to the presentation live here. The preliminary executive report and white paper can be found after 10 EST on the 22nd of May on the same site, as I understand.

This is a big deal.

There are two main points here. First, 10-20 years is a long time, and any sort of recommendation about the future of the field over such a long period will be a hard one. P5 has gone through the hard numbers under many different budget scenarios to maximize the science reach that the US is capable of. Looking at the larger political picture, in 2013, the US also entered the Sequester, which cut spending across the board and had wide implications for not only the US but worldwide. This is a testament to the tight budget constraints that we are working in now, and will most certainly face in the future. Even considering such a process as P5 shows that the HEP community recognizes this point, and understands that without well defined goals and tough considerations of how to achieve them, we will endanger the future funding of any project in the US or with US involvement.

Without this process, we will endanger future funding of US HEP.

We can take this one step further with a bit more concrete example. The majority of HEP workings are done through international collaboration, both experiment and theory alike. If any member of such a collaboration does not pull their weight, it puts the entire project into jeopardy. Take, for example, the US ATLAS and CMS programs, which have 23% and 33% involvement from the US, respectively, in both analysis and detector R&D. If these projects were cut drastically over the next years, there would have to be a massive rethinking about the strategies of their upgrades, not to mention possible lack of manpower. Not only would this delay one of the goals outlined by Snowmass, to use the Higgs as a discovery tool, but would also put into question the role of the US in the future of HEP. This is a simple example, but is not outside the realm of possibility.

The second point is how to make sure a situation like this does not happen.

I cannot say that communication of the importance of this process has been stellar. A quick google search yields no mainstream news articles about the process, nor the impact. In my opinion, this is a travesty and that’s the reason why I am writing this post. Symmetry Magazine also, just today, came out with an article about the process. Young members of our community who were not necessarily involved in Snowmass, but seem to know about Snowmass, do not really know about P5 or HEPAP. I may be wrong, but I draw this conclusion from a number of conversations I’ve had at CERN with US postdocs and students. Nonetheless, people are quite adamant about making sure that the US does continue to play a role in the future of HEP. This is true across HEP, the funding agencies and the members of Congress. (I can say this as I went on a trip with the USLUO, FNAL and SLAC representatives to lobby congress on behalf of HEP in March of this year, and this is the sentiment which I received.) So the first step is informing the public about what we’re doing and why.

The stuff we do is really cool! We’re all organized around how to solve the biggest issues facing physics! Getting the word out about this is key.

Go talk to your neighbor!

Go talk to your local physicist!

Go talk to your congressperson!

Just talk about physics! Talk about why it excites you and talk about why it’s interesting to explore! Maybe leave out the CLs plots, though. If you didn’t know, there’s also a whole mess of things that HEP is good for besides colliding particles! See this site for a few.

The final step is understanding the process. The biggest worry I have is what happens after HEPAP reviews the P5 recommendations. We, as a community, have to be willing to endure the pains of this process. Good science will be excluded. However, there are not infinite funds, nor was a guarantee of funding ever given. Recognition of this, while focusing on the big problems at hand and thinking about how to work within the means allowed is *the point* of the conversation. The better question is, will we emerge from the process unified or split? Will we get behind the Snowmass process and answer the questions posed to us, or fight about how to answer them? I certainly hope the answer is that we will unify, as we unified for Snowmass.

An allegorical example is from a slide from Nima Arkani-Hamed at Pheno2014, shown in the picture.

One slide from Nima Arkani-Hamed's presentation at Pheno2014

One slide from Nima Arkani-Hamed’s presentation at Pheno2014


The take home point is this: If we went through the exercise of Snowmass, and cannot pull our efforts together to the wishes of the community, are we going to survive? I would prefer to ask a different question: Will we not, as a community, take the opportunity to answer the biggest questions facing physics today?

We’ll see on the 22nd and beyond.



Update: May 27, 2014


As posted in the comments, the full report can be found here, the presentation given by Steve Ritz, chair of P5 can be found here, and the full P5 report can be found here.  Additionally, Symmetry Magazine has a very nice piece on the report itself. As they state in the update at the bottom of the page, HEPAP voted to accept the report.


Unanswered questions

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

This article appeared in symmetry on Oct. 22, 2013.

Do you think scientists have the answers to all the questions? As these researchers admit, there’s still so much to discover. Particle physics is brimming with mysteries and unknowns. Photo: Sandbox Studio, Chicago

Do you think scientists have the answers to all the questions? As these researchers admit, there’s still so much to discover. Particle physics is brimming with mysteries and unknowns. Photo: Sandbox Studio, Chicago

Bring hundreds of smart physicists together and what do you get? Lots of questions!

This summer, more than 700 particle physicists from nearly 100 universities and laboratories across the United States came together on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus for the Snowmass Community Summer Study meeting. There, they discussed the decades ahead in US particle physics, carefully considering the next steps in their studies of energy, matter, space and time.

During coffee breaks, symmetry asked attendees to share open questions in particle physics. Here’s a sample of what particle physicists think about and what they hope to discover in the coming decades.

View an image gallery of particle physicists asking their most pressing questions.


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


The Snowmass at Minnesota Community Summer Study Meeting is one month away, and the Young Physicists Group is planning for a strong participation. Students, postdocs and other untenured scientists are all encouraged to attend.

In addition to a wealth of physics results, many contributed by some of our brightest young people, the program includes:

  • a plenary talk (7/29, 1:30 p.m.) presenting results of the Career and Science Prospects Survey, which has gathered 1000+ responses so far and remains open until 7/15
  • a parallel session (date and time TBD) to discuss and edit the paper summarizing our views

The information and registration page is: http://www.hep.umn.edu/css2013/

The accommodations page lists hotels with rooms available at a reduced rate for participants.

Those traveling to or from Fermilab might be interested in this carpooling option.

Important deadlines are 7/7 for hotel reservations and 7/15 for registration to the meeting and inputs to the survey.

If you have not yet completed our brief survey, please do so. If you have done it already — many thanks! — please encourage others to do the same. The link to the survey is: http://tinyurl.com/snowmassyoung

See you in Minnesota!

Snowmass Young Conveners


The US high-energy physics community is planning the next two or three decades of its future. The process, called Snowmass, is a big deal for everyone interested in astro/particle physics, cosmology and related areas. That is especially important in these times of shrinking budgets and dire job prospects, which affect academic career paths of researchers worldwide — the folks at PhD Comics have a great take on this topic. Brilliant.

At Snowmass, the contribution of all segments of the community is necessary to ensure that its outcome truly reflects our views. The Snowmass Young Physicists group was formed to facilitate the participation of young people in this process. I am one of the organizers of this group and we are pursuing a Career and Science Aspirations Survey as an opportunity for everyone in our field to have their voices heard and help paint the big picture.

We are reaching out to people in all demographics: current, past and prospective students at the undergraduate and graduate levels; postdocs or former postdocs now working in other areas; and you, Quantum Diaries reader.

If you are part of our community, please take 10 minutes to respond the online survey. If you think this doesn’t apply to you, then please help us spread the news! The link is: http://tinyurl.com/snowmassyoung

The survey was launched in April and will be open until mid-July. Results will be published by the Snowmass Young team later this summer.

Marcelle Soares-Santos


“Snowmass” (Not Snowmass)

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Every so often, perhaps once or twice a decade, particle physics in the United States comes to some kind of a crossroads that requires us to think about the long-term direction of the field. Perhaps there is new experimental data that is pointing in new directions, or technology developments that make some new facility possible, or we’re seeing the end of the previous long-term plan and it’s time to develop the next one. And when this happens, the cry goes up in the community — “We need a Snowmass!”

Snowmass refers to Snowmass Village in Colorado, just down the road from Aspen, the home of the Aspen Center for Physics, a noted haunt for theorists. During the winter, Snowmass a ski resort. During the summer, it’s a mostly empty ski resort, where it’s not all that expensive to rent some condos and meeting rooms for a few weeks. Over the past few decades there have been occasional “summer studies” held at Snowmass, typically organized by the Division of Particles and Fields of the American Physical Society (and sponsored by a host of organizations and agencies). It’s a time for the particle-physics community to come together for a few weeks and spend some quality time focusing on long-range planning.

The last big Snowmass workshop was in 2001. At the time, the Fermilab Tevatron was just getting started on a new data run after a five-year shutdown for upgrades, and the LHC was under construction. The top quark had been discovered, but was not yet well characterized. We were just beginning to understand neutrino masses and mixing. The modern era of observational cosmology was just beginning. A thousand physicists came to Snowmass over the course of three weeks to plot the future of the field. (And I was a lot younger.) Flash forward eleven years: the Tevatron has been shut down (leaving the US without a major high-energy particle collider), the LHC is running like gangbusters, we’re trying to figure out what dark energy is, and just in the past year two big shoes have dropped — we have measured the last neutrino mixing angle, and, quite famously, observed what could well be the Higgs boson. So indeed, it is time for another Snowmass workshop.

This week I came to Fermilab for a Community Planning Meeting for next year’s Snowmass workshop. Snowmass 2013 is going to be a bit different than previous workshops in that it will not actually be at Snowmass! Budgetary concerns and new federal government travel regulations have made the old style of workshop infeasible. Instead, there will be a shorter meeting this summer hosted by our colleagues at the University of Minnesota (hats off to thee for having us), so this time we won’t have as much time during the workshop to chew over the issues, and more work will have to be done ahead of time. (But I suspect that we’re still going to call this workshop “Snowmass”, just as the ICHEP conference was “the Rochester conference” for such a long time, even if it’s now the “Community Summer Study”.)

This Snowmass is being organized along the three “frontiers” that we’re using to classify the current research efforts in the field — energy, intensity and cosmic. As someone who works at the LHC, I’m most familiar with what’s going on at the energy frontier, and certainly there are important questions that have only come into focus this year. Did we observe the Higgs boson at the LHC? What more do we have to know about it to believe that it’s the Higgs? What are the implications of not having observed any other new particles yet for particle physics and for future experiments? The Snowmass study will help us understand how we answer these questions, and specifically what experiments and facilities are needed to do so. There are lots of interesting ideas that are out there right now. Can the LHC tell us what we need to know, possibly with an energy or luminosity upgrade? Is this the time to build a “Higgs factory” that would allow us to study measure Higgs properties precisely? If so, what’s the right machine for that? Or do we perhaps need an accelerator with even greater energy reach, something that will help us create new particles that would be out of reach of the LHC? What kind of instrumentation and computing technologies are needed to make sense of the particle interactions at these new facilities? The intensity and cosmic frontiers have equally big and interesting questions. I would posit that the scientific questions of particle physics have not been so compelling for a long time, and that it is a pivotal time to think about what new experiments are needed.

However, we also have the bracing reality that we are looking at these questions in a budget environment that is perhaps as constrained as it has ever been. Presentations from our champions and advocates at the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, the agencies that fund this research (and that sponsor the US LHC blog) were encouraging about the scientific opportunities but also noted the boundary conditions that arise from the federal budget as a whole, national research priorities, and our pre-existing facilities plan. It will continue to be a challenge to make the case for our work (compelling as it may be to us, and to someone who might be interested in looking at the Quantum Diaries site) and to envision a set of facilities that can be built and used given the funding available.

The first (non-native) settlers of Snowmass, Colorado, were miners, who were searching for buried treasure under adverse conditions. They were constrained by the technology of the time, and the facilities that were available for their work. I shouldn’t suggest that what we are doing is exactly like mining (it’s much safer, for one thing), but hopefully when we go to Snowmass (or really “Snowmass”) we will be figuring out how to develop the technology and facilities that are needed to extract an even greater treasure.