Fermilab's plans for the future are on solid ground, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said at the research facility Thursday night. But funding those plans is an immediate problem that will take some convincing on a national scale, he said.
Chu delivered a speech on the importance of scientific research in the everyday lives of Americans at Fermilab Thursday. His appearance was part of an annual event where scientists at Fermilab put their accomplishments on display for the world to see.
The event comes in the wake of Fermilab executives having to develop plans for layoffs when faced with the prospects of a funding cut. The immediate threat of layoffs has subsided at the lab, but congressional pursuit of deficit reduction and an uncertain mission for Fermilab in the wake of the end of the Tevatron era have kept a cloud over the facility.
The Tevatron had long-been Fermilab's claim to fame. Now scientists at the lab have their hopes pinned on the proposed Project X accelerator. The half-mile-long device would accelerate a proton beam with almost seven times the beam intensity of Fermilab's current capabilities. It's believed the beam could pave the way for experiments that might unlock the answers to major scientific questions, such as how the universe was born. But approval and funding for the project are still in federal limbo.
In an interview after his speech, Chu said Fermilab and Project X could be a good match.
"It does make sense," Chu said. "We do want one high-energy physics lab in the United States."
Chu said Fermilab still has some immediate use for the Tevatron, but the staff at the lab are already preparing for closing ceremonies for the device. Making Project X a reality at Fermilab comes down to a long-term, sustainable, funding commitment to both Fermilab and science in general, Chu said.
"The U.S. has to make a choice," Chu said. "Yes, deficit reduction is an important part of it, but you have to have proper (funding for) research and education."
Chu referenced President John F. Kennedy's push for space exploration even during a time of deficit as key point in the history of science in America where politicians made the right choice.
"Previous presidents have said we can still do this," Chu said. "This is our Sputnik moment."