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Europe set to reclaim Global lead in Science from the United States

Europe Overtakes U.S. in Physics Pursuing God Particle

By Oliver Staley -
Jun 19, 2012 11:00 PM GMT

The nations of Europe, home to
Galileo and Newton, are poised to reclaim the lead in physics
from the U.S., as scientists around the world flock to Geneva in
search of the so-called God particle.
More than 10,000 scientists are working at the Large Hadron
Collider, a 27-kilometer (17-mile) circumference particle
accelerator buried beneath France and Switzerland, in search of
the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle believed to create mass
and hold together the universe. Discovery of the particle -- if
it exists -- may be announced this year.

The facility at CERN has become
the world’s premiere facility for cutting-edge research in high-energy
physics, the discipline devoted to asking questions about the
fundamental nature of the universe. Photographer: Fabrice
Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

In 2011, the U.S. Department of
Energy shut down the Tevatron, a 4.26-mile accelerator at the Fermi
National Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, that had been the U.S.’s most
powerful accelerator. Photographer: Mira Oberman/AFP/Getty Images
While the U.S. has contributed $531 million to the $10.5
billion project and supplied 1,708 researchers, it doesn’t
participate in running it and can’t fully share in commercial
technologies from it. The U.S., which canceled funding for its
own accelerator in 1993, risks ceding the lead in science to
Europe, even with its economic woes, because the U.S. is no
longer investing in large projects like the collider, said Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. “Being at the top is not a forever thing, and too many
people took that for granted,” Tyson said in an interview. “We
will fade.” Since the 1930s, when Albert Einstein led a flood of
scientists fleeing Europe, the U.S. has been a dominant power in
physics. American physicists developed the atomic bomb,
discovered the quark and built the space shuttle. U.S.
discoveries in physics led to the transistor, microchips and the
modern computer industry. ‘Can-Do Attitude’ The U.S. is now losing the will to push scientific
boundaries, said Pushpa Bhat, an American physicist working at
the hadron collider. “The U.S. is giving up its leadership and we’re giving it
up too easily,” she said. “We put a man on the moon. We had a
can-do attitude. Now we’re settling for second best, and that’s
not very American.” Last year, the U.S. Energy Department shut down the
Tevatron, a 4-mile accelerator at the Fermi National Accelerator
Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, that had been the U.S.’s most
powerful collider. With the Tevatron’s demise, CERN, the European Organization
for Nuclear Research, has become the world’s center for cutting-
edge research in high-energy physics, the discipline devoted to
exploring questions about the fundamental nature of the
universe. CERN, founded in 1954, is a consortium of 20 European
nations that built the hadron collider. The U.S shares observer
status with countries including Turkey, Israel and India. Public Investment A lack of public investment in science threatens U.S.
competitiveness internationally, according to “Rising Above the
Gathering Storm,” a report by the National Academy of Sciences,
the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of
Medicine published in 2005 and updated in 2010. Its authors
include Richard Levin, president of Yale University, and Lee Raymond, former chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp. Math and science education in U.S. public schools lags
behind other industrialized nations, and the U.S. ranks 27th
among developed nations in the percentage of college students
receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering
degrees, according to the report. Federal funding for research and development as a fraction
of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product has declined 58 percent from
1967 to 2007, according to the National Science Foundation. Espresso, Pastry At CERN’s headquarters, between Lake Geneva and the Jura
Mountains, scientists work in a complex that resembles a college
campus. In the cafeteria, physicists sip espresso and eat
pastries, chattering in French, German, Spanish and English. On
the wall, digital screens post updates on the progress of the
massive machine 100 meters beneath them. Accelerators, called “atom smashers,” collide tiny
particles at high speeds. At the Large Hadron Collider, billions
of protons from hydrogen atoms are hurled together at almost the
speed of light to recreate conditions that existed fractions of
a second after the Big Bang. The particles are directed by thousands of magnets that are
cooled to minus 271 degrees Celsius, or almost absolute zero,
with liquid helium. The particles whip around the accelerator,
making 11,245 circuits and generating 600 million collisions a
second. Those collisions are monitored by the teams of
scientists using detectors that weigh as much as 12,500 metric
tons and cost about half a billion dollars. Sophisticated
computer algorithms sift and analyze the data. God Particle The hope of many scientists at CERN is they will discover
the Higgs boson, a particle first theorized in the 1960s by
Peter Higgs and other physicists. The Higgs, nicknamed the “God
particle” by U.S. physicist Leon Lederman because of its
significance and elusiveness, is thought to generate mass,
allowing matter to stick together and form the atoms that make
up stars, planets and life. Its discovery would help validate
the Standard Model, which has been used to explain the building
blocks of the universe. “If we discover the Higgs, that’s arguably one of the
biggest discoveries in half a century in our field and one of
the biggest scientific discoveries of all time,” said Joe
Incandela, a professor at the University of California, Santa
Barbara, who heads one of the main experiments at CERN. “We’re
basically finding why there is structure, why mass exists, why
life can happen.” Because the Large Hadron Collider is in Europe, U.S.
business has less opportunity to benefit from new technologies
developed there. CERN Contracts Only companies in CERN’s 20 European member states are
eligible to bid on CERN contracts. CERN also licenses new
technologies to industry and while they aren’t limited to
Europe, “primarily European companies benefit,” said Giovanni
Anelli, the head of CERN’s knowledge-transfer group. Among the innovations derived from the hadron collider are
scintillating crystals, first used in particle detectors and now
part of next-generation medical-diagnostic equipment in France;
oncological hadron therapy, used to treat cancerous tumors in
Italy; and grid computing, designed to process the huge amounts
of data produced by the LHC, and now used by a U.K. company to
model computer data for the pharmaceutical industry. If the Higgs exists, it should have been discovered more
than a decade ago in Texas, said Chris Quigg, an American
theoretical physicist who was involved in the design of the
proposed U.S. accelerator, the Superconducting Super Collider. A
machine 54 miles long, it would have been three times as
powerful as the collider at CERN, Quigg said. “We could have done it, and we didn’t do it,” said Quigg,
who works at Fermilab. Accelerator Scrapped Congress canceled the $11 billion project in 1993 after
years of planning and $2 billion spent in underground
construction near Waxahachie, Texas, with members citing its
high cost, uncertain benefits and annual budget overruns. CERN was able to secure funding for the Large Hadron
Collider because the U.S. scrapped the Texas project, making the
European device the only collider capable of discovering the
Higgs, said Chris Llewellyn Smith, an Oxford University
physicist who was director general of CERN from 1994 to 1998. The cancellation “played into CERN’s hands,” Smith said.
“People were proud that CERN had taken the lead away from the
Americans in this field.” The Texas collider was an obvious target for Congressional
budget cutters, said Jim Slattery, a former Democratic
representative from Kansas who said he voted against the project
partly because the estimated cost kept climbing. ‘Textbook Lesson’ “It was almost a textbook lesson in how you could lose a
project,” said Slattery, now a lobbyist in Washington. “The
Congress loses confidence in the numbers crunchers’ ability to
project a cost. They feel like they’re being hoodwinked.” Slattery said the U.S. will still see the scientific
advances that come out of the hadron accelerator and he has no
regrets about voting to kill the Texas collider. “The interesting thing is how will this affect anyone’s
lives as we go forward,” he said. “In 15 years, 20 years, it
may look like it was a terrible choice. Right now, I’m not
convinced it was.” The U.S. is unlikely to host any device that succeeds the
hadron collider, because it won’t make a large commitment to a
project that it can’t control, said Barry Barish, a scientist at
the California Institute of Technology who is helping to plan
the next-generation machine. Historically, the U.S. hasn’t
collaborated with other nations on science projects because it
hasn’t needed to, he said. Nationalistic Outlook “The U.S. is very nationalistic in its outlook and it
takes some realization that to do big things you have to partner
in ways where you are not the dominant force,” Barish said.
“We’re not there yet.” As CERN’s hadron collider becomes the premiere facility for
particle physics, young European scientists are choosing to
pursue careers at home rather than work at U.S. universities. David Lopez Mateos, 29, is a post-doctoral fellow at
Harvard University who received his undergraduate degree at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. at Caltech.
The native of Salamanca, Spain, said he would prefer to work at
a Swiss university when he finds a permanent job. “For young people, it’s very advantageous to be near the
machine,” Lopez said. Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize-winning American physicist
who helped create the Standard Model that predicted the Higgs
Boson, said U.S. society loses something important when it is no
longer pushing the frontiers of science. “I would feel just as badly as if there were no poets
writing in America,” Weinberg says. To contact the reporter on this story:
Oliver Staley in London at
[][/url] To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Lisa Wolfson at

Added: Jun-20-2012 Occurred On: Jun-20-2012
By: ElegantDecline
World News, Politics
Tags: Higgs, Boson, Science, Europe, US, Leadership
Location: Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland (load item map)
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