Excerpts from the “Report to NSAC on Implementing the 2007 Long Range Plan”
The full report of a Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (NSAC) subcommittee charged with making recommendations for the field of nuclear physics under constrained budget scenarios and the “transmittal letter” delivering this report from NSAC to the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation are now available online. Background on the task facing the subcommittee and documents presenting the scientific and economic impact of the research program at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, one of three facilities described in detail in the report, can be found on the RHIC website here. What follows are direct quotes taken from the report that help to describe the importance of the field of nuclear physics as a whole, and particularly the research taking place at RHIC.
Note that the page numbers given refer to those printed on the document, not PDF pages. Boldfaced type appears in boldface in the document.
p. 2 on the impact of nuclear science
It is difficult to forecast the future impact of a field like nuclear science whose goal is to understand the origin, evolution, and structure of visible matter in the universe. However, history shows that breakthroughs in technology nearly always have come either from science discoveries that "had no apparent application" or from developing the tools that were needed to make the discoveries.
p. 3 on the consequences of flat-flat or cost-of-living increase budget scenarios
It is clear that leadership will shift away from the U.S. if major cuts are required…Under any of the options, the losses would erode the ability to train the next generation U.S. nuclear science work force. This, with the concomitant loss of trained researchers expert in nuclear science, would make our nation poorer and the losses would likely be permanent.
p. 3 on an alternate “modest increase” budget proposal
… A budget is also presented that while tight would not force a major loss in present or future tools and capabilities. This option adds little to the overall cost of the nuclear science program compared to the value it retains and it is the course that we strongly recommend. Of course funding decisions ultimately rest with Congress. In considering this report, we hope that Congress considers in its assessment the balance between funding for science that is done with a specific short term goal versus the science that seeks to discover new knowledge that may be key to unlocking completely new technology with major long term benefits to society.
p. 4 on the “basic questions about the visible matter of the universe [that] remain only partially answered” and benefits to society that stem from nuclear science
The quest to answer these questions inspires young people to begin careers in science, continues to engage some of our nation's brightest minds, and attracts future stars in science and technology from around the world to the U.S. Future investments in capabilities at our national laboratories and universities will give them the tools needed to pursue answers to these questions. The excitement engendered by this enterprise will strengthen our scientific and technical workforce while continuing to spawn technological advances that have far-reaching societal benefits.
Measured by its impact on society, the return on investments made by the U.S. in nuclear science research is large. Nuclear technologies are an integral part of industrial applications and developments. Nuclear science methods provide the foundation on which the most advanced medical diagnostics are built and offer medical treatment of cancer. Nuclear analytics provide the tools for probing rare materials from ancient artifacts to modern space components. Nuclear detector technologies are making airports safer and are protecting our borders. And nuclear energy offers an alternative electrical power source to carbon-based fuels.
p. 7 on the choices facing nuclear science in the U.S.
…With significant investments being made around the world in nuclear science, the U.S. is in a position of shared leadership in the field. Moreover… a reverse brain drain is underway to countries making significant investments and it could accelerate if the momentum in the U.S. program in nuclear science stalls. From the options and their impacts that are presented in this report, there exists a clear choice for the U.S. If nurtured, the science potential can be realized. And the gains will be of high impact to both our understanding of the world and to making it a better place to live.
p. 19 on RHIC and the science of quark-gluon plasma
The most powerful accelerators in the world today are capable of colliding nuclei at such high energies that they can recreate droplets of the quark-gluon plasma that filled the microseconds-old universe, making it possible to study its properties in the laboratory and answer questions about the nature of the new-born universe that will never be accessible via astronomical observation. The formation of protons and neutrons from quark-gluon plasma is likely to be the earliest scene in the history of the universe that will ever be re-enacted in the laboratory. Each nuclear collision at RHIC makes a droplet of quark-gluon plasma, exploding in a "little bang" which recreates the transition by which the first protons and neutrons were formed. These experiments allow us to see the essence of the fundamental nuclear force, as described via the theory of QCD. Although the analysis of the experiments is challenging due to the short lifetime and small size of these droplets, we have the advantage of billions of little bangs to study as well as a surprising degree of control over their initial conditions.
p. 20 … a suite of precision measurements, including some that can only be made at RHIC, some that can only be made at the LHC, and some where the payoff comes only from combining measurements at both, are expected to provide fundamental insights as they follow up on discoveries made by RHIC in its first decade.
p. 22 on quantum fluctuations and parity violations at RHIC that may be relevant to understanding the evolution of the universe
…Control over both collision geometry and energy is unique to RHIC and relies upon its flexibility, putting the United States in the position to discover parity-violating domains. This makes RHIC the unique place for studying these quantum fluctuations, similar to those that may be responsible for the universe being made of matter today, instead of anti-matter. RHIC thus continues to serve up new discoveries and new concepts with ramifications well beyond nuclear physics.
p. 23 on the discovery of the “perfect” liquid nature of quark-gluon plasma at RHIC
This discovery was like lighting a match to a fuse, igniting new ideas and insights in far-flung corners of science that had not previously had fruitful connections with nuclear physics.
p. 25 on quantum fluctuations, color glass condensate, and the Electron Ion Collider
…This physics of quantum fluctuations in the initial creation of the mini-verse quark-gluon plasma relates directly to a theory that the nucleus just before the collision is not best described as a container of protons and neutrons, or even of quarks and gluons. Instead, just as particles of light (photons) are sometimes better described as waves (for example the refraction of light), there are circumstances where it is best to think of the nucleus as a single fluctuating wave of gluon fields. These gluon fields are sometimes called Color Glass Condensate. … A future Electron Ion Collider would be the best tool with which to do a systematic exploration of the new regime that we are starting to explore with proton-nucleus collisions.
p. 28 summary of the science of quark-gluon plasma
By virtue of the investments, both intellectual and financial, made by the U.S. in the science of quark-gluon plasma over the past decade, this field is now at a moment analogous to superconductivity research just before the key measurements that let us see how a superconductor works or astronomy just after the Hubble telescope had taken its first high quality images. Because of the unique flexibility and capability of RHIC, critical regions of the phase diagram of quark-gluon plasma can now be explored and the dynamical processes that may be responsible for the excess of matter over antimatter in our universe can now be probed. And, RHIC and the LHC can now be used in concert to characterize the most perfect liquid in nature—how it moves and how it is assembled from its quark and gluon constituents. The U.S. has led this new field of science for its first decade and is poised to lead it in the decade to come, which promises to be an era of discovery, precision, and precision-enabled discovery.
p. 54 on the role of nuclear theory in understanding symmetry violating bubbles, color glass condensate, and the connections between quark-gluon plasma and string theory
RHIC is an ideal testing ground for such theories…Theoretical advances on these fronts will come in concert with anticipated new data.
p. 58 on the importance of people to the field of nuclear theory
… People remain the key factor. In particular, early-career scientists working at the interface between nuclear theory, computer science, and applied mathematics are critical to make future impact…
p. 59… the U.S. leadership position in computational nuclear physics is endangered by the substantial investments made in other countries. For example, Japan has now allocated approximately 4 times the computational resources to nuclear physics than is available in the U.S. … nuclear physics in the U.S. will remain healthy only if the theory and computational physics programs are sustained.
p. 60…Small changes in the nuclear theory budget have a dramatic effect, particularly on the support of students and postdocs, who are the future of the field. When support for students and post-docs declines, the best young scientists turn away from nuclear theory and seek a more predictable future elsewhere, and nuclear physics enters a downward spiral.
p. 62 on some unique strengths of RHIC as a facility
The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory is the only ion-beam collider facility devoted primarily to the study of QCD … RHIC has unprecedented capability to collide a wide array of atomic nuclei, with masses spanning the periodic table, over a wide range in energy; such versatility is required for the study of the Quark-Gluon Plasma (QGP). RHIC is the world’s only polarized proton collider, providing unique insights into the fundamental question of the spin of the nucleon.
p. 63… RHIC and its experiments have … exploited the unique flexibility of the facility to study collisions of gold nuclei at lower energies, and the recorded datasets now span a factor 20 in collision energy, at nine distinct energy values, enabling a detailed mapping of experimental signatures as the quark-gluon plasma is effectively "turned off" with lowering of the energy.
p. 64 …… The Brookhaven Linac Isotope Producer (BLIP) is an integral part of the RHIC complex. BLIP uses the proton injector linac to produce a number of isotopes for … cardiac imaging … antibody labeling and as calibration sources for PET imaging.
p. 73 on applications that stem from fundamental nuclear science
Nuclear-science generated technologies are pervasive in our present-day world. These include imaging technologies in medicine, cancer treatments, sterilization of blood and other medical items, oil-well logging, ion implantation of semiconductors, the most common type of smoke detectors, forensic analysis, monitoring cargo for contraband, and of course commercial power generation. Nuclear science also provides a host of tools for research spanning the scientific disciplines.… It is a defensible statement that nuclear techniques taken in aggregate are, after microelectronics and computers, and perhaps lasers, the most widely used set of tools in science.
… It has been estimated that the collective value of the products made using accelerator technology is more than $500 billion per annum [Phys. Today 64, 46 (2011)]. There are about 1000 accelerators of one form or another sold every year with a collective value exceeding $2 billion. A large fleet of accelerators are engaged in semiconductor processing, another fleet for producing short-lived isotopes for medical imaging, another for accelerator mass spectrometry, and yet another widely distributed set for radiation therapy.
p. 79-80…Advancing basic nuclear science has also driven innovation in computer architectures. The nature of lattice QCD calculations makes these computations particularly well suited for massively parallel supercomputers. This aspect of the calculations motivated a group of theoretical physicists centered at Columbia University to design a computer chip for use in special-purpose supercomputers. This chip attracted the attention of IBM computer engineers who employed aspects of the design of these chips (as well as some of the nuclear physicists in the effort) in the commercially successful Blue Gene line of computers. …These supercomputers have simulated exploding stars and nuclear reactors. Climate science researchers at BNL are using a Blue Gene computer to make significant progress in understanding today’s climate and how it is likely to evolve. Genomic sequencing, protein folding, predicting novel and functional phases of perovskites (materials with atomic compositions ABO3), and brain simulations are also successful Blue Gene computational projects.
… If the past can be used as a guide, the isotopes, data, and technologies nuclear science will generate in the coming years will provide substantial new benefits to society, demonstrating once again that nuclear science solves practical problems in our every-day lives as well as answering some of the largest questions about the nature of our universe.
p. 81 on impacts of and on the nuclear science workforce
In the 20th century, investments in science and technology contributed significantly to economic growth and prosperity in the United States. The close connection between fundamental research in physical sciences and economic strength is well documented… The intellectual grand challenges inherent in understanding our universe draw many of the best minds in the world to the U.S. Equally importantly, they serve as powerful attractors of young people to the sciences.… Losing U.S. leadership in Nuclear Physics would have a deleterious impact on attracting young people into science careers.
p. 82…In the physical sciences, large facilities are often key components in training the workforce, in addition to producing new knowledge. They provide effective outreach to their local communities, helping to nurture a high tech economy and providing key support to STEM K-12 education for both students and teachers… Closing a major research facility would significantly reduce the opportunity to attract and retain STEM majors. Compounding the situation is the fact that other countries are investing heavily in Nuclear Science research. Should the U.S. underinvest, future opportunities will be lost, including a variety of commercial applications.
Nuclear Science plays a key role in providing the required skilled workforce, and the U.S. has long been the world leader in this area. Fundamental research into the physics of the atomic nucleus has provided a solid foundation for technologies used in
- Nuclear medicine and health physics
- Nuclear energy
- Nuclear forensics
- Stockpile stewardship
- Border protection and other national security challenges
- Tools, instruments, and detection techniques valued in industry and the marketplace
p. 82… All of these areas are important for U.S. security and prosperity, yet their increasing needs come at a time when the nuclear workforce is shrinking.
p. 83 … Students trained in other fields do not possess sufficiently deep knowledge of nuclear properties and the most advanced nuclear techniques to step in and fill the needs. In addition, the more general skills offered by Nuclear Science graduates include working with complex systems of hardware and software, handling Petabyte scale data sets, solving technically challenging problems in large collaborations, modeling advanced theoretical concepts, differentiating large effects from small ones, exploiting advanced mathematical techniques, and developing large-scale computer simulations.
…Providing the workforce needed to maintain U.S. competitiveness requires sufficient funding for graduate student support and to finance research projects upon which Ph.D. dissertations can be based.
… A telling quote by Gordon England, Former Deputy Secretary of Defense, appears at the end of the updated "Gathering Storm" report: "The greatest long-term threat to U.S. national security is not terrorists wielding a nuclear or biological weapon, but the erosion of America’s place as a world leader in science and technology."
p. 84 ... Facilities producing high-visibility, high-impact science attract the best graduate students. The closing of one of the nation’s premier nuclear science facilities will likely result in an exodus of young people from nuclear science and the ability to attract a new generation would be seriously undermined.
p. 88 on budget options and the future of the U.S. nuclear physics program
… The subcommittee is unanimous in reaffirming the LRP vision for the field. Each of the recommendations is supported by an extremely compelling science case. If any one part is excised, it will be a significant loss to the U.S. in terms of scientific accomplishments, scientific leadership, development of important new applications, and education of a technically skilled workforce to support homeland security and economic development.
p. 91 on the modest growth budget option
It is a budget that can sustain the momentum in the U.S. nuclear science program and not lose a major part of the science discussed in the report. It will provide the impetus needed to promote future faculty positions at research universities and will continue to attract students to the field… Following this budget scenario will slow the progress in the field but it will not have the devastating consequences of the no growth budget scenarios.
… the sub-committee was unanimous in endorsing the modest growth budget scenario as the minimum level of support that is needed to maintain a viable long-term U.S. nuclear science program that encompasses the vision of the LRP. This endorsement, which was made fully recognizing the sacrifices that it would entail, preserves the tools needed for both the present and future program. It preserves a path to realize the long-term vision outlined in the 2007 Long Range Plan, in which there are two large nuclear science facilities in the U.S.: FRIB, devoted to the study of complex nuclei and their applications, and an Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) focused on questions at the frontier of QCD and the nature of the interactions of quarks and gluons.
pp. 93-94 on what would be lost by closing RHIC
Closing RHIC at this time would leave unexploited a major fraction of the investments, both intellectual and financial, made by the United States in the science of quark-gluon plasma over the past decade. Without the unique flexibility and capability of the newly upgraded RHIC, critical regions of the phase diagram of quark-gluon plasma would remain unexplored for our lifetimes. There would be no way to use the different and unique capabilities of RHIC and the LHC to reach a comprehensive understanding of the most perfect liquid in nature … Ceasing RHIC operations now would terminate an international program that is elucidating the origins of the spin of the proton just as it is providing significant new insights …Closing RHIC at this time would be akin to abandoning superconductivity research just before the key experimental discovery of Josephson tunneling, which demonstrated how a superconductor works, or abandoning the Hubble telescope just after seeing its first high quality images.
…Investments by the United States and its international partners, including a key part of the overall $130 M contribution from Japan, have transformed RHIC into a machine with new and unique capabilities that is just now taking its first steps.
…If the newly upgraded RHIC were closed now, the United States would risk losing a world-class accelerator division, a group whose technological breakthroughs enabled the RHIC intensity increase to be so much less expensive than initially projected, and whose expertise in collider operations represents key future discovery potential at many current and future frontiers of science. It would immediately jeopardize the ability … to produce … important medical isotopes … jeopardize the viability of the NASA space radiation program … adversely impact many other activities of one of the major multi-purpose national laboratories in the U.S. … terminate a vital partnership with Japan, whose investments have substantially enhanced U.S. nuclear physics… decimate quark-gluon plasma science while simultaneously ceding leadership in a new field that the U.S. has led for its first decade and is poised to lead in the decade to come.
pp. 95-96 on no-growth budgets
Because of the superb science lost in either shutting down RHIC or terminating construction on FRIB, the committee was not able to make a choice based on scientific merit alone. … the subcommittee vote, while closely split, resulted in a slight preference for the choice that proceeds with FRIB. …This slight preference arises in the context of facility timelines and the approximate profile for FRIB construction, presented to the subcommittee as a snapshot of the field. If this budget exercise had occurred in a near future year, this snapshot would have changed, and the choice might well have been different.
With no growth in the budget in the next four years, nuclear science must relinquish a major part of its program. If we close RHIC now, we cede all collider leadership, not just the high-energy frontier, to CERN and we lose the scientific discoveries that are enabled by the recent intensity and detector upgrades at RHIC.
on the loss of any part of the program
… very significant opportunities are lost in terms of applications of nuclear science, and for education of a workforce that is highly skilled in nationally important areas.
There are alternate paths … the modest growth budget will allow the U.S. to preserve the tools that enable our science, and to preserve a path to the long-term vision outlined in the LRP in which there are two large U.S. facilities, one devoted to the study of complex nuclei and the other to questions at the frontiers of QCD. The subcommittee is convinced that it represents the minimal budget for a viable U.S. program that maintains leadership in the core areas of nuclear