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Congress Slashes High-Tech Physics Budget

American physicists awoke from the New Year’s holidays to find that Congress had filched their stockings. Under pressure from Bush to make cross-the-board budget cuts, Congress sliced $400 million out of the $4 billion science budget at the Department of Energy. The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), one of the premier U.S. physics research centers, expected $120 million in high-particle physics money from . Instead it got $95 million, forcing it to lay off 125 people and curtail the activities of Babar, its major high-energy physics experiment. “This is going to be bloody,” one scientist said. “And you’re cutting into the lab’s core competencies.” There were also cuts and layoffs expected at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Chicago. Most of these projects are international, and scientists at the U.S. labs were humiliated at having the rug cut out from under them and their European partners—especially since $120 million in earmarks, for things like community college buildings in North Dakota—remained in the budget.

There’s no science more basic than particle physics, which explores things like the origin of mass and what dark matter is; the World Wide Web page you’re reading came about as a result of particle physics. This makes it rather curious that the White House and Congress, which are always pontificating about U.S. scientific competitiveness allowed this to happen. “If you’re concerned about U.S. leadership in science, this is not the way to do it,” says Aaron Roodman, an associate professor in the departments of particle physics and astrophysics at . “If this continues, it guarantees we’ll be second-rate.”

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