Panel Advises Shutdown of Last U.S. Collider
A group of scientists is reluctantly recommending that the U.S. shut off its last giant atom smasher, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory, in the face of declining federal funds. With the Tevatron at Fermilab dismantled, RHIC represented a last bastion of high-energy particle colliding in this country. Effectively, due to the sad state of science funding, it must be sacrificed so that other particle acceleration projects might live.
“Closing RHIC would be a disaster for the U.S. nuclear physics community,” says Robert Tribble, a nuclear physicist at Texas A&M University, College Station, who chaired the committee that suggested doing exactly that. “We’re all losers here if this comes to pass.”
Like its name implies, RHIC smashes heavy ions together at incredible speeds, which produces super-hot temperatures that melt the building blocks of atoms. As protons and neutrons break apart, their constituent parts, gluons and quarks, form a new state of matter called a quark-gluon plasma. This particle soup is so hot -250,000 times hotter than the center of the sun- that the unchained particles behave in very strange ways, which can give physicists clues about the way the universe coalesced after the Big Bang. RHIC achieved this scorching state of matter in 2010.
It all boils down to money, and there’s just not enough to go around. And deep cuts in federal spending known as sequestration, which might happen if Congress does not get its act together, haven’t even happened yet. But RHIC supporters are not giving up yet, as Science Insider notes. The Department of Energy will likely go alone with the recommendations.
Sources: PopSci, Scientific American