Twenty-eight years of discovery is being marked by the closure of the Tevatron proton-antiproton collider last week. The closure of the collider is occurring while scientists around the world are trying to see if they can replicate measurements made by physicists at CERN of neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light.
The Tevatron has been the most powerful atom smasher in the United States since 1983. Analysis work based on the data collected by the collider will continue for the next few years, but the lab will no longer be pursuing data for collisions of the highest possible energy. The Large Hadron Collider, an accelerator capable of pushing particles to even higher energies, is replacing the Tevatron. Instead, the scientists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (or Fermilab), the home of the Tevatron, will be pursuing the “intensity frontier” which will focus on working with very intense beams with very large numbers of particles.
To date, the United States government has been a primary source of funding for large and expensive research projects such as the Tevatron collider and the Space Shuttle – both of which have closed down their programs this year. It is unlikely that these are the only research projects operating with aging equipment. Do these two recent program closures portend a slowing down of research, or are they the signs that research efforts are progressing so well that closing these projects are part of refining and reallocating research resources to more challenging discoveries?