SLAC Today logo

SLUO Meeting Covers Status of Physics Opportunities at SLAC

More than 100 people attended this year's SLUO annual meeting, and many more joined in by phone. (Photo by Lauren Rugani.)

The SLAC Users Organization annual meeting took place last Tuesday in the Kavli auditorium, where more than 100 attendees listened to talks regarding the status of present and future physics opportunities at the laboratory.

SLAC Director Persis Drell opened the talks by reiterating the objectives of the lab and its mission to become a leading photon science institution. She hailed the early successes of the Linac Coherent Light Source, and looked ahead to the proposed next generation of light sources: LCLS-II and the reincarnation of the PEP tunnel as a powerful X-ray synchrotron light source, PEP-X. In the coming decade, the lab will focus on “increasing both the capability and capacity of the machines,” Drell said.

Drell also put forth the idea that “accelerator research is the key to our future as a laboratory, as it supports all our lab-wide objectives.” Particle Physics and Astrophysics Director David MacFarlane expanded on this vision during his talk, citing involvement with the ATLAS at the Large Hadron Collider, research and development for the International Linear Collider project and the possibility of participating in “new physics” research at a next generation B Factory.

“We need to map out a long-term strategy for accelerator and detector research and development,” MacFarlane said, adding that such research will have transformational results for practical applications and industrial capabilities. Finally, he discussed the recently released Astro2010 report that announced the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope as the top priority for ground-based astrophysics research this decade. SLAC is leading the development of key camera technology on the instrument. “The report from the decadal survey is encouraging,” MacFarlane said. “We’re excited to turn this prospect into a real project.”

Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology Director Roger Blandford, who chaired the decadal survey committee, provided more detail about the process of recommending a program including LSST along with the space-based Wide-Field InfraRed Survey Telescope or WFIRST as the top major-scale priorities. SLAC was one of several laboratories involved in the WFIRST design. Both projects seek to explore the properties of dark matter and dark energy, as well as pursue a large suite of more astronomical investigations. Blandford recognized that “this is an extraordinary time of discovery, but one that comes with serious constraints of federal budgets.”

Jim Ulvestad, division director for astronomy at the National Science Foundation, described the significant challenges faced by the NSF in implementing the Astro2010 recommendations. Historically, astronomy has been able to secure funding and construct only one or two of the top priority major new ground-based facilities per decade. In part the challenge comes from the operations costs for the large number of current or nearly completed facilities already supported by astronomy. In addition, the request for LSST construction funding will come at a time when support is also being sought for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory in South Dakota, and work is ongoing to develop an integrated plan encompassing both facilities. Ulvestad noted that completing the LSST will require a robust operations plan along with collaboration from the Department of Energy.

DOE representative Kathy Turner echoed this sentiment, saying that development of new projects will “require significant combined resources from NSF, DOE and other agencies.” While planning on significant new joint investment in dark energy experiments, the DOE plans to continue its support, among other projects, of the SLAC-based Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and Facilities for Advanced aCcelerator Experimental Tests.

SLUO Chair Maria Elena Monzani then discussed the future of SLUO, which will include a restructuring of the SLUO charter. The organization plans to improve communication among its members and to support what its members define as the most useful activities, such as the annual trip to Washington, D.C.

The second session of the meeting featured reports on currently operating SLAC projects or those in early stages of development. Beate Heinemann from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory provided the results from the first year of operation of the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and projected that the team will record one inverse femtobarn of data in 2011.

Nicola Omodei, a Stanford physicist, shared recent results from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which has expanded the number of known gamma-ray sources from about 300 to more than 1500, including more than 60 gamma-ray only pulsars, as well as provided evidence of new gamma-ray sources such as supernovae remnants. The data have also set upper limits on the interaction rates of massive dark matter particles.

Also working toward the detection of dark matter is SLAC physicist Eduardo do Couto e Silva. He discussed the use of germanium detectors in large-scale projects at the Soudan mine in Minnesota, which houses the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search experiment, SNOLAB in Ontario, Canada and DUSEL in South Dakota. These detectors will simultaneously provide phonon and charge readouts, which will vastly improve the sensitivity to dark matter signals while rejecting nearly all background “noise.”

Next, SLAC head of Accelerator Research Tor Raubenheimer discussed the science behind FACET as well as its construction and operation schedule. The team has received a number of user proposals, which would compete for beam time during the four months of FACET operations planned per year starting in 2012.

Finally, Michael Sokoloff from the University of Cincinnati recapped the results from the BaBar experiment and looked ahead to the proposed SuperB experiment in Italy, which will study flavor couplings and charm mixing in very rare particle decays, at 150 times the luminosity of previous studies.

The presentations from the SLUO meeting are now available on the SLUO Web site.

—Lauren Rugani
SLAC Today, September 7, 2010