BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Mention "outsourcing" and people tend to think
of fields like manufacturing or telemarketing; theoretical physics
isn't even on the list.
Yet the scientists who develop theoretical predictions for
high-energy particle physics experiments say "outsourcing" in their
field has allowed the U.S. to lag behind in this area of
high-profile, global science.
"This is the wrong kind of outsourcing," says Ulrich Baur,
Ph.D., professor of physics in the University at Buffalo College of
Arts and Sciences and a co-founder of the Large Hadron
Collider-Theory Initiative (http://www.lhc-ti.org).
LHC-TI is a consortium of theoretical physicists whose goal is
to train more U.S. graduate students in theoretical high-energy
particle physics calculations relevant to the Large Hadron Collider
(LHC) being built near Geneva, Switzerland.
"We are behind the Europeans and we believe very strongly that
we shouldn't just leave this work to the Europeans," Baur says.
After several years of grass-roots organizing among theoretical
physicsts, the group is celebrating success: the awarding of the
first LHC Theory Graduate Fellowship Awards, funded by the National
Science Foundation and administered by The Johns Hopkins
According to Baur, a co-principal investigator on the program,
this prestigious fellowship structure will cultivate and support
young theoretical physicists who will then go on to fill faculty
positions at American universities.
The awards, he added, will begin to build up the pool of talent
that began to decline following Congress' 1993 decision not to
build the Superconducting Super Collider in Waxahachie, Texas.
"The demise of the SSC was a blow to high-energy physics in the
U.S.," says Baur, who was an SSC Fellow in 1991 along with some of
his colleagues on the LHC Theory Initiative. "It may have
contributed to this decline in that theorists decided to work on
more speculative topics, such as string theory."
Funding in the U.S. for particle physics as a whole and
theoretical particle physics, in particular, has declined
significantly over the past 15 years, Baur says.
In addition, he says, physics departments in U.S. universities
tend to hire faculty members who develop innovative ideas, whereas
in Europe the physics culture equally emphasizes novel research and
solid calculations that help advance the field as a whole.
But with the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest particle
accelerator, coming online in the next year or sooner, Baur
explains, the U.S. cannot afford to fall behind.
"With the potential of the LHC for making breakthrough
discoveries, the U.S. cannot afford not to play a leadership role
in LHC-related theory," Baur and Lynne Orr, Ph.D., a physics
professor at the University of Rochester, warned in a 2005 memo to
Baur, Orr and others in their field had recognized that the
contributions of American scientists in the field of LHC-related,
high-energy physics theory were insufficient because there simply
were not enough young theoretical physicists pursuing these
"In order for the LHC to properly deliver results, there is a
strong need for accurate theoretical predictions about the
experiments that will be done there," says Baur. "While the U.S.
has been very strongly involved in building detectors for
experimental efforts, there hasn't been a whole lot of work going
on with the theory side."
The LHC, a $4 billion accelerator, will demand a groundswell of
new theoretical predictions. That's because it will be capable of
exploring a new energy domain almost an order of magnitude above
the energy scale accessible with currently available accelerators,
In 2005, he and Orr began what they call a "community-driven
process" to draw attention to the need to train more theoretical
physicists in the U.S. with town meetings held at scientific
conferences around the nation.
"We tried to rally the field," said Baur.
This year, the efforts of the group paid off with the
establishment by NSF of the Large Hadron Collider Theory
Initiative. Jonathan A. Bagger, Ph.D., professor of physics and
astronomy at The Johns Hopkins University, is principal
investigator on the grant and Baur, Orr and R. Sekhar Chivukula,
Ph.D., at Michigan State University, are co-investigators.
In April, the nationally competitive program announced its first
two awards of $40,000 each to two theoretical physics students to
underwrite their research, travel and computing needs. Four
additional graduate students received $3,000 travel awards.
Beginning next year, the LHC Theory Initiative plans to award
$150,000 postdoctoral grants to pursue LHC-related research and
build a network of LHC-related theorists in the U.S.
"We want to create a strong community of young physicists," says
For more information on the LHC Theory Initiative, please go to
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