Hedge Fund Finances RHIC

Federal funding for high energy physics in the US has been declining significantly in recent years. The recently completed FY 2006 budget has a 2.7% cut for high energy physics in the DOE budget, which provides the bulk of US funding for high energy physics research. The NSF also provides some support, but its budget for the mathematical and physical sciences is up only 1.5%, significantly below inflation (I don’t know what the number is for high energy physics at the NSF by itself).

Over at Cosmic Variance, Joanne Hewett has commented on how depressing and discouraging the budget situation is, describing discussions amongst those charged to plan for the future as “downright scary at times.” One of the worst immediate effects of the 2006 budget had been that the Brookhaven heavy ion collider RHIC would only have been funded for 12 weeks of operation instead of the planned 20 due to higher electric power costs.

Today Brookhaven made a remarkable announcement about this. A group led by ex-mathematician Jim Simons, head of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies (for more about him and his hedge fund, see here and here) has come up with a contribution of the $13 million needed to run RHIC for the full 20 weeks. The group contributing this money includes other partners at Renaissance, which is based on Long Island, not very far from Brookhaven. I’m sure the significance of this new source of funding for high energy physics will be debated in the community in coming days. My initial reaction is that while it’s wonderful that the worst immediate effect of the budget cuts for 2006 has been avoided due to the generosity of Simons and others, this doesn’t materially change the long-term problems. There’s more about this at Entropy Bound, the blog of Peter Steinberg, who works on an experiment at RHIC. Update: More comments about this are from Joanne Hewett at Cosmic Variance and Chad Orzel at Uncertain Principles. Update: More about Simons from New York Newsday. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 19 Responses to Hedge Fund Finances RHIC 1. Quantoken says: Peter: Small corrections. Quote: “In the light of budget constraints, DOE had planned to fund 12 weeks of RHIC operations in FY06, but unexpected increases in electric power costs had made this limited level of operation impossible. Now, with the$13-million contribution to the Stony Brook Foundation and the planned Work for Others agreement between the Stony Brook Foundation and BSA, the Laboratory will be able to operate RHIC for a full 20 weeks”

The reading of the statement is that without this donation, even the originally planned 12 weeks of operation would have been impossible. Of course, you can not always rely on such generous donations to be available each time.

I am glad that people have begun to realize the restraint that rapidly raising cost of electricity imposes on high energy accelerators. Expect something even worse in the coming years.

If you look at it, a 1% or 2% drop in the funding is something un-pleasant, but is still a completely manageable small percentage. But when the electricity cost double or tripple in just a few years, that is a total disaster and completely un-manageable, unless the funding is also drastically increase in similar fashion, which is just not possible at this moment. That’s the reality.

I am taken back by the Brookhaven director’s statement that the raise of electricity cost was “unexpected”. As head of such a big organization he should have known better and should have expected things like this. I don’t want to see that a few years down the road CERN also issue a similar statement about LHC, say that they never factored in the possible large increase of electricity cost.

Quantoken

2. MathPhys says:

So it’s the ones who go to Wall St who end up bailing out those who stay in science.

3. Tony Smith says:

Quantoken said “… I am taken back by the Brookhaven director’s statement that the raise of electricity cost was “unexpected”. As head of such a big organization he should have known better and should have expected things like this. …”.

It seems to me likely to me that the Brookhaven director’s statement may be no more a statement of true fact than the statement of Captain Renault in Casablanca ( from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034583/quotes ):

“… Captain Renault:
I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much. …”.

Such statements seem to me to be socio-political game-playing tactical moves, and to support the assertions in a letter (responding to Lee Smolin’s article “Why No New Einstein?”) published in the January 2006 issue of Physics Today by Foster Morrison:

“… Today’s scientists are jet-setting, grant-swinging, favor-trading hustlers looking for civil servants who will provide them with a pipeline to the US Treasury. Not only do they get peer pressure to behave this way, they also get arm-twisting from the academic bureaucracy that wants to get its 50% to pay for its bloated overhead. …”.

Tony Smith
http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

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5. woit says:

Tony and Quantoken,

You are being extremely unfair to those people who have the thankless task of trying to get new high-energy physics facilities built and working in an environment where the inherent technological difficulties are immense, and budgets are both being cut and often not even known until well into the fiscal year. These laboratories have large fixed costs, so faced with sizable budget cuts they have a limited number of choices on how to deal with them, all ugly. The main ones involve shutting down accelerators to save on power costs and firing good people who have been working there, doing a good job for years.

Experimental high energy physics in the US is facing some very difficult times, for very real reasons, not because the people involved are incompetent or “jet-setting, grant-swinging, favor-trading hustlers”.

Theoretical high energy physics is a rather different story…..

6. Eli Rabett says:

It is not clear to me that it would either be allowed or accepted if the labs hedged on electricity. If they bet wrong (say the cost went down) the papers and the politicians would have their guts for garters.

However, DOE does generate electricity from a lot of dams in the southeast and the northwest. Most of this is sold at fixed cost to hold down the cost of electricity to customers. It might be possible for DOE to guarantee delivery of electricity to its own facilities under similar terms. This would, of course, be political, because that power would not be available for other uses.

There are interesting possibilities here, since the money goes into the DOE budget on one side (from purchases of electricity by others) and into the DOE budget on the other (from purchases of electricity by the labs)

7. Tony Smith says:

Peter said “… Experimental high energy physics in the US is facing some very difficult times, for very real reasons, not because the people involved are incompetent or “jet-setting, grant-swinging, favor-trading hustlers”.
Theoretical high energy physics is a rather different story …”.

Although I would like to make it clear that I am in favor of high-energy experimental physics (even though my favorite future-project, the muon collider, has been assigned a low priority by the physics community),
I am not of the opinion that the negative aspects of the theoretical physics community do not also infect the experimental community.

It seems to me that each large collaboration in the experimental physics community acts to protect its interests in much the same way the superstring theorists act to protect their interests, whether or not those interests are aligned or opposed to the advance of physics itself.

The characterization of “jet-setting, grant-swinging, favor-trading hustlers” as not being limited to theoretical high energy physicists was not my language, but was (as I made explicit in my comment) a quote from a letter published by the AIP in Physics Today.

For another example of similar opinion, see the essay by Ad Lagendijk in Nature 438 (24 November 2005) 429, in which Lagendijk (a physics professor and group leader in the Netherlands) said in part:
“… my daily experience as a professional physicist …[ is that ]… When I participate in a scientific conference I see a gathering of aggressive men (and yes, I mean men) fighting for their scientific claims … Successful scientists incessantly travel around the world performing their routines like circus clowns – forcefully backing up assertions over what are their contributions to the latest scientific priorities. …
A modest Japanese presenter does not stand a chance against a loud, American critic speaking in his, and modern science’s, mother tongue. …”.

Further, in the 5 January 2006 issue of Nature, a correspondence from Maria Uriarte (of the Department of Ecology of Peter’s Columbia University) et al said in part:
“… The story told in Ad Lagendijk’s Essay … is very familiar to many of us who have chosen to make a living in science. … this value system and associated behaviours have other, far-reaching consequences,.
First, they can compromise the integrity of the scientific enterprise …
Second, they may reduce the diversity of the workforce by attracting, rewarding and therefore retaining those who thrive in particular kinds of competitive environments – who are not necessarily those of greatest scientific ability, insight, or creativity.
Third, they may limit the range … of scientific pursuits …”.

Tony Smith
http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

8. woit says:

Tony,

All sciences have plenty of bad behavior and people protecting their interests. But in the case of the big experimental high energy physics projects there is generally something worth protecting. I don’t think the situation there is optimal: if one started from scratch and tried to figure out the best possible way of allocating the money being spent, one could probably do better than what we have. But it’s nothing like what is going on over on the theoretical side.

From what I’ve seen, the technical problems of a muon collider are fearsome, but people are working on them. One problem that may doom the whole idea is that, at the kinds of luminosities one need, a muon collider beam emits such an intense neutrino beam (from the decaying muons) that it poses a significant radiation hazard, one that you can’t shield against. If you built a muon collider deep underground at Fermilab, you’d have a neutrino beam of dangerous intensity coming out of the earth some radius away, possibly in Chicago.

9. Tony Smith says:

Peter said “… the case of the big experimental high energy physics projects … is … nothing like what is going on over on the theoretical side …”.

The two biggest differences that I see are:

1 – Superstring theorists have effectively a 90% monopoly position in theoretical high energy physics, while the big experimental high energy physics laboratories have been careful to avoid such monopolies. For example, even though as of now Fermilab has a monopoly on collider experiments at its energy level, there are two independent detectors (CDF and D0) that can produce independent data sets in order to verify results. On the other hand, the superstring theorists can (and do) present their stuff as the only game in town, thus stifling other approaches; and

2 – Experimental laboratories are by definition closely connected with experimental data, whereas the superstring theorists have grown so distant from contact with experimental results that Susskind is quoted in the 5 January 2006 issue of Nature (pages 10-12) as saying that although he finds it “deeply, deeply troubling” that there is no way to test the landscape principle, he goes on to say “It would be very foolish to throw away the right answer on the basis that it doesn’t conform to some criteria for what is or isn’t science”.
At least one superstring theorist seems unwilling to follow Susskind in unsupported belief that the landscape is the “right answer”. In the same Nature article, David Gross says “People in string theory are very frustrated, as am I, by our inability to be more predictive after all these years … But that’s no excuse for using such “bizarre science”.
However, even though Gross has sense enough to see that Emperor Susskind has no clothes, he seems to be unable to admit that lack of predictivity means that superstring theory should no longer be regarded as the only game in town for high energy theoretical physics.

Tony Smith
http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

PS – Peter also said “… If you built a muon collider deep underground at Fermilab, you’d have a neutrino beam of dangerous intensity coming out of the earth some radius away, possibly in Chicago. …”.
As to that,
the pdf file titled “Muon Collider & Neutrino Factory Studies – R B Palmer MSU 1/27/05” on the web at http://bt.pa.msu.edu/Phy964_muon/aaMSU-coloquium-v2.pdf says in part:
“… Conclusion: Muon Collider
– Interesting for physics & Smaller than Linear Collider
– Difficult technically
– Neutrino Radiation limits Maximum Energy

Radiation proportional to E^3 / length^2 proportional to E^3 / depth
Use: 1/10 Federal limit = 10 mR/year
Negligible problem at 1.5 TeV
E = 3 TeV ok at 300 m depth
E > 3 TeV Requires:
– Beam wobbles, and/or
– Special Locations (eg an island), and/or
– Better Cooling (Optical Stochastic?) …”.

Maybe a Pacific Island (Johnston Island?) or Central Asian location might be acceptable for a high-energy muon collider.

I am under the impression that Fermilab has decided to try for the NLC, but that the Japanese are saying things like “you can’t see the Pacific Ocean from the Illinois prairie”. Even so,
while cut-throat competition for such things as NLC siting might be life-or-death for a single entity like Fermilab, such a death would not be the end of progress in experimental physics (note that despite the death of the SSC, the LHC and its successors can do the physics that might have been done at the SSC).
In contrast,
if landscape superstring theory were to maintain a monopoly position in theoretical high energy physics, that might indeed mean the end of theoretical physics as a scientific enterprise.
Therefore,
it seems to me that Peter has a valid point that the consequences of “men-behaving-badly” behaviour are far worse in today’s theoretical high energy physics community than in the experimental world.

10. Quantoken says:

Peter said:

“One problem that may doom the whole idea is that, at the kinds of luminosities one need, a muon collider beam emits such an intense neutrino beam (from the decaying muons) that it poses a significant radiation hazard, one that you can’t shield against.”

That I don’t understand! We know that neutrino is one of the least interactive particles. One claim that you could have neutrinos passing through thousands of light years thick of lead metal, and hardly a significant portion is absorbed. Neutrino beam is certainly virtually impossible to shield, but since it does not interact much with matters it does not cause any harm either. It can penetrate your body without any interaction, thus causes no health problem.

As a matter a fact, billions of solar neutrinos routinely penetrate through every square centimeter of your skin every second silently but we don’t worry about it. So why the neutrino beam of the proposed device would be harzadous?

Quantoken

11. woit says:

Quantoken,

Yes, this is a surprising problem, because neutrinos interact so weakly. But to get a lepton collider to function usefully at these energies you need huge luminosities, and every muon in the beam is going to decay, giving you neutrinos (and electrons, but those you can shield). The number of neutrinos is just so huge that the interaction rate becomes a problem.

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13. Tony Smith says:

As Peter said in reply to Quantoken, “… The number of neutrinos is just so huge that the interaction rate becomes a problem. …”.

The paper physics/9908017 by Bruce King of Brookhaven gives some relevant equations. Here are some excerpts from King’s description of the situation (the full article contains discussion of more details):
“… The potential radiation hazard comes from the showers of ionizing particles produced in interactions of neutrinos in the soil and other objects bathed by the disk. The tiny interaction cross-section for neutrinos is greatly compensated by the huge number of high energy neutrinos produced at muon colliders. … Most of the ionization energy dose deposited in a person will come from interactions in the soil and other objects in the person’s vicinity rather than from the more direct process of neutrinos interacting inside a person. At TeV energy scales, much less than one percent of the energy flux from the daughters of such interactions will be absorbed in the relatively small amount of matter contained in a person, with the rest passing beyond the person. … the radiation levels rapidly become a serious design constraint for colliders at the TeV scale and above.

Perhaps the most direct way of decreasing the radiation levels is to greatly decrease the muon current. This can be done either by sacrificing luminosity … or, more attractively, by increasing the luminosity per given current through better muon cooling or other technological advances.
Further, one might consider placing the accelerator deep underground so the radiation disk won’t reach the surface for some distance.

Further speculative options that have been discussed include
(i) tilting the ring to take best advantage of the local
topography,
(ii) placing the collider ring on a hill so the radiation disk passes harmlessly above the surroundings and, even more speculatively,
(iii) spreading out and diluting the neutrino radiation disk by continuously sweeping the muon beam orbit in a vertical plane using dipole corrector magnets.

Even when the preceding strategies have been used, the strong rise in neutrino energy probably dictates that muon colliders at CoM energies of beyond a few TeV will probably have to be constructed at isolated sites where the public would not be exposed to the neutrino radiation disk at all.
This would definitely be required for the 10 TeV and 100 TeV parameter sets …”.

Tony Smith
http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

14. Quantoken says:

Tony:
I carefully read the paper you pointed to, and still do not see why the neutrino could be a radiation hazard. Assume every derivation of the author is correct, look at equation (13). The numerical factor is 2.9×10^-24. The important variable is Nu, the number of muons per second. I do not see it yielding any number close to one.
Probably, the author wrongly considered Nu, the count of muons per second, as in the same order of magnitude as the Avogadro constant. If he so considered then he was completely wrong. Should Nu equal to the Avogadro constant, 6.022×10^23, that means a beam current of 6.022×10^23 * 1.61×10^-19 = 1.0×10^5 Amperes. Ten thousand amperes. No modern accelerator could even have a beam current any where close to even one ampere.
The beam current is confined by the limit of the amount of input energy. Let’s say the machines consumes the same amount of power as the LHC, 200 mega watts (which is half a city’s electricity, so not a small number!!!), and 10% of the energy consumed by the machine turn into beam energy. That’s 20 mega watts, or 1.243×10^26 eV energy per second. And let say the muon is accelerated to 1 TeV (1×10^12 ev). That leads to 1.243×10^14 muons per second. And that should be the number fo Nu in equation (13).
So the total dosage would be 2.9×10^-24 * 1.243×10^14, i.e., 10^-10, in terms of order of magnitude. That’s a totally negligible radiation dosage. And that conclusion is certainly in line with the notion that neutrinos penetrate everything virtually harmlessly.

Quantoken

15. mike dinsdale says:

Quantoken, N_u isn’t defined as the number of muons per second, it’s the total number whose decay will give the dose on the LHS of (13). The dosage limits you’re comparing to are in Sv/year, so you need N_u to be the number of muons per year, i.e. to scale up your estimate by about 3*10^7. This gives roughly a mSv which is much more consistent with what he’s saying in the paper.

Mike

16. Quantoken says:

Mike:

Thanks for that explaination. But still we do not know what a reasonable value N_u is. My estimate is way much too optimistic and too high, bounded only by the available electricity power. I assume that 10% of the total power consumed by the machine could turn into beam energy. That’s probably too optimistic to be true. Also realistically I do not know how efficient a muon factory could be (how many muons they can manufacture per second). Generating muons and anti-muons is certainly much harder than just ripping electrons from regular matters by ionization. The author also assumed each kilogram mass contains 1000 moles of atoms, which is too high. For typical atomic weights, like carbon, you would be talking about 80 moles or less per kilogram. That’s another factor of 10. So the realistic radiation hazard of the neutrino of such a muon collider is probably 3 or 4 orders of magnitude below the natural background radiation level.

The author never really talked about what he thought the N_u out to be. Without that number the whole paper is meaningless since he has not produced a specific result. The point I want to make is you guys are now trying to lobby the public support for a future accelerator like the muon collider. And you do not even have a clear technocal picture how the machine looks like and how many muons it produces, and you start to talk about the environmental hazard and how it hurt the public health. That’s NOT an intelligent thing to do to lobby public support for your research enterprise. The smart thing to do would be get the thing onto the agenda of budget talks first and worry about radiation hazard later when it really come to the design and engineering phase.

Quantoken

17. woit says:

Quantoken,

The people thinking about muon collider designs do, believe it or not, actually have a good idea of the physics involved. Stop posting comments here criticizing them unless you actually take the time to really understand what they are doing.

They’re not making a big deal of the radiation problem, it’s something I brought up because I thought it was surprising that there is one. Maybe one can find a way around it, but it definitely is something that needs to be thought about before you can come up with even the outline of a viable design for such a machine.

18. Tony Smith says:

Peter said to Quantoken “… The people thinking about muon collider designs do, believe it or not, actually have a good idea of the physics involved. …
the radiation problem … it was surprising that there is one. Maybe one can find a way around it, but it definitely is something that needs to be thought about…”.

Here are two more references for anyone who wants to see more about muon colliders:

The paper (with over 100 authors) at physics/9901022. It is also known as BNL-65623, Fermilab-PUB-98/179, and LBNL-41935. Its title is “Status of Muon Collider Research and Development and Future Plans”.
If you read it, and look at the list of authors and institutions involved (and yes, Bruce King of physics/9908017 is one of the authors), I think that it will be clear that people working on muon colliders are NOT, to use Quantoken’s language, “… guys ..[who]… do not even have a clear technocal picture how the machine looks like and how many muons it produces …”.

My second reference is to a very clear presentation with graphics that was given by Gail G. Hanson (one of Quantoken’s “guys”, and an author of physics/9901022) at an ICFA Seminar on “Future Perspectives in High Energy Physics”, CERN, 8-11 October 2002. A pdf file of it can be found at http://dsu.web.cern.ch/dsu/of/icfapres/hanson.pdf .

Since the muon collider has not yet received huge funding for construction and operation, the people working on it are (in my opinion) primarily motivated because they love the physics involved and the potential for new and interesting observations.

They themselves have raised the issue of radiation in the area, which is not obvious at first glance because the problem is not so much direct neutrino irradiation of a person as it is the person being irradiated by secondary radiation from the person’s environment
(as Bruce King said, “… Most of the ionization energy dose deposited in a person will come from interactions in the soil and other objects in the person’s vicinity rather than from the more direct process of neutrinos interacting inside a person. …”).
Further, they themselves pointed out that, even though a powerful muon collider would be small enough to fit on-site at either Fermilab or Brookhaven, consideration of the health of the people of Chicago or New York City indicates that a muon collider probably should be put in a more remote location.

That these people not only are working on muon colliders mostly for love of physics,
but are also honest and socially conscious enough to recommend that it be sited away from the established facilities at Fermilab and Brookhaven
(in spite of the fact that a lot of the over 100 authors of physics/9901022 have close ties to those institutions)
makes me feel that, even in this day and age, there are still some good people in the world of physics.

Tony Smith
http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

19. J.F. Moore says:

Returning to the original topic, I just wanted to make the small point that some fields, particularly medicine, rely partly on donor funding to good success (and importantly, without jeapordizing other funds). I don’t think it is unreasonable to develop similar mechanisms in the physics community to reach out to the philanthropists for at least some funding. This news from RHIC sets a precedent. It is not looking likely that US government funding in physics will be increasing or even keeping pace with inflation anytime soon.