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 about Simons from New York Newsday.