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Fermilab director still hopeful laboratory can avoid deep cuts

Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 5:31 a.m. CDT

BATAVIA – The director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory still is hopeful that the high-energy physics laboratory can avoid deep budget cuts that he said would jeopardize its research.

House Republicans have proposed a 20 percent budget cut to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which would result in 400 layoffs at the laboratory, Fermilab Director Pier Oddone said. Fermilab, which is operated by the Department of Energy, employs 1,900 people.

“We want to keep the U.S. on the forefront of particle physics,” Oddone said. “Obviously, they are facing a difficult job in trying to balance the budget. Obviously, no cuts are easy.”

U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield, said last week that he thought a 20 percent cut was perhaps too deep of a cut. He suggested that a 5 percent cut would perhaps be more appropriate. Oddone said a 5 percent cut would result in $20 million being taken out of Fermilab’s budget. Fermilab operates on a $400 million annual budget.

“I keep making the case for science and supporting the type of physics we do,” Oddone said.

Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke has said that Fermilab is an asset to the community, noting that firms have moved to Batavia because of the presence of Fermilab. And even though Fermilab’s Tevatron particle accelerator is set to shut down this year after losing out on additional federal funds to continue its operation, Oddone said there is still plenty of research to do at Fermilab.

“We are transitioning from the Tevatron to the new projects,” Oddone said.

That includes Project X, which will delve into the mystery of how matter came to dominate antimatter in the universe, allowing for the existence of all solid objects.

The top quark was discovered at the Tevatron in 1995. It is the heaviest known elementary particle observed in nature. Quarks are one of the fundamental building blocks of matter in the universe. At one time, Fermilab had the world’s largest atom smasher. But in 2009, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland broke the world record for proton acceleration, firing particle beams with 20 percent more power than Fermilab’s Tevatron, which previously held the record.

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