Planning for the future of particle physics in the United States moves forward

Saturday begins a new stage in the process that will set the priorities for US particle physics research for the next decade.

The federal government’s Particle Physics Research Advisory Group has appointed a group, called the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel, or P5, to develop a roadmap for the next 10 years of particle physics in the United States. United under a 20-year, overarching vision for the field.

The first in-person meeting of the panel will take place from Saturday November 2 to Monday November 4 at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. During this meeting and two others scheduled for December, the group will gather feedback and discuss with other particle physicists. More than 200 scientists are expected this weekend.

The panel will examine the questions that particle physicists should strive to answer in the years to come. These could be drawn from those suggested at the Snowmass Particle Physics Community Planning Meeting this summer (pictured above), such as: What is the nature of the Higgs boson? What can we learn by discovering that particles called neutrinos have mass? Can known forces be unified into a single force? What are dark matter and dark energy? The Snowmass meeting organizers recently posted their summary and other reports online.

“It’s a really exciting time for particle physics, with many important new results and opportunities,” says physicist Steve Ritz, chairman of the P5 group, from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

By spring 2014, the panel will develop a plan to address the questions of particle physics.

The particle physics landscape has changed since the last P5 plan, presented in 2008. Today’s P5 panel is tasked with looking at more challenging budget scenarios. And major scientific advances have taken place, opening up new research opportunities.

In 2012, scientists working on experiments at the Large Hadron Collider announced the discovery of the Higgs boson. The Higgs is key to our understanding of how the universe works, but many questions remain about the particle and its implications.

Also in 2012, scientists made a breakthrough in the study of neutrinos. They identified an important parameter that characterizes their interactions, and what they found gave them confidence that the experiments currently proposed will be able to make new discoveries.

After the Fermilab meeting, the P5 group will meet with physicists from SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (December 2-4) and Brookhaven National Laboratory (December 15-18) to learn about opportunities in other areas of particle physics. In addition, scientists will be able to submit information and recommendations via an online form.

“It’s really, vitally important that we continue to have interactions throughout this process,” Ritz says. “We want to have as complete a picture as possible, and a close community connection to our process is essential for a successful outcome.”

The panel report is due in May 2014, with preliminary findings expected in March.

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