The opening of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland in 2008 was paired with grandiose predictions of a glimpse of the early universe and the elusive Higgs particle. “The particle that gives all other particles Mass.” Or so they thought as they dubbed it “the God Particle,” giving rise to the first transatlantic particle physics holy war between CERN in Geneva and Fermilab in Chicago, IL.
Fermilab was home to the Tevatron particle accelerator that had been in operation since 1983, and with the creation of the LHC at CERN they were immediately dwarfed as technologically outdated. CERN’s LHC was the 10 billion dollar experiment sports car that was to change the face of particle physics forever by sending protons off at 99.9% of the speed of light around the great circle in Geneva. And when these protons collided with oppositely moving protons physicists were treated to a glimpse of the conditions of the Big Bang. But the Higgs Boson remained elusive. And it has remained in hiding for 4 years as the two warring facilities raced to be the first to confirm the existence of the Higgs. You could imagine that the researchers at Fermilab might have thought they had a chance with a great head start but they were working on borrowed time and they were finally shut down due to lack of funding and public support in September 2011.
It seemed that the LHC had won the war but the Higgs Boson remained silently elusive until July 4th, 2012 when the existence was confirmed with sigma 5 accuracy. This independence day was no longer an American holiday but instead the world gained independence from the American scientific community. And America had so easily given over the reins.
What happen to the America that constantly was pushing new frontiers, that was dreaming to reach the moon and be the first to split the atom? Have we become numbed to scientific discovery? Have we forgotten we are a country founded on innovation, raised through the industrial revolution and refined in the modern technology boom? Giving up scientific prowess is giving up our identity as pioneers. Possibly our country has matured and we are attempting to be team players on the global field. But budget cuts to particle physics, NASA, and other exploratory sciences can leave us crippled. History has taught us that the civilizations with the most advanced technology always prevail. But with the recent years’ recession and the economic downturn of the country many people have thought scientific research an unnecessary cost, a cuttable expense. And with the cutting of funding given to scientific facilities like Fermilab or the space program we have set our eyes on only reasonable, small, short term endeavors.
Perhaps the Higgs boson was too abstract an idea to grab America’s attention. Perhaps something more tangible is needed to stir the minds of the American people. But without leadership with vision and courage, the challenge of scientific discovery will be met by men and women across the seas and beyond our grasp. Can we sit idly by? Can we forget our roots? Are we not still America the brave? Brave enough to plunge into uncharted territory and overcome all doubts, an America that pushes past boundaries and excites the world by doing so. I believe that we can be and we must be, or someone else will be.