New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have asked the White House to increase physics research funding by $50 million next year, hoping to keep Brookhaven National Laboratory's ion collider from closing.
Their efforts come after a scientific advisory committee last week ranked the atom smasher last among three projects vying for funding ahead of potential federal budget cuts. If Washington doesn't boost nuclear research funding, the Upton facility, which supports about 800 jobs, could be shuttered.
"Even though this report is nonbinding, it should serve as a call to arms for those who care about scientific research, Long Island's economy, and our nation's position at the forefront of innovation," Schumer said in a statement.
The collider in Upton, which smashes infinitesimal particles at nearly the speed of light, is the only remaining such facility in the nation. It has a budget of roughly $165 million. Doon Gibbs, Brookhaven's interim director, said the lab appreciated the push for increased funding.
The U.S. Energy Department asked the committee for advice on making difficult decisions in the event its budget shrinks as lawmakers push to trim the federal deficit. The panel emphasized that terminating any of the projects would hobble the United States' leadership in nuclear science.
"This comes at a time when countries such as China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea are making large investments in nuclear science research," committee chairman Donald Geesaman wrote in a letter introducing the report to the Energy Department and National Science Foundation.
Brookhaven's collider fell short to an accelerator in Virginia and a planned facility for rare isotope beams in Michigan. Scientists use Brookhaven's 2.4-mile ring to study matter's basic properties by recreating conditions from the dawn of the universe. It has funding for at least another year.
"If we are going to out-innovate and out-compete other countries in the fields of science and technology," Gillibrand said, "we must continue to invest in cutting-edge facilities like the country's only ion collider at Brookhaven National Lab."