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Illinois Senator Dick Durbin met with Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz to emphasize continued funding for critical research at Argonne National Laboratory and the Fermilab.

Senator Durbin meets with energy secretary to keep research flowing at Argonne and Fermilab

by Neil Holt
Jun 7, 2013


Graphic: Neil Holt / MEDILL

Information: CBS News Poll

Most people say they haven't felt the effects of sequester cuts as yet. Argonne National Laboratory and the Fermilab, both west of Chicago, haven't either, but they're bracing for further impact.

Chicago area science hubs Argonne National Laboratory and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have not felt much of an effect from the sequester as yet. But concern about federal funding and key research at the labs prompted U.S. Senator Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) to take steps to avert any potential cuts.

Durbin met with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz Tuesday to address those concerns. Durbin stressed the need for continued federal funding to support scientific research and development programs at the labs.

“I told Secretary Moniz today that I will be working with my colleagues in the Senate and the Illinois congressional delegation to maintain federal funding for the important work done at these laboratories,” Durbin said in a press release Tuesday.


The Department of Energy operates the nation's national laboratories, including both Argonne and Fermilab. 

Durbin’s deputy communication’s director, Christina Mulka, said that the push would target helping specific critical programs that Argonne and Fermilab.

In Argonne’s case, this could mean continued support for the Joint Center for Energy Storage research, an innovative center developing next generation battery technology that will lead to better electric cars and grid energy storage.

At Fermilab it could mean support for their proposed “Project X,” which would shoot a beam of protons into targets at extremely high velocities, unraveling the mysteries of physics as new particles are revealed and reinforcing discoveries made at the mammoth CERN particle accelerator.

Project X would take a different approach from CERN's Large Hadron Collider, where scientists study the universe in the subatomic debris released by colliding beams of particles.

Both labs have concerns about long-term funding due to the sequester, which will continue to impact various Department of Energy programs if nothing is done.

“Some scenarios were fairly dire, but as of right now the impacts to Argonne’s budget have been fairly minimal,” said Mark Peters, deputy laboratory director for programs at Argonne National Laboratory. “The concern we have is a much longer term concern.”

Peters credited Argonne’s planning for every possible scenario for allowing them to avoid any dramatic effects in the short term. He also noted that the lab had already experienced some funding cuts at the beginning of the year, but they were small.

“The scale of reductions that [Fermilab] has experienced, we have not experienced at Argonne,” Peters said.

Peters is correct about that, according to Don Lincoln, staff scientist at Fermilab.

“Our money is way down, like 15 percent down, but it wasn’t from sequestration,” Lincoln said.

Lincoln rooted Fermilab’s funding situation across the past five years, Fermilab’s main facility, the tevatron, which accelerated beams of protons into each other for high velocity collisions, shuttered in 2011. Lincoln said that the lab had seen flat funding with sequestration.

“When you don’t have money it’s hard to do stuff,” Lincoln said, “We had 2,400 people at one time and now we’re down to 1,700 or something like that.

“There’s an aging workforce, people will retire and not be replaced, so it’s a problem – we do the best we can, that’s all.”