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Fermilab celebrates funding
By Susan Sarkauskas | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/3/2008 12:07 AM

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There was a party Wednesday for 1,900 people at Fermilab, but the guests of honor were politicians, not scientists.

Except, of course, for U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, the new congressman from the 14th District.

"Now, I have a few Power Point slides on the adiabatic proton coalescence and transverse emittance collimation to double the luminosity of the Tevatron collider," he said at the end of his speech to his former fellow scientists, raising much laughter.

Foster, a Democrat from Geneva, worked as a researcher at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory for 22 years, helping to discover the top quark and leading a team that designed and built several scientific facilities and detectors still in use today, according to his Web site's biography. Thursday's assembly was a celebration of the Illinois congressional delegation's work to restore $62.5 million in funding in this fiscal year for Fermilab and Argonne national laboratories. The funding came just as Fermilab in Batavia was about to start involuntary layoffs. "This came at just the perfect time," said Pier Oddone, the laboratory's director.

"Fermilab is back! Creating Science for America," proclaimed a big blue, red and white banner behind the speakers.

Sen. Dick Durbin, whose nephew has done research at Fermilab, and Rep. Judy Biggert also spoke about the work done in the last six months to get the money and why they believe financially supporting high-energy physics research is important to the country's well-being.

Fermilab found out in December, a quarter of the way through the federal fiscal year, that its funding was being reduced. It started sending employees on unpaid furloughs, amounting to a 10 percent pay cut, in February, and announced in the spring that more than 100 would be laid off this summer.

The furloughs interrupted research and support work throughout the laboratory.

"For the most part the department carried on, but there were some incidents where tests did not happen until I returned," said Dana Waldridge of Elgin, a 19-year Fermilab employee in the testing and instrumentation department of the technical division.

Acting Deputy Secretary of Energy Jeff Kupfer tried to schedule a meeting with Oddone once and got an "out of office" e-mail reply explaining Oddone was on furlough.

Voluntary layoffs were offered; more than 60 applied. Of those, 51 are still choosing to leave, said Oddone.

Kupfer announced that in addition to the $62.5 million, Fermilab will also get $9.5 million for its NOvA neutrino program, which has been zeroed out in the fiscal year 2008 budget, and Argonne will get $7.5 million for its advanced photon source work.