The study of fundamental particles and interactions builds the foundations of our understanding of the natural world. Over the last several years, discoveries in this area have moved from a few accelerator labs around the world to a more diffuse collection of projects, many of them of smaller magnitude than traditional accelerator experiment. The reasons are primarily twofold: on one hand, the cost, duration and magnitude of collider projects has grown to practical limits, while, on the other, connections with astrophysics, cosmology and many other areas of science and technology have opened new and exciting avenues. In addition, recent advances in quantum control hold the promise of further enhancing the sensitivity of many experiments to an exquisite level. Examples of this new trend includes the discovery of neutrino oscillations, the first detection of gravitational waves, the discovery of dark energy and the many discoveries deriving from the observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation. While in many of these cases the endgame involved relatively large efforts, much of the pioneering work was done with bold ideas and relatively modest means.
With this new paradigm, discoveries are likely to be made by the application of very innovative new ideas in university settings, stimulating profound thinking, training a new generation of experimental physicists and allowing relatively modest financial investments to produce great advances. Stanford has already a substantial number of very innovative groups in this area, distributed in Physics and Applied Physics with important connections with SLAC and the School of Engineering.
The development of a hub for the experimental study of fundamental particles and interactions within the PHYS-X umbrella has the potential of propelling Stanford to the forefront of this field, worldwide. While significant investment is required, as discussed in a separate note, a very substantial core of researchers already exists, and possibilities of funding through an NSF Science Frontier Center and/or a major grant from a private foundation (upcoming meeting with the Moore Foundation in September) will be explored.