Thursday, July 03, 2008

Relief with a touch of uncertainty

Note: The following was written by Tony Hamelin, graduate assistant for Illinois Issues magazine, and Bethany Jaeger

No. We’re not talking about state employees. They're still wondering whether they'll get their paychecks on time this month. We’re talking about scientists in northern Illinois who might breathe a sigh of relief now that more than $30 million in federal aid is slated to rescue Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory from massive budget cuts and layoffs by the end of the year. Federal funding for the next federal fiscal year, however, is still murky.

Fermi National Laboratory in Batavia is, as Illinois Issues contributor Dan Vock writes in a May story, “the nation’s premier site for particle physics research.” He adds, “It is, in fact, the best place in the world for scientists to study the building blocks of the universe under conditions that mimic the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang.” Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont research a broad range of sciences related to engineering and technology.

On June 30, President George Bush approved a $162 billion package that would help supplement the facilities. On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, and U.S. Reps. Judy Biggert, a Hinsdale Republican, and Bill Foster, a Geneva Democrat and former Fermilab scientist who is filling the vacated seat by former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, were in Batavia to announce more than $29.5 million for FermiLab and $7.5 million for Argonne.

As Vock reported in Illinois Issues magazine, May, page 31 (his article is available in print only), Fermilab faced a $52 million cut and was under pressure to layoff about 200 employees and slow down research, symptoms of larger budget problems at the U.S. Department of Energy. Argonne faced a $21 million cut.

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