Top Price for the Top Quark; May 1995; Scientific American Magazine; by Horgan; 2 Page(s)
After years of rumored sightings, researchers at Fermilab in Batavia, Ill., finally, officially, found the fat but fleeting top quark--one of a class that combines to form neutrons and protons--this past March. Although most physicists considered the result a foregone conclusion, the New York Times saw fit to announce it on page one; in the story, Energy Secretary Hazel R. O'Leary called the finding a "major contribution to human understanding of the fundamentals of the universe."
O'Leary is hardly a neutral observer, since the Energy Department is the biggest supporter of U.S. particle physics. Rustum Roy, a materials scientist at Pennsylvania State University and a critic (to put it mildly) of particle physics, has a different perspective. The short version of his response to the news was: "Who gives a damn?" Roy charges that such findings do not justify their cost. Particle physics will receive $642 million this year from the Energy Department and $57.6 million from the National Science Foundation; Fermilab consumed more than $1 billion in the seven years it spent tracking down the top quark.