Next time a scientist in the United States wants to use an ultrapowerful x-ray machine (pictured here) to aid pharmaceutical development, or the nation's biggest particle accelerator to study neutrinos, it may be impossible. The Argonne and Fermilab facilities in Illinois, two of the United States' most important national laboratories, are about to suffer funding cuts so deep that Fermilab reports it may have to lay off 10 percent of its science staff. This could seriously damage the future of physics and chemistry research in the U.S.

According to a statement from Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich's office:

Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that dramatically reduced the amount of funding appropriated to the Department of Energy. As a result, Argonne announced it will shut down the Intense Pulse Neutron Source (IPNS). At the IPNS, scientists work to determine the composition of plastics and other soft materials. It is one of the most productive facilities of its kind in the world.

Argonne is also home to the Advanced Photon Source (APS), the nation's brightest x-ray. The APS is used by many scientists, including those conducting research for chemical and pharmaceutical firms. Although the APS will not be shut down, operating schedules will be limited. The full extent of Argonne's layoffs will not be immediately known.

Fermilab has already announced that 10 percent of employees could be laid off due to the cuts that will severely limit operations, halting work on a number of innovative projects. Officials are doing what they can to avert the layoffs, but the lack of federal funding will severely limit the facility's contributions to the science industry.

Governor Blagojevich has sent a letter to President Bush asking him to reconsider the cuts, and to fully fund the two labs in 2008. Ken Gaebler has some ideas about how citizens can help, and suggests that other labs can avoid funding cuts in the future by keeping the public better informed about how important their research is to scientific innovation. Photograph courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.

Gov Blagojevich Urges Bush to Fund Labs [Illinois Governor's Office]