Fermilab, Argonne, and the “S” word

Fermilab might soon be more museum than working lab. Photo: Michael Kappel/Flickr

Fermilab might soon be more museum than working lab. Photo: Michael Kappel/Flickr

You’ve probably heard it half a hundred times in the last few weeks: Sequestration. Basically, it potentially means big fat budget cuts if Congress can’t compromise on how to spend the country’s money, and unfortunately it could put a big hit on scientific research in Illinois.

Crain’s columnist Joe Cahill posted his thoughts on the University of Illinois’s National Lab for Supercomputing Applications, Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory’s likely upcoming punches in the gut this morning. National research funding is on the chopping block in Washington, which, according to Cahill, includes most of Fermilab’s $400 million annual budget and 90 percent of Argonne’s funding. Should that money disappear, so would our state’s world-famous labs.

And the labs are still world-famous with good reason. They compete on the international stage for scientific advancement, drawing in some of the planet’s most brilliant minds. They’ve been responsible for discoveries crucial to how inventions such as the World Wide Web and MRIs work today and continue to contribute valuable discoveries to a wide range of studies.

But the bottom line here isn’t just Illinois’ contribution to the scientific field, it’s a potential economic pitfall, too. Argonne and Fermilab contribute an estimated 1.3 billion to the economy. Both labs employ 5,000 people and continually attract new researchers and other workers.

There’s no telling how much, if at all, the labs’ budgets will be cut or how it will affect operations, but it is certain that shutting down storied facilities like Fermilab and Argonne will only make Illinois that much the poorer.

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