Federal budget cuts curtail key programs at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center

Congressional spending cuts to Energy Department science budgets are forcing the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center to reduce its workforce and stop work on two key projects, Director Persis Drell said Monday, Jan. 7, during an all-hands meeting of SLAC employees.

SLAC is a federally funded research facility, operated by Stanford.

The laboratory's major high-energy physics experiment, known as the B-factory, or BaBar, will end in early March, seven months earlier than scheduled, significantly reducing the scientific yield from the successful experiment.

All work at SLAC related to the International Linear Collider stopped on Jan. 1 as a result of a 75 percent reduction nationwide in funding for research and development of the project.

SLAC will reduce its workforce by about 15 percent, the equivalent of 225 full-time positions, Drell said. Of these, 125 are due primarily to the cuts in funding to the particle physics programs.

The remaining 100 layoffs, many of which will be voluntary, had already been planned as part of an effort to shift the mixture of skills within the lab. Those 100 vacancies eventually will be filled by people with the skills needed for the Linac Coherent Light Source, or LCLS. That project, the backbone of future research at SLAC, is fully funded and continues to move forward.

"The highest priority for the future of this laboratory is the successful completion and operation of the LCLS," Drell said, adding that "both project and operations budgets have been protected and as a direct consequence our future as a laboratory is protected."

The workers being laid off will likely be notified in early February, and will continue working through early April.

"As a new laboratory director, delivering news of a major layoff—the largest layoff by far in the history of the lab—is certainly not the way I would have chosen to start my term," Drell told her workers. "The next weeks and months as we work through this will be stressful for every one of us at the lab. We all will be affected. While I cannot reduce the magnitude or the impact of the coming layoff, I can acknowledge how painful this will be and ask that everyone be respectful of and be aware of the stress that their colleagues are experiencing in this challenging period. The HR department will have support resources available to the lab community throughout this period."

The Linac Coherent Light Source remains on track to become the world's first operational hard X-ray free-electron laser. It will open new scientific frontiers nationally and internationally. Construction is under way, with operations scheduled to begin in late 2009. In addition, the LCLS Ultrafast Science Instruments project gets significant new funding in FY08.

The Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) user facility, a synchrotron light source, will continue operations but with some reduction in operating hours due to budget shortfalls. The facility produces beams of X-rays used by 2,000 scientists to study the structure and functions of a broad range of materials, from proteins to semiconductors. The shortfall will reduce the number of experiments carried out from 1,300 in FY07 to about 1,000 in FY08.

The laboratory's new photon science institutes, PULSE and XLAM, will have to scale back their plans for growth in FY08. PULSE, the Photon Ultrafast Laser Science and Engineering Center, designs experiments for the LCLS and studies ultrafast atomic-scale processes. The X-ray Laboratory for Advanced Materials studies the atomic-scale properties of new materials. Both centers are jointly operated by SLAC and Stanford University.

Despite the budget cuts, SLAC will remain a leader in scientific research with a strong, diverse set of programs. The lab continues its pioneering work in photon science, particle astrophysics, accelerator research and particle physics.

"We will emerge from this challenging year with a scientific program at the laboratory that is refocused to align with new funding realities," Drell said. "With the strong commitment and support of the lab management to the SLAC Improvement Initiative, the programs will be better and more effectively supported by the management and operations functions at the lab. We will have the strong support of Stanford University throughout this process. The university is an important participant in the SLAC improvement initiative. We are actively looking at new areas of scientific collaboration with the main campus."