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Fermilab Bailed Out by Congress

President Bush expected to sign bill intended to prevent layoffs

The nation's premier particle physics laboratory—Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Ill.—just got a new lease on life.
 
The U.S. Senate yesterday passed legislation that provides $400 million for science programs, including $62.5 million to the Office of Science in the Department of Energy (DOE), which oversees Fermilab. The measure, passed by the House last week, now goes to President Bush, who has indicated he will sign it.

Fermilab says the infusion will likely prevent layoffs in the works since December, when Congress slashed the lab's 2008 budget from the $372 million requested by the DOE to $320 million, down $20 million from 2007.

To keep alive the lab's hunt for the elusive Higgs boson—the long-awaited source of all mass in the universe—staff were forced to take mandatory work furloughs of one week a month, and lab officials planned to lay off approximately 140 employees. The furloughs ended in May after an anonymous donation of $5 million.

Today was the deadline for staff to decide whether to accept the lab's buyout offer before layoffs begin. Fermilab Director Pier Oddone said in a statement that between those opting for the buyout and the additional funding, "I expect to announce the end of involuntary layoffs at the laboratory."

"It's been such a long road that until all the 't's are crossed and the 'i's are dotted, I don't think anyone's breathed out yet," Judy Jackson, a spokesperson for the laboratory, said. "People are really very, very pleased," she added.

Fermilab said the added funds may allow researchers to begin new work on neutrinos, a type of subatomic particle that will become the lab's main line of research in coming years after its Higgs hunt ends.

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