NSF Terminates Rare Symmetry Violating Processes (RSVP) Project


The National Science Foundation today terminated a planned physics project called Rare Symmetry Violating Processes (RSVP) originally slated to begin construction this year at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.

At the recommendation of NSF management, the National Science Board, NSF’s policymaking body, voted to cancel the RSVP project while it was still in the design stage, due to large projected increases in both construction and operating costs. The project had been budgeted at about $145 million for construction between Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 and 2010.

The project’s two experiments – intended to investigate the relationship between the electron and its heavier cousin the muon, and to examine differences in the behavior of matter and antimatter – were to be conducted through added incremental use of an existing Brookhaven particle accelerator called the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS), which currently serves as the source for a project called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. In recent months, the future budget and operating schedule of the RHIC facility have become uncertain. Since the plan for RSVP was to use the AGS in an incremental mode, uncertainty in the future of the RHIC project translates into increased risk and potential increased costs for RSVP. There were also cost increases in other elements of the project.

“Although the discovery potential of RSVP remains high,” said Michael Turner, NSF Assistant Director for Mathematics and Physical Sciences, “continuing the RSVP project in the present budgetary environment would lead to an unacceptable loss of research opportunities in elementary particle physics and other areas of science.  While this decision eliminates a significant elementary particle physics project, NSF reaffirms its strong commitment to work with our partners in the funding of elementary particle physics to ensure that the U.S. can continue to operate at the frontiers of this field, in which the discovery opportunities are so rich.”

NSF initially approved RSVP for inclusion in the agency’s budget request in October 2000, and RSVP appeared in the President’s FY 2005 budget as a new construction project.

In the fall of 2004, a pre-baseline analysis of the project revealed additional costs that could double the cost of construction and more than double the cost of operations. NSF initiated a process to reach a decision about how to deal with that situation.  This process included obtaining advice from the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel on the current scientific value of RSVP, and conducting a rigorous baseline review of the project by external experts.  At the end of the evaluation, NSF management recommended termination.

Brookhaven’s Alternate Gradient Synchrotron is the highest-intensity high-energy proton source in the world.  The intensity of the proton beam delivered by the AGS would have enabled NSF-funded university researchers to search for very rare events that could reveal the effects of new elementary particles and forces far above the energy reach of any current or future terrestrial particle accelerator. 

Following today’s action by the National Science Board, NSF will work with RSVP on an orderly phase-out of activities over the next few months.

updated 8/11/2005