The astonishing rumor that has been circulating since two weeks turned out to be true. The CERN management has decided that either ATLAS or CMS will be taken out of operation as of September 2011. Which of these two detectors will be scrapped is going to be decided next week during a special session of the CERN Council. In an email sent yesterday evening to CERN staff members CERN Director General Rolf Heuer explains:
"This was a very difficult decision to make. However, we are going through difficult times and radical steps could not be avoided. In the current budgetary situation we simply cannot afford running two experiments with identical physics goals and similar detection capabilities."Makes sense, at first glance. CERN is seriously indebted and some austerity measures need to be implemented. Nevertheless, laying off over three thousand researchers seems exorbitant at this point. Here at CERN it is not a secret that this decision was prompted by the growing animosity between the ATLAS and CMS collaborations which is seriously disrupting the LHC operation.
The relations between these 2 experiments have always been strained but they further deteriorated last winter with the arrival of the results from the 2010 run. The spark that triggered the conflict was the fact that the constraints on supersymmetry from ATLAS were systematically more stringent than those from CMS. For laymen it may appear irrelevant whether a 800 GeV gluino is excluded at 95% or at 91% confidence level, but for particle physics experiments these numbers are of primary importance. Consequently, CMS accused ATLAS of using dirty statistical tricks to boost the significance of their result. From that point it all went downhill, and almost every day brought new incidents, such as leaking of hacked ATLAS emails, a bug found in the CMS control room, a libel lawsuit against the ATLAS spokesperson, etc. But the most serious incident happened 2 weeks ago during the Moriond'11 conference in a hotel resort in the Italian Alps. What started as a benign discussion about the missing energy resolution turned into a regular fist fight involving a dozen members of ATLAS and CMS; all that happening in front of terrified tourists and local villagers. Although nobody got seriously hurt, that incident was probably the last straw, and the CERN management decided to put an end to the conflict in the most drastic way.
Now, what will happen to the thousands of researchers who often devoted their entire careers to the experiment? Hopefully, a number of them will be allowed to join LHCb or ALICE who will surely welcome additional manpower. Furthermore, CERN Director General promised that many of those laid off this year will be rehired in 2013 to help training the superconducting magnets, which will be the vital step in the preparations for the energy upgrade in 2014.
Update: This post is of course an April Fools' joke. The research at the LHC proceeds in the spirit of friendly competition. That means, there hasn't been any fist fights between ATLAS and CMS, so far ;-)