Rep. Bill Foster on BICEP2 Announcement

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Publication date: 
18 April 2014
Number: 
72

Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) addressed the House last week on the recent announcement from the BICEP2 team regarding cosmic inflation in the early universe.  Foster explained the significance of this research as follows: “This discovery by the BICEP2 team has been globally recognized as one of the most important fundamental breakthroughs in science in our lifetimes, a landmark of American academic achievement that will live on in the science textbooks forever.”  Federal support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation, NASA, Department of Energy, and private industry.  Foster also commented on federal funding for R&D, noting that “federal investments in research and development are at a historic low, comprising merely 3.8 percent of the federal budget or 0.8 percent of GDP.”

Foster worked at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory for more than 20 years before coming to Congress.  The full text of Foster’s April 9 remarks follow; a video can be viewed here

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to take note of a recent scientific discovery, a result which, if confirmed and understood in its full theoretical context, has the potential to change the way we think about the beginnings of the universe.

“Before coming to Congress, I was a high-energy particle physicist and a particle accelerator designer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory for over 20 years. 

“While I sometimes miss being back in the lab, I am very pleased when I have the opportunity to be an advocate in Congress for scientific research and development.

“Twice in my life I have had the privilege of participating in a fundamental breakthrough in science.  The first was during my PhD thesis work when we observed that a subatomic process known as Proton Decay, which was confidently predicted by many, if not most theoretical physicists at the time, was in fact not happening.  The second time was at Fermilab, where I was part of the team that discovered the Top Quark, the heaviest known form of matter -- and quite possibly the heaviest subatomic particle that will ever be discovered.  Or not!

“So, like scientists around the world, my pulse quickened with the announcement that the first independent confirming evidence for cosmic inflation in the early universe had been discovered. 

“Humans have wondered about the origins of the universe for thousands of years.

“Now, thanks to a team of clever and hardworking scientists, and federal investments in basic science, we appear to be at an important step closer to understanding the birth of the universe.

“Immediately following the Big Bang, the moment in which the universe burst into existence, scientists have hypothesized that the universe underwent a period known as inflation.

“During inflation, which lasted for only a tiny fraction of a second, the universe expanded at an exponential rate. 

“Now, the BICEP2 team, a collaboration of twelve institutes, including universities, the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy and NASA laboratories, has found direct evidence that appears to verify the theory of inflation.

“They were able study the very first moments of the universe, at less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, and to obtain direct, observational evidence of inflation -- which until now has mainly been based on theoretical work.

“To do this, the team constructed a telescope at the National Science Foundation’s U.S. Antarctic Programs research station at the South Pole to observe the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation -- a faint glow left over from the Big Bang.

“They observed a pattern in the cosmic background radiation that was consistent with being left over from inflation, giving us a glimpse of the universe over 13.7 billion years ago.

“They were able to detect this in large part because of recent advances in highly sensitive detector technology.

“This project was primarily funded by the National Science Foundation and received generous support from NASA and the Department of Energy, as well as private industry, and is an example of the importance of federal funding for basic science research.

“It is also an example of the interplay between technology and basic science, how new technology will lead to even greater advances in basic science and vice versa.

“Additionally, study after study has shown that there are few investments our government can make that provide as high a return on investment as scientific research and development.

“Despite this, federal investments in research and development are at a historic low, comprising merely 3.8 percent of the federal budget or 0.8 percent of GDP.

“In fact, over the last three years, federal research and development expenditures decreased by 16.3 percent, which is the steepest decline over a three-year period since the end of the Space Race.

“These results are an important reminder of the value of federal investment in research and development. Without proper investment in scientific research, we must expect fewer of these groundbreaking scientific discoveries, at least in the United States.

“The greatest long-term threat that our country faces – on both the military and economic fronts – is the threat of losing our role as world leaders in innovation in science and technology.

“Nothing is more crucial to preserving that role than adequate funding for fundamental and applied scientific research. The recent advances in Cosmology are just one of many examples of the breadth of intellectual capital and state-of-the-art technology that the U.S. currently possesses.

“So as Congress determines how to allocate funding for these agencies in the coming year, with many proposing budgets that will cripple future investments in education and research, I urge my colleagues to capitalize on these discoveries and ensure that we’re investing enough in research, science and education.

“Because of federal investments in science, we've just looked significantly farther into the early universe than anyone has ever done before. This not only tells us about the birth of the universe, but also gives us insight into our fundamental understanding of the laws of physics.

“This discovery by the BICEP2 team has been globally recognized as one of the most important fundamental breakthroughs in science in our lifetimes, a landmark of American academic achievement that will live on in the science textbooks forever.

“Thank you, I yield back.”