March 3, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 11

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    Despite proposed budget, scientists keep RIA on wish list

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    University scientists say they still hope the U.S. Department of Energy will decide to build the $1 billion Rare Isotope Accelerator in Illinois, despite a Bush administration proposal to cut $2.7 in preliminary funding for the accelerator in the DOE’s 2006 budget.

    “The Rare Isotope Accelerator will provide an extraordinary opportunity to plumb fundamental issues about the origin of our universe as well as to develop the technology base of our state and the nation,” said Thomas Rosenbaum, Vice President for Research and for Argonne National Laboratory.

    RIA was a priority in a 2003 DOE study, but in the current budget climate the department has asked its Nuclear Science Advisory Committee to reconsider its science facilities priorities over the next four months. The Bush administration allocated $4 million for RIA in 2006.

    The University is developing a proposal to the DOE to build the accelerator at Argonne. When built, the new accelerator will be based on technology that Argonne played a key role in developing, said Robert Rosner, Argonne’s Chief Scientist and the William Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    The scientists hoping to see RIA built say they understand the budget pressures caused by the deficit, but they believe RIA will be a vital investment in the nation’s science and technology base. Developing new treatments in nuclear medicine, improving the performance of semiconductors and new methods for monitoring environmental health are all potential outcomes of research at RIA.

    RIA will produce high-energy atomic nuclei—the cores of atoms—that no longer exist in nature and that blink out of existence a tiny fraction of a second after their birth. These nuclei will open up new scientific territory in nuclear physics, environmental protection and nuclear medicine. There are fewer than 300 stable nuclei that are relatively easy to study. Scientists have obtained glimpses of another 3,000 nuclei, but they suspect that close to 7,000 may be possible and that RIA will be able to create most of them.

    “We have a pretty good description of all the nuclei we know how to make now,” said Don Geesaman, Director of the Physics Division at Argonne National Laboratory. But the scientific picture of the nuclei that existing accelerators have been unable to create is remarkably incomplete. “We’re trying to increase our palette to describe nature better,” he said.

    The University has managed Argonne since it was established as the nation’s first national laboratory in 1946. Argonne operates six national user facilities and centers for the DOE, including the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Facility and the Center for Nanoscale Materials. Argonne also is the home of Alexei Abrikosov, who shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics for his theory that explains how magnetic fields penetrate certain superconducting materials.