October 9, 2008
Vol. 28 No. 2

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    Delegation for rare isotopes facility to present proposal

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    A delegation from the University and Argonne National Laboratory will present its proposal to host the $550 million Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a major new particle accelerator, on Thursday, Oct. 16 and Friday, Oct. 17 in Rockville, Md.

    The delegation, including President Zimmer, will appear before a merit review panel that consists of 36 scientists and Department of Energy officials, which the DOE has assembled. Michigan State University also is competing to host the facility. Scientists expect that the research made possible by FRIB will revolutionize their understanding of the core of matter and the fuel of stars.

    The review panel will make site visits the week following the oral presentations, which will permit Argonne and MSU to highlight the merits of their proposals in detail. A decision about where to site the facility is expected by the end of the year. Construction is expected to take eight years, with completion in 2017.

    “The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams is absolutely vital to the development of U.S. accelerator technology and the basic and applied scientific advances that will flow from its operation,” said Donald Levy, the University’s Vice President for Research and for National Laboratories.

    Physicist Walter Henning, who is leading Argonne’s preparations to bid for the facility, also highlighted the scientific importance of the project.

    “FRIB ranks in the top three of more than 40 projects that DOE has on its long-term strategic plan,” Henning said. Before rejoining Argonne’s staff in 2007, Henning directed GSI Darmstadt, a premier nuclear physics research center in Germany.

    Rare isotope accelerators produce exotic atomic nuclei—the cores of atoms and the fuel of stars—that no longer exist in nature and that blink out of existence a fraction of a second after their birth. Studying these nuclei will open new scientific territory in nuclear physics, astrophysics 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 thousands more could be studied in a new accelerator.

    University and Argonne officials view FRIB as a vital component of the American Competitiveness Initiative that Congress and the White House launched in 2007. The initiative highlighted the importance of investment in basic research because of its primary role in technology development, a cornerstone of the U.S. economy.

    “FRIB would give the United States the lead in building and operating next-generation facilities,” Henning said.

    Potential applications of research stemming from the new rare isotope accelerator include new and more sensitive tracers for studying metabolism and other biological processes. Other possibilities extend to new and improved semiconductors, new and more sensitive methods to detect and identify trace pollutants in the environment, and nuclear “fingerprints” to identify nuclear materials and where they were produced.

    The Argonne proposal is based on the production of rare isotopes—using the existing Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator Systems at Argonne—and their subsequent reacceleration from rest to energies that are similar to those present in exploding stars.

    Argonne is the home of six official DOE scientific user facilities, which attract visiting researchers from universities, other government agencies and industry. These facilities include a DOE Leadership Computing Facility and the Advanced Photon Source. The APS provides the brightest X-ray beams in the Western Hemisphere to more than 5,000 scientists worldwide.

    Local and state economies could be bolstered by more than $1 billion if Argonne is chosen as the site for the rare isotope beam research facility. If Argonne wins the bid for FRIB, it is estimated that Illinois residents would receive $250 million in new personal income during the eight-year construction period. During the same period, the facility is expected to contribute $1 billion total output to the Illinois economy. Upon completion, it is expected to provide $80 million in economic activity annually and 290 new jobs.

    The University manages Argonne for the DOE through UChicago Argonne LLC, and plays a major role in managing Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory through Fermi Research Alliance LLC.