Marisa Schultz / The Detroit News

Michigan State University will be home to a $550 million federal nuclear physics facility, beating out a prestigious national laboratory for the one-of-a-kind project that promises to boost the state's economy and the university's prestige.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced today that MSU is its choice for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, or FRIB, the biggest nuclear physics upgrade ever at the university and one that will solidify its spot as a world leader in rare isotope research, leaders say.

"The Department of Energy's new Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State University promises to vastly expand our understanding of nuclear astrophysics and nuclear structure," said Acting Associate Director of the Office of Science for Nuclear Physics Eugene Henry.

"This capability will allow physicists to study the nuclear reactions that power stars and stellar explosions, explore the structure of the nuclei of atoms and the forces that bind them together, test current theories about the fundamental nature of matter, and play a role in developing new nuclear medicines and techniques."

The facility would create $1 billion in economic activity in Michigan and 400 new jobs over a decade, as well as $187 million in taxes over 20 years, according to economist Patrick Anderson.
Michigan lawmakers were overjoyed at the decision, the product of years of lobbying.

"A massive effort to highlight Michigan State University's unique capability paid off for MSU, Michigan, and the nation," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit. It is the best news for Michigan in a long time."

"In Michigan we know that this will create good paying jobs for Michigan, provide outstanding educational opportunities for our next generation of scientists, and open the door for scientific breakthroughs," said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, whose congressional district includes MSU's East Lansing campus.

Final design for the new facility will begin immediately, with construction beginning in 2013 and fully operating within a decade, according to MSU. The operating budget for MSU's National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, which currently conducts rare isotope research, would grow from about $20 million annually from the federal government to about $50-$60 million, MSU President Lou Anna Simon has said.

"We are proud to have been selected and we look forward to partnering with the Department of Energy Office of Science to advance this important science," Simon said. "MSU is deeply committed to the success of this facility, which has been recognized by the science community as a critical priority for the nation's physical science research infrastructure."

Simon, scientists, students and state leaders had been lobbying hard for the facility. The university was in stiff competition with the U.S. Department of Energy's own lab, Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. Both presented detailed plans to the U.S. Department of Energy selection committee. In October, committee members toured MSU's National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory.

"The selection of MSU would not have happened without the continued support of many people," Simon said. But, she said, "our work ... is not yet done."

"Winning the competition ... was just the first step in what will be a decade-long journey to make this project a reality," Simon said. "Michigan's congressional delegation will play a key role in supporting MSU and DOE in securing appropriations necessary to build the facility and ensure that America continues to be the leader in rare isotope research."

MSU's lab is currently considered a leader in rare isotope research. However, the technology used to conduct the research has become outdated, and MSU leaders feared that without the project MSU's lab would "drift into oblivion," said to Konrad Gelbke, director of MSU's lab. With FRIB, MSU would be home to a new high power linear accelerator, speeding up the time it takes to do experiments.

With rare isotope research, scientists use big instruments to study something minute -- the center of atom. Scientists create isotopes that are not otherwise found on Earth. The idea is that by studying these rare isotopes, scientists will have a better understanding of such things as how elements were formed and what happens inside the stars.

The research has practical applications for medical diagnostic equipment to treat cancer patients and for creating ways to test nuclear weapons without denotation.

Now faced with competition from labs around the world, the U.S. Department of Energy had ranked the FRIB project as the nation's third highest science facility priority.


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