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Physical Chemistry

Making Rare Isotopes

Energy Department chooses Michigan State University for $550 million facility

by Rochelle F. H. Bohaty
December 22, 2008 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 86, ISSUE 51

Gelbke
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Credit: G.L. Kohuth
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Credit: G.L. Kohuth

The Department of Energy has selected Michigan State University to design and establish the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB). MSU's selection for the new $550 million project marks the first step toward development of a U.S. facility for rare-isotope beams, which have applications in basic research and medicine.

FRIB will be a national user facility supported by DOE's Office of Science and will accommodate approximately 1,000 researchers. When completed in about 10 years, FRIB will join three other DOE-sponsored facilities in the U.S. capable of producing rare isotopes and will complement other facilities around the world.

The MSU facility "promises to vastly expand our understanding of nuclear astrophysics and nuclear structure," Eugene Henry, acting associate director of DOE's Office of Science for Nuclear Physics, said in a press release. "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 will utilize a high-power, heavy-ion linear accelerator driver, a gas catcher to collect the reaction fragments, and a postaccelerator to reaccelerate the rare species for a wide variety of experiments, including analysis of heavy elements.

Nuclear chemists "will play an important role in characterizing the heaviest of elements, including the possible super heavy elements," says Bethany Shively, a DOE spokeswoman.

Three nuclear chemists from MSU's chemistry department, including Paul F. Mantica, David J. Morrissey, and Abigail A. Bickley, helped with the FRIB proposal, according to John McCracken, chair of MSU's chemistry department. C. Konrad Gelbke, director of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory and a professor of physics at MSU, is leading the team that will establish FRIB at MSU.

Lou Anna K. Simon, MSU's president, said of MSU's selection, "We are grateful to the Department of Energy's commitment to address this critical priority for the nation's physical sciences research infrastructure, and we are proud to have been selected as a partner."

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