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Facility For Rare Isotope Beams, MSU Nuclear Lab, Has Scientists Looking For More Federal Funds

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Layout of the accelerator and experimental system of Michigan State University's Facility For Rare Isotope Beams, or FRIB.
Layout of the accelerator and experimental system of Michigan State University's Facility For Rare Isotope Beams, or FRIB.

A delegation of scientists from across the country descended on Washington, D.C., Monday to lobby Congress for additional funding for an experimental nuclear research facility at Michigan State University.

At the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB), scientists will study intense beams of rare isotopes, short-lived nuclei rarely found on earth, in order to better understand nuclear particle interactions and their applications for society.

But the Obama administration's 2013 budget plan allocates only $22 million for FRIB, less than half of the $55 million originally committed for the $615 million lab, the Detroit Free Press reports.

In addition to their Capitol Hill field trip, some 532 members of the FRIB Users Organization sent a letter to members of Congress explaining why they feel the project needs to be a funding priority.

"This national user facility will enable scientists across the country to understand the workings of nature's strong force, unravel the mysteries of the cosmic origin of atoms, devise tests for the fundamental laws of nature, and create new isotopes and tools for other fields of science, medicine, national security, and industry," the scientists stated in the letter.

The group also noted shortages in the nation's nuclear workforce and drew attention to the critical role atomic research has played in developing modern medical imaging, nuclear medicine, computer modeling and simulation and energy production.

Brad Sherrill, FRIB's chief scientist, told Michigan Radio he believes the facility could bring $1 billion to Michigan's economy.

"It will bring people to Michigan to do that research, and hopefully some of them will stay, and some of the businesses that will spin off will lead to bigger and better things for the state," Sherrill said.

FRIB is supposed to finish construction by 2018, but some backers of the lab worry funding shortages could delay its construction.

"We have to move forward," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) during FRIB testimony before the Department of Energy in February. "If we don't, other nations will, and they will be the ones attracting the best and brightest researchers, not the United States."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified FRIB's chief scientist as Bob Sherill. He is Brad Sherrill.

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