Levin: FRIB Funding is major milestone for Michigan and science

At the beginning of the year, Congress passed an appropriations bill that included a big victory for Michigan, for Michigan State University, for our nation and for science.

The legislation included full funding of $55 million for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at MSU. With funding in place, MSU can move forward this year on construction.

MSU won the competition to host FRIB in 2008 over some tough rivals, including federal laboratories. That victory made a powerful statement about America’s leadership in nuclear science and about Michigan’s role in maintaining that leadership. FRIB is also a major boost for Michigan’s economy, creating thousands of jobs as construction begins, and hundreds of high-skill, high-paying jobs to operate the facility once it’s complete.

And what a facility. FRIB will be one of the world’s most important and powerful centers of research into nuclear science. FRIB will probe the secrets of the atom through the creation of rare isotopes – forms of elements that do not exist naturally on Earth, and that often exist in the lab for just fractions of a second.

FRIB will create these rare atoms using equipment that will accelerate atomic nuclei to incredible speeds – half the speed of light – and propel them into thin sheets of target material. The resulting collision will produce extraordinarily rare isotopes, some of which naturally exist only in the exploding heart of a supernova.

By studying these rare materials, scientists will be able to learn new lessons about how elements form. They will learn more about how atomic particles interact. FRIB will allow them to peer into the heart of stars and to study processes that could help develop technologies to detect and cure deadly diseases.

MSU has long been a leader in nuclear science. Thanks to facilities such as the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, East Lansing is one of the most important hubs of nuclear research on the planet. Its nuclear science program is ranked No. 1 in the nation, ahead of prestigious schools such as MIT and Cal Tech. MSU researchers have helped unravel the mysteries of neutron stars, explored how reactions at the start of the universe created the elements that make life possible, studied ways to keep our nation’s nuclear weapons secure, and helped develop treatments for rare cancers.

FRIB will be a tremendous addition to that legacy. It will draw some of the world’s most accomplished scientists to Michigan and create enormous opportunities for scientific discovery.

That’s why Michigan’s delegation in Washington has worked so hard to ensure that funding was in place – not always an easy task at a time of tight federal budgets. In the Senate, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and I have worked with our colleagues on the appropriate committees to emphasize the importance of FRIB to science and our nation. On a bipartisan basis, our colleagues in the House of Representatives have done the same. We’ve worked closely with officials at MSU, including university President Lou Anna Simon, and with officials at the Department of Energy, to ensure that FRIB remains on track.

The funding included in this year’s appropriations bill represents a key milestone in turning FRIB’s promise into reality and strengthening Michigan’s role in advanced science. No longer just blueprints and artists’ renderings, FRIB is about to become real – and when it does, some of the universe’s biggest mysteries will become a lot less mysterious.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.