In a reversal of fortune, the Department of Energy (DOE) has decided not to close an accelerator lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). That's good news for scientists at the Bates Linear Accelerator Center, which is building a new detector to study the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei. But some scientists are worried that the move could stifle research at other facilities that serve a larger portion of the nuclear science community.
Acting with blinding bureaucratic speed, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson called MIT President Charles Vest just minutes after the president's 2000 budget request was unveiled on 1 February. He told Vest that the budget would be amended to continue support for the 30-year-old facility. Instead of spending $2.5 million next year to decommission the accelerator, the secretary told Vest, DOE now plans to request $14.5 million for the Bates Large Acceptance Spectrometer Torrid (BLAST) and for other experiments that will keep the lab running until 2004 or 2005.
The original plan to close Bates followed a recommendation from DOE's Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (NSAC, see Science, 16 October 1998, p. 389 ) that other facilities should receive priority in a tight budget. Department R&D managers had accepted the advice and decided to concentrate scarce resources at the department's new flagship nuclear physics facility, the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia.
But even as that decision was being inserted into budget documents readied for publication, says Martha Krebs, head of DOE's Office of Science, Richardson was reviewing the decision to close Bates. Several factors were working in the lab's favor, she noted: "They're doing good science, they train a lot of students, and MIT is managing the facility effectively. In addition, it's the only university-based accelerator that DOE supports."
The chair of NSAC, Claus-Konrad Gelbke of Michigan State University, agrees that Bates is worthy of support--but only if nuclear science receives more money. "The operation of Bates would be impossible at the president's budget request," he says. "I just hope that they aren't planning to solve the problem by taking the money from Peter to pay Paul."