The Department of Energy (DOE) has taken the first steps toward winning support for building a laboratory to study exotic atomic nuclei--those with an unstable ratio of neutrons to protons--that can provide information on topics ranging from the structure of the nucleus to nuclear reactions in supernovae.
Last year, a nuclear science advisory committee to DOE and the National Science Foundation listed a new ISOL, or "ion separator on-line" facility, as the field's top priority for new construction. And in late July, more than 150 physicists from several countries gathered at Ohio State University in Columbus to compile a scientific wish list of experiments for the accelerator facility. Proponents say an investment of $100 million to $200 million will create the highest quality, highest energy beam of its type in the world. And it will be a significant improvement over the current crop of older accelerators that have been modified to generate beams of radioactive nuclei. Two of DOE's national labs--Oak Ridge and Argonne--have said they want to build the project.
The nuclear physics community is "very enthusiastic," according to David Hendrie, director of DOE's Nuclear Physics Division, who expects another meeting this fall will clarify technical aspects of the accelerator. If all goes well, Hendrie says, the project could show up in DOE's budget request for 2001. Then its fate would rest with Congress.