Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

November 10, 2012

Another View: Region waits for FRIB

Michigan State University is getting positive signals about the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, the elite, $680 million nuclear research facility that it was selected to host four years ago.

Signs are good enough that university leaders approved plans for a new, $15.5 million building at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, which will be used for testing technology headed for the FRIB.

The university also hopes the new space with a high bay will allow it to do research on superconducting radio-frequency components for other accelerators around the world, continuing to build on its leadership status in this scientific field. Construction won't start until March, to allow time for Congress and the president to resolve funding for the FRIB.

Although MSU was selected in a Department of Energy review process to host the cutting edge FRIB facility, it still must secure federal funding through the annual budgeting process. That funding was called into question earlier this year when some Department of Energy officials indicated that other projects might be ahead of MSU in priority.

After lobbying by the scientific community and strong support from U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Mike Rogers, the proposed budgets from both the Senate and House contain more money than originally proposed by the White House. DOE officials also have urged MSU to move ahead with early construction work.

"What we know is that, in talking with folks at the Department of Energy and talking with the White House and talking with congressional folks on both sides of the aisle, FRIB remains one of the highest priorities for science," MSU President Lou Anna Simon said last week.

That's important. The FRIB, with a tentative completion date of 2019, is expected to generate some $1 billion in economic activity in the region during its first decade.

Civic and business leaders hope it will spark an increase in high-tech entrepreneurs and create an "accelerator" economy of businesses that feed off the research being done at the FRIB. Education leaders also hope it will spark a surge of interest in science technology learning.

Watching signs of progress should keep the community's leaders focused on success, even as they celebrate each step along the way.

-- Lansing State Journal

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