Lawrence Berkeley Lab Scientists Propose New Research Facilities

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Several scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are actively involved in planning two new, state-of-the-art laboratories described as "the best in the world."

The Nuclear Science Advisory Committee, chaired by Berkeley lab physicist James Symons, released a long-range plan proposing the construction of two new facilities, one with a rare isotope accelerator and the other with a 6,000-foot-deep underground laboratory.

The new facilities are necessary because the new generation of research is outgrowing its old facilities, Symons said.

"These labs would bring leading research to the United States," he said. "They would be international experiments, but we would have a site in the United States."

Currently, the leading physics facilities are in Europe and Japan.

For accelerating electrons, protons or any type of isotope, Symons said the new accelerator "will be the machine to do this job best."

The new accelerator is expected to be used by astrophysicists and physicists looking into topics as varied as supernovas and the structure of the atom.

The underground lab would also be a significant upgrade to current facilities, Symons added.

Built at 6,000 feet below the surface, its depth would shield many delicate experiments from harmful cosmic rays, said Kevin Lesko, another physicist at the Berkeley lab.

"It would be a Lawrence-Lab-built underground", he said.

Lesko also pointed to the diverse array of scientific research that would be made possible by the underground lab.

"Physicists could research dark matter and neutrinos in such an environment," he said. "Microbiologists, biologists and geologists would also benefit greatly."

Aside from the theoretical applications of such research, there are also possible industrial applications, including superconductors and national defense, Lesko said.

By checking for isotopes in the air that develop from nuclear tests, physicists could verify if any treaty violations regarding nuclear testing have been made, he said.

But the physicists said industrial applications are not the primary reason for their involvement with the new labs.

"Right now, most of our support is out of scientific interest," Lesko said.

Despite some concern about potential safety hazards the projects may pose to surrounding communities, the Berkeley physicists agreed the two facilities would not pose any major safety problems.

The underground lab, because of its depth and the nature of experiments to be performed there, would be "nothing like a nuclear waste dump," Lesko said.

As for the accelerator lab, Symons said there would be some safety considerations, but it would be generally safe to live near.

"It's nothing like a nuclear reactor," he said.

While several Berkeley lab scientists are involved in planning the construction of the new facilities, the national laboratory itself is not yet involved in any way.

But both physicists agreed the type of work being done at these labs would be of interest to many of those currently conducting research at the Berkeley lab.

The projects, whose construction is expected to begin within ten years, are still in the planning stages as funding sources have not been finalized. The National Science Foundation is expected to finance the underground lab, while the Department of Energy may fund the accelerator lab.

But Congress would have to appropriate additional funds, which could cause delays, Symons said.


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