FRIB One Year Later

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One year ago yesterday the Department of Energy announced their selection of Michigan State University as the site for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB, pronounced F-Rib). At the time, I was an astrophysics student at Michigan State University.  Obviously, the announcement was welcome news to the Physics Department and the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, the facility  which FRIB will replace (using as much of the existing facility as possible), however thanks to student led events like FRIB Frenzy Day, students around campus, some of who never sat in a college physics course, received the news with excitement. I like to think that my interview on the FRIB Frenzy Day Facebook video contributed to the selection…but ultimately it was a combination of impressive support from the university and the State of Michigan, the presence of a leading nuclear physics facility, a good plan for building the facility, and the educational advantages of having FRIB on a university campus that lead to the decision.

One year later, what is going on with FRIB?

A story from MSU summarizes it.

And of course, you can always check the FRIB site for more news.


FRIB Updates

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Last December I wrote about the Department of Energy’s (DOE) selection of Michigan State University (MSU) as the site of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB, pronounced F-Rib). FRIB is a next generation nuclear physics facility that will study topics such as nuclear structure and the processes by which stars created the elements. The primary aim of the research is to learn more about the nucleus of the atoms, the origin of the elements, and the evolution of the universe.

-Last week, just in time for the NSCL open house, MSU and DOE signed an agreement for the construction of FRIB.

Story Here

To understand what FRIB does, you need to know something about the atom. Atoms are composed of a nucleus of protons and neutrons (except for the one version of hydrogen which lacks neutrons and perhaps a short lived version of lithium which also lacks neutrons) and a ‘cloud’ of electrons. FRIB will study the proton and neutron nucleus. Elements are defined by the number of protons in a nucleus, so carbon always has 6 protons, oxygen always 8, uranium always 92. Most elements have many possible isotopes, defined by the number of neutrons, so carbon 12 is carbon with 6 protons and 6 neutrons , but there is also a carbon 11 with 5 neutrons and carbon 13 with 7 neutrons and even a very short lived carbon 22 with 16 neutrons. The short lived nuclei like carbon 22 are what FRIB will use in their research. Hence the term rare isotope.

While nuclear physics brings to mind bombs and power plants, the field involves much more. Among other things, nuclear physics has contributed to advances in the detection and treatment of cancer. In fact some large hospitals have their own nuclear medicine research groups.

If you want to learn more about FRIB and nuclear physics in general, watch alpinekat’s newest video-the Rare Isotope Rap. Best known for the Large Hadron Rap which became a youtube phenomena, alpinekat’s newest video brings her back to MSU-her undergrad institution. As former NSCL employee and Science Theatre collaborator of Katie, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to help with this video. I’m a backup dancer…so you know it’ll be funny. But it’s also quite educational.


To learn more about FRIB visit its website.

Picture Source: MSU, FRIB,

FRIB goes to MSU

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The Department of Energy has selected Michigan State University (MSU) as the site for the future Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB): press release from DOE. MSU is the current home to the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, one of the leading nuclear science facilities in the world. The research done at NSCL has helped expand our knowledge of the nature of atomic nuclei and brought insight into how the elements are formed in the interiors of stars and in cataclysmic events like supernovae. NSCL is currently undergoing upgrades to make it the only facility in the world which allows researchers to use stopped, accelerated, and reaccelerated beams. The upgrades are expected to be completed in 2010. In large part due to the presence of NSCL, MSU is ranked second in the nation for graduate programs in nuclear physics.

FRIB will take a decade to design and construct, at a cost of 550 million dollars. Hundreds of jobs are expected to directly result from its construction, with additional boosts to the local economy resulting from the presence of the facility which will attract visiting researchers from all over the world. Like NSCL, FRIB will be used for studying the nucleus of the atom. Insight into the origin of the elements, processes within stars, and possible applications in medical physics and stockpile control are expect results of research in this field.

This is incredibly exciting news. I spent three years working as an undergraduate assistant at NSCL (see my post on helping with an experiment). It was an experience which taught me more about science than any of my classes did. The presence of FRIB at MSU will continue to provide opportunities for students to participate in such research.

Back in October, students at MSU, I included, held a public awareness day about FRIB, educating the student body and local community about MSU’s bid for FRIB and of the implications of winning the bid.

Congratulations MSU and NSCL.


Michigan State has posted its press release later in the day.

NSCL has also posted information.

An extensive press release is on the DOE page.

More information about the impact of the decision on MSU.

Nuclear Physics in the (Early) Morning

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The men (of course it need not be only men, but in this case it is) huddle around monitors looking at computer codes and figures, muttering. Everything is running fine, but something looks fishy. They gather, discuss, go back to their stations and congregate once more.

It is a diverse group ranging in age from 20’s to 60’s, an international assemblage with Germany, Japan, Poland, and the United States represented. A clock on the wall reads quarter to 1 in the morning. Most have been here since the afternoon. Some have been here even longer, sleeping on couches in the atrium when naps are needed. Here is science in action, a world not often described in books or shown in movies.

On a nearby table are bags of chips, some bread, peanut butter, jelly, and most important, a pot of coffee. Do the coffee farmers halfway around the world know that they are growing the fuel of late-night science?

The night progresses. What was once a problem, so typical in nuclear physics, has been resolved, and the data is coming out as expected. Plans are made for the next day’s actions in the experiments-changes to be made in set-ups, new approaches to be investigated. Most leave, ready for several hours of rest, maybe 4 or 5, after a long day. A fresh batch replaces them to monitor the experiment for the night. Now the lab is empty except for the beam operators and a duo from the experiment team.

It will be months before all the data is analyzed and results are made, but now, in the silent, lonely hours of the night, just as in the morning when the lab is bustling, is when the discoveries begin. The blood and sweet, or eyes laden with tears from fatigue, are small sacrifices in experimental nuclear physics to those searching for a look into the world of the nucleus.