Michigan State Opens Facility for Rare Isotope Beams

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FRIB Laboratory Director Thomas Glasmacher (left), U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, and MSU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. tour the laboratory. // Courtesy of MSU
FRIB Laboratory Director Thomas Glasmacher (left), U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, and MSU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. tour the laboratory. // Courtesy of MSU

Michigan State University’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) in East Lansing, a user facility for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, opened its doors on May 2.

Approximately 900 people — including federal, state, local, and university officials — attended the ribbon-cutting. FRIB was completed in January, ahead of schedule and on budget. Its first scientific-user experiments are expected to start on 9 May.

“FRIB is the latest example of MSU’s continued national and international leadership in areas that advance discovery,” says Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., president of MSU. “The university’s contributions in nuclear science, medicine, education, agriculture, plant science, supply chain, and other areas have transformed lives in communities around the world and continue to have a positive impact on people and the planet.”

FRIB houses the world’s most powerful heavy-ion accelerator, allowing researchers to access more than 1,000 new rare isotopes, many never before produced on Earth. Supporting a community of 1,600 scientists from around the world, FRIB enables scientists to make discoveries about how the universe formed, while advancing innovation in medicine, nuclear security, environmental science, and more.

The accelerator at FRIB propels atomic nuclei of any stable element to half the speed of light, resulting in collisions that produce rare isotopes that, until now, were only found in the cosmos. Rare isotopes are versions of elements with a number of neutrons that do not hold together forever with the number of protons that define the element.

Producing rare isotopes at FRIB is expected to lead to scientific discoveries that are bound to change society and improve lives. Nuclear science research already has led to the development of technologies such as MRI and PET scans, smoke alarms, and cell phone technology. Additional breakthroughs in nuclear science could yield further improvements in agriculture, environmental studies, and many other fields.

Rare isotopes also may be used to research and develop new materials for everything from pharmaceuticals to alternative energy and fuel sources. On the nuclear security front, FRIB scientists are able to study rare isotopes to further understanding of nuclear reactions without the need for weapons testing.

One of the most immediate areas of potential impact is medicine. Breakthroughs in cancer medicine could be on the horizon. Doctors already use radioisotopes to find malignant cancer cells in PET scans. But medicine has yet to tap into the full potential of rare isotopes to seek out and attack certain cancers in the body. Malignant cells can accumulate elements, like copper, and rare isotopes can help chemists and clinicians track them down.

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