Energy Department announces $225 million for lab

The Virginian-Pilot
April 20, 2004

NEWPORT NEWS — The Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility secured a government promise Monday that it will be producing cutting-edge science for "another generation."

Jefferson Lab, as it is known, won support from the U.S. Department of Energy to upgrade its Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility. If fully funded, the project could be worth $225 million.

The expansion will add 40 jobs with an average salary of $80,000, including benefits and compensation.

The upgrade will double the power of the lab's electron beam to 12 billion electron volts, making it the most powerful of its kind in the world, officials said. The plan also calls for the construction of a fourth underground experimental hall.

The lab will have to go through a series of five steps required by the government for construction projects, which could take several years, said Jefferson Lab director Christoph Leemann. The lab expects to receive funding for the engineering and design work in fiscal 2006.

"The upgrade we are announcing today will secure your future," Deputy Secretary of Energy Kyle Mc-Slarrow, a Hampton native, told employees, who packed the lab's auditorium and an overflow room Monday.

Also on hand were U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Davis, a Republican whose 1st District includes Jefferson Lab; U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va.; U.S. Rep. Robert "Bobby" Scott, D-3rd District; and Newport News Mayor Joe Frank.

The facility, which has an annual operating budget of $73 million, employs 650 full-time workers and typically draws another 1,000 researchers and students each year. One-third of the nation.s doctoral candidates in nuclear physics earn their degree based on work done there, according to the lab.

Rolf Ent, who is group leader of Hall C, one of the existing experimental halls, said the upgrade and government funding means a lot to the scientists, especially given the fact that Jefferson Lab is one of the newer national science laboratories. It was built in 1987 and began experiments in 1994.

The upgrade was one of seven projects approved by the Department of Energy for funding in the near term. A total of 50 were proposed, and 28 approved.

"It tells you there are 20 more years of physics here," Ent said.

David Paige, an electronics technician from Hampton who makes sure the racetrack-shaped electron-beam facility is working properly, said the news has caused a buzz among his co-workers.

"It's not just the upgrade," he said. "There are so many more things that are going to branch out of this."

Many of the employees, such as John Kelly, an environmental health and safety officer from Hampton, see the expansion as job security, especially in tight budget times.

"It's always budget year to budget year," said Kelly, who has worked there for 11 years.

The high-energy electron beam will be used to identify quarks, which are known as the building blocks of matter. Scientists only have seen quarks in pairs, and they hope to be able to isolate them with the enhanced beam.

If successful, scientists may be able to figure out how these quarks cause protons and neutrons, which make up the nucleus of an atom, to spin.

Officials hope the research will have defense and commercial applications, but they are not sure what those might be. The lab is working on applications that include a highly sensitive mammogram and a laser that can protect Navy ships from low-flying missiles, Leemann said.

The Navy has spent millions of dollars developing a free-electron laser at Jefferson Lab that would be powerful enough to intercept enemy missiles.