ODU establishes a Center for Accelerator Science

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – Old Dominion University has established a Center for Accelerator Science that will tap into the rapid growth of particle accelerator technologies for atom-smashing experiments, as well as for materials processing, medical imaging and radiation therapies against cancer. The center will receive personnel and funding support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News.

As its central mission, the center will train the next generation of accelerator and light-source scientists and engineers. The center also promises to bring more research funding to ODU and more high-technology economic development to southeastern Virginia, according to university officials.

Chris Platsoucas, the dean of the ODU College of Sciences, noted that the Jefferson Lab will participate in the design of a so-called “4th generation light source” facility that is expected to be built by the DOE somewhere in the Southeast. This facility, which is projected to cost upwards of $1 billion and produce the most brilliant light yet for laser and other applications in research, industry and medicine, will employ technologies already in use at Jefferson Lab.

 “This new light source is just one example of a project that could be supported by a strong, university-based Center for Accelerator Science,” Platsoucas said. “We have the opportunity to take a leading role in the development of this light source facility, and to strengthen our case for the facility being built in southeastern Virginia. By moving ahead with this center, ODU and the Jefferson Lab will add to our unique set of local advantages in accelerator science.”         

Two years ago, ODU launched an accelerator physics instructional program with the help of Jefferson Lab, which agreed to provide three of its research scientists to serve as part-time members of the ODU faculty. The new center will strengthen ODU’s position as one of just a handful of universities—Cornell, Michigan State and Stanford are among them—that offer graduate programs in accelerator physics.  Louisiana State University is the only other Southern institution that has such a program.

“We are very excited about this opportunity to partner with Jefferson Lab to build a Center for Accelerator Science at ODU,” said Gail Dodge, the chair of ODU’s Department of Physics. “This is a good time to build up a program in accelerator science. Very few universities have such a program, but the demand for trained students and for faculty with expertise in this area is growing. The center will enable us to expand and improve the opportunities we offer our undergraduate and graduate students.”

Andrew Hutton, Jefferson Lab’s associate director for the Accelerator Division, said the center will foster new research and enhance educational opportunities at ODU. “We have been collaborating with ODU for many years, and the center will enable even closer interactions,” Hutton said. “Jefferson Lab is committed to increasing educational opportunities in accelerator science and technology, and the new center will provide a way for students at ODU to enter this exciting field.”

The university’s Board of Visitors approved a resolution Sept. 19 creating the center effective Oct. 1.

A search will begin immediately for a center director, according to Dodge, a nuclear physicist who conducts experiments at Jefferson Lab. The resolution approved by the Board of Visitors states that the search would be for an internationally prominent scientist in the field of accelerator physics and that the recruitment target date is August 2009.

Dodge said the ODU College of Sciences has a vacant faculty position it will use for the director’s slot, and Jefferson Lab has agreed to provide half of the director’s salary. The lab also has pledged to provide some equipment, as well as funding for graduate students and access for center affiliates to the Newport News accelerator facility.
 ODU expects its external support for research will get a substantial boost from the center’s operations, and that the affected research will be not only in physics, but also in chemistry, mathematics, computer sciences, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. “Accelerator science is a very interdisciplinary field,” said Platsoucas. “We look forward to building collaborations with faculty around campus, as well as at other universities.”

 The center also will support initiatives at Jefferson Lab, including a $310-million project that is underway to double the energy of the lab’s continuous electron beam accelerator facility (CEBAF). A planning document for the center looks forward to collaborations between scientists and engineers at the two institutions not only in accelerator and particle physics, but also in electrical engineering, control systems, materials and lasers.

Core members of the new center will include three full-time faculty members in the ODU Department of Physics, Professor Lepsha Vuskovic, Assistant Professor Alexander Godonov and Research Professor Svetozar Popovic. In addition, ODU’s three Jefferson Lab Professors in accelerator physics, Jean Delayen, Geoffrey Krafft and Hari Areti, will be members of the center. Affiliated faculty will retain their full-time tenure track appointments in their home ODU academic departments. 
For more than 100 years, scientists have been experimenting with the interesting things that happen when atomic particles are accelerated to high speeds and smashed into other materials. Light and other particles produced by accelerators have revealed fundamental structures and behaviors of matter and been put to use in numerous medical instruments and industrial processing tools. In industrial applications, for example, energy from accelerators creates new materials (such as nanotubes), alters surfaces of materials to make them harder or rust-resistant, and accomplishes microscopic chores in the production of semi-conducting materials.

Jefferson Lab’s existing $600-million continuous electron beam accelerator is a nearly mile-long example of an instrument for powering up particles to speeds approaching the speed of light. It is one of a few dozen around the world that can create matter interactions violent enough to break apart the nucleus of the atom in order to reveal the fundamental makeup of matter. It’s the job of the lab’s huge detectors to make sense of the fragments and waves of energy that come from these atom-smashing events.

At a more basic level, accelerator physics is illustrated by a beam of electrons crashing into a metal such as tungsten. The crash radiates energy in the form of X-rays, which have been used since 1895 for imaging bone and other dense material inside the human body.


ODU Contact: Jim Raper, Research Editor/Science Writer, 757-683-5585 or JRaper@odu.edu

JLab Media Contact: Dean Golembeski, Jefferson Lab Public Relations, 757-269-7689 or deang@jlab.org


Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, a joint venture of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, Inc. and PAE Applied Technologies, manages and operates the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, or Jefferson Lab, for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit science.energy.gov.