The Simple Physics of Hospitality

  • 1980s design hotel room with wooden desk, old bedspread
  • Modern design hotel room with new bed, chair
  • 1980s design great room with old sectional couch, television
  • Modern design great room with modern semi-circular couch, television

The SURA Residence Facility is a home away from home for visiting scientists, engineers and students from around the world

NEWPORT NEWS, VA – Physicist Pete Markowitz worked at Jefferson Lab even before it was Jefferson Lab — when it was still called the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility, or CEBAF. He was on hand in 1994 to witness first beam.

The following year, Markowitz relocated to Miami, where he’s now a physics professor and assistant dean of the Honors College at Florida International University. But he returns frequently to conduct more experimental nuclear and particle physics research at what’s now long been known as the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

When he does return, he stays at the SURA Residence Facility, or ResFac, on the Jefferson Lab campus. The ResFac is a unique collection of residence halls with a communal kitchen, exercise room and great room built and maintained to accommodate scientific Users like him — physicists, engineers and students who arrive from across the country and around the world to use the CEBAF for days, weeks or months at a time for cutting-edge experiments to peer into the subatomic building blocks of matter.

“It is incredibly convenient, inexpensive, and the staff knows what we are up to,” Markowitz said of the ResFac. “Often, we run beam 24/7, so we need to be able to sleep in the day or arrive in the middle of the night. The common areas are built around our needs for cooking, laundry and even socializing. The place gets a lot of use.”

And surveys show that Users genuinely appreciate the facility.

“The surveys always come back just glowing,” said SURA Chief Governance Officer Elizabeth Lawson.

Home away from home

It was the city of Newport News in the late 1980s that offered to build the first residence buildings. The nearby area had few hotels for Users at the time, and Lawson said the city was looking for any way to support the new lab.

The original footprint included seven buildings, each with four guest rooms, built on SURA property adjacent to Jefferson Lab. SURA, the Southeastern Universities Research Association Inc., was DOE’s original management and operating (M&O) contractor for Jefferson Lab.

By the mid-90s, the residences were in such high demand that SURA added four more buildings and 14 rooms, for a total of 42, that are often fully booked.

In the mid-2000s, when Jefferson Science Associates, or JSA, became the M&O contractor for Jefferson Lab, SURA continued to operate the ResFac. A facility study and subsequent board report recommended renovating the aging buildings and set a multi-year work schedule.

Every year since 2015, a residence hall is renovated at an average cost of $50,000 to $75,000. New roofs and HVAC systems are installed, and the comfortable, dorm-style rooms get fresh paint, new carpeting, beds and other furnishings. So far, eight of the 11 halls and the main building have been completed.

Each room has a private bath, telephone, cable TV, computer connections, a refrigerator, coffee-maker, hair dryer, iron and ironing board. Housekeeping is included, as is a continental breakfast on weekends.

The goal is to break even each year between operating costs and rental income, with rooms priced accordingly. Daily rates currently range from $55 to $75, depending on length of stay, with a small number of rooms set aside for stays of three months or longer.

‘Friends all over the world’

The residences aren’t limited to visiting Users — sometimes long-term guests bring spouses, children or significant others. SURA provides picnic tables throughout the campus and brochures and tips about entertaining things to do in Hampton Roads. The property is also the venue for events organized by the Jefferson Lab Activities Group, such as ultimate frisbee, ultimate soccer and a recent fun run.

The staff also accommodates religious, cultural, health and other User needs, said Melissa Hicks, residence facility manager. One User, for instance, can’t intermingle her food items with others for religious reasons, so a cabinet in the communal kitchen was set aside for her personal use. Staff members have also helped translate for guests who have limited English language skills and altered rooms to accommodate severe allergies.

Marco Battaglieri, a physicist at the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare in Genoa, has visited Jefferson Lab as a User since the late ‘90s to study the interactions of quarks within the nuclei and search for dark matter. For two years, he also led one of the lab’s experimental halls.

“I have a very special relationship with the residence facility, since I know people for more than 20, 30 years,” Battaglieri said. “They’re very kind. They really treat me kind of like a person in the family. It’s really like feeling home.”

Among the special amenities are Bialetti moka pots for espresso “to make a perfect Italian coffee,” Battaglieri said. “Can you believe it?”

“Because of those personal touches,” said Hicks, “I can honestly say that we have friends all over the world now.”

The staff keeps curio cabinets to showcase tokens of appreciation that Users send in turn from their home countries — such as stuffed Highland cows and haggis from Scotland, glass flowers from Armenia, nesting dolls from Russia, a vuvuzela horn from South Africa, a statue from Greece, and shelf after shelf of candy and chocolates.

By Tamara Dietrich

Contact: Kandice Carter, Jefferson Lab Communications Office, 757-269-7263, kcarter@jlab.org

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Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, 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 https://energy.gov/science.