Thursday, February 17, 2011

Holifield needs your help

Below is the text of a letter in support of the continued operation of the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility at Oak Ridge National Lab. It currently has a dozen signatures attached to it, with more being added daily. If you agree with the letter, consider contacting your representatives and asking them to grant us a fair review.

It would be a great tragedy to see the operating budget for the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility (HRIBF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory cut, as has been proposed by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu's recent budget announcement [1]. The news came as a shock to all of us in the nuclear physics community, especially considering the tremendous contributions to science that the facility continues to provide.

The HRIBF enjoys a lengthy and consistent publication record, including a recent Nature paper on doubly-magic tin-132, which was honored with an Editor's Summary and a "News and Views" article [2], and even appeared as a cover story in the August 2010 Physics Today issue. In fact, this work won the collaborators an ORNL Laboratory Director's Award in late 2010. Recent successes at the HRIBF have garnered millions of dollars in project grants and several new staff researcher hires, adding to the shock at Chu's announcement.

In addition to an ongoing, strong science program, the HRIBF draws visiting nuclear physicists from around the globe as one of the top ISOL (isotope separation on-line) facilities worldwide (and the only one in the US that still operates as a users facility). No other facility can create beams of heavy r-process nuclei at the energies, intensities and purities of which the HRIBF alone is capable. In fact, the facility still boasts the world's largest electrostatic tandem accelerator. The unique and unmatched combination of a large range of available radioactive ion beams with the high quality of a tandem beam has made the HRIBF a world-renowned laboratory for nuclear physics studies [3]. The science program at the HRIBF is also the basis for many external DOE grants, providing support to a multitude of universities across the nation, both individually and in consortium as Centers of Excellence.

While the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB), also funded by the DOE and operated by Michigan State University, will in the future provide a new national user facility for cutting-edge nuclear science, it will cost approximately $600 million and take about a decade to design and build. HRIBF would play a crucial role in the intervening years by providing rare isotope beams for the user community until, and even after, the completion of FRIB. With the first beams at FRIB being based on an in-beam fragmentation technique (such as is used at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory), HRIBF would still provide the only US capability for studying the properties of rare isotopes using ISOL techniques [4].

Finally, and perhaps most disappointing, is the fact that the HRIBF users and staff were not given the opportunity to provide input toward the decision. To shut down a facility without granting the benefit of a full, open and transparent review is unsettling to say the least. We decide whether a paper is worthy to be published based on a peer review of its scientific merit; we can only ask that the government would extend the same favor to a world-renowned facility before taking away their entire operating budget. Funding cuts are inevitable in the current financial climate, and we agree that the government should work to reduce wasteful and frivolous spending, but it is impossible to do so without first properly identifying, based on an impartial and democratic review, what spending is wasteful. With the potential loss of the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility under the current circumstances, the entire scientific community has reason for concern.

[2] Jones, K., Adekola, A., Bardayan, D., Blackmon, J., Chae, K., Chipps, K., Cizewski, J., Erikson, L., Harlin, C., Hatarik, R., Kapler, R., Kozub, R., Liang, J., Livesay, R., Ma, Z., Moazen, B., Nesaraja, C., Nunes, F., Pain, S., Patterson, N., Shapira, D., Shriner, J., Smith, M., Swan, T., & Thomas, J. (2010). The magic nature of 132Sn explored through the single-particle states of 133Sn Nature, 465 (7297), 454-457 DOI: 10.1038/nature09048
[3] cf. Beene, J., Bardayan, D., Galindo Uribarri, A., Gross, C., Jones, K., Liang, J., Nazarewicz, W., Stracener, D., Tatum, B., & Varner, R. (2011). ISOL science at the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility Journal of Physics G: Nuclear and Particle Physics, 38 (2) DOI: 10.1088/0954-3899/38/2/024002


  1. I would like to point out that "U.S. military spending equals that of the next 15 countries combined (most of them allies) and represents 47 percent of total global military spending" (ref). If we really need to start making cuts, let's start making intelligent cuts! Spare science and education, spare programs to help the poor and needy, and let's cut some military spending!

  2. To make an obvious point even more so: the cost of one day of the war in Afghanistan would be enough to fund the HRIBF for nearly 30 years.

  3. You can help support and save HRIBF from closure at


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