The future of many jobs at Brookhaven National Lab – up to a quarter of its workforce – remains in jeopardy after a subcommittee revealed last week that among three of the nation's most important physics projects, BNL's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider ranked third among the bunch and could be subject to closure as a result.
The advisory decision was closely split among members of the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee, which released a 109-page report (attached as a PDF) detailing their long term plan as federal legislators work on a long-term budget plan.
"In all such scenarios, very significant opportunities are lost in terms of applications of nuclear science, and for education of a workforce that is highly skilled in nationally important areas," the report, led by physicist Robert Tribble, states.
In addition to evaluating the RHIC at BNL –which supports around 800 of the lab's 3,000 or so jobs – the report also considers building the planned Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State University and completing upgrades to the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia.
Brookhaven's ion collider is the only one of its kind in the country, allowing atoms to smash together, according to a Hufington Post report, "much like two spiraling footballs colliding in midair."
“That enables a program that is absolutely unique for trying to understand how the spin of the proton arises from its constituents, the quarks and gluons,” a former BNL associate director told HuffPo.
See more about how the ion collider works in the attached YouTube video.
While the CEBAF project was the committee's clear number one priority, "Based on additional considerations of timing of the budget crisis relative to the status of the ongoing construction initiative, the subcommittee vote, while closely split, resulted in a slight preference for the choice that proceeds with FRIB."
Politicians representing the area have not taken the report as a death knell, however, calling for increased spending to keep jobs secure at BNL, which employs scientists in fields ranging from energy research, nanotechnology, materials research, and environment/biosciences/computing in addition to nuclear physics.
In fact, the subcommittee unanimously endorsed a "modest growth" scenario, whereby all three projects continue at a diminished level.
It's this scenario that local pols are pushing for.
New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well the Long Island House delegation have called for an additional $50 million in spending to keep the collider from closing.
“They are harnessing the power of science and technology to compete with the U.S. economically and strategically; it is imperative that we continue to do the same,” wrote the House delegation – comprised of Reps. Tim Bishop, D-Southampton; Peter King, R-Seaford; Steve Israel, D-Huntington; and Carolyn McCarthy, D-Mineola – in a letter (attached as a PDF) to the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Interim Lab Director Doon Gibbs released the following statement after the report: "We believe that RHIC science, past and future, is compelling and essential both for the Department of Energy mission as well as for U.S. leadership in nuclear physics — and the Tribble report strongly reflects that view."