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TWO STANFORD LABS FIND MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE
STANFORD -- Two of Stanford's premier physics labs, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) merged October 1, a marriage of convenience that seems to be working.
Arthur Bienenstock, former director of SSRL and now associate director of SLAC, agreed.
"Both Burt Richter and I saw that by cooperating closely, we might be able to take advantage of scientific and technological opportunities which were more difficult to take advantage of independently. And that has indeed been the case," he said.
SSRL is now a division of SLAC, bringing the total number of employees at the Department of Energy (DOE) research laboratory to around 1,400 and the total budget up to around $153 million.
Synchrotron radiation is a by-product of circular electron accelerators. SSRL is plugged into the storage ring at the accelerator's end and pulls off synchrotron radiation for its 600 investigators. They study such things as chemical catalysts, the structures of proteins, and new ways of fabricating advanced electronic chips.
SLAC is a high energy physics laboratory, smashing electrons and their anti-matter cousins, positrons, together to study the nature of matter at subatomic levels. Nobel Prizes have been won for work there, including Richter's.
The marriage was a shotgun affair pushed by DOE.
"DOE wanted this merger because SSRL was getting so large; it was the largest R&D contract in the United States and the language of R&D contracts doesn't give the DOE the kind of bureaucratic controls they like to have over very big user-oriented facilities," Richter said.
Budgetary changes were difficult to make, sometimes requiring that the contract itself be revised. Now, as part of an operating contract (the way DOE usually works with its national laboratories), changes are much simpler.
Second, Richter said, "we went along happily with this because both Artie and I believed there are some real benefits to putting these two outfits together in closer association."
Third, the future of both labs was at stake. With other accelerators, particularly CERN in Europe, winning the high energy wars with their devices, SLAC needed to augment its raison d'etre.
So, neither lab was a reluctant suitor, despite a sometimes choppy relationship in which SSRL was totally dependent on SLAC for its light source and beam time.
"It is different," Richter said. "Even though SSRL is on the SLAC site, it makes a difference if it's a separate laboratory or it's part of this laboratory. People look at each other differently, and I think that has been happening."
The first fruit of the collaboration is a plan to design and build the world's first free-electron laser that will use hard X-rays to make holograms - 3-D pictures - of such things as crystals or biological samples. The two labs have been working on the laser project since last spring when the merger was announced.
The project combines the accelerator expertise of the high energy physics people with the synchrotron radiation know-how of SSRL and would have been impossible without that synergy, Richter said.
Free-electron lasers now work in the infrared portion of the spectrum and scientists are trying to move into the optical. Getting the lasers into X-rays would be a major research leap.
If they succeed, the facility will be unmatched in the world because SLAC's accelerator produces energy measured in many billion electron volts (GeVs), and the linear collider produces exactly the tiny, intense electron beams needed for such a laser. All the other free-electron laser projects involve much less powerful devices and broader emittances.
For Bienenstock, the merger fulfills one of his most-cherished goals: He owns his own light source for the first time. SSRL is responsible for the SPEAR ring on the accelerator.
"We can supply beam to our users all year," Bienenstock said. "We are limited basically by money, and by having to install new beam lines."
As it is, he is turning away customers because of insufficient resources. Seventeen percent of customers come from corporations, such as Syntex and IBM.
SSRL will run the beam line six months out of the year, a limit set by funding, not physical resources. Ideally, it would operate nine months of the year, using the rest of the time to add and repair experiment stations or new lines.
Currently, SSRL has 26 stations on nine beam ines.
"In every sort of situation, there will be tension from time to time over resources, but I believe we have a management structure we can deal with," Bienenstock said. "I work for Richter. He is the director of the laboratory, and I am an associate director."
Richter is equally sanguine.
"I think it's a good thing for this laboratory to become broader," he said. "There's a lot of talent . . . so making the laboratory broader is good for the institution and the cross-fertilization between the disciplines is good for science."
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