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SLAC CHOSEN FOR ASYMMETRIC B-FACTORY
STANFORD -- President Clinton announced Monday, Oct. 4, the selection of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center as the preferred site for a new kind of collider known as an asymmetric B-factory.
The $237 million physics project "may give us critical answers on how the stars and heavens and planets came to be," Clinton said in announcing the project during a visit to San Francisco. He also stressed that it would save 300 jobs at the center, which currently employs about 1,400 people.
The Stanford-operated laboratory of the Department of Energy, which is known by its acronym SLAC, and Cornell University were competing for the project. Secretary of Energy Hazel R. O'Leary said Stanford was selected "because the Department of Energy has a much higher margin of confidence in the ability of the Stanford proposal to meet the project's extremely high performance requirements, as well as to meet its proposed cost and schedule."
A group of worldwide experts selected by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy visited SLAC for a week in June and spent a similar amount of time at Cornell. They submitted a final report July 28 to Energy Secretary O'Leary, who with White House Science Adviser Jack Gibbons made the decision that Clinton announced.
Cornell University President Frank H. T. Rhodes reacted sharply to the decision and called upon the Department of Energy to release the review panel's report on the two projects. Rhodes said in a press release that Cornell was "hard pressed to understand how in these difficult fiscal times the federal government can justify awarding the project to a facility where it will cost $100 million more to accomplish the same scientific objectives than it would if built here at Cornell."
O'Leary said, "The department is not convinced that the cost differential of Cornell's proposal, when adjusted for cost risks, and considered in the light of performance risks, justifies siting the B- factory at Cornell."
The Clinton administration is asking Congress for $36 million to fund the first year of the B-factory project, which could be ready to start research in 1998. A House and Senate conference committee was to begin today working out differences in their versions of appropriations bills that would fund the project, and Burton Richter, the laboratory's director, said he expected a decision within two to three weeks.
"I keep telling everyone here at SLAC that the president proposes and the Congress disposes," Richter told news reporters Monday, "and we don't have this project until the Congress approves an appropriations bill."
Richter thanked O'Leary for the decision, and members of the California congressional delegation, the California Council on Science and Technology and the governor's office for their support.
Calling it "the latest in the cycle of renewal projects" for the laboratory, Richter said that "building the B-factory means that SLAC will not have to cut back on its highly trained staff of scientists, engineers and technicians - at a time when the San Francisco Bay Area and California in general are experiencing more than their share of layoffs due to the recession, defense cuts and base closings."
Richter and Stanford President Gerhard Casper met with President Clinton in San Francisco and talked briefly, Richter said, about the importance of basic science to the economy.
In a press statement, Casper said President Clinton's announcement was "good news for Stanford and California."
"According to peer review, and from everything I have learned here and abroad over the last year, the B-factory involves excellent and important physics. I am delighted the administration has confirmed the vitality of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center," Casper said.
Workers at SLAC told Bay Area news reporters they were delighted as well.
"We did a lot of hard work. It has paid off for the whole community. Thank God," said Jamie Davis, a fabrication specialist from Sunnyvale who has worked at SLAC for a decade. "It has been taxing our minds because there were so many rumors all the time [whether] Cornell or we were going to get this project."
David Leith, director of research at SLAC, said that while no one had been identified for lay-off before the decision, the B-factory work was necessary to keep the facility from losing $18 million from its $150 million operating budget, 76 percent of which goes for salaries. The new project, which had been in the planning stages for five years, Leith said, is "a very important transition from our current program - which is at the frontier but which has a lifetime of 3 or 5 years - to a longer term future."
Richter and Leith also stressed the project's importance to high energy physics research throughout California, where the nation's first accelerator was constructed at Berkeley in the 1930s. Without the upgrade of SLAC, Leith said, the state would lose its status as a world leader in electron-positron linear colliders.
"The laboratory would begin its unhappy slippery slope to demise," he said. "It would be a loss to Stanford, a loss to the Bay Area economy, a loss to the whole high-tech community in California, and a major loss to the research universities in California, because not only does the Stanford faculty use this, but [other California universities] have professors and students and staff working at this lab.
"My guess is that there will be 200 or 300 Ph.D. theses produced in the lifetime of the B-factory, so it's a major impact academically," Leith said.
The B-factory project is a joint proposal of SLAC and the two other Bay Area laboratories that are funded by the Department of Energy, Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore laboratories, both operated by the University of California. Piermaria Oddone, deputy director of the Berkeley laboratory, in 1987 developed the idea that led to the design of the project.
For Stanford, Leith said, the lab provides many opportunities.
"Thirty of the technical leaders in the lab are faculty of the university," he said. "Most of them lead research projects of graduate students, so in narrow terms, the faculty and the staff are going to be involved in another 10 or 15 years of frontier research" as a result of the B-factory.
Richter also said he would ask researchers at Cornell to collaborate in the building of the project's $60 million detector, which will be used to study debris emerging from collisions of matter and anti- matter particles produced in the B-factory.
Upgrade of PEP
The B-factory is an upgrade of SLAC's electron-positron collider - known as PEP - to produce copious quantities of particles known as B-mesons. These particles contain the heaviest known fundamental building block, the quark. The facility will be largely underground in SLAC's existing tunnel, and is an attempt to understand "the differences between matter and anti-matter in the first minutes, the first seconds, the first fractions of the seconds of the universe," Leith said.
"In that first flash of time, matter and anti-matter were created equally, and very quickly the matter and anti-matter decayed differently, so that shortly afterward you were left with a matter- dominated universe that evolved into the stars, planets, and you and I that we identify as objects of our universe," Leith said.
"We don't see much anti-matter, and the scientific question of the B-factory is, why did that happen? What were the forces there?"
The B-mesons and their anti-particles will be studied with great precision to see how differences in their behavior may explain what happened, he said.
"The justification for this is wanting to understand more about the world in which we live, why it behaves the way it does, what the forces and building blocks are in our world," Leith said. However, he also noted that past nuclear physics has led to applications of practical value, such as the scanning machines used to detect cancer and accelerators that deliver radiation doses to cancer patients.
Cornell currently studies the production and ordinary decay of B-mesons, in a program that Leith said "will continue at pace doing important physics laying the foundations of the physics of the B-factory."
The cost of the detector was not included in either Cornell or Stanford proposals to the government. SLAC hopes to get about half the funds from the detector &from other countries, including Canadian, European and Russian institutions, Leith said, where there were proposals to build a B-factory using a similar concept. Total cost estimates range up to $237 million, including the detector.
For SLAC, Richter said, the B-factory proposal "ensures that the laboratory will be at the frontier of our science for another decade." Because the projects take so long to develop, he said, "the next one is already being thought about, and the next one will, I'm quite sure, be a major international collaboration."
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