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FRIB funding crucial to MSU, Michigan economy

February 4, 2013

The fate of one of MSU’s most paramount projects is on shaky ground as negotiations between the university and Washington grow increasingly nuclear.

Last week, a national advisory committee backed a ranking of federal funding priorities that placed the planned Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at MSU, or FRIB, second out of three nuclear physics research centers in the country.

Despite getting the nod for steadied federal funding from a stop-gap funding bill in September, the committee ranked FRIB second behind the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility in Virginia and just above the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at New York’s Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The U.S. Department of Energy had requested $12 million for MSU’s nuclear research facility for the 2013 fiscal year — the same amount approved by Congress for the current year, but significantly less than the $55 million laid out in the university’s original agreement. Current funding allows for work to continue on FRIB, but at a slower pace than originally laid out.

In a worst-case scenario, MSU’s program potentially could be discontinued if the federal government no longer has the means to support all three research centers.

Although this news shouldn’t indicate a need for the university to panic anytime soon when considering the overwhelming positives FRIB presents for the state, it’s hard not to be disheartened by the committee’s ranking.

In 2008, MSU was chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy as the site for the now $680 million nuclear physics research facility — edging out other institutions and moving to the forefront as a leader in our nation’s scientific community — but issues in funding have been no stranger to its development.

In April 2012, the project had to receive a $40 million lifeline from the U.S. House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee to further its progress while the university searched for additional funding. This backing was $18 million dollars more than the amount set out in President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget proposal.

But as turbid as our country’s current financial situation is, when you consider how many areas could be positively impacted by FRIB, these repeated delays become nothing short of disappointing.

For Michigan, the need for this project is evident. FRIB has been touted as a massive boost for an ailing state, promising to create hundreds of permanent jobs and generate $1 billion during its first decade.

But as vital as this project is for Michigan, FRIB is equally important to the continued success and development of MSU.

In addition to expanding the university’s nuclear physics program, which is ranked highest in the nation, FRIB would make MSU a global leader in scientific research and a haven for some of the world’s top scientists.

Imagine the sense of pride future students would receive from knowing the things they were learning about in class didn’t happen far away, but instead at the very university they attend.

Becoming a leader in any field should be a goal in the framework of every university, and something that is supported — not compromised — by our nation’s policy makers.

Lawmakers always will be forced to make difficult decisions during hard economic times, but making cuts to education shouldn’t be seen as collateral at the top of this list.

FRIB has the potential to cement MSU as a global leader in nuclear research for years to come. Hopefully funding is secure enough to see its completion.

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