Jefferson Lab is one of two contenders for collider
Jefferson Lab in Newport News hopes the U.S. Department of Energy will give it the go-ahead to build a $1 billion electron-ion collider.
The facility, formally known as the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, is one of two vying for the project. Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York is also a contender.
A collider is used by researchers to understand what lies inside a nucleus and what holds it together. “It’s a fundamental knowledge that may have no practical importance for 100 or 200 years,” says Andrew Hutton, associate director of the accelerator division at Jefferson Lab. “It’s pure long-term research.”
“At Jefferson, we have an electron machine and would like to add an ion complex. In Brookhaven, they have an ion collider, and would like to add an electron complex,” Hutton says. “We see this as our future, and they see it as their future.”
The Department of Energy is expected to take three years to make its decision, but preparations in Newport News already have begun. The city will provide land for the Jefferson Lab to expand and “to build the electron-ion collier should that [bid] be successful,” says Newport News City Manager Jim Bourey.
The collider project construction would cost about $1 billion, he says. The city expects the economic impact for the region will be approximately $4 billion, with the creation of more than 4,000 jobs, most of them in construction or skilled labor positions, over 10 years.
The city owns half of the 16 acres that would be provided for the lab for its expansion. The remaining half is owned by the Newport News school district, which now has an operations and transportation service center on the property. It would be relocated.
About 1,400 scientists from around the world do research at the lab, helping to boost the local economy. “They live here when they do their research,” says Robert McKeown, the lab’s deputy director for science.
Newport News’ technology sector is on an upswing. “One hundred thirty years ago, Newport News was on the map because of the shipyard [now known as Newport News Shipbuilding]. Now people look at it for Jefferson Lab and high technology,” Hutton says, noting an accompanying change from a blue-collar to a more high-tech workforce. “My job is to make sure Virginians are proud that we are here.”