Lansing Particle Accelerator Cluster

Lansing Particle Accelerator Cluster

By John Melcher, Associate Director, CCED

 “Of Equal Place: Exploring Isotopes in Motion”

Recognizing the current employment demand in the particle accelerator and nuclear science area and anticipating even greater opportunities as a result of FRIB operation in the future, it is important to help prepare young students in the Lansing region to successfully embrace those opportunities. One of the recommendations of the Lansing Region Particle Accelerator Cluster study (see article following this one for more information about the cluster study) is to encourage the private sector and workforce development organizations to sponsor and support unique learning opportunities related to particle accelerators and nuclear physics. One such activity is the result of a partnership between the Wharton Center for the Performing Arts and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at MSU.

Scheduled for March 19-21, 2020, “Of Equal Place: Exploring Isotopes in Motion” is an interactive learning experience for Lansing area students that will introduce some of the key concepts of particle acceleration and nuclear science and offer an opportunity to tour the FRIB facility. A draft program description is included here:

Of Equal Place: Exploring Isotopes in Motion will present an exhilarating performance that combines dance, video, and physics while featuring professional dancers and guest performances by local youth. The show highlights the wonders of science and illuminates the research at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) and was inspired by Dance Exchange’s critically acclaimed work, The Matter of Origins. Following the performance, audience members are invited to participate in a series of activities which explore dance, physics, and FRIB.

For more information contact John Melcher at

Particle Accelerator Industry Cluster Study

In 2018 MSU/CCED partnered with Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) to develop recommendations for regional stakeholders to foster a particle accelerator industry cluster in the Lansing region. The project was funded by a grant from the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. This report is an attempt to build on past research and provide understandings with recommendations to foster the development of an economic cluster based on the powerful nuclear physics knowledge base abundant in the Lansing region.

The research team identified four main areas of focus for this study: accelerator component supply chain analysis, knowledge supply chain analysis, national innovative practices, and a regional assessment. Future newsletter articles will feature recommendations for each of these area of focus, but first a little background.

Historically Michigan’s economy was dominated by the logging, mining, and agriculture industries and later by the automotive, manufacturing, and tourism industries. Over the last several decades, however, as the nation and the world experienced a shift toward information and technology-based industries, Michigan struggled to define its place in the new global economy. Michigan struggled to re-equip its workforce for the needs of the 21st Century due to a mismatch of transferable skills from a historically manual-labor-based economy to a new intellectual and technology-driven economy known as the “knowledge economy.”

The knowledge economy is driven by discovery and innovation that puts a premium on the value of research institutions in local and state economies. Michigan State University’s research capacity, coupled with a significant private sector research capacity, make the Lansing region a legitimate contender in the global knowledge economy. This becomes most obvious when you consider the development of the Facility for Rare Isotopes Beams (FRIB) at MSU.

When operational, FRIB will stand apart from other research facilities around the globe with its ability to create and study new isotopes that are not normally found on Earth. This opportunity is built on a history of nuclear physics research which began at MSU in 1958 with the hiring of Dr. Henry Blosser, a young nuclear scientist then working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Notable accomplishments since that time include the first accelerated proton beam in 1965, the establishment of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) in 1980, and recognition as the number one nuclear physics graduate program in the country since 2010 (U.S. News & World Report).

In addition to this rich history, two private sector businesses are established in the Lansing region as a direct result of MSU’s research capacity. Niowave Inc. was established in 2005 by a former NSCL researcher, and Ionetix Inc. was established in 2010.

In 2004 a team of nuclear physics researchers began an effort to host the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at MSU. In 2008 the US Department of Energy (DOE) awarded MSU a $550M grant to establish FRIB with construction expected to be completed in 2020, and the facility expected to be operational by 2022 at a total cost of $730M. FRIB is expected to create a total of 390 direct jobs, with an average total statewide labor income of $55.6M.

The implications and opportunities related to this investment for the Lansing region seem to be significant; however, understanding these opportunities and being prepared to take best advantage is a challenge that government, business, and higher education leaders must embrace. The capacity to design, build, and operate particle accelerators is a proven strength of the region. The ability to supply the labor, technical support staff, and researchers is also a proven strength. The challenge is to understand the powerful economic factors driving development in the global knowledge economy and translate that understanding into strategies that can best nurture the economic opportunities emerging from this dynamic nuclear physics research and particle acceleration knowledge base.

For more information contact John Melcher at

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