Our Future - Advanced Exotic Beam Laboratory

Both the 20-year facilities plan of DOE’s Office of Science and the 2007 Nuclear Science Advisory Committee Long Range Plan place high priority on a new facility to provide unparalleled access to beams of exotic atomic nuclei beyond the stable isotopes that exist on Earth. The facility envisioned combines

  • a high-power driver accelerator to produce unstable (rare) isotopes, which do not exist naturally because they have short half-lives typically ranging from milliseconds to days, and
  • a second (post-)accelerator to deliver high-quality beams for experiments.

Unstable isotopes outnumber stable isotopes by more than ten to one, and the systematic study of such rare isotopes is one of the most exciting frontiers in fundamental physics. A facility for rare isotope beams producing these nuclei in unprecedented quantities and capable of accelerating them as beams at unprecedented intensities would answer many pressing questions, including:

  • What is the full list of nuclei, both stable and unstable, existing in nature?
  • How were the chemical elements produced in the cosmos?
  • How do stars burn their nuclear fuel?
  • Does the current standard model of particles and interactions pass the tests made possible by the new facility?

In addition, the envisioned facility would produce radioactive isotopes enabling valuable new applications for science, technology, medicine, and national security.

Highest priority new facility

NSAC Long Range Plan CoverIn December 2006, the Rare Isotope Science Assessment Committee (RISAC) of the National Research Council strongly emphasized the importance of this new science. RISAC concluded that this science is “a vital component of the nuclear science portfolio in the United States” and that “failure to pursue a U.S. [facility for rare isotope beams] would likely lead to a forfeiture of U.S. leadership in nuclear-structure-related physics and would curtail the training of future U.S. nuclear scientists.” Examining the prospective science in an international context, RISAC concluded that “the science addressed by a rare-isotope facility, most likely based on a heavy-ion driver using a linear accelerator, should be a high priority for the United States. The facility for rare-isotope beams envisaged for the United States would provide capabilities unmatched elsewhere that would help to provide answers to the key science topics.”

In 2007, the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee Long Range Plan recommended that a facility for rare isotope beams (FRIB) should have the highest priority for construction of a new facility. This facility would "lead to a comprehensive description of nuclei, elucidate the origin of the elements in the cosmos, provide an understanding of matter in the crust of neutron stars, and establish the scientific foundation for innovative applications of nuclear science to society." They stressed that these capabilities would launch the field of nuclear science into a new area, but that it "requires the immediate construction of FRIB with its ability to produce groundbreaking research."

World-leading Advanced Exotic Beam Laboratory

We are proposing the national Advanced Exotic Beam Laboratory (AEBL). The world-leading AEBL facility would produce beams of many reaccelerated rare isotopes that are tens of thousands of times more intense than the beams of any other facility envisioned worldwide. The power of the Argonne concept results from (1) coupling of a 400-kW, 200-MeV/u superconducting linac driver accelerator with the gas-stopping concept pioneered at Argonne and (2) use of the existing ATLAS accelerator to reaccelerate the exotic beams. This initiative capitalizes on the strength of Argonne’s nuclear physics program, the world leading astrophysics program at the University of Chicago, Argonne’s experience with accelerator and target technology, its proven track record in building and operating major national user facilities (notably the APS), its ability to deal with radioactivity and operate nuclear facilities, cost savings from incorporating the existing ATLAS facility into AEBL, Argonne’s experience in satisfying DOE operating requirements, and, last but not least, the potential for a strong partnering role with Fermilab and other national laboratories. DOE has announced its plan to proceed with a facility for producing rare-isotope beams, with project engineering and design commencing in 2011. Resources required to implement this major initiative at Argonne will be sought from DOE’s Office of Nuclear Physics.

AEBL Layout
Preliminary plan for the Advanced Exotic Beam Laboratory showing the new construction in blue, green and red, the existing ATLAS facility in black, and the State of Illinois sponsored Illinois Science Center.