FRIB budget cut would hurt more than region

Many in the local science community are reeling after news of President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal that included significant cuts to funding.

They are right to be concerned.

Among the potential cuts: $17 million of the $97 million earmarked for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a state-of-the-art nuclear physics laboratory at Michigan State University being hyped as the future of cancer research, medical imaging and national defense.

FRIB (pronounced F-rib) is currently on budget, ahead of schedule and, as of this April, is about halfway done, according to MSU. An 18 percent budget cut would stunt momentum for the hundreds of world-class scientists and engineers working at the facility — many of whom have relocated their families from across the U.S. and other countries.

It would also send a clear message about the nation’s priorities — not only to Greater Lansing and MSU, but to the global science community.

Mark Burnham, MSU’s vice president of government relations, said, “Sadly, the impact on FRIB is just one example of how cuts across the federal science agencies will affect America … these cuts will not make us great, they won’t even keep us in the running.”

More: $18M cut to FRIB included in Trump’s 2018 budget proposal

More: FRIB-powered MSU, Lansing becoming Silicon Valley of particle acceleration

A country’s greatness comes from being the place where thought leaders come together to push boundaries and take their field to the next level.

The $730 million FRIB project was awarded to MSU by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2008, after a lengthy international competition and vetting process with several other labs.

It already has spurred economic growth in the region with the purchase of local supplies, the use of local construction workers and the potential for more spin-off businesses like Niowave.

The project itself is expected to generate wages totaling $1.7 billion; once complete, FRIB will bring an estimated $4.4 billion to the state economy. But it’s not all about the money: MSU has been on the leading edge of nuclear science and particle research since 1958, with the origin of its cyclotron laboratory.

“We’re building the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams to keep our nation at the forefront of rare isotope research,” said project director Thomas Glasmacher.

Significant budget cuts are likely to throw the project off schedule by six months or more. For the hundreds of scientists who uprooted their families to relocate here, delays could mean no research. For the burgeoning particle science industry in the region, it could mean canceled contracts and missed opportunities.

Michigan’s congressional delegation continues to work with MSU staff and scientists on advocating for project funding to continue, and some have already spoken out against the 2018 budget proposal.

Now begins a waiting period, generally taking most of the summer and into the fall, while legislators debate the budget.

For FRIB, Greater Lansing and the nation, there is much more than $17 million on the line.

— The Lansing State Journal