A unique particle accelerator housed in a University of Wisconsin physics lab has attracted scientists from across the world and nation for years, but due to federal cuts the lab has officially been slated for closure on March 7.
The Synchrotron Radiation Center allows scientists to examine the composition and chemical structure of a given material, Joe Bisognano, the lab’s director, said.
After funding cuts from the National Science Foundation and the lab announced its preparations for closure, UW provided the lab with short-term funding as alternatives were sought. Bisognano said he has been looking for other sources for funding over the past several years, but with a shortfall of approximately $5 million, he has announced that the lab will be forced to close in March.
The lab’s dozen technical workers will be left without jobs, and will have to seek employment elsewhere, Bisognano said. The lab’s other personnel have found jobs at other national labs, at UW and in industry, while others are retiring, a statement from UW said.
“Over the past few years, we’ve developed an infrared beam that can measure the structure and the chemical identity of the target material at the same time,” Bisognano said in a statement. “This device is the best in the world, and that’s probably the saddest part about shutting this down.”
The closing of this particular lab raises questions among educators and researchers regarding the effects and implications of federal budget cuts to basic research.
Bisognano said though the closing of this site was an unfortunate loss, places like SRC are being shut down across the country, which he said was a shortsighted move by policy makers looking to bolster the country’s economic recovery.
“The scientific community is really being squeezed,” Bisognano said. “Our children will be left a country without a scientific base and without the ability to compete in high-tech.”
Wesley Smith, a professor of physics at UW and a member of the team of UW researchers that won the Nobel Prize for Physics last year, spoke out against the continued federal cuts to basic research too, saying that there is no greater investment you can make in the future of a country than to invest in basic scientific research.
“The one thing that correlates the highest to prosperity is investment in basic research,” Smith said. “Investment in research is what drives the economic engine.”
Smith said as a society people are still surrounded by and living off the basic research done at the beginning of the 20th century and that “it is now our turn” to invest in children’s futures.
Smith said it was essential that the federal government support basic research, especially in times of economic hardship because private industries will not make the investments independently as the benefits of such research are much longer term. Private industries are more interested in marketing research than basic research, Smith said.
Despite the closing of the SRC, Smith said UW has not been hit by huge research cuts. In 2012, UW was ranked third in the nation for research funding with more than $1 billion, behind Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan, according to the NSF.