Scientists Gordon Danby and James Powell worked at Brookhaven National Lab in Upton in the 1960s and are retired. But the technology they are working on now at a small company they started could make them key figures in Long Island's future.
Danby, of Wading River, and Powell, of Shoreham, founders of Maglev 2000, have, in conjunction with Riverhead Town, applied for a $59-million federal grant to demonstrate high-speed magnetic-levitation trains at the former Grumman complex in Calverton. Maglev trains float over a guideway using the basic principles of magnets to replace steel wheel and track trains.
Danby and Powell may have an edge over others working maglev projects elsewhere in the country: They won patents - since expired - for maglev technologies in the '60s.
"It's been a struggle" to convince U.S. companies or the government to invest in maglev, said Danby. Companies have been reluctant to invest in maglev after Congress in the 1990s failed to pass a $750-million research and development project sponsored by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Said Powell: "The country has become less of a risk-taker and less forward-looking. We used to do different things. In the '60s we went to the moon."
The federal Transportation Department's Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program (TIGER) is to decide on the application by February, said Riverhead community development agency director Chris Kempner.
Danby said the demonstration project would take about three years. "We feel once there's a living demonstration, private money will rush into this, because, my God, there's a fortune in this, and it's good for Long Island," he said.
WHAT IS IT? A transportation system that suspends and moves trains from a large number of magnets for lift and propulsion
WHERE IS IT? Mostly Germany, Japan
WHERE IS IT NOT? The United States
HOW FAST ARE MAGLEV TRAINS? The highest recorded speed was 361 mph in Japan in 2003.