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Federal spending deal would keep Brookhaven Lab's ion collider open

Brookhaven National Lab’s ion collider is the only

Brookhaven National Lab’s ion collider is the only such remaining facility in the United States. Credit: BNL

The federal spending deal brokered by congressional leaders would boost physics research funding by $50 million next year, allowing Brookhaven National Laboratory's ion collider to remain open.

The future of the massive facility, which supports about 800 jobs, has been in jeopardy since a scientific advisory committee last year recommended shuttering it in the event of budget cuts.

"Cutting our nuclear research now, and ceding our advantage to our competitors, would have been penny-wise and pound-foolish, and we should all celebrate that we've avoided that fate," said Sen. Charles Schumer, who led New York's congressional delegation in lobbying the White House to continue funding the collider.

The $1.1-trillion spending plan appeared to be garnering broad bipartisan support Tuesday and is expected to pass the House and Senate this week. The deal calls for $569.9 million for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science Nuclear Physics Account, including $165.2 million for Brookhaven's collider.

The facility, in Upton, smashes particles at nearly the speed of light. It is the only remaining such facility in the nation, and scientists use it to study matter's fundamental properties.

While the collider's science is basic, officials say its impact is broad, underpinning some of the world-class research on Long Island that officials hope will give birth to a culture of high-tech start-up companies.

The facility's future veered into uncertainty 12 months ago, when a panel of physicists advising the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation issued a report ranking it last among three physics research facilities vying for federal funding.

The committee was assigned to help Energy Department officials make tough decisions in case the budget shrinks, and Brookhaven fell short to projects in Michigan and Virginia.

The physicists made clear that cutting any facilities would be a scientific disaster, jeopardizing America's leadership in nuclear research. Rather than closing one, they urged officials to modestly increase the budget to fund all three. Yet, if something must go, the panel reluctantly pointed toward Brookhaven.

The lab's director, Doon Gibbs, said he was pleased that the funding for the facility was included in the proposed spending plan.

"We'll see how that translates into our final budget for fiscal year 2014," Gibbs said."But we're very grateful for the ongoing efforts of Senators Schumer and [Kirsten] Gillibrand -- and the New York congressional delegation as a whole -- on behalf of the lab and its research mission."

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