ND builds fourth accelerator
Emma Russ | Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Not many universities can boast having a nuclear accelerator right at the center of campus.
But when work is complete in the spring, the Niewland Hall of Science will house the University’s fourth and largest nuclear accelerator, providing students with the chance to engage in nuclear research.
The new accelerator is part of a $5 million project aiming to improve Notre Dame’s research facilities, Philippe Collon, associate professor of physics, said.
“The project is unique in that it is the first nuclear accelerator on a college campus that the National Science Foundation has agreed to fund in about 20 or 30 years,” he said.
Collon said Notre Dame is providing half of the funding for the project, while the other half comes from the National Science Foundation.
When the accelerator is complete, about 15 undergraduate students will have the opportunity to take part in nuclear research each year, Collon said.
Collon said the accelerator will reproduce nuclear reactions that take place in the sun and the stars by colliding particles at extremely high velocities with a fixed object. He compared the process to taking apart a clock.
“You take it apart to see what the smallest units of construction are. In the same way, we are trying to discover the smallest building blocks of life,” he said. “Everything came from the stars at some point in time, and we want to discover the processes behind the creation of earth, people and the entire universe.”
Installation of the accelerator began in early June, Collon said, and construction is expected to conclude in late February or early March.
Dr. Ed Stech, associate professional specialist of nuclear physics, said the construction project has two main components: an outer steel tank infrastructure to house the accelerator, and the accelerator itself.
“We think of it like a ship in a bottle,” he said. “The outer structure protects and supports the nuclear accelerator. The outer structure should be complete in December, and the accelerator will be complete in the spring.”
The Nuclear Science Laboratory already houses three smaller accelerators, Stech said, but each lies horizontally in the basement of Nieuwland. He said the new accelerator will be situated vertically, extending three or four stories above the roof of the building.
“The construction project itself is not a particularly complicated one, but the location does make it more difficult,” Stech said. “However, Notre Dame is one of the only universities that can boast of having a nuclear research center right in the middle of campus.”