The National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory is located on the campus of Michigan State University and is the leading rare isotope research facility in the United States. Established in 1963, the cyclotron laboratory is the nation’s largest nuclear science facility on a university campus. Funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and MSU, the NSCL operates two superconducting cyclotrons. The lab’s scientists investigate the properties of rare isotopes and nuclear reactions. In nature, these reactions would take place in stars and exploding stellar environments such as novae and supernovae. The K1200 cyclotron is the highest-energy continuous beam accelerator in the world. Currently, the laboratory's primary goal is to understand the mysteries that reside at the center of atoms, in atomic nuclei. Atomic nuclei are ten thousand times smaller than the atoms they reside in, but they contain nearly all the atom’s mass. Many of the atomic nuclei found on earth are stable atomically. But there are many unstable and rare isotopes that exist in the universe, sometimes only for a fleeting moment inside "cosmic cauldrons." Scientists at the NSCL work at the forefront of rare isotope research. They make and study atomic nuclei that cannot be found on earth—where they have long decayed into the known, stable or long-lived isotopes. Rare isotope research is essential for understanding how the elements—and ultimately the universe—were formed. The nuclear physics graduate program at MSU is ranked best in America by the 2018 Best Grad Schools index published by U.S. News & World Report.
The upgrade plans are in close alignment with a issued December 2006 by the National Academies, "Scientific Opportunities with a Rare-Isotope Facility in the United States," which defines a scientific agenda for a U.S.-based rare-isotope facility and addresses the need for such a facility in context of international efforts in this area. Now, NSCL is planning for a significant capability upgrade that will keep the laboratory – and nuclear science – at the cutting edge well into the 21st century. The proposed upgrade of NSCL – the $750 million Facility for Rare Isotope Beams – will boost intensities and varieties of rare isotope beams produced at MSU by replacing the K500 and K1200 cyclotrons with a powerful linear accelerator to be built beneath the ground. Such beams will allow researchers and students to continue to address a host of questions at the intellectual frontier of nuclear science: How does the behavior of novel and short-lived nuclei differ from more stable nuclei? What is the nature of nuclear processes in explosive stellar environments? What is the structure of hot nuclear matter at abnormal densities? Beyond basic research, FRIB may lead to cross-disciplinary benefits. Experiments there will help astronomers better interpret data from ground- and space-based observatories. Scientists at the Isotope Science Facility will contribute to research on self-organization and complexity arising from elementary interactions, a topic relevant to the life sciences and quantum computing. Additionally, the facility's capabilities may lead to advances in fields as diverse as biomedicine, materials science, national and international security, and nuclear energy.