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User's Committee letter

User's Committee letter

(Editor's note: The following letter, dated Sep. 11, was sent to the members of the National Science Board by University of Pennsylvania Professor C. D. Graham Jr., chairman of the User's Committee of the Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory, with the approval of four of the five other members of the User's Committee.)

. . . We believe the decision to award the new National High Field Facility to Florida State will have a severe negative impact ("catastrophic" might be the proper word) on Magnet Lab Users for many years, and perhaps indefinitely. Although the [National Science Foundation] staff recommendations contain fine words about the central importance of maintaining access to high fields for the users, the actual provisions for maintaining this access are extremely limited. Current operations at MIT are to continue for another year, with no firm commitment after that date. Even with temporary funding beyond one year, the MIT Lab would be a doomed organization, and we expect that qualified staff and management would leave. Florida State apparently promises (we have not had access to the Florida Proposal) to have some magnets in operation by 1993, and to provide 80 percent of current MIT service by 1995. (The MIT proposal is to double the present capacity.) The Florida projection seems highly optimistic to us, given that Florida is starting from zero staff, experience, and equipment. Even if Florida performs fully up to its promises, only a fraction of the facilities of the current Magnet Lab would be available to users even after 1995.

The NSF staff suggests, apparently seriously, that high-field facilities at Grenoble or perhaps in Japan would be available to US users. No doubt they would, within the constraints imposed by the demands of the current European and Japanese users. No mention is made of additional funding for travel expenses of US scientists and students, and their equipment, to Grenoble or Tsukuba. (Adrian deGraaf of NSF told me in a telephone conversation that NSF would "consider" additional funding for foreign travel.) In the absence of such funding, from NSF and the other agencies who support US science, use of high-field facilities abroad is an empty promise.

For a period of at least five years, and very probably longer, US high-field users are faced with sharply-reduced access to the facilities they require in order to pursue their work -- work which NSF has properly concluded is of sufficient national importance to justify a major investment of new money.

From a longer-range perspective, we cannot help noting that if Florida State succeeds in its announced goal of recruiting 34 permanent and 20 visiting faculty, all of whose research will center on the high-field facilities, there will be precious little magnet time available for outside users.

All this leads us to the conclusion that from the view point of the users, a serious error in judgment has been made in choosing to disband the MIT Magnet Lab and start from scratch at Florida State. A unique (in the [United States]), functioning, highly-successful, heavily-used facility is to be retired in favor of a new operation in a new location, starting with no staff, no facilities, and no experience. Only the most superficial attention seems to have been paid to the needs of the users of the existing Laboratory, who face a prolonged period of sharply-reduced access to facilities essential to their work.

It is our understanding that MIT is asking that this decision be reconsidered. Speaking for the users, we fully support this request.