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Magnet lab gets $27M grant for new magnet

By Katherine Shim

A four-year, $27 million National Science Foundation award has extended the life of MIT's Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory. The laboratory's future has been uncertain since last summer, when the NSF awarded a $120 million grant for the construction of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory to Florida State University.

When the award expires, Bitter facilities will probably be phased out, said Donald T. Stevenson PhD '50, visiting scientist and former assistant director of the laboratory.

In its Aug. 9 announcement, the National Science Board, which decides NSF policy, said it will "continue to support the Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory through Sept. 1995. At that time, the new high magnetic field laboratory currently being constructed with NSF funds is expected to become fully operational."

Maintaining the Bitter lab for the next four years accounts for $18 million of the grant. The other $9 million, of which $4 million will be provided by FSU, will pay for the design and construction of a 45-tesla magnet, which will be transported to the FSU magnet facility upon completion.

Bitter lab to provide

services over an interim

The decision to fund Bitter until completion of the FSU laboratory is a reversal of the original NSF plan, Stevenson said.

The NSF originally expected the FSU laboratory to be completed in two years, during which time researchers would be asked to use a magnet laboratory facility in Grenoble, France. When the timetable was raised to four years, and researchers complained of the costs of working in Europe, the NSF approved the funding of the Bitter laboratory over the interim, Stevenson said.

Last spring, Bitter submitted a proposal for the construction of several magnets to the NSF. Peer review committees visited the Bitter facilities from May to June and submitted their recommendation to the NSF, which was approved on Aug. 9.

But "we asked for more money than we got," Stevenson said. "We offered to build more magnets and start more projects than the NSF was willing to fund. Though the NSF didn't fund all of the projects in our proposal, they agreed to fund a portion of it," he said.

Stevenson also said that after the four year grant expires and "if Florida State has a working magnet lab at that time, [Bitter] will probably be phased out."

Research at the Bitter facility may continue if construction of the FSU magnet laboratory takes longer than the expected four years or if the NSF decides that the nation needs more than one magnet lab, Stevenson said.

J. David Litster PhD '65, director of the lab, remained optimistic. "With these funds, the magnet lab will continue to be a center for high field research

and technology for the next four years," he said in a prepared statement.

"The arrangement represents a cooperative effort of the National Science Foundation, the Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory to provide the best possible support for high magnetic field research in the United States. . . . This will maintain the US world leadership," he said.

In a controversial decision,

the NSF decided last summer to award FSU, rather than MIT, a $120 million grant to build a new high magnetic field laboratory. The NSF cited the lackluster Bitter proposal and the reluctance of MIT to award faculty appointments to major users of the Bitter facility.

On Sept. 6, then-President Paul E. Gray '54, then-Vice President for Research Kenneth A. Smith '58 and Litster sent out 45-page packages to all 21 members of the NSB to appeal the decision. Despite their efforts, however, the decision was not reversed.