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Committee Saves Bates'Funding

By Daniel C. Stevenson
Editor in Chief

The House Science Committee last Thursday reversed a subcommittee vote and approved funding next year for MIT's Bates Linear Accelerator Center and four other nuclear physics particle accelerators around the country.

"We were very pleased, but not very surprised," with the restoration of the facility's $18 million budget, said Professor Robert P. Redwine, head of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science, which runs Bates. "The initial action had to have been based on a misunderstanding of the role of Bates and other laboratories."

Rep. Peter G. Torkildsen (R-Mass.), whose district includes Bates, played an instrumental role in restoring the funding. Torkildsen lobbied the 45 committee members and the committee chair, Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.), in favor of funding Bates, said Michael Armini, Torkildsen's spokesperson. "It was a matter of educating the members of the committee as to what is done at Bates" and telling them that "this is just not an area where we really should be cutting," Armini said. Walker himself restored the funding to the nuclear physics budget.

The Institute is "grateful to Rep. Torkildsen for his dedicated work with the House Science Committee to restore the funding, and to continue the unique and important nuclear physics research which this national laboratory conducts on a very cost-effective basis," said MIT spokesperson Kenneth D. Campbell.

Located in Middleton, Mass., Bates employs 122 and is used by six MIT professors, several senior research scientists, and 22 graduate students. Researchers from across the country, including 30 graduate students from other schools, use the Bates facility.

The Bates accelerator is a Department of Energy laboratory operated by MIT. The facility, a medium-energy electron accelerator, is "used to do precise experiments studying the structure of nuclei and protons and neutrons," Redwine said.

"We certainly have had our attention grabbed" by the threat of funding cuts, Redwine said. Although funding for the laboratory appears to be secure for the time being, "we will be a bit more proactive in terms of getting the message out as to what we're doing and why we're doing it" to keep a high profile for Bates, said Redwine.

"We understand that every large facility has to be well justified; we'll continue to make the argument that we believe that Bates is."

$27 million restored

In all, the committee voted to keep $316.9 million of the $321 million for nuclear physics research requested by President Clinton for next year. This year's budget was $331 million. One attempt was made to keep the cuts in nuclear physics research, by Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Indiana), but the amendment failed, Armini said.

On June 8, the House Science Subcommittee on Energy and Environment approved only $290 million for the nuclear physics budget and specified closing Bates and four other accelerators, shocking researchers and administrators at MIT and other universities.

Two last-minute amendments to the subcommittee budget that restored funding to Bates and the other facilities failed on a pair of 12-12 votes, leaving any restoration of funding to the full committee or the House.

The actual fate of Bates won't be decided for certain until October, as the budget passes through the appropriations committees and Congress and on to the president.