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MIDDLETON, Mass., Aug. 15--Congressman Peter Torkildsen (R-Danvers) told Massachusetts Institute of Technology employees at the MIT Bates Linear Accelerator Tuesday that "I'm reasonably confident" that the center, which measures the structure and dynamics of atomic nuclei at the speed of light, will be funded in future years.
Torkildsen was applauded warmly by about 70 employees as he entered an engineering area of the center. Invited by Director Stanley Kowalski, MIT professor of physics, Torkildsen came to the MIT/Department of Energy center in Middleton to receive the thanks of the employees whose high-tech jobs he saved last June, when he intervened to restore funds for five university accelerators which had been cut by an appropriations subcommittee.
Kowalski, in welcoming him, said, "Congressman Torkildsen played the lead role in negotiating with members of the Science Committee and won restoration of the funds. On behalf of the physics community of the U.S., we want to thank you."
After brief remarks by Torkildsen, an employee asked him, "Will we have to go through this every year?" "I don't think so," replied Torkildsen. "I'm reasonably confident this (budget) line item will remain intact. I will be going to the members of the Science Committee in advance next time. I'm not going to take any chances."
Torkildsen said that Rep. Robert Walker (R-Pennsylvania), the chair of the House Science Committee, is "very committed to basic research and science in general." He agreed with Kowalski's comment that the threat to eliminate the center had been "a wake-up call." "What you do here has to become better known," Torkildsen said.
He paid tribute to Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-Michigan), the only physicist in the U.S. Congress, who helped him explain the research and education at Bates and other centers to members of Congress. "It made it a lot easier to have Vern talking to the members because he really understands what you do here."
"This is one of those areas where the U.S. is in the forefront and I want to make sure that we stay there," said Torkildsen. "We want to balance the budget in seven years time but that doesn't mean we cast away good uses of funds," he said.
The 122 Bates employees, who work three shifts at the facility, were shocked June 8 when an appropriation bill voted by the House Science Subcommittee on Energy and Environment took the extraordinary step of specifying that the accelerators at MIT, Yale, Duke/University of North Carolina, University of Washington, and Texas A&M all would have their funding cut off Oct. 1. Torkildsen won restoration of the funds, which included $18 million for Bates and physics research at the Laboratory for Nuclear Science.
The Bates center, in which the U.S. has invested $95 million over the past quarter of a century, serves 250 scientists and 50 graduate students from universities across the nation, and is the largest of the university accelerator centers. At Bates, the One Hundred Inch Proton Spectrometer (OHIPS), 32 feet tall and weighing 250 tons, is one of three giant spectrometers which allow scientists to see the structure and dynamics of the nuclei, revealed by the beam of electrons accelerated by the linear accelerator to one billion electron volts (99.999% of the speed of light).