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World-renowned physicist joins Argonne to lead proposal for exotic beam facility


World-renowned physicist Walter F. Henning is joining the scientific staff at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to head up Argonne’s efforts to build a proposed exotic beam facility for nuclear physics research, which will revolutionize our understanding of nuclei, the core of matter and the fuel of stars.

Henning is presently professor of physics at the University of Frankfurt and director of GSI Darmstadt, Germany’s premier nuclear physics research facility. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the winner of the 2004 Hessian Order of Merit.

The Department of Energy has proposed to build an exotic beam facility for the next generation of nuclear physics research, and Argonne is one of the sites competing for that facility. A recent National Academy of Sciences report stressed the scientific opportunities that exist with exotic beams. This new facility would provide physicists with energetic, high-quality beams of literally thousands of isotopes of elements in the periodic table, including a great many that have never before been observed on earth.

“This facility is an important project with great potential for discovery,” Henning said. “Recently the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee to the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, and its working group for the nuclear physics long-range plan, gave very strong support to the science, as did a recent National Academy of Sciences report. Many of the key features of this new facility are based on concepts and on research carried out at Argonne over the last decade, such as the use of a superconducting, high-intensity heavy-ion driver linac with multi-stage operation, and the concept of the gas-stopper.”

In addition, Henning said, “Argonne provides for synergies and unique technical expertise from other programs and from its technical infrastructure. And, last but not least, the existing nuclear accelerator at Argonne provides for an effective base to realize science use of the rare isotopes produced from the very beginning. I believe that these conditions provide an excellent basis for a successful Argonne proposal.”

Stuart Freedman, professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley and co-chair of the Rare Isotope Science Advisory Committee, a major supporter of the proposed project, said, “Attracting Henning is a major coup for Argonne. He is an outstanding nuclear physicist and an internationally recognized spokesman for rare isotope science who has demonstrated his ability to realize a major research facility.”

Bob Tribble, chair of DOE’s Nuclear Science Advisory Committee, called the proposed exotic beam facility “the top priority of the field for new construction.”

Henning’s decision to join the Argonne scientific staff was welcomed by Al Sattelberger, associate laboratory director for physical sciences, who said, “We are absolutely delighted to have Walter lead Argonne’s efforts to capture the proposed new exotic beam facility. The fact that the director of the world-leading nuclear physics lab is coming to head Argonne’s proposed exotic beam facility speaks volumes for the exciting science opportunities to come. The science that will be pursued at this facility is transformational. It will impact several areas of physics and help us understand the origin and evolution of the universe, including the synthesis of the elements.”

Argonne director Robert Rosner echoed those comments, adding, “The scientific research that will be done at the proposed new facility will strongly complement the research presently underway at GSI, under Walter’s extraordinary leadership. It is a sign both of his commitment to expanding world-class science and of Argonne’s confidence in and respect for his scientific and leadership talents that we have sought him out for this important new position.”

Frontier research in several fields would be addressed at the proposed new facility, including:

The origin of the elements. Nearly all the chemical elements in the universe are forged in the interiors of stars, but the chain of events and even the astrophysical sites that produce them are still poorly understood. The new facility will permit researchers to investigate how the changes nuclei undergo power these cosmic cauldrons.
Nuclear Physics. The new facility will allow close examination of the many nuclei that are far from stability and about which little is known. Such studies will provide fundamental insights into how nuclei behave that are not manifest in the nuclei we can study today.
The world of elementary particles. While high-energy accelerators are needed for direct searches for undiscovered particles like the Higgs boson, physicists will use the new facility to explore known subatomic particles, and the forces that act on them, with greater precision to help guide the development of more accurate theories that can resolve some of the current mysteries of our standard model of particles and interactions.
Nuclear medicine. A third of all patients hospitalized in the United States alone undergo nuclear medicine procedures, all of which require isotopes produced in reactors or small accelerators. The new facility will bring a new level of technology for rapid production, isolation, and exploration of medical isotopes with specific physical properties.
“The new proposed exotic beam facility at Argonne will benefit the strong connections with the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois and Northwestern University in astrophysics, medicine, and nuclear physics,” said Robert Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, which operates Argonne through the UChicago Argonne LLC.

With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne National Laboratory brings the world’s brightest scientists and engineers together to find exciting and creative new solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America ’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.


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