FRIB commemorates 50 years since the first beam from MSU’s K50 cyclotron

On this date in 1965, the cyclotron at Michigan State University accelerated its first beam from the K50 cyclotron. Fifty years later, MSU is poised for the next generation of nuclear physics, as the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams is built.

The story behind the first beam is complete with great challenges, failures, and eventual successes – which all set the tone for the culture that has brought the laboratory where it is today.

In mid-1957 the MSU Physics department finalized its decision to build a cyclotron to accelerate heavy ions, like carbon-12. In early 1958, it hired Henry Blosser as director of a laboratory with one member (him) to build that device.

It took only until December 1958 to submit a proposal asking for funds to the Atomic Energy Commission. That was a hard ask: the 30-year-old director was unknown as was the laboratory itself, the university had scant infrastructure, and the federal government was in a budget crunch. It was not until October 1961, following proposals to three different government agencies, that funds finally arrived from the National Science Foundation.

The initial hires in nuclear physics were now at MSU and, by mid-1965, the first data had been taken in a borrowed (from Rochester University) scattering chamber located 10 feet from the cyclotron.

This achievement gave the laboratory a reputation for the ability to do things quickly and do things well. It permitted the development of a unique research program, with light ions, not heavy ions as proposed, that evolved and grew greatly in strength and influence on the worldwide scene. It opened the door to today’s laboratory, and to the laboratory of the future – FRIB.