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Oct. 6, 2015

MSU marks special cyclotron beam anniversary

It was 50 years ago that the cyclotron at Michigan State University accelerated its first beam and the university and the scientific world haven’t been the same since.

It was known as the K50 cyclotron and the acceleration of its first beam launched an MSU tradition not only of nuclear physics academic excellence, but one of visionary anticipation and response to the rapidly advancing frontiers of nuclear science.

The K50 soon evolved into the more-powerful K500 and K1200. Today, MSU is the site of the under-construction Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, which, when completed, will be the gold standard for rare-isotope research.

To celebrate this 50-year milestone, as well as look into the future, MSU will host a special celebration Thursday at the Wharton Center’s Pasant Theatre. Past and present employees of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, including former director Sam Austin, will be on hand, as well as a host of dignitaries.

The media are invited to a portion of the celebration, beginning at 11:30 a.m.

Austin also is the author of a new book telling the story of the cyclotron. “Up from Nothing” chronicles the early days of nuclear research at MSU up until present day. It is for sale now via the MSU Press.

MSU’s rise to the top of nuclear physics research – the university has been ranked No. 1 in graduate nuclear physics programs by U.S. News and World Report since 2010 – actually began in the 1950s.

It was at that time that then-president John Hannah decided that developing a program in physics would be the cornerstone of his strategy for growth and diversification of the university.

His emerging idea took a major step toward reality when, in 1958 a man named Henry Blosser accepted an offer from MSU to build a cyclotron. Blosser quickly assembled a dream team that designed and built the K50, which went online in 1965.

The NSCL grew in size and capability over the years, as did MSU’s reputation for leadership in nuclear physics research and education.

It was this competitive edge that resulted in MSU winning, after a rigorous national competition, the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams.

Scheduled for completion in June 2022, FRIB will be the most powerful facility of its kind, hosting researchers from around the world who will conduct experiments, extend the frontiers of nuclear science, and help define what the next frontiers are.

The work conducted at NSCL and eventually at FRIB will allow scientists to advance their search for answers to fundamental questions about nuclear structure, the origin of the elements in the cosmos, and the forces that shaped the evolution of the universe, as well as applications in fields such as health care.

For information FRIB, please visit


By: Tom Oswald