Saturday, December 20, 2008


Largely lost amongst all the hurly-burly of Blugo's sudden but all-too-welcome arrest was a short article on the decision by the Department of Energy to award the Rare Isotope Beam (RIB) project to Michigan State University, the only other competitor in the field, rather than Argonne National Laboratory. The article appeared, appropriately enough, on the obituary page just above Betty Paige's obituary (they had "those" back in the fifties?).

This is a great pity, the loss of the RIB not Betty Paige, as I think I might have discussed on these very pages my, albeit remote, involvement with the project. What with the presence of Fermi Lab and the proton therapy centers sprouting like mushrooms in DuPage county, the addition of the RIB would have truly made this area a center of accelerators. The SSCP and his colleagues would be expected to educate future operators of these various bits of high-tech machinery. COD involvement aside, the project would have brought a lot of coin ($500 million or so) to struggling Argonne.

So, some lousy state university beats out the likes of one of the great national research laboratories that had its origins in nuclear fission. How does this happen? Well, some would argue it was a logical decision based on the fact that MSU already has existing technology and expertise, while for Argonne it would really be a new thing. The pre-existing facility at MSU was probably a major factor. Another was the readiness of the university to lob in some matching funds to sweeten the deal; a move not matched by Argonne apparently.

Which kind of brings me back around to that pelt-headed, potty-mouthed lout of a (hopefully) soon-to-be-ex governor, entertaining though his taped conversations may be. What, no thought of a bob or two from the state to grease the wheels, a few mil to land maybe 500? This sort of failure is truly Blugo's legacy. One might almost be tempted to forgive the craven nature of his (alleged) fattening at the trough, if there was something to show for it. However, not only has he been corrupt, he has been completely incompetent to boot.

Earlier this year, on a visit to the wooded hills around State College, Pennsylvania for a workshop on nanotechnology education at Penn State University, I was struck by what enlightened state government could do. Students pursuing a degree in nanotechnology from about twenty different community colleges got to spend one semester at Penn State funded completely by state money, fees and board and lodging. What a brilliant concept. What a fantastic opportunity for those students. The program was the result of a collaborative effort between the colleges, the university, regional industries and the state. Can one imagine such a scenario in Illinois, blessed as we are with the most dysfunctional, inefficient and broken system of government? The thought makes me weep.

No comments: