Friday, June 19, 2009

Proton accelerator hits the brakes

Just checked in to the blog and was shocked to find last posting was two weeks ago. What has the idle bastard been doing I hear my dwindling readers asking; after all, it is the summer and we all know that academics do nothing over the summer. At least that is the impression I get from students as they depart the spring term with the farewell, "Have a great summer!" What, like I'm going to spend it idling on a beach somewhere? Au contraire of course: your (Super) Savvy Cyber Professor has, as is ever his wont, a plate filled to overflowing with summer assignments; working at Argonne, as I have the past three summers, is not one of them unfortunately. (Of course I am writing this while watching practice for the British Grand Prix (weather appears uncharacteristically summery there), Friday morning - but that is because of the decision taken by the higher powers to close the college from Friday through Sunday. No comment.)

So much has been written in the papers and elsewhere the past few weeks that really demands a response, and I have been slightly frustrated at my lack of productivity. Around about the time I saw the article about the Green Fuels earmark, there was another one concerning Northern Illinois' beleaguered proton therapy center. It appears that the economy has impacted the funding for its construction. It was about a year ago that we were having meetings with Northern and Argonne about developing the workforce to man the accelerators that were about to sprout like mushrooms in the DuPage landscape. The cynic in me surmised that the whole exercise was motivated by Argonne's bid to land the huge Rare Isotope facility (FRIB), and that the "educational" interest was designed to flesh out their proposal. It's a familiar role for the community college professor: that of being added to other institutions' proposals to enable them to land large grants, from which a few crumbs are handed down. (What is rare about the undergraduate research NSF grant that I'm involved with is that the roles have been reversed: the primary institutions are the community colleges, while the partner 4-year institutions are subordinate.)

Not surprisingly, when the FRIB project sadly went to its (probably rightful) home at Michigan State, the dialog ceased; not a single meeting involving the parties has been held since, despite the fact that the educational needs were supposedly far exceeding those of the FRIB.

As an ironical footnote, it appears that the other proton therapy center being built by Central DuPage Hospital, close enough to the NIU version that the evanescent fields of the beams will actually overlap, may be finished first. In a rather churlish move, and one rather counter to the spirit of championing technology and boosting demand for education, NIU had lobbied aggressively against the CDH project on the grounds that a second unit in such close proximity was unnecessary.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why are you not at ANL this summer?

After emitting positrons and absorbing xrays, I'm glad I don't need proton therapy soon.

I can understand an argument against 2 facilities in the area based on cannibalizing the potential pool of patients. However, I would think such an argument would work in favor of an established hospital complex, like CDH, and against NIU.

From an eager reader