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Fermilab breaks ground on accelerator research center

A sign with rendering Illinois Accelerator Research Center sits near future site building. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

A sign with a rendering of the Illinois Accelerator Research Center sits near the future site of the building. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 19, 2012 10:39AM

Fermilab physicists and local lawmakers broke ground Friday morning on the new Illinois Accelerator Research Center, a research facility that promises to bring hundreds of high-tech jobs to the Fox Valley.

When completed in 2013, the new research center will wrap around the Collider Detector at Fermilab in Batavia and provide a state-of-the-art facility for research, development and industrialization of particle accelerator technology.

Whereas particle accelerators like Fermilab’s now-defunct Tevatron were once the realm of the scientist doing basic research on the nature of the universe, accelerators now have a broader mandate for commercial applications, said Fermilab Director Pier Oddone. The goal for the facility is to develop relationships between scientists and private businesses to develop accelerator technology that can be used in medicine, industry and national security. The facility even will work to solve environmental issues, from purifying wastewater to energy-efficient sterilization of medical instruments and food packaging.

Although most people think of accelerators on the scale of Fermilab’s Tevatron or the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, more than 30,000 smaller particle accelerators exist around the world and can be used for applications other than basic science research.

“The innovation now implemented in many areas often came about as the byproduct of our pushing the technological envelope of our own accelerators ... needed for advancing particle physics,” said Oddone.

The new facility will include both new construction and space once used for Tevatron experiments.

“Illinois has a history of recognizing the value of national laboratories to spur private-sector development,” said state Rep. Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago, a former Fermilab scientist who now represents the 95th District. “This is the kind of project I always hoped to be able to point to when I got to the legislature.”

The Illinois Jobs Now capital bill is providing $20 million to fund the design and construction of the facility, which is supposed to create 80 immediate construction jobs. More jobs for highly skilled researchers are expected to follow.

Although scientists and politicians stuck the ceremonial shovels in the ground Friday morning, preliminary work in laying utility lines already has begun. Construction is expected to take about two years.

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