Federal budget plan would close Laser Lab at University of Rochester

Under the federal budget proposal for 2019, the Laboratory for Laser Energy at the University of Rochester would be closed in the next three years. (WHAM photo – file)

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) – Under the federal budget proposal for 2019, the Laboratory for Laser Energy at the University of Rochester would be closed in the next three years – and could cost hundreds of workers their jobs.

In a statement posted to the Laser Lab website, the Department of Energy budget proposal calls for “the operation of the Omega laser facilities…to be ramped down over the period FY19-FY21.”

The laboratory, created in 1970, serves as a center for the investigation of the interaction of intense radiation with matter. In the last year alone, the lab has run more than 800 experiments. It also serves to educate graduate and undergraduate students in electro-optics, high-power lasers, high-energy-density physics, plasma physics, and nuclear fusion technology.

The program is home to more than 300 staff and hundreds of students. It takes $10 million of equipment every year for high powered lasers.

LLE director E. Michael Campbell said he is recruiting as many partner agencies and lawmakers as possible to help reverse this decision. Campbell will be traveling to Washington, D.C. Tuesday to meet with more people to attempt to overturn the decision.

“Eighty percent of the experiments in this field are done here,” said Campbell. “We generate more power than the United States does totally. But only for a few fractions of a second. This would be a disaster for the laboratories. It would be a disaster for the academic community.”

Campbell says the operation needs between $75 to $80 million a year to keep running, a budget he requested from Congress. He’s growing more concerned about last Friday’s proposed budget cuts.

“What happened this year, we don’t fully understand,” he said. “It was not discussed amongst ourselves in the program before it happened, and so we don’t know the impact their request had on them and how they were dealt with so we will continue working with them in the future.”

If the cuts are approved, he worries the U.S. will fall behind in scientific research – affecting photonics and national security.

“How do you maintain expertise in this country when you don’t test?” said Campbell. “How do you know that North Korea has a nuclear weapon? It’s because they test it but how do you know how good it is?”

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