The Wilson Lab, host of the CLASSE Facility. Image property of Cornell.

ITHACA, N.Y. — Thanks to increased interest in high-energy atomic physics research, Cornell is in hiring mode at their Wilson Lab facility, and looks to be adding more jobs over the next few years.

The news comes as part of an application to the town of Ithaca to extend the use of modular office space at the Wilson Lab, which hosts the synchrotron particle accelerator that circles underneath Cornell’s campus. The space is occupied and operated by CLASSE, a scientific division of the university that studies atomic particles and their interactions, with the synchotron providing a high-energy, high-intensity source of X-rays to further analysis. Research performed by CLASSE staff has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The inactive 2011 plan for the CU ERL Facility.

Several years ago, Cornell had filed for, and received approvals for a 185,000 SF facility, dubbed the “Energy Recovery Linear Accelerator”, or ERL for short. The project was initially proposed in 2008, and then the Great Recession slayed budgets everywhere, and the project was delayed for a few years before approvals were granted in 2011.

Unfortunately, things never got off the ground, because the federal grant money was never able to be secured. “However, owing to leadership changes and budgetary challenges at the NSF {the federally-funded National Science Foundation}, this R&D program has never been funded and funding for work of this type is not proposed within the NSF budget”.

However, while the CU ERL facility has not come to be, the NSF and New York State have funding, or are funding several major projects and upgrades to the facility. New York State is giving $15 million for upgrades to the synchrotron, the NSF has awarded $23 million for the creation of a new Science and Tecnology Center called the “Center for Bright Beams”, the state’s energy research division (NYSERDA) is awarding a further $25 million for a new test particle accelerator called CBETA, and Cornell is receiving $75 million over the next ten years to help design upgrades to the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, the largest single machine in the world.

The Wilson Lab, host of the CLASSE Facility. Image property of Cornell.

Now, we know the science isn’t the highlight here; you’re reading the Ithaca Voice, not Scientific American. But here’s what it means for the Ithaca area – jobs. 55 of them, which are being filled at present, with hiring continuing through the spring. Cornell’s having trouble finding suitable space for them all, hence the need to keep the modular labs with the town’s benediction. Along with those 55 jobs, another 35 local high-tech jobs are expected to be created over the next five years, with another 25 in other parts of the Southern Tier, and hundreds of others being retained.

In an emailed statement, Cornell Associate Vice President for Community Relations Gary Stewart wrote “{r}esearch initiatives at the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator-based Sciences and Education (CLASSE), as with many other Cornell research projects, help to spur local economic growth and development. According to figures from 2016, Cornell spends $300 million of its external federal, state, and corporate research funding locally, creating jobs and helping to drive Tompkins County’s low unemployment rate.”

It remains to be seen what impacts the new presidential administration will have on local research funding and jobs. Congressional House Representative Tom Reed’s office recently received criticism for stating on his Twitter that the receiving of federal science funding by Cornell and its Ivy League peers is an issue and needs to be stopped. But at least for the moment, the employment picture is as bright as the high-energy beams being studied on East Hill.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.