Thursday, 20 Jan 2022

Boulder research labs stand to benefit from Build Back Better Act

During Wednesday’s windstorm, the power went out at JILA, a research institute housed at the University of Colorado Boulder.

But blaming the power outage on the wind doesn’t tell the full story of the aging infrastructure there, according to the scientists and researchers who work there.

The power at JILA, formerly known as the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, also went out a couple days earlier. It’s been known to go in and out at least once a month.

The building may look modern from the outside, with a nice view of the Flatirons, but the aging infrastructure on the inside negatively affects the research that happens there, according to Jun Ye, an astrophysicist, CU Boulder professor and fellow with JILA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“The building is not just the look of it, but actually maintaining the building to be the top functional form is truly important if we are trying to chase the very best in the world,” Ye said.

Founded in 1962, JILA is a partnership between CU Boulder and NIST where research associates, students, fellows, professors, NIST staff and other scientists join forces to conduct research on topics including quantum technology and astrophysics.

JILA and other research facilities that are feeling the impact of aging infrastructure stand to benefit from the House-passed Build Back Better Bill. And as Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, toured JILA on Thursday, those involved with research there hoped to persuade him to advocate for additional funding as part of the act.

The legislation has passed in the House but faces an uphill battle in the Senate, with President Joe Biden acknowledging in a statement on Thursday that it’s unlikely to pass this year, according to USA Today.

Still, if it’s successful, Neguse’s team said NIST is set to receive additional funding, including $1.25 billion for the agency over seven years. This includes $650 million for construction and maintenance of research facilities and $100 million in laboratory funding for research.

Currently, NIST’s facilities in Maryland and Colorado face more than $800 million in backlogged deferred maintenance.

According to a presentation given to Neguse on Thursday, some two-thirds of the current JILA labs are below modern standards, which affects research performance due to poor temperature and humidity control and air quality, excessive vibration and aging mechanical systems.

While making no promises, Neguse acknowledged it’s a worthy cause and expressed admiration for the research conducted at JILA.

Neguse asked Ye: In 10 years, what advancements in quantum technology might have happened?

Ye described a device that could use laser beams to analyze a person’s breath and determine whether they’re likely to have lung cancer or kidney failure.

“If we can do that, it will be (a) tremendous saving for the society,” Ye said.

Philip Makotyn, executive director of CUbit Quantum Initiative, then asked Neguse to imagine an electric vehicle that can drive 1,000 miles on one charge because batteries are better understood due to quantum systems.

“There really are big picture, world-changing ideas about to happen,” he said.

“You sold me with the breath,” Neguse said.

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