FSU takes a major scientific step forward, lures Applied Superconductivity Center from Wisconsin

It’s a major coup for Florida State University—and one that holds significant potential for breakthroughs in a variety of scientific endeavors. "It" is Florida State’s new Applied Superconductivity Center (ASC), which soon will be setting up shop in Tallahassee’s Innovation Park, near the Florida A&M University-FSU College of Engineering and across the street from the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, with which it will join forces.

ASC has been headquartered at the University of Wisconsin in Madison for more than two decades. However, FSU administrators made a successful push to lure the entire center to FSU, where the ASC will become a materials research division of the magnet lab.

"This will increase our capabilities even more in terms of materials science," said Kirby Kemper, FSU’s vice president for Research. "Researchers at the magnet lab, for instance, are hoping to build the next generation of superconducting magnets. The Applied Superconductivity Center will develop the new materials so that they can do that.

"We’re also excited about the development of new materials for instruments for medical science," Kemper added. The ASC will "build on top of what we already have" in terms of materials science research at FSU’s Center for Materials Research and Technology and at several programs within the College of Engineering.

FSU President T.K. Wetherell shared Kemper’s excitement over the center’s selection of FSU as its new home.

"This is frontier instrumentation that will be shared by researchers from a number of disciplines," Wetherell said. The center’s relocation to FSU is "a major step forward in our move toward recognition as one of the top research universities in the nation," he added.

According to its Web page at the University of Wisconsin, ASC’s mission is to "advance the science and technology of superconductivity and particularly superconductivity applications. We do this by investigating low-temperature and high-temperature materials through our research grants, our collaborations with other universities, national laboratories and industry. We continually educate postgraduate, graduate and undergraduates by our research and by our public service."

Ching-Jen "Marty" Chen, dean of the College of Engineering, and Chiang Shih, chairman of the college’s department of mechanical engineering, also were heavily involved in negotiations to bring ASC to FSU.

"The College of Engineering joins the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in welcoming the move of the Applied Superconductivity Center to Tallahassee," Chen said.

"This is an excellent example of multidisciplinary collaboration between the sciences and engineering. The affiliation of ASC with the College of Engineering amplifies many ongoing efforts in material engineering research in the college and the magnet lab."

Four top ASC researchers, including Director David C. Larbalestier, will begin relocating by January 2006. They will be followed over the next six months by eight post-doctoral researchers, several highly skilled machinists and a few graduate students. In all, ASC may bring as many as 30 researchers to Tallahassee, along with some $2 million in research grants and another $2.5 million worth of precision laboratory equipment.

Larbalestier is viewed by many of his peers as the leading researcher in the United States, and possibly the world, in the basic research of practical superconducting materials for magnets and power applications. Over a 35-year career, he has profoundly influenced the development of high-field magnets for high-energy physics and other applications, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), that have evolved from them. Among the highlights of his career is his election in 2003 to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.

"We anticipate that the leadership of Dr. Larbalestier and his colleagues will enhance our visibility as the center for material engineering research both nationally and internationally," Chen said.

Magnet lab Director Gregory S. Boebinger expressed his enthusiasm over the prospect of making significant advances in magnet research with the help of ASC.

"All superconducting technologies, from levitating train projects to next-generation power lines to the construction of research magnets such as the powerful superconducting magnets at our own magnet lab, owe a debt to the research of David Larbalestier and the Applied Superconductivity Center," Boebinger said. "So the future is bright for FSU as we work to pioneer the development of new materials."

Local business officials offered praise over the ASC’s arrival in town, as well as FSU’s work to bring it to Tallahassee.

"The Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County (EDC) is excited with this impressive level of investment and ongoing million-dollar payroll that will leave a lasting and positive influence on our regional economy," said Brad Day, executive director of the ECD. "With the recruitment of research and development activities like this, our community continues to earn its reputation as a technology-rich economy."

Thomas A. Barron, chairman of the Innovation Park Board of Governors, expressed optimism that the new center will help Innovation Park become a strong engine for economic growth within the community.

"The Leon County Research and Development Authority is pleased with the announcement of the new research initiative that FSU is making today," Barron said. "We are particularly grateful for the decision to locate this team and project at Innovation Park. FSU continues to be a strong partner in the research-oriented economic development of the park and the community. We will make every effort to leverage future development opportunities off of this exciting new project."

The Applied Superconductivity Center will be housed in the Shaw Building, located at 2031 E. Paul Dirac Drive in Innovation Park. FSU will immediately begin the process of customizing the building to meet ASC needs.