Science Education Home Home Teachers Students Games Videos VA SOL Programs

Questions and Answers

Why did it take so long to build Jefferson Lab? Why was Jefferson Lab built in Newport News?

Newport News was one of several places around the nation that competed for Jefferson Lab. The Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA) won the contract to build and run Jefferson Lab in Newport News. A couple reasons helped bring the Lab to this area:

1) The city and state governments worked hard with SURA to earn the Department of Energy's approval to bring the Lab here. (Good teamwork means a better chance of project success!)

2) This area sits on a very stable geologic formation called the Yorktown Formation (a millions-of-years-old seabed). The accelerator had to be built where earthquakes or tremors would not bother it.

It took construction crews and engineers about two years to dig the accelerator tunnel, pour the concrete and let it dry. It took about the same amount of time to build the three experimental halls. The components we use to accelerate the electron beam are called cryomodules. Our accelerator uses 42.25 of them and it took several people working together for 6 weeks straight to put just one of these cryomodules together. We could build two cryomodules at a time in our Test Lab. So, it took us a few years to build all of the cryomodules. All of the components needed to be tested and checked many times to make sure they would work the way they were supposed to. And that is how it was for much of the equipment we use in the accelerator and the experimental halls. The equipment is very complex and required special expertise to design and build. For instance, we have drift chambers (type of particle detector) used in one of our experimental halls that required more than 2 years to assemble. A team working in a clean room had to string thousands of hair-width wires across six large frames shaped like orange slices. Some of the equipment we needed was so specialized it was built by researchers at other laboratories or universities, then shipped here. Most of the equipment in the accelerator and the experimental halls is very sensitive, but very big and heavy, so we had to go very slowly and precisely when we put it into the accelerator and the experimental halls.

[Editor's Note: Jefferson Lab's accelerator has been upgraded since this was written. It now contains 52.25 cryomodules and has four Experimental Halls, halls A, B, C and D.]


Debbie Magaldi, Public Affairs Office

Citation and linking information

For questions about this page, please contact Steve Gagnon.