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40 years of the KVI

05 December 2008

On Friday 12 December, the 40th birthday of the KVI (Kernfysisch Versneller Instituut) in Groningen will be celebrated with a symposium in the Academy Building. In 1968, the building at the end of the Zernikelaan in Groningen was completed and the construction of the first cyclotron started. The anniversary celebrations will also highlight the contribution paid by the outgoing director, Muhsin Harakeh, whose 60th birthday will also be celebrated.

The first plans for the construction of a large particle accelerator in Groningen date from 1957. The main advocate of the plans was Professor Brinkman, a professor at the University. In 1963, the government approved the plans. A contract was signed with Philips for the construction of an isochrone cyclotron, which was completed in 1970. In 1972, the Ministry of Education and Science (O&W), the Netherlands Organisation for the Advancement of Pure Research (ZWO), the University of Groningen and the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM) signed a contract concerning the management structure of the new institute. It was agreed that the KVI would have two mother organizations, the University of Groningen and FOM. Not long after, Brinkman, the first director, passed on the baton to Rolf Siemssen, who was specially brought to Groningen.

The first research
The first experiments with the cyclotron were conducted in 1971. In the early years, research concentrated on fundamental nuclear physics, and the structure of the atomic nucleus was the main focus. Not only experimental but also theoretical research was conducted. Eminent names from that time include Akito Arima and Franco Iachello, who developed their famous Interacting Boson Model at the KVI. In 1994, Arima was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Groningen.

A new cyclotron
A new phase for the KVI began in 1985. In order to maintain its position at the top of global nuclear physics research, the decision was taken to construct a new, superconducting cyclotron. This cyclotron was constructed at Orsay, near Paris, in a French-Dutch partnership. It was christened AGOR (Accélérateur Groningen-ORsay). The cyclotron was completed in 1994. It was successfully tested, then dismantled and transported in sections to Groningen where it was reconstructed. The first experiments with AGOR in Groningen were conducted in 1996.

New research lines
In the 1980s, the KVI research was expanded. A group was founded to conduct research into atomic physics, whereby atoms were examined as entities consisting of nucleus and electrons. In addition, the disaster with the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in 1986 led to the founding of a group that concentrated on research into the environmental effects of radiation, making use of nuclear technology.

Precision research into stationary particles
At the end of the 1990s, the initiative was taken to start up another research line, called TRIµP, which would combine atomic physics with technologies from nuclear physics. This research halts particles produced by AGOR using laser technology so that they can be studied in great detail. This means that the limits of the known Standard Model of elementary particles can be studied without having to use immensely large particle accelerators like the one at the CERN international research institute in Geneva.

Departure of Director Harakeh
Outgoing director Muhsin Harakeh was appointed on 1 January 1996 and has led the KVI for thirteen years. Harakeh is originally from the Lebanon and studied and did his PhD in the United States. After periods in Groningen, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where he became a professor at the VU University in 1986, he joined the KVI in 1993. He successfully guided the KVI through a very difficult period after the FOM decided to stop supporting nuclear physics research in 2004. He initiated a contract between the University of Groningen and the German sister institute GSI in Darmstadt, whereby fundamental research into nuclear physics could continue. Under his leadership, new research lines in astro-particle physics and the physics of life were initiated. With its current wide spectrum of fundamental and applied research conducted by the KVI scientists, the KVI will be playing a challenging role in the global scientific stage in coming years.

Historiography of the KVI
In honour of the 40th anniversary, Adriaan van der Woude, one of the original KVI professors, has written a book on the history of the KVI, entitled ‘40 Jaar KVI’ [40 KVI years]. The book will be presented during the celebrations on 12 December.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.27 p.m.
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