1993: Mag Lab a Proven Attractor

It was a time for scientists to polish up their horn-rimmed glasses and puff up their chests. Major nerd nirvana had arrived in the form of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

The story of the lab’s arrival was heralded thus in Tallahassee Magazine: “This was bigger than the Super Bowl, bigger than an NBA championship, bigger than the World Series. But crowds didn’t line the streets when the home team brought back the prize. In 1990, a group of Florida scientists, with a few scientists imported from New Mexico, arose to meet a national challenge, tackled the competition with vision and creativity, and won.”

On August 17, 1990, the policy-making board of the National Science Foundation (NSF) made a decision that rocked the scientific community. After months of debate, the board voted 17-1 to locate the new National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee instead of at the Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory (FBNML) in Boston. The only magnetic research laboratory in the United States, the FBNML was housed for 30 years at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Instead, the board decided to support a new high magnetic field research facility to be built in Tallahassee and operated by a consortium composed of Florida State University, the University of Florida and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In the end, a promise of $60 million from Florida was too good to pass up. It was a much bigger carrot than the $36 million MIT pledged toward renovating the FBNML as part of its proposal to woo the magnet lab.

Once settled in, “plans were big and activity was high,” according to Gregory S. Boebinger, current director of what has come to be known as the “Mag Lab.”

Boebinger said the lab has come a long way in a short amount of time.

“From a practically non-existent user program in 2003, now more than 600 visiting scientists come to Tallahassee each year to conduct research at the Mag Lab,” he said.

The Mag Lab has also endeared itself to the community  by offering an annual open house, with easy-to-understand tours and demonstrations like the potato cannon, “shrinking quarter machine” and toy maglev (magnetic levitation) trains.

Categories: 30 Years