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KNOXVILLE — Twenty-five years after its founding, a joint research center in East Tennessee is taking on new growth and capabilities that will impact America’s energy and security future.

The Joint Institute for Heavy Ion Research (JIHIR), founded in 1982, is a partnership between the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Vanderbilt University.

After a quarter-century of supporting the work of the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility at ORNL by providing researchers with critical work and dormitory space, the institute has announced an expansion to host a new international partnership.

The partnership, known as JUSTIPEN, serves as a bridge between top researchers in the U.S. and Japan who study exotic nuclei — a field with implications in nuclear energy, national security and medicine. JUSTIPEN stands for Japan-U.S. Theory Institute for Physics with Exotic Nuclei.

“We believe JIHIR will play an important and impacting role in this new international endeavor,” said David Dean, associate director of JUSTIPEN.

“The success of JIHIR has been incredibly gratifying,” said Carroll Bingham, a professor of physics at UT and a member of the JIHIR policy council. “This expansion is a clear indication of that success, and we look forward to the partnership continuing to grow.”

The announcement coincided with the second meeting of JUSTIPEN, taking place this week at JIHIR.

The focus of applied research in this field meshes directly with a number of strategic national priorities. A better understanding of exotic nuclei could lead to safer and more efficient nuclear power and new approaches to nuclear medicine that will allow for better medical imaging with less radiation.

In fact, the recently passed America COMPETES Act, which was spearheaded by Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Bart Gordon, specifically calls for an increase in the number of students studying nuclear science to ensure that the workforce is available to support growth in the nuclear industry.

Beyond the applied and educational components of this work, the research conducted by JIHIR scientists is critical to developing an understanding of how new matter is created. By looking specifically at the role these nuclei play in the explosions of stars, researchers seek to answer questions about the formation of the basic building blocks of life on earth.

“The Joint Institute for Heavy Ion Research has fulfilled its educational and research goals beyond all expectations,” said Joseph Hamilton, Garland Distinguished Professor of Physics at Vanderbilt.

He noted that more than 4,000 scientists have attended over 60 international conferences and workshops hosted by the institute, and over 1,000 scientists from around the world supported to carry out research there.

“New research facilities have been built and new understandings of the structure and decays of atomic nuclei have come through these cooperations,” said Hamilton.

JIHIR also has served as a model for the growing research partnership between UT and ORNL. As the first joint institute between the two entities, JIHIR laid the groundwork for the development of the four newest UT-ORNL joint institutes: the Joint Institute for Computational Science, the Joint Institute for Biological Science, the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials Science and the Joint Institute for Neutron Science.

“Each of the institutions that support JIHIR brings certain strengths to the table, whether in research, education or resources,” said Lee Riedinger, a UT physics professor and a founder of JIHIR. “Combining these strengths gives us the ability to have a much larger impact through the work we perform.”

The new addition will be built at a cost of $500,000. It is expected to open in 2009.

More information about JIHIR, including a photo gallery of historic pictures and information about the JUSTIPEN partnership, is available online at


Jay Mayfield (865-974-9409,
Mike Bradley (865-576-9553,