The US Department of Energy has approved a $550-million facility that will generate rare isotopes for the study of fundamental nuclear physics, astrophysics and medical diagnostics.

Michigan State University in East Lansing beat the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois to host the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB). FRIB's centrepiece will be a linear accelerator that will smash ions into fixed targets to generate exotic isotopes. Construction is planned from 2013 until 2017.

FRIB is a scaled-down version of the Rare Isotope Accelerator (RIA), a doubly expensive design advanced by nuclear physicists since 1999. If RIA was to have been the "absolute Cadillac", then FRIB is more of a "souped-up Chevrolet", says Konrad Gelbke, who directs the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University. Still, he adds, "I would say the community is delighted".