A major research facility of the department of physics at Western Michigan is the High Voltage Engineering Corporation 6-MV model EN tandem Van de Graaff accelerator, which has been in continuous use for more than 30 years. Facilities of this kind are rare in the U.S. Most of the accelerators of this kind have been closed down across the country. During this long history, the accelerator laboratory has established itself as an important research and research training facility and as an educational facility through a broad spectrum of uses and applications. Furthermore, the laboratory played a key role in the establishment of the Ph.D. program during the last decade. Capabilities of the accelerator laboratory allows not only the present research and educational activities to continue, but also provides new opportunities for faculty researchers and improved training for students in the areas of academic and national interest. Furthermore, the WMU laboratory devotes large amounts of beamtime purely for educational purposes to offer direct hands-on experiences to undergraduate and graduate students.
Department faculty have utilized the accelerator for research in atomic, condensed matter, nuclear, nuclear astrophysics and applied physics. This research has resulted in numerous publications in leading physics journals, and has also formed the basis for several Ph.D. dissertation projects (since 1995) and numerous M.A. thesis projects (since 1970). The accelerator facility has been, and continues to be, an important component in faculty research that has received external support.
In addition to its uses as a research facility, the accelerator has, throughout its history, been used extensively as an educational training tool. Specifically, atomic and nuclear collision experiments (e.g., Rutherford scattering) have been incorporated into the department's undergraduate modern physics laboratory that is generally taken by sophomore level students, and into the advanced laboratory course taken by upper level undergraduate physics majors and by graduate students. The laboratory has provided the basis for several undergraduate Honors College thesis research projects, independent study projects, and high school science mentorship projects for the Kalamazoo Area Mathematics and Science Center. Also, students from area colleges (Kalamazoo College, Albion College, Andrews University) and high schools come to the university on a regular basis to use the accelerator to conduct collision experiments as part of the physics curricula at their home institutions. Thus, during its long history as a teaching facility, the accelerator lab has served as an instructional tool for literally thousands of university and high school students.