This year marks the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Space Radiation Effects Laboratory (SREL) at the Virginia Associated Research Campus (VARC), a former division of William & Mary.
In the 1960s, America’s attention to space exploration began to thrive, and as a response, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) wanted to establish a research laboratory on the Virginia Peninsula. In 1962, the Virginia General Assembly authorized the University of Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and William & Mary to form VARC, which would operate a NASA-built SREL, develop research projects, and establish resident graduate programs. As a response, the physics department, along with its faculty, began to grow.
In 1965, NASA established an instructional building in Newport News, Virginia for VARC, where the three colleges offered graduate courses in business administration, applied science, engineering, Education, physics, and mathematics. The biggest draw of VARC was SREL, which contained three particle accelerators to help with researching the effects of radiation. Researchers from across the country came to VARC and wrote about their findings in scholarly journals. By 1967, however, the four-institution management of SREL, with the Medical College of Virginia joining VARC in 1966, became difficult. As a result, Virginia Governor Mills E. Godwin transferred ownership of VARC solely to William & Mary as of September 1, 1967 and the College’s reputation in science circles grew.
Modern laboratories at Los Alamos and Columbia University began to take shape in the early 1970s. In response, SREL’s funding ran out in 1978 and VARC became exclusively the School of Education’s off-campus center. VARC’s prominence rose again in 1983 with the Southeastern Universities Research Association’s (SURA) approval of a Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) at VARC. The following year, VARC’s staff and equipment were transferred to the main campus in Williamsburg and the United States Department of Energy took control of CEBAF as the Jefferson Lab. It is better known today as the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.