The original nucleus of the present Laboratori Nazionali di Legnaro was founded in 1960 with the name "Centro di Ricerche Nucleari della Regione Veneta", under the patronage of the University of Padova. The Laboratories were originally created to house a Van de Graaff CN electrostatic ion accelerator which generated up to 5.5 MV (millions of Volts), later increased to 7 MV. Today, this accelerator is still in operation, though used mainly for interdisciplinary research work and advanced educational purposes.
The Van de Graaf CN machine, which first started operating in November 1961, was at the time the most sophisticated instrument of its kind available in Italy for research work in the field of nuclear physics, and access was granted to all Italian research groups of the sector. In July 1968, the national prominence achieved by the Laboratories in Legnaro brought about their transfer of control to the INFN, thus becoming a National Laboratory following the establishment of an agreement between the INFN and the University of Padova. Since then, these Laboratories have become an important milestone in the evolution of fundamental and applied nuclear physics research.
A new electrostatic accelerator, a Van de Graaff AN-2000 machine capable of generating 2 MV and particularly suited for applied physics experiments (i.e. for biophysics, medical physics, solid state physics, environmental physics, and so on) making use of light ion beams started operation in 1971. Recently, a measurement channel was designed and installed within the experimental area of this machine, enabling experiments to be carried out with the use of highly collimated ion beams (i.e. all focused within the diameter of a few microns on the target) and featuring an exceptionally high spatial resolution.
Towards the mid-70s, INFN decided to expand its fundamental nuclear physics research activities by purchasing an accelerator suitable for carrying out experiments using heavy ion beams. The site in Legnaro was chosen for the installation of a Tandem XTU 16 MV accelerator that has been in operation ever since 1982, and modified in 1986 to run nominally at 18 MV. This accelerator generates ion beams from a wide variety of nuclear species ranging from hydrogen to iodine with an energy of 3 to 4 MeV per nucleon, thus making it possible to carry out studies relating to various different research sectors involved with the interactions and properties of atomic nuclei and their reactions.
Further steps for expansion of the Laboratories also included the construction of the ALPI linear superconductor resonant cavity accelerator for heavy ions, which can provide ion beams ranging up to those of uranium, with energy values rating from 5 to 20 MeV per nucleon. The work to develop the ALPI accelerator has enabled the Laboratories to acquire exceptional competence in relation to the cryogenic technology associated to the fields of superconductivity and radiofrequency applied to accelerator equipment.
The scientific interests of the Laboratories have been extended to include other projects, such as research on gravitational waves with the supercryogenic antenna AURIGA and the study of important issues regarding the fundamental structure of matter.
After the completion of ALPI, the Laboratories are involved in four special projects:
TRASCO, devoted to the development of high intensity proton linacs for waste transmutation and RNB production.
PIAVE, which aims at the construction of a new injector for ALPI based on superconducting RFQ and QWR structures; this machine will be fully installed by the end of 2001.
New Acceleration Techniques: in this context LNL develop high gradient seamless superconducting cavities for the next generation e+e- colliders.
SPES, which stands for "Study for the Production of Exotic nuclear Species", aims at the design and construction of a next generation ISOL facility in the context of the European initiative named EURISOL. This long term project represents a natural perspective for the LNL in order to maintain their prominent international role in Nuclear Physics and related fields.