At the behest of President Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee and the National Academy of Sciences, the not-for-profit URA corporation was founded in 1965 for management and operation of research facilities in the national interest.

URA’s charter is “…to acquire, plan, construct, and operate machines, laboratories, and other facilities, under contract with the Government of the United States or otherwise, for research, development and education in the physical and biological sciences… and to educate and train technical, research and student personnel in said sciences.”

Photo credits: The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory

50 Years: Leaders from the Early History



  • Precedent set with establishment of national-scale consortia of universities for management of large national research facilities in physical sciences; e.g., Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) in 1957 and University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in 1959.


  • AEC confronted with more than a dozen proposals for accelerators at energies ranging from 10 to 1000 GeV.
  • President’s Scientific Advisory Committee and AEC’s General Advisory Committee appointed joint PSAC/GAC Panel (Norman Ramsey, Chair) to assess the future needs in high-energy accelerator physics.

May 1963

  • Ramsey panel recommended: prompt construction of a 200 GeV proton accelerator, plus 4 other proposals.
  • Panel also recommended that the larger accelerator installations should incorporate an administrative structure with national representation to assure that all proposals from qualified scientists be considered on equal footing.


  • PSAC committee of accelerator users endorsed the Ramsey Panel recommendations.
  • Users stressed even more the need for national representation and that “outside groups should have a voice and responsibility in certain aspects of laboratory management.”
  • Similar conclusions were made by a National Research Council Panel and in a 1965 Report on National Policy prepared by AEC staff.


  • NAS President Frederick Seitz called 25 university presidents to a meeting to discuss the management of the 200-GeV accelerator.
  • At this meeting, it was decided to establish a new organization, Universities Research Association, Inc. (URA), and to offer its services to manage the proposed accelerator wherever it might be located.
  • AEC Chair Glen Seaborg requests that NAS consider accelerator site selection issue.
  • AEC invited all states to submit site proposals for the accelerator.
  • NAS panel recommended the six best sites, with the final choice to be made by the AEC.

June 1965

  • 34 university presidents met to establish URA, which was incorporated on June 21, 1965, with two governing boards:
    • Council of Presidents, representing each of the member universities
    • Board of Trustees actively responsible for the management of URA including the responsibility to elect the URA president and the accelerator laboratory director
  • At its first meeting, the URA Council of Presidents formally resolved that “ . . the members of the Council declare themselves ready to support the AEC decision of a site for the 200 GeV accelerator, upon the making and announcement of such decision.”
  • The first meeting of the Board of Trustees of was held.
  • Initial Board members included L. Lederman, D. Packard, N. Ramsey, and R.R. Wilson.

July 1966

  • The Board elected N. Ramsey to be URA President. He served through 1981, the critical years for the construction and successful operation of Fermilab.


  • The AEC announced that the site had been selected on a 6800-acre plot to be provided by the State of Illinois incorporating the town of Weston.
  • URA submitted to the AEC a proposal for a Design Study Contract with $200,000 initially requested.
  • On January 5, 1967, a letter contract from the AEC was signed.


  • URA Board of Trustees offered the position of Director to Robert R. Wilson, whose new Cornell synchrotron had just been completed one year ahead of schedule.

    He accepted pending AEC assurances that it would satisfy conditions to enable the project to move rapidly and to be scientifically exciting.

    These assurances later proved to be of immense value to the project, but they did delay Wilson’s formal acceptance until March 1967.

June 1967

  • The first URA Lab project offices were established in an Oak Brook, IL office building while the Weston site was prepared.
  • Edwin Goldwasser from the University of Illinois became Wilson’s Deputy Director.
  • URA President Ramsey provided strong support during the organization and design of the Laboratory.


  • During the design interval, it was decided that the project should move as rapidly as possible to the Weston site.
  • Since no AEC funds were available for construction, URA expended several thousand dollars of its own funds for on-site buildings (later reimbursed after the construction project was formally approved).

July 1968

  • President signed the authorization for the full $250 million accelerator project.
  • The Laboratory had hoped for an appropriation of $102 million for construction, but $70 million was finally appropriated.


  • The first regular contract for construction was signed between URA and the Atomic Energy Commission.


  • Construction work proceeded rapidly and successfully.

URA governance 1965–1988: member universities divided into 15 regions

  • Council of Presidents consists of the presidents of each of the member universities
  • Council ordinarily meets once a year to elect new member institutions, elect members to the Board of Trustees, and transact other business.
  • Board of Trustees consists of 15 regional Trustees elected, respectively, from 15 groups of neighboring institutions.
  • Approximately half of the regional Trustees are scientists and half are university administrators.
  • In addition, there are 6 Trustees at-large to represent broad sections of public interest.
  • Board has management and fiduciary responsibilities for URA and Fermilab (under URA M&O contact with AEC/DOE).

URA governance 1988–present: member universities divided into 7 regions

  • Council of Presidents, as described above.
  • CEO-level Board of Trustees; has management and fiduciary responsibilities for URA and its laboratory contracts
  • Board consists of 7 university presidents elected, respectively, from 7 groups of neighboring institutions
  • In addition, there can be up to 9 Trustees at-large, typically leaders in academia and industry.
  • Board elects members of Boards of Overseers/Directors for each of URA-managed laboratories/facilities, as appropriate.