A return to particle-smashing at 1 TeV

August 4, 2009

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Of the stories making today’s headlines, the continued technical glitches in the Large Hadron Collider should particularly resonate with some Chicagoans—especially those with PhD’s in particle physics. Until the construction of the LHC, the Batavia based Fermilab was home to the world’s most powerful supercollider, the Tevatron, so named because of its ability to accelerate particles at energy states of up to one terravolt, (TeV). But since an international consortium of scientists powered up the LHC, which boasts a target operating energy seven times that of the Tevatron, the lab has been preparing to fade into the background as the new collider takes over its position conducting experiments at the cutting edge of particle physics.
But since 2007 several malfunctions have delayed CERN’s first sub-atomic smash-ups, and now, as has been widely reported this morning, another malfunction may set those experiments back even further.
As the New York Times notes, this is obviously bad news for researchers and engineers eager to demonstrate the scientific payoff promised by the 15 year, $9 billion dollar project, but for the folks back at Fermilab, it may mean that the Tevatron gets to stay online for a little while longer as scientists whose work doesn’t require the full capacity of the LHC return to Batavia during the interim for some good old 1 TeV particle-smashing.
And what better to enhance the experience of Fermilab’s return to center-stage, than Lillian Hoddeson, Adrienne W. Kolb, and Catherine Westfall’s fascinating historical account of the labs in Fermilab: Physics, the Frontier, and Megascience. Recalling a time when thick glasses and pocket protectors were all the rage and names like Robert R. Wilson and Leon M. Lederman rang throughout the accelerator tunnels, Fermilab takes readers on a fascinating journey through the history of the labs, with a special focus on its early role in the rise of “megascience,”—the collaborative struggle to conduct large-scale international experiments—in the context of the Cold War. Delivering a detailed account of the growth of the modern research laboratory and capturing the drama of human exploration at the cutting edge of science, Fermilab takes an illuminating look at science’s past, and perhaps its future as well as scientists return to the labs, granting the accelerator another chance at isolating a Higgs boson, or perhaps shedding some light on the nature of dark matter before the LHC takes over the spotlight—eventually.
For more info see this special website for the book.
Also, for a fascinating look at the life and career of the lab’s namesake, who’s work also helped set the stage for the research performed there, see this excerpt from Fermi Remembered, edited by James W. Cronin.

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