Celebrating 50 Years of Science: Fermilab

Last Thursday I traveled to Batavia, Illinois for a tour of Fermi Laboratory and its archives, hosted by the Chicago Area Archivists and Fermilab archivist, Valerie Higgins. If you are unfamiliar with Fermilab here is a brief summary from their website:

“As the United States' premier particle physics laboratory, we do science that matters. We work on the world's most advanced particle accelerators and dig down to the smallest building blocks of matter. We also probe the farthest reaches of the universe, seeking out the nature of dark matter and dark energy....Fermilab's 6,800-acre site is…managed by the Fermi Research Alliance LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.”

I only had a general understanding of what Fermilab does before this trip, so I was excited to learn more. We traveled by bus through the campus to get to the archives. On the way, I learned the first director of Fermilab, Robert Wilson, was a skilled sculpture and architecture designer. Most of the trees were planted during his time there and he was responsible for bringing a small herd of buffalo to the site. You can still visit them in their pasture.

Archivist Higgins showed us through Fermilab's archives, which is located in “The Villages,” a town formally known as Westin, Illinois. The town was purchased by the state of Illinois so Fermilab could be built in the 1960s. The archives are housed in a former ranch-style home, but the foundations have been strengthened to hold the weight of compact shelves. Higgins provided an overview of the collections and a history of its development, and answered questions from the group.

Since we were escorted by Higgins, we also stopped at Fermilab's linear accelerator (LINAC). All of the science performed at Fermilab is available to the public because it is under the Department of Energy. Which is why I was able to take a picture of the LINAC control room.

While standing outside the room, Fermilab's deputy department head of operations provided an impromptu overview of the science conducted at Fermilab and some of the challenges of building and maintaining the high-tech and highly sensitive equipment. We covered the electricity bill for the site (close to $14 million/year!), how they detect earthquakes halfway around the world, and their collaborations with CERN.

We finished the tour by going to the fifteenth floor of Wilson Hall to see the entire 6,800 acres. From there I saw the rings of the particle accelerators, the protected prairies and grasslands, and much more. The public is allowed to explore the lands with walking/biking paths and go up to the fifteenth floor any day of the year.

Thanks to Valerie Higgins for showing and telling us all about the great history of Fermilab and Chicago Area Archivists for sponsoring this event.


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