Scientists shut down historic part of Fermilab

September 30, 2011 3:20:58 PM PDT
Scientists at Batavia's Fermilab on Friday shut down a four-mile underground loop where they once staged high-speed collisions of protons.

For more than two decades Femilab's tevatron accelerator was the place where scientists tested the laws of physics. "It has been a real magical time," Fermilab Director Pier Oddone said.

The magical time closes a chapter today with the shutdown of the Tevatron, where sub atomic particles are smashed into each other at the speed of light. It has been the mecca of sub atomic particle physics. It's where they discovered the top quark and the tau neutrino. They are not cartoon characters. They are the super tiny building blocks of the universe.

"We are sitting at the table the other day and somebody said it's been a 25-year adrenaline rush," Oddone said. "I don't know how you maintain an adrenaline rush for 25 years but people have been very excited to come (to work) every day for this very long train of discoveries."

The two-and-a-half-decade-long adrenaline rush allowed Fermilab and the world to learn about the origins of matter, and the universe. With that came some practical applications, particularly in medicine - things like MRIs.

But the tevatron has reached the end of its life, and Friday afternoon, they turned it off.

It's a bittersweet day for those who work here, though the population of scientists at Fermi-lab will remain largely the same for a new chapter of research.

The mission is somewhat redefined, but it's still sub atomic particle research with neutrinos and things called murons.

"They only live for about two millionths of a second," the Fermilab's Chris Polley said. "Once you make them, there is not long to work with them."

The facility remains. The campus will be unchanged. Great brains will still be smashing tiny particles here to try to unlock the riddle of the Big Bang theory.

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