This fourth installment of the series on the Office of Science's National Labs focuses on Fermilab: High frontiers and higher hopes; physics in motion and promise in action.
Researchers at Fermilab are exploring the frontiers of high-energy physics from the prairie of Batavia, Illinois, and bringing scientific benefits to the community. Located on a 6,800-acre campus close to Chicago, Fermilab was established in 1967 and later named after the great Italian and American scientist Enrico Fermi.
Currently led by Director Dr. Piermaria J. Oddone, Fermilab employs about 1,900 people, as well as hundreds of part-time subcontractors. Some 2,000 scientists and students come to Fermilab each year to conduct research. Last year, more than 13,000 people toured the site and visited its Science Center. Fermilab also reached around 24,000 K-12 students via programs that go out to schools and fairs and other ways (http://www.fnal.gov/pub/education/k-12_programs.html).
The scientists at Fermilab study the nature of matter and energy, space and time, on three distinct and interrelated frontiers: The intensity frontier, the energy frontier, and the cosmic frontier.
Fermilab's researchers explore the intensity frontier using powerful particle beams and highly sensitive detectors. For instance, two large experiments—MINOS, the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search, and NOvA—are dedicated to examining the ghostly particles known as neutrinos. (For more information see: http://blog.energy.gov/blog/2011/07/11/blink-can-change-everything-fermi-scientists-show-split-second-decisions-tiny-partic.) Fermilab's scientists advance our knowledge of the energy frontier through smashingly powerful particle accelerators like the Tevatron (which will shut down in September 2011 after a 26-year run) and collaborative work with CERN's Large Hadron Collider. And Fermilab's scientists are looking to the skies for their studies on the cosmic frontiers: Building ultrasensitive telescopes and detectors that are designed to shed light on dark matter and dark energy; the mysterious stuff that seems to account for about 95 percent of all the mass and energy in the universe.
In exploring the three frontiers, Fermilab's scientists have discovered several important elementary particles including the bottom quark (1977), the top quark (1995) and the tau neutrino (2000). Former Fermilab director Leon Lederman was a joint winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of another particle, the muon neutrino.
Fermilab's discoveries have led to lifesaving innovations. For instance, to build their powerful Tevatron particle accelerator, the lab's researchers made many breakthroughs in superconducting magnet technologies. Those breakthroughs are now at work in medical centers, where they form the hearts of MRI scanners. Particle beams are also an important tool for treating some forms of cancers, with fewer side-effects than other treatments. That's true for Fermilab's Neutron Therapy Facility, which has treated more than 3,000 patients, as well as a proton accelerator developed and built by Fermilab for a California hospital, which has treated more than 15,000 patients. Many more innovations are likely to follow from Fermilab's discoveries.
Four-legged beasts also benefit from Fermilab's efforts, namely the two dozen bison that live on its lands. Almost 300 species of birds call its campus a home or a migratory way station as well, and so do more than 50 species of butterflies and a variety of other animals.
From the prairie to the three frontiers in high energy physics, researchers at Fermilab are exploring matter and energy, space and time, for the betterment of us all. That's Fermilab: High frontiers and even higher hopes; physics in motion and promise in action.
For more information on Fermilab, please go to http://www.fnal.gov/. And for more information on the Department of Energy Office of Science, please go to: http://science.energy.gov/.
Charles Rousseaux is a Senior Writer in the Office of Science.