Today, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), will shut down its Tevatron particle accelerator after nearly 30 years in operation. Named one of the top engineering achievements of the past 100 years, the Tevatron accelerated particles to almost the speed of light along its 4-mile ring, smashed them together, and studied the resulting particle showers in order to understand fundamental facts about elementary particles and forces.
The Tevatron made many discoveries in its 28-year run. For instance, it found the top quark as well as five baryons, which helped to test and refine the Standard Model of particle physics and shape our understanding of matter, energy, space and time.
The Tevatron also narrowed the possible parameters for the Higgs boson, believed to be a massive particle that would explain why some elementary particles have mass and others don't. The Tevatron experiments will finalize their Higgs analyses in the next couple of years while the search for the Higgs boson will continue at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located near Geneva Switzerland. Approximately 2,000 scientists from the United States are working on the LHC experiments. At the same time, scientists are turning their eyes and instruments toward new experiments and discoveries at Fermilab.
The control room of the DZero experiment during Run II at Fermilab's Tevatron particle collider.
The closure of the Tevatron is less an ending than a new beginning in scientific exploration. Fermilab will upgrade and continue to operate the rest of its accelerator complex and plans to focus its resources on neutrino and muon physics. Several neutrino experiments already exist, including the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) experiment, and its successor experiment, the NOvA experiment, which is currently under construction. Interest in neutrino physics increased significantly last week, when a group of scientists running the OPERA experiment found indications that – contrary to more than 100 years of physics – neutrinos might be able to exceed the speed of light. Fermilab's MINOS experiment will be deeply involved with testing those claims, and it is likely to open our eyes to other extraordinary possibilities in the realm of physics.
The Tevatron is closing. The future has begun. Fermilab remains the nation's dedicated laboratory for particle physics on behalf of the DOE Office of Science.
For more information on the Tevatron and its history, please visit Tevatron milestones.
For more information on the MINOS experiment, please visit The MINOS Experiment and NuMI Beamline website. And for more information on Energy Department's Office of Science, please go to: http://science.energy.gov/.
Nancy Peck is a contributing writer in the Office of Science and Charles Rousseaux is a Senior Writer in the Office of Science.