Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory


Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory

also called  Fermilab  

      U.S. national particle-accelerator (particle accelerator) laboratory and centre for particle-physics (physics) research, located in Batavia, Illinois, about 43 km (27 miles) west of Chicago. The facility is operated for the U.S. Department of Energy by the Universities Research Association, a consortium of 85 research universities in the United States and 4 universities representing Canada, Italy, and Japan. Fermilab was founded in the mid-1960s in response to a 1963 recommendation by the Atomic Energy Commission to build a national particle-accelerator (particle accelerator) facility to conduct world-class research in nuclear physics. The Batavia site, which extends over 2,800 hectares (6,800 acres), was selected in 1966 and formally occupied in 1968. Fermilab attracts scientists from almost every U.S. state and from 45 countries worldwide for collaborative research into the fundamental nature of matter, the field of subatomic particles (subatomic particle).

      Fermilab's first particle accelerator was a proton synchrotron, a cyclic accelerator with a ring circumference of 6.3 km (3.9 miles). It began operation in 1972 and could accelerate protons (proton) to 400 gigaelectron volts (GeV; 400 billion electron volts (electron volt)). In the 1980s a second and more-powerful particle accelerator, the Tevatron, was constructed in the same tunnel but below the original synchrotron ring.

      The Tevatron, the world's highest-energy particle accelerator, is a superconducting synchrotron that takes advantage of the higher magnetic field strengths produced by superconducting magnets to accelerate protons to significantly higher energy levels. The original main ring became part of the preaccelerator injection system for the Tevatron, accelerating particles to 150 GeV and then transferring them to the new superconducting ring for acceleration to 900 GeV. In 1987 the Tevatron began operation as a proton- antiproton collider (colliding-beam storage ring)—with 900-GeV protons striking 900-GeV antiprotons (antiproton) to provide total collision energies of 1.8 teraelectron volts (TeV; 1.8 trillion electron volts). The original main ring was replaced in 1999 by a new preaccelerator, called the Main Injector, which delivers more-intense beams to the Tevatron and thus increases the number of particle collisions by a factor of 10.

      In 1977 a Fermilab team led by American physicist Leon Lederman (Lederman, Leon Max), studying the results of 400-GeV proton-nucleus collisions in the original main ring, discovered the first evidence for the upsilon meson, which revealed the existence of the bottom quark. The bottom quark, the fifth quark to be detected, is a member of the third and heaviest pair of quarks. The companion particle of this pair is the top quark, which is the sixth and most-massive quark, and it was also discovered at Fermilab in 1995. Scientists inferred the existence of the top quark, produced in the Tevatron as a result of 1.8-TeV proton-antiproton collisions, on the basis of its decay characteristics.

      The Fermilab site, consisting of thousands of hectares of undeveloped land, offers a prime opportunity to study and restore a native prairie ecosystem. Since 1975 Fermilab has been engaged in a wide-ranging prairie-restoration project—restoring native prairie grasses to the area, maintaining a herd of bison on the grounds, and establishing a waterfowl habitat. In 1989 Fermilab was recognized as a National Environmental Research Park, a protected outdoor laboratory for ecological studies.

Christine Sutton
 

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Universalium. 2010.

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