Fermilab Fun for Gustavus Physics Students

Posted on May 9th, 2012 by

Group Picture

The Gustavus crew that came with takes a picture with the tour guide Kirsten in front of the highrise tower (Robert Rathbun Wilson Hall)

The weekend of April 20th was a special one for many Gustavus physics students as they ventured 440 miles to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or simply Fermilab (most famously known for its Tevatron particle accelerator, once the highest energy particle accelerator in the world, which was shut down in September 2011). The entire trip consisted of about fourteen hours of driving, four hours of touring Fermilab, an hour of getting souvenirs, and two hours at the John G. Shedd Aquarium. Students came back with not only souvenirs, but a greater understanding and first-hand experience of how the exciting (and lately newsworthy) field of high energy physics research is conducted.

Foosball Picture

Playing foosball in the game room of the church where students spent Friday night.

Three Gustavus vans departed campus at about 4:00 pm Friday afternoon, arriving in Chicago at around 11:00. By 7:30 the next morning, rejuvenated after several good hours of sleep, the crew assembled for the heart of the trip, the Fermilab tour. By 8:00, they had arrived at the 25 square miles of land that is Fermilab. After an hour of breakfast in the Fermilab cafeteria, the students met who would be our guide for the tour (Kirsten Tollefson ’92.) Kirsten is a Gustavus graduate who majored in Physics and was actually a student for Chuck way back. She is now a professor at Michigan State University and works at both Fermilab and at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland (yea that place in the beginning of Angels and Demonswith Tom Hanks!)  Not only was Kirsten able to give us a great tour of Fermilab, but was also able to share her insight of the latest new in subatomic physics (like the current search for the infamous Higgs Boson currently taking place at the LHC.)

Tevatron Tunnel

On the 15th floor of the highrise, Kirsten shows us a sample of the Tevatron beam pipe.

Kirsten first took everyone to the top (fifteenth) floor of the Robert Rathbun Wilson Hall (affectionately known as the highrise) where she gave everyone a brief overview of her career, the history of Fermilab, and what is currently going on at Fermilab. From the top of the hall, students got a fantastic view of the 6800 acres of Fermilab as Kirsten explained what experiment(s) were conducted in each of the several buildings below (one of which being done in conjunction with the Soudan Mine in northern Minnesota which many Gustavus students also toured!)

Though many people have the misconception that when the Tevatron shut down last year, the entire Fermilab institution shut down with it (this writer included), Kirsten explained to us that there are actually several other experiments that also take place at Fermilab.

White Board

IInside the control room of the Tevatron, the whiteboard still shows the last shifts worked.

After this introduction to Fermilab, the crew was taken to the building that houses the CDF (Collider Detector at Fermilab) of the Tevatron. The CDF is a 3-story tall component of the Tevatron responsible for the detecting of the subatomic particles that result from the collision of a proton and antiproton that have been accelerated about to about GeV through the ring. From1983 to 2011, the Tevatron ran nearly 24/7 making and recording

CDF Detector

Picture of but a small segment of the enormous detector (CDF) of the Tevatron

billions of collisions every second. However, due to a lack of funding, the Tevatron was shut down September 30th, 2011. Kirsten explained to us that we were the first tourists to see the CDF since 1995 when it was down for maintenance. The site was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime and awe-inspiring experience.

After Fermilab, the crew toured decided to take a break from all the science and head to the Shedd Aquarium before making their way back home. Though the trip took up the better part of two days (after counting the sleep needed after arriving back at Gustavus at about 3:30am Sunday), it was a great experience for all involved. Those who came learned about and got to see first-hand one of the largest, most collaborative, and most expensive laboratories in science today.

CDF Control Room

IInside the CDF control room. Kirsten (pictured) tells us how loud and busy this room was less than a year ago when the facility was operational


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