Fermilab's Tevatron to shut this year

Fermilab's Tevatron particle accelerator will likely shut down this fall after all.

Director Pier Oddone announced Monday that the lab won't receive money in the fiscal year 2012 federal budget to keep running the 27-year-old particle physics star.

It has been scheduled to be mothballed in 2011 for several years, due to the completion of the larger, more powerful Large Hadron Collider in Europe. But lab officials, citing the Tevatron's continued output of useful data, had asked to run it another three years. That would have kept it running during a 15-month shutdown of the LHC starting in 2013, during which it will be prepared for another experiment.

“It is not quite what we expected,” Oddone said Monday afternoon.

About 100 support jobs will be affected. “We would love to move them to a new project starting up,” Oddone said. That will depend on how much money the lab gets in the 2012 budget, and in the 2011 budget, which Congress has yet to be approve although the fiscal year began Oct. 1.

In November, Fermilab offered incentives to 600 employees to get them to quit or retire. Thirty took the lab up on the offer; Oddone had hoped for about 50, but says it is enough to prevent layoffs for now.

The machinery and detectors in the Tevatron tunnels far underground will remain for an unknown time once the beam is turned off. It will eventually be dismantled, with some parts sold off.

“For awhile it will be a bit of a museum,” Oddone said. He hopes to show the public parts of the Tevatron previously kept off-limits. “That would be appropriate, given its history.”

The Tevatron is a 4-mile underground ring. It is capable of smashing protons and antiprotons, at an energy of 1 trillion electron volts. Physicists have used it to discover and study the top quark, work that netted former lab Director Leon Lederman a Nobel Prize. Scientists are now using it to, among other things, look for evidence of a theoretical Higgs-Boson particle, also known as the “God particle.” It is believed that particle gives mass to matter.

The Tevatron was the world's most powerful accelerator until the 7-TeV LHC started operating.