Fermilab still 'crucial partner' in particle research

Scientists and researchers at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia still play a key role in particle physics research, even though a new particle accelerator opened in Europe years ago, a top Fermilab scientist said Sunday.

Senior Scientist Don Lincoln told dozens of people during a lecture at the monthly "Ask A Scientist" guided tour that it is a "crucial partner" at the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN Laboratory in Switzerland, and Fermilab staff members make up a good portion of the research team.

The 2012 discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle at CERN earned researchers a Nobel Prize the next year. In 2012, LHC was operating at a reduced power capacity, but this year is the first time the massive particle collider will be operating near its full capacity, Lincoln said.

"This is where we blaze forward looking in places we can't even imagine," Lincoln said. "There is only one way to describe it: It's showtime."

Lincoln said the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment at the LRC has 100-megapixel cameras to chronicle particle collisions that one day might give scientists a look at what particles were present just before the Big Bang.

Lincoln said 100 megapixels might not sound like much compared to the resolution on some cellphone digital cameras theses days, but "your cellphone can't take 40 million pictures a second. That's what this can do."

Lincoln said researchers last year noticed some variations in data sets from collisions at the LHC, but more analysis is needed.

"In two data sets, we see a blip in the same place. That's why this could be interesting," he said, saying more research needs to be done but perhaps an announcement will come in July. "It's just part and parcel on the frontier of knowledge."

Sunday's event also included tours of Fermilab's 15th floor observatory at Wilson Hall, as well as some of the oldest, and first, particle colliders at the Batavia campus.

Mary Jo Murphy, a Fermilab docent from St. Charles, explained that out of the 17 national laboratories in the United States, Fermilab is the only one 100 percent devoted to research.

"We make nothing to sell. We don't test products for companies," she said while showing visitors Fermilab's first particle accelerator, which began operating in the early 1970s.

CERN, which boasts a 16-mile particle accelerator ring that can create 600 million collisions per second, shares its data with 11 different laboratories, including Fermilab, Murphy said. Officials at a Remote Operations Center in Fermilab help scientists from CERN.

"That's what they're trying to figure out. What happened in the beginning of the universe," she said.

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  Fermilab Docent Mary Jo Murphy of St. Charles leads a tour Sunday of the Batavia facility. Mark Black/
  Science enthusiasts tour the LINAC facility during the monthly Ask a Scientist guided tour of Fermilab in Batavia. "The smaller the particle we want to study, the bigger the equipment needed," said Fermilab Docent Mary Jo Murphy. Mark Black/
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