Fermilab celebrates new research center, facility that may help answer questions about the universe

Lia Merminga was beaming Thursday morning as she cut the ribbon on two new facilities at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia.

"Fermilab will be universally acknowledged as the world leader in neutrino science for years to come," Merminga, the lab's director, told the crowd of scientists, employees and dignitaries during a ceremony in the brand-spanking-new Proton Improvement Plan-II cryoplant building.

They also cut the ribbon for the Integrated Engineering Research Center and broke ground for the PIP-II accelerator.

  Ground was broken Thursday for a new particle accelerator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia. Susan Sarkauskas/

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said you often learn of the significance of something after the fact. Not so with the engineering and science done at Fermilab, he said.

"With Fermilab, we get to celebrate innovation and discovery in real time."

And Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk was excited about the experiments the PIP-II facilities will enable, including the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment.

The PIP-II accelerator will generate particles for DUNE. Neutrinos and anti-neutrinos will be shot underground to a detector 800 miles away in Lead, South Dakota. The idea is to see if and how the particles change their types, or "flavors," on the journey. They hope it will explain why there is more matter than antimatter in our universe.

"We are going to try to figure out, 'Is the universe made of matter?' ... and maybe even more importantly, 'Why are we all here?'" Turk said.

The new Integrated Engineering Research Center at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia was dedicated Thursday. Ryan Postel/Courtesy of Fermilab

The Integrated Engineering Research Center may soon have a different name, as U.S. Sen Dick Durbin has introduced a resolution to name it after scientist Helen T. Edwards, a Durbin aide announced. The late physicist was head of the accelerator division at Fermilab and oversaw the design, construction and operation of the laboratory's legendary Tevatron accelerator, for years the world's most powerful particle accelerator.

The new research center will relocate engineers and technicians from facilities spread across the laboratory site to the core of the campus. It will have direct access to scientists as well as amenities and services in Wilson Hall, the laboratory's headquarters. It is the laboratory's second-largest building.

Merminga, Pritzker and others noted the projects were made possible by support from several nations, including India, France, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom.

"If you dedicate your life to understanding (what makes the universe), you don't get too precious about international borders," U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove said.

The new accelerator will provide a beam 60% more powerful than currently capable - the most intense in the world, Merminga said.

The cryoplant will house cryogenic equipment that will cool the accelerator and electric utilities for the linear accelerator complex. Turk said the cryogenic equipment can cool things down to a temperature near to that in outer space.

The facilities highlighted Thursday "are the first tangible results of the next 50 years (of Fermilab)," said Randy Ortggiesen, project director for the research center.

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