Accelerator slowdown


Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s Tevatron control room features mustard-colored metal panels sandwiched between monitors, computers, and telephones. The room, usually bustling with technicians scuffling amid monitors that showcase brightly colored graphs and charts, is empty. It's been abandoned since the beginning of August, as the Batavia, Illinois-based lab does the electrical maintenance, repairs, and upgrades impossible to conduct during the world’s largest particle accelerator’s standard 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week cycle.

Fermi plans to shut down the Tevatron in 2009, when the European Organization for Nuclear Research will open a particle accelerator seven times more powerful than the Tevatron. But first, Roger Dixon, Fermi particle-accelerator division head, says he is “trying to squeeze the most of the machine as possible,” namely by claiming a few more discoveries for the lab. The repairs will bolster machine-generated data, he says. “We’re improving the correction system, installing a new beam line, and improving the quality of our results."

The ten-week shutdown also has side benefits, giving the technicians who run the accelerator “time to breathe and see their families,” says Paul Czarapata, deputy division head. “They orchestrate the whole show," he says. "And because of that responsibility, I worry about their health and their families."

Come October 1, the Tevatron will run again and the room will return to its normal, semi-chaotic state.


Photo: The Tevatron control room operates the world's largest particle accelerator.

September 21, 2007