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Blog

Visiting Fermilab

Fermilab's Wilson Hall.jpg
Fermilab’s Wilson Hall

By Margaret Harris

“I know it’s kind of a busman’s holiday for you, but do you want to visit Fermilab?”

The AAAS conference doesn’t officially kick off until tomorrow, so I was supposed to spend today de-jet-lagging myself while visiting my uncle west of Chicago. Now, a rainy February day in the Chicago suburbs is not everyone’s idea of great holiday material, but one of those suburbs happens to host the world’s biggest operational particle accelerator…and several of its scientists have prominent slots on the conference schedule…so…

Fermilab’s striking Wilson Hall atrium is open to the public from dawn to dusk most days, and you can hike in the surrounding prairies, too (just watch out for the resident bison herd — now down to 20 head due to budget cuts). But on Wednesday and Saturday mornings they also run guided tours, so my uncle and I joined the small group of curious local residents following science historian (and UK native – between that and the mist, I felt right at home) Yvonne Twomey around the linear accelerator building.

The ongoing Higgs boson hunt means that the Tevatron is nearly always running, so there’s a limit to what you can see at Fermilab on a public tour. But we poked our heads into the auditorium, peered through glass at the giant Cockcroft-Walton generator and the first few feet of the linear accelerator beam line, and learned a little about the great astrophysicist office-space takeover (they used to be confined to the third floor, but as the lab’s particle physics mission winds down, other sub-disciplines have picked up territory) before going back to the high-rise’s 15th floor to gaze out at the lab’s other buildings. And the mist. And the bison.

And, of course, to the distant skyline of Chicago proper, where I’ll be reporting on the conference from tomorrow on. Until then…

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