Sunday, August 30, 2009

Science and Nature à la Fermilab

Last Sunday was among the top few gorgeous days of the summer, with cool breezes, ultra-blue skies punctuated by fluffywhites (you know what I mean), and very low humidity. KLK and I leapt enthusiastically (well, I was enthusiastic, KLK had to be tortured a bit) out of bed, rushed to get organized, hopped into the car, veered off course only to pick up sandwiches from the sultry, mumbling indentured servant behind the counter at our local Subway, and then headed straight past such suburban temptations as Oakbrook Mall, the Morton Arboretum, Cantigny without a sidewards glance, to Enrico Femi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. Fermilab to its friends, as we are. Please explore Fermi’s rich Web site. It’s high on my list of correctly-done Web sites and is full of information not only about what a high energy particle accelerator is and does, but also great detail about all of the goodies described below.

I had been there on a whatever-the-weather-opposite is, behind-the-scenes tour last fall. Because we had so much to keep us fascinated indoors, and because the weather was appalling, I never got farther outside of the main attraction than my parked car. But I was well aware that beyond the fog and pouring rain were:

A stunning water feature reflecting the Robert Rathbun Wilson building,
named for Fermilab’s founding director, and Hyperbolic Obelisk, a sculpture he designed

A main portal with a suitable space-time effect. Are that pool and sky ahead or behind?

It also has restored tall grass prairie and historically accurate fauna to eat it
(My dear Yellowstone readers are especially strongly encouraged to follow the link)

Alas, the megafauna have to be behind bars, but look happy anyway, don’t you think?


And flowers, some in lush, tended gardens around rather pleasant looking on-site housing.

And bugs, lots of nice bugs. See the little red dot, lower right?

And cultivated acres. Boy, there’s not much as beautiful as mid-west farmland at the peak of summer!

And, at the end of a nicely graded gravel road, a glimpse into what it takes to keep the accelerator humming
That turns out to be sculpture in its own right:

Inspiration for Atomic-age ray-guns?

Power, function, and form

And water features. This one serves to help keep the Tevatron accelerator in the huge circular tunnel beneath cool, and to attract birds like herons, and amphibians for them to eat.
Note the wooded areas around the prairies, too.

Some guts of the Tevatron on view in the main lobby

More sculpture (Tractricious, Robert Wilson)

And yet more (Mobius Strip, Robert Wilson)

And there’s so very much more, impossible to fit in one blog. Maybe I’ll return to the subject, and the place, someday soon.


  1. Definitely not where one would expect to see a buffalo herd. Physics at that level is way beyond me although I have read biographies of some of the famous scientists who contributed to the Manhatten project. I found Oppenheimers story the most interesting.

  2. You made me chuckle a bit. All I care about is that when I flip the light switch on it works. You for sure have a science mind - finding that place interesting. Now the buffalo – those are fascinating.
    I enjoyed your blog this morning nursing my coffee in a room where the lights worked this morning. Thank you Grand Coulee Dam.