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Fermilab has no hard feelings toward lab that bested it
By Susan Sarkauskas | Daily Herald Staff

In this 2000 photo from Fermilab, workers install a tracking chamber to record tracks left by particles emerging from the collision of protons and anti-protons at the Batavia laboratory.


Associated Press Photo

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Published: 12/1/2009 12:03 AM

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Fermilab lost its title Monday as the world's most powerful accelerator.

But instead of being hurt or jealous, officials at the federal laboratory in Batavia say they are thrilled.

"Extremely happy" is how Young-Kee Kim, the lab's deputy director, described the mood after the new Large Hadron Collider, located on the French-Swiss border near Geneva, bested Fermilab's eight-year-old record. "We are a big part of the LHC."

The LHC accelerated twin beams of protons to an energy of 1.18 TeV Monday. The previous record of .98 TeV was set in 2001 by the Tevatron, the original, and still operational, 26-year-old workhorse at Fermilab. A TeV is a teraelectronvolt, or 1 trillion electron volts.

Just because the best collider is now in Europe doesn't mean Fermilab is going to shut its doors (although the Tevatron will shut in 2011). It has taken 20 years to build the LHC and, in the meantime, Fermi has added other devices and experiments to its repertoire. Those include the NuMI beam that shoots neutrinos underground to a detector in Minnesota, and the proposed Project X 2-TeV linear accelerator. And, if the International Linear Collider is ever authorized by the international physics community, Fermilab is interested in having it here.

Fermilab is one of 140 computing centers worldwide that will analyze and manage the expected 15 million gigabytes of data annually from the LHC through the Open Science Grid unveiled last fall. Scientists here can also send requests for experiments to the LHC, doing their work without leaving town. There are also Fermilab scientists stationed at the LHC.

The idea is to eventually crank the LHC up to 7 TeV, to simulate conditions that scientists believe were in place several millionths of a second after the Big Bang created the universe. They hope to find out whether there is such a thing as a Higgs-Boson particle ("the God particle") that gives mass to matter.

Obviously, there is glory for the scientist who finds evidence to prove or disprove its existence, just as former Fermilab Director Leon Lederman was a co-winner of a Nobel Prize in physics in 1988 for the discovery of muon neutrinos.

But Kim emphasized the international nature of the study of physics, involving hundreds of universities and labs, and thousands of students and professors.

"Because we always need critical mass to be strong as a team," Kim said.

Monday's test was another step to getting useful data out of the LHC. It came online last September, but sustained damage due to a failure in an electrical connection just 10 days later. It was shut down for repair until a few weeks ago.

The LHC, 100 meters underground and 17 miles in circumference, is operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Fermilab's Tevatron is 3.9 miles in circumference.