Frequently Asked Questions
What kinds of things does Fermilab do?
Fermilab conducts basic research into particle physics - meaning that we keep asking basic questions. We investigate the smallest building blocks of matter separated by the smallest distances that science has ever explored. We're constantly trying to learn more about these fundamental particles, and understand the forces that hold them together or force them apart. We conduct our investigations by making these particles collide-which might sound unusual, but remember that we see things in the world around us because photons bounce off them and make an impression on our retina, which is then transmitted by the optic nerve to the brain for processing. We're following a similar path to "see" what happens in these subatomic collisions-sort of like a giant microscope, using a different form of "light."
What is the highest beam energy Fermilab can achieve?
Fermilab's four-mile Tevatron, the world's second-highest-energy particle
accelerator, can reach an energy level of 0.980 trillion electron volts
(TeV) for each of its particle beams: clockwise-circulating protons and
A proton-antiproton collision produces an energy of 1.96 TeV at the
In 1995, Tevatron Run I-b, the collisions ran at an energy level of 1.8
TeV, .9 TeV per beam, which was sufficient to discover the top quark.
With the present energy level Fermilab hopes to continue discovering new
particles in Run II of the Tevatron.
What was the cost of building Fermilab? Of building the Tevatron?
Fermilab (originally the National Accelerator Laboratory) was built for $243 million in 1967-well under the appropriated funding of $250 million. The Tevatron, completed in 1983, was built for $120 million, but it took advantage of all the lab's previously built facilities. Building an equivalent facility from scratch would cost many billions of dollars.
What are the benefits of particle physics research?
One of the great things about asking questions is how much you find out that you didn't even realize you were asking. In particle physics, we keep asking: "But where does THAT come from?" Along the way, we find things we didn't realize we were looking for.
What are the costs of particle physics research?
- We find the World Wide Web, which was originally developed at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, by physicists looking for an efficient way to share information across borders, cultures and distance.
- We find ways to treat cancer with particle beams.
- We find new ways of manufacturing the kinds of machines and instruments we need to conduct our experiments.
- We find new ways of working with electric currents and magnetism, which are at the heart of virtually every tool and instrument and convenience we have at our fingertips.
- We develop superconducting magnets, which make possible the field and machines of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
- We extend the reach and uses of computers.
- We find new ways to make things like electric circuits and data processing instruments smaller and smaller.
- We are among the first to use devices that later become standards for clear and efficient communication, such as fiber optics, which were developed to carry computer signals from high-energy sources where metal wires with magnetic properties wouldn't work.
- All these developments also create jobs, and they all grow from putting our focus on one of the most basic of human qualities: curiosity, the quality of continuing to ask, "Why?"
The Fermilab budget for FY2001 is $277 million, or about 10% above the total value of the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with baseball's Texas Rangers in January 2000. The FY01 budget for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, which administers the system of 17 DOE national laboratories (Fermilab and 16 others), is $3.18 billion. That's a lot of money, but here's a comparison: the proposed FY01 defense funding levels for basic and applied scientific research, development, test and evaluation are $6.02 billion for the U.S. Army; $9.22 billion for the U.S. Navy; and $13.76 billion for the U.S. Air Force, for a total of $29 billion in scientific research for defense. Thus, the total funding for all 17 national laboratories is about 11percent of the R&D budget for defense. The funding for the entire field of U.S. High-Energy Physics is $726 million; the annual budget for CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, is about $617.7 million (converted from 1.1 billion Swiss francs).
View URA reports
Does money for basic research represent money well spent?
Many leading economists, including Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, have pointed to science and technology as the driver for our extended period of economic growth in the U.S. Research can be viewed as an investment in growth; it's certainly big business. In the State of Illinois, for example, four premier research institutions and two national laboratories combined in a recent year for a volume of research of nearly $1.5 billion in federal, state, corporate and foundation funding. The six institutions: Argonne National Laboratory, $460 million; Fermilab, $282 million; the University of Chicago, $219 million; Northwestern University, $214 million; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, $208 million; the University of Illinois at Chicago, $102 million (figures compiled by the Office of Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).
Questions about physics
Is there a charge for visiting Fermilab?
What are the hours?
8.30 a.m. until 5 p.m.
How far is the lab from train stations?
Aurora and Geneva both about 10 miles.
How much is a cab from the train stations?
Between 15 and 20 dollars.
Is there a bus shuttle?
Can you fish in Fermilab ponds?
Do you need a license?
You need a current Illinois fishing license.
What is the depth of the Main Ring pond?
The average depth is 7 feet.
Why are there dams in the main ring pond?
To keep the water in the channel evenly distributed. The east side of the site is physically lower than the west side.
Are there horse trails?
Can we walk our dog at Fermilab?
Yes, but please keep your dogs on a leash. There is a designated dog training area where dogs can run free.
Can we walk all over the lab?
No, there are some areas that are restricted.
Visit our Visiting Fermilab section
Visit our Recreation page
How big is the site?
6,800 acres, or a little bigger than 10 square miles.
When was Fermilab started?
Groundbreaking for the linear accelerator was December 1968.
Who owned the land before the laboratory was built?
Mostly farmers and the people in the small village of Weston.
How was the land acquired?
It was purchased by the State of Illinois and donated to the federal government for particle physics research.
How many people are employed at the Lab?
How many different languages are spoken at Fermilab?
Can we take pictures?
Yes, there is no secret work carried on at Fermilab. Pictures can be taken anywhere.
What is Fermilab
Who operates Fermilab?
A consortium of 90 research universities, Universities Research Association Inc. (URA).
What is the purpose of the Laboratory?
To explore the tiniest parts of nature, the worlds inside the atom.
Visit our Inquiring Minds section.
Who is the director?
Pier J. Oddone
How many stories high is Wilson Hall?
Who was the architect for the Wilson Hall building?
A group of 4 architectural firms in a joint venture known as DUSAF.
What was the cost of Wilson Hall?
Why did Fermilab build such a tall building?
It is easy to communicate with many people in a building like ours, and we have many activities under one roof, bringing people together from all parts of the 6,800 acre site.
What are the large, white houses near the Village?
The white houses are the best of the farmhouses on the property when we arrived. They have been moved from various locations on the site and provide housing for our visitors. The small, bright-colored houses are the former Village of Weston, Illinois.
How long is the ring?
Why all the bright colors on buildings?
Part of the scheme to keep things bright rather than dull.
Why does Fermilab have buffalo?
To preserve and restore a bit of Illinois heritage that was here some 200 years ago. Fermilab is site of one of the largest Prairie Reconstruction projects in Illinois.
Do the workers live on site?
No, Fermilab employees live in surrounding communities. The largest number live in Aurora, next Batavia, then in the towns on the Fox River, Naperville and Wheaton.
Where does Fermilab get electric power and why don't we build our own generator?
Currently we buy it from Commonwealth Edison at a cost of between $12 and $18 million per year. With a move towards deregulation of electricity in Illinois, Fermilab has participated in procurements to seek an alternative provider for electricity. So far it has been cheaper to stay with Commonwealth Edison. Fermilab is also investigating on site generation for a portion of the laboratory's electricity needs.
Where do we get our protons?
They are extracted from hydrogen gas by ionizing the gas with a spark in the Cockroft-Walton accelerator.