Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 25  |  Friday, March 1, 2002  |  Number 4
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Kephart Takes the Road to the Future

by Mike Perricone

Bob Kephart is looking to the future as the new head of Fermilab's Technical Division. From his portakamp office alongside the CDF assembly hall, Bob Kephart enjoyed the view of the stainless steel “Tractricious” sculpture across Road D in front of the Technical Division as he contemplated “getting back to physics.” He didn’t expect to take in the view from the other side.

Kephart and Cathy Newman Holmes had completed five years of seemingly endless days of responsibilities as project managers for the Run II upgrades at the massive particle detector. CDF had been home since he joined the collaboration in 1979, and the place might not seem like home without him. He worked on the design and construction of CDF’s superconducting magnet, and built the first set of vertex chambers. He did physics analysis, and served as the first CDF department head during upgrades before Run I. The early events leading to the top quark discovery were recorded on his watch. He and Nigel Lockyer developed a Time-of-Flight particle identification system for CDF. Then came the Run II upgrade project.

The fun, as he put it, “was always being out on the leading edge.” With the detector rolled back into the collision hall, with beam running, with hints of the Higgs from CERN, Kephart was eager to get back to the physics analysis and have a hand in new discoveries in the years ahead.

“After we finished the upgrades,” he said, “I was definitely focused on doing physics again. However, while trying to teach my neurons a little C++, like many physicists at Fermilab, I was also thinking about the prospects of building a new machine, either here at Fermilab or elsewhere.”

But instead of sticking to the plan, he moved over to take on new manage-ment responsibilities as head of the Technical Division. Why did the physicist cross the road? Kephart laughed as if he were still a little surprised at the move, but the change came from serious motives.

Project co-managers Bob Kephart (right) and Cathy Newman Holmes surveyed the upgraded CDF detector before it was rolled in to the collision hall for Run II of the Tevatron. “During my time at CDF, I changed directions many times,” he said. “CDF has been a high-priority project for the lab. It did great physics in Run I, and I think we all have high expectations for Run II. However, if we look further ahead, for Fermilab and the U.S. to remain competitive, there has to be a ‘next’ accelerator complex.”

Kephart cited the contributions of Bob Wilson, Alvin Tollestrup and many others in making sure the Tevatron provided an exemplary research opportunity for the future.

“I guess, at this time in my career,” Kephart said, “I was feeling some responsibility to take the point, and help the laboratory prepare for participation in whatever new accelerator facility is built. Of course, I hope it’s built here. When the offer came from Director Mike Witherell to head the Technical Division, it just seemed like something I should do. So I changed directions again.”

At the Technical Division, Kephart succeeds Peter Limon, whose seven-year tenure transformed the organization into one that Kephart feels is again back on the leading edge. The division was originally designated a section, dedicated to technical support for the accelerator complex. Functions revolved around building equipment for accelerators, making repairs, building specialty magnets and operating the lab’s central machine shop. Kephart credited Limon with the evolution into “a full-scale scientific division.”

“It’s now a place where world class superconducting magnet research and development takes place,” he explained.

Kephart pointed to the division’s role in building IR quadrupoles for the Large Hadron Collider, capitalizing on the lab’s longstanding (and revitalized) expertise in superconducting magnets. He also cited the division’s role in building muon chambers for CMS and in new R&D activities for radiofrequency structures for linear colliders, The latter effort is being ramped up in both the Technical and Beams Divisions under the direction of Dave Finley. Kephart described his goal as pressing forward with this evolution.

“In addition to its traditional roles,” he said, “I would like the Technical Division to be a world-class engineering organization that is also a world class scientific organization capable of the most sophisticated accelerator and detector research and development. It will be capable of using that R&D experience to produce components necessary to build the new accelerators that High Energy Physics will need. My goal is to help position the lab to be a major player in whatever new accelerator is built. Whether it’s a Linear Collider or something else, we want to be part of an informed technology choice for that accelerator, and participate in building it. It would be even more fun if we can end up being host lab for such a machine.”

Of course, the vision must coexist with day-to-day demands.

“We have to provide sound support for Run II,” Kephart declared. “We’re balancing existing programs with long-term pursuits.”

Maintaining balance is second nature to Kephart—and his family. His wife, Karen, joined Fermilab in 1977 and currently works for the Technical Centers Department of the Particle Physics Division in Lab 6. The Kepharts live south of Elburn in an unincorporated part of Kane County with daughter Allison, 16 and son Tony, 12. They have five Newfoundland dogs, a Yorkshire terrier and other assorted animal companions.

Kephart’s “too many hobbies” include fly-fishing; scuba diving, hiking, camping, skiing. Before taking the new position, he took a vacation to do some fly fishing and snorkeling in Belize, which has the world’s second-largest barrier reef after Australia.

But back from vacation, he promptly made his move across Road D.

“Peter has done an excellent job in bringing the division to this point,” Kephart said, “and I take over a division that’s in good shape with an excellent staff. There’s a bright future ahead for the Technical Division, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”

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