Batavia, Ill.-The proprietor of one of the nation’s first sites on the World Wide Web today (March 1) unveiled a new, redesigned version of its website. Officials at the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, home of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator as well as either the second or third website in the nation, said they designed the new site to make the science of high-energy physics more accessible to the laboratory’s virtual visitors.
“On a typical day, Fermilab’s website receives more than sixty thousand hits, from everyone from schoolchildren to U.S. senators,” said Fermilab Public Affairs Director Judith Jackson. “We want to make it easy for them to find the information they are looking for, and easy for them to share our excitement about science.”
The World Wide Web was born in 1991 at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, as a tool to allow particle physicists to communicate experimental results to scientific colleagues around the world. Physicists at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California established the first U.S. website in late 1991. Fermilab and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created the next two sites at about the same time in June 1992.
In the Web’s early days at Fermilab, the people who used it were physicists sharing results of their experiments. In 1994, Fermilab made its first attempt to use the Web as a way to communicate with a broader audience. The occasion was the announcement of evidence for a new fundamental particle of matter, the top quark. Some 12,000 people clicked on www.fnal.gov to learn about the top when the particle made its debut in an April 1994 press conference at the laboratory.
“It seemed like a lot of hits at the time,” Jackson said.
Last summer’s observation at Fermilab of another subatomic particle, the tau neutrino, brought a peak of 270,000 hits on the days following its announcement.
In the 1990s, Fermilab’s website grew quickly as both a working medium for physicists and as a communications tool for the laboratory. Subsites of increasing sophistication and a wide range of styles proliferated. By the end of the decade, the site had become a treasure trove of “content,” in Web parlance, but it could be difficult for visitors to find what they were looking for. Laboratory officials decided it was time for a change.
In February 2000, Fermilab staff began work on a new site that would keep the extraordinary content of the old one but make it more accessible and easier to navigate. Rather than applying a cosmetic fix to the current site, the staff worked with Chicago Web design firm Xeno Media on a makeover that would have not just a new look but a new architecture and navigation scheme as well. Today’s roll-out marks a new step in the evolution of Fermilab’s website from a tool for physicists to a medium of communication between the laboratory and the rest of the world.
“Our goal for the new site was to make it possible for anyone who comes to the Fermilab website in search of information to find it quickly and easily,” said Xeno Media’s Kevin Munday. “The site should have a good look and feel. And it should be clear to visitors that the site is alive and up to date.”
Headlines in a home page news box will display each day’s hot topics from Fermilab, linked to featured news stories, websites, photos and press releases. A “Press Pass” button leads to press resources and to FermiNews, the laboratory’s news magazine. A page devoted to “Fermilab and the Community,” designed to strengthen relations between the laboratory and its neighbors, provides an email link for neighbors to send questions and concerns for a quick response from Fermilab. The site continues to feature information about particle physics not only at Fermilab but at other high-energy physics laboratories and universities worldwide. Fermilab staff expect the “Physics Questions People Ask Fermilab” section to remain among the new site’s most-visited pages.
The site emphasizes Fermilab’s role as a Department of Energy national laboratory and provides links to information about both DOE and Universities Research Association, Inc., the university consortium that operates Fermilab.
The roll-out of the new website coincides with the March 1 start of Collider Run II at Fermilab’s Tevatron particle accelerator. When high-energy particle collisions begin at the Tevatron later this month, the new website will show live online collision displays, just as scientists see them in Fermilab’s experiment control rooms. Physicists’ hopes are high that Run II will produce important discoveries in particle physics at the laboratory.
“May the world one day learn of the discovery of the Higgs boson from the new Fermilab home page news box,” Jackson said.
Fermilab is operated by Universities Research Association, Inc., under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.