Run like a proton at Fermilab’s new playground

Kids and parents look on as, from left, former Fermilab Chief Operating Officer Bruce Chrisman, Fermilab Education Office Head Marge Bardeen, and Fermilab Chief Operating Officer Jack Anderson cut the ribbon on the new proton playground outside the Lederman Science Center on Tuesday, May 21, 2013. Photo: Fermilab

Kids and parents look on as, from left, former Fermilab Chief Operating Officer Bruce Chrisman, Fermilab Education Office Head Marge Bardeen, and Fermilab Chief Operating Officer Jack Anderson cut the ribbon on the new proton playground outside the Lederman Science Center on Tuesday, May 21, 2013. Photo: Fermilab

It’s one thing for kids to try to envision particles zipping around underground when learning about the science at Fermilab. It’s another thing entirely for them to pretend to be particles charging along an accelerator path, revealing new physics as they fly by.

This week the Fermilab Education Office celebrated the completion of its new Run Like A Proton accelerator path for middle- and high-school-age visitors to the laboratory.

Located at the Lederman Science Center, the path is an aboveground, scaled-down version of the routes a particle can take through Fermilab’s accelerator complex. While running along the path, kids can act like they are the particles of the lab’s physics program zipping through underground tunnels.

“Kids have different modes of learning,” said Spencer Pasero of Fermilab’s Education Office. “They can learn about the work of the lab with our indoor exhibits, but now they can also learn about it through our new outdoor playground.”

Seconds after the ribbon cutting, local kids test out the proton run, part of the new proton playground outside the Lederman Science Center at Fermilab on Tuesday, May 21, 2013. Looking on are former Fermilab Chief Operating Officer Bruce Chrisman, Fermilab Education Office Head Marge Bardeen, and Fermilab Chief Operating Officer Jack Anderson. Photo: Fermilab

Seconds after the ribbon cutting, local kids test out the proton run, part of the new proton playground outside the Lederman Science Center at Fermilab on Tuesday, May 21, 2013. Looking on are former Fermilab Chief Operating Officer Bruce Chrisman, Fermilab Education Office Head Marge Bardeen, and Fermilab Chief Operating Officer Jack Anderson. Photo: Fermilab

It’s a playground with a physics lesson. Kids playing the parts of protons and antiprotons “collide” by high-fiving each other as they run along the accelerator path. Signs along the path guide them in the right direction, whether they want to follow the path a proton would take as it circles the Main Injector or assume the flight of a neutrino headed toward Minnesota.

Kids won’t be limited to playing the part of particle. If they want a role as someone who sets the particles in motion, they can learn about how an operator interacts with the accelerator complex as she works with her controls on the playground.

At more than 100 feet across – longer than a basketball court – the path gives kids plenty of space to let loose in their particle impressions.

The accelerator path is the first stage in the laboratory’s long-term plan to build a larger physics playground.

The Fermilab Education Office has already taken the Run Like A Proton accelerator path for a test drive with a few student groups, and the new outdoor feature has been a hit.

“Students run like a proton around the accelerator path, and afterward when they go on a tour of Fermilab, the docents ask them, ‘Remember when you were running like a proton?’” said Marge Bardeen, head of the Education Office. “And they remember! What a great way to learn.”

An overhead image of the new proton run at the Lederman Science Center at Fermilab. The proton run is in the shape of Fermilab's accelerator complex. Photo: Fermilab

An overhead image of the new proton run at the Lederman Science Center at Fermilab. The proton run is in the shape of Fermilab’s accelerator complex. Photo: Fermilab

The Run Like A Proton accelerator path is made possible by a grant from the Kane County Riverboat Fund and a contribution from an anonymous donor, both through the Fermilab Friends for Science Education, which supports innovative programs at Fermilab. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the playground was held on Tuesday, May 21, at the Lederman Science Center.

The Lederman Science Center is open to the public Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“We hope this playground will activate kids’ imaginations and that they immerse themselves in the physics we’ve been doing at the lab for 30 years,” Pasero said.

Fermilab is America’s premier national laboratory for particle physics research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance, LLC. Visit Fermilab’s website at www.fnal.gov and follow us on Twitter at @FermilabToday.

The DOE Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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