After 40 years at the laboratory, Tom Peterson retires from Fermilab

Tom Peterson

Tom Peterson

After 40 years at Fermilab working on large-scale cryogenics, magnets and superconducting accelerator technology, engineer Tom Peterson is retiring. His last day is Aug. 26.

Peterson came to Fermilab in August 1976, working on the design of the Tevatron, especially cryogenics and magnet work. His projects included the reciprocating helium expansion engines in the Tevatron’s cryogenic system, helping commission and operate its cryogenic system during the 1980s, and working on the cooling system for the DZero liquid-argon calorimeter. Peterson also worked on cryogenics for the magnet test facility, where staff tested various prototype magnets for the Superconducting Super Collider as well as various types of Tevatron magnets.

In those days, Peterson worked with engineers Larry Sauer and Rich Andrews and physicists Helen Edwards and Peter Limon.

“They provided a great start for me at Fermilab,” Peterson said.

A highlight of his career, Peterson said, was the one-and-a-half years he spent at DESY laboratory in Hamburg, Germany. From 1992-93, he worked in DESY’s Cryogenics Department developing cryogenic system concepts for the TESLA superconducting linear collider. He also worked on the TESLA Test Facility cryogenic system.

“Tom is a go-to guy for cryogenics around the world, designing systems, reviewing plans, organizing conferences, teaching courses, mentoring young engineers and giving advice,” said Technical Division Deputy Head David Harding. “He is the one I turn to for a reality check on ideas, as do many others, because he has a knack for getting to the heart of an issue deliberately and efficiently.”

Those collaborations inevitably led to important friendships.

“Tom and I have worked on a lot of the same projects over the years — the Tevatron, the SSC, TESLA at DESY, the LHC, and most recently LCLS-II. Sometimes we worked closely together, sometimes less so, but we were nearly always in touch with what the other was doing,” said Fermilab engineer Tom Nicol. “One of the things we shared over almost all this time was a tremendous regard for Helen Edwards and pride in working with her on many of the same projects. Tom and I talked about that many times. Those conversations will always be some of my most fond remembrances of our working together.”

An admirer of nature and wildlife, Peterson is known around Fermilab as “the butterfly guy.” He maintains an online list of butterflies and moths seen on the Fermilab site, complete with photographs, locations sighted and species count. He also served on the Fermilab Ecological Land Management Committee, which is dedicated to taking care of the valuable land on which Fermilab stands.

“I worked with an outstanding group of people at Roads and Grounds, who not only mow the lawns and plow the snow, but are expert land managers who know what grows and lives in every corner of the Fermilab site,” Peterson said of his experience on the ELM Committee.

“He is a good companion, contributing insights on nature, politics, and the arts on our walks to lunch and elsewhere,” Harding said.

Peterson is heading west to SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where he will pick up working in large-scale helium cryogenics and superconducting technology for the LCLS-II project. But he’ll take time to stop and enjoy the wildlife.

“I look forward in my spare time to exploring parks and hiking trails in the west, perhaps even seeing some western butterflies,” Peterson said.

Say goodbye to Peterson over coffee and cake on Tuesday, Aug. 23, from 2-3:30 p.m. on the first floor of the Industrial Center Building.