Fermilab’s big day: A celebration of 50 years of science

Visitors at the Technical Campus learn about how magnets work in accelerators.

What does it take to throw the biggest Fermilab Open House in decades?

Months of planning, 80 buses, 900 eager workers, four Mr. Freeze shows, 15,000 brochures, 28 bison, two muon experiments, 25 neutrino trading cards, 50 years of incredible science—and 10,000 friends of Fermilab.

Sept. 23 felt more like summer than the second day of fall, but Fermilab fans, new friends and future scientists were undeterred by the heat and enjoyed a full day of scientific discovery. The Fermilab Community Open House commemorating the laboratory’s 50th anniversary provided visitors the unique opportunity to see parts of the lab rarely open to the public, like the 350-foot-deep shaft leading to Fermilab’s neutrino experiment cavern or the lab’s state-of-the art factory for particle detectors.

For most visitors, there was too much to see and do in one day, but every part of the Fermilab campus seemed full of enthusiastic faces, soaking up science, and equally exuberant lab staff and collaborators sharing what they do at Fermilab.

One visitor positions herself at a detector’s interaction point.

“It’s high-level physics geeks talking about high-level physics — what’s not to love?” said one upbeat visitor.

Among the more popular attractions were the Muon g-2 experiment, with its famous magnet, which arrived at Fermilab in 2013 from Long Island, New York; Mr. Freeze and his cool cryogenic shows, wowing crowds with liquid nitrogen; and the Chicagoland STEM Fair, where visitors had the chance to engage with science through demonstrations from Chicagoland’s STEM community.

The Lederman Science Education Center was also a hot spot for hands-on family fun, with easy-to-understand demonstrations of the science that drives Fermilab experiments.

“I enjoyed the tour of Fermilab’s linear accelerator, but at first my kids didn’t quite understand the science,” said Feng, a Naperville resident. “As soon as we came to the accelerator table at the science center, it clicked and now they understand how it works too.”

Guests at the Open House enjoy their time at the Lederman Science Center, where they learned about particle physics, accelerator science and other STEM fields.

Many visitors checked out parts of the laboratory’s linear accelerator, as well as the Main Control Room, where lab employee monitor the passage of particle beams through the accelerator complex.

“Your 50th Anniversary was very educational and totally cool,” said another guest. “The buildings, experiments all very educational. I must say that Fermilab itself is a United Nations of great people who as we saw were happy, friendly, full of smiles and very grateful to show us the behind the scenes of their workplaces.”

Other attractions included the Technical Campus, which offered a chance to visit the bison and those who care for them, learn about how Fermilab makes superconducting magnets, and to chat live with scientists from CERN in Switzerland. From there, visitors could take buses to see facilities such as the Cryomodule Test Facility where new, state-of-the-art particle accelerator technologies are developed. They could also visit the Silicon Detector Facility, where visitors could learn all about Fermilab’s study of dark matter and dark energy; the development of next-generation particle detector components and quantum sensors; and Fermilab’s contribution to the South Pole Telescope — not to mention the historic, otherworldly-looking Bubble Chamber.

“Thank you so much for your fantastic Open House. The employees were so informative, welcoming and positive even in the crazy heat,” said one visitor. “It was wonderful to be able to show our young boys such tremendous science right here in the Chicagoland area.  Our whole family enjoyed learning together! In the words of our seven-year-old, “It was amazing!'”

Visitors learn about the history of the Tevatron and the CDF and DZero experiments at the Silicon Detector Facility.

The muon and neutrino experiments were a big hit too with adults and kids alike.

“We got to see all the muon experiments and then we got to see ICARUS. It was super cool!” said Jack, a nine-year-old Chicago resident. ICARUS is a 760-ton neutrino detector that was delivered to Fermilab from CERN in July. “My favorite part was going down into the tunnel to see the Muon Delivery Ring,” he said.

Jack plans to be a future Fermilab scientist, but he’ll be back before then.

“We’ve already marked the Family Open House in February on our calendar!” added his mom.

Wilson Hall was a hub of science, art, history and advanced computing. Guests also got to learn about some of Fermilab’s partners, such as the Department of Energy, Sanford Lab and IBM, who hosted an exhibit on quantum computers.

Fermilab’s Open House was a big hit, and there’s no better way to celebrate 50 years of science than to share the excitement with the laboratory’s friends and neighbors. If you missed the Open House or didn’t get a chance to see everything you wanted to, the Fermilab site is open every day of the year. The lab hosts events, tours and plenty of other opportunities to learn about Fermilab’s mission to discover more about our universe. We hope you’ll be part of our next 50 years!

Read more about the Fermilab Community Open House in The Beacon-News, The Daily Herald and Naperville Community Television.

To see Fermilab’s full calendar of science, nature, education and cultural events for adults and kids, visit events.fnal.gov.