Road trip

It’s the 1990s, so what do two early-career researchers at Fermilab do when they need something from Brookhaven? Take a road trip, of course.

Back in the early 1990s, the rules were different. I was an undergrad summer student at the lab. Our group wanted to do a beam test with these transition radiation detectors — TRDs. So I and a postdoc, Shoji, rented a U-Haul from North Aurora, drove it on to the Fermilab site, loaded it up with electronics and tiny, little droplets of radioactive sources, the calibration sources for the TRDs. With the truck loaded up, Shoji and I drove it to Brookhaven Lab on Long Island.

I don’t know why we thought this was a good idea: We drove across the country in a U-Haul filled with physics equipment, trying to get to Brookhaven, New York, which we’d never been to. We had to stop and spent the night in Pittsburgh; we parked in this really bad part of town, and wondered if someone was going to steal our physics equipment. And then we drove across the bridge into New York City and actually went through downtown Manhattan with all that in tow.

We got to Brookhaven and stayed in one of these old barracks left over from their military history. We went strawberry picking. When we got to Brookhaven Lab, we unloaded everything at the test beam, did our calibration studies, loaded it all back up and drove back to Fermilab.

We did this two summers in a row. I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I remember thinking about filling out a material move request. The first time we decided that, because we were bringing it back, it was OK not to fill one out. The second time, we submitted one.

It felt like we were doing something very bold and exciting. It was hilarious.

That was the experience that really turned me on to experimental particle physics. It was the wildest ride of my life, and it was amazing to be able to do something like that.

I’m sure my supervisor had all the paperwork perfectly complete. I would never authorize that now in my current position.

Tim Meyer is the Fermilab chief operating officer.