Donna Hicks retires after almost 38 years at Fermilab

Donna Hicks

Editor’s note: This article has been revised. Hicks’s retirement reception will be held on Wednesday, July 25, at 2 p.m. in the IARC OTE Building, second-floor lunchroom.

Donna Hicks came to Fermilab as a technician in 1980. During her time at Fermilab, she not only earned a college degree, she also earned her way to her current role as an engineering physicist.

Thirty-eight years after joining the lab, Hicks is retiring. Her last day is July 27.

Hicks’ Fermilab career began in the Technical Division where, as a technician, she worked on vacuum leak testing, electrical testing and pressure testing for the Tevatron. She also worked on the construction of the early Main Ring magnets, including superconducting magnets. Her magnet work continued even after the 1983 completion of the Tevatron.

In 1985, Hicks transferred to the Particle Physics Division, where she helped construct both fixed-target experiments and wire chambers for CDF and DZero. She later moved into more pure research, working with physicists in the development of scintillating tile and fiber for CDF and DZero.

When the first MINOS detector components were being installed in the Soudan Mine in Minnesota, Hicks studied photographic emulsion for MINOS. She and her team constructed experiments to study natural background radiation. Over months and then years, Hicks would pour emulsion on plastic tiles in a darkroom located in the mine, hundreds of feet underground. After exposing them in a light-tight capsule, she would develop the tiles (as one develops photographic film) and send them to Alabama for further study.

“That was the most interesting experiment I worked on,” Hicks said.

During this time she was also taking classes toward a Bachelor of Science, under the encouragement of colleague Dan Bollinger. In 2000 she received her bachelor’s in physics from Aurora University.

Hicks worked her way to becoming an engineering physicist and the head of the Materials Development Lab. When the opportunity arose, colleagues persuaded her to return to take on the role of Technical Division chemical hygiene officer, who was in charge of the chemistry facility at Lab 5.

“The carrot that lured me back was the scanning electron microscope,” Hicks said.

Having taken courses on using a JEOL scanning electron microscope, she soon became responsible for the management of the lab’s instrument, as well as other microscopes and detectors currently in the Materials Science Laboratory.

“She’s very well-respected by all her colleagues, and she’s done a wonderful job at the lab,” said Bollinger, Preaccelerator Group leader in the Accelerator Division.

Hicks looks back fondly on the Leon Lederman era.

“Dr. Lederman held some of the greatest parties to thank all of the employees for their hard work in the achievement of the Tevatron’s energy levels. The fountain of wine comes to mind,” she said. “One summer he also had Fay’s Barbecue over, and they set up the food in the horseshoe in front of Wilson Hall.”

She also recalled parties at the Village Barn where friends and colleagues drew Feynman diagrams on napkins and discussed particle collisions over beer.

A member of the Fermilab Photography Club, Hicks plans to continue snapping photos during retirement using the many cameras and lenses she’s acquired over the years. An avid fan of the outdoors, she plans not only to photograph outdoor scenery and birds, but also to take her new class C motorhome on the road and enjoy long trips with friends. She will eventually settle in Oregon close to the residence of her best friend.

“It will be sad to see her go, but I’m happy she’s going to get to enjoy herself and travel during retirement,” Bollinger said. “She’s been such a supportive friend, someone who has been there through thick and thin for all these years.”

Say goodbye to Hicks over cake and coffee on Wednesday, July 25, at 2 p.m. in the IARC OTE Building, second-floor lunchroom.