Applied Physics and Superconducting Technology Division: a new name, an evolving identity

On Oct. 1, the Technical Division (TD) name was officially changed to Applied Physics and Superconducting Technology Division. Everyone’s first reaction so far has been “That’s a pretty long name!”, but it will be abbreviated as APS-TD, which means, good news, we will still be known as the good old TD.

The new name more accurately reflects the division’s work, which has substantially evolved from the days since the division was created. To better understand the evolution of the division, here’s a little bit of a historical background.

The Industrial Center Building in 1986. Photo: Fermilab

TD was originally created in the 1980 as TSS, the Technical Support Section, with the important scope of building magnets for the Fermilab accelerator complex: first the conventional Main Ring magnets, then the Tevatron superconducting magnets, then the conventional Main Injector magnets, and then the Recycler permanent magnets. TSS’s first section head was Richard Lundy. He was followed by Paul Mantsch in 1983 and Frank Turkot in 1991.

Paul Mantsch recalls, “Even before the Tevatron was turned on in 1983, TSS became a center for the development of the high-field superconducting magnets for the Superconducting Super Collider. The success of TSS in building pioneering superconducting magnets was thanks to the innovative scientists, engineers and technicians then on the staff.”

In 1996, Fermilab Director John Peoples announced a new reorganization of the lab that would be “a better alignment of our organizational structure with the work on our plate.” Part of the reorganization involved the change of TSS into the Technical Division, headed by Peter Limon, with the mission to “develop, design, fabricate, procure, and test accelerator and detector components required to carry out Fermilab’s mission.”

Romesh Sood, associate head of TD since 1997, recalls that the “TSS workforce was heavily technician-dominated. With the transition to TD, there started to be a substantially larger fraction of engineers doing design.”

Victor Yarba, the first Engineering and Fabrication Department head of TSS, and then associate head of TD in 1996, explains, “When we were building magnets for the Main Injector, TSS was responsible for the mechanical design and construction of the magnets, but we were relying on the Accelerator Division (formerly Beam Division) scientists for the electromagnetic design. This was causing at times long delays. I proposed to Peter Limon to bring to the TD new engineers and scientists who would help cover all the aspects from electromagnetic to mechanical design of the magnets.”

With time, more than 20 new engineers and scientists joined TD, and this change truly signified a move in the direction of being less of a “support section” and more of a division, still serving a crucial role for the lab, but now standing on its own legs.

As owner of technologies crucial for HEP machines worldwide, TD went on to design and build superconducting magnets for the LHC. Around the year 2001, TD added a new important core capability to its portfolio: superconducting RF, originally meant for the International Linear Collider, a key technology that today enables machines not only for particle physics, but also for nuclear physics, basic energy science and much more. Leadership of TD in those years went from Bob Kephart to Marc Ross to Giorgio Apollinari.

Industrial Center Building, then and now. Left: LHC magnet production, 2002. Photo: Jenny Mullins. Right: LCLS-II cryomodule production in 2018. Photo: Anna Grassellino

In the following years, it became clear that while we build large accelerators today, we cannot forget about how to enable the ones that will be needed tomorrow. The best place to advance the enabling technologies is where the large and sophisticated infrastructure exists, where the hands-on and detailed expertise resides. As physics and engineering challenges to push to the next frontier evolve, the technologies must follow. The future of both magnets and SRF requires understanding and manipulating the behavior of the superconductors we use, such as niobium or niobium-tin, under DC or RF fields, at a nanoscale level. But the new requirements cannot prescindfrom the previous accumulated knowledge, and actually need to go hand in hand.

So, TD made a further step and, under Hasan Padamsee, a substantial number of scientists were hired – experts in RF superconductivity and material science — to boost the research programs. It turned out that many of these scientists were instrumental even in the construction of a machine such as LCLS-II, as these complex technologies truly require a harmonious balance of skilled construction (technical), understanding and design of mechanical and electromagnetic systems (engineering) and deeper understanding of the physics involved (superconductivity science).

The Quantum Computing Lab and Materials Science Lab are part of the new TD. Photos: Anna Grassellino

Here is then the clear transition from “Technical” to “Technology” Division: “Technical” implies doing and building something, while technology encompasses the broader knowledge and science that enable the creation of something.

Following Director Nigel Lockyer’s lab reorganization and new initiatives, together with Sergey Belomestnykh, we have pushed the division toward widening its portfolio: we have consolidated all cryogenic expertise at the lab in TD; we are expanding our impact beyond HEP to BES and NP and NSF; we have started partnering with Northwestern University (joint center CAPST) with world top superconductivity theorists; and we have also made first steps toward establishing APS-TD as a leader in the field of superconducting quantum research and technology, via the new Superconducting Quantum System Initiative, a spin-off of SRF research. Hence the Applied Physics part of the new division name.

This is just the beginning, and we are excited to see where we go next. Dropping the “technical” from our name in no way implies that we want to move away from it. We recognize that we are who we are today thanks especially to our hands-on expertise and approach. We take great pride in being the ones who build things. But we take even more pride in building things with a balanced and diverse team of technicians, engineers and scientists who, with their commitment and dedication, make the Applied Physics and Superconducting Technology Division a world leader in accelerator science and technology.

The division has its 2018 picnic. Photo: Tom Nicol

The division has its 2018 picnic. Photo: Tom Nicol

Anna Grassellino is the Fermilab deputy head of the Applied Physics and Superconducting Technology Division.