Scientist Bruce Baller retires from Fermilab after 32 years

Bruce Baller

Fermilab scientist Bruce Baller started working at Fermilab in March 1987. Since then, he has helped discover a particle, worked on beamlines, helped design detectors and managed particle physics experiments. Now he is retiring. His last day is Friday, March 15.

Baller started in what was then called the Research Division as a beamline physicist. He later served as the leader of the Lab 6 Group and then Site Operations Department head. In that role, he developed a building management program and managed the department’s responses to the Tiger Team, a Department of Energy team that conducted health and safety reviews at DOE laboratories. From 1992 to 1996, Baller was the Research Division associate head for operations and ES&H.

Then the neutrinos came calling. In 1997, Baller turned his focus to MINOS. He was with the MINOS experiment from its beginning, working as project manager through the experiment’s CD-2 approval. He became deputy head of the MINOS Department and the co-leader of MINOS’s Near Detector Design Group. Not content to work only on the receiving end of beam, Baller also worked on the beamline itself: He was NuMI Department head and NuMI Beam Project manager during the construction of the NuMI beamline.

Baller was a member of the DONUT experiment when, in 2000, it found evidence of the tau neutrino — the final undiscovered neutrino flavor and the last of the 12 particles predicted by the Standard Model.

Following his tenure in MINOS, Baller moved to Accelerator Division in 2001 to manage the NuMI beamline construction project. Roger Dixon appointed him as the Accelerator Division associate head for budget and projects in 2005. He and Jeff Spalding managed the original Proton Improvement Plan.

Baller returned to the Research Division — now called the Particle Physics Division — in 2008 and quickly moved to the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment — now called DUNE — in 2009 to develop the case for the liquid-argon time projection chamber (LArTPC) option. After the detector technology decision was made, Baller switched back into hardware mode to help commission the MicroBooNE detector and manage the first years of its operation. In the last years of his career at Fermilab, he has been developing signal processing and reconstruction techniques for the LArTPC community.

“We all see now, not too too far at the end of the road, the realization of one of the most ambitious experiments in particle physics. We all walk on and contribute to build the path to it,” said Flavio Cavanna, DUNE scientist and one of Baller’s close collaborators. “One thing must be remembered though: We would not be what we are today and where we are today without Bruce. Yes! Bruce is one of those few whose vision and intuition made this path open, one of those few whose ingenuity made us ‘clustering along the trajectory’.”

During retirement, Baller plans to boat and hike in the Smoky Mountains.

“The lab has been a great place to work for all these years,” Baller said. “It’s been like working in a toy shop where you get to play with the toys.”

Say goodbye at his cookies-and-refreshments retirement reception, where you can ask him what it was like to help discover the tau neutrino, work the owl shift in the control room, or — in a life before Fermilab — help develop the Post-It pad as a 3M project engineer.

The reception takes place on Thursday, March 14, from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in WH13NW.