Cooperation drives accelerator complex restart

Patrick Dowdle and Matilda Mwaniki keep six feet apart in the Main Control Room. Photo: Gilberto Perez

This summer, I started listening to the book “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman!” on my drive to and from work. In one chapter, Richard Feynman reports using a microscope lens to observe ants on an ivy helping aphids move from a dying plant to a new plant. In return, the ants got to enjoy honeydew from the aphids.

The ants got me thinking about my experience at Fermilab so far. The dying plant was like the previous accelerator run, which ended this spring, and the new plants were like the new accelerator run, which is starting up. The aphids were the Fermilab mission, and the ants were Fermilab employees. Everyone does their part to ensure the mission is not compromised.

This spirit of cooperation among Fermilab employees was instrumental in the gradual shutdown of the accelerator complex over March and April. It has also been key in the complex’s steady restart, which began in September and is currently rolling out.

Cooperation exhibit A: In March, the accelerator complex entered a lower-operation mode. The Accelerator Division took advantage of this period to help further construction projects. One of these projects required the Accelerator Division, with the help of FESS, to reconfigure power distribution within the accelerator complex. Another was to switch the Central Utility Building from its primary power source to its backup power, again with FESS’s help. Exhibit B: Since only essential personnel were on site, the Accelerator Division worked closely with the Core Computing Division to have Zoom meeting rooms set up for teleworking. This was just the beginning of an extended period of close collaboration between lab sectors and especially tight cooperation within the Accelerator Division.

In April, ES&H helped AD roll the complex into summer shutdown mode. The effort included helping AD employees acquire additional personal protective equipment, develop new hazard analysis forms and manage other safety protocols. One example of a new safety protocol: Areas that had been, up to this point, occupied and monitored by personnel were now unstaffed, so the first time in years, the operations group performed walkthroughs of these newly vacant areas, ensuring that everything remained in a safe condition.

During one of the walkthroughs, the Operations Group found a water pipe leak. The group monitored water levels and made sure the power supplies in the area remained dry, and the Accelerator Division, FESS and Procurement worked together to repair the leak. A job that was supposed to take two weeks took about half the time.

Over the summer, multiple groups in AD performed general maintenance in service buildings, accelerators and beamlines. The shutdown turned out to be very productive. Among our accomplishments:

  • Approved more than 350 tasks.
  • Conducted 52 power outages.
  • Reconfigured the power feeder.
  • Supported LBNF site prep work.
    • excavation to relocate the Indian Creek and berm.
    • removal of a pond, replacing it with a cooling tower at MI20.
    • removal and relocation of communication and power duct banks.
  • Replaced a Linac drift tube.
  • Pulled cable for the Main Injector collimator area.
  • Continued work for the Mu2e experiment, including installing sextupole magnets for slow extraction, which is a method for directing beam from the Recycler to the experiment.
  • Completed general maintenance activities. The Accelerator Division, Applied Physics and Superconducting Technology Division, Core Computing Division, FESS, Neutrino Division and Particle Physics Division all contributed to this effort in the accelerator complex.

Now, after seven months, AD has completed the summer shutdown and is transitioning into accelerator startup mode. Accelerators, beamlines, power supplies, water systems, radio-frequency power systems, interlock systems and more are being “awakened,” and AD is verifying the system parameters.

We expect soon to roll out beam smoothly, when it is available. We have already established beam in the Linac and the Booster and are now preparing to send beam to the downstream areas, including the MeV Test Area (located at the end of Linac). As we finish our LBNF site prep work, we’ll be able to provide beam to the Booster Neutrino Beamline, NuMI Beamline, Muon Campus and experimental areas.

It is thanks to colleagues in and outside AD that the summer shutdown period was a success. Staff facilitated the movement from the old plant to the new plant, just like the aphids in Feynman’s book. The accelerator shutdown and startup processes don’t just happen — we don’t flip a switch. Like the ants, everyone works together to roll in the new run, thus supporting the lab’s scientific programs while ensuring people’s safety. We follow the plans and adjust as necessary, remaining flexible while working to get the job done in a timely and safe way. These have been challenging times, and, even being new to the lab, I’ve already seen how the lab comes together as a well-oiled, working machine to take on these challenges head-on, furthering Fermilab’s mission.

Matilda Mwaniki is a Fermilab accelerator operator.