Monthly Archives: June 2009

Physics finally cool enough for Rolling Stone

Coinciding conveniently with our trip, the new issue of Rolling Stone profiles Steven Chu, Obama’s Energy Secretary. (You can read a PDF here.) The Department of Energy is unquestionably a bureaucratic mess (exhibit A: the Superconducting Super Collider), and Chu says he is committed to supporting good science rather than playing politics — a refreshing change for the department, considering that one congressional science staffer told Jeff Goodell, the piece’s author, “In the past, the only qualification necessary to becoming secretary of energy was that you knew nothing about energy.” Continue reading

The National Synchrotron Light Source

Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source, we would discover, is just that — a light source. And despite the differences in scale and the methods of production, it isn’t so different from the studio lights used by photographers. In each case, the way to get the best image is to shine a really bright light on the subject and take a picture of it. Indeed, the only respect in which the light source’s name can be misleading is that it does not confine itself to the visible light spectrum, but uses everything between infrared and x-rays.

A view of the workspaces surrounding the smaller ring at Brookhavens National Synchrotron Light Source

A view of the workspaces surrounding the smaller ring at Brookhaven's National Synchrotron Light Source

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Argonne Added

At the very generous invitation of Louise Lerner from Argonne National Lab in the comments to our welcome post, we’ve decided to add another stop on our tour before heading south from Chicago. Between that and the grueling pace we set by adding Oak Ridge at the last minute, we’ve fallen behind both on our sleep and on our posting. But bear with us – we’ve got a few days of plain driving ahead of us, so should be able to catch up over the weekend.

Aside from everything else, I filled up both of my memory cards at Fermilab – 12 GB of photos!


On the road

We’re officially on the road!  We left New York on Sunday night, enjoyed an excellent tour of Oak Ridge National Laboratory on Tuesday, and are now in Chicago, getting ready to go to Fermilab tomorrow.  We were hoping that things would calm down once we got moving (leaving us more time to blog!), but this trip seems to be taking on a mind of its own. In just the last few days, we’ve added Argonne National Laboratory and JPL to our itinerary.  Thanks to everyone for your interest in this project, and check back soon for posts about Brookhaven, Oak Ridge, and Fermilab!

-Lizzie and Nick

Brookhaven: “There’s no physics without foil”

Before our visit last week, I had been to Brookhaven once before: for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider’s (RHIC) Summer Sunday, the machine’s community meet-and-greet. I thought walking around in the accelerator tunnel and seeing the house-sized detectors up close had given me a pretty good idea of the scale of the experiments. But this year, Nick and I visited RHIC in the middle of a run. I knew that hundreds of scientists work on the PHENIX and STAR experiments, but I didn’t appreciate the level of coordination and cooperation that goes into making that happen.
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Hello, World!

We’re Lizzie Wade and Nick Russell. This summer, we will be taking a road trip across the United States before Lizzie starts a Fulbright in Mexico City. On the way, we will visit some of the sites and laboratories that have contributed (and continue to contribute) to the history of high energy physics. We aim to document a particular moment in science and history: as the Large Hadron Collider slowly rumbles to life in Europe, it promises to change not only our understanding of the universe at its most fundamental level, but also the manner in which high energy physics is conducted around the world.

Our itinerary takes us to seven National Laboratories and to the site of the abandoned Superconducing Super Collider (and hopefully to the Very Large Array, just for fun):

Brookhaven National Laboratory (Brookhaven, Long Island, New York)
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, Tennessee)
Fermilab National Laboratory (Batavia, Illinois)
Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne, Illinois)
•The former planned site of the Superconducting Super Collider (Waxahachie, Texas)
Los Alamos National Laboratory (Los Alamos, New Mexico)
The Very Large Array (Sorroco, New Mexico)
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, California)
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley, CA)
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Livermore, CA)
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (Stanford, CA)

In addition to this blog, we will be working with Symmetry Magazine, the joint Fermilab/SLAC publication about particle physics, to produce a multimedia piece. We hope you enjoy what we come up with!

-Lizzie and Nick


Here are some questions I hope to investigate during our trip, in no particular order:

How do labs like Oak Ridge and Los Alamos incorporate their history while moving forward with their scientific and philosophic missions?

Are multi-use labs the way to go in terms of funding, public interest, and continuing relevance?  Can they help physics become more interdisciplinary?  What are the benefits and drawbacks of interdisciplinary science — and how do such collaborations work?

What are the prospects for the International Linear Collider and other future high energy physics experiments?  What are the chances they will be located in the U.S. — particularly at Fermilab?

How does having a physics lab in town change the surrounding community?

What can’t the LHC explore? How can lower energy American labs fill the gaps?

How will the U.S.’s political climate influence support for current and future projects? Has the current administration’s stated support for basic research changed any realities or expectations?

What happened to the Superconducting Super Collider? What lessons have we learned for future projects? Has the science been incorporated into other projects?

What will Fermilab do when the Tevatron shuts down? What will its new niche be now that it is not the highest energy collider in the world?

Do you have questions of your own? Leave them in the comments!