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What’s it like to visit the only U.S. lab focused on high-energy particle physics? I found out recently, when I went to give a talk to the physicists working there as part of their colloquium series. As usual, I learned more from the scientists than they ever have from me.
Although its Tevatron accelerator, four miles in circumference, closed in 2011 and CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Europe has superseded it for experiments involving the highest energy levels, particle physics remains alive and well in many studies at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill., near Chicago. New instruments are also being built, including “the most powerful neutrino experiment in North America,” NOvA, which after its completion in 2014 will probe fundamental questions about the role of elusive neutrino particles in the early universe; the Muon g-2, which will study these short-lived particles starting in 2016; and MicroBooNE, which, among other things, will follow up on low energy excess events found by MiniBooNE in its quest to determine neutrino mass.
Fermilab also has a rich history of accomplishments from work conducted using the Tevatron, including discoveries of the bottom quark in 1974 and the top quark in 1995—two important components of the Standard Model. Researchers there also announced the discovery of another particle, the tau neutrino, in 2000.