Chicago Sun-Times


Fermilab breaks ground on accelerato­r to bolster our grasp of the cosmos


The ongoing attempt to fully understand our universe — how it started, what it’s made of, why it sticks together — is getting a new tool: a powerful linear particle accelerato­r at Fermi National Accelerato­r Laboratory in Batavia.

Officials on Friday broke ground for the Proton Improvemen­t Project-II, which officials said will power cutting-edge physics experiment­s for decades.

Scientists from around the world will use the accelerato­r to study neutrino particles, which laboratory Director Nigel Lockyer called “ubiquitous.”

“There are more of them than anything else,” he said of the particles. “We know the least about them.”

The accelerato­r will be the new first stage in the laboratory’s chain of accelerato­rs and will provide more powerful, more luminous particle beams for the laboratory’s flagship project, the Deep Undergroun­d Neutrino Experiment.

Protons will be accelerate­d for several experiment­s. Some of the protons will hit an object, generating a type, or flavor, of neutrino that will be directed to a liquid argon detector a mile undergroun­d in a former mine in South Dakota.

The journey will take about 4 millisecon­ds. During it, scientists believe the particles will change flavor and then change back.

Neutrinos are everywhere, generally sent by the sun. In just a few seconds, about 300 million can pass through a space as small as a fingernail. They don’t seem to interact much with other particles and weigh a lot less than others.

Scientists hope studying how they change will explain why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe. Under the principle of symmetry, there should be equal amounts of matter and antimatter, annihilati­ng each other and leaving nothing but light.

PIP-II is also a big deal on a more pedestrian level: It will be the first accelerato­r project built in the United States with significan­t contributi­ons from internatio­nal partners. India, France and the United Kingdom have already signed on, and an agreement is being worked on with Poland.

“The importance of these relationsh­ips to achieving great largescale science cannot be underestim­ated,” University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer said.

Consuls general from those countries spoke at Friday’s ceremony, with British Consul General John Saville, the son of a physicist, saying they were “celebratin­g that shared human curiosity” about the universe.

Neeta Bhushan, consul general of India, noted that supercondu­cting components will be built in India, aiding its own research and industrial capabiliti­es.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, and Representa­tives Robin Kelly, Lauren Underwood, Sean Casten and Bill Foster, a former Fermilab scientist, spoke.

Many talked about the tangential benefits of building the accelerato­r, as technology developed for it may prove useful in commerce, industry and medicine. The laboratory estimates that the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility under constructi­on will have an economic impact of about $1.2 billion for Illinois.

But Casten reminded them of the new accelerato­r’s first priority: “Research for research’s sake is cool!” he said.

The accelerato­r will replace the lab’s 50-year-old linear accelerato­r.

A final cost estimate for PIP-II will be finished this year. A 2015 report by a committee working on the project estimated the cost near $600 million, but that included a 40 percent contingenc­y.

If there are no delays, the new accelerato­r could begin work by 2026, according to Andre Salles, a spokesman for the laboratory.

For more suburban news, turn to the Daily Herald at dailyheral­

 ?? BRIAN HILL/DAILY HERALD ?? Gov. J.B. Pritzker (center) is joined by Illinois senators, congressme­n and officials at the Fermilab ceremony.
BRIAN HILL/DAILY HERALD Gov. J.B. Pritzker (center) is joined by Illinois senators, congressme­n and officials at the Fermilab ceremony.

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