The last proton

By Daniel Holz | September 29, 2011 10:29 pm

At 2pm today, in a field not far from downtown Chicago, a final proton will smash into an antiproton. And then the Tevatron, the most powerful particle accelerator for almost three decades, will be shut off after producing over 500 trillion proton-antiproton collisions (over 10 inverse femtobarns). The Tevatron discovered the top quark, the Bc meson, and the tau neutrino. It measured direct CP violation, constrained the possible mass of the Higgs, precisely measured a range of masses and lifetimes, as well as a host of other important scientific contributions. It was a remarkable machine, but it has now been superseded by the Large Hadron Collider.

Science marches on, and after a glorious career, it is time for the Tevatron to go dark. Fermilab is throwing a goodbye party.

You don’t just throw a switch and turn off a particle accelerator. The process is slow and deliberate. The superconducting magnets will take roughly a week to warm back up. And the data will take many months to analyze. But at some point tomorrow afternoon North America will witness its last controlled TeV particle collision.

  • David

    I wonder where we would be right now if the SSC had been built.

  • Yvette

    RIP Tevatron 1983-2011

    There’s no way for me NOT to be sad about this, and I’m amazed at how much it’s affecting me actually. :(

  • George

    It is only because I am a bit saddened by this milestone that I feel compelled to comment.

    Formerly an aspiring physicist, a goal of mine was to earn an appointment as a research fellow at Fermilab and witness, firsthand, a collision in excess of 1 TeV. Despite that dream ending long ago, I would have been disappointed had this upcoming afternoon passed without my timely observance. I’m just grateful to be aware.

  • Sam

    This is a great BBC article actually which I would recommend anyone with passion for this to read. ACTUALLY a really good read albeit depressing, but it does seem to hit the nail on the head quite nicely while summing up American science in general.

    On my behalf, RIP from your
    British Friend

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Nice reminder of what was. Sad evocation of what should have been.

  • Patrick M Dennis

    Is the MINOS experiment now therefore offline also? I thought it was gonna shed some, well, light on the question of v>c neutrinos.

  • John Conway

    Patrick, the MINOS experiment gets its neutrinos from the other accelerators at Fermilab, particularly the Main Injector (hence the MI in the name). That machine will continue to operate, delivering proton beams for years to come. With the energy frontier at CERN, the future of Fermilab is now the “high intensity” frontier, with a suite of experiments done at lower energies, but huge numbers of protons on target. Eventually the lab hopes to build what they are presently calling Project X, a proton linear accelerator that will provide feed these very high rate experiments with beams.

    We’ll know, based on data in hand, the answer from MINOS about the superluminal neutrinos in a few months. Stay tuned!

  • Kenny

    It’s the FNAL countdown.

  • LabCAD

    Your aerial view of Fermilab is upside down. Which may well be fitting this afternoon. Bye Tev, we’ll miss you, especially your anti-protons.

  • X

    Can somebody save that last proton for me? I’d like to put it on my desk somewhere. Maybe mounted in a water molecule or something…

  • StanSki

    Another “Made In USA” hittin the skids. Why not continue to use it? So what if CERN is the big dog right now? The more opportunities for research, right?

  • Dr. Rob Snihur

    Chicago artist Maria Scileppi and I made a video to commemorate
    today’s closing of
    the Tevatron particle accelerator at Fermilab.
    We used bicycles and her Living Brushstroke software to visualize our GPS data.
    Check it out and share or tweet it far and wide please!

    A blog entry about the video is at

  • chimpanzee

    Tchaikovsky/Pletnev (V. Rudenko pianist) summarizes the “grandeur” of the FNAL (CDF & D0):

    FNAL needs a musical component in their Outreach, their existing multimedia of pics/videos is too much A) Information (inherently dry). Need the B) Entertainment componenet, especially Music..a universal language. I.e., a composite A+B model, an area I’ve been dabbling in for STEM (Science Technology Entertainment Math) Outreach.

    A partnership with an existing musician (piano or violin), conductor, etc would be great. Many of the new upcoming young talent are Tech savvy, & are have Youtube channels, Twitter accounts, FB accounts. Hilary Hahn (American violinist), Rachel Barton Pine (American violinist based in Chicago), Vitaly Pisarenko (Russian pianist, winner Franz Liszt Piano Competition/2010):

    I’m friends with Vitaly on FB & subscribe to Hilary’s Youtube channel (she does interviews while on tour, great stuff!)

  • http://Yahoo Pat

    To X:
    Actually that last proton, after the collision with an antiproton, would nicely warm a few micrograms of your morning coffee.

    I, on the other hand, would love to have the picture they take of the collision mounted on my wall so that when my friends ask what it is I can explain what an antiproton is over and over and over again.

  • Chris

    First the space shuttle, now this. So sad.

  • RT

    Just to support what John Conway said. While it’s sad to see the Tevatron shut down finally, those of us in neutrino physics at Fermilab are just getting started. 😀 MINOS and a lot of other experiments are still running, and there are big plans for a lot of neat experiments and physics in the future (NOvA, MicroBooNE, LBNE, etc.). And that’s just one field of physics. The LHC and the Tevatron are sexy, but there’s still a ton of awesome stuff going on everywhere!

    Just as long as, you know, they don’t cut the funding. Sigh.

  • Pete

    Final chapters are often sad, especially at the loss of the protagonist. But why must it be closed? Is it cost? Is there no benefit for training new physicists and engineers? At a time when the US needs more scientifically and technologically competent people, loss of this facility seems a waste. Couldn’t it be used to explore new energy technologies as well? Materials research? Defense? Given the “workload” of LHC, it’s location, should the US divest itself of significant resources like the Tevatron? Can it be upgraded? Will it be moth-balled for historical purposes? I assume the “pros” have analyzed this, can that be shared so we don’t feel like the decision is short-sighted?

  • Ian

    Just wait. In a few months, you’ll be able to buy neutrinos at Walmart.

  • Jim Harrison

    Pete, the conservatives won’t be satisfied until they strangle the last proton with the G.U.T. of the last string theorist.

  • Nalliah Thayabharan

    Incompetence of the US in managing science & space programs is the sign of the decline of USA. Voters are more interested in watching Bachelor and Desperate Housewives and Dancing with the Stars than science and space programs. Politicians are more interested in getting re-elected than science and space programs.
    Nalliah Thayabharan

  • Bob Allan

    I have repaired obsolete equipment from FermiLab, while residing in Chicago, for a second hand shop. This refurbished equipment was reused in Universities. I feel a personal loss of the TeV.
    Good Bye!!!


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