The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, nicknamed Fermilab, is a massive laboratory just outside of Chicago that focuses on particle physics — as in, the building blocks of the universe itself!
Located in Batavia, Illinois, Fermilab sits on a whopping 6,800 acres of prairie, complete with bison, wildlife and restored native grasslands surrounding the world-class laboratory. It’s most recognizable by its large, A-shaped building in the center of the campus, but the complex is home to dozens of buildings that host experiments, high-end tech and more.
Although it’s run by the Universities Research Association for the U.S. Department of Energy, Fermilab is a global research center that has hosted research teams and scientists from nearly four dozen countries around the world.
Cool, huh? And right in our own back yard!
Although this writer is not nearly scientific enough to explain the goings-on of this intense research facility (hello, journalism degree), here is an extremely simple explanation of just some of the insanely clever things going on in the Fermilab.
What goes on at Fermilab?
What do scientists at Fermilab research?
Like we said, particle physics and nuclear physics are the building blocks of the universe, so the questions that Fermilab researchers are asking are the big ones. Questions like “why is the universe here?,” “what’s the nature of the universe?,” “what is the nature of physics?” and “what will our future look like?” are just a few of them.
No pressure, ya know? Just understand the foundations of life and existence at work on Monday, then maybe discover a new quark or something on Tuesday. We’ll see where the week takes us.
Here are some more things Fermilab is working on.
The Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics is a scientific theory that describes the 12 particles and four forces that make up and govern all of matter. They include quarks and leptons, which are the smallest known particles in the universe and thus, make up all of the matter around us. There are also the four forces that govern those particles: gravity, electromagnetism, weak force and strong force.
Because there has been so much research, observation and measurements conducted on the Standard Model — much of it has been done here at Fermilab! — it’s considered to be the most successful scientific theory of all time.
The Large Hadron Collider
The best way to understand how matter acts under extreme energy is to recreate it, which is what researchers and scientists are doing with the Large Hadron Collider.
The Large Hadron Collider is the largest and fastest particle accelerator in the world, and though it’s located in Geneva, Switzerland, Fermilab scientists study the data gathered there to better understand the nature of high-energy collisions.
Why, you ask? Well, this particle accelerator uses such high speeds that when the moving protons collide with each other, it creates energy high enough to recreate the processes that occurred during the first few moments of the Big Bang!
Fermilab scientists also conduct research on neutrinos, which are subatomic particles that have no electrical charge and nearly no mass, which means they hardly ever interact with matter. An electron, for example, is one kind of neutrino, and Fermilab researchers also conduct studies on muon and tau neutrinos.
There are currently several different experiments being conducted at Fermilab that focus on neutrinos, like the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) that not only aims to understand subatomic phenomena, but also to understand why we even have matter at all! As in, why we even exist!
Also, it comes with a great compliment idea: “Hey, are you being studied at Fermilab?” “No, why?” “Because you matter!”.
Thanks, we’ll be here all week.
Dark matter and dark energy
Here’s some food for thought.
Scientists have observed all the matter in the entire universe and, at the same time, calculated how much matter the universe should contain based on its age, energy consumption and makeup. The problem is, though, that the numbers don’t add up. If the amount of matter in the universe should be 100% of a pie graph, then scientists have only observed 5% of it. So, where is the other matter? Where did it go?
This question has led to the study of what scientists call dark matter and dark energy, each of which accounts for 25% and 70% of the universe, respectively. We still don’t understand the nature of these types of matter, how they work or where they operate, but that’s a huge part of what Fermilab researchers are trying to figure out!
The quantum realm
Quantum mechanics is a large piece of the study of particle physics, as it would take our normal computers far too long to compute complex data collected from the subatomic realm.
Scientists at Fermilab are studying quantum computing which, if harnessed, could create supercomputers that can solve these complex questions in mere minutes, rather than centuries on our comparatively antiquated computers of today! These experiments and laboratories consist of ultra-high tech and some mind-boggling science that could, quite literally, change the world!
Fermilab is one of the world’s premier laboratories studying the nature of the universe through particle physics — and it’s all in our backyard! If you live in or near our luxury Chicago apartments, you can visit the lab every day of the week and, on certain days, attend tours and lectures given by the scientists at the lab. No matter when you visit, you’ll learn something cool from some of the greatest minds in the world!
Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/AchuimWeidner