August 22, 2019

What Happens When You Put a Ferret in a Particle Accelerator?

“IN FEBRUARY 1971, PHYSICISTS AT the National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, began testing the biggest machine in the world: a ring-shaped, 200-billion-electron-volt (BeV) proton synchrotron particle accelerator. The stakes were high. NAL director Bob Wilson had told the U.S. Department of Energy that he could get it running within five years for $250 million, and they were four years in. They soon ran into a perplexing problem: Magnets that were essential to its operation kept failing.

The low-tech solution proposed for this high-tech trouble? A ferret named Felicia.

But first, a bit of background. The NAL—today known as Fermilab, after the physicist Enrico Fermi—has a chain of accelerators: a linear accelerator (linac), a booster, a recycler ring, and a main injector ring. The linac provides the proton beam and the initial jolt of energy; the booster accelerates it; the recycler “batches it” into groups of protons for a more intense beam; and the main injector ring zips the beam around tens of thousands of times to nearly the speed of light. The particles are then sent to various testing facilities, where they’re smashed together or against a fixed target. The resulting collision, observed by a particle detector, reveals their interiors and sometimes creates exotic particles. These are the most fundamental elements of the universe.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"The United States and Russia are entering a new arms race, and the costs aren’t just monetary. On August 8, Russian civilians around the remote village of Nyonoksa found themselves downwind of a military nuclear propulsion experiment gone wrong..."

"I don't know about you, but for me "Having more people run for president and effectively doubling the number of primary contests" is not up there with "Michigan beating Notre Dame in the playoffs" and "A new deluxe edition of Barbara Bush's..."

"A growing body of research suggests that, rather than posing a threat to individual wellbeing, adopting a more sustainable lifestyle represents a pathway to a more satisfied life. Numerous studies have found that people who purchase green..."

"What should a parent do when a 2-year-old shrieks inconsolably because her string cheese wrapper tore “the wrong way”? Increasingly, the answer is “snap a photo, add a snarky caption and upload it to Instagram.” Publicly laughing at your..."

"The yield curve’s inverted! The yield curve’s inverted! That was the news I awoke to last Wednesday on CNBC as the 10 year Treasury note yield dipped below the 2 year yield for the first time since 2007. That’s the sign everyone has been waiting..."

"Even a casual observer of the entertainment industry knows that Hollywood is hooked on established intellectual property at the expense of original ideas and awash in more money than it knows how to sensibly spend. But three stories about the..."

"One of the formative texts of the Safed myth, which first portrayed the town as a unique place and which was responsible for spreading word of it all around the Jewish world, is the four letters that Rabbi Solomon Shlumil of Dreznitz sent, in..."

"There are lots of reasons to patent something. The most obvious one is that you’ve come up with a brilliant invention, and you want to protect your idea so that nobody can steal it from you. But that’s just the tip of the patent strategy iceberg..."