Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, located in the western suburbs of Chicago, has stood at the frontier of high-energy physics for nearly forty years. Since 1972, when the laboratory's original particle accelerator began producing the world’s highest-energy protons for research, the government-supported scientific facility has been home to numerous scientific breakthroughs, including the discoveries of the top and bottom quarks. Fermilab is the first history of this laboratory and of its powerful accelerators told from the point of view of the people who built and used them for scientific discovery.
Focusing on the first two decades of research at Fermilab, during the tenure of the laboratory's charismatic first two directors, Robert R. Wilson and Leon M. Lederman, the authors trace the rise of what they call "megascience," the collaborative struggle to conduct large-scale international experiments in a climate of limited federal funding. This dramatic period of innovation was shaped by an inevitable tension between Fermilab's pioneering ethos and the practical constraints of tightened budgets.
Fermilab illuminates the growth of the modern research laboratory during the cold war and captures the drama of human exploration at the cutting edge of science. It is essential reading for anyone interested in regional history, the history of physics, or institutional history.
"Big Science keeps getting bigger—and the complexities of organizing a major laboratory at the edge of science run the range from instrumentation and sociology to the politics of congressional funding. Lillian Hoddeson, Adrienne Kolb, and Catherine Westfall have done a superb job of following the turbulent confluence of science and policy and created a major study of broad interest to anyone who wants to understand what large-scale research looks like in the real world."
—Peter Galison, physicist/historian/filmmaker and the Joseph Pellegrino University Professor in the Department of Physics and in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University
"For almost half a century, Fermilab has occupied center stage as physicists have sought to understand the fundamental structure of the universe. The lab deserves a good history, and I’m happy to say that in this book it has one. The authors present a compelling, nuanced, and richly detailed account of the place from its beginnings to the present."
—James Trefil, physicist/author and the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Physics at George Mason University
"Fermilab impresses with its detailed discussion of the technical, sociological, and political dimensions of the trials and triumphs of creating and operating a major research laboratory funded by the federal government. It brings vividly to life the laboratory and its people under the successive directorships of Bob Wilson, Leon Lederman, and John Peoples through description of representative experiments. A valuable account of a unique institution from its inception to the discovery of the top quark in 1995."
—J. David Jackson, a theoretical physicist retired from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and head, Fermilab Theory Group, 1972–1973
"Fermilab is the grandest instrument ever built by American physicists; just one of its particle detectors is bigger than an entire laboratory of an earlier generation. This book tells the Fermilab story in full for the first time, and tells it as a human story, with no more technical detail than necessary. The book should appeal not only to readers interested in science and technology, but to anyone concerned about the negotiation and management of landmark projects."
—Spencer Weart, a physicist/historian and the former Director of the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics