Fermilab History and Archives Project

The Search for Leon's Treasure



Bob Adams (L), Safety, Bill Thomas, Proton, check in beryllium shipment
Bob Adams (L), Safety, Bill Thomas, Proton, check in
beryllium shipment

The word "exotic" is frequently used to refer to the whole class of new particles that have appeared in the high energy physics scene recently -- the "charmed" mesons discovered at SLAC and at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, the charmed baryon discovered in the Proton East area at Fermilab, and the Fermilab emulsion discoveries. The search for these and other yet-to-be-discovered exotic particles requires ingenuity, patience, and, at times, exotic materials.

The most common indication of a charmed particle is the presence of one or more muons passing through the experimental apparatus in the decay process. A problem for experimenters is that when protons from the accelerator smash into a target to produce the charmed particle, that collision also produces many other particles. This is easily observed in the photographs taken in the bubble chambers. When millions of protons strike a metal target, tens of millions of secondary particles, including charmed particles, may be produced. A redeeming feature is that the muons which signal the presence of charm, pass right through material like steel, which absorbs all of the other particles.

As the first generation of experiments searching and studying charm was completed, more sophisticated experiments were devised to move into the next phase of discovery. It is known for example, that beryllium metal is superior to steel as a muon filter because it makes possible precise identification of the point of origin of the muon. This in turn allows more exact determination of the mass of the charmed particle that produced the muon.

Beryllium can be both expensive and scarce. But to Prof. Leon Lederman of Columbia University, beryllium holds an important key in the plot of the mystery he hopes to solve in Experiment Number "Super 288," in the Proton Area. Dr. Lederman put in his request to the Proton Area to locate beryllium. Proton Head Brad Cox and Proton Engineer Bill Thomas consulted with John Colson and Norman Hill of Materials Management and the treasure hunt was on.

The next stop was enlisting the aid of the local ERDA officials, who, at first, registered an incredulous gasp at the quantity requested -- two metric tons. But ERDA manager Don Bray and Irv Schau entered the game and searched ERDA's resources to the limit. The hunt finally led to an almost-forgotten warehouse in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where leftover beryllium from an Oak Ridge project was discovered. The diligent cooperation of all of the institutions involved led to a long-term loan of the precious metal to Fermilab for Dr. Lederman's experiment.

The material was trucked to Fermilab, together with another small quantity borrowed from the Argonne National Laboratory. When the exciting results from Super 288 start to come in, many people can share the excitement. High energy physics experiments are not the work of an isolated person working alone in an isolated room; they can only be achieved by the smooth working of spirited organizations and people.

The whimsical account of the beryllium search appearing on page 2 occurred to one of the participants on a flight to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.



Once upon a time in the far off land of Protonia there lived a troglodyte with the unlikely name of Leon. Now Leon was very troubled. Whenever he walked into his cave he sniffed the perfume of the seductive charmed quark, but of her he never managed to catch sight. He was in a frenzy.

One day Leon decided to set a trap. He went to the court of the Prince of the Troglodytes. Right up to the throne of the Prince he went and announced in a firm voice: "More beryllium." The court was shocked: the Prince was shocked. Finally the Prince gasped, "Leon wants more beryllium." The Royal Artificer had already provided Leon with all the beryllium in the kingdom.

The Prince knew that Leon dined often with the King and had performed many valorous deeds for the kingdom. And he knew that the vision of the Charmed Quark would make Leon deliriously happy beyond all his imaginings. So he wanted to help Leon. But, what to do? He decided to seek the help of the Grand Vizier of the Kingdom.

Now the Vizier was a very wise man whose caravans had traveled to most of the Kingdoms of the world. He had consulted with the Royal Wizard, Benjamin and the Sorcerer's Apprentice, Christopher, and knew that if Leon were to trap the Charmed Quark he would need beryllium. Beryllium had just the ratio of nucleon interaction length to radiation length the Wizard would recommend for his magic potion.

The Vizier wanted to help Leon, so he mounted his mighty stallion, Studley, and rode out to see Squire John and his vassal, Norman. Squire John and Norman had served long in the crusades. They had many old comrades-in-arms in various kingdoms with whom they had warred and wenched. The call went out to all the old comrades; "Leon wants more beryllium." One comrade recalled that in a long-ago campaign he had seen a veritable mountain of beryllium in a dusty cave in far away Tennessee. It was guarded by a fierce dragon homoensis burocraticus. But who would slay the dragon?

From high in the tower the Legate of the Emperor, Donald, espied the predicament of the Vizier's minions. "I shall slay the dragon," he proclaimed. With dexterity that revived the glorious memories of El Cid, the Legate drew his sword, and slew the dragon with one mighty stroke.

The dragon writhed in agony and finally collapsed in a great heap atop the trove of beryllium. The Vizier was at a loss as to how to proceed. Clearly the bulk of the dragon was too great even for Studley to move. Squire John surveyed the awesome scene. His Caravan Master, Raymond, with much experience in moving great loads, might be of help. Many weeks passed; the Caravan Master employed all of his ingenuity and skill. The great carcass slowly yielded and was finally dislodged from atop the beryllium.

So the beryllium was brought to Leon and he withdrew with it into his cave.

Occasionally even today travelers to Protonia bring back tales of gleeful sounds issuing from deep within Leon's cave. The natives believe that Leon still dwells there in endless hot pursuit of his fair lady.


Leon - Leon Lederman, Columbia Univ. Studley - played by himself
Prince of the Troglodytes - Brad Cox, Proton Squire John - John Colson
Royal Artificer - Bill Thomas, Proton Norman - Norm Hill
Grand Vizier - J. R. Orr, Business Office Homoensis Burocraticas - Federal bureaucracy
Royal Wizard - Ben Lee, Theor. Phys. Legate of the Emperor - Don Bray, ERDA
Apprentice Wizard - Chris Quigg, Theor. Phys. Caravan Master - Ray Lewandowski

Source: The Village Crier Vol. 9 No. 1, January 6, 1977

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