Fermilab is America's particle physics and accelerator laboratory. The lab's accelerators have always been among the best in the world, from the Main Ring and the Tevatron to the Main Injector and beyond. Since 1972, these complex instruments have allowed scientists from all over the world to explore fundamental questions about matter. You can learn about the history of the machines that make much of Fermilab's scientific work possible on this page.
This page contains curated collections of articles, primarily taken from Fermilab employee newsletters. Remember that these articles are reproduced directly from the original lab publications and reflect the state of the lab and scientific knowledge at the times they were written. Check the dates on the articles to place them in their proper context.
The pre-accelerator is the location where Fermilab's beam begins. The lab's first pre-accelerators were Cockcroft-Walton generators. The first one arrived from Switzerland in the fall of 1969. The lab added an additional Cockcroft-Walton generator in October 1977 and replaced the original Cockcroft-Walton with a new one in the summer of 1979. The Cockcroft-Waltons were replaced by an RFQ (Radio Frequency Quadrupole) in October 2012.
- NAL's Ship Comes In—for Linac — November 1969
- Testing Begins on NAL Pre-Accelerator — March 26, 1970
- New Ion Source Coming for Accelerator — September 23, 1976
- Fermilab’s Negative Hydrogen Ion Source—Superb Technological Achievement — July 31, 1980
- So long, Cockcroft-Walton — August 21, 2012
- Cockcroft-Walton’s Successor: A Peep Inside the New RFQ and How it Works — November 2, 2012
Fermilab's original linear accelerator, also called the Linac, is a roughly 500-foot straight accelerator that provides proton beam to the rest of the lab's chain of accelerators. The groundbreaking for the Linac was on December 1, 1968 and it achieved its design energy of 200 MeV exactly two years later, on December 1, 1970. Fermilab upgraded the Linac in the early 1990's, achieving its new design energy of 400 MeV on September 4, 1993. On March 15, 2019, the lab broke ground on PIP-II (originally called Project X), a new superconducting, 800 MeV linac that will replace the original linac.
- Historical Moment at NAL — April 1969
- Linac Achieves Highest Proton Beam Energy in U.S. — August 6, 1970
- Linac Sets Record for World's Highest Energy Proton Beam, Hosts Meeting — October 8, 1970
- NAL Linac Achieves Full Design Energy of 200 MeV — December 10, 1970
- Linac Reaches Upgrade Goal — September 17, 1993
- PIP-II: Renewing Fermilab’s Accelerator Complex — November 17, 2015
- Fermilab, International Partners Break Ground on New State-of-the-Art Particle Accelerator — March 15, 2019
- A Linac Historical Photo Gallery
Proton beams enter the Fermilab Booster from the Linac, accelerating through its roughly 1,500-foot-circumference ring to an energy of 8 GeV. The lab completed construction of the Booster on December 21, 1970. The Booster achieved its design energy of 8 GeV on May 21, 1971.
- Booster Section Gets a "Big Boost" — March 5, 1970
- First NAL Cooling Pond Becomes Operational — August 6, 1970
- First Quarter of Booster is Powered — August 13, 1970
- Booster Installs Last of 96 Magnets — January 7, 1971
- Booster Achieves Full Design Beam Energy of Eight BeV — June 3, 1971
The Main Ring was Fermilab's first primary accelerator, the final and largest component of the lab's accelerator system. This underground ring, which was about four miles around, used magnets to accelerate protons to very high speeds. These protons, and other beams derived from them, were then used in the four experimental areas. The lab broke ground on the Main Ring tunnel on October 3, 1969 and installed the last Main Ring magnet on April 16, 1971. It achieved its initial design energy of 200 GeV on March 1, 1972, ahead of schedule and under budget. It quickly surpassed that energy goal, reaching 300 GeV on July 16, 1972, and 500 GeV on May 14, 1976. It was later used as a proton injector for the Tevatron accelerator, until it was replaced by the Main Injector in 1999.
- NAL Starts Work on Main Ring Enclosure — October 1969
- The Gazebo — November 1969
- The Main Ring Falls into Place — April 2, 1970
- Main Ring's Final Pre-Cast Section Lowered into Place — December 10, 1970
- Final Main Ring Magnet Installation Day and Night Task — April 29, 1971
- Proton Beam Guided Through Entire NAL Accelerator System — July 8, 1971
- Main Ring Staff Works Around-the-Clock to Tune Accelerator — August 19, 1971
- NAL Accelerator Reaches Design Energy — March 9, 1972
- "NAL in Transition" - Boyce McDaniel — May 4, 1972
- 300 BeV Energy Achieved July 16th — July 27, 1972
- 5th Anniversary. Recalling December 1, 1968... and The Interim... December, 1973...— December 20, 1973
- 0.5 TeV — May 20, 1976
- Fermilab Accelerator Reaches 500 BeV Energy — May 20, 1976
- Historic Main Ring Bids Farewell Forever — September 26, 1997
Delivering the beam from Fermilab’s accelerators to experiments requires careful control and monitoring by skilled people and sophisticated instruments.
- NAL Group Builds Successful Beam Monitor System — December 16, 1971
- Meet the NAL Accelerator Operators — February 3, 1972
- NAL Beam Headed Toward Experimental Areas — April 27, 1972
- Switchyard Group Readies 3-way Split — February 8, 1973
As early as the summer of 1967, lab director Robert Wilson had talked about the possibility of one day upgrading the accelerator complex with a more powerful superconducting accelerator and introducing a colliding beams program. This project was originally called the Energy Doubler, but later was also known as the Energy Saver. Ultimately, the superconducting proton-antiproton accelerator and collider the lab built would be known as the Tevatron. Building the Tevatron took years of planning, design, and construction.
- RRW: "Energy Doubler" Appears to be Feasible Concept — March 18, 1971
- Colliding Beams at Fermilab? — March 25, 1976
- Superconducting Wire
- New Milestones in Doubler Progress — April 8, 1976
- POPAE Colliding Beam Design Study Announced — June 17, 1976
- Saver/Doubler Refrigerators Tested — February 3, 1977
- Flying Fermilab Skies — March 24, 1977
- Energy Doubler Reaches New Milestone — April 21, 1977
- Success! Prototype Magnet Passes Test — June 30, 1977
- A Challenge Met — July 14, 1977
- Laying Cable at a 5,000-foot-per-day Clip! — August 18, 1977
- Accelerator Down, Construction Up — August 25, 1977
- Accelerator Upgrading, Part II — September 1, 1977
The design effort for the Tevatron, originally known as the Energy Doubler, officially began in September 1972. The Department of Energy authorized construction of this superconducting accelerator on July 5, 1979. It would be installed in the Main Ring tunnel, beneath the Main Ring accelerator. The lab put the final Tevatron magnet in place on March 18, 1983, and the Tevatron achieved a world-record energy of 512 GeV on July 3 of that year. Meanwhile, the lab had begun work on the design for the Antiproton Source, a key part of the planned proton-antiproton collider aspect of the Tevatron, in 1981. The Antiproton Source was completed in 1985, and the first antiprotons circulated around the Tevatron on October 12, 1985. When it was complete, the Tevatron could deliver beams of protons to the fixed target experimental areas or collide the beam of protons with a beam of antiprotons traveling in the opposite direction. These collisions were observed by Fermilab’s experiments CDF and DZero.
Originally, the Main Ring delivered protons to the Tevatron. Fermilab upgraded its accelerator complex by replacing the Main Ring with the Main Injector, which began delivering protons to the Tevatron in 1999. At its peak, the Tevatron could produce particle collisions with energies of over 2 TeV. The lab shut down the Tevatron on September 30, 2011.
- The Tevatron 1979-1989
- Milestone: Switchyard Operates Refrigerator — June 8, 1978
- Well Done! — January 7, 1982
- Noise, Fog, Mean Successful A-Sector Test — March 4, 1982
- Tev I Antiproton Source Moves Ahead — March 18, 1982
- No, it is not a New Yellow Wienermobile — October 14, 1982
- E-F Sector Cooldown "Looks Good" for November — October 14, 1982
- Work Continues on Energy Saver — December 2, 1982
- Begin Energy Saver/Doubler Commission — December 16, 1982
- Doubler Developments — April 28, 1983
- Saver Reaches Goal, Sets Energy Record! — July 7, 1983
- Nat'l Medal of Technology to Edwards, Lundy, Orr, Tollestrup — October 27, 1989
- Staff and Users Celebrated the Tevatron's Last Beam - September 30 — October 3, 2011
Fermilab originally constructed the Main Injector, a proton accelerator two miles in circumference, to replace the Main Ring as a proton injector for the Tevatron. The lab broke ground on the Main Injector on March 22, 1993. It was dedicated on June 1, 1999. As part of the Main Injector project, Fermilab also built the Recycler, a proton and antiproton storage ring, in the same tunnel as the Main Injector. After the Tevatron was shut down in 2011, the Main Injector’s proton beam was used to produce intense neutrino beams and muon beams for Fermilab experiments.
- Fermilab Breaks Ground on Main Injector — April 2, 1993
- High Hopes, Tight Quarters — November 13, 1998
- Recycler Beam Makes Smooth Debut — March 5, 1999
- It Takes a Laboratory — June 1, 1999
- Building the Main Injector — June 1, 1999
- The Rundown on the Main Injector — June 1, 1999
- Constructing a Legacy — July 2, 1999
Fermilab's NuMI (Neutrinos at the Main Injector) is a set of facilities that use the lab's Main Injector to produce an intense beam of neutrinos. The construction of NuMI allowed the lab to begin conducting long-baseline neutrino experiments like MINOS, NOvA, and DUNE. The first funds for NuMI were allocated in 1997 and the lab held the NuMI groundbreaking ceremony on May 31, 2000. NuMI received its first beam from the Main Injector on December 3, 2004.
- NuMI Gets Rolling — November 21, 1997
- NuMI: Glad Tidings — December 11, 1998
- NuMI Construction Begins — April 14, 2000
- Groundbreaking in Extreme Conditions — June 16, 2000
- First Phase of NuMI Construction Complete — December 6, 2002
- First NuMI Beam from Main Injector — December 10, 2004