Experiments, Discoveries, & Theory
Fermilab exists to answer fundamental questions about the nature of matter, energy, space, and time. The lab’s original leadership sought to create a user-focused facility that would provide researchers from all over the world with the accelerators and other tools they needed to perform their experiments. Over its history, the lab has hosted a wide variety of experiments and made groundbreaking discoveries possible. As the energy of the accelerators at Fermilab has increased, so has the potential for discovery.
The lab originally had four experimental areas. The first was the Internal Target Area (also known as C-Zero), which was located inside the Main Ring accelerator tunnel. Beamlines from the Main Ring sent particle beams to the three external, fixed target areas: The Neutrino Area, the Meson Area, and the Proton Area. The lab’s experimental program began on February 12, 1972 when the experiment E-36 began testing equipment in the lab’s new beam in the Internal Target Area. One of the lab’s major accomplishments during this era was the discovery of the bottom quark by E-288 with the 400 GeV Main Ring in 1977.
Complementing the lab’s experimental work was the work of the lab’s theoretical physicists. The lab’s first Theory Group was established in the fall of 1969.
Even before the Main Ring or the Fixed Target Areas were completed, lab staff had discussed the possibility of one day introducing a colliding beams program to the lab. Research and development of a proton-antiproton colliding beams program continued into the 1980's. This vision was realized by the Tevatron, which began colliding proton and antiproton beams in 1985. These collisions were studied by the lab’s collider experiments, CDF and DZero. These experiments began observing collisions in 1985 and 1992, respectively. By 1995, the Tevatron reached energies as high as 1.8 TeV, allowing these experiments to discover the top quark. In July 2000, the DONUT collaboration announced the first direct observation of the tau neutrino.
Beginning in the 1980's, the lab also started turning its attention to particle astrophysics. In 1979, lab director Leon Lederman expanded the theory staff, and he added a theoretical astrophysics group in 1983. The lab’s first astrophysics experiment, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, formed in 1993.
Around the time that the Main Injector accelerator was completed in 1999, the lab began to increase its focus on neutrino physics. The NuMI (Neutrinos at the Main Injector) beamline was completed in 2005. It made MINOS, the lab’s first long-baseline neutrino experiment, possible and laid the groundwork for future long-baseline neutrino experiments.
Below are articles that cover a few of the highlights of the lab’s experiments, discoveries, and theoretical work.