Historical Content Note: The following material is reprinted from publications from throughout Fermilab's history. It should be read in its original historical context.

Felicia the Ferret: Pipe Cleaner for AEC

They tied a string to a ferret and got an atomic age pipe cleaner.

The ferret cost $35 and is 15 inches long. She helps clean the 300-foot pipes in the Meson Laboratory building now under construction at the $250 million National Accelerator Laboratory at Batavia.

They call the ferret Felicia and she has a big job. Several months from now all of the four miles of pipes will be welded together, ready for a beam of energy that will race around the four-mile course 70,000 times in 1.6 seconds.

A woman spokesman for the laboratory said, "It will develop at its peak 200 billion electron volts, enough to fry anything. When it is finished it will be the biggest machine in the world and the most complicated ever conceived."

Study patterns of energy

The scientists will direct the magnet-guided energy beam against atom-smashing targets. Then they will study the pieces - the mesons and protons that go to make up the atoms.

From these pieces they hope to learn about the patterns and habits of energy. Although they call it "weak energy," it really is high energy and it is the force that holds together the whole universe. And this is what they will be studying when the world's biggest machine finally is put together.

As part of her contribution Thursday, Felicia went through a 300-foot-pipe dragging a string. When she came out the other end, technicians tied a swab dipped in a chemical cleanser to the string. They pulled the tight-fitting swab through and when it came out it was covered with dust and steelspecks.

Must be spotless

Walter Pelczarski, the lab's mechanical designer, said, "These tubes and pipes have to be spotless. Even a speck of dust would interfere with the energy beams that will go through these pipes."

It is Pelczarski who is in charge of Felicia the Ferret. And it is the imaginative Robert Sheldon, a British scientist who is here on loan to the laboratory, who thought of a ferret as a "meson-cleaner."

It was also Sheldon who struck a triple blow for architecture, beauty and ecology by suggesting the use of empty soda pop cans in the design of the geodesic curved dome on one of the buildings of the laboratory.

Used by poachers

Being British, Sheldon remembered the use of ferrets by poachers who sent them into burrows after rabbits on English estates. Gamekeepers could hear the shooting of guns, but never the silent ferrets.

"Felicia is ideal for the work," Pelczarski said. "The ferret is an animal filled with curiosity and seeks out holes and burrows. Its instinct is to find out what's at the other end of a burrow, or, for that matter, a tube or a pipe."

Felicia isn't the only animal working for the Atomic Energy Commission. Roaming the grasslands of the lab's 6,800-acre site is a herd of some 20 buffalo.

"They do our grass-cutting," said the public relations spokesperson Margaret Pearson.