Historical Content Note: The following material is reprinted from publications from throughout Fermilab's history.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

Batavia's Ferret

The mammoth machine is one of the most complex ever devised by man. But before the National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, IL, goes into operation, the world's largest atom smasher is getting some vital help from one of the smallest workers available; a friendly, 15-inch long ferret named Felicia.

To maintain maximum velocity as they speed through narrow vacuum pipes, the subatomic particles that will be produced at Batavia must encounter no dust or debris. To remove any obstructions from the seven 1,400-foot long tubes that channel the particles into a laboratory where mesons will be studied, designers had planned to build an expensive mechanical pipe cleaner. But visiting British Physicist Robert Sheldon had another idea. Recalling that ferrets had been used in Europe to scamper into burrows after rabbits, he suggested that one of the furry, weasel-like creatures might be able to do the Batavia cleaning job much more inexpensively.

Favorite Treat. Felicia, who was acquired from a Minnesota game farm for $35, proved highly cooperative. Rewarded with favorite treats (chicken livers, hamburger meat, and fish heads) for each good performance, she was taught to scamper through progressively longer tunnels until she was ready to try one of the 300-foot sections that will be joined together to make the Meson Lab's tubes. Fitted with a small leather harness to which a strong, lightweight string was attached, Felicia unhesitatingly scurried the full length of the tube. She delivered her end of the string to workmen, who tied it to a swab consisting of a brush and cloth soaked in cleaning fluid. The swab was then pulled back through the length of the pipe, leaving the interior immaculate.

So far, Felicia has made seven successful runs through the Meson Lab's pipes, and some of Batavia's staff members are suggesting that she should be rewarded with a mate. But matrimony may have to wait until she has completed all her pipe cleaning. "If Felicia became pregnant," explains one official, "she might not fit through the tubes."