Historical Content Note: The following material is reprinted from publications from throughout Fermilab's history.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

Faithful Felicia Falls Victim to a Robot

Out at the National Accelerator Laboratory, near Batavia, where they have the world's largest and most powerful atom smasher, there's not much "small" talk. It's 750,000 electron volts of this and 500 billion electron volts of that. Protons smash into targets at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second), and 1,400 gallons of cooling water spin around a four-mile circular tunnel in one minute.

And yet one tiny mite of life, Felicia the ferret, has stolen the show.

She's so light in weight that when you hold her in your hands she's just a soft wisp of copper-colored fur. Her head measures about an inch-and-a-half from brow to chin, and she's about 18 inches long, including her long, bushy tail. She's six months old.

Felicia was brought to the laboratory from a ferret farm in Minnesota. She cost the United States government $35, and was worth 10 times that much to those who were desperate for her assistance. As labs go, they had built miles of pipes, tubes, and conduits through which wires had to be run. Some of the apertures were less than two inches in circumference. Would Felicia carry the wires?

In England they have used live ferrets for this kind of work with complete success. It was suggested that they try one at the NAL.

Felicia turned out to be a virtuoso at her work. She carried whatever was fastened to her harness for long distances, sometimes around many obstacles on the course. Those working with her were so pleased that they wanted to reward her at the open end of her journey, but they could not find a tidbit she particularly longed for. She was happy enough to see her cage at the end of the journey, the only lure that was ever used to bring her out at the other end.

She was soon famous. She has been talked about on radio, seen on television numerous times, and been written up in magazines and newspapers with national and international coverage. She stars in a television film to be released soon in Europe. Her personal "manager" at the laboratory is Walter Pelczarski, who lives in Clarendon Hills.

Felicia is completely tame, as cuddly and friendly as a kitten. She lives with Mr. and Mrs. Joe Wagner in Winfield, where she has pet status. This summer, when the weather was right, she lived outdoors in a cage bedded with a special soft kind of hay, with a small wooden ferret-size cottage tucked into one corner. Now, of course, she stays indoors and is taken out on a leash only when the weather permits a romp. She and the family dog are friends.

Her food is the scientifically prepared mush fed to farm mink. She seems to relish it, eating from six to seven ounces a day. For an occasional treat she gets raw ground sirloin steak.

This good life may soon end for Felicia. The laboratory scientists have designed and built a mechanical ferret, a device activated by compressed air and controlled by wires. They don't need Felicia anymore. This was always the plan, with Felicia to be used only temporarily, while they built her robot.

But now Felicia is famous and she has a following of people concerned for her welfare; people who do not want to see her sent to a museum as an exhibit, which is what the laboratory may do with her two weeks from now.

They are thinking of sending her to Oak Ridge, Tenn., where there is a live museum of animals and creatures that have made a contribution to science. There are mice, guinea pigs, and snakes there, among other exhibits.

But it's no place for Felicia, who is a pet and needs the affection of human beings. Will it take an act of Congress to save Felicia?