Friday, February 5, 2010

Golden Accelerator

Oct 19 3:24PM - Particle Accelerator Letdown.
14 Posts
Oh darn...there go our plans to blow up the Vatican.

Dr. Syphers, reading your profile, I was wondering...what exactly do you accomplish by accelerating gold nuclei and colliding them together? And what first attracted you to the field of physics? 

Gold atoms are made up of 79 electrons around a nucleus of 79 protons and neutrons. Actually, its only stable isotope is 197Au, which means there are 79 protons and 118 neutrons in the nucleus! Since each proton and neutron are composed of smaller particles -- called quarks -- then there's a good chance of making "quark soup" when we collide gold nuclei. So, we strip away all of the electrons and accelerate the positively charged nuclei alone to try to generate a "sea" of quarks and gluons, at densities that likely haven't happened in nature since the time of the Big Bang. See:

As for my humble beginnings, it really started for me at a young age when I became interested in the stars and planets.

Oct 19 3:27PM - Fermilab
14 Posts
Hey! In reading your profile I was wondering what exactly a fermilab is. Also, what are y'all planning on doing with the Tevatron in two years once you close it down?


Hi S,
The term "fermilab" is just short for the laboratory where I work: the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. It's web site is: , in case you haven't seen it yet. Enrico Fermi was a famous physicist from the University of Chicago in the 1930-40's. He and his group were the first to generate sustainable nuclear energy from radioactive atomic nuclei and our lab is named after him.

We're still debating what to do once the Tevatron turns off. We might use it to do some different types of experiments. For instance, rather than collide beams together head on, we might use it to accelerate beams of particles and then direct them into stationary targets. We've done this before, and there are certain experiments that work well that way. Or, we might just shut it down and use the tunnel to build some different type of accelerator in the future, though we don't have a design for this use quite yet. Our budget will help determine if we can afford to keep it running, as will the various merits of the experiments that are dreamed up to use it.


Oct 19 3:28PM - B's blog
14 Posts
How much do you get paid and what exactly does your job entail in a given day? (and by this, I mean, should I enter that field of study?)


Hi B,
Personally, I think it's a great field of study. There are many uses of accelerators out there, not just for studying quarks and neutrinos, but also for medicine and industry and other uses.
Typically my day consists of many meetings, some work in our Control Room (where we run the accelerators) and sometimes I'm lucky and get to do some calculations and studies using the accelerators. But, I've been in the field for a while now; when I was younger it was less meetings and more "science." But that's OK; that's how it works. I get to travel a lot around the country and the world, have 5 weeks of vacation a year (plus holidays, etc.), and get to work with the coolest equipment, meet top scientists in all kinds of fields, have flexible work hours -- and it's just plain fun for me (most of the time). Oh, and a typical scientist at my level at Fermilab makes between 85K and 170K; I'm in the middle of that range somewhere.

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