About Fermilab


Frequently Asked Questions

What kinds of things does Fermilab do?
Fermilab conducts basic research into particle physics - meaning that we keep asking basic questions. We investigate the smallest building blocks of matter separated by the smallest distances that science has ever explored. We're constantly trying to learn more about these fundamental particles, and understand the forces that hold them together or force them apart. We conduct our investigations by making these particles collide-which might sound unusual, but remember that we see things in the world around us because photons bounce off them and make an impression on our retina, which is then transmitted by the optic nerve to the brain for processing. We're following a similar path to "see" what happens in these subatomic collisions-sort of like a giant microscope, using a different form of "light."

What is the highest beam energy Fermilab can achieve?
Fermilab's Main Injector accelerator, which is about 2 miles in circumference, propels protons to an energy level of 120 billion electron volts (GeV).

What was the cost of building Fermilab? Of building the Tevatron?
Fermilab (originally the National Accelerator Laboratory) was built for $243 million in 1967-well under the appropriated funding of $250 million. The Tevatron, completed in 1983 and shut down in 2011, was built for $120 million, but it took advantage of all the lab's previously built facilities. Building an equivalent facility from scratch would cost many billions of dollars.

What are the benefits of particle physics research?
One of the great things about asking questions is how much you find out that you didn't even realize you were asking. In particle physics, we keep asking: "But where does THAT come from?" Along the way, we find things we didn't realize we were looking for.

  • We find the World Wide Web, which was originally developed at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, by physicists looking for an efficient way to share information across borders, cultures and distance.
  • We find ways to treat cancer with particle beams.
  • We find new ways of manufacturing the kinds of machines and instruments we need to conduct our experiments.
  • We find new ways of working with electric currents and magnetism, which are at the heart of virtually every tool and instrument and convenience we have at our fingertips.
  • We develop superconducting magnets, which make possible the field and machines of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
  • We extend the reach and uses of computers.
  • We find new ways to make things like electric circuits and data processing instruments smaller and smaller.
  • We are among the first to use devices that later become standards for clear and efficient communication, such as fiber optics, which were developed to carry computer signals from high-energy sources where metal wires with magnetic properties wouldn't work.
  • All these developments also create jobs, and they all grow from putting our focus on one of the most basic of human qualities: curiosity, the quality of continuing to ask, "Why?"
What are the costs of particle physics research?
The Fermilab budget for FY2001 was $277 million, or about 10% above the total value of the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with baseball's Texas Rangers in January 2000. The FY2001 budget for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, which administers the system of 17 DOE national laboratories (Fermilab and 16 others), was $3.18 billion. That's a lot of money, but here's a comparison: the proposed FY2001 defense funding levels for basic and applied scientific research, development, test and evaluation were $6.02 billion for the U.S. Army; $9.22 billion for the U.S. Navy; and $13.76 billion for the U.S. Air Force, for a total of $29 billion in scientific research for defense. Thus, in FY2001 the total funding for all 17 national laboratories was about 11 percent of the R&D budget for defense. The funding for the entire field of U.S. High-Energy Physics was $726 million; the annual budget for CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, was about $617.7 million (converted from 1.1 billion Swiss francs). View URA reports

Does money for basic research represent money well spent?
Many leading economists, including Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, have pointed to science and technology as the driver for our extended period of economic growth in the U.S. Research can be viewed as an investment in growth; it's certainly big business. In the State of Illinois, for example, four premier research institutions and two national laboratories combined in a recent year for a volume of research of nearly $1.5 billion in federal, state, corporate and foundation funding. The six institutions: Argonne National Laboratory, $460 million; Fermilab, $282 million; the University of Chicago, $219 million; Northwestern University, $214 million; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, $208 million; the University of Illinois at Chicago, $102 million (figures compiled by the Office of Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).

Questions about physics

Is there a charge for visiting Fermilab?
No.

Tour questions

How far is the lab from train stations?
The Aurora and Geneva train stations both are about 10 miles from the lab.

How much is a cab from the train stations?
Between 15 and 20 dollars.

Is there a bus shuttle?
No.

Can you fish in Fermilab ponds?
Yes. But you need a current Illinois fishing license.

Are there horse trails?
Yes. Maps are available at the site entrances.

Can we walk our dog at Fermilab?
Yes, but please keep your dogs on a leash. There is a designated dog training area where well-trained dogs can run free. Please be aware that the Fermilab site is also home to coyotes.

Can we walk all over the lab?
No, there are some areas that are restricted. Please ask for a map when you enter the site.

Visit our Visiting Fermilab section
Visit our Recreation page

How big is the site?
6,800 acres, or a little bigger than 10 square miles.

When was Fermilab started?
Groundbreaking for the linear accelerator was December 1968.

Who owned the land before the laboratory was built?
Mostly farmers and the people in the small village of Weston.

How was the land acquired?
It was purchased by the State of Illinois and donated to the federal government for particle physics research.

How many people are employed at the Lab?
Approximately 1,750.

How many different languages are spoken at Fermilab?

Can we take pictures?
Yes, there is no secret work carried out at Fermilab. Pictures can be taken anywhere.

What is Fermilab

Who operates Fermilab?
The Fermi Research Alliance. (URA).

What is the purpose of the Laboratory?
We study the nature of matter, energy, space and time. We explore the the worlds inside the atom.

Who is the director?
Nigel Lockyer

How many stories high is Wilson Hall?
16 stories.

Who was the architect for the Wilson Hall building?
A group of 4 architectural firms in a joint venture known as DUSAF.

What was the cost of Wilson Hall when it was built in the early 1970s?
$17,000,000.

Why did Fermilab build such a tall building?
It is easy to communicate with many people in a building like ours, and we have many activities under one roof, bringing people together from all parts of the 6,800 acre site.

What are the large, white houses near the Village?
The white houses are the best of the farmhouses on the property when we arrived. They have been moved from various locations on the site and provide housing for our visitors. The small, bright-colored houses are the former Village of Weston, Illinois.

How large is the Main Injector accelerator?
2 miles in circumference.

Why do you have all the bright colors on buildings?
They are part of our founding director's vision to make the buildings look like building blocks scattered across the prairie.

Why does Fermilab have buffalo?
To preserve and restore a bit of Illinois heritage that was here some 200 years ago. Fermilab is site of one of the largest prairie reconstruction projects in Illinois.

Do the workers live on site?
No, Fermilab employees live in the surrounding communities. The largest number live in Aurora, next Batavia, then in the towns on the Fox River, Naperville and Wheaton.

Learn more about the Fermilab Campus

Where do we get our protons?

They are extracted from hydrogen gas by ionizing the gas with a spark. You can see the ion source that provides the protons on our tours for the public.

Vendor Information


last modified 3/18/2004   email Fermilab