Experimenter Meenakshi Narain

CDF control room

Like great cameras the size of apartment houses, particle detectors like CDF, the Collider Detector at Fermilab, can snap the electronic portraits, or particle signatures, of a million high-energy particle collisions every second. Each detector contains many separate detector elements—wire chambers, ionizing gases, scintillating plastic, silicon chips nested intricately together like a Russian matryoshka doll and connected to computers by a million channels of electronics. Complex computer programs sift out the most interesting collisions and store them for future analysis by physicists like Fermilab’s Meenakshi Narain (above right). Particle accelerators operate 24 hours a day, every day, and experimenters in the collider detector collaborations take ‘round-the-clock shifts in the detectors’ control rooms (below right). Everyone from graduate students to Nobel laureates takes a turn.