Neighborhood Forum

Recent questions from our neighbors

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Economic Role
Q: What economic impact does Fermilab have on the region?

A: Fermilab has an annual budget of approximately $300 million. During Fiscal Year 2002, we spent about $88 million on products and services. About 70 percent of this money is spent in Illinois. In particular, Fermilab spent $12 million in DuPage County, and $3.5 million in the towns along the Fox River from Elgin to Aurora.

As of January 1, 2006, Fermilab had 1,985 regular employees. An additional 2,500 scientists of institutions around the world are involved in experiments at Fermilab. Every year, many of them come to Fermilab for days, months or even a full year, usually seeking accommodation off site.

Accelerators and vibrations
Q: I live in Wheaton, and I'm trying to get to the bottom of a mystery. On some very quiet nights myself, or a member of my family, have heard underground thumps or vibrations that I wonder might be related to the operations of the Tevatron accelerator. I won't attempt to even describe the noises in an e-mail, but they are low frequency, and seem to be underground. I've checked the times of these noises and some seem to correspond to some of the activity of the accelerator during the midnight shift. I'm not angry or anything like that, just trying to follow my theory out to the end. Is it possible the accelerator generates vibrations or noises that can be felt/heard especially on quiet nights? I'd appreciate any light you could shed on this. Thanks!

A: Thanks for your email. I'm afraid my answer will disappoint you. Fermilab's accelerators don't cause any noise or vibrations. As a matter of fact, vibrations greatly disturb the operations of our accelerators. Our equipment is so sensitive that it even picked up the vibrations caused by an earthquake in Alaska on November 3, and we had to restart our accelerators after that. So we make sure that there is as little vibration around our site as possible.

It is more likely that what you observe is triggered by sound rather than ground vibrations. Sound can even make windows vibrate. However, our accelerators produce no significant noise. The particles speeding through the accelerators are silent (like light created by the sun), and the equipment used in the process produces a more or less constant humming sound, no thumps.

I think it is much more likely that the noise and vibrations you sense come from a source other than our accelerators. Here at Fermilab, I'm not aware of any noise-producing projects going on at night, certainly none that would project all the way to Wheaton.

Most of the Fermilab buildings and projects are located near Kirk Road, and we haven't gotten any inquiries or complaints from our neighbors in West Chicago or Warrenville. This is another indication that you hear something that is produced closer to home in Wheaton. I suspect what you hear may be caused by a truck driving by a few blocks from your house. Or are there any businesses within a mile that operate at night? Have you checked with your neighbors whether they hear the same thing? That might help to identify from which direction the noise is coming.

Accelerators and environment
Q:Have any studies ever been done to calculate what escapes from the accelerator into the environment and how much of it escapes? A tour guide told me that there was no environmental impact, but how can something dealing with so much energy and traveling so fast not have some of that energy escape into the environment?

Have you ever done research on things like insect life, water life and plant growth in the areas near the accelerator? Why is there a water ring over the accelerator?

A: Thank you for your inquiry. Fermilab carefully monitors its accelerators and particle beams. Before I explain to you how we do this, let me comment on your statement about "something dealing with so much energy." When we say that the Fermilab accelerators create some of the most powerful particle beams in the world, we speak about energy levels at a microscopic scale. Our beams wouldn't knock over a bowling pin if we put one inside the accelerators. And our beam wouldn't create enough energy to heat your house either. Yet at the atomic level, our beams are more powerful than the ultraviolet light we get from the sun, and even more powerful than the x-rays used in hospitals. After all, our instruments explore what is happening INSIDE a proton, one of the buildings blocks of matter. However, nature produces even more powerful beams of particles than we can do. Cosmic rays, which originate in space, constantly bombard earth's atmosphere and shower us with particles of various energies, including some more powerful than the ones circulating our accelerators.

To study matter and its properties, Fermilab's accelerators operate with large numbers of protons and antiprotons - yet all the particles in the beam weighs far less than a gram at any given time. To make sure that the particle beams don't affect their surroundings, all accelerators are equipped with beam absorbers and shields to keep beams from leaving the accelerator beam pipe. On top of that, the most powerful accelerators are build underground in tunnels lined with concrete. The shields work the same way as the shields that hospitals use to control the emissions from their x-ray machines. Because our beams create light more powerful than x-rays, our shields are thicker.

The proper design of beam absorbers and shields is an important activity at Fermilab. We carefully carry out the work prior to any operation of accelerators, and our plans are carefully reviewed by the appropriate agencies. While numerical calculations are used to design absorbers and shields, we use sophisticated particle detectors and instruments to measure and to check the effectiveness of our absorbers and shields. Extensive measurements are made to verify that the levels of protection are well understood.

Once an accelerator is in operation, we have numerous sets of instruments that continuously monitor the area outside the accelerator tunnels, checking that all of our safety objectives are achieved. Also, water and other environmental materials on site are regularly sampled for problems that might have been produced by our accelerators. Throughout our measurements we have never found any results indicative of any risk to the environment. Because of our desire to be absolutely certain that this remains so and that no harmful radiation escapes into the environment, our sampling and monitoring activities are continuing.

Finally to your question about the water ring. To steer particles around a circular ring, you need a lot of magnets. They don't speed up the particles but rather bend the beam path just enough to keep the particles on a circular track. All this equipment is operated electrically and creates heat that we need to get out of the tunnel. Similar to the engine of a car, this is done by water. (Our cooling water, however, has no antifreeze or other additives.) The cooling water takes up the heat from the equipment and is then pumped into the circular canal that you've referred to. The water ring is actually not on top of the accelerator. The top of the accelerator is marked by an earthen berm, and the water ring is about 80 feet to the inside of this berm.

Tritium at Fermilab
Q: Tritium was recently found in Indian Creek. Could tritium be in wetlands that adjoin Maple Hill? Our wetland actually flows from the Fermilab property. Has this water ever been checked?

A: Yes, this water was checked in early March 2006, and no tritium was detected. This result was reported to the Maple Hill Neighborhood Association, via Don Talaga. We also monitor Kress Creek, which leaves the Fermilab site at the northeast corner. We post the results on our Web site (http://www.fnal.gov/pub/about/community/chart-Kress.html).

Dog training area
Q: Does Fermilab have a designated dog walking area? Would you please tell me how I may use it?

A:Our site does have a dog training area approximately one mile past the east entrance on Batavia Road. If you are heading west from the east entrance, the area is past the Fermilab Village on the left hand side of the road. If you get to Eola Road, you have gone too far.

For information about the current status of access to Fermilab, please go to: http://www.fnal.gov/pub/about/public_affairs/currentstatus.html

The designated dog training area is the only part of the Fermilab site where dogs are allowed to be off their leashes. Dogs must be leashed in all other areas of the Fermilab site.

Prairie burns
Q: Will you carry out any prairie burns this fall?

A: Yes, every fall, between the beginning of October and the beginning of December, trained personnel carry out several controlled burns of parcels of prairie on the Fermilab site. This takes place on dry days with wind blowing away from houses in the neighborhood. If necessary, we postpone some burns until the next spring.

For more than 25 years Fermilab employees and volunteers have worked on reconstructing large areas of the native tallgrass prairie. Controlled burns are necessary to regenerate a healthy prairie. They clear out weedy plants and help seeds to grow so that future generations will be able to enjoy our native wildflowers. If you have questions, please contact us at 630-840-3351. Or see our Web site at http://www.fnal.gov/pub/about/campus/ecology/prairie/.

Building tunnels
Q: I've read that the Fermilab has been digging tunnels under the area surrounding the facility. If this is true, is there any danger to local residents due to foundation shifting, collapse of buildings into tunnels, etc? Should the public be aware of any health issues that may adversely affect them with regard to emissions released into the environment?

A: No, the article that you read may have misled you or it is actually wrong. There has been no excavation for any Fermilab project outside the borders of the Fermilab site. In 2003, Fermilab finished the construction of 4000 feet of tunnels and two large underground experimental halls, all of which are located underneath Fermilab property. The main tunnels and the two halls are between 100 and 350 feet deep in the ground, carved out of the rock located directly underneath the Fermilab site.

Our construction plans underwent a thorough review by several agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency. There will be no emissions affecting local residents or the public.

The new construction, called the Neutrinos at the Main Injector (NuMI) project, now houses the experimental tools to create neutrinos, some of the lightest building blocks of the universe. Neutrinos are particles that are created at the center of the sun, and they arrive on earth with the same abundance as light, but invisible to the naked eye. The NuMI project will enable us to create and observe these particles in a lab environment.

But here is where the misunderstanding may have occurred. Fermilab scientists use the NuMI infrastructure to create beams of neutrinos that travel 450 miles from Fermilab to Soudan, Minnesota - but no tunnel needed! Our neutrinos - like the neutrinos from the sun - are able to travel through rock and other matter without leaving a trace. The 4,000-foot Fermilab tunnel - used in producing the neutrino beam - stops well before reaching the boundary of our site. The neutrinos, traveling deep underground, go in a straight line to a mine in Minnesota, where scientists can detect and study the beam and its properties. For more information, you may want to take a look at the Web pages at www-numi.fnal.gov. Again, there has been no excavation for any Fermilab activity outside the borders of the Fermilab site.

Lake near Wilson Hall
Q: I am told that you are draining the lake outside the high-rise. Are there any plans to restock, add any sort of structure, or otherwise improve the lake once the work is completed? My children and I love to fish and just spend time together there and I wanted to know what is going to happen.

A: There are currently two improvements being made to the lake in front of Wilson Hall. The first is the installment of a sanitary force main, which will improve the septic system for the building. The second is a shoreline restoration project. One part of this restoration project is to build a stone wall along the shore of the east bank. In order to complete both the shoreline projects, the lake has been drained to three feet below its normal level. You and your children may still fish on the lake as long as you don't fish near the construction site. We hope to complete these projects by the end of September and to have the lake back to its normal level by mid-September.

New results from the Tevatron
Q: I know that the Tevatron is in full swing again with Collider Run II. When will the physicists start seeing results from the new run, and what can be expected?

Major physics results tend to get presented at international conferences that take place in the spring and summer. There's a big conference in Amsterdam this summer at which the first measurements from this run (Run II: 2001 to 2008) will be shown --- but these aren't going to change anyone's view of the world, they are really more like checks that we are seeing what we expect to see with the newly upgraded detectors and accelerator.

Physicists have a pretty good understanding of the most common processes that occur when you collide protons and antiprotons at high energies in the Tevatron. What we are looking for are things that happen very rarely, or very subtle deviations from expectations. Both of these require that we record a very large amount of data from collisions and then search through it thoroughly. Right now we are accumulating data and the accelerator operators are pushing to increase the collision rate to the design capabilities of the machine.

By Spring or Summer next year (2003) we will have enough data to show some really new results. We will be able to make much more precise measurements of the properties of the top quark. When it was discovered here in 1995, it was on the basis of observing the traces of a few tens of top quarks in our detectors. By next summer we should have recorded four or five times as many top quarks as were ever seen before and so we'll be able to understand it much better. (For example, is it a quark just like the others? and if so, why is it so much heavier than them?) We're also planning to look for signatures of new particles such as those predicted in supersymmetry theories, make some sensitive tests of the standard model particles that contain a b-quark, and we are even going to try to measure the number of dimensions of space and time.

Each year between now and roughly 2009, we will continue to accumulate data and we'll be able to search for rarer and rarer processes and make more and more precise measurements. So you can expect new results from the Tevatron every year, and there's a very good chance that these results will not just be new measurements but a discovery of something completely new.

John Womersley
Cospokesman, DZero Experiment

Eola Road
Q: I know that Eola Road has a closed access for motorized vehicles, is it open for bicycles or walkers? Or does one need to use the Batavia or Pine Road accesses?

A: No one is supposed to enter at the Eola Road gate except designated contractors. Even employees are not supposed to come in at that gate. You can either use the Batavia or the Pine road access.

Chicago Wilderness
Q: I noticed that Fermilab is a member of Chicago Wilderness. What is your role?

A: Chicago Wilderness is an alliance of more than 140 public and private organizations working together to protect, restore, study and manage the precious natural ecosystems of the Chicago region for the benefit of the public. As a member, Fermilab supports the goals of Chicago Wilderness and benefits from its work and success. Together, we inform policy makers and the public about projects and programs in the Chicagoland area. Chicago Wilderness organizes meetings and projects through which the members exchange information and share resources. Through this process CW members learn from each other and begin to speak with one voice, coordinating conservation messages and priorities.

In 1989, the Department of Energy designated Fermilab a National Environmental Research Park. Because we are a Department of Energy site, we sometimes are subject to rules and regulations different from Forest Preserves and other Chicago Wilderness members. But our overall interest in the preservation of ecosystems is the same. The 6,800-acre Fermilab site features wetlands, woodlands and more than 1,100 acres of reconstructed tall-grass prairie. It is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the Chicagoland area.

Access to site
Q: After the event of September 2001, you closed public access to the bike trails on Fermi grounds. Have they been reopened for public use yet?

A: Yes, the site is again open. For the latest update, please call 630-840-3351 or contact again the community forum by email.

Q: Why don't we see as many little geese at Fermilab this spring (2002) as in previous years?

A: The breeding success of geese on site has been dropping steadily over the past several years. It started with geese breeding in areas away from people or buildings, and it has more recently spread to those nesting close to the high rise. Though the exact cause is not known there are several good candidate reasons and reality is probably some combination of them. One possibility is the weather. The decline in breeding success has coincided with very cool spring weather. This may be preventing eggs from hatching especially when the nests were started early in the season. Another reason could be nest predation by coyotes and/or mink. The numbers of both of these predators on Fermilab site has increased noticeably over the past few years. This would also explain why the poor breeding success was first noticed in birds nesting away from buildings. Mink in particular could explain the lack of success for birds nesting on the island in Main Ring Lake.

There is no evidence that the lack of breeding success is connected to disturbance by people. If somebody was, for instance, shaking eggs one would have expected birds nesting in easy to get to locations to have been the hardest hit. The trend, however, appears to be the reverse of this.

Fermilab is a National Environmental Research Park, and a study of goose nesting success is in progress. We would like to gain a better understanding of the situation.

Recording earthquakes
Q: I work at a facility in Aurora. On 4-11-02 at around 1 a.m. we experienced a an unusual incidence. I would like to know whether there was any kind of tremor or seismic activity around that time. I was told that you might monitor this type of information.

A: The orbits of the particle beams in our circular accelerators are sensitive to earthquake-type ground movement, so occasionally we are asked "was there an earthquake last night? We do have some instruments to measure fast ground motion and vibration here at Fermilab. These are sensors that we use when there is construction going on near the accelerators. We looked at the data from 4/11/02 for a 24 hour period. Our data show no seismic activity.

Since we are not in the business of regularly monitoring seismic activity with quantitative numbers, we recommend that you also look at the following Web sites: Saint Louis University Earthquake Center ( http://www.eas.slu.edu/Earthquake_Center/earthquakecenter.html ), U.S. Geological Survey (http://quake.wr.usgs.gov/recent/quicklook.html ) and the List of Recent Earthquakes for Central US . We found that none of these pages report any earthquake activity for our area on 4/11.

Public Access
Comment: Thank you so much for at least partially reopening Fermilab for recreational access. Many of us use this large neighbor of ours for purposes other than high energy physics, although we support that as well. Concerts, dancing, birdwatching, hiking, biking, visiting the museum and prairie, taking tours, taking the Saturday Morning Physics for high schoolers--members of our family have done all of those. I was dismayed when the alert closed down many of these activities. I would urge you to continue to ease the access to the Fermilab facility, but appreciate at least what we can now visit again. Especially now, the duck migration season.

Fermilab merchandise
Q: This might sound dumb, but a friend said that he got a shirt from Fermi Lab with that name on it........and I want one, too!! Are there shirts, etc, for sale? Can you direct me to the location? I have my money ready! Thank you.

A: T-shirts, sweaters, umbrellas, mugs, science toys and posters are for sale at the Lederman Science Center and online. The Center is easily accessible from the Fermilab main entrance at Kirk Road and Pine Street in Batavia, just three miles north of the I-88/Farnsworth Avenue tollway interchange. Information about the Center

Energy-efficient lighting
Q: Why do the lights in Wilson Hall stay on at night? I wish you would save energy by switching them off.

A: The lights in Wilson Hall are controlled through a master system that turns them off at a relatively late hour (midnight for most floors). The cleaning crews work until midnight, and many scientists work evening hours as well. The exact switch-off time for each floor or area is based upon agreements with the tenants. After midnight, the majority of lights should be switched off. Some areas, however, stay lit all night for safety and security reasons.

We have installed energy-efficient lighting systems to reduce the amount of electricity consumed. Unfortunately, we cannot justify the cost of installing motion sensors. The only savings we could achieve are due to the incremental difference between the time the last individual leaves a work area and the time the master system turns off the whole floor. The savings are not enough to recover the investment in hardware. Instead we encourage our employees to turn lights off when they leave.

Global Positioning
Q: Does Fermilab have any plans to establish a permanent Global Positioning System (GPS) base station?
If so, are there any plans to broadcast real-time differential correction data for positioning purposes?

A: Fermilab has already established a permanent GPS base station located on the top of the Feynman Computing Center, including a repeater on the top of the Wilson Hall building, to broadcast real-time differential correction data for positioning purposes. If you need more details please let us know.