A final smash for America's giant particle collider
From NPR Morning Edition, Sept. 6, 2011
A physicist named Dmitri Denisov walks up wooden steps to the top of something that looks sort of like an abandoned railroad bed.
"Wow, look, it's beautiful," Denisov says, gazing out at a pond. "I didn't even know about these flowers."
The tall mound of dirt he's standing on stretches off into the distance, forming a huge circle nearly four miles around — and the inside of this ring is filled with acres of restored prairie.
"The first time I came here was 1989," recalls Denisov. At the time, he was a young scientist from the Soviet Union. "I remember sort of coming to this point and looking and saying, 'Wow, that's really a big machine!'"
The machine, which Denisov is standing on, is called the Tevatron. Beneath this earthen berm is a tunnel that serves as a high-tech racetrack for protons and anti-protons. They accelerate to almost the speed of light, and then slam together in collisions that spew out the hidden particles that make up matter.
The Tevatron has been the pride of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Chicago, for a quarter of a century. But at the end of this month, the Tevatron is shutting down.
It's no longer the most powerful machine in the world for smashing bits of atoms together so that scientists can search through the sub-atomic rubble.