Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 24  |  Friday, May 4, 2001  |  Number 8
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Engineering Fermilab

Saying that engineering contributes to physics is like saying that water can be helpful to fish. Without engineering, physics would not be physics. What makes physics a science, and not mere speculation about how the world might work, is experiment; and to make an experiment takes engineering.

Before Galileo could drop anything, somebody had to build that tower. The nucleus did not appear to Rutherford in a vision. The top quark was only a theorist's vaporous construct until the Tevatron made it, and CDF and DZero saw it. Physicists need tools. Engineers design and build them.

And, no field of physics needs tools like high-energy physics needs tools. You can't make a quark with your bare hands, and you can't see neutrinos with your eyeballs. (You can barely see neutrinos anyway, even with the fanciest of fancy engineering.) It's a truism that to see the smallest objects, it takes the biggest tools, and particle accelerators and detectors are tools on the grand scale. If physicists need engineers, high-energy physicists really need engineers.

For high-energy physics, engineering is destiny. It's simple: the kind of physics you can do depends on the kind of tools you can build. Right now, not only at Fermilab but throughout the worldwide particle physics community, physicists and engineers are trying to understand and create the next generation of tools for the next generation of physics. What can we build? What will we discover? There's no separating those questions.

Also: What will it cost? When an interviewer asked Dan Olis, a DZero engineer, if he ever encounters engineering problems that make him throw up his hands and give up, Olis looked puzzled.

"If you are an engineer," he said, "you feel there must be a solution to a given problem. Hopefully, you can find the simplest, most elegant and cheapest one."

Of course, it's a two-way street. If physics needs engineering, engineering needs physics too. The more that physicists learn about the physics of superconductivity, the better the magnets that engineers can design for the next generation of accelerators. Quantum mechanics put the "E" --at least the first one--in Double E. When Harry Carter and the Blue Man Group at CDF lift 100 tons of steel 40 feet in the air, you can bet that Newtonian mechanics guides their every move. Engineering is all about physics, and vice versa.

Engineers who find happiness at a physics lab seem to be a special breed.

"The engineers who stay with us at Fermilab," Director Mike Witherell said recently, "are those who enjoy the challenges, the atmosphere, and the environment of similarly motivated and imaginative people. The engineers at our laboratory enjoy being part of one of the world's great scientific enterprises."

At its best, a synergy occurs between physics and engineering, and between physicists and engineers. Bob DeMaat, a CDF engineer, put it this way:

"You need a combination of engineers with an understanding of the physics of the experiment, and physicists who understand the engineering. They have a feeling for the technology that will work."

On April 19, Fermilab's engineers came together in the Wilson Hall atrium for the family portrait on these pages. This issue of FermiNews is devoted to them. To do the subject justice would take a book. In these few pages, we tell a few of the stories of the engineering, and the engineers, that make Fermilab work.

  • Click image for larger jpg image.

    Some of the over 200 engineers that work a Fermilab.

  • last modified 3/16/2001 by C. Hebert   email Fermilab