Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 24  |  Friday, December 14, 2001  |  Number 20
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

What Do The Neighbors Think?

by Judy Jackson

Fermilab was surrounded by farmland while under contruction in 1970

"Hello, I’m calling from Northern Illinois University. We are doing a study with people who live in northern Illinois about their opinions of science and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (or Fermilab) located in Batavia. We are not selling anything. My questions will only take a very few minutes and there are no right or wrong answers. We are only interested in people’s opinions.”

Early last spring, 1,033 of Fermilab’s neighbors (about 45 percent of those who picked up the phone) responded to the invitation to tell what they thought about science, about Fermilab and about Fermilab’s future. The laboratory’s first-ever community survey provided information beyond mere anecdotal evidence about how residents of Kane, DuPage and eastern DeKalb County see the physics laboratory in their midst. The results? Of those who know Fermilab, most have a favorable view of the laboratory and its work. In fact, 98 percent of the respondents who are at least somewhat familiar with Fermilab say the laboratory should either expand operations (50 percent), or maintain operations at their current level (48 percent). In fact, over half (54 percent) of these familiar with Fermilab say they would favor Fermilab expanding beyond its present boundaries. A gratifying 90 percent say they trust Fermilab to do the right thing environmentally; and 81 percent feel Fermilab is open to feedback from community members.

That’s good news. However—and it’s a big however—those responses come from the people who’ve heard of Fermilab. Of the total surveyed, fewer than half say they are very or somewhat familiar with Fermilab. Fully 53 percent say that they are not too familiar, or not familiar at all, with the laboratory. That leaves Fermilab, as they say, with an opportunity—a large-sized opportunity—for outreach to the community.

Now the Fermilab site is part of the burgeoning western suburs of Chicago It’s a community that appears receptive to hearing from Fermilab. Support for science is strong: 96 percent of those surveyed agree that science and technology advance human knowledge, 91 percent believe that science and technology improve the quality of life, and 82 percent say that scientific research should receive government funding. And, of those who have never visited Fermilab, 86 percent say they would like to, because they want to find out what Fermilab does (34 percent), they are interested (22 percent) or they are curious (11 percent).

Seven hundred sixteen respondents could name something when they were asked what came to mind at the mention of Fermilab. True, 62 of them said “buffalo,” but most cited some aspect of science research. In response to a question about the most important aspect of Fermilab, just over half (543) of the respondents named some aspect of the laboratory. Most answers referred to physics, research (“They wrestle with many big questions like the nature of the universe,” one well informed respondent said.)

While only 16 percent of respondents said they did not trust Fermilab to do the right thing environmentally, and 77 percent believed that the research Fermilab conduct is very safe or somewhat safe, a full 22 percent said they would not feel safe buying a home near Fermilab.

Asked about benefits to the community, 52 percent said 'Jobs' When asked about benefits to the community from Fermilab, 652 respondents named something, with “jobs” far in the lead at 52 percent. “Research” came next, with 19 percent, followed by such items as “skilled workers” (10 percent), “education” (5 percent) and “wildlife/parks” (5 percent). As for drawbacks of Fermilab, most respondents did not see many, although the possibility of an accident, the perceived lack of information about what goes on, the closed gates and the amount of land Fermilab occupies did concern relatively small numbers of people.

Not surprisingly, proximity influenced responses. More then 65 percent of residents of southern Kane County said they were very or somewhat familiar with Fermilab, compared to about 50 percent in northern Kane County, about 45 percent in western DuPage and only about 35 percent in DeKalb County. Residents of eastern DeKalb County were included in the survey, because the area has been proposed as one possible site for a possible future linear accelerator.

Most respondents (about 55 percent) receive information about Fermilab through the media, rather than directly from Fermilab and most believe that the media treat Fermilab well.

Respondents answered a number of questions – of critical importance to the laboratory – about the possible future expansion of Fermilab. First they were asked whether, over the next decade, Fermilab should expand operations, reduce operations, maintain operations or close down. Only one percent favored shutting Fermilab down, while 85 percent favored maintaining or expanding operations. Of these who favored expansion, 67 percent gave “advancing scientific research” as the reason. Others mentioned jobs, wildlife, environmental research and help for the community.

Respondents were next asked, if Fermilab were to receive funding for additional projects, would they favor or oppose expansion beyond the current site boundaries. Fifty-three percent favored expansion, 23 percent opposed an extension beyond the borders.

Still more specific was the question “Would you favor or oppose Fermilab building an underground facility that extends beyond its present borders?” Fifty-one percent were in favor, 23 percent opposed, and 20 percent said they would need to know more before deciding. Interestingly, men were much likely to favor underground expansion (61 percent) than women (40 percent). Those who opposed expansion (16 percent) cited the large space Fermilab already occupies and the expansion of business and neighborhoods near Fermilab.

The Public Opinion Laboratory in Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois carried out the survey, whose $40,000 cost was paid by the Illinois Collaboration for Accelerator Research, a State-of-Illinois funded collaboration of four Illinois universities dedicated to accelerator research and development in northern Illinois.

The survey revealed no strongly negative views of Fermilab. Most of those who know the laboratory appear to feel that Fermilab is a good neighbor with a worthwhile purpose. Nevertheless, with at least half the community in the dark about the laboratory and its unique science mission, it may be timeto redouble outreach efforts to those who will share Fermilab’s future, the neighbors.

last modified 12/14/2001   email Fermilab