Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 25  |  Friday, March 15, 2002  |  Number 5
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Wine returns to Wine and Cheese

by Judy Jackson

On Friday, February 22, 2002, after a decade-long absence, wine returned to Wine and Cheese at Fermilab, reviving a longstanding laboratory tradition. Since 1972, scientists at Fermilab have been winding up the work week with a 4:00 Friday Joint Experimental Theoretical Physics Seminar on a physics topic of wide interest: “Electroweak Symmetry breaking at the Tevatron,” perhaps, or the ever-popular “Measuring Leptonic CP Violation with NUMI Off-Axis Beams”

And since 1972, during the half hour before the ritual ringing of a cowbell signals the start of the seminar, Fermilab scientists have been meeting for wine, cheese and conversation.

J.D. Jackson proffers a playful fist at former Director John Peoples, who substituted apple juice for the original wine in 1992. Theorist J.D. Jackson, now of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, formerly of Fermilab, described the birth of this Friday-afternoon Fermilab tradition in “Early Days of Wine and Cheese,” an essay in the 1992 Fermilab Annual Report.

“Bob Wilson and his troops in the field were straining to complete the experimental areas and to raise the energy and intensity of the machine,” Jackson wrote. “The early experiments struggled to be ready for whatever the machine would produce. Typically, work on the accelerator proceeded during the week; late on Friday beam to experiments was begun for the weekend. With luck, there would be some hours of running.

“The contrast of the theorists ‘doing their thing’ while the machine builders and experimenters heroically did the necessary spurred [former Fermilab theorist Marty] Einhorn to propose a weekly seminar to help provide some sense of common purpose and intellectual food for the whole community.

To avoid conflict with urgent meeting of one sort or another, 4 p.m. in Friday afternoon was chosen. Obviously, there had to be a come-on to draw people back to the West Conference Room at the end of each stressful week. Wine and cheese were the answer.”

Physicist Jim Sanford gave the first talk, on September 29, 1972, to an audience of about 40, Jackson’s essay recalled.

As for the wine and cheese: “My informal expense ledger for that date shows $6.72 for bread and cheese and $9.43 for 2 gals. CK Mondavi Burgundy.”

In the beginning, Jackson bought the wine. He wrote of an encounter with Priscilla Duffield, described as Wilson’s administrative “enforcer,” in 1972.

“One day, a month or so after the seminar’s debut, word about the Friday afternoon going-on reached Priscilla. She stormed into my office, looking for my scalp. ‘What do you think you’re doing, serving wine at that seminar. Don’t you know it’s illegal to spend government money on such things?’ I said that I wasn’t spending government money on the wine. She said, ‘Well, who is paying for it?” I said, ‘I am.’ And she said, ‘Oh.’ It was the one time I saw Priscilla just a little bit penitent.”

Eventually the expense of the wine and cheese seminar outgrew Jackson’s resources, and Universities research Association, the contractor that operates Fermilab for the Department of Energy, took over the funding. For 20 years, the Joint Experimental Theoretical Physics Seminar, preceded by half an hour of wine and cheese, flourished.

Then, in 1992, apple juice struck.

Concerns about the possibility of wine consumption by under-age students led then-Fermilab Director John Peoples to remove the wine from Wine and Cheese. The name stayed the same (“Apple Juice and Cheese” never caught on), and the seminars continued; but the wine was gone.

Until, last month, in the Jacksonian tradition, two Fermilab physicists brought it back.

Jackson offers a toast with Bill Foster (left) and Peter Limon, who revived the wine tradition. In November 2001, physicists Bill Foster and Peter Limon received Employee Performance Recognition Awards for their work on a design study for the Very Large Hadron Collider. The two decided to use proceeds from the award to put the wine back into Wine and Cheese. The donated funds provide not only wine but also the services of a licensed bartender to steer the under-aged to the apple juice in the corner.

“The main reason for the donation was that carrying on the wine and cheese without the wine gave a feeling that bureaucracy was triumphant,” said Foster.

At 3:30 on Friday, February 22, a larger-than-usual crowd gathered on the Wilson Hall second-floor crossover to re-inaugurate the Wine and Cheese Seminar. It was an exuberant half hour, enlivened by reminiscences of Wine and Cheeses past. At 4:00, the cowbell rang, and the crowd trooped off to a lively seminar.

The speaker was J.D. Jackson. He described the event in a February 25 letter.

“I made my trip to Fermilab last Friday to speak at the re-inaugural of the Wine and Cheese Seminar, officially the Experimental and Theoretical Physics Seminar. After the wine and cheese interlude, I spoke on the Historical Roots of Gauge Invariance. My presentation seemed to be well received.”

Well received, indeed. The crowd loved it. For the time being, at least, Wine and Cheese was back.

last modified 3/15/2002   email Fermilab