Fermi National Laboratory

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

A Foot in The Door

by Mike Perricone

Walkers and joggers are back, and so are bicyclists and birdwatchers. Like the rest of the country, Fermilab is edging in the direction of normal operations—but slowly, and one step at a time.

“We are still at a heightened level of security,” cautioned deputy director Ken Stanfield, “and we’ll remain there as long as the Department of Energy determines the need for an increased security level and the nation is advised to stay on alert.”

Birdwatchers. Long a favorite recreation spot for its neighbors, the lab is once again opening the site for some recreational use during normal business hours and on weekends. Pedestrians and bicyclists can now enter the lab from either the west or east side, without obtaining identity badges or visitors’ passes. Visitors cannot enter a laboratory building—except the Lederman Science Education Center—without identity badges or visitors’ passes. Motor vehicles are still restricted to the west entrance, off Kirk Road at Pine Street, and motorists must obtain visitors’ passes to enter on lab business.

The latest changes continue a process that began soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Like the rest of the country, the lab’s immediate response placed a priority on security—effectively placing a lid on the lab. No visitors were allowed except on lab business, and all public recreational use was halted. Neighbors accustomed to jogging, walking their dogs, bicycling, taking the nature trails or birdwatching seemed to accept the change, but that acceptance frequently included a kicker in phone calls or emails: “When do you think you’ll be open again?”

Yet there were special events that went forward, running smoothly enough to demonstrate that public access did not necessarily entail security problems. The first was the symposium celebrating the centenary of Enrico Fermi’s birth, on Friday, September 28. The symposium had been planned for months, with speakers from across the country, and with the public invited. But the general air of uncertainty evidently reduced the turnout.

“The attendance was disappointing,” said symposium organizer and Fermilab theorist Chris Quigg. “On the other hand, the Larry Krauss lecture was a big success and was a nice gift to the community. It was very important to hold the event as planned—for the practical reasons that the 100th birthday doesn’t come around every day and that we had assembled a remarkable group of speakers who couldn’t easily be rescheduled together. It was also important for symbolic reasons: To show the values and human qualities we hold dear, even—and especially—in times of stress. “

The Fermilab Arts Series, with origins dating to the earliest days of the lab, was forced to cancel its Sept. 15 Opening Night performance by flutist Carol Wencinc and harpist Nancy Allen, with air traffic still grounded throughout the country (the performance is rescheduled for May 4). But the rest of the schedule remained intact, with supervised access that included dedicated parking areas. Several events have been sellouts in 800-seat Ramsey Auditorium, as well as the entire debut season of the Sunday afternoon chamber music series in the second-floor gallery of Wilson Hall.

“Thanks to great cooperation throughout the lab, we’ve been able to comply with security restrictions with the least amount of inconvenience to our patrons,” said Arts Series coordinator Janet MacKay-Galbraith. “As the only lab function open to the public, our programs have been very well received, and the public has expressed its appreciation for being able to come to the laboratory. The Arts and Lecture Series was originally conceived as a community outreach tool, and it has never fulfilled that mission more effectively than in the last six months.”

At the Lederman Science Education Center, guided tours for school groups resumed within a matter of weeks, though some schools canceled previous arrangements. Larger presentations such as The Wonders of Science will proceed with special permission. Guided tours for the public have recently been reinstated, with advance sign-up required. The Science Education Center is open during normal business hours on weekdays, and now hosts the Ask-A-Scientist program each Saturday afternoon from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Visiting motorists must enter Fermilab from the west side, and stop at the Lederman Science Center to receive visitors' passes or meet a lab escort. “Casual visitors have been pretty scarce since September,” said Fermilab education director Marge Bardeen. “Overall, I would say that schools and colleges have been most understanding of the situation in which we found ourselves. Teachers and faculty were disappointed that they could not bring students to the lab. But they are signing up again in record numbers—perhaps to make up for the time missed, although it’s too early to tell.”

Other educational efforts, such as the longstanding Saturday Morning Physics program for high school students, continued uninterrupted.

Openness to the public has been a key element in the lab’s operating philosophy from its earliest days, and citizens of the neighboring communities have come to view the site as something akin to public parkland.

“We value our neighbors, and we value their presence at our lab,” Stanfield concluded. “We like to feel that we enhance the quality of life for this area in many ways. And we certainly hope to resume our longstanding, welcoming presence with our neighbors, as soon as the time is right.”

On the web:

For the latest updates on public access, visit the News box on Fermilab's Home Page www.fnal.gov (or call Public Affairs at 630-840-3351)

last modified 3/15/2002   email Fermilab