Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 26  |  Friday, July 25, 2003  |  Number 12
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Keep It Running

by Kurt Riesselmann

Fermilab technicians do it all. From moving 11,000-pound magnets to maintaining multi-megawatt power supplies to designing ultrafast electronics, technicians are in the thick of it. Above all, they keep the lab running— 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Technician Greg Lawrence coordinates magnet replacements for Fermilab's accelerators. "Everybody in the Mechanical Support group carries a pager," said lead technician Greg Lawrence, who manages a group of 25 mechanical technicians. He also is in charge of coordinating the replacement of defective accelerator magnets. "On Wednesday (July 2) a Main Injector magnet failed at 11 a.m. The technicians worked until 2 a.m. to replace it."

Magnet replacements bring together employees with a wide range of knowledge: radiation technicians who give the okay for the work to begin; electrical technicians who disable the high-voltage power; mechanical technicians who disconnect the vacuum and water system; welders who cut the beam pipe so that mechanical technicians can replace the defective magnet; truck drivers and movers who haul away the old magnet and bring in a new one from storage; surveyors who align the new magnet.

Over the course of the event about 20 people, mostly technicians, contribute to the job. Some are only needed for a few minutes—perhaps in the middle of the night—while others are there for 12 hours or more.

"To me it's fun. We are the mechanics that fix the car," said Lawrence, evoking the image of a pit crew working on a racing car. Time is of the essence when an accelerator breaks down. The less down time, the more research possibilities.

Not all accelerator-related tasks draw as much attention as a magnet replacement.

"We've done such a good job at keeping the Linac running that people almost forget that we are here," said lead technician Lester Wahl of the Linac group. "If our system goes down there is no beam, either."

Wahl joined the lab in 1970 when the Linac was built. At that time there were about 80 people in the Linac group. Today, six technicians and a couple of engineers care for the machine. Recent retirements have increased Wahl's responsibilities, and he emphasizes the importance of instructing the younger technicians in his group.

"With every person who retires we lose a great deal of expertise," he said. "I provide hands-on training to the less experienced people. We have a spare Linac system outside the tunnel, fully accessible at all times."

As Fermilab's accelerators get older, preventive maintenance is more important than ever. Water hoses used in the cooling systems last only a few years. Other mechanical components need lubrication and testing. Some electronic components such as capacitors have a limited lifetime and need to be replaced before they fail. On top of that, engineers and scientists constantly make improvements to the accelerator complex. Technician Greg Lawrence coordinates magnet replacements for Fermilab's accelerators.

"There are always maintenance and upgrades to be done. I do different things every day," said tech specialist Wes Mueller. For 18 years, he and Pete Seifrid have worked together on accelerator upgrades. In recent years they've worked on the electronics for stochastic cooling equipment, building gigahertz high-frequency systems with ultrashort response times.

Many technicians are in charge of specific subsystems of the accelerator complex. They are responsible for their maintenance and repairs. When a subsystem fails, the operators in the Main Control Room call in the corresponding person— in the middle of the night, if necessary.

"The technicians are proud of their work and their equipment," said Cons Gattuso, a physicist who began his Fermilab career as an operator in the accelerator's Main Control Room "They go out of their way to get the job done."

Engineer Dan Wolff is head of the Electrical/ Electronics Support department of the Beams Division. His group of 50 people, mostly technicians, is responsible for the power supplies of the magnets in the accelerators.

"The lab operates pretty unique power supplies," said Wolff. "We design and build them ourselves, buying the necessary parts from manufacturers." Over the Fourth of July weekend, when Fermilab's accelerators encountered a series of problems, Wolff's group was there to help.

"Since we have good technicians, I usually don't have to come in at all," said Wolff. "But this was very unusual. I came to the lab three times that weekend, and at least eight of my technicians and two engineers were called in at one time or another as well. Typically, it's only one person per weekend."

Tech specialist Ken Koch with circuit boards for Tevatron Beam Dampers. Like many technicians at the lab, Ken Koch began as Technician I and worked his way up. Twenty years later, he is a tech specialist working in the Tevatron Department.

"The lab is an incredible training ground for anyone," said Koch, who works on electronics in a small workshop. "I work in a small group of technicians that can make things happen fast. There are two engineers and a number of physicists. They have the ideas—we make them happen. Within a day or two we are producing the kind of circuit board they need. It's never boring. It's like putting puzzles together."

Together, Koch and his colleagues in every area keep the lab running.

last modified 7/28/2003   email Fermilab