Friday, September 30, 2011

Tevatron atom smasher shuts after more than 25 years due to funding cuts

One of the world's most powerful "atom smashers", at the leading edge of scientific discovery for a quarter of a century, is about to shut down.

The Tevatron facility near Chicago will fire its last particle beams on Friday after federal funding ran out.

Housed in a 6km-long circular tunnel under the Illinois prairie, the Tevatron leaves behind a rich scientific legacy.

This includes finding nature's heaviest elementary particle: the top quark.

Since 1985, engineers have been accelerating bunches of proton and antiproton particles around the Tevatron's main ring at close to the speed of light, then smashing them together in a bid to unlock the secrets of the Universe.

But the Tevatron has been superseded by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) - located on the French-Swiss border - which is capable of getting to much higher energies than the US machine.

Shortly after 1400 local time on Friday, the Tevatron's designer Dr Helen Edwards will push a button in the control room that diverts the last beam of particles into a solid metal block, closing the book on an era in American big physics.