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The Run Down

About an hour outside of Chicago, there are thousands of scientists from all over the world working to answer fundamental questions about space, life, and our very own existence. Is time travel possible? Are we living in a multiverse? You know, just getting a better understanding of the laws of nature and the cosmos.

We’re driving out to Batavia, IL where we’ll be visiting Fermilab, a particle accelerator and physics laboratory that’s housed on on a 6,800 acre site. We’ll be touring exhibits, learning about neutrinos, and biking all across the site. Here are the details.

1. Tour @ Wilson Hall
2. Walk @ Fermilab Interpretive Trail
3. Bike @ Fermilab Campus

1. Wilson Hall

Our first stop is Wilson Hall, the main administrative building on Fermilab’s campus. But before you can even get there, you’ll first come upon a guard’s station at the campus entrance. To get through security all you need to do is present a photo ID and tell the guard your reason for visiting (i.e. I’m trying to learn about spacetime and dark matter so please let me through).

Once you get through security, you’ll follow the main road for about 5 minutes until you come upon this 15 story futuristic designed building. This is Wilson Hall and where we start our tour. Here are some notes to keep in mind.

– The ground and first floor are open to the public every day from 8am – 5pm

– The 15th floor houses an observation area and exhibits. Open to the public from from 8am – 4:30pm M-F; 9am – 3pm Sat – Sun

– On the first Tuesday of every month, you can sign up for a free two hour tour of the underground particle accelerator.

– Free

This is a shot from inside Wilson Hall. We’re on the ground floor looking up. At the very top of the picture is the 15th floor observatory. That’s where you’ll want to head to next. 

On the 15th floor are large panel windows that give you unobstructed views of the campus. At different times of the week, Fermilab scientists will be up there to answer questions and teach you as much as you want to know about particle physics. Here’s a link to all of the lab’s programming.

There’s also a small scale display of the Fermilab campus on the 15h floor. One thing you’ll notice is that there is a gigantic circular body of water. The water follows the path of the lab’s particle accelerator, also known as the Tevatron.

Here’s a view of Fermilab’s campus from the 15th floor observation deck. The Tevatron is underground and follows the water way.

Take your time on the 15th floor and walk through all the exhibits. Here’s just one of the many mind boggling experiments being undertaken. 

2. Fermilab Interpretive Trail

One thing you need when building a particle accelerator is a lot of land. But most of the Fermilab facilities are housed deep underground, so what do you do with the surface? Well, you help restore and preserve it’s natural beauty.

As you drive around the campus, most of what you’ll see are big stretches of prairies, forests, and lakes with the occasional physics laboratory scattered around. Just around the corner from Wilson hall is one of Fermilab’s natural restoration projects, the Fermilab Interpretive Trail. It’s a small loop trail through a beautifully preserved prairie field full of wild flowers, tall grass, and oak savanna woodlands.

As we understand more and more about the origins of our cosmos and of life itself, it really gives us a better appreciation of the natural space around us. This 30 minute nature walk is a wonderful way to put all of that into perspective.

3. Bike Around Campus (Start at Lake Law)

There are two ways to see the entire campus. You can do it by car or you can do it by bike. If you’re able to lug your bike all the way to the Fermilab campus, you should absolutely do it. Here are some tips if you decide to bike.

– You can park your car at Lake Law and start your bike trip from there.

– There are bike trails all around and you can also criss-cross around the campus on the main roads. Just look out for signs where public access is prohibited. For the most part, however, you can go pretty much anywhere on campus.

– There is a GPS audio tour that you can download to learn all about all the various points of interest you’ll pass as you bike the campus.

Along the lake are a small row of houses and a restaurant. It looks like a really tiny rural town. This is where you’ll park your car and start the bike tour. This area is where visiting scientists from all over the world reside. 

As you ride your bike, you’ll come across a lot of strange and fantastic looking objects. This is one of them. This is Fermilab’s, now retired, bubble chamber.  After filling this with liquid nitrogen, this was one of the first contraptions that scientists used to detect particles moving through it. 

Another retired building is the Proton Pagoda. It was once a control room and part of Fermilab’s proton area and was the site of the discovery of another fundamental particle, the bottom quark, in 1977.

This structure is built into the hill behind it. This is part of Fermilab’s test beam facility particle physicists from all over the world come to conduct tests on their particle detectors.

There’s so much ground to cover on your bike, and we just captured a small bit of it with this guide. Stay on your bike, get lost, and find out what else there is to learn.