Monday, November 30, 2009

Am I the only one not excited about this?

So much has been happening over at CERN. Birds dropping baguettes into electronics, theories about saboteurs from the future, and, at last, a successful startup. After years of waiting and anticipating, the thing works. Tons of press, much ballyhooing.

So why haven’t I written about it? (not that anyone is waiting to hear my thoughts, of course). I think I’ve been avoiding it. After following the story for five years on this side of the Atlantic, I must confess a part of me was a little disappointed to see CERN working at last. Why? Because it really does finally start the death clock for my favorite particle accelerator, the quirky, irascible, buffalo-loving, plaid-tie-wearing, held-together-by-baling-wire-and-duct-tape, 40 year-old local curmudgeon that cranked out discovery after discovery: The Tevatron at Fermilab. And anyway, who has the cooler name? The LHC? So boring. The Tevatron! Now that’s what science is supposed to sound like.

The Tevatron. No, not CERN. The TEVATRON.

We, my co-filmmakers Monica Ross and Andrew Suprenant and I, spent a good four years going back and forth from Chicago to Fermilab, getting to know I-88 quite well. We became regulars of a sort, walking in and out of the buildings and labs, waving to physicists and engineers we had come to know, and eating at the Fermilab cafeteria. They were hot on the heels of the Higgs boson. Well, not all the time (you’ll have to watch The Atom Smashers to find out about the roller coaster ride), but suffice it to say that they were neck and neck with CERN for the honors of finding the most sought-after subatomic particle of all time. And just when their big rival, the enormous, expensive, glorious LHC at CERN was set to blow them out of the water, the Europeans had a hiccup (ahem). The Tevatron had a new lease on life! And another year, maybe two, to make a discovery.

But now, the LHC is finally working. Hooray.

I know, the scientists at Fermilab are just as excited that the LHC has started as the scientists in Europe. After all, they will be heading over there soon to start work, if they haven’t already. They love the big new toys. And Fermilab has a lot of game —- many things are going on besides the beat up old Tevatron (as our new Fermilab film will demonstrate!) It’s just —- I really like the Tevatron.

What can I say —- I have a 1969 VW bus. Just about the same age as the ol’ Tevatron. I’d have a hard time getting rid of it, too.