Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, located in the western suburbs of Chicago, has stood at the frontier of high-energy physics for nearly forty years. Since 1972, when the laboratory’s original particle accelerator began producing the world’s highest-energy protons for research, the government-supported scientific facility has been home to numerous scientific breakthroughs, including the discoveries of the top and bottom quarks. Fermilab is the first history of this laboratory and of its powerful accelerators told from the point of view of the people who built and used them for scientific discovery.
Focusing on the first two decades of research at Fermilab, during the tenure of the laboratory’s charismatic first two directors, Robert R. Wilson and Leon M. Lederman, the authors trace the rise of what they call “megascience,” the collaborative struggle to conduct large-scale international experiments in a climate of limited federal funding. This dramatic period of innovation was shaped by an inevitable tension between Fermilab’s pioneering ethos and the practical constraints of tightened budgets.
Fermilab illuminates the growth of the modern research laboratory during the Cold War and captures the drama of human exploration at the cutting edge of science. It is essential reading for anyone interested in regional history, the history of physics, or institutional history.