The Tevatron was the world’s highest energy particle accelerator for more than two decades. Built at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois in the early 1980s, the machine accelerated protons and antiprotons through its 4.26-mile ring of magnets and smashed them together in one of two 5,000 ton detectors that traced and measured the collision debris. Scientists then analyzed the results in search of new fundamental particles or a deeper understanding of existing ones, and in 1995, they discovered the top quark, one of only 17 known fundamental particles in the universe. The discovery made headlines around the world and became the Tevatron’s crowning achievement. When the U.S. Department of Energy decided to shut the Tevatron down in 2011 after a more powerful collider began running in Europe, the old machine entered a kind of limbo. Its life in the world of experimental particle physics was over, but there were no plans for its remains. Using the Tevatron as a case study, this thesis asks the fundamental question: what can and should be done with the ruins that lie in the wake of progress? In doing so, it examines a difficult challenge facing today’s science and technology museum curators, namely how to preserve the historical and scientific value of important artifacts amid the acceleration of scientific progress and the growing prevalence of big science.
The Ruins of Science: Whatever Happened to the Tevatron?
What can and should be done with the ruins that lie in the wake of progress?