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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?

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.


Suzanne Jacobs
Written by
Suzanne Jacobs

Suzanne Jacobs spent her earliest years in the New York City suburbs and Lincoln, Nebraska, but primarily grew up in Columbus, Ohio. After graduating from high school, she headed north to the University of Michigan. She began her college career wanting to take classes in anything and everything. After sampling a wide variety of subjects, including Greek literature, extreme weather, philosophy and organic chemistry, Suzanne found herself in a physics class, where she fell in love and never looked back. As much as she enjoyed her physics classes, Suzanne longed for a writing outlet outside of lab reports, so she wandered into the newsroom at the student newspaper and joined the staff of The Michigan Daily. She soon became as passionate about journalism as she was about physics and went on to intern at a blog called The Utopianist and at the local NPR affiliate station in Michigan. Since completing her bachelor’s degree in physics nearly two years ago, Suzanne has continued to pursue both science and writing at the University of Michigan by studying iceberg calving with an engineering professor and doing research for a book on social entrepreneurship with a business school professor. Although physics and writing often seem like separate pursuits, Suzanne hopes to combine her passions to help show a general audience how amazing hard science really is.

Thesis: The Ruins of Science: Whatever Happened to the Tevatron?

Suzanne Jacobs Written by Suzanne Jacobs