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Farewell to the Bevatron 1954-1993

For 39 years, it stood as the workhorse for high-energy and heavy-ion physics, a service record of accomplishment that is unrivaled. On November 6, 2009, nearly 200 Laboratory and retired Laboratory staff and well-wishers braved the rain and fog to pay final tribute and farewell to the Bevatron, a synchrotron that could accelerate protons up to 6.5 billion electron volts of energy – hence the name.

Following welcoming remarks by Jim Krupnick, the Laboratory’s Chief Operating Officer who began his career here working at the Bevatron, Paul Alivisatos, interim Lab Director, told attendees about future plans for the site once the Bevatron’s demolition has been completed. The Lab envisions the site as home to what is dubbed “the next generation light source,” a superbright, superfast device based on superconducting linear accelerators and free-electron lasers.

But the focus of the afternoon was the Bevatron and a historical overview on this venerable machine was provided by former Lab director and accelerator physicist Andy Sessler.

“While the Bevatron is most famous for its role in the discovery of the antiproton, it should also be remembered as the place where the study of relativistic nuclear collisions began,” Sessler said. “This work led to today’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider and the Large Hadron Collider.”

Sessler also cited the nuclear chemistry and cosmic radiation studies, and heavy ion cancer therapy research as important parts of the Bevatron lore. Four Nobel prizes were won for research done on the Bevatron, encompassing  three of history’s most important discoveries in particle physics – nuclear antimatter (antiproton and antineutron), subatomic resonance states, which led to the quark model, and “strange” particles, the first known example of a lack of symmetry in nature.

“We have come here today not to honor a machine, which after all is just steel and concrete, but to honor the people who designed and built this machine, and who used it for nearly 40 years to do such outstanding science,” Sessler said. “It is the memory of those people and what they accomplished that makes this day so special.”

After the remarks by Sessler, Alivisatos presented a plaque to Ed Lofgren, the physicist who served as chief of operations for the Bevatron from its commissioning in 1954 through 1979. Lofgren was present when the first beam was circulated through the Bevatron in February, 1954, and on February 21, 1993, he hit the switch that turned off the beam for the final time. In his brief remarks, Lofgren praised engineer William Brobeck as the magician who made the Bevatron work, Ernest Lawrence for his leadership and Edwin McMillan for his conception of the synchrotron type of particle accelerator.

Joseph Harkins, of Facilities Division, who is managing the  Bevatron’s demolition, closed the event with a few words on the demolition project. After pointing out that it cost about $9 million to build the Bevatron but about $50 million to demolish it, Harkins noted that the foundation of the Bevatron will remain in place.

“It seems fitting that the foundation of the Bevatron, which served the cause of science on this site so well for so long, will continue to serve the science that is to come on this site,” Harkins said.

—Story by Lynn Yarris; Photography, excluding historical, Roy Kaltschmidt

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