The Run Down

About an hour outside of Chicago, there are thousands of scientists from all over the world working to answer fundamental questions about space, life, and our very own existence. Is time travel possible? Are we living in a multiverse? You know, all the things we think about right before bed. This guide has you driving out to Batavia, IL where you'll be visiting a particle accelerator and physics laboratory that's housed on on a 6,800 acre site. You'll be touring exhibits, learning about neutrinos, and biking all across the site. Here are the details.

1. Bike @ Fermilab Campus

2. Walk @ Margaret Pearson Interpretive Trail

3. Tour @ Wilson Hall

1. Bike Around Campus (Start at Lake Law)

One thing you need when building a particle accelerator is a lot of land. With most of the Fermilab facilities housed deep underground, the surface is mostly big stretches of prairies, forests, and lakes with the occasional physics laboratory scattered around.

There are two ways to see the entire campus. You can do it by car or you can do it by bike. If you’re able to lug your bike all the way to the Fermilab campus, you should absolutely do it.

Before you can start, you’ll first come upon a guard’s station at the campus entrance. To get through security all you need to do is present a photo ID and tell the guard your reason for visiting (i.e. I’m trying to learn about spacetime and dark matter so please let me through).

Here are some notes to start your campus tour

– You can park your car at Lake Law (a small lake on their campus) and start your bike trip from there.

– You can bike pretty much anywhere, but keep an eye out for signs where public access is prohibited.

– There is a GPS audio tour you can download to learn all about all the various points of interest you’ll pass as you bike the campus.

Along the lake are a small row of houses and a restaurant.  This area is where visiting scientists from all over the world reside. It looks like a really tiny rural town. You can park your car here and start the bike tour.

As you ride your bike, you’ll come across a lot of strange and fantastic looking objects. This is one of them. This is Fermilab’s, now retired, bubble chamber.  After filling this with liquid nitrogen, this was one of the first contraptions that scientists used to detect particles moving through it.

Another retired building is the Proton Pagoda. It was once a control room and part of Fermilab’s proton area. I know what you’re thinking: is this where scientists discovered the fundamental particle, the bottom quark, in 1977? Yes, you are absolutely right.

This structure is built into the hill behind it. This is part of Fermilab’s test beam facility that particle physicists from all over the world use to test their conductors.

2. Fermilab Interpretive Trail

As you bike around, make sure to stop off at the Fermilab Interpretive Trail. It’s a small loop trail through a beautifully preserved prairie field full of wild flowers, tall grass, and oak savanna woodlands.

1. Wilson Hall

Our last stop are two buildings open to the public. The first is Wilson Hall, the main administrative building that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. The other is Lederman Science Center.

Here are some notes to keep in mind.

– Lederman Science Center is open to the public from 8am – 5pm M-F and 8am – 3p Sat

– Wilson Hall is only open for scheduled public tours

– They’ll occasionally have guided tours of the actual the underground particle accelerator

– Schedules and operating hours can move around so check their website before going.

– Free

This is a shot from inside Wilson Hall. We’re on the ground floor looking up. At the very top of the picture is the 15th floor observatory. You’re headed there next.

On the 15th floor are large panel windows that give you unobstructed views of the campus. At different times of the week, Fermilab scientists will be up there to answer questions and teach you as much as you want to know about particle physics. Here’s a link to all of the lab’s programming.

There’s also a small scale display of the Fermilab campus on the 15h floor. One thing you’ll notice is that there is a gigantic circular body of water. The water follows the path of the lab’s particle accelerator, also known as the Tevatron.

Here’s a view of Fermilab’s campus from the 15th floor observation deck. The Tevatron is underground and follows the water way.

Take your time on the 15th floor and walk through all the exhibits. Here’s just one of the many mind boggling experiments being undertaken.

There’s so much ground to cover on their campus, and we just captured a small bit of it with this guide. Get back on your bike, get lost, and find out what else there is to learn.