Friday, June 30, 2017

Fermilab's Unofficial Seal Explained

History of Science
Edward Hessler

The physics research laboratory known as Fermilab, 40 miles due west of Chicago, is an aesthetically pleasing place to work and visit. This is due to the vision of physicist Robert Wilson who led its design and construction. Wilson was an architect, a designer of particle accelerators who also paid attention to the art found on the grounds and in the buildings.

The laboratory was founded in 1967 as the U. S. National Accelerator Laboratory.  It was completed on-time and under budget. This is a sentence worth reading twice since it is so unusual today.  In 1974, the laboratory was re-named in honor of Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. Henry Petroski, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, has pointed out that "Having a proper name affixed to its official designation allowed the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to be referred to simply as Fermilab."

By the way, Congress was not excited or much interested in funding the construction of the laboratory.  In the link above to Jennifer Oulette's essay on Robert Wilson there is an exchange between Senator John Pastore and Robert Wilson which has become a classic. The proposed accelerator received its funding.

But today's post is about some of its art as found in a graphic that has become the unofficial seal for the laboratory.  In an article in Symmetry, Lauren Biron tells us what all the different symbols mean.

The seal is rich in symbols and together they provide a lovely visual abstract of Fermilab, its work and some of its contributions. I confess that I'd barely ever noticed them much less wondered about them.

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