50 years ago, Fermilab turned to bubbles

Excerpt from the August 16, 1969 issue of Science News

bubble chamber

BUBBLY PAST  This futuristic, metal ball was Fermilab’s 4.5-meter bubble chamber. Decommissioned in 1988, it’s now a prominent art piece called the Bubble Chamber Sculpture at the laboratory.

Reidar Hahn/Fermilab

Science News cover from August 16, 1969

Bubbles for Batavia —

Use by visitors is expected to be especially large at the National Accelerator Laboratory now under construction at Batavia, Ill…. NAL staff and consultants agree that the laboratory will need a large bubble chamber, and it now plans to build one in collaboration with Brookhaven National Laboratory. — Science News. August 16, 1969 


NAL was renamed Fermilab in 1974 for physicist Enrico Fermi. The lab’s first accelerator produced protons in April 1969, and was shooting subatomic particles into a 76-centimeter bubble chamber filled with liquid hydrogen by 1972. Such chambers track bubble trails left by speeding particles. The lab began upgrading to a 4.5-meter chamber detector in 1973, which helped in the study of neutrinos and turned up evidence for bottom and top quarks. As accelerators modernized, bubble detectors were phased out, and Fermilab’s chamber became an art installation. But SNOLAB’s bubble chamber in Sudbury, Canada, still searches for weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPS — a proposed type of dark matter

Bethany was previously the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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