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Tevatron closing; officials hopeful about Fermilab's future

Wilson Hall on the campus of Fermilab. Fermilab's Tevatron will close at the end of September, it was announced Monday.
Wilson Hall on the campus of Fermilab. Fermilab's Tevatron will close at the end of September, it was announced Monday.

BATAVIA – Fermilab's Tevatron particle accelerator is set to shut down at the end of September after losing out on additional federal funds to continue its operation.

An estimated 100 jobs could be lost as a result. But area officials are still hopeful about the future of the physics laboratory.

"There are plenty of opportunities to keep Fermilab at the forefront of research," Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke said. "We will have them as a partner in the community for many more years to come."

Fermilab had been requesting an additional $35 million to keep the Tevatron operational for another three years. Fermilab Director Pier Oddone broke the news Monday to Fermilab employees in a letter.

"We received the news that we will not receive funding for the proposed Tevatron extension, and consequently the Tevatron will close at the end of fiscal year 2011 as was previously planned," Oddone said in the letter. "The present budgetary climate did not permit the Department of Energy to secure the additional funds needed to run the Tevatron for three more years as recommended by the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel."

The Department of Energy operates Fermilab.

Fermilab employs 1,900 people, many of whom live in the area, Oddone said. Fermilab plans to shut down the Tevatron, which was completed in 1983, in September, he said. The news about the Tevatron's closing was not a surprise, Oddone said.

"The financial situation in the country is so tough," Oddone said.

Fermilab previously has faced budget problems. Last November, severance packages were offered because Congress has not yet approved the 2011 federal budget and it anticipates that next year’s budget for Fermilab will be cut. Fermilab approved voluntary separations for 31 employees.

Fermilab has accomplished significant feats in its 40-year-plus history. The top quark was discovered at the Tevatron in 1995. It is the heaviest known elementary particle observed in nature. Quarks are one of the fundamental building blocks of matter in the universe.

At one time, Fermilab had the world's largest atom smasher. But in 2009, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland broke the world record for proton acceleration, firing particle beams with 20 percent more power than Fermilab's Tevatron, which previously held the record.

Former 14th District congressman Bill Foster, who had worked at Fermilab as a physicist, has been a strong supporter of the laboratory's work.

"The real challenge going forward will be to defend the future programs of Fermilab," Foster said. "There are projects still in the proposal stage, including Project X."

The experiment will delve into the mystery of how matter came to dominate antimatter in the universe, allowing for the existence of all solid objects.

Foster believes Fermilab can continue to be on the forefront of research, even without the Tevatron.

"It certainly has all the parts necessary to be a strong and successful facility," Foster said.

U.S. Rep Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield, who won Foster's seat in November, could not be reached for comment.

Batavia City Administrator Bill McGrath is hopeful that Fermilab will continue to play an important part in high-energy physics.

"Fermilab employees help the diversity and intellectual life of all the cities around here," McGrath said.

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