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Local

Award-winning Fermilab scientist passes away

Alvin Tollestrup, 95, died Feb. 9 of cancer

Fermilab scientist Alvin Tollestrup died Feb. 9 from cancer at age 95.
Fermilab scientist Alvin Tollestrup died Feb. 9 from cancer at age 95.

BATAVIA – Award-winning engineer and physicist Alvin Tollestrup, who played an instrumental role in developing the Tevatron as the world’s leading high-energy physics accelerator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and founding member of the Collider Detector at Fermilab collaboration, died on Feb. 9 of cancer. He was 95.

According to a news release from Fermilab, Tollestrup led the pioneering work of designing and testing 1,000 superconducting magnets used in the Tevatron, which operated from 1983 until 2011 and for 25 years was the world’s most powerful particle collider. This was the first large-scale application of superconductivity worldwide.

The Tevatron led to the discovery of two fundamental particles — the top quark and the tau neutrino. The top quark, discovered in 1995, was the last undiscovered particle of the six-member quark family that explains the composition of protons, neutrons and other particles. Scientists worldwide had sought the top quark since the discovery of the bottom quark at Fermilab in 1977. The discovery of the tau neutrino with the Tevatron accelerator followed in 2000.

“Alvin’s impact on the laboratory and on high-energy physics was just exceptional, and the development of technology with regard to the superconducting magnets had a tremendous impact on accelerators,” stated Fermilab senior scientist emeritus Herman White, in the news release. “All who knew him, socially and professionally, found him to be engaging, thoughtful and someone with a long, important history of working in the research community and here at Fermilab.”

Tollestrup was born March 22, 1924, in Los Angeles. He received his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Utah in 1944. After service in the U.S. Navy, he entered graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, where he earned his Ph.D. in physics in 1950. His doctoral adviser was William A. Fowler, who shared the 1983 Nobel Prize in physics. Tollestrup then took a position at Caltech to build the electron synchrotron, a type of particle accelerator. At the time it was the highest-energy synchrotron in the world, starting at 500 million electronvolts, or MeV, finally reaching 1,300 MeV.

He was a member of the Caltech faculty before arrived at Fermilab in July 1975 on sabbatical, but never left. In 1978, He became the head of the newly created Collider Detector Facility. He later became a founding member of the CDF collaboration, serving as its co-spokesperson from its inception in 1983 until 1992. He was instrumental in organizing the CDF collaboration, which initially consisted of 13 institutions and 87 physicists from the United States, Italy and Japan, the release stated.

Interment will be private, and memorial plans are pending. In lieu of flowers, donations in Tollestrup’s name to Fermilab Friends for Science Education or the American Cancer Society are appreciated, the release stated.

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