Fundamentals of Particle Physics for Accelerator Operators

Fundamentals of Particle Physics for Accelerator Operators
Fundamentals of Particle Physics for Accelerator Operators - Fermilab - Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory - American particle accelerator Fermilab near Chicago Illinois

While accelerator operators are crucial to the operation of an accelerator lab, few people outside of physics know of their existence. “It was a role I was never familiar with or even knew existed,” says Judah O'Neil, who has worked at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory for the past two years. Accelerator operators at Fermilab are responsible for operating and maintaining the equipment needed to supply particle beams to all activities of the laboratory.

The 500 feet linear accelerator, also known as Linac, is where it all started. This device is used by operators to accelerate a proton beam. Booster, a 1,500-foot circular accelerator that boosts the energy of the proton beam, receives the proton beam from Linac. Operators can then direct the beam to other locations within the complex, such as Fermilab's neutrino and muon experiments.

For neutrino experiments, operators can direct protons from the Booster toward a target, producing low-energy neutrino beams. Instead, operators can transmit a beam from the Booster to the 2-mile diameter Recycler to alter its structure or create muon beams for muon experiments.

Operators can further increase the energy by moving protons from the Recycler to the next stage, the Main Injector, along the line. Using the Main Injector with a circumference of 2 miles, they create the world's highest-intensity neutrino beam for long-term neutrino research.

With the addition of the brand new 700 meter linear superconducting accelerator, the currently ongoing PIP-II building project will expand the capabilities of the entire accelerator complex.

All of this goes through the accelerator operators in Fermilab's Master Control Room, along with the maintenance of the various components of the accelerator complex.

Under the direction of a crew chief, each group of operators alternates day, evening and midnight shifts to keep the control room on duty 24 hours a day.

Alternate shifts allow you to get to know everyone and gain expertise at any time of the day, according to O'Neil. You have the opportunity to talk to the experts, observe what's going on, and get to know everyone in the control room.

Operators in the control room must multitask while working.

Because the accelerator complex can be damaged by storms, they must keep track of multiple monitors at each of their individual terminals, as well as larger screens that show the entire room a system status and a weather radar.

Beeps and other sound effects provide audible indications that can be heard above the cacophony of visitors entering the building to check access keys, alert operators to a problem, or just stop by for a quick hello. Operators are those who go to the scene when something goes wrong to investigate and either fix it themselves or find a more experienced operator who can do it.

Operators don't get these management skills overnight. During their first two years of employment, they go through a training phase.

According to Laura Bolt, operator since November 2021, “you don't even get assigned to a crew for your first month because you just go through some basic training.” Your main goal for the first two years of your stay is to complete your education and contribute to the control room.
Operators who successfully complete their on-the-job training or OJT can specialize in a particular area or mentor less experienced operators.

According to Cassidy Mayorga, a four-year operator, “When you start, you do something, but it's usually under surveillance or you watch someone do something, so you learn how to do it.” Then gradually you move on to doing it independently, and eventually you move on to doing to instruct others.
Mayorga joins the education committee and helps maintain the accuracy of educational materials.
Successfully completing OJTs requires studying instruction manuals, completing written tests, and receiving face-to-face training from senior operators.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on Fermilab's Master Control Room, as teamwork and practical experience with supervision make up a large part of operator training.

Typical activity slowed as employees adjusted to new timelines and skeletal crew shifts to accommodate social distancing. It was an important arrangement, says Mayorga. It was very quiet and quite disturbing.
Operators hired during the pandemic have gained new respect for the knowledge of their colleagues as a result of the gradual easing of restrictions and, more recently, some return to normal daily operations.
According to O'Neil, a lot can be learned by having these discussions with experts and having a large group of people in the control room at the same time.

There is a wide range of operators. Some have been interested in working at Fermilab since they were young, while others have just found the job. Bolt is a writer, O'Neil is an amateur astronomer, and he loves playing Mayorga Ultimate Frisbee. Video games are a common interest among many people.

Bolt, O'Neil, and Mayorga agree that working as an operator is a great job for anyone interested in the practical aspects of particle physics, even if they don't want to directly pursue a PhD in physics. Bolt claims that “the great factor of this study is that it is just off the charts.” The ideal environment for non-traditional physics students is here.

Source: symmetry – Emily Driehaus

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