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Fermilab: Physics, the Frontier, and Megascience Paperback – April 15, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“Big Science keeps getting bigger—and the complexities of organizing a major laboratory at the edge of science run the range from instrumentation and sociology to the politics of congressional funding. Lillian Hoddeson, Adrienne Kolb, and Catherine Westfall have done a superb job of following the turbulent confluence of science and policy and created a major study of broad interest to anyone who wants to understand what large-scale research looks like in the real world.”

(Peter Galison, Harvard University)

“For almost half a century, Fermilab has occupied center stage as physicists have sought to understand the fundamental structure of the universe. The lab deserves a good history, and I’m happy to say that in this book it has one. The authors present a compelling, nuanced, and richly detailed account of the place from its beginnings to the present.”

(James Trefil, George Mason University)

Fermilab impresses with its detailed discussion of the technical, sociological, and political dimensions of the trials and triumphs of creating and operating a major research laboratory funded by the federal government. It brings vividly to life the laboratory and its people under the successive directorships of Bob Wilson, Leon Lederman, and John Peoples through description of representative experiments. A valuable account of a unique institution from its inception to the discovery of the top quark in 1995.”

(J. David Jackson, University of California, Berkeley, and head, Fermilab Theory Group, 1972–1973)

“Fermilab is the grandest instrument ever built by American physicists; just one of its particle detectors is bigger than an entire laboratory of an earlier generation. This book tells the Fermilab story in full for the first time, and tells it as a human story, with no more technical detail than necessary. The book should appeal not only to readers interested in science and technology, but to anyone concerned about the negotiation and management of landmark projects.”

(Spencer Weart, AIP Center for History of Physics)

"This book is masterful in being both a major scholarly contribution to the history of physics and a riveting read....The authors benefited from a long connection to Fermilab and complete access to personnel, files, and archives. They also display a sense of the historical changes and a thorough understanding of the physics. It is, however, to their great credit that they also have produced such a readable page turner. Fermilab, still working magnificently in 2009, has found the chroniclers it deserves."

(Gino Segrè Physics in Perspective)

"It is delightful to have in hand and to read the work of historians Lillian Hoddeson, Adrienne Kolb, and Catherine Westfall. Fermilab weaves their accounts into a coherent narrative in limpid prose that should be accessible to anyone with an interest in the history of late-20th-century science....Fermilab’s story is well told and attractively framed in the book, a fitting capstone for the edifice of historical scholarship that the authors have erected over 30 years. Megascience requires 'megahistory,' and Hoddeson knows how to pioneer in that field."—Robert W. Seidel, Science

(Robert W. Seidel Science 2009-03-13)

Fermilab, the book, is the first written history of this unique place, covering both the birth of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and its journey to its current position as a world centre of ‘megascience’. Yet Fermilab is far from being a dry historical account. It spans the entire spectrum of what is required to establish a cutting-edge facility and perform research there — from organizational aspects and technological choices to the sociology and politics of funding and site selection….Fermilab will be of interest to anyone curious about science and science policy, as well as those who want a better understanding of what it is like to perform large-scale research in high-energy particle physics.”—Robert Roser, Physics World

(Robert Roser Physics World)

"A comprehensive and thoroughly engaging history of the world's first high-energy-particle physics laboratory. . . . The authors do an exceptional job of explaining the multitutde of tensions that led to the decision to construct Fermilab."
(Journal of Illinois History)

"[The authors] do a wonderful job of weaving together the lab's technical and scientific developments with their corresponding social, institutional, political, and economic contexts. . . . The book's highly detailed, nuanced, and well-supported account of the intertwined developments in organization, technology, and scientific discovery as Fermilab came to maturity will be essential reading in the history of particle phycics and the broader history of 20th-century physics."
(Charles Thorpe Physics Today)

About the Author

Lillian Hoddeson is the Thomas M. Siebel Professor of History of Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Adrienne W. Kolb is the Fermilab archivist. Catherine Westfall is visiting associate professor at Lyman Briggs College at Michigan State University.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 520 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (April 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226346242
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226346243
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #411,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By W Boudville HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In high energy physics, Fermilab is one of the few world centres. The sheer cost of maintaining a research level accelerator has helped make this so. To a non-physicist, the authors explain the lab's history. Largely this is quite well done. The explanations are grounded in a general science background. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is some handwaving about the esoterica that the lab has detected.

But the reason for having a large ring in which charged particles are accelerated is clear. And it is this which gives the most distinctive aspect of Fermilab.

Nor should the book be neglected by physicists. Standard reports about Fermilab, that are written for physicists, tend to neglect some of the politicking and management issues that led to the lab's location being picked, and then to fund the lab's construction. For example, in the 60s, there were real concerns about the civil rights record of Illinois. But you rarely see this in the physics writeups, which focus on the physics and engineering, while often ignoring broader societal issues.

Tangentially, the fate of proposed but never build accelerators is also tied into the story of Fermilab. Hence we see Isabelle, nicknamed Wasabelle after it failed to garner funding. And then there was the SSC - Superconducting SuperCollider, which became a hole in the ground in Texas. The reader should appreciate from this that Fermilab was lucky, in being made at a time when funding sufficed for its mission.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Victor van Lint on March 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This history of Fermilab and associated high-energy particle physics is very well written. Particularly useful is the description of the people and the political climate in which the lab was funded and grew. I wish in describing the history and demise of the SSC the role of the growth in cost had been offered. As written it sounds like Congress just changed its mind. Could the contrast between the spectacular results of Wilson's risk-taking, seat-of-the-pants and economizing management style with the cost growth produced by the formal DoE-inspired structure teach us something? I would also prefer a little more of the engineering and science. For example, the proton-proton collider option was inconsistent with energy saving. Since the colliding particles have to come from opposite directions both the Main Ring and new superconducting-magnet rings would have been required, i.e., with opposite magnet polarities. Also, a few words about how one infers the existence of the top quark from the plethora of particles in the CDF reconstruction figure would be useful.
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By Amazon Customer on August 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent history of creation of Fermilab. I would have appreciated more discussion of the physics/engineering problems and less on the notion of "frontier".
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