Future projects include ongoing research into neutrinos as well as dark matter. But continued government support is crucial if the promise of these endeavors is to be realized.

In October 1985, a graduate student analyzing data at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Batavia, Ill., excitedly said to some co-workers, “Hey, look at this!”


Fermilab scientists at this point were in their sixth week of trying to collide protons and anti-protons with the Tevatron. Operational since 1983, the Tevatron would blaze new trails in particle physics for the next two decades.


For about two years, experiments at Fermilab centered on striking protons against fixed targets. Researchers could gain deeper insights into the laws of physics by studying what happens to subatomic particles when they hit metallic surfaces at incredibly high speeds.


Then scientists upped the ante by devising experiments to send protons and anti-protons in opposite directions close to the speed of light and have them collide. This would unlock even more secrets of how our universe operates.


The graduate student that night was the first one to recognize that the Tevatron had finally achieved this goal. This began a new era of scientific discovery.


Bill Foster was working in a control room at Fermilab when the Tevatron had successfully collided protons and anti-protons. With a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a doctorate from Harvard University, both in physics, he moved to Fox Valley, Ill., in 1984 to embark on a career at Fermilab.


Foster, who represented Illinois’ 14th Congressional District for nearly three years, reflected the sadness expressed by those connected with Fermilab over the government’s decision to shut down the Tevatron. The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is substantially more powerful and has taken over this segment of particle physics.


In a ceremony marked by fond memories of landmark achievements, the Tevatron was decommissioned Sept. 30. It signaled the end of an era at Fermilab and the beginning of a new one.


Future projects include ongoing research into neutrinos as well as dark matter. But continued government support is crucial if the promise of these endeavors is to be realized.


As a former legislator, Foster understands how shortsighted public officials can be. I share his concern that the games being played to secure elections may leave Fermilab holding the short end of the stick.


Jerry Moore is the opinions editor for Suburban Life Publications. Contact him at jmoore@mysuburbanlife.com.