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Fermilab | Batavia, IL | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

Out with the old: Fermilab accelerator magnet adorns Google Chicago’s offices

Dan Yocum, left, formerly of Fermilab, shakes hands with Google's Brian Fitzpatrick in front of a quadrupole magnet at its new home in Google's Chicago offices. Photo: Troy Dawson

Dan Yocum, left, formerly of Fermilab, shakes hands with Google’s Brian Fitzpatrick in front of a quadrupole magnet’s new home in Google’s Chicago offices. Photo: Troy Dawson

Fermilab does a good job of recycling — from the ubiquitous blue trash cans to electromagnets to — in my case — employees. I myself left Fermilab in 1999 only to recycle back to the Experimental Astrophysics Group in 2000 to work on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey before leaving again in 2012.

When news of the Tevatron’s decommissioning reached Brian Fitzpatrick, head of software engineering in the Chicago offices of Google, he sent
me a short email lamenting the Tevatron closure. He included a request for a souvenir to display in Google’s Chicago offices. Brian and I met when he came to Fermilab to give a computing seminar talk on MapReduce and BigTable several years ago. We have remained in touch ever since, so I gladly accepted the challenge.

My next stop was the office of Accelerator Division head Roger Dixon. We discussed the possibility of acquiring something from the Tevatron for Google and conferred briefly with scientist Todd Johnson. We settled on a quadrupole steering magnet.

But getting a magnet out of the Tevatron was out of the question since the magnet would be slightly radioactive. As a rule, Fermilab’s safety section and the Department of Energy never let even slightly activated material leave the site to be recycled. But hope was not lost, and Roger suggested I speak with Dave Harding, then deputy head of the Technical Division, to see if there were any spare magnets in storage. Off I went to find Dave.

Dave determined that there were indeed several magnets that were clean and in storage because they had been determined to be flawed during post-manufacture testing. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I had hit pay dirt!

Roger had also warned that I would have to walk through a labyrinth of people in the Directorate, Business Services, Environmental Health and Safety and DOE before the magnet could be released. Over several months I proceeded to meet and speak with many folks. I list them here so they know how much I appreciate them: Gerald Annala, Dave Augustine, Jose Cardona, Debra Cobb, Shannon Fugman, Jack Kelly, Scott McCormick, Dean Still and John Zweibohmer.

After many emails of clarification, justification and negotiation, everything was signed off and the plan was approved.

Success! Or so I thought. I was already starting to feel a bit like Odysseus trying to get home after the Trojan War when I spoke with Jack Kelly in the Property Department: We had one more bit of stormy water to navigate. Luckily, Jack was an able guide, shepherding the paperwork and the magnet through not one but three online auctions for the DOE labs, the universities and, finally, eBay. He put the big shiny blue “Buy it Now” button on the final eBay page, where Google’s Brian Fitzpatrick clicked and paid $150 for a piece of Tevatron history. How did they come up with the price? That figure was based on the magnet’s estimated scrap metal value. But instead of being turned into scrap, it now proudly resides in Google’s Chicago offices.

On September 28, 2012, after 349 days of navigating a quagmire of paperwork, we had recycled a Tevatron quadrupole magnet and found a new home for it.

The magnet is the centerpiece amongst a myriad of historical scientific and computing items at the Google office. There’s even an Sloan Digital Sky Survey spectroscopic plug plate to keep it company.

Former Fermilab employee Paul Rossman, who works at Google, says, “It’s nice to pass an awesome piece of technology like the quadrupole magnet on the way to my desk. It’s almost like I got to take a little something with me from Fermilab.” Nice, indeed.

I’d like to express my sincerest appreciation to all the people named in this article. You are some of the best of Fermilab. Thank you.

Dan Yocum

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  • Elvin Harms

    Third paragraph: ‘We settled on a quadrupole steering magnet.’ The function of a quadrupole magnet is to focus a beam, much like lenses focus light, except in only one plane. Dipole magnets perform the steering function.