To explore the building-block foundations of matter, physicists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago send beams of protons--tiny particles from the nuclei of atoms--whizzing in opposite directions around two huge circular tunnels. When the protons have been accelerated close to the speed of light, the beams are diverted and meet head-on. A few protons collide with jarring force and produce a shower of still smaller subatomic particles.

credo project
A control room at Fermi Lab where Tim Credo wrote the software for -- and helped develop -- a fast, accurate detector for subatomic particles at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.
Timothy worked with Fermilab's scientists on a new detector for measuring more precisely the velocity of the particles produced by collisions. Velocity is one clue to a particle's identity. Gauging it is an exquisitely intricate task, though, because these particles exist for only wee fractions of a second before vanishing into a nearby atom. It can be done only because a few so-called secondary particles erupt from collisions and fly into the detector's quartz window at a velocity faster than the speed of light (that's possible because light travels through quartz more slowly than in a vacuum). When that happens, the particle leaves a trail of blue light called Cherenkov radiation.

The best current light detectors need 10 trillionths of a second (picoseconds) to plot a segment of a Cherenkov trail. The detector that Timothy helped design can track the blue path picosecond by picosecond--giving researchers much more detailed data. And that may help scientists uncover the physics that 14 billion years ago transformed the Big Bang's sea of energy into the universe we see today.

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COMMENTS On The Issues

Where would the extra funds (for R&D) come from? I think more effort needs to be made to divert funds from questionable social programs, such as Social Security, into scientific research. I feel that the current Administration has turned its back, to some extent, on the scientific community. I do not think that it's a question of finding funds but rather of setting priorities: By the end of fiscal 2005, the war in Iraq will have cost $207.5 billion. In comparison, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN cost less than $3 billion.

At a time when Europe and Japan threaten to take the lead in scientific research, I hope that the U.S. will not continue to allow science to languish.


Timothy F. Credo

Illinois Mathematics & Science Academy
Aurora, Ill.

Hobbies: Cycling and racing, guitar, swimming team

Ambition: University professor