In nuclear reactors, the amount of plutonium builds up as the uranium fuel is used. Because plutonium and uranium emit different kinds of particles, a particle detector can be used to monitor and analyze the contents of the nuclear reactor core. A prototype detector already demonstrated the potential use of this new monitoring technology. Particle physics detector technology also enables advanced cargo screening.
Cables made of superconducting material can carry far more electricity with minimal power losses than conventional cables. They offer an opportunity to meet increasing power needs in urban areas where copper transmission lines are near their capacity. Fermilab's partnership with industry to develop the mass production of superconducting wire for the Tevatron accelerator jump-started this industry.
In the biomedical industry, scientists use the intense light emitted by synchrotron accelerators to decipher the structure of proteins — information that is key to understanding biological processes and healing disease. A clearer understanding of protein structure allows development of more effective drugs, such as Kaletra, one of the world's most-prescribed AIDS drugs.
The food industry has used particle accelerators for decades to produce the sturdy, heat-shrinkable film in which meat, fruits, vegetables, and baked goods are wrapped. In addition, ink-curing companies use particle accelerators as an environmentally friendly way to produce the packaging for many grocery store items, including cereal boxes.
Computing and Simulation
Tomorrow's computers will be built from materials now being characterized using intense beams of X-rays and neutrons from particle accelerators.
Particle physicists developed the World Wide Web to share information quickly and effectively with colleagues around the world. Few other technological advances in history have more profoundly affected the global economy and societal interactions than the Web. In 1991 and 1992, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) at Stanford University, MIT, and Fermilab launched the first Web servers in the United States. In 2001, revenues from the World Wide Web exceeded one trillion dollars, with exponential growth continuing.
The Grid is the newest particle physics computing tool that allows physicists to manage and process unprecedented amounts of data across the globe by combining the strength of hundreds of thousands of individual computing farms. Industries such as medicine and finance are examples of other fields that also generate large amounts of data and benefit from advanced computing technology.
Atomic and nuclear physics advances benefit from precise mathematical techniques developed by particle physicists; these are now used to predict new materials and molecules. Radiation exposure for spacecraft is simulated using software originally developed to model particle detectors.
Researchers use the ultra-powerful X-ray beams of particle accelerators known as synchrotron light sources to create the brightest light beams on Earth. These light sources provide tools for such applications as protein structure analysis, pharmaceutical research, materials science, and restoration of works of art. Future accelerators will create higher-energy beams for both particle physics and biomedicine.
From long-distance oil pipelines to models for global weather prediction, turbulence determines the performance of virtually all fluid systems. Silicon strip detectors and low-noise amplifiers developed for particle physics are used to detect light scattered from microscopic particles in a turbulent fluid, permitting detailed studies of this area.
Fermilab is an engine of innovation and provides opportunities for businesses and organizations to partner with the laboratory. The lab helps drive the development of new technologies and new industries as a customer, a supplier, a collaborator, and a facilitator.
The mission of the Office of Partnerships and Technology Transfer (OPTT) is to transfer technologies developed at Fermilab to private-sector partners including industry, academia, and other institutions.