Jefferson Lab invites public for tours

The facility's director asks visitors to explore the mysterious world of particle physics.

Visitors can delve into the mysterious world of particle physics Saturday by visiting an open house at Jefferson Lab in Newport News.

This kind of thing only happens once every two years - a chance to learn about the world's biggest super-conducting installation and the world's largest helium refrigeration plant.

Basically, Jefferson Lab sends atomic particles around an underground racetrack and smashes them into stuff to learn about the smallest parts of all matter.

The Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility tends to run around-the-clock, and isn't safe for humans to enter when it's running.

Saturday is a rare opportunity when the machine is turned off, said Christoph Leemann, the center's director.

"For many people, particularly the young people, it will be a fantastic opportunity for them to see what they wouldn't see otherwise," Leemann said.

"Because these facilities are operable 24-7, they are often inaccessible even to insiders."

Visitors, who will park at nearby Canon Virginia and take free shuttle buses to Jefferson Lab, can walk through cavernous experimental halls, tour the accelerator's control center and view the world record-holding Free-Electron Laser.

Lab employees and researchers will be posted at different facilities, including a popular liquid nitrogen demonstration that freezes everything from flowers to balloons.

Public appreciation for Jefferson Lab is especially timely as President Bush's proposed 2006 budget would cut funding by 8 percent and possibly lead to layoffs of 10 percent of the workforce.

"I think it's very important for people to start to see an appreciation for what happens to the money that the government spends on fundamental research," Leemann said.

"They also may get an appreciation of what can no longer be done if the budget gets smaller."