Dark Matter Man

Discover Magazine photo editor, Randi Slatken recently asked me to shoot a leading expert in theoretical physics, Dr. Joseph Lykken. When not appearing on Nova, you can find Joe lurking around the proton- antiproton collider, better known as the Fermilab Tevatron. It's a device out of science fiction in which subatomic particles are smashed together in order to find God or "dark matter", whichever you prefer.

Theoretical Physicist, Dr. Joseph Lykken

Spread in Jan. 2012 issue of Discover (modified layout)

On an overcast fall day we drove an hour through flat cornfields, through prairie grasses and slender trees west of Chicago to the Fermilab campus. We arrived and saw nothing spectacular, except a cold war era building resembling praying hands and rising 16 stories from the red grass. There was in fact lots more to see but it was all happening underground.

Fermilabs main building, Wilson Hall designed by Enrico Fermi

The Fermilab particle accelerator built in 1967 had up until that very week, been happily smashing subatomic particles together in a massive 4 mile underground tube in search of the Higgs Boson and the reason for our puny existence. Now the larger and newer Hadron Collider is doing that work in central Europe.

I had unprecedented media access to the Tevatron because the accelerator was in the process of being shut down. Because of this coup in timing I was able to photograph for the first time, the detector; the exact point where the particles collide and are analyzed.

The Tevatron's collision detector.

What I enjoyed most about hanging out with Joe Lykken was getting closer to understanding the narrow gap between hard science and theology, and how we grapple with the misunderstandings of our very existence. Fermilab is in essence a cathedral to physics.

One of the most thrilling places I had access to was what i called, the "neutrino machine". It's a very loud, Lost in Space robot housed in a metal room used to generate the very subatomic particles that would eventually get smashed together in the Tevatron. A new and improved one is being built today and is not surprisingly the size of a Prius. They now shoot these subatomic particles or neutrinos underground to Minnesota and study how they change along the way.

Where the subatomic particles are made.

Despite the closure of the Tevetron, so much science is still happening at Fermilab on the frontiers of energy, cosmology and technology. If you're into science, they're always hiring.