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Visiting Fermilab: No Top-Secret Clearance Required

You might think Fermilab is a heavily guarded, classified operation closed off to the public. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Every morning here at Fermilab, it’s the same routine.

I drive up to the guardhouse at the entrance, hand over my top-secret government security clearance, provide six forms of identification, and then have my retina scanned. Only then am I allowed access to the highly classified inner workings of the laboratory. Oh, and my ID card self-destructs every three days, just in case.

I’m kidding, of course, although I understand how we’d get that reputation. Fermilab is the top laboratory for particle physics research in the country, and you might think that would mean the entrances are covered with “Keep Out” signs. 

The truth is, the Fermilab site is open to the public, every single day, and public tours and programs are offered on a regular basis. You only need to show a photo ID to get in. No security codes, no palm print scans. I promise. 

The Fermilab site and the public areas of Wilson Hall are open each day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the winter months. Starting in mid-April, when the clocks spring forward, the closing time changes to 8 p.m., and stays that way until mid-October. Our Lederman Science Center, a fun and informative place for kids of all ages, is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Once you’re here, you can take advantage of our network of bike and nature trails, you can fish in our ponds, and you can see our herd of bison. Fermilab’s 6,800-acre site hosts more than 1,000 acres of restored natural prairie, with dozens of species of native plants. It’s been a labor of love for our staff and volunteers for more than 35 years.

Speaking of the prairie, if you’d like to help with that labor of love, you can come by on Saturday, Nov. 3, for our annual prairie seed harvest. Every year, volunteers collect seeds from different species of native plants for our staff to spread around the entire prairie, ensuring a diverse selection. The harvest runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a free lunch provided. More info is here.

If you’re interested in the science of Fermilab, well, you’re in luck there, too. We offer free public tours every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., the first Sunday of each month at 1 p.m. And the bottom two floors of Wilson Hall are open to the public as well, with exhibits and information available.

And I haven’t even talked about our special events, like our arts and lecture series. You can get much more information on visiting Fermilab here, or by calling the Office of Communication at 630-840-3351.

What I’m trying to say is that Fermilab is far from the imposing, locked-down federal facility you may have imagined. If you’re curious about who we are and what we do, come on by. You’re always welcome.

Andre Salles is the media and community relations specialist with Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia. Contact him at asalles@fnal.gov or 630-840-6733.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

DAWN MALONE October 30, 2012 at 02:16 PM
my dad's family grew up on the property, and the original farmhouse was moved and restored. a very nice scientist guy let us in to tour it at the last reunion there. i have been going to Fermi for years even tho Loki finds their off-leash dog park to be a wee bit boring. there used to be artifacts from the original farms on the observation deck of the tower, but they have been removed--- what happened to them?
Andre Salles October 30, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Hi Dawn. It took a while to get an answer to your question, but our resident historian, Adrienne Kolb, had the info. The exhibit, which included arrowheads and other artifacts, was taken down about 10-12 years ago for a loan to a museum. When they were returned, it was decided not to return them to the 15th floor of Wilson Hall, where they had been. The artifacts have been put into storage, but Adrienne says she is working on securing funding to preserve them and return them to public display. For more info, she sent this link: http://history.fnal.gov/archaeology.html. The last two links on that page have info on the display. Thanks for the question!
Tony Pronenko October 30, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Andre, thank you for putting that "out there". As a long time "science nut" and someone who is attempting to attain a higher education in astronomy and physics, having a place like Fermilab in my backyard is just.. well... lucky. How many other people can say that they have a particle accelerator in their neighborhood? You're correct however in the assumption that people generally think that the place is akin to NORAD or better yet, area 51. Hopefully articles like yours will help to dispelled those thoughts and get more people coming by. Great read. Thanks!
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