Sitting in a temporary office, Pier Oddone seems relaxed, even confident. Next month, the 60-year-old physicist takes the helm of the leading high-energy physics laboratory in the United States, at a time when the lab’s particle accelerator — its raison d’être — is scheduled to close within five years. Quarks are the building blocks that make up protons, neutrons and other subatomic particles and the top and bottom quarks are the heaviest. The bottom quark had been detected at Fermilab in 1977, using the existing main ring accelerator. To find the heavier top quark meant smashing protons and anti-protons together at energies between 500 million and 1.5 billion eV, which the Tevatron was designed to do.
With further modifications, the collider netted the top quark in 1995. This discovery created elation among physicists and a headache for Fermilab management: what next?