Fermilab is floating plans for a new $500 million particle accelerator in hopes of paving the way for a much larger project and shoring up the lab's fragile position in the world of high-energy physics.As a nuclear guy living through a time of major transition, it's great to see our particle friends getting resourceful and practical (as if we'd expect them to behave any other way!) But note to self: don't ever call my next new particle accelerator idea "Project X". While it may capture the imagination of science fiction fans, I immediately started imagining the paranoid phantasmagoria cooking up in the Chicago area and the dark recesses of the internets as we speak. Then again, it's also the name of a movie. A Matthew Broderick Movie. From 1987. Starring chimps. Chimps!
A road map for the machine, dubbed "Project X" for now, was quietly disclosed last week in the lab's daily newsletter. The new device would become the biggest project at the Batavia facility after the scheduled shutdown in 2009 of the Tevatron, currently the world's most powerful accelerator studying the fundamental structure of the universe.
Fermilab's long-range ambition is to host a mammoth project called the International Linear Collider, but that idea will take decades to bring to fruition. Project X would incorporate many of the technologies needed for the ILC, yielding new experimental opportunities and potentially strengthening Fermilab's chances of landing the bigger device.
So it's also good they're posting a fun page of "Possible Names for Project X" on the FNAL website. As one might guess, these acronyms often fall between two main poles, 1) take the first letter from each word of a genuinely descriptive phrase, resulting in something totally unpronouncable (e.g. HISEPL? EPL&IB?), 2) something meaningful, clever -- and often local -- as a name, to which descriptive language can be shoehorned in (ENRICO -- not even an acronym, LINCOLN -- as in "Land of"). Then there's lots of flailing around -- and we can only imagine how much considering how many attempts they're willing to post (SNuFL!)