Title: Unconventional Solutions: Meet Felicia, the Ferret that Cleaned a Particle Accelerator
Decades ago, laboratory maintenance regulations were lax compared to the stringent guidelines in place today. In 1971, the US National Accelerator Laboratory, which is now known as Fermilab, faced a significant issue with their particle accelerator known as the Main Ring.
The Main Ring particle accelerator was plagued by problems with shorted magnets. To address this issue, the facility had to replace approximately 350 magnets due to contamination within the accelerator. This contamination posed a major challenge for the scientists working at the laboratory.
Enter physicist Ryuji Yamada, who proposed an unconventional solution. Inspired by the concept of using a magnet to retrieve metal shavings, Yamada suggested using a small ferret to navigate through the accelerator tubes and flush out the contaminants.
Taking Yamada’s idea even further, British physicist Robert Sheldon came up with a plan to implement this concept. Wally Pelczarski, the talented designer of the Main Ring, was immediately intrigued and decided to pursue this unusual approach. He promptly contacted a fur farm and acquired a tiny ferret named Felicia.
To ensure the safety of the ferret during its mission, Felicia was trained to travel through the tunnels while wearing a harness that had a string attached to it. Once she completed a section, Felicia received a delicious reward of food. Simultaneously, a cleaning-fluid-soaked swab was drawn back through the tunnel to collect any lingering debris.
Felicia’s contribution was invaluable, and she successfully helped clean the tunnels for multiple runs. However, as time progressed, a new solution was developed using Mylar disks and a flexible cable to address the underlying problem causing the magnet failures.
Despite her incredible achievements, Felicia’s story came to a tragic end in May 1972. She passed away from a ruptured abscess on her intestinal tract, leaving behind a legacy of innovative problem-solving within the scientific community.
The incident with Felicia highlighted the importance of quality control in manufacturing joints for the water-cooled copper conductors. This case served as a wake-up call, prompting scientists and engineers to improve their processes to prevent similar issues in the future.
Decades later, as laboratories witness remarkable advancements in technology and stricter regulations, Felicia’s contribution is remembered as an example of unconventional ingenuity and the lengths scientists are willing to go to solve complex problems.
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