Inside (Photo)story

Fermilab’s Wilson Hall, which is purposely reminiscent of the Beauvais Cathedral in France, is a striking landmark in the Chicago area. But it is not the only visual milestone the laboratory’s first director left behind. While on sabbatical in 1961, Wilson studied sculpture at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze in Italy. He did not want Fermilab to look like a standard government facility, and Fermilab has celebrated Wilson’s role as an artist by featuring several of his sculptures.

Straddling the Pine Street entrance is Broken Symmetry, a three-span arch, painted black on one side and orange on the other, appearing perfectly symmetrical when viewed from below, but with carefully calculated asymmetry visible from its other views.

Atop Ramsey Auditorium stands Wilson’s Mobius Strip, which is made of three-by-five-inch pieces of stainless steel welded on a tubular form eight-feet tall .

Gracing the expansive grassy area in front of the laboratory’s Industrial Building Complex is Tractricious. This array of six-and-a-half-inch-diameter stainless-steel cryostat pipes, which were left over from construction of the Tevatron’s magnets, is bunched together in the form of a paraboloid. Wilson derived the name Tractricious from tracktrix: a curve such that any tangent segment from the tangent point on the curve to the curve’s asymptote has constant length.

Close to the Users’ Center is The Tree, a sculpture Wilson created with Fermilab welders around 1970. But perhaps the most well known of Wilson’s works of art is the Hyperbolic Obelisk, which stands at the foot of the reflecting pond in front of Wilson Hall. It is 32-feet high, fabricated from three stainless-steel plates each one-quarter-inch thick.

In the early 1990s, Wilson drew upon Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie school of architecture for the design of the building for the Leon M Lederman Science Education Center. Other architectural landmarks at Fermilab include: the Feynman Computing Center, originally built as the lab’s central computing facility; a concrete Archimedes Spiral covering the pumping stations at Casey’s Pond; and Wilson’s distinctive series of power-transmission-line poles, which resemble the Greek letter pi.

About the author

Paola Catapano, CERN.