Legislators eye naming Fermilab facility after Helen Edwards

Legislators from Illinois have proposed renaming Fermilab’s Integrated Engineering Research Center in Batavia after a particle physicist who worked at the facility for 40 years.

U.S. Reps. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, and Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, and U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats from Illinois, introduced the legislation to name the center after Helen Edwards.

“Illinois’ own Fermilab is a crown jewel of American innovation at the forefront of cutting-edge science,” Duckworth said in a press release. “For years, hundreds of scientists and engineers at Fermilab have dedicated their expertise to scientific discovery and answering some of the world’s most complicated questions, including the late and brilliant Dr. Helen Edwards. Not only is renaming the Integrated Engineering Research Center after her well-deserved, I think it tells generations of girls interested in science that they belong at the table.”

The newly-constructed center, which was recently authorized for official use, will host office and lab space for an intersection of scientific disciplines, legislators said.

“Over its history, Fermilab’s success has been built by the hard work of committed scientists,” Foster, who previously worked as a Fermilab physicist, said in a statement. “Helen Edwards was a scientific and technical leader of Fermilab from its earliest days, and she was a dear friend.”

Edwards died in 2016.

Foster said Edwards was deeply committed to the accelerator research and engineering that will be carried out at the center, making it “altogether fitting that it bears her name.”

Edwards was known for her work with the Tevatron, a machine which for 25 years served as the most powerful particle collider in the world. She received a MacArthur Genius Grant in 1988 and the National Medal of Technology in 1989.

The Tevatron remained in use until 2011 when Fermilab moved to new accelerator projects like the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility, which relies heavily on foundations built by Edwards, officials said.

Fermilab Director Lia Merminga said naming the new facility after Edwards is very appropriate.

“Helen Edwards was an inspiring and passionate scientist who was dedicated and instrumental to the development of the Tevatron. I am pleased we can honor her by naming the Integrated Engineering Research Center after someone who embodied the spirit of Fermilab,” Merminga said in the release.

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