Buzz Blog

Q&A on LEGO SLAC Particle Accelerator

Thursday, February 07, 2013
Buried deep underground lies one of the longest buildings in the world: the SLAC linear particle accelerator – colloquially, the "linac". Most who pass by don't get the chance to see the 2-mile netherworld through which electrons fly at nearly the speed of light and emit X-rays that enable scientists to take pictures of the smallest atomic structures, uncover the chemical basis of photosynthesis, and probe fundamental properties of matter at the center of stars.

The excitement of the place rubbed off on Greg Stewart. Faced with a childhood's supply of Legos, the SLAC graphic designer got to work.
While maintaining an appropriate – shall we say – Lego minimalism, the Lego accelerator has a surprising level of detail, including separating the particle accelerator (little tube) from the laser light pipe (big tube) that keeps the particle beam aligned.

I spoke to Stewart to find out what went into building a Lego SLAC (Folks, do try this at home):

QT: How did you come up with the idea? And how long did take you to build it?

GS: I came up with the idea after reacquiring a box full of old Legos from my childhood. I was thinking about what to build, and the SLAC linac popped into my head! It only took two evenings at home to put it together.

QT: How did you get interested in SLAC in the first place?

GS: At first my interest was in the long building I would drive over on interstate 280...I knew they accelerated particles, but that was about it. Then a friend sent me the job posting at SLAC and it sounded like an amazing opportunity!

QT: Where did you find so many grey legos??

GS: I only wish I had more grey Legos! In fact the Lego model is only one section of the linac, then multiplied numerous times in Photoshop. I had to be a little creative and use yellow ones in some places, but I like how it breaks up the monotony of the grey.

QT: Why are the lego people wearing very nice helmets? Are any of the lego people women?

GS: Safety is essential, even for little Lego scientists! Those helmet styles aren’t standard SLAC PPE (personal protective equipment), but they were what I had lying around from old Lego space sets. I have no idea if the yellow Lego people are gender specific, so it's possible!

QT: And, more seriously, How is it to work as a graphic designer for SLAC -- what other kinds of projects do you work on?

GS: I love what I do at SLAC! Having the opportunity to visualize science and translate it into something anyone can understand is a challenge, but the rewards are incredible. On any given day I can be crafting scientific illustrations, animating in 3D, or designing posters. I'm a jack of all trades, and I guess I can now add Lego to my toolbox!

Add that to the collection of Lego representations of cool and huge science. 

For comparison:
The Lego SLAC Linac / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
The (real) SLAC Linar Accelerator / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Posted by Quark Twain