Photo of Alvin Tollestrup

Alvin Tollestrup

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Physics

For their contributions to the design, construction and initial operation of the TEVATRON particle accelerator. The scientific instrument was designed to explore the fundamental properties of matter. The innovative design and successful operation of the TEVATRON has been crucial to the design of the Superconducting Super Collider, the planned next generation particle accelerator.

Alvin Tollestrup is one of the world’s most influential modern physicists. But you wouldn’t have predicted it from his childhood.

Growing up in Utah during the Great Depression, Tollestrup was hardly the model student. In fact, he told an interviewer in 1994, he didn’t even read books until the sixth grade. But it was a teacher in elementary school in Logan, Utah, who helped unlock Tollestrup’s genius.

She gave him a book about scientific experiments, he recalled. That book sparked an interest in science that would eventually lead to a doctorate in physics from the California Institute of Technology and a huge hand in developing the Tevatron particle accelerator and, in turn, the Super Conducting Super Collider.

Tollestrup, then a member of the Caltech faculty, arrived at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in 1975 for what was to be a six-month sabbatical project. His career there would span decades and include major advancements in the magnets used in the Tevatron, which has been crucial to the Superconducting Super Collider particle accelerator.

An award in his name is given each year for outstanding postdoctoral research in at Fermilab or in collaboration with Fermilab scientists.

By Robert Warren