Small-town grad makes big bang in the physics world

Dr. Frederick Borcherding, a 1967 GHS graduate, has been involved in some of the most important discoveries in physics in the past two decades. Fred and his wife, Rita, returned to Guttenberg this month to visit old friends. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

In 1995, scientists at Fermilab in Batavia, Ill., discovered a particle known as the top quark. It was a critical piece of the standard model physicists use to understand the basic laws and structure in nature. This breakthrough came as the result of two experiments known as DZero and CDF. Guttenberg native Dr. Frederick Borcherding was a member of the DZero team.

Particles in the standard model are organized according to properties like spin, electrical charge, mass, and lifetime. Particle physicists filled out the model by predicting the existence of undiscovered fundamental particles, some of which they called quarks. Three quarks were known in the beginning. Three more were predicted, and one by one, the existence of each was confirmed. The last to be discovered was the top quark, and Borcherding was there to see it all.

In 1967, Borcherding graduated from Guttenberg High School. He began to study physics at the University of Iowa, and he also joined the sailing team. There, he met his future wife, Rita. Fred served as a member of the U.S. Navy in San Diego, Calif., and in 1982, he received a PhD in physics from UCLA. He then became a post doctoral candidate at the University of Rochester, which brought him to Fermilab and the top quark discovery. 

“We had five, and we knew there was a sixth,” Borcherding explained. The discovery of the sixth quark tops the list of contributions made by Fermilab’s particle accelerator, the Tevatron Collider. The Tevatron was phased out in 2011 to make way for the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located near Geneva, Switzerland.

In 2005, Fred and Rita moved to the French border so that Fred could begin work on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at CERN. “Basically what I did was electronics for both detectors. I was a hardware person,” said Borcherding.  The CMS detector was constructed in 15 sections at ground level and lowered into an underground cavern to be reassembled.

Continued in the pages of The Guttenberg Press

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