Important 1963 background information from primary source!

Posted April 2, 2009 by fermilab
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I very much enjoyed reading Part One of your book. I would be pleased if you passed this on to your co-authors or anyone else who might be interested. Of course, I will be happy to elaborate on anything.

I thought I would first tell you a bit about myself. I zipped through Harvard from 1943 to 1949 with my A. B. in Chemistry and Physics, and my PhD. in Chemical Physics under Bright Wilson. (Ken Wilson, his son, was 12 when I first knew him). I then worked for ten years in infrared instrumentation, eventually as Assistant Director of Research, at Baird-Atomic near Harvard Square. At Graduate School and after, I was (and remain) close friends with Phil Anderson and Dave Bodansky, but I did not learn nuclear or particle physics. (I also roomed with Tom Lehrer and performed in his Physical Revue, but that’s another story.)

I came to the White House in 1961 to work for Jerry Wiesner (from MIT, as you correctly note later, and not from Harvard.(see page 30)) This was a Schedule C–political–appointment. I think about a year later we became regular civil servants as staff of the Office of Science and Technology, and Jerry became Director of OST as well as Chair of PSAC ) and Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology. I left in September 1967 to become Vice President for Academic Affairs at NYU.

My two major responsibilities were communications and basic science projects. My first task with the latter was trying to solidify the approval for SLAC, which finally came through. As then defined, Federal Budgets were around $100 Billion, and deficits were described to the nearest tenth of a billion (say $4.2 Billion), so the $100 million SLAC budget got Presidential as well as Congressional attention.

You describe the problem and issues leading the appointment of the Ramsey Panel very well. Paul McDaniel was the AEC staff of the Panel, and I was the PSAC staff member. I participated actively in every meeting, and drafted parts of the Report, but did not vote on anything. I have a few comments on your piece — none major– and of course 45-year old recollections can be very fallible.

1. I believe that the Ramsey Panel was so effective in part because of the briefing that Jerry gave them at the first meeting. He told them (us) that we had just put through SLAC after much effort, and that we would not be able to build a new accelerator for at least two years, and that a second one would be at least two years after the approval of the first. This point was frequently raised during the Panel discussions. At that time, the FFAG was much further along than the Berkeley proposal.

2. Murray Gell-Mann was a persuasive promoter of the FFAG. I believe that without Jerry’s briefing point, the Panel would have avoided the priority issue, and simply praised both machines. In the end, the Panel knew that it was killing the FFAG with their wording, as you make clear.

3. Ed Purcell, the clearest thinker on the Panel (and indeed the clearest thinker I have ever met), was the strongest advocate in the early Panel meetings, for having the Berkeley machine designed for 200 GeV rather than 100, which as I recollect was where they had started. I believe that this point, made informally, had an impact on the Berkeley folk.

4. From my point of view, the MURA turn down was very favorable for the future of high energy physics. Because President Johnson said that the major reason for not going ahead was that a more important machine was coming along, it gave Presidential support to the 200 GeV machine, and this helped in my later discussions with BOB. Thus, the issue became not, “Should we build a 200 GeV machine?”, but “How should we build it?”, and “Where should we build it?”, a very important difference.

5. The site selection process for the 200 Gev machine also had a major dividend. At the meetings around the country, the Congress and Senate members on the stage “Took the Pledge,” as Manny Piore put it. The politicians would say in effect, “This accelerator is very important for the nation and it deserves to be built. Of course, it should be built here, but I support having it built.” It would be hard for these people to vote against it when it came to the floor.

6. I had worked hard with the astronomy community on the issue of access to Kitt Peak, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia. Mount Wilson and Palomar were worse than LBL when it came to accommodating outside users. In the long discussions of governance and access, I emphasized that the local scientists had a big advantage over outsiders, they know the ins and outs of the machine in depth, and on most straightforward experiments, local scientists would win the competition. It was essential that there be a local staff of great competence, and the Director have substantial authority, as Pief maintained. However, the size of the local group should be such that it could perform a relatively small fraction of the experiments.

Now my Lyndon Johnson story, related to the meeting described on page 44.

Wiesner had resigned to become Dean of Engineering at MIT in the summer of 1963, effective at the end of January, and, at his suggestion, Kennedy had picked Don Hornig. After the assassination, Wiesner told Johnson that he would be willing to stay on a few months longer, but Johnson said he would stick with the agreed transition to Hornig. OST had worked reasonably well with Johnson’s people, particularly on issues involving the Space Council, but there was no closeness between Johnson and Wiesner the way there was between Kennedy and Wiesner. They had known each other dealing with arms control issues in the fifties, and Wiesner would hitchhike to his home in Martha’s Vineyard in the summer on Air Force I when Kennedy went to Cape Cod. Also, because of Arms Control issues, Wiesner was particularly friendly with Hubert Humphrey, and they spent time at each other’s houses. I am confident that Johnson was aware of their relationship.

Since MURA involved the Big Ten Universities and the University of Chicago, the Senators and Congressmen from all five States wrote Johnson to try to overturn the AEC decision. In his formal letter of turndown, Johnson said (correctly) that he had spent more time on that issue than on any other in the FY 65 budget.

Two days before the December 20 meeting, President Johnson asked Wiesner to prepare two separate one-page memos to him. One would give ten reasons for building the MURA machine, and one would give ten reasons against building it. I worked with Jerry on their preparation. They were both, of course, signed by him and on his stationery.

Jerry came back from the meeting shaken. He told me that at the key moment, to his surprise, Johnson picked up the second memo and read it to the group, without saying who had written it, or that it was one of two. He then casually put the memo down face up on the desk, in such a way, that when Humphrey got up at the end of the meeting, he would see that the memo was from Wiesner. On page 44, You quote the letter from Elvis Stahr to Humphrey saying that the memo “omitted some highly relevant matters and was prejudiced on its face…I don’t know who wrote it but it sounded exactly like it had been prepared by somebody from New England or the West Coast.” I believe that by putting New England first, and not even the North-East (after all Brookhaven and the PPA were in New York and New Jersey), and not California, MURA’s chief competitor, that Stahr indeed knew who wrote it, but didn’t want to say he had sneaked a peak at the end of the meeting.

I had originally taken a two-year leave from Baird-Atomic in March, 1961, and I extended the leave two more years, finally resigning in 1964. In January 1967, I agreed to go to NYU that fall. I had continued to be the person in the office dealing with High Energy Physics. When the JCAE authorized the design, I felt elated and said to myself. “Thank God it’s over, the accelerator is here.” I then realized that my six years in Washington had brought me to the point that I was confusing pieces of paper with actual things. The first shovel of dirt had not been turned, and I was acting as if the accelerator was built! It was time to go out in the real world.

With all good wishes,

David Robinson

Nice comments

Posted March 20, 2009 by fermilab
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Thanks very much for your opus. I just finished reading it with great pleasure—it was fun reliving all that history. I must say that when I first got the book and did a quick scan, my immediate reaction was that it was like getting a book on French cuisine written by vegetarians. However, I soon recognized that it is less of a scientific history of the lab, as might be viewed from the Fermilab program office, and more of an administrative and social history, as might be viewed from the director’s office. The latter contains of course plenty of material for a big book, as does the former. Perhaps the Fermilab scientific history per se still awaits its own historians.

I could go on and on regarding what I liked about the book (almost everything), but instead will register a minicomplaint instead, because I think disagreement is the more interesting thing to discuss. It has to do with the overarching premise of the book, which I read as Fermilab being a primary source for the present-day megascience of big collaborations. It seems to me that SLAC played at least as large a role. It was the first geographic scale accelerator. The Panofsky style was very nonWilsonian and relatively bureaucratic, although Pief had the same level of autonomy as Wilson in what he did. The experimental facilities were very large from the start, and the experiment-strings were built in from the beginning. The experimental program, unlike Fermilab, was dominated by insiders. In that sense I agree with you—evolution of the megascience at Fermilab was driven as much or more by the users as by the management, and that phenomenon was new. However, to me this is all secondary to the reality that it is the science which has demanded the megascience, no matter what the social organization of the sundry labs happens to be.

I personally miss that frontier spirit of the smaller independent initiatives. And I think that even nowadays this component of the overall program need not be sacrificed to the megascience component. Unfortunately I see little support at any level—grass roots, physicists, lab administrators, DOE bureaucrats—for protecting the smaller, non-Nobel, and relatively risky initiatives.

Again, congratulations for producing such a nice book. You deserve to get rich on the royalties. Good luck.

Best regards,


First review!

Posted January 6, 2009 by fermilab
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Our first review came in yesterday and it was positive! Please check our webpage on The Book. It’s great to know that people like our book and the way it is written. We thought about several ways to tell the stories of Fermilab in this book and many decisions were difficult. Our editors kept reminding us that too many names would be a burden for the reader who might not have been there, that too much physics might be a challenge for the public (whom we want to know about Fermilab!), and that the book could not be too long. We went through many drafts (over ten years!) and many trusted friends and notable colleagues read these drafts and made suggestions. Now we know it was all worth the long years of work–kind of like another frontier that you want to reach safe and sound, but you still want to have an interesting and memorable trip!

Some post-publication editing…

Posted December 3, 2008 by fermilab
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Oops, a couple of errors have been detected (in the new book).

On page 116, the caption beneath the photograph of the April 1969 site conveyance ceremony at the Palmer House accidentally reversed the names of Governor Ogilvie and Governor Shapiro. Shapiro is on the left of the photo, and Ogilvie is standing between Shapiro and Glenn Seaborg.

On page 237, we incorrectly moved Chris Quigg from the Theory Group at Fermilab to the Central Design Group of the SSC at Berkeley. Quigg did not go to CDG until 1987, when Bill Bardeen succeeded Quigg as Head of Theory. Sorry about that!

Latest news….

Posted November 17, 2008 by fermilab
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The lecture at Fermilab on Friday night was fantastic! A large crowd turned out on a rainy night for my lecture and they all had nice comments afterwards. The book sales were a success and signing the books for those who stood in line was a pleasure. People especially enjoyed seeing the old films of Fermilab past, shown before the lecture, and the slide show of Fermilab present, shown at the end.

In answer to the question about other labs doing the kind of research that Fermilab does, John Peoples, Fermilab’s third Director and former Chairman of ICFA, informed me Friday evening that there are two other high energy physics labs like Fermilab: KEK in Japan, and CERN in Geneva, SW.

I hope people will send comments about the lecture and the book to this blog or to my email and I will transfer them to the blog for others to view.

Happy Day!

Posted November 6, 2008 by fermilab
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Last night, Nov. 5, I gave a presentation on the new book at The Newberry Library in Chicago. It was a great feeling to see so many people turn up for my talk after all the celebrations of the past 24 hours — Barack Obama was elected Tuesday and the world is celebrating!!

My talk went well and we sold some books! I signed my first book! How fun is that? Thanks to all who came out. I hope they will come to visit Fermilab soon to see the Lab for themselves.

The Book is Here!

Posted November 6, 2008 by fermilab
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How exciting! The new book arrived on Saturday and, after all the years we three spent writing it, it was fantastic to see it in print! I hope readers will enjoy the book and send in their comments to this blog.

Tuesday, Nov. 4,  the Visual Media Services office prepared bookmarks with information about the book to hand out at the Sigma Pi Sigma Congress that will be hosted by Fermilab tomorrow. The book will be available for sale, with proceeds going to the Fermilab Education Center.

Welcome to the new Blog!

Posted November 6, 2008 by fermilab
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Jean Reising has been creating our new website, including this blog and we want to thank Jean!

This blog is the place to send your comments, corrections and additions to the book, and will make our Fermilab history even better and more complete.

The LHC and the SSC

Posted November 4, 2008 by fermilab
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We should all celebrate the first beam in the LHC. This event indeed marks a new era of scientific discovery. At the same time many of us may look back wistfully at what might have been.

In May of 1982, Leon Lederman assembled a small group of people in a small office on the second floor of the High Rise. First beam in the Tevatron was still a year away. While the Tevatron was a daring first use of superconducting magnets in a large accelerator, those of us around the table that day had no doubt that it would be successful. Bob Wilson and Dick Lundy were there. (I was there as Lundy’s deputy at the Technical Support Section where the Tevatron magnets were being built.)

Leon had big plans on his mind. He asked us to think about how we would design a really big machine that would make bold leap to a new physics frontier. We now knew how to build the magnets. We just needed to scale up the Tevatron by a factor of ten. The next month at Snowmass, Leon revealed his dream to the community. I remember these as heady, exciting times. We worked obsessively, day and night, during those weeks at Snowmass, turning Leon’s dream into something that could actually be built. As the same time, huge new detectors were being designed for the energies and luminosities envisaged for this marvelous machine.

For the next 11 years we worked hard to realize the SSC. Using the Tevatron experience, we designed better, cheaper magnets. A site was selected, tunnels started, concrete poured, and magnets tested. We made countless trips back and forth to Berkeley, home of the SSC Central Design Group, and to Waxahachie.

Then…in October of 1993 it all came crashing down. Congress voted to terminate the project. The future of US leadership in high energy physics lay in the wreckage of the SSC.

The success of the LHC is a great victory for science. Although I am happy for the LHC, I am also sad about what might have been.

–Paul Mantsch

Paul Mantsch is project manager for the Pierre Auger Observatory.

Congratulations to CERN

Posted November 4, 2008 by fermilab
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Congratulations to CERN for the successful launch of the LHC, the Large Hadron Collider, the latest excursion into the frontier of high energy particle physics!


For more than 25 years the energy frontier machine has been Fermilab’s Tevatron, the 1983 superconducting extension of the 1972 Main Ring. Now the LHC will be the machine at the energy frontier. The LHC will enable high energy physicists from around the world to explore deeper into the unknown frontiers of the universe. While the times and technology are vastly different in 2008, much of the same excitement and drama of the turn on of CERN’s LHC was felt by physicists at the turn on of Fermilab’s  Main Ring (see and the superconducting Energy Doubler/Saver (see, now called the Tevatron (see Although the dress styles are different the spirit remains the same as the frontier beckons!