Archive for March 2009

Nice comments

March 20, 2009

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,