Oral History Transcript — Dr. Robert R. Wilson
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Robert Wilson; May 8, 1978
ABSTRACT: The interview focuses on the creation of Fermilab. Also discussed: early origins of Wilson's involvement in high energy physics, Cornell University, Princeton, Los Alamos, Harvard and University of California, Berkeley.
Hoddeson:I am interviewing Dr. Robert Wilson at Fermilab on the subject of the creation of Fermilab. The focus of todayís session I thought would be the early origins of your involvement with very high energy physics. But in order to make, form a bridge between this interview and the interview which was done last year by Spencer Weart — have — you seen a copy?
Wilson:No, I havenít. This is a clean corrected copy, I take it?
Hoddeson:Yes. We can just make a copy here, if you like, itís beautiful, I enjoyed reading it. We have to make a bridge that goes over 20 years. I thought that we might pick out a few highlights from your period, probably mainly at Cornell, but if you like, at Princeton, Los Alamos and Harvard, that have to do with the early thinking and design about the machine that eventually was built here at Fermilab. Cornell, I suppose — the first question I have that is relevant was the use of the strong focusing. That got going in 1954, I believe?
Hoddeson:I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about the background of that, insofar as it pertains to ĖĖ
Wilson:— yes, that goes back to — I wanted to make a small aperture electron synchrotron, that would go up to high energy. Iíd been thinking of various ways of getting the energy at Cornell, of the electron a synchrotron at Cornell, up. One was to raise a sharp peak of magnetic field, by putting coils within the vacuum doughnut, and pulsing those coils, so that just at the end one would raise the energy p perhaps to 500, from 300 to 500 MEV. I had then been invited to Copenhagen, to a meeting at which I met? Bohr, and it was a meeting at which CERN was being founded. There had of course been previous discussions about CERN, but the location had not been picked as yet, nor had the machine that they were going to build, had that been picked, — in fact, even what they would do. So — but, the idea that there would be a CERN was pretty firm, as I recall. There was lady whose name I have forgotten who was the organizer. Probably in Ď52, yes, thatís probably it, yes, no doubt. I had that. If I gave a paper there Ė-
Hoddeson:Yes, you did, on electron accelerators.
Wilson:Electron accelerators, and I also gave
Hoddeson:— meson —
Wilson:— production of physics, meson production by protons, thatís the one, Ď49. But I think I was giving the first results that had been found by Anderson and Fermi at University of Chicago. Doesnít look like that.
Hoddeson:Thereís an earlier paper here also.
Wilson:Maybe thatís — hum mm... Ah yes. Yes, this is the 9 to 1 to 2 ratio, that they had just found at Chicago, and those were considered very hot data at the time. In any case, the — yes, that was an important meeting, and I felt like a very important individual being there because, as you can see, there were very few, if any, other Americans. I may have been the only American present. I remember that, for example, I was invited out to a dinner which was attended by Bohr, Muller — it was at Mullerís home, and letís see, came and Heisenberg came.
Hoddeson:Yes, he was at the conference.
Wilson:And maybe — was Fermi at this conference? No, he wouldnít have been.
Hoddeson:I donít remember. Rosenfeld was.
Wilson:Probably Rosenfeld, and then — whether he was at the dinner? I doubt that he was at that dinner. But there was the man who did — Mayer? No. Who got the Nobel Prize for the shell structure?
Jensen was there. In any case, I was never so embarrassed in my life. It was a very formal occasion, just men sitting around. Mrs. Muller did not sit at the table and only served the meal. It was very formally European, but they would start off in one language, for example, if spoke, he would speak in French. Then everybody would speak in French for a while, until somebody else broke into German. When Heisenberg spoke, he would speak in German, and then, someone else may — English? I may have been the only English-speaking person there, so there was not much English being spoken. On the other hand, I didnít speak French or German at this time. And so every so often the host, Mr. Muller, would point out to his distinguished guests that one of us perhaps wasnít as fluent as they were, and may have been — They just couldnít imagine that an educated person couldnít speak French and German, and was having difficulty following the conversation. Then they would switch into English for a while. Pretty soon, as they got excited about something, away they would go in a different language, and I couldnít speak any of those.
I remember just feeling like an ignoramus, and I made a determination that when I got home, I was going to learn how to speak another language, and did. I learned how to speak French. I also remember how at the meeting stood up and asked me a question in French, and I couldnít understand what the question was. There I was speaker, and before this rather August group, and I wasnít going to admit before all those people that I didnít speak French. So I answered his question. And what I did was, I answered the question that I thought — Would have asked. Then I looked it up afterwards in the — perhaps in this meeting — there must be someplace where he asked so that question. After one of these things youíll probably find it here. And sure enough, my answer followed perfectly. Just by great could fortune, I answered the question asked. I had no idea what he was saying. Very peculiar. Anyway, the meeting was quite an interesting one, and I think it did a world of good. I guess Iím trying to say is that I had been sort of the representative of all the United States, and as you can see, I gave many of the papers there. Bohr was especially grateful that I had come at all, that an American had come, brought all kinds of — I think the only physics that was presented at the meeting probably was the physics that I had presented. He invited me over to his house, which is an Italian mansion in —
Hoddeson:— the brewery, the Carlsberg.
Wilson:The brewery yes, very romantic place, and I remember, whenever he would look for a reprint he would go into the green room, greenery, and he had his reprints stashed away in wooden cases that were in a pot, at the bottom of a palm tree pot. I remember going with a flashlight with him. I was looking for a particular reprint...
Hoddeson:...in the greenhouse...
Wilson:That was quite an exciting time for me. Then he also gave me a little silver dish, you know, to put nuts in. He said it had been made by a little friend of his, Jensen. Beautiful thing. I was very impressed by it. On the way back from that — no, while I was there. It wasnít coming back. While I was there, there was a French physicist who had just come from Brookhaven, where he said they had got the proton synchrotron there into operation, and that they had done an experiment in which — he would have given a paper perhaps — Thatís the French name, heís a Frenchman — he gave a paper on American high energy accelerators. Heís just come over, Ď62, and my memory was that he had reported on an aperture — there it is.
Hoddeson:Page 63, the figure on the left.
Wilson:This has to do with the cosmotron that was just coming on. He said that they had put an aperture, from one side, the other side, that side, inside, and that showed that, I guess this — yes — a planned aperture with 4 x 10 inches, but Iím under the impression of an experience, and experiment, now reduced to 1 X 4 inches, so that — something like that.
Hoddeson:Did you say one foot or is that a misprint?
Wilson:Thatís a misprint. It should be inches. So I was — when I returned, I remember, I was sitting on the airplane, and from Copenhagen we went very far to the north, so that the sun never set that night. I saw the sun just hanging there, and eventually it went back up. So I didnít go to sleep, because I was so interested in the midnight sun and as I sat watching the midnight sun, this conversation, this report came back to me, and I thought: ďMy God, that man said one inch by four inches. And that means that if one were to scale that down to something one could build at Cornell, by a factor of 4, that would mean a quarter of an inch aperture by one inch.Ē So I thought, well, Iíll build a machine with an aperture a quarter of an inch by one inch. Thatís what I started from. If thatís all you need then I can make, with the same power supply and the same space, I can make a one GEV? Electron synchrotron. So when I got back, I began to make plans and design for this, and I think it was two inches by maybe a half inch originally, or maybe — Iíve got some of the early design reports here, but very small. It seemed just terribly small to everybody, and here I was, while I was doing this scaling down, the cosmotron, — which should have been a very conventional thing to do — just then the cosmotron people, Livingston and Snyder and Courant, had come out with the idea of strong focusing. I remember now, I had designed the Cornell electron synchrotron so you could put any kind of a pole tip piece in, so it could either be very tiny or larger if that was necessary. Well, with the idea of strong focusing, I thought: well, thatís a new idea, Iíll give that a whirl. So instead of putting in the pole tip that I had originally thought of putting in, I said, well, letís put in this strong focusing pole tip. So thatís why we were the first people to — I think we were the first people to —
Hoddeson:I think you were the first.
Wilson:— people to study that in an accelerator. Somebody else may have done it from some other way, but I think we were the first people to do it in an accelerator, a circular accelerator. So I remember, we followed the resonance, the discovery resonances, that were not known in the early — when it was first known — it was just from electron, called electyte(?) pattern, which the strength of the vertical focusing and the horizontal focusing were related, and if you were in a diagram — looked like a necktie — then you were stable. If you were outside of that, it should be unstable. Then it turned out that there were resonances, so the necktie had a pattern in it. As a matter of fact, when we built it, we missed the whole necktie pattern, just by making mistakes. But then we made very simple changes and got back in the necktie pattern, and then it worked fine.
Hoddeson:I know that in the later cyclotron at Cornell, you engaged physicists ion the building as you did here. Was that also done in the first —
Wilson:Oh, at Cornell we were all physicists. From the very beginning we had built it. We didnít have any engineers.
Hoddeson:None at all?
Wilson:Well, one — no, even he was a physicist, however. In any case, somebody had done a yearís leave of absence. His name will come back to me. He helped with rotating machinery on the first synchrotron. But he was a physicist, come to think about it. We didnít have any engineers to help us, until the final machine, where we had an engineer who helped with the electron — Which was the injector. But apart from that, we just — not that we wouldnít have wanted an engineer, but we could never attract one to come to a small laboratory at a small university. Not a small university, but a university in a small town, where the future — I mean, it was a dead end.
Hoddeson:I see. It wasnít a definite policy?
Wilson:It wasnít a policy. It was — we probably wouldnít have had much money to hire such a person. But we never were able to attract a really good engineer to come, or a respectable engineer. However, we did try from time to time to have an engineer.
Hoddeson:I read about the assembly lines, assembly for the magnet construction of the second machine. Was that — I was looking for features that relate to this laboratory.
Wilson:No, there wasnít a second — there were sort of five different versions. I know on this one that I was describing, that I went in and stacked up — it had four quadrants — I stacked that up myself with my own hands, the first one, just because I was trying to learn how to do it. And once I found out, than the shop people stacked the rest of them. That was the one billion volt electron synchrotron. The one that may have had a production line was the 10 BEV.
Hoddeson:Thatís where I saw it.
Wilson:Oh, OK. What about that?
Hoddeson:I was just looking for the sources of some of the ideas and policies that you put into practice in building Fermilab. By looking back at Cornell. I donít know if thatís a fruitful thing to do, but —
Wilson:Well, my ideas were very empirical, is the only thing one could say. I started off by building a very small — essentially with my own hands, a small mode of the synchrotron, the 10 GEV synchrotron, and then, I had a SHOP fellow by the name of Fuller, I think, who then helped me build the 10 foot model. We tested that. Then, both of us were building the first one. Then he went along and sort of built the other 200 magnet. Almost by himself, but perhaps with the help of — oh, a group of not more than six people, I suppose, to build that, very rapidly. And the coils were built outside. One of the physicists there, I think — names come hard to me now, IĎm blocking...
Hoddeson:We can include it during the editing of the transcript. I came across this article, dated Ď59, but I found a letter, I see you actually submitted it in Ď57, on electron synchrotrons, in which you make Ė- you mention Salviniís suggestion, of tandem machines, and that struck me as crucial. I was wondering whether — the whole file of — Salviniís stuff —
Wilson:Yeah. Well, he had a scheme, I guess — itís probably not in here —
Hoddeson:This is just correspondence, but I thought maybe it would tickle your memory.
Wilson:What I had done I think, for several years before this, I had thought about my own suggestion, to —
Hoddeson:— I think this is a new idea, isnít that true?
Wilson:Not necessarily, because — well, one always has an injector of some kind. It would have been called an accelerator at one time. Thereís an injector for all of these machines. Perhaps Crane had the first idea. I think he used a high voltage injector at a distance, and injected a beam of particles into a quadrant-like machine, so that would have been the first use of this business of having one — tandem machines, if you want — and thatís so well known, I guess I wouldnít have even — no, heís Crane. This is essentially tandem machines, Craneís suggestion. I havenít put it very clearly, but the idea is having tandem machines, an idea I would ascribe probably to Crane. Itís already so perfunctory — Well, then the cosmotron itself would have had an injector, which was probably a small Linac(?) or a Van de Graaff, which was a machine.
Hoddeson:I see. Well, maybe I was putting too much emphasis —
Wilson:— Well, when I was in — Salviniís suggestion — is to, was to — oh, wait a minute. Maybe this was the first suggestion —
Hoddeson:— I tell you... back there —
Wilson:— Oh, I see, what it is, is here, I see — Craneís suggestion is this — Salviniís suggestion is that the injection field could be produced without iron by suitably arranged — to extent to an iron produced field, thatís Salviniís suggestion there; and the machine — that the injection be made from one magnet of a large aperture, is to be made in one magnet of large aperture, and then the beam is to be transferred to a second magnet. Thatís the first idea of having —, like a booster on a machine. That was it.
Hoddeson:Thatís not Salvini then?
Wilson:No, I say, thatís the authorís suggestion.
Hoddeson:Thatís your own.
Hoddeson:— I got it —
Wilson:— And here, what Iíve done is, itís just the — I put the — Salviniís suggestion is the first one, after the comma. Then thereís a semicolon, and ten machines is my own suggestion there But Crane? Would have had the notion to use — I mean, separate injector. He was the first to do that probably.
Hoddeson:I went back to that because of Max Sandís report, weíll get to in time, and he mentioned that idea, attributes it to you.
Wilson:Yes, probably. Does he give the reference there?
Hoddeson:So I went back and I found it there. OK.
Wilson:I had come out with a similar accelerator called the Love Machine. (laughter) Couple of years before this, maybe three or four years. And the idea I had there was to dig a tunnel into the hillside — Cornell Laboratory was off on the side of a hill. You know Cornell?
Wilson:Well, our lab was over the edge of the cliff finally, at least now, and my idea was simply to drill a tunnel back into the, small tunnel back into the hillside, and the reason I called it the Love Machine was, I was going to have a series of barges connected, one to the other, and fill the tunnel with water, and the, put a magnet on a barge, then push it into the tunnel, then put a magnet on another one, and keep pushing them in until they came back, and that would develop the level and just how they were going to be located — whether we — Iím not sure, I donít remember now, but I was things that was a way to automatically position the things and keep them in position, and I was going to shoot the electrons from one machine, from our present 300 GEV machine, or maybe the one BEV, Iím not sure, into the other one, and come out with five GEV electrons I think. Now, I must have had that in about 1954. (Crosstalk) I remember I took that idea to Russia, and talked about it there, and that was in 1956, that I went to Russia. This is much later. Some place I probably have that.
Hoddeson:You probably do, but I donít know if you have it here. Probably in those boxes.
Wilson:In one of those other boxes — I was thinking about such large machines then. All electron machines, I might say.
Hoddeson:Now, there are lots of notes in the files on the 1960 Super Energy Accelerator Conference, and I donít know how crucial that (crosstalk)
Wilson:— 1960, where was that?
Hoddeson:This was in Rochester. It was held in Rochester, yes.
Wilson:1960. Super Energy, oh yes, this was, thereís a lot of stories about that. Yes, that had something to do with — Iíd forgotten. (crosstalk) Well, thereís a story about that. Hm mmÖ Weíd have to read some of this. Yes, these are two separate things. What this goes back to, before I started thinking about large machines somewhat, or — machines, was that there was something called the McCone agreement, which was a follow up of Eisenhowerís Atoms for Peace initiative. And the idea was that, teams of physicists were to go from the United States, in three different areas, and at the same time, teams in the same areas were to come from Russia to this country in exchange, with the idea of looking towards building something in common. And there were three areas. One was fusion. Another was the high energy accelerators, and another, breeder reactors, I believe. You still see remnants of that in different form nowadays, in the same subjects. I was chosen one of the members of the American team that went to Russia. Bob Bocher? Was the head of this group. I have a lot of reports, saw it on my desk the other day, which give an account of the meeting. We were very excited when we went over. But just as we were ready to take off, the U-2 was shot down in Russia, so that when we got there, there was a peak of hard feelings, anti-American feelings, so the idea American physicists — they would barely speak to us, and many of the Russians were so outraged and insulted that we would send a spy plane over, that they were sort of abusive. People on the street would shake their fists at us. It wasnít a condition of —, best condition to have this agreement. As we got away from Moscow, we found that things warmed up considerably. We went to Leningrad. We went to Karkov. We went to —. There were five of us, I believe.
Hoddeson:Iíd like to see that. Are the names of the people you visited there?
Wilson:Everything, yes. And mainly we went to — in Armenia. Thatís where I first met — Who became quite a good friend of mine.
Hoddeson:Do you remember the dates?
It would have been just before this. The last thing that we did, we walked into —Ďs office for a visit with him, just before taking our planes back. He had a big Mussolini-type office, and I remember sitting there, and somehow, one of the people, Bob Marshak was one of the team, and he invited — to become a — I remember, he wanted to make a gesture First, — was also angry with us — wanted to know what the idea of a collaboration was, when we were spying on them, sending hostile planes? And so on. And he was not very pleasant. Bob was trying to be ingratiating, so he invited him to be the principal speaker at the forthcoming Rochester meeting. Thatís where these things are happening at, this meeting. Then Mr.— responded — Iíll never forget this — he looked at Bob, and he said, ďDo you know that Iíll never accept your invitation.Ē Iíll tell you why. A few years before, he must have meant 1956, he said, ďI had been named as part of the delegation to come to the United States. The rest of the delegation was: and then there was an unknown — name was thrown in, and none of us had ever heard of him.Ē I remember Marshak speaking to me about it. ďBecause we had never heard of him, we assumed he was the spy,Ē or something like that, the party man, ďand since we had just invited physicists to come to the conference, we didnít see why we should invite some,Ē thereís a name for the person who takes care of everybody, ďwhy we should invite him. We struck his name off the list as unknown to us. And we would have to identify that we knew him. These people were professionals, reputable, but none of us ever heard of — And we struck his name off the list.Ē So he was now telling us the story, and he said, ďYou know, I considered it a very great honor to be chosen to go to the United States, and I had used all of my clout, ďthatís not the work he used,Ē and done something unforgivable or very rarely done in the USSR: I had a citizen ejected from a plane. He was sitting in the plane. I had him taken out. ďHad to be taken off forcibly, I gather. ďI had him taken off and then I came and sat in his place.Ē ďThen,Ē he said, ďword reached that somehow my name had been struck from the list.
Do you know, I then had to be removed from my seat, and this same man brought back. It was a humiliating experience, to put it mildly, and there are no circumstances that — I will never forget that incident. If it should ever happen that Iím on a train going through Rochester, I wouldnít dream of stopping there,Ē he said, ďBut even if it were going through, I will pull the emergency cord and stop the train at the boundaries of Rochester. I will get off the train. I will walk around Rochester. Then I will take the train on the other side. Thatís what think about Rochester.Ē ďNo!Ē he said, and began to jump up and down, get excited, ďI will not except your invitation! No, Iíve been badly insulted and Iíll never forget it.Ē (laughter) Then he started laughing, at the strength of his remarks. And I remember, then I got into a very bitter exchange with — exchange of words with him, because I told him, this is a serious matter, weíre going to have peace between our nations and thereís an opportunity — I meant the World Machine, that we were trying to get them to agree was a good thing to build, and I made an impassioned speech to him, why he should put this insult behind him, and why this was an important matter not to be dismissed with funny stories.
Hoddeson:And what happened?
Wilson:Well, he agreed with me, more or less. Not completely. But pointed out again that it wasnít the Russians who had sent the plane over the United States, it was Mr. Eisenhower who had sent the plane over Russia. Weíd sent that, and that wasnít any way to start a collaboration. So then he gave me this lecture that almost everybody had been doing. Well, that night I recall that we were sitting up in one of the hotels in Russia, and I was sitting with Bob Marshak, and we both sort of resolved, well, building a World Machine was a good thing, just as these Rochester conferences were a good thing. They started people talking. A world Machine would be a good thing, and that, by God we werenít going to be put back just by this little denouncement or whatever it was, and that we were going to put our shoulder to the wheel and see to it that such a thing was built. So, when we got back, the next thing that happened was this conference — this was August, I think itís probably May I was talking about — so I called a meeting at the Rochester Conference of a group of people. Probably these are the people who came. I just made up a list.
Hoddeson:The Conference on Super Energy Accelerators List.
Wilson:Yes. This is the Rochester Conference meeting. Thatís why these people were there. Then I had the idea, will call a meeting about Super Energy Accelerators, the World Machine, see what was the biggest machine that might be built on a world basis. So I asked all these very distinguished people. Gee, Iím impressed — even Heisenberg. I remember, the evening before, getting into a long philosophical discussion with Heisenberg, who turns out to be either a neo-Platonist or a Platonist. Heís a philosopher. We had a long discussion, far into the night, about Plato and his philosophy. I think is at this meeting. It doesnít show him. Iím pretty sure Bucher was there. I donít see his name there. I was positive he was at that meeting.
Hoddeson:I think thereís another meeting, a later one, that Victor was there. I think I have some notes on that.
Wilson:Maybe he had been at another meeting. I wrote up an account of this meeting for SCIENCE?
Hoddeson:I donít think I have it.
Wilson:In any case, there was a small — letís see, is Segreís name here? Oh yes, I remember, I didnít invite Segre. Well, this was a very big meeting, and there are all sorts of distinguished people, and I decided I wanted a small meeting. I was fairly arrogant at this age, and I didnít put Segreís name on this list, but he came around and talked to me, and said that Iíd make a mistake and left his name off. He understands that thereís a special meeting being called, and his name hadnít been on the list. I looked at him and said, ďThatís right, your name isnít on the list — by intention.Ē I didnít want the list to get very big. He said, ďThis is a terrible insult. If you donít put my name on this list, Iíll never speak to you again. Itís unthinkable that my name would not be on a list of a group considering accelerators.Ē I said, ďno, youíre not an expert on high energy accelerators.Ē I donít think he had had the Nobel Prize then, and I wasnít all that impressed with him as a physicist. I didnít tell him that. I said that I had decided to keep it within bounds, and even if people came around and asked, I wasnít going to change. So I wasnít going to change my name now, he could just —
Hoddeson:So he was never invited.
Wilson:He was never invited. No. I donít think he spoke to me for five, ten years. Never has forgiven me. It was a bitter insult, he thought. Well, that got me interested clearly in thinking about large machines.
Hoddeson:Where there lots of people that were talking about very large machines at that meeting? Did the little group begin to form already in 1960?
Wilson:No think (crosstalk) — had been because we had gone over to talk about a World Machine. So when we were there, then I began to think about the problem of the World Machine. And I had the notion that something like 100, perhaps 100 GEV, or — whatever it is — in the meeting, we came up with some hundreds of GEV, I guess. We decided that you could build such a machine. Weíll talk about that.
Hoddeson:Right. Now, this is the report —
Wilson:This is before this, yes. I think, isnít it?
Hoddeson:No, it seems to be after, but very close. Very close.
Wilson:One of the people who was on this trip (crosstalk) — was Ed Loftin, and Ed was probably the least enthusiastic person about the World Machine, and the reason was, at Berkeley, they had been building(?) (studying?) a large machine, and I guess even before that at Caltech.
Hoddeson:They had already before this? Oh yes, Ď59.
Wilson:I think even before this, had been studying such a thing. They eventually got together and — you see, this is the 300. I think the Berkeley study was for 100, and they compromised on 200, and it was to be a Berkeley project.
Hoddeson:Somehow it switched from Caltech to Berkeley in the process.
Wilson:Yes, and then that was a compromise.
Hoddeson:How did that happen?
Wilson:I think that probably, for one thing, Berkeley is just a bigger place, and has a history of building big machines, and there was a — Caltech only had small machines. They had an electron synchrotron, but that had been the model of the Bevetron which had been converted into an electron machine and brought down to Caltech. So they had never really built a machine there. It had been built by Berkeley.
Hoddeson:So it simply wasnít appropriate.
Wilson:It wasnít appropriate, I think, and so, one place was quite up to it, the other place wasnít. I just donít know. I did hear that they got together, and the people at Berkeley — Iím sorry, the people at Caltech talked the people at Berkeley into increasing the size of the machine to 200, and I think it was just that Berkeley had been talking about GEV previously, and theyíd been talking about ??? and it was sort of a compromise. Thatís where the number acme from — the got to 200.
Hoddeson:I see. I think I should have given you these documents before. They were out of place. This seems to be the —
Wilson:This was another meeting. This is some kind of an IU Tap meeting. This something else that was happening simultaneously.
Hoddeson:I see. I see.
Wilson:After this —
Hoddeson:— THIS IS THE September 16 meeting.
Wilson:And after the meeting at Rochester, which was I think before this, isnít it?
Hoddeson:No, Rochesterís in the summer, yeah.
Wilson:Yes, itís August.
Hoddeson:And this is September.
Wilson:So I think these people — (crosstalk) — Oh... I think these people were at the meeting, and probably had taken a tour out to Berkeley or some such place, around the country, and were coming back before takeoff, for Russia. That would be my guess. Since itís the same group that I believe I found on that invitational list, the report you just showed me, that I suspect that they were just leaving. We met them in New York. And we were going to have some discussion. Yes, see, hereís the objective, either high energies or high intensities, either a high energy machine or high intensity might be the object for an international project. So this was a meeting that somehow was following up on that other meeting, and Mr. — had gone with us. Iíve forgotten just what that was. Iíd be interested in reading it.
Hoddeson:...Iím going to ask you to repeat that again.
Wilson:OK. This meeting on ultra-high energy accelerators was just some — I just had an idea myself, that I was going to call it, thinking back on a conversation Iíd had with Marshak. I must have discussed it with him because it was his conference. But I just had the idea that I would call a unilateral individual thing. Thatís what I did. I just announced that there was going to be a meeting, and asked the people to come to a particular room. I made up the list all by myself. You know, just called a meeting.
Hoddeson:And they all came.
Wilson:And they all came.
Hoddeson:How did you get funding?
Wilson:There wasnít any funding necessary because they were all at the Rochester Conference. It just meant that they probably missed some dull meetings some time. Or maybe it was a free afternoon. Iím not quite sure what it was. But I remember, I just asked Bob Marshak for a room and called this meeting — rared back and called a meeting. That was a complete individual effort. And the reason I did it was because, when we came back, it was clear, when we talked to Mr. McCone, he indicated that he was not, didnít want any collaboration anyway. He was — itís clear that he didnít give a damn about it. And I remember, I got quite angry and thought, well, Iíll do this on my own, if he doesnít — And somehow, this other thing came along, and I donít remember what — this meeting in New York. The notes are here: ďDraft minutes of a September meeting in New York.Ē
Hoddeson:Is that September? See, here at the summary of the conclusion to the Rochester meeting, itís scheduled for September.
Wilson:Well, then they probably — they did that, there.
Hoddeson:In New York.
Wilson:So that was a IUPAP action. They had a meeting and they scheduled this official meeting — either because this had taken place, to follow up on that, — Iíve forgotten —
Hoddeson:I see. Iíll just have to go over and study these documents very carefully.
Wilson:Incidentally, about the 300, I tell you, I understand that a number of West Coast universities, southern region, are seriously considering a machine of 300 BEV. By the time weíre ready to go ahead with an international project, Iíd think a 500 BEV machine would be more desirable.
Hoddeson:And Hayworth thinks he may...
Wilson:...mm, I think he was being ironic, then. Here I said, ďI completely agree with that. The motivation from just (to do) a few experiments, — rather itís because physicists can collaborate well, a project of this design is desirable, would provide a facility where collaboration can go forward. Therefore, it should be a center where cooperation of physics activity takes place,Ē and Hayworth agrees with it. By that I meant that the fact that we were having collaboration was an important matter, as important as building a machine.
Hoddeson:From then on, there was lots of sessions.
Hoddeson:Then the Berkeley people felt — quite far along — they were involved in that summer study, or maybe there were lots of people, at Brookhaven, and I donít think you attended.
Hoddeson:I gather, a good deal of the design was —
Wilson:— of the Berkeley machine, yes, I had nothing to do with the design of the Berkeley machine at all. And after this, as far as I know, I didnít do any more, except to write up these notes, and then I was completely immersed in the construction of the — at Cornell — and then (crosstalk) — I did come back Ė- this is 1960, I did come back from Italy, probably, so I had the idea then of building a 10 GEV machine, and first, I had to plan for building a 4 GEV machine, and I remember, I called up the NSF. Theyíd given us a grant of maybe six or eight million dollars to build it with. And said, ďSorry, I donít want your money. Iíve figured out how to build the machine without any money,Ē and hung up. It was true. Iíd figured out a way of building a 2 GEV machine, instead of a 4 GEV machine, just as a little exercise, and we had enough money to build it, so I didnít see why — So that got them very upset, because it was really a big thing for the NSF. Theyíd never build a large accelerator before, and had had terrible arguments about whether they should give it to big physics or little physics, on such a big project as this, and they had been breaking new ground, for them.
Hoddeson:Well, they couldnít have been too upset for long, because then they gave you almost 12 million dollars.
Wilson:Well, then the next day I called them up, because I thought Iíd made something of a sensation. I said, ďBut, would you be interested, we can construct instead of a 4 GEV machine, a 10 GEV machine.Ē I guess they were very upset because theyíd had this money on their hands and all felt very foolish for having told a project — so they were looking for a way out and said, indeed they were interested — so I was doing them a favor by taking their money, to build this — it seemed like a very radical machine, building a 10 GEV machine for that amount of money, and at the time it was quite a radical notion.
Hoddeson:How much money were they going to give you for the small machine?
Wilson:Iíve forgotten. Something like eight million dollars. Iíve forgotten that, maybe six or eight million. Then it got into, there had been a meeting of the so-called Ramsey Panel. I appeared before them, and they felt it would be a good idea to build the machine, but I was hopelessly off on the amount of money. I think they suggested I should be given 15 million dollars. Cornell was very anxious that I accept the 15 million dollars, and NSF was happy to do it. And I balked, I said, ďNo, thatís too much money, if we do that, then Cornell will not be just a place for individuals, where physicists take the machine and use it. The whole style will change. Thereíll be a program advisory committee. The first thing we know, itíll be a big collaboration, and we wonít just be doing physics the old fashioned way, but it will be big physics and it will just be a big bureaucracy. I was pretty sure, with 15 million dollars, thatís all that could happen. So I dug my heels in and said under no circumstances would I accept any such money. Finally I think Frank Long took it to Washington, where we met with somebody from the NSF, and the head of the — the man who was president of Brown for a while, was the Presidentís advisory on the Presidentís Advisory Committee. He was trying to argue me into accepting the 15 million dollars, and we met in the White House dining room. I remember that. Because, you know, so many posh people — it was niche place, on the White House grounds, all sorts of Admirals and famous people around, and here we were talking about the facility. I was adamant. And we finally made a compromise. I was so overwhelmed that I went up to 12 million, not a cent more. We finally settled, I talked him down from 15 to 12, and left in triumph. And said Iíd return any money that we didnít use.
Hoddeson:That was still the largest grant that the NSF had given up that point.
Wilson:Maybe. Although they had been involved in the MOHO drilling. That was a kind of a scandal. And then there was a telescope they had built that was a sandal. But this may have been — certainly the largest in high energy physics.
Hoddeson:Highest to a university.
Wilson:Oh, yes. In any case —
Hoddeson:— you built it for 12.
Wilson:Built it for 11-1/2, I think. I think we did give them back some money. A half million or so.
Hoddeson:— Letís see, is there anything we need to say about the Ramsey Panel? That isnít actually in the documents.
Wilson:I think thatís all in the documents. Whatís the date of the Ramsey Panel?
Hoddeson:Ď62 and Ď63.
Wilson:Weíre talking about Ď63. This is still 1960 —
Hoddeson:— this is the earlier meeting, yes.
Wilson:So I probably did the — Iím trying to remember what I was doing. I may have gone to Italy in 1961. Thatís probably it. I went off to Italy after this. I was there in Ď60 to Ď61, and then when I came back, I came back with the idea of building a larger machine.
Hoddeson:But that was later. That was in Ď65, or am I getting the dates confused?
Hoddeson:Are you talking about an earlier visit to Italy? Oh, the conference —
Wilson:— in Ď60 I went on a sabbatical year. I came back, Iím pretty sure it was Ď60 to Ď61, so I went to Italy just after this meeting, probably in September, and then I came back, and thatís when these conversations with the NSF would have occurred.
Hoddeson:OK. Then the next major step, I think, takes place at — And right after that, and thereís a whole pack of stuff, but before we go to that, thereís one letter that I pulled out of here, out of the boxes, that I think deserves some comment, that doesnít concern you directly, but I think it has to do with the decision to build a lab at Weston. Itís a letter from — closing down — And I was told that that caused a sort of a debt to the Midwest.
Wilson:Could have. I have no idea about that, whether itís true or not.
Hoddeson:Thatís sort of a rumor thatís going around.
Wilson:I have no idea. I had been something of a mild protagonist of — And probably had written some letters on their behalf to the AEC, but I remember that I eventually had been rather cool toward it, because they had stated that they would do something, come up with some kind of an activity, with a certain amount of —, Iíve forgotten what it was, one of their models — and they never had. And I kept fighting them. I felt my neck was out perhaps because I had recommended it, and they hadnít done what they said they were going to do. Iíve forgotten, maybe that comes up Ė I donít know why I —
Hoddeson:Do we have time to go into the repercussions of the — meeting? That seems to be very crucial.
Wilson:Yes, thatís where I think I got interested. Up to that point, Iíd been completely immersed in this business of building the 10 GEV up at Cornell.
Hoddeson:Well, here I have lots of papers for you to look at.
Wilson:We can start.
Hoddeson:You wrote a letter in September to McMillan which you may want to look at. Criticizing the machine.
Hoddeson:And another letter thatís later, actually, just some more information — that letter Ė- but thereís one letter Ė-
Wilson:I have — yes.
Hoddeson:Oh, here it is. This is a letter that you wrote in December, to Albert.
Wilson:December, this is November, this is December — of what?
Hoddeson:Of 1965. This isnít dated, but it seems to be one — the first two pages —Ö ďIím afraid Iíve come —Ē
Wilson:— (crosstalk) ... ďcome at a bad time...Ē ďListened to Berkeley plans for the 200 GEV machine, didnít like them, got into an argument with McMillan, who finally threw at me, could I do better?.... When I was in Paris for a few days... I saw a number of ... extrapolations of our machine to — My conclusion was, the Berkeley machine was far too conservative. ...Ē Good detailed account of what was happening. Partly on Cornell stationery, partly on — Oh, this is an answer back. Iím writing all that ... I adhere to the — ďbecome an anti-Vietnik.Ē Iíll be going to Washington the 27th — a big anti-Vietnam meeting. Ď65. This isnít dated either — yes, it was Ď65. Oh, and this is an answer to his letter.
Hoddeson:But the first letter that comes from you is this, and it has most of it in here. I understand this led to lots of repercussions at the time.
Wilson:I say in this letter, because Iíd gone to the — meeting Ė-
Hoddeson:And is it really true that we were not keeping up with the design of the big machines?
Wilson:(crosstalk) — yes, I think that — I must have heard something about it but I donít remember it. Cornell is pretty far away. I had nothing to do with the design. And I must have known they were making such a design, by that time. But I hadnít heard any speeches about it and they hadnít written anything up. So I recall that I did — I was invited by the Italians to come to a conference on instrumentation, I believe, at — and I considered conferences on instrumentation infra-dig, for some reason. They werenít the real physics conferences. If you were a physicist, you didnít go to things like that, even an accelerator conference.
Hoddeson:I couldnít find any notes on it.
Wilson:Anyway, they said they would send me a ticket. I thought, oh, those crazy Italians, you know, theyíll get it all fouled up, they wonít send the ticket. Well, the day the airplane was supposed to leave, the tickets arrived and I took off. And I remember going off, Iíd made some waxes? Whenever I could get to Italy, it was important that I take waxes, because I would have them cast in — Foundry, and I could have it done at a fraction of the price it would be done in the United states, and I was in business then selling small bronze sculptures, and I was making lots of money actually selling sculptures. So that was one reason. The other, I had a good friend who was an historian, Clark Fox? At Cornell and he and I used to play squash regularly. He was spending the year perhaps or a semester in Paris, and heíd invited me, if I ever came across, to drop by and weíll play squash in Paris and eat some good food. So I remember that. I decided, Iíll go to -Ė the other thing was, whenever I could go to Paris, Iíd go to the — To do sketching. Itís a very old place, very romantic, and I would keep up with my drawing, that way, part of my artistic life. So, I thought, well, Iíll go see good old Ed Fox? — he and I will have a few games of squash, and Iíll go do some sketching. Then Iíll get my bronzes cast, and — that was my whole reason for going — take advantage of the Italian ticket on Alitalia — So I went off, and when I got there, they gave me a car and I went down to the foundry, on -Ė a very romantic place — and when Iíd done that, I went and had myself a —, bought a suit at — fancy suit, Italian suit, which you could buy cheap, or rather very high quality for the money, let me put it that way, and — thatís the poshest place in the world Ė- Iíd done all these good things. Iíd gone off with some friends hiking? And then I was overcome by remorse Ė-
Hoddeson:— and you went to the meeting.
Wilson:I thought, you canít come over to go to a meeting, and not go to any of the sessions. The least I can do is show up one day and go to all the sessions and — you know, be a good person. So I did. I went the next day. I went in, and I had no idea Iíd listen to anything — just to make an appearance, be there, participate. So it happened to be the Berkeley group were making their presentations of their machine. I listened in them.
Hoddeson:Who was doing it?
Wilson:Iíve forgotten who was making the presentation. It must be on some program.
Hoddeson:No, I havenít found it, but it must be somewhere.
And so — well, I was impressed, mostly by the dullness of the talks. I just thought they were terribly dull and badly presented. Itís kind of hard to know what they were talking about, and I wasnít paying all that much attention. But I was, sort of, and the Amaldi invited me to go to lunch, and somebody else, Iíve forgotten — two other people, or maybe only one other person — because the lunch was rather dull, a long Italian lunch, and the conversation lagged. Ed is not the best conversationalist in the world anyway, and Amaldi was a little slow and I was, and we didnít have anything to say. But in one of those long, long silences, when everybody was just eating and not saying a word — finally, you know, desperately trying to make conversation, I said, ďWell, I went to the meeting this morning and I heard the papers on the synchrotron.Ē He said, ďWell, what did you think of them?Ē Long pause, then he said, ďWhat did you think of them?Ē I said, (well, I didnít want to get into an argument with Ed about them because I hadnít been listening carefully enough) Heís a real expert -Ė and so I said, ďWell, Ed,Ē I wanted to say something, ďI didnít like the way they were presented.Ē He got mad. He said, how in the world could I bring up such a dumb thing? What did it matter? In physics, how the things were presented? Well, I thought about it. Then I pointed out, ďLawrence is a tremendous person to give a report on physics and make it exciting.
You yourself could do that, take anything, give it a lot of drama,Ē talked about the old Journal Club where people did try to present things rather well, and all the old timers there were great presenters and could make any subject exciting. But here was a really exciting thing, and these clods have managed to make it very dull, and I just thought that probably they didnít care very much about what they were talking about, that they didnít make it exciting. So again, Ed Ė- I didnít know it, but heíd been under attack a lot of other places, and I think he thought I was attacking. I was just trying to think of something to say. ... OK, well Iíll finish this... so, just as we got up, — you know, they had really demolished me, because they said, how it was presented did not have any effect on the content. The content is what matters. What gets written down matters. It doesnít matter how you present it. He really was demolishing me, and he had the best of me, and I was probably getting a little bit hot about it, because as we got p the table, I remember saying to Ed, ďEd, I didnít particularly like what they said, either.Ē (laughter) Iíve forgotten what he said but it was something like, ďDo you think you could do any better?Ē So that I thought would be the end of it. Then I went to Paris.
Hoddeson:You didnít go to any more sessions.
No. The next day I went off to Paris. Changed my ticket from Alitalia to Air France, and I arrived in Paris. I went off and I was happily sketching in the Ė Grande — It was the time when they say, ďRepos,Ē after the model has been posing for a certain length of time. You sit there, and my French then was not all that great so I could strike up a conversation with the other people, and I just sat. Then those words came back to see, and I began to doodle on the sketch pad, during the repos time, and I began to put down a few figures and drawings, and I got completely engrossed in the business of doing that. I spent all the time in the session, instead of drawing from the model, working out various machines. I went around, putting in — I had several days there, and I think I spent the whole time going through one machine after another, just in a fury of design, making all kinds of designs. Then I finally came out with a number of what seemed to me Ė- it was very funny, because it was such romantic surroundings, and here I was designing what even I considered was, not a very respectable thing to do. I mean, spending your odd moments, you should be thinking high thoughts of physics, not about machines.
Thatís only to get from one place to another. But I was consumed with a passion for making a number of designs of machines Ė taking the results, sort of the philosophy Iíd been using at Cornell on electron machines, transposing it to protons. So I just saw what I could do. Thatís whatís referred to here, and thatís the end of it. I thought I would send those results to Ed, and he took this as a threat of some kind, whereas all I was trying to do was, ďLook what I did, isnít this nice? Why donít you use some of these ideas?Ē Ed then Ė yes, he wrote back, thereís a letter here some place. It says essentially: ďDROP DEAD.Ē Then I went out Ė but after a while, he called me up, after I sent this to him. He called me up and said, ďWell,Ē why donít I come out and they would talk to me. Must have gotten to him. So I did go out. And when I got there, I remember everybody went off. They had some weekly meeting which Ė just as soon as I got there, they all went off to this meeting, and there wasnít anybody to talk to. I guess, Frank — then took me, and a fellow by the name of Smith Ė- I was going off to see where some doils were being built, on the Peninsula, for the synchrotron, and I went down to inspect those, and Frank — And this fellow Smith went with me, and they talked about the machine. They were part of the design group. They were assigned to it. But they werenít the actual designers, and I never did get a chance to talk to the designers. They wouldnít talk to me. They werenít interested in my (imploded?) ideas. They wouldnít talk. So I felt somewhat Ė
Hoddeson:So then you went and wrote other letters, to Goldhopper?
Wilson:I wrote, I guess, a letter to Goldhopper(?), and another letter maybe to John — after a while, and Ė-
Hoddeson:— very similar to this McMillian letter. This is before you put together Ė
Wilson:-Ė this is the result, I guess, of what I thought Ė this is essentially what Iíd written in France. Paris.
Hoddeson:The proton synchrotron.
Wilson:Yes, this is the cleaned up version of what Iíd written there. OK. Then I was involved. I think there was a lot more going on at this time. But eventually it got to be sort of a shoot-out at some hotel in New York. There must be a record or reference to that — where a number of people came in, and publicly put forward the idea. Devon (was a critic?) Was on it too. That all came together at a meeting at the Biltmore. I think it was the Biltmore.
Hoddeson:I see. You make a reference to that some place, but I havenít found anything else.
Wilson:Well, I have another book of correspondence I can show you, that probably has all that correspondence in one place. Iíll look for it.