Oral History Transcript — Dr. Robert R. Wilson
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Robert Wilson; May 10, 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:Before we go back to — Repercussions and the Biltmore Hotel, in January 1966, I thought we might discuss, out of context, some other events. First, your magnificence — magnificent tower sculpture that has miraculously grown out of the — Yesterday — secondly, your notebook entry of September 1948, that looks like an early precursor of the colliding beam idea Ė and third, a letter I just came across about ten minutes ago, before — I donít know how significant this is, to Morrie — on the Brookhaven design. Iíd like to discuss it.
Wilson:Yes. Letís see, this is May of 1964, isnít it.
Hoddeson:Yes. — wasnít until September.
Hoddeson:Iím sorry, itís a whole year earlier.
I think itís relevant nevertheless, because this does have to do with proton machines, and probably, it does have something to do with — though I didnít indicate in any way — with my interest in proton machines, that developed at —. And I recall, I was a member of the physics visiting committee at Brookhaven, and they went over their various programs, and one of their programs was a discussion of the AGF improvement program. The committee generally, I cannot think, were terribly impressed by that improvement program, but eventually recommended it and I joined with them in the recommendation. I didnít dissent. On the other hand, I didnít think it was a good idea. But I also felt that it wasnít helpful, when theyíre trying to raise money, when I hadnít thought deeply about the matter myself and had only been there a day or two — although it seemed to me like not a good idea, it didnít seem that it would be helpful or responsible to say ďNo, this is not a good idea,Ē because it may have killed their ability to get money for that and that was irresponsible.
On the other hand, as an intellectual thing, it seemed quite appropriate for me to write my ideas to Goldhopper. And so thatís what this letter was about. I had, since the time I was there, at least thought about it, and I concluded that there might be alternatives, and thatís what I put here — instead of doing what seemed to me something that was going to come to not very much, — in fact, I think thatís the way it turned out with great expense, and tremendous interruption of an earlier and lively program at Brookhaven, and I think —, still do, that Brookhaven is one of the great laboratories — it seemed to me that with the same kind of money, they could get more intensity or as much intensity, and that they would be able to raise the — and Iíd give them ways of going to high intensity without spending money, and at the same time, to get a new ring, and I said — the energy was — yes, 50 to 100 GEV — which was then a very modest thing to do, and would have extended their energy range considerably, and would be good physics. (crosstalk) Well, the thing is that then Mr. Sent back a very sharp reply. He brought it up with his experts. Of course those experts always regarded me as some wild man, and that — certainly I didnít think much of the experts, either. But they looked at my suggestion, and I guess they figured, you canít just buy a 250 MEV injector. I probably — they were right there — on the other hand, my generalizing that, what the appropriate energy was — These are quantitative things, and my guess is that they were just wrong, but probably were partly right, thatís the way of these things —
Hoddeson:...certainly would like 100 GEV...
Wilson:Yes, but they think it would cost an awful lot of money, and so, they know how to build accelerators and I donít, was their general impression. I think that this is — I then wrote back a nice letter to him, which I didnít send — department of letters that might have been sent but were not. I write this very formally, answering each one of their points, I believe. But at the end, I say, ďFor the kind of money, Cornell has the competence and ability to constructĒ etc., etc. ďfrom scratch. I am loath to offer the services of the design construction group at — Cornell when you already have such a competent group at Brookhaven, but if they need help in understanding how to do this job, — Iíd be happy to contract for a detailed study that would enable them to proceed to the engineering phase of adapting the AGS to do the new magnets.Ē Very helpful. (laughter) Hereís your —. Thatís just irresponsible. Instead, I think I sent the — a very polite formal reply.
Hoddeson:ďI will bow to your experts, which are indeed the best in the world.Ē
Wilson:Thatís probably even correct. They were the best experts in the world. Itís just that the world experts werenít go great, in my opinion, at that time. In any case they said ďDrop dead.Ē
Hoddeson:And that was the end of it.
Wilson:And that was the end of it. But that was, I think, a general sort of characteristic of my relationship with the large laboratories and the so called accelerator experts at that time, from — on.
Hoddeson:Do you want to comment briefly on this?
Wilson:Yes, Iím a little surprised, letís see — I mean, I knew Iíd had that idea, and Iíd —
Hoddeson:The entry is later.
Wilson:Well, it says, ďIdea conceived at Birmingham meeting, September 1948, ďso presumably I wrote it after returning there from that, and when I was considering doing electrons, my SE plus pair production, so Iím thinking itís clearly related to that, and —
Hoddeson:— itís on page 106 of the 1948 notebook, the notebook that covers 1948.
Wilson:I see. Now, the date then would have been the Birmingham meeting. Well, thatís September, 1948, and I went there and I talked briefly about this idea to various people, and I remember that, and also about my cosmic ray theory — which I think is in there. Thereís some allusion, Teller gave a talk where he alluded to my ideas, about that. But I donít really think thereís any reference in the official proceedings of the Birmingham meeting. I do remember having this idea, and thinking it was a great idea, and I thought — it doesnít say here, but I did think it through to the point where I thought about how to put a detector at the center — at the center of the small synchrotron, there is a hole, and that was a rather quiet place, because all the radiation goes out, and the only way that you could get radiation would be, through a hard collision, two bodies in the center, mass system, then particles, for example pairs, electron, E- , E+ ... Could have come in, if they were, — say, scattering process, could have come into the center, and so one could put a detector inside, and influence them, so that — detector outside or just a detector inside — if you picked up a signal, that would be, you were getting these. I also calculated that, the kind of beam intensities you could get, and I guess it even says, you know, get around 10 to the minus 3 reactions per second, which is (isnít?) Very low, on the other hand, there are 10 to the 5th seconds per day so it would be 100 events a day, so itís not, itís on the edge.
Hoddeson:Did you discuss it with them?
Wilson:Yes, I think I discussed it with the people there, because we had something left over — at Birmingham, I must have discussed it with people there. Iíve forgotten, with whom, now. And — Iím sure I would have discussed it with Mark for example. He liked new ideas. I remember being very boastful about this 400 BEV. I may have even discussed this at one of their meetings. I remember, using this 400 BEV, the equivalent of 400 BEV, if that were — and making that as kind of a dramatic business. At the time that seemed like a tremendous energy. Interesting, 400 —
Hoddeson:— Ď48, that was — very strong focusing.
Wilson:Yes. Anyway, we did have some money. We had a big motor generator on the synchrotron, and using the motor generator, not for AC excitation of the magnet, had never been done before, and there was some idea that that might not work, so we kept 50,000 dollars, I think it was that much money, which was to make a switch — a mechanical switch — and at just this time, I remember thinking: well, thereís that money for the switch, that weíll never use. Why donít I buy a betatron? I could use that to produce the positrons to feed this machine. I seriously considered spending the money for it. Iíve forgotten now, why I never took it seriously and never did it. I took it pretty seriously at the time. As an idea.
Hoddeson:Is there anything else, on that notebook, before going on?
Wilson:I havenít looked at it, for — I had a —? theory. Oh, this was one of the first applications of the Monte Carlo method.
Hoddeson:There are lots of files on that downstairs. I didnít pull them out —
Wilson:I think this was — the Monte Carlo method had been developed at Los Alamos, I believe, by — von Neumann and — and earlier by somebody else. I donít know quite what that history is. I think I was the first to apply it to a high energy physics problem. Iím sure of that. And the first to apply it to a nonclassified, to something besides a bomb or military application, after the war. I didnít originate it. But I originated this particular way of doing it. I had a wheel that you would spin, wheel of chance, and I remember once, I was spinning this wheel — I made it with an Erector Set —
Hoddeson:This is where, at Los Alamos?
Wilson:No, this was just after we got back to Cornell. Iíd taken an oatmeal box, something about so long, and mounted it on an axis with a pulley — do you know what an Erector Set is? Do they still make those?
Hoddeson:Yes. Well, they did when I was young.
Wilson:Anyway, then you push a button and turn on a motor, and this would spin, and Iíd release the button and it would come to a stop some place, presumably randomly, and then there was a — across here, and you could read whether a shower, I mean whether a pair were produced, if it were a gamma ray, and what the energy of the electrons were, read all that off, the analogue thing. — suggested that it wouldnít stop randomly. I said, ďOf course itís going to drop randomly,Ē and we got in a big argument. So he sat there — he said, ďDo you mind if I just sit here for a while?Ē I was working. It must have been 2 or 3 oíclock in the morning. I was working the thing, not terribly serious about it, to plot the shower development, keep track that way, and he was just sitting there and making notes. What he was doing was watching where the register would come, and he decided that the wheel was loaded, that it wasnít a well balanced wheel, that it had a bias in it — which of course then would vitiate my results somewhat. I guess I thought it had them because I kept track of the first of the (distance?) — when an even happened and plotted those and I got an exponential decay, and I assumed therefore I had tested it. Well, he suggested that we gamble. So we spent the rest of the night, I think until 4 or 5 oíclock, gambling money. As I was doing this weíd gamble, it was going to be even or odd, going to be 5 or 6 — and (Hyman?) Was very inventive. We had some gambling game, and itís true, he won, he won a substantial amount of money from me, you know, like $10 or maybe $20. It seemed to me at the time it was just an awful lot of money. So of course he then triumphantly, waving the money, said, ďThe whole thing is no good.Ē I then make an analysis of his statistics, and decided heíd just been plain lucky, the wheel wasnít — well, it was a very crude thing, but it was quite a dramatic thing, — gambling money.
Hoddeson:Before we got back to the Biltmore Hotel, do you want to say just a word or two about the sculpture? Does that have anything to do with the story here? The sculpture is so amazing, outside.
Hoddeson:The tower, the new one.
Wilson:Oh, the new one. Well, every time Iíve resigned, Iíve — The native sculpture, so you can — thatís all I have to do. You know, if youíre going to leave, it seems to me you have to leave a kind of a signature, and —
Hoddeson:And thatís it?
Wilson:Well, itís more complicated, in fact. What it is is I have been asked by the Oppenheimer Memorial Committee at Los Alamos to look at Los Alamos and perhaps suggest, I think they in some way commissioned me to do something. And last summer I did go, and in the park, I found a nice little grove that I thought would make a nice memorial for Oppenheimer. Then I was going to put in a circle a bunch of Druid-like stones out of (toof?) To define a kind of a large ellipse, maybe 150 feet by 75 feet, and it would go into the trees, but make a formal area out of what was a grove Ponderosa pine, I think those are — you can look up at the mountain. Then in the center of this thing, I made a — I was going to have a sculpture. And whether I made it or somebody else, I thought ought to be up to the committee, but they asked me essentially to do that, and what I had in mind was a sculpture in which there was a rock base, rather crude rock base, and then coming out of that, a very disciplined object that, I had in mind stainless steel, such as that, which would have a mathematical form, and on thinking of it, then I came to the idea of having two hyperbola coming together, and of this thing being, oh, perhaps 15 feet high or something, much smaller than that, which is 28, or 30 feet high.
Hoddeson:Itís actually four, isnít it?
Three. Thatís a cross section of a triangle, three of them, and the object that I had designed, principally for Los Alamos but before that, was a thing which was two hyperbola, I mean, there was a space, a sheet of stainless steel, and this was to be something like thicker material but this was to be maybe three-eighths or a half inch thick, good and husky, and perhaps 15 feet high or so. Then, I was going to bend them, having sawed them out somehow to that shape, and then bend them so that from the side, this would look like this, and another one like so, and then connect it with all kinds of — maybe —(Feynmann —?) — in fact thereís a drawing of this on my blackboard, with rods, connecting it and looking very complicated, but holding this thing so itís in the shape of a — this is also a hyperbola — so when you came into the grove, youíd see this nice bright shiny stainless steel, very simple, but as you went around it, you would see then on the other side, youíd see from the side as extremely complicated business, and that I thought would be sort of characteristic in some sense of Oppenheimer — one the very simple scientific person, on the other hand, an extremely — for the inner working — I mean, looking into his mind you would see an extremely complicated business. Very — that was a kind of a poor idea. But thinking about it, then I came to the idea — this happened just about the time, when I got back, I decided to resign — the idea of having this very simple, just, without these connections, as a kind of an obelisk. I got carried away with the notion, and I bought, first a plate of steel, stainless steel 20 feet long, like that, and then I was going to cut, saw this up and make something like this, and — I decided that was too small.
Then I bought some more sheets, 4 X 4 to make the ends, and then to make triangles of it, by cutting off, that would come in, so we make up a lot of triangles. Then I thought of, well, that will be my good-bye present to the lab, and so I went to the shop, and I got their estimate for making the thing for me, and they wanted $20,000 for the welding! So I said, ďThatís ridiculous. Too expensive.Ē So I went over and said ďOh hell, Iíll do the welding.Ē They said, ďYou canít weld here.Ē I said, ďwhy canít I? Iím the director, I can do anything I please.Ē They said, ďYou can do anything you please, but weíll walk out. This is a union shop and youíre not a union welder.Ē So I said, ďFine, well, couldnít something be done?Ē They said, ďYes. Why donít you become an apprentice — join the union — then you can.Ē I said, ďFine, Iíll become an apprentice.Ē So I became an apprentice to Jim Forester, a master welder. Iíd like to say that learning welding from his is like learning physics from Fermi. So he taught me all kinds of welding — pig welding, heavy welding, with gravy, welding stainless steel which is what I was interested in. Heíd hold my hand and tell me how to do it. Eventually then — these are made up of plates, and if you see, Iím worried that those may rust, the welds, and then youíll see the plates, which you shouldnít see, or the welds. You shouldnít see those welds. So then I welded all of that and eventually put the whole thing together, and thatís what you see.
Hoddeson:Itís gorgeous. I havenít gone up very close to it.
Wilson:Something that should look, you know, very simple and — by being large — itís not big enough, is the problem. Well, anyway, thatís what you asked ...
Hoddeson:(crosstalk) ... and itís part of the story, in a sense. OK, letís go back now to ... Hereís the letter to McMillian that you wrote, and you attacked an article, report, —
Wilson:— yes, this is the one I prepared in Paris, I think, the rough notes.
Wilson:In Paris I worked out a series of machines.
Hoddeson:I remember. Actually, before we get into this — I came across a file of some of your old calendars.
Wilson:I see. Fine.
Hoddeson:You seem to have gone to Italy on September 8th and came home on the 19thÖ You were in Paris —
Wilson:— left Rome for Paris. I was at the Hotel — wonderful hotel in Paris. Itís a crummy, a very crummy romantic place that an artist friend of mine recommended. Thereís no bathrooms in it, I mean no private bathrooms. But itís a hotel, and as I remember, I think it was something like $3 a night. (The spelling isnít right, thereís 2 nís and an e) — Balconies on each room — had a sort of a New Orleans — like grill balcony, iron grill on it. Just a very lovely room and very nice people who ran it. A lovely place, you seldom find any more, left over of some kind, great place.
Hoddeson:OK, now, so weíve got that —
Wilson:I got back here. After I was there —
Hoddeson:(Crosstalk) ... yeah, for that week, and sketching
Wilson:— and thatís when I did all of this, thatís when I was —
Hoddeson:— then you wrote this up promptly when you got back.
Wilson:This is the 15th then? Yeah, September 22 Ė
Hoddeson:— it probably took that long to get it typed —
Wilson:— yeah, and just to get back and do whatever it was that I was doing. So that was, immediately — My recollection was that I had written this out roughly, in Paris, worked it up, so that I didnít have to do anything more when I got back except have it typed. I presume I did certain things. Incidentally, there is something that I remembered after the last time. I see a note here, ďI learned at — that workers at CERN were considering a similar design for the —Ē And somebody from CERN approached me at that meeting and I donít know who it was. I remember rather a tall fellow, a man larger than I, and he was scandalized at the European plans to build a 300 GEV proton synchrotron. He thought that was all wrong, and that what they should do — it wasnít Adams — what they should do was use the Proton, the PS at CERN as an injector into the big ring there, and — then John Adams had this idea subsequently, maybe five years later. But somebody at CERN had that idea earlier. I donít know who that man was. I didnít recognize him. He knew who I was — well enough so that I couldnít ask him what his name was. And — And that was part of the reason why I began to go through some of these calculations using the Brookhaven machine. I mean, he had sort of injected that idea into me. Iím not sure, but — I remember that conversation. I see hereís a note to that effect.
Hoddeson:Generally in here youíve criticized the 2 volume Blue Book as being too conservative, without regard for economic factors, without enough regard, and lacking in imagination.
Hoddeson:And you feel that the whole future of high energy physics is in jeopardy, competition for funds with other sciences, and so on, and that the cost of the 200 GEV could put the 1000 GEV possibly in jeopardy.
Hoddeson:And lead to political factors, and so on. Now, is this the first time that fear of political overtones and cuts began to enter your — is this the period when all of that begins?
Wilson:I donít remember. But I suppose so. Thatís why there was a Ramsey committee, and it recommended this, began to make some kind of rational allotment of funds.
Hoddeson:I see. It seems to me, at the time of the Ramsey committee, this is earlier, everything was recommended, more or less, in order.
Wilson:Yes. But I think the fact that they were meeting and making recommendations may have had to do with the notion of making some choices. I donít know the answer to your question.
Hoddeson:OK. Weíll go on. You also — ďyour right to tape or cite if you donít hear from him in — days.Ē
Wilson:Ė sounds like a threat, doesnít it?
Hoddeson:It does. But he does answer on October 1st, and I guess we have that somewhere. — mmm — here it is — OK, just a very brief answer.
Wilson:ďReceived your comments. You may of course send it to anyone you wish.Ē
Hoddeson:Then you agreed to go to Berkeley.
Wilson:But then he called me up, I gather.
Hoddeson:He called you. Yes.
Wilson:On Monday. I must have gotten that on the 3rd, he must have called me either that night or the next day. He then asked me to come out, I remember that.
Hoddeson:Right. Then you go out. I understand, you didnít — was that the meeting where you said most people went away?
Wilson:Yes, I remember them as — I felt they were very rude, having — you know, come all the way across the country to talk to them at their request — then it was clear that they hadnít expected me to come, or they were particularly uptight. They were just very rude. They all went off to some meeting, which it seemed to me that they didnít have to do. You know, I think itís very foolish of them. I came out — I mean, what I was trying to do was helpful. Whether they — I thought these ideas would be helpful, and that they ought to include some of the ideas that I had in their design. It never occurred to that anything else should happen. But I thought — yeah — I should say, Iím beginning to remember, one thing was that Rabi had been, a year earlier perhaps, had been a severe critic of this. He didnít want the money — I think it (crosstalk) — and he set up a committee. He attacked it, he felt —
Hoddeson:Rabi attacked it a year earlier?
Wilson:Yes, one or two years, it must have been only a year or half a year earlier, and there must be some correspondence I have because he — yes, Iím beginning to remember that — at any rate, I hadnít heard him personally, but there was gossip that he had been attacking it. And one of the things, — He set up a committee, and it may have been the Leon Ledderman(?) Committee, called that — Leon may have been the chairman, I think he was. They had a meeting in New York City, that I went to, and I remember that Bob came in, telling us what Rabi was telling us what we should do, how we should proceed to demolish the Berkeley scheme essentially. I remember, I responded to this with great anger, and some eloquence, to the fact that Berkeley was the original laboratory and theyíd had the ideas and it would be a terrible thing if they didnít build this, and all weíd do is get into an awful mess, and we should put all our backing directly behind Berkeley, and it was irresponsible of Rabi and the people to be talking about any such thing as not — They had made a design and they should build that machine, and what we should do was help them. Then later on, this was my way perhaps of helping, but they of course took it as a real threat.
Hoddeson:There is a letter here, but itís too late. From Leon on the — itís about the same time —
Wilson:— this has to do — no, Leon had something to do with — all of this —
Hoddeson:— New York state Ė
Wilson:— oh, I know what that is.
Hoddeson:This came just at the same time as all the controversy about (crosstalk) Devonís and your ĖĖ
Wilson:— oh yes, thatís — yes — (crosstalk) — this had to do, no doubt —
Hoddeson:(Crosstalk) — yes, this is December 17, letter from Ledderman to Wilson.
Wilson:Yes, Iíd completely forgotten about this.
Hoddeson:I donít know whether it had any impact.
Wilson:Iíd have to read that now. Thatís pretty late. Iíd completely lost that.
Hoddeson:Thereís no other correspondence to do with it.
Wilson:— did this have something to do with a (?fight)? Itís too late even for a (?fight) suggestion, isnít it, the (?fights) had been
Hoddeson:— it looks to me like a laboratory —
Wilson:— a new laboratory — thank God he didnít take the idea seriously — no, he —
Hoddeson:— I assumed this was elsewhere. Anyhow, I guess this has nothing to do with...
Wilson:— no, Iíd completely forgotten. But this other committee — (crosstalk) I think whatís called the Ledderman Committee —
Hoddeson:Iíll have to ask Ledderman about it —
Wilson:He would know about it. I remember having a feeling that Iíd turned the group around, that I was really, you know, battling this substantial man, Mr. Rabi, who wasnít there, but was sort of there in the form of a ... the... I guess... at Columbia.
Wilson:No, Thurberg?, whoíd come and told us what we were supposed to do, which was essentially: stop Berkeley. Anyway, itís ironic that I had become so eloquent and put everything on the line to support them. I thought of myself as, you know, a great friend of theirs. And they regarded me as nobody. Well, I guess that they could say was an unfriendly thing.
Hoddeson:I wonder, itís so important, this particular document, if we could go through some of the points in it. First of all, on page 2 you discuss the size of the beam — small aperture, small magnets —
Wilson:What I did was, my whole philosophy was to take the Cornell machine, which was really a very small machine with a very small aperture, which I was convinced would work, and then to scale it up, to the size of the — thatís what I was doing. And since I knew what the costs were, since we had by then, either we had probably let the contracts or I knew that the costs would br, so I probably did know a lot more about designing machines, since Iíd designed that whole thing largely by myself, and done most of the business deals — I probably was something of a, Iíd most modestly say an expert, yes — whereas the other people hadnít built a machine for years and years, and they were designing for example the machine at Berkeley, by — Accelerator. They made a great thing — sorry, building the accelerator by computer — and what that meant was that there were lots of people without much judgment whoíd program the computer, and then you would get out whatever it was that they put in. They would optimize, there was such a — They would optimize some design, but you wouldnít know what you were optimizing and what you were putting in and what you were getting out, and so the computer was coming up with what I regarded as a kind of monstrosity, and there was no way to tell it that it was, that you really needed one person to go over it and just put the judgment in. That was how I proceeded. And I had the confidence, since Iíd just done that for what was a large machine compared to — you know, the Cornell machine was bigger than the Bevatron, 6 and this was 10, and the cost was many times smaller.
Hoddeson:And I understand it was working.
Wilson:And it even worked. Yeah. But it wasnít working at this stage. It was still under construction.
Hoddeson:So letís see, this is matching the size of the beam to the size of the magnet, and no fancy cranes, uncomfortable tunnels and so on —
Wilson:— yeah, about half the size that they were talking about. And I say, keep everything simple and understandable.
Hoddeson:So that a relatively untrained person can operate it. Temporary structures and so on. Then you go into a detailed example, page 5 and 6 which is a scaling of the Cornell machine.
Hoddeson:Andy you talk about a C magnet construction. Now, is that something we should go into — I understand you didnít use that.
Wilson:No, I say here that you should use an H magnet. By implication thatís the Cornell style. I say that I donít believe that the — I think, itís small aperture and it wouldnít make any difference if you used a C magnet, it wouldnít be any different. Itís the small aperture, not the specific design that is important. I believe a C magnet construction with a separate doughnut would cost about the same. That means the same as at Cornell, which didnít have a doughnut at all. It used the magnet itself, with a skin on the outside, and thatís the way our booster is built here. Without a doughnut.
Wilson:But I say, I donít think itís that, I think itís the large aperture. In fact, when it came down to it, I think that the C magnet would have cost more. I was wrong on that. But I wouldnít have known it at this time. When we came here, we did develop an H shaped magnet, and the reason we were able to — with those magnets we built here, that got up to the very high energies, 500 GEV, — because the Berkeley design I think was for 15 — Iíll look in the book there — 15 kilogauss — and then, the saturation was setting in. Whereas the magnets at Fermilab go up to 22-l/2 kilogauss, and that, I donít think any machine had ever been built for such a field. Thatís because those are H magnets with, you know, a flat field, as opposed to — I mean, it has — separate function.
Hoddeson:Yes. Is it worth looking at?
Wilson:I think it will come up laterÖ
Wilson:What they were doing was just building a machine that had been built before. That was sort of a copy of the Brookhaven machine. This was another thing I hated — the idea of having a notebook and then a book of — that you couldnít find anything in — you have to have two volumes — and I also hated these things. Youíll notice that our book, when we finally came down to it, was a tiny little one. Our design report was a tiny little book. I think that was — There it is — and —
Hoddeson:This is Volume II, V 6 —
Wilson:But if you were to draw our magnet, it would be something like that. In comparison to this thing. This is the thing I would criticize about this design — all the nuts and bolts, built to be taken apart, and if something can be taken apart, some guy will take it apart. And it costs you a lot of time and effort. But hereís the point — now, a good magnet should look usually —
Hoddeson:— V 9 —
Wilson:— in the gradient, over the aperture, should be Compton? — up here — and see, a 10 kilogauss magnet does saturate. And by 15 kilogauss, itís seriously saturated, by 10 percent — thatís a fantastic amount. So this magnet is not adequate for the job at 15 kilogauss, and thatís over a distance of 10, only 10 centimeters. I think if you look at the Fermilab design, you would find that ours goes up — well, it goes all the way up. Itís a very sophisticated design, where you get a, you have a pole tip like this, head of a — construction this is one way that might be — then, the magnet around, out here — you get a field that goes down in the center, because of the magnetic drop in the iron, and I plotted the field. It would go down, sag, then come up, because of the extra iron in here. So when saturation sets in, thatís the effect you get. Actually, we built the iron because this would have been, made a big magnet again, built the — you come in and then it does have pole tips like this, kind of a combination of a regular — this is more like an H magnet. This we call the window frame magnet. And now then, because of this edge, you get a few — of magnetic field and you always know the magnetic field falls off, so thereís an effect of —, this edge, of coming up, plotting it, — 100 percent, we come up like that. Well, now, the effect, if you had these two effects together, you got a field that, as you go toward saturation, that these two effects compensate. So you can go way up in field. Ours will go up to 22-1/1 as opposed to something like 15 kilogauss, and thatís a tremendous different in the magnet — and cost. The magnet was much smaller, equally as big as aperture, and at a very small fraction of the cost. That was the main difference.
Hoddeson:I see. Thatís not described in any of the early literature.
Wilson:No. That came out of actually being on the spot.
Hoddeson:I see. Then weíll get to that later.
Hoddeson:All right, then thereís some cost figures —
Wilson:— they were just scaling up the —
Hoddeson:— the total comes to less than 100 million.
Hoddeson:In this particular report. Later you go up a little bit more, in your next report. Breaking it down, you have the various components of cost.
Hoddeson:Different elements, and the total less than 100 million.
Wilson:I have a number of possibilities — yes, here they are — the cost — there is the Cornell machine... (off tape
Hoddeson:...September 22nd reportÖ
Wilson:Oh yes. Here Iím just talking about the costs of the accelerator. The Cornell machine at 5, that was the part that went just for the accelerator, not for the experimental stuff or buildings, and I guessed 100 GEV would cost 14 million dollars, and a 200 GEV machine for 28 million dollars — oh, and then if you used an injector, that would make this come up to about 50 then.
Wilson:I suspect these figures in red are the design report. So the whole thing — they have 120 million dollars for the costs, that would be comparable to these.
Hoddeson:The 30 goes with 20, so youíre 2/3 of —
Wilson:2/3 of that for the injector — the total cost, here it would be 48 — I think, compare that with 120 — so thatís half —
Hoddeson:— way down, yes. Well, now, —
Wilson:I suspect our figures were right.
Hoddeson:Well, they change a little bit on your next report.
Wilson:I mean, I was one person doing all of this. And the thing was, what should you include? In some measure the rest of it had to do with what youíd do about the experimental areas. This was only the machine and not including the experimental areas. And I didnít want to talk about the experimental areas because I didnít think I knew very much about it. And again, I wasnít trying to build a machine someplace else. I was trying to get them to incorporate some of my ideas when they built the machine. But I can see now, that was a little naive.
Hoddeson:This is the letter to Gerald (?Case/Tate), which we can talk about now.
Wilson:Ok. Anyway, I felt offended when I was out there, that they clearly, it seemed to me, seemed to be very obstinate. And I thought they were. I thought they were spending too little money and getting too little for it, and that was just a scandal — all they were doing was building in expensive and poor ways of building something, that should have been built cleverly and at less cost.
Hoddeson:You wrote this letter to — Tate, which actually, an earlier version of it, this is the revised, slightly revised version, perhaps we should — itís the same letter —
Wilson:Oh, I didnít send it.
Hoddeson:You didnít send the first version. October 4th. But essentially itís very similar to the letter to McMillan. Was he the natural person to send it to?
Wilson:Oh yes. I make a suggestion here that what they should do is have a little competition between Berkeley and Brookhaven. And that if there were a competition, then that would bring out the —
Hoddeson:You send a similar letter to Goldhopper, you say ďIt would seem to me worthwhile if we could establish a little closer collaboration with you on these matters,Ē and he invites you to come and speak with them.
Wilson:Oh yes. Iíd forgotten that.
Hoddeson:I see no evidence from the correspondence that you did, at that time.
Wilson:I think I did. I went down in Ď50? (or) on 5th St.? I think — but Iím not sure of that. Iíd forgotten about the letter.
Hoddeson:You also write to Sykes — ? — On November 22, that I guess — itís here somewhere — and he sent back a quick reply, which —
Wilson:— what is bad about it is, —?
Hoddeson:He sends a curt reply to you. However, he writes a not so — curt letter to —, if I can find it, RAÖ
Wilson:— these arenít in order —
Hoddeson:Ė Well, I wasnít sure — ... Hereís a letter from Sykes to Ramsey.
Wilson:Oh yes, I remember this, this came much later.
Hoddeson:An interesting letter. Well, itís not much later.
Wilson:It isnít? Well, things must have been moving very rapidly. Anyway he refers to my ďPsychosisĒ some place.
Wilson:My ďneurosis,Ē yes.
Hoddeson:Then he says that ďBob Wilson will presumably learn to appreciate the constraints one works under these days quite clearly even if he doesnít like them.Ē He says that he believes this will be the last machine.
Hoddeson:That goes to Ramsey — gets Ramsey a little bit upset —
Wilson:— Ramsey writes back —
Hoddeson:— yes, Ramsey writes back, yes, says,
Wilson:I think this is a later period after the URA had been formed. This is December.
Hoddeson:Yes, the URA was formed in June, so theyíre already in correspondence. Thereís a lot of controversy about all this. And then thereís the complication having to do with Devonís proposal.
Hoddeson:Which I wonder if you can comment on that.
Wilson:(crosstalk) well quite, I independently —
Hoddeson:(crosstalk) — hereís
Wilson:— thereís that letter, open that — (crosstalk)
Hoddeson:— this is the proposal. He sent a copy of it to you with a letter.
Wilson:Yes, with a letter —
Hoddeson:— thatís the letter, in here.
Wilson:Well, the reason of course that the Berkeley people were hostile is that the — and I hadnít realized that — was that Sykes had formed a committee, the — I guess at the National Academy, and also was making moves to set up the URA, and that, in doing both of those things, that was challenging Berkeley. I think there was a general sentiment that, why put all this money in one laboratory? Why not build a laboratory, you know, a separate national laboratory that could be used by everybody? So they were going to have the fight put forward by all of the states, and that was a terrible thing to happen in Berkeley, and they felt that it was an attempt by the Eastern physicists to take the machine away from them. Probably it was. Particularly in the manner that Rabi had —
Hoddeson:— You mean, Rabi was behind this? Stebbins?
Wilson:I donít know. I wasnít talking to Rabi. Just hadnít been seeing him in that period, and only knew — I may be wrong. It just comes out vaguely, that seem s to be what was in the air. And I didnít know about it at the time, either, furthermore. I mean, Iíd known about the earlier attempt, maybe what Sykes was doing. Sykes and Rabi certainly were very close to one another. They were what you would call ďthe establishmentĒ at the time, so they may have been in some contact there. They would have been doing it for what considered good and proper reasons. In any case, they were doing these things, and that made the people at Berkeley just furious. They didnít want to have the site up for grabs. They wanted the site to be in California. They designed it. They wanted to build it at the Radiation Laboratory and that was all there was to it, and they wanted to decide who was going to use it, and it would just be a continuation or the Radiation Laboratory. Thatís an oversimplification, but — So when I appeared, from the East, I think they just assumed — you have to remember, this was also done in a context of an earlier struggle about their, oh, Teller had started the Livermore site — during the Korean War, Lee Albers? Had the idea of building a big LINAC which was to make plutonium I believe directly, and all the physicists — I know they wanted me to come and work on that. I refused to do so. That was at a time when there were strong feelings, about their oath, and it was a kind of a bastion — then there were the Oppenheimer hearings, which were all part of this same thing — which had been — where the people from Berkeley had sort of initiated, not initiated, but they certainly supported — I mean, Teller himself and Lawrence and other people had supported that movement to have — well, to build an H bomb. And somehow there was struggle against Oppenheimer. And I was always identified with Oppenheimer and with Bethe and essentially with a group — ďa bunch of Peaceniks,Ē if you will, as opposed to the more hard-nosed people from Berkeley. I think there was something of that in the background of all this.
Hoddeson:So there was a really big split.
Wilson:There was. Now itís not East West. And it was only an element, and Iím not sure how strong it was. It may not have been strong at all. But it just occurred to me — I havenít been around the Radiation Laboratory very much in the past years, and in part, I think it was because Iíd had a number of struggles with Edward Teller, and that I was — Iíd been strong in the Federation at an earlier time. I had opposed Strauss. I was a member of the ď(oust?) Lose Strauss CommitteeĒ and that outraged the people at Berkeley, that I would have opposed Strauss, when he was made — what, Secretary of Interior? A small group of us probably did sabotage that. And that kind of thing made me appear to them, I think, not only as a wild person in the machine accelerator, but just wild, period, and a little disreputable. Perhaps from their point of view, hateful. Iím not sure. On the other hand, we were good friends. You have to remember, I was an old Berkeley boy. I thought of myself as someone who had been defending their project for them. Very complicated. Iím not getting it over — the other elements of what was going on — I suspect. You know, itís a complicated mixture. But as I say, I didnít know that was going on, and in some measure — I mean, this attempt to fight to — it wasnít an attempt — to set up the URA and have a general site selection, perhaps were echoes of that problem.
Hoddeson:You were on the initial board of trustees.
Wilson:When it had been set up, then I was one of the first trustees. Yes. When was that set up? I wasnít a trustee in the beginning, I know. At the time weíre talking about, I surely was not a trustee.
Hoddeson:I think you were, now. It was set up in June 1965. And I believe youíre on the list.
Hoddeson:(Crosstalk) ... youíre there —
Wilson:OK, then Iím corrected. Now, when I went out to Berkeley, when was that? I have a feeling, I was not on the —
Hoddeson:Letís see, you went out to Berkeley — didnít we say, in September — just before — excuse me, October 17-19, 1965. So you were probably still —
Wilson:I was on the URA board —
Hoddeson:You were on it in June 1965.
Wilson:Iím confused, then. Here Iím writing a letter to Tate in October 1965. Iím a member of the trustees.
Hoddeson:Unless you dropped out before then.
Wilson:No, I didnít drop out as a trustee. I was a member. I was a very active member. Oh, then I had some reason to be involved. I mean, if I were a trustee of the URA. Whose business it is to build this machine. When I went to Italy — I couldnít possibly have been a member then. When did we say that was?
Hoddeson:— this is — wait a minute, December 7, 1966, youíre on it then.
Wilson:Yes. December is the date that I would have thought of.
Hoddeson:Now, itís possible that you joined later.
Wilson:URA was maybe set up sooner, but I —
Hoddeson:Iíll have to look that up.
Wilson:I donít believe that I was on the URA at the time that weíve been talking about.
Hoddeson:Iíll have to look that up. You may be right. It just says here that it was —
Wilson:— because then I would have had every reason to be concerned with it. And I donít think Iíd ever thought of myself as a member of the URA as the reason why I was doing what I was doing. On the other hand, things moved — then there was the — I think that Leon had something to do with my — with arranging this meeting, short of a shoot-out at the Waldorf or wherever it was.
Wilson:At the Biltmore. And about this time, I got a letter — you were just bringing that up — I did get a letter from Devlin, and —
Hoddeson:— Devlinís letter is here, and the proposal itself —
Wilson:— I went — back there — yes — so they say, Rabi —
Hoddeson:— but he wrote it earlier. He wrote it in October. The letter. Yes.
Wilson:— Devons wrote this letter in —? October?
Hoddeson:Devons wrote the letter to you in November, but the report — his report —
Wilson:— Oh, his thing, I didnít know about what he was doing. That was completely separate. Hereís Rabi in the background, and Leon, — made comments? — how they got to them. I donít know. I donít believe I sent them to Rabi nor to Leon. But I might have. And made something of a splash there. And then he says I start from a different point, but more or less he comes to the same conclusion.
Hoddeson:Then thereís a lot of controversy. We donít have time to go through every single letter.
Wilson:Yes, but what happens next, though, was that somehow, I think Leon may have arranged this, that there be an airing of these views, in a formal way, and it was to be at the Biltmore.
Hoddeson:There were two. There was the Brookhaven usersí meeting at the Biltmore —
Wilson:— that was it.
Hoddeson:Just before then, there was also a meeting in Washington. No, just after.
Wilson:Just after. The Biltmore was where — (crosstalk) anyway, this was arranged —
Hoddeson:— the agenda.
Wilson:And it may have been — oh dear — one of my colleagues at Cornell.
Wilson:J. OíRear was doing an experiment at Brookhaven, and I think he knew of — he may have been discussing them there, and either Jay or Leon arranged for this, it might have been Leon, because also on the program were — And Devon, and it was understood that we were to make a criticism of the Berkeley plan, and the Berkeley people were to be there to defend themselves. It was very dramatic. Everybody came. It was sort of an advertised rumpus, in a sense.
Hoddeson:Was it a large meeting?
Wilson:Oh, yeah, it was the usersí committee but that had nothing to do with it.
Hoddeson:It was much larger?
Wilson:It was much larger. Everybody was there. I mean, Jerry Tate came, I remember — 50 to 100 people, I expect, and — but everybody who was interested was there. They understood, they were hearing the argument, and it was a kind of a responsible informal way of running a government — where there was to be a real thrashing out of ideas. I thought that was fine. So I made my — first Devons made his presentation. His ideas were quite different from mine. He had to do with the experimental areas. I was mostly talking about the accelerator only.
Hoddeson:And yet you two were put together on the same side.
We were both linked together then, although we had not been in communication. That letter you see is two weeks after, he had written, and itís probably just before this other meeting is my guess, but I got his letter. So I didnít know what he was doing. I think the Berkeley people did, and they linked me with him and with Rabi. He talks about Rabi immediately. And so, the meeting happened. It was very dramatic. I recognized that, so I make my pitch, and I remember, it went over just — flatly. Cold. Nobody was impressed. I think Devons made a much better presentation, but I certainly did not, and the Berkeley people were well armed, came in and made a good response to what both of us had said. And my sense was: well, Iíd had my day in court, and nobody paid any attention, and I think no one wanted to particularly, and they assumed, I think that I was — you know, one person; what would I know compared to a whole laboratory working on this thing for several years. What would I, one individual, know about that — I think that was part of it. Or some guy from Cornell, where they did think very informally.
And that I was just a rank amateur. I think that would be a justifiable way or thinking about it. Anyway, the only people I remember very well that came up to me afterwards, that had even anything to say to me were the Francinis, and they came up and said, well, they thought — they were very sympathetic. What I had said sounded to them as if it were right and itís too bad no oneís paying any attention. I really felt, it was a big putdown — I had really flubbed it. I probably was a little naughty. Thatís my own feeling, that certainly I was off base, my ideas had not been received. Anyway, that was my own view of it. That was the end of it, forget it, Iíd said it and that would be the end of it. There was then a meeting to be held in Washington, within a few days, perhaps. And there had also been a trusteesí meeting. Many of the trustees had been at the place and had heard the discussion.
Hoddeson:A week later.
Wilson:About. I guess — that must have been — the same time or was it a week —?
Hoddeson:— the first meeting, the Brookhaven meeting was on the 15th. This is the 24th.
Wilson:This is January? The 15th of January?
Hoddeson:It says ďscheduled.Ē
Wilson:OK, then, that was it. OK. So then, here was —
Hoddeson:Unless they changed this.
Wilson:No, I donít think so. I have no reason to believe — 15th? Then this is the 24th? More than a week later. Then there was a trusteesí meeting. I donít know when that occurred. I remember, my plane was late, so I couldnít get there for the first part. When I got there it was fairly well along. I made some remarks, about the accelerator again, but a different kind that Iíd made at the other. The experimental area somewhat. There may even be a paper that Iíd written subsequently. I didnít take this all very seriously, because I thought that Iíd had my Ė I mean, my argument had been made earlier.
Hoddeson:Thatís the same document.
Wilson:Oh, hereís my notes. Hereís the report of the board. Thatís the next day. Yes, thatís what I recollected. And here are my notes for my presentation. I canít even read them. These are the points — this is what I was speaking from.
Wilson:ďYou say youíre going to do it and not do it. You say....Ē Oh, Iím taking notes, it says here, ďCool. Factor of 2. Rotor intensity...Ē ďMcDanielĒ — oh, so, these are notes I was taking. Then I guess as they were talking, I wrote down what I was going to say.
Hoddeson:In response to some —?
Wilson:No, that was my presentation. ďFrozen designĒ too expensive and too big for what they wanted to do.Ē The cost implying no one thousand. That was what Iíd said before, that I was concerned that something that should cost a few hundred million dollars, then we should put a big effort into building a thousand. That I did believe. I thought a thousand would be necessary. And that, I thought they had made this so big and expensive, to get a miserable 200 GEV, that we wouldnít be able to build the 1000 GEV, and then, my point was that for the same money you could build 1000 GEV. I think you could have. Well, we built 500. But itís a tremendous experimental area. Had we started to build 1000, we would have.
Hoddeson:What was the response at this meeting?
Wilson:The response then was generally negative I remember, Ken Green wasnít — made quite an impassioned speech to the effect — when I said we could build 1000 GEV — he was worried that you couldnít even build 200, that he didnít know how he himself could responsibly say that we knew how to build a 200 GEV machine at that time, and here I was talking about building 1000, so it was too big an extrapolation. Then the trustees met, and I think thereís an official statement saying, in this thing, that everything was well and we should proceed with the construction of the 200 GEV machine, and I certainly agreed with them. So they had listened to this AIU discussion, I thinkÖ This is an understatement, ďno widespread....Ē — Thatís the understatement of the year.
Wilson:They were patronizing about our interesting design ideas. They were ... found it appropriateÖ They were urging a design group to take some advantage of those good design ideas. I mean, their key point was, there was no strong support, and that certainly was correct.
Hoddeson:Well, anyway, then, were there some Washington people involved here?
Wilson:Yes, there were Washington people. Jerry had come to this meeting. And then, this was a kind of a re-hash on a more official basis in Washington.
Hoddeson:And I gather they responded somewhat differently. They liked the lower cost estimates.
Wilson:The Washington people?
Wilson:No, I think these people were even less sympathetic. Thatís my recollection.
Hoddeson:I see. Then what happened next?
Wilson:Well, the next thing was —
Hoddeson:There are lots of other letters.
Wilson:No, I think that it was generally decided to proceed with the Berkeley design (crosstalk) to proceed on this.
Hoddeson:— but to reduce the design —
Wilson:Yes, and then there was something that had been inflicted by the joint committee, which was to reduce the scope somehow — which they did.
Hoddeson:Then thereís a funny little collaboration, via Frank Cole, between you and the Berkeley people, which seems a bit peculiar —
Wilson:Yes, he — no — yes, thatís right, Iíd forgotten, he came to, that happened —
Hoddeson:— thereís some correspondence —
Wilson:When was that?
Hoddeson:In the spring, he came and —
Wilson:Oh, in the spring 1966 (crosstalk)
Hoddeson:He was on your calendar. Yes, he was there in May.
Wilson:Well, you must — see, here, January 15th it says something, ďSoon became apparent, since we met with this groupĒ Ė I was there, with McMillan and Roskin, ďthey would welcome a discussion of possible ways that we might interact.Ē This may have been part of the implementation of that. The other thing was that I think that there was some message to the Berkeley people that they should pay some attention, I guess. And so frank came to Cornell. And he spent some days going over the machines there and talking to me, and he eventually came up with this report, on his visit to Cornell. I guess Iíd gone through, these are my own —
Hoddeson:He even borrowed some pieces of your equipment, to bring it back to show people.
Hoddeson:And the Berkeley people, when you visited them, I gather didnít respond with a colloquium.
Wilson:Yeah. Anyway, he — and I think this was just, not window dressing, but it was a —
Hoddeson:— it didnít really work.
Wilson:Well, no, I donít think it had any effect on Berkeley people. The design report was finished, and Iíll bet none of them — you should talk to frank Cole about this, after all — but Frank became rather unpopular there, perhaps because of this. Iím not sure. But you can talk to — the person to talk to about this is Frank.
Hoddeson:Iíll ask Frank all about that.
Wilson:He came in good faith and looked at Cornell and then he wrote this report. It looks as though he gave a talk from this at Berkeley.
Hoddeson:— at Berkeley using the laminations, illustrations.
Hoddeson:Then, while all this was going on, there was a lot being done on site selection, which weíll talk about next time.
Wilson:OK, yeah. Pretty chaotic. If you can make anything of that...
Hoddeson:Of site selection?
Wilson:No, of what we were talking about. (!!)
Hoddeson:Oh, sense of all of this. It will be fun to put it together. Thanks.