Oral History Transcript — Dr. Lew Kowarski
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Lew Kowarski; May 14, 1971
ABSTRACT: Childhood in Russia, family and early schooling; Paris University, first publication, work on crystal growth in Jean Perrin’s lab, doctoral thesis. History of Frederic Joliot-Curie’s work, his lab, character, and collaboration with Irene Curie and other scientists in context of pre-war scientific establishment in France; Kowarski’s work as Joliot’s secretary at Radium Institute, reactions to Joliot’s Nobel Prize; work on magic numbers. Work on fission: Hans von Halban, Enrico Fermi, Otto Hahn, Leo Szilard, ca. 1939; effects of science in wartime France. Applications of fission chain reaction and patents; flight to England with Halban and heavy water supply. Kowarski’s integration into English scientific community: James Chadwick, John Cockcroft, the Maud Committee, Marcus Oliphant; course of development of Halban’s group in Canada; Kowarski’s work between Great Britain and U.S. Return to Europe in 1946; political climate of postwar France, particularly the influence of communism. French Commission on Atomic Energy (CEA), its internal politics, science and scientists in postwar France: Joliot, Pierre Auger, Jean Perrin, Curie, Jules Gueron, Bertrand Goldschmidt. Growth of energy. Family life and marriages; visit to U.S., 1946; comparison of postwar science in U.S. and France. History of French reactors. Kowarski’s impressions of French scientific unity and his role in it; introduction of computer technology into nuclear topics; European Nuclear Energy Agency (ENEA); Kowarski’s involvement. Contemporaries: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr; developments in CERN and ENEA; reflections on attainment of goals and shortcomings of CERN; thoughts about being a scientist in an international community.
Weiner:Today is the 14th of May, 1971, and we’ve transferred the scene of the crime from Austin to Geneva --
Kowarski:-- which I do quite often --
Weiner:-- and we’re sitting in Dr. Kowarski’s office at CERN. This is Charles Weiner. We’re ready to start, if you’ll say a few words, sir -- I want to see if the tape recorder is picking up.
Kowarski:I see. There is a tale by the Russian humorist, Zoshchenko about people who tried their voices in some kind of voice recording device, and he shows in a couple of pages the embarrassment -- they don’t know what to say. Somebody finally volunteers to say something -- arrives at the machine, opens his mouth, then becomes quite red in the face, makes a desperate gesture and walks off. That was the first performance. That’s enough, I think.
Weiner:Now that we’ve had our first performance, we’ll have the one that counts. When we left off, which was just a week more than a year ago, I guess, you had started to list not quite at random but with some sense of purpose, I think, the topics that you thought it would be appropriate to get into next time. We had covered rather completely, at least to your satisfaction, the entire postwar episode in France.
Kowarski:I think if they were appropriate, they couldn’t be at random.
Weiner:They appeared to be at random, but there was a scheme behind it of which I’m well aware. You had talked about postwar France, about the atomic energy work, up through the story of the two reactors and up through the circumstances of the change of leadership within the Atomic Energy Authority and the change in the political situation in France. You had described your decision to try to make your future elsewhere, acting on your earlier instincts during and immediately after the war, and how these fell through in Britain and in the US through a combination of circumstances. You talked about your marriage to Kate, and we got to the point of your initial involvement in CERN and the increasing involvement up until 1954, I think, when you moved here permanently. It occurred to me that we left out a few things which you have covered in this paper, “The Making of CERN,” which are the origins, the conversations, the background. You’ve alluded several times in our earlier discussions to some of the reasons you got into CERN and some of the motivations of others, but I think maybe now we can do that systematically. Anyway, here is what you said you’d like to do: “CERN from its early beginnings to the moment when I came to Geneva” -- then you said, you’re going down in CERN between ‘54 and ‘56, getting interested in OECD, becoming a little bit indifferent to CERN for a little while, resumption of interest from about ‘58, ‘59, growing reactors to a up of the computer side of the activity, switching reactors to a specialist in computers -- then the problems at CERN in 1962, and the effect on you, and then the beginnings of life in America in terms of the academic involvements. Then you talked about the later period of your career beginnings in the summer of ‘65. Let’s see if we get that far.
Kowarski:No, we won’t.
Weiner:We’re back to the early beginnings until the time you came to --
Kowarski:May I still add a more general logistic remark?
Kowarski:It is I think a problem which probably bedevils many biographers, that the most significant period of their subject’s activity goes only a very few years, and after that there are years which are usually far longer, far more dreary, sometimes far less productive, yet not completely unproductive. The amount of stretching in time with all that that implies per unit of production begins to grow, so that you need finally to write three volumes to cover an amount of significant production which is perhaps one half of what was covered in one previous volume.
Weiner:Let me comment. That’s true in many cases, but there are other factors affecting it. One is that the memory of recent years may not be richer in terms of the content and the personal feeling about it, but it’s richer in the detail and in the involvement which you recall, which is still very much part of your current mood. So in that sense, all the things which did occur in the earlier years, which you have now either forgotten or compressed –-
Kowarski:-- yes, in that respect you’re catching me at a very unfortunate age, because I. am not yet old enough to remember my youth better than more recent years. On the other hand, my memory has not yet faded enough to spare you all the details I can remember.
Weiner:Very well put. On that note, we’ll proceed. Where do you want to begin on the CERN thing? You did talk about the conversations in New York in terms of your connection with the UN attempts to get something going in the atomic energy field.
Kowarski:Yes. The key person here is Francois de Rose.
Weiner:You talked somewhat about him and how he worked on this. I think perhaps maybe you want to pick up the narrative there, and with the idea that we have covered some of the ground, to get a clear outline of the prehistory stage.
Well, we are in the late l940s. I am at the Commissariat. The Commissariat has two heads, Joliot and Dautry. I am very much Joliot’s man. Yet Dautry has several points which at that time it was not clear how significant they would prove to be. Let’s see -- Dautry is the head of -- I’m now talking in present tense he is the head of the European Movement, French chapter, which brings him in connection with the people like Jean Monnet and Duncan Sandys (this one is a British politician, Churchill’s son-in-law.) All this goes on in agreement, so to speak, with the ruling Establishment, of which Dautry is definitely a member. Joliot has his European ideas, which are completely different and completely incompatible with Dautry’s, and at the end of the 1940s Joliot’s ideas are quickly becoming completely inoperative, and his role begins to be more negative in the sense that the Communist Party decided that it was more urgent to impede the efforts towards European unity coming from the Establishment than to promote their own. So in that time Joliot becomes less of a promoter of European unity and more an impeder of the other efforts, using the completely genuine, completely sincere conviction that French science is something which has to be upheld, and there is a danger that too much attention paid to European science might impoverish French science.
He was not the only one to be afraid of that. I would say that this feeling was at that time dominant in all countries in Europe. It so happened that this general feeling coincided also with his, what I might call, toeing the Communist line. Now, Francois de Rose is already well involved in those preliminary conversations I have talked about previously. Nothing to object to his swimming together with the European movement, nothing to object to his working with Dautry. Yet a very good friend the Commissariat scientists, especially Bertrand Goldschmidt and myself. Probably more so with Goldschmidt, for social reasons. This was almost the first serious reason for me to remember that the Commissariat was not only Joliot’s Commissariat, but also Dautry’s. I just showed you today the first sketch of an idea of a European Brookhaven which I gave to de Rose in ‘49, which immediately went to Dautry, and I was perfectly aware of the fact that by doing this I was almost committing some kind of a -- well, an inner breach of line of allegiance.
There we were, already in the late ‘40s. For those who might reproach me with noticing that Joliot was obviously a sinking ship politically at that time, and that I was sort of feeling my way towards abandoning the sinking ship, I might also reply that at that time I was acutely aware of the fact that my chances of making good in the framework of the French Establishment were never very high, yet at the same time -- this think I have mentioned in my previous tape -- Joliot himself was very definitely blocking my attempts to acquire a footing in the French academic world. I will not go back to that. So the situation was, as usual, complex. In addition, I hope even my ill wishers might credit me with a genuine interest in -- not so much the promotion of European unity for its own sake as the idea of working in Europe on a scale comparable to that of the United States. That would be after all in the interest of the scientific work itself, and not only as a political mascot for European unification.
Weiner:OK. That’s prelude.
Kowarski:Very soon after these first European beginnings, Joliot was finally ousted from the Commissariat. About two months later, I had to go on a trip in which some biggish order of electromagnetic equipment for one of the Commissariat’s accelerators was to be negotiated or signed in Switzerland, and on that occasion Dautry went there himself -- after having been largely away from his desk for more than a year. He traveled to Switzerland, and to the States, and I at that time was still very much the director of both reactors and accelerators, so I traveled too. This trip in the summer of 1950 was for us one of our rare occasions to talk at some length. He outlined to me the role he saw for me in promoting this European Brookhaven. So by that time I would say, that at least in Dautry’s mind, my connection with this particular initiative, which essentially had come out of the non-Joliot half of the Commissariat, was already established.
Weiner:Did you use the term at the time, “European Brookhaven”?
Kowarski:I didn’t, because in Europe at the time nobody knew what Brookhaven was. That was one reason. The other reason probably would be, I’d guess today, that that would make it too much of an imitation of something American, and the general climate in Europe was at that time far more anti-American than Americans would like to realize.
Weiner:The memo that you showed me before was a proposal for a collaborative effort within France on a large-scale accelerator and reactor program --
Kowarski:Excuse me, I showed you today several memos.
Weiner:There were two relating to the European Brookhaven. I’m not talking about the memo itself but trying to abstract the basic plan or idea that you had, which I take it was to be a single facility which involved reactors and a large accelerator which would be used jointly by the academic community and by government, is that right? Within France?
Kowarski:No, I think that’s a double misunderstanding. First point: it was not to be within France.
Weiner:Oh, of course, European Brookhaven.
Kowarski:That’s right. Definitely. And the second point is that in Europe the academic community is not so different from the governments, (and at that time was even less different) as it would be natural to the American way. All the money would come from the government -- in France and I think in the majority of the European countries, every professor is appointed by the Minister of Education. So there was not much sense at that stage to enter into that distinction. It would be of course concluded between governments. I always saw it definitely as an intergovernmental organization. And the governments would quite naturally be the first channel for their academics, in the process of setting-up.
Weiner:Other than your conversations in the US and the experiences you had there, where did the ideas come from? Did you have any discussions with anyone in Europe?
Kowarski:Quite a bit with Francois de Rose, who, as you may remember, originally discussed these matters with Oppenheimer. These things are --
Weiner:Well, what about people in England -- in other words, in Europe but outside of France?
Kowarski:I can’t tell you much about that. In those years – ‘49, ‘50, ‘51, -- when my toehold in France began to be so tenuous, this also loosened the links I had previously with the atomic community elsewhere, above all with the British. In most of the year 1950 I was under the impression that Oliphant would export me to Australia. That was quite seriously considered at the time. Then, in the first half of ‘51, I suddenly almost became an American scientist. But, that also was cut short as you know. So for me, in my personal feelings I certainly was not first and foremost a French scientist. I still felt myself to be a member of a very international community of advanced nuclear scientists, which in France was not too strong. In fact, quite a big part of the French community of advanced nuclear science actually went through me.
Weiner:You mean, through your work in the CEA?
Kowarski:It’s more than that. People I recruited, people I appointed and so on, people to whom I gave first ideas, what had happened during the war and so on.
Weiner:This implies too that despite the work that was going on with Joliot before the war, no real base for nuclear physics had been made except through the work of just a few individuals. What I mean here, is, no large scale investment in laboratory facilities -- but there was, of course, a cyclotron -- there were various kinds of high tension devices.
Kowarski:Let’s see. I think it’s not too big an exaggeration to say that every high tension device was monopolized by Joliot. Don’t forget that Joliot, long before he became the French High Commissioner, was the -- nuclear professor of the College de France. His wife was the nuclear professor of the Radium Institute. These two chairs were by no means identical: Irene had a personality completely independent from his. But still they were together in their part of the academic world. There was a somewhat independent school of modern physics, including nuclear, in College de France, under the chair held by Francis Perrin. And the relations there were shall we say an alliance rather than one family. There was Leprince-Ringuet, completely distinct, and at that time I would say to some extent in an underdog position, and there was the picturesque episode of Jean Thibaud -- I don’t know whether you know anything about him.
Weiner:I know he was at the Solvey conference in 1933, reported on some of the work he was doing, accelerator work, some kind of high tension work.
Kowarski:The Thibaud case is an interesting one, and we might one day talk about it, but I think we needn’t consider it here.
Weiner:The point that I was trying to get at here is in what sense you’re using the term’ advanced nuclear science,” because one thinks of certain things going on in France in nuclear physics before the war which were not in tremendous facilities, but nevertheless it was one of the places you have to count as a center of nuclear physics research.
Kowarski:Do you have any specific examples in mind?
Weiner:Well, I’m thinking of even the commitment to build the cyclotron.
Weiner:All right, I see what point you’re trying to make, right, that it was all centered in Joliot, that if you’re talking of pre-war nuclear physics it centered very much around Joliot. But now we’re talking of the events of the war, and you’re saying that there was no large scale nuclear physics enterprise except --
Kowarski:Well, I named Leprince-Ringuet which is of course cosmic rays not nuclear physics, but at that time the distinction was not very clear, and there was Jean Thibaud, whose share of the field we do not need to count as very significant compared to the enormous proportion held by Joliot.
Weiner:In the postwar period --
Kowarski:-- that’s what I am speaking of.
Weiner:Oh, that’s what confused me. I see. At this time -- OK, you have sorted things out, go ahead. You were at the point --
Kowarski:Auger was also an alliance rather than family, a little bit more remote than Francis Perrin, and Auger also was in cosmic rays. Almost immediately after the War Auger began to fade out of active physics, and I think it was in ‘48 that he became the director of Science in UNESCO, and at a first approximation that was the complete end of his achievement as a physicist. Of course, in the sense we were discussing a moment ago, the division of labor and the organizational inspirers having taken one part -- they played a quite tremendous part, because it was Auger that was the mainspring of CERN, of the creation of CERN.
Weiner:So you’re saying that you were with Francois de Rose, with Dautry in Switzerland, there was the history of your memos and of his discussions regarding European collaboration. I’m talking about your future role.
Yes. Dautry’s ideas did not lead to any implementation, because he died very soon after CERN negotiations started in earnest, and in this period, this slight period of overlapping, I had another lead into the negotiations which I can mention now. I always was an admirer of Auger, a considerable admirer. Auger is a highly creative, imaginative, poetic kind of physics discoverer. In addition he has a very exquisite artistic personality. He expresses himself beautifully, and I’m always a sucker for that. I always tried to be as close to Auger as I could, which I couldn’t be very much because Auger was obviously running away. When a dog enthusiastically leaps at his master, it may be found sometimes that the dog is a little too big. And a certain reticence begins to appear on the other side. Yet, when I published this paper, “Psychology and Structure in Large Scale Physical Research,” -- with which you’re familiar, I suppose, and which by the way I found later on was really the first paper ever on the structure of what came later on to known as “Big Science” -- I sent a copy to Auger. He never forgot that, and when he started putting together the first group to run the CERN operation, his memory of the paper came to the surface. That is how, finally, my entrance into the CERN business took place via Auger.
Well, I don’t need to go into CERN’S history again. The official history of CERN starts with Rabi’s proposal to UNESCO in 1950. Auger from then on, was officially empowered to do something about it. It’s all told in my CERN histories, especially in this one, the ‘67 one. Auger consults my opinion about the leading European personalities which might be helpful. I insist on both parts -- they have to be the leading ones and they must be chosen among those of the helpful kind. This defines two sets of people which are by no means identical, and we must choose our people from the overlapping part of these two sets. I still have a bit of paper on which I gave Auger a few names, with the names on it, and as usual with my bits of paper I couldn’t guarantee that I could find it in one hour, or one month, but I still have it -- somewhere. Auger cagily never told me that at that time he had similar conversations with Amaldi.
So finally when Auger created his celebrated group of consultants-in-personal-capacity -- as you probably know, in international bodies of this kind, it’s always officially claimed that these people are in no way taken because of their nationalities but because of their personalities. In fact, of course, it’s very seldom true. But in this one case, the choice was really genuine. And that is how the group, Auger’s consultants met for the first time in May ‘51, just about 20 years ago, a few days still lacking to the exact 20th anniversary. Seven countries were represented, with actually eight people present, because France was represented by two people. This was not unnatural in view of the fact that the meeting took place in Paris. Here is another of my snide little anecdotes. One day Francis Perrin, who at that time was still a few months before he was finally confirmed as High Commissioner -- he knew of course of my conversations with Dautry. He’d probably read my notes and so on. One day he told me, “Auger is holding a meeting of his individual experts at UNESCO. I am going there. I would like you to come too.” So we went. I was told, I don’t remember whether it was by Auger or by Amaldi, several years later, that an individual invitation was sent to me and never reached me. This is a small example of the kind of thing that was going on in those days. It would be interesting to speculate who held it up. I have my ideas. But let’s go on. Anyhow that’s what Francis Perrin told me: “I am going to this meeting and I would like you to come too.” So I came. I don’t remember whether we have already discussed this part of the CERN history? Or not at all?
Weiner:I don’t recall. Let’s get into it and see.
If you see my CERN history, you will find an impartial and historical statement to the effect that at the first meeting, two important proposals were made. One was not to start with aiming at the biggest machine in the world, but to build a smaller machine first. The other proposal was not to go to the governments with complete plans which would be prepared by a small office in UNESCO. (This was Auger’s idea.) The preparation of reasonable proposals would require in itself an international effort, with a fairly wide spectrum of competences, and in fact it would in itself be already an international organization. My fellow experts listened to that. Both proposals came from me. Unfortunately for me, or perhaps fortunately, no trace of this remains. Many of these experts are no longer alive, others quite genuinely don’t remember, so this recollection has to be taken on faith. One of these proposals was immediately changed by Cockcroft.
He was not present there himself but he was represented, and I don’t think the representative was chosen very judiciously. I proposed that the first machine should be an electron synchrotron which is small and can be built very quickly; Cockcroft said a synchro-cyclotron would be a far better machine. Of course it would, I knew that. It would also be seriously more expensive, by something like a factor of ten. In his way, my main aim, which was to build something complete very quickly, this aim was considerably toned down. In fact, I would say that the synchro-cyclotron started working roughly two years before the proton synchrotron and his time differential was too small to justify the smaller project at all. The meeting almost immediately agreed on setting up what we called study groups. Thus the proposals to set up a preliminary and official international body began to take shape in the next few months. By the end of 1951, that is six months or so after the first meeting, it was already clear that there would be essentially five parts to the preliminary body: the small machine, the big machine, the theoretical studies, the so-called laboratory group, and finally the overall leadership and administration, which would essentially be set above the four specialized groups and be in fact, in some sense, a group in itself.
The laboratory group was, I’m afraid, the fruit of a proposal of my own, and if I say I’m afraid, it’s because everybody could accuse me that I invented that concept in order to create a job for myself, which of course was true. On the other hand, I trust that people will not deny that I might have also reasons for genuinely believing in the usefulness of such an entity. In fact, whenever I try to create a job for myself, I try to see that the job is of credible usefulness, and credible means first and foremost credible to myself. The two groups planning the accelerators -- they would plan these machines in the way these things usually are planned. The designers are usually hired by some pre-existing institution in which they swim like fish in water. A man who is told to design a cyclotron will design it for a university or a national lab, or perhaps even in some cases for an industrial laboratory. The idea that in this case he would have to design it for some entity which, as yet, didn’t exist at all never occurred to anybody. It did occur to me. And as -- to use the expression I often use -- one had to put these things into some kind of landscape, that landscape had to be created on its own, and that was the task of the laboratory group. When people expect to swim like fish in water, and someone explains to them that this time there is no water, they tend to dismiss this warning. They don’t say “How interesting, we never thought of that before.” They are rather inclined unconsciously to think not. If they had never thought of that before, this means that this problem shouldn’t exist. And therefore in my frantic effort to create a job for myself and a landscape for the machines, I leave to you the judgment in what order we should take these ingredients. I had not gained the support of my colleagues. They instinctively tried to reject the idea. Fortunately Auger did understand, and in this sense, my paper -- did you read it?
Weiner:Which one, the CERN thing?
Kowarski:No, the “Psychology and Structure --
Weiner:Oh yes, you sent me a copy of that.
Kowarski:Well, that doesn’t mean that you read it.
Weiner:Oh, I read it. There were questions I wanted to ask about that.
Kowarski:In some ways this paper is whimsical, and Auger being an artistic personality, sort of noticed the whimsical side.
Weiner:Let me ask a question about the early discussions. By that time, what was the state of the relationship with German scientists and Germany in itself? Was this a problem in consideration of a European machine?
Kowarski:The position of Germany was psychologically still very difficult, and today the atmosphere is so different from what it was then that it’s almost impossible to explain it in terms which other people could today feel their way about. Let’s say that the Germans were under the feeling of an intense handicap. I think we all were trying carefully to avoid discussing the nature of that handicap, but their own feeling was unmistakably there, and that is for instance one reason why the idea that German should be a language on the same footing as French and English was completely unthinkable in those days.
Weiner:You mean in the proposed lab.
Weiner:But the Germans, there was no question of somehow excluding German science or restricting them to any small role, either consciously or unconsciously? For example, in the initial planning, of the people of the seven nations represented at that meeting, was there someone from Germany?
Kowarski:No. No --
Weiner:-- that’s one answer --
Kowarski:No, that’s not an answer, because first of all, Germany was at that time still considerably under the interdiction of doing anything with uranium. There was no atomic energy commission in Germany, no ready governmental channel for nuclear science such as that, which existed very much in England and France; I don’t quite remember whether it existed already in Italy. Then there was another circumstance which was very important. I already hinted before that the Establishment, the academic Establishment in member countries was by no means coincident with those who were in favor of this project. Those who were in favor were of course much more closely committed to the effective international community in nuclear science, and that was very much centered on the United States and Britain, and in fact was based on memory of the wartime work together. In addition, there were such links as Amaldi and Fermi or the fact, which I mentioned in my history, that Bernardini during the war years was in America (or perhaps he went there immediately after the war, I don’t remember).
Weiner:During the war he was in Rome.
Kowarski:Yes, but immediately after the war he was in America. He was in fact professor at Columbia for a while. All this was almost completely closed to the Germans. In those years, there was a definite estrangement between what I might call the Gottingen science and the post-Gottingen science. See what I mean? Of course, there were links -- Casimir, for instance, who at that time was much talked about as a possibility for the post of the Director-General of CERN.
Weiner:Well, then, the effective reasons for the non-participation of Germany were that in this case there was no government establishment, there were real limitations on what the Germans could aspire to do in nuclear science -- but what about accelerators in Germany?
Kowarski:Let’s see, what do L know about them? There were some high-voltage sets, which were built -- before the war by Bothe and Gentner. Bothe was, I think, already then ailing. He was, perhaps, a little too old, so it fell on Gentner to be the sort of German accelerator physicist -- not actually to build one, but be the physicist at it. Cyclotrons, were there any in Germany?
Weiner:There were two. Gentner or someone wanted to build one at Heidelberg and someone else had a plan somewhere else, and neither came to pass, though I’m trying to document this. I don’t know if they got to the point of starting construction on them or not, but there was no effective cyclotron, no functioning one.
Kowarski:You realize, of course, to what extent at that time the purely nuclear physics, nuclear science pure, depended in each nation on its Atomic Energy Commission.
Weiner:My statement now, prior to pre-1939, pre-war --
Kowarski:-- but the Germans didn’t build any cyclotron during the war.
Weiner:Up to 1944-45, yes. What I was really trying to get at was whether they did build one immediately afterwards, but I can check that.
Kowarski:I don’t think so.
Weiner:Livingston has an article which I have a copy of, in Copenhagen, which lists all the world’s accelerators as of 1946-47.
Kowarski:Germany after the war -- it’s another factor in this situation -- I think we discussed that on a number of occasions -- Germany was very much classical industry-minded, as opposed to Britain which was deliberately fastening the new science-based industry. Germany was a builder: bricks, mortar, steel, trucks, and so on. Advanced nuclear gadgets were hardly fashionable in Germany then, and there were all these other factors which I already mentioned added to it, and all this goes into the picture of German scientists being handicapped.
Weiner:But when the plans were drawn up for a European collaborative effort, was it clear which countries would be invited and which wouldn’t?
Kowarski:Oh, formally speaking? UNESCO invited every European member of UNESCO, including Poland and Czechoslovakia. Poland and Czechoslovakia didn’t reply. Otherwise everybody came. You see, we have now to distinguish between various stages of this whole period. The second official meeting of the provisional CERN was held in June, ‘52 in Copenhagen, and there Heisenberg was the leading personality.
Weiner:You mean the most well known person?
Kowarski:More than that. He had a definite leading function. He was I think some kind of a general rapporteur of the scientific program and so on. So at least in the person of Heisenberg, there was no question of any discrimination against Germany. This was June ‘52.
Weiner:This was at the Bohr Institute? Let’s go on with the story. I have a separate question to ask about various nations and their attitudes towards CERN. I think this is very interesting. The attitude of people -- toward bringing them in, and their own national attitudes toward participation. You talked of the French attitude and Joliot, for example, which gave me some of the background.
Kowarski:You know the French attitude?
Weiner:Well, his attitude regarding the role of French science as opposed to the larger --
Kowarski:Yes, that was Joliot’s attitude, but you cannot say it was the French attitude.
Weiner:I’d think that this would come up in other countries too.
Kowarski:Not in the same way elsewhere, but everywhere it was obviously hitched to some political axe to grind. Actually there is no such thing as a national attitude on such things.
Weiner:It depends on who’s in what position at the time.
Kowarski:It depends on who we’re talking about. For example, in Britain, Cockcroft was definitely for, Blackett was definitely for. There were a few not so glamorous persons, but very influential, such as Skinner in Liverpool who were more or less definitely against. Chadwick, who was very obviously for, but saying, these damn people have to be watched, they shouldn’t forget our interests nearer home. In France, well, probably it would be possible to cut it according to the usual French political division. Let’s say that the Communists were against, the moderate left was for, because of its “progressive” internationalism, the established science was against -- I mean, the rightist camp in science was against -- but the non-scientific right again was for, for exclusively political reasons. It’s a bit complicated. You see how complex is your question.
Weiner:Well, did these questions interfere very much with the planning stages?
Kowarski:No. First of all, when the thing is in the first planning stage, nobody believes that anything will come of it. Don’t forget the tremendous proliferation of international initiatives which were in the air in those days, and not only in the air. There was the Council of Europe; there was the OEEC, there was -- what else could I quote? The Steel Community: if all the steelmakers could plan for such a community, why not a certain corner of nuclear science? It was kind of natural. Everybody knew that many of these things would remain in the state of pure papermills.
Weiner:You’re making the comparison between the Coal and Steel Community so-called and the advanced nuclear science. This makes me think: perhaps the emphasis on working through governments, whether intentional on the part of the planners or not, was implicitly counting on nuclear energy. Do you think that this is possible? Was that a factor, that when people in that period thought of a vast nuclear science program, they thought in terms of -- like coal, energy -- nuclear energy in the same sense? It wasn’t just an indulgence of scientists, but it had to do with European economic cooperation?
Kowarski:Well, this would bring us rather far in a discussion of nuclear energy in Europe as opposed to the story of CERN.
Weiner:I’m just asking if there was confusion in people’s minds. Do you think this issue ever did become confused in people’s minds? I mean influential people.
Kowarski:Influential people also are a multiplicity. You have a multiplicity of minds.
Weiner:But there was never any attempt to deliberately obscure the distinction, in order to --
Kowarski:-- oh yes, that is one of my favorite subjects.
Weiner:Well, let’s talk about it.
Kowarski:This contention is abundantly proven, and appears even in my “official history.” There was this fundamental contradiction which was quite inescapable -- on the one hand, you could get money out of the governments, the taxpayers’ support, only for something which had something to do with the nuclear magic -- which finally meant atomic bomb magic. You know, in my line of thinking, how everything finally stepped out of the bolt from heaven at Hiroshima. Money was forthcoming because nuclear science was very respected, and nuclear scientists were very respected because they managed to obliterate a big city with a single bolt from heaven. It’s a feat which is very, very conducive of respect. And so, money could be got only for something which had to do with this magic. On the other hand, if any activity got really in a concrete way close to the magic, then it was a national preserve, then it was national politics, secrecy, secret bilaterals, special relationships and soon and so forth. And this contradiction was completely inescapable. It happens with many things in life. Something extremely desirable is so because of certain characteristics, and you find that because of the same characteristics, it’s either fattening or unhealthy or immoral. It’s a universal quandary. And how was it resolved? The scientists were vociferously clamoring that their preoccupations had nothing to do with secrecy, bombs and so on, which maybe was true -- not perhaps in my Brookhaven plans but in Auger’s plans limited to accelerators.
Weiner:No reactors at all.
Kowarski:No reactors at all. Nothing to do with the bomb, nothing to do with uranium, nothing to do with explosives, nothing to do with any commercial applications. And the political people would say “Yes, yes, of course, you have to say that, we understand.” And here comes the point -- that the scientists, when they were not complete fools, (which, sometimes, does happen) were perfectly aware of that situation, and were saying to themselves, “Well, perhaps it’s not so bad if it is like that.” All this creates some kind of cloudy waters, but maybe they are favorable for some techniques of fishing. There was one amusing symptom of that. You know I like to make up new words, and I was very much aware of the fact that the planned organization had nothing to do with the nucleus. At that time it was called atomic physics still. The distinction came later on, or it was just being created -- and I proposed to introduce the word “metatomic physics.” Beyond the atom. People objected to me that it sounded too much like metaphysics. Which of course is an unpleasant word, or was, in the Age of Enlightenment.
Weiner:All right, that’s the answer to the question that I was interested in. When you say it had nothing to do with nuclear physics, the accelerators after all were to get at subnuclear structure.
Kowarski:Subnuclear, yes, but not nuclear (off tape)
Weiner:You were making the point that hammer blows have nothing to do with embroidery, right -- the difference between high energy accelerators and nuclear physics. So the term, though the term still survived because it was convenient and it was fashionable.
Kowarski:And I suspect, because it contributed to maintaining that particular cloud -- still cloudy.
Weiner:Now, where are we in the story here? I sidetracked you with two questions, one about national considerations, which we’ve touched on a little bit, and the other the -- related to that, about the images that participating governments might have had about the enterprise. I’m not quite sure how that fits in with the sequential story that you were unfolding.
Kowarski:Well, it determines some of the boundary conditions. After that first May meeting, we met three or four times more, still as Auger’s personal board of consultants for UNESCO. In December, ‘51, the first completely official intergovernmental meeting was convened at UNESCO. There were all sorts of credential committees, delegates, powers, and so on, to discuss the setting up of a provisional European Council for Nuclear Research. At that time it became clear that a pressure group had developed among Auger’s consultants. In fact, you might consider it as Auger’s own task force. This group comprised -- other people might suggest another list, but here is my list, as I see it: Amaldi, Bakker, Dahl, myself, and Preiswerk.
Weiner:It’s a pressure group all right, but it doesn’t represent many countries. For example, there’s no one from England.
Kowarski:England was not a member of the provisional CERN.
Weiner:What I’m getting at is a pressure group brings pressure on its own government but you couldn’t expect to accomplish very much elsewhere.
Kowarski:But that was the aim: A group of people exerting a concerted pressure on a group of governments.
Weiner:I see. But if all the countries represented in provisional CERN would come in --
Kowarski:One example. The day before the first meeting, the gang gathered in somebody’s hotel room, and whom did we want as chairman? Somebody said it should not be a Frenchman, because that was the host country. Then it was argued that not France was the host country but UNESCO, which was already to some extent extraterritorial, so there was no objection to a Frenchman. Then I started pushing de Rose. Most probably, some of our group’s members never heard of him. Whether I was convincing or somebody else upheld him, I don’t remember, but the fact was that the gang agreed that de Rose should be the chairman. Now, on the next day, in the corridors of power, before the meeting officially started, the gang began to talk to their national representatives. The result was that de Rose was elected chairman without any difficulty whatsoever. That’s an example -- he was elected chairman at the first meeting, and when the second meeting was fixed for less than two months later in February ‘52, since a Frenchman was presiding at the meeting in Paris, it was considered natural that a Swiss should be chairman at the meeting in Switzerland, in Geneva, and so it was Scherrer.
Weiner:Was there any organized surface or subterranean resistance, either on the part of governments or groups of scientists --
Kowarski:The Communists. Tremendous resistance.
Weiner:In all countries, you mean?
Kowarski:No, no -- mainly in France, and probably in Italy, I suspect.
Weiner:Within the scientific community, you mean? Those people in the scientific community who would feel that way politically were against it?
Kowarski:Yes. It was very strong in France. People were explaining that -- NATO was already in existence then -- that this was another attempt of the Americans who -- everybody knows that they are utterly incapable of doing any science by themselves, but always employ European brains; that it was an attempt to organize a sort of scientific branch office of the Pentagon in Europe.
Weiner:Were the Communist scientists choosing to identify the project with nuclear energy? In other words, to suit their particular views --
Kowarski:-- that depends a little upon the level on which it was carried out. Of course, Joliot could not do it. No one would believe that he did not know the difference.
Weiner:That’s why I was surprised. But you say this was a different kind of argument, that it was a training ground which the US could tap, not necessarily for military purposes, although you did imply, the Pentagon --
Kowarski:Also everybody knew that the Pentagon had very far -- reaching plans for dominating the whole world, including even the most remote consular stations. Everything goes, you know, to serve the American imperialistic machine.
Weiner:Even basic science?
Kowarski:Oh, very much so.
Weiner:That was a source of resistance. Did it ever get to the point of preventing national participation or delaying it substantially?
Kowarski:Delaying, yes. The ratification procedures probably went a little bit more slowly. In Switzerland in particular -- well, I shouldn’t tell this story, I had very little to do with that -- in Switzerland there was quite an agitation in Geneva against this thing coming here. Where else? Probably in Germany. Not so much in England.
Weiner:How about the US? You mentioned other people bringing the US into the situation as a threat, but was there any feedback from official or unofficial circles in the US? The internationalist group of scientist, which would include Oppenheimer and Rabi and Weisskopf, would think this was a good thing. But I wonder whether, say, AEC or any kind of government agencies would think of this as a negative thing?
Kowarski:I’m not aware of anybody thinking of it as a negative thing. My guess would be that America was in a perfectly good position to watch any threat of this thing getting too close to nuclear energy problems. They were watching it and they were satisfied that it was not going that way. On the other hand, there was a very strong argument for it, because it was considered quite rightly -- in this respect, in particular, the Communists were quite right -- as one of the mascots for the unification of Western Europe, and American official thinking at that time was that Western Europe should be helped in this unification, so as to become an effective bulwark against Bolshevism.
Weiner:Also, would you say that there were some feelings of the need to balance the situation which occurred after the war, in which the US attitude on nuclear energy was filled with problems in terms of scientific internationalism, and this was one way essentially to right that balance.
Kowarski:One way to atone.
Weiner:Atone is a good word, because I think even in the people like Rabi and Oppenheimer and so forth, that there was this guilt.
Weiner:And that this was the way to --
Kowarski:-- the subject of the official and non-official atonement was a subject for a couple of my lectures in Texas.
Weiner:I should have come to that course. All right, I think we have covered the question of sources of resistance and of this general background. You talked about how things were done informally and then the governments were brought along, and I think the general point was then put officially in writing: that it was only after the plans were solidly established, and cooperation in fact had been demonstrated, that official approval and funding were to be sought. After, in fact, the thing had come to existence in practice, then and only then the official government blessing --
Kowarski:-- aren’t you confusing this stage with the stage some two and a half years later, when the provisional CERN became final CERN?
Weiner:Yes, that’s what I was referring to.
Now, there are various ways of counting the stages. For me, the whole thing begins in this first expert’s meeting which I attended in such ambiguous circumstances. For Auger no doubt the story began almost a year earlier. Then there was the stage of preparation of the first real intergovernmental meeting, which took place in December, ‘51. Then in the somewhat less than two months which elapsed between this and the second meeting, an interval which was anyhow Christmas holidays and so on. Then the second meeting which was convened in Geneva. I came to Geneva for the first time in my life on my 45th birthday. And the second meeting was extremely smooth, in the sense that there was practically nothing to discuss. The technical plans were already presented in December, since then there had been a bit of co-operation from the financial side and so on. All this was now considered again, approved, and the Council officially started the provisional organization for which there was no name yet. The British declared that they would not join, but if nobody has anything against it they would like to be present and help with advice, and even give some gifts which, as I noticed in one of my historical articles, were curiously equalling our regular contributions. And it was decided that after the ratification -- it was signed, I don’t remember, by how many, this particular convention, maybe 11 countries -- that as soon as enough ratifications are there, it was considered that the treaty, or the convention, or whatever it was that established the provisional organization, would come into force.
It was considered that ratification would come very soon. It did. It was a rather modest diplomatic instrument, and we pushed it through very quickly. As soon as five countries officially ratified, it was considered the that the agreement was now in force, and the first official meeting of the new intergovernmental organization took place in Paris in early May, 1952. I remember that at that time, nine countries were officially represented. I think it was considered that at subsequent meetings there would be more. I remember the figure nine because it loomed large in the appointment of the first officials. There was, I think, not a single full-time official. They were all considered to be on loan from the home organizations for part of the time. However, this part of the time to be paid by the international organization. Some of them probably were loaned free, I don’t know. Five officials were appointed -- the Secretary General, Amaldi, unanimously, nine countries, and the four group directors: Bakker, unanimously, for the small machines Bohr unanimously (except for Bohr himself) for theoretical studies. When it came to the laboratory group, there was the usual little difficulty to explain what the hell that meant, but it was well prepared already by all the previous papers and so on, so it was accepted.
I got in by seven votes, and there was one for Preiswerk and one for Gentner, which is significant, because it was the first and, I think the only at that time vote for any German. You might guess which country voted for Preiswerk and which country voted for Gentner. Anyhow, I got in by seven votes out of nine, which is not so bad. Poor Dahl fared worst of us all. He got in by five out of nine. I suppose, in those government delegations, practically nobody ever heard of him. Actually, his coming on stage, is another of the things I would claim as one of my initiatives. -- I heard about him quite a lot. In our gang, he was the Elder. By now he has reached quite a respectable age. I guess 74, something like that.
Weiner:I should go up to see him.
Kowarski:I knew Dahl very well from the nuclear reactor side.
Weiner:Yes, I remember we talked about that. So --
Kowarski:Immediately, I don’t remember whether Dahl did it first or I did it first, I suspect that Dahl did it first, he immediately publicly appointed the British “advisor” as his deputy. There was nothing to prevent Dahl from using British experts. In this way the British “advisor”, who was of course present, became as Dahl’s deputy, and that was Goward. And I immediately appointed Preiswerk. Goward was pretty independent from Dahl and Preiswerk was pretty independent from me, which in fact meant seven main officers, from seven different countries. Comes now the story of the provisional CERN, which is rather well told in Jungk’s book [The Big Machine], so I don’t have to go into that.
Weiner:I have it with me. I’ll take a look at it tonight, and if there are any questions on it, ask you tomorrow. Let me ask about Bohr’s role, in this. Do you recall participating in any meeting with Bohr?
Kowarski:I used to use a very flippant expression, and I’m afraid that no conviction on yours or anybody else’s part of my infinite respect for Bohr will manage to erase the flippancy of that expression. Still I think, I shouldn’t be afraid -- to repeat my former flippances. In fact, I used the same expression in a talk with you yesterday in quite a different connection. I said that Bohr would very much like to have the theoretical studies group. Of course, our Organization had as yet no central location, nothing. The administrative center was the office of the Secretary General, Amaldi. But as I have said, the seven main officials were of seven countries. It was obvious that Bohr would like very much for the theoretical studies to be centered at Copenhagen. That’s natural and legitimate. Also they would get a certain part of the budget of the provisional CERN, which was not a bad thing for the Institute. He probably would give tasks to some of his people, and that would create a perfectly legitimate reason for paying them out of European funds, nothing wrong with that. Finally, it meant that there would be a European subsidy to the Copenhagen Institute. Again nothing wrong with that, the Institute was well worth it. And I said to my colleagues: “Gentlemen, we have a unique opportunity for buying Niels Bohr. It is my innermost conviction, first of all, that if we buy Bohr, he will stay bought, and second, that he’s dead cheap at the price.” What I had in mind I think was reasonable -- that by making Bohr an infinitely welcome part of the outfit, being glad that he accepted to be the part of it, we could be sure that Bohr would have loyalty towards the organization. And having for this new venture Bohr’s wholehearted and loyal cooperation was worth any amount of money.
Weiner:Because of his prestige, you mean? In what sense, aside from his considerable talents?
Kowarski:Prestige, influence, wisdom, political pull, name what you wish. Tremendous understanding of physics --
Weiner:I started by assuming that.
Kowarski:You shouldn’t forget that.
Weiner:Right, so what happened?
Kowarski:-- and what made physicists tick. What happened was that Bohr considered himself as one of the four group directors under Amaldi and attended most of the meetings.
Weiner:Meanwhile there was this group functioning in Copenhagen.
Kowarski:Let me see now. All five members of the gang were among the seven appointed.
Weiner:All five members of that pressure group, you mean?
Kowarski:Of the gang, yes. That is, I mentioned before -- Almaldi, Bakker, Dahl, Preiswerk, myself. All five were among the seven.
Weiner:The theoretical group then did come into existence in Copenhagen?
Weiner:And functioned there. Were there any difficulties with this group? I can think on two grounds, one on site selection, and another on a different view about the scale of things or about what’s needed, because theorists might think quite differently on practical problems.
I suppose I have to take it as a compliment that you consider that my biography is identical with the history of CERN. In fact, we are now discussing the history of CERN, not my biography. I’m quite willing to go on, along these lines. What you have just said, is hinted at in this edition [of my CERN “history”], in the ‘67 edition. The ‘60 edition was too official to make any hints of that sort. In Jungk’s book it also is hinted at, rather more clumsily. In fact, in his manuscript it was quite outrageously so, and both Weisskopf and managed to tone him down. What happened, you see, was that in many minds, the future organization was nothing but, shall we say, a pork barrel to support existing institutions. This conclusion comes quite naturally to nearly everybody; I could name many names in various countries. Some powerful “They” want to support nuclear physics in Europe? Well, nuclear physics in Europe, that’s me, of course. So “They” want to support Me. More power to Their elbow. Such feelings were very strong in Copenhagen. Not Bohr: Bohr was too wise for that. There was the Kramers episode. Bohr was -- his retirement was really getting quite near. I think his official retirement had to occur in ‘55. He was to reach 70 in ‘55. So his people were preparing themselves.
They were quite terrified well, you know better than I do whether they were justified in being terrified, that the Institute would lose its main source of public image, and therefore money. Therefore they were very anxious to have a director who would continue to maintain the public image. Therefore they wanted some very glamorous European theoretical physicist. It turned out that Kramers was willing. Then it turned out that Bohr, apart from his salary from the university, had a considerable I think additional what do you call it, grant, personal grant from Carlsberg, and it was not quite sure that his successor would succeed also to that, and that would mean that Kramers would be in far more cramped circumstances than Bohr as a director-personality.
People at the Institute were thinking that the invitation to Kramers could be made more dignified if some additional source of income were found, and the new European kitty came along just in time for that. Now, the thought that the European taxpayers can have no sweeter task than to subsidize the director of the Copenhagen Institute was quite genuinely and fervently believed in Copenhagen. There is no sarcasm intended. The idea was then that the seat of whatever center there would be -- I insist on that -- whatever center there would be, that seat should be in Copenhagen. It was not at all important that what we call now CERN should be located centrally. In this different perspective, CERN was viewed not as a piece of land with equipment on it, but as a legal entity for providing money for some kind of a loose money-bound European confederation. And why not Copenhagen, then? OK, there were some crazy people who wanted some big machines, but everybody knows that Europeans are quite capable of doing beautiful things without big machines. Look at the discovery of the pion. So, there was a very genuine push towards selecting Copenhagen as the location of this new European organization, and I insist that it didn’t mean that they really wanted big machines.
They said, “Well, if you like big machines, we’ll give you a piece of land, you can have big machines till you’re blue in the face.” And when finally, under circumstances which I might perhaps tell you a bit later, it was decided that machines would be built in Geneva, the Copenhagen mentality -- here again I exclude Bohr, Bohr was too wise for this sort of thing -- was quick to adjust: “OK, do it in Geneva, even if perhaps it’s a bit silly to build the machine station so far away from the legitimate center of things.” This, by the way is exactly what happened to ESRO later on. This was, then, the Nordic Strategy: the first move was to have everything in Copenhagen. The second move was: “if there has to be a machine station and if people want it in Geneva, OK, that should not prevent still the center from being located in Copenhagen.” And the third move was that there would be a machine station, and there would be an intellectual place, and the intellectual place would be in Copenhagen. This was the origin of the curious fact that CERN has the wrong set of initials. I told this story ——
Weiner:Yes, I remember it, but not in detail.
Kowarski:Shall I repeat it now?
Kowarski:This sort of willing ambiguity persisted until some meeting late in ‘53, when it finally broke out in the open. Provisional CERN’s days were counted. It was now close to becoming the permanent CERN, and the permanent CERN could no longer be called a Council. It should be called something else. What? Somebody said “European Organization for Nuclear Research.” Very nice, but what about the initials? Well, the initials would be OERN. It was supposed to be in French, you see. But what about the word CERN which already existed for more than a year? A nice word and already such a nice letterhead (I designed it myself), and what about that? Auger (who was the original inventor of the word CERN) started in desperation to produce various justifications for C-Center, I don’t know, Confraternity or what not --
Weiner:-- Consortium --
Kowarski:Yes. Then Copenhagen flatly opposed any suggestions of anything Central. Flatly. And of course they were supported by Heisenberg who was very much pro-Copenhagen. Finally Heisenberg said, “Well, I propose that we call the organization, Organisation Europereenne pour la Recherche Nucleaire, officially, and that we retain the initials CERN.” This is quite all right for a quantum-mechanical mind. And everybody accepted it -- coming from Heisenberg.
Weiner:I remember now, but I didn’t know the part of it about the basis of the resistance.
Kowarski:That was the basis.
Weiner:Did Bohr’s theoretical group -- forgetting these other considerations for a moment -- function as a group in Copenhagen and have good working relationships with the other groups? Or did it in fact become a little isolated?
Kowarski:There were some other little difficulties. For instance, Copenhagen at various times tried to erase the word “theoretical.” I don’t remember how they called it. I forgot. There must be some correspondence about it, that they would call it Nuclear Physics Study Group or something like that, still with the idea that the intellectual center would remain in Copenhagen, and they were preparing the way by suppressing the word “theoretical.”
Weiner:Broadening its function.
Kowarski:Yes. This was opposed very particularly by the British, the British being about the only ones, I’m afraid, who have a certain feeling for what words mean, in this context.
Weiner:What form did it take in terms of the actual substantive work -- the theoretical group at Copenhagen had a specific function?
Kowarski:Yes, and this function of course went far beyond theory. This was again part of the same ambiguity, which was being maintained all the time. For instance, they ran for a while the whole program of training research fellowships, whether experimental or theoretical. They considered themselves not as a center of theoretical physics, but as a center of physics, as opposed to the machine builders in Geneva. There were quite genuine theoretical studies, even studies on accelerators.
Weiner:Well, that’s interesting -- the studies were linked to the main thing, it wasn’t just questions of interest to theory.
Kowarski:I’m not very familiar, but my impression is that the proton synchrotron group cheerfully didn’t pay any attention.
Weiner:Well, this is something we could check. Wound that theoretical group have issued reports? As a matter of fact, I remember seeing the director’s reports.
Weiner:An account of what the theoretical group had been up to. It was very cryptic.
Kowarski:Yes, well, you see, it would have to be cryptic. It was to some extent, real work being done, and to some extent local jockeying for future positions. Kramers died of a heart attack in the midst of all that. This happened at a rather early stage and therefore the main motive power behind this Copenhagen dissidence was nipped in the bud, so to speak. I don’t have any knowledge of Kramers himself being involved in all of this. He was in some ways a Grand Seigneur, and he probably kept to some extent aloof from all this. I don’t know. I haven’t seen him in those days.
Weiner:How old was he at that time?
Kowarski:Well, let’s check, we have here all the dictionaries. He certainly was not very old.
Weiner:Did this kind of relationship with the Copenhagen group persist throughout the provisional period?
Kowarski:It was gradually whittled down, by many factors. First of all, the group of people centered in Geneva began to behave differently from an outlying machine-station crowd, very differently indeed. There were a few other things. For instance, the tragic-comic episode of the first choice for Director General, Felix Bloch, which immediately removed some of the motive force of the dissidence, pushed it over to Geneva, and as soon as Geneva began to become the real location, the problem simply arose, shouldn’t the theoretical group itself come to Geneva like everybody else? All the groups were centered in Geneva de facto since 1954. Bakker in particular, very cautiously, began to push for that. There was still a delaying reason, our provisional buildings -- they were too provisional, too cramped, we have to wait till there were some more buildings. By 1957 there was enough of them, and the transfer took place quite officially. You see, this little story trailed down into 1957.
Weiner:Were there actually full-time personnel involved at the Bohr Institute in a CERN theoretical group?
Kowarski:I don’t know.
Weiner:I might be able to get that from the records there. I’m asking you because I’m also interested in the history of the Institute, so we’re going even a little bit further from your biography.
Kowarski:My guess would be that there would be some people working full time in Copenhagen, and paid entirely out of European funds. That’s only a guess.
Weiner:How about Moller, was he in the group?
Kowarski:I don’t know.
Weiner:OK, we have some more time.
Kowarski:I would suggest 10 more minutes.
Weiner:OK, fine. Where shall we take it to in 10 minutes? We’ve been talking about a lot of background and peripheral issues, because as you noted again, the straightforward story in your official version and in your more detailed version and in everything else that is in writing, not only has been edited by Jungk but by you and by Amaldi and in whatever other outlines there exist. Let’s now I think relate back to the biography more closely, and pick it up from the point where we really laid off last time; that is where you made your permanent move to CERN, although you were still on someone else’s payroll as well.
Kowarski:Yes. I don’t remember to what extent I covered in my previous tape the aspects of my situation between, shall we say, late ‘51 and late ‘54, the aspects which already depended very much on CERN.
Weiner:You did. That you went into.
Weiner:Yes. You made the point that this would be a convenient, a French way to handle the situation: to ease you out of some activities there, under the pretext of your continuing and growing --
Kowarski:Yes. A typical example was, I think the official justification for my being included, first, as an extra consultant in May ‘51, and then as a part-time CERN official, internationally paid, from May ‘52 onwards. The justification was that I was in the Commissariat, director of that somewhat all-embracing department which also included accelerators. Theoretically, on paper, every man having anything to do with accelerators in the Commissariat was under me in the hierarchy. However, as soon as in the month of May I was appointed a part-time CERN official, this was in turn used to say, “Well, Kowarski now is a part-time CERN employee, he’s in the Commissariat only one part of his time,” -- Incidentally, the time division, as seen by the Commissariat, was one-third CERN and two-thirds Commissariat, something like that, but on the CERN payroll it was a 40 percent CERN salary. Probably it was considered quite natural that I would work over the weekends and so on. I don’t think there was any serious graft in the disparity of these fractions. The conclusion was: “Since he’s now only two—thirds Commissariat, of course some of his attributions here have to be relinquished.” Since I was then in the middle of building the second French reactor, obviously it was considered that I should not be taken off it, at least not in that month of May. But then they took off the accelerators, which was a bit piquant, because they removed precisely that part of my duties that justified my being in CERN in the first place. Of course, my real reason for being in CERN was that was a specialist in the setting up and running of scientific organizations. That was never considered as a credible specialty. So they had to sell me to CERN on the idea that I had something to do with the accelerators. But as soon, as I say -- as soon as this was done, I was removed from my accelerators at Saclay, I immediately and automatically ceased to be an experimental-physics man -- which made my position in CERN a bit more difficult. This was probably a somewhat foreseen consequence.
Weiner:I think you did describe the series of events that led to your finally settling down in Geneva in ‘54. At that time, was it clear in your mind that you were going to stay, that gradually you were going to be more and more involved in CERN, and that that was really the solution?
Kowarski:A beautiful expression which will appear for the first time in this story, but possibly not for the last, is my “piano.” It was I think invented by Pierre Monet, who will appear quite a lot in the next installments. “What I would like to know, where is your piano?”
Weiner:In terms of, where you really live and what your intentions are?
Kowarski:Yes. My piano came to Geneva in April, ‘54.
Weiner:So that decision was pretty clearly made.
Kowarski:I only use it to solve musical crossword puzzles. Kate is the real user.
Weiner:All right, we should talk then about life here, not completely new relationships, because the people in fact were this scheming gang who established the thing in the first place. But how many of them were physically on campus, physically present? Who was living in Geneva when you came? What group did you associate with?
Kowarski:Well, it was in transition, you know. For instance, there was a period for about three months, early January to early April, when I had a small apartment in Geneva. My present apartment we moved in only in early April, ‘54, but had a preliminary apartment -- at that time I was theoretically supposed to be half time in Paris too, and Kate was still in Paris.
Weiner:When you came here, what was on the ground? What were things like?
Kowarski:Which stage of my coming here? The first apartment, the small one or the big apartment?
Weiner:The small apartment.
Kowarski:I got it by New Year, ‘54. At that time, quite a few people were already living in Geneva, and that meant chiefly the P.S. group. Its head, Dahl, never came to live in Geneva. Goward did. But Goward fell ill, mortally ill in fact, almost immediately after his arrival in Geneva. Adams did very much to redress the situation.
Weiner:Was that your first meeting with Adams?
Kowarski:I first met Adams in ‘52. I must say it was quite an over-whelming impression. The next occasion, which consolidated my impression, happened some time in ‘53 Adams quite casually said at a meeting (I think it was in England) that of course this new organization was not only a means for physics experimentation, but also, and perhaps that was equally important, an experiment in organizational forms in Europe. He still thinks it.
Weiner:He acts it out too, which is more important. So he was here --
Kowarski:Hine was here. In fact, many of the people you saw today were already here. Hildred Blewett.
Weiner:When you look back on those first years, is there some sense of a special atmosphere?
Kowarski:Oh yes, very special.
Weiner:Jungk tries to bring some of that out.
Kowarski:He does it very well.
Weiner:I wondered how you felt about his treatment of it.
Kowarski:I would say his views expressed in the book largely coincide with mine. The coincidence is not entirely fortuitous.
Weiner:He based it on your -- show’s he’s a good man, to go to the sources.
Kowarski:Jungk cooperated very wholeheartedly with Weisskopf and myself, when we tried to steer his somewhat incomplete ideas in the direction which we considered reasonable. There were some other sources. It must never be forgotten that Jungk is not a world-wide writer, he’s a German writer.
Weiner:This comes out in other books.
Kowarski:Yes. It comes out quite noticeably in this one.
Weiner:He did use archives and the UNESCO things and so forth.
Kowarski:The use at UNESCO consisting in his finding that there wasn’t practically anything.
Weiner:Well, he makes some statement about finding some papers in Paris.
Kowarski:Yes, but very few.
Weiner:That’s just the point, he doesn’t tell you which ones he used, and which he didn’t. Well, there’s a lot more material in your two accounts, actually in terms of detail.
Kowarski:Yes. But in terms of atmosphere, which is probably more important than the budgetary details, there is a lot more in Jungk simply because there’s quite a lot more pages.
Weiner:He had a chance to describe it in good prose. What about social relationships among the individuals here? Here you are with a relatively new bride -- how long were you married?
Kowarski:Nearly six years.
Weiner:Right, sorry, I’m confusing this with the early days in Paris. Anyway, so you’re here as two individuals. What kind of social community life developed? Was there this kind of closeness among the CERN people?
Kowarski:I might say immediately, it was bedeviled by the inner tensions which already began to develop from the very beginning. I think Adams bears a considerable part of responsibility for these tensions, and as I once made the point in one of my papers, a leader of a very tightly knit group sometimes has to rely on the opposition of this group to everybody else, to keep the group together. This was very much the fact in the early days of CERN. Jungk of course doesn’t mention that at all. There never was a wholehearted unity of pioneering life among CERN as a whole. I think we should --
Weiner:-- just a final question. Was that because you were geographically scattered? You weren’t living all as a unit as in Los Alamos or something, you were living in various apartments in the town --
Weiner:And the site was way out here --
There were two sites: that of the P.S. group, in town, and the airport site.