Oral History Transcript — Dr. Lew Kowarski
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Lew Kowarski; November 20, 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:Since we aren’t quite sure where we left off last time, we’ve agreed that even though there might be a gap or a slight overlap, we’ll start approximately the period of 1957, since it’s logical as an historical unit.
I will start by characterizing that time point, with respect to various parts of my career activity. The early weeks of 1957 at CERN are the time when the bulk of activity is transferred into the new buildings on the present site at Meyrin, Geneva. They are transferred from various provisional quarters closer to the city. This transfer, of course, is an occasion for certain reorganizations or formalizations of the already existing organization, and at that time the smaller machine of CERN, the synchrocyclotron, is obviously soon about to work, so the man in charge, who was Gentner, organizes his self-contained physics institute around this soon-to-work machine, with various activities again conceived as those of a German university, and completely different from the style of Big Science which I or some Britishers were instrumental in implanting at CERN. His powers are more or less absolute. His disregard for forms other than those on which he proposes to work is complete, and, therefore, I find myself with less and less to do.
On the other hand, some of the activities which were also within my formal jurisdiction in ‘55 or ‘56 do not interest him, and for those I have a free hand to develop them according to my own ideas. Some of them are mere remnants, for example, the production of liquefied gases, such as liquid nitrogen or liquid hydrogen, which may seem a small thing, but, in fact, it means the implantation at Meyrin of an entirely new technique and a new kind of equipment -- also a new kind of specialist, new to CERN. And some other auxiliary activities are more classical, but the physicists consider them as mere services, such as, for example, health physics. The fact that health physics for an unprecedentedly powerful machine has also to be developed, and not just transferred from somewhere else as a service, is overlooked.
So perhaps when this health physics activity was still left in my jurisdiction, people did not quite understand what it implied. But the only domain which at least the most perceptive minds consider as, scientifically, really important, and which again is left to me entirely, is the domain of computers and their applications. And since I had at that time already the idea that not only computer utilization in particle physics but the general subject of computers -- their importance, their use, their philosophy -- would become a very important branch of intellectual endeavor, it is there that my interest becomes most active. Of course, since the importance of computers is totally misunderstood, and not only at CERN at that time, one doesn’t reserve much room for this development. The resources in staff and money available for this equipment are rather weak, compared to what is going in CERN elsewhere. Not really weak in the absolute sense, because CERN’s resources are high in whatever it does. This was the promise, but the promise for some indefinite future, maybe near future but not immediate, because we couldn’t develop much of a computer science or of computer approach to physics without having a computer in sight, and we didn’t expect our computer to come to CERN for another year.
As a matter of fact, it arrived only in October, ‘58. So at the time point which I am describing, preoccupation with computers means chiefly the first stages of thinking, hiring of the first staff, and battling with architects about the computer building. Since I often give you little anecdotes, I would like to remember a meeting concerning the computer building, comprising the representative of the architect and a representative of the computer manufacturers. It was clear to me that the manufacturers attempted to excuse their delays by saying, “Anyhow, the building will not be ready,” and the architects were trying to excuse their delays by saying, “Well, anyhow, the computer will not be delivered that soon.” And I remember that at one moment I said, “Gentlemen, it is difficult to conduct this meeting between two tortoises, both pretending to be hares.” But, finally, the ways out of vicious circles are always found, and that vicious circle also was finally broken. The building, by the way, was ready before the computer was delivered. At the same time, I had still to give attention to those branches of my former empire which were still under my jurisdiction, although it was quite obvious that they would slip away one by one. At one moment, still in the first half of ‘57, I officially relinquished from my grasp, on the one hand, the central mechanical workshops; on the other hand the electronic development and workshops, because in both cases I noticed that my immediate subordinates who had to deal with these branches began to be ordered about by people who never asked me about it.
Since I was powerless to change anything in this situation, I preferred not to have my figurehead name to cover these activities in which I had no longer much say, and, therefore, I officially relinquished them. They were transferred to other divisions. As a compensation, I was given the exclusive right to pursue the bubble chamber development, which at CERN was slightly behind other places, such as the national institutes of our member nations. There were several beginnings on bubble chambers in various places at CERN. It was decided to concentrate everything concerning them in one hand, and Gentner in particular was not much interested in bubble chambers, so for about a year and a half I remained in charge. Then in later ‘58 this development was formally removed from my jurisdiction, but about that I will tell later. Computers were a matter of the future. Most other activities were either a matter of the past or not very interesting in themselves. One corner was running so perfectly well that it didn’t need much of my attention. That was the whole corner of library and publications, which was called Scientific Information Service and was run by a remarkable man, Herbert Coblans.
I suppose I have already mentioned him in the previous tape. Coblans’ activities were interesting, merited attention -- I was not ready to relinquish them and nobody pressed me to relinquish them, except one of their corners, the official Public Relations of CERN. They were originally put in the same Information Service, but already in ‘56 they were removed from it and set up as a part of the Director General’s office. But this was a relatively small part. The more scientific part of it which was Library and Publications was still firmly under Coblans and, therefore, under me. Simply, Coblans ran them so well that they didn’t occupy much of my time, although whenever I was not away from CERN on some travel, I had a habit of dropping in on Coblans at lunchtime, practically every working day, for a half an hour or three quarters of an hour’s conversation. It was quite a tradition over many years which I daresay both of us enjoyed. So, this defines more or less what I was doing at CERN. But the OEEC part, or as it began to be called at that time, the ENEA part, because the European Nuclear Energy Agency began to come officially into force, the ENEA part was in full development, and in 1957 I officially had 20 percent of my time paid by ENEA, and only 80 percent salary at CERN. Actually, it was not ENEA which paid me, it was the French Commissariat, but there was a kind of treat between the Commissariat and ENEA according to which my time was put unreservedly at ENEA’s disposal. I probably already have reported about the first job I did for ENEA, which was to be rapporteur of a study group on experimental reactors in Europe, and because my status at that time was still in the reactor world a little under a cloud, I was not made conspicuously chairman of the group. There was another chairman, a friend of mine, the Swedish physicist Siguard Eklund, who later on moved to a far more exalted political fate.
Weiner:You mean the head of the Atomic Energy --
Kowarski:Yes. It was a very easy situation because Eklund, who is very perceptive -- with probably far more perception than he was, or is, credited with -- understood perfectly well the situation. And under his benevolent chairmanship, I was able to extend my rapporteur’s function as far as I dared. The report was entirely planned and largely written by me. However, in places there were considerable chunks hired out to the British physicist Compton Rennie, who later on distinguished himself as the leader of one of the ENEA-sponsored projects. The report was not made public but integrated in the production of the OEEC in January ‘57.
Weiner:You mean, issued as part of their publications?
Kowarski:Not publications at that time. Later on it was put on the publication list, but at first only as part of their working documents.
Weiner:But distributed, mimeographed or something?
Yes, that’s right; it was very favorably judged, and, therefore, I became a kind of established figure in ENEA. My title was that of Scientific Advisor, under the Director of the Agency who was Pierre Huet, a very remarkable person, but I suppose I have described him previously. And the question was, what to do next? It was obvious that my advice would acquire higher value -- I might even say, my advice would have any value whatsoever -- only if I could be put in closer contact with what was going on in the United States. For that, I had to go there. That was barred by the McCarran-Walter Act, so one had to re-interpret my file at the State Department in the sense that it would not be contrary. It was a matter of interpretation. This was done by the joint effort of Pierre Huet and the advisor to the US ambassador in Paris on atomic matters, who was a civil service lawyer by name of Max Isenbergh -- a fine man, fine musician, clarinet on a concert level -- with whom I had therefore not only the questions of atomic energy and their political implications as common ground of interest, but also music. This always helps.
Max Isenbergh, belonging himself to the State Department, managed to get for me a visa -- my first visa after six years -- to the United States, and I went there at the end of May ‘57. It was still a propeller plane, with the now long forgotten hardships of stopping at Shannon and in Gander, which, however, I took very much in my stride, because for me it was a moment of triumph. I remember very well as another anecdote that I had my breakfast in the plane, in the small hours of the morning, New York time, something like 4 or 5 a.m., and apart from a few glasses of pure water from water coolers, my next meal was around 7 p.m. at Horn and Hardart on 42nd Street. Between these two meals, I simply had no time to think of stopping to get food. I remember, from Kennedy Airport, which of course at that time was Idlewild still, I didn’t take the airport bus but managed to take buses and subways, but I was stymied by the tokens which I had never seen before. And when finally I emerged from Grand Central at 42nd Street, I was completely taken unawares by the unfamiliar landscape of mid-Manhattan skyscrapers. It was kind of unexpected.
On that trip, which lasted slightly over three weeks, I visited a great variety of places. I spent some time at the Atomic Energy headquarters in Washington. I went to a meeting of the American Nuclear Society. I visited the reactor testing station in Idaho. I was received everywhere as practically a long lost brother, and it was amusing to think that my visa still was strictly one throw, for one trip only; that before receiving it I had to submit in Paris still a more or less complete itinerary, with indication of my points of interest in every place; that when I arrived in New York, I was handled not by one of the immigration officers through which streamed the whole population of the plane, but taken out by some higher official, and, in fact, was treated as a pretty dangerous person. But this is one of the charms of the United States –- that once you pass through that, there is no trace of that left. And although it was not on that time but exactly a year later, that at some meeting concerning some involvements of American atomic energy in Europe, I found myself at a luncheon party given in the private dining room of John Foster Dulles in the State Department building. And I still was on this very special visa status. I brought back from this American trip a lot of notes. I wrote a long report to Huet which still makes interesting reading to myself when I’m lucky enough to find a copy of it in my very involved archive system.
Weiner:“System” -- you use that word?
On that occasion, I might mention, if I didn’t mention him before, a striking personality with whom my fate was linked from mid-1956, and remained linked practically to his death 13 years later. It was a young man, at that time he was not yet 25, who was a graduate -- if I mentioned him before, it’s OK, we will have occasion to compare my two mentions -- graduate of the technical school of Lausanne and who was taken by Huet as a young scientific engineer who would help Huet to find his way in the intricate terminology of atomic matters. It turned out that Huet hired in the person of Roland Perret far, far more than a young scientific graduate. Perret became one of the striking personalities of the international scene in atomic energy, for several years. He was, for all practical purposes, an invalid. He suffered from severe diabetes contracted when he was a schoolboy as a result of an infection. And he knew that he would not live long, and he was consumed by some kind of rage of living which manifested itself not only in his professional activities but also in his private life.
In spite of our difference of age, at that time I was roughly twice as old as he, we became close friends -- to such an extent that questions began to be raised about the degree of closeness. However, for those who knew us better, it was obvious that this question should not ever arise. Our interests were elsewhere. So, when Huet sent me first to America, I insisted that Perret should come too, and Huet was very surprised. Why should he go to the expense of sending this 25-year old man on this far-away trip? I said, “Well, I don’t know, but you send him, you will see.” Perret visited together with me not every place, because he was sent on a cheaper ticket with limited duration, so his trip was shorter than mine. But he visited the AEC in Washington, Oak Ridge, Argonne, the American Nuclear Society meeting, and he immediately attracted attention, and his connections with America, at least with the reactor work in America in the next years, were rather closer than mine.
In the following few years we worked very closely together to establish the particular style of ENEA in European nuclear affairs. ENEA was developed at the same time as Euratom, and -- I could say a lot about that, but that is not always my biography. In addition to Huet and Perret, there were other outstanding people working in ENEA at the same time. Perhaps I will not be too libelous if I repeat the passing remark of a prominent German official (in their federal scientific affairs), who once said publicly and as a matter of course, “Well, everybody knows that Euratom has all the money and ENEA has all the ideas.” To sum up for a while the ENEA affairs, I would say that for me the most important part of ENEA was the link it provided with America. Because this link I rather shamelessly used to promote my interests in CERN. CERN never paid me anything on these trips. And I conscientiously tried to limit the actual amount of time which I devoted to CERN affairs so as not to gyp too much my backers in ENEA. Still, there are some flexibilities allowed, and so I perhaps should give a short calendar of my trips to America in those years. The first was in late May to somewhere in the second half of June, in ‘57. The next trip was October-November -- end of October, early November -- together with Huet, to another meeting of the American Nuclear Society, and the Atomic Industrial Forum. The third trip was in May-June, ‘58, and then there was a gap and the next trip was in the fall of ‘59. We perhaps will come to that later on.
Various projects and activities were launched in ENEA, probably the majority of them abortive attempts which never developed. Some others were able to develop which provided ENEA with its peculiar reputation for the years to come. Some projects were developed outside of my intervention, but I think I did participate in the origination of most of them. As I said, CERN paid me only 80 percent of my time. It was, however, always understood that CERN superior officials had a certain time off under CERN status, which would be devoted to their contacts within the home country. Since my home country officially traded me to ENEA, my home country became ENEA. That means that my percentage of my time devoted to ENEA was definitely higher than 20 percent. On the other hand, CERN had a certain spinoff from that too, as I already said. In late ‘57 things developed to the extent that in December, ‘57, as a matter of fact exactly on the 2nd Fermi pile anniversary, our little office was started in Geneva which was called the ENEA Scientific Office in Geneva. Its main, nearly full-time element was a young American physicist who at that time was permanently living in Geneva and even was a lecturer at the Geneva University.
Weiner:Who was that?
You may have heard of him. For the last 11 or 12 years he was employed by General Electric as a kind of general intelligence officer on what is going on in the scientific world in Europe. His name is Peter Frank. So the office consisted of Peter Frank, of a full-time secretary, and a couple of afternoons a week, of my presence. As often with institutional things, as soon as the office started running, my activities at ENEA gave some show of having passed their peak, so that for the second year of its existence the office was redundant and it finally was disbanded slightly less than two years after its inception. Deducting the time of my trips to America, the time I spent in Paris, which was by no means negligible, the time I spent in my ENEA office in Geneva, the rest of my time was in CERN. Perhaps I should finish that particular line which I already started today about CERN by saying that in 1958, the big machine obviously nearing completion, John Adams started worrying about the life of his scientific institute.
It turned out that (here I’m talking of things which are much wider than my own story) at that time the first clashes between the European academic establishments and those who had built CERN began to be quite obvious. Adams was the leader, the most prominent person among those who had built CERN. Therefore, Adams occupied a prominently belligerent position in this particular trouble. This trouble took the shape of a struggle of influence between his very circumscribed domain, which included the completion of the big machine and the first moves towards the preparation of what to do with it, and the rest of CERN which was run by the Director General. They were, in fact, facing each other as more or less equal persons: on one hand the obvious formal overlordship of the Director General, who was Bakker, and on the other hand this no less obviously preponderant personality of Adams. The academic establishment at that time was trying to put through a line of its own, working through the smaller machine which in ‘58 started in earnest its scientific production. This machine was in the hands of Gentner and Bernardini, in their changing capacities, but de facto in full charge. There seemed to be no reason why one day “it” shouldn’t take over the new machine as soon as it was ready.
Weiner:Why “it” shouldn’t take over?
Kowarski:“It,” the establishment, acting through the same persons. Gentner and Bernardini then claimed, maybe not explicitly, but quite unmistakably, to be not only the lords of scientific life around the smaller machine, but also the lords of scientific life in CERN as a whole. At that time the two claims were identical still, but they would not stay identical for very long. My freshly ex-subordinate Guy von Dardel found himself in a very strange position in the year immediately following (1959), but that is another story which I will not tell in detail here. At that time Gentner began to be more and more settled in Heidelberg. Bernardini was resident at CERN; he was gaining influence, and the Italian contingent of CERN physicists was quickly growing in importance, in fact, to such an extent that to this day, any physicist in CERN is called a “physichist.” And so it was Bernardini who became the top figure of the scientific overlordship at CERN. But Bernardini was not much interested in bubble chambers, and Adams, who had some ideas of their importance in the years to come, therefore deftly divided the whole field of physical experimentation in two parts: counters and electronic equipment generally speaking on the one hand, and bubble chambers on the other hand. Bernardini retained complete overlordship about the counters, because spark chambers are far more electric and, therefore, closer to electronics, and secondly, they are visibly distinct from bubble chambers. So spark chambers came under Bernardini, but Adams retained completely the bubble chambers. I might go further into ramifications of the growing interest of French high energy physicists in bubble chambers, therefore, they gravitated towards Adams rather than towards Bernardini.
Weiner:You’re explaining how this strange division of labor took place, and that the spark chambers when they came in, since they were related to electrical things, went into the counter thing under Bernardini.
Yes. The treaty between Adams and Bernardini was concluded in August, ‘58, and I learned about it soon enough. I was never consulted. Possibly Bernardini and Adams both would be surprised that there could be some idea of consulting me, but after all, bubble chambers were being developed in the group which was in my division, and I was supposed to be their provider. When I learned about this division of labor, I immediately concluded that of course this would have now to be formally consecrated. Bubble chambers were then officially taken out of my jurisdiction. An interesting general remark. Most people cannot understand that such things can be. They cannot understand that if somebody in an organization under a suitable family tree chart is officially in charge of a task, two other people in the same organization can meet and decide which of these two is going to run it.
People who know how big corporations and other such organizations work are not so surprised, but most people don’t know. They submit to this system and don’t discuss it. And so, when people in CERN at large woke one day to find that Adams was officially in charge of all the bubble chamber people, they concluded, well, Kowarski, for some reason known only to himself, decided to get rid of them. I am mentioning this because only a few days before this conversation of ours, I talked to a CERN official who is the minutes keeper of all official CERN meetings, and he said, wholly as a matter of course, “Well, I remember that at the end of ‘58 you lost your interest in bubble chambers.” (laughter) That is how bubble chambers escaped from under my jurisdiction -- and, by the way, by that time they were an important part of my division; at least one third of it was in this way split away. The remaining parts of my division were now essentially three: health physics, the Scientific Information Service, and the computers. Health physics I was not particularly interested in.
Two years later, this time really on my initiative, I relinquished it. But by that time the computers had developed enough to occupy me more or less full time. The supervision of the Scientific Information Service -- nobody disputed. It ran so well that nobody ever remembered its existence, and, in fact, today I am still in some tacit way having some upper eye on it -- a situation which possibly will continue after my retirement from CERN. But then there remained the computers. And from late 1960 on, my domain at CERN was officially limited to the computers and Scientific Information Service. From the 1st of January, ‘61, my division changed its name. It used to be called, non-committally, Scientific and Technical Services, and it began to be formally known as the Data Handling Division.
Weiner:What was your title at that time, had it changed at all?
Kowarski:There was a small change. Under the provisional CERN I think we were officially titled group leaders. I was the leader of the Laboratory Group. From October ‘54, when official permanent CERN came into being, division heads began to be known as directors, and I had the title of director until a changed constitution of CERN came into force on the 1st of January, ‘61. Factually, of course, it was already in force several months earlier, but officially it was on the 1st of January my Division of Scientific and Technical Services began to be called Data Handling Division, and division heads began to be called division leaders. So from January ‘61 onwards, I was no longer a director, I was leader or head of the Data Handling Division.
Weiner:How many people did that involve at that time?
Kowarski:If you add the computers and the Scientific Information Service -- well, the latter was always about 20 people. I think, by the time I left, which was at the end of August, 1963, the whole division was a little over 100, something like 110 or 115. The number of purely computer people was pushing 100 but not yet quite there. At the same time, I mean January 1, 1961, the total CERN staff -- paid staff, regular staff -- was standing somewhere in the neighborhood of, very roughly speaking, 1200 or so. So my realm was numerically speaking by no means a negligible chunk, of the order of 10 percent. My figures are a bit hazy. That is the organizational background. Perhaps I should say a little more about the general infights at CERN to explain better my position. The fight was essentially, as I said, between Adams, including his chunk of the scientific program which was bubble chambers, on the one hand, and all the rest, which was partly Bernardini’s electronic group and partly theoretical physics. The latter, being very academic, was in complete solidarity with Bernardini, although in no way under him, and would be considered as part of the same side in this alignment.
Weiner:Who was the principal in theoretical physics?
Kowarski:Van Hove came some time in 1960. I remember Oppenheimer telling me that CERN should grab him. Before Van Hove, there were various temporary leaders. I don’t quite remember, but I think Fierz was just before Van Hove, and Ferretti before Fierz. I think -- again without wishing to state strong opinions about things on which I have not enough competence -- I would say that Van Hove was definitely a stronger personality than either Fierz or Ferretti, both as a scientist and as a human person. The Director General, the Dutchman Bakker, was in a curious position. Bakker came to CERN originally with some help from my recommendation to Auger. I did believe that CERN should be interested in Bakker. This is one of these assertions for which I have not the slightest proof and which you are free to take or not to take on faith. I was interested in Bakker because he was the first man to build on the European Continent, practically single-handedly, a synchrocyclotron. Yes, in Holland, in Amsterdam.
Weiner:Where did he get support for that, from the state?
The university and Philips. In fact, in ‘47 he divided his work between Amsterdam and Eindhoven, and my first detailed conversation with him took place in his car going from Eindhoven to Amsterdam. That was after a short stay I made in Casimir’s house, and I suppose Casimir took me as a guest because he took Cockcroft at the same time, and Cockcroft and I at that time were in very good relations. So I stayed at Casimir’s house. Then I wanted to visit Bakker’s cyclotron in Amsterdam and we went there together. In this way Bakker came to CERN in a privileged position which gradually became a stigmatized position of being a nuclear engineer rather than a nuclear physicist. Bakker, before he became a synchrocyclotron builder, was quite a competent, not very prominent, nuclear physicist. He had stayed in Berkeley. He had some publications to his credit. But, of course, he came to CERN through his being a cyclotron builder. I already told the story of how he became in ‘55 the Director General of CERN, chiefly I think because nobody else wanted the job.
By the time CERN’s scientific life started working around the first machine and was in preparation around the second machine, the problem arose, what to do about Bakker? The main weapon against the growing influence of Adams was to say that “Adams is not a physicist, he’s an engineer.” Obviously the same argument could be used against Bakker. Therefore, Bakker, very wisely, threw his luck completely with the scientific establishment. Adams did not pay much attention to me -- partly because of my obvious faults, such as being neither a physicist, properly speaking, nor a specialist of accelerators or engineer of any kind. So I was not of much interest to Adams. That was even apart from my faults. But also, on the other hand, partaking himself of some of my qualities, he felt that he would quite easily do without me. In this trouble I should be naturally defended by the other side -- the scientific establishment. But that side was not at all ready to defend me because I was not a properly qualified academic person. I was, of course, thank God, or thank my previous perseverance, a bona fide Doctor of Science from a bona fide university, but my professorial standing was nil.
On the other hand, the scientific establishment also could notice that I, personality-wise and interest-wise, was rather close to Adams. So Bakker, who probably in private sometimes found that he was in the same boat as I, had a hard time and little inclination I would say to defend me either against one side or the other. That explains this gradual dwindling of my empire and its gradual reduction only to one service -- the Scientific Information Service, in which no empire builder was ever interested, plus the computers, of which at that time very few people, I mean with a few exceptions, understood the importance. One of the very important exceptions was Adams. Adams always was computer minded, in fact, much earlier than I.
Weiner:Had he had prior experience?
Kowarski:Yes. When Adams was involved in accelerator building at Harwell, and in the first original plans for the CERN machine, he had access and did use some of the English computers available to English scientists. He worked together, in those days, with Mervyn Hine, a remarkable person about whom I shall have something to say -- yes, indeed. And it was from Hine that I first in my life heard of programming.
Weiner:That’s a little surprising you hadn’t heard of it before.
Kowarski:There is nothing surprising. You probably would say that to a person of my curiosity and shall we say nimbleness, I should have heard about it, but you mustn’t forget that Hine’s curiosity and nimbleness were undoubtedly higher than mine.
Weiner:Summarize your last statement, about things taken away. Summarize the whole part.
Kowarski:I stated why Adams could not be in any way my protector, why, mainly for different reasons, but also some of the same, Bernardini couldn’t be. Bakker’s status was not unlike mine, in fact, but in order to keep himself in his position, he threw his lot completely with Bernardini’s side. Therefore, Bakker was not a protective force either. And that is why it was so easy to take anything from me de facto, and since I didn’t like very much the situations in which I had no de facto power, I would not be willing to let my name be used on paper only. The de facto takeover would then come quickly, with to some extent my complicity -- also the removal formally.
Weiner:A double yielding here -- you yielded functions and you yielded titles.
Yes. I probably could have survived as nominal head of this, this and that, provided I kept myself either completely pliable or completely non-existent. But I am not a very good person for either of these. Probably some people exaggerate these tendencies of mine, but there is some truth about them. And that’s why I gradually became shorn of any major responsibility. Still, the computers remained. In early 1960, Adams was very much solicited by Her Majesty’s government to come to Culham and save the dangerous situation of the fusion research in England. And so he was under both a pushing out force from CERN and a pulling in force from England. The conjunction of both finally decided him to leave, and all through later ‘59 and early ‘60 it was known that Adams would very soon leave altogether. Bakker began to get bolder. Somewhat unexpectedly, the Council prolonged his directorship for five years without any murmur, and some plans began to be hatched between Bernardini and me to reinforce some of Bakker’s former hold on various committees which were deciding on scientific problems and so on.
I remember one, and it was only one, meeting with Bernardini on a weekend in a Geneva cafe, where we drafted a paper which was presented to Bakker under the incredible combination of signatures: Bernardini, Gentner, myself, and Preiswerk. Bakker was prepared to act on it. But just then he died in an air accident. That was in April, ‘60. Characteristically, on the day of his death in America, I arrived in America, so I heard it first from a friend in New York. Very quickly positions were taken. CERN Council considered that some acting director should be appointed at once, and it was very convenient to appoint Adams because Adams was by far the most prominent figure in CERN. And it was considered that he certainly would leave within a reasonable time, and that would give Council the time to look out for a proper replacement. So Adams was duly appointed. There was some talk that he should be styled Acting Director General, but somehow that fell through so he had the full title, Director General, which he held for 15 months, ending in July ‘61. Some of the details of the conversations around it were not absolutely savory, and I could repeat some of them, but perhaps I shouldn’t.
Weiner:You mean, there was resentment and resistance to his appointment?
That I should say probably would be considered something quite honorable, to resent and resist, but there were other things. The atmosphere was not very pleasant. For me it was a bit of a catastrophe, because just as I was starting to build up my position in some kind of alliance with Bernardini’s establishment and with Bakker’s office, the basis of it was knocked out. And since that previous effort was more or less against Adams, Adams’ arrival at the Director General’s office didn’t bear a good promise for the continuation of my activities at CERN. This foreboding turned out to be wrong. By the end of his directorship, by shall we say late spring or summer ‘61, Adams arrived at a firm understanding of what I was trying to do. So far as I know, it met with his approval, and although he was on many occasions frankly critical of some of my approaches and ways of doing things, I could foresee that there would be a possible modus vivendi. Unfortunately, Adams left at the end of July, 1961.
Weisskopf came on the 1st of August, and that was the beginning of the last stage of my active life at CERN. All this forms the political background for the computer developments at CERN. Since they are probably of more interest to you, I will go back to that date of arrival of the first CERN computer, October ‘58, when I was still in undisputed control. Some of the memories of that time sound today quite strange. For example, the late 1950s were the time of my greatest estrangement from Cockcroft. I did not quite understand, and I still do not quite understand what was going on. On some other examples I can judge that there is a peculiarly English mistrust of people who have been in a position of power, who for objectively existing reasons, whether right or wrong, are no longer in power, and who make desperate attempts to stay in power or to seize back more power. I don’t think that I quite fitted that description, but apart from my own tastes and ideas of right behavior, the picture was close enough, so that this traditional mistrust was again very visible. Cockcroft in those days was critical of many things I was doing, not only openly to my face, which always was a source of pain to me, because I had a very high degree of regard for Cockcroft and a long past of working together fruitfully.
There was even a future in this relationship, but that, of course, I didn’t know at the time. In early l960s our good relations were re-established. But during that estranged period, for example, when I tried to increase CERN’s computer capacity by acquiring a 704, (it is, as you know, an IBM), it was reported to me that Cockcroft on some committee had said that he had been to the Lawrence Radiation Lab, the Berkeley part of it, and they had a 704 and used it six hours a week. Of course, if Berkeley, which at that time was still one of the very prominent centers of nuclear physics, needed a 704 only for six hours a week, it could be hardly reasonable to push for CERN having it. This was a typical example of the rather absurd difficulties I had in pushing towards the increase of CERN’s computer capacity.
Weiner:What was his capacity? Was he a member of a committee or special scientific advisor?
Kowarski:Cockcroft was probably still at that time a member of the Scientific Policy Committee of CERN. He was no longer director at Harwell. He was the Master of the Churchill College in Cambridge. He was still a member of the Authority for several years of the British Atomic Commission. He was a Nobel Prize man. He was an extremely influential person.
Weiner:Specifically his relationship to CERN?
Kowarski:Formally? Formally he was a member of the Scientific Policy Committee, which has a very formal function, and he usually was one of the two British delegates on the CERN Council.
Weiner:Who was the other?
Kowarski:Oh, it usually was an official of the top ministerial body for Science, which had different definitions at different times. It was for a long time the OSIR, and today it’s Scientific Research Council and its head is Sir Brian Flowers. Yes, it does seem strange today, that barely 11, 12 years before our present day, when CERN has a computing capacity equal, probably, to at least a hundred times that of a 704, that at that time such arguments could be put forward in deliberations, but so it was. In my struggle to get beyond the small British-made Mercury -- the computer which arrived in October, ‘58 -- and to switch to some of the bigger IBM computers, I was supported by Adams, with due deliberation, and by some members of the Council, such as Amaldi, and by De Rose, who precisely at that time happened to be the chairman of the CERN governmental Council. So, with some difficulty, I was victorious. I brought into CERN, finally, not a 704 but a more modern 709. The 709, by the way, was a somewhat abortive chapter in the history of IBM computers, because almost at the time when the 709 was introduced, the transistorized technique came in. The 709 was still with tubes, not transistors. IBM at about the same time developed the next computer, 7090, which was one of the most successful workhorses in the scientific computation for many years. There were other struggles. For example, my tendency to consider computer science as an intellectual discipline and to staff it accordingly. CERN at that time had considerable budget troubles. The already fast growing community of those physics experimentalists, who just started to realize that computers were important, would like all resources available in the computer corner of CERN to be devoted to their immediate service, according to their directives. Their directives, in my opinion, suffered from being always a few years out of date. On the other hand, being too narrowly confined to immediate service, they would oppose any allocation of resources to future developments; they simply were not interested in such developments.
Weiner:At that time they were in competition with other places, weren’t they, regarding results on machines? So the computer is the way to get results quicker.
There is a time lag. If a place like Berkeley, where Alvarez’ personality was very much pushing for bigger and better computers, was obtaining prominent results, this would take several years to sink in -- not many years, but certainly more than one year. And by that time, our CERN physicists would begin to clamor for something which Alvarez had introduced three or four years before, and which by that time would already be beginning to be out of date. There were other more subtle factors. For example, it would be claimed that the “purer” intellectual approach, which was supposed to be traditionally European, was more important than just the amount of equipment. And since obviously on the one hand the leading physicists were not familiar with the equipment, and on the other hand would dispute that the American way of doing things was the best way of doing things, there was a certain tendency concerning any fresh computer-aided success of Berkeley to ascribe it to this or that, but not to the superior computing equipment. It was a built-in tendency to arrive at first at such a biased judgment. Then, the evidence would win over. But that takes a few years, and with such a mechanism in force, one could always be sure that European experimentation would always be behind any kind of American experimentation in which computers played an essential role.
Perhaps today I’m not competent enough to judge how far this always was or is true. But the fact is that in the last twelve years or so of high energy physics, the few really important discoveries, such as the double nature of the neutrino, or the C-P violations -- they all came from America. There may be some connection here with the European attitude to innovation in the domain of equipment. Nowadays, there is some new hope for Europe not to fall behind. For example, now CERN has the Storage Rings, which by the way were built against the same kind of frantic opposition from physicists. When the physicists began to be convinced that computers are essential, all sorts of maneuvers started in favor of this or that physics group having a computer of its own. Since there was this time lag, usually their requests for computers were rather modest. And so CERN’s computing equipment began to show a tendency to split: on one side a computer service built around a big main computer, and apart from it a cluster of other computers, independent from that service and run completely under the thumb of various physics groups.
Weiner:The groups were of changing composition, though, weren’t they?
Kowarski:In those years it was less pronounced. I’m thinking now of ‘60, ‘61. It was less pronounced, and the connection grew between them -- fostered by CERN’s inhouse physicists, and especially by Bernardini. But Bernardini saw very well that I was fighting a losing battle. In fact, he was one of the people who saw that it was destined to be losing, and from time to time he would come and say, “Lew, I appreciate very much what you’re trying to do, but couldn’t you do it implicitly?” (He pronounced it “implichitly.”) And in this he probably was right. I’m not the best person for doing things implichitly. I’m rather in favor of acting in a very open, some people say flamboyant, way, and when I do things implichitly, people are not quite free from vague suspicions. So I’m not best situated to do things that way. My successor, Ross Macleod, was a far more successful practitioner of implicit tactics. This, then, was the losing battle of my remaining in a diminishing control of the growing investment of CERN in computers. It was obvious a few years beforehand that by insisting on building up the CERN computational capacity, I was making more and more certain the demand that it should be removed from my control. But at the same time, I became involved in what I might call the last period of my active scientific or technical life, and that was the development of data processing devices for bubble chambers.
Weiner:This is ‘60, ‘61?
Kowarski:Yes. In fact, since for various complicated reasons Adams overlordship of bubble chambers which, after Adams left, was left to Adams’ successors -- (where was I? I lost the trend of this sentence…). Adams’ interest in bubble chambers was combined with various reasons not to hurry too much with the building of such chambers at CERN itself. I will not go into that. So for several years, CERN’s activities in bubble chambers were essentially done with chambers brought from member states. One from France, one from England -- essentially, the bigger ones.
Weiner:Which had been specially built for CERN?
That’s an interesting question. You could not get in any nation the money for building a costly piece of equipment that would eventually go to Geneva. I have never doubted that this was the real intention of those who built them, but they were never very vociferous about it. Well, Adams definitely counted that the French chamber and the British chamber would come to CERN, and therefore he was in no hurry to build things at CERN; or maybe it was the other way around also. The result was that CERN’s experience and knowledge of bubble chambers and CERN’s feel for bubble chambers -- and now by CERN I mean the staff residents of CERN -- was relatively low, I mean compared to the composite level of competence which arose from the incorporation of CERN resident staff into the community of European, nation-based, physicists. By ‘61 it became clear that since, on the other hand, CERN’s competence in data processing for bubble chambers was much higher than what it was in the surrounding community, there was a growing imbalance which couldn’t be allowed to get out of hand. One felt that I -- being the person who pushed CERN proper to acquire competence in data processing -- was the source of that imbalance. There was not much sense in a laboratory becoming very competent in processing the data from a device about which the same laboratory is not particularly competent.
The same was true in spark chambers. These chambers were developed at CERN, for various reasons, rather belatedly, and in contrast to bubble chambers, they were late -- not only in their development, but also in their use. So when I began to be interested in processing of spark chamber data, I found myself very much in the same position of a tail wagging the dog. This, also, was hardly tolerable. My interest in data processing for bubble chambers originated as far back as 1955, only a few months after Alvarez came into the open with his own similar interests, about which I then knew rather little. My interest became active after a conversation I had with Frisch in December, ‘55, in a train from Cambridge to London. Frisch told me of his ideas about deve1oping some devices which would, so to speak, reap numerical data from bubble chamber film and feed them to computers. At that time one thought in terms of paper tape, not even cards. In ‘56 I put together a group which started thinking on these lines. This group worked at first in relative ignorance of what Alvarez was doing at Berkeley. Then in ‘57 I sent one of the members of the group to Berkeley, and from then on the two activities merged.
Weiner:Berkeley and CERN?
Kowarski:Yes. They merged de facto, but in this peculiar style which I am afraid is far too common in today’s Big Science: some people at CERN decided that they should not bask in the reflected glory of Alvarez but should develop a glory of their own. And, therefore, they started pushing for a kind of apparatus which would be as conspicuously dissimilar to Alvarez’ as possible. Since Alvarez had some very good ideas, this was a dangerous path to follow. I tried to restrain it; not always successfully. On the whole, the machine finally developed at CERN, which was called the “Instrument for Evaluation of Photographs,” or in French, IEP (pronounced YEP). It was rather like Alvarez’ and yet visibly different from it in some essential aspects. IEP was developed entirely within my own group. The first paper on it appeared in 1957. I was one of the signatories, but I must confess that at that time I was very much taken by my newly acquired freedom to go to America, and so I left quite a lot of the essential work to the other members of the group. As a result, I can’t really claim that I understood everything which was in that paper. Leading ideas certainly, but not the details. In ‘58 we had a bit of a fright, of a somewhat ignoble kind, when Alvarez arrived at the Atoms for Peace Conference, the second one in Geneva, which at that time included high energy physics, and a Franckenstein machine of the type that Alvarez was then using was brought as an American contribution to the public exhibition of nuclear instrumentation. An offer was made that this machine should be left to CERN.
Weiner:Who made the offer.
Weiner:Oh, that the machine that was brought over for display purposes should be left over for use at CERN. That’s a nice gesture.
Kowarski:Oh, Alvarez was always the man for nice gestures. This would knock out the basis from our IEP development, because the bubble chamber physicists would then withdraw their consent to our development; they would immediately seize on an already experienced machine to do their measurements, and therefore our prospective market would disappear altogether. Fortunately for us, if I remember rightly, the squandering of American taxpayers’ money on gifts to benighted Europeans was effectively squashed by the vigilant politicians, and so, as I say again, in a somewhat ignoble way, our IEP development was saved.
Weiner:Are you talking about US politicians -- in other words, through AEC or someone, and the approval didn’t come?
Kowarski:Yes, that’s right.
Weiner:Somewhere there was political pressure. Do you know anything about that, whether there was any kind of dispute?
Kowarski:No. it’s an interesting sidelight on the beauties of international science. Some independent development, of course, went on in England. That’s England’s historical role in Europe. And again, by good fortune, they were conceived on a rather modest scale. People from other European countries began simply to come to Geneva and learn about the IEP development, and that was enough to give IEP the position of being the leading data-processing device for bubble chambers in Europe, especially as at first the actual processing went on at CERN, the European participating universities having no computers yet.
Weiner:CERN was in advance of other computerized laboratories in Europe?
Kowarski:Oh, very much so.
Weiner:For example, Philips, the people in Holland -- I’m not thinking with any specific information, but I wonder – Harwell --
I can’t really make a survey of everything. Besides, the picture was very quickly changing. Any picture -- I should have to put a year on it, and I don’t have enough space on the tips of my fingers for all these years, and chronology, and geography, to give a full picture. I would suspect that the Dutch were very much, at that time, interested in the development of computers of their own, which inevitably meant that they fell behind the Americans. And CERN -- since it did rely on American computers -- therefore was in a better position. And the British happened to attack this problem, as I said a moment ago, from a rather modest angle. The French -- I already mentioned, I think, that Adams’ overlordship of bubble chambers went very much with French participation. Therefore, the French bubble chamber groups were hand in glove with CERN. And that finally enabled CERN to occupy, or at least to take the image, of the pioneer in data processing in high energy physics, which quite naturally later on was continued when the spark chambers came. This also gave a prominence to the most active member of that original group I put together for the creation of IEP, the Belgian physicist Goldschmidt-Clermont. I might again add here a personal parenthesis. Goldschmidt-Clermont was more acceptable to the “physichist” community than I was -- possibly because he was a younger man, more flexible.
He was protected by Weisskopf, because at one moment of his life he studied under Weisskopf at MIT, and on the whole he was considered closer to the “physichists’” interests -- less unpredictable and probably more pliable. And therefore when later, slightly later on, my position became very wobbly, Goldschmidt-Clermont began to make a bid for my succession, so to speak. To come back to this gradual spread of CERN’s image as the leader in data processing, I think I am justified if I can now say that when I talk not to physicists or historians of physics but, shall we say, to journalists, I simply claim that I introduced computers into high energy physics in Europe. It’s a very crude simplification, but it’s probably a more accurate simplification than any other brief and crude image that can be given to a journalist. At present, 10 or more years after these events, I am now considered as a kind of Grand Old Man of computers, which is sometimes puzzling because certainly, until the recent few years, I knew far less about computers than I knew about reactors. The position of the Grand Old Man forced me to learn something about computers. I insist on the fact that the position came first, and whatever modest competence I have came after.
Weiner:It gave you the motivation.
Kowarski:Yes. At present, today, I probably have covered some not quite negligible fraction of the way at whose end I would become entitled to put forward a legitimate claim of being the Grand Old Man of computers. But this reputation came from a period when I had no such honest claim at all. By ‘59 the IEP was more or less accepted in Europe. Incidentally, later on, IEP techniques straight from CERN spread into some of the Soviet laboratories.
Weiner:When is the first time that they started getting involved in computer applications to high energy?
Kowarski:You mean the Soviets? I am not familiar with all dates and details. I would put their time lag, give or take a year, something like five or six years. It is one of my private claims to pride -- pride in private is not much of a pride -- that I played a very definite role in the establishment of one of the main reasons for fruitful cooperation of Soviet physics with CERN.
Weiner:In that field, you mean?
In that field, yes. People who actually developed data processing at CERN, younger people, they sometimes would appear on some international meeting and sitting around me, and one witty observer referred to this whole group as “the Kowarski children.” So in ‘59, Alvarez began to get interested in more automatic devices than the original Frankenstein. The Spiral Reader began to be developed at Berkeley. And at the same time at CERN, Goldschmidt-Clermont and the others, in meetings which were still held in my presence (most of them were actually organized by Goldschmidt-Clermont), we began to think about more -- on our side -- about more perfect devices. This coincided with the arrival in Geneva on a sabbatical of the American physicist Paul Hough -- a very colorful person, a bit of a genius -- who came to CERN with some ideas of a mathematical device which I don’t remember very well and which has been mercifully forgotten. After a few weeks at CERN he conceived an entirely new idea, which he developed in collaboration with a young British visiting physicist, Brian Powell, who at that time was 25. Hough was about 35, I think, at the time of his arrival in CERN. And they developed together an entirely new principle which became known as the Hough-Powell Device or HPD, and which in a few years has spread all over the world.
So now I am telling that story. In the last months of ‘59, there was a revival of my activity at ENEA and, at the same time, a growingly difficult position between two schools of the warring factions at CERN, which I already explained. Those were the last months of Bakker’s life. My temporary remotenesses were skillfully exploited; until January, ‘60, I didn’t even know that Hough, who was a visitor in my division, was developing these new ideas. Goldschmidt-Clermont reported about them in January ‘60, on one of the periodic meetings of the bubble-chamber scientific group, which was run by Adams, more or less without any official position of dependence on CERN in general or on its Director General. It was a private initiative. And one came there by private invitation. Since I already explained that the physicists -- and that was true on both sides, bubble and electronic -- were rather inclined to deal with Goldschmidt-Clermont than me, it was Goldschmidt-Clermont who reported to this group. I learned of this meeting practically by accident, and, of course, when I demanded to be present, people couldn’t very well say no. But Adams tried to dissuade me saying, “Well, you know, questions of detail, highly technical -- I know that you look on these things a little from above, I don’t think it’s worth your time.” Of course, when a powerful Englishman suggests something, it’s healthier for you to follow the suggestion. I think on an earlier tape I told another story of exactly that situation. And just as on that previous occasion, I decided to disregard the suggestion, and I came to the meeting, and there I learned for the first time about the Hough-Powell activity.
Some of the features of Hough’s ideas appeared rather naive, and a couple of days later I sent to Hough a lengthy note in which I made some other proposals. I will not go again into technical details, but this proposal contained the principle of what later on came to be called “parallel guidance,” which became one of the main features of the Hough-Powell system. Hough, who is as I will say again a very colorful personality, apt to be sarcastic, apt to be quarrelsome -- there is one thing about Hough which is not immediately clear to everybody: his fanatic intellectual honesty. As soon as he appreciated that the parallel guidance idea had something in it, he immediately adopted it. And therefore, through that intervention, I was able to influence to some extent, on a technical plane, the development of the Hough-Powell system. In 1960 there was an instrumentation part of the Rochester Conference. The Rochester Conference by that time was still yearly, but they began to be so important that they had to split in the experimentation part and the instrumentation part. In 1960 the experimentation part was, I think, held still in Rochester, but the instrumentation part was held in Berkeley.
By some fluke of probably misunderstanding, which has never been clarified, I received a letter from Lofgren in Berkeley inviting me to come to the conference and to chair one of the sessions. That was at the time when I could not expect that CERN would go to the expense of sending me to Berkeley at all, and it would be explained that such and such people have a higher priority. And, of course, they don’t deny at all that my presence would be of high interest, but unfortunately one has to choose, and so one has to cut it off somewhere, and so it would be cut off on my side. Goldschmidt-Clermont was sent to the Rochester Conference, and after Rochester he would go as a matter of course to Berkeley. By sending this invitation to me, Lofgren somewhat upset these tendencies. The poor man probably didn’t realize what a hornet’s nest he was interfering with. Anyhow, I seized the occasion. After that, of course, it was rather difficult to cut off the available funds. 1960 was still a pretty meager year, but improvement was on its way and it was getting difficult to invoke the scarcity of funds just to cut off the item Kowarski. And so for the first time then, CERN paid my trip to America. I took Kate with me. It was her first visit to San Francisco and our first visit to Yosemite, where we spent I think something like eight or ten days.
Weiner:In the Park? Did you camp out or stay at a lodge?
Kowarski:That’s a good question. When we arrived there it was a little before Labor Day. There was, of course, a very great scarcity of accommodation. We finally got -- well, we spent a whole night outside of the park at one of the motels -- but inside the park we got, for one night, the permission to stay in one of the Curry Camp cabins, Number 76-B to be precise. And after that day, we went to the Curry Camp office and got a permit to stay another day, and this -- I’m not quite sure that it went for the whole eight day period, but certainly for almost all of it, and we called it our daily visit to the parole officers.
Weiner:What did you see or learn at the conference itself? Did you visit the Berkeley setup?
Kowarski:It was not my first visit to Berkeley, of course, but it was the first time that I arrived at Berkeley in a local working capacity. I was told by Arthur Rosenfeld (who was most involved in the part in which my chaired session would be): “Kowarski, we want you to work,” and I was given a desk and the indication of what they wanted me to work on. That enabled me to write the chairman’s introduction to the session, which was a little more than most chairmen did, and this introduction is still one of my published papers. It appeared in the PROCEEDINGS. The conference was short -- three days -- and my session was one of three, or I think maybe even four, parallel sessions on the last afternoon, Wednesday afternoon. It went on through all Wednesday afternoon, then by unanimous acclaim of the people present, went on the whole day on Thursday under my chairmanship, and then was prolonged for the whole day on Friday. But by then I decided it was perhaps too conspicuous for me to carry on my chairmanship from one fraction of one afternoon to the full period of two and a half days, so asked Alan Thorndike from Brookhaven, a man with whom I always had best relations, to be the chairman, which he kindly agreed to, and the session went on.
Weiner:It was a separate conference for the people concerned with it.
Kowarski:Exactly. That shows how naive Lofgren had been! What came out of it was a very explicit interest of Berkeley and Brookhaven in the Hough-Powell Device. Alvarez was not interested, but then Berkeley was not only Alvarez. There were other groups. If I may say so, some of them may have seized on that device as a stick to beat Alvarez with. As you see, as usual, I am always ascribing the basest motives to people.
Weiner:When the conference went on, was it continuation of presentation of papers or open discussion or what?
Kowarski:Both. I remember that some papers were presented at this improvised conference on Thursday. Friday was mostly discussion. I remember, as one of my dicta on Thursday, that, of course, for using this device, you have to have a biggish computer of at least 709 size, but those who can have no 709 can always use a 707. If this piece of wit is not clear to you, what I meant by it -- I can mention the idea which Mervyn Hine, later on, expressed in another speech: one has to choose between computers and commuters.
Weiner:So out of this emerged the interest of these various groups in the Rough-Powell Device.
It was, with Thorndike, more or less agreed that a conference would be held in November in Brookhaven which would deal with data processing, which would be a good occasion for getting our budding collaboration formalized. And my idea was, at that time, that in the collaboration, CERN would contribute first of all the concept, then the blueprints -- literally mechanical blueprints of the Hough-Powell hardware -- and possibly even build some of it for the others, while those other places would develop the other parts of the system. Because mechanical hardware was not everything. There was also electronic hardware; there was software. In those days I am not sure that the word “software” was already familiar. Probably it was just beginning. So it was decided, more or less, between the parties present: the non-Alvarez people in Berkeley, Thorndike, Hough was present, of course, but not Powell, Goldschmidt-Clermont was present, I was too. And then I came back to Europe, and I had to make good the proposals I was making on behalf of CERN. There I ran into opposition. CERN had always had a peculiar caution in getting into international agreements, other than the ones with member states and strictly and rigidly controlled by the academic community. It may also be to some extent the effect of what I called later on “the Kowarski curse.” That is, inasmuch as there existed a certain mood, a certain trend of action against my person, the activists were almost fatally obliged to claim that what I was doing was useless or pernicious, which, by the way, to many of them came quite easily. They really did think that.
But even those who didn’t were to some extent acquiring that vice. In that situation, just as I on a previous occasion was greatly helped by Heisenberg (I think I told about that before, in ‘56), this time I was greatly helped by Weisskopf. Weisskopf was being groomed in the second half of 1960 to replace Adams some time in ‘61. He had at that time no responsibility of a managerial kind. And he was free to exercise his private judgment in matters of interest. I remember at one moment he told me that he would present this whole business at the Scientific Policy Committee; that the paper I was then preparing for the same purpose probably was too clumsily diplomatic; and he said, “You give me the facts and I will provide the diplomacy.” He did very well. The Scientific Policy Committee meeting was held shortly before November or maybe early in November. My proposal to give some of CERN blueprints to our as yet undefined cooperative set-up with Berkeley and Brookhaven was accepted somewhat reluctantly. Of course, people said severely, “Any hardware which we supply would have to be paid”; also, that I should see that not more than a certain percentage of my total work force would be devoted to these questions. I remember that I committed myself to devote to this Hough-Powell affair not more than 20 percent of my total staff. It was definitely rationed. Obviously there were some people who quite genuinely and possibly in quite a justified way were afraid that I would tend to put too much into the wild blue yonder and would neglect the services which my staff was expected to provide. There was, of course, no question of my being sent to America by CERN for that.
The very fact of so doing would make CERN involvement conspicuous well beyond the grudging acceptance which Weisskopf managed to obtain on my behalf. Fortunately there was an ENEA-organized meeting at that time in Oak Ridge, and so I was able to say quite truthfully to my Scientific Policy Committee, “You know, it so happens that I will be in America at the time when I think there is some talk of having some data processing conference in Brookhaven, so perhaps I could use a day or two off my ENEA duties to visit Brookhaven and tell them that we after all might agree to play our part in this collaborative effort. I’m not quite sure today whether the fixing of that ENEA conference at Oak Ridge at that particular moment was in fact influenced by this Brookhaven conference of which I was supposed to have heard some vague rumors. It was quite a game to play. Anyhow, it was successful; the ENEA meeting which had an interest of its own in reactor technology, and I will not go into that here, did take place. I went to Brookhaven, and there I was completely aghast in hearing that in Brookhaven this conference, of which I was vaguely aware, was referred to very familiarly as “the Kowarski Conference.” Powell made his first appearance.
It was his first trip to America, that conference. Rough was there too. Hough was still at Ann Arbor where he came back after his return from CERN, but he was soon to start working at Brookhaven, in which it seems that my recommendation did play a role. Lee Haworth was still director of Brookhaven, or just relinquishing; he even was kind enough to ask my advice about computers for Brookhaven. So at the conference, the Hough-Powell Device was, to some extent, dominant, but I was told that Alvarez said privately, “If I cannot beat Paul Rough, it is not even worthwhile to be a physicist.” And so he came at the same conference, with the first proposal of an extremely ingenious and wholly new device called the SMP, which bore all the signs of Alvarez’ brilliance, but finally didn’t develop very much -- for various reasons which have nothing to do with his brilliance. One of the competitors which finally did kill SMP -- I don’t say kill, it’s still used in some labs -- was the Spiral Reader, which was developed also in the Alvarez group but was not Alvarez’ original idea. SMP was entirely his idea. The issue of this short conference was that Brookhaven formally declared its interest, Berkeley formally declared its interest -- that part of Berkeley which was already involved -- and we formally set up a division of labor: mechanics and optics in CERN, electronics in Brookhaven, software in Berkeley.
Weiner:Was there enough work there for all three labs?
We had to develop the same system, or very nearly the same, at least in very close cooperation. This was what I called my private international organization. There seems to be little doubt that I was the mainspring of it. At the same time, Powell stopped being a visiting scientist at CERN and became a staff member, and I put him in charge of the CERN part of this development. In May, ‘61, there was another meeting in this series--it was a formal meeting of delegates from the three places. An interesting detail: by that time there was a fourth member -- the Rutherford Lab in England. Characteristically for Britain, as usual, they let the thing develop elsewhere, this international collaboration. They made sure that there was a Britisher in one of the leading places. And then, after it had got going, they joined it formally. So the May ‘61 meeting, in fact, was a four-part affair; no longer tripartite. A young software man from Rutherford, John Burren, developed a software concept completely different from that of Berkeley.
I tried rather brutally to suppress it, because I didn’t want two rival software systems in the same setup. I was wrong in the sense that the Rutherford concept, I think now, was better than the Berkeley one. My attempts to suppress it were unsuccessful, and CERN finally adopted the Rutherford system for, of course, the greater benefit of all. Which just shows that ruling this sort of collaboration with a heavy hand sometimes can create some setbacks. By that time, I had acquired a 709 which I was able to foist on CERN with the complicity of Amaldi and Adams. Amaldi is a cautious person, but he was relatively unreserved. Adams if far more cautious but finally firm. It was during the short directorship of Adams. At the time when the 709 arrived at CERN, CERN became the biggest scientific computation center in Europe. For about five weeks, around May ‘61, Hough for Brookhaven, Powell for CERN, Howard White as Berkeley’s software man, and another man from Berkeley, Jerome Russell, and a few others, particularly from Rutherford, worked at a crazy pace. They developed the first extensive demonstration of the Hough-Powell principle by producing, for instance, such completely novel things, for that time, as scanning a bubble chamber picture, running it through the computer and producing the print-out of the same bubble picture on the computer printer.
Weiner:You mean the analysis printed out or --
Kowarski:No, the actual picture.
Weiner:The actual picture represented on the print-out.
Kowarski:Yes. All this was, as I say, novel at that time. Already some procedures, not only to produce the picture, but to process it, to extract meaningful data from it, were already under way. At the end of that period, which was ended late in May or possibly in early June, enough results were acquired for the work of this group to be published in a CERN report -- for which the allocation of signatures turned out to be quite a complicated business. Finally we more or less painfully agreed to put nine signatures on it, summing up all of the four establishments. All this was settled at a final meeting, which was the second meeting of the series, counting Brookhaven as the first. I told later on to Hine: “Well, Mervyn, you have seen my techniques for exercising heavy-handed leadership,” and Hine said, “Yes. I also could see the conferees fiercely biting the hand that was leading them.” I don’t know how far by that time my own contribution was appreciated, but it was quite obvious that I was the mainspring of this movement. Hough, who always was sarcastic about my interventions and who also never forgot, when the chips were falling down, to show me his friendship, he once in a public speech said that, Kowarski was valuable because of the faculty of attention he has.” It’s an interesting statement. I think what he meant by that was my tendency to pick out what is worthwhile in a picture and throw my weight behind it, whatever weight I still possessed. Another memory of the same five weeks was Hough sitting in a chair, not quite the one you’re sitting in now but close to it. We were discussing the possibilities of my coming to America and he couldn’t quite see what was wrong with me at CERN, and I had to say that CERN was not a good place for development of this kind. CERN was too much concerned with the first flush, so to speak, of reaping the fruits of having one of the two biggest machines in the world. There was a lot of work to be done, where people knew perfectly well what machines to operate, what to do, and they didn’t need for a while any new machines. The situation was very soon changed by the advent of the spark chambers. But here we’re entering into the next year, 1962.
Weiner:Good time for a break. Let me ask one question on this, before the break. What happened on the question of patents? Seems to me there are several problems. Even if it’s within CERN as an international organization of member states, there have to be procedures regarding patents. Secondly, there1s the right of the individual scientists. Third, you’re collaborating there with three laboratories on an international scale. So what did happen?
Kowarski:I think there was never any great commercial market for HPDs.
Weiner:HPD, the Hough-Powell Device.
Kowarski:Yes. And there being no market, there was no claim to commercial exclusivity, and therefore, the question of patents was one that never arose in practice on these things. I know that some of the later devices did involve some kind of commercial interest and there might be patents. But in our case, although there was always talk going on about these things, nobody ever did anything about them.
Weiner:So it is publicly available.
Kowarski:Oh, to some extent this private international organization of mine profited from the fierce attempts of other CERN people to minimize its importance, and raising seriously patent questions would be in a way acknowledging that it was important. So there is always some good side in the worst of our existence.
Weiner:Today is the 21st of November, and we’re resuming after almost a 24 hours’ break. When we left off yesterday, we were talking about the HPD -- Hough-Powell Device or digitizer -- and I had asked about patents, as sort of a side question. But I think we agreed that we would talk about some other aspects of the technical developments, some of the subsequent consequences of it, and then we would lead into some of the larger scale features of CERN’s role at this particular stage of growth in relation to the events of your own career that you’ve been describing.
Kowarski:I am naturally preoccupied with what was happening to me in those years. I described it in some detail, and not only for whatever interest this story may have on its own, but also because I see in it a symptom of what was happening to physics at that time, and I could give my view as a witness of what was happening in physics in a place very devoted to physics like CERN. The only question is whether my testimony is very valid, because I happened to be not only a witness but also on the receiving end of a somewhat painful process. We can do it now, some time in today’s session, or I can finish the technical story of HPD and we can return to it later.
Weiner:I’d rather you’d finish the technical story first, and then return to that other story right after.
All right. I think I already carried the HPD story proper to this get-together in the spring of ‘61, after which the KPD hardware began to produce its first tangible results. From then on the quadripartite international project got well under way. This project was viewed favorably by Adams, for whom it was the last months of his directorship, but it was less favorably viewed by Weisskopf, not on its own merits, because Weisskopf contributed considerably in advancing it only a few months before, but rather in relation to his other priorities. The attitude of bubble chamber physicists at CERN was fairly hostile, and in ‘62 I began to be interested in spark chamber processing, from two angles. One was that spark film [was] rather an easier field of application for HPD. In fact, HPD was too powerful for spark film, generally speaking, but perhaps it was good for this device to be first tried on an easier task, and after that to be able to deploy in the field for which it was originally intended. So that was one angle. The second angle was to develop expressly for spark chambers more appropriate processing devices. In particular, they had to be faster because on the whole spark film is produced in far greater quantities.
They could be less accurate, because they had to work faster, they should be more completely automatic. Thus, the whole problem of the relationship between man and machine had, for the spark film, to be tackled in a different perspective. So, simultaneously with pushing the application of HPD and initiating the development of the software for it in the spark field, I also began to push towards the developing of specialized hardware which had to use cathode ray tubes. I will not go into technicalities. I formulated, by ‘63, quite explicitly the antithesis between what I called the tricky hardware approach and the tricky software approach. As other projects began to spring up for spark film and later for bubble film in other places, CERN found itself at that time as a somewhat extremist proponent of the tricky software approach. All these are technicalities which we needn’t go into. I mention it only in order to explain that CERN was developing at the same time the application of existing hardware and software to immediate service, development of other devices proceeding from the same fundamental philosophy, and finally, the promotion of the fundamental philosophy itself. These activities were developing very fast during the year 1962, because of, I still believe, a rather remarkable group of younger people which began to gather around these projects. Out of this crowd Ross Macleod emerged as the strongest personality. This was viewed with increasing concern by the experimental physicists who, as I said earlier, had now this new accelerator at their disposal. [They] had what they thought was an adequate set of data gathering and handling techniques to make good use of the accelerator and, therefore, they were in the mood to devote all resources to the utilization of the available means, rather than to add new means to this arsenal.
Weiner:Let me interrupt just to ask: in development of the technical modifications, software and hardware, was the primary means of communication to other laboratories through journals, or through CERN reports or both? And did this get into the preprints exchange? Was there any kind of proprietary interest, of secrecy or confidentiality on these until they were really developed as part of the full public system?
Kowarski:In the first, possibly even the second approximation, I would say there was none. There was no proprietary interest. There might have been islands of this or that laboratory being involved with this or that firm, and the firm insisting on the exclusivity of its blueprints or something, but that on the whole played, in my evaluation, a nearly negligible role in the whole development. The trend was towards completely open discussions among the most advanced colleagues. Here I might perhaps stake a claim. In bubble and spark film processing, the beginning which was made in 1960 and which I have described, developed into a regular series of conferences which on the average took place at intervals slightly longer than one year. The last one was held in Cambridge, England, in 1970.
Weiner:Is there a name covering the entire series?
Kowarski:My name was not very much connected with it. In fact, one could say that the pre-history of these conferences, which in my evaluation comprised the first four, tended to be forgotten later on because beginning with the fifth one, which took place in ‘63, I was no longer in power. This conference took place a week before I actually left CERN to go to America, and some people considered that that was the first in a newly started series.
Weiner:Well, what was the name given to the series?
Kowarski:They were given a whole variety of names. One would call itself “Conference on Film-Processing Devices,” sometimes it was more generally “Conference on Data Processing, Advanced Data Processing in Particle Physics.” Sometimes the name was “Conference on Programming for Flying-Spot Devices.” But they were all unmistakably the same series.
Weiner:Were there any continuing groups charged with responsibility for helping the coordination and setting up of the conferences?
Kowarski:From number 5 to number 9, Brian Powell was the mainspring of the series. Our curious tradition developed that I was always invited to give the concluding remarks, and that was faithfully observed until the last one in the series which took place in March, 1970. There was, by the way, an international conference of the same kind in Dubna held a month ago or five weeks ago, to which I was invited, but by that time I was already committed to my trip to America, so I was not present. I know too little about it to tell you whether it could be considered as number 11 in the same series.
Weiner:Who paid for the conferences, the transportation? Would the participating institutions pay it?
Weiner:In general, were these people limited to Berkeley, Brookhaven, CERN?
Kowarski:No, by that time these kinds of devices were developed in a far greater variety of laboratories. For instance, the ‘63 conference, number 5, was held in Paris at the College de France. Number 6, in Bologna, number 7 at Columbia, number 8 in Argonne -- no, in Munich, number 9 in Argonne, and number 10 in Cambridge, England. Number 10 was completely organized by Frisch, and he appeared there as the Grand Old Man of this whole movement.
Weiner:Well, I interrupted your sequence on this. One of the questions I asked, as to the primary means of publication when something reached that point -- were reports of individual labs preferred over journals?
Kowarski:Definitely, I would say, in the form of preprints. Preprints, as you probably know, loom very large in the life of a high-energy physicist. In fact, some malevolent tongues would even say that a typical high-energy physicist never reads anything else.
Weiner:These were preprints of laboratory reports, or of journal articles?
Kowarski:That’s a very good question. There is a type of hastily multiplicated paper which purports always to be a preprint of an article submitted to a journal. I think that’s what a preprint originally was. Gradually cases began to appear, that a preprint would be distributed, and then the journal for some reason would not print it, so it was actually a print propogated on its own. And then, I suspect, people began to send out preprints, considering their submission to a journal as a more and more tiresome formality which in some cases could be omitted altogether. Why be formalistic?
Weiner:In the old days the citations for professional journal publication really marked a professional achievement, but once you’re able to cite preprints for the same purpose, then --
Kowarski:-- exactly. And that’s why, this is one of the, I would say, main questions today in the business of scientific communication: what is the exact role of a preprint? Since I have always the tendency of suspecting evil motives, I would say that a typical preprint offers nowadays the possibility, on the one hand, to claim priority later on, and on the other hand, if it turns out to be unconfirmed, to say, “Oh well, this was never officially published, you know, don’t take it seriously.” This is a typical case of eating your cake and having it, which is the perennial desire of so many, in so many human situations.
Weiner:Specifically in this case, were the preprints an official publication of the laboratory? Were journals bypassed altogether, that is, the information was issued not as a journal article but as an official publication of the laboratory?
Kowarski:This is again a very good question with which I happen to be familiar because of my involvement in CERN publications and publication policy. On the whole, it’s a very tense equilibrium of opposing tendencies. There are journals. There are regular bona fide lab reports, which appear from each institution in its typical uniform color. Argonne, for instance, is always green; CERN is always yellow. In Berkeley, I think, there are various series, the most relevant to our purpose here is blue. And they are properly numbered, catalogued and so on. But in addition, there is a vast forest of documents not always dated, not always clearly signed, not always included in any numbered series -- practically every step in the scale between a regular official report from an institution, and a private letter scribbled on a sheet of paper. There are all intermediates. I might also add that in the particular field with which I am concerned (thanks to this series of conferences which never was under my official sponsorship but with which, somehow, everybody began to associate my name, in particular because of the concluding remarks), thanks to this series, which offered a sufficient frequency to introduce a certain rhythm in the publication of new results -- people would regularly accumulate the latest batch of new results to present it at the next conference, and therefore the conference proceedings were a readily usable medium for anybody who was working in this field.
Weiner:Getting back to journals, what happens in all of this to the regular journals which might have included such reports before?
Kowarski:It depends on the case. For example, the original first publication of Hough and Powell appeared in NUOVO CIMENTO.
Weiner:Why that, of all places?
Kowarski:NUOVO CIMENTO was run by, I think, Polvani, and it was the first publication in Europe which offered to the scientists the opportunity to publish their, what is called today, Physics Letters, within a minimum of time. And on the whole, I think it did hold its promise. When the first paper of Hough and Powell appeared in 1960, it was sent to NUOVO CIMENTO essentially for that reason. And of course in 1960, what we in a friendly way called the Italian Mafia at CERN being very strong, the tradition of sending CERN results to this Italian publication was also strong. It was to some extent, I believe, superseded by the appearance of PHYSICS LETTERS, published by the North Holland Mafia.
Weiner:You don’t mean NUCLEAR PHYSICS, you mean PHYSICS LETTERS.
Kowarski:I mean PHYSICS LETTERS. So Hough and Powell published first in NUOVO CIMENTO. I might quote a few other examples of adherence to traditional publication. For instance, the first description of the “Polly” device, developed in Argonne around ‘67, appeared in the REVIEW OF SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS, which is a regular American publication. I could quote other examples. I don’t remember exactly where Alvarez published his SMP for the first time -- certainly as Berkeley reports in regular journals. A lot appeared in the yearly volumes of METHODS OF COMPUTATION IN PHYSICS. So journals did play their role, and still continue to play it. I would say, on the whole, the journal publication in most cases, not the ones I quoted in the beginning, was when the device already gave some physics results and became already respectably established.
Weiner:The preprints and laboratory reports predominated in the developmental stages.
Weiner:Especially if there was collaboration. Would you say in any way it was similar to the old sharing of information in the cyclotron building days? There was a great deal of exchange of memoranda and letters, dealing with specific information.
Kowarski:Probably in the development I’m talking about, it was slightly more steadily organized in the form of exchanges of preprints in a more standard format, because after all in the early cyclotron days these things were in a far more primitive state.
Weiner:I have taken you away from the point that you were developing.
Kowarski:During 1962, as I said, there was development in three directions. In particular we needed to develop software -- partly because, as I already said, it began to appear that European trends in this were stronger than the American trends and partly because spark chambers pose their own problems. I started a very small programming effort for developing software for spark chambers. This was tremendously resented from all sides. From spark chamber physicists, they felt that this was their own preserve, but I think everybody would agree today that the group I formed was perhaps less knowledgeable in straight physics, but far more knowledgeable in handling software. And on the other hand, on the bubble chamber side, people resented the manpower and other resources, even computer time, devoted to this question instead of accelerating the processing by IEP methods of the current bubble chamber production. So I was attacked by practically everyone, except by a few farseeing people who thought it was a good development, and since this coincided with purely personal struggle for keeping my position, influence and so on, the question of how best to use data-processing resources in the interests of CERN physics was in some ways, I’m afraid, being used as a tool for purely, let’s say, power-grabbing purposes. Exactly as, 10 years earlier, the issue of whether to make plutonium in France or not was used in pure power struggles. People who professed the most vivid interest in military plutonium were, in fact, people who were really interested in using military plutonium as a stick to beat their enemies in the power struggle. So all this combined. It also combined with a fairly busy period at ENEA, where in ‘62 I was rather more busy than in ‘59 or ‘60.
Weiner:Why, in terms of ENEA’s total work? Was this a period of particular new departure for them?
Kowarski:At ENEA at that time there were some new departures, started in late ‘60 and early ‘61. Perhaps we might return to them on another occasion. But all this combined led to the fact that I twice had to go to the hospital with rather serious circulatory troubles. On the first of these occasions I even had to undergo minor surgery to unblock some of the blood vessels. I hardly know what it was, so I cannot explain it. And --
Weiner:This is a physical condition for which you were being treated, of a circulatory nature, but this was induced by --
Kowarski:-- it was quite obviously of psychosomatic origin. All through ‘62, with my obviously fast dwindling physical forces and my fast dwindling position of power at CERN, I nevertheless managed to push through the essentials in all three directions; that is: application of HPD to sparks, beginning of the development of new devices for sparks, and implanting a certain general outlook on these questions. By early ‘63, the question of what would be the next computer in CERN became inextricably involved with the process of removing me from a deciding position in this respect. Yet it had to be presented to the outside world as if the decisions were taken with my full participation. A European conference was called at CERN to start this question off, and then it continued in the form of a small standing committee recruited both from CERN and from member countries. I was in the chair, but I was under close supervision. Most of the sessions still took place under my chairmanship, but here I was more and more a figurehead, although not yet completely. And at the end of August when this committee was drawing to its close but not quite, I left Geneva, and that allowed the committee to finish its work under Mervyn Hine’s chairmanship in a far more harmonious situation. The reason why I actually left CERN in August ‘63, arose in ‘62. I was in Argonne, running an ENEA conference. I didn’t feel very well at the end of it. My blood pressure was found to have reached some incredible figure -- I’m afraid they never told me what figure. The doctor asked me, where do I go from here? I said, “Tomorrow I am flying to Tennessee, to Oak Ridge.” And he wrote on a bit of paper the address of a cardiovascular specialist residing near Argonne, and I asked, “What’s that for? I’m leaving Argonne tomorrow morning.” And he said, “Well, just in case.” However, the case didn’t happen. I arrived in Oak Ridge. A couple of days later I was seen by their resident doctor. There again I was not told the figure of my pressure, and the doctor said, “Look, this cannot go on. You have to change your way of life.” I said, “How?” He said, “For instance, teaching.” On the same evening, Alvin Weinberg asked me what the doctor had said. I repeated. He said, “What about it?” “You know, it’s not so easy in Europe to become a university professor.” And Weinberg said, “Yes, but it’s easy in America.” And that was understood as a mandate for him to find for me a visiting professorship in America, with the possible idea that it might become later not a visiting one. This took a couple of months, and at the time when I expected it least, in February ‘63, I received a telephone call from the Purdue University. Your feet at this moment are resting on a carpet which Kate and I bought the day before I received that call. If the call had arrived before buying the carpet, we probably would not have bought it.
Weiner:How long did you spend in Oak Ridge?
Kowarski:Less long than I expected. I could tell here another anecdote; such anecdotes are in a sense relevant. The Oak Ridge doctor told me to go to Knoxville to a prominent cardiovascular specialist. That one looked at me, had a few elementary analyses made on the spot, and then briskly said, “Well, either you go to Geneva at once and put yourself urgently in the hands of your practitioner there, or you come to my hospital tomorrow. After a week I think I will be able to outline a course of action for you. You will not stay much longer than a week. Which do you prefer?” That was on a Friday. I said, “Doctor, I have an appointment on Monday in Washington.” He said, “Either you come to my hospital or you fly tomorrow to Geneva.” I can see a man who knows his mind when I meet one. And I realized that it was better for me to follow his advice. We flew to Geneva the next day.
Weiner:Kate was with you?
Kowarski:Yes, she was. She was present at the scene. She still likes to relate this conversation to our friends. In Geneva the doctor didn’t receive me immediately on my arrival but about three days later, and after he saw me he put me in hospital at once.
Weiner:I want to backtrack a little bit.
Kowarski:That was still in ‘62 after my visit to Oak Ridge.
Weiner:This trip to the US to Oak Ridge was during the period of increasing difficulties. At the same time it was toward the end of the period of the blossoming of the HPD.
Kowarski:Oh, it was not the end, it was the beginning.
Weiner:Well, by that I mean the end of the developmental stage.
Kowarski:Of the hardware. But the software was just beginning. A curious episode occurred in January, 1963. The pressures on Weisskopf to stop the whole development were so strong that Weisskopf invited Martin Deutsch of MIT to come to CERN specially for the purpose of reviewing what was the most urgent action to undertake for spark chamber processing. Deutsch by that time distinguished himself by developing the first completely automatic system of spark chamber processing which was successful, but which could be used only in the simplest experiments -- again a technicality -- I will not go into that. Everybody was pushing simply to repeat what Deutsch had done at MIT, whereas the CERN system was based on a completely new and different principle. Deutsch came, reviewed the situation, and reported to Weisskopf that since his own system, to be usable for a greater variety of experiments would have to be further developed, there was not much sense in simply copying what he had done unless there was a firm intention to proceed with further developments. In his opinion, since CERN’s development was already under way and looked promising although different, he would advise to continue the development on CERN lines. Deutsch is--as I could see on some other occasions -- a very fair-minded person, and this advice reinforced Weisskopf in his own inclination to proceed with our own development smoothly and to ignore the pressures. So the development which I had started under such adverse conditions in ‘62 was allowed to continue. By early ‘64, the first part, the application of HPD to sparks, was essentially completed and the actual operational stage started. It probably would not start without the personal effort by the Dutch physicist, at that time resident in CERN, Harting, who simply had a lot of spark pictures on his hands, wanted to have them processed as quickly as possible, and judged that the new software for HPD was good enough to do the job. He in no way was specially interested in helping the HPD development as such, but on the other way (and that was a very rare point) he in no way was interested in preventing it. This put him in a unique position, and with the unique result that his few hundreds of thousands of spark pictures were successfully processed in a time which astonished everybody -- I mean by its brevity. After that, HPD became accepted and even fashionable for spark physicists with film on their hands. But here again another technicality intervenes. By that time spark chamber physicists began to gather their data without using film and so HPD became irrelevant. But the success of HPD on spark film prepared the way for its use at last in bubble chambers. All this was already in ‘64, and it was no doubt greatly facilitated by the fact that I was no longer there.
Weiner:Are you sure? No, I know in the past context what you’re saying, but --
Kowarski:Well, it became possible, with all of CERN’s dignity, to proclaim that HPD was the thing to use for this or that spark or bubble experiment, without at the same time upsetting the equilibrium of struggles around my person. My person no longer being there, this was the removal of a handicap.
Weiner:So it was accepted, separated from you as merely another technical --
Kowarski:-- yes. There were, of course, still all sorts of after-effects of the previous struggles. People who were involved in the struggles were deeply committed to their condemnation of HPD and of its particular philosophy, as worthless and so on. It was difficult for them to reverse this position. But it certainly was easier when I was no longer there. I might add that by that time Brookhaven and Berkeley had their going HPD systems. In many other laboratories, I don’t exactly know the chronology -- I would say it began to reach the figure of shall we say ten centers somewhere in 64 or ‘65 -- other systems began to be developed at the same time. HPD had a flying start of them, and in ‘68 or so HPD was probably the most universally used system, actually used or being developed. The situation now is probably less clear because other systems have caught up. Entirely new and in my opinion far better systems have been developed since. Probably at the present time, the most promising system is Polly, which was developed in Argonne. Perhaps I should mention that it was developed out of an earlier system which was proposed first in ‘61 by James Butler and Donald Hodges at Argonne. It may be that Polly will soon be superseded by other systems based on the same principles, one of which is now being developed at CERN with considerable deployment of resources.
Weiner:Polly is what -- an acronym, the name of a person?
Kowarski:I think probably one or the other. The present development at CERN is called Erasme, an acronym which is the French form of Erasmus. It will probably be more complicated than Polly, and here I would like to point out that this is no longer the same kind of development as HPD was. It’s a deep-going, solid, somewhat, I would say, stolid process of perfecting an already well-initiated and well-developed data handling system. It’s a different kind of development.
Weiner:Let me ask about the impact of the HPD. You said something about the diffusion of it and the development of it. What difference did it make in the field of particle physics? What was different, what was available, and how did that effect the use made of the big machines and the kind of results that were obtained, or the kinds of experiments that were even contemplated?
Kowarski:Probably I’m not the best person to tell you about that, although I’m supposed to give a lecture about that at the European Physical Society, but that will be in April.
Weiner:Will you send me a copy of that?
Kowarski:I will. Well, in a previous unrecorded conversation I told you about the 1966 episode, when CERN was able to produce results concerning the eta decay question, which was important theoretically because it dealt with various new forms of suspected cases of the “CP violation.” CERN work was able to show that the particular evidence available at that time was not confirmed when more precise measurement became available. It was a negative result but a valuable result, and it was due entirely to the fact that CERN had developed more efficient methods of processing spark chamber film (this particular experiment was done on film) than those available elsewhere. I even told you about a somewhat interesting flavor of remarks made on this subject by Weisskopf. So much for that particular example. Another spot check, so to speak, for 1968: I would say that the overwhelming majority of bubble chamber pictures obtained in Brookhaven were then processed on HPD, and this was less true of Berkeley where other rival systems were in use at the same time. Quantitatively speaking, the Spiral Reader probably was the most effective among them. Subsequent systems were usually developed out of some modification of one of the HPD ideas, and usually the authors would quote HPD as one of the starting points for their system. This was certainly true of Polly, and the author of PEPR (which is another, at present, well-known system) always considered that his proposals were in many ways inspired by his knowledge of HPD. In my opinion, this is probably less true than in the case of Polly. In this sense, it can be said that HPD influenced quite substantially the actual processing of particle-physics film throughout the world. In the Soviet Union several systems were tried at the same time. HPD definitely plays a considerable role, and I think I’ve already mentioned, the Russians learned their HPD techniques directly from CERN. So I think I may be biased, but I think I could claim that not only HPD but also the other spark chamber devices and our whole philosophy played one of the decisive roles in the development of film techniques in high-energy physics.
Weiner:You say the development of film techniques. The obvious thing is that it speeded up the processing tremendously.
Weiner:Now, I’m curious about what other consequences this had. Did it mean that you got more results per team? Or were able to schedule more experiments?
Kowarski:Oh, you are here on a subject on which I could talk for hours. In a speech I made, I think early in ‘63, I developed what I call the dredging concept, that the results of physics would be obtained more and more by first gathering a huge mass of recorded data. I called it similar to dredging the ocean floor. You bring up this mass of data from an inconveniently short time interval or an inconveniently located place of occurrence, so that you can transpose a great part of the physics experiment to another time and another place. And I said that probably this would end the insistence on single events which was so important historically. Cosmic-ray physics; think of the discovery of the positron, and then of the meson, by Anderson--basically, observation of single rare events. Or the single observations like the omega minus, confirmed later on by other observations which were all of the single kind -- in no way a mass observation. Now the emphasis was going to shift from this kind of experiment to the experiment where you obtain statistics on a great number of observed events and derive your physics not from a single observation, but from statistics encompassing a whole multitude of them. I used at that time the term “high-statistics experiment.” I fancy that I invented this expression all by myself. I notice it is now extensively used and I wonder if I was first to use it.
Weiner:Meaning a large number of events.
Kowarski:A high-statistics experiment is one in which physical meaning comes from statistics derived from a high number of individual events. Some statistics existed always in particle physics. You would have, shall we say, 40 events of a similar kind and would already make statistics on these 40 events. But what I call high statistics is more of the order of 100,000, with all intermediates, of course. in a recent conversation the present director general of CERN, Jentschke, mentioned to me that in his opinion physics developed in a way very similar to what I explained in that talk in ‘63. Whether he meant to tell me that he considered me as a kind of precursor of that development, I don’t know. He’s an Austrian -- another Austrian -- and Austrians have a lot of Austrian charm.
Weiner:Well, that leads to the largest significance of data processing, and also you said that its subsequent development at CERN also coincided with your leaving.
Kowarski:I might add that as far as I am concerned, my own role in the development of HPD is, I think, adequately recognized, although I never put my name on any publication on it, but there was enough of others’ acknowledgements. I might also say that in addition to my original suggestion of the parallel guidance principle, Goldschmidt made an important suggestion which also was acknowledged, and this suggestion was actually first followed by Macleod…
Weiner:Two questions on this whole sequence of events. One has to do with the initiation of groups. Here you said that you got a group together on the spark chamber questions. Within CERN, someone in your position would have the freedom and authority to form a group around a particular subject? Or would you have to take that up as a policy question? Or did you do it by conspiratorial means or what?
Kowarski:I think we registered Bernardini’s recommendation for me to “act implichitly.” I think that more or less answers your question. The truth, as very often happens, Is a combination of all these. Somebody in a position of considerable power would, most probably, be completely free to devote not too monstrous a proportion of his resources to any idea he happened to fancy, and no questions would be asked. People in positions of lesser power would be more and more strongly reminded that this thing had to be decided in the Scientific Policy Committee and what not. And those people who were reminded of it most strongly would be the people whose project was intended to be squashed. In my own case, the Scientific Policy Committee, from whose meetings I was formally excluded in mid-1962 -- the last time I sat on one of them, it was in the last days of Adams’ directorship -- no, I’m sorry, I’m confusing ‘62 with ‘61. But at various stages, my project did go through the Scientific Policy Committee, and on two memorable occasions I got strong support from powerful individuals; Heisenberg in 1956 and Weisskopf in 1960.
Weiner:But the form, to go ahead with the project. Do you recruit from within CERN, or do you try to bring in experts from elsewhere?
Kowarski:Well, there would be inside CERN a group formed from the ranks of the existing personnel. Don’t forget, in those times the personnel of CERN was quickly expanding, and parts of this expanding recruitment took place in connection with some expanding project or other. Therefore, the answer to your question is, yes, it would be done fundamentally with the inside CERN personnel. But it was fairly easy, according to needs, to reinforce the inside personnel by people brought from outside, as staff. Now, as regards the steady cooperation with institutions and personnel outside of CERN, that was dependent on the cases and very much on personal relationships. For example, the development of that rival European software system I told you about before was due to a close cooperation between some Britishers at CERN and the Rutherford Lab in England. This cooperation was made kind of official within the general quadripartite project. So this was a case where there was definite institutionalized cooperation. There may have been other such cases. There was no general rule.
Weiner:What about the budget? Would the budget be assigned for a specific project, a budget that you would ask for? Or just part of some general --?
Kowarski:The sums involved in any particular project were usually not very high, and how to present it depended on the adroitness of the individuals involved. I can assure you that with a long practice of Big Science, one develops a lot of flexible forms of action.
Weiner:It wasn’t a question of asking for special appropriations?
Kowarski:Sometimes. Sometimes it was camouflaged with something else. Sometimes the appropriation was described in terms which were not quite corresponding to reality; in other cases it was entirely candid. There were all sorts of steps on that scale, from complete candor to complete swindle. [intermission]
Weiner:This is post-tea, and we were talking about the way one marshals resources for specific projects within CERN, and you explained it depends on circumstances; also sometimes on a certain flexibility of the structure of the organization itself.
Kowarski:CERN always had an enormous flexibility. I think I already told you of my private reluctant conviction that many things in CERN’s peculiar administrative ways reflect some of my own personality. I was responsible, after all, for a considerable part of the initial decisions, and that had to reflect it. The peculiar clarity of the ways in which CERN operates -- everything seems to be easier than in other places…
Weiner:You would expect this might change as the organization grows.
Kowarski:Yes. So far, it hasn’t.
Weiner:Well, it hasn’t been long from the origins till now.
Kowarski:Well, there were other people who had similar ideas. And continued. But the essential thing is the start. That is, you see, my private thing which I don’t want to be put on any tape. I hope your tape recorder is closed.
Weiner:Well, it’s not.
Kowarski:My involvement with certain organizations in their early stages was good for these organizations. I seem to have been what I call a pediatrician of international organizations.
Weiner:Maybe you’re an obstetrician.
Kowarski:No, pediatrician, not obstetrician. I seem to understand their childhood diseases. Let me give you two examples what I mean. I remember it was about ‘62, Hine asked my opinion, should CERN institute a system of control of people’s private conversations on the telephone, especially private conversations long distance? Or should we leave it as easygoing as we are now? And finally we decided, better to leave it easygoing, that the cost of a controlled system -- the inconvenience cost -- would simply, not only in human terms but also in pure economic terms, be on the whole very much greater than what you could economize by installing such a rigid system. The greatest abusers anyhow would beat the system. Heaven knows it’s always possible. That’s one example. The other example is that when the 300 6eV project began to be discussed seriously, the German delegation came forward with that famous principle, “the just return.” Which means that every country should have a right to claim as great a proportion of the orders to be placed in their industry as was that country’s relative contribution to CERN. Well, everybody in CERN was genuinely shocked by this insistence. And, so far as I know, this principle was never accepted. Considering how “the just return” is enforced as a matter of course in other organizations, this is an important part of the CERN tradition which still continues. Essentially, you see, I would say it comes from the fact that scientists, with their understanding of what orders of magnitude mean, were able to impose these initial attitudes. Elsewhere, the rules were set by accountants, for whom every penny is as important as $100,000.
Weiner:What about the mobility within CERN? It’s not easy for a person to leave one group and go off to another. Usually he’s brought in to be a member of a particular group.
Kowarski:No. Definitely no. True, the transfer is not easy -- well, there is to begin with a very human situation, that if anybody is unhappy in his group, he probably will be unhappy in any other group. It’s a silly thing to say, but it is so. Yes, but there have been many, many examples of people who were devising magnets and then became health physicists, or we had a man who was hired as a library man and became a computer man. It’s true that he finally had to leave. But he wasn’t fired. Simply his normal contract of three years was not renewed. That’s a typical case. We have them all the time everywhere. Gisela will probably move to some other group on the 1st of March.
Weiner:You mean after your official retirement?
Kowarski:Yes. Already somewhat complicated negotiations are going on as to how to arrange the transfer so as to retain for me one part of her time and so on, because nobody likes --
Weiner:Well, it’s no different from a lot of other questions. This is the time I think to ask two questions. One is the question relating to this kind of cycle in your own work, where you seem to be an initiator involved in the early stages, but something happens. The institution of a particular project begins to develop a life of its own where people who are specialists in the technical aspects of it come in -- are brought in by you because they’re needed -- and then develop a momentum of their own, and the project itself --
Kowarski:-- oh, that’s a very nice way of putting it. I would propose another way of putting it. I think the fundamental, shall we say, contradiction in this whole situation is very simply that I, like everybody else, have a certain place in society, and I always was involved in things which were far above my place in society. It is as if you began to be involved in, shall we say, overseeing all the scientific attaches of the State Department in the world. This, formally speaking, is a kind of job for which you would not be normally considered. People would say that you have had no career as a State Department man, that you have no experience of diplomacy or what not, I don’t know. Now, why do I have these tremendous world-wide ambitions? Look at it. After all, one cannot deny that, for instance, when the second Joliot-Halban-Kowarski paper appeared in NATURE, the next week three major nations embarked on their atomic projects. The three were England, Germany and Russia. Why am I involved in these world-wide things? Here comes probably the fact that I have a certain interest in trying to foresee what is going to become important, and on the other hand I have enough will power which enables me to get attached to it. Now, people tolerate my being attached to it because most people do not see that it will become important. A typical case if you like -- a very typical case -- were the conditions under which I was given the computer responsibility at CERN. It was when my first elimination started in earnest, and people were rather embarrassed. I was still covered with the glory of one of the founders, and to just throw me out was a bit embarrassing, so people were very ready to be accomplices: “Find for him something which can keep him happy and yet has no real importance.” In those days, or a little later, I was saying that I was allowed to do only things of which Gentner did not understand the importance. Fortunately, that left me an extremely vast area of operation. [laughter]
Weiner:In other words, you’re saying that in the minds of some people you were being kicked upstairs.
Kowarski:No, not upstairs. In the minds of these people I was being kicked downstairs. They didn’t realize which was down, which was up.
Weiner:No, but being kicked upstairs means -- no, it’s not true in this case, but it’s being given a position which they think gets you out of their hair.
Kowarski:That’s right. And then after a few years, they would see that I am flourishing like the green bay tree. Another such situation happened with ENEA. When Euratom was being founded. The French were very careful to keep me completely away from Euratom.
Weiner:Well, I didn’t complete asking the question, but I wanted first your interpretation of this kind of phenomenon.
Kowarski:Now, when the thing becomes important, people want to take it over. When I was assembling around me this rather remarkable group of younger people -- which was responsible later on for data processing -- nobody thought very much of them. They were not known and other people don’t seem to realize, when one has a promising young man, that he is a promising young man. But when they begin to show themselves, when they begin to swim with their own wings, as I like to say, in the rough sea, they say, “How come? What did Kowarski do to get hold of such a winner?” And then people say, “Well, why the hell should he be on top? After all, who is Kowarski?” And then somebody comes and takes it over. And this is very easy, because with my normal position in the social stratification, I have no support. So that is the continuous pattern. I remember the last stages when I was building Zeep in Canada. Somebody specifically asked, “Look here, how come that you have all the best people?”
Weiner:What are nice people like that doing with a guy like you?
Kowarski:Yes. Actually, my second in command -- he was a New Zealander -- became the chief scientific officer of something atomic in Australia, not in New Zealand. My third in command is now deputy director of Harwell. Yet, at the time, nobody was fully aware of their value. There was a comic episode. I was given the choice when I was slightly expanding my group in Cambridge -- I call it my group because Halban at that time was very much involved in negotiations in America, and was actually not in Europe -- I was told that I would have to reinforce it by one new recent physics graduate, and I was given the choice of two. Not really a choice, but two were sent to be interviewed by me. I selected one of them. I was told, “Nonsense. The other one is a far better student.” I said, “Yes. I’ve seen both. I like the first one more.” “No,” they said grimly, “you want the best people and we’ll give you the best man.” And they gave the second man to me. We never understood each other. He’s very good, by the way. But not in the way I wanted, and he is now at CERN. He has been considered a kind of walking encyclopedia and a very wise man in a circumscribed domain. And he played quite a role in the building of the synchrotron, but never had a formally high position. The other man, the first one, is now the chief scientific officer of the British Ministry of Transport. So I think the pattern is not as people always said, that I am capable of initiating things and not capable of running them. When they let me run something, I think I ran it all right -- like the CERN library which they always left within my jurisdiction. But the fact that I usually managed to build up something which was thrown to me as a sop… I would build it up, and then other people would realize that it had become important -- and then, why should Kowarski have it? This is of course my own interpretation. Does that answer you?
Weiner:Yes, that’s the basic thing. I was looking for this pattern which you’ve described in circumstantial terms, to see if you could see how it was apparent.
Kowarski:Why doesn’t this happen to other people? Because other people, when they are in my social position, do not dabble in these world-shaking things.
Weiner:Here you’re living in a world of scientists, an international group, no kind of class status. You have a physics degree. You have a reputation in physics. So where do you get social status? It’s different in France, I understand -- but first of all, you aren’t really French. Second, you aren’t from a certain prescribed part of the establishment. But here, you’re international.
Kowarski:Yes. But look, consider the attitude of the average German physicist to me. To begin with, I am a French physicist, and France always is an inferior country in physics -- quite inferior, look how they treated Joliot. Second, have I been ever a professor? No. They don’t count, of course, my American job. Have I been a professor? No. Therefore I am an interloper, I am an outsider. Third, in case something goes wrong, will anybody defend me? No. I always had considerable difficulties with Preiswerk. At the time when he joined CERN -- I appointed him as my deputy when I became a group leader in provisional CERN. He had been a professor for many years at the Federal Technical School. If Preiswerk had been pushed around -- in fact, he had been pushed around quite a bit -- but every time, he was helped by the fact that the Federal School’s faculty… That’s why I was playing with this.
Weiner:Anyway, it was nothing different from anything else that’s said, I think. But what you’re saying, using the example of Preiswerk, is the advantage either of having a parent organization which feels responsible for you, or having [two hats.] Well, it’s different from having two hats, because two hats can make you insecure in two environments. But you’re saying [that it’s important to] have someone who feels responsible for you and to whom you can return if you want to -- not being totally dependent.
Kowarski:Not only that. Not only that, but also being a member of a certain body of people who fight for this body as a whole and, therefore, for each of its members. You remember what I said on an earlier tape, that when I conspicuously became at loggerheads with Halban and began to criticize Halban’s methods which appeared to me going a little beyond what is done in pure science, the scientific community recognized perfectly well that Halban was to some extent their black sheep. A little black. But the fact that I was against it did not in any way make me whiter. On the contrary, I was guilty a) of being the accomplice of a black sheep, and b) of being disloyal to him. So it made two counts against me.
Weiner:Let me get onto one final area -- that is, you’ve described events in your personal career which did affect the history of CERN and you’ve alluded to other events which did not so much affect the history but implied that the history of CERN was affecting you. And at the same time, you also alluded to the fact of CERN’s role in the world of particle physics. So maybe it’s a good time to talk about the stages in the development of CERN, to see if you can characterize them in any kind of a rough category, in terms of CERN’s significance in physics on the world scene. Up to the point that we’re talking about, 1964.
Kowarski:Before the late 1950s, CERN’s role in the scientific world proper was not very great. It was essentially a community of builders and organizers, and it was a promise, an important promise, but it was not actualized. As soon as CERN began to offer possibilities of experimentation -- by the way, for theory it was not true, but theory always had a peculiar position. Perhaps we will treat it as a singularity. As soon as CERN began to offer possibilities for experimentation, the European academic community began to be strongly interested in gaining positions of influence at the commanding posts of decision on how these new resources would have to be used, by whom, and for what. And here, several factors came in conjunction to define the style. I don’t know whether we ever repeated Fermi’s famous saying which was quoted somewhere by Martin Deutsch. I have somewhere the exact quotation, when he says to a young man, “Go and perform that experiment. If you find a result which is not in agreement with the theoretical prediction, then you have made a discovery. If you are unlucky enough and confirm the prediction, then, well, you have made a measurement.” To make measurements on the whole, to aim at making measurements, is a safer path than to aim at making discoveries. And the more expensive is the equipment, the more the responsible leaders of its use have an eye to the approval of the amount of their scientific production, the more they tend to be safe. Therefore, the very increase of the cost and the political supervisor of equipment tends to increase, in my opinion, the proportion of measurements against that of real experiments. Well, one can distinguish oneself purely with measurements -- shall I quote Millikan, for example.
Weiner:His experiments were really measurement -- the charge on the electron, for example.
Kowarski:Yes, Millikan did not discover the electron. Millikan did [not] discover any of its fundamental distinguishing properties. Millikan provided very important data for the continuation of scientific progress. And CERN does the same thing essentially. CERN does it very well. They probably do it, I would claim, probably better than anywhere else in the world. But this concentration on measurements certainly finally detracts from the time and attention given to the kind of experiments which are more likely to lead to discoveries.
Weiner:What about the search for a new particle -- whether it’s predicted or not? You don’t put that in the class of measurements. Suppose a new particle is predicted by a theory --
Kowarski:CERN has searched for new particles, such as the intermediate boson, for instance. Whether it is consistent bad luck or not, but CERN usually is connected with experiments which tend to show that such and such particles do not exist at all or are unobtainable with the existing means. I suspect that it’s not entirely a question of bad luck. The other circumstance, independent from this inherent tendency of big equipment, is the state of the European academic community. I do not think it’s very libelous for me to say that the towering figures of the l930s still appear to us towering, compared to anything which we’ve seen, shall we say, in the 1950s or ‘60s. I do not at all diminish such figures as Gell-Mann, or on the experimental side, somebody like Fitch -- it was Fitch who together with Cronin discovered the C-P violation. There certainly are individuals who are comparable probably with the best of the previous generation. But their number proportionately, and the combined impact of their action, seems to be far smaller in our time than in the 1930s. Of course, many people see it and have explanations, such as that high energy physics is a domain which is nearly exhausted, or that we are hampered by the lack of proper theory, and the theoreticians say that they’re hampered by the lack of proper experimental data. This may be true. Have we ever talked about Dirac’s devastating lecture I once heard in Austin?
Weiner:I don’t think so.
Kowarski:Dirac made a picture of the state of physics just before the advent of, shall we say, Planck, Einstein, and then, of course, the quantum theory boys, quantum mechanics, and made a kind of science-fiction -- indulged in a flight of fancy -- what would have happened to physics if these figures were in some way not there or in some way were prevented from making their contributions? He, for some time, indulged in this development, and then dramatically said, “That is what we are seeing in particle physics today.” Whether Dirac simply thought that the early 1900s were lucky and 50 years later we were not so lucky, don’t know. You could argue that the appearance of these towering figures of the early 20th century was in itself a product of the state of science, which was not the same in the 1950s. But the point I think is clear. And whether the relative lack of brilliance of the European academic establishment in the 1950s and ‘60s is a spontaneous fact, or reducible to some social factors, or explainable by the state of the science itself, I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s in no way due to some universal mental debility of the human race. Because in the l950s the flowering of molecular biology, and in the l960s the flowering of the new astrophysics -- and I might add the flowering in all this time of computer science -- shows that the human race is as creative as ever.
Weiner:Let’s talk of CERN. You characterize the ‘50s as of one piece, in two stages -- one is till the machines were running and became available for experiment, and then after that --
Kowarski:-- well, it was a lengthy process which took several years.
Weiner:But from the time in the late ‘50s when CERN began to be able to do experimental research, you characterize the position as a tendency to do the safer thing because you have an investment in facilities.
Weiner:Wouldn’t that be true of other places in other parts of the world? Many places with large facilities, wouldn’t they be subjected to the same kind of constraint?
Kowarski:They were. But they were more or less able to withstand them. I would say that the same reproach as to the brilliance level of the academic community could also be leveled in the United States or in the Soviet Union. But there are degrees, and I’m perhaps not entirely familiar with all the achievements in the Soviet Union. I’m more familiar with those in the United States, and it’s a question of degree. In the United States the concentration on the measurement to the detriment of the experiment did not go, in my opinion, as far as it went at CERN. We have already previously seen a little list of cardinal discoveries in particle physics, and they were all of them in the United States.
Weiner:Well, if you were asked to think of some discoveries at CERN, could you name any? Because I’m sure there were lots of them. There were lots of things that could be called discoveries. I’m trying to find out what you call a discovery. Obviously the C-P violation is, the double neutrino --
Kowarski:Or even omega minus, or the first observation of anti-neutrons.
Weiner:OK. Is there no other class of things, perhaps a little below that level, which CERN --?
Kowarski:There are enough below that level to escape my, after all, not very informed judgment. Don’t forget that I am not a particle physicist. You would have to ask somebody else. May I suggest one name? Cocconi.
Weiner:I haven’t written him a letter, I should -- next trip. Is he permanent CERN staff?
Kowarski:He was for a long time. I don’t know exactly what his status is now. He’s not holding now any official position of leadership. We have several cases in which people developed growing relations with institutions in their home countries. I don’t know what Cocconi’s status is in this respect.
Weiner:What about the expectations of the member states that supported CERN over a period of years -- other than the German approach on the recent new project? Has there been a feeling that the original aims of the laboratory are continuing to be fulfilled? I’m not asking about the current situation, but I’m asking you to think back whether there was reasonable satisfaction as it went along?
Kowarski:Strictly speaking, the original aims have been fulfilled -- brilliantly fulfilled -- and continue to be fulfilled. CERN was created in order to provide the European scientific community with means that they didn’t have. This was done. The European academic community put itself resolutely in the first rank of that branch of science, maybe with fewer gold nuggets than in some other parts of the front, but that is something which politicians are not very able to judge. So that was fulfilled. Criticisms may come from two different points. Or three. One would be the preoccupation of this measurement-versus-discovery phenomenon, which I do not think has been ever officially discussed on any governmental level. It’s perfectly possible that there may be various soul-searching discussions going on, on a less open level, but I just have no way of knowing about it. That’s one side. The other side would be to declare that particle physics is developing into something self-contained -- like chess -- and of less and less interest to nations as a whole. And the third, probably mildest form and probably also the most reasonable, would be to say that the growing demands of particle physics require funds which are more and more interfering with corresponding development of other branches of science. That it leads to a lopsided development of science, and that you have a dilemma. Should we put money into something which already has been given a lot of money, because it seems to go on and seems to be still productive? But if you do this all the time, your distribution of research money becomes more and more lopsided. Both arguments are valid, and at what kind of equilibrium between them a government should arrive -- it’s a matter for each government.
Weiner:I think that for the moment, for this sessions we should stop, considering we want to look at some papers.
Kowarski:I would like to add one remark connecting our last part with something we were discussing before. I would say that the changing atmosphere of scientific preoccupations of CERN was particularly unlucky for me personally, because by my nature I am more interested in, shall we say, unsafe developments than in very precise and scholarly use of existing means. And it took me some time to change my attitude to what was happening to myself, which in a childishly immature way, one tends to ascribe such and such event to immorality of such and such person, or group of persons. One should, instead, try to look at the picture of a whole string of events, and to see how I fit or didn’t fit into that picture.