Oral History Transcript — Dr. Milton White
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Milton White; February 28, 1975
ABSTRACT: Family background, early education and interests; undergraduate at Sacramento Junior College and University of California, Berkeley; first independent physics work under Harvey White; graduate work at Berkeley, career choices, joining Ernest Lawrence on cyclotron work; work on ion sources, taking over running of small cyclotron and verifying creation of high energy proton; reactions to discovery of the neutron, developing Geiger counters with Donald Cooksey, announcement of Cockcroft-Walton discovery of artificial disintegration, work on disintegration of lithium; work schedule; work on boron, 1935; comparison of Van de Graaff and cyclotron machines; ideas about p-p scattering, new cloud chamber; financial difficulties; White’s refinement of process for extracting protons; completion of Ph.D. Physical Review paper, 1935; marriage. Postgraduate work at Princeton University, fellowship arranged by Lawrence; setting up Princeton cyclotron, research program, funding of the cyclotron; Princeton atmosphere and colleagues, appointment as assistant professor, 1938; relationship of theory and experiment in nuclear physics, Eugene Wigner’s influence. Research on the tachyon, magnetic monopole, 1973; reactions to Niels Bohr’s new model; its dissolution. WWII work at MIT Radiation Laboratory, 1940-1945; administrative tasks, relationship with the military, with engineers; advisor to Eagle Radur at Alamagordo; reactions to the dropping of atomic bomb. Return to a depleted Princeton Physics Department, rebuilding the cyclotron and the department; government funding of science, consulting projects. Work on the Brookhaven National Laboratory Cosmotron, beginning 1946; White’s variation on the Livingston, Richard Courant and Snyder strong focusing synchrotron. Return to Princeton as professor, proposals and designs for the Princeton-Penn Accelerator (PPA), construction and problems, scientific management of the machine under Harvey White, his philosophy of administration, relationship with the Princeton Physics Department. Budget cuts; government administration of science funding; closing down of PPA.
Weart:It’s February 28, 1975, at Professor White’s home in Princeton, and I guess today we’re going to talk mainly about the PPA. And finish things up. Do you want to just start off? Or I can ask questions as we go along?
White:Well, let’s, where did we leave off last time?
Weart:Where we left off was that you had gotten a telegram asking for a study, when you were in upstate New York, and you had hurried off a preliminary design, and in effect you got it. So what we really should talk about then is how you formed a study group, how big it was, who was in it, how did the group work?
White:Now, let’s see, I’m always weak on dates, unless I have something in front of me, but I guess this must have been 19 —
White:‘55, the summer of ‘55, when I was off on this vacation, and sent in a preliminary design study for a two billion volt proton fast-cycling synchrotron. The idea of fast cycling was to get a much higher average beam current than was at that time available.
Weart:— in fact, we hadn’t even talked about that yet. I hadn’t realized that that was already in the earlier proposal. That was done with Shoemaker and O’Neill, was it?
White:Yes. Now, let’s see, we’ve already covered, haven’t we, the separated function period, that proceeded going off this other time —
Weart:— right –-
White:Then we closed the project down.
Weart:Right, but we have not talked about the very high — was that already 20 cycles per second you’re talking about?
White:Yes, I guess 20 had been chosen. 60 seemed pretty high, and 20 did seem like it would be quite practicable, so that was the reason for it, to get higher beam current. The energy, two BEV, was lower than I wanted. On the other hand, we had been told that this was to be a university-sized machine. So our first thought was in fact to put it right next to Palmer Laboratory. Palmer is shaped like a U. There was a courtyard, where I drew a circle that just touched all the walls, and that came out to be about two BEV, if you assumed the order of 14,000 gauss on the orbit, which is all one could count on in those days. And so that gave us the maximum energy that could be obtained without going away from the building; to do that would have implied a whole separate laboratory, separation from teaching functions, graduate students and young faculty would be not as much a part of physics as I would like them to be. So our first thought was to stay right there in Palmer. So we sent to AEC, eventually, a study which O’Neill and Shoemaker and myself, and I think Walter Arons was also part of the group, we four — and we lined this thing up. We first turned in a two BEV machine proposal. Then we finally got word from the AEC. Word came in again in sort of an informal way — a phone call here, a phone call there, never a clean-cut yes or no. We were finally told that yes, the AEC was going to fund the machine, but that we’d have to submit a new design proposal, and in effect we’d be competing with everybody else in the country.
Weart:This was after the telegram now.
Weart:And this was before the proposal was finally accepted, this was the “box top contest”.
White:That’s right, the famous box top contest. And so both Princeton and MIT-Harvard, who were interested in making an electron machine, were told that there would be the ten million dollars for the three of us to whack up in some way. Of course, one of the first thoughts was that we might get, say, four million and Harvard six, but that didn’t seem to be quite fair, so half and half was finally agreed upon, more or less.
Weart:How was this agreed upon?
White:Oh, just in talking on the phone with Livingston. It became quite apparent that the only unique number was one-half, that any other fraction would be quite arbitrary. And we both wanted a big machine if we could lay our hands on it.
Weart:Were you fighting for it?
White:Fighting for it?
Weart:You said, first you mentioned the six to four, that you fought to get it —
White:Yes, I just said, “This is silly, of course, and what everybody should do is divide it in two.”
Weart:Let me ask also, since you’re mentioning phone calls, who was it at AEC who called you in?
White:Tom Johnson. Tom Johnson was director of research for AEC, and it was he who had in fact talked AEC into asking for funds, ten million dollars for a university high energy machine or machines, and I’ve forgotten how the actual wording went in the budget. But the implication was, there’d be two machines, and I’m not clear about whether they ever identified the two machines, where they might be. I guess it was left open. So about this time, people at Penn had been talking about building some sort of high energy machine at Penn. They went to the AEC, and they were told, “Well, we’re definitely going to build a machine at Princeton, and so your only hope of having a part of an accelerator is to join in with Princeton.”
Weart:This would have been Tom Johnson again?
White:Tom Johnson told people from Penn, mainly Jules Halpern, and I guess Bill Stevens, and to some extent Gaylord Harnwell, I don’t know how much he was really involved in that. I think he was at that time the chairman of the department still. So the people from Penn came up, and we felt that even though we’d just as soon do the design ourselves and not have to have a joint machine, the chances of our getting the money from the government were far better if it was a joint Princeton-Penn proposal than just Princeton. In fact, we were led to believe that by AEC, that in their opinion Congress would frown on a one-university machine, whereas they’d be much more in favor of a multi-university machine, and two was about the smallest number that you could think of. So even though we didn’t like the idea of having Penn join with us, just because I knew the problem of coordination, and they’d be far away, and hard for them to pull their full weight, and then we’d have arguments about how to design it, where to put the machine and so on. So it was with considerable misgivings that I finally agreed to make this joint proposal. Now, what made it hard for us to do otherwise was that MIT and Harvard very early decided it would be joint, and placed at Harvard, and Livingston of MIT would go to Harvard. In the same city, a few miles apart. So their going together was a more natural thing, by far, than Princeton and Penn. In any case, Penn did join in with us in the design.
Weart:Some of the people from Penn came over?
White:They came in once in a while, but thereby hangs a long story. We’ll get to that as time goes on. In this first proposal stage, I would say Penn made no contributions, in the first three BEV proposal. We had gone from two to three BEV because we really felt that two BEV was just too low. Three BEV even was marginal, but it was better than two. And yet we had already agreed to five million dollars, so the question was, can you build for the same amount of money a three BEV machine that you had originally planned to build for two? I’m afraid we succeeded in kidding ourselves, in thinking that you could in fact up the size by 50 percent and not have it cost any more. Nonetheless, we did design a three BEV machine, and this was done by O’Neill and Shoemaker and myself and Walter Arons. We made a fair number of calculations and attempted to make cost estimates, and got in some consultants to help in the cost estimation of the whole thing, and came out with the fact that for five million dollars we thought we could do it. Now, we were quite willing to regard the machine as an experiment, in a way, in building a fast cycling machine, and therefore we didn’t feel that we had to reach a very well-defined design goal, apart from the fact that it had to have three BEV. The rest of it — the auxiliary facilities, the external beam areas, the office space, laboratory space, shops, warehouses, storage areas — this was not part of our plan. We just thought we were making a bare machine to be used by physicists in the old-fashioned way, and it was going —
Weart:Was it going to be in the Palmer courtyard?
White:No, this time we had decided to move to the Forrestal campus. The university had acquired Forrestal, I guess not too long before. I would have preferred to put the machine across Lake Carnegie from Palmer Laboratory, where it would be near enough that you could bicycle down to it and walk back. But Dean Taylor, dean of the graduate school, was adamant: it must go to Forrestal, because he had I think sunk a lot of his energy and effort into acquiring the Forrestal property, and he saw in the accelerator a very nice addition to its activities. So there was no question where it’s going to go. Either in the courtyard of Palmer, which is too small, or out to Forrestal, which was 3 1/2 miles away. So that’s where it was designed to go.
Weart:Was there any opposition among the physicists, because of the problem of graduate students?
Yes. In the department of physics there was considerable discussion of whether or not you could have a really coherent department if a major piece of it was 3 1/2 miles away. And my answer was: well, it’s not as good as being right in the building. But you’ve got to decide whether or not you want to be in a forefront field of research. If you do, then this is one of the prices you have to pay, to locate it where you interfere with the coherent functioning of the department. Of course, it’s far worse than that nowadays, because you go out to Brookhaven, NAL, SLAC. So we were far better off then, 3 1/2 miles away, than we are now. But even that caused considerable unhappiness. There were those who just felt that it was a mistake, and it was too big a machine to take on, and that it was going to lead to departmental problems. There’s no question it did cause some departmental problems. But I think that most people feel that it was not a mistake. That while it was going, it was a very fine thing. You could in fact bicycle out there, and people did that, in about 15 minutes or a bit more, 15 or 20 at the outside. By car it was about eight minutes. So that’s near enough that no one really minded.
Apart from the fact that graduate students don’t always have cars. And so there was a certain amount of having to sponge rides from somebody. We had a Forrestal bus system set up, which was supposed to answer the problem of transport, but unfortunately it never went at the right time, or it seemed that way anyhow. The traffic fell off until finally it ran one person per busload, and at that point they killed the bus. And so they finally had no bus at all. They even talked in fact of putting a monorail in between Forrestal and the campus. This was back in the good old days when money was much freer that it is now. Because the monorail would run back and forth overhead; you could make it I’m sure in five minutes between the two campuses. Because at that time, there was quite a big dream of Forrestal being a real research campus for the university, with it providing the space for all of the high technology laboratories — high energy work like ours, high temperature work like people in the [CTR] activities, people in aero-dynamics with their wind tunnels, helicopters, an air strip. There was quite a dream of the university becoming much more active in high technology than it had been, and to solve those problems of separation, the monorail was discussed more than casually. Of course it came to naught. But to return to the proposal, we then submitted our three billion volt proposal for the joint Princeton-Penn outfit. We had many meetings with Penn to work out a charter, how we would operate this as two universities. These talks were quite difficult, I would say, because clearly the machine had to be at Princeton. We could not find space for it in Penn, and I wouldn’t have had any part of it even if they had the space down there, because it was frankly my idea, my machine; I wasn’t about to move to Penn or commute to Penn. On the other hand, the Penn people felt very unhappy about going 50 miles to do their research.
So a great effort was made to try to achieve parity between the two schools, with respect to the use of the machine, its management — but I must say that when it came to responsibility, that sharing was difficult to arrive at. Even with the best will in the world, I think it’s difficult for two institutions 50 miles apart, and a machine at one of them, to really share responsibility. We had to have the contract and we had to do all the employing, the hiring and the firing, worry about budgets and people and personnel and time schedules, and we had all the fights with the AEC about how we were to carry out this project. And so the Penn people mostly, for several years, basically served on a thing called the PPAC, the Princeton-Penn Accelerator Committee, and this was the board of trustees of the Laboratory. It met monthly, and I found it quite a chore, quite a burden, frankly, because it was trying to direct policy, and people who were doing this were not involved in doing the work. Yet they were insisting upon a 50 percent, so to speak, of the credit, machine time, authority. It was quite trying, to say the least.
Weart:Did the Penn people ever have their way? Did they ever insist on something and push it through?
White:Yes. Sure. When it came to the use of the machine, which later on we’ll get to, there was a question, how do you schedule machine time?
Weart:We can get to that later.
White:They insisted that they should be given half the time, and that no one should question their making good use of half the time.
Weart:Is this half of all time, or half of the time not given to outside users?
We were going to split the time about 30 percent Princeton, 30 percent Penn, 40 percent outside. At least that was the later ratio. I guess in the very early days, it was more like 40-40-20. In any case, we’re still doing the machine design now, getting going. We first started together a design group and located them in the attic of Palmer Laboratory, because they had no space at Forrestal. (brief interruption) The attic at Palmer Laboratory was just up under the slate roofing, and so it got hotter than the hinges in summer time. So we used part of our money to insulate the roof and put air conditioning in the attic, and also put in some partitions, and we ran in power and plumbing. For a year and half or more, I think, perhaps almost two years, we worked up there; all the while our staff was growing until finally we were bursting at the seams. One of our early employees was Paul Reardon, for example, who has since been at NAL, still there and of course a director, and he’s now just resigned to become the new head of the new Princeton fusion project, TCT. So one of our functions, as will develop later on in these talks I think, was the development of young people into competent technical high class, high technology managers.
In any case, we used the attic, and then we used the basement also for our heavy magnets that you couldn’t put in the attic. We made prototypes of our magnet. And all the while, of course, negotiating with AEC our contract, — it took a year and a half to get a contract out of AEC. Even though they wanted us to do this, it was a year and a half in coming, and we worked on a letter of intent, with nothing spelled out. To write a contract with AEC was quite an experience. I don’t think I want to go through it again. You would have thought that we were a bunch of criminals, that they were trying to really put under the microscope. I think the lawyers in New York City — see, the AEC, at that time, I think it still does, had an area office public management system, whereby Washington will delegate to the area manager, in this case New York City, full authority to work with the contractors. And so we went to New York to work with our lawyer to work out our contract. And it was terribly detailed, with all kinds of constraints which universities had never heard of, the kind you impose upon commercial outfits that you are afraid are going to cheat you. I was so naive as to think universities never cheat anybody, so why should they act like we were a profit-making and possibly a cheating organization? Well, we had some very very unpleasant discussions, I must say, with the lawyers.
At one point I walked out and said, “Look, I’m quitting. I’m not going to go ahead with this till you fellows realize, this thing is being built for the benefit of AEC and the country, and I’m not going to put up with all these constraints, very detailed accounting methods.” For example, the machine was broken down into a number of major pieces, I don’t know, eight or nine. There was the injector, the magnet, the magnet power supply, the vacuum chamber, radio frequency, buildings, and so on. Each one had to be cost-estimated in detail, and in three different steps, preliminary design, final design, and construction. And for the whole machine, even though parts of it hadn’t been invented yet. And then, when you’d put down these cost estimates, you were not allowed to go over them without specific prior approval from the AEC. So you found yourself always making out all kinds of papers to get them to allow you to move moneys from one to another area. So the administrative problems were really quite large. That’s been changed to some extent by the AEC. That’s not the way it was done at SLAC, and in part I think because our experiences were so painful that the AEC itself recognized perhaps that.
Weart:You let them know about it, I presume.
White:We certainly did. Then there was also a constant change in the area manager at Princeton. They had people here at Princeton, a whole staff of people whose major function was just to shuffle paper. They didn’t do any design. They came in and out of the place regularly, and you had to spend time talking to them, and they’d write up reports and they never got things straight, it seemed to me. And we’d get a phone call from New York, “How come you guys are not doing what you said you were going to do?” I’d say, “What do you say we’re doing?” So the administrative headaches were quite sizeable.
Weart:And these all came to you?
Well, I had of course a large staff at this time. I had a business manager. I had a chief engineer, man named Bob Trudel. He had been an elevator salesman in Belgium, as a matter of fact. He’s an ME from Swarthmore, and had had some government project management experience before I hired him. He caught a lot of the fly balls from the AEC. He had to make out these monthly breakdowns of all the costs, and go fight the AEC. But he was not a physicist, he was not a design man. In fact, as time went on and he got more and more in the hair of people, not only because he had to get these pieces of data for the AEC’s reports, which irritates one to have to make out this kind of stupid stuff, but also his way of working turned out to be a little bit unfortunate. His way of working was to work hard at night — well, and daytimes too — writing memoranda to people, which he’d leave in their mailbox, and they’d come in in the morning and find, “You are hereby requested to do so and so, let me know by the 14th.” All by paper, and this just didn’t go down well. And he had some personality problems. And so finally — but I must say that in spite of all that, he did a lot of very useful administrative work. And without him, if I hadn’t had him or his analog, I would have been really snowed.
So, it became apparent though, after about a year and a half of detailed designing, of really detailed designing and getting cost estimates from companies — and before we had gotten cost estimates from GE and from Westinghouse and from the contractors and so on — that when you had the detailed design, the cost estimates went up a lot. Because most manufacturers will under-bid violently as long as they needn’t have to give you a signed contract. That was a fact of life which I knew before, but it really came home with a bang this time. Furthermore, we escalated the number of machine parameters, with the AEC’s consent, to make it a better machine, to make it a more powerful machine, higher currents and more laboratory space. We did add, with their permission, a lot of laboratory space — in fact, probably a factor of almost ten in laboratory space — and the cost went up, from five million to about 12 1/2 million. And this caused a great to-do in Washington. At one point, they threatened to call the whole thing off and just simply cancel out. At that point, I think Glenn Seaborg was still chairman of AEC. Now, we also were joined in this over-run by Cambridge. Their machine went up by the same factor, practically. But in their case, it wasn’t so much a matter of adding a lot more laboratory space, because they couldn’t. They had theirs in the Yard, almost in Harvard Yard, and so they couldn’t really expand the space much, but just the cost of the various pieces went up.
In our case, the cost went up for various reasons, just more buildings, and the magnet cost more, the magnet power supply cost more, and the RF accelerator system cost more and the ferrites — all the things went up. Finally though, after a certain amount of unhappiness on the AEC’s part, they agreed to increase the funding to 12.6 million, and Congress went along with this. All the while we were going ahead still 90 miles an hour, not holding back for anybody. The design really proceeded pretty smoothly. The major people in the design — there was still Shoemaker; by this time O’Neill had invented storage rings, while at the PPA, and become more interested in pushing those, so though he was housed out there, in fact increasingly he was no longer with us. I would say in the last half the design, he was not really involved. His part in the design had to do with the radio-frequency acceleration system. There were many others too — one was Jack Riedel, who was very important in the RF design. He’s a very competent engineer, a funny character, very capable, very hard working, and he had drawn around him a very fine staff of people. His people were loyal to him. Very eager to interact with him.
Weart:Did you play much of a role in the design, or were you more administrative at this point?
White:My role in design was more of a gadfly, I think, to see to it things were being designed, and that they were not falling behind. In terms of detailed designs, early I’d had a key role in the design. For example, the way the magnet is powered was my design. See, we have 16 semi-octants — the magnet —, and the usual way to power the magnet was to put all these coils in a series, and put them across a capacity bank, then resonate that bank at the frequency of an alternator. Well, I did a thing which may look pretty obvious now, but I think at the time it was not so obvious. Rather than putting them all in series, and then across a big capacitor bank, I discovered you could put the capacitor bank between each section,
Weart:That’s what you show in that —
White:— see, you have a ring here,
Weart:I think there’s a CERN paper —
White:That’s right, yes. And then that meant you have AC currents oscillating back and forth in this ring circuit of L’s and C’s, but now you have to have a DC path, a DC component, because we recognized very early that a magnet run at 20 cycles had to have a DC component, so that it never reversed itself. Otherwise, the rate of change of magnetic field as it crosses the axis is much higher than it would be if you had a DC-biased sine wave, and also the power supply requires more KVA, I guess it’s true, I’m not too sure about that, but I think it requires more power, more kilowatts but not real power. Out of this also the DC path had to be provided, and that was accomplished by putting a coil across each capacity bank, in series with a magnet. And then we said, “All right, now you must introduce the AC component into this ring, and how are you going to do that? “Well, then you put a transformer in the circuit so that each of these DC coils, which are choke coils across a capacity bank, acts secondary of the transformer, the primaries of which are now all run in parallel and in phase. And that turned out to be very remarkable, because it gave some very interesting safety features. We were always worried about that — what happens if one magnet would short to ground? Would it throw a high voltage someplace else and burn out the whole magnet? Which would be a catastrophe. It turned out that that would have been the case, possibly, if we hadn’t had this system of the primaries of the transformers being all put together. They in effect now locked all of the semi-octants together, so what happened to any one, happened to all.
Weart:If they were in series.
Yes. Well, they were series — paralleled up. And so we made a model of this thing. But even this way, we weren’t sure of, so we actually modeled this whole business, in, I guess it was, one-tenth or one-twentieth scale, and ran at a higher frequency, at ten times the frequency. We studied all the various possible modes of oscillation of this system, because it wasn’t at all clear, just by looking at the circuit diagram, that it wouldn’t have some sneak resonances, or some problems which could lead to a burn-out. Well, nowadays this is all accepted as obvious, but it wasn’t so obvious to us then, though perhaps someone might have, knowing more than we did about this kind of problem, might have said, “OK, it’s an obvious kind of application of so-and-so’s theorem.” But we didn’t see it. So we built a model and proved it out. We also built models of the magnet profile, because this machine was decided to be weak focusing, and that led to some discussion.
We built the machine even after the discovery of strong focusing. In fact, we’d had this contract, looking at the separated function, of the strong focusing machine, and the reason for using weak focusing rather than alternate gradient focusing was that no one at that time knew how to inject more than one turn into a strong focusing machine, nor did anyone know how to eject from an AGS machine, either one. Our machine wouldn’t have made any sense if we couldn’t have put in more current than corresponded to one turn. And furthermore it would have been a machine of no value if you couldn’t extract particles. We knew how to do it with weak focusing. We knew how to put in 10, 20 turns with weak focusing, and knew how to extract weak focusing, we thought. So-called Piccioni system, which they had used on the cosmotron. Well, now looking back at it, had we been bolder, and had we had a bigger theoretical staff, we might have solved all of the problems of multi-turn injection into AGS, and extraction. But we didn’t. We didn’t want to have that big a staff. And also we wanted a more sure thing. So we picked weak focusing. And we had to model this thing. We made up first a small quarter-scale model, and then we made a full-scale, full selection.
Weart:Of one semi-octant? or just one magnet?
White:About four feet of a semi-octant. They were 12 feet long and we made about three feet or so of a semi-octant. And we actually stamped out the iron laminations, using the very same die that was going to be used to make the full scale magnet, because I wasn’t at all convinced that we wouldn’t end up with a field we couldn’t use, and there you’d be, stuck with a bad magnet. One shouldn’t forget that in those days one was not nearly as clear about how far you could push iron, in the precise sort of way, and have it really work, as we are today. Today one would not be quite as fussy as we, or at least I, felt we had to be, back in those days. And we even had separable pole tips, so that if we made a mistake in the pole tips, we could throw away a set worth a half a million dollars, and put in new ones.
Weart:Did you ever have to do that?
White:No. The same tips are still there as were made. Now, one of the major problems in the design was the vacuum chamber, because this has to get 10-6 mm of mercury vacuum. It had to work in a field of 14 kilogauss, and more to the point, it’s a time-varying field, which varies at 100 times the rate that it does at the big AGS at Brookhaven, or the Cosmotron. Therefore you can’t have any metal which could induce eddy currents in the chamber. A thin sheet, for example, of 1 mil stainless steel would run almost red hot if placed in this time-varying field. The vacuum chamber was one of the more expensive and time-consuming, one of the late things, and did in fact raise the cost of the machine more than I would have liked or thought was likely. But the final solution was to have a stainless steel front spacer, which kept the pole tips of the magnet apart, and at the same time served as one wall of the vacuum chamber. The vacuum chamber was made up of this front spacer plus some non-magnetic ribs fastened to the front spacer, covered by an epoxy Fiberglass envelop, and this took a fair bit of development and manufacture.
Weart:And the spacer had to be cooled.
White:Had to be cooled, and the spacer had to be vertical to a high precision, otherwise if the spacer tilted, you could get induced currents in it, which would then throw off the field and the magnet. So the whole vacuum chamber cost an awful lot more than I had anticipated. The radio frequency was more difficult than I had thought. The problem there is the following, that in the proton machine, you inject at say three or four MEV, and you finally extract at three BEV. So the velocity change is about a factor of 12, it turns out. And so you had to have a frequency varied by a factor of 12. Furthermore, you must do it in a half cycle of the magnet — it’s a quarter cycle. That’s 1/40th of a second. Now, during this time varying period, the amplitude must also be held to within a few percent. Otherwise the particles in this small vacuum chamber can slosh back and forth and be lost. So it turned out to be a very difficult problem that we had to solve, and I had underestimated how hard it was going to be, mainly because it looked like, when we first designed the machine, that you’d have broader tolerances, and it didn’t seem like the ferrites that we were going to use would in fact be difficult to bias property, to make them resonate with the drive. We went to a resonance system for the RF. Brookhaven, where I’d been with the Cosmotron, was a non-resonant system. They could get by with that, because they only needed to have about one or two kilovolts across the gap. We had to have 60 kilovolts across four gaps. And to make that much voltage, you really had to go resonant. So our RF problems were much tougher than it had been for the Cosmotron. And we solved them, but it took a bit of doing, and the costs went up.
Weart:Was that the main problem in getting up to the 20 cycles per second rate? Because your machine I think was really much faster than any that had been built before.
White:That’s right. We were much faster.
Weart:How did you decide to go to such a fast machine?
White:We just felt we had to go to that frequency in order to get the beam current up to where we wanted it, because we felt we could compute the amount of beam per pulse that you could make, because space charge always limits the amount of protons you can put in a vacuum chamber, and therefore you have to have more pulses at that maximum peak space charge, to get the average current to where we wanted it.
Weart:You worked back from what the experimental demands were.
Weart:Then you felt you had to make the RF so that the magnets had to be designed down to be small enough.
White:Our initial promise to AEC was to make a machine of three BEV, and beam current 100 times the current which was available at that time for the Cosmotron. Now, as time went on, they improved the Cosmotron. But we did get 100 times the current of the old Cosmotron, and in fact when they finally turned up the Cosmotron, we were still getting a factor of about 25 times more beam current than they had. So I felt that we had done what we’d promised, all right. Well, now the RF problems were difficult, and I won’t go into the details of that, because it’s quite involved, but that was one of the most complicated electronics enterprises I think that at that time had been undertaken in big accelerators. In fact the French who were building a three BEV machine called Saturne at Saclay had thought about going to fast cycling but had abandoned it on the grounds that the RF problem would be impossible. And they were almost right.
Weart:Of course the United States had much higher capabilities in that sense.
White:Well, our capabilities, and we’d also got much more experience.
Weart:Yes, that’s included.
White:True. I mean, experienced in terms of accelerator designers. The components that went into this thing were available world-wide, so that they could have had access to components. There were some very nice vacuum tubes that we readily used, put out by EIMAC, which, if they had not been available, would have made our problem much more difficult. But in any event, the RF problem was finally, I won’t say solved, in the sense that all at once it worked. It just got better and better and better, stopped breaking down more and more, until finally, after a lot of hard work, it was reliable and ran well.
Weart:You’re saying that you had problems even after the thing was built.
White:It was very complicated. It consists of four ferrite resonant cavities, which you tune by sending about an 18,000 ampere current through a one turn coil. This one turn coil is a copper bus bar, two inches by four inches or so. This one turn coil around the ferrite biases it from a permeability of about 180 or 200 in the zero field position to a permeability of about six when biased.
Weart:These things are in the literature, I’m sure. What I’m trying to get straightened out, is the chronology. You knew you had problems during the design stage? Or was it when you finally got the thing built that your problems developed?
White:Oh, we knew we had problems in the design stage, yes. And after the design was made, we knew we had problems with just plain reliability. Things breaking down. Under-designed power supplies, and sparking over here, and transistors blowing out. Speaking about transistors, we were very fortunate that they were invented when they were, because our first design of the whole accelerator was based upon vacuum tubes being used throughout, and though I think it would have been possible, the fact is that transistors made the solution infinitely easier. It was a lucky break that they came along when they did. But to go on, I guess the next big problem had to do with beam extraction, and that we had planned to solve by something called the Piccioni jump target. That was not very much favored by us, because it leads to a beam which is a little diffuse in its size, and we decided to investigate the resonant beam extraction system, which a man in Frascati had been doing a lot of theoretical work on.
Weart:This was after it had been — this was after completing the construction and getting the beam?
White:Yes. We first used the internal beam for quite a while. Yes.
Weart:You actually got the external beam, this was around ‘66. So you probably started a couple of years before that.
White:Yes. It wasn’t at all clear that ore could in fact resonantly extract a proton beam from our machine. So we did a lot of theoretical work, and at one point we felt that we had to plunge in and out, at a rate of 1/20th of a second, a large magnet weighing several tons.
Weart:That would be quite a job.
White:And we actually designed this thing up. We spent several man-years and did some model work to design a plunging magnet. And we came close to putting the thing in, until we finally became convinced that we’d only gain about ten percent more beam current than a stationary magnet. At that point we abandoned this plunging magnet.
Weart:Let me turn the tape now. OK, we’re going along.
White:Well, the beam extraction was one of our triumphs, in that it was calculated in advance. We did have a very large active enterprise which we had to develop in order to bring it off. We had a special group set up under Shoemaker to make the calculations and do the detailed design. It finally came off very well, the whole thing does work nicely, and the beam spot that comes out of the machine is very well focused, and so it worked out fine.
Weart:Tell me, Shoemaker’s name has come up quite a number of times. He must have played a very important role. How did he get his effects? How did he work as a team leader or whatever?
White:You mean his method of working? Well, he was on the faculty. He had come to Princeton to join me on the cyclotron a number of years before. He came from Wisconsin.
Weart:Did you arrange his coming?
White:Yes. Well, I guess the details are the following, that Gene, Eugene Wigner had gone to Wisconsin to lecture for a year, and had met Frank Shoemaker there, and then Eugene wrote to me and said, “Here’s a young man who’s a very capable experimentalist, maybe you ought to hire him.” So I wrote him and he came to Princeton, and he worked on the cyclotron with me. He’s very talented, his memory is fantastic — he knows everything from fancy mathematical formulas to the shear strength of a half inch bolt, and very good at engineering design, and he also understands physics very well. So he played a very important role in the whole design of the accelerator. As time went on, though, he withdrew more and more, because he likes to teach and takes it very seriously and does a very good job at it, so he increasingly became — well in fact, from the beginning he was always part-time. I was more full-time than he. So that meant that when he worked with the design group at the accelerator, composed of men who were full-time, he would come in once a day for several hours, on days he was not teaching he might spend the whole day there. But he was an idea man, and a detail and calculation man, and one who helped people sort their ideas out. And good at getting things made, too. He was in charge of the magnet design. They had Paul Reardon who worked under him, and I think the two of them were a good combination, because Paul was not probably nearly as competent as Frank at the fundamental design, but much better than Frank at getting things made, getting them done, getting them tested, getting them in.
Weart:By getting them done you mean dealing with people who were manufacturers?
Dealing with manufacturers and dealing with technicians, and getting holes chopped in walls to let you get things in — just a good person to get things brought to a head and settled. He was very good at sort of almost making Frank make his mind up. Terrific guy to decide something, get rolling. Because Frank tended sometimes to want to more deeply understand things, and didn’t want to say, “Let’s do it that way,” until he really understood what was going on. Sometimes that took too long a time to bring to a head, and we had to move, we had to gamble. Of course in so doing, one had to leave himself some loopholes, in case Frank’s concern was justified. You hoped to always later on catch your balance if you had to. And Reardon was very good I think at working with Shoemaker just that way. Well, let’s see. That I think pretty well covers the accelerator design problems. We touched lightly upon the problems with Penn. When we had a running machine and we had a beam coming out, then of course people from Penn began to show up in large numbers to use the machine. But prior to that, Penn did do some accelerator design work. Al Mann, A.K. Mann from Penn, did take on the responsibility for the injection system. Under him was a man named Halsey Allen, who’s now also at NAL, in charge of operations, and it was Al Mann’s responsibility to see to it that the four MEV Van de Graaff and beam transport line and inflector, all that stuff, really worked. And the ion source. There’s no question that he was useful.
On the other hand, being part-time, his heart really wasn’t in it. There were considerable difficulties. If you’ve got a problem you really had to be on top of it all the time, at least every week if not every day. And so eventually we had to more or less part company, in the sense that we took over the full responsibility for the injector, and consulted with him, asked his opinion on things afterwards. But he tried hard, and I think that’s certainly a point to be made clear, that he tried his best to be useful. There were some others at Penn that took on pieces here and there, and it didn’t work out very well, because it’s hard to coordinate two groups 50 miles apart. It’s just difficult. And I’m afraid there were some difficulties, some hard feelings, that developed here and there. So toward the end of the period of construction, there were essentially no people from Penn around, and they felt they had to get back to Penn in order to prepare to use the machine, so they were actually raising money from AEC and designing equipment to go on the machine. Now, I should point out that Princeton had two research groups who wanted to use the machine. One was the group which had initially started off from John Wheeler years ago, in cosmic rays, and had become an accelerator-oriented using group — they used the Cosmotron and later the AGS — composed of George Reynolds and Jim Cronin and Val Fitch and Pierre Piroue and then their students and various visitors. And so they from the very start planned to use the accelerator, the PPA.
It was understood from the start that they would not be asked to make much of a contribution to the machine design and development, because that was my job, arid I felt that they were doing research and I didn’t want to see the research stopped in the whole place. Even so Jim Cronin was very useful, very valuable, in designing our external target building. So we got a running machine, and there was a problem of how do you adjudicate the use of it between Princeton and Penn and the outside world? There were some severe problems there, because as I mentioned earlier, the people from Penn had this image of the ideal professor’s life as one man in a room and no one to ask questions of. And no one can challenge his right to do what he wants to do. They somehow sought to extend that to the field of high energy physics in particular, and to the use of the PPA, 50 miles away. That really was their underlying philosophy, that it’s a home away from home. When they came to Princeton, a certain amount of floor space was theirs, they could do as they liked. That of course was really ridiculous, because they had to share machine time, they had to share facilities, money, magnets, technician staff, shops — it just wasn’t possible for them to have that degree of independence. But they strove mightily to maintain it, and they wanted half the machine time, or equal with Princeton. The problem there was, how you define “machine time”? There were several external beams. In fact, we had at one point eight of them. And they aren’t all alike. Do they get half of each beam time? It became ridiculous trying to be arbitrary and actually count up hours. But this was tried for a while, until finally, after a lot of pulling and hauling, and the addition to the Princeton-Penn Committee of some outside scientists, who were very helpful —
Weart:Is this why they were added?
White:That’s why they were added, to — well, for two reasons. One was also to improve our image with the outside world. We were very keen to have the accelerator used by other scientists than Princeton-Penn. At the same time, we also felt that they would provide a good lubrication between Princeton and Penn. We had Rod Cool from Brookhaven, and we had Willis from Yale, and we had Field from the Argonne, and —
Weart:While we’re on scheduling, let me ask a minute about these outside users. You say you were very keen to have them. Why was that?
White:Well, in the first place, by now the machine was costing seven (?) million dollars a year to run. And just for two universities to spend 3 1/2 million a piece on running time I think was excessive. Then these experiments are, as you know, very large, time—consuming, costly, require a large staff, and it’s quite clear that neither Princeton nor Penn would be allowed to expand enough in their departments of physics to be able to use half of the machine time.
Weart:You mean their universities would not allow it.
White:Just would not allow it. It’s a large group to use half of the machine time that PPA put out. So that was one factor, the other was that I felt that we would improve the quality of our work substantially if we had people from the outside applying, and then agreeing to run their experiments if we felt that we could do it and that the quality were high enough.
Weart:How did you handle that? Did you have a scheduling committee?
White:We set up a Princeton-Penn Science Committee. PPSC, and I was chairman of that for a good many years, and on this committee were these outside people, and we wanted them on to help us decide between the outside users and the inside users, and they were very helpful. They were valuable (a) lubrication between Princeton and Penn, (b) helped our outside image, (c) helped us decide who was to run. And also they were just good physicists, and we talked good physics; the whole metabolism went up because of their being around. So that was the way we handled the scientific management of the laboratory. I was chairman of the committee. But again, the people from Penn were a bit unhappy that I was chairman of the Science Committee and Laboratory Director, and we also had a separate AEC contract for the research use of the accelerator —
White:We did, and the same contract number as the operating contract for the machine proper.
Weart:When you say you, do you mean Princeton, or do you mean you yourself.
White:Well, I was the Principal Investigator. In Princeton University. And there was always the worry on Penn’s part that somehow I was siphoning away from the operating contract monies for the research contract. Actually the reverse was true. Far more went in the other direction. But I did employ a number of people who were either full-time at the accelerator, and not teaching faculty, or some who were instructors. Tom Devlin (?), now at Rutgers, professor of physics there, and Sullivan who’s out at The University of Illinois, in the Chicago Loop there; Maurice Bazin, Henry Blumenfeld (?), many others, young people, Mike Kreisler — well, a lot of young people. Because I felt that I had to have a research group close to the accelerator, housed there, and basically committed to using the PPA, because I couldn’t totally rely upon the Reynolds group to use it. Because they had had no role in the construction or the design, were already working at AGS, and in fact didn’t feel any real emotional tie to the accelerator.
Weart:This is like what was done at Brookhaven before, that they had an in—house group and an outside group, in effect.
White:Yes. My in-house group was still small compared to the whole accelerator, 50 people compared to 400 or so, at the outside. Counting technicians and everybody else. So in any case, people from Penn were unhappy about the fact that I had this research contract from AEC, and was the chairman of the Committee on Schedule and director, and even though I never I’m sure gave anybody any added time from my group, they were worried about this. So there was a certain amount of dust-up, and finally I agreed to step aside and turn over the management of the research contract to Frank Shoemaker. Furthermore, Penn was still unhappy about that, and so we moved the people out of the building physically, down the road 100 yards, just in order to make it quite clear that they were having no undue advantage over the people from Penn.
Weart:Did they raise these issues with the AEC, or with Princeton University or…?
White:They raised them mostly in our own internal committee structure. When they thought that wasn’t working well, then they would go to the university administrators, particularly to Harry Smyth, who was chairman of the research board. They raised it with their own administration, and the AEC certainly heard about it, and then one knew about it all around the country by the grapevine.
Weart:Was this sort of thing going on through the whole life of the PPA?
White:It was very unpleasant. Yes, very unpleasant.
Weart:Had there been any changes in this atmosphere?
White:As time went on, things got better. We kept rewriting our charter and by-laws, and they began to recognize increasingly that (a) they could not anyhow use half the machine time —
Weart:You mean just didn’t have the ability.
White:Or the manpower or the muscle to do it. And I think that it became apparent that the research group here was not in fact getting any undue advantage, apart from the fact that they were right here. That couldn’t be avoided. They were in Princeton, that’s a fact of life, so they could walk in and walk out, daily, hourly, they could come back at night time.
Weart:In the scheduling was there any competition between Princeton, Penn and outside groups, or did each have a definite percentage of the time?
White:Well, that was one of the tussles that we went through, in that there was an attempt made to sort of interleave proposals, every other one was a Princeton or Penn proposal, and somehow you’re supposed to then assign them time on the floor and priority, every other one in turn. Well, this never worked out, because it isn’t that simple. The problem has too many facets to it. There’s only one very large external magnet. Well, how do you share that? Then there are the various beams. One beam was a hot ( ) beam, the other beam was a good proton beam, and so it just wasn’t possible to be that mechanical about saying, “OK, half for you and half for us.” Factually, I don’t believe there was any conflict between Princeton and Penn in scheduling, just that they thought there was going to be. They kept worrying about it. It seemed to be a point of honor for them.
Weart:Were there any people at Penn, particularly, that all these problems involved? Could you name a couple of names?
White:Well, yes. One person, unfortunately now deceased, was Jules Halpern, and he was the one that was most difficult to deal with. Al Mann tried very hard to be an elder statesman, and was generally useful trying to keep things straightened out. In fact, one way we helped to remove the unbalance between Princeton and Penn was that we said, “Look, if you want half the machine time and half the authority, then you must have half of the responsibility. Well, you can’t have half the responsibility because we’re here. And we’re on top of this. If things don’t go well, it’s going to fall on me, not on you, 45 miles away.” What we did do though was to have Al Mann become Associate Director of the Laboratory, and he came up every week. He spent half of his time up here, or more. And that was very valuable. He did a good job, and that was enormously useful. After Al Mann, then we had Walker Wales do the same thing from Penn, and though Walter Wales is quite different from Al Mann, his being up here really helped enormously to smooth things over. It should have been thought about earlier. Well, it was thought about earlier but we didn’t do it. You know, it’s a funny thing, university administration has no ability or any responsibility to try to write a contract with you. How do they make Professor X come up here? He’s a free agent. So none of the people at Penn whom we put pressure on to come here were willing to come, until Al Mann finally did so. What he learned of course was all the gory details of how the contract was administered and the funding and the endless budgetary crises that you have. Every week there’s a new crisis with AEC. They call you up Thursday afternoon, want by Friday afternoon a complete breakdown, for the next six months in great detail — literally on one day’s warning.
Weart:This would be some lower-down AEC administrator, or one of the upper people?
White:Fairly upper. Director of Research. Because they were going to appear before Congress on Monday morning.
White:Now, they didn’t like it any better than we did, but Congress would suddenly say to them, “All right, there will be a hearing in five days time. We want you to run down for us the status of high energy physics. So we’d get this hurry-up call. And so, for the first time, people in Penn realized that we were by no means as free to do what we wanted to do. We had these AEC requests for immediate response. Furthermore, the funding, the money actually in hand, was never as clear as it sounded, because there were various strings attached. There were various requirements of how you’re going to spend it, we weren’t by any means totally free to spend our seven million a year. There were all kinds of little pockets. And I used to try to explain to them that when we had excess money here, and needed some money there, for a Penn project, we couldn’t move it from here to here. And they thought I was pulling a fast one.
Weart:I see, because they were used to a university rather than an AEC environment.
White:Yes. So when Al Mann got up here, he saw these problems, and he was on the telephone with AEC, and he realized what it was. So he was able to carry back to Penn these facts of life which were not new to them, but which they now believed.
Weart:Do you think it was the AEC environment that was ultimately responsible for some of these frictions?
White:No question that the AEC constraints were very heavy and very onerous. But as I say, in most cases it was probably unavoidable, on account of the government is the way it is. That makes it hard for two universities to get together and work on a basis of pure trust, just because the one who holds the contract has now two masters. The one whom you trust; and AEC where you have to do it their way or they’ll cut the money off. They have stacks of lawyers who are always writing letters to you, wanting answers. And there are some governmental constraints like the Buy American Act and you can’t use prison labor and so on, and things that just constantly chip away at your feeling you can do what you want to do. But having been through all this, as I have for so many years now, I recognize that a lot of this is simply inescapable, in government-funded projects, because the government does in fact deal with many groups that are badly run, are in fact cheating. Like the nursing home scandals in New York City where there weren’t enough controls, so people were pocketing millions and doing a very lousy job. And so now you can well bet any future nursing home bill is going to have an awful lot of red tape in it. Just because a few skunks were milking the government.
Weart:Let me ask you now, if we can take a longer view, starting back with Lawrence’s Lab in Berkeley, then coming on up, just talking about the postwar period — what were your surprises at how the organization of physics, the administrative structure, developed? Did things work differently from the way you’d expected them to?
White:I don’t suppose you’d call them surprises, because they were happening so slowly that you never reached the place where you suddenly saw sort of a step-wise change. But when one looks back over it, certainly as a graduate student I was raised, like all the rest of the students were, to feel that the ideal way of doing research was to have a bright idea, go into an empty room, start to collect equipment, not spend too long at it, make some nice measurements, have a nice theory and then publish. That was the ideal. Well, it’s a long way from that. And Lawrence and his cyclotron even in those days in Berkeley, was certainly showing the way — that if you had a nice idea in nuclear physics, you weren’t about to go into an empty room. You had to go in with ten more guys and build equipment. I guess I was slow to appreciate the fact that as you have more and more people, you do simply have to have more administration, more regulations, more rules. This cannot be avoided by the top scientists. They’d like to, and some of them try to, but there’s just no way that they’re going to get the funds to carry out the things that they have thought of and want to do dearly, unless they’re able to put in a good fraction of their time, maybe a third of their time or more, at writing proposals, getting the money, hiring a staff, complying with the regulations and rules. I must say, I guess I keep hoping that that will go away, but it doesn’t. Other than that, I don’t think I can point to any great surprises in how research is carried out. Of course there are still fields of physics, solid state physics for one, where a man can go into a room, empty room, and start to accumulate equipment.
Weart:I was really thinking about your particular field.
White:But nuclear physics, high energy physics, now many things having to do with astro-physics, things having to do with any kind of instrument put aboard a satellite — it’s inescapable.
Weart:Yes, with satellite work.
White:Well, even in solid-state physics, people have to have nowadays purer and purer materials, and many have to make it themselves. They can’t just go buy it from Merck. And they may end up with quite a big enterprise, to grow, prepare materials in a highly purified form.
Weart:When you were at the PPA, did you give a lot of thought to this? Did you try to make a structure that would alleviate some of the bad effects of this?
Well, yes. I certain was clearly aware of it, in fact quite aware of it, because in the first place, in my wartime experiences I had run across the obvious need for lots of administration. But that went pretty well in wartime because money was always increasing in amount, and help was always increasing in amount, and there was a tremendous feeling of urgency, of getting on with the job, let’s win the war. So administrative constraints there were relatively supportable, I would say. Not too bad. At the Cosmotron, for the first time, I was in a big peacetime project, and found there that the contract between AEC and Brookhaven, or between AEC and AUI was in fact very thick and very detailed. I was constantly being bothered by having to comply with contractual requirements that I felt were inefficient, slowed the job down, did not guarantee a better job, in fact made it harder to produce what you wanted to, and I didn’t think that they had much to do with insuring the honesty of all concerned.
I wasn’t concerned about people running off with the till at Brookhaven. In fact, I never was and Pm not now. I think it very very rarely happens. I think there’s still lots of red tape you go through which probably one needn’t go through. So I was aware of that in the Cosmotron days, that one had to have a lot of administration. At the PPA, my goal was to have an administrative engineering staff which would carry as big a part of this engineering, administrative budgetary burden as possible, and not bother the physicists any more than they wanted to be bothered. Nonetheless, I certainly recognized that I had to make them sit down and think hard about things, and they would scream and kick about it, I’d say, “Well, if don’t do it, I will do it, and you may not like it. I don’t want that, so you’ve got to tell me what you want, why you want it, how you want it.” So we did have I think at PPA a very good administrative staff, engineering staff, and people who had worked there and worked elsewhere said during the time they were there, and said since then that it was one of the best laboratories they’d ever been in, from the point of view of minimum red tape. As they saw it.
I tried to keep it away from them. Now, that does cost, perhaps, a little money, because you need a better grade of administrator. He has to feel that the thing he’s doing is important, if he’s going to do it well, and then that means you must spend some time showing him why it’s important for him to administer a bunch of physicists who are trying to discover a new particle that he can’t understand. So we worked pretty hard with administrative staff to keep them enthusiastic about their job, to make them feel that the only reason they were there was to take care of the research needs of Al Mann, Val Fitch, anybody else. Any kind of a snappy rejoinder was purely out of place, that that’s not their function. Even though there might be some user scientists to make some unreasonable request. I certainly didn’t prevent my people from telling a guy off if he was really unreasonable. Still the basic motivation was to say, “What do you want? Why do you want it? Will this work? Can I get it for you?” and try to help out. I think that the people who worked there did find it quite congenial.
Weart:What about the graduate students, particularly the Princeton graduate students? Was there any particular way you could help them, give them more freedom?
White:Yes, that was a very important part of our philosophy, that high-energy physics is a somewhat difficult field for a graduate student to get a degree in, and to get the kind of experiences which I think are useful in developing his self-confidence and general expertise, because it takes quite a large group. Maybe doing the programming in a problem involving 20 scientists — well, that’s not very exciting, the programming. So we made a point that all our graduate students (and the same was true of Penn people too, because we felt that their students were our students), that graduate students were not just something to be tolerated, but ought to be encouraged, nurtured. And that our engineering staff and our computer staff and programmers and everybody felt that graduate students were a fine thing, and they should be given every opportunity to get involved as deeply as they could be involved in experiments. If someone on the faculty wanted to do an experiment with his graduate students, and did not want engineering help, just so the student would get practical experience, then we saw to it that he could do it that way, provided the safety requirements were observed. When they had hydrogen targets, for example, then we had to insist that our engineers make the hydrogen targets.
Weart:Did this mean that some of the engineering money could be diverted from the engineering group to graduate students for example?
White:You could certainly pay graduate students to work in summer time. During the academic year, I don’t — well, not the straight engineering in the sense of the heavy stuff. It was true then and it’s still true now in fact, in the department of physics, that if the graduate student is paid from a contract, he has to spend time doing things for the good of all. He can’t just grab the fellowship. We expect our students now to spend 20 hours a week for pay doing things that will not necessarily directly advance their thesis. It may do so, but that’s not the basic reason he’s paid. Same is true with the accelerator. Any graduate student who worked out there was required, if he were paid by the contract, to do something which would advance — well, if he was paid by accelerator funds, he had to do some engineering kind of work. If he was paid by the research contract funds, then it was OK for him to advance the writing of a program for someone’s fancy computer simulation or whatever. Or build detectors to be used in experiments. Graduate students actually had offices out there. They had their books out there. They were very much part of the scene. Even so, the separation from Palmer Laboratory was a handicap, in that courses, you know, are held let’s say from 10:40 to 11:40, so the student wouldn’t come out until 12 o’clock, because if he’d come out before 10:40, get an hour’s work in, go back down there — it’s hard to do. So he tended to come to the accelerator in chunks of time, when he had a whole free afternoon or whole evening or whole weekend. Lots of weekend work. The machine ran seven days a week, and the graduate students and faculty were out there Saturdays and Sundays and holidays. That worked out I think better than trying to run back and forth, as you can now in Jadwin Hall, you can run back and forth between class and seminar and colloquium and laboratory, but you can’t do it out there.
Weart:Did you try to keep them integrated with the physics department? I’m not talking about physically, but in terms of personnel? Did you try to keep a very close relationship?
White:Yes, in the following way. Our personnel practices at the accelerator were in fact consistent and in fact were determined by the university’s personnel department. Our connection was not through physics but through the Personnel department, and our purchasing was through Purchasing. Administratively the accelerator was totally independent of the department of physics. The only tie-in was indirect, in that myself and Shoemaker and some young assistant professors were on the teaching faculty and at the accelerator. But I did not require any departmental action to hire someone. Well, that’s not quite right, if I wanted to hire a physicist, then I agreed that I would run him past the department for their information, but not necessarily that they could tell me that I couldn’t hire him. Because I felt that I’d have to hire some physicists who would probably not be the kind the department wanted to see on their staff, because I had to have some things done. If I wanted to make a man an instructor, then obviously he had to be passed by the department. Or assistant professor. If he was full time research, then I informed them of this man’s presence.
Weart:Did the department try to limit the number of high energy physicists, let’s say who became instructors or professors or whatever? Was there any fight over that, any sort of lining up of territory?
White:Yes. Yes, there was. Early on, it wasn’t so bad because we were expanding and therefore any such fights over territory didn’t amount to a lot because you could always hope that next year there’d be expansion and you could get what you wanted.
Weart:Expansion of the whole department.
White:The whole department. When it became apparent that the department wasn’t going to expand any more, then those fights became much more severe. As you might expect.
Weart:Was there any sort of official decision on what proportion of the department could be high energy physics?
White:There was some decision, I think, made. At one point, they looked at the overall staff and said, “OK, a certain fraction is high energy physics, a certain fraction is solid state, let’s keep that distribution.” We didn’t try to change it — we freezed it at that point. In fact, at one point we felt that we ought to build up our solid state physics, and therefore we froze the high energy physics to some extent, and deliberately all of us agreed to increase our solid state physics people.
Weart:That’s interesting because you say “we” here in two ways. You say “we” and mean PPA, and you say “we” and mean the physics department. You didn’t have any trouble this way between the two?
White:Not really. I don’t think so.
Weart:The interests of the two weren’t really in conflict?
White:There again, this is back in the halcyon days. Things were expanding. If you tried it today, I think it would be a different matter entirely. Because they’re contracting in size now, and you can well imagine, if you contract, somebody’s going to say, “You’re going to contract too.” It happens right now in the thing I run, the nuclear physics activity which I’m now in charge of. We’re being told to contract some of the faculty appointments, but we can have all we can pay for in the way of full time research. But —
Weart:That’s curious. Because it’s by contract?
White:That’s right, contracts are paying for it. But if the university paid for it, we’d have to limit that number and go through the dean. So there again, you tend to take a snapshot of the department and say “Here we are today, we’ve been cut back, we’ll cut back more or less pro rata but not change the ratios, except insofar as you have a small activity, where we cut them back half a man, well, maybe it’s going to be half or one, one or zero.” So apart from that, we sort of decide to preserve the presence of some effort between nuclear physics, high energy physics, solid state, astrophysics, and terrestrial physics.
Weart:The chairman back then would have been Walter Bleakney.
White:Yes. The first chairman who overlapped the PPA was Shenstone, and then, I don’t know when, he went out but Walter Bleakney came in next.
Weart:This was about 1960.
White:He was chairman for a very large share of the PPA’s existence, and then Bob Dicke, and now Murph Goldberger.
Weart:What was Bleakney’s attitude towards the PPA.
White:His general attitude I think was, “If you want to do it, and you want to put your back into it, go ahead.”
White:Anything, yes. And he was not one to have deep philosophical convictions about the rightness or wrongness of certain things. He would go along with whatever you wanted to do, provided you’d go and do it, don’t make him do it. If you want to do it bad enough that you’ll find all the horsepower, get the money, then he would go along. He served on the Princeton-Penn Committee, which had on it the chairmen of the two departments of physics, Princeton and Penn, and he always came to meetings. I would say he didn’t make — he made a positive contribution but not a very large one. He sat rather quietly and listened to things. He was not one who enjoys fights at all, or resolving problems. Went his own way pretty much.
Weart:Went his own way.
White:Yes. Very capable man, but not one with I would say very wide interests in physics. He started out, when I first came up to Princeton, in mass spectroscopy, back in the days when that was still an active field, and then during the war went into passive defense against bombing very early, before the rest of us had even awakened to the fact that there was a war on, really. And trying to improve ways to build bomb shelters, strengthening concrete, armor plate.
Weart:Very applied work.
White:Very applied work, very needed work. These were the days of the “phony war,” we thought it wouldn’t last very long. And then from studying the penetration of bullets into armor place, I guess, that may have gotten him into shock waves. In any case, after the war, it must have been the very end of the war, he got into air shock wave work and did some very fine work in that, some very important work. Very important for high speed flight. So he abandoned his earlier field, and went into shock waves, and didn’t really show much interest in nuclear physics or in particle physics or any of the other way out subjects. He liked to plow his own field rather closely.
Weart:Just to take an opposite fellow, I’d like to ask you about Bob Dicke, who I guess is a really different kind of a person.
White:Yes. Well, Bob has wide interests. He’s not much interested in fundamental particles. He knows about them, he certainly understands them, but his field of course has been trying to tackle the giants, Einstein’s relativity equation, which he and Brans studied, and added a term to, which they felt was called for by some observations that Bob Dicke had made. He’s a very inventive man, extremely creative.
Weart:I sort of know about him because I’m a student of one of his students. Did you know Jim Faller when he was there?
Weart:I’m a student of Feller’s at one point, did my thesis under him. I wanted to ask you, it just occurs to me now, how Dicke’s theory was regarded around Princeton when it first came out, in the first few years? I’m not talking about now.
White:Oh, I think the old-line relativists just never departed from Einstein’s theory at all. They just felt that it was absolutely symmetrical, beautiful, wonderful. But they said, physics is experimental, and if there are any reasons to abandon it or correct it or change it, OK, so we’ll do so, but they didn’t see evidence for it. No question, they felt that Bob Dicke really understood Einstein deeply, and he was not doing something out of ignorance, that what he was doing was because he really understood the fundamental elements of general field theory. I’m not enough in this field myself, in fact I’m not in it at all, to do more than just comment. He looked at the evidence for Einstein’s theory, the three famous experiments, the rotation of perihelion of Mercury, and bending of light, and the third was — oh —
Weart:The Eotvos experiment?
White:Yes, I guess. I think he basically felt that he enjoyed most of all looking at the deep fundamental questions in physics, and challenging them, even though there was no obvious reason why that challenge would be successful. He did not want simply to go and make more measurements on more stuff, just to add to the numbers in the books. Even when he took his PhD at Rochester in nuclear physics, he had no desire to measure nuclear levels. He felt that… (off tape) You had some questions you want to —
Weart:— yes, I wanted to ask a little more about your relations with user groups. Maybe one could use as an example, I think probably the best experiments done on the machine were some on the CP violations.
Weart:Which were done by a Princeton group.
White:That’s right. Val Fitch, who was the man with Cronin who discovered the CP violation, actually did the experiment initially at Brookhaven. It could have been done initially at PPA, but for various reasons, I guess the schedule and so on, it was done up there. To our sorrow, because if we’d done it we might have gotten some fame thereby, you know, and stayed alive longer. But then they did come back, and greatly improved on the measurements using the PPA’s beams. I think if you wanted to discuss the physics done on the PPA, I would rather do it another time, when I’d had a chance to look over the experiments, because so many things were done that I’d like to get my memory refreshed.
Weart:That’s OK, because the physics is clearly a whole other subject. I was just curious as to how close you were to the physics. You were the director and you had so many responsibilities, I know. Did you follow what was going on, the important experiments?
White:I only followed it. I of course was not involved in it personally. These things went on over a period of years. It might be a year and a half — it might be six months from the time a man proposed the experiment, or a year, to when he began to assemble the equipment. He might be running it for six months, and then the data analysis would take anywhere from six months to two years, done elsewhere. So he’d been long gone from my ken before he had a number. That meant that, unfortunately, I felt rather removed from the physics that went on, just because almost no experiment in high energy physics gives you an immediate answer.
Weart:So you didn’t have any feeling of personal involvement in these experiments, because there were so many groups —
That’s right, so many groups. At one time we had I think 12 experiments going simultaneously, and they ran anywhere from three or four months to maybe three-quarters of a year. And then when they pulled out, they went away to Wisconsin or Michigan or Princeton or Penn or Columbia. You didn’t see the guys for two years while they’re grinding away on their data. They might call up occasionally, or I’d write to them and say, “It’s time for our annual report to AEC, have you got a report for us that we can include?” We sometimes got reports. Oftentimes though the man would say, “Look, I’m just in the middle of analyzing it, I’m not about to leak my number until I’m sure of it.” That was one of the more unsatisfying parts, that the physics was at arm’s length. Now, I think that my own personal technical involvement was more with helping to plan experiments of my own group that I had. Even there, however, all I could do would be to sit down with people like Tom Devlin and Maurice Bazin or Blumenfeld and they would talk about what they wanted to do, why they wanted to do it, and most of my contribution really consisted not so much of adding to the fundamental physics that they were doing, but saying, “Well, now, perhaps you can measure this thing more readily by some other approach than the one you’re proposing.” Or, “I happen to recall we have some equipment in the warehouse which we can dig out, and you can use that.” That’s where most of my involvement came, with the use of the machine.
When it came to improvements in the accelerator, then I was much more deeply involved in that, just because I was in the building all day. People who were doing the improving also were there all day. They didn’t go away and teach. They didn’t go away to analyze data. So I was very much involved in trying to figure out better ways to — oh, everything, the ion source, the injection system. Not so much the RF; that was a specialized subject. Vacuum problems I was very close to. Then, when we began to think about new things to do, even before the heavy ion business cane up, I was very much involved in talking about how to make a higher bean current machine. And that, it’s quite clear, had to be accomplished, if at all, by injecting at a higher energy than four million volts. In fact, we wanted to go to 75 million volts. That meant designing a new booster synchrotron, and so I was quite involved in the design of the booster synchrotron, with a special group that I had organized to look into its properties. But frankly, most of my time went into administration: people, budgets, space, letter writing to the users, keeping them happy. There was a constant small turnover of staff, and there were people who weren’t happy with what they were doing and had to be talked to and either jobs changed or perhaps even fired if they were beyond recall. And lots of writing of AEC reports and things of that kind.
Weart:You mentioned to me some time ago that you found that most of your time in the last years has been spent writing proposals, or a lot has been spent writing proposals. You must have got it to a fine art by this time.
White:I think it never got to a fine art, because it gets tougher and tougher each year to raise money, and therefore you find yourself straining harder and harder to say what will be attractive.
Weart:You must also have refereed a lot of proposals. Refereed for NSF, I suppose…
White:Yes, that’s right, everybody in the business gets sent a certain amount of material to look over and criticize and referee.
Weart:Was there anything in particular you learned in this about how proposals should be done, or any changes you noticed in the way proposals have been done?
Oh, the most disheartening change is that they’ve now become much, much bigger and thicker and fancier, more complete than they ever were. Ant it’s probably inescapable, because with the money being insufficient to go around, that means there must be more review, presumably, by your peers. So if you write a proposal which you think will be reviewed by say eight or nine people in your field, you almost consciously think about his particular interests and biases and peculiarities, and stick in things which you hope he will pick up and like. That’s perhaps unfortunate in many ways. The other thing is that you have to always cost estimate things. There you are concerned about whether some other university is going to propose a similar thing, and perhaps put in a smaller cost estimate because their overhead rate is a lot lower than yours is. Princeton’s overhead rate was for a long time the highest in the land. It may still be so, but others have been raising theirs steadily, largely in part, my friends claim, because they’re at the point of realizing what it really costs them to do business, and that for many years they have been in effect subsidizing the U.S. government. So that’s always a hassle, to get the budgetary end of things straight.
But actually, I rather like to write a proposal for research. When we went through it just recently with the cyclotron, before I started to write — and this was done in this case in line with Jerry (?) but in my own case earlier, before I started to write, I had the impression we hadn’t accomplished very much in the last year. Because each day there’d been a series of hassles, and you can’t point to very much. When you write the summary of the year, you’re amazed at how much has taken place, and you become very pleased by it all, and you think, “By God, I’ve really done something.” So it isn’t all that bad. What you don’t like to do though is to have to look ahead for two or three years and predict what you’re going to do. You know very well you won’t do what you say you’re going to do, and you worry about whether you’re going to be criticized two years hence for not doing what you said you wanted to do, or what you wanted to do but you didn’t say. Can you use the funds which you justified on one basis, to do a much more important thing two years from now which wasn’t part of the proposal? That’s the most irritating part of the whole business. Right now with the cyclotron contract, for example, we have enough money to be able to buy some equipment. And other bills that have to be taken care of. But it wasn’t in the proposal, in so many words, so I’ve got to write a long letter to NSF, describing why it was it wasn’t put down in the first place. One has a feeling it’s not enough to say, “Frankly, we never thought of it.” You have to somehow say, “Well, the thing we proposed to do a year ago has evolved in this direction, which could not be foreseen, and now it appears that…” And so forth. And that’s very irritating.
Weart:On the PPA, when you had this problem of seeing things in long range, I’m thinking particularly of the scientific program rather than improvements, improvements were pretty straightforward, was there any way that you could exercise control over the scientific program? The reason I’m curious is because I noticed in the 1969 Weisskopf Report, the HEPAP report, that he mentioned for example that the PPA had been a leader in weak interaction physics. Is that true? Was there any particular way of specializing what your machine was doing?
White:That was pretty much done by the research men themselves. They thought that that was first of all the hot area of physics. And we didn’t have the energy that the AGS had of course. Weak interaction physics is just a question of, can you make enough particles which decay with weak interactions? Once they decay, it doesn’t matter how they’re made, so that it just fell into our particular area of competence.
Weart:Because you had the beam current.
White:We had the beam current, and we weren’t in some ways diverted by the higher energy of the AGS. People couldn’t do anything else but weak interactions, and so they made a virtue out of it, you might say. And it was a hot field. It’s still a hot field.
Weart:Would you exercise any control of these things in the way you designed the beams, or particularly in the detection facilities? For example, you built this big bubble chamber.
White:No, I would say that that was largely done by the using people themselves. They designed the equipment which would detect. There wasn’t really very much that you can say we had to do with that particular drift in our science. It happened by the users themselves wanting it that way, and they made their own devices, and we didn’t have to make anything particularly for them to use.
Weart:Even this big bubble chamber was done by the users?
White:No, that was done by us, but I wouldn’t say that it was such a hot machine for weak interactions, as a matter of fact, but it was used for it, for some problems there. The bubble chamber was fast cycling, and initially was meant to have the same pulse rate as the synchrotron, the theory being that you would not take a picture of every pulse, or you’d have a fantastic number of photographs per day, but that you would put downstream and upstream from the bubble chamber detectors which would single out certain kinds of events which might happen very rarely, and then take a picture only when you found a rare event. Well, we did in effect develop those kinds of detectors, and that was done by us, along with the users, and in that sense we certainly did help to determine the direction of the research.
Weart:Was this initiated by the users?
White:It was a mixture of users. We had our user committee on the bubble chamber, and Dave Klein and a guy named Pagopreim (?) from Penn and Wally Selov were particularly interested, and Maurice Bazin, in the bubble chamber. So it was interaction between the users and our engineering staff. The bubble chamber was much too slow at getting developed, took too long, cost too much money, and then it turned out that the dreams of automatic filtering equipment were more like nightmares than dreams, and very expensive. We spent a lot of time trying to develop our own thing — we called it PATR, like PEPR at MIT.
Weart:PATR or PATTER?
In our case it was Patter Analysis and Track Recognition, something like that. It was a flying-spot digitizer. I think we made substantial progress. But the guy who was in charge of it — a man named Szekely, very tall, six foot seven Hungarian who was an Olympic swimmer in his youth, very clever engineer, could never freeze on anything and make it work. He was always about to freeze, and always making one more improvement, which in fact was brilliant, but before that one was made to actually work, he had one more idea which was even more brilliant. The darned machine really was a very fine machine, finally, but it took an awful lot of beating on him to get him to freeze it and make it work.
So we never really were successful in instrumenting the bubble chamber track analysis system to where it would take advantage of the high pulse. We did of course build the usual big magnets, but that’s sort of standard equipment for anything in a physics laboratory, and that in no way really determined the direction. It made it possible to go in these various directions. Our major contribution I think would be that once a man who had a good track record like Tim Cronin or Val Fitch or Al Mann proposed an experiment, then he would be left quite alone to determine his own direction. We gave him all the help we possibly could, to make it as easy as possible for him to get the heavy engineering done for him, and then he was responsible for the scientific determination as to what he wanted to do and how to do it. The only place where I became involved would be when he wanted to run more hours than he’d been allocated. And then it was purely a question of his saying what he’d accomplished so far, why he hadn’t succeeded in settling certain questions, why he had to have more hours. You compared that with other requests for machine time, and almost always we gave people more time than they asked for, by a factor of almost two.
Weart:You just scheduled it, you’d allow for it.
Well, I took this view about the PPA, and this was a little different from the AGS, that to cut a man off when he had a number good to plus or minus 10 or 15 percent, and not settle the question, was simply to waste the first part of the effort. Better to let him double his running time, which might give him twice as many events, which isn’t very much in the way of improvement in precision, but he might have far better events, cleaner events, and then hopefully he would have a definitive piece of work. We could do that, I suppose, because the pressure for machine time, though fairly heavy, wasn’t as violently heavy as it was for the AGS, where people were just clamoring to get on instantly. We always had a backlog of a couple of years’ requests for machine time. But many of these measurements, as you might expect, with 3 BEV, were for things which had been measured before some place but measured very poorly. Though it’s more fun, oftentimes, to be the first to measure something, even though it’s done rather crudely, nevertheless it may very well turn out that the precision measurement is the one which will really settle the question.
I’d gone through all that in nuclear physics in years before, where time and again somebody would come out with papers on something in radioactivity, which were so poorly done that they really misled people and misled theorists and they wasted a lot of time running down the wrong rat hole. So one of our guiding principles at the PPA was that people should be allowed to stay on the beam long enough to really play with the equipment, understand it, to the point where they were certain they saw something, to where we felt that they’d had enough time to really make sure of that. Because it was all too obvious that in the big machines like CERN and AGS, they had to get in and get out in a tremendous hurry, that oftentimes it was an assumption, a pure assumption, that they knew what their counter was really saying to them. Coming in late with a machine of PPA’s energy, I think it was right for us to feel that a lot of our value would lie in doing really precise work. Now, you’d hope that you’d have someone make a great discovery out of all that — and CP could have been just that sort of thing. I don’t think I can say that we did in fact make any great discoveries. Just a lot of good solid research, which led to numbers which guided the development of theory in a way which was not down the wrong path.
Weart:In other words, it might not be as spectacular but it made just as solid a contribution overall.
White:That’s right. And another thing is that I always felt that a large part of the value of the PPA would be in the development and training of young people. I did not see then and I can’t see now how NAL can go on without a steady input of young, eager, well-trained physicists. And how do you get the training? If there’s only one big machine in the world, or maybe two or three at the most, then I think that first of all, graduate students are going to avoid the field, because it will be a long hard pull; secondly, if they’re part of big teams, they are not going to get a chance to develop; thirdly, if you only have one or two big machines in the country, even if you do make it through all these hurdles, you’re going to get yourself running time once every three or four years, and if a man’s useful research life is when he’s 25 to say 55, 30 years, maybe he can do six experiments in this whole time. So, I’ve always felt very strongly that there’s a very great need for smaller machines, which are not under the same high pressure to get on with the highest energy results, and that the PPA could give a chance to young people. In fact we did train a large number of young people who are the very ones, many of them, who are going to go on and use the NAL. But we’re gone now, and so I don’t know what’s going to happen to NAL ten years from now, when the present young crop who are 35 to 110 years of age are 55. They have more home responsibilities, domestic plus university. They can’t take it any more physically. It’s a rough business. The input of graduate students in the field of high energy physics is dropping off. And it may be that the limitation to what we can understand about fundamental particles comes not so much from the technology as from the lack of people into the field.
Weart:When you talk about encouraging graduate students, the younger people, this is particularly in user groups of course, but what about on the staff itself? Did you have any personnel policies, that there should be a turnover, that people should come in and get trained and go out?
White:Well, that was really part of Princeton’s general policy, that we should have many more people on the young staff than could possibly go on to tenure. Princeton has always been in some ways I think different from some schools, in that we have a lot of instructors who have PhDs plus one, two, three, four year experience, and if they’re good, they may then get reappointed as assistant professor for three years. But that’s the end of it for most of them. So they’re here for about five to seven years. Well, the maximum time a man might spend would be, come in first as a research associate for say two years, instructor for three years, that’s five, then three as assistant professor, that’s a total of eight years. We’ve always had a large ratio of non-tenure to tenure people. That ratio unfortunately is changing, because the university pinches back on us. Naturally enough, we’re having to let go the non—tenured, so now we’re getting older and longer in the tooth.
Weart:What about the PPA itself and the staff there? Did you try to maintain this same kind of thing?
White:Well, we were so young that we didn’t have to think about it very much. We were in such a stage of turnover anyhow that there was no need to consciously move people along after four or five years to make way for young people, newer still. We were rising — and suddenly, boom.
Weart:That’s right. Maybe it’s time now to talk about that. Did you have anything more to say about the happy years of PPA?
White:Well, they were very happy years certainly, in spite of all the problems we had. Well, no, I don’t. Things may occur to me later on that are relevant to the days before the axe began to descend, slowly, and then more swiftly. But I don’t recall the dates. I’d have to sort of reconstruct this. I need some reminders on dates.
Weart:— Why don’t I read the chronology as I have it here, and then we can go back over it step by step. Nineteen sixty-seven was your peak budget year. Nineteen sixty-eight, the budget was off slightly. Nineteen sixty-nine in July, the AEC asked you to study the effect of support cuts to either 3.5 million or 2.5 million dollars per year. In November, they told you it would be the 3.5 million level. Then in December, the AEC budget was cut, and in January, they told you that it was all over. Just like that. And then in May — well, that’s enough for that. Then, there were your efforts through the rest of 1970, 1971, 1972, to keep it alive. Let’s see, I guess one should mention in there that — I don’t have the exact date, but actually your first heavy-ion proposal came before the really serious budget crunch. It was back in the early part. So maybe we can start, when you first became aware that there was going to be any kind of budget difficulty at all, which would be when your budget first started to level off and then maybe slightly decrease.
White:Yes, the leveling off I don’t think particularly concerned me. I didn’t think that was a permanent thing. I don’t know when Alvin Weinberg made his famous remark, that if the high-energy physics budget were to go on up at the same rate it is now, by the year 2000, every man, woman and child in the USA would be a high energy physicist. It’s a dramatic way to point out that things don’t keep going on up exponentially, unless it’s in physics. So, in any case, I’d say I was quite prepared to realize that unless we did some quite new things, there’d be no reason for us to go on up indefinitely. Inflation was not a problem in those days. On the other hand, I certainly personally felt that the physics of 3 BEV would someday be, if not worked out, at least becoming less and less forefront, and therefore less and less support for it. If money were hard to come by, I could certainly recognize that people would say, “Let us not do that, let’s save money and do something at a higher energy.” I did feel though that we could do new things with the PPA, and one of them was to go to much higher currents, to allow us to do new kinds of physics in our energy range, which you could not do with the higher energy machines. So rather early we started to study this matter of getting a factor of 20 to 50 increase in the beam current, which would have been a terribly potent machine had we been able to build it.
Weart:By changing the injection.
That’s right. And then at the same time, we — and I guess “we” means myself — said, “Well, OK, we can now inject protons, we should take steps to inject deuterons and other particles.” In fact we did inject deuterons and alpha particles, and deuterons were in fact used for some very nice experiments. And so my feeling was the accelerator would go on being a very valuable research tool for many many years, provided we were allowed to make a steady series of improvements. And that these improvements would probably cost a fair bit of money, like the new injector. We very consciously put our minds to the business, before the axe began to fall, to do new things to improve the machine. I didn’t get too much support, frankly, from the using community, because I think traditionally they do not look very far ahead. They didn’t want to see any monies diverted from making external beam equipment that they could use. They didn’t want to see it diverted to doing some long-range planning or designing for things they might use five years hence. So there was a fair bit of disagreement between myself and the Princeton-Penn Science Committee about what do do next.
I wanted to do higher currents and heavy ions and polarized protons and things like that. One problem I always felt with respect to the people on my committees was that, understandably, they didn’t have the same loyalty toward the laboratory that I fairly obviously had. They weren’t so concerned that it be turned off. They’d just walk off and use some other machine. And that was a constant annoyance to me, that they weren’t at all concerned, that here we had 350 employees or so, all of whom had been very carefully sifted through and gotten into positions where they were very effective in a very strong laboratory. That, I felt, was in a way about as important as the machine proper, to have this working group of people. So I didn’t get much support from any of these using scientists, in thinking about new things to do, even though they were willing to serve on committees, and every now and then we’d have one. Long range planning it was called, and they’d sit down and they’d wrack their brains.
They didn’t really have many ideas. They knew that we couldn’t easily go to higher energies, though we did have plans, in fact made various designs, to use the PPA as injector into a bigger machine. And in fact at one point, I had a big circle drawn, for way up in Lake Carnegie, tilted at an angle of five degrees to the horizontal — I couldn’t go out flat because it would be below a hill. I was going to inject into that and the idea was, could you make a machine which was very tiny in bore, tiny because the bean out of the PPA was so well focused and so monochromatic that now you could get by with a much smaller magnet for the booster. That of course is the way it’s done at NAL. So there was that. We were thinking about that. It didn’t get off the ground. We put it in our five-year plan to AEC every year. It was turned down of course every year. And the new injector. And then, the heavy ions seemed to be a thing that we could do with the present machine, that would be quite unique.
Weart:Did you see this partly as a way of making sure that the machine would have its life extended?
White:Sure. And a mixture of things, you know.
Weart:Let me get the chronology straight here. The cosmotron was closed down in ‘66 I believe.
White:That sounds about right.
Weart:The first big shutdown. Did this sort of shake people up? Did it make people think, gee, maybe other machines will eventually be shut down.
White:Well, the odd thing is, you see, that what we were told was, with that being shut down, you’d have more of a chance of going on. You’re the only at 3 BEV, and furthermore, you’re a higher current machine than the cosmotron was. And the AEC people, and probably with honest intentions, felt that with us in existence, there was no reason to have the cosmotron. And furthermore, we got money to do flat-topping of our machine, on the strength of the fact that there was no cosmotron. Up to then, what we had was a sine-wave magnetic field. That meant that we could not get out a long beam pulse at constant energy. So we invented a way to convert our sine-wave machine into a flat-top. We got money for that and went ahead and developed it (and it worked) on the strength of the fact that we were to supplant the cosmotron. Long before we began to hear real rumors of being shut down — I guess these rumors began to emanate from bar charts or tables put out by HEPAP which showed future possible turnoff dates. They’re always very careful to say “future possible,” but of course future possible became reality when interpreted by the Budget Bureau. The Budget Bureau’s always anxious to turn things off. I guess it’s part of their job. They aren’t supposed to start things up, certainly, that’s not their function either. They’re the balance wheel in the government, and they had in fact sent a man around to look at us, a young fellow. I always wondered to what extent this young guy, who was an economist and didn’t know beans about physics, was in fact responsible for our demise.
Weart:What was his name?
White:I don’t know his name, don’t know who he is. He may for all I know be a big shot in OMB by now. But he came and spent a couple of weeks in our place, and we were courteous to him and told him all about high energy physics. He was a guy about 23, 24 years old.
Weart:When was this, relative to the —
White:Well, it was before Paul McDaniels’ famous letter to us which came in ‘69.
Weart:The letter asking you to make a study?
White:Yes. Some time prior to that this fellow from OMB had been around, and he’d also been around other laboratories, and all of us directors were calling up on the phone saying, “What’s this guy doing around here?”
Weart:A little nervous?
White:A little nervous, sure. Because one felt that he could very well get the wrong idea about the relationship of fundamental science to the country, and if he found some inefficiencies, in his eyes, he might exaggerate these, and then they’d get in a report. You never know where it comes from. In fact, at one point the PPA was called a high cost outfit. This was a myth promulgated by some people who wanted to see us shut down, I guess, because they would hope to get the money. And the point was that we had a different way of accounting. It turned out — and this is what Paul Reardon did. He left the PPA to go to work for AEC in Washington. He heard this story and so he made a study of the relative costs — It turned out that we were in fact plainly cheaper than anybody else, even though on the face of it, it looked like we were expensive. This was because we were also doing various development things which weren’t part of the operation of the PPA proper.
Weart:When did that come out? When was that little plot?
White:Well, that was about — just about the time of McDaniels’ letter. About that period.
Weart:I see. How did you know about these rumors?
White:Oh, everybody tells everybody everything. Or almost everything. Rumors sometimes tend to be exaggerated and you can’t be sure that you’re being told the straight story. But everybody’s really friendly, basically, in the whole high energy fraternity, but everybody wants to be sure that he’s getting his fair hearing in Washington, so he will tell somebody something, in order to get some information back on the exchange. On the heavy-ion side, our initial proposal was that we should combine with this injector polarized protons and ordinary protons, deuterons, alpha particles, and heavy ions. As time went on, we inverted the relative importance of these things, because it became apparent that first of all, it would be increasingly important for us to be unique, and polarized protons, deuterons and alphas would not be unique. But we recognized that in a fast-cycling machine, we had a much better chance to make heavy ions than anybody else in the country, just because it turns out that the time that’s spent in the machine is very important in charge—exchange capture and loss of the heavy ion with the background gas.
Weart:You don’t need as big a vacuum.
That’s right, by a factor of 100. And even in our case, 10-9 was called for, so 1011 is what you’d have to have at Berkeley or anyplace else. So, when you recognize that, then I felt that it was important to push heavy ions. The only problem there was that it was very difficult to get any enthusiasm for high-energy heavy ions on the part of people in nuclear physics, or in particle physics. The nuclear physicists said, if you come in with an energy per nucleon of say 200 to 1000 MeV per nucleon, that’s large in comparison to the energy of binding of nucleons in nuclear matter, and therefore you’d be going to fry it. It’s just going to be a great big splat and you won’t learn a thing. What you have to have is a very well-defined energy, not too high, and do micro-experiments in great detail on nuclear structure. I argued that though those experiments were necessary, that is, low energy work, if one could hit a heavy nucleus, at high energy, you would do things which were quite different than anything done before, and you wouldn’t know what to expect, and it might be just as relevant to nuclear matter studies as doing this very precision kind of stuff; at high temperatures, one might find phenomena taking place, and densities, which were just not part of our thinking.
I didn’t know much more about it than that. I just said it seemed to me there’s a field there. The fundamental particle boys weren’t very excited about heavy ions, and still aren’t, for that matter, on the ground that a nucleus, say of argon, is going to behave like 40 separate nucleons all cruising along very independently. With half a BEV per nucleon, they won’t do any more than 40 nucleons would do at half a BEV and therefore who cares? I was trying to get up enthusiasm for the fact that one might find some coherent phenomena between these 140 nucleons, or that it might be that pion production would be enhanced in some way by the fact that you could put more energy now into a small region of space, this way, than by having a single proton carry in 40 times half or 20 BEV. And I think that is the case. So we got no support from nuclear physicists and no support from high energy physicists, and the theorists, whether at Princeton or elsewhere, were almost to a man bored by the idea of relativistic heavy ions. T.D. Lee had not yet proposed his theory of abnormal states of nuclear matter. Of course even now people don’t necessarily think that he’s right, but they have to admit that they can’t write him off, and they take him seriously. Then I happened to hear about some work with heavy ions at Berkeley at low energy, very low energy, in the study of cell damage.
Weart:When was this that you heard of this? With reference to the McDaniels letter, before or after?
White:It was after.
Weart:Was it before or after the final cutoff, that is before or after they closed —
White:No, before the final cutoff.
Weart:That makes it late ‘69.
Well, I’d really have to look at my papers to know precisely when it happened. I was talking with Vic Bond at Brookhaven, who was associate director at Brookhaven and he’s in medicine, talking about the use of ions for cancer therapy. He mentioned the work in Berkeley, in which they use single layers of cells and bombard them with ions all the way from protons up through argon and found that the heavier the ion, the more effective it was in killing these cells, and that there was reason to believe that heavy ions would, in real tissue, in real tumors in the body, be more effective than X-rays for tumor therapy. So I heard about that, and then I conveyed that information to my colleagues, Walter Schimmerling and Kirby Vosberg at Princeton. How did they run across Paul Todd? I’m not quite sure. Paul Todd had done this work in Berkeley, using heavy ions on single cells, had gone to Penn State, and he wanted to come. When we started talking about making heavy ions at the PPA, he wanted to come and use heavy ions for studying cancer therapy. Well, my ears pricked up at that one. And so from that point on we made a very big thing about using heavy ions to study cancer therapy.
Because according to his predictions, one should have about a factor of 40 improvement over X-rays with ions of neon. A factor of 140 comes from both the finite range, in contrast to the exponential decay of a neutron or gamma-ray beam in matter, and the rising de/dx, de/dt of a charged particle. The drag end. It would deposit more energy at the end of the track than at the start. So we began to work with Paul Todd, and he helped us write up proposals to the National Cancer Institute, in which he proposed that they should help fund us to a heavy ion machine. There we were trying to get the AEC not to cut us off but to keep us going, getting money from NCI to help out. But we were ahead of our times, because no other machine had been made with high energy heavy ions. It was all theoretical work done with various single layers. And so, the cancer therapy end began to loom larger, because they were having no luck with trying to ... (off tape)
Weart:I think we can move on a little bit, because I wanted to ask you — this now is one side of your response when you first began to notice that your budget was being cut. You started to look for other things. Was there another side? Did you try to defend the PPA as a particle accelerator?
White:Oh yes, that’s quite true, that when it became apparent that the AEC was considering cutting us back sharply, it was not at all apparent that they had in mind cutting us out. And in fact, they swore on a stack of Bibles that that was not the intention, that they were just cutting us back, but we were going to go on at a lower level for a long long time. In fact, word came to me I guess when I was in Europe on vacation — news always seems to be coming on vacation. August I guess is the big month for AEC to make its mind up on things. I was in Geneva, as a matter of fact, at CERN, when a telegram came from Paul McDaniel asking us questions, to consider what would be the effect on the laboratory of cutting back from the level we had then to these other various lower ones. This came as a complete surprise to me. I had no real inkling, before then, that they were serious about it. Maybe I should have been more aware of it, but I wasn’t. In fact, I recall going to CERN where Weisskopf was, to show him this letter from McDaniel and ask him, “How come, what’s going on.” I did not get what I regarded as a very satisfactory answer. I’m not sure he could give one. But if I recall, he put it in terms of the fact that the AEC was under pressure from the Budget Bureau to cut back on smaller machines, as the AEC moved into bigger machines. Which I must say is a reasonable thing for them to advance as a way to keep the total budget constant, even while moving ahead on new fronts. But I felt that the Budget Bureau could hardly have picked on us if they hadn’t had some input from somebody as to whom to pick on.
Weart:Did you ever find out?
No. Never really found out, and it may be that it’s one of those things where there is no simple answer. The Budget Bureau claims it does not determine policy, that they’re not in the business of trying to determine relative priorities of various machines in a given field. On the other hand, when I tried to approach Paul McDaniel and others in the AEC, they, without actually naming the Budget Bureau, said, “Well, there are people in government in other areas or agencies that are pushing them very hard to cut back on funding for high energy physics and the lower energy machines are going to be the ones to suffer.” So I made a big point, of course, as I have here today, of the fact that the PPA, sure, it’s low energy, but it was a very important source of young new people to go on to push ahead the frontiers at the big machines. And I made that pitch very strongly with AEC and with HEPAP and everybody else. HEPAP had come to Princeton, to PPA at one point, to visit us, and I don’t think we actually put on a very good show for them, looking back at it. Perhaps didn’t quite understand why they were coming. One thing that bothered them, they said anyhow, was that not enough Princeton people like Cronin and Fitch were using the machine, that they were using the AGS machine.
Therefore this couldn’t be very important to Princeton, if the big shots weren’t using the machine. And the facts are that at this presentation before HEPAP, I felt the important thing was to give the young fellows a chance to talk about what they were doing, because they were the ones who were going to go on doing the important work in the future. That was interpreted in part to mean that the older people weren’t interested. And in point of fact, the older people were not running [experiments] there so much. The combination of their not talking about it, not hearing Fitch and Cronin make a big pitch for it and the young people who were unknown making the pitch, and Cronin and Fitch being at Brookhaven, left the impression that it wouldn’t hurt Princeton so much. Now as to Penn, I think that in all frankness Penn’s productivity in high energy physics were not so great but what people weren’t terribly impressed anyhow by the fact that it would deprive Penn of an outlet. And furthermore, a lot of people at Penn were using other machines as well. And Lloyd Selov was using bubble chamber film from all over the world. So, I feel that the Budget Bureau indirectly or directly was certainly given to feel that cutting out the PPA was not going to be a serious blow to physics. I have to admit that it clearly hasn’t killed high energy physics. Nothing kills it. But I think it maimed it a bit.
Weart:Do you think that the HEPAP report hurt the PPA then?
White:Sure. Sure it did, and it hurt CEA too, because we both were earmarked to go down. The claim is, however, at one point, that in spite of the HEPAP report, Seaborg is supposed to have gone to the President. The story I got, I don’t know if this is really true or not but I got it from someone very close to Seaborg, that he said to Nixon, “We are going to have to cut out one or two machines next year, one at Princeton and one at Harvard, in order to meet our budgetary restrictions that you placed upon us.” And the rumor I got was, he said, “You can’t shut down the CEA because we just closed in Cambridge the Air Force Electronics Center this year, and we can’t close out the CEA the same year.” Therefore that does say why we were the one that got it first.
Weart:I was going to ask whether you had any idea why it was the PPA that got the finger put on them.
Well, there are all kinds of reasons, political and personal. I don’t know of any personally in the sense of anybody being mad at us. Though Paul McDaniel and I used to squabble a bit, but I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a personal vendetta. I think that basically what did us in was that the high-energy physicists feel that high energy is absolute king, arid they would do anything to go to higher energy. They would run over their grandmother to get up there. And they weren’t the least bit — oh, sure, they were unhappy at the thought of the PPA going down. But because we were a proton machine, or a deuteron machine, and CEA was electrons, we were being compared with the AGS, CERN, the proposed NAL machine and the ZGS and the Berkeley Bevatron, and therefore proportionately we were a smaller fraction of the overall proton accelerators. And so, granted that they felt convinced that the government was determined to keep the total budget more or less level and they wanted to add NAL, then they had to cut us out. I think that that’s the way they rationalized it, and probably, granted the assumption of the limited budget, it’s correct.
My complaint with HEPAP, and I said this to them several times, was that they should have taken a longer-range view of the value of the laboratory, and given us a chance to convert to heavy ions, to enter other fields than high energy physics. That is, solid state physics, nuclear physics, astrophysics. And they said, “That’s not our responsibility, it’s not our pigeon, we have no authority, we have no obligation, we have no connections, we have no contract.” Therein lies one weakness I think in the way physics is organized in this government. You have the high-energy physics people and you have medium-energy physics and you have low-energy physics, and their budgets are quite distinct, there isn’t any crossing over. We were caught by the fact that the high-energy physicists disowned us. They wanted to go on to higher energy. The low-energy people had no money to pick us up, and in fact they weren’t even convinced that they wanted our energy in nuclear physics. The biomedical people in AEC were in fact quite interested in us, but they had no money and not much moxy. National Cancer Institute was composed of MD’s and people of that sort who were very slow to move in this direction. They’re moving now but it’s at a snail’s pace. And so it would have taken, I think, probably two or three years of heavy-ion actual outup, doing something, to have demonstrated, even to me as a matter of fact, that we were worth keeping going. But we had no chance to.
Weart:There’s something I’m a little ignorant about here, and that is just how HEPAP fits into this kind of decision making. Who made the decision? Was it physicists? Did HEPAP play an important role? Did other physicists in the community play a role? Was it McDaniel? Was it AEC? Was it Bureau of the Budget? I’m particularly curious about HEPAP’s role, your relations with them.
White:Well, HEPAP in the first place is advisory to the AEC. They have no authority directly, obviously, because they haven’t any purse strings. So the final authority certainly rested with the AEC and with Paul McDaniel in very large part. Though obviously he had by no means the free hand he wanted because he had to fit in with the general manager and the commissioner and everybody else. It was all interlocking. Even if he had wanted to keep us going, he would have had a hard time, I suspect, with the Budget Bureau’s strictures. I’m told that the Budget Bureau had a lot to do with our particular machine being closed down when it was closed down. But with all the give and take back and forth between an agency like AEC and McDaniel and his administrative assistants and the Budget Bureau, it’s always a tug of war between getting money for this and giving up that. It’s hard to say that the Budget Bureau in particular said, “You must kill the PPA.” It may have been more, “If you don’t save money there, you can’t have money here.” I can sort of hear it — through the door, so to speak. And you know how it goes, the Budget Bureau must never be criticized by any agency of government. If you talk to NSF today about the Budget Bureau’s role in not budgeting us for heavy ion work later on, they will deny that the Budget Bureau ever had anything to do with it. But I’m certain that they did. In that case, they really made a technical decision, when you come to that part of it. The Budget Bureau really said, “You shall not fund the PPA for heavy ion work. We’re going to fund the BEVALAC conversion at Berkeley, there is no great crying demand for heavy ions for cancer work at NCI, and therefore you shall not do it.” They really stepped in, in a very direct way.
Weart:It meant your relations — well, first you didn’t have any relations with Bureau of the Budget I suppose?
White:No one does, that’s right. No one came around.
Weart:What about HEPAP? Did you know before they brought out their report roughly what was going to be in it as far as PPA was concerned? Did you argue with them about it beforehand.
White:Well, of course, people on HEPAP are all friends of mine, and you hear these things, and there are rumors and so on, so I pretty well knew what their report would contain before it came out. I didn’t I guess formally write any letters to HEPAP before their report appeared, because it’s hard to write a letter complaining about a thing which you haven’t got any proof of.
Weart:That’s the problem we historians have. You talked to the guys?
White:I talked to the guys.
Weart:Tell me what you said, because there’s not going to be any other record of it.
White:Well, I guess I just repeated endlessly these arguments, that that energy field was not dead, that the PPA was terribly important for machine facilities for young people who were being trained to NAL, that NAL perhaps would be limited in its application in the future by the fact that it didn’t have any young fellows coming along to make use of it, and that furthermore HEPAP should give us time to convert to heavy ions, so that we would no longer be regarded as a high energy particle machine, and be out of their purview. These were the basic points I made.
Weart:This was all back in ‘68 before you really recognized, before anybody knew that it was going to be really a very quick problem? Did any of the high energy physicists at Princeton support PPA in any way? Any of the users?
White:Yes, but apparently words don’t play much of a role. I mean, they don’t speak as loudly as actions. Clearly, it was to the advantage of Fitch and Cronin and others to have a machine in their back yard to turn to if they were so minded. Plus the fact that we had lots of equipment and facilities to help build all kinds of equipment for them to take away. So they supported it. On the other hand, if you’re going to be running at the level of seven million dollars a year or so, that’s an awful lot of money just to sort of be able to fall back on in case you want to. To be frank, I don’t think that Fitch and Cronin, either one of them, fought hard enough for us. Fitch is a very mild-mannered fellow, very competent, thinks deeply about things, but he’s not one to get up and make a big speech. Jim Cronin is more of a buccaneer and will take his particles wherever he can find them. I know he was sad to see the PPA go down, but he wasn’t about to alter his research approach to life to make it more evident that PPA was important to him personally. I’m sure he said, I know he said, I guess he probably should say it, “I want the highest energy particles in the world, and they’re going to be at NAL, that’s where I’m going to go.” That’s where he went, to Chicago. So, when the two most eminent high energy physicists at Princeton are unable to make a ringing endorsement, just to say that it’s a shame to close it down, it shouldn’t be done, isn’t going to mean very much. So it didn’t.
Weart:Let me ask you also about your relations with McDaniel. I’m not just talking about the period of the close-down but I’m curious what kind of relations does a machine head have with a fellow like McDaniel?
White:He was a difficult man to work with, I always found. And I think I was not alone in that. He’s a very political animal, and probably that’s necessary for a person in his position, to be very keenly aware of all the political interplay in AEC and with Budget Bureau and Congress. And so, I was oftentimes uneasy that what I was being told was not in fact the straight story. And yet I would go back on the train and say to myself, “look, but can he tell you the straight story? Even if he knew it can he tell you the straight story? I think there are ways of telling you what is permissible, but still at the same time leaving the listener with some appreciation of the probability as to whether what he’s saying will come true. And I felt that that’s where he might have been more open with me. Nevertheless, it may very well be that what he told me, he honestly believed, because he had been led to believe that by somebody above him. He can’t know the Budget Bureau and he doesn’t know what trade-offs the commission had to make to get something else that they wanted very badly. We were only one little tiny piece out of a budget of some two-odd billion dollars, involving weapons and reactors and development of breeder reactors, not to mention HAL. There’s all this horse trading goes on. Nonetheless, I felt that when he said to me, “Milt, you’re not going to be closed down,” I really thought that he had some reason to say that, that he’d been reassured by Budget Bureau and by Seaborg and all those, that this cutting down was not just the first step of cutting off our tail piece by piece. And maybe he thought that was true. I have no way of knowing.
Weart:Did you ever have much relations with Seaborg?
White:Well, I have known him for many many years. We were students at Berkeley together. But he’s a rather difficult person to get to know intimately. He’s not hail-fellow-well-met. And so, though as the commissioner I went to see him off and on, on various occasions, there was quite a distance between us. And also with Bill Libby, the commissioner of AEC, he and I have been quite close friends. He was a chemistry graduate student when I was a physics graduate student at Berkeley. But Libby became very much of a big shot type when he went to AEC, and you couldn’t get near him with a ten foot pole.
Weart:Does that seem to happen to people when they go to Washington?
White:Oh sure. Sure. I think it’s difficult to avoid. One person that it doesn’t happen to, I feel, is Ed Kreutz, who’s NSF director of research. I don’t think he’s gotten a big head at all. I think he’s maintained a very good connection for the working scientist, and he works damn hard, and when he tried to get us money to keep the heavy-ion machine, he worked very hard at that. And he almost had it in his pocket. In fact, he had it settled. I got a phone call saying, “We can get you the money, you’re going to be able to go ahead for at least a year.” And then the next day he called up and said, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to take it back.” And I really felt that he’d been done in by somebody else, I think the OMB.
Weart:When was this? Was this before or after the AEC support terminated?
White:That was after AEC. We were living at that time on money that I’d raised from the Rippel Foundation and from the university, and we were still trying very hard to extend that one year of heavy-ion work into the next year, to get enough accomplished to be able to demonstrate by actual research that it was worthwhile to go ahead.
Weart:Gee, our time is nearly — it’s getting quite late — I don’t know if you want to take some time to talk about those last couple of years, or do you think that’s just sort of a painful story?
White:Oh, I think that’s a very worthwhile story to cover. But I do think that probably it would be more meaningful if I were to take a little time before we talk, to look at some dates and papers. I have pretty good batches of stuff on that. Because how it fits together is somewhat interesting. It certainly was from my viewpoint one of the most exciting periods of time. I had more fun then than I ever had up to then.
Weart:Is that so?
White:Oh yes, it was a great sport.
Weart:Let me ask you one or two quick questions about it then. How did you find out about the Rippel Foundation? How did you get into that?
White:Well, in the last year of our funding from AEC, we had two million dollars with which to finish off experiments and close our laboratory down and ship away all the equipment. In fact, our orders were to close down, period, and ship away the equipment. We said, “The hell with you, we’re going to finish our experiments and then we’ll close down.” And in fact that’s just what we did. The last year was a really very productive year. We didn’t do a large number of experiments, but the ones we did were very high quality, and one was the n (p,d) gamma experiment, looking for non— conservation, in that one, and we did a very fine job there. So during that last year, and before we were forced to turn off, I tried to raise money from foundations. I had written to the National Science Foundation and they just gave us no time of day at all. I had turned also in parallel to private foundations, and I really wrote letters to about six foundations, with letters of support from President Goheen. The Fleischman Foundation and, I don’t know, the A & P Hartford Foundation, and one was the Fannie E. Rippel Foundation. Well, all the foundations came back saying they were not funding this kind of research and would have no part of it. So I was giving up. I got a phone call and a man said, “This is Julius Rippel.” I said, “Yeah, who are you?” He said, “I’m the president of the Rippel Foundation and I have your letter, and I found this somewhat interesting, and I’d like to hear a little more about it.” I gave him the story on the phone. He said, “Well, you might come up and talk with me more about this.” So I went up with one of my young assistants, Halsey Allen, and said we wanted to convert to heavy ions to be used in cancer therapy. He said, “Well how much do you need?” I said, “Well, we’ve been running seven million dollars a year, but that was a very big show, and a million and a quarter a year would do it.” I’ve forgotten the exact amount of money he first offered, but it was a heck of lot less than the $400,000 we finally got.
Weart:Your first thing was $230,000.
White:$230,000. And this was to allow us to convert to heavy ions and show it could be done. We weren’t even sure we could make heavy ions in the accelerator, let alone use it. The university was not too helpful. They could have I think made it easier for us, but they did put up. They didn’t collect the overhead on Rippel’s money that they usually collect, 100 percent on salaries, and that for them was a big thing. They did eventually as you know put in some money, the department of physics gave me some money as underwriting money, which I could spend if I had to but if I didn’t have to I’d turn back into the treasury. To make a long story short, Rippel and we sort of kept running hand to mouth for about a year. Some anonymous person gave me $75,000 through the university.
Weart:How much support did the university give you during this whole period of budget collapse? I don’t mean financial support, I mean how much political support, fund raising support? (Five minute break)
White:That’s a complicated question, because they were bound and determined to have me shut down and get rid of all the equipment that would be no longer ours, within the two million dollar AEC number. We were under great pressure to turn the machine off and close the doors and lock up the windows and get out of there; I had to fight very hard to keep them from shutting me down.
Weart:I see, because usually of course it would be a university president or whatever who would step in to try and help raise funds.
White:Well, after I put up a very strong argument, and fought off the lower level administrators, who were trying to shut me down, then I did get the university, Bob Goheen and Lyman Spitzer who was chairman of the research board, to write letters to our Congressman and letters to Seaborg. There are some letters between Seaborg and Goheen, which I’m sorry to say don’t say very much. I mean, you expect the president to protest being shut down, and you come back with the usual kind of, “So sorry, had to be done,” sort of thing, “in spite of the great work they’ve been doing, we are all very sorry” — it’s quite pro forms. But at one point, after we had been running for a while with the heavy-ion machine and were having some success, we were trying very hard to get the National Cancer Institute to fund us. The university did help me, mostly they helped organize a big meeting at the summit. We had the directors of NCI, of the NSF, and we had top people of AEC, we had two Senators from New Jersey and a couple of Congressmen, and endless lower level minions get together in a great big meeting in Washington, at which we made a pitch to keep the machine going as a heavy—ion machine for cancer therapy.
Weart:When would that be? That was after the AEC support terminated.
White:Oh yes. Yes.
Weart:Was that after you got the nitrogen beam?
Weart:I see, so that would be the second half of ‘71 or early ‘72.
White:Just about, yes.
White:So we had this big meeting, and we tried to put lots of pressure on the Cancer Institute and everybody else through our Congressmen. Well, I never felt it was very effective. Obviously it wasn’t effective. I felt that they were keeping the boys back home happy by writing letters, which no one expected to be believed anyhow.
Weart:Did you try to mobilize the Congressmen before the AEC support terminated? After you got the bad news?
White:Yes. Yes, there was. There again I felt that there could have been a lot more effort to do that. Now, Bob Goheen did write to Peter Frulinghausen, who’s a trustee of the university, and I think at that time was a Congressman. I don’t think that the pressure put on Congressmen was anything like what it could have been or should have been. One reason given was that the university was loath to ask favors of anyone in Congress, for fear that they would have to give favors back. At least that was Bob Goheen’s philosophy. I think many a private school and university feels that way. They don’t want to put too much pressure on Congressmen to help them out or they’re going to have to do the same thing right back, and lose some of their autonomy. Or find themselves taking on programs that the Congressman wants to see taken on, and that they don’t really want to take on.
Weart:This is very different then from the kind of relationship you had when you were at the Radiation Lab, where you kept very close contact with Washington.
Weart:Well, then this is a very fundamental conflict, which I think we touched on before, when you were talking about the difficulties with Penn, the incompatibility between government funding and the university environment.
White:Yes, there’s no question that there are real differences of goals and responsibilities, which makes it difficult to live with government funding. On the other hand, there’s no alternative, so you just have to get staffed up, so to speak, to do it, and keep boxing. It goes on forever.
White:Take for instance the question — this is not really relevant to our discussion, but the affirmative action equal opportunity employer business. Legally if the university does not satisfy somebody in the right bureau of the government, I guess it’s Labor, that Princeton is actively recruiting women and minorities, we can lose our contracts. And they amount to some 65 million dollars, so what do you do? You stand on your head. And actually you waste a lot of time trying to find women physicists who don’t exist. So there’s lots of pressure on you to do this sort of thing, and if you weren’t taking government money you just wouldn’t have to do that. Well, that’s not quite true, because I guess even a private club, in order to be totally private, has to admit any kind of a minority who wants to get into it.
Weart:There have been tremendous changes not only in physics, in every area.
White:Yes. So that’s one small example where, once you take money, then you’re subject to all kinds of pressures. That does increase the amount of administrative staff in the university, increases the cost of the university, increases the overhead rate, and makes us look less good in comparison with — well, of course, they all have the same problem, be it a state school or a private school. They have staffs to take care of these endless government reports.
Weart:What would you say — back in the early days of Lawrence, one still had some money raising problems but things were very different. Do you think overall there’s been any improvement, dis-improvement?
White:Well, there’s far far more money, of course, and I think that one just has to say that even had that money been given by private foundations, they would have asked for all kinds of evidence that it was being spent in the way they had originally appropriated the funds. Lawrence was very very busy at raising money from private foundations, and us boys who worked in the labs were totally unaware of that. We’d just go to him with the problem and he’d say, “Sure.” The chances were he had no money in his pocket to hand it to us, but we went ahead and ordered it, and he went out and found the money. But the amount of money being spent per year by him before the war, I don’t think it was more than half a million dollars, I’ll bet. Compare that with a 40 million dollar capital investment in the PPA before we got through, and seven or eight million dollars a year, and all coming from government. It’s bound to have an awful lot more red tape. There’s just no way around it. It’s something that I would myself impose if I were in Washington. You can’t just go hand money out.
Weart:That’s a very clear statement, I think. Just to finish this off, I’d like you to try and think back now over your whole career, even before your career started, all the way back to the start, and I wonder, what do you think were the main turning points? What were the things that had the most effect on you, in directing your career, getting you up to where you are now?
Well, I guess I answered these perhaps earlier to Charlie (Weiner) but to put them just together in a string, I suppose the first decision was to leave engineering and enter physics, which I did as a freshman in college, and I did that because I found the engineering courses dull, and I didn’t like surveying, and got cold fingers. So I thought I’d be a physicist, and without really knowing what physicists do. The second thing would be a book I had as a freshman, a book by Knowlton, professor of physics at Reed College, Oregon; a book prior to that was one by a man named Ferry, an awful dull fat thick tome, but this book by Knowlton was marvelous. It really changed my whole outlook on physics. Just the diagrams were different, the color photographs, the iron spectrum was there, in color. There were pictures every so often of famous men of science stuck in there, little footnotes about the historical significance of physics, and this was very exciting. That was a very important role I think in my changing to physics from engineering. This was all in junior college in Sacramento.
Then I went to Berkeley as a physics student, and certainly enjoyed physics enormously, but I still thought I probably wanted to be an engineer in the sense of doing physics development work in industry. I was talked out of that by Raymond Birge, who was chairman of the department of physics, and if he hadn’t, chances are I wouldn’t have gone to graduate school. I entered graduate school with a fellowship. Then I guess the next most important thing was meeting Ernest Lawrence. He was a very exciting person to talk with, full of great enthusiasm and ideas, and he was very friendly. You really felt that he was interested in your work. Though he was advancing his ideas, he was very much on your side, and very much interested in advancing what you were doing. I had the good luck of course to do the first artificial disintegration work in this country with the cyclotron. I knew that was significant, though the work itself didn’t amount to a whole lot, but it was the first that had been done. So I knew I was in a new field, and it was quite obvious I was going to go on in nuclear physics from that point on. No question about that, from 1932 or so on. Then I did proton-proton scattering. That was done because I had the option of joining Livingston and Lawrence on the big cyclotron then being designed, or staying with the small one, and I felt that I wanted some physics with the machine and not just to design machines. Doing p-p scattering really pretty well tied me in to doing fundamental physics. Then the next major step, in physics, apart from my private life, getting married, was —
Weart:— oh, that’s a turning point too —
White:— going to Berkeley. Yes, well I married a woman who was a physicist, had a master’s in physics. And so having got a PhD, and a national fellowship which would let me go anywhere I wanted to go, Lawrence talked me into Princeton. Where I had to build the cyclotron if I wanted to do nuclear physics. In fact, no matter where you went in those days, you had to build your own machine, because they didn’t exist.
Weart:That pretty well pushed you into machine building.
White:Yes. Also I like machine building anyhow. I think that I’ve always like making things, and I’ve always enjoyed making radios as a kid and so on, so that was not a new thing. But I did like, and I still do like, the interplay between having an idea in physics, in some field, devising the measurements or ways to build the equipment, making the equipment, then doing the physics, and trying to understand it and write it up.
Weart:May I ask you then, what have been the most satisfying things that you’ve done in your life, the most satisfying periods?
Well, I greatly enjoyed the first part of Princeton, before the war, building the cyclotron and doing physics and publishing physics. That was very exciting. The war suddenly changed my scale of things, because I got used to very big things and administration. So I came back after the war and rebuilt the cyclotron. I was not so eager to spend all my time using the cyclotron. I now had more of a taste I guess for doing the larger projects. And I think, like many people, you always have more ideas than you can possibly carry out. So if you find it possible to carry them out by getting money from somebody, to hire somebody to do what you want to do but have no time to do, you find yourself hiring somebody. Before you know it, you can’t do it, you’re so busy administering him. I did enjoy the postwar period, in that I had ideas and I didn’t myself do it so much as I hired people to come in and do design development and construction work; I did enjoy the physics I did after the war. But it wasn’t the same thrill as before the war. Now I was more interested in the bigger scene.
Also I wanted to push on to higher energies, it was a basic scientific urge. I felt it was terribly important to push on, even though most nuclear physicists were still saying, “Well, the thing to do is build a Van de Graaff, five million volts, do very highly precise work.” I wasn’t interested in that. So when the Brookhaven Cosmotron began to appear, I found myself going out there summer times, partly for the vacation, a paid vacation with the family. Then I worked at the Cosmotron, helping design things, and when Livingston decided to leave and I was asked to be chairman, I was of two minds about that. That was not the happiest time of my life, because I was commuting back and forth between Princeton and Brookhaven. My wife’s multiple sclerosis was beginning to become quite a problem, and my children were growing up, and they were becoming somewhat of a problem, as most children are.
Weart:Yes, you must have been under a lot of family pressure, in fact, during that later period and the early PPA years.
White:Yes — well, that whole family problem does cast a certain pall over the whole early PPA experience, because it combined family problems and administrative problems and the battles with Penn. That was a very tough period. Very very taxing. I think my feelings of satisfaction, though great, were only in the sense that I knew if I hadn’t started the PPA there wouldn’t be one, and I felt it was a very good thing to have, a good laboratory, good for others to use. So my kicks were vicarious pretty much, seeing new people doing research.
Weart:Would it be fair to say that during the peak years of the PPA it wasn’t so much that you enjoyed running it as that you enjoyed seeing what was being done on it?
Weart:The success that it had.
White:Yes. And this is why I say that I had the most fun when PPA was shut down and we were down to 15 people and doing heavy ion work, because now I didn’t have any users around to work with, I didn’t have Penn to worry about.
Weart:You had a huge machine all your own.
White:Yes. My family was now at this point grown and gone away. My wife was permanently in the hospital. That was pretty well settled, that that wasn’t going to ever get any better. And furthermore, I had met the woman I’m now married to, so that was a very rewarding relationship. It ended up by getting married when my wife finally died.
Weart:About two years ago?
White:Yes. She died 2 1/2 years ago, I guess. So, all during the heavy ion period, my wife was very ill and out of her mind all the time, didn’t know anybody. She was a complete vegetable and didn’t know what was going on.
Weart:So that was effectively over with then.
White:Oh, it had been over with in fact for several years. Well, she knew me. She didn’t know anybody else. Her mind was entirely gone.
Weart:I see. So then you could get back to — you mentioned earlier that also the fund raising was very exhilarating.
White:Yes. Yes, well, if you can raise it, it’s exhilarating. If you can’t raise it, of course it’s depressing. And Rippel was of course a life saver, and he’s a very interesting man. He’s a man in his seventies, his foundation bears the name of his mother, he runs a rather tight ship, and I’m sure he controls policy pretty much. He called up last week, as a matter of fact, and the same thing — phone rang, “This is Julius Rippel.” And I first almost said, “Who?” Then he said, “Is there any chance you’re going to get money from the government for your accelerator?” I almost said, “Who the hell are you?” But I just kept my mouth shut. Then I realized: Rippel. I hadn’t talked to him for about a year on the phone. He was interested and he said, “Well, come to see me some time. If you think of anything we can do, let me know.” But he knows that I know that unless we get the major monies from the government, there’d be no point to asking him for it. He couldn’t possibly put up big money. But if there were some seed money required, or some money required to tide us over, get us going, I think he’d probably be quite interested. Because he got a big bang, I’m sure, out of keeping us going for a year, to first of all demonstrate for the first time that you can accelerate heavy ions to high energy, and then, we did enough work with them on single cells and bean sprouts and on mice to demonstrate that there is something to the heavy ion therapy business. But we have by no means proven that it’s the treatment of choice, though I think it could very well be so.
Weart:I think this would be a good place to stop.
Harnwell was chairman of the physics department from 1938 to 1953 then became President of the University - SW
Seaborg became chairman only in 1961 - SW
CERN Symposium on High Energy Accelerators and Pion Physics 1, 525 (1956) (with G.K. O'Neill and F.C. Shoemaker)
Associated Universities Incorporated
Report of HIgh-Energy Physics Advisory Panel, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
National Accelerator Laboratory, Batavia, Illinois
Office of Management and the Budget (successor to the Budget Bureau)