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Interview of Thomas Ferbel by David Zierler on 2020 June 15,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
In this interview, Thomas Ferbel, professor of physics emeritus at the University of Rochester, discusses his life and career. Ferbel recounts his childhood in wartime Europe, and he describes the circumstances leading to his family’s emigration to New York. He describes his developing interest in physics at Queens College, and he explains his graduate work at Yale and his work in high energy physics at Brookhaven. Ferbel discusses his research under the supervision of Jack Sandweiss and Horace Taft. He describes his decision to join the faculty at Rochester and he explains his research agenda in bubble chamber analysis, pion exchange phenomenology, among other projects in high energy physics. Ferbel discusses his work at CERN and Fermilab, and he explains the development of quantum chromodynamics (QCD) and the role of advanced computation on the field. He describes his work for the design group for the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) project and conveys his enthusiasm for the project while it remained in progress. At the end of interview, Ferbel describes his most recent work for the U.S. Large Hadron Collider program and he shares his views on what the future of high energy physics might hold.
This is David Zierler, oral historian with the American Institute of Physics. It is June 15th, 2020. It is my great pleasure to be here with Professor Thomas Ferbel. Tom, thanks so much for being with me today.
Thank you. It’s my pleasure.
All right. So, to start, please tell me your title and institutional affiliation.
Well, right now, I’m formally still a professor at the University of Rochester Physics Department, but I gave up my tenure quite a while ago, in fact, before I officially retired, so we could hire a younger person in my place. And that was Regina Demina, who’s now a Professor at Rochester and doing excellently.
And what is your affiliation with—is it Maryland?
Yes. I was the manager of the US LHC program for four years, and I was supposed to give up my salary right after that. So, since I was doing that, my wife Barbara and I decided to stay in the DC area because it’s just an easier place to live.
And we are very happy we did that, incidentally.
We’re neighbors. I’m in Silver Spring.
Oh, I see.
Just a little bit north of us, in Friendship Heights, Maryland.
That’s right. OK. Tom, so let’s start all the way back at the beginning. Tell me, where were you born?
I was born in Poland in 1937.
That was quite an exciting time to be born in Poland.
Yes. So that’s the reason I started thinking about a year ago of writing some sort of an autobiographical adventure of my life. Our son Peter (Pedro), who thinks he is Spanish, has been torturing me for years to do this. As mentioned to you, I have some 160-odd pages finished now, which I have to figure out what to do with. And one of the reasons I wished to speak with you—was because that has focused me.
That’s right. Good.
That is, I have to finish my draft that is already very long. But the beginning of my life was very interesting. Before World War II (WWII), my mother, father and I were living in Radom, which is in Central Poland. My father was from what is now Lviv in the Ukraine, and was Lemberg. Between the WWs that area was placed in Polish hands and called Lwów, but after WWII, it was given by Churchill to Stalin for sacrifices made by the USSR in defeating Hitler, and the city became Lvov in the USSR. In any case, the moment the war broke out, my dad had to return to Lwów because he was a Polish officer, despite being a Jew. I mention this because there weren’t very many Jewish officers in the Polish Cavalry. Unfortunately, the cavalry did not hold up well against the takeover of their country by the remarkably armed German and Soviet armies.
Lwów was a city with changing names and countries during most of its 775 years of existence but it remained in the same place. After the dust of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact had settled, my mother followed my father to Lwów. She was afraid that the Nazis—already in Radom, would see a cute two-year old in his carriage, play with me, and notice that I was circumcised, and disembowel me on the spot. She must have thought it would be best to just get out of there and go to the eastern part which was taken over by the Russians.
Your mother was Jewish also?
Yes, both my parents were assimilated Jews. We spoke Polish at home because that’s the only language we all spoke reasonably well.
No. I learned Yiddish later, in Stuttgart after WWII when we were in a displaced persons’ camp. And I was in a school where the lectures were in Yiddish. And, of course, I didn’t speak Yiddish, and I had to learn it very fast. And then, when Israel was formed, we were taken over by the Hashomer Hatzair, which is one of those Socialist-Zionist groups that likes to rabble-rouse, and I became a Hebrew speaker. I had to learn the two languages very fast, otherwise I wouldn’t have survived. So that was fun. As a Polish officer, my father refused to join the Russian Army, which is what he was asked to do by the Russians, and, as a result he got on a list of people who were troublemakers. And all these troublemakers, of which there were about 200,000 or more, were sent to the Urals, and to Siberia. We were sent to the Urals sometime after the invasion of Poland in 1939 by the Germans from the west and the USSR from the east. This was based on their then recently signed Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. I don’t know when that happened, as I never asked my father about that, but that’s what happened. So sometime probably in early 1940 we were put in cattle carts and taken off to the Urals where we spent the next year or two, until the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 (called Operation Barbarossa).
Which was when we turned from being Polish enemies to Polish allies of the USSR. The Russians planned to move us to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, or Turkmenistan. They were the four USSR republics (“Stans”) chosen by the Russians to be used for the formerly damned Poles.
Now, Tom, obviously, you were too young, but I wonder if you ever learned from your parents if they understood at the time how incredibly lucky they were to have been sent east out of Poland?
No, initially we thought we were in trouble, because it wasn’t very comfortable living in those mining or logging Gulags, wherever we were. My father was a very healthy man, and an athlete, and so he became a log chopper, a woodchopper. And we led a pretty gentle existence in our camp, as I recall. We lived in a huge log cabin with several families occupying one floor, and so we must have cut the room out in pieces, I guess, and we stayed in one part and the other people in the other parts. We lived there for a while. My sister, Anna Lilliana was born in that Gulag, but died from malnutrition—about a year later. We couldn’t get any milk and my mother couldn’t breastfeed. I remember that my sister had a swollen stomach just like those photos we often see of kids in Africa. In any case, after Barbarossa, we were first taken to Tashkent, which is in Uzbekistan. From there, almost immediately after I was bitten in my toe by some terrible bug, perhaps a scorpion, I cried all night. After a week’s stay very near the Tashkent railroad station we were taken to Leninabad in Tajikistan, which was only about 50 miles away from Tashkent, but it took a long time to get there. I remember that our camp called something like Korostyeloovka in the Urals where we lived in that huge wooden cabin and I did some silly things like throwing my warm boots down the outhouse toilet hole and things like that, as all three to four-year-olds do, I guess. And then, Leninabad was pretty miserable because my parents weren’t able to feed me.
Initially, my parents ran a small concession stand, but I think I got them into trouble with that later because I stole some money from their cash box, and I spent it with one of my buddies in the central market in the middle of Leninabad. As my parents couldn’t support me, I was placed in an orphanage home for Polish refugees and children without parents or caretakers. And I stayed around that place for the next four years or so, and periodically visited my parents. It was pretty easy for me to leave and then come back to the children’s home. But it wasn’t much fun because of the intimidation by older kids and the shortage of food. But it was a very exciting and exotic period of my life, something that I only recognized later. We stayed there until 1945 when the war came to an end. And then we were transported in mid-1946 back to Poland to a friend of my father’s (a fallen Catholic) whom he worked with before WWII as a lawyer for the national railroad system in Radom. In fact, my cousin mentioned to me a pre-WWII newspaper article he read about my father, as being that damned Jew whom the government could not live without. My father was a very proud and effective man, and a good lawyer, apparently. But he was totally broken in Russia because he couldn’t learn Russian well enough. I managed because I was a little kid and spoke Russian and Polish. Once I was caught by some Russian kids who made fun of me and called me a Jew, because they sang a song which you only sing to Jews. I ran home, but my father wasn’t there, so I went to my neighbor. And explained to him what had happened to me. He looked at me and said, “Well, I hate to tell you, but you are a Jew.” [laugh]
After hearing this, I went to see a rabbi. I found one in the street and talked to him. But nothing came of that because I guess I just wasn’t serious or interested. We never spoke about religion at home, and so I didn’t know what he was talking about, and he never convinced me of the interest of joining some synagogue or whatever he was trying to push. My uncle Moses Gotfryd from Radom suddenly appeared in Leninabad. He apparently outraced the Germans to the east and found us around 1943 in this little mud hut that my parents lived in, without running water, no toilets, nothing, so it was not pleasant for anybody. But Mr. Uncle, as I used to call him, was a great wizard. He knew how to make money, as they say, out of nothing. And he used to go on expeditions with big bags of apples or potatoes on his back, and he came back with money received for the goods he smuggled probably to Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. But he didn’t return from his last expedition and must have been caught by the internal militzya (police) or killed by some gangs. We hoped that he might reappear at the end of the war, because Stalin ordered some releases from prisons after WWII, and he may have been caught smuggling by the government police and jailed, but we never heard from him again. So, we packed up, went back to Poland where we were in the hands of my father’s friend, who was not Jewish, and lived at that time in Lódź, the second largest city in Poland. I think it’s about 100 miles southeast of Warsaw. We stayed in his apartment for a month or so, and after receiving some gold coins from our cousins and maybe my uncle Bernard Gotfryd, I’m not sure, our Polish friend helped us to get to Czechoslovakia, from where we went to Austria, and escaped from the Russians. And two of my cousins, who at that time were living in Stuttgart in the western zone, picked us up in a truck and drove us to Stuttgart, where we were in the relative safety of the displaced persons’ camp in the American Zone. But just before we arrived, my uncle Bernard and his niece and the sister-in-law of uncle Moses had already left for New York. And then, within a year or so, those two of my cousins also went to New York.
You had family in New York before the war or did they just get there before your family?
We had some family members who had emigrated to New York before the war, and they had instigated the initial move. The main group was “Ciocia” Baila’s (Grand Aunt Baila’s) my grandmother’s-sister side of the family. It was one of the lines that wasn’t directly in the Gotfryd line of my mother’s, nor my father’s family. In Fact, nobody from of my father’s side survived the war, just one cousin from his mother’s side. That was the only person to survive out of a huge family in Lwów (or Lemberg). About 10% of the Gotfryds survived. And they mainly went to the US, and some to Canada. We stayed in Stuttgart in this displaced persons’ camp until 1949, and then went to New York and were picked up at the docks by my uncle Bernard and taken up to Harlem, where he lived across from the Hospital for Joint Diseases. He lived there because his wife—his second wife; his first wife died just after the war ended. She was released from Oświęcim (.witz) in a terrible state.
But my cousin Alex survived with uncle Bernard. He was six years my senior and became my great hero. We lived in Harlem on 124th Street and Madison Ave in an apartment house right next to his during the following ten years, during which I followed him to Bronx Science, to Queens College, and after my mother died, I left my father alone, and followed Alex to Yale for my graduate studies.
Did you pick up English pretty quickly?
Yes. Well, I had some troubles initially when I went to a spelling bee and had a big fight with my teacher about how you spell “address.” Because Polish is a phonetic language, I thought it would be A-D-R-E-S.
She said, “No, it’s not.” I said, “Yes, it is.”
We had a fight in the middle of the class, and she got very angry. From that grammar school I went to junior high school where I smuggled my way in under my mother’s girlfriend’s residence, which was close to the junior high, and I had a great two years. I did three years in two, despite that my sixth-grade teacher didn’t allow me to do that. I was able to convince the people in the junior high school that I should be allowed to skip the eighth grade because I was left behind when I entered my grammar school the previous year. And so I wound up in the ninth, and I did very well. [laugh] And my math teacher told me that I should apply to Bronx Science, so I learned more about Bronx Science. I applied and I got in, and I also did very well there, too.
Now, was this advice because you were particularly strong in math and science?
Yes. In fact, when I was graduating from junior high, I thought I would get to be the class valedictorian or something like that because I had the highest grades, but there was a special class that normally did those three years in two without skipping anything. And one of their kids, who was Black, gave the valedictorian address. He was great, and I was awarded a silver medal for excellence in science, and we were both pleased. So, in any case, I went to Bronx Science—one of my friends from junior high school and I went there together, and we remained friends for many years until he disappeared from the scene. He may have been homosexual—but I am not sure. He certainly never made that clear to me. But he was a very gentle person and a great friend and, unfortunately, he wound up at the end in a flop house. His family had problems with mental issues. He told me about his brother’s troubles once. So, I lost a friend very early on. And then I lost another very good friend who was very right wing but a very smart and lovable fellow, who went to Columbia and died before the end of his sophomore year. After high school, since we were very poor, I didn’t consider going to a private University, I decided just to apply to Queens College (CUNY). I never thought that I could get the proper level of support at a private school. But why did I choose Queens? After all, we lived very close to City College—about 15 minutes by bus from our apartment, and Queens was an hour and a half away, with changing trains in addition to a bus ride. I probably went to Queens because it seemed like a more pleasant place, and they had a great chemistry department. And, of course, I fell in love with chemistry in high school.
But, eventually, in college, I realized what I loved about chemistry was the quantum mechanics. [laugh]
[laugh] Yeah. Right, right.
It was too late for me to do anything about that, but one of the physics professors at Queens, whom I really liked, was a great teacher, named Herb Muether. I kept in touch with him until he died about 15 years ago. He got me very interested in physics. And I spent some time with him during my senior year, when I wrote a senior thesis about nuclear magnetic resonance and things like that. I’m not sure who actually directed me in all this, because I was mostly working on my own. After Queens College, I went to Yale. I applied to Princeton and didn’t get in despite that I took the train to Princeton Junction to meet Bob Dicke. I spoke with him and just never understood why they didn’t let me in. I complained to him years later when he was visiting Rochester. [laugh]
I thought I had a good chance of getting in, but I guess not good enough! He told me not to worry that I wasn’t invited to join the class, neither was Murray Gell-Mann, so I had good company.
My first year at Yale was kind of difficult because I didn’t have much physics in college, and no experimental physics. One of the reasons I went to Yale was because Lars Onsager was there in the Chemistry department. He was a wonderful person, but he spoke with a terrible Norwegian accent that I could barely understand. I went to see him thinking that I could work with him, but after about an hour and a half sitting and listening to him talk about something I think was “Bjoerling” faults in ice, and not understanding a word he said—[laugh]
But we did have some exchanges. I knew a little bit about science, so we chatted on. I left and I did come back one other time, but it was just too much to take. I knew I couldn’t work with him.
Now, Tom, when you got to Yale, did you know already that you wanted to focus on experimental physics?
Well, no. I thought I’d work with Onsager.
That was my goal, because I knew he was a recognized great genius, and so why not. But the summer before I went to Yale, I went to Brookhaven Lab for a special program for undergraduates and beginning graduate students. And there I met David Stonehill.
who was already a Yale student, and I met Charlie Baltay, who was also a year ahead of me.
I’m talking to Charlie tomorrow.
Oh, you are!
Good. Well, give him my regards. Yes, he’s doing great. Hungarians, they live forever, apparently, and their body doesn’t falter like mine did.
I can barely walk now, because of the pain I get in my legs and hips.
Now, Tom, at Brookhaven, was this love at first sight in terms of being in a national lab? Did you like the environment?
Oh, yes. The summer of 1959 was great. A fantastic summer that I really enjoyed. And, by that time, I wasn’t afraid of girls anymore and so I was more relaxed. I developed very late. There was one beautiful young woman with whom I fell in love at Bronx Science, but I never told her anything about my feelings. It was difficult for me to speak to a young woman. In any case, by the time I got to college, I was a bit more sane. In fact, I met my first true girlfriend the summer after I went to Queens. Charlie Baltay and I used to be very close friends. We still remain so. I learned to genuflect as an usher at his wedding and was at his 80th birthday party about three years ago, at which he was in just such great shape, mentally alert, focused and all that. That summer of 1959 at Brookhaven I also met Jack Sandweiss—
who was Baltay’s and Stonehill’s advisor, and just a very dynamic person, and so much fun to talk with. I told him that I would speak with him when I got back to Yale, and I did. And so, I decided that that’s the kind of guy I want to work with, because he was down to earth, and smart as hell. And he had this colleague, Horace Taft, who eventually became my advisor, and was the grandson of William Howard Taft, and the only scientist in the Taft family. They were wonderful guys to work with.
And Earle Fowler was there at the time as well as Hans Courant a good group of scientists. But, somehow, they just lacked the killer’s instinct for physics. For example, Bob Adair was there, and he was a real killer, as was Vernon Hughes.
Vernon Hughes fought on until he was 80, when he died trying to become the next leader of the upcoming “g-2” muon experiment.
I liked Jack and Horace, who were the leaders of the group I hoped to work with.
And what was the main project of that group at the time? What were they working on?
Well, they were both involved in the analysis of bubble chamber film. And in the late 1950s Horace with Peter Berge and Frank Solmitz wrote the remarkable “Guts” code used to reconstruct events according to any chosen and kinematically constrained hypothesis. This comprised a major contribution to our field. I knew that I was in good hands; capable people were around me who could help me. And they did. They were great. They let me loose, and when I needed some restraining, they restrained me. And, luckily, I have very thick skin, so I didn’t mind being yelled at or anything like that, something that I guess I developed in my earlier years. So, from then on, I just had a great time. Jack Sandweiss came from Berkeley where he learned about separated beams. That is, how to take a beam of particles that are traveling together and separate kaons from pions and protons. In this way you can study antiproton collisions with protons, and that’s something that Berkeley is very famous for. They found this wonderful bubble chamber photo of an antiproton and proton at lower energy annihilating to a lambda-antilambda. And this was so beautiful that everybody fell in love with bubble chamber film after that. I too continued with bubble chamber film for a while. I got my degree in about three and a half years, despite the first year of torture, where I actually did quite well, getting only one B+ grade, and the rest were As. The B+ was from my favorite, enthusiastic professor Bob Gluckstern, who was working with Gregory Breit and doing calculations in Coulomb and nucleon scattering, as well as relativistic electrodynamics and accelerator science. He was initially a nuclear physicist and therefore worked with Breit. But Breit didn’t treat anybody well so why change when it came to Bob Gluckstern? Bob left Yale to become the chair of the physics department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he tried to hire me after I received my Ph.D. And then he became the Dean of Arts and Sciences and eventually, took a position as the Chancellor of the University of Maryland.
And, Tom, what was your dissertation on? What did you work on?
Well, first Horace and I had a fast bubble chamber run—we were essentially the only scientists involved, except of course for the support from the bubble chamber group. We used a beam high-energy pions from the new AGS accelerator, which started operating in 1961. This was one of the first runs of an unseparated beam into the 20-inch bubble chamber, and we were looking for new-particle production. Horace decided he was going to fish for particles like the neutral lambdas. The particles were to be produced at a collision vertex and disappear, and decays in a couple centimeters and become a pair of oppositely charge particles. e.g., a proton and antiproton. So those are the kind of things that we were looking for, new objects of that nature. I knew that our proposal would pass the scrutiny of the program committee, because Horace was very smart and knew how to do this, and it was a clever idea. I did that study with Horace and as a result I became a “table” entry in a Nuovo Cimento article on our work. That got me very excited. I did my thesis on proton-antiproton collisions, which is what Jack Sandweiss picked, instead of K——p collisions, which is what he should have asked for. And that was the terrible history of Yale, picking the wrong damned subject to study. Because there was seemingly nobody with a killer-instinct for science. Nick Samios a future director of Brookhaven Lab, got the K——p film because Jack thought pbar-p, where you can make two new particles at a time, that is, a particle antiparticle pair, would be better so why take just one? He was out for bigger game, but it turned out to be not as good a choice. My thesis was on proton-antiproton collisions that had no strange particles in the final states. I could look at anything that didn’t have strangeness or other quantum flavors, and my first project, became elastic scattering. There was a self-effacing fellow at Brookhaven that I worked with a Swiss postdoc, Maurice Gailloud, who was very quiet and very hardworking. And we worked together, and this was to be in my thesis. And then, the major thing in my thesis, besides my first whispers of Regge Theory, was the reaction proton-antiproton going to delta-antidelta. My girlfriend Barbara, who became my wife, and I stayed one Saturday evening at the Gibbs Laboratory to prepare something for Sandweiss, who was leaving for a conference in 1962 at CERN, and had already submitted a lot of papers, but he didn’t submit the one thing that I thought I could do in a hurry. So, she and I went together that Saturday night for another “date” at the lab and started plowing through the data in the p-pbar going to p-pbar π+π— events. And when we looked at the masses of two particles at a time, we saw that all the events corresponded to p-pbar going to delta-antidelta, which is remarkable, because there was no evidence at the time that such things as antibaryon resonances. And we were seeing the first antiresonance of that kind. Our result was also kind of interesting because Horace Taft’s advisor was Fermi, and Horace worked on delta production during his graduate studies at Chicago. But this was the first antidelta to be observed, and I always teased him about that. In fact, there was a fellow at CERN—whose name I won’t mention because I may still get in trouble despite that he’s old and crooked and so on—but he thought that his discovery of the antideuteron a couple of years later was the first indication of anti-objects. I tried to explain in a letter to the CERN Courier that extrapolations to such objects were straightforward and everybody expected such things to exist. When we found our antidelta we weren’t all that excited, but later we realized that it was the first observation of an antiresonance in high-energy physics. I took those data and I used to go around and talk with Gian Carlo Wick at Brookhaven Lab, and with Ronnie Peierls, about what to do with these events. And they gave me some direction, and I wound up doing a comparison of my data with the work of two theorists, Selleri and Ferrari, two Italians whom I got to know quite well. They were pleased to perform calculations for me and predict results for comparison with my data. And their predictions were remarkable, and based on one pion exchange, with a p-pbar coming in, exchanging a virtual π meson with the proton from the target-hydrogen in the bubble chamber and each, turning into either into a delta or an antidelta. And that’s what the data that Barbara and I examined looked like to me. I immediately made up a pretty graph for Jack the night before he went to CERN. [laugh] And I left this on his desk, and I told him, “Say something about this.” But he must have been too frightened. I bet he thought I was crazy, so he wouldn’t do it. But even I could figure out how lovely that result was, so we published it in Phys. Rev. Letters with a comparison to the Selleri and Ferrari models, and everybody was very happy about that. And then, I also got involved in looking for resonances, because p-pbar can go to resonance and antiresonances of any kind, we could therefore look for new particles that way. And we were able to confirm a particle that Wally Selove discovered, the f0 that was a spin-2 object. It was the first spin-2 object found. But, again, our statistics were poor so we couldn’t really contribute anything to that. But we found a fantastic peak next to the rho meson which nobody had seen before, and we made up ideas why we should see it despite that there was no evidence for such an effect in π—p collisions, and why the cutoffs that we made were correct and not biased, and so on and so on. And, eventually, we decided to publish our result and we sent it to Phys. Rev. Letters, and the referee said, “You know, you guys are pretty fast and work very effectively. It would probably take you about another two months of measuring to find a smaller effect at two standard deviations, assuming your initial four and a half standard deviation peak was real.” And we agreed, with that, and I put some action in gear again, and measured more data. Low and behold, instead of seeing a peak at that position we saw it before, there was a hole. [laugh] So the two experiments, the first and the smaller one, were inconsistent and we never published either result. But we (mainly Jack) wrote an interesting preprint that sort of bemoaned our state, but we survived this distraction without publishing it in Phys. Rev. Letters, which felt good.
Tom, I’m curious, after your postdoc, when you were thinking about your next available opportunities, if you thought that you might join a place like CERN or one of the national laboratories in the United States?
No. When I got my Ph.D., Joe Lach was hired from Berkeley to join Yale as a postdoc. And I think Charlie Baltay became a postdoc at Yale for a while, but I may be wrong. I thought I’d prefer to stay at Yale or take a postdoc somewhere and then join a faculty group at a respectable university. Because I felt that I was a pretty good teacher, I thought that this might be best for me. So, when I finished, I immediately got a postdoc at Yale, and stayed in that position for two years. And the reason I did that is because Horace Taft needed some clunkhead to take over what was known at the “ PEPR system,” which was an automatic bubble-chamber measuring apparatus, invented by Irwin Pless at MIT—a very clever man. And so, I did that, but I really didn’t like working on hardware, because I never had any previous experience with that. Luckily, Horace found Dixon Bogert—an undergraduate student for me to supervise, who stayed on to be Horace’s graduate student. Dixon went on to Fermilab and became a great engineering type of physicist, really good—hands-on, and a superb administrator. He helped me a lot. In fact, he helped me so much that I could go back to data-analysis again and help Joe Johnson on his thesis. Joe became the second black Ph.D. physicist at Yale in the history of the department. The first one was Edward Bouchet, who in the 1870s became the first black Ph.D. physicist in the United States.
Joe was married but I’m not sure if he already had kids, but his wife Lynette was also trying to get a Ph.D., so it was very hard for him to find time to work as much as he would’ve liked to. And he always used to tell me that he felt I wanted more from him than he could give. [laugh] But, he was a very good person, and eventually had a fine career. He left particle physics and went into plasma issues. And I didn’t understand what he did, but, apparently, he was very proud of his work because later at Rochester we tried to hire him for a position but he decided to stay wherever he was at the time. He used to change places a lot. Eventually, he wound up in Florida Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) University in Tallahassee, where he was appointed a Distinguished Professor, and served for many years, developing his ideas and his plasma physics laboratory. I went to visit him a few times, at “FAMU,” at Southern University, and City College in New York. In any case, I decided after I finished my postdoc that I should get a position at Yale. Why not? I thought I was a very good scientist and had clear vision.
And you liked Yale?
Yes, I liked Yale. I liked working with Horace and with Jack, just wonderful people. And I even got to like strange Vernon Hughes. He was a more difficult person, very shy but very aggressive. And I thought that Bob Adair was a great man. I asked Horace whether I could get an assistant professor position just like Joe Lach just got, and he said, “Sure. Let’s see if we can wrangle that.” So, he went to speak with the faculty and they all agreed, and he presented the case to Vernon Hughes at a faculty meeting. And Vernon said, “Ferbel? He’s a hack. All he wants to do is to build things.” [laugh] And Horace almost laughed because he knew that’s not what I was, that I was more interested in science. But both he and Jack felt that, with Vernon Hughes not willing to take the case to the Dean, we’d better not press the issue. So eventually they got me to speak with John Tinlot, who was at Rochester at the time—at the time of Rochester’s glory when we were ranked in terms of contract support essentially same as Yale and our faculty may have been even more distinguished than Yale’s in some areas. My advisors thought that this would be a great place for me, and that I could really do Rochester some good. They had just started a bubble chamber group under Adrian Melissinos, but he didn’t have the interest in bubbles that I had. He was more of a counter physicist, and a damn good one, too. Very imaginative scientist. I spoke with John Tinlot and went to Rochester for an interview. They liked me and I liked them. At that time, there was Okubo and Marshak, and Sudarshan had just left Rochester to go to Syracuse University. There was a lot of history there. Charlie Goebel had just left for Wisconsin. There seemed to be a lot of people coming in and leaving—a very exciting place. There were about 40-some faculty members, in the department. It was about twice the size of any other department in the community of the University of Rochester. And the reason that became so is because Marshak promised the Dean that all these hires would be payed half salary out of contract grants.
And that would continue, but it didn’t continue long, as we know, so now we have 25 faculty members.
Tom, what was the strongest field in physics at Rochester at the time?
Well, at that time it was particle physics. And, of course, optics being associated with the Institute of Optics, was also strong.
We had Len Mandel and Emil Wolf, and Joe Eberly had just arrived. And Ron Parks was there, who was a super star in low temperature physics. He left and moved to New York and was chairman of NYU physics for a while. Anyway, we had a strong group in condensed matter, particle theory, and experiment. There were no women in the department at that time, and still only three right now. There was a very strong experimental particle physics group. Besides John Tinlot, who was recognized as a great leader, was a collaborator of Leon Lederman and Rod Cool, the “thugs” of the Brookhaven era. The department already had Ed Thorndike and Fred Lobkowicz developing a program with Cornell University. There were superb nuclear physicists such as Doug Cline, Bruce French, Harry Fulbright, and Harry Gove. And there was a good effort in Astronomy and Astrophysics. The department was in fact physics and astronomy. Mort Kaplon and Graham Duthie were flying photon detectors above the atmosphere—it was an exciting place.
And there was Jerry Rosen, the next-generation physicist and Melissinos. Who seemed to get along at the time, but later they soured on each other, because both were difficult in some ways. [laugh] Nobody’s as perfect as I am, mind you. They impressed me. I used to love to talk with Jerry Rosen. He just arrived there from Columbia where he worked with Leon Lederman. His advisor was James Rainwater, who shared the Nobel prize with Aage Bohr and Ben Mottelson for clarifying collective nuclear behavior. Jerry was lots of fun to talk with. He was very incisive, clever, and funny.
Tom, did you build your own lab at Rochester or did you inherit one?
Remember, I was doing bubble chamber analysis, so, when I got there, there were already measuring machines at Rochester.
I think we then bought another one or two. But all that development was thrust on our technicians and students—because it was straightforward work but required some devotion. I had several extraordinarily brilliant students who helped in all this, especially writing the programs to control the measuring machines and things like that. And Adrian was very helpful initially, then he got tired of me when I made fun of him. [laugh] He didn’t enjoy that.
Did you see your research as essentially a continuation of what you had been doing at Yale, or were you looking into new projects?
No, I started new projects. Some of the projects were related to previous work, such as looking for structure in the elastic angular scattering distribution of protons and antiprotons at larger angles, past the first dip in the diffraction pattern.
I wanted to see the second dip, but initially at Yale we didn’t have enough data. So, when I got to Rochester, we took lots of film from Yale and continued the measurements that we then published together with the Yale people. But, no, the direction that my program took was quite different from the pbar-p at Yale. We worked on strong interactions of K mesons and meson spectroscopy and entered the new field of inclusive interpretation of data in terms of Mueller-Regge ideas. These were the hot things at that time. After I got sort of bored with meson standard spectroscopy, it didn’t seem to be going anywhere, Mueller-Regge phenomenology made its appearance. It could predict results with some confidence about inclusive reactions, such as π—p --> π+ + anything. So that was something I worked on that increased my fame. I had a big mouth so I could spread my own ideas with some grace.
And how did you do that? Were you writing a lot? Were you presenting at conferences?
Yes. I used to give a lot of talks. And as I recall, we wrote something like nine articles in Physical Review Letters in the first three years that I was at Rochester. And some of phenomenological papers based on ideas that I had, but there was also new data from collisions in 13 GeV K+p events, where we discovered this low-mass Kππ system called a Q meson.
And that name Q was abolished after rationalization of particle names by the PDG group in 1989. In fact, all the names now have this rational basis, except the J/ᴪ which remained irrational because Sam Ting insisted on that and would not give in! I think that the Q is now called the K1(1270) with the “1” indicating its spin and “1270” its mass in MeV.
Tom, can you explain the research on the one pion exchange phenomenology?
When you write that antiresonances and their more common partners exist in nature, where and why was there a question that they did not exist in nature?
Well, those were the years before there was the observation of many of the antiparticles. The first antiparticle was the positron observed in 1932, and the next one was the antiproton observed in 1955. The physics community must have felt that these were important discoveries as both received Nobel awards. By the time I was in graduate school, we all felt that the world had symmetries, such as parity, CP, and particle-antiparticle symmetries. But parity violation was found in the weak interactions in 1957, and CP symmetry was violated in the K0 system in 1964. And, since we are physicists, we must check that theoretical ideas are right and not just hope that they are.
[laugh] So was this research specifically related to discovering antimatter?
No. We knew that those resonances should be there, but we just hadn’t published that yet.
Ours was the first high-energy experiment that could produce such objects, because we performed our experiment at Brookhaven Lab. The beams used were above 3 GeV, which was well past the threshold for delta-deltabar production. But it was close enough to threshold to come on like a bomb. Anyone could have detected the process without even trying to look hard. For me, that did not seem like a major discovery. The major issue was trying to understand whether the phenomenology was correct. Selleri and Ferrari used different reactions to find corrections to one-pion exchange. And they had these form factors that they took out from different experiments and fed them into the p-pbar system to predict small corrections, which could under certain conditions be fairly sizable, but small relative to the total cross section. And we were checking to see whether the phenomenology came close enough to the data, whether you could trust it to go further. Of course, this is before the standard model, so it wasn’t clear which way we’ll be heading eventually, but the fact that the delta-antidelta process was observed wasn’t a major issue for us believers. I certainly didn’t question quantum mechanics. I just assumed it was natural because I learned it in such a natural fashion. And not very well at Yale, mind you, because I had Henry Margenau as my professor, who was an expert in statistical mechanics. But he taught quantum mechanics from his ancient book with Murphy. Margenau and Murphy wrote their Mathematics of Physics and Chemistry in the early 1940s . And that’s where I learned my quantum mechanics, because I guess Margenau wanted to sell more of his books. But it was not a helpful book, and he wouldn’t give references to other books. He was a very charming snake in the grass. So, in any case, the one pion exchange was just to offer us a way of understanding the delta-antidelta process phenomenologically.
And did you have an idea that the standard model was in the works?
Were you aware of this?
No, I was never really involved in theoretical issues, because I never had a good course in quantum mechanics first of all, including the one with Henry Margenau.
And there were no advanced theoretical courses taught when I got to Yale.
So the first field theory course came later when Yale hired Nobel Laureate Willis Lamb who was responsible for finding the shift in fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum from effects in quantum electrodynamics (QED).
Anyway, Lamb taught the first field theory course that I knew about. (Although I suspect that the gentle Charlie Sommerfield may have already started some such course after he arrived at Yale.) But, by that time, I was either finishing graduate student or a postdoc, and so I just felt that my own work was more fun than studying that. But it was a mistake because I never really learned about QED. In fact, I learned it later when my former student, Sheldon Stone, who just recently received the Panofsky Prize for particle physics.
He used to give me lectures on quantum mechanics from Bjorken and Drell when he took “my” reading course!
Yeah. In fact, Bjorken (bj) showed up at my thesis presentation, because he was traveling around the East Coast, I guess trying to expound on his book or something. So, I got to know bj early in my life. In fact, Gregory Breit also showed up at my thesis presentation. And he kept asking me needling questions, which I sort of just pushed off, but he was actually right. He had noticed something in our data that was a little humbling, which we never spoke about afterwards (a seeming violation of charge symmetry in the strong interactions!)
Tom, when did you start to get involved in meson spectroscopy and dynamics?
Well, I got interested in graduate school, because I had those p-pbar events going to anything+ antianything. And so, we started looking for mesons in that, and we found one. But, as I mentioned that was an extraordinary statistical fluctuation, and next time we looked at a new smaller analysis, it showed a dip instead of a peak, so we knew that was not real. But then I got reinterested when I worked with Paul Slattery. Paul was three years behind me. And he worked on a thesis with Henry Kraybill, who was a very lovely man, but very shy and just didn’t seem to belong at Yale. He seemed not to have enough energy or something like that. But he was very helpful to students. So, Paul worked with him, and we started talking about physics at some point. And I became interested in his project because Paul was extraordinarily smart. I mean, he was the smartest guy in his class. And, eventually, I talked him into coming to Rochester on his free two-year postdoc position that he received from the Department of Energy, at that time it was still the AEC. It was an AEC fellowship, a two-year AEC fellowship that you could use wherever you wanted. And I remember that Berkeley was very interested in him, and he went to visit Berkeley and I was sure we’d lose that battle. But we actually got him free for two years. He was lots of fun to work with, and he became my underling for a while, my postdoc despite that he was free, and then he became my assistant professor. And to stop my abusing him, he took over my job as group leader. And then he became the chair of our department, and so on.
Right. So, anyway, I got interested in meson spectroscopy early on, and then there was this conference on meson spectroscopy which made me go look through some of these mesons that were claimed to have been discovered. And I made a list of them and categorized them according to how much I believed in their worth, their truth, or something like that. And it was a great talk, and everybody loved me. I think the first of its kind in meson spectroscopy. The meeting was held at the University of Pennsylvania in a beautiful museum. And there were some superb presentations. I still remember them well, I was sitting in the first row, because I may have been the next speaker or something. Dick Dalitz was discussing his ideas about baryon spectroscopy in the quark model, treating quarks as real objects. And Gell-Mann also in the first row, kept feigning sleep.
He seemed to be falling asleep, or feigning sleep.
Waking up and periodically saying, “Shit.”
Not loud enough so the back of the hall could hear, but I could hear it and the people who were around him could hear it. And he repeated it, kept repeating it several times. And poor Dick, was so hurt by that, I’m sure. But he kept going on and on, pressing his case. And eventually Dalitz turned out to be right about the reality of quarks, and Gell-Mann turned out to be wrong. Because these objects were real, except they did not materialize.
How did your research inform inclusive production and strong interactions? How did that work?
Oh. I learned about that from several people, but primarily it was Hong Mo Chan, with whom I enjoyed speaking because he was a very interesting and enthusiastic person. He was still at CERN at the time, and I remember that he had a lot of supporters there in the administration, especially Leon Van Hove. And he used to give great talks at meetings and so on. He was visiting Stony Brook. And he explained all the ideas to me and told me that Chris Quigg worked with him and deserved much credit for their important 1972 paper on Regge Phenomenology. I met Chris Quigg previously in 1969 at a conference at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Where he stood up and chastised George Trigg, the editor of Physical Review Letters, who had just asked for sympathy at one of our crabbing sessions when he explained how hard it is to be the editor when you don’t understand anything that’s presented to you. [laugh] Yes, you don’t understand the work. And Chris got up and said something, to the effect, What? You’re the editor and you don’t understand the work? [laugh] And George answered, “Yes, I don’t.” And Chris laid into him and gave poor George a hard time. After he became a faculty member at Stony Brook, I met him there and he too became a great source of wisdom for me. Henry Abarbanel had been invited for a colloquium to Rochester when he was still at Princeton. Both explained to me the importance of the Mueller-Regge ideas. And then I met Al Mueller and he also just kept pushing me to do these kinds of studies which I did for a while. But, after my great success of finding what was called—the “Ferbel point”, was the notion that, at high energies, all the hadronic collisions, if you divide them by their total cross section, look identical. But we didn’t know why that would be the case. Presumably, this implied some quark substructure of the hadrons, but I don’t think it ever dawned on me except years later that this was an important issue. But, anyway, what I found was when I took all the data and put it all together, it actually worked. If you look at the differential cross section for γ+p--> pion+anything, or at pp--> pion+ anything, and compared any such reactions e.g., at x=pz/Pincident=0, you found that as a function of incident momentum in the center of mass (capital letters), after you divided these by their total cross sections, they were different but scaled as a power of Pincident, approaching a single value at largest energies. It turned out that what I found was consistent with Mueller-Regge scaling!
Strong and photon interactions. I published this paper on my own since I was the only one who worked on it. It was actually something that I did for a conference in Poland, my first return to Poland in 1972, where I was apparently shadowed by some communist spies while I was at the meeting in Zakopane about 50 miles south of Kraków.
Did it feel like going home or you were just too far removed at that point?
Well, no. I always wished to go back because my father’s friend with whom we stayed after the war lived in Lódź now lived in Warsaw. I tried to get to Poland but had problems with getting a visa prior to the meeting in 1972. After that, such difficulties abated, and I was able to travel to Poland with ease. I enjoyed speaking with my Polish colleagues in Kraków and Warszawa. And used to overnight at my father’s friend’s apartment near Felix Dzierdzinski Square (named for the first head of the secret police Cheka of the USSR, who was a Pole). I knew he was there because my father used to communicate with him over mail. When I went there, my father was already gone. In fact, both my parents died in their 50s. They used to send Wiktor Stemplewski packages, and I continued that habit. It was a great joy to see him, because I remembered him from our stayover with him in Lódź in 1946. And it was a true pleasure to see him. And his wife Zosia was still alive at that time. I remembered her also from Poland. So that was a pleasure. There was a meeting in Zakopane in 1972, to which I was invited to give a presentation on inclusive production. And I put all the information together during my sabbatical at Fermilab at the time, when the machine was not quite working yet—it was supposed to have been working in September 1971, because I had given up my term at CERN as a Guggenheim fellow to be at Fermilab. I was supposed to go to CERN for the year to work on the ISR, but I gave that up because Jim Sanford started belittling my devotion when he heard I was thinking of leaving just at the time when “I was needed at Fermilab.
I explained to him that I had all these collaborators that I put together, so we should be fine. He said, “Ferbel, you have no business being at CERN when you should be at Fermilab collecting your data.”
I said, “OK, Jim. OK.” I had to go to Fermilab, and, of course, when I got there, there was this trouble with the magnets. They were “potted” improperly and water got in the coils and caused shorts. Just awful stuff. The start-up of the accelerator was delayed by about nine months, which was just the time that I had to go back to Rochester for the next semester. So, I spent a year at Fermilab because of Sanford, the bad man who did me in. But it all worked out pretty well because I started working on our experiment, our first counter experiment that Paul Slattery and I did, joining Jerry Rosen and Bruno Gobbi, who were at Rochester at the time.
Paul immediately started working on the online program, because he’s a man of action. He likes to produce things. I just like to talk about them. I became responsible for some of the counter arrays that Jerry Rosen showed me how to construct that. It was a useful hiatus, despite being a little frustrating. I spent some time working at Argonne because nobody would give me a job to do at Fermilab, thinking that I would steal the honor from them or something like that. I found my own things to consider, some involved analysis, some work with the Berkeley particle data group (the PDG), and so I got by. And, after that, we stopped doing bubble chamber analysis (by the mid-1970s) and were focused on counter activity. By 1975, I was already a spokesperson for an experiment to measure radiative widths of mesons, something like the rho meson decaying to γ + pion.
This is meson spectroscopy you’re talking about?
Well, yes. And trying to understand the radiative widths that can be calculated in QED. And there were some issues about the self-consistency of such previous measurements. We made a whole bunch of measurements in the late 1970s at Fermilab in a pion and a kaon beam. That was after Slattery and I broke up with Jerry Rosen (and Bruno Gobbi went off on his own) because of ill feelings about our pseudo-discovery of charm mesons. I was sitting at home and found out that Jerry Rosen’s postdoc Randy Ruchti was going to give a presentation at Fermilab on our discovery of charm mesons. And I said, “Whose discovery of charm mesons? I didn’t know we had charm mesons in our data?” And I went to Fermilab to discuss this with Jerry and Randy, and we came to the conclusion that, if Jerry were to allow Randy to proceed, I would be there and explain why it’s all wrong because the analysis was insupportable (inconsistent).
What was Jerry’s reaction to this?
Oh, he was furious. At the very end, he got so angry at me that he said, “You’d better leave this room or I’m going to beat the crap out of you.”
This was a huge guy. A big threatening basketball player. He died earlier this year. He was my friend and my first mentor in counter physics. He and Bruno Gobbi taught me a lot. I was truly unhappy with that break-up.
I like to tell the story of how I liked to work with Bruno. I thought that he might appreciate my constructing one of our large spark chambers for our joint experiment during the time he went back to his home in Switzerland on his Christmas break. I thought that would be a nice surprise present for him. When he came back, I had this enormous object that I made all on my own during the evenings. I don’t think I got any help. It was very difficult, but I managed to do it. Some of the wires were crossed, but it was a chamber that you could read out whether some wires were crossed or not. I certainly didn’t like the outcome of my clumsiness. When Bruno returned from his vacation, he was indeed surprised, first of all, that I did this, because it took about a week of time, and he followed up with: “but too bad some wires are crossed.” He immediately noticed the error I made. But he said it was OK, we can use it. That’s fine. But, when he left, I took the chamber apart because I knew he didn’t have the heart to do that just because it wasn’t up to his standards, so I did it for him. I took it all apart and tried to collect the pieces to see if we could use them in the next set of chambers. And I helped Bruno make some of them, so I think it worked out fine. But it was quite an experience for me to take “my” chamber apart, knowing that it could work but it wasn’t quite up to what Bruno expected.
So what happened with the postdoc? Did he go ahead with his report?
No, he didn’t give the seminar. No. He went on to Notre Dame to become a respected experimenter. And he worked for the NSF for a while.
So did Jerry change his mind or what happened?
Well, we didn’t talk to each other for about three or four years. I kept sending him messages and he just refused to answer. But, eventually, we got together. He had recently married Pingping who is a wonderful Chinese woman, and an engineer. We got together for dinner in a restaurant, all of us, my wife and I and he and Pingping and his little son Sammy. We made up and continued our friendship. And I still think that he was a fantastic guy.
When did you start getting involved with interactions of the standard model?
After studying meson spectroscopy in the nuclear Coulomb field, in which the “Primakoff” virtual γ originates from the nucleus and the incident pion turn into a rho meson, which then decays into two pions. So, after that π– γ --> π– π0 scattering experiment, we decided to try something more interesting and that is to look at the new developments in the standard model. And one of them was the gluon and the quark and related issues in quantum chromodynamics (QCD). We thought about how to proceed, and I forget who was first to initiate this, but I’m sure I was one of them. We decided to look at direct-photon production, which means studying collisions of two hadrons transforming them to a direct photon + anything. And direct photons at fixed-target Fermilab energies arose largely from collisions of gluons with quarks that become excited quarks and radiate photons. The quarks then develop through the process of QCD evolution into a jet of particles. So, at the end of the story we have a photon and a jet of particles, and that’s the signature that we used to measure single-photon inclusive production. To that end we had to construct a large electromagnetic calorimeter. We chose to use a sampling lead-liquid argon device for measuring energies and directions of the trigger photons; and a previously used (available) hadron calorimeter to check on the jet of accompanying particles. We felt that we couldn’t measure jets very easily, not with our fine-grained liquid-argon sampler of signal-photon showers; nevertheless, the Fermilab program committee with its abundant wisdom of theorists insisted that we must also have a hadron calorimeter behind that photon detector. So, not knowing enough about calorimetry at the time, we decided, that this sounded like a reasonable idea. [laugh] We were talked into this direction by the program committee and Ed Berger at Argonne, who was the chief proponent of that. Well, he’s a learned theorist, so I guess you have to listen to them. And we did. We built this humongous liquid-argon calorimeter with a precision lead-argon front and an immense steel-argon rear, and we barely ever used the expensive hadron sector. It was just too difficult to recover the information we lost about the hadrons through the sampling of the electromagnetic signals. The matching of the photon to the hadron sections was not done very cleverly, because, as I indicated, we didn’t have enough previous experience in hadron calorimetry. We discussed this after I spent my year at CERN with the Fabian-Willis group. That group initially discovered direct- photon production at CERN. Turns out that they became interested in the jet part of their research program, for which they constructed uranium-scintillator sampling calorimeters. But at that time, I did not understand why that would be better, so after seeing photon and hadron signals in some preliminary data we obtained in a test beam at Fermilab on pion-proton collisions leading to photon+anything, from which we also obtained some results, we decided to try this bigger next-generation experiment, and “clean up” the field of gluon substructure of hadrons.
Our next-generation single-photon production experiment, especially with that large and heavy steel section became quite expensive, and it therefore took us years to get all the funds together to construct the beast. Slattery became the leader of that experiment, and I got panicky after a while because I noticed that we were going very slowly, and the world was running away from us. But we actually managed to do a great job on the photon calorimetry and got some nice measurements. Before going to a conference in 1989 to speak about this experiment, which was still taking data using a new hydrogen target, with which we were checking that our results on nuclear targets were consistent with those in hydrogen, I read some papers on the subject and found that everybody who had done such experiments previously found agreement of their data with next-to-leading order (NLO) formulations in perturbative QCD. They believed that NLO at lower energies was a terrific description of the process, which made us feel that we could go up to higher energy, reaching larger momentum transfers, we’d be able to measure the gluon structure of the hadron, because the gluon was involved in the incident channel. And that turned out to be incorrect. Our new data were inconsistent by a factor of 2 or so with NLO QCD and with all previous results at lower energies and smaller momentum transfers, which were less reliable than our higher energies and higher momentum transfers. And so, it put into question whether we could actually study the gluon structure, because, if the data didn’t agree with the experiment, then there’s nothing you can say. There’s nothing to fall back upon. But we disagreed with essentially everybody. Every experiment agreed and we disagreed with QCD. Of course, we believed in our data because, well, we were a smart bunch of scientists. Fred Lobkowicz and his postdoc Charlie Nelson, who eventually joined the experimental facilities group at Fermilab, built the huge calorimeter. Fred was in charge and received support from the NSF for that. It was millions of dollars. I even got into the business of straightening out very thin layers of lead sheets. Had to go around the country to find places where we could do what Bill Willis suggested, namely, if you have a curly wrinkle on the surfaces of your sheets of about 1mm thick lead, the best way to flatten it out is just by pulling it and sort of stretching it by 5%, and that makes it uniform, flat, and beautiful. It took a while to implement such corrections, but we did it and the lead looked great. Unfortunately, nobody believed our data until George Sterman (SUNY Stony Brook) came to our rescue. George blamed it all on parton shadowing and misconceptions theorists had about how QCD developed with time and energy and so on. The previous measurements were at energies factors of two to three lower than ours, and that agreement with NLO was seemingly just accidental, and occurred only in that narrow transitory energy range.
The previous experiments were performed primarily at CERN, and some at Fermilab— dealing with similar kind of issues in direct-photon production. They avoided the pitfall of trying to do a cleaner experiment, which is what we were supposed to have done in the extraction of the gluon content of the hadrons. So, we made hay of our data and corrected some issues in QCD, but it wasn’t what we were hoping for. So, in 1984, I became interested in joining one of the larger collider experiments. In fact, I became interested earlier, in 1981 when I was still at CERN, I went to speak with Roy Schwitters and Alvin Tollerstrup the spokespersons of CDF about joining their effort at Fermilab. And they were sort of interested. They liked the fact that we had Lobkowicz and Slattery and Ferbel. So that was fine with them. But the way that their colleagues interacted with each other was very disquieting for me. I noticed at one of their meetings that they just didn’t seem to like each other. They didn’t seem to agree on anything. And so, I just decided that was not the place where I want to be, especially since we also were planning our E706 direct-photon proposal.
But, three years later, Fred Lobkowicz and I went to a meeting—maybe Slattery was also there, I’m not sure, but certainly Fred and I were—a meeting in Snowmass, Colorado, where the DZero experiment was discussing its future direction and their ideas on what to construct. We liked Grannis and they liked Fred Lobkowicz because he knew lots about liquid argon, and they decided eventually to have a uranium-liquid argon sampling calorimeter as its major detector that would provide a mixture of liquid argon and uranium radiator to assure good hadron calorimetry that provided the best ratio of hadron to photon detection. The promise was to have small corrections to hadrons in the detector that would achieve similar signals for photons and hadrons of same energy, but it took a long time to put that system together. Fred and I joined DZero in 1985. I had several students who worked with Fred and me. In the second half of 1986, I had two postdocs (Jerry Blazey and Paul Draper) and Fred was writing critiques on the proposed D0 calorimetry and we were still something like three years away from running. And at that time, Fred and I were often also conflicted with the running of our direct-photon experiment. And first we worked on the assembly of the detectors and helping in the test beam. Eventually, I started doing some calculations with students. Eric Prebys was one of my favorite students to work with.
Was Fermilab an exciting place to be at that time?
Oh, I found Fermilab always exciting. I used to go there every week. It was just a pleasure to do that. I used to go take either the early Thursday or late Wednesday flight and try to get back Friday evening or Saturday. It was just fantastic. I used to keep my cello and espresso machine at the Lab. [laugh] It was great. I really enjoyed that. With time, of course, I got sick of the traveling, but Fermilab was always very exciting for me, even at the end.
Tom, I’m curious, when did you decide to stop working with bubble chambers?
That was after the last round of exposures that we took at Fermilab. We eventually had several—three pp exposures at energies of 50, 100, and 400 GeV.
And is that because better instrumentation was available?
Yes. The instrumentation became more reliable with fast detectors and computers.
The availability of computers that can control parameters you don’t have to worry about.
So, there was nothing that bubble chambers were good at independent of those developments?
Well, they could’ve been if you were clever enough. If you thought about measuring lifetimes of objects or dark matter or some other more exotic things, then you might consider them, and such avenues have been pursued recently. But, as far as we were concerned, there was nothing left for bubble chambers to accomplish. Many scientists actually hung onto bubble chambers much longer than Slattery and I did. Certainly, by 1974, we were all thinking about the counter experiments we were doing. It was not surprising how this happened—when you hire a great postdoc and a smart student, you can imagine what they can do when you get them in phase.
We’ve had some superb students, actually fantastic. I mentioned to you Sheldon Stone, my former student who recently was awarded the Panofsky Prize. Well, I was just asked to write a letter of support for another of my students for another Panofsky Prize.
[laugh] That’s great!
So, the students that we had were really great.
Did you ever spend time at SLAC?
Just brief periods. I served on their program committee. And we ran one of our experiments in the deuterium-filled, old 82-inch Alvarez bubble chamber that was part of Joe Ballam’s responsibilities at SLAC. I was on the program committee, when I traveled from Fermilab for one of our standard meetings on November 10 and went to the Orange Room for the presentations at the Monday morning briefings. I had just received a new camera that was mailed to me to Fermilab by my cousin, who used to be a photographer at Newsweek. I took the camera with me to SLAC, and I had it in my car. When I got into the meeting, I noticed some of our colleague scientists were chatting and whispering. And then the presentation started and the proponents told us how SLAC had found this incredible object. It was a new resonance in the e+e- system around 3.1 GeV. A huge, massive peak. And it was sharp as a needle, so it must’ve been some violations in its decay, otherwise it would’ve been very broad because of all the channels that were available for its decay. So, most of the channels had to be forbidden, and it became very clear almost immediately that this must’ve been an object made out of new quarks, and, in fact it was. It was the discovery of the charm-anticharm “ψ” meson, J/ψ, as it’s known now. And so the SLAC folks were showing us these incredible results. Their signal was several decades high. And one of us asked, “Why don’t you plot this on a semi-log scale so you can see it?” And the presenter looked at us and said, “It is on a semi-log scale.” [laugh] It was an incredible peak, a factor of 100 above background, and it was unbelievable. And I was sitting next to Sam Ting, who was at the meeting because he was also on the program committee. And he kept elbowing me saying, “Hey, Tom. We see the same thing. I’ll show you later.” So later, there was a presentation by the SLAC people and by Sam. Roy Schwitters was first to speak on behalf of SLAC. And he described everything, and he did a beautiful job. Everybody loved it, and thought he was the greatest man in the world to have discovered such a thing on his own. It wasn’t quite like that, but Roy too was clearly impressed by the SLAC results. And then, Sam came up and he didn’t have any slides, and had nothing to show. He just went to the board and wrote down pp --> e+e-, and then he drew a peak. [laugh] And he said, “We see the same thing, same kind of signal that SLAC showed.” So, everybody thought Sam was sort of a fool to do that, but it turned out, of course, that he actually had likely found this first, at least from rumors that you hear coming out of Brookhaven and the northeast. And I think that, had Sam Ting not discovered that, it probably would be much harder for Stanford to find such a narrow needle in the incredibly large range of energies they would have had to cover in that haystack. Everyone appreciated both of the results, but Sam was so anxious because he had nothing to show. And, apparently, he had a meeting the previous day with Burt Richter, to discuss what to do on the following day. And they made the plan together for those lectures that Schwitters gave after lunch, followed by Sam Ting. So that was a truly amazing and important discovery.
What was the significance of that discovery, Tom?
Well, the significance was that there were new quarks, because nothing else could explain such a 3 GeV object not decaying immediately, sitting around for a long time. There must have been a reason, such as the new “b” quark within the J/ψ that forbade the standard decays, for example, to p-pbar, or into mesons. It was remarkable. So, on the first break of that morning session, I immediately ran to the phone to speak with Susumu Okubo and I said, “Susumu, guess what happened today?” [laugh] And I explained to him and he immediately realized what was up.
This was very exciting?
Oh, yeah. He was dancing. He was just so delighted with this. Because, in the previous spring, as I recall, I heard Shelly Glashow give a talk at a meson spectroscopy meeting predicting that new particles that would be discovered shortly. And these would be discovered, not by those of us who are working in standard spectroscopy in hadron physics, but probably in e+e- collisions or in other more novel channels. I mentioned to Glashow that we had data that showed that it was not produced strongly in hadronic collisions. That was the data from our experiment with Jerry Rosen in the neutron beam. And he thanked me for that, but said, “Wait. Just wait. You’ll see.” That was the meeting at which Glashow said that if nothing like is found he’d eat his hat, and if there is something found, then we would all eat our hats! [laugh] So that’s what he told us that spring. He certainly felt that something new had to be there. He and, I think, bj had written a paper about that there had to be some new mesons, some other quarks to make this field reasonable. So, that was a fantastic day at SLAC, which I’ll never forget. And I never went to the car to get my new camera and take some photos!
[laugh] Oh, no!
Little Pief Panofsky was there and all the other great men. Panofsky was a treasure. I don’t know how much you know about him.
I know a lot.
He could con anybody. [laugh] Whether he was right or not, you just went along with him. He was so forceful and so gentle and seemingly so understanding. But he always got his way. It was incredible. And he was a true chief, a great lab director, probably the greatest we ever had. Certainly, the others had faults. I haven’t seen any faults with Panofsky. He was an incredible man. (Except that Mel Schwartz never forgave him for not letting him execute his beam-dump proposal, where he claimed he would have discovered the new tau lepton and the third generation of quarks).
A builder, he was a builder.
A builder and a thinker. He understood what was going on immediately, so he was very good. I wish I had half his brains. I always used to tell Susumu that, “If I had half your brains, Okubo, I’d be a great man. And all I do instead is stretch lead.” [laugh]
Tom, how did you get involved in the SSC design group at Berkeley? How did that come about?
Oh, well, it was time for a sabbatical, and I thought that the SSC was a brilliant idea, so I wanted to work with the SSC Central Design Group (CDG) that was stationed at LBL in Berkeley. I applied and then I asked Tigner and Quigg and Stan Wojcicki, the two associate directors about support.
The SSC design group was at Berkeley?
Yes, Stan and Chris were the assistant bosses to boss Maury Tigner, and I’m sure they must’ve said some nice things about me. And so, Maury eventually found the money to provide my sabbatical support. I went to Berkeley and had a great time. My wife had even a better time. She didn’t want to go back to Rochester. [laugh] She thought she might be able to work in a biology lab on the hill (LBL), and she did get a job with the biologists when she was there with me.
I was not aware that Berkeley was part of the planning for the SSC.
Oh, yes. The SSC CDG was located at LBL.
Oh, why Berkeley? Well, they had a lot of talent there, lot of people who understood how to proceed. I mean, George Trilling was there and lots of the younger scientists, so it was an exciting place to be. Dave Jackson and a lot of theorists around.
To foreshadow a little bit, even from the beginning, did you have concerns that the SSC would not work out?
No. I thought it was a brilliant idea. I thought it was just the thing that we needed, so that’s why I got so excited by it. I had missed some of the meetings in Colorado, in Aspen and Snowmass, because my summer school was proceeding at about the same time. I ran a biennial summer school for postdocs and graduate students in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands between 1980 and 2000. And that was wonderful. Great speakers, fantastic students, some of them matured into major figures in our field to become leaders, lab directors, and great scientists. So, it was just a joy for two weeks every second year.
The proponents of the SSC said that it would cost 3 billion dollars.
And the big mistake was that this didn’t account for all unforeseen expenses beyond the actual—
And the inflation.
And the inflation.
So, the SSC low-balled the price, and once Congress heard 3 billion dollars, that was the expectation going forward. So, when it ballooned to 7 or 8 billion dollars as the planning progressed, that basically killed it because nobody had the appetite for something that was going to be twice or even three times as much. Does that accord with your understanding of things?
Yes, but I thought it didn’t have to be 40 TeV in the beginning and could have started a little bit lower so you wouldn’t have to change the magnet apertures, and items like that, but just make them a little weaker. And it would’ve worked. I mean, 35 TeV would’ve been plenty, and they could’ve done that without making many changes. But if you say 40, you can do that in time, if needed. After all CERN promised to have 7 TeV, and they still haven’t reached the goal that they had for the beams in ten years now. In addition, the LHC was also to provide larger luminosities, and that too was late in coming.
Was your sabbatical at CERN helpful for your work on SSC planning?
Yes. I got to talk to superb scientists about that, so certainly that was interesting. But the SSC was formally approved by our field in 1982 and that came after my sabbatical at CERN. And in fact, Charlie Baltay cut his lectures in my school to organize the SSC community at Snowmass in 1982.
But, in 1988, when you started thinking about the design, was Texas already the site? Had that already been settled?
No. There were still many sites. In fact, I became the proponent for the site in New York State in 1989.
Yeah. Boyce McDaniel from Cornell asked me to do that. He was Bob Wilson’s great accelerator colleague. I did that for a while, attending meetings with Governor Mario Cuomo’s sharply attired but naive Lt. Governor, making public presentations, and representing NY State at physics meetings where we also organized sessions on the SSC, and asked our NY State representatives and those who were opposed to the project to learn about it. But I became busy with DZero as we were close to data taking, and in addition I was the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies at the College of Arts and Science at the time, so I conned my friend Marvin Goldberg in Syracuse to take over my position as the coach for New York State to attract the SSC to a site between Rochester and Syracuse. Marvin did well, and he wound up at eventually at the NSF after we failed with the SSC.
The site, very close to Rochester, would’ve been fantastic, but the local community just with 200 people or so, 100 families, that would have to be moved from the site, refused to do it. And they were well to do and could afford to refuse, and they did. For a variety of reasons, this project did not go well for NYS, and the decision for Waxahachie, TX was made around 1990.
So, by the time you left in 1989, you thought the prospects for the SSC to actually be built were pretty good?
Yes. In fact, I went Waxahachie and then to Dallas to look for housing to see whether we could find a place to live in and things like that, because I was asked if I was interested in going and I thought that it might be a good idea. But we never found a good place to live in Dallas, and eventually I decided that I was just not going go there. But I tried to help at at the end. I spoke to some CERN scientists in ‘93, I think, at an EPS conference trying to excite them about the physics at the SSC, but they also weren’t as supportive as they could have been.
What do you think was lost to the particle physics community when SSC was not built?
Well, we lost a U.S. high-energy physics program. All the physics went to CERN. And we certainly worked there, but it’s harder than working at home.
But would you say even worse than that, because CERN wasn’t even doing things that the SSC was planned to do?
That’s right. That’s very true. There was a factor of about three in center of mass energy. But the LHC luminosity was about a factor of 10 larger.
So, were there things—I mean, it’s so hard to know, right, but are there things that we still don’t know because SSC was not built and because CERN couldn’t discover such things?
Yes, the very high mass systems. We’ve been able to exclude new objects with masses, up to 2 or 3 TeV in very specified ways at the LHC. But it could be that the crossing point for this kind of success is higher than expected and could’ve been discovered at Waxahachie instead of at CERN. Certainly, the race for the Higgs boson was won at CERN, that could’ve also been won at Fermilab if scientists were on the ball initially. There was a loss of interest at Fermilab, even by its director, who will remain nameless, whom many of us angered. They were not interested in physics at Tevatron energies. They wanted to go up higher and higher and higher, and that also didn’t help the US agenda. But, in the long term, I think the SSC was just bad luck.
We had enemies in our own field and beyond, who thought that if we get rich, they’re going to get poor, it was just so stupid that it’s beyond imagination. Everybody rises with the tide, as we know.
And so, the fact that they fought against us, that was lamentable. And, in fact, one of the leaders was Congressman Sherwood Boehlert from Cornell. So, Boehlert from Cornell was one of the people who helped kill the SSC with his chopping block.
So, you don’t even think this is about bureaucrats in Washington? There were people within the physics community who were key to ensuring that SSC never happened.
Sure. Philip Anderson, the great Nobel laureate in condensed matter. He was one of the big enemies, yeah. Our enemies said we should wait for the development of supermagnets and things like that, which is nonsense. And so, yeah, they weren’t at all supportive. Even people in our own field weren’t supportive. The west coast elements, for example.
But, in terms of the policy decision that SSC should not go forward, were those voices in the physics community like Phil Anderson, were they influential in terms of helping the policymakers make a decision, or that was more an intramural kind of debate?
No, Anderson spoke in Congress and when Phil Anderson comes to talk to you, you listen.
You might fall asleep at times, especially at his colloquia, but you’ll listen.
Yeah. So, I think it was just bad communication perhaps on our part, on the particle physics part, but we meant well. We just meant to do ourselves some good and do the rest of the field some good also as a result of that. And somehow that wasn’t appreciated by the rest of the scientific community.
There was not the incredible support that we had for the Fermilab program, which was also magical.
Yeah, yeah. SSC did not have that magic.
Can you talk about your work at the Heisenberg Institute in 1995? What were you doing there?
I was looking for a sabbatical at CERN, because I had lost it in ‘72. I did receive their support in 1981, but I felt it was time to try again because they were starting the collaborations for the proposed but not yet approved ATLAS and CMS experiments at the LHC. These new experiments would follow the UA1 and UA2 in their initial p̄p collider program. And I was trying to see if I could help in one of them. And so, I sent an application for a position as a CERN associate—the kind I held in 1981-2, and in no uncertain terms, I was told by Chris Llewellyn Smith (now “Sir Chris”) their director that, “I’m not going to pay some fat-cat US colleague to come to CERN and work on programs that haven’t been approved yet at CERN.” [laugh] So I did not get any support at CERN, but I approached Friedrich Dydak and asked him if he would sponsor me for a Humboldt Prize that the German Government provides for aged men like me. And he said, “Yeah, sure.” And so, I went to the “Heisenberg” Institute at Munich, where Friedrich was the director, for a year with Barbara, to work on ATLAS with their excellent group. Friederich was one of the spokesmen for ATLAS at the time. And I loved it. It was really great fun because there were good theorists, good invited speakers, good people to discuss things with and to work with. So, I helped in the construction of the first muon chamber for ATLAS. And I think, at that time, I was the most prolific US writer of unpublished ATLAS articles. Every other week we had some new measurements that we had to make and had to report to the collaboration, so I used to write ATLAS reports all the time to describe our work and conclusions, because I like to write papers. That was lots of fun. And we finished the chamber about a month before I left. It was sent to CERN and checked out in a test beam and it became the primary design that ATLAS continued to develop. Brookhaven offered Chinese or Russian electronic systems for readouts and they worked. It was great. So, staying in Munich was a good overall experience. We really liked that. I thought about Rochester continuing with ATLAS. In fact, I got Slattery interested and he took over the construction of the central calorimeter for their liquid argon detector, something that Fred Lobkowicz certainly could do. And we had George Ginther also working on it. He was a superb scientist who worked with us on E706, and later on DZero, where he had many major technical responsibilities, just as at E706, and was appointed finally as head of the Fermilab group at DZero.
The result of George Ginther having been appointed by Fermilab to lead their experimental DZero effort was that he finally became an employee of Fermilab. In any case, it was kind of interesting to try that ATLAS avenue. And we found a project for which the NSF provided something like 6 million dollars. Slattery was the spokesman for that project, and we had Brookhaven Lab scientists overseeing our progress to make sure that we didn’t screw up. And at every meeting we had, Fred Lobkowicz reported on the results of our technical studies, and they all said, “Fantastic, great work, you’re doing beautifully! Just keep it up. Wonderful.” And then, suddenly, the RHIC collider finished its construction and they had engineers available. And, within a month, we were out of the project. And so, Slattery had to figure out what to do with the NSF money—[laugh]
—funds intended for the design of the cryostat for the barrel liquid argon calorimeter by Fred et al. Eventually, Paul found a way of using some of the overhead cost, but most of it went to the ATLAS collaboration. He became a sort of pseudo-spokesman for that and just doled out the cash from Rochester to BNL. But it was terrible for us. Slattery lost all faith in high-energy physics as a result of the double cross that even Bill Willis was in on. Paul worked and developed an excellent relationship on the SSC with the great Bill Willis, who gave us the shaft. We knew that Bill and Tom Kirk approved this change that was engineered by big Tom Kirk the director of Brookhaven Lab for high-energy physics. But, anyway, Slattery gave up on that project. Fred Lobkowicz died shortly thereafter, he waited to get a heart transplant, but could not get one in time to save him from his heart problems. And Ginther went back to work at Fermilab. And all our senior postdocs (including my former wonderful student John Mansour) and engineers left high-energy physics. It was definitely an unpleasant experience. But, eventually, after Fred Lobkowicz died, Slattery also became interested in the CMS experiment, but remained quite bitter about the cruelty of our field.
Yeah. When did your involvement with CMS start?
That started after DZero was closed down by Fermilab before 2012. So, in 2010, as I remember, just before the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, I sort of looked around for what to do. I had finished my revision of my book with Ashok Das on particle and nuclear physics, so I felt that I could take on another project. I was in fact contacted by CMS about making some English changes in a paper that they needed. It was sort of funny, too, because I used to be the editor of the DZero papers. Used give people lots of troubles. Because I like to see things clearly written, and most of the papers were written by damned foreigners like me.
But they arrived in the US older than me. So, when this former colleague of mine, I guess, heard that I was looking for something to do, he suggested that I edit some of their papers but be gentle. I did that and apparently passed, as he was happy with that. But then I decided maybe I should try working on CMS because it seemed like a good thing since we weren’t going to discover the Higgs boson at Fermilab because we didn’t have enough data, and the Tevatron was closing. But we had already a small signal, of about 2 standard deviations for the Higgs boson. So, I started looking at the Higgs papers and making corrections right and left and getting people angry. And then I became a language editor for CMS, which made some of my colleagues even angrier.
And then, about three years ago I was fired by a former DZero colleague for whom I wrote a letter for promotion at Fermilab, who will remain nameless. But he fired me as the head of the publication committee of CMS because I was essentially insubordinate. I was running around and doing things the way I like to do them rather than the way they felt it should be done, so he fired me. But I continued editing because I was a member of the collaboration. [laugh]
I still give some people a hard time, but fewer, because I see that it’s impossible to change people’s ways. It’s very annoying that people don’t like to learn things on their own, they want to rely on language editors for their survival during their entire life. But I still try to contribute. My colleagues often ignore my remarks because they can’t decide which is better, something stupid or something clever. And when I try to be clever, I guess I cannot succeed because I am told by the authors that they never used such language previously and reject my improvements to their awful drafts.
Tom, what were your big goals in joining the LHC collaboration? What were you trying to achieve?
Well, I knew I could help them with my editing, but my health was waning since 1995. I had a heart valve replacement in late ‘94, from which I had to recover very rapidly to finish the work I was responsible for at Fermilab’s on the observation of the top quark at DZero.
I was in charge of the mass analysis group at the time. And we were doing something like a bubble chamber analysis of these top quarks by fitting the final states to the t-tbar hypothesis to sharpen up the mass resolution.
And this was a result was shared by CDF and DZero?
Yes. That led to the EPS Physics prize two years ago that was won by CDF and DZero. And then, for my work on correcting all the English for CMS, I also a recipient of the 2013 EPS prize, for the Higgs boson discovery, which I was proud of, because I thought I really helped clarify the papers. They were written so badly that they reminded me of the first time I heard Okubo speak. Okubo was a great theorist at Rochester. He was an amazing man. I started going to Marshak’s huge office when I arrived at Rochester to listen to the weekly theoretical discussions. And one day, a new guy appeared in the room who turned out to be Okubo, who started speaking. And he spoke so poorly that I could not believe that anyone could understand him as they kept nodding and talking to each other in hushed voices. And I just could barely stop from laughing. I had to sort of bite my tongue to make sure that I wouldn’t do something stupid like start laughing. And that was my introduction to Susumu Okubo. So that’s the way I thought the papers were written by CMS authors. I mean, they just didn’t understand how to write. They may have been able to write well in their own language, something I doubted, or they were just not trained to write. And how do you learn to write? By writing!
When I was young, the only thing I did was write papers. [laugh] I wrote a lot of them. Reviews, analyses of papers, short letters and long reviews, and so on. So that’s how you learn, and they never did that; so, of course, they didn’t know how to write, especially in a foreign language. I tried to be generous and respectful, but just couldn’t. Initially, I used to get the authors angry because I ridiculed them, so I stopped doing that because my Russian friend Greg Landsberg told me I shouldn’t do that because it’ll get me fired. [laugh]
[laugh] Smart advice.
Eventually he was right.
Right. So, in any case, I got gentler with time, now I’m extraordinarily gentle. I say how wonderful this paper is, how clever it is, but we all know that every paper can always use an editor. Look at the New Yorker. I mean, they live on their editors. Their editors are their main substance. They change all the papers around. And they’re the bosses. They decide whether an item belongs in a sentence, and where a comma should be placed.
So, Tom, I want to ask, you were so well-positioned because you were seeing this literature as it was coming out. During that time, as you were hearing in their own voice, all of these scientists discussing their work, what was the big promise of the Higgs boson, especially in terms of what it revealed about the universe?
To me there was no promise because I thought that the Higgs boson was definitely there. I thought that DZero had found it, that CDF and DZero had evidence for it. Three standard deviations, this is a lot of support. It’s not five standard deviations, but I don’t understand why five standard deviations is magic in this particular case. You know what you’re looking for. It’s not something that you’re hunting for without reason. You’re looking for a peak, and you have reasons to search for a peak because you’ve excluded other regions of mass of the Higgs boson. So, it seemed to me that it was a foregone conclusion that there was nothing else that could explain why the standard model was doing so well. If there were no Higgs boson, there would be no way to understand all these things we’ve measured in support of the standard model. So, to me, it was not a big deal. To me, the reason for the LHC was to find other particles, to find particles that we don’t know about, that we don’t have in our pocket, like dark matter. There were theories available for that, but they didn’t seem to agree with the data up to 2 TeV or so. And that’s the mystery and the problem. It’s just like the ISR, which was constructed at the wrong energy. There was nothing to be found there unless you searched very, very long and very, very hard. And people didn’t have that kind of patience for such plans.
Now, as I’m sure you know, in the popular press there was a lot of hype around the Higgs boson calling it the “God particle.”
Oh, that’s bull.
[laugh] I’m curious—yeah. I know that many physicists don’t like that term. Where did that God particle nomenclature come from and why?
Oh, that was one of Leon Lederman’s contributions. He was going to title his book “that damned boson” or something like that. But his publisher didn’t think that would sell, so they played around, and it became the God particle, because it has something to do with creation. Without that Higgs boson, we wouldn’t be here, and we wouldn’t have created God, right? So, there it goes. So that’s probably the reason why it’s called the God particle.
Right. But the Higgs boson is the only thing that gives the particles mass. Without mass, we’re not here.
If the Higgs boson were not there, we just couldn’t understand how we can be here. So, there had to be something like the Higgs boson. And then, there also have to be other particles to make it simpler to understand why the Higgs boson mass isn’t something like the Planck mass of 1019 but only 125 GeV. Because, eventually, at high energies, the mass of the Higgs boson goes up and up and up, unless you cut it off. And the only way to cut it off is through some theoretical idea. So far, we haven’t found the right one, and nobody seems to know which one is best. So, a lot of things have to be looked at.
Do you think this is achievable at some point in the future, to understand this?
I hope so. I mean, the high-luminosity LHC will provide a factor of 30 or more luminosity, and that’s what they’re going to try to use to find the smallest effects in the tails of the proton structure functions to produce the particles that we hope to see. But unless we get those high energies we can’t do that. That’s why the LHC was not as good as the SSC Super-collider by at least about a factor of three .
Do you ever think that an SSC type of facility will ever be built? Maybe in Japan or China?
Well, China keeps talking about it, but you know how reliable China has been, so it’s not clear. I mean, I hope that they would be doing that, but it wouldn’t be in the US.
It would not be in the US? You don’t think it’ll ever happen here?
I don’t think so. If there’s some clever invention or something found in the e+e– system then maybe we’d try that, but even that’s only hope.
But a 10-billion-dollar facility, you just don’t see that happening here?
Right. But you need “only” 10 billion dollars. If you were willing to spend 3 billion dollars 30 years or 40 years ago, then you should be willing to spend 10 billion now. That’s just thecost of inflation.
In 1988, at least the Cold War was still going on.
Yes. So, you had an enemy that we could fight against. Now we have lots of enemies, because nobody likes us anymore.
But we can’t fight with them.
So, Tom, despite being fired, you continue to do editorial work?
Yes, I still enjoy that. I’ve been doing less and less because I get involved in projects like helping a guy with his book on medical physics and things like that. And I also have been writing the story of my life that my son has been pressing me for years, and that’s getting along, too.
Now, when did you retire from Rochester?
Well, I never did, so that’s why I’m still a professor.
You’re not emeritus?
No. I’m a professor without obligations. [laugh] There are several of us like that. It was a choice that my chairman made for me. It was clever, because that way I could apply for grants if I wanted to. But now that I’m essentially crippled, so all that’s immaterial.
And when did you move to Maryland?
I moved to Maryland in 2004 when I was asked to manage the US LHC program.
Because it was headquartered out of Maryland?
No, no. It was close to the DOE in Germantown.
Oh, the DOE?
Yes. So, the DOE is where I lodged myself, and the NSF contributed to the LHC, so I had an assistant manager at the NSF, who turned out to be the previous LHC manager, Moishe Pripstein.
And where were most of the meetings for the collaboration? Were they at NSF?
No, some of them were at the NSF and some at the organization that ran Fermilab, the URA.
But they were also outside of Washington when we met at various locations to go over programs. We even had a meeting at the University of Texas at Arlington, as I recall.
Have the collaborations been mostly productive in your view?
Oh, yes. Certainly. Very much so.
What remains to be done for these collaborations?
The science has to be there. If the science isn’t there, it’s all going to vanish—well, we’re finding out that there may still be some interesting B physics that may point the way for us. We will see. There are lots of nibbles about ratios of production and decay cross probabilities of B particles into two muons relative to two electrons. So, B physics is of great interest to see if there’s a violation of lepton universality. That could give us some idea of what’s happening, if something like that happens. And I hope that, within a year or so, that’ll happen. One of the scientists working on that is my former student, Sheldon Stone and his colleague at Maryland, Hassan Jawahery. Hassan should have shared the Panofsky prize with Sheldon but somehow the selection committee decided that Sheldon should get the Panofsky prize on his own, but that’s the way life is. I think I mentioned to you that I have another student who’s up for the Panofsky prize.
I’m not going to tell you.
[laugh] It’s a secret. He was just nominated.
So, Tom, now that we’re up to the present, I’d like to ask you, for the last portion of our chat, some retrospective questions about your career. The first one is: At what point—was it in high school or in college—when you knew that you wanted to spend your whole life and career in physics? Did you have a moment when you said, this is who I am, this is what I want to do? Or do you describe it more as a gradual process?
It was certainly a very gradual process, because I started off in high school taking a chemistry course with Mr. Prinz at Bronx Science, and he made it seem like chemistry was the most interesting subject in the world. It delt with using quantum mechanics to find the orbitals of electrons in hydrogen and so on. That was magic, absolutely magic. And, when I got to Queens College, I took another chemistry course for majors, in which a similar thing occurred, but at a slightly higher intellectual level. That was taught by Alex Marion who was also a very influential person because he seemed so smart and elegant in his teaching. And so, I fell in love with chemistry and I kept taking chemistry. And then, in my junior year, I took a physics course with Herb Muether, who became my first mentor until I went to Brookhaven Lab. He graduated with me from Queens. He went to Stony Brook and I went to Yale. But he taught me in a course on 20th century physics about J. J. Thomson’s work, measurements of the charge to mass ratio of the electron, and wonderful things such as Einstein’s special relativity, and it just blew my mind! And I thought, Hey, this sounds like the thing that I should be doing. This is the physics that’s really great! So, I fell in love with particle physics and it turned my head.
So it was Herb Muether who turned me to physics, but I had to finish my chemistry degree, or I wouldn’t have graduated.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough courses in physics.
So, your perspective on particle physics really goes back to the 1960s. And if you want to look at this whole period, these past 60 years in particle physics, what period of time do you think was most exciting, the most foundational, the period where most of the discoveries were being made in particle physics over the last 60 years? What five-year span was really, like, “it” for you, the biggest moments in particle physics?
Well, they have been getting better and better. Because, right now, we’re dealing with very fundamental issues, just quarks and subnuclear particles. We’re dealing with true building blocks of nature, I guess. We’re at the bottom of it. But, initially, it was most fun because I was young, and we had discoveries almost every day that we could argue about and discuss. But some were empty because we were dealing with hadrons. The hadrons don’t tell you very much, unfortunately, except they did tell us that there was a hard core to the hadron. And the hard core had to do with quark and gluon substructure. And so, once that transition took place, there was a totally new line of thinking. And that took place—I guess during the most dramatic time in my life in 1974 when I was on the program committee at SLAC and the J/psi was discovered. That was fantastic.
But what was it that Panofsky had proved to the world in 1974 and 1975?
What did he (or they) prove? Well, they showed that there’s more to the universe than just our common bodies and experiences had previously indicated. The SLAC and BNL laboratories found largely unexpected objects that, except for several theorists in the know, nobody ever expected to find. They found new quarks to be understood. That’s how my Rochester colleague Ed Thorndike became famous, because he headed the group at Cornell for a while that worked on those discoveries of “c” and “b” quarks and D and B mesons. In the following years, the intensity of the physics grew, and we have become more able scientists as a result of that. So, certainly, in these last ten years that we’ve seen “nothing” at Fermilab nor at the LHC that was mouthwatering, it was still exciting because the calculations came out to be right, and that may happen again. You can trust QCD now to more than being just at hand-waving precision. As for our old experiment on direct photon production, when comparisons with QCD indicated discrepancies by a factor 2 and thought to be the best you would ever do. It turned out that as we went to higher energies and restricted ourselves to regions where QCD is supposed to work well, remembering that QCD is only supposed to work truly well at infinite energy scales, which are hard to reach; but the higher you go, the safer you are from higher-order corrections. And that’s been a beautiful development, and CERN has done much of that. They did that also with their initialization of the validity of the standard model through their “boring” but necessary e+e- measurements at the LEP collider during the end of the past century, at which time the correctness of the theory was validated.
That too was fabulous. And so, you can do great things, learn many things, by proceeding with care. But it would certainly be nicer to be able to find something. So, I hope that in the next couple of years we do find the missing objects, either dark matter or some other objects that can tell us why it is that the Higgs mechanism works so well.
So, what you’re saying is that now is just as exciting a time to be in particle physics as any time over the past 60 years?
Oh, yes. Because now we don’t have a theory if there’s no Higgs boson. But we do have a Higgs boson, and, in fact, its properties agree with the theory. [laugh] So there’s something really screwy because the agreement of data with theory is much better than it should be. The Higgs boson mass should be close to the mass of the most massive objects in the universe, e.g., the Planck scale. That would be a factor of about 1017 larger than it appears to be. That is an incredible discrepancy. We have no idea why things work as well as they do, and that means that we’ve got great discoveries yet to come, but when they’ll come, that’s another issue. But I’m sure this new phyics has to be there. In fact, if these new objects don’t appear below the TeV scale, they probably will not be able to save us.
So, I’ll ask a similar question. If you were in a position to advise a graduate student looking to make a career in particle physics today, what would your advice be on the most impactful things, the most important things to work on at the beginning of a career in particle physics now?
Well, I would suggest that the student should work on issues related to the smallest distances.
That’s where you’re likely to learn new things. So, it has to be something where you can really see fundamental objects. And how you get there is another issue, whether that’s e+e- accelerators or colliding of galaxies, or what have you. But fundamental issues are the things that count. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn that when I was a graduate student. That came to me much later. But I had fun when I was a graduate student because there was, again, no theory. So right now, we really have no fundamental theory that we can believe for all of particle physics because it’s internally inconsistent. Below a mass of order of 1TeV, there should be objects to counter the huge mass of the top quark and cancel out the impact of the top quark coupling to the mass of the Higgs boson, but we have not as yet observed such an object. So that means that we can’t cancel out top quark contributions to the Higgs mass. If you can’t do that, then the cutoff mass keeps growing because there may be other mechanisms or other objects that offer a resolution. And so, it’s a real puzzle. That’s the fundamental issue. Why does the Higgs boson work so well when it’s so internally inconsistent? Our anxiety arises from the fact there is nothing around to combat the top quark loop that causes this problem.
Tom, do you see any aspect of your work as being most significant above any others, or do you not think of things like that?
I don’t know enough about the other fields to say how significant—
No. I’m saying, in terms of all the work that you have done, all the projects that you have been a part of, do you think that any one project has been most significant in terms of advancing the field?
Well, I think they’ve all been very important, because that’s how you learn, you stand on the shoulders of previous giants. So, no, I view the question as being: Have you done the best science at the time that work on that issue was regarded as important? Right now, we can do things with computers that we could barely imagine 10 years ago. And that’s providing the major part of the discovery effort at the LHC. We can make these damned calculations in a hurry, and have enormous resources for doing that. So that’s what makes it possible. You can model things that you couldn’t have done before. And from the modeling, you can learn the properties of these objects. Because, when you model something, you also learn what these objects are telling you. They’re telling you whether there should be some more here or there, and nothing over here. And you get that from modeling the data. So, once you have the data and you have the ability to do some work on it from a theoretical or from a phenomenological point of view that reinforces the data, it makes the data more valuable. And so I think this is extraordinarily important. So, the more we calculate, the better we are off. We can see small differences in different options for particle physics. I am very positive about any field that thinks seriously about its future. And I think particle physicists have done that. We’ve made scales of improvement and we’ve resolved to do certain projects only at the price of others that we’ve abandoned. Not enough probably have been abandoned, but we mean well.
Well, Tom, I think for my last question as a capstone to this wonderful discussion with you, which I really appreciate, is: Looking to the future, what are you most excited about personally? You’re still involved, you’re still at work, you’re still contributing. What do you want to accomplish in your future, and what are you most excited about in terms of the things that the field can accomplish looking at the next 10, 20, 30 years?
First of all, let me just state that the community has already told us that finding the top quark at Fermilab and the Higgs boson at the LHC was important through the award of the yearly EPS physics prizes to the four experiments. But I think the issue of dark matter is very important. So, the experiments that are being designed to understand dark matter are important—in fact, one of my former students (Juan Estrada) is working on those kinds of issues. He’s turned into an astrophysicist. He was a theorist as a starting graduate student in Argentina, became an experimenter working with us at Fermilab, and now he’s off on his own studies of dark matter with very clever ideas about using charged-coupled devices (CCDs) that he keeps improving. So, I think dark matter is certainly one thing which we can focus on. We can get information on that from high-energy accelerators because we can look at those diagrams, calculate them to ever greater accuracy, because there are fundamental issues involved. I think that is probably a very important field, and it’s being supported very well right now. For years, it was difficult to get the Department of Energy to start these programs, but eventually they have. I was on my last sabbatical at Imperial College in 2001, I think I may have mentioned that, and worked on the ZEP-III experiment, which was located in the underground Boulby Mine in North Eastern England (in Yorkieland). I thought this was a great direction to follow. And, when I got back home, I talked one of my colleagues (Frank Wolfs) into looking at that. And eventually he bit, and now he’s the head of the electronics for the LUX collaboration, which is a worldwide experiment looking at very small and large masses to find possible sources of dark matter. There are various issues involved in all of these experiments—the way dark matter can be handled from different directions is very appealing. And, as time develops, I think we’re going to find something. We better find something helpful, for if not, we’ll prove that we don’t understand anything, even the astrophysicists will get confused.
That’s the optimist in you talking, we’ll find the dark matter, we’ll understand it.
Yes, I hope that’s true. Because that was the reason for building the SSC, and the reason also for building the LHC. The Higgs boson wasn’t the important issue. Everybody thought it was there. Finding it would be an observation and not a true discovery—just like the top quark.
I mean, scientists used to “find” Higgs bosons yearly at the colliders at CERN, and then they’d have to take that back because they were out of reach of the discovery. So, I think that’s probably where we’ll find something. I don’t know which vehicle would be best to use for this. It should be studied everywhere in every aspect of its existence.
Well, we’ll have to stay tuned for that.
[laugh] Tom, it’s been so wonderful speaking with you. I want to thank you so much for sharing all of your insights and perspectives with me, sometimes unvarnished, which is always great. [laugh] And I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Well, thank you very much for the interview and for providing editorial assistance in the form of your hard-working colleague Jon Phillips.