Colliders (Nuclear physics)

Interviewed by
Steven Weiss
Interview date
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. In it, former Rep. Howard Wolpe, a Democrat from Michigan, discusses his opposition to the project through to his departure from Congress in 1992. He states that he was skeptical of the project prior to his engagement with it as chair of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science Committee. Wolpe and the subcommittee’s top Republican, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, used their investigative powers and platform to build a case against the SSC, and Wolpe indicates that Rep. George Brown, the chair of the full committee and an SSC supporter, did not interfere with them. Wolpe recalls his dismay over the SSC’s management and the failure to garner international contributions. He reflects that defense of the project came mainly from the Texas delegation, which he remembers as being well organized. Wolpe also praises the work of his staff members on the SSC matter as well as other oversight matters, such as management of national labs and the integrity of the National Science Foundation’s workforce statistics. He notes that after his departure from Congress, staff member Bob Roach was a key player in moving oversight to the House Energy and Commerce Committee under Rep. John Dingell. Wolpe further states that opposition within the physics community to the SSC helped him deflect accusations that he was not a strong supporter of basic research.

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Location
Washington, D.C.
Abstract

This interview was conducted as part of the research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. In it, former Democratic Louisiana senator Bennett Johnston discusses the politics surrounding the SSC, primarily from his point of view as chair of the Energy-Water Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, though he also oversaw the project in his role as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He is accompanied in the interview by former Appropriations Committee senior staff member Proctor Jones. Johnston discusses the budgetary politics surrounding the SSC and opines that it was a convenient target for lawmakers casting themselves as budget hawks. He states that he did not regard growing cost estimates as indicative of mismanagement, partly because early estimates were unreliable, nor was he perturbed by an absence of foreign contributions. He suggests the project suffered from a lack of strong supporters in the House who could make the case for it on its scientific merits in the way he did in the Senate. Jones recalls that Johnston pressed the Clinton administration to express support for the project, and Johnston questions the story that the administration proposed a choice between the SSC and the space station. Jones and Johnston state that they did not object to the administration’s proposed stretch-out of the project schedule, despite its likely cost impacts, because it would have kept year-to-year costs down. Johnston criticizes scientists who argued the project would detract from smaller-scale science, stating they misunderstood how appropriations are allocated.

Interviewed by
Lillian Hoddeson & Michael Riordan
Interview date
Location
Universities Research Association, Washington, D.C.
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. It primarily covers physicist John (Jack) Marburger’s experiences as the president of the State University of New York at Stony Brook between 1980 and 1994, including his service between 1988 and 1994 as chairman of the Board of Trustees of Universities Research Association (URA), the consortium that operated Fermilab and oversaw construction of the SSC. Marburger discusses his perspective on the termination of the Isabelle collider project at nearby Brookhaven National Lab and his service on URA’s Council of Presidents, as well as URA’s development of proposals to manage and operate the SSC in 1987 and 1988. He recounts the unusualness of the Department of Energy’s stipulation of a teaming arrangement with an industrial partner, linking it to a changing management culture at DOE associated with environmental contamination at nuclear weapons production sites. He also offers detailed memories of the selection process for the SSC Lab Director and the SSC Central Design Group’s discontent over the process. Reflecting on construction of the SSC, he criticizes DOE oversight of the SSC project as heavy-handed and disruptive. He remembers URA’s resistance to pressure to dismiss SSC Lab Director Roy Schwitters as criticism of the project grew, but he also suggests that Schwitters should have been paired with an experienced high-level executive. In addition, Marburger recalls deliberations behind major changes to the SSC’s magnet apertures and beam injection energy, as well as behind a decision not to descope the project. As the interview concludes, he opines that hype surrounding the project detracted from its credibility with key players in Congress and the scientific community.

Interviewed by
Lillian Hoddeson
Interview date
Location
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. It also covers a range of other topics concerning George (Jay) Keyworth’s service between 1981 and 1985 as science advisor to President Ronald Reagan. Keyworth recounts his previous career at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, his selection as science advisor, his access to White House policymaking via counselor to the president Ed Meese, and his own interactions with Reagan. He notes that Reagan had a faith in technological ingenuity as part of a broadly optimistic outlook on humanity. Keyworth also discusses his strong relationship with engineer and executive David Packard as well as deliberations concerning stealth technology, missile basing, the AIDS crisis, and space policy. He expresses disdain for the space station and space shuttle programs and his regret that the Reagan administration did not do more to reform NASA. He recalls spending political capital securing White House support for basic research, including the SSC and funding increases for the National Science Foundation. He argues that Brookhaven National Lab’s Isabelle collider was poorly justified whereas the SSC was an ambitious and inspiring project. Keyworth asserts that he was able to commit the White House Office of Management and Budget to pursuing the SSC before he was assigned full-time to working on the Strategic Defense Initiative ballistic missile defense program in 1983.

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan and Steven Weiss
Interview date
Location
Washington, D. C.
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider project. It mainly addresses Adm. James Watkins’s experiences as Secretary of Energy in President George H. W. Bush’s administration, focusing on his perception of the value and management of the SSC project. Watkins had previously served as Chief of Naval Operations (the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. Navy) and as chair of President Ronald Reagan’s Commission on the HIV Epidemic. Watkins recounts that his earliest months as secretary were dominated by the expansion of environmental remediation at Department of Energy nuclear weapons production sites and that he regarded DOE project management capabilities as poor compared to the Defense Department. He states that he first focused on the SSC when a change in its magnet design precipitated an increase in projected cost and that he questioned whether a design change was necessary. He asserts that early SSC cost estimates were unrealistic and that international contributions should have been secured earlier. He reflects that his imposition of his own oversight structure on the project stemmed from his lack of confidence in scientists or DOE to manage large-budget projects. Watkins stresses his own high regard for the SSC and scientific research, and he recollects Bush’s personal support for the project and the difficulties encountered in maintaining congressional support and gaining support from Japan. He castigates the physical sciences community for infighting and criticizes scientists’ skills in advocating for themselves politically, pointing also to his own work on behalf of ocean scientists following his time as secretary.

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview dates
March 22, 1997 & March 31, 1998
Location
University of Texas at Austin
Abstract

This pair of interviews was conducted as part of the research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. The first interview begins by examining Schwitters’s perspective as leader of the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) while the initial design phases of the SSC project were unfolding, including his preparation of briefing materials on the project and service on its Board of Overseers. Schwitters also discusses early SSC cost estimates, his service on the National Academies site-evaluation committee, and his selection as director of the SSC Laboratory. He addresses the disappointment of some that Maury Tigner was not chosen, negotiations for Tigner to be deputy director or project manager, and Tigner’s departure from the project. Schwitters reflects on considerations in the development of the management & operations contract proposal, personnel-recruiting difficulties, and the tension between industrial and scientific styles of project management, including Tom Bush’s management of the SSC magnet program. The first interview concludes with a detailed account of difficulties in working with the Department of Energy, and particularly Office of Energy Research Director Robert Hunter, in assembling the lab’s senior management in early 1989.

The second interview begins with Schwitters recalling the selection of Texas as the SSC site, the disappointment of some that Fermilab was not chosen, and his own willingness to relocate to any of the final candidate sites. Schwitters also discusses the recruitment of Helen Edwards to lead the SSC accelerator program and Tigner’s preferred choices for various key roles at the lab. Schwitters reflects on difficulties surrounding magnet development, Bush’s poor relationship with Edwards, and his own desire to avoid design risk and a protracted accelerator commissioning. He discusses in detail the decision to redesign the magnets with a wider aperture, including his conviction on the basis of simulations that it was necessary, and the factors driving the growth of cost estimates around the redesign. Schwitters also addresses considerations involving proposals to descope the SSC to reduce costs, difficulties in assembling a strong management team, and the shortcomings of Sverdrup as a construction subcontractor. He also reflects on his relationship with the Department of Energy, Energy Secretary Watkins’s reaction to cost increases, and Ed Siskin’s performance as DOE’s project manager. Near the conclusion of the second interview, Schwitters reflects on his goal of creating a new scientific community around the laboratory.

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Location
SLAC, Stanford University
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider project. It mainly addresses parts of Sir Christopher Llewellyn Smith’s career prior to his time as CERN Director-General, a position he held from 1994 to 1999, focusing on international perspectives surrounding the proposal and construction of large collider facilities. It covers his service as the scientific advisor to the 1984 Kendrew inquiry, which assessed UK membership in CERN, and to another inquiry, led by Anatole Abragam, which assessed CERN’s management. The interview extensively covers CERN’s preparations to build what became the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in the tunnel where the Large Electron-Positron (LEP) collider was built, and how those preparations were influenced by the U.S. move to build the SSC and, later, by the SSC’s declining political fortunes and termination. Llewellyn Smith offers his perspectives on whether it would have been politically feasible in the 1980s to build a “world accelerator,” as well as on Japanese perceptions of U.S. plans for the SSC and the prospect that the U.S. could have secured contributions to the project from Japan. He also discusses early cost estimates for the LHC and their role in efforts to secure support for building it. The interview concludes with discussions of how CERN, the SSC, and the ITER fusion facility project were organized, and of the distinct roles of major facility directors and project managers.

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Location
Seattle, Washington
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider project. It primarily addresses Princeton University physicist William Happer’s time as the Director of the Office of Energy Research at the Department of Energy, a position he held from May 1991 to May 1993. This period covers the ramp up of construction on the project and the growth of congressional opposition to it, as well as the transition from the administration of President George H. W. Bush to that of President Bill Clinton. Happer addresses his own support for the project, other scientific efforts competing for priority, the political dynamics he perceived surrounding the SSC, and his views of the management structure for the SSC that DOE implemented prior to his arrival. He observes that the management and fate of the SSC were not especially unusual in the context of other expensive DOE projects and discusses at length the failure to secure international support for the SSC, particularly the difficulty in making the project a top-priority issue in diplomacy with Japan. Happer also offers his perception of the Clinton administration’s lukewarm support for the project, the possibility it could have been politically saved, and the dangers it would have faced if it continued beyond 1993. He also reflects on whether large-scale projects such as the SSC are urgent to pursue, defends Roy Schwitters’s performance as SSC Laboratory Director, and shares his views of the ferocity of the SSC’s main opponents in Congress and of the role of Congress’s General Accounting Office in building the case against it.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Savas Dimopoulos, Professor of Physics at Stanford University. The interview begins with Dimopoulos reflecting on how the pandemic has affected his research, and he gives his initial impressions on the g-2 muon anomaly experiment at Fermilab. He discusses the push and pull between theory and experimentation when searching for physics beyond the Standard Model. Dimopoulos then recounts his early childhood in Turkey, where his family was part of the Greek minority. Due to ethnic tensions, he fled with his family to Athens as refugees. Dimopoulos remembers his early exposure to math and physics and being torn between the two. He describes moving to the US at age 18 for his undergraduate studies at University of Houston. Dimopoulos then recounts his inclination toward theory and his acceptance at University of Chicago to pursue his graduate studies under Yoichiro Nambu. He discusses his post-doctoral appointment at Columbia which then led to an offer from Stanford. He explains his research in baryogenesis and technicolor, as well as his brief time at Harvard with Howard Georgi. Dimopoulos talks about his return to Stanford, his work at CERN, and his research on large extra dimensions with Dvali and Arkani-Hamed. He concludes the interview with predictions for the future of physics beyond the Standard Model.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Herman B. White, physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. White recounts his childhood in Tuskegee, Alabama and growing up during segregation. He discusses his early interests in science and his decision to enroll at Earlham College in Indiana as an undergraduate. White then describes his time at Michigan State University as a graduate student, during which he also held a position as a resident research associate at Argonne National Laboratory. Dr. White talks about his transition from nuclear physics to particle physics upon completing his master’s degree at MSU. He discusses the events that led him to accept a position at Fermilab rather than immediately pursue a PhD. White was the first African-American scientist appointed at Fermilab, and he recounts his early years there being mentored by Raymond Stefanski. He then describes his research fellowship at Yale and his non-traditional path to getting a PhD in 1991 from Florida State University. White talks about returning to Fermilab to work on kaon physics, and his eventual involvement in the Tevatron experiment. Toward the end of the interview, White reflects on the changes and trends he has seen in the research being done at Fermilab over the years, as well as his involvement in the National Society of Black Physicists.