Universities Research Association (U.S.)

Universities Research Association (U.S.)

URA

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Abstract

This interview with physicist Robert Diebold is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. In it, Diebold recalls his introduction to the SSC project at the 1982 Snowmass workshop and his subsequent move to the Department of Energy, as well as his perspective on the site-selection process for the SSC. He states that Texas was the standout site and that there was not a clear-cut second-place site, and he further notes that, while Texas had political advantages, the technical advantages of the site drove the high evaluation of it. Diebold also discusses differences in DOE oversight structures around the SSC under Energy Secretary John Herrington and Energy Secretary James Watkins, and the long effort to implement a cost-and-schedule-control system on the project. He reflects on how leadership of the SSC was structured and the people selected for key roles. The interview concludes with a discussion of factors driving cost increases on the project and their impact on relations between DOE and project leaders. Diebold posits that SSC Laboratory Director Roy Schwitters’s management style led to a deterioration in those relations.

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
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 general manager. Near the conclusion of the second interview, Schwitters reflects on his goal of creating a new scientific community around the laboratory.