Particles (Nuclear physics)

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Thomas Ramos, a physicist detailed to the Principal Associate Director for Weapons and Complex Integration at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Ramos discusses his current work writing an unclassified history of the weapons program at Livermore and the broad perspective this has given him on the Laboratory from the postwar era to the present. Ramos recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and his military enlistment after high school, which led to a tour in South Korea and then an order from West Point to pursue a master’s degree in nuclear physics. He discusses his graduate work at MIT and his research on bubble chamber experiments at Fermilab and Argonne before being ordered back to West Point to teach nuclear science. Ramos describes the opportunities leading to his appointment at Livermore four years later and his initial work on the X-ray laser program and the origins of the SDI program. He discusses the impact of the end of the Cold War on the Laboratory and the extent to which Reagan’s military spending accelerated the Soviet collapse. Ramos discusses his work at the Pentagon as a legislative affairs officer for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy, and he explains Livermore’s increasing involvement in monitoring nuclear proliferation among terrorist groups and rogue states. He describes his transition to counterproliferation as a result of the end of nuclear testing at Livermore and the signification of the creation of the National Ignition Facility. Ramos describes the transition to his current work documenting Livermore’s history, and he reflect broadly at the end of the interview on how Livermore has adapted to evolving security threats over its long history.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Murdock Gilchriese, Senior Physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. He discusses his contribution to the major project, LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) and the broader search for dark matter, he recounts his parents’ missionary work, and his upbringing in Los Angeles and then in Tucson. Gilchriese describes his early interests in science and his undergraduate experience at the University of Arizona, where he developed is expertise in experimental high energy physics. He discusses his graduate work at SLAC where he worked with Group B headed by David Leith, and he describes his research in hadron spectroscopy. Gilchriese explains his postdoctoral appointment at the University of Pennsylvania sited at Fermilab to do neutrino physics before he accepted his first faculty position at Cornell to help create an e+/e- collider and the CLEO experiment. He discusses the inherent risk of leaving Cornell to work for the SSC project with the central design group, and then as head of the Research Division. Gilchriese describes his subsequent work on the solenoidal detector and his transfer to Berkeley Lab to succeed George Trilling and to join the ATLAS collaboration. He explains the migration of talent and ideas from the SSC to CERN and discusses the research overlap of ATLAS and CMS and how this accelerated the discovery of the Higgs. Gilchriese describes his next interest in getting into cosmology and searching for dark matter as a deep underground science endeavor, and he explains why advances in the field have been so difficult to achieve. At the end of the interview, Gilchriese describes his current work on CMB-S4, his advisory work helping LBNL navigate the pandemic, and he reflects on the key advances in hardware that have pushed experimental physics forward during his career.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Maury Tigner, Hans A. Bethe Professor of Physics Emeritus at Cornell. He discusses the origins of the "Handbook of Accelerator Physics and Engineering," and he provides perspective on the prospects of China's contributions for the future of high energy physics. Tigner recounts his childhood as the son of parents in the clergy, and he discusses his undergraduate education in physics at RPI and his interest in working on the betatron. He explains the opportunities that led to his acceptance to the graduate program in physics at Cornell to work under the direction of Bob Wilson and Boyce McDaniel. Tigner explains his decision to remain at Cornell for his postdoctoral research to assume responsibility of the 2.2 GeV Synchrotron, and he describes his initial research at DESY in Germany. He describes his work developing superconducting radiofrequency technology, and the NSF role in supporting this effort. Tigner discusses his work on the design team for the SSC and the impact of the cancellation of ISABELLE, and he narrates Panofsky's decision to replace him with Roy Schwitters. He describes his return to Cornell, and he conveys that despite the structural challenges, there is much to remain optimistic about in high energy physics.

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
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
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 general 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
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
Location
Video conference
Abstract

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