Spark chambers

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Video conference

Interview with Wit Busza, Francis L. Friedman Professor of Physics Emeritus at MIT. He recounts his birth in Romania as his family was escaping Poland at the start of World War II, and his family's subsequent moves to Cyprus and then to British Palestine, where he lived until he was seven, until the family moved to England. He describes the charitable circumstances that allowed him to go to Catholic boarding school, his early interests in science, and the opportunities that led to his undergraduate education in physics at University College in London, where he stayed on for his PhD while doing experiments at CERN working with Franz Heymann. Busza describes the development of spark chambers following the advances allowed by bubble chambers, and his thesis research using the Chew-Low extrapolation to calculate the probability that the proton is a proton plus a pi-zero. He describes meeting Martin Perl and the opportunities that led to his postdoctoral position at SLAC, which he describes in the late 1960s as being full of brilliant people doing the most exciting physics and where he focused on rho proton cross-sections. Busza describes meeting Sam Ting at SLAC which led to Busza's faculty appointment at MIT, where he discovered his talent for teaching. He discusses the complications associated with the discovery of the J/psi and his developing interest in relativistic heavy ion physics, the E178 project at Fermilab to examine what happens when high energy hadrons collide, and the E665 experiment to study quark propagation through nuclear matter. Busza describes the import of the RHIC and PHOBOS collaborations, and he discusses his return to SLAC to focus on WIC and SLD. He describes the global impact of the LHC and CERN, and his satisfaction at being a part of what the DOE called the best nuclear physics group in the country. In the last part of the interview, Busza reflects on the modern advances in atomic and condensed matter physics, which were inconceivable for him to imagine at the beginning of his career, he describes the considerations leading to his retirement, and why, if could re-live his career, he would think harder about being a theorist.