Wilson and Fermilab Reading

Source: https://history.fnal.gov/testimony.html

On April 17, 1969, Robert R. Wilson testified in front of Congress’ Joint Committee on Atomic Energy as part of the AEC Authorizing Legislation for FY 1970.

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SENATOR PASTORE. Here we are. We have these Senators . . . going all over the country showing how many people are starving, how many people are hungry, how many people live in rat-ridden houses.

Here we are, asking for $250 million to build a machine that is an experimental machine, in fundamental high energy physics, and we cannot be told exactly what we are trying to find out through that machine.

DR. WILSON. Senator Pastore, I and my colleagues will be spending a good part of our lives building and using this machine. We have a deep and very personal commitment to it. May I try to explain what it is we are trying to find out.

We are building this machine for specific purposes as well as for general exploration. In the first place we expect to get answers to questions that men have been asking for a long time.

One of these questions has to do with simplicity. Is there a simple understanding of nature? Are there a few elementary particles which could explain all of the complexity of matter and of life?

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There is another aspect of our study. This concerns the different kinds of forces. Three of these are now quite familiar: gravitational forces, electromagnetic forces, nuclear forces. The understanding of these three forces has been all important to our past and will be all important to our future, to the future of all men. There is also a mysterious fourth kind of force called the “weak” force.

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Now, forces, sir are the movers of the atoms, the basis of all motion and hence of life and of technology. When I was a student, the nuclear force was considered to be an academic matter, a force which had nothing to do with our lives. We studied it only in a quest for simplicity, just for the pure understanding of it. It turns out that this knowledge has made vast amounts of energy available. A deeper understanding and a more fundmental understanding of the “weak” force could be as relevant to our lives as the other forces, not only in the gratification we will have in the knowledge itself, but in the technology that will inevitably come from that understanding.

SENATOR PASTORE. The thing that bothers me is that some of the same people who are looking for these unknown, imaginary forces that may be real, are the same people who are opposed to the ABM because they say it will not work.

What will work, and what will not work? You say that we are looking for something that will explain the forces of nature. Could you be a little more explicit about that? In what way will it affect nature, do you think?

DR. WILSON. In looking for the nature of the forces that would hold the particles together in the nucleus-


DR. WILSON. We did find out how to control the nucleus, how to make nuclear energy. That is what this committee is all about. Nuclear energy has affected nature. . . . Had we not built . . . previous nuclear accelerators, we would not have nuclear energy today. We would have more pollution of the air we breathe because more coal would be burned, while it lasted.

Because of the kind of research that we are now starting, men will eventually be able to enjoy a richer life, in an intellectual and spiritual sense certainly, but also in their physical well-being.

SENATOR PASTORE. Is there anything connected in the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?

DR. WILSON. No, sir; I do not believe so.

SENATOR PASTORE. Nothing at all?

DR. WILSON. Nothing at all.

SENATOR PASTORE. It has no value in that respect?

DR. WILSON. It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with those things.

It has nothing to do with the military. I am sorry.

SENATOR PASTORE. Don’t be sorry for it.

DR. WILSON. I am not, but I cannot in honesty say it has any such application.

SENATOR PASTORE. Is there anything here that projects us in a position of being competitive with the Russians, with regard to this race?

DR. WILSON. Only from a long-range point of view, of a developing technology. Otherwise, it has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about.

In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.

SENATOR PASTORE. Is there any necessity for pushing for completion of this accelerator so that you will have a beam by June of 1972?

DR. WILSON. To me, it is like planting a tree. You know the story about the master who asked his servant to plant a tree in the afternoon. “I am too busy to do it then,” said the servant, “besides, there is no hurry for it will take 20 years to grow.” “In that case, plant it this morning,” replied the wise master.

SENATOR PASTORE. When you consider priorities, I know exactly what you mean, provided we have the money.

After all, when you have people who are hungry, the big question here is: Is it more important to put a man on the moon, or to fill the stomachs of our starving children?

DR. WILSON. It is most important to fill the stomachs of our starving children.

SENATOR PASTORE. You would put that as the first priority, would you not?

DR. WILSON. Yes, sir.


DR. WILSON. But it is also important to get on with the things that make life worth living, and, fortunately, it is possible to do these things in a manner which also contributes to the feeding of hungry children. We have seen great developments in the science of elementary particles in this country-a golden age of physics. We should not lose the tremendous momentum that has built up in this field. We should not pass up this opportunity. We have a great American tradition. The moment to move is here. We have the men who are ready and enthusiastic to get on with it. If we falter, I can see the whole effort dispersed and lost.
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SENATOR PASTORE. Essentially, the major purpose of this bevatron is for fundamental high-energy physics research, which is an educational and academic process, is it not?

DR. WILSON. And a cultural process, yes, but with the firm expectation that technological developments will come. Directly, but after a very long time; from the results of the research will come new technology. However, there will be a bonus that will come indirectly but very soon, through the technological inventions, that is “Spin-off,” that results whenever such work is done.

Thus, because we are doing extremely difficult technical things, and because we are working in a strange kind of research, we know from past experience that new techniques inevitably develop, techniques which have paid, more than paid, for the cost of the basic research that was not pointed to such developments.

The klystron of the linac at Stanford, the vacuum pumps for the early cyclotron research, and the high-frequency oscillator tubes which were so valuable during the war, computer techniques, all these resulted from work on accelerators.

SENATOR PASTORE. Would you say as far as you know, the whole scientific community is behind this, without a dissent?

DR. WILSON. They do not dissent to me, sir.

CHAIRMAN HOLIFIELD. You know, Dr. Wilson, as I listened to your eloquent appeal for this, my mind went back before the days of Enrico Fermi to a time when St. Paul stood before King Agrippa, and King Agrippa said to St. Paul that he wanted him to explain his belief in the Christian principles. St. Paul was so eloquent that when he got through, King Agrippa said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

I am saying that, leaving out the “almost.” I am saying, “Thou hast persuadest me to support this to the best of my ability.”

SENATOR PASTORE. That is fine, but I was not worrying about Agrippa. I was a little worried about the taxpayers a-griping.

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DR. WILSON. We do expect to pay our way, Senator Pastore. When we spend Federal money, the taxpayers’ money, then we have an obligation to give a fair return immediately. One of the things that we are doing, I am sure, is near and dear to your heart. We are taking a very positive stand with regard to racial problems.

We have spent a large amount of time and effort on open housing.

By now, essentially all of the communities in the vicinity of the project, some 20, have passed open housing legislation. We have instituted a training program in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where we have taken young men out of the inner city of Chicago.They came out to our laboratory for a period of orientation. Then we sent them to Oak Ridge for technical training. In 6 months, they will be back with guaranteed jobs, 23 young men.

Twenty percent of our staff are nonwhite. We are going beyond that. Every time we let a contract, we have a prebid conference. We have Mr. Kennard Williams, our equal opportunity officer, read the law to the contractors. We have found them most cooperative, for they are anxious to see a solution to the racial problem too. We have also initiated a program of finding and then spending much of our money with small black industries. In other words, we are directly channeling some of that $250 million so as to help fill those hungry mouths you were describing.
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SENATORE PASTORE. Thank you, Dr. Wilson.