| The Fermilab
for particle physics is a useful presentation of the
history of particle physics highlighting many of the Nobel
Below are a few comments on my own interactions with some Nobel Prize winners in particle physics. As with any set of famous people there are plenty of anecdotes, some on the dark side. It is left as an exercise to seek out some of the tensions surrounding the prizes.
When I arrived at Brookhaven in the early sixties as a Carnegie post-doc the team leader, George Collins, told me to pitch in, everyone was making fabulous discoveries. Skeptically I suggested that at least one person must have worked hard with nothing to show for it. Collins resisted but eventually admitted Val Fitch was terribly diligent but hadn't hit pay dirt. In 1980 Fitch won the Nobel prize with Jim Cronin for the discovery of CP violation.
Shortly after Fermilab came on line in the mid seventies, a particle was discovered almost simultaneously by Sam Ting and his collaborators at Brookhaven (they called it the J) and Burt Richter and his team at SLAC (the psi particle). These two men received the Nobel Prize in 1976 for the discovery. Incredibly when these discoveries were reported in the prestigious magazine Science a letter writer complained that the government was wasting research money duplicating results. I sent back a letter explaining that the two teams were using entirely different approaches (Science V187, 1026 1975). Earlier, in 1970 Leon Lederman proposed an experiment for Fermilab along the lines of one he had done at Brookhaven that was similar to Ting's. (Ultimately Lederman became my boss when he took over as director of Fermilab.) I reviewed his proposal for the Laboratory and asked him about a bump in the Brookhaven mass spectrum. I recall him laughing it off. It could have been the J particle making its' first appearance. Leon went on to do the experiment at Fermilab and discovered the Upsilon, an even heavier particle. Parenthetically, Ting, already very famous, had lived above me and my family at DESY in Hamburg, Germany in 1967-68. By the early seventies Lederman had made many pivotal discoveries. Still it was only in 1988 that he received a prize along with Steinberger and Schwartz for the discovery of the muon neutrino more than two decades earlier.
Reines had to wait even longer. Along with Clyde
Cowan he detected
the neutrino for the first time about 1955. He did not
receive a prize
until 1995. Some observers have suggested he was held back
his association with Los Alamos rather than a university
when he was
doing the work. As an aside, Reines had offered me a post
Case when I finished graduate school but I wanted to
on accelerator experiments.
The proposal review for Lederman's experiment was for the initial meeting of the Fermilab Program Advisory Committee, a truly outstanding group of scientists. One of the members was Murray Gell-Mann, famed as the discoverer of quarks. Gell-Mann did not suffer fools. Needless to say I was intimidated when my turn came. He had become interested in conservation and his question was out of left field - "how much electrical energy would the experiment use?" His benchmark was the Miami airport which may have been intruding into the Everglades at the time.
Norman Ramsey, the founding president of URA, a University consortium that helps to run Fermilab, also waited a long time for his prize. Ramsey was a man for all seasons. He was a great scientist but had also been an important leader of science. During World War II he was involved with the MIT radar program, Los Alamos, and work as a consultant to the Secretary of War. I had the responsibility of reviewing salary offers for new senior staff with Ramsey. He was a congenial person but invariably would bore in until he found something I had overlooked. I thought I was in for a year of peace when he went off to Oxford on a sabbatical. Unfortunately his replacement, Bob Bacher, then provost of Cal Tech, turned out to be even more trouble because he thought we were paying more than Cal Tech (we weren't).
Some of my encounters have been more light-hearted. In the eighties I ran the Fermilab technology transfer program. Lederman invited Sheldon Glashow to the Laboratory to speak to our Industrial Affiliates about a wild scheme to use neutrinos to probe the earth and search for oil. Later at the cocktail hour Glashow was pleasantly surprised by a proffer of Glenfiddich single malt scotch from the bar. Even the mighty can be impressed by some amenities.
One other Nobel prize winner I came into contact with through the Industrial Affiliates was Paul Lauterbur, the inventor on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Most superconducting magnets used in MRI rely in part on technology developed for the Fermilab Tevatron.