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People moving in and out of the Cornell physics lab


Robert Wilson creates the Fermilab
Hans Bethe Scientist
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There was strong physics, strong experimental nuclear physics under... under Robert Wilson, which in fact became so strong that it was the envy of other universities. Wilson was able to think about machines before building them, and that was very useful, as it was expressed by one Washington person: 'Robert Wilson can build machines at 30 cents to the dollar.' That is, they would cost one-third as much as... as it would if built by anybody else. And that then was the reason why Wilson was asked to build a much bigger accelerator in... near Chicago, which became [the] Fermilab. He undertook to do that with the condition that it be done in five years rather than eight, as had been proposed by Berkeley, and for I think $300 million rather than 500, as had been proposed by Berkeley. So that was one important development, and even after Wilson was gone the nuclear lab remained a very strong lab under McDaniel and has remained so to the present day.

The late German-American physicist Hans Bethe once described himself as the H-bomb's midwife. He left Nazi Germany in 1933, after which he helped develop the first atomic bomb, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his contribution to the theory of nuclear reactions, advocated tighter controls over nuclear weapons and campaigned vigorously for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: Fermilab, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Robert Wilson, Boyce McDaniel

Duration: 1 minute, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008