APS News

Wilson Memorial Tribute Planned

Robert R. Wilson (left) confers with Edwin L. Goldwasser during the early days at the National Accelerator Laboratory.
Robert R. Wilson (left) confers with Edwin L. Goldwasser during the early days at the National Accelerator Laboratory.

A memorial tribute to Robert R. Wilson will be offered by Edwin L. Goldwasser at a plenary session of the April meeting of the APS in Long Beach, California. Goldwasser served under Wilson as Deputy Director of Fermilab from 1967 to 1978.

Wilson, one of the most influential figures in the history of the development of particle accelerators, died in January at his home in Ithaca, NY, at the age of 85. The Wilson Prize of the APS is named for him, and he served as APS President in 1985. Wilson earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics from the University of California, Berkeley and worked with E.O. Lawrence on the cyclotron before joining the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. He conducted research at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Harvard University before being named director of Cornell University's Laboratory of Nuclear Studies in 1947. His research there focused on the structure of protons.

In 1967 Wilson took a leave of absence to become the founding director of Fermi National Laboratory, currently the world's most powerful accelerator until it is succeeded by the completion of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in 2006. He was also an early champion of the importance of funding basic research at a time when science funding was driven primarily by national defense concerns. According to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, Wilson "had an unerring sense of what is important to the science of high-energy physics and its importance to the nation." When was asked whether the Fermilab research would benefit national security during 1969 testimony before a joint committee of Congress, he replied, "It has nothing to do with defending our country, except to make it worth defending."


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