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While writing a brief review of George Johnson’s recent book, The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, for the Fall 2008 newsletter, I was unaware of a similar book by Robert Crease, The Prism and the Pendulum: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments in Science (Random House, 2003), but others soon brought it to my attention. The latter book (and perhaps Johnson’s, too) was stimulated by a May 2002 column in Physics World, in which Bob solicited input from readers on what they thought were the most beautiful experiments in physics. In his September 2002 column he published the results of his poll, including the winner: Young-style double-slit experiments demonstrating the interference of single electrons, and thus their wave-like nature.
Johnson apparently read the column and wrote an article about it, “Here They Are, Science’s 10 Most Beautiful Experiments,” in the New York Times. Then both of them raced to publish a book on the topic, it appears, with Bob the winner. More recently, he’s followed up with The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg (W.W. Norton, 2008). I received a review copy of the book just before the current issue of the newsletter went to press. This one I’ll be sure to read—and perhaps review in the near future.
Two noteworthy efforts on the history of accelerator physics have recently appeared. Andrew Sessler of Lawrence Berkeley Lab and Edmund Wilson of CERN published Engines of Discovery: A Century of Paricle Accelerators (World Scientific, 2007), a much-needed introduction to the subject. Accessibly written, it’s also loaded with photographs of pivotal machines and devices, plus sidebars on the physicists and engineers who made important contributions to the discipline. And World Scientific has released Volume 1 (2008) of Reviews of Accelerator Science and Technology, edited by Alex Chao of SLAC and Weiren Chou of Fermilab. This inaugaral volume is filled with historical essays by some of the stalwarts of accelerator physics.
In this volume, I found Stanford University physicist Stanley Wojcicki’s article, “The Supercollider: The Pre-Texas Days—A Personal Recollection of Its Birth and Berkeley Years,” to be particularly rewarding. Given his leadership roles in the SSC Central Design Group and as Chair of the US High-Energy Physics Advisory Panel during SSC construction, I cannot imagine anyone better positioned to write such an article. And as leader of a project devoted to the SSC’s history, I heartily recommend it.
Wojcicki will be giving an invited talk on the subject in a Forum session at the “April” APS meeting, on Monday afternoon, May 4, titled “A Personal Recollection of the SSC’s Birth and Demise” (see p. 6). Just before him Adrienne Kolb, a coauthor of the book Fermilab, will speak on “Fermilab: The Ring of the Frontier, 1967–1995.” For Forum members interested in the history of accelerator and particle physics, this is a don’t-miss occasion.
—Michael Riordan, Editor
Note Added: This article represents the views of the author, which are not necessarily those of the FHP or APS.