Robert R. Wilson

Robert Wilson, physicist, human-rights activist, writer, architect, sculptor, artist, spokesman for science, and founder of Fermilab, died in January at the age of 85. As an architect, he designed the unique and distinctive headquarters of Fermilab, patterning the design after a cathedral in Beauvais, France. As an artist, he had the lab buildings painted in bright, primary colors, and he established a herd of American bison at the lab, obtained from a herd in Wyoming, as a symbol of the laboratory’s work at the frontiers of physics. As a human-rights activist, he drafted a policy on human rights that was posted throughout the laboratory, stating "Prejudice has no place in the pursuit of knowledge. In any conflict between technical expediency and human rights, we shall stand firmly on the side of human rights. Our support of the rights of the members of minority groups in our Laboratory, and its environs is inextricably intertwined with our goal of creating a new center of technical and scientific excellence".

Robert Wilson may be best known, however, for his answer to a question asked by Sen. John Pastore (D-RI) during an appearance before the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy in 1969. When asked about the value of high-energy physics research in the support of national defense, Wilson replied, "It has nothing to do directly with defending our country, except to make it worth defending".

In the 1930’s, Wilson began working with accelerator builder E.O. Lawrence, and developed a method of separating uranium isotopes. He was then invited to join the Manhattan project, and was put in charge of running the cyclotron accelerator, to determine the critical mass required for a nuclear reaction. As noted in the Fermilab News, "The product of a strong Quaker heritage, with its emphasis on non-violence, Wilson had wrestled with his conscience over becoming part of the war effort. He decided: ‘if ever the forces of darkness could be said to be lined up against the forces of light, it was at that time’." After the atomic test, Feynman noted "one man, Bob Wilson, was just sitting there moping. When I asked why he was moping, Wilson said "It’s a terrible thing that we made". Following the war, Wilson helped found the Federation of American Scientists, and strongly promoted the successful effort to bring about civilian control of nuclear energy. He then became a professor at Cornell, building accelerators.

In the 1960’s, Wilson was appointed director of the new National Accelerator Laboratory. There, his concept of cascaded accelerators, moving accelerated particles from one accelerator to another at ever-increasing energies, came into fruition. Timothy Toohig, of the DOE, noted that "Bob Wilson revolutionized the whole accelerator game. Accelerators had been built by experts, in something resembling a closed craft guild. But with Bob, building accelerators became a science".

After Wilson’s death, the current director of Fermilab, Michael Witherell, said "Robert Wilson gave our laboratory the distinctive character it possesses today. We inherit from him the tradition of building large and powerful accelerators that open up new ways of exploring the fundamental nature of the universe. In addition, he planned and designed Fermilab’s striking physical campus, from the restored prairie to the remarkable architecture, including several of his own sculptures. He had a vision of the laboratory as a cultural, recreational and educational center for the surrounding community as well as a global research center open to the international community of scientists. He had a profound and unshakable commitment to human rights. Bob Wilson’s legacy survives at Fermilab, in the surrounding community, and in the world of science".

Record Increases Proposed for Research in President’s Budget

In early January, rumors circulated in Washington that major increases would be proposed for basic scientific research. The rumors were true. In a speech at Caltech on January 21st, President Clinton announced massive increases in the 21st Century Research Fund for FY2001, including an unprecedented 17% increase for the National Science Foundation. The President particularly stressed the importance of increasing funding for basic research. Extended excerpts of his remarks can be found in FYI #8 ( Below are some excerpts:

"Three weeks ago, TIME magazine crowned as the "Person of the Century" Albert Einstein… The fact that he won this honor–rising above such enormously influential figures as Franklin Roosevelt and Mohandas Gandhi–is a powerful testament to the quantum leaps in knowledge Einstein achieved for all humanity. It is also a clear recognition that the 20th century will be most remembered ‘for its earthshaking advances in science and technology.

Today, I want to thank you for all that you are doing to advance the march of human knowledge. I have also come here to announce all the ways we intend to accelerate that march---by greatly increasing our national funding for science and technology.

The budget I will submit to Congress next month will include a $2.8 billion increase in our 21st Century Research Fund. This will support a $1 billion increase in biomedical research at the NIH, double the largest dollar increase for the NSF in its 50 year history, and will provide major funding increases in areas such as information technology, space exploration and the development of cleaner sources of energy.

This budget makes research at our nation’s universities a top priority, with an increase in funding of more than $1 billion. University-based research provides the kind of fundamental insights that are the most important building blocks of any new technology or treatment. It also helps produce the next generation of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. We’re going to give university-based research a major lift.

My budget supports a major new National Nanotechnology Initiative, worth $500 million….imagine the possibilities: materials with ten times the strength of steel and only a small fraction of the weight, shrinking all the information in the Library of Congress into a device the size of a sugar cube, detecting cancerous tumors when they are only a few cells in size….Some of our research goals may take 20 or more years to achieve, but that is precisely why there is an important role for the federal government.

I want to underscore, in the clearest possible way, that science and technology have become the engine of our economic growth. Consider the impact of information technology. Because of our early investments in developing the Internet, America now leads the world in information technology, an industry that accounts for one third of our economic growth…To ensure that America continues to lead in the Information Age, my budget proposes a 36% increase in information technology research.

Today, as the first light falls on the new millennium, we see illuminated before us an era of unparalleled promise---fueled by curiosity, powered by technology, driven by science. Our restless quest to understand the unknown, a quest that has defined us as Americans since the first explorers set foot on this continent, will quicken. More than any other time in human history, the 21st century will be the century of discovery and science. Thank you for all that you have done to bring us to this moment. Thank you for helping to guide and propel us all into the future."

Of course, Congress actually appropriates the funds. Fortunately, the Congressional responses to this proposed increase were very positive. Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said, "I’ve heard some very positive comments by the Administration about science emerging as a budget priority….A strong science program and a responsible overall budget would be very good news for the science community and remove some of the past stumbling blocks. I would like to commend the Administration for its new emphasis on basic over applied research in setting federal science priorities."

OSTP Director Neal Lane and NSF Director Rita Colwell were delighted. Colwell noted "Scientists and engineers throughout the country are going to be ecstatic at learning that we are now moving toward addressing what has been becoming an imbalance between investment in biomedical research and the other research in physics, in chemistry, in mathematics and biology and the social sciences. We need the investment in these areas because from that basic research come the MRIs, come the advances in being able to devise drug treatment tailored to an individual using molecular structure analysis…". Referring to the NSF increases, "[the increase] of 17.3% is a very, very exciting budget proposal" Half of the $675 million increase would be for the foundation’s core programs in various disciplines. An "awareness is starting to sink in", she said, about the need for balance in the government’s research portfolio. Lane praised the new nanotechnology initiative, "the scientists and engineers have been anxious to do more research in this area for a long time…". Both expressed optimism about the likely Congressional response; Lane noted that "Rita and I have both had conversations with key members of Congress on this issue, and the response has been very positive". Energy Secretary Richardson described the "essential linkages between physical sciences and life sciences" and summarized the requested 8% increase in research at the DOE. Richardson said that he had informed the national labs that they were now to emphasize "science over security".

Specifically, the budget would increase the 21st Century Research Fund by 7%, Civilian R&D by 6%, Basic Research by 7%, university-based research by 8%, NIH by 6%, the NSF by 17%, DOE budget for basic science programs by 13%, NASA’s space science budget by 9.4% and NIST’s budget by 23%. In the FYI’s (at, a detailed breakdown of each of these budget proposals can be found.


Mir Keeps Going and Going and Going…

For two decades, the Mir space station was the pride of the Soviet/Russian space program. When the last cosmonauts left the station last August, the station was mothballed, and it was assumed that it would be crashed into the Pacific sometime this year. However, it seems to have received a new lease on life.

In December, a Bermuda-based corporation, MirCorp, was formed to keep the space station alive. Its president, Jeffrey Manber, said that MirCorp has already paid around $25 million to keep it in orbit through the summer, and is trying to raise another $40 million to keep it alive past the end of the year. He commented "We think that we can come up with clever, imaginative ways to use a manned orbiting station. God bless NASA and all the government space agencies, but we want to unleash the full imagination of the private sector". MirCorp has helped fund a new mission that will send Russian cosmonauts back to the station in late March or early April.

The majority stockholder in MirCorp is RKK Energia, the firm which builds most of the Russian space hardware and which is 38% owned by the Russian government. This development has greatly concerned NASA, since the Russians’ failure to deliver a crucial component for the International Space Station has delayed the station for more than a year, and going back to Mir may provide further distraction.

What will be done with the station? MirCorp will look for additional sponsors by offering the use of Mir for advertising and for private scientific and pharmaceutical research. The hope is that drug companies or metals businesses could use the micro-gravity conditions to learn "how to perfect their products on Earth".

In another development, it has been reported that a film will be shot aboard the station later this spring. A Russian actor, Vladimir Steklov, will be going into space to help shoot a film entitled "The Last Journey", sponsored by Russian and British filmmakers. The film’s producer, John Daly, produced "The Terminator", "The Last Emporer" and other movies, and expressed hope that stars such as Robert De Niro, Sean Penn and Catherine Zeta-Jones would become involved. The movie will focus on a renegade cosmonaut who refuses to leave orbit; a woman is sent up to lure him back. Stevlov has been preparing for the mission. Finally, MirCorp is planning to turn the space station into a luxurious tourist resort. Tourists who are healthy and have time to train for the trip could travel to Mir and stay for a few days (or until the next supply ship). Mir is roughly the size of five school buses. It will be an expensive holiday trip---space tourists will be asked to pay approximately $20 million apiece.

New Patents---Pre-Shrunk Hydrogen and Advanced Sub-Carrier Modulation

In 1991, Randy Mill (MD, Harvard, 1986) showed, in his "Unified Theory", that cold fusion wasn’t actual fusion, but was just a process that puts hydrogen atoms into an energy state which is below the ground state. These tiny atoms he called "hydrinos", and hydrino production will obvious release a great deal of energy. His company, BlackLight Power, raised a few million dollars from some utility companies. He refers to the discovery of hydrinos as "the most important discovery of all time…up there with fire". In February, the company was awarded a patent for a chemical means of producing hydrinos. This outdid the recent patent awarded in November to Media Fusion for "Advanced Sub-Carrier Modulation", which transmits data over ordinary power lines with a 10 GHz bandwidth. They claim that magnetic fields surrounding the conductor can act as a waveguide. After the fiasco last April in which a patent examiner organized a conference on "Free Energy" (see the July issue of this newsletter), one would hope that the patent office would have learned….

Report on the National Ignition Facility

The $1.2 billion National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory is the centerpiece of the DOE stockpile stewardship program which is to ensure the safety and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons without nuclear testing. It will use lasers to achieve fusion and the high density conditions that exist in nuclear explosions, so that weapons performance can be studied in the absence of weapons testing. Several months ago, DOE officials were shocked to learn that the NIF was $400 million (30%) over budget and two years behind schedule. Shortly thereafter, the project director, Mike Campbell, resigned after it was learned that he had misrepresented himself as a Ph.D. Two reviews were conducted; a DOE Task Force is headed by former Science Advisor John McTague, and a special committee of the Univ. of California President’s Council, headed by Caltech provost Steve Koonin. Their reports are now available---the Task Force at and the UC President’s Committee at A summary can be found in FYI #6.

The reports both concluded that the problems are due to inadequate management by all parties involved, and that the technical challenges are not insurmountable. The Committee found that LLNL, the Univ. of California and the DOE all share the blame for poor management, including inadequate mechanisms to measure progress, lack of effective system engineering and integration, lack of management action at senior levels, insufficient communication mechanisms, insufficient technical definition and implementation plans and an ineffective review process. Basically, no one knew who was responsible for what. They noted that the contingency funding of 15% was far too low, the baseline cost and schedule were established before the technical definition and implementation plans were complete, and some project activities suffered shortfalls in funding. The Task Force agreed, and noted that with appropriate corrective action, a strong management team and an extension of the schedule, the NIF laser system can be completed.

Among the recommendations (which clearly illustrate the previous problems):

1. The DOE’s "Office of Defense Programs should implement a project management review process similar to that long utilized by Office of Science for all major projects".

2. The lab director "needs to take visible and unambiguous ownership of the NIF project".

3. The players need to "clearly define and articulate the respective roles, responsibilities, lines of authority and accountability of all participants".

4. "Secretary Richardson should be prepared to increase the contingency to 30-35".

5. "The project needs a well-defined ending point" with project milestones and management should "clearly establish the point at which construction and testing ends and NIF operations begin".

6. The Task Force agrees that "with the appropriate research and development, NIF operation at laser output fluence of 3 Joules per square centimeter is a reasonable projection".


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