Monday, September 26, 2011

"Is there anything connected with this accelerator that involves the security of the country?"

I read the following passage today, and was inspired by the following crowning moment of awesome. I only hope that the country would respond the same way today.


One day in 1969, the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy convened in Washington, DC, to hear testimony from a number of scientists concerning a proposed multimillion dollar particle accelerator to be built in Batavia, Illinois. Physics had enjoyed strong government support for two decades in the wake of the Manhattan Project, which helped bring an end to World War II. But many in Congress simply couldn't see the point of spending all that money on a big machine that didn't seem to benefit US national interests in quite the same way.

During the testimony of physicist Robert Rathburn Wilson - a veteran of the Manhattan Project - then-senator John Pastore bluntly asked, "Is there anything connected with the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?"

Wilson, to his credit, answered just as bluntly: "No sir, I don't believe so."

"Nothing at all?" Pastore asked.

"Nothing at all."

Pastore pressed further: "It has no value in that respect?"

And then Wilson knocked it out of the park. "It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of man, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending."


Jono said...

Love it!

John J. Walters said...

Forgive me for not being up on my physics knowledge, but where are we with regards to particle acceleration at this point?

Greg Kemnitz said...

To be fair to Congress, "Big Science" advocates have always used national security or national competitiveness arguments when arguing for large-scale government funding, particularly in those days. After all - the argument went - if the Soviets discover a new element or particle before us, World Communism is one step closer.

Physicists have been particularly good at it, since many of their research results results in cool stuff that impressively goes boom.

WV: ganjo - need a bit of Bob Marley with it...