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To Every Engineer, Designer, Thinker and Hack:

By John Calder

The builder of Fermilab, R.R. Wilson, perhaps explained best why studying fundamental physics is so important in his testimony before the Congress of the United States in 1969. Congress was looking for some sort of justification in spending $200 million.

Robert Wilson: American Hero

What follows is an excerpt from Wilson’s testimony before the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy by Senator Pastore:

Pastore: Is there anything connected in the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of this country?

Wilson: No sir; I do not believe so.

Pastore: Nothing at all?

Wilson: Nothing at all.

Pastore: It has no value in that respect?

Wilson: It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with those things. It has nothing to do with the military, I am sorry.

Pastore: Don’t be sorry for it.

Wilson: I am not, but I cannot in honesty say it has any such application.

Pastore: Is there anything here that projects us in a position of being competitive with the Russians, with regard to this race?

Wilson: Only from a long-range point of view, of a developing technology. Otherwise, it has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about. In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country, except to make it worth defending.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Jack Sarfatti // Jul 28, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    I was Wilson’s assistant at the Cornell Synchrotron the summer of 1957 between my sophomore and junior years. Tom Pynchon was in my class. I also met Herbert Gold at that time.

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