The End of the Beginning

In the spring of 1958 Lawrence suffered a serious recurrence of his chronic colitis. Although already failing, he accepted against advice and as his duty President Eisenhower's request that he serve as a technical expert in talks with the Soviet Union toward a ban on testing nuclear weapons. Briefings in Washington and the journey to Geneva proved too much. He was rushed back to a hospital at Stanford, where he died on August 27. His passing ended an era in the Laboratory's history. His confidence and extravagance, enthusiasm and ingenuity, energy and entrepreneurship, could not be duplicated. Nor perhaps would his way have fit the future as well as it had the past. Events in the 1960s would call into question the values he held dear -- science, technology, industry, growth, and patriotism; and changes in national priorities would shift the center of gravity of the Laboratory's work.
The Time Projection Chamber (TPC), shown with inventor David Nygren (left), was designed by LBL physicists for use at PEP, the positron- electron colliding beam ring at Stanford.

As Lawrence's successor the University chose Nobel laureate Edwin McMillan, a leader in high-energy physics and accelerator design and associate director for the Physics Division. McMillan served until 1973, when the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory had become a collection of interdisciplinary groups working in fields as diverse as metallurgy, catalysis and surface science, electron microscopy, theoretical chemistry, photoelectron spectroscopy, earth sciences, hydrology, physical chemistry, cellular biology, oncology, and laser chemistry and biology. His successors, Andrew M. Sessler (1973-80) and David A. Shirley, have presided over further diversification as the conservation and development of sources of energy became a concern of the Laboratory's patron, the Department of Energy.

These new opportunities opened while funding of high-energy physics leveled off, and the most recent big accelerator built in the United States, which the Laboratory had designed and expected would come to Northern California, was under construction in Weston, Illinois. Although in consequence high-energy physics declined in relative importance at the Laboratory, substantial contributions to the field continue to come from Berkeley. For example, the Laboratory has collaborated closely with the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), where a 20 BeV electron linac began to operate in 1967. Together they have designed and built a positron-electron colliding beam ring (PEP) that will provide collision energies exceeding those of the Weston accelerator. Laboratory staff have also constructed several advanced particle detectors at SLAC, the latest of which, now just operational, is the novel Time Projection Chamber. By exporting its talent and technique, the Laboratory has maintained a place at the frontiers of high-energy physics.

Accelerators now operating at the Laboratory have been designed or adapted to give beams of heavy ions. In the early 1950s, following up work begun just before the war, the Laboratory experimented with beams of carbon atoms accelerated in the 60-inch cyclotron. To obtain intense and uniform beams of more nuclear species, a Heavy Ion Accelerator (HILAC) was built in 1957. It consisted of two Alvarez linacs separated by a narrow space where partially ionized atoms could be stripped of their remaining electrons by collision. The HILAC incorporated technology developed for the MTA Mark I; it made possible acceleration of nuclei as heavy as argon (element 18) to energies up to 10 MeV per nucleon. Among much else, it accomplished the synthesis of nobelium (102) and, in 1961, element 103, named lawrencium in honor of the founder of the Laboratory. A machine that has proven even more productive for nuclear chemistry, the 88-inch sector-focused cyclotron, was authorized in 1958 and completed in 1961. It too profited from MTA designs, in its case application of the Thomas focusing principle developed for Mark III. The machine made possible valuable studies of nucleon scattering, spin-dependent processes, and isotope manufacture.

After the lead in high-energy accelerators passed from Berkeley, the Laboratory upgraded the HILAC to the SuperHilac, which, with its new ion source, could accelerate nuclei as heavy as krypton's. Another source, capable of producing partially ionized atoms as heavy as uranium, has recently been introduced. Heavy ions with energies of 8.5 MeV per nucleon from the SuperHilac may now be sent either directly into research areas for nuclear chemistry or shunted into a long pipe for injection into the Bevatron, where they can be accelerated to 2.1 BeV per nucleon for applications in nuclear medicine or nuclear physics. The Bevalac, as the complex of SuperHilac and Bevatron is known, and the 88-inch cyclotron together constitute the nation's principal facility for heavy-ion work.
LBL's national center for electron microscopy features the new 1.5 MeV high-voltage electron microscope, the most powerful in the U. S. today.

Among the new domains of interdisciplinary research opened at the Laboratory in response to national needs, the Materials and Molecular Research Division (MMRD) has perhaps the closest ties to earlier work. It is the successor of the Inorganic Materials Research Division founded in 1960 to extend to space technology and other spheres the studies of reactor materials begun at Berkeley during the war. By drawing upon many disciplines, MMRD has developed outstanding instrumentation for its purposes. One such instrument, a 1.5 MeV electron microscope standing three stories tall and costing $1.7 million, carries forward the Laboratory's tradition of big machines. With an atomic resolution microscope scheduled for construction in 1982, MMRD's National Electron Facility will be the leading center of microscopy in the country. By bringing together both on campus and in the Laboratory researchers in various branches of chemistry, physics, ceramics, and engineering, MMRD proceeds without the duplication of effort that might occur were disciplinary boundaries scrupulously observed. Like chemical biodynamics and nuclear science, materials and molecular research benefits from the opportunities for wide and varied collaboration unique to the Laboratory with its great resources and close campus ties.
Temperature and radioactivity of a hot geothermal pool in Ruby Valley, Nevada, are measured by LBL scientists in a comprehensive study of geothermal energy sources.

A similar flexibility characterized the Laboratory's response to the reorganization of AEC with a mandate to support programs in nonnuclear energy development and environmental conservation. McMillan formed an Environmental Research Office to promote the new field; the 70 or so research projects it had on hand or in preparation in 1970 included ones on water desalination, atmospheric aerosols, disease induced by pollution, and the effects of the supersonic transport on the earth's ozone budget. Many others have been added since the Office rose to a Division -- in fact to the largest division in the Laboratory -- under Sessler. In 1977 he split it into two, one for Energy and Environment and one for Earth Sciences, which includes research in geothermal energy and on disposal of nuclear wastes. In recent years these two divisions together have spent almost a quarter of the Laboratory's budget.

Overly specialized institutions, like overly specialized organisms, do not long survive major changes in their environments. The Laboratory's main principle of adaptation has been the creation of interdisciplinary teams that dissolve ordinary institutional boundaries in order to develop a machine, a research project, or a research program. It was on this principle that Lawrence established his laboratory. To demonstrate the wide promise of his machine and its products to his patrons, he recruited biologists, physicians, and chemists as well as physicists and engineers to work on and around the cyclotron. After the war he reaffirmed the principle by promoting hybrids like Calvin's bio-organic chemistry. Materials research, the first big interdisciplinary program initiated after Lawrence's death, drew on institutional mechanisms already firmly in place. The divisions of energy and environment and earth sciences are new variations on the successful principle of growth through diversification into interdisciplinary research program.

If our biological metaphor has any validity -- and, perhaps, even if it does not -- the Laboratory is well placed to continue the course of high achievement and successful adaptation of its first fifty years into its next half century.

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