Wilson, Robert R., 1914-2000

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Robert Rathbun Wilson was born in 1914 in Frontier Wyoming, received an A.B. from the University of California, Berkeley, 1936, and after studying with Prof. Ernest O. Lawrence, a Ph. D. in 1940.

He participated in an early effort led by Enrico Fermi at Columbia University to build a nuclear reactor as part of a joint effort with Princeton University, where he was a lecturer and assistant professor, 1940-1942. He worked for Princeton University's reactor project, 1941-1942; becoming technical head of their isotope separation project, 1942-1943, and developing a uranium isotope-separating machine. He moved to Los Alamos Laboratory in 1943, one of the first to reside there, helping with early organization and formation of the Cyclotron Group, and becoming Head of the Research Division, 1944-1945. In 1945 he became Associate Professor of Physics at Harvard University where he designed the 150 MeV cyclotron and suggested radiological use of high-energy heavy particles for cancer therapy. He also worked on scattering of protons by protons to higher energies, using the cyclotron at the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley, 1946-1947.

He came to Cornell University in 1947, working on building a series of electron synchrotrons, beginning with a 300 MeV machine and achieving 10 GeV in 1967. He and his colleagues made many discoveries regarding the inner structure of the proton including discovery of the first excited state of the proton and its next two excited states as well as scattering of electrons by protons. They were able to measure the production of K-mesons by X-ray beam. Dr. Wilson made the first measurement of the scattering of protons by the electric field of the nucleus of the atom, continuing this work while serving as Prof. d'Exchange at the University of Paris, France, in 1956. Also during his tenure at Cornell he conceived the idea to achieve the result of a high temperature in plasma by producing an imploding shock wave in an ionized gas through the sudden application of a strong magnetic field. He was one of the first to use the Monte Carlo method of mathematical computation, applying it to electron and proton initiated showers, invented the Quantometer to precisely measure the intensity of high-energy X-ray beams.

In 1967 he became first Director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois. He held this position during its founding and assisted in the design and construction of the entire complex, which included a 500 GeV proton accelerator. The most notable of the approximately 250 experiments concerned interaction of neutrinos and muons at high energy and discovery of the "b quark." He also initiated to design and construction of the Tevatron, a system of superconducting magnets to raise the energy of the Fermilab synchrotron to one TeV (1000 GeV). In 1978 he was made Emeritus Director.

He then held the position of Peter B. Ritzma Professor at University of Chicago, 1978-1980, being named "Emeritus" in 1980. His then became I.I. Rabi Visiting Professor of Science and Human Relations at Columbia University in 1979; and the Michael Pupin Prof. at Columbia University, 1980-1982, becoming "Emeritus" in 1982.

During his career he assisted in the design and construction of cyclotrons and synchrotrons in the United States and Europe and participated in many international symposia relating to high energy physics. He became a member of the American Physical Society in 1938, president in 1985; helped found the Federation of American Scientists, Chairman in 1946 and 1963; was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1957, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1968, and the American Philosophical Society in 1969. He served on the Editorial Board of the magazine Daedalus. He was also affiliated with many other organizations having to do with teaching physics and high energy physics research, as well as arts and letters.

He received the Elliot Cresson Award in 1964, National Medal of Science in 1973, Enrico Fermi Award in 1984, del Gado Gold Medal of Radiology in 1989, and the Gemant Award in 1995. He has received honorary degrees from University of Notre Dame, Sci Dr 1969; North Central College, ScD 1975; University of Bonn, ScD 1978; Harvard University, Sci Dr 1986, and Wesleyan University, Sci Dr 1987. He co-authored, with Raphael Littauer, the book "Accelerators" published in 1958.

Dr. Wilson has been active in international physics attending numerous meetings including the conference organizing CERN, 1952, in Copenhagen; one of the earliest in the USSR, 1954; the Peoples Republic of China, 1974; meetings in New Orleans, 1975; Moscow, 1976; Hamburg, 1977; and Fermilab, 1978. He participated in the organization of the International Committee for Future Accelerators (ICFA), of which he was an American delegate.

While on sabbatic leave in Italy in 1961, Wilson studied sculpture at the Academia Belli Arte.

From the description of Robert R. Wilson papers, 1936-2000. (Cornell University Library). WorldCat record id: 64756412

Robert Rathbun Wilson was born in 1914 in Frontier Wyoming, received an A.B. from the University of California, Berkeley, 1936, and after studying with Prof. Ernest O. Lawrence, a Ph.D. in 1940.

He participated in an early effort led by Enrico Fermi at Columbia University to build a nuclear reactor as part of a joint effort with Princeton University, where he was a lecturer and assistant professor, 1940-1942. He worked for Princeton University's reactor project, 1941-1942; becoming technical head of their isotope separation project, 1942-1943, and developing a uranium isotope-separating machine. He moved to Los Alamos Laboratory in 1943, one of the first to reside there, helping with early organization and formation of the Cyclotron Group, and becoming Head of the Research Division, 1944-1945. In 1945 he became Associate Professor of Physics at Harvard University where he designed the 150 MeV cyclotron and suggested radiological use of high-energy heavy particles for cancer therapy. He also worked on scattering of protons by protons to higher energies, using the cyclotron at the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley, 1946-1947.

He came to Cornell University in 1947, working on building a series of electron synchrotrons, beginning with a 300 MeV machine and achieving 10 GeV in 1967. He and his colleagues made many discoveries regarding the inner structure of the proton including discovery of the first excited state of the proton and its next two excited states as well as scattering of electrons by protons. They were able to measure the production of K-mesons by X-ray beam. Dr. Wilson made the first measurement of the scattering of protons by the electric field of the nucleus of the atom, continuing this work while serving as Prof. d'Exchange at the University of Paris, France, in 1956. Also during his tenure at Cornell he conceived the idea to achieve the result of a high temperature in plasma by producing an imploding shock wave in an ionized gas through the sudden application of a strong magnetic field. He was one of the first to use the Monte Carlo method of mathematical computation, applying it to electron and proton initiated showers, invented the Quantometer to precisely measure the intensity of high-energy X-ray beams.

In 1967 he became first Director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois. He held this position during its founding and assisted in the design and construction of the entire complex, which included a 500 GeV proton accelerator. The most notable of the approximately 250 experiments concerned interaction of neutrinos and muons at high energy and discovery of the "b quark." He also initiated to design and construction of the Tevatron, a system of superconducting magnets to raise the energy of the Fermilab synchrotron to one TeV (1000 GeV). In 1978 he was made Emeritus Director.

He then held the position of Peter B. Ritzma Professor at University of Chicago, 1978-1980, being named "Emeritus" in 1980. His then became I. I. Rabi Visiting Professor of Science and Human Relations at Columbia University in 1979; and the Michael Pupin Prof. at Columbia University, 1980-1982, becoming "Emeritus" in 1982.

During his career he assisted in the design and construction of cyclotrons and synchrotrons in the United States and Europe and participated in many international symposia relating to high energy physics. He became a member of the American Physical Society in 1938, president in 1985; helped found the Federation of American Scientists, Chairman in 1946 and 1963; was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1957, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1968, and the American Philosophical Society in 1969. He served on the Editorial Board of the magazine Daedalus. He was also affiliated with many other organizations having to do with teaching physics and high energy physics research, as well as arts and letters.

He received the Elliot Cresson Award in 1964, National Medal of Science in 1973, Enrico Fermi Award in 1984, del Gado Gold Medal of Radiology in 1989, and the Gemant Award in 1995. He has received honorary degrees from University of Notre Dame, Sci Dr 1969; North Central College, ScD 1975; University of Bonn, ScD 1978; Harvard University, Sci Dr 1986, and Wesleyan University, Sci Dr 1987. He co-authored, with Raphael Littauer, the book "Accelerators" published in 1958.

Dr. Wilson has been active in international physics attending numerous meetings including the conference organizing CERN, 1952, in Copenhagen; one of the earliest in the USSR, 1954; the Peoples Republic of China, 1974; meetings in New Orleans, 1975; Moscow, 1976; Hamburg, 1977; and Fermilab, 1978. He participated in the organization of the International Committee for Future Accelerators (ICFA), of which he was an American delegate.

While on sabbatic leave in Italy in 1961, Wilson studied sculpture at the Academia Belli Arte.

From the guide to the Robert R. Wilson papers, 1936-2000., (Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn De Kiewiet, C. W. (Cornelius William), 1902-1986. Cornelius W. de Kiewiet papers, 1949-1951. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Robert R. Wilson papers, 1936-2000. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
creatorOf Wilson, Robert R., 1914-2000. Robert R. Wilson papers, 1936-2000. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Serber, R. (Robert). Oral history interview with Robert Serber, 1996. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Hans Bethe papers, [ca. 1931]-1995 Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
referencedIn Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Leon Lederman retirement symposium [videorecording]. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Robert R. Wilson papers, 1936-2000. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
referencedIn Bethe, Hans A. (Hans Albrecht), 1906-2005. Hans Bethe papers, [ca. 1931]-1992. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Marshak, Robert E. (Robert Eugene), 1916-1992. Oral history interview with Robert Marshak, 1970. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Greenewalt, Crawford H., 1902-1993. Papers, 1928-1968 (bulk 1942-1968). Hagley Museum & Library
referencedIn Serber, R. (Robert). Oral history interview with Robert Serber, 1967 February 10. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Smithsonian Videohistory Program. The Manhattan Project oral history interviews [videorecording] / 1987-1990. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn American Physical Society. Records of Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) study, 1983-1988. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Aigrain, P. (Pierre). International Science and Technology Journal interviews, 1962-1967. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Alvarez, Luis W., 1911-1988. Niels Bohr Library : oral history transcripts, 1924-1978. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf American Physical Society. Annual Meeting (1968 : Chicago, Ill.). Joint ceremonial session of the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers [sound recording] / 1968 January 30. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn McDaniel, Boyce D. (Boyce Dawkins), 1917-. Boyce D. McDaniel papers, 1980-2002. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Klema, Ernest Donald, 1920-. Response to 1981 History of Nuclear Physics Survey, ca.1983. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Cornelius W. de Kiewiet papers, 1949-1951. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
creatorOf Summer School on High Energy Particle Accelerators (1985: Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.). Keynote address and awards ceremony [sound recording]. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Boyce D. McDaniel papers, 1980-2002. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
creatorOf Wilson, Robert R., 1914-2000. Oral history interview with Robert R. Wilson, 1977 May 19. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
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Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Physics
Cyclotrons
Protons--Scattering
Nuclear physics
Particle accelerators--Study and teaching
Nuclear physics--Study and teaching
Nuclear physics--Research
Particle accelerators--Construction
Particle accelerators--Research
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1914-03-04

Death 2000-01-16

Americans

English

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