On Basic Science

SENATOR PASTORE. Is there anything connected in the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?

DR. WILSON. No, sir; I do not believe so.

SENATOR PASTORE. Nothing at all?

DR. WILSON. Nothing at all.

SENATOR PASTORE. It has no value in that respect?

DR. 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.

SENATOR PASTORE. Don't be sorry for it.

DR. WILSON. I am not, but I cannot in honesty say it has any such application.

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

DR. 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 help make it worth defending.

SENATOR PASTORE. Is there any necessity for pushing for completion of this accelerator so that you will have a beam by June of 1972?

DR. WILSON. To me, it is like planting a tree. You know the story about the master who asked his servant to plant a tree in the afternoon. "I am too busy to do it then," said the servant, "besides, there is no hurry for it will take 20 years to grow." "In that case, plant it this morning," replied the wise master.

SENATOR PASTORE. When you consider priorities, I know exactly what you mean, provided we have the money.

After all, when you have people who are hungry, the big question here is: Is it more important to put a man on the moon, or to fill the stomachs of our starving children?

DR. WILSON. It is most important to fill the stomachs of our starving children.

SENATOR PASTORE. You would put that as the first priority, would you not?

DR. WILSON. Yes, sir.


DR. WILSON. But it is also important to get on with the things that make life worth living, and, fortunately, it is possible to do these things in a manner which also contributes to the feeding of hungry children. We have seen great developments in the science of elementary particles in this country-a golden age of physics. We should not lose the tremendous momentum that has built up in this field. We should not pass up this opportunity. We have a great American tradition. The moment to move is here. We have the men who are ready and enthusiastic to get on with it. If we falter, I can see the whole effort dispersed and lost.

SENATOR PASTORE. My experience has been it is easy to authorize, but hard to get the money.

Let me ask you this question: Why do we set this target date for June 1972? Could that be extended?

DR. WILSON. Of course it could be extended.

SENATOR PASTORE. How much harm would it do if you did?

DR. WILSON. For one thing, it will cost more money. The extra money will take food away from the mouths of the babies in 5 years, unless they are then being adequately fed.

We have assembled a group of talented men, a group of just the right size, to do this job in this time. Now those men could easily take much more time. Their salaries will continue no matter what. It will just cost more.

But there is also a question of doing something with enthusiasm, which is how we are doing it, and with a determination to do it rapidly and economically.

If we are not to do it with enthusiasm and rapidly, then it can still be done, but it will be done by second-rate people in a bureaucratic manner and it will be done expensively.


SENATOR PASTORE. Essentially, the major purpose of this bevatron is for fundamental high-energy physics research, which is an educational and academic process, is it not?

DR. WILSON. And a cultural process, yes, but with the firm expectation that technological developments will come. Directly, but after a very long time; from the results of the research will come new technology. However, there will be a bonus that will come indirectly but very soon, through the technological inventions, that is "Spin-off," that results whenever such work is done.

Thus, because we are doing extremely difficult technical things, and because we are working in a strange kind of research, we know from past experience that new techniques inevitably develop, techniques which have paid, more than paid, for the cost of the basic research that was not pointed to such developments.

The klystron of the linac at Stanford, the vacuum pumps for the early cyclotron research, and the high-frequency oscillator tubes which were so valuable during the war, computer techniques, all these resulted from work on accelerators.


"I am not very competitive, so I always look for a new subject to study, even if it is not so popular ... If you start from some sort of basic, new observation, you will have plenty to work on"

“I don’t feel comfortable competing with many people, and instead I find it more enjoyable doing something nobody else is doing,” he added. “In a way, that’s what science is all about, and the joy of finding something inspires me.”

-Yoshinori Ohsumi, who won the 2016 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his work on cell autophagy