The following article is from the September 23rd Newsday. It notes that our nearby Brookhaven Lab has been honored by the American Physical Society.
Today, Brookhaven National Laboratory is officially designated a “Historic Physics Site” in a ceremony organized by the American Physical Society, the largest organization of U.S. physicists.
Physics landmarks are funny kinds of historic places. They aren’t vintage houses where important people lived, or rooms where key documents were signed. They’re places where scientists have made significant advances in their ongoing quest to understand basic structures of nature.
now has two. Last year, the Ram’s Head Inn on Shelter Island
was similarly honored. In 1947, it was the scene of a famous conference whose participants laid the groundwork for a half-century of breakthroughs in theoretical physics.
Brookhaven joins an impressive list of 23 others. There’s Bell Labs in New Jersey
, where the transistor was invented; MIT’s “RadLab,” which pioneered radar; the Bronx High School of Science
, which graduated seven Nobel laureates in physics; and the laboratory at Case Western Reserve University
outside Cleveland, where Albert Michelson and Edward Morley demonstrated that a substance supposedly filling the entire universe, called ether, doesn’t exist — a discovery that partly inspired Albert Einstein
‘s development of special relativity.
Even so, Brookhaven stands out. Other sites won recognition for educational service, key discoveries or hosting scientists who made important breakthroughs. Brookhaven has done all three.
The citation, written on a metal plaque to be installed at the lab, reads: “At this laboratory, over many years, scientists and engineers have made numerous fundamental discoveries in the fields of nuclear and high energy physics, the physics and chemistry of materials, energy and environment, biology and medicine.”
One discovery yielded a clue as to how the sun worked, another gave information on the birth of the universe, while still others provided key pieces of our knowledge of the structure of matter.
For Brookhaven to have kept itself vital for 65 years is no small feat. Laboratories are vulnerable to vicissitudes in science, politics, community relations and budgets. To stay vibrant, they must be flexible, periodically reinventing their activities and missions. Brookhaven has done so repeatedly.
It was established in 1947 as a place to build machines essential to scientific research — principally peacetime research reactors — that were too big for universities to afford, and it has remained a center for nuclear physics.
Shortly after its founding, Brookhaven became as well a leading laboratory for research using accelerators — machines crucial to high energy physics. In 1952, its scientists completed the Cosmotron, for a while the world’s most powerful accelerator. It was the first able to create the energies of cosmic rays — which until then had to be studied on remote mountaintops — in the comfort of laboratories.
Accelerator technology worldwide kept improving, but Brookhaven remained a leader by building, in 1961, the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron. This machine not only made possible several Nobel Prize
-winning discoveries, but also embodied a way to make more compact and powerful accelerators — devices now used throughout industry and medicine.
The lab also proved a fertile place for chemists, engineers, biologists and even art historians. Two Nobel Prizes
in chemistry went to scientists working there. Brookhaven’s engineers created innovative instruments, including synchrotron light sources, which are important imaging devices and useful for, among other things, analyzing the composition and origin of paintings and sculptures without destroying even a tiny bit of the art.
Brookhaven’s current $1-billion construction project, the National Synchrotron Light Source II, pushes the lab in yet another new direction — toward basic energy science.
Today’s ceremony reminds us that these advances don’t just happen. They are made — at places kept vibrant and able to attract new talent by ingeniously reinventing themselves as they negotiate changing scientific trends, policy concerns and available funding.
MICA members Margaret Malloy and Tom Talbot are members of BNL’s “Community Advisory Council.