On 16 January 2000, Prof. Robert Rathbun Wilson (1914–2000) passed away in Ithaca, NY. He was a significant figure in the establishment of Fermilab in DuPage, Illinois.
After completing his PhD with E.O. Lawrence, with a dissertation “Theory of the Cyclotron” (1940), he joined Cornell University where he and his colleagues built four electron synchrotrons. Wilson was made the director of the National Accelerator Laboratory in 1967, subsequently known as the Fermilab, for which he oversaw its construction, completing the facility on time and under budget.
The building named Wilson Hall at Fermilab was designed to resemble a medieval French cathedral, Beauvais Cathedral (A.D. 1225-1568). This is his recollection: Wilson, Robert R. “Starting Fermilab.” Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Batavia, Illinois. Published 1992. http://history.fnal.gov/GoldenBooks/gb_wilson2.html
“To decide how high the ‘Lab’ building ought to be, I went up in a helicopter and had the pilot hover at various altitudes as I plotted an ‘aesthetic factor’ as a function of height. The curve rose sharply to about 75 ft where it began to flatten as the Fox River Valley came into view. The sky, the sunsets, the Illinois landscape, all looked better at the higher levels, as it had from the tenth floor of the Oak Brook office building. I concluded that the building should be at least 200 ft tall, and taller if possible (it turned out to be 250 ft).
“Years earlier, I had been delightfully involved with the question of height while driving from Paris, France, to see Chartres Cathedral. As you go along, at first you see it, then you don’t, then it seems to flirt with you, and finally bursts out in all its radiant splendor. Perhaps it was hubris to hope for a similar effect on approaching Fermilab. Ultimately, it was not Chartres, but Beauvais Cathedral that was to have a closer resemblance to the Central Lab.”
In an interview with American Institute of Physics, Prof. Wilson discussed the religious aspects of his upbringing in Big Piney, Wyoming:
“[Robert R. Wilson]: ‘In Big Piney there was no church. Eventually there was one for all of the religions, which took turns in having their services there. But men considered church to be just for women. The men, in the tradition of the mountain men, had no religion and considered it a womanly thing. So, exposed to men, then, I was not religious; exposed to my grandmother, I was deeply religious. Sort of a yin and a yang, as it were. Manliness was identified with independence and freedom — we made a great deal of that — not working for wages, all those cliches.’
“[Interviewer]: ‘So you perhaps had a religion inside but not so much the external observances?’
“[Wilson]: ‘Yes. On the other hand there was the feminine part that is received from ones mother. My mother was not particularly religious but my grandmother was deeply religious.’ ”
Wilson, Robert R. “Starting Fermilab.” Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Batavia, Illinois. Published 1992. http://history.fnal.gov/GoldenBooks/gb_wilson2.html
“AIP Interview of Robert R. Wilson by Spencer Weart.” 19 May 1977. Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA. https://www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4972
Images: http://cerncourier.com/cws/article/cern/28180, http://wide-wallpapers.net/robert-rathbun-wilson-hall-wide-wallpaper/