Friday, December 30, 2016

Yet Another "Star" Has Passed -- But Not From Hollywood, This Time -- This One Founded And Ran Batavia's Fermilab

The world-renown particle physicist Dr. Edwin Goldwasser has passed -- his niece has confirmed. He was 97. This man, though quiet and unassuming, made the United States the envy of the particle physics world in the early 1970s -- by overseeing the build of Fermilab's particle accelerator -- at the time the largest and most powerful on the planet. [It would take a long row of volumes to explain all the ways his accelerator project in sleepy Batavia, Illinois changed our understanding of quantum particles -- but their tracings appear in faint yellow, over his head at right.]

His time on this pale blue dot leaves us all a gift: he was a staggeringly powerful science vessel -- fostering a life-long legacy of achievement, in the physical sciences in and around the U of I. [The photo at right captures this I think, in his eyes -- while on his daily bicycle commute -- there appears an enigmatic genius. And he was that, indeed.] Here's a bit, from the New York Times obit (do go read it all):

. . . .Dr. Goldwasser, who was long associated with the University of Illinois, helped pioneer the use of powerful particle accelerators in American physics. By smashing subatomic particles together at high energies, the machines deepen scientists’ understanding of the most fundamental aspects of nature.

He was named deputy director of what was then the National Accelerator Laboratory in 1967 and given the task of constructing the most powerful accelerator in the world on farmland outside Chicago. The lab, which would later be known as Fermilab after the physicist Enrico Fermi, began operations in 1972.

"His biggest impact was Fermilab — creating the most forward-looking laboratory of its day in the United States," said Barry Barish, a physicist who performed experiments in the early days of Fermilab before becoming the director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. . . .

This year -- more than most -- I've profoundly felt the weight of these many passings. Perhaps because I see a less-hopeful, buoyant world for the next four years. Or, perhaps, because it increasingly settles in on me -- that one day, I too will be at the head of that line.

But for now, let us enter 2017 thinking of all the gifts these passing luminaries left behind for us: in their music, the arts, their films and yes -- in the sciences. Pax tecum, Dr. Goldwasser. Smile. . . .


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