Author Michael Hiltzik On 'Big Science'
This is KPBS midday edition and I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The image of the loan scientist working impotently using his or her brilliance and innovation to unlock the mysteries of nature, is largely a thing of the past. Now teams of researchers collaborate huge endeavors like NASA's please explorations and need large amounts of machines manpower and money. So how did we get from the small scientific model for research to big science? A new book traces the path science research has taken . and named 1 man who is pivotal in that change. Joining me is. Author of the book Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention That Launched the Military-Industrial Complex . Michael Hiltzik. You say this also changed science why was big science need in World War II? You could not do a lot that we needed to do to win World War II with solitary scientists and researchers working alone in their labs. It required major effort. The Manhattan project which I explained in my book, validated this paradigm of big science. It cost $2 billion and required armies of scientists and technicians. There were five or six individual labs that worked on various problems that had to be solved to create the atom bomb. So of course it all worked from the standpoint of creating a device they were trying to create. If people were asked to name a person in the 20th century that revolutionized science I don't think they would come up with a name but it might be Ernest Lawrence. That's what made this project interesting. Went Ernest Lawrence was alive, he was born in 1901 and died at a fairly early age. He was the most famous American born scientist in the country he was on the cover of Time magazine and quoted newspapers and radio. Constantly he was was saved the Manhattan project from being canceled in 1941 when it was still group ported that the bomb could be developed in time or at least have an effect on the war. He was the grandchild of immigrants from Norway and born in Canton South Dakota and educated in the great land-grant public University of South Dakota. He was quintessentially middle American. He grew up with a fascination that machinery and engineering to play with radio technology. And when he went to the radio University showed he had a tremendous capacity to understand physics and the capacity to get his hands dirty and create the experimental apparatus that was needed to do this. What defines big science? Is it the public financing for researchers? These are all elements of big science that's necessary. Big science is the exultation of capital research where you need big machines to solve the problems. You can't do it any longer with handmade equipment like the old generation. You need teams. These questions become so complicated that you need a multidisciplinary approach and need a lot of money. By inventing the cyclotron the first really great atom smasher the 20th century, he set this in motion. Because cyclotron this is the got bigger cost more. He was eventually building machines the cost millions of dollars. You say Ernest Lawrence was pivotal in bringing corporate money together into this big science projects. Did he have a reaction and president Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex was he gone by then? By then he was gone. And right through the end of his life the downside of big science, the issues that require so much in resources that begins to conflict with other things that society might want to do. That did not really come up during his life that came up with in a few years. Lawrence was an entrepreneur he was an impresario almost a CEO. He knew that the machines he wanted to build, the ones that were necessary to do the science he wanted to do, really strange the resources of the traditional Petri and science. The universities could not afford to pay for these machines by themselves three got funding from foundations and as the war began, he started getting funding from government and started this tradition of government funding research even in peacetime. I'm speaking with Michael Hiltzik who's written a book called Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention That Launched the Military-Industrial Complex . As you wrote that in the postwar era. People thought big science with salt all the worlds problems. Coded that change as time went on? Certainly at the end of the war when the image of the scientist was of the men and women who had created the atomic bomb and ended the war. Scientists came out of the war with sort of a halo. But it was obvious to think that anybody looking at history knows this halo cannot persist forever. We face problems that could not be solved I science and as we face problems there were created by science, the atomic bomb to the hydrogen bomb. We went from creating a weapon that most of the scientific community understood, or felt was necessary to win the war, to one that the same scientists not it's really just an instrument of genocide. The doubts that scientists had about their own role for the public. They began to get a much more three-dimensional view of what science did and what it could accomplish as well as what it cost. Congress was asked to fund the superconductor the 90s tells what happened? This was an enormous particle accelerator that was going to be built in role Texas. It was costing billions of dollars and was going to be the grandest expression of big science and physics. The misfortune there if that's we want to call it, was that it came along at a time when there was a craze for budget cutting in Washington. You had a new cadre of Congressman who came in around that time and raised questions about whether this is where we should be spending our money . was also another element that even in the physics community there was conflict over whether this was the right to spend money on because it emphasized one form of physics over another. But it really did Mark the point at which Congress and society at large began to think about how should we deploy finite resources. We have all sorts of problems that could be solved more easily if we deployed these resources to end hunger and poverty. This became a symbol of that expenditure and the victim of that movement. Eventually what happened for two been dollars already being spent. Seated the field to Europe where consortium of European countries known as CEC is the latest iteration that cyclotron built earlier. Is now the biggest accelerator in the world and it cost $9 billion before it was done. Even before he died did earn Lawrence have an idea of what this amalgam of forces coming together created perhaps in terms of the hydrogen bomb? One of the interesting things about Lawrence is that he was not a particularly introspective person when it came to his accomplishments. He saw his view of his own career that he had done great things that needed to be done. He thought it was necessary for national security, even when he was really taking a stance for the hydrogen bomb that so many of his old friends and colleagues disagreed with. He really thought it was the right thing to do. Interestingly enough. After he died, his widow Molly Lawrence, I highly educated scientist although she never really practiced in the lab, got very upset, would have been launched by the hydrogen bomb project. She got so concerned about the participation of the Livermore lab that her husband founded. She wanted to take his name off that lab. His brother disagreed. He thought he would of been fully in favor of the projects that Livermore was undertaking for the government. He thought it and as time came to pass we still know this laboratory as the Lawrence laboratory that still works on secret nuclear projects. As pointed out, the world is still reaping the benefits and gaining knowledge from big science for the particle accelerator in Europe. But in our age of computer software, and these elaborate simulators, do you think we may see big science begin to shrink back by the work done of one scientist on a laptop? I don't think so. Many of the problems that we face, many issues that science can solve, still require big science like climate change. We approached climate change and research from satellites in space . that's big science. The human genome as you mentioned, that's big science and the offshoots of that research that we got from that project. That's also big science. May not continue to be as big and it's been, but we can't go halfway anymore. This really does require teams and multi-disciplinary approach. You may see more of this coming from industry but I don't think science is going to get cheaper it's really a question of can we use these funds more efficiently. You do have a warning about too much of that money coming from corporations are you concerned? I think we should be. When government pays for big science it really puts its money in basic science. We need to fund young scientists to go where their research takes them. When industry takes over it's a natural effect. It tends to want to fund projects that are much more aligned with these companies core business line. So when corporations play that sort of role as the mirror science. Michael Hiltzik . Hiltzik will be speaking and signing copies of his book at Warwick's on Wednesday, July 8 at 7:30 p.m. The bookstore is at 7812 Girard Ave. in La Jolla. be sure to watch K PBS evening edition at 5 PM. And join us tomorrow for discussions on midday addition here on KPBS FM. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh thank you for listening.
A new book traces the path science research has taken since the middle of the 20th century and named one man who was pivotal in that change.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Hiltzik's new book, "Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention That Launched the Military-Industrial Complex," tells the story of the pioneering physicist whose invention, the cyclotron, was integral to the development of the nuclear weapons the United States used during World War II.
“When Ernest Lawrence was alive he was the most famous American-born scientist,” Hiltzik told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday.
Hiltzik said Lawrence was the reason the Manhattan Project, a research team that developed the nuclear weapons for the war, didn’t shut down.
“It was, in fact, his authority that saved the Manhattan Project from being canceled in 1941 when it was still unclear that the bomb could be developed in time to win the war or have an effect on the war,” Hiltzik said.