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1. "Big Science" at Berkeley

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niversities, like people, have their own distinctive personalities. Berkeley’s Physics Department came to shape the campus’s personality as a whole. As time went on, the prodigious quantity of its experimental resources and the avalanche of discoveries that poured out would loom ever larger on the campus landscape.


The department’s physical presence was substantive and unmistakable, occupying LeConte Hall, the Radiation Laboratory, and the Emergency Classroom Building (now Minor Hall), site of secret atomic research during World War II.


Aerial View of the Campus, 1919
Aerial View of the Campus, 1919
[UARC PIC 300:27]


Aerial View of the Campus, 1931
Aerial View of the Campus, 1931
[UARC PIC 3:41]


New Faculty, New Directions

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he arrival of many new faculty, students, and staff propelled Berkeley’s Physics Department into a new era, and in many new scientific directions. Some came because they were attracted by opportunities in both theoretical and experimental physics, others driven by youthful passion for a “California adventure.” Perhaps most came – and stayed – because of the company of great minds. Fear of Fascist aggression and loss of jobs at home also contributed significantly. At home, too, Berkeley was always in the market for the best talent, as Oppenheimer’s recommendation of future Nobelist Richard Feynman to Lawrence indicates.


Emigres enriched the brain pool enormously. For instance, future Berkeley Nobelist Emilio Segre left Palermo in the summer of 1939 for a brief working visit with Lawrence -- they’d been corresponding for several years -- then stayed permanently when stranded at the outbreak of World War II.


Elsewhere, Enrico Fermi vacated the University of Rome, while Leo Szilard escaped the University of Berlin, to find refuge in the United States. Many passed through Berkeley after emigrating to visit friends (Fermi was Segre’s mentor) and meet Rad Lab scientists.


This usually talented, polyglot staff – natives and refugees, gentiles and Jews – created “Big Science” at Berkeley – big machines, big staffs, big money.


Letter from Oppenheimer to Birge Recommending Richard Feynman for a Position at Berkeley, November 4, 1943 Letter from Oppenheimer to Birge Recommending Richard Feynman for a Position at Berkeley, November 4, 1943
Letter from Oppenheimer to Birge Recommending Richard Feynman for a Position at Berkeley, November 4, 1943 [pg. 1, pg. 2]
[BANC MSS 73/79 c]


"... Bethe has said that he would rather lose any two other men than Feynman from this present job, and Wigner said, 'He is a second Dirac, only this time human.'"

Rad Lab Expansion

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onsider the dramatic increase of staff at the Radiation Laboratory over a five-year span:


1933: Senior Staff Lawrence, Livingood, Livingston, Lucci; Postdoc McMillan; Sabbatarian Exner. (6 Total)


1938: Senior Staff Lawrence, Cooksey, Alvarez, McMillan, Ruben; Research Associates Seaborg, Brobeck, Corson, Emo, Erf, Farley, Green, Kamen, Hamilton, Langsdorf, Larkin, MacKenzie, McNeel, Salisbury, Segre, Simmons, Tuttle, Waltman; Postdocs Lewis, Aebersold, Marshak, Hoag, Kruger; Graduate Assistants Backus, Condit, Kennedy, Livingston, Nag, Scott, Wahl, Wright, Wu, Yockey; Physics Assistant Lofgren, Raymond; University Fellows Cornog, Helmholz, Wilson. (43 Total)


When Princeton tried to recruit Lawrence by touting that their graduate school had only 200 students, which promised closer contact with students, Lawrence is said to have replied without a smile: “Why, I want that many for myself.” Berkeley gave him close to that number.


Oppenheimer, Fermi, and Lawrence in Front of the Emergency Classroom Building (now Minor Hall), 1940
Oppenheimer, Fermi, and Lawrence in Front of the Emergency Classroom Building (now Minor Hall), 1940
[Courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley National Labratory]


E. O. Lawrence, A. Compton, J. Conant, V. Bush, K. Compton, A. Loomis in the Radiation Laboratory, 1940
E. O. Lawrence, A. Compton, J. Conant, V. Bush, K. Compton, A. Loomis in the Radiation Laboratory, 1940

[UARC PIC 10n:14]


The chalkboard displays a simplified drawing of how a cyclotron works.