How the father of big science went small with the invention of a color TV tube reports that pioneering physicist Ernest O. Lawrence transformed American science over nearly three decades. The inventor of the cyclotron, the ancestor of such advanced machines as Europe’s Large Hadron Collider, Lawrence placed UC Berkeley in the forefront of high-energy physics. He single-handedly saved the Manhattan Project from cancellation, played a key role in the development of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then threw his considerable stature behind the development of the hydrogen bomb. His role bequeathed us what is now Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which he founded largely to pursue H-bomb research. Lawrence created the research paradigm known as big science — the capital-intensive partnership of academia, government and industry that helped us land men on the moon and sequence the human genome and continues to drive planetary exploration. His legacy also challenges us to think about the best way society should spend its resources — how to weigh the monumental effort it might take to put a human on Mars or bring life-saving but expensive drugs to those suffering from curable diseases. Many scientists worry today that the sheer cost of big science might spell its demise: a budget-conscious Congress canceled the Super Conducting Supercollider physics program in 1993 after spending $2 billion of its projected $11-billion budget. As is related in this adaptation of my new book, “Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention That Launched the Military-Industrial Complex,” Lawrence himself took a break from delving into the mysteries of the atom. In a return to his small-science roots, Lawrence invented a color TV tube inside his converted garage.


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