March 4, 1915–January 16, 2000
BY BOYCE D.MCDANIEL AND ALBERT SILVERMAN
ROBERT RATHBUN WILSON was one of the most important figures in accelerator development and research since Ernest Lawrence. He was the driving force for the creation of two of the four world-class high-energy physics laboratories in the United States: the Cornell Laboratory of Nuclear Studies and Fermilab, which houses the world’s highest-energy accelerator—initially the 500-GeV proton synchrotron and since 1990 the tevatron, the world’s first high-energy superconducting magnet synchrotron.
A brief review of his career cannot begin to describe his central role in high-energy experimental physics. His insistence on bolder, more compact, and economical design, seen clearly in the accelerators he built at Cornell, influenced the design of most modern accelerators, and his development of the first superconducting magnet accelerator at Fermilab made possible both technically and economically the very-high-energy accelerators now under construction.
Wilson was an inspiring leader. Each new project was the beginning of an adventure, a cause for celebration. The more challenging the project, the more exuberantly he embraced it. His attitude was contagious, and his colleagues responded with their very best efforts.