The founding of CEBAF, 1979 to 1987

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In early 1979 a group of physicists assembled at the University of Virginia (UVa) for a conference entitled ''Future Possibilities for Electron Accelerators.'' In the audience sat an organizer of the conference, UVa professor James McCarthy. While listening to talks by Gregory Loew of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and Roger Servranckx of the University of Saskatchewan, McCarthy got very excited. Both discussed new approaches to producing an almost continuous stream of electrons with improved designs for pulse stretcher rings that could be built within a reasonable budget. McCarthy saw the possibility of realizing a dream. This dream had ... continued below

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Westfall, C. February 1, 1995.

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In early 1979 a group of physicists assembled at the University of Virginia (UVa) for a conference entitled ''Future Possibilities for Electron Accelerators.'' In the audience sat an organizer of the conference, UVa professor James McCarthy. While listening to talks by Gregory Loew of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and Roger Servranckx of the University of Saskatchewan, McCarthy got very excited. Both discussed new approaches to producing an almost continuous stream of electrons with improved designs for pulse stretcher rings that could be built within a reasonable budget. McCarthy saw the possibility of realizing a dream. This dream had its origins in the 1950s, when Robert Hofstadter, McCarthy's thesis advisor, made groundbreaking discoveries at Stanford's High Energy Physics Laboratory (HEPL) about the internal structure of nuclei and nucleons. For these experiments Hofstadter used Mark III, the most advanced in a series of electron accelerators designed by William Hansen, who pioneered methods of high frequency acceleration of electrons. The work by Hofstadter and Hansen led to two productive lines of inquiry. One group of researchers studied particle production using electrons at higher energies, which led to the construction in the 1960s of SLAC at Stanford. Another group of researchers, which included McCarthy, investigated nuclear structure with more modest increases in energy accompanied by increases in the duty factor of the electron beam. This line of inquiry, electro-nuclear physics, led in the 1960s and 1970s to a succession of accelerators, including a $7.2 million high duty factor 400 MeV linear accelerator (linac) completed in 1972 at the Bates Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Bates-MIT), and ambitious attempts to develop untried technologies to further boost energy and duty factor, most notably the effort to develop superconducting radiofrequency (srf) accelerating technology at HEPL. By 1979 electro-nuclear physics had attracted a considerable following. The growing electro-nuclear physics community was eager to find a scheme to permit virtually continuous acceleration, which would greatly improve the capability of performing coincidence experiments. In the words of the UVa conference proceedings, this experimental capability promised to open entire new areas of nuclear physics. Convinced that he could be the one to design the necessary groundbreaking machine after hearing the ideas of Loew and Servranckx, McCarthy began gathering a small accelerator building team. Against all odds, McCarthy's pipe dream resulted in the construction of a major accelerator laboratory, the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF). The founding of CEBAF is a tale of luck, perseverance, the triumph of flexible amateurism over rigid professionalism, and ironically, the potential of amateurs when supported by a thoroughly professional international network with well-defined methods for organizing and building accelerators. The CEBAF tale also has a surprise ending, for at the last minute, McCarthy's pipe dream was radically transformed by Hermann Grunder, who would direct the construction of the project. The twists and turns of this tale reveal many lessons about what aids and what detracts from the success of a large, federally sponsored scientific project.

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  • Report No.: CEBAF-PR-94-006
  • Report No.: DOE/ER/40150-1644
  • Grant Number: AC05-84ER40150
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 756870
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc711517

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  • February 1, 1995

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  • Sept. 12, 2015, 6:31 a.m.

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  • Feb. 5, 2016, 8:09 p.m.

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Westfall, C. The founding of CEBAF, 1979 to 1987, article, February 1, 1995; Newport News, Virginia. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc711517/: accessed September 26, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.