Robert Rathbun Wilson

National Medal of Science

Physical Sciences

For unusual ingenuity in designing experiments to explore the fundamental particles of matter and in designing and constructing the machines to produce the particles, culminating in the world's most powerful particle accelerator.

For unusual ingenuity in designing experiments to explore the fundamental particles of matter and in designing and constructing the machines to produce the particles, culminating in the world's most powerful particle accelerator.

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Birth
March 4, 1914
Age Awarded
59
Country of Birth
USA
Key Contributions
Electromagnetic Separation Of Isotopes Of Uranium
Former Director of Fermilab
Manhattan Project
Awarded by
Richard Milhous Nixon
Education
University of California, Berkeley
Areas of Impact
Transportation
Affiliations
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
Other Prizes
Enrico Fermi Award
I

In 1967, some of America’s most brilliant scientists flocked to a building nestled in the cornfields of Illinois, surrounded by bison, prairie and fishing holes. A Wyoming-born cowboy, Robert Rathbun Wilson, a scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project, modeled FermiLab after the Beauvais Cathedral in France.

The structure housed one of the world’s most powerful particle accelerators, used for research on subatomic particles by smashing them together at a high energy.

Wilson resigned from Fermilab in 1978, frustrated by a lack of government funding – but not before lecturing a joint committee of Congress about the importance of basic science.

In 1969, he touted the knowledge gained at FermiLab as contributing to “our love of culture” – similar to the works of great sculptors and painters – when a senator questioned the lab’s value to national defense.

“It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending,” he replied.

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