MAKING PHYSICS by Robert P. Crease

MAKING PHYSICS

A Biography of Brookhaven National Laboratory, 1946-1972
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A detailed, technical account of the first 25 years of Brookhaven National Laboratory, describing not only the evolution of several groundbreaking projects, but also the personalities and politics that helped shape this community of scientists. Brookhaven historian Crease (Philosophy/SUNY, Stony Brook) begins his narrative at Columbia University in the months following WWII. I.I. Rabi, the “driving force” in the physics department and a key figure in the Manhattan Project, came to the conclusion that funding a research reactor would require both cooperation from several universities and government assistance. This idea, circulated among key individuals from nine universities along the East Coast, quickly became a plan for a national laboratory. By the beginning of 1947, a military site in rural Long Island, deemed “equally inaccessible to everybody,” was reluctantly selected, and the work of transforming it into a world-class research facility began. Crease methodically describes four large projects at Brookhaven, from initial design and construction to operation and eventual obsolescence. The narrative explores not only the scientific instruments, but the community of scientists that quickly formed at Brookhaven. As one early community member wrote (to the tune of “My Darling Clementine”), “Oh Brookhaven, Oh Brookhaven, / Darling of the AEC / With its peacetime chain reactor / What a fine place it will be.” Crease also describes public reaction to the laboratory, which ranged from the hope that the reactor could cure inoperable brain tumors (touted as an “atomic miracle” in the press) to farmers who worried that their ducks had become radioactive. Crease’s “biography” of Brookhaven is not as effective at weaving together the physics, politics, and historical setting as tomes such as Richard Rhodes’s The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Instead, Crease provides a well written, more narrowly focused account of the research and community of Brookhaven suitable for those interested in studying the heyday of big physics. (77 b&w photos, 5 maps, 12 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-226-12017-1
Page count: 436pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999




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