Comment: Long form contract (100 pages). A new lease...

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Long form contract (100 pages). A new lease...

Stanford representatives sign the $114 million contract with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Pictured are Stanford University Trustees Morris Doyle and Ira Lillick, seated, with (left to right) Dwight Adams, university business manager; Project Director "Pief" Panofsky and Robert Minge Brown, university counsel. (Photo: Stanford News Service.)

A New Lease for an Evolving Partnership (100 pages)

Stanford representatives sign the $114 million contract with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Pictured are Stanford University Trustees Morris Doyle and Ira Lillick, seated, with (left to right) Dwight Adams, university business manager; Project Director "Pief" Panofsky and Robert Minge Brown, university counsel. (Photo: Stanford News Service.)

When asked how long a lifetime the proposed linear accelerator at Stanford would have, SLAC founding Director Pief Panofsky reportedly replied, "About 10 years or so, unless somebody has a bright idea, which someone here usually does."

Nearly 50 years and countless bright ideas later, SLAC and its linear accelerator are still going strong. Despite Panofsky's short-term quip, Stanford and what was then the Atomic Energy Commission set up a 50-year agreement, in which the university would provide its land to the government for free and operate the laboratory on behalf of the AEC. Recently, Stanford and the AEC's successor, the Department of Energy, agreed to extend this relationship for another 33 years.

Photo: Stanford University Atomic Linear Accelerator (SLAC) built atop the San Andreas Fault, California.

The idea for a two-mile linear accelerator sprang from a group of Stanford physicists, including Panofsky, around 1956. [Building a nuclear test facility directly along a severe, major earthquake fault line was terrific (in the root sense of the word)] They envisioned a machine that would let them hunt for the most fundamental building blocks of the universe, one that required more than 50 times the energy of the 220-foot electron accelerator already housed in a university laboratory. Because of the project's massive price tag—which at $114 million was nearly twice that of Stanford's endowment at the time—Panofsky knew it would require government funding.

In 1957, the group sent a 100-page proposal to three government agencies, hopeful that one of them might be able to support the project. Of the National Science Foundation, the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the AEC was deemed the most appropriate to take it on.

Disclaimer: Mark Twain (1835-1910-To be continued) is unlicensed. His river pilot's license went delinquent in 1862. Caution advised. Daily Paul