A Slice and Sampling of SLAC History on Display at Stanford

March 26, 2012

Most people who want to see SLAC’s iconic linear accelerator have to settle for models and photos – or a view of the 2-mile-long building as they drive past it on Interstate 280 or Sand Hill Road. But at a new exhibit celebrating SLAC history at the Stanford Alumni Center, they can get up close to a small section of the accelerator – the actual wave guide where the particle beam travels.

The exhibit, which runs through the end of the year, includes images, information panels and nine meticulously selected objects, each chosen to represent an important aspect of SLAC’s 50-year history and its future.

Trying to cover 50 years in two display cases is challenging, SLAC Archivist Laura O’Hara said: “Looking for objects was the hardest part. It’s a balance of finding what’s small, relevant and has visual impact.”

But she had enthusiastic help in her quest.

Thumbnail - Slice of copper wave guide from the linear accelerator (Photo by Brad Plummer)

The item she most coveted – that chunk of the linear accelerator – came from John Seeman, deputy director of the SLAC Accelerator Directorate.  Sections of the accelerator are changed out as needed to meet the requirements of various experiments. Seeman came up with a 20-pound, 1-foot-long section of the wave guide that had been taken out and would no longer be needed.

When it turned out to be too big for the exhibit space, O’Hara said, Seeman told her, “Oh, that’s no problem. We could get it sliced, after SLAC Radiation Physics does a screening.”

The cutaway is now on display at the Alumni Center.

Also on view are a YAG X-ray mirror, the first device to “see” the Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray laser beam, a bronze Nobel Prize medal borrowed from SLAC’s Panofsky Visitor Center, and a cathode used with the LCLS. O’Hara was cautioned not to touch it with her bare hands because it would be used again once it’s returned.

The exhibit's name, “Fifty Years of Good Ideas,” is inspired by something W.K.H. “Pief” Panofsky, SLAC’s first director, said when asked how long he thought SLAC would last: “Ten years, unless someone has a good idea.”

Fifty years and hundreds of good ideas later, from the first beam experiments in 1965 through Nobel prizes, the launch of the World Wide Web in North America and the opening of the LCLS, “SLAC is always re-inventing itself,” O’Hara said.

Exhibit information

50 Years of Good Ideas

Frances C. Arillaga Alumni Center, 326 Galvez St., Stanford

On view now through Dec. 31, 2012

8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (M-F)

Metered visitor's parking available in the track house lot for $1.50/hour; free after 4 p.m.

All are encouraged to take the Marguerite shuttle from SLAC!