Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 22  |  Friday, September 17, 1999  |  Number 18
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PaCarnegie Mellon University

by Mike Perricone

Though he has left an indelible mark on one of the world's leading science laboratories, John Peoples has an ironic confession about his undergraduate days at Carnegie Tech in the early 1950s.

"Toward the end of my senior year I actually thought that labs were interesting, as opposed to before then, when I wouldn't go to them," said Peoples, Fermilab's Director from 1989 to 1999, and now the CEO of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey headquartered at Fermilab.

Peoples admitted he often focused on extracurricular activities such as intramural athletics. He also danced in the annual "Scotch and Soda" review, before graduating in 1955 with an Electrical Engineering degree. But the academic environment made a significant impact, whether in the classroom or at the kitchen sink of a fraternity house.

Fermilab Director Emeritus John PeeplesThere were courses that forced you to think, courses that presented real problems you had to analyze on your own," he recalled. "A course called Engineering Analysis forced you to teach yourself certain kinds of mathematics to solve a problem--to frame the problem, to figure out your approach and what approximations you needed to solve it. That was extremely valuable."

Then there were the happy accidents produced by an inevitable immersion in the surrounding atmosphere of ideas.

"Several of my fraternity brothers were quite involved in physics," he said. "I remember once we were washing dishes, and one of these brothers told me about the experiment that Reines and Cowan were going to do. He told me what a neutrino was, and I thought that was fantastic. He told me how the neutrino was `invented' to save the conservation of energy, and I thought that was neat. Then somebody else told me about cyclotrons, and I thought that was really neat."

The rest, as they say, is history.

Fred Reines and Clyde Cowan found direct evidence of the neutrino at the Savannah River nuclear reactor in South Carolina, eventually winning a Nobel Prize. Peoples earned a Ph.D. in physics at Columbia University. Beginning as an experimenter in the earliest days of Fermilab (then the National Accelerator Laboratory), he went on to manage the construction of the Antiproton Source. His tenure as Director produced the design and construction of the Main Injector accelerator and the Antiproton Recycler, preparing the Lab for Collider Run II and the next millennium of particle physics.

On October 1 at the Pittsburgh campus, Peoples will receive the Alumni Merit Award of Carnegie Mellon University, formed in 1967 when the Carnegie Institute of Technology merged with the Mellon Institute.

"It's a very satisfying thing to happen," Peoples said, adding with a grin: "especially since I was not the most serious student."

But there's no arguing with the quality of the results.

Founded in 1900 by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the university is not especially large (7,500 students, 3,000 faculty and staff); yet it exerts a large influence in many fields, including computer science, robotics and engineering. Prominent in the fine arts since its earliest days, the university awarded the first drama degree in 1917. Peoples met his future wife, Nancy, when she was a painting and design student in Fine Arts at Carnegie.

Carnegie Mellon carries more than its weight in physics and astrophysics

Astrophysics professor Richard Griffiths developed the detectors for the main camera at the focus of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Telescope, which was launched aboard the space shuttle in July as part of NASA's "Great Observatories" series.

Fred Gillman, the chairman designate of the High Energy Physics advisory PanelPhysics professor Fred Gilman, who has done significant research in the weak decays of b mesons and k mesons, was recently named chairman of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, a critical source of guidance for the policy of the Department of Energy. Gilman formerly chaired a group called the Gilman Subpanel, which charted the course for high-energy physics in the uneasy times after the dismantling of the Superconducting Super Collider. The Gilman Subpanel followed up on the subpanel report of Sidney Drell assessing the state of the field.

"The Gilman Subpanel was extremely important in shaping the direction of the field, at a time when funding was very difficult," said Peoples, who directed the SSC's decommissioning. "We were still recovering from the SSC collapse. The Drell panel stabilized the patient, and the Gilman panel addressed the recovery. Fred Gilman will be an exceptional chairman of HEPAP. He's a very thoughtful man, and when we were both involved with the SSC, I found him to be one of the most effective administrators. He is a tremendous asset to that department at Carnegie Mellon."

Carnegie' strength in fine arts and design has also made a major contribution to Fermilab's symbolic presence. The architect of record for Wilson Hall is Alan Rider, a 1952 Carnegie Tech Fine Arts graduate and a fraternity brother of Peoples. In his report on the completion of the High Rise in 1974, Rider wrote:

"Soaring upward, the twin towers enclose a vast interior atrium filled with permanent trees and planting. Huge glass walls on the north and south and skylights overhead provide an ever-changing variety of natural sunlight and shade throughout the seasons."

During an August 30 visit to Fermilab, Carnegie Mellon president Jared Cohon emphasized the university's commitment to the field of particle physics.

"Our group is not big, but it is substantial," Cohon said. "We have just hired one new faculty member in particle physics, and we are planning to hire another. Fred Gilman does a great job--and he does a great job of getting me excited about high-energy physics."

Cohon also stated that "collaboration resonates strongly at Carnegie Mellon. It is our strong suit, across all fields."

The Carnegie Mellon collaboration at Fermilab bears out that description. With just 19 members, the collaboration makes substantial contributions in three major experimental areas:

  • SELEX, the Segmented Large X baryon Spectrometer, a fixed-target experiment at Fermilab designed to make high statistics studies of charm baryons;

  • BTeV, the effort to design a spectrometer, triggering system, and data acquisition system for exploring the physics of bottom quarks, including CP violation, the spectroscopy of heavy states, and rare decays (also working on this experiment is Fermilab physicist Patty McBride, a CMU alumna);

  • US-CMS, the U.S. effort coordinated by Fermilab contributing to the Compact Muon Solenoid detector for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. For CMS, the Carnegie collaboration is developing electronics systems for the endcap muon chambers, and for beam analysis.

    SELEX spokesman and CMU professor Jim Russ (who has a 20-year association with Fermilab) said the majority of the university's collaboration effort at the Lab for the last decade has been devoted to SELEX. That effort was involved in the earliest stages of designing and building the experiment's hardware, and has included work on the development of the SVX readout chip, critical to the silicon vertex detector also used at CDF and being installed at D Zero as part of the upgrade for Run II.

    And one of Peoples' colleagues on SDSS is CMU Astrophysics Professor Bob Nichol, who spent the past year as spectroscopic commissioner shuttling between Pittsburgh, the New Mexico observatory and Fermilab. In June, one of the Sloan spectrometers obtained the spectra of nearly a thousand galaxies.

    Said Congressman William J. Coyne, of the 14th District in Pennsylvania: "Pure scientific research like the work that CMU has been conducting at Fermilab provides us with greater understanding of the world around us. Such research also serves to inspire and train future generations of scientists. It is important that the federal government continue to fund such research."

    Andrew Carnegie founded an institution nearly a century ago with the motto, "My heart is in the work," and the work of Carnegie Mellon University--and of its distinguished alumni--goes to the heart of Fermilab's past, present and future.

  • last modified 9/17/1999   email Fermilab