Robert R. Wilson

About Robert R. Wilson

Fermilab's founding director from 1967-78, Robert Rathbun Wilson, defined the Lab's research program, facilities, and aesthetics. Born in Frontier, Wyoming, Wilson responded to his western training ground as a curious investigator and observer. He began his career at the forefront physics laboratories of Berkeley and Princeton, leading to his recruitment as the youngest researcher in Los Alamos, where he served as leader of the cyclotron group and head of the experimental nuclear physics division, and also mayor of the town. Following a brief period at Harvard, Wilson went to Cornell where his mastery of experimental elementary particle physics and accelerator design was demonstrated in the successful projects of the Newman Laboratory of Nuclear Studies.

Wilson--physicist, architect, artist, sculptor, and writer--put his personal stamp on every aspect of Fermilab. In addition to creating Fermilab's frontier research capabilities with the Main Ring, he had the Laboratory's buildings painted in bright primary colors, patterned his design for the Laboratory's high-rise headquarters after a cathedral in Beauvais, France, protected the Lab's open space and established a herd of American bison at the Laboratory. As part of his utopian vision for Fermilab, Wilson made a radical (and successful) appeal to the 1969 Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy to fund the Lab's peaceful high-energy physics research: "It has nothing to do directly with defending our country," he said, "except to make it worth defending."