E-36: The First Proto-Megascience Experiment at NAL


E-36, an experiment on small-angle proton-proton scattering, began testing equipment at the National Accelerator Laboratory (NAL) using a newly achieved 100 GeV proton beam on February 12, 1972, marking the beginning of NAL’s experimental program. This experiment, which drew collaborators from NAL, the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (Dubna, USSR), the University of Rochester (Rochester, New York), and Rockefeller University (New York, New York) was significant not only as a milestone in Fermilab’s history but also as a model of cooperation between the East and West at a time when Cold War tensions still ran high. An examination of the origin, operation, and resolution of E-36 and the chain of experiments it spawned reveals the complex interplay of science and politics that drove these experiments as well as seeds of the megascience paradigm that has come to dominate high energy physics research since the 1970s.

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  1. 1.

    The experiment had the formal number 36 because the experiments were numbered according to the order in which their proposals were submitted. Nevertheless, E-36 was the first experiment to actually receive the accelerated beam because it used the internal beam (circulating inside the ring) while the others necessitated beam extraction, which required additional construction work.

  2. 2.

    The Pomeranchuk theorem stated that the p-p scattering cross sections asymptotically tend to the limiting value (not necessarily a constant), which was not realized at the early stages of data analysis when the experimentalists expected that it would tend to zero. When experiment had shown that the quantity rises above zero, the observation first invoked doubts in the data analysis procedure, and after lively debates resulted in a better understanding of the theorem.

  3. 3.

    The suffix “A,” meaning “amended,” was given to the experiment subsequent to merging all relevant proposals.

  4. 4.

    Telex (a typewriter connected to a phone line playing the role internet plays today) was a network similar to the telephone network for sending text messages, in use since the 1930s.

  5. 5.

    Don Getz was an assistant director of NAL, who occasionally came to watch the process.

  6. 6.

    This term was suggested by Fermilab Archivist and Historian, Valerie Higgins.


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  82. 82

    “An Open Letter to Professors R. Wilson, E. Goldwasser; F. Mattmueller, A. Mravca, All NAL and AEC Employees,” September 13, 1973. C.5.a.4: “36A Proton-Proton Scattering (part 1).”

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The author is indebted to Richard Carrigan, Konstantin Goulianos, Dan Gross, Ernest Malamud, Adrian Melissinos, Stephen Olsen, Vladimir Nikitin, and Ryuji Yamada for taking the time to share their memories. I am thankful to Yuri Eidelman and Nikolai Mokhov for reading and commenting on the manuscript, and to Peter Garbincius for useful discussions of the experiment numbering at NAL. I am grateful to Alexey Zhemchugov (JINR) for providing us documents related to Chinese participation in JINR. I express my condolences to Vladimir Nikitin in connection with the death of his spouse, Valentina, a NAL visitor during E-36A. The author is grateful to Fermilab Archivist and Historian Valerie Higgins who conducted most of the oral history interviews for this paper and significantly contributed at all stages of work on the manuscript. I am grateful to Heath O’Connell for supporting this study. I thank the editors and the anonymous reviewer for their constructive comments, which helped me to improve the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Vitaly S. Pronskikh.

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Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Batavia, USA. The author holds PhD in physics. His research interests are in nuclear and particle physics, and history and philosophy of science, broadly construed.

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Pronskikh, V.S. E-36: The First Proto-Megascience Experiment at NAL. Phys. Perspect. 18, 357–378 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00016-016-0192-1

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  • Soviet Scientist
  • Accelerate Proton
  • Foreign Collaborator
  • Eastern Bloc Country
  • Alternate Gradient Synchrotron