A simple gift during Cold War offered good luck to linear accelerator

Louis Rosen invited soviet scientists to Los Alamos

December 4, 2023

Russian Spoon
The wooden spoon A.P. Fedorov gave to Louis Rosen

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Los Alamos physicist Louis Rosen hosted soviet delegations of scientists to observe the development of the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility (LAMPF)’s — now known as the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center — grand high-energy accelerator, which scientists would use to study subatomic particles. Rosen believed that sharing some nuclear science and technology could have positive benefits for relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, which had been locked in a cold war for decades. He was able to convince the Laboratory and some government officials of these benefits and was permitted to share his designs and progress on LAMPF with his soviet scientific contemporaries.

Rosen’s proposed accelerator would produce proton beams 10,000 times more powerful than any accelerator at that time. It would be the greatest nuclear physics facility in the world, as well as the priciest, costing over $57 million. Many of the visiting scientists were skeptical that the accelerator would be a success. They deemed LAMPF too expensive and too dangerous, worrying that neutrons would be uncontrollable and ultimately harmful to working scientists. Other soviet scientists were more optimistic of Rosen’s plan and hoped to create a similar facility in their own nation.

The linear accelerator proved a success in 1972, achieving a beam-energy of 800 meV. It was the most powerful in the world. Soon after, soviet scientist A. P. Fedorov sent Louis Rosen a small gift, a hand-carved and painted ladle. It was a classic example of Russian folk art.

Fedelov included a note to Rosen:

“Dr. Louis Rosen! I am pleased to present you a Russian magic instrument which may help liquidate the remains of the beam losses in the accelerator,” jokingly referring to his colleagues’ initial concerns about neutron mayhem that might escape from the accelerator.

The simple gift is a memento of open science, and Rosen’s belief in the benefits of knowledge exchange as an act of diplomacy. The wooden ladle is now a part of the Bradbury Science Museum’s collections. Read more about Louis Rosen and LAMPF.