While surveying the other day, I came across a ballad someone wrote about the physicist Ernest Orlando Lawrence. Lawrence won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1939 for his cyclotron, a machine which accelerates charged nuclear particles. These quickly moving particles were used to bombard atoms of various elements, disintegrating the atoms and sometimes forming completely new elements. Because of this, his cyclotron was also called the "atom smasher".
Lawrence’s work was very influential, but I was still a little surprised to come across a poem about him in one of his scrapbooks. It is called “The Ballad of the Cyclotron” and was written by Walter Weeks.
"The Ballad of the Cyclotron"
By Walter Weeks
There was a young professor in a college by the bay
Who believed that atoms could be smashed in some ingenious way
If he could make electrons go at twenty miles an hour
He thought there would be volts enough to give him ample power.
And so he took some auto springs and magnetized them well
And then he took some copper screen just why I cannot tell
And then he took a radio and a worn out rubber tire
And he tied them all together with a piece of baling wire.
The electrons came from the radio and started round the track
And every time they came around it kicked them in the back
When at the bung hole they arrived they'd had so many jolts
That their speed was the equivalent of a hundred million volts.
And thus evolved the cyclotron of which you all have heard
And of its wonders in a day I could not tell a third
This statement broad is heard today in every lecture hall
If it can't be done with a cyclotron it shouldn't be done at all.
The Prexy came around to see the gadget put to test
Of course the young professor wished to show it at its best
You may fire the thing when ready, boy, the eager Prexy cried
So Lawrence pushed the switches in and quickly stepped aside.
He aimed it at the window pane and knocked out all the glass
He swung it round the campus and it burnt up all the grass
He fired it at some students and it knocked them off their feet
Then he bombed the campanile and he moved it down the street.
And then he bombed some common lead and turned it into gold
The Prexy jumped around with joy and loudly shouted, hold,
I am convinced the thing is good, no more I'll have to go
To the solons up in Sacrement to beg them for some dough.
A Swedish scientist, Nobel, a man both great and kind
Left some prizes to bestow on any master mind
So forty thousand dollars and a big diploma too
They gave to Ernest Lawrence and with that my friends I'm through.
Here are some images of Lawrence with the cyclotron.
Perhaps poetry is used by physicists more often then you would think. Lawrence and his friend Rowan also wrote an ode to their friend Alfred on his 70th birthday.
More biographical information about Lawrence:
Ernest Orlando Lawrence was born in 1901 in Canton, South Dakota. He received his B.A. in Chemistry from the University of South Dakota (1922), his M.A. from the University of Minnesota (1923) and his Ph.D. from Yale (1925). Lawrence came to UC Berkeley in 1928 as Associate professor of Physics and became a full professor at age 30 – at that time the youngest professor at the University. Lawrence founded the Radiation Laboratory at UC Berkeley in 1936 and was its director until his death in 1958.
If you are interested in other Nobel prize winners from UC Berkeley be sure to stop by and see “California Gold: The Nobel Tradition at UC Berkeley” in the exhibit case in the reading room!
BANC MSS 2005/200 Ernest Orlando Lawrence Papers
All photos and the “Ballad of the Cyclotron” are in oversize box 3; “Ode to Alfred” is in carton 1.
The Bancroft Survey Project began in February 2008. Funded by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon and the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundations, the survey project is intended to be a simultaneously broad and in-depth survey of all manuscript holdings of the Bancroft Library, which has been collecting for over a century. Four archivists were hired to scour the collections for a three year term, during which they will review the vast myriad of manuscript materials and use a survey instrument designed to gather data on collection scope, subject categories, and physical condition. The survey archivists are Marjorie Bryer, Amy Croft, Dana Miller, and Elia Van Lith, and they are also the authors of this blog.