Hans Mark Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
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What now strikes you as the great difference between running and teaching in an academic department and running a major research institution?
The major difference between a place like Ames and the university is that, in the case of Ames, there's always a mission to perform, there's always some kind of a goal, and the research is organized to achieve that objective. In the university, the motivation is to deepen human knowledge, to expand human knowledge, and therefore the goal is not that well defined. There is not an objective that you are trying to achieve. In the case of Ames, for example, we managed the first project, to send a probe to the planet Jupiter, and we had to marshal a lot of technical disciplines to do that; but it was goal oriented. In fact, we worked with a lot of university people on that, and the university people's motivation, of course, was to learn more about Jupiter. So our goal was to build a gadget and make the trip, and that was the job at Ames. The job of the professors that worked with us --Richard Muller was one of them from this campus, Professor Simpson from the University of Chicago, and of course James Van Allen from the University of Iowa were all [working] on that spacecraft -- their motivation was to learn more about the planet Jupiter, the interplanetary medium, and things of that kind.
How do you achieve the mix of incentives to get these people on board?
It's a process that goes on iteratively, really. Somebody has the idea to do something on the planet Jupiter and then we put out what NASA calls a "request for proposals" and then it goes back and forth and eventually a team forms and then somebody emerges as the leading personality of that team and so the thing happens.
What are the greatest challenges for an administrator of "big science"? Are there common themes that you find in these different jobs that you've had? You went on to be Deputy Director at NASA.
The common theme that differentiates between a successful enterprise in "big science" and one that is not, is the ability to serve a great many different scientific communities. "Big science," you know, was invented on this campus. I would have to say that Ernest Lawrence was probably the first practitioner of "big science" in this country, and the cyclotron and the things that went up at the radiation laboratory on the hill here [Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories] were the things that started all of this. I watched this happen in the late 1940s and the early 1950s, and then when I came back in 1955 we were just getting the Bevetron on-line. I had a very good school here to learn how to organize a big project, and yet never let the necessary bureaucracy for a big project like that dominate what is done scientifically. Ernest Lawrence and his protˇgˇs were past masters at doing that. They really did it right.
When we think of great successes in this area, we think of the Manhattan Project, we think of the early years of NASA and I'm sure there have been many others that don't have the glamour. Is that something we can repeat again if it should become necessary in a changing world situation?
I think so; we have done it periodically. If I look at the situation today, the superconducting super-collider is a "big science" project that is on the horizon. The sequencing of the human genome is another one in the biological area; we've obviously done "big science" in biology before as well. As a matter of fact, probably the wiping out of yellow fever was in a certain sense a "big science" project because what it required was first a technical understanding of the situation and then organizing a lot of people to get rid of the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, so we've done that in the past. If you ask me to name a few peculiarly unique American talents, then the organization of such projects may be one of them. You mentioned the Manhattan Project, but I think in terms of things we did in World War II, the synthetic rubber project was equally important and equally large.
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