A story from Abi Soffer
In late 2003, I approached Pief about giving a lecture on the history of SLAC, as part of a YPP (Young Particle Physicists organization) lecture series. Pief wanted to make sure to prepare his lecture so that it would be interesting to the audience, so we met several times to discuss the topic and the contents of the lecture. During these conversations, it was a joy to talk to Pief about SLAC and his view of science in general. I quickly discovered that behind his famous, engaging smile was an equally charming and gracious personality. Talking to him simply made you happy, even optimistic. At the same time, his energy gave one a strong sense of authority. At one point during our conversation, Pief made the point that an important lesson to be learned from the history of the SLAC linac was that the scientific motivation for building it had very little to do with the discoveries that eventually made it a success. As now, in 2003 there were much discussion and uncertainty about the future of particle physics and whether there was sufficient justification to build the International Linear Collider. Hearing Pief bring up this lesson from the history of SLAC, I just had to take advantage of the golden opportunity I was given, and to employ the wisdom of the past for looking into the crystal ball of the future. So I asked Pief whether we could apply this lesson to the ILC, secretly hoping he would say yes and thus make the dollars flow instantly. Unfortunately, I don't remember Pief’s exact words, but I do remember that his answer was measured and scientifically sound. While SLAC's case is a lesson worth learning, he said, there is no way to prove that the pleasant surprises of the past would repeat themselves in any specific future facility. Pief induced optimism, but it was realistic optimism. I realized that in this brief encounter with Pief I got a glimpse of both the gracious man who indulged a much younger physicist in a friendly conversation of equals, and the careful scientist and science policy maker whose life and work opened the way to the great discoveries and the community that is SLAC. I’m sure that this legacy will continue to impact physics, science policy, and the lab for many more years.
- Abi Soffer