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The Higgs Connection: Part VII of the Holiday Serial

Since we’re coasting into the end of the holiday break, I better start bringing the serial to an end as well.  When we left off last time, Bryce DeWitt had lent an air of respectability to the Gravity Research Foundations essay contest and in so doing, had brought himself to the awareness of Agnew Hunter Bahnson Jr.  I alluded to the fact that Bahnson contacted DeWitt, but not to the complete nature of his communication.  Bahnson was still very much interested in finding a way to defeat gravity.  He wanted to be the first man in outer space and that motivated his gravity research activities.  He agreed with DeWitt that fundamental research would be key.  To this end he proposed to Bryce and Cecile DeWitt that they should head up a gravity study institute at a university.  The institute would be funded, (at least at first), by money raised by Agnew and his colleagues.  Bryce was inclined to turn down the offer, but John Archibald Wheeler, intervened and encouraged him to take the money.  Hence, the Institute for Field Physics at the University of Chapel Hill was born.

I became aware of the institute through an article that Bryce DeWitt had written about superconductors in the 1960s.

I noticed at the end of the article that the work had been funded by the United States Air Force.  Hoping that the article was part of a concerted research effort in the area, I performed a Google search on the funding number and came across a number of other research articles including the Higgs article referenced in Part I of this serial.

The grant in question had actually been made to the institute headed by the DeWitts.  By the time Higgs was finishing up his work, the institute had become quite successful and even had funds for visiting scientists like Dr. Higgs.  So, there you have it.  The concentrated efforts of two industrialists who would have rather seen a fringe physics solution to gravity wound up providing the institute and circuitously, the funding that supported the later stages of Dr. Higgs’ famous research.  As an interesting aside, when I asked one of the physicists involved how one went about obtaining Air Force funding in the ’60s, their answer was very amusing: “Oh, I don’t know, I suppose it was arranged at a cocktail party.  That’s how we did things in those days.”

If you’re a sci-fi fan, yes, the Robert Forward mentioned just above the funding notice is ‘that’ Robert Forward.  In addition to writing science fiction novels, he was also a research physicist who at the time was employed by Hughes Research Laboratories.  I’ve been unable to find out why he was collaborating with Bryce DeWitt on the study in question.

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