Roger Eugene Hill
The life, career, scientific and spiritual insights of a physicist plus a few excursions into Complexity Science and Art.
REH
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. March, 2018
Curriculum Vitae - A Narrative

Synopsis

The story of my career will take us to some interesting places:
 
-particle accelerators around the world from Berkeley to CERN working on experiments using sub-nuclear particles to study the strong nuclear force and the nature of time;

- to an office tower on the outskirts of Paris and a life of 3-piece suits and 3-hour business lunches, corporate jets, stockholder meetings, presentations to the IAEA and UNESCO, trying to keep a group of seasoned engineers on good scientific ground as we carried out feasibility, environmental and economic impact studies of some of the boldest, most ambitious and, ultimately undoable civil-engineering projects ever conceived;

-to a mountain in New Mexico recovering from burn-out and the wounds of divorce among a small community of people that you might, though we didn’t, describe as hippies- embracing nature, the closeness of my daughter as she began her family, the joy of spending years next door to my first granddaughter while pursuing a deep interest in mystical and spiritual matters that began when I was just a boy (and tinkering with programming micro-processors on the side);

-back to CERN to work briefly on an experiment with anti-matter and then on to the Meson Physics Facility at Los Alamos (LAMPF) to work on an experiment trying to measure the mass of the neutrino;

-to working as a staff member in the Physics Division behind the fence of secrecy at the Los Alamos National Laboratory on arms control treaty verification issues;

- to the Nevada Test Site to test the technology for verifying the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (CORRTEX);

-to the US Mission in Geneva as a member of the US delegation to negotiate the protocols for verifying that treaty with our Soviet scientific counterparts;

-to the Soviet Test Site in Kazakhstan to verify the yield (power) of an underground Soviet nuclear test and standing only a couple of kilometers away from that explosion watching the earth rise to blot out the sky from the forces unleashed thousands of feet below the surface;

-to negotiating tables in Geneva, Washington and Moscow working out with the Soviets the details for verifying specific tests while the Berlin wall was crumbling and Yeltsin was standing on the tank at the Duma;

-to the Russian nuclear test site on the arctic island of Novaya Zemlya, walking through icy tunnels, toasting vodka in a birch lined sauna with Russian naval officers who had never before met an American and who once commanded nuclear submarines  (we talked of our families);

-back to physics, to learn about ultra cold neutrons and use computer simulations to design a source of these particles for use at the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (an experiment in fundamental physics is currently under way using this source);

-leading a team at Los Alamos working to provide data to verify that computer simulations are a reasonable alternative to underground nuclear testing.


Beginnings

The seeds of my career as a physicist were planted when I was 11 years old and living on a farm in central Oregon. It was 1947 and my father took me to Eugene to see a movie called the "The Beginning or the End?". It was filmed in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and was about the development of
  me
the atomic bomb. Among the many dramatic scenes of the film, was the first moments of operation (bringing to criticality) of the world's first nuclear reactor at Stagg Field at the University of Chicago on December 2, 1942, under the direction of Enrico Fermi. The film depicted a couple of young physicists standing on top of the graphite and uranium pile with buckets of cadmium sulfate that they were supposed to dump into the pile to help shut it down in case of an emergency. I learned later that one of them was H.L. (Herb) Anderson. The film was a kind of challenge to the youth of the world by saying that our father's generation had seen the beginning of the Atomic Age but it was going to be up to us to determine how it was going to end. This challenge was intensified by President Eisenhower's famous Atoms for Peace speech to the U.N. in December, 1953, where he pledged the United States "to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life." These challenges inspired my youthful idealism and have in fact shaped several important segments of my career.
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 At the controls of the General Electric Test Reactor

Eleven years after watching the movie I was working as a Bachelor's Degree level physicist for the General Electric Company in its Atomic Power Division at the Vallecitos Atomic Laboratory in California and I had been licensed by the US Atomic Energy Commission to operate two different nuclear reactors. Five years after that (1963), I was hired by Herb Anderson into my first post-doctoral position at the Enrico Fermi Institute of the University of Chicago. My office was across the street from Stagg Field. My doctoral research had been done at UC Berkeley under the tutelage of two of Fermi's students; Emilio Segrè and Owen Chamberlain, who had jointly received the Nobel prize in 1959 for the discovery of the anti-proton.

Was seeing this movie just a random event in my life? Maybe. Or, maybe it was one of those little inspirational nudges that come to help you find or stay on your path. Maybe, it just depends on how you look at it. But the only other movie my Dad ever took me to see was "Death of a Salesman" in 1952.



1956 - 1959.
I graduated from St. Mary's College of California with a BS degree in Physics in January, 1957. (I was a semester behind my graduating class because of a short detour during the summer and fall semester of 1954 to the Dominican Novitiate in Ross, CA.) I began my first job as a Physicist during the Christmas break in 1956 working at the US Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at the Hunter's Point Naval Base in San Francisco. I was a member of the Shielding Studies Group, under the supervision of Dr. William E. (Bill) Kreger, that was part of the Physics Division directed by Dr. C. Sharp Cook. The work consisted mostly of studying the attenuation of gamma-rays from various radioactive sources through various thicknesses of various materials. This provided basic and useful information for radiation protection but was far from research at the frontiers of physics. One of my more interesting assignments was to crawl through the bowels of a mothballed aircraft carrier with a radiation detector measuring the dosage from radioactive sources located on the carrier's deck (simulating radioactive fallout.)

In December of 1953, while a sophomore at St Mary's, I had listened to President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace speech to the UN. I was inspired by his vision of turning the most powerful force yet discovered (the conversion of mass into energy, E =mc2) into a boon for mankind. In the time period 1956-1957, the US government began supporting the development of commercial nuclear power by the General Electric Company and the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. So when the opportunity presented itself I applied for a job at General Electric's Vallecitos Atomic Laboratory (VAL) in Pleasanton, CA. I was offered a job in the Critical Assembly Unit of the Physics Sub-section and I began working at VAL in June, 1957. My immediate supervisor was Dr Calvin G Andre and the head of the Physics Sub-section at that time was Dr Toma M. Snyder. My work involved doing experiments on the Dresden Critical Assembly (DCA), a small scale prototype of the Boiling Water Reactor GE was building for the Dresden Generating Station at Morris, IL. (This was the first privately financed nuclear power plant built in the US.)

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      Measuring f in the DCA.
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   My first technical report.

The most important work I did there was to design and carry out an experiment to measure what is called the thermal utilization factor, f, of the Dresden reactor core. This factor represents the ratio of thermal neutrons absorbed in the nuclear fuel to the number of thermal neutrons absorbed in all the materials in the core. This work resulted in the publication of my first technical report and was the subject of my first scientific talk given at a conference of the American Nuclear Society in Gatlinburg, TN, in June, 1959.

In addition to the DCA, the Critical Assembly Unit used for its research a small test reactor known as the NTR (Nuclear Test Reactor). As part of my duties I sought and was granted licences by the Atomic Energy Commission to operate both of these reactors.

Another facility operated by the Physics sub-section was an IBM 650 computer. By today's standards this was a very primitive machine. Its memory storage was a rotating magnetic drum that held all of 40kb of data (4000 10 digit words) and its input device was a punched card reader (80 column Hollerith cards). My initial interaction with the machine was through assembly (machine) language programming. I remember thinking how dumb this machine was because it took so many machine instructions to do something as simple as calculating 2+2=4. However, because once programmed it never made a mistake and never got tired, I was pleased to have such a tool for eliminating much of the tedious work involved in data analysis and scientific calculations. In 1957 the first high-level programming language, FORTRAN, was released which I quickly and eagerly learned. My ability to eliminate tedious calculational work took a huge leap forward but the IBM 650 was inadequate for the purpose. So I began writing FORTRAN programs to do the work I was doing at VAL using the IBM 704 computer then located at the Standard Oil Building in San Francisco. The enjoyment I experienced at the logical thinking and planning associated with computer programming and the satisfaction I felt at eliminating work and drastically increasing my productivity are factors that played a role in much of my career and, in fact, have stayed with me to this day.

In late 1958 I began working as an Analyst - Process Physics in the Reactor
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  VBWR photo shoot. That's me on the left.
Operations Sub-section at VAL directed by Samuel Untermyer II. My duties included studies and analyses pertinent to the operation of the VBWR and the General Electric Test Reactor (GETR). Some of the memories of that period of my work at VAL:
--Participating in the initial start-up of the GETR - looking down into the pool surrounding the core and watching the blue light of the Cherenkov radiation begin to glow brighter as the reactor approached criticality;
--Measuring the initial neutron flux in the GETR;
--Giving lectures on reactor physics to the crews of the USS Nautilus, the first US nuclear powered submarine;
--Meeting Ronald Reagan, then host of the GE Theater;
--Participating in a photo shoot in front of the VBWR for a national magazine ad campaign with Joyce Myron, a winner of the (scandalous) $64,000 Question TV quiz show. Her topic was "atomic energy" and that's a slide rule she's holding in the photo on the right.

After only a short while at VAL, it became clear that if I wanted to advance professionally to any position of management or authority in the world of Physics that I would need a Ph.D degree. (What some of the people in the Physics Sub-section referred to as the "union card".) Having graduated from a small liberal arts college (I was one of only four physics majors in my class) I did not have high expectations for gaining admission to graduate school.

Fortunately, at that time the University of California, Berkeley, was offering off-campus courses in Physics at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. So I enrolled in a series of these courses and found that I did well and could hold my own against students from a more technically oriented background. Two of the courses I remember most clearly were a course in graduate level Classical Mechanics taught by H. Pierre Noyes and a course in Nuclear Physics taught by Steve White. Both of these teachers encouraged me to apply for admission to the Ph.D. program at UC Berkeley and supported me with very helpful letters of recommendation. I was interviewed by Professor Carl Helmholz, Chairman of the Physics Department and was admitted to UC Berkeley as a graduate student beginning in the fall semester of 1959. I also applied for an educational leave with a living allowance from General Electric which they generously granted me. My family and I moved from Livermore to Berkeley in the summer of 1959. In the fall, I began my course work and preparation for 'the prelim exams that would allow me to enter the research programs as a Ph.D. candidate.

1959 - 1963.


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