Community Meeting on New Forest Hills Borough Building and Atom Smasher, April 2

There will be a community meeting / design development workshop in Forest Hills on Saturday, April 2, 2016, 9:30 a.m. – 12+ p.m. about plans for the new Forest Hills municipal building. Note that there will be discussion about the atom smasher following the design meeting! Quoting from the event’s Facebook page:

Come join us to learn about the progress of the design of the new green Municipal Building! We are looking for your input and support as the design progresses towards construction this summer! BONUS: if you are interested in the Atom Smasher we hosting an after meeting to organize and recruit interest in rasing funds to reerect it at the site of the new Municpal Building.

Pfaffmann and Associates architects have proposed a state of the art facility for the new borough offices, to be located along Greensburg Pike and across from the Westinghouse Lodge. The plans include the idea of moving the historic Westinghouse atom smasher to this new site. More info about the project (schematic design drawings, updates on the community meeting, etc.) can be found on the project’s Facebook page: New Forest Hills Municipal Building.

In general I’m in favor of any plan to save the atom smasher rather than hack it up into scrap metal! It was, is, and should be a significant resource and feature of the community. The proposed location is probably as close as we could hope to its original location, basically being up at the top of the hill instead of the bottom of the hill, and still in the same neighborhood. But especially after last year’s damaging tear-down, I hope that if the atom smasher is moved, all efforts will be made to respect and retain what is left of its historical authenticity and physical integrity.

More to come as the situation develops…!

In Remembrance of Chalfant Historian Michael Connors

Chalfant recently lost a wonderful writer and historic preservation advocate, Michael Connors. Although I did not know him personally, I was sorry to miss the chance to let him know how much I enjoyed his essay about the atom smasher that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Here is the link to it– any readers from the area will appreciate the memories here!

http://www.post-gazette.com/news/portfolio/2015/07/29/Local-Dispatch-Downed-atom-smasher-supported-Chalfant-so-long/stories/201501010236

Also here’s a link to this article about him, which in turn has links to some of his articles. Read some, you will enjoy them and learn something new too!

http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/brian-oneill/2015/10/25/Brian-O-Neill-To-Pittsburgh-historian-Michael-Connors-who-knew-how-to-both-live-and-die/stories/201510250135

He and his writing and enthusiasm for local history will be missed.

KDKA Broadcasting Today from Westinghouse Headquarters

Today KDKA radio is broadcasting from the Westinghouse Headquarters in Cranberry, PA.

On “The Inside Story with Marty Griffin,” they are talking about the current facilities and will also talk about the company’s history and significance. On air now, Danny Roderick, President and CEO of Westinghouse.

Here’s a link to listen live: http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/station/newsradio-1020-kdka/

 

Seeking the Mysteries of the Universe, Then and Now

With the most powerful modern-day atom smasher making headlines lately (“Giant Atom Smasher Revs Up,” “World’s Largest Atom Smasher Returns“), here’s a glimpse of the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) together with its primitive ancestry.

"Tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) of the European Organization for Nuclear Research... (CERN) with all the Magnets and Instruments." By Julian Herzog (website) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

“Tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) of the European Organization for Nuclear Research… (CERN) with all the Magnets and Instruments.” By Julian Herzog (website) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

Interior of the Westinghouse atom smasher (built 1937), August 2013. © Marni Blake Walter.

Interior of the Westinghouse atom smasher (built 1937), August 2013. © Marni Blake Walter.

In 1937, as construction of the Westinghouse atom smasher was nearing completion, an article in Life magazine (August 30, 1937) proclaimed “Mightiest atom smasher at East Pittsburgh, PA: Biggest machine for investigating the smallest particles of matter is this 65-ft. atom smasher.” This machine generated 5 million volts, which accelerated particles from the top of the pressure tank to a target 47 ft. below. A cloud chamber and other analyzing equipment was located below the tank in the first floor of the lab building.

The target end of the Westinghouse atom smasher, ca. 1940s. Photo courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center, Detre Library and Archives.

The target end of the Westinghouse atom smasher, ca. 1940s. Photo courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center, Detre Library and Archives.

In comparison, the CERN LHC is now the largest particle accelerator in the world: a 17-mile-long underground ring of superconducting magnets, near Geneva, Switzerland. Scientists are ramping up the machine’s beam energy to 13 teraelectronvolts (TeV) (approaching the speed of light). The CERN Control Centre operates the entire complex of accelerators and their infrastructure. For an interesting view of the facility, see this “designer’s tour” of the LHC.

The technological advancements over less than 80 years are mind-boggling. To some of us non-physicists, so are the experiments conducted, both then and now.

The Westinghouse atom smasher shortly after construction in 1937. Photo courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center, Detre Library and Archives.

The Westinghouse atom smasher shortly after construction in 1937. Photo courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center, Detre Library and Archives.

In the late 1930s, before Westinghouse set upon its course of developing nuclear power plants, the scientists first set out to explore the unknown. In 1936 the Daily Journal of Commerce (Portland, OR) reported, “The Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company has set out to do a job that has baffled scientists for nearly a century—the job of disintegrating the atom in hope of solving much of the mystery surrounding the structure of matter.” The article added, “The ultimate success of the experiment cannot be foreseen, … and it is not possible to predict what practical applications may result.” In 1940 the scientists demonstrated experiments “as amazing as the pseudo-scientific feats of Wellsian fantasy” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 30, 1940).

Today, CERN’s “About” webpage reads “What is the universe made of? How did it start? Physicists at CERN are seeking answers, using some of the world’s most powerful particle accelerators.” They are “probing the fundamental structure of the universe.” Current news talks about the search for dark matter, a fifth dimension, supersymmetry, antimatter, and the conditions of the Big Bang. Seems that, no matter what the decade, we are always on the brink of science fiction.

—By Marni Blake Walter