Since the 1930s, the scale of scientific endeavor has grown exponentially. The first particle accelerator could be held in its creator’s lap, while its successor grew to seventeen miles in circumference and cost ten billion dollars. We have invented the atomic bomb, put man on the moon, and probed the inner workings of nature at the scale of subatomic particles—all the result of Big Science, the model of industrial-scale research paid for by governments, departments of defense, and corporations that has driven the great scientific projects of our time.
The birth of Big Science can be traced nearly nine decades ago in Berkeley, California, when a young scientist with a talent for physics declared, “I’m going to be famous!” His name was Ernest Orlando Lawrence. His invention, the cyclotron, would revolutionize nuclear physics, but that was only the beginning of its impact, which would be felt in academia, industry, and international politics. It was the beginning of Big Science.