From Loche to CAMAC
I always wanted to have my own company. Along the way I developed a deadline in my mind: do it by age 35 or forget about it.
In 1964, Bob Cleary, Darrel Strong, Tom Cannon and I began working on the organ-building project at the Lockport Congregational church. I was 28 and the others were 27. We called the company Loche Electronics, and I assumed this was the start of the company I had dreamed of. The organ project took four years. By the time we finished it in November, 1968, we were tired of it. The organ was a success, but the process took its toll. It claimed too many long evenings. At the end we looked forward to experiencing normal lives and jobs again. I was now 32.
Meanwhile, the job environment at Argonne was changing from building to operating the ZGS. I didn’t like the change. One reason was that operations went on around the clock. Sitting in a control room at 5 a.m. messed me up. Early in 1969, I had an opportunity to move to a massive new construction project, the mile-across proton synchrotron being built at the National Accelerator Laboratory (NAL) near Batavia.
NAL was actually located at a little town called Weston. The US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) had conducted a major search for the site of its new laboratory. Weston was selected on December 16, 1966. So I was joining this exciting project close to the very beginning. The government literally bought the town, and the inhabitants all moved out. NAL employees worked out of the houses; my office was in a bedroom and our computer lab was in the dining room. NAL later became the Fermi National Laboratory. Our group, headed by Lowell Klaisner, was responsible for computer control of the Booster accelerator, a part of the overall machine.
In retrospect, this is an example of being in the right place at the right time. Our task was to sense the position of the beam and in real-time, using a computer, control the magnet current to keep the beam steered in the optimum place. We needed a scheme, a methodology, for doing this.
In the fall of 1969, Lowell and I attended the Nuclear Science Symposium in San Francisco and discovered CAMAC. CAMAC, an acronym for Computer Aided Measurement and Control, was a standard developed by the ESONE committee, a group of European physicists. Nuclear Enterprises and a couple other European companies were touting the new standard and offering some initial CAMAC products. We decided to base our system on CAMAC and ordered some products. For the most part, the products didn’t arrive in anything resembling “real time,” and we soon began designing our own “CAMAC modules.”
Because of schedule requirements our design efforts became aggressive, and by the end of 1970 we had designed more CAMAC modules than any other group of people in the world. I was 34.