Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bell Labs - a memorial

Dave Burstein, at has the following -

"As Lucent and Bell Labs Dies
Set the flags to half-mast
"They looked for dung but found gold, which is just opposite of the experience of most of us." Describing Wilson and Penzias’ Bell Labs discovery of the Big Bang radiation.

Claude Shannon would ride his unicycle through the halls of Bell Labs, but when he stopped he invented communications theory. Applying that theory suggested megabit speeds over copper were possible, and DSL is the practical application. Crucial early work came directly and indirectly from the Bell Labs and Telcordia. Today, 160 million homes have DSL connections. Dozens of the engineers whose work has been reported by DSL Prime were deeply influenced by their time at the Labs.

Another great moment came when Wilson and Penzias couldn’t get rid of some noise in their radio telescope, even after shoveling off the bat guano. No matter which way they pointed, that three degrees above absolute zero noise wouldn’t go away. Eventually, they found an explanation; this was the cosmic background radiation from the big bang.

Alcatel deserves no blame for picking up the final pieces and hopefully preserving some of the fragments. I’ve been covering the decline of Bell Labs literally since my first solo interview as a reporter. Jeremy Bernstein came to the WBAI studios nearly twenty years ago and discussed his worries about the lab’s future. He had just written 3 Degrees Above Zero, which chronicled both the Wilson-Penzias experiment and glory days of the institution.

I wish I had the skill to write an obituary worthy of the Labs. From Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, the ending axe blow, one of the great moments in theater.

“I didn't see. ... Oh, these young people! [Mumbles something that cannot be understood] Life's gone on as if I'd never lived. [Lying down] I'll lie down. ... You've no strength left in you, nothing left at all. ... Oh, you ... bungler!

[He lies without moving. The distant sound is heard, as if from the sky, of a breaking string, dying away sadly. Silence follows it, and only the sound is heard, some way away in the orchard, of the axe falling on the trees.]” Project Gutenberg

Never again are we likely to read:

Nobel Lecture (8 December 1978 or other dates)
Robert W. Wilson (or ten others)
Bell Laboratories Holmdel, New Jersey, USA

Fractional Quantum Hall Effect (1998) Horst Stormer, Robert Laughlin, and Daniel Tsui
Optical Trapping (1997) Steven Chu
Laser 1981 Arthur L. Schawlow
Cosmic Background Radiation (Big Bang) (1978) Arno A. Penzias and Robert W. Wilson
Improved Understanding of Local Electronic States in Solids (1977) Philip W. Anderson
Maser 1964 Charles H. Townes
Transistor (1956) John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain and William Shockley
Wave Nature of Matter (1937) Clinton J. Davisson"

1 comment:

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

The joys of deregulation. Creative(?) destruction.