Why rename the Department of Energy's Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) as the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility? Here in Virginia, at Jefferson Lab (of which I am the director), we see the new name as a fitting statement not only about science and the past, but about science and the future.
Virginia-born Thomas Jefferson's fundamental importance in American science is well documented. As a student at the College of William and Mary, he transformed his fascination with the natural worlds into a disciplined scientific outlook - one that incorporated not only a devotion to Isaac Newton's works, but the habit of applying mathematics to practical problems. He went on to study and practice the sciences all his adult life, acquiring an overall knowledge unmatched outside Europe. In fact, he actually considered himself a scientist whose civic duty happened to include politics.
Jefferson's scientific interests included astronomy, botany, chemistry, geography, meteorology, mineralogy, physics, and zoology. He was the early leader in American paleontology, an original proponent of vaccination and the first scientific archaeologist. He conducted his innovative architectural and agricultural enterprises at Monticello scientifically. His influential Notes on the State of Virginia cataloged a wealth of data on physiography and flora and fauna, as well as human activities.
In the same spirit of intellectual internationalism found today at Jefferson Lab, he continually collected distributed and corresponded about new scientific information across his two-continent network of scientific contacts. He gave 46 years to the American Philosophical Society (America's first scientific organization). which was founded by Benjamin Franklin, modeled on the Royal Society and dedicated to promoting useful knowledge. He called becoming its president in 1797 his life's "most flattering incident," though he took office the next day as vice president of the US. And he stayed on as the society's president through both terms as US president and for five years into his retirement.
Though wary of government expansion, Jefferson conceived of the Federal support of science. His report on distilling freshwater from saltwater may have been the first scientific paper published under government auspices. Historian Silvio Bedini calls him "the father of the Bureau of Standards," and attributes to his influence the establishment of early scientific agencies such as the weather bureau. Jefferson planned and organized the Lewis and Clark expedition to, in his words, "extend ... the boundaries of science." Small wonder that Harvard university physicist and historian of science Gerald Holton has declared that more than any other high public official of any era, Jefferson dramatized and promoted the sciences for human progress.
Holton has compared the Lewis and Clark venture to "a research program by which science serves both the search for truth and the interest of society." Jefferson Lab serves that same dual purpose. With our users, we serve the purely scientific purpose of investigating the quark structure of nuclei. With industry and the Navy, we also serve the interest of society in developing versatile, high-average-power free-electron lasers based on our superconducting RF accelerator technology.
Historian John C. Greene has heralded Thomas Jefferson as "a symbol of American respect for science and faith in its power to promote human progress." The founding of CEBAF reflected the value the nation places on that respect and faith. Now, the nation has given our lab precisely the right name. We intend to live up to it.
Hermann A. Grunder
Thomas Jefferson National
Newport News, Virginia
Submitted: Monday, January 1, 2001 - 12:00am