SLAC Colloquium Series

SLAC Colloquium Series


Colloquium Detail

What Stanford, WWII, SLAC and Silicon Valley Owe to W. W. Hansen: New Insights

Date: 10/12/2009

David Leeson
Stanford University

The year is 1937. The world is wracked by economic depression and the threat of war. The scene is a once moneyed but fading regional university not widely known for its physics research. Two driven young men, a physicist inventor and an airline pilot, seek out the collaboration of a new young professor to solve a problem that has baffled the best minds of the scientific world. In return for sharing patent royalties with the school, the professor secures them appointments as unpaid research assistants, the use of a laboratory room and a $100 budget. Together, they apply the professor's recently invented resonator circuit to create a new type of vacuum tube to generate microwave energy.

How did this happen, and what was its impact? We know this university is Stanford and these men are the Varian brothers and their good friend Prof. Bill Hansen, who would die just a dozen years later of Beryllium poisoning. The tube, the klystron, brought funding and recognition, elevating Stanford into the ranks of respected physics and electronic research institutions.

Although he was only at Stanford as faculty for two five-year periods, Hansen was "The Founder of Microwave Electronics." His work was fundamental to the winning of WWII, during which his group was moved to Sperry Gyroscope on Long Island; he also consulted at MIT. He returned to Stanford to found the Microwave Laboratory, which was key to Stanford's growth as a funded research institution and was the fountainhead of nuclear magnetic resonance, the megawatt klystron, the linear accelerator at SLAC, Varian Associates and even Silicon Valley. This year, the centenary of Hansen's birth, there is new information about his life and work, as you'll hear.

Professor Leeson, in connection with his publishing of Hansen's long-lost WWII MIT Rad Lab "Notes on Microwaves," has unearthed original biographical sources that cast additional light on Hansen's brilliant career. Leeson, a Consulting Professor at Stanford, holds degrees from Caltech, MIT and Stanford. He has worked in microwave radar and communications. In 1968 he founded California Microwave Inc., from which he retired in 1994 to join the Stanford faculty. Leeson is a Life Fellow of the IEEE and winner of its W. J. Cady Award.

Last update: October 03, 2013