Essay 1

The attached essays that I have decided to publish here are in fact my own memories. In them, I want to go back with the intention of reminding us that Physics in the past 50 years was enthralled in a war motivated process. Leading powers during this time mobilized incredible resources, with the intention of winning the race to the ultimate strategic nuclear weapon. To us the physicists, this effort brought immense opportunity and material support, allowing us to build a dominant position among the other research and development fields. Very often I think about the morals and the ethics of this period, including my own participation. When reconcerning this period with my contemporary understanding and experience, I am surprised how little we knew and understood concerning our key roles in this involvement.Our emphasis and fascination in the direction of the physical substance of this research influenced us so much that we overlooked the possibilities of any improper use or misuse of our achievements. Nobody was thinking about the potentialy deadly weapons hidden in our accomplishments. Only after the several years have we realized the truth.

This is a very complicated question and I think that this question is also very important for the understanding of the moral limits and responsibilities of the scientists working on the edge of research and development in the field where the outputs may be very easily misused.

I would be lying if I say that those times are over and that danger of the misuse of science does not exist any more. No, on the contrary, there are still people who are ready to misuse science and they welcome the chance to do it using the latest scientific achievements.

Unfortunately, it is still mainly physics which may be easily misused. Critical contents of  physical discoveries, mainly weapons, are still in the hands of so called “strategic research”, which is only another name for the potentional misuse of this achivement.

However, let’s go back to the critical period of the culminating Cold War. During this period I was consequently working on both sides of the Iron Curtain created by the Cold War. In the beginning, it was in strategic nuclear research, where I was working as an experimental nuclear physicist in both the public and later secret laboratories of the Soviet Union. First, it was in the program of cooperation of the Physicists of the Social countries. At this time, I was surrounded by  famous physicists, Nobel prize winners, like my direct teachers M. Frank and I. Tamm, L. Landau, P. Kapica and others. This was when I also met the Italian physicist Bruno Pontecorvo who influenced my whole physical insight on the problem of the neutrino and its eventual detection. My following assignment as an Experimental Physicist was in Great Britain in the different field of large computer systems and their applications in experimental nuclear science and nuclear spectroscopy.

There I was caught in the so called “Prague Spring”, events leading to the occupation of my country by Soviet and allied troops in 1968. To me, this was the key moment which changed my whole life. I don’t want to deal with all the personal details of this period on this page, but I will come back to this event and the consequences in some of the next essays. From this moment my future was developing in the Western world, mainly Europe.

At this moment I want to interrupt the historical memories to focus on the subject of my activities, Physics. Physics gave me a lot, but took a lot from me as well . I have paid for it with a life on the edge of  human competencies,  and sometimes  behind. It is the penalty that I have paid for the opportunity to submerge much deeper below the surface of this field. To my surprise, besides the well known impact on the military and strategic field of application, Physics is also investigating as a matter of course  the substance of  life in the Universe. For many people it is also perhaps surprising. Our world is composed of the building blocks such as molecules, atoms, and the whole fine structure of elementary particles and fields, often with strange properties and from other hypothetical components. Most of them still remain a mystery and their existence is uncertain. This world is the intimately known working space for the physicist, and he is the well qualified expert in this field. Essentially, all life, biomass and all biological structures, including our body are composed of the well known building blocks like is the rest of the Universe. Nevertheless, their properties created something new, with different qualities, that we are used to calling Life. Investigation and the study of these forms is possible because experimental physicists  have developed tools and instruments to study them, and also to diagnose and cure their malfunctions.

This is the environment where Experimental Physics meets the Life Sciences. Neither of them is more important, they only have different tasks and paths of investigation. Physics on one side is responsible for developing  instrumentation while the task of  Biophysics and its further branches is to use it efficiently and to improve our knowledge about  life and the life processes.

At the present time physicists entering a  new age of substantial discoveries and the necessity to integrate them into the present body of the physical sciences, namely the theory.  It could be possible to propose changes to our present insight and understanding, and perhaps some substantial changes.We may call this period “the age of the neutrino”. We are beginning to understand that this mysterious elementary particle (and its family) has a significant impact on Physics and perhaps on the Biology of life as well. Physicists are desperately trying to collect more and better information about this particle and to find a way to detect and observe it, but until now with very limited success.

Project RabstejnLab is one of the attempts and a small contribution to this effort as well. It is an attempt to help in the better understanding of this very important field of human knowledge. By this I am saying only very little, only trying to slightly dismiss the mysterious atmosphere related to this building. However, more detailed information will be coming soon.

With best wishes Mike Placek, Rabstejn….

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