An explosion so powerful it broke windows six blocks away, and so loud it woke up citizens over six miles from campus reduced the side of the new addition to Sterling Hall to a shambles. The wall disappeared, and steel-reinforced concrete dangled as if it were limp spaghetti.
Across Lathrop Drive, the Old Chemistry building sat windowless, and up the hill, Birge Hall was a mass of shattered lab equipment and glass. Days later, the dislodged ceiling in B-10 Commerce fell in on a group of bankers attending a seminar.
The blast killed UW research assistant Robert Fassnacht, leaving a wife and three children without their father....
Years of research were destroyed in the blast. Though the bomb was aimed at the Math research Center, it takes up only three floors of the building. The physics department occupied the basement and other offices in the new wing, and the astronomy department used the top floor and roof. The explosion reduced to tiny fragments the carefully ground mirrors in the two telescopes on the roof of Sterling Hall.
Heavily damaged was a particle accelerator operated by the Physics Department in the basement of the building. Only about 15 labs in the United States possess the kind of accelerator and associated computer system as the one that was in Sterling Hall.
Ironically, while physics and astronomy research was set back as much as 12 or 15 years in some cases, the Math research Center was back in operation the day after the blast.
Serious doubts have entered into the minds of many scientists working at the University of Wisconsin. The despair which accompanies seeing decades of work go up in smoke runs deep now, especially since there is every reason to believe that it could just as easily happen again.
“Clearly, you can’t just let the rubble lie, because then they’ve won hands down. But on the other hand if you get all blown up again in a year, it’s really futile,” said Professor Robert Borchers, as he surveyed the bombed-out shell of what used to be his nuclear physics laboratory.
Will the effect of such despair be severe? It could well be. According to Borchers, “lots of people have simply talked about getting out of academic life. I think that’s a very real possibility.”
August 24, 2010
"Three years of intense protest activity at the University of Wisconsin reached terrible superlatives on August 24th of this year."
The year was 1970.