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Stanford Report, January 26, 2000

Robert Gould, retired SLAC chief civil engineer, dies


Robert S. Gould, retired chief civil engineer at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and cartoonist, died of natural causes on Christmas Day, 1999. He was 87.

"The Stanford community lost one of its important and creative members," says Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky, SLAC director emeritus. "He will be missed by all his colleagues at SLAC and at Stanford University. The actual physical arrangements of buildings and accelerators at SLAC are a memorial to him, and his sense of humor as expressed in his cartoons put otherwise serious events into humorous context."

Born in 1912, Gould received his bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of California-Berkeley in 1934. Like many of his Depression-era cohorts, he was initially unsuccessful in obtaining an engineering job and became a construction laborer on the Bay Bridge, earning an hourly rate of 68 3/4 cents per hour, which was still above the minimum wage. A historical photo on the cover of a 1979 issue of SLAC's Beam Line newsletter featured a seemingly gravity-defying Gould standing on a narrow girder at the construction site high above the San Francisco Bay. His next jobs -- working in a gold mine and for the State Highway Department -- were more down-to-earth.

Gould later worked seven years for the U.S. Geological Survey, mainly on mapping projects. He was transferred to Tennessee to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority but returned to the Bay Area to work again on local USGS projects.

Later he joined the Office of Architects and Engineers at UC-Berkeley, where he headed road and site development for what was then called the UC Radiation Laboratory. "I remember interacting with him during one of his many battles trying to keep the lab from sliding downhill," Panofsky recalls, jokingly referring to the lab's position on a steep hill overlooking the main campus. "He then transferred to UC Livermore [the old name for what is now Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory] and handled many construction projects during the early days of that laboratory."

In 1960, one year before the formal approval of SLAC, Gould asked Panofsky whether the accelerator center had a job for a "slightly used engineer." The answer was yes. Gould thought the assignment might last six months. It turned out to span 19 years.

"Gould took major responsibility all the way from design concepts to supervision of civil work at the site," Panofsky says. "He participated in geological explorations of the site, which in turn formed the basis of the accelerator alignment and the location of many of SLAC's structures. Bob was not only an excellent engineer, but a supreme estimator of costs. He deserves credit for the unbroken record at SLAC in having constructed civil structures without ever overrunning the estimated budget."

Colleagues also remember Gould's lighter side, for the engineer was also an excellent cartoonist whose subject material encompassed many of the events in SLAC's creation and evolution. He was known for his cartoons even in the Navy, where he served during World War II.

One of his cartoon series conjectured the consequences if SLAC's accelerator tunnel and experimental areas had been constructed in the traditional Stanford sandstone style. "Some of his cartoons even made fun of the major discoveries of the lab and put them into a more human light," Panofsky recalls.

Herbert Weidner, a retired mechanical engineer who worked with Gould at SLAC, says Gould's cartoons were loved far beyond SLAC. New York Times science reporter Walter Sullivan pinned one of Gould's cartoons on his office wall to remind him who his audience was: It depicted a man watching TV with a six-pack of beer and unbuttoned pants while an announcer touts the discovery of the tau charm particle as "the greatest discovery since the omega minus!"

Other Gould cartoons made fun of similar physics obscurities. One features a wizard standing before a complex apparatus. The caption reads: "Just recently a neat experiment in End Station A has measured 'a parity-violating asymmetry in the inelastic scattering of longitudinally polarized electrons from deuterium: A/Q2 = (-9.5 ± 1.6) x 10-5 (GeV/c)-2.' -- And we all know what that means!"

Gould retired in 1979 but returned for frequent visits to SLAC. He and his wife Sally, who died in 1994, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1992. (Gould had proposed to his wife the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, before they heard the news.) He is survived by his daughter, Judith, who lives in Paris; son Robert, who lives in Oregon; son Richard, who lives in England; and four grandchildren. SR