Today I had reason to be looking at some stuff about the Bonner Lab, trying to sort out when it was completed (1953, as it turns out) and when it was expanded (1959). Here’s the document that told me when it first opened, a permission slip of sorts from the head of the library, Hardin Craig, Jr. to the library staff:
Well, this made me laugh right out loud. Uncle Tom, of course, was Tom Bonner ’32, ’34, then Chairman of the Physics department and this was quite a nice little joke. Bonner was a graduate student of H.A. Wilson at Rice when the neutron was first discovered and he quickly decided to switch his research to that area. Returning to Rice as a faculty member in 1936 he carried out an active research program using small accelerators. The decision of the U.S. Atomic Energy commission to locate this larger Van de Graaff accelerator at Rice was largely due to his work and reputation. Here’s what he had to say about it at the time of the dedication:
As I continued to flip through this material I found myself caught completely off guard by the last thing in the file. I try not to cry too much about what I see at work but I could not hold it back this time. Tom Bonner died of a heart attack suddenly and completely unexpectedly on December 6, 1961. He was 51 years old and the upgraded lab that he had just finished building would be named in his honor. What brought my tears was the eulogy given by Philosophy Professor Street Fulton in the Rice chapel, one of the most touching I’ve ever read:
I am so grateful to be able to see this.
Melissa, Uncle Tom’s daughter will be here this weekend for her Golden Reunion. Susan Bonner Weir. She’s meeting with Lee and me at 9:30 Sat. morning to see the collection of photos by her aunt Vera Prasilova Scott (her father’s sister-in-law) that was given by her cousins (Vera’s daughters) to Woodson earlier in the 2000s. Join us if you’re around/if you wish.
Meanwhile, I’m going to forward this to Susan.
In 1964, friends, students and associates of Dr. Bonner endowed an annual prize in his memory to be awarded by the American Physical Society “to recognize and encourage outstanding experimental research in nuclear physics, including the development of a method, technique, or device that significantly contributes in a general way to nuclear physics research.”
The second winner of the Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics (1966) was Robert Van de Graaff, the fellow who invented the accelerator that bears his name.
The Bonner prize is currently $10,000.
To put “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in perspective it is important to know that Hardin Craig and his family and Street Fulton and his family were two of the closest families to us Bonners. We all regularly camped out together on Thanksgiving at Goose Island (Dr Fulton’s reference to children crabbing) and that group of ~20 also had Christmas dinners together for many years when I was growing up.
Being the youngest of Tom Bonner’s children, I was 14 when my father died suddenly one night of a MI. My grieving mother’s arms were covered with poison ivy blisters when we attended the memorial service at Rice. It was not Dr Fulton’s words that affected me the most. I sensed his connection to my own grief when Dr Fulton voice broke momentarily and wiped tears from his eyes as he read the eulogy. Rice in those days was still very much a small connected family.
Thank you so much.
I lost my father when I was 14 too.
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