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.