Sometimes the largest challenges are for the absolute smallest things – like subatomic particles. When Stanford University developed the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), the challenges were many. Chief among these was how to build a perfectly straight, two-mile structure.


Another challenge was to contain the volatile particles that would be released on impact, some of which were not scientifically known. Sundt’s innovative idea was to use 16-inch, vertically stacked battleship gun barrels filled with lead inside the cast-in-place concrete walls to prevent the particles from escaping.


The groundbreaking structure has helped SLAC scientists win three Nobel prizes in physics. Soon after the new accelerator reached full operation, a research team including SLAC and Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicists used the electron beam to discover that protons in the atomic nucleus were composed of smaller entities called quarks. SLAC is still the longest linear accelerator in existence.



.S. Department of Energy


Stanford Linear Accelerator Center