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SLAC Architect

By Julie Muller Mitchell

A key figure in design, construction and operation of Stanford's two-mile linear accelerator, Dick Neal was among the small group of engineers and scientists who in 1957 met in the home of Wolfgang "Pief" Panofsky (later SLAC's first director) to discuss what was originally called "Project M"—for monster. He would later chronicle the project as lead author of a 1,169-page book, The Stanford Two-Mile Accelerator, also known simply as "The Blue Book."

Neal, PhD '53, died November 22 in Solana Beach, Calif. He was 95.

As associate director of SLAC, and leader of its technical division, Neal headed a team of nearly 600 physicists, engineers, technicians and support staff. Under his leadership, construction of the original accelerator was completed in 1965, on time and within budget.

Born in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., Richard "Dick" Barr Neal graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1939 and served for two years aboard the battleship USS Pennsylvania until his discharge in 1941 for an eye defect. He worked for New York-based Sperry Gyroscope Co., then involved in the development of the first klystron—a specialized linear-beam vacuum tube—that later became a microwave power source to accelerate electrons in linear accelerators.

Neal began his graduate work in physics in 1947 and published his doctoral thesis, a technical paper about Stanford's 220-foot-long Mark III accelerator project, in 1953. His son, Richard F. Neal, remembers his father spending long hours at the Mark-III accelerator, a forerunner to SLAC. "The lab was no place for a small child, full of electrical equipment and open machinery, but I was able to accompany my dad one rainy Saturday afternoon. I remember being amazed and fascinated as if I'd stepped into some sort of science fiction movie."

Neal became a physics research associate at Stanford in 1951 and remained head of the SLAC technical division until 1982. His daughter, Martha "Marti" Neal, remembers her dad as a "dedicated scientist" who loved his position at SLAC and acquaintances both at SLAC and in the Stanford community.

Neal's siblings, Mary Hinton Neal, Martha Neal Moore and W. H. Neal, Jr. predeceased him. In addition to his two children, he is survived by his wife of 68 years, Gail Nesbitt Neal.


Julie Muller Mitchell, '79, is a writer in San Francisco.

 

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