Life and Work of Rolf Wideröe by © Pedro Waloschek,     => Contents


Wideröe's dissertation [Wi28], including the results of the first operational drift-tube as well as the proposal for a betatron, was published in a well known periodical and later in an English translation. It therefore reached a correspondingly wide readership. The important ideas which Wideröe later submitted as patents are not as well known in research circles. This is quite natural, since patents do not in general contain scientific results but inventions; that is, ideas or technical developments for which the inventor, and usually the company employing the inventor, wish to protect their mental property by right of law.

The patenting offices check the ideas submitted for protection. These must contain some substantial technical improvement on the past, must not contradict current knowledge and must not have been previously published elsewhere. Although realisation of the idea should appear plausible, it does not require proof; the scientific value of the idea is not assessed. Only the inventor (or the company named in the patent) is permitted to use the patented ideas industrially. However, he may award or sell licences for use of the patented idea. These rights only apply for as long as the patent is valid and the required fees have been paid to the patenting office. Twenty years is the longest an idea can remain subject to patenting rights in Germany and, in general, patents are declared valid from the day of submission.

Quite different customs pertain in the field of fundamental research; scientific results and proposals are published precisely because people want them to be used or further developed by others. However, publication must have been agreed to by experts in the respective fields. The use for the scientists themselves consists in the priority which they secure by making a publication - this in turn strengthens their positions as researchers. Scientists are usually quite happy to pass on technical details because they can rarely be turned to economic advantage. New ideas are referred to as `proposals' and not as inventions. Although patents are taken into consideration they are only rarely deemed to be works of scientific merit.

Researchers like Wideröe who work in industry often find that they must submit patents in order to maintain the legal protection required by their companies (or themselves). Usually publication is not in the company's interest. Accordingly, some of Wideröe's patents are of a rather special kind; they contain ideas for constructing accelerators which, had they appeared in scientific journals at the right time, would certainly have stimulated a great deal of interest. A facsimile of the two probably most important patents is reproduced in the following pages. The patent on Appendix 1 contains the first known proposal for the construction of a storage ring. Wideröe called this a `reaction tube' or `nuclear mill'. At that time the only type of ring accelerator available for this purpose was the betatron, the only accelerator in which particles could be kept stable on fixed orbits. The synchrotron did not yet exist. Wideröe was considering relatively small rings and very low particle energies. This is why he proposed to force particles of equal electrical charges (atomic nuclei) onto opposing orbits using electrical fields - which have a relatively weak effect on charged particles. This type of storage ring was never built. The energy would have been too low to induce nuclear reactions.

However, the text of this patent includes (without claim) a proposal whereby positive and negative charged particles would be made to turn in opposing direction with the help of magnetic fields - which have a much stronger effect. Wideröe mentions atomic nuclei (and particularly protons) as positive particles to be made to collide with negative electrons, both particle types being stored in the same ring. Although this is feasible it is not easy, and is exactly the type of installation which H. Gerke, H. Wiedemann, B. Wiik and G. Wolf proposed for DESY in 1972; protons and electrons would be stored in a single ring (DORIS) and made to collide.

However, Touschek had already realised Wideröe's idea in 1960 in Frascati, using electrons against positrons (instead of protons) and had thus put in motion the triumphant progress of this type of machine.

The second patent, which is reproduced on Appendix 2, contains a theory and practical ideas for the construction of synchrotrons (Wideröe called them `gigators'). It includes many suggestions which are now regarded as the ground rules for building synchrotrons and storage rings. The number of new ideas Wideröe developed in 1945 while he was unemployed in Oslo and had time to do so, is quite astonishing (BBC bought the patent after they had employed him again in 1946). McMillan [Mc45] and Veksler's [Ve45] ideas, which they developed almost simultaneously, contain similar principles, but fewer practical suggestions.

The two patents reproduced here and a number of others can, to a great extent, be regarded as scientific contributions. They have not earned BBC much as licensable patents. Also, when larger and even industrially useful storage rings were finally being built, these patents had long lapsed. However, they are interesting documents from an historical point of view, which clearly demonstrate the astonishing level of Wideröe's thinking at that time.