Matthew Sands

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Matthew Sands
Matthew, L Sands Los Alamos ID.png
Matthew L. Sands Los Alamos ID badge photo
Born (1920-10-20)October 20, 1920
Oxford, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Fields Accelerator physics
Alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Clark University
Rice University
Thesis The meson component of cosmic radiation [1] (1948)
Doctoral advisor Bruno Rossi
Known for Co-author of the Feynman Lectures on Physics
Notable awards Robert R. Wilson Prize (1998)

Matthew Linzee Sands is an American physicist and educator who is best known as a co-author of the Feynman Lectures on Physics. A graduate of Rice University, Sands served with the Naval Ordnance Laboratory and the Manhattan Project's Los Alamos Laboratory during World War II. After the war he went to the the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he studied cosmic rays for his doctorate under Bruno Rossi. Sands went to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1950, and helped build and operate its 1.5 Gev electron synchrotron. In 1963 Sands he became deputy director for the construction and early operation of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). He later joined the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) as a professor of physics and served as its vice chancellor for science from 1969 to 1972. In 1998 The American Physical Society awarded him the Robert R. Wilson Prize "for his many contributions to accelerator physics and the development of electron-positron and proton colliders."[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Matthew Linzee Sands was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, on October 20, 1920. His parents were Linzee Sands and Beatrice Goyette, both of whom were bookkeepers. He had a brother and a sister who was seven years younger. As a 12 year old Boy Scout, Sands was motivated by his scoutmaster, who was a radio amateur, to build his own shortwave radio receiver.[3] With the aid of information from the Radio Amateur's Handbook,[4] he constructed it out of parts scavenged from old radios. In high school, he was encouraged by his mathematics teacher, John Chafee, who was a graduate of Brown University.[3]

After high school, Sands attended Clark University, where he studied physics and mathematics and received his B.A. in 1940. At Clark, his physics professors were Theodore P. Jorgensen,[5] who became famous for his book "The Physics of Golf", and Percy M. Roope,[6] who participated in the rocket experiments of Robert H. Goddard. As part of a job subsidized at 35 cents per hour by the National Youth Administration, they assigned him to build physics equipment in the machine shops, where he became familiar with the drill press, lathe and other metalworking tools.[3]

At Rice University, Sands took graduate courses in relativity, statistical mechanics, and thermodynamics from Harold A. Wilson, who was the first chair of the physics department. He also did experimental studies of ferromagnetism. At Rice he met his first wife, Elizabeth, an undergraduate student there.[3] He received his M.A. in physics from Rice.[7]

World War II[edit]

In 1941 he went to the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington, D.C., where he learned more about electronics under Joseph F. Keithley.[8] Keithly and Sands developed two mines, from which three patents were derived.[9] They performed sea tests of a working prototype, but for unfathomable reasons, the program was stopped.[3]

By 1943, Sands had become disgusted with Navy bureaucracy. After discussing the situation with Wilson, he appeared unannounced in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the office of Dorothy McKibben, who had been designated to meet newcomers to Los Alamos Laboratory. After she made a telephone call to the personnel office, which had just received a desperate call for electronics people, Sands was bussed to Los Alamos. To his surprise, he was met by Jorgenson, who had just joined the Manhattan Project, after leaving Clark and going to Nebraska. He immediately took Sands to the library to read Robert Serber's primer, which introduced him to the basic physical principles of nuclear fission, as they were known at the time, and their implications for nuclear weapon design.[3]

By this time, Sands had extensive experience with electronics and was immediately thrust into the electronics group, whose job was to make instruments for the whole laboratory, and whose head was Darol Froman. Within this group, his close collaborators were William Elmore,[10] William Higinbotham, and Ernest Titterton. Anybody who had an instrumentation problem would come to the group for help. As a result, Sands worked with Luis Alvarez, Robert Bacher, Hans Bethe, Richard Feynman, Otto Frisch, Bruno Rossi, Emilio Segrè, Robert Walker and Robert Wilson. Many of these famous physicists played important roles in his later career. In particular, he formed a close relationship with Rossi, with whom he decided to work on his postwar PhD degree.[3] Rossi was most interested in the group's nuclear electronics equipment: pulse counters and amplifiers, discriminators, and scalers. In this area, Sands designed and patented a pulse height analyzer,[11] and with Otto Frisch and Elmore, a pulse amplifier.[12] He also created electronics for more general purposes, such as precise temperature regulation,[13] and control of electroplating operations.[14]

Sands was at the Trinity test near Alamogordo, New Mexico, where he worked with Walker on a piezo—electric pressure measurement of the atmospheric shock wave produced by the "The gadget" device. This was a prototype for the Fat Man weapon that was dropped on Nagasaki. Their instrumentation worked well during a mock test explosion of 100 tons of TNT, which was detonated two months beforehand. However, no information was obtained during Trinity, because an unexpected rain shower the night before soaked the apparatus.[3]

To raise public consciousness of issues raised by Trinity, David Hawkins, William Higinbotham, Philip Morrison, Robert Wilson and others formed the Los Alamos Association of Atomic Scientists. As a founding member, Sands put out its weekly newsletter. On November 30, 1945, this organization merged with similar groups within the Manhattan Project and at Oak Ridge to form the Federation of Atomic Scientists, which soon changed its name to "Federation of American Scientists".[15] Higinbotham, who was a close friend of Sands and head of the electronics group after Froman, became the first FAS Chairman and then its first Executive Director.[16] In 1951, he became head of the Instrumentation division at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where in 1958, he invented the world's first video game to entertain laboratory visitors.[17]

In 1946, Sands and William C. Elmore wrote "Electronics: Experimental Techniques", which was published in 1949 by McGraw-Hill. This book presented many ideas and circuits developed at Los Alamos and became a standard reference for postwar nuclear instrumentation.[18]


After the success of the Manhattan Project and the Radiation Laboratory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology moved into a new era of "big science" funded by the US government.[19] This era was foretold in a 1945 report, Science, The Endless Frontier,[20] written by Vannevar Bush, who was an MIT graduate and influential head of the wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development. MIT's expansion in physics was encouraged by its president Karl Compton and by the head of the physics department, John C. Slater. One part, the expansion of nuclear physics, was spearheaded by physics professor Jerrold R. Zacharias, who went to Los Alamos late in the war, where he recruited Bruno Rossi and Victor Weisskopf as MIT professors.[21]

Within the new Laboratory for Nuclear Science, headed by Zacharias, Rossi was assigned to create a cosmic ray research group at MIT. To help, he recruited, as PhD candidates, four young scientists who had been at Los Alamos, and two who had been in the Radiation Laboratory. All were more mature than typical graduate students, for they had several years of wartime research experience. Consequently, they were paid a stipend similar to that of a postdoctoral researcher, which was funded by the Office of Naval Research and enabled them to support families during their graduate studies. Sands was one of the four.[3]

With Rossi as advisor, and with the aid of a B-29 aircraft borrowed from the Air Force, Sands carried out his thesis research on the slow muon component of cosmic radiation. He measured the intensity of low energy muons as a function of altitude up to 40,000 feet (12,000 m) and derived their spectrum at production and as they propagated through the atmosphere.[22] This information is useful, because most atmospheric cosmic rays are muons. On this basis, he received his Ph.D. in physics from MIT in 1948. Sands then joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor, and continued his cosmic ray research in Rossi's group.[23]

Another project of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science was a synchrotron particle accelerator, which was designed to accelerate electrons to an energy of 350 MeV. It was funded by the Office of Naval Research and built under the supervision of Ivan A. Getting. He was a professor of electrical engineering, who had worked at the Radiation Laboratory on the extremely successful SCR-584 radar. Although its construction began in 1946, the accelerator had not begun to work in 1949. In response, Zacharias asked Sands to lend a hand.[3] This was his introduction to accelerator physics, and with his help, the machine became operational early in 1950.[24]

In 1948, Sands divorced his first wife, Elizabeth, whom he had married at Rice, and taken to Los Alamos. They lived in Weston, Massachusetts, with their two children. Almost Immediately, he remarried Eunice Hawthorne who was a sister in law of his high school math teacher, John Chafee, and moved with her into MIT's Westgatehousing units for married students.[25][26] Early in 1950, the situation came to a head; in his words:

… my ex-wife had a father who had a fair amount of money, and they decided to make trouble for me, and were going to throw me in jail as a bigamist because they claimed my (Reno) divorce was not legal and so on. So I'm famous around MIT as the person who had to leave in the middle of the night and not come back.[3]


In 1950, Sands went to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) where he helped build and operate 1.5 Gev electron synchrotron.[7] He was the first to demonstrate, both theoretically and experimentally, the role of quantum effects in electron accelerators. He is also known for his work on beam instabilities, wake fields, beam-cavity interactions, and other phenomena.[7]

In 1963 Sands became deputy director for the construction and early operation of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). When Richard Feynman was debating whether to accept his 1965 Nobel Prize—due to a disdain for the added notoriety it might bring—Sands convinced Feynman that not accepting it would bring even more attention.[27] Sands later joined the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) as a professor of physics, and served as its vice chancellor for science from 1969 to 1972.[2] After retiring from UCSC in 1985, Sands worked as a consultant for SLAC and also as a consultant for Bay View Elementary School and Santa Cruz High School in Santa Cruz, California, to develop computer systems and physics lab activities for students.[2]

From 1960 to 1966, Sands served on the Commission on College Physics, which carried out a national program to modernize physics instruction in the colleges and universities of the United States. He also helped write the famous 1964 physics textbook Feynman Lectures on Physics with Richard Feynman and Robert B. Leighton, based upon the lectures given by Feynman to undergraduate students at Caltech between 1961 and 1963.[3] He received a Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of Physics Teachers in 1972, and in 1998 The American Physical Society awarded him the Robert R. Wilson Prize "for his many contributions to accelerator physics and the development of electron-positron and proton colliders."[2]


  1. ^ "Thesis (Ph.D.) Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Physics, 1948.". MIT Library. Retrieved September 14, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d Stephens, Tim (April 20, 1998). "Professor emeritus wins physics prize". University of Santa Cruz Currents. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Aaserud, Finn (May 4–5, 1987). "Oral History Transcript — Dr. Matthew Sands". Center for History of Physics; The Niels Bohr Library & Archives. American Physical Society. Retrieved January 22, 2013. 
  4. ^ The Radio Amateur's Handbook (ed. 1 (1926) to ed. 90 (2013) ed.). Newington, CT: American Radio Relay League Inc. 1926 to 2013. ISBN 978-0-87259-419-7. Retrieved January 23, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Theodore "Ted" P. Jorgensen". The Scarlet. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. April 15, 2010. Retrieved January 23, 2013. 
  6. ^ Wilford, John Noble (October 5, 1982). "A Salute To Long Neglected 'Father Of American Rocketry'". New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved January 23, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c "Matthew Sands biography". American Physical Society. Retrieved September 14, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Keithley Instruments Inc. History". International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 16. St. James Press. 1967. Retrieved January 23, 2013. 
  9. ^ Keithley and Sands Patents: 297969: Microphone For The Measurement Of Transient Pressures In A Body Of Water1,4185556: Mine firing system, 3044398: Pressure-Time Responsive Electronic Firing Device; US Patent and Trademark Office
  10. ^ Pray, Rusty (February 1, 2003). "William C. Elmore, 93, physics professor". (The Philadelphia Inquirer). Retrieved January 31, 2013. 
  11. ^ Sands, Matthew L. (July 19, 1948). "Pulse Height Analyzer". Patent number: 2529666. US Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 
  12. ^ Sands, Matthew L.; William C. Elmore and Otto R. Frisch (March 19, 1945). "Pulse Amplifier". Patent number: 2531164. US Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 
  13. ^ Sands, Matthew L. (September 1, 1950). "Automatic Temperature Regulator". Patent number: 2646544. US Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 
  14. ^ Sands, Matthew L. (August 17, 1948). "Electroplating Control System". Patent number: 2584816. US Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 
  15. ^ Goldsmith, H. H.; S. Rabinowitch (September 1, 1946). "Federation of American Scientists". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Atomic Scientists of Chicago). p. 24. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 
  16. ^ "FAS History". Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved January 30, 2013. 
  17. ^ "The First Video Game?". Brookhaven's History. Brookhaven National Laboratory. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 
  18. ^ Elmore, William C.; Sands, Matthew L. (1949). "Electronics: experimental techniques". Volume 1 of National nuclear energy series: Los Alamos Project (McGraw-Hill Book Co.). p. 417. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 
  19. ^ "The History of the MIT Department of Physics". Big Physics at MIT : 1946-1970. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved February 2, 2013. 
  20. ^ Bush, Vannevar (July 1945). "Science The Endless Frontier". Office of Scientific Research and Development (Washington: United States Government Printing Office). Retrieved February 2, 2013. 
  21. ^ Goldstein, Jack S. (1992). A Different Sort of Time: the Life of Jerrold R. Zacharias, Scientist, Engineer, Educator. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. pp. 66–70. ISBN 026207138X. OCLC 24628294. 
  22. ^ Sands, Matthew (October 5, 1949). "Low Energy Mesons in the Atmosphere". Physical Review 77 (2): 180–193. Bibcode:1950PhRv...77..180M. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.77.180. Retrieved February 2, 2013. 
  23. ^ "Compton Gives Promotions to 9 Professors". The Tech (MIT). April 6, 1948. p. 1. Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Synchrotron Passes Tests". The Tech (MIT). February 7, 1950. pp. 1–3. Retrieved February 3, 2013. 
  25. ^ Smith, Nancy DuVergne; Debbie Levey (August 12, 2012). "How WWII Veterans Changed the MIT Landscape". Slice of MIT blog. MIT Alumni Association. Retrieved February 2, 2013. 
  26. ^ Sands, Matthew L.; Joseph F. Keithley (December 30, 1949). "Patent which gives 11 Westgate, Cambridge, MA as address for Sands". Patent number: 3044398. US Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved February 3, 2013. 
  27. ^ -Feynman, Richard (1985). Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 200. ISBN 9780393019216. 

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