|The mast was about 2 feet long and made of fiberglass as stiff as they could make it. The mast strut weighed about 337 grams, which is about a pound, and it was loaded with a fake weight that massed 1.5 kg so the total was almost four pounds. We glued eight of our tiny piezoelectric ceramic transducers to the base of the mast. The transducers were 1 inch long by 0.25 inch wide, and massed only 1.6 grams. We found that we could stop that mast from vibrating with those tiny little transducers, even with that heavy weight attached to it.
That convinced a lot of people that this was really a powerful technique. We also answered some other important questions, in that people had wondered if we had the electronics actually working, and was the vibrational mode really being stopped, or was the vibration just sneaking around to some other part of the mast and hiding from us.
It was this tour de force of both experimental and theoretical demonstration that got people to really believe that electronic damping of structures can work. It all came to a head, very interestingly, in my visit to the Airborne Laser Lab airplane.
This is where the Smart Structures field really took off. Since I had demonstrated that I could damp structures with piezoelectric transducers in the lab, I was given the challenge of trying to do the same in an airplane. I took my equipment and my technician, and joined the Airborne Laser Lab group at Kirkland Air Force Base, in New Mexico. There, I was joined by Captain Michael Obal, who worked then at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory.
The Airborne Laser Lab was a converted 707 jet. The Air Force had taken one of the older models, and ripped out everything inside. Right in back of the pilots they put in a blast barrier, to protect them from the rocket-fueled laser. In back of that were tanks of carbon monoxide and oxygen, which were to burn to create a laser flame.
The way the laser was made, is that two small rocket engines were placed through the middle of the plane, so that their flames would shoot down it's length. The light from the flames would be captured by mirrors at the end of the plane, by what is called an optical bench. An optical bench is a region where the light gets bounced back, and is brought back up through the second rocket flame. The optical bench was seven feet long and four feet wide, built of composite and honeycombed materials, and weighed one and a half tons. When the rockets were running, the flames would be pushed down by deflectors situated on the belly of the plane. The optics on the bench were supposed to avoid the rockets' motors and the flames' exhaust, while they collected the light from two beams, combined them into a single laser, and sent the laser beam out the top of the plane.
The optical bench was vibrating a lot, to an unacceptable degree. This was a tough problem, so I had brought along some piezoelectric transducers about the size of a dinner knife - four and half inches by a half-inch by a quarter of an inch thick. It took us a little while to develop the exact combination of electronics that we needed to handle the noise and vibration, but we succeeded. We were able to do a good job of damping the vibrations in a one and a half ton bench for a total quantity of less than a third of a pound of transducers.
When we showed that it would work, during a live firing, Captain Obal was very pleased with the results. Originally, he had been a skeptic, along with everyone else. He had difficulty believing that these tiny transducers could handle a ton and a half of material, but he came away convinced. So much so that he went on to get his Ph.D. in "Optimal Vibration Control by the use of Piezoelectric Ceramic Sensors and Drives". I consider him to be, now, one of the leaders in this field. And with this particular effort, I felt I had done my job as a research scientist.
I went on to spread this new idea within Hughes, to a number of different applications, and published with different co-authors, to enable new work to be done.
ANTIMATTER: How I took on the world-wide established particle-physics community.
By using non-confrontational techniques, I convinced the international particle-physics community that they could turn their existing machines into antimatter factories.
The field of particle physics is a prime source of the coveted Nobel Prize, and the US, Europe, and Russia have long competed to build bigger and faster machines, pouring magnetic strength and energy into them to smash atoms, thereby, hopefully, creating new particles. These particles were captured and stored within a huge hollow ring. They were counted and analyzed. Then the machines were turned on again, smashing the particles against each other, until the result was protons, and, interestingly, about 5% anti-protons.
As the anti-protons accumulated, they provided targets for the proton beam, to create smaller and smaller particles.
As I read the results of the three big national facilities, I could see that, while they were very good at capturing, controlling, and directing antimatter, they were limited by budgets from much expansion, and they were also not doing much research using antimatter for medicine or other fields. With their primary interest being particles, they were only collecting about 5% of the energy spread. I wanted to build an antimatter factory, and I could see, step by step, how it should be done. I thought that antimatter could be turned into anti-ice and kept cold enough to store, while experiments to use it were planned. Frank Mead, at the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory, allowed me to use my contract money to study this, and I concluded there were no barriers to this idea, so I obtained a 300K, 3-year contract to further it.
I developed many unofficial contacts at the three major labs by writing to the engineers involved, praising their work, and suggesting that they could get better results with some of the newer equipment. They agreed that they could, but they were hampered by costs. As the contacts grew, I began to write the "Mirror Matter Newsletter". I visited several of the smaller and more friendly labs, and we talked about all of the problems, while I brought in my interest in antimatter as a result of their work.
After visiting most of the labs in the US, I was able to arrange a visit to CERN, where I learned a great deal and met more people. A few months later, I was allowed to visit a formal particle-physics meeting, purely as a spectator. At the end of the meeting, to my surprise, Carl Robea stood and began to sneer at the idea of making antimatter, mentioning the difficulties and stating that improvements with his system were impossible. But I replied that he was right, as long as he was using his system. Then I explained that other systems, which I outlined, could improve the angles, and other magnets, which I also outlined, could improve the results. For everything that he had said, I mentioned a technique which he and the others knew about, but which they could not use within the system they were currently limited to. With this non-confrontational technique I was able to get attention directed to the possibility of antimatter collection, rather than its difficulty.
There were lots of people who could really use some antimatter. The best example is in medicine; one way to kill a brain tumor, which is full of hydrogen is to shoot a particle beam at it. At Loma Linda Cancer Research Center, they shoot protons at the tumors.
Typical x-ray treatment of tumors results in damage to everything within the path of the x-ray, including healthy tissue. You send the beam vertically through the tumor and you get 90% of its energy destroying the brain, while 10% destroys the tumor. You send the beam horizontally through the brain, and a different 90% of brain tissue is destroyed, along with an additional 10% of the tumor. There is a gain to this method, but it is far less than if protons were used. Protons are moving at such high speeds that they do not do much damage until they slow down, in the tumor, where they stay. Nothing comes out the other side. It is almost like a magic bullet. That is a very powerful technique.
If I only had one brain tumor or two, I would be at Loma Linda Cancer Center. But I have at least six tumors, and it doesn't work too well.
If we had antimatter in a bottle, and could feed it into the Loma Linda proton beam therapy machine, we could be shooting antiprotons into the tumor. Theoretically, antiprotons could be used to scan the body for tumors and then destroy them. By calculation only a million antiprotons could successfully scan and kill tumors. Fermi Lab at that time had already made trillions, but they were not in a bottle at Loma Linda, where they could be tried.
In all, I wrote 18 issues of the "Mirror Matter Newsletter" and had a subscription list of 300 people.
I took my results back to Frank Mead, believing I had answers to all the questions regarding building an antimatter factory, but not wanting to run such a large program myself. The Air Force decided to spend quite a lot of money, principally on two workshops for engineers who could reasonably be expected to do the job…..
A WALK THROUGH MY NOVELS
From 1981 to 1995, I wrote eleven science fiction novels. I stopped writing science fiction in 1995. What I would like to do in this section is to take you through each novel quickly and point out the important things I think those novels teach.
The first novel, Dragon's Egg, published in 1981, came about very differently from the way most novels do. Most novelists start out wanting to write a specific story, and proceed to do so. Frank Drake and Larry Niven instigated this novel. It all started with an interview - article by Frank Drake, the astronomer. He also was a popularizer of science. In the interview, he pointed out that he liked to think of the idea of life on a neutron star as a way of teaching physics. The basic premise he was working on, was, "supposing there was life on a neutron star, what would it be like?"
If the star was made of neutrons, tiny creatures could live on it and have human qualities, if they were constructed of the same number of neurons as we have atoms. They would be visible to humans only through a microscope. That was the good basic idea, and it was a lot of fun. Larry Niven knew about that idea and was intrigued by it, especially about the idea of communication between humans and alien beings who live millions of times faster.
Back in 1972, I met Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Jerry had written an article on black holes, in which he hypothesized that black holes, formed in a supernova explosion, would generate gravity waves so powerful they could kill people thousands of kilometers away. I had been just in the middle of the preparation of a scientific article which said the same thing. I was impressed with the scope of this science fiction writing. I called Ben Bova, who put us in touch, and they came out to visit me in 1973.
I had been collecting a lot of strange data about black holes, including Hawking's black holes, so I fed them all the information I had, hoping they could get a story out of it. In the process, I also fed them the idea of a laser-pushed lightsail to go to the stars. I admitted I had no way to stop the lightsail, but that did not bother them; they just pretended that there was such a way, and they used the idea in God's Eye.
Later, they were asked to prepare a summer course on "Science Fiction Meets Science". They did, and they put together a pretty good program of speakers including Poul Anderson and many others, and me. My top subject was the same old gravity stuff I had fed them already, but it added to the mixture and we had a nice time. At the party afterwards, Larry Niven said, "You know, I am intrigued with this idea of trying to write a story on this time difference, in these creatures' lives and ours." I pointed out that what Frank Drake probably had forgotten or was not aware of is, you cannot have an abrupt transition between a neutron star and vacuum, there must be some kind of atmosphere in between. When you go through the analysis, you find that there is a stable form of star formation, and the surface of a neutron star would be less dense than the interior, and more dense than the vacuum. It would be of white dwarf star material. Creatures made of it would be visible to the human eye, and about the size of a sesame seed.
I told him that I had learned a great deal about neutron star and white dwarf star physics, and that I could fix up a bible for him, which would describe what the creatures can and cannot do. It would describe what might be plants and what might be varmints, and then he could decide whether he could write a novel with it, or not. He said that was fine, and I wrote, quite quickly, some pages about that and brought them back to him.
Then Larry said, "I am right in the middle of writing Lucifer's Hammer with Jerry Pournelle, so why don't you write the first draft of a novel yourself?" I said "Great! I'll be a co-author with Larry Niven!"
I went off to write my first draft and brought it back. Larry said he was still too busy, and suggested I finish it myself. I did! I took it to Del Rey Publishing, in New York. Lester read it, and said it was good, but that it needed rewriting by someone like Larry Niven or Jerry Pournelle. But then he took pity on me, and wrote a fourteen-page, single-spaced critique of the whole novel. He told me that if I made those corrections to his satisfaction, he would buy the book. So I finished the manuscript and it finally got published.
An interesting side note to this, is that back in the 1960's, I wrote a letter to hal Clement suggesting a novel written about tiny little creatures living on the surface of the sun. He sent me a very polite "No."
The story of Dragon's Egg is straightforward. It is the description of life on a neutron star and the living creatures' interaction with a human crew in orbit around them. Wanting to be thorough, I first found a likely neutron star, which was easy enough. A neutron star always has a 10-kilometer diameter: any bigger and it would be a white dwarf; any smaller and it would be a black hole. It makes it easier when you know that the size of its mass is always one-and-a-half times the mass of the earth. I had very little leeway in terms of its construction. The problem from the point of view of plot, is, how do we get a neutron star to a place where humans can interact with it?
Well, it turns out that when a neutron star is made, it is made from a rapidly spinning star which is about to turn into a black hole. It has very strong magnetic fields in it. As it rolls around in space on its axis, the magnetic fields act like a fan, pushing on the plasma that exists around the star. So, normally, it is moving quite rapidly, because it has a propeller and also something to push against. After the star goes supernova, that energy is still in the star, and it still has magnetic fields which continue to accelerate the star in space. Some of the fastest objects in space are black holes and neutron stars which have been pushed up to 100 kilometers a second. This gave me the way to get the message to humans, and it also fixed the elements of the story.
For plot reasons, I wanted to have the neutron star coming straight at the earth or very close to it from the North Pole region. My first job was to find a place to hide the white neutron star all during history, and then reveal it in the story. I was able to find the spot in the constellation Pluto; that is the dragon constellation. So I titled the book Dragon's Egg because the neutron star had been laid by the constellation.
I next had to invent the biology of the creatures on the neutron star. I wanted them to be as smart as humans, but not super-smart, so I assumed that their total number of atoms equaled the total number of atoms in our bodies, which would make them about the same intelligence. This, combined with their density, gave them the size of a sesame seed.
Star Quake is the sequel to Dragon's Egg. The human crew, orbiting above the neutron star, succeed in communicating with the Cheela who live on the star's surface. Despite the fact that their lives are so short in human terms, the Cheela learn a great deal from the humans and rapidly out-develop them in technology, inventing wonderful things such as gravity catapults, most of which I invented. Then the star quake hits, and it is quite easy to recognize that this would be a tremendous energy explosion. My task was to find a way to save a few Cheela from the quake, which I did in three different ways. They were able to begin rebuilding a civilization, with the helpful advice of their human watchers.
My next novel was Rocheworld. It is quite long, and I built into the story several other planets, thinking that I might write some sequels.
The idea I was trying to present to the public, in Rocheworld, is that a world is not always round. You can have a stable world that lasts for eons, consisting of two spheres so close together that they resemble a dumb-bell. The two I invented share a common atmosphere, and the waters of one periodically flow to the other. I arranged this world-system configuration so that this double planet and another, larger one named Garganutua rotated around each other, and interacted geologically with each other, as they also rotated around the sun, Barnard's Star. I also invented a few other planets for the system, each with their own interesting problems of geology and biology. And I invented the flouwen, alien creatures who also participated in several of the sequels.
In Return to Rocheworld, I continued to explore the new discoveries of the humans among the islands and other features of the original planet, and also developed the idea that there would be more sequels. The crew was ready and able to explore some of those other planets. I planned to enlist some co-authors in these further adventures, particularly for describing the humans, and I persuades my wife, Martha, and one of our daughters, Julie Fuller, to take this on. I enjoyed the characters they created, but my editor, Jim Baen, was not pleased.
Ocean Under The Ice is the first new adventure, and I invented a watery world, to explain and examine the ramifications of life under water. I included under-water volcanoes, room-temperature oceans, and some very strange life-forms. The inter-connection between some of these life-forms meant inventing some new and interesting biology.
The next story takes some of the human crew and crash-lands them, permanently, upon another planet. This is Marooned On Eden. I wanted to do a sort of Swiss Family Robinson adventure, with the humans adapting and surviving. I also invented yet more interesting alien inhabitants on this world. This story grew quite large, and needed its own sequel, so that the characters could be allowed to develop and the story come to an end. The sequel was Rescued From Paradise, and my daughter Julie and I had some fun, and quite a few arguments, as we settled the fates of the characters.
My next novel was completely independent of the rest of them. It was Martian Rainbow. At that time, many people were spending a lot of time, money, and thought about trying to land on Mars. They were not realistic. I decided to begin with the premise that Russia had succeeded in landing on Mars before the US, and had colonized it. Then, in my story, as it developed around twin brothers who were both world-leaders, I could teach in an interesting way all the differences between the worlds, and how civilizations can grow with entirely different rules.
The next story, which is also independent of the others, is Timemaster. The objective I had in that story was to teach the reader about time machines. For the story, I invented a creature made of negative matter. Negative matter can also be used to make black holes, and the creatures were able to do that, and then go through them at unbelievable speeds, coming out into the future. They then made bridges of these time-warps, and traveled from future to past and back. At one point, I was able to arrange for one person to be in three different times of his life in the same place.
In my next novel, Camelot 30K, I gave myself the challenge of creating life-forms which could exist on distant worlds with a chlorine-based chemistry and no source of warmth. I used the crawfish as the model for my creature, and invented fungus and spores that could interact with it and build up a biology that produced energy through radiation. They finally developed a civilization, and communicated by electronic magnetic vibration of their antennae. Their interaction with humans is illuminating for both species.
Saturn Rukh is the name of my last novel. It is primarily an exercise in the possiblity of life on Saturn. Back in 1961, I wrote my very first story on the planets in their order. I was intrigued, even then, by Saturn, which is two-and-a-half times the size of earth, but is mostly gaseous. I learned that something the size of humans could float comfortably in balloons in the upper atmosphere of the planet. Further, if clad in a wet suit and with an adequate supply of oxygen, a human could dive into the interior of the planet and eventually reach a stage of equilibrium in which the gravity would be just like earth's, and so would the temperature. The atmosphere, of course, would be mostly ammonia and other harsh substances, so the explorer would need full space-suit equipment.
So I had my human explorers do just that, and sent them descending into the unknown, searching for helium as a mission, and not expecting to find any form of life. to their surprise, they find many, mostly variations on the idea of balloons and jellyfish, which I invented and which the crew can establish communication with. Once again, cooperation leads to mutual benefit.
(Editors note: This was as far as Dr. Forward was able to get. Much of this work has been transcribed directly from his dictation and it is likely Dr. Forward would have done much editing. However, as stated earlier, we feel it is best to present his final work exactly as it is. We hope you will remember Dr. Forward as fondly as we do.)
Robert D. Forward
April 12, 2003