BILL MOYERS: Well, thank you for doing this. Someone told me that you are looking for the missing half of the universe. Is that right?
SAM TING: You can interpret it that way. What we
are doing is we have an experiment on the international space station. And the
idea is very simple. If you believe the universe came from a big bang and before
the big bang there's nothing.
So at the beginning of the big bang if you have an electron you must have a positron. And if you can have a quark, you must have anti-quark. And so if you have a matter you must have an equal amount of antimatter.
BILL MOYERS: Antimatter. I've never understood that term.
SAM TING: Antimatter was proposed by Paul Dirac,
a physicist in 1928. He received a Nobel Prize in 1933. Antimatter is the same
as matter except everything is just opposite. If a matter have positive charge
antimatter have negative charge. So, all the properties are just the
But when they meet they annihilate each other and become light. Antimatter we know exists on Earth. If you go to the hospital you take a positron tomography and that's positron, which is the antimatter of electron.
So, the existence of antimatter-- there's no doubt 'cause we know the accelerators will produce them. The question is if the universe came from a big bang, is there a universe made out of antimatter?
BILL MOYERS: I only passed science in college because I persuaded my lab instructor who was older to date me. And she had a benevolent attitude toward me and she tolerated my ignorance. I am an ignoramus when it comes to science. So, to a layman what is antimatter? What is it you're looking for?
SAM TING: To a layman-- it's more difficult to
explain. We know the universe came from a big bang because if you look through
telescope, you see the stars and galaxies move away from each other. This was
discovered by Hubbell, so the universe is expanding.
Tomorrow the universe will be larger than today. Next year it will be larger than this year. This is what expanding means. So, the converse is that last year it was smaller than this year. And so from this you can trace back about 14 billion years ago the universe came from a point. And that's the idea of the big bang.
BILL MOYERS: From a point?
SAM TING: Yeah, from a point. 'Cause you can,
just from the rate of expanding or the rate of shrinking, go back in time. And
from this you will see the universe came from a big bang.
Now, at the beginning, before the big bang, this vacuum, there was nothing. So, if you have an electron which carries a negative charge you must have something that carries a positive charge to balance it out. And that's how you have the antimatter.
BILL MOYERS: No wonder you're a teacher. Now, I see that but I still don't understand it because-- I mean, how can there be a vacuum with nothing in it if there's an electron in it?
SAM TING: No. In the beginning, there was nothing.
BILL MOYERS: Just nothing?
SAM TING: Nothing. And then there's something calledó Suddenly, the universe exploded from a positive particle and a negative particle that put it this way. And then if the universe is made out of positive matter then there must be a universe made out of negative matter.
BILL MOYERS: And you're looking for that negative matter?
SAM TING: Yeah. But positive or negative is a relative thing. You can call the negative one the matter. If the one we live is antimatter, then the other one will be matter. That's a relative thing.
BILL MOYERS: How can you look for something you can't see?
SAM TING: You cannot see it because they're either too small or moving too fast. How do you detect an antimatter? You detect the matter by measuring its charge. And matter has a positive charge, positive mass. Antimatter will have negative charge. So you have the same mass but negative charge. And so if you measure that then you know the antimatter exists.
BILL MOYERS: Is it like looking up at the sky after a plane has passed and seeing the trail?
SAM TING: Yeah, exactly. Exactly like that.
BILL MOYERS: So, how do you propose to find it?
SAM TING: When antimatter and matter meet they always annihilate each other, so you cannot measure them on the ground. When you go through the Earth's atmosphere, antimatter will be annihilated 'cause the Earth's atmosphere is very dense. And so you have to go to space. That's why we do this experiment on the NASA space station.
BILL MOYERS: So, what are you building right now?
SAM TING: We're building a rather large spectrometer, which is a device that measures the charge and measures the mass of a particle./p>
BILL MOYERS: Is this a magnet?
SAM TING: Outside it's a magnet and inside are various detectors and you can measure the property of particles.
BILL MOYERS: So, you'll be in effect sending a magnet into space--
SAM TING: Yes, to measure the particles.
BILL MOYERS: Where is the thing right now?
SAM TING: The thing has been built in England, in Switzerland, in France, in Germany. There are a total of about 16 countries working together because it's a fairly difficult thing to do. Nobody has done this before. And it's quite large. It's about seven tons and is about three feet by three feet. Inside there are about 300,000 various detectors.
BILL MOYERS: When it is built, what happens to it? Where does it go?
SAM TING: NASA will have a space shuttle to take us from Kennedy Space Center to the space station and then astronauts will use the arm from the shuttle to move to the space station. And then we will be in the space station for about three years.
BILL MOYERS: Given the recent tragedy with Columbia do you still think it will happen three years from now?
SAM TING: It could take a little bit longer. I don't think NASA should fly the shuttle until they've found out what was wrong. And so maybe it will take a year longer. And we've been planning to finish the detector about the middle of next year. What we're gonna do is we're gonna test it extensively on the ground. We're going to simulate the condition of space, go through a vacuum, go through a temperature change and vibrate the detector, simulate the shuttle leaving the ground, to make sure it works. So, it will give us one more year for more testing.
BILL MOYERS: This is a great risk, isn't it? I mean, it's not been done before you said.
SAM TING: No, it's not been done before. And it is not an easy thing to do. You need to think through carefully what you're doing.
BILL MOYERS: What's the risk? I mean-- even a tiny mistake in space, that's it, right?
SAM TING: Yes. And therefore there are two things you have to do. One is you have redundancy. Okay, we have a lot of microprocessors. On the ground maybe you need only one computer in space and you put in four, five, six, seven of them. And if one is bad you switch to the next one and switch the next one, switch to the next one. The second thing is before you send it to space, you do extensive tests. You simulate the condition of space.
BILL MOYERS: I mean, there's no book you can read is there to help you with this?
SAM TING: No, but you can think.
BILL MOYERS: How do you think about something for which there are no pictures, there's no book, there's no precedent? Is it pure logic?
SAM TING: Logic is important. And experience.
Before we did this experiment we have done many experiments under ground. And so
we know under what condition a detector is reliable and what risks you should
take or not take.
Experience sometimes is important. You cannot guarantee anything. And this is why before we sent the one on the space station, NASA flew our detector on a space shuttle once. It turned out it was okay.
BILL MOYERS: Help me to understand how you think about something like this. You sit in your laboratory and walk yourself through a series of imagined steps. How do you do that?
SAM TING: That's hard to say how you think. I
talk to people. I have many collaborators collaborating with me. There are about
a few hundred physicists from 16 countries. I talk to them. And I ask them to
come to meet with me once every three months.
Once every three months everybody comes to Geneva, Switzerland where we have a meeting. I make sure we hear from the laboratory directors, from the professors, from the assistants. Even the newest graduate students present their opinions. I listen very carefully. Physicists seldom agree with each other. (LAUGHTER)
BILL MOYERS: I'll take your word for it.
SAM TING: So I listen very carefully to everybody's opinion and then make a decision as to what to do.
BILL MOYERS: With so many scientists from so many countries you have to be a good diplomat. You can't just order people to do things, can you?
SAM TING: No, you cannot order people because, as you probably know, doing experiments in space is not the cheapest thing on Earth. And so many countries have really gone out of their way to support this experiment. They do this because they are interested. They want to satisfy their curiosity. And you also cannot make a decision based on a vote because in physics the majority's opinion is really not always important. When you destroy the majority's opinion you can make advancement.
BILL MOYERS: Science just is or isn't.
SAM TING: Yeah, especially if you have a detector you say, "Well, I should put in 1,000 votes." And the other people say, "No, I should only do 250 votes or 300 votes." You cannot vote on this.
BILL MOYERS: You cannot vote on the votes.
SAM TING: Yeah, exactly. You have to think. And what condition it is safe. And what condition it is reliable. You have to think through. Now, before you make a decision what tests you must make.
BILL MOYERS: That is an extraordinary responsibility for one person to have, the decision involving multi millions of dollars and years of-- (UNINTEL). Do you ever feel intimidated by having to make that decision?
SAM TING: No, not at all. Because I'm interested
in this and I consider this is one of the most important things. And my
collaborators, they don't have to collaborate with me. They work with me because
they're interested in this.
And so I have many, many collaborators and I think we often have disagreements. Sometimes even very serious disagreements. But so far, once a decision is made, everybody has been able to follow.
BILL MOYERS: Why is this so important to you, Dr. Ting?
SAM TING: Curiosity. To satisfy [my] curiosity. You know, if you think about it, if the universe came from a big bang there should be matter and antimatter equal amount at the beginning. Where is the universe made up of antimatter? There are many theories which says no, the antimatter universe does not exist. Actually the theory started in '67 by Andre Sakharov. But in physics if you do not do the experiment, you will never know.
BILL MOYERS: If you find out what you want to know what difference will it make?
SAM TING: Well, for me it will satisfy my
curiosity. You are asking a very important question and that is what does pure
research do to life on Earth? Well, many people ask me that. Let me give you a
small example. About a hundred years ago at the frontier of research was the
discovery of the X-ray and the discovery of the electron.. At that time it was a
pure curiosity. And then in the 30s they began to use the X-ray in the field of
medicine. In 1920's the most frontier science was atomic physics. So called
quantum mechanics. At that time it was also pure scientific research but now
it's used in laser, in communication, super conductivity and can affect
And the 40s and 50s the most-- the most advanced of science, the frontier was nuclear physics. Now, it's used in energy, defense, and in medicine. And so from discovery to application there's a time lapse. Typically 30 years or 40 years. But once it is used it really affects everyone's life.
BILL MOYERS: I understand that most of the time we do not know the practical consequences of what discovery you may make. And yet when I try to think back to the beginning of the universe to find out what was there and what wasn't there I have a struggle to try to imagine anything positive out of knowing what happened billions of years ago.
SAM TING: You know, our concept of what is this
basic element-- what is the smallest thing at the beginning-- what made our
universe, [our concept of that] really changes with time. And think of 100 years
ago. One hundred years ago everybody on Earth believed chemical elements, so
called periodic table, hydrogen, carbon, helium and the atoms are the smallest
elements in nature.
It's only through research we now know these are not elements of nature. And in the 60s we believed the nucleus is the smallest element. Then in the 70s we believed it's not this nucleus, not those particles but something called quarks are the smallest elements.
You know, 100 years from now may-- When we look back maybe what I said to you today may be totally meaningless. But if you don't do it you will never know.
BILL MOYERS: So, this is why you sent me this little booklet which you put together about your work called "In Search of The Fundamental Building Blocks of Nature." You're saying we still do not know what these blocks of nature are-- what reality is?
SAM TING: It's kind of dangerous to say that, you know. If you scan through THE NEW YORK TIMES in the last 100 years, very often a brilliant scientist will say, "Oh, we discovered this and now we've understood everything." only to turn out to be wrong. And so science is always progress. I think it's hard to say where or how it's going to end.
BILL MOYERS: But we still don't know wholly what life is made of, do we?
SAM TING: I would say I do not know.
BILL MOYERS: I want to come back to this to make sure I have it for my audience. You're driven by this sense of the mystery. Something you don't know you must find out like Sherlock Holmes looking for the dog that didn't bark in the middle of the night. What is this mystery you want to solve?
SAM TING: Let me give you a separate example.
When I started my career I was doing experiments on properties of light. And
then I found out light occasionally switches (UNINTEL) to have a heavy mass. And
it's a very strange phenomenon. Light ray will go through, traveling when you
enter into a nucleus and sometimes changes it into a particle with
At that time most of this mass of particle-- there are only three kinds. Three kinds of mass. And I was asking why there only are three? Why could there be not four? Why could there not be five?
And then I started experimenting in Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. And sure enough I found light rays not only go to three-- with particle with three different kind of mass, there's a fourth kind. And the fourth kind has a totally different property from the rest of them.
If you don't ask this you will never know. You ask me howówhat drives me? It's from your previous experience, from the experience you ask questions. I think the most important thing for a scientist is to find the right question to ask.
BILL MOYERS: Why is your work so controversial?
SAM TING: I don't think it's controversial. You
know, in physics different people have different opinions. And if you do what
everybody else had said, if you want to do experiments just to prove people's
theory, then you really don't learn much.
So, there's two kind of physics. One is theoretical physics, one is experimental physics. Theoretical physics try to explain things. Experimental physics try to see whether the theory is right or wrong.
So, if you do an experiment and prove the theory is right you have learned nothing. It's when you do an experiment, prove the theory is wrong and you require a new theory, then you learn something.
BILL MOYERS: I can understand why a lone scientist working at his laboratory would wrestle with concepts and theories for a long time. But what you're doing involves thousands of people, hundreds of scientists, technicians-- lots of money, many nations. How do you persuade that many people to trust you?
SAM TING: People trust me mainly because they look at what I've done before. Is my experiment worthwhile? Have I ever made a mistake? The only thing you can say is people look at your track record, what you have done before.
BILL MOYERS: Have you ever made a mistake?
SAM TING: Not yet. But this does not mean it may not happen in the future.
BILL MOYERS: Now, what worries you most about this experiment? Where could it go wrong?
SAM TING: An experiment in space is very different from an experiment on the ground. In an experiment on the ground you can always go down to fix it. An experiment in space, one mistake is your last mistake 'cause if you lost a fuse you have lost the whole experiment and so you must make sure there are redundancies.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
SAM TING: Now, if you have a computer on board you cannot only use one, you must use four, five or six. So, if one goes bad it will switch automatically to the next one and to the next one. So, every detector has enormous amount of redundancy since you cannot go there to repair it.
BILL MOYERS: Are you concerned that after both the Challenger and Columbia disasters that the world may retreat from manned space experiments? And what would happen if we did?
SAM TING: I hope it doesn't because manned space flight is exploration. Imagine if Columbus had not made his trip, the world may have been very different. And you probably know-- in the 14th century there was a Chinese explorer--
BILL MOYERS: There's a new book out on that.
SAM TING: Yeah, a Chinese explorer went to Madagascar in Africa. But he never continued and so he never discovered America. And Columbus and Magellan, these people continued. So, giving up half way is not the way to proceed.
BILL MOYERS: So, even though there's human loss, huge sums of money lost, you think we have to continue the journey?
SAM TING: I would think if we don't do it, another country certainly would do it. You can not stop human curiosity.
BILL MOYERS: One of your cultural and spiritual ancestors Lao Tze believed that we would never find the origin of beginning. So, why do we insist on continuing the search, that journey? If we know we can never get to where we started.
SAM TING: But of course Lao Tze's theory had no experimental proof. So, we don't know whether [it's true.] No, we don't know if you don't do the experiment. You would never know.
BILL MOYERS: That seems like an endless quest.
SAM TING: Yes. Yes, I think exactly yes. Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: And you're convinced that there was a big bang?
SAM TING: My view has no meaning. I could believe it or not believe it. You could believe it or you could not believe it. We do not know. You have to do experiments. If you don't do experiments, you will never know. Everybody says, "If you have no experiment everybody is entitled to their opinion." So, only when you have correct experimental results and then you can have some feeling of what's going on.
BILL MOYERS: What?? what experiment can you do to prove that there was a big bang?
SAM TING: Well, you have a theory. Big bang is a
hypothesis, a theory. You can do many many experiments. You can never prove a
theory. You can only modify or destroy a theory. When you do experiments that
disagree with the hypothesis of the big bang, then you know the big bang theory
We believe in relativity mainly because all the experiments agree with the prediction. So that's why gradually you believe it. You cannot find an experiment to prove the theory. It's only when you have done an experiment that disagrees with the theory that you know the theory has to be modified.
BILL MOYERS: I don't want to trivialize anything by a false analogy, but let me ask you, is it possible you'll ever find the equivalent from the big bang of an archaeological relic in the Middle East that proves the existence of a city 4,000 years ago?
SAM TING: You do not know. First you wanna make
sure, really an antimatter universe exists. And that's only the first step. But
if it does exist, and then I think it would be very interesting because many of
the theories today?? even though there's no experimental foundation for this
theory, assume there's no big bang.
So if you prove there is an antimatter universe, then it's really a major advance.
BILL MOYERS: So would it be acceptable to a scientist for me to say the antimatter universe you're looking for is what was destroyed when the earth was born?
SAM TING: No, it's not destroyed. Nobody knows what happened. Nobody knows. Nobody knows.
BILL MOYERS: And you're looking for what we don't know.
SAM TING: That's right. If you're looking for what you know it's useless?? it's not interesting.
BILL MOYERS: But you believe you know something? I mean you believe that there is something there.
SAM TING: No. It's very dangerous for an experimentalist to have a preconceived idea. You must find out. Make sure your instrumentation is correct, your method is correct, and try to see what happened.
BILL MOYERS: And the question you're trying to answer is, one more time, the question you're trying to answer is?-?
SAM TING: Is?? if the universe came from the big bang there must be an equal amount of matter and antimatter at the beginning. That's the simplest assumption. And so where is the universe made out of antimatter?
BILL MOYERS: How on earth, no pun intended, how on earth did you get into this work?
SAM TING: I [conducted] experiments with Professor Lederman many many years ago at Brookhaven. In 1963, we found out that antimatter nuclei does exist. And from there, that's been many years since we asked the question, is there an antimatter universe.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think that you were destined from childhood to be a scientist?
SAM TING: I was born in Michigan. And then returned to China a few months after I was born. My parents were?? let's say rather patriotic types. At that time, the war between China and Japan started so they took me back. I was only four months old so I had nothing to say.
BILL MOYERS: And what were they doing in this country?
SAM TING: They were students at the University of Michigan.
BILL MOYERS: And when the Japanese attacked China, they went back?
SAM TING: They went back. They believed they are Chinese, their destiny was in China. And so they took me back. I grew up in China during the wartime so I really didn't go to school. But at home, my father and my mother, they were both university professors, always talked to me about Michael Faraday. Faraday is the one who invented electricity. James Clerk Maxwell, Isaac Newton. So ever since I was young, I've heard about these names so I began to be curious. I think that if anything my parents had something to do with it, the conversations in the home.
BILL MOYERS: And did you develop heroes?
SAM TING:Yes, these people are really my heroes.
BILL MOYERS: Why were they a hero to you? What was it about them that turned you on?
SAM TING: Just the things they are doing. To explore the unknown.
BILL MOYERS: To explore the unknown. You've been doing that so long. Do you ever have any midnight doubts? Do you ever think I'm spending my life doing something that could prove to be useless.
SAM TING: This often happens to many scientists. It's a very important question. Fortunately for me, this has not happened. If I wake up at midnight, which I often do, I'm always suspicious. Is this equipment designed correctly. What tests do I have to make. What did this person say to me? What did they mean when they said it? When I wake up often it's about this. So far, I have no doubts. Now it's a bit too late to have doubts. But I never have doubts about my work.
BILL MOYERS: You said you grew up in China during the war. You were not able to go to school.
BILL MOYERS: Did you read a lot?
SAM TING: No. No, I tried to go to school but school was not interesting to me. Until I went to Taiwan when I was twelve, it wasn't until then that I realized I really better go to school. So I basically had my education in Taiwan.
BILL MOYERS: And why did you decide to come back to the United States?
SAM TING: Two reasons. One, since I was born in Michigan, I could come back easily.
BILL MOYERS: You're an American citizen by birth.
SAM TING: By birth. At least that's what my draft board at that time kept reminding me. (LAUGHTER) And the second reason is at that time, in the United States, you really could get a better education compared with Taiwan.
BILL MOYERS: How old were you when you came back?
SAM TING: I was 20.
BILL MOYERS: What did you have with you?
SAM TING: Well, I did not know any English at that time. Very little. And also maybe I made a mistake. I remember I overheard from my parents, most of the students in the United States go to school on their own. So I decided to only ask 100 dollars from my parents. 100 dollars in Taiwan was a lot of money. In the United States, I had no sense of its value. So I took 100 dollars with me.
BILL MOYERS: You came back with 100 dollars? That's all?
SAM TING: That's all. I began to realize the seriousness of my situation when I landed?? I can tell you the day?? September 6th, 1956 in Detroit airport. So I went to the hamburger place and the hamburger cost one dollar. Then I realized this was a very serious matter. (LAUGHTER)
BILL MOYERS: (LAUGHTER) What did you do? You couldn't go to the University of Michigan with 100?? 99 dollars after the burger.
SAM TING: The school had given me a scholarship. Because of that, I was always very grateful to the University of Michigan. So I went there. And very soon they realized maybe I'm somewhat worth their while to support. So I went to school there having entered as an undergraduate and stayed on to get my Ph.D. It took me about six years, which is considered quite fast. Most of the people take about ten or so. And during those six years I was very very happy. Michigan was quite easy.
BILL MOYERS: Easy?
SAM TING: It was quite easy.
BILL MOYERS: For you.
SAM TING: Yeah, I can only speak about myself. I went to engineering school.
BILL MOYERS: All this came naturally to you, apparently. Engineering, math, science.
SAM TING: I first went to the College of
Engineering. Because at that time, I really didn't know what was going on. And
then after one term, I realized I could not understand engineering drawing, you
know, those drawings you're looking from the top, looking from the side, I
So I went to see my advisor. My advisor said, hmmm, you seem to have good grades in math. And in physics. Why don't you switch? So I switched. And so it was quite easy.
BILL MOYERS: You spent the first 20 years of your life in China and Taiwan. How did America strike you in 1956? Was it overwhelming? Was it bewildering?
SAM TING: Only for the first few days because I didn't know the language. And in Taiwan it's quite warm and you have summer clothes. In Michigan, winter is slightly different. It's quite cold. I remember my first winter was somewhat unpleasant because I only had tennis shoes. But after a while I got used to it in Michigan.
BILL MOYERS: How did you learn English so fast?
SAM TING: I went to classes. In the beginning, students stay away from you. Who's this strange guy who doesn't understand anything and because of the time change, always falls asleep in class, in the first few weeks.
BILL MOYERS: The jet lag was terrible. (LAUGHTER)
SAM TING: (LAUGHTER) But after a while people found out he seems to have good grades. And then I began to have many, many friends.
BILL MOYERS: Did you ever meet Homer Neal? He's a good friend. He's a good friend.
SAM TING: Yes, he was my classmate.
BILL MOYERS: Is that right?
SAM TING: Yeah. He was my classmate and we shared the same office. He was one year behind me.
BILL MOYERS: Samuel Ting, a Chinese American, and Homer Neal, an African American. What an interesting combination that was.
SAM TING: And we are very good friends.
BILL MOYERS: He's at CERN now, isn't he?
SAM TING: He's at CERN [European Laboratory for Particle Physics] He was at my home for dinner recently. When I first went to Michigan, the class was difficult because I didn't understand English, particularly chemistry. But on Saturdays, there is something called football. And so I went to football. I still remember my first football was with UCLA. And after a few minutes, I understood it, I figured it out. (LAUGHTER) And??
BILL MOYERS: What did you figure out?
SAM TING: I figured out what was a touchdown.
Somehow I figured this out. And since then, I developed a complete loyalty to
the University of Michigan's football. And so in my six years at Michigan, I'm
ashamed to say I did not go to all the classes. But I never missed a football
And so even now, I still go back once a year. And just a few months ago I was with Homer at the University of Michigan game.
BILL MOYERS: You know, Joe Namath, the big New York Jets quarterback once said to me with a smile on his face, football is physics. A quarterback has to be at heart a good physicist. He has to calculate time and distance and mobility in order to deliver an object to a moving receiver at a given moment.
SAM TING: Yes, that's also one thing about football, you have to react very quickly. The time of reaction is very short and mistake is very serious. In physics, in doing experiments you also have to react quickly. To see whether there's a mistakes or not.
BILL MOYERS: And that doesn't trouble you at midnight when you think about this big booster taking off and this expensive magnet that you were developing and moving up into space. One small mistake and it's all over.
SAM TING: Mmm?Hmm. It doesn't trouble me because I will always check and check and check again. I always assume there could be something wrong. I better check. It's very important for me, at least, I won't say about others, to assume that there could be something wrong. You better check it.
SAM TING: During our first flight to space, there
were many articles and many papers that say this will never work. One of the
reasons is if you have a wire, if you hang a thread, if you put a chopsticks,
the chopstick is gonna stay in the same orientation. But if the chopstick is
made out of a magnetize iron, it's going to rotate always to the north. Right?
That's the principal of a compass.
But it's not a chopstick. If it's a seven ton magnet, you're gonna exert a tremendous force on the shuttle and the shuttle will lose control. And so the magnet that we designed is looking from outside, it's like made out of wood. The earth do not see this like a piece of wood. The property of the magnet is only inside.
So we figure out how to do that and once we do that?? the question is how do you know you have done it correctly? So instead of (UNINTEL) one magnet, we actually build ten. And we do many tests. And we see what conditionówell, first we measure it's really changed that does it rotate. Does it have a torque, does it have a push.
And under what condition?? when the shuttle leaves the ground will it will fall apart. The force is enormous. So we simulate this on a vibration table, to see under what condition this thing falls apart. We're actually building ten magnets. It's not just a question of who is intelligent, who is not intelligent. The important thing is to be suspicious. To be suspicious but to your ability is limited. You better check it.
BILL MOYERS: Can you simulate and compute the possibility of a mistake that has never happened?
SAM TING: You cannot simulate that. But you can simulate the space environment at NASA's Johnson's Space Center and use the special equipment just to simulate the condition of space. And you do this test. And what we have done is not only simulate the condition of space, we increase the vibration to see under what conditions this thing will fall apart.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think there's anything particular in your cultural Chinese background that has played a role in this? Because in this booklet, you mention yin and yang. And I once did a documentary about Chinese medicine and how it believes a human body is organic, not a machine like the Americans believe it is. Is there something peculiar in your Chinese heritage that has influenced you as a scientist?
SAM TING: No. If there's anything, it's just the
opposite. I mentioned to you my conversation with my parents about scientists, I
often had disagreements with my father. He was brought up in a classical Chinese
environment, and so he believed things of the old is good, the ideas of
Confucius is good.
And ever since I was young I was somehow different. And I don't believe that at all. I thought this philosophy perhaps was not entirely right because if you only think that old is good, then there's no advancement to the future. So in that sense, I have some sort of a conflict with [my culture]?? particularly my father.
BILL MOYERS: Well, it's my theory?? unproven, because I can't conduct enough experiments to confirm it. It's my theory that one becomes an American at that moment which for good or ill, one challenges authority. Challenges tradition.
SAM TING: Absolutely right. Absolutely right.
Another way for you think you are American is at night, when you go to the
laboratory, when you count the numbers, you don't count in Chinese, you count in
Also, if you no longer celebrate Chinese New Year and then you realize you have completely changed.
BILL MOYERS: And you have, haven't you?
SAM TING: Yes. Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Do you still have any intrigue with your Chinese culture? Do you have any intellectual intercourse with it?
SAM TING: I am somewhat interested in Chinese history. That is because when I was young I had a reasonably good memory. When I read a book I could remember. So I'm sometimes fascinated by Chinese history. The Chinese as you know, keep good records, what's going on.
BILL MOYERS: I know. They were the original bureaucrats. (LAUGHTER)
BILL MOYERS: Tell me about your family now? They must be purely American.
SAM TING: My wife is American. And I have three children. Two daughters from an earlier marriage, they're in their 30s. And I have a young son who is 16. He is at school in Boston. He is 100 percent American.
BILL MOYERS: Do you talk to your children about their Chinese heritage? Their grandfather?
SAM TING: I talk to all of them about Chinese history. Mainly because I know a little bit about Chinese history. So at dinner tables?? they are not interested in what I'm doing.
BILL MOYERS: They're not? (LAUGHTER) Well, your father wasn't interested in what you were doing.
SAM TING: So I talk to them about Chinese history. And I often go with my wife and my son to China. I went with my son last year to China to Xian (PH), to Unamuchi (PH), to Beijing. And that was very interesting for him.
BILL MOYERS: Do you take him back to your roots? Back to where your parents came from?
SAM TING: No.
BILL MOYERS: So they're purely American now.
SAM TING: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: A couple of final questions. What went through your mind when you learned you won the Nobel Prize?
SAM TING: I was a bit surprised. Because normally, the Nobel committee, from your discovery to when they give you a prize, they normally let you wait for 20 years or 30 years. And in my time, from the work to the awarded prize is only a little bit more than a year.
BILL MOYERS: A year?
SAM TING: About a year. I did my work in '74. They gave me the prize in '76 so, I think they must have made a terrible mistake. (LAUGHTER) Get the excitement over their head.
BILL MOYERS: Why did you give your acceptance speech in Chinese?
SAM TING: The reason is, [the Nobel] acceptance speeches have been given in every languages except in Chinese.
BILL MOYERS: I didn't realize that. You were the first recipient to accept it in Chinese?
SAM TING: Yeah. Before me, there's Professor Lee
and Professor Yang. I wanted to give the speech in Chinese. I want to give a
message to the Chinese students. That's why I decided give the speech in
The United States ambassador to Sweden actually was not very pleased. That time, the relation with China was not perfect. So, the ambassador actually came to talk to me and said, "Well, you are American. Why do you give the speech in Chinese?" I said, "You know, I can speak whatever language I want." And the reason I give the speech in Chinese because I want to mention to the Chinese student in science that it's not only theoretical physics, theory that is important. To be able to do experiments, it's also very, very important. To be able to measure things, to measure experimental phenomenon, to study nature. It's very important.
BILL MOYERS: That's interesting to me. Is this because Chinese are more interested in theories and stop there, than in practical application?
SAM TING: There was a sentence in the Confucius
teaching that said, "People who use their mind control people using their hand."
In my little speech. I mentioned it. Look, you know, people use their
Of course, it's very important. They're doing theoretical work. But to be able to use your hand together with your mind to do major experimental phenomena is equally important. The advancement of science is the interplay between theory and experiment.
BILL MOYERS: Then you went on to give the speech again in English?
SAM TING: Yes. Yes. Because at that time, China is a closed society. I had very much wanted to invite my aunt, who lived in China to come. And the Chinese government said no. And so, I said, "Well, if you say no, I'm going to tell your students how I feel about how the Chinese education is."
BILL MOYERS: And you did that.
SAM TING: Yes, I did that.
BILL MOYERS: But being a closed society, did China let the speech be published?
SAM TING: I do not know. I think many Chinese students know about that. They may not agree with me, but anyway, that's my opinion.
BILL MOYERS: They got a very good American lesson out of that. That it's not enough just to have an idea. You've got to do something with it, and carry it out.
SAM TING: Uh-huh (AFFIRMATIVE). So--
BILL MOYERS: You still draw on your Confucius philosophy?
SAM TING: Uh-uh (NEGATIVE). No. No.
BILL MOYERS: Except in that case.
SAM TING: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. In that case, my main theme-- Confucius philosophy-- it's good. It's from 2,600 years ago. May or may not apply it in it's entirety today.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think science ultimately triumphs over philosophy?
SAM TING: This I do not know. Ten years from now, when I'm much older, I probably can answer this.
BILL MOYERS: (LAUGHTER) You won the Nobel Prize for discovering something called the J-particle. Can you tell me-- a layman what that is?
SAM TING: Okay. Before the J-particle, there were
about hundreds of particles. All these hundreds of particles have common
properties. Like, how long they live before they decay. It's just like people on
Earth lives about 100 years. J-particle has a very unique property.
It's lifespan is about 10,000 times longer. And so, imagine-- after the discovery of J-particle, a family of similar particles were discovered. Imagine you suddenly-- in Culcous (PH), or in Tibet, you suddenly found a family that instead of living 100 years, lived 10,000 years. There must be something interesting.
BILL MOYERS: How did you imagine the existence of a J-particle when most scientists, or all scientists thought that we had identified all the particles?
SAM TING: That's exactly it. I did not think we had identified all the particles.
BILL MOYERS: How many people do you estimate around the world are involved in your experiment?
SAM TING: There are about a few hundred physicists. I do not know how to count the engineers, and technicians.
BILL MOYERS: Describe the scene for me in Geneva [where you have meetings every three months]. That's the heart of the experiment.
SAM TING: We have a meeting. The meeting lasts
normally one week. And first, we invite people from NASA to explain the progress
of the space station. And then, I give a report. To see what are the questions
we have to ask. I give this report about what worries me.
And then, each university gives a report on what they are doing. Often they are disagreement. University A says it should be this way, University B says it should be another way-- and we have to resolve that.
BILL MOYERS: But you don't resolve it by a vote.
SAM TING: No, we never vote. We resolve it by
extensive discussions. And then, if I have understood it, I will express my
opinion to everyone. If people disagree, they can speak up. I particularly
encourage young students to express their opinion.
And after that, if I still don't understand it, I will say, "Let's not decide now. Let's do some more tests." I find that eventually, I will make a decision.
BILL MOYERS: The buck stops with you--
SAM TING: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Why do you ask young students? I mean, some of them are just in graduate school?
SAM TING: Yes, because in physics, age and experience may or may not be the most important thing. And also, you really have to respect a student-- listen to what he has to say.
BILL MOYERS: Is there a lot of excitement in Geneva when you're together over this experience?
SAM TING: Yes. People are very enthusiastic. And the governments in Europe, they are really strongly behind this experiment. The Italians, the Swiss, the Germans really support this thing.
BILL MOYERS: Well, there was a race in Europe when Columbus, and Magellan, and others were sailing the world to discover the New World.
SAM TING: Uh-huh (AFFIRMATIVE).
BILL MOYERS: Is that the equivalent for you scientists on this project to discover the missing half of the universe?
SAM TING: That is what we have in mind. What we really will discover, of course, we do not know. Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Just as Columbus didn't know--
SAM TING: Yeah. No. If you don't do it, you don't know.
BILL MOYERS: Dr. Ting, thank you very much. I have really enjoyed this, and I've learned a lot from you.
SAM TING: Thank you. I'm also quite impressed by the way you ask questions.
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