Obsessed by a Dream: The Physicist Rolf Widerøe – a Giant in the History of Accelerators

Aashild Sørheim

“The Norwegian engineer and physicist Rolf Wider is the subject of this Open Access biography, which details his life and his many accomplishments. When they come across him within the pages of this book, readers will be left wondering why they haven’t heard of him before.

The betatron was Widere’s first groundbreaking contribution to the field of accelerator physics, and the linear accelerator was his second. Both of these innovations were summarized in a 27-page Ph.D. dissertation by Wider. The betatron ushered in a new era in cancer treatment through radiation therapy and nondestructive testing. Hospitals worldwide installed Widere’s the machine, and the modern radiation treatment equipment used today is based on his inventions. The most recent renaissance of the linac enables Free Electron Laser (FEL) facilities around the world, both those already in operation and those still under construction, to achieve x-ray intensities that have never been seen before.

The life of Wider is not without its share of intrigue, particularly during World War II, when both the Axis powers and the Allies competed for his cooperation. Wider was one of the consultants for constructing the CERN nuclear research facility in Switzerland, the world’s largest nuclear research facility. Wider held leading positions in multinational industry groups. He was granted more than two hundred patents, and he was also presented with a number of honorary doctorates and international awards.

The author is a professional writer and maker of TV documentaries, and he has gained access to previously restricted archives in several countries. These archives have provided a wealth of new material and insights, particularly in relation to the years of the war. In this article, she relates a story that is both captivating and enlightening.”