Joe’s Journal

A scientist comes home

Scribblings from an old dog
Wed, 07/10/2019 - 7:30am

Dick Kellogg grew up in Boothbay, where he learned to dig worms from the Back River mud flats, was schooled by the legendary teacher Hope Updegraff, and once tried to mentor Tim Sample.

Despite all that, he became a world-class physicist,  and spent more than 40 years working at CERN, the world’s largest particle physics lab, as part of a team that is bent on discovering the basic building blocks of the universe.

Not bad for a Boothbay kid who once found himself chest deep in the Back River mud as the tide turned. At an early age, it seemed Dick Kellogg learned to solve complex problems.

Sitting in his living room in a home once owned by one of his East Boothbay grade school teachers, Dick said his father, an ex-pat New York banker, bought a Back River home and opened an antique business and brought his family to the peninsula.

Dick wasted no time connecting with neighborhood kids like Danny Giles and Gary Lewis. Sometimes they got into a bit of trouble.

“Their families were involved in the worming business,” he said. “We used to pack them for shipment. One day, we were about 9, we decided to try our hand at digging the worms. We were told to stay near shore, but soon we ventured into the soft mud and I got stuck up to my knees. I wiggled for a while and found myself up to my chest. And the tide was turning. I yelled for help. Somehow I managed to get one leg free and pulled my other leg out of the boot and was able to get out. My mother made me hose myself off before I could come into the house.”

His father sent him to Hebron Academy for high school, and as a senior, he was assigned to mentor a freshman who proved to be a handful. That freshman was Tim Sample.

At Amherst, he earned a double major in English and physics. He also met a woman who also had a Boothbay connection. He has been married to the former Mary O’Keefe since 1972.

When it was time for grad school, he figured there were few jobs for English majors and turned to physics at Yale where he found cheap tuition, a stipend of $166 a month, and acceptance into a group which was into cutting edge research. It was not long before he was commuting to Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island and then to the Fermi National Accelerator Lab not far from Chicago, where he worked on particle accelerators. “It was the Wild West,” he said. “We would work 40 hours on and 10 off.”

In 1975, after he earned his doctorate, he took a post-doc research position with The University of Maryland, and they sent him to the DESY Lab in Hamburg, Germany. It is that nation’s largest center for high-energy particle physics research.

After seven years in Hamburg, he moved to Geneva, the home of CERN where thousands of the world’s top scientists are searching for the elemental building blocks of our world using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. Using a 16.87-mile long underground circular track, scientists race two beams of particles in opposite directions, at nearly the speed of light, and crash them into each other.

I asked Dick to give me the grade school version of what they were doing, and he launched into a lecture about protons, leptons, quarks and their relationship to gravity that made me wonder if I had been transported into a room with Sheldon Cooper in the “Big Bang Theory.”

As my non-scientific mind tried to grasp what he was saying, he saw my plight and explained he worked on something called a Hadron Calorimeter. “It is unbelievably complicated,” he said. His job was to fix things. “Sometimes it would take six months to find out there was a problem and another six months to fix it.”

Later, in an attempt to understand, I Googled “Large Hadron Collider,” and up popped an ad which said: “Get Large Hadron Collider, Unisex. Free Shipping, in stock. Buy now.” The fine print said it was a T-shirt ad.

As Dick settled into his complex career, he and Mary retreated from the hustle and bustle of Geneva and settled in a quiet little French village located inside the collider’s race track. It was like walking into a time machine moving from pure science into a village where farmers still walked their cattle through the town square morning and evening.

As the years went on, the project got more complex, and Dick and Mary decided it was time to move on to the next chapter of life.

Why did they pick Boothbay?

“Just look around,” he laughed.

“Just look around.”