A Bill Moyers Special - Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

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Public Affairs Television "Becoming American" Interview with Sam Ting

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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 couldn't understand.

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.

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