The synchrotron radiation activities at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (formerly Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) started out in 1972 as a small-scale Stanford University project. The project gradually grew to become one of the first national centers for synchrotron radiation in the United States and, eventually, an independent laboratory in charge of its own accelerator machine and organizationally a part of SLAC. This article tells the story of the first two decades of these activities, when the synchrotron radiation activities operated parasitically on the SLAC site, entirely peripheral to SLAC’s main scientific mission in high energy physics. The article’s meticulously detailed account of the history of the parasitic period of synchrotron radiation at SLAC constitutes an important and interesting piece of modern science history, complementing previous efforts in this journal and elsewhere to chronicle the history of the U.S. national laboratories and similar homes of Big Science abroad. Most importantly, the article communicates an alternative interpretative perspective on the institutional change of Big Science labs, consciously and consistently keeping its analysis at a micro level and emphasizing the incremental small-step changes of local actors in their everyday negotiations and deliberations. Not at all disqualifying or seeking to replace historical accounts framed with reference to macro developments of grand long-term change in science and science policy at the end of the previous century, but rather seeking to complement them, this article contributes with a worm’s-eye view on change and advances the argument for a further exploration of such viewpoints in the historical analysis of institutional transformation in science.

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