Oral History Transcript — Dr. Herbert Anderson
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Session I | Session II
Hoddeson:Herb, you were born in New York City on the 24th of May, 1914. What part of New York were you born in?
Anderson:I was told I was born in Queens. But I have no recollection of ever having lived in Queens.
Hoddeson:What did your parents do?
Anderson:Well, my mother was a mother. And my father was, did various things. Mainly he was in the sweater business. He did various things in the business—sell them, manufacture them.
Hoddeson:Were they born in the United States?
Hoddeson:Where did they come from?
Anderson:They both came from Russia.
Anderson:Well, before I was born.
Hoddeson:Had they come over early, or were they just recent immigrants?
Anderson:They were relatively recent. I had a brother and a sister, and my brother was eight years older than I, so I imagine they came over in 1900, or 1899 or, something like that.
Hoddeson:Both of your siblings were born in the United States?
Anderson:We were all born in the United States.
Hoddeson:Are they still alive?
Anderson:I’m the only survivor of the immediate family.
Hoddeson:What did your brother and sister do?
Anderson:Well, my sister worked she was mainly a secretary. My brother was an accountant. He became a certified public accountant. At the peak of his career, he worked for Schenley. He was a comptroller for the Schenley Distilleries. Then he had businesses of his own. He was fairly successful. But he died. You know my brother and sister died from one form or another of cancer.
Hoddeson:I see. How old were you when they died? Roughly, not an exact—were you a child?
Anderson:Well, let’s see. I guess my brother died when he was about 54, and I’m eight years younger.
Hoddeson:Oh, I see. It wasn’t when you were a child. I was just trying to establish, whether he died when you were a child.
Anderson:Oh no, no, no, I was sort of a younger child, because I was six years younger than my sister. My brother and sister were born two years apart, and, well, as far as that part is concerned, I was very much loved by my brother and by my sister, and as Betsy [Mrs. Herbert Anderson] says, I was a “Jewish Prince.” Everybody loved me. So everything I did was very strongly supported, much appreciated and admired.
Hoddeson:You went to elementary school in Queens?
Anderson:No. My early life was mainly in the Bronx, and then, I went to public school in what was called P.S. #57.
Hoddeson:Was that in the Bronx too?
Anderson:That’s in the Bronx.
Hoddeson:Does that have a name? Many Bronx public schools have a name.
Anderson:That didn’t have any name. I went to P.S. 44 first, then 57. And, oh, it’s somewhere in the middle of the Bronx. I don’t know how well you know the Bronx.
Hoddeson:Pretty well. I grew up in the Bronx.
Anderson:Well, I lived near Tremont Avenue, Arthur Avenues was any street.
Hoddeson:I know just where that is, yes.
Anderson:Well, it’s very different in your time from what it was in mine.
Hoddeson:It’s changed even more in the last ten years.
Anderson:Oh yes, I know that. At that time the Italians were the immigrants, the new immigrants. There are always waves of immigration. Then there were the Italians coming into the neighborhood.
Anderson:Then rather early, I showed some interest in science.
Hoddeson:In junior high school?
Anderson:No. I never went to junior high school. 57 was just an ordinary elementary school. It went up to grade 8. Well, I didn’t know anything about science, but I did know about engineering and I was interested in radio and electrical things. So I aspired to and then entered Stuyvesant High School, because that was a special school. It was a technical school. It was a scientific high school; It was special, and you had to have a grade of B plus or better to get in. I applied and was accepted. Then I used to commute on the elevated train, from Bronx to Stuyvesant, every day, morning, night.
Hoddeson:On the Lexington?
Anderson:It was the Third Avenue, elevated. I went down to 14th Street in Manhattan every day.
Hoddeson:Tell me more about your scientific background. Did you discover that interest in courses at P.S. 57, or was some person behind it—some uncle or some friend? Or did you just happen on radio and other things like that?
Anderson:It’s hard to know now, but one of the things that was important in those days was to be able to get a job and overcome anti-Semitism. Both my brother and sister had a very hard time getting jobs. And the family was poor and both brother and sister went out to work. I was the one who they were going to put through school, all of them, and you had to be a professional, and I guess I opted for science, for engineering rather, as a professional I career, rather than anything else.
Hoddeson:OK, so then you went to Stuyvesant, and were there any outstanding teachers or friends?
Anderson:Yes, Stuyvesant had a big effect. In fact, I have lots of stories from Stuyvesant, because that’s, in a sense, where my scientific career began. I guess my earliest experience was when I was sitting in class. I don’t remember which one. And there was a boy behind me whose name I still remember, whose name was Ralph Cavaniles, a Puerto Rican, a very good looking boy. He would lean over his desk and tap me on the shoulder and say to me, “You know, I talked to Cuba today.” What do you mean, you talked to them?” This was all going on while class was in session. And then he would keep telling me these little stories about how he would talk, and it turned out that he had a little amateur radio station, and so he got me interested in that and he said, “Why don’t we join the Radio Club?” I said, “Fine, I might be interested,” and so I guess we were fairly early on, in freshman or sophomore year, and we both went into the Radio Club. This was in the late twenties. So in the Radio Club, that was an organization which officially did amateur radio—I got interested in that, and then wanted to build my own things. And I learned about the AMATEUR RADIO HANDBOOK, which radio amateurs all know. There were various circuits in there. I decided I would try to build a radio receiver that was in that. I begged, borrowed and stole money from whatever parent would give me some cut and built this thing.
Hoddeson:Where did you build it?
Anderson:I also had a job, so I earned some money, a summer job, I guess.
Hoddeson:What were you doing?
Anderson:Well, I worked for a company called E.J. Klassen Co. that was in construction. They built churches, and they had plans; I looked at plans, and helped draw them, I guess and then saw they had various contractors who would come in (they were the architects, and they had subcontractors that would come in), and I would bother them to see it I could get a piece of aluminum so that I could make my radio. So I had this job one summer, actually, worked for them. They paid, I don’t know, minimum rate. I ultimately built a receiver, and began to listen to radio stations and talk to the people in the club. One man in the club, whose name was Walter Grosselfinger was the president of the club. He was about a year older than I was, and in the following year I became the president of the club. Well, as the president of the club, the principal of the high school— he was quite a rememberable man…
Hoddeson:Who is that?
Anderson:His name was Ernest Van Nardroff, and he had a son who became a professor at Columbia.
Hoddeson:—why he taught me mechanics!
Anderson:You may know his son?
Hoddeson:Yes, I knew his son.
Anderson:Anyway, the father was a remarkable man. He was the principal of a high school and every semester, he’d put on a demonstration of physics experiments, on which he had very carefully worked, and they were always fantastic. They were the best lecture demonstrations. He would put them on for the whole school; he was the principal. He’d prepare this very carefully, and put on this demonstration. They just made physics look fascinating. He was really a master. He was a very distinguished man with a little goatee, very tall, very handsome, beautiful voice, and these demonstrations were great. I still can see him, you know, the way he did experiments with polarized light, and showed the colors you get with polarized light. And he did experiments with liquid nitrogen. He’d take a rubber ball and put it in the nitrogen, it would freeze, and it break into pieces. I can still remember that. Anyway, Mr. Van Nardroff one day called me into his office, and he said, “Look, you’re the president of the Radio Club, and I’d like you to do something for me.” “OK.” He said, “You see that clock that’s outside my office,” beautiful clock with a mercury pendulum,” he said, “you know when my teachers come in every morning, I want them all to know that that clock is correct to 1/500th of a second. And in order to do that, I have to receive the time signals from the Naval Observatory, WAA. And I’d like to have a receiver that would bring in the signals. If you make the receiver, I’ll go to the shop and I’ll make the little screw so I can fine tune and adjust the length of the pendulum, by means of the thumb screw.” I said, “Well, that will be fine. I’d like to build such a receiver.” And then, I just went to the RADIO AMATEUR’S HANDBOOK and got a circuit. I gave him a list of parts that I would need and he supplied me with the parts. I put it all together at home and brought it into his office one day. And then he began to ask me how it all worked, you know. I had to explain how the waves came in. I had sort of a childish notion of how radio waves were, but I explained to him the way it worked, the way I had read about in the RADIO AMATEURS HANDBOOK, of course, we turned it on and immediately the signals came in, and he was delighted. He had a screw made, and from that day on everybody was told that that clock was good to 1/500th of a second. He was very pleased, and of course I made a great hit with him, having built that so successfully. Then one day, he called me in to test me, in a way. He said he was preparing an experiment on polarized light, and he had a polarizer, an analyzer and a mike in there, and would I look and see whether it was working, there was a blue color. I looked through. I didn’t see a thing. He said, “What do you mean you don’t see anything?” I said, “I’m sorry, but—” He adjusted it again, looked in himself and said, “Now look.” I looked again and I didn’t see a thing. He said, “You’re right, there isn’t anything in there.” So he concluded from that…
Hoddeson:—that you were honest.
Anderson:That I was honest. It was then really the Depression, you know. This was 1930-31, ‘31, when the country was just down in the Depression. I wanted to go to college, so I’d applied to Columbia University. He said he’d write a letter for me to get me a scholarship.
Hoddeson:Were there any other options? Did you want to stay in New York with your family and live at home?
Anderson:No. No, I didn’t want to do that.
Hoddeson:Why did you apply to Columbia?
Anderson:I guess I really don’t know. It was the best school in New York.
Hoddeson:You wanted to stay in New York?
Anderson:Well, I didn’t know that many options were open to me, and he offered to write to Columbia and get me a scholarship. I didn’t have any money at all. Our family was really very poor at the time. Father had lost his business, my brother was out of work. It was really very bad. So he said he would write a letter and he did. However, I graduated in February.
Anderson:In ‘31, and the school didn’t start until September. So I needed a job, I did two things. One thing that I did, I thought: I will try to get a job as a radio operator. And so I learned everything that had to be learned to get a radio operator’s license, went down and took the test and passed.
Hoddeson:When did they hold the test?
Anderson:At the old Custom House. I went there and took the exam, passed it. One thing I learned in school is how to pass exams. It didn’t make any difference what subject they were in, I knew what you had to do— just read the right books and memorize things. Well, for that you had to know the Morse code pretty well, but that I knew from my radio amateur experience. I had an amateur radio station by that time and an amateur license, but I didn’t have a commercial license, so I studied and went for that. That actually was the previous summer. I passed the test and said, now, what I’ll do, I’ll get a job as a radio operator, I’ll sail the ocean blue for one year and make enough money to go to school. And every summer I would get this job and help pay my way through school. Well, I remember going down to the Radio Corporation of America, which supplied radio operators on all the ships. I walked into this big hall, completely empty, and went to see some men. I said, “I have a second class radio operator’s license.” (That’s the best you could do without actual experience.) “And I’d like a job.” I wasn’t very big. They looked down at me. I looked very young. I was young but I looked younger. I guess I was about 16, and looked like 13. He said, “You??” “Well,” I said, “I have a radio operator’s license.” He said, “Well, you know, most of our experienced radio operators are out of a job now, you know, it’s the Depression.” There weren’t any jobs. “There isn’t anything.” Well, the problem was, how to get a job, so in the end Mr. Van Nardroff, Dr. Van Nardroff—
Hoddeson:Was he a physicist, by the way?
Anderson:Yes. He had a Ph.D. He was called Dr. He was a good physicist. But he had devoted himself to being principal. I don’t know how he got into that but he did. Anyway, in the end I decided to apply for a job in RCA, in their Harrison, N.J. plant, where they made vacuum tubes, and Dr. Van Nardroff wrote me a letter. I took the letter when I went to see the personnel manager. It was just impossible, there were no jobs, you know, the Depression, one could barely keep alive. I gave her the letter and she said, “Somehow or other I’m going to get you a job here. I’m just determined to do that.” And about a month or two later I got a job in RCA in Harrison, as an assistant to one of the engineers. So I had this beginning exposure to electronics.
Hoddeson:I see. What did you actually do on the job there?
Anderson:Well, I tested radio tubes. The particular department I ended up with was interested in the life testing of radio tubes. Radio tubes in the days had to be guaranteed for a certain number of hours, and so they would give us samples out of the production, (there was a factory), and then, we would put them in various sockets and run them at the right voltages and they would just sit there in racks. There was a schedule during which you would test them. You would see how the mutual conductance, which was the important thing, would begin to go down as time went on. You could then certify that this batch of tubes had a life of so many hours. So I was in that department, and as a result of that, I met various radio engineers, you know, real live engineers that had jobs.
Hoddeson:Any well-known people?
Anderson:I don’t think they were, well known.
Hoddeson:But they had an influence, just teaching you?
Anderson:Well, they had an influence over me necessarily. There was one in particular I still remember, a man named Shepherd who even invited me home to dinner one Sunday, a great treat. I still remember. That’s why I behave the way I do when I go out to dinner. We had dinner. After dinner he said, “Now, after dinner we wash dishes.” So he took me out to the sink and he said, “You know, washing dishes isn’t so bad because we can talk. And it turns out that I, as a result, like to wash dishes.
Anderson:Provided I work with somebody, it’s a great chance to have a nice conversation, which at a normal party is very awkward. You know, you sit there. But over dishes, your hands are busy and you can talk, but you should never wash dishes alone. You should always wash them with somebody.
Hoddeson:I’m going to have to invite you to dinner.
Anderson:He taught me that. And I appreciated that lesson. And then of course, they all encouraged me to come back and so on. Then I started college. I always regret in a way that I didn’t have more job experience. Those experiences were really great, especially at that age. You really got out in the world. I lived there, I didn’t go home. The commute to home was over 2.5 hours, so when I started working and began to make a little money, I got a room in Nutley, N.J. which was within walking distance of this factory, and would work there during the day. People were so friendly. We had fun in our way. There was one woman who was a female engineer. That was a special quantity. In those days a female was very rare in the profession. She was there. She was pretty good.
Hoddeson:Then you entered college. You entered college in September?
Anderson:Yes, September of 1931.
Hoddeson:Then I suppose you moved back to New York.
Anderson:Well, I lived in the dorms.
Hoddeson:You lived in the dorms at Columbia.
Anderson:In the dorms. I had this little scholarship. It wasn’t very much actually, it didn’t even pay the full tuition, but then I could take a loan out for the difference. And then I could work, and I did work as a waiter in the University cafeterias.
Hoddeson:You were in an engineering course?
Anderson:Interestingly enough, the experience of having to explain to Dr. Van Nardroff how radio worked made it very clear to me that I didn’t understand a Goddamn thing. I didn’t really understand it. I could say all the words but I really didn’t understand. And so I determined to go take up radio engineering, so that I could come to understand how radio waves really worked. And then, just to skip some years—by the time I finished the course in electrical engineering, I still didn’t know how radio worked. You know, they don’t teach that, if the truth be known. In a sense, that was one of the reasons I went into physics. I thought maybe if I studied physics I’d learn. You have to learn about Maxwell’s Equations, which are not taught in engineering school. I never learned those equations till I got into physics—although that would be an over-simplification. But here I had gotten involved in radio in this way that I described, by hearing about the wonders and then getting into the Radio Club and building my own little station and having this experience with Van Nardroff, and becoming a radio operator and not getting a job, and then getting a job in a radio company—but I didn’t understand how radio waves worked. Nobody could tell me, you know, and I didn’t know, and I didn’t know how to find out. I went all through college and all through engineering school, and then when I was nearing the end of my engineering course I was offered a position in the physics department, I thought, well, maybe it I take this job, and go into physics, maybe I’ll learn about radio waves. I had no inkling and nobody could tell me, I had no way of finding out, that you had to know Maxwell’s Equations. KERR: I’ve got a question. The biographical sketch says that you got a BA, and then a BS electrical engineering, the next year. What was your major when you were working for the BA?
Anderson:When I went there I said, “I want to be a radio engineer.” There were no radio engineers. You have to be an electrical engineer. “OK,” I said, “I’ll be an electrical engineer.” Then they offered two courses. They said they have a combination course that takes four years in which you get a BA and then an EE, in the next year, or, you can take a five year course in which you go four years and get a BA and then an EE. And then it was explained to me that if I took the BA, I would be more cultured, there would be more cultural opportunity. I said, “Well, maybe it would be good to get some culture,” So I took that. It was a standard option and everybody knew that I was taking engineering as a major, and it was just that if I took that option I would be there for five years and I’d be more cultured than otherwise. Engineers were always recognized as being very uncultured. They didn’t know anything. KERR: How do you think that worked out?
Anderson:Well, I’m not very cultured, but I’m better than I would have been, at least I read a lot of books on history; had a whole year of subjects like in philosophy and history in contemporary civilization. I think they called it when I went to school. And you had an exposure to many things. But you know, I don’t know as much as Betsy and I’m much older.
Hoddeson:Do any outstanding teachers come to mind, when you think back to that five year period?
Anderson:When I went to school, you mean?
Hoddeson:Yes, at Columbia, before you switched to physics. Or at the time you made the switch. What role did Dunning play? Or was that later?
Anderson:That came later.
Hoddeson:What about the earlier period?
Anderson:Well, I guess there were one or two that stood out. The one who is sort of outstanding was a man by the name of Irwin Edman.
Anderson:Yes, he was in philosophy, and he was my Waterloo because he taught a course in philosophy of art. I decided to take this course, because it sounded very cultural. It was a disaster—the only C I got in my whole career. I worked harder on that course than all the others combined, even with all the mathematics and physics that I took. I just spent all my time on that one course, and then he made me write an essay about art. I wrote an essay on art and science. He didn’t like it and he gave me a C. The lowest grade I got in my whole five years. I remember him because really it was terribly unfair, I thought. I just never really had the knack of impressing, I would have handled it differently later. These philosopher guys look for certain things. I remember him, he was pretty good. He was a well-known professor of philosophy who wrote books and things and was an authority. Then I had a man in mathematics who always interested me. I guess his name slips my mind at the moment. I was particularly interested to discover that although he was an extremely good mathematician and a very good teacher, I got to know him a little bit, and discovered that when he left the campus—he had a wife, no children—and they would go to the movies every night. Their whole life, outside of the mathematics was it seemed to me, incredibly narrow.
Hoddeson:In 1935, you make a switch. Well, ‘35 to ‘36 you’re still in electrical engineering, but the last year somehow is graduate school already?
Anderson:Well, I think what happened was that I was always looking for jobs. I always needed to support myself in some way. And what happened relatively early on was an institution of the program called NYA.
Anderson:NYA means National Youth Administration. It was an invention of Roosevelt, who thought of this as a way to support students as they go through college. It paid, I remember, one dollar an hour, if you worked, and you had to work for some professor. So I remember I got a job working for a professor of geology at first who was very interested in classifying old…
Anderson:So he was very interested in fossils, and the reason he was interested in fossils is, if you know enough about fossils, you can find oil, you see. That’s one of the ways of finding oil. So he was sort of a consultant to oil companies. He knew where there were fossils you’d probably find oil, because oil comes from carboniferous old forests and there should be fossils there. Anyway, so I got a job with him at first and it was pretty dull but I did it nevertheless. I needed the money, and I would fill out little cards that he handed me for fossils. But then I got another job with a man by the name of Dana Mitchell.
Hoddeson:Is that the same Dana Mitchell who came here?
Anderson:Yes. Marvelous guy. [To Kerr: Someday I’ll tell your husband about Dana Mitchell.] He was a one man—well, we’ll get to that later. Dana Mitchell at that time was running the physics department, but he didn’t have a Ph.D.
Hoddeson:He was the business manager?
Anderson:Yes. Just had incredible talent for running things, you know, but he didn’t have a PhD and he needed a PhD. He was an instructor, which is the only faculty position they would give him. But he heard about the NYA, somehow, and offered me a job working for him at [$-??] an hour. So he wanted to do a Ph.D thesis, and so I worked for him in the lab, and I built some at his apparatus. He was so busy running the department that he really had very little time to do his research, but when he got hold of me, things moved a long faster, and I learned a lot about physics.
Hoddeson:What sort of research was he doing?
Anderson:Well, on neutrons. Slow neutrons, yes. He became well known after a while; his research worked out very well. Anyway he was working essentially with Pegram who was the Head of the department, and Dunning, you know, Dunning had just come in. He was a wiz, so to speak. So it was Dunning, Pegram, Fink and Mitchell became a famous team that did a lot of slow neutron experiments when that became a very hot subject.
Hoddeson:This is just after the discovery of the neutron.
Anderson:Yes. Right. It was now 1935, I was still an undergraduate. So I started working with Mitchell, and then one day he said to me, “Say, why don’t you come into physics?” I said, “Well, it never occurred to me to do that.” You know, I’d never heard of physics actually. I’d only heard of engineering. I’d never considered that you could work in science and that would be a career. But he made that suggestion, and said, “Well, I’ll tell you, I’ll look up your grades and see if I can get you an assistantship or some sort of scholarship.” So he came back the next day. He said, “Say, you have all A’s. I won’t have any trouble at all.” So I said, “OK,” I had the prospect of going through and becoming an engineer, but jobs were very few and far between anyway in those days, and so here was an assistantship—
Hoddeson:It was a good thing to do during the Depression.
Anderson:It was a good thing to do during the Depression. You know, the Depression was a great thing for education because most people couldn’t get jobs. I was quite interested in the idea. I didn’t know exactly why, but I was interested by that time I had room-mates who were in physics, so I became aware of physics, but they seemed very smart. One of my roommates—not roommates, really, but next door to me in the dorm—was Norman Ramsay, who very recently was the president of the Physical Society. He was in physics but he knew what he was doing. He came in with better understanding of what he wanted to do and why and so on. So he was in physics and there were some others who were in physics.
Hoddeson:Who were some of the others people in your generation at Columbia?
Anderson:Well, one who was a very close friend was Andrew Lawson. You may have heard of him?
Hoddeson:I’ve heard of him too.
Anderson:He became a room-mate actually, I roomed with him. We were very close friends and we roomed together. Those are the ones I knew most closely, but then I got to know others as I got into the physics department.
Hoddeson:Let’s see, was Rabi the chairman at that time?
Anderson:Rabi was not the chairman. He was there. Pegram at that time was the chairman and then later became a dean.
Hoddeson:I see. Then who replaced him as chairman? Who was really in control of the department?
Anderson:Pegram. Pegram just ran everything. He was a marvelous guy. You know, he also started the Physical Society. He was the treasurer of it.
Hoddeson:I didn’t know that.
Anderson:He was the treasurer of the Physical Society—no, secretary. Treasurer? I think he was.
Hoddeson:Anyway he was in a powerful position.
Anderson:He was in a very powerful position.
Hoddeson:You said he started the Physical Society?
Anderson:He was one of the founders, I believe. I should look that up.
Hoddeson:We can trace it.
Anderson:Anyway he was very influential. I’m a little bit confused about his actual position, because Quimby was the treasurer, K.K. Darrow was the secretary, and those were sort of permanent jobs.
Hoddeson:Quimby must have been at Columbia at the time.
Anderson:Yes. He was at Columbia.
Hoddeson:He was doing solid state physics.
Anderson:Oh yes. OK, I’m telling about Dana Mitchell. So I began to help him, in this NYA, and then he decided to get me a job in the department, so I formally entered the department as a student and as a teaching assistant. I didn’t have much time to work for him but, I helped him get started, and then he in fact got his Ph.D, but he still mainly ran the department, not as chairman, but as the one who took care of the stock room and all the purchases and all that sort of thing. He was a fantastic purchasing agent, so that when Los Alamos started out, they got Dana Mitchell, and he was a one man purchasing department. He didn’t need anybody else. Well, then he got a couple of others who worked for him. He was fantastic.
Hoddeson:So then you started taking course?
Anderson:So then I was in the department and I began taking physics courses.
Hoddeson:Which courses were important to you? That you remember?
Anderson:Well, probably the most important was a course in quantum mechanics.
Hoddeson:Who taught that?
Anderson:Well, it was taught by Rabi, but many of the lectures were given by one of the other students. You know, Rabi would have to go somewhere, so he would ask one of the students to give the lecture—which would be Schwernger. He would get up and he would give the lecture and it was always much better than Rabi ever could do. I have a magnificent set of notes of those lectures.
Hoddeson:I’d love to see those sometime.
Anderson:I’m really quite proud of the notes I made. I made a Xerox of them for Rabi once, because they’re really good.
Hoddeson:That would be very good if you could find them some time. I’d love to see those.
Anderson:They should be on the shelf somewhere. Somehow the notes you take when you’re a student stand you in good stead all the rest of your life. I took meticulous notes of those lectures. Then, you know, I had other people, like Quimby. I took his course.
Hoddeson:What was he teaching?
Anderson:He taught electrodynamics.
Hoddeson:Oh, he taught electrodynamics then.
Anderson:So he taught really the subject that I really went into physics to learn, and he taught about retarded waves and all that sort of thing.
Hoddeson:Did he teach in the same way he taught years later when I took a course from him? He would show up exactly as the bell rang.
Anderson:—he’s always done that—
Hoddeson:—and then he would fill up the whole blackboard.
Anderson:He did exactly the same thing. He was a very meticulous and precise scientist. So I have all those notes. And then there were, other courses. One, Dunning gave a course in nuclear physics that I didn’t think too much of it at the time. It was not too bad.
Hoddeson:Was Dunning a good lecturer?
Anderson:Well, not really. No, he was more show. You always had the feeling he didn’t really understand what he was saying. But he had other virtues. I have to write a biography of Dunning, by the way.
Hoddeson:What about atomic physics?
Anderson:Well, atomic physics is really part of the quantum mechanics. It wasn’t separately taught. So what we learned was classical physics, mechanics, which I took with a man named Brown. I took electrodynamic with a man name of Webb, who had probably died by you time. Mainly, besides the classical subjects, the only thing that brought us into the new world was quantum mechanics, which at that time was pretty exciting, because it was really, began to be well understood.
Hoddeson:Even when I was there, the electronics laboratory was excellent at Columbia. The Edith Kempton Adams laboratory was that already in operation at the time?
Anderson:Oh yes, that was really great, a great experience. That was Lucy.
Hoddeson:Lucy Hayner, yes.
Anderson:She’s a lovely woman and she’s the mother of a guy who’s now at Chicago. His name’s Nagle.
Hoddeson:I see. I didn’t know that.
Anderson:Anyway, she was lovely. I still remember that experience.
Hoddeson:She ran a wonderful laboratory—
Anderson:Of course I always felt I learned best by seeing a few—I can just remember some of the things I saw in those experiments—the Zeeman effect—polarized light—
Hoddeson:How far along was she at that time? Was she a full professor?
Anderson:I don’t think so. I couldn’t be sure, but I don’t think so. I think she was relatively at an early stage.
Hoddeson:She was very unusual. She must have been the only woman at Columbia at that time?
Anderson:She was the only woman. But I still remember, she was a very dumpy figure, her dress came like that, but she knew her stuff.
Hoddeson:By the time I knew her she wasn’t dumpy any more.
Anderson:She got thin?
Hoddeson:Thin, yes, in her old age, she—well.
Anderson:I remember her as sort of a triangle, somehow, quite small.
Hoddeson:—well, she may have been, but that is the way I remember her.
Anderson:She was very good.
Hoddeson:She was fairly old by the time I went there.
Anderson:That lab was very important.
Hoddeson:Yes. To me too. Always worked like hell getting the laboratory reports written. So, then, how did you get into research? While you were still a graduate student, you wrote a few papers with Dunning on instrumentation.
Hoddeson:Relating to the cyclotron.
Hoddeson:So you need to tell us the story of how you got into that.
Anderson:Well, when I got into the department, instead of really working for Dana Mitchell then. Dunning decided, I guess, or the department decided to build a cyclotron, and Dana Mitchell was asked, and he agreed, to join in with Dunning on the cyclotron. So the period of slow neutron physics, which was done with radon beryllium sources, was coming to an end, and the cyclotron was going to be built. So my initial thing was with Dana Mitchell, and I wrote a paper with him, but Dunning sort of got into this. Well, one of the problems that Dana Mitchell put to me was: we have a cyclotron and a cyclotron is a magnet, and we’re going to get a big generator for the magnet and it will be very important to keep the magnetic field constant. So I said, “Well, I’ll build a regulator for the magnet to keep it absolutely constant.” So I designed, really at Mitchell’s request, this scheme and built it, and made it work. And we wrote a paper, but Dunning got in on it, I don’t know why. You know, it’s one of those things. Well, that was really all my work. I mean, they didn’t… but you know, that’s the way things worked. So I, you know, I knew a lot about electronics. I was a genuine electrical engineer, and I knew a lot about electronics. In fact, I knew a lot about radio. In fact, Rabi—although he doesn’t remember this anymore but I do—when Rabi was working on his molecular beams, he realized he wanted to have a radio frequency flipping field. But he didn’t know, none of his people, Millman or Zacharias or Kusch or any of the ones who worked in instrumentation in Kellogg, really—knew anything about it.
Hoddeson:Is this Sid Millman?
Anderson:Yes. Rabi one day asked me if I would tell them, how to make a radio frequency field, and I had in another one of these articles, I had already designed this one, here. I knew how to do this.
Hoddeson:This is the first paper “High Frequency Filament Supply for Ion Sources”.
Anderson:Yes. This is my idea.
Hoddeson:You have another paper here, a talk. High Frequency Systems for the cyclotron. That’s different?
Anderson:Yes. Another big story.
Hoddeson:OK, Well, tell us. We’re after those stories now—
Anderson:As long as it doesn’t appear in print anywhere. All of these are published, you know.
Hoddeson:Sure, so you don’t need to go over those.
Anderson:I did come and tell Rabi how he had to make a radio source for his molecular beams. It’s the same idea. It’s all in this paper. And I told them how to build those oscillators, and they went ahead and did it, and that’s how he won the Nobel Prize.
Anderson:Sure. Not for that reason, that was just a technicality. I don’t want to kid you, but he did come and—he’s just forgot. After all, once you learn a technique, you don’t remember where or how you learned it. I was the expert in the physics department on radio frequencies, because of all my previous knowledge. But this was of particular interest, you see, because—
Hoddeson:Now we are on paper 3, which is a talk. “High frequency systems for the Cyclotron, a paper with Dunning”
Anderson:What happened was that—they were going to build this cyclotron. I had just finished being a radio engineer, so I knew a lot about radio engineering, and I told Dunning that the way to build the high frequency system for the cyclotron was to use concentric lines, not coils the way they were doing at Berkeley. He was going to build an oscillator. You see, Dunning was a radio engineer himself. That’s how he got into physics. He was first a radio engineer. And one of the reasons that he was hired by Pegram and was reasonably successful was his engineering background, which was in radio engineering. But I was a little bit later radio engineer, and I had read books and knew about concentric lines. A concentric line had just the right property. You could feed it with a radio frequency oscillator and it would develop a very high voltage at the other end; you set up a standing wave in the concentric lines. So it turned out that Dunning was away, went to Europe during the summer, and I sat down and worked out all the equations for that and how to design it. When he came back, I presented him with this paper, how to do it. I still have that paper. And so I guess he said, “OK, why don’t we do it that way?” And so we built one of those concentric lines, and then one day, almost without my knowledge, he presented this paper.
Hoddeson:Dunning presented the paper?
Anderson:Well, his name is first; he presented the paper. He didn’t even tell me about it. Furthermore, he took a patent out on it; without including my name. That made me very angry. But then what happened, in compensation was that this little mimeographed thing that I had written, somehow got into the hands of somebody in France, I mean by the name of Nahmias who wrote a book called LE CYCLOTRON. And he took it into his head to publish in his book that whole paper. Do I have a copy?
Hoddeson:It would be fun to look at that took some time.
Hoddeson:This is a copy of it. This is the mimeographed?
Anderson:This is the exact thing that I gave him.
Hoddeson:(translating) “High Frequency Systems in Cyclotron”…
Anderson:See, it has everything worked out.
Hoddeson:I would love to have a copy of that for the collection at Fermilab…
Anderson:That really is an interesting thing. Where’s my name?
Hoddeson:I’ll have you signed it.
Anderson:“Dunning and Anderson,” I haven’t looked at it—I guess what happened was, this was written after. What it says here is that the system was unused. Anyway, I handed them all these things. This was the full paper that was written. And of course, this described a working system, and so refers to this little abstract that Dunning gave, and then describes how the system works, but all these equations in the appendix, were the ones that I had used in the design in the first place. This was going to be a paper by the four people who were involved in the design, when it was built.
Hoddeson:Also Bud Booth.
Anderson:Well, Booth and Glasoe were very active building the cyclotrons. So these are the four people who built the cyclotron.
Hoddeson:Was this used in the Columbia cyclotron?
Anderson:The 37 inch Columbia cyclotron.
Hoddeson:This is something like a design report for it.
Anderson:Well, no, it was after. That never got published. That got published that way, imagine that. See, Dunning never published that; for some reason that I never understood, but this guy did.
Hoddeson:Who was Nahmias?
Anderson:Well, he just wrote a book.
Hoddeson:Just somebody who wrote a book.
Anderson:Well, he knew something about it, so he actually reproduced the thing almost in Toto.
Hoddeson:Was this design used for any other cyclotron besides the Columbia one?
Anderson:Well, it became generally adopted, except that many people got more ambitious and made the lines bigger. It was taken over by every cyclotron.
Hoddeson:Why was the 37 inch chosen? The Berkeley was just a little smaller?
Anderson:In those days there wasn’t any money. To build anything of any size, you pretty much were scrimped for it and begged and borrowed and stole everything. Well, for a magnet, there were two magnets that were built into Pulson Arc Generators, which were radio sending stations during World War I, and the Navy had two of these that were very high power, very long wave radio stations which were built by the Navy, so called Pulson Arc generator.
Hoddeson:That was also used at Berkeley, the Berkeley cyclotron.
Anderson:Ernest Lawrence got hold of one of them.
Hoddeson:One of them, right.
Anderson:And Dunning of course heard about that, and he was following Lawrence’s footsteps and so he grabbed hold of the other one, and they were both 37 inchs. So we then got into Columbia—in fact, there’s a picture. That’s me at the 37 inch cyclotron.
Hoddeson:And the one that Nishina built in Tokyo was also the same size, because it was another example.
Anderson:Another Pulson Arc
Hoddeson:Yes, in fact there’s a story that the two telegraph systems actually had been used to communicate with each other during World War I. I don’t know if that’s a true story.
Anderson:Yes, it might have been, because I think that one was on the West Coast, so it may have been. I didn’t know that. Anyway, Dunning was sort of a junior Ernest Lawrence. That really describes his personality. He was really trying to follow in Ernest Lawrence’s footsteps. And when he heard that Ernest Lawrence was going to build a 37 inch cyclotron, and use one, he found out that there was a second one, and so he got it and brought it to Columbia, and that was what we used.
Hoddeson:I see. So of the four people on the paper that you showed me were the people who built the cyclotron? Or was there a larger staff as well?
Anderson:Well, those are essentially it. I mean, of course.
Hoddeson:Who did most of the work or how was it divided? Let’s put it that way.
Anderson:Well, what happened was that Dunning, of course, was the chief, and in retrospect, he spent a lot of time getting the money and talking to the people.
Hoddeson:On kind of a budget was it, do you remember?
Anderson:Well, there was never any money. I mean, what there was actually was—I’ve told this story at Fermilab.
Hoddeson:OK, then it’s probably on tape.
Anderson:Well, anyway, I can tell you what you need to know. This staff consisted of Norris Glasor who was an Assistant Professor. He volunteered to spend all his research time on the cyclotron. Eugene Booth had been a Rhodes Scholar, and Dunning brought him in as what we would call now a Post-doc. He was a Post-doc and he did most of the work. He spent full time on it. I was the graduate student and I spent full time, essentially full time on the cyclotron. Dana Mitchell was involved but he was busy running the department, But he was an important adjunct, because whenever you needed anything, he would figure out a way to get it for you. That’s very important. Then there were a couple of technicians. I remember one, Hugh Glassford, who did a lot of the wiring and so on. And then there were people in the shop. So, the salaries were covered by the normal departmental thing. Everybody was already paid their salaries, and shop work of course, was done differently in those days. There was a shop, and they would work for whom ever had work to do. Of course there had to be some division of labor in the shop, because there was Rabi, there was Dunning. The shop would divide and manage to do the work, so that the only thing that was needed was to buy the pieces. Now, for example, one of the things I did, when Hugh Glassford, for example, was going to build a control room, and for the control room he needed to have panels. He was going to make the panels of masonite, and I volunteered to put a crinkle finish on the masonite, to make it look nice and black and crinkled. So, I simply did that. I took a room in one of the labs, put some cellotex insulation around it and put a lot of heaters in the room. And then you painted, you sprayed the panels with paint, and then you had to cook them at 230 degrees Fahrenheit—no, 230 degrees Centigrade, actually, that’s what it was. So you know the only way to go in the room is to go in yourself. I remember very clearly painting these panels, putting them in the room. I discovered that you could stay in a room even though it was twice boiling, provided you didn’t touch anything, if you just kept your fingers—you could stand that perfectly well. So I put all these things there and got a beautiful crinkle finish. So a lot of the work was just done by people like me, who did everything. I even electroplated. They wanted to have copper on the poles, so in order to save money and not have to buy the copper, I electroplated them. I took the pole, which is made of iron, and made a little dam so the solution wouldn’t leak out, got some copper cyanide solution, put it in, and deposited a nice copper coat on it. We just did everything ourselves.
Hoddeson:How long did it take to build the cyclotron?
Anderson:A couple of years. It started when I went into the Physics department, which was 1936, and was already running in 1938. Two years, that’s all.
Hoddeson:That’s very fast.
Anderson:One of which, Dunning was in Europe part of the time. But Booth was very good, extremely bright. I remember I’d come in and he would be looking for leaks, and I would come in at midnight or something, “Oh, you want some help?” “No, I can handle it myself, thanks very much.” He wouldn’t let me help him. He always wanted to do things all by himself. So, he really was the major person, and Glasoe had teaching duties besides and worked about half time. Dana Mitchell, maybe a quarter of the time. Of course Dunning ran it, you know, organized it. I think that what is worth remembering is that before the war, the country was just coming out of the Depression. There was really very little money in science. There were very small budgets, and everybody did things with his own hands. There were a lot of things you were just expected to do and did do yourself. In fact, I always remember this number, that when I was a graduate student, the average cost of a PhD thesis, the whole thing, was $150. And it’s good to remember that, if you wondered what kind of budgets there were, there was that kind of money. I think in this particular case, Dunning, who didn’t ever reveal his sources of funds, probably got some money from some of the foundations. He was very active going to them. He was a very, good PR man, as good as they come, actually, so he would make a very great impression on the foundation and get some money.
We decided to stop the session at this point. We’re at the point where we’re between the completion of the cyclotron and Fermi’s arrival, so there’s some material to fill in at that point, which we’ll pick up on, on Thursday.
Session I | Session II