Oral History Transcript — Dr. Roderick Grant
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Interview with Dr. Roderick Grant
McCrayOkay. Well, let’s start obviously with your childhood. You were born in 1935. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in River Forest, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago. Went to Roosevelt School in River Forest, small grade school classes, an interesting bunch of people, and then went to Oak Park and River Forest High School, which was a big school of about three thousand students. I never took any chemistry, but took a physics course my senior year. It was a subject that interested me, I guess, because I like to do things with my hands mechanically and enjoyed mathematics. My father was editor of Popular Mechanics magazine so there was a lot of background through him of reading about cars, airplanes, trains, and shop work. We traveled a lot by train and by car. He did a lot of other writing about his travels that I have resurrected for the family. As a writer and an editor he could produce something so that it was readable by a broad audience, but to do something mechanical with his hands was not in the cards. When he got me an electric train in the early1940's one of my uncles came over to help set it up because Dad wasn’t sure about how to wire it. But I picked up on that. I was maybe six years old and just kept building train layouts and doing other shop things on my own.
So, I suppose, a lot of the interest came through my own being able to do these things, my dad pushing me – not pushing me, but making it available - and so on. Anyway, when I took the physics course in high school I didn’t do particularly well. I didn’t see it as something for my future. I sort of thought about electrical engineering, actually, I suppose because of my interest in putting the train layouts together, finding various ways of doing wiring, and so on and so forth. When it came to college, I selected Denison University for my undergraduate work mainly on the basis of two things: one, my dad pushing me toward a small liberal arts college, and two, a neighbor, who was a year older, went to Denison. I went down to visit him and thought the campus looked beautiful and that was good enough for me. I entered there in 1953, and took a physics course, thinking still of electrical engineering, but began to really enjoy the physics and did well enough to finish the major okay. I really enjoyed the liberal arts environment because I could not only do the physics but other things.
McCray:Did you have any other particular interests outside of science?
Grant:I am not a musician in the sense of being a player, but I’ve always enjoyed music a great deal. I’ve also enjoyed the theater. I did some theater when I was in high school but never in college. They were too good in college, and there wasn’t time.
McCray:When you were in high school or maybe a few years before that were there any particular teachers that you had that helped move you in one direction or another?
I think the teachers that helped me the most were a fourth grade teacher who encouraged me in both my writing and my math – and in my reading. I enjoy reading a lot. I vividly remember reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson in fourth grade, and the teacher had encouraged me to do that even though maybe that book was a little beyond that normal reading level. I enjoyed it a great deal and as an output of that in the spring she had us put on Treasure Island as a class play and I remember I played old Ben Gunn. So I suppose I appreciate her most from the fact that she saw that my reading was at a certain level, and encouraged me to try books that were beyond what everybody else in the class was doing. The same kind of thing happened in eighth grade. There was a teacher who was really a stickler on grammar and writing, and I like to write. I suppose, again, that my father was an influence, or maybe it’s in the genes, who knows, and I really enjoyed that a great deal. Later, when I was a college professor, I emphasized a lot for my students – and this was early on in my career in the mid-sixties – the ability to express oneself within the context of writing a laboratory writeup or a report on some physics-related topic.
I gave writing assignments to undergraduate physics majors to be sure that they could express themselves clearly. I was a stickler for grammar and spelling because I felt there was no reason to be careless – this was before spell checkers. Once, when I was in grad school at Wisconsin, a student for four weeks in a row received from me a 99 out of 100 on lab reports, and she finally came in and said, “You don’t seem to be marking an awful lot of things here. I don’t understand why I get a 99.” And I said, “How do you spell experiment?” She was spelling it expirement. And so I was checking off one point. She says, “Oh!” So then I gave her the four points back, of course.
McCray:She probably never made that mistake again. You mentioned your father’s writing for Popular Mechanics and travel writing. Could you give me a sense of your parents’ educational background, of their training and interests?
Grant:My father graduated from Beloit College in 1922, and stayed on for a year and taught Journalism. I believe his major was in either English or Journalism. I’m not sure. My mother graduated in 1931 Oberlin College, so she was a good deal younger than my father. I don’t even know for sure what her major was. In her yearbook it was written up in a way that I couldn’t understand what the major had been.
Grant:She was from Shaker Heights, Ohio, and dad was from Oak Park, Illinois. He grew in a house directly across the street from Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio and was taught dance lessons by Frank Lloyd Wright’s first wife in that studio.
Grant:Dad was a year behind Ernest Hemingway and knew Ernest and his family quite well. Ernest was one of the editors of the Literary Tabula – which was the literary magazine at Oak Park High School – in one year, and my dad was on the board the next year.
Grant:He always called him “Dirty Ernie” because Ernie, when his sister was growing up, he would push her in the baby carriage and, walking along the streets, could be heard to say, “Say damn, say damn.” He wanted the first word of his sister to be “damn”, because he had learned that that was a word that shouldn’t be used. My dad had a sense of humor that I think I have inherited somewhat, and he wrote a book about travels around the western part of the United States. It was a book that he typed out and had bound -there were only two copies, and the second is lost. The title is High Road Low Road. He and a friend had purchased a 1922 Buick Touring Car and fixed the seats so that they could be lowered so they could sleep in it. They took off from Oak Park on a six-week trip and drove all around the western U.S. He took many pictures along the way. About ten years ago I scanned the text and pictures and republished the book for my family and friends. I printed about twenty-five copies.
McCray:Okay. That’s a good type of record to have.
Grant:It’s a wonderful travelog of what things were like in the western United States in 1923. And, you know, he took our family on a lot of trips after my sister and I were born and we visited a lot of the places that he had been on that trip around the country.
McCray:Coming back to Denison, you mention that you went there perhaps with the idea of being an electrical engineer and changed to physics. What brought about that change?
Grant:I wish I knew. I found out Denison allowed, or asked, their undergraduate physics majors to be laboratory assistants to give them some idea of how to talk about the subject to other people. So in my junior and senior year I helped out in the introductory labs.
Grant:It was not forced upon you, but you were encouraged to do that. And I found out I enjoyed teaching. I guess I liked the subject matter. I got interested, yet I didn’t know what part of it I liked. You know, in undergraduate physics in the fifties, at least at Denison, you were taking a fairly stat set of courses.
McCray:What do you mean by stat sort of–?
Grant:Well, by stat I mean they were prescribed by the time allocated in the curriculum, which included many liberal arts required courses away from the major. You took mechanics here, you took E&M there, you had a lab course on electricity or something like that, and modern physics.
McCray:So there was a sequence.
Grant:There was a sequence. There wasn’t any what I would call modern physics laboratory. There was a laboratory that you took as an electrical engineering lab almost, with motors and things. I guess at that point I just decided there was a lot more to it and I just wanted to continue on studying it. My fiancé was from Madison, Wisconsin. Her father had died our senior year in college, so I applied to Wisconsin and was admitted without any financial support However, when I arrived I was given a teaching assistantship.
Grant:The first course I took there, because my modern physics background in Denison had been weak, was a year-long, senior-first year graduate student course in modern physics, taught by Heinz Barschall. Heinz was a very intimidating person. Later, we became intimate friends – but that was after I got my Ph.D. and we were working together through AIP. He was a wonderful teacher, and I was really inspired by the way that he prepared and taught things. And even though a lot of the graduate students were so intimidated by him - they didn’t even want to talk to him - I found my chances to talk with him and I found him to be very warm and supportive and helpful.
McCray:I wanted to touch or expand on that. How were physics classes taught? You mentioned that there was a sequence of courses, but what would the procedure in the classroom be like?
Grant:Basically, “here it is.”; basically, lecturing.
Grant:Although with small classes, like there were at Denison, there was opportunity for a lot of interaction between the professor and the student. And the professors’ doors were always open. We went to their homes and had meals with them, so we got to know them and their home life and so on and so forth – something which, when I became a professor at Denison later on, was our style. I don’t say “my style” because the whole department had that same ethos throughout the time that I taught there, and I have been working with the new folks at Denison to sustain it. We have a hundred percent changeover of faculty now, and I want to try to keep that kind of mode going to be sure that it becomes their style. Still, the courses I took were taught, “here it is”. There was a sense that if you were doing fairly well that you ought to be doing a senior research project, and so I did an honors project jointly with another student.
McCray:What was the topic?
Grant:It was on applications in physics of an analog computer. We got financial support from the Denison Alumni Research Foundation, which is an endowed foundation there at Denison to which you can apply to get support for equipment. They bought us an analog computer and we put together the interfaces to drive recorders and programmed a number of physical examples – pendulum, coupled, driven pendulums, and various other examples like this. You know, there were no like digital computers at that time - at least not any accessible to colleges.
McCray:In terms of the types of courses that were being taught, was the primary emphasis some what I would consider classical physics, mechanics and statics–
McCray:Or there’s quantum mechanics and relativity. What was the balance between those things?
Grant:I had very little quantum mechanics. There was a little bit of relativity in the modern physics course. The latter was a very weak introduction to the subject, which is why I was told to take this course at Wisconsin from Barschall, to get caught up. It was the right thing to do. I knew that that was a weakness. The professors that I had at Denison were very classic in their background. Two of them had been at Denison from the thirties on and so certainly were trying – and probably at least one of them was probably up in that area - but it wasn’t taught in any way that really caught the fancy or developed the necessary skills or background.
Grant:I don’t consider myself to have a very strong theoretical physics background although, of course, I ended up teaching all those courses, and so my strength grew as my students challenged me.
McCray:You started at Wisconsin in – or, excuse me, you finished in ‘59.
Grant:No, I didn’t. I finished in ‘65. I received my Masters Degree in 1959.
McCray:I meant with your master’s. I’m sorry.
Grant:My master’s, yes.
McCray:Just two questions I guess about that. Did your parents have any particular reaction to you deciding to go on and pursue graduate studies in physics in terms of their views of that as a career I suppose.
Grant:They were very supportive of whatever the direction that I chose, and my father thought this was amazing to him because he was non-mathematical and nonmechanical, as I have already said, but very supportive of it.
Grant:He died in ‘61 very suddenly. The wonderful thing that happened was that when in the fall of 1959 I went up to teach at a two-year college in Wausau, Wisconsin, at the Marathon Community College, he came up there in the fall and sat in on one of my classes. That’s the first time he’d seen me behaving as a physicist and doing teaching. And he came out afterwards and he said, “You really have a wonderful way of working with your students, and it sounded like you know what you were talking about, but I didn’t really have any idea what you were talking about.” I loved that job, and had thoughts of staying after my two year appointment was up. My dad wrote me a wonderful letter challenging me to continue with my doctoral studies, a letter which was influential in the directions that I took the rest of my life.
McCray:It sounds like a pretty good compliment and good advice. Sputnik was also around that time also in ‘57. Did that enter into your career decisions at all, or did that impact you in any particular way?
Grant:Not really. Of course I was excited about it and I talked about it when I taught classes, but it happened the fall after I’d just been married and was just entering graduate school and so there was a lot going on. There were colloquia at Wisconsin on this kind of activity, but I don’t remember any particular one of those. I just knew them as pretty exciting.
McCray:Okay. People were talking about it.
Grant:The thing that really shaped my direction – and I still wonder over the luck I’ve had - was that I had no direction even after two years at Wisconsin, and then Joe Dillinger, who was a professor at Wisconsin, I was a TA in his course, came in to me one day and said, “We’re setting up physics departments in the two-year colleges in the Wisconsin system and you are doing a marvelous job as a TA. Would you consider starting the first physics department in the two-year college system and be our instructor up there?” And at that point I hadn’t really chosen an area of physics. I hadn’t had an idea of where I was going from here. Things were going along fine. I had passed my exam for the master’s degree which they required. And I said, “Oh sure.”
Grant:And so I then had to buy all of the apparatus for the department and set up an office. The building was just being completed. So I ran that department up at Wausau, as mentioned earlier, and I helped two others get started on other campuses over a two-year period. By help, I mean I went over when they had hired an instructor and talked to him and passed along tips and ideas that I thought would be useful to them. By that time though, actually just before I left for Wausau to teach, I had met John Cameron. And his area, which he had just moved into in the hospital complex, was medical physics. And he said, “Well, let’s keep in contact. Why don’t you come back next summer and work with me and see if you don’t like this area.” So I said, “Sure.” So the summer after my first year at Wassau I went down to Madison with my family for the summer and worked with John Cameron. And out of that summer’s work came my first paper - jointly with another student - which eventually led to bone mineral density scanning and eventually a spinoff of a company from Cameron to Dick Mazess called Lunar Technology that is a world leader in bone mineral density scanners.
McCray:How did you get involved with that particular topic or why that area?
Grant:Because it was something that Cameron had thought about and he wanted a couple of us to do some experiments to see whether we could detect the different minerals in bone by using different energy x-rays in passing through. There was a couple of fundamental experiments to be done, they were finite in length, I was there for the summer, and so I did them.
McCray:So you would have a bone and pass different energy x-rays through them based on the transmission or absorption of those you could determine mineral densities?
Grant:The differential absorption would give you, for instance, the percent of calcium in the bone.
Grant:We were looking at osteoarthritis – no, not osteoarthritis. You have to remember, when you get this old you have occasional BF’s, you know, Brain Farts - sorry - this tape is going to be fun. What do I want to say?
Grant:Osteoporosis, not osteoarthritis. Thank you.
McCray:Well, the osteo part is there, so. I’m curious. How was research in this area funded? How was it organized?
Grant:Cameron had both money from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, WARF, which funds a lot of startup projects, and after our initial paper on it which showed the feasibility I believe he got moneys from either NIH or NSF, or others. I don’t really have the details of that with me.
McCray:Okay. Were you involved with the setup of this spinoff company that emerged?
Grant:No, no. I did not do that. After that initial paper I had some very close friends in the department, one of whom was a former student of mine at Wausau who later joined Cameron’s group and did that work. After that summer’s work, I went back to Wausau for a year and then came back with John full time on a Ph.D. program. And did a couple of other things. One was liver and brain tumor localization, which I pursued for a little while, just to try to improve the types of scanners they were using. Then when we heard about the gamma camera developments we quickly bought up some crystals and a couple of other guys put together a prototype gamma camera. I watched that happen, because by that time I was doing research on thermoluminescence and my project ended up being identifying some of the color centers in lithium fluoride that are involved in the thermoluminescent dosimeters that are used now instead of film badges for radiation detection and monitoring.
McCray:Was that the topic of your Ph.D. thesis?
Grant:Yes, it was.
McCray:Okay. I’m curious about what the medical physics community was like at that time. Was it a large number of people or was it fairly self-contained where most people knew each other?
Grant:It was a pretty self-contained group. It was on the upswing. Cameron was one of the leaders in the early AAPM and so I got to know a number of the people in AAPM. If he hasn’t been interviewed he should be, because he’s one of the longtime gurus of that organization.
Grant:John has very, very strong views on issues which are controversial, to say the least, in some areas, but nevertheless you will find him to be a very fascinating and interesting guy.
McCray:Were you a member of AAPM as well?
Grant:I was for a while. I’m sure you’re well aware of the differentiation between a physics teacher and a physicist in medicine. That is to say, the physicists in medicine are very well paid.
McCray:Okay. All right. Was this something you were aware of at the time?
Grant:Oh sure. I mean I was a member of AAPT at that time where I was paying dues of probably $20 a year and the AAPM dues were something like $180 a year. And they are still the highest dues of any of the organizations. But then I discovered also that those dues were paid by and large by the hospitals to which they belonged rather than by the individuals.
Grant:So I remained a member for a while, but I found less and less direct interest and less and less income to pay for their dues, so I dropped out. I know many of the past and current leaders of the organization, and have been to a number of their meetings.
McCray:When you were doing your work on the thermoluminescence and medical physics in general, where would people present their results? Where would they publish or give papers at meetings?
Grant:I published only one paper, and that was in the Journal of Applied Physics.
Grant:There was an AAPM journal, but it was just really getting started at that point in time and Cameron felt that the nature of the paper – and I think he was right – was more on the physics than on medical physics. I had taken my degree really in physics rather than in medical physics and had so much interest because of the work I did in teaching at Wausau. I really wanted to get where I could, yes, continue to do research, but that I could be involved with undergraduate students and do teaching at that level. So that was really my focus. Cameron knew and supported that goal. The department at Wisconsin also was very supportive of that goal, which was wonderful. I don’t mean every professor. I didn’t know every professor. But the ones that I did know and who knew that I had that interest were very supportive of that. I don’t think that’s universally true. I’ve had so much contact through my AAPT and AIP secretaryships that I don’t see that level of support – or at least I haven’t – over the course of my career as openly visible support in departments as I did at Wisconsin.
McCray:Tell me about your course work at Wisconsin, just to compare it to what you experienced at Denison where it sounds as if it was a fairly classical sort of physics. How did what you were being taught at Wisconsin compare with that?
Grant:It varied. Including the modern physics taught by Barschall. I started out with intermediate classical mechanics and E&M, both at the graduate level. And then there was a course in what I would call intermediate modern physics. It was taught by Connie Blanchard. It had a great deal of quantum mechanics woven throughout the course. It was a very good course. It was difficult for me. My math background wasn’t as far along as some that were undergraduates at larger universities such as Yale, Cal Tech, or Wisconsin. But I survived.
Grant:I think later took a course on quantum mechanics which was required of everyone. It was taken during my third year of graduate school. It was probably the worst course I have ever taken in my life. It was absolutely a disaster - for everyone. Oh, I passed it, but I don’t think I learned hardly anything from it. The instructor was one of the worst instructors that I have ever run across in my life. In fact, several of us who took the course together – and including Dale Meade, who is one of the directors now at the Plasma Physics Group up in Princeton – went in to the department chair to suggest that this professor never be allowed to teach another course in his life. I don’t believe that he has.
Grant:It was that bad. When we got to the final exam, he told us to bring whatever resources or references we wanted. Well, I brought a couple of textbooks with me, classical ones, figuring that I might be able to get some help. A couple of students came in each with a wheelbarrow full of Phys. Revs. - literally. They were the ones who scored the highest. I think their grades were in the low 30s out of 100. Mine, I think, was 14. Passing was 8. The ones who had the 30s had found papers that this guy’s graduate students had done in the last couple years and he pulled problems from them to give us on the final exam. And they were able to copy them from the literature they had with them. It was that kind of thing which was an ego trip for him, I suppose, but was not anywhere near an educational experience that was worthwhile. That was about the time that the Feynman lecture series was being developed. I guess they came out a little bit later than that, but there were some preprint notes, so I was learning an awful lot just by reading whatever quantum mechanics text I could find and digging through problems where there were reasonable chance of finding solutions and learning on my own, but there wasn’t anything from the professor.
McCray:Were there particular textbooks that were used in graduate school that made an impression on you one way or the other?
Grant:I guess the old classic, because mine was weak when I came out of Denison, was Richtmyer, Kennard and Lauritsen, which was an introduction to modern physics and then Schiff’s book in quantum mechanics, and also Bohm. I remember those anyway. In E&M was Panofsky and Phillips, and in mechanics was - I forget.
McCray:You graduated with a Ph.D. in ‘65 from Wisconsin.
Grant:Right. And that spring I’d gone out to interview at, I recall, only two places, though I had made applications to several more. One of them was Denison. Sam Wheeler, who at that time was chairman of the physics department at Denison and who knew me from my undergraduate days had seen me at an APS/AAPT national meeting within the past, one of those January meetings. He said, “How you coming?” and I said, “Well, I’m almost through.” He says, “I want you back at Denison.” And he had been in conversation with Joe Dillinger who was also an AAPT person. In fact I think he was an AAPT treasurer at that time. And I said, “Well, that would be very interesting because that’s the kind of place I’d like to teach,” so I interviewed there and I interviewed at Illinois Wesleyan University, also a four-year liberal arts college. The contrast between the two was dramatic - Denison was the only choice!.
Grant:Well, for one, Wesleyan’s teaching load and expectations for somebody in the physics department were unreasonable. They expected you to have a very high teaching load, they expected you to be your own person in the shop, and to provide services to other departments. The president clearly didn’t have a picture that the physics department was very important to him when I talked with him. In contrast, at Denison they were going to build the department, it was going to be rejuvenated, and they had a new fella that had been there for about year prior to me who I had met when I interviewed. He made it clear that the expectation of the all of the sciences was for them to grow to be a strong component of liberal arts education, which they had not been so much of during the fifties when I was there. They were planning to grow each of the departments significantly with internal and external funding and it was clearly more dynamic. There were just opportunities there. And it proved to be so.
McCray:When you started at Denison, or perhaps even before you accept the position there, did you have a vision of what you wanted your career to be or was there somebody that looked to as a model?
Grant:Well, I thought about Joe Dillinger at Wisconsin and I thought about John Cameron, who was a real teacher in a very extended sense. He taught popular courses at Eisconsin, and built programs to reach out within the State of Wisconsin to both high schools and colleges for support of their educational programs. But I just thought of the opportunities Wheeler was offering, even though I didn’t know yet quite where I was going. I knew that I wanted to try some new things within education, things which had to be challenging because I had never done them. When I first got there Sam Wheeler said, “We really need to revamp our intermediate physics laboratories. We don’t have a laboratory program other than this electricity course, this electronics course,” and maybe there was one other lab that you could elect to take. And so my second year there I started up a full year sophomore-level laboratory program which was fairly unique in this country at that point. And I gave a talk on it or a paper on it at an AAPT meeting the following summer, which was very well received as I recall, because people were saying, “Wow. That’s what we’ve been thinking of doing” and “How did you do it?” and “What did you do?” and so on. And we just integrated experience with electronics with building experiments with sort of a freeform challenge to do, over the course of the year, two large experiments which are fairly well prescribed, and at least four to six others that are of the student’s own design. The students were encourage to talk with the professor and to be sure that they used different types of apparatus, that they become familiar with how to use it, and to know how to make these measurements. But it was fairly open. Each one involved a fairly detailed writeup, and again this comes back to my writing. They had to write a laboratory report not just in the notebook, but write one that was readable as if it was a published report.
Grant:And this was at the sophomore level and it excited a lot of students.
McCray:I’m curious about the students. I mean Denison being a liberal arts school and this being a physics department, what types of students were you getting?
Grant:Well, at that time it was a potpourri of students who maybe had a physics course and just tried it out, or maybe they decided they were going to be pre-med, took the physics course and got excited by us or the subject or both. I think there’s an awful lot of the choice of a major, given a certain level of competency, which depends on the atmosphere that is created by the department, or by an individual in a departmen,t that draws a student in to work there. “I want to work with that guy,” or that person or that woman – because they’re exciting.
Grant:You know, I see that happening in an English department, in a Psychology department, in other departments, and we certainly wanted to create that atmosphere in physics departments. So, early, on we grabbed a few students like that who came in. Maybe they were going to be electrical engineers, maybe they ended up to be an electrical engineer but they don’t have that at Denison so here’s the major that you take.
Grant:And we had some really topnotch ones come directly to us as well. But we also didn’t ignore the intermediate ones. We didn’t say. “This is too hard for you. You’re only getting B-minuses. You should go away and do something else.” We challenged them. They ended up maybe with B’s or B-minuses. Maybe they didn’t go on in graduate physics, but they satisfied the requirements for a physics major. We kind of built on that. We did a lot of outreach, went to high schools in the area and called prospective students. In the seventies I gave programs at alumni colleges and at AAPT meetings around the country called “Physics for Phun.” It was a multimedia show about physics, music, art and architecture - all built around concepts of symmetry. I’m sure that we got some students out of that activity.
McCray:You have a paper here, “Experimental Physics at the Second Year Level” that was published in ‘67. Is this referring back to the second year lab?
Grant:That’s the one that I was talking about, the senior lab, that’s right.
McCray:Okay. You mentioned that that was fairly unusual and that other people across the country became interested in it. I don’t know enough about how physics education was taught in the 1960s, so can you give me a sense of what the normal situation was and why this was unique?
Grant:You’re asking me to go back a long time. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one doing that. I didn’t mean to give that implication, because I don’t know what all was going on all over the country. Neverthe less, I have a sense that through the fifties and early sixties, mid-sixties anyway, most laboratories at the advanced level were taught in conjunction with one of the advanced courses.
So if you had a course in E&M and maybe there was a lab that went with it. Or maybe there was an elective lab that was taught every other year, for instance, in small colleges where they couldn’t afford to have the staff to teach those advanced courses every year which had that topic. Some of those labs, for instance the electricity lab, had motors and generators and you were doing more electrical engineering type stuff. And some of those had fallen by the wayside because people began to realize that, you know, “Hey, that really isn’t something that we need to teach much anymore because motors and generators are done by somebody else.” I never took that course at Denison. There was a course in electronics that was taught, and that’s what really led to my doing the analog computer because the teacher was a ham radio operator. He had to set up the first local station with ham radio connections in the Ohio area at Denison and run that from the ‘teens on through, and he was very much interested in vacuum tube technology, which was mostly the electronics we did when I was in undergraduate school in the fifties. So I took that course and learned about amplifiers and so on and so forth, and then of course how do you build a circuit that does differentiation and so on, integration. The analog computer aspect of it was a vacuum tube analog computer.
But I have a feeling that people were beginning to do the same sort of thing that I did there. Namely we really need to get our students involved more in understanding how to make measurements on atomic systems or on nuclear systems or whatever instead of having a nuclear physics laboratory which was attached to a course in modern physics or nuclear physics. Maybe we should integrate those experiments at a lower level, because it excites the students. It shows them things, it teaches them things that they can go on and build on. I haven’t recently thought about what I did, nor have I gone back to do a literature search. I only made the claim because I remember what a strong response I got at that time when I gave that lecture.
Grant:Because people were trying it themselves and were wanting to share ideas, or this was new to them, and they took off and did it. Soon after that, in frustration partly and in conversation with colleagues in small colleges around Ohio, I started what became known as the Regional Cooperative Physics Group.
McCray:I saw that on your CV. I wanted to ask you about that. What was that? How did that come about?
Grant:Leonard Jossem, who you were talking with this afternoon, was a real mentor and hero to me. He encouraged me to meet other liberal arts college teachers from the State of Ohio. It happened through the American Physical Society’s Ohio section, which meets semiannually in Ohio. In talking with others we realized that we had a lot of common problems and a lot of possible solutions to those problems to share. Part of it was student recruitment, part of it was course design, part of it was administrative. You know, you’re talking about two-, three- to five-person departments as opposed to 30-person departments within the major universities. Leonard was on the Commission on College Physics. He was, I think, their coordinating secretary. I don’t remember for sure.
McCray:Yeah. He had a variety of different positions, but he was heavily involved with that, sure.
Grant:He early on got me involved with AAPT by recommending to their president at that time to be on the Visual Aids Committee because he knew I had interest in multimedia presentations. And so I became part of the Visual Aids Committee and I met other people nationally. There was a Pacific Northwest Association of College Physicists up in Oregon and Washington which was more formally structured, but always held its meetings at the smaller colleges, had meetings there trying to give support to those small physics departments, and I saw that model written about and talked about and I said, “Hey, let’s just call a meeting at Denison, write all the liberal arts colleges, invite them. We’ll tell the big colleges stay away or if you want to send one person that’s okay, but this is for us.” When I told them that there is going to be a ten dollar a year charge because I was going to publish a newsletter, I got ten dollars from about twenty departments justlike that. Some of them I’m sure didn’t get any money from their college. They just sent me a ten dollar bill in an envelope. But we started meeting – I don’t know, I’d have to look at stuff I have. I don’t remember exactly when we started. It was late sixties, early seventies.
Grant:We started right away meeting twice a year – once in the fall, once in the spring. I would call up some department and say, “Unless you can convince me otherwise you are it. Which weekend do you want it?” People would fund their own travel; it was very informal. But it was a tremendous stimulus to me, to people in our department, and from what I’ve heard, to other people at other departments as well.
Grant:We kept that running for a number of years. It gradually collapsed because AAPT came in and formed two other sections in the State of Ohio and they began to grow in their strength and I did not want to dilute what they could do by doing our thing.
Grant:So we just sort of agreed, “Well, we’ve done our thing, it served our purposes, and we’ve gone away.” So it was a casual birth and a casual death. It fit a niche.
McCray:Sure. I’m curious. At these regional cooperative physics group meetings what issues would be talked about.
Grant:We would ask the host department to tell us about their program and problems, and to show us their labs. I would draw on people that I knew through Leonard or through AAPT or through whatever to occasionally bring in an outside person to be a focal speaker. That didn’t happen every time or in any routine way, but if I saw an opportunity to have somebody come in or to bring something back with me I took it. For instance Judy Bregman, who was at Brooklyn Polytech, had produced some very innovative films back in the late sixties along with – gosh, I can’t bring up his name - from Bell Labs– and I met her because I was on the Visual Aids Committee. I got her to send me a couple of her films and I showed them and led a discussion. She didn’t come to the meeting, but I presented them as something that was fairly innovative. And then I got to know Charles Eames through my visual aids work, and actually visited Charles at his studios out in Venice, California because I was using his “Powers of Ten” film as part of my multimedia show. And I told him about that and he wanted to have me tell him more about it, so when I was doing a show in Irvine, California he invited me to come over to his studio and have lunch with him and see his studio and so on and so forth.
Grant:So I did a multimedia show at one of these meetings to give people ideas of how to use media while, sort of on the side, doing some teaching, but mostly just to excite people about the interplay between music, arts and science.
McCray:How did that fit in within the Denison curriculum, going back to the theme of a small liberal arts college?
Grant:I had a lot of interactions with the arts department. The chairperson of the dance department, Susan Alexander, came up and took my astronomy course and sat in on my intro, non-major physics course one year. I sat in on her dance composition course to understand things about how the human body was used in dance. Of course, I know Ken Laws quite well, who does demonstration programs on the physics of dance. In fact I’m going over to Las Cruces, New Mexico in about three months to see his program again at the Four Corners APS meeting.
Grant:Anyway, I ended up, because of my interest in photography and dance doing all of the rehearsal dance photography for the dance department and then I also did some in New York after I became AIP secretary. I worked with and through Susan who had gone by that time to New York to become an instructor with Merce Cunningham. She was in a couple of companies that did performances. So I did their publicity photography for a couple, three years in New York.
McCray:This hobby is something that’s a hobby for you?
Grant:This photography has turned more recently into digital photography and the digital archiving of photographic things.
McCray:I’m curious. One of themes–
Grant:But anyway, you’d say how did it fit into Denison. I first started this multimedia show in the late sixties. I knew about Bregman’s work, I knew about Eames’ work, and there was going to be a “laser light-show rock concert” on campus. I didn’t know much – I think it was called a light-show concert back then – and the students seemed very excited about it. And I said to the students, “So, what is this?” “Well, they have a laser” and they do things with it to music. I said, “I can do that stuff.” So I said to the students, “How many of you next week on Tuesday would come in at seven in the evening if I were to put on a concert?” They put their hands up. So I said, “Oh shit. What am I going to do?” So I got a tape deck with some Simon and Garfunkel music. Do you know the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse film that Franklin Miller (Kenyon College, up the road from Denison) put together?
Grant:See, so again I had that connection with him through the regional cooperative physics group, and through Tom Greenslade . As part of the show I wanted to show how a physicist sees things from one picture that remind him of connections to other things. So I had an oscilloscope and I played “Save the Life of My Child” by Simon and Garfunkel .... “Save the life of my child, cried the desperate mother....”
Grant:I started playing that with an oscilloscope showing the rhythms. And over here I had the Tacoma Narrows Bridge oscillation going on, and the beat of the two was in sync. And I said, “I’m looking on the oscilloscope at sound waves. You are hearing the intonations and the rhythm of the music. You are seeing the oscillation of the bridge. Look at the connections between these. They are different, they’re exciting, you’re drawn to each one, but in a physicist’s mind the similarities pop out as well as the magnificent differences and complexities.
Grant:And so from there I went on and I did a number of different things. I used the film Symmetry which Judy Bregman was involved with, and I used M.C. Escher prints to show images that had impossibilities built into them geometrically. So I pulled all this together, and it turned out it lasted about an hour and twenty minutes. There were maybe forty students in there that first night. When it was over they expressed their excitement in what I had done. I was starting to put things away when some of the students came back, “I went and got my roommate. Would you do that again?”
Grant:And pretty soon the room was jammed. This was now ten at night. So I said, “Hey,” you know, “this is neat.” A guy in the music department called me up and said, “What did you do the other night?” He says, “Had you ever thought of Hindemuth’s recordings? Hin und Furhruch?.” I said, “No. I’ve never heard of it.” He says, “Hin und Furhruch is a piece by Hindemuth where if you look at the music score the last half of the piece is the exact reverse of the first half - your reverse and it’s played back to the beginning again.” Well of course I had never heard of that. And I began to get other pieces from other sources where this kind of idea was used. You know, so there were collaborations like that. And then I gave it at an alumni college, went out and gave it at Denison alumni gatherings around the country, and I gave it at an AAPT meeting.
McCray:It sounds like it was really quite an interesting assembly of images.
Grant:It was fun, it was light, but there was a lot of teaching there. I did it at the Pacific Northwest College meeting in La Grande, Oregon. The presentation was in a banquet room part of a nightclub, and at the finale of it where I’ve got an oscilloscope, two movie projectors, a single concept film projector, and a slide projector all going at the same time I blew the fuse and took out the bar which was in full operation with a rock band next door and 120 in the banquet room. It was about a minute from the end of the show, so it was pitch black and silent. I say, “Well, th-th-that’s all, folks!”
McCray:Tell me about – I’m curious how this relates to the Visual Aids Committee, which seems to be – I mean, it sounds like what you are describing is a fairly informal approach, and then there is this Visual Aids Committee. How do the two connect?
Grant:The AAPT Visual Aids Committee was charged with one major activity, and that was to put on a film show at the national AAPT/APS meeting which occurred every January. And so we were to seek out and show, as continuous showings, films that recently had come on the market, or were deemed to have continuing appeal, that related to the teaching of physics. For instance, Phil Morrison had recorded his “Christmas Lectures” which we projected as a series, and Feynman had filmed a series of lectures which we showed, and we passed along resources where people could obtain or rent the films.
McCray:Excuse me. Did you say Christmas lectures?
Grant:Yes, Morrison’s “Christmas Lectures” were recorded, I believe, in England. I may have the two series somewhat confused, but in any event there were a series of filmed lectures by Feynman and a series of filmed lectures by Morrison. I had Denison buy both full series using some money that I could get from the dean at that time. But anyway, we showed those then and we showed Eames’ films and we had Charles Eames come to New York – that’s when I first met him – and give a talk about his programs. And that was pretty much our charge, was to keep on top of that and also to bring in people who we knew had been particularly effective in say using the overhead projector, which was a new device, or using slides in teaching, or using whatever came along.
McCray:How were these devices changing the way physics was taught based on how you saw it?
From my viewpoint it was allowing me to bring into the classroom demonstrations or things occurring in science which me talking about would have not had the the same impact as actually seeing the event. To have a person like Morrison, or Feynman, describe a particular concept and to demonstrate it is a privilege for me and the students. I used the Feynman lectures in my modern physics course, for instance, because I thought students should see somebody of his stature explaining something and pick up the excitement and the charisma of it. Not necessarily that they would learn or be able to repeat from that, but that they would see an approach to the subject different than mine. I think later on that had an influence on me in a strange way. I took a sabbatical at Arizona State University and taught there for a year and a half with Howard Voss, who is a very close friend of mine, about introductory physics. When I came back from that I was told that I was being asked to teach a course in statistical mechanics.
This was in ‘86. I was told before I arrived that it was a small class; I had three students, one of them an absolutely out-the-top student who was legally blind, one of them a pretty good student, B+/A- type, and one of them a fairly weak student, B-/C+. Now I got three students. One of them is legally blind and I’m going to teach stat mech. Well, what is stat mech about? You’ve got a lot of symbol manipulation, you’ve got a lot of conceptual things best illustrated by mathematics, and I said, “Oh boy, what am I going to do with this?” I said, “How am I going to draw those three students together to work together to solve problems, particularly when the blind student is not going to be able to see me at the board if I do any work?” I was told that there was a very good text where the problem solutions flowed from the text and back to the text: Statistical Mechanics by Stout. So I picked up the book and looked at it, and indeed that was the way it went. And about the first eight or ten chapters kind of flowed together nicely and then you had some choices of where you want after that. So I arrived on the first day of class and I went in the classroom early – and as I say there were only three students – and I sat in the back of the room.
The students came in and they looked around, they saw me back there, and I had been on sabbatical so they hadn’t met me yet, and they sat down facing the board. And I said, “By the way, I’m Dr. Grant. Turn your chairs around. I’m back here.” I said. And then called on one of them by name, I always learned who they were quickly, and I said to one of them, “What do you think this course is about?” I got an answer. To the next: “Well, what do you think it’s about?” Some of the same answer, but not all. “What do you think it’s about?” And I’d say, “Where do we start? What ideas do you start from?” I sat in the back of the room the whole semester and we sat around in a circle, and their challenge was to work the problems - eventually they worked every problem in the text - and to be ready daily up to a certain point and be ready to answer whatever question I posed to them when we came in. Meanwhile, we had bought a video camera which had a magnifier on it so that the blind student could sit there with the text if he needed it and it would reverse the contrast; Instead of black on white it would be white on black in a larger type so he could see it so he had no problem actually looking at the text. I found that he could see well enough so that he could write at the board himself, so I would send them to the board. And I’d say “Work problem 5, but before you work problem 5, why was problem 5 in the book to begin with?” And that’s the way I taught the entire course. I gave oral exams.
There were never written exams or whatever. I taught that course five other times the same way, with up to fifteen students in it. And partly I say that style came out of my visual aids experience because I learned that a lot of the images which were going on which I put together as an assemblage were because I had images in my head of things that were similar and I realized that that kind of visualization which you remember later or you put together later is something important to learning. And so I designed the course partly out of necessity, but mostly because I realized that me standing in front of the students and lecturing wasn’t necessarily an efficient way of transmitting information. I began to do that more and more with my intro courses, too. Although there I would do more lecturing, with demonstrations, I’d present a descriptive overview of the material, and then break them in smaller groups for discussion of problems and concepts. Of course, we didn’t have large classes like ASU or Maryland or Ohio State, but they were large enough so that I had to work to get the effect that I wanted.
Grant:Anyway, we had intro courses of maybe twenty to twenty-five students in the lecture part of it. But I would divide them into smaller groups within the lecture mode. I would maybe do an overview presentation, ask questions selectively of students about the material, do a demonstration or two, and then for the last 20 or 25 minutes I would say, “Okay, you three, you four, you three, you four. Here’s the problem.” I wrote it down on our transparency, and then toured the rooms visiting the groups to see how they were proceeding..
McCray:I’m curious. Okay, so you’re involved with the Visual Aids Committee and in 1977 you become the secretary of the American Association of Physics Teachers.
Grant:Yeah. In the interval between the AV Committee and the elected position, I also served on the AAPT/APS Committee on Science Education for the General Public..
McCray:How is the curriculum of physics changing at this time versus what it was when you began or what it was when you were a student?
Grant:At which time – ‘77 you mean?
McCray:Let’s say 1970.
Grant:I think now there is more emphasis on (a) laboratory, especially intermediate and advanced laboratory, and (b) on teaching of modern physics earlier in the sequence of courses. When I took modern physics I was a junior at Denison, and by modern physics I mean it had introductory to quantum theory, you know, early things that had to do with the quantum evolution, a little bit of special relativity – never any general relativity. I think by the early to mid-seventies people were moving modern physics down to be a third semester of intro rather than a month or three weeks of intro. They expanded it. About then at Denison, we moved classical mechanics down from a junior level course to be the fourth semester after that intro modern course.
Grant:Later on we moved it back again to the junior year and had a whole full year of what we called intro to modern physics with much more quantum mechanics and a bit more special relativity. When I taught that course most recently, which was in the eighties I guess because I retired in ‘94, I introduced QED by Feynman for a 3-4 week study segment segment of the second semester sophomore year intro modern course. It was thought to be innovative by my colleagues - now that book and approach to quantum mechanics is used for workshops at national AAPT meetings..
Grant:I turned from the textbook we were using and had the students pick up QED. I assigned them individual projects where in some instances they had to actually write computer programs to simulate some of the ideas that came out of Feynman’s QED. There are no problems in the book, so I had them pick up things that Feynman talked about in QED and run with it in terms of trying to understand what was going on.
Grant:And they had to end up writing a little essay about the ideas to see how much they had discovered about what this approach to quantum mechanics was all about. That was a little bit before Ed Taylor started doing his significant teaching about QED and taking his workshops to AAPT meetings and so on and so forth. I don’t think Ed was influenced at all by my having done that, although he knew that I had done that, but he really ran with it a lot further than I did. I was doing it sort of as a natural, exciting thing that I had learned about. And he was doing it as a more formal thing that he wanted to teach other teachers about its approach.
McCray:I’m curious about the computer-based modules. As early as 1977 you were involved with preparing these computer modules. What are these?
Grant:Right. At that time Denison had a VAX-11/47 computer, and so that meant we had terminals tied to mainframes, because there were no standalones like we have today.
Grant:I wrote probably a dozen moduels, but I think I would say six useable modules. They were more or less problem/example/laboratory demonstrations where the students could interactively design physical systems - optical systems for instance, to trace rays through a lens. They could look at the magnetic fields around different dipoles or structures that they could place on the screen that would give them a different configuration of magnets and would then draw the loop lines. They could do equipotential surfaces around distributions of charge and starting with a single charge up to I think as many as eight charges which they placed randomly on the screen by – in fact holding you in a place on the screen, put a charge here, put a charge here, and then we’ll just draw the field lines.
Grant:So they can then visually begin to explore fields in two dimensions, which was a limitation, of course. But in two dimensions, the electric field distribution about systems of charges shows you a lot about their influence. And usually there was problem that presented on the screen which would say, “Okay. That you’ve tried these different configurations (and they could print them out on a teletype printer), for your problem take the following distribution or specify one. And draw the field lines. And now on your own, mathematically compute the strength of the electric field at this point in this direction and then draw an arrow at that point on your printout. Put your numbers on the diagram and turn that in.
Grant:So it was an interactive thing in the sense that they were assigned to do this within a strict period of time; they had to find an open computer terminal and do it. They were modular in that we could either do them as an adjunct within a laboratory or they could be assigned as a take-home problem. I found quickly that, yeah, they could do some of them, but the learning was not what I expected it to be and I began to draw them back in and say, “Okay. This lab is going to be open tonight from 8:00 to 10:00 three nights a week. I’ll be there. You have to do your problems during that time period.” Because the insights I could add with a short comment that I couldn’t anticipate or program into the module enhanced the learning so much that it motivated the students to be there. They got frustrated if they got stuck. And so then later on I gave a paper on what I’ve learned of what can’t be learned by computer modules – or something like that.
McCray:Yeah, I saw that in your vita.
Grant:And that paper was not very well received when I gave it, because people were so fired up about being able to use the computer in ways that I believed then and I still believe now that they overextended what the computer by itself could do, and undervalued how much extra time the instructor had to devote so the students could learn from the exercises..
McCray:That actually ties directly to my next question, which was as you and other people were introducing computer modules and computer-based learning what type of reaction were other educators having to this? Was there any resistance or mass acceptance of it?
Grant:Oh, I think there was resistance. There was always that community that was very excited because they had the money, as I did, to develop these things and ran with the developments. Whereas there were other people who recognized what I did, but didn’t admit for a little while, namely, that it was very instructor-intensive and very time-consuming for the student, and there was always a tradeoff. If you asked the student to spend time doing this what weren’t they doing over here, because you were only capturing a finite amount of their time in any event. And so that was partly what my paper was about – we really have to step back and say what are we accomplishing over here enough to warrant the fact that we’re not getting time with the student over there.
Grant:And a lot of faculty members simply saw how labor-intensive it was and didn’t get involved with using the computer-based instruction. Others felt that there was so much potential there that it was worth the tradeoff and devoted their time to it. I don’t know yet that the issue has been resolved. It’s a matter of style, it’s a matter of taste, and I think one could probably say the learning is probably roughly equal either way - but there’s a lot to the Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect says that if you are excited about something and believe in what you are doing and are excited about it and portray that excitement you will see growth and development as an outcome. It was named after some studies done at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric Company in Chicago back in the forties and fifties where whenever they started up a motivational project for workers they found an enhancement in the output of that group. But if they took that emphasis away it dropped back to its preceding level. And if they put more emphasis over here they again saw an increase in the output, but if they backed off from keeping that excitement going then it got back down to its original level.
Grant:So it’s called the Hawthorne Effect, and I think it’s definitely there. I think that the instructor’s enthusiasm for the subject translates over and produces benefits and enhanced learning.
McCray:So just giving the students computers to work with and leaving them alone is not the answer?
Grant:I don’t believe that it’s the only answer. I think that if you use it as a tool thoughtfully that it’s a tremendous enhancement. I know a lot of people are using computerized quizzing and computerized online testing and the student has to pass the test before he or she can move on to the next stage. And I think a lot of teachers are finding that to be a very useful tool. I don’t think that’s any more than if they came in and he gave them an oral quiz or gave them a little written test. It may save the instructor a little time. It may not. The instructor may have to require students who had not passed a couple of quizzes to see the instructor and it may take more time to find out why the student didn’t pass those and to go on than if you’d been interacting with them initially. But with a very large class and with the successes a student gets after three or four tries at it, that’s keeping that student away from the instructor. Whether that’s positive or negative I can’t tell you either, you see, because I never did it that way. I never once used a multiple choice exam or question. But then I haven’t taught large classes, except at during my sabbatical at ASU where I had 200-person lecture classes, and the recitation sections were 20-30.
McCray:I was curious also. I’m imagining at Denison the class size is fairly small.
McCray:The number of students per teacher is a healthy ratio. What were you able to do there that you wouldn’t have been able to do if you had stayed at Wisconsin or gone to ASU or someplace where you were teaching to a large lecture hall of students?
Well, I always felt that personal interaction with a student gave a student something extra. I knew the names of every student in every course I ever taught, and that by the way, that included the 200 at ASU. I learned them. It took me a little longer because I didn’t have my recitation sections, but they were amazed. You know, I would call somebody way back up here and by name and they’d just look up as if this was unheard of. But I don’t think that students, if they are going to become learners, are just faces in a sea. Some of them can survive that way and hopefully thrive that way, but I think everybody is a different individual and a complex one and if I’m going to really help them learn how to learn I need to know who they are. And I don’t think I could have done that as successfully as I think I did at Denison over a course of a career in a very large university.
Maybe I could, I don’t know, but for me it was the smaller, more intimate class environment that I sought. The other plus at a small college was that I very much valued my interactions with colleagues outside of my department. I directed a couple a programs at Denison which were across the disciplines. My colleagues at Denison and the administration at Denison were very supportive of me being involved with AAPT, being involved with the AIP, and being involved outside the physics department. That put strains on the department. I mean, we were a six-person department and for me to be 40 percent AIP meant that they had to have either a part-time person or cover my absences. It meant that my students had a little bit less of me than they would have otherwise, and so on and so forth, but still they were very supportive of that activity. As I told you, I did the photography for the dance department. I ran a program – let’s see, this came first. I ran a program using the Jacob Bronowski book and set of films, “The Axcent of Man”. A number of faculty were sitting at lunch in the student union one day, and I didn’t know about this series of films. One of my friends in the history department said, “Have you read The Ascent of Man?” and I said, “No.” He described it to me and he said that films had come out and he was thinking of doing a – using them in a history course.
And I said, “It sounds like it fits my major physics course.” So I quickly read the book and we got to talking and it ended up there were four different professors in four departments who got together a program – at least four, I’d have to go back and resurrect it – we showed the films on each Thursday night in a big auditorium where all the students in all of the participating courses were required to attend. Following each film there were two 15-minute guest lectures by faculty from different departments to discuss how the topic of the film fit from their area of study. And there was either an essay or a quiz or an exam question that came out of those lectures and those films that students in every course had to respond to. We still taught our own courses separately, but all were cognizant of what film was coming and how to relate it to the course. And so we did that over the course of a year I guess. That was a very successful collaboration among departments and people. The involved faculty sat and talked about it weekly. We brought in other colleagues to discuss it and ask, is this something where you would see a lecture fitting into your field?
McCray:Probably not something you could easily do at a larger school.
Grant:Yes, that would be tough, but not impossible, at, e.g., Wisconsin.
McCray:–Maryland or someplace. Yeah.
And then a few years later on I learned through Arnie Strassenberg, Wes Palty, and others about a cooperative learning program that was going on in the SUNY system at Stonybrook. With help from our Provost, Lou Brakeman, I got money from the Exxon Education Foundation to built a cooperative learning program at Denison. We called it the Co-Learner Program. A faculty member was selected as a Co-Learner on application and interview, and was freed from his or her courses for the semester to take three courses in three departments that were outside of his division. The Co-Learner selected a theme, and recruited other professors to offer their course sections as a part of the investigation of that theme. Students were recruited to take those same three courses with that faculty member.
They met in a seminar format with the faculty member who served as coordinator the seminar, but not necessarily leading it, to discuss the common theme topic which integrated the three courses they were taking into that theme. And then we met with that faculty member as a coordinating committee weekly to kind of debrief what had happened, what was going on. And so he or she was learning about subjects in other disciplines, taking the exams with the students, writing the essays with the students in the other areas, and discussing experiences in the courses with the committee and with the professors offering the courses. We offered the program for three years with three different co-learners. One was a botanist, one was a very talented musician and composer, and the third was a professor of English - a writer and poet.
McCray:That’s a really interesting idea.
It worked magnificently in many ways, but we had an extraordinarily difficult time getting students to take all three courses at the same time with the professor, and to be committed to it. And to some extent they were steered away by their own advisors, because some were juniors or seniors. An advisor says, “If you do this you are not going to be able to do your senior research with me” or “your focus will suffer”. So it was tough. I mean, we were in a small environment. I wrote a final report for Exxon, the committee sat down and agonized over it to try to say how this had been intimidating to the students and yet, overall, fulfilled many of the objectives we had of this liberal arts experience. and so on and so forth. And I used the comment that it was “intimidating to students” because they were concerned about jeopardizing their careers and so on and so forth.
Well, the provost read this report that I had written as Project Director as I was getting ready to send it off to the Exxon Foundation as a report. She called me to say, “You can’t file this report. We cannot talk about Denison students as being intimidated about learning.” And I said, “How can you say that? That is in fact what happened. We have that in their own words, you know, and our faculty team has determined this.” Well, this was a provost who was realtively new to Dnison - not the one who had assisted with the original proposal. She had been hired from outside our community. It was her third year at Denison. In my opinion, and that of other faculty (we’re always unbiased on these things) she was not working out very well. And she said, “Well, I order you not to submit that.” I said, “I’m project director. You can’t order me to do anything.” And she was really upset. She says, “Well, we have to have approval from our development officer before you can submit that.” I said, “O.K.. Here’s a copy. Send it to your development officer.” She said, “Well, don’t you send that in until I get his approval back.” Of course, I mailed it that afternoon to the Exxon guy and I was going to be at AIP that next week, so I met with him in New York and he thought it was wonderful - he really appreciated the candid comments, and congratulated me on the outcome of the project. It looked like Denison was the right place to have made these grants and everything. I got back from AIP and the development officer had marked it up, changed it, rewrote and said, “This cannot be submitted until he makes these changes.” I wrote him back and said, “I’ve already met with the project coordinator at Exxon. He loves in the report. I sent it in the way it was. Screw you.”
McCray:Did they continue to support the program?
Grant:Well, this was our third year and we were not filing for a renewal. In fact Denison’s president elected to take over a couple of successful aspects of the program using internal funds that he had available. It made it possible for by a professor to apply for time off to take courses in other departments if he or she wished to. So they took on that part of it, but having the students join in the cooperative learning aspect, you know, asking them to take three of their four courses for a semester together was not picked up. The recalcitrant Provost only lasted one more year. She went off to be a president of a college where she only lasted two years, so I think I was well vindicated.
McCray:So it goes.
McCray:I’d like to talk about your time as AIP secretary.
Grant:I was the AAPT secretary first.
McCray:Let’s talk about AAPT first. You were secretary for six years.
McCray:What does a secretary do, how does one become the secretary?
Grant:I first served AAPT as chairman of two different committees, and on some advisory committees on projects. For instance, there was a learning-module project that Bob Fuller was coordinating, and there was also a material science module project that Rustum Roy, at Penn State was coordinating.
Through these activities, I was known by a few of the officers. I was in the office out at Stonybrook in 1976, I guess it was, working on one of the projects, and Melba Phillips, who was serving as the acting executive officer at that time because Ernie Strassenberg was on leave at NSF, walked in and out of the blue she said, “Have you ever considered running for Secretary of AAPT?” I said, “No.” “Well, would you consider it?” So I thought about it for a while. and I went back to Denison and talked with my colleagues and the provost just to see if this would be a fairly good commitment, although no released time was contemplated, because it’s not a paid position or anything like that. And they thought that would be a very positive thing for me to do – positive in the sense that I would bring things back to the department from outside that would lend support to the department that’s consistent with my interest in teaching, my involvement in a lot of different things.
So I called them and said, “Sure,” and she said, “Well, I’m Acting Executive Officer, so I can’t really nominate you.” She called up Len Jossem and Len then called the Chair of the Nominating Committee, Jim Stevenson, who was at Georgia Tech, and I got nominated. When I saw the other name of the other person who was nominated I knew that he was very well known within AAPT and I said, “Well, this is interesting to be on the ballot, but there’s not a chance in hell, because people don’t know Rod GRANT.” Well, I won handily for some reason, I don’t know. I have my own personal hypotheses on that which will go unstated, but I did win. And the Secretary of AAPT, as I think the secretary of most – well, I won’t say most – of some of the Member Societies in AIP takes minutes at meetings, help work with the executive officer, CEO or whatever the person’s title is, to prepare agendas for meetings, but in a larger sense provides a liaison between the Board or the elected President or the Chair, whoever that person is, and the staff of the society, represented by the CEO - the paid people.
Grant:In a way, the elected Secretary is very much a mediator, because you are in the confidence of both sides and you filter what you take between the two. That occurred in both organizations a great deal for me – both AIP and AAPT. And, coincidentally, in a couple of cases within Member Societies– mildly within APS, a little bit more within AAPM. In the case of AAPM, it occurred as they went through a struggle at one point deciding about their executive officer position, and they asked me to come to a meeting and talk with them a bit. APS not so much so, although when Bill Havens and Bill Koch were the two adversaries – or compatriots, depending on with whom you talked and what the moment was – I would go out to lunch with Joe Burton and Bill Havens and hear the APS’s viewpoint and then I would have a meeting or a lunch with Bob Marks and/or Bill Koch and hear what their viewpoint was, and I would try to filter what each side was saying and say something to the other side to try to understand why there was this antagonism or this difficulty with working with each other or whatever it was.
McCray:Just to stop there for a second, I don’t know enough about AIP’s institutional history to understand what the issues are, and also I don’t know how much you are at liberty to say, but if you could enlighten me a little bit about that, that would be helpful.
Grant:Yeah. I’ll say some things about it. Some of them are ones that I mentally have filtered away; others are strong enough that I will be able to recall those. We’re on the AIP part of it now.
McCray:Would you prefer to talk about this – to keep it in sequence?
Grant:I don’t know that the sequence is important. Let’s do talk about the AIP. I’ll come back to the AAPT part.
Grant:Because there were some interesting things there too. When I talk about the AIP-APS conflicts, their executive secretary when I started, Bill Havens, was a very, very strong personality. A very strong leader of APS. Even though APS has this screwed up leadership, with three officers sharing the duties, still people felt that APS was Bill Havens; Bill Havens was APS. He had been a member of the AIP executive committee for many years because, naturally, the director of APS, which was the largest customer of AIP, would have their executive officer – and executive secretary was his title – on the AIP board. When I began to know about AIP was in the mid-seventies. I started going to their corporate associates meetings back then because Sam Wheeler, who was chairman at Denison when I came back – he was one of my professors when I was a student there – was a graduate student friend of Bill Koch, who was the AIP executive officer and they remained personal friends. So Bill Koch had seen to it that Denison had an invitation to come to the AIP governing board – which was resented by some people, because it was felt by a few pseudo-intellectual souls that the liberal arts colleges had nothing to do with physics and particularly didn’t have anything to do with industrial physics. I felt differently, because almost the majority of people who went on in industrial physics had their beginnings at an undergraduate liberal arts college. So there was a little problem there. But so anyway, Havens was on the board and Havens’ office was shared there with AIP’s NY office space at 335 E. 45th Street.
Grant:As publishing evolved, it went from typesetting – literally typewriter typesetting – to computerized composition. And for whatever reason – and I don’t know the history of this – a very large mistake – and this is in my estimation – was made. But it was obvious, because of the clash of the personalities and the egos of the two (Havens and Koch), that this would have happened. Parallel composition systems were developed out at Woodbury. Not first at Woodbury, but basically we can say developed Woodbury. Parallel computerized systems which couldn’t talk to each other were developed, APS running theirs, AIP running theirs. Manuscripts would arrive at varying rates to the point where AIP would need to buy time from the underused group at APS or APS would have to buy time from a slightly undersized group at AIP to do their composition. As a result of the differences of the systems, programs had to be written to translate what had been composed in one language over to the other in order for it to be composed by the other party for publication.
McCray:Because there was this separate operations?
Because of the separate, non–communicating systems. And so there was a lot of effort expended in trying to prove which system was best. Havens always talked about it as an experiment. “We’ll eventually know which of these two systems is better than the other.” And I kept saying to myself, “Who cares? This is costing money!” If we were working together to develop one inter-compatible system, it would turn out to be really good – instead of devoting separate resources to try to develop two systems to be their best. I can never to this day understand why, other than a clash of egos, clash of personalities, anyone would allow that to happen. Why didn’t one or the other give in early on and say, “Okay, we’ll just follow your lead” and save money?
Yeah, we can keep them separate, we can partition them. You can have your side and I can have my side, but at least we can save money by having the computers be the same and the software be sympatico. Well, years later, they now are, but this is a long time after all of that was going on. And of course it was a continual clash. And then there were other things, you know. AIP wanted its physics programs, whatever it’s called now, what it was called then was the educational and statistical and history and so on divisions. AIP wanted to try to help support the physics community, and to have an impact on things. AAPT felt that some aspects of that direction could tread on them. APS felt that some aspects could tread on them. AIP felt that they could do it better, you know, and so there were always those minor clashes. But the major clashes were at the publishing end, because that’s where the dollars were generated. There was never a question about the history division recently, although back in history APS felt that the history part of it should be their function.
McCray:Be completely controlled by APS?
Grant:Right, right. There is some history to that in minutes that are open and available. There were clashes back in the forties and fifties about Physics Today and about the History Center and their viability and whether they should be here or there or whatever. That’s not really part of anything I was directly involved in so I won’t say anything more, but just to reference it here. They are well documented in the history of the AIP and its societies..
McCray:AIP had a press at one point?
Grant:Yes, they did, first under the initiative of Bill Koch, but then under stronger emphasis of Ken Ford, AIP had a books program. The feeling was that there was need for a specialized division that would bring in under-circulated, specialized books, to be able to publish them and to provide distribution. Some were in history, some of historical value, some had small circulation - fairly specialized type things - and so on that evolved into what was called AIP Press in the late eighties or early nineties I believe. A books Publisher was hired to manage the program. She worked at it - I don’t remember how many years - four, maybe (I may be off on that) trying to build that up. It was not a moneymaker. My estimation this effort probably was worth supporting in the sense that it provided an outlet for some things which needed to be published. But with various financial considerations involved the books program finally was spun off and acquired by Springer-Verlag. I think Springer-Verlag retains the AIP Press imprint on some of the books that originated within AIP Press.
McCray:Okay. Was there any controversy or difficulty related to AIP’s move to publish things electronically? You were laughing. Was there something else that you wanted to say here?
Grant:Yeah. I thought you going to say move and put a period after it. Because, of course, we moved the AIP headquarter offices about then.
McCray:That’s the next question.
Grant:But I’ll go to the electronic publishing. Yeah. I think – it wasn’t so much a controversial subject, though a difficult one. Everybody felt that it had to happen, but no one knew how to make it profitable (affordable?).
Grant:The question was, is and probably will remain: how does one continue to generate the necessary revenue to provide the infrastructure for that to occur? I’m not a financial guru, so I’m only stating what I remember from the discussions. The purpose of an AIP, an APS and so on – at least in part – is to provide the free exchange of intellectual material to as broad a community as possible. To provide a filtering resource. That is to say, one has to make judgements whether the paper should be published or not, and then to get that information to as many people at as low a price as you possibly can. It’s obvious that one can do that distribution electronically. It depends a little bit on the culture of the community when and how much that’s accepted – how much do people need, ultimately, the printed page in front of them and how much can they get from it by looking at a screen. Culturally, people of my era want by and large the printed paper if it’s really one that they are going to want to work from, but to find that paper one uses electronic resources and one would like to have it without having the bulk of all the papers surrounding it.
Grant:There is going to be, and there usually is, something lost in that, and I’ll talk about that in a moment. But the concern has always been: how do you provide the expensive infrastructure, the refereeing? The composition? Putting it in a proper format? And the melding together of the references in a way that people can find the paper and put that information into a common, searchable database, and then distribute it. Now if you are going to provide that infrastructure to have that common database of interrelated information, if you are going to provide the refereeing and the composition so that the formats and the pictures and everything are in a consistent way that people are used to, it costs money. If you distribute it electronically and somebody can just go up and say, “Oh, there’s the paper. I want it,” bing-bam-boom, he’s got it, how do they pay for that infrastructure? Who pays for that infrastructure? What supports that? How much do you need? And I don’t think we’re anywhere near a final answer – if there is one – as to how to do that. We’re still in the transition stage. We’re still publishing the print volumes. The main supporters of that whole activity are, of course, the libraries, and for forty years or more there has been a 5 percent decline per year in the number of library subscriptions. It’s a straight line.
Grant:Now asymptotically it can’t go to zero, but the 5 percent is still there. So that means that your costs, which are going to go up, are supported by presumably a 5 percent decline in subscriptions, which means the cost per subscription goes up. So there’s this complex interplay. And a lot of time has been spent with committees and discussions and so on which I am only superficially privy to, but I see from the secretary’s minutes and from the outsider view as being a very difficult struggle. How do you support your job? Which is an extremely important one – whether you are in it or somebody else is in it. Not because I’m sitting here expounding a view, but because this kind of thing is almost unique to the physics community and almost unique to intellectual communities of similar intent. And yet I view it – not because I’m here at all, but because I’ve seen it from an outsider view – as an extremely important component of science. How do you support the statistics division? How do you support the public information division? You always support them by revenues from library subscriptions. And yet your main purpose is to get that information to the scientist. Scientists may not even make as much use of it through the library. How do we let the libraries know that the scientists still value that if the scientists independent of their library can go off and get the information? It’s a very complex issue, and as it evolves I think it will be a very interesting study for historians.
McCray:Do you see a difference in terms of the member societies in terms of being more interested in the electronic publishing issue versus wishing to stick more with the hard copy?
Grant:I think – no, not in that sense. I think they are all interested in electronic publishing, and I think the society that has gone the furthest, the earliest and remains ahead of everyone is the American Astronomical Society. And I say that for a number of reasons, but I think the AAS – in the defense of some of the other societies – is uniquely different enough that it was easier for them to do that. Different enough: it is relatively small and the community is well-defined.
Grant:The AAS interest groups – I’m having a hard time with terms because of my desire to keep as many puns out of this interview as possible - are very clustered and a lot of them have very bright stars shining up there which draw to them papers of common interest.
McCray:To double pun in one sentence, that’s pretty good.
Grant:As an aside, I was formally censored twice by the AIP board for making puns during meetings. They actually took vote at two different times, about three years apart, “Censor the secretary for interrupting the meeting with puns.” I was very careful about that. I did use them at least once a meeting, though they occur to me many more times than that. I felt the group sometimes would take itself too seriously and I waited, or tried to wait, until it was in a least offensive point so as not to intervene in a discussion which was more heated to come up with these, but a couple of them were so good that I got censored.
McCray:Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t retire it. Hmm. I mean there are so many different things I could ask you I guess about being a secretary. I guess I’m just – I’m trying to get a sense of–
Grant:Well, let me just talk about secretary’s unofficial role. I told you that the secretary I thought in many cases was a mediator between the elected groups and the paid groups. With AAPT I was an elected officer, but I felt very close to Melba, to Arnie, to Jack Wilson who I only knew right at the end of my career because I at that point for one year served as both the AIP and the AAPT secretary, and served as Denison’s department chair and taught two classes per semester.
McCray:That would have been 1982?
That’s right. In the role of Secretary I was a mediator, but naturally, of course, I was the keeper of the record. I went back in the society records when I was AAPT secretary, and then I more intensively went back in the records as AIP secretary, and I put together – particularly as AIP secretary – an electronic resource which the current secretary has available which otherwise would not have existed or been as easily searchable. Specifically, I read every governing board minute from day one of AIP up to the present, and I put in electronic searchable format every motion that was made, passed or defeated in an AIP board meeting up to the present.
This document now allows a secretary, by keyword search, to find that motion and some inference of the surrounding discussion, and makes it possible to go back to the print copy and find the discussion. It would have been too laborious to put all of those – for me, doing it alone back at my desk in Ohio – to put all other original minutes in there. I did it for the executive committee of AIP from, if I recall right, about 1980 up to present. So all of the motions are in searchable files. Since about 1988 or ‘89 (roughly) all of the minutes are available in complete electronic format, because I was doing them that way after that date. So you are a keeper of record. You have a history of the organization which is unique to almost everybody. Because I had a different president every year when I was AAPT secretary, I was always in a sense training a new president about their job and responsibilities, or about the history of some actions. Same for the new vice president, Treasurer, or even Executive officer.
When I was AIP secretary I served with three CEOs, I served with four Board Chairs, so in a sense, I had a corporate memory available for them. This was not so much for Bill Koch, because he had been there a long time before I came onboard, but it certainly was so both for Ken Ford and for Mark Brodsky. I served on the search committee for Mark, and provided backup coordination for the search committee for both Ken and Mark. The same was true for the searches for Board Chairs Hans Frauenfelder, Roland Schmitt, and John Armstrong. One of the things I learned about being a secretary was in some cases you had too much information. I saw Bill Havens use his really good memory and his long history of associations to squelch discussion. And I knew I wasn’t going to do that – or at least I tried very hard not to do that. By squelched discussion I mean he would say: “Oh, we considered that in the same circumstances ten years ago and it didn’t work. Let’s move on.”
Grant:So whenever the occasion presented itself in my tenure I was careful not to bring up that we’d worried about that issue a couple years ago, and here’s how we’d resolved it then. Because what happened two years ago may not have been totally non-germane now. Occasionally, and I hope appropriately, I would remind the body that we had discussed that issue previously. Or, somebody would ask me for the record or past discussions. “Why didn’t we do that then?” And then I would try to give a little overview.
McCray:That’s something I wanted to ask you about. As secretary you in effect become the institution’s living memory, and I was wondering whether specific examples or specific cases where you were called upon to – in important cases – to provide a sense of what had gone before.
Grant:Yes. This happened fairly often. Yet, it would be hard for me to be very specific right now. So many little things like that happened, I can’t really pull out a really important case like that. But there were cases where somebody would ask me. I recall that we had a discussion about the industrial physicist two years ago where there was an objective set that its circulation and so on would be such-and-such. “Would you remind me of this particular thing?” Because it was done in an era where with my laptop I could pull up the minutes. I could quickly look at that and say, “Well, here’s kind of what was said about that.”
Grant:And people didn’t realize that I had gone back and had that capability and so then they would ask me on even more trivial things from time to time, but once I had that laptop capability and as soon as I could get a laptop – which was 1985, it was a Radio Shack – I began putting stuff like that on there. Then I had a memory capability which didn’t rely on this (
McCray:Just for the record, you are pointing at your brain) which I think is a very faulty device because you merge data and confuse it over time. You tend to surround what you remember with your own feelings about the subject too much, and what you may think happened then is not what’s in the record. And that was proven to me in a controversy – I’m making a transition to your next topic – surrounding the decision to move the headquarters from NYC to College Park.
McCray:Tell me about that.
It was clear that the headquarters building in NYC was not sufficient in size for the growth of APS, AIP, and, of course, AAPM and an office of AVS had spaces in there too. So Ken Ford, who was the executive officer, and Hans Frauenfelder, whowas the chairman of the board began Board and society discussion about a move. Predating them back to Norman Ramsey and Bill Koch there had been discussions about a need for a headquarters move. Koch felt strongly that it should move to Washington. Bill Havens felt that it should never leave the environs of New York City, of Manhattan in particular, so he very strongly opposed those ideas. It had a long history of being in NYC, so on and so forth, and clearly it was the center of the world, if not the physics world. That’s not my phrase, that’s Bill Havens’. Probably he never said it that way, but I think he felt it that way. And so nothing happened during the Koch administration. Ken Ford came on following Koch, and chose, for his own personal reasons, to keep his household in the Philadelphia area. He had an apartment out on Long Island where he lived during the week, sometimes through the weekends, but would commute back to Philadelphia to his wife other weekends.
Bill Havens thought that was a horrible and inexplicable arrangement. He felt that a committed CEO would have moved everything, been there in New York, and he then began to feel as discussions of moving the headquarters – and some of them were to Seattle or Denver or Phoenix or Dallas or whatever, you know, these ideas were flying around - that the concept of a move was being driven by Ford, who wasn’t a committed New Yorker anyway. I think in Ford’s defense that that really never was in his thought. I believe that he was trying to find the best base of operations for AIP, and to get a consensus of where it should be. Private conversations with Ford always led me to believe that, but there was enough that came from other sources – particularly Havens, but some of the other APS people – that I had a sense that they felt Ford was the driving factor behind a specific move, namely to go to Washington. That simply wasn’t so, as I–
McCray:He was interested in moving it someplace?
Grant:It needed to be moved. And one of the alternatives would have been to tear the old building down and build a new one, and they investigated that, and it would have been extraordinarily expensive on that property in New York. AIP had spent several years fighting a case as to whether or not we would have to pay property taxes in New York even if we just elected to stay there in the old building because of covenants and various things. We were charged property tax, then we would be able to get the money back, and so on and so forth, so there were a lot of different issues playing out. The staff of Physics Today was located in a different building down the street up on the tenth or twelfth floor, or something like that, because there wasn’t enough room for them in the building. The statistics division also moved over there, so that we were beginning to get divided even in Manhattan as to easy communications. We had a number of down and out battles within the Governing Board. Committees were formed to look into different locations. There was a big squabble, with charges flying which I can only say a little about, that led to a committee being formed to look into whether Ford was doing his proper duty as chair, for instances, whether he had paid proper attention to some concerns of a couple member societies. So this special committee had meetings in New York trying to decide whether to fire Ford or keep him on. There was huge controversy over it, and I had occasion to meet with them a couple of times. They kept their records separate from mine, so I didn’t really have anything but their final report. I do have a copy of their final report.
McCray:Who were major voices on different sides of this?
Grant:Well, the main adversaries were APS through Bill Havens, in particular – although he was not supported necessarily by some of the elected people from that society. The Vacuum Society was very concerned because they had a liaison group there that worked with engineering societies. In fact they still have offices down in lower Manhattan – at least I assume they still have those down in lower Manhattan. They were very concerned that they would have to leave AIP because AIP wasn’t going to provide the infrastructure support that they wanted. And their office had been right there at the NYC headquarters building. And of course they would have to move, and so there was one voice in there who was very, very bitter about the possibility of the move. And at one point at a governing board meeting, after this committee’s report had come through that pretty much had exonerated Ford and said basically that there wasn’t any basis for firing him or anything. This one guy made a very bitter attack on both Ford and Hans Frauenfelder who was the chair of the board – it was just a highly charged meeting, it was in Detroit – I wrote my resignation out on a piece of paper and slid it over to Hans Frauenfelder and I said on there, “Hans, if you don’t get re-control over what’s going on in this meeting, I’m leaving in 5 minutes and will not return.”
McCray:Hmm. Who was the person with the diatribe?
Grant:Jerry Woodall. Years have passed, and Jerry and I have become very close friends in the interim.
McCray:What was the root of the discontent?
Grant:That Ken Ford and Hans Franfelder were trumping up excuses for a move, were ignoring the member societies, and were driving the board toward moving to Washington, which was going to splinter the member societies away. There was a personal attack on the two of them – not really a thematic attack that had substance as to why he thought they were doing this. It was a very personalized attack. Frauenfelder read my note, turned it over, slid it back to me, pounded his fist on the table, made a very impassioned and much stronger statement about what was going on, calmed the meeting down, and we went on and did our business. But at that point people were just – their eyes were just “lighting up.” I made a couple comments to the board after that about what I had seen happening, trying to separate myself from being either advocate of what Jerry was saying or advocate of what Hans said and so on. Hans is a Swiss by background, and he always wanted to let things lie for awhile, to let things come out, and he felt it would eventually evolve itself into a solution. And to an extent that’s a good approach, but after a while it was clear that this was just building into personal animosities and it was not going to go the way we wanted to go. So I just said, you know, I can’t take this kind of stress. It’s not worth it. I don’t have to go through this. And that’s what I said to Hans in my little note. That apparently – I mean he told me later on how much he appreciated my having taken that approach because it woke him up to the fact that this wasn’t going to continue.
McCray:How did AIP ultimately end up here? I mean, what was the process?
Grant:Eventually we had a that ultimate board meeting with presentations of the various alternatives. This was probably about the sixth board meeting in a row where that had happened. But it was clear that a decision needed to be made, and this was – I believe, and I probably may be wrong on this – I think it was the first or second meeting following that Detroit meeting. After presentations of an outside study that had been done, which was the biggest waste of money – but the outside studies are always a big waste of money, because it’s really the internal politics which make the decision, not the basis of an economic study from outside – had been done about various sites that were being considered: Washington, New York and elsewhere further west - even Philadelphia (is that west?)..
McCray:College Park being “elsewhere,” or was this considered D.C.? The D.C. area?
Grant:The D.C. area.
And elsewhere namely out west – were done to look at the resources of manpower, whether or not we were going to move the publishing center as well as the headquarters or leave it alone, etcetera, etcetera. There was a vote taken and the vote said we’d come to D.C.-College Park area, so a committee was formed to come down and look at sites and make reports on that. We already had looked at a couple of available sites. This site was chosen and the building constructed. My own personal feeling is that for a lot of reasons we should have bitten what would have been a very difficult bullet and moved the whole publishing center at the same time.
That’s from an outsider’s viewpoint. I know about the personal stresses, the cost and everything else that would have been involved, but I tended to look at the forty-year picture rather than the three-year picture. And anyway, it was decided not to do that and it won’t ever be moved, which is a nice stability point for that operation and so on and so forth. Well, the publishing center recently was moved from one site to another, but not very far. One of the impassioned statements by a APS president at that time, Jim Krumhansl, was that if we moved to the D.C. area it should not be within the beltway, because everyone knows that Washington corrupts, and we do not want our Society to be corrupted. About 80 percent of us agreed with that thesis – namely that Washington corrupts – but– Well, just because that’s where the politicians operate, and everybody knows they’re corrupt. But – and I think that’s largely why a non-central location was agreed upon or accepted – namely out here closer to the university, further away from the center of things.
McCray:So it wasn’t considered putting it near the American Astronomical Society or the American Geophysical Union building?
Grant:Well, there were considerations of that. There were buildings already built that are out near the Marriott over here just outside the beltway that were nice sites and so on. I wasn’t directly involved in the final site selection or anything, so I don’t know what all went into that. There were different costs, different covenants and so on and so forth. It looked like we had the sort of space here where we could add additional buildings if we needed the space.
McCray:I’m curious. This is related to APS, but maybe it came up while you were secretary, but– In the 1980s they did a very large study on directed energy weapons as a response to Strategic Defense Initiative. Did that – was this something that you paid attention to? Were there other controversial political or policy issues that AIP or APS took that stand out?
Grant:AIP’s viewpoint has been pretty universal that our public information division and our board might provide resources for letting people know about those kinds of studies or those kinds of issues. Our board might elect to be a attestant to clinical statements generated either by its own committee or by other societies, but in general would not be involved in an origination of any such study. That was more to be done by societies who were made up in membership of the working physics community or physics-related community.
Grant:So no. That particular study or others done by APS – although they were certainly well known and may have gone out in publicity through the public information office – were not signed off by or discussed by the board at all.
McCray:Okay. So Bob Parks’ “What’s New” column or things like that were things that we formally considered as to be strictly within the realm of APS.
Grant:Strictly APS. That’s right.
Grant:When the cold fusion issue came around, Parks had already written a piece on that in early March of that year. Our board meeting was in mid- to late March and it was a hot topic for a cold topic, and we actually took an extended coffee break in the morning and two of our board members – one of whom was Dave Lazarus, and I can’t tell you who the other was – gave 15-minute presentations on why this was nonsense – theoretical presentations to the board – which were very instructive, at least to me. I mean I, for my entire, almost my entire life on the AIP board and as secretary, certainly of the AIP, was the only voice and personage of a liberal arts college professor. A number of times issues came up where they were talking about educational issues as if liberal arts colleges didn’t exist. So, you know, I would have to vent my spleen every once in a while. “Hey people, there are still 50 percent of the undergraduates in this country who are coming from that venue and there is some creative teaching going on there, and the problems that we’ve seen and solved may in fact be useful to the large institutions” and so on and so forth. So it was a different position to be in. But then I took back to my teaching (and to students and colleagues) things I learned. I mean, I interacted with industrial physicists, with Nobel Prize winners, with people from large universities and learned a great deal. And I hope they learned a little bit from me in return. But at least I learned it and I could go back with my students and I could make a phone call to somebody who I knew if that student was going to their institution or I could visit an industrial lab with a group of undergraduates and have a special tour because I knew the guy involved with it. So that was my end of the plus. And if AIP received something in turn, that was useful too.
McCray:Over the time that AIP had different leaders, did you notice any changes in the organization’s focus of various issues it was putting its attention into?
Yeah. I was with Bill Koch as the executive officer I think for about five years. I don’t remember those trivial details. They’re on paper. Bill was always in a controversy with Bill Havens throughout that time period, so I didn’t think that he had as much room to grow or to produce new initiatives as he might have liked or might have been capable of doing. So I saw it rather statically. The battles were largely over space and publishing matters. We weren’t really quite into evolving into electronic publishing except to the extent that they were using computer composition out there. But in terms of distribution they hadn’t started yet.
The Internet really wasn’t a source for that until late in the eighties. Ford came in with a background in education.that Koch didn’t have that. Koch had been in government work with the Bureau of Standards prior to coming to AIP. Ford came in with a background education. He’d been a college president, he’d been involved with a little biotech firm for a while and later with the University of Maryland. So his focus really was to try to build up the physics programs areas, the educational branch that had waxed and waned and mostly waned a good deal under the Koch administration. He was interested in expanding the books program, extending what we could do to support education even down to the elementary and middle school, and high school level. He had to fight some battles over doing that because of perception that he would be treading on APS initiatives or AAPT initiatives and trying to find the right niche for it. So he worked on those programs. Then, following Ford, along came Mark Brodsky with his IBM background.
He brought in more of the industrial focus, and I think it was something that we needed. There are a lot of people out there who had their undergraduate degrees in physics who aren’t considered to be physicists by their workforce colleagues, but if given the impetus to be drawn back in to some of our member societies as well as to get some recognition, then physics is the basis of what they are doing well wherever they are right now. Mark introduced the idea of the Industrial Physicist magazine/initiative, and I think that’s been an extremely valuable organ. It’s probably unsustainable, because the costs are high, and the advertising revenues to make it go are probably not there – and I have no inside information. They’ve gone to hell in a handbasket in the last six to eight months, and so I don’t know how they’ll sustain that unless the board wants to put the money there. But that was an important initiative. I’ve always felt that AIP management needs a balance of personnel who have the backgrounds in different levels and areas of physics. You know, as secretary I brought a strong education component because my work with AAPT and having been an undergraduate physics professor. Jim Stith (the current Director of Physics Programs) certainly brought that in from his involvement in teaching at a different level than I was. He did a lot of undergraduate work, but also ran programs at a large place, West Point, and then he had done physics education research at Ohio State, so he brings that component in.
Not the same way I did, but that’s important to it. Mark is industrial and the current secretary, Ben Snavely, is also from industrial physics, so there is not quite that balance in that – and the current Board Chair, John Armstrong, also has an industrial physics background.. Mark and John were colleagues at IBM. So there’s not quite that– It’s not so much a matter of “I know education and you don’t” or “I’m in favor of it and you’re not,” but it’s your experience. You know, you work with a different subset of people and your mind set is different. I’ve worked with academicians in a liberal arts college and your background may be totally different. You may also consider yourself an academician, but you never – but you’ve been in a graduate institution.
McCray:Yeah. It’s just a different way of looking at the world perhaps.
Grant:Yeah. Anyway, I think Mark has brought a component which I wasn’t sure about when we first hired him, but I think he’s done well at it, and he does understand many aspects of education. We talk a lot about the ones I don’t think he understands as well. I’m having lunch him today to talk about this and other issues and interests that we share.
McCray:Was there a decision to seek someone with an industrial background versus the previous people who had this position previously?
Grant:Yeah. The search committee, which was made up of some academicians and others, talked a lot about what was wanted in an individual. We were looking for somebody with some obvious leadership skills, some business acumen, and some indication of sympathy toward educational issues because there’s always tension between AIP, APS and AAPT about whose domain is what. I think a great deal of that has to do with the personalities and the individuals involved as well as their proximity to each other so they can talk it out. And when AAPT was here and the other two societies were in New York the AAPT felt they were tread upon by both organizations more than they should have been – rightly so in some cases, wrongly so in others. There will always be turf battles in education because you get strong individuals who feel they have a solution to a problem and they can get money out of their organization (or some organizaiton) to work on that. And what they need to do is just talk it out and say, “Here’s my idea” and “Okay, you run with it, but keep us informed and let us work with you on it” and form cooperation. But that kind of talk isn’t always in human nature.
Grant:And that’s happened a lot more since we’ve been here in Washington because they can have lunch together or walk upstairs and talk about it, and the individuals involved hadn’t been able to do that. The APS Executive Officer, Judy Franz, has very strong views on things and she’s got a big fractious organization to work with, so there’s not always a feeling that she is in step with the other two as much as they’d like on some issues; on other issues they are completely in step with each other. Her other problem is the structure of her organization, which forces her to share responsibilities with two others on an equal basis, though they aren’t really that equal - or shouldn’t be. But that’s personality and history–
McCray:What is her background?
Grant:She was a professor at Indiana University. Her husband is the president of the University of Alabama at Huntsville. I got to know Judy well when she, Arnie Strassenberg, John Layman, and I traveled to China together for three weeks in 1982. We were an AAPT delegation to an international physics conference.
McCray:Hmm. Yeah, I noticed there was a note about this trip in your vita.
Grant:AAPT had hosted four Chinese educator’s to come to five universities in the country after an AAPT meeting in the summer of 1980, and the smaller college they went to was Denison. I was the secretary of AAPT at that time and so two years later we were invited to send a delegation to China for a conference. It wound up there were three Russians and one each from England, Germany and France at the same conference and about forty Chinese. The conference was held in Beijing, and we traveled to Xian, Nanjing, Hungzhou, and Shanghai afterwards.
McCray:What was that like in terms of comparing different issues in education?
Grant:Each of us was asked to prepare talks on a couple of topics. In Beijing, we spent three days at Tsinghua University - in a classroom at 40?F, maximum - sharing ideas. The Chinese gave talks about things going on in their different universities. We followed the conference by visiting many of the represented departments. We actually went to ten different universities in five different cities over the course of three weeks, as well as doing some sightseeing. We always had very nice exchanges with our foreign colleagues. It was very, very interesting. I’m going back to China next week for a tour. I haven’t been there since the 1982 trip. This is just on a vacation tour, three or four days in Beijing, and a cruise down the Yangtze River. Most of the physicists that I knew then have either escaped the country or are dead, so I won’t be seeing any of them. I am sure that this trip will be interesting - I’m interested in seeing it again, and in comparing my impressions after 20 years.
McCray:I don’t have any other questions, but I’m certainly open if there are things that you feel need to be covered that we haven’t gone over.
Grant:No. I’ve rambled along a lot, but maybe it gives you a flavor of what I think, who I am or what the job is about. I don’t have any specific topics.
McCray:Well, whenever we have the transcript also, you know, as you are reading it you are certainly welcome to add a paragraph, a page or however much you want on things. So why don’t we just close.
Grant:The only other thing I would say, and I think it probably has been recorded elsewhere, I think one of the most significant things that happened in the Ford era — and it really happened as he went out – was the inclusion both at the Long Island place and here of the child care centers. this was not applauded by everyone because of the obvious expense and diversification that we require within a facility, but he was very adamant about the need and the correctness of doing that and really was – you know, had enough of the board supporting him through those ventures taking it on as really an AIP thing because the stresses on a society like AAPT for finances are significantly different than APS or AIP. AAPT’s journals are widely read – AAJP in particular, Physics Teacher as well, but the revenues that they can hope to generate through say high school libraries are much smaller, and one has to try to keep the dues structure and the income affordable and to attract teachers to come into that. So for them to occupy this building – which was very controversial on their board - was and is a very stressful thing. They still own a building nearby that they had bought and owned and named after one of their former directors, and so it was a big stress, and it still is for them to occupy these spaces, because they are more expensive than they could having their own space. But many of the officers and I know the director feel very strongly that the interactions here outweigh the initial expense. And one of the drawing things I think, and cooperative things, is to have these daycare centers involved — if you go to nonprofits or you go to colleges or other places, it’s unique and an affordable thing for people which would not have been if you had done a commercial type operation.
McCray:Especially where this building just locally is located. It’s somewhat isolated.
Grant:I think it was done partly with that fact in mind, but I think it was mainly done in the sense of building a community and the capability and of doing the right thing for – as an example to the community for what ought to be done. So it was complex, but it was, you know, it was not straightforward. It was an expensive element that Ken very carefully outlined and warned about and structured so as to keep it. I just wanted to put that in because it’s something that needs to be included in what I saw as a very positive outcome of his tenure. He has been maligned by some people for some of the ways he dealt with things, and I think it’s partly his personality that people didn’t understand Ken very well, but I think I did. In fact, I think I understand all of the executive officers pretty well.
McCray:I imagine after working closely with all of them.
Grant:And with the Governing Board chairs. Norman Ramsey, Roland Schmitt, Hans Frauenfelder, and John Armstrong are totally different people – different backgrounds, different personalities, different approaches to their roles. All were fascinating people who I enjoyed knowing and working with.
McCray:Well good. Let’s end it with that for now.