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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Xavier Le Pichon

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Interview with Dr. Xavier Le Pichon
By Tanya J. Levin
At Paris, France
May 25, 1998

Oral history interviewee photo

Transcript

Levin:

Okay. Todayís date is the 25th of May, 1998, and this is an interview with Xavier Le Pichon, and this is Tanya Levin doing the oral history interview. And I know you were born on June 18th?

Le Pichon:

1937.

Levin:

1937.

Le Pichon:

Yeah.

Levin:

In Quinhon, Vietnam?

Le Pichon:

Thatís right, yeah.

Levin:

How was your family living in Vietnam at the time? How did you get over there?

Le Pichon:

Well, my father was working there, had been working for them since I think 1930 or something like that. And he first was in a plantation of a, what do you call it, the rubber tree, you know? The ??? make rubber with.

Levin:

Yeah. Rubber tree.

Le Pichon:

Yeah, rubber tree? And then after the big Depression he moved into the French Administration, which was both Army and administration of the provinces. And he ended in, oh, he went all the way to 1954 I think, 1956. Left Vietnam after having been, the last thing he was doing was he was expert actually for the American government to help implantation of the people from the north into the south, you know, for the war when the north became communist and the south was still non-communist and ???. So he spent all his career really over there. So all the children were born in Vietnam. I was born in Vietnam, and I left Vietnam in 1946, so I was nine years old.

Levin:

So you left before your father actually did?

Le Pichon:

Yes, because he had to return because of the war. He was mobilized to do the war there against the Vietnamese from the north, the communists.

Levin:

But did your mother then take the family back to France because of the war?

Le Pichon:

Yeah, yeah. We went back to France and then my father was mobilized, so he was fighting the war there and coming back for vacation six months every three years, which is not much. You know, it was a long time.

Levin:

Where did you live in France?

Le Pichon:

In France we lived, until my, for my high school I lived in Cherbourg. Cherbourg is in Normandy. So I had my high school in Cherbourg. Then I did two years of what we call classe preparatoire, which is to prepare the consical [?]. We call it consical in French. So it was mostly doing math and physics in an intensive manner. And then when I went into the University of Strasbourg, that was in 1956, and I made the studies for geophysical engineer.

Levin:

Well, just to go a little bit slower over some of these details, I just find it fascinating that you grew up until you were nine in Vietnam.

Le Pichon:

Yeah?

Levin:

What was life like there as a French person, a French family living in Vietnam?

Le Pichon:

Very nice. I enjoyed being there. I mean, it was a very, very beautiful life. We had many friends and it was a very pleasant. I was in the south. I enjoyed it tremendously. I had a very hard time adjusting back to France. I consider myself as being at home in Vietnam. Actually when I went to the States for the first time as an immigrant — I went as an immigrant in Ď63. I was on the Vietnamese quota, because what they count is the birthplace. So I was taken in USA as a Vietnamese. Yeah.

Levin:

So and you had your earliest school there. Was it in a —?

Le Pichon:

No. The only school I did with my mother.

Levin:

Oh really?

Le Pichon:

I did not go to school there.

Levin:

So she taught you and your siblings at home?

Le Pichon:

The older would go, but until the age of 10 we were working with her. Yeah. I prefer that, because I was working maybe two hours a day maximum, so it was very nice. I am somebody who got very bored at school. You know, I thought that school was very boring. I never listened anything at school.

Levin:

Did your mom have any interest in science? Did she teach you something about it?

Le Pichon:

Not really. Arithmetics and things like that. She was more literary. She had done studies in England and Ireland and mostly literary studies.

Levin:

Did you read a lot at this point?

Le Pichon:

Yeah, I always read a lot, especially until I was, when I was 10 or 12 I would read ten hours a day. I read enormously.

Levin:

What kind of books did you read?

Le Pichon:

Anything. Absolutely anything. When we went back to France I was nine, my grandmother had a very large library, ??? very large, you know, five or six thousand books. And I think I had a ??? absolutely there.

Levin:

Did you live with your grandmother? Did your family move —?

Le Pichon:

We were in the same house as my grandmother, yeah. Yeah.

Levin:

So it was a house?

Le Pichon:

A big house, yeah. Big house in Cherbourg. Where I went to school there, I went to school there ??? ??? ???, and I went all the way to what we call B??? in French. Itís ??? you normally enter the university. And thatís when I was, in Ď54, so I was 17. Then I entered the preparatory school instead of going to university. It was called St. John Diev [?], which is a very good school in Versailles.

Levin:

So you returned back to France right after the war, just barely after the war.

Le Pichon:

Yeah. After the war. Yeah, yeah. Because by this time the war had begun between the what we call Vietcong, you know, the communists, and life was very unsafe in the countryside. And my father wanted to start something, so he started a business actually when he came back to France. Business in building. But then it worked fairly well, but then after one year he was mobilized, so he was forced to go back to fight the war. And he fought the war all the way to 1956, to Ď54, Dinbienfoo [?j, and then after Dinbienfoo he was asked by the Vietnamese government and the U.S. government to work as an expert to help implantation of the one and a half million North Vietnamese who, because they were Catholic, chose to move to South.

Levin:

Thatís something. He served for ten years. Up until that point when he started working with the Americans and the Vietnamese, is that a very long time, or is that typical for ????

Le Pichon:

Well, his status was middle age so he could be mobilized because there was war. He was equivalent of a colonel.

Levin:

But he didnít fight in World War II.

Le Pichon:

In World War II he was in Vietnam, and Vietnam was not fighting. Vietnam tried to maintain a — it was a French colony, and it was completely surrounded by the Japanese troops so they tried to maintain some kind of truce. Because the French government at the time you know had capitulated to the Germans anyway, so they tried to maintain some kind of truce. And finally in March 9, 1945 the Japanese occupied the whole of Vietnam. And at the time we were all sent to concentration camps. So we had six months in concentration camps with the Japanese, until the end of the war in August. And then at the time the Chinese and the Japanese armed the communists and we begin to have, it was very insecure. Many, quite a few French were massacred at the time. So thatís why we went back to France.

Levin:

So you went back to France, and you were living in the house of your grandmother, and you started school.

Le Pichon:

Yeah.

Levin:

What kind of a school was it?

Le Pichon:

It was a private school. Catholic school.

Levin:

And did they cover all of the subjects?

Le Pichon:

Yeah. The typical French school, you know, you cover everything. Very, very strong in Latin, Greek, math. I did both literary, that is Latin, and math and Greek. And no, Latin, Greek and math I mean. I did the both scientific and literary.

Levin:

Was that typical? Could you choose that, one or the other?

Le Pichon:

No, it was generally some of the brightest students who could do that. And I was fairly good in the literary part. I got for example a national prize for literature when I was 15 I guess. So I had hesitation about what I would do, whether I would go to literature or to science.

Levin:

What kind of science classes were you given at that time?

Le Pichon:

??? advanced math and physics.

Levin:

Physics?

Le Pichon:

Yeah.

Levin:

How did they teach physics? Was it by rote, or was it by, were you in the laboratory at all?

Le Pichon:

There was lab, yeah, there was lab. I did not enjoy too much physics. I enjoyed math. Math I enjoyed at the time. Then I did this, part of this school which is very heavy on math and physics and a little bit of chemistry.

Levin:

How did you choose to go there?

Le Pichon:

I wanted to be a Naval Officer, and so I first did one year to prepare what we call Ecole Polytechnique in France, and then I switched to prepare for Ecole Naval [?], the thing which makes a Naval Officer, because a lot of my family had been in the army or the navy, and I liked the ocean very much, so I thought why not, thatís a good idea.

Levin:

Had you grown up by the ocean for most of your life?

Le Pichon:

Yeah, I have been next to the ocean most of my life. So Iím always fascinated by the ocean and what was the deal or what was happening. When I was very young I was wondering what was below the ocean [?]. And because my view was not enough, my eyes were not good enough, I was thrown out at the entrance exam to the naval academy. So I had to change and switch. And so this time they offered me to prepare for Ecole Polytechnique or [Ecole] Normale Superior, because I was supposed to be very good ??? ??? ??? we are here. Itís supposed to be the most difficult school in France. But I was tired of doing these kind of things, so I moved instead to a ??? ??? ??? at the university where I did in two years this engineer, geophysical engineer thing.

Levin:

How did you get into that? Why —?

Le Pichon:

I wanted something to do it fast, you know, and I had a friend who had gone there, so he told me you know, ďWhy donít you come here?Ē so I went there. And I found that it was not a very good school really. I had no problem doing it very rapidly. I think I was the best student they ever had. And I moved, then I did what we call Matrice [?], the physical masters if you want. Physics Masters. And at that time in the — that was in the University of Caen [?], ??? ??? ???. And they offered me to work in research there. They wanted to keep me in research in physics. But at the time I got a Fulbright Fellowship for the States. Because I thought there was nothing very interesting in France in geophysics. So I [was] attaching to geophysics and I wanted to see what was happening. So I got this Fulbright Fellowship to go to Lamont. Columbia University actually. It was for Columbia University. So I was supposed to do there one year of graduate studies.

Levin:

Who helped you in France? Did you have a mentor or an advisor that said —?

Le Pichon:

I had a professor, was Jean Pierre Rothe, who knew Maurice Ewing. He was seismologist. He knew Maurice Ewing. So he arranged my fellowship. Well, he helped me get the fellowship. Maurice Ewing actually is the one who got me the fellowship, but he recommended me. So —

Levin:

So this John Pierre and Maurice Ewing, they knew each other well.

Le Pichon:

Oh, a little bit.

Levin:

Had they collaborated before?

Le Pichon:

A little bit, a little bit. No, there was not that many geophysicists in the world at the time, so they must have seen ??? ??? ???. So I went over there and I was expecting to go into the university, but Maurice Ewing told me that if I wanted to study the world and the earth and the ocean, it was better to go on the ships. So three days later I was on his ship for a world tour, you know. So I left and I started doing a lot of — Actually on the ship he asked me to take care of physical oceanography, which was something I had never done.

Levin:

Before that time you had been working on —

Le Pichon:

Geophysics. Geophysics and physics. So —

Levin:

But was it, specifically was it of the earth rather than the oceans or —?

Le Pichon:

It was of the earth. Yeah, yeah.

Levin:

Okay.

Le Pichon:

I had no training for the ocean. So I was on the ship. There were books, I look at the books what was physical oceanography, and I had to make the measurements so I made the measurements. And as I did not know what to do on the ship actually I wrote a paper on the, on what I had measured, which was ??? ??? Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean. So I wrote a paper on the deep circulation of the Southwest Indian Ocean. And when I came back after four and a half months, I showed the paper in Lamont, but there were no good expert on the subject. They send me to Woods Hole to Stemille [?] who read the paper and said, ďYou should send it to the journal and it will be published.Ē So I sent it to Journal of Geophysical Research, and that was my first paper. It was published in Journal of Geophysical Research in 1960. So my first paper was actually in physical oceanography. So then they told me I should, I still had four months to go for this —

Levin:

But, okay, you were — so this was your first paper, and it was on the Indian Ocean.

Le Pichon:

Yeah. Indian Ocean water circulation.

Levin:

Did it have to do with —? Was this cruise, you were on the VEMA.

Le Pichon:

Yeah.

Levin:

Did it have to do with the Indian Ocean Expedition?

Le Pichon:

No, I donít think so. At the time I ??? ??? ??? Maurice Ewing wanted to do was to test whether the rift was really all over world. So he wanted to test whether the earthquake that had been ??? at South of Africa and in the Indian Ocean coincided with the crest of a beach. So we had to zigzag and to tell him each time that we passed it, and it worked. And it was very, very interesting and exciting.

Levin:

Were you working then with Heezen, Bruce Heezen?

Le Pichon:

No. It was being sent to, the information was being sent to Maurice Ewing who reported it to Bruce. At that time they were not still fighting, I mean not yet fighting. So then they had some decent relationship. So we did that, but my work on the ship was physical oceanography, and I really did that.

Levin:

Before we go on, just to really quickly — You were working on geophysics before you left France. What about the International Geophysical Year in Ď56 and Ď57? Did you have any —?

Le Pichon:

No, I was too young you know. In Ď56 I was 19. I was still in the school doing math and physics and so on.

Levin:

Did you hear anything about it?

Le Pichon:

No. Not at all. Especially in this school in Strasbourg they were very remote from active research.

Levin:

Okay. So Ď57-Ď58 was not — Okay.

Le Pichon:

No, no. My first contact with real science was Ď59 being under VEMA, and it was physical oceanography. I saw a little bit of seismic refraction, I saw a little bit of this thing going, because I wasnít quite [?] sure I was looking at the things and so on. So I came back to Lamont and I was supposed to ??? follow lectures at the university. And then Jack [John] Nafe, who was a professor there tested me and he decided, I think it was probably wrong, that I had enough math so I did not need to go to course and instead I should do research. So I worked with Manik Talwani and did the first ??? ??? a three-dimensional body where inversion by gravity. That was published. At the time he did, because I had requested it, he invited a new method of three-dimensional numerical study of his kind of. And then I had to leave to go back to France to do my military service. So at the time Maurice Ewing offered me to start a new department in physical oceanography. But I was 23, I was very young, and ??? I wanted to go back to France because I had a fiancť over there, and I wanted to do my military service. So I refused.

Levin:

But that must show a tremendous amount of confidence in you.

Le Pichon:

Yeah. They were very surprised, that they had never had that, a student who had not learned about the subject who taught himself on the subject while he went on the ship, wrote a paper, and had it published in the best, Journal of Geophysics, you know. So that was very unusual. And Dr. Ewing was looking for people like that, you know, who had some drive and so on. But the thing I think liked in Lamont, you had a lot of opportunity. So I went back to France, I spent two years there. I tried a little bit into physical oceanography. I was offered a position in the Museum ??? Naturale, which is a big establishment in Paris. But I thought that nothing was happening in France. So I wrote to —

Levin:

And you were, you did your service in the Navy, is that right?

Le Pichon:

In the Navy.

Levin:

In the French Navy?

Le Pichon:

Yeah. Yeah, I was in the Navy and —

Levin:

Was that two years?

Le Pichon:

Two years, yeah. And actually I was in the ??? scientific research part. And I was working on the provision [?] of acoustic detection of submersible [?]. So I was still in physical oceanography.

Levin:

What was that like? How did it compare to what you were doing at Lamont? How were the —

Le Pichon:

Oh, it was very cool. I mean it was very nice. I was in the South, and in Toulon, and we were half of the time on the ship measuring things, you know a small ship. And half of the time making computation. I published I think one or two papers at the time. That was very cool. But much work, and very pleasant. Then so I had to go back to this institution that had offered me a position in France, and I thought it was very poor. So I got bored. So I asked Maurice Ewing whether he would take me in Lamont again. So he said, ďSure, but you need an American visa.Ē And it took a long time. That was in October Ď62 and I waited four months and I had no job and I was married now by this time, so after four months I decided okay, Iíll quit. And I accepted the position as electronic engineer in a big French company, which is Thompson Houston. And —

Levin:

And where in France was this?

Le Pichon:

Thompson. That was in Lyon. So I went down there. They offered me a very good position actually. And when I arrived there my wife called me and told me we just got the visa. So I canceled and I left for the States. And there, because I refused to physical oceanography, I did not want to go physical oceanography, so Maurice Ewing told me, ďOkay. You work with my brother John Ewing in geophysics.Ē So I worked in, I started in seismology. And that was in, I was there in February Ď63. That was my beginning there. So I worked there for five years, from February Ď63 to February Ď68. And what I did really is work successively with a series of people. I first worked with John Ewing on seismic refraction, and I decided to study the ridges. So they gave me some seismic refraction profiles and ??? ??? ridge that they could not make sense of. Because it gave very strange result. Because the MOHOLE — you know what is the MOHOLE? Yeah? The MOHOLE was coming up, you know, instead of going down. You expected because of the ??? ??? the MOHOLE would go down and crust would be thicker. But the MOHOLE was going up. So they could not understand why, and they thought something was wrong. So they gave me the ??? ??? ??? good.

Levin:

When you say ďtheyĒ thought something was wrong, was it Maurice Ewing and —?

Le Pichon:

John and Maurice Ewing, and Jack Nafe too, and Chuck [Charles] Drake. I mean these people.

Levin:

It was a big mystery at Lamont.

Le Pichon:

Yeah. Well, what does that mean? I mean, thatís strange. The MOHOLE goes up and it should not, so what do we do with that? So I worked with that, and they said, well I mean the MOHOLE goes up so the composition [?] is below, must be in the mantle. So we published that. And we said the crust is just actually thickening and the composition is below, so it must come from the mantle and something is happening in the mantle. And that first paper I published in the series of which is called ďMid-Ocean Reach Studies.Ē So that was ??? ???, you know. Actually I did most of the work, but the thing in Lamont was that you most of the time you would be ??? ???, you know, some book shop would be on top of it who collected the data. So in this ??? ??? I did most of the work, but I was, I think it was first was on one, I donít remember which one.

Levin:

Were these for the Journal of Geophysical Research?

Le Pichon:

They were all published in Journal of Geophysical Research. Before that they had given me another study that nobody has wanted, which was the study of the Hudson Canyon. They had a lot of seismic refraction work there. So I was asked to make a synthesis of that. So I made this study which was more study [?] effect of the last glacier stage there. And it was published in Journal in Geophysical Research too. So that was a little of an aside I did. Then working on this I decided I need to work on the cavity to see what the compensation [composition?] was, so I started my association with Manik Talwani. It was a very close one. We were, I had already worked with him on this study of a volcano, you know, the density of a volcano by inversion of density. So we worked a lot together. We were very good friends.

Levin:

What was Manik Talwani like as a scientist and as a —?

Le Pichon:

Very clever, very clever, very nice. And very efficient. So we had a very good association. And I did the second paper with him, and probably Maurice Ewing too, which was the cavity study.

Levin:

Was this —? I have a paper here, itís July 1966.

Le Pichon:

Well thatís another thing.

Levin:

??? ??? ??? the comments.

Le Pichon:

Thatís another thing. We had a discussion on a paper published by Morgan on the Puerto Rico trench. No, I think the paper I am talking about you have in the list that I gave you. Oh, she has not yet given the —? Excuse me, Iíll get — [tape turned off then back on...] The first paper I mentioned is number two, the deep circulations thatís this thing that I did on the ship by myself on the circulation of Indian Ocean. That was physical oceanography. This was during my military service. That was ???.

Levin:

That was the paper published in Ď63.

Le Pichon:

Yeah. And then thatís the first paper that they told me on the Hudson ??? on the shelf.

Levin:

And that was with John Ewing and Maurice.

Le Pichon:

John Ewing and Maurice Ewing. I did all the work. But they had collected the data.

Levin:

Is that difficult for certain scientists? I know between Heezen and [Marie] Tharp later on it became a problem that Ewing demanded to be ???.

Le Pichon:

Yeah. Well I mean he collected the data. He had to be ??? ??? ???. We did not object too much to that. But then after that — and I was very young, and I knew nothing — so then this is the thing I have done with Manik the survey of a sea mound [?] but [?] this three-dimensional, 3-D. First time the 3-D cavity method that he devised for me was used. Then that was the state of the mid-ocean ridges. You know, ??? ??? five papers, published in 1965, seismic refraction, then immediately after we published the gravity interpretation. That was we start ???. Maurice Ewing would come, but he did no work on that. And then I decided from there to move to the magnetics, so I worked with [Jim] Heirtzler, and that was a paper on the interpretation of magnetic anomalies.

Levin:

Were you just interested in finding out everything you could about this ridge?

Le Pichon:

I wanted to understand the crustal structure of the ridge. So I did everything I could for that. In the meantime we published with Manik and Heirtzler a paper on the magnetic pattern in the East Pacific Rise. You know, at the time there was a big discussion on whether sea floor spreading was right or not, and we thought it was not right. We were fighting against it.

Levin:

What about [Bruce?] Heezen? At that time he had —

Le Pichon:

He was for the expansion, expansion. And we thought expansion was physically unrealistic, you know. We did not believe at all in that. So — I did the sediment distribution using seismic refraction on the ridge. That was part four. And then finally in Ď66 I did the heat flow through the Atlantic Ocean floor and convection currents. I was the first to really make the first model of convection current and show that you could explain the heat flow by the convection current as well as the topography. But the heat flow we measured was about a factor of 5 smaller than the one predicted by the model, so I said itís not sea floor spreading, itís probably some convection currents which do not reach the surface. Of course we were wrong, but we found out the reason much later. Because at the time we did not know that there was hydrothermal circulation which eliminated a lot of heat which did not come into the measurement. And at the same time immediately after that Dan McKenzie, who had read a paper, found the, had a nice analytical solution of this convection and said, ďItís easy. You can explain it,Ē and he did it by saying that the temperature of the mantle was twice less than what we had said, I mean 550 degrees. Which is ridiculous, but he believed in sea floor spreading you see, so he said, ďIt has to work.Ē And this paper is always considered as the first to be a real [?] indicator. But it showed very well, whether you believed or not you know you would have just the data to fit whether you believed in.

Levin:

And of course Ewing did not believe in sea floor spreading.

Le Pichon:

No. He was very much against it. That comes from the fact that he was the first to have discovered the structure of the oceans was very different from the structure of the continent, you know, much ??? inner crust. So they were so different that it can to be two different completely permanent structures. That was his very strong belief.

Levin:

How did you feel about that? When you were in France and studying, you just said that the ??? ??? ???, but when you were studying on your own what did you think about the views being presented?

Le Pichon:

I had little geological knowledge really. I mean, the teaching I got at the university in ??? was fairly poor, and the teaching, whatever was said for the Appalachians and things like that you know. The geology in the 20th century in the States was horrible. I mean it was a very fixed system, very classicist, with a lot of dogmatism, and I think it was useless. So that did not help at all. And ??? ??? ??? the thing that Chuck Drake had done on the interpretation of the margins was made on the J??? ???, ??? ??? and so on. So everything was very fixed [?].

Levin:

Did you think that perhaps, were you hearing about ideas in other countries? Like maybe here the ??? ??? ??? where people were a little bit less fixist? Were you hearing some of the point of views?

Le Pichon:

Not in France, no. In England, yes. In England there were the schools of, because of the school of paleomagnetics which was started by [Keith] Runcorn really. And there was the strong idea about the possibility of motion and so on. So England was very much ahead in that, and in the States itís only Harry Hess who really got this idea about the motion. I have given my view rather explicitly in this paper which is published in the yearbook of Lamont [Lamont Yearbook]. You can get my view on this subject. Okay, so this paper on the magnetic anomaly and last paper was a paper on letís see magnetic anomaly, ??? heat flow, the ???. Yeah. Yeah, ???, yeah they are all there. So these things concluded my thesis really, and I went back to Strasbourg in France and I presented my thesis in February Ď66 I believe. I donít remember exactly, but itís said in this article of Lamont. So you can get that there [?]. I went back exactly with different things. In the meantime I was going a lot at sea, you know, at Lamont you have to spend a lot of time at sea. I had been chief scientist and many, I had worked on many other things. I had worked on deep ocean currents and sediment distribution. We published with Maurice Ewing things on the Argentine Basin and so on. And so I published a lot at the time.

Levin:

Did you work with some of the Argentine scientists, with [Alberto] Lonardi and Grinelli [?]?

Le Pichon:

Yeah, a little bit. A little bit. But I did my work mostly on the work I did myself. As chief scientist on the VEMA I worked on the Falkland escarpment, I worked on the Rio Grande Rise. I discovered the Rio Grande Gap and so on. I mean I did a lot. I did the first deep water measurements, deep current measurement in this area. I showed that they were very fast. I had a lot of input in many other things. I collected the oldest sediments in the Rio Grande Rise at the time, because I was very interested to find the age. So I was very active in many things, you know. Iíve been able to work with — Most other people would stay in their department. I would move from. I was with John Ewing, but I would work with everybody. So in my conclusion of my thesis, because of this heat flow business I concluded that the sea floor spreading was wrong. And that was in February Ď66.

Levin:

Okay. And what did you use to say as an alternative hypothesis? Did you go —?

Le Pichon:

I use this idea that measuring a third way, which is a convection, active convection current coming to the surface with volcanic activity and so on but no significant specimen. Because the heat flow measurements, they can at face value indicate that the motion was not larger than one or two millimeter per year in the Atlantic [?] Ocean. Again, because 90 percent of the heat was being eliminated by high ??? circulation which we discovered four or five years later. But then when I came back from Strasbourg where I had passed my thesis in I think itís in March, I donít remember February or March in Ď66 [?], Walter Pitman at Sound [?], his famous magnetic anomaly ???. So I was completely stunned there. I mean I thought — Then one week I tried to fight it and say there must be something wrong. And then finally I recognized that he had to be right. So I switched back to decide what is here [?], say okay, it has to be right, so letís see what we can do with that. And everybody was starting you know under the direction of Jim Heirtzler to interpret the magnetic anomalies. So I got the Indian Ocean, and I made the first interpretation of the Indian Ocean, a paper that was published later in Ď67 or [Ď6]8 I think, I donít know, Ď68. Probably Ď68. And then —

Levin:

So that must have been quite an exciting time.

Le Pichon:

It was a very, very exciting time, yeah. So I am —

Levin:

Do you think — Well, it took you about a week to process this. Do you think other people, scientists around the world, were they glued to what was happening at Lamont at this paper? Were people recognizing that the Pitman paper ??? ??? ????

Le Pichon:

Well by this time, you know, Fred Vine had published his paper, I think itís in Science in early Ď66, which had a big first. Because these was the same ??? we were trying to interpret with Manik Talwani in terms of the study ???, also published in Science. And he I think demonstrated rather nicely that it would fit fairly well the reverse, magnetic reversal field. So I mean people were beginning to move. And then Lyn Sykes, in our ??? demonstrated that transform fault [?] were in deep transform fault. You know, those little, tried Scrippsí solution that he had been in the equatorial patches in the India Atlantic. So I mean things were really moving there. By this time there was, nobody doubted anymore I think in the people actually working with the data in the States at least. I mean England, there was sea floor spreading. And the problem was how did that fit in the world. So this is the time when people were toying with the ideas of [John Tuzo] Wilson about plate transform fault and so on, but there was still this big problem how do you get a complete global system, ???matic system, and how does that fit with the earthquake distribution. And that was really the big problem. So in the spring of Ď67 there was this big session on the sea floor spreading of the, at the meeting in the AGU [American Geophysical Union] at Washington. And I was at this meeting, and Jason [Morgan] was supposed to give a paper on this controversy about the Puerto Rico Trench.

Levin:

Jason Morgan?

Le Pichon:

So I was there with Manik Talwani, and I think Joe [Lamar] Worzel. Because we wanted to hear what he was saying. And instead he presented a paper that completely stunned by me, which was his paper on the implication of??? ??? ??? earth on sea floor spreading. And as usual with Jason [Morgan], it was very confused, and we did not make much sense out of it.

Levin:

It was confused because he was a poor speaker?

Le Pichon:

Very poor speaker. I mean he would mix up the things and so on. He is one of the worst I have ever seen. So we were very confused, and we said well, what is he trying to do. So I — I did not pay much attention to that. But then when I came back to Lamont he had sent to quite a few people the outlines of his paper, ??? outline, which is the one I published in the Tectonophysics issue later on, because people were denying it existed. He sent it to many places. He sent it to ??? ??? to Scripps [Institution of Oceanography] to [Bill] Menard, and then [Dan] McKenzie had it and could read it, and quite a few people. It was immediately after the meeting.

Levin:

So that it became a question of priority immediately after this as to who was the first to actually put this —?

Le Pichon:

I think there is no doubt with that that he was the first to, not in a published paper, but the first to really have this idea and present it officially in public. But you see then the abstract was not there, because he had changed the subject at the last minute. So this was the only proof.

Levin:

But werenít people saying, ďOh perhaps he has prior ???.Ē Who were the other candidates people were putting forward? Were they talking about Bonnin Matthews [?] or —?

Le Pichon:

Oh, no. Bonnin Matthews had no priority. Bonnin Matthews had obvious priority on the idea of sea floor spreading with Morlay LaRochelle [?], you know. But the thing about how it worked, how the geometry worked on the earth, I mean it was clearly Jason Morgan who had the idea first. And Iím sure the — Then when I received the paper I, reading it I realized immediately what it meant. So I started working on it, and I offered to work on it to my colleagues in Lamont — Manik Talwani, Walter Pitman, Jim Heirtzler. They were not interested. They did not think it was interesting. So they let me do it alone. So I worked out all the different things to do that, and I worked very intensely during the next two months. And I published, I made my paper for, it was published in Ď68, which is the global clinimatics [?]. I ??? ??? global clinimatics, and then I did the first, uh, so I did the first global clinimatic and then I did the first global reconstruction. You know, I worked back using finite rotations to beginning of cretaceous, and I had the world beginning with cretaceous and so on. So I was the first one to do these two things then. But in the meantime Dan McKenzie had published his paper in Nature very quickly with [Bob] Parker, and he has this French story that — I am a very good friend of Dan McKenzie, but I think his story is difficult to believe.

He said first that when he was, he was in the meeting in Washington but left immediately before Jasonís talk because he was bored. And then second he said that when the draft of Jason [Morganís] arrived in Scripps, I think it was in June, it arrived to Bill Menard and Bill Menard gave it to him, but he said, ďWell, itís not very, itís not very well done, and thatís not the way it should be done, and anyway I have independent ideas.Ē And he started working very fast with Bob Parker on a different thing which was using the four plane [?] solution around the Pacific to test spherical geometry. And, well, personally I have difficulty believing that he was not influenced by Jason [Morgan], but he gives no — Itís very French anyway. So he was published very fast in Nature, and Jason [Morgan], his paper was sent back for extensive review, extensive revisions. So he could not publish it. So Jason you know is a very slow worker and so on, and he started increasing the paper and making it larger and larger, and so it took a long time. And my paper was ready for quite some time now. I had finished it. But I decided not to publish it before Jasonís paper would go out, so I delayed the submission until Jasonís paper was submitted. And I asked the editor not to publish it before his paper. So I think we were published in the same issue or very close. My paper was immediately accepted. I think the reviewers were [John] Tuzo Wilson, and I think the other was Jack Oliver. Anyway, it was accepted in one week or something like that.

Levin:

Wow.

Le Pichon:

And it was published in May Ď68, and suddenly had a very strong impact, because a good part because of this paper. And the next ten years I was the most cited author in earth sciences in the world for ten years, something like that.

Levin:

Really.

Le Pichon:

So it, yeah, you know itís the Science Citation Index. So that was, really it made a, he had a very strong impact because for the people he gave a model that could be tested, that could be tested against earthquake and so on. And it was immediately tested by the people at the modeling sites, Jack Oliver, and Brian Isaacks, who published the paper on global seismology — global tectonic I think they called it. So you know by this time the idea was accepted everywhere and things were really moving.

Levin:

When was it that you developed the idea of the simplified earth theory, where there is six plates?

Le Pichon:

Well, when I studied the work of Jason [Morgan], the first thing I did, okay, letís test whether he is right. So he had tested it in the Atlantic, I ??? it in the Atlantic to test the geometry, I did it in the Indian Ocean, I did it in the Pacific. And I said wow, I mean I need to have a global motion so I need to find a motion in the trench. I have enough information for six plates. So I decided Iíll use six plates.

Levin:

Okay.

Le Pichon:

Otherwise the problem was unconstrained mathematically. So thatís why I used six plates. And then I tested, and declared [?]. And it was obvious that it worked, because it was ??? the seismology very well in the four plane solution ??? ???. So I got real excited. I was very, very excited. I would work all night long. For two months I worked all night long on computer, and ??? computer. I had to devise the methods. I mean you know we did not know about spherical geometry and all that, and I did not know at all, so I invented ways to do it, and spent a lot of time. I had to do all the computer work and so on. I was completely alone. I did that work completely alone, and when it was finished you know it was the custom at Lamont when you finish something you have to show it to ??? Ewing and ask him whether he wanted to be an author. And he told me no, publish it alone. I think he did not like the idea about sea floor spreading. So I published it alone.

Levin:

Thatís interesting. Because he was against this idea, but you were able to work on it independently. Even though no one joined you on it, you were given the freedom to ???.

Le Pichon:

Yes. He respected science. He respected science. ??? Updike [?] also was very much in favor of mobility and continental ridge [?] and so on. He would not prevent ??? ??? ???. No. He was a man who had great respect for science. So he told me go alone and do your stuff and we will see what happens. And that was certainly a very exciting time. But at the time, you know in February Ď68 I left the States. I was taken, I think there were several elements. I had been asked in France to come back to help rebuilding the oceanography. And they offered me a fairly high position, because I was offered to start a new center of oceanography in Brest. I was only 30 at the time. And they were offering me to be in a new center which was his now 500 people. There was nothing, you know, it had to be started from scratch and I could, they told me I could hired 50 people. You know, so I said well, why not? And then the second point is that another time I was offered a position, a professorship in MIT, and one in Columbia. I donít remember at what level. Probably assistant or —

Levin:

Thatís interesting. Columbia didnít typically have very many positions, had very few, very few that Lamont {?] people actually got.

Le Pichon:

Right. They offered me assistant professorship I think. And Frank Press offered me one at MIT. I went over there, you know, I had the usual seminar and so on. So I had to take this big decision. But then in the meantime there was this big fight between Heezen and Ewing, and Maurice Ewing asked me to take over from Heezen. And I began to be in the middle of the two, and it was extremely ??? ???. I could Bruce Heezen in tears, you know crying and all that, this ??? and so on. And I did not like that ??? ??? ??? unsettling situation. And I felt I had to do something in France. So I had a big decision, because my wife was a, is a musician, she is a pianist, and at that time she was offered a very good position actually to work with the conductor of the Metropolitan Orchestra in New York. He was offering her to be a soloist ??? ??? ??? and that was a tremendous occasion for her. And we had to decide do we go back or not. So finally we decided Iíll go back but she will stay for six months and see what happens. And this is what we did. So I left in Ď68, and I was, I came back to France to be advisor to the president of CNEXO, which was the things dealing with oceanography. And I was offered to start a new research center in Brest, from scratch, you know including hiring the people. And that was — I was too young to do that. When you are 30 you are not, 31, I was not, you are too young to — I was good in science, but I had no experience in people and hiring a lot of people and making them do whatever ??? difficult things. So I did that for five years. We started building. We did a lot of science, but I did a lot of mistakes, especially with people. Anyway, I was back in France. And so I had to devote a lot of time to, well, just building the damn place and getting the new ships and going at sea and so on.

Levin:

Where did you get most of your funding?

Le Pichon:

Government. It was government funding, yeah. We had good, at the time we had very good funding. It slowed down ??? ??? ???. In the beginning we had very good funding.

Levin:

How did you choose to model your place? How did you structure it? Did you have a research program?

Le Pichon:

I tried to do it a little bit like it was in Lamont with a lot of polydisciplinary [?] studies, you know. And going on the ship where we were doing all the things and interfering [?] between the different disciplines. And I used only young people, because thatís the only ones who accepted to come. So I had only untrained people, you know. That was kind of an adventure, but I think it was not necessarily the best thing I did. Anyway, the center now is a very large one.

Levin:

How many ships did you have?

Le Pichon:

At the beginning we had a brand new one, a large one, the Jean Shoko [?].

Levin:

How was it like the VEMA? How did it compare?

Le Pichon:

Oh, much more modern. Much better. Even better than CONRAD I think. Then, and we were doing, you know I arranged to have with the oil industry some very good seismic refraction, ??? ??? seismic refraction in Lamont or something like that. But it was the beginning of — In the meantime I worked on several things, but one other thing I think was fairly important, we did the first book on plate tectonics which was published in like Ď73 and which had tremendous impact I think you know. The critics were enthusiastic at the time.

Levin:

Who was this with?

Le Pichon:

That was published in El Severe [?]. Itís this book number 65. ??? ??? ??? in the beginning. Yeah. Plate Tectonics by Le Pichon ??? ??? ???. That was published in El Severe. Itís a book that had a suddenly tremendous impact. It was published in two versions, including a soft cover one and I donít remember how many, something six or seven thousand copies. It was translated in Chinese and in Russian, and especially in China and Russia it was, this book you know which they learned plate tectonics. The first comprehensive book trying to explain how plate tectonics was working.

Levin:

So by this time it was more accepted in Russia too as well.

Le Pichon:

No. It was not accepted in Russia, but it went through Russia. It was, I think it was ??? on Ď76 in Russia. In China I donít know when it was ???. But I know even now most of these people still have this translation around. So these books made I think a very strong impact and at that time and are considered the last building step that I did in this foundation. Because before this book there was no books of this type. And it was very systematic, covering the whole plate tectonics.

Levin:

Why do you think the Russians took longer than the other cultures?

Le Pichon:

Oh, because first I mean itís a big, a big country which is land mostly, and they work on the land and second itís for the very dogmatic school where the professor is the big chief and nothing can move until the professor dies you know. So it was very, very difficult to change the system. They were absolutely against any mobilism [?] here. When you look at the geological maps at the time you know, you can see the boundary between Russian territory and other type of territory by the fact that for example the maps suddenly stop at the boundary. When you looked at the other side everything is vertical motion.

Levin:

Did you know Beloussov?

Le Pichon:

Yeah, very well, yeah. We had a big discussion together.

Levin:

Was he open, or was he very closed during this discussion? You talked about plate tectonics?

Le Pichon:

Yeah, but he was very — he could not, you know, he was so convinced of what he believed in, he would not even look at the evidence on the other side.

Levin:

Was there much of a collaboration between your research institute and other international ???? Did you maintain contacts with ??? ???, did you have contacts with the Russians?

Le Pichon:

No, I went back for three months of a sabbatical. When was that? I think itís Ď71 I believe. Iím not sure. ??? ??? ???. It was very funny. I mean, when I left Lamont, Maurice Ewing told me, ďWell, why are you leaving?Ē and I said, ďIím going back to France. Itís my country.Ē He said, ďItís ridiculous. I mean, if I were you I would move to a new country like Australia, but going back to an old country like France makes no sense.Ē Which I found very strange, because when he left Lamont he went back to his own Texas. So. Well anyway, then I came back in Ď70 and I had record the seismic ??? ??? of, seismic refraction record of my latest cruise in the Labrador Sea, which was a very good record, and did with old [our?] equipment. So he was very rough with me, you know, not kind at all. So I ??? ???, ďWould you like to look at my new data?Ē ďWhy not?Ē So I showed it and then immediately he became extremely nice and said, ďWhy donít you come and work with us on ??? ???.Ē So I came —

Levin:

Okay. So you then went back to Lamont for just ??? ??? ???.

Le Pichon:

Yeah. Well, we had a lot of collaboration. For example in the, when I did the work in the Labrador Sea we worked a Canadian, I worked Roy Hyndman. He came to our institution. Jason Morgan came for several months in Brest later on. Later on I started, yeah, 1970, yeah, I had considerable cooperation. I had the first Cecil and Ida Green Fellowship in IGPP, Institute of Geophysic and Planetary Physics in Scripps you know.

Levin:

What was that like?

Le Pichon:

In Ď72. So I went for three months there. Oh, there I had a marvelous condition, and offered me a good salary and a beautiful house on the seashore with a piano for my wife, and paid for our coming there with my family, and a beautiful time. I was working on the book at the time, the plate tectonics book, and thatís where I finished actually ??? ??? ???.

Levin:

Was Roger Revelle there at the time? Was he director?

Le Pichon:

Yeah. Revelle was there.

Levin:

What was it set up like at Scripps as compared to ??? Lamont [?]?

Le Pichon:

Very fun, because it was very individualistic people generally having no good contact between them.

Levin:

Really?

Le Pichon:

Yeah. I mean itís, so it was more like a series of small laboratories than a big thing, except that the facilities were huge, you know. And IGPP was also something different too, a kind of intellectual place where people there were extremely sharp. They were trying to think together, and IGPP was different [?]. I enjoyed it. I mean it was nice. Did not have too much interaction. A little bit with Bob Parker. And yes, I worked some with Dan Karig on the problem of trenches and ??? basins. Dan Karig and Jacques Sherman [?]. I was not too convinced of what he was doing, so I, we were supposed to publish together and we did not. But I used some of this stuff in my book on plate tectonics. So that was until Ď73, I guess Ď73. And in Ď73 I left ???. One thing was that I realized that being, you know it was a little bit like Geological Survey or a thing like that, and the administration was not good for me. I had to be in a university ??? ???. And the second thing, at the time I thought about leaving science altogether, because I was ??? completely other reasons. I mean I thought that I had to take care of other people, and I went to Switzerland and spent some time in monasteries [?],this place in Calcutta, so a very, very different place.

Levin:

In Calcutta? Really?

Le Pichon:

Yeah. Yeah. I worked with the sisters and the brothers, you know, with the dying people and so on. So I worked there some time and then finally I decided that I will go back to research, but we moved to, with my family, to a place where ??? ??? mentally handicapped people, where I still live now. And that was near Campaign, about 100 kilometers from Paris. So anyway I had to move to Paris, so I told ??? so that either they let me go to Paris or I quit. So they wanted me there, because we had started this expedition on the rift valley with submersible, the famous expedition with Bob Ballard. And they wanted me to help that on the French side. And that was in Ď73 and Ď74. So they told me, ďOkay, you stay in Paris, do what you want, but you keep doing this thing.Ē And I got my office in the university.

Levin:

And this was the University of Paris?

Le Pichon:

Of Paris, yeah.

Levin:

Was it Number VII?

Le Pichon:

At the time I think I was, for some time I was an associate professor in Number VII, but I worked mostly with Number VI. And then I was offered by somebody in geology, which was Jean Aubouin, to work in his lab, and I think it must have been in Ď76 or something like that, 1976. And finally I accepted a position as a professor there in Ď78 I think. Anyway, itís all written in my CV, so you can check the dates.

Levin:

Did you enjoy teaching?

Le Pichon:

Well yes, I did. I did. I did the ??? I was teaching undergraduates, which is very poor in France and you have 300 people at the same time in the class. But I had also graduate studies and postgraduate, and I enjoyed it. Yes, I have some good time there. I had started, one other thing I got very interested, I had much more contact with geologists and I started working on trenches work and where you have to take of both on the sea side and the land side, so I worked a lot in the Mediterranean, the Hellenic trenches, and I started submersible work there and the study of trenches in detail. And then I started at the time to work with the Japanese to try to develop a ??? trenches. And this has been going on until now. I still work quite a lot with the Japanese. So I was a professor in the university, and then in Ď84 I was offered this position here, director of the Laboratorie de Jour Regit Ecomal Masuperior [?; wild guess; phonetic spelling of French laboratory or school] which is, this is supposed to be the best school in France. You get the best students. But the Laboratorie is not in good shape. So I accepted provided I could have half of the people leaving and get a completely new batch from England. Which I did. And then two years later I was offered a position in College de France, which is ??? institution ??? other special ???. It was founded by Francois Premier, so itís quite old. Itís the 16th century. And the idea that we are supposed to teach what is not yet taught in the universities, or what is ??? ??? ??? institution. We are 52 professors, and we auto-elect the people there, and our only duty is to give nine lectures and nine seminars a year, but a new subject, and it has to be research that we do, and otherwise itís to do research here. And we are appointed by normally the president of the ???. So itís, I have my position in College de France and I work here as ??? ???. And I started again my work has been a lot on the East Asia, especially on the trenches, a lot on ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? Malaysia or something like that. And now in the last few years I got very interested and I have a lot of work on the use of GPS, you know, to monitor the motion of the ???. At the present time I am working ??? ??? ??? Southeast Asia and China and things like that. So we see the ??? ???. The different, the CV gives you a lot of actual details on what I have done, and then you have the ??? ??? ???.

Levin:

I was wondering though, going through basically chronologically your career, itís interesting. I was just thinking about in terms of the Ď60s and the problem of the nuclear explosions and nuclear testing, and the use of seismological teams from both Russia and from the U.S. to try to come up with some way to monitor explosions. What — did you have any say in that? Were you following that?

Le Pichon:

No. This thing was mostly a good way to get very good data on the position of earthquakes and so on. This, this really was the start of good seismology, because you have to get good networks to monitor the explosions. So the seismological group in Lamont was quite involved in that, and — I actually, when I think back you know, I never used earthquakes before plate tectonics was invented. I was really dealing with crustal structure, thinking [?] like that. We were quite distant from the seismology department, where there was Jack Oliver was chairman and Lyn Sykes and so on. And itís only when we are beginning to realize we were beginning to realize these plate tectonics. But for the kinematics [?] we needed the four plane solution that we began to look at that. And by this time things were very well established, a network was placed in there and so on. And then I left Lamont in Ď68. So when the real debate became to arrive on you know nuclear testing and all these things I was not there anymore.

Levin:

And did you get much of it in France, much of it brought up? Or did you —?

Le Pichon:

No, in France the detection of nuclear explosion ??? ??? ??? entirely classified and it was in a group which was in Serisomprood [?], the [Centre] díEnergie Atomique, which was completely apart. So the people from the university had no access to it.

Levin:

So, okay, so they were a separate group. Were they government advisors?

Le Pichon:

They were civil servants in this organization, little bit like, I donít know, the Atomic Energy Commission in the States. But itís a huge thing, because they were building the bomb, they were — all the things related to atomic energy, to bombs, to detection and so on were within this group, a very large group. Several ten thousands of people.

Levin:

So would you say that science in France in general, or in your case in its specific, is largely independent of government functions and that thereís not too much overlap between science advising and political policy making?

Le Pichon:

Mainly science is not — Definitely, because itís entirely financed by the government. So I mean, but I donít think itís really directly related to politics. The government sometimes thinks there should be more basic life [?] science, more applied science. I donít think itís much different from what it is in England or in Germany or for that matter in the States. I mean itís — itís not structured in the same way. You have much more private universities in the States. But otherwise I think the relationship between politics and science is not that different. They go in a yo-yo fashion, depending on how much they believe that they can orient research towards better application to industry, or whether basic science is really the thing that you need, and so on.

Levin:

Youíve worked with scientists from all over the world. You worked with Manik Talwani, and you need to talk a little bit more about him perhaps. And with the Japanese, especially recently. And some with the Russians. And of course you spent extensive time in the States.

Le Pichon:

Yeah.

Levin:

Have you noticed different ways of conducting science by nationalities, a national style?

Le Pichon:

Yeah. Itís not created — I donít think itís too much created to the character, although the culture plays a role in it. Itís more related to the tradition. The Japanese for example, the universities are mostly put together by the Germans and they have inherited the German system, which is rather highly organized and very systematic, you know, and tendency to measure everything, even if you are not sure what it will be good for. Where in ??? ??? it will be difficult to take. And that fits fairly well with the Japanese character anyway, where their society works on consensus. They have to work on consensus. So, decisions are very slow to take, but once they are taken make a very broad program [?]. The main problem with the Japanese with exchanging is that young research people are very little initiative [?] and Ph.D. students are very much completely under the guidance of the professors. The Russians, I have a long cooperation with the Russians, ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? started. I have probably the most interesting and ??? ??? ??? Dr. Zonin Shine [?] from the Institute of Oceanography. Heís dead now. The Russians, they are very good math ??? ???. They are very, very bright in math. Probably after France they are the best I think. But the —

Levin:

Why in math? What is it?

Le Pichon:

Tradition, I guess. Tradition. And on the other hand, they were so functionalized that many of the research people were working very little, and the hierarchy was so stiff and so strong that new ideas were stifled. Now the whole structure is destroyed, so I donít know what will happen. India I donít know very well the scientists from India. I have never worked really with them. I worked with Manik Talwani, he is Indian, but I mean heís American.

Levin:

Thatís interesting. Indian science certainly progressed —

Le Pichon:

I work a lot with Germans now ??? ??? I have a strong cooperation with Germans and people from Dutch, I work a lot with the English, British. Each of them are quite different. Iíve worked with Italians. I guess Iíve worked with many people, the Greeks, Turks. Many different types of people. But basically you know science is universal and when you get with good scientists itís not difficult to work with them, because we talk the same language and we want to arrive at the same results.

Levin:

Was there ever a push in France to work with the former colonies?

Le Pichon:

Yes, there is a very strong push for that certainly. And there is. I mean there is an institution who does just that, which is called Ostum [?]. But we donít have, I donít think, we donít have a ??? colonies which have the high technical labor [?] sufficiently large country of having sufficient economic advantage to work significant scientific cases. Many are African countries which are very poor.

Levin:

Do you know if the Cote díIvoire?

Le Pichon:

Cote díIvoire? Ivory Coast? Even Ivory Coast, I think the science there is very, is quite limited.

Levin:

And about Manik Talwani. He took over from you.

Le Pichon:

Yeah. I was not there anymore. I was not there.

Levin:

Yeah. Did you hear about what happened?

Le Pichon:

Yeah, of course. Yes, I did. But I was not there. I mean, I am not a good source of information for what happened there. You better ask the people who were there, or Manik Talwani himself. Heís still a very close friend. I still see him quite a lot.

Levin:

Do you still keep —?

Le Pichon:

Yeah. But I donít think I can, my comments would be very of much use to you, because I was not directly ???.

Levin:

He did talk to you about what happened?

Le Pichon:

A little bit, but I donít think it would be proper for me to discuss that matter, not having really ??? ??? ???.

Levin:

Okay. Letís see. Going back to some, a little bit to some of the programs, international programs that were out, the MOHOLE project which became the JOIDES [Joint Institute Deep Earth Sampling Program] —

Le Pichon:

Yeah?

Levin:

Did France play a role in this?

Le Pichon:

Yes, we did. Actually I was in the first ??? ??? of France in the planning committee. I participated quite a lot in that. I remember ??? ??? or so the convener of the second big conference on the future of drilling, which was Coastal II [?] in Strasbourg, and the third conference in Japan which decided on the future drilling, they asked me to do the keynote lecture and so on, so Iíve been, yeah, quite I guess ??? French really. Although I never went on the ??? ship. They offered me once to be chief scientist in the Indian Ocean, but I did not accept. In France of course I had positions such that I had to take the decision of this subject. I am still chairman for the committee on oceanography, so I had to look at that. I consider that ocean drilling is a tool that we cannot spare. I mean, we need ocean drilling, and certainly something that will be used more and more and I think as well in oceanography all the question of deep observatories and long term [?] observatories and so on on the sea floor, which is something we should certainly bring to develop ??? ???.

Levin:

Thatís interesting. So actually having stations where scientists live on the sea floor for an extended time.

Le Pichon:

No, no, no. Not scientists. Instruments.

Levin:

Instruments. Okay.

Le Pichon:

Instruments. No, I think — I worked a lot with ???. I was the one who really promoted submersive ??? in France, and they were not submersible. After a famous very curious case most people were dead. So many people were saying that we had made too much fuss with it and it was too expensive, so. And we worked very hard to start it again. The hydrothermal discovery was very useful, but then we got the decision to build this 7-meter [?] submersible in France, and we used it for the first time, uh, ??? ??? going to trenches. So I spent a lot of time on ???. I do many times in submersible. However I do feel that submersible weíve already progressively phased out as the robots [?] gets better and better. So I do not think that the future of man in the ocean is leading down there. I donít believe it ??? ??? too much.

Levin:

Do you remember perhaps in the past when people were talking about that in the Ď60s, about putting, or Ď70s, about putting people?

Le Pichon:

Yeah. I mean Cousteau was talking about silly things like changing the lungs into [French word], I donít know how you say that. But where the fishes are, in order to breathe in the water. Was then taking out the lung of man and putting in the — How do you say [French word]? Gills.

Levin:

Gills.

Le Pichon:

Putting gills instead of lungs, and a kind of silly [?] thing like that.

Levin:

Cousteau was talking about that.

Le Pichon:

Yeah.

Levin:

Seriously.

Le Pichon:

Oh, you never knew when Cousteau was serious. I think he was never serious. But yeah. I mean, I feel that this habitat in the deep water never went very well. More experiment into saturation [?] diving, long term saturation diving and something else. I donít know. I donít think this is the future. I think we are getting to many different types of instruments, thermo??? ??? in the ocean floor, but can be done with robots, something like that.

Levin:

What about Cousteau? He was a very popularizer of oceanography. What do you think it —? Was he a scientist? Was he regarded as a scientist?

Le Pichon:

No, no, he was not a scientist. He knew nothing about science. Never did any science. But he was a tremendous man for getting the interest of the people into the ocean, and certainly worldwide. Anyplace I go in the world when they know that I am a Frenchman and that I am in oceanography they ask me did I work with Cousteau. I did. I spent three months on his ship, on the CALYPSO, when I was young.

Levin:

When you were young.

Le Pichon:

Yeah. I was doing physical oceanography in the Gibraltar Straits. So I worked with his people. He was not there, but I worked with his people, you know, and some people working popularized by his movies.

Levin:

What was that like, being a scientist aboard the CALYPSO?

Le Pichon:

We were doing science. He was renting his ship for science. So we had his people, and they were doing actually ??? science. I was a physical oceanographer at the time. I was measuring the currents along the Gibraltar Straits. And I knew him fairly well after. I discussed with him quite often. I mean the committee was advising committee for the Monaco [?] Institution, so when he was director there we had to meet quite often. And we ??? ??? when he was getting money from Exxo [?] I made him break [?] it. He was a showman, and everything was for TV and publicity. And he did that tremendously well. Tremendously well. But there was not an ounce of science in it.

Levin:

Wonderful. Well, is there something about your career that you feel that we havenít covered?

Le Pichon:

Well, there are plenty of things, but I think, I guess you were most interested in the part related to Lamont, right?

Levin:

That, but Iíd also like to hear a little bit more about other things that you deem relative to your career.

Le Pichon:

Iíve discussed several — I published books where I discussed that. This is indicated for example on, yeah, you see these two, but they are in French. In these two books I had two or three chapters on my history and reflection on science in the States compared to science in France and things like that. If you are able to read French, you could learn about that. But in general — I mean, if I have to compare the way it goes in the States and the way it goes in France, in the States certainly the big advantage is the competition is ???. I mean, I started being nobody and in five years they offered me the best position I could think of, certainly at my age. Anything I asked, I got. I wanted a ship to do something, I immediately got it. And Maurice Ewing was giving me everything I wanted. I remember once I came back, I was trying to get new, new [?] very old rocks on the Rio Grande Ridge and I had lost an enormous amount of material, thousands of meters of very expensive cable, instruments and so on. When I arrived in Lamont one of the men, Bob Houtz, you know, who was a New Zealander, told me, ďYou are going to get fired.Ē So I told my wife, ďOh, I think my time is finished.Ē So I went to see Dr. Ewing, and he told me, ďCongratulations. You really tried hard.Ē So, you see, I had no problem. So this is the kind of thing that was very nice. If you are successful in the States, I mean everything goes much faster and — Itís a rough society. It doesnít protect the people, especially the weak people, but itís a very efficient one. So when you are efficient, itís nice. France is very different. You consider the person more than the position he has, and you have to take care of him and so on. But I donít have to complain about France too. I got the highest position I could possibly get. So Iím not complaining. Certainly the research is very sufficient. The main problem of France, itís too small you know so the community is much smaller than in the States, the scientific community. And the result is that any kind of tensions or provincialism and so on will stifle the system. Fortunately I think we are moving to a European science. Itís moving very, very fast now. I work mostly with people outside of France. I work with, a lot with Germans, I work a lot with people from Holland, and I work with many Japanese and now Chinese. And so you open up quite a lot, and I think science is international. But that was the problem with science in France. Science in France certainly is not of the level of science in the States because of that. We have some very good points and some people who are very good obviously, but Nobel Prize and things like that ???. I got myself ??? high prizes and so on. But the mass makes it more difficult, and second our structure we protect people, have a tendency to stifle the system some. Itís a balance between protecting the people, considering only the efficiency and the competition. I think the U.S. are to an extreme and we are ??? an extreme. But I mean itís dangerous for the U.S. ??? ??? ??? what happened Boeing Company, you know, they — And that has slowed down the program tremendously. So they went too far into the system of, ďWe donít need you right now, so out.Ē You know. We donít do that in France. But I think that you go too far on one hand, and we go too far on the other hand. We have an advantage with is some very good students which ??? ??? ???, but on the other hand some of your universities are really top universities where you get really good people.

Levin:

Does the French education system tend to do the same? Secure the students? Or is it ???

Le Pichon:

There is a tendency to go to that now. And that is kind of a — we have tried to produce a mass student formation, you know, in which the students can all arrive to the end. But thatís, that has been a little bit of a failure, because anybody can enter after high school, but then itís impossible to have all of them getting to the end of the system. And that has produced a lot of problems. So we have a ??? system which is called the ???, where the people get you know very, to enter into them itís a very stiff competition by exam. You have two completely different systems. And we are the only one in Europe to have that. And personally I think itís going to disappear within the next 20 or 30 years, because Europe will have to standardize.

Levin:

And go to just one system?

Le Pichon:

One university system, but then weíll have to have university at different levels, like in any country, like in England, like in the States. It is difficult to avoid that.

Levin:

Just reflecting a little bit on some of the outside of the science part of your life, you were born in Vietnam, and that obviously had some impact on you. And you have done — You said you stopped science for awhile and went to Calcutta, to India, to help people. You went to a Catholic school as well. Do you consider yourself a religious person?

Le Pichon:

I am very religious, yes. I am very involved in that. I spend a lot of my time in this domain [?]. I use theology ???.

Levin:

Roman Catholic?

Le Pichon:

Yeah. I did theology, a published book on this. So. I do a lot of teaching in this domain. Yeah.

Levin:

Do you think that has helped your science, or helped your development in your career development?

Le Pichon:

No.

Levin:

No?

Le Pichon:

Well, it has helped me as a man. You know, but science is science, and it doesnít change whether you are Buddhist or Catholic or a Methodist you do the same type of science.

Levin:

Well, thatís all the questions I have.

Le Pichon:

Okay.

Levin:

??? ????

Le Pichon:

What are you doing? You are doing that for Lamont or —?

Levin:

This actually is for the American Institute of Physics. It will be at the Niels Bohr Library, and researchers will be able to come and look at them, if you so agree.

Le Pichon:

So what you do is transcript them?

Levin:

The American Institute of Physics will.

Le Pichon:

Will the transcript ??? ??? ????

Levin:

And theyíll send you a copy.

Le Pichon:

Oh, okay.