Oral History Transcript — Dr. James Westphal
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Interview with Dr. James Westphal
James Westphal; August 9,1982
ABSTRACT: Reviews Westphal's (b. June 13, 1930) family background, education, and early employment at the Seismograph Service Corporation (1948–53) and at Sinclair Research Labs (1954–60), where he gained experience in designing and constructing a variety of instrumentation. The bulk of the interview is devoted to a thorough discussion of Westphal's career at the CALTECH (1961– ), first as an instrumentation engineer and later as an associate professor and professor of planetary science (1971– ). The interview documents his initial activities in the design and improvement of infrared detectors and telescopes, and then his increasing interest and involvement in the science of infrared astronomy and planetary astronomy. Also covered in great detail is Westphal's work on the Wide Field Camera for ST, including discussion of the evaluation of detectors (SIVIT, SIT, CCD) , design, competing for the contract award, NASA’s procedures and structure and their effect on the development of ST and its instrumentation, and the use of ST and WFC after launch.
DeVorkin:I'd like to begin by asking you a little bit about your background, your family life. When and where were you born?
Westphal:I was born on the 13th of June, Friday the 13th, in 1930, in Dubuque, Iowa. My parents and I lived there for something like six months, and then my father was transferred to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I grew up until I was 12. Then, because my father's parents had become fairly elderly, it was decided that it would be a good thing if we moved to the place where they lived, which is on a mountain top in central Arkansas. The mountain is called Petit Jean, and it's outside of the town of Morrilton, Arkansas, where my grandparents lived and my father had been raised.
DeVorkin:What was the occupation of your father up to this time, especially when you moved to Tulsa?
He was a public accountant, working for a company, called Central State Power and Light Company. I guess I don't know the actual titles, but essentially, he was the company's top auditor. He had worked for them already for a few years before I was born, and was transferred from one office to another, ultimately to Tulsa. I believe Tulsa was the main office of that company. He continued to work for them until 1940, and then he had a medical problem with his tailbone, such that he couldn't sit in a chair any longer for the length of time he had to; and of course, that was right at the end of the Depression.
That job had been a very good one during the Depression; it was a well paid job. I remember he made $250 a month, which was probably quite a large amount of money by normal everyday standards in those days. At any rate, sometime about 1940, he quit that job and leased and operated a service station and parking lot in downtown Tulsa. From there, we went down to Petit Jean. He was actually in partnership with my grandfather in a ranching activity.
DeVorkin:In Tulsa, where you left when you were 12, did you have any contact with the service station? Did you work there at all?
Westphal:Oh yes, sure. I worked there on weekends, but obviously not during the week when school was on. During the summers I worked there as well. In fact, I was the guy that ran the parking lot, which consisted of collecting the money when people drove in.
DeVorkin:Did you have any contact with fixing the cars or anything?
Not so much, although my dad is a mechanically-oriented sort of a fellow. He did do quite a little bit of auto repair as part of that activity, and the service station had a fairly complete mechanical shop in it. I guess a machine shop would be the right way to say it. Our garage at home was full of all sorts of machinery and so forth. My dad loved to do woodworking, lathe turning, wood turning and things like that.
I remember, some years earlier I had had chicken pox, and we were quarantined. And so my dad couldn't go to work for two weeks or something, and so during that time he built a whole bunch of beautiful walnut furniture, and he handrubbed it with boiled linseed oil. That smell still is one of the smells from my childhood (laughs). So that was where I first learned to work with tools, and it was kind of a tradition in all my family. My grandfather, my father's father, was, I guess in those days they would be called a jack-leg mechanic, or a shade-tree mechanic.
DeVorkin:What was the first term?
Westphal:Jack-leg mechanic. Or shade-tree mechanic, maybe was the more common use.
DeVorkin:So you had had contact with machines, the idea of building things.
Westphal:Mechanical things, yes.
DeVorkin:You mentioned to me when you were in Washington that you had an early interest in astronomy as an amateur. Did this develop while you were in Tulsa?
Westphal:No, that developed actually after we moved to Arkansas. The school system was very grim, by my parents' perception, and properly so. So the first year that I was there, I went to the local school on Petit Jean, which was a classic one-room schoolhouse with, I don't know, 30 or 40 students. It was clear that, having come out of a fairly large city public school system, that it was just a total waste of time. So the next year, I commuted each day to Morrilton, a local town. That was a miserable business, because of the commuting enterprise. I had to leave home at five in the morning, and didn't get back until six in the evening.
DeVorkin:Did you commute by school bus?
Westphal:No, it was more complicated. I rode my bicycle for three miles. I then rode with a lady who was a school teacher in that same school in Morrilton, in her car for another 10 or 12 miles off of this mountain, where we both then caught the school bus and rode the other 15 miles or so into school. So that was clearly not a viable way to be going to school. The next year, when I would have been in the 9th grade, the last grade of junior high school in that part of the world. I then moved to Little Rock, Arkansas during the school year, where I lived with a lady who was recently widowed, who was a friend of the family.
DeVorkin:You were not with your parents at that time?
Westphal:That's right, I roomed and boarded there. The deal was that she would furnish room and board, if I would do all the yard work and take care of the chickens; and she had two or three dogs and so forth, you know. So it was an extremely nice deal for me, and she didn't get hurt by that, I think. But you know, there was a certain amount of just being nice to me involved in all that. And so I was there then the last year of junior high school and the three years of high school. I can remember quite vividly how I first became interested in astronomy. I had kind of a broad general interest like, I suppose, everybody does.
DeVorkin:Did that come from your parents, or your school, or what?
Westphal:Oh, I don't know. There always was in my family a curiosity about the world, and so that was just part of it. But it wasn't any isolated sort or specialized sort of curiosity about astronomy. But I remember I was a great fan of the library. The first time I was aware that a person's name in a newspaper meant anything specially was from the local librarian in this little town of Morrilton in the Carnegie Library — you know about Carnegie Libraries, obviously? The thing that really got me started in being interested in more technical or intellectual kinds of things was this Carnegie Library, along with probably millions of other Americans. That's got to be the best amount of money that ever was spent in this country — the money that Andrew Carnegie spent building those libraries all over the country, an incredibly important investment.
DeVorkin:The librarian, was she someone special?
Westphal:Well, I don't remember a name or anything. I don't think she was anything all that special, but she somehow had noticed that I had taken out of the library over the course of a year or so every book there was about aviation. Why she picked on that, and discovered this by going through the records, I don't know. I suppose there weren't all that many books, maybe 20, so it wasn't all that big a deal. But somehow she told the local newspaper that I had read every book in the library on aviation. At any rate I was used to going to libraries and using libraries. And I remember that I was wandering about in the stacks of the public library in Little Rock, not the school library, and I came across a little book called, AMATEUR TELESCOPE MAKING,* which had been published by "Scientific American" in the early 30's.
DeVorkin:Ingalls was the editor.
Westphal:Ingalls was the editor; that's right. And I came across this book, and I sat down to read this thing in the library. In the beginning chapters there was a description of how a reflecting telescope worked. Well, that was a totally new idea to me. I remember, it took me a little while to understand how that would work, how the optics of that would work. It took some effort on my part. It was my beginning introduction to learning about optics, in fact; and that was probably in either the first or second year in Little Rock. It was probably in my first year in high school.
DeVorkin:Do you recall whether it was Volume 1, 2 or 3?
Westphal:It was Volume 1, yes. And so, that was just utterly fascinating.
DeVorkin:Did you check it out?
Oh yes, I'm sure. Well, no, see I was in Little Rock, so there was nobody there but Mrs. Kanis, the lady I was staying with, who had no interest in anything like that at all. I'm sure it was the first year I was in the high school, and it was a good high school. That in fact was for many years the most famous high school in the world. That was THE Little Rock High School of the integration cases much later on. And so, it was an exceptionally good high school for that part of the world. It had a very high percentage of people that went to college and so forth. And so I was very, very lucky in that sense.
At that school, in the first year, I took a science class and guess what, there was a science teacher! He organized a science club, so of course, I had to be in the science club. And there, I ran into two or three other people who were interested in telescopes. So we were kind of at the same level. In fact, I was a great hero, because I had found this wonderful book that told all about how to do this.
DeVorkin:So there was no one more advanced than you there.
Westphal:There was nobody at that particular spot in that place who knew any more about it than I did.
DeVorkin:What about the science teacher himself. What was his name and his background? *Albert G. Ingalls, Ed. Amateur Telescope Making (3 volumes). Munn and Co. 1935 (many editions, 1926 on... .
Oh gee, I couldn't tell you his name. I would certainly recognize it if I heard it. He was an elderly man by my standards, which meant he was probably 50 or more, at that time. I have no idea what his background was, but he was very, very good at turning kids on to science, all kinds of science, although he was not, I think, the biology teacher. As I remember it, there was more than one science teacher in the school. It was a fairly large school for those days. I don't remember, some hundreds of students, I'm sure, maybe even as many as a thousand.
At any rate, I think he taught primarily physics. Yes, I'm sure, now that I think about it, because there was also later, when I took chemistry, a separate chemistry teacher, who was a lady; and she was an extremely competent teacher. In fact, I had a number, looking back at it, of really very competent teachers. The math teacher was a lady, and she was extremely good. At any rate, that led to a project of the science club to build a telescope for the high school.
DeVorkin:Oh, was that something you pretty much instigated?
Westphal:Well, this group of three or four of us did. I don't know that I was particularly the ring leader. And it turned out ultimately that two of us had a long enough attention span to pull this off (laugh). So somewhere we had read that it was wiser to start with a small telescope mirror to make your first one than with a big one. Of course, there was no money really anywhere in the system for that, and so we were begging and scrounging. The two of us decided that we would go to the nearest glass shop and see if we could lay hands upon some scrap of plate glass thick enough to make a mirror out of.
DeVorkin:Your cohort, what was his name?
Westphal:His name was J.W. Tisdale.
DeVorkin:None of these people went on to become scientists or astronomers?
Westphal:Well, I don't know. You lose track of people, and I have many times, I'm sure, like you, wondered what happened to this person and that one. I last knew of him in about 1961 or '62, at which time he was an electronics engineer, working, I believe, for Hewlett Packard, or somebody. He lived in Half-Moon Bay just south of San Francisco, and worked somewhere in what is now called Silicon Valley, and I've lost track of him since that time.
DeVorkin:What did you finally end up with, with this telescope?
We went to this glass shop and the guy took pity upon us, and cut out two or three 6-inch disks of glass of one-half inch thick or so, and just gave them to us, out of some scraps that he had from some window or door. It must have been a door, I suppose. And we went off and learned how to build telescopes. The very first one just worked like a charm, and we built, over the course of a year or so while we were learning how, several mirrors, of different focal lengths and so forth. I remember one of them had a very, very long focal length.
The tube of it was probably 12 feet long, because that was as long a piece of lumber that you could get in one piece. And the tube was four pieces of, I suppose, 1 x 8, or something like that, all nailed into a box, and the thing supported on some 2 x 4 yoke type mounting, all made out of wood, of course.
DeVorkin:How did you get the mirror silvered?
Westphal:Well, I remember, ATM 1, of course, talked only about silvering, because that was written before the days of aluminizing. I believe that we finally convinced ourselves that that wasn't going to work well. It was too unsafe a process. You remember, it was a dangerous process; at least, the common one with Rochelle salts was. I seem to remember we did some threshing around, trying to find some other way. Ultimately, anyway, we were to the point where people around us were convinced that this could really happen. I remember, the first thing we did was that we used the thing on the moon without any mirror on it at all, any mirrored surface at all, and got incredible views of the moon, which impressed everybody. And as I remember, Tisdale's dad finally sprung for the money to get the thing aluminized, and we sent it off to a guy, whose son, I guess, is still in business. Leroy Clausing, he was called, in Skokie, Illinois, as I remember it.
DeVorkin:Yes. He still advertises.
Westphal:Yes, his son; I think it is Leroy M. E. Clausing, now. But at any rate was the only place around that had ads, and of course, we saw that in "Sky and Telescope," I'm sure. We, of course, had long since discovered that. We ultimately built an 8-inch telescope for the school, the mounting and everything, and put it on top of the bandstand, which was in a tower; and it was up on the roof of that. It turned into a monster, because just everybody in the school wanted to come and use it. We, the Science Club, ended up having to have somebody up there every night when it was clear, you know, and it was eating up all our time.
DeVorkin:What year was this?
Westphal:By then, that was in 1947 and 1948. As I remember the telescope was finished in my senior year, which was 1947-48. graduated from that high school in May of '48. I think, one of the more impressive things was that about four or five miles away from that school, there was a night club. It was kind of on a hill, and it had a parking lot that was on this hill, of course, everybody was looking at everything in sight. And somebody looked over at that parking lot, and we could read the license plate numbers on the cars.
DeVorkin:That's pretty good.
Westphal:That really impressed everybody. Well, if you do the arithmetic, it isn't as impressive as it sounds, but it was really impressive to everybody in sight that you could really do that. There was a lot of laughter about it; how we'll keep track of who was out there, and so forth, none of which, of course, actually ever happened.
DeVorkin:How was your interest in astronomy developing? Were you still looking for more telescopes to build; or were you interested in an astronomical problem?
Westphal:It was a two-prong thing, as that sort of business is. One is just amateur telescope making, which is not astronomy. I mean, that's optics, or telescope making, or whatever. All of us who were involved in it were really very much interested in that feature of it; but we were clearly interested in the astronomy. Tisdale and I both became members somewhere about that time of something called the ALPO.* It was a thing that was run —you may remember the guy's name that ran it.
Westphal:Walter Haas; that's exactly right. It was run by Walter Haas. Of course, it was a big deal for kids like us to be in some kind of a real formal organization. We flooded Haas with sketches of Jupiter, my god (laughs). I have no idea how many we sent; but you know, every night it was clear and Jupiter was there, we were sketching and sending. He sent out a little mimeographed thing. As I remember, a time or two one of our sketches got in that; and that was a big deal, too. So we were interested in the astronomy part of it, too, but strictly as amateurs, in that sense. None of us at that time imagined we would ever be astronomers, or be associated with astronomy in a professional sense. That was logical, of course, because astronomy jobs were really rare then. If you think they are bad now, they were hopeless then.
DeVorkin:There were no major observatories in your area? * On: Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers.
Westphal:Nowhere near. In fact, that 8-inch was the biggest telescope in the state at that time. That was also another big deal. It made a fair mount of commotion around town. In fact, we had public star parties, too. That was a big problem, because it was on top of this building, and you had to crawl up a rung ladder, a metal ladder on the side of the building, on the inside of the building, fortunately, to get up there. It wasn't made for anybody to be up there. Of course, it was a lousy place to put a telescope, because of all the shaking in the building, and if anybody would move, the image would just go out of sight. But it was great for the time. There was no clock drive or anything on the telescope. It was really a nice thing. A lot of people had a lot of enjoyment out of it. I continued to make telescope mirrors. It's been some years since I built the last one, but I finally built a 12-inch. It was the biggest one, I think, that I built.
DeVorkin:Were you still in high school?
Westphal:No, no, by that time, I was out working in the oil industry.
DeVorkin:Is there anything else you would like to cover in your early home life, something you feel we should talk about?
Westphal:Well, of course, I don't know what your interests are in particular, but I don't think there was anything especially outstanding. It is clear to me now that a major influence on me, that had given me the interests that I have, really came from my dad, whose curiosity is just as bad as mine is. If you go some place, he's got to drive down every road there is. I sit here looking at the map of the big island of Hawaii, and there's something like 1800 miles of roads on that island. And the first time I took him over there, we went down every mile of it. (laugh). He was not happy until, over the course of two weeks, we had driven down every conceivable road we could get our vehicle onto. It was his curiosity about the world and what's going on and how things work, and so forth.
DeVorkin:Did he ever have a chance to look through your telescope?
Westphal:Oh yes! Oh sure, that was always a big deal through the years.
DeVorkin:Did he help you with how to build the mounting?
Westphal:I'm sure we discussed at great length how to do it. I don't remember any specific instances but I'm sure there was a lot of discussion. In fact, I'm sure that I rescued various pieces of hardware from the ranch to do that. I mean, there were all kinds of metal parts around.
DeVorkin:During the summers, did you do any fix-it work on the ranch, any general maintenance?
Westphal:When I say ranch I'm probably using a word that's a little deceptive. The main enterprise was to raise cattle, but it was not a ranch like you would think about in Texas or some place like that. It was also an activity involving a certain amount of row crops, and particularly in the earlier years, dairy activity. But it was all pretty much at a subsistence level. It was never a very economically successful activity. During the time when I was in junior high and high school, it was during the war, and my dad stayed on the farm and didn't work in the war plants. Money was really always a very serious problem; and so I was expected, essentially to furnish my own support while I was in high school, during the part of the year when I was there. Now, that wasn't as bad as it sounds, in that I had very little need for cash money. I rode my bicycle back and forth to school inside of Little Rock. It was only a couple or three miles down the street, so that was certainly no problem. And of course, all my food was taken care of, but there was always a problem about having enough clothes, etc.
DeVorkin:Which you had to pay for?
Westphal:No, I'm sure my parents did that; but a lot of the clothes were hand-me-down clothes of one sort and the other, and clothes from various places.
DeVorkin:Did you have brothers and sisters?
Westphal:No, I was an only child.
DeVorkin:Let me ask you further questions about that period. Did your father go to college?
Westphal:Yes, he went to a college. My father's side of the family were Missouri Synod German Lutherans back through history. Missouri Synod is just one of the branches of the Lutheran Church. It's still called the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, I think. It's a very conservative, almost reactionary branch of the Lutheran Church these days. It was not so extreme in those days, perhaps, as it is now. But at any rate, he went to a college in Winfield, Kansas, called St. John's College, which was a church college. It was not a seminary. It was a vocationally-oriented college, as I understand it. That's where he got his training as an accountant. He learned his trade in that school, and he did graduate from it. Now, it was, as far as I know, a four-year college, but I guess I don't absolutely know that, as I think about it now. It could conceivably have been a two year thing. I'm not sure.
DeVorkin:What of your mother’s education?
Westphal:My mother's education, as far as I know, was only in high school, and she then went to some sort of a business college, also in Winfield. And that's where they met each other. She was born and raised in a little town in North Central Oklahoma called Braman. It's just south of the Kansas border, and due north of Oklahoma City; the nearest town of any size is Blackwell.
DeVorkin:What about the prospects of your going to college? Was there any question that you would go to college?
Westphal:Oh yes, there was a very serious question, because my parents certainly didn't have money enough to support that. So it was entirely up to me as to what I was to do. I was certainly encouraged, but they were not in any financial condition to support that. After I got out of high school, I went back to Tulsa. I was never really happy in those years with Arkansas. I remembered the good old days in Tulsa, you know. Primarily because our economic status had really gone down a lot when we moved into this farm/ranch activity. So I went back to Tulsa, and the only job I could lay hands on quickly was a filling station gas pumping job. That only because six years before, my dad had contacts in that business, and still knew, I guess, a bulk plant operator or something, and he found me a contact from which I got a job to pump gas.
DeVorkin:I'm slightly confused about times now. You left Tulsa when you were 12.
Westphal:Yes, and went back when I was 18.
DeVorkin:Oh, so it was like six years.
Westphal:Six, that's right, yes.
DeVorkin:So you graduated from high school ...
Westphal:...when I was 18.
DeVorkin:And then you didn't go specifically back to Tulsa for college.
No, no, I went back to go to work. I went back because I wanted to be in Tulsa, it was very simple minded in that sense. I could clearly have gotten a job some place in Arkansas, but I really didn't like Arkansas. It was good memories that dragged me back. It was a fairly strong thing, as I think back on it. I remember, there was a magazine put out by the city of Tulsa, and I had an aunt and uncle that still lived in Tulsa. My aunt would send me this magazine in Arkansas. It was a monthly magazine and I remember just going through those magazines and thinking of the good old days when I was a kid there. So I went back there and stayed with a friend of the family's, George and Lyle Kelly, some people that lived a couple of doors down the street from where I had been raised.
I stayed with them while I was working at the filling station. While I was doing that, I was looking for a better job all the time. Now, my uncle worked for a company called the Seismograph Service Corporation, whose headquarters were in Tulsa, and he was a technically-oriented person, rather than a management person in that company. He was kind of the brains of the place, the technical brains of the place, in some sense; or at least, was perceived to be. As I look back now, he probably wasn't as sharp a guy as he seemed to be at the time.
DeVorkin:What was his name?
His name was William Pugh, W.E. Pugh. So, of course, I had close contact with him while I was there. And so he was watching for a chance for me to get a job in that part of the world, somehow. I went back to Tulsa in June of 1948, and it was in December, finally, or the end of November, some five or six months later, before an opportunity came for me to get into that company. And it was clearly through his contact, at least, that that happened.
So I then was hired to work on a geophysical exploration crew in the Panhandle of Texas, in a town called Spearman in the northern Texas Panhandle. I went to work for them on the 1st of December, 1948. I immediately got in trouble. Nobody told me how I was supposed to get there; all they told me was they would pay my fare. That didn't mean anything special to me, so I decided, a neat way to get there was on the train. Well, how do you get there on a train? First, you go to Kansas City and then you get on the Super Chief and ride to some little town in Western Oklahoma.
I don't remember the name of that town right this millisecond. And then I discovered that there was a little one-a-day Toonerville kind of trolley train that went from that town in Western Oklahoma, a 100 miles or so to Spearman, Texas. So that's what I did. Nobody told me not to, and I got on this train and away I went. Actually, I guess I didn't go to Kansas City; I went to Hutchison, Kansas, which was the junction point, and got on the Super Chief, which dumped me out in this little town about three o’clock in the morning, this little town in Western Oklahoma, on the first day in December.
It was as cold as bloody Jesus, and there had been a big snow storm. So I got off the train and went into the station. I would guess that there wasn't anybody there at that time in the morning, but whenever the stationmaster came, he said, "well, I don't know if the train is going to go. There is so much snow, we've been trying to get across there for three days." But, he said, "we're going to try it, and so you can ride along and see what happens." So off we went.
In a few miles we came to this humungous snowdrift. There was a cut through a little hill and it was completely level with snow. But in front of us was — and this was still in the steam engine days — a steamer with a snowplow on the front, and he was burrowing his way through this thing. I had never seen anything like it. It was awesome to watch him do this, you know. Back up a few hundred yards, you know, and just go as hard as he could go, charging into it.
It would compact the snow, and go another ten feet or something, and finally pushed it through. So off we went. The tracks were all fouled up and we fell off the tracks a couple of times. Everybody got out with jacking bars and jacked this little Toonerville Trolley thing back up. It was what they called a motor car, I guess. It was a diesel thing with half a dozen rows of seats in the back, and cargo in the front, just like a big streetcar, essentially.
Anyway, I appeared there, and the company people were just livid, because it had cost an extra $10 or so over what it would have cost to go on the bus. "What kind of a dunce are you that you would do something like that," and so forth. Well, at that point I clearly was not going to go to college that fall, because it was already December. So I worked on through that winter, and I was transferred from crew to crew, as the style goes in that business.
DeVorkin:What was your specific responsibility?
I started out being something called a jug hustler, a guy that emplaces the little geophones, the seismometers along the surface, and wires them up. You know, the dumbest job on it, at 35¢ an hour. We were not covered by minimum wage. It was 35¢ an hour to begin, and we worked 60 hours a week, straight time. No, it wasn't straight time. I forgot that. It was called a sliding scale, after 40 hours, the number went down.
Your wages went down, and the joke was always that at 60 hours, that sliding scale slid right out from under you. Not only did you not get time and a half, but you got the inverse. It's strange, looking back, how that could have been the way they did it. But it was done that way. At any rate, I ultimately became the helper to the man that handled the explosives, which was the normal chain of advancement as you became more experienced. Finally, I ended up that year being the rodman for the surveyor. It was along in there that I decided I really wanted to go to college.
DeVorkin:What was it that caused you to think that?
Westphal:I think, primarily the fact that I could see that, without going to college, I was going to end up doing some grungy thing all my life. At least, it looked that way from that perspective. And it was clear to me at that point that a college education was a very important thing, if you were going to do something besides hustling jugs.
DeVorkin:Was there any pressure to join the armed forces for the Korean War?
Westphal:No, see, this was '48, '49, and so that problem hadn't yet occurred. The Korean War started like the first of June in '50, and so by then I was already in school. Anyway, I was madly saving up my money at that point, when I got that job. I said, I'm going to go to college. I needed $220, as I remember, for tuition for the year at the University of Tulsa. I wanted to go to the University of Tulsa, because I was interested in this geophysics thing that I was doing, and they had a geophysics option, in the physics department. Of course, I could stay, or at least, I thought I could stay, and it did turn out that I could stay with these same people I was staying with before. I could room with them so that my living expenses would be tolerable; so really, what I needed to do was accumulate enough money to pay my tuition.
DeVorkin:You weren't getting any money from your family; but neither were you sending money home.
Westphal:That's right. Anyway, at the end of that next summer — this would be the summer of '49 — I had told Seismograph Service Corporation early in the summer that it was clear to me I was going to have enough money and that I was going to do this. So at the end of the summer at the appropriate time, I went back and enrolled as a freshman, and started at the University of Tulsa.
DeVorkin:No interest on the part of the company to keep you on as sort of a work-study part-time situation?
Westphal:No. Well, that's not really fair. What they said, as I remember, was that if I did well this year, "then maybe next year we will give you a part-time job while you are going to school, if you want it, but not this year. We want to see how you are doing." It was in the days when companies were a lot less, what's the right word, enlightened, liberal, whatever word you want to call it, as to their own best interests, as I would see it, anyway. This company was probably very progressive in spite of all this, in comparison with many other companies at that time. So I did start going to school. I found the school work very easy.
DeVorkin:This was in physics?
Well, as a freshman, I think you didn't have an option. As I remember, you didn't pick your option until you were a sophomore. But it was certainly in the context of engineering. I was in the Engineering School, which had physics in it as well. I, of course, don't remember any longer now what kind of courses were given, but in the freshman year they were undoubtedly a canned set of courses, which probably almost everybody took.
At least, everybody in engineering school probably took the same thing. It went very easily, and so after the first two or three weeks, it was clear to me that I could have a part-time job while I was going to school, and still be able to cope with it. There was a certain pressure from the people I was staying with that I get off my duff and earn some money so that I could contribute to my expenses, which was certainly reasonable. Their next-door neighbors were people who had also been our next-door neighbors when we lived in Tulsa.
It was the house between the house I was staying in and our original house. The people who lived in that house were named Gabbard. He was a buyer for a wholesale grocery in Tulsa, the Nash-Finch Corporation, I think it was called. We were talking about this, and he said, "I tell you what, I can get you a job as kind of a jack of all trades in our place, in which you could work at night. We run 24 hours a day. You could work on Saturday, if you wanted. I will pay you a minimum wage," which was probably 35¢ still then, some small amount, but it was a finite amount of money.
So I started doing that, and very soon, I was working more than 40 hours a week. But it was an ideal kind of job. He really did me a great favor, because I could work entirely on my own. In fact, my first job there, I will vividly remember forever, was to sort through by hand a box car load of apples which were boxed. They were gorgeous big Red Delicious apples, wrapped in tissue paper, each one. The problem was that about a third of them were bad.
So, what I did was take these apples out of the cooler, open the box carefully so it could be put back together, go through and feel each apple and throw the bad ones away, and repack them into the box, generating a full box of good apples, which were then immediately sold the next day, so that they didn't go bad again; because they were going bad fast. So for the first two or three months, why, I with my own hands went through however many apples are in a freight car load. I always thought it would be fun to calculate how many that was. It was a completely independent job. It didn't matter when I came or went. It was an ideal thing.
DeVorkin:And school work wasn't demanding the first year.
Westphal:The school year wasn't demanding in that sense. As I look back at it, it was not a good thing, because it should have been more demanding and I should have put more effort into it then when it was easier. As we'll come to later, the fact is that I worked 40 hours a week or more during all of college. That was not a positive thing. It would have been better if I had been in an environment where I didn't really need to do that, and I would have clearly gotten a lot more out of my education than I did.
DeVorkin:Did you continue on with this particular company?
Westphal:No, I worked with this company, this wholesale grocery thing, just that one school year. Then the next summer, and it was already arranged that way, I went back out in the field again. By then, I had understood enough about what was going on, and became interested in electronics in the meantime, by an accident.
DeVorkin:What was the accident?
Westphal:I had a little radio that I had bought while I was in the field that year between high school and when I started to college; and when I came back to college, there was something wrong with it, so I was fiddling around with it. I didn't understand the first thing about electronics or radios. .
DeVorkin:So you had no previous experience in electricity.
No, and I had no real interest in electronics. While I was still in Petit Jean, I was clearly very interested in electrical things, and I remember getting some bell wire, and somewhere I got some old telephone batteries and an old car battery that wasn't dead in all the cells. I strung wires all over, got a doorbell buzzer some place, you know, all of the simple-minded stuff; but you learned how electricity worked, about circuits, resistance and all of that stuff. So I had that kind of interest in my background, but I had never done anything with a radio. In those days, it wasn't electronics. It was radio, vacuum tubes and so forth, that was the only thing.
There was no television. Electronics was radio in those days. Somehow, I happened to mention this to a neighbor that lived across the street, a man* I had known when I lived in Tulsa originally *Norman Rector as a kid, and he was interested in electronics a lot, I recognized. He was interested. in hi-fi audio — I don't think the word even existed at that point. Well, he showed me how to realign the IF stages of this little tube radio. The whole thing was just magic, and that got me interested in radio. So I started — well, there are so many little branches to this story.
DeVorkin:Did you have courses in physics that included electronics?
Not then, no; and what I actually did was to get my hands on electronics to play with, I went to the city dump where a fellow that I knew ran the dump. We made a deal that every radio that came in, he would pile up in a heap, and I would come out once a week or once a month or something, and pick through those. I ended up with just piles of old radios that he gave me, and from those old pieces and parts, I learned and understood how things worked, and I read in the library, of course, all this time.
That is how I really got started with electronics. By then I knew enough about electronics that the next year when I went to the field, this would be the first summer after my freshman year, they assigned me as something called a Junior Observer. The Observer was the guy that ran these seismic field crews, and he was the technical expert in charge of collecting the data, with the electronics in the recording truck, and I was his junior. So that summer I was the Junior Observer, which meant I was learning all about that job.
DeVorkin:That's quite a change.
That was, of course, a lot nicer job than having to hustle the jugs up and down the line. That summer I spent in Illinois and Indiana on these field crews. That was the summer of 1950, and it was there, in fact, that I remember that the Korean War started, because I remember hearing it on the radio while we were out in the field, and all of us wondering if and when we were going to get sucked up by the Army. Well, since I was in college, I was exempt, but of course, everybody immediately had to register for the draft, but I had a deferment, as a student. I spent that summer doing that.
Then when I went back that fall, the company put me to work in their electronics assembly activity. This was kind of an integrated company. It did all of its own electronics. So I was put on the bench assembling amplifiers and other kinds of electronics. That's what I did during that winter; it was a nice job, and it paid a lot more money. Of course, it was a lot more fun, because it was really technical kind of stuff.
DeVorkin:You were working 40 hours a week still?
Westphal:Oh yes, and I did that by working afternoons, and Saturdays. They made a special deal for me to let me work on Saturdays. They went out of their way to do that. The following summer, I went again to the field, and I was then the Vacation Replacement Observer. I went from field crew to field crew for two or three weeks at each one while the regular observer went on vacation, and I ran the field crew. And so that summer, I was in, I don't know, at least 10 different places all over the country, in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama, and I don't remember where else.
DeVorkin:Were you forming a pretty strong opinion that this was what you were going to do, this kind of thing, something in this line?
Westphal:Well, yes, but I just fell into it. I didn't have the perception that I had the freedom to go just any ol' direction I wanted to go. I certainly never at that time imagined myself becoming a "scientist" or anything like that. I was going to be involved in applied science, in the words you would use today. I never had any thought of doing anything different than that. The University of Tulsa was not a place that generated Ph.D.'s, and there was not in that school at least, any sense that that was what you should do. Very, very few people did anything but get a bachelor's degree, and go to work in industry someplace. So there was very little incentive to do anything more than that, no tradition. And that mattered. That mattered a lot. If that tradition, or even that incentive, had been there, I'm sure a very large number of us would have gone into graduate work somewhere, but it just was not the style. Nobody talked about doing that.
DeVorkin:But your professors had doctorates?
DeVorkin:A good fraction of them, at least.
Westphal:Yes, oh yes.
DeVorkin:Do you remember any of your physics professors, because you were in the Physics Department?
I was in the Physics Department, but I was in something called the Geophysics Option. And yes, there was a guy by the name of William Agors who ended up being the professor for my last two years. He was a little more intellectually oriented, although he very quickly, I think the very next year after I graduated, went to work for a company doing airborne geophysical, airborne magnetic work. I think he ultimately became the president of it, for some years.
I then alternated between working for the Seismograph Service Corporation in the field during the summer and during the winter, while I was in school, doing various other things in the lab. I ultimately became the Inspector, which meant I was the guy that inspected all of the parts coming in and all the finished hardware going out, and did all the tests on the hardware. What nowadays would be called the acceptance test, to make sure that it does what it is supposed to do. That was nice, again, because it was an independent activity.
You didn't depend on anybody else, and I could do the job at random times. That was considered to be kind of the top job in the construction part of the enterprise. I mean, that was the technical job, if you weren't going to be a supervisor. It was, because you had the real responsibility, your name was stamped on it, that the thing really worked. So you really had to check it out and understand what you were doing, and understand why it didn't work, or that it really didn't work in maybe some subtle way.
DeVorkin:It's interesting. You really were progressing, in positions, even in this time you were going to school; and you must have been aware of this, and others must have been aware of this, too.
Westphal:Oh yes, sure.
DeVorkin:What was your self-image at that time? You must have thought: golly, you must be pretty good at this stuff.
Well, I was encouraged certainly, but I think my dad was the only one that recognized that I was moving into the system fairly rapidly, more rapidly than may have been normal. But it was not unusual for people to move in fairly rapidly, because it was a dynamic company. Little companies normally are, and especially in that business.
They have a lot of turnover in personnel, and so there is a lot of opportunity to proceed rapidly. Although they had a research section, and that's what I really wanted to be in, I was never allowed to go into that. I asked several times, as I remember, to be allowed to get into that part of it, but it was perceived that I didn't have the technical background to do that, and they were correct, of course. I didn't have the technical background to do that, since that group was a bunch of double E's, a bunch of electrical engineers. I knew most of them very well, and in fact, by then I was also a ham, an amateur radio type, and there were a number of those guys who were also. Being a ham was the means by which I learned really an awful lof of electronics of those days.
I was always a ham who liked to build my own equipment. I did all my ham work on 6 meters, 50 megahertz. In the beginning, you couldn't buy any hardware commercially at all. In those days you could only buy the simplest kind of stuff off the shelf. I picked the 50 megahertz band on purpose, because it was fascinating to build the stuff and make it work. I wasn't so interested in gabbing with somebody with a radio as I was with making the stuff work.
DeVorkin:I understand. The progression, though, seems to be quite rapid; but I'm still very interested in how your general knowledge of physics and, especially, of astronomy, grew at this time, if at all.
Westphal:Neither were growing very rapidly, physics in the sense of physics in a place like Caltech. What I was learning was geophysics, not real physics.
DeVorkin:So you did take a core curriculum of physics.
Westphal:Oh yes, sure, but the core curriculum of physics at Tulsa University was still very much Newtonian physics of the old style.
DeVorkin:No laboratories where you did simple atomic physics experiments, Millikan oil drop, or anything like that?
Westphal:Nothing like that, old fashioned, simpleminded kind of physics of weights and pulleys, and all of that sort of stuff.
Westphal:No spectroscopy. Now, on the side, while I was in high school, I had another buddy, not my telescope-making buddy, but he was my chemistry and physics and rocketry buddy.
DeVorkin:Oh, tell me about that.
Westphal:Well, I spent actually more time around him than I did the other guy. The reason was he lived closer to where I was than the other guy, so it was easier. But we both were very interested in chemistry, and the chemistry teacher whom we had in high school, this lady I mentioned before, was a real gem in turning you on, and getting you going. I remember the chemistry course was two semesters. I took the first semester, and in the second semester, while I was taking that, I became the chief lab assistant to the teacher, as well; and so I prepared all experiments. She really knew how to get you excited and going with that; and so I was really very interested in chemistry. This other guy, whose name was Fred Doyle, was also very interested, and in some book we discovered the Toppler pump, You know what a Toppler pump is? Well, it's a rudimentary vacuum pump, it was the first vacuum pump that was able to get a low enough vacuum to produce an electrical discharge through the residual gas. It is just a glass tube in which you drop drops of mercury. They act as little pistons as they trap the air between them and go to the bottom. You pick the mercury up at the bottom and pour it back in the top, with a funnel with a stopcock on it. Actually, ours was simpler minded than that. We had a rubber tube and a squeeze clamp, and we could adjust the rate at which it would fall. And of course, as long as the residual pressure was fairly high, we would end up with mercury forming these blobs; and we had to have about the right bore in the glass tube for this to work. If the bore was too big, the mercury would fall free, and if it was too small, it pumped too slow. So the bore needed to be 1/8 of an inch, or maybe a 16th of an inch, or something like that. But the thing that prevented us from getting an arbitrarily good vacuum was that as the vacuum improved, the mercury would no longer form a blob. It would just fall straight through. Anyway, we had a lot of fun doing that. In our playing with the pump, we discovered that with an old Model T Ford spark coil, which was the cheap way to lay hands on high voltage, we could light up the residual gas in a glass tube without having any wires through the glass, by just wrapping aluminum foil around the ends and clipping it on to the spark coil. Since the spikes in the spark coil were so high frequency, we essentially had an RF tube, see.
Westphal:One of the things the Science Club did one year was to go out to a neon sign company and see them making neon signs, which was a fascinating thing; so we recognized that the problem with neon signs is that they have metal electrodes inside. And over time — nowadays you could say they sputter — the electrodes sputter the metal onto the side of the tube and as they do, it traps the neon, or argon, or whatever is in the tube. The pressure goes down, so that it won't work any more, and the tube "cleans up." The tube then has a lifetime of a year or two, before its pressure is too low for it to work well. Well, we recognized that problem, and just thinking back, we were beginning to think, how do you make things work better? We recognized that that problem wouldn't happen in our tube, because there was no metal inside. So we actually wrote out (I wish to hell I had the thing; it would be fun to see it) a patent application. We sent it off to some patent attorney who advertised in Popular Science, or some place like that. He wanted $35 to do a patent search, and so we scrounged around and got the $35. But in the meantime, we had sent this thing to him and he had looked at it and thought there was a problem with it. He thought we would never be able to get, with that simple-minded way, enough current through, the tube to light it up bright enough. Of course, we had no neon. All we had was air in the thing, and so we really didn't know how well it was going to work. Of course, neon was expensive as hell, like it is now, and we just didn't have any. As I think back now, of course, we really weren't thinking as well as we should have been, because we surely could have laid our hands on a neon tube and put the aluminum foil on the outside and ignored the electrodes at the end to see what would happen. Either we didn't think of that, or something. At any rate, that was enough of a discouragement, because in our guts we knew he was right, since we really couldn't get the air to light up real bright with this. Of course, we were putting some miniscule amount of power into it, thinking back now. And it turned out that in later years, such a thing was actually marketed, and it was used in that business. So the idea was there, if we had proceeded, we might have been successful. Well, we never would have found enough money to get the thing patented. But that was my first contact with patentability, and patenting things.
DeVorkin:It must have gotten you quite excited.
Westphal:Oh, it was great fun, and I remember a lot of threshing around about it, getting people to witness it, and you know, those things. (laughs).
DeVorkin:Where do the rockets come in?
Westphal:Well, Doyle and I were also very deeply interested in rockets; and so we were building rockets from scratch. Of course, since we were interested in chemistry, we learned a lot about it, and we ran into, again in the library, a two-volume — I believe it was a two-volume, maybe it was three volumes — book, called: THE CHEMISTRY OF POWDER AND EXPLOSIVES, the author of which was I believe Davis. It was a laboratory procedures book. It told you how to manufacture in a chemistry laboratory any explosive that you were interested in, from nitroglycerin right on down. Such a book today, with worry about terrorists and so forth, would surely not be on a normal library list. One part of one of the volumes of it was on fireworks. That really got us interested, and of course, the kinds of things that you were interested in as a kid were things that went "bang." There was a material described in there, called nitrogen tri-iodide, and how to manufacture it. It was very easy to make. I don't remember any more, but it was very easy for us to lay hands upon the chemicals to do this. As long as it is wet, with water, it's very well behaved, but when it dries out, it becomes so sensitive to touch, you wouldn't believe it. It precipitates out of solution when you make it. You normally collect it wet on a filter paper and so forth. We came upon a nifty thing, which (laughs) I still think is nifty. We recognized that we could collect this stuff wet on a piece of filter paper, and if we would put some sugar in the water solution when we made it, that would leave a residue of sugar-saturated water on this filter paper, along with the nitrogen iodide. We'd take it out and open the filter paper up flat, move the nitrogen iodide kind of uniformly over the surface and let the whole thing dry, which then left you with nitrogen iodide and sugar. We would then take it outside and hang it on a nail, or on a clothesline, as I remember. A fly would land on this to get the sugar, and "ca pow ee!" It was endlessly fascinating for us to watch the thing blow flies up.
DeVorkin:What a trap for a fly.
Westphal:And of course, the thing that we mainly did with it was leave it on little pieces of filter paper, and cut them up in little tiny pieces. And then we could take them and throw them on the floor some place, and as people would walk along, they would step on it, and it would go, "bang, bang, bang." Not enough of an explosion to hurt anybody, but I guess if they had stepped on it with bare feet, it might have been a problem.
DeVorkin:Well, it's not, if I recall. It depends on how saturated it is. It is not like a cap.
Westphal:Yes. That's right. And essentially, each individual crystal, I'm sure, was going off as an independent thing. At any rate, that was how we got into rocketry. Then we built a lot of rockets, and for those days, fairly spectacular rockets, you know, things that would go 1,000 feet in the air.
DeVorkin:You must have known about V-2s at that time.
Westphal:Oh yes. We knew about anything like that which was going on; sure, all of that. And of course, that was the time in which everybody was interested in rockets.
DeVorkin:Did you read science fiction?
Westphal:Oh yes, from the very beginning. I'm sure when I was in high school was the first time I had contact with it. I was a great science fiction fan.
DeVorkin:Any specific authors?
Westphal:I wasn't all that partial to authors. There was some discussion down at Marshall the other day about what was going to be the next thing the Russians were going to do on the moon. I said, well, maybe they're going to do what Bob Heinlein once proposed in a science fiction article called "The Man Who Sold the Moon," as I remember. It said, one night everybody looked up and the face of the full moon had a Coca Cola sign on it. (laughs). And I remember at the time, everybody giggled and said, it isn't going to be Coca Cola. It's going to be Vodka Cola.
Westphal:I think that's probably the only one of those stories that I remember much about. But I was a great fan of S. F.; and I remember once while I was in college, I got into a tremendous argument with the English lit teacher over whether this stuff was literature or not. Of course, the teacher thought it was all garbage; and I, of course, thought it was the greatest literature in the world. And we were having this big fight in class over whether it was literature or wasn't.
DeVorkin:That's interesting. Getting back to college years then, you were working full time all the way through college. You mention that in hindsight, you feel that you suffered somewhat. Will you be more explicit.
Westphal:Yes. The thing was that I could get through college with B's and a few A's with essentially no effort; and therefore, I could support working at this level. I needed to work because I really did need the money, and that money was not wasted on frivolity. I needed every damn penny of it, even then, year by year, the tuition was going up. Of course, my salary was going up some, too, because I had better jobs, as you pointed out, as I went along. But it was still a nip and tuck economic enterprise. Essentially, I was financing completely my own college activity in every way. Finally, the last year I was there in college — maybe the last two years, yes, the last two years — I had an apartment, because the people that I had been staying with properly had a gut full of supporting me. It was all friendly, but you know, they thought it was appropriate for me to finance my own enterprise. So I then had an apartment, a second story garage-type apartment, each of the last two years. So I really did need the money. I didn't have enough money to own a car, as an example, or anything like that, so there was no excess of money in the system. There's no doubt that I did not involve myself in the academic activities at the level that it would have been good for me to do; and therefore, I missed a lot of the most basic part of my education by that process, but that's the way it was. I don't cry over spilt milk, but there is no doubt about it that that was not a positive thing. My kid,* now, is going to Rice at the moment, and my perception of it is that he kind of thinks the way I did, that it was kind of neat. And so he's doing some of the same stuff; and I finally this year discouraged him very strongly from taking up a job offer he had from the company in Houston that builds the Space Shuttle simulator. His summer job for the last couple of years has been with a company in Tulsa that builds simulators for DC 10's, and other kinds of aircraft. He's kind of a software freak like most young kids are these days. That's gone very well, and he's made a very large amount of money at it, as a matter of fact; so the temptation to do that while he was going to college was great. I told him what I have just been telling you, essentially, that although I had no doubt he could make it work, I thought he would be missing something. So he didn't, and I think he's very happy with that. He got a job internally in the university, which is a completely appropriate kind of thing, doing data reduction for one of the OSO satellites.
DeVorkin:For the OSO's?
Westphal:Yes. I don't know any details about who he is working with, or anything.
DeVorkin:They are still reducing 0S0 data?
Westphal:I guess, forever, yes. He's in the space physics group, the group that Al Dessler was running. Dessler, you know, now has gone to Marshall. In fact, I saw him this past week.
DeVorkin:What is his role going to be there?
Westphal:He's head of one of the Marshall labs. I don't know which one it is, and I don't understand the subtlety of it, but it's a science-oriented one. I don't know the details of that. I was quite surprised to hear he was going.
DeVorkin:He was at Rice a long time. He built up the space science curriculum there, and that sort of thing.
Westphal:Yes. Bob O'Dell, who is project scientist on ST, is going to Rice.
Westphal:So they are kind of trading places. It’s not the same job as at Marshall.
DeVorkin:That's right. So is O'Dell definitely going? * Andrew.
Westphal:Oh yes. He's going, I guess, in the middle of September or sometime. At any rate, it was a mistake, but it was a mistake I didn't have any real choice about, so I guess you wouldn't call it a mistake. It was a missed opportunity.
DeVorkin:Right. Now, you were getting close to graduating, and I'd be interested to know what your plans for the future were at that time.
Westphal:Well, the opportunity that was offered to me from the SSC was to go out and be an Assistant Party Chief. The party chief was the guy who actually ran the whole thing. He wasn't just a field boss. He was always the man who was the interpreter of the data itself, in contrast to the engineer in the field, whose responsibility was to collect the data, this guy called the observer. So the natural course of events would be that I should go out and become an assistant party chief, and then ultimately I'd become a party chief, which was the top of the heap.
DeVorkin:So you had taken in a good amount of geology that was appropriate to petroleum geology.
Westphal:Oh yes, and I studied a lot of geology, because I loved it. In fact, I don't think there was any doubt that I would have ended up being a geologist, specifically a sedimentary petrologist, except for the fact that I am color blind, and I couldn't see glauconite, which is a bright green mineral and it's crucial to doing sedimentary petrology. I just simply couldn't see it.
Westphal:For awhile I was really more interested in that than I was in geophysics, probably until my junior year, but it just wasn't going to happen, and that was the only particular part of geology that I was all that interested in. But I was deeply interested in geology. I remember how I got interested in that too. That was still in high school. I ran into a book, again in the library, which was called Petroleum Geology* or something, and I can't remember the name of the author or such, but it was a very cookbook kind of geology book, written probably in the late '20's or early '30's. It was an old book, even then; but it was just incredibly fascinating to me, in understanding how the earth worked, and Petit Jean Mountain, the mountain that my folks lived on, is erosional remnants of a big syncline. And you know, I immediately recognized that. It went on to explain why there were artesian wells, and why they *By Dorsey Hager were where they were. This whole new world of nifty things opened up that I could understand, and came out of that one book, which was written as a primer for petroleum geologists. By Dorsey Hager.
DeVorkin:Yes. Of course, the geosynclinal theory at that time was it.
Westphal:That was it, and so yes, I had a lot of background in geology. Well, immediately when I came to Tulsa, from high school, I found that there was an astronomy club, and of course, I joined that instantaneously, since I had been building telescopes.
DeVorkin:So through college you were still into astronomy?
Westphal:Oh yes, I was up to my ears in that. That was my main hobby.
DeVorkin:On top of the ham radio.
Westphal:Oh yes, sure. The ham radio thing really didn't happen until later when I had a good job and had enough money to be in ham radio. I actually got my ham radio license, I guess, the last year I was in college.
DeVorkin:That was about 1954.
Westphal:1954, it must have been, yes. When I was about to get out of college, one of the fellows* that I knew in the astronomy club knew a man by the name of Lou Pakiser, who was a geophysicist for the U.S. Geological Survey. They had been boyhood buddies, or something. This guy, Pakiser, appeared in Tulsa to visit with his friend. I was invited over and we were talking, and he said, “gee, I've got a nifty job, just what you would like to do, I bet." He said, you know, the U.S. Geological Survey has this activity of going to foreign countries. (I had it in my head that I wanted to go to a foreign country. I don't know where that came from. I wanted to see the world; that's right). So, he said: "I know just the job for you, and I can get it for you without a doubt." He said, "we have a new project opening up in Cuba, where the U.S. Geological Survey is doing the exploration for nickel to support the International Nickel Corporation's business." You know, nowadays you would wonder what the hell is the U.S. Government doing supporting a Canadian company's private exploration. The answer was, well, the U.S. considers nickel to be a critical material, and so forth. So, I said, that would be neat; I would love to do that, it's magnetics and gravity. That's fun stuff. He said, great — this was like Christmastime, probably, before I was to be out in May. He said, "I'll send you the forms and you apply for this *George Rose job.” It was clearly going to be pipelined. He did, and I sent all the forms in, and there was even a security investigation somehow, which I have wondered many times what that was about, why that had anything to do with anything; but some FBI-type appeared around. They never talked to me, of course, but they talked to the people around me somehow. It was all signed, sealed and delivered, and I was to go to Cuba. Well, actually, I was supposed to go to — it was not Reston, Virginia in those days — downtown Washington at that time, where the USGS main office was.
DeVorkin:Yes. They are in Reston now.
Westphal:I was to go there to sign papers and whatever else I was supposed to do. There were plane reservations made and everything. Then one day I got this phone call from him, and he said, "gee, Jim, they wiped me out." He said, "There was a guy fresh back from the Korean War, and although you made 100 on your examination and were the top guy, he made 110, because he got 90 on the exam, and he got 20 free points. And there wasn't anything I could do." And the thing just dropped. That was it right there. So I had already notified the SSC that I was going to do this. However, they immediately offered me a job to learn to do radioactive well logging in preparation to go to Mexico, and I grabbed that in a second. So immediately when I was out of college, the end of May, I was farmed out to a company called Well Services, Incorporated, which originally had been a subsidiary of SSC. They did radioactive well logging. You are probably familiar with that busines, doing both gamma ray and neutron well logging. That technology had been invented by a man who is now quite famous, who was the Russian spy in the Manhattan Project. I can't think of his name. Yes, Klaus Fuchs had been involved in well logging and had been one of the inventors of that technology, of the idea; and then the engineering technology had been done by that company. At any rate, the vibrating reed electrometer, which was the only way you could measure 10-12 and 10-14 type currents, had been invented by this company. They had put it on ionization chambers for that purpose. So I was taught the field procedures of how to do that sort of stuff, by spending two months with this company, running from one oil well to another learning how. Then I was shipped off in early 1954. This must have been 1953 in December, again maybe; maybe I'm a year off. I expect it was '53 in December. I was sent to Mexico to replace a guy who was leaving, doing oil well logging work in a town called Posa Rica. It was a big oil field along the Gulf Coast halfway between Tampico and Vera Cruz, Mexico. That lasted about six months, and then PEMEX, the Mexican oil company that we were actually contractors to, gave all that work to Schlumberger. Schlumberger is famous, these days, for oil well logging. They were the people who invented electric logging. The two Schlumberger brothers were Frenchmen. The name is obviously a Germanlike name, but they were Frenchmen. They invented the concept of electrical logging back in the '20's or '30's, and it is "the" well service organization, providing all kinds of well services now, a big company. In recent weeks, it's been having all kinds of ups and downs in the stock market. It's the prime company watched for oil field service. Anyway, they took that job over and I was transferred to a SSC seismic crew in the isthmus region of Mexico in Chiopas, where I then was the party chief. Actually, I shared the responsibility. Because we were in a jungle, we worked three weeks and were off two. For two weeks I was the party chief, and then for three weeks the other guy was a party chief. We had a week overlap and each of us had two weeks in Mexico City.
DeVorkin:As a party chief, your responsibilities were really as a project manager.
Westphal:I was a project manager, but also responsible for all the interpretation of data, the ultimate interpretation of data.
DeVorkin:Yes. So you were basically managing a crew.
DeVorkin:Had you had any training, or find any difficulties in this kind of a management operation?
Westphal:Oh no, I had been around it, of course, all of those years by then, working for that company, so I knew what it was all about and how to go. Although it was somewhat different in Mexico, because you had a mixed group of locals as well as gringos that were down there, and that changed the nature of it. I was, and am, a great fan of Latin America. I just ate it up. It was just great. My only problem is that I find it very difficult to learn a foreign language and had a hell of a time learning Spanish. I never did learn Spanish, only enough to get along with, but it sure would have been a lot more fun and a lot more interesting if I had been able to learn the language easily. So I spent a year down there. In the middle of that time, I was drafted, was declared 1A and had to come back and take a medical exam. I failed the medical exam by a fluke. I had severely ingrown toenails, and at that time — maybe it's true yet — they couldn't induct you into the army, if you were not physically fit at that moment of induction to take basic training. So I was declared 4F on the basis of some ingrown toenails.
DeVorkin:Ingrown toenails. Did you know this?
Westphal:No, I didn't know that, hadn't the slightest idea. And I had that problem for many years, and had never gone to a doctor to get it fixed, because I anticipated it was going to cost more money than I could afford, and I could tolerate it.
DeVorkin:But didn't it hurt you?
Westphal:Oh yes, it was clear I couldn't have taken basic. I tolerated it somehow.
DeVorkin:Yet you were out in the field running around.
Westphal:Yes, that's right, but that's a lot different than taking basic training. But that was how it was. Otherwise, I would have been inducted in the Army in 1954, even though the Korean War was either over or about to be over at that point.
DeVorkin:You weren't disappointed?
Westphal:I was not disappointed with that. That did not break me up at all. So I went back to Mexico, but while I was up in the States taking that exam, I of course, went back to Tulsa and saw all my buddies. I guess everyone of them, in fact, were people who were associated with this astronomy club, along with other kinds of interests. And they had a new buddy who had joined the astronomy club. He was a guy named Jimmy Johnson, who was head of a new research group for the Sinclair Research Labs, which was a new research lab set up by Sinclair a couple of years before that, in response to some pressure from the financial world that said that Sinclair wasn't a real oil company if it didn't have a research lab. So they said, all right, we'll build a research lab. So you know, we'll send them $22 worth of books and that sort of thing. Anyway, he was head of a section of the research lab. Anyway, while I was there, this guy said, "gee, I'd love to hire you. Why don't you get out of that damn mess down in Mexico in the jungle, wading through the soup half the time, and come up and join up with us?"
DeVorkin:Any hesitation on your part?
Westphal:I said, gee, that's great. Can you pay me enough money? He said, "what do you make?" I told him what it was, which was nothing even in those days. He said, "Well, I'll double that. How about that for a pass?" I said, "Okay, you're on." (laughs). So I went back down to Mexico and gave them three months notice so that they had time to replace me without a panic. And just a year after I had gone down there, I came back and went to work for Sinclair. I think that must have been the first of December of 1954.
DeVorkin:1954, okay. Let me change this tape.
DeVorkin:What were your responsibilities at Sinclair in the beginning, and what was the research environment?
Westphal:The research environment was exploration research. And since they didn't know what it meant, but they had a million dollars a year to spend, it was one of those classic situations where the reason for its existence had nothing to do with the work it was doing. They were supposed to spend so many millions of dollars a year on research, so they said, "Okay, here's a million dollars; go do research." The management of the corporation didn't have the slightest idea what should be done. They didn't want to have anything to do with this. They were doing it because they had been directed to do it. It was that simple minded. So essentially, we could do anything we wanted to; but they had already been there for a couple of years, so ...
DeVorkin:These were mainly double E's like in SSC?
Westphal:No, they were mainly, in fact, Ph.D. geologists, geophysicists, and geochemists. They decided this was a great opportunity. There were all kind of post-doc level guys, except for Johnson, who I think, didn't have a Ph.D., but he was a geologist by training. And he had many years of experience in the oil business in geology and exploration geology. So they hired me because they recognized that I had a special skill in instruments and field work, and you know, in making that sort of thing happen. So I came into the company, not very visible, and not with any special job; the kind of a job to help out on whatever was being done. Of course, it was a dream kind of a job for somebody like me, and especially coming immediately from what had been a physically very grungy environment in South Mexico.
DeVorkin:Socially kind of difficult, too.
Westphal:Socially difficult, and of course, with that kind of increase in salary, I went out and bought a car; gee, the f irst car I ever had. I was really in hog heaven, and got myself a real apartment, and so forth. Very quickly, it was clear that I was the person in the system that had the broadest kind of engineering technical knowledge, how to do things, and what could be done. I grew in that job very quickly, lots of challenges and lots of opportunities, and lots of money. Nobody knew what to do with all the money. They had a substantial staff of technicians running around.
DeVorkin:How many did you have that reported to you?
Westphal:Nobody reported to me. I reported to somebody else, but these guys were around. It was a very unorganized situation; it was not a rigid organization in any sense. It was a very open kind of enterprise; and really, we all just kind of worked for Jimmy Johnson, and it didn't matter.
DeVorkin:He was running it.
Westphal:He was running this piece of it. The whole research lab was a bigger thing, and it had a lot of people doing reservoir engineering. Reservoir engineering in that context normally meant: "How do you get more oil out of the ground?" But they had a bunch of people that were doing oil field engineering, or a better way to say it is, people who were worrying about how you made hardware, and how you improved the process of working in the oil field. So it was really a mechanical engineering kind of crew. Now, they worked for somebody else. And there was a vice-president of Sinclair that ran the place.
DeVorkin:What was Johnson's group responsible for?
Westphal:His group was the exploration geophysics research group.
DeVorkin:So the same techniques that you were already familiar with.
Westphal:Oh yes, sure, and the idea was, let's find better ways to do it, and let's understand how it works. Let's develop better amplifiers and better instruments; better ways to analyze the data; better ways to display the data; and all kinds of things like that. It was really just anybody's imagination. You could just run wild. So very quickly over the course of probably the first year, I started to accumulate a group of guys that worked with me, not for me in a formal sense, but with me. We started tackling a bunch of these kinds of problems; how do you do a better job of this and that, and the other thing. One of the first things we recognized was that, boy, it sure would be nice to get rid of a bunch of the hand calculations that went on in that business in those days, and lay hands upon a computer. So we threshed around and laid hands on an IBM 604, which was a wired program machine. We started doing things like that. We had a lot of interest in gravity work. We thought, and we were right, that gravity exploration techniques had never really been done right, and with a computer you could do it a lot easier and faster; therefore, you could try things that just were not viable if you had to do all of the analysis by hand.
DeVorkin:Did you have any prior experience or interest in computers, or someone in your group?
Westphal:No, none of us. We knew they existed and we could learn; and of course, it wasn't hard to learn in those days. It isn't hard to learn now. We went along with the 604 for about a year. Again, through this astronomy club, a guy appears out of the woodwork and joins the astronomy club. What does he do? Well, he's a computer programmer. His name was Gene Usdin, and it turns out that he and a couple of other fellows had started a little computer company, which was the first computer company in Tulsa.
DeVorkin:This was a hardware company, or software?
Westphal:This was a computing company. Their job was to do computing. They weren't building hardware; they were an application service company. So, of course, the main action in Tulsa then, and partly still now, was the oil industry. It was the only industry, certainly, then; so they were around looking for things to do in the oil biz. The first thing they latched onto was the reservoir engineering people. Their work involved lots of simple-minded calculations and lots of nomograms, the use of tables, and graphics. These guys just went through that like nothing, you know, and it was just trivial to do on even a 604. And all they had was a 604. That's what there was at that time. Since I ran into him in the astronomy club, we got acquainted, and pretty soon, we hired him as a consultant.
DeVorkin:The astronomy club sounds like a real focus.
Westphal:It was a real focus for all kinds of technical things around that town. The radio ham club was the same sort of thing as well. I think that was a natural thing. It was a kind of a technically-oriented social enterprise, and it was a gathering place for people. There was, of course, a geophysics society, locally, but it had fallen into the hands of a bunch of joiners and lawyers, who wanted to spend their time writing by-laws and having formal meetings and that sort of stuff. It was not a very effective thing in those days. It got very much better later on, with the influx of a lot of new Ph.D.'s in that business, for which we were mainly responsible, because we were hiring a lot of these guys.
DeVorkin:Did you have pressures f or producing things on various schedules to the Sinclair people? Did the vice-president who was running this division apply any pressure to look good?
Westphal:No. It was totally unorganized. The parent company couldn't care less what we did. As I said before, our job was to be there and spend money. They didn't have the slightest interest in what we were doing, whether we got any results or not. They were fulfilling this requirement that the financial community had laid upon Sinclair, that Sinclair wasn't a real oil company if it didn't have a research lab. A research lab should spend so many millions of dollars a year, and it should have so many people. A certain percentage of them had to be Ph.D.'s; and that's all they cared about. As long as we did that, that was all there was to it. They could care less.
Westphal:No publishing, no nothing.
DeVorkin:Is it still that way?
Westphal:That company? Well, that company has since become part of ARCO, and actually, Sinclair owned Richfield Oil Company originally. And then Richfield, through some machinations of the financial world, took over Sinclair, and Atlantic took over Richfield Sinclair, and it became Atlantic Richfield, and Sinclair disappeared, but that was after I left there.
DeVorkin:Certainly, but the question is, was this, looking back at it, a very unusual situation in industrial R&D?
Westphal:Yes, the fact that it was so late in coming. Standard of New Jersey, what is now called Exxon, had a big research lab in Tulsa that had been there for many years. And they were really doing research. They had the other problem. They were so formalized that the joke around was, which was not really a joke, that these guys spent five per cent of their time doing research and ninety-five per cent of their time writing reports about it. That lab was actually called Carter at that time, which was before Standard of New Jersey took over all the little companies and made them one.
DeVorkin:Who was responsible for this laissez-faire attitude in Sinclair?
Westphal:The top management of Sinclair. They couldn't care less; just the appearance was all they cared about. Now people down in the system, of course, were utilizing that as an opportunity to do all kinds of nifty things. They didn't just waste the money, although there was waste. They really saw it as an opportunity to do a bunch of neat stuff, and that's what we were doing. The vice-president in charge of our place at that time was interested in oil shale. He had decided oil shale was where the future was.
DeVorkin:At that time.
Westphal:At that time, and his only interest was oil shale; and he got a single block of oil shale that was 20 feet on a side, mined up in Colorado and shipped to Tulsa, and installed it in the back lot. That's a big piece of stuff, you know.
DeVorkin:A 20-foot cube?
Westphal:A 20-foot cube. It was hauled on the railroad, and it took special routing to haul something 20 feet wide on the railroad.
DeVorkin:Yes. Why did he want it?
Westphal:He wanted to do experiments on it; and he had dreamed up something — this is a little later than the point where we are in the discussion at the moment — called flame-flooding. The oil industry does secondary recovery by flooding, first by flooding with water, and then with steam and carbon dioxide. He was going to flood the oil field with flame. His idea was that he was going to set the shale on fire down in the earth by pumping air into it, getting it on fire, and then he was going to pressurize it and have this fire burn. As it burned, of course, it would liquify the oil ahead of it and push the oil ahead of it. Conceptually it was a very pretty idea, and an idea that has surfaced several times in recent years. It has a fatal flaw, however, in oil shales, and that is that oil shales have a very low permeability. It has a lot of porosity, a lot of open space, but it isn't connected in a way that you can make stuff flow through it.
DeVorkin:I understand that.
Westphal:So what would happen was that he would heat this thing up red hot, ultimately, in the center of this 20 foot cube of block. His idea was that he was going to pump in air to make this flame front expand and the oil was just going to run right out of the sides of the block onto the ground. In fact, he had even dug a pit so that the pit would catch the oil that he was going to make out of it. What happened was that he could melt the damn rock on the inside, and nothing would happen on the outside, because it was self-sealing. What little permeability was there would be sealed up by this oil, t his heavy tarlike stuff, and it is a poor thermal conductor, and so just nothing would happen. Anyway, he was only interested in that. He couldn't care less what we were doing. I was there from '55 to '61 when I came here; so I was there six years. Gradually, as things evolved, I ended up with a group in a formal sense, and our job was to look at nonconventional techniques of finding oil. Now that was all it was, and by then our budget had grown massively. Our little group consisted of six or eight guys, and we had a lot of support people scattered around. Our job was to spend a million dollars a year among us, looking at unconventional ways of finding oil. We did a lot of geochemistry of all sorts. We did a lot of gamma ray spectroscopy on surface materials. We did a lot of gravity work of various sorts, and that was what led ultimately, by accident, to my coming to Caltech, that particular gravity study. I'll come back to that later on. We did various sorts of seismic things. We did radio propagation through the near surface. We did aerial photography through colored filters, Landsat kind of stuff. We looked at people with oil in bottles on strings that wiggled this way when you were at one edge of the oil, and that way when you were at the other edge.
Westphal:You know, we looked at anything that anybody said would find oil.
DeVorkin:You mean the divining rods?
Westphal:Divining rods, yes. An infinite suite of these kinds of things. A guy in the back woods would put gold in a bottle to find gold. He put oil in the bottle to find oil. He puts silver in the bottle and it finds silver. You know, the bent twig, the whole bit.
DeVorkin:A lot of people?
Westphal:Oh, the world's full of those people, hundreds of them, and we purposely advertised that we were interested in looking at anything.
DeVorkin:Who actually was responsible for dealing with all these people, you directly?
Westphal:Me, my crew. I did a good bit of it, but I was running them through a little subgroup. And we advertised even in newspapers.
DeVorkin:Were there any documents on this? Were they kept?
Westphal:No, and since then the company has disappeared, I expect the files don't exist either. But incredible stuff, the most incredible bunch of complicated things that were essentially oil in a bottle. They would bring in the most exotic bottles, and you know, they'd have radioactive stuff in it, or the'd have this or that, or they'd have vitamins in it, (laugh) anything, anything, anything. But we spent most of our effort, in fact, on a few things that were perceived to be almost scientific, which meant you almost understood how they might work. The whole idea of geochemical exploration really is based on the recognition that there are a few places in this world where oil comes right to the surface. These are oil seeps. Some famous places are along the California Coast here, where oil is seeping up in the ocean. Down off of Redondo Beach, right off the end of the LA Airport, there are three places where oil is bubbling up out of the bottom of the ocean. It is coming from oil fields. There is absolutely no doubt.
DeVorkin:The La Brea tar pits are evidence?
Westphal:The tar pits are precisely that sort of a thing. There is a place up above Santa Barbara, called Coal Oil Point, where the stuff coming out is so light that it's like kerosene. So the concept is a very simple-minded one, and that is that there ought to be microseeps, seeps that are so small you don't see any evidence with your eye. And so you ought to be able to find them fairly easily by simple-minded chemical techniques. It's conceptually a nice idea. You don't have any problem with the physics or chemistry of that in a conceptual sense; and so all kinds of simple-minded and sophisticated things were done. In fact, we had the first big firstclass organic gas mass spectrometer in the oil industry. It was a thing that was dreamed up by a man whose name escapes me at the moment at Penn State, and it's a special game of its own. We bought one of these from him. He set up a little company on the side, and we bought one of these things. Therein lies one of the funnier things that happened during that time; there are lots of funny stories, of course. But we bought this thing, and we spent many, many weeks after it came, getting it installed and calibrated. Finally, on a Thursday, everything was done, and it was turned on and it worked. And Friday afternoon we had this immense bloody party, celebrating finally getting this mass spectrometer to work. And so everybody had this big party, and went away, happy as hell, about one or two o'clock on Friday afternoon. Saturday at noontime, some guard discovered that the lights were all off in this lab, and it stunk to high heaven in there; and there was smoke in there and all kinds of things. So he called somebody, and ultimately they called up the guy who was running it, a fellow by the name of Rolyn P. Jacobson, and he goes tearing down there and discovers that the whole system has lost vacuum. Mercury has been evaporated all over the room out of the mercury diffusion pumps, and it was just a disaster. So he shuts the whole world down, and goes away crying the blues. Monday everybody comes in and starts cleaning the mess up. They finally get part of it cleaned up and get it decontaminated to a level that allowed us to stay in the room.
DeVorkin:Yes. People were sensitive to mercury, of course.
Westphal:Oh yes, we had had a problem earlier with mercury. They had huge mercury diffusion pumps for some other enterprise in an old house that was on the grounds. This lab was a fairly big kind of garden, or a campuslike place with a number of isolated buildings, one of which had been the superintendent's house. It had been converted into a big lab, and so much mercury had been spilled in that thing that we finally had to destroy the building to get rid of the mercury. People were very sensitive to the mercury problem; unlike at Mt. Wilson.
DeVorkin:Now, wait a minute! What's that?
Westphal:(laughs). Well, you know, both of the telescopes, the old telescopes at Mt. Wilson, the 60-inch and the 100-inch, have mercury floatation bearings. And they both leak like a sieve, particularly in past years. So both buildings are catastrophically contaminated with mercury. And there was a time back ten years ago or so, when that problem was so severe that Caltech decided that their students could no longer work there because of the health hazard. So it's been a running problem in which people didn't really want to face up to the fact that there was a mercury problem. In fact, there are people around who have a cursory look at it, who believe that George Ellery Hale's mental problem was almost surely, in fact, mercury poisoning. He was the father of those telescopes, and back from his days in Chicago, he was a great fan of mercury and loved to play with it and work with it. The symptoms that you read in the book about Hale* apparently are very similar to the normal symptoms of mercury poisoning, the kind of sporadic mental problems. You remember, he would be lucid for weeks or days, and then he would be in deep trouble, and would have to go back to this place on the East Coast, where he would spend time axing a stump. In the back of this place was a big stump, and he had an ax, and he would spend hours just hitting this thing with the ax. I don't know what it was all about. I don't know that anybody necessarily really knows, but actually somebody might, at this point, be able to establish that it really was mercury. It would be an interesting thing, if somebody really understands the symptoms, to do some work on it, it seems to me. * Explorer of the Universe (Helen Wright).
DeVorkin:It would be quite valuable to understand him better.
Westphal:That's right, and particularly if that happened to be the source of many of his problems. It would be, I think, a very important thing to understand that he went crazy, not for the obvious reasons, but because he was really poisoned by heavy metal.
DeVorkin:Well, I'm sorry, so we go back.
Westphal:It's a diversion. The story was that once they got this thing cleaned up so people could work in there, then they started to go see where the leak was. And of course they assumed that some of the glass was broken somehow. They started pumping the thing down with just a fore pump, of course. And the damned thing wouldn't pump down, and they kept valving off parts and parts and parts, until finally it got to nothing but the fore pump. The fore pump itself wouldn't work. Somebody happened to notice that on top of this fore pump there was a label.
DeVorkin:A fore pump?
Westphal:Yes, a mechanical fore pump, that you use on the high pressure side of a diffusion pump. It was a mechanical rotary pump. And it is normally called a fore pump. And so they looked, and here setting on top of this fore pump is a brand new Sinclair metal label that says, "Sinclair Research Labs, Property No. such and such." And the guy gets to looking at it, and he discovers that the thing is put on with four little drive nails. And so it is discovered that somebody came in Friday afternoon, somebody from the property office, with an electric hand drill, and went "zit, zit, zit," into the top of the fore pump, laid the thing down, and bang, bang, four nails into the top of this thing, and that was it.
DeVorkin:Oh boy, what a story. That's how things get messed up!
Westphal:That's how things happen, and how things get messed up, everybody doing his job, just galloping incompetency and complacence. At any rate, we had this group of six or eight guys, and we really did most of our work on three things. The gravity thing which everybody understood, and the physics of which was clear; and we were just trying to do a much better job than anybody had ever done before. The geochemistry thing where the physics and chemistry was fairly obvious, and where we were applying new technology, new ways, better ways, cleaner ways to make the measurements. The third activity that we spent most of our time on was a commercial process called Radoil. It was the invention and property of a man whose name I cannot any longer remember, who lived in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was independently wealthy. He had dreamed up this idea that radio waves propagate through the earth, and that they would interact with the edges of oil fields, where the oil interfaces with the water, and that it would defract radio waves, or it would do this, that or the other thing.
DeVorkin:The P and S waves would behave differently. Was he playing with that?
Westphal:No, he wasn't into that. It was simpler than that. It was just the strength of the radio signals.
DeVorkin:Okay, these were not seismic waves.
Westphal:No, it was not that. The radio waves that he used were at 1728 kilohertz, or whatever the number was, something in there. I think that actually was the number. That just happened to be a frequency that the FCC had assigned the oil industry for communication purposes. So he took that frequency, because he didn't have to get a new license, although he was doing something that I suspect was, strictly speaking, against the rules. It was meant strictly for communication, but he used it for that purpose. In any case he was attacked by people who understood physics, who said, this whole thing does not work — Maxwell's equations say that it won't work like that — he would back farther and farther into a corner, making it more and more special until he finally, ultimately, got to the point where he said, "Well, it's crucial to use that exact frequency." There is something special about that frequency, forgetting of course, that the frequency had been randomly assigned. But the fact was that the man sold this service. He had a little company and he sold this as a service to our industry. He sold this service to many oil companies at various times over many years. And every once in awhile, somebody would find some oil by that technique. In fact, since he was independently wealthy, he could play a game, which he did, in which he told companies that he would do the service for them for free for some percent of the oil that they found in the places where he told them to drill. The number 15% comes to mind, but there was some number, not a huge number, but a finite number. Then he published his success ratio. At one point when he was under great pressure, he showed the cancelled checks from the oil companies for the royalties that he got. He was making like a million bucks a year out of this royalty, some very large amount of money. So he was very convincing.
DeVorkin:This wasn't proof that the technique was right?
Westphal:From his viewpoint it was. He pointed out, and he was right about that, that the success ratio of finding oil by that technique was not substantially different from the success ratio of finding it by seismic techniques. The success ratio calculated as how many oil wells were producers in comparison with how many weren't by the two techniques. The fact was, and he was right, it was true, that his success ratio was about one in ten just like everybody else's was.
DeVorkin:What was the success ratio, though, at the time for people who used no techniques at all?
Westphal:About one in ten (laugh) even as we pointed out. Of course, that made people very unhappy, who were in the business of selling seismic techniques, and spending millions and millions of dollars on such techniques. It was a little discouraging when you looked at it that way, that in spite of all of that effort, the technique that everybody agrees is real and scientific and well behaved, and all of that, wasn't really very much more successful than random drilling, as long as the random drilling wasn't dumb. I mean, you didn't include oil wells that were drilled in Hawaii. I mean, that's dumb.
DeVorkin:Japan for the same reason.
Westphal:Yes, or the middle of the Canadian Shield, or some place where there was clearly absolutely no possibility of there being oil. But if you talked about wells that were drilled in places that had a finite geological chance of finding oil, the odds were not all that significantly different. And they are not to this day.
DeVorkin:But you took on this technique to study it.
Westphal:We wanted to find out, trying to be unbiased, whether there was some truth in it. Now, we were quite sure that these radio waves did not penetrate the earth 5,000 or 10,000 feet. So what we did at the beginning was to demonstrate by actual measurement that a lot of the folk lore about it, if you want to call it that, was clearly nonsense; that physics really works, essentially. So one of the early things that we did was to measure the strength of radio waves, even from his "special" frequency, down in mines. Well, he had done a bunch of that, because people had asked; but it turned out that in every case the mines that he did it in had cables running into them from the elevator, or for power, whatever. So we went up in eastern Oklahoma, where there was a bunch of abandoned lead and zinc mines, and we went into one of these mines and went, I don't remember, half a mile or so away from the mine shaft, into an area that had no metal pipes or wires, or anything else in it, just an open shaft back in this lead and zinc mine. And then we went above that place and we injected radio waves with his classic antenna, the way you were supposed to do it. We showed that, in fact, there was attenuation of some arbitrarily large number, i.e.: we couldn't see any radio energy at all getting there. But that, in fact, jumping ahead just a bit, still wasn't convincing enough.
DeVorkin:To him or to others?
Westphal:To him and to some people in our company, and to all of us at some level, because it was in a lead and zinc mine, and that's full of highly electrically conducting materials. And so he took the stance that it was all baloney: "because you put yourself underneath a lead shield, so what. It didn't have anything to do with the real world." Well, that's a good argument. One of the things that I find interesting and that most people don't know — I mean, there's no reason they should know — is that everywhere in the earth that the rocks are permeable, below 1,000 feet or so in the ground, the earth is full of salt water. All of the porosity in permeable rocks in the earth is full of salt water, and particularly in those areas that have to do with oil, where there are sedimentary rocks that were deposited in the first place in the ocean. Even those "continental" rocks that were actually deposited on the earth's surface are full of salt water, too, because the world is full of salt water. So it means that, although the crystal material, the solid material in the earth, is in general made out of materials that are electrical nonconductors — like quartz and so forth, so that an individual grain of quartz is not an electrical conductor — the earth is extremely conductive in the top thousands of feet. It means that the electrical properties of the earth, once you get into the salt water region, are essentially the properties of salt water, which is a good electrical conductor. So everybody agreed, including this guy, that a very good test of this would be to go measure the transmission of these radio waves in the ocean, where you can get into it without leaving a hole, and without any wires. So a group of us went to the Florida Keys in the spring of 1960, and we spent a couple or three months in the Florida Keys measuring the transmission of radio waves in the ocean, radio waves of the frequency that he was talking about, around 1700 kz.
DeVorkin:Did you have any contact with the Hudson Laboratory people?
Westphal:Well, we knew the Hudson Laboratory people, primarily through this guy, Usdin, who was a big buddy of a guy who I think may have been the director of the place. I can't think of his name. He's a mathematician, and therein lies a very funny story, which is why I remember it.
DeVorkin:Robert Frosch was there for a number of years?
Westphal:I don't know but this guy was hired by Standard of New Jersey's research lab in Tulsa, and at the time that we are talking about, he was a buddy of Usdin's, and he was hired as their big gun mathematician. He was given a brand new office and had a high level position, so he had so many inches of overhang on his desk. You know, that's how you measure prestige in the oil industry, at least, in those days; how much overhang you have on your desk, and also what kind of pen and pencil set you've got. Anyway, he had this, and he said, "I want a blackboard." They said, "You can't have a blackboard; you're too high in the corporation to have a blackboard." He had to have a blackboard. They said no way. This is the first week he is at work. The second week he comes in on Monday morning, and prepares his desk. And sometime early in the morning, his boss comes in, and here setting in the middle of his desk, screwed down with four wood screws, is a roll of white butcher paper, and he's rolling this butcher paper out. He's doing his work just like on a blackboard, but on butcher paper. It's going down between his legs on the floor. He tears it off, piles it in a heap in the corner, and he's doing his thing. "You won't give me a blackboard, I'll work on this butcher paper." And they fired him.
DeVorkin:This was at Hudson?
Westphal:No, this was at ESSO Research, and then he went to Hudson.
DeVorkin:Oh, that's incredible. Anyway, in your Florida Keys work, you didn't have contact with Hudson directly?
Westphal:We had nothing to do with Hudson.
DeVorkin:I see. So you weren't getting into any kind of underwater sound work?
Westphal:No, no. This was all RF, and this was just a study to try to clean up this discussion of whether Maxwell's equations are really right or not. Was something weird?? And everybody, including this guy who ran Radoil, agreed that that was a very good experiment. Of course, what we found out was that Maxwell knew just what he was talking about. And we spent two or three months down there, all of us, with scuba gear and underwater field strength meters, and transmitters, doing these propagation measurements in the Florida Keys on the Atlantic side, in 40 feet of water, with a big flat sandy bottom, with everything extremely uniform for a half mile around you. It was a great boondoggle. It was great fun, and we put to bed the idea that this stuff was going deep in the earth.
DeVorkin:But, if you went to lower frequencies?
Westphal:That's right, if you go down to 100 kilohertz, you can get some distance in sea water. The Navy does all of that, and all that was known at that time.
DeVorkin:It was known?
Westphal:Oh yes, sure and you can even use a Jim's Creek 16.6 kilohertz thing, just above the audio region. It's this big antenna up in Jim's Creek, Washington, and that signal will go, I don't know, 100 meters or something into the ocean, apparently. But all of that does exactly what Maxwell says it should do. So all of us knew that it was true, but you really had to demonstrate it to a bunch of doubters. We had gone out, of course, and done a bunch of oil field tests on our own, and we were infringing his patent, as far as he was concerned, but we weren't really, because we had discovered that we could get a lot better signal to noise ratio by changing the technique from the way that he was doing it. I won't bore you with the details of that, but we actually had some patents on these techniques, and one of the problems he had was the simplest one in the world. He didn't make any attempt to stabilize the output of his transmitter, so he would get false signals from the fact that the transmitter was changing power levels with time. I even have a patent on a way of stabilizing the output of a radio transmitter for this purpose. At any rate, what we thought was that this might be a very sensitive technique; because what you really are measuring are the very near surface electrical properties of the earth, the dielectric constant and the conductivity of the near surface. That might be a very effective way to detect changes in the surface chemistry, coming back to the geochemistry idea again now.
DeVorkin:The bleeding through.
Westphal:In fact, if you can imagine, say, in a desert-like area, like West Texas, if there was a finite amount of organic material, an unusual amount of organic material coming from oil there, that would almost surely change the bulk electrical properties of the earth, and be detectable by radio waves. Maybe this was a very clever, neat way to do geochemistry, and it was also great, because it samples a large area at once. Because what you did in our way of doing it, was that you dragged an antenna that was about 200 feet long along the surface. In his way you used a loop antenna and you carried it along. But it turned out that you got a much better signal to noise ratio, and a reproducible one by having this antenna wire laying along the surface. And you would drag it along, measuring the field strength, so you were averaging electrical properties over something on the order of 100 or 200 feet. We thought, gee, that's a very nice way, and maybe that's what this thing is really about. So we did a lot of work on known oil fields. We also did a lot of work on potential oil fields; that is, places particularly out in the Delaware Basin in Western Texas, where the surface is sandy and where nobody knows how to find oil, except by random drilling. The seismic techniques didn't work in the Delaware Basin in those days. In fact, I think they still don't work very well. Somebody found a well, and so we were going to map where the field actually was away from this well. We made some predictions about it, and we found a long wiggly kind of an anomaly, as they were called, in the RF field strength. We said, "aha."
DeVorkin:This was purely empirical.
Westphal:Purely empirical. Purely empirical.
DeVorkin:You didn't know what caused the anomaly?
Westphal:No, but what we imagined was that maybe it was something like this geochemical thing. So they started drilling wells, and in fact, Sinclair started drilling wells in the direction we said had the highest probability. Every well hit oil, well after well. I mean, we had like five in a row. So then they said, "well, we'll make an experiment. We'll go this direction, at right angles." They went at right angles, and by god, it was a dry hole. Boy, we thought we had it made! We really thought we had something. So then, they continued, of course, drilling wells fast. And over the course of six months, and another 30 wells, it became apparent that there was no relationship of where the oil was to where we had drawn it on the map. So then we tried to find out what the hell this was about, and we finally took some first class aerial stereo photographs with the sun low, a low slant, so that the earth is illuminated at an angle. That showed up subtle things in the surface. And we could see this thing that we had mapped on the photographs. Then we recognized that it was an old stream bed. That part of Texas once, during the glacial times, was a lot wetter and there was a coherent drainage system. Now, it's drier and there is no coherent drainage system, and so the sand blows into these old stream beds, fills them, and so of course, the electrical properties are a lot different in that spot. But you know, it was those kinds of flurries that made you think, "gee, maybe this thing really works in some nifty way." Most of our effort went into looking at something like that. Now, about the gravity work that we did. If you measure gravity in the classic way in the oil fields, you measure the gravitational attraction at the surface of the earth. You go around from point to point measuring the gravitational attraction. Of course, that mirrors clearly the vertical distribution of density in the earth. So variations horizontally mean there are horizontal variations in the density. So if, as an example, you had some great big anticline, some place where the earth bulges up, which is a classic place where you expect to find an oil field. I mean, rocks in a given formation are different distances from the surface when you are near the top of an anticline than when you are at the edges. So imagine, for instance, that there was some really dense sandstone layer that was bent up like this, and so if you made a gravity survey across that region, you would expect to find a higher gravitational attraction in the middle of it, where this sandstone layer is closer to the surface than you would out at the edges. This is a simple-minded kind of an idea about how this might work. These survey data are very hard to interpret. One of the reasons is that you don't have any idea whether you're seeing a big thing that's very thin and very near you, or some other thing that's very deep, but also very heavy. The gravitational attraction is going to be the same, it's going to mimic the thing. You don't know anything about the depth; that's what it's saying. So the obvious thing, if you want to know something about the depth, is that you need a map of the vertical gravity field: the change in gravitational attraction at different elevations. Well, gravity is measured by various techniques. In that particular technique, the gravity meter is essentially a spring balance. It's a weight on a spring. So the movement of that weight measures gravitational attraction; when gravity is greater the spring extends, etc. Of course, the instrument is obviously acceleration-sensitive. That's what it's measuring, acceleration; so you can't put it in an airplane or something like that, so what do you do? Well, you make a tower, and you measure at different levels of the tower. Well, a tower is miserable, because it sways in the breeze and stuff. That causes accelerations, and it really doesn't work very well. So the other thing you can do is drill a hole in the ground. So we started out talking about that; and by then I had become acquainted with Hewitt Dix down this other path of the Moho business that I think I told you about before. And so Hewitt was around and involved in the Moho thing, and we started talking to him about this gravity problem. He reminded us that every oil field in the L.A. Basin known at that time, which was 1960, roughly, has a beautiful gravity anomaly over the top of it. You could find every oil field in the L.A. Basin with a gravity meter. However, the evidence is that the gravitational attraction is not due to the big anticline and its total effect, but it's due to something near the surface. The reason is that there are places in the gravitational maps where there are sharp features. And you can only get a sharp feature if you are close to the source for the reasons we were talking about earlier.
DeVorkin:So you got a sharp feature .....
Westphal:Hewitt pointed this out. He said, "Gee, I think it's a really great idea to do this vertical gravity mapping." So we decided that we would do it, but not in California, which was a long way from Oklahoma. It was easier to ship Hewitt to Oklahoma than it was to ship all of us out there.
DeVorkin:And he was with the Mohole project at that time?
Westphal:No, he was a professor of geophysics here at Caltech. As far as I know he was never involved with Project Mohole; he was interested in the Moho seismic discontinuity.
DeVorkin:How was the contact made, again?
Westphal:I think you and I talked about how it was that I came to Caltech. We had been using quarry blasts to measure by reflection seismic techniques, the depth of the top of the Mohorovicic ("Moho”) discontinuity.
DeVorkin:We hadn't talked about that.
Westphal:Okay, we'll come back to talk about that, which is how I came to Caltech originally. But by then, Hewitt and I had made contact over that matter, and he was spending the summer at our place in Tulsa. We had hired him as a consultant for the summer, and so we, of course, talked to him about everything we were doing. We talked to him about this idea of trying to do some vertical gravity measurements. He thought it was the greatest idea going; and thought there was really a high probability that it was going to be an effective exploration technique. So we decided to try it. We discussed where to try it, and we finally decided to try it in a place in West Texas, where there is a lot of irrigation work done, and where they drill irrigation wells. They drill these wells with very large diameters, three feet or more in diameter. We figured that we could hire somebody who would drill us three-foot diameter holes in the ground, and so that is indeed what we did. We went to a place where we knew pretty much the geophysics of the situation. We drilled a number of three-foot holes in the ground, two feet at a time. We drilled two feet into the ground, and we'd get down on the bottom of it and measure the gravity. Then we'd get out of it and the guy would drill two feet more and we would get in again. We drilled these things 100 feet deep. So here we were being lowered down on ropes with a gravity meter. You'd stand there in this thing which was three feet in diameter, which isn't very big. You'd set the gravity meter on the bottom and you'd level it up, then read the gravity. They'd haul you back and the guy would go back in and take out two more feet. That's the hard way to do it. But that's what you do simple-mindedly to understand what's going on, to get these vertical gravity profiles.
DeVorkin:You couldn't drill the hole all the way down, and then just take measurements?
Westphal:No, because there was no place to set the gravity meter. You wanted to get the gravity on the bottom of the hole. Otherwise, you're back into the problem of having a tower again, or something.
Westphal:So, you know, brute force; but that's what you do when you first want to try something out. And so we did a bunch of this. That was really how we hooked Hewitt into the kind of work we were doing. It was a great coup for a company like Sinclair, which was not one of the old line geophysics research companies. For an oil company research lab to get somebody like Hewitt who was the father of exploration seismology was quite a coup. But he was just having the time of his life, and he liked our style. He liked the way we worked, which was just hang loose and try anything that came to mind; and we had more money than we knew what to do with. So the gravity thing was what kept Hewitt around more than the Moho thing, which was a side issue, but was the thing that ultimately became very important to me. But that's how Hewitt came to us.
DeVorkin:How successful were your first tests?
Westphal:With the gravity meter thing? It was very enlightening, but we didn't learn enough to be convincing. All of us believe yet to this day that it is a very, very powerful technique. The problem is, exactly the one you are talking about, how you do it. In recent years the USGS has done some work, not for oil exploration, but for other kinds of geophysics, in which they had downhole gravity meters which they had built, ones that they could clamp into the side of a hole and then level the meter. It has been fairly successful in scientific geophysics; but it's a hard game, and it's an expensive game. I haven't kept close track of it really in recent years, so I don't know the subtleties of how it's going these days.
DeVorkin:Let's just sort of map this out a little bit. You have yet to tell us exactly how, through your contact with Hewitt, you came to Caltech. Will that be the next discussion?
Westphal:Sure, if you like. It's probably the logical thing. I think the rest of it is irrelevant. I mean, there are a million stories.
DeVorkin:I'd like that and a general evaluation of your years at Sinclair, and then we'll move into the Caltech years. (Pause for lunch).
DeVorkin:We've come back from lunch. At lunch we identified a number of other very interesting areas we should explore. One deals directly with the space program, partly through Project Moonwatch, and through Sinclair's wondering if they should somehow get into the space program. I'll leave the order of discussion up to you.
Westphal:Okay. As I mentioned to you at lunch, Sinclair's Board of Directors had apparently decided that they ought to make sure that Sinclair didn't need to be in the space biz for some reason, or whether there was an opportunity there. They asked the Sinclair Research Labs to come and tell them whether they should or shouldn't be involved and to explain what it was all about. Since I had been the leader in Tulsa, through the astronomy club, of a Moonwatch team, and had kind of become the spokesman to the local press about Sputniks and satellites, they asked me to go back and discuss this matter with the Sinclair Board of Directors. Actually, I first talked to the Board of Directors of the Sinclair Research Labs in what, looking back at it, was surely a kind of dry run of what I might say when I got to the 'Big Board', as it was called. That went very well, and so later, a week or two, I went back to New York to talk to the 'Big Board'. A very funny thing happened at the Sinclair Research Lab's board meeting. Some few weeks earlier — it wasn't very long before these events — Gene Usdin, the man I mentioned earlier who was the software consultant, and who was acquainted with Claude Shannon of information theory fame at Bell Telephone reported on meeting with Shannon. He had seen him some place and came back describing an elegant device that Claude Shannon had thought up, and proposed that we build one.
DeVorkin:What was it for?
Westphal:We did, and well, I have it here in my lab and I am going to show it to you in a second here. Now, this device is an adult toy, broadly; and it was hand built, essentially entirely, by me. It's a very unusual device in the sense that it causes strange and unexpected reactions in people.
Westphal:Now, when you finish playing with the camera, I'll let you operate it here.
DeVorkin:Do I get an electric shock?
Westphal:No. No evil thing happens to you at all physically. If it's evil, it will be in your mind that it's evil. I would not anticipate that you consider it to be evil. But at any rate, as I will show you in a moment how this operates, I took this along with me to this Board of Directors meeting. I was showing it to some people before that meeting, vice-presidents, and so forth of the corporation. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not to take that thing in and show it to the Board of Directors. Well, I could not resist doing that, as you will see when you see it operate. And so I took this device into the board meeting. I told them that I was going to show them a physical model of a manager, and then I operated this device. So now, you can operate it by pushing the toggle switch upward. (machine makes noise).
DeVorkin:Oh no. (laughs). Is that the original?
Westphal:That's the original. And as you can see, you put in some input to a manager, and in a little while, why that's what happens to your input. (laugh).
DeVorkin:Okay, for the purpose of the tape, an arm comes out and turns the switch off.
Westphal:The lid lifts up and the arm comes out, and then turns the switch off again, and goes back in and the lid closes.
DeVorkin:I've since seen these things marketed.
Westphal:Oh yes. There were various ones marketed after this. Many of them had a little arm at the top and no lid.
Westphal:And there were other forms of it.
DeVorkin:That's right. Was this the direct result of your invention?
Westphal:Well, I suspect it was in the sense that they appeared after this one did. I don't know whether they got the idea from this one or not.
DeVorkin:Growing awareness of such things; that's beautiful.
Westphal:Yes. Well, it was great fun. So I took it in to the meeting in spite of what I had been told, and the threats that had been made against my job and my person. I showed it to the Board of Directors, and as I say, I operated it like this. There was a dead silence for a few seconds, what seemed like hours, (laughs), and then one person started laughing, who happened to be the president. Then the whole place just deteriorated into a great guffaw.
Westphal:But as soon as it was over with and I got out of there, why, the guys who told me I should not do this were just livid. They said, "well, you got away with that, but you are damned well not going to do that with the full board." And I said, "oh, I expect I will." And they said, "you will not!"
DeVorkin:They still let you go?
Westphal:Oh yes, they let me go. They didn't fire me on the spot as threatened.
DeVorkin:I mean, they still let you go to the Board of Directors?
Westphal:Oh yes, yes. The main part of that was this discussion of space, and whether Sinclair ought to be involved in it.
DeVorkin:What was the metaphor then, the use of this?
Westphal:I just said it was a model of a manager. You know, you put an input in and in a little bit, it comes back and turns it off again without doing anything.
DeVorkin:But it wasn't connected with your discussion of the space program?
Westphal:It had nothing to do with the space program whatsoever. It was just a complete side issue.
DeVorkin:(laughs) Just your chance!
Westphal:Just my little chance to show something fun, and to see if they had a sense of humor. So two weeks later, of course, I went to the big board, and of course, I couldn't resist taking this thing along. And a couple of the members of the big board were obviously members of the Sinclair Research Board. So I thought I was in pretty good shape, it wasn’t really going to cause a total disaster. So I gave my pitch about space and whether Sinclair should be in it or not. The conclusion was that other than selling JP4 for fuel, or trying to compete with the Phillips Oil Company, who made solid rocket fuels (and it had been doing that since World War II, and therefore probably knew all there was to know about it), I didn't see there was much of a direct thing that Sinclair wanted to be involved in; at least, not as far as their petroleum business was concerned.
DeVorkin:Was this before NASA was developed in August of '58?
Westphal:Well, Sputnik was in October of '57. This was probably in the spring or early summer of '58.
DeVorkin:So it was as NASA was forming.
Westphal:As NASA was forming. I would guess that. I don't know for sure.
DeVorkin:The reason why I asked that is that before NASA was formed, or before it was actually fully formed, a good number of industries wondered whether they should make space an industrial-based program that would then be marketed out to the Government, marketed out to the universities and that sort of thing. What element did you address in that, anything at all?
Westphal:No, but now hearing that, I could well believe that that was why Sinclair's Board of Directors wanted to know that answer. They probably were privy to that general interest, and wanted to know whether they ought to have something to do with it or not. I did not know that, so that actually makes this fit together a little more cleanly than I knew before. I had no idea why they decided it was an interesting thing. And maybe this is exactly why. Maybe they were privy to the fact that industry was looking at it, yes. It could possibly be.
DeVorkin:What were your own feelings? Would you have liked to have gotten in on something like that?
Westphal:Oh yes, I think so, but in the context of the job that I had at Sinclair, there was certainly no obvious involvement at that point. I was not looking for some way to get into it, I guess, is the right way to say it. It was a fascinating thing, but I was a bystander and a watcher; and like everybody else, I was amazed by the whole enterprise.
DeVorkin:I can well imagine that someone who did have those aspirations would like to encourage a place like Sinclair to diversity.
Westphal:It was not in my mind at that point, at any rate.
DeVorkin:Okay. That's what I want to identify.
Westphal:Well, I showed the black box to the full board.
DeVorkin:What was their reaction?
Westphal:Well, there was a longer dead silence, and then the person who broke was the comptroller who, you know, would normally be the stodgy guy of the system. When that happened, why, the whole place came apart as well. Then I was invited to go to lunch with them in the executive dining room, which I do not think was in the original plans somehow, but I don't know that really.
DeVorkin:Can you recall the gist of your review? What did you say to the board?
Westphal:I simply explained to them what the space program was about and what people were trying to accomplish. And of course at that point it was all scientific. At least, what I was talking about was all the scientific interests. Remember, that was in the context of the IGY.
Westphal:And so really, what I did was simply distill and parrot out what was in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN and SKY AND TELESCOPE and everything else that was around. I had no special personal knowledge of it, other than just being interested and having read what was available. I kind of put it together in a coherent way as to what it was really about, and what was trying to be accomplished.
DeVorkin:You talked about the United States Vanguard program?
Westphal:Yes, sure, all of that stuff. And as I remember, I think for the Research Lab Board, I played a tape that I had made. That brings us back to the Moonwatch thing, in a natural way. When the Moonwatch program was being organized by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, like many other such groups, the astronomy club decided it would be a good thing to be involved. So I was asked to organize a team. Everybody who wanted to be involved in it, was involved in it, of course. So we turned in our forms and started getting data back.
DeVorkin:What kind of instruments did you develop? And use?
Westphal:Well, you remember, you were supposed to, officially, if you were going to be an official moonwatch team, you were supposed to buy some little moonwatch telescopes, which were 7-by-50 binocular objectives with a wide-field eyepiece and a little flat mirror. And the whole thing was put together by — who was the guy that built the little cheap planetariums?
Westphal:Spitz, in Maryland in College Park, as I remember.
DeVorkin:Do you mean this was more like a commercial venture?
Westphal:It was a very commercial venture. You were told that was what you had to buy, and he was the only man that sold them. And he was one of the people involved in it officially. There were a lot of funny deals in it, once you understood what was happening.
DeVorkin:They must have said that to you in the circulars, the mimeographed circulars that you got after you signed up.
Westphal:Well, I don't know. I don't remember the timing, but it was described in SKY AND TELESCOPE. They showed the prototype models, and they were available from Spitz.
DeVorkin:I know Edmund marketed them.
Westphal:Ultimately Edmund marketed them, toward the end; but at the beginning, that was the only set.
DeVorkin:So, did you go that route?
Westphal:No, we didn't, because we didn't like that idea. We didn't think it was the right way to proceed. We thought we knew as much about it as they did, which I think was probably true at that point. You remember that Allen Hynek was the official father of Moonwatch, but the real brains behind it in a technical sense was Luigi Jacchia. Anyway, he was a staff person at the Smithsonian.
DeVorkin:Whipple lent it some credibility.
Westphal:Whipple had some credibility in the thing too. But it was very tightly organized, and you were told in no uncertain terms that you were to do things in certain ways, and you were not to do them in some other way, and you were not to use your imagination, or anything else. You were to do exactly what you were told. And if you didn't, your data would not be accepted. So we didn't because it was not our style. We all were there for the second morning after Sputnik I. We were all lined up in my backyard in Tulsa, and there were a dozen of us or more, plus a whole yard full of hangers-on. And we chose, in fact, to use 7-by-50 binoculars directly, because we were aware that binocular vision was very much more effective than monocular vision in a deal like that. And we didn't, in fact, look down into a mirror and up so you could sit at a table so comfortably. We all did what we always did, which was we had a little tripod that held these binoculars, which most of us owned anyway; and we laid on the ground looking through the binoculars. We lined ourselves up along the orbital path. Now, the Smithsonian, of course, didn't even know where this thing was. I mean, they didn't have the slightest idea where it was. They had no idea when it was going to come by, or anything else. That was where, as we mentioned at lunch, the ham part was crucial, because as soon as it hit the news that the thing had been launched, it gave the frequency, which was 20 Mhz. You remember, it was almost precisely 20 Mhz., so it was interfering with WWV at 20 Mhz. But that also made a very convenient marker, so you had no doubt that you were in the right place. So we immediately, those of us in the team who were hams, got on the air and within the next pass, we were receiving the thing. So we quickly started plotting up the times to the best of our ability when the thing went at right angles to us, the Doppler gimmick. Later, everybody came to understand that that was a crucially important thing. But the issue always was: did you have the beat frequency oscillator set at the right place so that you knew when the null in the beat frequency occurred, which gave you a guarantee that it was really going at right angles. But of course, the thing had such a short orbit, and you knew so little that anything at all was infinitely better than nothing. So even though we might be a few hundred cycles off, that only meant a few seconds in the path, and that didn't really matter to us. We weren't trying to get a precise orbit. We just wanted to know where the thing was. We very quickly collected data during the course of the day and into the night, every time the thing would make a pass; and of course, there would be times when the orbit was oriented so we didn't hear it at all. We very quickly learned what the period was. We didn't understand the physics of most of this. We didn't understand about precession. We were amazed to find this orbit precessing. I mean, that's how little we understood about celestial mechanics. But just by pure graphical techniques, we were able to make a prediction within five minutes or so of when the next pass should be, for each incoming pass. And each time we would hit it, then our precision would increase. And so by the time of the next morning, we knew within a minute or so when the thing was going to come by. They had announced the orbital inclination, so we knew what the path was going to look like.
DeVorkin:Which was surprisingly high.
Westphal:It scared the "bejesus" out of everybody in sight. How the hell did they get it in orbit with that kind of a height? But at any rate, we knew a lot about what we were doing, so we just arrayed everybody right down the path, instead of doing what we were supposed to, which was set it on a meridian, and some one guy was going to get to see it. This way, everybody got to see it as it went by, plus, of course, you'd get a better timing, because you got a timing for each person it went by.
DeVorkin:All spread out where, just in your yard?
Westphal:Just in my yard, but each guy was looking at a different elevation angle along the path; so we covered something like 90 degrees of the path. And with a five degree, or seven degree field of view in those binoculars, we were seeing enough sky. We were secure enough about where the thing was by then that we thought we were all right. But to be safe, we put a fan across right in the middle, so that we covered about 30 degrees in essentially north-south, or at right angles to the orbit. So that, if the thing wasn't going down the exact path we expected, then we still wouldn't miss it.
DeVorkin:Yes. You were doing optical and radio.
Westphal:Yes, and we of course had the radio there, so we knew when it was coming. Well, we heard the thing come over the horizon, or something like over the horizon, and so of course, there wasn't any point watching yet, so everybody was kind of standing around. And all of a sudden, out of the earth's shadow, right over our head, pops the booster. It was just unbelievably bright, brighter than Venus, just unbelievable! We didn't have the tape recorder going yet, which is really unfortunate, because you never heard so many "ooohs" and "aws," and "my gods," and "can you believe that" and so forth. It was tumbling, of course, and so it was doing this — it was just an incredible sight. Well, as I say, by then the actual satellite was already over the horizon, and of course, it was getting louder. It was coming up.
DeVorkin:You didn't expect to see the booster?
Westphal:We didn't know there was a booster. We had no idea there was a booster! We didn't see or hear anything about a booster. It all clicked together within seconds, you know; they had to get it up there. But of course, we had no knowledge whether the main booster went up with it, and went into orbit, or whether the thing had, like our satellite Vanguard, a fourth stage, or third stage, that stayed with the bird. But in our innocence, what did we know about it? Nobody knew anything about it at that point, so it was a total surprise, that this booster was there. Well, we finally got ourselves together in time to start watching for the bird. And nobody saw a thing, nothing. So we could put limits on how bright the actual satellite was. As soon as we saw the booster, somebody got his head together and got the tape recorder on. We started timing when the booster would go by a star that we could identify. That's an exceedingly accurate way to track a satellite. It's a very much better way than using cross hairs in a binocular; because you now have a RA and Dec, and a time that's good to a hundredth of a degree or something.
DeVorkin:So someone would call out a particular star?
Westphal:That's right, and we were calling these out; and then we listened to the tape after the fact. We had WWV on the tape, of course. So we sent to the Moonwatch people these booster transit times, good to a minute of arc, as I remember. Well, I got a call back from somebody back there, nobody that I knew, wanting to know where in the hell we got such accurate numbers. I told him what we were doing. He said, "Gee, that's very clever; but you're not supposed to be doing that!" I said, "Well, I'm sorry, but those are the numbers." (laughs). He was very negative about the whole thing. But we didn't see the satellite itself. So, as time went on, we got better and better numbers. We never did see the damn thing appear with the 7 x 50 binoculars. It was just too faint, and that, of course, makes sense. It wasn't, after all, very big. But then when Sputnik II came along, it was big and you could see it with your naked eye, even. So we started feeding them numbers, using this star transit thing. We just threw the binoculars away at that point, once you could see it by eye, because you could pick RA's and Decs to a minute of arc trivially. So we started doing that, and I started feeding them these numbers, and they wouldn't take them. They said, "if you didn't get them the right way, we don't want anything to do with them." So by chance, I was going to Boston on some work for Sinclair to see a company that was building some hardware for us. I called them and asked if I could come in and talk to them.
DeVorkin:Was it anybody in particular, Campbell?
Westphal:I think the guy that I talked to, again, was just whoever would answer their official phone number. And with great reticence, he said, yes, I could come in. So I went in and started to talk to just whoever — I didn't know any of these people. They all were names that didn't mean anything to me particularly. Certainly, I didn't mean anything to them at all. I started talking about this technique, and the guy that I was talking to got very antsy about it. Finally, he said, let me have you talk to Jacchia. So I went in to talk to him. Well, he just grabbed that in a millisecond; I mean, it didn't take him literally milliseconds to say, that's the way we ought to do it. Actually, my big bitch at that point was that they hadn't thought this through. They had notified every moonwatch team in the country that they had to keep a continuous watch on the sky with this network of telescopes along the meridian all night long. I had said to these guys — in fact, when I called originally — I said, "You know, this is stupid. The thing is in an orbit. It isn't going to change its orbit any significant amount, and that orbit is invisible for essentially half of the day. There is no point in the world of having people sitting out there freezing when there is absolutely no chance in the world they are going to see the thing." "Oh no, that's what we want you to do," they replied.
DeVorkin:Who dreamed that one up?
Westphal:Oh, a bunch of people that weren't thinking, obviously. They hadn't thought through the problem at all, even though they had been in business for, I don't know, how long.
DeVorkin:Quite some time.
Westphal:They just had not thought through the physics of the thing in any way, so when I talked to Jacchia about that, he said, "Well, obviously that's true. Is that what they are telling you?" I said, "Sure." He said, "That's crazy. I'll fix it."
DeVorkin:So he didn't know.
Westphal:He was completely isolated from that part of the business. He was the orbital man, and he was taking the data numbers in and trying to get an orbit out of it.
DeVorkin:He didn't discuss with anyone like Hynek how the data should be collected.
Westphal:I have no way to know that. All I know is that he was unaware that kind of stuff was going out.
DeVorkin:We saw all sorts of stations, like at China Lake and at NRL, they modified M17 elbow telescopes with 5-inch lenses, and stuck them all along the meridian, and did all sorts of things with them.
Westphal:Yes. Well, it was a problem, because people just were not thinking. At that point then, the ham network got in the act, and we found out where the other moonwatch teams were around locally. There was one up in Kansas, and there was one down in Dallas. We could communicate with them on 75-meter ham band at night trivially. So pretty soon the whole central part of the United States was using our technique. They were really very unhappy at Smithsonian about that. And anyway, that was my first contact with professional astronomers, quote, unquote, you know.
DeVorkin:What was Jacchia's success at changing the system.
Westphal:Well, he got that particular problem of making people stay up all night long fixed all right. But our technique of locating the objects, not using their neat little telescopes and their protractors, but watching them go by stars just never did stick. Then ultimately what happened was that a whole bunch of astronomers out here in California, led by a guy named Leonard — is it Jack Leonard? That's not the right name.
Westphal:No. Art Leonard was his name. He was in some place up in Sacramento, or some place like that.
DeVorkin:Art Leonard, yes, some place like Stockton.
Westphal:Yes, maybe Stockton, maybe.
DeVorkin:He invented the Yolo reflector — the warped mirror, or maybe he just worked on it.
Westphal:Yes. I don't know whether he invented it, but he worked on it. He organized a group here in California, who really finally did the thing right. They did their own orbital predictions, and pretty soon their predictions were ten times better than the ones from the Smithsonian. They used any piece of hard data they could lay hands on, and they started using our technique. And pretty soon it spread, and most of the really significant, I believe, hard data that came from amateurs on the ground really came out of Leonard's network. That was considered to be very bad form. He was already in their doghouse, because there was something called the Western Amateur Astronomers. They were a splinter from the Astronomical League, or whatever it was called. There was very bad blood at the high levels, the political levels, of the Astronomical League that this Western Astronomer thing even existed, and that didn't help that matter any, because he was, you know, the president of that or something.
DeVorkin:The WAA was certainly in support of Leonard's work?
DeVorkin:He worked on this long before you came out here?
Westphal:Yes, long before I came out here.
DeVorkin:Did he discover it independently, or did he find out about it elsewhere?
Westphal:I have no idea how he came to use the technique, but the technique was spreading then, and I expect he just heard it some place. The really elegant technique, however, was the radio technique discovered by accident by a ham who worked with Walter Scott Houston. Walter Scott Houston at that time was still in Manhattan, Kansas. That was the Kansas Moonwatch Station. So I went up to visit him to commiserate with him about all of this and report on my trip to Boston. He introduced me to this fellow, whose name I'm sorry I do not remember, and probably wouldn't even now recognize. But that guy had been into amateur radio astronomy. He was one of the first people, clearly, that were into amateur radio astronomy. This was some guy who was a local TV repairman or something. I mean, they were real scroungers. They were bigger scroungers than I was. What Houston and this guy had done was convert a bunch of television sets into receivers, using the IF stage, the 21.25 Mhz IF stage. They moved it down to 20 Mhz. and used those for receivers, so that a lot of people could have cheap receivers.
Westphal:No, that didn't happen, unfortunately. But they discovered by pure chance that there was a Visual Omni Range station, a navigation station for the airlines, the VOR, Visual Omni Range. It was a VOR station, about 50 miles or so away from them; it of course operated on 120 to 130 Mhz. This guy was listening to them for some reason, on one of these converted television sets. See, that's the piece of the spectrum between channel 6 and channel 7. It's just above the FM band. Why he was doing this, I don't know, and at the same time he was listening to the Sputnik II. This happened on Sputnik II. He heard a beat on the Visual Omni Range, which was tracking the beat on his 20 Mhz system. He realized that there was a double path, one from the Visual Omni Range to the satellite and back to the ground, and the other one from the Omni Range to him directly. He had a built-in VFO. Then he knew exactly when the thing was going at right angles, when the beat frequency went to zero. By then everybody understood that if you knew that, you had a very precise wav of understanding the orbit. It is, after all, the way orbits are done entirely.
DeVorkin:You had a trajectory and you had a vector.
Westphal:You had a vector now. The technique grew from that serendipitous situation. This guy heard it and he understood what he was hearing. That technique spread like wildfire. And of course, not everybody was the right distance away from an Omni Range station and all of that. But the concept was there, and of course, it worked just as well on a television station as it did on an Omni Range station. And so, there were apparently a bunch of these amateur radio astronomers around doing that sort of stuff, and that was all tied into Leonard's network then, because he had the computer programs to be able to do all the data reduction. That's, in fact, how they got these orbits that were so much better than were coming out of the Smithsonian, because they just had better data.
DeVorkin:So Leonard got his own orbits. How were they reported?
Westphal:He sent them around on the radio net. There was a big amateur radio net set up for the whole country, anybody that wanted could get onto the net; and they read the predictions by hand, by voice, for awhile. The orbits were also, after he got really good ones, and particularly for the higher satellites, sent around in computer printout form to anybody who wanted them.
DeVorkin:Were they useful to the NASA people?
Westphal:That I can't tell you. I don't know. I doubt it. I suspect that surely by then the NASA enterprise or the equivalent enterprise was in very much better shape. The Moonwatch thing was an anachronism. It was not being run, obviously, by the people who were really thinking through all of this, so I'm sure that none of this level of confusion was going on at NRL and places like that. The problem was all because the people that were doing the Moonwatch thing had just not done their home work, is all I can say for it.
DeVorkin:Do you know anything about the politics of what brought Moonwatch to Smithsonian, or was it that the Smithsonian created it?
Westphal:I don't know the answer to that. I really don't know the history, or remember the history of how it was. The only thing I would have known anyway was what would have been in things like SKY AND TELESCOPE, and that was undoubtedly sanitized from the real world by some substantial amount. But there was clearly a tremendous distrust of the amateurs. It was a concept that they were incompetent and that they had to be led every inch of the way, that the only way it could be workable was if they did exactly what they were told and did not go running off in all directions. It was a clear misunderstanding of the level of amateur competency, that existed, and exists in the country. And of course, it's very much more so that way now than it was then. The level of competency among amateur astronomers and amateur radio people is awesome. It is a resource that as yet in astronomy is not used at the level that it could be used.
DeVorkin:An aside on that topic. Are there areas that you can identify succinctly, that you feel that amateurs could be exploited to a far better degree than they are at present? Are these in areas like AAVSO, or the ALPO?
Westphal:The AAVSO is especially such a thing, and getting those people into photoelectric photometry, which is now so easy, would make a major improvement in the data base on variable stars. And god knows astronomers need that data base. And that, again, would happen only, in my perception anyway, if the right people in the professional community encouraged it and supported it, and understood that the reason that amateurs would do things like this is for their own amusement and education; and that the professionals will have to accept variations in how people do it. They will have to decide what data is good and what data isn't good. Although they can lead it, and they can encourage it and they can show the amateurs where the traps are, where the pitholes are in it. But they cannot, in fact, expect to direct them to do a certain thing on a certain night in a certain way. It just isn't going to work like that.
DeVorkin:Yes. They have hints for various eruptive variables or rapid irregulars, and things like that. There is a group, an amateur professional group, somewhere in the Midwest which puts newsletters out.
Westphal:I've heard of that, but I am not familiar with it in detail.
DeVorkin:You feel that's the representative of the kind of area you mean.
Westphal:That's a representative kind of area.
DeVorkin:That's very interesting.
Westphal:You asked the question earlier about what did I learn at Sinclair. Well, what I learned on a personal basis, of course, at Sinclair was that I was becoming educated in a very direct way. I was learning what my interests and my talents and my capabilities were. My talents and capabilities were growing rapidly. I was being educated at a very rapid rate. It was a wonderful environment in the sense of being fun and you had, as I said before, all the money you would ever want, and you really didn't have much constraint on what you did. Looking back at it, a group of people with a little more experience and a little more skill, would have been very much more effective in that environment, having all the money they wanted and could do whatever they wanted to. It was wasted in a sense on us, because we were all too young and too inexperienced. But in the end, I think Sinclair didn't waste their money. They kept from having some problems they might have had. We did help them find some oil in various ways. We were good for the company in the sense that we were kind of a bunch of free spirits, and we torqued the system and kind of brought them kicking and screaming into the new world, as it were, not instantaneously, but we planted the seeds. I guess there is one other thing I should mention. As soon as an IBM 650 existed, which was the first card programmed machine, we went to New York and lobbied, and laid our hands upon one by some gimmick of priorities. You remember, at that time, those were essentially available only to Governmental agencies. Somehow, we ended up with one by some means that I never knew about. We ended up with a priority; and I think we had the f irst non-military one west of the Mississippi, certainly the first one in an industrial place west of the Mississippi. And we immediately jumped on that and ran like mad with it, because we by then really understood what we could do.
DeVorkin:Were you programming?
Westphal:Yes, some, although by then we had guys whose job was to program; but it was programmed in Bell. It came from Bell Telephone, of course. It was the first of what would now be called an assembler language. It was not a Fortran, but it was one step nearer the machine. It was the first time that you didn't have to do everything at bit level. You could do everything in mnemonics.
Westphal:And then very quickly came Fortran 2. Fortran I we never saw. I don't know whether it ever existed. And that was the most amazing thing any of us could believe. I mean, what an amazement that was!
DeVorkin:That was the first thing I saw. Let me change the tape.
Westphal:We immediately started applying the 650 to all kinds of things that we could do inside of Sinclair to speed up what they were doing. Our approach to using the computer was to get rid of hand work, not to do real sophisticated things, but to pick up the kinds of things that people did by hand, and that of course was cost effective at an unbelievable rate. That's when we learned something was going to happen that we didn't anticipate when we did this. It's an old idea, of course by now, but not only does a computer speed up things and save work, but it also allows you to do things you never could do before, simply because you couldn't afford the effort. You could try doing things in different ways, analyzing data differently, and so forth. And then a very unfortunate thing happened from my personal perspective. The computer was so effective and so successful, and it's value became so obvious, even to the highest management of the corporation, that somebody came along, not in our lab, and said, "Gee, we ought to use that to predict where to drill oil wells." So somebody tried to write something that I guess you would call, in those days, a linear program, or an optimization program, to try to put together all of the data; and let the machine tell you what to do. Of course it was then as it is now, and will always be, fatal, because you never can assign the priorities right; never can assign proper weights to the data. For a few years — and it continued after I left Sinclair — the company was essentially making its decisions about where to buy land and where to drill oil wells based on this almost fully automated system. And it was total disaster. Somebody pushed it in New York.
DeVorkin:Who pushed that?
Westphal:I undoubtedly knew at the time, but I don't know the name any more.
DeVorkin:Did your group argue against it?
Westphal:Oh yes, we fought it tooth and nail, and they really didn't like us a bit. And it did not work, as you would well imagine. It almost led to financial disaster. It may have been responsible at some level for the financial problems they ultimately were in. It was after my time, so I don't really know.
DeVorkin:Had you already made contact with Hewitt Dix at this time?
DeVorkin:I see. Maybe we ought to get into that then. What was it that caused you, in your contact with Hewitt Dix, to make the change to Caltech?
Westphal:Well, let me back up a little bit to tell you how we made contact with Hewitt. There was a local professional geophysical society in Tulsa, that I alluded to a little earlier, and that at least served the purpose of making sure that everybody knew everybody; it was our contact with all the other geophysicists in town. And there were, I believe, at that time either three or four oil company research labs in town. There were at least four; there may have been five. So there were quite a number of us that were in the research business. In some conversations among us at one of these meetings, it became obvious that several of these groups were in the same situation that we were; namely, there were subparts of their group that had more money than they knew what to do with. So, especially, in some of the other companies that had been in business longer, there was a certain level of boredom, and people were looking for nifty things to do. Somewhere we had read about the Mohorovicic Discontinuity in the earth, which was kind of a big new thing. I don't remember when it came. It was a big thing in the IGY somehow.
DeVorkin:Well, it had been known since the turn of the century, but nobody could do much about it.
Westphal:No, and it was not a popular thing. So it was new to us at some level.
DeVorkin:Not functional yet.
DeVorkin:Yes, you didn't have the technology to get there.
Westphal:Well, there was just an interest in it. So Moho was being talked about, maybe, by then. So it was in our minds, and data was beginning to accumulate, showing that it was deep under the Continents and shallow under the oceans, and stuff like that. So somehow, I don't remember now exactly how that came to be, a number of us heard, probably at some convention, maybe of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, which was the professional society for people like us, (in contrast to the Seismological Society of America, or the American Geophysical Union, which are scientific organizations). It may well have been that at one of their conventions there was a discussion of this. The standard technique for mapping the Moho was a refraction technique, done of course using earthquakes, after earthquakes occurred. Our business was acoustic sounding — the geophysical expression is seismic sounding — so it was a fairly natural thing to wonder if we could see reflections off the Moho. Nobody had reported that, but somehow we came to find out that Hewitt Dix at Caltech was trying to do that kind of work in California. There probably was some sort of paper work about it, you know, a report at a meeting, or something. Somehow, we were aware of that, so we decided, a bunch of us, that it would be great fun to see if we could see some reflections from the Moho. We had all the hardware laying around, and we had time that we could steal from the oil companies, personal time and so forth; and it was a loose enterprise, so we could make the time. Each of us contributed hardware and radios. A bunch of us got together and decided what we were going to do was to try to record reflections from the Moho, coming from quarry blasts; and out east of Tulsa, there are large limestone quarries. Every afternoon at four o'clock, or five o'clock or something, they exploded many tons of ammonium nitate fertilizer to generate the limestone for the next day's processing. They would shoot the last thing before they go home, so that all the smoke and fumes would dissipate by the next morning when everyone is ready to go to work. So I went out and talked to the management of a quarry and asked them if it would be possible for us to put a wire down in one of their holes, and also to stand next to the guy who was going to explode the charge, and tell him when to shoot the charge exactly, by listening to WWV, and shooting it exactly on a five-minute time period. Then we could let the recording trucks, scattered out across the countryside, simply take a record every five minutes, with WWV on their record. We would put a little current through this wire and run that to the head of the magnetic tape, an ordinary tape deck, with that on one channel and WWV on the other channel. And of course, when the shot went off, it would make a click and a blip, and we could get the exact time that the shot went off against WWV, and the guys on the other end could tie their records also to WWV. We didn't have to communicate over 30 or 40 or 50 miles, and we didn't have to use a radio, which the guys at the quarry properly were very up-tight about. Our guys would just record every five minutes, and for up to 15 minutes, and if they didn't get the data then, they assumed something happened and that we didn't shoot the shot. So the worst thing we could do was waste paper. So we did that, and it worked like a charm. The quarry people were very happy to do that, and so we got a number of records. And boy, right where you would imagine it to be, there was a thing that looked just like a reflection that was, I don't know, 40 kilometers, 35 kilometers deep, or whatever the number was. I can't remember the numbers in my head. We were tickled out of our mind. We did some parallel work with different trucks and different sets of equipment. And there seemed to be no doubt that it was real. It wasn't something fishy somehow. So we bundled up all these records and sent them to Hewitt. Actually, I guess, I called him on the phone and told him we had this stuff, and asked him if he would be willing to look at it. He wasn't all that enthusiastic, but he clearly would be willing to look at it. We sent it to him. It was clear that within five minutes of the time it got into his office here at Caltech, he was on the phone to us. He said; "It's real, It's real, It's real. Can I come spend the summer?" And so we said, "Gee, we'd bend over backwards to have you come for the summer."
DeVorkin:But there was no one at Sinclair officially to say, "What's in this for the oil company?" This was just free stuff?
Westphal:Free stuff, and it was all done just as an enterprise at my level in the system. Jimmy Johnson, my boss, knew about it; but I'm sure the vice-president upstairs never knew it went on and probably doesn't know to this day that it ever went on.
DeVorkin:So you didn't have a management review process.
Westphal:No, nothing like that; it was a very loose unorganized kind of activity. So sure enough, Hewitt brought his little Volkswagon van with his magnetic tape recorders and everything, and he came and spent the summer. We recorded quarry blast after quarry blast, and moved all around Eastern Oklahoma, and did a whole bunch of nifty stuff. Of course, we all then became very well acquainted with Hewitt during that summer. We managed to hire him in competition with the other guys as a consultant. The other oil companies wanted him, too. And so we managed to hire him, and he spent most of that winter coming back as a consultant.
DeVorkin:To the best of your knowledge, Sinclair didn't have that in mind, when you had him come out for the first summer? That this would be a way to get him as a consultant?
Westphal:Oh we did, but not the management. See, we had a million dollars to spend. We could spend it any way we wanted to. They weren't paying any attention, so we just hired him. My group hired him and the rest of the system didn't know anything about it. So we fixed him up with an office and the whole bit. Since he was there as a consultant during the winter occasionally, we dreamed up next summer's whole enterprise and everything else, including all this business about the gravity that I mentioned before. The next summer he came again and spent the summer and he did a lot more good stuff. That now would have been the summer of 1960. Oh, in fact, in the spring of 1960 was when we had done the work in the ocean. If I remember correctly, we got him to come down to the Keys. I'm not sure about that. Anyway, he was all involved in that, too. Yes, he instantaneously became our real technical brain, our physicist, our real first class physicist.
DeVorkin:Was that your first contact with someone of that level?
Westphal:Oh yes, I never had anything to do with anybody of that caliber before. And of course, Caltech to me was, you know, the citadel of the world. There wasn't anything like it.
DeVorkin:Better than MIT?
Westphal:Oh yes, oh yes.
DeVorkin:Why was that?
Westphal:Well, first it was because of Hewitt; and Caltech was known to us and to the seismolab already, it was more interested in our kind of stuff. Then the geologists around our place all knew Caltech. Caltech was always a better geology place than MIT was. MIT is not famous for geology at all. It was a place that all of us had on a pedestal as kind of the top place going, so it was a huge coup, and the other geophysical research labs in town were really bent out of shape because we had stolen him. At any rate, he then came the next summer, and during that summer, while we did all these other things, he and I were thinking about how did one do some real data processing on seismic data, something more sophisticated than had ever been done before. We wanted to do things like cross correlations and wanted to do Fourier analysis and all that sort of stuff. He recognized that although an IBM 650 existed at that point, there was no way to get that data digitized, except to measure it with a ruler. So one of the things that I dreamed up at that time — in fact, there is a patent about it — was a technique for digitizing seismic records. It's so rudimentary it would make you cry, but it was so much better than anything that ever existed before that we could, in fact, hand digitize a bunch of records. We did that, and boy, it was really impressive. We ran it through the computer and you could just see the nifty stuff you could do, if you could lay hands on a real data set instead of, you know, two or three traces that you could do by hand. So, A to D converters and all that kind of stuff just didn't exist. No such technology existed. It’s mind-boggling to remember that was only 22 years ago. It's just mind-boggling to think of that. At any rate, he and I dreamed it up; it was really basically my instrumentation idea, and it was his math and fundamental idea, an analog technique to do Fourier analysis, and to do cross-correlation on seismic traces. It was done with little strips of film and photomultipliers and so forth. The details of it don't matter. It’s so rudimentary, again, nowadays that you wouldn't think much of it.
DeVorkin:Is this procedure documented in a publication; because you do have the cross-correlation technique paper in 1965.* That's the basic technique you are talking about?
Westphal:No, that's a different thing, although it certainly was in my mind, because of this earlier thing. No, as you will come to see in a minute, it never went anywhere. But we dreamed up this idea, and (this was probably just about as he was to come back here in September) he came to me one day, and he said, "Gee, you know, I've got $4,000 that a widow woman gave me personally to do anything I wanted to with."
Westphal:$4,000, and I didn't pursue that, and I don't want to pursue it now; I've no idea how he came into it.
DeVorkin:Yes, it was the amount I was wondering about.
Westphal:Yes, it was 4,000 bucks; and he said, "Do you suppose that we could build that thing for $4,000?" I said, I didn't really know what it cost to build things at Caltech. I had no idea. He said, "Well, I'll tell you what. If I could fix you up with a machine shop, would you be willing to come to Caltech for three or four months and supervise the building of it?" I said, "Oh gee, that would be the greatest thing in the world. He said, "Let's call up so-and-so, who was the superintendent of the Caltech shops, and tell him what it is you want to build, and see how much he thinks it might cost." So we called up this guy and I tried to describe it. Of course, that's a terrible thing to do to somebody, thinking back at it now. But anyway, he said, it's hard J. A. Westphal, "Some Astronomical Applications of Cross-Correlation Techniques," ApJ., 142 (1965), 1661. to know, but it doesn't sound like much. Surely, we could build that for a couple of thousand dollars. So Hewitt said, okay, that's just great. If you would be willing to come to Caltech for four months, I'll give you the $2,000 leftover and use the other $2,000 to build this thing. I thought about that awhile. I was making $11,000 a year, I remember vividly; so it meant that it would be about half of what my normal income was.
DeVorkin:Yes, but you were single still.
Westphal:No, I was married. But I didn't have kids at the time this discussion started. She wasn't pregnant. So we discussed when we would do this, and we finally decided that the time to do it would be the following summer, that that would be a better time, because the shops wouldn't be so busy. I told him that if I could find a decent place to live, I could somehow survive on that; it was such an opportunity I couldn't turn it down. So it was agreed that we would proceed. It was kind of a flexible thing at that point. There were not any hard dates, or anything. So a little while later, it must have been within the next couple of months, certainly, thinking of the dates, that all of a sudden we discovered we were pregnant. The kid's going to come in June; it was just not the time when you want to go to California, obviously. So I called Hewitt, and I said, "Gee, Hewitt, I (forgive the expression) screwed myself into a corner here, and I'm just not going to be able to come next summer." He said, "Well, that's not a big problem. Can you come earlier?" I said, "Well, I don't know, when?" He said, "Well, why don't you come the first of January." And one of the things we discussed was that while I was here I was going to be able to audit some courses at Caltech; and he was pushing me very hard to improve my education. That was his thing. He was pushing me hard to do that.
DeVorkin:Had you had any thoughts about that before this?
Westphal:None, and I mean, it was all back there somewhere, but I certainly had no plans about that. He was pushing that very hard, and of course, he knew me well enough by then to know where all the holes were in my education, which were massive. It didn't take long for him to discover that. And he was clearly pushing me, although I didn't realize it right then. I did later though, when I did go. He was pushing me very hard to go to grad school, and by then I had been out of undergraduate school for six years or so. So I talked it over with my wife, and we decided that it would be fine. There wasn't any reason we couldn't do that. That would get us back to Tulsa in April or somewhere, and the kid was going to come in June, so that ought to work fine. So I went to my management and said I want a leave of absence for four months to do that. Oh, they couldn't do that, and all kinds of stories about that. But finally, after a call from Hewitt and various things, it was agreed to grant me leave; but no salary, just a straight leave of absence. So the time came, we jumped in our car and drove to California. We appeared in Pasadena on the 2nd of January, because the 1st of January was the Rose Parade, and we were smart enough to know not to try to come into Pasadena then. The very next day school started, and Hewitt sent me over to see Miklowitz. Well, Hewitt had sent me a catalog, and I had picked out all these neat courses that I wanted to take. Of course, I picked out all the jazziest courses in the book, Pauling's course on the nature of the hydrogen bond, and all these nifty things. So I came with those, and poor Hewitt must have thought, "oh this kid, he's out of his mind." Anyway, he managed to convince me that that was useless, and that I didn't have the background for that, and that what I should take is something called AM 116.
Westphal:Yes, which is applied mechanics 116, and what it is, is the first year graduate student level course in general applied mathematics.
DeVorkin:Did you want to take courses in astrophysics, too?
Westphal:No. No, none of that had ever entered my mind. Obviously, I knew about Caltech in that sense, too; but the fact that I might ever enter astronomy never entered my mind at that point. And of course, Hewitt had done precisely what he should do. He picked the thing that I was weakest in, which was applied math, and he picked out the right professor, Miklowitz, who is still here. And so I was sent over, and I am sure Hewitt talked to him ahead of time and told him what he was getting into. I asked if I could audit this course. He said, "Well, the only way you can audit the course is if you work just like you are taking it and do all the home work. I'll get it graded for you and I'll give you a grade at the end of it." He says, it won't go anywhere, of course, since you're not a legal student; but he said, "I don't want somebody just sitting in here listening. I want somebody who is an active part of the class." And I told him, as candidly as I could, what deep trouble I would probably be in trying to do that. He said, "That's okay."
Westphal:To be a Caltech first year graduate student in mathematics with a degree from the University of Tulsa, which was not strong in mathematics, meant I was in deep trouble six years earlier. Deep trouble. Well, first I went to class every morning, an 8 o'clock class, for an hour every morning.
DeVorkin:That was the class you took?
Westphal:Yes, and the only one I took. And as I look back, you know, the system knew what was going on and it was trying to help me. They sat down and they organized how they would help me. Miklowitz sat a guy on either side of me, both of whom were sharp as hell, but both of whom were very friendly open guys, and they helped me in spades. And I KNOW, looking back at it, that it was set up that way, and the system was really trying to help me, which I appreciate beyond any belief.
Westphal:Miklowitz personally graded my home work. And it was awful, of course. He patiently showed me where the problems were, and gave me references in freshman textbooks and so forth about this, that and the other thing.
DeVorkin:What level? This was way beyond Sakolnikoff and Redheffer, or something like that?
Westphal:Well, they used a text written by Harold Weyland, who was also here at that time. Weyland was the standard text around Caltech and lots of places at that time; an applied mechanics text.
DeVorkin:Oh, applied mechanics text. So it's not the same sort of thing as Goldstein's classical mechanics.
Westphal:No. no, no. This was real applied math stuff, Bessel functions and partial differential equations, Laplace transforms, the very first order of stuff. At any rate, I designed this thing, and started sending pieces to the shop to be built during the day, and built a dark room, and got on the phone and found a company in Hollywood that would sell me 100 feet, I think it was, of a special film used by sound recording people for variable density recording. The gimmick was to use variable density for on channel and variable area for the other, and use one against the other as a multiplier. That's how we did the multiplication. I found the right guy, actually through another path that Hewitt and I both knew of, at a company that made some tape recording gear for the oil industry, whose main business was making recording gear for Hollywood studios. Anyway, I laid hands on the film, and all that sort of stuff. We got this damned thing built and going. At night I spent until two or three o'clock in the morning trying to do the home work problems. It was the hardest I ever worked in my whole life, you know, trying to keep up with that class. In the end Miklowitz was very straight with me, as you would expect him to be. He worked hard helping me do the home work and showing me my problems. In the end, he told me that I got a D+! I was the happiest man in the world (laugh). I couldn't have been happier if I had gotten an "A". In fact, I wouldn't have believed an A, of course. (laugh). Anyway, various interesting events occurred while I was here for four months. I was doing this thing for Hewitt, and every once in awhile somebody would walk in the door of the lab that I was in, which was on the third floor of old Mudd, and introduce himself as this guy or that; and he was interested in this or that, and what did I know about such things. Well, one of the first guys that appeared was a fellow by the name of Bruce Murray. He was a research fellow at that time. He got his Ph.D. from Harvard in geology. He did a geology thesis on Nova Scotia, and Harrison Brown brought him here. You know, there was an infinite amount of money in that kitty, too. That was the NASA kitty at that time. Bruce's idea was to do geology of the surface of the moon by telescopic techniques from the ground. Remember, this was long before anybody went to the moon. And of course, there was a very fundamental question that was unanswered at that time, a geologic question about the moon, and that is: is the moon chemically or mechanically differentiated or not? Is it all one bunch of stuff, or has the moon been geologically active, and therefore, differentiated? Nobody knew. Bruce, somewhere along the line, clearly had talked to somebody or done some reading, or something, and recognized that a very profitable area would be to look at it in the thermal infrared, where the moon surface would be emitting infrared radiation.
DeVorkin:That was your first contact then with infrared?
Westphal:That's right; well, no, it was not my first contact with infrared. It was my first contact with thermal infrared. He came to me and said, "Do you know anything about the infrared? I said, we had done some work around 2 microns at the oil company lab. We had built a little machine that looked at the surface of the earth from a light airplane, with a methane absorption band at 2 microns, as a means of detecting natural gas leaks and pipelines. So you just fly along and you look at the surface, and you see reflected sunlight. If there's a methane cloud there, it absorbs the light, and so the signal went down. It works like a charm. It's a very nice way. Nowadays you could really do it elegantly. You could have a visual thing that you could just watch as you go. But then it was done with a strip chart. So I knew a little about 2-micron infrared, but I didn't know anything about thermal infrared. So he told me what he wanted to do, and I said, gee, that's great. What fun that would be.
DeVorkin:Let's get the term thermal infrared precise.
Westphal:This is the part of the infrared where at normal room temperatures, things emit a significant amount of infrared.
DeVorkin:It's around 10 microns.
Westphal:Ten microns is the peak of the black body curve for 273 Kelvin. And so we're looking not at reflected sunlight, but we're looking at infrared radiation being emitted by whatever we're looking at. The moon as you know, at local noon, gets up to 300 or 400 degrees Kelvin, and when the sun sets, it cools down. See, the first thing we didn't know was: is there dust all over the moon or not? Remember, Tommy Gold already was talking about there being a kilometer of dust, and all this wild stuff. It was known that the moon had a very low thermal inertia; that is, it cooled down quickly on the backside as determined from some 10-micron work that had been done by Stebbins and Whitford way back in the '20's. But nobody knew anything about the details of that, what the curve looked like; and therefore, how fast it was cooling. So anyway, Bruce came around because the word had spread in the division that there was some guy interested in instrumentation up in Hewitt's place, building Hewitt a nifty thing. Everybody in this division was starved for instrumentation types.
DeVorkin:Is that true?
Westphal:Oh, it was starved for that. This whole institute was starved for that.
DeVorkin:Why is that?
Westphal:Well, that’s an interesting side thing. It happened because this was a geology division, which was just expanding into geochemistry. The geochemists had only come a few years before that. Of course, it had long since been in the forefront of instrumentation in seismology, but that was a very narrow, and, Wesrphal—74 in fact, a very simple-minded kind of instrumentation. Seismometers are very simple devices. Although some of it was beautiful instrumentation — that is mechanically beautifully built — it was very simple-minded stuff. They were still recording everything on smoked drums and the whole bit.
Westphal:Oh sure. The big new thing in those days was doing it with a galvanometer on photographic paper. It was a little earlier than that, but that was still modern technology to do it that way. There was nothing like tape recording or anything like that. At any rate, the division was starved for instrumentation competency.
DeVorkin:People who knew electronics?
Westphal:Yes, and optics.
Westphal:Yes, geometric optics and things like that, and particularly, people that had a broad view.
DeVorkin:You've not mentioned yet any experience in optics, or geometric optics.
Westphal:No, but that all came as I was doing my thing at Sinclair. We built lots of optical things, and I had begun to learn about that sort of thing, and had developed skill in the course of the various things that we built at Sinclair, as I said earlier, modernizing that world, and getting rid of all the hand labor involved in handling seismic records and so forth.
DeVorkin:Okay, it might be useful a little later on when we do get into optics, to try to identify one or two instances which typify what you did at Sinclair.
Westphal:Yes. So anyway, Bruce came in and we talked about it. I went off to the library and got the most modern books on infrared, and went home and read them, and talked with him back and forth, with a lot of interchange about this. It was very clear that we could make all of it work, and it was very exciting business; and I thought he would need my help, because it was astronomy.
DeVorkin:What kind of detectors were you going to use?
Westphal:Thermal detectors in those days entirely. It was all we knew of then, the great detector of the time was the Golay cell.
DeVorkin:That's right. That was that membrane.
Westphal:The membrane, that's right.
DeVorkin:But was that what you are talking about, or were you talking about some of the early doped Germanium crystals?
Westphal:No, no, we are just talking about the Golay cell, the best detector around. That's all we knew about at that time. But even with that, you could make calculations and show that there was no doubt we could do useful observations of the moon, and that there was surely going to be some really interesting results. The question was: are there any bare rocks? The way to do that is to look at the edge of the moon right after it's going out of sunshine and to watch for any places hotter than other places; because if there is a layer of dust over the top of the whole world, then it's all going to cool down in minutes; but if there are some bare rocks poking out of the dust, they are going to cool very slowly. So immediately, we looked for bare rocks.
DeVorkin:I'm not too familiar with thermal dissipation in a vacuum.
Westphal:Well, in a vacuum, the only way heat gets transferred is by radiation, or by conduction if there is something solid. If you have a powder, the little grains touch only in tiny points, essentially; therefore there is no mechanical conduction. The only way the powder cools is by radiation. But the very top surface grains of the dust cool almost instantaneously by radiation. Since the grains are opaque at 10 microns, one then sees only the top surface of the dust which looks very cold. Anything buried in the dust is "blanketed" and is invisible.
DeVorkin:But bare rock itself takes much longer to cool?
Westphal:If you have a solid rock, it's a good mechanical conductor, and as heat is radiated from the top surface, it is replaced by heat from deeper in the rock, and the surface temperature pretty nearly follows the temperature of the whole rock. If only a very thin layer of dust is on a rock, then its surface temperature drops a ways very quickly, then decreases much slower. By the time the dust is a few millimeters thick, the surface temperature is independent of dust thickness. In fact, after it's three millimeters thick, it doesn't matter whether it's three millimeters or three miles. That was the concept. Now, no hardware existed or anything else. The first thing that Bruce wanted to do, and was already involved in at Mt. Wilson on the 60-inch, was making color maps of the moon. Nobody knew what the colors of the moon were, because they were very faint colors; that is, the colors were subtle. So he was beginning to do that sort of work. At any rate, we had a lot of discussion about that. I thought it was as fascinating as it could be, but I saw no personal future in it. I just was discussing it with him because it was an interesting thing.
DeVorkin:He wasn't asking you to consider building a photometer with Golay cells?
Westphal:No, no, he had no idea of my being here. I was just somebody he could talk to. Somehow somebody discovered that I had some really gorgeous underwater pictures that I had taken in the Florida Keys and in the Bahamas the previous year. Again, underwater pictures are my own personal hobby activity. I had understood early on that to get decent underwater pictures, you have to use a strobe to freeze the action, because everything moves too fast. Most amateurs who were taking underwater photographs in that time were getting fuzzy pictures. But I had these incredibly sharp beautiful pictures, and they were really very nice, and I was very proud of them. I was carrying them around and showing them to people. Heinz Lowenstam, who is our paleoecologist here at CIT heard about it, and he came over and asked to see them. So I brought them in the next day and at lunch time I took them over and put them in the projector and showed them to him. He had half a dozen grad students with him. He just oohed and ahhed over these gorgeous pictures, and at the end, he said, "Could I borrow them? I would like to do some population studies on those. Those are the first pictures I have ever seen where we could, with a picture, determine what animals are living there, and what plants are living there." I said fine, that's great, if you can use them. I didn't get them back for about eight months! He had two or three grad students essentially working full time with a projector, laying grids over the pictures, just like you do in archaeology, to count the species, and the whole bit. So he was interested in what I was doing, again, as a side issue. Finally, about a week before I was to leave, a fellow walked into the lab. He was a fairly short fellow, dark haired, a black mustache. He walked up to me and stood beside me, and I turned around and said, "Hello, can I help you?" He looked at me, not a smile on his face or anything — and I quote exactly the words —and said: "Are you worth a shit?" I said, "Pardon me, I don't know what you mean." He said, "Are you competent?" I said, "Well, some people think I am, in the things that I do. " He said . "Hmph." He turned 180 degrees and walked out the door. I could not imagine what that was about, but, you know, this is an interesting place and strange things happen to you.
DeVorkin:You didn't recognize who it was?
Westphal:Oh, I hadn't the slightest idea in the world who this man was. He didn't introduce himself or anything. It was only a few minutes later, certainly less than an hour, that I got a call and was asked if I would come to Bob Sharp's office. Now, Bob Sharp was our division chairman, and I had met him when I first came. He was Hewitt's boss, the boss of this division. I had met him and he seemed to be a very pleasant man, and there really wasn't any special interaction with him the first time I met him. It didn't leave any impression, except: 'that's a nice man.' I walked into his office, and he said, "A number of us have been watching what you've been doing since you have been here. We'd like you to come back and stay." I said, "Pardon me?" He said after your baby is born, we'd like you to come back to Caltech. I said, "In what function?" He said, "Oh, we'll make you senior engineer or something." And I said, "Gee, that's very impressive, but you know, first I am not sure I could afford to do it economically. I'm making a fairly substantial salary where I am now." And he said, "Oh, I've already looked into that." He said that's not a problem at all. I was making $11,000 a year at that time, which was early in 1961. He said, "We'll offer you $13,000." I just had this kind of a sinking feeling that I had had it. This is going to happen. (laughs). I had used my prime card and it didn't work (laughs). I said, "Well, gee, what is it that you really want me to do." He said that Lowenstam would love to have you help him with some things that you two have been discussing, and he'd be willing to pay a quarter of your salary. And Bruce Murray is very anxious for you to come, and he'd pay half your salary. Hewitt would very much like you to continue on the things you are doing, and he could pay a quarter of your salary, so you would primarily be working with those three. But he said that, really, you'd be free to work with anybody anywhere at Caltech that you like. So I said, "I’ll have to talk to my wife. That's a big step." He said, "Well, why don't you consider it seriously, and maybe take a year's leave of absence or something. And then, if you didn't like it, or if we didn't like you, then you wouldn't have burned any bridges."
DeVorkin:Did he talk about course work or anything like that?
Westphal:No, he didn't discuss that, as I remember, at that point. Westphal—78 That was Hewitt's enterprise, and Hewitt and I had talked about that at length. And so I talked to my wife, and she was not all that enthusiastic about it, but she recognized that it was an incredible opportunity, and she liked it here in California. In fact, she liked it a whole bunch.
DeVorkin:She came from Tulsa, also?
Westphal:Yes, well actually, she came from Wichita, but I had known her as a child, and she was the niece of the Kellys, the people I had stayed with when I came back to Tulsa from Arkansas. So we had been childhood friends. We finally did decide that was what we were going to do, so we went back on schedule to Sinclair, and I told them I would like to have a year's leave of absence, starting in August, and they threshed around about it; and finally very reticently said, "yes, okay, we'll give you a leave of absence." So we planned to come back here; our son was born in June, and we came back here the first of August, 1961. We settled in and I dug right in to all the nifty things that were laying around to do, again, mainly working with Bruce Murray by then. We immediately started going into telescopic work and got our 10-micron world going and so forth.
DeVorkin:He was waiting for you?
Westphal:I suppose, in some sense, but he was busy, and he was doing his observing at Mt. Wilson with hardware that already existed for the visible.
DeVorkin:Yes. He was getting the very fine colors.
Westphal:He was trying to do the subtle colors on the moon in the visible.
DeVorkin:Who was this fellow, this fellow with the mustache, who came in?
Westphal:Oh, well, that fellow was Gerry Wasserburg. All I conclude from all of that was that Gerry, as always, has been interested in who gets hired and who doesn't. He came to make his judgment; and that's how he chose to do it, just very much like Gerry. Soon after I was here, I still wasn't sure that I understood what they wanted me to do. So I again went in to Bob Sharp, and I said, "Bob, I am not comfortable. I don't really know whether I'm doing what you want me to do or not." He said, "Oh, I've been snooping around. You're just doing great, just great. Let me put it to you this way: your duty around here, at least, as long as I'm the chairman of this division, is to decrease the research resistance."
DeVorkin:Those were his words?
Westphal:His words. He said, "Anything that you do that decreases the resistance to accomplishing research by anybody at Caltech, and I don't even care if it's in this division is a proper function. I will support it entirely. I don't care what area it's in, who it is, or anything else." And I thought that was one of the more perceptive things I had ever heard. I've never forgotten that. I've felt that responsibility always, and to this day. Sometimes my colleagues come and need help, and I try to help in whatever way I can. All of our colleagues do that, but I have a special responsibility, somehow, in my own mind about that. And that is how it was that I came here. Then things evolved over the years. The stuff with Bruce was extremely successful, and the very following summer we really got into gear.
DeVorkin:Yes, the publications begin then.
Westphal:Yes, that's right. Now, there was one crucial thing that happened, going back to the Golay cell. Sometime after I got here permanently, sometime after August of '61, Bruce was on an airplane flying back from the East Coast. He was assigned a seat, I suppose, next to somebody and they got into a conversation. This other guy said that he was from the Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake. They discussed what Bruce was doing. He said, "Well, that's very interesting; I think we have some infrared detectors that you ought to be able to use. They will be better by about a factor of a thousand than a Golay cell." But then he said, unfortunately, I can't tell you anything about it. "However," he said, "I have a couple of guys who would really like to be involved in that, an "electroniker" and a physicist. I'm sure that we can figure out a way for you guys to tell them what kind of a mechanical interface (you couldn't use that word in those days) you need, and what you need optically, and then we would be willing to put one of those detectors into a proper piece of hardware, and bring it down. We could stick it on a telescope and see what happens, without telling you what is in it, or how it works, or anything about it, because it is still classified." So it was agreed that Bruce and I should go to China Lake the next week or so to meet with these people.
DeVorkin:Who were they?
Westphal:The man who was on the airplane, I cannot remember his name; but it might have been Johnson. I can't tell you, because he very soon disappeared from our visibility. The two guys that he ssigned to work with us on this were named Dowell E. Martz, who is the Dowell Martz of Neugebauer, Leighton and Martz, and the other guy's name, who was the electronics man, has a Basque name. He was of Basque ancestry. There are a large number of Basques in the central valley of California, who came a hundred years or so ago, I suppose, as sheep people. I might think of his name pretty soon, a very Spanish name. We talked about everything in detail and how to do it, and what we were trying to do. They had some good ideas about what we were doing. It was agreed that a month later, or something, they'd get their stuff done and we would get our stuff done, and we'd meet at the 60-inch at Mt. Wilson and see what happened. The 60-inch telescope was the only telescope we could lay hands on. We didn't need one nearly that big, but that was what we could put our hands on. There was no smaller reflecting telescope at Mt. Wilson at that time.
DeVorkin:Did you apply for this, or did Bruce Murray apply for it?
Westphal:Bruce had applied for the time, and we used time that was ordinarily supposed to go on the spectrographic program, which he already had underway.
DeVorkin:And of course this was light time, moon time.
Westphal:Oh yes, sure, moon time, so the demand wasn't very great, anyway. I had put one condition on my coming to Caltech. That was that we have a real honest-to-god instrument shop; and that we have enough money to buy some real hardware. Bob Sharp just grabbed that like that (snap), and said, we have needed that for 30 years. That's no problem. So by the time this was going on, we already had some shop facilities. I immediately started physically building hardware myself. There was an instrument maker here at that time, who helped me some as well; but mainly, I built the stuff with my own hands. We put it on the telescope, and boy, it was just fantastic. It was just fantastic. And of course it was a mercury doped Germanium detector, and they used liquid krypton. Can you believe that money didn't mean enough to them that they could do that? So they brought it down here with liquid krypton in it, and it lasted for four days or something like that, with krypton in it.
DeVorkin:What is that, somewhere around one degree?
Westphal:No, it's higher than that. It's 12 or 15, or something, but I don't remember. We could look it up here in a second, but the main point was that it was unbelievably expensive, to have a liter or two of liquid krypton. But it was safer than hydrogen. We immediately converted over to hydrogen. We couldn't, even with that huge NASA grant, afford krypton. So we also had to learn how to use liquid hydrogen, and that was a continuing flap for many years; our using liquid hydrogen in the observatory domes. So we really started out with a very good detector. We had this large step improvement; it was more like a step of a 100 rather than 1,000 at the beginning. But it was a mind-boggling step over a Golay cell.
DeVorkin:Does this explain why in the papers with Murray on the moon work, you indicated and thanked the people from China Lake?*
Westphal:Yes, well, the names are probably in the papers.
DeVorkin:Yes, but you didn't really describe the detector.
Westphal:No, we couldn't. It was classified. (laughs).
DeVorkin:Did anyone at meetings or around here ask you, or did you know the design of the detector?
Westphal:We didn't know. They didn't tell us, and we didn't ask. We were sensitive to that. In fact, that's where I first developed my attitude about classified things.
DeVorkin:What is that attitude?
Westphal:It is that I would like never to be in a position where I had to know something about classified things. I'd rather not have a clearance; because, if I'm going to be at an educational institution, I've got to be able to talk to anybody freely about anything. I don't want to know things that I can't tell anybody I want to tell, not only because of the bloody nuisance of having to stop every time you want to talk about something and figure out whether you want to talk about it or not, but because it just stifles the whole enterprise, you know. There are situations where that's not viable, but it is for that pragmatic kind of a reason that I would rather not have a security clearance. Are there some names there? (looking at the articles).
DeVorkin:R. E. Wilson and B. J. Gerrano.
Westphal:Wilson was not the guy on the airplane. I forgot about Wilson.
DeVorkin:Okay, Gerrano was the electronics person? * Murray and Westphal, "Reconnaissance of Infrared Emission from the Lunar Lighttime Surface," J. Geophys. Res., 72, 3743, 1967. *Goetz and Westphal, "A Method for Obtaining Differential 8-13 Spectra of the Moon and Other Extended Objects," Applied Optics, 6, 1981, 1967.
Westphal:Gerrano was the electroniker. Yes, he's the Basque. Wilson, that's right; Wilson was in it, too, at the very beginning. He later became the hero of the U. S. Forest Service. He left China Lake, went to the Forest Service place in Idaho, and developed this infrared thing that tells them where the fire is through the smoke.
DeVorkin:No kidding. That's not a very difficult instrument to make.
Westphal:No, but it was an outgrowth of the Sidewinder. Wilson, Gerrano and Martz were the fathers of the Sidewinder missile. Wilson went off then to apply that technology to that particular problem; he was from that part of the world. So we still don't know the name of the guy on the airplane, but he was the supervisor of the group.
DeVorkin:That's okay. Let me ask you a question: Was Dowell Martz, one of the people who was also obviously a very fine experimentalist and laboratory person (his name ends up here on the paper, and he ends up eventually at Pacific Union College in California) typical of the people coming in? About this time, of course, money was flowing in from NASA, and people were looking for instrumentation people. Was there a general influx of highly competent creative people?
DeVorkin:Yes, at that time, doing instrumentation. You mentioned they were instrument poor here.
Westphal:Well, they certainly were beginning to worry about the problem at Caltech, and they recognized the problem; at least, some of the divisions recognized that the problem existed. Some of the divisions at Caltech are not even serious to this day, in my perception. They are much more serious than they used to be, but the biology division on this campus still is not instrumentation-rich. I would say they are instrumentation-poor, and it was just pathetic as recently as 10 years ago. I mean, people in biology didn't know that you could control relative humidity trivially in a chamber, and things like that. It was just pathetic, which is the only word I can use. The particle physicists became instrumentation people, but a lot of the rest of physics didn't have that, and astronomy was a disaster area.
DeVorkin:Was this before their astroelectronic laboratory?
Westphal:Yes, and that was Bob Leighton's idea of how to solve the problem, which was to go out and hire a Ph.D. astronomer who was interested in instrumentation. He hired Ed Dennison, who was originally at Sac Peak, who had a Ph.D. in astronomy, but really wasn't interested in astronomy. He was interested in instrumentation. They poured money at the rate of about a million dollars a year, or something close to that, into that laboratory enterprise; built it up as an aerospace-style instrumentation activity with all the formal paper work. It was a total disaster. It was just a total disaster. And we finally had to kill the thing to get rid of it. We had to disband it. It just couldn't be reformed into what needed to be done. That's much later in history, of course.
DeVorkin:Okay. Can we talk about that?
Westphal:Yes, it's a very fundamental problem, and it's a problem that we learned bitterly here. I think it's a very broad problem. It wasn't unique in our case, I think, in any sense. Now, Dowell Martz was at China Lake. He really didn't like the idea of working on classified stuff. He was, and as far as I know, still is, a Seventh Day Adventist, and that was an important force with him on a personal level. So he quit China Lake and went to Pacific Union College to teach physics, because they needed somebody and he really wanted out of this business.
DeVorkin:One of the developers of the Sidewinder; isn't that amazing?
Westphal:Yes, that's amazing. We then hired him as a consultant for several years; and that's how he was involved in the Two-Micron Sky Survey and all of that stuff, which was after all of this time. But he was there and he would spend the summers with us. It was a nine-month kind of deal like most schools, and so he would spend the summers here. He did this for several years, I can't remember, probably as many as three or four. Then finally, he decided that he really wanted to do teaching entirely, and he didn't even want to come down and do this. So, as far as I know, he is still there. I haven't heard of him for a very long length of time. He is a very talented man, and a big help; but he was not an astronomer in any sense. He was really an instrumentation-type person.
DeVorkin:Well, how about Dennison; I also saw his name in a number of different places. I don't know; you might have co-authored things with him.
DeVorkin:Or you thanked him here and there for various things.
Westphal:Yes, various kinds of help. Ed Dennison was not here at that time when this was going on. I don't remember just when he came. Things were very compressed then. Things were moving very fast, and so a year was a big time span, so it might have been that he was here a year later than all of this. It's hard to remember, you know, it was an exponentially growing thing.
DeVorkin:Yes, people were coming in. You were building a machine shop. Would you say that work with Murray on the moon with this unknown cell at the time was your first major project?
Westphal:That was the primary activity I was in, and that was the first thing that I did, yes.
DeVorkin:Murray had opted for half-time, but meanwhile, you were still working with the marine biologists, and with Hewitt Dix, still, that's right.
Westphal:Now, let me tell what happened with Hewitt Dix, just to sign off on that. Technology caught up with us before we really got the original thing going well: somebody developed an A to D converter.* We were instantaneously obsolete, because computer technology had just exploded by then, too; so it was very much better to do it with a computer. He went off and played the game he wanted to play in some detail with an A/D digitizer and a computer. By then I was so immersed in all this other business that I was not a partner in that project any longer.
DeVorkin:Yes. But even with A to D converters, I know that there were still, in the early '60's, plenty of strange analog devices where you had to have manual input to digest information.
Westphal:Yes, that's right.
DeVorkin:So it really wasn't a complete revolution, except for those people who could take advantage of it. He was one of them?
Westphal:That's right. Well, he managed somehow to lay hands on data that would let him do the work, and I don't remember any more how he got it done. But he had so many contacts in the oil industry that the minute that some oil company research lab, somewhere got a digitizer, I'm sure that all he had to do was call up and say, “could you digitize these data for me some day?" And it would be done as the highest priority activity in the plant. He was the kind of a guy that had that kind of prestige in industry. Anybody gladly would do anything in the world that he wanted to have done.
DeVorkin:He brought you here literally. He was the one personally responsible? And yet, he didn't feel as if he had any claim on you.
Westphal:Literally. That's right, yes. He brought me here. You should ask him why he brought me here, but my perception was that he thought that I could help the place broadly. He brought, probably, the world's greatest geophysicist in the minds of many people, and that's Hiroo Kanamori, a Japanese fellow. He met him in Japan when * Analog to Digital. he was over there doing something else and recruited him. He recruited him because the University of Tokyo was under strike, you remember, all those years, and Hiroo ultimately couldn't even get in his office to recover his books or anything. But he's certainly one of the most inventive and competent earthquake geophysicists in the world.
DeVorkin:That's a different level, a different type of person.
Westphal:He was a much more obvious kind of a candidate to bring in. Yes, that's right.
DeVorkin:Yes, that's right. Bringing you in was a perception of a different need.
Westphal:That's right, and a bigger gamble in many ways. But in a sense, not a big gamble, either, particularly at the beginning; because they really had nothing to lose. If I had turned out to be a torpedo, they'd have gotten rid of me.
DeVorkin:Their only risks were the salary and building the lab.
Westphal:Sure, which they needed anyway. So, they had nothing to lose except some NASA/NSF grant money.
DeVorkin:What freedom did you have to take advantage of what was going on here at Caltech, like colloquia and things like that?
Westphal:Absolute freedom, and great encouragement from Hewitt. I attended colloquia several times a week.
DeVorkin:Did you go to the astrophysics colloquia?
Westphal:Sure, damn right. Of course, nobody knew me from Adam, but the minute we started working on the 60-inch, people began to know about me, too. It was very quickly then that I became acquainted with astronomers all over. In that first summer we went to White Mountain and measured the star for the first time. Technically, we weren't in the star business. To back up, it seems to me I've covered this somehow with you before. I didn't, though?
DeVorkin:Maybe when we talked in Washington. I can check my notes; but remember, that's not on tape.
Westphal:In Washington? That's not on tape. Bruce and I decided that we needed a telescope of our own. Although we could get 60-inch time, the 60-inch was too big a telescope for what we wanted to do.
DeVorkin:For the moon?
Westphal:Yes, for the moon. We couldn't get time at arbitrary times, and we couldn't make mistakes. We felt a tremendous pressure not to waste telescope time, which appropriately we should have. So we decided we had to have a telescope of our own. There was money everywhere. Money was not an issue in any of this. So we went up and talked to "Ike" (Ira S. Bowen) who was the director of Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories. Bruce had, I believe, probably talked to him before the time I went up there. Undoubtedly, he did when he went up to get his 60-inch time. And so, Ike said that a 20-inch telescope should be just about ideal; shouldn't it. I said, gee, that will be just great. He said that we don't have one, but what we do have is a surplus 20-inch primary mirror, which we have just replaced from the 20-inch telescope at Palomar. We built a new mirror for that 20-inch telescope; and so this mirror is now surplus.
DeVorkin:What 20-inch telescope is down there?
Westphal:There's a little 20-inch photometric telescope down at Palomar. It's been there for a very long length of time. It's used primarily for bright star photometry.
DeVorkin:You did mention the 20-inch, but you didn't elaborate, so I appreciate this elaboration.
Westphal:Okay, so he said, I will lend you that mirror, if you will see to getting a secondary made for it and get it mounted somehow. So we thought that was the greatest thing we had ever heard of.
DeVorkin:You were basically building a telescope?
Westphal:Yes. So I told Bruce that I thought I had enough experience in optics at this point, in building telescopes, that I could probably build a secondary for it; although I had never built one in my life before.
DeVorkin:This was a classical Cassegrain?
Westphal:This was a classical Cassegrain that we had in mind. It had a perforated primary. At any rate, it was agreed then that I would make a secondary, and that we would buy the biggest mounting we could put our hands on from Tom Cave, who was an amateur telescope maker down in Long Beach. We looked in "Sky and Telescope," and he had a mounting for a 16-inch. We figured we could live with that.
DeVorkin:You were going to use it on the moon?
Westphal:We were going to use it on the moon. This is all still a moon enterprise. The plan was to put it on Mt. Wilson; and Ike gave us the access to the old horizontal telescope shed, which housed the f irst telescope that was up there, before the Snow, or any of the tower solar telescopes. In fact, it had been the home of this mirror, it turned out. This mirror was also the first telescope mirror that was ever on the mountain. It was used to feed a long horizontal spectrograph in that building.
DeVorkin:And it wasn't the Snow?
Westphal:Not the Snow. It was before the Snow. It was the first thing that Hale put up there, when the thing still belonged to the Smithsonian. It's a shed that's along the ridge that the monastery is on, immediately north of the monastery. It's the first thing you come to when you go north from the monastery; and it's now, of course, an old rickety broken-down shed, but at the time when we used it, it still had a roll-off roof on one end, and it was all grungy as hell, but it was workable. It had just been used as a storage building, but it had piers and power in it. It was ideal for that purpose. It was immediately to the south of the dome that now has our 24-inch in it. At that time, the dome had a 10-inch refracting camera in it, and it was called the 10-inch dome for many years. It had a real honest-to-god dome, a classic dome. This thing is just immediately to the south of that. So we did exactly that. I bought a mounting from Cave and got him to make me a spherical secondary, which he was willing to do. He had never made a Cass secondary, either. Actually, my original idea was to get him to make the secondary, and he said he wouldn't touch it, but he would at least be willing to make me a proper convex sphere, so I didn't have to grind or polish. All I had to do was figure it. I did not go and talk to the Mt. Wilson opticians about how to proceed. Now, I knew about the Hindle sphere test. Of course, I didn't have a Hindle sphere. And we were, I guess the right word is, terrorized of Ike. Ike had a strong reputation that you didn't mess with him. So we didn't ask for any support really. I mean, it was kind of the ground rule that we took what he offered to us, but we didn't really push him in any sense. So I suspect that's why I never talked to the opticians. And I'm sure now, looking back at it, if I had talked to them, they probably would have bootlegged me a secondary somehow, because they could have done it so trivially in comparison to what I went through. On the other hand, I thought it was kind of neat to do it myself, and recognized that at 10 microns I didn't have to have very good images. On the other hand, the damned primary was F2, so it required a mind-bogglingly deep hyperboloid on the secondary. The way I did it was that I built the telescope, put it all together, took it to Wilson, fired it up and looked at the image. I first tested it on a star. Then I polished on the secondary, and put it back in and tried it again until I got it to a level that was acceptable.
DeVorkin:Doing a star test?
Westphal:Just doing a star test, and boy, that's the hard way to proceed. But I did it right there, and I could make four or five round trips a night. So I spent a lot of nights up there polishing away on that secondary, and finally gave up when I got it to a point where it didn't matter. That's what we did our first really good 10-micron observations on the moon, really better than with the 60-inch. The 60-inch was so big we couldn't tell what we were doing at some level. We were looking at too small a part of the moon to really understand what we were about. We wanted a broad area of the moon. We didn't want to look at fine detail; but there were other problems with the 60-inch that at that time we didn't understand, and we were trying to use it at the Newtonian, and that had optical problems we didn't understand.
DeVorkin:All of this time you had the use of this detector?
Westphal:Oh yes, they just essentially gave us the detector.
DeVorkin:And you never opened it up?
Westphal:Oh no, we didn't even know how to open it up, and we wouldn't have dared touch it. And if we had opened it up, we wouldn't have known any more than we did. There was crystalline material in there, and that's all we knew about it. We hadn't the slightest idea what it was or anything else. I mean, we knew that it was a photoconductor. We may even have known that it was doped Germanium, but I doubt it. My memory was that we really didn't know what it was at all, other than being a photoconductor. We knew its electrical properties, and its resistance and stuff like that, but essentially nothing else. Anyway, that was fairly successful, so we decided that we had to move to a very high site. Now, Bruce and I, candidly, didn't do our homework at anything like the level we should have; and we weren't good enough physicists, looking back at it. There was a lot of galloping incompetence in what we were doing. We decided that it was terribly important that the mirrors be of the lowest emissivity, and therefore, be gold coated. So we went off and got gold evaporated on the mirror, and that was a big deal, because we couldn't find anybody around that had ever done that, in the basin at that time. We finally found a guy whose company name was Pancro Mirrors.* His name was Jim, something. I can't remember his last name right now. And we talked him into the idea of trying this, and it workcd right off the top. And boy, was he tickled. He thought it was neat, and we did, too. And it was gorgeous to look at it. Just gorgeous. (laugh). I remember, we almost had a real disaster. Dowell had come down from China Lake when the mirror came back from Pancro, and it was in a plywood box, face up. We took it up to Mt. Wilson to this shed in the daytime, and we took the lid off the top of the box, so it was setting there face up. And we were standing there kind of looking at it, getting ready to put it on the back of the telescope. Dowell walks by it, and says: "Ouch! Something burned me!" And we realized that the sun was shining on this damn thing and was making an F2 image of the sun out there in nowhere! And the reason we recognized it was that while he was standing there rubbing his arm, we saw a little puff of smoke, and it was evaporating every little piece of dust that went by. He had a wooden pencil in his hand and he took this wooden pencil and went across that; and it set it on fire as he went by. I mean, later on he had a red stripe, which was about 1 1/2 inches wide. It was clear that had he been closer or farther away by a little bit, it would have just burned right into his skin. Scarey. You know, an F2 solar furnace is a real solar furnace, even if it is 20 degrees off angle. * Advertised regularly in Sky & Telescope.
DeVorkin:Yes, that's amazing. Yes. It's dangerous. Did the gold make it that much more intense?
Westphal:No. It didn't matter. It was just the fact that it was F2. In fact, it is the inverse; it would have been even worse if it had been aluminum. So anyhow, we did put the thing together. We played with it a little at Mt. Wilson, but it was the wrong phase of the moon, plus the fact that we were just absolutely convinced that we had to do this thing on a high site. We were just convinced we weren't going to consistently get any light into it at all, from a place like Mt. Wilson, at 10 microns.
DeVorkin:You knew already that 10 microns wasn't a good window?
Westphal:Yes, from the literature. But the literature, of course, was all from sea level paths in Florida. We didn't understand all those subtleties.
DeVorkin:Nobody else did, either.
Westphal:Well, we should have understood those subtleties. There wasn’t anything complicated about it, but somehow we didn't. So we decided it was just absolutely essential to go to this high site. We picked White Mountain; Bob Leighton knew about it, because he had done a bunch of cosmic ray work at White Mountain some years before, I think, when he was a student actually.
DeVorkin:Yes, working for Anderson.
Westphal:Yes, that's right. We got in contact with the people at Berkeley who ran the place, and got approval from them to put a telescope up there. We, of course, wanted to be right on the summit. They said, well, it might be August before you can get to the summit, and it's a hard game. Why don't you not go quite so far, and try it just above Barcroft at 13,300 feet or something. There's a big plateau up there. Well, Bruce was adamant that he wanted to be on the summit, but Dowell and I convinced him finally that we ought at least start at a place we could drive to easily, and that we could get to early. So it was agreed that we would go up there sometime in May, and figure out where we were going to put this thing. Bruce and I and a kid who was working for us, whose name I cannot remember, went off to White Mountain in early May.
DeVorkin:Was it Bob Wildey?
Westphal:Not Bob Wildey. Wildey wasn't in the act yet at that time. This was just a kid that we hired as a gopher and assistant. He was very much more than that. He was a good carpenter and a good construction person. In fact, that's why we took him, because he was the one who was actually going to build a little dome that we wanted to put up there. So off we went in the first part of May to do this. We had a hell of a time getting to Barcroft, and there was still many feet of snow at Barcroft. So they put us in a weasel, and we were going to go up the hill to this plateau to look at it. The weasel went about 50 feet and threw a track off the side of it, so they handed us each a pair of snowshoes. You're right; Wildey was there, because when we started off with snowshoes, he was the first guy that gave up as we went up the slope.
DeVorkin:(laugh) He was a Ph.D. student?
Westphal:Yes, and in fact, this was in May, and he was just finishing his thesis and he was going to go to work for us in the summertime. That's right. But this other kid was with us, too, so there must have been four of us. Off we went on snowshoes. Finally, Bruce and I got up there, after slogging through the snow and damn near killing ourselves at 13,000 feet. We came from Pasadena that morning, you recognize, with no acclimation, and neither one of us was a sportsman. I was carrying a metal fence post that I was going to use to stake the site, so that we could find it again. So we wandered around on this big snowy plateau up there, and finally found a place near a power line, which was going to be put in that summer up at the summit. We wanted to be close to that, so we picked a spot and jammed this thing in the snow, and hightailed it back down the hill and back to Pasadena. They were to call us when the snow melted enough so that we could start construction. By the middle of June we got the call, and we sent this guy up there, and he called back the next day. He made a special trip down. He said: "You wouldn't believe where that stake was." He said that there are six-foot diameter boulders all over in that spot. I can't build anything there. So I told him, build the thing wherever you can build it, and close enough where you can get power to it somehow. He built the dome and we put the 20-inch in it.
DeVorkin:The Cave mount worked all right?
Westphal:The Cave mount worked fine. Bruce and I and Dowell went up there and got everything fired up. We went up so that we were going to observe the moon past the third quarter, at the time when it’s sunset on the terminator edge of the moon, which means it is in the morning sky. We started scanning across the moon this first morning. We scanned off into the darkness and one of the first things we learned on the 20-inch was that we had to have a means of seeing where we were when we were scanning. So I developed a mirror with a hole in it, so that the infrared detector could look at the light through the hole, and then the rest of the light is reflected off to an eyepiece. You could see the hole in front of the object. I'm sure that was no new idea, but it was new to us. So we started this scanning across the moon, and lo and behold, we dropped off of the illuminated side of the moon and out into the dark side. The signal went down to zero. We kept going a little ways, and all of a sudden, the signal went back up! And it went up a.little ways, and went back down, and we went back and forth across the dark part of the moon. There was absolutely no doubt there was a signal out there in that dark side of the moon! So we started kind of moving around it. It had a finite size in both directions, and boy, you know, that was just what we were looking for, because that meant there were some warm rocks out there! But we didn't really have the courage of our observation.
DeVorkin:Did you have different sized diaphragms?
Westphal:No, we had a single diaphragm. So we started more scans and more scans, and we found three or four such areas. Then the issue, of course, was, "what's there in that spot, since it was in the dark, you couldn't tell by looking."
DeVorkin:Yes, but you knew approximately where you were looking.
Westphal:Yes, we knew fairly well where we were looking, although at that time we still didn't have a camera hooked on it to take monitor pictures, which is the right way to do it. We came to understand that very quickly. The reason I was digging in this slide box was to show you a slide of the way it looked. There's the diaphragm right there. See it? That's Venus on the 200-inch, and you notice there's some kind of a squigly there that looks like a "2". It's in fact a bunch of numbers written on the front of the mirror, so that we can identify the orientation of the mirror, in case the aperture is not on the object. They are just extra fiducial marks. Instead of trying to make cross hairs, I just wrote, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5" on it with black India ink right quick.
DeVorkin:That's a darn small aperture for the detector.
Westphal:Yes, I think that's two or three seconds of arc at the 200-inch, as I remember. Venus at the time of this picture must have been something like 30 seconds of arc; so it was maybe a little smaller than that. Anyway, that's the way it looked in the eyepiece, only it was the moon instead of Venus. So you could tell where you were and what you were doing, and of course, we made sketches and all kids of stuff. But we hadn't, as usual, done our home work, and we didn't have a map of the moon. We didn't even have a picture of the moon! It was awful. We just had to know whether that was a fresh crater or not. That was what we of course expected. So we were so excited, it busted our buttons, you know. Then there was a big argument, I remember, about whether we should go down the mountain right then to Pasadena to find out what we had, or whether we should stick it out for the next three nights, the next three mornings, to get more data. Murray and I were arguing, and so was Dowell Martz. I think it was actually Bruce and I at that particular time. I think we were the only two there when this first happened. So sanity held, and we decided to stay at least one more morning. So we did it the next morning, and we got even more spectacular stuff, but we couldn't see those two spots any more. So we knew then that they had cooled down enough during one day so that we couldn't see them any more. At least, we didn't believe we could find them. Again, there was this problem of, "where are you, and are you really looking at the same spot again?" This was eating us up.
DeVorkin:Are you talking about two seconds of arc?
Westphal:I don't remember how big the apertures were. No, they might have been bigger than that. They might have been 10 seconds or 20 seconds, but they were still a small part of the size of the moon.
DeVorkin:Exactly. That's what I was getting at. It was good resolution.
Westphal:Yes, it was a quite good resolution. That wasn't the issue; at least, not at that second, it wasn't the issue. Anyway, we brought the data all back down to Pasadena finally, and got pictures. Sure enough, two of those IR bright spots were right on top of the two brightest craters on the moon.
DeVorkin:The two youngest craters.
Westphal:Yes, and boy, were we in hog heaven! So we went up and showed this to Ike Bowen; and even he was impressed — to our total amazement. He was first impressed that we really could get that telescope to work, and that we would get this kind of data and that it was so neat. So then we just couldn't resist saying, "gee, do you suppose we could measure a star?" Ike said, "no, you will never be able to measure at 10 microns, even with the 200-inch. They just aren't going to be bright enough; and anyway, they won't be interesting, because anything that you can measure at 10 microns, you're going to be able to see with your eye much better than that. We already know all about any kind of star like that, so it's not going to be interesting science."
DeVorkin:This was Bowen's opinion?
Westphal:This was Bowen's opinion.
DeVorkin:You were just on a very preliminary survey. You've identified those two craters, but you hadn't done a complete mapping.
Westphal:Nothing like that.
DeVorkin:No general study. Murray was a geologist. You have a background in geology. What made you want to jump directly to a star?
Westphal:Oh, just an idle question: "Ike, do you suppose one could measure a star at 10 microns?" And I guess, actually what we probably asked him was, if anybody had ever measured a star at 10 microns. We probably didn't even know. I don't know whether we knew or not for sure.
DeVorkin:Yes. And he would know.
Westphal:He would know, sure. I don't really know how the conversation started. He may have even started it, for all I know. But it was an idle discussion. It was not a discussion that indicated that we were gungho to go measure stars.
DeVorkin:But the upshot was that he said, no.
Westphal:But the upshot was that it wasn't possible. Wel!, that of course, is kind of a challenge, when something like that happens. So the next month we went up. We realized then that we needed to wait a whole month before we went again, because we were so tied to this moon idea. So the next month when we went up there Wildey was with us, and he had been hired as a post doc. It was a reflection of the fact that there was an opinion, a kind of an underground opinion, that these two damn geologists really ought to have a real astronomer helping them, which was not an unreasonable stance. So Wildey needed a job, and they said that we'll give you Wildey. Well, Wildey was very interested in all of this. So we did our moon thing, and found more neat stuff. By then, we knew where to look, and I had recognized by then that we needed a camera. We went down to C&H Sales, which was a local surplus place, and bought a 16-millimeter gun camera for fifty bucks or something. You remember those single frame gun cameras from World War II? I got that latched onto the photometer so we could take pictures, like this picture, through the photometer, parallel with the eyepiece. That made a major difference in telling us where we had been, so we could tell what we were doing. But while we were there, we decided that it was at least worth a chance to take a shot at what we would guess would be the brightest infrared star. Well, now Wildey was valuable, because neither Bruce nor I knew an A star from a Q star, you know, or whether there was a Q star, for that matter. But Wildey, of course, did know all that kind of good stuff. So it was immediately agreed that there were three prime candidates: Alpha Sco,* which is a bright red star; Alpha Orionis which is not so red, but brighter; and Alpha Herculis, which is a bright red star. Now, we had also heard by then about a guy at the University of Ohio, or Ohio State; it seems to me it was Ohio State. I cannot tell you his name any more, but his thing in life was to do infrared solar spectra, high resolution spectra of the sun in the infrared. I would certainly recognize his name.
DeVorkin:Are you sure it was Ohio State and not Michigan?
Westphal:No, I'm pretty sure it was Ohio State.
DeVorkin:Not the McMath Hubert Observatory?
Westphal:No, I don't think so. Although that would make sense, I agree. We had heard that he had a 10-micron photometer and was trying to measure a star. One of the stars that he was looking at — this was all through a grapevine someplace — was Alpha Herc. Well, Alpha Herc * Scorpius was a candidate, obviously, but we didn't perceive that it was the best candidate. We thought that either Alpha Sco or Alpha Orionis was. So while we were waiting for the moon to come up, or something, just kind of as a side thing, we said, "Gee, let's go take a look. Wouldn't it be fun if we could see the damn thing." So the thing that we came to first, just because it was in the sky at the right place, was Alpha Orionis. We put the damned thing down in the hole and Wildey screamed at the top of his voice: "It's there!"
Westphal:And I said, "It's back out of the hole." He said, "It's gone." I said, "Now tell me what I've done." He said, "It's in there," and it was. I took it out, and he said, it's out! It's in and it's out! There was no doubt, we had about a three to one signal to noise ratio. Boy, it just blew our minds. So then, there became a big issue: do you suppose (and we needed to know this answer, anyway) that our filters, our infrared filters leak in the visible; and what we are really seeing from this object now, which is exceedingly bright in the visible, and not very bright in the infrared, is just a light leak somewhere, a cracked filter, or whatever. Well, by then we were smart enough. We understood that we were doing well enough to recognize that all we had to do to answer that question was to put a piece of glass in the beam, and that would absorb all the 10-micron radiation and let all the visible through. So we grabbed some piece of glass that was there and stuck it in the beam, and there was no sign of a signal; just gone. We really hooped it up! So we came down the hill after that run; and of course that time, we didn't even show Ike the moon stuff. We just went into Ike's office and said, we took a look at Alpha Orionis, and here is the signal. He looked at that, and he said, "That is very impressive." So there was a little discussion about it, to convince him that we had thought through the problem. It was clear that he was very much more comfortable with the fact that Wildey was part of this, so he had a real astronomer to ask questions of. That was perfectly reasonable. Then he said, "Well, I think it's about time you guys use the 200-inch." And I'm sure that Bruce and I both almost fainted on the spot. I don't think either one of us had ever thought of such an idea.
DeVorkin:And Murray was very young, still.
Westphal:Oh yes, he was a postdoc. He was less than a year out of Harvard.
DeVorkin:Yes. Let me change the tape.
DeVorkin:This is all a discussion of the first publication on your list, where you describe the actual instrument, the camera and the work from 8 to 14 microns. This is 1963,* you are the first author, then Bruce Murray and Dowell Martz. You detected Alpha Orionis then, the Galilean Moons and several planets. And this was clearly just a feasibility study, very exciting.
DeVorkin:You do identify it as a mercury doped Germanium detector cooled to liquid hydrogen temperature.
Westphal:Yes, so by then we must have already known.
DeVorkin:That's right. Do you have a recollection of how you finally found out, and how the classification was lifted? Or did this not even tell people enough to understand the detector?
Westphal:No. I didn't remember that it was in that very first paper. All I can say is that there never was a time that I remember when somebody called up and said, "Okay, you can talk about it." So I haven't the slightest idea what the classification status was, but I'm quite sure that we did not publish that illegally. I'm sure we were very sensitive about that, so what that means is that, by that time, it was somehow public knowledge.
DeVorkin:That was already July, 1963.
Westphal:Yes, and see, it was a year or more before that, a year and a half before that, when we first had contact with it. So my guess is that it was in the open literature some place, and it wasn't even China Lake's doing to get it declassified. They didn't develop it. It was developed some place else. I don't even know where.
DeVorkin:Okay, but they presented it to you as classified information?
Westphal:Oh yes, at the beginning. Yes, absolutely.
DeVorkin:So it looks like, then, that the 200-inch work came out in the article with Murray, Wildey and Westphal, "Venus, a Map of its Brightness Temperature".** So that's when you really went to town on Venus. *Westphal, J. A., Murray, B. C., and Martz, D. E., "An 8-14 Micron Infrared Astronomical Photometer," Applied Optics 2 (1963), 749. **Science 140 (1963), 391.
Westphal:Well, what Ike said at that point was: “Now I think you guys should have some 200-inch time. And what we will do is give you twilight time." This is the time from when the sun goes down until the normal night observer goes to work. The normal night observer doesn't go to work until the sky is dark; but for a 10-micron observer it doesn't make any difference whether the sky is dark or not. There was a rule in those days that you couldn't use the 200-inch when the sun was up; and the reason for that was, again, the worry of making an off-axis image of the sun on some of the telescope structure, a reasonable worry. But another worry was just having sunshine on a tube or something else, that could cause thermal problems. In recent years, of course, the 200-inch is used, except for a couple of hours around noontime, almost all the time during the daytime for infrared work, and millimeter work. But in those days they were very much more conservative and careful about it; and of course there wasn't any demand. The other twilight-time is in the morning from when the night observer finishes up to the time the sun rises. So Ike arranged to get us some time to observe. You can probably tell from the papers better than my memory; but one of the first things we did was indeed measure a bunch of stars with the 200-inch. There is a paper with Wildey's name on it about stars measured from B8 to M8 or something. The title was an astronomy kind of title. It should be near the very beginning: "10-micron flux of 20 stars from..." — do you suppose it didn't get in there?
DeVorkin:I don't see it.
Westphal:Well, isn't that interesting. You know, my name probably wasn’t on that paper. I'll bet that's why it is not in here. I'll bet it was Wildey and Murray, because there was at that point a little flurry about what my real function was in the system.
DeVorkin:That's the sort of thing I wanted to find out.
Westphal:Right. And it very well might have been perpetuated by that paper, now that I think of it. I'll bet you that paper doesn't have my name on it. As I think more about it, I'll bet you that's exactly how it was. There was a point at which I had the impression I was being frozen out of the science of the activity.
DeVorkin:When was that?
Westphal:Early in that time.
Westphal:Well, by Murray and maybe Wildey, and maybe it was just the style of the system, that I was really the engineer. There was no argument that my name ought to be on the instrumentation papers; but there was the question of why is my name on the science papers that are pure science. "You're not an astronomer."
DeVorkin:There are a number of papers where you are the only author.
Westphal:That's later on, of course.
DeVorkin:Yes. So this is still '62, '63.
Westphal:Yes, probably, in that time. I remember the three of us coming down from Palomar, and this issue was raised in the car as we were coming down the hill.
DeVorkin:The three of you? You were friends?
Westphal:Oh yes, sure, very friendly; but this issue was raised, and I said, you know, I don't really like this idea. So we had a little hastle about it. It was a friendly hastle to first order. But it was a hastle. I ventilated very clearly what my attitude was, and they had to make a decision whether my name was to be on the scientific papers, or whether it wasn't. Then I would react to that by how much I was going to be involved. My stance about it was that I wanted my name on the scientific papers, because I thought I had an interest in it. I thought I contributed to it, and that I wasn't just the engineer in the system. The resolution of this would color my future interest in the future progress of the research, whether I was going to be treated as a scientist or an engineer.
DeVorkin:So this didn't come down from Sharp or someone like that?
Westphal:Oh, no, no, it was a purely internal thing between the three of us, and in some sense it was just between Bruce and me, because Wildey was just a postdoc under Bruce. Now by then, Bruce may already have been an assistant professor. I don't remember that timing at all, but sometime fairly soon he was.
DeVorkin:Was it the beginning of the point where you wanted to make independent observations?
Westphal:No, no, that wasn't the issue. The issue was whether the things that I was involved in were just science — and I was certainly involved in measuring all those stars. But I was there, from their viewpoint — this was my impression — to make sure everything worked. But they were there to do the science. So if the paper just discussed science, then they would be the only authors and I wasn't involved in that authorship. I didn't consider that to be an adequate stance, from my view.
DeVorkin:This is a good time to ask you that kind of a question, with respect to your basic philosophy that you had developed from your own feelings, obvious from when we talked before, and then from Sharp's statement, about the role of "the facilitator" helping to decrease the resistance to doing the science. It brings up the question of what drives what? Does the science at CIT drive the technology? Or does the technology help to stimulate the science?
Westphal:Both things happen. In the everyday run of things, the science is driving the technology. The science, most of the time, has caught up with the technology and is pushing technology, just speaking as a broad statement about this part of CIT, and in every place I've ever run into it. But when there is a sudden step in the technology, then there is absolutely no doubt that the technology is controlling what science is going to be done. It is the science that can be done with the new technology. The point, the thing that's commonly said, is that if you can improve the spectral resolution, or the sensitivity or the wavelength coverage by a factor of 10 in some sort of an instrumentation situation, you've got to go back and make every measurement you ever made in your life over again. Do you know all there is to know about the sun at 10 microns? No, you don't even come close to that, because if you can improve the spectral resolution at 10 microns by a factor of 10 times, you've got to go back and measure the sun over again. So in that sense, the technology drives the science. It makes new science possible. In a place like Caltech especially, people grab new technology very quickly and start milking the cream just as fast as they can, recognizing the opportunity. So what happened in the case of the 10-micron thing was that this was really new technology. This was a whole wavelength region that astronomers had not in any really serious way ever been able to use, particularly in the case of stars. It was literally the first star ever measured. People had measured planets before at 10 microns. People had measured the moon before at 10 microns. That was all done with Golay cells, or even earlier than that, with bolometers and thermopiles and so forth. So this was a major perturbation in the capability to do infrared astronomy, and it was really the beginning of modern infrared astronomy, in some sense. Very quickly, just a couple of years later, Frank Low developed the Low bolometer, and it was another order of magnitude, or even two orders of magnitude better than the mercury doped devices were.
DeVorkin:Yes. Was it callium doped?
Westphal:It was a callium-doped Germanium bolometer. Frank is a very, very competent and very inventive and clever guy. As soon as he got the detector to work, he started in on the problems with the hardware, and he just ran away from the rest of us, because of his ingenuity in solving problems of chopping, plus having the detector.So there were a few years there where Frank owned the IR world.
Westphal:And absolutely appropriately. I mean, he invented the world and he owned it.
DeVorkin:Was your interest in that line, too? When you first started using it, did you want to try to see how you could improve that cell?
Westphal:Yes, sure, although we never did any real detector research here in the classic sense of detector research. The main thing we did was learn how to use that detector, build photometers and use it on telescopes and so forth.
DeVorkin:This was more your personal interest?
Westphal:But my personal interest in it was not only the technology, which was the prime interest, but I was also interested very much in the science as well, and of course, I was not an astronomer by training. But I was learning fast, and the system was very supportive of all of that. But that was the crucial point in some sense. If I had not stood up and told Bruce and Bob that I wanted my name on the science papers, at least, in the astronomy part of it, I undoubtedly would have put more effort into other things that I was doing outside of astronomy here at Caltech. I would not have gone down the path that I ended up going down, without a doubt.
DeVorkin:Yes. That was the path you wanted — to be in astronomy.
Westphal:Obviously so, because I was willing to make that stand at that point. Now, it's very hard for me to remember what I was thinking about at that moment. It may have been so simple as that I didn't want to be left out of a nifty neat thing. I recognized that, naturally, because there was a lot of noise about how incredibly neat all this was. I felt that I had had a major part in making it happen; and I didn't want to be frozen out of it, in some sense. I perceived, correctly, that if you are not part of the science part of it, after awhile you're frozen out of it. Maybe that's a harsh way to say it, but you're no longer part of the activity.
DeVorkin:Was there a similar chance to do things with new techniques of underwater photography?
Westphal:Sure, and all of that was going on at the same time, too. I was doing all of that, but there the issue I just raised was really never present. There was never any question that my name went on the science papers involved in the other work. It just never was an issue.
DeVorkin:Let me ask you one further question about the technology and science dichotomy, in this case. You mentioned very briefly that in every institution you had been in, this was characteristic, normal, that the science was caught up with the technology, and in some cases, would even drive it. But when technology took the lead, the situation was reversed. What about a place like JPL, very close to Caltech administratively, but very different from Caltech in its goals and in its mission, and its structure? At this particular time, it had had some projects that had been bombing out.
Westphal:Yes, Ranger was a terrible problem to them.
DeVorkin:They were having problems, but also, there were tremendous pressures there that were nonscientific.
DeVorkin:Would you say that this sort of thing also worked at JPL? The same sort of attitude? Were you having any significant contact with JPL yet? I don't even know if it is a fair question to ask you.
Westphal:At the point we are in the discussion now, where we just measured the star, we had had no contact whatsoever with JPL. That came later as an accident, again; or kind of an accident. Well, I really shouldn't answer the question, because I don't know anything but rumor about that. The person you should really ask that question, for that time, is Gerry Neugebauer; and why will be obvious in a second. So I think you really ought to ask somebody that was up there and knew what was going on. I can give you only an impression My impression is that the place is so fundamentally different, and certainly is so fundamentally different today, that the question you've asked is an irrelevant question. It's not the environment in which that question is phrased. Very little science is done at JPL, and that science is done by a very small number of people who essentially are isolated —I'm now talking about today — from all of the rest of JPL. The rest of JPL is an aerospace entineering enterprise, and the scientific staff is really effectively isolated from that. Now, that's another long discussion, and it's a broad problem within NASA. I suspect it's a broad problem at a lot of places, but certainly it is a broad problem within NASA. I recently had a discussion, for instance, with Noel Hinners about that very issue when I came to see Noel that morning (at NASM). One of the things he wanted to talk to me about, was what I thought was the proper role of scientists in a NASA center like Goddard or like JPL. We talked about that at length, of why is it like it is, and what have you got to do to change it, if you want to change it, and should you change it? Is there any point in having scientists associated with a place like Goddard or JPL?
DeVorkin:What did you say to him?
Westphal:I told him I thought there was, but the problem is the scientists that are at both places are the wrong kind of scientists. You need scientists who are engineering-oriented, instrumentation-oriented scientists, because that's the business those places are in. They are not in theoretical science. They're not in observational science in the classical way. That's done by the science teams that are associated with the instruments. The in-house people need to be people who understand the jargon, who understand the problems of doing real engineering or real instrumentation, who understand the science, and who can be the bridge between the two disciplines, so that dumb science decisions are not made, and dumb engineering decisions are not made. When scientists perceive that they are being driven by both the realities of engineering and by the science, they understand what the requirements are. And vice versa, the engineers don't do dumb things that cause problems to the science when they don't need to.
DeVorkin:Considering your strong feeling that you should be able to do the science too, do you believe that the scientists at the NASA centers, who are close to instrumentation, should also be able to do some science?
Westphal:It's absolutely crucial, because otherwise, they become obsolete in a month, or year.
DeVorkin:Yes, but there has to be a priority?
Westphal:There has to be a priority, and there has to be not only the freedom, but the requirement that they do science. Otherwise, they are not staying on top of the world. It's like the problem with the Space Telescope Science Institute. It's the thing Ricardo is fighting right now, in which NASA, at some level, because of economic problems, doesn't want to finance the science support for the staff of the Institute. The Institute will be a half-assed place within a year, if those scientists are not allowed to do science. At that point, you've done them all a disfavor. If that's the way you want to proceed, then get rid of all the scientists and run the place as a control center and run it with engineers. Do the science somewhere else.
DeVorkin:As long as it isn't a confusing issue; in other words, don't bring the wrong scientists in to do bad science?
Westphal:That's right. That's right.
DeVorkin:Either do good science, or don't do it at all?
Westphal:Well, pick the kind of scientists, in the case of a NASA center, who are simultaneously competent to furnish the kind of scientific and the kind of engineering support that you are looking for. Otherwise, leave all the scientists out in universities to do science in their proper environment. It's a simple idea. I don't know whether it's occurred to the people trying to do it, or they can't make it happen or not. But it clearly has not happened. It has not happened at JPL and it has not happened at Goddard.
DeVorkin:Is it a problem of finding good scientists, possibly, who will make that commitment with no hope of recognition?
Westphal:I don't think so. If you pick the right guys, you've given them something they want very badly, which is to be involved in the real design and implementation of scientific instruments to be flown in space. That's an instrumentation type scientist person that wants to do that, and you've given him a gold mine.
DeVorkin:There have got to be people who want to do that.
Westphal:Oh sure, there are people out there. But if you look and see who are the people that are really scientists at this place, they are the result of somebody saying, I want 12 scientists. So somebody else goes out and buys, you know, a foot and a half of scientists just like they buy a foot and a half of books.
DeVorkin:Without any special regard to their requirements?
Westphal:That's my observation of it. They haven't thought what the real requirements for those people ought to be.
DeVorkin:Is this now, or is this when Goddard was building in the early '60's?
DeVorkin:So this is something that was set in the early '60's and is still going today.
Westphal:Yes, and it's something that can be turned around, too. If you are going to hire a scientist, you should hire the right kind; and you may have to go so far as to fire the guys you have and start over, which is a very hard thing to do, in a place like Goddard, anyway. It's a hard thing to do in JPL; but if you don't start that, you will never get anybody who is right for the job.
DeVorkin:It makes sense that that's why you want a new science institute, to try to do it right.
Westphal:That's right, and that's why it's such a panic at the moment to convince NASA not to let the same mistake happen again; or if they are really not going to support it, then they should say they are not going to support it, and change the nature of the science institute into a science support system center, and run it with a bunch of good engineers.
DeVorkin:Now, is this why the scientific community wanted Giacconi in there as director, because he would fight this fight?
Westphal:I don't think the astronomy community wanted, or didn't want Giacconi. I don't think they were involved in the decision. That small subset that chose him, I really had no idea what their motives were. There were a couple of people involved whose view of it was that they needed Giacconi because he was the only person with enough guts and enough clout to keep NASA "under control". That's a very bad perception. I wish they would quit saying that, because that's not what Giacconi should be doing, and not what he is doing.
DeVorkin:That's what I have heard. That is what I wanted to know.
Westphal:That's right. What Giacconi is doing, and should be doing is learning to work with NASA to make it happen, but he has to be a strong personality to keep NASA from running over him, perhaps. But that's a different thing from keeping NASA "in hand", which sounds like it's an adversary proceeding, no matter how you proceed. It's not an adversary proceeding. It's a question of making sure the priorities are right, and that takes a strong personality, because NASA is full of strong personalities, who have very deep financial and schedule problems, and Ricardo has to fight them. He is, I think, an excellent man for the job.
DeVorkin:Okay. Let's go back to a period of time that you indicated was very poignant, this critical time when you made a stand and said that you were a part of the scientific team. It was about that time, if I recall, from our discussion in Washington, where you, by watching people like Neugebauer and Leighton, realized how much you had to learn, in your own words.
Westphal:Well, that was a little bit later.
DeVorkin:Is it proper to move to that?
Westphal:Yes, well, let's get there by doing the one step having to do with the second paper on the list, which is the Venus paper.* *Westphal, J. A., Murray, B. C., and Martz, D. E., "An 8-14 Micron Infrared Astronomical Photometer, "Applied Optics 2 (1963)9 749.
DeVorkin:The 200-inch observations of Venus.
Westphal:That's right. Now, what happened there, as I remember, is that we measured the stars first. That's why I was trying to find that paper. I can probably yet go across the hall and lay hands on that paper, because we've got Bruce's papers over there, too. My memory of it is that we did the stars first, because that's what Ike was interested in.
DeVorkin:Of course. Did he ever suggest nebulae? Not at this time?
Westphal:Oh, god no. (laughs). It was well known that stars were clearly the end of the line. I mean, since it was known that stars didn't work, there was no point in looking at anything else. That's like the day that I said, "why don't we go look at this new comet coming;" and everybody says, "hell, you're not going to find anything in the infrared from a comet."
DeVorkin:Because it doesn't exist?
Westphal:Oh, it doesn't exist. It's well known there's no infrared light from a comet. I said, "has anybody ever looked?" And the answer was, "no, but you know, you can show there's no infrared light from a comet." It's the oldest story in the world. If you haven't looked, you'd better go look.
DeVorkin:People don't learn that lesson.
Westphal:None of us learn that lesson. It's easy to say, boy, I knew that, but somebody else can come along and say, yes, but Westphal, how about this time and this time and this time when you told me it wasn't worth doing at all? I'm just as bad as the next guy.
DeVorkin:Okay. Well, with the 200-inch.
Westphal:At any rate, Mariner 2 was designed to go to Venus, and there was a lot of discussion of: are there any holes in the cloud deck of Venus? None had ever been seen from the ground; but nobody knew for sure whether there were. A fellow, whose name is Lou Kaplan, a spectroscopist at JPL, was, I think, the principal investigator and Neugebauer was maybe his deputy on Mariner 2. They were the principal investigators on an infrared instrument on Mariner 2. It wasn't, of course, the only instrument. The idea of that instrument was that they were going to look at Venus at two or three infrared wavelengths, narrow band wavelengths, where there was some chance that there would be a clearing in the atmosphere. It was already understood by then that the atmosphere was C02 — so the only way that you had a chance to see in very deep was to pick a place where the C02 absorption was at a minimum. This was their radiometer. The other motive they had was to measure the limb darkening, which was a very critical issue. The amazing thing about it was that they had never imagined to do this from the ground, to see if there was any hope of doing it. Neugebauer, in a discussion, said, "it just somehow never occurred to us to try that." So about two weeks before the spacecraft was to get to Venus, which was on the 15th or 16th of December in 1962, Bruce got a call from Kaplan. Kaplan had somehow heard that we had been measuring stars, and he asked us to go down to the 200-inch, if we could arrange this, and see what we could see from the ground, mainly to back them up, in case they saw something that was big, then we could confirm that from the ground.
DeVorkin:This is how it is indicated in the publication, that this was a backup.
Westphal:This was a backup; that's right. I didn't remember that that was in here; but anyway, it was a backup.
DeVorkin:That's very interesting terminology. Because, really, it sounds like you could have done it from the ground.
Westphal:Right, sure. But we didn't rub their noses in that. So we went to Ike and said, could we get some twilight time at this particular time. And Ike said, sure, much to our amazement. My memory of it was that it was not during the bright of the moon, and it was at a time when we would not normally have gotten telescope time, so that Ike really had to decide especially to give us some time to do this. He didn't have to juggle it. He just had to convince the night observer to tolerate a bunch of idiots like us messing with his telescope. The night observer owns the telescope, and he can say, to this day, "I don't want any of them out here. Get them off. Get them off the mountain." He's got that prerogative. And that's proper. It sounds rash, but it's proper. It's never happened, to my knowledge. At any rate, we went down, and we started to do this work. Now, what we did was to make scans across the planet. Like this.
Westphal:Well, they weren't really even equatorial. They were really in right ascension. It was just the direction the planet happened to be oriented. So we made these scans across the planet like that. On the first night, which was the 13th, we got just these few scans, because we hadn't the slightest idea what we were doing. On the first scans that came across, why, we saw this asymmetry, which is not all so obvious. Well, it was fairly obvious here, and…..1, 2, that's just reproducing the same two (reading the paper). But at any rate, when you made scans across the thing, like number three, only higher up, the thing was obviously brighter on one side than it was on the other. And when we got up to the other side of the planet, the inverse was true. Bruce and I were doing this. Bob wasn't involved in it that first night. We stood there and we looked at the damn strip chart. It was in the morning, the morning twilight; and we said, what do you suppose that is? So we finally drew a picture, and we put both scans on it; and since both of us had a background in geology, we kind of contoured it. When we did, we got this contour cocked at an angle! Cold at the top, cold at the bottom, and hot at the middle. We both stood there, and we grinned, and we said, we know which way the pole of Venus is! At that time nobody had a clue. I mean, there was a lot of stuff in the literature. People had made measurements by spectroscopy and so forth trying to measure the differential rotation.
DeVorkin:You got the polar cooling.
Westphal:We had the polar cooling and we knew which way the pole was. Measuring a star was neat, but this was, at least, for me, infinitely neater, because we knew something very fundamental about Venus that nobody knew. I was hooked from then on (laughs), if I had never been hooked before.
DeVorkin:How did Mariner do? Did they detect the same thing?
Westphal:They got one scan across the thing, because the platform stuck, and so they got a little limb darkening data and nothing else. Nobody found any holes in the atmosphere. We know why, obviously. We found, not only that, but we also found — well, see, we had a hint right there, although we weren't very brave. But the next night we found that, and it had changed.
DeVorkin:That's right. That's rotation.
Westphal:And we knew, therefore, that there was an active atmosphere, because in one day, something came and went away, and all we worried about was whether that was a problem with our data somehow, a lot of thrashing. We held the paper up for two or three weeks while we got Leighton to look at it, and so forth.
DeVorkin:Was Neugebauer looking at it, too?
Westphal:No. He was looking, but he wasn't looking at it in detail. He was still at JPL. He was in the Army when this was going on. He was a detailee. And it was soon after that that he came down to CIT. He clearly wanted to work in infrared. So then there was an issue: well, is he going to work with us at 10 microns, or is he going to do something else? I don't remember how that was done exactly. I knew it at the time, I'm sure. The ultimate result of that was that he decided to work around two microns in the near infrared, and leave this other stuff to us, which was a very wise move, because it meant that we broadened out our infrared work, and it was a different technology. It was a technology that China Lake knew in spades, see, because they had the world's greatest two-micron detectors, too, which were the detectors for the sidewinder. Those were lead sulfide detectors.
DeVorkin:Yes, but lead sulfide were not classified, were they?
Westphal:That's right, but the technology was, and therefore, Dowell Martz had the technology. Dowell then went to work basically for Gerry, and they immediately started improving the quality of lead sulfide detectors. Of course, he started cooling them, and they started to understand what they were doing, and they got three or four additional orders of magnitude, just like that, with those detectors.
DeVorkin:Yes. But during this period of time, when you were using the mercury doped crystals, were you beginning to worry, as others later were, about the reliability of these things. I've read a few general books on infrared astronomy. There's one by David Allen,* where he notes — and maybe you can comment on this — that people now feel that the early stellar data, using the mercury-doped crystals, are not reliable.
Westphal:That statement is certainly correct. But not because there was something wrong with the detector. It was due to a thing called the Wildey effect. And that's not in Allen's book.
Westphal:Allen probably doesn't know that, but it is the Wildey effect, named after Bob Wildey. It would be easier to understand the Wildey effect if we had a blackboard; but maybe I can describe it to you in English.
DeVorkin:Has it been published? *David Allen, Infrared, the New Astronomy, New York: Wiley, 1975.
Westphal:No, goodness no. It was not kept secret, but it was never published. But we have said in later years that those data were not very reliable. We didn't say why. In fact, one of them, the B8 star in that paper is just totally spurious, because of the Wildey effect.*
DeVorkin:The B8 star giving you infrared.
Westphal:A very bright blue star giving us more infrared radiation than it was supposed to have done. It caused a big problem, and it's a shame it was spurious, because since then there are some B8 stars with an awful lot of 10-micron infrared, because of the circumstellar shells. But that wasn't one of them.
DeVorkin:Let me make sure than, that this is the paper that you don't have on the list, because your name's not on it.
Westphal:That's right, but I can probably lay hands on a copy of it.
DeVorkin:Okay, so what is the Wildey effect?
Westphal:The Wildey effect is the following: In the 200-inch, we worked in the east arm. The east arm is one of the two structural tubes that separates the horseshoe on one end from the bar at the bottom end. From the middle of these arms is suspended the telescope's declination axis. It is a Cassegrain focus in which you lay hands on the light by rotating the Coudé mirror that's out on the post in the middle, 90 degrees, which reflects the light down the declination axis to the point where the declination axis intercepts the axis of this "east arm" tube. There's a flat fixed mirror there that then reflects the light parallel down the axis of the east arm itself. It comes to a focus three or four feet down inside the east arm at which point there is a table. This table is a metal plate about an inch thick, and probably three feet wide or so; and it's about 10 or 15 feet long, probably more like 15 feet long. It is suspended on a couple of plates at its ends, which have bearings in them, so that it hangs down like a very shallow "U" from the two bearings. The bearings are centered on the local optical axis. And in fact, this plate is weighted underneath. It has a half-cylinder base on it that's loaded with steel or lead, or something, so it's extremely heavy. So as the telescope turns in right ascension, if you are tracking some object, this table, which is hanging of course, at 30-some-odd degrees, whatever the latitude is at Palomar, in that arm, it remains level. As the arm rotates it turns in the opposite direction, because it's counterbalanced. It's pendulous. So it means that you can pile equipment on this table, which is setting there *B. Murray and R. Wildey, "10-M Photometry of 25 Stars from B8 to MF", ApJ 139 (1964), 435-441. at a slant, so that it in fact has a wooden stairstep on the top of it. It gives you a bunch of level platforms that you can set equipment on, and it was originally built to put a great big spectrograph in there.
DeVorkin:That's typical of the period.
Westphal:So that's what Ike gave us to use, so we were out of the way of everybody else, because nobody else used it. It was quick to change to that, because all you had to do was rotate the Coudé mirror by 90 degrees. Now, originally we fastened the photometer to that plate, just like everything else. So it meant that every time the table moved, the photometer rotated a little bit. The optical axis of the photometer was, of course, the optical axis of the telescope, and that was the axis of rotation of the table. So what it meant was that you just rotated around the field. As long as the table didn't move when you made an observation, it was just as good as one from a solid surface. But we knew very early on, that every time the table jumped, we would get an offset in the data, because the photometer was not looking at the telescope exactly the same; and so one beam of the chopping photometer would get a slightly greater amount of flux.
DeVorkin:There was no way to make that table rigid?
Westphal:You couldn't. It was way too heavy to tie it down. It would rip itself out of there. At the time, we were not allowed to clamp the photometer directly onto the hub of the bearing, so that the photometer would stay fixed with the telescope, and the table would rotate about it. There were eight bolts there, and Ike didn't want us taking the nuts off of them, off of even four of them. The only way that you could get a hold of that thing would be to take the nuts off of four of these eight bolts.
DeVorkin:He was worried about stress.
Westphal:He was worried about stress, and we suggested even that we take them off one at a time, and replace them by big stainless steel tubes, hex tubes, that were essentially a nut. He just wouldn't have it.
DeVorkin:That sure created a monkey wrench.
Westphal:Well, it was a problem, but you know, we were guests in the enterprise. Since Wildey was the astronomer, he wanted to do most of these observations. So, I was not there every time he did this; and he started collecting observations. Of course, the way you did it was, you looked in the eyepiece, like this, and you saw the star out here somewhere. You moved the star down until it disappeared in the hole, and then you moved it back out and back in the hole, back and forth, back and forth. That took out the long term drifts, by making little, square waves. Well, Bob was measuring these stars and getting these beautiful signals, and gee, they were pretty. He'd write on and off, on and off. So somehow, I never was there when he was doing the observing by himself, and so I never saw what happened, at the time before that paper was published. But a few months later, I happened to be down here when he was observing again, and I noticed that every time he leaned over to look in the eyepiece to set the star into the hole, he would lay his hand down on the table to lean over; and it would make a little offset. He’d get the star in the hole, and he'd leave it there for a few seconds, and then he would lean back like this, just to let it set there and integrate. He was generating the signal, by leaning on the table and backing off, and leaning on the table and backing off. Now, it was a small signal, a very small signal. So on an IR bright star, it really didn't make very much difference. But when he got down to these really faint stars, whose signal to noise ratio was only a few to one, it was the whole signal. Of course, what it meant was that there were very sporadic results, even for the kind of medium bright ones, because they all had 10 or 20, 30, 40 per cent errors in them, because every time he'd lean over, there would be the Wildey bench effect.
DeVorkin:The Wildey bench effect?
Westphal:The Wildey bench effect.
DeVorkin:It was a distortion, a stress, on the optical system?
Westphal:No, he just put his weight on the edge of the bench, and since it's pendulous, it rotated a little bit, and it moved the photometer. The photometer then saw the sky differently, and that made a little offset. A classic kind of a problem.
DeVorkin:But the paper was still published.
Westphal:Oh, the paper was already published when I finally discovered it.
DeVorkin:Oh, he was continually doing observations?
Westphal:Yes, we did a lot more observations, but it wasn't published anywhere, you know, brutally, that this was an operator problem. But it was ultimately published, I think, some years later that the data were unreliable. I don't remember exactly how that was.
DeVorkin:The impression I had, and I guess this makes sense, from David Allen's book, was that all data from these cells was suspect during the period, but what it really means, for the stars, was that you people were the only ones taking the data.
Westphal:We were. We were the only ones taking the data.
DeVorkin:During the first few years?
Westphal:Yes, sure. We were the only people that used mercury and copper doped Germanium detectors on any scale at all. The very next person to get in business was Ed Ney, in Minnesota. He didn't use these detectors, because he had already heard about Frank Low's bolometers; and Frank wouldn't sell them, of course, and properly so, at the beginning.
DeVorkin:What did he do, just make them?
Westphal:He did this for TI. He worked for TI and that's where he developed the thing. TI would sell them, but they would only sell ones that were so grungy they really weren't worth using. They weren't competitive with the mercury doped detectors. Well, according to Frank, "TI wouldn't build them the way he told them to." So the only good ones were the ones that Frank built himself in the lab at TI. And the ones that TI sold were built, not by Frank, but by some production line out there. So the detectors were out there, and people knew there were such detectors, but they were lousy. They weren’t as good as mercury doped detectors.
DeVorkin:Is that why Frank Low left TI?*
Westphal:I don't know why he left, but when he left, he made a deal with TI. TI was not making any money off of them. He made some sort of a deal with TI to allow him to go ahead and manufacture them. So he, rather, actually his technician, has manufactured them through all these years. I don’t know now, but some years back, anyway, they were all still made out of one single boule of doped Germanium that he had early on. Whether he got it at TI or not, I don't know, but for years they all came out of the same single boule. There was a lot of joking around about that. Once he ran out of that material, he'd be out of business. In the meantime, Ed Ney had learned to make bolometers too, independently from scratch. * Texas Instruments.
DeVorkin:During this period then, is it proper to start talking about your feelings of being outdistanced by some of these people like Leighton, Neugebauer, and what they did to help you?
Westphal:Yes, except, there was an impression you just left which I think was incorrect. Leighton and Neugebauer were working at 2 microns, so they were not competitors of ours in any sense.
DeVorkin:No, that's not what I meant. Okay.
Westphal:No, the event that I mentioned to you before about Leighton was a completely different situation; and it happened probably about the time we are talking about now. I was trying to understand some of the physics of the infrared, how things really worked. My memory of the matter was that it was some sort of an optical thing, but I cannot any longer tell you what it was exactly. What I remember vividly about it was that I spent a lot of time educating myself about this problem, and really understanding this problem. I had met Robert Leighton, but I didn't know him well at all at that time. I knew who he was, what he was. I knew he was the brightest guy around Caltech, and I'm fairly sure that Neugebauer was also down here at that time. At any rate, I called Leighton and asked if I could come talk to him about some infrared work we were doing, and he said, sure. I went over to see him, and I started to tell him about this; and my object was to tell him where I was and then ask him where I should be going beyond that, and did I really have it straight? This was the motive for me to go to talk with him about it. I got a minute or two or three into my discussion, and he kind of took over the discussion, agreed with what I had done, and went, blinkity, blinkety, blink, past where I had spent four months going, and into what I perceived was 10 years worth of my kind of effort, discussing the problem right to its total end. Now, that's what I wanted. I wanted to know where it went, but it just completely crushed me, not because of Leighton in any sense. Leighton was not doing something improper in the slightest sense. I'm sure he never to this day has ever known that I had that reaction to that. But I walked out thinking, look, I'm in the wrong business, if there are people around that understand things that well, and who can do what it would take me months to do. If they already know the answer to all of that, then I'm so far out of it in comparison with the people that I am working with that I am wasting their money and I'm wasting my time. I felt that there's no way I'm ever going to catch up, all of which is true, by the way, still true. So I went off to see Bob Sharp, who was officially my boss then. I didn't really work for Murray. I worked for Sharp, because Murray only paid half of my time. You know, there wasn't any issue of who worked for who, but I went to Sharp, who was my ultimate boss.
DeVorkin:You had been here for at least two years.
Westphal:A year, I am sure, if not two years, but I had been here quite some length of time. I went to Bob and told him of this. He kind of smiled and he said that he's an awfully smart man, that guy, Leighton. I said, yes, and you know, I'm wasting your money, Bob. I mean, you don't need somebody like me around here when there's a guy like that around that can answer the questions that quick. All you've got to do is go ask the questions. He said, well, Jim, you know, Bob only gets 24 hours a day to do it, too, and he's doing all kinds of nifty things, that he is especially talented to do them and has a personal interest in much of it. There's plenty of things for you to do. He's not available to tell everybody in astronomy or infrared, or anywhere else, how to solve all of their problems. He was kind to you and helped you along there, but there's an infinite amount for you to do also, and you shouldn't feel bad about that. He only gets 24 hours a day just like you do. So I walked away, thinking of the truth of his view and agreeing with him. In fact, Bob Sharp told me some things about his view of himself. Bob Sharp has got to be the kindest man that I have ever had any contact with, ever in my life, as a personal, friendly man. He said, look, Jim, I don't know anything about all this geochemistry stuff these guys are doing. I am just a dumb geologist that goes out and bangs on rocks and decides how old they are by whether they ring or whether they sound "buh". He said, you know, I don't know anything about all this stuff, but I figure that's a pretty good job for me to do and it is interesting and educational, and it's good research. I don't have any problem with the fact that those guys are infinitely smarter than I am. All of that was true, too, absolutely true (laughs). So I stuck it out.
DeVorkin:Was this '62 or '63 by this time?
Westphal:I don't know, somewhere like that.
DeVorkin:About this time you began helping out on the infrared project, the 62-inch?
Westphal:Yes. They asked me to help primarily with the electronics, because Neugebauer and Martz were not real "electronikers". By then I had become fairly skilled in that. So I was primarily asked to worry about the amplifiers. I designed the amplifiers they used, and designed part of that part of the system. Now as usual, Leighton, who was very much in that, could have done all of that vastly better than I did, but he was busy making the mounting work and doing all the clever stuff of building the mirror and so forth. So my involvement was significant, but it was peripheral. Certainly, we (Murray and I) were encouraging the survey as hard as we could, and supporting it in every possible way. They learned their Dewar technology from us, that is, how to build Dewars and all that sort of stuff. There was a tremendous amount of interaction there, but it certainly was not competitive. They were all cooperative in every way.
DeVorkin:How did you go about building your Dewars and things like that? Did you change designs at all yourself, because I know you had Linde Dewars for awhile.
Westphal:The ones that came from NOTS,* from China Lake, were all commercial Linde Dewars. They were exceedingly expensive, many thousand dollars apiece, and they were lousy Dewars, as Dewars go, cryogenically lousy Dewars. They were very difficult to modify in any real way, although we ultimately did a lot of modifications to them. But it was very clear, very early that we had to make Dewars that were built differently, that looked out the side and looked out the top, instead of looking out the bottom. We had to make all kinds of changes like that. Dowell Martz was really one of the first people that started in the business of changing and modifying the Dewars, but I was deeply involved in it, too. We just kind of learned by trying things and working at it. Dowell especially did a lot of things, trying to build Dewars by gluing them together with epoxy, and I mainly made mine by welding and so forth. There were a lot of, what nowadays would be called, low technology problems. How do you weld? How do you make aluminum joints to stainless steel. So we had to learn an awful lot of "art", would be the right word. We spent a lot of time looking at the Review of Scientific Instruments to see what other people were doing. Anytime we found articles about Dewar technology, or low temperature technology, we all read it, and tried to figure out better ways to make things happen.
DeVorkin:Were these problems of the uniformity of the insulation?
Westphal:No, the problems were almost 99.9% to keep them from leaking. * Naval Ordnance Test Station.
Westphal:Yes, it was a really simple-minded problem, vacuum leaks, air leaks. It was, and is, a hard problem. It's not as hard now as it was then, but it's art. It's knowing how much grease to put on an O-ring, or whether you put grease on at all, and how much you compress an O-ring. Just stuff that never gets written down in a textbook anywhere or in a paper anywhere. You have to re-invent the techniques: everybody does it, almost.
DeVorkin:Yes. Was there anything special on the electronic side of the 62-inch we should talk about?
Westphal:No, it was all straightforward for its day. Like everything, it would be a couple of orders of magnitude easier now, than it was then.
DeVorkin:It was just something that had to be done.
DeVorkin:The reason I asked is that we have acquired the 62-inch telescope for the museum. And I'll be talking to Dr. Neugebauer in another few days about it. But when I found that you also had an input, I was interested to hear your comments. First of all, if you don't mind a few questions, I understand from the David Allen book, and also from talking to people, that there was considerable skepticism as to whether this whole project was worth it, because people around here thought, well, there just aren’t that many objects in the sky.
Westphal:Oh yes, it was, again, Ike's attitude, you know.
DeVorkin:That was Bowen?
Westphal:I don't know that it was Bowen by himself. I'm sure it was not Bowen by himself, but Bowen was still Director, and it was still the same attitude that stars are black bodies; and therefore, you can predict exactly what they are going to be, and there aren't going to be any cold ones; at least, none that are going to be close enough that you are going to be able to see them. As soon as this got going, and the first set of stars came out, it was another one of these things like with the 10-micron stars. There was just disbelief everywhere. When it became clear after the first few weeks, or maybe even few days, that there were going to be thousands of stars in this catalog, then there was panic, because we hadn't the slightest idea what we were going to do with Westphall—117 all that data. We kind of believed everybody, also, that there were going to be a few hundred stars at the most you were going to be able to detect. We had already started throwing out the faint ones, because we would have had 20,000 instead of 4,000, or whatever. But again, I was only peripherally involved in that. I was watching it and involved, but certainly I was not one of the main drivers of that activity. That really was a Neugebauer activity.
DeVorkin:Okay. I'll certainly be talking to him about it. About the same time, as your papers attest, you worked on instrumentation for the Trieste.
Westphal:Yes. That was with Lowenstam. The thing was Lowenstam's. Remember that Heinz Lowenstam now was going to furnish a quarter of my salary.
Westphal:So what did I do for that quarter of my salary? First, you should understand the science that he's interested in. He's interested in something called paleoecology, and specifically, he uses the techniques of stable isotope chemistry like oxygen 16, oxygen 18, and various others, to understand the environmental conditions under which calcium carbonate-forming animals, such as shellfish and the like, were living. At that time he was funded primarily by the office of Naval Research. He had an aquarium facility which consisted of ordinary glass tanks you buy down at the pet store — in which he was attempting to raise various sorts of local calcium carbonate-forming animals, local shellfish and tube worms, and various things like that.
DeVorkin:Yes. Those things that would grow around vents, and things like that?
Westphal:This was long before those days. This was 1961. No, they were just local beasts that grow along the beach down here. What he wanted to do was to change the chemistry of the water in which they were growing and see how that was reflected in the trace element and isotope chemistry of the calcium carbonate they deposited. So he needed these beasts to grow so that, as they grew, he could look at the material they were laying down and understand what happened. So as an example, if he changed the ratio of calcium to strontium in the water, would it, in fact, have an impact on the calcium to strontium ratio in the shells that were formed? He wanted to do experimental work to teach him how to interpret what he saw in the fossil record. Now, my immediate interest in it was that I liked to scuba dive, and liked to take underwater pictures, as I mentioned before. I just had the general fascination, I suppose, of almost every one of us with things that live in the ocean, and things about the ocean; and particularly for a kid raised away from the ocean, it was all the more fascinating. So to me it was a lark to be able to involve myself in that. Heinz was not a person who had any personal sense at all of instrumentation. It just was not his thing in life. He was a biologist and a chemist; and he really had zero mechanical competence. So it was very easy to make a positive impact on his activity, because it was pretty rudimentary. As an example, when I came to visit and went over to see his lab, he had lucite lids on top of these aquaria, and he had them put on there with brass hinges. The brass hinges were corroded, and the copper was killing everything in the tank. He did not have the slightest idea what was killing his beasts, and I said, gee, don't you suspect it's the copper draining out of that? That was the most amazing thing he had ever heard, so I made him some lids that just laid on the top of the aquaria, and all of a sudden his beasts started growing, and he thought it was just a wonder of wonders. It was kind of as I said earlier; the biologists around Caltech had a pretty rudimentary approach, particularly then, as far as instrumentation was concerned.
DeVorkin:You know, as an aside to that, we have heard that the biological experiments on Viking were equally hard to come by, because biologists in general were not really good practical, instrument people.
Westphal:It is absolutely so. I am sure that was true. It was very difficult to identify biologists who were competent to design, conceptually even, the experiments.
DeVorkin:Do you have any idea why?
Westphal:I suppose it's tradition. That can happen. It is happening in some sense in this division, and in physics, at least as far as I know, at Caltech, where there is not as much emphasis on experimental work in either of those fields as there once was. So students are not encouraged to do experimental work, and not encouraged to understand how you do it, much less, how you conceive and implement things like that.
DeVorkin:Could it possibly be because so rnuch instrumentation is available commercially?
DeVorkin:No, because they just don't do instrument work at all. They just don't do any experimental work. More and more theory is done instead of experimental work. It certainly is not a uniform statement, but it is certainly much more true now than it was when I first came here. When I first came here, in physics, Victor Neher was here, the guy that was the co-author of PROCEDURES IN EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICS,* that beautiful little book by John Strong, Vic Neher, Al Whitford and company. It's just a cookbook of how you do neat stuff, like make quartz fibers that are 5 microns in diameter and 50 meters long. It's a glorious little book, if you are interested in doing experimental physics. You know, it's years and years and years out of date, but it's full of useful information. I use it all the time; if I want to figure out how do I make a flat quartz fiber, I look in there and it tells me how to do it.
DeVorkin:I'm just fascinated. (looking at book). You have Albert Whitford, John Strong, Victor Neher, Holly Cartright and Roger Hayward, PROCEDURES IN EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICS. I never heard of it.
Westphal:Is that right? It's a great book. Look back in it. Just open it and look at the illustrations, which are done by Roger Hayward, of course. They are the most beautiful line drawing illustrations that you could ask for.
Westphal:Clear, concise, easy to understand.
DeVorkin:Infinitely better than Amateur Telescope Making, beautiful.
Westphal:In those days, when I first came here, this place was still full of experimental physicists. Now there are a few of them around, still in the particle physics business, but that's almost all theoretical too, in some sense now, as far as the local place is concerned. There is very little actual experimental physics going on here.
DeVorkin:The publication date is 1938. I'm just wondering how they got those people together. Was it John Strong that did it? Do you know anything about the history of it?
Westphal:I know nothing of the history of it, but I wouldn't be at all surprised that it was John Strong. *J. Strong, V. Neher, A. Whitford, Cartwright, and Hayward. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1938.
DeVorkin:I'd be very interested to find out.
Westphal:See, he had just left here at that time, or maybe he, was still here. What does it say? Does it say he was here?
DeVorkin:No, he was at Harvard at that time.
Westphal:Yes, well, he had just left here, then. Remember, he was the guy who invented the aluminizing of telescope mirrors. I was always proud of the fact that I had an office for a long time and a lab over in the bottom of Mudd Building where he did that. That's where his office happened to have been. Anyway, this is what Heinz wanted to do, and then he had another dream. He wanted to grow these shellfish in the aquarium room. He was cooling each one of these tanks separately with an old Coca Cola box and a pump, and running cold water from the Coca Cola box to copper coils inside of the tanks, which of course were also killing everybody. So while I was here the first time with Hewitt, I said, gee, why don't you throw those away and put stainless steel tubes in there, and get all of the brass out of the system. Boy, it was just magic; everything started to grow like mad. So when I came back, again there was money from ONR, so I said, gee, why don't you get out of this business of cooling each tank, and let's just cool the whole room. Then you can set as many tanks as you want to in there whenever you want to, and take them and go. You would have no pipes. So we did that. We had a room converted into a cold room over in the bottom of Arms.
DeVorkin:This was a cold room just to the temperature undersea.
Westphal:To the temperature actually of the local surface water, 60 degrees F. So he could take animals right out of the tide pool down at the local shore and stick them in here, and he didn't have to worry about them. The tide beasts will not grow in any significant way at 80 degrees F. or something like that. Actually, the room had a temperature controller, obviously, and we could set it anywhere we wanted it, but we set it, as I remember it, at 57 degrees or something. The next thing that he wanted to do, which was an obvious thing, which some people had tried a little bit of through the years, was to try to grow deep sea animals in an aquarium. People immediately found that you had a problem getting them up from the deep ocean without them warming up, because in the deep ocean they are living at two or three or four degrees C, and so there was clearly thermal shock involved in bringing them up. And secondly, clearly, many of them were very uncomfortable at low pressure. Fish, of course, just blew up, but even things like shellfish, even though you couldn't I mmediately see what was happening to them, clearly were very uncomfortable. Of course, it was easy to imagine chemically why that would be. Depressurization clearly causes problems with partial pressures and things. The first thing you do, however, is to learn how to build an aquarium that would work at high pressure. Obviously, that's not an aquarium with four glass sides and a lid on it. That's some other kind of thing. I had at Sinclair quite a little bit of experience with high pressure pumps and stuff like that, that were related to some of the things that we were doing. I was fairly well aware of what existed commercially that you could go out and buy in the way of pumps. The heart of the problem, of course, was that you couldn't just have a vessel that was pumped up to that pressure and let it set there. The water had to move through it, because otherwise you didn't carry the waste away or bring the food in and so forth. You had to have circulating water, and it's a very basic kind of problem; and that's not a trivial problem, if the pressure inside is 10,000 PSI or something.
DeVorkin:Especially if it's salt water.
Westphal:If you have salt water, you have all the corrosion problems, and of course it is salt water we're discussing. So Heinz had talked to a lot of people around here about doing this. And everybody had kind of told him to go away, and I thought it was a really fun thing to learn how to do that. I thought it was fairly straightforward and simple; I said, let's get going, so that's what we proceeded to do. Without going through a blow-by-blow description of all the subtleties of how you go about this, we did indeed over the course of a few months identify some pumps that were positive displacement pumps, which is what you want to use when you do something like this. We identified ways to make controlled leaks so that you could have a controlled flow of water without the water eroding the valves. If you put a needle valve in, it lasts for 10 minutes until it has eroded the valve open, and then it's gushing through there. The subtlety, which we ultimately, in fact, got a patent on — I thought it was kind of elegant — was to use a long thin pipe — a hypodermic needle. Now the pressure drop is continuous along the length of it, so over any little piece of it the pressure drop is small, and you can control the flow rate by its diameter and/or its length. It turns out that you can buy hypodermic needle tubing in 50-foot lengths, if you want, from the company that sells tubing. They sell the same stuff to the people that make hypodermic needles. You can buy it in the most amazing variety of sizes, bores, and so forth. You can buy it in Type 316 stainless, which is what you want for the corrosion problem, and once we did that, the whole fundamental problem of flow control went away. So we were able to build aquaria that moved sea water through at any rate that you would like at any pressure that you would like up to 15,000 psi, which takes care of the deepest part of the ocean. We were then able to get some beasts by dredging off the coast here with the Velero, the University of Southern California's oceanographic vessel. We would go out and dredge out there, and used a thing called a Campbell grab, which is not really a dredge. It is a kind of a clam shell thing that just grabs a chunk of the bottom, and closes tight. You drop it and it just grabs like that. By doing that and hoisting the thing just as fast as we could, we could get it to the top before the temperature on the inside of the mud in the center got significantly warmer, and then take the whole mess into cold seawater, and use that to wash it out and find beasts that were living in the mud, or on the rocks, hopefully. So we were ultimately able with several cycles of effort to collect a bunch of animals of various sorts, shellfish, etc., from a depth of approximately 5,000 feet that would survive long enough for us to get them back to Pasadena to get them into the chambers and let them grow there. We had some beasts that were actually growing at 4,000 and 5,000 psi. Once you get them in there at ambient pressure, insert them in the chambers, screw the lid on, start jacking the pressure up slowly, and sure enough, at 2,000 or 3,000 psi they would start crawling around. They were just as happy as a bug in a rug. Up to then they just all pulled into their shells, not all of them did that, but you clearly saw that there was a relationship between pressure and the health of the beasts. They sure didn't feel good until they got back to somewhere near their normal pressure.
DeVorkin:That makes sense. That's very nice.
Westphal:So we were able to do that and to get some nice science out of that. There were other nifty things we were interested in that you saw some papers of there. One was, I thought, an elegant way to measure the flow of water in and out of shellfish by schlieren techniques, by generating a little ring of hot water by heating a filament in the water, and then letting that ring be sucked into the beast. There's a little short paper about that.*
DeVorkin:Yes, I got that. That paper is included. I was interested in that because schlieren techniques are the ones that some amateurs are very interested in for testing optical surfaces now.
Westphal:Oh sure, sure. That's what a Foucault test is, essentially. *J. A. Westphal, "Schlieren Technique for Studying Waterflow in Marine Animals," Science 149 (1965), 1515.
DeVorkin:Yes. The question constantly arises in my mind: you had freedom to work with Lowenstam and with others. Were your days ever chopped up into little pieces with three or four different people coming at you with different needs, for example, while you were working on the pressure chamber? Did anyone else come over and say, hey, we need you?
Westphal:Sure, every day had its panics.
DeVorkin:Were you actually a fireman? Were you putting out fires?
Westphal:Very often. Sure. And the thing was, and is, so disorganized, and everybody is so much an independent operator that nobody was deciding what I was going to do each day, except me. I would be working on something and some other guy comes in and says, gee, there's this and this. I had to make the decision of which one I was going to work on, and tell whichever guy, or maybe not tell whichever guy, what I was going to do. That was never a problem. Everybody understood that was the way the game was played. It's the way it's played to this day. Our technicians operate in exactly the same way.
DeVorkin:If they didn't think they were getting your proper attention, they didn't go complain to somebody. There was no bureaucratic control?
Westphal:Sometimes I was hassled; sometimes Bob Sharp had to tell one or the other of them to knock it off. I don't remember that he ever actually had to make a decision, but he must have. What did Lyndon Johnson say? He had a great way of saying it when he wanted to con somebody into something.
Westphal:Yes, let's reason together. Occasionally Bob had to ask the boys to sit down to reason together about this, but it was not a fundamental problem.
DeVorkin:There was another side trip that sounded interesting to me. I didn't get too much background on it. In 1963 you took a trip to Bolivia to measure on Mt. Chacultaya, a 17,600-foot mountain. Was this purely for seismic work?
Westphal:Oh, no. It was all for infrared.
Westphal:I'll come back to that. Before we leave Lowenstam, I really haven't answered your question about the Trieste. What was clear to us at that point, however, was that if we ever wanted to work with the beasts from deep in the ocean, first, we were not going to get them by random grabbing, which is an incredibly slow uncertain process. Secondly, there was no way we were going to get a beast up to the surface and repressurized before it died, even if we took all our hardware out and put it right on the boat, which was clearly the only way we could do it.
DeVorkin:You're talking about 20,000 feet down?
Westphal:Yes, 12,000 — in fact, anything over 5,000 it seemed. We tried to retrieve stuff from 8,000 feet and never could get it back alive. So it seemed, first, that there was some crucial pressure, which was interesting in itself. Secondly, it was clear that the only way we were going to be able to do this was to capture the beast in the deep water and get him under pressure, keep him under pressure in the deep water until we got him up on the surface, and keep him cool. So the obvious thing was, let's go down there and do it.
Westphal:Sure. Why not? So the obvious thing to do it with — remember, this was before Alvin existed; you do it with Alvin now — was the Trieste. We were aware that the Trieste had its home base at San Diego. Of course, that meant it was tied in some indirect way, at least, with Scripps. We know everybody at Scripps.
Westphal:That is, Heinz knew them, primarily. We immediately found out who it was that was running the thing down there, and how to proceed. Understand that we were under this Office of Naval Research grant. The official object of the grant by then was deep water fouling studies. The Navy was extremely interested in how to prevent animals from growing on things that they wanted to put in the deep ocean, which is a major problem, particularly for acoustic kinds of things. So the proposal was that we were learning how to grow these beasts which lived in deep water. Once we developed the technology, the Navy or perhaps ourselves even, could do studies of how you try to keep them from growing on things. A noble cause and a very realistic thing. So since it was a Navy project, it was a fairly natural thing, it seemed to us, to use the Trieste. So we talked to the Navy guy down there, and he seemed very anxious to do it. He thought it was a neat idea, so we went to our Navy people and said we would really like to do this. They said, that's just great. That's just what that thing is good for. Boy, it went like butter. We were just galloping on at the speed of light. The conceptual idea was that we would take a chamber down and use remote manipulator arms, go down to the bottom, find a rock outcrop with the beasts we wanted on it, or with some beasts on it, anyway, lay the metal hand upon the beast, put him in the chamber, and then screw the lid on. Then we would drop the chamber into an insulated container to keep it cool; and we had done our home work to understand what we had to do to keep the pressure essentially the same. Remember, everything expands and contracts, everything is elastic at some level. The compressibility of water is very low, so it doesn't have to expand or contract very much before the pressure changes radically inside. And so we dreamed up a simple-minded way of having compressed gas that was compressed as we went down in a chamber.
Westphal:Essentially, we put a balloon on the outside, if you want to think of it that way. It acted as a pressure buffer, so we could maintain the proper pressure. We actually built in the shop the first one of the tanks. We wanted to literally screw a cap on the end of it, but we wanted to do that without having to screw it 20 turns, you know. So we used the technology that was common in the oil field, in which you do not have a cylindrical threaded bolt with a cylindrically-threaded nut on it, something that's of the same diameter, but you use a sharp taper that has the thread cut on it so that it is kind of like a cone. Then the nut is the inverse of that, and it turns out, if you think about it, that you can just drop it on the top, and it takes only one-half turn to engage every thread to its full depth. That's how a drill stem on an oil well is made. If you pay attention the next time you see some ad on television that shows the guys unscrewing this pipe, and look at the end of it, there's a big taper on it. It takes about three turns, I think, on a piece of oil field stem. Every thread is completely engaged its full depth, which is what you need to have the strength. So we machined those kinds of threads on the cylinders, and we were essentially ready to go, and a date was scheduled for us to go out and try it out at 12,000 feet or something, which was somewhere close to San Diego. Just a few days, or few weeks before we were actually ready to go — it was really quite a short time — the Thresher submarine was lost in the Atlantic. They flew the Trieste over there to find the pieces, and when it came back — I don't know whether it ever actually even came back to San Diego — it was decommissioned at that point. And so the whole thing died.
Westphal:The Trieste thing died, and that essentially meant that that project died. We continued to do some playing with it, but with no source of beasts, it was grim. So that was kind of the end of that in some sense.
DeVorkin:That's too bad.
Westphal:Yes, it was too bad, but Heinz and I continued to do a lot of interesting things, and we made a trip to Japan and then the Southwest Pacific in 1964 to collect the animals that were growing naturally in the Lagoons of Palau Islands, which are off the southwest of Guam. It's north of New Guinea. It's a place that the Japanese had as a Trust Territory between the two wars, and there was a Japanese marine biologist there who took samples of the temperature and chemistry of the water every day for all those years. It was the only actual physical record of a place where the chemistry and temperature didn't change significantly over such a long period. One of the fundamental questions Heinz worries about is the effect — even if the environment is constant — of just the natural variations in the chemistry. So he wanted to find beasts that had been living in a very stable environment, and collect a bunch of them and see what the variations were.
DeVorkin:Did you have the same personal association with that way of doing science, his style, as you did with those people who were doing infrared?
Westphal:No, it was very much different, because Heinz had a very settled enterprise. Although we were making big perturbations in his capability, we weren't changing the nature of what he was doing. We were changing his interests slightly, but not greatly. Although my name was on some of his papers, it was not very many. In fact, I think there are none in that list which are interesting. I should go make sure I haven't forgotten some.
DeVorkin:Yes, but the important thing is: was it that the science was at a state of tremendous flux that interested you, or was it the knowledge that you could really do something to give it a jolt? Or was it more of a personality thing, the person, or the position of that person.
Westphal:I think it was a simpler and maybe less elegant thing than that. I was just absolutely fascinated by the activity, and it was fun to make big improvements in his capability so easily. I mean he had so far to go, you could apply the most trivial kinds of instrumentation, and make such massive differences in what he could do. It was just irresistable to do that. It wasn't that I was so deeply interested in that science. It was certainly interesting science. But it was really different in the case of the astronomy thing where the science was really very much more interesting. My competency in biology was essentially zero. So I think it was a different kind of a thing in the sense that I really was playing the instrumentation person rather than the scientist in that.
DeVorkin:But you do apparently get a kick out of helping out in somebody else's research.
Westphal:Sure, yes, sure. It's fun to be able to help somebody to do some nifty thing that they otherwise can't do. It gives you a great sense of accomplishment. My motive in all this is to have fun. One guy's fun is different from somebody else's fun. That's the main motivation from my viewpoint — to have fun. It's continuously amazing to me that somebody will not only pay me to do that, but even encourage me to do that.
DeVorkin:I'm at the end of a tape here. I could start another tape and we could talk about the Bolivia trip.
Westphal:Let's talk about the Bolivia trip which won't take long, and then let's see where we are. My wife has gone off to get food and stuff so she will be another half hour or so.
DeVorkin:There was a 17,600 foot mountain that you apparently climbed. For what purpose?
Westphal:This was at a time when we still were trying valiantly to find the site where there was the least amount of infrared interference from the atmosphere.
DeVorkin:Yes, but you had stated a number of hours ago that you hadn't done your home work on all of this.
Westphal:That's right. We still thought that that was a terribly important thing. The home work we hadn't done was that we had not recognized that the real problem was the amount of radiation coming from the telescope itself, in the mechanical parts of the telescope. We did not block out this radiation with cold black baffles, coming from parts of the telescope, and that completely overwhelmed the infrared light coming from the atmosphere. We never did understand that problem ourselves. That problem was first solved by Frank Low, who recognized it by putting cold baffling and re-imaging optics inside of his Dewar; he could cut that background radiation down by a factor of 10 or something. It seems obvious to us now, but at the time it just was not obvious. You can say we didn't do our home work, which is the way I put it, because if we had really stopped to think about it, and done the calculations which are very simple-minded calculations, we almost surely would have recognized that. But somehow we didn't.
DeVorkin:So you weren't going up to these mountains necessarily to get rid of the atmosphere.
Westphal:We thought that was the object of it, to get as high in the atmosphere as we could so as to get the least amount of radiation from the atmosphere. And it didn't help any.
DeVorkin:It was being masked by the temperature of the telescope.
Westphal:Yes, it wouldn't have helped any, even if we had done that. So it was a nonsense enterprise, but we didn't recognize that.
DeVorkin:Yes. Now that wasn't that critical at 2.2 microns?
Westphal:At 2 microns it's a whole different kettle of fish, because there is very little radiation from the atmosphere; it is mainly scattered light from the sun or scattered light from someplace else. In modern times, the radiation from the atmosphere is indeed critical. The detectors have become so much better that now that is the limiting thing. But of course all of the same techniques that Frank Low understood, and all of us of course immediately copied, at 10 microns are now having to be used at 2 microns, because the detectors are so very much better.
DeVorkin:And the fact is why not, when you have those techniques, you can use them at any wavelength.
Westphal:Well, it's a nuisance to do it, so you wouldn't do it unless you really needed to. It's a pain in the neck to do it.
DeVorkin:What were you doing? This was Mt. Chacultaya?
Westphal:Mt. Chacultaya. We recognized that the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere told you something about how much atmospheric radiation there was at 10 microns. Because it mainly is water vapor that's causing the opacity in the atmosphere, causing this radiation in the atmosphere. So a dry place is a good place. But now you want it dry, up through the whole atmosphere, not just dry at the surface. So you don't go to the bottom of Death Valley, where it's dry as hell, and try to observe because it's still just as wet up there at 10,000 feet. So a better way to first order is to get high, because you simply get above everything. And that still is a good idea. It's more important now than it was even then, in a sense. I mean, it's more realistically important now, which is why a site like Mauna Kea, in Hawaii, which is about 13,800 feet, is an especially good site, because it is indeed a very dry site. However, that's much more important at longer wavelengths, like 20 microns and 100 microns, and 300 microns, where the atmosphere just simply isn't transparent, if you have too much water. Anyway, there had been a little piece of data published by a fellow by the name of Barney Farmer, now at JPL, showing, if we interpreted his data right, that the water vapor was a factor of 100 lower than it was at Palomar, as an example, and probably a factor of 10 lower than it was at White Mountain, although we really didn't have any hard data from White Mountain, or from Palomar.
DeVorkin:In the very long wavelengths?
Westphal:No, just the amount of precipitable water in the atmosphere.
DeVorkin:He was working at .3 of a millimeter.
Westphal:That's right, at 300 microns. But the actual data that we are talking about, that he took and that we looked at, was actually data in the deep red. It was at 8,000 or 9,000 angstroms, where there is a water vapor absorption band. It was from that data, which appeared in a report he wrote, that we decided we had better go look at that site. The U. S. Geological Survey, in Flagstaff at that time, was very interested in finding a very, very dark site, because they wanted to look for celestial dust or debris in the L3 and L5 positions with respect to the moon.
DeVorkin:That's right, Lagrangian points.
Westphal:Lagrangian points. So they wanted a very dark background, where they could take pictures and hopefully see this stuff.
DeVorkin:They were going to haul a telescope up to such a site.
Westphal:Well, they were going to take cameras up there, or something. They were looking for this kind of site. So we made a deal that I would go up there and find out if this site really was that good. If it was, then we would make a cooperative enterprise in which I would see to the construction of a dome that they would buy. Then they could put their cameras in there and we could put our 20-inch telescope in there.
DeVorkin:The same 20-inch?
Westphal:The same 20-inch. So I took some spectrometers and stuff that worked in the infrared, that is, at wavelengths that were sensitive to the water, and went down to do this. Now, the place is not as grand-sounding as you might guess. It's only about 30 miles or so outside of La Paz, Bolivia. La Paz is at about 12,500 feet. It's down in a valley and above it is the Alta Plano, where the airport is, which is at about 14,000 feet. The Alta Plano is a huge valley that has Lake Titicaca in it. This mountain is only about 17,600 feet, as I remember. So it's only a few thousand feet above the Alta Plano. It's an obvious mountain, but it doesn't look like a huge mountain. It has a perfectly good road up to near the top. There is, or was then, anyway, a big cosmic ray station on the mountain with a huge plastic scintillator about 10 meters on a side or so, a huge block of lucite.
DeVorkin:Who runs that?
Westphal:It was run by the University of Chicago, and somebody else, as I remember, and the University of Bolivia. It was mainly an enterprise of two universities in the United States. They had a permanent staff, half a dozen gringos. They had power and a little beyond the cosmic ray station was a ski lift. It was the world's highest ski lift, and probably is to this day. There was a nice ski lodge there, and a rope tow from there on up to the top of the mountain. You could drive up there in your Volkswagon, in your Beatle. In fact, there were Beatles up there all the time. I'm sure that was also the highest place in the world that Beatles commonly went.
DeVorkin:17,000 feet; they must have had their carburation adjusted.
Westphal:I suspect so, but the adjustment was probably not a lot different than at La Paz, at 12,700. So what I did was go up and try to make some measurements up there. I also picked a site to put a dome. When I got there — it was in 1964 — the sky looked funny. It looked kind of like this sky does right now, kind of milky.
DeVorkin:Oh, this is that volcano.
Westphal:No, this is smog. But anyway, it looked kind of milky. It sure looked strange. At sunset and sunrise, the whole world was orange, wall-to-wall orange, orange like the new sodium vapor street lights. I measured the water vapor and it was huge. It was 5 millimeters or something, instead of a 10th of a millimeter as we expected. I could not figure out what was wrong. I stayed up there several days, thinking this would go away. Everybody kept saying, oh no, this won't last long. The sky is almost purple up here. But it just didn't go away and it didn't go away. So finally I went back down to La Paz. Most people, by the way, commuted back and forth every day. They didn't like to sleep up there, but I found that I could sleep up there, because I had been talking to the White Mountain physiological research people. The secret of sleeping at high altitude is to sleep face down with your head a little lower than the rest of you. This allows the C02 to drain out of your lungs. If you don't, the C02 pools in your lungs, and you feel like you're choking every three minutes or so. It worked great; so I didn't have any problem at all. I just stayed up there. So anyway, I went back downtown and found the meteorologists down there. I said do you know anything of this is about, and they said, gee, there's a strange thing. The radio sonde data, about two weeks ago, started showing the atmosphere saturated from 7 to 9 kilometers. I said, does it look like it's getting any better. They said, no, it's getting worse, and I asked what can cause that? Everybody mused and we decided there must be a volcano somewhere doing something. So I finally gave up and came home. When I got home, I found out that Mt. Asung in Java had erupted massively. In fact, it was almost a year before the volcanic debris and water finally disappeared from around the earth. So that's what we went down for, but in the meantime, we instructed the Bolivians to start building the dome. In fact, while I was still there they started. It was discouraging as hell, because the cosmic ray station was at 17,000 feet, and the top was at 17,600. There was a little trail, a half mile long, that ran up there. I would go up there in the morning with my camera in my hand; that's all I was carrying. The guys who were building the dome would come up with five concrete blocks on a rope on their back, and they would make three trips up and down while I was just getting up there. Really discouraging. But of course they were acclimated. So that's what that was all about and it didn't lead to anything. It's probably, in fact, a pretty good site. It's probably yet a good place to do IR work.
DeVorkin:Has the USGS actually used it?
Westphal:No, they never actually went down there. The whole thing kind of came apart by then.
DeVorkin:By coming apart, what does that mean; that your attention was drawn elsewhere?
Westphal:No, I meant the USGS activity kind of came apart.
DeVorkin:Yes. What about your activity down there?
Westphal:By the time we really got serious, thinking about the project again, we began to understand the physics, and realized there wasn't really any great advantage in a dry site. In fact, by the next year we brought the telescope down from Barcroft on White Mountain. By then we had a commercial set of 24-inch Cassagrainian optics built; and a mounting was built here in our CIT shops. We installed that at White Mountain at a little lower elevation, because the Barcroft upper elevation was just a logistic nightmare. The 24-inch was only on White Mountain one summer, I think. By then we understood the problem and had corrected it. At Mt. Wilson we were doing very well, so we moved it to Mt. Wilson.
DeVorkin:You just went back to Mt. Wilson.
Westphal:Yes, and the 24-inch is still at Mt. Wilson.
DeVorkin:This is the period that you were also involved somewhat with the Caltech telescope, '63-64.
Westphal:You mean with the 2-micron thing.
Westphal:Yes, I don't remember the dates, but I don't doubt that.
DeVorkin:Yes. You mentioned before that when Neugebauer came here, he made a conscious decision to stay in the 2-micron band, and not come into competition with you people at 10 microns.
Westphal:Well, you might want to ask him, if you are going to talk to him, about how he perceived that. I really don't remember it, in detail; I'm not sure it was ever posed in the sense of not coming into competition with us. I think it was more a thing of: we ought to expand infrared astronomy. We're heroes. The observatory ought to be in infrared astronomy up to its ears. The next obvious thing was to work around 2 microns, where there's lots of good science to do, and we had not done anything. Our hands were full with 10 microns. I think it was more in that sort of a context than it was in any sense of worrying about competition, because it wouldn't have been competition. He would have just joined up with us. I think it was more in the sense of let's cover a broader wavelength range.
DeVorkin:What I'm trying to find out is, and of course I'll ask him, but I'd like your general opinion: is how they decided that 2.2 microns was the wavelength range that they would devote to this long survey.
Westphal:There was a clear scientific driver to that. That was the ideal wavelength to separate ordinary stars from peculiar stars. It was better than 10 microns, because the odds of finding interesting objects was much higher because the intrinic sensitivity was higher. You did a lot better because the number of photons you could sense at 2 microns, even with lead sulfide detectors at 10 was much greater than at that point. And it's still true.
DeVorkin:Even with Frank Low's apparatus?
Westphal:Oh yes. Well, we didn't have Frank Low's detectors yet at that time, either. But even if we had, that would still be the case. It's the case today. It's just the physics of the way stars work.
DeVorkin:The way stars work?
Westphal:Stars. It's all stars.
DeVorkin:What about protostars?
Westphal:Well, no one was thinking about that seriously then.
DeVorkin:Is that true? No one was thinking about protostars?
Westphal:Well, we were thinking, but I mean, the idea was that there should be a lot of stars around at 1,000 degrees Kelvin. You're not going to see those much in the visible. They were going to be exceedingly red; and they ought to be there, and they'll show up like mad at 2 microns.
DeVorkin:The Epsilon Aurigae type.
Westphal:Yes. So it was a very logical wavelength to pick for the survey. But see, he wasn't only doing the survey. The survey was just a part of the whole 2-micron business. He was looking at individual stars, and doing many of the same things we were doing on the 200-inch.
DeVorkin:At the time that that telescope was being built, what were the major technological problems to overcome in infrared work?
Westphal:The first problem was to get a great big mirror cheap. Leighton solved that by his epoxy spinning technique, which was just a modern adaptation of a very old idea of spinning mercury and freezing it.
DeVorkin:Yes. R. W. Woods idea.
Westphal:There were all kinds of ideas like that around. Then the other thing was to have multiple detectors in the same Dewar. All of that was essentially straightforward, but there was a lot of nut and bolt kinds of problems to solve. How do you make a cheap mounting, which is adequate. And how do you know where it is pointed, and how do you put shaft encoders on that don't cost a million dollars. How do you record the data and so forth.
DeVorkin:The problems of emissivity, filters, gold coatings.
Westphal:No, that was not a serious problem at all; 2 microns is not nearly so severe. The filters were very good. We were very lucky. We started at the right time in both wavelengths in that the filter technology had just come into existence because of the military interest. It was very sophisticated interference filter technology. From the very beginning we had very good filters.
DeVorkin:How did that information filter down to you?
Westphal:They were commercially available and advertised from this company called OCLI, Optical Coating Labs. They are up in Santa Rosa, and they were then, and they continue to be "the only people" to buy really good IR filters from.
DeVorkin:Okay, Are there any anecdotes that you can recall about building that 62-inch telescope, that you think would be interesting?
Westphal:As I say, I wasn't in it every day, and so I don't remember vividly anything about it. I remember, when the first data started coming in that they were very lucky. In the first few weeks or so they found these two or three really incredible stars; there was not a sign of a visible star there, and here were these incredibly bright things.
DeVorkin:Yes. My understanding was that a number of optical astronomers, like Munch, ran off to the 200-inch and started looking.
Westphal:Oh, yes sir. Everybody was in the act. And it was a very open enterprise. Nobody could keep his mouth shut. There is one thing we probably shouldn't pass by right at that time, which is not involved with this. But it must be about in this sequence of events. In 1965 to be exact, after 4 years at Caltech, it had become clear to me by then that I really wanted to be a scientist rather than an engineer from then on. My motive at that time was to become something called a Senior Research Fellow, which meant I was a faculty member, but I was not in the professorial chain. I was in the research chain. That was the first real rung that was a permanent job.
DeVorkin:You mean you were on sort of soft money up until then?
Westphal:Yes, it was all soft money, but that wasn't the worry. It wasn't a worry. This decision wasn't provoked by that kind of a worry; it was a desire on my part. I wanted to really do science and be involved in science and not just be the chief engineer of this division. So in the discussions about that, somebody, who was not involved immediately with me, but somebody in this division, said, well, where are the papers? Where is the science you've been doing? I said, well, you know, my name is on them. They said, yes, but that involved somebody else, too. You have to have some papers with your own name on it, something you really thought up to do, and you've gone off and done it. Kind of like a thesis. It kind of got into the mode of, you know, if you're going to be faculty, why, where's your goddam Ph.D. thesis?
DeVorkin:Who was that?
Westphal:It was Sam Epstein, a geochemist next door.
DeVorkin:He was being critical of you?
Westphal:No, no, no. He was just laying down the ground rules. You know, if I really want to do this, where the hell is your thesis? So about that time, Bob Sharp had come to me and said: hey, we do this nifty stuff up on the Blue Glacier in Olympic National Park in Washington State, and we're doing this and this and this. He said, you know, you might find some of that to really be fun. It's a neat place to go, and you can go up for August. Why don't you go up with us one year? I said, that would be really nifty. I said, maybe I'll think a little bit and see if I can think of some nifty science to do up there. He said that would be great. So I thought, a really fundamental problem that people have on glaciers is how deep is the ice? How thick is the ice? Here is this big bloody bunch of ice and it's in a valley, and you haven't a clue to how deep it is. Maybe it's 50 feet, and maybe it's 1500 feet. The way they were learning that at the time was to drill holes through the ice all the way to the bottom. That particular glacier out where they were drilling was about 1100 feet thick. It's a lot of ice. It would take days and days to drill a hole to the bottom, just to find out how deep it was. They were doing other things, too, in that process, but one of the main objects was just to find out how deep it was. Well, since I had come from the business of doing acoustic sounding to measure the depths of things, the very obvious thing was to do it that way. That had been tried a number of times, and it was really totally unsuccessful. People just could not understand the seismic records they got. But they were trying to do things like they were doing in oil exploration. So I proposed that we try to work at a much higher frequency, around 500 cycles or so, which would give us enough resolution; that is, the wavelength would be short enough so that we could get higher depth resolution. Then the question arose: do you know that you can get 500 hertz acoustic waves through the ice? Everybody said, gee, ice is an almost perfect material. How can it be any other way? Somebody said, well, so and so tried that once, and he didn't get anything back. Then the basic issue came up about what is the transmission of glacial ice as a function of the frequency of acoustic waves. So I thought about it and I went to Sharp and said, you know, I would really like to know that. I would like to know it before we start devising some hardware to measure the thickness. If we find out, as an example, that the ice is nicely transparent at 10,000 cycles, we can just go down to the local boat shop, buy ourselves a depth sounder just like they have on boats, take it out there and put it in a puddle of water on the ice, and I'll tell you how thick the ice is instantaneously. And we won't build anything. But nobody has a clue whether the glacier is transparent at 10,000 hertz or not. He said, that's great. Why don't you come up this year and figure it out. So I went off and thought about how to do it. Essentially, I didn't talk to anybody in this place about it, except Sharp. Nobody knew I was going to do this, or how I was going to do this.
Westphal:By design, yes, very much on purpose. I thought, you know, this is my chance now to show whether I've got my act together or I don't. So I went up and I did my thing. I figured out how to go about it and everything else: devised the hardware, built it, took it up there and made the measurement, and came down and wrote the paper. I did everything totally independent of anybody. I finally got the paper ready, and just before I was ready to submit it, I took it to Hewitt and another couple of people to look at.*
DeVorkin:I think you acknowledge Bruce Murray, Hewitt Dix and one other person, D. Anderson.
Westphal:Don Anderson. Don Anderson is, I guess, was already then, the director of the seismo lab.
DeVorkin:Okay, and then Dr. C. Allen for help with part of the field work. *J. A. Westphal, "In situ Acoustic Attenuation Measurements in Glacial Ice," J. Geophys. Research 70 (1965), 1949.
Westphal:That was Clarence Allen. He was on the glacier. He was a geologist, and he helped me a time or two when I needed some logistic help up there.
DeVorkin:One other point here. You acknowledge support from an NSF grant, GP 745. That wasn't your grant; was it?
Westphal:That was not my grant. I wonder what that grant was?
DeVorkin:Fascinating, because you were sort of doing this on the sly.
Westphal:It was all done on the sly. That probably was Bob Sharp's grant to support the glacier activity.
Westphal:That is probably what it was, which was the logistic support and so forth.
DeVorkin:And this is also; that's quite logical.
Westphal:Anyway, so I passed it by those guys and everybody said, gee, it looks nice, and isn't it neat that there is Rayleigh scattering in the ice.
Westphal:Yes, it was. What it says in the paper is that the attenuation is due to Rayleigh scattering, and I could even tell what the distribution of crystal sizes was. The thing is that ice has a slightly different velocity in the three directions through the crystal. The crystals are randomly oriented, which means that there is a very slight velocity difference through the crystal, depending on which way you are going. Then you come to the next crystal and it's oriented some other way, and so there is a velocity interface, so it is a scattering material. So the scattering is proportional to one over ?4, just like Rayleigh scattering always is. It says that you can't get anything through the ice above three or four kilohertz because it is all Rayleigh. So I sent it in. It was accepted straightaway, and so then I handed it to three or four people around here, including Sam Epstein. And Sam looked at it and says, gee, that's a nice thesis. I like that. The next thing I knew, without my doing anything else, somebody came along and said, "we're going to make you Senior Research Fellow." How about that?
Westphal:So it worked.
DeVorkin:Yes, yes. That's lovely. That's a great story.
Westphal:And it was fun.
DeVorkin:That's sort of almost a dream.
Westphal:The whole thing was a dream. You must understand that it was a total dream. It's incredible to me personally, to this day. I still have this kind of gut feeling that one of these days they're going to catch on and throw me out the door, you know. (laugh). They are going to find out I'm having all this fun.
DeVorkin:That's very interesting. Well, I think you're safe here There are other places where there might be problems. Here you're safe.
Westphal:I think that's probably true.
DeVorkin:Yes, and there are other places where they wouldn't appreciate that sort of thing.
Westphal:That's right. I was always amazed at Caltech. You have to say, although it was Caltech, it was really a specific group of people: Bob Sharp, Hewitt Dix, and four or five other people, who kind of pushed me and made it possible. They took whatever crap that had to be taken from wherever they had to take it while this was going on. You know, there was bound to have been some of that. I of course never was privy to any of that; but it just had to be. There had to be people raising questions about what in the world was all this going on. Of course, after I was Senior Research Fellow for awhile, then the next issue was, well, should he be an associate professor? So there was apparently a fairly substantial discussion of that, as there normally is when somebody is going to be promoted.
DeVorkin:But that's an academic position.
Westphal:Yes. And so that was a big step, see. The next big step was tenure, and then the final step of that was a full professorship.
DeVorkin:When did that happen?
Westphal:I don't know. We'd have to look it up, three or four years ago.
DeVorkin:I don't have an actual vita for you. Maybe we can get that, in a few minutes.
Westphal:The easiest thing I can do in that regard is to look in the Caltech Handbook, which provides information for students.
DeVorkin:Oh yes. It means you have been teaching courses and things like that.
Westphal:Yes. I started teaching very early, when I was a senior research fellow. That was clearly, as appropriately it should be, a very fundamental issue. If you're going to be a professor, you've got to profess to somebody. And I always enjoyed, and enjoy teaching, so that turned out never to be a problem. It's a thing, at least, at the level that I can teach, like GE 1, the first geology course, that I dearly love to do. It goes very well.
DeVorkin:Yes. Have you taught any astronomy?
DeVorkin:You're a professor of geophysical sciences.
Westphal:I'm a professor of planetary science. Let's see, I was a senior research fellow from '66 to '71, associate professor from '71 to '76, and a full professor from '76 on. That's about six years.
DeVorkin:That's about the time you took on the proposal for the ST camera.
Westphal:Yes, in '77, yes. That's right.
DeVorkin:Well, I know we can't do too much more today. We'll certainly have to meet again.
DeVorkin:There are plenty of other things. I know that about this time you had an offer from Don Ray for the use of aircraft. We want to get into that and into the IRTF study or survey, which you were involved in deeply. I have other questions that you have already answered; your official role at Caltech changed significantly during this time. What do you suggest we do?
Westphal:My wife is going to show any minute, if she's not out there. She sometimes won't beat on the door, even when I ask her to, so she may well be sitting out there. It's probably a good time to stop.
We can stop right now. It's been great.