Oral History Transcript — Dr. Martin Harwit
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Interview with Dr. Martin Harwit
Martin Harwit; April 19, 1983
ABSTRACT: After surveying Harwit's (b. March 9, 1931) family background and early education, the interview concentrates on his graduate education at MIT (PhD, 1960, physics) and his career in physics at Cambridge University as a NATO Fellow (1960-1), at NRL as a NSF Fellow (1961-2), and, principally, at Cornell as assistant and associate professor of astronomy (1962-8), professor (1968- ), and chairman of the department (1971-6). The interview covers a broad range of his scientific interests: galaxy and star formation; comets; infrared optics, especially relating to detector technology; infrared astronomy; rocket astronomy; history and
philosophy of science; and educational astronomy.
DeVorkin:I have in front of me the WHO'S WHO article on you. I know that you were born in Prague, March 9, 1931, but I know little else about your early home life. Would you give me a profile of your family, what your father did in his professional career, your mother, and a review of your early home life?
Harwit:My father is a biochemist. My mother studied the history of art for a while, but then when she married, she stayed home.
DeVorkin:What is your father's full name?
Harwit:Okay, my father's name is different from mine. He is Felix, and his last name is Haurowitz. I was born with the same name, but my name was changed when I became a citizen of the United States.
DeVorkin:Did you change it?
Harwit:I changed it. My parents' families both were in the textile business, weaving of fabrics. My father's side of the family was in woolen fabrics. My mother's was in linen fabrics. When they married, the two families thought they were moving closer together. My father originally had been denied permission by his own father to become a scientist, mainly because his father wanted him to take over the business. But then in World War I when he had been inducted into the Austrian army towards the end of the war there was a shortage of medical doctors. And so my father applied for permission to study medicine, which was something the Austrian army had tried to get bright young people to do; and at that point his father was quite pleased to have him study medicine and not stay on at the front. My father's younger brother — he was the oldest of four brothers — were getting older and so my grandfather, his father, thought that they would be able to take over the business, and permitted my father to study medicine. Then he studied chemistry as well and became a biochemist. At home then my father would interest us in science. I have an older sister, about a year and half older, by the name of Alice, and she is a biochemist, also.
DeVorkin:What is your mother's background and full name, maiden name?
Harwit:My mother's maiden name was Regina Perutz: and the family business was called the Brothers Perutz. They made cloth in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in Budapest, Prague, and Vienna.
DeVorkin:You mentioned that your older sister went into the field that your father was in. Was there pressure for you at an early age to become interested in chemistry and medicine?
Harwit:No, in fact, my father always told me not to become a biochemist. He felt it was just bad policy for me to be in the same field that he was in.
DeVorkin:But for the daughter it was okay?
Harwit:No, I mean, he didn't like that all that much, either, I think, but she very much wanted to do it. He never did anything except advise us on such things. He felt that when father and son were in the same business that the competition tended to be quite fierce so that people expected too much of the son. In fact, I was always pleased that there was none of that pressure on me. This was due partly to the change of name, nobody associated us, anyway; and partly because I was in a completely different field, so that nobody knew anything.
DeVorkin:Was the change of name done for that reason?
Harwit:No. That is a long story, actually. It is fairly fundamental, and it derives from our background. Both my father's and my mother's families were Jewish, way back for many generations, as far as I know. My father was strongly aware of anti-Semitism in Europe; and when I was born in 1931, he insisted that I be baptized. I was brought up and told that I was Evangelical or Lutheran by religion. Nobody ever discussed religion at home in Prague at all.
DeVorkin:So you remember this from the mid-1930s?
Harwit:Yes. My father always had a very keen premonition of all kinds of things, he evidently was able to foresee the resurgence of anti-Semitism, and persuaded my mother that she should agree to have me baptized. Now, I remember — I must have been six or seven at the time — meeting my grandmother at the temple where she was coming out. But I had never been to church or to a temple, or any of these things, and at that age you don't make the distinctions, I suppose. When I was about ten or eleven, my parents had my sister and me instructed in the New Testment. This was later on when we had moved to Turkey during the war, which I will come to.
DeVorkin:So this was not in any Nazi-occupied land at that time?
Harwit:I never even was aware of the family being Jewish until I was about 13 or 14. It seems kind of strange, because people normally are quite aware of their family religion. But we had a fairly agnostic household. Religion was never discussed, except that I was told I was Lutheran. Then also in Prague, when I first went to school, my parents sent me to a Lutheran school, an Evangelical school, and that reinforced the whole thing. Later on then, when I came to the United States, my father very strongly urged me to change my name, because of his feeling that there was fairly strong anti-Semitism even in this country, which at the time I think was probably true. I was told there were quotas, for example, at Harvard Medical School for Jewish applicants.
DeVorkin:Was this prior to the McCarthy era?
DeVorkin:What year did you come?
Harwit:I came in 1946. When I did become a citizen I took my father's advice and changed my name. I think things are much better in the United States now. I don't know how many people suffered from anti-Semitism, although I do remember an incident when I was a student.
DeVorkin:This was at Oberlin?
Harwit:No, later on when I was a student for a short period in Michigan. One of the girls that I knew came up one day and said she thought that she had gotten worse grades in a class because she was Jewish, and the professor was anti-Semitic. And I thought to myself that I was rather lucky that I had never had that feeling. Actually, at that time I still had the name Haurowitz, and so if it just had gone by name, people would have assumed that I was Jewish. But I never had the feeling that I had been discriminated against. At any rate, I made that change. My father did not change his name, because he felt :hat he had published so many papers by that time with his own name that it would just simply not have worked out in his case.
DeVorkin:Did your family experience any serious problems during the Nazi years?
Harwit:Oh sure. All my family had come from Czechoslovakia, and right now we have no family members whatsoever left in Czechoslovakia. They either all emigrated or were killed off. There is just no question that this had a very big impact on the family. My father was counting up recently how many people had died in concentration camps. I think on his side of the family alone there were 12 people. My mother's mother died, and her brother died. This was an immediate thing for the family, and although we don't make a very big point about it, it always was there in the background for my parents; for my mother expecially. For us children, not so much, because we had never really known these people all that well. I knew my uncle and my grandmother, but at an early age — before I was eight. The other factor is in the same line: rowing up in a Jewish family as a Protestant, and then moving to Turkey where the primary religion was Mohammedan. My family moved there in 1939. I was eight years old then. Another aspect of my background is that I grew up in a household where people primarily spoke German. My family was fairly well off, through my grandfather's side, and so there always was a cook and a maid. My grandfather had a chauffeur.
DeVorkin:This is on your father's side?
Harwit:This was on my father's side. With the household help one used to speak Czech, so for example with my grandfather's chauffeur, or if we were on the street, we normally spoke Czech with people. So you had a bilingual upbringing where you spoke German with your parents and immediate family, but Czech otherwise.
DeVorkin:Do you mean the German was considered high class?
Harwit:No. Not high class necessarily. It simply was the official language in the Austro-Hungary Empire, which at the time when I was born had only been removed for 12 years. My parents considered themselves loyal Czechs. For example, at the time when there was a mobilization in 1938, and the Germans were about to occupy the Sudetenland. My father was called up in the medical corps of the Czech army, and of course, went. During the war, then, he offered his services to the Czech Regime in London. We always were brought up to feel ourselves as Czechs and to be loyal Czechs, but it was a little like the situation one has in Switzerland these days, in that it was a multilingual country. By the time that I was born the official language was Czech, but a lot of things, advertisements in newspapers and things like that, usually were bilingual, or advertisements for shops, were bilingual.
DeVorkin:Did you go to public school at all while you were still in Czechoslovakia?
Harwit:No. The school I went to was a Lutheran, Evangelical school.
DeVorkin:You came into contact with Lutheran children. And as far as you were concerned, you were Lutheran.
Harwit:That's right, yes. I really never knew my family was Jewish. I remember still being shaken at about the age of 13 in Turkey, when in response to some conversation or other, which I don't remember any more, my parents told me that they were Jewish. And (laughs) you know, I just was absolutely flabbergasted.
DeVorkin:So, to your recollection, you didn't have friends who were children of families who knew that your family was Jewish?
Harwit:Oh, no, of course I did. My cousins and children who were children of friends of my parents, I think, were all Jewish. We were six, seven, eight years old, and it just never came up for discussion.
DeVorkin:What were your early interests and activities while you were still in Czechslovakia?
Harwit:Oh, I don't know: I used to play with things, I suppose, toys and so on. I don't remember any very early interests. I usually was the strongest one in my class, and so I was interested in sports and things. We skied. I loved skiing, but I didn't know how to swim yet at that age. later on I got to like swimming very much. we liked to go hiking.
DeVorkin:Did you read any particular literature?
Harwit:No. I very seldom read, even until later when I was 12 and 13, I didn't read very much. My interest tended to focus on sports and active games.
DeVorkin:Did your father have a library at home?
DeVorkin:How did your family take leave of Czechoslovakia and go to Turkey? Was it clandestine in any way?
Harwit:There were two universities in Prague at the time. These were the outgrowth of the Charles University. It was created by Charles IV in the 14th century. He was Holy Roman Emperor; and was born in Prague, I believe. It's actually one of the oldest universities on the Continent. Now, originally the language of the university was Latin; then I think it became German; and at some point — and this is just sort of a vague history that I have heard from my father and it may not be correct — there also was a demand for having Czech instruction. The university then split up into two parts, the Czech university and the German university. My father was in the German university in Prague. At the time when the Germans occupied the Sudentenland they evidently were able to exert sufficient pressure that all the Jewish professors were dismissed. And so in 1938 my father was dismissed. At that time the University of Istanbul in Turkey was trying to build up all of its departments. It was a new university. They were bringing in a large number of emigrants from Germany, and from Central Europe, people who had to leave, or wanted to leave. My father's predecessor at Istanbul, the biochemist who had had his job previously at the University, had been able to emigrate to the United States: and so the position was open, and it was offered to my father. After long deliberation, he decided to take it when he was dismissed from the University, in Prague, because he had no way of making a living in Czechoslovakia. He was reluctant to leave because he felt loyal to the country, and didn't want to leave at a time when the country was in need. A lot of people felt they ought to stay there rather than run away. Of course, many were killed then. In his case, he just didn't have a way of making a living, and decided he would leave; and just about that time the German occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia, not just the Sudetenland, but all of Czechoslovakia, took place. It was early in March 1939. I still remember seeing the troops there when they came in; and we left about three weeks later. It was still possible in the early days to leave. The borders were not completely shut off. We had made most of the preparations; furnishings had already been prepared for shipping out. My parents had to leave a lot of valuables there, and a lot of property; but my sister and my parents and I were able to leave. We left late in March; I think it was the 31st of March and we went by train to Istanbul, where my sister and I grew up. My father was a professor on the medical faculty, teaching biochemistry to medical students.
DeVorkin:What was your family situation there? Were you relatively well off?
Harwit:Well, initially we were fairly well off. The professors' salaries were quite high; but during the war there was tremendous inflation and the salaries were frozen, so that by the end of the war my parents were selling various pieces of more or less valuable furniture or paintings and so forth to try to make ends meet. But we never went hungry or anything like that. We were extremely fortunate during the war to be able to be there.
DeVorkin:What kind of school did you go to there?
Harwit:My parents had always felt that Turkey was not a place where we as children would have a future. The problem there was that it is an Islamic country; and minorities in Turkey have always fared rather badly, or had up to that time, certainly, so that minorities were not able to occupy certain types of positions. My parents therefore felt that we outght to try to get to the United States, if that ever became possible.
DeVorkin:Was there any interest in emigrating to Israel?
Harwit:I never heard of any. Don't forget, Israel wasn't a country at that time.
DeVorkin:True. There were people moving there, certainly.
Harwit:That's true, but I certainly never heard of such things. I would have been surprised. I mean, I could ask my father sometime. My father's feeling at the time, I think, was that the solution to these problems was a gradual integration.
DeVorkin:He was not a Zionist.
Harwit:He was absolutely not a Zionist. I never heard him express Zionistic feelings. But there was a strong Zionist group in Czechoslovakia, I believe. But he was not in that group.
DeVorkin:Do you class him as an academic?
Harwit:Oh yes, very much so. Although he has a medical doctor's degree, he never practices, except on the family in a consultative way (laughs), but not on anything major ever. He has always been an academic.
DeVorkin:But, did you have any schooling in Turkey?
Harwit:Yes. Because of this, then, my parents decided that both my sister and I should visit English schools, rather than Turkish schools.
DeVorkin:You had a choice?
Harwit:We had a choice. There were two types of English schools. One was an American school; and one was a British school. It just turned out that the American school was quite far out of town; and my parents found an apartment which was much closer to where the British-run schools were, and so they placed both my sister and me in an English school.
DeVorkin:And what was the support for this school?
Harwit:The school was run by the British Council, which is an organization that sets up schools in countries all over the world for children to learn English, and ultimately perhaps to go to a university in England.
DeVorkin:What were the entrance requirements? Was there a financial problem?
Harwit:There was a financial problem. There was a tuition to be paid. I know that in my case, and I think also in my sister's case, part of the tuition, or all of it perhaps, was waived because my father was a professor. They did it, I think, as a courtesy to a fellow teacher. My parents, I think would have had a difficult time again, otherwise, especially towards the end of the war. So I know that we had either reduced tuition, or none to pay.
DeVorkin:So in the British school then, did you receive a classic British education?
Harwit:In part; during the mornings I had a classic British education. This was a boys' school that I went to. My sister went to the sister school, which was quite far removed in a different part of town. But we wore typical English boys' school uniforms, little blazers, gray flannel pants, little badges and beanie caps. My sister wore the traditional English school girls' dark blue uniform with a white blouse. It was just as though you were in a British school. In the mornings we had our classes taught by British teachers. In the afternoon a battery of Turkish teachers would come in, and then we would have all our classes in Turkish, except a couple of times a week we also had French lessons.
DeVorkin:What about English lessons?
Harwit:Well, the morning was all English.
DeVorkin:So you learned your English at this school?
Harwit:That's right. I didn't know any English before. My parents, I think, had tried to have one of their friends teach me a few words. I think I also had been taught some French, perhaps. But at the age of five, I just never had picked any up really. But when I went to the school, no, I didn't know any English at all. And it was really a little difficult, because we came in from a school where we had most of our classes in German, and some in Czech. And then all of a sudden, you were faced with having all your classes in English and Turkish, not knowing either language.
DeVorkin:Did you find the adjustment difficult?
Harwit:Initially it was pretty traumatic. You didn't know anything. You didn't know how to ask to go to the bathroom, nothing. Fortunately, there were a couple of children who spoke German. For a few days I was allowed to speak German with them. There was a very strict language rule at the school. You weren't allowed to speak anything except English. But for a few days they would allow you to speak your own language until you got the necessities down. By the time I had been there about four months, I could get around pretty well in English, and also in Turkish. You really learn quickly when you need to.
DeVorkin:What was the thrust then of your education while in Turkey at this English school? What did you get interested in?
Harwit:Soccer. I liked playing soccer. I liked sports. I was good at sports in general. Now, part of that is, I think, because the Turkish boys tend to be somewhat shorter, so that I had an advantage there. I normally was the best in my age group. That doesn't mean the best in my class. The classes were done in a somewhat strange way. I mention that because it did make quite a difference in the way that I was brought up in school: The Turkish boys were required by law to go to Turkish schools for five years before they went to a foreign school. When I left Czechoslovakia I had only had a year and a half of schooling.
DeVorkin:You started when you were about six?
Harwit:I started at six, and when I came to Turkey, I was eight. I just had had my eighth birthday when we got there. I immediately started in the lowest class at that school. But most of the other boys, unless they were foreigners, were three years older than I was right away, because they had to have five years of Turkish school. Some of them had also gone to the Turkish middle school before they came to a foreign school. And some of them had gone through the whole Turkish school cycle, all 11 or 12 years, before they came to the British school.
DeVorkin:Were there exams to get into this school?
Harwit:No, I don't think so. Especially during the war when there was a draft, and students were allowed to be exempt, there were quite a number of students who had gone through the whole cycle of Turkish schools, and then came to the British school. So, except for one or two of the other children, who were maybe half a year or a year older than I was, I went through school, usually the youngest in my class, usually with people who were either three or eight, and sometimes 11 years older than I was. So when I was 11, for example, I remember one of the Turkish boys was about 21 or 22. Classes were sometimes taught by quite pretty teachers, and after Turkish classes in the afternoon, these older boys would walk the teachers home. For these guys it must have been extremely dull to be in class. But the point was that one was doing lessons and competing with boys who were much older and much more mature, and had completely different interests. So, when I did sports, and when we played games, it would always be with boys who were in much lower forms — as the classes were called. And in class I was with a much older clientele. I never did all that well in school, partly, I think, because I didn't have the maturity that the others did, simply because of my age. In the last class, when I got into the sixth form (the British school has six forms) I was 14. That was the last class. Then I became first in a class of about 30 or so, just before we then came to the United States in 1946.
DeVorkin:That's with the typical competitive exams you had?
Harwit:Well, I missed those. My sister who was a year and a half older took the matriculation exams for the University of London, and could have gone to the University of London then, if we hadn't at that point received immigration visas for the United States.
DeVorkin:Had your parents been applying for these visas all along?
Harwit:That's right, yes. They had applied immediately when we got to Turkey, and because it wasn't possible for people within. Czechoslovakia to apply during the war, we gradually moved up the quota list so that by the time the war was over we had very high priority, and were able to get immigration visas. At that point, we suddenly got permission to come. My father didn't have a job in this country, and so he stayed behind in Turkey, and sent my mother and us two children.
DeVorkin:Where did he send you? What part of the United States?
Harwit:We came to New York, where we had relatives. My mother was given a job in a company that her uncle ran. It was really his way of letting us have money. She didn't have any training, but worked anyway as his personal secretary, helping in the company a bit here and there.
DeVorkin:So your father's position in Turkey was not in jeopardy, but he saw that you had to come to the United States.
Harwit:That's right. He sent us ahead and then came a couple of years later when he had a job offer here.
DeVorkin:And where was that?
Harwit:Indiana Univeristy, in Bloomington, where he stayed until retirement. My sister was of college age when we came to this country; and so the moment we came, which was in March of 1946, she started applying to go to college. We didn't have much money in this country. It was also difficult to get in. All the returning servicemen were applying for college entrance at the time. She was admitted only at Indiana. She applied in March, which is much too late in the cycle for normal colleges. She had always been first in her class, so she had very good grades. She had finished at the British High School in Turkey. She had also scored very well on the London matriculation, so she probably could have gotten in any place. But then she went to Indiana. She was 16 at the time, just turning 17, so she was quite young. When she got to Bloomington she didn't have any housing, and was assigned housing in town there. It turned out she got to room in the house of the family of the local biochemist on the faculty there.
DeVorkin:Was this because your father was known?
Harwit:No. I believe it was just pure coincidence.
DeVorkin:By this time, what was your father's reputation? How developed was it?
Harwit:Oh, he was very well known. He was a member of several European Academies. He is a member of the U.S. Academy of Sciences.
DeVorkin:But not at that time.
Harwit:He was not at that time, but he was made a member, I think, on the basis of work that he had done up to then, because I think most of his best work was done while he was still in Czechoslovakia, probably, before coming to this country. He came to this country when he was already over 50. So anyway, through my sister's living with that family, Harry Day — who was a biochemist in the chemistry department, and at the time, I think also acting chairman of the chemistry department — knew that my father wanted to come to the United States. One thing led to another, and a couple of years later, when my father visited us here in the United States, he was invited to come to Bloomington and give a talk; and then they asked him whether he would like to join the faculty. And he did that.
DeVorkin:So, in a sense, your sister's choosing Bloomington eventually decided the fate of your father.
Harwit:That's right, yes. My father at that time had been offered a rather prestigious position in Basel in Switzerland that he was thinking of accepting.
DeVorkin:Why did he prefer the United States?
Harwit:He didn't, I think, so much as my mother, who once she came here, really felt very much at home. She felt she was away from a lot of the European bigotry, and had a euphoria about the United States. Also, she felt that with us children here in the United States, she wanted to stay here. And I think she persuaded my father that he ought to come to the United States, also.
DeVorkin:Yes. Now, your father is the academic. I'm interested in getting a view of your early family life. Who ran your family, your father or your mother? Or was it even a question of running your family?
Harwit:I don't think there ever was such a thing as running the family. Perhaps my father made major decisions. He is seven years older than my mother. On the other hand, my mother certainly ran the household, and the household finances and all sorts of things like that. I never really had close contact with my father in many ways. He always was working, as a scientist. He always had the ability — which I don't have — that if he was working on something at home, and you came and talked with him, or said something to him when he was in the middle of work, he could interrupt it and answer a question, and then go back to it without ever showing any annoyance. Even though he concentrated as hard as anybody, he somehow was able to switch on and off, something I found much more difficult to do later on with my own children.
DeVorkin:Did you and your sister participate in chores around the house? Did you have specific things you had to do?
Harwit:Oh sure, yes. We did and we used to get some pocket money, very small amounts. My parents always taught us frugality, and so we had pocket money of the order of a nickel a week, or something like that when we were small. Later on, when we got older, I think my father gave us a weekly allowance of a nickel for every year that we were old. Actually, it was five kurus, which at the time was worth probably less than a nickel. I used to clean shoes, and for that I would get one kurus per pair.
DeVorkin:Now, you got to New York before your father.
DeVorkin:You entered into the public school system there?
Harwit:Yes. I had been in the last year of school, but since I hadn't finished, I couldn't apply for college here, so we were told that I had better take all the courses I would need for college entrance in the American schools. So I immediately went to the local school in Manhattan. This was in uptown Manhattan at the Benjamin Franklin High School. I got there sometime in April 1946 and stayed there for the rest of that semester. This was a school where there were very few people going to college. I remember one black student who got into the University of Chicago; and that was a very big deal, for everybody. At the time it was a Portuguese neighborhood; and most of the boys and girls were Portuguese. That was the first time I had gone to a coeducational school.
DeVorkin:But you didn't stay there.
Harwit:I didn't stay there, because I managed to get into the Bronx High School of Science. People had told us that that was very good.
DeVorkin:How did you manage?
Harwit:I just called them up.
DeVorkin:You did this yourself?
Harwit:I did it myself. The first time I asked whether I could be accepted there, the person who answered said, no, I couldn't because they only took girls in as freshmen that year. My voice hadn't broken yet: and so I (laughs) had to explain that, no, I was a boy. So then they said I should come around and they would talk to me; and I went with my mother.
DeVorkin:There was discrimination against girls?
Harwit:Well, up to then it had been a boys' school. And that was the first year that they took in girls. But I would have been a senior, and they were only taking in girls at the freshman level.
DeVorkin:Let me turn this over.
DeVorkin:This is Tape No. One, Side No. Two. Your mother took you around to the offices of the Bronx High School of Science. You clearly wanted to go.
DeVorkin:Had you developed an interest in science by that time?
Harwit:Yes, I had to some extent, maybe more by default than anything else. When I was in Turkey I had at some point or other been top in my class in physics. We had a report card book that the school kept; every term, every trimester your grades were entered, both for what was called the "term", and for the final examinations, for every subject that we had — we had something like maybe 12 subjects we would take. It's different from the American system. We took chemistry for many, many years; physics many, many years: each class would meet maybe only two or three times per week. We would have all of these subjects year after year. For each subject we would get a grade and a rank in class, both for the term as a whole, and for the final examinations. Those were done separately.
DeVorkin:That's interesting. It seems like the way to solve the comparative grading as opposed to absolute grading method.
Harwit:Yes. The classes were small, you would have classes of 20 or 30 boys, so it was easier to rank them.
DeVorkin:But you had shown ability in physics, I take it.
Harwit:I had shown some ability in physics there; and because I didn't know anything much else, and since my father was urging me not to go into his field, anyway, that seemed like an interesting enough thing to do. I also enjoyed building airplane models. We didn't have any kits during the war, and so I used to build models when I was about 13 or 14, which I built after pictures I would see in magazines that would come from England. Of course, the fighter or bomber plane models that I wanted to build would be projected at different angles in those pictures. But when I was 12 or 13 we had trigonometry. And so I was able to figure out projection angles, and get the scales right. That was my first useful application of something that I had learned in school. My parents always thought that I ought to go into engineering. My father thought that I really was more of an engineer than someone who had an aptitude for science.
DeVorkin:In addition to the models, was there anything else that would lead him to believe this?
Harwit:I used to fix things around the house sometimes. He showed me how to fix electric light sockets and things like that. Since he was a laboratory biochemist, he was fairly good with his hands, also. But I think I became manually better than he fairly soon; but with math I never was all that good. I think that led him to feel that I might be better off as an engineer. He might have been right, in fact. A lot of the things that I have done in science have involved building equipment from time to time.
DeVorkin:But certainly, going into physics didn't disqualify you from engineering.
Harwit:No. That's true.
DeVorkin:So, what was the experience of getting into Bronx High School of Science? Did you find it easy to do? Or was it difficult?
Harwit:Actually, it wasn't too difficult. I had to work hard, once I got there. Getting in was not too difficult. Mother bought along the report card that I had had in Turkey; and I had done reasonably well there. Then also, she had the grades from the Benjamin Franklin School, and the grades I had received on the New York State Regents' exams for the courses I had taken there. I had been there for two months, and the strategy that people had suggested was that I take the last class in each sequence. Since I knew languages well, I took German and French right away, and passed the Regents' exams in those, and got college entrance credit that way. I started taking the last class in all the physics and chemistry, biology, and math courses as much as I could. The idea was, I think, that you had to have something like 15 college entrance credits, and you got three for every sequence that you completed in New York State schools. So that was the strategy there. Now, the school year, of course, was quite different from what it had been in Turkey. Firstly; I no longer was all that good at sports, because the American boys all were much taller than I was (laughs), so my advantage there had left I didn't do quite as much sports, although I was still good at soccer; and at Bronx Science I played on the soccer team.
DeVorkin:They did have a soccer team then.
Harwit:They had a soccer team at that time. It was one of a few in New York City. But because not that many of the boys played soccer here, I was one of the best ones, and I made the team. That was very nice, because I made some friends.
DeVorkin:Who were your friends? What friends did you make that later on became recognizable names in science, let's say.
Harwit:Absolutely not. I didn't know that many people at Bronx Science. I lived in Lower Manhattan on 28th Street East, and had about 45 minutes subway ride each day. And the friends that I made were on the soccer team, and were not the most brillant scholars, perhaps. I don't remember any of the people I went to school with there. Later on in college I ran into somebody who had been a schoolmate of mine, a boy by the name of Paul Curtis who became a medical doctor; but I lost track of him, also.
DeVorkin:But you later on found that many people had gone to Bronx High School.
Harwit:Yes, but not in my year.
DeVorkin:And you hadn't been aware of the legacy of the Bronx High School of Science at that time?
Harwit:Well, I knew that they were very good, but the school wasn't all that old at the time. I think it had been formed in 1938, so by 1946 they didn't have any Nobel Laureates yet, or anything like that, except that people knew that they usually won the Westinghouse Science Scholarships.
DeVorkin:Yes. Could you give me a feeling for how your interests developed as you went through the Bronx High School, because you only spent a year there.
Harwit:I only spent my last year there. Yes.
DeVorkin:Was it significant in your later training, your later education and interests?
Harwit:Well, possibly. I really don't know. Remember, I still was only interested in science by default, more or less. There were a lot of things other than science that interested me in Turkey. One of the points I haven't made is that the school I went to in Turkey was really one that was rather remarkable. There were 200 boys, or less — maybe there were only 120 at various times, it grew while I was there — and there were something like 30 different nationalities represented. We once counted. There may have been more. There were children of the Chinese Ambassador, who sent them from Arkara. There were some Czech boys who were, I think, the sons or grandsons of the Czech Ambassador. There were lots of poor children who were local Levantine children. We had a lot of Maltese children, who got scholarships because it was part of the British Empire. There was an American boy, occasionally. We had a lot of German refugees, Egyptians. My best friend, who lived in the same apartment building that I grew up in, was Hungarian.
DeVorkin:What was his name?
Harwit:His name was Andrew Lorant. He is now a businessman in Paris. There were four of us who used to hang around quite a lot Andrew Lorant was Catholic and Hungarian. There was a boy by the name of Rudy Grunberg. I don't know where he came from. He was one of the two boys who spoke German when I first went to school there. He was Jewish and he immigrated to Israel, and from what Andrew Lorant told me, a year or so ago, he rose up in, I think, military intelligence in Israel to a quite high post. The fourth boy was Mahmut Hilmi, and his father was Consul for the Egyptian Government, which at the time was still a Royal government, in Istanbul. His father died, and the Hilmis went back to Egypt. So as far as I know, Hilmi and Grunberg for a long time were on opposite sides. There were four of us and we never talked about religion, never knew anything about it. I had been brought up as a Protestant. My best friend was Catholic, and the other two boys were Jewish and Mohammedan. It was just taken as a matter of fact that this kind of thing existed. I think most of us probably grew up as agnostics as a result, and as fairly internationally-minded people. From that school, people then presumably spread out all over the world afterwards. We've kept very little track of each other. But then when I came to the United States, there was an absolute contrast, because everybody was American. There was a major aspect of my education which was absolutely out of place. There was no need for a person who spoke five languages, a person who had grown up all over the. world, and knew his way around somewhat in other countries, other religions. We were brought up on Turkish history, in the afternoon, and what was called Turkish geography, geography taught by the Turkish teachers. The history dealt with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, and its victories, the geography dealt with natural resources in Asia minor, and so forth. There was a great part of my education which nobody was interested in, and that would certainly not help me in any way in the standard education in this country. I did resonably well at the Bronx High School of Science: was a "B+” student, probably. When I wanted to go to college I applied to three places. I think I applied to Harvard, Swarthmore and Oberlin; and I got into Oberlin. That was the only place I got in. I applied for scholarships because my parents didn't have very much money. I got a half-tuition scholarship, at Oberlin.
DeVorkin:Well, let's back up a little bit. First of all, was your father in the country yet?
DeVorkin:That explains that you were not very well off financially.
DeVorkin:Was it assured that somehow you would go to college? Was your sister in college?
Harwit:She already was at Indiana University.
DeVorkin:Did you work at all while you were in the Bronx High School of Science, to support the family?
Harwit:No, not to support the family. No, my mother earned enough through her uncle, and my sister and I worked in summers as camp counselors.
DeVorkin:How did you get that kind of a position?
Harwit:You could apply at that time to do that. The very first summer we were here, we had only been here two months, and there was a school that was run by some very distant relatives of my father in Lenox, Massachusetts. My sister got a job there through them as a camp counselor. I think I was allowed to go without having to pay, and I did chores and helped out somewhat, but I wasn't a counselor. I was only 15 at the time.
DeVorkin:But it was fun.
Harwit:Well, not that.much fun: the kids there all were from rather well-off families, and I still had a difficult time adjusting to Americans.
DeVorkin:What was difficult adjusting to Americans?
Harwit:Well, in the first place, they didn't speak English the way I had been drilled to speak English. There was a lot of pride by the British teachers in teaching you the proper accent. That was considered the superior way to speak. That was one thing, though it was only superficial. The other thing was that I still at that time was proud to be a Czech citizen. This was right after the war before the communist takeover. Czechoslovakia once again was a democracy. I still had a lot of loyalty to the country that had persisted throughout the war years. Benes was president of the country once again; and it still had a tradition of great democracy. People in this country would say, "Oh, I bet you are glad to be in this country where we have this great democracy, no suppression of people, and all that." I would take offense at that. At the age of 15, you can only make yourself unpopular taking offense at something like that. So I would just shut up; but I did resent it.
DeVorkin:Because of the implication that Czechoslovakia was not democratic?
Harwit:That's right. That the country that I associated with, that I was a citizen of still, was no good. That was one thing. Then, the other thing was that I had been brought up with very conservative tastes in everything. The British always dressed very formally. We wore ties at school with a tunic. If you forgot to put on a tie, you got sent home. Your were not allowed into school. At home, my parents dressed conservatively. All their friends did. They were interested in literature; and the European university atmosphere, put a lot of emphasis on being well-versed in music, being well-versed in literature and so forth.
DeVorkin:Was it the old German Kultur?
Harwit:Yes, very much so. And it wasn't just German. It was Central European. When I came to this country, there was none of that. People at that time, particularly, even business people, dressed very informally, often in loud checkered things. If you look at old movies from those days, you don't find the man in the gray flannel suit. That came much later to American business. Americans tended to dress in a way that in Europe would be considered boorish. For a boy at age 15 that was offensive, also, in a way. It took me about a year or two before I started feeling at home here, and understanding people well enough to start feeling at home and making friends. That wasn't until I had been at college a while.
DeVorkin:Even considering your financial situation, was there a question that you would go to college or not?
Harwit:No. I think, if I hadn't gotten into Oblerl in with this half-scholarship, I would have probably gone to Indiana University where my sister was.
DeVorkin:But you had not applied there.
Harwit:I hadn't applied there. My mother didn't want me to go, because she thought that my sister would baby me, or look after me, and she wanted me to grow up more independently. I don't know what the reason for that was, but my sister tended to be more versed in household things than I was, and I think, tended to be a little bossy at that age. I don't remember exactly.
DeVorkin:How did you feel about it?
Harwit:Well, I wanted to go to Oberlin because, I suppose, of the snob appeal that had been, by that time, instilled.
DeVorkin:Wasn't it considered progressive, very progressive at that time?
Harwit:Yes, it was considered a very good school; and Indiana was not at that time.
DeVorkin:You had also applied to Harvard and Swarthmore. Now, you didn't get in those. Did you find out why?
DeVorkin:Did you choose those three schools for some particular reason?
Harwit:I had an extensive family on my mother's side here, and they all thought Harvard was the best place in the country.
DeVorkin:But for what?
DeVorkin:Were you thinking of anything in particular?
Harwit:No. I didn't. My family in this country all were in business. My father was the only academic in the family.
DeVorkin:Was the business a carry-over from the European textile business?
Harwit:No, the ones who were here largely were in furniture manufacture and various other things. They were distant family. My mother's father, I think, was one of 12 children. My mother's mother was one of six, or something like that. So my mother has something like 80 first cousins. They used to have enormous families. Most of those cousins were from Vienna. And I hadn't met any of them before. It wasn't that I had any close relations. I didn't remember any of my mother's family from before the War. The ones that I had met I must have met when I was five or six. I didn't like my family here, either, you see.
Harwit:No. That was another thing. We lived here with a very kind grand-aunt of mine, who put us up for a while until we cot our own apartment in New York. She lived on 57th Street, near Sutton Place, a very ritzy neighborhood. She was very well off. Again, the people in the family all were business people, and they had no academic interests. They would say, "Well, how do you like school. What are you interested in?" And I would start telling them, and they would sort of walk away. They weren't really interested. They just wanted to have asked the question, I suppose. This was in contrast to my parents' friends in Turkey who always were interested in talking with youngsters, and actually carried on a conversation with us, even though, god knows, that at the age of 13 or 14, we probably didn't say anything that was very interesting to them. I think, perhaps because they were professors, they really wanted to talk with young people. My family here never gave that impression, except for a grand-uncle, the man who was supporting us, who was very nice and understanding, and really wanted to talk with you. I wasn't that fond of the people here, either, until much later. I got to understand them, perhaps, better.
DeVorkin:Well, it really wasn't a decision to go to Oberlin. It was because that was the place where you got some money.
Harwit:Yes, that's right.
DeVorkin:When you got there, did you have to declare a major eventually? Did you have advisors? What was your experience?
Harwit:My father had come here to visit us the summer before I went to Oberlin; and that was late in the summer of 1947, I guess. I talked with him then, and said I thought maybe I would like to do medicine. He pointed out that medicine was very expensive in this country, that after college you still had to go to medical school, and he didn't think that he would have that sort of money. In addition to that, he also felt that my talents might be .more along the engineering lines. He also felt that I shouldn't be a biochemist. So I said, fine, I didn't feel that strongly about anything anyhow. I had done well in physics, so I thought maybe I'd major in physics. That sounded like a reasonably good thing to do. So when I went to Oberlin, I decided I would take the elementary physics course. At Bronx Science I had had quite a lot of math, so I didn't have to take the first year math course that most people took, but immediately went into calculus. At that time that wasn't usually taught in high schools yet, although Bronx Science had a calculus course. It was just that I had to get college entrance credits, and so I took other courses that were required, such as geometry. I think solid geometry was required, and algebra; and I passed those exams that were then required for college entrance.
DeVorkin:What did you like better, geometry or algebra?
Harwit:I really don't remember that. Possibly algebra; I would suspect algebra, but I'm not really sure.
DeVorkin:Did you prefer physical derivations, in physics, or in chemistry, to laboratory work? Or did you prefer laboratory work to physical derivations? Did you have labs in Bronx High School?
Harwit:We must have had them. I just don't remember, though. The one thing that I do remember about New York schools is that — I don't know whether it was at the Bronx High School of Science or at Benjamin Franklin — took a course where you worked with your hands, manual arts. I built a soldering iron as a project. And I really enjoyed that. That was a lot of fun.
DeVorkin:Including the electrical portion?
Harwit:Yes, you had to wind nichrome wire around an element, and it worked afterwards. I used it for a while. I don't know what happened to it eventually. But that was fun. But labs, I never really liked very much, especially when I started having labs at Oberlin. That was absolute torture for me.
Harwit:It was dull. Terribly dull. The jargon is cookbook. That doesn't describe it really. I don't mind cooking from a cookbook. You get something useful out of it. We were forever building circuits, especially in my second year, where one would then do some kind of circuit analysis. None of that stuff ever seemed like anything that had to do with physics. After all this was the postwar era. People had exploded an atomic bomb. I wanted to learn about atomic physics, modern physics, and we never got to that until about my last year, I think; maybe my third year. But the second year we were doing electronics; and there were endless theorems and circuit diagrams and inductions and capacitances. You kept working on one problem after another in differential equations on those things.
DeVorkin:But you had had Maxwell's equations.
Harwit:No. I never saw Maxwell equations while I was in college. Maxwell's equations were not taught at that time. That was considered graduate school education.
DeVorkin:But, I recall in my physics, that I saw Maxwell's equations at least three different times at different levels of mathematical sophistication. And the first one was pretty darned low.
Harwit:You're younger. In my time we were taught righthand rules and things like that; but we never had Maxwell's equations. We never learned what a Laplacian was, I don't think. We had mechanics later on. Again, differential equation after differential equation. It seemed as though my whole course in physics was differential equations.
DeVorkin:So you didn't have something like Goldstein's "Classical Mechanics"?
Harwit:That came out a little later, I think; or maybe it came out in my senior year. I taught myself mechanics out of that later on, when I was in graduate school, and I like that. That was a tremendous book.
DeVorkin:Yes, because there you start with Laplacian's and Hamiltonian's. What about relativity, the bomb, and quantum physics?
DeVorkin:The bomb certainly didn't affect you. You were still in New York.
Harwit:No! The bomb had been exploded while I was in Turkey.
DeVorkin:Were you aware of it in Turkey?
Harwit:Oh yes, sure.
DeVorkin:What was your feeling about it, your father and your family?
Harwit:Oh, I don't know. I think everybody was glad the war was over within a few days.
DeVorkin:Okay, but the impact of the idea of a bomb like that?
Harwit:No, I don't think one knew enough about it.
DeVorkin:By the time you were at Oberlin, what did you know about it?
Harwit:Well, not too much, I guess. I don't think at the time there was really much of a feeling of outrage. Don't forget that people had been worried about their kids getting killed off in the war. Lots of them had boys over there, and everybody was relieved that that was over with.
DeVorkin:What about your physics professors later on, your father?
Harwit:We never discussed it that way.
DeVorkin:Well, you found laboratory work loathsome. But during your undergraduate career at Oberlin, did you come in contact with research at all?
DeVorkin:How would you class your physics professors at Oberlin?
DeVorkin:Did any of them do research, do you know?
Harwit:One of them, Carl Howe, did some research in electronics, I think. But I never got involved. My senior year I was doing a very small project with somebody, I forget whom, on a project that was barely getting started, and not getting very far. I don't think they had much money, things just didn't move at all. During the time I was on the project, which wasn't that much time, nothing really happened. My senior year at Oberlin, I decided that I didn't want to do physics, and I went in and told the youngest of the professors, who had just come in, and whom I sort of admired. Ted Manning had been at Yale, and one could talk with him. He taught modern physics. That was as close as we ever got to quantum mechanics.
Harwit:We never had any relativity. Richtmeyer-Kennard might have been used, but it wasn't. We had a book by Filkelnburg, who had been a German physicist of some standing.
DeVorkin:The important thing is that you were becoming disillusioned in physics?
DeVorkin:What did you see as your options? Did you discuss it with this young physicist?
Harwit:Yes. I told him I thought I would like to go into architecture, because I liked working with my hands. By that time I had built all kinds of things. My parents had bought a house in Bloomington, Indiana. I had started building some primitive furniture for them. I built a huge closet that they stored clothing in. We didn't have much money for furniture in those days, and wood was cheap. The previous summer I had also helped one of the faculty members at Indiana to start building his own home, just he and I were building it. He had had the basement dug out, but we started digging out by hand the foundations for footers and so forth. I had a course in art appreciation at Oberlin which I really enjoyed. And the part that I enjoyed most was the part that dealt with architecture. I thought, gee, I can build things. I should be able to do that stuff. It wouldn't be as dull. The thing that I never could put together at Oberlin was on the one hand the immense interest that my father had in his biochemical science, the interest that I could come up with in the projects he was working on, the interest that I could come up with in atomic physics projects, and on the other hand the stuff that I was learning at school. I never could get enthusiastic about any of my classes.
DeVorkin:Did you talk to your father about this?
Harwit:I probably complained about courses, but I complained about a lot of things, I think, at the time, for example, about unfair grading. At that age, one sees all kinds of unfairness in the world, and I just didn't enjoy it. The one thing that I did get out of talking with my father was that he suggested, maybe I might be interested in doing chemical physics. I had taken quite a bit of chemistry at Oberlin, and my course in physical chemistry, which was taught by an exciting professor, I did enjoy. The labs there made a little more sense, although they were very tough. But all of us found those tough. It wasn't so much that it was boring, they were just very difficult. I found it frustrating, because I could't do them. But perhaps not that uninteresting.
DeVorkin:That's fascinating. But then you decided on architecture.
Harwit:Then I thought maybe I'd go into architecture. I think I must have talked to my father about that.
DeVorkin:And this young professor, what was his name?
Harwit:Ted Manning. He then very soon became the youngest provost that Oberlin had had. Then I think he eventually moved on to the University of Colorado, and became either provost or president there. Again, I have lost touch.
DeVorkin:Well, what was Manning's reaction?
Harwit:His reaction was to say I shouldn't give up that easily, and to ask that if I found my classes dull, had I ever done any reading on my own? I said, no, I hadn't. He said, well, maybe what I should do would be to read something on my own that I might find interesting, and that he would be very pleased if I came in and asked him questions, if I had any.
DeVorkin:Did he suggest something to you?
Harwit:He suggested this thin book on quantum mechanics by Heitler. It is a tiny Methuen book, maybe only 60-80 pages thick. I read that, and I really loved that. I can say I was enthusiastic about it.
DeVorkin:A lot of physical intuition in it.
Harwit:I don't remember whether that was it, but I was finally seeing something that was real physics. Don't forget, we hadn't had any quantum mechanics. We hadn't had any Maxwell's theory. That was all stuff your were supposed to get in graduate school later on. In fact, when I applied for graduate schools, I scored in the 35th centile in physics.
DeVorkin:That isn't very good.
Harwit:That's lousy. Again, my parents didn't have any money, and so I absolutely needed an assistantship. So I applied to all kinds of graduate schools and couldn't get in any place with an assistantship. Then in despair, I really didn't know what I should do, because I had been turned down everywhere for an assistantship. I think it was the head of the department at Oberlin who knew Ted Soller at Amherst College, who was the chairman of thedepartment there; and I think he had been an Oberlin alumnus. But at any rate, at Amherst they used to take in one first year graduate student in physics each year to help out with the undergraduate labs, and that paid an assistantship. So I went to Amherst for a year.
DeVorkin:So your father was still not making enough money to help you?
Harwit:Well, he had only been in this country about three years.
DeVorkin:Yes. Let me turn this tape over.
DeVorkin:This is Tape No. Two, Side No. One. Your father hadn't become established enough to make it financially comfortable for you to continue on.
Harwit:That's right. And then in addition to that, I think he felt that it would be good for us children to make our own way. And so when I graduated from Oberlin he gave me $500, aril said, you're on your own. Now $500 at that time was quite a lot more than it is now. But you couldn't go to graduate school on that. I think, if I had really fallen flat on my face, he and my mother would probably have bailed me out; but I thought that was a fair deal, and by god, I was going to make it in some way or other.
DeVorkin:So you were going to Amherst with $500 and a teaching assistantship?
Harwit:Yes, and so I was there to help out with a variety of different things, and particlarly the sophomore physics lab. The sophomore physics lab was run by Bill Fairbank, who was at the time maybe 35, 40. To me, he looked like the world's greatest procrastinator, and muddle-headed. He sort of walked down the corridor scratching himself, deep in thought,never did anything it seemed like. But the people there at Amherst had a liquid helium refrigerator, and they did low-termperature experiments. In contrast to Oberlin, they really had a quite interesting, research effort going on, and all the professors participated in that.
DeVorkin:Was this your first experience and contact then with cryogenics?
Harwit:No. I had nothing to do with it. I don't think I even saw the machine ever, perhaps.
DeVorkin:So after the fact, you knew it was there?
Harwit:Yes. I just knew that it was there.
DeVorkin:So, we can't point to this as the first instance when you became interested in the infrared.
Harwit:Not at all, no, in fact, at the time I was interested in chemical physics. I took an advanced course in chemical physics. I took an advanced calculus course, and I took a course in physics, at the senior level. But all of those things were at the borderline between senior and first-year graduate student courses. I had an excellent teacher in chemical physics, who inspired me really to go on in chemical physics — this was an advanced physical chemistry course. I forget his name, but he was just an outstanding teacher; he died very young. He would make us give reports at least once a semester to the class. I remember that he insisted that we come in and give the whole talk to him first. Then he would correct our way of presentation. He told me that I should modulate my voice better, that it was rasping and would annoy people. He pointed out all kinds of useful things, and although maybe it didn't cure things, it at least made you aware of them. He took a deep interest in things. We used Pauling's book, NATURE OF THE CHEMICAL BOND. That was fascinating. I really enjoyed that, and for the first time chemistry was not just something where we threw together different chemicals and had to guess what might happen. You could see what the rules were likely to be. I really enjoyed that, just very nice. I also had a good professor in advanced calculus by the name of Robert Breusch, whose brother, coincidentally, we had known in Istanbul. He was a chemist and a colleague of my father's. He was a German immigrant and had been teaching at Amherst for a long time.
DeVorkin:You must not have spent much time there. It's not in your WHO'S WHO.
Harwit:No, I was just there nine months, or a year.
DeVorkin:But, had you intended to go on and get your degree there?
Harwit:No, absolutely not. It was clear that it was a one year position, enough for, perhaps, doing better on entrance exams or something like that; and then to get to a university where I could get an assistantship.
DeVorkin:So you took entrance exams again?
Harwit:I don't remember whether I took those again or not, but at least, I got into the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor the following year.
DeVorkin:Did you apply any place else?
Harwit:I don't remember that. I probably did, but I don't remember.
DeVorkin:Let's move on to Michigan then. You got there in 1952?
Harwit:I got there in 1952, yes.
DeVorkin:And you were still interested in chemical physics.
Harwit:I was still interested in chemical physics, and at that point I got a fellowship. It was a Dow Chemical Company Fellowship.
DeVorkin:Had you changed your name yet?
Harwit:No, that happened a year later. I had not been able to become a citizen when my parents became citizens, because I had come to this country after the age of 15. I just had my 15th birthday on the way over here. We came on a liberty ship right after the war. It had delivered some cargo in Russia, and was returning to the U.S. there were no regular shipping lines yet, and so it took a month to come over here, and on the way over I had my birthday. Because I was 15, I couldn't become a citizen under my parents' name. I had to wait until I was of age; and once I was of age, then I had to be resident in the same place for at least a year, I think, or six months, before I could apply for citizenship. Those were the regulations. When I graduated from college I only was 20. Having gone through the Turkish school system much younger than the other boys, I had come to this country with an advanced education. I went to college at 16, which I think was an additional problem. I never was a good student at college, particularly. I think part of it was that I had been brought up on a different educational system, that half the things that we had learned were of absolutely no use here. As I said before, nobody cared about English history. Nobody cared about Turkish history. Nobody cared about a kid who spoke five languages. It just wasn't part of the curriculum. It certainly wasn't part of the science curriculum. I had always gone to a boys school until I had come to this country. And so the whole business of dating only started when I was a junior in college. I wasn't like other people who had parents at home whom they would, perhaps, discuss problems with, if they started dating in high school. I was a junior in college about the time that other people are seniors in high school. All of these things, I think, probably made college somewhat difficult. At any rate, I wasn't a good student.
DeVorkin:There certainly were distractions.
Harwit:There were a lot of distractions.
DeVorkin:Was this true at Michigan, also?
Harwit:At Michigan I still was, despite this one-year hang-up, one of the youngest people; and particularly in the lab where I was working. This fellowship was for me to work in the laboratory of G.B.B.M. Sutherland, a British chemical physicist, a spectroscopist of quite high reknown. He later went back to England and became director of the national Physics Laboratories at Teddington, a very eminent person.
DeVorkin:This was already 1952, 1953?
Harwit:This was in 1952.
DeVorkin:Michigan had a big upper atmosphere project in the 1940's?
Harwit:Yes, but I didn't know about that at the time. What I went there for is that they were pioneers in molecular spectroscopy and chemical physics. Randall had been one of the first Americans to do infrared spectroscopy. David Dennison was one of the leading molecular theorists; and had done, I think, quantum mechanics of the hydrogen molecule. Uhlenbeck was there. Goudsmit had been there.
DeVorkin:Laporte was not there any longer.
Harwit:Laporte was there, yes. I thought Laporte stayed there until his death.
DeVorkin:Okay, I wasn't sure when he died. So there was a strong spectroscopy group there.
Harwit:Yes, there was a strong group there. Laporte was not doing spectroscopy at the time so much. But he was interested in shocks. He had shock tubes that he was working with. There also was a cyclotron at Michigan, and there was a very strong group in nuclear physics. But the lower basements were primarily spectroscopy, and Sutherland was interested in infrared spectroscopy of biological molecules. He was doing peptides at the time, because the peptides were small building blocks through which you could perhaps understand amino acids. So I started working in the lab there under a postdoc, who had been at Harvard, and whose name was Gert Ehrlich. A very bright young guy who, I think, later on went to General Electric and had become a leading chemical physicist I enjoyed working with him. I very seldom saw Sutherland.
DeVorkin:What was your primary duty?
Harwit:I used to prepare the samples for taking spectra, and then take the spectra. I learned some chemical techniques. I had the previous summer, taught myself quite of lot of spectroscopy, or tried to by reading through the two volumes of molecular spectroscopy by Herzberg. These are enormously difficult tomes. I probably shouldn't have started with those, but I thought, well, maybe if I mastered all of that, I would understand chemical spectroscopy, which would have been true, except that, I just didn't have the background yet at the time. But still it was quite good. I think it was also that summer that I took a course in organic chemistry at Bloomington.
DeVorkin:When you were at home?
Harwit:When I was at home, but I didn't take the lab part. I got excused from that. I just didn't enjoy laboratory work much. I enjoyed the organic course, because again, one got an insight into how chemicals worked, and it had that building block attitude, which was quite nice.
DeVorkin:Yes. So your were there for a year, at which point you got your master's degree.
Harwit:That was automatic, just about. You only had to apply after you had taken a certain number of courses.
DeVorkin:Your interests then were developing along the same line. were you getting very interested professionally in Sutherland's work, also?
Harwit:Not really, no. I did it, and it was sort of interesting, but I felt the pressure of courses much more. I wanted to get through there quickly. Michigan had the reputation of keeping its graduate students a tremendously long time; seven years was quite typical, and I just didn't want to stay there seven years. So I started taking all the courses that I felt I could handle that would allow me to work up to the written examinations that you needed for getting a Ph.D. I wasn't that interested in Sutherland's work, either, and the next year I joined the group of a young biophysicist, named Cyrus Levinthal, who left a few years later to got to MIT, and now is at Columbia. Levinthal was a young assistant professor, and in retrospect, I think he probably was trying to get tenure. He was really quite intolerant and I hated working in the laboratory there. I just felt he was putting much too much pressure on me to spend more time in there than my assistantship required me to. At the same time I was really trying to do courses. After I was there for a year in the fall, I took the written examinations, which most people only took in their third year. But I had a year at Amherst by that time. I had worked very hard trying to take the advanced courses. I had had an enjoyable course in molecular physics from Dennison in the summer, which was more of a seminar, in which I did very well; but it was a small class, and I think everybody got perfunctory "A s" just because that happens in small classes. But then in the fall I took these exams, and there were three sets of examinations that you had on different days. I passed two of those, but failed the third one.
DeVorkin:Which one was that?
Harwit:I think it may have been in modern physics and quantum mechanics; I'm not sure. I don't really remember which one it was; but at any rate, I failed that. But if you failed one exam you could take it over the following spring.
DeVorkin:If you had failed two, what would have happened?
Harwit:I don't remember. But anyway, they said I could take that over. Usually, if people pass two exams and just have to take the third one over, I think they tended to pass the third one. But when I took the exam in spring, 1954, 1 failed it. I thought I had done quite well, but I failed it, anyway. I was then told that there was no way that I could get a Ph.D. there. I went in to see Dennison — I think he was officially my advisor, although I was working for Cy Levinthal — after I had this news broken to me. I told him I really was interested in science, and that maybe I wasn't all that interested in the things I had done up to that time in the laboratory. But I really wanted to do physics or other sciences. I had developed fairly broad interests. I was interested in biophysics, and in chemical physics.
DeVorkin:But not astrophysics at this point?
Harwit:No, I had never been exposed to astronomy at all, really. I think I once had heard a public lecture. That was about it. I had once gone to an observatory one evening in Turkey when the whole school went. I didn't know much about astronomy. So he said I had no talent for science at all.
DeVorkin:Dennison said that?
Harwit:Yes, Dennison said that, and that I should really go into something else altogether. I pointed out to him that I received an "A" in his class and he said, well, that really didn't count. It was the other bread and butter courses that one had to go by. I think Levinthal probably was disappointed with my performance in his lab. I had probably not done all that well. He might also have been affronted by my having changed my name that year.
DeVorkin:That was the time you did that?
Harwit:That was the time, in the fall of that year; in fact, there was no choice about when you did it. You were told when to appear for the swearing in; and I think that was just either the week of the first set of examinations that I had taken, or just after in November of 1953.
DeVorkin:That was the McCarthy period.
Harwit:That's true, yes, but I don't think it had anything to do with this. The physicists there all kept their noses to the grindstone, I think. I never had the impression that any of the scientists felt themselves involved in any way.
DeVorkin:No one was affected then? Your parents were not affected?
Harwit:Not at all.
DeVorkin:What was your choice then? What did you do?
Harwit:Well, at this point I was out, and I looked around for a summer job, at least. There were two girls in Ann Arbor I liked, and eventually I think I started going with one of them steadily; and I really didn't want to go. I didn't know what to do. Somehow or other, I found this job in the upper atmosphere division there. I worked with Leslie Jones there, who was a woraerful man. He had a really joyous research group. I had never seen that before. They were a bunch of people who were engineers, physicists, and they were all working together. There was one man who did upper atmosphere theory, a Chinese man by the name of Liu, who still is at Michigan, I think. Fred Bartmann also was an upper atmosphere physicist, who was a bit younger. He also is still at Michigan, unless he is retired by now; all very fine people. Then there were engineer technicians. One of them was Bill Hansen, whom I was assigned to work with directly, building mechanical things, designing mechanical things. They wanted to build an accelerometer that they would mount in a rocket. It was a little bobbin-shaped device that was picked up by two fingers that came out and penetrated the holes in the bobbin to center the bobbin in the cavity. As the rocket was in free fall on its way up and then back through the atmosphere. They would measure the atmospheric drag by the rate at which the bobbin would approach the wall of the cavity. This was just the experiment; and there were all kinds of difficulties with it. But I helped draw up things. One of the courses that I had had in New York City — I think at Bronx Science — as a course in mechanical drawing, which always stood me in awfully good stead later on. Any time I wanted to design something or work with something it was easy to draw it up. I really had enjoyed the course, and you didn't have to know an awful lot in order to start drawing things up and letter them properly and so forth. So I was assigned to work with Bill Hansen, who always was at a drafting board, designing things. I knew enough physics, by then to help them in some way; and also, I had a fairly good mechanical knack.
DeVorkin:What about some of the others, the people like Dow and Nichols? Did you come into contact with them at all? Were they still there?
Harwit:No, I'm not aware of them.
DeVorkin:You were flying all Aerobees by this time?
Harwit:I don't know. You see, I wasn't there long enough to participate in an actual flight. They were preparing for a flight; and I worked for them just for the summer initially. I think I had reapplied for graduate school, and was going to go to Wisconsin, maybe, where my sister was in graduate school. She was a biochemist. And I think I got admitted; but I don't remember exactly. My parents came to Ann Arbor one time during that summer. I talked to my father and he said, well, you know, if you really enjoy working with this group, why don't you just stay with them? The trouble with that at the time, 1954, was that it made me subject to the draft; and if I wanted to go to Wisconsin, the chances were that if I stayed out of school long enough I would be drafted. I was under the Jurisdiction of the Bloomington, Indiana Draft Board; and the rumor at =east was that they tried to keep the boys who were useful for working in the fields, and the other people tended to get drafted. But my father suggested that, if I really liked working with this group, he said he always found it was better to work with a group who really wanted you than to go some place where they didn't. He had absolute confidence that I would make it to the Ph.D. He said he thought I was a good physicist. By that time, I had started talking with him about scientific things; and we used to enjoy discussions. I think you can tell right away if a youngster looks at things correctly or not, if you've been in science a long time. I thought at the time that he was maybe just saying it out of loyalty or out of encouragement, but probably he was right. At any rate, about the day I was going to leave — I think I had already said a lot of my good-byes — I talked with Les Jones, and one thing led to another, and he said, well, why don't you just stay here. And so I think I may have called up my parents then, and talked it over. The fact that I had a girlfriend there also helped. I decided, okay, I'd stay on. And that was really great. I enjoyed working with them until about December. And then, I think, in the fall I did get my draft notice; and I don't know whether I went back there after Christmas or not. I got drafted towards the end of January, and went on to Ft. Leonard Wood, in Missouri, for basic training and all the rest of it.
DeVorkin:Yes. What was your experience there? You were in the Army two and a half years?
Harwit:Two years. A draftee had to serve two years.
DeVorkin:Yes, and what part of the Army did you end up in?
Harwit:Well, I went through basic training, which was six weeks. After that you went wherever you were assigned to. That was still the time of the Korean War. I was lucky that the war ended three or four days after I was inducted. That still made me eligible for the G.I. Bill after I got out. Most of my friends who came in three or four days later weren't eligible anymore. That was really a shame. They served exactly the same way I did for 700 days or more; it was just a four-day difference. Anyway, I got placed in the Chemical Corps after basic training.
DeVorkin:Because of your training?
Harwit:Because of my training. Fortunately, I had a master's degree. They only took people who had a master's degree or a bachelor with a minimum of two years of experience. I was sent to Edgewood, Maryland, where the Army Chemical Corps had a laboratory. I was put into a laboratory for radiological warfare, something that dealt mainly with fallout. It turned out that most of the people in the division there were chemical engineers. The responsibility for radiological warfare, I think, had only been handed the Chemical Corps fairly recently. Those people really didn't have any inkling of physics at all. They didn't know any nuclear physics. You can see, if you have a man with a classical chemical engineering education, pre-World War II, that he would have never had had any contact with any nuclear physics whatsoever. Whereas, I knew that stuff from courses I had had at Michigan. Actually, not so much courses, but for these examinations I had had to read an awful lot on my own, because I wanted to get through them fast. I didn't want to take all the courses. There was a good book on nuclear physics that I had read — by Cork, who was at Michigan. And I think there was another book by Halliday that I had read later on. When I arrived at the Chemical Center, I was put into the lab, and it soon turned out that I knew more physics than almost anybody else there.
DeVorkin:Were the other people civilian?
Harwit:The chemical people all were civilian, and then there were a number of draftees like myself there who were physicists or engineers. Now, many of them really didn't care. They felt that they had been drafted against their will, and they weren't going to do anything but just the bare minimum. I was pleased that I had the chance to have a library around, and that I could do physics. I enjoyed the problems that people would ask met and I think I also enjoyed the fact that for the first time I was in some demand. At Michigan I had always run to professors to ask them things. I was very unsure of myself. All of a sudden, it came as a surprise that nobody knew as much as I did.
DeVorkin:Why was that the case?
Harwit:Just because, I think, it was the Chemical Corps. If I had been sent to Monmouth, Ire Les Jones through his contacts — some people there had given him contracts for upper atmospheric research — had tried to get me to go, I probably would have found it much more sophisticated. In fact, at one point I got called in and was told that there was a request from Monmouth to have me transferred.
DeVorkin:Monmouth was supporting Les Jones' upper atmosphere work?
Harwit:Yes, there was somebody there who was interested in it.
DeVorkin:What was that, an Army base?
Harwit:Fort Monmouth was Signal Corps.
DeVorkin:Of course, the Signal Corps supported the Michigan upper atmosphere work.
Harwit:Yes, I guess. At that time Jones thought that I would get sent to Korea or something, and his contacts had asked to have me go there. But it was just very slow for the wheels to grind. By the time that they ground to a halt I had already been in the Chemical Corps for a while there, and I kind of enjoyed it. So I said, no, I really would just as soon not transfer.
DeVorkin:By that time had you identified yourself at all with upper air atmosphere research?
Harwit:I enjoyed it. I know how I got in contact with Les Jones. The summer of 1953 my fellowship with Sutherland was up, I think; and I had heard that a meteorologist by the name of Hewson, who originally was British, was looking for someone to run experiments for him. He had just come to Michigan, and he was collecting pollen as a tracer for atmospheric currents. In doing that work, he didn't have a lab of his own yet, I think; and so he had asked Les Jones to assign me some room. Hewson was a great talker, but he never did anything. He was really the world's great bullshitter as far as I could see. I was running this whole thing. It was simple-minded enough. You just had to go out and collect pollen on a filter through which air was being drawn. Afterwards, then you counted pollen deposited on the filter, having stained them, classified them, and things like that. Les Jones had seen me doing that, and so when I didn't know what to do after having flunked out, he figured I could do the kind of things that he wanted, and I think that's how I got that job.
DeVorkin:Did most of the graduate students at Michigan work as you did?
Harwit:Yes, everybody had an assistantship, I think.
DeVorkin:So it wasn't as if this was taking away from your courses inordinately.
DeVorkin:The fact was, you seemed to be in a hurry to take the exams.
DeVorkin:Why was that?
Harwit:Well, I just didn't feel like being there seven years. I wanted to do things in physics.'
DeVorkin:I see. But didn't anyone caution you that by pushing to take them early, your were jeopardizing yourself?
Harwit:Yes. Sure. I just was very optimistic that I could do it. I was doing reasonably well in the courses, and I thought, well, why not, what the hell.
DeVorkin:Let's go back to your work with the Army Chemical Corp. What did that do to you? Did it do anything for your later career?
Harwit:It was great. I built up a fantastic self-confidence. People would ask me things. Most of the other people in that group were not too interested in doing very much, or they didn't have as much training, or something. Don't forget, I had had a lot of chemistry, also, so I could talk to the people in the Chemical Corps. There were relatively few people who had that kind of broad range of interests or experience. I considered it a challenge. If I didn't know how to do something I'd go to the library and look it up. I taught myself hydrodynamics, for example, in response to a project that they had where they were trying to figure out whether the natural thermal updrafts above a city would prevent that deposition or fallout on the city. Don't forget, this was only two or three years after the first hydrogen bombs had been exploded, and one was looking at problems like that. I'm sure, somewhere else, like at Los Alamos, things like that had been considered with greater rigor. But the Army and I think, the Navy, also, probably, had its Mickey Mouse laboratories, where there really were very low quality efforts going on. Most of the stuff that was going on at Edgewood in radiological work seemed to be that kind: low caliber people, projects that really were not very well thought out.
DeVorkin:Were you aware of that at the time?
Harwit:It became pretty clear, yes. The very fact that I considered myself able to answer the questions, or that they came to me, when up to then I had always been running to other people to ask questions, made it quite clear that these people were not the caliber that you had in the universities. For example, the first time I came in touch with shock phenomena was when I saw an old, old report, which I still found recently among my files, that Hans Bethe had written during the war, with a number of other people. During the war people were worried about blasts and tried to calculate the effects of atomic weapons. They were doing the early work in shocks, shock wave physics.
DeVorkin:You came across this while you were at Edgewood?
Harwit:It was a military report that was available. At that time there weren't any real books yet, probably, on shock wave theory. That came later. There were classical hydrodynamic books around. I read about turbulence in trying to understand what would happen with this updraft, and came to realize that what I was really interested in was convection and not turbulence. In the meantime, I had come across Von Karman's work on turbulence and some of Heisenberg's work on turbulence. It used to be very nice. I'd tell them, look, I've got to go to the library, which was in a different part of the base; and I'd take off for the library and spend the afternoon there. It was wonderful. I could read things, and then go back and tell them what I had done, and what seemed to be the problem, where I was stuck. Then I'd go back. Eventually I solved this problem for them. It turned out that, if you had an updraft, you'd have enough circulation so that if you kept dust from sedimenting out over a city by the updraft, you certainly would be pulling it in from the sides, and getting just as much in. Because of the incompressible flow and the very slow sedimentation rates, you would not expect to have any net gain. And I was able to show that.
DeVorkin:How well set up was the library? Was it a good library?
Harwit:It was a good library, especially for chemical things. But I found all kinds of stuff. At that time there weren't any courses on relativity in the physics curriculum. You learned a little bit of special relativity, maybe, for high energy stuff, but there was no general relativity ever taught in most universities, as part of the physics curriculum in the early 1950's, and mid-1950's. That didn't happen until the 1970's, perhaps.
DeVorkin:Stanley Goldberg would agree with that.
Harwit:Yes, I bet he would. At any rate, I then taught myself general relativity by reading, which was very nice. The barracks were noisy, and because I had a badge, I would ask for permission to go back to the lab at night sometimes. They thought it was crazy.
DeVorkin:But you could do that?
Harwit:I could do it, yes, if I got permission to sign in. All areas were classified.
DeVorkin:Yes, but they thought it was crazy for what reason?
Harwit:For anybody to want to go back in and work, especially if you were a draftee. It just wasn't done. Nobody worked at night.
DeVorkin:Even the civilians?
Harwit:No. As I said, it was a sort of Mickey mouse outfit, very low caliber research. I'm sure that some of that still persists in the military, but it would be difficult for it not to happen. There are some really outstanding places, like the National Bureau of Standards and the Naval Research Lab, where the Government does really good work, and NASA now, also. But there were a lot of outfits, at least, at that time, where there was very poor quality work being done.
DeVorkin:Did you have any contact with Aberdeen and Dahlgren and places like that?
Harwit:I think I went over to Aberdeen once for something, but that was all. Once I also went to one of the Naval places, for a conference on the West Coast, I think, at Monterey. I don't know what it was. There was a conference there on radiological problems, and that was just before I got out of the Army. Teller came to that and gave an evening after-dinner speech at this meeting, much to the dismay of the Naval people there.
Harwit:Because he said, every time I look at an aircraft carrier I think, what a wonderful target for an atomic bomb! (laugh). It didn't go over very well.
DeVorkin:No, I don't think so.
Harwit:But the other thing that would happen was, if I came up with some kind of a result, especially if it didn't meet the expectations, then they would send me out to what they called experts in the field. I traveled up to Woods Hole Oceanographic Lab where there were people doing meteorological work. I went up to MIT. And these people would say, you did right, yes. This won't work. Then the people at the Chemical Center would accept it. They wouldn't send someone else up with me to check up, for reasons I never quite understood.
DeVorkin:Was this your first contact at MIT?
Harwit:Yes, and in fact, when I wanted to go to graduate school, afterwards, I got excellent recommendations partly from the people whom I had met at MIT, partly from the people at Edgewood, and partly from Les Jones. So, although I had flunked out of Michigan, I then got into MIT later. Once I got out of the Army, things were very clear sailing then. I just didn't have difficulties after that anymore in physics.
DeVorkin:Did you want to get into upper atmosphere research when you got back?
Harwit:I had given it consideration, yes. But when I was in the Army, I also got sent to Eniwetok and Bikini as part of a neutron monitoring project that they had at Edgewood.
DeVorkin:This is Tape No. Two, Side No. Two. You went to Eniwetok to do neutron monitoring.
Harwit:Yes. This was the time when they were going to have the first hydrogen bombs dropped from airplanes.
DeVorkin:This was a part of your Edgewood work?
Harwit:Yes. There were a number of us, who were privates at Edgewood, who were sent out there to place these neutron counters out near the target area, and then recover them and monitor the neutron flux that they had received from the bombs. We carried out some of the tests at Eniwetok, and some of them at Bikini. We would fly back and forth between the two atolls.
DeVorkin:How aware were you of what the radiation levels were like after the blast?
Harwit:Well, our equipment never worked.
DeVorkin:But you did have to walk back into the area?
Harwit:We had to go back into the area. We wore radiation badges. We helicoptered into the areas, and didn't spend much time there. A lot of the time the monitors weren't there.
DeVorkin:They were blown away?
Harwit:Yes. The most impressive time I remember was when there was a hydrogen bomb blast very close to where we had put out the neutron monitors on a little island in the atoll chain. There was lush vegetation, a Japanese Betty plane was there, left over from World War II. They were called Bettys by the American troops, it was a nickname. We went back afterwards by helicopter. There was a huge hole in the bottom of the atoll. Part of the island was missing, about half of it, no vegetation, just rubble, no Betty, no neutron counters. So we just went back home again. This was typical. At the end of the project when I was supposed to leave, the captain who was in charge of the project asked me whether I would write up the final results, which I did, because I knew more about t:he whole thing than anybody else. He said, well, you've done most of this work, you deserve to be a co-author on this. I said, I've never written a scientific paper yet, but I'd like my first paper really to be a good one; and I don't feel that this is what I'd like to associate my name with. He was absolutely crestfallen. And I suppose it was pretty arrogant of me. He agreed he'd leave my name off. I did have a couple of reports that I wrote up on this meteorological fallout thing; and I thought that was fairly good physics. It wasn't that I minded doing the military stuff. It was just that I thought that the neutron monitoring had never had a chance to work from the beginning. But anyway, I left the Army having really grown up scientifically, and when I went to graduate school I just had much more self-confidence.
DeVorkin:Had you been accepted to MIT before you left the Army?
Harwit:Yes, I knew I was going to go there.
DeVorkin:And who were you to work with specifically?
Harwit:I had a teaching assistantship.
DeVorkin:But, did you have an advisor?
Harwit:No. I think the way it was set up was that Philip Morse, who was in charge of the graduate program at the time, was advisor for incoming graduate students. It may also have been that I had Koster as an advisor at the time. I don't really recall. But there was one important thing that happened after I came back from Eniwetok; and that was that I ran into my future wife, Marianne, in Baltimore. She had been a friend of a friend of mine, with whom I had been out at Eniwetok.
DeVorkin:She hadn't been out there? A friend of hers had been out there.
Harwit:Yes. There were no girls anywhere within thousands of miles; Eniwetok had been frustrating in that regard. But my friend had her picture in the tent that we lived in. He was mustered out of the Army shortly after we left Eniwetok, and went to graduate school at Harvard in the school of design. And I ran into Marianne in Baltimore. I recognized her from the picture. One thing led to another, and we got married about four months later.
DeVorkin:Was that pure chance that you ran into her in Baltimore?
Harwit:It was pure chance, yes. She was on a date with two boys, and came into Peabody's Book Store, which has a bar built at the back of a book score, an old book store in Baltimore. I was on a blind date with two of my fellow soldiers and three nurses. And I recognized her the moment she walked in.
DeVorkin:This was an absolute coincidence?
Harwit:Yes. I recognized her, and I wanted to meet her, because I had heard that she was really a great young woman. She also was Czech by background. So when the time came to leave, I told the others that I would act as banker and pay while they went out to the car. So I paid up, and went over to her table and introduced myself. And as I say, we got married about four months later, just before I went to MIT.
DeVorkin:And she went with you?
Harwit:About a month later, yes.
DeVorkin:So your station was in the outskirts of Baltimore?
DeVorkin:Your friend who had known her was also in Baltimore?
DeVorkin:Was she going to Johns Hopkins?
Harwit:She went to work right after high school as a laboratory technician in bacteriology with the Maryland Health Department, and was studying at the Johns Hopkins' night school — McCoy College.
DeVorkin:That's right. I remember talking about it. She mentioned that.
Harwit:Now, the only thing that I can still say about the Army before we quit that is that while I was at Eniwetok I had taken along a lot of books, because there weren't going to be any girls there. And one of the books was FRONTIERS IN ASTRONOMY, by Fred Hoyle. I found that really interesting, because it was written in a way where, having done as much physics as I had, I could read between the lines and roughly calculate things myself, or see how they fit together. Even though it is a completely non-mathetical book, you can read it and calculate things yourself. And I thought I really could do that. That would be fun to do, if I went back to graduate school.
DeVorkin:Was this your first contact with astronomy?
Harwit:Yes, my first serious contact. When I went to MIT, I wanted to get through fast again, and MIT didn't have a course requirement in physics, which was good, because I had a lot of courses already at Michigan. In fact, I only took one course in the physics department at MIT. But you had to have three courses in your minor. I tried to get excused from that, because I had had a lot of chemistry. I thought I could fulfill a minor that way. I went to see a Prof. Amdur, who would have had to give me the permission in the chemistry department. He said, no, he thought it would be good for me to take more chemistry. I thought, to hell with it. If I'm going to do something for three more courses, I might as well do something that would be interesting. I asked Morse then, whether I could take the fine print in the catalog at face value, take three courses in astronomy at Harvard (MIT didn't have any astronomy at the time), and get my minor satisfied that way? He said, yes, as long as I could get admitted to three graduate courses.
DeVorkin:This was partly on the strength of your reading Hoyle's FRONTIERS IN ASTRONOMY?
Harwit:Solely on the strength of that.
DeVorkin:You hadn't associated any of the upper air research with astronomy or anything like that?
Harwit:Not at all. It was a tenuous connection. So I went up to Harvard and got permission to take those courses. And that was my induction into astronomy. This was January 1957.
DeVorkin:What we should do is break here now, but for the next time, so it's on the tape in the transcript, I know from your PHYSICS TODAY article of last year, "PHYSICISTS, WILL YOU JOIN THE DANCE," that you had a rather memorable experience in Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin's class. I would like you to recount that for us next time.
DeVorkin:And also, talk about your other courses and colleagues, and people you began to know, because you were starting to have some career contacts.
DeVorkin:Okay, good. Thanks a lot.