Oral History Transcript — Dr. William Brinkman
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Interview with Dr. William Brinkman
William Brinkman; March 7, 2006
ABSTRACT: Topics discussed include: his family and early childhood, education at University of Missouri, PhD in 1965, Bell Laboratories, research on spin fluctuations, metal insulator transitions and helium III superfluidity, Phillip Anderson, Arno Penzias, Kumar Patel and Sandia National Laboratories.
Session I | Session II
Hochheiser:It’s March 7, 2006. This is Sheldon Hochheiser. I am here with Dr. William Brinkman in his office at Princeton University conducting an oral history interview with him on behalf of the Center for the History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics as part of their Physics In Industry project. Good morning.
Hochheiser:As I was saying, we’re going to start basically at the beginning and try to go through your life and career. I have some questions, and if they trigger other things— I have to guess what to ask you, and we’ll see how good a job I’ve done. Now, I saw from your bio that you were born in Washington, Missouri.
Brinkman:Yes, I was born there but didn’t ever live there. My parents were from Washington, Missouri, and my father was on a farm with seven kids, and, of course, the farm couldn’t hold seven teenagers and the adults, so he moved on to the Highway Department which got transferred to a place called St. Genevieve, Missouri.
Hochheiser:And is that where you were raised?
Brinkman:I was raised in St. Genevieve, Missouri. Right.
Hochheiser:Okay. Can you give me some idea where that is on the map? I know where the major places are in Missouri.
Brinkman:St. Genevieve is a small town on the Mississippi River about 60 miles south of St. Louis. It was originally settled by the French in 1735, and was established partly because of salt mines west of there and they shipped salt out of that area. It then became a very German town in the 1850s and since then was of predominantly German origin. So it was a small little town of 3,500 people, and it’s still about that size. There were two schools, a Catholic school and a public school, and I was a Catholic so we all went to the Catholic school. And raised in a very rural type environment. I went through high school there and played football and basketball and baseball and all this stuff, but always thought I was really actually very good in math, so from a scholastic point of view, mathematics and physics were always the things I considered to be fun.
Hochheiser:And that goes back to a very early age?
Brinkman:That goes back all the way to grade school. But I had not thought of majoring in physics because I was really a Sputnik baby, if you think about it—’58, we were in college right then. So engineering was considered to be the place to go, and I started out in engineering, but took a few physics courses and liked my physics courses so much better than my engineering courses, I switched.
Hochheiser:Backtracking a little bit, you said your father worked for the Highway Department?
Brinkman:Yeah, he was a supervisor of three counties in Missouri with the Highway Department, and he spent his life doing that after he got off the farm. My mother was from a very different background. They both had large families: my mother was one of nine; my father was one of seven. But my mother’s side of the family was more in the clothing business and that sort of thing, and her brothers and sisters, brothers in particular, all went into some kind of business—a Ford distributorship, a couple of clothing stores and things like that. She had three sisters that became nuns, one of whom became the administrator of St. Mary’s Hospital in Kansas City and moved way up in the world, and the other one of whom became a teacher at Miriam College, I think it was, in Indiana. And then she had another sister who got a PhD in biochemistry, but in those days a PhD in biochemistry didn’t necessarily buy a woman a job in biochemistry. In fact, she ended up in her latter years, as a secretary for the Dean of Engineering at the University of Miami of all things. But she did have a PhD. So on my mother’s side, there was some emphasis on education, and my father didn’t go past eighth grade. But they always pushed hard on the idea that we should get on to college and go out of this little town. So we never looked back once we got out.
Hochheiser:Did you have siblings?
Brinkman:Oh, yes, I had siblings. I had two sisters, both of them older than me, and they also went on. One of them became a radiologist and one of them became a nurse, and they moved on in life. One of them is in Paducah, Kentucky today and one’s in St. Louis, outside of St. Louis, in Crevecoeur, Missouri. But it was a good time. I played a lot of football in high school and then I went on and got a scholarship. That’s how I actually got to college, a football scholarship at the University of Missouri.
Hochheiser:So the obvious next question, how did you end up going to the University of Missouri?
Brinkman:The answer was very simple. My parents didn’t have much money, and the University of Missouri gave me a football scholarship which paid my way, and so off I went. And it was good. It worked out well, most of it. After four years of football, I didn’t know a lot of physics, I have to say.
Hochheiser:What position did you play?
Brinkman:Well, I played end in high school and my freshman year of college, and sophomore year they decided I was a little too slow to be an end so they moved me to tackle, so I played tackle the rest of the time. And it was fun. You know, we had a good time. We went to the Orange Bowl my senior year and played big time football.
Hochheiser:Yeah. How did you balance the demands of your athletic scholarship and the academic demands?
Brinkman:You know, it didn’t give you a lot of spare time. You had to schedule yourself efficiently. My first class every morning was 7:40 in the morning, and I was always trying to be finished with classes by noon because by 3:00 in the afternoon we had to be out on the football field. So by doing that, having every class scheduled in the morning, I could do my homework and study in the evening and before the practices, and it worked pretty well. I probably didn’t learn nearly as much as I could have learned doing something else.
Hochheiser:Yes, but certainly enough to succeed in college.
Brinkman:Certainly enough to succeed in college. I prided myself in never getting anything but A’s in math and physics courses. I worked hard at that.
Hochheiser:What was it that attracted you to physics over engineering?
Brinkman:It’s interesting. Sophomore year, I was taking the first course in electrical engineering and I was taking a course in mechanics, and it really was the two teachers. I always look back and say it was probably the two teachers. The guy who taught mechanics made mechanics interesting.
Hochheiser:What was his name?
Brinkman:He was a graduate student. And the guy who taught electrical engineering, he actually made it very boring. We had to do these very simple circuits and things like that and the experiments were too simple, as far as I was concerned, to be interesting. So it just was too much of a plug-along course for me. So I went to the physics and I enjoyed it a lot.
Hochheiser:Do you recall any particularly memorable professors from your undergraduate years?
Well, yes, of course. At the University of Missouri, there was one professor who, not only undergraduate, but graduate school, who was very influential. He was a man named Gingrich. Newell Gingrich was his name, and he was a PhD from Chicago and he worked with—Condon in Chicago—and he was an x-ray scattering guy and measured things like the structure factor in liquid helium and things like that and basically the rare gasses. But he was a very responsible and open person running the Physics Department, and he was really very good at encouraging us. In fact, I was always amazed. I did not work for him, but until he died, he would send a letter every year and talk about how his life was going, that sort of thing. So I was very impressed with him.
There were several others. There was a guy, head of the department at that time, who played the role in the undergraduate years of encouraging me to take more advanced courses than I was thinking about at the time. Lou Holroyd was his name. So he was influential in pushing me a little bit, and that was good.
And of course, then I met my later thesis advisor during those years. He was by far the best teacher in the department. He was a theorist, and he was a very organized teacher, so his courses were really first-rate, as far as I was concerned. So he taught a course in mathematical physics my senior year which was a very good course, an influential course, as far as I was concerned. In fact, it’s amusing because I learned elasticity theory in that course, and when I came to Bell laboratories, the first thing that happened to me was I got involved in an experiment whose explanation involved coupling spins to elastic media. So I used my undergraduate work and knowledge to solve that problem.
Hochheiser:What was this professor’s name?
Brinkman:His name was Bernie Goodman. He was at Missouri the same time I was. He left Missouri exactly the same time I did and went to Cincinnati. He’s been at Cincinnati ever since, the University of Cincinnati. He was a very interesting guy. I think he is a very smart man, an intelligent fellow, and somehow or another his career never really went as far as it probably should have, because I thought he was just an absolutely excellent theorist. But the story is he got turned off by physics during the war because he and a bunch of graduate students at Penn—he was at Penn at the time—a bunch of graduate students at Penn started working on the nuclear reactions and decided that they could make a bomb. They actually wrote a manuscript that they were going to publish. And guess what, the federal government said, “No you’re not!” That actually had a very deep effect on him and he sort of lost interest in physics for quite a while and didn’t finish his PhD until much, much later. So it was interesting. But he was an excellent teacher.
Hochheiser:Any particularly memorable fellow students from your undergraduate years from, perhaps, other physics courses?
Brinkman:Well there certainly weren’t many of us! There were six or seven of us, probably, in the class that actually majored in physics. The fellow students that I think of were mostly engineering students, of course, who in a lot of math courses were more competitive.
There was one very excellent undergraduate student that I was competing with when I went on to graduate school. If you remember, the old Sputnik thing created this thing called NDEA Fellowships, and there was an NDEA Fellowship available, and myself and this other guy competed. And I was really worried because this guy was a very hard-working guy and very serious guy, and the last part of my senior year I’d met my wife, so I wasn’t working so hard at that stage [chuckles]. But my thesis advisor, the guy who became my teaching advisor, who was controlling this fellowship, decided that I was a more interesting student, so he ignored the fact that my grades probably weren’t quite as high as this guy’s, and I always remembered that. And I’ve never seen this guy again. I have no idea what happened to him. I think he went to Kansas State or someplace, and I’ve never seen him anywhere in physics again. But I don’t remember his name; that’s the trouble.
Hochheiser:So you met your wife your senior year?
Brinkman:I met her during my junior year, but things got heavy in my senior year.
Hochheiser:Was she also a student at the University?
Brinkman:She was. She was a student of education at the University, and we went together for a year and a half and then got married the August after my senior year. But she was only a junior at that time, and we made a funny deal with her father. He wanted her to finish college, so we made the deal that, “Okay, she’ll finish college if you pay her as much as you would have paid her if she wasn’t married.” So he agreed to that! So we that helped us get by. He owned a farm, and one of the ways that he helped us through graduate school was he would always supply us with a half of beef every Christmas, so we had this frozen beef that we could use all year round. That sort of helped us through graduate school for four or five years.
Hochheiser:How did you come to decide to continue on to graduate school?
Brinkman:Well, in physics it seems to me that that’s sort of an automatic—if you’re really going to be a physicist, you’re going to have to go to graduate school?
Hochheiser:The better question, then, is how did you decide to become a physicist?
Brinkman:Well, that, of course, I did early on, in my sophomore year. It’s interesting, because at the end of my junior year, the math department was trying to get me to major in math, and they offered me a scholarship. Of course, it wasn’t nearly as good as my athletic scholarship, and they wouldn’t let me have both, so there was no question about not taking the scholarship. But then when I thought about it for a while, I decided that I’d really rather do physics than pure math, just because liked it. It’s a very strange thing to say, but in grade school and high school you do word problems, the famous word problems, and those were something I just loved to do. And that characterized physics to me more than it did mathematics. So that was my thinking, I guess, back in those days, and I just enjoyed physics. And as I got to know Bernie Goodman, I really got to appreciate the depth of physics in a way that I hadn’t before.
Hochheiser:Did you consider any graduate school besides Missouri?
Brinkman:Oh yes, sure. I actually could have gone as a teaching assistant at the University of Illinois, and in some sense I look back and I say, you know, I might have been a little bit naïve in the sense that Illinois certainly was a lot better place in physics than Missouri. But the scholarship in Missouri, these NDEA scholarships, they’re three-year scholarships, and they were pure scholarships. You didn’t have to teach or anything and it looked so much better. And by that time, I’d already established a relationship with Bernie Goodman who I had confidence in, so I just decided to stay, and it worked out.
Hochheiser:What did the athletic department think of your majoring in physics? I don’t imagine that’s what most of your fellow athletes did.
Brinkman:Oh no, no, no. They didn’t mind that at all. Actually, we used to joke about the fact that the particular line that I was on had a 3.2 average or something like that. It was an actually unusual. But, you know, they weren’t concerned about this as long as you played, and in fact, their biggest concern always was not with the people who were doing well in school; it was the people who weren’t, and there were a lot of those. They used me as a tutor all the time. There was always some guy who was totally incapable of being an engineer, wanting to be an engineer, trying to take physics and mathematics and never getting there. I did that kind of thing. I tutored a lot through the years. I always remember, there was this one halfback. He was an outstanding halfback, and he was touted up there on the all-American level and that sort of thing. And he wanted to be an engineer in the world’s worst way and he kept taking the basic physics course. But he was a kid who couldn’t concentrate at all. I’d be trying to explain something on the board and I’d turn around and he’d be standing on his head on the desk or some crazy damned thing like that. Just hopeless. But anyway, it was hard to keep him eligible.
Hochheiser:That would certainly be a struggle. What did you do during your summers while you were there?
Brinkman:My summers, I guess in some sense were uninteresting. But what happened was when I was in seventh grade, I picked up a job washing windows for an electrician company, and I washed windows during the winter, and then in the summer they said, “Well, why don’t you come and do some other things for us?” And I gradually worked this job into, essentially, electrician’s helper job, and they would hire me back every summer. Every year they raised my salary, so I was happy to go back and just make money every summer, and so this worked out for many years. I had gotten a lot of electrical experience out of that. You know, I wired houses; I wired schools. We did all that kind of stuff over the years. We put up antennas on roofs, because back in those days TVs were all based on antennas. So it was a good job in the sense that it was there every summer; it was there every vacation; if I came home on the Christmas holidays, they always wanted me to work over Christmas holidays because they had to deliver all kinds of appliances, install them and that sort of thing. So it was just a good job to have. It worked well.
Hochheiser:Now, had you decided that you were more interested in theoretical and experimental physics while you were still an undergraduate, or did that come later?
Brinkman:Well, that came toward the end of undergraduate school, partly because I wanted to work for Goodman, and he was clearly very good and I was very impressed with him. So that decision was kind of made that way, and, frankly, yeah, it was really made that way. Compared to the experimental groups, he was head and shoulders above the rest of them.
Hochheiser:How did things change when you moved from undergraduate to graduate? Could you stay in the same place and work with the same people?
Brinkman:Well, of course, I got married in the summer, and my wife went on in school, we got on in school. Then, of course, I also started having a desk in the Physics Department as a graduate student and did most of my work there and didn’t work at home so much anymore. And the courses got much harder, of course, and focused a totally different way on physics.
Hochheiser:In what way?
Brinkman:Well, in the sense that I spent all my time on it—I didn’t spend it on anything else?
Hochheiser:You were no longer playing football.
Brinkman:No longer playing football or any other sports. Even in the summers, I didn’t go back to the electrician’s job in graduate school. So it was very different from then on. It was clear, you were working as a professional and you were spending all your time on the subject.
Hochheiser:And you continued to work with Professor Goodman all the way through graduate school?
Brinkman:All the way through graduate school. Well, the first two years we took courses of course. These days, when students start graduate school, they don’t take so many courses, but I had to take a lot of courses. The level of the undergraduate courses—well, there wasn’t any quantum mechanics undergraduate course in those days. You had to take at least a year’s worth of quantum mechanics, and then electricity and magnetism was usually taught at a much lower level in undergraduate, and even mechanics, Hamiltonian theory and all that stuff, was a graduate student course in my day, and now it’s no longer that way.
Hochheiser:By the time I was doing undergraduate work in Chemistry in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, we had those things in the undergraduate chemistry curriculum. I did a course in quantum mechanics.
Brinkman:Right, but we didn’t have any quantum mechanics until we got to graduate school. We had a little bit, but it was what was called a “modern physics” course and there was a little bit of quantum mechanics in it, but not really serious quantum mechanics, a real formulation of it from the start and an in-depth study of it. So there was another course, system mechanics.
Hochheiser:And that filled most of your first two years?
Brinkman:Yes, it did. It filled up most of two years. At the same time, reading various aspeits of in solid state physics in those days. But the course work took most of the first two years.
Hochheiser:And then in your third year??
Brinkman:Then, by third year I was doing research. I got finished in four and a half years, so that’s the way it worked. You also had these various exams you had to pass. Here they have prelims and generals. There I think we just had one major exam at the end of your course work in the graduate school, and if you passed it, you could go on to get a PhD; if you didn’t pass it, you’d got a master’s degree. You’d get shuffled out. It used to worry me because these guys would get master’s degrees and then go into medicine! [Laughter]
Hochheiser:Maybe they were better there.
Brinkman:It’s always hard to tell.
Hochheiser:How did you come to focus on a specific area within theoretical physics?
Well, again, I was working for Bernie Goodman, so he was in solid state physics, so there was not much question about what field I was going to be in. The only question was to define a problem, and— What happened? Let’s see, I’m trying to think. I guess at the end of my third year I spent the summer at Argonne National Laboratory.
We should back up just a minute. One thing they did that opened my eyes a lot more to the rest of the world was, in the middle of my second year, this guy, Peralofaluf [?] Dean, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him. He was a Swedish guy. He had a joint appointment to the University of Florida and Uppsala, and he created this winter school on quantum chemistry. I saw this advertised, so I said, “Wait, this might be interesting,” and it was a six-week school going through the Christmas holidays and through most of January in Florida, first at the University of Florida for three weeks and then three weeks down at Sanabel Island. So that year, the middle of my third year, we went off on this scholarship to go to this thing. And it was very good because I learned a lot more in-depth quantum mechanics as applied to chemistry and that sort of thing. Then the second three weeks was really a workshop, and so there was really the latest in quantum chemistry. So that was good.
So that sort of got me started in the general direction of where I would eventually do research for my PhD thesis. Then, at the end of my third year, I went to Argonne National Laboratory for the summer and worked with a fellow named Frankel Besani, who is now, I think, in Rome, in the University of Rome. He was a guy who did electronic structure calculations and things at Argonne, so I worked with him and did some calculations for him. Then that got me into this whole issue of electronic structure, silicon germanium, and how they kept where you could actually calculate these structures well enough to actually calculate things like cohesive energy in them. So that was really what I ended up doing my thesis on was doing this, and developed a bunch of things, like I used the K-dot-P method in a very extended fashion to calculate charge densities in a covalent bond, densities and shapes and things like that. People hadn’t done that before. So it worked out as a reasonable thesis and got some publications. Actually, it was interesting because I used an approximation which was developed by a guy by the name of Lars Hadin called the Screen Exchange Plus Cool Hull Approximation. When I used it, it was practically impossible to use, it’s such a complicated approximation. To use it on a real system like silicon was very hard. Nowadays they use it on everything and they use it on all kinds of materials and use that approximation to calculate electronic structure, which about ten years ago, I remembered Bernie Goodman at his 70th birthday, so I decided to look up to see what was going on. I was shocked to find that there’s so many people using this technique.
Hochheiser:Does that go, perhaps, with the available technology? How did you do your calculations while you were in school?
Brinkman:That was pathetic. Of course, I used a thing called the IBM 1620, and, you know, this thing is peanuts compared to anything today. You know, you spent all your time reading cards in and out and punching cards and all that stuff, right? It was a lot of work and I’d spend all night at this. You know, I’d go there and spend the night.
Hochheiser:Sure, because that’s when you could get on the computer.
Brinkman:That’s when you could get on and do what you wanted. It was fun, actually, in some sense. You felt like you were pioneering something in those days. But it’s just amazing how far the computer business has gone. It’s a very, very different thing. Actually, that 1620 in that stage was small compared to what other people had. It just happened to be the only thing the University of Missouri had. I thing the IBM 704 or something like that was out at that stage, and the big guys had that at the Argonne National Laboratory and that sort of thing. But I’d only used it a little bit in the summer.
Hochheiser:It’s amazing how technology has changed, and how that’s changed what you can accomplish. Now these approximations become something that can be easily used.
Brinkman:Right, that’s what’s happened, and it’s amazing, because they weren’t easy to use.
Hochheiser:Do you recall any particularly memorable fellow graduate students in physics?
Brinkman:Oh yeah, sure. Well, there was three or four of us. I’m trying to remember the names. One of my colleagues is at Rutgers now, Paul Leaf [?]. He was a year behind me and he was working for the same advisor. I remember him. He was a very good student, but our big challenge—
Hochheiser:You were talking about Paul Leaf.
Yes, Paul has done very well. He was department chairman; he was actually Dean or something up in the management ranks, so he’s done very well for himself. But there were several others. There was a guy I will always remember, Arnold Brill was his name. He went to, I think, some small college in Kansas when he left Missouri. But we had a course together, a math course that was supposed to teach you how to prove real theorems mathematically. So the guy told us essentially not to buy any books for the course and he would write theorems on the board, and anybody that thought they could prove one of these theorems could get up to the blackboard and try to prove it. I’ll always remember one day, Arnold had a nervous twitch, so when he went to the blackboard, he was already very, very nervous. And so he got up in front of this guy and he started to try to write out this proof and the guy ripped him to shreds in zero time, and Arnold took the chalk and he threw it on the floor and he says, “Boy, you sure got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.” His teacher got very embarrassed and he was so kind to us the rest of the day. It was really amazing. Anyway, I’ll always remember him. He was a very interesting guy, so we had a variety of guys. There was another fellow named Gordon Wolf who’s out in Oregon someplace. He worked for Bernie Goodman too. So we had a good time with graduate students in the little enclave on the second floor that we all sat in this room full of desks and that sort of thing, so it was a good time.
And, of course, I had various friends from football days. One of my friends was a guy named Eddie Blaine who was a year or so behind me, but he was an all-American tackle from Missouri who went on to play pro football. But he always came back to graduate school. He was an interesting guy. While he played football, he also ended up with a PhD in physiology and spent his career in physiology, worked for Burke for a while, Washington, the University of St. Louis, and now he’s back at the University of Missouri. He felt he should go back to contribute to the University. And so, you know, there was all kinds of people. And he’s still a good friend.
Hochheiser:Now, you said your NDEA Fellowship was for three years?
Hochheiser:And then how did you support yourself for the rest of the four and a half years?
Brinkman:For the fourth year, I got an NSF Fellowship, and then the fifth year, the half year, my wife started working then after a while, too—we had one child while we were in graduate school, and once that child got old enough to be put in a daycare center, she worked. But then the other thing is, my last half of my senior year, there was the scholarship fund that the University of Missouri had. What was it called? I’ve forgotten. But it was just a fund named after one of their famous professors there in the Physics Department, and it gave me a few thousand bucks to live on for the last six months.
Hochheiser:This is a slightly offbeat question, something that’s of interest to the Center, so it’s going to show up now and again. Do you recall record keeping? When you were a graduate student, did you use lab notebooks or files?
Brinkman:Actually, we were kind of careless about that. In fact, I would claim my whole life I’ve been kind of careless about record keeping. I did not keep any kind of a notebook. I still have files at home from graduate school; they send files of standard stuff and that sort of thing. So I have a lot of that sort of thing, but I’ve never organized it or anything like that so that it makes any sense. In fact, I would guess today if I went back I would have a hell of a time figuring it out.
Hochheiser:But whatever you did was good enough that you could find the things at the time?
Oh, while I was working on it I certainly knew where everything was. But you work on a subject like your thesis and you get huge piles of files with all sorts of papers that you’ve copied and that sort of thing and read and all the derivations that you do in the process, and you keep them in file somewhere. I never put them in a notebook. That’s true.
Other people are different. Phil Anderson, for instance, when he thinks he’s got a good idea, he tends to write it in a notebook. I think that derives from back in the early days in Bell Laboratories. He arrived at Bell Laboratories way before I did. In the early days of Bell Laboratories, it was much more an engineering-oriented place, and they really insisted on everything being written in notebooks. I got there, the theory group didn’t really care about that sort of thing very much. It changed.
Hochheiser:Yes, it certainly did. When I was there, obviously I spent a lot of time with them, and there are at least 30,000 Bell Labs laboratory notebooks in the AT&T archives. In many ways, how much use someone made of lab notebooks couldn’t be described as anything more than personal quirks. Some people really use them, and others didn’t.
Brinkman:And others didn’t. Yeah, I know. Well, if you’re an experimentalist, it turns out that if you’re an experimentalist you really do want to use it because you’ve got to keep all your data organized and you want to be able to go back to it and that sort of thing. And I think on the experimental side, people tended to be much more diligent than the theorists.
Hochheiser:That would make a lot of sense.
Brinkman:I think that’s really— I mean, Doug Oshrow [?], for instance, was very careful about his notebook, but then he was recording exactly what he did so he could go back to do it over again if he had to and that sort of thing, so he’d get the exact settings and all that kind of stuff right. And that was important.
Hochheiser:That would make a whole lot of sense. Now, anything further you can think of on your grad school years before we move on?
Brinkman:I’m trying to think of graduate school. I don’t know that we skipped much. No, maybe something else may come up later.
Hochheiser:Yeah, if something comes up later, we can always add it. Before moving on, I like to ask an open-ended question.
Brinkman:Yeah, I’m trying to think. I just don’t know what it would be. Well, I have to say, there is one thing. The one thing that was really admirable about Bernie Goodman is the way he taught the graduate courses. For instance, when he taught quantum mechanics, he taught about unitary transformations and things like that in a fashion that when you went and read the literature, it was easy. So he geared his courses towards reading the literature. I was always very impressed with that, because when we got out of his courses, we could read the literature. The other thing he did that was actually really good for us was there was a group of five or six of us, and in those days, all this many body theory stuff was really coming into the fold, and various books had been written. So we plowed through all the diagrammatic expansions. And by taking a seminar course in which each one of us had to take our turn lecturing, and we went through various papers. If it was your turn you had to pick up from where the last guy left off and take it the next step further. I actually thought this way of teaching was an extremely good, way for us to learn the literature. So we really learned the whole diagrammatic approach in great detail, Wick’s Theorem for example, and we knew how they solve for the energy and the cancellation diagrams. And it was really good for us.
Hochheiser:So you feel, over all, your graduate years prepared you well for a career as a physicist?
Brinkman:Yes. Actually, if you think about it, you don’t know as much as you think you do in graduate school. But when I went to Oxford I didn’t feel like I was out of it in any way or form. When I went to Bell, it was a little bit tougher—a lot tougher, in fact, in some ways, because there were subjects which we just had not learned. Superconductivity was one, and I just didn’t know any superconductivity when I arrived at Bell Laboratories. But I didn’t feel uncomfortable in any sense. The training had been such that I could learn these things fairly straightforwardly and so that was not a problem.
Hochheiser:Moving on, how did you come to the post-doc at Oxford? You ended up doing it there.
Brinkman:Well, Roger Elliot and Bernie Goodman were friends and knew each other, and I applied for an NSF Post-Doc Fellowship and got it. So Bernie said, “Hey, why don’t you go to Oxford? I know this guy and he’s good; go spend a year with him,” and so I did, and that worked out pretty well. I look back at it and I say, well, maybe it could have been more productive, but I don’t know. You know, it’s one year and you finished your PhD, now you’re going to do something else. And you’re, of course, still writing a paper on the PhD work. Roger Elliot couldn’t understand some degeneracies that were occurring in some spin space vectors that he was looking out, so I worked out an explanation in terms of spin space groups and stuff.
Hochheiser:Roger Elliot was at Oxford?
He was a professor at Oxford, yes. He later became the head of the Oxford Press, but he was a professor in the Theoretical Physics Department. It was a good time. There were several of us, two Canadians and one guy from the north country of England in this office all working as post-docs for Roger. Well, three of us for Roger, one of them for somebody else. And it was a fun year, because these guys were good. I met a lot of people there. I remember Tony Leggett was there at the time and Chris Pethick was there at the time, and these Canadian guys were there. I’ll always remember this Canadian (I don’t remember his name now). He used to always talk about his time at the University of Edmonton working for his PhD. They used to go out and kill a moose and bring it in on his Volkswagen, and that’s how they lived while they were in graduate school, they lived off this moose meat.
So it really was a good time. I must admit I sat in on some courses there and I actually taught a course on group theory while I was there, and that was actually a lot of fun. By that time, having done all these electronic calculations where you have to know group theory to minimize the sizes of matrices and stuff like that, it was very easy for me to teach a course on group theory as it applies to solid state physics. And it seemed to be well received. With Oxford, you decide whether you’re well received or not by whether the students stay in your class. If you’re giving lectures they don’t appreciate, they just walk but in my case they stayed.
So it was fun and we had a good time. One time we took one trip to the continent. We drove all the way to Sicily and back in a Volkswagen with a three- or four-year-old kid [laughs]. Franco Bassani, who I mentioned earlier, was at the time in at U. of Messina in Sicily, at the university down there, and we wanted to go down to get together and go over some of these things that I’d been doing, and so that worked out all right. I gave two or three lectures down there and we came back. But it was a long drive in a Volkswagen!
Hochheiser:What was the relation between the work you had been doing on your dissertation at Missouri and the things you were working on at Oxford?
Brinkman:Almost none. Really, close to none. The thing I did that Roger was just trying to understand the spin wave spectrum for fairly complex systems, and it was just doing group theory analysis of spin wave spectrum and putting that all together, and except the fact that I knew a lot of group theory, it was a different subject for me. I’d never worked on magnetism of any sort, and this had to do with magnetic materials. Roger was much interested in magnetic materials at the time. But it worked out all right, and we actually even got an invited talk or two out of it.
Hochheiser:Now, there are two likely career paths for a physicist: academic and industrial. How did you decide to follow the latter course?
Well, I certainly had not decided to go into an industrial lab in the real sense at Oxford. What happened at Oxford is Bernie Goodman had known Conyers Herring, who was at Bell Labs. Bernie’s view was that the Bell Labs theory group with Conyers, Phil Anderson, Mel Lax and Peter Wolf was by far the best theory group in the country in condensed matter physics, and if you got a chance to go there you ought to do so. So he had told Conyers about me, and that he thought I was his best student ever and that sort of thing, and Bell Labs should be interested. And I went by Bell Laboratories on the way to England.
We took the ship, the France on January second. Can you imagine that? January second we took a boat across the Atlantic. But I stopped at Bell Labs on the way when we were in New York and gave a talk on my thesis and that went okay. Roger Elliot also chimed in and told Conyers that I was doing a good job and he might want to consider me for a job. It turns out there’s a very interesting story regarding my getting a Postdoc at Bell Labs. The managers at Bell Laboratories looked at me and said, “What? You’re going to hire some guy from Missouri? What are you doing?” So they weren’t very enthusiastic, but Conyers and Phil went to the management and said, “Look, let us bring this guy; in as a post-doc. We will take responsibility for him.” Now, an interesting feature, they never told me that, and I only found out when I got to management and read these documents.
Anyway, so that’s how I ended up getting an offer from Bell Labs. I actually was ready to accept an offer at Purdue. I was going to go to Purdue, and then what happened is I got this offer and I said, “Well, if I can go to Bell Labs,” Bernie Goodman and Roger bother were saying, “Hey, look. If you can get to Bell Labs, you should go,” and so I turned down Purdue and went to Bell Labs. So this was a big change in our life, because we’d never lived on the east coast near New York. These moves, when you go from having lived all your life in Missouri then to Oxford and then to New York were big psychological changes from the point of view of just living. I think Oxford was good to us. It was an interesting place. There was theatreand music —we just had never had this experience before, and we grew up a little bit.
So we came back after a year. We left on January second, as I said. We came back a bit early because we wanted to be home for the Christmas holidays. So then I drove east and I went to Cincinnati to visit Bernie for a few days, but, of course, it was Christmas so my father-in-law had given us another half of beef? So we had this Volkswagen and I had this half of beef up on the top of the Volkswagen, and good thing it was January, so it was cold. And that was fine. In fact, when I got into Cincinnati, we found a place to keep it for a few days while I worked with Bernie to finish off my thesis paper and get the paper out and we got that done. And then I started to come to Bell Laboratories. I left Cincinnati and got into a hellacious snowstorm in the Appalachian Mountains in Western Pennsylvania, and finally I got hit by a car. Another car whacked me in the side, so it was so grim that I finally just went to a motel and stayed there for a night. So I arrived on a Sunday night into Summit, New Jersey, and the lab made arrangements for me to have a room in a house, so I got there and got in okay and everything was fine.
The next morning, I go to sign up at Bell Laboratories at Murray Hill, and of course they took me over to the employment office. So here I am sitting in this employment office and they’re taking their good old time with my getting papers signed. I kept looking out the window; it’s getting warmer and warmer, and my half of beef was sitting on top of the car. All I could think was that damned beef was going to melt! So finally, at 11:30, 12:00, they finally got finished and I dashed out of there and went off and got a local Yellow Pages and found myself a freezer outfit that I could shove this beef into. I’ll always remember I was totally distracted from worrying about Bell Laboratories at that stage, worried about the beef.
Anyway, that was when I started. That was January of ’66 I started at the labs. From then on it got to be interesting. I got involved almost immediately with Jim Allen. I mentioned earlier, and he was working on UO2, Uranium Dioxide, and it had this funny transition where there was clearly a strong coupling between the magnetism and the acoustic phonons, and we worked that out; that was fun. But then very shortly after that, we got into thinking about spin fluctuations. In those days, that was when people first started thinking about spin fluctuations in metals, and Schrieffer written a paper about the idea that you might induce superconductivity as the spin fluctuations got near a ferromagnetic transition. And I worked with some experimentalists to try to see if we could see this and I also worked out the theory in more detail and published some papers on that, and that went okay. Also, I worked on tunneling theory with Joel Applebaum?I guess that was a little later. But anyway, so after a year—it was a two year fellowship in those days—assumed I was moving on. I got a letter from Harvard saying they would offer me a job as an assistant professor, which in those days, it was very clear when you got assistant professor at Harvard, you were not going to get tenure.
Hochheiser:Well, I understand that’s still true today.
Brinkman:Well, I don’t know if it’s true today. There’s been some that have. David Nelson has certainly stayed there. There’ve been more in recent times.
Hochheiser:But it was clear at the time that this was not a long-term appointment.
Brinkman:Right. But at the same time, you knew that if you got assistant professor at Harvard and you’d been there for five years that your chances of getting a professorship somewhere else were good and it would be a good place, and so I was ready to leave. This was after a year and half at the labs, and I was just about to say yes, and Mel Lax came to my office and said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Well, I’m about to agree to take the Harvard job,” and he said, “Well, maybe you’d better hold off for a day.” So he got the theory group back together and they decided maybe I could stay. So that was the first step. But I still had never thought that I was going to stay more than five, ten years, and that I would go on universities at some stage. It didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t do that. I was totally thinking in terms of theoretical physics research and nothing else, and it just wouldn’t have occurred to me at that stage that I wouldn’t go on to a university position. But, you know, life changes.
Hochheiser:As for universities, well, not theoretical physicists, but some of the other Bell Labs people I’ve spoken to over the years, there was that conscious decision that they wanted to be in a Bell Labs environment rather than— they were not interested in teaching and that sort of thing.
Brinkman:Yes. You know, people choose their life career in all sorts of ways. Conyers Herring always felt that graduate students slowed him down and that he’d just as soon work on his own, so he stayed at Bell Laboratories a long time. But others looked at Bell Labs as a place to be for maybe ten years, sometimes a little longer, and then go off to a university and avoid the assistant professor route, which is not a very pleasant route in some sense. The philosophy at Bell Labs was very straightforward. You hired these young guys as they graduate; they work like hell as a young person and they do great things, and if they leave after 10 or 15 years, well, go hire another one. It really actually in some sense is a very good renewal of the research organization, and we used to look every now and then to make sure that the age distribution didn’t start getting longer, because that was what was happening, of course, in almost all universities’ physics departments for years. The age distribution was moving a year up a year, as they weren’t hiring anybody. But this route of going for ten years and then going off to university was a very standard thing.
Hochheiser:So that was, for a long time, your expectation?
Brinkman:That was certainly my expectation for quite a while. But then what happened, of course, is Bell Labs kept offering me jobs that I found interesting and I just kept going. It was always, I don’t know, you do what you think interests you, and in the end I found it interesting not to just do theoretical physics but to also be involved in management and all the problems that you face when you’re confronted with managing people, and especially research people. I enjoyed it tremendously.
Hochheiser:And we’ll certainly get to that. Backing up a bit, so after you were there about a year and a half on what was initially a post-doctoral appointment, so then you were offered a regular position.
Brinkman:Right, a member of technical staff.
Hochheiser:Now, did that in any real sense, beyond that you didn’t need to figure out what you were going to do after the two years, change what you were doing?
Brinkman:No, not really. The thing that was nice about post-doctoral positions in the theory group there was you came, you were post-doc, and you were expected to find your problems and work on problems, and you were not beholden. Even though Conyers and Phil had gone to bat for me, they did not try to get me to work on some problem for them or anything like that. I talked to both of them every now and then, but they didn’t push anything on me. The only thing I remember is Conyers, when I first got there, came to my office and he said, “You know, you should read these Gutzwiller papers. They look important to me.” That was all he said. And they did, they became an important part of my life quite a bit later, actually. But it was having had read those that, when confronted with a problem later on, we started using his results. So that was the extent to which these guys tried to tell me what to do.
Hochheiser:So how did you figure out what to do?
Brinkman:Well, the great thing about Bell Laboratories, in some sense, was that it was what I would call a problem-rich environment. There were lots of people around and lots of experimentalists doing experiments. I met Jim Allen and he was working on UO2 and he couldn’t understand the spectrum, but I knew how to solve that problem.
Hochheiser:So he was an experimental physicist?
Brinkman:Right. So I knew how to do this calculation. I did that with a lot of people. I wrote papers with Tom Phillips, who’s now at Caltech, and people like that. He had an experiment that he couldn’t understand and I helped figure out what was going on. There were other theorists there. There were a lot of people in the theory group at that time. The theory group was a dynamic and exciting place to be. I mean, Conyers Herring and Phil and Mel Lax and Peter Wolf. Peter actually left and went to management, so he wasn’t there so much anymore, Bill McMillan was there, Pierre Hohenberg was there, Phil Plasman was there, and Don Hammond was already there when I got there. Shortly after I came, Marrice Rice came, Bert Halperin came, and some years later, five, six years later, Patrick Lee arrived. So when you think about these people, most of the people are in the National Academy of Science, and it was just a very exciting place to be because everybody was active and a lot of visitors. So it really was literally a problem-rich environment and it was easy to find things to work on.
So I worked on spin fluctuations for a while. We worked a lot on tunneling. Then by the early ‘70s, along came Superfluidy in 3 Helium in ’72, and Doug Osheroff came to the labs then, and I started working with him and Phil. We ended up writing a paper on the nature of the Superfluid phases, they discovered two phases instead of one, and everybody thought it was a very mysterious thing, so we proposed an explanation to that, and then I just did a lot of work. But prior to that (I’m skipping here), because prior to that, Marrice Rice had come and we started working together. I always remember the paper that’s not Marrice’s most cited paper, but my most cited paper is a paper that we wrote. We were working on a metal insulator transition and we had experimentalists, Dennis McWhan and others, that were looking at Vanadium Oxide. Vanadium Oxide shows a very nice metal insulator transition. So all these experimentalists had done all this work. So Al Clogston, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Al Clogsten—he organized–
Brinkman:–a session at the American Physics Society March meeting, and he wanted to have a theorist come and talk to summarize the situation on metal insulator transitions. So one day Marrice and I were sitting at lunch and we were saying, “Gee, you know, this is really not so good.” He wanted one of us to do it. “We have really nothing new, theoretically, to say about metal insulator transitions.” So I said to Marrice, “Well, why don’t we go look at Gutzwiller and see if the Gutzwiller approach has anything to do with metal insulator transitions.” After lunch, we went back and lo and behold, we looked at Gutzwiller’s papers and discovered that his theory actually predicted a metal insulator transition for the so-called Hubbard model which condensed matter physicist have studied for many years. So we got a little excited about that. So we were able to use this theory to predict the enhancement of the susceptibility and specific heat and we published a paper, and that paper today is the paper my most cited paper—it took us about two days to do the work.
Hochheiser:This was in the early ‘70s?
Brinkman:This was in the early ‘70s, around 1970. So we worked on that, and then we worked together on electron-hole drops on silicon and germanium. So that all went on up until the time when I became a department head at Holmdel. But then Doug Osheroff arrived at the same time, so shortly after I became a department head, Doug came and Phil and I got together and started working on what the AMB phase of Helium III was. So while I was a department head all the helium work was done. And while I was supposedly a department head down at Holmdel, I wasn’t doing much there. I was mostly working at Murray Hill.
Hochheiser:You were still spending more time in Murray Hill than what was supposed to be your office.
Brinkman:Actually, I forgot that, during the previous time before Doug arrived, in the early days in spin fluctuation, I actually went to Imperial College in London where Seb Doniach was at the time and spent the summer with him and Stan Engolsberg, so I learned some things from Seb and Stan. That was a good time. I really appreciated that move.
Hochheiser:And that was supported by the people up the ladder from the labs?
Brinkman:Yeah, they did see the light. But then I really pulled a funny stunt on them. I’d been a department head down at Holmdel for a year and a half and was working on Helium III but trying to run the department too, when I had an opportunity to spend six months in Denmark, and I decided, “What the heck, why not go to Denmark for six months and do something different?” In those days, I really felt getting around was an important part of doing theory because you met new people. So I went and spent six months with Horriels Smith at the University of Denmark at the Oersted Institute. We then did more work on super-fluid Helium III and worked out some of the spin dynamics in much more detail than had been previously worked out and made a bunch of predictions and things that Doug OIsheroff was able to verify. So that was really a very active research time for me.
Brinkman:Oh, mid-‘70s. I think it was ’74 when I was in Denmark, mid-‘70s through to maybe ’78 or somewhere in there, ’78, ’79. But a funny story there was the first half of ’74 I went off to Denmark for six months and I’d only been a department head for a year and a half when I did that, so I really was kind of an irresponsible department head to leave at that stage. But I came back in the summer and Al Clogston comes to me and he says, “Oh, I’d like to promote you again.” I always thought this was really amazing, because I really had not shown any ability at management. But for some reason he had confidence that I could manage a bigger group. So in ’74 I actually became a director of a laboratory with maybe 60 or 70 people. I feel like that laboratory went well. So late ’74 until almost 1980 was a very stable situation.
We had a rather interesting group of people as department heads. We had Peter Eisenberger, who I’m sure you’ve heard of. He’s now at Columbia, and he was one of the department heads, and he was pushing synchrotron radiation very hard and trying to get people to use synchrotrons so they could do X-ray physics. And then I had Bob Dynes of course, now President of the University of California system. He was doing all sorts of superconductivity in those days. He had a department. Then Walter Brown, he’s down at Lehigh now. He’s quite a bit older now; he’s probably in his 80s somewhere. He was a very energetic and enthusiastic guy and he had a big department and did a lot of ion scattering and particularly ion backscattering. He was a leader in that kind of research, channeling ect. And then we had Gunther Werthein, who had a smaller department, but did a lot of x-ray photo emission, and Mussbaker work. Bob Dynes’s department did a lot of liquid crystal work. And so I thought it turned into a very dynamic laboratory, and particularly we worked very hard at pushing synchrotron radiation. I tried to help Peter as much as possible to get that going on the national scene. We worked very hard to get Brookhaven to build a synchrotron and helped them in whatever way we could. So I think it was actually a very dynamic time. It was actually probably one of the more enjoyable times of my life. But also, you know, you’re managing people, so that’s always a challenge to make sure that you know what you’re doing.
So anyway, that was a good time for something like five or six years. It was kind of funny because there was Kumar Patel, myself and Joe Georamaine were the three directors of the Physical Sciences Division. We were very competitive.
Hochheiser:So this is the Physical Science Division in Bell Labs Research Area 11, that is?
Brinkman:That’s Area 11, right. In those days, there were four divisions. There was the Physical Sciences, and then there was the Computer Science and Voice and Sound, then there was the Material Science Organization, which was mainly chemistry but some physics as well, and then there was a fourth division, which was Telecommunications.
Hochheiser:Right. Again, this is all within research?
Hochheiser:There were lots of other parts of Bell Labs, too.
Brinkman:Oh, yeah. It was huge, there were enormous other parts of Bell Laboratories—but this was Area 11. There was Area 2000 that was all the semiconductor development work. In those days, that was a huge organization and lots of money being spent all the time. So for five years we really pushed on all these different fronts. I actually did research in liquid crystals myself, some, and the blue phase of liquid crystals was a popular thing for a bit. I worked with some of the people. Walter Brown had a fellow named Akira Hasagawa. He’s a guy who actually wrote down the equations for soliton propagation in an optical fiber, so he started an area of applied research that lasted for many years. It’s not clear to me that anybody’s ever used soliton’s in a real communication system, but it was certainly interesting research and certainly related nonlinear effects have been found to be useful.
Hochheiser:This gets to a related question. We’ve been wandering back and forth over your first 15 years at Bell Labs, which is fine, but all this work is in Area 11.
Brinkman:Oh, yes. I never really was out of Area 11. I stayed in Area 11 the whole time, except I was in Sandia for three years. We’ll get to that.
Hochheiser:We’ll get to that a little later. To what extent did you have contact, do any work with, or whatever, with people in other parts of Bell Lab over this period?
Brinkman:There was a lot of contact with other people. For instance, in the synchrotron radiation world, x-ray lithography became an issue during that period. So there was a lithography group in the semiconductor part of Bell Laboratories, not research, that was interested in these kind of things. So we interacted with them a lot in trying to make judgments about how much, and what we should do about that particular thing. There was a fellow named Marty Lepselter who was head of that group, and Dan Maydan, who is President of Applied Materials, he was part of that group over there on the more applied side of the house. I interacted with most of those guys quite a bit, trying to understand what we should do, what we shouldn’t do, as far as x-ray lithography was concerned. And we didn’t do too much; it was probably the right thing because it’s never gone anywhere.
And then the other thing we did is we had a small liquid crystal group under Bob Dynes, and the company finally decided that it really ought to try to get into the display area. It turned out that was a lousy decision, but they did try and it built up a fairly sizeable organization; to build displays in Area 2000. And we worked with them to try to— develop the necessary technology.
Hochheiser:About when was this?
Brinkman:That was in the late to mid-‘70s. I don’t know exactly what year it was. All I remember is there was a group of people at my level, the director level that were asked to look into this and make recommendations. We made some recommendations and they built a group up on the applied side. But, you know, it just never really seemed to get going. We actually had made a commercial display. It wasn’t a liquid crystal display; it was a plasma panel display. It was a pretty nice display, I thought, but somehow or another it didn’t sell. There was this whole transition period somewhere in the late ‘70s, I think, or early ‘80s where we went from a situation where telecommunications equipment was very distinguishable from equipment for computers, and for other types of applications. And by the late ‘70s, displays were an underlying technology for a whole bunch of different things, and it was becoming more obvious that the nature of the business was changing over from a fully vertically integrated business to a more horizontal business. So we went after some of these things thinking that we would be a totally vertically integrated company.
Hochheiser:Because it always had been totally integrated.
Brinkman:Always had been, right. But it became obvious after a while that that was not the way things were going to go, and so some of these efforts just got pushed by the wayside.
Hochheiser:It sounds like at this point in the mid- to late ‘70s, it sounds like you’re dealing not just with other parts of Bell Labs, but with other parts of the whole AT&T/Bell System/Western Electric?
Brinkman:Definitely dealing with the whole system in the sense that if anybody’s going to use these things, it’s going to have to be the Bell Operating Companies, right Western Electric’s going to make them. So you were talking to them in a broader sense. But still, in those days, in the late ‘70s, the research area starting from the ‘50s, through‘60s, had become very researchy and very basic research-oriented. It was very widely accepted that that’s what it should be, that it should be very basic research. So we were not expected to do real applied work to any large degree. In fact, it was very interesting because I always think back—you know, my attitude towards x-ray lithography, even though it was sort of in our bailiwick because we were very much involved with synchrotrons, it never occurred to me at the time that I should set up a group to do x-ray lithography in research. I assumed that it was those guys over in area 2000 who were doing applied things that should do that. So it was that kind of attitude that we had in the research area. We really didn’t feel that we had to focus on the company business that much. We were supposed to do basic research and we were supposed to be out there competing with the best universities. That’s how we viewed ourselves. We strictly viewed ourselves as competing with the university community to a large extent and IBM and a few other research labs. And that didn’t change until the late ‘80s.
IBM, I think, started to change earlier than we did, because in the computer world, they started seeing the competition with Japan. And that competition in the computer business, Fujitsu, NEC etc., started worrying IBM, and then when they started looking at the Japanese research labs, they were very applied. So they changed in the early ‘80s. We took until maybe the late ‘80s before we started—
Hochheiser:Well, that’s really getting ahead. I think we do need to spend— but back in the ’60s and ‘70s, it was—
Brinkman:Very much viewed as long-term research is what the researcher’s mission was, and we hired the very best researchers. We didn’t look for people who were particularly interested in applied things. After all, I spent my career on Helium III, and it’s absolutely useless, but it was interesting physics.
Hochheiser:And there was clearly support for this as the appropriate mission for Area 11 up the ladder?
Brinkman:Absolutely. In fact, I remember, at one stage, Al Clogston, our director back then, when I was still a MTS, was talking about creating a second theory group. He thought they should expand further. You look back and you’re thinking, “Oh my god! Not a direction we could sustain.” But, you know, it was a very different time. But we had just an enormous amount of fun. I always look back at that time as being— for me, it was a tremendous privilege to have been a part of that, because just look at the list of people I just rattled off. But the experimental side was the same way. There was Doug Osheroff, there was Peter Eisenberg, Bob Birgeneas, and Bob Dynes, Jim Allen—there was just a whole host of really excellent people. And our whole social life, our whole life was centered around Bell Laboratories. We didn’t have much to do with the local community. And the other thing, it was a very international community, so that also made it very much fun to be a part of. I look back and I feel that that was one of the privileged things in my life was to have been a part of that era.
Hochheiser:And you didn’t just work with these people. These were the people you spent your leisure time with as well.
Brinkman:Absolutely. We went to dinner parties and everything, you know. Marrice Rice and Helen Rice are good friends to this day. We just got back from visiting them in Switzerland. Patrick Lee is the same way. Don Hamann, we just saw them on Sunday night. These people we’ve known for years and years now. It’s the way it was. I find it interesting because I think it’s kind of a unique thing, to have that kind of relationship and have a community that’s that focused on an institution. It’s a different kind of thing.
Hochheiser:And the privilege to be able to devote all your time to just basic research with a great environment and great colleagues.
Brinkman:It was the most wonderful period, and it’s not likely to get repeated any time soon.
Hochheiser:No, no. How was research funded?
Brinkman:It was a very interesting thing. The budget was decided by the head of AT&T at the time.
Hochheiser:So that would go all the way up to the Senior Manager—?
Brinkman:The CEO of AT&T would decide and budget Bell Labs research. You see, there was a very nice thing about the Bell Systems, and that was that the FCC had agreed that the Bell System would make 12% over its expenses. We were an expense, and so it really didn’t hurt them to spend money on us. I mean, everything is within limits. But during those years, they were very, very supportive of research. In fact, research got well supported until Lucent hit the skids, and that’s when things really changed. Bob Allen as CEO always saw to it that he gave us a decent budget. Not outrageous. They didn’t let us grow. Bell Laboratories Research was 1300 people in the early ‘60s when I arrived; it was 1300 people in 1995. The only hiccup on that was in the first separation of AT&T in ’84, they let the research area expand so that whenever the Bellcore people were taken out, it would be back to the size it’d always been. So we grew for a few years there, but that was the only time I remember a big growth in research. So they regulated it in that sense, but they saw to it that we were well supported.
Hochheiser:And the support went all the way up to the very top of the corporation, and then from there down.
Brinkman:Right, right. So it was a great era. There was no question.
Hochheiser:And then within research, where was the decision made— you were talking, there were four groups in Area 11 and various departments under that.
Brinkman:No, no, the structure was four divisions, and then like in our Physics Divisions, there were three directors and then a bunch of departments, three or four or five departments under each one of the directorates. I had the sort of middle director group and Kumar Patel had the Physical Sciences, which was a traditional basic research area in physics, and then Joe Giordmaine had all the III-V semiconductor research. The silicon research was all in the applied area, but the gallium arsenide research was a separate laboratory that Joe Giordmaine was running in those days. And they did a lot of beautiful things. That’s where MBE started and all this multi-layer research that has an enormous number of publications over the years and a Nobel Prize of course, and Störmer and colleagues. So that was a very, very advanced group that did a lot of good research in applications as well. But it was an interesting time because they worked very hard on gallium arsenide lasers.
It’s an interesting story. They spent years trying to perfect gallium arsenide lasers, and gallium arsenide lasers always had this thing called the Dark Line Defects, which would grow as a function of time, so there was a huge amount of work trying to understand why these things failed. So then along came optical fiber in the late ‘70s, and it turns out that if you look at the loss of optical fibers, the loss has a minimum of 1.5 microns, and gallium arsenide lasers were .98 microns. So all of a sudden, the guys who were doing systems engineering were saying, “Hey, boys, we need lasers at 1.5, not .98,” and so we had to go to indium phosphide lasers, and the people in the gallium arsenide world just groaned because they’d worked so hard. And yet what happened, it turned out that for some strange reason, indium phosphide materials were much more forgiving than gallium arsenide and it was easier to make lasers with it. It’s amazing how these things work out sometimes. That was the late ‘70s. It was a very active time. Of course, all through the ‘70s, the materials guys were working on improving optical fibers. They were competing with Corning.
Hochheiser:You said somewhere there is some related research that I guess then died such as the millimeter wave guide research.
Brinkman:Oh yes, the famous millimeter wave. I remember once we went to see the millimeter wave so-called factory, and walked in there and every post where they did something that produced these things had a big chart to explain what they were doing, and you look at this and you say, “This is not a factory. This is a showcase,” and that’s all it was.
Hochheiser:Where was this?
Brinkman:It was out in the middle of New Jersey somewhere. I don’t remember where exactly. But they built this small factory for this thing and, of course, it wasn’t going anywhere, and then fiber just wiped it out in no time. Technologies sometimes lose, right!
Hochheiser:How was the research budget divided? What areas were the decisions made and what areas were supported and what groups would be—?
Brinkman:That was one of the interesting things about the lab. As a manager, you had a fair bit of power. The Vice President of Research got this budget and he could divide it the way he wanted, so he was king as far as where the money went. I mean, he obviously had a whole bunch of employees that he had to pay salaries and all that sort of thing, so he couldn’t just arbitrarily give it out. But it was his control, and he divvied out the budget to the various four divisions and each Division Executive Director had to decide how to divide up the money. Obviously, the way you work that is you take care of the fundamentals, the salaries and overhead and then you keep some back and try to figure out what you want to change, push directions by using some of the excess money.
But it all flowed down. The Labs was an interesting place because it was arrogant in some sense, in the sense that the management philosophy was to not only just hire really good people at the bottom but to promote people who were good scientists, so the view was that then you let them make judgments. And we didn’t have advisory committees or any of that sort of thing.
Hochheiser:So promoting people from being researchers to being research managers?
Brinkman:Right, and the research manager was expected to be a very good researcher and have very good judgment from a research point of view, and that way— I never had an advisory committee ever come into Bell Laboratories that I’m aware of. We just didn’t do that sort of thing. We felt we had competent managers and managers that could figure out what was going on, and that was it.
Hochheiser:Well, that’s a good question from your personal experiences, the jump from being a researcher to being a research manager while continuing to be a researcher. Because managing people, you’re well aware, is a different skill set from being a skilled scientist.
Brinkman:Right. Well, look. When you appoint somebody to management, you take that into account. You can’t ignore—There are a lot of researchers that have lousy people skills, and you don’t make those people managers. If you do, you’ll get burned, and I did it once in my life and I’ll always regretted it. But you’ve got to learn that. And you can tell. I mean, there are people who know how to get along with others and there are people who don’t. That’s doesn’t exclude them from being good scientists. And it was interesting because I think that was one of the differences I noticed when I went to the National Laboratories, the ability of the managers, the scientific quality of the management. It was much higher at Bell Labs than it was at most laboratories. The national laboratories’ directors, first of all, because they were DOE laboratories, they had a lot more paperwork and bureaucracy, and that includes crap that took up your time so they had less time to stay on top of the research being done.
Hochheiser:A question that always has interested me is, clearly there’s a clear career path from researcher to research manager, very much, if you look at what your career path looks like. But then how do you reward people who are really good scientists for whom that’s not the right path?
Brinkman:There used to always be this kind of parallel track type of concept. Phil Anderson is a classic example. He was a director-level; he was paid as though he were a director two levels up in management, so we treated these people as special cases. They treated him special. There was this famous guy named John Tukey. He was treated very, very special all the time. And always had ways of doing that. You know, there was this guy who did zone refining, that was very, very important, and they basically let him do whatever he wanted. He was not even an MTS when he did zone refining. He was an associate member, a technical support guy, but after he invented zone refining, they just gave him a blank check and would let him do whatever he chose for his next–twenty years.
Hochheiser:Was this PFann?
Brinkman:Yes, PFann. He was around Bell Laboratories for 20 or 30 years and just did what he wanted to do.
Hochheiser:Two researchers that always come to my mind when I look at that are Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. They did joint work which led to their Nobel Prize, and then if you—
Brinkman:Bob Wilson never had a bit of interest in management. He just wasn’t interested. And Arno was much more a people person. He really liked interacting with people, so he was more an actual manager for sure, and he’s certainly an interesting guy to work with. I always admired Arno in many ways. There are people at Princeton that did not admire his work. Dicky was here and Dicky was the guy who was getting ready to do the experiment when Arno and Wilson did it first, so they’d always been kind of bitter about that. But, you know, after they did that experiment, Arno did a lot of very good astrophysics. I mean, he did a lot of good research. I’ve looked at his papers and some of them are very nice papers. So he established himself as a legitimate scientist without question, and it wasn’t just a fluke or something like that, it was the real thing.
Hochheiser:And I think, as you were pointing out more generally, one could not become as successful a manager in Bell Labs without being a good researcher first.
Brinkman:That’s right, and I think Arno would characterize that very well. I worked for him for about five years, reported to him for six years, maybe. It was an interesting time.
Hochheiser:Circling back around to the earlier parts in your career, once again, what were the record-keeping practices at the Labs as a researcher, your record-keeping practices? I know everyone was issued a lab notebook.
Brinkman:I was the worst kind of person because I very seldom used my lab notebook. But as a manager, of course, anything you wrote was kept on file and I’m sure they’re somewhere in archives these days. So as a manager there was no question about keeping close records. That was for sure. But for my own personal research, I nearly never was very good at keeping personal records of exactly what I did every day or anything like that. I certainly had papers and reprints and all that sort of thing, but I didn’t really keep an accurate log of events. I didn’t write a lot of patents in my career. Other people did. I wrote a few, but not many, so if you’d really been much more into patents, then you really need to be careful. That’s a whole different thing, because the notebook notification is tremendously important. So in my theoretical world it wasn’t something that you worried a lot about. I did two or three patents in my life, but I was doing it with somebody else who was much more into patents and we made sure we put it in his notebook!
Hochheiser:This is just broadly dealing, I guess, from your first 15 years or so at Bell Labs. Were you aware of any tensions between various organizations within the labs or between the labs and other parts of the institution?
Brinkman:Well, there were always some of these kind of competitive things going on between the divisions in research, between the directors. I mean, when a good candidate came around, it could really get to be a dogfight.
Hochheiser:Different groups would fight over one candidate?
Brinkman:One candidate, sure. I mean, I even got in some real dog-eat-dog fights with Kumar Patel once in a while over good candidates. But I always thought that it clearly was a very competitive thing. After all, getting good people was the name of the game. So you really were trying all the time to hire the very best, and when a really outstanding candidate came along, there was a lot of interest. That was always one of the main things, competing over candidates. And to some extent, competing over money, trying to get your boss fund more of your activities. But that was much more subtle. The labs, when you were establishing budgets, you didn’t tell the other guy what you gave this guy, right, so you didn’t give them a clue as to what was going on in the other places, so that was not such a competitive thing. But the competition with people was clearly a big thing. That went on pretty intensely.
Hochheiser:So a related question, then, is the external relations, relations with physicists elsewhere, both in academics and in IBM and other industrial research labs.
Brinkman:I think we’ve certainly regarded it as a competition, right? I mean, you wanted to be top dog. You wanted Bell Labs to be the best, and so we really did regard that as competition, and I think everybody does. I mean, somehow or another I think people may have taken a different attitude these days, but I don’t really believe so. They still want their research to be the best and published before anybody else and all that sort of thing. And it was. We were really very competitive, so we were careful about interacting with people. But I don’t know what else to expect. It’s just human nature and the way it should be, I think.
Hochheiser:Did you bring a lot of people in to visit and give talks and stuff like that?
Brinkman:Oh, yeah. I used to claim that you could become a professional talk-goer if you wanted to in Bell Labs, because there’s so damn many seminars every day that you could just go all day long if you wanted to, from one to the next. You just had to temper that. That was the nice part; there’s a lot of people. I mean, it was a standard stopping off point for people in the field. They came there whenever they went to the states, in particular. It was just outside of New York so it was easy to go to so we had an awful lot of visitors. And we also had a lot of people come for the summer and for sabbatical so we had a lot of people in and out of the place.
Hochheiser:So the labs would offer summer fellowships and sabbatical support?
Brinkman:Yes. We could arrange partial support and that sort of thing. That was all possible. And we always had a flow of post-docs. I was a post-doc. It so happened that I got to stay, but a lot of post-docs went through that didn’t stay and went off.
Hochheiser:In some cases, they may have chosen not to stay.
Brinkman:The famous one, of course, is Bob Laughlin. The theory group decided not to keep him and he went on, of course, in a big time way. But just a lot of flow-through. And that’s good. It keeps the place dynamic.
Hochheiser:Yeah, and make sure that you’re not becoming isolated.
Hochheiser:And on the other side, did you or your colleagues do much in the other direction of going out and spending time giving talks elsewhere?
Brinkman:Talks, we gave lots and lots of talks. I used to try to limit it to one a month. But I think during those years in the ‘70s, I probably went to Cornell every year and gave a talk up there at some stage or another. But an awful lot of talks and invited papers and invited talks at various meetings and all that sort of thing, so we did a lot on that. Of course, that was some competition all the time. To get invited talks at the American Physical Society March Meeting was a big plum that people wanted and tried to get. A lot of that kind of thing went on. We went to many international conferences and gave talks so we were really very much involved in the community as a whole. And you know, it wasn’t so long after that period that I started getting involved more and more with the American Physical Society, and then did things in the various committees in Washington. By the ‘80s, we were doing a physics survey.
In fact, what year was that? Oh, that must have been the late ‘70s. No, that was a Reagan year. I’m sorry. There was this famous incident when Marty Bloom and I were actually co-chairmen of the Solid State Sciences Committee, and we along with the Materials Board decided to start having a two-day meeting in Washington, a sort of update to solid state physics community on what’s going on in Washington and invite various people there. The very first one of these we held was when Jay Keyworth was a Presidential Science Advisor, and Jay Keyworth had gotten together with Dave Shirley and decided to create this big materials lab at Berkeley and build this small synchrotron and all this stuff that was going to cost a huge amount of money. And nobody in the community had heard about it. So we organized this two-day session and we invite Jay Keyworth and Dave Shirley to come tell us about it. Well, it turns out that—we didn’t anticipate this at all—it turns out that the community was just absolutely infuriated because they had never heard about this thing, and all of a sudden this huge, hundred-million-dollar project was going to happen in their community. And I’ll always remember, Jay Keyworth, as he’s walking out of the Academy building, tells me, he said, “You know, if you guys kill this project, I’m never going to give this community another cent.” And, of course, what happened is the community reaction was huge. We didn’t control it or anything like that. The community reaction was just enormous, and it did kill the project. And he never forgave us for that one. But we didn’t really do it on purpose. But they eventually got their synchrotron out there anyway. That must have been early ‘80s, ’81, ’82, somewhere right there.
Hochheiser:Circling back around to the ‘70s, if you don’t mind, as a historian, I tend to think somewhat chronologically. All of these things that we’re jumping through are important things, and it’s not really important whether things are going in a strictly chronological order. When your first promotion came in ’72, you were now based in Holmdel?
Hochheiser:To what extent was Holmdel a different environment? I spent enough time in both buildings to know physically they’re different.
Brinkman:They’re different. But it was a very different environment. Holmdel, the laboratory down there was part of the Communications division, one of the lab’s communications divisions, and they were really an optics lab. When I went down there in ’72 to ’74, it was really very much oriented towards lasers and things like that and integrated optics, all that kind of stuff. I had a group that was actually doing some work on the indium phosphide lasers at that stage. You see, that was very early on before fiber really got mature enough to think it was real. It was just beginning to be thought of as something that was going to happen. But they were an absolutely first-rate optics lab. They were doing pico-second spectroscopy and stuff like that, and guys like Art Ashkin and Jim Gordon were down there. Kumar Patel was the director; he was my boss at the time. But that group was really a first-rate group in the world of lasers and optics and just very impressive. Of course, I was kind of a lame duck in that group because I was not an expert on optics, so I was scrambling to learn optics.
Hochheiser:How did you end up in charge of that group?
Brinkman:Well, it was the semiconductor aspect of it that I do, so we were the semiconductor part of this whole optics group down there. I learned a lot in the two years I was there and met a bunch of people. Jim Gordon was just extraordinary—a very, very, very special physicist, in my opinion; and Art Ashkin was the same way. These guys were very solid and innovative physics people, and weren’t the excitable types. They really just kept doing good things. There were other people down there with them. There was another guy who actually was one of these guys that got promoted to be up high because he was so good. He went off to Stanford after a while. I cannot think of his name. But he was just an excellent engineer and scientist, and I enjoyed talking to him all the time. That was all good. It was an interesting experience, and interesting time, and it helped me mature, I think.
Hochheiser:In what ways?
Brinkman:Well, it was very much a broadening experience because I had been focused on theoretical physics and really basically didn’t look at any of the applied world, so here this is my first time that I started thinking about applying things at all.
Hochheiser:So now that you’re in Area 11, you’re in a part that’s looking at the interface with applied physics.
Brinkman:Yes, right. They were, of course, in the communications organization of research. They were there to do communications research, which by its very nature, was more applied. But they didn’t have any development projects, that were marching to a schedule or anything like that, but they were interested in optical communications. Of course, they became the center of optical communications from a systems point of view and to some extent from the device point of view. Not from the fiber point of view. The fiber was being done in the materials organization. All that research was going on all through the ‘70s, so this was sort of the beginning period of that. The group had been moved down to Holmdel so that they would be closer to the transmission people in the development area; that was the idea.
Hochheiser:Was that the only part of Area 11 that was in Holmdel?
Brinkman:Well, of the whole communication division, there were three different directorates, yes, that was the only part that was in Holmdel.
Hochheiser:Because certainly I always associated Area 11 with Murray Hill.
Brinkman:Well, no, Arno Penzias, for instance, did his work down there.
Hochheiser:He did his work in Holmdel.
Brinkman:Crawford Hill over near Holmdel. There always was that— this guy’s name I was trying to think of was Rudy Kompfner, and Rudy was the one who took the division down there. He liked the idea of some isolation, so he originally took his division down to Crawford Hill and liked the idea that he didn’t have so many people running around and he could have kind of a quiet place to work, and he got away with it. I’m always amazed that he got away with that, but he did. So they worked down at Crawford Hill, and then this group was moved to Holmdel when it was built, so he had his whole division down there. Rudy was a tremendous guy. But Rudy was not a manager. He just was interested in science and technology, and he didn’t give a hoot about doing the everyday management things. He just neglected it. In fact, it’s a great story. Apparently, going to merit review, he was telling Bill Baker about one of the guys who was working for him and he was reading off a sheet, and Bill Baker finally says to him, “You know, Rudy, I think I heard that last year,” and sure enough, he had last year’s books! It was a different era back then, I tell you. Much more relaxed than it was later.
Hochheiser:I gather you managed to make the transition to managing research a bit more— I don’t know what’s the correct adjective, but compared to the experience you’ve described of Rudy Kompfner.
Brinkman:Yes, well, I guess I will always think back on the most dramatic thing that happened to me when I first got into research management at the director level. It was the first time, and all of a sudden the budget got cut and we had a few too many people, and so I was told to figure out who I was going to get rid of. I never had to do that before in my life. I always remember that was a shock to me, to have to do that to our professional staff, to try to figure out who we might send off somewhere. And we did it, but I must admit it took me a while to get over it. But then later in life I got so that I understood much better this issue, and what I gradually learned to appreciate is if somebody is not working out at your institution, the first thing you have to recognize is that this person’s not necessarily a bad person or anything like that, but somehow or another the match between this institution and him is not good. And the best thing you can do for the guy is to tell him to go. I’ve done that many times, and I actually have watched people go someplace else and become quite successful, and they weren’t doing well in Bell Labs. So you learn as a manager that you take these things in stride.
Hochheiser:So when you got promoted again in ’74, now, did you go back to Murray Hill at that time?
Brinkman:Yes, I went back to Murray Hill. So I was only at Holmdel for two years. When I came back from the six months at Denmark, I decided I had to move or something because I was driving back and forth all the time and it was wasting too much time.
Hochheiser:You were living up near Murray Hill?
Brinkman:Up near Murray Hill, and so I decided that I had to do something. I was going to either transfer back to Murray Hill or going to move to Holmdel. Well, then this opportunity came and it was sort of an automatic thing.
Hochheiser:Now, was this directly vertical? That is, do you now have the lab that you had as a director still under you?
Brinkman:No. The department I had at Holmdel was at Holmdel and I took a different set of departments. In fact, Gunther, Wertheim, and Walter Brown were already there. Peter Eisenberger and Bob Dynes were not department heads, and I rearranged things so they became department heads in my group, and so I had a good set of department heads.
Hochheiser:But a different research area. You were not involved with communications research.
Brinkman:Right. But in that laboratory, Peter hired Dave Moncton, who was very excellent, in my opinion. Steve Chu was hired into that laboratory back in those days. He didn’t do his Nobel work until he got to Holmdel, but went to Holmdel as department head, did his Nobel Prize-winning work, but he was hired into that laboratory. So we hired a fair number of very excellent people over the seventies.
Hochheiser:How many professionals did you have there?
Brinkman:It must have been 60 or 70, somewhere around there, I would guess. Maybe a little more. I don’t remember the exact number.
Hochheiser:But you continued to maintain your own research program?
Brinkman:To what extent? As a director?
Hochheiser:As you moved up, to what extent does the amount of time you have for various activities change?
Brinkman:Well, what happened is, as a director, it was getting a little harder, but I was doing all this Helium III super-fluid work, and that was sort of easy to continue. And I had a post-doc of my own that I worked with, a guy named Mike Cross. And we wrote some review articles, we wrote some more articles on that, Henrik Smith came and visited during that period. And then I got into liquid crystals a bit and I wrote some papers with Pat Clades. Phil and I wrote a paper with Sal Meiboom on Blue Phases. So we did some liquid crystal research.
Clearly, the longer you stayed in the director’s job, the harder it was to continue research. The difficulty is you can stay doing research in an area which you know, but to go off and find a new area, which is what you would do as an MTS every four or five years, is very hard when you’re trying to manage a lab at the same time. But, I wrote papers with some of the people. I won’t name names, but there was one person whose paper I was always sure would not be quite correct, and so I would always read it carefully, and I ended up publishing several papers with the person because as his manager I would correct his paper for him. And so it was that kind of thing. I got very interested, of course, in a lot of the science that was going on under me.
Hochheiser:Sure, sure. So in a way it becomes much more indirect.
Brinkman:It became more indirect. That’s right. But it seemed to me I was having as much fun in those days as I had when I was an MTS, to tell the truth. It was always interesting, the whole issue of directions and that sort of thing. And all the time you’re sort of broadening yourself. Of course, I can’t remember exactly, but somewhere in there they sent me off to management school. This was an interesting story. I can tell you that story. They had a management school. It was called Bell System Advanced Management Course.
Hochheiser:So this was not just Bell Labs; this was people from all over the Bell system?
Brinkman:All over the Bell system and all kinds of people. And they had it at the University of Illinois, of all places, for a month. You went out there and you stayed out there, and you were out there seven days a week and you were working seven days a week. I always remember we arrived out there on a Sunday. We were supposed to be there by noon on Sunday, the first day. This was basically a business school type course. In business school they have all these case studies And so the first thing we had to do that afternoon was to discuss a case we had been given before we arrived. I always remember this because it’s so funny.
The case was a case of a guy who in the early ‘50s was a chemist, and realized that you could transport things like hairspray in a spray can. And this was a novel thing, the idea of a spray can with compressed air that would–spray hair and spray paint. So he established a factory in which he would package your product in spray cans. So he was doing very well. His factory and his business had grown to something like $50 million a year, and the story was that at that point he began to realize that spray cans were going to be really common things and all the major companies were going to have their own spray cans, and his factory was eventually going to lose. So he was trying to figure out what to do. So the case was that he went to Harvard Business School and said, “Hey, here’s my situation. What the hell do I do?” And the Harvard Business School talked him into hiring this young man from out of Harvard Business School to come to try to figure this thing out. So the question was, “What should he do?” So I always remember, here was this guy from Wharton Business School standing up there in front of class, and so I raise my hand. I say, “He hired the wrong guy,” and the guy looks at me and says, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, he should have hired a chemist. He needs a new product, for god’s sake!” So here’s this Wharton Business School guy, and I always wondered what he thought when I said that.
Anyway, so what happened is the class went on and he wrote this on the board and he wrote other suggestions on the board, so then we had a vote, and my chemist won! So I always remember, that was my first introduction to business school stuff. But actually, it was a very worthwhile course. It taught me to have some appreciation for marketing and other business activities of things that I just really had not paid much attention to before. So that was part of maturing Bill Brinkman. Very different.
Hochheiser:I suppose another thing you probably got out of it was just the exposure to people from different parts of the Bell system.
Brinkman:Oh, they were from everywhere. There was a lawyer from San Antonio, Texas. There were people from everywhere, Mississippi and all kinds of places. Some of them later did well. This course was only supposed to be the cream of the crop, so some of them showed up at fairly high levels at AT&T as a function of time, but a lot of them didn’t. It was interesting how that all worked.
Hochheiser:Who did you report to at the labs during this period from ’74 to ’80?
Brinkman:Al Clogsten was my boss the whole time, and he was Executive Director of the Physical Sciences area. And he reported for many of the years to Bruce Hannay, and then toward the end it was Arno[Penzias]. Of course, Bruce had followed Bill Baker. Bill Baker had been there. Bill was an amazing guy. He was really a very hard-nosed guy in many, many ways. He really knew what he was doing. He kept track of everybody in research. I mean, he just kept track of what’s going on. When he was Vice President of Research, you got the feeling that if you didn’t look good to him, you were in trouble. He kept close tabs on what was going on, very close tabs. I think Arno never kept that—although he did pretty well, but he didn’t keep that close a tab. But Arno was a very dynamic guy. He was the Vice President of Research. I guess he must have become Vice President of Research about 1980, I’m guessing. I think that’s right. I forget the dates.
Hochheiser:That’s certainly something that’s easy enough to look up.
Brinkman:Yes. And then Al Clogsten retired at ’82, and then Kumar got his job and I took Kumar’s job in the Physical Sciences. I was there from ’82 to ’84 and then went to Sandia.
Hochheiser:I’ll keep circling around this in regard to different topics. During the years of the Cold War, which is what you were talking about, Bell Labs also got an awful lot of funding from the DOD for military things.
Brinkman:Yes, but that wasn’t research.
Hochheiser:That’s what I was going to ask you. Did that touch— I know a lot of that is development of missile guidance systems and things that would be very–apptieds
Brinkman:—military work going on in Whippany, New Jersey, didn’t touch us very much except in one way, and that is in the ’72-’74 time period, there was this great debate over anti-ballistic missile defense. It was called ABM in those days; later in became SDI but in those days it was called ABM. And it was interesting because what happened was a lot of us felt the idea that you could make an anti-ballistic missile defense system work was just nonsense, and so a group that was opposed to the ABM came to us and said, “Would you guys be willing to sign a petition that’s against the ABM?” And we didn’t think much of it; there must have been 50 of us from the research area, or more, that signed this petition. Well, a week later, in the Washington Post, comes up a full-page advertisement that says, “Look who’s opposed to the ABM. The people who built it.” And, of course, the people on the list were all of us guys from research who had nothing to do with the ABM, but we were from Bell Laboratories, and of course, Bell Laboratories had built the proposed system. Let me tell you, that was as close as we all came to getting fired! That was a very close call. But somehow or another—I think Al Clogsten basically put his body on the line. He basically said, “Look, if you fire these guys, I’m going too, and a lot of others are going to go in research,” and so they backed off, but they were very unhappy about that.
Hochheiser:Did they tell you, “Don’t do this again”?
Brinkman:Well, you know, they were very polite about it, but they were emphatic about the fact that they were unhappy with us [laughter]. But, you know, we pleaded innocence and we claimed. We had been told that these signatures would simply be used in a legitimate fashion. That was certainly not a legitimate fashion, so we were pretty upset about the fact that it had been used this way too! After all, that wasn’t exactly what we intended. So that was somewhere in the early ‘70s. That was ’72, ’74.
And the other thing on the Cold War side of the things,’78, when Elihu Abrahams and I were supposed to head a theoretical group to go to Moscow for a two-week or three-week workshop with the theoretical people in the Soviet Union, and it was going to be a big thing—a lot of people were coming and that sort of thing. But this was in May. I’ll always remember, because on Thursday, before we were all supposed to leave on Friday, there was this guy, Y. Orlov he was a human rights guy who got sentenced to Siberia for 25 years or some god awful sentence, and this was the second or third of these things. So all of a sudden, on Thursday morning, I started getting all these phone calls. “I don’t want to go. Look what these guys are doing. We’re condoning their behavior.” So all day Thursday we tried to figure out what to do, and everybody was calling us and we talked to the head of the National Academy who was paying for this thing. Finally, we canceled the trip. And, of course, this made the headlines on the front page of the New York Times. So all day Friday I was getting every reporter in the world calling me up.
So Friday night I was talking to my wife. I said, “Let’s get the hell out of here. I don’t want to be anywhere near these phones.” So we went out to our summer house in Long Island, but we’d done one thing that was kind of interesting. We had left David Pines—David Pines was always a big instigator of the Soviet interactions, and he and his wife had decided to take a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad to get to this conference, so he was the only one of us who we couldn’t stop because he was somewhere–in Siberia.
Hochheiser:He was already in the Soviet Union somewhere on this Trans-Siberian Railroad?
Brinkman:So this poor guy arrives in Moscow and discovers that we’re cancelled, so he’s pretty livid. So he somehow or another got my phone out at the beach and called me up, and I’ll always remember this conversation because he would ask me a question and I would hear this “click, click, click, click,” and then I would answer, and when I was finished answering, he would no longer be there. So then I’d wait a little while and it’d be, “click, click, click, click,” and he would come back on and ask me another question. And I’ll always look at that conversation and say, “Wow, I never had a conversation more recorded by more people than that one.”
But anyway, that got canceled, and it was three years before we could reconstitute the meeting, and we went eventually. That must have been ’75 or something, because in ’78 we went to Lake Sevan in Armenia and had a three-week workshop there with the Russians, and that worked out very nicely. So that was one of my first ventures into national politics.
Hochheiser:The conference that came off in ’78, was this Bell Labs people or people from all across the United States?
Brinkman:Oh, no, no. This was a US Delegation.
Hochheiser:So the US Delegation meeting with a delegation of Soviet physicists?
Brinkman:Absolutely, absolutely. Patrick Lee was at Bell Labs at the time, and he did a very important paper with Boris Alschuler [?] at that meeting, and we learned all about some theories by Scklovskii and Efres that was very important news at the meeting. So it turned out to be a pretty good meeting, I think, and of course the Russians loved it because they were all down in Armenia where it’s warm, right? In September, Moscow’s already getting cold. So that was a very interesting experience. A lot of different things happened.
I remember one occasion, a Saturday, and we were out at Lake Sevan, which is about an hour out of Yerevan. So everybody wanted to go to Yerevan to the city, and so the Russians all were going to go an art museum because they thought this art museum was really great. The Americans all said, “Oh, no, we want to go walk around.” But I was head of the delegation, so I felt obligated to go with the Russians to their art museum. I’ll always remember this museum because we walked in, and, of course, the first 10, 20 paintings were these very Russian things, you know, military type things and that sort of thing, and I thought, “Wow, okay. This is what they’re here for?” Then as we walked back the paintings started getting more interesting. I’ll always remember there was one painting where it looked like a party meeting and the people had their hands up, but there was just the clothes and the bodies weren’t there and it was called “The Neutron Bomb.” I thought, “Whoa, that’s kind of interesting.” I remember another painting in which there was this ape sitting there, clearly in a cell, and he had an iron ring around his neck and a chain hooked to it and he had this one green leaf and he was biting on this thing and he had this look in his eyes; you’d just see this thing was dreaming about being let free. So I thought, “Wow, this is pretty interesting.”
So I walked out and I’ll always remember I walked out with Kolatnikov, and Kolatnikov says to me, “See, Bill, we allow a lot of freedom in our art,” and I said, “Yeah, I guess you do.” So Karkoff was staying back because he was reading the guest book of people that signed, and he comes out and he says, “Oh, you know, it’s really amazing.” He says, “There’s not a negative comment in that guest book anywhere on this museum.” He says, “If this museum had been in Moscow, it’d have been closed in two weeks.” So I found that dichotomy, the two—Actually, it seemed to me they were both right in some sense, right? After all, it was being allowed. It happened to be in Armenia, but it was allowed. But it wouldn’t have been allowed in Moscow. It was fascinating. So I found it very interesting, that whole thing. They were, of course, very unhappy with us when we canceled. It caused a lot of grief for them actually, because it wasn’t easy for them to recover and start the program up again because the bureaucrats were pretty mad.
Hochheiser:Any other things notable from the ‘70s that we haven’t touched upon?
Brinkman:I don’t know what would be. No, I think we just about covered it. During that whole period of time, the super-fluid Helium III and getting sorted out, there were so many good experiments on it and theory that we worked out together. That was tremendous fun. Doug Osheroff and I, when we were there and we worked together, with he and Mike Cross, Daniel Fischer, Phil Anderson, that was a lot of fun, those days. We did a lot of work together, we wrote lots of papers and Phys Rev letters and reviews and everything else. That was a major activity, the biggest activity in theory during the ‘70s . And in fact, the almost localized theory of Helium III was something that I did in those days, and there just was a wealth of research that we could do in that subject, and the subject sort of died after that because it didn’t lead to other things. It got pretty well worked out by the late ‘70s and was well understood. We understood what the AMB phases were; we understood the super-fluid properties and the NMR properties. We really understood all these things in great detail. And it was fun because, in fact, you could calculate things and predictions would come out exactly right, and so that was always an interesting thing to do. So that was, without a doubt, when I look back on my career at who I worked with, working with Marrice Rice and working with Doug Osheroff and the group, Henrik Smith, all the people that got associated with Helium III, those were really two big, exciting times from a research point of view for me. It was a very, very important time. Well, that’s, of course, also where I made my reputation. But that was really good. Doug is still a very good friend. Again, I go back to that relationships.
Hochheiser:We talked about doing the calculations and having them come right. Imagine the evolution in computing equipment from your days at Missouri to the late ‘70s.
Brinkman:Actually, these things in helium were not computer intensive. When I first got to Bell Labs we did various computing things, and some of the stuff we did on electron-hole drops in silicon and germanium, that required a fair bit of computing work. But I never really went back to doing a lot of computing after my thesis. In fact, I didn’t want to. I thought theoretical physics shouldn’t be doing a lot of computing, but nowadays everybody does at times. So I stayed away from computing, in fact, to a large extent after that, but I did a lot of analytic work. That was the great thing about Helium III—you could do analytic calculations.
Hochheiser:The calculations were not so complex as to drive you to the latest computing technology.
Brinkman:No. No, they weren’t that way. That was the nice part. You could understand it in a very classic way. So that’s really I think about it for the ‘70s.
Hochheiser:So in 1981 you get promoted again?
Brinkman:No, no, no. That was a lateral.
Hochheiser:That was a lateral. Okay. These things aren’t always clear when you just look at them listed in the biography.
Brinkman:Right, that was a lateral. I went over and took the Physical Sciences organization, which is a bigger laboratory and had the theory group and things like that. I’d never had the theory group under me before.
Hochheiser:So you’re now finally back over in charge of the group that you started out with.
Brinkman:Right. That was the first time. And I only did that for two years, it turns out, or somewhere in there. Two and a half years. But it was a different time. The laboratory was excellent. The laboratory had many good people in it. Phil Platsman was a department head there, Mike Grimes was a department head, and Doug Osheroff eventually became a department head. Who else was in there at the time? There was a materials group that was headed up— by Bob Dynes and the theory group by Patrick Lee. Stan Geschwin and Angelo Lamol were also Dept. heads. At this time, Peter Eisenberger had left Bell Labs and he had gone to Exxon, so he wasn’t there anymore. There’s a sequence of events there that I’m a little foggy on.
Brinkman:Who headed that group? I don’t remember who headed that group either. That’s interesting.
Hochheiser:That’s the sort of thing that one can look up.
Brinkman:We could easily look that up. I’ve got all kinds of organization charts.
Hochheiser:That’s certainly not important. So, now, as Director of the Physical Research Laboratory, did you have more people under you now?
Brinkman:Yes, somewhat. Not a lot, but somewhat more. There were probably 90 or a 100 people in those days.
Hochheiser:Versus about 60??
Brinkman:60, 70 people. It was that kind of thing. So it was a few more people, and the whole thing got rearranged. Kumar took Al’s job and Joe Giordmaine went over to applied areas, and John Rorrell took my job and Vinki Narayanmurti took Joe Giordmaine’s job. So it was a different era during that period of time and it worked out okay, but a different group of people. But it wasn’t that long before I went on to Sandia.
Hochheiser:So by this time, when you go over to the physical research lab, is your helium work now about finished?
Brinkman:That’s pretty close to finished. We’re still doing some things, but it’s getting long in the tooth at that stage.
Hochheiser:So then at this point, were you pretty much exclusively doing management and administration?
Brinkman:More or less. I’d done some liquid crystal work, in fact in some sense, moving over there really attenuated to the research part of my life, because in the previous laboratory I had all experimental people and no theorists really, and so I often helped these experimentalists with theoretical work. But in this laboratory I had a big theory group, and they didn’t need any help and they were certainly taking care of all the experimental research support. So my opportunities to do personal research were, in fact, somewhat less in this case than they had been in the other case, so I just did less. The other thing that was happening was I was getting more and more involved with the national scene in various studies.
Hochheiser:Government committees, or??
Brinkman:Mostly NRC [National Research Council] committees. Some government committees, but mostly NRC committees. As I told you, the solid state sciences committee was one in those days. I’d go back through a whole pile of studies that we did over the many years, and there was a series of studies of neutron scattering capabilities, the first one around 1980, that I headed. That was a famous one because we recommended shutting down the Argonne pulsed neutron source. Argonne never did forgive us for that.
Hochheiser:I’m assuming that was not accepted.
Brinkman:That was clearly not accepted. But it was interesting because the committee was set up in a way that it had no choice but to recommend that, because it was told how much money we could spend, and so you had no choice but to cut something out. The Argonne folks were very unhappy about it. They never did close it down. It’s still open to this day. It’s still running. And the fact is that Los Alamos promised that committee a pulse neutron source that they were supposed to build, and that thing was supposed to be done by ’86 or something like that and it never got done. It never did live up to its expectation or what they claimed it was going to do, and that was, of course, one of the reasons we were wrong, was because they didn’t perform the way they should have, so that was not so good.
But that was the first of these neutron scattering committees. I think it was three of them or something like that at the end of the years that reexamined what to do about neutron scattering, and finally settled on the SNS at Oak Ridge, and that’s the one took off. But the intermediate one tried hard to recommend—I wasn’t chairman of the next two, but the intermediate one tried recommend a new reactor at Oak Ridge, and new reactors just weren’t in the cards, just weren’t going to happen, and it didn’t. But, you know, during that period of time I was also on the advisory board of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and had a lot of committee activity, because as part of the management, by doing that, I always felt that I got a better picture of the world that I could bring back and use. So that’s why I did committee work. I think it really was true that it worked that way.
Hochheiser:And the management up the line from you was supportive of your devoting time to these activities?
Brinkman:Yes, and I never even went and asked them. Well, for some of them, they came and asked me to do it—But others, I did what I wanted to do.
So let’s see. It must have been ’82, that we started the physics decadel study. Because that came out in ’86 and I’m sure it was four years, before we finally got it done. That was an enormous amount of work. We got all these subcommittees and put out these eight volumes. You know, it was a lot of work, and it went on until even after I went to Sandia. That was really the hard part. When I got to Sandia, I was in over my head out there and then I was trying to finish the report at the same time.
Hochheiser:I must confess, I’m not familiar with the physics decadel study.
Brinkman:What happened was in the early ‘60s, George Pake had written a report, “This is sort of the status of the field of physics.” And well, in the early ‘60s, it looked like exponential growth was going to go on forever in science. The time it got to the early ‘70s, that was clearly not the case anymore. Worried about the environmental in, the anti-Vietnam activity, and that all lead to a kind of anti-science attitude, an anti-technology attitude. And so Bromley wrote another report, because it was felt that the first one was clearly not what’s going on, so he wrote an extensive report on the status of physics. So by the early ‘80s they were saying, “Well, that was the early ‘70s. early ‘80s, they ought to have another decadal study. And the astronomers had done the same thing. They have this ten year study as well. And so we put ours together and it was seven volumes. It’s sitting over there; all those little white books over there on the shelf above the pictures are it. It had a volume on condensed matter physics, a volume on nuclear physics and particle physics, plasma physics, et cetera. And the people did a pretty good job, and then we wrote an overview volume. So that took four years out of my life.
Hochheiser:While you were doing an awful lot of other things.
Brinkman:The worst time was I went Sandia in ’84, and I didn’t hardly know anybody out there, so all of a sudden I had 1200 people and I was trying to juggle learning what they were doing and stay in hand of that, and so on Sundays I would work on this report.
Hochheiser:Circling back around to the early ‘80s, when did you first become aware of all the legal issues facing the Bell system at the time, the things that would eventually lead to the breakup of the Bell system?
Brinkman:Well, already in the ‘70s, when I went to this management course, it was clear that this was an issue that was happening. I’m trying to remember when that antitrust suit started.
Hochheiser:That was filed in ’74.
Brinkman:’74, so it was already well underway at that stage. And, of course, these things were discussed ad nauseum around the laboratories at lunch, and so we were always aware of the suit. We certainly weren’t aware of what was going to happen. I mean, it was enormous discussion about the fact that— I always remember that era, there was this discussion about Bell Laboratories being the crown jewel of the Bell system, and whatever else this breakup had to do, it had to make sure it didn’t hurt the crown jewel.
I always remember when Arno became Vice President of Research during that period, when this debate was going on strongly, he was quoted, and I always remember this quote. He was quoted as saying that the most important thing in his job is to preserve the research area. And you asked yourself, who was he defending against? Of course, he’s talking about defending against the business side of the company, and that was an attitude which I always look back at and think, “Geez, that was really a product of the time.” The research area was such an independent thing that you really felt that you had to sort of defend it against outsiders. That certainly changed later. But that was the attitude. Here was this crown jewel and Arno was supposed to take care of it and see to it that it didn’t get hurt. I think back on that; it’s amazing that that kind of thing could happen, that you have such a good position for a research organization. So we were aware all through that period. Of course, by ’82, when they finally decided—
Hochheiser:January ’82 when the agreement was announced to breakup the Bell system.
Brinkman:Right. So everybody was very worried about the effect on research. Then, of course, we had to split out Bellcore, and Bellcore created a research area that took about 400 people.
Hochheiser:Now, could you talk a bit about— So after it’s announced, what becomes a major activity for the research area is splitting out the people from research, what people from Bell Labs will be going to form Bellcore, the R&D arm of the divested local operating companies.
Brinkman:The research arm, basically, and a lot of the development organization are taken too. So we had to try to define a research organization for them, and then they, of course, worked through this thing where they appointed the top management and then you moved on down the ladder in creating their organization, they had a top manager and then they had the next guys down. And of course, we had lots of discussions about who they could have and who they couldn’t have, and we were obviously interested in protecting our turf and they were interested in raiding our turf. But it was done in a pretty constructive way. It wasn’t done in a real negative way. At least, I didn’t think it was done in a real negative way. But over the period of time, we negotiated for people. John Rowell was basically put in charge of the Material Science and Physical Science part of Bellcore, and so basically we negotiated with him as to who would go and who wouldn’t go. Jim Allen, a good friend of mine, went at the time. So some of them seemed to be a sensible thing to do, you know, and we tried— one of the rules were you couldn’t just take your bottom part of your population and give them to them; you had to be sure that you gave them a decent distribution of talent. And since everybody knew what the distribution looked like, I mean you’re the manager, you could make them scream if you didn’t give them enough good people. So we did that. We tried to give them enough good people that they would be successful. So that was the biggest problem we faced in the divestiture was to get that established and moved out.
So during this time we were still very much a research organization. When I left in ’84, all this had just happened, basically, and the research area was sort of recovering from the shock of it all, having these people yanked out from the organization. But I didn’t think that it mattered much whether I was there or not for the next few years, and I don’t think it did. I thought it would be interesting to go to Sandia, so that’s what happened. We spent our time, got the break up organized, and then by the time that was done, that was when I went to Sandia.
Hochheiser:How did that opportunity come about?
Brinkman:So we always sent the president. The president was consistently from AT&T, from Bell Labs, basically. Not Bell Labs Research, but Bell Labs in general. And Al Narnth is a guy I knew. He was a research guy and he moved up the ladder and he was Executive Vice President out of Sandia, so he knew me, and he came to me and asked me if I’d be interested at all in going out and becoming Vice President of Research out there. This is an interesting story. So I said okay, so I went out and visited and that sort of thing and decided, hey, it’d be something different. It might be an interesting experience for a few years. And I made a deal with Arno. Bill Slichter, who was head of the materials organization, was going to retire in three years because he was going to be 65 (and in those days you had to retire at 65), that I’d go out there for three years and he would bring me back in that position.
So what happens is I said yes. So two months later I was supposed to come out in August, and some time in May I see Al Nareth at one of these committee meetings, whatever it was, in Washington, D.C., and he said, “Hey, Bill, we better take a walk.” I said, “What’s the walk about?” He said, “Well, I just wanted to let you know that I’m going back to Bell Labs.” So he went back and ran the military part of Bell Laboratories, and so I got out to Sandia.
I had never met George Dacy, and George was President at Sandia, and he was the guy I was going to work for. So the first day, of course, I had an appointment with George. George was a very interesting guy. So I go into his office. He’s a great, big, heavyset guy. And we sit there and we talk about golf and we talk about the Santa Fe Opera and everything else, and pretty soon there’s five minutes left of 45 minutes that we were supposed to have, and we hadn’t said boo about the job. So finally, George gets up to usher me out the door and he says, “Well, Bill,” he says, “You know, I know you’ve come out here to run research.” He said, “But you might stop by every now and then and tell me what’s going on.” It was awesome! That was all he said to me. So I actually had a tremendous relationship with him. He was fun to work for and he was a very sincere guy and very caring person. So it was not an easy thing to go out and become part of an organization at that level completely from the outside, but George was actually very helpful and very supportive. So that’s how I started out there.
Hochheiser:You had about 100 people under you at Bell Labs, and now you go out to Sandia, an organization that you don’t really know a whole lot about.
Brinkman:Well, it’s a research organization, so they’re one part of the organization. Some parts of the organization I knew quite a bit about—at least some things they were doing I knew about. I didn’t know but one or two of the people.
Hochheiser:And how many people did you now have?
Hochheiser:That’s quite a jump.
Brinkman:Well, it was exciting. I got out there. I always remember, I got out there and one of the directors that was supposed to report to me was Jerry Yonas. I don’t know if you ever heard of Jerry Yonas. He thought he should have gotten the job, so he was madder than hops, and he went off to be a Chief Technical Officer for SDI under General Abrahams at that time. He spent three or four years at SDI. The whole time I was at Sandia, he was at SDI, and then he went off to some other company for a while and then came back to Sandia much later in his career.
But there were a lot of interesting people out there. It was a fascinating thing. One of the big differences I found between Sandia and Bell Labs was Bell Labs scientists all focused on science. I mean, their whole life, everything was science. Sandia people had outside interests. One of my directors out there was an opera singer and he regularly sang in amateur operas. Another one was on a mountain rescue team and they were always going off to rescue people that got lost up in the Sandia Mountains and places like that. It was a different scene in that sense.
Because it was a national laboratory and because they all had to have Q clearances it was a national place. It was not like Bell Laboratories where people were from absolutely everywhere in the world. People were all from the US. And so there were a lot of interesting differences in the nature of the places, comparatively. But they were pretty good. I had a lot of respect for Sandia Laboratories. It very much is a more engineering oriented laboratory than the other two weapons laboratories, but it was very good at engineering. When it put attention on something, it could really do things, and they were willing to work hard and all that sort of thing.
But we were there just toward the end of testing the nuclear weapons. They were doing underground tests but nothing else in those days. And it was clear that the glory days of the laboratory were back when they were doing all these tests out in the Pacific. These guys, you know, they had a ball in some sense. If you think about it, everybody else cringes at all this research, but the fact of the matter is, as you can well imagine, setting all that up and setting off these things, that sort of thing, was a pretty damned exciting job. For two months; they’d be off on some atoll in the Pacific setting something up.
So it was a fascinating thing to see. And of course, when I got out there SDI was a big thing. That’s another funny story. I arrived out there and I was trying to figure out this x-ray laser stuff. There was this whole thing about, “We’re going to make x-ray laser weapons.” They were going to have a nuclear explosion out on some satellite in space and they were going to direct all these x-ray lasers that the nuclear explosion was going to create and it was going to zap missiles as they started up. These were wild ideas of that famous guy, Edward Teller. Teller was pushing all this research, and he got Reagan excited about it. So anyway, I always remember I arrived out there and I was hearing about this research, and I discovered that there was going to be a three-laboratory conference on this research. So I thought, “Wow, this is great. I’m going to go and really learn something about what’s going on here.” Well, I went to this meeting and this meeting wasn’t a laboratory technical meeting. It was a bloody political meeting, and each guy was standing up with Laboratory bragging rights, and I was really disgusted.
I went back to my office and I wrote this scorching letter to the head of the DOE, is the SDI program in Washington, and I said, “Look, what are you doing here? This is supposed to have been a technical meeting. This was a far cry from a technical meeting and the whole thing was just sales pitches. And whatever else is true, this program doesn’t need more sales pitches. It needs some real, honest work.” And I didn’t realize—this really caused a ruckus, for somebody to really stand up and say this, even though it was true. So my first experience at Sandia was a crazy ruckus over that kind of thing.
SDI was a strange area. It was a program which as a national laboratory you couldn’t ignore—you had to be a part of it.
Hochheiser:Well, if it makes sense, perhaps we should go up to ’87 now.
Brinkman:Well, let’s try to finish Sandia now.
Hochheiser:Yes, let’s finish Sandia. That sounds like a natural break point.
Brinkman:That is a very good break point. Anyway, so we were working very hard toward trying to do things for SDI and we got various programs going and that sort of thing. And it was just a very hard problem. To really solve this problem was very, very difficult. We tried to work on various aspects in the x-ray laser program. We were very much involved in trying to make things that would help make that work, and as far as I know, I’m not privy to what’s going on these days, but I don’t hear anything about it, so I assume it never has gone anywhere. But we also had all the physical sciences and a connection to the weapons programs.
We had a very large materials group, which really worked with Kansas City Factory, Penallis Florida, and these various nuclear weapons production sites. We as a research organization had to work with them—if they had a materials problem, try to solve it and that sort of thing. That’s good useful research. And we had a lot of engineering guys who did a lot of numerical simulations. That was a big part of what went on out there was to do simulations of weapons’ effects and that sort of thing. So we had an enormous breadth of activity in research, much, much bigger than Bell Laboratories had, and it was exciting in that sense.
We had these people doing pulse power; now it’s called the Z-Pinch Machine out there which was built while I was out there. It has been up graded since, but it was built in the ’84-’87 time frame, and that was an exciting thing. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the picture of the arcs and sparks going across the water. Have you ever seen that picture? There’s the Sandia picture where when you fire the z machine, the high-voltage channels are all in the water, and the water doesn’t break down, but the interface between the water and the air breaks down and you see these streaks that look like lightening all across the top of pool water the machine sits in, which is pretty impressive. But that picture is so famous. It’s used everywhere.
Hochheiser:I’m sure I’ve seen it.
Brinkman:I’m sure you’ve seen it, actually. It’s amazing. Anyway, so that was going on.
But I think, in some sense, when I look back at accomplishments, there was a funny thing about Sandia when I got out there. The management, for some reason, wasn’t convinced it needed computer science. I never understood this, but they were convinced that this was a physical hardware place and “We don’t need computer science and we don’t need software.” And I kept looking to say, “Hey, you know, this doesn’t make sense. We’re eventually going to have a decent computer science organization.” So the one thing I contributed to Sandia is I rearranged research and moved some of the more applied things out of research into a more applied organization and created the nucleus of a computer science group. And that computer science group, as far as I can see, has been pretty successful. It’s got this Red Storm computer that they’re advertising right now. They built one of the biggest in the world, and they’ve done okay. They’ve done a lot of parallel processing work. So I always felt good about the fact that I managed to get that created while I was there, and that was to me an important contribution to the place. I felt that I learned a huge amount being out there in a very different world. I mean, the weapons world is just so different from what we were used to.
Hochheiser:I can imagine, after all these years in the environment of Bell Labs to move out to a military—
Brinkman:And not only that, it’s also that the funding and everything is so much more dependent on public policy, so you’ve got to be so much more aware of the outside world that you’re living in. Because at Bell Labs, your funding came down to you and you basically couldn’t do anything about it, you did not need to be so broadly aware of what was happening.
Hochheiser:Which somehow seemed to be adequate for you.
Brinkman:It was adequate, and so you didn’t have to worry about it. But at Sandia, all your funding was coming from the government and you had to make sure you knew what was going on. So we had a lot of interaction with the senators from New Mexico and with the various bureaucrats that were determining budget. A very important aspect of your job was to be in Washington a lot and seeing people. The nice part was that we had Senator Domenici and Senator Binghaman down there, and they were supportive of the laboratories at all times. It wanted something, you went to them, and they would try to figure out how to get it for you.
Hochheiser:Sandia was, I imagine, a rather large employer in the state.
Brinkman:Oh, sure. Well, you know, that state was the funniest thing in the sense that the way things worked out there was amazing. The APS used to put out an annual report on the salaries of physicists, and they weighed that according to the cost of living in the state you were in. And, of course, New Mexico was way off scale because they paid the same salaries as the national level, but the cost of living in New Mexico was way down, so your salary looked fantastic. So it made for a good situation because you lived well out there. You know, from a personal point of view, we really enjoyed living in Albuquerque. It had beautiful weather. I probably could have stayed there, but there’s something about being on a military base and always involved in the military that I just didn’t want to do the rest of my career—the whole secrecy business and security business and that sort of thing that you get into. It was just not something I wanted to be around all my life.
Hochheiser:That must have been quite an education, learning how to deal with all of the secrecy, classification, military.
Brinkman:You know, you learn as much as you have to of that kind of stuff. I probably wasn’t as diligent as I should have been about classification. The worst thing that ever happened to me was one night I was laying in bed at 4:00 in the morning and I realized that I’d forgot to lock my safe, and this is really a no-no. So there was no choice. 4:00 in the morning, I got up, got dressed, drove to Sandia, went up in my office, and locked my safe. What else could you do, right? Because you aren’t going to go back to sleep with that hanging over your head! But that was the only time I really had trouble with security. I had secretaries who sort of watched out for that kind of stuff.
Hochheiser:Who had been there and knew the rules better than you did.
Hochheiser:Sandia, as a classified organization, what were their attitudes toward record-keeping compared to what you had saw at the labs?
Brinkman:Interesting question. I don’t think it was very different, I really don’t, except that a lot of it was classified, so therefore handling the papers was a much bigger issue.
Hochheiser:And having good support. You were talking about your safe.
Brinkman:Had to have it in a safe, you couldn’t take it home. You never take anything home. And so you had to read things in your office, right, and I used to go home and read and I couldn’t do that. So there were differences. But the fact that they were diligent about security, I mean, they were clearly very diligent on the security front. There was no question about that. But it was not overbearing, in my opinion, after you got a clearance. It was a pain in the neck when you didn’t have a clearance because then you had to be ushered around.
Hochheiser:So you did not arrive with the clearance? It was something that you had to—?
Brinkman:They obviously may have pushed my clearance through quickly. I think I waited a month or something like that.
Hochheiser:You probably couldn’t really do your job until you had the clearance.
Brinkman:It wasn’t as bad as all that. There’s a lot of research you can talk about without having a clearance, as long as you stay away from numbers. A lot of times you could talk about things. So it wasn’t bad from that point of view. It was kind of an interesting place the way it was run in those days. We had a matrixed management structure, I had the research area and somebody else had the nuclear device area and somebody had the nuclear weapons area, et cetera. And intelligence, security, non-propagation, and all that. And those were organizations. But then the projects, because we got government money for projects, the projects were managed by committees on the side. For instance, I was in charge of the research projects, but the research dollars came in—they didn’t all go to research. They went to a lot of places. And certainly the weapons money came in and there was a lot of materials work we did for the weapons program and that money came to research. And so there was this matrix approach to management there that made life complicated, because you had to be fair when you were deciding where the projects should be done, and then you also had to protect your organization, see to it you had enough money, looking down. So it was an interesting balancing act. That was probably the most challenging part of managing out there is that it was much more complex and the whole thing interacted. In Bell Labs, when it came to budget, it just came straight down and you never had to try to get money. At least, back in those days, you never had to get money from anyone else. After I came back in ’87, that story changed altogether.
Hochheiser:Right, which we’ll get to next time.
Brinkman:Right. Anyway, so I thought Sandia was a really fun place to be and work, and it allowed you more freedom that I’d ever experienced in a lab in terms of creating new programs and things. If you could go out and sell the world on a new program, you could create it. I mean, it had to be consistent with what Sandia was up to, but—
Hochheiser:But if you had a program idea, if you could sell it and get funding—
Brinkman:Yes. You had to make sure you sold it to your boss, too, that he was going to give you the head count to go after it. But you could go out and start new things, and it was much easier to start new things. For instance, I started this computer science organization and the people agreed that it should be done and we went out and got projects, and it grew. I always remember in 1990 when AT&T no longer wanted to run Sandia, one of the objections was that not only did I claim that I had much more freedom at Sandia, every guy that ever went to Sandia from Bell Labs said the same thing. This person looking into running Sandia said, “Gee, what the hell do I want these people to get a sniff of freedom for?” [Laughter] Anyway, a very complicated business. But there were some very excellent people out there. George Dacy, Tom Cooke, Orville Jones, Pace van Devender—just a lot of very excellent people, in my opinion, and I enjoyed working with them a lot.
Hochheiser:You also had the challenge of managing 1,200 people instead of 100.
Brinkman:Yeah, well, I don’t know. Somehow or another it didn’t bother me. We got some things done. I got a new compound semiconductor lab going while I was there, and just a bunch of things like that. I learned a lot.
Hochheiser:How closely did you stay in contact with the folks back at Bell Labs in New Jersey during these years?
Brinkman:During those years, because Bell Labs was managing Sandia, we had regular meetings in which we would exchange information on material science and condensed matter physics. And so a group would come out from Bell Labs and spend a day or two in Sandia and then Sandia guys would come to New Jersey once or twice a year. And so we kept some exchange going. Of course, I knew everybody back at the labs, and so that wasn’t hard. I think that was helpful. We transferred some people back and forth at lower levels and that kind of thing, so there was some movement of people around that time. Nowadays, of course, there’s a bunch of people that, as Bell Labs imploded, a bunch of people went to Sandia, so there’s a number of people out there that came from Bell Labs Research. That wasn’t happening when I was out there.
Hochheiser:While there was some movement, in many cases, it probably was like yours—people going there and later returning.
Brinkman:Yes, we had several managers. We had a couple staff people from AT&T come out. They weren’t from Bell Labs; they were staff. They were people from AT&T. Art Davey, they ran the staff organization. And I always remember the labor union guy was another guy that came out there. I always remember him because later in life he got thrown in jail for insider trading of AT&T stock. Funny things happen! Anyway, I don’t know what else to say except I think I could still talk about George Dacy. He was a tremendous guy. Then he was followed by a guy named Irvin Weber at that job, so I worked for both of those guys at some stage. Irvin was a very nice man, but he wasn’t quite as dynamic as George was. Anyway, I don’t know what else to say about Sandia.
Hochheiser:Well, in that case, perhaps this is a good point to break for the day.
All right, good.
Session I | Session II