Oral History Transcript — Dr. Donald Keck
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Donald Keck; November 2, 2004
ABSTRACT: Family background and early influences for a career in physics; early education and hobbies; Michigan State University (1958-1967) B.S. to PhD; physics courses and textbooks; optics research with C. D. Hause, Joe Aubel; Corning, Incorporated (1968-2002); optical transmission research, optical fibers; improving the Fonstad fiber; worldís first low-loss optical fiber, 1970; Frank Hydeís silica research; leadership and organization at Corning; research at Corning, including glass lasers, radio frequency sputtering, plasma discharge, superconductivity, catalytic converter materials; management responsibilities; university Ė industry collaboration; Infotonics Center and OIDA (Optoelectronic Industry Development Association); Corning history.
Session I | Session II
Lassman:This is Tom Lassman here with Dr. Donald Keck, in Corning, New York, on November 2, Election Day, 2004, for an autobiographical interview. Thank you for taking the time to participate in the interview. I will start with some family background. You were born in 1941, in Lansing, Michigan? And, if you could give me a little background on your family history there, fatherís occupation background, motherís background and occupation?
Keck:Well, the background is so terribly important in weighing the foundation for what a person does in their career. My father was a physicist himself. Thereís rich rich history and content in his life, as well. He had studied at Michigan State University. Back in those days, you didnít often go right to school after you graduated from high school. He graduated as valedictorian. My dad graduated, as I said, as valedictorian of his class and then had to work a couple of years before he went to school.
Lassman:And, whatís the time period for this?
Keck:He, well, he was born November 2, or November 1, 1905. So, he would have been ninety-nine this year. Died three years ago. Ninety-six and a half. Three years. No, two years ago, 2002. At any rate, he went to Michigan State, studied electrical engineering at Michigan State, was interested in science from the get go. He had five other siblings, one of whom went to college. The others, well the other, the other brother didnít, he was a farmer. Two of his sisters went to college. So, there was a history in the Germanic family of going to college. And, this was perhaps not that typical in those days. But, the Keck family believed in education, and very strongly so. So, he worked two years, put himself through school. He met my mother in East Lansing. She was born in East Lansing, grew up there, outside of East Lansing.
Lassman:Were your mother and father first generation born in America — how far back did they go?
Keck:My mother was second or third generation. My dad, my dadís mother came over from Germany when she was seven years old. My grandfather, on his, on my dadís side, had been here one generation already, and had participated in the family business in the Ann Arbor area.
Lassman:And, what was that business?
Keck:Well, there was a Keck furniture firm that was a major employer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I donít know when it was founded, but they had a thriving furniture business in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and my grandfather worked as part of that. And, later he went into agriculture in Utica, Michigan. Thatís where my dad grew up. So, he went through school in electrical engineering and then taught at Michigan State University, taught in the physics department for a number of years. And by then he had gotten a masters degree, had studied with the geology department at Michigan State, and was gravitating toward geophysics as a career. That was not at all a typical profession in those days.
Lassman:This would have been in the 1920s?
Keck:Yes. 1926. Twenty-six he graduated from Michigan State. So he had a number of positions after that. He worked for a period of time, got into geophysical prospecting with Dow Chemical, and Pure Oil prior to the Depression.
Lassman:So, this was after he was done teaching?
Keck:After he had Ė- I misspoke. Iíve got the history a little bit wrong. His teaching came after he came back from the Pure Oil exploration geophysical tour in Venezuela.
Lassman:How did he get to Dow Chemical?
Keck:After he graduated from Michigan State he eventually got into earth resistivity in a geophysical sense. And, Iím trying to remember whether he did the Ė- he was already into geophysics at the time that he got the job at Dow Chemical.
Keck:The number of scientists that were going into industrial firms Ė- again, this was early in that evolution when industrial firms were recognizing the benefit of having trained scientists on their staffs in various capacities. At any rate, my father had spent some time at Dow Chemical. And, then went to Pure Oil, and did exploration, geophysics in Venezuela looking for oil, prior to the Depression. So, it was 1927, 1928, somewhere in that general time frame.
Lassman:Was Pure Oil a separate company?
Keck:Yes, as far as I know, it was not connected with Dow Chemical, if thatís your question?
Lassman:When he was at Dow was there a research laboratory where he was working?
Keck:I think so.
Keck:He went, for a couple of years down to Venezuela prospecting for oil, for Pure Oil.
Lassman:And, what were the techniques at that time?
Keck:Well, he had worked with a gentleman by the name of Bill Rooney. Iím trying to remember where he came from. But, he was a physicist, and he had developed some earth resistivity measuring techniques looking at strata in the earth. That was apparently beginning to be used in the prospecting for oil reserves. So, my dad led a small team down to Venezuela and for a couple of years they prospected in the Lake Maracaibo area, south of that. And, about that time the Depression hit, and Pure Oil called them back. During the Depression, he did various and sundry things like everybody did. One of the interesting things was Ė- pearl buttons were the rage back in those days, and he picked up clams along the Muskegon River in Michigan, with the gentleman that he went to Venezuela with, a gentleman by the name of Frank Betz. And, Frank became a longtime family friend over the years. I knew him as we were growing up, as I was growing up. But, theyíd collect clamshells in the Muskegon River and then drill buttons out of them and sell those for the clothing industry, because pearl buttons were a big deal. Somewhere around here [Laugh] Iíve got a bunch of pearl buttons and belt buckles. But, after the Depression he then taught at Michigan State.
Lassman:Did he go back for more training?
Keck:Well, not quite yet.
Keck:He was at Michigan State with a masters degree, teaching in the physics department. And it must have been then in the, late Ď30s that Michigan State began to try and upgrade their physics department. They hired a young professor who had just gotten his PhD from, I believe, Iowa, or Iowa State. One or the other. A gentleman by the name of C.D. Hawes. And, thatíll come back later on. And, they had to make room for this person on the faculty. And, Hawes had a PhD, and my father didnít. So, basically he was dismissed. They offered him some sort of a teaching position, but he was clearly not a tenure-track faculty. So, it was at that point that he decided to go on for a PhD, and he went to the University of Michigan, eventually getting his PhD in 1941.
Lassman:In what specific areas?
Keck:Well, he again, pursued this notion of earth resistivity, and developed some of the offshoots of the so-called Tice equations, basically solving Greenís function in the earth, and did a joint thesis between the geology department and the physics department, at the University of Michigan. But, his degree was from the Rankin school, at the University of Michigan. And, I recall that at the time he said that S.A. Goudsmidt was on the faculty at the University of Michigan and that he had studied under Goudsmidt for one of his courses, I guess the electricity magnetism course. But, later on, as I studied physics of course, that name came up. And, so, that was kind of an interesting piece of family history.
Lassman:Can I just interject a couple of questions?
Lassman:You mentioned that when your father went back to Michigan State that the physics department was in the process of upgrading itself? Do, you know a little bit more about what that context was?
Keck:Itís in that treatise that he wrote. So, I can try and dig that out over the lunch hour, or a break, or whatever, and we can go through that a little bit.
Keck:He did delve into that a little bit.
Keck:As to who the chairman of the department was, and that information is in there.
Lassman:And then, the other question I have is about the research that he was doing when he was going back for his PhD. What was actually happening within geophysics? Was he taking a more mathematical approach to prospecting? Was it becoming more professionalized in that sense? Iím just trying to get a sense of what the strands of research were in that time.
Keck:He tended to be more on the experimental side, which is, frankly, where I gravitated as well. But, he did develop a theoretical background for geophysics. All I remember is the so-called Tice equations that somehow -Ė well, I think theyíre associated with earth resistivity. But, now having said that, they may have more to do with diffusivity in an aquifer. So, I may not get (or be?) too definitive on that.
Keck:He did, he eventually did both of those things. After he got his PhD in í41, of course, the war was on. And, he went to the Naval Ordinance Laboratory in Washington, and the family moved down there. He got his PhD, I think, in December of í41, and I was born in January of í41. I was almost a year old by the time he actually got his doctorate. I have no idea where the monies came for that. I never did ask. He had earned, certainly, some with Dow Chemical and Pure Oil, and I suspect there was some of the Germanic tradition of saving money and so on. So there was never a debt associated with his college, as far as I am aware, for either he nor my mother.
Lassman:Did your mother also work?
She went to Michigan State. She studied English literature for the most part. Eventually taught school, got a teaching certificate, and taught school in Michigan. She stopped that when they moved to Washington, and I was born by that time. She basically became a housewife at that time and raised the family. In Washington, my dad used some of the same measurement techniques that he used in earth resistivity, basically a bridge measuring technique to for submarine warfare. And, apparently, they were looking to put sensors across the entryway to the harbors along the coastline, during the war, to detect infiltration of submarines. It was looking at the electrical potential thatís developed between metals and seawater. They could pick up the minute potential by passing the current through the seawater and then looking for changes in that, at the bridge points. It was a four-point measurement system. He did that through the war. When the war was over, he returned to East Lansing, which was my motherís home, and at that point he started a private consulting business in geophysics.
Thereís a company now called Keck & Associates that he started when I was in high school around 1957. And, in fact, I worked for the company and developed a lot of the things that I learned how to do, as part of that, and under his mentorship. It was a wonderful experience growing up. My dad was just an excellent excellent teacher. And, at lunchtime, he and I would talk and heíd pose problems and then help me through to a solution of various mindbender types of problems and so on. It was just a rich environment to train, to mentor, a budding scientist. In many respects it was perfectly natural that I was going to gravitate into some field of science. I remember -Ė I donít know how the story got back to me, but probably when I was first going to school, you know, kindergarten or first grade, or some grown-up asking what I was going to be, and I said I was going to be a geophysicist, and they didnít know that I knew the word, let alone what a geophysicist was. But, at any rate, it was just part of the growing up in that environment. And my mother was very strong on education. Obviously, very learned, and both of them were avid readers, and so I wound up doing a lot of reading as I was growing up. And for some reason or other, Iíve, I do more of my learning by oral techniques now than reading, but back then I did a lot of reading.
Lassman:You mentioned when your father came back to East Lansing in 1945, he started his consulting business? Was he consulting to the big oil companies?
No. He took an entrepreneurial approach. I donít know exactly how he got into it, but there may have been a gentleman by the name of John Farris, that worked for the State Geological Survey, the State of Michigan Geological Survey. I remember him coming to the house — I was in elementary school — and talking often with my dad, and asking questions and so on. And eventually, he got into the field of groundwater hydrology. He still used the same prospecting techniques that had grown up in the oil industry, but to look and be able to predict where you might, what strata you might find water in, and he eventually built that business. His primary client was the Layne Company, or a whole host of Layne companies that specialize in drilling wells for cities and municipalities. Layne Northern was the one in Michigan, but thereís Layne New York, and Layne Florida, and Layne Northwest, and a whole host of Layne companies that had sprung up. And so, he wound up being essentially retained by them as his primary consulting service.
Eventually he started the company Keck & Associates, and started a two-prong company. One was the consulting business that would analyze geophysical data, resistivity data, electrical logging of wells, gamma ray logging of wells to ascertain what the geologic strata was, and then knowing the strata and the permeability of the strata he developed Ė- and this is probably where these Tice equations come in, now that I think about it, having to do with diffusivity through permeable strata. Given the strata you solve the differential equation to predict the drawdown cone if a city started pumping, you know, a million gallons of water a day out of the thing, how far out does that cone stand in the surrounding countryside. He specialized in, as I was growing up, how you got water out of the aquifer. Jumping way ahead, when he sold the company to a young geologist, Bob Minning, at that time, environmental issues were the rage, and it was just the reverse. You wanted to know, if you dumped some stuff, where it was going to go.
So, you turned the equations around and went the other way, which I always found somewhat interesting. He consulted for many municipalities through this Layne company, and eventually through International Water Supply in Canada, another large client, based out of — outside Toronto. At any rate, as these water demands from cities got bigger and bigger, why the litigation started cropping up, and so he wound up having to testify in courts of law as to — was a city impairing ďJoeísĒ well two miles outside the city when ďJoeĒ suddenly ran out of water? That part he really didnít much care for. But, the other part of Keck & Associates that I got involved with as a high school student — he began to build these instruments for the water industry that large companies like Schlumberger had for oil prospecting. They had all sorts of electric logging, and gamma ray logging, and multi-channels, and all sorts of things. My dad essentially, well innovated — I wonít say invented — the corresponding instrument for use by the small well companies. We built earth resistivity instruments that we then sold to the Layne companies, or anybody for that matter. I had a hand in building and developing a gamma ray logger.
We put one of those together. We tried to build a seismograph. Seismometry was beginning to start finding a way into the groundwater industry. I built a little water-level recorder; recording the drawdown cone in wells was a big deal. Youíd have little test wells and often they were small bore and the question is, ďhow do you go out and measure the depth to water as a function of time, while you pumped the primary well?Ē We built these little things that had a bob that went down and when it contacted the waterís surface it completed the circuit around through the earth, and we just set a little sensor circuit that would, if it, if the water went away why a motor would drop it down until it contacted again, and then it would sit there — or the other way around, the motor would wind it back up if the water level came back up. So, my first industrial experience was working for my dadís company as a high school student, and later as a college student.
Lassman:Were these batch production instruments, or did you mass Ö?
Keck:One of a kind.
Lassman:I see. Did that ever expand to manufacturing?
Keck:Eventually. Eventually Keck & Associates Ė- well, I guess in its heyday it probably had twenty, twenty-five people, half of them doing the consulting part, and half of them doing the instrument building part. But, it was not a big, big industry, or big market or anything like that.
Lassman:On the consulting side, were they PhD physicists? Did your father recruit scientists?
Keck:No. Bob Minning had a masters degree, and a couple of the people he trained. Colleges werenít teaching this sort of a curriculum, so it was essential on-the-job training. The Layne Company had a young fellow that wanted to get into this, and my dad took him under his wing. He was always a tremendous fan of education.
Lassman:Did he continue to teach, by the way, while he was in this business?
Lassman:I mean formally.
Keck:To people like me. Yes. Not formally, no. But, I canít tell you the number of people that he would slip money to for them to continue their education. I had a cousin that, well two cousins that Iím sure he subsidized heavily. Then he had a young fellow that worked with Keck & Associates, well two of them in one family, and he encouraged them and helped fund their college. And then a young fellow that was going to Michigan State that was putting himself through school doing odd jobs, wound up helping my dad prune trees when he was beginning — after my dad had retired and was in his seventies. And, he basically loaned him the money to go through school. Education was always high on the family hit parade.
Lassman:You mentioned siblings, and I want to make sure we go into this a little bit more. Were there any siblings who came into the business?
Lassman:What were their backgrounds?
Keck:He had six brothers and sisters. My mother was an only child. One of my dadís brothers, the oldest, got a masters degree and eventually became a professor at Michigan Technological University. In fact, he came up with a float process for extracting copper from ore that I believe is still, or was, some years back, still being used. He was the first in the family to become educated. My dad was the second to the youngest. The eldest daughter didnít go to school. The next brother studied a little bit, but I donít believe ever graduated. He studied agriculture, and eventually had a large fruit farm in the Detroit area. The next sister became a teacher and taught for many many years in the Detroit school system. And then my dad, and then the youngest sister became a pharmacist, but she and her husband had a pharmacy in the Detroit area. My mother was an only child, grew up on a farm, as did my dad. They were accustomed to hard work. And, one of my dadís favorite sayings was, ďcount that day as lost whose low descending sun, sees not from your hand some useful labor done.Ē So, that was a kind of a mantra that I grew up with. And he came from the farm background. And I sort of growing up, prided myself that all my cousins were on farms. Weíd go out, and Sunday dinners, and holiday gatherings, and so on, and you were always interacting with the farm community and so it became second nature to me to enjoy that sort of life, as well as the life that my dad was creating vis-a-vis his professional career. I had always, as I say, prided myself on being able to associate with all sorts of sociological strata, and I think that was an important trait as I evolved in my career.
Lassman:Now to focus on your childhood activities, and hobbies. Are there any things that stand out?
Keck:You asked about siblings. I, there was one brother that died, that was born two years before I was, and died two weeks after birth. And, at that time, the Rh factor was not well known. And, it turned out my dad and mother had conflicting Rh blood factors. I donít know whether that was the case in Ronnieís death or not, but in some sense Iím a bit lucky to even be here.
Lassman:Do you have other siblings?
Keck:No. Iím an only child. They, I guess they, after Ronnie died they learned about the Rh factor and basically decided that it just wasnít appropriate to continue to have more in the family, or try to. It would be too risky.
Keck:Iím, Iím guessing. I donít know. So, my childhood, activities, hobbies, and so on. Where to start? Well, one of the other neat features of my growing up was that I grew up next door to my maternal grandparents. Paternal grandparents were in Detroit, so weíd go down there and visit them maybe every couple of months. Believe it or not, it was quite an ordeal to drive to Detroit.
Lassman:Was East Lansing primarily an agricultural community, removed from the big city?
Well, no. Lansing, at the time that I was growing up, was probably 50,000 people. Itís probably now, it may be pushing a million. In East Lansing, the population came and went with the terms on campus. In the summer, it was pretty deserted. Well, we can get into that perhaps a little bit later. I wouldnít say it was a rural community. Clearly my relatives had farms on the outskirts; Grand Ledge, and so on, so thereís lot of rich farmland around the area. But, I grew up a quarter mile east of the Michigan State campus. And, as I say, my grandparents, maternal grandparents lived next door. My grandfather was a very big influence on my life, as well as my father. My father, of course, brought in the professional and the engineering side. My grandfather never went to college, but he could do almost anything. The man had worked with his hands, had done every type of skilled labor in his lifetime, had been a fire chief, had been a deputy sheriff. I was constantly in awe of him as I was growing up learning how the world worked. But, his last jobs were as a carpenter. And so, he had a wonderful set of tools, and could make lots of things; as could my dad, he was a very skilled craftsperson as well.
He could do woodworking, but also developed the ability to do machine, metalworking, and things like that, as well as the electrical and electronics and things like that. But my grandfather had obviously come from that agricultural side. So, one of the family mantras was, well, you didnít buy something if you could make it. Any number of tools they would make. My dad made a jigsaw. My grandfather had a homemade drill press. And, his shop at home had — you see the old factories with the long power bar, a motor at one end turning the long rod, and then you got pulleys. His shop had that. A drill press was connected to one. You unhooked the belt or hooked it up depending on what machine you wanted to run. It was always fascinating to be around my grandfather, and learn how to do things. And, we had a tractor, and had five acres on the Red Cedar River. Over time, we developed the low lying land along the river, pulled out all the willows and brush, and eventually created a large pond there that we kids skated on in the winter when I was in high school.
Lassman:Letís move on to your development of interest in science technology, mathematics. You mentioned your father had a profound impact on that?
Lassman:Were there tinkerings? You mentioned chemistry sets, things like that? Books that you read?
Keck:Yes. My dad had, for his consulting business, he had assembled not only a rich chemistry lab, but also an electronics shop. We had an oscilloscope in the house, which was virtually unheard of today, a Dumont Oscilloscope. I think Dumont was one of the first. Well, it sprang out of radarscopes during World War II, and they gravitated into the scientific instrument business with the oscilloscopes.
Keck:I remember this big green oscilloscope. And, weíd hook up microphones to it and my dad would show me my signature coming out of the carbon microphones. I mentioned, this early notion that I was going to be a geophysicist, and that must have been kindergarten or first grade that I had this realization. My dad had all these things in the basement, and I would constantly be watching him do some experiment, or solder something together, and so I began picking up some of those same sorts of things.
Lassman:Let me just switch the tape over.
Keck:Had an erector set I remember that they got me early on, and enjoyed in fabricating things away from the drawings that theyíd give you. Theyíd say, ďBuild this. Build that.Ē And, I didnít want to do that. Iíd try and develop some things on my own. It must have been some sort of a science fair, maybe, about the time I was in sixth grade, so what would that have been, 1953? I built a motor. I had an electric train. I got it for Christmas. I had a transformer as part of the train, and my dad sort of sketched out what this motor should look like, and I remember it took a big spike, the largest one we could find, that was the shaft of my motor, a nail. A sixteen penny nail, or something like that, and cut the head off it, and that became the shaft of the motor, and it had a metal magnetic, the oscillating Ė what do I want to call it? Itís not the armature. The starter on a motor, and I wound the coils. My dad had copper wire laying around as part of his activities in building these instruments [for his business]. And that motor, we first hooked it up with batteries, and then I eventually put it on the, on my electric train transformer. That was one of the first things to begin learning about commutators, and magnetics, and electricity, and so on. Iíve forgotten when my dad — I remember him teaching me the physics of a curve ball. I did sports and all sorts of things growing up. I wasnít totally obsessed with science as some, some of our learned and notable scientists are. I led a pretty standard kidís life, as I was growing up. Sports were big for me. Baseball was big. Soccer was not yet commonly seen in this country.
Lassman:Were there any books that you read as a child that were particularly influential, that guided your interest in science and technology?
Keck:Well, I remember the first science books that we got, must have been first grade or second grade, were fascinating and they were kind of generalist types of science books.
Lassman:Books that you had in school?
Keck:Yes. They were the things that interested me most in school. I canít say that I remember any science books.
Keck:I remember reading the stories of dogs, as I was growing up. As I say, I enjoyed sports. There was a book that we counted the stories of a number of sports, of baseball notables. And, I enjoyed that. My mother had me reading in the Tom Sawyers, and things along that line. But, I donít remember that there were that many science books. We went to the library every now and again. I canít tell you the books that I remember taking out of the library. Well, at any rate, there was a hobby show that existed in Michigan. It was put on by Oldsmobile, as I was growing up, and I remember going to that and seeing all the things that kids were building. And, sometimes Iíd go home and try and duplicate — it was a science fair — duplicate some of the things they had. I never entered it, and I donít know why. What else did we do growing up?
Lassman:What about religious orientation in the household and in the community; was that an important part of life?
Yes. My dad had been raised a staunch Lutheran, but as he got into college he and my mother began attending an interdenominational church, the Peopleís Church, in East Lansing. Probably about the time that I was just beginning high school, there was a branch of that church that began in our neighborhood, close to our neighborhood, Edgewood United Church of Christ. That became the church that I attended during the formative years, high school and early college. Very much interdenominational, Protestant. I do remember as I was growing up that I thought that Catholicism was the favored religion and the Protestants were in the minority. But, little did I know, I guess. At any rate, we always had salmon loaf on Friday at school, and I hated salmon ever since that day. What other things did I do? Well I always enjoyed creating things. It was the only thing I can think of at this point. Model railroading was of interest to me, and more or less so from just buying the parts, but more on instrumenting the layout. It was probably in, again, fifth, sixth, seventh grades, that I had a layout down in the basement. I learned some of my first experiences with household power by blowing several fuses, reconnecting the wrong thing to the fuse box, and shorting things out.
So, you began to gradually learn through experience. But, my folks — they didnít ignore me by any means, but they let me try lots of things. They encouraged me to take things apart, see how they worked. So, from probably fifth grade on, if something broke in the house, first, my dad would take it apart. Heíd see how things were put together, and then gradually he was busy consulting, so my mother would bring the thing to me and said, ďCan you see if you can fix the coffee pot, or fix the toaster?Ē Or, fix this that, and the other thing.Ē I wound up always tearing things apart and had the shop and everything there to do all of that. Iíve thought since then, one of the features of the National Inventorís Hall of Fame is they have a training area at the Akron Hall, where kids can come in and barter to, they bring something from home and they get so many credits for a piece of old equipment thatís broken and then, kids will tear it apart and theyíll get a coil for this, and begin to make stuff on their own. I always thought that was just a wonderful wonderful thing, because that was clearly one of the things that I enjoyed doing. I think it helped in my later career, of not being afraid to try something different, and tear it apart, and see how it works, and then put it back together and try and improve upon it.
Keck:Cardboard boxes were important, again thereís this creativity thing. I didnít have a lot of store-bought toys. You made your own. I loved cardboard boxes, and Iíd cut holes in them and make crawl spaces, and make buildings for my model railroad set, as well as lots of electrical stuff. I built myself a big control panel for my model railroad set with all sorts of switches. Loved lots of switches and lights everywhere, and hooking things up.
Lassman:This would be a good point to jump into your high school time period. This would have been around the early to mid Ď50s that you entered high school?
Keck:Yes. I graduated in 1958, so I was a freshman in í53-í54.
Lassman:Iíd like you to talk a little bit about your high school experience, if there were any mentors you had. Peer group, and so on, focusing on your interest in science and technology and broadening out to other areas of interest.
Keck:Math was always of interest to me, and it came easily to me. I enjoyed it all the way through elementary school. I remember somewhere in high school, well we had a, what I considered an excellent math teacher, Mrs. Kelly, Ruth Kelly. She just had a very good way of teaching math. I recall one day that a class was giving her lots of trouble, and she made some comment about howÖ They had already separated us into college preparatory and the vocational students, which I didnít really comprehend, I donít think, at that time. But, nevertheless, there was a tracking that they were doing with students.
Lassman:Was that vocational to go into local industries?
Keck:Yes. That sort of thing. I recall. Oh Sure. Mrs. Kelly was chastising our class because we were too boisterous and werenít learning, and so on, and she said, ďYou have geniuses in this class and itís a shame.Ē And, I made some comment and she said, ďDonald, youíre the last person that should be making a comment like that.Ē And, everybody interpreted that I was one of the people that had an IQ test that had scored at the genius level, and I donít know whether that was true or not, but I remember it. As I said, the math just seemed to come easily to me. And, perhaps it was her teaching techniques, but I enjoyed it, and I did well in math. I did terribly in English. Much to my motherís chagrin. One of the laments that Iíve had since then was that I enjoyed history in elementary and junior high, and then in high school I didnít pay enough attention, or didnít enjoy it. I donít know whether it was the teacher, or what, but Iíve often thought that that was one of the subjects that young people really need to learn more about. All the things we donít know in this world is the history that we donít understand. Harry Truman, I believe said, made some quote like that. I might perhaps come back to that later on. But history is so important in all that we do, and clearly in the sciences. I mean, if we donít understand whatís gone before you how do you build on it and carry it to the next level? So Mrs. Kelly had a major impact on me.
Lassman:Was this a large high school? Our graduating class was fifty-eight, in 1958. I did not distinguish myself in high school. I graduated in the middle of the class. I enjoyed things, extracurricular activities. We did the normal things of dividing into boys and girls. But there was the group from, well the agricultural side, the rural part, and then there was the group that were growing up in the brand new subdivisions that Oldsmobile executives populated. They were the professional haves versus the have-nots. I recall that I had friends across the spectrum. One of my best friends later became best man in our wedding, Roger Shaw. He was scientifically inclined; engineering eventually was what he gravitated into. No I canít really say that — there were scientifically minded folks in both camps. I was going to say that more of the rural folks were destined to become the scientists and the engineers, compared to the professionals, but I canít really make that generalization in my high school. There were some in both camps. But, in my high school so much of it had come easy for me up through the seventh grade anyway. The eighth grade was probably the spot where I started thinking I had it made and sloughed off. I didnít particularly pay attention to the schoolwork. But Mrs. Kelly had an impact. And then, it may have been my freshman year, a new science, physics and chemistry teacher came to the high school, to  High School, Mr. Walbridge. He had a significant impact on me.
Keck:Well, on two counts. Again, as I went through high school the only sport that I participated in — I was too short for basketball and too small for football, and so baseball was the only major sport that I played. And I wanted to pitch. I grew up next door to my best friend, Rich Belknap. And his dad had been a minor league ball player, a pitcher, in fact. And heíd go out evenings and hit fly balls to us, and teach us some of the intricacies of the game of baseball. I wanted to be a baseball player. And, somewhere along, in my growing up, my dad, I remember it vividly, he was running his consulting business and I came into the house and had been frustrated playing baseball and I said, ďDad, how do you throw a curve ball? What makes a baseball curve?Ē And, he took time out from the middle of the day, from work, and he was a magnificent artist, and he drew the baseball and showed the pressure differentials and the spinning ball, and Bernoulli, and so on. He didnít give me all those names, but basically told me the physics behind the baseball, and why it curved. And, so in high school, I didnít have a lot of speed but I had a wicked curve ball. And, in fact, I was trying to find the article this morning. I either threw a no-hitter or a one-hitter against one of the neighboring teams my senior year. I was our pitcher in my senior year. Batted 0.440. And, so as I say I got involved in lots of stuff associated with sports. Well, and the other thing I enjoyed were the extracurriculars. I got heavily involved in doing anything but schoolwork. So, there was an Audio Visual Club and we showed movies and ran the tape recorders and did all the electrical stuff, and so I naturally gravitated to that.
Lassman:That makes me think of this time period when youíre in high school in the Ď50s, on the larger scale weíre seeing this transition from vacuum tubes to solid-state.
Keck:Yes. One of my term papers was on the transistor. For high school English. I donít remember whether it was my junior year or my senior term paper, but one of the other of those years the transistor had just recently been invented by Shockley and Bardeen, and my dad had told me that John Bardeen was at the — I believe it was Bardeen — was at the Naval Ordinance Lab with him during the war. Thatís when he had known him. Again, interesting ties there, the relatively small scientific community that existed.
Lassman:Did you tinker with tubes and solid transistors, and that type ofÖ?
Keck:Well, yes. Now, Iím glad you said that. I had totally forgotten. I made, I donít want to call it an organ, but a transistor that would oscillate different frequencies depending on what resistor you put in the base lead. I made little switches out of cutting up a tin can and stapling them on a board and had a rivet. When you pressed the tin can down and the tab on the thing would make contact and beep at one frequency and then the next one would beep at a different one. And I had, I guess I had eight notes.
Lassman:Did you do that at home?
Yes. Did that at home. And, that was in high school. Must have been early high school, because it was a crude, crude thing. I think that was before the term paper on the transistor. Well, Iíve lost it at this point. But, I should have injected that vis-a-vis hobbies and interests — my mother was a fan of breadth of knowledge; donít become too specialized too early. And so we bought a piano. It must have been fourth or fifth grade, I think, when I started taking piano lessons. Mrs. Schneider was the typical epitome of piano teachers back in those days. The person you think of with the ruler to slap your knuckles if you donít keep your fingers arched. But, I had good finger technique and so on, and I took lessons from her for six years. I canít remember when I stopped, but it must have been in junior high school. Well, fourth through eighth is only four years. Maybe I started in third grade.
Well, at any rate, I had taken six years of piano lessons and had gotten to a point where I could sight-read pretty well, and did enjoy it. I wasnít going to win any competitions or anything like that, but I do recall my music teacher, piano teacher needed to get accredited and so I had to perform before the Michigan State music faculty judging her ability to teach by playing pieces over at the campus. So, music eventually became important to me, and later on, interestingly, well Jim Hillier [of RCA], in fact, was one of the guys that was chatting about it. A great many of the inventors in the National Inventorís Hall of Fame also are very musically inclined. There is an affinity between science and musical arts for whatever reason. At any rate, that certainly came home to me later on. Another thing that I should mention, growing up, again my dad was —, ďinvent something. Donít buy it, make it.Ē And, he could think of all sorts of ways to make money. And so, I was constantly challenged to try out some of these things.
One of the things that he had done early on was to reclaim silver from photographic solution. Back in the days lots of film — silver had precipitates coming out of the film processing and before you put electrochemical cells in the tank to automatically reclaim the silver, they were flushing all sorts of silver down the drain at the processing laboratories. My dad had this notion that if you picked this stuff up, in particular from x-rays, big plates, there was a lot of silver to be had. Iím sure it was the Depression mindset that trained him to this sort of thing. He had done some reclaiming of silver from photographic solutions. I remember then going around with him to pick up the ďhypoĒ (sodium thiosulphate) solutions from, in particular, the tuberculosis sanitarium that existed in East Lansing or Lansing at the time. We had built a big box and lined it with plastic and weíd go with pails and pick up the hypo solutions from the sanitarium, carry it to this tank in the trunk of the car. Corrosive stuff. Then weíd go home. We have a cover on it but it always had sloshed out and so there were rust holes in the trunk of our car. But then youíd pass it through steel wool and youíd get a chemical replacement reaction taking place of silver. It takes the place of the iron in the steel wool, and you get silver wool.
Lassman:How much did you accumulate?
Keck:Well, as I was growing up, he had done this for a period and then had stopped. I guess I must have been in high school. And he encouraged me: ďYou need spending money, right? So, why donít you try this?Ē So, I learned all about this. I remember going out to a junkyard and I got a big bathtub, an old bathtub, and brought it down in the basement. A steel, porcelain-lined bathtub. And I caulked up the outlets with tar, I think. At any rate, something that wouldnít leak. And then I went over to Michigan State. There was one place on campus that had processing of film. Many other places already had these cells, the TB sanitarium had long since ceased to exist. It wasnít needed anymore. I did the same thing he did. I went and got buckets of hypo solution, brought it back, poured it in the bathtub, and then I had a whole bunch of test tubes that Iíd pack full of steel wool, and had a serpentine path. It was fun to watch the silver gradually replace the steel wool. You can see it migrate through these tubes. As it was getting the last one, why Iíd stop the things and take the first ones out and dump the silver sludge out and replace it. I eventually got about $70 back.
Lassman:Thatís a lot of money.
Keck:Selling the silver wool to Goldsmith in Chicago. Donít ask me why I remember that name. He was a metal refiner in the Chicago area that we sent the stuff to.
Lassman:Well, in the fifties, $70 is a good hunk of change.
Keck:We got a lot of change back. I could fill up the tank, and gasoline was — I think when I got my driverís license, gas was eighteen cents a gallon.
Lassman:Far cry from today.
Keck:Just a little bit. Just a little bit. So, I learned a little bit of chemistry as I was growing up. What else did I do? Well, yes, the transistor was around.
Lassman:Well, you had mentioned when you were on the AV Club; you were interested in extracurricular activities with the AV?
Keck:Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Lassman:Things and so on.
Keck:Yeah. Audiovisual. And then, I didnít want to act on stage, but they needed a stage manager. So, I became the stage manager and created the sets and the lighting for all the plays. I think I started doing that as a sophomore, and understudy to one of the seniors at the time. And, I took over. I remember one, we needed a spotlight for one of the plays. Didnít have a spotlight in those days. So, I got a slide projector and made a little hole the right size in a piece of cardboard, and put in the slide projector and ran it across and it made a nice white spot on the stage, that I could illuminate the particular individual that we needed to highlight. And, we needed to dim the lights. And so we went over to Michigan State — and Iíll come back to why a little later on — and got a big variac from the physics department.
Keck:A variac. A variable transformer.
Keck:That would handle the amperage that I had on the stage lights. So, instead of flicking them off why I could actually dim them.
Lassman:Oh. I see. Yeah.
Keck:And, so again Ö
Lassman:More of the mechanical ingenuity?
Keck:Well, the creativity.
Keck:And the innovation. It was the part that I remember.
Lassman:You mentioned with the, when you were talking about your peer groups, others, in East Lansing. Ultimately, I take it there was a heavy auto, was there an automobile presence there.
Lassman:I mean, primary manufacturing?
Keck:Yeah. Of course, Olds started in Lansing. R.E. Olds, his house we used to, now itís a museum, and weíd visit it, and I remember visiting it. So, that was, that was big. We didnít have any science museums at the time. Now, now theyíve, what the physics faculty at Michigan State had a large hand in creating a science museum in the Lansing area.
Lassman:I want to get a sense of where the graduates of the high school were going? Were they going to work in local industry? Was there a group like you that was planning to go to college?
Lassman:What was that?
Keck:Very much so. There were two tracks. There was a college track and the vocational track. A couple of the fellows were growing up on family farms, and they later took over the family farm. They probably made more money than all of us put together by selling the family farm. And, it was right at the outskirts of a growing metropolitan area. It got to be very valuable countryside. Dick Dickinson had a family farm. Ron Unruh who married a a cousin of mine had a farm. Bob Cooper, my catcher on the baseball team, grew up on a farm. But, the college track, Roger Shawl got a masters degree. No. He got his doctorate in civil engineering, and eventually worked his way up through, I think he wound up at NSF, eventually, in some director-level position. The class valedictorian, who wasnít in science, but very industry politics-oriented, Ted Warner. I just learned, when he called me up a few days ago after learning I was the so-called father of fiber optics, that he had spent the last six or seven years with the Clinton Administration as Assistant Secretary of Defense. So, he had certainly made it big. And, Iíll be honest with you, I donít know where the rest of the class has gone.
Keck:We were not a very well connected class.
Lassman:When you were preparing to graduate in 1958 what were your thoughts about post-secondary education?
Keck:There was no question I was going to go to college. The question was where? When I was born, there was an uncle, Uncle Lute, a bachelor uncle that had taken out a savings bond, a $1,000 savings bond in my name. I always knew I had the money to go to college. But, we certainly didnít have the money to send me anywhere. My dad had done okay, and we were probably in the upper middle class, but we werenít making the money my dad and mother were making while, as I said, was a housewife and did lots of volunteer things after I had graduated. She never, never went back to teaching school. But, you know, we didnít have the money to send me to an Ivy League school, or anything like that, and frankly, it never crossed my mind.
MSU, I was a quarter mile east of the campus. It was the street I grew up on. Michigan State had become such a part of life. When I was a Boy Scout, we got to usher at the football games. I had this silver reclaiming business with the school, with one of the departments there. And, this professor, C.D. Hawes that had taken my dadís place at Michigan State, was still in the physics department, and our families became very close friends. The guy had taken my dadís place, and my dad, mother, and they became fast friends. Iíll fill you in more on that later on. I grew up with his [C.D. Hauseís] son. We were about the same age. Jerry was a little older than I was. But, growing up we both had cottages on the same lake up in the middle of Michigan. So, summers we were up at the lake all the time swimming, and boating, and this, that, and the other thing. Both of us got into boats. My dad loved to fish. Duane Hawes, C.D. Hawes, loved to fish. So, they went out fishing, and Jerry and I went frog hunting, turtle catching, swimming, and eventually water skiing. That became a big part of my life. I had saved — I had a paper route. I guess I had that probably freshman, sophomore, and junior year. I think I gave it up my senior year. But, that gave me enough money. And with the money I earned from that I could afford to buy an outboard motor.
My dad bought a boat that I could put a large outboard motor on. So, I had a little twelve-foot boat with a 25-horse power engine on it. Moved pretty well for its time. And I, Jerry and I grew up water skiing. And, he had a boat. He loved woodworking. He had a beautiful wooden boat. At any rate, much to my dadís chagrin, we learned how to water-ski instead of fish. And, later on, as a junior in high school, we went down to the Grand River in Lansing and started water skiing. My high school buddies, Roger Shawl, and Don Harvey, John Haga, those four were the main ones. Alan became a schoolteacher. I donít know whether he specialized in anything scientific. But, we were all pretty good at math, and kind of prowled around a lot together. They were from the rural side of the tracks. And Ted Warner, and Chuck Sauer, and Case Hoonhout, they were from the other side. The ďhavesĒ side of the tracks. And, they were all good in math. So, we were in this math class together, and so on. Oh gosh that was one that I remember, when I was eighteen. We had a substitute for Mrs. Kelly. Mrs. Kelly we, she was a good teacher, but we really misused her.
Lassman:Thatís fine. Go ahead.
Keck:I canít remember the substituteís name, but he was an old fellow, balding, short, and he was an excellent substitute teacher. He collared us boys and captivated us, when Mrs. Kelly was out sick for something. I remember one of the first views of physics I had was from this guy. We must have been sophomores, I guess. Somebody was goading him. I donít know the context now in which he said it, but he had the kid come up to the front of the class, and he said, ďI bet I can push as hard as you can,Ē or something to that effect. He put his hand up, and encouraged the kid to put his hand out. And he said, now push. And he pulled his hand back, and the kid went down. And somehow, he wove it into Newtonís law. The reaction doesnít equal the opposite reaction. For some reason that stuck in my brain too. But there are two more stories I wanted to get in. Mr. WalbridgeÖ
Lassman:This is the physics teacher?
Keck:This is the physics, chemistry teacher. The normal regimen was you took chemistry in your junior year and physics in your senior year. Iíd had him for chemistry, and enjoyed it. But gosh. We were cutups. I remember in one chemistry class — oh gosh, what was it? Well, there was one kid in class that just, well he was very naive, and we were always playing pranks on the poor kid — Jerry Largent. He was all there, but he just wasnít swift. And so, in chemistry class we had it rigged up. We told him before class that when we give him the signal he was to turn on the water. And, we had a hose hooked up that was going to go into somebodyís lap down the way. When he turned on the water, of course, the hose was stacked [Laugh] in his lap. Anyway, so this happened in Mr. Walbridgeís class. He knew something was going on. He didnít know exactly what weíd done, but he eventually found out and let us get away with it. I always liked Mr. Walbridge.
Lassman:In the physics class that he taught, Iím curious about the content? Granted this was in high school but was he introducing you to some of the latest developments in physics.
Keck:No. Pretty fundamental. When I say fundamental, pretty routine sorts of physics.
Keck:Mechanics, motion of bodies, friction. Those sorts of things. We must have gotten into light at some point, but Iíll be honest with you, I donít remember it in high school. I remember doing the inclined plane experiments with blocks of wood, and things like that, and enjoying it, and being fascinated by it. Mr. Walbridge was, again, he was eclectic. Somehow, he played baseball too, and I remember him coming out, the senior year, I was pitching, and he showed me how to get more whip in my throwing motion. He was an interesting fellow. He lost his wife while we were in school, from cancer, I think, but Iím not sure. He had a beautiful baritone voice, and I wound up accompanying him in a number of assemblies. He would sing the National Anthem, or the Lordís Prayer, depending on what the thing was. But, the one that stands out in my mind, I remember — I hadnít studied the theory of music. My teacher, Iím sure, had given it to me, but I hadnít paid a lot of attention to the theory, and I lament that to this day. I was more into the mechanics of the music, and sounds, and things like that. And, I remember, for some reason or other, I found it easier to play sharps than flats, and Mr. Walbridge gave me the Lordís Prayer music. I think it was in four flats, and I transposed it to three sharps. Well, of course this moved it up a note. And, I remember him straining to hit the high note. And, he came over to me and asked later on. And then he understood what I had done. But, I didnít give it a thought that he might have trouble hitting the note. But, that one sticks out in my mind. The other thing that I remember in building things; we talked about the transistor, and there were all sorts of circuits that were out and around, things that you could build using the transistor. The notion — the transistors that first came out was Raytheon CK721, 722, 723.
Lassman:These were transistors you could buy?
Keck:Yeah, you could buy. Had three wires coming out the bottom, and a little thing the size of your little finger, with the active element. We were burning out several of them before you learned how to hook the things up. But, people would publish circuits that you could build using a transistor. Iím sure the organ was one of those. You saw a circuit someplace and then went down to the shop and put it together. We had old speakers laying around, and so I could build the thing. But, one of the things that they built was a bi-stable oscillator-type thing where you put in one of the base legs and it would flip one way and allow current to go through this leg. Or, if you put the opposite polarity on, why, it would flip the other way. It would latch one way or the other depending upon how you biased the base of the transistor. So my dad wound up using it in one of the, in designing one of the earth resistivity instruments. We needed to take the DC batteries that we took out in the field and get an AC signal to put power to the electrodes in the earth resistivity instrument. He had experimented and played with a smaller vibrator, bi-stable oscillator-type thing. I said, ďYou know, I could make a tachometer out of that.Ē And, by this time, I must have had my outboard motor. And then I was wondering how I could get a tachometer on my outboard motor. I had put this transistor circuit together. I remember, in fact, I made a plastic box to put it in, and went down to ďPlastics Manufacturing,Ē and I had watched them making pieces, gluing them together with the methylene chloride.
Lassman:This was a private company?
Keck:Private company from whom we bought plastic parts and pieces that we used in the resistivity instruments that I was building for my dad. I just watched how they did some of the things, and then built myself a little box about, three inches square, and two or three inches deep. And, I put my model vibrator bi-stable oscillator circuit in there, and had a meter on it. I just hooked it up to the spark plug and pulled off an impulse, and had this, these transistors flopping back and forth, and giving rise to a voltage that could dictate a reading on a meter. I built a tachometer. I always thought that was one of the neater things that I had done. Other things that we did, a neighbor boy — rocketry was just starting to come into vogue. My dad had, during the war, he would go over to the Library of Congress. He was down in Washington by himself. My mother and I stayed in East Lansing. He would go back periodically and consult with the Naval Ordinance Lab.
Lassman:This was during the war?
Keck:This was after the war Ė- WW II.
Keck:Yes, I misspoke. And, heíd go over to the Library of Congress and read in the evenings after work. He didnít have anything else to do in the city of Washington. I remember one of the things he brought back was the formula for gunpowder. We fixed up some gunpowder; I donít know now what I did, but later on, I was probably in high school, maybe a senior, and the kid next door had gotten a rocket somewhere. And, rocketry — í58, Sputnik. He had this toy rocket. I donít know how he knew that I knew how to make gunpowder, but we mixed up some gunpowder. Boy, we could have blown the house apart. Didnít have to worry about OSHA [Occupational Safety & Health Administration], and any of that stuff. At any rate, this, we put it in the rocket and we had a couple of wires and touched it off, and up the rocket went, two or three hundred feet in the air.
Lassman:When you were in high school, at this time, what are you doing during the summers, in between?
Keck:Generally worked for my dad. In the company.
Lassman:Okay. I see.
Keck:And then weekends weíd go up to the lake. Water-skiing. Starting my junior year, in Lansing, there was a dammed up section of the Grand River, and they had a boat launch, public boat launch. There was a boat club there, Lansing Boat Club. The river was not used at all. It wasnít polluted. It was brown. The water wasnít clear, or anything like that. And we never could figure that out. We kids started going down there in the summer, after work. Iíd hitch my boat up and take it down, and weíd water ski on the Grand River. There was nobody else around. It was beautiful. You could go for miles up the river. And, I had my tachometer on the boat, of course. Well, at any rate, we met up with a couple of guys up the river that had a much bigger boat. They had twin seventy horsepower Mercury engines on the back of a catamaran. A ďPowercatĒ. They saw us water-skiing, and they started paling around with us, and of course, we had this big boat. So, we decided weíd start putting on water ski shows. We got pretty good at it. We had slalom people, and eventually we built pyramids. I usually climbed. I was one of the smaller guys so, Al Harvey and John Haga were the two bigger guys. And, theyíd ski the bottom and Iíd climb up to the top on the three-person pyramids. And later on, we got to the point where we got some girls involved. And, theyíd climb up to the top and we would, I think we built a five-person pyramid. We tried to put a person three, three tiers high. Never could get one up there.
Lassman:Thatís pretty ambitious.
Keck:But, we continued that into graduate school; and college we were still going down there. Because Ruth would get on, my wife would get on my shoulders, and weíd ski around on a slalom ski with her sitting on my shoulders. And, eventually we got so we could ski without any skis. I could do that. We had a nice little water ski show that weíd put on for people on a Sunday afternoon. So that was one of the things we did in the summertime.
Lassman:In addition, you said, to working?
Keck:In addition to working.
Lassman:To working for your father?
Keck:A lot of —, the message in all of this is, to young kids is, you know, you can have a well-rounded career, and a well-rounded growing up experience, or whatever, and you donít have to specialize until at some later point. You can still have a very successful career. But, youíre laying the seeds all the way along. This notion of building things rather than buying them, that we got from my grandfather, and from my father, and so on, were all, all important then later on with the things that I did as an industrial scientist. I remember my grandfather and me built a hay rake. He came up with the idea. We tore apart an old, I donít know, youíve seen the great curved tines that they used to have on hay rakes?
Lassman:I canít say as I have.
Lassman:But, Iíll take your word for it.
Keck:Well, he knew of a fellow up in the rural outskirts of Lansing, an old family friend, who had a rusty old hay rake. We went out and got these long curved tines that had a spring on them. We brought that back. We built a hay rake. Letís see, I was probably in junior high school for this. Weíre not even through pageÖ
Lassman:Weíre just at the top of page two [of the question list]. Thatís fine. Weíve got plenty of time. We get to the end of high school, youíve decided to go to Michigan State, and you had this connection with Hawes, Professor Hawes in the physics department.
Keck:I really didnít connect with any professor during my undergraduate work.
Lassman:Did you start out knowing that you were going to major in physics?
Keck:No. I originally had signed up at Michigan State in electrical engineering. The transistor had obviously come out a couple of years ahead. It looked like there was going to be lots of jobs in semiconductor activities.
Lassman:Youíre thinking about this already, as a freshman?
Keck:Well, in high school we had a guidance counselor, Mrs. Lamb, Thelma Lamb. Had all the seniors go through a career course where we looked at all sorts of different careers, and the term paper was you had to pick the career and explain why you wanted to go into it, and things like that. And, we didnít get too specific. Engineering was the one that I think I wrote on, as I recall .As I sort of had in mind that engineering was the direction that I was going to go, as opposed to straight science in physics.
Lassman:Is this the term paper you wrote on the transistor?
Keck:Different course, different term paper. It was just one on career guidance, and so on. The reason I was laughing at Thelma Lamb; because I was not doing particularly a stellar job of my high school career, and as I say graduated in the middle of my high school class of only fifty-eight, I remember my folks later on telling me that during one of the parent-guidance teacher conferences, Thelma Lamb had told them that Don had better start looking at a vocational education, that he wasnít going to be a professional, that he just didnít look like he could make it in any professional occupation.
Keck:They didnít tell me this until much later in my life. So, at any rate, I was accepted at Michigan State in spite of my mediocre grades. My kids did all sorts of studies of different schools, and whatís the best school. And, you know, they knew the rankings. I donít remember any of that.
Lassman:And, was that typical among your peers?
Keck:I think. Yes. You didnít know that much about the world. You were much more regional in your focus. Well, remember, that from my parentsí generation, they didnít move more than twenty-five miles from where they grew up for the most part. My mother grew up twenty miles from Grand Ledge where she was born. And, my dad, a little bit better, he got out of Detroit and came up to East Lansing, so regionalism was much more the norm. I remember somewhere along the line thinking to myself that now I was going to be a citizen of the world, and not stay in the home area. I honestly donít know about the rest of my classmates, how many of them are still in the Lansing area, and how many of them left. Iíve cited two examples. I do know that people left and did very, very well in very high places.
Lassman:When you entered as aÖ
Lassman:When you entered as an electrical engineering studentÖ
Lassman:As an engineer.
Keck:I submitted my application as an electrical engineer. Somewhere along before the first class my dad and I had a talk. I donít remember specifically the things that were said, but he counseled that a physics education would give me much more breadth and an ability to go in any of a number of directions, whereas electrical engineering would be very, very specific. His council was to get the broader physics education. And, I donít remember now whether it was before I actually started the first class that I wrote to Michigan State and asked to change majors. Or whether it was when I first entered. But, I changed my major to physics very, very early on, at that juncture. In some sense, it didnít matter. The first two years were pre-programmed. I mean, you took a set of broad, broadly based courses in sociology, social science, communications skills, writing, speaking, natural science was required of all the, all the students. What in the heck was the fourth one? There are four base courses. Oh math, of course. And then some general math course.
Lassman:Were there any language requirements?
Keck:No. I had taken two years of Latin in high school. For the most part, I donít remember a thing about Latin. It was supposed to have helped me greatly in grammar, but in high school, I really wasnít paying a whole lot of attention, frankly. Now I do lament that, that whole, well, period. I did not cover myself with any kind of glory in high school and wished, in retrospect, that Iíd studied more. For some reason or another, in college, that notion got out of my system. I donít know what it was that caused me to change my outlook, but I realized I had to do better. And, I remember vividly the middle of the term of your freshman year, the principal of the high school came over to school, to college, and got a number of the school graduates, the Okemos high school graduates that were at Michigan State, together, and just was asking us questions about how we were prepared. At the time, we had our midterm grades. My grades were higher than any of my high school colleagues. And, the principal of the high school was absolutely flabbergasted, Mr. Harrison. At any rate, so from almost day one in college I changed my way of thinking, and began to study harder and do better.
Lassman:In the physics department, were you taking engineering courses along the way?
Keck:No. I moved into a full-blown physics curriculum. You took sophomore physics, the general physics course, and I remember that — no I take it back. It was later on. Alfred Leitner was the fellow that taught the sophomore physics class. And, he was good. He loved to teach. Alfred Leitner.
Lassman:You took physics during freshman year also?
Keck:No. The regimen was, you took, sort of like high school. You took chemistry in your freshman year, and then physics was reserved for your second year.
Keck:So that you had your calculus math class in your freshman year. Took physics in the sophomore year.
Lassman:In high school, then, how much math did you have in high school? How far did you go?
Keck:In those days we didnít do calculus. We had algebra I and II your freshman and sophomore years. Trigonometry was the junior year. And then geometry, I think, was the senior year, or vice versa. I donít remember now.
Keck:We had not gone into any calculus in those days. So, the first calculus I had was in college. That was a rude awakening for me. I did not do well in college math, even though Iíd done well in high school math. Actually, later on [I] realized that I learned most of the math that I know in my physics class, not in the mathematics class. The mathematics at Michigan State, at the time they prided themselves as being the epitome of mathematicians, and so it was an esoteric mathematics — the only word I can think of to describe it. The practicalities of it were just not that forthcoming, in the calculus and advanced calculus. I think the differential equations class that I had; that was good. That was, got very practical, but Professor Lehrer wrote the book, in fact, and did a nice job of it. But, most of the later math that I learned was done in the, later on in the physics classes, quantum physics, or whatever.
Lassman:What was it about that that made it easier for you to pick it up? Learning it in that physics context as opposed to the mathematics department?
Keck:I heard a term used a few years ago at a National Academy of Engineering discussion of education in the sciences and math. They called it metacognitive learning. The gist of it was that if itís something out of your experience base that youíre learning, hearing something and relating it to, you learn it much better, and in a longer lasting form. The only explanation I can give you was that the physics was talking about real-world problems and things like that. I could relate to it and get a handle on it as opposed to just doing some mathematical manipulation or operation, or prove, you know, some proof or what have you. At any rate, I still would argue that I learned most of my mathematics in my physics classes, not in any of the math classes that Michigan State taught, anyway.
Lassman:So, youíve taken me up through your sophomore year.
Keck:Yes. That Fred Leitner really turned me on to physics in that class. He was just an excellent teacher, and made it fun. The sophomore physics experiments that he ran, just masterfully, masterfully done. He was an old German, heavy German accent. But, he was my first experience with the physics department. Later on, to my chagrin, when I got into the meat of the physics course and physics department, I learned that the head of the physics department at the time was pressuring Leitner. Fred wanted to be a good teacher, and the physics department at the time was pushing for him to become a research scientist. They wanted a heavy research base. They wanted people doing work outside of the teaching; that you werenít to be known simply as a good teacher. You had to be known as a knowledgeable and reputable — not reputable, but a well-known scientist in your own right by publishing learned works and things like that.
Lassman:Had that not been the case in the physics department?
Keck:I canít give you a whole lot of history on that, but clearly, for this tenure of Sherwood Haines — I mean he had a long tenure.
Lassman:He was the chairman?
Keck:He was chairman of the physics and astronomy department. Clearly he was moving the department to be a much more research-oriented department as opposed to someone, somebody that was content with good science teaching. And, that always bothered me, because I thought you had to have a balance. Leitner was good at it, and wanted to be known as a teacher of young minds. Later on, it turned out, he made some NSF films on superconductivity, and so that was his research. He was still teaching, but he brought money into the department doing NSF grants to film, do these teaching films on superconductivity. But, he eventually left Michigan State, and he had a profound impact on me later on. As a matter of fact, and went to West Point. I donít believe heís still there. He may not be alive any longer but he had left.
Lassman:Talking about your instructors, generationally was this a younger group or an older group?
Keck:Ah, good question.
Lassman:In the physics department.
Keck:A mix. Fairly balanced. Leitner was probably one of the older ones, and then we had some younger ones. One terrible one that taught an electronics course that just could not teach. But, yes, the older ones knew their way around and clearly, they were the ones from whom you learned — from whom I learned the most. But, they had a number of young ones. Well no, I guess I canít say that. Julius Kovaks was fairly new in the department, and he taught quantum mechanics. He was a fairly recent acquisition. They had done a little bit of hiring and gotten a couple of younger people, but by in large it was a middle to later career type physics department.
Lassman:Was there a connection with the engineering departments?
Lassman:As an undergraduate?
Keck:The College of Natural Science and the College of Engineering could have been on two separate campuses for all the connection there was. Although, well I shouldnít say that. The engineers had to come over and take sophomore physics.
Lassman:Okay. Thatís what I was going to ask.
Keck:So, yes. The College of Natural Science provided a service to the university by teaching that course. I remember my dad, I guess, trying to instill in me a good feeling toward physics and science, and said that when he taught the sophomore physics course, if you remember that, he had any number of medical, premed students that were taking the course and they just couldnít hack it and couldnít understand it. He was always holding the physicists at a higher plateau than some of the people who later took care of our good health. But, I mean obviously we know now that you need all kinds, and there are other types of learning and the ability to store and so on.
Lassman:Let me go back just for a second. You mentioned your father, again. When he was teaching there in the Ď20s, did he had an active research program also, or was it just teaching?
Keck:The only reason Iím hesitating, Tom, is that he told me about one experiment he ran one day, about putting a beaker of water at the focal point of a paraboloid out in the sun and watching it to see it boil. And, it didnít. And, we added some India ink to the water, and it boiled instantaneously from the increased absorbed energy, and splattered India ink all over him. I think the true answer is that Michigan State probably didnít have a research component in those days.
Keck:It was not a research university; other than just from curiosity of the professors in trying various and sundry things to demonstrate for classes. I think thatís the context in which the India ink experiment was tried. He was trying to find, something he would show in a lecture model demonstration as to focus.
Lassman:Getting back to the curriculum that you were taking. At what point do you start getting exposed to some of the newer advances in physics — you mentioned there was someone there who taught quantum mechanics? Iíd like to get a little more information to your first exposure to the frontiers of physics, if youíre getting that at this point in your education. And, also, again, what kinds of textbooks are you using?
Keck:Well, the textbook that we used in sophomore physics was Sears and Zemansky.
Lassman:Was that a commonly used book?
Keck:I believe that was probably, at the time, the most widely used sophomore text around the nation. Now, I may be wrong on that. I always lamented, by the time I was in graduate school, or freshman, or first-year graduate school, Halliday and Resnick Ö
Lassman:Thatís the textbook I used in Ö
Keck:Came into being, and it was so infinitely better than Sears and Zemansky.
Keck:So, this would have been í63.
Keck:And, how long it had been out, I donít know. But, I can look it up and find a copy. I probably still have the text. Cutting-edge science.
Lassman:And, Iíd be interested to know what courses you were.
Keck:Well, the general regimen was that in your junior year, for the majors, you took mechanics, you took electricity, and magnetism, as I recall, and a math class, probably differential equations. And I, others of my friends, Roger Shawl for example, took a lot more electives than I did. I tended to take more of the offerings in the physics department itself. My electives were, physics — astronomy was an elective course for me. It was only a one-credit course that was taught by the physics department. So, you got kind of the old-style physics, the mechanics, the electricity and magnetism in your junior year, and then modern physics, I think was what it was called, and optics were in your senior year. Usually, that was the sequence that people took. And what else? What else did we take? I guess solid-state physics was in one of those. They would have been more on the cutting edge. There was an electronics course that I said this one terrible young professor taught. His name escapes me now. Frank Blatt taught solid-state physics, and he was an experimentalist, and he could not teach solid-state physics to save his soul. But solid-state physics was kind of just beginning, with the transistor beginning to be one of the mainstream courses. I guess you would say it was on the cutting edge.
Lassman:Okay. I see.
Keck:Fermi surfaces and that sort of thing. Paul Parker taught modern physics, he taught the Schrodinger equation, and the Bohr theory of the atom, and that sort of thing in the modern physics course.
Lassman:Is it called modern physics, orÖ
Keck:I think it was called modern physics. Iíll have to go down and look. I donít remember. A thin book. Solid-state — what did we use? I think we used Blattís notes. He was an arrogant guy, full professor, and I think he just gave us mimeographed notes.
Lassman:You didnít have a textbook?
Keck:I donít remember in undergraduate having a textbook. In graduate solid-state — whatís the famous solid-state textbook?
Keck:Oh my, now I donít remember. Youíre taxing me. Iím going to have to go down and pull out my transcript somehow or another, assuming I can find them. But, there must have been some sort of a quantum mechanics course too, but it was taught from, it was probably taught from a wave into things. Well, no, it must have been — Jim Gordon was the teacher. And, I canít remember whether we had that in my senior year or whether it was first year in undergraduate school.
Lassman:He taught quantum mechanics?
Keck:Well, I donít know that it was called quantum mechanics. Now, what would it have been called inÖ? My first exposure to the Schrodinger equation. And he was a magnificent lecturer, worked over at the cyclotron. He was hired — Michigan State, I guess about the time I was an undergraduate, began the building of the cyclotron, and a lot of my colleagues in the physics department worked over at the cyclotron for extra money.
Lassman:This was as — colleagues? As an undergraduate?
Keck:Yes. And I didnít. In fact, I didnít work at all. Well, I was still working, as an undergraduate, with my dadís company, any time that I had. That was how I was getting the money and doing all these things. Well, I canít remember on Jim Gordon. Iíll have to think more about it. But, he was a magnificent teacher, and he was blind. Or, legally blind. He wore very thick classes and probably could see, you know, shapes and that sort of thing. But, just had a magnificent penmanship and you would see him feeling his way along the board to find where to put the — but, he did a magnificent job. So, that was my first exposure to the new wave particle reality sorts of notions that were — I guess that while Iím here, no, they werenít on the cutting edge, by any means, at that time. [NAME 615] and all those who done their work in the mid-twenties and so on. But, the implication was that it was still believing, thinking at the time in physics.
Lassman:Well, when you think about that, your undergraduate curriculum, would you say that there was an emphasis more on the experimental side versus the theoretical side? Maybe thatís a different way to put the question?
Keck:No, it would definitely have been more on the theoretical side.
Keck:Well, I mean, the classic experiments were described and taught, Michael C. Morley, and so on. Paul Parker, who taught the modern physics class, Iím sure he brought in examples of that. And, Goudsmidt, with the electron spin. So why would I say itís more theoretical? Well, I mean, just because, you know, youíve got to learn that, that set of mathematics associated with understanding how the world works, and so on. You were learning more — well, thatís when I learned my mathematics, is in those undergraduate courses. Far more so than in the math classes. So, eventually I graduated, as an undergraduate, with honor.
Keck:In í62. And, the graduate record exam was just starting to come into being, I think.
Lassman:Let me backtrack just for a second.
Lassman:Just when you were getting ready to graduate, what were your thoughts about a career?
Keck:Oh, there was no question I knew I was going on to graduate school.
Lassman:What was the thinking there?
Keck:Iím sure I told people privately that in contrast to my engineering friends, Roger Shawl in particular who could, who had been schooled to be able to do something useful from the get go, I didnít think my physics education positioned me to do much of anything. And, that I just had to go on and take the next step in that education. Now, knowing absolutely nothing about industrial corporations and how so much of the training is on the job, and learning that you had the sufficient base to do more than you thought you could. But clearly, in my mind, I hadnít learned as much as I needed to learn. Not as much as I thought I needed to learn.
Lassman:What, what are your peers doing, when theyíre graduating? Are they going on to graduate school at MSU, or different universities, or are they moving into industry? I just want to get a sense of what the class, what your class is doing, or if there are tends there? If what youíre doing is different?
Keck:Well, two of my closest associates, or friends in undergraduate didnít go on. One of them took a job with Goodyear Aerospace. The other one went on to get an MBA, Probably made more money than I have. What did Marti Schwarzman do? I donít know, but she was having a rough time of it, so she, my guess is she didnít go on. I donít even remember now. I think we had twenty physics graduates.
Lassman:Was the undergraduate program small?
Keck:I mean, I looked at it, you know, your sophomore class was 200 strong, and a huge lecture hall, and I donít think I knew what was going on in those days. And, here I thought most of these were physics people. Well, theyíre obviously not. Theyíre engineers and premed and all sorts of stuff. So, our modern physics class, which slowly began to, the beginning of my senior year, we began to gel and know the people around us, there was probably only twenty or twenty-five people. Well, I would wager that it was probably half and half, that half would go on and half didnít.
Lassman:Half would go on to graduate school?
Keck:Thatís what I mean. But thatís purely a guess.
Lassman:As an undergraduate, when youíre getting ready to finish, are you being encouraged by faculty members, to go on to graduate school? Are they preparing students for careers in teaching and research?
Keck:Iíd have to say that the counseling that I got as an undergraduate was not all that great, that the physics — I canít even tell you today — I think Bill Kelly was my, was supposed to be my academic advisor. And, I donít recall that he ever gave me very good advice. I think most everything that I did was much more as a result of interactions with my father than it was with any of the faculty at school.
Lassman:What was Kellyís background?
Keck:I want to say high-energy nuclear. Having said that, that may not be right. Itís probably medium-energy nuclear. It was nuclear physics, and he would have been at Michigan State for three or four years.
Lassman:So, he was one of the youngÖ?
Keck:He was younger faculty, and therefore probably hadnít yet gelled and what mentorship, what you had to give to young students.
Lassman:Were there any other faculty members who filled that role?
Well, I donít remember any of them encouraging me particularly to go on to graduate school. I remember Paul Parker, who taught modern physics, and later he was associated with my graduate group, I remember, vividly, sitting in his modern physics class — and he was another one of those excellent teachers who just made things very interesting, little anecdotes, or the way he said things, or the way he presented it — and Iíd sit in his class and envision myself teaching. I fancied that I could, I could do what he was doing, someday. But he was just impressive, and yet not arrogant, and you could readily relate to him as being someone that youíd want to emulate. But, I donít remember any counsel to go on to graduate school. As I said, the graduate record exam, I think it was just being, or just coming out, or coming into being, or maybe I was just naive and it was the first time that Michigan State administered it. But, they gave it to us as juniors. I remember taking it then, and doing not well. Then I think I took it as a senior. A 95th percentile sticks in my mind.
I donít remember the top scale, but I think it was in the high percentiles. So clearly, I had learned a lot more physics by the time I graduated than I knew as a junior. Obviously not too surprising. But they wanted us to take it anyway, as a junior, so they could begin getting some benchmarks and benchlines, and there was something associated with the department that they were encouraging us to take that. But the other part that I remember, Sherwood Haines, I mentioned him as the chair of the department, and he was your, well I held him up as the epitome of the arrogant physicist. Every conversation it was about physics, and always trying to show how learned he was, and so on. I never, for some reason or another, that never dissuaded me from wanting to be a physicist, I donít think I ever wanted to be the physicist that, you know, was the one that was the most quoted, or the most published, or that sort of thing, which was what he encouraged all the faculty to aspire to. As I say, he was definitely trying to upgrade the physics department, as I perceived it, to get on a national, to-be-recognized, scale.
Lassman:That might have had something to do with your decision maybe not to follow that track?
Keck:Possibly. But I just remember that working in the background. I donít rememberÖ
Lassman:I donít want to put too much emphasis on it.
Keck:Necessarily being swayed by him, but I remember him as being someone that I didnít want to emulate.
Lassman:Okay. I see.
Keck:And Parker as being someone that I did.
Lassman:But before we jump forward, into the graduate experience, there are a couple of things I want to ask about. And one that, in particular, you mentioned, when we were talking about the curriculum, you took an optics course.
Lassman:I want to ask a little bit more about that. First, to get a sense of what that course was, and what it is that youíre learning, and also to see, is there then in the beginning, on your part of the development of an intellectual interest in this field, where youíre beginning to go from the broad, generalization to actually where youíre thinking a little bit more about, ďWell, hereís an area that I might be interested in.Ē Specialized?
Lassman:Tell me that story.
Keck:So, guess who the professor of optics is? C. D. Hause.
Keck:Our family friend. And, I donít recall him as being — well, part of it was, there was so much baggage that came along with Duane Hawes. He was a wonderful individual and I donít mean to belittle him at all, but I knew heíd had a nervous breakdown. He had been chair of the department prior to Haines coming, and I suspect the stress and things just had gotten to him. And so, as a friend of the family we knew of that. Well, I just knew him too well. But, he taught a good optics course. He was not a great lecturer, but certainly adequate.
Lassman:Do you know what his background was, before he came to Michigan State?
Keck:I donít. I never looked back to see what his thesis was. He came to Michigan State and eventually created a molecular sciences group at Michigan State that he and Thomas Harvey Edwards, and Paul Parker, were principals. So, thereís a molecular spectroscopy and molecular physics group at Michigan State that he had built over the years.
Lassman:And, do you know a rough time period when this is? That he would have been doing this?
Keck:Well, I was the next to the last graduate student that he had. And, heís probably had twenty. He was well along in his career at the time that he was my professor. So, I donít know. Well, as far as I knew his career was associated with infrared molecular spectroscopy. And he built a spectrometer, infrared spectrometer, from scratch, at school. And then I assume that while he was chair of the department he used that as a time to build up the group, and Parker came in as the theorist for the group. And, Harvey Edwards was the experimentalist. Hawes was much more of an experimentalist than he was a theorist.
Lassman:There was an active research program in this field?
Lassman:A long-standing, time period?
Keck:Yes. So the optics course; typical optics, lenses, and we did lots of retracing, lots of early lens design. I remember him telling me that aspherics were not, he couldnít make them. Which, I found out after I got to Corning. But, he had told us that a Schmidt corrector, a 48-inch Schmidt corrector, with the aspheric profile of a telescope primary, could record better pictures than the 200-inch Palomar telescope. That was the benchmark. I do remember growing up being enamored with the 200-inch telescope. It was made in the mid to late Ď30s.
Lassman:Didnít Corning make the lens?
Keck:But, I remember reading a book or seeing something, about the making of the Palomar telescope. And that would have been in high school. So, that fascinated me. So the optics, we did lots of lenses and it bordered on the aspherics. The part that I enjoyed most was when we got into wave optics. And, Fabry-Perot interferometers, and Michaelsen and began to do interferometry, and that, that aspect of optics, physical optics. No. Yeah. I donít know. What do we call that branch of optics anymore? Physical optics is the lenses, well now wave optics are.
Lassman:Did you also have connections to his research? This molecular research group, at all?
Keck:No. As an undergraduate I must have spent most of my time working with my dad. And, while I probably should have, I didnít do any of the work that my colleagues were doing. A lot of them had odd jobs, part-time jobs in the physics department there at Michigan State.
Lassman:During summers, are you going back and working for your father also?
Lassman:Just a few more questions on the undergraduate side? Extracurricular activities, things that youíre doing?
Keck:As undergrad? We had a hockey team. An intramural hockey team that we, well we kids played pond hockey. I mentioned that we carved out this pond behind our house, and in the wintertime, it froze over, and it was just about the right size for a hockey rink. So, all my high school buddies, on a Sunday afternoon instead of watching the football games weíd be over there playing hockey. Went to Michigan State, and there were enough of us still there, around, that we had a team. And, oh, I vividly remember that first game. We signed up. Al Harvey found our way around and signed us up for an intramural game, and we learned we were supposed to appear at the hockey ring on such and such a time, and so on. And, the day before, Al came around and was making phone calls desperately saying, ďHey, I understand the guys that weíre playing against have got pads and everything, and they raise the puck, and this is real hockey.Ē And, we didnít have any pads, and we didnít have any gloves, or anything. So, we took pieces of cardboard, corrugated cardboard, and taped them to our shins and that was the only padding we had in these games. And, I donít remember whether we won or lost the first game, but we played and — oh good grief. I donít remember whether it was sophomore or junior year. We played for three years, and the team morphed over time as various of my colleagues would leave school and go to some other school, or do something else totally. And so it started out as high school buddies to begin with, and then by the time we, I guess we placed second. I donít think we won it. But one year out of twenty, thirty fraternity teams and everything, we placed second. And, that was the year that we were playing one of the games, some guy propped his stick in my mouth in order to be able to stand up, as he was falling down. So, my two front teeth are capped, as a result of hockey. We didnít have mouth guards or anything in those days. So, that was one extracurricular thing that I did.
Lassman:Were there things, as part of the university, too, that you did? Organizations?
Keck:Well, we started a physics club. The first physics club at Michigan State. Was it under the auspices of — I was going to say Sigma Pi Sigma, but Iím not sure thatís right.
Lassman:Thatís the physics honorary?
Keck:Which eventually I was inducted into. I donít remember, now, the physics club. But, I remember we formed it, and I was elected president.
Lassman:What kinds of things did you do?
Keck:Not a whole heck of a lot. We had speakers come in.
Keck:Well, it was a regular colloquia series that the university had. And so, the club would attend those.
Lassman:The university or the department?
Keck:The department. Iím Sorry.
Keck:The physics department. And, I remember these were always, the epitome of learned lecturers, that you couldnít understand or, at least as an undergraduate you couldnít understand.
Lassman:And were you expected to attend these?
Keck:No. It was purely voluntary.
Lassman:And do you remember any of theÖ?
Lassman:Okay. What encouraged you to set up this physics society?
Keck:I donít remember whose idea it was. It may have been Hainesí, Sherwood Hainesí. But, he just thought it was something that students should be doing. One of the things we did, I think we held some sort of a session with new potential physics students, physics majors. We encouraged them, or told them what, being a physics major was like, and that sort of thing. So, I remember that. There was one presentation we had to make, and I donít remember now with what that was associated, some visiting group that the physics club was asked to make a presentation, and tell what we did, and so on. And I donít remember what I said. I just remember we had to do it. Obviously, it was not terribly memorable. The physics department didnít have a lot of — well, we eventually had a softball team. And, with my baseball background that put us in good stead. And one year we did, I think it was probably my senior year, we fielded a real good team because some fellow from, I had no idea where, asked us if he could practice with the team. It turned out he was a softball pitcher. And, the guy could throw a ball, a softball fast pitch, and make it just bounce around and do all sorts of things. Nobody else on the team could catch the guy except me. So, I wound up as his batting mate and we, by in large, would strike out the opposing team. It was just a question of us to get a run or two. And, so we did pretty well. So, those other things that I grew up with as a high school student carried with me. I still enjoyed that breadth of activities and the sports.
Lassman:Did you keep up with the piano?
Keck:I did. But, for my own enjoyment. I wasnít taking lessons anymore. And, I — there was a period after I stopped taking music lessons where I didnít do anything. And then one day, I just started playing for a matter of enjoyment, and began to pick up more and more pieces of music and learn pieces that I heard on the radio, or heard at a concert, or something like that. So, eventually playing Chopin and things like that from the classical age. But the lament that I had was my buddy Rog Shawl, from high school, could play by ear. Never took a music lesson in his life, and he could play any pop tune that came along. And, so all the girls at all the parties, why Rog was the center of attention. And, here I could play the classical repertoire to some degree. That didnít cut it. And, to this day, I still lament that I canít sit down and play in a cocktail setting at the piano. But, I did continue playing the piano in college and did eventually pick up some pop tunes. But, I play for my own enjoyment.
Lassman:Another question here. When does the future Mrs. Keck appear on the scene?
Lassman:Whatís that story?
Keck:Well, it must haveÖ?
Lassman:You had known each other, is that right?
Lassman:You had mentioned the water skiing?
Keck:Well, yes, but we did that, we still were doing that in graduate school.
Keck:And now, Iím going to have to ask her whether it was my freshman year, freshman graduate school year, or sophomore. I think it was my first year as a graduate student. And, it was about this time of year. And, my boat was still in the water up at a lake, in Lake Michigan. And, Roger Shawl, my high school buddy, must have been going on for his masters at Michigan State. So, he went on. Ted Warner eventually went on and got an advanced degree, and those are the only ones of my high school class that I know of that went on to graduate school besides myself. And Roger had this girl in whom he was intently interested and wanted an excuse to meet with her, because she was about to marry somebody else, and had been asked. And so, Roger said, ďCould we double date, and go up?Ē I told him maybe this weekend I had to go up and get the boat. He said, ďOh fine. I know a, weíll get a date for you and weíll go up and get your boat.Ē And, I didnít know anybody at that time that I thought of to date. And, Rog had met Ruth at some college gathering, I think associated, well Iím sure associated with the Lutheran Church in East Lansing. And somehow, Roger had gotten associated with — I donít think Jeannie was part of that. But at any rate, so Jeannie Niedermeier and Rog, and Ruth and I went up to pick up my boat. And that was my first date with Ruth, a blind date. And then we just kept dating from that point on, and eventually married in í65. This would have been í63.
Lassman:And so, whatís her family background?
Keck:She came from, comes from the upper peninsula of Michigan. Her family is Finnish, one hundred percent. Maternal grandparents, I believe, came over from Finland. Iím sorry, paternal grandparents. Maternal grandparents were here. Grew up in a very, very small town of Ewen, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. We often kid her that there are fifty people in town, if you count the dogs and the cats. And, she came down to Michigan State, and obviously, we met there.
Lassman:What was her field of study?
Keck:She was studying what they now call human ecology. Home economics was what it was called at the time. Her dad was a county extension agent who had graduated from Michigan State and liked the upper peninsula; had grown up there, and returned. And, basically was helping the farmers in that area make a living. Bringing the latest agricultural, and ways of running farm businesses to the people in that area. He did that until he retired. I canít tell you the year now. Youíll have to ask Ruth.
Keck:So, at any rate, Rog asked Jean to marry him on the way home in the back of our car. And, eventually she said yes, and theyíve been happily married ever since. And, Ruth and I eventually got married two and a half years later.
Lassman:Would you like to take a break? This might be a good place.
Lassman:Resuming on Tuesday afternoon. We were talking just briefly about the optical physics course you had taken. And then your completion of your undergraduate studies, and now moving into graduate school. You might have mentioned this before — oh, did you want to say something?
Keck:Well, I was just going to begin to tell you about the graduate school. And, I donít remember exactly how it came about. I hadnít done much in the way of thinking about a response to go to graduate school.
Lassman:Thatís what I was going to ask you, if you had?
Keck:But, one day Duane Hause, Professor Hause, came to me and said that if I wanted to continue with graduate studies that he had, he would give me a graduate assistantship in his molecular spectroscopy part of it. I didnít know that much about molecular spectroscopy. I had kind of liked all the stuff I was learning, quantum mechanics, associated atoms in the modern physics course, and things that Iíd learned there. And, a number of, I mention MSU had a cyclotron that they, I think, had started building when I was an undergraduate, but then it continued into graduate school. And, they were the ones that had all the money in the physics department. High-energy physics was the rage and everybody that was going to be a real physicist was going into high-energy nuclear physics. And, Kelly was doing low-energy nuclear physics. Thatís really his department. My advisor that I had mentioned earlier. He was my undergraduate advisor.
Keck:It just triggered with me that he was in low, low-energy nuclear physics. But the preponderance, the department was moving in the direction of high-energy or low-energy, in nuclear physics. And, Henry Blosser had been hired to lead the cyclotron work at Michigan State. So, a lot was work in that direction. I knew I didnít really want to go in that direction. That hadnít appealed to me. We did a smattering of nuclear physics, I guess, in one of the undergraduate courses, and that just didnít turn me on. So, when Hawes offered me the assistantship — and he must have done it early in the year of my senior year, probably while I was taking his optics course. So, again, [we] didnít have any more money than we had when I went into undergraduate. So this seemed like a good offer and I didnít know anything better to do, so I continued my career at Michigan State and got both the masters and ultimately a PhD at Michigan State, working in the molecular spectroscopy group there with Hawes.
Lassman:Did you think at all about not continuing on in graduate school, of pursuing other career options?
Keck:No. As I said earlier, the notion I had coming out, as an undergraduate in physics was that I needed more training to be marketable. Iím sure out of naivetť, but, well I knew if, I had mentioned that I had envisioned myself as a physics teacher, a la Paul Parker, and what a role model he was, and knew that I couldnít teach if I didnít have a PhD. So, at that point I, there was no question I was going to go on to graduate school. And, my dad had a PhD and so it was just perfectly natural that I would continue on, continue on with the PhD.
Lassman:You mentioned thereís the low and high-energy physics research going on at the cyclotron. Then thereís Hauseís group in molecular spectroscopy. Are there other fields that are going on?
Keck:Yes. There was work in low-temperature solid-state physics. There were a couple of professors doing that. Well, three. Jay Cowen, Frank Blatt, Bob Spence. Spence was doing nuclear magnetic resonance. Cowen was doing electron spin.
Lassman:Thatís relatively new at this point?
Yes. Spence would gradually build up a feeling for which ones of the professors were well known in the broader physics community. And Spence was kind of the old vanguard of the faculty. He was the most published in this new field of nuclear magnetic resonance, and had done some original work, and built up early capability in that area. Cowen was a fairly young professor, but very dynamic. My best friend in graduate school, George Johnston, worked for Cowen. And so, our groups were continually getting together, and he was doing low-temperature, electron spin. Iíve forgotten what Frank Blatt was doing. There was a group that was doing cryogenics. Leitner had started it. Leitner was still there during my graduate schooling. I guess he left Michigan State after I graduated. But, there was someone else that joined, and I canít tell you know who that was that was doing, again, low-temperature physics.
There was a group, Egon Hiedemann, in ultrasonics, that was at Michigan State. And, Hiedemann had a name from back in Germany or Austria, where heíd come, from whence heíd come. So, he was well published, and presumably nationally known in ultrasonics. Blosser was beginning to make a name for himself in the cyclotron circles. But, I think the general, my general impression of Michigan State — I confess I donít know whether I formed this after I had left and began to see more of the world, but was that it was Ö Well, basically the status of Michigan State. But, as I say, I judged that it was really mediocre in the overall spectrum of places that were teaching physics. And, Haines, clearly, was trying to increase its stature. And, he hired Michael Harrison, and I believe he came out of the RCA laboratories. I mean, he was trying to get some of the industrial people back in to bring the latest techniques, technologies if you will. Harrison was in, he was a solid-state physicist.
But, Blosserís was really the group where they were adding people and high-energy nuclear physics, so all sorts of designers and mathematicians to calculate cyclotron orbits and shapes of pole faces for magnets, and very sophisticated stuff, chewed up tons of computer time, and really were the, well, the bulk of the department, both in students as well as faculty. And, we always kind of looked askance at them being in some of the other lesser fields, as they envisioned it, lesser fields of physics. But, at the end of the day, the training we got was perfectly adequate to get out and do a job in physics. And so, Iím, I really never lamented the fact that I, when I got to Corning, there were lots of MIT people, and people from Caltech. And some of the notable schools. But, I never really felt that I was ill prepared, or anything like that, coming out of Michigan State. Got kind of a good physics education grounding, and so on.
Lassman:In graduate school, this is in í62, you already mentioned that thereís a very strong emphasis toward the nuclear physics. Do you come in with a large class of graduate students, a small class? How many are joining the spectroscopy group?
Keck:Well, not a lot because the spectroscopy group didnít have tons of money.
Lassman:Where did a lot of that money come from?
Keck:Largely NSF. Harvey Edwards had an Air Force — I think it was an Air Force contract? I was about to say Army contract, but I think it was Air Force. And, Hawes had an NSF. And, I think Harvey Edwards also had an NSF contract. But, these were not capable of supporting, you know, twenty or thirty graduate students. Our group was probably, at its maximum, I think there might have been six graduate students. Well, letís see, Hawes had three and — well, maybe seven. Maybe seven between Hawes and Edwards. Paul Parker, well I guess, yeah, if I include the theory side, maybe eight in the molecular group. But, the cyclotron would have twenty or thirty graduates.
Lassman:So, it was much bigger?
Keck:Yes. So my guess is that half of the students in our graduate class — you know itís interesting too, the graduate class almost seems to me to be larger than I recall the undergraduate class. And, hadnít thought of it until this day, but there were clearly, there must have been sixty or seventy graduate students. Our undergraduate class, I donít think, was that large. So, we were attracting people. They were all doing the cyclotron, in a brand new facility, and on the ground floor, and that sort of thing. Because clearly there were a goodly number of students who were in that area.
Lassman:When you were coming in, what were the big questions in spectroscopy and optics at this time, and whatís the state of the field in relation to nuclear physics, solid-state?
Keck:Oh boy. The big questions?
Lassman:And, you can take that further into your graduate year too.
Keck:Well, D.H. Rank at Penn State had just published his calibration spectrum. He had done super careful measurements on hydrogen cyanide, and — what was the other material — carbon monoxide, as reference spectra to be used in the measurements in standardization of other spectral measurements. And so, that was quite an advancement in the whole field of spectroscopy. Lasers werenít on the scene. People were envisioning that there might be some way of using them in spectral measurements, but people hadnít yet come up with that technique. Helium-neon was the only laser that was out and about.
Lassman:That was just a few years before?
Lassman:In the late Ď50s?
Keck:Yes, I mean this is í63, and [in] í60-í61 Townes, and Schawlow had the optical maser and Ted Maiman had demonstrated the first optical laser using a ruby rod. I remember, Bob Terhune from Ford Motor Research came up to MSU. He was beginning to do some experiments with lasers. Emmett Leith, I think he was at Ford, too, was starting to make holograms. Now, this must have been a mid-graduate career, í64 or Ď65, to that time frame where people were beginning to find some unique uses of a laser. So, that was a new wave that was coming along.
Lassman:Were there a lot of growth prospects for the field?
Well, in the solid-state field, understanding semiconductor materials and things like that was clearly the rage. When you asked the question, the spectroscopy field was so old that, I donít know it just, incremental progress all the way along and I donít remember it as a — I guess, I guess the forefront — Gilbert Amat, in France — I canít tell you what school — had written some theory for polyatomic molecules that — I remember attending the, there was a big symposium at Ohio State University, a molecular spectroscopy symposium, which I understand is still going on today. And, Amat was one of the big names that came to that, and always gave learned theoretical papers and so on. Rank was, as I said, was a big name. [092 OíRiley]Rao at Ohio State was doing leading work. And, mostly involved polyatomic molecules and getting high resolution spectra being able to explain more and more of the structure of molecules up to the seventh decimal place. And the laser hadnít made its way in. It wasnít for a good many years after that that the laser got in. There was a little bit of work going on in microwave spectroscopy.
So, youíd have a small camp that was doing that. Most of the rest of us were doing infrared. Hawes wanted, he suggested a couple of thesis area. One was to continue some of the Zeeman and magnetic rotation work that had been started by the graduate student just ahead of me, who was still there when I came, and was just finishing up, Joe Aubel. So, I could have done that, or another suggestion made was to look at the excited state of molecules, which would have entailed, somehow getting them up into an excited state either photonically or, I guess, primarily photonically was what he was envisioning, and look at excited state spectra that hadnít yet been looked at. And, Paul Parker, who was really working with Harvey Edwards, was sort of the way that the group was divided, Hawes was still interested in diatomic molecules, and looking at the magnetic properties of them. Edwards was picking the polyatomic molecules, a lot of the methyl groups, methyl chloride, and methane, methyl halides, and things along that line. Parker was doing theoretical work, trying to advance those sorts of theories and get the next element in the series expansion of some of those systems. Yeah. So, I guess I canít tell you the raging topic of the day.
Lassman:That gives me a pretty good lay of the land.
Keck:And the cyclotron is just in trying to get up and running. Well, yeah, I mean, fundamental particles that were just out and about. You know, the mesons hadnít been around very long. Pion mesons, so nuclear physics was clearly where, but out of the new parts of physics were going on.
Lassman:So, where does your research track go? What do you start working on, and how does that evolve over the course of your graduate career?
Well, as in many departments, the older graduate students mentored the younger ones. Joe Aubel was a Lansing native who was a dyed-in-the-wool physicist, had joined Hawesí group. Joe was my mentor when I was a graduate student. You began learning the intricacies of this spectrometer that was home-built at Michigan State. It was basically an old boiler — four feet in diameter, and probably eight feet long, quarter-inch steel walls. I had no idea what it had been used for, but I presumed Hawes, and maybe Edwards — I canít even tell you that history, it predates me by a long stretch ó had taken a boiler and with a cutting torch cut it two, and put a hinge on the one side — and then had built a gasket that you could put all the way around, so it would evacuate this huge cylinder. And then, they had an optics platform in the middle of it, our optics were twelve-inch diameter gratings and paraboloids, to build an infrared spectrometer. And, we, so I, well I enjoyed the experimental, having grown up with all the, you know, doing all the stuff I had been doing with my dad, and wiring, and this, that, and the other thing. And, Joe was very much an experimentalist. So, he and I just worked and I learned all the intricacies of the spectrometer, and how to run it. We had just gotten a new detector.
A fellow at, I think Syracuse, was making them in his lab. It was lead sulfide. But, he had made a lead selenide or telluride. And now I donít remember which. Youíll have to look back in my thesis. It was coolable, cryogenically coolable, with very little background noise. We learned how to operate that. Joe Aubel had — I guess they had a magnet built. There was a homemade magnet there, but they had bought a new one with some of the NSF funds. We had a 600-gauss magnet, long hole in the middle of it, and also it had a fairly long pathway with a nice uniform field. Weíd put our vapor materials in this container inside the magnet, and we ran our optics beam through, through this multiple traverse cell, they called it. So, basically [I] learned the ins and outs of the spectrometer. And then, Harvey Edwards had wanted to increase the resolution of the instrument, so we improved some of the optics while I was there. They had bought a new paraboloid with [a] better figure, twelve-inch diameter. And, in terms of funding in the university, youíre living on shoestrings. We really were. Funding was not large. And so, you made do with the things you could get. And, if it was a specialized piece, you sprung for that. And we got a new paraboloid.
So, I helped realign the spectrometer. And then Harvey wanted to increase the resolution of the instrument. And the reason that the slits that we had on the input and output of the spectrometer werenít as good as they could have been, as sharp and as nice as you would want, and the edge resolution on the slits were, dictated now what resolution you could get in your spectrometer. So, I undertook that, I donít know where I got the notion, but that razor blades would form a better slit for the spectrometer. So I went out and bought razor blades from Gillette, and everybody I could find, and brought them back and microscopically examined them, and so on. And it turned out Wilkinson Sword had a Weck blade, used in barbers shavers at the time, you know, haircuts. And those turned out to be the smoothest blades that I could find. I wound up mounting those on the slits that we had in the spectrometer. I had to figure out how to get them parallel, and we realigned the spectrometer. And, low and behold, it improved the solution of the spectrometer by about a factor of two.
So, that was part and parcel of getting my thesis, because I needed that resolution. We were running these Zeeman and magnetic rotation spectra, so we were looking at the fine structure of some of these spectral lines, and I needed the resolution. And, with those razor blades why we could resolve the lines. And so eventually my thesis about the near-infrared spectra of nitric oxide, with this lead telluride detector we could move out to longer wave lengths than we had ever been able to, at Michigan State. And nobody had yet put the magnetic and Zeeman spectra of nitric oxide in the fundamental band stretching, stretching vibration. And so, I went out to five microns and got the spectrometer working and took those spectra and then — well, at that time we had a theory as to what was going on, why the magnetic rotation spectra — Iím not sure that itís pertinentÖ
Lassman:Iíd like to hear it.
Keck:To your history, or what have you, but basically that magnetic rotation spectra comes about when you shine polarized light on molecules in the presence of a magnetic field, and you get a rotation of the plane of polarization ala the Faraday effect. If you put it between crossed polarizers, why you basically analyze the polarized signal that you get coming through. You wonít get enough detail in what I just said to be able to put in anything in the history books. But, at any rate, we sort of knew the theory behind it, but nobody had written down equations that would predict the magnetic rotation spectrum of a molecule. So, my thesis eventually revolved around writing out the theory of, solving Hamiltonian equations for the spectrum that I was observing. Then computers were just now starting to come in. When I first joined the group, they were fitting the spectra — that is doing least-square fits on our Friedman electronic calculator. It was all a mechanical, electro-mechanical calculator. And we were doing complicated, least squares reductions on this hand calculator for these polyatomic and complicated spectrum. Well, as I, well computers were just starting to come in. Michigan State hired one of the leading computer people at the time and they brought in, bought for the university the latest control data computer. It was the fastest computer, so everybody said. It had the biggest memory, 30,000-bit memory. Can you believe that?
Keck:So, I learned computer programming, Fortran programming, and programmed the computer to predict the spectra response of these magnetic rotation spectrum and then overlapped them with my experimental results, and indeed showed that I could predict exactly what I was observing experimentally. So, that basically became my thesis at the end of the day. What else is there to say about that?
Lassman:On the one hand this kind of fits into the tradition that youíre coming in with, right. Building things.
Keck:Yes. Improving them. Being creative. Coming up with a new way of making something rather than buying something.
Lassman:Because you couldnít buy it in this case?
Keck:Couldnít buy it in the stores.
Lassman:So, the money that was coming in from grants, like NSFÖ?
Keck:Basically paid our salaries. At Michigan State, you had to do a year of teaching assistantship that the department paid for and then you could go and do a research assistantship. So, my first year as a graduate student, in fact I assisted Hawes in the optics course. You never learn a subject as well as when you teach it. And so, by getting in there and teaching the optics course why I was a lot more skilled in the, well in working with the spectrometer then, and understanding what I had to do in the optics, and so on, to record the spectrum and things like that. I missed one — in between my — you asked about summer work. I mislead you. I guess it must have been the summer between my senior year and first year in graduate school that Hawes had a contract to look at, well to fund a student for some summer work. There were a couple of projects that he had suggested to me ó Fourier transform spectroscopy was just coming into vogue. A French, oh gosh, Pierre Conti, I want to say. Iím not sure thatís right. Whoever came up with Fourier transform spectroscopy had a masterís thesis on it. And, I remember reading that, and we finally decided that that was too big a project to conduct in the summer time. And so I took this project — in that list of papers, there was one on multiple Edser-Butler bands. And we basically innovated a multiple-slit to look at the output spectrum of Fabry-Perot inferometer. And, well you would use a slit source and shine that on a Fabry-Perot Etalon and itíllÖ
Lassman:Iím sorry. Shine it on a what?
Fabry-Perot etalon, basically two parallel plates but aluminized. This is a form of interferometer. Normally you would shine a parallel beam on it and the interferometer, because the light, you know you make multiple bounces and they have to, theyíll interfere with one another unless theyíre exactly a wavelength apart, a path length, depends upon the spacing of the two plates. And then your output, you see a banded spectrum. If you put a wedge in the plate you get nice parallel spectra lines, assuming you shined a monochromatic light source on it. And the spacing between the spectra lines has a very definitive relationship to the wavelength of light thatís coming in. The idea we came up with was instead of having a single slit on the spectrometer that illuminates this Fabry-Perot Etalon, weíd put in a multiple slit. Two, three, four, five slits, and now each one of those created their own set of fringes, and the output of the Fabry-Perot interferometer. And, if you chose the wavelength appropriately you could space those out so that this was fringe from slit one, here is the next fringe from slit one. You could make the fringe from slit two, three, four, five, fit just exactly between fringe one and the next fringe one. And then two, and take over again.
So, theyíd have this beautiful set of, we called them channel spectra. And the notion behind it was in calibrating the infrared spectrometer, what you do is you use the spectrometer to illuminate one of these Fabry-Perot Etalons, and you get this nice regular set of fringes that you can record along with your spectral of whatever material youíre taking. And these now, you know, exactly what the difference in wavelength is from fringe, to fringe, to fringe, to, you know, six, seven decimal places, you know, if you had them all calibrated. And so, these became the markers by which you could calibrate your spectrum. And, the notion was, if we had multiple slits why we could have a vernier on the scale if you will. Well, we never pulled it off, but that first paper that I wrote, and we published in — Iíve forgotten where we published it. Maybe the Journal of Physics, I think.
Lassman:Letís see. I think I have Ö
Keck:Or was it, maybe it was the American Association of Physics Teachers.
Lassman:Oh, this is 1964?
Lassman:Inter — Interferometric Observation of Flat Surfaces and Multiple Edser-Butler Bands.
Lassman:I think itís that first paper.
Keck:Thatís the one.
Keck:Whoís the publisher?
Lassman:American Journal of Physics.
Keck:Yes. So, that was my first publication. And that was just a lot of fun. Working with optics in a dark room with a spectrometer. I mean, I was happy as a clam.
Lassman:Was this spectrometer, was there just one there that you were all working on? Or, were there multiple instruments?
Keck:Well, that one was just a little student spectrometer in the optics lab. We didnít need anything special for that. But, the goal was to take that and bring it over to this great big infrared spectrometer that we had built, had much much higher resolution.
Lassman:I want to ask one other question about the computation? You mentioned that you shifted from the manual calculator to the computer. So, did you, did you also then improve the computing capacity over time to the point where you could do more predictive — maybe Iím not phrasing this right — more complicated scenarios with the spectral analysis?
Keck:Yes. Very, very much so. I mean, prior to that, all you could do was mark the centerline of a spectral line. And then, youíd try and take that spectral line and apply it to whoeverís solution, [Hamiltonian] solution for the energy levels of that molecule was in vogue at the time, and hope that you could fit the spectrum and identify each spectra line was due to this vibration, or this one, or whatever. Youíre trying to relate it to the physics of a molecule, what was going on. With the computer you could actually predict the line shape and begin to say why it had a given width, and why it tailed off in a particular way because of [perturbations] with some other vibration mode or rotation mode of a molecule. You were able to go much further and add additional terms in the theoretical solution of where the energy level should be. And carry it out to the next, next orders in the series expansion of things. And, a lot of mine was, in fact, putting in the spectra response of the line shapes. You know happily someone had written down an equation for shapes of spectral lines somewhere between a [pure Gaussian] shape and an Lorentzian shape with long tails. And, it turned out that I juggled the term so that I could begin to match my spectrum, and then that related back to some property of the molecule. Iíve forgotten now, at this point, exactly what that was. But, yeah, you were able to do just so much more with the computer than we had ever been able to do before, more in terms in the expansion, as well as looking at details of the spectrum.
Lassman:Okay. Two questions. The first one is — well, actually, let me start with this one. So, youíre doing research, are you also doing more, is there more coursework or is it primarily just doingÖ research?
Keck:The regimen was that your first three years were largely coursework, graduate courses. But, mixed in with that, the first year you had to teach a course, so you got your teaching requirement out of the way. And then, the second and third years you were being paid as a research student, research assistantship. As I said, I was learning the spectrometer, from Joe Aubel, and helping him gather the data for his dissertation. But, all the time youíre taking coursework. At the end of the coursework, where we had a weeklong set of exams, you wrote exams for five days all morning. Exams were all morning, for five days running, starting with I guess mechanics and then E & M, and I guess there was one on solid-state. There was probably one on quantum nuclear, and Iíve forgotten now how they titled the courses. And, I remember, well Ruth and I were married by then. I had originally said I wasnít going to get married until after I got my degree. We got married midway through, and the week that I was taking exams her mother was visiting us. We lived in the main housing apartment at the college, so we were in the bedroom and her mother was out on the couch. And, her mother is a wonderful person. She was a wonderful person. But, having a mother-in-law there while youíre writing exams is, it conjures up all sorts of nasty thoughts. But, I mean, we wrote the exams in the morning and then studied for the next one until midnight, and went home and got some sleep, came back, wrote the exams the next day.
Lassman:Pretty brutal schedule.
Keck:Yes, well that was set to weed people out, and it tended to. I think we got, I guess you got three chances at those, and if you missed after the third chance, you were basically relegated to the masterís degree and graduated. No, thatís not right. There was another exam, a qualifying exam before you got to the PhD track. The freshman and sophomore years of graduate school, you began taking graduate course but there was a qualifying exam that you, and that was on all aspects of physics. Thatís when I, thatís when Halliday and Resnick came into the fore for me. Basically, I learned a great deal of physics studying for those sophomore physics exams. And itís basically on theory, but they covered the full spectrum of physics. A whole bunch of us just got together, and got Halliday and Resnick, worked problems in Halliday and Resnick, and that was just a much superior book to Sears and Zemansky that I had studied three years earlier. And, you had to pass that qualifying exam. If you got an ďAĒ on it, you could go on for a PhD. If you got a ďBĒ or less, well if you got a ďBĒ on it, you could study for a masters. And if you didnít get — if you got lower than a ďBĒ you got to take it, I guess you got to take it three times. And if at the end of the time you still hadnít gotten a ďBĒ or an ďA,Ē you were essentially washed out. And then the preliminary exams you still had some finite number of times that you could take them, but you were already, you had already gotten a masters degree by that time. Assuming you passed the qualifying exam with an ďA.Ē So, that was the sort of regimen. Professor Hause, Duane was so nice. As soon as he began hearing the word on how Iíd done on the exam, why he called me up that evening and told me how Iíd done.
Keck:So, I knew right away. I donít know, by Wednesday they had corrected the Monday exam, and Tuesday, and so on. And, you know, I knew I was doing well on those. And, it turned out I guess Iíd got, it was either the highest, or the next highest score of twenty or thirty of us that took the exam. I felt really good about that. I was number two. There was a fellow, Fred Gillman, one of these child prodigies. He had graduated from high school, age fifteen or so, or something like that, and came into quantum mechanics, or came into Michigan State, the physics department, went through in two years with a four-point and that sort of thing, and then was continuing on to graduate school. At one point rumor had it that he had stepped into teach one of the quantum, graduate quantum mechanics courses, one day. He was taking the course, right? The professor ó he wasnít in my section. But, he had scored higher than I did, I guess.
Lassman:When you were, when you were doing this, your graduate research and the molecule that you worked on?
Lassman:Nitric oxide, thatís it. Was there anyÖ?
Keck:Think automobile pollution. Thatís the thing that Corningís catalytic converter cleans up.
Lassman:Thatís right. I knew that. But, when you were working on this, are you thinking at all, and not just you specifically but also within the group, is there any connection to industrial application?
Keck:Interesting. Well, my question is, when did I start thinking industrially? And, the reason I say thatís interesting was that I remember as I was beginning to do interviews — but I donít remember now who made comments, or where I got the notion, but there was a certain stigma attached to a physicist leaving academe. I donít know if it was Haynes, or Harvey Edwards, or, but [in] my mind, I think from virtually day one, [I] was on the notion that I was going to go into industrial physics in some capacity or some job. And, I guess it was just from the experience with my dadís company, as a starter. And then weíd have, well the colloquia speakers. I mentioned Emmett Leith, and Bob Terhune from Ford Motor Company. I mentioned earlier the colloquia happened primarily, I mentioned, as an undergraduate. Graduate students were much more scholarly encouraged to attend colloquia than undergraduates. I probably began to see those that were coming from academe were doing evermore esoteric sorts of theoretical discussions, and learning more and more about less and less, and that sort of notion than, some of the industrial folk that came in and would tell us about the latest thing in holography, or that sort of thing. Well, more experimental, more interesting to me anyway.
Lassman:Well, you mentioned two Ford researchers. SoÖ
Keck:Well, they just gave colloquia.
Lassman:On topics specificallyÖ
Keck:That they were doing. It was their work at Ford Motor. It had to do with light. It had to do with lasers. And so, it was of interest to our group. I donít remember whether they came in specifically to our group, or whether they did general colloquia, now that I think about it.
Lassman:So that could be one possible connection that stuck in your mind about industrial work? How did you like teaching?
Keck:I enjoyed it. I didnít have a lecturer section, or anything like that. It was a laboratory section. You learned more about your subject. As I said, you never learn it so well as when you teach it.
Lassman:Whatís making you think about an industrial career versus an academic career?
Keck:I guess it was just this notion that I wanted to see something that someone would use coming out of the work, as opposed to something that would merely reside on a library shelf someplace. I probably never espoused that until today. You did remind me of some notables that had visited our group though. Gerhard Herzberg, a famous molecular atomic physicist.
Lassman:That name sounds familiar.
Keck:A physicist. Heís written, thereís a two-volume set, one on diatomic and one on polyatomic molecules. He did his work in Canada. And, Boris Stoicheff was another name in spectroscopy circles. He visited. I think Gilbert Amat visited once. And D.H. Rank from Penn State visited. And those would have been specific to our group.
Keck:For the broader colloquia, I donít remember the notable names there. And so many of them were probably in the high-energy field, and that was just not where my brain was.
Lassman:Did you also collaborate with other science departments in the molecular spectroscopy field? I think, for example, in the chemistry department there might be some areas where there could be collaboration.
Keck:There certainly could have been. But, in those days, collaboration was not in anyoneís thinking.
Keck:Well, at Michigan State it just wasnít. You know, you were hired because you were an expert in your field, and experts are expert unto themselves. They donít need anybody else. And so, there was a lot of ďsiloism,Ē if you will, and interestingly I now sit on the Dean of the College of Natural Sciences Advisory Board at Michigan State, and have been, for probably ten years, and we counsel then, that exactly as youíre pointing out, they really needed to collaborate with other departments. The funding organizations over the years have demanded that you canít be a ďsiloĒ any longer. Youíve got to be collaborative with other groups, either at your university or even better yet at other universities. But as I was coming through school that was, I wonít say it didnít occur but I donít remember any of the physics faculty that had any collaborations outside of the physics department.
Lassman:You mentioned earlier when you were moving toward the end of your graduate career, that you were thinking about working in industry. That was something that the faculty didnít wholly endorse? Can you talk a little bit about what that experience was like, and what you made of their comments about leaving the academy for an industrial career?
Keck:Well, I obviously didnít take much of it to heart. And, I guess Iíd already made up my mind that I thought I knew what industrial research would be like, and, as I say, I wanted to see some tangible fruits of my labors being used by someone. But, the stigma at that time, well I donít know if it was propagated by Haines as chair of the department, was that physicists taught other physicists. And they did learn basic research and so on. More so than trying to apply their physics training to do something, something else with it. But, I didnít interview for any academic positions when I graduated.
Lassman:How about your colleagues, other graduate students who were finishing up with you or who were in your class? Did they pursue academic careers, industrial careers, a mixture?
Keck:It was a mixture. One of Hawesí students, Glenn Mann, was teaching down at Texas Tech, I think. Joe Aubel, my mentor, went down to the University of South Florida. [He] got an academic position there. At least two of Harveyís graduate students, Lou Schneider and Dick Peterson, graduated essentially with me, both went into universities. The other half of us went into some industrial positions, or government laboratory. One of Hauseís students, Mel Olman and Ron Hill, went to Sandia National Laboratory. Kent Moncur, he went industrial initially. And, I did too. And, Pete Wilson — whereíd Pete go? I donít remember. So, it was a mix, assuming the two associates at Sandia, [it] was more an industrial laboratory than an academic laboratory. Iíd put it in that category. It may well have been in those days. It wasnít the national laboratory when they went. Sandia was subsequent to their going there, it was taken over as a national lab.
Lassman:A couple of more questions on the graduate. When youíre getting your PhD at this time, this is also during the Cold War? Was there any impact on your research specifically, or within your group, or even within the physics department, of Cold War priorities along the lines of classification of research results or the imposition of security restrictions, things like that, given the growth in government contracts for research?
Keck:I donít think there was any military defense-oriented work going on at Michigan State, that I remember. Well, the Air Force was funding some of Harveyís work, and there was other government agency funding in some of the other departments; not all of it coming from NSF, is what I mean. But where it fit in to some defense program, I never knew. The Air Force saw fit to fund Harveyís work in polyatomic molecules. But, we had no capability. And, as far as I know there was no direct connection with anything in the classified arena. Now, having said that I can tell you that one of the agencies that interviewed on campus was the CIA. And, in fact, I went and talked to a CIA recruiter and eventually had a job offer with the CIA.
Lassman:This is when youíre finishing up?
Lassman:Before we get to the CIA offer, and career choices, during this period the Vietnam War is going on. Draft status. Was that an issue?
Keck:Yes. Very much. As long as I was a student I had a student deferment. When I left then, and came to Corning, I was married already and, but I believe Corning had to send some sort of request for continued deferment, after my employment with Corning. Iím pretty sure Bob Maurer, a couple of years running had asked for a continual deferment. And then the war was — when did it finish, í70?
Lassman:The formal withdrawal was í75, I think, when the last U.S. troops left.
Keck:Okay. But, the draft, or the need for them was sooner than that?
Lassman:Yes. That was earlier.
Keck:So, it was three years that Maurer had to submit. At the time, I was probably on the hawk side of things. If my nation was believing, or leaders of the nation were believing that this was a war that we should be fighting we should be in there and so on, but I guess my feeling was that I could contribute more to the effort by being a scientist and doing good technological work that might feed into the military activity. But that was certainly my rationale for wanting and maintaining the student deferment, and so on, as opposed to going into the draft. I donít recall whether my draft — they had draft numbers, and mine was, Iím pretty sure, well down the list. I donít remember whether that was before I got married, but I remember having a 2-S draft card. Well, I didnít worry a lot about it. I didnít pay a whole lot of attention to it. As I say, I figured I could do a better job for the country by learning physics and doing a good job of that. And yes, I had a deferment, and continued.
Lassman:I have just another general question here. Lessons learned in graduate school? Is there anything that stands out?
Keck:Lessons learned in graduate school? Well, I used to have a bunch of sayings on my wall. I donít know where they came from. I found a bunch of old placards, and I had been asking if I remember any of them. Theyíre probably around here someplace, because Iím a prodigious saver of stuff. But, I had little phrases that I tacked up. Here are examples of some that have come later in my life, some of which are somewhat original with me or paraphrasing of things.
Lassman:I like this one. ďLeadership is the art of wondering complex simple.Ē
Keck:I have no idea whether any of those will stick with anybody butÖ
Lassman:Well, I wanted to throw that out to see if there were any things that particularly shaped your ideas and views about, not just physics but about industry, about applications and connecting your research to new technologies, or further down the road about these questions of leadership and management, and things like that?
Keck:Iíll tell you, Tom, nothing leaps out at me, other than that I began to pick up little phrases like that, and they were on these cards. And, I had my office adorned with them. And Iíll be darned if I didnít, could conjure up saying it right now. But they were pithy truisms that you see out and around. But, the other thought that ran through my mind, of course the Vietnam Era, the folk singers were out and about, and we had a resident folk artist in the physics department, Goodtime Charlie Taylor, who worked with Jerry Cowen. He must have come my sophomore year as a graduate student. And, Charlie was a guitarist par excellent, and of the new wave of behavior. Well he wore blue jeans and a sport coat. The first of the crowd to do that. Always had his tan sport coat, corduroy sport coat, and blue jeans on. And on weekend nights, he would perform at the Fat Black Pussycat. So, all of the folk songs and the protest songs associated with that era were part and parcel of Ruthís and my growing up, and weíve enjoyed some, you know, sing along with Peter, Paul, and Mary, and the [Kingston] Trio, and John Denver, and all those ever since.
Lassman:That raises another question about the culture of Michigan State during this time period. Was there an anti-war culture there, or a counterculture at Michigan State during this time?
Keck:By no means as strong as Berkeley, or Penn State, or anything like that. Probably the strongest was, hootenannies that we would have in some of the buildings, and on the weekend, weíd get all the folk singers and they would be singing protest songs, and things like that. I was more or less of the mindset, growing up in rural America, that our leaders knew best, and if they said, you know, we should be at war, well we should be at war. So, those werenít protest parts that probably stuck with me. Bob Dylanís ďBlowing in the WindĒ song was probably closer to something that would have stuck with me as a philosophy or lessons learned, or questions that we should continually ask ourselves. ďHow many times must the cannon balls fly?Ē And so on. So, those were probably the things that shaped much of what weíve done later on in life, as much as anything.
Lassman:All right, now moving on then, to the beginning of your career choices. So, you got your PhD in í67? Would this have been in the spring of í67?
Keck:No. December of í67. I didnít go to my graduation. I wish I had now. Iíve forgotten why. I guess I was probably interviewing. But, as I was graduating the semiconductor bubble hadnít yet burst. So, industry was thriving. Monies, I guess, from the war effort or whatever, were going into all the high-tech companies. There were jobs all over the place, very plentiful.
Lassman:You mentioned the CIA. Tell me that story.
Keck:Well, I interviewed. My first interview was at IBM.
Lassman:Why donít you take me through the chronology of interviews?
Keck:Let me take you through the sequence of all that. My first-ever plane ride, first-ever trip out of East Lansing, Michigan, other than vacation trips with my parents, was hopping on a plane at Metropolitan airport in Detroit and going to Yorktown Heights, to an IBM lab.
Lassman:Did they come to campus to talk to you first, or how did you get that?
Keck:I think so. Some did it that way. Others, perhaps another one of the group had interviewed with someone, and so we shared addresses and so on. I donít remember, honestly. But, IBM invited me for three interviews. One at Yorktown Heights, one at East Fishkill, a development laboratory there, and one out at Almaden.
Lassman:Thatís the disk drive lab?
Lassman:So, my visit to Watson Lab, I remember the two people I interviewed with, Euvial Beraket and Janus Wiljanski. Beraket was a typical arrogant physicist?
Keck:Definitely the arrogant physicist, and I didnít get the job offer from Watson Lab.
Keck:I did not. And Janus Wiljanski was one of the foremost lens design specialists. I assume data storage and optical techniques for what that group was focusing on. Got an offer from the development laboratory at Poughkeepsie.
Lassman:That would have been in the semiconductor field?
Keck:Well, one of the projects they wanted me to do was to figure out some ways of using lasers to repair circuits, semiconductor, or chip circuits that had been not working, so that they couldóif a lot of semiconductor chips had an error in them, or a defect, to fuse wires or fuse connections in semiconductor circuitry, was what the Watson Lab thing was about. New uses of lasers and operating on chips, and things like that.
Lassman:Thatís interesting, actually. Were the, was the production of semiconductors still, from the financial standpoint, I guess, was the cost high enough that it was very important to make repairs in the chips rather than justÖ?
Keck:I can only guess.
Keck:But, Iím assuming so. Some guy by the name of William Pliskin was the name of the other fellow, and I think he was up, it must have been at the development laboratory. He was a little bit more down-to-earth. And somewhere on that visit I learned about radio frequency sputtering, that was just being applied at the time. If you put a material around a cathode, and then pass an alternating current through it, in the presence of a plasma, then you can actually pop off atoms, molecules, from the parent material for traveling at some velocity, and if thereís a substrate, coolants, or cooler substrate, theyíll condense on that substrate, then youíll begin to lay down a layer, or film, of a particular material. So, it was a new technique for thin film deposition that was beginning to, I assume beginning to make its way into technological circles, a fairly new technology.
Lassman:And this a person you spoke to at Yorktown, or at East Fishkill?
Keck:Well, I donít remember.
Keck:I remember on the IBM visit I learned about radio frequency sputtering. Thatís important because later that was the basis of the invention at Corning for fibers. How history pieces together. Well, so at any rate, I got an offer from Almaden. I got an offer from the Fishkill Lab, Watson Lab didnít, I wasnít good enough for them.
Lassman:What was your impression then of IBM overall?
Keck:Well, of course, this is your first trip, on any interview trip, so I was just blown away by what I was seeing. Clearly impressed, beyond belief. So, I interviewed first with IBM, then Goodyear Aerospace. One of my own graduate people had gone down there. He came back to Michigan State recruiting, and invited me down, and so I went down to Goodyear Aerospace.
Lassman:This was Goodyear Tire and Rubber?
Keck:They had an aerospace lab, largely funded by Air Force funds, out on a lake outside of Akron, and they were learning to put on, or make synthetic rubber or some polymer coating on materials that would be impervious to electromagnetic radiation reflections. Anti-radar sorts of materials. They wanted somebody that had enjoyed or knew something about electromagnetic theory. One of the graduate courses that I most enjoyed was a graduate course in electricity magnetism, a Fred Leitner talk. And, I remember — Iíll have to give you, or get you a copy of — what the hellís the name of it? The story of the optical fiber — because in there I recalled the day that Fred Leitner had began taking us through the wave equations of electromagnetic wave equations and showed the square root of new epsilon was equal to the speed of light. And, that was like a theological revelation to me. When he put that on the board, it just seemed like Godís universe came to closure in that one lecture. That made such an impression on me. I always liked electromagnetics, and in particular, waves, and if it involved photons, you know, at that end of the spectrum, optics, why so much the better. So, Goodyear, it was perfectly natural to go down and interview. So, I interviewed there and got a job offer from them.
Lassman:And, this was a military-funded lab? Was that separate from their primary R & D facility?
Keck:I think so. It was probably in the same division, but I honestly couldnít tell you today whether it was — those are questions that wouldnít even have occurred to me at that time.
Keck:Whatís the organization structure?
Lassman:Yeah. Thatís right. But thatís a different kind of setting than the IBM setting?
Keck:The other companies that I interviewed with, well I had interviews with TRW, and it was in the L.A. area, and I called up and just cancelled the thing. After Iíd been to San Francisco and interviewed with IBM, as I said, and then I went up to Los Alamos — not Los Alamos, Lawrence Radiation Lab, and interviewed with them.
Keck:Outside of Berkeley. Itís in Livermore.
Lassman:Lawrence Livermore National Lab?
Keck:Yes. Out in the valley. They wanted me to work in a sensors group, and again involving electromagnetics, and how could they do remote sensing of bombs, and telemeter the information back. I interviewed then with Martin Marietta in Denver, and I donít remember anything about that interview. I donít know what the project was. The other one was the CIA.
Lassman:What was that? Tell me about that one?
Keck:I did it purely as a lark. My colleague, my friend in graduate school, Mel Olman, who went to Sandia, had heard the CIA was coming around and doing interviews. And, he went over and interviewed, and came back and told me about it. I was curious as to whether I could get in. This probably shouldnít be down in print, should it?
Lassman:Well, I can stop it if youíd like. Iíd be happy to do that.
Keck:We may excise it from the file. But at any rate, I went down. Everything was very clandestine, as you might expect. I interviewed with a guy on campus, and he must have written up something favorable about me, because a few days later I got a plain brown wrapper in the mail with instructions to come down to Ann Arbor, Michigan and talk with one of the field operatives.
Lassman:What was the position they wereÖ?
Keck:I hadnít a clue yet.
Lassman:The first session that this guy on campus was talking to you about was like an information session?
Keck:Just a general CIA interview. Yes.
The CIA is interviewing. ďWe have a host of positions. I canít tell you anything about them. But, would you like to come down?Ē ďAll right.Ē So, I drove down to Ann Arbor one morning around summertime. All they gave me was an address. It was a nondescript building outside of Ann Arbor. I walked in the door, and there was nobody around, and a big long office, with a desk in the back. And, nothing. Absolutely nothing in that building. You know, it was, all this — could have held a square dance in it. And, the door opened — you know, I called out, and a door opened and a guy came out from the adjoining room. And, I looked in there and there was host of electronics, and I assume radio and telemetry equipment, and things like that to keep him connected with the central office. And, apparently that interview went fine because the next thing I knew I got a plain brown wrapper inviting me to come down to Washington. So, I went down to Washington, then, and interviewed with one of the groups. And there began to learn a little bit more about it. They needed people to analyze the technological capabilities of the Asian nations. So, they were beginning to worry about the fact that Asia was building up its technological capability, and wanted people to analyze the scientific literature. So, it would have been just an analysis job of, you know, somebody will hand you translated text and youíre supposed to figure out what the real capability would have been given they wrote that learned paper, and this, that, and the other thing.
That interview must have gone well, because the next thing I knew there was this long DoD, something or other form to fill in to check my security clearance to go for a security clearance. But interestingly, that interview, Iím pretty sure it was that first trip to Washington, the guy pulled out a top secret document and was walking me through it, and showing me what sorts of things they were doing. He showed a photograph of a runway, I think, in Cuba. This is circa the Cuban missile crisis. And, it was comparison photos that they were digitizing and computer comparing I guess. And showed the second one, the computer had highlighted an extension that had been added to the runway. But, they had graphics capability for pointing out, accentuating differences from, you know, one picture to another. I donít know if it was his boss or a colleague walked into the office and said, ďWhat are you doing showing this guy top secret?Ē ďWell, I assumed if he was interviewing with us, he was cleared.Ē Well, I hadnít been cleared yet.
Keck:So, at any rate, the fourth trip down they, I had already filled in the classification form and I had, we later found FBI agents talking with Ruthís folks up in the Upper Peninsula. And, I assume my folks, but I donít know that. My neighbors. And, the fourth contact was again down in Washington, at Langley Headquarters, and off George Washington Parkway, and there they put me through a lie detector test, and informed me that an employee of the CIA would go through one of these a year. Well, I passed it okay, but quite frankly a polygraph test is an unnerving experience, or at least I found it so. I said, ďI donít want this.Ē
Lassman:And that was it?
Keck:That was the last I had for the CIA. They sent me a job offer and I politely said, ďMaybe Iíll help my country in some other capacity.Ē
Keck:But, it would have been interesting work, and they, I asked them, at one point, whether a person could publish scientific articles, and so on. ďNo,Ē they honestly said, ďNo. You know, thereís the open world and then thereís the black world. And, we publish in the black world, and yes, youíll become known in that world in the same way that other people are in the open world. And if you want to have that as a career, why we can offer it to you.Ē
Lassman:Okay. I see.
Keck:But it, Iím sure it would have been fascinating, fascinating work. It sounded like it was much more reading. And, obviously analysis. But, it didnít sound like it was, you know, experimental work, and things that I had grown up with and enjoyed.
Lassman:That was very different?
Keck:Yes. Now, I had done those interview trips. And I was about ready to flip a coin and make a decision.
Lassman:Did any of them stand out as particularly attractive?
Keck:Well, I liked Lawrence Livermore. Or I just liked that arena and it sounded like an interesting project, with sensors. With Goodyear-Aerospace I wasnít that enthralled. The IBM thing sounded interesting. The IBM, both IBM, Almaden and Poughkeepsie, would have been very interesting. Today I would recognize those as more developmental labs as opposed to the basic research at Watson. But, that was fine. I could see concrete uses for whatever youíd be doing there.
Lassman:Can I ask you a quick question about the Watson Lab?
Lassman:You mentioned the one physicist you interviewed with.
Keck:You mean Beraket?
Lassman:Beraket. You said he was —
Keck:Struck me as being arrogant.
Lassman:Arrogant in a sense of IBM physics research, or arrogant just as a —
Lassman:In this time period in the late Ď60s, Watson is still a relatively new lab.
Keck:Oh yeah. Creme de la creme.
Lassman:Yes. You were just talking about your interview with Beraket and whatever it was that made you think that he was impressed with himself and IBM research at this time.
Keck:Well, just the attitude he had toward me.
Lassman:I donít know what it was. Was his attitude a reflection of what IBM research was at this time, or what it was supposed to be, or was it just of him personally as a physicist, in terms of how impressed he was with himself?
Keck:Oh my golly. Well,Ö
Lassman:Maybe thatís too detailed.
Keck:Well, itís too long ago for me to remember details. I met Janus Wiljanski years later up at The University of Rochesterís Institute of Optics, and I had already achieved some notoriety, and often wondered if he remembered that I did interview with him. I never did ask him. And Beraket, I donít know whatever happened to him. I had asked a couple of people I know at IBM about him, and obviously, he is long since retired. I donít, I couldnít tell you any longer today when in the interview process I formed the impression of him or why that I did. But he was very definitely, seemed to be looking down his nose at what I had described in my seminar for them, and things like that.
Keck:And then just, he just wasnít particularly interested in having me there. It struck me.
Keck:Now, the one part that I didnít cover — when I was still back at Michigan State, I mentioned several industrial scientists had visited us. I neglected to tell you that Corning had an industrial scientist that visited the physics group at Michigan State, had been doing it apparently for a good long time, his name was Gale Smith, Dr. Gale Smith. I later found out that he and my dad studied together at the University of Michigan. And, Gale was one of the senior people at Corning.
Lassman:What was his field?
Keck:Well, he ran the equivalent of Corningís NIST, National Institute of Standards and Technology. Our measurements and analysis group, at the time that I joined Corning, I think he had done work — Corning had entered the electronics field, making tin-oxide capacitors and resistors. I think Gale had done work, or led a group in that field, and eventually with Corning, we had a business in precision resistors and capacitors for many years. But, by the time Gale was visiting, that I saw him at Michigan State he was already in a management, director, senior director position at the Corning lab. But, he visited pretty regularly. And, I probably, second year I was in graduate school I remember Gale coming around, and even do one-on-one visits with all of Duane Hawesí students. So, he and Duane, somehow, had a connection. But, I donít know that he visited all that many other groups within the physics department. But, he didnít go to the placement bureau and wait for students to come to him. He came into the laboratory, and he would usually bring something from Corning, some aspect, something that industrial research was working on.
Lassman:So, this was a personal connection he had?
Keck:Yes. I think so. But, you know, I never asked Gale, and I never asked Duane about that. I donít remember. I donít know. Well, on one of the visits Gale brought a short piece of fiber optic. The bundle type of fiber that was around starting in the Ď50s, and that Corning, in fact, made. And it was clearly the first time I had seen a fiber optic and was enthralled by what he was telling us and so on. Gale came for a number of years and then hadnít come for quite a while. And, Iím about ready to make a decision among the companies that I just described for you. And, low and behold another Corning employee, Bill Lister, who had been a graduate from Michigan State out of Hiedemannís ultrasonics group, and had gone to Corning, and he was now taking Galeís place as a recruiter, and came back.
Lassman:Was he there, he was there before you were?
Keck:He was there before I was, but we overlapped.
Keck:And then Bill graduated, and a year, year and a half later he came back to Corning and said, ďWell, by all means, you have to come down to Corning and visit.Ē
Lassman:Can I ask just one quick question? You mentioned whenÖ
Lassman:Smith. Gale Smith came and showed you the fiber optic cable, had you done any investigating prior to that or known anything about the fiber optic? That was your first introduction?
Keck:That was the first introduction for the fiber optics.
Keck:So, Bill invited me to Corning. This was December of í67. And, in fact, it turned out my grandfather, Ruth will give you the date, but my grandfather died, and my interview was the day after he died. And, then I got back in time for his funeral. I was to interview with three groups, I think. There was a group at Corning, physical research, and Bob Maurer ran fundamental physics research. Sammy Halliby had something in semiconductor, and Andy Herzog had [the] materials group, of some sort, as I recall.
Lassman:Did Smith and Lister talk?
Lassman:And then you were invited out for the interview?
Keck:Well, I forget whether Bill invited me on the spot, or whether he went home and then somebody called me and invited me out. I donít remember that. But anyway, I visited Corning in December of í67, and then Bob, and Sammy, and then Andy Herzog each told me a little bit about their group. Now, Bob Maurer was looking for someone to come and work in the fiber optics arena. And, he described the notion that telecommunications using optics, its time maybe had come, and that they needed a transmission medium and he needed someone to run the fiber optic project at Corning. He had had a couple of people working part-time on it, and I guess I found this out later, but at any rate, long story short, they offered me a job in Bobís group. And, it sounded like electromagnetics propagation, optics, and I liked the arena, although it was nothing like today. Corning invited Ruth out the very first visit. No other company had invited her along, on any of the interview trips. And, Corning had enough experience with the fact that itís fairly remote, they knew they had to bring her in and impress not only the candidate but also the candidateís family. And so, from the get-go she came in and they toured her all around, and we kind of liked the area. And, she was from a small town, and Ewen, Minnesota wasnít that big. And, I really liked the sort of work that was being described by Maurer. So, I took the job at Corning, and basically wrote letters back to all the rest of the companies and said, ďSorry.Ē
Lassman:What were your impressions of Corning as a research organization, in comparison to a place like IBM Watson, or Almaden or even Lawrence Livermore, Goodyear?
Keck:I recall having made that much of a, noted that much difference between them. I mean, clearly Watson Lab, the equipment, the capabilities, the sophistication of the things they were working on seemed more than I saw in any of the other labs. Then at Los Alamos, they didnít show me a whole heck of a lot. It was more talk ďand hereís what youíd be working on.Ē Martin Marietta was, I guess I did see an optics lab there. And Almaden there was an optics lab. Goodyear, we were out in a barracks on the shore of some lake, where that work was going out. But, I think Corningís overall laboratory and the people I talked to, and their description of the importance of research to them, it was on a par with what I was seeing at Watson. Clearly there was some differences in physical layout and the size of the laboratory. You know, Watson was huge. And, all of the IBM facilities are huge, compared to what I saw at Corning. But, a beautiful setting up on the hill, overlooking the valley. Finger Lakes region.
Lassman:Sullivan Park was already there at that time?
Keck:Yes. It had been built in í63.
Keck:Thatís when we moved from the valley up to the hill, when the laboratory was built. I probably met Gale Smith on that visit as well, because I talked to him on previous visits. I canít believe that I wouldnít have had a contact with Gale. One of the follow-up things that impressed me very much about Corning, they were, after my grandfatherís funeral we were, a day or two, well, it was probably the next weekend, having Sunday dinner, and the phone rang and it was the director of — well, Bobís boss, director of physical research here at Corning, Chuck Wakeman, basically saying, ďGee, sorry I missed you. Bob spoke highly of you. We would like to have you come and join us,Ē and so on. And nobody else had done that. And that, that did carry a lot of weight. So, Corning did things right.
Lassman:Okay. I see.
Keck:And, they offered the highest salary, which today might surprise me a little bit. But, it was, at the time.
Lassman:Okay. I wonder if thereís some of that family, you know, influence there with the recruitment?
Lassman:Yeah. Extra care for incoming recruits?
Keck:It could well have been. It could well be. Because, well they had someone, well Gene Abercrombie was the person who later met many times over a time at Corning, and she toured Ruth all around, and showed her the where to shop, and where the housing developments were, and so on.
Lassman:When you came in, so then thereís Maurerís group, which is the one you joined. And number two there was Herzogís group, andÖ?
Keck:Sammy Halliby was the person. And he, it turned out, was a Michigan State, had — well, gosh. Now, Iím not sure. I was going to say he was a Michigan State graduate some years earlier. Because one of the things that they did, almost immediately, was pressed the new PhDs into recruiting the next generation of students, and I went back to Michigan State with Sammy, interviewing on campus for students. I remember that so vividly. Sammy had a friend who lived just over the river from my folks in one of the nice subdivisions in East Lansing. And, Ruth and I had the car and we were going to stop off at my folks and say ďHi,Ē while we were in East Lansing. So, we dropped Sammy off at his friendís, and he said pick us up at such and such a time, and we got a flight down at Detroit Metro Airport, which is an hour and fifteen minutes away. And, so, Ruth and I appeared at his friendís house at the appointed hour and got in there. And, ďOh, come in and have a drink.Ē And, Sammy is three sheets to the wind. He had the good sense to ask if Iíd drive to the airport. But, he wound up leaving with about forty-five minutes to catch our flight down at Metro, and we got to get rid of the rental car. We made it. I have no clue how fast I was driving. Sammy was in the back seat just zonked. He kept talking to his friend. You know, he kept saying, ďIsnít it time?Ē
Lassman:Have to get to the airport.
Keck:Oh my goodness. Lifeís little stories.
Lassman:When you met each of these individuals, Halliby, and Herzog, and MaurerÖ
Keck:It was at colloquia, well a seminar that we went down to give.
Lassman:Did you also meet, at this point, the senior research executives like Bill Armistead, and that group?
Lassman:Was that actually after you got there?
Keck:Well, as I say Chuck Wakeman, Bobís boss, wasnít there. So, I interviewed with Wakemanís three top managers. There was one other one in the group, I think, but I donít remember now who it was. Bill Armistead, you didnít see the director of research. Or they didnít bring us into that level. Although, Wakeman reported to Armistead. So, you know, it wasnít that large an organization. There werenít that many layers in the organization.
Lassman:Were there other PhD physicists who came in with you at this time?
Keck:Felix Kapron had been there three months, maybe, before I came. Mike Teeter had come up from Texas. I guess Mike had been there a year and a half, maybe. Who else am I trying to think of? This other person. Well, the short answer is, yes. Corning apparently was in a hiring mode. The color television business was booming at the time. And, so, they would bring in a goodly number of people.
Lassman:And these were PhD physicists?
Keck:Yes. By and large.
Lassman:That were coming in?
Keck:By in large.
Keck:Corning, the Houghton family, held technology in high esteem. They truly had the creme de le creme and they worked hard at it. Shoot, who the dickens else was there? Oh, J. H. P. Watson was the other manager in Wakemanís directorate. Oh, well, Pete Schulz, of course, my co-inventor. Pete had joined about six months before I came. And, at the time — Corning lab was organized according to disciplines. So, they had Chuck Wakemanís physical research. It was probably sixty, seventy scientists strong. And, they had John McDowellís chemical research, which was probably about the same size. And, Don Stookey, (inventor of pyroceram materials, and photochromic glasses, National Medal of Technology winner) whose name you may know, had a small group and they just gave Don whatever he wanted. So, he was the director and leading a small group, fundamental chemical research, I think, or something like that. And then Gale Smith had a metrology group that had all the measurement equipment that would perform the chemical analysis or physical properties measurements that you needed made, and so on. But, that was basically the organization. However, there was a math statistics group that had a big IBM mainframe computer that they utilized. And so, they ran the computer department, if you will. But, they had a few scientist PhDs that they hired as mathematicians that would help solve problems for others of us that needed it.
Lassman:I see. Was that all under the umbrella of a central research lab basically?
Lassman:The machine development laboratory, that was a separate organization or was that connected at all to the central lab?
Keck:Iíll be honest, I donít remember. Because there had been a number of strong personalities through the history of the organization. At some point, Armistead folded everything under his dominion. You had the machine stuff and the central lab was under Armistead. Whether that was the case when I joined, or whether Dave Liebson and Bill Armistead were on par reporting positions to the Houghton, Chairman Houghton, I donít remember.
Keck:Clearly at some point Armistead became powerful enough and pulled it all under his leadership. It may have been when Dave Liebson retired, that they folded it in together. I remember hearing a story, subsequent to coming to Corning, — the laboratory had been down in the valley. And, when they made the first move up to the hill, the first building that went up there was — have you driven up to the hill?
Lassman:I have been up there.
Keck:You remember the building with the big funny thing on top?
Keck:Itís called a Robertson ventilator. Any glass factory in the world you will see that type of cube on the building. And, itís basically just designed to get the heat out from all the glass furnaces. So, a gentleman by the name of Tom Howitt was asked by Chairman Houghton, this is before Amo Houghton, or current House of Representatives, Houghton, and before Jamie, clearly. It was their dad. And Howitt was asked to build a process research center up on the hill. And the senior Houghton had already decided he was going to build his laboratory up there, but he wanted Liebson, or not Liebson, Howitt to start the process research center so central to good glassmaking. And Howitt said, ďWell. Fine. How do I get the money?Ē And he said, ďOh, just tell me what you need.Ē So, Howitt went away and got some engineers working on it, and put an estimate together and said itíll cost $4 million to build this process center.Ē Houghton said, ďFine. Weíll do it.Ē Didnít have to sign any papers or anything like that. No bureaucracy. The bean counters were totally out of the equation. Houghton said, ďYou got $4 million. No problem. Go build it.Ē Howitt said he did. Put the thing, the process research center, I think it started before the í63 move to Sullivan Park. That was probably in í61, you know, 1960, í61, somewhere in that time frame. But, you know, whether another industrialist can say, ďIíve got the money. Just do it.Ē
Lassman:Very little bureaucracy.
Lassman:And was that also a similar process as well for your research program, the way Armistead ran the lab?
Keck:I donít ever recall worrying about budgets or anything like that. We were assigned a project and you worked on the project diligently. And, nobody ever said anything to us about money. I guess the first I remember hearing about money was when young Amo Houghton, now in the Congress, well just is relinquishing his congressional seat, was Chairman, and he was setting the goals for the corporation. And, I donít know if it was the first or second year I was at Corning. Bob called us all into the office. Corningís sales were $200 million — no $100 million, and the strategy and the goal for the corporation was that within three years we would be at $200 million, which is a pretty spectacular goal. Doubling in three years is a good growth rate. That was probably the first discussion I ever heard on money, at Corning. And, we did it. The company, color television was still just booming. It was until í75, that they had the infamous guns of August.
Lassman:That was in August. But also at this time too, Corning had a semiconductor business. You mentioned Charles Wakeman. Didnít he leave at some point, around this time, to go run Signetics?
Keck:Signetics. Yes. They had bought Signetics, from whom I donít know. Corning already had the resistor and capacitor plant. And, MacAvoy, Tom MacAvoy had come out of the laboratory and was president. This was í68-í69, somewhere very early in my tenure, that they bought Signetics. Iím pretty sure they bought Signetics after I joined. But, somewhere between then and 1970 they signed the cross-license with Bell Labs. They put fiber optic technology in the cross-licensing equation to allow us to get the needed transistor patents for Signetics. And, in return, fiber optics was on the table from our side going their way. Anything we came up with in fiber optics would, they would have a immediate cross-license for. Yeah. And, I donít know. I donít know whether Wakeman went on and ran Signetics.
Lassman:I think he went and ran the laboratory down in North Carolina.
Keck:Yes. He went down and ran the Raleigh lab, when Gerhard Megla left, and then later went over to France and ran the French laboratory. I donít think he ever went to Signetics.
Lassman:I just wanted to get a sense of what the business sectors were at that time period.
Keck:Television was the big one. They always had the consumer, well always until a few years back. It was the science products that made the, all the glassware, scientific glassware. And then the electronics division. I think there were those four entities. There might have been — Iíve forgotten now. It must have been some years later, but they created the international division. But, clearly, a lot of those businesses were international later.
Lassman:The scope of research is really pretty broad the way you described it, physics, chemistry, metrology? Did you get a sense, during this time period, what research was like at other glass companies? Was Corningís situation, research set up similar? Was it very different?
Keck:Yes. The truthful answer is I was still pretty naÔve and could only go by what other people said. It became clear that Schott was one of our major competitors, and eventually we found out that Schott was organized virtually identically with the way Corning was.
Lassman:Iím sorry. Who?
Keck:The two organizations.
Lassman:This other organization?
Keck:Schott in Germany. Schott Glass.
Keck:It was almost as though if one organization changed why the other would mimic it, and vice versa. In terms of developments and so on. There werenít a whole lot of other glass companies in the U.S.
Lassman:The only other one that came to mind, I was thinking of, was Pittsburgh Plate Glass.
Keck:We formed the joint venture with Pittsburgh Plate to form Pittsburgh-Corning to make glass architectural blocks. Then Owens-Corning to form fiberglass. They did containers, and we came up with a process for fiber, blowing fibers and put the two together to form Owens-Corning. So, there were joint ventures that sprang out of those interactions. But, we always used to say, the glass industry would have had three major components: the flat glass, which was largely [Libby Owens Ford], the container business, which was Owens Illinois, and then the specialty glass, which was Corning. We were the leaders in specialty glass. And, we didnít make flat. We didnít make [bottles]. And, if we ventured into something that looked like it crossed into those areas, well then we would use joint ventures.
Lassman:What did you see, coming in as a PhD physicist, academically trained, doing very advanced scientific research, coming into a company like Corning that has a very strong craft tradition, glass and glass making, what was your impression as a PhD physicist of coming into an organization like that? Was there a tension between the traditional craft-making, tacit knowledge, that had such a long history at Corning, versus your type of experience and expertise coming in? Was there a tension there or was there an easy collaboration? Was there a collaboration?
Keck:Well, if there was a tension, I didnít recognize it. The work that was going on around me, by colleagues, Nick Borrelli and the group was doing high power laser, glass laser work, so we had, well we had actually two organizations worrying about the possibility of glass lasers. They were on the cutting edge of finding new lasing materials. A gentleman upstairs — I mentioned, radio frequency sputtering at IBM — was in fact doing radio frequency sputtering to try and deposit films from either the resistor and capacitor business. Mike Teeter was working on the plasma discharges, looking at the possibility of some alternate display technique that might supply a cathode ray tubes for television. We were worrying about, was there a threat to our banner business out there? So, there was certainly lots and lots of high technology. Those are examples that came to my mind. Well, Jim, James H.P. Watson was doing work in superconductivity trying to make superconducting glass wires. And he had a, had the only way I can describe him is, have you seen the movie that involves Ichabod Crane? — Sleepy Hollow? Ė That is Walt Disneyís adaptation of the Washington Irving, ďLegend of Sleepy HollowĒ?
Lassman:I havenít seen that.
Keck:Well, if you saw this caricature, his long face, pointy nose, and buckteeth, this was Dr. Norm Hindley. He was a theorist. A dear gentleman, but just not blessed with, with features that endeared him to many people. Brilliant theorist. He was working out the theory of superconductivity for Vycor nanoscale porous Vycor wires, glass wires. So, very advanced technologic work going on, but right down the hall youíd have a glass grinding shop. So, when you needed to make your laser rod, and polish the ends of the glass, you know, you went down to the crafts people and theyíd polish the ends for you. So, it was a learning experience to be able to go down and get the crafts people to make the things you needed, and tell them why, and so on. And, frankly, I had described how in high school I made friends with the rural — the have-nots, and the haves, and so on, and I didnít have a bunch of problem in getting along in Corning, and getting things done that I needed done. There were oftentimes, well, in some of the early work, I needed a hole drilled in the center of a glass cylinder, a starting preform for some of the fibers. And so you go down, — the foremen of the craft shop were always a bit gruff and kind of wanted to put the young scientists in their place, and so on, and so on, but I had grown up knowing how to deal with that sort of behavior. And, gradually then, just through working with them in a nice fashion, got over it and befriended them. There was one fellow in the machine shop. I remember he built gorgeous gunstocks, just works of art. And, so, youíd go down and talk with him about his gunstock, and get him to telling you about the thing. So, if you showed an interest in their things then why they bent over backwards to elevate your project to a higher level. And so, you know, itís the normal interactions of other human beings that got your work done, and so on. Clearly there were people around that didnít know how to do that, and therefore didnít advance their projects as well as, well I was able to. Apparently. Well, clearly craftspeople existed. And youíd go down into the crafts end of things. Itís a dirty environment. And, you know, but salt of the earth people and they would do every bit as good a job. And what they were good at as you tried to do in the high technology end of things. It was just a question of getting to know them and figuring out how to interact.
Keck:But, I had no problems. I must confess that some of the union rules got me in trouble a couple of times. We werenít supposed to do any wiring. You had to hire, or call an electrician if you needed to do that. And, there were a couple of times when I had grievances filed against me where I was taking the initiative of doing some wiring in the lab that I wasnít — it was simple enough. I was going to do it and not wait for somebody to show up two days later and do the thing. And, so, after the first one or two of those I learned to shut the door.
Lassman:And be much more careful.
Keck:Be much more careful about who knew what I was doing, and turn off the light if you could. And things like that. Well, by in large, but itís like everything in life. You learn the rules of whatever game youíre playing. And once you learn the rules, then you can play the game much better.
Lassman:Okay. Well, this next one is, why donít we call it for now?
Lassman:Is that good? Because the next one I want to ask is about the continuation of your work in infrared spectroscopy.
Session I | Session II