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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Frank Low

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Interview with Dr. Frank Low
By Patrick McCray
At Tucson, Arizona
January 25, 2000

Transcript

Session I | Session II

McCray:

This is a tape recorded interview conducted with Frank Low in Tucson, Arizona, January 25th, 2000. Letís go in a chronological fashion. I know you were born in Alabama in 1933. Why donít we start with that point in time? Why donít you tell me what you recall from your childhood experiences?

Low:

Well, historical fact is, is that a fellow by the name of Hank Aaron [spelling?] born in Mobile almost the same time I was.

McCray:

That would be Hank Aaron the baseball player?

Low:

Hank Aaron, yes. I also found that a close colleague of mine who was born in Mobile about I believe six or seven years later. So thereís two infrared astronomers. Jim Hawk is his name. He and I.

McCray:

At Cornell.

Low:

At Cornell. So Jim Hawk and Frank Low were both born in Mobile.

McCray:

Interesting.

Low:

Now in my case I was from an old Mobile family, at least on my motherís side, and still have a lot of family there but Jim was born because his father was serving in the military and it was like a Navy — probably the Navy base that was there during the time he was being born. So he doesnít have the Southern credentials that I have. I have fairly extensive Southern credentials on my motherís side. I was born as Frank James McFadden, Jr.

McCray:

McFadden M-c?

Low:

Yeah.

McCray:

F-a-d-dĖ?

Low:

Actually Francis James McFadden, to get it technically correct.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And my father died when I was two, so I do not recall him, and my mother remarried when I was in third grade — whatever year that is of oneís life — and assumed the name of Low and changed Francis into Frank. So Frank James Low is representative of those changes. Now the early educational background that was my fate was sadly lacking in content I guess — partly due to the war. The circumstances of the Depression were very significant in the late thirties, the first seven years. It wasnít until the war years that things began to improve in the South, and it was as a result of the war that my mother met the man that she married at that time. And we moved all around the country, so I started moving from one location to another, again because of the war activity that he was engaged in.

McCray:

What type of work was that?

Low:

He was a graduate of Yale University, a real pioneer in what was called in those days civil engineering. And so he was in the construction industry and building some of the largest buildings that had ever been built in this country during the war effort — for the manufacture of bombers, the large bombers that we used in World War II. Many of them were built in buildings that were designed/built by my father. So we ended up in Washington, D.C. at the end of that period. The end of the war period came about when I was — must have been sixth or seventh grade, and I had this father who greatly valued education and who was an engineer and so he was well aware of the deficiencies of my younger years in terms of education and thought I might do better if I had a better education. So Iím an example of a kid that got sent to the good school without any preparation for going to a good school. And I certainly remember that. But the teachers at St. Albans are today still I guess is one of the countryís prized male schools.

McCray:

Where is it located?

Low:

Thatís in Washington, D.C., right there in the shadow of the National Cathedral.

McCray:

I live right down the street from where you went to school.

Low:

And of course thereís the National Cathedral for, school for girls, which means that it — I notice that the two are still separated.

McCray:

Mm-hm [affirmative]. They still are.

Low:

In this day of discouraging the separation of schoolchildren by gender, that tradition lives on there in that little neck of the woods. And so I was only there one year. It was a pivotal year though. I think I probably learned more in those nine months than I had in certainly any other equivalent period. I mean, I had a tremendous teacher and it was work, work, work, but there was lots for me to learn and it was a very productive year in that regard. Somewhere in there, and I think well before that, I became interested in math and science on my own, but not because anybody taught it to me but because I just discovered it was there and started becoming quite interested in it, so that by the time I got to my new home in Houston, Texas where we moved at the end of the war. At the conclusion of the war effort my father settled down from all this relocating that he had done and managed his companyís affairs in the Southwest and he did that from Houston. And since St. Albanís was an Episcopal school I was enrolled in St. Johnís, which was a brand new Episcopal school in Houston. So that was not a very big change. The difference was that one was a well-established school and I was in the first graduating class of St. Johnís.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

St. Johnís had rated a lot of very good schools and with oil money, which was plentiful in those days, hired from up East where most of the good schools were at that time. This was mid-forties. They hired good science teachers, good math teachers — just plain good teachers. So I was kind of a living experiment I think of what you could do with some kid who was interested in science and had some capability for an. If you really taught him well and gave him every possible advantage —

McCray:

Do you have siblings?

Low:

Later on my mother had two more children. I was fourteen when my brother was born.

McCray:

So you lived a long period of time pretty much as an only child.

Low:

Yeah, right.

McCray:

Had your mom gone to college?

Low:

No.

McCray:

But you mentioned your father had been —

Low:

My father was a graduate of Yale in 1911. Going way back, 11-S [punctuation?], and a strong Yalie. So guess what? I went to New Haven to college. I havenít gotten that far yet. Iím giving you more detail. I think — I think thereís no way to make use of this information, but it is interesting to know that you can take a vacuum — I was a pretty good definition of what we call today an underprivileged kid.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

Because I had no father, a product of the Depression, the schools in the South were sort of uniformly terrible. [Knock on door] Iíll have to answer that. Excuse me. Sorry. A kid can come into an environment where we just sum it up as being underprivileged, certainly from an educational point of view, and exposed to good teaching, motivation Ė things that are sadly lacking in todayís educational system — can just prosper. So —

McCray:

Did you have a favorite teacher or favorite subjects?

Low:

Yes, I did. Math. The school was small enough that teachers often had to do two grade levels, and so I ended up having the good fortune of having him for two or three years. I canít remember. And he really made a mathematician out of me.

McCray:

What was his name?

Low:

Flansberg.

McCray:

How do you spell it?

Low:

F-l-a-n-s-b-e-r-g, I think. Now remember, the time we are talking about is the mid-forties, and he was well along in years at the time, so I donít know exactly what year he passed away, but heís gone. But in the annals of that school there is quite a lot of information about that early faculty. The founder of the school did an amazing of employing [correct word?] New England style teachers away from New England and transplanting them to Houston, Texas and making them happy enough to stay. And it was the challenge of all these untaught minds that I think was the key thing — not the money that they made, but the challenge of having this vacuum they could fill. And they had scholarships, so we had less privileged children. Because as you can guess, my new father nearing the end of his career had become shall we say comfortably wealthy and he could well afford these private schools and he could afford to send me to Yale.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

And that was of course a motivating factor. I had to please him and I had to get good enough grades and do all the right things so that I could get into Yale, and it all worked out. When I graduated from St. Johnís, they had to give away some prizes. I had already decided by my senior year that I would probably not be a mathematician but would be a physicist.

McCray:

Why the change of interest?

Low:

I could explain that. Ironically, I had very little competition actually I think — and I donít want to be quoted on that.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

Because some of those people are still alive. Not all, unfortunately. So they decided to give me the math prize, where Iíd rather have had the physics prize. But there really wasnít anybody to give the math prize too except me, so they found someone else. I canít who it was that got the physics prize. But they were very serious about that, and I think that also was a motivator for succeeding classes, because it was clear that there was going to be some decisions made about who was going to go on and do well on what subject.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

So when I went to Yale, I had already decided to be a physicist. When I came out of having the experience of learning first biology, then chemistry and then physics — which is the way it was always taught in those days — and each science was marvelous, wonderful and mind-expanding, but when I got to physics it was sort of clear that that was where it all ends up. And there isnít anything beyond physics. Thatís it. And math is part of physics. That made a lot of sense to me, and I wanted more physics. I was perfectly happy to have more math, but I wanted more physics.

McCray:

What was your familyís response to your deciding to become a physicist?

Low:

Well, my father was very happy with it. He knew what it meant, and if I was going to be good enough at it he knew that it would lead somewhere. My mother really, as a high school student without the formal education, she had deduced that the medical doctors were the most essential and most important people in our society, and so I was introduced to medical doctors, I was given — Vienna [correct name?] Medical School was very young at that time, but thatís become one of the countryís great medical institutes. And so it was founded I think when I was in high school. So I was given Saturday tours of laboratories and everything in order to induce me into medicine. But once I got into physics, there wasnít any — So I had to console her that physics was a good subject as well and that it really didnít matter that I wasnít going to be a medical doctor. And of course at that time I didnít really know how far with physics I was going to go, but I knew that was where I wanted to go. At Yale it was an ongoing debate, caused by the fact that Yale has a marvelous way of educating an graduate, I think. Other schools have tried to copy it, but none of them have been fortunate enough — to my knowledge — Iíve been involved in a couple of those — to really get the essence of it. The college system at Yale is what I remember about it more than anything else, that after the freshman year the sophomore, junior and senior classes are assigned to specific residential colleges, which are like large fraternities in a way. They each have their own faculty members, associates of the college, and you get to know them. And there was a physicist and I remember him but I am not going to be able to give you the names and titles [correct word?] of these guys. Thatís — they [inaudible phrase] sixty-six years old.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

So donít ask me these questions embarrassing me. Both had powerful influences on me for all three years, and I really did like the mathematician a lot better, and he was determined to switch me over from physics back to math, [inaudible phrase], and he almost succeeded a couple of times because the physics department at Yale in those years was lousy. The more physics I learned, the more I learned that I wasnít really getting the benefits of the most modern things that were going on in physics. Whereas in many other subjects that I could have pursued at Yale was neither first or second; they were maybe tenth or twentieth at that. And physics certainly, in teaching it the way they — They taught an older text, and they taught a lot of old-fashioned physics.

McCray:

Okay. More classical type of physics?

Low:

Yeah. Which you could flash through in a hurry and go on to the more modern physics, which was far more exciting. If you were going to be a physicist, thatís what you were naturally interested in was modern physics.

McCray:

So were you more interested in some of the quantum work that was being done?

Low:

Yeah, I was always challenged by more of the cutting edge stuff, and so I couldnít understand why the classes had to be dwelling on subjects that were pretty well finalized. It was boring.

McCray:

What type of physicist at this point did you envision yourself becoming? Did you have a —?

Low:

Well, this was the fifties now. Weíre talking — I graduated in Ď55, so I was there Ď51 through Ď55, and nuclear physics was the dominant growth area in physics at the time. Solid-state physics was sort of just getting underway. When it came to make a decision as to what graduate school to go to, I was influenced by a guy who was good friends, a close colleague of his was the founder, the chairman of the physics department at Rice University — Rice Institute it was in those days. And Rice had become the beneficiary of some money which led to the building of an active program in low-energy nuclear physics. And so I was headed off in that direction. And the fact that my family lived there and I was going to be able to go back home was attractive. I was I guess accepted at MIT and Rice, and I went up to MIT, one of the — I guess it probably, was it Spring Break? It was one of the breaks, and just between New Haven and Boston there was a lot more winter going on, and I thought, ďWell, geez. Iíve got to flip a coin here.Ē Living in the graduate studentsí dorm on the Charles River with no signs that the trees would ever bloom again and knowing how after four years of life in New England it was easy to choose Rice, and thatís where I decided to go.

McCray:

Was it a difficult adjustment to go from growing up in the South and then living in Houston to go to the heart of New England?

Low:

Yeah. It was easy for me, because of all this traveling and all these advantages that I then had. I mean, I put it all together and I had had a poor education at times, but I had a large range of places I lived — in Texas and Chicago and briefly in Cleveland, and then my years up in Washington — so it wasnít a big shock, or there wasnít anything new about it in that sense. But I was treated — my nickname was Tex. I think you would — is it not true that you would find it a little hard to associate that nickname with me today? So obviously somewhere along the way, between the time I started in at Yale and now, the Tex part is long gone — even though I came back to Texas and my first job, which we havenít gotten to, was in Dallas. So we lived in Dallas for two and half years. But so my first astronomy was done in Texas.

McCray:

So what was Rice like at this time?

Low:

Rice was small. It hadnít opened its doors — it had to women, but not blacks. It was still Rice Institute. I graduated getting a Ph.D. from Rice Institute. Later on that the will [correct word?] was broken, which is what they did, they had to break the terms of the will of William Morris Rice, who though never having gone to Houston endowed this nonexistent institute with what amounted to a huge amount of money. He was a New Yorker, a banker, and never had gotten down to Texas, but he was convinced that there was a great potential down there and what they lacked was a good school, so he just decided there would be one. And since nobody down there had any money, the school had to be essentially free on the basis of merit. And so you could still get a free ride. All the undergraduates were getting free rides, and it was extremely competitive. Whether your parents had money or not, it was extremely competitive to get in there.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

And it attracted good faculty, and it was — Oh yes. And he also had no use for foreign languages and a whole bunch of other things, so we were sadly lacking when it came to teaching languages. Fortunately I had been taught all that at Yale, so I didnít need to do much in that arena as a graduate student. In those days to get a Ph.D. you had to have — even in physics you had to have two foreign languages.

McCray:

Which two languages did you learn?

Low:

We donít have any of those requirements today.

McCray:

No, no. Barely one.

Low:

I could speak French, I could read it, and I had also taken a little bit of Italian, which they would not accept, so I had to do a self-taught German course so I could pass their German test. And so my proficiencies were in French and German. Iíve only used the French. Iíve never used the German for anything.

McCray:

Before we talk about grad school, at any point prior to that did you ever consider going off and doing something —?

Low:

Oh yes. My mother was a great singer. She had a magnificent voice, and she was one of these extremely accomplished musicians. She never had formal training, but she did have a little when she was around — I was born, so she must have been in her very early twenties. Youíve never heard of Kate Smith. You just arenít old enough to quite —

McCray:

ďGod Bless AmericaĒ Kate Smith?

Low:

Yes. This magnificent female voice. She weighed about a quarter of ton, you know, and this great voice. Well, she sang on I believe probably Sunday afternoons on the radio. There was no TV, so people would gather around the radio to listen to ďThe Kate Smith Hour,Ē and she would just belt out all these songs that everybody wanted to hear for an hour, and then there would be a pause and then my mother would come on, from the local radio station, and sing for half an hour.

McCray:

What kinds of songs would your mom sing?

Low:

The same thing that Kate Smith sang, the same sort of songs. Taught to her by herself. I mean, she just picked them up from listening to them and had a natural voice and a great musical talent, so that went on for some period. I can remember those years. I was probably four or five at the time, something like that. And I donít think she was getting paid for it, but the local girl entertaining the local audience. She went on to do a lot of singing in churches throughout her career, but she never did any professional work, but really a great singer. So she started working on me. When I was at St. Albanís, I still had a falsetto voice, so I was a member of the Cathedral Choir, the boysí choir at the National Cathedral — which I believe they still have, an all-male choir, one of the few.

McCray:

I think they do. Yeah.

Low:

We have one here in Tucson which is quite good, the Tucson Boysí Chorus. Anyway, I did that for a year and that was great, you know, we got to sing at the White House and various places all around Washington, D.C. The same stuff they must be doing today in the Cathedral, roam around the Cathedral and sing and everything. And so when I got to Yale I immediately competed for the Yale Glee Club.

McCray:

Glee Club. Okay.

Low:

And that was a really big thing at Yale. It was more important than the football team. I remember the meeting. There were a thousand Yalies in my freshman class, and 500 of us showed up to be in the Glee Club.

McCray:

Wow.

Low:

And so I was selected from the freshman class, and I was a full four-year member. I was in Freshman Glee Club, and then if youíre very good you get to be in the Glee Club. But then there is the other — itís like the football team: you have junior varsity and the so forth and so on. So I was in three years of the Glee Club, because I had this big voice. Where I fell short — and it was hard to figure this out at the time, because people would keep telling you how great your voice was, and I guess it must have been, but in the case of my mother she had both the voice and the musical ability. I was a little short in musical ability.

McCray:

But you had a good voice.

Low:

I had this big male tenor voice and I could sing arias when I was fifteen years old or something, fifteen and sixteen. I had the biggest voice in the Glee Club in terms of just the dynamic range of it. And but something was lacking, and the thing that was lacking was the perfect pitch and the ability to follow music in detail. Music is very — if you play games with music, which is where all the fun is, youíve first got to get the music exactly right, and then you can start playing the games. But I detected — I was a first year graduate student at Rice before I gave it up. When I applied to graduate school in physics, I knew I wanted to take physics but I also knew that I had this voice, and so I tried singing in the local churches and weddings up through my first year of graduate school. And then I decided I had to give it up, because it was not going to be — I could never see how to integrate it into what I was really going to do.

McCray:

Tell me about your —

Low:

So, once I gave it up, I did give it up. And if you noticed, I use it as a past tense, because a voice is like any other natural attribute: if you donít use it, you lose it. So although I sing two or three times a year on some occasion, and itís just not the same. Your voice can be lost.

McCray:

The muscles.

Low:

The muscles are just not there. Speaking doesnít use this range that has to be there, and the ear has to be kept in tune. Fortunately I have one grandkid whoís got all that musical talent like my mother did. She doesnít have a great voice. Her voice is too little. But boy does she have the musical ability. So the piano —

McCray:

The voice will probably come.

Low:

No. No, no, I hate [inaudible phrase]. The piano is [inaudible phrase]. Musical talent in the family will pass from one generation, sometimes skipping a generation, but it stays there. So whereas all those formative years the music was a strong contender, and the Yale Glee Club toured Europe. I was very fortunate to be there at that time as a junior, because they didnít do it every summer. It was a quite expensive thing, you know. Just flying over to Europe and back was a big deal in those days. And so I got to tour almost all of Europe except Scandinavia with the Glee Club. It was about a six-week tour or something.

McCray:

Nice trip.

Low:

Really. Oh, man, thatís not a trip that you could — And we were received like conquering heroes in so much of Europe, because it was the 10th Anniversary of the —

McCray:

End of the war?

Low:

— of the end of the war. Many of the smaller towns we went to, they hadnít seen American people, young American males, since they were liberated. They went nuts. They went absolutely nuts. I mean, you couldnít imagine an audience that was more spell —

Low:

...Switzerland is really three little pieces of three countries stuck together in a bunch of beautiful mountains. And so we sang in both Geneva and in Zurich. Geneva, which is the French part, we opened with their national anthem in French, and the audience just jumps up out of their seat and just beaming, are so happy when they realize whatís going on. We got to the concert in Zurich, and somehow or other there are two anthems that can be sung, that one was the official one and one was not, and we had been taught the wrong one. So to our great surprise, we opened with this glorious sound and slowly the audience turned to rise when they realized that we werenít singing our first selection, we were singing something for them. Iíll never forget that experience. But the whole thing was a marvelous cultural event, shall we say. Still not enough to convince me that I was going to become an opera star, so Iím not.

McCray:

So you continued with grad training in physics at Rice then instead of a singing career.

Low:

Yeah, I just continued right on from them without looking back, and only rarely have I pondered what it would be like if I had changed my mind and I could have maintained, easily I could have maintained the singing any number of ways without hurting my other activities. So at Rice I was enrolled as one of Bonnerís slaves.

McCray:

Bonner.

Low:

Bonner was the head of the department and he was also the director of the research facility having to do with low-energy nuclear physics.

McCray:

What was his first name?

Low:

Tom Bonner. But he was nearing the end of his career, and I was being taught the best physics by a very young recent graduate of MIT by the name of Bud Rorschach, and your teachers do matter. I mean donít let anybody tell you that the teachers they had donít matter. Question that, because the teachers you get involved with as you make your way through all of this whole, many years of education that you need to do science, or any other advanced discipline, itís going to matter what those teachers give you and what influences they have over you in formulating your own ideas and your own interests. In first year we had the founder of physics, whose name was William Houston, spelled exactly the same way as Houston [as in Houston, Texas] but pronounced ďHowston,Ē and he was one of those august physicists who really left his mark on modern physics. He did not get the Nobel Prize. He was one of those people who other physicists argued for decades as to why it was that he didnít, but he had done some really brilliant work in his younger years and was highly respected. Well, we had him, but he was a lousy teacher, in my opinion. A very, very good physicist, but a lousy teacher. He made up for it by having his assistant be the best teacher.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And so we oscillated back and forth. I think we had him one day a week and the young guy two days a week. Well, I wanted to work for him. I was his first graduate student. His name was Bud Rorschach, R-o-r-s-c-h-a-c-h, didnít you get it? Itís pronounced ďroaríshawĒ by him. Thatís not quite right. It turns out thatís a tiny little town in Switzerland, in the German part of Switzerland. So his parents were from that area of Switzerland, and he had gone to MIT, I think all the way through, came to Rice, became full professor at Rice at an early age, ended up being department chairman and the most beloved teacher that theyíve ever had. I was given the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Youíll see it on my —

McCray:

On your CV.

Low:

And so I attended the Rice Graduation Ceremony to receive my award and became familiar with what they had done with that ceremony. It was no longer an outdoor thing. A big event, obviously, and so they had put in — somebody had given them a lot of money to give a prize for the best teacher. Bud, I know him very well, his wife, I still know his wife very well and see her when we go over there. They were both wealthy. They didnít need the money. But they had this like $10,000 award voted by the student body, and any professor who taught any class was eligible. They had to change the rules after he won it teaching Freshman Physics, of all courses, after five or six years, because no one else had a chance. Every class, every group of kids that went through there. They voted as a block, and no one else had that spellbinding hold over their students.

McCray:

Why was he so good?

Low:

First of all, his understanding of physics was far greater than anyone else that I ever knew, possibly with the exception of Houston — but Houston didnít know it all the way Rorschach did. He covered a tremendous breadth of physics, and he could make it ever so clear at any level. And I think thatís the test of a great teacher. If you can teach students who are just beginners and take them further than they would have otherwise hoped to go, then youíre in his class, and you get there by being extremely good. So of the two teachers that I had that had the most influence on me, Rorschach is number one, then this mathematics teacher in high school was the other, Flansberg. So Rorschach and Flansberg belonged to the same teaching fraternity, as far as I was concerned. And although I can do some of that, I also knew that I would never ever stay with it the way they did, and the dedication that it takes is just — To me research was so much more fulfilling than teaching, and so I — maybe I was taught too well perhaps.

McCray:

What were the other physics students like at this point?

Low:

I donít think anyone else in my group of students, the ones that I was in graduate school together, distinguished themselves tremendously well. There is a guy by the name of Chapman [spelling?; first name] who graduated as Riceís — he was an undergraduate and then did his graduate work, and he was a year ahead of me — and he and I both went to work for Texas Instruments when we graduated, and so our relationship continued on because of that, and weíre still very good friends and have done some things for Rice that — When they call upon their graduates, you know, as they do.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

He was an All-American Tackle. Here was this little Rice Institute, and we were national champions, would you believe, in football when he was the All-American. And we had the NFL back in those days; we didnít have the Dallas Cowboys at that time, but we had the NFL, and he was the number one pick of every team who was out there, and he just completely turned his back on it. Said he wasnít at all interested in playing football professionally when he could do physics. He went on in his career at Texas Instruments to climb the ladder, and he is probably the most successful of the people I can remember from that class.

McCray:

How were you supported as a graduate student?

Low:

Poorly. I was living at home, and I did not get — There werenít enough scholarships, or fellowships they called them, to go around. The called them fellowships, and they were all privately endowed, mostly by oil companies.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

The best I could do was it was relatively easy for me to get summer employment in the laboratories of Shell and Texaco, and thatís how I earned extra money was by working for them during the summer. And you had to do that, if you wanted to have any degree of independence from your parents. And by the time youíre in graduate school you like to think youíre becoming independent. Now itís entirely different of course, but I remember going out in my background at 2:00 a.m. in the morning to watch Sputnik fly over Houston. That was the time. You know what Sputnik is, donít you? Youíve heard of that?

McCray:

Yes.

Low:

That was this little toy about this big that —

McCray:

What impact did that have on you as a physics student?

Low:

Fantastic impact.

McCray:

Can you describe it?

Low:

Fantastic. Yeah, because they got there first. I mean, that was the thing that was the surprising thing about it. And it was all so easy was the other thing that — as a physicist you know what the mechanics told you you had to do to put something in a stable orbit, and it had never been done before, and it was really easy, and it was done by a bunch of Russians. They didnít have all the stuff we had. The summer jobs were interesting. I got an inside view of what itís like to work in a large industrial setting where research is quite directed, highly directed and very specific.

McCray:

Was that different from your graduate school, I mean working for the summer where you are doing very direct research?

Low:

Yeah. And I wish we did more of that, I really do. I think that what is probably quite lacking now in the way we are teaching our graduate students today is that in these fields like physics is the practical hands-on experience that you need to know what is expected of you. And the graduate student today, at least in astronomy, is so well taken care of — your question is how well was I taken care of — and by not taking care of me well, the school couldnít afford to, couldnít have that many graduate students if they pampered every one of them and gave full rides it would effectively —

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

I got a partial ride, but I had to earn my own — I had to feed myself one way or the other and provide my own transportation and clothes. I mean, the basic essentials you had to do yourself, but at least you didnít have to fork over tens of thousands of dollars a year at Rice. At other schools you might have in those days. Ivy league were not — or it would have cost a lot more money to go to MIT than it cost to go to Rice, and my most influential teachers at Yale told me that yes, there really wasnít any difference between the physics education I would get at Rice and at MIT. I might get a better one because it was smaller.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

And I think they were exactly right on that, by the way, from my lifetime experience, and — so where are we? Weíre still talking about these industrial laboratories.

McCray:

Did you have a doctoral project by this point?

Low:

Oh yeah, yeah. The way you went through Rice in those days it has to be four years. If you took a fifth year, you were in the doghouse; you were never going to get any kind of a good recommendation from the faculty if it took you more than four years. Now in my case to write all the papers and get everything tidied up I stayed on for two months of the summer after I graduated to do all of that, but if there had been any thought of coming back for another year in those days, no way. Now thatís all gone.

McCray:

Yes.

Low:

And so there are so many fundamental differences. So when you go to these schools as I do on visiting committees to make recommendations to make the place better, the only recommendation that I know works is to turn the clock back and change it back to the way it was in the days when it was really working. But youíve got to change a lot of things to do that, and itís not going to happen. But where are we? I started wandering off the mark here.

McCray:

The type of research that you were doing and how you first got started with it.

Low:

Okay. Let me explain how it happened, and you can see a little bit about why. I started out thinking I was going to be a nuclear physicist.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And do all my research with tearing apart atoms and so forth. Well, classes, the class that I took from Bonner himself — I will be very careful about these words. A simple thing to say is that he was boring, and it did bore me at times, but it was not challenging. It just wasnít challenging, is where it really fell short. And so I immediately started thinking, as I learned more physics, what was more interesting. And so Bud Rorschach had a great influence that freshman year, but in those days — and it is different now — you were required in physics and several other subjects to get a two-year masterís degree. You were given two years to get a masterís degree. If you do it in one year — and it had been done — that was a big feather in your cap, but obviously you had to have a head start to do that, or be very, very good at what you had chosen to do. And that meant writing a full thesis and all of that. And you were admitted to the Ph.D. only after you had succeeded. So we replace that today with the qualifying exam, which isnít the same thing by a longshot. And so the guys really werenít going to make it to the Ph.D. were given masterís degrees and that was that. A safe thing for me to do at the time was to switch from Bonnerís program to the second biggest program, which was low-temperature physics, because the other sort of prominent faculty member was a low-temperature physicist. And that sounded a whole lot more interesting to me and I chose to do my masterís thesis in that area, ďNuclear Magnetic Resonance at Low Temperatures,Ē a combination of two very interesting areas — namely nuclear magnetic resonance, which you probably know is now a very important thing in medicine and also in materials research — itís illuminating the properties of materials in a fundamental way that was not possible before. By doing it at low temperatures you combine the techniques of cryogenics with the electronics.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

It was a really good experimental thesis that I did and it was highly thought of, and so I did hand myself a pick, and when I started looking for a Ph.D. project, and so I became Bud Rorschachís first graduate student. He had been there then for a couple of years himself just out of graduate school.

McCray:

So you two were probably roughly the same age.

Low:

Yeah. And he was one of these guys who looks young, and so in later years if we were standing next to each other I was — we were thought to be colleagues because he looked so young. Maybe there were three yearsí time difference. Heís dead, by the way. Thatís one of the great losses.

McCray:

What was his particular style like, and how did that match with yours of doing [inaudible word]?

Low:

Sow [correct word?] every day, sow straightforward, and he really cared about his students, every aspect of his student. He recognized that the student was a person that had other things that were important other than just the physics that was being taught or research that was being done, and he could inspire you by his simple example of his style and his dedication and his understanding of the subject. If you had a problem, whether it was a non-physics problem, you could still talk to him about it. He would give you the best advice he had on the subject. And yet he — so he was a full, all-around teacher, and I think he communicated that to all of his students. And so he picked the project. I wasnít smart enough to pick the project. This required some investment on their part.

McCray:

In terms of equipment?

Low:

Yeah, equipment, and we had to apply for and succeed in getting one of the few samples that were being given out of helium III [punctuation?]. The production of what was called the hydrogen bomb was really the tritium bomb.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

Tritium decays — I think itís a nine-year half-life — into helium III, an isotope which does not occur naturally on earth; itís all manmade. In those years, in Ď56, Ď57, Ď58, there was very little of it and it was given out in 1-liter STP bottles, and Rice was given I think one or two liters, I forget which, and that was entrusted to one graduate student. And it was made clear to me that if by the time I graduated there was less than 900 cc left, I might not graduate.

McCray:

Because this was pretty valuable stuff.

Low:

It was very valuable, and the opportunity was very valuable, and it was given to me, and I was well aware of that, and so I had to design and build all this apparatus from scratch and it was a big challenge.

McCray:

Okay. Who funded this type of research? NSF was formed by this —

Low:

I think it was — whatever it was called in those days, it was the Atomic Energy Commission. Something like that. What has lately become the Energy Department.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

And the funds werenít large; they were minuscule. In fact today the size of the grants that Iíve gotten myself. Just absolutely minuscule.

McCray:

Did you work alone, or did you and Bud work together?

Low:

It was a cooperative — Well, he wanted it to be my work, so he stayed hands-off. We always consulted however, and every time I had a hard problem and I knew I was taking a risk we discussed it in detail beforehand. And so we just worked really well together. Iíd be working until one or two oíclock in the morning and along about eleven or so heíd drop by and see how things had been, you know, what progress had been made, if he could be of any help. But —

McCray:

Were you married at this point?

Low:

Married the year between freshman and sophomore year.

McCray:

First and second years at Rice.

Low:

Yeah. So the first year was the toughest year, because Rice was harder than Yale. Yale was a song. I breezed through Yale, just absolutely, all four years. And the heavy duty competition that was supposed to be there really wasnít there in any of the classes I took — except in math. They had a very good math department. That was why I was so tempted to go that way a few times, because it was really a better math department than it was physics department in my opinion. And boy, you really did learn math. If you were even vaguely interested in it, you could really learn math. You had to work a little harder to learn physics. Chemistry was a much better department than physics was in those days.

McCray:

You got married then between the [inaudible phrase].

Low:

We got married. We met on a summer job.

McCray:

One of these industry places that you were working.

Low:

Mm-hm [affirmative]. A Shell development company.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And started dating, and then we decided to get married in June, which was the end of the first year of — And so we took up an apartment near the campus and shared one car, had a very tight budget. She was already graduated and had a good job at Shell and was making a decent amount of money.

McCray:

Chemistry or physics?

Low:

No, no, no, business.

McCray:

Business. Okay.

Low:

A business major — which comes into the picture, as you will see. The picture hasnít been all revealed yet. I donít have anything in here with a picture. I used to have a picture of her hanging here in her hiking outfit.

McCray:

Okay. In your old office.

Low:

In the previous version of this office. That picture is hanging elsewhere. So it was a classic case. They had a term for it: ďputting hubby through.Ē There was all kind of jokes about all these marvelous women who were working like slaves, sometimes having had a child — and we had our first child while I was still in graduate school — and continuing to put hubby through. PHT it was called. I earned a Ph.D. and she earned a Ph.T.

McCray:

What did the T stand for?

Low:

That was the kind of — Putting Hubby Through.

McCray:

Got it.

Low:

That was the kind of humor we were into in those days.

McCray:

Right.

Low:

But I remember many of those girls — I mean women — and they were quite instrumental, time and time again, in getting those particular guys through that experience, because some of them really werenít up to it.

McCray:

When did you finish then with the graduate training? You went through in four years?

Low:

In Ď59, yeah.

McCray:

Plus the two months.

Low:

Yeah.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

We left two months after Iíd graduated, with papers all accepted and blah-blah-blah, and went to Texas Instruments.

McCray:

Where was that located at that point?

Low:

Where. Dallas?

McCray:

That was in Dallas?

Low:

Yeah. North Dallas, and Iíll come to that. Hereís one other little detail. You will also see that I received the H. A. Wilson Award when I graduated. That was an award based on a thesis.

McCray:

Okay. Can you tell me about that?

Low:

Well, yeah. It was — I should back up and tell you about that. I told you it was on helium III. At that time no one had done nuclear magnetic resonance on helium III. A related experiment had been done by an ex-Rice graduate who was highly thought of, and Duke University had a pioneering low-temperature physics group, and he had gone from Rice to Duke and was two years ahead of me. And so it was the success that he was having in that area that led Rorschach to take it one step further and start this project. And my job for those two years was to set all this stuff up, the nuclear magnetic resonance lab plus the low-temperature part of it, plus the helium III part of it. And there were some challenging, in those days, applied physics problems that needed to be solved. And so I had papers that — one paper dealt with the containment of the helium III at low temperatures. Because helium goes right straight through glass, and helium III goes through about twice or 50 percent faster, so all the traditional stuff isnít going to work. You had to be a dielectric if you were going to do nuclear magnetic resonance. You couldnít have it in a metal container.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

And glass was ruled out. And even glass wasnít reliable at low temperatures, so some inventiveness had to be applied to the solution of that problem.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And I solved that problem very nicely. And then the results we got were new results, and so we measured the properties of helium III, and Iíd have to go back to the thesis to tell you what I think today what the most important science was, but hindsightís always better than foresight and you can look back on an old paper and decide, you know, what itís real scientific value, if any, turned out to be.

McCray:

I donít want to jump too far ahead, but eventually weíll get to the story of you developing —

Low:

I think weíre spending a lot of time. Weíve spent an hour on this history bit, early history.

McCray:

But eventually you developed Dewars for infrared —

Low:

Right. And the very first one almost —

McCray:

Is there a connection —?

Low:

Yes. You really ask beautiful questions, sir, Ďcause itís almost like you were there and just trying to help you remember what happened.

McCray:

Well, Iím just trying to think. I know that one of the difficulties is to contain the coolant, so —

Low:

Right.

McCray:

Okay. Well, we can get to that.

Low:

No, no. Iíll do it right now.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

The magnet that we had in those days didnít have a very big gap. Magnets have gotten huge by now, but in those days the best you could get — and it had to be bought, because making such a magnet was just very much too much for a small graduate program. It had about a 1Ĺ- or 2-inch gap, and yet the pole pieces had to be a-part 8 or 10 inches in diameter.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

So it was just a very narrow slot through which you had to place your experiment.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And that had been done up until then entirely with glass-walled Dewars, believe it or not. And so you had all these concentric layers of glass. You had two concentric vacuums and then a space for the liquid nitrogen and a space for the liquid helium and then inside of that was your experiment, so there wasnít going to be much room for the experiment.

McCray:

Right.

Low:

Which had to have coils in a container and thermometers and so forth.

McCray:

So you had these interlocking circuit waves [correct two words?].

Low:

Yeah. They were big, huge things about this long and easy to break, because they were a very thin wall of glass with a vacuum, a double wall like a thermos bottle. Imagine the old-fashioned thermos bottle and expanded in size by a factor of 100.

McCray:

All right.

Low:

And also dangerous.

McCray:

Why?

Low:

Because if you broke them, glass went everywhere.

McCray:

Because of the vacuum and the —?

Low:

Yeah. You had an implosion followed by a —

Low:

...in a laboratory when a glass Dewar was broken it was quite violent. Not — not a good idea. Plus the helium does travel through the glass, greatly complicating your life in the care and feeding of these [inaudible word]. So I looked at the problem and I said, ďI canít solve this with glass.Ē So, what can I do? And I said, ďWell, Iíve got to do it with metal,Ē which can be thin-walled, and I was told how no one had done that successfully and it was a waste of time and so forth, the usual discouragement. And I thought, ďWell, Iíve simply got to solve it, because I want to get out of here,Ē and so I put together the first at Rice — and I think itís one of the first anywhere — successful design. And it wasnít that novel. I mean, it was mainly translating what we already knew into metal.

McCray:

What kind of metal was being used?

Low:

I used brass on the outside, because it was so easy to work with, brass tubing. And it had to have stainless steel on the inside — which is much harder to deal with. It was just a matter of making the joints so that they would withstand the temperature. But we had learned how to do that with transfer tubes, so I applied the things that we knew to the things we didnít know and I came up with a metal Dewar which was used by the following graduate students, who inherited all the helium III and the Dewars and the magnet and all the things that I had built.

McCray:

You saved him or her some work.

Low:

Yeah. We used to be good friends. Weíve lost track of each other. He went to Stanford, by the way. So he was a success. He was a professor of physics at Stanford, may still be.

McCray:

So how did you end up at Texas Instruments?

Low:

Well, this guy I told you about had graduated two years before at Duke and had gone to Texas Instrumentsí central research lab. TI — I canít tell you the whole history of TI. Itís an interesting one. But it had been formed out of a group of about seven small Texas oil exploration companies who made their money finding oil for other people. And they somehow got the idea that the transistor, which had been invented at Bell Labs, the germanium transistor, was going to some-day be a big thing and that they should concentrate on that, and that would then give them more advanced tools to go further in their separate ways.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

So they pooled resources and founded Texas Instruments in Dallas, and they managed to get the right minds together at the right place and basically invented the silicon transistor. You may not know that much about transistors, but youíre probably aware that we talk about silicon and we donít talk about germanium — even though you can make perfectly good transistors out of [inaudible word].

McCray:

Right.

Low:

And so the entire world was germanium at that time, and there was only one company in the world who knew how to make a silicon transistor, and they were located there in North Dallas. And they were minting money — just unheard of — until maybe the Internet. These Internet guys must be minting money, at least in the stock market.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

This was real money that you could spend.

McCray:

Thatís an important distinction.

Low:

They were selling these little crummy silicon transistors one at a time for fifty or a hundred bucks.

McCray:

Wow.

Low:

And now they are worth a hundredth of a cent or a millionth of a cent, [inaudible phrase]. Letís see. Thereís 30 million transistors in a P-3 [punctuation?], and a P-3 will cost about seventy bucks now, so do the arithmetic. [laughs]

McCray:

Thatís a big difference.

Low:

Itís a big difference. So they had the Central Research Lab. They were into the military stuff. The Cold War was in full swing by then.

McCray:

What type of military stuff were they in?

Low:

They were into magnetic — again, extension of oil well stuff. I mean, they were into finding submarines under the water, and submarines do go underwater, and youíd like to be able to find them.

McCray:

They would use SQUIDs [punctuation?] and those types of detection devices.

Low:

Yes, right. Remote sensing. And so I was doing low-temperature — I was hired by King Walters [spelling?] is his name — I didnít mention his name yet. He just recently retired. It isnít February yet. A week from now he will retire finally from his professorship at Rice. So he went back to Rice. I went back to Rice for a while [inaudible phrase] there. I didnít stick around very long, but I did go back to those pastures.

McCray:

Had he hired you from Rice?

Low:

He hired me right out of Rice. I had possibilities of, letís see, Boeing and IBM and Texas Instruments, and largely because we had the two kids at that point — the second kid was born about the time I graduated — and so it was very nice to be only 230 miles away from both grandmothers.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

And that had a big influence on it. Going all the way to Seattle, boy, that was a long ways in those days. Piston aircraft you took all day — all day, eight or ten hours — to fly from Dallas to Seattle. So it wasnít the mobile society that it has become, and it was a good place to go because I got a tremendous amount of freedom. I mean, I was hired with a specific project in mind, namely investigate the properties of thin film superconductors. So I was happily investigating aluminum — specifically I concentrated on aluminum — thin films at very low temperatures.

McCray:

So you would measure the resistance [inaudible phrase]?

Low:

I was measuring all the physical properties.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And one of the possible applications that I thought of or came across was to use the superconducting transition as a thermometer, ultrasensitive thermometer, and I could detect radiation with it because the bolometer had been invented I believe in 1873 and was known and used throughout the ensuing decades as a way of detecting the heat generated by light when it is absorbed.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And that device was called — S. P. Langley [spelling?] was the inventor of the original in the bolometer in the late 1800's. I donít remember the year anymore.

McCray:

[inaudible phrase] on the tape. So the superconducting transition.

Low:

Precisely. Itís the instability of that transition that convinced me that no one — not I or anyone else — was going to build a superconducting bolometer that was worthwhile.

McCray:

Why are the transitions unstable?

Low:

There are two phase changes. There are phase changes that are very controlled and those that are basically binary.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And so the material breaks up into a bunch of separate regions, and those regions can change size and —

McCray:

Like magnetic domains.

Low:

Yes. Magnetic transitions in general are of that class.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

Whereas phase changes between gas and liquid are much better [inaudible word]. So it was going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to do anything with that, and so I talked to King about it, who was my boss, and heíd been there already two years, and we all had our research projects, and he said, ďYeah, it doesnít look too hopeful.Ē And I said, ďWell, you know, we work for a germanium, a silicon, a semiconductor company, and semiconductors have interesting properties at these temperatures, and in one of them is a rapid change with resistance with temperature, so I know I can make a better bolometer out of either germanium or silicon.Ē And he said, ďOkay, well, it sounds good to me. Go try it.Ē And so I went down the hall, talked to the people, and they said, ďOh, make it out of germanium, because itís ever so much easier. Silicon is so hard.Ē

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And that was good advice. And so I proceeded to learn how to do that and made the first — Geez, I donít have it. I cleaned this office out. I have it at home. I still — thatís the paper, but I have actually the first bolometer. Itís one of the few things I saved.

McCray:

I would like to see that at some point if you ever find it.

Low:

All right. Oh, I think I know where it is. I believe I do. If I can, Iíll bring it tomorrow.

McCray:

This is a paper — what is this? — in the —

Low:

The low-temperature germanium bolometer. Itís in the journal of the Optical Society, and it was November. It says, ďReceived March Ď61.Ē What? No, this is the November issue. Yeah. It was received in March of Ď61, published in November of Ď61.

McCray:

What was the effect of this publication?

Low:

Dramatic. Dramatic.

McCray:

Okay. Why?

Low:

Little paper. Two different groups of people read it, and I had already talked to a third, so by the time I had built a good working model of this thing and taken all the data and figured out the theory and written the paper, I went back to work on my job, which was thin-film superconductors.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

Because it was other things like magnetometers you could do with them.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

It was later on with the SQUID, which is an improved version of what I was working on, occurred.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

Theyíre very closely related. So magnetometers did work out in the form of the SQUIDs, but bolometers didnít. And so I think the SQUID magnetometer is probably the only practical application of superconductivity today — the support systems and the superconducting magnets, I donít think theyíre — theyíre still not consumer products. Neither is the SQUID, but I mean theyíre not — thereís a few, thereís a handful of practical applications of superconductivity, none of them very impressive on the grand scale. But — nothing like semiconductors. So from that time on I became more interested in semiconductors than I was in superconductors.

McCray:

Iím looking over the last page of this paper that you wrote. It seems that you just hint at the possibilities.

Low:

I forecasted the future there, yeah.

McCray:

It says, ďThe arguments indicate that it is possible to construct a thermal detector comparable in sensitivity to the photomultiplier and the radio receiver but capable of efficient operation in all parts of the spectra.Ē

Low:

Yes.

McCray:

It seems to be somewhat prophetic.

Low:

Yeah, it was. I mean, it did, and also it mentions silicon in there too, [inaudible phrase] germanium.

McCray:

Sure.

Low:

And I wanted to be specific in the title. And we went on to make silicon bolometers, and today my little company makes $800,000 a year in silicon bolometers and no germanium bolometers, but they work exactly the same way, and the difference is how you make the contacts.

McCray:

So the company which is —?

Low:

Infrared Laboratories.

McCray:

Infrared Laboratories. That was started in Texas?

Low:

No, it was started here.

McCray:

Okay. In Tucson.

Low:

If weíre going to get through all of infrared astronomy, weíve got to get going here. It is 2:30. Letís wrap it up at 2:30, okay?

McCray:

Okay. Thatís fine. We can start up again tomorrow.

Low:

And weíll just be more time conscious of our time. Itís more romantic I guess when you go back to the early stages of current stuff, which is much more important. The thing that came out of Texas Instruments was a metal Dewar which by then I had refined my Dewar technology a lot and so I made the first research Dewar of the kind that is now copied all over the world. Weíve made almost 4,000 of them at Infrared Labs, because we serialize and count them. But then other people have taken to copying them, so I have no idea how many total copies there are, but theyíre certainly in the 5,000 domain, and they are mostly used for research of course, because they are very, very good liquid nitrogen vessels and even better helium vessels. And the helium III refrigerator is also something that we produce, which was a result, you know, a byproduct of my early days in graduate school many, many years ago. So we have a family of cryogenic devices at Infrared Labs, but the bolometer was a central project prior — It made money hand-over-fist at first and produced a healthy growing economy.

McCray:

You mentioned your wife had business experience.

Low:

We would not have formed the company had Edith not been there to say, ďYes, I will do it. Iím a mother of three kids, but I will do it.Ē

McCray:

Fantastic.

Low:

And so when we celebrated our 30th anniversary she got quite an ovation when people recognized what a big contribution she had made. And I simply wouldnít have done it. I mean I would not have done it. It was suggested to me by the vice president of research of this university that I do it, and he had come from the East, and he thought of the U of A as being a MIT type university here in the Southwest. Now he didnít stick around for very long, and heís retirement age, but — so not very many other companies have gotten founded this way, here in Tucson. There are some, but not many. I was the first, I guess. I just happened to be here, I had this thing. People — I was doing very exciting research with it and I had colleagues who wanted it, and I went and asked him what I should do. I mean, here I am, Iíve got this device, people want it, I know how to build it. Do I set up a laboratory in a basement someplace, and who funds it, and what happens to the money and all that. And he said, ďWell, thereís only one answer that works, and thatís the one where you go borrow whatever money you need, you found yourself a company, youíre the sole owner, you run it, and donít ever let anybody else run it, and you can make a success of it and you can continue to be a professor at the same time at this university.Ē

McCray:

Thatís a good solution.

Low:

Yeah. Thatís not what they say now.

McCray:

No. Itís very different now.

Low:

It is different. But the lawyers get in right on the ground floor. I didnít have — I did get a lawyer to draw up the papers, but you know it was like fifty or a hundred dollars I paid.

McCray:

But before the days of university tech transfer offices and all that.

Low:

Right. Exactly. Exactly.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And I kept it completely separate from the university thereafter, and I very appreciated his advice, because it has allowed me to do both things successfully.

McCray:

As a prelude to setting up tomorrowís talk, somewhere around this time you met up with Harold Johnson [spelling?].

Low:

In that period at TI, after I knew I had the bolometer and I knew that it worked — I mean, I could measure it there in the lab. I knew how sensitive it was, and I could make it more sensitive. I mean all the things I had stated in the paper were based on stuff that I was already doing, and so I learned by accident from a UT graduate that there was a guy down in Austin at the main campus — in those days there was only one campus. His name was Harold L. Johnson. He wouldnít travel up to Dallas, but I could travel down to Austin.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And I went down there to meet him and showed him what I had. He was the real father of infrared astronomy, because he had taken the pieces left over from World War II, of which he was a part — he was in radar. He was into radar research at MIT in the war effort. He was responsible for parts of the radar breakthrough that we had. And he had come back to astronomy, photoelectric cells, and then he got hold of lead sulfide detectors, which were a byproduct of the military research that he knew about, and he had pushed himself out to 3Ĺ microns from — visible light is Ĺ micron — and he had actually gotten to 5. And I came along, and I said, ďGeez, I can do any wavelength you want. Tell me what wavelength you think it interesting.Ē And so he became my first contact in astronomy. And I had never taken an astronomy course, and havenít Ďtil this day of course, so I had a lot of astronomy to learn, but I knew that it was this big, open part of the spectrum in which nothing, essentially nothing, had been done. The Moon — the temperature of the moon had not been measured correctly. There was a number for it, but it was wrong. Completely wrong. And so we knew the temperature of the Sun and we knew the temperature of the Earth, and we were guessing at the temperature of everything else around us. And so it was a real heyday for pioneering astronomy and I knew that. So I left TI and came here basically. Oh no, I didnít. I went to the NRAO. Thereís too many things. You want to stay on? I donít want to leave NRAO out. NRAO was essential. So maybe weíd better take off and [inaudible phrase] NRAO phase next time.

McCray:

Okay. Well, letís pick it up there then —

Low:

Weíll start right there. And weíve already jumped ahead, but obviously Iím here, not at NRAO, and Iím certainly not working for TI. So weíll go through with the infrared astronomy part starting —

McCray:

Tomorrow.

Low:

[recorder turned off, then back on...] ...right on this shelf someplace. Weíll get it tomorrow out. There are a few papers that you can cite which are really pivotal, and I can tell you two of them. Youíve got the bolometer already, and thatís the most important, because that opened the field. The other two things that I think were really key were how to convert an ordinary ground-based telescope into an infrared telescope and what the essential thing there was. There was a lot of pieces, but there is one thing that nobody except I managed to ever think of, and I exploited it, and it became the standard; it still is. And so thereís that, and of course we can go through things like the airplane and ballooning and finally the spacecraft, but if I can get the chronology of it all down. I think we can do that in an hour if we hustle, but the story of how I came up with that idea is quite unique and rather interesting.

McCray:

This is your idea about chopping [correct word?] [inaudible word].

Low:

Yeah. I recently related it over the phone to a colleague, and he is also an infrared astronomer of note, and the American Astronomical Society has the two journals, the Astrophysical Journal being the principal one, and so the editor of that journal, the longtime editor is Helmut Apt [spelling?] right across the street. He has retired, and of course we have the new Millennium and all of this is coming together. So somebody thought up the idea that Helmut ought to publish a book, a volume that would commemorate the science done in the last century — the science of the 1900's, the 20th Century science. And to do that they selected fifty-three papers, which you might have heard about.

McCray:

There was an article in todayís New York Times about it, in the Science Section.

Low:

Okay. Well, one of my papers is in there.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

And Iíll show you which one tomorrow for sure.

McCray:

Okay.

Low:

So if you only had the bolometer, this thing about how to do astronomy on the ground at these wavelengths and the essentials of that, and then this one scientific paper, youíd have a pretty good show of it.

McCray:

Okay. Well, that would be great.

Low:

And then there is a dozen others of course, but you get at some point where it gets overwhelming and kind of picky.

McCray:

Okay. Would you rather talk about that tomorrow then?

Low:

I think tomorrow. Iím just laying the groundwork for tomorrow. Thatís where we — we shouldnít forget that paper in that story, because I think depending upon how much, how real you want to make it, itís an interesting story.

McCray:

Okay. Well, we can pick up there then.

Session I | Session II