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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Arthur Kantrowitz

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Interview with Dr. Arthur Kantrowitz
By Bill Leslie
At AVCO-Everett Research Lab
June 12, 2006

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Arthur Kantrowitz; June 12, 2006

ABSTRACT: Kantrowitz discusses his undergraduate and graduate education at Columbia University; his early academic career at Cornell University; the beginnings of Avco-Everett Research Laboratory and the early work done there under an Air Force contract; the growth of the laboratory with other government contracts; moving into medical research; various projects that the laboratory worked on during his tenure; management of the laboratory; and his departure from Avco at the age of 65.

Transcript

Leslie:

This is Bill Leslie from Johns Hopkins University. I’m with Dr. Arthur Kantrowitz, who is the founding director of AVCO-Everett Research Lab. Today is June 12, 2006. I thought we would begin a little bit with some early background. You went to Columbia as an undergraduate? How is it that you ended up there? Were you from New York?

Kantrowitz:

Yes, I was born in New York. Columbia just seemed a natural place to go. I could walk there. But my high school record was not good enough, so I had to go to a junior college they had for the first couple of years.

Leslie:

What made you choose physics? You majored in physics, is that right?

Kantrowitz:

I chose physics before I knew the word. [Laughs] I started out making radios. I looked at engineering, and I was afraid that I couldn’t make the drawings that you were required to make it in India ink at that time. So I studied physics. But I always have been interested in the applications of physics rather than…

Leslie:

Were there any particularly memorable instructors or professors you remember from your undergraduate days?

Kantrowitz:

Not from undergraduate days. I did graduate work also at Columbia, and I. I. Rabi was the chief professor in reality, if not in name. I studied statistical mechanics with him.

Leslie:

There were some pretty great Faculty in those days at Columbia, especially in physics.

Kantrowitz:

Well, no. Just Rabi. Compton was there for one summer, I remember. I went to summer school. Just before World War II, Fermi and Teller and others came.

Leslie:

But you had done your undergraduate work there in the late ‘20s, early ‘30s?

Kantrowitz:

Late ‘30s.

Leslie:

Okay, so you took your undergraduate degree, and then you went to work for the NACA? Is that correct?

Kantrowitz:

Yes, I did. The reason for that was very simple: Rabi scared me.

Leslie:

Could you explain that a little?

Kantrowitz:

Well, he said, “You’re Jewish, aren’t you?” “Yes.” “What are you trying to be a physicist for?” So I said, “You’re Jewish, aren’t you?” He says, “Yes.” “Well, you’ve got a job.” [Laughter] He said, “Well, that was just an accident.”

Leslie:

That’s funny.

Kantrowitz:

It wasn’t funny at the time.

Leslie:

I bet it wasn’t. There was a lot of discrimination. That’s true.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. It was bad before World War II. In the meantime, I had taken civil service examinations and such things. I got an offer from the NACA, so I grabbed it.

Leslie:

What were you hired to do? Did you go to Langley?

Kantrowitz:

Langley. I stayed there for two years first, and then I came back and did another year’s graduate work at Columbia. Then all I needed was a thesis and a thesis adviser, so I went around and I went to see Fermi. I could see that I couldn’t deflect him from uranium [laughs], so I went to see Teller. I told him about an experiment that I had done, in which I showed the influence of molecular structure on the mechanics of a fluid. Teller said, “No, that’s fine. That’s an awkward thesis, but let’s make it a little better.” I spent a year or more traveling from Virginia to New York overnight in a crowded train during wartime, crowded trained where frequently you couldn’t get a seat, so you sat on your luggage. Then I went to see Teller in the morning and I went back the next night.

Leslie:

That’s a tough way to get a dissertation done. Did your dissertation work grow out of things that you’d done at Langley for the NACA, or completely independent?

Kantrowitz:

No, it just was completely at an offshoot, but I got a certain amount of authority to do it so that I could get equipment built.

Leslie:

I think of Langley in those days as fairly applied. I don’t know if there were the airfoils and the propellers and all that.

Kantrowitz:

That is correct.

Leslie:

What were you up to and what were they doing with the physicists?

Kantrowitz:

What I did was to show that if you took a gas, typically carbon dioxide, and made it flow through a carefully curved nozzle, and strike a very small impact tube, then if you did that, for example, with nitrogen, you’d discover that the pressure on the impact tube was the same as the chamber pressure before the nozzle — within a few parts of 100,000, or something like that. Then if you did it with CO2, you would lose several percent of pressure, so the effect was very large and it stuck out like a sore thumb. I think one of the best ways of measuring what happened was one of the vibrations CO2. There are two carbons and an oxygen, and this vibration of the oxygen adjusts slowly — more slowly than the rapid flow processes that go on in the vicinity of the impact tube. That was a powerful way of measuring the time that it takes for the adjustment of internal degrees of freedom.

Leslie:

Why was the NACA particularly interested in that?

Kantrowitz:

No, they weren’t. I initiated it entirely. But it didn’t require much in the way of facilities; just an occasional carbon dioxide bottle or something like that.

Leslie:

I see. What was your day job, so to speak, for the NACA?

Kantrowitz:

I was part of one of the attempts to make an American jet engine. But that was bungled. What I did was to develop airfoils for gas turbines and compressors and such things.

Leslie:

I know that at that point you didn’t realize you’d be running your own lab someday, but was there anything you learned there about how to organize or how not to organize a research lab?

Kantrowitz:

I don’t think so. Eastman Jacobs was the man who was in charge of the section that I was in, and he ran the section very much. In 1938, he and I had a conversation one Saturday afternoon. We had noticed that Westinghouse had recently bought a nuclear accelerator.

Leslie:

Condon was probably putting that together, huh?

Kantrowitz:

I don’t know.

Leslie:

Yes, must’ve been.

Kantrowitz:

We started to think, “Why would Westinghouse be interested in nuclear physics?” Before long, we came up with the notion that fusion would be a wonderful energy source and that you could confine, we thought, a fusion plasma with a magnetic field, and so we proceeded to build what I think was the world’s first attempt at fusion.

Leslie:

So you were thinking of contained plasma fusion projects in 1938 — that it was?

Kantrowitz:

’39.

Leslie:

’39. And actually build an experimental device at Langley?

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

That’s very interesting.

Kantrowitz:

We even applied for a patent on it without mentioning the word “fusion”. Just called it a diffusion inhibitor.

Leslie:

Did you get the patent?

Kantrowitz:

I don’t think so, but the application is still on file. [Laughs] I think that was the first attempt that anyone made to do that.

Leslie:

Very unusual to be done at Langley in those days.

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

That’s really something. What was the scale of the apparatus that we’re talking about?

Kantrowitz:

Again, I don’t know.

Leslie:

Two and a half, three — Tabletop? Little bigger than…?

Kantrowitz:

Little bigger than a tabletop. They allowed us to proceed with this for a year. I remember the critical test that we made was to see if we could produce X-rays. You get as far as producing it. We used a dental film with a beryllium window so that X-rays could be detected easily. No X-rays. [Laughs] The then-director of NACA, Dr. Lewis; one day came by and nixed it. That was end of that, and it was one of the saddest times of my life because it just seemed like such a wonderful thing to do, and one year wasn’t long enough. But we had spent $5,000, so…

Leslie:

I suppose he must’ve been under some pressure to get the war work up and going.

Kantrowitz:

No. No, my attitude toward NASA was that NASA was interested in NASA, not in winning the war. Jacobs was interested in making a contribution, and that was the reason we were doing the gas turbine work, which wasn’t really part of our assignment, either. That culminated a while later in a supersonic compressor with blades rotating at supersonic speeds. Since it was quite an engineering feat to build one, to do that in the air, we did it in Freon, which had a velocity sound about half out of there. It was a success and showed that you could quite easily do supersonic. The tips of modern jet engine compressors do run at supersonic speeds, and I think we helped that.

Leslie:

That was all done during the war years?

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

At the NACA; while you were commuting back and forth to Columbia.

Kantrowitz:

To Columbia to do my doctoral thesis with Teller.

Leslie:

So, Teller was your official supervisor at Columbia.

Kantrowitz:

Oh, yes.

Leslie:

That’s really interesting. So you completed your thesis in ’46 or something like that?

Kantrowitz:

No. He left to go out in the woods someplace, like Los Alamos. I didn’t know exactly where he was or anything, but I did know that he left. Anyway, he, at one point, said that was fine and that was a good thesis. So after the war, when things had settled down a bit, I presented the thesis, and it was accepted. That was the ragged way that I got a Ph.D.

Leslie:

Now with a Ph.D. in physics, you go off to Cornell. Is that right?

Kantrowitz:

Yep.

Leslie:

Did you think about other nonacademic careers? Or you really wanted to be an academic?

Kantrowitz:

Oh, I wanted to be an academic. I was really thrilled with the offer for Cornell, which came about in the following way: a Caltech professor…

Leslie:

Ben Carmen, maybe?

Kantrowitz:

No, not Ben Carmen. He came to visit the laboratory, and I showed him this experiment. When Cornell was setting up the Graduate School of Aeronautical Engineering, apparently the simplicity and beauty of that experiment got me a job at Cornell. I loved it there. I remember getting a letter from the administration, saying, “You are hereby retired as of August…” This was about 1950. “You are hereby retired as of August 1978.” [Laughter] So I thought, “That’s wonderful. I’m going to spend the rest of my life at Cornell.”

Leslie:

Now, you had a physics degree, but were in the aeronautical lab? Would you also have an appointment in the physics department? Or how was that arranged?

Kantrowitz:

I taught engineering physics. There was an engineering physics department, which really suited me very well. I would teach statistical mechanics and thermodynamics there, and I taught gas dynamics to aeronautical engineers.

Leslie:

What size operation was this at the time? It was a new venture for Cornell. Didn’t they have a lab in Buffalo?

Kantrowitz:

There was a lab in Buffalo, but it was more or less dissociated from what was going on in Ithaca. Though, occasionally we taught courses in Buffalo. I did for one semester. That was kind rugged because you got on a train in the afternoon, and you toured across the evening, and you got back at 1:30 in the morning.

Leslie:

Tough. Now, what were your major research interests in those first years at Cornell?

Kantrowitz:

In the first years, I continued trying to make engines based on shockwaves and so on. But then I very quickly got interested — remember this interest in fusion.

Leslie:

Going all the way back to the NACA.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. It was very central for me. I thought that that was my mission, to work on it. The first thing I noticed was the shock tube.

Leslie:

Can you explain that to me a little bit?

Kantrowitz:

There’s actually a model over there. But it’s just a long, straight tube. You put a diaphragm in the middle, and high pressure, say, hydrogen, on one side. You build up a pressure of the hydrogen until it bursts the diaphragm, and then a shockwave goes down. Of course, it’s very turbulent for a while, but the shockwave outraces the turbulence and leaves a very homogeneous gas sample whose conditions are completely determined by the conditions that you had in the tube to start with and the velocity of the shockwave, which is easy enough to measure. So that provided a way of creating a homogeneous gas sample of known properties. You could go to temperatures up to maybe as much as a million degrees, depending on how you drove that shockwave. To get to high temperatures, you would drive it with an electromagnetic field. But temperatures in the range of tens of thousands you could reach with just hydrogen on one side and air on the other.

Leslie:

Did you have a group of graduate students working with you on this?

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

How big? Any memorable…?

Kantrowitz:

Well, about a half dozen, usually. We explored, in particular, the temperature range between 10000 and 20000 Kelvin. Then, certainly, there came this ICBM project.

Leslie:

Was the shock tube research being supported by, I guess it wouldn’t have been NSF, but the Office of Naval Research or somebody?

Kantrowitz:

Office of Naval Research. Right. It’s hard to imagine today, but we had a contract that went for, well, as long as I stayed at Cornell. The only instruction we ever got from them was something they didn’t want to write down. They sent somebody up to Ithaca to tell me in particular that “You can disregard the wording of the contract and do what you think is ‘wow’.” [Laughter] That’s different.

Leslie:

Nice way to phrase it. Yes, I don’t think the NSF has any contracts like that now. Certainly not the armed forces.

Kantrowitz:

Yes, this was the Office of Naval Research.

Leslie:

How did you get into the ICBM work that you were starting to mention?

Kantrowitz:

I had no contact with that. I had a full break in Cambridge in Manchester in England. When I came back, one of the early things that happened was that they had a cocktail party for the Board of Trustees, to which some faculty members were also invited, and I was one of those. The Dean of Engineering came over to me just during that meeting while I was minding my own business, drinking a cocktail or something, and he said, “I’ve got somebody I want you to meet.” So I went along with him to meet one of the trustees named Victor Emmanuel, who was the head of AVCO Corporation.

Leslie:

That had been Aviation Corporation or something else?

Kantrowitz:

Yes. Aviation Corporation or something like that during the war.

Leslie:

So it had just been renamed, I suppose.

Kantrowitz:

Yes, because they were doing something other than aviation. He said that we were trying to catch up with the Russians in space matters after Sputnik.

Leslie:

What year would this have been?

Kantrowitz:

In the mid ‘50s. ’55.

Leslie:

So even before Sputnik, because Sputnik was ’57.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. But the Russians were clearly ahead of us, since we knew from radar observations in Turkey and places like that that they were well along. We were just stumbling as a matter of policy, I think; we didn’t have to. But after Sputnik and as a follow-on — What was the year of Sputnik?

Leslie:

That was October ’57. But you were talking with him in ’55 probably, huh?

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

What did he tell you?

Kantrowitz:

He said, “Well, we’re trying to catch up, and you can help. The thing that’s most difficult is to reenter the atmosphere.” It was understood, just from theoretical considerations, that it would be pretty hot. The actual temperature that’s reached in reentering the atmosphere from space is about 7500 Kelvin, a good deal hotter than the surface of the sun. That was scary.

Leslie:

I presume the problem was to get the nose cone through that without getting it vaporized.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. That was scary. When he told me the story, I said, “I know how to produce those conditions in the laboratory.”

Leslie:

Because of the work you had already been doing with your shock tubes.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. I would proceed on to say that if you can get the conditions available to study, that you were to live with them.

Leslie:

I’m going to turn over our tape here.

Leslie:

So we left you at the cocktail party, and Victor Emmanuel is talking with you about this project.

Kantrowitz:

He had just been to see the Secretary of the Air Force, who told him that that was the obstacle that was preventing them from building ICBMs, which apparently the Russians were building. At least inching up to a longer and longer range. He looked at me — I mean, that was kind of a brash thing for a young professor to say that if we can produce in the laboratory… But he looked me up and called back a few days later and said, “You better tell the Air Force what you told me.”

Leslie:

Was that arranged?

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

And you get to go down?

Kantrowitz:

Yes, so he sent an airplane to take me to California.

Leslie:

Wow. Air Force plane?

Kantrowitz:

No, no, just a little private airplane.

Leslie:

Oh, Emmanuel had arranged it.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. So I went to California, where they had an office that Rayma (?) Woodridge was making. I told them the story, that I thought that if we can produce it in a laboratory, we can learn to live with it. So they said, “Okay, try it.” I remember going to see the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force. I had been impressed with the urgency of it that I said, “Look, it’s three weeks, and we haven’t got a contract yet.” [Laughter]

Leslie:

Things move fast in those days.

Kantrowitz:

Sure enough, in another couple of weeks, we did have sort of an open-ended contract go to it.

Leslie:

Was this contract with Cornell?

Kantrowitz:

No, it was with AVCO.

Leslie:

So he was asking you to leave Cornell to come to work at AVCO.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. I didn’t want to leave, so I took a two-year leave of absence.

Leslie:

What did he say he wanted? He was going to set up a separate research laboratory for AVCO?

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

So it was going to be something new.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. They found a disused warehouse of some sort, but a one-story warehouse, and that was to be our laboratory.

Leslie:

Where was this located? In Everett?

Kantrowitz:

Yes. Right across the street from that. And we started. We made shock tubes. We could measure the heat transfer that would occur under reentry conditions. You had maybe a thousandth of a second to do this in, but that was plenty of time with electronics. We would just paint a thin layer of platinum where we wanted to measure the heat transfer and measure its resistance, and it was easy enough then to get the rate of heat transfer. We measured that and got to understand it to some extent and how it was different from lower temperatures in about six months.

Leslie:

When you say “we”, who are the “we” and how many of them?

Kantrowitz:

The “we” was I got a list of telephone numbers of all my former students.

Leslie:

Were they mostly in academic jobs at that point? Your former students?

Kantrowitz:

No, they were mostly West Coast aviation jobs.

Leslie:

I see. So, West Coast aerospace companies.

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

AVCO never thought of putting it out west, with everybody else?

Kantrowitz:

Well, it would be too inconvenient for me to commute from Cornell. I didn’t want it at Cornell because Cornell didn’t want to have any classified projects, and this was classified.

Leslie:

So you called your former students?

Kantrowitz:

Yep.

Leslie:

Anybody in particular that you recall? People who would have stayed with the company, say, for a while?

Kantrowitz:

Oh, yes. There was Mac Adams and Pete Rose. The first one was a Chinese immigrant (I have an awful problem with names) named Lin. He was a freshman that came. Though he wasn’t a physicist, Emmanuel arranged for him to get clear for this secret work, and they arranged for Lycoming, which is part of AVCO, to build a shock tube. They built a shock tube that was almost unusual, but Lin managed to fix it up.

Leslie:

Because they hadn’t had experience?

Kantrowitz:

That’s right. It’s such a simple thing, you know. Should I show you a model of the shock tube?

Leslie:

Sure. [Break] So we’re looking a tenth-scale model of a shock tube later made by AVCO-Everett. At the first part…

Kantrowitz:

Is a high-pressure chamber. The diaphragm is here. In the length of this tube, the shockwave gets ahead of the turbulence, created at the diaphragm. By the time you get to the test section, which is right here, it’s just a very clean flow.

Leslie:

That’s where you put the platinum for the…?

Kantrowitz:

The models.

Leslie:

What’s the tank at the end?

Kantrowitz:

Just a dump tank.

Leslie:

I see. Is it a very precisely machined thing?

Kantrowitz:

No, no, just good stainless steel tubing.

Leslie:

So the brains are in the conception, not in the actual building of the tube.

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

That’s really quite interesting. So the contract for these shock tubes was coming from the Air Force at that point? Who was actually paying? Or was AVCO paying?

Kantrowitz:

No, the Air Force was paying. So we built several of these shock tubes. Within six months, we began transmitting data to Rayma Woodridge, who were running it.

Leslie:

I see. So you were almost like a subcontractor through Ramya Woodridge?

Kantrowitz:

Not really. Our contract was directly with the Air Force, but Rayma Woodridge was managing it for us.

Leslie:

So your job was to supply data that they would then incorporate into their designs.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. We did this, and in the course of a year, maybe two, we really learned what the heat transfer problem was going to be. The solution had been to — High-heat transfers had been pioneered during the Germans during World War II for the B2, in which the rocket jet had steering veins. The idea was that if you built the steering veins out of, in their case, carbon, that they would last long enough for the rocket to do its job. But they would gradually evaporate, and the evaporation prevented the veins from disintegrating completely.

Leslie:

But you were worried about nose cones.

Kantrowitz:

Yes, so we could do the same thing with nose cones.

Leslie:

Can you explain that a little bit?

Kantrowitz:

What you do is you take the nose cone you want and you coat it with some substance, which you expect to melt away or evaporate, and if you have only a short time that you need to protect, that is a very powerful way of resisting. Then you choose substances carefully for their high temperature properties. For the first one, we chose quartz. We just had little fingers of quartz all over the nose cone, in which we put some carbon.

Leslie:

Were these scale models of some kind? How large were they?

Kantrowitz:

No, no. I missed something. The Air Force said, “All right, you think you know something about reentry, so design us a nose cone, and we’ll test it and see.” So we did with these 2,000 pencils of quartz, protecting it. Then we set out to calculate how much of the quartz would be left after it came back and was recovered. They were planning to recover it. We submitted this paper. Hans Bethe was helping us at that time, and he and Mac Adams did the actual calculations. They fired off this rocket, and it reentered the atmosphere and they recovered it. We were asked to calculate how much of the quartz would be gone, and we got it within 10%. So after that, we couldn’t do anything wrong. [Laughs]

Leslie:

Was that an actual workable system?

Kantrowitz:

Oh, Yes.

Leslie:

Did actual nose cones use that heat?

Kantrowitz:

Yes. I can show you a picture of that that was in Life Magazine.

Leslie:

Sure. [Break] So they did some of the first tests, and your quartz system actually worked. Did you keep perfecting that? Or were there other configurations?

Kantrowitz:

Later they used carbon things, which were somewhat lighter. Did the same thing.

Leslie:

But your job was to provide the data. Someone else did all the engineering and actually fabricated the nose cone.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. That was another establishment in Wilmington, Massachusetts.

Leslie:

I’m curious how you were able to convince former students who were at established aerospace companies to take a shot on this startup venture in Boston?

Kantrowitz:

I don’t know, but I didn’t have any trouble; they all came.

Leslie:

So, it began as what? A dozen people or something like that? How large was it at the very beginning?

Kantrowitz:

At the very beginning, it was just one, but very quickly there were two. AVCO provided administrative personnel, and I got in maybe 10 or 20 former Cornell students.

Leslie:

That’s quite a few.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. Then we just hired people generally. Of course, learning to reenter the atmosphere was an exciting thing for them, so you could get people to go for it.

Leslie:

Now, you had been on a two-year leave of absence, you said, so I guess you had to make a choice.

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

Difficult choice?

Kantrowitz:

Difficult choice, Yes. But I decided that by that time, the laboratory had been so successful that, really, it was a better vehicle for doing things even in my Cornell professorship, which is fine. I love it there. So I did that, and we set up in this warehouse right here. When we were successful with that reentry test, then for about ten years after that, we couldn’t do anything wrong. All mistakes were forgiven. It was a great time. We went on to do all kinds of things. I rekindled my whole fascination with fusion, and we went on to build, essentially, shock tubes, but instead of being driven by gas or driven by a magnetic field that could produce the temperatures in the order of 100,000 Kelvin.

Leslie:

What was the long-range goal of that project?

Kantrowitz:

Contained fusion. We had wanted to understand the plasma and how it worked and all those things. We sought, but did not obtain, a contract to work in the fusion business because, I don’t know, we weren’t part of that crowd by that time.

Leslie:

Was AVCO interested in supporting this kind of project, the fusion?

Kantrowitz:

AVCO let me do it, at least.

Leslie:

So they were like the O&R in that sense.

Kantrowitz:

Yes, at that time.

Leslie:

At some point, because I noticed in the Harvard case study that you already had — they were there in ’63 or ’64 — a power generation.

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

Can you tell me something about the origins of that?

Kantrowitz:

That was great fun, except for my own political ineptitude. What we did was to take the heat from a coal fire, somewhat enriched in oxygen to get a little higher temperature, at which point it had appreciable electrical conductivity. And if you ran it through a magnetic field rapidly, you could generate electricity. This could use higher temperature gases than anything else because it was only an electromagnetic field that was in contact with it. By using these very high temperatures, you could make about a 25% gain in the amount of electricity that you could get from a pound of coal. The American Electric Power Company was sort of a technical leader of the industry under Philip Sporn, so we went to see them and told them about this, and said, “We think that you can improve the efficiency of your plants.” He had the most sufficient plant in the world, and he was as dedicated to improving the efficiency of electric power plants as anybody. So he got together a group of eleven utility companies, which backed us to develop this method of making electricity.

Leslie:

This was to be an add-on? That you would add it on to a traditional power plant and get 25% more?

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

Sounds like a great idea. What happened?

Kantrowitz:

Well, we got to one point where we generated 30 megawatts at an experimental plant, and then Sporn and I went to see the Department of the Interior, who were concerned with this at that time, and asked them to share with us the cost of building a power plant; about $30 million in those days, which is more than it is now.

Leslie:

Roughly what year would that have been?

Kantrowitz:

That would have been in the late ‘60s. Now, Montana has a huge amount of coal. They like to say it’s more coal than Saudi Arabia has oil. Senator Mansfield was the Majority Leader, and Lyndon Johnson had left the space industry to Texas, and Mansfield said he wanted to leave the MHD generator to Montana. So that was great. One time, he asked me to come to Montana to help explain this to the Montanans, and I did. I remember going into the Senate lobby, where he came out from the floor and met with me and told me to follow him. “I want you to write down a couple of pages of what you wanted. Bring it back here, and I will personally put it in the bill, and I will put myself on the conference committee to be sure that it survives.” The Democrats control things. “When the bill passes, I’ll take it to President Ford and get his signature on it, and it’ll be law.” He was a remarkable person. Every time he had a conversation with me, he transcribed it to a congressional record. There was no secrecy with him; it was all public. So I thought that was fine. Then I made what I regard as one of the worst mistakes of my life: I went back to the AVCO Washington office and wrote out what I wanted. We had first-class Washington lawyers, but I didn’t ever think to bring it to them. [Laughs] It was the stupidest thing I ever did. So Mansfield was as good as his word, and there it was, in the law. It said we will build this kind of a power plant — it was a project of some $30 million — and it will demonstrate it. I had told Mansfield’s people in Montana, and this was reproduced in the newspaper, that at first it didn’t work, but we learned to make it work.

Leslie:

So you got the power plant up and running?

Kantrowitz:

No, we got the $30 million. However, I had not put in it in the proper protective language so that the people at the Interior Department were able to simply study the problem. They studied the problem, and studied it for 20-some years until the whole thing was abandoned. That’s where it stood, and it was all my fault.

Leslie:

That’s a shame because what a cool idea. Really, really neat.

Kantrowitz:

That there is a Russian version of it. That woodcut.

Leslie:

So the Russians did it?

Kantrowitz:

Yes, the Russians did it. They didn’t do it well, though. They botched the job technically. And still 25% is there for the taking.

Leslie:

Could still be done.

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

That is too bad. You have a pretty well-known reputation as somebody with an unorthodox management style; at least, that’s how it’s often described. I wonder where you got your ideas about how you organize and run a lab — whether you had looked at other labs or you just groped along.

Kantrowitz:

It just was an amplification of my graduate study at Cornell. It was just the same kind of relationship that I had with graduate students.

Leslie:

So you wanted to bring, essentially, an academic-style lab into a commercial lab.

Kantrowitz:

Right.

Leslie:

Were there any difficulties with that? It’s a very unusual way to do things. Usually corporations have pretty hierarchical management and fairly strict organization charts.

Kantrowitz:

Yes, there were difficulties. Essentially, members of the, we called it the senior staff, which were Ph.D. level people.

Leslie:

These would have been some of the people you rounded up.

Kantrowitz:

Yes, and came to the laboratory from all over the country. They were in a position to go to Washington in the name of the laboratory and get contracts, which they could do. That’s the way the laboratory grew.

Leslie:

In the academic lab, I, a faculty member, can go get whatever kind of contract I want.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. That worked for the most part, because then these people were deeply engaged in what they were doing and their own reputations were at stake. The laboratory accomplished a great many things, much more than I personally did. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a reasonable way to run a laboratory.

Leslie:

It’s surprising; no one seems to have copied it much.

Kantrowitz:

It would just seem to me that for research laboratories, it’s kind of an extension of an academic laboratory.

Leslie:

We were talking about your ideas about how a lab ought to be run and your notion that it should be as much as possible like an academic lab.

Kantrowitz:

That was the only model I knew. The NACA, which is the only other place that I had worked, was not a good model for me. It was not efficient by comparison with an academic laboratory.

Leslie:

When you say “efficient”, how do you mean efficient?

Kantrowitz:

Many of the people there were not leaders in their field; only a very few. In my time at the NACA, there were just two people that were really leaders. One was Robert Jones, and the other was Eastman Jacobson. But for the most part, there were followers.

Leslie:

Were there any other corporate labs that you ever looked at to say, “No, I think they have some interesting ideas”? The reason I ask is that General Atomics had many of the same ideas about — Their summer studies brought in just about the top people; I guess you had consultants, also.

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

I just wondered if you ever kept an eye on other labs like that. Visited them?

Kantrowitz:

I guess I really was too sure of myself to do it. [Laughter] Should have, but didn’t.

Leslie:

That’s an honest answer.

Kantrowitz:

Well, I remember once going to Bell Labs, and I was impressed with the freedom that Bell Labs people had in those years. I went there as a member of some government committee, and some of the researchers just spoke out against what was advocated by the laboratory, which I thought was great.

Leslie:

Bell Labs, of course, was gigantic. Did you think there was an optimum size for the kind of lab that you were trying to build? That it had to be at least so big, but no bigger?

Kantrowitz:

Everett Laboratory was larger than I could really oversee.

Leslie:

You would have preferred it smaller if it had been possible?

Kantrowitz:

I found it hard to tell people not to go get contracts where they wanted to and they could.

Leslie:

So you pretty much gave at least the senior scientist the freedom to bring in — within, presumably, the mission of the lab — working only certain problems.

Kantrowitz:

They couldn’t go too far from the mission of the laboratory if they were to use the laboratory’s prestige. One time, when we really broke with the previous tradition, was when we decided to go into medical research. That I had started with my brother, who’s a cardiac surgeon, years before while I was at Cornell. We thought up a principle known as “counterpulsation”, in which you take the pressure in the aorta when the heart is contracting during systole and you relieve that pressure somewhat so that the heart has less work to do. And then during diastole, while the heart is relaxed, what you do is put up a balloon in the aorta (a 40-cc balloon is used, usually), and you inflate it during diastole while the heart is relaxed, and the aortic valve is closed so that nothing goes into the heart. During systole, you watch the EKG signals, and just before the heart is going to squeeze, you evacuate the gas-helium, actually, we used — from the balloon so that the heart has a lower pressure to pump against. This simple device has been used now millions of times all over the world.

Leslie:

So AVCO actually did develop this as a product.

Kantrowitz:

Yes, together with the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Leslie:

Which is quite a departure, I guess, from most of the work you were doing.

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

But for personal reasons, personal connections, etc.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. Well, that was very successful financially. We would save as many as one-third of the people who were in serious cardiac coma. After we had done this about 50,000 times, someone decided to sue us. The AVCO board said, “How much do you make on each of these balloons you sell?” I said, “About $100.” “And how many have you sold?” “Oh, 50,000.” “We’re going to settle this case for $50,000? How does that add up?” It didn’t add up for them. Without my agreement, they sold the whole thing to Hoffmann-La Roche

Leslie:

Well, at least they got it out there in the world and did a lot of good.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. I was working in China around 1980, and they told me they had a balloon out there in Wu Han(?) in the middle of China. I said, “Great, I want to go see how they’re doing.” In the middle of China, I went to this hospital, and I asked them, “How’d you do with the balloon pump?” They said, “We have never used it.” “Why didn’t you use it?” It was there just after the Cultural Revolution. “During the Cultural Revolution, there was a rule that if you weren’t sure that you could save somebody, you didn’t do it.”

Leslie:

That’s too bad. Did you show them how to use it?

Kantrowitz:

Oh, they knew how to use it. They were just giving them instruction of, if you had a medical thing, especially from the West, and you’re not sure it would work, don’t do it.

Leslie:

That’s too bad. I was very intrigued, I guess. I was looking in the old issues of the MIT tech magazine, and there was an AVCO-Everett ad. I don’t know if you remember it or not, but I’d like your comments on it because it had a plate with a square peg and a round hole. What it said is, “If you don’t fit the mold, where should you work? For the laboratory that doesn’t have a mold, a laboratory run by research scientists.” I wondered what kind of people you tried to look for in hiring people, given that.

Kantrowitz:

That’s a pretty good description, I think. I never saw that ad; at least, I don’t remember seeing it.

Leslie:

So when you would be looking for somebody, what sort of characteristics would you be looking for? Besides the obvious: a smart guy in the right field.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. We would ask scientific people to come and give us a talk on whatever they had worked on and were interested in, and we would judge by the talks that they gave.

Leslie:

How did you judge? I assume it was like an academic seminar, almost.

Kantrowitz:

Yes, exactly.

Leslie:

Then they’d leave and there would just be a discussion like there would of a…?

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

Mostly, were these younger people you were looking for? Or did you bring in…?

Kantrowitz:

Yes. Almost all of our hires were new Ph.D.s.

Leslie:

How long did most of them stay? Was there a high turnover?

Kantrowitz:

No. No, they stayed a long time on those parts.

Leslie:

You have another well-deserved reputation, I guess, for being somebody who likes to continue your own research and not just be a manager. I wondered how that played out. How much time did you save for yourself to do actual research even though you were trying to direct this lab? And what you were trying to work on yourself as opposed to managing other people?

Kantrowitz:

Until 1963, I was still trying to figure out how to do fusion.

Leslie:

Even though you couldn’t get the contracts for it?

Kantrowitz:

That’s right. We could get contracts to study gases at very high temperatures, but not specifically aimed at fusion. In 1963, fusion was beset with a whole bunch of instabilities. These were first-order instabilities, linear instabilities that would just grow like so. Then we discovered that before you get the fusion, you get to what we call second-order instabilities, in which the initial excitation is complemented by something from the other side and they’d mix together. We knew that those would grow very fast and that there would be multitudes of them so that it would not be possible. So I gave a paper on this at Salzburg at one of the international conferences on fusion in 1963, in which I said that I didn’t see any hope for getting through the second-order instabilities at all. It happened in the same year, but I didn’t know about it, that somebody in the Soviet Union had gotten to the point where they had observed these things. They’re now called saw tooth. Have you heard that term? No? They build up a plasma, and it goes “Bang!” Then they keep the power on, and it goes “Bang!” again. If you look at their propaganda, this is not emphasized, even though it is well known that what happens is that eventually the plasma, which is contained to a degree, just turns inside-out. There’s no plasma in the middle, and it’s all gone to the walls. For me, I didn’t see any way out of that.

Leslie:

So you were very sanguine of seeing plasma as a power-generating technology.

Kantrowitz:

Up to 1963, yes, when I realized that there was, for me, an insurmountable barrier. Rosenbluth, who was the leading American theorist on —

Leslie:

Worked down at General Atomics, among other places.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. He was there, so I asked him, “What do you think about the second-order instabilities?” His answer to me was absolutely incomprehensible. What he said was, “Well, we have a number of linear instabilities to deal with. When we get done with those, we’ll go to those.” This is unreasonable to me because it’s like saying we have to clear this path, but there’s this stonewall, real stretches that we know we’re going to come to. I am very unhappy about the fact that the fusion people are just proceeding ahead as if it wasn’t there.

Leslie:

So you don’t have a lot of confidence in this international collaboration in France.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. One of their people gave a talk here at Dartmouth just a few weeks ago in which he pointed out that their power was going up steadily and here’s where they had to get, as if it was just a small distance that they have to go, without pointing out that the reason the power is going up is that there’s more money for being further into it. You can build a bigger apparatus and get more power until you come to this wall. If you look at the plots of plasma density that they bought, it just goes up, and bang!

Leslie:

The solitude.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. It’ll start up again and go bang!

Leslie:

That’s very interesting, especially having come from General Atomics, which still has a considerable investment in its fusion.

Kantrowitz:

It does still?

Leslie:

Yes. The French facility was actually planned there. They had hoped it would be an American facility, but it’s not. One of the things that the Harvard Business School people, when they were poking around the lab for time, noticed was that you seemed to have a lot of, I think they called them hallway seminars, or something like that.

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

I wondered to the extent to which you encouraged that kind of serendipitous conversation, and the extent to which you…?

Kantrowitz:

Of course, that’s what they were there for. I mean, after the way things were at Cornell…

Leslie:

When we get to the new building in a minute, I want to ask if there are ways, architecturally, you can encourage that. But in the old facility, the old converted warehouse, where did people actually end up meeting?

Kantrowitz:

Hallways and that. We had a conference room.

Leslie:

What about cafeterias?

Kantrowitz:

Oh, the cafeteria always had a piece of graph paper to cover the table. People would pick them up and fold them and take them back to their desk.

Leslie:

So each day in the cafeteria, there would be a graph paper on each table. And then people were expected at lunch to have their good ideas, write them down, bring them back.

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

Do you remember the best idea that anyone ever came up with at lunch?

Kantrowitz:

No.

Leslie:

It’s a great idea. I couldn’t resist asking this or getting your comment on it, because I thought it was very interesting. One of the senior scientists — and they aren’t named, of course, in the study; it really doesn’t matter who it was — but he was talking about you, and this was the impression. He said you were someone who can “out-think, out-drink, out-spit, and out-swear anyone around him,” and, “He has enough self-confidence to be able to surround himself not with second-run people, but with the best available.” Exaggeration, or is he on target?

Kantrowitz:

Well, of course, it’s an exaggeration, but I don’t remember being scared of somebody being too smart.

Leslie:

Could you really out-drink and out-spit them?

Kantrowitz:

I don’t know about out-spitting, but I don’t remember having much trouble with alcohol. It doesn’t bother me too much.

Leslie:

It was just a funny thing. Who did you consider some of the very best people that you got to work for? Who were the people that really made a difference?

Kantrowitz:

Harry Petschek was very good. S. C. Lin, who was the first employee, eventually went to work at the University of California in San Diego, where he retired as a professor recently. Jim Keck, of the Keck family, he was one of the early employees, but he eventually went to MIT and went all over.

Leslie:

But somebody like Lin, he would be still around to talk to.

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

I go to San Diego pretty often, so I’ll have to look him up. Which of the research projects, looking back, did you take the most pride in? “The things that I’ve accomplished,” which you’d say, “That was the best thing we did.”

Kantrowitz:

Well, it’s either the balloon pump or reentry itself.

Leslie:

The reentry problem continued for quite a while?

Kantrowitz:

It did, but I lost interest in it. When we recovered that nose cone, it was just as we had predicted. I figured that that was enough of it for me.

Leslie:

How did you balance science and engineering? Did you have a number of doctoral engineering people, too?

Kantrowitz:

We didn’t make much distinction. Many of our people had doctorates in various engineerings, and some in physics and some in chemistry.

Leslie:

Oh, even in chemistry.

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

But there was never a large medical group despite the balloon work.

Kantrowitz:

We had one physician on our staff. And of course, most of the medical part of that, like the surgery of how to insert a balloon, was done at MGH.

Leslie:

At Mass General. Okay. I wanted to come around finally to the new lab. It’s not too often that people get to design and create something from scratch.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. I thought about this, and I’m afraid I have to disappoint you here because I didn’t pay any attention to it. Corporate said, “You really ought to have a new laboratory.” It was kind of silly. The man who was my immediate assistant, who did administrative assistance, a fellow by the name of Mayfield, I told him to watch out for the building of the laboratory and I didn’t pay any attention to it.

Leslie:

You must’ve had some notion of what a good lab ought to be like, what characteristics it ought to have.

Kantrowitz:

I worried some when you told me that your interest was in the relationship between architecture and research laboratory. I thought about it, and for me, the most important thing was an ample conference room so that there was a big table and plenty of room around for other people to sit in the background and watch. That’s where we did most of our work.

Leslie:

So you didn’t ever meet any of the architects that were working on the project.

Kantrowitz:

I must’ve met them, but…I mean, I saw plans before it was built, but I didn’t play an active role in that at all.

Leslie:

One of the features that it has, which is interesting, is that the offices are arranged on the interior, and then there’s a corridor all the way around on the outside with glass, which is exactly what Holmdel was like. Bell Labs’ big operation, Holmdel, was like that, although it was many times larger. I wonder where your office was.

Kantrowitz:

It was someplace in the middle. It wasn’t a corner office.

Leslie:

I wondered what happened to that kind of stairway seminar. It looks like the labs were on the bottom, and then you had offices on the top, and there was some kind of courtyard in the middle.

Kantrowitz:

Yes, there was an open courtyard that was just open to the sky. But on the lower floor, there was a place for some very large laboratories.

Leslie:

Which were those had been for? What were they?

Kantrowitz:

One of the things we went into after the reentry problem was to build high-power lasers. The most powerful laser, when we started, was at ten watts. We brought it up four orders of magnitude to 135 kilowatts. That was long before other people were making such powerful lasers, but now there are still more powerful than that. I wanted to go far enough to — I remember in 1972 I had this idea that since there didn’t seem to be any limit to the power that we could make in a laser, why not use laser power instead of chemical power to get us into orbit?

Leslie:

I’ve never heard about that. Okay.

Kantrowitz:

What you do, in the simple form that I thought about it, is you put a cake of ice on the bottom of a satellite you want to launch, and have a laser beam just hit the ice and evaporate it at very high temperatures, like 10000 degrees. It would come off at a very high velocity, and you could go into orbit in that way, with more energy than is available from chemical rockets.

Leslie:

That’s absolutely fascinating because the General Atomics program, Project Orion, was going to use hydrogen bombs.

Kantrowitz:

Uranium bombs.

Leslie:

Yes, for the orbit.

Kantrowitz:

That’s right. Freeman Dyson became an enthusiast. He stopped doing that when he discovered that the radioactive iodine or something left in the atmosphere would kill somebody for each launch. That was too much for him. It’s a judgment call. Anyway, he stopped doing it at that time, but he became an enthusiast for laser propulsion.

Leslie:

Did he come out and see your work at AVCO?

Kantrowitz:

Oh, yes. He’s been up here at Dartmouth several times, too. That’s a great development to do it, but it started. Actually, this book is, I think, the last one of the series.

Leslie:

Beamed Energy Propulsion from AIP, November 2005.

Kantrowitz:

This is the fourth one. And this was a conference that was held in Japan last November.

Leslie:

So it’s still being considered.

Kantrowitz:

Oh, yes, it’s still out in the open. It has its problems, but they aren’t as awful as having to build these huge structures for the first stage and the second stage and the third.

Kantrowitz:

For the second stage, it gets much smaller and so on until you finally get to the payload. With this, one stage would work. So that has now attracted attention from all over. You can find the papers here from all over the world.

Leslie:

Presumably, AVCO’s main interest in it wasn’t for a substitute for chemical rockets and for the laser program.

Kantrowitz:

No. But you see, there are Russian and Japanese and Chinese and so on from all over. That is, I guess, my file.

Leslie:

For the lasers. I just had a couple quick questions. I realize you didn’t design the lab, but I was curious about whether it ended up being a space that was conducive. You’re often quoted as saying you wanted an atmosphere conducive to optimum research, or something like that. I wondered whether that new lab did that effectively.

Kantrowitz:

Oh, yes. There was never wrong with that building as far as I could tell. It was a fine building, and maybe that’s because I didn’t have any role in it.

Leslie:

Did you still have the graph paper in the cafeteria?

Kantrowitz:

Oh, Yes.

Leslie:

I was wondering; the court, it looked like it was open, but was it supposed to be a place where people met? Or was it just for light?

Kantrowitz:

Just for light.

Leslie:

Because the parking was around the outside of it?

Kantrowitz:

Yes.

Leslie:

What did senior staff say who moved over from your old lab nearby?

Kantrowitz:

They liked it. They liked it as far as I could tell. I never heard any complaints about the new building. It was a good building. It was built on the Everett city dump, and it was rumored that there were several corpses. [Laughter]

Leslie:

Not that you found.

Kantrowitz:

Not that we found, no.

Leslie:

Would it be fair to say, even though you didn’t design it, but did it embody in any way your notion of how scientific research ought to be organized? Was it distinctive in the way of where you put people or how you expect the people to interact by group? How much thought did you give to who’s going to go where and who they’re going to run into?

Kantrowitz:

I didn’t do that. My time was all concentrated on the research itself. I must’ve been a very poor organizer, but maybe the idea of a good organizer is to stay out of it. [Laughs] I just wanted for them to turn out results that I could be proud of, and they did.

Leslie:

How did you measure the lab’s success? What were the key measures that you would say were…?

Kantrowitz:

The greatness of the ideas that were produced. The impact on society. Because as I say, I was never primarily interested in pure physics. I wanted the physics as an applied science, essentially, to be the center point of the laboratory, and it was. I was concerned with the output, and that was my measure. You could see the growing output in the committee meetings that we had. And then we had a system, which I liked; we had an annual salary review. For the salary review, I asked every employee to turn in a one-page statement of what they’d accomplished that year, which we called the horn-blower. There would be a group of us — the committee chairman, who was involved with this guy, and a couple of administrative people — who implemented judgments that we reached, and then we adjusted people’s salaries according to what they said they accomplished.

Leslie:

What were the right notes to hit for the horn blowing? Was it publications? What would catch your ear?

Kantrowitz:

I would say that, “I started this kind of research. I’d gotten so far with it. Its future is such and such,” and so on.

Leslie:

Did you feel confident making judgments across the whole range of research that was going on in the lab?

Kantrowitz:

With the help of the horn-blowers and the committee chairman. The horn-blowers were central, though.

Leslie:

That’s a tough one. In a university, it’s “How much did you publish? Were they in top journals?” and that sort of thing, but you had different criteria.

Kantrowitz:

We didn’t measure that.

Leslie:

But it was a judgment call on where was the trajectory of the research more than…

Kantrowitz:

Yes, what it was going to contribute to the world.

Leslie:

I see. Fair enough. Last architectural question. Did the people who worked in it share your sense that, “Well, okay, we have a new building; that’s fine”? Or was it a place that people seemed to notice and care about as a…?

Kantrowitz:

It was evidence of corporate support. I think we went for the first seven years in that old warehouse. This beautiful new building was kind of an endorsement.

Leslie:

A lot of people like old warehouses. People didn’t really want to leave the radiation lab buildings for the new Stata Center. The advantage is you can put holes in the walls and you can drill through.

Kantrowitz:

You’d be surprised what was done to the inside, yes.

Leslie:

It was a place you could break through the wall and…

Kantrowitz:

Oh, Yes.

Leslie:

Was it a flexible place? Could people reconfigure labs easily?

Kantrowitz:

Yes, I’m thinking of, we built a very large laser one time. It was supposed to produce a pulse of 50 kilojoules, which it did, eventually. If you put 50 kilojoules on something, it just bursts, which the Air Force thought was going to be a weapon. I didn’t think it was going to be a weapon, but I was interested in learning how to build high-power lasers, perhaps mostly for this region. So we built high-power lasers, and that required a large space, but we would carve it out. Then we decided to build industrial lasers for metalworking and such, and we did. I remember that the size of the laser was judged by what we could get through the carbonate walls.

Leslie:

That set the limits?

Kantrowitz:

That set the limits, yes [laughs]. But that gave us ten- to 20-kilowatt lasers, so that was more than was needed for most industrial purposes.

Leslie:

How large was the laser program compared to other things in the lab at the time? Was that your major project?

Kantrowitz:

For a while it was probably the largest project.

Leslie:

Was it the kind of thing that people who’d worked on other projects could move into?

Kantrowitz:

Oh, yes. It involved the same kind of atomic and molecular physics that they were used to.

Leslie:

So you didn’t have to go hire a new staff entirely.

Kantrowitz:

Oh, no. We didn’t hire anybody. Well, a couple of people came to the laboratory, and they were the exception because they developed this project by themselves and brought it to fruition. That was the Excimer laser, which is an important laser for medical purposes. It’s used by the thousands today for treating eyes.

Leslie:

And it didn’t take much of a sales pitch on your part to move people out of the fusion and the magnetohydrodynamic.

Kantrowitz:

No, no. In that case, they came to the laboratory with the idea, and we just housed them. But it was a very important achievement.

Leslie:

For the larger lasers, there were people who were working on other projects who then moved.

Kantrowitz:

That’s right.

Leslie:

They required at least some subtle direction from the top? That is, your encouragement to say, “I think there’s something else we can do.”

Kantrowitz:

I would encourage people at these committee meetings by paying attention to what they were doing and endorsing it. And sometimes with extravagant praise, but not very often.

Leslie:

Could it work the other way? Extravagant criticism to say, “I don’t think that’s going anywhere”?

Kantrowitz:

A Harvard study, if you had a chance to read it, said that these —

Leslie:

Brutal and violent.

Kantrowitz:

Yes, brutal and violent. I was surprised that they said that, but of course, I had a different look at things that other people did, so maybe the brutality was not that evident to me.

Leslie:

Did you care about how people were situated within this facility? Did you organize it? You know, this group here, and that group there, and this group here? Did you pay any attention to where people sat?

Kantrowitz:

No.

Leslie:

How was that decided?

Kantrowitz:

I really don’t know. [Laughter] No, I’m sure that decisions were made, but I don’t remember the mechanism. I wasn’t part of it.

Leslie:

I see. I just wondered whether you thought that somehow the lab reflected the philosophy behind it.

Kantrowitz:

The physical parts of the laboratory did not. The fact that we were in an elegant building was nice. It had a certain element of respect, but…

Leslie:

Fair enough. What happened? I remember that they were originally going to build an expansion around the original lab and that it was going to have five more blocks to it. Were those ever added?

Kantrowitz:

Not that I knew of.

Leslie:

What finally happened to the AVCO-Everett lab?

Kantrowitz:

You know, I guess I was too snippy or something. I never got along very well with the corporate executives after Victor Emmanuel died.

Leslie:

When was that, roughly? Remember?

Kantrowitz:

1960.

Leslie:

Oh, okay, so pretty early in the lab’s history.

Kantrowitz:

Yes, it was. Though I had a position on the AVCO board, I was sort of the odd man out there; everybody else was Wall Street and financial types. I could get along with them all right, but I didn’t mix very well. While Victor Emmanuel was alive, he would always call on me to open the board meetings with a statement of what was going on at the research laboratory. But after he passed on, that was no more, and my relations with the board were perfunctory, really.

Leslie:

But you stayed on it for another 15 years or something.

Kantrowitz:

Yes, I stayed on it for another 15, 20 years. I did that chiefly because I didn’t want to have too powerful a boss over me. I really would be described as a difficult type to manage. [Laughs]

Leslie:

Would you be described as a difficult type to have managed someone else?

Kantrowitz:

Yes, and so they tried various schemes to get me under control, but after a while they just gave up. When I got to be 65, I offered to stay on, but they wouldn’t have me anymore.

Leslie:

Do you think an experiment like AVCO-Everett Research Lab could work today? The kind of laissez-faire system that you had in place?

Kantrowitz:

I don’t see why not. It’s good to have it start with an important national need, of which we have plenty today. If it’s lucky enough, as we were, to have an important initial success, then it could go on. My relations with the corporation were lucid enough, so I didn’t pay it much attention. I just went down to the board meetings once a month and that’s all. Occasionally, while we were developing the balloon pump, the Washington manager at National Instruments (we had a contract with them) decided that before we should use it on patients at MGH, that he wanted to set up a testing to test them, and I wouldn’t have any of that. So I called up New York, and they gave me $150,000 to continue it, which I thought was very nice. But that was the only time I had to make that kind of appeal to them. Mostly, we turned in a profit.

Leslie:

But you were getting almost all of your funding from outside contracts, right?

Kantrowitz:

Right.

Leslie:

So it didn’t really cost AVCO cost.

Kantrowitz:

No, no, we turned in a profit to AVCO.

Leslie:

There was indirect cost in those days? Or some kind of overhead cost on contracts?

Kantrowitz:

Oh, yes, there were overhead costs, but there was a profit built in, too. I remember that while we were in the warehouse, our profit operated at about 100% of the investment, so that was a good return that they got out of it.

Leslie:

Did it go down when you went into the new $7 million building?

Kantrowitz:

Yes, I’m sure it did. I didn’t keep much track of it. I remember, once, the president of the company, Jim Kerr, called me, and he said he wanted me to learn more about management. I said, “If you’ve got somebody who makes a larger percentage on your investment, I’ll sit at his feet.” That made him mad because we were at the top of the list.

Leslie:

As your final thoughts, what’s the legacy of AVCO-Everett that you’d say, “This is what I think is one —” Might not be a product; might be a way of thinking about how to organize science. Might be a lot of things; I just wondered what…

Kantrowitz:

I don’t know, but it seems to me that AVCO got to build all of the reentry vehicles for the Apollo mission, and they didn’t fail. After the Apollo mission, they decided to build reentry vehicles to look like an airplane instead of looking like a capsule, which is the way you want a huddle to go through the atmosphere. I thought that it was a terrible thing. I never got on very well with NASA.

Leslie:

And the lab eventually was moved or disbanded? What happened?

Kantrowitz:

It wasn’t disbanded; it was folded into the larger development group in Wilmington.

Leslie:

I see. But then it had lost the character that you had given it.

Kantrowitz:

Yes. Then they sold this building, I guess.

Leslie:

Well, thank you very much. Is there anything that you want to add for the record that I’ve forgotten to ask you about?

Kantrowitz:

It’s a long record. There’s only so much that people can listen to. [Laughs]