Oral History Transcript — Raymond Sears
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Raymond Sears; July 14, 1975
ABSTRACT: Topics discussed include: Raymond Sears' family background; early interests in science; his work at Bell Telephone Laboratories; surface physics; Walter Brattain; solid state physics; Clinton Davisson; J. R. Pierce; Art Ahearn; vacuum tube research; John B. Johnson; Richard O. Grisdale; Kelly College; Foster Nix; Dean Wooldridge; Alan Holden; John Glenn; American Institute of Physics.
Hoddeson: I see youíre from Cambridge Ohio, born in 1906.
Sears: Yes. I was. And that makes me almost 70 now. Iíll be 70 in January, next year.
Hoddeson: Had your parents been living in Cambridge for some time?
Sears: Yes. I knew more about the telephone business before I came to Bell Laboratories than I ever learned at Bell Laboratories.
Hoddeson: What did your father do?
Sears: Well, he was the manager of the independent telephone company.
Hoddeson: In what way?
Sears: There used to be two telephone companies there when I was a youngster and the independent company was automatic, and the Bell System was manual, and so the independent company bought out the Bell System. So, I was raised on an anti-Bell System diet as a youngster, you know. The Bell System would give you a fancy title, but thatís all.
Hoddeson: So you lived through all the turmoil of the Bell System during Vailís administration?
Sears: I heard a lot of it, back in this time, yeah.
Hoddeson: Did your father talk about Vail at all?
Sears: No, he didnít know Vail, but in those early days the Bell System wasnít really interested in expanding in the smaller towns. They were trying to contract and get only the long distance telephony and the big cities.
Hoddeson: Well, you had telephones in Cambridge?
Sears: Oh, certainly. As a matter of fact, the independent telephone company was an automatic system, back in 1916. You know — with dials and that sort of thing.
Hoddeson: In 1916?
Hoddeson: I donít know the date when the automatic telephone came out.
Sears: Oh, the automatic telephone was invented much before that. But —
Hoddeson: What did Bell adopt it?
Sears: When did Bell? I donít k now when they put in the — they had automatic, too, but in that particular town, they didnít have automatic. You see, the automatic telephone system was not invented or developed by the Bell System. It was invented and developed by independent people. Matter of fact, the Bell System had opposed this development back in the early days, because they had such a big investment in switchboards and non-automatic things, you know, where the operator says, ďNumber, please?Ē and so forth.
Hoddeson: Right. I remember that — itís interesting, fascinating.
Hoddeson: Did you decide to go into the telephone industry in some way when you were a child?
Sears: No. No. I was just exposed to it because my father was in it, and I worked summers there and so forth.
Hoddeson: In your father's office?
Hoddeson: Was your father interested in the scientific aspects of telephony?
Sears: No. My father didn't go to college. He went to a boarding school, in lieu of high school. He was a QuakerÖ I came from the Quakers.
Hoddeson: Any brothers or sisters?
Sears: Well, I had a brother. I had a brother and a sister. My brother is professor of physics at University of Georgia. And he's three years younger than I am. He will retire in another year, I think, because I think they go to '67, before they have to retire. In that school system.
Hoddeson: What Iím trying to determine is the degree of scientific interest in your family, when you were a child.
Sears: Well, Father had a scientific interest, then, more in engineering you know, how do things work? That sort of thing. But it's hard to distinguish between science and engineering. I really don't think he understood science. Nor was he exposed to it, then. But he learned the telephone business, and understood that very well.
Hoddeson: Do you recall any early experiences, during your early schooling, or up through high school that related to your scientific interests?
Sears: Oh yes. I got interested in radio, during the war. I learned about government establishments that had radio. This was all of course code then. So as soon as it was allowable, after the war (WWI) when I was in high school, I became an amateur radio enthusiast and I had a radio station of my own, amateur radio station.
Hoddeson: At home?
Sears: Oh yes. Equipment all over the place. Largest transmitter that you were allowed to have. So thatís where I got my interest in science, I guess.
Hoddeson: I see. Did your friends come over and work with you?
Sears: Yes. Yes. I was more interested in those things that I was in girls, at that stage of my life.
Hoddeson: Interesting. And then you decided to go to Ohio Wesleyan. Why?
Sears: Well, by that time, we were members of the Methodist Church in Ohio, and I think it was a Methodist school. That's one reason. Secondly, my mother's sister, who was my aunt, and is only a year older than I am, went to Ohio Wesleyan. That seemed to be a good — I think it was, as I remember, more my parents' decision than my own, although I'm sure I must have participated in the decision to go to Ohio Wesleyan.
Hoddeson: You donít recall any thoughts about other schools, other colleges at that time?
Sears: No. No, I don't.
Hoddeson: Had you by then decided pretty much which direction you were going into? Or was this still open?
Sears: I still had an open mind, but I took first year physics as a freshman. And college math right away. And I suppose that meant that I had decided already. See, when I was in high school, they always selected a student to be kind of an assistant who took care of the laboratory. And I did this for physics, and then I did this for chemistry. In my junior and senior years in high school. I was kind of a laboratory assistant in physics — you didnít have to go into the assembly hall to study, you know, for study periods; you had a little office of your own, little cubby hole. Well, I guess thatís status.
Hoddeson: Do you recall any specific events that influenced you?
Sears: In high school? Well, let's see — the high school physics teacher was also the athletic coach. But I was not athletically inclined I would say, at that time, particularly. But I remember that he had a little card that he kept, with the recitation grades and so forth of each student, and he had a code, and he said he'd give A to anybody who could tell him what the code was. I told him what the code was pretty soon. I think I had an A in physics anyway.
Hoddeson: In college, you took physics because you knew you were interested in it.
Sears: Yes, and I was influenced by a professor I liked pretty well.
Hoddeson: Do you remember his name?
Sears: Jarvis. Jarvis was his name. Now, my high school physics teacher, as far as, if I think back on the teachers who had the most influence on me, my high school civics teacher — oh, I remember her name, Berle Fischel was her name. Oh, she was a wonderful woman. She was the best teacher I ever had in high school, thatís all. I donít even remember the physics teacherís name. But I remember my civics teacherís name.
Hoddeson: How would you summarize her effect on you?
Sears: I canít — she was the most influence on me, but Iím not ready to say if it was good or bad. No —
Hoddeson: Did she focus you in scholarly directions?
Sears: I think I learned more from her, about how people interact with other people.
Hoddeson: I see.
Sears: Thatís only a part of civics, I know. Iím not sure they even call it ďcivicsĒ nowadays. Itís probably called social studies or something like that. Some sophisticated name.
Hoddeson: How were you supported in college?
Sears: Well, my father put me through college. I didnít work, until I went to graduate school.
Hoddeson: Did you major in physics in college?
Sears: Yes, I had a major in physics, a minor in mathematics and a minor in astronomy. We had a big 36 inch reflecting telescope at that [???] I didnít know that when I went to school, but we did. That was the third largest telescope in the world. And I operated the thing. And I liked that.
Hoddeson: Did you spend time learning about it?
Sears: Quite a bit.
Hoddeson: Yes, I see. And that showed up later on?
Sears: I suppose.
Hoddeson: Then you got your BA in '28, and it says in your biography that you joined Bell in '28.
Hoddeson: '29. So you got your Master's —
Sears: I got my masters at Ohio State. And then I went to Bell Laboratory. Then I took graduate work at Columbia, while I was at Bell Laboratories.
Hoddeson: How did you happen to go to Bell? Do you remember how that came about?
Sears: Oh, I remember that very distinctly. Bell laboratories sent a recruiter to Ohio State.
Hoddeson: Do you remember who that was?
Sears: Oh, yes — R. A. Dellor(?). And he talked, I know now, I didnít know then, to Alfeus Smith, who was head of the physics department. And I was doing a thesis under Alfeus.
Hoddeson: On what subject?
Sears: Oh, it was the Hall effect. And Alfeus apparently gave me a good recommendation, because it was Alfeus who suggested that I go over and talk to the Bell System recruiters. She suggested this to me. I wasnít worried about where I was going to get a job. As a matter of fact, I had a job offer, from Automatic Electric Co. They were in the telephone equipment business. And as soon as Dellor(?) heard that, why, I guess that plus the fact that Smith had given him a good recommendation for me because it was Smith who said ďgo over and see him.Ē I had dinner with Dellor(?) and one other man from the physics department, that evening, and within a couple of days, I had a letter offering me a job.
Hoddeson: Were there any other job offers? Did you look for any others, or did you immediately decide that this was very good, and you should take it?
Sears: I didn't look for any, but I think I waited two weeks, before deciding on it. No, I had worked two summers for an independent telephone engineer.
Hoddeson: Doing what?
Sears: Making appraisals of telephone companies. I said, I didnít know about the telephone business, the business aspects of telephones, or telephony, before I came to Bell Laboratories, or any time after I was at Bell Labs. I never used that experience really, that background. No, I had these summer jobs, the first summer, I was at Worcester, Ohio and —
Hoddeson: This was while you were in collegeÖ
Sears: Yes, that is right. We made an appraisal of the Worcesterville, Marsburg and Orville (?) telephone companies, independent telephone companies, and then —
Hoddeson: What did that involve, appraising their equipment?
Sears: Their plant. Their plant, putting a monetary valor on it, counting the number of telephone poles, how many miles of cable did they have, how many instruments did they have in homes. You know, like taking a physical inventory of everything you have in your house, except youíre doing it now for a telephone company. Now, the next summer, when I worked for Gus Hirsch, I was a lineman in Ohio, and I worked by myself then, and what we were doing was making a, not an appraisal, but I was making a study of work records of the outside plant people, to try to establish what labor was involved in putting in telephone poles, what monetary — you see, hereís a telephone pole sitting in the ground. Now, itís worth more than the raw material of a telephone pole, because it had to be put in the ground, you see. So what is the labor cost of that? And later on, believe it or not as a young kid, I tested — this work was being one, this was an independent company, but the study was being made for the Ohio Bell Telephone Co., who were involved in a rate case before the Public Utilities Commission. So, as a young kid, I had the pleasure of testifying on a rate case for the Ohio Bell Company.
Hoddeson: My goodness. That was very important thing for a young kid to be doing.
Hoddeson: What were your expectations, when you were hired, before you got to Bell? What did you think you were going to be involved in?
Sears: I didnít know, because I was not offered a job with a specific department. I was just offered a job with Bell Telephone Laboratories. Of course, there was an introductory course in those days, which took about a week, and in that time you hear talks by various people at Bell Laboratories — Bell Laboratories was a small place, in those days. And you not only heard talks, but you had an opportunity to interview people.
Hoddeson: Do you remember some of the people who gave talks or whom you spoke with?
Sears: Yes. As a matter of fact, I got my first job because I liked one of the guys that gave a talk and I got interested in what he was doing.
Hoddeson: Who was that?
Sears: That was J. A. Becker. And he was working on surface physics. I was very much interested in — I thought, that sounds like a good field. Iím interested in that. I talked to R. H. Mathies (?) He was involved in circuit transmission, circuit designs. But I chose Becker.
Hoddeson: Do you have any recollections of the talk that Becker gave?
Sears: Sure. Sure, I do. He talked about what he was working on, and he was working on absorbed layers of cesium on tungsten. Cesium on oxygen on tungsten — less than one complete atom layer. Obviously, this reduced, since cesium is an electropositive material, this reduced the work function, and of course, made it easier to admit electrons at lowered temperatures. Now, that was not used as a commercial cathode. They were really changing over from thoriated tungsten to an oxide coated film. Becker was interested in seeing if some of his ideas that were being developed, in surface physics, could be applied to a better understanding of the oxide coated cathode. And thatís what I went to work on.
Hoddeson: Had Brattain already joined this group?
Sears: Brattain had joined the group just a couple of months before I did. I believe. Maybe as much as a year, but I never paid very much attention to that, as a matter of fact. As to when he came. But he was there a little before me, but not so very much. Do you know the records? You could probably tell me.
Hoddeson: I donít know. I could look it up very easily. You then joined that group, and you were together with Brattain under Becker.
Sears: Thatís right.
Hoddeson: I have this chart here, but unfortunately it just begins in 1931, and — there are several other people there. They look as though they were assistants. Jaycox and Scott.
Sears: Thatís right, they were.
Hoddeson: And you had more?
Sears: Letís see — Morris, I think, Charlie Morris, yes. They were technical assistants.
Hoddeson: So the three of you worked together, then, on these surface questions?
Sears: Thatís right. Now Brattain worked — on thorium on tungsten, and in addition to trying to understand the oxide cathode, I worked on electronegative materials, on tungsten, that increased the work function, that is, oxygen on tungsten. Jaycox had been with him for a long time. This fellow Hamsher (looking at chart), thatís interesting, because Calbick wasnít at the same level, I thought, as Brattain and I, and Hamser was a technical assistant. Iím sure thatís right. Reiter was a mechanic. So, see, in this area they havenít got them quite segregated, as to who was who. Hamsher got his PhD later, many years later.
Hoddeson: Were you in close contact with the work of Germer at that time?
Sears: Oh yes. We were all together.
Hoddeson: In the same laboratory?
Sears: No. The same laboratory, right. But —
Hoddeson: So then the four of you —
Sears: Brattain, Sears, Colbrick and German all had the same laboratory.
Hoddeson: And Becker some other one?
Sears: Becker didnít really do any laboratory work, or very little laboratory work. Anything he touched, broke.
Sears: Now, I'm over-emphasizing that for effect. He was quite a good guy in developing a hypothesis as to how something worked, and he taught me a lot of things. He taught Walter Brattain a lot of things. We never did any experiments unless we wrote down in a notebook what the objective of the experiment was. And we never —
Hoddeson: Brattain insisted on that?
Sears: Becker. Becker insisted on that. That's right. And whenever we took data, we just didn't put the numbers, we put the numbers in the notebook, but we always made a graphical plot. He always insisted "if data was worth taking" it's worth seeing what the trends were, and you can only see what the trends were by graphics. A few things like that. It wasnít too long after I had been there, when Davisson got the Nobel Prize.
Hoddeson: Yes. Was that very exciting?
Sears: Yes. Great excitement. As a matter of fact, when the photographers and newspaper reporters came in that day we tried to find some equipment to look decent to take his picture working on — and the only equipment they could find in that category was mine. That's just little things that don't amount to anything, but itís things you remember.
Hoddeson: Could you tell me a little bit about the day to day atmosphere in that lab?
Sears: Oh, sure. Very few visitors. We would, Brattain and I would get in Beckerís office, and we would have some of the damndest knockdown, drag out fights. I donít mean physical fights, but verbal fights as to why, one hypothesis wasnít worth a nickel, and wouldnít hold water in the light of this or that, and so forth. Brattain and I used to say, boy, we had a tough time educating Becker.
Hoddeson: Was Becker very well informed, did he read the journals?
Sears: Oh yes, he was. We all had our six foot shelf of Physical Review. Didnít amount to anything unless you could read the Physical Reviews, and in those days, you could read every article in the Physical Review and understand it almost, I think. It wasnít too many years after that that it became too difficult to understand every article in the Physical Review. We did all share pretty much in give and take of was this good data, wasnít good data, a good experiment to do, not a good experiment to do, and so forth.
Hoddeson: Around that time, I think it was the summer of 1931, Brattain went to the Michigan Summer school, to take a course with Sommerfeld on electron theory of metals. Did you know that he did that? Do you remember?
Sears: Frankly, I donít remember that. I donít remember at all.
Hoddeson: I was wondering whether that was a typical thing for someone to do? Darrow did a lot of traveling to other institutions, I gather.
Sears: Well, probably, Darrow was hired at Bell Laboratories really as a science writer. And while Darrow — Darrow was a linguist and not a scientist, I would say. He understood things, but I wouldnít think — Darrow never invented anything in his life.
Hoddeson: By linguist, you mean scientific languages?
Sears: Yes thatís right. Yes. Well, he was quite a good English linguist.
Hoddeson: Did Darrow have discussions with people who worked in neighboring offices?
Hoddeson: Not at all.
Hoddeson: Were his articles discussed by respected researchers who were working in the laboratories?
Sears: Well, I guess I really donít remember very much about discussions that we had about Darrowís articles. We all belonged to what was called then a colloquium, really a physics colloquium. Once a week we had a speaker. That was somehow an important influence.
Hoddeson: When did that meet, do you remember?
Sears: Well, I think it was late Monday afternoon, in the auditorium at West St. Monday afternoon. I suspect 4:00.
Hoddeson: Do you remember some of the people who spoke? Were there many outside speakers?
Sears: There were outside speakers. Management kind of put the — that was abandoned. I couldnít tell you what year? I would guess, about í35. Management thought there was too much, too many people belonged to this, and people were kind of goofing off a little bit, or something like that, to be involved in a —
Hoddeson: When you say ďmanagement,Ē who do you really mean?
Sears: I wasnít high enough in the management to know who put the quietus on this. I donít mean management like Davisson or Darrow or — letís see, Arnold was still director of research? No, it would have been after Arnold.
Sears: Yes, I guess it was Wilson who was the director. Arnold preceded him as director of research. Well, I really donít know.
Hoddeson: Would Arnold have been likely to?
Sears: Arnold wouldnít. Wilson might have.
Hoddeson: Were these colloquia large meetings? 50? 100? 10?
Sears: Oh, 50.
Hoddeson: 50. Do you remember some of the speakers who impressed you particularly in those years?
Sears: No. I really don't. They were very interesting and it could be on any subject.
Hoddeson: Were there lots of Bell Labs people speaking too? Was it evenly divided between Bell Labs and outside visitors, or were there more visitors?
Sears: Oh, it was probably 60 percent Bell Labs people and 40 percent outside visitors. If I were to guess. Itís only a guess.
Hoddeson: Iím trying to get an impression. Now, almost immediately — well, within a year — you began going to Columbia?
Hoddeson: Was that a one day a week or a two days a week thing?
Sears: Two days a week.
Hoddeson: Two days a week. Did you fit that into your work at Bell, or was that during the period when they began to lay people off?
Sears: Yes, That was during that period, OK. And so you wondered how much of that you should do, whether that would increase your chances of being laid off.
Hoddeson: You started going to Columbia before the layoffs?
Sears: Yes, I know. I know. But then we began to wonder whether we could continue to do this, whether they wouldnít say, ďWell, gee whiz, this guy we can let go,Ē because almost every day, youíd come home and your wife would ask you ďDo you still have a job?Ē In those days. Of course, first we stopped working on Saturdays. Then we stopped, every other Friday we took off. And then, for a short period of time, every Friday. We were on a four day week. Well, I knew from Becker, who confided in me, — letís see, Morris had gone. Hamsher was still there. In Beckerís group, Jaycox was to be laid off before I was, and Jaycox was still there, and he never was laid off.
Hoddeson: At Columbia, who did you work with? Or did you take courses with? Or both?
Sears: Oh, almost everybody there. The guy that I remember most is Rabi, of course.
Hoddeson: What did you study with Rabi?
Sears: Atomic theory. Rabi was interested in electron beams. Electromagnetic theory, who was the guy who taught that? I canít remember. Dunning was there as a student, when I was there. I interacted with him a lot.
Hoddeson: In what way?
Sears: Oh, I donít know. I just liked him. I think it was mutual.
Hoddeson: Did you work problems together?
Hoddeson: And meet for lunch?
Hoddeson: What was he working on at that time?
Sears: I donít remember. I really donít. Well, heís a nuclear physicist, I know that, but what his specific problem was —
Hoddeson: What problem did you take up?
Sears: I didnít take up a thesis, because I never finished my doctorís work at Columbia.
Hoddeson: So you just took course work.
Sears: Thatís right.
Hoddeson: And general courses focusing on electrical engineering?
Sears: All physics. All physics, yes.
Hoddeson: Was there a special reason why you stopped?
Sears: Yes, I didnít have the money or the time. I became more involved at Bell Labs in working, and I just didnít feel like it.
Hoddeson: I gather you supported yourself through graduate school?
Sears: Oh yes.
Hoddeson: And your wife at that time, on your Bell Labs salary.
Sears: Yes, thatís right. I went to Bell Laboratories, was earning $35 a week when I went.
Hoddeson: Was that a good salary then?
Sears: I thought so. And then before the reduction — and Iíd been there a little less than a year — I got up to $50. But then it became cut.
Hoddeson: Did you ever go to the colloquium at Columbia?
Sears: Oh yes.
Hoddeson: The Physics colloquium. I guess there must have been some celebrities in those days.
Sears: I think so. I went to many Physical Society meetings in those days, too. The New York meeting was always held at Columbia. And I always went to the Washington meeting. Bell Laboratories sent me there. Those were the two big meetings of the Physical Society. By this time, while I was in the research department from 1928 to 1939 — 1929 toí39 — I interacted a lot with the people in the vacuum tube area, because they were interested in oxide cathodes, and they were interested in finding out as much from the research people, which was me on thermionic emission, things that might had to do with the oxide cathode. And we recognized, in the very early days, that the oxide cathode was not a metallic conductor, nor was it an insulator, and we were interested in how the electrons got through the oxide material. And in the Ď30 period, both Brattain and I, on two independent areas, began working in what was now, what would now be called solid state physics, in addition to working on surface phenomena. Brattain became interested in the copper oxide rectifier, through Becker. And I became interested not only in the conduction of electrons through the oxide coating of thermionic emitters — did some work with Becker on the conductivity of silicon carbide. Now, silicon carbide, some samples of silicon carbide were completely transparent, optically. Yet, they were moderately good conductors of electricity. And in the classical conduction theory, that should not happen.
Hoddeson: How did you start in this new direction?
Sears: Well, Becker got us interested. Well, I donít know how, but I know why. Copper oxide rectifiers got to be used in a small way in the Bell System. But they were difficult to come by, copper oxide, and they didnít last long at all. So the question was, why does the copper oxide rectifier rectify? And it had been known, almost since the early days, that you could make a copper oxide rectifier out of only one kind of copper. And that was copper from a particular mine in Chile. No one understood this, I guess they probably still donít understand it. At any rate, thatís — Copper oxide — copper oxide grows — there are two kinds or maybe three kinds of copper oxide, and it grows in multicrystalline matter on top of an oxide layer in the preparation. It was to do with impurities that get into the oxides from the copper, because you canít make it — you cannot make a rectifier, as I recall, from OFHC that is, oxygen-free high conductivity copper. Something like that. But anyway, that was the first thing that got started. Becker, all along, felt that there was something in a copper oxide rectifier that ought to have an analogy to the vacuum tube. There was a nonlinear rarity of the conduction. In the forward and in the reverse direction. And so Joe himself would try to embed a wire mesh in the oxide layer of copper oxide, in order to almost try to make a grid, like in a vacuum tube. I do well remember that. And Brattain and I would tell him, ďLook, thatís not the way to go about it. Youíve got to understand how things work.Ē
Sears: About the same time, I would judge, this would be about 1935. About 1935. Youíll find I gave a paper on conductivity of silicon carbide. Now, how did silicon carbide come into it? And also, we also, I also, worked under Joe on some compressed metal oxides. Not thorium oxide. Vanadium oxide. Because these could be used as detectors, and you could make an oscillator out of compressed granular vanadium oxide. We didnít invent this. We found this in the literature. Why? Was this a thermal effect? But they seemed to oscillate up to pretty high frequencies. And — see, Brattain kept on with this kind of thing, and I didnít. And the reason Iím telling you this is because I think it has some influence on the development of the transistor. At one stage, after Becker got interested in the copper oxide rectifier, he took on another group, and the man who headed that small group was Neil Prieston(?). Neil had to do with the engineering of copper oxide rectifiers, and rectifiers for the Bell System. So that was a kind of melting between the work that went on in development and engineering, with the research component. See, there was a strong influence in the Becker group in this respect. See, I was the surface physics man who was interested in thermionic emission, therefore I interacted with the people doing the development work on vacuum tubes. Later on, I became a department head, in 1939, in the vacuum tube development department. Thatís what it was called when I was made a department head in that department.
Hoddeson: So in those days, there was a lot of interaction between the pure research scientists and those who applied the science.
Sears: There was a moderate amount, yes, a modern amount, certainly in Beckerís, because he felt he could justify the basic research in trying to connect it with practical, the solution to practical problems.
Hoddeson: He felt the need to do that.
Sears: Yes. Now, whether this was his own idea, or whether it was managementís. Now, Becker reported to Davisson. But Davisson really was not very much interested in engineering or development work, and Davisson himself would not have had the inclination to push Joe to try to get involved, not only in pure research but in engineering or practical things. So, we got interested in another aspect of the solid state. We got interested in silicon carbide. And the reason we got interested in silicon carbide was, GE had come out with a thing that they called a — I guess it was a thyristor. Yes. And this is a compressed sintered agglomerate of silicon carbide crystals, and had quite a non-linear effect. You doubled the voltage, and the current goes up by understanding the work function, that is, what it takes to take an electron out of a metal and to — and some preliminary ideas of what happens if you take two things and put them in contact with each other, which have different — These were the same sort of thing, the things they were working on when the transistor was invented.
Hoddeson: Well, around this time, some new people were hired — Shockley —
Sears: Yes, now Shockley came into the research department — well, Shockley worked — letís see, Jim Fisk was hired before Shockley.
Hoddeson: I think he was after.
Sears: He was after Shockley?
Hoddeson: I think so. Just shortly after. [Fisk joined Bell Labs in 1939, Shockley was hired in 1936.]
Sears: Well, thatís sort of hazy, because, — in my mind, because I didnít start to interact with these people until I was then out of the research department, and in development again.
Hoddeson: For a while you worked under J. B. Johnson.
Sears: Oh yes. That was kind of an interim.
Hoddeson: This was 1937.
Sears: Oh yes. Thatís right. I left Becker, and went with J. B. Johnson.
Hoddeson: How did that come about?
Sears: Well, I guess Iím really not quite so sure, on that instance. Oh — yes. J. B. Johnson had been working on noise — that was his old field.
Hoddeson: When did he do his work on noise?
Sears: Well, it was going on in 1929 when I came.
Hoddeson: Then it was contemporaneous with Davisson and Germanís famous work.
Sears: Yes, thatís right. But in 1929, there was also another new young fellow working for J. B. Johnson — Gerald Pearson. Yes. And he was working really on the limits to amplification that you could get because of the generation of noise in the input resistor. And he formulated the original ďJohnson noise formula,Ē KT V times the value of the resistance (crosstalk).
Hoddeson: — this is Johnson, not Pearson.
Sears: Thatís Johnson, thatís right. Pearson really was the MTS (member of technical staff) in his laboratory that built the amplifier and so forth. Later on, I donít know where the devil he came from, Skellet. A. M Skellet came in with J. B. Johnson, and Skellet had some ideas about magnetic focusing of electrons. And I had gotten interested in — somehow, in electron beams. Now, how did I get involved in electron beams? I had written with Pierce, J. R. Pierce — we all started to interact with other, see. Letís see, that was part of the atmosphere, getting together with other people and talking about what they were interested in, what their problems were. So I got interested in working on — I did a mathematical development of the space-charge limitation of density in an electron beam. And independently, Pierce then was working on the same thing, so we collaborated on that. So, then I got interested not only in the emission of electrons, but the use of electrons in beams, and I felt that I could make some switching devices. And I got interested in that. Thatís what I went with Johnson for, because he had already started some work along in that field, or Skellet had started some work in his organization with that. So, I was with Skellet for about a year.
Hoddeson: How did Becker feel about your leaving the work you were doing under his supervision?
Sears: Well, I had a supervisor status under J. B. Johnson — which I didnít have. But my most — and I got to know Johnson well, and I had the pleasure, just within six months before he died, of presenting the David Sarnoff Award to his more IEEE, because I was an officer of IEEE at that time. But at any rate when —
Hoddeson: There was someone else in that group you havenít mentioned, Ahearn.
Sears: Oh, Art Ahearn, yes. Ahearn had been around. Letís see, Ahearn came with Becker, when he came. Now, Ahearn started to work — he worked on surface problems, thoriated tungsten, I guess. Yes, Ahearn worked on thoriated tungsten. Ahearn was never — Ahearn was never — Ahearn was a moderate scientist, I would say. Yes, we interacted with him.
Hoddeson: Now, this group under Johnson didnít stay together very long, or at least you left that group within a short time.
Sears: That was my most embarrassing time. I got called to Kelly — Kelly was made director of research.
Hoddeson: When was that?
Sears: 1939. Well, Kelly had been director of research for a while. Kelly became director of research in 1936. And maybe Kelly was — Kelly was the guy that recruited Shockley and Fisk. Kelly had the idea that, look, if we were going to get good people, weíve got to go to the colleges and find out from the professors who the good people are. Letís put on a campaign to get them at the PhD level, and thatís when he got Jim Fisk and Bill Shockley. Now, I got called to Kellyís office, and Kelly said, ďYou know, Fred Lach, who was director of electron tube development, is going to go to Western Electric, and J. R. Wilson is, weíre going to make him director of the electron tube development department. And I want you to go over and take J. R. Wilsonís place.Ē I said, ďHow soon?Ē Kelly said ďAs soon as you can get over there.Ē So, thatís an order, from the director of research. So I went back and walked into J. B. Johnsonís office, to tell him that I would be leaving as soon as possible, and he didnít know anything about it. I remember that as lifeís darkest moment. When your boss didnít know that you were being transferred away from him. Well, thatís just interesting. Look — Bell Laboratories did many things right in its career, and occasionally, we did some things wrong, and Kelly was a precipitous man sometimes. But J. B. Johnson was very, very happy to see me get this job, but — he should have been consulted, or told. Maybe I moved too fast.
Hoddeson: Did Kelly have any special axe to grind, in the case of J. B. Johnson.
Sears: I donít think so.
Hoddeson: It was just an oversight.
Sears: I think it was just an oversight. Kelly decided he wanted the department organized that way — and of course, I had interacted with Kelly, in a good many time. When he was director of the electron tube development, or vacuum tube development I guess they called it. It went from vacuum tube development — Iím sorry, it was called vacuum tube research department at the time. It was still in research. It was later on called vacuum tube development and then electron tube development. Do you have an organization chart from back in those days?
Hoddeson: Did Kelly cause many ill feelings in the way he went about setting up his groups?
Sears: I was not aware of any great ill feeling. Everybody knew that Kelly was a driver. Kelly would come around to you, and heíd talk to you with his eyes closed. Frequently when he gave talks, he had his eyes closed. That was just a mannerism. He didnít really have his eyes closed that much, but he — But he would come around, during this time, and talk to you. But the thing I remember about Kelly was his remarkable memory. That guy — there wasnít anything he ever saw that he couldnít remember. And you had to mind your pís and qís because, if you recalled something from the past that wasnít the way he remembered it, he remembered it right. And he did. But of course, this soon got us into war work.
Hoddeson: What did you do during the war?
Sears: What did I do during the war? Oh, I did — I was responsible for all the work in thermionic emission. But I was really responsible for all the work in processing of all the vacuum tubes. And so I had some bit to play in magnetrons, and later on, klystrons, and traveling wave tubes, toward the end of the war, when they were developed. So I interacted with almost everybody in that group. Shockley got involved in electron multipliers in those days.
Sears: I donít remember very much interaction with Shockley himself. More interaction with Pierce and Samuel.
Hoddeson: Tell me about the interaction with Pierce.
Sears: Oh, John and I did a lot of this space charge limitation sort of thing. I think John got more credit for it because heíd rush out and publish. But that didnít bother me. I was just interested in making progress.
Hoddeson: What was the nature of your working interaction with Pierce?
Sears: You mean, how often we would talk?
Hoddeson: Yes, did you work together?
Sears: We talked together. We never had a common laboratory or anything like that. Mostly we talked.
Hoddeson: Did you work on different aspects of problems?
Sears: Yes. But in those days, I never could stay on one problem very long, because in the next hour, something else would arise that we needed to do. For example, — a cathode problem. We couldnít make magnetrons, because we werenít getting any emission out of the cathodes. Why? So everybody turns to that. At least everybody in my group would turn to that.
Hoddeson: That is still the early 40ís that weíre talking about.
Sears: Yes, Iím talking about í44, the early forties, about. Then, right after the war, or late into the war, I got on to other kinds of work. Now, why? I donít know. I started to then invent. Back into the kind of business I was in with J. B. Johnson, in switching tubes.
Hoddeson: What specifically did you turn your attention to?
Sears: Oh, I did coding tubes, stepping tubes, cathode ray tubes — these kind of things. Why did I get interested in it? Iíd like to know.
Hoddeson: Did you talk much with Fisk?
Sears: Quite a bit. Because Fisk was very active in the magnetron program. I interacted with Fisk fairly extensively. We were also working on TR boxes. Now thatís a gas discharge to transmit-receive. Under the high power of the transmitter, this gas tube was in shunt with the input to the receiver. The problems there were, related to quenching. We had to put water vapor in, in order to wipe up the metastable atoms, which would effectively keep the discharge going on a low level and short out the receiver. So, there were the kinds of problems. How did we interact? Gosh, I donít know. We wrote memos, talked to people.
Hoddeson: I gather most of this work is written up in internal Bell Labs memos.
Hoddeson: And hard to get at.
Sears: Yes, probably many of them have even today been destroyed.
Hoddeson: Unfortunately. Laboratory notebooks exist.
Sears: Yes but theyíre very hard to read. Very hard to read. Why did we do this experiment? And unless we wrote up a good objective of the experiment, and what were the results — those laboratory notebooks are awfully hard to read. I wouldnít even recommend it.
Hoddeson: Were you taking out a lot of patents in those days?
Sears: Yes. I had a substantial number of patents in those days.
Hoddeson: Maybe I can learn something from the patent applications.
Sears: But they donít deal with solid state. These are all devices.
Hoddeson: Did you interact with the people in the chemistry research department?
Sears: Quite a lot, particularly after I moved into the tube business — that is after í39. I donít think we reacted very much to people in the chemistry department while I was in Beckerís department, with one exception, and that was Christianson. And what was Christianson doing? Well, he was making things that we, later on — that were non-linear conductors.
Hoddeson: Didnít he have something to do with carbon? Or am I getting that confused?
Sears: Maybe. And Iím trying to remember, what in the world kind of powders he sintered together. It was Goucher that worked with carbon, and tried to study carbon, because carbon was an important element in the telephone transmitter. And not only that, they wanted to learn how to make carbon or make carbon coated something, that they could use in place of the telephone transmitter. As a matter of fact, I donít know whether they have that problem solved today or not. Carbon is still used, as far as I know, to a great extent, in the telephone transmitter, and probably nobody still knows how it works.
Hoddeson: Well, so Christianson was working on non-linear —
Sears: He was making a non-linear device. And that could have been silicon carbide. Thatís what it was. Following — and this was about the time when, I think, Becker coined the term ďvaristor,Ē to cover a family of things. Yes. Now, hereís another connection: See, I said that Pearson had started to work with J. B. Johnson on noise. But later on, Pearson, under J. B. Johnson, started to make new things called thermistors, and these were semi-conductor materials, with — that showed a very large temperature effect, and therefore could be used as thermometers and were better than the old thermocouples, that — more sensitive, in terms of rate of change of resistance with temperature, as compared with the rate of change of the EMF in a dissimilar metal junction, with temperature. Gee, I havenít thought about these things for a long time.
Hoddeson: Didnít Grisdale have something to do with these things? And Morgan?
Sears: Yes. Grisdale — they were in the chemistry department. Grisdale and Christianson were competitors, in the chemistry department. Grisdale and Carl Christianson, were the names. Now, letís see — Grisdale — Iím trying to think whether he worked on copper oxide or was personally involved. I kind of believe he did, but my recollection is hazy a little bit on exactly what Grisdale was working on — He was a competitor of Christianson too. They were all in the chemistry department.
Hoddeson: Was there competition between chemists, who were studying varistors and thermistors — and the physicists?
Sears: I suppose. Competition among everybody, among the physicists, in a sense. Competition I think had a lot to do with keeping people on their toes.
Hoddeson: Sure — probably accelerated the work in a healthy way. Was there a rating system in those days?
Sears: No. No. At least, not that I was aware of, nor was — and there was not a rating system when I was a department head in electron tube development. The rating system was started by Fisk. When Fisk became director of research, he conceived the idea that somehow we ought to rate people. Now, people were rated, Iím sure, by supervisors, informally. But people didnít talk about whether you were [???], things of that sort. And we didnít know what anybody else was making, as far as pay was concerned.
Hoddeson: The rating system, when did that begin then?
Sears: — well, I would say the rating system didnít start until the late forties.
Hoddeson: Was there resentment about that?
Sears: A lot of misunderstanding.
Hoddeson: In the late forties. I came across an article of yours in Ď48, in the BELL TECHNICAL JOURNAL, on electron beam deflection tubes, for modulation.
Sears: Yes, thatís right. Right.
Hoddeson: I notice you thanked Llewellyn and Hecht for suggesting —
Sears: Yes, thatís F. B. Llewellyn, yes. Llewellyn has started to work on some beam concepts, but hadnít gotten very far. I really donít know, the way the thing developed — I donít know what he did. It must have been something. I think, really, I interacted more with Pearson on beam matters than I did with Llewellyn. Now, let me seeÖ I canít explain that fully. I didnít interact with Fred Llewellyn very much, but I knew him quite well. Oh, I guess I did interact with him.
Hoddeson: By now, you were all at Murray Hill.
Sears: Ď49, moved to Murray Hill, thatís right.
Hoddeson: Were you asked to explain how your work fit into the broader objectives of the research department — if there were any broader objectives that were being discussed?
Sears: Iím trying to remember whether —
Hoddeson: — at any time, in the whole period of your work at Bell? Iím trying to get a picture of —
Sears: — no, but I was conscious of this.
Hoddeson: At every stage?
Sears: Yes. I think so. Oh, maybe not so much in my very early stages, because I was going to be a research physicist. Research with a capital R. But I soon found the error of my ways, and decided not to be Research with a capital R, although I worked quite a lot in research. But I tried to relate to some reality. I tried to be aware of what was going on, by other people.
Hoddeson: In the Lab.
Sears: Yes, and outside.
Hoddeson: And outside. Do you think this was common?
Sears: Beg pardon?
Hoddeson: Was this common? In a sense, you seem to be suggesting, implying, in what you said, that there was a subtle direction towards application, in your work.
Sears: Yes. Thatís right. Yes, there certainly was. There was less in Brattainís case, I think. More in mine. Maybe because thatís what I was kind of charged with, not only doing that, but being responsible for thermionic emission. And then, my interest in vacuum tubes and related things, perhaps dated back to radio amateur days. I can see a strong connection there, in terms of interest and my earliest interest. I think, if thereís any connection between being interested in applied matters, it probably stemmed more from my amateur radio days than anything else. Although I never worked directly in radio, but I was — Iíve always been more interested in things, in my life.
Hoddeson: — than in abstract concepts?
Sears: Yes. Yes.
Hoddeson: Well, later on — oh, before we do that, did you have any connections with Kelly College?
Sears: Yes, I taught the first course on electron tubes. And wrote part of the text.
Hoddeson: Could you tell me a little about that?
Sears: Oh — well, letís see. Kelly got the idea that people should have the opportunity to be exposed to as much of the new technology as could be possible. And therefore, he conceived the idea of requiring all new employees on — who didnít have a PhD, requiring them to become familiar with technology as it existed in the Bell System at the time they were coming in. So —
Hoddeson: All new employees, no matter what they were working on?
Sears: Except people in the research department. By that time, the research department was employing no one except PhDs and above. That started shortly after the war. See, Kelly College I think started about 1948. Ď49 perhaps. About that time. And it was just for that reason: that thereíd been so much technology developed during the war, things had moved at such a fast pace, and he was sure that the people coming out, particularly for development and engineering, were not equipped with adequate background to deal with the problems and the interrelations between problems in various departments, to cope with the business. So, thatís why he started Kelly College. Now, as conceived actually, that college was to be taught by — and it was originally, it was taught I think entirely by Bell System, by Bell Laboratories people. They were the experts.
Hoddeson: On Bell time.
Sears: Yes. As you know by then, I had moved out of ďthe surface physicsĒ work and thermionic emission, into devices, switching tubes, coding tubes, that sort of thing, which I stayed in until 1962. But the people that came and took the tough Kelly College course — and if they didnít survive, they didnít stay — said, ďGee, weíre really going to graduate school here, and weíre getting no credit for it.Ē Which was true. They were going to a different kind of graduate school, but — So then it was switched over, and outside professors came in, and NYU, a mixture of NYU professors and still Bell Laboratories during the transition period — finally, all NYU professors — gave an accredited masterís degree program. And all Bell employees were required to take that.
Hoddeson: Where were the classes held?
Sears: Murray Hill and Whippany, which were the two main locations. We still had West Street. But the things that remained in West Street werenít hiring very many people, and it they were hired, they came out to Murray Hill or Whippany to take the courses. Holmdell had not been conceived of.
Hoddeson: Were the NYU professors residents?
Sears: At Murray Hill.
Hoddeson: Did they teach in the college?
Hoddeson: No. Strictly Bell.
Sears: And this was a mistake.
Sears: Well, you developed a separate and inferior faculty. And those faculty had no interactions with the other members of the electrical engineering department, or other members of NYU. And they turned out to be very narrow people. Not the equivalent of the broader Bell Laboratories people who used to be teaching the courses. And there was a somewhat change of emphasis in the course content. Then, Iím not so sure but what even during those, that early stage, some with NYU, there — some people were sent off to get their masterís degrees, full-time, to selected universities, instead of going to Kelly College. Now, I really donít know when that started until after Kelly College, because they then had — following Kelly College — had a program in which you either, the person either was assigned full time at some selected universities (Stanford, Illinois) or part-time, three days a week, and get your masterís — two and a half days a week — get your masterís in two years at local universities. By this time Bell Laboratories were — the Allentown group had built up to a fairly large ground, and they were hiring people, and there were a couple of other smaller locations beginning to build up, and that program has persisted until today, except I donít think that theyíve been hiring any bachelorís and masterís, the last few years.
Hoddeson: Before I ask you just a few questions about the later period, I was wondering whether there were any important facts Iíve left out, in these questions on the earlier period?
Sears: Well, youíve dug in pretty deep, I think, as far as I can remember. I think Iíve volunteered —
Hoddeson: — youíve been very helpful.
Sears: Well, I guess about the only thing I can say is that during the period I was with Becker, his attempting to relate, his attempting to have, to do himself and have his people do very fundamental work, and yet at the same time devote some effort into coupling it to practical problems in the laboratory, had a big impression on me. And I think, on all the people he worked with.
Hoddeson: I have one other question about Kelly. The question I have about Kelly — it seems to me that he had an idea rather early about the new kind of amplifier, although I havenít been able to document that.
Sears: That Kelly himself might have had the idea?
Hoddeson: Yes. And in some sense, structured. I may be reading into history now, I donít know.
Sears: I wouldnít have thought that.
Sears: There is one other — I knew you were going to talk to me about solid state, so Iíve been thinking about, where had I heard the words solid state physics first? Where did I even hear that?
Sears: And I heard it from a man whose name hasnít been mentioned here.
Sears: Foster Nix.
Hoddeson: Oh yes.
Sears: Well, Foster Nix worked for Ives. You go ahead and change this if you wantÖ
Hoddeson: OK —
Sears: Foster Nix worked — I donít know very much about his work at Bell Laboratories. Ives, of course, was interested in photoelectricity, and I was interested in thermionics, so you see there is a connection between photoelectricity and thermionics, because they both involve low work function effects.
Hoddeson: Yes, he did a lot of work on photoelectricity.
Hoddeson: Nix did.
Sears: Yes. But there was Nix, Olpin, Ives and another guy —
Sears: Kingsbury was in that group too. Kingsbury was an older man. Anyway, in some respects, Nix got interested in not semi-conductors, not what we know today as semi-conductors, but got interested in metals and defects in metal lattices. And at that time he left, and he went I believe to the University of Pennsylvania, to set up a group in the physics of solids. I guess perhaps that might have been the thing he said, instead of solid state physics, but physics of solids.
Hoddeson: Now, this wasnít until the early forties, I guess?
Sears: This was early forties, I think, early forties, when he left. I donít remember him being there all through the war.
Hoddeson: You had conversations with him?
Sears: Yes, his office was just down the hall. Their laboratories were just down the hall. It was all on the same floor.
Hoddeson: Did you regularly talk a lot with him?
Sears: Oh, I wouldnít say that. Just an interesting guy. Letís see — he had — he had a place up in the Adirondacks. He had a little bit of properties in the Adirondacks. I never got invited up. But he built a, with his own hands, and the help of people he invited up for the weekend, built a cabin, I think, there. They had one room and so forth. And there was quite an article in the NEW YORK TIMES, by a writer who turned out to be a friend of Fosterís, which — the article was about Nixon Foster. And it was quite a humorous article. And he — we had a lot of fun with it around there. The article went onto talk about how Nixon Foster would evaluate each potential person he would have up in relation to the amount of work he might get out of him, for a weekend, and the cost of food, cost of transportation and the food. I didnít interact very extensively with him technically, but thatís where I first heard — and he was familiar with some of the new quantum ideas.
Hoddeson: Yes. Yes.
Sears: Perhaps more familiar about those than anyone around in that area of research, I suspect.
Hoddeson: Well, around that time he, and I gather Shockley, organized a study group that met once a week or so for several years.
Sears: Yes, thatís right.
Hoddeson: And a number of people would go, and learn the new ideas from books.
Sears: Yes, yes.
Hoddeson: Did you know that that was going on?
Sears: I participated in it.
Hoddeson: Did you?
Sears: In some of those. But — gee—
Hoddeson: Do you know which book? They went through Mott and Jones —
Sears: Mott and Jones. Mott and Jones, yes.
Hoddeson: So that dates it around 1936 or Ď37.
Sears: Yes. Yes. Yes. Brattain was involved in that group.
Hoddeson: Yes. Yes. I know.
Sears: Different people took different sections of that book. I now remember. Ye gods! And they would be the lecturer of the day, or they would be the leader of the group on that day. Ye gods, thatís —
Hoddeson: Tell me anything you can remember about that.
Sears: Thatís about all. Thereíd be big arguments, you know.
Hoddeson: Did you sit around a table?
Hoddeson: In a classroom?
Sears: Around a table, but — a conference room, with a blackboard.
Hoddeson: Do you remember your seminar?
Sears: No, I donít.
Hoddeson: Was Charlie Townes in on this?
Sears: I donít remember Charlie. Sorry, I remember Charlie, but I donít remember — that was not outstanding.
Hoddeson: Dean Wooldridge in the group —
Sears: Yes. I knew Dean.
Hoddeson: We havenít talked about Dean.
Sears: Dean at that time — well, Dean was interested in secondary emission. And so was I. Not so much initially but later on I became interested in secondary emission. See, by that time, I was — when he was working hard on secondary emission, I was then over — that was during the war, and I was over — that was during the war, and I was over with the tube gang. Dean and Shockley were interested in the photomultiplier problems, and thatís a secondary emission — after you get the electrons out of the photo-cathode, then itís a secondary emission multiplier. Gee whizz, you know, when you look back on your career, there are a lot of famous people youíve gotten in contact with.
Hoddeson: Dean Wooldridge. Did you ever work with him?
Hoddeson: Alan Holden was in that study group, too.
Sears: Yes. But you know. Alan Holden didnít make very much of an impression on me. In my later years at Bell Laboratories, he reported to me.
Hoddeson: Oh, did he? I didnít know. In what capacity?
Sears: Well, I was director of university relations, in the research department, with Sid Millman and I — and they just needed a place to put Alan. Alan was working alone.
Hoddeson: From Ď62 to Ď65, you were in Bell Communications?
Sears: Bell Com.
Hoddeson: Bell Com, what is that?
Sears: What is that? You donít know what Bell Com is?
Sears: Oh you donít. NASA, in connection with Apollo — put great pressure on Bell Laboratories to help bail them out, of design problems, system problems. Bell laboratories said, ďNo, weíre not going to do it.Ē But they worked so hard on the top guy in AT&T that the Bell System agreed to form a separate company, and I had reported to John at Bell laboratories at that time. John was in Washington two months, I guess, when I got a call, that said it was agreed that you could come down and talk to us about a job down here. I hadnít applied for any job. But, you know, the boss said, ďJohn would like you to come down and talk to him about giving them some help they need.Ē So, I accepted the job, and I was one of the first five directors, technical directors of Bell Com. And Bell Com grew, from — there were about 20 people there when I went, 25 maybe, — to about 300 members of the technical staff, and about the same number of support people. We had offices. We had no laboratories and we did no laboratory work whatsoever. We interacted with NASA. The first year was very, very hard sledding, because NASA had been formed out of the old NACA, Aeronautics Laboratories, and they didnít want to have anything to do with Washington people at all. All they wanted was money. ďWeíll do ourĒ — they were operating real as existential independent units. And our job really was to oversee and provide the head technical guidance for the program. Say, stop if things were going wrong, taking the wrong direction. But we interacted most with Houston, which had to do with the spacecraft itself. The propulsion units were farther along. There was a guidance group that operated with them. I had three main efforts, just to show you what things you can get into. I had communications. That was radio and television and so forth. I had the man-machine interface — that is, what can men do? What can astronauts do? And what should be done with machines? And then I had an operations research group, which really was charged with plotting out the mission, and what was to be done when, and how, and by whom. See, this was closely related to the man-machine interface problem. And so weíd go down to Houston. The first time John took the whole group down, we were scheduled to be there three days, and we were getting just a snow job. People were telling us that they were doing, but we were getting a snow job, we werenít getting a technical presentation at all. So we came back home. Many times in that first year, we would go down, and weíd hear a conference was going to be scheduled on this or that to make decisions. Weíd walk in the room. ďWho are you?Ē ďWeíre from Bell Com.Ē ďWhat are you doing here?Ē ďWell, we came to sit in on this conference. We want to know whatís going on.Ē ďGet out.Ē ďWell, whoís putting us out?Ē ďI am.Ē ďI canít go on your authority.Ē So weíd just have to sit it out. And so forth. Now, this was terribly political. Within the year, they began to learn that there were some smart people in Bell Com. And then the Center couldnít get enough work out of is. They couldnít get us to attend enough meetings. Just a complete flip. So, thatís Bell Com. I knew all the astronauts, at that early stage. Everyone except John Glenn. Now, John Glenn and I were born in the same town and went to the same high school, but he had left the business — see, they were still shooting Mercury shots then, before I got involved. That was it.
Hoddeson: How did you get into underwater acoustical work?
Sears: I didnít.
Hoddeson: Is that a different Ray Sears?
Sears: Thatís my son.
Hoddeson: Thatís your son. I noticed that he had some publication in the IEEE.
Sears: Yes. Yes. He got his PhD at Johns Hopkins in electrical engineering. He was in underwater sound. But now heís — he was a supervisor there, and heís of course, theyíve abandoned all underwater sound business. I didnít know whether you knew that or not.
Sears: And now heís in business information systems down at Piscataway. Near Rutgers. So thatís my sonÖ I have a son-in-law at Bell Laboratories, too. Heís not a scientist at all. Heís a department head, in salary administration. He was their chief labor negotiator, in last yearís labor — I came back, and really I had charge of the whole recruiting program at Bell Laboratories. Thatís what the director of university relations was. But I was in the research department. And then, the last two years, I moved to the staff department, as director of university relations and director of technical employment. So thatís a little bit of what Iíve been doing here at AIP in that part of it. That shows you how you get from one thing to another, doesnít it? It doesnít show you how you get, but itís an illustration of how you do get from one thing to another.
Hoddeson: Very interesting. In looking back over your long career at Bell Labs, can you think of a single episode that was most exciting or fulfilling to you?
Sears: Oh, thereíve been many. I guess I — I guess the most exciting was when I got promoted to department head. Thatís just a personal exciting thing. I think somehow, when you get a new idea, of how to make something that nobodyís ever made before — it has been the thing I got the most kick out of.
Hoddeson: That happened a number of times.
Sears: Yes. There have been some crucial times, — one time, shortly after I was moved over by Kelly into charge of — I really had charge of the chemical group, you see, doing the processing of electron tubes and thermionic emission. We were working — theyíd been working on gas tubes, and they had started to introduce a small amount of radium into the discharge tubes, in order that theyíd break down in a short time. You know, you have to have — in the absence of no ions and in a gas, the voltage to be very, very high, in order to pull out a field electron, or something like that, in order to initiate a discharge. This is the cascade effect. But if you have — one time, they made some gas tubes, you know, when theyíre conducting theyíre very conducting, and when theyíre not, theyíre open circuit, so, they were used as a relay, in a sense. And they designed a switchboard, or Western designed a switchboard, using these new-fangled gas tubes. This was before my time. And they installed the first switchboard at Macyís. And the switchboard worked fine.
Hoddeson: That was, when?
Sears: In the thirties. The switchboard worked just fine. And they had it all installed, insulation complete, the workmen went home Friday night, and Monday morning, the switchboard wouldnít work at all. Great to-do — big company like R.H. Macy. Well, the thing that had happened, was that the backs were off of the switchboard, and the workmen had had extension lights, and this was producing enough illumination to produce some photo-electron emission from the cathode, and made them break down in short enough time. So as soon as you put the lights out, put the thing back on the back of the switchboard — so they started to introduce radium, a small amount of bromide, into tubes. So, after that, I went over — that went on in the department I was involved in. I guess I didnít fall into this until the two guys that handled this were on vacation, and somebody needed some radium bromide, so I went out in the laboratory and said, ďWhere do they keep the radium bromide?Ē And I was flabbergasted, because it was under unsanitary and un-radiation protected conditions. That gave me my worst moment at Bell Laboratories.
Hoddeson: Oh dear.
Sears: Well, then we had — I spent a lot of time, I think 100 percent of my time, 110 percent of my time, reading up on radium, and hazards and protections. Well, we had everybody whoíd had any exposure Ė and fortunately nobody had been over-exposed, nobody was contaminated. Boy, lucky! Thatís the worst moment that I ever had. But the happiest moments, I guess, I got a good increase, got a promotion. But the really happiest moments were when I got a new idea.
Hoddeson: Thank you very much. This has been extremely helpful.