Oral History Transcript — Dr. Lawrence Rubin
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Lawrence Rubin; May 12, 2009
Among the topics discussed: Rubin's military service during World War II; continuing his education after the war when he studied physics and earned a BS from the University of Chicago and an MA from Columbia University; his first job at Raytheon Research Division where he worked for 13 years; his work at MIT's National Magnet Laboratory from 1964-1993; the awarding of the magnet laboratory to Florida State University by the National Science Foundation in 1990; the structure of the American Physical Society and his work with the organization; his work with the American Institute of Physics and the Physics Today's Buyer's Guide.
Rubin:I want to askÖ if your health is okay. And Iíve kept busy by continuing to write my column for Physics Today.
Zimmerman:I see it every once in a while.
Rubin:Iíve been doing that now almost 12 years. When I went to my first APS meeting this past March, the first meeting in four years, it was very nice because I saw a lot of old friends, which is what you do at those meetings. We celebrated the 25th anniversary of the forming of the Instrument & Measurement Science Group. As always, we had a big dinner, and I received an award. So it was worth the trip to Pittsburgh.
Zimmerman:What kind of an award did you get?
Rubin:They gave me a plaque that was, oh, a good two feet high by about a foot wide, very tastefully done, mentioning my founding of the group and my activities. I assume that we will talk about some of those activities.
Zimmerman:Yes, I would like to. I think what I would like to do, if possible, is to find out, first of all, how old are you now? Youíre probably my age, right?
Zimmerman:Oh, youíre older than I am. Iím 75.
Rubin:Oh, quite a bit, yes.
Zimmerman:Where were you born?
I was born in Brooklyn, New York, and I grew up there in the Eastern Parkway area. I went to Brooklyn Technical High School, which was a great four years. This was in 1943 that I graduated, and I entered Cooper Union for the first year. I then enlisted in the Army. They gave me an extra month or two to finish up the third quarter of that first year. So I went into active service in December of í43, and wound up originally in the ASTP, the Army Specialized Training Program, which was supposed to take qualified people, which means people who scored highly enough on what was called the AGCT, the Army General Classification Test, basically an intelligence test. They put them, after a basic training of 13 weeks, sent them to school. But in February of í44 they found they were running short of ground troops. So they stopped the program, just as I was finishing my basic training, and shipped the great majority of those so-called scholars in foxholes into the infantry, because they needed bodies. I luckily got transferred to the field artillery went overseas with it and thatís where I spent the rest of the war. We went overseas to Europe in January, and I was in Germany when the war ended because of the bomb, so we knew that we would go home sometime instead of having to fight in Japan. Based on recent declassified disclosures on the planned invasion of Japan, the bomb almost certainly saved my life, along with perhaps a million other GIs.
An interesting thing happened to me there. I had been a musician in high schoolÖ
Zimmerman:Was that in í45?
Rubin:Yes, this was the summer of í45. The bombs were dropped in August, and the war came to an end officially in early September. I was doing some menial duties in Germany, like transporting POWs, when they issued an appeal over the radio, the armed forces network, for musicians. Why? It turned out that there was going to be a championship football game in the ETO — things were returning to normal — and they were going to form a very large marching band, 150 strong. I wonít imagine how much money it cost to do this, but they did assemble musicians from all over Europe, and we did march in a football stadium spelling out, ďHello IkeĒ and a map of the U.S., just like I had done in high school. It was very funny. The difference was those were super musicians that they had gotten. When the game was over, I guess they decided it would be a shame to send these people back to their outfits, so they formed a music center in Frankfurt, Germany, and from October until I left to go home the following April, I was a musician. I played in several bands. I eventually became a leader of one of the bands.
Zimmerman:You played the saxophone?
Rubin:I played saxophone and clarinet. This band, which was called The Statesmen, had a morning radio show with Mickey Rooney and other people that were known around there. That was quite an experience. And most important, I found that any doubts that I had about becoming a musician were dispelled when I found out what it took to be a really good one, because I met people there. So I came to the reasonable conclusion that music was a great avocation, and it has been in my whole life. But that was a very interesting six months because I didnít have to worry about anything except the music.
Anyway, I got home in May of 1946. I went back to school at Cooper Union because even though I was interested in switching fields from the chemical engineering — I wanted to go into physics — I was told that in í46 they couldnít accept anybody except those who had already been enrolled in school. So I went back to Cooper Union for another year, and then transferred to the University of Chicago, where I was able to major in physics. Then I went to Columbia for a Masterís in 1950.
I was still living in New York, in Brooklyn, same place. My first job offer when I graduated in June of 1950, which was just when this Korean War was beginning, same month. I actually had a choice of going to Oak Ridge to become a health physicist, or going to Raytheon in their Research Division. By this time, I had met my future wife. We had become engaged, and we decided we would go to Boston; we were both big city people. That was a good choice, because I had a great time at the Raytheon Research Division in Waltham, MA, which was really for most of those 13 years I was in basic research.
Zimmerman:That was in 1950?
Rubin:I started in September of 1950, was married in í51. Do you remember Leo Neuringer [Oh yes.] Leo moved to the MIT Magnet Lab, which, in 1967, was renamed the Francis Bitter National Magnet Laband, then started applying pressure on me to move over to this brand new place because they were looking for somebody with the kind of experience I had in instrumentation. It was a very tough decision because I had enjoyed Raytheon so much, but that was certainly a decision I never regretted. From 1964 to the time the lab closed, which was the end of í95, I had a marvelous time. I retired in 1993 at the beginning of the year, but stayed on in my office until I left in June of 2008. They let me keep the office and gave me an appointment as Visiting Scientist, which is no salary, no overhead at all, but I did have the office and the telephone and all the conveniences. So I worked from there initially doing basically the same kind of things in APS. I had formed the Instrument Group.
Zimmerman:When did you do it?
Rubin:That was in í84. I assembled signatures. You needed 250 to start a new division because at that time there were only divisions as sub-units. There was a great deal of, opposition is really the word to use to starting a division on something as ďflimsyĒ as instrumentation and measurement. Since I had the signatures, and that was the rule, they compromised, not from my point of view but from theirs, by starting this new entity the Topical Group. This was the very first topical group, and it was done to avoid adding any other divisions. The interesting thing I think was at the same time, a month after I started, the materials people started a topical group, and they, of course, eventually got enough people to join to become a division.
Zimmerman:Right now itís huge.
Yes itís huge. But the thing is they faced very much the same opposition. There was a great deal of resistance to having any other groups because it spread things and it started affecting particularly the materials people, affecting condensed matter, which at that time was called solid state. You know, turf battles. But they let the two of us in.
One thing I would like to mention, which very few if any people now remember, and those who do may refuse to admit, when we became a topical group along with the divisions, there was no fee added for joining a sub-unit over and above the APS dues.
Zimmerman:Right now I think you can join twoÖ
Rubin:Two forums. But at the time, since there was no charge for anything, I remember David Lazarus, who was the Physical Review editor, brought up at a Council meeting that I happened to be attending, he said, This is crazy. None of the other large societies allow you to do that. Why donít we add a very low fee, $5? Well, who could object to that? Five dollars. So we agreed. The year after that was instituted; my Group membership went down 50% to 55%. I thought wow; you mean my people are that shaky? So I investigated it, and I got the membership rolls for every sub-unit sent to me. The average decrease was 55% because of the $5 fee. As I say, thatís the kind of history that may be the first time was brought up, but I can say that the $5 fee caused a 55% reduction in sub-unit membership. So my group went down from around 1,200 to 550, which is where it is today.
Now, if you look at the APS governance, they have what I consider is a pretty serious mish mash. They have divisions whose members pay dues and have somebody on the Council. They have the topical groups whose member pay dues and they have no membership on the Council. Then there are the forums for which youíre allowed two free memberships. So they donít pay dues, but they have membership on the Council. Then there are the sections, which are geographical, donít pay dues, and some have council membership. But I was never able to see the justice in assessing the topical groups but not giving them any voice on the Council. I still object to that. I think itís wrong to have sort of three or four different methods of doing this. Iím willing to bet that if they ever took the freedom of joining two of the forums for free away, they would behave then as we did originally. The industrial and applied people, history, etcetera; they would suffer a substantial decrease in membership. Thatís not likely to happen.
A good example to show how politically driven APS is, even though they would deny this, the rules very clearly state you needed a certain number of members, which was a fraction of the total membership, to become a division. Initially if you ever dropped below that, you ceased being a division. Two divisions, biological physics and polymer physics, did drop below that. After trying for years to boost their membership, and I knew several people in the biology group very well, I said, ďYouíll never make it, because trying to appeal to get new people is very difficult. I bet that youíll go down below 1,200.Ē Well, when this happened, the APS simply rewrote the rules. They added hysteresis just for these two divisions that yes you needed that fraction to get in, but it was a lower number before you lost your division membership. So the hysteresis was built in and so those two groups — I wasnít happy about that either because why do those two groupsÖ? Itís politics.
However, am I happy with APS in general? Yes, itís a great organization. I have enjoyed belonging and bringing my instrument group to fruition. And since the great majority of people who visited the Magnet lab through all those years were mostly, well 90% physicists and probably 60% or 70% condensed matter, we very much had common interests. In order to keep the National Science Foundation happy, we kept track of the papers that were published. Of course most of them appeared in Phys Rev, JAP, etcetera, and you wonít be surprised to find out that NSF was particularly happy when papers appeared in PRL, even though this wasnít supposed to be the case, but it was. But I made a lot of very good friends. Once I tried to make an estimate of how many people, including the professors, their students, people from the national laboratories and industrial laboratories, and it certainly was several thousand that visited the lab over that í64 to at least í93.
Zimmerman:I have the annual reports, of course.
Rubin:Yes. But the lab was marvelous in being the firstÖ
Zimmerman:Did you come in at the very beginning of the lab?
Rubin:Not the very beginning. The lab opened its doors in í63, and I got there a year later. But there were very few experiments being done during í63. It gained momentum when I got there, and by í65, we were already in many scores of visitors.
Zimmerman:Were you in on the construction of the generators there?
Rubin:No. When Leo Neuringer brought me over to the lab, there were these gleaming generators. He knew that that would really sell me because we remember what that looked like, and he was right. You didnít see that kind of infrastructure. That was started in 1960 when Ben Lax sold the idea of the lab to the Air Force, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research decided to fund that. Our golden years were from the time that the Air Force thought to support us back in í63, until 1973 when the Mansfield Amendment — remember that, when the military would not be able to support (basic) research that didnít have some connection (to defense). So at that point, we moved to the National Science Foundation, and things were never as great after that; there were always financial constraints. Iím pleased that NSF took us over, because otherwise the lab wouldnít have existed. But it wasnít like the days under Max Swerdlow (AFOSR monitor) and AFOSR. He was great, a very good friend of the lab.
But we were able to continue. There were never any major improvements. The ten megawatt sets, which could be used to run as many as four two and a half megawatt magnets, or two five megawatt magnets, or use the whole shebang for a 10-megawatt magnet. We eventually achieved using hybrid technology 30 tesla, which was the magic number then since we started with 15 tesla in a 5-megawatt Bitter magnet, and kept pushing that number up. Thatís what magnet technology did: they learned how to make more efficient use of the power of cooling and the strength of materials
Zimmerman:Was Si (Simon) Foner one of you?
Rubin:No, Si was not involved in magnet technology at all. This was Bruce Montgomery and John Williams, Bob Weggel, Mat Leupold. Si developed, much later on, a pulse magnet. He was the first one to deliver 60 tesla in millisecond timescales, using niobium. That was his discovery, that that made a great material for winding magnets. Niobium copper, thatís what the alloy was.
Zimmerman:But it wasnít superconducting, it was just normal, right?
Rubin:Not superconducting, no. This was before the days of superconducting. That isnít true. Niobium had been discovered as low-temperature superconductor, so the first magnets had been made — this was just before niobium titanium was discovered, and niobium copper became known through Siís efforts for its extreme strength. So that made a good pulsed magnet. But what Si was mainly known for was his vibrating sample magnetometer. Everything in magnetism that involved measurements, great measurements, but he never was involved with designing high field DC magnets; that was a separate group.
And as I say, by the mid Ď80s, in fact the early Ď80s, we had gotten the hybrid magnet working so we were 25, 28, then finally 30 tesla, the highest field in the world. We had competition later on, mainly from the Grenoble lab, and later on from the Nijmegen laboratory, and the Japanese laboratories later on. But no one had a hybrid magnet for a number of years until they learned, mainly from our designs, how to do that. Of course, that did depend on using the superconducting magnet for the outside, but the technology was an extreme requirement to get that magnet not only to produce the field but to be able to continue doing that with the stray field from the Bitter magnet inside. So you really had to do a lot with the superconducting materials in order to do that.
That magnet of course ceased operation. The lab closed in November of í95. The new laboratory was awarded to Florida State in the fall of 1990. There was a great deal of recriminations about that because the reviews that they held for doing that were 28 to 2, thatís a magic number for me, in our favor.
Rubin:28 to 2, yes. But Eric Bloch decided otherwise and I will state right now it turned out he made the right decision. He looked at what Florida, who had no experience with this whatsoever at Florida State, and he dug and found that the State of Florida was willing to put up a lot of money for it. Massachusetts was willing to put up zero, and MIT was willing to put up zero. So we had to put a bid in that basically said that the money we were offering was existing infrastructure, whereas the people of FSU, under the guidance of Jack Crow, who was the guiding genius, no question about it, heís the one that made that happen. In retrospect, it turned out that the State of Florida has put in somewhere between $300 and $500 million dollars into that laboratory. NSF, knowing this and finding out that this was really the case, has increased their support of the magnet lab far beyond anything we used to get, because they were matching funds. So a laboratory exists out there far beyond anything we ever could have done.
Zimmerman:They also started an incubator for high tech, which is not really all that successful.
Rubin:They did all the right things. Jack was right on. They did outreach. They brought in Los Alamos with pulsed fields. They brought in the University of Florida at Gainesville, which specializes in the very low temperature in superconducting magnets. They formed this triumvirate. But the main thing is that the State of Florida, under the prodding of a guy who was then the Chancellor of Education (I forget his name at the moment), he got the Governor and the legislature to agree to put in all this money. Thatís whatís needed to build, you can imagine, a topflight place. So right now, they have installed in power more than 40 megawatts, compared to the 10 that we had or the 20 they started with, sufficient cooling to run that totally DC now. They have a great magnet technology group that has reached 45 tesla in their hybrid magnet. They made great strides in the Bitter magnets. This is the kind of thing that takes money. We never could have done that at MIT.
Zimmerman:Plus Iím sure there are politics as well.
Rubin:Yeah, at the time that happened it was an extremely bitter pill to swallow, because we had been in business for 30 years and there was no competition! You look at the proposals and they didnít compare, which is why we had that 28 to 2 advantage. But Bloch saw into the future and realized how important the financial support would be.
Zimmerman:Bloch was at the NSF?
Rubin:Yeah, he was the head of NSF at that time. He had come from IBM. If it hadnít been for him, they would have been forced to follow their protocol, which is to agree to do what the reviewers suggested at 28 to 2. But he could override that. As it turned out, when MIT said they would appeal to the National Science Board, there has never been an example of the Science Board overruling an NSF, and so that was hopeless. But I well remember that summer of 1990 trying to get that done, and it never had a chance.
Zimmerman:I do remember the proposal about one foot high, was three volumes I believe. Thatís Dave LitsterÖ
Oh yes, Dave Litster was the director at that time. Ben Lax had been forced to retire. Dave was the first director after him, followed by Peter Wolff. Peter Wolff was there for about five years. No, Iíve got that wrong. Peter Wolff took over from Ben Lax, and then Dave Litster, and when Litster became Vice President of Research, Bob Griffin, the present director who was in the NMR component — the lab had a very strong (NMR group).. Started by Leo Neuringer in the early í70s, high field NMR was made possible because of the advent of superconducting magnets. Heís the one that really should be credited with starting and growing, starting with NMR but going through all kinds of resonance: EPR, ion, cyclotron — the whole bit. Bob Griffin was a post-doc near the beginning, and he became the director around the early Ď90s, and heís been there ever since. Heís done a very good job. Keeping the lab going, even after the high field facility was shut down, thereís got to be a score of superconducting magnets including magnets as high as 20 tesla and 19 tesla, wide bore, so that they can really do many more types of experiments than they can in say a 2 or 5 centimeter bore magnet. One of these magnets, the highest one, is located where the generators used to be. They redid that whole facility.
Zimmerman:They threw the generators out?
Rubin:They cut them up, which was quite a sight to see because they were too big to get out. They were originally put in with no roof and dropped in by a crane. When they looked at the problem of taking them apart, they wound up cutting them with torches. That was really a sight, just cutting into pieces that could be hauled out. All the copper bus was removed. In fact everything was removed but the so-called cells that the magnets were in; theyíre still here. Theyíre the remainders of what used to be there; they were just converted into regular laboratory space. Whatís happened in the past years is MIT has used that primarily for groups around the Institute that have to move for a year or two while their place is being refurbished. Most recently, the spectroscopy lab. Itís been very helpful for them, and my guess is that will continue. But thatís just on the first floor. The upper four floors are all made up of the resonance groups.
(The Low Temperature Group: Jagadeesh Moodera, Bob Tedrow and Bob Meservey), the three of them recently got some awards.
Rubin:Yes, Meservey and Tedrow started that program when we had a research staff. This was way back when AFOSR was funding. Jagadeesh wasnít there yet.
Zimmerman:Manny (Emanuel) Maxwell was there.
Rubin:Well, there were a few carryovers because from the time we got the word the lab was closed and that the funding was stopping, they gave us four-year carryover from í91 to í95. During that time, thatís when people had to leave. It turned out that thatís when Manny lost his support and Meservey and Tedrow were the only groups I could think of that are very small but still had funding, it was a small segment of the magnet technology, Yuki Iwasa and Jagadeesh, and thatís all. They were able to continue because they got independent support. There wasnít any NSF left to draw from.
Zimmerman:Well Jagadeesh has done some great work in giant magneto-resistance.
Rubin:I was so happy to see them get the Buckley Prize, particularly the three of them, because I know when that started. Jagadeesh has a pretty good size group on the second floor. He has run students and post-docs through there. They have about three, four, or five lab spaces. Yuki Iwasa has three or four lab spaces. So, if you look at that lab and had visited after many yearsÖ for example, if you were to go back, what you would notice is that the remnants include Iwasa and Jagadeesh, and up until three years ago Si Foner still was running his pulsed field magnet. When he (Si Foner) stopped running and gave up his duties with the Review of Scientific Instruments, I knew something was wrong. He was very secretive so I donít know exactly what it was, but thatís when I knew there was a problem. That was about three years ago. He passed away in October of 2007. He was certainly a linchpin of the laboratory for the things that he did. He helped a number of users, whether they were doing magnetometry or not, he was a guiding light. But since his operation is no longer there, the only two that are still (there) are (only) the two that we mentioned. But thereís a lot of work going on in, they say, NMR and other resonance. Its state of the art, and Bob Griffin has managed to keep support, primarily from NIH, and itís extremely well supported, and he deserves a lot of credit for that. He is now the longest serving director since Ben Lax. When I said goodbye to him — because he was good to me, enabling me to stay in my office I recognized the fact that I wouldnít have had an office in the Magnet Lab if it werenít for his ability to keep that lab going.
One of the things I would like to mention, since weíre talking history, I was approached in 1992 about taking over what had been a brand new program, the tutorials at the APS March meeting. Peter Wolff started that in 1992, and he said he only took it for temporary (as a temporary assignment); would I be interested in taking that over? This was for the í93 meeting. And I did. From í93 to 2003, 11 years, I ran the tutorial program, which was successful in terms of attendance because people came to that meeting on Saturday. You may remember, you could then save a lot of money on airfare if you stayed over Saturday night. That was a driving force behind that, because people had to be there by 8 oíclock Sunday morning. That means they had to come in Saturday, and they did. So we ran eight tutorial courses, four in the morning; four in the afternoon, for eleven years. It was a very labor-intensive thing to do because it was strictly up to me to get people who were willing to speak.
Zimmerman:Where did you get them from?
Rubin:All over. The guiding protocol was try to get topics that the people who are attending the meeting would be interested in, so you knew just which divisions, groups, and forums — well this was before the forums started, divisions and topical groups would be interested in. So yes, there was condensed matter, but there was biology, there was polymer physics. In fact, when the forum on industrial and applied physics started, I remember Judy Franz requested that I try and get them involved, and I did, so we always had at least one tutorial that covered that. Then it was up to me to dig up speakers. Well, if you donít dig up the speakers, you get the people who will run a session and they find the speakers. But they tell you what kind of subject matter, or I suggest it to them, and the net result is you wind up with eight subjects run by eight different people, and they look around for speakers. The fee for giving a speech was then only $200. We couldnít pay expenses, so I worried whether this would work out. It turned out it worked out very well. It was very seldom a problem in getting the full eight with their quota of speakers.
Zimmerman:Were the attendees charged anything?
Rubin:Yes, we started with a dual thing, students paid around $60 bucks and non-students were maybe $75 or $80. That has since gone up to about $100 dollars for everybody. But you know, thatís a fee thatís not so bad. Thatís $100 per session. But only a few people were interested in more than one because the subjects usually were spread. The reason it was morning and afternoon, and the reason I divided it up, so that if I thought there was a conflict, conflict in this case meaning that somebody would like to attend two, they were morning and afternoon. Weíve had not an average but a low from about 20 attendees to 200, with an average being about 75 to 100.
Rubin:Per session. When I retired from that in í93, I got somebody to take over, David Jiles. He did it for five years, and right now Mark Johnson from NRL is just starting this year to do that. Iím the one that was responsible for getting that going. I found that that was a very enjoyable thing. I can mention that among the people that I got to do this were three future Nobel Prize winners, so I think I chose pretty well.
Zimmerman:You could be on the Nobel Prize committee!
Rubin:Yes. One of the things that I did, which is long forgotten, back in the middle í90s, you know the Topical Groups each had and still do the right to sessions at the March meeting including three invited paper sessions. I thought that we needed something different, basically entertainment instead of straight technical stuff. So I decided to begin, or at least try, what I thought of as an irreverent session. It was strictly up to each group to decide, and they said go ahead. So, Iím the first one that got Jim Randi, Randi the Great. This was a guy who has since achieved great fame as a debunker of voodoo science. Randi, and of course Bob Park. I formed a session with four speakers that was meant to entertain. In other words, people would really be enjoying the presentations. The guy who was managing the APS meeting, Mike Scanlon thought so highly of that, that the very first session that I did, he printed just that session in the bulletin upside down. We used to have those pocket cards — he did it there too. So my session for the first and only time was printed upside down, and it was standing room only. People were literally sitting in the aisles. I did those sessions for about three or four more years. We featured at least one of the irreverent sessions. I would just like to have that on the record, that that was a great idea. Iím afraid no one has continued that. Incidentally, Bob Park is a great asset, or was to the APS. I assume you got Whatís New?
Zimmerman:Yes, they were very nice publications. I liked them.
Rubin:He had and still has the right idea. Thatís my connection with the APS.
Zimmerman:Itís pretty intimate, I would say.
Rubin:Yes. And Physics Today, I have been since the beginning a guiding light of the Buyerís Guide. They invented it, and a year later they asked me to join. So Iíve been doing this ever since, for 24 years. I am still the Chairman of that committee, in addition to the New Products column, I have written something like 20 book reviews for Physics Today in a lot of different fields. So I feel like my life in physics has been very enjoyable, particularly because of all of these side interests.
Zimmerman:Gloria Lubkin, do you know Gloria?
Rubin:Oh, very well.
Zimmerman:Sheís now the Chairman of the Forum on the History of Physics.
Rubin:I hoped that I would see her at the Pittsburgh meeting, and I did. She is working now only two days a week and I well remember when she was ousted from her job as editor. But she took that; there wasnít much she could do about it. They have kept her on part-time. She was great. She doesnít do a lot now. She doesnít do much writing, but she certainly was a key person in Physics Today, one of the most through the years.
Zimmerman:Tell me something about your magnet lab days. I know you kept the whole place going, and you were in on some history-making experiments, and you enabled those experiments.
Rubin:The fascinating thing about being in a laboratory thatís offering facilities that arenít available elsewhere means that once somebody dreams up an experiment that happens to require a high field, theyíre going to come to you — there wasnít a choice. When they came in, there were groups that were very familiar with what was needed in terms of measurement techniques, but there were a lot of people who needed help. That was one of the enjoyable things that I was able, with the help of my own staff, people like Bruce Brandt, to say, ďNo, you donít do it that way. Why donít you try this?Ē Never insist, just try this. And since we knew more about making efficient and accurate measurements, it almost always worked out. That was certainly an enjoyable part. The biggest responsibility I had was choosing who would get time in the fields.
Zimmerman:That was your decision?
Rubin:It turns out that I made the decisions based on the fact that anybody that looked like they knew what they were doing and had an interesting experiment, why not let them in for a few shifts, maybe half a dozen. If it turns out that it was unsuccessful, well they didnít return. NSF, when they took over, was not impressed with this technique after ten or so years, the fact that there was no overseeing by a panel of experts, even though we were able to show this long list of publications every year. Why would you object to having somebody come in and only run this short set of experiments? It wasnít very costly, and they just didnít come back if it didnít work out. But with success in the first runs, you did come back, and hereís where these papers came from. This lasted for, I would say, í64 to about the early í80s.
Finally NSF said, ďYou have to get some reviewers.Ē So we started that, that it has to be overseen. Since they left it up to me, how we arranged it, what I did is that when somebody had spent some minimum amount of magnet hours, we made a cutoff. If you used more than that, you had to write what amounted to a retroactive proposal, showing what you did and what you want to do in the future. We sent that out to two reviewers. The most difficult part of that was getting two reviewers that I knew would be acceptable to NSF, you know those people who are known in the field. This meant ex-users, of course, how else would we know? So, we did this and averaged their scores. It kept growing of course, as the number of people reached more than the magic number. The reviews came back extremely high; the excellents far outnumbered even the very goods. I was very pleased with that, of course! NSF was not pleased with that. They had pictured that there would be a bell curve. I mean this is seriously what happened! And based on the bell curve, you pick the high end for future users and you discard the others. It wasnít possible to do that because 80% of all the proposals were rated excellent and very good
But we kept doing that, and I have to say that right until the end, NSF I think considered me a thorn in their side, and they were delighted when it moved to Florida and they got them to do things just the way they thought it should be. Right now there are two or three levels of review. They do it six months in advance. Itís very much more formal than we did. But in terms of my own activities, yes, I basically, once in a while I would go up to see Ben Lax, for example, if there was an experiment that I wasnít familiar with, if it sort of broke new ground. I asked him if it was all right with him, he was the director, and he never turned me down. We did fields that covered, in addition to Physics, we were in chemistry, biology, engineering. I remember the first time we did the levitation experiment with frogsí eggs, where we found that the frogsí eggs had a sufficient diamagnetic component that if you went in our higher field magnets where HdH/dx was high enough, you actually could do levitation. Now these days thatís a big thing. But the first levitation experiments were done in our magnet lab. The variety was enormous, but basically it was solid-state physics.
Of course, Horst StŲrmer and Dan Tsui, and Bob Laughlin (who was only there once), so I got to know them very well. Needless to say, we were very pleased and delighted when they won the Nobel (Prize). This happened very late in our existence, but while we were still a magnet lab, Bob Griffin took great pleasure and had big plaques mentioning the Nobel Prize awarded to StŲrmer, Tsui, and Laughlin. That was the only Nobel Prize that we won as a direct result, but we were visited by people like other Nobel laureates who had done their work, for example, at Grenoble. Whatís the name of the guy that discovered the Quantum Hall Effect, the guy from Germany, Von Klitzing. He came over to see our laboratory and was very impressed with what we had. But past Nobel Prize winners, it was sufficient to have good papers published realizing that that work was done only because we have sufficiently high fields and all the associated equipment, cryogenics, electronic, whatever was needed Thermometry, where as you know we were at the forefront of developing high field thermometers, which was a very great problem early on because the kinds of things you normally used to measure temperatures — Iím not talking below 1K, but all the way down to 1K, there was a window from 4 to 1 where you could use vapor pressure. That was field-independent, but all the way down, you could no longer use platinum thermometers.
Zimmerman:They were dependent on the magnetic field.
Much too great. Thermocouples also had magnetic (field dependence and so did RTDs).
Zimmerman:Howard Sample? (From Tufts University)
Rubin:Howard Sample was a very, very good friend. We wrote a lot of papers together, with Bruce Brandt. That was one of my worst days when Howard had that heart attack. He was a marvelous experimentalist.
Zimmerman:He was younger than I was.
Rubin:He just had the right touch, and in addition to that he was a marvelous human being. Our experiments in deciding what thermometers, what their magnetic field component was, which was very tricky because how did you know what the right temperature was when you were measuring the thermometers that had errors? That turned out to be mostly a combination of capacitance thermometry, which we knew didnít have an error by checking those thermometers against things like vapor pressure at various points. It turned out that there was one thermometer that stood out: the carbon glass. Germanium was hopeless, platinum was hopeless, but carbon glass, which was invented by Bill Lawless at Corning, and shortly after with carbon resistance thermometers. We looked at all of these, but the carbon glass was the key, particularly when a company like Lake Shore Cryotronics decided to sell those. So we did a whole series of papers on all the thermometers, and it showed up that capacitance and carbon glass were the thermometers of choice. Thatís what people used for 20 years in doing all these experiments. That was certainly a very enjoyable thing to see, our work being used to the fullest extent. These days, carbon glass isnít used. Lake Shore makes an oxynitride sensor which we also did field dependence on. Thatís the thermometer thatís used down to about 1K. Below 1K, theyíre tending to use theÖ
Rubin:No, diodes have a big field dependence too. Itís the Ruthenium Oxide RTD . Of course, we also used at the very low temperatures, in addition to vapor pressure, we used solid helium. We had those thermometers. We used NMR when we went low enough. We had all the thermometers, and because of the experience I had in thermometry, I guess the thing I can point to with the most pride is the International Temperature Symposia, which are held every ten years starting in 1939. In 1972 they asked me to work on that symposium as an editor, and then I became the overall director of that program as the general chairman in í82, í92, and 2002. For three consecutive Symposiums, I was the chief guy. That was NIST (which started out of course as the Bureau of Standards), ISA, and AIP — those were the three groups that put those conferences together where the NIST people become the program chairmen. When they asked me to do that in 2002, I had to think about that because I was retired. But yes, I did it, and we had a great session in Chicago. A couple of months ago, I heard from NIST that theyíre doing their 2012 in California, and I wasnít being asked again to run it but if I wanted to be active. I finally turned them down. I said Iím not really up to all the latest. The beautiful thing about the Temperature Symposium is it includes the work on the standard temperature scale. Thatís where you make all the advances and report on it. That was always fascinating, experiments with very high accuracy and precision. So thermometry and to a lesser extent magnetic field measurements were really what I specialized in.
Zimmerman:I donít know if you remember when I was working with Manny, we were doing our adiabatic demagnetization experiments.
Rubin:Oh yeah, down in cell 2 with that four inch magnet!
Zimmerman:Right. Actually we got down to below a Millidegree.
Rubin:I remember all of that.
Zimmerman:The temperature scale in that region was not quite certain, so we did establish a little bit of the temperature scale down there.
Rubin:Thatís right. Back in those days they really didnít know what should be done. So I remember — was Charlie Chase involved with that too?
Zimmerman: I and Charlie Chase did the critical point measurement of Helium 3 at higher temperatures.
Rubin:Charlie was really quite a guy.
Zimmerman:He took very, very precise measurements. He took the best measurement I ever did without a magnet actually. It was Charlie Chase.
Rubin:Do you remember what year that was done in?
Zimmerman:I have it in the publication, but probably around í67, Iíd say about.
Rubin:Yeah, the late í60s. Charlie, at that time, around í67, was serving a term as an RSI editor. When his term was up in í68, he asked me if I would be interested. That started the very long connection Iíve had with RSI ever since. I owe that to Charlie, because heís the one that came up with that. I was the chair of one of their reviews done by AIP, and then another committee. At one point I had reviewed actually hundreds of papers on thermometry and magnetic things. But it all started with Charlie bringing me up. I remember those days, because I had just been there for three or four years, but I remember that cell with the 4D over in the corner.
Zimmerman:Well, we had to lift the magnet and do all kinds of things.
Rubin:That was standard, lifting magnets.
Zimmerman:Oh the early days that was rare.
Rubin:Yes, but that idea of having to move them, that became more and more possible, but yours was one of the first, and it was an experiment — I said cell 2, it wasnít; it was cell 1 in the corner, which is the corner that the Hybrid 3 eventually got put a long time later. There was an experiment on ball lightning in that cell later on.
Zimmerman:Was the Tokamak there too?
Rubin:That started in the early í70s. We had to clear out. No, the first Tokamak was in cell 2, the adjoining cell, Alcator A, the MIT version of the Tokamak. Then when they went to C, they moved it into the big cell. I have to say for the record that that was not one of my most pleasurable experiences, having to host the Alcator experiment. Because they couldnít use DC fields, they needed pulse fields, and in order to run their experiments we had to use the circuit breakers, which is the final emergency protection between the power supply and the magnets.. It was for safety and it wasnít meant to be constantly triggered. But it was used for each one of their pulses, and it eventually broke down. The thing Iíll always remember as being so unfair was we had to buy new ones, (breakers). I said, well, we do need new ones but of course Alcator should pay for it. Ben Lax agreed to take on half the cost. At the time, that was a lot of money. I felt that was as unfair as you could be. It was like five million bucks. Those breakers were destroyed strictly by the Alcator. The people at Alcator couldnít have cared less about the rest of the magnet lab. They looked at it as a source of high current pulses for their machine. When they moved out, after staying in cell 1 for years, to their own building down the street — Well, theyíre still going, but having to make time for them for their experiments instead of real experiments with the DC fields was, I felt, very unfair.
Zimmerman:Not quite recently but a few years ago, we used the power supply for testing a superconducting lead.
Rubin:You used the Alcator, the pulse power supply? Oh you just use it at low-level DC when our generators were gone.
Zimmerman:Right. We put ten kiloamps there.
Rubin:Yes, that power supply was an old Edison electric generator, which was brought in from New York. Oh no, Iím sorry, you used the DC. Yeah, that was a rectifier. But their big pulse machine was a New York City Edison generator that was brought here on a, I remember what a journey that was, on barge and train. It was converted to make big pulses by using a flywheel and storing the energy and then pulsing. The conversion was managed by Jim Rose, an ex-GE engineer. Oh yeah, you came when they just had 10,000 amps for the power supply. They still have that stuff over there in the building. Theyíve had a pretty large group. Bruce Montgomery still has his ownÖ
Zimmerman:He retired, I think.
Rubin:Yes, but he has an office there and has his own thing. But thereís still a good size group there. I said goodbye to them all.
Zimmerman:Is it Joe Minervini who is the Director of theÖ
Rubin:Well, the Plasma Fusion Center, now I donít even remember who it is. It used to be Ron Parker way back when it started, but the peopleÖ
Zimmerman:Bruce Montgomeryís portrait is there.
Rubin:Oh yes. That building NW17 and building NW21 are still working on superconductivity, which is where you use the power supply. I have lunch with a lot of those guys, because many of them wound up coming from the magnet lab, specifically all the technicians who used to work for me.
Zimmerman:Anything that you would like to remember, or are there any memorable things that happened at the magnet lab, as far as youíre concerned?
Rubin:The magnet lab was a very good blend of the technical and people interacting socially. We always had a Christmas party, and early on certainly other affairs that got people together strictly on a social basis, which I always felt was important to have in a laboratory. People there got along very well. The size of the staff was small, considering what we accomplished, particularly for the high field experiments. But it grew later on because of the NMR. I mean the upper two floors and eventually the upper four floors became mostly that. Those two sections of the NMR and the high field facility they did very little interaction. It was two entirely different operations. And whatís left there now is the NMR. But when we had the social events, they certainly took part in it. We gave them advice on measurement.
One of the most interesting things I can think of in running the place was it was up to me to get new instruments, so I was always on the lookout for instruments I felt that added additional efficiency and accuracy. That was both in the DC and in the AC measurements. When lock-ins became widely available, that was the instrument of choice, and boxcars (boxcar integrator). All of that technology at one time had to be learned. That was certainly a part of instrument and measurement science. In fact, I wrote papers on which lock-ins may be the best without trying to commercialize it, but just giving numbers. Then I picked the best pre-amps for low level AC and then the DC. I became involved with Keithley Instruments because they produced what I felt were the best DC instruments. We had a very good instrument room, and as a result, whether it was thermometry or DC or AC measurements with various power supplies, we really developed the techniques for measurements. After all, if you were measuring resistance, which was true whether it was Hall effect type or the resistive type, it meant you needed good current supplies and good voltmeters, and when it got down to very low levels, AC. The thermometry that went with that and all of the cryogenics was also our responsibility. I had a small hydrogen facility.
Zimmerman:I thought they had their own outfit.
Rubin:What happened was it was clear there were certain experiments that would benefit from being able to immerse in liquid hydrogen. But there were very stringent qualifications needed set up by MIT, so what we did is we would buy 160 liters of hydrogen, store it outside the building, do all the transfer of the hydrogen outside the building, we would wheel the dewar out. This was out the back door that you got to from where the first hybrid was. You would top it off, and when you brought it in to where the magnet was, you immediately connected it to an exhaust pump so as to minimize the chances of there being any hydrogen gas. We had a large sell to make to the MIT people to convince them to allow us to do that. But we had all of the vapor pressure measurement gauges and that was a very convenient range, from 20 to 14 K. So if people made advance reservations for that, we did hydrogen experiments several times a year. We got used to doing that. I even remember doing a neon experiment once or twice, but of course helium was the key thing, and then later on helium 3 and the dilution refrigerators.
One thing I remember fondly, you know when the dilution refrigerators came along, the key thing was the gas handling system. That was really the principal thing. We had a user; his name was John Woollam, who worked at NASA Lewis when they were still NASA Lewis. He used to come to the lab to do experiments, and when he left NASA Lewis to go to the University of Nebraska, he wondered if we wanted his old gas handling system. I said, ďWell sure, but how are you going to get it here?Ē He hired a truck, and he personally drove the system here. Itís still in cell 2, and we used it for years. I never forgot that. John Woollam has a successful business in ellipsometry, J.A. Woollam Company. Iíll always remember him for bringing the gas handling system. Any history of the magnet lab, I think that should appear as a separate thing that a user contributed to our facility as an expression of his gratitude.
Zimmerman:It was worth it. By the way, you went through the period where you had vacuum tubes up with integrated circuits, and you went through the period of taking data by hand to eight and a half inch disks.
Rubin:Donít forget paper tape, yes. Oh, youíre absolutely right; when I got there it was vacuum tubes. I also used magnetic amplifiers, but the 6SN7 tubes will always remain in my memory. Of course the Tektronix scopes that we had used the miniature tubes. I still left some scopes there, and they work fine.
Zimmerman:Yes, I still have some in my lab.
Rubin:Not just transistors, but the data taking, yes. We started with strip chart and XY pen recorders and then punch cards. We went to paper tape, then magnetic tape, and finally we had PDP8s as one of our first computers. Each time that we decided to change because it was an improvement, we had Scott Hannahs around to help us. I donít know if you ever met Scott?
Zimmerman:I donít think I have.
Rubin:He was our computer guru who worked with Bruce Brandt and me. He moved to the magnet lab in Florida when Bruce moved. Now that Bruce is retired, which you may not know, he retired a year ago last July. Interestingly, he spent a year in China helping them to develop a new magnet laboratory. They needed him to give them pointers, and Bruce is a very close friend. He decided to go there first for three months, then a year. The year came to an end in March, and he showed up at the March meeting for our anniversary celebration.
Zimmerman:Was that í08 or í09?
Rubin:This year. Heís been from í08 to í09. He thinks heís given them as much information as heís able to. But they know that they can contact him if something else comes up, and that he can take a trip back if necessary. He didnít think he wanted to stay on. A year is a long time to spend in China, wow. So I asked him if he was going to go back to the Florida lab, like I went back to MIT. But it turns out his wife doesnít want to stay in Tallahassee, so instead, he may wind up — they have children in Maine and California, and now they have grandchildren in both places. Well, his daughter lives not far from Bowdoin, and we have an ex-student there who has invited Bruce to spend time at that lab. So he may wind up continuing his technical work in Bowdoin. I certainly plan to keep in touch with him. He was partly responsible for the Florida lab being successful. He learned at the MIT lab, and that worked out very well. Something that started that badly for us, certainly, all the people found jobs, even the technicians, and the staff people in general all found good jobs. Yaacov Shapira, who you know, he just retired. He was a professor at Tufts, which he enjoyed.
Zimmerman:Thereís no cure for old age.
Rubin:No, Iím afraid not. The thing Iíll always remember about old age was William F. Buckley years ago, when he was asked what kind of health he was in, his answer was, ďWell, infirm, but nothing unique or terminal.Ē I thought that was a good description. Thatís the way I feel, certainly, and itís nothing unique, all the aches and pains. The only difference is Iím now in a facility which is, yes, senior living, and you can do independent living, but in the same place as all the help that you need if you have to go to assisted living.
Zimmerman:Where do you live now?
Rubin:This is Mercer Island, Washington. I came here because I have family on the Island. Downtown Seattle is to the West, itís right on the water. Then as you go inland, the first city you come to is Mercer Island. It is an island. Itís an upscale community. The downtown part of Mercer Island has all of the facilities within walking distance of the place that I moved into, which just opened last September. There are a lot of elderly people there. I play bridge every week. One partner is 95, and another oneís 89, and another oneís 86: Three women, so Iím the only male and the baby of the group.
Zimmerman:Anything about the relationship of MIT and the magnet lab?
Rubin:[Chuckles] It was never very good.
Zimmerman:I didnít think so.
Rubin:The reason was Ben Lax didnít get along with the people in the physics department of which he was a part, least of all with the president and all of the upper management. The reason was that he always felt that we were never given enough support. Yes, we were supported first by the Air Force and then NSF, but he always felt MIT should contribute something, and all they did was they took a very huge chunk of our budget for overhead. So instead of being a positive contribution, it was negative. He constantly complained about that, which is never a pleasant thing for the people. I always remember when Francis Low took over the job as provost, this was in the starting of the í80s, and they invited him over to meet everybody. We had a two-hour session with all of our people there, and all that happened was Ben bitterly complained to him and used language that you just donít use to the provost. Extremely embarrassing. And that was a very good example of how Ben Lax and MIT interacted. Eventually, they took their revenge by forcing him to retire at 65. Not retire as professor because they couldnít, but forced to give up the magnet lab as director, which they could do. He complained about that because he could point to other cases where that hadnít been done. We all knew that was going to happen.
I found that several people at MIT never thought very highly of the magnet lab. They thought of it as just a userís facility that didnít do MIT any good because we didnít reach out as much as we were supposed to too the MIT staff. Itís true that of the total user community, the MIT people only ran 10 or 15% of the experiments. But they thought it was just a user facility and not a great advantage to MIT. So it was more than just Ben Lax. I think we were an orphan, and it always felt that the fact that Alcator came aboard and were forced on us as part of that same syndrome.
So yes, you raised a tender point. It didnít affect me or my operation. I had very little to do with MIT, except consulting, though I was glad to work there. We had our own support. We picked who was going to run. MIT professors were welcome. But I didnít go around trying to dream up new experiments for those people. If they were interested in coming, sure, we welcomed them. Thatís another thing: they thought we should have had funds available for their professors to come over. We didnít pay for any external usersí experiments. We didnít even pay for the helium. The usersí sole expense was for liquid helium, and you may well remember that, and we kept that until the very end. We always made sure helium was available, and then we billed the people afterwards for the amount they used.
Zimmerman:Did you have a liquefier, or it was the MIT cryogenics lab?
Rubin:Yes, that was at the MIT cryogenics lab. Later on thatís where we wound up getting it. Originally we used to buy helium outside, but then when Joe Smith really got that liquefier running and was willing to sell helium, first of all we bought all our helium from him. Then secondly, we installed a gas line and gas bag. We didnít recover gas in all the experiments, but in things like the hybrid magnet and the dilution refrigerator, local things that you could easily connect, we did collect gas and send it back and got credit for it. Not a lot, but it helped. Yes, that liquefier supplied all of our helium. Itís still going. Joe Smith has retired, but I understand heís still active. That facility was very useful, having that truck just come down. You just called in a week in advance for ordering the helium. That was a very necessary part of a lab like ours, where you used so much helium. Yes, Iím glad you brought that up.
Iím trying to think. We talked about cryogenics, measurements, and thermometry and the arrangement with MIT and the APS. We didnít have any other strong interaction with other societies other than APS and AIP. The NMR people were all members of the American Chemical Society, and probably a lot for biology. But IEEE, there were a lot of members, but other than the fact that I helped develop a chapter with, surprise, instrumentation and measurement, the Boston Chapter of Instrumentation and Measurement Society of IEEE, we had that. I helped get that started in 1962. Thatís still around. But in the lab, other than using it for evening meetings, there was no strong connection. We really were doing physics as opposed to EE.
Zimmerman:Okay, well I guess thank you.
Rubin:Does that cover it?
Zimmerman:It feels like that covers it.
Rubin:I think so. I really appreciate the chance to unload. It covers a long period of time. The worst thing in my career was losing the lab in 1990. As Iíve said, it was the right thing for the country. Bloch made that statement, that for the future of the country itís the right thing to do. We couldnít see that at the time, but looking back now, as much as I hate to give him credit, that was the right thing to do. It is the outstanding facility in the world. They have the most power, the best magnets, and even though there are four, five or six other laboratories, nobody has the extent and magnitude of facilities that Florida has for DC fields and for the pulsed fields. You know Los Alamos is shooting for 100 tesla. Theyíre up to 80. They invited me down once for this, is an interesting experiment. In order to produce a field of 100 tesla, it can only be done for about a microsecond using implosive technology. They had a project out there, Project Tesla, where they were going to shoot for that. They invited me out there. And Jim Brooks was there doing an experiment. I saw their experiment going in the pit, and there was this beautiful set of microwave plumbing and cryogenics that all went in this thing. They blew it up. One pulse, and they got this one microsecond pulse and the whole experiment disappeared. I never got over that. That was rather an expensive way, but they achieved their high field. They got the experiment they wanted. But I appreciated their inviting me out there because thereís nothing like that when you see it.. These days they can get close enough to that without using implosive technology, using a combination of capacitors and the energy stored in that rotating machine. Theyíve achieved 80 tesla, and itís a longer pulse there in the hundreds of microseconds, which makes a big difference. So I think the days of the implosive are gone. They no longer need them. They can get close enough, but thatís a very interesting type of magnet technology.
One other thing, the Director of the Florida Magnet Laboratory, Jack Crow passed (away) about three years ago. The man whoís running it was one of our old graduate students, Greg Boebinger. He was a student of Horst Störmer and Dan Tsui, and in 1984, when they achieved the first combination of 28 tesla and 3 milliK, or some number like that, on the old hybrid magnet; I took a picture of it with a Polaroid camera. Grinning over the dewar is Stormer with his then long hair, Greg Boebinger, Dan Tsui, (and) a couple of other people. That photograph we kept when they won the Nobel Prize. We asked them to put that up in the lobby of the Florida Magnet Lab, which they declined doing. But we have a picture thatís on display showing that.
Zimmerman:Where is it displayed?
Rubin:On the first floor in the magnet lab, when you go back to where the largest superconducting magnets are kept. In other words, you come in the main door, instead of going to the left where the old magnet cells used to be you go straight through to where the generators used to be. There used to be big red doors, but instead of going through those doors you go to the left. What you wind up seeing is a display. It has the experimental details of the StŲrmer experiment, and Iím pretty sure thatís where they put that photograph. Well, Greg Boebinger is now the director. So what goes around comes around. Thatís a very good description.
Zimmerman:Well thank you, Larry.