Oral History Transcript — Dr. Norman Ramsey
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Interview with Dr. Norman Ramsey
Norman Ramsey; November 23, 1976
ABSTRACT: This interview focuses on Ramey's experiences as a member of the Harvard Physics Department but also includes information on his early training in physics and his position during World War II. Contains coverage of his own research and inter-university activities before and after coming to Harvard. Discusses his work with students at undergraduate and graduate levels and his involvement with educational innovations and administrative duties at Harvard. Includes comments on women in physics and the job opportunities available to both women and men in physics.
SopkaThis is Katherine Sopka speaking. I'm visiting today, November 23rd, 1976 with Professor Norman Ramsey in his office in the Lyman Laboratory. In the interest of compiling a history of the Harvard Physics Department in recent decades, Professor Ramsey has kindly consented to share with me his recollections of events, episodes and trends that have shaped the course of that history since his arrival at Harvard as an associate professor in 1947. Professor Ramsey, perhaps we can begin by asking you about your early training and about the circumstances surrounding your coming to Harvard from Columbia University.
Ramsey:As an undergraduate student, I was at Columbia University in New York City and originally was a pre-engineering student. I was really interested in physics, but I didn't even know what the subject was at that time or know that physics was a profession you could be in as opposed to a subject you could take in a class, and I started off therefore my freshman year as a pre-engineer. I found that was rather unsatisfactory since it was at that time at Columbia very much geared to use of handbooks and very little geared to understanding what was fundamental in the subject, and then in my sophomore year I switched from engineering to mathematics as what I thought was closer to me, and in fact when I was in my senior year at Columbia I had a graduate teaching assistantship in the mathematics department even though I was an undergraduate, but by about that time I was learning that physics was really my preference and it was just a matter of learning what the field was. So when Columbia gave me a fellowship to be for two years a student at Cambridge University, it really was the sponsorship of the mathematics department that gave me the fellowship. I said I would accept it if I could use this to change from mathematics to physics, and did so while at Cambridge. And while at Cambridge I was studying with Rutherford who was then still there as the head of the department, J. J. Thompson was master of Trinity College but still giving lectures in the physics department, and Cockcroft was one of the young instructors, and really quite a stellar array of great physicists there. Fowler was in the mathematics department teaching theoretical physics; Dirac was in the mathematics department teaching theoretical physics. I took courses from most of them, but they were primarily courses in experimental physics. I had already received a Bachelor's degree from Columbia University. Then at Cambridge University I actually obtained a second Bachelor's degree. It was rather quite a different definition of the category of degrees, and in fact once you obtain a Bachelor's degree from Cambridge you automatically get a series, if you do any reasonable research and stay out of jail, which is the only real requirement, you can automatically inflate that up to a Master's degree after four years and a Doctor of Science degree after some eight or so years. The latter I acquired quite a long time ago, so that it wasn't a total repetition even though the degrees sound the same. Then, after getting my Bachelor's degree at Cambridge University, I returned to Columbia and did my research work for my Ph.D. degree with I. I. Rabi. They allowed me to directly take my examinations in physics and not take any more of the advanced courses on the basis of the work I had done there, so it was just simply passing all the written and oral examinations. I moved immediately into research work and worked with Rabi. Initially molecular beam studies of studying, looking for magnetic moments of neon and argon was the first of the things [???]. It's an amusing thing to note that when I asked Rabi if I could work with him on molecular beams he tried to discourage me from doing so on the grounds that there really wasn't much left to the subject, all the interesting problems had been done — namely there had been measurements of the magnetic moments of the proton and deuteron to about 10 percent accuracy and it would clearly never be possible to get much more accuracy than that, and there really wasn't much future for the field. As it turned out within a few months after I'd arrived there and we'd done some preliminary experiments on neon argon and things of that kind, chiefly confirming that the magnetic moments were zero or small, the idea occurred to Rabi, and partly as a consequence of a visit of Gorter from The Netherlands, the idea occurred to Rabi of the molecular beam magnetic resonance method which suddenly gave a tremendous flowering to the subject and a large number of the major advances in physics at that time really came from that laboratory utilizing that method. And I had the good fortune of being involved in one of the first of the experiments using that method. Initially the objective of the experiment was to measure the magnetic moment of the proton and the deuteron, which we did, to theretofore unprecedented accuracy. And in the course of doing that, I was doing this work really jointly with Rabi and Zacharias. I was working primarily under Rabi's supervision, but jointly also with Zacharias who was then an instructor at Hunter College, later became a professor at MIT and Jerry Kellogg, who was at that laboratory, and our initial experiment, as I said, was measuring the magnetic moment of proton and the deuteron, which we did. And then with this brand new method it became apparent that what we saw was really rather different from what we expected. We expected to see a very simple single resonance for the magnetic moment associated with the magnetic moment of the proton for example, due simply to the frequency that was the Larmor precession frequency of the proton in the external magnetic field. Instead of that we saw a rather confusing bit of structure, wasn't quite sure what it was and whether it was even to be believed, and I essentially took on initially as my Ph.D. thesis the investigation of this structure. As the investigation proceeded, it became apparent that the structure became understandable if you used weak values of the oscillatory magnetic fields — much weaker than we had been using up to that time. And it then also became apparent that this was indeed due to the internal reactions within the hydrogen molecule. The magnetic moment of the proton interacting with the magnetic moment of the other proton and the rotational magnetic of the molecule and all of this could be determined. In fact it became apparent that this was really quite a major thing, so it started out to be my Ph.D. thesis. It was felt that we should join together again on this as a group as a whole rather than my getting the whole thing for myself, and we then made similar measurements on the deuteron, and that's what led to the discovery of the quadrupole moment of the deuteron out of that structure, the fact that this was not a spherically symmetric nucleus but was in fact essentially a cigar-shaped, as elongated in one direction. And, with that my Ph.D. thesis was shifted really to a different subject, partly because it had been too fruitful rather than too unfruitful. And then I took for my Ph.D. thesis the measurement of rotational magnetic moments of molecules; namely the fact that molecules such as hydrogen, deuterium are rotating, they have charge distribution, and clearly they have a magnetic moment. We measured these, found how they varied from one isotope to another, and it's a subject that also later proved to have a good many implications in other directions. This brought me to the end of my work at Columbia. I received a fellowship to the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Washington D.C. which was then a high-energy laboratory directed by Merle Tuve. Among the Tuve high-energy of the operating machines, the highest energy one was then the high-energy of 1 million electron volts, which seems rather small by present standards. They were also working on a 3 million electron volt much bigger accelerator, but I was primarily involved doing experiments with the smaller one. There were two of us who had parallel fellowships that year, and we did our work mostly collaboratively. One was Jim Van Allen, who was later best known for the Van Allen Belts, and later went to the University of Iowa. He had also gotten his Ph.D. from Iowa earlier and we worked together initially at that period on neutron proton scattering experiments and I did some experiments also with E. O. Salant then of New York University. I also did some experiments at that time with Norman Heisenberg on proton helium scattering, in that case utilizing this brand new accelerator which by that time had come into operation at 3 MeV of helium. After I was there really for one year two things then happened. Well, really three things then happened, all with a fair effect; one of which was I got married in the fall of that year, a second was World War II was coming on with great vigor — this was in 1940 — and the third one, I was given a position at the University of Illinois, which was a position known as associate. This shows how inflations have come in titles of positions. The position of associate at Illinois was the next grade of position below instructor. Instructor has now vanished in most places, but at that time some places such as Illinois even had a rank below instructor. If you did a good job as an associate for year or two, then you got promoted to instructor, and then you had a chance to go on the normal scale from that point on. Well, I had the position of associate, and had just been married. We arrived there settling down expectedly, we thought, for life, and bought our furniture all in Illinois in something like September of 1940, and by mid-October of 1940 I was off the radiation lab at MIT where I was working on radar work. Initially it was only expected to be for sort of a 3-month period. I would then bring some research activities of that kind back to Illinois; it soon became apparent that the work really would be done in a centralized form, and I never did get back to Illinois, though I was on leave from Illinois for approximately the first two years, from sort of 1940 to 1943. And then in 1943 I shifted and was offered a position at Columbia University, also to be on leave, so I changed from having Illinois the place I was not at to Columbia University as the place I was not at while I was in Cambridge. Well, I was — it varied from time, and then from 1940 to 1942 I was actually in Cambridge doing radar research, then in 1942 at their request I went to Washington D.C. where I became, (my official designation was) expert consultant to Secretary of War, to Mr. Stimson at the time, and on radar matters primarily working with the Air Force on trying to get their radar program going, which was really not getting well started at all at the time. It later got into a fairly major direction. And then about 1943 I was released from there and went to Los Alamos, and I was at Los Alamos there from '43 to the end of the war in '46. And then '46, '45, well, whenever the end of —
Sopka:The war ended in '45.
Ramsey:The war ended in '45. Well then I returned to Columbia in about October of '45, one of the first to leave and get back there, and immediately started research, you know, went back to the attic to see what bits of old equipment we could find, managed to put together some molecular beam apparatus, acquired my first graduate student who was Bill Neurenberg who is now director of the Scripps Oceanographic Institute, he then worked with me on molecular beam experiments. We found old equipment up in the attic, got that going, and got really quite a productive program of research started. While that was going on, Rabi and I were particularly worrying about what should be done in nuclear physics at Columbia. Particularly, we felt at the time that Columbia had really suffered a major blow during the war. Enrico Fermi had been there before the war, in fact started his research activity that led to reactors while at Columbia, but then due to the management policies of the Manhattan District during the war that activity got transferred to Chicago, so he went to Chicago, which meant that by the end of the war he was at Chicago staying on in Chicago. Chicago had fairly major nuclear facilities, including a major reactor at Argonne Lab, and Columbia had neither, and consequently we felt that we should do something about this, and on the other hand we felt it was a fairly major undertaking for Columbia alone to build such a big facility, and after some discussion we began inventing what later became the Brookhaven National Laboratory, which I think in my general vita was originally initiated by Rabi and myself. In fact, I was initially the executive secretary of the so-called initiatory university group that got this going. Well eventually we got a contract from the then Manhattan District. The laboratory got going, and I then was asked to essentially take a double capacity, which is the kind of thing I've had almost ever since. Mainly I was, while remaining as a professor at Columbia or as a I guess then associate professor at Columbia, with tenure at that time, I was also head of the physics department at Brookhaven National Laboratory as that department was building up, and in this connection obviously had quite a lot to do with Harvard, which was also a member of it. In fact Columbia and Harvard at about that time were having a bit of a struggle within their physics department, namely they were both competing to try to hire Julian Schwinger, and I was trying very hard to talk Julian out of being at Harvard but coming to Columbia, and I guess in the process I convinced them that maybe I ought to come to Harvard. In any case, the net effect was at about that same time, late 1946, beginning of '47, I was offered a position at Harvard — which I initially declined on the score I liked very much what I was doing at Columbia and what I was doing at Brookhaven, the opportunities there. But then I changed my mind a little bit later, chiefly due to the fact that, I did have to do with that job a fair amount of commuting, riding the Long Island Railroad from one job to the other. I thought I would be able to study theoretical physics and various things in physics fairly effectively while riding the Long Island Railroad, and discovered at least one of the things I was attempting to do — namely learn group theory with the aid of Eugene Wigner's book in German, that the combination of that and the Long Island Railroad and me were sort of incompatible. I wasn't really getting much out of that time. So I called Van Vleck who was then chairman of the department, and asked if the position was still open, which he said it was, and I therefore ended up by accepting that one, and with a certain degree of unhappiness on the part of my friends at both Columbia and Brookhaven came up here. I arrived here in the fall of '47. And up to that time I had never lived in the same place more than five years and in fact since we'd married in 1940, that was some seven years earlier, we never stayed in the same house for more than one year, and I have now been in the same house ever since. So that it did stabilize at that time. When I came here I had slightly a dual function to serve: I was both going to get time to teaching obviously, and then secondly was getting some molecular beam research activity going. Thirdly Robert Wilson had been here the preceding year as a professor, with the expectation of staying on, and in that connection had been designing a cyclotron to be built at Harvard. But at the end of that year he, when in fact he had been in California at the University of California at Berkeley doing much of the design work for the Harvard cyclotron, he then elected the option of going to Cornell University and becoming a professor there, which left the management of the Harvard cyclotron rather open and I was asked to serve as director of that and did so. And so we took over what was to a fair degree designed by Bob Wilson, and some of the staff that he'd built up for that purpose, but no significant amount of construction had been started at that time. A little on the building had been started. And so the first couple years I was here, my research activities were somewhat divided, partly with the construction of the Harvard cyclotron, and partly with the building's construction, mostly at that stage too of our first molecular beam apparatus. And had several excellent graduate students working in the molecular beam lab, and they did really most of that work, Howard Kolsky and Henry Silsbee and Tom Phipps, and they did indeed get a good molecular beam apparatus going rather fortunately at about that time. I had a good idea of how we could markedly increase the precision of the molecular beam resonance in measurements by a so-called separated oscillatory field form of the experiment which could, in the worst cases, double the precision of the experiments and in the most favorable cases could increase the precision by many factors, seven, eight, and sometimes many factors of ten, depending on the circumstances. Because if the magnetic fields were inhomogeneous this would average out the effects of the magnetic field, so we had really quite a large number of things that we could do. And we started off initially with molecular hydrogen-deuterium, made precision measurements of that, while at the same time running in parallel with that was the construction of the Harvard cyclotron, and when that was finished, of course, then getting research experiments going with the Harvard cyclotron. I was really quite busy with both of these research programs in what's normally considered somewhat diverse fields. As a matter of fact most of my life I've split my activities some into high-energy physics and some into low-energy physics, and that was the division at that time. Then it continued that way for a fair while. There were quite a number of things to be done with the Harvard cyclotron, and quite a number of things to be done on molecular beam experiments. I was always basically interested in the elementary interactions, so it was usually the molecule I was most interested in in molecular beam studies was H2, D2, HD, these being the sort of simplest of all molecules to be studied, and in the same token at the cyclotron I was interested in neutron proton, proton proton kinds of scattering experiments and other interaction experiments. And there were really quite a lot of these done, and the list of papers you can find out rather than I try to enumerate all of the experiments. Well, so then really, for quite a few years my research was divided between nuclear physics experiments at around 100 to 150 MeV with the Harvard cyclotron, making a wide variety of measurements, such as proton-proton scattering at 105 and at 75 MeV, I experimented with the graduate students, Bob Birge and Willie Kruse, and then on the other hand doing quite low-energy experiments with our molecular beam apparatus, in which we were, for example, studying the interactions between the nuclear spins in different molecules and measuring structural properties of those molecules, studying vibrational and centrifugal stretching, effects as the molecules rotate. There is a tendency to stretch, and we could actually, from our measurements, make precision measurements of this stretching effect. Then these two things continued I'd say in parallel until a period of around 1950 — somewhere, 1950, '51, '52. Well, probably '52, '53, when I actually began to worry about the fact that the Harvard cyclotron was on the still relatively low energy side and we ought to start thinking about a bigger machine if we were going to have something in the higher energy direction, and in fact we did some design study, got a study started initially to take place at Harvard for the next machine that should be built here, and with Livingston from MIT it was to be a joint Harvard-MIT undertaking, and then it turned out there was a group from Europe that was studying what should be done in Europe that way, and Livingston was asked to head up a combined group of the Europeans, the MIT and the Harvard ones to see what could come out. We wanted to get some people from Brookhaven in on that as well. Originally it was to take place in Cambridge, but the Brookhaven people said their accelerator was just getting into operation at that time; they couldn't possibly free it, for the study to be here it should take place in Brookhaven, and so it did take place there, and it was actually out of this study that the combination of Livingston, Snyder and Courant invented the so-called Alternate Gradient Principal for accelerators, which is a thing that's made possible all of the very large accelerators. And two immediate consequences of that was one at Brookhaven, a proposal was generated for a 35 GEV accelerator or BEV, Billion Electron Volt Accelerator, and at Harvard and MIT jointly we put in a proposal to AEC for a 15 BEV proton accelerator. The AEC, after thinking it over for a fair time, decided they could only build one of the machines and not both, and so they chose the one at Brookhaven, and this left us a little up in the air what we should do. We had further studies over the subsequent period while of course doing research at the same time, continuing our proton scattering and other experiments. And eventually that was remodified to a proposal for an electron accelerator at 6 GEV, which is much less expensive and which was eventually constructed here. And in fact I was chairman of the sort of joint committee between Harvard and MIT during the construction period of that. And for a while during the measurements but not for very long, I was then involved in other things later. Now during this time my own research with molecular beams was going on and with the Harvard cyclotron; also some theoretical things I was involved in on — actually one of which was for example on the thermodynamics and statistical mechanics of negative absolute temperatures. It's something that Purcell and Pound and I — the demo started off actually quite much earlier, so the period around 1947-48 somewhere in that order Pound had found a crystal in which the nuclear spin system was very highly isolated from the rest of the crystal, from its thermal vibration modes, and we discovered that you could indeed get that system into a state which would correspond to negative absolute temperatures, not only a state in which the high-energy states were occupied more than the low-energy states. And this was a state of affairs that a lot of people didn't believe and didn't understand it at the time and hence didn't believe it, and I got involved in writing a paper for example on the theory of the statistical mechanics of such a system. It's actually quite straightforward, and it was actually sort of a precursor to the Maser kind of development that came later, which also has the same thing of these higher-energy states occupied more than the lower. Also around that same time, 1956, I had published a fairly large book with Oxford Press on molecular beams which was essentially a summary of — a fair amount of it was our own work, but also of others' work on the study of nuclear interactions in molecules as studied with the molecular beam techniques, such things as the deuteron quadrupole moment and the nuclear magnetic moments and nuclear octupole moments, etc., that had been studied. Well, at around, also around that time I began to be, oh, I guess at an even earlier period we had been rather worried about, Purcell and I, as to whether a simple particle like the neutron could have an electric dipole moment; that is, something to correspond to the plus charge, in one direction along the spin, and a negative charge on the opposite side. There was the usual symmetry argument, so-called parity argument that said this could not occur for an elementary particle whose orientation was determined by its spin. On the other hand, Purcell and I, as experimentalists, both believed we should look at what the experimental evidence for it was and decided that the experimental evidence wasn't very strong and in fact set up an experiment then at Oak Ridge with a graduate student, Jim Smith, to look to see either if there were an electric dipole moment of the neutron or if there were not it would at least set a limit on the parity argument that had been used against it. Well, we indeed found no electric dipole moment, but we lowered the limit by about a factor of a million, which showed at least that argument was pretty good. We couldn't [?] prove it was exactly good. Well it turned out later that this was indeed an experiment in very much the right direction, in that eventually parity violating experiments were done, they were found to be not as we were looking for — extremely small effects in the strong forces — but actually rather huge effects in the weak forces associated with radioactivity. But from that period on I've always been interested in the relationship between those, and about the time the papers first came out on that then when the parity violation things that Yang and Lee were, began to be understood, the argument was then raised that there couldn't be an electric dipole moment on grounds of time reversal symmetry, and I pointed out then in a theoretical paper around that time that that also was an assumption, and in fact you could invent a model which could perfectly satisfactorily violate time reversal symmetry and for which there again could be an electric dipole moment of the neutron and hence highly desirable to set a limit on it. And at the time I couldn't think of a way of setting any lower limit. At a later period I realized there were ways with even ultra-slow neutrons of setting an even lower limit, and in fact sort of really, almost from the period from 1956 more or less onward we've had a continuous program, initially at Oak Ridge and later at the Institute Laue Langevin in Grenoble of successively trying to lower the limit on the electric dipole moment of the neutron and indeed have had so done. We now have shown that it's still quite a small amount, and in fact theory has changed now. In general now most theories predict that there should be an electric dipole moment of the neutron, because the time — There were are some experiments that show that there is not time reversal symmetry, and in fact most of the theories are now predicting a somewhat bigger value than we get, so it's quite crucial to improve our limit or else find a number, because this does cut off a certain number of experiments, and we have been gradually — and a number of the theories — and we have been gradually lowering this limit until now well we have the value of the paper we are currently publishing is that the electric dipole moment of the neutron divided by the charge of the electron has to be less than 3 × 10-24 centimeters. It's a very small number indeed, and that's not 10-24 squared centimeters; it's 10-24 centimeters. And we are now engaged jointly with a group at the University of Sussex in a still different version of the neutron electric dipole moment experiment, which we hope in the order of about two years to lower that limit by another factor of about a hundred, and then we hope to get down to about 10-26 centimeters, by which time all of the theories except one that attributes the time reversal violating characteristic to a so-called new force, a so-called super weak force. Almost all the other theories predict a bigger number than that, and most come out quite a bit bigger number than that. The super weak theory does predict a number even smaller, so that we can see —
Ramsey:— tells us. And those experiments are going on right at the moment. In fact we are also working with that same apparatus and the graduate student Geoffrey Greene, who is measuring at Grenoble with our apparatus the magnetic moment of the neutron, which we think we should be able to improve in accuracy by about a factor of a thousand over the previous best value, which is one that Bill Cowan [?] and I determined right after I came to Harvard and made a measurement at the Brookhaven Lab using the neutrons there. So that essentially is what was happening. So one of my lines of activities over quite a fair period of time had been studies with the neutron, most of which had been away from Harvard; then there have been my activities concerning our molecular beam measurements, which have continued here, and which then gradually grew from just the molecular beam shifted into atomic beam measurements, and particularly Dan Kleppner who is now a professor at MIT and I invented a device known as an atomic hydrogen maser, which makes possible extremely accurate measurements, better than a part in 1014 in accuracy, actually greater than a hundred million, and with that we have been able to make extremely precise measurements within atomic hydrogen, and atomic hydrogen has the happy characteristic the theory is very high developed, the quantum electrodynamic theory of it, so that there is a close coordination between the theory and experiment. It's also enabled us to measure to very high, if we see the magnetic moment of the proton, in terms of the magnetic moment of the electron, and also to look for possible failures of quantum electrodynamics in the values of the hyperfine structures. For example those who use that same method to measure very accurately the ratio of the magnetic moment of the atom of hydrogen to that of the atom of deuterium, that of the atom of tritium. I mean these are almost all exactly same, but there is a small departure due to quantum electrodynamics, we're able to see what that is experimentally, and in indeed, it disagreed with what was the value theoretically predicted at the time the experiment was started, but an error was found in the theory, and now the experiment and the theory agree very well. Then a final activity, my sort of high-energy activity is in the period somewhere about 1966 or so began to shift a bit. I have been concerned getting the Cambridge electron accelerator going, I then ceased doing very many experiments there and I became involved in a new national experimental accelerator initially as chairman of the committee in Washington to recommend what the new accelerator should be. We felt very strongly there should be a consolidation of all the national efforts on a few very high-energy machines rather than a large number of intermediate energy machines, that this would be most interesting. But of course this meant that people had to sacrifice having the machine they wanted, and there was a reasonable amount of controversy around that time which I got, since I had friends on all sides I sort of tried to get into mediate on the controversy and ended up by being elected president about 1966, president of a group of about well then 35, now 53 universities that operates so-called Fermilab where a major machine that emerged from this recommendation, basically our recommendation was there should be a machine at 200 GEV started promptly, later it should be one of higher energy, and there should also be a strong program of colliding beams, both electron positron and proton proton, and all of those have come to pass, the electron and positron ones have been at a Stanford linear accelerator, a laboratory directed by Panofsky there, and then at Fermilab which is the one that comes under this university's research association of which I am president, is in Illinois with Robert Wilson being director of the laboratory and primarily in charge of it, and these activities now all of them are essentially proceeding fairly vigorously. When I took on the position as president of the university's research association I felt something had to give a little on time, and I agreed, decided at that stage that I should have the laboratory itself and its functioning and the overall research program be my research project in high-energy physics rather than personal ones with students, but then I keep my personal research programs with graduate students done in the molecular beam level as at Harvard. That's sort of a brief outline of at least some of my principal research activities. Of course the usual problem on any such outline is I'm apt to, it's done orally, I've probably forgotten the most interesting ones and certainly a number of things that are not [???] but I think it gives at least a general flavor of what has been some of our major concerns, and our major concerns and interests. Now on the educational side, of course that's one major portion of the university activity has been the educational aspect, and of course there are two portions of, namely one is of course just the courses that are actually given and the things done and then a second is possible developments of new procedures and whatnot on courses. Now as far as courses given, I've given a fairly wide variety of them, a single course I've given most frequently and enjoyed very much giving because it's a great subject, is that on introduction to quantum mechanics. But, sometimes I don't give it, sometimes given other things. I've usually every other year given a course on molecular beams, and the research experiments involving those. Then on new things actually when the freshman seminar program largely originated from the physics department at Harvard, and originated really by virtue of Ed Land, the president of Polaroid, being a member of our visiting committee and being a former student at Harvard, and he felt very strongly himself that the problem of his freshman year at Harvard had the great disadvantage. He had sort of come from doing sort of important things where he was recognized to sort of a bigger institution without that much, and that something ought to be done to give greater interest, and particularly greater interest in the field of future activity for the students there, and he actually, and our visiting committee initially, suggested a so-called freshman seminar program whereby leading teachers and research people in the department would have a small group of freshman with whom they would then conduct a seminar on a relatively higher level. It was more like what really physics is like in research than Physics 12, which is apt to be a lot of the tools you need to learn for physics but then you don't really get into the subject until later, and I proposed this initially with the Department in mind and realized that we would have to be a little more university-wide in mind and I guess Land had the added advantage he could not only propose it, but he could also help finance it since it's an expensive program, and there was established this, freshman seminar program which initially I was perhaps one of the ones in the Department who was most enthusiastic about it. In fact some members of the Department were relatively negative on how much the student would actually get from the program, so I had probably one of the first of the freshman seminar programs, and it proved to be, I thought, just a delight in every way. Basically what I did on this is I talked on the official subject of my seminar, (which met a couple of times in the week, in the evenings). In the beginning period I would give a little bit of a course more or less on quantum mechanics, since the students needed to get some of that in the lecture, but a little more formal discussion. I always tried to keep the number of people certainly below 15, preferably down to about 10. Then after that sort of went for about 1/3 of the term, then we shifted to having seminars on different relevant topics in physics of which I gave maybe three or four essentially on each of my own fields of research: on accelerators, on particle physics, on molecular beam resonance experiments, atomic beam experiments, and say neutron beam experiments, these being the five fields in which I was most active personally in my research. Then the other students by reading materials and sort of seeing the example would study up other subjects, whatever interested them. It made no difference, whatever interested them in the physics they would then give usually in that case one seminar on each of the subjects. It might be biophysics. Some excellent seminars were given, some poor ones that were given by the students; sometimes they would also if one of them wanted to give a seminar on one of the subjects that I had been working at I would be happy to have him give it instead of me — or maybe we'd even both give it, depending on the circumstances. For example one of the excellent undergraduate seminars was given on elementary particle physics. It was so good I saw no way in which I could improve it, so I happily settled on his version.
Sopka:With regard to the students in these seminars, you must have had a problem in screening.
Ramsey:Oh, a terrible problem in picking out who should be admitted. I mean, that was a real problem. You'd be oversubscribed. Well, in general in that case, since this one was to be at a high level, if it turned out that there were no other governing considerations and some of the students had calculus and other students hadn't had calculus, I gave the students with calculus a priority. It was not so much primarily a general education course. It was one I really was trying to appeal a little to the specialists in that case.
Sopka:And was the expectation that most of these were potential physics concentrators?
Ramsey:I would say they were, probably most of them were the ones that probably did. They were mostly science, potential science concentrators; not necessarily physics ones. One of the best boys the last time I gave it went on to medical school, so I mean it's a variety of things they chose to do. I basically felt the program worked very well. I had one rather happy control[?]. About the end of the first year that I did this while it was still a fairly controversial program and a lot of people thinking maybe it was a waste of time. I was actually going by boat to Paris and in the process I signed up for the ping-pong tournament or whatever they had on there, and one of the men I was playing ping-pong, as we talked a little bit in advance, it turned out that his son was now a sophomore at Harvard, had been a freshman at Harvard, and talking about things and how did he like the course, said he liked a lot of it, he felt some things were a little bit big and a few other criticisms, but he said he thought really the best thing he had while he's had so far there was the freshman seminar. So I then asked him you know what subject he took, and it turned out it was one of the students. He was the father of one of the students, totally unbeknownst to either of us, my ping-pong competitor was the father of one of the students I had had in it and who apparently regarded it as certainly the best of his things that year, and I think I don't blame him. I would hope he would have felt that way himself. I felt it was one of the most fun to give. Well now that program is now thoroughly and enthusiastically accepted. Ed Land helped get it started at MIT as well as at Harvard, and I think it is a fine program. There is no controversy about it now, though there were was, and it's hard to see why there was, but there was in the beginning period. I think it worked extremely well, and I do at intervals give it. In fact I always like to give it whenever I can. Usually there are other teaching requests in the department to do. And then of course any course you give, there is a certain amount of innovation as you are trying to give it the best possible way. I was also involved as a member of the faculty council on the various efforts there faculty-wide on various improvements in courses, and for example was on the committee on undergraduate education there at the time. Some of the procedures were adopted to give a little greater freedom of choice whereby a student could take something other than the way we'd register for time as it were and taking something other than a regular formal course if you wanted to do a particular kind of special project, which I think on the whole has worked out very well, as well as some of the house courses which we were also trying to encourage at that time. Now in some respects, on advances in education, I think probably one of the major revolutions in education that has occurred in the last 20 years is one that most people don't recognize but I think it's a very real one, and that's the existence of the Xerox machine or related kinds of machines, which means there is much more opportunity for the professor's notes to be distributed to the students in advance, and I think on the whole that really pays, and it does change the whole educational procedure I think on the whole for the good in that when I was an undergraduate certainly a large fraction of my time was devoted to trying to read and interpret my notes which were somewhat illegible copies of the illegible remarks that the professor had made in the first place, and now and I think in most cases if the professor is at least willing the students can have a direct copy of the same notes he himself is using and that bit of wasted time can be overcome. Now I think it is a tremendously beneficial thing. It enables more ground to be covered, and it enables the student to learn better and learn to correct things more; on the other hand, like all major advances, there are evils as well as good, and it's certainly true that one of the places I probably learned a lot of physics was also while trying to understand these illegible notes, and I was having to invent what the man must have been trying to say, since he clearly couldn't have been saying what I thought I had down on my notes that he was saying. And that does get lost [???]. I think it is perhaps a little less intensive review from that point of view of the notes, because they are more certainly correct. But nevertheless, although in this revolution like all revolutions there is good and bad, I think the good far outstrips the bad, there is much to be gained in the efficiency of education this way. Now one of the other major changes in the educational pattern in the last few years has been the much greater degree of consultation with the students on getting their own views as to ways in which the education could be improved, and I think we feel that most of the responses we have gotten in that direction have actually added considerably to it. For example, about two or three years ago when the first of these meetings occurred, the urging of the undergraduates as one of the things they most wanted to have was some form of seminar primarily directed toward the undergraduates — at their level of understanding, but a seminar on topics of contemporary and modern physics. I was actually asked by the Department to run such a seminar, and we have now been doing this for, it's our third year, and I think on the whole it's proved to be a very successful thing with a good deal of student interest and participation. We gradually changed a little of our format, the one we are now doing is one that I like really quite well, which is that in the fall term we have about four or five different members of the department coming in on successive Wednesday evenings to give a seminar to the students. The students incidentally were solicited to find what was the best time for the seminar. They picked a time which for me is terrible, but is much the best for them, namely 7:00 p.m. on Wednesdays. That means they can do it after their dinners which are fairly early in the houses, and so that's the hour at which we have the seminar. And in the fall term these consists of seminars, people whom I invite mostly from the Department, occasionally they can be from outside the department just to talk on what their current interests in research are, and then in the spring term we have now adopted the pattern that the students themselves give the seminars in the spring term, invent the topics and give it, and some of these have been — I don't get to all of the ones in spring term done that way, but I've gotten to quite a few of them, and I've been really quite impressed by a number of them. Some of them have been really excellent as far as the subjects covered and the thoroughness with which the students cover them, and then they themselves are doing the listening.
Sopka:These are now your upper class undergraduates?
Ramsey:The first year we did it, we specified that it was for sophomores and juniors, and then others wanted to come. We realized there is no point of cutting them out, so now it's for any undergraduate, but they are told at the beginning of my introduction, at the beginning of it I point out that in selecting the speakers and the topics in my warnings to the speakers I tell them they primarily should direct their attention towards the sophomores and juniors. That doesn't mean the others can't come, but if a freshman comes and finds he doesn't understand what it's all about, he has only to blame the fact that he's there as a freshman. And if a senior comes and finds it's a little repetitive with something he's already learned before, that's because he's a senior, and that the group primarily to be aimed for are the sophomores and juniors — but in practice I don't think it's been significantly above the heads of the freshmen or below the feet of the seniors.
Sopka:It sounds like a wonderful idea. I think I was born too soon.
Ramsey:I think it is quite good. Yeah, well there have been notices up. You should have come. You would have been welcome too. Even my wife came to one the other day. So it's been fine. No, I think they have been very good. We've had Carlo Rubbia has given them, and Peter McIntire gave the colloquium last time [???]. We really hit one of our achievements on good timing on it was we had scheduled Tom Applequist to give such a seminar, and he had some reasonable title, not super exciting title, and the scheduled meeting was just about three days before the discovery of charmonium, what was later called charmonium, and first given that name by Tom Applequist. He'd been worrying about the theory in his new sharp resonance at Stanford and Brookhaven, so he quick asked the opportunity to change his title to the subject of charmonium, which he did, and did a beautiful job of expounding this then brand new theory, the first exposition of it around the place.
Sopka:That must have been exciting for the students.
Ramsey:Yeah. They got quite a big crowd. I was surprised how word had gotten around really rather quickly about it, and we had quite a good crowd for it and actually quite a few graduate students came as well on that one. And in fact some of the faculty even came, although normally it's directed toward the undergraduates. Well, I guess the main thing otherwise of course is although I mean I'm certainly a believer in the desirability of improving the educational procedures whenever you can, I also — it needs to be recognized that just changing them a lot isn't necessarily an improvement. I mean anybody who also wanted to keep the standard high even without improving it or without changing it; we don't want to just do things different. I think some institutions perhaps a little bit excessively go for doing that, and if there's a division into a physics department, a chemistry department, a biology department will decide instead what they want is a physical chemistry department, a biophysical department, and a chemical biology department. Well, it usually ends up you still have the awkwardness of some things are in between and some aren't, and I think change just for change's sake is not necessarily an advantage. But change when you can do something really better you certainly want to do in the education system — and even a little bit of change for change's sake can even be an advantage for people who enjoy something that's different, but that does not, should not be used to diminish the importance of the good solid that just needs to be done in teaching.
Sopka:Have you noticed any changes in what might be called the esprit of graduate students from say the late '40s through the '50s and now more recently with quite frankly the difficulties in finding jobs and —?
Ramsey:No. I would say — you want graduates or undergraduates or both?
Sopka:Well, just students in general.
Ramsey:Students in general. I would say no, there's certainly been changes in styles, customs and points of view very markedly from time to time. And it's not a monotonic when it oscillates up and down. I would say as a whole my impression at the moment with my current graduate students is their esprit is particularly high. I've rarely had a better group than the group I've had currently or the group immediately before. I think in the case say right after the war, 1946-47 they tended to be a little bit older, a little bit more serious, a little bit eager to get finished with it and get out, and with even having bigger family responsibilities and things of that kind, that then changed. I think certainly some of the best students we had were indeed in the '50s and then that was certainly true during the period of the late '60s when there were various student disturbances, things were a little bit more complicated, a little more talking of politics. It seems now that we've gone more back to the way it was a few years earlier. I think most of our students are now pretty hard working. They are conscientiously working on physics, and I think, as far as jobs are concerned, of course that again also fluctuates up and down, it certainly has its effect, but I don't know that it has so much effect on the morale of the students. I'm sure on their worries, but not on their morale while they are students, in the sense that that was certainly true when I was a graduate student looking for my degree. The only person who had gotten a Ph.D. from Columbia who got a job in a university in the preceding couple of years in the physics department was Gerald Zacharias and this was not a terribly good job at Hunter College, and there really weren't any others to be had, so the sort of expectation of getting a job in a physics department was pretty small at the time — probably much smaller than it is at the present time. Then I would say we hit there the peak of the biggest worry on that, and I think even correctly so, because I have a feeling that's been true, as concerned the job problem, was oh maybe five years ago when first two things happened. It seemed rather abrupt and sudden, and some of the students who were then coming out looking for jobs were looking for jobs just at the time, at a time when the job market was at its worst, and they had started in at a time when the job market looked at ease so that particularly the disappointment could be amongst the largest at that time. Now I think the expectations are less high, and the expectations are pretty well matched to what the job opportunities are I think, so there isn't at least that disillusionment. I think there is on the matter of students and jobs; I think we get a slightly distorted view of it from Harvard. I think we probably have the best success of any institution in getting good jobs for our graduate students. Of all the students I have had, I've had some 70 or so Ph.D. students since I've been at Harvard, all of whom got good jobs pretty much in the direction they most wanted to get. That is, they didn't all go to universities, some preferred to go to industry, probably some would have like to have gotten, a job at Harvard they would have preferred that but instead they are quite happy to be at G.E. or vice versa. I think most of them have been reasonably content with what they have ended up with and have gotten jobs. In fact I think that's pretty much true as a whole. Looking over that a while back I think there was only something like one person that had gotten his degree in the preceding couple years who has not yet gotten placed. I had one student who got his degree quite a number of years ago with me who when he got a job right after, did have some troubles. It was a case of hitting the problem when the toughest problem, I think, in the job finding one that around a tenure level, and in addition this student had sort of a speech difficulty, which added to the problem of holding a job — because he did want to do it in a university, he tended to be also rather shy and also with a speech difficulty, so for a while he was clearly underemployed in the sense he was really doing work that he was far more qualified for, but he is now teaching at another institution, and teaching physics, in a Bachelor level institution. It's a great job, and a quite good job. Most of the others I think have done reasonably well. I'm sure a number would have liked to have done better, but I don't have a feeling that there was a great problem. I know this is quite different here. I think the institutions that have the biggest problem on this, when sort of this crisis first hit severely four or five years ago, it just about the time I think it was the University of Maryland had just gotten its big expansion in its Ph.D. program so they didn't have a big backlog of Ph.D.s and lots of former students who were in different industries in a higher end position, and they suddenly began producing more Ph.D.s than any other institution in the country, and I know they found oh six months after one of the commencements, they had something like 60 percent of their students did not have jobs at that time. Now that clearly is a very major morale problem, so I don't mean in any sense to minimize the magnitude of the problem, which has been enormous. I think it is better now than it was a few years ago, and it certainly has better matched the expectation than a few years ago, and I think it's probably true for good reasons or for bad. The Harvard graduate students are probably the best off in the country in this regard. Now where I think though even for them where there is a very tough problem, those who would like the option of going into the universities is at the essentially the beginning of the tenure level, and there is an even added confusion that it's not even too clear what the solution is because it looks as if there is something, unfortunately something of a leveling off of the population, and with the leveling off of the population, presumably a leveling off of the number of people going to college, and in fact there's even been a smaller fraction I think in recent years going, so it can even be a dropping back on that slightly, which means that we've been basically living, most of the time I have had to do with a subject with a sort of exponential expansion, and it's very hard to readjust from that to a period of no expansion, and to make it even worse, a number of institutions way over-expanded in the last up to a few years ago, and that means in some cases it's quite a long time before they have any tenured appointments which they can make, which then therefore means there are just fewer tenured appointments all the way down, so it's worse even than if it were just running at equilibrium, or at the moment fewer, I think fewer tenured positions available in physics than will be the equilibrium rate at some distant time in the future. Because there was an excessive amount of appointing done up to a few years ago, and later recognition of the fact that the total number available needed was small. I think that's a very, very difficult problem.
Sopka:Probably also the age distribution within that period of expansion, it will be a good many years before that crop will be retiring and positions opening up —
Ramsey:That's right. Although I've heard some, seen some, and I think it's probably fairly valid, that it isn't as bad. In fact there was, I think, a recent thing in Science, well, I don't remember what journal. I think it was Science and reading an editorial, somebody was really making the case, that it's very hard to predict the future, but they like to predict exactly what the number of vacancies are and what's going to happen, and then you'd be in good shape. It's very hard to predict these, but it was argued by somebody that it's not maybe as bad as soft, because a lot of the expansion took place, one big wave of the expansion took place in the period around 1947 to '55, and that's not all that recent, so that some of that expansion will in the next half dozen years start giving rise to the tenure appointment. If somebody is given a tenured appointment in say 1950, and if he wasn't given it unduly early, in which case you could well imagine that he would be — well, if he were given it at what, 38 years of age in 1950, am I right on my arithmetic?
Sopka:That would bring him up to about 63, age 63 now.
Ramsey:Would be up to 63 about now, so that I mean a man who got his appointment, tenured appointment around that time is now in a position to retire. In other words, there weren't very many who were given tenure appointments during the war, and there's been a failure of that group therefore to become retired. I think that's one of the things that's added to it, that either one is appointed before or one is appointed afterwards, so there's been a multiple gap of vacancies which I mean the net effect will still I think will always have a very major effect because I mean I don't see where the vacancies are going to come for the people who fall in that particular time. On the other hand it will probably be getting a little bit better — not much better, but somewhat better. It certainly is, I think, on the average somewhat better now than it was say five years ago. I think the number of those who have written asking about jobs, I mean not about jobs but I mean in offering jobs have been rather greater, with the tightest crunch by far being in the tenured category of appointment. On the other hand the number of industrial jobs has somewhat gone up. I think there was also a little peculiarity that the problem got a little accentuated by some misunderstandings on the part I think of the government during the Nixon regime when it first came up. They weren't in very good communication with the people in universities. Namely as soon as it was heard that there was perhaps an over-production of physicists, the immediate response was well therefore what you should do is cut off the support that is training physicists and therefore you should cut off and cut back on the number of postdocs at universities. But of course that was one of the biggest consumers, so you sort of got two things accentuated, and already a reduction in the number, and then a government elimination to a considerable degree of one of the other major sources of jobs for a particular group. I think that one has now eased off a little bit. I think it's still a very tough problem, but I think — I give the students credit, I'm very impressed by the students. They seem to be very good. I'm very impressed by them.
Sopka:I had one other aspect of the student population that I wanted to ask you about. Have you had any experience with the women physicists?
Ramsey:Yes. And there are some very good ones. To my great regret, I have not had any woman who has gotten her Ph.D. with me. I've had a couple who have come close, but then they were married and their husbands got jobs in Stanford, so I think one of them got her Ph.D. later but got it in Stanford rather than from Harvard, but my impression is that they are potentially very good. Well now I've had a lot to do with various ones who have gotten their Ph.D.s. For example Trudy Goldhaber I see quite frequently. She's one of the trustees of the university's research association for which I am president, and she is certainly extremely good as a physicist and you couldn't ask for any better, and that's true of a number of them. I mean, as far as intrinsic abilities, it's my belief there is no reason that the males are any better than the females or vice versa. Helen Quinn, who was here at Harvard, was extremely good I think in that direction in theoretical physics. But I think that the total number who elect physics as an option for one reason or another is awfully small.
Sopka:Have you had many Radcliffe students coming to these either the freshman seminars or the undergraduate seminars?
Ramsey:A few. Not many of them, not very many of them. Actually the girl who did a good deal about resuscitating the undergraduate physics club, the Society for Physics Students at Harvard was actually a girl at Radcliffe who did very, very well in this regard. So we do have some, yes. In fact I would say some of the motivation in that group, but it still is true, it's predominately male audience, and the number of applicants we get is pretty small. I think the acceptance rate amongst the applicants is at least as favorable for the females as for the males, but the total number of applicants are small and pretty frequently we have no newly admitted graduate students who are female. And my understanding from a national statistic I think I saw somewhere is that — and rather intriguing — this number in physics, this ratio is not improving. In other words, the number in fact is I think getting a little bit worse. That is, the number of graduate students and number of Ph.D. candidates was slightly dropping. The fraction who were female, and maybe it's the absolute numbers, were dropping. I think this is probably due, associated with the opportunities in other fields opening up a little bit more. So that I mean there's more, and there are more and more things they can choose from. I mean, there are some pretty good job opportunities in biology as well as in other things, and I think, my own impression is the reason for the relatively few number of women who have been choosing physics is I think just sort of, well, a couple of things. One is quite clearly in many of the schools, even presumably more enlightened ones, there still is — or and I don't think is so much now, but was a few years ago when the students were there, a tendency to sort of regard physics as not something that girls would do. Well I know, in the case of my twin daughters who are actually quite good in math, I mean they wanted to take calculus in high school and more or less their supervisor who was a woman herself said, you know, "Girls never take calculus." Well, they came home very sad to me about it. I said, "Well, you tell her girls do take calculus," and indeed they did, and did very well in it and liked it very much. But nevertheless that attitude in that case, I was, being a physicist, could come to give them a little bit of support for their effort. I'm sure that the average person in that circumstance who is told by a supervisor, "Well the girls don't take calculus" probably just didn't take calculus, period. And I'm sure that has had a fairly major effect. And just even the very occurrence I think has a fairly major effect, and I think there's also a very real one, which I think is a real tough problem, which is that it's a problem that I think any woman does have to face what you want to do. And it's not trivial at all what you want to do, which is that in the first place physics is a pretty demanding profession. You really have to work pretty solidly at it, and if you aren't quite sure whether you want to make that your all-out career or your exclusive career, it can be a bit of an extra worry as to whether it may be something a little easier is better to do. I think that has its effect. And then I think there's also, there is a very great, there is, the remaining in addition I think as far as job opportunities for women in physics are at least as good as for men. But there is the complication of coupled jobs. There aren't all that many physics jobs in any one community, and this means if a man and woman are married and both doing physics, or let's say even wondering [???] they like it, not necessarily both doing physics, it certainly is hard if one of them, they elect to go to a particular location because of one of them, if the other one is a physicist, whether it be male or female, finds himself or herself having to get a job, not just a job, but a job in Cambridge, or not just a job, but a job in Chicago. Name any one of the places, but the mere fact that it's geographically determined does restrict greatly the opportunities there, and it is a real problem that somebody who thinks if you think therefore there is a reasonable chance that that's your direction, well, if you're an M.D. there is no problem, or on the average not much of a problem. I mean, you can always set up shop as an M.D. whatever geography your husband or wife chooses to go to, but then you know which determines that, whereas physics, that's not as easy to do, because there are some communities where there aren't any jobs, and there are other communities where there may be two reasonable jobs in total and the likelihood of one of those being vacant at the time you're there is pretty small — it's a small college or something like a possible high school job, if you don't want that kind. So I think that there are understandable reasons which are particularly acute possibly in a field like physics for which the number of women interested is small. I think the opportunity is fine, but the numbers are still rather appallingly low, and don't seem to be improving. I mean it's a real problem that we have here, but I think the general [???] the field has, and if you wanted to just analyze it statistically the worst of the male chauvinist professions is probably physics research.
Sopka:Really? That's interesting.
Ramsey:Well, what are your views? You probably had an experience in —
Sopka:Well, I had my own experience back when Radcliffe was a separate institution, and I found that the training they gave me was ideal for me, because I had come with no background in physics at all, and just decided that physics was pretty interesting and decided to major in it, and the educational system here at that time where they taught girls separately, there was very much of a commitment to make sure that we did well. I contrast that with my own daughter who came as a Radcliffe freshman in '66 with the idea that she'd like to major in physics, and she just found it was much too hectic and she was rather intimidated by the atmosphere — it was a difficult period for students anyway, the late '60s —
Sopka:— and she just found that she couldn't cope with the male students in physics.
Ramsey:Yeah, that is a problem. That part in fact may indeed be one of the reasons that there hasn't been an increase, because I mean I'm not sure, but what the perhaps more separated. I mean, now they are clearly treated exactly the same way, and some of this is an advantage to them, but to some it's a disadvantage because I think there is probably a little effort if you are treating all the students exactly the same and there's a little less personal effort than say Radcliffe was able to give.
Sopka:Well, I know Mary Bunting was concerned in the days before the coeducational dormitories that the girls who were trying to major in any of the sciences, but physics in particular, had so few fellow students to talk to —
Ramsey:That's right, that's right.
Sopka:— and that they were really isolated in contrast to their male counterparts who, if they had trouble with their homework could talk to somebody else.
Ramsey:Now some of that is over, some of that isolation is less, but I'm not sure some of it may not be as bad; it's just in a different form. I mean, the dorms are still there, but it still is a little different. But the net effect, my own honest belief is that as far as the desires of most potential employers — not all — [???] exceptions for example — but I think as far as the desires of most —
Ramsey:— of the potential employers and probably the desires of most of the universities, I think they are really genuinely anxious and willing to have more females at all levels and — but, there aren't many candidates.
Sopka:Yes, I think that's true. We're coming to the end of our tape, so I think that probably for today we have explored a good variety of topics.
Ramsey:Right. You were asking about new educational developments and had indicated one thing that I should maybe comment about would be the science center, and then we just forgot about it when we were talking about the educational involvements. That's something I had quite a bit to do with, particularly in its early stages and now in the form of utilizing it. This really originated for reasons of worries about availability of land in the Harvard area; that is, in particular, our department along with many other departments were asking the dean for funds to construct and a new lecture room or a new laboratory sort of adjacent to all the buildings, and the Harvard Corporation quite correctly had been very seriously worried about gradually nibbling up all of the land around Harvard with one small outhouse on top of another or beside another small outhouse and decided as a matter of policy that there had to be some form of consolidation of these, and as a result they decided they could not meet these requests coming from biology, chemistry and physics all at the same time and we really should get together, and the dean at that time asked me to — I guess it was with McGeorge Bundy at the time — asked me to be chairman of a committee to recommend what could be done about some central way of doing the science center. Really, the primary thing was not so much educational improvement, but just saving of land space. It's the difficulty of getting new land or the possibility of even getting new land around here, but also recognizing the charge of the committee that if we did anything of that kind we ought to see if it could have any educational advantages, and we did have a committee that met for quite a period of time consisting of a group of people from chemistry, physics, one from each, and the department of mathematics, and we ended up with a recommendation with pretty good unanimity on the part of the committee for there indeed being a science center as essentially primarily for the undergraduates, was perhaps something I think the math department was sort of lacking of any quarters whatsoever, the math department totally [?] located in the building and doing graduate — Also not being absolutely precise in certain areas that it would clearly be, for geographic or other reasons, the [???] will have a few graduate activities perhaps in it, but clearly focused primarily on that, and as really the only way out of the geographical thing we actually had as a possible site was the one Lawrence Hall had been here. Another site which actually we really rather liked on our committee was one consisting of two twin buildings on opposite sides of Oxford Street, one of which is in the same place that the geology building is now located, this New Hoffman or whatever it is, I can't remember the name of the building. And then another building on this side of the street. That had the big advantage from our point of view that we would then, hopefully on the levels from floors two up would have a bridge across Oxford Street, and then, you would have the advantage of being contiguous to and you could go from one to another or stay inside in bad weather, you could go all the way from the biology building through the museum to the center or from physics or from chemistry, a couple of small bridges would do that. On the other hand, we even succeeded in talking to the geology department, who had a new building coming up and to being willing to accept a delay for doing that. On the other hand, when we came to this at the time we had a little bit, unfortunately right at that time McGeorge Bundy had gone off to Washington to be an assistant to Kennedy and Pusey was then serving both as president and as provost, which meant he was terribly swamped, so the only people we could really argue about it were the university planning people, and they had already had a design in for the geology building which had won a prize, so they didn't want to see this not get built. So they were fairly strongly against it, there was not much of a chance to appeal it, so we sort of lost that one. But nevertheless, the basic concept of the center seemed to be a necessary one. Well, we finally came up with our report, and then the usual lag and discussions with some argument against it. George Wald initially was very strongly negative to it, in fact most of the period of time during the construction, on the grounds it was too far from the biology department — which of course would have been overcome with this other thing, and a little bit on the grounds that it would make too big a separation between the undergraduates and the graduate students. Since the science center has been completed he happily gives his lectures there, and I think he thinks well of it, but he certainly didn't. It was certainly a controversial thing while it was being built. One aspect I'm even a little bit disappointed in is that since in origin one of the objectives was to save land space, actually the building — although I rather like the building, appearance and otherwise — it's not economical in land space. If you look at the actual land area and compass the number of square feet available, we would have not destroyed any more space if we had all the departments that were built there two or three floors above it. On the other hand, I think it's a very effective building, and really is working extremely well. The extra aspects at the center would really help bring the science students together. I think it has been functioning extremely well. It's a very active, very live place there, a lot of people choose to eat in that particular eating place or sit and drink coffee throughout the afternoon. It's booked solid. For undergraduate seminar, we have it there, we'd like to get a better room, but all the better rooms are taken up, so we sort of are using the lounge adjacent to the cafeteria. It's a fine place except it's a little noisy.
Ramsey:And but I think it's proved to be a great success and it didn't do everything we had hoped to, but I think it did more than we had hoped to in many different ways.
Sopka:I noticed in reading the annual reports that for several years the chairman, whoever he was at the time, was concerned about the fact that the physics department did not have laboratory space for its own undergraduate concentrators [?] —
Ramsey:Oh, absolutely. It was terrible.
Sopka:— beyond their elementary course, and —
Ramsey:Well, not even for the elementary courses. I remember a certain number of the courses, even including some of the elementary courses, were over in Radcliffe, in the buildings over in Radcliffe, in the basements in the buildings over there.
Ramsey:Because there wasn't enough space for them here. It might have been intermediate level. It certainly was the undergraduate. It may have been the most elementary courses. Well, it varied with time. Originally and by origin there were two sets of elementary labs. There were the ones for the Radcliffe students which were over at Radcliffe and Byerly Hall —
Sopka:Yes, I well remember.
Ramsey:— and then the ones here. And then when the courses became more consolidated there was only one set of those undergraduate ones, but then they were shifted to Byerly Hall. But then [???] Byerly Hall went I think most of the non-, uh, the undergraduate work, but of an intermediate core level I think was what was there [???]. The intermediate courses had their laboratories, and Byerly, which is fairly awkward and fairly far from here, and then the natural sciences had theirs in still another location, so that it was very difficult to use common equipment between the different courses and to have a single person arranging the equipment for it, and this is now much more happily consolidated at the science center. I think the whole way the building operates is very effective.
Sopka:Well, thank you very much.
Ramsey:Well, you're very welcome.
Sopka:This has been very helpful.