Oral History Transcript — Dr. Alex Delgarno
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Alex Delgarno; December 6, 2007
ABSTRACT: Biographical profile of the theoretical astrophysicist and aeronomist Alexander Dalgarno, centering on his professional life at the Center for Astrophysics. Early life and training in London. Schooling and entrance to University College, London. Recollections of wartime life in London and Aberdeen. College years and experiences as a student. Development of interest in mathematics. Friends, colleagues and teachers at college. Graduation in 1948 and contact with Harrie Massey which led him into physics. Research under Richard Buckingham on applications of quantum theory to problems in physics. Exposure to experimental physics and problems in geophysics. Contact with David Bates, Massey and Sydney Chapman. Move to Belfast to work with Bates on problems in aeronomy. Development of research themes at Belfast and conferences on upper atmospheric physics and how it changed from remote sensing to in situ observations. Continued discussion of the development of his research interests. Non-LTE studies. Summer at MIT, 1954 and contact with AFCRL upper atmosphere researchers. Appointment to Harvard-Smithsonian 1967. Students, postdocs and colleagues: Donald Menzel, Leo Goldberg. Reflections on relationship between SAO and HCO in the late 1960s. Power of appointments. GAO SAO audit, 1971 and the Greenstein Visiting Committee. Goldberg’s resignation and Whipple’s retirement from the SAO directorship. Restructuring the observatory. The issue of shared teaching loads between staffs of SAO and HCO. Dalgarno becomes acting director of the reorganized observatory, to be called the Center for Astrophysics, recollections of how and why he was chosen. His views on the controversy and the changing profile of astronomy at Harvard in the early 1970s. Searching for and naming the new director. Advice from many quarters. Finding George Field and the creation of the Center for Astrophysics. Models considered for the new organization. How many directors? Combining directorships and keeping the Chair of the department distinct. Relations with NSF. Views on the reorganization and its divisions and assumption of the associate directorship of the theoretical astrophysics division. The Field years, 1970-1980. Festschrifts for Dalgarno.
DeVorkin:Let’s start with who you are, where and when you were born, and who your parents were, just to get a profile of your heritage.
Dalgarno:I was born on January 5, 1928 in London, England. My parents came from Scotland, from Aberdeen in the north of Scotland. My father worked for an insurance company, and as the years went by he did well enough so we were comfortably middle class. We lived, as I say, in London. I had two brothers, one of whom died before I was born, so I never knew him. And, I had two sisters, one of whom was my twin, actually.
DeVorkin:What is your father’s full name?
Dalgarno:William Dalgarno. My mother was a housewife. She stayed home and looked after the children. Her name was Margaret Murray.
DeVorkin:Could you describe your father’s training, education?
Dalgarno:He went to a very good school in Aberdeen called Robert Gordon’s College. But, he had, you know, a very ordinary academic career. He didn’t go to the university, and neither did any of my brothers, or sisters.
DeVorkin:Were you the first in the family?
Dalgarno:No, the last.
DeVorkin:What was your early family life like? How would you characterize it?
Dalgarno:I was certainly a happy child. It was a very ordinary life. I mean nobody in my family was really intellectual in a sense. There were some books around the house, but not enough.
DeVorkin:Did you seek them out elsewhere?
Dalgarno:Well, to some extent. The war intervened a lot in restricting one’s activities. Leaving the war aside and its effects, I remember my childhood as a reasonably happy and contented one. I enjoyed school. I had many friends. I played games, mostly soccer. Sports.
DeVorkin:Were you good at it?
Dalgarno:Yes. I played both soccer and cricket for my school and for the university. You have to understand, the British University, it was University College London, sports are not such a dedicated thing as they are here. [Laugh] You just played. You didn’t practice. You only played once a week.
DeVorkin:What about your schooling?
Dalgarno:I went to what you would call a public school. It was just one of the neighborhood schools, the neighborhood primary school, and then I went on to the neighborhood secondary. It was called Southgate Grammar School. It was a very ordinary school with some good teachers.
DeVorkin:Do any teachers stand out in your memory?
Dalgarno:There were a couple of very good mathematics teachers.
DeVorkin:Do you know their names?
Dalgarno:I think one was called Johnson and one was called Knowles.
DeVorkin:What were typical family activities as you were growing up in your first fifteen years of life?
Dalgarno:I don’t really remember. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Well, did you go to museums?
DeVorkin:Did you travel?
Dalgarno:No, the war prevented any kind of real travel. I was eleven years old when the war began. Certainly before then the only travel we did was to take vacations in some resort area, some place that had a beach. But, that was all the travel we ever did. And then once the war began, we didn’t travel at all.
DeVorkin:Right. But, you stayed where?
DeVorkin:You didn’t leave London?
Dalgarno:At the time the war began I happened to be in Aberdeen on vacation with my parents. And, because of the war we actually stayed on in Aberdeen for three months. I went to this school, Robert Gordon’s College, which I did not enjoy at all, and indeed was very unhappy at it. So, we all moved. We were all pretty well put off by the living arrangements that we had and we all went back to London.
DeVorkin:Where did you live in London?
Dalgarno:In a suburb called Winchmore Hill, which is in North London.
DeVorkin:Was there ever any question in your mind or in your family’s mind that you would go to college, go on to college after school?
Dalgarno:It was a total surprise to my parents when I told them I was going to go to the university. My father was not very happy. I mean, he really thought, “What a waste of time.” [Laugh]
DeVorkin:What did he want you to do?
Dalgarno:Oh, get a job in some financial company, which he could probably have arranged.
DeVorkin:I see. What particular talents did you show, as a child?
Dalgarno:Well, academically I was actually good at every subject.
DeVorkin:Which ones did you enjoy?
DeVorkin:Okay. Now, by saying “going to university,” that would be getting something like a Bachelor’s degree?
DeVorkin:So he, he didn’t even think that you needed to go to university?
Dalgarno:Now you have to understand, I mean, you presumably do that at that time in England it wasn’t the norm at all for children to go to university. The percentage of people who went was very small. And so, it wasn’t something people automatically thought about or considered. Basically, when you finished school at sixteen you went out to work.
DeVorkin:You went to work? And, it would be in some sort of office or financial environment?
DeVorkin:What are your memories of the war?
Dalgarno:Well... a good deal of the time it was really boring, actually, because you couldn’t do anything.
DeVorkin:You couldn’t be outside?
Dalgarno:Right. Certainly during the blitz from 1940 to ‘41 there were just constant air raids. And, there were, you know, areas rules. Like during an air raid you got off the streets. And so, one was very restricted.
DeVorkin:Did you stay in your house or did you go to an air raid shelter, typically?
Dalgarno:Well, we had an air raid shelter in the garden of the house. What was called an “Anderson Shelter.” It wasn’t very effective and we never really used it. That was the name of our equivalent of is Home Secretary. [Laughter]
DeVorkin:Okay. Were you aware of the nature of the war? Did you follow the war?
Dalgarno:Oh yes. Yes. We all would assemble at six o’clock every evening and listen to the latest news.
DeVorkin:There must have been a terrible amount of tension?
Dalgarno:Yes, from time to time.
DeVorkin:Did you keep going to school?
Dalgarno:Well, we had this — it was entertaining in a way — we had this rule. If there was an air raid then we weren’t allowed out of the house, we stayed home. But, when an air raid was not in progress then we were expected to go to school. And the very problem with that is, we got to school and then they announced an air raid and then we’d have to sit in this air raid shelter on the school grounds while the air raid went on. So, we would wait until the absolutely last moment, because you have to wait somewhere. It’s much more comfortable to wait at home. [Laugh] So, as I say, all the children arrived late every day. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:But, there must have been, I would imagine, a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear?
Dalgarno:Sometimes. Not very often. No. The part of London we lived in was relatively unscathed. There were a few incidents which were rather frightening, but not many. Most of the time it was just boring.
Dalgarno:You were just sitting there. You couldn’t go out.
DeVorkin:Did you read books as you could?
Dalgarno:As much as I could.
DeVorkin:What did you typically read?
Dalgarno:I don’t really remember. Just whatever there was around the house I would read, not always understood. In fact, quite often not understanding it.
DeVorkin:Was it literature or mathematics, or science?
Dalgarno:There was no science and no mathematics. No, there were a few books. I think like Sir Walter Scott.
DeVorkin:So, when you announced that you were going to go college, were there any choices as to where you would go in your mind, and what you would do there?
Dalgarno:I could have gone to any one of the University of London colleges. There was University College London, Imperial College London, and King’s College, and some others. I could have chosen any of those. I chose University College because it was the most convenient. It was clear that if I went to the University I would have to live at home. My father wouldn’t have been ready to support me on my own. So, I chose University College for two reasons. One because it was, in fact, the most convenient to get to. And two, some school teacher told me that he thought it was the best in mathematics at the University of London.
DeVorkin:And so mathematics was your focus?
Dalgarno:Yes, I thought that it was an easy subject, and that I wouldn’t have to work very hard. [Laugh] I didn’t have any particular ambitions, except I didn’t want to go out to work. I mean, I liked the idea of going to the university.
DeVorkin:Was there anything about mathematics that appealed to you?
Dalgarno:Well, it was just I was good at it, of course, and it was kind of fun. I enjoy puzzles, puzzles of all kinds.
DeVorkin:Did you have friends, colleagues at this time, your peers who you would engage in with these puzzles, or were these always solitary?
Dalgarno:Well, it was usually one or two people were interested in them as well. They would come up in some sort of group activity. Not particularly so. I mean, they were just a way of passing the time, actually.
DeVorkin:Okay. What year did you enter University College London?
Dalgarno:It was 1945. It was the end of the war.
DeVorkin:And how would you characterize your undergraduate years in terms of the development of your interests, significant teachers?
Dalgarno:The first thing I found out was that my idea that this was going to be an easy ride was completely wrong, [Laugh] and I found myself working very hard, which I, as you know, had not expected to be doing. And actually, I often say I’ve never stopped.
DeVorkin:So, you responded to it? You met the challenge?
Dalgarno:Yes, it was enviable, for what they offered was [special]. I didn’t even realize that there was a problem getting into a university. I was accepted. It was only after I’d been accepted I discovered that not everybody was. And so, I was accepted into this special mathematics program. It was very highly specialized. All we did was mathematics. It was really very concentrated. I didn’t even do any physics. It was all mathematics.
DeVorkin:No liberal arts kind of program?
Dalgarno:It was highly specialized. Of course our high schooling went rather further in academic subjects than the schools in the United States. I had English literature, and I did German and French. And so, [I had] a lot of subjects to a greater depth than is usual in the United States. Then once I got to the university, it was absolutely one focus on one subject.
DeVorkin:So, you would say that your first challenge came at the University College London?
DeVorkin:Was that because you found people who were as good as you, or teachers, or just standards?
Dalgarno:Well, all of it.
DeVorkin:Who were some of the people who became your student mates, who may have gone onto scientific careers as well?
Dalgarno:Well, there was my closest friend at the college, who was Edwin Power. And he went on to be chair of the Department of Mathematics at University College London. He died. But, he was my closest friend, and he was very clever. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Evidently. What about the teachers?
Dalgarno:Well, they were all very nice people. They weren’t very good teachers. Partly, because, you know, they had all been away at wartime jobs and they were coming back and essentially starting to learn how to teach again, [Laugh] and they weren’t very good at it. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Were they distracted or just not organized?
Dalgarno:Just, disorganized, right.
DeVorkin:To what degree did you depend upon your teachers for direction or were you self-directed?
Dalgarno:Well, there was this detailed syllabus, the materials that we had to get through and understand, and pass examinations on. There wasn’t much scope for, really independent study. I mean, there were subjects that had to be understood.
DeVorkin:At any point along this time in your undergraduate experience, do you feel that you began to be noticed by your faculty, your teachers, and did anybody advise you as to what you should be doing with your life?
Dalgarno:Well, at first I began to think I had some skills, some real skills, [when] the other students would ask me, I would find them waiting for me [Laugh] to arrive to discuss the problem. We were sent problems all the time, very difficult ones, and the class would be waiting for me to arrive to discuss them. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Did you habitually arrive late because of that?
Dalgarno:Oh no. No. I’m only talking about five, or ten, or fifteen minutes, you know. No, no I didn’t. It just gave me the impression, you know, that maybe I, had some real skills and it wasn’t just that I was good at mathematics.
DeVorkin:Did you find that you could explain things, like the problems, to your fellow students better than the teacher could?
Dalgarno:Oh yes. Yes. Not better than the teacher could, but certainly better than the teacher did.
Dalgarno:Yes, partly because, you know, we could go over it in depth, sitting beside each other and really get into an argument. Some of these issues were fairly deep.
DeVorkin:What level of mathematics are we talking about here?
Dalgarno:Well, it was certainly solid geometry and much further than differential calculus. That was assumed. You were assumed to be expert in that. So, it was fairly, fairly advanced. Remember, that’s all we were doing. [Laugh]
Dalgarno:Oh, well certainly. Certainly. And complex analysis. Probably that was the most advanced.
DeVorkin:Okay. What about numerical versus analytic techniques and computational techniques? The solution of actual physical problems, that sort of thing?
Dalgarno:Absolutely none. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:None of that?
Dalgarno:None of that. Numerical mathematics was something I had to learn later [Laugh] when I began research. It certainly wasn’t taught.
DeVorkin:So, as you go through your University College experience, now this would be from ‘45 to ‘48, something of that order?
Dalgarno:Yes. I graduated in ‘48.
DeVorkin:What were your goals? Can you recall any focus at that point?
Dalgarno:Well, [Laugh] I think that my career is accidental.
DeVorkin:“Accidental,” did you say?
Dalgarno:Yes. I mean, when I graduated there was a question of what would I do? I happened to be walking through the halls of the Physics Department and I bumped into a distinguished physicist, Sir Harrie Massey.
Dalgarno:And, he asked me, “What was I planning to do?” Or, “What plans did I have?” And, I replied, “I didn’t have anything that one would want to call a plan. I supposed I’d have to get a job of some kind.” [Laugh] And so, he said, “Well, I have some money. I could support you to, to do a Ph.D. in atomic physics.” So, I thought about it and the idea that someone would actually, you know, pay me to do research and just do something I might be interested in, it seemed to me very attractive, so I said, “Yes, I’ll do that.” So, I started, more or less, because of that accidental meeting I actually stayed on to do research toward my Ph.D. degree.
DeVorkin:At University College London with Massey?
Dalgarno:Well yes, he wasn’t my immediate supervisor. He suggested the area and, you know, we stayed in touch. But actually, the man who was my supervisor was Richard Buckingham, a professor in the department.
DeVorkin:What helped convince you to make this transition from essentially pure mathematics to physical application?
Dalgarno:Well, I don’t know how to answer that, because it was just the idea of actually doing research, which although I’d never thought about it, I found almost immediately a very attractive notion, that one might actually find out something that nobody else knew. At least for a while. [Laugh] I had no real idea of what I wanted to do and I always had this vague notion that my father was probably right, I should get a job in some financial industry where some skills in mathematics were useful. Here was a way, at least, of putting off that decision for another three years.
DeVorkin:And did your father have anything to say about this, once again?
Dalgarno:Well, this time I’m getting paid. So it didn’t matter what he had to say.
DeVorkin:Did this allow you to move out of the house or did you stay?
Dalgarno:No, I moved out of the house.
DeVorkin:And where did you live?
Dalgarno:Oh I had a room reasonably nearby in the same suburb of London.
DeVorkin:Okay. And that would be nearby University College, or on the north side?
Dalgarno:Well, it was a little bit nearer University College.
DeVorkin:Okay. So, you worked with Richard Buckingham? And, how would you describe your graduate years in atomic physics? Was this all pretty much theoretical atomic physics, quantum mechanics, that sort of thing?
Dalgarno:Yes. It was applications of quantum mechanics, doing physical problems. And, it was kind of interesting because one of the other students was doing experiments and he was trying to measure what I was trying to calculate.
DeVorkin:I see. So you, you, was this your first experience with experimental physics then?
DeVorkin:Did you have any laboratory courses in physics at all?
Dalgarno:Never. Or since. [Laugh] I have an intellectual understanding of an experiment and how they’re done, or what goes into them, but I’ve, you know, certainly never done an experiment.
DeVorkin:Harrie Massey was very much interested, of course, in atmospheric work and, and what we would call “upper air geophysics.”
DeVorkin:What was all going on at that time it was really all very exciting?
DeVorkin:Did you go to seminars or become aware of all of this?
Dalgarno:Only modestly, which is a bit surprising, because you’re right in what you were saying. And also, you know, in a sense you’re more right, but you didn’t say it, but David Bates was there. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Yes. That’s right.
Dalgarno:And so there, there was a combination of Bates and Massey.
DeVorkin:Oh yes. Famous.
DeVorkin:Yes. It was Bates, and Massey, and Chapman, and all of those people who helped give Americans, who were firing rockets, some sort of theoretical framework to work in. And, I’m just wondering if you were aware of that at any time here, because we’re now talking the early ‘50s.
Dalgarno:I was not only aware of it, I was part of it. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:That’s what I want to find out. Okay. How did you become part of it?
Dalgarno:Well, I have to move on then. I got my Ph.D.. Finished that.
DeVorkin:What was your thesis topic?
Well, it was on the atomic collision problems. I have a list of my publications I’ll have my secretary make a copy.
DeVorkin:I have just the Astronomy Data Service printout here that I’m now flipping through, of your publications, and it’s huge. But, it starts, and I was curious because the first citation that is recorded in the Astronomy Data Service is from a conference on chemical aeronomy in 1956. And, I figured that you’d done work before then. When did you get your Ph.D.?
Dalgarno:In ‘51. So, my first publication was in ‘52, actually. And, as I say, it was this calculation of the scattering cross sections of the collisions of helium atoms.
DeVorkin:And, by then were you already seeing the atmospheric work that was being done as, as a medium to, to work in yourself?
Dalgarno:Well, the answer, the immediate answer is “no,” but that soon would change.
DeVorkin:And, how did it change?
Dalgarno:And so I should tell you that after my Ph.D., [Laugh] that the question was, again, “What should I do next?”
Dalgarno:Well, right. It was at a time there were very few academic positions anyway. But, but in fact what happened was David Bates, who was also in the Physics Department at University College London, though he was not my advisor, I’d had some discussions with him. He was appointed to the chair, and head of the department of applied mathematics in Queens University in Belfast. And, in connection with that he was given a position of what was called “assistant lecturer,” which is the equivalent of assistant professor, that he could fill it. And, so that sounded kind of, maybe, at least for a little while that would be, might be interesting. And, and it would certainly enable me to postpone the decision as to what I really wanted to do.
DeVorkin:You still, you still were up in the air about that?
Dalgarno:Absolutely. Yes. I mean, I, I enjoy the research very much but, you know, I wasn’t committed. Anyway, I accepted the offer and I went to Belfast, and that’s when I started to work with David Bates on problems in aeronomy.
DeVorkin:What about the rest of your life? Did you have a social life? Did you seek a social life?
Dalgarno:Oh, yes. I had a social life. I had, especially in Belfast. I had many friends, one of them quite famous, actually, became famous.
DeVorkin:Who was that?
Dalgarno:Philip Larkin. He’s a famous poet. He was a member of the library staff at the time. So, he was the so-called sublibrarian. He and I, we actually became close friends.
DeVorkin:Did you think at all in these years about having a family?
Dalgarno:Yes. I married there, and had four children, actually.
DeVorkin:And that was once you were in Belfast?
DeVorkin:Was there any feeling on the part of your family of your going to Belfast? Was that considered far away?
Dalgarno:Probably. I mean, [Laugh] I just went. It was at a time actually where commercial domestic airlines were just coming into common use. So, it was convenient enough to go from London, to Belfast to London and back. So, I would travel home fairly often. And, keep my mother happy. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:What about her other children? Did they stay closer?
Dalgarno:They didn’t, in the long run. My twin sister lives in Vancouver. My eldest sister was close. She lived just outside London. And, my brother was in South Africa. So, they weren’t very close.
DeVorkin:Your arrival in Belfast, was by 1952?
DeVorkin:And you became assistant professor or equivalent to assistant professor?
DeVorkin:How did your interests and activities develop there and when did you see that maybe you were actually, indeed, making a commitment on a career?
Dalgarno:Well, it occurred kind of slowly. I had graduate students. Some very, very bright — the Belfast school system was a very good system, and they were perhaps rather rigid but they taught mathematics and physics very well so that there were these very promising students who came in as undergraduates. And they were basically just beginning a graduate program, which they hadn’t had before. There the students were very eager to participate. And so, I had this sort of stream of really, really good graduate students, and I found I really enjoyed working with them very much. It was great fun.
DeVorkin:So, you enjoyed graduate instruction, guidance in thesis?
Dalgarno:Thesis guidance. Yes I’m not a great teacher in the classroom, but adequate, but I really did enjoy, as I say, working individually with people on a particular problem.
DeVorkin:What were the problems that you would direct your students to?
Dalgarno:Well, they were problems of applications of quantum mechanics to atomic and molecular physics. And some of those applications were related to aeronomy and that’s the upper atmosphere. It was very significant working with David Bates on some problems of aeronomy. So, that became a major interest.
DeVorkin:Aeronomy was a relatively new field, since I, I don’t recall at the moment who actually coined the term...
DeVorkin:Okay. Did you have a feeling that you were sort of getting in on the ground floor in a completely new realm?
Dalgarno:Sure. Yes. Because these were the first rocket flights. So, aeronomy was being changed from a subject in which one simply interpreted remote observations. You could actually go there and, and do real experiments. So, it was the beginning of the space age.
DeVorkin:Did you attend or were you involved in the Oxford Conference that Chapman put together? I think it was 1952 or ‘53?
Dalgarno:No, I wasn’t involved in that.
DeVorkin:Okay. There was a large conference over several days and it was on the rocket applications, and it was a meeting of American rocket people and the British theorists, and people who really knew the structure of the field and could engage in analysis and interpretation of the data. And, Chapman helped get them all together. So, that was not something that you were directly involved in or knew about?
Dalgarno:No. I’m actually very surprised that, that I didn’t, not that I wasn’t involved in organizing it. I was still very new to the field. But, I’m surprised I don’t know anything about it. There was another conference called “The Aurora and the Air Glow.”
DeVorkin:Oh, yes. Yes.
Dalgarno:Now, I organized that conference. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Ah. And, where was that?
Dalgarno:That was in Belfast.
DeVorkin:That was in Belfast? Okay. And, when was that?
Dalgarno:Fifty, 1953. I’m not sure. I should look that up, actually.
DeVorkin:My feeling is that there were a number of conferences, important conferences. How did you organize it and who did you bring in?
Dalgarno:There was an observer, Brian Armstrong, at Queens University and he and I, and he was the experimenter and the observer and I was the theorist, and he and I organized the conference. I mean, there is a book which would, you know, have a list of everything.
DeVorkin:What prompted the formation of the conference itself? What made you feel that would be something that would be useful to do?
Dalgarno:David Bates asked me to do so. And I was just, had just been very interested and I’d just begun working with David. I really enjoyed aeronomy as a subject to explore because of its, you know, combination. Here we were just now on the edge. Well, first of all, when I first worked on it, everything was just remote. There were observations of luminosity and radio transmission and things of that kind. And there were issues in understanding them. And here were the rockets on the horizon. So, it seemed to me it was going to be a very exciting subject.
DeVorkin:Rocket data was already being collected by Americans and they were publishing these data in the open literature? But, there were also rocket research reports, the Naval Research Laboratory issued them. There was the Upper Air Rocket Research Panel activities.
DeVorkin:Were you aware of any of these at the time, all basically American-based?
Dalgarno:Well, certainly not as much as I should have been. I learned that they had existed later, after it was no longer relevant anyway, because there were, [Laugh] you know, so many more measurements. I didn’t actually know at the time, but I was just, that was when I was just on the edge of getting into aeronomy.
DeVorkin:The first publication that comes up in the ADS is a publication of yours that was edited, in a book, edited by Zelikoff.
Dalgarno:Yes. Threshold of Space
DeVorkin:Yes. You spoke and prepared a paper on the Charge Transfer and the Mobilities of Positive and Negative Ions in Their Parent Gases.”
Dalgarno:Right. That was a year after the Belfast conference.
DeVorkin:Then you have, at about the same time, in the Zeitschrift Astrophysique you and Armstrong report on the Air Glow in the Aurora.
Dalgarno:Oh, [Laugh] yeah.
DeVorkin:And, it must have been a report on the conference, and it was communicated by Karl Heinz Bohm. Is that, is that significant at all?
Dalgarno:No. It must have been some report on the conference. But there is, you know, an entire book on the conference. Quite a lot of what I do appears just in the physics and geophysics listings in ADS. For some reason, a good deal of what I do is theoretical chemistry.
DeVorkin:Did you have a feeling by this time, by the fifties, by the mid ‘50s, coming into ‘56, ‘57, that you were actually contributing to geophysics, that you were getting interested in geophysics as an identifiable career path for you? Did you think in terms of career path at all?
Dalgarno:No. I just thought in terms of what I found to be interesting. I didn’t relate it to any career path.
DeVorkin:But it is pretty consistent, at least the ones that are cited here. Intermolecular Potentials, Ionic Systems, Transport Properties of Atomic Hydrogen. All of your, these papers, Raman and Rayleigh Scattering of Lyman Alpha by Molecular Hydrogen, Thermal Conductivity: Viscosity of Atomic Oxygen, and then you’re working specifically on Electron Cooling in the D Region by, this is by the early ‘60s, 1960-61, and you’re beginning to look at spectra. These are all pretty consistent?
Dalgarno:Yes. And it was that sort of movement into aeronomy which then sort of moved into astronomy. In a sense you could say aeronomy is a small piece of astronomy. [Laugh] I mean, the sort of consideration and style of research is very much the same. Aeronomy has the advantage that you can make local measurements which you can’t do in astronomy. You can’t really do experiments in astronomy. [Laugh] You can just observe, but it was a natural progression. That’s how I got into astronomy. It was certainly the kind of style of research I did in aeronomy is the style of research I did in astronomy there.
DeVorkin:You were bringing the same tools and techniques?
Dalgarno:And the same, as far as the same subject. You know, astronomers, for example, always tend to think everything is almost closely in thermal equilibrium, and then they discuss departures from it. I don’t ever start there. And I used to wonder, why did they bother? [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Why did they even bother?
DeVorkin:You have an article in ‘64 on the cooling of interstellar gas and that looks like the first one that was explicitly, at least in here, that was explicitly astronomical?
Dalgarno:That’s right, yes. It’s sort of encouragement to get more deeply into astronomy, because these experts didn’t seem to realize that the most efficient cooling process that determined the energy balance of the interstellar medium was this process that I talk about in that paper. I wrote that little paper actually with M. R. H. Rudge. He, he was actually a fellow faculty member. He’s still there. Well, in fact, now I guess he’s retired. But he remained there in Belfast.
DeVorkin:You were applying or analyzing data that had been gathered in other places. Did you ever think of doing observational work yourself?
Dalgarno:No, I really felt I would have no skills. I was very much, very much a theorist. I understand how observations are made and I understand, you know, how instruments work. But, the notion of actually using one, I had the impression it would break if I even looked at it.
DeVorkin:[Laugh] You had the impression that they would break, you said?
DeVorkin:That’s marvelous. [Laugh] You mean, if you looked at it wrong it would, it would fall apart or something?
Dalgarno:Well, that’s happened to me. [Laugh] I remember going to a meeting and we were all there with our computers preparing reports on what we had just been discussing when mine broke. [Laugh] And, we got another one and it broke.
DeVorkin:And it broke? [Laugh]
Dalgarno:So, they finally gave me a secretary. [Laugh] And it worked.
DeVorkin:Oh, I see! Well during all of this time, you mentioned before that you had to learn numerical techniques, especially if you’re talking about non LTE, and things like that. When did you make this realization and how did you apply yourself to it? That’s why I needed to understand numerical techniques, and perhaps develop them a little bit too, for the particular problem I was discussing. So there were books, and papers.
DeVorkin:And the use of computers, when did that become an interest, if at all?
Dalgarno:Well, I used computers all the time. I mean, just as tools, you know. I’m not interested in them from a larger point of view. I could be but I’m not. And that, in 1954 I came to MIT for the summer on some Fulbright program. And they had electronic computers called Whirlwind. It was called a Foreign Student Summer Project, something like that, and had people from all over the world. And, it was some American charity. They were bringing people together from all over the world to get along with each other by doing science together. [Laugh] And, for me it was an opportunity to learn electronic computing.
DeVorkin:Now while you were here, and you were here for a summer or for a year?
Dalgarno:Just for the summer.
DeVorkin:For a summer? Was this your first visit to the United States?
DeVorkin:And, of course, coming to MIT you, you must have become aware of the entire MIT/Harvard world, and I’m interested if you had started going to seminars, if you had branched out and even found all of the upper atmosphere work that was being done here, experimental of course, with Whipple’s work?
Dalgarno:Well, I knew about Whipple’s work. I certainly got involved with the people at the Air Force Cambridge Research Center. And they were starting to put together rocket experiments.
DeVorkin:Yes, very much so. Hinteregger?
Dalgarno:Yes, Hans Hinteregger was certainly one of them. Fred Marmo was probably less well known, but he was also there.
DeVorkin:Yes, and Dolf Jursa?
Dalgarno:Yes. I knew him too. And, the editor of the Threshold of Space, this conference, Murray Zelikoff. So, I got to know all of them, and they invited me to visit the Air Force Cambridge Research Center, and I did so. For the next several years I would come over for the summer.
DeVorkin:Oh, I see. That’s very significant.
DeVorkin:And, they had motivations in inviting you, of course, and you must have had motivations in accepting?
Dalgarno:Yes. I mean, they were trying to plan and carry out experiments, and, I was there as the tame theorist.
DeVorkin:The “tame theorist”?
Dalgarno:Tame theorist, yes, to interpret, to suggest experiments, to interpret them, and just generally provide an educational background for these experimenters.
DeVorkin:Did you give any kind of series of lectures while you were there?
Dalgarno:Well, I gave the occasional talk on some particular topic. I wouldn’t give any formal designation to the series of lectures.
DeVorkin:Right. So, it wasn’t formal?
DeVorkin:How did you engage in collegial activity and interaction? Did you, were you very proactive or did people approach you?
Dalgarno:Well, we were really interacting. And so, we would have an ongoing conversation over the summer. They were just personal discussions. An issue would come up and we would talk about it and then we would discuss it the next day, or next week, or whatever. It was very much an ongoing interaction, evolving interaction.
DeVorkin:Who did you feel you worked with closest there?
Dalgarno:Probably Fred Marmo, probably. He was very outgoing.
DeVorkin:Was Watanabe still there?
Dalgarno:Yeah. Watanabe was there. Of course, so I certainly talked to him a lot. He was very able. And…
DeVorkin:They were trying to develop these high-work-function photo cathodes and other techniques for solar ultraviolet, but they were also doing, I don’t think they were doing sampling, but they were doing a lot of different things. Did you find that work exciting and interesting? Or?
Dalgarno:Yes. Well yeah, I guess the answer’s yes. You know, it was, the notion that you could, attempt these measurements of the atmospheric properties. It was kind of an exciting idea.
DeVorkin:Yeah. Did you get involved in the IGY at all?
Dalgarno:Not in any major way, but certainly involved in lots of conversations. Yes.
DeVorkin:There was a 1956 conference here on the uses of satellites, predicting or trying to explore what one could do with satellites, and I think that was held either at the National Academy, or it might even have been held up here. It was edited by James Van Allen. Are you familiar with that?
Dalgarno:I vaguely remember it, but I certainly wasn’t part of it.
DeVorkin:And so you, you were, you, the best way to characterize your involvement with people in AFCRL?
Dalgarno:I wrote a lot of papers. On various aeronomy issues. There was actually one that was particularly interesting because my graduate student at the time was Michael McElroy. He was, he’s now become a very famous environmentalist. He was my student when he came to this country. He’s now a professor at Harvard.
DeVorkin:In looking through the 1960s and your papers that deal with the ionosphere, auroral work, ionization, association detachment, auroral excitation, forbidden lines. You’re continuing, of course, you’re at Queen’s University Belfast. Oh, here’s, here’s one, yes, that I was curious about. The Effect of the Starfish: High-Altitude Nuclear Explosion on the F-2 Region. And, you did this with R.C. Whitten. I’m wondering how you were attracted to that particular problem?
Dalgarno:Well, it was very simple. Bob Whitten, who had access to the data, approached me and asked me if I would join him in, and interpret, try to understand and interpret it. For me it was just data that were being provided on how the atmosphere behaved in response to a disturbance. It was just the kind of thing I was expert in, I was in some sense an expert in trying to interpret and understand. So, I was a fairly natural person to help. And, it was unclassified, apparently, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to see it.
Dalgarno:So, I was approached by Whitten, who himself didn’t know much about the atmosphere, though he knew more than he thought, as I recall. I was surprised by how much he did know. Because, I hadn’t heard of him. But, that’s probably because he was mostly doing classified work.
DeVorkin:What was his affiliation?
Dalgarno:I’m afraid I don’t know.
Dalgarno:I’d have to look it up.
DeVorkin:We can certainly do that. One thing that I may have missed. Did the discovery by Van Allen of the radiation belts, change your thinking about the nature of the Earth’s near-space environment and how it had to be studied?
Dalgarno:It did. Not that I did very much with it. It was very much a plasma physics problem and somewhat beyond my real experience. But the notion of the existence of the belts, yes. Certainly, that certainly changed one’s appreciation of the magnetospheric environment.
DeVorkin:Did it get you more or less interested or focused on what you were doing?
Dalgarno:Well, the more so, because particularly there was a question about what happened when those particles were dumped into the atmosphere during geomagnetic disturbances.
DeVorkin:Exactly. Like Starfish?
Dalgarno:Right. [Laugh] So.
DeVorkin:Were you aware of Stoermer’s work and all of that?
Dalgarno:Oh yes. Yes.
DeVorkin:Okay. We’re moving into the ‘60s and I would like to know how you got here? You, of course, were coming here in the summers to AFCRL, and I guess it was, Air Force Geophysics by then? You were classified as a summer consultant?
Dalgarno:Yes. I suppose. I’m not sure what title they gave me.
DeVorkin:Okay. How did you end up at the Harvard Smithsonian then?
Dalgarno:I was sitting in Belfast. Arising from my work in aeronomy I was becoming interested in astronomy, astrophysics, and particularly this paper in ‘64 which was never actually published but also was a significant point in astronomy. Anyway, I was generally becoming more interested in astronomy and I was thinking, “Well, if I’m going to really move into astronomy I need to be in a place where they do astronomy, you know, in some real sense, where they actually have observers whom I can talk to. And I have the mathematical background and physics background, I just need to learn enough astronomy to be able to make a contribution.” And so, I was looking to leave. Now, Belfast didn’t have astronomy of any kind. They do now, but they didn’t then. So, also I had some personal problems and my wife and I separated.
DeVorkin:Oh, I see.
Dalgarno:So, you know, it seemed a good idea to look for somewhere else. And, I wasn’t really looking. I was just making it clear that I was interested in moving. And, to my total surprise I got this invitation to come here.
DeVorkin:Who, who sent that invitation to you?
Dalgarno:Leo Goldberg, who was the director of the observatory at the time.
DeVorkin:And so, that was an appointment at Harvard?
Dalgarno:Yes. Well, Harvard-Smithsonian actually. It was a joint appointment.
DeVorkin:So, you had a faculty appointment as well as a staff appointment at Smithsonian?
Dalgarno:Yes. I had a faculty appointment as professor at Harvard, and I had a staff position at the Smithsonian. In 1967. I should tell you, I was asked to write one of these prefatory chapters for Annual Reviews in Astronomy and Astrophysics. And, I’m doing that at the moment. It has the answers to many of these questions.
DeVorkin:Okay. But, let’s talk a little bit more, though, in a little more detail than maybe you would put in the article about the conditions of the observatory and how you found work here, and how you developed your own path of research when you came here. Did it in fact, indeed, get you closer to astronomy?
Dalgarno:Oh, indeed, yes. I mean, here I was in the Department of Astronomy surrounded by astronomers. One of the important people in getting me here was David Layzer, who was professor of astronomy, and he had done some interesting work in atomic physics, actually. But, he was more interested in cosmology. I should mention that it was conversations with him that started it. I think that he then remarked to Leo Goldberg that I was interested in moving. [Laugh] And, I think that’s what initiated or stimulated the invitation.
DeVorkin:Were they looking, do you feel, for strong theorists?
Dalgarno:This observatory has a tradition of strength in what you might call applied atomic physics, or atomic and molecular astrophysics, going way back. And, I think it was just part of a wish to continue that tradition that led to the invitation for me to come. Leo Goldberg even, in his thesis you know, had done a problem in atomic physics.
DeVorkin:Oh, absolutely. Under Menzel.
Dalgarno:Yes. Right. And, Menzel of course wrote this book Physical Processes in Gaseous Nebulae. That was a remarkable contribution.
DeVorkin:Yes. When you got here though, how would you characterize the professional social atmosphere here for research? Was it as conducive as it was in Belfast, or other places you’ve been?
Dalgarno:The answer’s, “Well, yes it was,” partly because I had a number of young bright postdocs who were going to come to Belfast to work with me there.
Dalgarno:And, part of my negotiation to come here was that this institution, it turned out to be the Smithsonian, would create some short-term postdoc positions so I could bring these people here.
DeVorkin:Oh, the same people?
Dalgarno:The same people.
DeVorkin:Who did you bring here?
Dalgarno:So, I brought some younger people, people like Gordon Drake. He was surprised [Laugh] to come to Cambridge rather than Belfast. And so I started off with three or four postdocs. These were short-term appointments, but they meant that we had a very exciting beginning with what was really a quite sizeable initial group.
DeVorkin:You published a number of papers with A.C. Allison?
Dalgarno:Yes. He was a numerical expert, a computing expert, and many of the problems and the theories that we worked on led at some point to compare the experimental observation we had to numerical calculations. And, he was the expert. So. Any numerical problem, I would consult with him.
DeVorkin:I see. He was a colleague or a student?
Dalgarno:Well, he was both. I mean, he was a graduate, my graduate student. He was actually at the University of Glasgow. But, then he became a colleague here. He got a Smithsonian position and became a colleague here.
DeVorkin:By then, after the first few years here, one of the other things you did here was to analyze Mariner VI data?
DeVorkin:Were you asked to do that or did you, did you apply to do that?
Dalgarno:No. The data were available, and so I just took the data and interpreted it. It was nothing special.
DeVorkin:Well, typically there was something on the order of a one-year embargo on, on this kind of data, and did you get a sense that there was still much more to be done?
Dalgarno:I’d take that position. But, there were questions about the interpretation of the data, and I had my views and some of the people who did the measurements they had their views. [Laugh] And, I thought I was right and they thought they were right.
Dalgarno:Yes. But, I was going to say, just taking readily available data. It was available to everybody.
DeVorkin:You were doing, by then, a number of studies. There’s one in 1970 with M.B. McElroy.
Dalgarno:This is the McElroy I was talking about.
DeVorkin:Yes. Exactly. About planetary atmospheres. You were asking questions about Mars. You were analyzing Mariner data. Day Glow on Mars and Venus. Is this the direction into astronomy that was fascinating you, basically applying atmospheres, what you knew about atmospheres and aeronomy to other planets?
Dalgarno:Yes. Pretty well. It’s just, you know, the condition was somewhat different. I was looking at galaxies rather than planets. [Laugh] But, the same sort of issues of atomic molecular and optical physics arise in both areas of research. And, the same style, for me anyway, it was the same style of research.
DeVorkin:So, you regarded your expertise as something of a tool that you could apply to maybe different physical phenomena within, within that realm?
DeVorkin:Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about the institution that you are in. How aware did you become in the first few years about the nature of the relationship between Smithsonian and Harvard, and whether there were any issues that affected your research?
Dalgarno:Well, there were issues, but they didn’t affect my research. I had my group. I had reasonable support. And so, you know, we just did our thing and went on. But, there were developing problems between Leo and Fred, in which I wasn’t involved... I just recognized there were problems and didn’t even talk about it or discuss it with my fellows. I just recognized they existed but I just went on doing my own thing. I mean, there’s no reason why it should interrupt my research. Though Leo, I might say, was a close friend of mine so I was unhappy about it from his point of view. The problems, I think, [Laugh] and I’m no expert, but the problem, at least as I saw it, was that Fred was in a position, an extraordinary position that he could make almost, it seemed, unlimited appointments. And the appointments he made, he could make on an almost personal basis. Almost personal basis. He could say, you know, “I want somebody,” and the system would go into [Laugh] action to hire that person. So, Fred, was in this position and, of course, his appointments at a high level would have a major impact on what Harvard was doing, simply by being here. So, whereas Leo thought, well, he was in charge [Laugh] of what was happening at Harvard, he was unhappy about what he thought Fred was trying to do.
DeVorkin:What was Fred trying to do?
Dalgarno:He was trying to build, I think he was trying to build a distinguished research activity. And, its impact on Harvard and the teaching of astronomy, you know, that whole thing was not something Fred was much concerned about.
Dalgarno:So, I think that, you know, Leo became very unhappy with this situation.
DeVorkin:Did Leo confide in you?
Dalgarno:He didn’t. No. Not in any very explicit way. He might have said something from time to time in passing, but no. Though he and I were reasonably close, he didn’t really discuss the issues with me
DeVorkin:Okay. Because naturally, and you can imagine what I’m leading toward here is that you ended up as acting director?
Dalgarno:Yes. I was supposed to repair these great divisions that had emerged. Half the people here supported Fred and the other half supported Leo.
DeVorkin:And, what were their reasons for supporting one or the other? Was it personal or was it professional, or a combination of the two? Is there any way you can characterize why somebody would support Fred, or why somebody would support Leo? It wasn’t purely personality, was it?
Dalgarno:No. No, it wasn’t purely but it was mostly Harvard versus Smithsonian.
Dalgarno:I mean, the professors, the Harvard professors, brought here by Harvard, tended to support Leo, and the Smithsonian, the senior Smithsonian — I mean, I, myself, was, you know, joint. If anything they supported, they supported Fred. And it wasn’t just a matter of positions of Harvard-Smithsonian. You know, Fred also could literally support people.
Dalgarno:And when I came, I said, as one of the things I’ve already mentioned that I, well I had all these Postdocs and I felt committed to them. I had said they could come to Belfast. I needed to bring them with me. Well, that was something that Fred could do. He could create those positions. You know, as I say it was a short-term commitment but it was he who made it, whereas Leo would have wished to have made it but he didn’t have the flexibility or the power to do so.
DeVorkin:So, as far as you knew, Leo did not have any discretionary power over appointments like that. It was really Fred who had those discretionary appointments he would approve or not?
Dalgarno:Yes. Harvard University at the time had a system in which any given department had a certain average number of professors. And, you were only allowed to make an appointment of a new professor when your number was less than the average. [Laugh] So, the number of appointments, let’s say, astronomy would make was extremely small.
DeVorkin:Yes. So, everybody was being hired under the umbrella of the SAO?
Dalgarno:Well, that was, see that, that was possible. That could be done.
DeVorkin:Okay, what I’m looking for here was an audit, the report of an audit...
DeVorkin:… of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, in 1970, when there were questions beginning to be raised in Congress and in the Smithsonian itself, about why the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory was part of the Smithsonian?
DeVorkin:And, I’m wondering if you were aware of this Management and Budget audit? It took place in 1970.
Dalgarno:Well, the answer's “No, I wasn’t.” I wasn’t aware.
DeVorkin:But, I know that you were involved soon after that in January ‘71, being interviewed by an ad hoc committee on the relations between Harvard and the Smithsonian?
Dalgarno:Yeah. You have that report?
DeVorkin:Yes, I do. And, this was, just for the record, January 22 and 23, 1971. And, on the afternoon of the twenty-second you had interviews with the committee, and the committee included Greenstein, Kuiper, Purcell, Salpeter, Simpson, Spitzer, and I assume high-level Harvard and Smithsonian people as well. You testified. So did David Layzer. So did Ivan Danziger, John Wood, Ed Lilly, Gene Avrett, Charles Lindquist, and as well as three Harvard graduate students.
DeVorkin:That it was not a normal visiting committee, but there were issues. And, by then Leo had already announced his resignation and why he was resigning. Can you take me back to that and with your impressions and memory of what you actually said to them?
Dalgarno:Yeah. [Laugh] Well, I’m afraid the answer is that I really don’t remember what I said.
DeVorkin:Well, certainly not word-for-word, but the general discussion?
Dalgarno:No. I was trying to remember even the committee itself and I could remember Ed Purcell and that was all that, [Laugh] and Jesse, Jesse Greenstein. I think I remember trying to explain my view on why Leo was leaving, but I really don’t know what I said.
DeVorkin:Okay. In the nature of the report they don’t break down who said what, of course, which is understandable. They had findings. But they were first describing the nature of the two staffs, what their relative responsibilities were and their strengths and weaknesses, and then they talked about some of the personalities, certainly, primarily Leo and, and Fred. And one thing they said here that I found very curious is they said, “Whipple operates part of the SAO like an efficient government laboratory, which seems quite independent of Harvard and without much impact on it.”
Dalgarno:Yes. That was true certainly a large piece of the Smithsonian was kind of like an independent entity. It stemmed from the Sputnik [era] of course, in the first place.
DeVorkin:The satellite tracking?
Dalgarno:The satellite tracking.
DeVorkin:They said “Whipple testifies with some emotion that he should not compromise his authority on important decisions regarding SAO, and that he would feel unbearably constrained by the need to submit appointments, or major policy decisions, to a council or a committee. One of the suggested solutions to the problem of communication between the two directors was to create an advisory council of senior staff. Were you in favor of that?
Dalgarno:I don’t remember, I think, I mean, in a sense I would be in favor of it, but at the same time I would recognize it will never work. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:You wouldn’t think it would work?
DeVorkin:What did you think would work at the time? Do you have any memory of what you thought had to be done?
Dalgarno:Well, I remember having a sort of conflict in that, of course, one way, apparently one way would be to recommend what actually happened, that is there be one director, or two directors merged into one. That, at least, prevents any argument between the two directors. [Laugh] On the other hand, there are real issues that should be debated which aren’t debated because of the merger. And, that is the relative role of the Smithsonian and Harvard, especially the impact of the Smithsonian. At least some of it extremely positive. I mean, the CFA is much stronger than the two observatories separately. So, overall, it’s positive, but there is this negative impact that, that by and large, and this is an oversimplification and I’m putting it in more extreme than it really is, the Smithsonian doesn’t care about a Department of Astronomy. The Smithsonian doesn’t really care about the Department of Astronomy. It’s not the teaching and the graduate students. Look at the supervision of the graduate students, it’s usually not [that much]. Like the x-ray people: ask them, “How many graduate students have you supervised?” Such a large part of the operation here, and it’s a very small number. And, you know, you can’t blame them, you know, they’re paid to do something different. And so as I say, there are, there are problems…
DeVorkin:One of the issues that Leo was very worried about was the fact that he, as director of the observatory, and chairman of the Department of Astronomy, he found even so that it was very difficult getting Harvard people to teach. [Laugh] Certainly under Donald Menzel and Fred Whipple, more and more of the Smithsonian people were teaching.
Dalgarno:That’s true as well. Yes.
DeVorkin:Yes. And one of Goldberg’s gripes was literally that the quality of the teaching, as a result, went down. And so Harvard students were losing out. He listed a number of people, who were exceptions, on the staff, and you were one of them. You did teach?
Dalgarno:Oh yes, sure.
DeVorkin:Yes. And I’m wondering if you were also aware of that, that it was difficult to get many Harvard people to teach?
Dalgarno:Well, you know, when I became chairman, which was ‘72 I made it a point, as pleasantly as I could, of telling the Harvard professors that being a professor meant that they taught classes. And, it seemed to me, perhaps I’m misleading myself, [Laugh] but it seemed to me that worked reasonably successfully. But, it’s always a problem, of course, if you have someone who is not a good teacher, or doesn’t want to be, and you say, “Well, you have to teach anyway.” You know, that’s a bit hard on the class.
DeVorkin:Yes, [Laugh] for sure.
Dalgarno:So, it is an issue, but as I say, I felt the problem went away. I made a point of personally talking to each one about the course that they would teach and I don’t know that they taught them very well, but they taught them. But still, you can imagine it could be a problem. And certainly it was true that some of the Smithsonian people were extremely good. I mean, you take George Rybecki, he’s probably the best teacher we have. Well, he’s Smithsonian and, but he has the title of professor at Harvard. And, he’s a wonderful teacher.
DeVorkin:When the committee reported in, generally on the testimony of the individual witnesses, they indicated that junior faculty at Harvard felt that the loss of Goldberg would be disastrous. Did you share that feeling?
Dalgarno:Well, “disastrous,” you know, is too strong a word, but I certainly felt it was, you know, a distinctly negative impact. Yes.
DeVorkin:Did people see Goldberg as the problem or Whipple as the problem.
Dalgarno:Well, as I said, it split in two.
DeVorkin:Oh, different people?
Dalgarno:And half the people supported Fred and half supported Leo. My job as acting director was really to, and more important perhaps as chairman, was to somehow bring these two disparate groups, to bring them together in support. You know, after all, we were there, all of us, with particular responsibilities and that was the primary thing we should be concerned about.
DeVorkin:The conclusion of the group was that the, the attitudes of the two directors are “irreconcilable.” That’s the word that they used. There was no solution evident. So, they recommended that “a most obvious interim mechanism, with Goldberg leaving, and before there was a new director, was to preserve collaboration and, through creating a joint advisory committee with four representatives, no students” it said, [Laugh] “from each organization to advise the two directors on areas where large and fruitful overlap of personnel and programs already exists. Areas chosen should be where both institutions are successfully active,” so on and so forth. “The joint advisory committee should exclude from its interests the area of direct, active scientific responsibility of Professor Whipple.” That was a very direct statement. Now, given that kind of recommendation and I assume that you must have had access to this report, that…
Dalgarno:I don’t remember that one. But, right.
DeVorkin:I brought it along [Laugh] in case you want to look at it.
DeVorkin:Let’s shift a little bit now, because, you know, we can come back to this report at any point, and there were many, many other deliberations. I would like to get a sense of how, from your standpoint, you were approached to become acting director?
Dalgarno:Well, I’ve often wondered why I was. [Laugh] I was approached to be director, actually, and I said, “Absolutely no.” And then that was changed. “Well, for a period of time.”
DeVorkin:They asked you to be the permanent, the new permanent director?
Dalgarno:Right. As if it were just something that, you know, some sort of natural possibility.
DeVorkin:Who asked you?
Dalgarno:The dean at the time. Dean Dunlop. Whether he meant it or not is not so clear. No, I was totally surprised. I mean, I hadn’t been there very long. Perhaps that was the reason, you know, no one quite knew what my views were. I hadn’t really had that much discussion with anybody. Maybe I was a good listener. I’d listen, I’d been listening to people.
DeVorkin:Well, that’s an interesting observation. Certainly there were people who wrote extensive papers, position papers. David Layzer did. E.M. Reeves did.
Dalgarno:Oh, Ed Reeves, yes.
DeVorkin:And those are the only two I found, but of course, Goldberg did as well. And then there were position papers written, to some extent, by Charles Lundquist, and people like that who were wholly Smithsonian administrative people. So, it was a surprise you were approached by Dunlop?
Dalgarno:Oh yes, a total surprise.
DeVorkin:Did any of your colleagues suggest to you…
Dalgarno:No. Dunlop must have talked to someone, because he said that “It’s the unanimous view of your colleagues that you should become director.”
DeVorkin:Not acting, but actual director?
Dalgarno:Well, he did not say “acting.” Dunlop was a wheeler-dealer, you know. [Laugh] You could never be quite sure what he meant until you got it in writing.
DeVorkin:That’s interesting. He was a very distinguished fellow, of course?
Dalgarno:Yes, he was.
DeVorkin:You were identified, and I can’t recall exactly where and I’m sorry that I didn’t underline it, as “one of the brightest lights around here.” That’s the term that was used, and I can’t remember who said it. It could have been Leo. It could have been even Fred, although I doubt it.
Dalgarno:No. It wouldn’t have been Fred. Fred didn’t really know what I was doing.
DeVorkin:So, you had very little contact with Fred Whipple?
Dalgarno:I had some social contact, but certainly the scientific contact was none. Fred sort of ran his operation like a kingdom. I remember I wanted to make an appointment and I had a strong scientific case. So, I went to see Fred and I tried to make my scientific case and he sort of just brushed me off and said, “I’ll do it for you.” I wanted to persuade him of the merits of the case so he knew what, but he wasn’t the least interested. It was like conferring a boon.
DeVorkin:He was what?
Dalgarno:Conferring a boon on me.
DeVorkin:Oh. [Laugh] In a regal sort of a way?
Dalgarno:Right. He gave me the position, and so on, “Thank you very much.” [Laugh] So, I made my point, which was to offer Allison this position. Fred, there and then, agreed to create a position.
DeVorkin:Now, you knew this portion of the upper atmosphere so well, the very area that Fred had studied himself, why there wasn’t more interaction between the two of you?
Dalgarno:I mean, I had lots of interaction with Leo, for example. But, both personal and scientific and with Fred it was just personal. I don’t remember a single scientific discussion with Fred.
DeVorkin:Okay, I’m looking through various documents here trying to find the one that mentions you, because I thought it would be helpful.
Dalgarno:Can I get a copy of that?
DeVorkin:Oh sure. Here’s the memorandum of agreement on the advisory committee as well. And here was actually a very interesting move. One of Leo’s issues was that there was really no formal memorandum of agreement between Smithsonian and Harvard.
Dalgarno:Still isn’t, I suspect?
DeVorkin:Well, it’s more formal now. And, part of it is because of this period. There was a letter of agreement, and informal letter of agreement, between Donald Menzel and Leonard Carmichael back in 1955.
Dalgarno:Oh really? That long ago?
DeVorkin:And that’s what people referred to, as late as 1970, as the only written kind of agreement. And, people were sort of saying, “Well, you know, this is such a huge organization, and so complex, I think we have to have a little more.” And so this, here is from Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian, to Derek Bok, president of Harvard, and this is a memorandum of understanding on an advisory committee. And, this was based upon the recommendations, both of the ad hoc committee and of the visiting committee, to the Harvard Department of Astronomy. And, this was basically a continuation of the idea that there would be this joint advisory committee. So, I’m asking you, since you were named as chair, at least of Harvard, what role did you have, or did you become a member of that advisory committee, and what role did it play in, oversight of the institution, and did it help at all?
Dalgarno:I know my expectation would be that it wouldn’t really be useful except as a place where one could express concerns. It wouldn’t have any real influence. I mean, perhaps I’m being unfair. I don’t really remember. Fred ran the Smithsonian his own way, and whether there was an advisory board or committee, or anything, it really wouldn’t make any difference.
DeVorkin:So, you’re saying that if Leo couldn’t have brought Fred into more of a communal or not communal but collaborative circle that nobody could?
Dalgarno:Well, I certainly failed. Totally.
Dalgarno:Oh yes. Yes. But it, I mean it was very clear that Fred he wasn’t going to change his ways. In a sense who can blame him? He had this power, why would he give it away? [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Okay. I found the document I was looking for. It is a statement by Leo Goldberg to the visiting committee. After the ad hoc committee this is to the regular visiting committee. And, it’s within the report to the visiting committee, and it was listed as one of the documents that the visiting committee made about the importance of the advisory committee. And, in here, in his first paragraph he says that he’s leaving, and he says that, “My own understanding is that the dean and president are free to make whatever administrative arrangements they consider will be in the best interests of Harvard astronomy. In this connection, I am happy to be able to report that Dean Dunlop will announce to the faculty, on Tuesday, April 13, the appointment of Professor A. Dalgarno as chairman of the Department of Astronomy and acting director of the observatory from September 1, 1971. It is most fortunate that a man of Professor Dalgarno’s scientific eminence and wisdom is willing to accept this responsibility and I know that the members of the department and of the visiting committee will want to do everything possible to help lighten his administrative burden.” Did you talk with Leo at all about this?
Dalgarno:I don’t remember if I did.
DeVorkin:Is it possible, in your mind, from what you just heard me say, that it was Leo that suggested you to Dunlop?
Dalgarno:It’s entirely possible. Dunlop did say it was the “unanimous view.” Whether that was just one person, though, wasn’t clear. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Absolutely right. I have to set the stage. Did he call you down to central campus?
DeVorkin:So, you went to his office?
DeVorkin:Did you know why you were being called to his office?
Dalgarno:No. I thought he was looking for advice on who would be the next director and who would be the next chairman. I wasn’t, certainly wasn’t expecting to be invited to this.
DeVorkin:You weren’t expecting to be invited, so how did you take this offer?
Dalgarno:Well, I guess, personally my first feeling was, “Oh no. It’s certainly isn’t what I came to Harvard to do. I came to Harvard to learn some astronomy.” And so, so I said “I will think about it.” I said, “Certainly I’m not going to become director, and I would turn that down immediately.” And he said, “Acting.” He then said, “Acting director.” No question mark. “Acting Director.” I said I would think about it. And, I was more ready to think of becoming chairman of the department than I was of becoming director of the observatory.
DeVorkin:Right. I can imagine that
Dalgarno:At that point, Leo was both. So, I guess at that point it was probably better to have them both together rather than [Laugh] having the Chairman and the Director arguing with each other. So, I took the position of chairman. That was, you know, that was not acting. That was the Chairman. I remained Chairman for the next five years.
DeVorkin:How long did it take you to make that decision and who did you talk to?
Dalgarno:Probably my closest friend at the time would have been David Layzer, so I’m sure, I’m sure I talked to him about it.
DeVorkin:Okay. I’ll be talking with David Layzer tomorrow, and I’ll ask him. Maybe he was one of the unanimous people as well?
Dalgarno:Yes, maybe. I don’t know. Certainly the two, I don’t know, I think they were still there. Was John Danziger still around?
DeVorkin:I think so.
Dalgarno:And, Dick McCray.
Dalgarno:If they were, they would have supported me, undoubtedly. And, as I say, I used to argue to myself; well the reason was they didn’t really know me very well. So, I probably seemed sort of the least harmful of possible candidates.
DeVorkin:In Leo’s letter, Leo relates what the ad hoc committee recommended strongly. And he placed it more pointedly in here than the committee did because a good bit of time elapsed between January 8, 1971. And he may have done this himself. He said, “To assist Professor Dalgarno in the identification and recruitment of new talent.” Because, the ad hoc committee did recommend new faculty positions in the department be increased. And Dean Dunlop had approved this, two to three new positions. “To assist Professor Dalgarno in the identification and recruitment of new talent, Dean Dunlop has appointed Professor E.M. Purcell of the Physics Department to be chairman of an interdepartmental search committee on which Professor Klemperer of the Chemistry Department has also agreed to serve.” They say, he said, Leo said, “The interdepartmental aspect of the committee is very important because Harvard cannot remain in the forefront of modern astrophysics unless more scientists in other departments of the physical sciences take up research in some of the newer, far-out fields of astrophysics.” And, I’m sure he didn’t mean that in the sixties characteristic. “New far-out fields of astrophysics, which are as much physics and chemistry as astronomy. Not too long ago,” Leo said, “I suggested that the Harvard College Observatory might someday evolve into a Center for Astrophysics, which would serve all university departments in which astrophysical research was being carried on.” And he urged, of course, that this be considered.
DeVorkin:Does that sound familiar?
Dalgarno:Yes. I think he certainly had this idea that, that other departments would and should develop an interest in, in astronomy. The Chemistry Department was getting into astrochemistry, which is one of my subjects.
Dalgarno:And the Physics Department, particle physics, particle astrophysics. They never did, except the Physics Department has recently attempted to do so. Chemistry never tried to do anything. So, Leo wasn’t thinking of Harvard and the Smithsonian when he said, “Center for Astrophysics.” He was really thinking of the other departments at Harvard.
DeVorkin:Yes. And, that was my sense of it. I wanted to get your sense of it too. You agree with that?
DeVorkin:But, in addition, it suggests to me why you were chosen.
Dalgarno:It’s possible, I think.
DeVorkin:You came from physics, mathematics, you were doing aeronomy, but you were moving into astronomy but looking at astronomy from a broader standpoint of physics, would you say that this, this is a possibility of why he saw you as an exemplary candidate?
Dalgarno:Yes. It’s possible, because certainly, a lot of the work I do is theoretical chemistry.
DeVorkin:You see what I’m trying to do is rationalize how you became acting director?
Dalgarno:Yes, well I, I just, I don’t know. As I say, [Laugh] I was thinking slightly sort of negative position and I was, might have looked to be, you know, better than, at least better than anybody else.
DeVorkin:Say that again?
Dalgarno:Well, that I was, after what options did the department have.
DeVorkin:Well, who else was there?
Dalgarno:Right. And he had to ask that question. And everybody was identified by then as being either a Leo supporter or a Fred supporter. You know, I probably wasn’t.
DeVorkin:So, you were one of the few who wasn’t?
Dalgarno:So, I think I was one of the few who wasn’t.
DeVorkin:I see. Well, that could be very, very much a part of it too. Okay. This interdepartmental committee included you. So, it was actually a committee of three people.
DeVorkin:You mentioned E.M. Purcell as being very important, but I think this is the first time that Klemperer is mentioned. Did you know him at the time?
Dalgarno:Oh, very well, yes He was a close friend of mine. I certainly knew of his work and he knew of mine.
DeVorkin:But, the choice of those two people plus you to look for new faculty hires, was this something that was comfortable to you?
Dalgarno:Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, I mean, it’s most unusual for Harvard to just put it in the hands of three people. Yeah, it really was the appointment of the next director that was so critical.
DeVorkin:That’s how you looked at it?
Dalgarno:Yes. That’s how I looked at it. That’s what this committee was to do.
DeVorkin:So, the way that you looked at it is you went out looking for people, three people, and then one of them would be the director?
Dalgarno:The three of us formed this committee. These, there was Ed Purcell, who really didn’t like to get involved in such matters, but agreed to because the university pressed him to do so. But, I knew that Ed would do, go along with whatever I felt, and Bill much the same. Much the same, so, it was a very nice committee from my point of view.
DeVorkin:And then how did you search the universe for these new faculty positions?
Dalgarno:Well, I did talk to Ed and Bill and they saw they agreed, but I simply put together [a short list]. The number of people you can consider for such a position are not that large. So, I made a list and we had a discussion, and made some inquiries around the country, actually, as to whether people might be interested or available, and I always had in mind, you know, the Harvard system may need to be strongly supported by its own. You know, we sent out letters…So, it was much more convenient than most committees really are. There were just the three of us. We could talk very quickly, very readily. It all worked out very well.
DeVorkin:Well, I certainly know that Ed Salpeter was one of the names on your list.
Dalgarno:Well, Don Osterbrock was another. And, I don’t know how confidential these things are.
DeVorkin:At this point, Don is not here anymore, and they would certainly have been confidential at the time. But, in terms of the nature of the history that I’m writing, I would, I would say, I certainly would like to know because it would be very, very insightful to know the choices.
Dalgarno:Well, I think the question is whether you’re just describing these people as candidates or you’re putting them into order?
DeVorkin:Well, I know that from, from the materials I’ve been looking at in the high-level administrative correspondence that as people here were reporting to David Challinor, for instance, on the deliberations. Names were not named, but it was clear that George Field was not the first choice, but was as much as the third or even fourth choice.
Dalgarno:Right. He was the third, actually.
DeVorkin:Third choice? So, you’ve mentioned Ed Salpeter and Don Osterbrock. So, they were, they were higher up the ladder?
Dalgarno:Well two of them were. See, well I guess yes. Yes. That would have been Don. Ed Salpeter was a candidate, in my view, but I don’t think I ever expected him to be interested, and he wasn’t.
DeVorkin:He just was happy where he was?
DeVorkin:What about Don Osterbrock.
Dalgarno:The same thing. He was very happy where he was. He was just moving, I think, to Lick or something?
DeVorkin:Yes. He was moving to Lick.
Dalgarno:And, that’s what he was going to do. And he wanted also to be near a telescope.
DeVorkin:Right. Exactly, so then you centered on George Field, and I’d be curious to know how, how that process went, the negotiations with Field. I’ve talked with George Field and he said that he was approached by Ed Purcell.
Dalgarno:Yes. George and Ed had published together. I didn’t know George at the time. I knew his work, but not him. And so, I asked Ed to talk to him and find out, “Is he interested?”
DeVorkin:So you, you knew of, of Fields’ work, and what was it then, how, if you were to be asked, and I’m asking, characterize how you saw Field, what value Field brought to this.
Dalgarno:Don was certainly chair. I thought he was also director.
DeVorkin:Okay. So, he’s had director experience?
DeVorkin:But George Field had not had that much experience?
Dalgarno:No. That was risky, if you like. He had been chairman. He was chairman of the department. So, he had some administrative experience. I learned later the chairman of the department there at Berkeley had very little power. But anyway, you know, at least on paper George had that kind of experience. And, and he was great, from my point of view, and he was a distinguished astronomer, and he has enormous breadth. I mean he really, really knows a great deal of astronomy, and he can discuss in an interesting way observations across the entire spectrum. And so, from that point of view, from the scientific point of view and the point of view of breadth, and this is a large operation here, you know, he was a very good candidate. The one worry would be his administrative skills.
DeVorkin:Um-hmm. Did you take some means to find out what his personality was like and how people felt?
Dalgarno:Well, I particularly asked Don Osterbrock what he felt. Don was a very calm, sensible, rational being and honest. So, I thought I would get good advice from him and Don looked very positive. And, I was very anxious to find someone. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:I can see how you’d be motivated. [Laugh] Okay.
Dalgarno:I mean, I’ll tell you, actually, what I had discovered about myself. I was doing lots of things, interesting things I thought, in astronomy. And while I was director, despite the fact that I seemed to have no time at all, I was still continuing to do research and make progress. And then one day, two things happened. I discovered that I wasn’t getting any new ideas. I was just using up old ones. I just didn’t have time to really think. So, I basically told myself, you know, “You have to stop.”
DeVorkin:“You have to stop”?
Dalgarno:Yeah. “You have to stop. You’ve got to find someone.” [Laugh] And, and the other was that I was getting on an airplane and discovered I was looking forward to it, because I was going to have three or four hours undisturbed.
Dalgarno:I also discovered that the administration determines how helpful you are. Not by how helpful you are but how long you are prepared to spend talking to them about it.
DeVorkin:That’s “how helpful you are”?
Dalgarno:Yeah. That’s not what decides. What matters is how long you spend listening to their problems.
Dalgarno:There was no way to be an efficient administrator.
DeVorkin:Oh, I see.
Dalgarno:At all. [Laugh] Anyway, I certainly confirm what I had thought from the beginning, but it gave a certain urgency to finding a new director.
DeVorkin:Now, in many, many cases, of course, the person who becomes the acting director gets in, if, especially if you do a good job. They get a lot of pressure and a lot of encouragement from colleagues to stay.
DeVorkin:Did you get a sense that everybody was watching you like a hawk?
Dalgarno:No, you know, I had made it very clear, and I continue to make it clear. There may be one or two people who would have wished that I changed my mind. But, you know, I was quite absolutely clear about it.
DeVorkin:Could you tell me who they were?
Dalgarno:No. No, I’m just saying there may have been.
DeVorkin:Okay. Now during, during your tenure George Field did not come here directly? He was in New Hampshire?
Dalgarno:Yes. He took a year’s leave of absence, actually.
DeVorkin:Yes. He was on a leave of absence from Berkeley?
DeVorkin:And then he was there. And, people were corresponding back and forth as to what was going on here. And, the question over the ultimate relationship between the two institutions began to take hold. There had been some indications, and I’ve read it in various letters here that some people had the opinion that Field would have rather been director of the SAO than of HCO. Only, I guess, from the amount, the money involved. Not personal money, but what he could do with it. And then the question of how the HCO and SAO would continue. What I do not have is a clear vision of how both the Harvard and Smithsonian people got together, Derek Bok and Dillon Ripley, and decided that Fred had to retire. And, I was wondering if you could help me with that?
Dalgarno:Does this report make a recommendation that there be one director?
Dalgarno:I thought they did.
DeVorkin:And, it goes on with the separate directors for some time. So, just, just to refresh where we are. August 1970 we have the OMB report. We have letters going to Dunlop from Layzer and others through that year, through 1970. By ‘71 we have the ad hoc committee on the relationship. You did testify. Then we have Goldberg’s resignation, April 1971. And, at that point, he suggests some form of a JILA model, Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics model, be followed with SAO/HCO, and he strongly suggests a Center for Astrophysics. But, as you pointed out he means it more as an amalgamation of Harvard stuff to build Harvard up to compare with SAO. Because he saw this as an imbalance. So, so he’s really not looking at that, although E.M. Reeves, in one of his letters, thought that Leo would include SAO as well. But, there was no explicit inclusion of SAO. Finally, Whipple, by July of ‘71, is advising Ripley on his side that the two directors are the way to go and he’s sure that whoever’s coming in at that point he’ll be able to work with. [Laugh] And, he basically says that. And, he’s very, very enthusiastic about the candidate. Now, that is July of 1971. Would it, would it be reasonable that Field was the candidate by then, July of ‘71?
Dalgarno:Yes, it’s possible.
DeVorkin:Okay. They were also thinking of the Harvard College director, of the, HCO director would be a term appointment.
DeVorkin:Yes. That, you don’t recall that?
DeVorkin:Okay. It did not last, that. But that was, that was a thought. Okay, the, during this time, through the end of ‘71, the president of Harvard and Smithsonian secretary agreed that there should be a single advisory committee. Okay. And then, by ‘72, January, Ripley and Jesse Greenstein are talking. Greenstein was basically the chair of the ad hoc committee. And, they agree that having Field as Harvard director is most fortunate. Applauds having Field there. He also applauds the MOU on a joint advisory committee. And, so they’re still thinking of two directors. There’s a lot of other things going on. By February of ‘72, Reeves, E.M. Reeves, who is very close to Leo, writes to Leo Goldberg – and I got this out of Goldberg’s papers. So, he sends a copy of his letter to Dunlop, pushing for Goldberg’s idea, by then, of combining all astronomical activity at Harvard and SAO, explicitly, under one directorship. And, he states, "Dalgarno agrees. [Laugh]"
DeVorkin:Any memory? Anything you can help me about that? Would you say at this point that that’s plausible or unlikely?
Dalgarno:Well, I have the inklings of a conversation that, or maybe more than one conversation, that I had with Leo. And, we certainly did, did essentially conclude that at least some part of all the problems that existed would go away if there were just the one director. So that’s correct. That’s the sense that is correct. That statement. Yes.
DeVorkin:And that was then after you knew that Field would be coming in as, as the director at Harvard?
Dalgarno:Oh. Well that, yes.
DeVorkin:So, you would say it’s reasonable to say that you were looking at Field?
DeVorkin:Okay. Well, moving on, Ripley, by May of ‘72, and you’re still, you’re still acting director, spoke with Whipple in the morning of May 5, and then spoke with Dean Dunlop. And, Ripley is now writing back to Whipple, saying that both Ripley and Dean Dunlop feel that Whipple should resign the directorship on July 1, ‘73, and George Field will take over combined directorship at that time. So, it’s by May of ‘72.
DeVorkin:Yeah. Whipple disagrees, strongly.
DeVorkin:Okay. Were you aware of any of this? Did you play a role?
Dalgarno:I don’t think I played a role, but somehow I was informed. I knew that Ripley was going to ask Fred to retire, before he had. So, I guess probably Dillon had asked me what I was doing or whether I had any response to it. And, I would have said, “I think it’s a good idea.”
DeVorkin:Yeah. You, so you generally agreed with all of that?
DeVorkin:Basically Whipple then argues against uniting under a common director and worries “how much HCO will control SAO.” He says, this is Fred writing to Ripley, “I see the SAO as a young giant now constrained by being forced to walk in step with a handsome but older and weaker companion.” Does that sound like Fred to you?
Dalgarno:Absolutely. [Laughter] A little more literary than I expected.
DeVorkin:Did Smithsonian people seem to behave in the way that Fred describes?
Dalgarno:Some of them did.
DeVorkin:Well, can you tell me who? I’m trying to find somebody I can talk to, frankly. [Laugh]
Dalgarno:Well, you could try George Rybecki. He would have been around at the time. Who else? Some people had left by then. I mean, Ed, Ed Reeves, I guess he’s retired.
DeVorkin:Now, Whipple also, in his characteristic manner, included pro and con arguments for a single director, and he went on for pages.
Dalgarno:He never talked to me about it.
DeVorkin:He didn’t talk to anyone? He didn’t discuss the pros and cons? These were never debated, to your knowledge?
Dalgarno:Right. But, he may have had some small group that he talked with again, but he certainly, at the time when I was actually director he certainly never talked to me about it.
DeVorkin:Okay. But, one thing he did worry about was the possibility that “OMB will be reluctant to support a Harvard operation, and possible reduction in funding to HCO by NSF.” And, in fact, this is a prediction?
Dalgarno:Uh huh. Well, it is a concern. It might have happened.
DeVorkin:NSF, within a few years, this is Fleischer, tried to remove all support from Harvard. Was this a worry that people talked about generally? Was this generally shared?
Dalgarno:Oh, I think so, yes.
DeVorkin:From your standpoint, what was the logic in that? Why would NSF be reluctant to support this combined regime?
Dalgarno:Well, the NSF doesn’t support other government agencies.
DeVorkin:Yeah. Simple as that?
DeVorkin:But there was also the issue, [Laugh] and according to Fleischer, that Harvard was richer than NSF. [Laugh] Did you ever get that sense?
DeVorkin:The attitude, I mean.
Dalgarno:Yes, the attitude certainly.
DeVorkin:Yes, and Ripley listened to Whipple and he sees Whipple’s logic in some areas. He’s not changing his mind, but he agrees that they should be deliberated. Ripley was a very astute fellow.
Dalgarno:He was. Yes.
DeVorkin:“Especially, if united, it will compete with national facilities,” Ripley says, “and compete, as well, for attention in Congress.”
DeVorkin:Ripley turned loose some of his people, like James Bradley, who came as a consultant. And, he’s looking for a model to use, as a guide for establishing a combined or integrated program. So, they were going to combine or integrate but there’s just a question of how.
DeVorkin:There was the JILA model that I indicated, but then there was also the Carnegie-Rockefeller-Hale-Mount Wilson-Caltech kind of conglomerate model.
DeVorkin:Were you part of all of this, though? You must have been part of all of this kind of deliberation and I’m wondering if you had a particular vision yourself for how the CFA should eventually look?
Dalgarno:Well, I don’t really remember very well. I think I was supportive always of the notion of a single director. I thought there should be some sort of advisory council. Something actually I thought of, the model should be Harvard College Observatory, except it should apply to what became the Center for Astrophysics. Because [at the] Harvard College Observatory, the people didn’t actually meet until there was a council, and it was a meaningful council. Its views did matter. So, I thought that with George Field it could work because he seemed a very reasonable person, very ready to listen to what other people had to say. There’s some question as to whether the director [Laugh] now has time for that. Because it has grown so large.
DeVorkin:Yes. But in the case of Field, would you say he rapidly gained everyone’s confidence, or did it take a while?
Dalgarno:Well, it took a little while. No. But, you know, you couldn’t really complain. No, he was, he was up to speed fairly quickly. And, yes, he was certainly ready to listen to what people had to say.
DeVorkin:In the construction of the CFA, very much in Fields’ own delineation of it, when he had a proposal that was meant to be a talking draft that he wanted everybody to talk about, he had decided upon a structure of divisions?
DeVorkin:Where did this idea come from, divisions? I’m not sure, I’m not sure where it came from, but it seems like Chuck Lundquist, at one point, suggested cross institutional divisions that dealt with specific large problem areas. And of course, you, I think you took over one of the divisions?
DeVorkin:And, you remained as chairman of the Department of Astronomy?
DeVorkin:In 1972, September, you suggested that you felt the better model to follow was the JILA model, because the National Bureau of Standards is a federal agency?
DeVorkin:And, indeed, did that seem to take hold, as far as you can tell? Because Challinor agrees, at this point.
Dalgarno:Yes. I really don’t know whether it had any influence at all [Laugh] on what actually eventually became the Center.
DeVorkin:After Field is here and director, Challinor advises Ripley he agrees that the JILA agreement is closer to what they would like to do. So, that’s basically based on your recommendation. But says that “his impression, as well as Whipple,” both he and Whipple – because they continued, of course, working closely with Whipple – “is that George Field would rather be the director of SAO then of a Harvard College Observatory, and is probably angling now to be the joint director within Harvard lines.” Was this an accurate assumption on the part of, of Challinor, do you think?
Dalgarno:Well, I don’t know that I thought so at the time. I think so now. [Laugh]
Dalgarno:Just, well just thinking back and remarks that George had made from time to time through the years. Yes, I think that, that what you just quoted is probably true.
DeVorkin:And then Lundquist then advises Field.
Dalgarno:Lundquist was a very sensible person, you know, who really, I think, understood there were issues between Harvard and Smithsonian that had to be dealt with. He wasn’t sort of just blindly turning away and doing his own thing; even though he was permanent, you know, Smithsonian, deeply loyal to the Smithsonian.
DeVorkin:That really helps. That helps me a lot. But, at this point Lundquist is advising Field that “SAO needs to preserve sufficient identity to be viable for funding.” And, that’s identity independent of Harvard. And then he says that the one way to do that is to suggest that “divisions be formed, some led by SAO and some by Harvard personnel.” And, that’s essentially what happened.
Dalgarno:Yes. That’s what happened.
DeVorkin:And then, of course, by the end of September and October, Challinor, Ripley, someone named Larson, Derek Bok, Dunlop, everybody’s getting worried that word is leaking out. [Laughter] I would imagine by then you knew everything that was going on, right? [Laugh]
Dalgarno:Well, certainly, I would think so. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:The Smithsonian people are trying to coordinate with the Harvard Corporation and get their announcements in line.
Dalgarno:Oh yes. (Uh huh.) [Laugh]
DeVorkin:You’re smiling, I can see. [Laugh] You take great enjoyment [Laughter] in all of this stuff that you didn’t have to worry about.
DeVorkin:And, and the only question left was, is Field going to be named acting SAO director or just director? And, that goes back and forth and they finally decide it’s just director?
Dalgarno:Just director, yes.
DeVorkin:Was there ever any question about that in your mind by then?
DeVorkin:Okay. And, this is when George, by November ‘72 comes out with “a proposal for a Harvard/Smithsonian Astrophysics Center.” And, this is a discussion paper, so it’s open to everyone and the discussions start by November ‘72. I would be very interested to know, were there any what you might call “rump sessions” in the hall? Was this the talk of the town? Did you have any even semi-formal or announced times when people would get together and talk about it? Were there debates?
Dalgarno:I mean, there were certainly discussions in the corridors, as it were, but I don’t remember any formal gathering, or formal meeting to discuss it, just informal.
DeVorkin:So, there was no call? It isn’t uncommon in large organizations that somebody calls for, “We’ve got to have an all-hands meeting. We’ve got to thrash this all out.” Was there anything like that?
Dalgarno:I think there was a meeting of the — I should call them this — the important people, to discuss it, all of whom were actually supportive of it. But, there wasn’t any large-scale meeting where everybody could contribute. But, essentially I think George Field made sure that he would get the support he needed.
DeVorkin:Yeah. But there were a few dissenting voices.
DeVorkin:David Layzer was one?
Dalgarno:Yes. David would be a dissenter, yes.
DeVorkin:And did you follow his arguments? Did he ever talk to you about it directly?
Dalgarno:Well, I mean, we were quite close at the time. We’re not so close now, for another reason, so we must have discussed it and, and Dave is a traditionalist and he emphasized the Harvard connection. There are some people here who still do, and I think he would have preferred the Smithsonian to go away.
Dalgarno:And, and he had this notion that somehow Harvard was, and it was foolish of him and I would disagree with him, that somehow Harvard was better than the Smithsonian. That the Smithsonian was average, and was diminishing our reputation.
DeVorkin:Yes. And you used the term “foolish.” How so?
Dalgarno:Well, I think that the Center for Astrophysics is a vastly stronger enterprise than it would have been if the two observatories had remained separate. It’s unchallenged. You can’t argue with it. It’s foolish to do so. You have the evidence in front of you.
DeVorkin:So, foolish from a standpoint of intrinsic merit, not politically foolish?
Dalgarno:No, I guess it’s not politically foolish. Just, but from a standpoint of what it is and what has happened. You see, some of these same positions are still held by some people around, you see.
DeVorkin:Now, I, as I understand it, with the organization, the creation of the divisions and the naming of the associate directors, you were asked, evidently, by Field to be an associate director?
DeVorkin:And, did you, were you reluctant? Were you eager? Were you resigned to it?
Dalgarno:Well, it was theoretical astrophysics, and it had, you know, a very small amount of money, a very small amount of administration. It was almost nothing. It was almost a zero job, so I said “Sure, I’ll do it.”
DeVorkin:But, it had positions? It had bodies?
Dalgarno:It had bodies who belonged. Individuals were permitted to join whichever division they wanted to join. And, there had to be some sort of administrative structure to support travel, and well whatever else, but nothing of significance. And so, I said, “Well sure.” But, I didn’t have any feeling about it. No.
DeVorkin:Did, did everybody easily find a division to, to join, or were there some lone wolves who didn’t like that structure?
Dalgarno:There probably were, but if they were going to get any such thing as travel support or have any voice at all then they needed to belong to a division.
DeVorkin:One way or another?
Dalgarno:One way or another. Certainly.
DeVorkin:Okay. Was there a lot of moving around? Was there an effort, when a division was formed, to actually associate them physically in the offices? Did everybody have to pick up and move around?
Dalgarno:There was some effort to unify a bit, and which was not always, you know, happily received.
Dalgarno:And travel, you know, and office space are both vexatious parts of an organization.
DeVorkin:Oh, absolutely. Especially, when you can see how crowded it is here.
DeVorkin:This has all been very helpful and I hope not too painful for you?
Dalgarno:Not too painful. No, it’s been interesting enough.
DeVorkin:Okay. We have, have not followed your intellectual career beyond this point, but given the time and everything what I’d like to do is get a sense from you, did your, did your research and your mode of research, your ability to do research, somehow was it influenced at all by the reorganization?
Dalgarno:Well, in a sense perhaps it increased the possibility of getting funding support for some inlet to a rather small item. If you are small, it would have been, what difference it would have been if they hadn’t, if they hadn’t been formed. I mean, my research is certainly impacted by what everybody else is doing around here. And so, in that sense the merging of the two was, you know, beneficial. [Laugh] Because, I think because more is done, more interesting things were done. Yes. So, by and large it was good for my research.
DeVorkin:Did it put you into better contact or did it facilitate contact with people working in areas of astronomy that were interesting to you and that where you found you could contribute? Was it easier to form liaisons, collaborations, cooperation?
Dalgarno:Well, I think the answer’s “yes,” maybe in the sense that there were more people and I never asked them “What are you, Harvard or Smithsonian?” They were just scientists around the place, and they were there. And so, that was, for me, just a very good thing, actually, when you put the question in that way. And, the answer is, yes it was a very good thing for me.
Dalgarno:It just made the environment that much more interesting.
DeVorkin:Did it continue that way through Field’s administration into Shapiro’s Directorship and now?
Dalgarno:Oh yes, that aspect, on an individual basis. That just continues on.
Dalgarno:And, independently of the director, whatever I think of the Director doesn’t really change that at all.
DeVorkin:Would you say, in writing the history of an institution, that there was a huge change as Field came in.
DeVorkin:Field himself sees himself as a transition director, so to speak. Do you think that’s a reasonable depiction of Field’s influence?
Dalgarno:Well, he was driven by events, I think. So, I don’t know how you would take that fairly into account. It would have happened anyway, no matter who the director was.
DeVorkin:Well, can you imagine that a director would have come in who didn’t listen?
Dalgarno:Oh yes. Yes, it could have been a disaster. Right. Well, as I say, there were these antagonisms, which haven’t entirely ever gone away perhaps, but there were antagonisms which would have been made much worse.
DeVorkin:Would you say that there was a sea change between when you came in the late ‘60s and through the end of Field’s administration in the late ‘70s?
Dalgarno:Well a sea change, there was an evolution, certainly. Yes. I mean, there were, things did change. It became, well actually it was changing under Fred. I mean, it became more astronomical, you know. [Laugh] The geophysics aspect which had been so important in the beginning, especially in his provision of computer resources, was going away, and both, by both, but that was both George and Fred. It’s time had come and gone and the idea was they both had, and Fred particularly, was to make a regular observatory or else Center for Scientific Research.
DeVorkin:So Fred, in many ways, was not sidelined?
Dalgarno:I had completely forgotten about the MMT.
DeVorkin:Okay. Did he become a Dutch uncle? Did he become a mediator? Or did he just sort of work on his own stuff?
Dalgarno:He mostly worked on his own stuff. And, he enjoyed it very much, but he, I mean he once told me that he regretted not being director and then found how pleasant it was. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Okay. That’s excellent. That’s very good. Yeah, because he continued to be productive and certainly quite visible?
Dalgarno:And then Comet Halley came around. His comet in a way, so.
Dalgarno:Well, he’d seen it before. As a child, and now he was seeing it again.
DeVorkin:Yeah, that’s quite right. Is there anything else that you feel we need to cover, at this point?
Dalgarno:Nothing comes to mind. [Laugh] I’m sort of saturated.
DeVorkin:Okay. Well, it’s been very helpful to me. I appreciate your willingness to participate.
Dalgarno:Yes I might draw to your attention, I don’t know really how interested you are, [turning pages] in “Advances in Atomic and Molecular Physics?”
DeVorkin:And this is Alexander Dalgarno, Life and Personality.
Dalgarno:That’s my sixtieth birthday I think.
DeVorkin:Oh. My heavens. And this was all the way back in ‘88, and I missed it. Well, [Laugh] I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed. And, this is in Advances in Atomic and Molecular Physics, Volume 25.
Dalgarno:I could have saved you a lot of trouble, yeah. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Not trouble. It’s important to have these, these things available. And then you have Neil Lane, oh, this whole edition is [devoted to your work]…
Dalgarno:Well, there’s a series of articles covering my interests. But, there are three articles right at the beginning, four, there’s the preface and then three articles, which are summaries of my research in atomic molecular physics, aeronomy and astrophysics.
DeVorkin:This is a, a godsend. Wonderful.
Dalgarno:Well, there’s also this actually.
DeVorkin:What is this? Oh! Wonderful. Molecular Astrophysics: A Volume Honoring Alexander Dalgarno.
Dalgarno:There’s this, there is yet, there is yet one more, as a matter of fact, which I didn’t, couldn’t find it.
DeVorkin:And this is edited by T.W. Hartquist.
Dalgarno:1990. Sixteen years.
DeVorkin:Okay. And you have dedications and all of the different areas that you have been influential in, people writing papers. This is like a Festschrift?
Dalgarno:Yeah. It’s like a Festschrift. And, there is another one, as a matter of fact.
DeVorkin:Okay. There you are. Excellent. Okay. Well, and I’m a bit embarrassed. Normally I do my homework a little better than this.
Dalgarno:Well, can you track down books? How do you do that?
DeVorkin:I should have looked more carefully. I’m too focused on SAO.
Dalgarno:But, I thought it might help, help you.
DeVorkin:Well these, these actually are very important to record along with your oral history, that they exist. Future historians would use them together. It’s very different than the material, I think, we’ve gone over. So, so it really would be helpful. But, it would have helped me ask maybe a little more intelligent questions about your research. [Laughter] Now, and you say that you are writing an autobiographical statement for Astronomy and Astrophysics?
Dalgarno:Yes. And, that should be available by the end of the year.
DeVorkin:Okay. That’s great.
Dalgarno:I’m having a terrible time trying to do it. I’ll tell you the problem. It’s so boring. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:It shouldn’t be. [Laugh] If I, I’ll try to get a transcript of this to you quickly. Do you think this would be of help to you at all?
Okay. Thank you. Okay. I’ll turn off the recorder, and we are ending at just about five minutes before noon.
 See, Buckingham and Dalgarno, "The Interaction of Normal and Metastable Helium Atoms," Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Volume 213, Issue 1114, pp. 327-349 (1952); and Dalgarno, "The Mobilities of Ions in their Parent Gases," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Volume 250, Issue 982, pp. 426-439 (1958).
 See Ft. #1. ADS lists these earlier papers in the physics database, not the astrophysics database – DD.
 Armstrong and Dalgarno, eds., The Airglow and the Aurorae. The Airglow and the Aurorae, Proceedings of the symposium held in September, 1955, at Belfast. Edited by E.B. Armstrong and A. Dalgarno. London: Pergamon Press, 1955.
 The Threshold of Space, Proceedings of the Conference on Chemical Aeronomy held 25-28 June, 1956 in (sic).
 Dalgarno and Rudge “Cooling of Interstellar Gas,” Astrophysical Journal, vol. 140, p.800 (1964).
 A. C. Whitten (Stanford Research Institute), and Dalgarno, “Effect of the starfish high altitude nuclear explosion on the F2-region,” Planetary and Space Science Volume 15, Issue 9, September 1967, Pages 1419-1426
“A Serendipitous Journey,” Annual Review of Astronomy & Astrophysics, vol. 46, Issue 1, pp.1-20
 Dalgarno, et.al., “Mariner 6: Origin of Mars Ionized Carbon Dioxide Ultraviolet Spectrum” Science, Volume 167, Issue 3924, pp.1490-1491 (1970).