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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Joseph Giordmaine

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Interview with Dr. Joseph Giordmaine
By Sheldon Hochheiser
At Princeton, New Jersey
October 10, 2007

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Joseph Giordmaine; October 10, 2007

ABSTRACT: This interview covers the education and professional career of physicist Joseph Giordmaine, who spent his professional career at Bell Labs, Murray Hill, NJ (1961-1988), NEC Labs, Princeton, NJ (1988-1998) and Princeton University (1998-2005). Giordmaine earned his undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Toronto, and his Ph.D. in Physics at Columbia, studying masers under Charles Townes. Most of his research was related to lasers and non-linear optics, with particular focus on phase matching, optical parametric generation, picosecond correlation light duration measurements, and non-linear properties of liquids. Recollections of people include Charles Townes, Ali Javan, William “Bill” Boyle, Arno Penzias, and Kumar Patel. For detail on Giordmaine’s early laser work, This oral history can be read in conjunction with an oral history Giordmaine did for the Center for the History of Physics in 1985 as part of the laser history project.

Transcript

Hochheiser:

October 10, 2007. This is Sheldon Hochheiser. I’m here with Joe Giordmaine in his home in Princeton, New Jersey. Good afternoon.

Giordmaine:

Good afternoon Sheldon.

Hochheiser:

Very good. If you don’t mind I’d kind of like to start the beginning with a little bit on your background. Where were you born and raised?

Giordmaine:

I was born, raised and attended elementary and high school in Toronto, Canada, and did my undergraduate work at the University of Toronto.

Hochheiser:

And, what did your parents do?

Giordmaine:

My father was a professional magician....

Hochheiser:

Wonderful.

Giordmaine:

...And, that’s connected with the directions that I took in my career. He was born in Malta. As a teenager he was trained as an electrician and communications technician at the Malta dockyards, which was a big part of the Maltese economy at that time. He worked there on warships during the First World War and emigrated to Canada in 1919. In Toronto he worked first as an electrician, but kept up his hobbies of music (flute and piano) and magic that he brought with him from Malta. During intermissions of his flute performances in a small Toronto orchestra he entertained audiences with sleight of hand. People liked the magic better than the music and as a result he ultimately became a professional magician, well known both in Canada and the United States. On TV he appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and was a frequent guest on the Captain Kangaroo show. He had a very successful career in magic. He encouraged me from the beginning to take up magic, but also shared his electrical engineering background with me. I can clearly remember the experiments with spark coils and magnets he showed me as a grade school student. The most exciting project was building a crystal set and tuning in radio stations. It was amazing to me to listen to voices and music coming from something as simple as a crystal and a length of wire coiled around a salt box. It was Dad who kindled my earliest excitement about engineering and science. I was fortunate to attend an outstanding Toronto high school where there were a very strong and dedicated group of teachers — De La Salle Oaklands. The teachers were Christian Brothers, and they inspired many of their students to pursue successful careers in various fields. They were particularly strong on mathematics and science gave me a lot of encouragement and conveyed a sense of the excitement of science. The high school background was very formative for me. Then, I went to the University of Toronto.

Hochheiser:

And, was that just natural because you lived in Toronto and that was the local university?

Giordmaine:

Yes, I didn’t consider going anywhere else. No one in my family had ever attended university and I didn’t know much about universities. All I knew was that the University of Toronto was close by. But there was one other factor. I wrote the province-wide matric examinations to enter the University of Toronto and was fortunate to receive scholarships from both the University and to St. Michael's College, which covered all my tuition fees. In the fall of 1951 I entered mathematics, physics, and chemistry. At first I wanted to concentrate in mathematics. I soon realized that this would not be a good idea — I found the subject too abstract....

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Giordmaine:

...In freshman year I became interested in physical chemistry, largely because of a particularly inspiring professor, Frank Wetmore. By junior year though I was concentrating on physics.

Hochheiser:

While you were still at Toronto?

Giordmaine:

Yes, I was still at Toronto. The U of T physics department had a history of strong experimental research going back to the early 1900's. Even in the early ‘50s, students at Toronto got an unusually thorough exposure to laboratory physics. For example, you learned to use large optical grating spectrometers, interferometers, and x-ray diffraction apparatus. This experience would turn out to be very useful, although at the time I had little interest in optics, a field that seemed to me to be a backwater. I had long had a hobby of electronics, and I decided in my senior year that I wanted to do graduate work in microwave spectroscopy, an area that combined electronics and molecular spectroscopy. While selecting a graduate school I studied the only textbook that I could find in microwave spectroscopy, by Walter Gordy and others at Duke University. I applied there and to several other places, and got accepted at Duke. This was in the autumn of ‘54. Just at that time Charles Townes, a professor at Columbia and a microwave spectroscopist, came to visit Toronto at the invitation of Harry Welsh, a prominent U of T physicist. Townes gave a talk on his newly invented maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), which had been demonstrated for the first time just a few months earlier. I didn’t fully understand it, but I did recognize that here was something radically new, a really novel combination of electronics and spectroscopy, and I got very excited. So, I approached Townes after the talk, told him about my interest, and asked whether there might be a possible opening for me in his group. He talked to the professors at Toronto and eventually I got accepted at Columbia. I began graduate work in physics in New York in the fall of ‘55.

Hochheiser:

Specifically to work with Townes?

Giordmaine:

Yes. I didn’t want to work the first year in the usual graduate student teaching position but preferred to work in a laboratory. Townes very kindly assigned me to a position in his lab assisting a post-doc, and later a prominent laser scientist, Ali Javan.

Hochheiser:

So he was a grad student at the time or a postdoc?

Giordmaine:

He was a postdoc. He had a very ambitious project — building a type of magnetic molecular beam maser, which required huge submarine batteries to produce the currents and fields necessary for magnetic focusing of the beam. He taught me a lot about high speed electronics for detection of microwave signals, and the techniques of signal processing. He also taught me a lot of quantum mechanics, because at the time he was working on a full theory of the three-level maser, not just the basic rate-equation approach but a density-matrix theory that included multiple photon transitions, anticipating, for example, work done many years later on lasing without inversion. It was a very valuable introduction to physics research. Since my career turned out to be in industrial research, I should mention that as a grad student in physics at Columbia at that time one got very little feeling at all for what work in industry might be like. It just didn’t get discussed. What I knew about industrial and non-academic jobs came largely from summer work during college years. I had been lucky enough as an undergraduate to find jobs each summer. The first, entering freshman year, was at a Philco radio factory in Toronto, as an assistant to a technician who maintained the test equipment on the production lines. This was a great chance to learn more electronics. The summer before sophomore year I worked for the local power company, the Toronto Hydroelectric System. Although I had hoped to be assigned to something like wiring switchboards, the job turned out to be cleaning circuit breakers with a maintenance crew in power sub-stations around the city. The breakers were 4 ft.-high, oil-filled steel cylinders containing a large switch that opened when necessary to interrupt high-current circuits. The oil was there to quench the arc formed when the switch opened and it soon became a mass of black sludge that had to be cleaned out. A lesson for me was that if I was ever to quit school, this was not the time to do it. The next summer job, after sophomore year, was at the Arvida, Quebec lab of the Aluminum Company of Canada. My main assignment was to evaluate a proposed method that did not use a microscope, for measurement of particle size of the aluminum oxide powder that goes into the smelter to make aluminum. The technique involved spreading the powder on a plate, and then gradually tilting the plate until, at a certain angle, the powder would suddenly slide off. Someone had the idea that the angle of sliding could be a simple measure of the size of the particles. This turned out to be a frustrating process to evaluate but, in the end, I was able to report that there was no useful correlation. That was my first exposure to industrial research. The summer after junior year was spent at the National Research Council lab at Ottawa, where I worked in a radar development group helping to evaluate the use of epoxy compounds for encapsulation of small electronic assemblies. Finally, following senior year, I worked at the Atomic Energy of Canada Laboratory at Chalk River, north of Ottawa, where I had a chance to do radiochemistry — separations and analyses of radioactive elements based on the amount and type of activity present. This was largely a study of isotopes of plutonium, and was really chemistry....

Hochheiser:

Right.

Giormaine:

...rather than physics. After I entered Columbia the other graduate students and I didn’t really talk much about future jobs in industrial labs. The focus was on basic physics research.

Hochheiser:

It didn’t come up while you were in grad school?

Giordmaine:

Well, not at the beginning anyway.

Hochheiser:

So, you started off with the assumption that you would complete your graduate education and then go into academics?

Giordmaine:

That’s right. But things changed during the course of graduate work. Let me describe a few experiences as a grad student. During the first year, in addition to taking courses, and getting a lot of laboratory experience working with Ali Javan, I was given a project in collaboration with a postdoc there, a Chinese physicist T.C. Wang. Our job was to evaluate the “crinkly-foil” gas sources used in molecular beam masers. These were made by winding a corrugated strip of metal foil into a roll to form a kind of nozzle. Gas exited from the roll as a molecular beam directed toward the focuser and the resonator of the maser. The physics of the gas flow was assumed to be well understood — if the pressure in the tube is high the gas flow is viscous; if the pressure is low and the mean free path longer than the length of the tube, the gas molecules travel in straight lines colliding only with the walls, a condition known as Knudsen flow. However, the maser source had to operate in an intermediate region where the mean free path is shorter than the length of the tube, but not so short that the flow became viscous. I was able to come up with a mathematical model for the process that described flow in the intermediate regime quantitatively, and turned out to agree well with our experiments. In the model, the peak beam intensities and angular beam widths were found to be related the square roots of the tube diameter and the flow rates. This was a new and distinct regime of gas flow. I was excited about the result because it was my first really independent discovery. After the end of the first year the serious business of the thesis began. I had the idea of studying the microwave spectroscopy of hydroxyl radicals as a thesis project. But Townes asked Lee Alsop, another Columbia physics grad student, and me to work instead on a maser amplifier for radio astronomy. Townes had a serious interest in astronomy, and radio astronomy offered an important opportunity to demonstrate the usefulness of the maser, which at that time had not yet been used for any practical application. The challenge was to build a maser that could be used as a preamplifier to reduce the noise level of an existing microwave receiver. The ammonia maser was not suitable, and a solid-state maser was essential. When I arrived the closest approach to a solid state maser demonstration had been the work of Townes and others in France in 1954-55, which involved magnetic resonance of impurity spins in a silicon crystal. This is a two-level system in which the excited state has a lifetime of the order of 10 seconds. If the crystal is physically rotated by 180° the spin population becomes inverted and in principle can act as a maser amplifier. However it did not lend itself for use in radio-astronomy. So here we were with a thesis assignment, but no maser that would do the job. Just at that time Nicolaas Bloombergen of Harvard proposed a practical three-level maser system in paramagnetic crystals. Almost immediately such a maser was demonstrated at Bell Labs. After some analysis it became clear that this system would marginally work in our amplifier. Its gain-bandwidth product, the measure of its suitability, would be very limited but there was hope, at least, of a significant maser demonstration and getting a thesis out of it. So, we started the work, designing the resonant cavity containing the crystal, the waveguide connection to the antenna, and particularly the adjustable coupling of the resonator to the waveguide. The resonator had to be immersed in liquid helium at a temperature of 1 K and its coupling to the output waveguide precisely adjustable to obtain the needed high gain without going into oscillation. In the interest of time our system was somewhat primitive and the receiver would require constant attention during operation. By 1957 we were well along in the development, although it was clearly going to be a stretch to make everything work in a practical way. Just then Chihiro Kikuchi and his colleagues University of Michigan demonstrated a three-level maser in ruby. As soon as we saw their paper we realized, “This is really going to do it.” As a maser medium the chromium dopant in ruby offered gain, bandwidth and other properties that made it ideal for a practical microwave amplifier. Fortunately our design could be easily transferred to a ruby maser. So, within less than a year and a half from the time that Townes assigned us the project Lee Alsop and I had the amplifier working in the laboratory. At that point we transferred it to the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. In collaboration with the experienced radio-astronomers at NRL the receiver was mounted at the focus of the fifty-foot dish antenna on the roof of NRL. The dish is still there today (2007). It was challenging to make observations because the dewar of liquid helium containing the maser had to be hoisted up to the antenna focus before each run.

Hochheiser:

Hoisted up, up on the roof?

Giordmaine:

Yes, the procedure was to transfer liquid helium to the dewar inside the building, carry the dewar up to the roof, hoist it up to the focus, then work on a raised platform at the focus to connect the dewar and maser to the receiver. We were able to make improved observations of microwave radiation near 10 GHz from planets, ionized hydrogen nebulae and other astronomical objects. The improvement resulted from greater signal-to-noise ratio using the maser preamplifier. The maser reduced the noise temperature by about a factor of 10, giving a factor of 3 improvement in signal-to-noise ratio. A surface temperature of Venus was measured to be 575 K, confirming the earlier NRL discovery of high surface temperatures. All of this work was in collaboration with NRL.

Hochheiser:

How were you able to get the cooperation of the Naval Research Laboratory to do this? At the point you’ve got it, you’ve got the device set up in the lab?

Giordmaine:

In fact from the earliest stages of the project Townes and NRL people coordinated the project. Cornell Mayer, a leading NRL radio astronomer, was our contact and supervised their end of the work. After about a year at NRL the observational phase of the project wound down and Alsop and I began the data analysis, the preparation of publications and writing up our theses. By the way, at that time Townes had a new graduate student, Arno Penzias, and we worked together both at Columbia, and later for a while at Bell Labs, which I’ll get back to.

Hochheiser:

Well, before that could you talk a little bit about Townes as a mentor and adviser?

Giordmaine:

For me one of Townes' most impressive qualities was his vision. For example, he assigned us the maser amplifier as a PhD project when the necessary technology just didn't exist. He could look far enough ahead to see that if we started the work now, what we needed would materialize in good time. And indeed, the three-level maser appeared and improved materials became available. He was an ideal mentor. He stimulated creativity by leaving people to work for themselves — except when things were going too slowly, when he would provide a gentle, or not-so-gentle, prod. I remember at one point we urgently needed a final piece of data for an approaching meeting. We had to work late and feverishly in the lab. I had just rearranged the apparatus, and suddenly nothing worked. At that moment, before we could troubleshoot the problem, he happened to come to check on the work — he didn’t spend much in time the laboratory at that point. He looked over the experiment and immediately noticed that two waveguides were crossed. You can connect certain waveguides incorrectly such that their two polarizations are opposed and nothing can pass through that connection. He quietly remarked, “Well Joe, sometimes you have to think about things a little bit.” In general though he was patient, very supportive of his students and we all had tremendous respect for him. For me he served in many ways in loco parentis. During the period of my graduate work he began to receive recognition and awards for the invention of the maser. He would sometimes share the prize money with graduate students. To get back to the theme of industrial research, I mentioned that at the beginning of graduate work I had given no thought to a future job in an industrial lab. But, about two years into our project, I had a chance to visit Bell Laboratories, where Townes had a lot of contacts.

Hochheiser:

Right. He had been there for a while in the ‘40s.

Giordmaine:

Yes. On this occasion, as I recall, he had been invited to give a talk and he brought me and one or two other graduate students along. We saw the work at the Holmdel lab on traveling wave microwave amplifiers. Some of this was directed toward a ruby maser amplifier, which Bell Labs was anxious to have for use in satellite communications. The first experiment would be Echo —

Hochheiser:

The big balloon in the ‘60s. Right.

Giordmaine:

The next one would be Telstar in 1962....

Hochheiser:

Right

Giormaine:

...For satellite communication Bell had to have a very low-noise amplifier. So, they were developing a maser device which ultimately was used at the Bell Labs station in Maine.

Hochheiser:

Yes. Andover, Maine.

Giordmaine:

So, at that time they were working on it and we saw their sophisticated traveling wave amplifier....

Hochheiser:

Yeah.

Giordmaine:

...approach, which drew from a lot of earlier work by Kompfner, Pierce, and others in the group. I didn’t completely understand the traveling wave technology at that time, and it was a little intimidating to see the advanced Bell Labs engineering in comparison with our much smaller Columbia effort. Our maser amplifier was a simple resonant cavity, in which you had to adjust the coupling to bring it to the edge of oscillation — an unstable and relatively primitive arrangement. It turned out however that its simplicity would be a great advantage in moving quickly to a demonstration.

Giordmaine:

Well, the visit to Bell Labs inspired us to greater efforts, and indeed we got our simpler device into operation before they did. Our 1959 paper on the amplifier for radio astronomy in the Proceedings of the IRE was the first on an application of a maser to a working microwave system. Of course by the time the Bell Labs people completed their work they had a fully engineered device, suitable for application in a satellite communication system.

Hochheiser:

Right, rather than an experiment?

Giordmaine:

It was a real device, not a graduate student project. But, in any case it was really a thrill to see our amplifier actually working and soon collecting astronomical data at the NRL lab.

Hochheiser:

I find it interesting that you’re a graduate student, you’re in a physics department but you’re publishing in the IEEE journal, not in a physics Journal?

Giordmaine:

That’s right. But some of the work done in developing the preliminary maser....

Hochheiser:

Right.

Giordmaine:

... did involve new physics that we studied in detail and published in the Physical Review. For example, along with Franklin Nash we discovered a remarkably efficient exchange of excitation between adjacent energy levels. This work was incidental to the mainstream project of developing a practical maser amplifier. Townes' group was indeed one of the few — if not the only group in the Columbia Physics Department — working on research that could be published in the Proceedings of the IRE (later IEEE) — in other words, really applied work. And, a few people felt that sort of thing should not be going on in the Physics Department. It certainly wasn’t a typical physics study at Columbia. Just at the time the work was approaching completion I accepted an offer of a position as Instructor at Columbia. After wrapping up the thesis I began work on a new technique for measuring paramagnetic resonance and relaxation. I also taught a graduate-level problem session in electromagnetic theory (an opportunity to really learn the subject myself!) and an introductory physics course to pre-med students. But from a physics point of view that period was not very productive. Because the work on maser radio-astronomy was well received, I began to get interview invitations from other universities and from industrial laboratories, including Bell Labs. My independent research at Columbia was not progressing well and I decided that it might be good at least to look into industrial positions, where I could focus completely on research. I had gained a high regard for Bell Labs, and gave an interview talk there on the Columbia radio-astronomy activities and my own thesis work related to masers. It turned out to be a fortunate time to interview at Bell. Shortly before my visit, Ted Maiman at Hughes Laboratories had reported the first operation of a laser. After Maiman's ruby laser demonstration, Bell Labs’ laser work, begun two years earlier with the pioneering proposal of Townes and Schawlow, was being expanded. So, it turned out, after my interview visit, I had the unusual opportunity to choose one of three positions at Bell Labs. One was at Holmdel in Rudy Kompfner’s communications research laboratory, the second in Sid Millman’s physics research lab, and the third was in the solid-state electronics research laboratory, in a department headed by Bill Boyle, later co-inventor of the CCD. Boyle was in a completely different field, more solid state than laser device physics, but we got along well together and I accepted the position in his department.

Hochheiser:

Okay. And this is in Murray Hill?

Giordmaine:

Yes. I arrived in Murray Hill in June of ‘61. Ruby lasers were already in use by researchers. The ruby laser at that time was essentially a ruby rod mounted inside a photographer’s flash lamp, an arrangement similar to Maiman's. An important early laser result at Bell had been to demonstrate that the ruby laser actually produced a highly collimated beam of light, a result not reported in Maiman’s first laser publication. I found there were actual lasers in place in nearby labs, and was able to borrow one. With a lot of help from Bell Labs colleagues and a skilled technical assistant, Ken Wecht, I was able to set up a laser lab within weeks and start gaining experience in using this remarkable light source. After demonstrating various diffraction and other classical optical effects I began to explore the damage and possible other effects of focusing the intense laser beam inside transparent materials. At this point the work was “a fishing expedition”. But within only a few weeks, in late summer of 1961 a Physical Review Letter appeared from Peter Franken, Gabriel Weinreich and others at University of Michigan reporting the discovery of second harmonic generation of light. This was the first paper in a new area of physics, nonlinear optics, which was to become my field. Their paper reported a simple experiment: a beam of ruby laser light was focused into a spot in a quartz crystal, the spot was imaged on to the slit of a spectrometer, and a spot was found on the photographic plate corresponding to ultraviolet light at one half the ruby laser wave-length. That was it. The amount of light was tiny. In fact, when Phys. Rev. Letters published the spectrogram the spot had completely disappeared, because someone thought that it was just a speck of dust and actually erased it. In any case, we were struck by this paper.

Hochheiser:

Who is “we”? You and . . .

Giordmaine:

I and the others at Bell Labs working on lasers.

Hochheiser:

So, this is you and the other people in Boyle’s group?

Giordmaine:

As I recall, Don Nelson, Bob Collins and I were the only ones in Boyle’s group actually working with lasers.

Hochheiser:

Okay. So, there are people in several labs, in different . . .

Giordmaine:

Some including Ali Javan were in Sid Millman's physics research lab, Others at Murray Hill were in the solid state electronics lab reporting to George Dacey and later John Galt, and in a semiconductor research lab reporting to Joe Burton. People that I interacted with included Bob Collins, Don Nelson, Geoffrey Garrett and Wolfgang Kaiser.

Hochheiser:

Okay. So they were in Area 11 then?

Giordmaine:

Yes, they were in the research Area 11.

Hochheiser:

Eleven? And you were?

Giordmaine:

I was in Area 11 also, in solid state electronics research lab 115. The others at Murray Hill were in labs 111 and 113.

Hochheiser:

Okay.

Giordmaine:

So, we were all struck by this paper of Franken, Weinreich et al. I was particularly struck by it, because I realized that I could have discovered optical SHG if only I had recognized a key element of physics that Gabriel Weinreich had — that in order to have second harmonic generation you had to have a crystal without a center of symmetry such as quartz. I was doing my exploratory experiments familiarizing myself with the laser, but always using calcite, glass, or some other Centro symmetric material including fused (non-crystalline) quartz! Immediately, the fact that Bell Labs was an industrial lab became enormously valuable in following up on the Michigan discovery. I realized that piezoelectric crystals are non-Centro symmetric. Bell Labs during World War II had a major effort on ultrasonics and piezoelectric crystals for acoustic detection, and there were shelves of what in fact were nonlinear optical crystals. And, one of the world’s experts in the crystallography and application of these materials, as well as their preparation and polishing, Walter Bond, was just down the hall. He gave me crystals of quartz, potassium dihydrogen phosphate (KDP) and other piezoelectrics. After initially failing to reproduce the Franken experiment in quartz I finally observed SHG in KDP, which turned out to be a much stronger SHG generator than quartz. I started studying a polished plate of KDP. If you examined the second harmonic light coming from the KDP illuminated by a collimated laser beam, it was found to be collimated in the same direction as the laser beam. So, there was a spot of light on a Polaroid photographic film located beyond the crystal. (A color filter absorbed the laser light and let only the harmonic light through.) But, in addition to the central spot of light there was a circular arc of SHG emission with center displaced from the laser beam direction. I started to explore this, in the way that I had been doing with the laser so far, just changing things and trying to make sure that I recorded carefully everything that was going on. So I tilted the crystal, changed the laser power and so on. The main finding was that as the crystal was tilted the arc diameter changed and the light at the center spot became brighter or dimmer, depending on which direction the crystal was rotated. The arc was part of a circle, off-center relative to the laser beam direction, and with diameter changing with the crystal orientation. So, what could the circle be? I did a lot of empirical studies of this effect trying to understand what could be going on. Finally I tried a second crystal, cut at a different angle. At the new laser beam direction the situation was quite different. The crystal could be rotated to make the arc cross the spot. As the arc approached the spot, the spot and nearby arc became brighter and brighter, and at the crossing the SHG exceeded the initial power by orders of magnitude, completely overexposing the film near the central spot. This result, together with the perpendicular polarizations of the SHG and fundamental light, indicated that the effect was related to crystal birefringence. I was able to prove that the enormously increased emission occurred when the laser beam propagated at an angle at which the phase velocities of the fundamental and the collinear second harmonic were the same, i.e. phase matched. At the phase matching angle the mismatch in velocity of the fundamental and harmonic due to dispersion is exactly offset by the mismatch due to birefringence. It was the first nonlinear optical phase matching experiment. Once the experiment was quantified, the arc was identified as SHG light formed by the mixing of the incident laser beam with residual diffuse light, from the laser and from scattering at the KDP crystal surface, in directions allowing non-collinear phase matching. The ancillary circle generated by non-collinear mixing, initially not understood, had in fact pointed the way to the experimental discovery of collinear phase matching. In the issue of Physical Review Letters reporting this work, the letter immediately following and received only nine days later, by Paul Maker, Robert Terhune et.al., at the Ford Scientific Laboratory, reported essentially similar results. Phase matching was really the start of my involvement with nonlinear optics and it was very exciting, because ultimately phase matching became a part of most processes in nonlinear optics, e.g. stimulated Raman scattering, parametric generation, etc. It seems so obvious today. You just take it for granted. But, at the time it took more time than it should have to recognize what was happening. So, that was the beginning of my Bell Labs employment. I followed that up with a wide variety of experiments in nonlinear optics. The next big step in my work was in 1965, the optical parametric oscillator. During the previous couple of years I’d gotten very interested in parametric processes, which were well known. There was a history at Bell Labs of parametric amplifier development for microwave communications. That work was done by Michiyuki Uenohara and others in what was then Area 20, the development area, not in the research area. I was greatly helped in learning the field because a Bell Labs scientist, Bill Louisell, had written the book “Coupled Modes and Parametric Electronics”. This invaluable book summarized Bell Labs’ work in parametric electronics. But most more important it summarized the physics of parametric devices in general, including noise processes in the context of microwave devices. I became very familiar with that book and really studied it. The thought occurred to me, “Could one do this optically by making use of nonlinear optics?” It was a number of months before I felt confident enough to think about an experiment. In most optical physics experiments, you shine light into a material or a device and you measure some properties or a response, refining and optimizing the experiment as necessary as you go along. But, in the case of a parametric oscillator it appeared that, until it oscillates you would have nothing to work with. There’s a critical threshold. So I hesitated somewhat until I could be really sure that there would be enough parametric gain to obtain oscillation. In this respect the situation was similar to that of a maser or laser, which also has an oscillation threshold. Here again, the industrial lab connection became essential. The basic necessity was of course to have enough gain, and that meant having a good nonlinear optical crystal. At Bell Labs there was by then a choice of suitable nonlinear optical crystals, and among the most desirable was lithium niobate. Kurt Nassau, an expert materials scientist, had grown large, high-quality crystals, and made the material available. As soon as I began to work with lithium niobate, it became clear that ferroelectric materials are very complicated experimentally. They have domains. And, someone who’s not in that field just can’t start using them without a considerable understanding of the physics and material science involved in the domain structure. Fortunately, my department head at that time at Bell Labs was Bob Miller.

Hochheiser:

Okay, so when did you move from Boyle’s group to Miller's?

Giordmaine:

Actually, I didn’t move. Boyle moved to the development Area 20 and Miller became my department head.

Hochheiser:

Boyle moved Holmdel?

Giordmaine:

I recall it was to a Murray Hill laboratory. Miller was a materials scientist who was himself working in the nonlinear optics field. His main interest was in measuring and understanding the physics of the optical nonlinearities. He had worked extensively with lithium niobate and other ferroelectrics and was an expert in the area. I brought the optical parametric oscillator concept to him and we decided to collaborate on it, with him providing the expertise on the materials and the ferroelectric aspects, and me emphasizing the parametric optics part of it. So, with his collaboration and with the help of the Bell Labs crystal polishing shop, which had experience working similar materials, we were able to obtain a good crystal. We set up the apparatus to be pumped in the green at 0.53 micron. Pump light at that wavelength could be obtained by frequency doubling an infrared laser such as neodymium in calcium tungstate. You take a 1.06-micron laser and frequency double it in KDP or a second lithium niobate crystal to 0.53 microns to act as the pump for the lithium niobate parametric oscillator. The lithium niobate oscillator crystal has its two ends optically coated as mirrors to act as a resonator. Very shortly after we had the apparatus assembled I was working one night on it and had everything set up optimally. We had a large two-meter spectrometer that I had acquired for Bell Labs and the detector was in the end of that. Soon, at laser powers well below the estimated threshold power I could see that a small output power being generated. Not much, but, as I turned the pump power up the power was increasing over a band of wavelengths near the sub harmonic. And then, suddenly, threshold was reached and an enormously increased power was generated at a particular frequency — parametric oscillation! We realized that the low level power that appeared below threshold for oscillation was “parametric noise” or two-photon emission, an important source today in quantum optics in studies of optical entanglement and quantum computing. But our immediate interest was in the oscillator. The oscillator was significant in providing one of the first tunable sources of coherent radiation. Prior to this, there were dye lasers with wavelength that could be adjusted over a wide range. The OPO was the first source that was tunable simply by turning a dial, which simply changed the temperature of the oscillator crystal to enable phase matching at a new pair of wavelengths.

Hochheiser:

One thing I found interesting is, you had the early piezoelectric device work to build on. You had more applied research feeding back into Area 11, into the more pure research?

Giordmaine:

Yes, that’s a very interesting point and has been a recurring theme in quantum electronics research. I had previous exposure to electronic engineering ideas in working earlier with Charles Townes, whose early microwave spectroscopy career had involved the use of techniques from microwave radar. My thesis work was based on construction of a microwave resonator for a ruby crystal. That resonator was built in a Columbia machine shop that had been originally set up to build radar magnetron tubes during the war. The concept of the microwave resonator was an enabling factor in Townes' invention of the maser as well as in the invention of the laser. Why didn’t these basic quantum electronic devices get invented twenty years before? They involved no new principles of quantum mechanics. One reason they didn't appear earlier is that few individuals combined the necessary physics background in quantum mechanics and spectroscopy, and at the same time had the electronics background, who knew about amplifiers, oscillation, oscillation thresholds, and the relationship between amplification and oscillation that are familiar to electrical engineers. The quantum mechanics a lot of physicists knew about. But, only a few were deeply grounded in both these areas. So indeed the contribution of applied work to basic science is an important theme in this work. If you look at Bell Labs’ major contributions to science — the Nobel Prize work — you’ll find that Bell Labs technology played some role in the science. In fact, there may have been as much influence of the technology on the science as of the science on technology.

Hochheiser:

And then on the other side, during this period in your work in the first half of the ‘60s, was there any thought given in the other direction of where the research you were doing might lead in terms of application, in terms of feeding into technology?

Giordmaine:

That was slow to develop. During the early ‘60s there was just so much excitement about the science and about the new phenomena that were appearing that the discussion and real thinking about specific applications of areas like nonlinear optics was slow to emerge. But a common thread at Bell Labs was the interest in coherent optical sources for communications....

Hochheiser:

Right.

Giordmaine:

...Indeed, as soon as the gas laser was demonstrated at the end of 1960 a big effort was started at Holmdel on its applications to optical communications, initially focused on propagation of light through low-loss tubing and later though optical fibers.

Hochheiser:

Right. That came out of Corning.

Giordmaine:

Yes, following on Charles Kao's work enormous effort was started on optical fibers. So, there was in that sense, from the very beginning, a concerted effort to apply the laser to optical communications, and practical application. But, if you ask what was motivating me at that point, I was mainly driven by the science applications. But that was encouraged at Bell Labs, at least in the research area. There was confidence that if you had enough people doing enough good science it would pay off for them at some point.

Hochheiser:

You were working and talking to the people at Bell Labs who were interested in taking and applying the laser?

Giordmaine:

Yes. But there was no pressure to redirect the work at any time to find applications. Take, for example, the optical parametric oscillator. Initially, I don’t think anyone had a very clear idea of what specific application there might be for a tunable source of light, although everyone realized there would be some kind of application at some stage. My work on parametric optical devices culminated in the oscillator, and I switched my work to another area. Perhaps the logical thing to have done would be to actually develop the oscillator to really make a practical instrument out of it. But I was more driven really by the science that one could explore with lasers. At that time I had the idea that nonlinear processes such as optical harmonic and sum-frequency generation should occur in liquids, in particular “optically active” liquids that rotate the plane of rotation of transmitted light clockwise or anticlockwise. Molecules in such liquids differ from their mirror image, being either right- or left-handed. These liquids lack a center of symmetry, even though the molecules are randomly oriented in all directions. I did a few experiments attempting to detect second harmonic generation in optically active liquids, but without success. So, I took it on as a problem. Why do left- and right-handed liquids not show second harmonic generation if they have no center of symmetry? It turned out to be a much more complicated picture than I had expected. To understand what was going on it was necessary to develop a quantum mechanical model of the nonlinear interaction of light in molecules that differed from their mirror image. The final predictions were that if the molecules are optically active you can have sum-frequency generation, or difference-frequency generation, but not second harmonic generation, and the two beams have to come in from different, not the same, directions. I found that very exciting and worked on the project over almost a year.

Hochheiser:

What year was this?

Giordmaine:

It was published in 1965. It was right after the optical parametric oscillator work. In subsequent years this predicted effect has been seen and has been used by chemical molecular spectroscopists to study optically active molecules. I always felt that that was one of my best pieces of work and one that I most enjoyed doing. So, let’s see, where shall we go from here?

Hochheiser:

Well, in ‘66 you went over to Munich for a period of time?

Giordmaine:

Yes, and it was a very productive time. I collaborated with Wolfgang Kaiser and his students. Kaiser had earlier been a member of the Bell Labs group that first reported the pencil beam emission and relaxation oscillations of the ruby laser.

Hochheiser:

So you had worked with Kaiser when he was still at Bell Labs?

Giordmaine:

Yes. We collaborated on a couple of papers at Bell Labs, and I also knew him from a later visit to Germany. Thanks to an invitation from Kaiser my family and I spent six months in Munich. Kaiser's group worked in solid state physics using laser techniques. I worked with him and with his students on various nonlinear optical effects, such as stimulated Raman scattering. One of our results was a new correlation method for measurement of picosecond pulse duration. Another was the precursor of a technique called CARS, Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering, that has had wide use as an analytical tool. In fact, just two years ago I collaborated with Marlan Scully and others at Princeton University on the possible use of coherent Raman scattering for the detection of anthrax.

Hochheiser:

I’m interested in your taking this six-month break. Was this something that was just a matter of course, and how was that arranged at Bell Labs for you to go off to Munich?

Giordmaine:

Well, I thought it was a matter of course in the sense that there was a recognized sabbatical program. It wasn’t really clearly written down as company policy, but there was an understanding, at least in the physics research area, that they would consider requests to spend a year away from Bell Labs, every seven years or every ten years. They wouldn’t pay all your salary. They’d expect the other institution to pay part, but they would help out. So, they made it relatively easy. But you did have to have an invitation from some other institution to come for six months or a year. So, I took advantage of it. It was a very productive time for me. One of the best things that came out it was a new correlation technique for measuring the duration of ultra-short light pulses. We needed it because we were working at that time with picosecond (1012 second) pulses. In order to interpret the results you needed to know the length of the pulses fairly accurately. So, we developed a technique that involved two beams of these pulse trains intersecting inside a nonlinear optical crystal. You’d see pulses of second harmonic light, coming out in a new (phase matched) direction if pulses in the two beams overlapped. But, if they didn’t overlap, no second harmonic would appear, because pulses in the two beams never interacted. By adjusting the delay of one of the beams you could move one pulse train relative to the other. Measuring the change in delay from maximum overlap to non-overlap gave you a measure of the length of the pulse. This “correlation method” can determine the duration of pulses far too short to measure by a photodiode detector and oscilloscope. Similar work was being done at the same time by Armstrong at IBM. These were the first uses of a correlation technique to measure optical pulse duration. When I returned to Murray Hill, Bell Labs colleagues and I demonstrated an even simpler correlation technique. The train of ultra-short pulses is reflected from a mirror immersed in a fluorescent liquid — one that fluoresces only after absorbing two photons of light. At the points where incident and reflected pulses overlap, two-photon absorption and fluorescence are enhanced. A photograph of the tube shows bright blips of light, whose length, in many cases, gives a direct measure of the duration of the pulses. The correlation studies were fun experiments that produced pulse measurement techniques that are still in wide use.

Hochheiser:

When you returned to Bell Labs after your six months in Munich, did you go back into the same department that you had left?

Giordmaine:

Yes, it was the same department, reporting to Bob Miller. At an earlier point, following Boyle and before Miller, there was another head, Peter Wolff. In any case, Miller was still the department head when I returned. It was about this point that I became a department head.

Hochheiser:

I was curious when that — looking at your resume, there’s a steady series, a steady list of publications until about 1971, and similarly there’s a series of patents until about 1971, and then it stops, which suggests to me that perhaps at that point you became a department head rather than a bench scientist.

Giordmaine:

Well actually, I became a department head earlier than that, in 1967. After I became a department head I continued to do research and publish, although administrative work took its toll.

Hochheiser:

Okay. Did you replace Miller then?

Giordmaine:

Yes. In 1971 I became a director.

Hochheiser:

Okay. So, it was at the point you moved up two levels. Let’s talk about being a department head first. So, now you’re a department head. That means you have a group of people in the lab who report to you now?

Giordmaine:

That’s right. The department was named Optical Electronics Research.

Hochheiser:

Okay, about how many people?

Giordmaine:

Six or eight scientists, plus support staff.

Hochheiser:

Who was in your department?

Giordmaine:

David Kleinman, a theoretical physicist, published very influential early papers on nonlinear optics. His paper on the physical mechanisms of optical second harmonic generation included the “Kleinman conditions”, a universally used simplification in the nonlinear optical susceptibilities. Another gave the first full description of the optimization of nonlinear interactions of gaussian light beams. Don Nelson, a solid-state and optical physics experimentalist, was a leading member of the Bell Labs group that first reported the narrow-beam, coherence and relaxation oscillation characteristics of the ruby laser. Michael Sturge, a solid state spectroscopist, published key papers on the optical properties of GaAs and ruby, as well as studies of many other optoelectronic materials. Barry Levine, an optical physicist, introduced an important new method based on bond charges for calculating nonlinear optical susceptibilities. Franz Reinhart made important contributions to early liquid phase epitaxial growth of semiconductor lasers, p-n junctions, and light modulators. Jan Van Der Ziel studied optical and magnetic properties of optoelectronic materials.

Hochheiser:

One thing I want to pursue with you as we go through your career is going from being a researcher to being a research manager. The big contrast I think of in Bell Labs is Penzias and Wilson who discovered the cosmic background radiation. Penzias becomes eventually vice president for research, a public figure, talking out on big issues, and Wilson retires as a DMTS after thirty years, a different career path and different choices people make. So, I guess I’m curious; did you welcome being made a department head?

Giordmaine:

Yes, I wanted to be a department head.

Hochheiser:

Okay, that’s what I wanted to know.

Giordmaine:

I believed that as a department head I could continue doing research, that I could be helpful to other people in my department, and that I could have a broader influence at Bell Labs. So, it was a challenge that I really wanted, and I very much appreciated the promotion. I did continue research as a department head, but I’m the sort of person that's most effective when able to focus intensively on one thing for a considerable time. A department head can’t do that, even though the administrative work may not in fact take up a lot of time. In the kind of department I had all the researchers were doing largely independent work. Two were working specifically in nonlinear optics. The others were doing quite different things, mostly related to solid state physics or solid state electronics of some sort. I was able to help them out to some extent. All in all it was an enjoyable process, but it didn’t help my research. Perhaps it took more time than it should have. In 1970 I was offered a director position in another laboratory. This time I didn't feel comfortable with the changes that would entail and turned it down. The following year I was offered another director position, which I accepted. This position had almost nothing to do with optics. It had to do in part with nuclear physics-related science and technology and had previously reported to Joe Burton. It had department heads Walter Brown, Gunther Wertheim and Andy Hutson. In Walter Brown’s department there was work on solid state detectors for satellite communications and on ion beam irradiation of solids for device fabrication. This was my first direct connection with real device science at Bell Labs.

Hochheiser:

So is this then, I would assume this is now no longer in Area 11?

Giordmaine:

No, it was Lab 113, still in Area 11.

Hochheiser:

I guess at some point when you get closer to devices it stops being Area 11 and starts being somewhere else in the lab and it’s not always clear what that point is.

Giordmaine:

Well I always think in numbers, 111 was the most basic physics, and then 113 was slightly more applied, and so on to Area 20, the development area. In any case Lab 113 was mostly solid-state physics and devices, although it included some unusual areas for Bell Labs. One was studies of the ionosphere, work by Lou Lanzerotti. His work took him to Antarctica where he spent time making ionospheric observations. Ionospheric currents can have a large effect on telecommunications, especially at times of solar flares. Lanzerotti was already a recognized international expert in that field. 113 works also included studies of ion implantation in solids, with a view to device fabrication. So, that was also a first connection for me with device fabrication science. I learned a great deal about applied research during my stay there. After several years I moved again, to the solid state electronics research lab 115, succeeding the previous director John Galt. This was the laboratory that I had joined on arrival at Bell Labs. Lab 115 had five departments, and was considerably larger than Lab 113. By this time I was no longer finding it possible to combine leading-edge, intensive bench research in nonlinear optics with the administrative and support work of the director job. I did continue to do calculations and studies in various physics areas and tried to stay current in my field.

Hochheiser:

You made sure you did enough research that you stayed up to speed in your research area.

Giormaine:

...So that I could do calculations and try to follow the literature. So I did try to keep up to speed. This was in addition to becoming familiar with many areas in the laboratory that you had to know about. I found that being familiar enough with peoples’ work to be able to explain it clearly and defend it at performance reviews was sufficiently time consuming that I wasn’t able to do first-rate research. Some scientists can do it, but I just wasn’t able to.

Hochheiser:

From people I’ve talked to, I suspect your experience of not being able to is more common. So, what were the major activities that took up your time as a director at Bell Labs?

Giordmaine:

The single largest effort was understanding what people are doing, trying to be helpful to them, giving feedback. Another feature of Bell Labs that helped make it successful was the approval process for internal release of papers for publication. And, that approval process, in Area 11 at least, extended up to the vice president. Papers for approval went up the line with a brief memo attached from the director.

Hochheiser:

I’ve seen some of those.

Giordmaine:

...or executive director. Actually I sent a memo to the executive director, who forwarded it with any additional comments that he had to the vice president. So these papers are coming through all the time and you have to read them and understand them well enough to be able to comment to the upper management. It was very interesting, but a very time consuming process. The organization didn’t include much of my own field of optics. So, I necessarily became involved with a number of other fields — always a broadening and useful experience. Then there were the performance reviews, salary reviews and other administrative activities. An important one was recruiting. I regularly visited the Columbia physics department, and occasionally other schools, as a recruiter for openings throughout Bell Labs. Helping to attract outstanding people to Bell Labs, and especially to my lab, was an important part of the work also. Future Nobel laureates Dan Tsui and Horst Stormer were in or joined Lab 115 at that time. It was a first-rate group of people. In the research area there was always a certain underlying tension between providing people the freedom to choose their own research topics, while encouraging work that would more directly benefit the Bell System. That tension was always a sensitive matter, and you had to think about it. Sometimes you felt that, “So and so is doing interesting work but perhaps it’s not likely to lead to anything very useful. It might be far better if he changed his area.” To negotiate a change of area with a researcher at Bell Labs required some effort. He (or she) has a lot invested in the status quo. And so, all of this takes time. When I say “he or she” I’m reminded also that at that time Bell Labs was becoming more sensitive to the need for greater minority and female representation among scientists and engineers. Sid Millman, then executive director of physics research area 11, launched an ambitious program, the Cooperative Research Fellowship Program, to promote PhD-level careers among minorities. That was soon followed by a similar program for women. I was asked to organize CRFP and be responsible for it during its early years. The program brought a really new experience to Bell Labs. We had students from black colleges, as well as other minority students, coming in during the summer, and we were recruiting Bell Labs scientists to be mentors for these students, not just in the summer following the BS degree but during their early years in graduate school as well.

Hochheiser:

This would have been in the early ‘70s, ‘72 or so?

Giordmaine:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

And did some of these, some of these young people end up back at Bell Labs?

Giordmaine:

A few did. But, a surprising fraction of them ended up on university faculties and in other responsible positions. One ended up as a vice president at a competing company, as a matter of fact. These people had really remarkable careers. I always felt proud to have been a part of this pioneering program.

Hochheiser:

Yes. What’s always struck me as one of the most tricky and therefore interesting questions is simply, how does one manage research? You started talking about that, what peoples’ interest might be in what might eventually have prospects of leading to things of use to the business. It’s the whole idea of how do you proceed, you don’t want to stifle people but eventually it has to feed into things. How do you do that?

Giordmaine:

Well, the simple answer is that you don’t.

Hochheiser:

Yes, I imagine so.

Giordmaine:

Again, it’s a process that you want to carry on in such a way that it doesn’t discourage people. The fact that they’re at a place like Bell Labs means that they’ve shown enormous promise in their research. And that, in fact, is the problem. Because, within some narrow niche of physics, which might have little potential for application at all, a person may be well known and a leader in that field. You may have to encourage someone like that to move into another field when he has so much invested in his own field. If you can find somebody else, for example, who might invite him to assist and collaborate in research in a different field, that’s one avenue of approach. So, you could promote a collaboration so that somebody would not be on his own in an area that he has to learn, but could become involved with another person while contributing to their work. In other words, you try to create a situation that the person will find comfortable. It’s different in every case, and there’s no real answer. In research, Bell Labs was successful because it could offer people that freedom and attract people who could become Nobel laureates just for that reason. You had to avoid managing things in ways that compromised that freedom, or else you would be destroying an absolutely essential part of the culture. At the same time, the lab has to be productive, and so all you could hope to do is try to find a creative solution for each individual case.

Hochheiser:

Early ‘80s you moved from being a director in Research to being a director in Development?

Giordmaine:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

Before we go on, before, let me ask you a couple of overall questions. So you were basically in the Research area from when you joined Bell Labs in ‘61 until 1983?

Giordmaine:

Until 1981.

Hochheiser:

Can you think, in what ways did Research, did the Research area change and in what ways didn’t it over that long period of time? Was there an evolution in the characteristics of what went on within the Research area and organization, and ties to other parts of the labs, or other parts of the system?

Giordmaine:

There definitely was. The early ‘60s were just a few years after Sputnik. It was a time when there was boundless confidence in the future of basic research and the potential that it had to produce results such as the transistor and the laser. There was so much confidence that it was felt that funding for high-quality research was in general going to pay off. But, during those two decades there was a steadily increasing realization that the payoff was not going to be very fast. Even though the laser was great example in arguing for basic research, the time between the first operation of the laser in 1960 and any real commercial application was pretty close to fifteen or twenty years before you saw products like cash register scanners, or...

Hochheiser:

Or, closer to home, fiber optics.

Giordmaine:

Fiber optics.

Hochheiser:

The first customer experiment with fiber optics is in Chicago in ‘77.

Giordmaine:

And other big applications of lasers, in CD players for example, didn’t come until the ‘80s .

Hochheiser:

Well, the standards were set in the ‘70s, but it’s sometime in the ‘80s until LPs started giving, gradually giving away to CDs. But again, it’s in the ‘70s when they’re finally getting the point where they set commercial standards for CDs.

Giordmaine:

So, we’re talking about twenty years, roughly, as a ball park. And, during that period there was a developing recognition of how long the time to payoff could be. At Bell Labs scrutiny of research gradually increased and a greater feeling that you needed to have a tighter connection between the research and the development laboratories. And, there was real push to promote those connections.

Hochheiser:

This would have been in the ‘70s, while you were a director?

Giordmaine:

Yes. It started, or at least greatly increased, in the ‘70s. There was more pressure to generate results that had potential application in the Bell System. For example, there was a formal monthly research meeting of research directors with the vice president. You became less likely to make a presentation on a new result that had only scientific importance, unless it was something absolutely spectacular. When you did make a presentation on a primarily scientific result, you took a lot of care to understand what the potential connection to the business might be, and whether it was something possibly near-term or more of a stretch. But, you were under more and more pressure to come across with some kind of relevance in presenting the work at the monthly research meetings, which was the main way that the top management got wind of, and could evaluate, what was going on. So, perhaps the single biggest trend was this emerging realization of how much time was needed to nurture research results and see some impact.

Hochheiser:

And concern that that time be shortened?

Giordmaine:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

Because (of) the lengthy process. I can think of lots of examples from Bell Labs history, of lead time similar to that with the laser.

Giordmaine:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

Who were the vice presidents you reported to?

Giordmaine:

First it was Bill Baker, then Bruce Hannay, and then Arno Penzias.

Hochheiser:

So, that’s kind of going back full circle with Penzias, because you, I guess, first met him when you were both at Columbia?

Giordmaine:

Yes. In fact, to inject something into the earlier discussion, I came to Bell Labs after my year as an instructor at Columbia. He was finishing up his PhD at that point, so we actually reported for work together on the same day at Bell Labs, and we both had a background in radio-astronomy. He joined the laboratory at Holmdel that was responsible for radio-astronomy research. At Bell Labs radio astronomy was seen as support for satellite communications, as in the use of radio sources as position references. There was a commonality between the radio-astronomy and communications technologies. At first we both attended a weekly or biweekly meeting on radio astronomy at Holmdel. Soon it came to a point where I had an opportunity to become more involved with the Holmdel work. I really had to make a decision at that point whether I wanted to go on in radio astronomy at Bell Labs or continue on in physics-related solid state or lasers. At that time I was still doing exploratory work with the ruby laser and nothing had come out of it as yet. I made the call that in radio astronomy probably the most important work had already been done, [Laughter] whereas in laser science that was clearly not the case. So, I left radio astronomy, Arno stayed, and the rest is history.

Hochheiser:

Were you at all aware in the ‘70s of the antitrust suit?

Giordmaine:

Very much so.

Hochheiser:

Yes. Because it was filed first in ‘74?

Giordmaine:

Employees were kept very much up to date on that, and there were periodic briefings in the auditorium to bring people up to speed, and to make sure that they were aware of the Bell System point of view on these controversial issues. Employees were pretty well informed of what was going on. But I think few anticipated what actually did happen.

Hochheiser:

No. I don’t think so.

Giordmaine:

But I do recall that Arno Penzias gave congressional testimony at one point and was asked straight out, “What would be the effect on Bell Laboratories if the Bell System were ever broken up?” He said, and I’m paraphrasing, that Bell Labs would be a sinking ship. He was very direct and foresaw that very clearly.

Hochheiser:

Now, did you give any thoughts to the implications of the suit, to your work, or the work of Bell Labs?

Giordmaine:

No. First of all, I didn’t think it was going to happen. So, I really gave no serious thought to it.

Hochheiser:

Well, do you recall what your reaction was in January of ‘82 when the breakup of the Bell System was announced?

Giordmaine:

I was, of course, shocked, and can still remember the moment I received the news. But my immediate feeling was that, whether Western Electric continued as some kind of subsidiary or as an independent organization, it would still require the support of Bell Labs, and that Bell Labs would somehow survive more or less intact. To the extent that Western Electric still existed, Bell Labs, with its tremendous communications research resources would continue to provide essential R&D support, even if no longer directly to the operating companies. So I remained confident that Bell Labs’ role could continue, even if possibly with a different organizational structure. In short, I was shocked at the breakup agreement, but confident that ways would be found to sustain Bell Labs.

Hochheiser:

As the director of Solid State Electronics Laboratory, how many departments, approximately, and people approximately, did you have?

Giordmaine:

There were five research departments and about 100 people — including about 60 members of staff. The departments were: interface electronics (largely low-temperature electronics and physics of superconducting devices, headed by Dick Slusher), materials (including epitaxial growth of optical and electronic device structures, headed by Mort Panish), semiconductor electronics (headed by Venky Narayanamurti), optical electronics (headed by Barry Levine), and surface physics (headed by Maurice Rice). Examples of notable research around 1980 included work on solid state lasers by Mort Panish, electronic transport at low temperatures by Dan Tsui and Horst Stormer, molecular beam epitaxial device fabrication by Al Cho and Art Gossard, and novel layered devices by Federico Capasso and Won Tsang. Our semiconductor device research was concentrated on the gallium arsenide and related III-V alloys important for optical devices and high-speed electronics. R&D on silicon, for historical reasons, was carried on in the development area. This made the connection between our semiconductor research and that in the development area less strong than it might have been. Our main connection with the development Area 52 was with the laser manufacturing in Area 52. We made some significant contributions to that work and I think that was our closest connection. In 1981 I was offered a transfer into the electronics technology development area as director of an exploratory development lab. The R&D work there included Josephson technology for high-speed electronics, liquid crystal and plasma panel display technology, and vapor-phase epitaxial growth of compound semiconductors for lasers and detectors. I accepted the offer at a time when I was trying to help improve connections between research and development, and when the Area 52 activities overlapped work in Lab 115 sufficiently that the learning curve did not appear too formidable. As it happened, however, the Josephson and some of the other most exploratory programs were discontinued within a few years after my transfer, largely because their potential for use in the Bell System seemed too remote.

Hochheiser:

I’m familiar with that.

Giordmaine:

Another of the discontinued projects was liquid crystal displays, which was not considered a strategic technology for AT&T/Western Electric. I continued in exploratory development and other Area 52 development labs, mostly supporting Western Electric lightwave development, until 1988.

Hochheiser:

Now, before we move on to that, in Area 52, was this at Murray Hill or are you down in Holmdel now?

Giordmaine:

No, this was all at Murray Hill.

Hochheiser:

Okay. So, your entire career was spent based in Murray Hill?

Giordmaine:

That’s right.

Hochheiser:

In either of your two directorships, how closely did you work with other directors, laterally?

Giordmaine:

In research and exploratory development I interacted with other directors primarily to share information and help coordinate related work. This not only prevented duplication of effort but also helped to make experience developed in one group available to other groups. I didn't formally collaborate with other directors, in the sense that scientists and engineers collaborate on a project, but rather kept up frequent informal contacts, often over lunch, to exchange information and to get to understand better the work in other labs. While in solid state electronics research, for example, I had close connections with directors in basic physics research, in electrochemistry and displays, in lightwave R&D, in materials research, and numerous other labs in both research and development including the laboratory that I eventually ended up transferring to. The fact that Bell Labs was so large, covering so many fields, made for a serendipity that was a big factor in its successes.

Hochheiser:

And who was the vice president you reported to once you moved into Area 52? I assume you now reported to a different vice president?

Giordmaine:

That was Klaus Bowers, who had himself been previously in the physics research division.

Hochheiser:

Okay. Before moving on, so you were at Bell Labs for about four years after the Bell System ended?

Giordmaine:

Yes. Six years after the announcement of the settlement, and four years after the 1984 breakup.

Hochheiser:

First, do you have any recollections of the breakup process itself, between ‘82 and ‘84, and did it have any effects on you and your work? You moved in the middle of it. It had mainly indirect effects for me. My move itself was stimulated by Alan Chynoweth, an executive director in Area 52, who invited me to come over and head up one of the laboratories in development. That invitation may or may not have had something to do with all these changes.

Hochheiser:

But if it did you didn’t know it?

Giordmaine:

I didn’t know it, if it did.

Hochheiser:

And what led you to decide that this move was one you wanted to do?

Giordmaine:

The informal connections that I had had with directors in development had given me a fairly good feeling for some of the work that was going on over there. I felt that I could have an influence over it. And, at the time there was such a wide variety of work. It included everything from Josephson technology, which I had had some connection with in Research, to optics and lasers, to liquid crystal displays which had been, in part, the work that I had supervised when I was in my first director position in Research. There was a lot of overlap, at least in the science. So I felt that I was in a position to make a contribution in development. I went over to Area 52 in 1982 and left there in ‘88. On the whole, I probably did make contributions there, but I think their impact was less than I could have made in Area 11. My background as a scientist, the set of approaches that I brought to work and my whole point of view was probably better suited to research than to development. In retrospect, it might have been better to have stayed in research. In fact, I did spend my last year at Bell Labs in Research. I was transferred from the Development area back to Research in late ‘87, and received the necessary support to start up physics research again. However, just as I was fitting out a laboratory again I received an unexpected offer to join the NEC Corporation. They invited me to help organize the physics division of a new fundamental research laboratory, the NEC Research Institute, to be located in New Jersey. At that point I decided to leave Bell Labs.

Hochheiser:

Did you notice within that span of years, apart from your spending most of that period of time in Development rather than Research, any ways in which the breakup of the Bell System had started to change things around Bell Labs?

Giordmaine:

What was most apparent to me was the insistence — this is during the time that I was in the Development area — that activities had to pay off more rapidly. It was at that point that Bell Labs decided to invest in a new laboratory in Pennsylvania, not far from Bethlehem. A large part of compound semiconductor and laser device development was relocated there during that period. This was in the mid ‘80s, and it was largely driven by the need to have a much more focused effort on production of lightwave equipment. It was the biggest reorganization that I encountered at Bell Labs. It was clear that the fraction of funds that would be spent on longer term, exploratory development had to decrease as the need grew for faster and more competitive product development.

Hochheiser:

So, your last year you moved back into Research, and were actually beginning to do research again rather than supervise research?

Giordmaine:

That’s right. I actually was doing research.

Hochheiser:

And, what were you working on at that point?

Giordmaine:

I had become interested in optical computing. I wanted to learn to develop lasers and optical nonlinearities as a platform for optical computing. There was already work in this area going on at Holmdel, and it was all very speculative. However I felt that this was just the kind of exploratory work that should be going on in Research. In principle optics provides a powerful paradigm for computing because it inherently offers high-speed, resettable switching, interconnection, and memory. You had various nonlinear optical devices that could act as switches. In fact, you could put together a collection of switches that simulated every electronic feature of computers. At that time this approach was far from practical. You couldn’t yet put the elements together physically, but you could imagine it. The hope was that the difficulties would be offset by the high speed of optical processing and interconnection. It seemed an attractive idea, and that was the idea that I started to work on before I left.

Hochheiser:

I arrived just the same year you left, and I remember in my early years there was a very hot topic that we heard quite a lot about. Before we move on from Bell Labs, can you think of anything about your years at Bell Labs that I didn’t ask you that I might have?

Giordmaine:

No, I think you have covered the ground well.

Hochheiser:

Well, let me ask it one other way. Are there any particular memorable colleagues that you would care to say anything about? And I know some of the laser people like Javan, whom you mentioned briefly back at the beginning, Kumar Patel, and folks like that.

Giordmaine:

I had a lot of contact with Kumar Patel, who is a remarkably productive physicist and research leader. His invention of the CO2 laser, producing hundreds of kilowatts of continuous optical power, was one of the most surprising and important developments in the field.

Hochheiser:

In knowing what you worked in and what he worked in I assume that you had contact.

Giordmaine:

Yes, initially at least, we had parallel careers at Bell Labs, from bench physics to research management, and even played early morning tennis together for years. (Kumar was a formidable competitor!). I'm also indebted to Kumar for making it possible for me to return to research in his division after I transferred out of the development area in 1987... There were just so many remarkable people at Bell Labs.

Hochheiser:

I know. That makes it hard for me to know who to ask you about. Well then, perhaps we can just move on. Before 1988, had you ever, during the course of your career seriously considered leaving Bell Labs for someplace else?

Giordmaine:

No, I really hadn’t. When I came to Bell Labs I believed that this was where I was going to spend my career, and I held that to that position. Over the years there were two or three job offers from universities that I found attractive. I finally declined them because I preferred doing physics with collaborators or individually, rather than teaching, guiding student research and preparing grant proposals. It wasn’t until 1988, when NEC decided to organize a new fundamental research laboratory in New Jersey that I gave serious thought to leaving and accepted an offer. The approach from them was out of the blue. I didn’t apply for a position and, in fact, hadn't even heard about their plans.

Hochheiser:

Okay. You were just . . .

Giordmaine:

I was approached by Dawon Kahng, best known as co-inventor of the metal oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET) at Bell Labs in 1960. Dawon and I knew each other because we had earlier been members of the same laboratory in the research area. Dawon had been asked by Michiyuko Uenohara, then vice president of research for NEC Corporation, to head the new NEC Research Institute as president. Dawon asked me to serve as vice president for Physical Science Research, with initial responsibility to help identify a research site and to recruit a strong group of physical science researchers.

Hochheiser:

All right, so NEC was just setting up a research lab here in Princeton?

Giordmaine:

That’s right, although they had not yet identified a specific location in New Jersey.

Hochheiser:

Did they have a research lab back in Japan?

Giordmaine:

Yes, a large, central research laboratory in the Tokyo area.

Hochheiser:

I was sure they did. So, this would have been their first research lab in the United States?

Giordmaine:

That’s right.

Hochheiser:

Okay.

Giordmaine:

The decision to set up a research lab in the U.S. was unusual for a Japanese company. In fact, the top management of NEC at that time had many connections with the United States. Uenohara in particular had been a member of technical staff at Bell Labs and had great admiration for the way that Bell Labs was organized and the results that it had obtained.

Hochheiser:

Now you do know that, I don’t know if this is relevant, but NEC was started as a joint venture with Western Electric?

Giordmaine:

Yes, that's correct.

Hochheiser:

Yes, so it goes back. And, indeed, a couple of people from NEC came and spent a week with me at the AT&T Archives when they were preparing for their centennial.

Giordmaine:

That's very interesting!

Hochheiser:

So the connections with NEC go back to the 1890s.

Giordmaine:

Yes. The connections are close. And when I walked through their factories in Japan, I found that they even looked like Western Electric factories. And a lot about the research organization resembled that of Bell Labs, not surprisingly. In any case this background no doubt made it easier for NEC to decide to build a research lab in the U.S. It was to be a laboratory with eighty members of technical staff — eighty researchers — about half in computer science and half in physical science. From the beginning there was a belief that there were deep synergies to be explored at the interface between physical science and computer science. It was anticipated that proximity of physical science and computer science research activities, with close interaction between researchers, held the potential for novel discoveries. (A well-known example of this kind of synergy is quantum computing.) At Bell Labs at the time there was relatively little contact between computer science and physical science people, in part because of their very different cultures. I think the situation was similar in Japan. The idea was to have a new culture, an independent laboratory in the United States that would not be bound by established traditions that stood in the way of close interactions between scientists in different fields. New Jersey, especially the Princeton area, was attractive because it had many nearby research centers and was close to New York City. After looking at various properties in the area we purchased an existing 120,000 square foot building on Independence Way [in Princeton]. Part of it was rented out to other companies, leaving enough NEC space to accommodate about eighty scientists and supporting staff.

Hochheiser:

About half in each of the two groups?

Giordmaine:

Yes, taking into account that physics depended more on experimental laboratories than computer science did.

Hochheiser:

Was it a hard decision to leave Bell Labs?

Giordmaine:

Well, twenty years earlier it would have been a lot harder. But the fact that this was an opportunity to have a broad influence on basic physics research in the U.S., in an organization that had the necessary resources to have a real impact on fundamental science and to attract some of the best people — that meant a lot to me. So, I became very enthusiastic about the prospects. NEC had a very clear vision of an interactive organization. For example, we avoided having separate floors for computer and physical science. In fact we located physical scientists and computer scientists in adjoining offices and labs. In every way possible we worked to bring the physical and computer scientists into really close proximity.

Hochheiser:

And to a point where you would run into each other in the halls all the time?

Giordmaine:

That’s right. You met at lunch and got to know each other. Physically it was very effective. And, we had some real success, I think, in recruiting. We were able to attract a really wonderful group of scientists.

Hochheiser:

I would assume you played a major role in the recruiting?

Giordmaine:

Yes. For the first year or two that was the overriding responsibility. The initial goal in the physical science area was to recruit four leading scientists (“Fellows”), ten other established scientists with an outstanding record of creative work (“senior research scientists”), and another ten PhDs of high promise near the beginning of their career. The computer science area had a similar goal. The scientists had the kind of freedom that existed in earlier years in research at Bell Labs, but were selected in part for their interests in areas where discoveries and new understanding might be likely to ultimately contribute to new computing technology. The recruiting was quite successful in recruiting. Physical scientists who joined NECI included Thomas Ebbesen, Tineke Thio and Peter Wolff, who discovered enhanced transmission of light through sub-wavelength-sized holes — orders of magnitudes greater than predicted by standard aperture theory. Michael Treacy, Ebbesen, Thio and others developed original techniques to measure the remarkable electrical and mechanical properties of individual carbon nanotubes, and discovered graphitic cones and other unexpected graphite nanostructures. Albert Libchaber, Peter Kaplan and others demonstrated an optically driven “thermal ratchet” engine producing directed motion of Brownian particles in liquids, and suggesting a connection to biological motor proteins. The Libchaber group also demonstrated how certain computational problems can be solved by use of the parallelism inherent in DNA/molecular biology techniques. Richard Linke, Jim Chadi and Thio discovered a new type of optical nonlinearity showing refractive index changes 30 times larger than in usual photorefractive materials. Hao Li, Chao Tang and Ned Wingreen introduced a lattice model of protein folding, relating the emergence of preferred structures in proteins to evolutionary stability and to a new “designability” principle. Bill Bialek, Rob de Ruyter and others showed how to quantify the coding, transfer of information, and entropy in spike trains observed in individual movement-sensitive neurons in the fly visual system. In this work the brain was actually probed by microelectrodes as the fly observed moving patterns on a computer screen. Stuart Solin, Thio and others discovered a novel material system enabling room-temperature, magnetoresistive sensing of magnetic fields with a sensitivity orders of magnitude larger than possible in other materials. The sensor made use of the field-dependent deflection of currents around embedded metallic inhomogeneities in a high-mobility semiconductor. The method has important applications to read-head sensors for magnetic storage. I was particularly reminded of this because the Nobel Prize announced yesterday (2007) was on giant magnetoresistance, a step in the same direction, that has had enormous impact. On the downside, the NECI contribution just happened to coincide with NEC's move out of the magnetic storage business. Although it did not make it into NEC technology it may well find application elsewhere. In part, the research at NECI was organized to bring ideas from biology into the physical sciences, to explore connections to nanoscale information processing and storage, and at the same time to do work that bridged the gap between computer science and physical science. In our biophysical information processing area, the biologists who we recruited were conversant with computer science and information theory, and that was a natural connection point. It took about five or six years to set up the physical science program and the corresponding computer science program. I served as VP of physical science research for ten years — two five-year contracts with NEC — ending in 1998. The following year NEC abruptly decided to transform the whole organization of the laboratory. Almost all of the physical science research was discontinued, and the laboratory switched over to work on information, networking, learning and other systems-related technologies. The laboratory continues to do research, but with a much shorter-term outlook than in the past.

Hochheiser:

Fortunately for you that was after you left I guess?

Giordmaine:

Well yes, but not so fortunate for a number of other people whose research was disrupted. However almost all of the physical scientists soon found first-class jobs. It's significant that most of them ended up at universities rather than in industrial labs.

Hochheiser:

Well, I wonder if that has to do with change of industrial labs. I was with AT&T in 2004, and watching the reductions in the research staffs and watching where people tended to end up and they tended to end up also in universities, far more than they ended up in other industrial research labs. So, I don’t think that was just an NEC experience.

Giordmaine:

Well, those were the kind of people that we hired. At NEC the senior researchers were largely already senior academic people. There were really some outstanding people there, Albert Libchaber, Boris Altshuler, and numerous others in both physical and computer science research.

Hochheiser:

It must have been exciting to have the opportunity to build a staff, build a team of top people from the start?

Giordmaine:

Yes it was, and at a time when the idea of basic research, inspired by technology goals, was enthusiastically supported. But, in time the top management of NEC changed, for one thing, and the same process went on at NEC as had occurred earlier at Bell Labs, where there became increasing concern about the long time between the achievement of important research results and their application in technology and products. During that period in the mid and late ‘90s, that whole trend accelerated. One senior manager at NEC even published an essay comparing fundamental researchers in industrial laboratories to the court musicians of European royalty. In addition, the company did have its own strong physical science laboratory in Tokyo. I think it was the combination of those two issues that led to questioning the continuation of physical science research, and eventually to dropping it almost completely at NECI. The laboratory today, now named NEC Laboratories America, is doing well as an applications laboratory in information systems R&D. NEC has introduced information storage products based on principles developed at NECLA. I like to think that its success is owed in part to the tradition and reputation built up during the NECI years, which may have helped to attract the more development-oriented scientists and engineers needed at NECLA today. The future looks good for them at this point.

Hochheiser:

How closely, during your ten years at NEC, did you work with the people in NEC labs back in Tokyo?

Giordmaine:

We had a lot of interaction with them and numerous collaborations. CRL scientists visited Princeton. We encouraged extended stays of our people at CRL as well. But our researchers were reluctant to make long visits to Japan, in part because of the unfamiliar living conditions and the difficulty of bringing one's family. It’s understandable. We were not as successful as we would have liked in promoting exchange visits. Exchange visits are one of the best ways to build close ties between organizations.

Hochheiser:

Yes. And, similarly the relations between the labs here and the larger NEC, how much interaction did you have with the mainstream business?

Giordmaine:

Very little direct interaction. Our contact with the larger NEC took place through the corporate central research laboratory in Japan. One important exception was the opportunity some of us had from time to time to tour NEC factories in Japan. Administratively, by the way, NECI was in fact part of NEC America, but from the research viewpoint essentially all the contact was the Central Research Lab.

Hochheiser:

Did you notice any cultural differences resulting from this being an American lab of a Japanese parent, rather than when you were at Bell Labs, which was an American company?

Giordmaine:

In planning NECI the parent company was very careful to avoid cultural conflict. In part this was done by decoupling the organization of the Princeton lab from the Central Research Laboratory. As liaison with CRL, a Japanese research manager, initially Daizaburo Shinoda, a solid state physicist by background, was appointed with the title of executive vice president. Although Shinoda nominally reported to the president of NECI in Princeton, he in fact represented the parent company and could have become the de facto head of the laboratory. However he acted literally as an adviser, observer and expediter, made a point of remaining outside the management chain, and gained the confidence, respect and friendship of everyone. So, with respect to Japan, culturally we were on our own. The president and VPs were respectively Korean, Japanese, English and Canadian in background, but somehow the culture emerged as American, which certainly was the intention. NEC wanted to see basic research results that American-style laboratories had proved they could generate, and had no interest in setting up a “branch” of the CRL. In Japan, the idea of scientists doing basic research in industry with the degree of independence found, for example, in the research area at Bell Labs, is far less familiar than in the United States. From time to time the two cultures did meet. One occasion was at the launching of a large new NEC IC factory near Tokyo. Emperor Akihito was present to dedicate the facility. During a tour of the new plant, the Emperor was shown a closed-circuit TV link to NEC in Princeton that had been set up for the occasion. I gave a one-to-two-minute presentation on our studies of information processing in the brain of the fly. There was no reaction from the Emperor, but I hoped that he was impressed! A second occasion occurred during a visit to Japan. NEC required semiannual reports, so several of us flew to Tokyo twice a year for detailed presentations of our latest research results to the research managers, and took their questions about what was going on. As a concession to American culture, during the first of these meetings in 1989 our entire audience of Japanese research managers wore New York Yankee baseball caps, brought over by Dawon Kahng. During the early years the discussions at these visits primarily covered the science being presented. Later, there was growing attention to the likelihood and timescale for the results to have applications. The NEC managers gave us more and more encouragement to think about real product impact of the work as we went along, something that during the first five years received less emphasis. This later period was like the changes of the previous twenty-five years at Bell Labs compressed into five years.

Hochheiser:

So, when your second five-year contract with NEC was finished in ‘98, so was did it seem natural to move on?

Giordmaine:

Yes, I was sixty-five at that point. It did just seem natural to move on and I didn’t explore continuing the contract. After leaving NECI I was fortunate to receive an opportunity to join in research and to lecture in the Electrical Engineering Department at Princeton, Moti Segev, a professor and soliton physicist, had accepted a temporary position in Israel and asked me to act as mentor for his Princeton graduate students and to teach his course on laser physics and quantum electronics. When Segev's position at the Technion became permanent, I continued as a lecturer for six years and helped look after the remainder of his group as they completed their PhDs. I then joined the Chemistry Department at the invitation of Marlan Scully, a Texas A&M faculty member with a joint appointment at Princeton. I collaborated with his group in research and development of laser techniques for the detection of anthrax. The work was bench physics, which I especially enjoyed because it was related to stimulated Raman scattering which I had worked on many years previously at Bell Labs. That work continued for about a year and a half. Since then, I’ve been on my own as an independent researcher.

Hochheiser:

Do you have access to lab facilities somewhere?

Giordmaine:

No, but with access to the Princeton University libraries I’m studying quantum optics and trying to explore its potential for computing and communications.

Hochheiser:

I find it interesting I’m not sure what it means, after spending your whole career as a physicist you suddenly found yourself in the Electrical Engineering Department?

Giordmaine:

Well, in the Electrical Engineering Department at Princeton and probably in most EE departments there are activities that range from almost fundamental physics and biophysics to systems and computer engineering. Dan Tsui, a Nobel laureate in physics, is in the Princeton Electrical Engineering Department. A large part of the physics-related research there is related to optical devices and optical communications. Moti Segev’s soliton physics, for example, the area that I joined, is beautiful physics but also has engineering applications and could be at home in either a physics or an EE department. Today however many physics departments would consider areas such as solitons and nonlinear optics as too applied and not involving enough fundamental physics. Although my background was in physics, the work that I did at Bell Labs would have fitted very well into the academic program of an electrical engineering department.

Hochheiser:

And, well I think that, in my studies of Bell Labs, it’s often true that the distinctions that seemed clear in academics between one discipline and another become very fluid in an industrial research setting.

Giordmaine:

That’s an important point. And it was a key point in the successes of Bell Labs. In my own experience, demonstrating a new nonlinear optical device principle such as phase matching or parametric oscillation invariably required a material having a very specific combination of properties. At Bell Labs the needed material, if not already at hand, could often be grown by one of the expert materials scientists. Many of the most important recent optical device advances have depended on molecular beam epitaxial fabrication, a technique developed by Al Cho. The access to crystal growers was always a strength of Bell Labs physical science research. This is also true of NEC, which has had a high capability in electronic materials. Successful physical science research often involves a symbiotic relationship between physical and material scientists. This was clearly the case for the transistor, the LED, and the semiconductor laser.

Hochheiser:

Let me just close with a couple of kind of general open-ended questions. In what ways do you think that industrial research, by the late ‘90s or even today is different and in what ways is it the same as it was when you started out at Bell Labs in the ‘60s?

Giordmaine:

Well, in general, a lot of the effort that would earlier have gone into open-ended, curiosity-driven fundamental research in industry is now going into product-driven work, just as creative and original perhaps, but with a shorter term objective. Much of this is being done by entrepreneurs. That’s one basic difference. There’s very little opportunity today for the freewheeling kind of research that was done in that earlier time. At that time research managers widely believed that if you hired sufficiently creative and productive people they would come up with a lot of ideas, a few of those ideas would be very valuable, and the process would represent a profitable investment. But, the payoff for revolutionary inventions such as the transistor can take as much as ten or fifteen years. Transistorized hearing aids and radios appeared earlier than that, but the ultimate impact of the transistor came only with the integrated circuit.

Hochheiser:

Well, even with the research program, Mervin Kelly begins the research program in 1936. So, even to the hearing aids you’re talking the better part of two decades.

Giordmaine:

Yes. This was certainly a remarkable case of long-term vision. The early planners had a clear idea of what they wanted to do — use solids to amplify signals — but there was absolutely no idea of how to do it. But there was a confidence that in time, in the hands of the right researchers, there would emerge a principle that would liberate the telephone system from the limitations of the vacuum tube. The research paid off. But it did take a lot of time. Today there’s little of that kind of risk-taking. We demand a short-term return on R&D investment. Funding of research without detailed proposals is no longer happening even in academia. I think this situation will only change with the stimulus of another Sputnik-like breakthrough, perhaps from outside the existing industrial research community, perhaps in an exotic scientific field, that has an immediate and major economic impact. Imagine a portable quantum computer, a cold-fusion power generator, an inexpensive explosives sensor, none of which is ruled out by the laws of physics. Or conceivably the breakthrough might take place as a result of “bootlegged” work in a conventional university or industrial lab. It will take a major shock to change the present industrial research funding paradigm. Another difference in recruiting of PhD physicists for industrial research today is the wider range of competing career opportunities in non-physics areas such as the financial community, utilizing the analytical and problem-solving skills even of physicists in areas such as string theory. Overall there's been a night and day transformation in the climate for support of long-term research in physics in industry. I’m not sure what the situation is in other fields such as chemistry, but it may be somewhat similar.

Hochheiser:

Now, in retrospect how would you characterize your career, your career as a whole, and what do you think are the greatest accomplishments of your career?

Giordmaine:

Well, the optical physics contributions that my colleagues and I made in industrial research at Bell Labs, such as phase matching in nonlinear optics, the optical parametric oscillator, correlation measurement of ultrashort light pulses, connecting optical mixing and optical rotation in liquids — these were the most exciting and satisfying events of my career. It was also a pleasure to see from the citations that they helped move the field ahead and, hopefully, contributed indirectly to the wider application of laser technology. In addition, as an industrial research administrator I enjoyed helping other people get their research done and, at the NEC Research Institute, collaborating in setting up a new kind of fundamental research lab. NECI eventually evolved in ways different than what I imagined, but it's still very much there and making important contributions. Another observation about industrial research is that you meet a lot of wonderful and interesting people. My experience was that all of them — in different ways — were largely curiosity driven, and in the game as much for the excitement of R&D as for the financial rewards. Many could have been making a lot more money doing something different, on Wall Street or elsewhere, using the skills that they had. And, most enjoyed what they were doing. The industrial researcher is largely unencumbered by the demands of proposal writing and classroom teaching. In certain fields and at certain times — quantum electronics in the 1960's was an example — industrial research can offer a unique opportunity to contribute to scientific and technological progress, as well as provide career fulfillment. I feel fortunate to have been involved in basic research in industry.