Oral History Transcript — Dr. Betsy Ancker-Johnson
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Interview with Dr. Betsy Ancker-Johnson
Betsy Ancker-Johnson; December 8, 2008
ABSTRACT: In this interview, Betsy Ancker-Johnson:, a solid state physicist, discusses such topics as: her family background and early education; her undergraduate work at Wellesley College; Hedwig Kohn; Lise Meitner; her graduate work in Germany at Tubingen University; Donald Menzel; Walther Kossel; measuring lattice constants of zinc and zinc crystals; Charles Kittel; the Minerals Research Laboratory (MRL) at University of California, Berkeley; George Gamow; working in microwave electronics at Stanford University in the Sylvania Microwave Physics Laboratory; her work at the Radio Corporation of America (RCA); L. S. Nergaard; zeolites; working with hot electrons with Maurice Glicksman; Boeing Scientific Reseach Laboratories (BSRL) and plasma physics; Jim Drummond; speaking at the Lebedev Institute; Ivar Gunn; Glen Keister; President Nixon asking her to be the Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology in the U. S. Department of Commerce; women in physics; National Bureau of Standards; trying to switch to the metric system; Dixie Lee Ray; Fred Dent; working at Argonne National Laboratories; becoming a vice president at General Motors; and Elmer W. Johnson.
Butler:This is Orville Butler and I’m here today with Betsy Ancker-Johnson overlooking a beautiful river here in Austin, Texas. Today is Monday, December 8, and I guess I’d like to start out by having you talk a little bit about your family and growing up.
Ancker-Johnson:Okay. I was born in St. Louis, Missouri with two older brothers on the scene already. They were six and eight years older than I. My dad was an Army officer and my mother a schoolteacher. She taught children on the base at Jefferson Barracks.
Butler:And, where did you go to grade school?
Ancker-Johnson:We moved around a lot since I had a father who was sent here and there. When I was just three years old, I guess it was, he was stationed in Manila, and so my brothers went to a school where my mother taught and I was cared for by my Ama. [Laugh] My mother’s schedule was not as demanding as mine would be much later. But, I guess it was natural for me to have a working mother. But, we left there just as I was entering school. I was five years old when we left there. And we moved then to Fort Harrison then just outside Indianapolis. Then my father was retired on disability. We moved to Indianapolis. He also had a law degree, which he finished in the Philippines at night school. He joined the Army in World War I. [Laugh]. This really does make you think. Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day, and there are very few people that still remember it, actually. There was a celebration in Fredericksburg to honor the people who were still surviving from that war, and it made me think about my military family. Colonels are a dime a dozen in my family, as I’ll mention in a minute. Anyway, to get back, I went then to a public high school in Indianapolis, and that was my first encounter, actually, with problems of having interests that weren’t canonical, that weren’t culturally accepted, [Laugh] let’s say. Because, in junior high school I announced that I wanted to take shop instead of sewing and cooking, and that caused a real riot, I recall. [Laugh] The principal was an elderly lady who absolutely was outraged anyway with antics that I had performed earlier, and this was the last straw. [Laugh] I spent a lot of time in her office and a lot of time in the cloak room, especially during the fourth grade. But, I had to take cooking, and I had to take sewing, and I’m ashamed to say that I think I made life miserable for the teacher. [Laugh]
Butler:Did you ever get to take shop?
Ancker-Johnson:Nope. [Laugh] I had sort of grown up taking apart my bicycle, more than riding it, a bike that was inherited from my brothers because we grew up in the Depression Era, so we didn’t have a lot of new things. And, my father having been retired was only at captain level. He was eleven years a first lieutenant. You have to think about what it was like in the Depression. The Army was not promoting people and it was a tough time. I got into swimming then. My second brother and I were big on swimming. I recall one occasion that was apropos of growing up in the depression when I didn’t have enough money to go to swim practice. I had one dime to get on the bus to go down to swim but I didn’t have another dime to get home. And, that was a traumatic situation for me because my parents wouldn’t let me go unless they knew I was going to have a ride home because it was, you know, like five miles or something. Too long, they thought, to walk. But it was a different lifestyle than our grandchildren, for instance, are having by far. So, I survived the business of not having taken shop but I certainly got a good education extra curricularly from my second brother, Jack, because he was closer to me in age. The other brother was almost like nine years older, because he had skipped a grade through all this moving around that happened earlier in the family, before I joined it. And, as a result we were never as close as children, but later we became very close. In any case, Jack had me handing him tools while he was fixing something. I remember going down the alley, after he was in college, to a shop and buying ball bearing rings to [Laugh] fit in this old bicycle I had, which were regularly wearing out because it wasn’t true anymore and couldn’t be made true. But, I enjoyed that a lot. The guy who owned the bike shop was really interesting and he’d show me all sorts of stuff. It was just a garage full of parts that no one else wanted. It was a half a block from our house and, and I’d forgotten all about it until we started talking. [Laugh]
Butler:So you mention taking apart and repairing your bicycle. What other things did you do as a child that may have predicted that you would have an interest in, in mechanics and physics?
Ancker-Johnson:Well, let’s see. What else did I do? I remember more the things I did in trying to be like the boys, [Laugh] because my mother was a tomboy. She had two older brothers also and a pile of siblings after that, and so she was very responsible in helping raise them. I was busy playing football and baseball, and stuff like that in grade school. But, generally I just guess I was into trying to figure out what needed fixing -- when my mother had a problem and something didn’t work I would try to fix it and my older brother, who no longer was there, and I guess I [Laugh] managed to do it often. I remember one time I was trying to fix the toaster, and [Laugh] I electrocuted myself. I actually shorted it out. I didn’t unplug it from the wall. Can you believe this? And, I remember I got a charge all the way up my arm. I never told my mother [Laugh] or dad that because I thought, “Oh, they’ll really get angry at me.” But fortunately I didn’t do anything too seriously wrong.
Butler:Other than your brother, who you already mentioned, who were influences on your developing interests in science?
Ancker-Johnson:I took every math course that was available in a very good high school, Shortridge High School. It was an outstanding high school, public high school, one of the best in the country. I was just very fortunate to be there, so that my transition to Wellesley was really seamless. I didn’t have any problem, because we had such excellent teachers there. And there were so-called X-courses so that in the beginning courses, the early courses, if you showed ability then you were put into a so-called X-class. And, that happened immediately in math and English. Of course, things like Latin didn’t have that many kids in them so there were no X-classes. But, I got a very good grounding in math. And, as I said I took every course that was offered, which meant doubling in the senior year. And I, of course, took physics. Later on I was involved in trying to get the metric system in this country.
Butler:Yeah. And, we’ll talk about that.
Ancker-Johnson:In any case, I remember spending a lot of time [Laugh] as a student with these stupid problems trying to translate from English units into metric. I thought “Now, what has this got to do with anything?” It was the most boring course you could imagine because we spent the first month or two trying to think in another language, namely MKS, or CGS it was then. So, I didn’t find it terribly fascinating, I must say, until much later. But, I had pretty catholic tastes. I mean, I was into high school debating and was a National Champion debater, and Extemporaneous Speaker champion, and this sort of thing. It prepared me in a way I hadn’t expected for what happened later, (especially U.S. Government Service). But, chemistry I found exceedingly boring in high school, also. Now Latin was a real challenge. [Laugh] My father insisted that you’re not educated unless you’re taking Latin. And so Clint, the elder of the two brothers, dutifully took four years of Latin and I dutifully took four years of Latin. He didn’t do quite well enough in high school to get a big enough scholarship to Yale. My father had no use for Harvard whatsoever. “It’s full of red liberals.” [Laugh] He had very opinionated ideas. So Clint went to Purdue and did very well there, magna cum laude. So, I followed him, but I also followed Jack, who was not nearly so interested in studying and who was considered by my dad as a miserable failure because he didn’t like Latin and he didn’t do well, so he had to take Spanish. He turns out to be a very clever fellow, but [Laugh] he just rebelled earlier I think. Both of my brothers wanted very much to go to West Point but neither of them could get in because of their eyes. Today, they would certainly be accepted. Then both served in World War II. I watched my mother age during that, because I was home. But -- I’m losing the thread of what you asked me. [Laugh] I’m rattling on here.
Butler:Well, I was asking, “What influences?”
Ancker-Johnson:Oh yes. I think that taking Latin so much Latin was a very good way to learn to be logical. It really required that you think things through very carefully. I found it to be my hardest subject by far, because I, you know, breezed through the math, physics, and English was no big deal and so on, but Latin required a lot of thinking and we had an excellent Latin Department. So, incidentally I took that as part of my -- I’ve forgotten what they called it now -- Achievement Test or something. And fortunately, I passed it well enough that I didn’t have to take any more language of the old style. In Wellesley, in those days, you had to be versed in Greek or Latin, and also in a modern language, and I hadn’t taken a modern language because I was so busy taking all that math and physics, and whatnot. So, when the Dean of Wellesley College came to visit because it was such a good institution that the dean regularly came to, or sent some other representative to these major public high schools, as well as the private schools to recruit students. At that point I was thinking about Wellesley. I asked if I needed to take a modern language to get in. It suddenly dawned on me that I don’t have the prerequisites. And, she said, “No, you could probably solve that problem when you get there, if you pass the Latin test with a high enough score, then you’ll only have to take a modern language after you get there.” Well, I graduated first in my class of I think it was about a thousand in my class. And all A+, and I was graduated with the highest number of credits that anyone had accumulated. Unfortunately, that school has disappeared. That’s really sad. It was in the inner city, and then a slum grew up around it. And, it just didn’t survive the growing of Indianapolis, even though it was an outstanding, Short Ridge High School. So, it wasn’t, I guess, until I got into college that I really began to lap up physics. It was an entirely different atmosphere of teaching. I took again; I guess every course that Wellesley offered in physics. I had to take some chemistry, which I found dreadfully boring again. [Laugh] This time it was because it was a sort of a cookbook-course. You were supposed to identify an unknown in a test tube. [Laugh] You’re nodding. You had the same course, I guess? And, it seemed to be so messy, you know. “This is not science. This is more whether you can fake it or not, or pull off some sort of cookbook-type of approach.” I much preferred the nice, clean experiments in physics. And they, of course they were pretty well cooked up too. They were all very well designed so that we would get the right results. [Laugh] But, they were far more satisfying. I had the good fortune to room in a dormitory my freshman year, which also had an apartment for a faculty member. And, the particular house that I chose and was granted was right in the center of the campus opposite the Physics Department, in Pendleton Hall, which housed physics and chemistry. On the other side of the big square was the administration building, and now more recently they’ve tore down my old dormitory, Norumbega. Well, not recently, twenty years ago I guess, or so, maybe thirty [Laugh] and, built a wonderful art museum there. But, in that faculty suite was Hedwig Kohn, K-O-H-N, who was a German Jewess whose entire family had been wiped out in the Holocaust. She was protected by her colleagues in the Physikalisches Institut of Dresden Universitat where she was, until it was so late in the game that she escaped to Sweden with virtually nothing. She was a Privatdozent, which is the step below a professor, who is just one step under God in Germany, [Laugh] as I found out later, personally I mean. Anyway, she was a remarkable woman who was a great influence on me. I was taking freshman physics, of course, and had met her, because she dined in the same place we did, and she was very friendly. She had a high, squeaky voice and when she knew I was taking physics she invited me, if I had problems, “Knock on the door. I’ll be glad to talk to you.” She had a very thick German accent still. And, I took advantage of that frequently and got to know her quite well at that point, though she was not one of my professors at that stage. But, sophomore year when I lived in another dormitory, she was, and I took a course on optics from her, which was just wonderful. She was really an outstanding teacher. I’m indebted to her in many ways because it was through her that I went on to graduate school in Germany. I’m rattling on here. What do you want to know?
Butler:Well, you’re talking about it. [Laugh] I’m looking for the influences on you (Ancker-Johnson: Uhm-hmm.) in your intellectual development. And, you’ve mentioned her. Are there others that, that played profound influences?
Ancker-Johnson:You know I didn’t have that much exposure at Wellesley to prejudge. And by the way, it’s rather strange that I ended up at Wellesley. I was really thinking that I’d like to go to MIT. It was the influence of my parents. They were very enamored with the idea of Wellesley, particularly because of Madam Chiang Kai-shek, who, of course, was a Wellesley graduate or at least I guess she did actually get a degree there. And, because of living in the Orient twice, once after I was born and once before, they were very familiar with China’s situation. Every ship that took officers to and from the Philippines would stop in at least two ports in China including Shanghai. So they spent some time there. And, you’ll see some of these rugs around here, not this but over there, is one from a set of three they bought for me when I was about five [Laugh], on the way back from the Philippines. And I was influenced by the conversations at home. You know, in those days you didn’t have the option of going off and visiting colleges and universities. Even though there was a very good counseling service, I’m sure, at Shortridge High School -- I can’t remember anything about it and I didn’t use it I guess -- but, it’s not like today where you take your kids visiting all over the place and they generally get to spend a long time looking at various colleges. So, when I arrived at Wellesley I had never set eyes on it before, of course. So my, the influences from becoming a physicist were really pretty minimal. I didn’t go to MIT because I didn’t even think that I could apply. They weren’t taking women. I found out much later that had I applied they probably would have accommodated me. There was I think, the occasional woman there. I had a lot of friends from there, particularly through the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, which is a major activity in my life. And, Kenneth Olson, for instance, who then founded DEC later on, was a member of that group at MIT, an MIT chapter of IUCF. And we were quite good friends. He came to the campus occasionally and I was really impressed when I was showing him my electronics experiments that he had tricks that I hadn’t dreamed of or thought of. Well, for instance, to solder the, let’s see what was it, the connections to the vacuum tube in such a way that you didn’t need all the lines I had. You could use a trick that he showed me and be able to heat the filament with a simpler approach. A silly little thing. I thought, “Wow, you know, there must be lots of things that are advantages [Laugh] in being with a bunch of other people who are doing this sort of thing instead of being here more or less all alone.” Because, indeed, there were only two of us majoring in physics at that time. There were years when no one majored in physics at Wellesley, and I guess the maximum they ever had were four or five. But, that meant you got a lot of personal attention, you know. That was an advantage.
Butler:What professors do you remember in particular?
Ancker-Johnson:Beyond Professor Kohn?
Ancker-Johnson:The head of the department was Alice Armstrong and she taught some of the courses. She was approaching retirement. She was very helpful in encouraging me and my colleague, Niki Stewart. There was senior when I was a sophomore, who did extremely well. She was very bright; Betty Aldridge who, unfortunately, died fairly recently, a few years ago. I know particularly about that because Hedwig Kohn’s biography mentioned Betty. It was being written by someone whose husband was a physicist teaching in Germany. He was spending quite a lot of time as a professor there, and the wife interviewed me and wrote a biography of Kohn. She tried to give some of Kohn’s work to the AIP, as a matter of fact, and they weren’t particularly interested at that point. I was pointing over here because in this pile of stuff in a magazine rack, as you see but stuffed in there at the back is her biography. I really think it should be given more attention than it has been. Hedwig Kohn was a friend of Lise Meitner’s. And Lise Meitner visited the campus during my freshman year at Wellesley. So she was staying in my dormitory, really a ramshackle old big house, [Laugh] and I guess they bunked together there in what was a quite small apartment. They rattled away in German for two or three days. They had been through similar experiences, of course, although my professor was not nearly as famous as Meitner -- I don’t know whether it was that she didn’t have as much opportunity to show her stuff, or whether she would not have ever have been of that stature. She was a bit younger than Lise Meitner and probably the latter, but nevertheless a significant physicist. She published significant papers that I’ve since looked at, and they’re very hard to find now, of course, because they’re so old. I was starting to say that she escaped with virtually nothing and then later she gave me encouragement to go ahead and think about studying in Germany. And, you think back now, ‘45 was the year the war was over. That was the year I entered Wellesley. I was thoroughly brainwashed by the Wellesley idea of being really well educated, broadly educated, a liberal arts education, and I enjoyed that. I studied all these crazy things like [Laugh] philosophy. I took Greek Philosophy, which was kind of interesting from the point of view of physics as well, by the way. But, I remember writing papers on “Is virtue knowledge?” from a study of Plato, and took a course that delved into Marx, and Lenin, and all the philosophers of that century and the preceding one. I took a fair amount of political science. My parents, I think secretly, hoped I would be a lawyer. No chance of that. [Laugh] They really didn’t understand where they got these two mechanical engineers from, who both went to Purdue, and this daughter who my dad used to say about, “We’ve been cheated. We didn’t get a little girl at all.” And, he would look at my fingernails that were all covered in grease and [Laugh] at the dining room table he’d announce something like this frequently. But, they were very encouraging of my, you know, they, my parents were really encouraging all their kids to be what they could be, and scratched their heads over the results but, [Laugh] well that’s the way it is, you know. The genes are, they didn’t use that word then but the traits are the way they are. You’re going to have to help me focus a little better. I seem to be rattling on here.
Butler:You talked a little bit about Lise Meitner.
Butler:Meitner, (Ancker-Johnson: Uhm-hmm.) visiting. Did that have any particular influence on you?
Ancker-Johnson:Well, I was terribly impressed, of course, to even be in the same building with such a famous person. And, it wasn’t until much later that I read, and it’s sitting over there somewhere, a biography of her and really understood what these women had been through, and men, Jewish men who were so terribly persecuted in what was just an unbelievable situation. And of course, the women already suffered from a tremendous amount of -- which I experienced as well when I got to Germany -- a tremendous amount of male chauvinism. I remember visiting the university where several of her former colleagues and students were assembled and doing some of the same research they had been trying to do in Dresden a few years earlier -- of course, that was in the East Zone, so they had to move to the west. And, they were very guarded in what they said to me, and this is probably in 1952. There was still, in those days, rubble everywhere in Germany and the occupation was very visible. But, I got a sense of how much they respected her and that she could well have been -- had done much better than she did in the United States. And, of course, Lise Meitner, when she left also, never had the position in the U.S. that she deserved. But they, together, I think we were planning something about Professor Kohn’s future because there was a small group at Duke University that included --Hertha Spooner, a spectroscopist, who was German and who did assemble some of those folk who did the same sort of work and that’s where Hedwig Kohn spent her latter days, and died there. And, when she died I was at RCA labs by that time and in the meantime I had given a colloquium at Duke and was able to see that she was very happy. This was after, of course, my experience in Germany. She was enjoying her retirement. She had a laboratory. She was happily engaged and was able to be supportive to students, and she enjoyed that very much. And, it gave me a warm feeling to see that she was ending up in a much more comfortable situation
Butler:You mentioned her influence on your going to Germany (Ancker-Johnson: Uhm–hmm) study. Did you look at other schools for graduates?
Ancker-Johnson:Yes. I, as I started to say, I was thoroughly brainwashed by this liberal arts approach and I thought, I’d really like to go to a graduate school where I would learn just by osmosis the culture, the architecture, the art, the history, without having to necessarily study it all. It would just sort of come by osmosis if I lived in a foreign country. So, I starting thinking in my junior year about graduate work and it would have to be either in an English-speaking country or a German-speaking one, because that was the only language that I supposedly knew other than English. I was dating a guy at the time who was strongly in favor of my not going abroad, [Laugh] and so I did investigate where he was. He was a medical resident in Chicago, Cook County Hospital. And so I did investigate going to the University of Chicago and Northwestern. But, in my junior year I wrote in a way that only a I guess, uninhibited underclassman could possibly do, [Laugh] a letter to Max von Laue, the dean of Physics in Germany, in the postwar era. He was visiting the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies and the University of Chicago. So, I wrote to him while he was at the Institute for Advanced Studies and he graciously wrote back. I just asked him a question. “Would it make sense for an American to start the old tradition of going to graduate school in Germany?” You know a sentence or two. And, of course, there were a lot of very famous physicists in the era just ahead of the war that did graduate work in Germany, or spent some time there. He not only wrote me a letter encouraging me to do that once, but again when he got to Chicago he wrote me another one. I wish I could find those letters. By the way, just to digress for a moment, I was very glad to have this [Laugh] incentive to go through all my stuff. I’ve been putting it off. [Laugh] It seemed like sort of an ego trip to go through all these papers and things. And, at various points in my career people were in charge of collecting things, you know, and putting them in notebooks or just in boxes, labeled. And, I had steadfastly ignored all of this. I made one attempt once to go through it and I found it so boring in contrast to doing the traveling, which we love to do, that I put it aside and it was only your incentive that got me really going through this, and I threw away at least two huge garbage bags of stuff already, [Laugh] and I’m working on a third.
Butler:What sort of stuff are you throwing away?
Ancker-Johnson:Well, most of it is redundant.
Ancker-Johnson:There were a whole bunch of -- talking to an historian I’ve got to be very careful -- I was throwing away mostly things that were like I had ten copies left over from a paper. Nine of them can go right now in the trash. I certainly don’t need but one. Some papers I don’t have at all it turns out because I guess I randomly gave them out and didn’t save one and didn’t have enough reprints. Then stuff you know, that was saved during my days in the government. They save everything. And a lot of that stuff I pitched out. Anyway, back to graduate school and to Professor von Laue. I guess I said I’m interested in experimental physics more than theoretical and he, of course, was a theorist. So, he suggested that I might want to go to Tubingen to his friend Walther Kossel, or he would be very glad to have me at Gottingen, which was more famous. And, and he was extraordinarily gracious, inviting me to meet him in the United States to talk about this, which I couldn’t possibly do. Of course, it was out of the question in those days to even think about meeting him someplace, especially on a scholarship as I was. I was working part-time to help support myself. And then when I did make the decision and I told him that he said, “Well, if you ever come to Gottingen, my wife and I would love to have you visit us.” He was very gracious. You’re peering at your machine.
Butler:I’m checking to make sure it’s functioning.
Ancker-Johnson:Yeah. That’s a good idea. I thought, in retrospect, it was very remarkable that Professor Kohn encouraged me to go ahead and go to Germany. She had great misgivings because I was a blonde little thing, you know. How could I protect myself out there in this situation? And, thoughts like this, and I’m sure my parents had a lot of thoughts about it. And also, I thought, in retrospect, remarkable that having been treated the way she was she could still encourage me to go ahead and go to Germany. I had only had two years of German in college. That was the bargain I had made with the dean of the college, that I would take modern language there. As you would expect the language courses at Wellesley were outstanding. They were all taught, of course, by native speakers. And I audited, in my junior year -- no, I guess I took a third year. Yes, I took a third year of German and that was the hardest course I took and I got my only C in that, a C+ and I thought, “Wow, that does it. I am probably never going to manage to [Laugh] get a scholarship. I’ve got this C+.” I can remember walking down by the lake and thinking, “Oh, I’ve really blown it,” after that exam, because I knew I hadn’t done well. [Laugh] There were only four of us in that course, one had spent her junior year abroad in Germany, and of course was fluent. She was in the senior class. The three others of us were all good friends. One was a music student, good enough to have been in any symphony orchestra in the country she was told by her violin teacher in her freshman year, a very dear friend of mine, Ruth May. And, Peggy Goodman, whose mother was German and who’d had some exposure, and was in sociology. And then this physics major. And, the professor actually had one question for each of us. What we were to do was to answer one in detail and the other three in a cursory fashion. That was the exam. And, I knew that I had blown it, and sure enough I got that C+. But, I managed to get into Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi anyway. I mentioned going from a public high school. About half of the students there were from public schools, half had come from private schools, and I felt somewhat nervous about going there. I had to have a huge scholarship to get there and I worked summers to provide the rest. And one of my brothers, the younger one, Jack, helped me. He was in the Army professionally as I think I said. He sent me $50 a month for over a year to help out. Tight family. We’re all good friends. That eased me so that I didn’t have to work during my latter period in Wellesley. But…the transition to Germany was very much harder because, I mentioned that I took this difficult German course and thought I’d flunked it. Senior year I audited a course, but I couldn’t really manage it very well. So, basically, I was just listening to the lectures in German and getting about every fifth word or so [Laugh] trying to, and I think I finally dropped it. So, when I went over to Germany with a scholarship that was provided privately -- that’s another story -- later Wellesley awarded me a big scholarship -- but I was living on $40 a month over there, so it was a lot cheaper than going to grad school [Laugh] in the States. But the transition was extraordinarily difficult from the language point of view because I didn’t have nearly the ability that I needed to be able to start studying. I knew I was going to be in trouble so I went over a couple of months early and lived in a private home of a widow, who provided rooms for a small number of students, and a meal at lunchtime for more, which is the major meal, and still is, in Europe at that time, for what turned out to be a bunch of law students. And so, I made arrangements with some of these guys to talk English for an hour and German for an hour and we would mutually get some benefit from this. And, [Laugh] it was a strange experience because for one thing the, in German as you may well know there is a formal form of address and then there’s the informal, and in Switzerland all students use the informal with each other. But in Germany, which I did not know, they all use the formal. So, being unaware of this I was using the “Du” form of address to these guys, all of whom individually I guess thought, “Ah, she’s enamored with me from start one,” you know. And, I wasn’t exactly homely. [Laugh] And in comparison with the German girls who had, you know, really suffered during the war they had just emerged from -- ordinary upkeep of hair, for instance, of not having shampoo and so on -- it was easy to be the sort of the star [Laugh] woman student and quite apart from the fact that there was no other woman in physics.
Butler:And having a foreign accent often helps too?
Ancker-Johnson:Yeah. It probably helped a lot. It could be. Anyway, I suddenly realized much later, when I was -- no, it wasn’t much later. It was during probably the first month that I was attending actual lectures that one of the fellows invited me home to his little tiny apartment like probably the one I had, a room in somebody’s house. His wife and he would like to have me for tea. After our math lecture or physics lecture or whatever it was, just before the Sunday when I was invited he asked me to walk with him a little way and he in a very halting way finally managed to explain to me that his wife wouldn’t understand if I said “Du” to him instead of “Sie.” And it dawned on me, “Yea gods, these law students, these jerks, [Laugh] they let me, they just didn’t explain things to me and let me use the wrong form of address.” Ah well, you can imagine how angry I was.
Butler:Well, they were probably soaking it up?
Ancker-Johnson:Huh? Oh, soaking it up? Probably, yeah. So I marched back to the Physics Institute, it must have been after I’d been there a few months, and I said, “You guys didn’t tell me either. So, from now on we’re going to have a new rule around here. We’ll all address each other so: we’11 continue using first names, but we say “Sie.” [Laugh] And so, you know, I established this different language thing. But, it was very important that I get this two months of language training before lectures started. And, I remember having notebooks with words I was trying to learn. The first time I went down to buy some food, because we only had one meal there, I couldn’t think of words like onion, zwieble, you know. And, it’s not like you go in and choose what you want in a supermarket. I had done a lot of shopping in farmers’ market type things with my folks in Indianapolis. That was absolutely verboten. You don’t touch anything. So, you know, I was helpless. I had to go back home and get my dictionary out and start writing down the words for things that I wanted. Tomatoes, as well. That was tomaten. That was pretty easy. And, those were the hardest words, the words that were the same because you didn’t expect that. But, words like zange, for pliers, I hadn’t a clue about. So, I really had a very hard time at the beginning. I knew words like Zeitgenosse, contemporary, but that wasn’t very useful. [Laugh] When I arrived I was given a laboratory very close to the professor. It was right next to the office that his secretary sat in and his big office was just beyond that. He lived upstairs in the Institute, as did a couple, Eric Menzel, who was being mentored by Kossel, and did become a very undistinguished professor eventually. I was given a key to his private facility because there wasn’t one for women students in this building. Otherwise, I would have to go across the street to the main building, the central one, where there were facilities for women students. So, the professor figured this out quickly and gave me a key to his private facility, which was right across the hall from his office. By then his wife was dead, so he was a widower. OF course, his secretary always knew where he was, but I didn’t necessarily. So, he forgot to lock the door one time when I entered and we had one of these really embarrassing encounters. It was humiliating for both of us. [Laugh] The very next day they took out a piece of a laboratory one of my colleagues had downstairs where the “Studenten,” the male students, had their facilities, their “heads” as we say in sailing. They were lined up like so and they took a piece of my colleagues laboratory, with a long march down to the end where they put a basin with a mirror, and a sharp right turn and they just extended the plumbing to put a toilet there. I endured all sorts of [Laugh] signs on that thing while they were building it. I was very visible, of course, in this Institute, [Laugh] and so there were all kinds of signs -- they were mostly humorous, of course. But, “Betsy’s” was the main one that has stuck in my memory. And, years later I was back there giving a colloquium and I was wandering through the halls and I thought, “Wow, this bathroom, this facility is probably my most important contribution to physics and there’s no memorial plaque on here. It just says, ‘Studentenin.” [Laugh] And I thought, “Jeepers, I fought for this thing. I suffered for this.” [Laugh] Anyway, it sure beat going across, in the winter especially, to a building that was -- it was at least a 300 yard walk. More like four or five hundred meters to get to this other facility. Well anyway, at Wellesley I never had anyone telling me that women can’t think analytically. But that was one of the first things that happened as I attended courses in Tubingen. Admittedly, I was a rotten student. Okay? I could hardly understand the language. My colleagues -- some of them were very standoffish. A lot of people said to me, “What are you doing here anyway?” I looked probably younger than I was, twenty-two at the time, and all of my colleagues were older, of course, because they had their college totally interrupted. Wellesley didn’t [Laugh] have any reputation in Germany. “Oh, you went to a college? Wow.” you know. “Not Universitat?” That was also part of the prejudice that I encountered. But, the worse thing was that the professor who taught this 1st course I took, and one of the four courses that were the theoretical series that every graduate student took, was known as “Maschinengewehr Braunbak” which means “machine gun” because he talked so rapidly. And, the first course was mechanics, the worst possible thing for me because he would fill the blackboard with equations in this two-hour lecture which is more like 2 each forty-five minutes -- he always started on the vertel, the academische vertel, fifteen minutes after the hour, and then there would be another break in the middle, then he would carry on forty-five minutes to an hour on the second part. The blackboard was this huge three-panel, twenty, I don’t know, it was at least twenty meters. This room was a big lecture hall with the seats being like in a theater. I sat as close as possible to the blackboard and tried to figure out the difference between scalar, vector, and tensors, which were respectively in Latin script, German script, and Old German script. I hadn’t any clue about Old German script, and I was barely aware of there being considerable differences in German script. So, I was just trying to copy these equations down, because we didn’t have any textbooks then. That was just part of the problem of being in a war-torn country. So, I remember the very first set of problems that we had to turn in. I was absolutely clueless but I had registered; I had to turn in the problem set and it was a disaster. Of course, I knew I hadn’t understood. I barely managed to figure out what the questions were. And during the break in comes the assistant, a rather self-important young man. After all, he was the professor’s assistant. And, I was discovering, as I said earlier, that the professor in Germany is just one small step under God. So, he says, “Gibes ein Fraulein Ancker?” In other words, “Is there somebody here named Miss Ancker?” And, you know, I, snuck down in my seat. There were two hundred students in this lecture hall. I said, “Yes.” And he started lecturing me about, “This is the most outrageous assignment that I’ve ever seen.” My name, Ancker, is German in origin apparently. I saw it from Switzerland all the way through Scandinavia as that thing you throw overboard, A-N-K-E-R. The “C” was apparently thrown in by some ancestor to distinguish it from the thing you throw overboard. And so, when he finally let me say something he obviously immediately understood that I was an American, a foreigner, and was mildly apologetic, but not much, and sort of muttered and left, you know. Much later, well not much later, I realized that the guys were meeting in little groups to do their homework. It was impossible to get into one of these. I didn’t know anyone. Fortunately I was in the French occupation zone, as opposed to the American, which was starting N. of Stuttgart, a short train ride of about; well I don’t think I ever took the train, but a bicycle ride of an hour and a half or so. I hitchhiked sometimes up there. That was the southern boundary of the American zone. And to the east was Munich, also in the American zone. But, the little piece closest to France was French zone, and I was in that. Tubingen is on the edge of the Black Forest and just north of Basel. So, I could gripe with the German students about the French. [Laugh] But, that came much later when I really had friends. So, at the beginning the professor (who was to become my “Doktor Vater”) gave me a problem right on the very first day, when I met him, a piece of equipment and a reference to it. A doctoral candidate of his had built this piece and written a paper about it. And he sent me on my way. I didn’t see him again for months, personally. That was the typical arrangement there. You sank or swam as a grad student alone, in my case I could not figure out this paper and I remember spending hours and hours trying to understand what was going on in the paper describing this apparatus and trying to read collateral papers. The first six months was the most discouraging time I have ever experienced in my life. [Laugh] A short life at that point, but I think it was probably among the most discouraging ever, although I can think of some crises in my life since then that were terrible. That incident of the bathroom that I told you about also brought about my being given a new laboratory. Not next to his office, which was isolated; nobody ever came up there. That was the only laboratory up there. My new laboratory was on the first floor and, by the way, rather close to the facility, [Laugh] which was a nice touch. But finally, I was thrown in with other students and I began to get to know them, of course, and have a much more collegial situation. But still, during those four semesters of lectures in theoretical physics I never broke into a group that did their homework together. That was tough. I was not the only woman taking those courses. There was two who were majoring in math and one of whom I became very close friends with later. She was in this counterpart of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, which I have to stop and explain at some point, because it was one of the reasons I went to Germany. She was a very good math student. The few that were going to be math teachers, as she was going to be, took the theory course series. She did become a very good math teacher in a women’s high school, but there were no other women in physics. I was the only one in that building of, as I said, four stories. I guess about forty of us were doing graduate work. So it, it was a very difficult time. In the meantime I began to understand a little of these papers and began to build my equipment. And, I guess there were a number of ways in which I was unusual, not only that I was the only woman and absolutely stood out like a sore thumb, but I had a much more respectful attitude toward the shop people. When I first needed some equipment, I went over to the shop and introduced myself to the head man, Herr Speidel, who had a lot of apprentices in a separate building there, who, and one or two experienced men that were his deputies, I guess you’d say. And I, as I said introduced myself. And by the way, I was in blue jeans and a sweatshirt. That’s what we wore all the time in Wellesley, and I suppose that was a little unusual, because girls wore skirts in those days in Germany. And when they could get them long stockings and, as I said it was a difficult era. But, so I consulted him. I said something like, “When you have time would you come over to my laboratory? I want to show you a problem I have and ask your advice on how to solve it.” A goniometer is what I needed first. And that was, he told me much later very unusual. Because the good students would make their drawings in detail, and he told me sometimes the outside diameter was smaller than the inside diameter [Laugh] in their drawings, and then they would bring them over or call him into their labs, or somehow they’d transmit these drawings to him and he was supposed to produce them. I can’t believe that that really was always the case, but apparently it was more often the case than not, and my asking for advice, which was the obvious thing to do for crying out loud. [Laugh] He knew more about how to provide what I needed than I did by orders of magnitude. So obviously, you ask for advice. [Laugh] But, it never occurred to them apparently. So, I got things out of the shop in very rapid order. I didn’t realize this, of course. I didn’t know what was going on in the other laboratories. But, people observed that Herr Speidel really does provide Fraulein Ancker with her equipment in a hurry. [Laugh] And he said, after we got -- I mean, I was there over three years -- toward the end he was telling me things like, “I just appreciated the fact that you consulted me, instead of this other attitude of being so superior.” Well, Kossel was famous for his work in, well a number of fields. He was the only one of a very small number of Sommerfeld’s graduate students. I think like eight or ten who got their doctor’s degree under him. That’s in great contrast to the cranking out of Ph.D.s that’s going on, and was even then going on in the states. By the way I should digress for a moment to say that I had thought we would probably meet in my study, which is downstairs and I would have stuff at my fingertips to show you, [Laugh] or to refresh my memory, but I’ve got such a colossal mess down there because of all these boxes of stuff that I’m finally unpacking and throwing away that I couldn’t possibly have anybody down there. I won’t even let him go down there, my husband; because I’m afraid he’ll disturb something. [Laugh] But I thought I had brought up my [turning away from microphone] thesis so I could refresh my memory about what it’s about.
Butler:Well, we can pause if you want to go...
Ancker-Johnson:All right. Maybe we should.
Butler:Okay. We’re back.
Ancker-Johnson:Okay. One of the things, I do want to remark on is that the difficulties that I encountered as a graduate student were really important to me later in that I knew I wanted to keep on with physics. The fact that I did not see the Professor until I had results, on a regular basis at all. In fact, I didn’t talk to him until I had some results. That’s the typical way at least at that time in Germany, and I think it’s probably pretty much the way it is now. You have to have something to show him and then you will be part of what’s called “pun gang,” the rotation: when the Professor goes around and visits each one of his students for a few minutes, with his assistants. So, you would have to have a pun gang effect. You have to have something to [Laugh] produce to talk about at that time, sort of like show and tell in kindergarten. And, one thing you definitely needed to do is prepare your laboratory for the invasion of all these people. Because, if you’re doing precision measurements, as I was, the last thing you want is for them to disturb something. But, there are six or seven assistants that come with him, besides the major guy, the one I mentioned, Menzel. So, you have to really be prepared for this. I guess was producing results finally -- about two and one half years when he finally said at one point, write it down. And then, I didn’t have any consultations with him during the writing process either. You’re really on your own. Of course, my German was still not perfect, so I farmed out pieces of my thesis to different colleagues, who were friendly at that point, who would change it from “Betsy” Deutsch into acceptable Deutsch. [Laugh] And then, the professor finally did his thing on it, because he was really a stickler from the old school. It’s got to be really good German, which I really appreciated, of course, because I’m sort of a stickler myself, as maybe we’ll get around to talking about later. Because, when I got to General Motors I was really upset about the level of writing there. [Laugh] Anyway, the assignment I was given by my Doktor Vater was to measure the lattice constants of zinc, and one of my colleagues was growing the zinc crystals, single crystals of course. As a result of those studies I found some imperfections that then became a second paper. Important also is to note that in Germany, or at least at that time, you did not write a thesis that included every little detail about how you constructed the equipment and whatnot. You only wrote what could be publishable, as is. So, my thesis is in two parts and was published in the Annalen der Physik. You could request as a doctoral student that the publisher provide a cover for 50 bound copies of the published material for submission to the university; a requirement for getting the doctor’s degree. The cover says that I have reached the grade of a doctor of the Naturwissenschaft, of science, from the faculty of the Mathematical and Natural Science Department of the Eberhard-Karls-Universitäte in Tübingen. And, it’s presented by me, aus St. Louis, Missouri, USA, dated 1953. So, that was a great savings because I didn’t have to write jillions of pages of German, which was not going to be of any use [Laugh] whatsoever to me or anybody else, but just what was, in fact, published in its entirety. So, the method I used was one that Professor Dr. Walther Kossel had made really famous by using the single crystal itself as the measuring instrument. There were a large number of students who were doing various experiments related to this type of approach. And I used the equipment that had been devised by a previous student [turning pages]. I was mentioning that I had such a hard time understanding that first paper. [Laugh] One of the problems was just simply that it was shown in design, not in its useful position, but just to show for its own sake. And, I couldn’t imagine, “How did the reflected x-rays get into this instrument?” [Laugh] Something as dumb as that that held me up for maybe a month. But I mentioned needing a goniometer. That was not available. So, it was built in our shop, and was very precise because I had to be able to adjust the crystal in at least two dimensions, very carefully, in order to get reflections that were clearly defined. And, the distance between these two reflections I measured in a piece of equipment that was incredibly primitive from today’s point of view, and even what my colleagues in the States would have had at that point, but it worked very well. I could measure the distance to a -- I’ve forgotten now what it was, [turning pages] but the measurement of the lattice constants of Zu that I made were to six significant figures with only a, a plus or minus of two in the base measurement of this hexagonal crystal and four in that sixth digit for the hexagonal, or for the long axis of a single crystal of zinc. I’ve been always going to look up and see if mine is still the best measurement of zinc [Laugh] and I’ve never gotten around to it. Maybe if I had stayed in physics experiments and not branched off to all this other stuff I would have long since looked up whether, whether this measurement is still valid or its been superseded by something better. It was, after all, a half century or longer ago. But, I also then learned a lot about dislocations in nearly perfect crystals. That’s what the second part of my thesis was all about. That was a very new field at that point, Dislocation Theory. Professor Kossel was one of the first, or the first to come up with the idea of how single crystals grow by the attachment through the forces in the crystal to be in a uniform position. And, that was very useful to me in my very first job. I actually got good enough in German that I was dreaming in German at the very end, as though I were an atom in this single crystal and I was desperately trying to figure out, “Why would I be in this twin position?” Because, I had discovered that a spontaneous growth of twins occurred, that is a crystal that is a mirror image in a little domain of the crystal. That helped me finish my thesis. It was on Thanksgiving Day that I had my final exam. Which, by the way, is not a defense of your thesis, but is rather like the general exam I took at Wellesley to get my bachelor’s degree. That exam covered all the fields that you were involved in at Wellesley. And, the doctoral exam was physics, mathematics, and a third field, frequently chemistry, which I hated. And since I had had such a terrible struggle with German, I thought, “Well, I wonder if I could take American Literature, because the second minor could be anything. And so, I did. I saw the professor of American Language, which is different from British, and I had taken a course at Wellesley under a Pulitzer Prize winner, on American literature. So, I was very up on that. Among the students that I met, in those early periods, were people that had been prisoners of war incarcerated in America. One of those turned out later, I met in the Institute, had been a prisoner of war in the United States and he gave me a book by a theoretical physicist, Joss, J-O-S-S, which was in English, that he had managed to get somehow while he was a prisoner in the U.S. and had no more use for. It saved my bacon I might say in preparing for the exam because I could read it so much faster and get a lot more out of it than I could a German textbook. The psychology for that last exam, because you could fail it was horrific. There were examples of people who had failed it. And, it was, and more like a preliminary but you were expected to now be a doctor, you know; just this third step down from God. [Laugh] It was unbelievable kind of psychology for that. The tension going in there was just awful. I had a hard time with the mathematics for the same reason to begin with as the language barrier in theoretical physics lectures. But, I soon discovered that I’m not a great mathematician. That’s not going to be my thing. By the way, my husband is a mathematician. But, I had a brilliant idea in the exam. First of all, you sit with the professor who is questioning you. You never would stand in front of a professor. That’s absolutely out of the question. As I had done for example, for my honors exam at Wellesley.
Butler:Why is there that difference?
Ancker-Johnson:Because the professor is so elevated from you that you cannot ever stand and lecture to him. It’s always the other way around. So, he deigns to sit with you in the exam and ask you questions. Like, we’re sitting together except we were even closer at a table, and it’s very intimidating. The math professor I was particularly worried about because I knew he was going to ask me hard questions. So, the one brilliant thing that I did at the end of that exam was in response to a question about partial second-order differential equations about which I had a very thin layer of knowledge. And, I had the brilliant idea of saying, “Ah,” and it just came to me at the spur of the moment there. I hadn’t planned this. [Whistling in background] The Schrodinger Equation is that equation which is” -- that’s the mailman [referring to whistler] -- is very much beloved by -- he’s going to ring the bell I’m afraid. No, he didn’t. Okay, sorry. The Schrodinger Equation is that equation which is really beloved by all physicists, and I proceeded to write it down very slowly, [Laugh] explaining each term as I went along, and then the time was over. So, he didn’t have a chance to ask me any more deep questions that I could certainly not have answered. Afterwards I told, of course, all the colleagues that were coming up to have their exams, and the next one was going to be a good friend of mine. I told him what the questions were, of course, and he wrote to me after I was back here in the States and he had his exam. “Sure enough, Professor what’s-his-name,” I’ve forgotten it now, “asked me that. He said, ‘What equation among physicists is the most beloved example of second order partial differential equations?’ And, I was so boned up for this question that I cooled it.” [Laugh] So, he got -- I was given the “sehr gut,” which is magna cum laude -- he was the one student who, in our whole generation I think, who got ausgezeichnet, you know, summa cum laude. And, he deserved it. He had a really outstanding experimental result. He and I cooked together for a while in his lab. He was born and raised in a little town nearby. He’d go home on weekends with his laundry and his mother would send food and so on to bring back. And we would cook it in his laboratory for a while, because he had a basement lab, which was more apart than mine, which was on the First Floor. You couldn’t get away with cooking in that lab. And, [Laugh] one time we took turns cooking and it was my turn and I ran up to my experiment to adjust something, because I remember suddenly I hadn’t done what I needed to do, turn something off or whatever, and the onions and whatnot burned. And, the professor had his big lecture room just above this part of the building. When I got back into the laboratory I thought, “Oh, jeepers, this is the time when the Prof is going to be checking out his experiments for his lecture tomorrow. Oh, I hope he didn’t smell this.” And, a little bit later there were footsteps near the door. The professor would never knock, just come in when he did the rundgang, and he never came into my laboratory by himself, ever. But, this might be the exception to the case. And, I just visualized the two of us being out on our ears. In walks Herr Speidel, who was my good friend, as I told you. He was the head of the shop. And, he’s got this grin on his face but he can’t quite hold it in. He’s starting to say, “What’s burning down here? The professor smelled it upstairs and wants to know what’s going on.” And then he breaks down laughing. Very unusual for a German in this situation. You know the class distinction and all that. And he says, “I persuaded him that I would check into what was going on. And, of course, I knew very well what you two were doing down here, cooking,” [Laugh] against probably all the rules, “but I want you to know I rescued you.” Whew! [Laugh] So, we didn’t have a disaster as we would have if the professor had followed his nose. It would have been even more consequential than our meeting in the bathroom, I think, as far as the future of my and Karl’s careers were concerned. Well I mentioned Thanksgiving Day, because the one time the American embassy noticed that I existed was then, that year, and they invited me to a Thanksgiving dinner, which was the day after Thanksgiving. That’s how I knew it was Thanksgiving; that the invitation came after my exam, in the afternoon. I’m looking at a “Festschrift,” it’s called, for the 100th birthday of Walther Kossel, who was born in January of 1888, and died just a few years after I finished in Tubingen. I actually finished the thesis in, as I said, in ‘53 but I didn’t get my doctoral degree until I had turned in fifty copies of this, of my thesis, one for each library I guess and that was part of the prerequisite of getting your degree. So, it’s dated 1954. He died in 1956, just about two years later. So, he was getting elderly. But, this memorial to him, which is so well deserved, has a picture of me and my doctor hat. The guys made this out of a piece of colored paper with a zinc crystal showing on it and various crystal structures around my neck, and they threw, as they always did, a party but this was a far more elaborate, I must say, party, in which I had my first taste of wine. [Laugh] But, the doctor hat has long since, of course, gone the way of all flesh. Well, from there I had to start job hunting. My mother had had a serious operation. She had a bleeding ulcer and insisted that no one tell me that this had happened. And, I was devastated when I learned it after I came home from Germany. She had recovered, but it was touch and go for a while. So, I was hoping to get something in the neighborhood so that I could be with her.
Butler:Now, this would be back around Indianapolis?
Ancker-Johnson:No. By then they had moved to California to be near one of my brothers, the elder of the two. He was living in Berkeley and was an instructor in the mechanical engineering dept. at UC-Berkeley. Actually he was more of an applied mathematician. He was also studying for his Ph.D. at Stanford in Mechanical Engineering. He was behind me in getting his Ph.D., although he was nine years ahead of me in school, because he had started a family and had spent sixty-two months in World War II. He was one of the first ones to go in and one of the last ones to get out. He was sort of forgotten in the Pacific. He volunteered for a really dangerous unit, the tank destroyers, and they sent them off to Hawaii and then they just sat. The military finally realized that’s the wrong place to use tank destroyers. They should have sent them to (Butler: Germany?) Europe. But, they just lost them there. You know, I mean he was in much worse shape than my other brother, who had an Accelerated Bachelors, in mechanical engineering at Purdue and was in the Battle of the Bulge and all sorts of really scary situations. And, as I said earlier, I believe, I watched my mother just age as she was so worried. But, these two men came out unscathed. Well, not completely. The younger, Jack had tuberculosis that was discovered later. I introduced him to his wife-to-be just as I was going off to Germany to study. Casey Jones, Francis Jones, had been a good friend of mine in high school, although she was in a town thirty miles away, because she was my campaign manager when I was elected governor of Girls State. [Laugh] Something sponsored by the American Legion all over the country. There were Boys and Girls States. And she had to come every so often into Indianapolis to get some work done on her teeth, because they didn’t have a good dentist in her little town. So, I said, “Hey, how would you like to go down to visit my brother?” who was in Fort Bragg at the time. It was not a very long drive, and she had a car and I didn’t. Well, I haven’t gotten around to telling you about cars. That’ll come, I guess, when we get to General Motors. [Laugh] But, so we went down there and the next thing I knew I got a letter in Germany saying they were engaged. [Laugh] So, that was the second time I had been a match-maker because I introduced one of my classmates to a man who worked for the Atomic Energy Commission later. He got his Ph.D. at MIT. I introduced those two. So, I was getting good at being a -- what is that called -- a marriage broker? [Laugh] (Butler: Uhm-hmm.) Well, I’ve digressed again. I was starting to talk about how I was job hunting. Now, this was particularly difficult because I had got my degree in a foreign country. I didn’t have a U.S. professor who felt some responsibility for trying to help me get a job, and I was a woman, which I discovered again was a big handicap, an experimentalist. I really wasn’t interested in theory. So, it was a time in late 1953 or early 1954 when you could practically write your own ticket to get a job as a new Ph.D. It was that period close enough after the war but not so close that money was again flowing for people to get research grants. A national register was kept of every single Ph.D. physicist, and I found out, of course, all this later. But, what I discovered was I would get offers. I used the Physics Today to look at the list of job openings and would apply and get invited, and virtually every one of them would offer me to do things like help somebody write his handbook. That, I thought, would be the most devastatingly boring job possible. [Laugh] Nobody seemed interested in giving me a job to continue in my thesis work, and I had a whole bunch of ideas of course about that. The teaching jobs I applied for -- I remember the University of Iowa I was interviewed mostly by theorists and they started asking me questions about how I would teach quantum mechanics. And, I really didn’t have any good ideas about that at all. [Laugh] And so, I didn’t get an offer from that Physics Dept. but they gave me an offer to work in the Metallurgy Department. That got me thinking about, “Well, maybe that’s where I need to look for a job.” I went to the University of California, Berkeley, because as I said my parents lived just across the valley in the area through the tunnel. I can’t even remember the name of the little town at the moment. I’m having a senior moment. Well, never mind. The point is that it, in the Physics Department they were very friendly but they just didn’t have any openings. I was going to refresh my memory about the names of, particularly the professor who occasionally asked me to teach his course in solid state physics when he was going to a meeting. Oh, Kittel, a very wonderful, fine man.
Butler:I remember we used one of his books when I did my undergraduate major in physics.
Ancker-Johnson:Uh huh. And where did you do yours?
Butler:I did mine at a small college in Washington called Walla Walla College.
Ancker-Johnson:Oh, because later we ended up in Seattle and I -- well, we’ll keep that in mind when we get there. Professor Kittel suggested that I go across the street to the Minerals Research Laboratory because they didn’t have any openings in physics, not that I probably would have gotten an offer -- I don’t know. Maybe I would have gotten something there. I don’t know. But, MRL did have an opening. Earl Parker was the head of that Minerals Research Laboratory. They were very interested in single crystals and hired me on the spot. It was not quite what I was looking for, but it was sure better than being unemployed, [Laugh] which was the other alternative. I looked at it as something of a dead end position because it was not in line to become a faculty member. It was really more or less his special assistant, I guess you’d say. I cranked out quite a number of papers there. Let’s see I have, Quantitative Sub Structure and Tensile Properties: Investigations of Nickel Alloys. That was something that interested Earl Parker. And, I don’t know, there’s one, two -- Relationship between Small-Angle Dislocation Boundaries in Creep. Very engineering kind of thing. I guess I just managed to do three papers in the year and a half that I was there. But, I also was a sort of glorified teaching assistant in that I taught a laboratory course and, as I said, I occasionally substituted for faculty members in solid state physics, who were off giving a talk, or off at a meeting or something. So, it exposed me to academia and made me think hard about whether that was -- well, I don’t think I really thought about that much. At that point I was glad to be close to my parents, to my mother, and that she was in good health. She lived to 86, long beyond that period. But I was, I was very active also in the Graduate Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. I probably should stop at some point and explain that.
Butler:Yeah. Why don’t, why don’t we go into that now?
Ancker-Johnson:When I entered Wellesley I had been a, well I should back up a little further. As I entered high school I had an appendix operation, which put the kybosh on swimming. That was before Pearl Harbor, but only a half a year. I was very active with a team that went to all the local meets and performed in synchronous swimming for the athletic clubs in the summer in the area of Central Indiana. And, I was sort of at loose ends because in those days, it was a long time to recover. They pretty well messed up your insides when they took out your appendix. [Laugh] I did a lot of reading and I met a girl who was four years older, and I can’t remember how I met her but she was a convinced Christian and I began, through her, to really think about “Why are we here on this planet?” And, to make a long story short, I became involved with a small group that was going to, I think it was every other, maybe it was one day a month to someone’s home who taught a Bible course to us, and during the summer it was every week. And, I did that during the summers, at least, probably three years. So I became more and more involved in teaching Sunday school and I think I made a commitment, at that point, to Jesus Christ, but I didn’t probably understand a whole lot of what it meant. When I got to Wellesley, a friend of a friend had written to say that I was a Christian to the Intervarsity coach; I guess you’d say a staff member who had that area, New England, as his area. What happened in my very first week as a freshman was two Greek redheaded majors turn up at my door of my living in this dilapidated old building that later was torn down, Norumbega, that I told you about. Two redheaded Greek majors who wanted to start, juniors both of them, who wanted to start and Intervarsity chapter and they were looking for a Christian to help get this going. And it turns out there was another one who was known as a Christian in my same dormitory, Holly Clark. These two just impressed the daylights out of me. Greek majors, you know, “Wow. Junior Greek majors. Their footnotes are in Latin.” I mean, they were really intellectuals, [Laugh] and both redheaded. One was fairly husky and the other was skinny as a rail. So we started meeting weekly for bible study and, for an hour or so, and as often as possible for a prayer.
Butler:Okay. Let’s turn this back on.
Ancker-Johnson:Okay. So, we started a chapter of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. My college, like almost all Ivy League schools was founded by Christians and the charter at Wellesley had written into it, by the donor Durant and his wife, that every student should study the scriptures as a part of her liberal arts education. It was not a female seminary, quite, as Harvard was started as a seminary, of course male, [Laugh] but bordering on that I guess. In any case, this had been boiled down to a course that was required of every sophomore on biblical studies. The first semester was the Old Testament and the next semester was the New. In particular, it was the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The course, I’m sure, was taught in a way that was not at all in keeping with Durant’s convictions because it was a critical study of the J, E, D, and P documents. This theory had been hatched in Germany and was very popular at that time in the States. Well, you know, it bothered me a little bit that the professor was more or less saying that the bible was put together with hardly anything to do with God, and the dissecting was done by scholars to find out these various sources. But, in the New Testament study of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we were challenged to find the Q, the Quelle document, the source document. This meant you threw out all the miracles. They were obviously not in the source according to this theory. And, there were various other restrictions to try to find what really Matthew, Mark, and Luke were writing about. And, so this was, for me, a great question, now. Was Jesus Christ a human who, God who became human for a brief period of history in order to show us what God is like and to make reconciliation with God possible? Those words I developed later, but, in my thinking, that was the idea that was going around in my head. So, I wanted to write the final paper on, “What was the mission of Jesus? What did he think he was here for?” And, I spent hours and hours and hours in the library, because that was a quiet place you could bury yourself in some little alcove there, at the end of my sophomore year, searching this out because I really wanted to know the answer. This, for me, was a watershed I came out of it very convinced that even when you took into account, discounting all the sources, or all of the statements that did not fit into this concept of a source document, which meant nothing miraculous, that the, that Jesus really thought he was God become a man. You could accept that or you could say he was really demented, had a strange manic attitude. Certainly one or the other. You really just couldn’t take the attitude that he was a great teacher, a great guy. And so that, as I said, was a real watershed for me. I was strengthened in my convictions and I have never since doubted that he did, indeed, rise from the dead, although I certainly had spiritual ups and downs over time. So, when I was considering graduate school one of the things I had in mind was the fact that the Studenten Mission in Deutschland, a branch of Intervarsity Christian fellowship, was starting in Germany. This student Christian group, nondenominational, started in England at about the turn of the century, 19-something and migrated to Canada, and from Canada to the States, and then after the War the international fellowship was keen on helping students in other parts of the world, particularly where they had been victims of the war. So, that was in my mind, along with the idea of a broadened education. And incidentally, my guardian angel was watching over me because it became very important in my career that I had been exposed to the au pair arrangement, which in Germany was called the arrangement. That enabled me to carry on, as I will mention later, in my career, which was very intensive later on as I was having all these kids. It enabled me to keep on working because I had someone in the home who had been chosen by a friend of mine with whom I was very close in the Studenten-Mission, SMD, who chose a girl who also was a Christian and I knew would really care about the children in my absence and that made it possible for me to be so involved in my work. But, I was starting to say that while working at the Minerals Research Laboratory at UC, Berkeley, I was also very active in the graduate program for Intervarsity on the campus, which was just sort of getting started, and in the undergraduate. That led to my being requested to help out at a summer camp during my vacation which was how I met Hal. He was also active in this group. In fact, later on I left the laboratories to spend two years in the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship as a staff member myself, as a spiritual coach I guess, is the right way to describe it, and his roommate it turned out was my colleague. So, I heard from Harry about this guy who was sitting around in their little one-room apartment writing these funny little Greek symbols on a piece of paper in his bathrobe and was kind of nearsighted. Harry would say, “If I came home for lunch he was still scribbling away and hadn’t gotten dressed, and the wastebasket was half full, [Laugh] of discarded papers with these scribbling’s on them.” And I thought, “Yeah, I understand that guy.” [Laugh] So anyway, we met at this camp and I was brazen enough to ask him if he’d leave a little early and drive overnight back to Berkeley. He was going to Berkeley and I, by then I was back in physics at Stanford. We exchanged, I guess, about ten words overnight. “It’s your turn to drive. Here’s a coffee place.” [Laugh] But, anyway, that started the romance. I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s back up. I then did go on the Intervarsity staff, because I was asked to and I thought it was the right thing to do. It really puzzled me that I would have knocked myself out to get this Ph.D. in physics, and had published by then five papers. Big deal. But, that I should have this different course of life. But, it was a great learning experience for me and I think that I probably learned more than the students did that I was coaching in Northern California, all the campuses from Stanford north.
Butler:Did you find any tensions between your, your work in the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and the academic attitudes at that time?
Ancker-Johnson:Oh yes. There were plenty of tensions about that. I had the privilege of auditing a course that George Gamow gave in the Physics Department at Berkeley and I found that course absolutely fascinating. The reason I mention it is -- well, actually I should mention it for several reasons, because one of the things he talked about was his work in untangling the physical structure of the helix DNA which became very important in my life later, as I will hopefully get around to mentioning, and the other part was his wonderful story about how he -- well, I’ll tell it the way he did. He was one day in a little town to give a talk. It was raining cats and dogs and he had nothing to do in this little town. He couldn’t even go outside because he didn’t have the proper clothing to go to do something that evening. The only thing there was to read besides his paper, which he was sick of, was a bible, one of the Gideon bibles that are so prolific in all our places of temporary residence. And, he started reading the beginning of it. “In the beginning God created...” and he started thinking about, “Well, God created a hydrogen atom, and then he created helium. Then he came to the third one, lithium. But then bismuth. Bismuth. That was really difficult. And, he couldn’t figure out how to explain bismuth. So, God created Fred Hoyle who created the rest of the elements. So, Gamow’s fascinating lectures got me thinking quite a bit more about, “How was the universe created?” and really the Big Bang Theory fits in extremely well with the description in Genesis, particularly since that is not meant to be a scientific treatise but rather a broad-brush description.
Butler:Were you influenced at all by Benjamin Purse’s Ideality in the Physical Sciences?
Ancker-Johnson:No. I’ve not heard of that. That’s interesting.
Butler:Basically, he argues that the Nebular Hypothesis is physicists working out ideas in the mind of God.
Ancker-Johnson:Hmm. Hmm. Interesting. I’ll have to get the reference from you because I’d like to look at that. Charlie Townes is the only other physicist that I know reasonably well who has published on the subject of religion and his convictions. I don’t think that he’s as convinced as I am about the divinity of Christ, necessarily. I don’t know one way or the other, but I know that there were a group of us in plasma physics who met during the APS meetings for prayer and fellowship and I certainly was aware of the fact that there were convinced Christians among the hard sciences much more than you would find in the soft sciences, where man is much more in the center of the thinking whereas we in the hard sciences are more in awe of the universe and what it’s all about. I think it’s much more natural for us to stand in a situation of no pat answers and a good deal of awe. And, one of the things that my coach in the Intervarsity said when I was an undergraduate, “When you’re reading something in the scripture and you can’t figure out something, it’s like you’re eating a fish. Take out the bone and put it aside and get on with the fish,” [Laugh] which made pretty good sense at that time and still does, I think. But I was known throughout my career as a convinced Christian and often asked to speak. I did put together a pile of stuff in this business of going through all this junk I’ve accumulated one way or another over the years, in preparation for this interview and I was surprised at how many press notices and whatnot of talks that I gave throughout my career as a convinced Christian. I once heard somebody say, “If, if it were a felony to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” [Laugh] And, I think it’s safe to say there would be enough evidence to convict me, [Laugh] if it were a felony. So, I was particularly asked to be on the staff of Intervarsity Christian fellowship for two years -- first in the U.S. and then in the summer after I had gone through four semesters in Northern California to go to Austria and to search out whether that might be a fertile field for trying to establish an Intervarsity presence. I did spend some time there and [Laugh] I was pleased that after that long the gentleman that I had most to do with there, who was in some Christian group that might have been helpful in finding Christian students, asked (he insisted on talking English since I was an American) after a while a question in German, “Do you speak German?” And, I said, “Ja, einiger massen” which means, “Yeah, more or less.” And his eyes blinked, you know, because that was not something that you’d expect from an American who couldn’t speak a foreign language. You see that was a colloquial term. So, I passed with flying colors and we then talked some in German. Well, anyway, at the end of 2 years my mentors in the Fellowship and I agreed that I should go back into physics. I found a job in microwave electronics near Stanford. It was difficult to get back into physics. Now, I hardly knew which way an integral sign went anymore after two years totally out of doing any research or thinking at all about physics, so it was another period of, “Ugh,” you know, getting into it again. But, I worked for what was later the West Coast Laboratory of General Telephone and Electronics. At that time it was called Sylvania Microwave Physics Laboratory. I was doing an entirely new field to me because I didn’t know anything about microwaves but I did understand crystals pretty well and my particular assignment was in the nonreciprocal devices that could be made with garnets in microwave applications so that the signal going down in one direction would be passed without virtually any attenuation and anything reflected back in would be absorbed and the very expensive source of the microwaves would not be demolished by the reflected signals in the absence of a nonreciprocal device in there. So, I took a course in microwave electronics under Ginzton at Stanford, a very famous name in the field of microwaves at Stanford. I didn’t take the course. I asked his permission to audit it, since I already had a Ph.D. And, that helped me, of course, immensely in learning the field of how to use microwaves, what they were all about. And, I just educated myself about what garnets were all about. We did have an excellent consultant, Lester Hogan, who was later a vice president Motorola, who was a leading light in the field of garnets and nonreciprocal devices in general. So while I was there, well let’s see, I published “Mixed Garnets for Nonreciprocal Devices at Low Microwave Frequencies.” That was with an engineer, J.J. Rowley, in the Proceedings of the IRE. Then “Magnetic Flux Meter Probes” in the Review of Scientific Instruments. I developed that as necessary to measure things. By the way of papers that I published as a result of my job in the Minerals Research Laboratory at the University of California Berkeley were, one was in American Institute of Mechanical Engineers, the transaction of that. That’s [Laugh] really a wild journal to be publishing in. Prof. Parker wanted to publish in things like the Physical Review, and we did publish a paper there together, and two in the Journal of Applied Physics. So, anyway this one was in the Proceedings of the IRE as I said. And then a third one, again, in the IRE Transactions. So three more papers in a field that I just essentially had to learn myself. Then that romance that I mentioned blossomed and Hal and I were married. To continue with the romance, I was at Stanford already, back in physics when we were helping out at an undergraduate program as graduates of Intervarsity. We took our week vacation doing that. I described our drive from LA to Palo Alto earlier. When he dropped me off he said “Oh, I’m coming to Stanford for a year this fall. Do you suppose you could find a room for me?” And I thought, “Well, that’s the least I could do after I talked him into giving me this ride back here.” I said, “Oh yeah, sure. I’ll look for it.” So, I did find him a room and the next thing you know that led to a date, and so on, and after about six months of that we were really hooked, [Laugh] committed. Our friends were absolutely flabbergasted. They just couldn’t quite, I guess -- well, my own family had written me off as an old maid. I was thirty years old by then, twenty-nine going on thirty or something. In fact we announced our engagement at an Intervarsity meeting at Stanford thus: I had slipped a note to a fried and said “Ask Jim to read this announcement.” He looks at this and he says, “Is this some sort of joke? Hal Johnson and Betsy Ancker are going to get married?” We weren’t even sitting together. [Laugh] And, we got a lot of questions, “This can’t be, etc.” But, we went through with it and we’ve been married now fifty years. [Laugh] So, he spent this year at Stanford as a result of being such a nice guy. He was asked by a professor in his specialization, which was differential geometry, to teach a graduate course that he was competent to teach in this field and shepherd the Prof’s grad students but there was no permanent position available there. He did this as a favor instead of getting a job at either the University of Chicago or Princeton from whom he had offers. He had done an outstanding job in his thesis, which he finished a bit behind me (he was in the Korean War). So we were married March 15, the Ides of March1958, and his appointment was going to be over in that summer. So, I’m scrambling around to find a job in Chicago or Princeton. He accepted the Princeton offer. I wanted a new job because I knew I was in a dead end position. The two possibilities that came in question for me were an RCA lab, which is in Princeton, or Bell Telephone Labs, which was always away, but obviously a very famous place. I’m looking at the clock. Its 12:45 and I’m getting hungry. (Butler: Okay.) I’m not going to be good for much longer.
Butler:Then why don’t we take a break?
Ancker-Johnson:This would be a good point, because it’s a start of a different career now.
Butler:Okay. We’re back with Betsy Ancker-Johnson:, and I guess you’re ready to start talking about life at RCA?
Ancker-Johnson:Uhm-hmm. Yes. I think we left off with my starting to tell you about job hunting as a now a married woman. Before I’d had to be very careful about, when job hunting, to explain that even though I was a woman and might get married I certainly intended to keep on with my career in physics, and -- I didn’t say “career.” I’m sure I didn’t think I had a career yet -- but interest in physics and wanting to do experiments. I applied to Bell Telephone Labs and they promptly -- I told you this was the heyday in physics -- they promptly sent me an invitation to come for an interview. When I arrived at Bell Telephone Labs the first thing they wanted to do was have me meet with, oh, about a half dozen people in my field to talk about my thesis, which had been a few years before and I was totally unprepared for giving a talk. I learned later that that was a common way that they interviewed new people. [Excuse me a moment. I’m going to have to have a sip of tea.] So fortunately I had a copy of my thesis with me and, and on the spur of the moment I gave a talk using not slides, which I think they expected me to have, but rather just pointing to this paper. [Coughing] I learned later that, that my aplomb in that unusual, for me, situation was really in my favor. I didn’t apologize; I just started talking about it. And, they did make me an offer. I, when I got back home I thought about it some more, and discussed it, of course, with my new husband. We did want to start a family and the distance between Princeton and Summit was fairly substantial. It would have meant driving a long way and being in the winter it could be really difficult to get back and forth in the days before snow tires and the like. So, I applied also at RCA laboratories and it so happened that the head of the laboratory, Bill Webster, was going to be in Stanford visiting so we made an arrangement to meet there. I had never been to Princeton. He was not the Head of the laboratory. He was over the basic research part. And in the course of our conversation, as I described my work, I made a point of saying to him that I had recently been married and that we did expect to have children, but that we had made plans, when the need arose, to be in touch with a friend of mine in Germany who would recruit young women --we visualized it serially -- that would live with us and be like our little sisters and the children’s big sisters. So you know it was clear that we had really addressed this issue, which we had very carefully. I accepted an offer that they gave me at RCA Princeton. When I arrived there my immediate boss was probably feeling a bit put upon that he got this person without his having anything to do with my being recruited. He was L.S. Nergaard. He looked a little bit like a Mexican general. That’s what people called him as a not unfriendly way, but as a sort of a description. He was white-haired and kind of feisty. He sat me down and said, “Well, you know, we had a woman here once before. It was during World War II. We were desperate to recruit people to work here,” and then he proceeded to tell me [Laugh] about how she had gone to the shop and asked for a piece of brass -- after telling me that she was very good at making cookies, [Laugh] -- He said, “She ordered a piece of brass two inches long and a quarter of an inch wide, an eighth of an inch thick, plane and parallel to a thousandth. And, when the poor guy in the shop finally got this piece to specs and had it under a bell jar, he called her up and said, “Come and get it quick.” “She,” in his words, “trips downstairs and says to the machinist, “Well, now, would you please cut it in half?” [Laugh] So, you know, when he said that to me I didn’t hear anything else he said. I was thinking, “Wow. Does this guy want me just to jump out the window? We’re on the third floor. That would just be the end of it or what?” Well, I had learned in my brief period at Berkeley that one of the best ways to overcome this sort of attitude was humor. So, I should explain that I was offered a cigar when one of my colleagues’ wife had a baby and he said to me -- this is at Berkeley now, at the Minerals Research Laboratory -- he said, “Oh, I forgot about you,” and he starts to apologize. I said, “Oh, I’ll take that cigar.” So, I grabbed a cigar and later in the day I saw one of my colleagues who had smoked his down to a nub, a couple, maybe an inch or so of a stub, and I said, I’ll swap you this new cigar for that stub.” “ Oh,” he says, “sure.” So, I grabbed this cigar and I wanted something out of the shop. So, I went over there, it was a short walk, put this thing between my teeth and walk in and I figure, you know, I’ll get his attention. [Laugh] Well, I think I probably cost the shop a fair amount of money because all these machines were running past tolerance while this, you know, this apparition appears smoking this cigar. Well, I got my piece okay and, you know, that paid off. So, when this Dr. Nergaard made this comment to me, and I don’t think he meant to be mean at all he was just reciting the history, you know. So, I thought, “Boy, what am I going to do?” The first colleague I saw walking by I said, “Ah, would you please take me down to the shop? I want to meet the guy that’s going to do my work.” And, he says, “Oh yeah, sure.” He takes me down and I say after, you know, a little bit of chit chat with this fairly rotund -- I could hardly understand him because he talk New Jerseyish [Laugh] and I was from the Midwest. But, after a little bit we finally got through that part and then I said to him, “Oh, say, and the first thing I need is a piece of brass three inches long,” blah, blah. He looks at me and I could just see his memory flipping through its storage, you know, trying to think, “Where had I heard this before?” Suddenly he starts to laugh, and I laughed, and then I said, “Okay. Well, that’s it,” and turned on my heel. Well, you know, it really paid off because that was the end of this business of [Laugh] this woman in the shop, because I really got the privilege of, for instance, using drill presses that the guys seldom got, you know, [Laugh] just because I addressed the issue straight on. But, it was not without difficulty -- I mean, I was on the wrong end of a telescope. Well, I should say that we lived in the faculty slums and the faucets didn’t work. They had been occupied by V-12 in the war and the university put in spring-type faucets because the guys were apt to leave the water running. I found that very inconvenient. So, I decided I wanted to change them. So, the first thing that happened is that the nuts are frozen solid. Can’t get the bolts off. So, I go down to the shop and I ask, “Would you mind lending me a wrench?” And then, then the next thing was, “I need a bigger wrench. This isn’t big enough. I can’t get the nuts to unfreeze.” So, then I borrowed some stuff to put on it, you know, to loosen the threads and so on. So, it was a long process before I finally got the faucets changed. They cost only a buck and a half or so -- for each faucet, and I had permission from the Housing Authority before I did this, of course. A little later I’m walking out of the elevator, around the corner, and there were two guys down there working on the outlets near the baseboards and I heard one say to the other, “There she goes now.” [Laugh] So, you know, without wanting to be I was turning into a legend. But, I found a sense of humor usually, you know, fixed all these problems in no time at all. Well, Nergaard wanted me to work on zeolites. Now, I didn’t know the first thing about zeolites. Again, a switch and a need for self-education. His thought was that we’d be able to tailor-make compounds that would have very specific properties, if you could just put inside these zeolites that had these holes various kinds of atoms and see what happened. Well, it was a really bad idea, as it turned out. Not that I fault him for suggesting it. It could have had promise but it turns out that the atoms inside these zeolite holes are much too attracted to their surroundings and so are not acting as free agents at all, and what you get is something that you can’t really influence. But, it took about a year to figure that out. And, in the meantime I was pregnant a little over a year after I started at RCA. Our baby was born almost exactly on our second anniversary. Somewhere during the 6th month I burned myself soldering something and I went down to the nurse’s station. By the way as soon as I knew I was pregnant I went and told my boss, Nergaard, who said, “Oh, okay,” and that was it. He was just sort of sweeping it under the rug, as it turned out, which I thought was a great attitude. I was pleased. During this first pregnancy I was having some trouble, nausea but I would sneak off and have a Coke, [Laugh] and some crackers. That would usually fix it. And I always wore a lab coat so it didn’t show much. As I said, I burned myself and went to the nurse’s station to get something on it. It was a pretty bad burn. She looks horrified and says, “You’re pregnant!” And, I said, “Yeah. I need a band-aid here.” And, well that started a bunch of events that I was told eventually went to the Board of Directors, [Laugh] if you can believe this. I don’t know if that part’s true. But, it resulted in my being laid off and then being told that they didn’t care when I came back but probably I’d take quite a long time. And, I just could see my career going right out the window, you know. And, instead of being as we were really thrilled about having a baby it was, for me, a time of bittersweet. I will say that Nergaard and his boss, Dr. Webster hired me as a consultant and during that period I must have, I don’t remember exactly but I think I must have written [Reaches for book] a chapter in the book that Neergard and my immediate boss, Morris Glicksman, edited. It’s a fairly long chapter [turning pages] -- just let me check, because I really have sort of forgotten about ferrite devices. So, he was a microwave expert, was Nergaard, and this book is, as it says, Microwave Solid State Engineering. I can hardly understand it now. [Laugh]
Butler:Well, let me ask you, did you consider going into academia? How did you decide to go into industry?
Ancker-Johnson:Well, let’s see, after I finished my two years with the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship I did again quite a lot of interviewing, but with my background I couldn’t get a university position of any merit, and I wanted to do research. This was an opportunity to do research in a field that I thought was worthwhile learning. And, I thought eventually I might, being brainwashed like almost every graduate student is to think first in terms of academia, you know. (Butler: Uhm-hmm.) Industry is almost a dirty word. Certainly then.
Butler:Though, we’ve found that’s changing.
Ancker-Johnson:Oh, sure it’s changing, but back then it was a dirty word, “industry.” But, at that point I really had no choice. I hadn’t built up much of a research background. I told you I had only published what, eight papers or something like that? Yeah, nine. And my big attempt in zeolites only merited one little RCA lab’s memo in 1960, or I guess two, two memos at RCA but not a publication. But then I, I started to say that as a result of my being pregnant I was not allowed to enter the laboratory. I would have to get permission from the head of the laboratory even to go hear a talk. I mean, they really treated me like I had leprosy. [Laugh] And, perhaps it was because I was persistent. I really wanted to continue my research. I didn’t think pregnancy affected the brain.
Butler:What was their justification for that?
Ancker-Johnson:Well, they said it was “company policy.” Later on I had, I was pregnant the third time. I had a bad accident on the second one, but when I was pregnant a third time and had a second child while at Boeing, it was state law that I could not work after a certain period of time but the management didn’t care what I did, the management, so I worked without pay until the day before the delivery and started again two weeks later as I did at RCA labs. But, I’m getting ahead of the story. So we had set in motion finding a young woman to come and live with us, Heidi Massen, a delightful young woman. It didn’t happen quite as rapidly as we expected, so for a few months someone that I met in the hospital took care of Ruth. She was from Syria -- and her husband had had a wretched time in a war-torn situation there -- and just the simple thing of providing them with a little bit of comfort, because she had a very seriously difficult delivery and was an older woman. That was going to be her last chance in those days, and we became friends very quickly and she said, “Oh, I would love to take care of Ruthie until this other arrangement works out,” and she did, and it saved my life so to speak, because you know you can’t be out of physics research in a situation like that without losing it all together, the opportunity, and I was just very tense about that. [Laugh] My husband, who you may have noticed is pretty easy-going, said to me, “You know, I can’t stand it. You’re really crawling the walls. When are you going back to work?” [Laugh] And so, at the end of two weeks we had a very healthy baby. She was sleeping eight hours. Our MD was complimenting me on what a good mother I was. This baby was so relaxed, etc. So, I went back to work. And, that’s when I got involved with Morris Glicksman in hot electron effects. He and a graduate student from Rutgers, and I worked in this little area of hot electrons. Morris had a number of other things going and didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to what we were doing. It resulted in a really quite nice paper in the Physical Review, “The Properties of Injected Plasmas in Indium Antimonide.” To my surprise really, it was the first time I had been in such a situation, he sort of hinted around that he wanted to be a coauthor with Roger Cohen and myself, and we said, “Of course, we’d be glad to have you. No question.” This paper was frequently cited as more or less the definitive paper at the start of this field. And, I’m certainly very grateful to Morris for suggesting it, and it was not long after that that Hal’s three-year appointment at Princeton as an instructor was over and he was searching for where to go next. The University of Washington had a very prominent math department at that time. It was in the top ten or less, and they were searching for someone with his particular skills. He was highly recommended by his mentor at Princeton. And, that’s where he decided to go. So, I’m now again searching for a position. I applied to the University of Washington. This is now my first time to really think seriously about academia because I now have had a somewhat of a reputation in a new field, because this paper was widely cited. And, well “widely.” You know how this is. (Butler: Uhm-hmm.) A little tiny niche. You can hardly see it for razor thinness, but in this little niche it was quite often cited. So, I applied to the University of Washington. And then, there was this new laboratory, Boeing Scientific Research. The head of the Plasma Physics Group I had known in my Stanford days. Again, not well but just slightly. Plasmas in solids attracted his attention, and then there was also a Solid State Group in the Boeing Scientific Research Laboratories, BSRL, and they were interested in recruiting me as well. So, I made a trip out there. And I was offered a position by the university. First of all I should say that I was denied the opportunity to apply in physics because we would have been in the same college, same division, and nepotism rules, for some weird reason [Laugh] prevented that. You know, what an assistant professor in mathematics would have to do with a, presumably, an assistant professor in physics that was pretty hard to understand. So, I applied in Electrical Engineering, and I was offered an associate professorship. Well, the department in Electrical Engineering wasn’t even in the top, I don’t know how many. I mean, it was, it really was not a good department. That was why they offered me an associate professorship because I could be a star in the dept. But, the dean said, “No way, she can’t have a higher appointment than he has.” So, [Laugh] the head of the department told me shamefacedly, “You know, I’m really sorry but I can only offer you an assistant professorship.” Well, in the meantime I had been aggressively recruited by BSRL. They were keen on going into this new field. Several months before we actually had to move, I accepted that position, in the plasma physics group. I didn’t really have synergy with the head of Solid State Physics Group, this I really could have fit in either place. But I had a very synergistic feeling with the colleagues in plasma physics. And, as I said Jim Drummond really wanted me. He wanted to get into this field. To get back to pregnancy, I’ll just mention one more thing before I forget it, the head of the Personnel Department, when I came back to work at RCA Labs said, “You know, I was looking at you sideways for at least a year [Laugh] waiting for you to get pregnant.” And that’s when I think it hit me the first time really hard, “It is really lousy to be on the wrong end of a microscope,” with this guy admitting that when he’d seen me in this little town, or walking the halls in this big research building, that he was watching to see when I would get pregnant. [Laugh] Pretty weird. Anyway, at Boeing Jim Drummond told me, “Make a list of all you want. It doesn’t matter what it costs. We have money to buy you any equipment you want and I’m going to assign you, right now, a, our best technician in electronics,” which he did, Mike Berg. And, I just, I made a list of all the things I wanted and when I got there everything was there. And...
Butler:And, this would have been 1961?
Ancker-Johnson:Yes. (Butler: Okay.) That’s right. And, we had a year and a half old baby at that point, Ruthie. My husband, incidentally, said, “Oh, I sure hope we have a girl first because if we don’t we won’t have any girls.” [Laugh] Echoing my father, [Laugh] I was such a tomboy that he figured, “Oh, any boy would fit right in and then any girl following would never have a chance to be a girl.” I’m here to tell you that my two daughters are definitely girls. They’re very elegant and not at all -- well, the second one is a bit tomboyish but that’s because she’s a glass artist. You can see it here in our house. I have a lot of her glass. And, she built much of her equipment to do that. She’s a stay-at-home mom now, but at that time she was a glass blower. Anyway, so Mike and I were soul mates right from the beginning, an exceptionally bright guy in electronics. No formal education that I could ever find out about, but he was the sort of guy that would -- well, first of all we started unpacking this stuff. We were just having great fun and the attitude was, “Oh boy, look at this neat sampling oscilloscope. Let’s turn it on. The worst that can happen is we’ll blow a fuse.” [Laugh] You know, read the manual a little later. And, that was the sort of way we went about it setting this lab up and in a very short time I was, well let me see, I gave a paper, let’s see here – well, one of the things that was so great about this laboratory was that they encouraged you to go to meetings. Gil Hollingsworth was the head of the laboratory and it had five pieces, one of which was aerospace physics, which was obviously Boeing’s major interest, mathematics, and the two I’ve already mentioned. And, what was the fifth one? It doesn’t matter at the moment, but some, another more oriented toward the needs of Boeing. And so I guess the very next thing I did was go to the International Conference on the Physics of Semiconductors in Exeter, England. That was in July of ‘62. You had to submit the paper, you know, a half a year ahead of time. So, that was only possible to do, in that short a time, be giving a paper at, you know, selective Semiconductor Physics meeting, because BSRL really had all my equipment waiting for me. And, because I had such an excellent technician who could help me really get all set up. And, as I mentioned, he’s an amazing guy. He would build things for me by having a -- I’ll never forget this -- piles of resistors, and capacitors in sort of a bird’s nest on his workbench, and a board on which he was soldering these things. He would sort of reach in there and pluck out something and solder it in place, and he had this all in his head how it was going to work. But, it was absolutely amazing because these were complicated devices which he never drew a diagram for and afterwards I could never get him to draw one, and since nothing was labeled [Laugh] I could never draw one. But, they worked. It was absolutely amazing. Just an unusual guy.
Butler:Did he describe them to you? Or…
Ancker-Johnson:Oh yes, of course. I mean, the physics of it and how it would work, and of course I first described what I wanted and, and then he would tell me, “Oh yeah. That’s a Schmidt Trigger.” You know, I didn’t know what the Sam Hill a Schmidt Trigger was, but he’d go in there and start pulling it together and pretty soon it was on this board and it worked. Another thing that was so great about this laboratory is that we had an excellent machine shop that was able to prepare these samples for me that had to be done in such a way as not to damage the crystal. And their expertise in building ways to use acid saws to cut single crystals with a little bit of guidance but mostly these guys devised the things themselves. And, Mike soon recruited for me a really excellent mechanical type of technician who was able to produce these specimens -- I’m going to show you this picture that appeared on a Physics Today cover. This is in ‘65. But, you can see that this is a half a millimeter wide. So, that gives you an idea. It’s a square cross section roughly, half a millimeter and it’s about two centimeters long. And, you can see that these are very small solder joints that had to be done very delicately. And, Dick Glad was a genius at this, you know. I was in a niche so that just about every experiment I tried paid off. I quickly discovered the Pinch Effect in semiconductors. [Laugh] Again, this sort of brazen attitude in the lab -- “Let’s crank this up and see how much plasma I can inject into the semiconductor.” And, next thing I knew we had an open circuit. Obviously I had destroyed the sample. And so, I fish it out -- it was in liquid N -- and look at it under a microscope. There was a melted piece right down the center of it. The electron-hole plasma had gotten pinched to such a small diameter and it got so hot that it actually melted there and caused the crystal to self-destruct. And, Jim Drummond, a theorist, was very interested in this. He and I collaborated to understand the theory and it was mostly his work on the theory side. We collaborated on a number of papers. Oh, a half a dozen I guess or so. It’s not so important at this point that you know all about that. I’m somewhat torn here as to whether I should explain what I think was the most valuable of the contributions I made or whether I should talk more about the problems of a mother in physics. Maybe I’ll tell you one story about that and then get into the physics. Does that make sense?
Ancker-Johnson:All right. We did a lot of -- and please tell me when you need some more [Laugh] refreshment. If I’m finding it tiring you must be finding it somewhat boring and tiring too. [Laugh] Drummond and I would go into his office because I shared one with another fellow, a theorist, Don Nelson. We’d close the door and we’d start using the blackboard. He was explaining what he thought was happening, the implosion that must be happening. We wrote equations for the magnetic force that’s involved, and what the temperature rise would be under such conditions. And, it took, you know, a considerable amount of time before we produced our first paper together. In the meantime, his secretary got the idea that there was hanky-panky going on in his office and more or less circulated this idea [Laugh] around the building. And, of course, we were the last two to know. And, when Jim found out he was really upset and he went to personnel and had her removed. And, I went to him immediately when I heard that I said, “Jim, calm down.” I said, “In six months your marriage will be intact. My marriage will be intact. And, this whole thing will blow over. Let’s just cool it.” I recently talked to him on the phone and he said, “Well, yeah, that did happen.” [Laugh] In any case, it did take a little bit of, what shall I say, just calmness at this point to go right on doing what we were doing. But, in the meantime we had published several papers, and as I mentioned one of the great things about this laboratory was the attitude of, “We want to build the reputation of this small facility.” At max I think we had 200 people, and they did try to recruit prolific publishers, who wanted to crank out as many papers as they could. This was one of those laboratories that was supported by what was then called Independent Research and Development, IR&D.
Ancker-Johnson:Yeah. You know all about it? (Butler: Uhm-hmm.) Good. I don’t have to explain, except to say that the five percent of every government contract in that period was required by the company to invest in basic research. This laboratory was wisely planned by Gil Hollingsworth to be small enough that they could lavishly support -- “lavishly” maybe is not the word that he would use, but from my point of view it lavishly supported the people that they did recruit. And obviously, we were there for two reasons. One was to fulfill that need to be good scientists in basic research and, of course, they expected us to be helpful to the company.
Butler:When did the government drop that requirement?
Ancker-Johnson:I think that our laboratory hit its demise because of the economic downturn before that was withdrawn. I was at RCA laboratories during its last heydays. At the end of my time there in ‘61, they lost a lawsuit which prevented them from continuing to collect license fees from those who used some of the patents from that laboratory in development of radio. They stemmed from a long time before. As you doubtless know a life of a patent is seventeen years. (Butler: Uhm-hmm.) And, these were getting old and they had had already a number of people refusing to pay the license fees. And, I don’t know the ins and outs of this, but they lost that independent funding for that laboratory. It disappeared and the labs had to be very much more oriented toward helping the company. And, it was broken up into pieces and it really disappeared in, I don’t know a year or two. And, of course, Bell Labs went through a similar problem later, which maybe we’ll get to, because I was involved somewhat in that but very indirectly. But, Boeing’s demise came about when the supersonic transport, in about 1971 -- when that contract was cancelled and the laboratories had -- well, we’re jumping ahead of the story. But, that’s okay. Let’s do that. [Shuffling paper] Here I found this article from the Seattle Times among the stuff I told you that I didn’t even know I had anymore. [Reading] March 5, 1972 Boeing Science Lab Killed by Budget in the headlines. BSRL died officially last week. Their $4.5 billion home across the Duwamish River from Plant II is empty and up for sale. The company said the research organization, which had enjoyed worldwide prestige, was a victim of budget pressures, its failure to contribute to company business, and changes in Boeing’s needs as it diversifies. I’m at a loss here where to proceed. I should back up to say that we were very successful. I published a ton of papers while there. Others did as well. Some of my colleagues were actually helpful in solving problems of the company. Two, in particular, I know about. And, I guess we don’t have time to discuss that. But, I don’t think I ever contributed anything directly to Boeing’s needs. (Butler: Uhm-hmm.) But, Jim Drummond, I talked to him recently in preparation actually for this interview and said, “I don’t think I ever did anything for the company.” And, he said, having looked at this article again about its demise “Ah, but you were a great ambassador. You helped put this place on the map.” In 1972 we were looking for a theorist to augment theory in plasmas in solids -- to help out with these things I was discovering, such as hysteresis and oscillating effects of the plasma, oscillations of all sorts, and the various microwave emission, all sorts of things that were pretty complicated to try and figure out, “What’s causing all this?” And so, there were some Russians who were doing theory along similar lines. So, Jim said, “Why don’t you go over to the Soviet Union and see if you can recruit a theorist.” I think it was Ivanoff that he particularly wanted, who was a published theorist. So, I went over to Moscow on a tourist visa. It was the only way you could go then. This was published in ‘62, October, and it says, [Reading] This summer Dr. Betsy Ancker-Johnson at Boeing Scientific Research Laboratories made a lecture tour of the European Continent. She’s a solid-state physicist who is currently doing research in plasmas in solids at BSRL’s Plasma Physics Laboratory. She gave lectures at six institutions in Europe,” etcetera. “And, including the Lebedev Institute in Moscow. Dr. Ancker-Johnson spent some eleven days in Moscow, long enough to gather some distinct impressions about the city, the people that inhabit it; the systems that make it tick. Some of her impressions reinforce standard convictions. Others shed new light on Russia and the communist system. And, here are some of the highlights of her stay there. This is an interview by the Boeing Science, a Boeing newspaper that was circulated in this very large company. I was a tourist. It was the only way you could get a visa, and I apparently I had forgotten that, but I did give a bunch of lectures at various universities. In any case, after I did the obligatory three or so days with in tourist, I was sort of left alone. It was quite interesting. And, I just got on a subway and went out to Lebedev Institute, got off at the right station. I was given a map of the city by the CIA. And so, I could find the subway system and wander around. They were certainly not encouraging tourists to do this sort of thing, and I probably was in some violation of the rules, but I looked so unassuming, [Laugh] you know, this little woman. “What’s this kid doing here anyway? I guess it’s harmless, whatever it is.” So, I got off the subway and walked a long pathway to the entrance gate and announced that I wanted to see Professor Vul, whom I knew only thru the literature in my field. I was ushered in to his office. He assured me I was very welcome especially because they were so cut off from any contact with the West. So they immediately wanted me to give a talk about my research. They told me that Conyers Herring was the last one to be there, from Bell Telephone Labs, really an outstanding physicist -- one of the kingpins in solid state physics. I was told don’t worry about snowing the students, just talk.
Butler:Okay. We were talking about your time in the Soviet (Ancker-Johnson: Right.) Union?
Ancker-Johnson:The CIA was very interested in this trip, the local people to whom I had to turn for some help with maps, as I said. As I think I may have mentioned at the end of the previous tape, the physicists at the Lebedev Institute were so pleased and excited to have someone visiting there, and told me that Conyers Herring was the last one that they had heard. A very famous physicist in solid state from Bell Telephone Labs, and I was highly flattered to be [Laugh] greeted with the same kind of joyousness as he. I certainly didn’t consider myself anywhere near his league and they wanted me then to give a talk like he had done. “Never mind if you snow everybody here, just, what’s your latest work? Just tell us about it.” So I, you know, I whipped out a paper that I guess I had with me and proceeded to talk. Remember I was trying to recruit a theorist that we would hopefully be able to get to join our group for, say, a semester or something of that sort. [Cough] Sorry. This is allergy season down here. [Cough] If you stay long enough in a place, I’m told by MDs, you’ll get the allergy of the local area. Well, the upshot of these discussions was that I was invited then to visit other institutes there. It took me a couple of days, three days as a tourist; a couple of days to figure out how to get to this laboratory, and then it says here that I was in the USSR eleven days. I had forgotten it was that long. But, once over there the idea was, of course, to make the most of the time. And, through that one visit to the Lebedev Institute, it was arranged for me to visit virtually every solid state laboratory associated with the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow. So, I explained to them the desire for us to see if we could arrange for a theorist to visit us. I mentioned Nedospasov, Ivanoff and Rifkin. On this trip I realized in a new sense that if I could not compete and really do better than the experimentalists in the Soviet Union I was really not worth my salt, because they had such primitive equipment compared to what I had. I learned later that they did have some very good equipment but it was all in the military side and the civilian scientists really did not have anything like the equipment that we did. So, again, I was glad I was an experimentalist and not a theorist because they had really bright theoretical physicists. I came back to Boeing with a list of people that were interested in coming. And, we tried every which way through the State Department to arrange for a visit. And, I think the State Department was willing but their side was not willing to arrange a visit. Later I was involved in a visit to the People’s Republic of China as a scientist and was overwhelmed with their openness and their willingness to seek help. In fact, the first thing they said when I visited a solid state physics laboratory where they were producing microprocessor chips, the head of this little outfit said to me, “Tell me everything that you think of that would help us. I know we’re not as good as we should be.” It was such a totally different attitude that I encountered over and over again in the Soviet Union that I was absolutely bamboozled. But, that was, of course, much later, ‘77 or so. But, back to 1962. We were never able to get a USSR scientist to come. In fact, in 1968 -- I did write that date down here somewhere [shuffling papers] -- I was the chairman of the first Gordon Research Conference on plasma physics, which we arranged to hold near Seattle. We invited a group of plasma physicists, in solid state and gas from the Soviet Union, and I was able to invite some from Japan and so on. We had the funds to do that. The Soviets didn’t turn up. The Japanese did, and they were the ones that were principally involved in plasmas in solids, the two groups there. There were certainly some Brits that were very productive, but I didn’t happen to have invited any of them to this conference. In any case, I remember that even on the last day I was still hoping the soviets would turn up, but I learned that it was not our fault. It was theirs. They just couldn’t get out of the country. I mentioned that this was an ideal laboratory for being successful because I was encouraged to go to meetings. I went to virtually every annual meeting of the American Physical Society, and usually several in between, giving papers. And, it was a very prolific time, as I said, because virtually every experiment I did turned up something new. My research on e-h plasmas in longitudinal magnetic fields that I mentioned as the very first paper I did at Boeing, which was in an extraordinarily short time because of the great support I had. It was followed by two talks at the American Physical Society, the “Growing Waves in Excess Charge Carriers Injected into Indium Antimonide,” and Physical Review Letters on these oscillations that I mentioned that I had discovered. I reported on that and various developments associated with it at APS meetings. Jim Drummond and I published together, let’s see, two papers, and we gave two talks at various APS meetings -- one paper was in Applied Physics Letter on “Hysteresis and the Helical Instability.” That was also in ‘63. “Magneto Thermal Pinch Effect in Electron Hole Plasmas” was another in the Bulletin of the American Physical Society. That resulted in a Phys. Rev. paper in ‘64. And then I began to get into the stabilization of plasmas. That, of course, was the thing that was going on in gaseous plasmas. The ultimate desire, obviously, in gaseous plasmas was to make them stable enough so that fusion would be possible. And, at the beginning of this effort after World War II, before my time, it became very clear that plasmas were much more complicated than had previously been thought, and the theory and the experiment had absolutely nothing to do with each other because the theory was all about very simple systems unrealistically simple. And, the experimentalists were discovering all these instabilities in gaseous plasmas that were meaning that the figure of merit, which was the NKT, the density of the plasma, the temperature, and the time in which it could be confined, was not increasing, and it just stuck because they could figure out no way to confine these unstable plasmas. Well, if it were possible to investigate these things in a solid, just cheap and simple, it would be wonderful. I always resisted the opportunity to be a part of a big team, when I was job hunting. I got offers to join some huge team in the early days and I never wanted to do that. I preferred to run my own little show. I’d much rather do that than be a part of a huge group. It was just a personal preference. Well, you could hardly do anything in gaseous plasmas, ultimately, without being involved in an enormous group. Our laboratory at BSRL and a few others were doing fundamental work in gaseous plasmas that were fundamental enough that they did not require a huge group. For example, Roy R. Johnson was discovering some of the same effects in gaseous plasmas, these oscillations, about the same time I was in the solid state plasmas. His experiments were a lot more -- how shall I put it -- difficult to escalate. I mean, he could not go into how to trap these plasmas and how to try to stabilize this plasma the way I could in a solid. Here is a picture on the front of the AIP journal, Physics Today, showing a kind of trapping mechanism. These are wires wrapped around the ends of the plasma in a way to confine escape from the ends of the plasma “bottle”, a way to try to mimic a well-known approach in gaseous plasma. Then these wires that are going up on each of the four corners the small little device are providing a magnetic field which is transverse to the plasma flow thus squeezing it away from the walls. I could, with the help of my technicians, these geniuses I told you about before. Dick Glad and the wonderful guys in the shop, could make the samples virtually defect-free samples of complicated shapes in single crystals of indium antimonide. The semiconductor industry was developing purer and purer samples, which was of course a great thing because you had fewer impurities to louse up the plasma itself. Dick Glad could produce such very accurate tiny little devices that mimicked huge, huge machines that you need to test gaseous plasmas. For example, the plasma physics lab at Princeton had maybe a hundred people. Not in the university, the lab that was associated with it closely though. And Berkeley, south of Seattle down south had Lawrence Livermore Labs, and the Berkeley Lab, both enormous.
Butler:And there’s one down at General Atomics.
Ancker-Johnson:Yes, and some of my colleagues, at the demise of BSRL, that’s where they ended up. So, it was a heady time for me. On the front of this book is a picture of a device that we built, which is a torus that did not prove to confine the plasma. I got no results from that thing. But boy, it’s a pretty picture and it’s certainly complicated, and it caught the eye of a number of people. But, as I reflect on this interview, I had changed fields often by this time from a short period at Berkeley, another short period in which I was doing, in some sense, an extension of my thesis work. Then I went into microwave stuff at Sylvania and carried that on a little bit. Well, only in that I wrote this review paper. I didn’t have any microwave equipment to speak of at RCA Labs, just a little bit in connection with zeolites. But, that was a new field. So that’s three changes of research fields. Then, a fourth one is to get into plasmas in solids. All really big changes in a very short time, which, well it’s kind of fitting for somebody who had a background at Wellesley where you got a broad education. You have to have a liberal arts approach to the world. I think I carried it to a bit of an extreme, but I really had the world’s best possible opportunity at BSRL, and fortunately I was able to gain, I guess it’s fair to say, an international reputation. In ‘64, the 7th International Conference on the Physics of Semiconductors was in Paris. I gave a paper at that on the “Lifetime of Non-equilibrium carriers in magnetic traps, in which I showed that electron-hole plasma benefits could be enhanced by 65% compared with no trap conditions thus stabilize the helical instability. That meeting was accompanied that year in Paris by a whole symposium devoted to Plasma Effects in Solids. I gave a paper there and I insisted on putting my technician’s name on it, Mike Berg, because I could never have made these complicated measurements without his help. Jim Drummond also gave a paper on our joint work. So we, we had a really good presence at that meeting. I showed a film there. I thought I was really going to be a one-up-man here, the first to show a film of these oscillatory effects. And, it turned out that Gunn also was there, from General Electric. His first name was Ivar. Gunn Effect. Very, very well known and much more useful than anything I ever discovered. We both showed, for the first time, films that were pictures of the face of an oscilloscope with a camera that was synced to the scope to show these oscillations growing. He was showing oscillatory effects in his field and I in mine, and his was a bit more sophisticated than mine, [Laugh] but I was first because his paper came after mine, fortunately. I gave 2 papers and was co-author of the paper Jim Drummond gave. The film came from the paper on “Non-linear properties of electron-hole plasmas sustaining the helical instability.” I showed in a second paper on “Lifetimes of Non-equilibrium carriers in magnetic traps” that lifetimes could be significantly extended by magnetic traps. The paper Jim presented was on “Theory of Pinch Effect in electron-hole plasmas.” I remember my husband was on this trip also. We very seldom traveled together because of our kids, but this time he had business with colleagues in Germany. So, we spent a few days in Paris together, and Jim was there as well, a good friend of both of ours by now. They were saying, “Well now, this is a great opportunity for you to become a legend in your own time. We suggest that you go to a salon here, get your hair fixed, get your nails fixed, get a whole new wardrobe, and you then really just stun them at the meeting.” [Laugh] And, I said, “Oh, come on you guys, enough of this horsing around.” And, in fact, what happened to me is I got sick from drinking water there and I had an emergency trip to the American hospital to get rehydrated after having a serious case of, you know what, (Butler: Uhm-hmm.) [Laugh] the runs that are associated with that kind of upset. It was a funny business. It was right around that period when I was invited to give a talk at the University of British Columbia Physics Colloquium that I had an ectopic pregnancy. That’s where the egg develops in the fallopian tube and it explodes, and I just about died. I’d lost over half my blood supply on an airplane coming back from and APS meeting in NJ. Well, I first got dizzy n the plane and it turned out I was leaking blood. I recovered enough to visit the RCA labs and then went to the MD who had delivered Ruthie. I suspected I might be pregnant but I didn’t know yet, and he thought, “Well, you’re probably alright.” So, I drove in the dark through the Pine Barrens, an absolutely desolated area, to the APS meeting. I felt worse and I stayed in bed. My paper was on the third or fourth day, and I couldn’t get up. I was so weak. I finally got up, gave my paper and just staggered back on the plane, came home, and called my obstetrician. I guess I barely knew him at that point and he said, “What were you doing flying around the country anyway if you think you’re pregnant?” [Laugh] Another attitude that somehow pregnancy affects the brain or you’re just supposed to be tied down. Well anyway, the very next day I mean it really exploded and I, as I said, lost over half my blood supply. My friends at Boeing supplied a lot of blood and I recovered, but it was kind of touch and go there for a while. And that is what led us to think about adopting, which we then did later. But, in the meantime Marti came along. She was born in ‘64, and shortly after her birth I gave a colloquium talk at the University of British Columbia. The man who introduced me I think must have been a new father, because he looked at my record of publications and said, “She’s produced more while pregnant than most of us do,” It was an exceptionally nice introduction. [Laugh] But, as I said it was because Boeing did not care that my salary was cut off at 6 months of pregnancy. I mean my immediate supervisor cared, but he had no control over that. They did not care that I continued to work. Everything was going so well and I felt fine. When I was due any day I said to my team, “This effect that we’re looking at right now, one more day and I will nail it down. We’ll meet tomorrow on Saturday if you don’t mind coming in.” They said, “Okay.” And, oh, you know, they were happy to do that. And, it was early in that morning that my husband was going off skiing and I said, you know, “I think you should stick around.” [Laugh] And sure enough, Marti was on her way and we went to the hospital instead of his going skiing. My guys -- they were already at the lab -- I called them up to tell them, “Well, I’m sorry. I’ve got another appointment.” But, I went back, in both cases, after two weeks, which was only possible, as I said, because we had such good help. We referred a little bit to the demise of the laboratories. Let me just add that there were several patents that were applied for while I was making these discoveries, and one of them was a joint patent application with Roy Johnson, whom I mentioned also found hysteresis in magnetic longitudinal in magnetic fields, in gaseous plasmas. Jim Drummond was thinking along with us. He called us into his office and said, “Now, let’s invent some computer technology.” And basically, if you imagine a series of these little semiconductors producing the helical instability that you can tune by changing the magnetic field, or you could tune by increasing the amount of plasma in them, you have a variety of possibilities for how you could tune it, but oscillations you can control. So, if you put a bunch of these in parallel you would have instead of the kind of memory system that’s serial, as all others were, so that you have to search through the whole bank until you find the bit that is you’re looking for, you could, as it were, call down to this group that is now grouped the way a brain thinks and associative memory instead of serial memory so that you would then have a computer that functioned in a quite different way. Having a series of bits in parallel was really novel at that time. And, we swiftly got a patent -- well, nothing was swift at the Patent Office, which I was in charge of not long after that and desperately tried to decrease the time of wait for a search to be made and a patent issued, which is another story. Two of my patent applications did not actually clear the Patent Office until I was in charge of it. And, one of the interesting things that happened to me while I was [???] set in the doc was that the New York Times had a reporter who used to have a column in the New York Times every week that reported on what was interesting coming out of the Patent Office. And, when I got this patent issued to my name, but of course it belonged to Boeing, he wrote a very nice article about it with a picture of me leaning against the Thomas Edison statue in the Patent Office. The article said that I was the first person who was in charge of the Patent Office since Thomas Jefferson to receive a patent while in that situation. Thomas Jefferson was a prolific inventor and I was highly flattered to be in the same camp with him. Wow! [Laugh] And, of course, I had no idea that that was true. And, I got a second one issued as I was in charge of the Patent Office. But, the demise of this lab was sort of symptomatic of what was going on in the aerospace industry. First of all, in the aerospace industry on the West Coast was highly linked -- when a big contract went to Boeing then people would come from McDonnell Douglas, and you mentioned the Aerospace Corporation, and Lockheed. And, if it was McDonnell Douglas then that was the contract some of the very bright engineers would move down there. BSRL was stable through all of that, and winning a reputation for Boeing as a place where good basic research was done. But, I read you a little bit of this article, which I think is interesting because it’s so telling of what happened in physics in this time. I read the part about the, “The company had enjoyed worldwide prestige through BSRL, but its failure to contribute to the company business and changes in Boeing’s needs are reasons why it was shut down.” “We couldn’t afford it anymore,” was a quote from Glen Keister, who became my boss. “The man who made the decision to end the existence of the laboratories, Keister is general manager of the Research and Engineering Division of the Aerospace Corporation.” There were two parts of Boeing, the aerospace part and the airplane part. And, “BSRL was formed fourteen years ago,” we’re now in ‘72, “during the nation’s reaction to Russia’s orbiting of the first Sputnik. Its purpose was to perform basic research and keep Boeing abreast of the related research throughout the world.” And, that’s why I was able to go off to Moscow, for example, and try to recruit these Soviet scientists who never were able to come to BSRL, but we did have visitors from Poland, one who then became a citizen and others from far flung countries. [Reading] “Despite the company’s obvious hope,” continues this article, “that some of the research would benefit Boeing business it put few strings on the researchers,” which was absolutely true. No strings, really. “Top notch scientists were hired and provided the equipment and time to pursue their research specialty.” Certainly true in spades for me. “It just didn’t work,” Keister was quoted as saying. “They did research, published papers, and not very much happened besides that.” This was a much more hardnosed approach now to the beginning of the end of that era when physics was lavishly funded throughout all the United States. It was the beginning of the end of the period when you could write your own ticket as a physicist. This demise was happening all through physics. At one time there were sixty to seventy scientists at BSRL and the total number with our support staffs was about 200, including great carpenters, great glass blowers and great machinists. “Sputnik,” this is a quote “caused the BSRL to happen in the first place,” Keister said, “but now the realization that technology is not all you need to solve problems has changed the company’s business-seeking activities.” Now, our bubble popped very suddenly. I mean Keister appeared at the BSRL, called us all together, the sixty or seventy scientists and told us, “We’re shutting this laboratory down.” We had no inkling up to that moment. I had in the meantime become Supervisor of Plasmas at BSRL -- reversed positions with Jim Drummond. I had said that I wanted to go into management to Jim and to his boss, who was now no longer Hollingsworth but another fine man, and they were both surprised but very happy to accommodate me. I was sensing that I wanted to have a wider span of control because I had more ideas than I could handle by myself. [Laugh] Not that I was going to this big physics thing, but just a lot of smaller experiments. And, I was a bit restless. It’s the only way I can explain this. When the lab was demolished --
Butler:And this would have been in ‘71?
Ancker-Johnson:This was the end of ‘71 or the beginning of ‘72. I think it was the beginning of ‘72 because this says, “It died officially last week.” So, he probably appeared in February of ‘72, and that may have also been when the independent R&D part of those contracts -- we talked about that earlier, trying to pinpoint when that demise came about. It may have been at that point. But, in this period I learned in one year of management, this tumultuous period, a great deal about having to layoff people that were very good and the agony that goes with that, and trying to deal with bosses who were -- well, the joke going around was, “If my boss calls, be sure and get his name and number,” you said to your secretary. It was just a shambles, chaos. Another joke in that period was, “An optimist brings his lunch to work. A pessimist leaves his car running in the parking lot.” I had one boss who was so frightened of losing his job that he was a total disaster. He asked me to line up people in the order that I would lay them off. I went back to my office and I thought about that and I said, “That’s absolutely crazy. There’s no way you can keep such a list secret, you know if it’s published somewhere.” And, I go back into his office in defiance. I had an order. And I said, “You know, I don’t think this makes any sense,” for the reasons I just said to you. “You can’t keep that sort of thing a secret. You tell me that I have to lay off people I’ll do it, obviously, I have to, but I’m not going to tell you in what order.” And, he was sort of angry about my defiance, but he couldn’t do anything to me except fire me and I don’t think he wanted to do that because I was one of the few people that was [Laugh] reacting without panicking, I guess. But, it was a terrible thing to have to lay off people who were competent. And, we were a tight-knit group so that the merit system worked -- if you didn’t make it you left. That was true for the technicians as well as for the scientists. And, the idea was usually you left, you know, not because you got fired but you began to sense that, “This isn’t going to work, and it would be a whole lot better if I found another job while I could.” Just about this same time we were coming to a grandiose idea in this plasma physics group that we could do something extraordinary for Boeing. That would be if we could take ordinary material somewhat enriched, for example, soil that was known to have a fairly high content let’s say of aluminum, if we made it into plasma. We visualized that you’d be able to separate out the elements using plasma physics techniques and thus make a very important contribution to our growing lack of raw materials. We have a waning amount of resources of copper, for example, and other basic materials. If we get into another war like the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor we would be hard pressed to independently have enough raw materials to defend ourselves. And, I first made a small presentation about this to, not to Keister but someone below him, and I was encouraged to go off to Washington and see if I could find money to support this research. I went to the Pentagon and had arranged to talk with a fairly high-level group of people. I remember one general said to me, “I’d just barely gotten into it and explained just about as much as I have to you -- “Have you got a patent on this yet?” And I said, “No sir.” He said, “Does your management know you’re here talking about this?” And I said, “Well, only at a lower level.” And he said, “I think you better get on the telephone and find out if you’re allowed to talk about this. This is, from the sound of it, very important to national defense.” So, [Laugh] I stopped right there in the presentation and I call up the vice president, who was called Oliver Boileau, and told him this and he said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but come home. [Laugh] Report to my office tomorrow morning and tell me what this all about.” So, I did and he said, “Wow.” I mean, they got all of a sudden very excited about this. It was shocking because all of a sudden they had -- hey, the sun’s come out. (Butler: Uhm-hmm.) I’m going to have to pull these curtains or we’re going to have move over there. But, let me finish this story before we do it. He said, “I’m going to get somebody from the financial staff to investigate how much this could mean to Boeing in revenue. Boeing is looking for counter-cyclical business.” Because the airplane business is very cyclical, the supersonic I told you had tanked. That had been cancelled by the government, and a lot of people were laid off. That was the beginning of that crunch, that period of depression, or recession, or stagflation, or whatever you want to call it, in the early ‘70s. Suddenly my group was catapulted because of the financial people into huge interest by upper management, because this guy came up with fantastic numbers. I mean, it would be a huge business, [Laugh] you know, as big as aerospace, or some crazy thing like this. I was giving presentations right and left and trying to tell people, “Hey, this is an idea -- I mean it might not work. You know, this is really far out.” I was trying desperately to put brakes on this because, of course, it was a far-out idea. But upper management wasn’t having any of that denial. They were only listening to dollar signs coming from the financial people. And, the more I talked about the problems that we would likely encounter the more they thought I was, you know, “Just being sort of negative,” [Laugh] or something, and the more they got excited about, “Boy, this would really be important.” I remember some other guy was giving presentations on how to change salt water into fresh water, osmosis techniques and various filters, and so on. And, he said to me, “Man alive, you’ve really got these guys stirred up. They’re not even listening to me.” [Laugh] And, I said, “And yours is probably going to work and mine isn’t.” [Laugh] It was a funny period at Boeing. So we were busy writing a patent proposal and then it was important that it be filed in every single foreign country that might possibly steal this idea. And, all this time it, we were doing very little experimentally because we were dissolved from that the locale of your labs at BSRL and moved to another, which was in the aerospace part of the company.
Butler:Was this when you shifted to Advanced Energy Systems?
Ancker-Johnson:Yeah, you’ve got a crib sheet there. This same man, Keister, now becomes my immediate boss. No, once removed. And, I should tell you that my immediate boss was a guy who had not made it at BSRL, but had found employment in another piece at Boeing. Most such guys went to another research laboratory, but he took a job in management in the aerospace part and we all thought he was pretty much a dud. He just didn’t make it. And so, I had to report to him and he was terribly sensitive to the fact that I was talking to vice presidents and giving all these talks that he wasn’t even invited to. So, he calls me into his office one time and says -- well, first he tried to sort of butter me up. We were both avid mountain climbers. That was my first meeting with him. He told me a story about his using freeze-dried food. I responded, “Yeah. I really do like freeze-dried food too as a way to keep the family going while on hikes.” And he was sort of bragging about some of his exploits, which were quite fine. Then we get down to business and he says, “You know, you work for me.” By now I’m really annoyed with this guy. And I said, “I work for the Boeing Company.” He turns bright red and literally throws me out of his office. You know, you have to understand that this was such a turbulent time. He was probably my third boss in this period and here’s a guy who wants to assert himself, and I don’t care what he does just don’t bother me. I’m trying desperately to get management people to see this idea of separating elements by plasma physics in its right context and I’m trying to turn off some of the enthusiasm while he wants to boost it up, because I’m very concerned that they’re going to be highly disappointed, because this may not work. We don’t know if it will. Well, we managed to finish this patent application, which I could not be a part of, by the way, because I was the manager. So, I don’t have my name on that one. But, it was a major undertaking, a very big application, and we filed it in I don’t know how many foreign countries. And then my group really fell apart. Keister calls me up one day and he says, “I want you to work on something else, the Institute for Human Needs.” I’m just absolutely appalled. And he said, “I want you to make up your mind by tomorrow.” Well, later I realized that he was going through a manic period. He was a captain in the Marines during World War II, so he was no sissy, and he had been in a lot of combat, but this can happen to anybody. He was having a manic-depressive period and this was the manic part. And he, you know, I didn’t see that I had a choice, and anyway things were really falling apart at Boeing, so I -- I’ll pull this blind. That’ll give you some relief. These are actually blinds that you’d find in a restaurant, but when we moved in here we had box-type blinds. They had nice insulation because of the box nature of the series of parallel- to- the-ground boxes that would be insulating, but absolutely blind. You couldn’t see outside. I said, “That’s crazy. The reason we got this house was so we could enjoy the view. And, I researched these things and they’re very good at keeping things from fading but it’s not adequate for keeping heat out, as my husband has reminded me any number of times since then. [Laugh] But, this Institute for World Needs is what he wanted me to head up -- another big switch in career direction. I recruited a whole bunch of scholars who were thinking about this kind of thing to take part -- I’ll just read you a little paragraph from the brochure I put together, if it’s appropriate?
Ancker-Johnson:The enormous growth rate of population, pollution, and resource use indicates a need for a coherent approach to the understanding of these factors so that desirable options can be selected by society. Currently, intellectual centers study various world needs. The different levels of government grapple with their constituency needs. Industry produces goods and services, mostly in incoherent fashions. The Institute for World Need seeks understanding of the dynamic factors that influence the future, and solutions to the comprehensive problems. These goals are to be achieved by interacting with the sources of information leading to understanding with the regulation and the policy decision-making bodies, and with all types of implementers in such a way that world needs have a good possibly of being satisfactorily met. I wrote this under command. [Laugh]
Butler:And this was supposed to be a division of Boeing?
Ancker-Johnson:This was the brainstorm of this man one step under a vice president, who was very much respected in the corporation and was undoubtedly going to be a vice president, and maybe president of the company. He was certainly in that chain. He sensed that it was certainly important for Boeing to branch out into other businesses because the aerospace industry, the airplane industry in particular, is very cyclical with the economy. [Laugh] I chuckle with my friends at Bell Labs. I said, “You guys are getting more business and we’re getting less and both of our situations are dire. Because, you can’t meet the need and we can’t meet the payroll.” [Laugh] It was so bad in Seattle that there was a billboard at the end of the Highway 5 that was cross-country. It ended in downtown Seattle. This billboard said, “Will the last person to leave please turn out the lights.” That’s how bad it was. But, before that Keister was trying to find ways that were beyond what we were doing in the plasma physics area. And by the way, Boeing never would release that patent. Some of my colleagues went to General Atomic and while there tried to get a license on that patent, just any, any way to pursue this a little further, and Boeing wouldn’t give it. They obviously had the right to withhold licensing. And, I don’t know what they were thinking but apparently -- I was long gone. I was in Washington by then. But, I probably spent about a year devising the structure of the Institute for World Needs including a Board of Consultants who were the best available experts on World Needs. I went around recruiting all these people and a Board of Advisors who are representative of the various levels of governmental bodies. To quote our prospectus “The output of the institute will be available to the public, including all types of implementers.” You know, it was a very grandiose idea. We had a few conferences, developed some perhaps useful ideas about a planned city with a nuclear plant that would supply the power and we’d have rail systems. Of course, Boeing was very interested in manufacturing those products that would be ideally suited for building a planned city. Well, enough on that subject. It was a whole different world for me in that era. I can hardly imagine it now. Such a switch from research, bench science, and a little bit of research management experience I had. And suddenly Keister crashes and has to take a leave of absence. And, of course, the Institute crashes with him, and I find myself as a now a manager, a high-pot so-called, a high potential, with nothing to do, waiting for an assignment. It was a very strange limbo to be in. Just about that time my secretary buzzed me and said “The White House is on the line.” And I say, “Oh, Paula I am in no mood for jokes.” She said, “Oh no. No. This is serious!” And I said, “What do you mean the White House is on the line?” “Well, somebody wants to talk to you and says that they’re in the White House. So, you know, I answer the phone and it turns out that headhunters there want me to come to Washington to interview for, and they list a whole bunch of things. This would have been late in 1971. March 1973 Nixon had been reelected, and he was starting to fill positions. It soon dawned on me that President Nixon was actually looking for women to fill high-level positions. This was a real switch, you know. I had struggled desperately to be seen as competent and—you know, I forgot to mention an APS meeting, an annual meeting in New York, in which the topic of Women in Physics was first raised in an APS situation. Perhaps I should digress a minute and we’ll come back to this, if it’s all right with you?
Ancker-Johnson:Okay. “Women in Physics” was the name of a panel presented at the annual APS meeting in New York, a very big meeting in 1971. The meeting room was packed. The invitation was issued to be on the panel to two men, Charlie Townes and Allan Bromley of Yale, both eminent physicists. I mean, Charlie Townes -- you can’t get a more eminent one than he. Then there was Chien-Shiung Wu, who in my opinion should have won the Nobel Prize at least shared it for her work in proving parity. Faye Aizenberg-Sejov, also born abroad and trained in the States, a well-known nuclear physicist. Gloria Lupkin, who was the associate editor of Physics Today, was there to give data. She was a physicist however. And a graduate student from Rutgers whose name I’ve forgotten. I was on this panel. And, the night before I really began to think, “Good night, I’m the only women who was born in the United States and doing research. “If you subtract physics from my life, with my four kids I’m just like millions of other American women. I’m the only one who really can speak from the point of view of somebody who grew up in the States and went through this whole business as a, just sort of a typical American woman. And, the student obviously is not there yet. Gloria can’t do it, and the other two were born abroad. So, I thought, “You know, I’ve got to really tell it like it is.” I was really uptight about this [Laugh] ten-minute or so talk. You know, I do have a sense of humor. I kind of laid it on the line to these guys. Things like, well the arrogance of these men who all thought I was husband hunting and I really didn’t think that many of them were in the running at all [Laugh] for what I wanted. And, in fact, Hal was really the first man I ever met who thoroughly understood that my interest in electrons was as great as his in partial differential equations of the umpteenth order. It wasn’t an issue with him. And, that’s why we could plan to have children with the idea that I mentioned to you, the haus tochter. So I said things like “You know how come it’s so easy for you to make career decisions for women? If it happens that a woman is recruited for a position but her husband has to have,”-- you know I had that experience at University of Washington -- “the man has to have an equal or better job?” And, you know, stuff like that. It’s all written up in the Physics Teacher because I got a lot of invitations to talk about being a woman in physics. The first one was Ohio State and they really wanted me to come and give a presentation, my expansion of that talk. I guess that’s the one that I, I guess I had more reprints requests for that [Laugh] than any other paper, which is a little humbling, but still. [Laugh] They were mimeographed finally because it was long out of press. Anyway, my husband thought, “Hey, this is an occasion. We’re going to go down and buy clothes so you can really knock them dead.” [Laugh] I remember buying a jacket and a vest and a red blouse with a tie on it that I put a stickpin in, which was made like an ice ax. We were big in mountain climbing out there and needed ice axes. And, this jacket was a, I mean it was so loud. I would never ever have dressed in anything like this. But he said, “Absolutely. If they want you to talk on this subject you’re going to dress for it.” So, when I got there I stepped into the restroom and changed into this outfit. But, it was a success -- why did I get off on this anyway? We were doing something much more important earlier.
Butler:You were wanting to talk about -- well, you had, you were talking about your transition into government, where the Nixon (Ancker-Johnson: Oh yeah.) Administration was looking at you.
Ancker-Johnson:As a woman. Yeah.
Butler:As a woman, because they were recruiting women. (Ancker-Johnson: Right.) And….
Ancker-Johnson:So I was invited to appear at the Office of Personnel in the White House. A woman had been specifically asked by President Nixon to find women for any openings. And, at that time the ones that she thought fitted me [Laugh] were wild, Under Secretary of Interior. “What? I don’t know anything about that.” There were several like that. One was to be head of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration in the Dept. of Transportation. Now the Secretary was an oil man, Claude Brinegar. I remember him saying to me, “Well, do you think you could handle those auto executives? I mean, they’re a rough, tough bunch.” I said to him, “I don’t think you need someone who’s more interested in quantum mechanics than in the automobile mechanics, but I do think I could handle them.” [Laugh] My ego was big enough for that. He was sort of shocked at that. I turned it down. It was very ironic, because when I went to General Motors I dealt with that agency right and left, and nobody knew that until the last day; at least I don’t think they did. I had the impression they knew what kind of toothpaste I used when they recruited me, but that was never in anyway publicized, of course. So, I thought that the position I was qualified for, if any, was as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Science and Technology, because there I would be in charge of the National Bureau of Standards, and the Patent Office, and I, of course, had had dealings with both of those, and the National Office of Telecommunications and National Technical Information Service, a small Office on Product Standards, and another small Office on Environmental Policy from the point of view of business. But, it was a very hard thing for me to face up to the fact that I was being looked for as a woman. And I wondered, you know, “Do I have the competency to do this job?” I did some, you know, I really had to do some soul searching about that. And, of course we talked it over and prayed about it, my husband and I. And finally, I did accept that, and a whole new chapter in our lives started. The first thing is, of course, the family situation -- this was right at the beginning of President Nixon’s second term, and my position had been open for a little while because my predecessor Assistant Secretary Simpson had gone to be the head of the Product Safety Commission.
Butler:Now, you became Assistant Secretary in…
Ancker-Johnson:February -- well, I went to Washington in February 1973. I was officially sworn in just in time for the budget hearings. They suddenly realized that I wasn’t sworn in yet, but I was to testify about the budget. They had postponed the swearing in so that my family could be there, and the official swearing-in ceremony was held after the rest of them caught up with me. This was the first time we had ever been separated for any length of time; and again, only possible because we had help in the home.
Butler:So, it was February of ‘73?
Ancker-Johnson:Yes. And the first thing I had to do was prepare for the budget hearings that were coming up in March. The first thing I found out was that the budget for the Bureau of Standards was very complicated. It bore no reality to the organization of the Bureau. Coming from industry I was shocked; I couldn’t see how anything related to anything else. It was a mess. I was at some pains later to work on that, to change that so that the budget was a lot more transparent. I mean, I forced the Bureau to do that, to stop all this crazy business of interrelatedness so you couldn’t trace anything. It was a very difficult assignment to get ready for this hearing. And I don’t think that the Representatives understood it any more than I did. They just sort of looked at the bottom line and fussed about that, but the transparency of it was totally absent. The Patent Office was better and the rest of the Bureau didn’t have very much money associated with them. So, that was not the issue. The budget was $100 million at that time for each of those two Bureaus, roughly speaking. The total budget was around $230 million. And in the hearing, you know, they have a court reporter who is sitting right next to you and as I’m starting out my presentation to the members of the Committee, I get a little nudge and he says, “Psst. Those are millions.” [Laugh] I wasn’t used to dealing with numbers in the millions. My previous experience with budgets was in the hundreds of thousands, or maybe, you know, multi hundreds of thousands. But, millions that’s a big jump, not only in the span of control but in the amount of money I was responsible for suddenly. It was kind of amusing to have the court reporter be so nice and [Laugh] correct me, and he put it correctly in the record so that my slip wasn’t shown. All of these government jobs were sort of a situation where you are supposed to be instant experts in the span that you have and I’m sure that hardly anybody ever goes into this kind of a job fully prepared for the onslaught of items that you’re supposed to be up on. It was very fortunate for me that I had dealings with the Patent Office and was very much aware of the fact that it took much too long for a patent application to get attention, and there must be something going on in the management over there that’s bad news. On coming into office I was blessed and cursed, a little of each, with the people that I inherited. I had an absolutely outstanding special assistant, David J. Eden, who was a physicist and a lawyer, had been in the military quite a long time, and then became a lawyer in the USG. We were about the same age. Maybe he was a little younger, and was really brilliant. I don’t think I’d ever met anybody with a higher IQ than he had. It was just a great stroke of fortune [Laugh] to have him as my special assistant. He was very frustrated with previous goings on in the department and thrilled to have somebody whom he really respected -- my expertise in physics. And, I was also blessed with a really outstanding lawyer that, Robert Eller, who had the ability to go through a mess of words and come out with a really clear statement about what it’s all about. In talking over with him a position I wanted to take on some piece of legislation he could put it into words just absolutely wonderfully. These were 2 outstanding people that I got help from. And, a third person, a woman, Florence Feinberg, turned out to be very able. She was in charge of a program that was called -- well, never mind what it was called. It was to bring executives from various departments in high levels, but not presidential appointees, to give them an exposure to what science and technology is all about. It was a wonderful, successful program that she and I think Dave Eden, and possibly A/S Simpson and perhaps even a previous Assistant Secretary formed. My first official function was to drive with our two younger kids, Paul and Martha, who were then ten and nine while Hal drove one of our cars with the older two, who were then twelve and eleven. Our kids were densely packed, [Laugh] but that’s because two of them were adopted, as I mentioned earlier. So, I arrived at Boulder and was introduced a little bit at that facility of NBS. It was arranged that my car would be driven by somebody who was going to Washington anyway and was willing to do that. I flew with my two kids to Washington in time to go to this reception, held on the top floor of the State Department -- a really lovely place to hold a reception -- honoring the graduates of this program. And, [Laugh] I’ll never forget this. I have these two kids in tow, nine and ten. Now, imagine this age again, if you can. Paul, at ten, was really into seafood, oysters, and mussels, and all this stuff. I could tell you some wonderful stories about backpacking to weird places where we got this sort of thing, just for the plucking. And Marti, who was a gangly blue-eyed blonde that’s just sort of into everything and very independent. And, you know, I lost track of these kids immediately on arriving. On landing I just go into my new office that I don’t know anything about and I’ve got a formal with me, which I guess I purchased just for this event because I didn’t have a formal. What did I need one for? And then we’re whisked off to the State Department to this reception. And fortunately, no one seemed to mind that Paul was snitching [Laugh] as many oysters as this kid could hold, and mussels, and all the, you know, yummy stuff, crab legs and whatnot, and Marti was off doing something else. But, everybody was very nice about it and it didn’t matter. And, I just made a few remarks. I was very impressed with this group. I had seen their resumes on the way there and was delighted that this program was functioning. It was a great idea. So, I was very glad to support it. But then I got down to serious business trying to understand the budget and, as I started to say, I was very upset with the management of the Patent office and, to make a long story short, investigation showed me that the Patent Commissioner was really incompetent. He was not able to put in place the management system or even foster what had been there before he came that was going to lead to a reduction in this terribly long wait for patent applications to receive attention. And, the morale was terrible in that office. So, I went to the Secretary and said, “I think we should replace this man. He, he’s really a detriment.” Well, the Secretary was Frederick Dent, a real southern gentleman who immediately said he didn’t know anything about science and technology and he was glad I had credentials and he was very complimentary about them. I had so little management experience, only a year and a half or something but as I said it was a time when you really had to step up to the bat [Laugh] and it was very chaotic and very hard time to be a manager. But, the long and short of that was that I did fire him. And he fought back. The next thing was a real introduction to what goes on in the inner sanctums of newspaper reporters. I’m driving home. The minute I get there the phone rings and my special assistant says, “Jack Anderson wants to talk to you about firing the Patent Commissioner. Don’t accept the call.” And I said, “Well, why not?” “Oh he’ll pillar you in his column, and the best thing to do is duck it.” I said, “But I fired him for good cause, so I think I should take the call.” And he, he said, “Okay. He’ll call you the minute I hang up, I’m sure. So, I had this phone conversation that lasted maybe twenty minutes, in which I explained over and over the areas of incompetence, how he had failed in his responsibilities, A, B, C, D, E, you know. I had it all down pat. And, the next day Jack Anderson’s column said that “Commissioner Gottschalk has been dismissed by the new Patent Czar.” [Laugh] “Czar” was the current, well it was sort of like an expletive at that point. There was the Energy czar who was castigated, and so on. So, I joined these ranks. And, the part that really ticked me off was the end of the article, he said, “And when Dr. Ancker-Johnson: was reached, she had no comment.” [Laugh] And, of course, I had explained to him from A to Z why this action took place. So, my special assistant was absolutely right, that I was going to be pilloried, no matter what, by this column. And, that went on for, you know, off an on for a few days and that was my introduction into how reporters can just make hash of you if they want to. While we’re on that subject, the head of NBS was there ahead of me, and also a presidential appointee position. I was a Level 4. The one I turned down as Interior, Undersecretary, was a two, and the one that, to be head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which was so ironic from later, my later experience, was a three. And, the one I accepted was a four. But, I could have had either of the other two just by saying, “I’ll do it,” if you can imagine anything so weird. He was a Level 5.
Butler:Well, let me ask you, had you been active in the Republican Party or, anything?
Ancker-Johnson:No, I had not been. The only question I was asked of that nature was whether I voted for President Nixon. Well, he won by a landslide and I was one of the ump-triumph millions who had voted for him. (Butler: Uhm-hmm.) So, I answered that truthfully, and that was all they were interested in. And, I don’t know if they would have turned me away if I had said “no,” but that was the only political question that was asked. And, by the way, I lived through this terrible experience, of course, of Watergate, but President Nixon really appointed more women to high positions in government than all the previous presidents put together. That’s a fact. He never gets credit for that, but that’s an important thing for people to know. And, for the most part they were competent. There were some awful examples that I hesitate to mention, of incompetency which -- you know, that’s the worst thing that can happen if you’re in a sort of pioneering situation. For a woman to be appointed to a position that she can’t handle is devastating for those that follow. My experience at the RCA labs and my experience with the piece of brass, you know, I had to face that right off, and that was trivial compared to some of the failures that other women had had, and for those who followed it was desperately difficult.
Butler:Now, while you were Under Secretary of Commerce one of...
Ancker-Johnson:Assistant Secretary. Later it became an Under Secretary position.
Butler:Assistant Secretary. While you were Assistant Secretary of Commerce one of the big issues was your attempt at metrification?
Butler:Can you talk a little bit about that?
Ancker-Johnson:Other parts of the world were going metric. The British had definitely made that move to go metric and the Australians were doing it. Someone in the Office of Management and Budget called me up and said, “You’re in charge. Make the legislation pass.” And the Secretary, you know -- I served four Secretaries in four years. That was another difficult period because of Watergate and all that meant. (Another subject you may or may not be interesting to you.) I was, of course, supported by the Bureau of Standards. They had all kinds of interest in the world going metric. And, of course, I was very much in favor of it. I told you how bored I was in high school with this first business of translating gallons into liters and inches into centimeters, and all that nonsense. I was wildly enthusiastic about the idea. I happily accepted the assignment, and then I tried to work out a strategy of finding a few people in Congress particularly receptive to the idea. Those that served on the committees that I regularly testified before, the House and Senate Science and Technology Committees. I have downstairs a list of all the testimonies I gave. That was kept track of by Mr. Ellert, my lawyer, and he saw to it that every one of those was saved for the archives, because they needed that for continuity. After I left the job as A/S he sent a list of testimonies. And they turned out to be quite useful when I got to General Motors. But back to metric -- I gave speeches all over the country, trying to persuade teachers to back this thing to the hilt, and of course there were lots of people at NBS that were giving talks in smaller venues all over the place. Very important was trying to educate Congress. I gave a talk before thousands of school administrators in Los Angeles. My brother Clint, the elder of my older brothers, was head of the Operations Research part of USC, in the Engineering school. He met me at the airport and drove with me to the venue where I was going to give the talk. I wanted to make sure the slides were going to be presented properly, and check the general situation. So, he waited among the guys that were setting up the sound system and so on in this huge auditorium. Afterwards he said to me, “You’re not going to get away with this. There’s no way the union people are going to go with metrification.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I sat there while you were busy with your business and listened to them talk and they were saying, ‘This is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of. I’d have to change all my tools and buy a whole new set. That’s crazy. I’m not going to do that.’ “And, it turned out he was absolutely right, of course, as you know. But, I didn’t know that yet. But, what I think really did us in was the -- I’ll go nameless -- head of S&T Committee in the House. I was at pains to explain to him the simple equivalencies. I had a sort of crib sheet for him. “Prices are going to be a little higher because a meter is ten percent longer than a yard. So, it’s easy to remember. And, a liter is about ten percent more than a quart. So, that means gasoline is going to cost a little more.” And, I remember one of the other rubrics was, “Two pounds makes up a kilogram, roughly. Once again, going to be a little bigger and cost a little more.” And, I had things like, and “A dime is about a centimeter in diameter,” and you know all this stuff trying to get him primed. Well, he was giving a talk on the floor and was interrupted. You know, “Will the gentleman yield?” And, it was an innocent question the representative asked, “How big is a centimeter anyway?” And my sponsor of the bill couldn’t answer the question. [Laugh] He just forgot, I guess, and he didn’t have the crib sheet handy and he just flubbed it. And, that sort of did it. The bill never came up again. It just died right there. That’s such a quirk. You know, I raised this issue as a counselor at the National Academy of Engineering. I was elected to -- post shortly after I retired although I served on tons of committees before then. That was part of my responsibility in both Boeing and General Motors. At Boeing it was serving on a lot of the research committees and Courtland Perkins, President of NAE, was very keen to have women involved and he appointed me to all sorts of committees. I served because part of my job was to help make Boeing Research Laboratories known. And, at General Motors I again was supposed to be a representative of the company. One of my assignments was to be in contact with “the outside world.” So, while I was a counselor I brought up, “We should take up having the country go metric.” And, I couldn’t persuade them either. The Council wasn’t listening. I don’t know whether it wasn’t a big enough problem or they didn’t think it was, you know, sexy enough [Laugh] or something. I broke my pick there again. Later, I became a member gradually of the special engineering section, number twelve in NAE, the last one that’s sort of a catchall for people in unusual fields including environmental engineering. But I always maintained a secondary interest in the electrical engineering. Someone in Section 12 brought up metrification and I immediately said, “Hey, that’s a great idea. I’ll be glad to help in any way I can.” And, again the idea was turned down. So we’re doomed to have this stupid system and it’s really just dumb. [Laugh] I really wish I hadn’t broken my pick on that -- a very big failure.
Butler:What do you see as, as your big contributions?
Ancker-Johnson:At the Department of Commerce?
Butler:At the Department of Commerce.
Ancker-Johnson:One of the big ones was President Nixon’s announcement that he wanted the country to be energy independent by the end of the decade -- this is now ’73. Now, he was derided for that as though he had said, “At the end of the decade be independent,” but if you read what he said was, “potentially” and it was a question of, “How could you spend $10 billion on research over a period of a few years,” I think it was five, “in every possible alternative source such that potentially that at the end of the decade it would be possible to be free of imported oil and gas?” And, he also said, “A hundred million dollars right now.” Well, there were, that assignment went to Dixie Lee Ray, who was the head of the Atomic Energy Commission. My technician had quipped -- I should say that my first presidential appointment was as a member of the Technical Committee for NOAA, and she was really into ocean kinds of science. And, she ends up as the head of Atomic Energy Commission. My background was physics, and particularly electronics, and I was -- appointed to NOAA, as I said. And, he quipped, “You know, I think the President was confused. He should have switched those around.” [Laugh] But, in fact, she really didn’t know much about this and was very glad for any help she could get. She didn’t enter into the work at all, rather appointed a special assistant, who was more like a caretaker, sort of farming out who would do what. And, the National Bureau of Standard -- it had to be a civilian operation doing this -- we did virtually all of that work into all the alternative sources, like solar, and wind power, use of clean coal, oil shale, etc. I remember giving a lot of speeches on that subject to try to get the public to be alert to supporting this kind of effort. One of the things that I would say was one had to do to recover the oil from shale was dealing with something that has the consistency of face powder. Just trying to get across the idea that these are very difficult technologies to the public was very challenging -- secondary oil recovery, and tertiary oil recovery, how to make coal clean. This was before the EPA cracked down on plants, which was a big problem for me later in General Motors. I ran a parallel program in the interagency trying to decide what research could lead to energy independence from a much more realistic point of view, in my view, through the Commerce Technical Advisory Board. I rejuvenated it by recruiting scientist in energy fields and the heads of science and technology at laboratories in many big companies. They were very industrious. We worked very hard and came up with a report that I’ve got downstairs. It was succinct. There was a backup book that was maybe two inches thick but the guts of it all was in a smallish half an inch thick or less, in big print and lots of diagrams to explain the problem and how we would try to solve it; full of good physics. Neither of those reports survived the panic that went on when Watergate happened. It’s very hard to describe this very quickly and I see that it’s getting late. You need to be thinking about getting some dinner and (Butler: Hmm-uhm.) getting on with your program. But, let me say that Congress was concerned about conservation, assigned it to the Bureau of Standards and thus to me. The production of conservation standards for appliances. We quickly mobilized through their associations on refrigerators, and washing machines, and these sorts of things, rather large purchases for the home that could be made more energy conservative, and started a program through the Bureau of Standards of how test for their efficiency and then how to label them so that consumers would have a choice on the basis of how much energy this unit used compared to another refrigerator sitting next to it. We had wonderful cooperation from the appliance manufacturers. This was going along very well indeed with good cooperation. The reason it was working is, although we didn’t know anything about how the business of actual manufacture of refrigerators -- I mean the experts in that kind of thing at NBS were no more informed than I was -- but we had the right credentials to quiz the manufacturers and talk to them about it and they were wonderfully cooperative. Then the Federal Energy Administration was formed. Congress decided that energy matters had to be consolidated somewhere. This conservation program was taken over by these folk and promptly made into an adversarial situation, which we’re famous for in this country. It’s amazing. Suddenly I get calls from the manufacturers that had been so cooperative. “What happened anyway? Now we’re being treated as though we’re crooks.” And I said, “I know you are and I can’t help it. That’s just the way this bunch is over there at the Federal Energy Administration.” They’re a bunch of lawyers that wanted, young guys that wanted to make a name for themselves and they were just downright insulting to these manufacturers. The FEA didn’t live very long before ERDA was formed and this happened at the speed of light compared to what usually happens in Washington. The Atomic Energy Commission now becoming a part of the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). (Butler: Uhm-hmm.) And that’s where Dixie Lee Ray was. Famous for the dogs she kept in her office. [Laugh] She was quite a character.
Butler:She was governor of Washington for a while, wasn’t she? (Ancker-Johnson: That’s right. She was.)
Ancker-Johnson:That’s why my technician knew about her because she was a very successful governor. She was a good politician. No question. So, I think that our contribution in conservation and in trying to educate the Congress was appreciable. When Ford became President he sent down word that he wanted every presidential appointee below the Cabinet level, who regularly testified before various committees, to go to visit each new congressman elected and appointed to these committees. That was the year that a lot of congressman were new. There was a huge turnover. The Secretary at the time, who must have been Eliott Richardson, who was far and away the best, from the point of view of ability, that I served. Fred Dent was a very fine person and very ethical. He -- if we have time I’ll tell you about an ethical problem where he backed me to the hilt and otherwise I would have had to resign.
Butler:Okay. What I’m looking at is no more than another forty-five minutes. And we need to cover your time at, yeah at Argonne, and GM, and then I guess briefly back at Berkeley.
Ancker-Johnson:I was actually a regents professor there during my time at (Butler: Oh, okay.) GM.
Butler:Okay. We can pull those two together.
Ancker-Johnson:Wow. Alright. Let’s see.
Butler:Well, why don’t you quickly tell us about the ethical issue that Eliott Richardson addressed?
Ancker-Johnson:It was Fred Dent that addressed that.
Butler:Oh, that Fred Dent addressed.
Ancker-Johnson:Yes. It was during my very first year. The interim director of the Office of Telecommunications had been on the Hill, in other words talking to congressional staff, about policy issues in the field of telecommunications. They did research in telecommunications that supported, for example, the distribution of the spectrum to uses in various contexts. The OTC had an excellent basic research laboratory in Colorado and then the policy issues were handled in Washington through the Office of Telecommunications Policy in the White House. That office was very jealous of policy issues and I don’t know exactly why they existed along with the Federal Communications Commission. It seemed like a redundancy. But, I got a call from the head of that policy group. His name was Whitehead. And, he -- no, he didn’t call me himself. He had someone else call and accuse me of being disloyal to the administration through this person who reported to me. He, the interim head, was accused of having stated an anti-administration position on the Hill, meaning to the staff members of the various committee members who oversaw telecommunications policy. And, I knew very well what John Richardson was doing -- he was trying to make a case for their research, which I thoroughly approved of. I can’t say for sure what actually went on in those conversations but he told me he didn’t do anything of the sort, stating any anti-positions to the policy of people in the White House. Now, remember this is the time when the plumbers were getting high-handed over there and boy this, this guy was after my scalp, and particularly wanted me to fire this John Richardson. So, I took every call he made and I told him first he had the name wrong, then he had the situation wrong, you know. Gradually I educated the guy that Whitehead had commissioned to talk to me. If I was in the office I took the call and explained the situation again. About the fourth time he starts getting really nasty, you know. He’s going to take this up now a higher level. So I thought, “Well, I guess I have to go take this to the Secretary because he’s going to hear about it in another way pretty soon and he had better be informed by me.” I was not going to fire Richardson. That was absolutely not going to happen under my regime because he had not done anything wrong even though I didn’t hesitate to fire an incompetent Patent Commissioner. As I walk up the two flights to the Secretary’s office, which was right over mine, I’m thinking, I know he’s a team player; if he says I have to do what the White House says I don’t guess I have any choice, I’m going to have to resign.” We hadn’t been there yet a year and I didn’t know that travel expenses were not covered by the government. That was never discussed. It was for my Deputy, who also came from Seattle, Washington. I had the choice of whoever I wanted and I chose David Chang; another story. So, essentially my whole first year salary was going into paying for that move, because my husband was told not to search for a job until my appointment was announced and I had to go through an FBI check and so on. By then it was too late in the academic year for him to -- and he obeyed that rule -- for him to search for anything reasonable. So, he took a real beating as far as his career was concerned. That’s another story. But, I’m walking up there and thinking I’m going to have to resign. So, I laid it out to him and he thought for a minute, and he said, “I don’t see how you can fire him either.” And, that was the end of it. I never heard another word. Apparently he got a call from the White House, told them that and that was the end of it. I greatly respected his integrity. He was really a fine man in every way, I mean not just from that incident but from other things. But, we were talking about other matters that I thought were important. President Nixon signed the Science and Technology Agreement with President Brezhnev in ‘72, just before I arrived, and this was a really opening up of the Soviet Union to American scientists. You remember that as a Boeing scientist I had tried to recruit a USSR scientist. I failed totally to get anybody out of the Soviet Union. Now, suddenly, the President has signed this Agreement and it’s the first time that both sides in this Cold War agreed on anything. They wanted to exchange information on basic science. Now, Guy Stever was the head of NSF and sort of Science Advisor as a result of that. The Advisor post was not filled at that time. And, I was the second-highest ranking civilian scientist in the government. So much of the implementation of that program fell to me. Guy Stever and I made a couple trips together to the Soviet Union, but I made several on my own. I negotiated the Government Patent Policy Agreement with them, which was very important from the point of view of doing any transfer of technology that might come out of that kind of association. The National Bureau of Standards, of course, was a great help in this, getting all these different little groups of scientists organized to agree to do joint research in a variety of fields. It involved a lot of going to the Soviet Union. I practically commuted there for a while. I really don’t remember how many trips. I’d have to go check my calendar, but it was a lot. And, I remember one time flying all the way out to Seattle in the middle of some event in the Soviet Union because Senator Jackson was doing something out there and he was very important to the Energy Conservation Program, and the one senator of a whole pile of them who really seemed to understand a lot of what we were trying to do in Commerce, and I certainly wanted to keep him happy, and he wanted me out there to do something. So, I flew all the way from Moscow back to Seattle, and then turned around and went back to Moscow. I was young and healthy, [Laugh] and stupid in those days, I guess, because it was a terrible time change every time. In the patent negotiations I would take some civilian patent attorneys with me, along with a staff from the Patent Office who was sort of my assistant. I had to recruit high-level scientists who were interested in this exchange to go with me to visit a lot of their institutes. And, they invariably had a huge party. They were really big on drinking vodka. [Laugh] I remember the very first one of these big parties I went to; I had gone to a meeting in Vilnius, this is as a scientist from Boeing. And, it was my introduction to how the Russians were really big on vodka. I was the head of this little delegation of U. S solid state physicists with plasma interests basically but a little broader than that. The head of the Institute, gave a party at the beginning of this conference and Osipov, who was one of the people that I had wanted to meet was sort of the dean of USSR scientist in this field. He was, it turned out, just this side of addicted to alcohol, but I didn’t know that then. They start having toasts, everybody at the table. There were about fifteen of us or so. I was supposed to give a toast and have a shot of vodka with that toast. Well, at the second one I looked at my colleagues who were not keen on getting drunk either and I reached for a water pitcher and started to fill my glass with that to toast. Osipov has a conniption fit, you know, “That’s not the way you do this.” And, I was about to tell him, “Well, this is the way we do it in America; you know, we’re not big on vodka,” when I looked down at my host and he is as pale as sheet. He sees his future disappearing if I don’t go along with the dean of Physics who has his future in his hands. He’s trying desperately to put Vilnius on the map as a piece of their Academy. I remembered my technicians telling me if you ever get in a situation where you have to drink a lot, go for sour cream. Everything on the table was laden with sour cream. So, I nudged my colleagues and said, “This is what we’ve got to do, eat a lot of sour cream.” [Laugh] But, you know, they even served us pure crystalline vodka that we had to drink, because Osipov now is really on my case. And, we were drunk. There was just no way to avoid it. We go back to the hotel and link our arms to get up the stairs, [Laugh] and are searching for the keyholes. I had never been drunk before in my life and I don’t think I ever was since. But, this was really a case. And, I remember thinking, “I am setting my alarm and I’m going to this meeting, and I’m going to be as nasty as possible asking questions. It’s going to be clear that I’m there.” And, I fall asleep, you know, just so sick to my stomach. And, I did get up and I went to the meeting, and I did ask the nasty questions of these poor students. [Laugh] They weren’t nasty, they were just, you know, as hard as I could -- mind going like this, and stomach going like that. But, it was on the record that I was there, my protest to this system. Well, the tables at every one of the formal dinners at the beginning of visits to the research institutes of the USSR were laden with vodka. I developed a really good way to avoid it. Looking down the table I would see the Georgian wine. You could recognize it because of the acrylic lettering on the labels and I had heard that that was the best wine in the world, or certainly very good anyway. So, I would look down the table and I pretend to be really impressed that they had all this Georgian wine, and you can’t chugalug wine. So I’d say, “That’s really a treat. I mean, we can import vodka, but your Georgian wine is not available.” So, I got to sip wine while everybody else was getting, [Laugh] on the other side at least, and some of my colleagues too. [Laugh] There was hard negotiating going on in the sense that they didn’t want to show us some institutions that we thought were perfectly normal to see. When I had been in the Soviet Union as a tourist in trying to get some feeling for the economy I tried to go to an automobile factory [Laugh] not knowing that I was going to end up at GM, just because I knew that they were starting to produce cars there, assemble them there rather. And, no I couldn’t do that because I wasn’t an expert in that field. So then I asked to go see an electronics factory. I was an expert in that, presumably. Oh no, you can’t go there because of some trumped up reason. So I, then I made a request -- this is when I’m trying to get away from being a tourist after the three days of obligatory visiting all these places -- a third one, which we were to visit was a toy institute where they developed toys for the whole centralized economy. Well, I could qualify for that since I had four kids, and that was not sensitive. I could go. And, it was my first realization of how the centralized economy had nothing to do with demand and supply. It’s a total failure from an economic point of view. So, during the Nixon era we wanted to see factories that were producing, or even visit institutes that were supplying information for factories to develop chips. We just wanted to see if there was some way that transfer of technology could take place in this field. And they had the darndest excuses. I had somebody from NBS as the Science Advisor to the embassy in Moscow and he would find out months later, “Oh, the reason you couldn’t visit that factory was they didn’t have hotels there. It had nothing to do with [Laugh] visiting that place,” but they would never tell us, you know. It was very secretive and we were always puzzled, wondering “What’s going on?” But, I persevered and lots and lots of scientists were exchanging back and forth. I had been to Nova sibersk as a physicist to a plasma physics conference and had another view of how they did science; this was while I was still at Boeing, and before I went to the government. And that was very helpful because I saw there, again, how isolated they were and how eager they were for any kind of international contact. In these trips I also took along as many bibles in Russian as I could pack because there were absolutely no bibles available. And, I tried to find time to go, and usually accomplished that, to the one operating church in Moscow and just give them whatever I was able to pack. I knew that my baggage was likely not going to be searched because ….
Ancker-Johnson:Well I had a diplomatic passport later.
Ancker-Johnson:Well, the first couple times I did it was pre-my government tenure. I was going to international conferences; from then on I did have a diplomatic passport and was not likely to be searched. But these gifts were greatly appreciated. I once offered one to a physicist in a taxi and he was really upset and I asked him after, “What’s the problem?” He said, “You shouldn’t do that in a public place,” and he didn’t want any part of it. He explained to me that “That guy could tell on me if I accepted it.” And he was not interested anyway, but he was just giving me some friendly advice. Well, I think that program of supplying bibles in Russia was extremely successful and I was delighted to play a role in that. So back to the education, as far as possible, of the new congressmen -- I didn’t finish that story. They were a really strange bunch of people, very eager to change things, and they tended to think that industry and the inventors, for instance, of the hundred-mile-per-gallon pill that you could drop in a tank were hiding these inventions. I was at great pains to explain to these new congressmen that no such thing existed. Indeed you could spend just fifty cents and get any patent in the world that was filed in our Patent Office. That was the whole point of the patent system, to make these technologies open to anyone who wanted to build on them. And, frequently the idea, of course, of the inventor was to license it and earn some money that way. Oh, they were sure that this was not the case, that there was hanky-panky going on there. This was the hanky-panky season because of Watergate.
Butler:The auto industries had bought the patents?
Ancker-Johnson:Yes, that’s probably what they thought. Or the oil, more than likely the oil and gas industry (Butler: Okay.) had, because they were the suppliers of the gasoline. And solar energy, I don’t know how many staff members called me and said, “Why are you not pushing solar energy?” And, I would explain to them that efficiency is extremely low, the likelihood of breaking that barrier to get any semiconductor material that is able to compete for the production of electricity is a long way off. This is a very difficult scientific problem. We’re not hiding anything.” Of course, I didn’t say it quite like I said it to you, but they would always start the conversation by saying, “I don’t know anything about it, but…” [Laugh] Well, jeepers, that was a terrible period when there was no trust. Generally speaking they were of the opposite party because of Nixon’s fall, and they didn’t trust anyone who was appointed by him. When Carter was elected he turned out to have insulted the Congress very early on so that only his cabinet was confirmed so the Secretary and I were the only ones who could sign legal documents. It suited my schedule to stick around until my kids were out of school. Hal, in the meantime, had made the decision that he wanted to teach in a Christian college. He wanted the latter part of his career to be in a Christian college.
Butler:A religious institution?
Ancker-Johnson:Yes. Well, I mean that’s a little broad because there are other types of schools, like Catholic for instance, that he wasn’t interested in. But anyway, he chose what he thought would be the best place for me to get a job. And, of course, I had no time to even think about that. He chose Chicago. In the meantime, he moved there. That was the second time that we were separated for any length of time. While I was at Boeing a law passed that had the effect of making it illegal for me to have help in my home if I had not first proved no American was available for that job. Of course, to put any kind of restrictions on the job search such as religion was absolutely a no-no. It would be very easy for Boeing to get a visa for someone to replace me, but I had to rethink my whole situation. It was allowed at that point to still have someone in the hemisphere, and we had good friends in Mexico, and Guatemala, and further south and they recruited someone for us who was Spanish-speaking, of course, and that was a whole new world, but she had a good command of English. It was a whole different culture, and didn’t work out nearly as well as having girls from Germany. But at least it was a temporary fix. My father-in-law died very suddenly of a heart attack at only fifty-nine, when we were first married. That got my attention and I banished all fat from our diets and was very careful about what Hal ate. My mother-in-law then had a mild stroke just before I was recruited to go to Washington. It was my turn to take a job and Hal was happy to accommodate his searching for a job where I wanted to be. He had made all the choices up until that point and I had accommodated his choices. I fell on my feet every time and I was just fine. He didn’t have such a happy experience. Not because he wasn’t qualified, but when they asked him, “Well, why are you interested in coming to (for instance) American University?” He’d sort of mumble some unacceptable answer. Of course, then it was too late to get the position after my appointment was announced. Eventually he, of course, did get a much better job.
Butler:Well, we were sort of wrapping up your term in government. (Ancker-Johnson: Uhm-hmm.) And, (Ancker-Johnson: Going to…) what I’d like to do now is (Ancker-Johnson: Is go to…) to look at your transition (Ancker-Johnson: Into…) into Argonne.
Ancker-Johnson:Yes. One of the other things that I did that I’m very happy about—and I really can’t fail to mention this -- while I was in government, was to promote the DNA research by issuing an order through the Patent Office that any patent that had to do with DNA research, and in particular with the safe handling of it, would receive prompt attention. I had the authority to put that application at the top of the pile so that it could be examined promptly. And that stirred an unbelievable amount of controversy. That was, as it turned out personal in part. I remember going to a meeting at the National Academy of Sciences in which there were signs outside like, “The last cloning was done by Adolf Hitler,” or…
Butler:We’re going to stop here.
Ancker-Johnson:I was describing the immense kind of debate that occurred over recombinant DNA and this meeting was held at the National Academy of Sciences on the subject. I was not a speaker but I, of course, attended, and it was my expediting the attention toward patents which produced a lot of unhappiness with people like Jeremy Rifkin. He was very much opposed to this. There was a huge hullaballoo. I’m sure that it was very rare at the Academy of Sciences. There were signs up like, “Don’t tread on my genes,” and “Shall corporations play God?” Then there was the one about, well I quoted that about “Adolf Hitler was the last person who tried to mess with,” I don’t have the exact wording, “genes.” There was an extraordinarily personal attack that I endured; the new Secretary of HEW, Health, Education, and Welfare, who was appointed under Carter, Joseph Califano, wrote to my Secretary, who of course was a Carter appointee as well, in which he said he objected to the order that I had made, which was in my authority of course to do. He added a hand-written note that said something like this, “You have a holdover in your administration who has made an ethical botch of this issue.” [Laugh] It was not a part of the official letter but it was a personal attack. That was the first time that ever happened to me. And, I guess I endured a little of that as an employee of GM. But, before this conference at the Academy of Sciences, I had a debate with Rifkin, which was very personal again. At this conference Chakrabarty had a session on, “Can the results of basic research with recombinant DNA be transferred to industrial applications?” He had applied for a patent under this new ruling. He called on me to explain the situation and I did so try. Later I got a letter from Dr. Hamburg, the organizer of the conference, thanking me for calming everybody down and explaining the whole situation and that they were extremely grateful. That was really very gratifying. But, I must say that Don Frederickson was the Director of the NIH at the time and was very opposed to patent rights as well. There was a committee formed while I was still A/S and Don Kennedy later of Stanford, the head of FDA and those two and I were members. They were opposed to any kind of patenting but they didn’t understand the system, you know. If you are going to develop the technology you have to protect the inventor, who makes this huge investment, as the originator, and then anybody who wants to can build on it. If he hasn’t patent protection, someone can just simply build on the invention and doesn’t have any of the expense. In short he can walk away with the reward. There were tons of government patents -- that’s the other thing that I did that I wanted to mention that I think was really important while I was Assistant Secretary, that is with the cooperation and very strong support of Bob Dole a bill was actually passed after I left Commerce but the groundwork was laid before to give universities the right to be able to take control of research results, in other words the patents, which were normally assigned back to the government and just languished there. They were never used, because no one could afford to take the chance, the risk of developing a patent that was in the public domain. Many, many universities benefitted from that law because they were able to share the rewards with the inventor. As a result these universities were able to sponsor lots of research, and DNA turned out to be one of those major fields. And, I feel that I was fully vindicated for that action I took regarding patenting DNA work. Well, look at what’s going on today, you know. DNA is in every newspaper. The latest thing that I saw was the transplant of a windpipe that was a result of that research. And, it’s very ubiquitous what’s happened and I’m really glad that I endured all that nonsense. [Laugh] Well, I said that Hal chose Chicago, and it turned out to be an extremely difficult place to find a job that was technology-based. It boiled down really to Argonne National Laboratories. They had an opening for an Associate Director of Basic Research, which was certainly up my alley. It was an immense step down in the sense of control, and budget, and people, and so on. That wasn’t tough to take, but what was tough to take was the attitude of the management that really didn’t want anything shaken up at all, no changes. I started consulting the people who reported to me. I invited them to my office to have brainstorming sessions – “What could be better? What could make your research life easier? What could we do to cut down on the bureaucracy that every national lab suffers from?” And, those sorts of questions. I was particularly interested in automation because of my being enamored already with computers, and my having had the Institute of Computer Standards under me as a part of NBS, and the role I played in expediting standards. I made it a point to visit industries and ask questions while I was Assistant Secretary. “What standards are going to be helpful and what aren’t in such rapidly-developing technologies?” Ruth Davis was the head of ICS and was also very anxious to have the standards fit the needs of the country, of the government first and the private industry as well. So I was instrumental in getting all scientists on a local area network. While at Argonne I was invited to take part in a Peoples Republic of China Scholarly Committee jointly with the National Research Council sponsored for about 8 scientists/engineers a trip to China to visit their research institutions. It was the first time the Chinese opened the door for anybody to come and investigate. It was a real breakthrough after Nixon had been to China. I got permission to go from the Director, Bob Sachs, who said, “Well, you know, I did something similar when I first came to the Argonne. I don’t see how I can say you can’t go.” It was a long trip. We visited research laboratories that were independent, universities that had presumably the best technology, and factories. And we produced a report. It was a fantastic experience. When we first met in Washington to dope out our plans, the Chinese announced that they wanted to send thousands of young students to the U.S. The Chinese ambassador invited us into the consulate. And, that was the first time any Americans had been inside that building. It was really a groundbreaking trip and I’d love to tell you more about it, but we don’t have time. But it was, I think, the most [Laugh] significant thing I did at ANL. I was supposedly in charge of one of the projects there. I was charged with that just before I left on this trip, and of course it was a disaster when I came back because it hadn’t any leadership. I was roundly criticized by a colleague who said I was “farting around China when I should have been attending to this.” [Laugh] Well, you know, different people have different priorities. While I was at Argonne, I was invited to join various boards. I turned them all down unless they had some science and technology involved. Things like would I serve on this insurance company board? That didn’t make any sense to me. That’s when I joined the board of Varian Associates and General Mills. The chairman of General Mills was in Chicago and more or less insisted I meet him at the airport, and persuaded me to meet the other director the day before the next board meeting. Their only science and technology was really directed toward helping the products, like a new latch for baggage, because one of their companies was a luggage company. General Mills was a very diverse company, lots of little businesses. They had to divest themselves of some of them very quickly and get back to focusing on their main businesses. Being a director was a wonderful experience because it was an education. It turns out that when I joined GM they let me keep that one directorship but nothing else. I had to resign from the Defense Science Board and various other things because they said I wasn’t going to have time, and they were absolutely right. [Laugh] But, being a director of General Mills, they felt was important as a part of my having a window on the rest of the world. I’ll back up. I got this strange phone call and my secretary said, “Well, I think GM wants you on their Board. They’re calling.” It turns out a group vice president was on the line who started out by saying that we had slightly known each other in Washington, and then he told me that GM hardly ever went outside its ranks to recruit a vice president. You know, I about fell off the chair when he said that. And then, he went on to say there have been, I think it was five, and he told me about each one, Personnel, and the first person in the job that they wanted me to consider, Environmental Activities, which had been founded only in ‘71, and he had been the second vice president. The first one was recruited from Berkeley, Professor Starkman who died not long after of a heart attack, and then Dave Potter was the second one, and then he had been promoted to a group vice president and his position was open. And then he said, “What we’re looking for is someone who has the right scientific credentials,” and physics was just fine because there were no environmental engineers at that point to speak of. It was very early in that game as far as producing people. I had one who was really outstanding and had gotten his training at Purdue. The second qualification was they wanted someone who had government experience, and so would know the ins and outs of testifying and that sort of thing. And then they wanted someone who had a reputation preferably international, because I was going to have international responsibilities -- what they called a “window on the outside world,” and fourthly somebody who knew GM. Well obviously, I didn’t know anything about GM. And they said, “And, you’ll have time to learn about that. So, would you come up to Detroit to be interviewed?” I responded, “Well, you know I’ve got a family of four kids and a husband to consult about this, so I’ll have to think about this and call you back.” I had the impression at that point that they, as I said earlier knew what kind of toothpaste I used; [Laugh] because, they had researched this recruitment very carefully. So I called up Hal and I said, “I had this really strange telephone call.” I told him about it. And, he said without any hesitation, “Well,” he said, “If you take that job I’ll do the commuting.” At that time I was driving an hour each way to work. We chose a home that was near his responsibility. The kids were no longer requiring the same sort of attention that had when younger. While we were in Seattle we chose a home near where I worked so I could get home at the drop of a hat, and needed to on occasion when the kids were sick, or if something happened at home. And so, I was commuting an hour each way, and to a job I didn’t much like, [Laugh] because it was just way too restrictive.
Butler:You weren’t happy at Argonne?
Ancker-Johnson:Not really. Management, as I said, was really not open to change. I clashed with management and it was pretty apparent to me I was not going to be recommended to be the Director. One of the reasons I went there, was that I knew the Director was going to retire in a reasonable length of time. But…
Butler:Well, I know that shortly after you left a bunch of women instituted a lawsuit on, arguing that women were not being promoted there.
Ancker-Johnson:Hmm. Is that right? Uhm-hmm.
Butler:And, they used you as an example in their defense.
Ancker-Johnson:Hmm. I didn’t know anything about that. That’s news to me. That’s the first time I heard this. But, I was very absorbed in my new job at GM. Basically it was a very broad responsibility with not enough authority to make it happen. I had line responsibility for the plants and a worldwide responsibility emissions control.
Butler:Okay, this is at GM?
Ancker-Johnson:Yes. Water, soil, air, the whole shooting match, and of course we had horrendous problems. I was in charge of making sure that we met the regulations in the plants, in the vehicles and in all the products that we produced; their meeting safety standards. So, I was expected to be like the conscience of the corporation. That’s what this little group -- I mean, it was little compared to my previous responsibilities. I had 7,600 in Washington. So now I had a small group and a small budget but a whopping responsibility, to represent the corporation before the agencies and in Congress, on the one hand, and then to do my very best to make sure the corporation was cooperating in every way to meet all these regulations. Part of my responsibility was to give early warning as to what was going to happen, and then in every way I could dream up and follow my predecessors’ starts to ensure that GM fulfilled its responsibilities. I was chairman of two boards that met monthly, the Safety Review Board and the Environment Review Board. Every officer, short of the chairman, who was based in the Detroit area, had to go to these things. So, that was all the executive vice presidents and group vice presidents, and all the other staff vice presidents. Not the operating vice presidents who were scattered in their divisions, like Pontiac and Buick, and so on. And, when I arrived GM determined that I was not going to be the “housemaid.” The Board of GM had elected two women at the same time in the January meeting of the Board of Directors. Marina von Neumann Whitman was recruited to be the chief economist. She chose not to come until 6 months after I did for personal reasons, but I was glad to [Laugh] leave Chicago, leave Argonne and I started in February. I remember the night before the announcement came, my new boss called and said, “You know, there probably is going to be more interest than usual in the announcement of a vice president coming to General Motors from the outside. It’s newsworthy in any case, but, you know …” And I said, “Ah, you’re saying that I’m the first woman, and don’t put my foot in my mouth?” [Laugh] And, it was a good warning because I endured I can’t tell you how many stupid interviews -- some of them were sensible, but I was desperate to learn my job. They assigned a very experienced member of the Public Relations staff to walk around with me, as it were, and help me through these initial days of people calling and wanting to interview me. I complained to him, “What is this all about? I just want to do my job and I can’t waste all this time with this stuff.” And, particularly one just really threw me. It was the National -- I thought it was the publication out of Washington, which is sort of a sensible thing. It was that rag that’s at every supermarket checkout stand. Is it called the National Enquirer? Right? (Butler: Uhm-hmm.) That’s not -- you know what I mean.
Ancker-Johnson:It’s a really…
Butler:A yellow journalism…
Ancker-Johnson:Yellow journalism. (Butler: Right.) And, when I got that call I turned to Don and I said, “Do I have to do this?” And he said, “Well, you don’t have to do anything, but they have a readership of six million or so and the readers buy a lot of GM cars and by the way, they usually have one article that’s straight.” Well, I accepted their phone call and I tried desperately to be as boring as possible. And they, you know, wanted to know about my kids, and my marriage, and all sorts of private stuff that I sloughed over as much as possible. It was outrageous. But, I mention this business about how the first job I had after the attitude was, “Crawling your way to the top as a woman, against all odds, and having to work twice as hard to achieve as much.” And, how hard it was to sort of swallow the fact that I was being searched for as a woman and that that it was certainly true in this case. Much later I got another call from the same reporter who said, “My boss, he asked me to follow up on being a women angle.” A man. “He wanted to know more about this.” So, I succeeded in managing to have a really dull interview and they had a straight little short piece. I was relieved. But, it was a trying time, facing all these interviews. It was important to GM to have my portrait taken, all sorts of crazy things which prevented me from concentrating on learning. As I said, I didn’t know anything about GM. I was given six months to use a company plane to visit anyplace. My boss immediately suggested that I go to the Delco plant that produced electronic chips. They were used in every car. And, that was such a smart choice because my only hesitancy in joining GM, that I expressed, was, “Well, it’s not a very high-tech company, but I suppose this is a challenge I could hardly turn down.” So, he was determined to show me that this was a high-tech company. I was so impressed. The first thing I discovered was that those chips were produced to very small tolerances compared to the production of things for the aerospace industry. Anything that was going to the moon, for example, had tons of redundancy, and even airplanes had a lot of redundancy, but to sell a car you had to really cut costs. You could have no waste and the chips needed to be produced to an extraordinary tolerance, very narrow. I was very much impressed. And so, that was the beginning of my education of GM. I went to Electromotive Division and drove a train, the Terex Division and learned about these huge earth-moving devices, and drove one for a while and, you know, I had a ball. It was great fun visiting stamping plants and, man alive you just had no idea about the noise. The immensity of this corporation, and these factories was over whelming. You know, learning GM is a lifetime proposition. People who had been there forty years were surprised about something that’s going on over there and most of my colleagues retired after forty years. Hardly anyone left a job at GM for some other opportunity. It was the world’s largest manufacturing corporation. In fact, I think it was still when I left in ‘92 when I turned sixty-five. So, it was a daunting responsibility. The first time I was called on to testify was before an agency of EPA. It had to do with diesels. And so, while doing all this traveling around GM I was studying the paperwork that had gone on before about diesel engines and the control of them, their exhaust, and it was not really in English. [Laugh] I couldn’t understand most of it because it was just thrown together. That was not the case with everybody in this outfit that I took over, but my boss had a lot more tolerance for that kind of sloppy work than I did and that was because he was in GM a long time although he called himself an outsider because he had taken a break and gone to the Navy Department, and he was not a forty-year type. He had had other things going on before he joined GM. An interesting career, but we don’t have time to discuss that. And, he certainly tried very hard to be a good mentor. We got off to a bad start. He had just had a divorce and was suggesting all kinds of crazy things about, “Well, we’ll fly together. You take your spouse and I’ll take my girlfriend and we’ll fly to Minneapolis when you have to go up there for a board meeting of General Mills.” And, you know, he didn’t know what he was saying. It was totally beyond the pale but he wanted to be helpful, you know social interaction. And, the other thing he said, which is really beyond the pale also was sort of right off the bat asking about, “Well, your financial situation, a two-career family and so you’re probably in pretty good shape,” again wanting to be helpful, you know. But I took offence at these because they were so personal and they were not wise things for him to say at the beginning, but he had no experience in being a mentor and I didn’t have any experience, really, of being a mentee either. His heart was absolutely in the right place and we worked together very well eventually, but it was a little strained at the beginning. Anyway, I was insisting t my group “We’ve got to write this in English!” [Laugh] I got a reputation as being such a stickler, because this particular group in the Auto Emissions had just been used to shipping off stuff to the EPA, which made more or less no sense but they weren’t going to read it anyway and didn’t really. It was mostly done by word of mouth. But it was a disaster for me to try to learn from what was written by this group. I insisted we were going to make sense and we’ll make it succinct, and we’ll expect them to read it and we’ll hold their feet to the fire it they don’t by being as obnoxious as we can, while still recognizing that we’ve got to win them over. But, we’re going to do the science and technology right. And the interviews continued and of course I had a speechwriter -- in fact, there was a whole staff when I first came. I ended up with just one who was very good. It turns out he was very sympathetic with my Christian views, because he had a brother in the Salvation Army. So, we synced on that. But, I had said to Paul one day, “[Sigh] I’m so tired of these dumb questions about ‘Has anything changed at GM since you’ve arrived?” He went away and came back a little later and said, “I have an idea of an answer you could give to that kind of question.” And, “Oh,” I said, “great. What is it?” He said, “Well, you could say that there are two words that are never heard around here anymore.” “Oh? What words?” “ Son of.” [Laugh] I thought that was a marvelous answer and I used it quite often. As I said, a sense of humor is very important to surviving in this world. [Laughter] But, my goal was for us to be indisputably sound in our arguments. I had some very sympathetic people in my group that wanted that same thing, that we have scientifically, technologically sound arguments. We don’t put anything out that we can’t absolutely substantiate. The directors I inherited were not all, I thought, up to snuff, and especially my deputy. I felt he was really a kind of hack. It was very difficult to get somebody to retire from GM, or to leave. Later on, boy, it was a different story. So gradually I changed all of them and had a much better quality management team. In the meantime I instituted the first local area network that was ever done in a business situation. I had to get permission from the chairman of the corporation to go through with this implementation because there was a downturn in the economy again shortly after I joined GM in ’79. The chairman was at that time Roger Smith. He said, “I want to see the badge numbers of the people that you don’t need after you do this.”
Butler:Now, when was this?
Ancker-Johnson:I joined GM in February of ‘79. It was probably about a year or year and a half later. Things changed dramatically as we began to feel more and more the pinch of the Japanese competition. When I was successful in establishing this sort of a beta site, one step removed from a beta site because there had never been a business use of a local area network. I was supposed to lay off 20% of my group, because I had made this wild guess, “It’s going to be twenty percent improvement” I told Roger. I hired away from another organization a computer specialist, software specialist, who did measurements of how much time it took to do things before and after the LAN was working and was able to prove a 22% increase in efficiency. He published a couple of papers with a professor to show that. I can say with confidence that we were the first, because that was part of the claim in his papers and nobody every disputed it. I had been confident that we would really succeed in much more efficiency and much more interesting jobs for people too. But the reality of having to reward success by firing people really was a tough proposition, you know. That’s the real world, which I wish more people in Washington had to face. I didn’t have to lay off anybody as it turned out, because our responsibilities grew so rapidly in that period. But, back to my beginning at GM. It was hard to persuade my deputy, that I thought was a dud, who was my right-hand man. The way I got him to resign, to take his retirement --because he was only a few years from retirement and had piles of money by then. It was not going to be any hardship -- was to have him write down what he was going to accomplish in the next period of time before we would have another required assessment of his accomplishments. That was not done so formally before I took over and I didn’t necessarily do that with everybody at that time, although later I did. But, it was a way to get this guy to see that, first of all he had pretty trivial objectives he was going to accomplish and then he didn’t do them. So did resign. And, that was an opportunity then for the vice president of Engineering, who had no use for Environmental Activities. He thought, “These people are not technically sound.” And, my predecessor had clashed with him. And, I guess – he was a good physicist in his own way, Dave Potter. I’m not criticizing that, but Frank Winchell was a hard guy to get along with. I made it a point to go and visit him, and spend time hearing his complaints, and having him present his mission, what his group was doing. It was a very fine outfit. I mean, I admired their work immensely. He told me about his egg-drop experiment, to try and prove that there’s no way you can protect the person in the car from damage unless they’re in a perfect seatbelt. And he told me all the work he had done to try to devise the best seatbelt, with not satisfactory results from his point of view, and indeed from mine. Just before I retired, Roger Mash, who was the chief engineer of Oldsmobile and in charge of developing the Aurora, which came out in ‘92, was to devise a seatbelt that absolutely was perfect. The best we could do previously was the so-called window-shade type. When you leaned forward it would expand to that new position and stay there. You would fiddle with the radio, let’s say, or the air conditioner and you would have to think to release it back on your chest and then pull it out to a comfortable position, fist length away from your chest in order for it not to cut your neck and drive you crazy. It was especially uncomfortable for women. His development was a seatbelt that would snap back on your chest and you’d have to release it yourself to a comfortable position. It was perfect. The next thing I expected was for this new belt to be promulgated throughout the product line and it wasn’t, because of the economic crunch. By then I had retired and so had Roger Mash. The number of laws that my staff had to deal with is on this piece of paper and it covers the page. They range from the Clean Air Act to Hazardous Material Transportation Act, the Energy Conservation Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act [Laugh] and, of course, the Superfund and its follow-ons. Then there were all the Canadian standards as well. As I told you, I was responsible internationally for the plants, and indirectly for the products because one of the things you want to do is you want to design all vehicles for export to any country, and import from any, let’s say Opel in Germany. So the manufacturers want common standard s. So, the field of international standards was revolutionized by my computer interest because we were able to produce the first computerized database that had all of the standards from all the countries so that if you wanted to know, “What does a headlight have to do in order to be exported to Brazil?” you could find it in this database. It was one of the great advantages of this LAN that people innovated. Before I set up the LAN I asked different workers in my group to form committees with the charge don’t ask yourselves “Can it be done?” just ask “What would you like to have?” The secretaries formed a committee and I had a few computer jocks who dealt with huge databases. The Audit people, we did plant audits regularly. They also had a committee. And, each group had the opportunity to just shoot for the moon, you know, “What would you like?” And then, my immediate reports, the directors of the various departments and I consolidated this stuff. I contacted a few vendors who thought they could do what we wanted. We chose Xerox. And, just at that moment the economy tanked. I couldn’t buy anything. So, I called up the vice president that I was dealing with at Xerox and I told him, “You know, I’ve just been told that my budget’s going to be cut. I can’t buy a single computer.” And, he said, “Wait a minute. Let me go talk to my management.” He then offered me I think it was a hundred computers on a loan basis in order to get this LAN started, because Xerox sensed if this was a success it could sell a lot of computers to business. And, that’s when I went to Roger Smith and said, “I want to do this. Will you at least let me have enough budget to put in the drop lines?” and that’s when he told me that I was going to have to tell him the badge numbers of the people I didn’t need. We were really at the leading edge. I encouraged everybody to use the computers for anything they wanted. “Take them home with you. You can, your kids can play with them. Just so you don’t run a business when you’re at work.” [Laugh] That was the only restriction. “And, teach each other what you can.” And, we held forums every so often when we taught each other what we had learned in this experimental situation. Somebody who could understand a process for filing information would explain it to anybody who wanted to come and learn about it. It was a great morale builder in my outfit too; after all they were the lightning rods for a lot of criticism. They took bashings every time they went to Washington, and they weren’t very welcome when they [Laugh] audited plants, and we were always the bearer of bad news at GM. So, you know, I sensed my particular outfit needed some encouragement and some morale building. I was at great pains to try to do that every way I could dream up, including serving green orange juice at a breakfast and colored eggs, and whatnot, [Laugh] anything to have a laugh and relax. But the LAN changed virtually everybody’s life. The auditors took laptops, the very first ones and were able to record their audit results immediately. And, by the way they were a group that especially needed encouragement. They tended to get alcoholic as a result of being, say; four days at a plant away from home with nothing to do in the evenings to relax other than have a drink. And, I especially did everything I could to encourage them and I was very glad that they really delighted in being able to cut down so much paperwork. They could type sort of roughly what they discovered and then hand a disk to a secretary who could change the report into good English and relieve them of a lot of paperwork. And that was, in fact it just was a great morale builder, and it did increase efficiency.
Butler:Very good. Could you say, in ten minutes time, give me your five greatest contributions (Ancker-Johnson: Uhm-hmm.) at GM?
Ancker-Johnson:(1) Being a pioneer in LAN as I just described. (2) Raising the reputation of GM in science and technology in the eyes of Congress and the Administrative agencies we dealt with, as well as within GM. (3) Improving safety in all GM vehicles. (4) Using innovative techniques to solve GM’s superfund problems. (5) Applying innovative methods to make all overseas GM plants more responsive. There were also significant problems I failed to solve. The controversy over airbags I lost. Virtually everything I tried to do with the National Highway Traffic was a failure. [Laugh] Joan Claybrook was the head of NHTSA, the outfit that I could have been the head of, which nobody at GM knew. I told them that as I retired. It was my punch line at the speech I had to give at my retirement party. Airbags were an extremely important issue. From a physics point of view an explosion was going to take place to inflate the airbag. At the time you were not required to be in the kind of seatbelt that secured you to the seat. Claybrook wanted to have a total passive system and that it was impossible. It has always been impossible to make a passive lap belt. So, the only possibility was a shoulder belt and we worked very hard to devise sensible passive shoulder belts. But we were very apprehensive about the fatalities that occurred in our experiments with airbags. A child unbelted or unrestrained in the front seat would be thrown to the floorboard and survive the crash, invariably, because it could ride down the accident. Being positioned under where the passenger seat airbag would have to emerge from the instrument panel and then blow up to be useful for protecting a passenger would be fatal for a child. A huge force was required to inflate the airbag before a passenger hit the instrument panel. The time available for a person in an accident moving forward toward the airbag, that short time meant that the bag had to be extremely aggressive in order to protect the person from hitting [clap] the instrument panel, which was the whole object, of course, of the airbag. We had lots of tests and data to show that this needed a great deal more research. And, I remember going with Pete Estes, who was then the president of GM to visit NHTSA. We tried to persuade Joan Claybrook, and her whole team of people to see the data and give us more time. It was appalling how there was no interest in the data. It was assumed that we were just lying; basically, we just wanted to protect the company from spending this money, which was not the case at all. After all, we drove our own products. We had kids. [Laugh] We were concerned to have the most safety possible in a car. But, well to make a long story short that was a $2 billion investment that GM had to make. Before we felt comfortable making it, and it was a failure as far as being able to persuade the agency to take an attitude of, “We want to develop a better bag before we institute this.” So, there were fatalities from the aggressiveness of the bag, which were fully denied by the agency. They had some trumped-up excuse for every single one of these. We followed every single accident through our Motors Insurance branch. And, well, it was a very traumatic experience to see how people were killed when you were trying to save lives. What would have been a sensible regulation was mandatory use of seatbelts, but the agency would have nothing to do with that idea because it was politically not going to be easy. And, of course, we have that now and it has saved many lives. You no longer have the problem of a bag killing you because it’s so aggressive because you are in an effective seatbelt. Before good seatbelts we had a case of a driver running into a pole and having such a traumatic [clap] impact from the bag that he died of injury to his heart. I think that the main thing I accomplished was that we really did have a reputation with the agencies in the States as well as federally that we could support everything with data. We were very careful in what we said to make sure that it had science and engineering integrity. There was a case when a technician cheated at a plant. He just took the attitude, “Oh well, this reading is too high.” It was a water-quality problem. He knew what he was doing but he thought, “It’s got to be a mistake.” He just fudged the answers. When it was discovered through an audit I wanted immediately to go to the state agency and tell them that we had this problem and we were fixing it. We knew that this person had not done this with evil intent. He was a loyal GMer who just felt he just had to fix this. I wasn’t interested in crucifying him in any way whatsoever, but I wanted the problem fixed. And, legal staff immediately got into this. The General Council of GM was a black man who had been appointed also as an outsider. That was one of the ones that I heard about. He was appointed by Tom Murphy, who was a really fine gentleman, the first CEO that I served under. He had a real conscience, and he recruited this general counsel who was a very cautious guy. When I told him about the false data, he said, “Oh, now wait a minute. We’ve got to take care of this GM employee.” I said, “That’s not the issue. I mean, that’s up to the plant manager. But, I want to go to the state agency and tell them this problem and tell them that we’ve fixed it. I want there to be that trust.” And, of course, my team was very keen to do this as well. And, it took a long time before we were able to do it. One of the things the GC threw at me was, “We both know that we were hired because we’re unusual. I’m a black and you’re a woman.” [Laugh] And, I said, “That’s got nothing to do with it!” It was a very difficult time. But, we prevailed in that one and that agency never doubted us again. I mean they trusted us and that’s what I wanted with every agency we dealt with. That didn’t happen in California. They had wild ideas and we did our very best to persuade them that some of these things made no sense at all. The time scales that they were interested were unrealistic and so we’d end up in situations where it just couldn’t be done so they’d have to change their plans. But, it was, you know, a very uncomfortable situation. I remember going to one conference early on when I was at GM. All the vice presidents -- well not all, but a large selection of vice presidents from different kinds of companies internationally was invited to Dartmouth and each of us talked a little bit about our own situation. The thing I remember from this three-day conference is what the chief scientist at the huge chemical company, the biggest in the world based in England said. He was a typical Brit in the sense of being quite reserved. He was one of the last to speak, and hadn’t said much while the rest of us were sort of yapping away and learning from each other and criticizing each other and whatnot. I was doing a lot of listening and learning. He stood up and his first remark was, “You know, I think that you need an anthropologist to explain how you do rulemaking in this country.” The adversarial nature of what we were involved in was totally foreign to him. He described a Thames River cleanup in which industry and government got together. They had the same goal and cooperated and got the job done. We had, from day one an adversarial relationship and I must say that the auto industry brought a lot of it on itself and some admitted that. Pete Estes was very frank and honest about it. “We were arrogant in the past and didn’t want government in our business,” and there were a lot of holdovers like them that I had to deal with in Emission Review Board and Safety Review Board meetings. As new managers arose in GM it was changing. But it’s still a very adversarial process. The adversarial nature now has to be with Congress setting itself up as knowing it all. As Winston Churchill reportedly said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest.” [Laugh] But, the British figured out a better means for rule-making. I really hated that adversarial nature and I had to take a lot of beating in Congress while I tried to persuade them the best way I could. I remember thinking that I wish my title was the same as in Ford. My counterpart there was called vice president of Safety and Environmental Engineering, and I wanted to be part of the engineering side of the house. My staff was placed in the Public Affairs side and, you know, I wanted us to be respected as scientists and engineers, and in the end my outfit was dissolved. When I retired in the normal process of turning sixty-five, GM was in so much difficulty at that point that much of my staff went to Research, which wasn’t so bad, but my vice-presidency disappeared so that the advocacy that we had had by having a vice president was lost. Legal Staff took over a lot of our responsibilities. The scientific and engineering integrity went more or less out the window, as far as I could see, because Legal Staff had quite different goals than we did. I don’t mean that to sound quite as negative as it does. A lot of the Superfund activity where we were responsible for the cleanup up sites that were on the National Priority List, we had, I think it was 143 at one point. And fortunately, the man I mentioned, the engineer who was the environmental, the one, of the senior people who had environmental training at Purdue -- Joe Chu was Chinese of origin and had a little trouble with English -- he was really a sharp engineer. He had such good ideas about how to tackle the Superfund sites, and a gifted manager as well. I mean, he had to organize and persuade lots of other “sinners” [Laugh] at corporations who had dumped in landfills without any thought that this is going to be a problem -- there were no regulations then, of course. Now suddenly they were liable. Many of them were out of business. One corporation could be liable for the whole site. It was a very harsh law from the point of view of business. And, you know, our attitude was, “Boy, we want to clean these things up as fast as possible, but we want to do it in a cost-effective way, obviously.” And, Joe was a real wonder at this. He died of a heart attack in ’86, if I’ve got that date right. I don’t have notes with me now, because we’re doing this in a hurry. But, he was an immense loss. He was a wonderful innovative guy. A number of engineers in that field were really contributors. I mean they developed ways of trying to express what we were doing in innovative ways. They were a really very dedicated bunch of bright people, and I was able, you know, to get rid of the dead wood gently but fairly, I thought. I mean there was complaining. I was called the “wicked witch of the West” by a colleague downtown. I was in the Technical Center, thank God, not in the middle of the hurly-burly of “the Building”, as it was called, but in the Technical Center and that’s where we belonged, because we relied so heavily on engineering and science. But, I dropped in on a colleague one time downtown -- he was the only one that I could actually talk to. That was another real problem. They were afraid to be, I don’t know what, but it was a very lonesome situation. It was extremely hard to make friends among my peers. But, Jim Voorhees was in charge of service that huge area of trying to please the customer through good service, a really hard job dealing with, sometimes, outfits that didn’t care, you know, at dealerships. He was a self-taught guy. He didn’t have a college education. He was an extraordinary man. I respected him enormously. Well, anyway, the first time I had an informal conversation with him, I was leaning against the doorpost to his office and I could see the secretary’s antennas were right up there. They were wondering “What’s going on here?” Just the novelty if nothing else. And so, I have some conversation with him. Next time it’s a little more consequential. I would drop in whenever I was downtown and I had time and he was in his office. And, at one point he said to me, “Oh yeah. I heard about your laying off a bunch of people … I respond “Well, of course I was ordered to by the vice chairman.” He said “The word down here is that you’re the wicked witch of the West.” [Laugh] The Tech Center was to the west of The Building. “What?” [Laugh] He was the only guy that would say something like that. But, I want to say something about another outsider who came later than I to GM and was my boss briefly, Elmer W. Johnson. He died last year at a young age, compared to me at least. That was really a loss. But, he was recruited by Roger Smith to be both general counsel, and at his request group V.P. in charge of the public Affairs Group. His background was law. An extraordinarily gifted man. He was really interested in automobile safety -- I want to make this short -- he assigned one of his lawyers to do a paper for him on auto safety. It was a way that he developed people and a way for him to learn. Some of Elmer’s ideas developed by this paper I thought were rather weird. When he and I had a discussion about his ideas I wasn’t known for tact ever -- I just popped out with, “Well, that sounds a little sophomoric to me.” That was not the thing to say to your boss, obviously. [Laugh] I regretted it as soon as it popped out of my mouth but, you know, he swallowed that and we went on. Then he held a conference on auto safety at the University of Michigan, which was of course nearby in Ann Arbor. He called together experts who were interested in safety. And, I don’t know, there were ten or so presentations and at some point a professor popped up and said, “Oh, I think that idea is sophomoric.” And, Elmer looks at me and he’s turning red. He’s really angry. At a break, in the hall he says to me, “You put him up to that,” and of course I hadn’t. I was devastated, you know. So, I stewed about this for three or four days, not sleeping well, and being really upset at this because I respected him a lot. He was a great guy. So finally, we were walking in the hall and I said to him, “Elmer, I really didn’t put what’s-his-name up to saying that.” And he stopped short and he turned to me and he said, I don’t remember exactly his words but, “You’re both sensitive and competent,” or something like that. I was much complimented. He was a demanding boss. For the first six months he was charging on every issue, and when he came to the point where he thought you were doing your job right he had the “benign neglect” attitude, which I loved, and that was the way I managed also. I tried to get the most competent people possible, let them do their thing, and of course I had to have a lot of interaction with them. But, this benign neglect was just perfect. He quit GM, which also took a lot of courage, over the issue of how the unions were compensated. He wanted to share with them forthrightly the situation instead of sort of the back and forth that went on that was not as open as it should have been. By that time I felt that the corporation was not doing its job in being as open as it ought to be with the union people and when he quit over that issue I was devastated because he was the best boss I had. [Laugh] You know, you could count on, easily, one hand the good bosses compared to the bad ones. And, he was an exceptional person in his ability to grasp things quickly and have a broad interest in understanding many issues. I didn’t have much use for lawyers normally [Laugh] because they usually were telling you what you couldn’t do, when they should have been saying, “Here’s the way you can do it.” But in any case, that was a great loss. I haven’t done anywhere near justice to GM in this interview, but I know you’ve got to go. It’s really late and I don’t want you to be driving up that highway in the dark. It’s a long drive to Dallas.
Butler:Well, thank you so much for your time. You’ve given me a great interview, and I’m sure that there’s a lot more we could talk about.
Ancker-Johnson:Oh yeah. [Laugh] I put too much on the front end and it’s partly your fault. You didn’t get me to hurry up. [Laugh]
Butler:Well, I think we got a good interview.
Good. I’m glad. That’s the main point.
 Madam Chiang Kai Shek graduated from Wellesley in 1917.
 Elenor Stewart Harris also Class of 1949. Elgie Ginsburgh, Marjorie Carroll Huse, Mary Molloy Martin comprised the 1950 Wellesly physics graduates.
 Elizabeth Alden Little, a 1948 physics graduate who died August, 2003. [???]
 Brenda P. Winnewisser, “The Emigration of Hedwig Kohn, Physicist, 1940.” Osterreichische Gesellschaft fur Wissenschaftgeschichte. (1998): 41-58; “Hedwig Kohn -- eine Physikerin des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts.” Physik Journal (2003): November, 51-57.
 Edward Leonard Ginzton, (December 27, 1915 – August 13, 1998).
 Clarence Lester "Les" Hogan (February 8, 1920 – August 12, 2008).
 10, 499 (1972)
 Horton Guyford Stever (October 24, 1916 – April 9, 2010).
 Mikhail V. Osipov
 “Research on Recombinant DNA” National Academy of Sciences, Forum, March 7-9, 1977.
 Jeremy Rifkin, b. January 26, 1945, economist . In 1977 he and Ted Howard cofounded the Foundation on Economic Trends (originally the People’s Business Commission) and organized the demonstration at the National Academy of Sciences.
 A.M. Chakrabarty was then Staff Microbiologist, Physical Chemistry Laboratory, General Electric Research & Development Center.
 David A. Hamburg, President of the Institute of Medicine.