Oral History Transcript — Dr. Victor Vacquier
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Interview with Dr. Victor Vacquier
Victor Vacquier; February 17, 1988
ABSTRACT: In this interview Victor Vacquier discusses subjects such as: Scripps Institution of Oceanography; S. W. Carey; paleomagnetism and geomagnetism; University of Wisconsin; Charles Mendenhall; Gulf Oil Company; Columbia University Airborne Instruments Laboratory; Sperry Gyroscope Inc.; magnetometer; Seiya Uyeda; Louis Neel; Carnegie Institution Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM); gyroscopes; geophysics; E. J. Workman; Merle Tuve; Walter Munk; Charles Slichter; Roger Revelle; United States Navy; Harry Hess; J. R. Heirtzler; American Geophysical Union (AGU); United States Geological Survey (USGS); Nelson Steenland; W. Maurice Ewing; gyrocompasses; New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; John Tuzo Wilson; George Backus; S. K. Runcorn; Manik Talwani; winning Fleming Award from AGU.
Session I | Session II
[This interview was intended as a preliminary reconnaissance of Vacquier's career with particular relevance to paleomagnetism and geomagnetism. For a more in-depth interview, refer to Gregory Good's interview conducted on behalf of the American Institute of Physics. I should note that Vacquier's eyesight is failing and that the occasional pauses in the interview often occurred when, unbeknownst to me, Vacquier was awaiting verbal rather than visual cues from me. The interview began with coffee and the usual civilities. Vacquier asked me if I had met S.W. Carey. When I replied that I had, he then began recounting his own encounter with Carey when Vacquier visited Tasmania about 1960 on a voyage of a Scripps oceanographic vessel. It was at this time that I turned on the recorder.]
Vacquier:I had with me a young chemist who is not so young anymore — this was 1960 — who was not particularly concerned with geology, he was studying CO2 in the atmosphere and in the ocean and he has one of those particular characteristics very few people have of having more or less a perpetual grin on his face. Not that he wants to particularly amuse — he doesn't want to have a grin but just...
Le Grand:Just unconscious of it.
Vacquier:You know the Richter of the Richter seismological scale?
Le Grand:Oh yes, Richter and Gutenberg
Vacquier:Exactly the same kind of a face with a perpetual grin on it. So when Carey was expanding on the expansion of the earth he sort of looked at this fellow a little bit, saw his grinning face and he became very upset and then "I didn't invite you here to make fun of me — please leave the room immediately." [chuckles]
Le Grand:Did someone explain to Sam that it was just a habit?
Vacquier:So the poor fellow had to leave — he didn't say anything — he didn't try to explain that it was just a facial characteristic.
Le Grand:Yes and he's such an energetic man.
Vacquier:Then he took us for a ride all over Tasmania to visit his — he had a set of remotely registering seismic stations at the dam sites and it was a very new thing in that time. He — kind of liked his general approach to this problem and I think he's quite a wonderful man except for this expansion of the earth.
Le Grand:Well he's firmly convinced — I suppose he's spent 30 years now defending it so it would be terribly difficult for him to back away I suppose.
Vacquier:Just like Beloussov I suppose. During that inspection of the seismic stations he drives a car, usually taking the curves on two wheels you know and there were three in the front seat and one of them was Jaeger - you know, course, John Jaeger — a big big heavy German type fellow — about 300 pounds — and every time Carey would turn to the left why Jager's weight would just about crush me.
Le Grand:Oh you were riding in the front seat beside him. Oh, good heavens! Of course Sam's a fairly big man too. Who else was with you along on that trip? There was somebody else from the expedition I think, wasn't there?
Vacquier:I can't remember.
Le Grand:And that was in 1960.
Vacquier:That was the maiden voyage of the Argo. It went around the world.
Le Grand:Well, I wanted to talk with you for a number of reasons.
Vacquier:Yes. Tell me.
Le Grand:Well, it might be best if we just go sort of chronologically. Sometimes things fall into place a little better that way.
Le Grand:There's a bit of background on you in the Symposium on your 80th year — I've got a copy of that and I found that quite useful. Let me just begin with a few questions perhaps and then please elaborate wherever you wish. You did your first degree at the University of Wisconsin in Electrical Engineering.
Le Grand:Now, why did you pick Electrical Engineering?
Vacquier:Oh I tinkered with electricity when I was a kid?
Le Grand:Oh, right. And did you - you did a fair bit of science in your high school I suppose, or was it a Gymnasium — it was in France I guess — is that right?
Le Grand:Not very much science. And then you went ahead and did an advanced degree.
Vacquier:Yes, I just — let's see — I went into Physics Department and got an MA there the next year.
Le Grand:Your interest was more toward the science side rather than the applied science or —?
Vacquier:At that time yes. I was a spectroscopist.
Le Grand:Oh, spectroscopy — ah, I didn't realise that. So your Master's thesis was in that area?
Vacquier:Oh, not really — it was an engineering problem really. I worked on a high pressure mercury arc. At that time they didn't have them.
Le Grand:Right. So it was really instrumental development as it were.
Vacquier:Yeah, well, people there, especially C. Mindenhall, the Department Chairman was taking photoelectric thresholds work functions on all the metals hoping to derive some sort of a general law of some sort which never happened. But anyway every graduate student was assigned their metal to outgas and irradiate with ultraviolet light and it was my job to get a lamp that was stronger than the regular vacuum mercury light. So that's what I was linking up.
Le Grand:In — what did you do between finishing up your degree and joining Gulf? Do you recall?
Vacquier:Nothing — what happened was that I got rather discouraged with spectroscopy and starting thinking about geophysics and that was with Warren Weaver.
Le Grand:Oh yes, that chap who was later with the Rockefeller Foundation.
Vacquier:That's correct. And that naturally — let me see then there was Leo J. Peters who was Professor of Electrical Engineering and who got a job at Gulf and so when I didn't know whether I should continue with my graduate work or not or work for a little bit he got me to come over to the Gulf Oil Company which just started this research laboratory and exploration. In everything actually.
Le Grand:And let's see, that was in Pittsburgh — is that right.
Vacquier:That was in Pittsburgh in 1930.
Le Grand:Now you did a fair bit of work, I gather, on the geomagnetic field and its measurement at Gulf?
Vacquier:Well I'm still a geomagnetist.
Le Grand:Right. But that was the first sort of work that you had done in that area?
Vacquier:That is my principal work in science.
Le Grand:And how did that arise? I mean, was this something that was just suggested to you when you arrived.
Vacquier:This was magnetic prospecting for oil, you know.
Vacquier:Which was a rather outlandish thing to do anyway because oil is nonmagnetic and... [chuckle]
Le Grand:I have never understood why that technique was developed for that purpose. What was the rationale? I mean what was the idea behind it?
Vacquier:The rationale of course was that we might be able to get some notion of structure in case the sediments were conformable with the basin.
Le Grand:Oh, I see, so it was really the use of magnetism, variation, secular variation and so forth to try to figure out the upper structure of the crust?
Vacquier:Yeah, but actually what happened was that we got a method of estimating the maximum depth to the basement. That's the reason why they do it now.
Le Grand:Oh I see. I was unaware of that. So that was really part of that original research at Gulf?
Vacquier:The deepest - what we worked mostly were on vertical contacts. I mean we — you assumed the vertical contact — how deep can you vary your vertical contact in order to produce the anomaly.
Le Grand:Oh I see.
Vacquier:And it's worked very well. Very well.
Le Grand:Now —
Vacquier:You chose of course the steepest anomalies to do that and from that I think we gathered that most of the contacts in the basement are vertical in nature or close to vertical. I mean steeple at 45 degrees.
Le Grand:So you worked on the development of the magnetometer — the fluxgate magnetometer?
Vacquier:So the fluxgate magnetometer came as a result of the war effort.
Le Grand:Oh, so it wasn't immediately something that came out of the research itself.
Vacquier:No. Of course the Gulf Company misrepresented that in a way. They of course made a lot of money on that patent and they charged a dollar a mile you see after the war.
Le Grand:A dollar a mile!
Vacquier:Yeah, a dollar a mile.
Le Grand:And did that include for aerial surveys as well.
Vacquier:For aerial surveys only.
Le Grand:They made a lot of money.
Vacquier:That was the Gulf dollar. In general I was very unpopular and well — as a result of that.
Le Grand:And you worked on that pretty much by yourself. Is that right? I have that impression anyway, that it really wasn't a big team effort, but —
Vacquier:Oh, it was a team effort as soon as we realised that it was possible to put it in an airplane. It was a very small team. And we got a few submarines. It started out as a device for exploding landmines and then it went into harbor mines — controlled mines — you know they would anchor these mines in the channel —
Le Grand:The tethered ones, right, yes.
Vacquier:And then explode them from the — from an observation station. So that was the next thing I worked on.
Le Grand:Did you work on defences against magnetic mines as well, or —
Vacquier:No. No that's a hopeless proposition.
Le Grand:Wooden ships are the best bet I guess.
Vacquier:So that was the second thing we worked on and then of course there came the war and we put it in an airplane. E.A. Eckhart who was my supervisor and assistant director in the lab had connection with the stratogyroscope. So the first thing we did was to put a magnetometer on a vertical line. You know of course that didn't work. So then we oriented it along the general inclination angle and had another fluxgate to turn the whole apparatus so that it would null this one, you see. It was a servo device and then it was approximately oriented along the earth's field so that was the second thing.
Le Grand:And that was the one that was eventually utilized.
Vacquier:That was not the one that was eventually utilized.
Le Grand:No. Sounds pretty clever
Vacquier:The device we utilized was two horizontal fluxgates at right angles and a third one to measure.
Vacquier:So you could null these two, you see.
Le Grand:Oh, right.
Vacquier:And measure on the third one. And that was the one that was used. By that time of course the Columbia University Airborne Instruments Laboratory took it over.
Le Grand:And you in fact worked with them for a while too.
Vacquier:And then I worked with them for a while.
Le Grand:So in a sense your move from Gulf to Sperry to Columbia...
Vacquier:No, no, to Columbia then to Sperry.
Le Grand:That was all tied in with the development of the instrumentation.
Vacquier:Yes. Then while I was working for Airborne Instruments Laboratory I first worked at the Sperry Laboratory because what I wanted to do was to take an air-driven gyro and put the two perpendicular orienting flux gates on it. And, but that was so difficult to make — I mean the manufacture —
Le Grand:Just the engineering
Vacquier:So, because we had to connect the gyro according to the signals from the two flux gates on that sort of thing. And the interesting thing was that A.W. Hull collaborated with us at G.E. on it. Because he was interested in magnetic amplifiers. And we started by using his magnetic amplifiers and his gyroscopic gyroscopically orienting. But we made only one more model. In the meantime the boys at the Airborne Instruments Laboratory — you see I was working actually for Airborne Instruments at Sperry.
Le Grand:Oh I understand now. All right, right.
Vacquier:On a competing system. This is the one with the... And of course ours was a little better, I think, because it didn't have the errors from the rapid accelerations.
Le Grand:Oh, right. But I guess it was much more expensive to manufacture, would it have been?
Vacquier:I don't really know, but it was a messy thing to make.
Le Grand:I see — a lot of hand fitting —
Vacquier:Very fine things — and gyros have to be balanced and all that sort of thing.
Le Grand:And there's sort of two things that — or really three things that come out of these that I would like to ask you about. One, I believe that while you were still at Gulf you actually built a spinner magnetometer.
Le Grand:Now, what was the purpose of that?
Vacquier:Well, there was an excitement about orienting cores, so in order to get the dip — the direction of the dip — and so that started that way. And it was a monstrous device. It had coils — two concentric coils mounted in the plane containing the earth's magnetic field. And then mounted on a separate pier there was a bakelite xxx holder which would hold a four inch coil.
Le Grand:Four inches — that's a very large
Vacquier:Very large — spin it at 11 cycles per second. And our thing was made out of bakelite — But I didn't know the field, I just rotated the thing along the earth's axis.
Le Grand:That's clever — saves a bit. And that was basically then used for —
Vacquier:Not very clean you see.
Le Grand:And that was used basically for orienting cores then.
Vacquier:Well, that was the intention — but then later on of course it became a regular paleomagnetic device.
Le Grand:Oh, sure.
Vacquier:But — Pittsburgh was such an awful place for cores, I mean for exposures.
Le Grand:Well, why is that — I mean because of the weathering, or...
Vacquier:Well, it's mostly crumbly shale and
Le Grand:I mean there are a lot of outcrops, but they are not very good outcrops for sampling.
Le Grand:About when was that that you were doing that work?
Vacquier:In the early 30's.
Le Grand:Early 30's. And one of the things I wanted...
Le Grand:Yes, yes, I was thinking about '34, '35.
Vacquier:Middle 30's. So that's where the DTM got the idea of the spinner.
Le Grand:Oh, that's what I was going to ask, because Johnson, I think it's just Ellis Johnson - in just a sort of a throwaway line I think — indicated that you had in some way urged them to do — to develop a spinner magnetometer and to use that in their work.
Vacquier:Then they lent it to me when I was in New Mexico; they lent it — the whole truck — to me.
Le Grand:Oh, was that when Graham was doing his survey work? Oh, I didn't realise there was a connection there as well. Did you have much contact with the DTM while you were at Pittsburgh?
Vacquier:Some, some — McNish, Forebush
Le Grand:Could I just ask you this, I mean if you don't mind giving this sort of opinion. Who was the brains behind the rock magnetism operation at the DTM?
Vacquier:Oh, that was — what's his name? — Well, I don't really know.
Le Grand:I gather Johnston was very good at instrumentation —
Vacquier:Yeah, I think Ellis Johnston and McNish of course was very —
Le Grand:At least McNish had the good physics background, I think.
Vacquier:Yes. I think they did it and then it was taken over by Graham. And Graham had a hard time with the DTM. Tuve did not believe in paleomagnetism.
Le Grand:Yes, that certainly comes out. I went through the Tuve papers in the Library of Congress and there are some really very devastating memoranda that he sent to Graham — so it's pretty clear that Graham didn't have much support.
Vacquier:No, he had very little support. And actually Graham was a good man.
Le Grand:Of course his background I think was more in geology. He had a rather better background in geology, whereas McNish was strong in physics and Johnson had the good engineering skills. It would have made a fairly good team but I guess once Johnson left and once McNish shifted to other interests that sort of left Graham a bit exposed too. But that's conjecture.
Vacquier:I remember Tuve telling me — `Vic — paleomagnetism is confusing —'
Le Grand:That was true, it seems to me. I mean if you go back and look at the problems people were wrestling with then. I mean the reversals and magnetostriction and —
Vacquier:The reversals — that's the thing that confused them. It confused me.
Le Grand:So you'd run across some reverse samples in your work then.
Vacquier:No, I ran across Uyeda.
Le Grand:Oh, that's almost as bad.
Vacquier:Uyeda and Néel really did us in. Uyeda and his Haruna dacite and Néel furnishing many ways in which the reverse magnetism could occur.
Le Grand:I read one of his papers in I guess '51 in which he gives four different models, for example. Well he was — I think he must have been a very brilliant physicist, but he was looking really at the whole question of magnetism — he wasn't interested in how one might use magnetism to learn something about the earth and it's a different sort of emphasis.
Vacquier:It was an unfortunate thing.
Le Grand:What was your own view on the reversals? Did you tend to stick to the view that there were field reversals or —
Vacquier:I was not sure.
Le Grand:Did you do some studies to try to elucidate it?
Vacquier:No. Let's see, what was I doing? I was working on the temperature changes in the earth's field. The local — when I was at Gulf I wrote the seminal paper on local magnetic variations which later on were interpreted as due to local changes in conductivity and the distribution of earth currents.
Le Grand:And did you think that these studies might have some bearing on the origin of the earth's field.
Le Grand:Purely a local phenomenon because that was at least part of the rationale behind the work of the DTM if they could sort of chart the history of the earth's field and its variations they might be able to learn something about the nature of the field.
Vacquier:You see I had field parties operating these old-fashioned Schmidt balances. I had several of them scattered about the Western United States. So I — each one of these parties had a base station to take down the diurnal variations so I had records of the diurnal variation.
Le Grand:And was this all funded by Gulf or...
Vacquier:It was well funded by Gulf. Gulf was interested in the maps so I took the records from the base station and compared them and that was the basis of my 1937 paper.
Le Grand:Right. O.K. I understand now. I hadn't quite picked up all of that background about the stations and so forth.
Vacquier:Well if you read — it's a script published in the Journal of Terrestrial Magnetism before the JGR was founded.
Le Grand:Right. And did you have anything — any interest at all in some of the ocean sediment cores?
Le Grand:Because there were a couple that were taken — I think about `37 or `38 and they were studied at the DTM but they couldn't make much sense of it.
Le Grand:Oh, O.K. The other sort of strand — I mean that one strand that comes out of your work is the DTM. I mean that can be traced back to your work at Gulf and another thing that traces back too is Balsley's work and that of others with the USGS — the airborne survey work that was done, I guess beginning in the late `40s, maybe about `48, `49.
Vacquier:You see they — that's right. The Gulf Company kept the magnetometer under wraps by having connections with the Navy to keep the thing classified.
Le Grand:It's in their interest to do that, I guess.
Vacquier:And then I won that. They couldn't do that anymore. They licensed these aeromagnetic companies — airborne surveying companies to run surveys for everybody. They collected one dollar a mile on that.
Le Grand:That's why they were so reluctant to turn it over to the U.S.G.S. then.
Vacquier:Were they? Did you delve into that?
Le Grand:I just came across a couple of references to it in some of Balsley's letters and he was quite incensed actually at Gulf about this situation but he didn't go into much detail.
Vacquier:Gulf was not liked.
Le Grand:But I gather they eventually considered I think Balsley had to line up some fairly heavy political support or maybe someone in the services to pry it out of Gulf.
Vacquier:It was the Navy.
Le Grand:Oh it was the Navy. O.K.
Vacquier:I think Gulf knew some Secretary. It was very high — yes. Of course you see Gulf was very strong in magnetics and always on account of John Bardeen who worked with me there for a while.
Le Grand:I don't know that name — Bardeen?
Vacquier:Bardeen? He got two Nobel Prizes in Physics — he's one of the co-inventors of the transistor.
Le Grand:Oh, O.K. right. I was thinking of a geologist or —
Vacquier:Before he went to Princeton to get his PhD he worked for Gulf Company. I was making $200 a month and he was making $225.
Le Grand:Well, they obviously had some very talented people on their staff.
Le Grand:Even if they didn't pay them that way.
Vacquier:They had Bardeen.
Le Grand:Now, I'm — let's see — and then after this you left the Airborne for Sperry, is that right?
Vacquier:That's right, because Airborne went into the counter-measures — radar counter measures — a field which I was not competent or interested in. And I had ever since I worked at Sperry for Airborne I had a standing invitation to Sperry - any time you want to come, why come. So I did and I didn't have to move my house you see. It was always there - walking distance to work. So I just got a job there.
Le Grand:Now it seems there that there was a sort of a bit of a detour — I mean throughout most of these years you had been working in something to do with —
Vacquier:I was a merchant of death and was making big gyroscopes and instruments for the Navy.
Le Grand:Right, O.K.
Vacquier:My customer was the Bureau of Ships. And I had a group of about a dozen people and that's where the Mark 19 gyrocompass system was developed.
Le Grand:And the Mark 23.
Vacquier:It was something used by all Navy ships. And the little Compass that we use in Sperry, I mean on Scripps ships was also designed in my lab.
Le Grand:Is that the Mark 23 or —
Vacquier:Yeah. It was originally designed for a vehicle gyro —
Le Grand:You mean like a tank or something like that?
Vacquier:Exactly, because of Rommel's and what's his name — Montgomery's — battle in Africa.
Le Grand:Oh, El Alamein, yes.
Vacquier:And El Alamein they didn't know which way to attack.
Le Grand:I didn't realise that.
Vacquier:And it's very difficult to make a magnetic compass work in a tank.
Le Grand:Yes, I would think so.
Vacquier:But you can if you mount it outside.
Le Grand:And give it plenty of shielding or — oh of course then you can just cancel out the — yes, clever.
Vacquier:If you have it inside it's very bad.
Le Grand:Of course if it's outside then it is vulnerable, I guess. No, I didn't know that story at all. That's quite interesting.
Vacquier:It was called the vehicle gyro and then we did it for the Belvoir for the Fort Belvoir people.
Le Grand:Why did you leave to go to New Mexico? I mean it seems to me that you had a very promising and very productive career in this line of instruments.
Le Grand:Yes, in Sperry.
Vacquier:Oh we just got through with the Mark 19 and it took something like six or seven years, so we were about to launch on the next project and I felt that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in the middle executive position. I attended a meeting once in which the Vice President and the Chief Engineer were present and we spent about half an hour or longer deciding which grade of management should have a pen and pencil set on their place.
Le Grand:I know the mentality. It must have driven you absolutely mad.
Vacquier:The other thing that made me question this position was that we made this Mark 19 model and we wrote a manufacturing contract for a number of them. And it was rejected by the Navy. And for some reason that I don't remember exactly we had to decide in just a few hours how to modify it in order to improve it.
Le Grand:Good grief. And you succeeded.
Vacquier:And it was done. Yes.
Le Grand:After all those years of development that it should come down to a few hours.
Vacquier:Later on the company just shrank to about a fifth or a quarter of its former size and I probably would have been out of a job.
Le Grand:Oh well, you moved at an opportune time then, I guess. So you shifted to the New Mexico Institute of Mining —
Vacquier:I wanted to get back to geophysics.
Le Grand:Ah, that's what I wondered. So you were teaching geophysics there or geophysics-related areas?
Vacquier:Well, I got tired of making useless things - I mean - well, instruments for the next war really. Do you know what happened to my lab after I left, just a few months after I left? It got the prime contract for the — well, no, it was not a few months, it was in `56 or `57 — it got the prime contract for the Missile Submarine System — Polaris.
Le Grand:Oh the Polaris.
Vacquier:The Polaris system.
Le Grand:Oh well.
Vacquier:And it became a whole building program. So I missed that.
Le Grand:But you don't feel that you missed very much.
Vacquier:[Chuckle] So I went looking for water in New Mexico.
Le Grand:So what sort of teaching did you do at New Mexico?
Le Grand:General geophysics?
Vacquier:Prospecting, mostly prospecting.
Le Grand:And were you doing some research there as well in magnetism.
Vacquier:Oh yes - well that's the reason why I went there because of all the places I visited I thought that in the West — I wanted to go West — of all the places I visited and I visited many places — that seemed to have a research department managed by Workman — E.G. Workman. E.G. Workman was the associate of Tuve at the DTM when we were working on the proximity fuse.
Le Grand:Oh, O.K.
Vacquier:And E.G. Workman just went to New Mexico and continued that work. They had a canyon there just a few miles from the school where they brought these old wrecked airplanes and were shooting these projectiles at these wrecks. And of course they had a big research effort on atmospheric electricity and thunderstorm generation and nucleation of rainclouds and things like that.
Le Grand:Did you get involved in any of that work? Or —
Vacquier:No, I was mostly looking for ground water to produce more cotton to put away in warehouses. Anyway, create a bigger agricultural surplus. I really had no [inaudible] like that.
Le Grand:You weren't using magnetic magnetism in any way in that —
Vacquier:No, I was not using magnetism, I was using electricity. We would put DC into the ground at two electrodes — like, I used the Wainer system with electrodes and we measured the potential across the electrodes. After the currents are shut off there is a decay of the induced potential which is electrochemical in nature. And it has to do with the clay that adheres to the sand grains of the aquifer and which forms effectively a membrane — a charged membrane and you displace the ions that are stuck on the membrane when you put the DC current through it.
Le Grand:The time it takes to —
Vacquier:And then it is recovers and the slower it recovers, the longer the time constant, the purer is the water. So and if it is salty then it just goes Pffff round the [inaudible]
Le Grand:O.K. so it's not.
Vacquier:It is the ONLY method that will look for fresh water as against salt water.
Le Grand:How far apart, what is the optimum distance between your electrodes?
Vacquier:Oh I don't remember too well — it wasn't too far. The trouble was always in getting enough current into the ground. Oh, I think we could go down about 100 feet maybe — 150 feet.
Le Grand:You used some sort of a portable generator?
Vacquier:The portable generator was run off the power take-off on a jeep truck which was a permanent magnet generator. It was generating around 500 volts or so.
Le Grand:Now you mentioned earlier that when you were in New Mexico Graham came through with his truck with all the apparatus.
Vacquier:Yes. One of my graduate students actually did some work with the truck on the monacopi formation but we did not demagnetize —
Le Grand:Oh, clean them you mean?
Vacquier:There was no cleaning process in the truck there was just the air spinner. And…
Le Grand:So you got a fair bit of smear and scatter I guess.
Vacquier:We didn't get anything.
Le Grand:Now, when would that have been? I guess that would have been around '55, '56.
Vacquier:Well, now, I moved to New Mexico in '53 and left for Scripps in '57. I was there four years.
Le Grand:I'm curious — in this period when you were involved once again in geophysics were you keeping up with the work of people like Blackett and Runcorn and so forth in the United Kingdom on paleopole positions.
Vacquier:A little — I had an astatic magnetometer built in Pittsburgh.
Le Grand:Yes. Oh, an astatic magnetometer as well.
Le Grand:Oh, I didn't realise that. And you had heard about the spinner?
Vacquier:Well I didn't. I didn't do too well with it. I replaced it with the spinner.
Le Grand:O.K. I gather Blackett's — the way he had constructed his was rather more successful than most astatics in damping out —
Vacquier:Oh, his was very good.
Le Grand:Do you remember what your attitude or reaction was toward some of the wilder claims that were coming out of England at the time?
Vacquier:No. Frankly I wasn't particularly interested in them. I mean after I — after the war I wasn't interested any more until I came to Scripps.
Le Grand:Oh, O.K. And so you came to Scripps to the Marine Physics Lab in '57? And was that — I think the story about how that came about is in that Symposium sketch.
Vacquier:It came about by Walter Munk coming to New Mexico to give a graduation speech. I don't know whether I had that in my —
Le Grand:No, you didn't mention that.
Vacquier:But that's how I got wind of Sperry — I mean of Scripps.
Le Grand:So you had a chance to talk with Munk a bit while he was out to give that talk.
Vacquier:Yes. And he of course is a very engaging person. So I was favourably impressed so I wrote a letter and sent some papers. I also visited of course the Institute of Geophysics when Slichter was there. Slichter tried to get me in UCLA and he had all kinds of trouble. The regular University of California difficulty with committees and departments. The fact that no single person can decide on a thing.
Le Grand:Whereas Scripps, if Revelle or whoever said `yes' that was it.
Vacquier:No, you write a letter to Scripps in those days and then you would never hear from them anymore. That's the way it seems to be. Then you get a telephone call and it says `It's an emergency — where are your papers?' So I said `Well, I left them' — Walter Munk had them then I sent them to Loui Slichter.
Le Grand:You were invited to come aboard and was there any particular reason that you were interested in Scripps or moving from New Mexico.
Vacquier:No. No reason. Oh, the reason is that I wanted to get out of New Mexico.
Vacquier:It's a nice place for a young man but for an older one it's not so good.
Le Grand:And was it — when was the suggestion broached to you that you might head up their marine magnetics work? Was that in the early stages?
Vacquier:Well, I saw Revelle — I came to Scripps once and we had a meeting there and Roger showed me the Mason and Raff work. The first map.
Le Grand:This was even before publication, I guess, then.
Vacquier:It was before — oh much before publication. It was about '56 or '7.
Le Grand:Oh, that must have been the very preliminary results.
Vacquier:And of course I saw immediately that that was a displacement. I was very much impressed and Roger was standing over my shoulder and saying `I have to go down; I have to go down to the people now'. And I would still be looking at the thing. He would say again `I have to go down'
Le Grand:I'm really so surprised that it was, that the publication took so long of those results because they were really, they made an impact on just everybody who looked at them I gather, but —
Vacquier:Well, the publication was because Mason was so slow. The way it got published finally is that Menard and I published a paper in some obscure Navy publication.
Le Grand:Oh, the ONR Research Reviews or something like that.
Vacquier:And after that came out, well Mason got busy.
Le Grand:I think it must have been a pretty slow process. You'd have to reduce all that data by hand in those days and plot it out manually and so forth, but even so, 4 or 5 years is a long time.
Vacquier:That's right. The second part of it was done after I already moved to [Scripps] and I had to draft some work on it specially.
Le Grand:Is there any connection between that earlier visit and being named to head up the marine magnetic side of things. I mean if you could look at the map and say `Aha there is displacement' and that's important. That must have made some impression on Revelle. He'd say `Well, maybe this is the sort of person we need running the show — I mean, you know, in ret[rospect] —
Le Grand:No, you don't think so.
Vacquier:This being in charge is not very much of a [inaudible].
Le Grand:Well, I guess that's true.
Vacquier:I had Raff and occasionally I had a draughtsman. And you can't do anything with Raff except to just let him work.
Le Grand:Were you involved at all while you were at Scripps with Balsley or anybody from the DTM still, or was that connection just gone.
Vacquier:It had just gone.
Le Grand:So were you working pretty much on your own then? I mean, Scripps was fairly isolated from what might have been going on elsewhere. That's what I am trying to get at.
Vacquier:Completely isolated except [inaudible]. And they were not very talkative so was Ewing.
Le Grand:Ewing always liked to sit on his data and not share it around all that freely I gather. One of the things you were involved in was the proton procession magnetometer.
Vacquier:All right. I got a big monstrous thing from the Navy. It was a console that reached from here to the ceiling or thereabouts and a `fish’ that was huge and had 18 conductors in the cable or some such thing — it had a clickety-clack arrangement of relays on the fascia to tune the element.
Le Grand:Not very practical for shipboard use.
Vacquier:So the first thing I did was to try it - but Raff did, I think in connection with Packard, Packard of Hewlitt-Packard Varian-Varian...
Le Grand:Right. So it came from the Navy via Varian or something like that?
Vacquier:I don't remember that exactly. The Varians had it first of course so my guess would be that it went from the Varians to the Navy. Well, the Varians had a bottle that boiled when you put the current through it.
Le Grand:It boiled, did you say?
Vacquier:It boiled a lot. The way I know about it is because Raff told me about it, because Raff sailed with the Varians when they first tried it. And so the first thing I did was to take all this stuff off and tried to see if I could use the bottle alone and have everything — all the clap-trap on shipboard and it worked all right. You lose about half the signal. No, that is another thing. The reason why they hadn't done it before is because the people who worked on it didn't know about the non-microphonic cable. Working at AIL during the war we of course were very careful about not having microphonics in the cable with the fluxgate. So the first thing I did was to order a non-microphonic cable which you can whip you know a personal signal. I forget now how they do it.
Le Grand:But basically that made it possible to put all the really sensitive and bulky gear on the ship
Vacquier:That's right and you lost only half the signal for a reasonable length of cable.
Le Grand:And what's the major advantage to the proton procession type — other than you don't have to calibrate it?
Vacquier:The big advantage is that it gives you the truer thing regardless of — because it is so easy to measure frequency. The other thing of course I did was to make it redirect instead of measuring just a pure e so we multiplied the frequency twice so that the least count, let's see, it was about two gammas per count I think - something like that — I think so. It would be about two and a half gammas per count. So I made it and had to turn the bottle and had trouble with the relay.
Le Grand:Why is that? Because of the motion —
Vacquier:Oh because they said we've got to cut the polarising current cleanly. It's done of course as a [inaudible].
Le Grand:Oh this was actually a mechanical...
Vacquier:This was a mechanical...
Le Grand:Oh yes. That dates me a bit I guess.
Vacquier:It takes — it was a mechanical eliminator to be very careful how you adjusted the spring and the relay and I had to take a trip once to Central America joining the ship in Panama, I think. You couldn't adjust the spring properly.
Le Grand:Well, this was very much a custom-built piece of apparatus then.
Vacquier:We built about three or four of them. Enough for our ships.
Le Grand:So it very quickly became a routine piece of apparatus for cruises then.
Vacquier:Yes. While it became routine only when we started buying the Varian. Of course as soon as the Varianas got a wind of what we were doing they brought out real good machines and so our stuff was over a year too late. Everyone is using the Varian now.
Le Grand:What would you consider would be the major accomplishment of those first few years at Scripps, say up through 1960 or `61. Would it be the displacement —?
Vacquier:Displacement of the pattern, of course.
Le Grand:Now you were very guarded it seems to me in your publications on that as to —
Vacquier:Yes, I never could find out, find a proper, reasonable able explanation because I didn't and the reader wants some.
Le Grand:Because I've got a quote from Chris Harrison that you were never satisfied with a pure description of the phenomena but always wished to know the meaning of the observation and that must have been — had real bite as far as the displacement because it would be so obvious in the data but so difficult to explain. Did you have some ideas that you tossed around but didn't publish? Do you recall that sort of thing?
Vacquier:Not drift [?]
Le Grand:Very close though. [laughter]
Vacquier:But the first... [inaudible] Harry Hess might have.
Le Grand:He didn't have much contact with Scripps did he, or even with Lamont it seemed to me. He was sort of off on his own more than I would have thought. Is that a fair comment, I mean that's what I seem to have picked up, that he didn't come around.
Vacquier:He was a very quiet man but he was full of ideas.
Le Grand:He didn't visit Scripps on a semi-regular basis or anything then?
Vacquier:I think he took rides on Scripps — Oh, no wait a minute, he — most of his sea experience was with the Navy.
Le Grand:That's right, yes. I mean he had actually captained a transport ship during the war and he had gone down on the submarine to the Caribbean back in the late `30s — that was all part of the Navy in a way. So you probably — when would you have encountered him? Maybe one of the, I guess it might have been even fairly late in the piece.
Vacquier:Oh, I remember talking him at that meeting we had in San Francisco — let's see — the Pacific Science Congress was it?
Le Grand:Oh yes, that was about 1960 or 61 — somewhere in there. Does that sound about right? Did you go to the first International Oceanographic Congress?
Vacquier:Where was that?
Le Grand:Oh, I was afraid you'd ask me that — I think it may have been in Washington, but I'm not certain. About 1959.
Vacquier:No, I don't think I have — no, I didn't.
Le Grand:Because up till that time I suppose marine scientists, if we can use that term for those years, really didn't have many opportunities to get together as a group. I mean there would be scattered contacts but — well maybe an AGU meeting?
Vacquier:I remember when I got back from that cruise when we found a big displacement —
Le Grand:That was the Mendocino —
Vacquier:The Mendocino. I almost went directly from the ship to the meeting and I had a long piece of paper — I didn't have time to make any pictures — a long piece of paper that people could see with wiggles on it.
Le Grand:What was the reaction at Scripps to that? I mean that was an incredible claim, I mean that you were I think about that stage you were suggesting there was a displacement of 700 to 800 kilometres, or maybe even more.
Vacquier:It was 1400.
Le Grand:Yes, I think that's the current value.
Vacquier:If you add Pioneer displacement.
Le Grand:What was the reaction at Scripps when you walked in with your piece of paper?
Vacquier:Well, that was at the meeting.
Le Grand:Oh that was at the Pacific.
Vacquier:The Pacific Congress in Berkeley.
Le Grand:Oh, I didn't realise that. That was the first time you had really put up those results then.
Vacquier:Yes, we went directly to San Francisco instead of coming back home. and the Russian ship was right next door and I invited some Russians to come and take a look at the data. That's when I first met [inaudible] I think. Early in the morning — it was breakfast time — Hart [?] was still asleep. It was a thing, he had the watch coming in.
Le Grand:Well, that certainly caused something of a sensation. That's what you got the `Albatross' for I think, wasn't it?
Vacquier:Yes. Yes. That was probably the biggest discovery I ever made at Scripps.
Le Grand:But you had absolute confidence in your magnetic data.
Vacquier:I don't think it could be — it's so obvious, I mean.
Le Grand:I'm just trying to imagine what it would look like to somebody who really wasn't familiar with the techniques, for example. Say, I don't know, a stratigrapher or somebody like that — or somebody else.
Vacquier:I had the least trouble with seismologists because they compare wiggles.
Le Grand:That's a — that's true, I hadn't thought of that actually.
Vacquier:But the —
Le Grand:So they were basically looking at the raw data? At the Pacific Geoscience.
Vacquier:Oh yeah, sure. I think they were just copied from [inaudible]. Traced out.
Le Grand:Can I ask you this. It's something that I can't really — I haven't run across. Maybe I just didn't take note of it at the time. Who actually came up with the technique of representing the delineations in that sort of black and white contour?
Vacquier:I think Art Raff did it first.
Le Grand:Because it is certainly striking when you start looking at patterns to see it that way instead of some other fashion of representation. And so the seismologists were pretty taken with comparing the wiggles. Hess, you said, was there. What was his reaction to it? Do you remember or did you talk with him about it?
Vacquier:He told me that I should talk to Vine more — he had the right idea. Of course I talked to Vine and Matthews when I went through Cambridge on the way to the Indian Ocean.
Le Grand:Now when would that have been?
Vacquier:About `62 I think.
Le Grand:So Vine was just starting out on the puzzle that Matthews had set him.
Vacquier:There were the three of them - Mrs Vine and Fred and Matthews working in the stables —
Le Grand:Behind Maddingly Rise, right.
Vacquier:They were showing me the anomalies in the Indian Ocean as I remember it since I was going there. Later on I found out that they used my program that was developed for their seamount work.
Le Grand:Oh, the digital — had that just been sent over by Scripps or was it something that was being used by other people at the same time?
Vacquier:No I think somebody who had been using it at Scripps and had sent it [? inaudible].
Le Grand:It certainly made it much easier to analyse vast amounts of data, there's no doubt about that. I'm just trying to remember; I think Heirtzler from Lamont commented once that one of the more important pieces of apparatus that began being used by marine geologists at this time or marine physicists or whatever the term is, was the sort of medium-sized digital computers. That that enabled them to analyse data much more quickly than had ever been the case before. That it used to be — you'd go out, bring back a huge bale of readouts and you wouldn't have time to analyse it because you'd go out and get another huge bale.
Le Grand:When did you first hear of Hess's seafloor spreading idea?
Vacquier:I really don't remember. There was a AGU meeting in Washington — it was a huge meeting. I remember — that was already after Heirtzler's paper on the results of the Vema [sic. Eltanin] —19 profile.
Le Grand:Oh right. O.K. So that would have been about `66 I guess — something like that.
Vacquier:I had trouble seeing the lineations in the Reykjanes Ridge. I got the data from Lamont. I guess my background at Gulf was to look for small anomalies.
Le Grand:These were just so big that —
Vacquier:Those are — The big anomalies were very different sometimes. Not in a small way at all. I mean, if you averaged them you can see that they're symmetrical. That was my trouble — I hadn't seen the symmetry of them. Either along the Reykjanes or the Gordo.
Le Grand:Could I just ask you this? Say prior to the 1960's had you — what was your attitude toward the notion of Drift or some of the other theories that were floating around? I mean Carey —
Vacquier:Well, I was very much impressed with Carey's monograph  describing the meeting — I mean.
Le Grand:Oh the Tasmanian Symposium.
Vacquier:The Tasmanian meeting  on Continental Drift — and I was most impressed with him.
Le Grand:What impressed you the most?
Vacquier:A most impressive character?
Le Grand:Yes, a pretty impressive man. Was it the map fitting — is that what struck you or some of his reconstruction.
Vacquier:I think doing it on reconstructions on the globe I think is the big invention he had. [inaudible]
Le Grand:Bullard when he gave his reconstruction at the Royal Society Symposium in `64 had taken his cue from Carey actually. He said I think in some autobiographical remarks that he had been very much struck by Carey's reconstruction in that `58 volume and this had sort of, was the ancestor if you like of his fit.
Vacquier:Oh yes. There was some fellow who wrote a book on look into the history of all this. He said I was the only one who mentioned the Vine-Matthews hypothesis at the Royal Society meeting.
Le Grand:That's right. I checked it out. That's the case.
Vacquier:And even then I didn't do a thing about it.
Le Grand:I don't think you were very kind toward it, but well I gather there were lots of ideas floating around at the time of how these things might be explained that just seem like one of many others.
Vacquier:Yeah. It's just hard to recognise good ideas in future. It's a problem isn't it?
Le Grand:I'm not sure that's one of the things we can learn from history.
Vacquier:It took Newton four years to apply gravitation to Kepler's Laws. Four years!
Le Grand:And now you go up on the blackboard in high school and do it in five minutes. It's so obvious after the fact, but it's certainly not obvious at the time it seems to me. And —
Vacquier:It took Newton four years. So I think we didn't do so badly with plate tectonics [inaudible]. But of course this is all [inaudible]. How do you recognise good ideas? I think it is something that the psychologists should study.
Le Grand:There's certainly an important psychological dimension in it too. Of course I guess you have to; in some place in your judgement will be your judgement of the people who are putting forward the ideas. Whether or not they are good, sensible scientists or what kind of track record they've got and that sort of thing. Which makes it difficult to spot the really new idea from somebody like Vine who was pretty much unknown at the time.
Vacquier:He hasn't done too much since.
Le Grand:No, that's true. I think mostly it's just been further explication.
Vacquier:Yes, well that's true of course of the whole thing, you know. Oh, not entirely, not entirely. So what are you going to do about all this? I did not quite get the idea —
Le Grand:Oh all right, well, let me just turn it off for a moment. [Explanation of my current research and the purpose of the interview] In I think, it was in about 1963 or maybe `64 — you started doing or maybe you had done some before — some heatflow work.
Vacquier:Yes. I did it mostly by accident because Von Herzen got a job at the UNESCO in Paris and there was this program at Scripps and someone had to take it.
Le Grand:Er, just making suspicious noises [referring to take recorder] — was that tied in any way in that early work that Bullard had done while he was at Scripps? It goes back a long way.
Vacquier:Oh, that's the original work, yeah.
Le Grand:So this was something that had been going on at Scripps ever since — well I guess it makes it the late `40s — I think Bullard was here about `48 or `49 and that's something that had been traced all along.
Vacquier:In Cambridge he showed me the original probe.
Le Grand:Oh did he?
Vacquier:It was under a building somewhere — he dug it up.
Le Grand:Well in fact I've got in my — well you've probably seen it in my briefcase -Betty Shaw — who used to be at, well still is at Scripps. Did an interview with Bullard on the development of the instrument at Scripps and it's quite interesting. So it was basically you were just picking up that — that project —
Vacquier:There is a funny story he [Bullard] tells about it — he used to tell. It was the first lowering that they had — it was a photographic development and they were all standing behind the door of the darkroom saying `Oh, how is it? Do you see anything?' Finally the door opened and he said `I'd put it in the hypo first.'
Le Grand:Oh, there must have been a chorus of groans at that! Yes, I wish he were still around — Bullard — he would —
Vacquier:Oh, he was a wonderful man.
Le Grand:He was active in so many areas —
Vacquier:He knew exactly what he was going to do. There was a famous article on heat flow in the Atlantic Ocean.
Le Grand:Yes, I've got the references to them — I guess there are about four or five — some just focussed on the instrument and its development and the one with the Atlantic.
Vacquier:It's still being used essentially.
Le Grand:And it's pretty much the same form?
Vacquier:Well, people are tending now towards these outriggers that haul them on the boat. You don't have to winch them. Mechanically they are more vulnerable, but you can take more readings.
Le Grand:And so you worked on the heatflow for —
Vacquier:Well, ever since —
Le Grand:Ten years or so.
Vacquier:It was a long time, yes. A long time. [inaudible]
Le Grand:And as I understand it it was not just heatflow on the ocean floors but you also did some work in lakes and so forth?
Vacquier:We tried to do it on land once at Lake Malowi?
Le Grand:Now my geography is terrible - that's not part of the African Rift system is it?
Le Grand:It is. And did you expect to find?
Vacquier:It was normal as far as we can tell. I don't know how good these readings are.
Le Grand:Is that why you picked that area? Because it was on the Rift system or…
Vacquier:Also they had a research ship — officially said a research ship that you could get use of. Interesting expedition.
Le Grand:And that was really intended in some way to check out the notion of spreading centres or —
Vacquier:Well, I think it was mostly to see whether you can do it on lakes.
Vacquier:Well, that was just I think an opportunity there. We had more in mind when I went to Lake Piticaca. That by the way is a wrong reading there. I think we got a reading that is much too low. Because all around there it's much higher.
Le Grand:And you expected to find high flows.
Vacquier:Yes, because it is back of the subduction zone.
Le Grand:Right. So that would go along with the deep at the centres and all the rest in terms of —
Vacquier:That's the reason why I went there of course. But — Henry Pollock of Michigan is the one who did a lot of work there since.
Le Grand:And then you retired from Scripps about when?
Vacquier:Oh about 12 years ago.
Le Grand:About `76 then roughly or `75.
Vacquier:Oh, the students would allow me on cruises once in a while and I'd be there. A hateful technician trying to get the instrument working. The instrument was getting awful bad — it was getting old.
Le Grand:So really most of the instruments were actually manufactured at Scripps. At least a lot of the prototypes — the flux gate, the shipboard proton procession, and the heat flow probe. So I would take it from that that Scripps must have had a very strong core of technicians to draw on as well.
Vacquier:Well, yes and no. Of course the technicians at the Marine Physical Lab are very good. They are working on sonic problems mostly. Underwater acoustics.
Le Grand:Seismic refraction or just underwater acoustics generally?
Vacquier:In general — absorption and deflection. Then, of course, gravity waves.
Le Grand:It just seemed to me that in some ways Lamont for example was heavily dependent upon Ewing's sort of Rube Goldberg gadgets on occasion, whereas Scripps seemed to be a little better set out in terms of technical support.
Vacquier:I don't really know.
Le Grand:I suppose that would have really been true of the period before you joined.
Vacquier:The French now are the best instrumented people. Everything is read-out now and everything is digitized and they have microcomputers on all of them.
Le Grand:Yes, I haven't been on one of their ships.
Le Grand:No, I say I haven't been on one of them. Well that really pretty much covers what I wanted to talk with you about. I found particularly valuable your comments about the development of those instruments and I was interested to find out about the astatic magnetometer too and to clarify that relationship with DTM because I found that throwaway comment very tantalizing that Johnson made in one of those papers where they said something about Vacquier. Did you ever give any papers there, or talk at the DTM that you remember.
Vacquier:Oh I gave a few talks at DTM, yes. I wanted them to take up the local magnetic variation study but since then, of course, decades later.
Le Grand:Well that had something to do with - of course Tuve wasn't the director then was he?
Vacquier:No, it started with [Vestine?]
Le Grand:I forget his name. Well. [Turned off recorder, and then remembered to ask further about airborne magnetometer and his paper with Steenland et al. on aeromagnetic maps]
Vacquier:Let's see — airborne magnetometer — it occurred to me to find out what can be done by using the total intensity as against the vertical intensity that we had been using at Gulf and finding the depths to the basin. And so that's what I decided to work on as a sort of a weekend project.
Le Grand:So you were sort of working at Lamont on the weekends more or less.
Le Grand:Ah, O.K.
Vacquier:And Nelson Steenland was the student — Nelson Steenland later on became a — got his Phd in Columbia with Ewing and became a geophysical consultant.
Le Grand:Oh, for oil companies.
Vacquier:In which he used the magnetic method very much. And so the question was where to get the data, so we went to the U.S.G.S. and got hold of [R.G.] Henderson and [I] Zietzand they had some of the surveys so we got this ball rolling that way. And apparently I had never used this monograph for doing commercial work, but I understand that the whole industry was —
Le Grand:That's my understanding that it was sort of the standard handbook.
Vacquier:Standard handbook it was — for many years until the computers came out. It's an amazing thing.
Le Grand:So that you almost backed into it as it were.
Vacquier:Yes — I never used it.
Le Grand:What about the - the two people at the Survey? They just basically provided the maps?
Vacquier:They basically provided the maps and did some of the calculations which were very tedious.
Le Grand:Could I ask — this is asking a lot of your memory of — what is it, 35, 36 years ago now — were the maps Michigan and I think sections of the Adirondacks — were those —
Vacquier:There was one area; I can't remember exactly what it was. I have it here I think.
Le Grand:Oh, of course, there are references in the memoir. I can fix that up. I just wondered if you —
Vacquier:I'm sure your library probably in Melbourne has it.
Le Grand:Oh yes.
So that's how it was put together. Steenland got a PhD out of it and I kept track of what Ewing was doing for a little bit. He was a marvellous man.[Interview interrupted at this point by Mrs Vacquier. Vacquier becoming somewhat fatigued so wrapped up at this point]
 E. N. Shor and C. L. Ebrahimi, eds., Marine Geophysics: A Navy Symposium, Marine Physical Laboratory: MPL Report U-42/87, University of California San diego, 1987.
 See H. E. Le Grand. (1989). Conflicting Orientations: John Graham, Merle Tuve and Paleomagnetic Research at the DTM 1938-1958. Earth Sciences History, 8 no. 1: 55-65.