Oral History Transcript — Dr. Bart J. Bok
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Dr. David J. Bok; June 14, 1978
ABSTRACT: Interview discusses, not always in chronological order: early home life and schooling; undergraduate at Leyden, influence of Ehrenfest, Oort, Kapteyn, Kuiper, Pannekoek, Hertzsprung. Recollections of work of Uhlenbeck and Goudsmit. Assistant to van Rhijin at Groningen ca. 1928, work on various stellar and galactic topics. Move to Harvard, 1929, and atmosphere there under Shapley. Marriage to Priscilla Fairfield Bok; her contacts with W.W. Campbell. Search for and interpretation of spiral arms of our galaxy; studies of stellar density distribution. Activities during World War II. Harvard astronomy group's difficult postwar transition; McCarthyism. Work on nebulae and globules. Comments on astronmy at Mt. Wilson, Tonantziutla, and South Africa. Origins of Harvard radio astronomy and National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and their funding. Move to Australia, 1956, and conditions there. Move to Steward Observatory of University of Arizona, 1964, and conditions there. Location of national observatory at Kitt Peak; management of Kitt Peak. Discussions of astronomy, education, popularization, employment, and organization.
TranscriptSession I | Session II | Session III | Session IV
DeVorkin:This is a follow-up interview with Dr. Bart Bok, on June 14th, 1978, at the University of Maryland Center for Adult Education, during an IAU symposium on the Milky Way.
Bok:IAU Symposium #84. I was present at IAU Symposium #1!
Bok:Yes. It was 1953. And that was a Milky Way Symposium in Groningen. Yes, a very nice one.
DeVorkin:This is a good introduction, because I wanted to take you back a number of years to cover a few things in slightly greater detail, before we got back up to the sixties. During World War II, 1945, Shapley wrote a long statement to the president of Harvard University that was printed in SCIENCE, Volume 101, 1945, page 304. Basically it was a statement of the condition of the observatory during World War II. Talking about the loss of plates at the Boyden Station, South Africa, and your production of the book BASIC MARINE NAVIGATION with Francis Wright, and other things like this. He also indicated that you issued a mimeographed astronomical newsletter.
Bok:Yes, that was a first. I'm very glad to have that recorded. I knew that during World War II the astronomers of the world would lose contact with each other. So I prepared a monthly newsletter, in which I wrote up what astronomical information was available to us at Harvard. And that newsletter was sent out very widely, and distributed by an agency of the government, so that it would go to as many people overseas as was possible. The newsletter went often and helped keep up communications between astronomers. I might mention one incident that involves Professor Jan Oort, who is now in the room right across the hall from me here, at the age of 78. He's exactly six years older than I was. I received a message from B. Lindblaad in Stockholm, with whom we could communicate.
DeVorkin:You could still communicate with them?
Bok:With Stockholm, at that time, via the Red Cross or some complicated affair. And Lindblaad told me that Jan Oort very much wanted a copy of Chandrasekhar's new book on galactic dynamics. And Lindblaad said, "If you send it to me, I have ways of passing it on to him." By that time, it was made very clear to us that we should not do things like that. for that was "trafficking with the enemy." Jan Oort was in Holland, therefore he was in German-occupied territory. The war was in the middle of things and we shouldn't do it. But I said, "What the hell, this is a good cause, this won't help anybody militarily. This will make it possible for Jan Oort to do a lot of reading during the time that he is in hiding." He was in the opposition in Holland, you know, and had gone underground.
DeVorkin:He was in the opposition?
Bok:Yes. Very strong. So then what happened? I got a copy of the book, paid for it with my own money, and sent it to Lindblaad and wrote on the outside simply, "To Jan from Bart." That was all. That book reached Jan Oort, and he read it with great pleasure during World War II, and it was the only copy they had of Chandra's book on the other side of the line.
DeVorkin:The only copy?
Bok:Yes. Then a funny thing happened. While we couldn't traffic with the enemy, I had a request from some other government agency that they wanted to butter up the astronomers in Finland. And we sent a fat parcel of publications through official channels to Finland, which was also, in a way, trafficking with the enemy. Oh, it was all very complicated. But that newsletter went along very nicely, and was read by all sorts of people. And it was one of the very nicest things that we had, to keep the astronomers of the world together. I remember, when the war was over, I had a sweet letter from Arthur Eddington, typical Eddington, a one sentence letter in which Arthur Eddington said "Dear Bart Bok: I am so glad that during the war you provided all of us with a newsletter." It was a very successful thing to have done. We did it. Then later on it was taken over by the International Astronomical Union, and became a newsletter about Soviet developments and other things, and sort of died a natural death. But it was a very nice thing. And I did not know that there was anyone who remembered that we prepared the monthly newsletter.
DeVorkin:Well, I'm very interested in it, because I'm interested in the activities of astronomers during the war.
Bok:Yes. For example, I remember Dr. Dieckvoss, who became one of the best Meridian Circle astronomers in Hamburg. He was caught during World War II and put into an American prison camp, I think in Georgia somewhere. He was made a prisoner of war and then was sent I think to Georgia, and he wrote me a letter saying that he was desperate for astronomical material. So Mrs. Bok and I dug into our pockets and each month sent him magazines like ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL and we sent him books. And this helped him a great deal while he was in prison.
DeVorkin:Then you were allowed to send things to him?
Bok:That was allowed. Yes. That was no problem. But the one to Oort was strictly against all the rules.
DeVorkin:Did you report at all in the newsletter what astronomers were doing in the war that would be more of a war effort than pure research?
Bok:No. No, it was a straightforward research progress report. It was based upon what I read in the magazines that we had. Once a month, I took an afternoon or evening off, and I used a dictaphone and blew the articles through the dictaphone. They got transcribed, and it was a newsletter of about six or eight pages, had something a little bit like THE NEW YORKER in it. I remember I had in it a column: "Briefly Noted." And I didn't know from where I got that term, "Briefly Noted." Then later on of course I'd found that I'd stolen it from THE NEW YORKER.
DeVorkin:That's interesting. Who did the transcribing?
Bok:Oh, it was done at the expense of Harvard University, and the mailing was done through an agency, I've forgotten the name of it, but it was some agency of the government that sent these things overseas for us. We provided them with a mailing list and they sent them. Then, when we had to send things to people like Jan Oort, we had to do a little bootlegging. Strictly speaking, I think we could have been considered "trading with the enemy" for this whole thing.
DeVorkin:Do you recall anyone in the government that you dealt with?
Bok:Yes. Shapley dealt principally with Henry Wallace in all these matters. Shapley and Henry Wallace were very close friends, and Henry Wallace was of course the Vice President under Roosevelt in those days. So it was Shapley and Wallace who did sort of the legwork. And then there were a couple of people in the Department of State with whom I dealt on it, and I've forgotten their names now, but there was one who later on became the chief organizer for the United States for UNESCO and it helped it along a great deal that I had seen him a lot in Washington earlier.
DeVorkin:Other than this very interesting project and your navigation book, did you have any other work that you would say was specifically war-related?
Bok:No. Basically my wife and I were not what you'd call real dyed-in-the-wool pacifists. But neither of us liked war and neither liked to think about killing people. And it was for that reason that we turned down the requests for me to join MIT Radiation Lab or go to Los Alamos. I said, "Well, I think I'm better off if I stick to my navigation. There's where I feel I can do it with pleasure and in a positive way and work hard for it, whereas I never would have liked to lie awake nights and worry about how to kill people."
DeVorkin:That's quite understandable. How was the volume BASIC MARINE NAVIGATION received? And how was it used?
Bok:Very well used, especially in the Army Engineers Amphibian Command [they] bought I think 10,000 copies or so, and gave copies to all the navigators in the Pacific. So it was on all the PT boats. And we had along with it a special navigation kit that could be used for teaching yourself navigation and practicing it, and many of the fellows took the book and the kit along and they had a built-in navigation course, and by the time they were over in the islands, they knew how to navigate. It worked out very nicely. Then of course, I think I mentioned it already, I wrote the little book that was in all the life boats.
DeVorkin:Yes, that's right.
Bok:Yes, soaked in banana oil.
DeVorkin:Oh, to waterproof it?
Bok:Waterproof it. They soaked them in banana oil.
DeVorkin:This first statement that Shapley had in this report, about the fate of the S.S. ROBIN GOODFELLOW, the boat that included --
Bok:-- plates for Boyden --
DeVorkin:Yes, those plates. Were you involved in this?
Bok:I was always involved. Shapley did not have an assistant director, but I came very close to being it. Sort of informally. So I was always deeply involved in it, especially in Southern Hemisphere problems. I'd always wanted to go South, and hoped the opportunity would present itself.
DeVorkin:What kind of a loss did this represent? Was this a unique situation?
Bok:Yes. It just happened once. And that is a pity. So there is a break in the continuity of variable star plates. But the break isn't any worse than what you would have now these days if suddenly the NSF runs out of money for eight months or so.
DeVorkin:Was this boat actually sunk by a torpedo?
Bok:I think so. But I am a bit vague on that. I didn't even know that Shapley had written this up. This article, I didn't know about.
DeVorkin:It's just a very brief report in SCIENCE, under Observatory Reports. I have a general interest in the work of astronomers during World War II. Is there any kind of an overview that you could give me of the work of astronomers, that you feel is of particular importance, something that you experienced or knew about?
Bok:Well, the principal thing that we had as astronomers -- we were always told, "In a time of emergency, astronomers are the best damned second rate physicists that you can get anywhere." That's about where we fitted in, as real first class second rate physicists.
DeVorkin:Who said that first?
Bok:I've forgotten who did. Maybe Shapley did, I don't know. But that's a nice story. Anyhow, that's what we were.
DeVorkin:There was something about your period of time at the Boyden Station in '50, '51 that I wanted to clarify, regarding Shapley's role in the observatory at that time. It seems that really he was losing control of the observatory.
Bok:Because of his many outside activities.
DeVorkin:Yes, his outside activities during that time. Did this have something to do with the closing of Boyden? Why did Boyden close?
Bok:Conant was president of Harvard. And Conant of course officially had to defend Shapley, when McCarthy and others wanted to get rid of him. But Conant frankly hated the guts of Harlow Shapley. And the two of them just didn't like each other. So Conant was determined to hurt Harlow Shapley where he could hurt the most. He couldn't fire him, and he had to publicly defend him, but he really disliked Harlow Shapley very, very heartily. As a result of that, Conant then decided that he would hurt him where he could do it best, and Conant was a tough guy, and so he simply decided to close the Boyden Station. That was a very tough thing on Paul Buck, who was then Dean of the faculty, who liked all of us and whom we all knew very well. But then Menzel and Whipple suddenly began to side with Conant, on the whole closing business, and this became an exceedingly disagreeable and unpleasant situation. And in a way, I was at the short end, for I had always figured that when Shapley would go, whoever was going to be the director didn't matter, as long as I had my Southern Milky Way and Boyden Station. And suddenly the rug was pulled out from under me. And then the first thing that I did was to start radio astronomy at Harvard.
DeVorkin:When you came back.
Bok:When I came back, you know. And then a few years later, when life became impossible, the reason why I really quit in 1956 -- or the reason I gave to President Pusey, who had then come in -- was that I didn't approve of the Smithsonian coming to Harvard, for I felt that would be the end of Harvard's graduate school, in astronomy anyhow.
DeVorkin:We did cover this pretty well.
Bok:Quite fully, I think.
DeVorkin:Let's move on chronologically to the point where we left off last time, which was when you were returning from Australia to Steward Observatory.
Bok:Yes. Now, that was an exceedingly pleasant return, because I have had long contacts with the University of Arizona. They go back to 1938.
DeVorkin:We did discuss it to some extent.
Bok:Yes, I'm prepared to be quick about it. In Arizona, there was a good astronomer, Ed Carpenter, was a close friend of mine. He was very good in training students. He had the first, you might say, postdoctoral fellowship in astronomy, and some of my best students -- Jesse Greenstein and Jim Cuffey, for example -- were the Steward Fellows. They got the fellowship and spent a year or two years as postdoctoral fellows at Arizona. I did quite a bit of traveling for the Harvard Clubs. I was a reasonably good speaker, so I went out and lectured for the Harvard Clubs, and one of the most attractive places to go to, of course, in the middle of the winter, was Tucson, Arizona, and practically every other year, I went to the Harvard Club of Tucson. And there I got to know the future president of the University of Arizona, and I became sort of friends with lots of people who later on fell upstairs and became deans and vice presidents. So very early in the game, I was already the principal advisor to the University of Arizona on all astronomical matters. And out of that came the developments at Kitt Peak. I advised the university very strongly that they could do nothing better than to lean over backwards and be friendly to the development of a National Observatory.
DeVorkin:This was when you were still in Australia?
DeVorkin:In the fifties?
Bok:In the fifties. And then, just before I went to Australia, there came a very interesting request: "Should the University of Arizona go into radio astronomy, yes or no?" The radio astronomy wind had begun to blow. And they asked me to spend, with Priscilla, a week on the way to Australia, as guests of the University of Arizona. And during that time, I advised them very strongly against becoming involved deeply with radio astronomy, simply because, I said, "You are the only outpost where soon, real major optical observatories will be built. Therefore, you are the place destined to have major optical observatories." And during that period, we talked of what is now Kitt Peak, you know, and said, "If this comes about, help them with site testing, do anything you can because here is your chance to build the whole business up." Well, this worked out very nicely in 1957.
DeVorkin:Is this already after AURA developed?
Bok:No, not yet. There was no AURA yet. Then, during that time, we had a dinner party. And at the dinner party Priscilla told a story about one summer when we had been in Arizona, and how she liked it. She had come with a whole lot of clothes to be washed. in those times, there were no driers yet, so you had to hang everything up of course. Here we had the house of the Carpenters, and she hung it up, and she had hung the children's and my washing and the rest all up on the line, she could begin to take it off at the other end. So she said, "Listen, Bart -- we are going to go here in retirement, when we come back from Australia. Not to Boston." Then David Patrick was the one who then said quietly, "Well, Bart, instead of just retiring here, how would it be if you came back from Australia a little early, and spent ten years with us earning an honest living?" And that is the way it worked out. So when I came to Australia, in a way it was already planned that ten years later I would go to Arizona. And this worked out very nicely. In 1964, Carpenter died. Then Dean Rhodes sent me a cablegram, "Bart, we need you now." Herbert Rhodes sent me the cablegram, "Please come and be director," and I cabled back and said, "Sorry, I can't do it, because I feel I need another two years here so that I can build things up in Australia, so that we get the big telescope started here." And then Herbert Rhodes, President Harpel, David Patrick and Aden Meinel did a very nice thing. Aden Meinel was made acting director until the day I would arrive, and on the condition that the minute that I arrived, he could quit and start building up his Institute of Optics, which he has now done, of course.
DeVorkin:Meinel had been director at Kitt Peak.
Bok:At Kitt Peak, but he had run into some difficulties. You know the way it often goes -- the man who selects the place, builds up the station, is fine, but is not the one to direct it when it becomes an active observatory. You see this thing in quite a few places, you know, at the Southern Station of Kitt Peak, they had Jurgen Stock, but Stock never worked out as director there. That takes a different type of person. So Aden had been that. But then Aden got into troubles with the AURA board, when the observatory was done.
DeVorkin:What was the problem?
Bok:I don't know. I was in Australia. It would be much better to ask Aden to talk about that some time. But anyhow, he got into trouble with the AURA board, and he went across the street to the University of Arizona, and then took over until I came. And on the day I came, he said, "Thank God you're here, I'm going to build up my Optical Sciences Center."
DeVorkin:Let's talk about the conditions for astronomy at the University of Arizona upon your arrival.
Bok:They were very good, for what had just happened was that the National Science Foundation had been interested in developments in astronomy. They felt it would be good for Kitt Peak to have a strong department of astronomy across the street from them. And it so happened that the head at that time of the National Science Foundation was Lee Hayworth who was a very old friend of both Priscilla's and mine. As a matter of fact, it was he who had offered me the job at one time, or at least a very firm consideration, for the directorship of the NRAO, the National Radio Observatory.
DeVorkin:What is the rationale for having a strong department across the street? Wouldn't that be sort of duplicating things?
Bok:No. Because they felt very strongly that there should be young people involved; the regular staff of Kitt Peak should have access to young people, graduate students. So they said, "Build up a strong graduate department." This is a very nice story that sounds almost unbelievable in the present time, 1978. Aden Meinel and I had prepared five proposals to NSF, one for a 60-inch reflector on Kitt Peak, so that we would have a good telescope of our own, another one for a good spectrograph, and one for photoelectric equipment, and one to help along our graduate school. There was another one of some sort, to get university astronomy really started in a bigger way, because until then, there had only been Carpenter and one man, Walter Fitch -- it was a two man observatory. Then, when I came, Lee Hayworth got all these proposals.
DeVorkin:These are the ones that you and Meinel wrote?
Bok:Yes. And then they all arrived on his desk. He said, "This is too damned complicated. Well, Bart knows how to build observatories and how to run them. I tell you what we do, we give him a Science Development Grant of two million dollars." The University of Arizona contributed one million and built the building for the telescope and various other things. "And then," he said, "we make only one change in their proposal." As Lee says, "What the hell, Bart knows how to build telescopes, I turn the 6 upside down and I give him a 90-inch."
DeVorkin:It was really that simple?
Bok:That simple! Yes.
DeVorkin:You're right, it's hard to believe.
Bok:It's hard to believe. That's how it happened. And the only condition that he had, and this worked out beautifully, was that I would report to him every three months about how things had been going. I could spend the money as I wished, but I would do that. And I did that always (we had a good photographer from the beginning) with photographs of everything. And Lee Hayworth and the president of the university and the dean got an unsolicited fairly long report every three months with plenty of pretty pictures. And this helped us along a great deal. Then the telescope, fortunately, was out for competitive bidding, and Boller and Chivens got the bid. I had worked with them from Australia. They had built us a 16-inch, 24-inch polarization telescope, and a 40-inch. So I knew all the people, and could work in with them, and the telescope was finally dedicated in 1970, as an operating telescope, and we arrived here in April, 1966. That was very quick work.
DeVorkin:Yes. I noted in '67 you had hoped the completion date would be a little earlier than '70.
Bok:Yes, you always hope a little. But my Lord, looking back at it now, to build a 90-inch telescope in 1966, forgetting the money, and having the first good photographs taken with it in 1970, is a very, very quick thing.
DeVorkin:Yes. Did you have a matching grant from the state of Arizona?
Bok:More or less. Arizona gave $800,000 for the building. And you find that this has had very strong approval. I think I showed you the citation I got, with the honorary degree, from Arizona State University a few days ago. There the main emphasis is that we really helped to bring astronomy to Arizona in a big way.
DeVorkin:Let me ask you a few items about that. How was the site on Kitt Peak chosen?
Bok:That was done by Aden Meinel, under the site testing program for the National Science Foundation. So the National Science Foundation set up very early -- when AURA was hardly formed -- a small group, Aden Meinel and Helmut Abt.
DeVorkin:Oh, I don't mean the Kitt Peak site, but the particular place where the 90-inch would be placed.
Bok:We went to Kitt Peak and said we'd like to have our telescope on Kitt Peak.
DeVorkin:And they told you where it could be put?
Bok:Where they would like to have it put. And that suited me quite fine. But there were some interesting things there. When my good friend Nick Mayall became difficult, as he sometimes did, I would say, "Would you please remember, I represent the sovereign state of Arizona. I represent the Indians. You are the intruder. Brother, behave yourself, or you're going to be in difficulties."
DeVorkin:Were you basically on good terms with him?
Bok:Oh, very good. We were old friends from way back. Had met each other for the first time in 1932 or '31. Long time ago. So we were very good friends. Oh yes.
DeVorkin:The reason why I ask about the particular site is that when you see pictures of Kitt Peak, the 90-inch is below the 150-inch.
DeVorkin:Now, is the 150 to the north of the 90-inch?
Bok:Yes. And it cuts off a bit of our northern sky. But Bart Bok is interested in the Southern sky only, so what the hell! And it is basically on much more solid ground. For the 150-inch they had to pour I think practically four million dollars’ worth of concrete in the mountain to hold it together. That mountain almost fell to pieces.
Bok:And I used to kid Nick Mayall and say, "I'm glad we have our telescope on the firm settle; when your telescope goes downhill, we can watch you come down."
DeVorkin:Was that 90-inch the first design where the telescope itself and the whole building was raised up by quite a few stories?
DeVorkin:Who developed that basic idea?
Bok:That was very largely Meinel. Meinel basically loves to build telescopes. Loves to build, period. He is basically a builder -- build and design. Optical design and building are his strong points. But I came in because after all, I had quite a bit of experience.
Bok:The Bok Walk. The observatory building was designed by William Weild, the architect, who is a very good designer. He did a fine job, it was all arranged before I came. And then I looked at the building and I said, "My God, there is no place where an observer can go out at night and see what the clouds are doing and what's going on in the clouds." I said, "Any telescope that I've built has always had a place where you can go outside, around the telescope, or somewhere, where you don't have to go outside by going down the stairs or the elevator, where you can look and see what the sky is doing." So I said, "There has to be something done. Here is a little platform. We open a door, here, and put it out there." I said, "You've got to remember, when you deal with me, there always must be a Bok Walk." Then Boller and Chivens, when the building was finished, came in with a lovely bakelite plate, saying "BOK WALK." It's now right up there, and everybody goes out on the Bok Walk. And that's one of the nicest things to have. It's a very practical thing. You can look outside, see what the clouds are doing, is the sky still good, is everything all right, is the wind getting too much, is there a danger of rain? Or whatever goes on.
DeVorkin:That's quite good. OK, any other elements in the construction of the 90-inch that we should talk about?
Bok:Yes. The principal thing, it's a good rule to follow when you build telescopes, the way I have done. For I'm not an engineer, but I do know how I want things. Therefore, you lay down your specifications very carefully, and Meinel and I did that, with the technical help that we needed. And then you see to it that the builder does things right. Now, the way I've always worked with Boller and Chivens is that they build the instrument, and I don't accept it or pay a penny until I find that the instrument can perform satisfactorily. We did this in Australia with the 40-inch, for example, and we had a cheerful luncheon at the Coonabarrabran Hotel, and then I had the check along for $100,000. And there was the $100,000 for the first down payment for the telescope. So then we did the same sort of thing here. While the design and construction was on the way, I went at least once a month, sometimes more frequently to Boller and Chivens and got to know all the people who worked on the design, visited with them, but never told them what to do. But I said, "If I were you, I would consider this. I would like that better. From my experience, this isn't a good approach," and all that. Clyde Chivens once said, if they ever had a contract again with Bart Bok involved, there ought to be added half a million dollars for luncheons with martinis! We had some very good times.
DeVorkin:I noticed, looking at the specifications for the 90-inch, that it seems to be an interesting mixture of state of the art of the time. Your main mirror was General Electric fused quartz.
DeVorkin:But all of your backup and secondary mirrors and other mirrors were made out of Cer-vit from Owens Illinois.
Bok:Yes. That came later. The Cer-vit wasn't accepted yet, I frankly didn't dare to do it. The second thing is, if we had waited for Cer-vit for the primary mirror, it would have set us back a year or so. And I had had enough prior experience. Then there was another thing that helped out a good deal, that when the primary mirror was cast, it was cast on the rubble of the first 150-inch that they had built for Kitt Peak, and this was rather nice. We simply took the rubble from the Kitt Peak blank that went kaput and didn't do very well, and we got that one, and our mirror was therefore ready. I was in a hurry to build up and get a good telescope started. The state of the art has changed of course now quite a bit.
DeVorkin:The first fused quartz blank was intended for the 150-inch?
DeVorkin:Did they actually make the entire blank?
Bok:Yes. And then it cracked or something went wrong with it.
DeVorkin:I see, but a 90-inch was still feasible?
Bok:By that time they had learned the technique -- you take all the rubble and put it back into the melt.
DeVorkin:To get all the strains out of it?
DeVorkin:It takes two meltings --
Bok:Yes, so ours did very, very nicely, we had a very good mirror as a result.
Bok:It helped in all these things that I'd dealt with them. I knew how to do it and had been through it all on different buildings.
DeVorkin:What was the graduate program like when you arrived at Steward, and how did you decide to change it?
Bok:At that time it had large numbers of graduate students, but too few constant people to lecture. So it was not broad enough. And also there were a number of people who were not overly competent there, who had permanent appointments already. And what I did, I simply surrounded them with better people. I had already worked with Carpenter earlier on it and with Meinel too, so that for example Ray Weymann came on our staff as a permanent staff member. That was a very good strong selection.
DeVorkin:You brought him?
Bok:Well, I didn't. But Carpenter brought him. And then Meinel. But they knew that I was coming to Arizona later on, so they always consulted with me, in Australia. So I had a nice hand in it. And this meant that when I came here, all our policies were all set up. We knew what we were going to do, how we were going to do it, and there was not this year of waiting and watching, and I could immediately start recruiting people. And I must say, the University of Arizona -- President Harvel -- was unbelievably helpful, providing extra staff members. The University of Arizona saw rightly that here was a chance to really set up one of the major departments of astronomy in the country and the world. And that's why I was so glad -- I think I told that story last time -- that in 1965, we weren't even judged as a graduate school department. But in 1970, we were No. 5, one ahead of Harvard!
DeVorkin:Right. I know that made you feel very good.
Bok:It made me feel awful good. And it is of course now recognized as one of the real strong departments of astronomy in the country.
DeVorkin:Did you have any difficulties in faculty recruitment at that time?
Bok:Nope. No. No, it was not difficult.
DeVorkin:I mean, finding the right people?
Bok:No. I know a lot of people. That helps a great deal. And then at that time I became president of the American Astronomical Society. That means still more people got to know me, too. And the whole thing worked out very easily. And then, that was the time when there was still money around, you know.
DeVorkin:OK, we're recording again after a delightful dinner. We've talked about the 90-inch. I'd like to know, though, how you developed Steward Observatory and the various programs, as those things grew in Arizona, beyond the late sixties. Then after that, talk more about your role in the AAS and many of the policies that you really initiated and began, in employment and things like that. Let's work on Steward then for the first part.
Bok:Well, regarding Steward, it's very simple. In the beginning, we had a good department of astronomy. We had Steward Observatory. We had about six staff members, three of them good, three of them not so good.
DeVorkin:These were the people who were there when you came?
Bok:Who were there when I came, and had semi-permanent appointments. And then I convinced the administration and NSF that we should add six more, and so we had a department of twelve. That made it possible to surround the poorer ones with really good people. Pacholczyk came in, among others. There was a whole new group. Pacholczyk, and Bob Williams came in. Pacholczyk comes from Poland, and is quite a powerful theoretical astrophysicist. Then we got in Bob Williams, a very good man who is mostly interested in planetary nebulae and things of that sort. Then we got a couple of real good engineers to help us out, for when you are building up a place, you need a good engineering staff. John Cock come in, and one of the nicest things that happened to us was that during this period John Cock and Michael Disney and Donald Taylor were the first ones to discover that they could observe optically the pulsar in the Crab Nebula. That was a great discovery. It helped us along a great deal, particularly since the discovery was made with the 36-inch even though the 200-inch and the 84-inch were looking for it. And our boys did it, with some very fine electronic equipment, on the 36-inch!
DeVorkin:Was the 36-inch up at Kitt Peak when you came?
Bok:Yes. It had just been transferred there when I arrived. It used to be in town. It was a miserable telescope to use there. It's now a semi-miserable telescope, about to be retired, on top of Kitt Peak.
DeVorkin:Who is the one who set it up there, Carpenter?
Bok:That was Carpenter still. Carpenter and Meinel together did it.
DeVorkin:Is there anything still on campus now?
Bok:Yes, there's a 21-inch telescope on campus, and that's used for student purposes. And when my girlfriend is out for a visit, at nights we go there, and we have a little look through it. But that's a straightforward training telescope. I have always felt very strongly that the bread and butter of an astronomy department is the teaching of the young outside astronomy. Beyond the graduate training, it's one of the most important things to do. And an astronomy department that only pays attention to graduate training just drives itself into the rocks and it's very soon over. The service that we give to the community is by serving the public and by serving the young people in the university that want to know about astronomy. And now each year there are about 1200 people who take the beginning courses in astronomy. The interest in astronomy is very great indeed, of course, as you well know.
DeVorkin:Did you have a hand in designing the undergraduate courses?
Bok:I was chairman of the department, and head of the observatory for five years. And then when things were running smoothly I decided that the best thing to do, while we had Weymann available as a very good successor, was to get the heck out of it. So I spent two more years just being a professor, and then gave up. I retired one year before anybody asked me. And that was very nice, so everybody loves me now, for they didn't have to say, "When the heck is he going to leave?" Straightforward. I walked out myself. I retired. That must have been September '73. That's about five years ago. And in retirement, I've taken the nicest office that anybody can have. It is right underneath the big dome of Steward Observatory, in town, and right underneath there is a good place for all old astronomers to go and die, and I have had five very happy years there. And I'm away from all the centers of activity, and I take no part in policy making. I ask no questions. But anyone who wants to come and see me can drop in. That's worked out beautifully.
DeVorkin:When you were still chairman, did you teach the elementary astronomy course?
Bok:I have, during my whole life, whenever there was a chance, taught at least a one-half year course and most of the time a full year beginning course in astronomy. I feel very strongly that it is the function of the astronomers, who know what the heck is going on, to teach and deal with the very youngest group. The in-between courses are generally left to others. I've taught the beginning course, and then a course on either galactic dynamics or galactic structure or stellar statistics, or sometimes celestial mechanics. But I've left the teaching of the intermediate courses mostly to others. But each year I have taught a real beginning course.
DeVorkin:Could you talk a little bit about how you designed the course, what textbooks you used?
Bok:Well, I got involved very early with Baker's textbook. R.H. Baker was a good friend of mine. I've never written a text-book. I've had many requests to write a textbook, and each time I have said, "No, thank you, I'd rather spend my time working on dark nebulae and globules or do other things." I feel that I've done my part for the world by writing with Priscilla the book on THE MILKY WAY and keeping that up to date. Next year, I'm going to revise it again -- the fifth edition. I have a lovely contract with Harvard University, unwritten. I might explain the contract. The editor said, "Bart, we want the fifth edition about a year and a half from now. You deliver the complete manuscript, with all the new illustrations, with all the changes in the text, everything done, any day, it doesn't matter which day, between Christmas, 1979, and the following New Year's Day. It gives you a whole week of leeway. But if your calendar shows 1980 -- Brother, you are late." So I have a firm assignment to do that fifth edition of that.
DeVorkin:Who is your contact there?
Bok:Dr. Bennett. The editor who has stood by it most is Vivian Wheeler. She is the one who really does a lot of detailed things. But I go all through the whole company from beginning to end, right up to Rosenthal, the head of it.
DeVorkin:Did you continue to use Baker in the sixties when you taught astronomy?
Bok:Yes. But then in Australia, I didn't teach so much. And then in the sixties, part of the time I used Abell's textbook. But I didn't like it, to be perfectly frank.
DeVorkin:What were your criticisms?
Bok:I could never find where the open clusters were, where the globular clusters were, where the Milky Way was. I always had trouble finding my way around in it.
DeVorkin:He didn't treat them explicitly?
Bok:No. I found that Baker's book was very straightforward and simple. I tried some books by my students. Stan Wyatt, I didn't like his book either. I think I told you that in retirement I've decided that I would do no teaching of beginning courses anymore because it takes too much. If I did, I would have to spend full time on it, whereas now, I spend full time on globules and dark nebulae and star formation.
DeVorkin:If you were to do it, how would you do it nowadays?
Bok:I might go for King's textbook, Ivan King. His book looks very, very good to me. I still wouldn't want to write one, because if I wanted to write one, I would find it would take me now probably two years of hard work to do it. And frankly, there are about 40 or 50 textbooks. Trouble is, none of them are very good.
DeVorkin:You think King's is one of the best?
Bok:Yes. I do. And the other one I would like, if I taught a more mathematical course, is Elske Smith and Ken Jacobs' book, that mathematical one I like very much. I do quite a bit of reviewing and refereeing of textbooks. That I enjoy doing. That's fine, saying, "This is wrong, that's wrong, that's a lousy chapter, this is a great chapter."
DeVorkin:Yes. What is your feeling about the role of mathematics in introductory courses for non-scientists?
Bok:You must make up your mind for whom you are going to write. If you have a course that is aimed at people who know mathematics, then give a mathematical course. If you have a course that's aimed at people who just are going to be lawyers and dentists and doctors and so on, a general education course, it must be a much lower level.
DeVorkin:What kind of mathematics do you think is essential for any level course, a low-level course?
Bok:I tell you how much mathematics is essential. We went through that with our navigation course in World War II, where we divided our students into three groups. The groups were: those who could add and subtract; those who could add; and those who could not even add. The ones who could not even add, I let go down the drain, for that was too much. But if a person can add and has a good sense, then they can understand what's going on. I'll tell you the way we sorted them. Francis Wright and I figured this out very nicely. We gave them a test the first day, when our Army Engineers came to get educated in astronomy in three weeks in a hurry. The first thing, we said, "The time is now 12:18. What will be the time one hour and 43 minutes from now?" Those who could do that could add. Then I would say the second problem was: "The time is now 12:18. What was the time one hour and 43 minutes ago?" And then you begin to sort out those who can add, cannot add, can add and subtract, and you know right away who you are dealing with. That was a good division. I feel that in the teaching of general science, mathematics should not be made a criterion. When it comes to the teaching of people who are going possibly to be professional scientists, then of course you have to stress it. Then you come in and you use everything. You use simple differential equations. You go through Newton's Laws and do it straightforward. But if you deal with general education groups, I think the mathematics should not be made a stumbling block in teaching the wonders of the universe. There's another thing that Priscilla and I did, when we wrote our book on the Milky Way. Each time where we got ready for a new edition, we used to say, "Now comes the time to appoint that committee." And we had an imaginary committee of about five people -- an imaginary committee. Whenever we had a fight together as to whether something should go in or not, she would say, "Now, listen, you have your grandson on our committee. He couldn't understand this. You are writing for Jan Oort -- and that's all right, if you want to write for Jan Oort, write another book, but don't put it in our book."
DeVorkin:How old was your grandson at the time?
Bok:The grandson was about 14. Yes, he went to the Milford Academy. A bright boy. He was all right, you know. She said, "We're writing for our grandson." And this has paid off, in that the fourth edition of THE MILKY WAY has sold unbelievably well in prep schools and secondary schools, where people can read it. Because the minute I would get too tough, she would say, "Hey, wait a minute, wait a minute, you are going the wrong way." We generally had either our dentist or our doctor sit on our committee. One neighbor on the street who was interested in astronomy and one editor of astronomy. We also put a distinguished physicist on it, because many distinguished physicists have to read up in a hurry about astronomy when they get a great idea about cosmic rays or something like that. Therefore we always had one distinguished physicist on it. George Uhlenbeck was very often on our committee, or Sam Goudsmit, for example. They were the sort of friends we put on it. Ed Purcell knew too much astronomy, so he wasn't the type who could sit on our committee. But these other friends, who are distinguished physicists and know no astronomy, were very useful to have. And this committee approach, I recommend to anybody who writes a beginning or intermediate book. You must make up your mind who you are going to address your book to. And whenever you are writing and you are in doubt, you must say, "We'd better look what the committee would say about it."
DeVorkin:You wrote an endorsement for the book by Berendzen, Hart and Seeley: Man Discovers The Galaxies.
DeVorkin:That was intended as a textbook, even though it is primarily historical. Would you consider using a book like that at this point?
Bok:Not in my courses. No. I do history, but not as strongly as they would do it. For example, what I liked most was the course that we had at Harvard, when we had the general education at Harvard. It's just now being thrown out. That was about 40 years ago or so, 30 years ago. That course on general education had the principle that you would give people a feeling for the science in a quarter of a semester of astronomy. And then each time I picked a topic that I was interested in talking about. In some years, I would do some history: Tycho, Copernicus, beginning with Ptolemy, going right up through Kepler and Galileo.
DeVorkin:This is when you were teaching at Harvard.
Bok:Yes. Other times I would say to the students, "This time I'm going to tell you how and why I do Milky Way research." Another year, I would say, "It's about time I check up what's going on in cosmology. This is a good thing to tell those boys and girls about."
DeVorkin:So you provided more a topical approach, doing coherent topics in that quarter semester?
DeVorkin:You feel that this is probably the most effective way?
Bok:Well, depends entirely on the person. I think the important thing is that the one who teaches the course has something that he wants very much to communicate to the people in his class. For example, in one of my classes, I remember I had Senator Stevenson, and the present Agah Khan. Well, that was a nice combination to have. You know, we used to call Khan, "The boy who has to call Rita Hayworth mother."
DeVorkin:Was this Adlai Stevenson's son?
Bok:Yes. And that was a very nice thing. You had the feeling -- especially at Harvard, but I still had that here too -- when you were teaching, that somewhere in your class there are two or three people who are going to be very worthwhile teaching, if you teach them right. If you teach them wrong, that will change life in the other direction. And therefore, I think the teaching of beginning courses is, to my mind, an unbelievable responsibility, and a very interesting one, a very challenging one. That's why, for example, I have very little wish, in my own case -- I'm glad other people do it -- to teach intermediate courses. A beginning course in astrophysics might be fine, and if I need it I wouldn't hesitate doing it. But if I didn't feel I need it, I wouldn't want to do it, for that will be for an intermediate group of people. The next group that's worthwhile is your own graduate students. And of course, I've had quite a few: I've had 55 PhD's. That's quite a number. Those, you deal with very closely, of course. But that's much more on a person to person basis.
DeVorkin:Right. We'll talk about that in a moment, but I'm still interested in pursuing a few of these lines in elementary education. You advocated very strongly the topical approach.
Bok:Yes, for a quarter semester in a natural science course. When I was given a quarter, I often shared it with a geologist or something like that, and then we coordinated it to some extent. When the geologist was very prominent, we would talk about ages in the universe. Now, that was a lovely topic. How do we find how old the stars are in the Milky Way? Then he would do geology and the geological ages. When we had these short courses we sat down together and said, "What will be our overall aim?" I started off, then we went on into geological ages, or sometimes we would alternate: three weeks of one, three weeks of another.
DeVorkin:George Ellery Hale, around 1914-15, organized a series of lectures at the National Academy of Sciences under his father's name, the William Ellery Hale Lectureship. And he invited men prominent in their areas of science to talk about evolution and ages. That seems to be a very, very good approach.
Bok:A powerful approach. We have to say, now, "Sit down, before we talk about the Milky Way, you've got to know ages." I remember, for example, the year I did cosmology.
DeVorkin:When was that?
Bok:That must have been 1952 or '53. In the Natural Sciences course. And the first day, I said to the students, "I will only use mathematics if we need it," and I was going to talk that year about cosmology and the age of the universe -- things like that.
DeVorkin:You were teaching cosmology.
Bok:So, I was teaching cosmology. And on the first day, I wrote on the blackboard: This is how you get radial velocities, you know. And the class hissed when I wrote that.
Bok:Hissed. That was a Harvard class.
DeVorkin:So they haven't changed much.
Bok:I said, "Listen, boys and girls -- all of you shut up. This is the 20th of September. No hissing today. If you want to hiss on the 20th of November, I will consider myself defeated. Will you please shut up until the 20th of November. Give me a break. This is something you need to know, if we're going to go on and find out what it's all about in cosmology and the expanding universe." They were with me and the whole thing worked out fine.
DeVorkin:So you do require that level of math.
Bok:That level, yes. I would not hesitate when you feel that is needed. For example, how can you talk red shifts without writing down that formula? Even if you chew it out, beginning to end? So that's OK to ask --
DeVorkin:So, f=ma (???)
Bok:Oh yes. Yes. And, Newton's laws, those things I will use, yes. But then, when it goes farther, then I just sort of watch what audience I have, how far you can go. When it came to celestial mechanics, I used to give a number of simple lectures, and say, "For the next lecture, no one will be responsible for this on the exam. Those who don't want to come don't have to come, but the next lecture is a simple mathematical one about how you derive Kepler's equations, for example."
DeVorkin:How many people showed up?
Bok:Generally about 60 to 70 percent.
DeVorkin:Have you noticed any difference in the students at Harvard that you taught, and the students at the University of Arizona, in time or in characteristics?
DeVorkin:What kinds of differences did you see?
Bok:The principal difference is that the students at Arizona can spell even less than the students at Harvard. And that is a very sad thing. In general I have found a whole deterioration in the writing of English, in expression and related things. Harvard was clearly far superior to Arizona. I'm sad I have to say this. I love Arizona dearly, but my God, the preparation that these kids have had when they come to the University is quite regrettable.
DeVorkin:Many universities nowadays, at least their administrations, seem to take the attitude that if you have in your astronomy course students who can't read, write or do any arithmetic, you're to teach them these basic skills.
Bok:God no, I wouldn't do that. No. The same with graduate students. I have had graduate students come in, and some very bright ones, who come and say, "You have to teach me least squares before I go up." I say, "Listen, you can read it damn well up by yourself. I'm not going to spend my time here. You should have known it before you came to us. If you don't know it now, read it up, I'll give you the references, but I'm not going to spend my time for three or four lectures teaching you least squares."
DeVorkin:Let's hold onto graduate studies at Steward. What criteria do you usually set for admission of graduate students?
Bok:In general, I would say that the criterion was that you ought to have had some good courses in physics, that you ought to have had a course at least through advanced calculus toward differential equations, and that you ought to have had, in astronomy, the equivalent of a sound knowledge of Abell's book. And if you didn't have that, if a student was good -- we often got physics or mathematics students without it -- we would say, "We'll give you an advisor and you go ahead, but you'd better read Abell's book in a hurry and get that under your belt."
DeVorkin:Would you use Abell's book as a standard now, or Smith and Jacobs?
Bok:I don't know. That would really depend on who wanted to do what. I wouldn't be firm on that. But in general, what is needed for the students who enter into graduate work is that they have a bit more basic information about what's going on in astronomy. That's quite often the case. You get very good physics and mathematics students.
DeVorkin:In the past years, especially after your 1974 address, as president of the AAS, about priorities in graduate education, where departments should be more selective and not take so many graduate students, what kinds of priorities do you think are the most effective for recruiting the right types of graduate students? What do you think is the right training for a graduate student today?
Bok:Really physics and mathematics. That's basic. Especially physics now. In my day, when I came in, it was more mathematics, but by now it has changed much more to a good knowledge of physics. A good knowledge of atomic physics, a good knowledge of electricity, a good knowledge of the theory of light, for example. These things are essential for the whole development of the student. And then in general, atomic physics has to come in, you know, spectroscopy and all that. I think a knowledge of physics is the basic thing that I would recommend to a young student now. But along with it, one should not stop them from taking astronomy courses if they're interested, because the interest after all comes from an interest in the heavens and all that comes with it. I urge all of my students to spend as much time as they can under the night skies, and look and get acquainted thoroughly with the heavens. That's another thing.
DeVorkin:In most departments, though, that are not as large as Arizona, it seems as though, if they are to maintain a graduate program in training astrophysicists, they simply would not have enough faculty available, especially if the undergraduate priorities were in physics, to be able to maintain undergraduate courses in astronomy. Where do you think the priority should lie there?
Bok:If you can you should have an astronomer or two on your faculty, in the physics department. Arizona State, for example, has now set up a very good astronomy group, with some astronomers and a whole group of nice young people who know how to do it, and the young people there get a good feeling for astronomy. I don't think you can say to a boy who goes to college and wants to become an astronomer in the future: "Forget about it for four years, study all the mathematics and physics and come and see me in four years." It doesn't work that way. If the boy or girl is bright, he will become a physicist or a mathematician, and will get so interested that he or she is out of astronomy forever and ever. Therefore you have to give them a balanced diet. I think it's very important to have a couple of astronomers in practically every physics department in a self-respecting undergraduate college. Very important.
DeVorkin:So you see the trend to absorbing many astronomy departments into physics departments --
Bok:As a good trend.
DeVorkin:As a good trend?
Bok:On the whole, under present circumstances, yes. In the past, I wasn't so sure, but under present circumstances, yes, by all means. Yes.
DeVorkin:So you see no danger of a loss of identity?
Bok:Not if there is a good astronomer on the grounds. Then that astronomer has just as much chance to pull physicists away from physics to do astronomy, as physicists have to turn the astronomers into physicists. Also, several of the students that I had for example in Australia have become distinguished physicists who always turn up at astronomical meetings. Sure, that's all right. No, I think that there shouldn't be a tug of war at all times. It depends on who presents the most attractive thing, and one has to remember that an undergraduate training is principally to find out what you don't want to do. Not only what you do want to do, but what you don't want to do, you have to find out.
DeVorkin:Do you want to have astronomy regarded within the physics community as part of physics, much as solid state is a part of physics? Or is it something to itself?
Bok:I think it's still something to itself. But I wouldn't be over strong on that. It depends. There ought to be sympathy for astronomy, especially from the side of the head of the department, that if the astronomers who come into the department are basically used as physicists, and not given a chance to do astronomy, then I think the thing defeats itself.
DeVorkin:What kind of system of checks and balances do you think exists, where the astronomers are given the freedom to do astronomy within a physics department? You mentioned Arizona State University, and of course I know Don Hayes and Summer Starfield very well, and I do know that it's difficult for them getting their wishes known and felt in the physics department, because the physics people have their own priorities, and they treat astronomy as almost a utility.
Bok:Or as a sub-section of physics.
DeVorkin:That's right. And when it comes to another faculty opening, even though the astronomers are carrying a tremendous load of teaching, another physicist is hired. How can this be remedied?
Bok:Well, there must be deans and presidents and people like that who have sympathy. Astronomy develops only in climates where there are in the administration either astronomers or people with astronomical sympathies. For example, here at the University of Arizona, our president, John Shafer, is an amateur astronomer, and has a telescope in his back yard. President Harvel was very anxious to see good astronomy develop, for he had seen how his state really needed it, and had the only good climate that was left in the United States, with all the other troubles. Therefore, I think it depends often on chance situations, as to how it goes. It depends also on how good the astronomer is. Now, there comes a very important part. An astronomer who is good can build terrific strength, by giving a good undergraduate program. Then he draws a large number of students in, and boards of regents and presidents and deans all look at the places where the students go. Therefore, an astronomer may have to pay more attention sometimes to undergraduate than to the more advanced teaching.
DeVorkin:Since you made this call in 1974, four years ago, how's the reaction been in the astronomical community? Have there been more placements of astronomers in teaching positions? Have graduate programs in astronomy gotten smaller?
Bok:I think on the whole the thing that has helped more than anything else, is that there has come about a period of free advertising for astronomy. Of course, Health Education and Welfare has helped on that. Minority things have helped on that. But therefore, the fact that there is free advertising so that anybody can apply, I think is one of the healthiest developments we have.
DeVorkin:What do you mean by free advertising?
Bok:That the American Astronomical Society has a bulletin in which all openings are advertised. In the old days, there was never any advertising. It was all: "Well, Bill is head of the department and needs another astronomer; he calls up his friends Joe and Charlie and says, Who do I get?" "Oh," says, Joe, "I got somebody all right, here he comes," and that was the end of that. There was never any open advertising. By now, there has to be. I urged that one very much in my first address to the AMERICAN ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY, and it was frowned upon by my colleagues.
DeVorkin:Who frowned upon it?
Bok:Oh, several of the big shots from the East.
DeVorkin:From the East?
Bok:From the East especially.
Bok:Yes. For example. There were some very interesting things that went on in those days. When I was made president-elect, I came to my first president-elect council meeting and said, "Now, I've made up my mind, I know what I want -- I want a committee on unemployment in astronomy, or a thing called committee on employment in astronomy..."
DeVorkin:Committee on Manpower & Employment?
Bok:Manpower. And the then president Martin Schwarzschild said, "I don't see that there's any problem of unemployment. At Princeton we have never any difficulties in placing our people." I said, "Well, there are other places where it's getting difficult." "Oh," he said, "I don't believe it's serious at all, Bart. You're just imagining this."
DeVorkin:Was this in a council meeting?
Bok:In a council meeting. And then when I gave my first address, the council actually passed a resolution saying that the views expressed by President Bok in his presidential address were not necessarily the views of the council. That's what we went through, to get the early employment committee pushed, and pushed and pushed along. Yes. It seems unbelievable now almost but that's the way it was.
DeVorkin:That's quite interesting. Of course, as we were talking over dinner, one of the most poignant reactions to the difficulties of placement has been the MIRA group.
DeVorkin:And in the article that I read reviewing the MIRA people, it really said that graduate students at Case were aware of the fact that coming from Case, they couldn't compete with students from Cal Tech.
DeVorkin:Is this true, really? Even in this open period of employment, do people still look at one school and say, "Well, he comes from that school," rather than looking at his abilities?
DeVorkin:It goes on that way still.
Bok:It goes on still. Yes. And I have a lot of sympathy with the whole MIRA group. I met with them in Cleveland when they were still all graduate students, before anyone had a Ph.D.
DeVorkin:Did they seek you out?
DeVorkin:Where did you meet them?
Bok:In Cleveland. I went to give a lecture to Cleveland, and Dr. McCuskey said, "Listen, Bart, our students want to talk to you about a thing they have in mind."
DeVorkin:Was he sympathetic to them?
Bok:Very sympathetic, and a little worried about how it was going to go, for McCuskey is a very straightforward conservative person. They presented it all to me, and I saw what their problem was, and I encouraged them. And then they went along and got their Ph.D.s and set it up, and they wanted to have a meeting before the American Astronomical Society at Puerto Rico. At that time I had become vice president and chairman of the Employment Committee, so I simply told the council, "We're going to have a meeting from 1 to 2 o'clock with these young people explaining what they have in mind." The council said, "That's silly, nobody will come to the meeting." I said, "You watch and see what happens," and 200 people turned up at that meeting, and it became a very strong thing. Then they had help. Martin Schwarzschild helped them beautifully by giving them their 40-inch mirror, from Princeton. That helped a great deal.
DeVorkin:That's right. That was a mirror that was slated for the space program. Was it 40 or 36?
Bok:Yes. I think it was 40 but maybe 36. That size, about that order. Then Bruce Weaver who was sort of the chairman of the group wrote to me and said, would I mind heading up a committee to get them some back issues of magazines for the library? Then Priscilla Bok and I sat at home and Priscilla said, "Listen, why don't we give our library to them? We had quite a bit; we started subscribing to all the essential journals in about 1946, when we were well enough off that we could afford it. And we really didn't need it in Tucson, for there were already four or five good astronomical libraries there. So then we offered them our library. I said, "I won't head up a committee, but you can have our library." And this worked out very, very happily. And then I was deeply involved as an advisor to the Research Corporation, which helped out with a sizeable grant, and the whole thing has been a very happy and pleasant development.
DeVorkin:How did that grant from the Research Corporation actually come about? Did they apply directly?
Bok:They applied directly to the Research Corporation.
DeVorkin:You'd already been advisor to them.
Bok:I had sort of been an advisor. I had profited by them, because they helped send me to South Africa in 1948, '49, to start the work on the center of the galaxy -- the Carina nebula and spiral structure in the South at Boyden Station. So I knew them from that, and they had felt that that was a successful venture, and they had often called on me as an advisor. The whole thing has worked out beautifully. I visit the MIRA people once a year at my own expense and have a fine time, and I've lectured to them in Monterey. When I gave my last lecture, there were 250 people from the town that came to the public lecture.
Bok:Yes. So they have fairly strong local backing, and the whole thing worked out fine.
DeVorkin:Do you think we're going to see more of these kinds of alternatives?
Bok:I don't know if the situation is any more as serious as it was, because there is now a sharper division between poor and good students. For a while, there were too many second level mediocre ones let in that couldn't get jobs. By now, there are a number of good ones who seem to have no difficulty landing jobs, and there are poor ones who have difficulties and I don't care what they do. So the problem of unemployment, while still quite serious, is not as serious as it was I think five years ago.
DeVorkin:Have all departments complied, introducing this reduction in the size of their graduate programs?
DeVorkin:Which ones have not complied?
Bok:For example, the prize example is the University of Texas, where they still admit as many as want to come in. They say they warn them at the beginning that this is a risky thing, but they feel anybody ought to have the chance to at least try it. I don't agree with that.
DeVorkin:Is this Harlan Smith?
DeVorkin:Do they support all their graduate students while they're there?
Bok:I don't really know the details. I don't think so, but I don't know the details. It's a huge department, of course.
DeVorkin:Do you know anything about how many of the Texas people are actually placed?
Bok:No, I don't know the statistics.
DeVorkin:What other departments are very large, larger than they should be?
Bok:Well, there are some, like the University of Indiana, for example, that still do a landslide business, and that frankly has caused a reduction in the quality of its teaching and research staff.
DeVorkin:Indiana University at Bloomington?
Bok:Yes, at Bloomington. And the same sort of thing applies -- for example, if you look at the list of members of AURA. I think that about three of four of the institutions who are the most influential now for running AURA would not be admitted to AURA if they wanted to come in now.
Bok:I'd rather not go into too much detail. Indiana is one of them. I don't think Ohio State quite makes the grade. On the other hand, Illinois has come way up, you know. Michigan has stayed sort of even but is a little doubtful. I think the AURA situation is not a healthy one.
DeVorkin:Because the members come in based upon their status in the fifties?
Bok:From their status in the fifties, and then they stay forever and ever, amen. And the people who are their representatives are often appointed their representatives at an early stage when they look promising. Then they make a lifetime career about being members of the AURA board. For example, let's take one case, this is a very interesting one. You know, I've been on lots of committees in my lifetime. It isn't generally known, but I've never been asked to serve on a single AURA or Kitt Peak committee.
DeVorkin:I was going to get around to asking you that. You haven't been on one?
Bok:Never. No. No.
DeVorkin:You've been on every other kind of committee?
Bok:But never on that.
DeVorkin:Why is that?
Bok:Well, because I wrote scathingly, and I tell you why they are scared. When I arrived home from Australia, I said to Nick Mayall, "Brother, I hope I get on one of your committees, for if I do, you are going to have a strong opponent for two things -- one, the Southern Schmidt telescope," for there was none, there is now a good one.
DeVorkin:You were going to push for one.
Bok:And I said, "I'm going to push for developments in infra-red astronomy. There is the big development coming up, and you are not doing anything about it." And Nick Mayall, who's a very good friend of mine, said, "Bart, there is no point in putting you on a committee or on the board because after all, you and I are such close friends. Whenever you have a recommendation, make it to me, and I'll see to it that proper attention is paid," and the proper attention was to drop my letters in the wastebasket.
DeVorkin:Is that how he treated them?"
DeVorkin:Well, there is an infra-red group now at Kitt Peak.
Bok:Yes, but far too late. It should have been ten years ago. Oh yes, it's going all right now. But it's Johnny-come-lately. This was 1966-67. And too slow, too slow. And I'm not "Mr. Too-Little and Too-Late," I'm "Mr. Too-Much and Too-Soon."
DeVorkin:Right, beautiful. How do you see the role of Kitt Peak then in observational and theoretical astronomy? Should it be a leader?
Bok:Yes. Just like NRAO was, and is, a leader. I've been quite deeply involved with NRAO committees, and have been on their boards and all these things. And now I can talk about it, because I should no longer be involved in these committees. I don't want to. But at the time, it was just plain sad: here I was across the street at Kitt Peak, and I have never had a voice in the development of Kitt Peak. I have offered it very much -- by going to Cerro Tololo and working there with the telescopes. So I've been a user. But that is straightforward use. But I never was placed in a policy making position. At several stages, they plainly didn't want to have this bothersome sort of man come in.
DeVorkin:You were never on the Visitors Committee?
Bok:No. Never. Arizona was not a member then of AURA, but when I quit I saw to it that we came in, and I told President Harvill, "It's all right for me, for I can swing my way around in a nasty way."
DeVorkin:Still you've never been on the Visitors Committee?
Bok:No. And I don't want to be now, of course, so now I can say it. But it's rather interesting, for I was deeply involved in all sorts of National Radio Astronomy observatory committees and then the whole thing on Long Island, of course, the Brookhaven Laboratory. I was deeply involved in all those, a member of the National Academy -- but never on any AURA or Kitt Peak committee.
DeVorkin:You were involved with ONR all through the fifties?
DeVorkin:And you were on their advisory panel. Then you were on the astronomy panel.
DeVorkin:In the seventies you called for increased support from NSF.
DeVorkin:How did you feel about the Congressional amendment to make sure that the military could not fund pure research in the future, it has to be funded by non-military sources?
Bok:I lobbied for that.
DeVorkin:Did you lobby for that?
Bok:Oh yes. I was a strong premature NSF and a premature "S" in "UNECO" lobbyist. Oh yes. And at NSF, I have had very full recognition, all I want and very nicely done and everything, and I've been involved with them. Even now that I'm not formally involved, the new director of NSF, Atkinson, called me in for an hour session to talk things over about the future. So I have no complaints about NSF. And I have no complaints about Kitt Peak. The only thing is, it's interesting, when you ask, "Why are you involved in some things, not in others?" -- you sometimes wonder about it.
DeVorkin:Can I assume that the answer to that is, they simply didn't want you to raise any trouble?
DeVorkin:That's interesting. Now concerning NSF, you did criticize how the chairman of the astronomy panel was chosen. At a time I guess when Fleischer was both the head of the astronomy section, he was also the chairman of the astronomy panel which acted as advisor?
DeVorkin:That you saw as a conflict?
Bok:Yes. All those things, but they were what I would call small internal problems. And it was good for the president, I feel that the president of the American Astronomical Society has in general stayed away from making public criticisms of any national groups or organizations.
DeVorkin:But you changed the policy of the president, then.
Bok:I think I did. Yes. For I felt it was very important to criticize. But that criticism was a very friendly one, from someone who had worked in the organization for a long time.
DeVorkin:He didn't mind that you made the criticism in public? Bok: Yes, he did, a bit. But he was my former student and I said, "Shut up, that's the way it is. I had to do it publicly. That's the only way. And these things cannot be done on the q.t." Bob Fleischer and I are the best of friends now, and my present student Bill Howard has taken his place now, you know. So the whole thing was done in a firm but friendly, very friendly spirit, without any animosity from my side. Fleischer got mad at me once, and he said it was an awful thing that I said, "grrr," and then we made up and I said, "All right, you ought to take it -- listen here, you are spending public funds, you have to expect the president of the Astronomical Society to look at you and let you know what he thinks is wrong."
DeVorkin:At the same time that you made that statement, you also called in a doubling of the support for astronomy in NSF.
DeVorkin:Did you get an increase?
Bok:An increase, but not as big. Let's be perfectly frank about it -- when you ask for a doubling, you don't expect to get the doubling in the next year.
DeVorkin:That was 1974.
Bok:Yes. But you expect that there will be a continuing increase that works toward doubling. And therefore this worked out OK. Then you have to justify, why you think that this doubling is necessary.
DeVorkin:How did you go about justifying it?
Bok:I've forgotten details of it now.
DeVorkin:Any documentation at NSF on it?
Bok:Yes. Oh yes. And also my speech, I tried to get quite a bit of documentation in my speech, where I thought it was necessary.
DeVorkin:I can get a copy of this from Lawrence Fredrick?
Bok:From Fredrick, both speeches. There are two printed speeches, a red one and a green one, and just a few days ago, I noticed that he has about 200 copies of each on his shelves still. There are still enough copies in Charlottesville. I have pretty well run out.
DeVorkin:I imagine your arguments have been paraphrased and used in all sorts of grant proposals.
DeVorkin:You see NSF basically as an effective source?
Bok:Oh, very much. Very effective and very needed organization. Oh yes. And one that has done great things for astronomy, too. Without NSF we wouldn't have had the National Radio Observatory. We wouldn't have the VLA coming along now. We wouldn't have Kitt Peak. We wouldn't have Cerro Tololo.
DeVorkin:So you don't think the military funding sources would have funded these kinds of facilities?
Bok:No. I don't think so. No. The military was always very, very scared about funding major projects like this. I'll tell you how I became the first vice chairman, under Otto Struve, the chairman of the ONR advisory committee. That was in the forties, right after World War II. I remember that I had said, "I will have nothing to do with military support unless the scientists can make the moves." And then ONR sent over a commander, and the name of that commander was Roger Revelle. He was then a Navy commander. Roger Revelle came to my office and said, "Dr. Bok, the ONR wants to set up astronomy research until the equivalent of a National Science Foundation comes." Next thing I heard, I got a letter from Commander Revelle, "We have followed your advice, Sir. Will you be vice chairman of the (missing line). And I felt very belligerent towards this Navy commander, whom I hadn't met before, who is now one of my closest friends. I said to him, "If I were involved, I would only do it under these and these and these conditions -- that the scientists will have their own committee, you can sit in with them but the scientists must decide who gets what, and this or that's to be done -- "committee?" And it was a very happy committee. That worked out very well. That took up the slack until NSF came about, and it was at that committee that I came to know Allan Waterman quite well, who was then still an ONR executive, and then became of course the head of NSF. That was all in the Harry Truman days.
DeVorkin:There were a number of astronomers who were sorry to see the ONR support cut off.
Bok:Because it worked so well. It worked very well. That ONR Advisory Committee met three times a year, was kept beautifully informed by the Navy about the progress of all the things, about the things that they wanted, and they were a terrific help during the critical period. The Air Force and the Army never entered the scheme of things at all, but the Navy took up the slack for that particular period. For example, I remember, we got our money for the large radio telescope at Harvard from NSF, as the first NSF grant. But all the negotiating was done with the Navy. And I remember, Doc Ewen had discovered the 21 centimeter line, and Doc and I had made an application for $200,000 for a 60-foot radio telescope at Agassiz Station, which we got later from NSF, but the funds had been merely transferred. And then thank goodness, we had spent a thousand dollars of Harvard's money to build a model of what the radio telescope was going to look like.
DeVorkin:A working model?
Bok:A working model, that you could turn and play with. A fine working model of the radio telescope. At one time, an admiral came to inspect the grants -- what Harvard wanted to do. He was a tough looking admiral. I remember, he had an aide-de-camp who was a captain, and the captain took me on the side and said, "Dr. Bok, the admiral sure believes in pure research. He thinks pure research is wonderful, it's beautiful. But the admiral also likes to see a little hardware for his money on occasion, and you provide the hardware." And we had the strongest support for that radio telescope from the Navy side. And then NSF came in. Allan Waterman was our ONR man, then he went to NSF, and it was the first big grant we had provided by NSF.
DeVorkin:Where's the model now?
Bok:I don't know where the model is.
DeVorkin:Would it still be at Harvard?
Bok:Might very well be. Or Doc Ewen might have it.
DeVorkin:How big was it?
Bok:Oh, about so big.
DeVorkin:The dish was about four feet across?
Bok:Yes. Something like that. It was a nice looking model. You could turn it and say, "Here is how it stands, here is how it looks near the ground, it won't hit anything, here you can do this and that." It's a very useful model too. So ONR was exceedingly helpful during that critical transition period.
DeVorkin:I know you served on ONR panels during the fifties. Did you talk about priorities in astronomy? Were you involved in priorities of funding at that time? Were they concerned about astronomy for its own sake or were they more concerned about the military use?
Bok:No. We made it very clear that we were interested only in astronomy for its own sake.
DeVorkin:What did they say about that?
Bok:That was fine with them. They said, "The Navy expects two things out of it. First of all, good research is being done, and second, it knows who are the scientists they might want to call on, if the time ever comes that they want to call on people."
DeVorkin:I see. That's very interesting. Were the scientists aware of this obligation?
Bok:It wasn't an obligation, but it was sort of understood that we knew each other. We knew each other very well.
DeVorkin:Does this have anything to do with the JASON group that was set up in the fifties?
Bok:I don't know about that.
DeVorkin:It was called JASON, and it was a group of scientists who were called up from time to time to solve military problems.
Bok:No. I was never involved. But I think they knew well enough that I don't like solving military problems.
DeVorkin:So you weren't aware of it and had no contact with that?
Bok:No. I was never involved with them.
DeVorkin:OK. You certainly served on plenty of NSF panels and then NAS astronomy panels.
DeVorkin:These were policy making panels?
Bok:Yes. Oh yes, very much so. In NSF I was on the Division of Physical Sciences Panel, which was a very nice one to serve on. That one oversaw things -- physics, mathematics, astronomy and chemistry, too, I think.
DeVorkin:How were the policies set? Were there a lot of bureaucratic power plays within the committees?
DeVorkin:How were they set up?
Bok:We just got together, and in general, they were run under the auspices of the National Research Council, which was very important, and our travel checks came from the National Research Council. So, the Navy had made a contract with the National Research Council so that the National Research Council would set up the committee.
DeVorkin:Were you given some kind of draft of various position papers to read before you had meetings?
Bok:Oh yes. Oh yes. We met three times a year.
DeVorkin:For how long each time?
Bok:Each time for about three or four days, and beforehand we had plenty of material to work on. And they listened to us. If we complained about something, that would be taken care of. The decisions were really made by Detlev Bronk and his assistants in the National Research Council. I worked very closely with Det Bronk. He and I were very close personal friends, too.
DeVorkin:Do you have any specific recollections of your work along these lines, that you feel are significant and should be recorded? Any instances where some policy, you wanted to see get through, didn't get through?
Bok:No. It was an exceedingly smooth working organization, very pleasant, very few conflicts, and very good people on it. I had, in parallel running with it, another National Research Council committee that we've already talked about, the Committee on Science in UNESCO. And that was a very nice one. Therefore I was very much in with the National Research Council during those years.
DeVorkin:You've been on so many committees, I'm sure I've missed a number of them. Have you ever been on any of these policy committees where you did not agree with policy, and where there were issues to settle?
Bok:Not until I came to Australia, and was made a member of the Fulbright Fellow Committee in Australia. We worked very hard to make a list of recommendations. And then we learned there was a board which practically threw all our recommendations out, and in one afternoon, in two hours, they made their list of priorities up as to who should get Fulbright fellowships. That time, I resigned and walked straight out. The ambassador was ready to quit too. So I'm not adverse to violence, but in neither the UNESCO nor the ONR nor NSF have I ever been at the place where I felt like saying, "I quit." No.
DeVorkin:OK. You did have differences of opinion, as president of the AAS, with the council.
Bok:Oh, minor ones. Very cheerful ones. For example, my biggest one was over astrology, when I asked the council to condemn astrology. The council said, "It is below our dignity to recognize that such a thing exists." Several members of the council voted against me then, George Abell was one of them, though they have now changed their tune.
DeVorkin:He voted against you?
Bok:He voted against me.
DeVorkin:When was this?
DeVorkin:But I remember, when I was at UCLA, he would talk against astrology.
Bok:But he was against the council making a stand. I felt very strongly that this was necessary. I'm very glad in some ways the council didn't make a stand, for now I can refer to this action by the council with pleasure and lots of fiendish delight.
DeVorkin:Who else was against you on that?
Bok:Martin Schwarzschild was terribly against me from the standpoint that it was below our dignity to recognize these things.
DeVorkin:I see, so you could label his statement and Abell's as the same.
Bok:More or less the same.
DeVorkin:Was Abell sort of following Schwarzschild in this?
Bok:Yes, he was following the president. Martin was then president. I was president-elect. Then I said, "OK, boys, I go on my own, to hell with you," and then we came out with the statement in THE HUMANIST that I'd worked on so much.
DeVorkin:So many people signed it. Were there other members of the council that did sign it or agree with you?
Bok:Yes. Quite a few. But that was a friendly issue. I said when it was all over, "Thank you, gentlemen, and to hell with you, I'm going to do something else, goodbye, you'll hear from me again." It was never in a nasty way. But I felt they made a great mistake, that they should have come out with a firm statement.
DeVorkin:To finish this section on policy, let me ask you this. In that one area where you have not been asked for advice, the AURA and Kitt Peak situation, I'd like to ask your views on how Kitt Peak has fared under its various directors, and how it might fare under its new director. You've been in Tucson during all these directorships, and I'd be very interested in your general views. How did Kitt Peak change, if it did, from Meinel to Mayall, Mayall to Goldberg?
Bok:It was mostly internal management. It has always done very good work, has built up beautiful telescopes, has done a lot for astronomy. But I think the overall management techniques have not been very good, in that I think this membership of all the universities in AURA is not basically a sound idea, for there are some individuals that have too much power in the AURA decisions, and who are frankly not good enough to make these decisions. And it would have been very much better to have some different sort of a board elected or appointed, I don't know how or what, all sorts of ways. I would much rather have seen it in the National Research Council, though on the other hand, one also has to be careful. The National Academy has a hell of a lot of stuffed shirts in it who would not be elected today. That's one thing. If you look at the list of the astronomers in the National Academy, I could offhand name five right away that wouldn't stand a chance of being elected at the present time, who just came in at the right time, sneaked in. There are quite a few of those. Therefore, it's always tricky how to do it. But from what I've seen, I was very glad not to have been in on AURA in the past two years, for the AURA board I think has maybe mismanaged the selection of its next director, the successor to Leo Goldberg. Details don't matter, because I'm not involved, but they have done a very poor job of sounding out candidates, names everybody would know, "who would be the next candidate?" -- the board would leak, leak, leak all over the bloody lot, and everybody would know precisely what so and so had said day before yesterday. Nothing was done with finesse. Within the organization for NRAO, which is of course run by AUI, things are done infinitely better and with much more dignity than in AURA.
DeVorkin:Why do you think it was so difficult? I know that the AURA board looked and made offers to a number of people. Why did they all turn it down? Why is the job so difficult to fill?
Bok:Well, there are lots of people who don't want that sort of job, in the end. They think they do until it gets offered to them. Therefore, you must do your inquiries fairly secretly, in a quiet way, before you do it. And this was not done. It was all done in too public a way. The man who would be asked would not have heard anything, and all his friends were around to tell him, "Here, you are going to be asked to become the next director, what are you going to do?" It was just poorly managed, the whole thing.
DeVorkin:Did that actually happen?
DeVorkin:With whom? Can you tell me?
Bok:Especially with the first one. Look the list over.
DeVorkin:Was the first one Robert Kraft?
DeVorkin:And he didn't know?
Bok:He hardly knew -- had hardly heard anything. It was just a poorly managed affair, the whole thing. Very poorly managed.
DeVorkin:Do you think Kraft might have otherwise taken the job?
Bok:I think so, if they'd done it right. Oh yes.
DeVorkin:I see. How much control do you feel the director should have over the board itself? The director has no control over the board as it stands.
Bok:No control. None.
DeVorkin:How do you feel it should be?
Bok:Well, the relation the NRAO board has set up with AUI has worked beautifully. I was four years on their board, the AUI board, and that board worked just beautifully, smoothly. Dave Heeschen was in. Dave Heeschen left. We listened to Dave Heeschen. We gave him the power that he wanted, at the same time we advised him and he listened to us quite often. Sometimes he didn't. But the director was given a great deal of freedom, and it was handled in a very quiet way, so that nobody knew if there were occasional little conflicts or so, and it would all get straightened out and smoothed over.
DeVorkin:What do you feel is going to happen to Kitt Peak in the future? The trend that I'd like to ask you about would be, the services for visitors. How do you see Hoag's leaving Kitt Peak as an indication for how visitors will be treated in the future?
Bok:I think in the long run, if Kitt Peak is going to survive, even the AURA board will learn, you've got to pay attention first of all to visitors. They had a good example where it is being done right. And that is being at Cerro Tololo. There, the whole situation is visitor oriented.
DeVorkin:Is that because of Victor Blanco?
Bok:Oh, Blanco and John Graham, and all the other ones who were involved there. The whole group there is a group that is visitor oriented, and that realizes that whereas other people teach courses, the staff at Cerro Tololo spends 50 percent of its time looking after visitors.
DeVorkin:They don't do that much at Kitt Peak?
Bok:I have the impression not, but I haven't done much. I haven't been deeply involved in that at Kitt Peak.
DeVorkin:Has it always been that way, that Kitt Peak has not paid enough attention to visitors?
Bok:During Nick Mayall's period, he assigned that project to his administrative officer and gave the administrative officer too much power. He became subject to the power of his own administrative officer.
DeVorkin:Who was that?
Bok:Nope. And he had terrific power over the place, and felt he ran everything. I got along with him. I never had any trouble that way. But he was a terrific power. And then he left when Leo Goldberg came in, and then things became complicated there, because Leo made a great mistake, in that Leo accepted too many outside commitments. Leo was chairman of the Space Board, and he did all sorts of things. He became president of the IAU. Frankly, if I had been director of Kitt Peak and had been offered the presidency of the IAU, I would have said, "Find somebody else, I'm sorry, I got a big job." So Leo was too little there, and that caused quite a bit of the friction and dissatisfaction that there was at Kitt Peak. So Geoff Burbidge comes in at a time when I think he has a very good chance of straightening things out. In particular, he has had two acting directors, Victor Blanco and Fred Gillette, who both have run very smooth offices and done the thing beautifully.
DeVorkin:I knew Blanco did.
Bok:Gillette is doing OK too, I hear.
DeVorkin:He hasn't been in too long.
Bok:No, no, but he is doing apparently OK. And there are no rumblings of the type there were a year and a half or two years ago.
DeVorkin:What kind of rumblings were these?
Bok:Oh, there were awful ones: people wanted to leave, and wanted to get rid of Leo as quick as possible and so on and all that.
DeVorkin:It was because he had too many outside commitments?
Bok:Too many outside commitments. He was never there. There were many people he didn't know, even on his own staff. That sort of thing was beginning to happen.
DeVorkin:What do you think will happen with Burbidge?
Bok:I have no way of telling. I have no way of telling what will happen with Burbidge.
DeVorkin:Does it make any difference to you, his particular background, his particular interests?
Bok:I wouldn't have nominated him. But for the rest, I don't want to say. But I want to give him every benefit of the doubt. That's what it comes down to.
DeVorkin:OK. We've come a long way. There are a number of other things I'd like to finish. In that very important presidential statement in 1974, you also discussed topics like light pollution.
Bok:I feel in general that it is the function of the president of the AAS to give a very carefully thought out public statement every year about where the future of astronomy lies, what the problems are of the Society, and of the people who are members. And therefore I covered what I thought was important. I asked for advice from the Council on what came in. I think you might record somewhere that when I made the first speech, the Council had a motion, I've forgotten whether they finally passed it or I was advised of it. The motion was made by the executive officer, who should never have been made a member of the Council (but that's something else). He said, "It must be clearly understood that the views expressed by the president are not necessarily those of the Council or the Society." That is a rather grim sort of a motion.
DeVorkin:Were they pretty much against any sort of statement on light pollution too?
Bok:No, they were in general in favor. They said, "Listen, the president has always spoken after dinner. Then he has a chance to make a few remarks after the big banquet." When half the members are drunk, and the other half of the members sit with their wives pulling at their sleeves saying, "I want to go to bed, let's go home." That is the wrong time to do it. So I insisted that I would be given prime time, 2 PM; to make my address, 2 to 3. There was no time for doing this, it wouldn't work out, they'd never had that -- they were very upset about that. But it all worked out OK. I must say that Bob Kraft and Margaret Burbidge have followed very much along in the same spirit, which is very nice. Margaret Burbidge especially made a very good presidential address at the meeting of last summer. And we have now in Ivan King, I think, an exceedingly good new president, for Ivan King was basically elected on a platform of concern for simple people, whereas Jesse Greenstein, who ran against him, was of another opinion. It's rather nice that two of my former students were candidates for the presidency, that was cheerful. But Ivan King really made the stand of wanting to work for the people and their problems in the Society.
DeVorkin:Greenstein didn't have that feeling?
Bok:No, Greenstein was more, "We must promote research." More research and the great future of astronomy.
DeVorkin:This brings up something that's interesting. I've heard it said that if you were to compare the two great institutions in astronomy in California -- University of California and Cal-Tech/Hale observatories -- one of the greatest differences is their involvement in non-research problems -- policy. In other words, the University of California is much more involved in the ASP and things like that.
DeVorkin:Why do you think this is so? Why do you think those two institutions are so different?
Bok:Cal Tech has always been an elitist institution. I would never recommend any of my students except a genius to go to Cal Tech. But you can send all sorts of people to Berkeley -- people that are good, you want good people, but they don't have to be the very best. Cal Tech has had a strong elitist attitude, from the beginning. Mt. Wilson alone already had its elitist approach too, whereas Lick Observatory never had that.
DeVorkin:And it's persisted to this day?
Bok:Oh yes. These things go through and through and through for a long time.
DeVorkin:It's something I wasn't aware of, until you look at the number of AAS presidents who came from the University of California, you look at the number who come from Cal Tech -- even though there's about the same number of astronomers, over time, until recently, and there's a tremendous difference.
DeVorkin:OK. Well, there are one of two other questions, just to tie up a few loose ends. Quite a while ago, we talked about textbooks. I was very interested, you mentioned or I've heard it said that the Textbook of Galactic Astronomy by Mihalis and Routley was really a reprinting of your lecture notes.
Bok:Oh no! That's not true. I wouldn't say so. It's a very handy book that I refer to very, very often, and especially I like Mihalis very much. This is fine, and it has helped out, because maybe I should have written it up. Of course I wrote up my lectures for Stonybrook, in a little book, and that may have been published by them.
DeVorkin:I didn't realize that.
Bok:No, nobody realizes it. I'm sorry that I'm not in my office. I have half a dozen left.
DeVorkin:It has been printed.
Bok:Yes, it was printed by Stonybrook, and printed in a volume that Chiu put out, and it must have been around 1968 or '69 when it came out.
DeVorkin:Hon Yee Chiu?
DeVorkin:I think I do know it now. Yale may have one.
Bok:Oh yes. I've never felt badly about it. I had in mind writing a textbook on kinematics and galactic structure, in retirement. But I've been so busy doing other things that I never got around to it.
DeVorkin:OK, let me go back to some research, at least some comments. I wanted to ask, even though we brought it up briefly in our earlier discussions back in Tucson, was about the letter that you wrote to the editor of THE OBSERVATORY in 1959. It was a reaction to a paper by Oort, Kerr and Westerhout on spiral structure, where you agreed with them about the reality of the Perseus arm and the expanding 3 kilo parsec arm, but not the Orion and Sagittarius arms in the manner given by them, and you proposed an alternative Carina-Cygnus arm. I wanted to get your recollections of what the general astronomical reaction was to that.
Bok:The trend is now in that field.
DeVorkin:The trend is now in that direction?
Bok:Yes. I think the trend is more to tie the Carina arm into the Sagittarius arm now. There is a big gap between the two that continues to persist. Frank Kerr pointed that out yesterday morning when we had a discussion. The gap is still there. But there is also a gap, which I pointed out already at that time, between the Cygnus and the Carina arm. But the overall picture, now, taking in the inner Norma arm and the Norma-Scutum arm, begins to look more as if the sort of roundish picture of spiral structure is best fitted, if we try more or less to consider Sagittarius and Carina as one feature, and then consider the Cygnus-Orion arm as a connecting link, between the Sagittarius and the Perseus arm. And then the two of them meet somewhere, in Puppis probably. Some of the Canadian astronomers have done very good work on the Puppis section, where they find quite a bit of spirality in there, and it looks as though the outer arm stretches through Perseus and the connecting link brings it together in Puppis or Vela.
DeVorkin:When you first brought this out in 1959, what was the reaction of Oort and Kerr?
Bok:Kerr was in favor of it. Oort was quite negative, and I think he was right, in the long run. Yes. I felt it was necessary at that time to point out a few of these things, how they worked together, and I was not aware of the Puppis-Vela connection. It has become more real since.
DeVorkin:Was it known at the time you were talking about this?
Bok:No. Nobody was aware of it. Well, my principal contribution in a way to spiral structure is that I have put the Carina section very firmly on the map, as a major spiral arm, from a distance of about 2000 parsecs from the sun towards Carina, all the way to about 8000 or 9000. And that section, as a major spiral arm, stands. How you connect them is a very difficult thing.
DeVorkin:Why is it so difficult?
Bok:Oh, because there are all these breaks in them. And you know, when you are in it, you have absorption uncertainties, and often at places where they meet, you get sort of a messy system. It is so bad that, at this moment, I have no great desire to work further on the spiral structure of our own galaxy. I feel we have that reasonably well. We have certain sections very firmly under control, and I'd much rather do now what I'm doing on dark nebulae and star formation. That's really a field where you're on the cutting edge of new developments in astronomy.
DeVorkin:The book, edited by Beverly Lynds in 1970-71, was that published in tribute to you?
DeVorkin:Did you see that as the turning point for the acceptance of dark nebulae, of Bok globules?
Bok:Well, it helped a great deal. The real turning point of course came really when all the molecules were discovered. And when they found a dark nebulae and the globules were chockablock full of carbon monoxide and molecular hydrogen, and all sorts of other atoms. on the other hand, one has to be careful there, because in the Magellanic Clouds, star formation seems to be taking place mostly in atomic hydrogen and not in molecular. So there are still many unsolved problems, but I feel that the problems that we have in star formation, dark nebulae, atomic hydrogen, molecular hydrogen, are much more clear-cut and have greater prospects of solution in the long run, than the problems associated with spiral structure in our own galaxy, which becomes muckier and muckier the farther out you go. Our knowledge of distances is still uncertain by 20 percent. At 2000 parsecs, 20 percent is 400. That's not so serious. At 8000 parsecs, 20 percent is 1600, and the whole business gets smudged out till you don't know where you are.
DeVorkin:What do you think it will take for us to find out where we are?
Bok:I think it would be better to concentrate for the next decade or so not so much on our own galaxy. Continue to work on the galaxy. Especially bring in the Cepheid variables, which show great promise of doing important things. Then when you have the Cepheid variables better, see how things work out. Can you get better anchor points? The carbon monoxide has been very disappointing in spiral structure problems. The work of Gordon and Burton, and of Phil Solomon, of the distribution of the carbon monoxide, has taught us a lot about dark nebulae and carbon monoxide, but mighty little about spiral structure. It hasn't helped a bit. And it looks therefore that the whole situation is stalled. First of all if you look at spiral structure in other galaxies, it looks messy, very often. And in our galaxy it looks as though it's just as messy. And if you think that you live, for example, in Messier 33, and you pick at random a point there, you would have a hell of a time to find out if there was overall spiral structure in it. In our own galaxy, we were presented yesterday or day before yesterday with a very fine diagram by Yevonne de Jorge Galen, the French lady. That looks like about as good as we'll be able to do for quite a while to come. And therefore, there seems to be no doubt that our Milky Way system has spiral structure; that it has a couple of connecting links, and probably the Orion-Cygnus arm is one of them; that it has in addition a spiral tilt of about 8 degrees or something like that. And for the time being, I would let it go at that, and say, "You can do it much easier in the galaxies outside our own, where you can see the patterns and where by radio techniques you now get high resolution, along with all the rest."
DeVorkin:There's no hope of increasing our observational understanding of the galaxy, to aid theoretical models then?
Bok:Not at this moment. I think. Also, we learned yesterday something very disturbing about the theoretical model. I thought that the Lin-Shu theory was capable of making predictions of what the insides of the spiral arms look like -- the stars moved that way, the outside, the other way -- how the streaming would go. Now apparently it depends a great deal whether the stars have formed before they hit the shock wave, or after they hit the shock wave. And therefore, it's a very difficult thing to say, how the stars and the gas behave with respect to each other. And therefore the whole thing gets more and more involved and complicated, rather than simplified, as time goes on. Now, it may well be that sooner or later, there will come a new phenomenon that throws completely new light on spiral structure. It might be we'll find it in gamma rays or cosmic rays, God knows what can do it.
DeVorkin:Well, what about this other important item that's coming up at the conference of course, and that's the continued strengthening importance of the massive halo idea?
Bok:That's a very important part. And that is one that, I, if I were younger, would spend an awful lot of time on. The properties of the halo, the abundance gradients that we have in the halo, the constitution, how the stars drop out, what their velocities are -- that, I think, is an exceedingly important thing. It has been suggested even that the halo can be massive enough that it stabilizes the spiral structure, in our own galaxy, in the plane.
DeVorkin:That's been suggested quite a long time ago. Didn't you suggest that?
Bok:Well, it has been suggested by quite a few people, I being one of them, not strongly, but people like Ostriker have suggested it very, very strongly. And so the halo is clearly going to play an important role. And then the second thing is that we really are beginning to have a feeling, suddenly over the past five to six years, that we are finally on the trail of solving the problem of star birth in the galaxy -- where they are born, how they are born, how they're going to behave, and all these other things.
DeVorkin:So things are really coming together at this particular point.
Bok:At this particular point, very, very nicely, I think, for star formation. of course, in the future everything is going to change completely.
DeVorkin:Why is that?
Bok:I feel that the Space Shuttle is going to make quite a difference, if it is used right. If we once get a telescope upstairs, well beyond the atmosphere, say a 100-inch or 90-inch as is now being planned. Then that will have a resolution, if it's built well and if things operate all right, of a tenth to a twentieth of a second of arc. Now the best you can do is half a second, so a twentieth is a factor of 10 -- a factor of 100 in the area -- a five magnitudes gain. Without doing anything. If you have a five magnitude gain, then suddenly all sorts of problems come easily. You can then get the RR Lyrae variables, in galaxies outside our own to a distance (if the red shift isn't too much trouble then) of about seven or eight times as big as we have now. That means your whole calibration of the distance scale changes completely. You can pick the O and B stars, the associations of the distant ones. Therefore, all the uncertainty about H will practically disappear, you might almost say, overnight, if that telescope works all right. And H is unbelievably bad now. We have Sandage's H of 50, against van den Berg's H of 90. Now, the difference between 50 and 90 is almost a factor of two, which is a factor of eight in the volume and hence a factor of eight uncertainty in the densities in intergalactic space. Now we've also got to get more dataon masses of galaxies. It has been suggested that many galaxies have extended haloes, and that the in masses may have been underestimated by a factor of five. Well, five times eight is 40 -- well, my God, if you don't know within a factor of 40, with what densities you are dealing with, then shut up until you can! Therefore, I feel strongly that once the Space Telescope gets into full operation, then suddenly all sorts of problems will just evaporate, and new views will come of the problems.
DeVorkin:What's your opinion on the recent contracts which were finally awarded, subcontracts for various parts of the space telescope? I know that Princeton and Harvard both lost out on them.
DeVorkin:Do you feel that the right groups got the contracts?
Bok:I am not enough involved in that. The only thing I do feel is that once we get the space telescope, there may be a couple of mistakes, delays. But let's say, 50 years from now, astronomy will have a completely different face than the one that it has now. And that that face will, for better or for worse, depend very much on the space telescope and the latest developments.
DeVorkin:Well, that seems like a simple and very poignant place to stop, if you wish. We can go on if you feel there's anything we haven't covered.
DeVorkin:I think our total now is somewhere around 10 hours.
Bok:That's right. It's a very respectable time. And I feel you have given me a beautiful chance, to lead me on without pushing me on. Thank you very, very much. I've enjoyed it tremendously.
Well, thank you very much.
I don't think we covered that?
The 90-inch blank was a test blank for the 150-inch(?) project.
R.H. Baker, ASTRONOMY (Van Nostrand, 1930).
I.R. King. THE UNIVERSE UNFOLDING.
Smith and Jacobs. INTRODUCTORY ASTRONOMY AND ASTROPHYSICS. (W.B. Saunders, 1973).
Now called NATURAL SCIENCES 9 at Harvard
(G.O. Abell. EXPLORATION OF THE UNIVERSE (Holt, Rinehart & Winston).
Secretary of the AAS.
Very Large Array (Radio Interferometer).
about 3 to 4 feet.
D. Mihalis and P. Routley. GALACTIC ASTRONOMY (Freeman, 1968).
OBSERVATORY vol. 97, 1969, page 58.
At Maryland galaxy conference.
DARK NEBULAE, GLOBULES, AND PROTOSTARS (U. Arizona, 1971).
And radio will probably help out on this.