Oral History Transcript — S. Chandrasekhar
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Interview with S. Chandrasekhar
S. Chandrasekhar; May 18, 1977
ABSTRACT: A thorough, reflective survey of the life and work of this theoretical astrophysicist. Early life and education in India (1910-1930) and experiences at Trinity College, Cambridge (1930-1937), with comments on E.A. Milne and A.S. Eddington; debate with the latter over collapse of white dwarf stars. Move to U.S. in 1937, with comments on the situation at Harvard and Princeton since the 1930s, and especially on H.N. Russell, J. von Neumann and Martin Schwarzschild. Social context at Chicago University and Yerkes Observatory since 1937, with remarks on G. Kuiper, O. Struve, B. Strömgren, etc. Work as teacher there, and as editor of Astrophysical Journal from 1951 until it was given to the American Astronomical Society in 1971. Scientific work resulting in Introduction to the Study of Stellar Structure (1939) and publications on stochastic processes in galaxy and in general, radiative transfer, interstellar polarization, hydrodynamics and hydromagnetics (including experimental checks). Recent work on general relativity and Kerr metric; comments on cosmology. General remarks on the social structure of astronomy and its cultural role. Extended discussion of his way of functioning as a theorist.
Weart:The first thing I want to ask you is whether you think there is something we didn't cover for the period up to the start of the war? Have you had any thoughts about something we may have missed?
Chandrasekhar:I don't think so. I mean, I can't remember too well.
Weart:Well, good. Let's go forward, then. You will get a chance to read the transcript and see then whether there seems to be something missing. Let's start with the war, then. You worked as a consultant at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
Weart:I really don't know how you got into that, how the war first affected you, what you did there.
Chandrasekhar:Well, naturally, with all young men of the time, I felt deeply committed to the effect of the war on civilization, and I wanted to participate in the war effort. I was not a citizen at that time, and consequently I had special clearance problems.
Weart:Had you applied for first papers?
Chandrasekhar:No. The condition under which we came at that time was that we could not have become citizens, because the Immigration Act did not allow people of Asian origin to become citizens. I was a permanent resident. It was only the Immigration Act passed after the war which made it possible for us to become citizens. But we took out our citizenship papers only in 1953. Until that time, we were permanent residents, and we could not have become citizens much earlier. (We might have become a year or two earlier, but we had to wait for the new immigration laws.) But as a British citizen, as I was at that time, I got clearance to work. Largely under the influence of John von Neumann, I joined the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
Weart:Perhaps this would be a good time for me to ask you about your relationship with von Neumann, how it got started?
Chandrasekhar:Well, von Neumann was in Cambridge in 1934-1935. The year in which I had my controversy with Eddington, and Neumann was one of the people who privately supported me against Eddington. Of course all these people who supported me never came out publicly. It was all private.
Weart:In private means that they would tell you they supported you.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. But they wouldn't want to publish anything on that. Anyway, I got to know Neumann rather well. I was a fellow at Trinity at that time, Neumann used to visit me in my rooms in Trinity quite frequently. I think he was rather lonely in those days, so he would quite often come up to my rooms in the college and sit down and work in my rooms, and so I got to know him rather well.
Weart:He would use your rooms for working.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. We used to go out for walks. So I got to know him rather well at that time.
Weart:Did you discuss your work together?
Chandrasekhar:Yes. Indeed, at that time we started to work on some problems in relativistic gas spheres; it didn't go very far. I do remember our discussions of that year, and I did some work and published a paper in the late early seventies, on precisely the problem which Neumann and I discussed in 1934 — the problem of isothermal gas spheres in general relativity. In a way, it shows Neumann's great insight. He said, "If objects are going to collapse, then they must collapse to smaller dimensions. We ought to look at it in the frame work of general relativity." We looked at it, and this was, several years before Oppenheimer and Volkoff did their work. Indeed, I am sure I have somewhere in my files Neumann's and my notes on our work with relativistic equations of equilibrium.
Weart:You were on the track, in fact.
Chandrasekhar:We were in the right direction. And in this instance I must say that it was Neumann who took the initative.
Weart:What did you think of him at the time?
Chandrasekhar:He was incredible - the enormous perception that he had. For me, ever since, a standard of comparison has always been von Neumann. And if I say, "He reminds me of von Neumann," that's about the best compliment I can give anyone. Bob Geroch in our department here is someone who does remind me of von Neumann.
Weart:Many mathematicians have suffered in fact by comparing themselves with von Neumann.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. He was incredibly perceptive. I knew him very well from 1934 till his death. For example, when we came to this country in 1937, I used to go to Princeton and see him regardless. And it was on this account that we later collaborated in a series of papers in the early forties. In fact, my first visit to Princeton, in the fall of 1941, was at Neumann's instigation.
Weart:You went to work on astrophysical problems?
Chandrasekhar:Astrophysical problems. Yes I just told Johnny that I was rather tired of having been at Yerkes for several year that, I would like some fresh air, and could he make anything possible for me. He said, "Why don't you come to Princeton and spend some time with me?" I said, "Fine." So I went there. He also arranged that I had a part-time appointment at the observatory also and this was the time I got to know Russell very well.
Weart:I see, in the early forties.
Chandrasekhar:And during those three months, I used to see Henry Norris Russell quite a lot, you see.
Weart:Was he interested in these problems at all?
Chandrasekhar:Not in the statistical problems I was working with von Neumann; but we used to talk about stellar structure. In those days, I wanted to broaden my interest in astronomy as much as possible in all areas, and the chance to talk to Russell was a chance to learn astronomy.
Weart:I see, and he was receptive to having this kind of interchange?
Chandrasekhar:Oh yes. In fact, I felt in those years Russell was rather lonely. Sven Rosseland had just come from Oslo and joined the Princeton faculty. Rosseland is a very, very quiet person. He rarely talks to people, at least he did not during the time I knew him. So Russell was rather lonely. Whenever I used to go to the observatory on Prospect Avenue, Russell would see me, invite me to his office. And he will talk to me sometimes for hours, about his work on eclipsing binaries, and also ask me about my work and so on. He was an enormously receptive person, and at the same time, enormously communicative.
Weart:About astronomical matters.
Chandrasekhar:Astronomical matters, and also about his own life. He used to tell me about his grandparents and parents, who always used to live on Alexander St. in the house that he owned. He told a marvelous story of how once a burglar came into his house, and his mother, who was very young at that time, saw the burglar and asked him, "Where did you come from?" And the man who was so frightened by the coolness of this lady that he fled! So Russell was very communicative. I used to have long talks with him, and he used to tell about, Princeton's early days. I don't think Princeton appreciated him, because Russell was kep in a junior position, at a time when Jeans was a professor. Somehow, that colored Russell's own view of Jeans, At least that's my impression.
Weart:Did it color his views of Princeton? Did he still remember that?
Chandrasekhar:Well, you know, he was kept in a low position for a very long time — I think he was recognized far more in Europe than in the U.S. Because his department was small; other people in other parts of the university did not know his work. He was working in eclipsing binaries and light curves and getting mass ratios. All this would appear to a physicist as rudimentary geonetrical and elementas. Thedid not realize the astronomical implications. The Russell Diagram came out of that.
Weart:Was this till at all in the forties? Or are you referring mostly to the earlier period?
Chandrasekhar:Well, of course, by 1920 he had been recognized abroad, and he had been given the Gold Model of the RAS. He had received the Bruce Medal, and of course his position in astronomy became very high. Later of course he did spectroscopy, in the twenties, at a time when spectroscopy was in the limelight of physics, and came out with the Russell-Saunders coupling. By the twenties, he was recognized in astronomy amply, and in physics as well as one of the leading figures. People like Shenstone, Meggers, Kees, all these men came under the influence of Russell. Russell was the dominating person. I remember a marvelous conversation between Russell and von Neumann. I was walking together with both of them and they were going to a committee meeting. (I was not in the committee.) Von Neumann asked Russell, "How does it happen, Professor Russell, that you have been at this university for so long a time and yet you are on so few committees?" Russell said, "There is one principle by which you can get off committees. When you are on a committee, no matter what the subject is, talk endlessly, present other people from talking. They won't put on another committee after that. Neumann told me later that in the committee on which he served with Russell, Russell had kept his word.
Weart:In the astronomy department he was recognized as the leading figure?
Chandrasekhar:Of course the astronomy department consisted of only 3 people, Dugan who was quite ill at that time, Steward — and Russell. Russell is known to say my book Russell, Dugan and Steward.
Weart:And how were relations between the astronomers and the physicists at Princeton? You mentioned Russell talking with von Neumann and so forth. What about with the others?
Chandrasekhar:I was too young to notice those things. But of course Russell was the great figure. I met Russell first in England in 1934 when he was visiting Cambridge as a guest of Eddington. Eddington asked me to join him for tea with Russell. I was at time in my first year of my fellowship at Trinity. So I got to know Russell at that time, rather briefly. And later of course in '36 I was his guest in his house. I really got to know him well in those three months in 1941 at Princeton.
Weart:I've heard it said that Russell was a charming man and so forth, but that there was within him a core of, I don't know what, uncertainty perhaps, some feeling about himself which never showed very much to outsiders? Did you get any feeling — ?
Chandrasekhar:Well, the only way I can answer is the following. When I knew Russell well, I was in my early thirties. In the fall of '41 I was just past 30. But my attitude to science at that time was always of someone very low looking at the very high. Therefore my vision of Russell was of an enormous big person in science, and that prevented me from comparing him to anyone else. On the other hand, thinking back, I remember his telling me at one time very simply, during a conversation in 1941 — "I had the Pauli Principle right in my hands. I let it go." [Holding up two cupped hands, then letting them drop.]
Weart:And he held his hands up like that?
Chandrasekhar:Yes. And he looked very sad. Similarly when he talked about the early years, he seemed to be a little bitter. I can't explain his rather transparent dislike of Jeans, [except] as in some way resulting from the enormous position Jeans had in Princeton, while he [Russell] was the assistant of somebody or other at the observatory.
Weart:Like Milne and Eddington.
Chandrasekhar:No that comparision is not correct. Milne had a big following of his own I mean, he was distinguished in his own right, and Milne of course looked up to Eddington enormously. It was, in fact, his great admiration for Eddington which reacted unfavorably in a psychological way. When they fell out scientifically. But Jeans and Russell were contemporaries. They were of the same age, whereas Milne was at least 10 to 15 years younger than Eddington.
Chandrasekhar:So the situation was slightly different.
Weart:Well, maybe now we should get on to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
Chandrasekhar:Well, at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, I got to work on ballistics problems related to shock waves, particularly to the Mach effect. There is some reference to my work in Courant's book on shock waves. I was interested in working on the theory of shock waves. Martin Schwarzschild was in the Army — and though in the Army, he was also working in Aberdeen Proving Grounds — and we were there together during that time.
Weart:How long were you there?
Chandrasekhar:I used to spend three weeks at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, come back to Chicago, lecture in Chicago to the students for three weeks, then go back to Aberdeen Proving Grounds for three weeks, and this I kept on for about 2 1/2 years. It was a very strenuous period.
Weart:Yes, it must have been, going by train back and forth. How did you feel about doing this kind of work? It's a very immediate thing, whereas astrophysics is so long range with no immediate applications.
Chandrasekhar:I simply felt that everybody was spending their time on the war effort, and I didn't see why I shouldn't) particularly as I was strongly in sympathy with the underlying motives for the war. Of course, during the Second World War, the whole atmosphere was quite different from what it was during the Vietnam War.
Weart:oh yes, I'm not asking about that, just —
Chandrasekhar:We were completely and totally committed to the war. Everybody was committed to the war. I, in common with everybody else, was committed to the war.
Weart:How were the problems set that you worked on? Did you look around for a problem? Did a general come in and say, "We want you to work on this"?
Chandrasekhar:No. I joined a group of people with Robert H. Kent, who was quite a well known ballistics man. He said that they were very much interested in reflection of shock waves, and how shock waves propagate, and he asked me if I would want to work on it. So I took up the subject, studied it, and worked on it along the lines directed. Then there were the problems of fragmentation; how will a bomb fragment, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of dropping bombs on the ground and above the ground; and what is the maximum effective height to drop bombs so that the fragments will be sprayed over the largest area. These are all problems which anyone trained can think about.
Weart:Were you working more or less alone? Were you working with Schwarzschild?
Chandrasekhar:I was working primarily with Martin Schwarzschild so long as he was in Aberdeen Proving Grounds, but very soon he was sent over to foreign service in Italy. Later I was working with Robert Sachs, who is now the director at the Argonne National Laboratory. He joined that group. L.H. Thomas, and Hans Levi of Berkeley belonged to the same group.
Weart:Did this work have any effect at all on the astrophysical work that you were also carrying on? Was there any transfer of ideas?
Chandrasekhar:Not at that time, but later on, because it was my first serious introduction to hydrodynamics. I learned hydrodynamics at that time, but it did not have any immediate effect on the work I was doing in astrophysics. But in the fifties, when I went into hydrodynamics proper, all the things that I had donebefore had overtones.
Weart:Now, a couple of questions that I like to ask everybody. When did you first hear about the discovery of nuclear fission, in '39?
Chandrasekhar:I heard about it almost as it happened; I mean, in the sense that, within a week or two after it was discovered, Sam Allison talked about it. In fact, I gave a whole series of lectures at Yerkes, on what was happening on nuclear fission in 1939.
Weart:I see. You heard about it from Allison.
Chandrasekhar:And then I read the papers as they came along. I was in England during the summer of '39 in connection with the Paris meeting on white dwarfs, and I talked to many of my friends there — Norman Feather, and Oliphant who was also there — all these were my friends from Cambridge from earlier times. So we talked a good deal. In fact, Niels Bohr visited Cambridge during the week I was there, and he made one of his talks about nuclear fission and U235 was the 35 or 38.*
Weart:I see. He came over and was in the United States at the time.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. But he also talked at Cambridge when I was there for a month during this period.
Weart:He must have been very excited about it. Did you feel that the people at Chicago, particularly at Yerkes, had any particular interest in it?
Chandrasekhar:Not the people at Yerkes. But I was very much interested in it, and I remember I gave a colloquium on nuclear fission in the astronomy colloquia at Yerkes. Struve and others were very interested in that. I knew Sam Allison quite well, and Bethe, of course. Bethe came to Chicago and we used to talk about it. And during the war, I used to come to the campus rather regularly, and used to meet Wigner, and of course in a way I knew in a very general waywhat all these people were working on.
Weart:When did you first have some idea that atomic bombs could be built?
Chandrasekhar:It was freely talked about in '39. At Cambridge somebody asked Niels Bohr, "Could you make a bomb out of it? And Bohr replied, "We have too many bombs already." The fact that more neutrons came out [from fission] suggested to everyone that one could use it. But beyond that simple idea, that it could be done, no one really pursued it, except those who were inside. * I.E. whether the fissionoffe isotope was uranium - 235 or 238.
Weart:This was the possibility of buidling a bomb. I wonder, at what point — did you know before Hiroshima that a bomb was going to be built?
Chandrasekhar:Actually, von Neumann tried to persuade me to join Los Alamos. And indeed went through all the clearances and things. But somehow in the last moment I decided to stay on at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
Weart:Why was that, I wonder?
Chandrasekhar:Well, the whole idea of moving to Los Alamos seemed rather a big change for me. And even at Aberdeen Proving Grounds I used to encounter racial prejudice in many forms — in restaurants and places like that — and I was slightly afraid of driving down to the south.
Weart:I can appreciate that. While you were here in Chicago you said Wigner, you must have seen Fermi, and so forth. Did they ever draw on your knowledge? You were working on stochastic problems, they were working on stochastic problems.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. In fact, I remember very well giving a colloquium on one of my problems — at that time on radiative transfer, which of course was used extensively in the Manhattan Project — and I had an enormous audience, including Wigner and Fermi and others, and everybody was surprised and I was too. But then I realized very soon that it must be in connection with what they were doing.
Weart:Did they ever come to you and say, "Here is an equation, what do we do with this equation?" Anything like that?
Chandrasekhar:Not in a very direct way, but I do remember that Wigner was very much interested in my continuing work on radiative transfer, and he asked for reprints and preprints. But never directly asked me any question.
Weart:Never directly posing you a particular problem or whatever.
Weart:Let me ask you also, because I like to ask everyone — what was your reaction when you heard about Hiroshima?
Chandrasekhar:In a sense, it was not a surprise, because I knew this work was going along. On the whole, I was rather disappointed that it was dropped a second time. In fact, I remember being quite angry. I thought one was excusable, but the second did not seem to me necessary at all.
Weart:Did it seem to you, as some people have maintained since, that it was racist?
Chandrasekhar:I didn't think of it that way. But it did occur to me that if the war in Germany had not been over, the bomb probably would not have been dropped on Germany.
Weart:Well, to get back to your astrophysical work, your scientific work during this period, this was during your three weeks at Chicago, you were doing astrophysical problems?
Weart:So somehow you maintained sort of compartments. When you were at Aberdeen, you worked on shock waves. Here, you worked on astrophysics.
Chandrasekhar:Yes, That's what I used to do.
Weart:Was this a conscious thing, you needed — ?
Chandrasekhar:In a way, yes. I didn't want to leave my scientific work. In fact, you raise an important question. One of the fears I always had for very many years was whether I could continue generating scientific problems, nontrivial problems, for long periods of time. I sort of felt that if one gave up doing serious scientific research for a period, then one might not be able to get back to it. And so, in order to essentially protect myself against losing a grip on science, or somehow stopping the flow of ideas, I kept on.
Weart:I see. Is this also why your work tends to overlap — even after you finish a book, there will be a certain momentum and you'll continue producing a few papers? While you're starting the next one?
Chandrasekhar:That's right. I make an overlap. I gradually terminate one, while picking up something else.
Weart:Till the momentum gets going.
Weart:I see. There are several things you did during this period. We should first talk about this article in REVIEWS OF MODERN PHYSICS on stochastic problems.* As you know, this is one of the most cited [of all scientific] articles. I wonder how you got into doing that?
Chandrasekhar:The origin was as follows. I had already calculated the time of relaxation and problems of that kind, and I didn't quite like the arbitrariness in some of those calculation. One had a cut-off; further, one always said that the stellar encounters had a cumulative effect, but one treated it as though the collisions were ones in which, after the collision, the two particles went off in directions entirely different from what they were before. It seemed to me that as one in Brownian Motion the right way to look at the problem. So I started learning the theory of Brownian Motion. * Vol. 15 (1943), 1-89.
Weart:In order to approach the stellar problems.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. [Tape # 1 (Side 2)]
Chandrasekhar:I found that there was no really satisfactory book or account. So I went back to the original sources, particularly Smoluchowski's papers. I wrote for my own benefit a complete account of the subject. I happened to show it to von Neumann, whom I used to know quite well, during those days and he said, "Well, I've never seen such a clear account of this whole subject. You ought to publish it." I said, "Where can I publish it?" He said, "REVIEWS OF MODERN PHYSICS." I said, "Well, I don't know if they will accept it if I send it." "But I will send it for you." And so von Neumann sent the paper to Buchta, and they accepted it. So my interest in the field of Brownian Motion was to use it as a basis for the theory of stellar encounters since I felt the theory ought to be modeled on the theory of Brownian Motion. It was in that connection that I worked out the theory of dynamical friction, and used the Fokker - Planck Equation. I believe I was the first to use the Fokker-Planck Equation for stellar encounters and work along those lines.
Weart:In fact, the REVIEWS OF MODERN PHYSICS article is not just old material put in new form, but it actually contains new material.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. Quite a lot of new things are there. But it was all new in the context of what other people had done.
Weart:You were talking yesterday [off tape] about the way that lives of artists and so forth are divided into early, middle and late periods, and when I was looking at this article with that in mind, it occurred to me that this almost could be said to be the start of your middle period. It appears as a step away from astrophysics towards connecting with physics. Did you have any feeling of that at the time, that you were moving towards physics?
Chandrasekhar:Implicitly, yes. But the real change into physics came only in the late forties, because while I was doing all this work, on stellar encounters I got involved in radiative transfer and the problem of the negative ion of hydrogen, and these were, in many ways, very specifically astrophysical problems.
Weart:How did you get involved in radiative transfer? I didn't ask it though it goes back to —
Chandrasekhar:— the same period. Well, I was lecturing on stellar atmospheres, and was not at all satisfied with the existing treatments of radiative transfer. Problems of phase functions, problems of solving the equations systematically, trying to get exact solutions — mean, all that, people hadn't done. So I started the sequence of papers, and almost at the time I started it, I read the paper by Wick in which he had used the method of discrete coordinates,* and I realized at once that that method can be used in a large scale way for solving all problems. So that went on. I have always said and felt that the five years in which I worked on radiative transfer [1944 - 49] is the happiest period of my scientific life. I started on it with no idea that one paper would lead to another, which would lead to another, which would lead to another and soon for some 24 papers — and the whole subject moved with its own momentum. Occasionally I had to come in and push it here or push it there. But the subject seemed to develop on its own. Particularly when the principles of invarince came. The paper by Ambartsunian** which I saw, seemd to me rather specialized; I could see that his one principle of invariance could be generalized into four principles of invarince, applicable to finite atmospheres, Ambartsunian's work was restricted to semi-infinte astronomers, and used to solve all problems exactly. All this had amomentum of it own. Then suddenly I realized one had to put polarization in; the problems of characterizing polarized light — my rediscovery of Stokes original paper, writing on Stokes parameters and calling them Stokes parameters for the first time —
Weart:Oh, is that the first time they were called Stokes parameters?
Chandrasekhar:Yes, there was no reference to Stokes' work prior to my work for some 50 years at least. I found Stoke's papers, and then called then the Stokes parameters. Then, of course, I finally wrote my book on radiative transfer.*** So even though my work on the theory of Brownian motion was a starting point towards physics, the fruition of that development was delayed for five or six years by my incursion of radiative transfer. And they were my happiest years.
Weart:I see. You found yourself entering a new world.
Weart:And no one else was going into it.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. And I still regard those five or six years as the happiest of my scientific life. * G. C. Wick, ZEITSCHRIFT FUR PHYSIK 120 (1943), 702 ** ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL (Russian) 19 (1942), 1 DOKLADY (C.R. Acad. Sci. USSR) 38 (1943), 257 JOURNAL OF PHYSICS (Acad. Sci. USSR) 8 (1944), 65 *** RADIATIVE TRANSFER (Oxford: Clavendon Press, 1950)
Weart:It was happy because the development proceeded so smoothly?
Chandrasekhar:Well, that was one thing. The development was natural, and the subject fascinated me. It had a beauty of its own. Because all these principles of invariance, these nonlinear integral equations — the way they can be solved exactly; the fact that the polarization problem could be solved exactly, for the first time. I mean, all that meant that I was solving problems for the first time, for which people hadn't even thought of formulating equations. That was one aspect. And the second, of course, was that I had arrived from a state in which I was always looking up. I felt for the first time that I was on my own, and that I was doing things without being intimidated by bigger people in front of me. Because the subject seemed to be carrying me on. I felt completely free, for the first time, scientifically. And also, I felt that my position in science up to a point was secure. I knew that my two books were becoming standard, and I'd been elected to the Royal Society at that time, and so there was a youthfull glow in my life which I have never recovered.
Weart:Were there particular points at which you suddenly said, "Ah, now I have this"?
Chandrasekhar:Well, if you look at those papers on radiative transfer, you will find a paper will conclude by saying, "These are the fundamental problems to solve. And in, note added in proof; "These problems have since been solved," and so on.
Weart:There wasn't any one particular point, it was a whole sequence?
Weart:Solving and solving —
Chandrasekhar:And solving. In between, I came into H minus. Of course, at that time, evenWildt had given up H minus, because Rupert the maximum was not at the place that he wanted.
Weart:How did you get into H minus? I noticed you had two papers, one around '45, pointing out the problems in the earlier work, and then the next one solving them.* How did you come to the problems?
Chandrasekhar:It was again the same. I was lecturing on the subject and everybody said that the H minus absorption wasn't adequate and on the other hand, I felt that the way cross sections had been derived was not satisfactory. So I said, "Let me try to do it better." The key to the solution of H minus was the fact that I calculated the matrix elements using the accelerations operator as the momentum operator, rather than the dipole moment (which did not give it right). And in fact, Wigner played an important role. I remember talking to * APJ. 102 (1945), 223-31, 395-401; see also paper with F.H. Breen, APJ. 104 (1946), 430-45 Wigner here in Chicago at lunch. "Well, Eugene, People always compute the cross section with a dipole moment. Why shouldn't one compute it with a momentum?" He said, "Of course you can." But I said, "Shouldn't the dipole moment give better formulae for things like H minus?" Wigner said, Yes. I had come to Chicago that Wednesday for doing some job, but after talking to Eugene, without doing the job, I went back to Yerkes and did the entire calculation with the momentum and acceleration operators in that one week, and found that the maximum had shifted from 4500 to 9000 [Angstrans]. So I came back to Chicago the following Wednesday to show Wigner the calculations. It was a very exciting period, you see.
Weart:Did you feel also that this was a period when your work on radiative transfer and H minus was of great interest to your colleagues at Yerkes?
Chandrasekhar:Well, I'm afraid it never occurred to me. I was very much disappointed when later on I found that the work in fact was not appreciated by my colleagues. But during the time I was doing it, somehow I felt I was working in an area in which the subject pleased my taste. The mathematics was just exactly right for me. There were new types of mathematics, new types of integral equations. I was solving problems for the first time, which people had written about, Rayleigh had written about a hundred years before. And Stokes had used Stokes parameters, here I was using them for solving real problems. Then H minus came along. Rupert Wildt was a great friend of mine, and Rupert Wildt was terribly appreciative of the work I was doing on H minus. Of course, the H minus work was immediately recognized.
Weart:That must have had immediate effect.
Chandrasekhar:But my radiative transfer work was not. On the other hand, in the middle fifties, the Rumford Medal was given to me for my work on transfer theory.
Weart:Certainly since then people have recognized it. It must be one of your most used books. I suppose you know from your sales — RADIATIVE TRANSFER must be one of the most used.
Weart:But you say, at the time, the people at Yerkes were not terribly interested?
Chandrasekhar:I didn't think they were. But on the other hand, I was surrounded by this glow of the beauty of my radiative-transfer work and the rest of the world didn't matter to me. In fact, in many ways that is the way one ought to do science — totally engrossed in what one is doing, interested in what comes out, in the enlargement of understanding it produces. And in a way, with pure joy. None of my later work or earlier work had those characteristics.
Weart:Because of the nature of the field?
Chandrasekhar:Well, when I was working on hydrodynamics in the fifties, it was pretty hard work.
Weart:It's very messy.
Chandrasekhar:I would not say that. Hard work, and terribly grinding work. Later when I went into relativity — again very hard work.
Weart:Were you still doing the Aberdeen Proving Grounds work while you were doing this radiative transfer?
Weart:It must have been quite a jar — to drop it, in the middle of a problem, to go to Aberdeen.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. Fortunately for the world, the war lasted only one more year (after I started radiative transfer).
Weart:Another incident in the radiative transfer which, you've already mentioned is making allowance for polarization. How is it that you happened to think of it, or perhaps more accurately, why do you think that nobody else had thought of it?
Chandrasekhar:Well, people simply thought it was too difficult. I quoted in the RADIATIVE TRANSFER this remark of King's — [gets the book]
Weart:This is on page 286, here.
Chandrasekhar:"The complete solution of the problem, from this aspect, would require us to split up the incident radiation into two components, one of which is polarized in the principal plane, the other at right angles to it. The effect of self-illumina - tion would lead to two simultaneous integral equations in three variables. The solution of it would be much too complicated to be useful." And then I add: "However, it should be noted that for a complete description of the partially plane-polarized radiation field, it is not sufficient to consider only the in- tensities. A third parameter used is necessary to allow for varying the plane of polarization of the radiation. Even so, we have found that it is not too difficult a matter to formulate the correct equations and solve them exactly." The point is, every problem I started to work, with my method, was soluble. I said, "Let me try harder and harder problems." I said, "Nobody has tried polarization, let me try polarization." And it worked! It was all these things in which one only had to have the audacity to ask the question, and the method answered it. The principal thing was to ask the question, and once you asked the question, the method was to solve it. There was no difficulty after that. It's a marvelous feeling, to do science in that way. You know, when I wrote the book, I wanted ever so much to go on beyond that. But I told myself, I don't want to spoil what I have there. Let other people do the spoiling. In other words, after having written the book I felt that there is a unit, repre- senting a work which I have enjoyed most, and which is written exactly the way I want to write. I don't want to spoil it by my messing with it — if other people want to do it, it's their job. For me, that is it, and I didn't want to spoil it.
Chandrasekhar:In a way, it's like going to a marvelous dinner, and then saying," I won't over-eat, because that would spoil the effect." It's very difficult for me to get enthausiastic about it now. In 1970, there was an international conference on radiative transfer, and I was asked to give the opening address. I wrote to the president, "I haven't talked or thought about this subject, literally not talked about it, for 15 years. I haven't followed the literature. I don't want to do it." But the President wrote back, "Well, we all use your book, we should like to have you come and give us a talk." So I agreed. The conference was in London. I had here a summer school in relativity, and I was working or relativity problems right up to Friday evening. On Sunday I was to take the plane, go to England on Monday, and the talk was scheduled for Tuesday morning. After Saturday morning, I started to think about what I was going to say. And I couldn't think of anything to say. Finally on Sunday morning, I called my collaborator and friend Norman Liebowitz and said, "Why don't you come here and talk on the subject?" So I started talking, and since I had to talk, I talked about half an hour, I remember, and got into the mood of the subject. That was all the preparation. Then that afternoon I took the plane, arrived in Oxford late Monday afternoon, and Tuesday morning, I had to give the lecture*. * There is reference to this talk in the Proceedings of the Conference, published in The JOUNRAL OF RADIATIVE TRANSFER I hadn't thought or prepared, except for that half an hour on Sunday. I started talking, and it was unbelievable — after the first five minutes, I could write all the relevant equations on the blackboard, talk about the problem with complete and total eloquence. Because I recaptured the whole spirit. I remember, at the end I said that, "I thank you for your patience with an Ancient Mariner." Everybody told me afterwards that they would not believe that I had not prepared it at all. I'm telling this because when I talk about that period, I'm always nostalgic about that period, because it was a time I was happy in science. Before that, there was unhappiness connected with Eddington, controversy, and a certain diffidence whether I could make the grade in science. Not that I had enjoyed doing Sciences I felt that my earlier diffiednce was unjustified.
Weart:That the problem itself was the imporatant thing.
Chandrasekhar:The important thing. And that if you enjoy doing science, then that's enough, you see.
Weart:And since then you haven't been as happy?
Chandrasekhar:No. One wouldn't see it in my published work.
Weart:It just hasn't been the same, because the problems haven't been the same?
Chandrasekhar:In a small sense, I think my work on the Kerr metric over the past years has recaptured for me that old spirit. But relativity is a very difficult subject, very hard.
Weart:Yes, indeed. And you don't have it all to yourself, in the same sense that —
Chandrasekhar:Yes. There are incredibly good people working in relativity.
Weart:When you worked on radiative transfer, did you feel that you were working in a complete vacuum, as far as anybody else in the world goes?
Chandrasekhar:I felt that it was absolutely fresh ground. Someone once told me "I want to ski on a mountain where nobody has skiied before." Well, I don't ski, but in some sense, it looked as though I was going into a field where there were no footsteps there before. I was just going right along-at my own speed.
Weart:I see. To get back to the polarization story, you mentioned yesterday over lunch about having it checked observationally. I wonder if you would repeat that story?
Chandrasekhar:Well, that was a little later, after the war, when my work on the polarization had shown that early-type stars should show polarization at the limb. Since electron scattering must be a dominant part in the continuous absorption of high-temperature stars, it occurred to me that one could detect the polarization in eclipsing binaries, one of which is low temperature, the other of which is high temperature — one should see the polarization. I went around the country, actually, telling the people who were doing photoelectric work to try to detect the predicted effect. In fact I knew Joel Stebbins, who was in Madison, and he was of course the great pioneer in photoelectric photometry. So I asked Stebbins, "Why don't you try to detect this effect." Well, Stebbins was not too interested. Later, I asked Al Hiltner in the department, who was looking out for some new things at that time — I suggested to him, "Why don't you start photoelectric work and try to find this effect?" He was rather enthusiastic about it, and he joined forces with J.S. Hall, who was also interested in photoelectric things, and they had an observing session in Texas. One of the first evenings, Hiltner called and said they had measured a particular star — I forget, some particular star — the previous night, and had found a polarization. I thought right away that they had found the effect I'd predicted. But then the following day, the polarization was still there, even after the eclipse was over — so it was clear that a new phenomenon had been discovered. That was how the inter- stellar polarization was discovered.* I always say that a theoretician can suggest something to an observational person; in the end, the theoretician gets only the booby prize.
Weart:The observational person gets the credit.
Weart:Have you done the same thing with some others of your theoretical predictions, before the hydrodynamics period, in terms of telling people, "Really, you should look for this, you should look for that"?
Chandrasekhar:The polarization was the one thing I really tried hard to have verified. Let me tell you a little about my relations with Stebbins who was the first person I approached. I had exceptionally good report with Stebbins even though he was much older than me. I have always had a warm feeling towards him. Stebbins was a marvellous person, very modest. I met him for the last time a year or two before he died. On that occassion he told me "Chandra I should have taken you * See W. A. Hiltner, SCIENCE 109 (1949), 165 up and tried to find the polarization you predicted. I should have then discovered interstellar polarization."
Weart:Well let's see. The RADIATIVE TRANSFER, the book itself, wasn't published until 1950. Is there anything more we should say about it? Was there a distinction between early and late periods of working on the RADIATIVE TRANSFER?
Chandrasekhar:No. Except, how I discovered Stokes paper, you know.
Weart:Yes, how did that happen?
Chandrasekhar:I had done the problem of the plane parallel atmosphere, and there the problem was simple. Because from symmetry, the plane of polarization should be in the meridian plane; I could assume that the plane of polarization is in the meridian plane, and you characterize polarized light by just the two components. Then I wanted to look at the problem of diffused reflection. In that case, the plane of polarization would change all over the place. So the question is: How do you incorporate the plane of polarization, which is unknown? And all the books on polarization would always tell you that given the two planes of polarization, the intensity varies like a cosine squared plus sine squared, something like that. Now, how can you incorporate in an equation transfer a direction, in addition to two intensities? It seemed hopeless. And I went to many many physicists to ask them how one should characterize polarized light? For example, John Wheeler was here in Chicago. I went and talked to him. No, he couldn't give my any answer. And then I went to Madison, Wisconsin where I knew Gregory Breit. I asked him how one would do that. No, he couldn't tell me. And I talked to George Placzek, whom I used to know from Copenhagen times, a great expert on the scattering of light. And what George Placzek told me was, "Well, Chandra, you have taken one of the most difficult problems. Rayleigh tried to work on the polarization of the sky, to compute the degree of polarization. You have taken a really difficult problem." And Gerhard Herzberg, who was my colleague at Yerkes I used to talk to him. And he couldn't tell me either. Finally one day I really got upset about this and said, "Let me try the old masters."
Chandrasekhar:So, having tried to take advice from all the physicists whom I knew, and having failed, I finally decided that perhaps I should look to the old masters, and brought down the collected papers of Rayleigh, Stokes and Kelvin. When I look through Stokes volume, I think it was volume 3, looking through the contents, I saw a title on "The Mixture of Streams of Independently Polarized Light." I truned the page and looked at it. And I said, "That's exactly what I want. I remember calling Gerhard Herzberg and saying, "Here is a paper by Stokes, and the problem is solved. It is absolutely clear." In the paper which I wrote a week or two later opening scetions were a description of Stokes work, presenting it in the form in which I needed it. And I called it "The Stokes paramenters." At the time I wrote on Stokes parameters, there was not a single book on optics which had an account of stokes work.
Weart:It had somehow been lost.
Chandrasekhar:Just lost. In fact, every one of my papers on the polarization up to that time — I wonder if I said in my book about that? [looks in RADIATIVE TRANSFER] No, I don't say it here, but in my published papers I point out that Stokes paper was in 1852, and just completely lost. You look at Drude's OPTICS, or Born's OPTICS, the earlier edition, and you will not find an account of Stokes) work. But since that time, of course, there have been many accounts.
Chandrasekhar:A marvelously written article by Stokes.
Weart:Remarkable. Well, now I wanted to ask about some institutional things. This is about what happened at Yerkes and Chicago, during the same period that you were finishing up your RADIATIVE TRANSFER book. Let me just run down the outline of the chronology, then I'll ask you what you can fill in on. In 1947, Struve split up his functions. He stayed head of the department, but in July of 1947 Kuiper became the director of the observatories, Morgan became the managing editor of APJ, and you were to conduct a section of theoretical astrophysics — Struve hoped that there would be an institute for theoretical astrophysics — and you would continue to supervise the teaching at Yerkes. This is from reports in the AJ.* The section of the astronomy department on the campus in Chicago would be revived, and Struve would coordinate the activities of all four branches. In 1948, Greenstein and van de Hulst left. In '49, Kuiper asked not to be reappointed as director. And observatory council was formed, for organizational matters, Struve as chairman. Herzberg left. In '51, Struve resigned to go to Berkeley, and you became acting chairman of the department. Phillips left, Page resigned as secretary, and then of course later Strömgren was brought in. * Annual Reports of Yerkes Observatory in ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL. But particularly, first, up to the period when you became acting chairman, can you fill in on what happened?
Chandrasekhar:That was an unhappy period. To an extent, I was not deeply committed to any administrative aspects of the department, till this happened. I could perhaps tell it in as objective a way as possible, without involving too many personalities. It's too bad that there is no one nowliving who could, in my judgement, confirm or support what I say, because the only person who's still living, who was involved in those times, is Morgan. I'm not at all certain Morgan's remembrance of these matters is correct, because there are many things which I know happened, which he either doesn't remember, or he sees differently.
Weart:This makes it all the more important, then, that we should hear what you recall of it.
Chandrasekhar:The sequence of events which you said is right, but there is one thing which you did not say, namely, that all these organizations which Struve made — becoming the chairman, appointing Kuiper, and so forth — happened just a month after I had decided not to go to Princeton. You know, when Russell retired, I was offered the chair at Princeton. And I accepted it.
Weart:Oh, I didn't know that.
Chandrasekhar:I accepted it. I was offered the chair in the early summer, maybe June of that year, '47 was that?
Weart:Yes. This all began in July of '47.'
Chandrasekhar:I'm sorry — then, I must have been offered the position the year before, '46. I certainly could confirm the date, '46, because that was the year Schwarzschild went to Princeton.* You see, I declined the position, then Spitzer and Schwarzschild were appointed. Anyhow, in the summer of '46 I was offered the job at Princeton, and I had accepted it.
Weart:I should ask you first why you accepted it?
Chandrasekhar:I remember that Henry Norris Russell invited me to come to Princeton. I talked to Hugh Taylor, and they all told me that I could do my research there, and they offered me a professor- ship, and — this fact, I think, didn't play a role, but the salary * N.B. Schwarzschild took up his duties at Princeton _947; the negotiations were in 1946 - SW. they offered me was twice what I was having in Chicago.
Weart:I wonder whether the difficulty of going back and forth between Yerkes and Chicago may have played a role?
Chandrasekhar:It wasn't too serious because I'd just started it. That didn't play too much of a role. But then Hutchins was able to persuade me, in September, that I was probably not wise in going to Princeton. He told me the following: "Well, it's an honor to succeed Russell, but it is more honorable to leave a chair, to which it is an honor to succeed." Then he said, "Of course, we can't provide you with that honor, but on the other hand, you have to ask yourself whether you can really do your work better there." Then he turned around and asked me, "you know, Kelvin was a professor in Glasgow for 50 years. Do you know who succeeded him?" I didn't. At any event, at the same time, he offered me a Distinguished Service Professorship here in Chicago, at the same salary as Princeton was offering. Well, I didn't think the salary was playing a big role, but one couldn't help noticing.
Weart:There's a good line that one scientist told me once, that in America money has symoblic importance. It shows how you are evaluated by people, and that's what's most important.
Chandrasekhar:But actually, at that time I was very short of money. For example, my wife very badly wanted to go to India. We couldn't afford the money for her to go. My salary at that time was $5000. We simply didn't have enough money, and my wife was deeply unhappy because she couldn't go back to India.
Weart:For a visit?
Chandrasekhar:For a visit to see her mother. We simply couldn't afford. the money. So to some extent, this did play a role, I'm sure it did. And so, I declined [the Princeton offer].
Weart:You mentioned Hutchins, but what about Struve and the physicists and the astronomers?
Chandrasekhar:They didn't persuade me very strongly.
Weart:Why did Hutchins step in?
Chandrasekhar:The only thing I can tell you is that every time I met Hutchins, after he left Chicago — I met him once when he passed through Chicago, there was a large assembly there and I was there. He came over to me and said, "One of the nicest things I've done, which I have done at Chicago which I'll always remember, is that I am responsible for your being here." And last fall, when I went to call on him in Santa Barbara, — he repeated the same remarks. You know Hutchins has since died.
Weart:yes, I know, just this last weekend.
Chandrasekhar:I'm very glad I did call on him. I called him on the telephone and said, "I would like to see you and make a call of respect." He was very nice. He said, "Please come and spend some time with me." I went there; I thought I would stay for ten minutes. He talked to me for nearly an hour and a half. Before I left, he again told me what he had told me earlier. Of course, people say these things in politeness, and I do not know to what extent it was politeness and to what it was not, but he seemed, to the extent I can judge, genuinely pleased that to some extent, he was in fact responsible for my coming to the university. That clipping I showed you, showed that he had over- ruled the dean. Of course, my appointment was recommended by Struve, but nevertheless it was Hutchins who had overruled the dean. And it was use Hutchins who persuaded me to decline the offer from Princeton. It was not the astronomy department which did it.
Chandrasekhar:It was at Hutchin's persuasion. But I must confess that the fact that he made me a Distinguished Service Professor in '46, when Struve had been made a Distinguished Service Professor only a few months earlier — I don't think Struve liked it. At least, he was so sensitive to honors of this kind that he felt that he must somehow redress the imbalance which had been created. And so Kuiper, who is an admirable astronomer, who certainly deserves everything — certainly if my getting the Distinguished Service Professor implied anything for Kuiper (I didn't think it did, but if it did), and if Struve sensed it correctly — and Struve might very well have sensed it correctly — he might have wanted some additional recognition. So Kuiper was made the director, and Morgan was made the managing editor of The ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL, as you said. But I am afraid that was the wrong thing to have done. was perfectly all right, in my judgement, if Kuiper had been made a Distinguished Service Professor, or his salary increased to the corresponding level. But you see, Struve and Kuiper are different kinds of persons. Struve is a person who likes to have all the strings. He's extremely sensitive to rank and position. I advised Struve as best I could that he should not make Kuiper the director. But it is possible that he misunderstood me as implying that I didn't want Kuiper to be the director.
Weart:For personal reasons?
Chandrasekhar:For personal reasons. But anyhow, Struve made it.
Weart:But there must have been other things reacting. It's a very serious step for someone to relinquish authority. Did he see himself as relinquishing authority?
Chandrasekhar:He thought that people would constantly consult him, and that his giving up the directorship at Yerkes was rather similar to the way Hale gave up the directorship at Mt. Wilson. Hale gave up the directorship, Adams became the director, but Adams consulted Hale at every point. Well, he thought he was getting a similar situation at Yerkes.
Weart:And relieving himself of some of the administrative responsibility?
Weart:And likewise with the APJ?
Chandrasekhar:Yes. But on the other hand, when you come to the APJ situation, the situation became rather complicated. Let's leave that —
Weart:We'll leave that aside, yes.
Chandrasekhar:But anyhow, you see, it is simply a fact that Kuiper and Struve didn't hit it off. And the personal frictions, the annoyances coming between them, was very disruptive, Kuiper was a personal friend of mine; he was deeply unhappy about the situation, and Kuiper and I decided that the best thing was to restore the status quo ante. Therefore, I persuaded Kuiper to resign the directorship, so that Struve could because the chairman, but Struvecould not accept it that way.
Chandrasekhar:Because he didn't want either in appearance or in fact, that he was anxious to run the whole place. Because he had said originally that he had not wanted to. I am not a psychoanalyst. But it is clear that Struve had for all appearances (thought in fact) relinquished administrative responsibility, and that what was effectively being done was restoring his formal responsibilities is what I wanted to do and that is what Kuiper wanted to do.
Weart:Why did Kuiper want to do that?
Chandrasekhar:Because he was not getting any thing out of the directorship He still had to get everything approved by Struve, meant [only] a lot of typing work. To have an administrative job with no responsibilities is a completely futile position for a scientist, particularly for a scientist like Kuiper, who at that time was in one of his most active periods, doing marvelous work in planetary astronomy. That was one of his best periods. He did many of his major discoveries at that time. He discovered carbon dioxide on Mars. discovered the atmosphere of Titan — the first time a sattelite had been found to have an atmosphere; he was doing marvelous things. Why would he want to sit and type letters for Struve? In fact, I tried to persuade Kuiper at an earlier time that he shouldn't become the director. But he did not take my advice. It wasn't working, and I knew it wouldn't work.
Weart:What did Kuiper think of Struve?
Chandrasekhar:I always felt that Kuiper and I and everybody else in the department had enormous respect and admiration for Struve. But so long as Struve had the complete administrative control, and we did the science, and he encouraged us to do science and never interfered with our scientific work, it was an ideal setup for us. So why would we complain? We were not competing for any administrative distinction. None of us were. Kuiper was doing his best work, and I was working on transfer theory, which was my happiest period, and Morgan was doing his work, certainly the best of his life, at least the most recognized of his work. And we were all perfectly happy.
Weart:It raises an interesting question. Why should you all be doing good work at exactly that period?
Chandrasekhar:We were all in our primes.
Chandrasekhar:No, I would say that unless one happens to be except- ional like Fermi or Heisenberg or people like that, I would say the best scientific work a person does is between 30 and 40. Because he has passed through the stage of apprenticeship, he's on his own, he's full of strength, full of ideas, full of optimism, feels his whole career is ahead of him, feels all the strength he has.
Weart:Just that you were all at that age.
Chandrasekhar:Yes, we were all in our middle thirties. And we were all entirely satisfied. I think it was a terrible mistake to have changed administrative direction. But on the other hand, you see, Struve was the one person who, retrospectively it is certainly right to say, had reached his top in science. From that time on it was a decline for him. He must have sensed it, bitterly. But I think at this time it's quite clear that Struve's best work was behind (in the late forties). We restored the status quo ante. But Struve was not very happy. He left for Berkeley.
Weart:Why was he not happy?
Chandrasekhar:To quote a remark which Kuiper said in one of his moments of anguish (which is probably unfair, both to him and Struve, to say), Struve was all the bad qualities of the Russian, and the bad qualities of the German, with the good qualities of neither. But the fact is that as you know, Struve must have been a very unhappy person. You know, his wife died after having melted all his gold medals.
Weart:No, I didn't know that.
Chandrasekhar:His wife died after him; no one knew when she died, but she had melted all his gold medals. All his books were sold. All his papers were destroyed.
Weart:His personal life was unhappy.
Chandrasekhar:I'm sure it was.
Weart:And then he felt his colleagues did not appreciate him.
Chandrasekhar:He thought that they didn't appreciate him. You know, if you have a colleague whom you admire, you can't go and tell him all the time that you admire him. I have a young colleague in relativity, Bob Geroch, who I think is absolutely first rate, but that doesn't mean I tell him all the time he is wonderful. That's just not possible. But Struve was very sensitive. And somehow or other, he felt that his position in the university was not as strong as it was before that. He was a protègè of Hutchins. But after the war, there was Fermi, there was [Carl-Gustaf] Rossby, there was Urey, there was Libby, there was Maria [Goeppert] Mayer, there was Edward Teller — and Struve was only one of the group.
Chandrasekhar:And he did not feel that he was very happy. For example, Walter Bartky was made the dean after Compton. Well, Struve was the one person who objected strongly to Bartky being made the dean. I think, to be entirely fair to Struve, one must say that he had scientifically passed his prime. He was no longer the great man at the University of Chicago (which he was). Up to 1946, [Arthur Holly] Compton was the only other person whom one could have put superior to Struve. Well, the climate had changed. He no longer had the same access to Hutchins which he had before. And he no longer was the undoubted intellectual leader of the astronomy department. The faculty which he had brought had grown and matured and were making reputations of their own, so that no longer was the astronomy department Struve and the rest, but Struve plus X, Y and Z. He was probably not comfortable with that. And he certainly went to a department, in Berkeley, in which during his lifetime there was Struve, and no one else. These are not qualities which are uncommon among scientists.
Weart:No, it's not.
Chandrasekhar:And I personally had then, and have now, the highest regard for Struve. My own feeling is, if Struve had not given up his chairmanship at that time, certainly there would have been no change in the attitude of his colleagues towards him, and he could have been happy the rest of his life. Indeed, he might have been more happy than in fact he was in Berkeley, and certainly, than he was at the National Radio Observatory.
Weart:One thing we didn't mention in passing was the business about reviving the astronomy department here on the campus.
Chandrasekhar:It essentially meant only one thing — that Struve started to give a course of lectures on the campus. But very few people came, and Struve always gave his observing periods the highest priority. He used to go to McDonald every few weeks, and lecturing was not possible. Consequently, I took the teaching on the campus over, and that is how I started giving regular courses on the campus; after 1946, regularly every year, I was on the campus every Thursday and every Friday, from 1946 to 1964.
Weart:This was the time Wilson speaks of,* when you had a class of only two: Lee and Yang?
Weart:What class was that, what were you teaching Lee and Yang?
Chandrasekhar:That was in the period 1947 to '49.
Weart:What sorts of courses did you teach?
Chandrasekhar:In fact, that particular course was on the theory of stellar structure. And T.D. Lee did a thesis on white dwarfs, under my supervision.
Weart:I see, I hadn't realized.
Chandrasekhar:When people ask me about my former students, till recently when the story with Lee has been widely publicized, I've never included Lee among my students. Like an old story of Maupassant, where there was a woman whose son became a Pope, and this woman was sent to a lunatic asylum because she claimed that the Pope was her son. Seriously, I mean, T.D. Lee is a marvelous physicist, and I don't claim any credit for him.
Weart:It was mentioned here that you became the director of a * "Introductory Remarks" by John T. Wilson to S.C. "Shakespeare, Newton, and Beethoven, or, Patterns of Creativity," Ryerson Lecture, Univ. of Chicago Center for Policy Study, 1975. theoretical astrophysics section?
Chandrasekhar:It never materialized. I never took it seriously, because I didn't see that it made any difference; students doing theory were doing work with me, and what's the particular point in calling it by some name?
Weart:Then you became acting chairman for a year, and you also chaired the council of astronomers that picked Strömgren to come as director. One of the most interesting things is how it was that Strömgren was picked, and also the history of your relationship with him.
Chandrasekhar:Actually, the council hardly did very much on it, because Struve had recommended Strömgren to Hutchins; I'm afraid the appointment, the decision to make Strömgren the director, was made by Hutchins and the dean. The astronomy department simply approved what in fact was an administrative fait accompli.
Weart:I see. I wonder, by the way, when you first met Strömgren and what the history of your relations with him was. Did you see him at Cambridge or Copenhagen, whatever?
Chandrasekhar:My attitude in the thirties and forties was always one of conceding priorities to all the others. In 1932, when I met Strömgren, I though Strömgren was a great astronomer. In 1946 when he visited Yerkes, one of his famous papers he left half unfinished. I wrote it all up for him and published it, you see. There's no doubt that he's absolutely an excellent astronomer, perhaps of a rather conventional kind, but still. And when he was made the director by Hutchins, I thought it was a very good thing. I admired Strömgren sufficiently to think it would be a very good appointment. But on the other hand, thinking back, there are instances in which retrospectively I can see that if I had the normal attitude to my colleagues and contemporaries that anyone would have, I might have had a different view.
Weart:To finish up the story of Yerkes, you did mention, and I think it's quite clear, that the period you spoke of when you, Morgan, Kuiper and all were all doing excellent work was one of the high points for Yerkes, and then it went down into quite a long trough. I wonder if you could comment on why you think that happened? What were the factors in it?
Chandrasekhar:My own judgement is that the choice of Strömgren as director at that period was a mistake. He was not the right person, and administratively he was extremely bad. That is not only my comment. For example, when he was the president of the IAU the general secretary told me that Strömgren never replied to any letter which was written to him. And during the time he was director, the first and second year, he used to go away for three months to Copenhagen. When he accepted the job at Yerkes, he retained the directorship at Copenhagen, so every three months he was to go back to Copenhagen — during the first few years anyway. Which was not known to me; I was completely and totally astonished that he had made these arrangements with the administration without any information, to me or to others. For example, during the summer he was gone I was the acting chairman again, and there were letters in his files six months of letters, completely unanswered. Moreover, some of the younger people who came to Chicago at that time, whom I had appointed during the one year in which I was acting chairman — Aden Meinel and Harold Johnson are the two men I had appointed as assistant professor, during that one year I was the chairman — and people whom Strömgren brought later, like Dan Harris, and Adrian Blaauw — all these people, I mean, decided that the nature of graduate instruction had to be different.
Weart:In terms of the scientific program?
Chandrasekhar:Everything, yes. For example, they revitalized, as they said, the graduate program, and it was all done without my knowledge, even though I had been responsible for it up to that time. There was a departmental meeting in which the whole new program was brought up, and I wasn't aware that it was going to be brought up. It was brought up at the last minute, the meeting was going on and on and they weren't coming to this point. I had to leave and Strömgren asked me for my comments. I made the remark that if they changed the program as the want to that was all right with me, if that was what the department wanted, but it was clear to me that the program had been so arranged that it would not be possible for me to have any more students in the astronomy department, because they would not be pre- pared to work with me. And that to some extent, they would have to carry on the program themselves, and I shall find my avenue of teaching in other sections of the university. Then I became a member of the physics department, and started teaching in physics in the physics department.
Weart:That was in?
Chandrasekhar:'54 or '55. After '54-'55, I have not taught in the astronomy department.
Weart:Is this because they were moving still further away from theoretical?
Chandrasekhar:That is what they said. Of course, you know, the department is totally changed now. But I think up to a point, Strömgren probably felt, probably with justice, that I was not in sympathy with the way in which he was conducting the affairs of the observatory, and he wanted to have a free hand. After all, if a man has a responsibility, and he feels that someone within the department is not in sympathy with him, I think it is right on both sides that they do not interfere with each other's responsibilities. I think he was probably right, from his point of view, to see that I had no influence in the department. And I was, I think, right from my point of view, to give up my active relations with the astronomy department at that time. And moreover, my own interest was not in astronomy at that time. It was shifting to the campus.
Weart:Was this happening before these events?
Chandrasekhar:It was all simultaneous. I realized what was happening in the department, up to a point, was in my interest. I probably would have continued my teaching in the astronomy department had this not happened. But on the other hand, it gave me a very good reason to get myself relieved of conventional shakes. And the depart- ment wanted a change in direction. On the other hand, I'm sure that Strömgren was doing what in his judgement was right and what in the judgement of the rest of the department was right. Nevertheless, he was not committed to the observatory, and the department, because he left the university in '57 or '58. In any event, no department can stay at the peak for ever. For example, take the physics department. There was Fermi; after Fermi died, and Maria Mayer left and Urey left and Libby left, well, the department declined. Struve was the person who held the whole department together. He had created the department, he had brought the faculty which had made the department during the thirties and forties. When he left the department it lost cohesion. Perhaps it was the natural course of events that it went down. I certainly don't want to give the impression that somehow or other people willfully tried to undermine each other, which was not the case.
Weart:No. I think it's important to know why it is that an institution goes up, and why it should go down. I've often wondered whether, in the case of Yerkes, the pull of the 200-inch, and the beginning of various other observatories, had something to do with it.
Chandrasekhar:That is part of it, certainly. Certainly in the late forties, the only place where a graduate program in astronomy was carried out, in the way in which it is carried out since in other places, was Yerkes. That was the only place which did it. And then when Struve went to Berkeley, he had Henyey there, and they developed a graduate program rather similar to that Yerkes? Greenstein and Guido Münch went to Cal Tech, they developed a program rather similar to what we had in Chicago. Lawrence Aller at Michigan developed a program rather similar to Chicago, because he came to Chicago all the time. And Schwarzchild and Spitzer [at Princeton] of course didn't follow the Chicago pattern, but by necessity it was similar to it.
Weart:I wonder if you can tell me, since you had such a part to play in establishing this, what were the major elements that you saw in this pattern, that only Yerkes had originally?
Chandrasekhar:Chicago was the first to realize that a graduate program in astronomy must include a course of instruction in the major fields of astronomy. And the major fields of astronomy, as we defined them in the late thirties and the early forties and the middle forties, were: stellar atmospheres, two or three courses a year; two or three courses in interstellar matter; a course in atomic physics; a course in molecular spectra; a course on galactic structure; a course on stellar dynamics; a course on the solar system; a course on stellar spectroscopy — these were the staples that we provided. We had a system of courses, in which all these were represented.
Weart:Why was it that that was done at Yerkes, why there, why at that time?
Chandrasekhar:I think primarily the credit must go to Struve. Struve realized that it had to be done. He himself couldn't do it, because he was too occupied with administrative and other matters, and he asked me to do it.
Weart:Had he sketched out the plan already, in this form?
Chandrasekhar:I don't think he sketched out the plan. The plan was largely set up by me, in collaboration with Kuiper and Struve, but Struve gave complete freedom to develop a progam as I wanted it. The program necessarily reflected my interests — namely a very large part of it was theoretical. That had to be changed, and Strömgren and others changed it, and restored a balance to it, which is what we have now.
Chandrasekhar:I think the events that took place were natural, with my background. I was given charge, Struve had an interest to develop a program, and I being in charge, developed a program which was largely theoretical — which obviously wasn't right.
Weart:But Struve had simply seen that the students were not getting proper preparation?
Weart:Now, perhaps, because we don't have a lot of time, maybe it's time to turn to the APJ. You joined, was it in 1944, as one of the editors?
Chandrasekhar:Yes! As Associate editor.
Weart:Associate editor. And perhaps, even before we get to the postwar period, I'd like to ask you a little bit about being associate editor then, how was it different from what it is today? What was it like then, what was Struve's role?
Chandrasekhar:ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL, after 1953 when I took it over, was totally different from the JOURNAL before, because in 1953, the University of Chicago signed an agreement with the American Astronomical Society, so that the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL was sponsored by the Astronomical Society, and there was compulsory subscription.
Weart:I was just wondering what an associate editor did.
Chandrasekhar:So, let us carefully distinguish the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL after 1953, and before 1953. When Struve was the editor of the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL, it was primarily a journal in which two observatories participated for their publications, the University of Chicago and Mt. Wilson. Both of them could publish in the ASTRO- PHYSICAL JOURNAL to any extent they wanted — no referee, nothing.
Weart:So what did an associate editor do?
Chandrasekhar:Let me come to my part in that.
Chandrasekhar:That is how it was in Struve's time. Struve became the editor in '35, I believe — maybe in '32.* I will come back to that in a moment. During Struve's period of editorship, up to about 1944 when I became associate editor, it was a private journal, in place of the observatory publications. That was that it was. But in 1944, Struve wanted to widen the base of it and increase the participating observatories from two — (it was in fact three at that time, Yerkes, McDonaId and Mt. Wilson, but really in effect two). He widened the base by including Harvard and Lick. And the same thing was there. These four observatories had a right to publish anything they wanted, up to a certain maximum number of pages.
Weart:How did he get Harvard and Lick to agree to this arrangement? Harvard had its own Bulletins and so forth.
Chandrasekhar:Well, Harvard came in. It's a very delicate question to ask. There were obvious scientific advantages to publishing in the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL, because Donald Menzel was writing papers in astrophysics. Menzel started publishing his papers, for example, in the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL prior to this arrangement. And obviously, it was in Menzel's interest to go along. Let me just put it that way. Let me not go into psychological problems. Similarly, C.D. Shane became the director of Lick very soon after that, or just about that time. And they felt that the observatories were now doing things which go better in a JOURNAL than in observatory publications. * In 1932 - SW.
Weart:I wonder whether the fact that the war was on, that there were not so many publications, may have played a role?
Chandrasekhar:To some extent. But actually, Struve was a very far-seeing man. He felt that sooner or later the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL, or something equivalent to it, had to play a role for American astronomy which the PHYSICAL REVIEW was playing [for physics]. That was Struve's idea. He knew that he couldn't do very much along that direction before the war ended. But Struve talked to me about it. That was the first part. And the second part was, an increasing number of theoretical papers were coming into the JOURNAL, submitted by various people from the participating observatories; and, for example, H.R. Robertson was writing papers on cosmology from Cal Tech, which came in as Mt. Wilson publications. And there were papers by Ira Bowen on spectroscopy. So Struve was anxious that he had some one who could read the theoretical papers, and help him. So when I became an associate editor with Struve, I read all the theoretical papers which came in.
Weart:What was involved in editing, if you had to publish them anyway?
Chandrasekhar:Well, but I read them, I had the chance to eleminate some obvious errors, and things of that sort.
Weart:If they were wrong, you would say, "Listen, you don't want to publish this error"?
Chandrasekhar:Well, I'd write them a personal letter. There was no referee. If the author said, "I won't change that was that. I will come back to some of these remarks later. So that was Struve's idea. But then, he was the president of the Astronomical Society after the war, and when he gave up the editorship of the JOURNAL and Morgan became the managing editor, Struve was extremely anxious that the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL should get a national base. And since he wanted to look into that matter, he wanted to give the day-to-day running of the JOURNAL to Morgan. Because at that time, the ASTRO- PHYSICAL JOURNAL was a press journal, which means it was a private journal published by the University of Chicago, paying no overhead. Then Struve formed a committee in the Astronomical Society to look at the problem of publications; Lyman Spitzer was the chairman of the committee. Lyman Spitzer, [Dirk] Brouwer, Paul Merrill, and Nick Mayall were the people who were the members of this committee to look into this problem. This committee met, and it produced its final report the year in which I was a acting chairman.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. The key point here is, Struve felt very strongly that there was no national medium for publishing astronomy, and that a private journal like the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL simply would not do. And since he was the president fo the Astronomical Society at that time, he formed a publications committee, consisting, as I said, of Lyman Spitzer from the East, director at Princeton at that time, Paul Merrill, who had been on the [APJ] editorial board all these years and was editor of the MT. WILSON PAPERS, and Nick Mayall from Lick, which was a partici- pating observatory, and Brower from Yale. These were the members of the committee. Now, during 1950 I was acting chairman, and Morgan said that the carrying through of the program of the Astronomical Society, and its negotiations with the university must be carried on by me, because I was acting chairman. And I did. That was a year of great changes, because Hutchins left, end of '51. He left the year that Strömgren came. But Hutchins was still the chancellor in 1950. I know that because the appointments of Meinel and Johnson, I negotiated through Hutchins at that time. But Caldwell was the president, and he was in charge of these other matters. So an agreement was to be made with the Astronomical Society.
Weart:Well, assuming that the Astronomical Society was in fact in favor of this.
Chandrasekhar:In fact, Lyman Spitzer's committee had come out by saying that the Astronomical Society would sponsor the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL and the ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL, provided an agreement could be signed with the University of Chicago Press.
Weart:And this had to be approved by the AAS Council, I suppose.
Chandrasekhar:Yes, by the Council. And it had to be approved also by the university. Now, there were a lot of cross currents at that time, because many of the stalwarts were rather against the ASTRO- PHYSICAL JOURNAL becoming the national journal, because it would mean giving a private journal supervision and authority over the astronomy of this country, and why should a private journal have that authority? In particular, why should Chicago have it? They might have been willing to accept Struve, but Struve was not in the picture any more. So there was a natural feeling against that. But anyhow, Spitzer was young and he was able to persuade the committee to go along with writing a contract with the University of Chicago.
Weart:On speculation, so to speak.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. And I was in charge of making the contract. These letters, incidentally, are in my files. I won't go too long into this matter, but the main point of the agreement was, the managing editor and the associate editor will have to be members of the University of Chicago faculty. That was one of the-stipulations in the contract. There were others, you see. Anyhow, I wrote up this memorandum of agreement, which I had talked about, not very much, but a little, to Lyman Spitzer.
Weart:Had you worked it out with Hutchins, on this end?
Chandrasekhar:No, I just tried to make it out on my own, as what was in the best interest all concerned. I made it out, and of course I showed it to Morgan. Morgan during that year gave me complete approval to do anything I wanted. So pretty nearly, I carried the ball. I wrote the memorandum, and Caldwell was to forward this memorandum to Alfred Joy, who was then the president of the Astronomical Society at that time. And Caldwell had a covering letter which was manifestly rude. He said the University of Chicago was willing to go along, and so on and so on in a very luke warm style. But the fact of the matter was, it was in the interest of the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL to be sponsored, because Americans will not accept a private organization. They will be willing to accept a national organization. (Caldwell never recognized it)
Weart:Was it purposely rude?
Chandrasekhar:Well, I don't know whether it was purposely or not, but the letter was in fact rude. In fact, I did not see the letter. He just forwarded it on his own. And at the December, 1950 meeting of the American Astonomical Society, this letter was considered by the Council. The Council rejected it flat. They would have nothing to do with the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL.
Weart:And you think it was because of this letter?
Chandrasekhar:That's right. Joy wrote a letter to Caldwell saying that the letter which Caldwell had written was unacceptable to the Council, and the Council had dissolved the publications committee, and they would not sponsor the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL. They did not want to have anything to do with it. This letter came to me in January, 1951, when I was no longer the acting chairman.
Weart:Had you known this, or did this letter just come?
Chandrasekhar:Just came. From the blue.
Weart:You hadn't been on the telephone to people to talk about these things?
Chandrasekhar:No. I was completely horrified.
Weart:You had expected, in fact, the AAS to accept it?
Chandrasekhar:Of course, when I saw Caldwell's letter, I couldn't see how they could accept it. I was horrified. Then, you see, in February 1951, we were going to India. We had been in the U.S. 14 years, and I told you earlier that my wife was desperately anxious to go.
Weart:And you hadn't been able to go back all that period.
Chandrasekhar:1951 was the first time. I could pay $2400 to get the ticket, because round-trip tickets for both of us were $2400, and in those days $2400 was not small, you know.
Weart:No, it was a substantial part of your income.
Chandrasekhar:For the first time, I could afford it.
Weart:Both of your families were in Madras?
Weart:Had your families been affected by the troubles of that period? It was a very difficult period for India, after all.
Weart:So that was part of the anxiety?
Chandrasekhar:Well, in the case of my wife, her mother was not well, and she badly wanted to go, and she was rather lonely in this country.
Weart:And you had not seen your parents, your father —
Chandrasekhar:No. I hadn't seen my father, you see. But anyhow, this was the first time we could afford to go. And so we had planned to go in February. This letter from the Society came about was two or three weeksbefore I was to leave from India. Morgan said, "It's your baby, you take care of it." Martin Schwarzschild is a very good friend of mine. He has always been a marvelous friend. I talked to him just last ight a long time over the telephone. And I wrote to Martin, "We are going to India, but we would like to stop in Princeton the day before, and I should like to discuss the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL, with you and Lyman. So on Sunday, the first Sunday in February or the last Sunday in January, 1951, Martin and Lyman Spitzer sat on one side of the table, I sat on the other side and said, "Lyman, you were the chairman of the committee. You recommended the rejection of the proposal on the basis of Caldwell's letter. Now, I did not write Caldwell's covering letter, but I wrote the memorandum which follows it. Now, let us forget about Caldwell's letter for the moment and ask for the substance and weight the memorandum the way it is. Let us forget anonymity and so on: I wrote that. Now, what are the reasons?" So I placed on the table all the reasons why the University of Chicago had to keep the editorial control.
Weart:And what are those reasons?
Chandrasekhar:By and large the reasons were, the JOURNAL was financially at that time supported partially by the university. That support would have to be forfeited. Also it had to have an organization behind it. And to the extent that the JOURNAL was printed in Chicago, and to the extent that the responsibility lay here, we ought to have free control. The background points were that the astronomical community outside had no confidence in Chicago. Or at least, pretended it didn't have any. I'll give you one example of how this came out in the very end. For example, it is well known that Harvard was completely and totally against the Chicago group, scientifically. For example, every year Shapley used to publish a "HIGHLIGHTS OF ASTRONOMY." Try to find one Chicago discovery in that, during this period.
Weart:Ah. I never noticed that.
Chandrasekhar:I think it is important, looking at it retrospectively, not to confuse main issues and personal issues. I think the principal basic fact is that at Chicago, they were all young astronomers in their late thirties and early forties, and a national journal controlled by them is something which other institutions can reasonably resent. Why is that argument not sufficient? That is a basic argument, and I understand that and appreciate it. But on the other hand, from the point of view of the astronomers at Chicago, and me in particular who was conducting the negotiations, I had to see the facts. I knew that we had to be responsible. And if you are going to be interrupted by personal differences or personal irritations, it's not going to work. Lyman is a sufficiently worldy man to understand these things. So I explained these problems to him. And then Lyman, at the end, said, "What do you want to do?" I said, "I have explained the whole problem. You write out the conditions under which Chicago should sign a contract with the university." He said, "All right, I'll write one." That evening there was a party at the Lyman Spitzers. He gave me a longhand memorandum; and that memorandum is exactly what was in the statutes, the standing orders of the Council, a year later. An incredible fact — a chairman of a committee which had been abolished and an acting chairman who was no longer a chairman, agreeing on a certain contract. And next day I had to leave from La Guardia [airport]. I sent a copy of this memorandum to Morgan, telling him that these were the facts, and if he disapproved of it, he should write to me. And that I expected a letter from him in England, where we were staying for a few weeks, before we were to go to India. Morgan sent a cable to me, saying that he approved it.
Chandrasekhar:The statutes were essentially that the managing editor and associate editor will be members of the University, but Lyman added that there should be an editorial board of five, nominated by the managing editor and approved by the Council. In other words, the managing editor MI! nominate a slate, the whole editorial board, but he will nominate two for each place instead of one as I had originally written. In other words, I still keep the editorial control, even with regard to the associate editors. That was how it was arranged. That was Lyman's idea.
Weart:But the Council has a veto over it.
Chandrasekhar:The Council has a veto.
Weart:And this he simply thought up that night?
Chandrasekhar:That night. Lyman is a very wordly person, very able, can see points through.
Weart:Did you discuss this with him? Did you negotiate, or did he simply say —
Chandrasekhar:No, after I talked to him, he heard my whole story and said, "What do you want me to do?" I said, "What kind of a contract would you sign?"
Weart:Then he went off and —
Chandrasekhar:Wrote it up. And he gave it to me, and I read it and said, "OK".
Weart:What about the University of Chicago when they saw it? Was it only Morgan, or was it — ?
Chandrasekhar:Let me go on with the story.
Chandrasekhar:Now there were two things to be done. I had the responsibility of steering this memorandum through the University. And Lyman Spitzer had the responsibility to reconstitute the committee which had been abolished. Well, Lyman did a magnificant job. He reconstituted the committee, showed this memorandum to Joy and others, and essentially they agreed that they would approve this thing. And when I came back from India in April, I had the task of seeing that it went through the university. Wendel Harrison was the vice-president at that time, (because Caldwell had left), and Kimpton was the chancellor, Hutchins having left, and so I had to negotiate with Harrison. Morgan gave me the complete go-ahead. "You just do what you want." But I gave all the information to him as it went along. By mid-July Harrison approved of it, and the memorandum was approved. I wrote to Joy saying that the University would sign it, and that if he was in agreement, the University (would send a formal letter to them.) Joy said, "Fine." The Strömgren went to Europe, and in October I get a letter from Joy saying, "Why hasn't the University done anything about the letter you said will be forth coming?" I went to Strömgren and said, "What happened?" "Oh, Harrison wasn't sure that he should sign the memorandum." I said, "Why haven't you told me?" Well, that's just the way Strömgren operated.
Weart:I see. I've noticed that you've been mentioning you sent the things to Morgan rather than to Strömgren.
Chandrasekhar:It was because Morgan was the managing editor.
Weart:But Strömgren was director already by that time?
Chandrasekhar:Oh yes, but it wasn't deliberate that I didn't tell Strömgren. I just assumed that if Morgan was to do the thing — I mean, he was the managing editor, I tell him, and that was that. So I was astonished. I came to the university here, I was just absolutely white hot. I went to Harrison and said, "Why haven't you sent the memorandum?" He said, "Well, the press has some reservations. The press feels that it can't support the journal with its editorial authority divided."
Weart:Can't support it financially?
Chandrasekhar:No, you see, if I was the managing editor and the complete control formerly was with me, then they could have me removed, or chastised, because both the press and I are under the control of the chancellor. But if the associate editors are voted in by the AAS Council, and the University has no control on them, the press doesn't have the complete control. Because the associate editors cannot be ruled by the University. So they didn't want it. Or: the statement was made that the annual cost will be approved by the Council, and the page charges which I made will have to be approved by the Council.
Weart:Which Spitzer had also added on?
Chandrasekhar:Yes. And I approved that, because I think it is fair that if the JOURNAL is supposed to become a national journal, its policies in principle must be approved by the Council. I thought that was right. But the press was against it, and Harrison was against it. As an afterthought. I told Harrison, "I'm sorry, Mr. Harrison. You told me in June that you will approve this memorandum. I have written to Joy, the president, to say that the university would approve it. And that committee which had been abolished by the Society was recon- stituted and has approved this, on my word. And now you tell me that you won't approve it! "There are only two courses open: either this memorandum, as we approved, goes to Joy today or, I resign my position from the University. There are no alternatives." He said, "Well, you know, the press has to think about it." I told him, "The director of the press is under your orders. Call him to come here." I said, "This is final — either I leave this office with your approval and your signature on this memorandum, or I call your secretary and dictate my resignation from this university. I am not bluffing. That's that." Harrison said, "You're a difficult man." I said, "You have put me in a difficult position." Well, the director of the press came, and they raised all these points. I said, "Why don't you leave it to me? You want the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL to become a national journal. We are going to referee papers. We are going to levy page charges. Why would the astronomers of this country give page charges to the University of Chicago? It's absurd. Why would the American astronomers accept my personal responsibility to referee, if I am not in some sense an officer of the Council? In your long-range interest, you will formally lose some priorities of a legal basis, but you have to go with it." Well, Harrison signed the memorandum and it was sent to Joy the same day. I'll tell you an incredible thing which happened. By great good furtune, Schwarzschild and I were both members of the Council at that time. So I could play the strings from both sides. I could play the spokesman for the university in the Council, and I could play the spokesman for the Society with the Administration. Joy was absolutely magnificent. I mean, he was wholeheartedly behind the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL, and at the general body meeting it had to be approved. The Council had approved it, and it had to be passed by the whole general body, because compulsive subscription was one of the items. And people are not going to pay compulsive subscription We had planned it all, and Joy told me, "Chandra, you must be completely in the background." I said, "OK, I will go and sit in the last row, and I won't say a word." We had all arranged who would speak and who would not speak and everything. And I noticed that Joy looked terribly terribly nervous. I couldn't understand why. After the meeting was over, and all the statutes had been approved by the general body, with half a dozen dissenting votes or something. Joy showed me a telegram, five pages long, from Harlow Shapley. Harlow Shapley wanted Joy to read this letter to assembled members in which. Shapley recommended that the Society does not go along with sponsoring the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL.
Weart:You don't happen to have a copy of that telegram?
Chandrasekhar:No. You know what Joy told me? "The telegram came too late."
Weart:Do you think the telegram would have made a difference?
Chandrasekhar:Certainly! There would have been so much wrangle and the propositions would have failed. You know Shapley had strong support.
Weart:Things went through the Council smoothly and at the meeting it just went through on the tracks.
Chandrasekhar:On the tracks.
Weart:And that would have thrown it off.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. That was in December, 1951. I came back to Chicago. There was one other thing which we had to agree, namely, Paul Merrill had insisted that the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL should publish supplements. For publishing tables and things of that sort.
Weart:This was because it was taking over some of the functions of the observatory bulletins?
Chandrasekhar:That's right. So I had agreed to that. And when finally the memorandum was signed, Morgan was furious.
Weart:About that aspect of it?
Chandrasekhar:Yes. He essentially told me that I had sold the JOURNAL down the river, by giving so much authority to the Council.
Weart:I don't understand. He had seen this memorandum. But afterwards he had second thoughts?
Chandrasekhar:Right. I was rather upset. I told him, "Well, Bill, you have seen everything; you never objected to anything. You told me I had the ball. I've done what I thought was best. It's your job now." I was still the associate editor. Of course, Morgan was not happy with that. But then it happened that that in spring I was for six weeks on the West Coast. I had been awarded the Bruce Gold Medal. I went to Berkeley, and then I was in Pasadena where I saw Paul Merrill. Soon after I returned to Chicago in April of '52, there was to be a first meeting of the editorial board. The first meeting of the editorial board consisted of Lyman Spitzer, chairman, Paul Merrill, Gerhard Herzberg, Nick Mayall, and Fred Whip+. Anyhow, it was to meet. When I came back from Pasadena in April, I found that Morgan was completely uncooperative. He wouldn't talk to me, and he said that his scientific work was being deranged enromously with the editorial responsibilities, and now I had added the SUPPLEMENT which he didn't want to publish. He wouldn't go along with it. And so on. The first meeting of the editorial board was to consider, among other things, how to divide the material between the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL and the ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL. And the editorial board met in Chicago. Morgan did not attend the meeting. He asked me to attend, and he had a letter for the chairman of the editorial board, which he want me to give him. He was doing all this by correspondence, even though we were in the same building. He was not well, in many ways; I ought to say that. In fact, he was ill for quite a period after that, probably in consequence, kind of reaction. At the editorial board meeting the editor had to write, which papers in the ASTROPHYSICAL JOUNRAL during the past five years did not belong in it. In Morgan's list, of the 30 items he had listed, 20 were my papers.
Weart:This was in the letter which he gave you to —
Chandrasekhar:— to give to Lyman Spitzer. And Lyman looked at it; everybody was embarrassed they essentially put it aside, didn't do anything about it. And so when I came back after the meeting, I went to Morgan's office and told him that it was quite clear that he was dissatisfied with the way I had written the contract, but on the other hand, I had done it fairly, in the sense that he had copies of every correspondence. Apparently the end product is not to his taste. There's nothing I can do about it. On the other hand, I could see very well that being the managing editor, with me as an associate editor, was not satisfactory. Since he had the responsibility to carry on, I would resign my associate editorship. He said, "Will you put that in writing?" "Oh, certainly." So I wrote a letter to Strömgren saying that I was resigning the associate editorship. I told Strömgren, when I gave him my resignation, that Morgan should be absolutely reassured that I will not interfere with him in any way, what I had done I had done in good faith, and if I'd done something wrong, something which could have been avoided, I knew I had not been warned at any stage. That's all there is to be said about it; I resign. And my resignation was accepted on Monday.
Chandrasekhar:By Strömgren. Because the Journal was still a part of the astronomy department at that time.
Weart:This was before that transition had been made.
Chandrasekhar:That's right. So, Strömgren accepted it; that was on a Monday. On Wednesday, Morgan resigned his editorship. And I found myself the managing editor on Friday.
Weart:Appointed by Strömgren?
Chandrasekhar:No. It was quite clear that I had to take it. Dean Bartky asked me if I would take it. And I took it. There was no choice for me, because I had carried the ball — with the Society, with Lyman, with Joy. And I had negotiated on behalf of the university. And if at the end of it, the university says, "The managing editor has quit." Well, how does it look?
Chandrasekhar:And so I found myself the editor. I immediately instituted all the changes which I wanted to do, refereeing, page charges. I had initially terrible difficulties. One of the first papers that came from Lick — unbelievable as it may seem — it was on binary stars, I had Russell referee, and Russell found a mistake. And Russell rewrote the entire paper. I returned the paper to Lick, saying the paper should be revised. I got a letter from Shane saying, "We at the Lick Observatory know what papers to publish. I suggest that you publish it as we sent it." I wrote back saying, "I won't." I said the paper was rejected. Lick never sent a paper to the JOURNAL for the next two years. And the first time the page charges went, Ira Bowen wrote a letter saying, "We are paying so much pay charges." And I wrote to Bowen, saying, "But look at the money you have spent on your 200-inch. Look at that money you're paying your staff. Look at the amount of time you've spent. Last year you paid only $500 page charges — is that that much?" I got a terribly nice letter from Bowen saying, "Please destroy my earlier letter." Bowen was marvelous. The first time a paper from Mt. Wilson was rejected, that member of the faculty sent a petition around, saying that this was the first time a paper from Mt. Wilson has been rejected. This must not happen, the editors should be forced to accept it.
Weart:Sent a petition around to whom?
Chandrasekhar:To the members of the staff, at Mt. Wilson, to sign it. Bowen heard of it. He tore up the petition. He said, "We don't want to be treated differently from the others." It was a long struggle.
Weart:What about Harvard?
Chandrasekhar:The same thing.
Weart:Did they start submitting papers?
Chandrasekhar:In time, they had to.
Weart:But for a while they held back?
Weart:This raises a lot of questions that I didn't ask for the period of the thirties, but I think they apply to the whole period up through the early fifties, and that's about the relations among Chicago, Lick, Mt. Wilson, Harvard and so forth. Maybe to start, considering not just the APJ but the others, one thing that I wondered: were the bad relations between Chicago and Harvard, did they have something to do with good relations between Chicago and the California observatories?
Chandrasekhar:In part. There was intense rivalry, you know, among the astronomers. I was not a part of it, because as I told you before, till the late forties — when I felt sufficiently secure in myself and felt much more comfortable as an integral part of the U.S. astro- nomical community, with equal responsibilities with the rest, that I had a share in them and that I had just as much voice in it as any- body else — that attitude came to me only in the late forties; and this coincided with my taking over the JOURNAL. I always felt that the rivalry between the different institutions was terribly bad. Have you ever thought of the fact that Hubble was never nominated for the presidency of the American Astronomical Society?
Weart:No, I hadn't. I'd just assumed that he
Chandrasekhar:— the Eastern Establishment was against it. And you know, it's a very intersting thing — there are some people who never become a part of the Establishment. I am not a part of one. [Tape # 3 (Side 6)]
Weart:You said you were not part of the Establishment in one of your letters to us. I have to ask, surely you're part of the Establishment, having been editor of APJ?
Chandrasekhar:Do you know how many times people tried to impeach me during my editorship?
Chandrasekhar:In fact, two years before I gave up the editorship, Arp I used to reject Arp's papers outright, several of them. Or I would say that he must cut out all the theoretical parts, and publish only the observational parts. He started an impeachment. He went to the various directors, and wrote letters to the editorial Council. The editorial board asked me what my position was? I said, "I refuse to participate in the discussion. You can do what you like. I won't be a part of it." I don't want to go into the long story as to finally how many years it took me to get the JOURNAL back to financial stability. Let me only say that when I finally gave up the JOURNAL, I arranged that the University transfer to the Society half a million dollars, which was the reserve fund I had accumulated. And in 1960, or even already in the late fifties, I eliminated the special privileges of the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL with respect to the press, in not paying overhead. I started paying overhead, because I said the JOURNAL had to be independent. An enormous difficulty. It was enormously useful for me that Martin Schwarzschild who, together with me, in 1951 and '52, put the JOURNAL into the Society, helped me as the president of the Society in 1971 to essentially re-accept the JOURNAL, entirely on their behalf. There were enormous difficulties there, connected with it. You asked me some other questions — about the Establishment. Well, do you know how many people, Merrill, and all the others, thought that the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL was going absolutely to shreds, because I was the managing editor?
Weart:On what grounds?
Chandrasekhar:Because, "He's a theoretician. He doesn't understand astronomy."
Weart:What did these opponents feel was wrong about the balance of articles?
Chandrasekhar:Well, that changes will take place is obvious — one can see retrospectively that they were not all advised, but they didn' know it before. And even in the end —
Weart:No, I mean, how would they have changed it? What would they have done?
Chandrasekhar:I don't know. It's very difficult to retrace history. But they simply felt that it was wrong.
Weart:They thought it should be more theoretical?
Chandrasekhar:No! More observational. I was a man who was supposedly not sensitive to the observational currents of astronomy.
Weart:Because you kept putting in these long theoretical articles —
Weart:— and putting in your own?
Chandrasekhar:On the other hand, after I became the editor of the JOURNAL, I never published in the JOURNAL for ten years.
Weart:Oh, that's right. And then after that you began to publish very regularly in the JOURNAL.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. For example, I have received letters like this: "Who referees your papers?" Always from somebody whose paper had been rejected: "I see that the last issue contained a paper by you. Who refereed it?' I told him, "You do not know who referees of your papers are. The acceptance or rejection of it is an editorial judgement, and it was the same editorial judgement that this paper of mine should be published." Well, people don't like those things.
Weart:I see. Have you, in fact, had any of your papers refereed?"
Chandrasekhar:If I were the editor, I would answer by saying,"I won't answer that question." But I answer you now: I always referee my papers, privately. For example, I send papers to the Royal Society now. I haven't published in the JOURNAL for the last few years. I published regularly in the Royal Society. They always referee papers submitted to them: but I have them refereed first privately.
Weart:By someone around here?
Chandrasekhar:Yes. I have never sent a paper in my life to any journal, without it having been refereed by a person whom I consider competent. Never.
Weart:I see. And there's enough people around Chicago that you can —
Chandrasekhar:— or outside; I send it outside. And when I write to a person to ask for comments, it isn't true that a letter comes back saying, "It's fine." There are quite long reports and I incorporate them in my papers.
Weart:Let me ask you — has there been a serious attempt) perhaps at the beginning or since, to split the APJ off from the University of Chicago entriely?
Chandrasekhar:It shows how difficult it is. One of the conditions I made for relinquishing the JOURNAL, was the the JOURNAL should continue to be published at the University of Chicago Press, for five years after left, or three years. I made that stipulation. I had the great good fortune that Schwarzschild was the president [of the AAS]. I'll tell you the kind of problems that arise. There was an agreement to be signed. And of course, I wrote the agreement.
Weart:A contract renewal.
Chandrasekhar:I had to write the contract. Don Osterbrock was on the editorial board. He read it and said, "Chandra, that is out of the question." A copy went to Martin Schwarzschild. Martin Schwarzschild very agrily called me on the telephone and said, "Chandra, but this is not what Levi* said!" * Edward Levi, The Univ. of Chicago Present. I told him, "Martin, what Levi told you is what I had asked him to tell you. What you're reading is not what Levi wrote, but I wrote it. I don't see any contradiction. Now, you think it over, and you suggest changes, and I will make all the changes you want." Next morning, he called up and said, "Chandra, it's OK. The point is, there's so much emotion in these matters. And I knew that if I can convince Martin, Martin can convince the others. He's a tremendously popular person. I could not have got the contract through within the Society and the University, except for the fact that Martin Schwarzschild was the president, and I arranged my time of resignation to coincide with that time.
Weart:Ah, I see.
Chandrasekhar:I tend to become intolerant when something which seems to me obvious is not accepted by somebody else. Because I try awfully hard to be as fair as possible. I write something, and somebody else brings up some point which seems to me irrelevant and absurd — I become impatient. And to become impatient in discussions among equals is not the way to get things done. Whereas, I know that with Martin I can talk, and I know that if I convince Martin, then I am sure that I am fair. And Martin can withstand my impatience perfectly, you see. [Laughter]
Weart:Yes. How did you get to know him? Was this when you went to Princeton around 1940?
Chandrasekhar:No, Martin - when he was at Harvard in the late thirties —
Weart:'36 or '37 —
Chandrasekhar:— yes, and he came to Chicago and became a very good friend of mine, you see. We have been very good friends all the time.
Weart:Then you saw him again at Aberdeen. Have you gotten down to Princeton fairly regularly since then?
Chandrasekhar:We arrange to meet every year. Usually when I go to Princeton, I go on a Saturday afternoon, stay with him on Sunday, and don't go to the observatory. I make visits to Princeton incognito in the sense that I don't want to go and meet the rest of the people there. We have been extremely good friends. We see each other at least once a year. We talk on the telephone socially quite often. Every three months, either he calls us or we call him. Like last night, we called him - he's going to Germany this morning; I didn't know that.
Weart:I didn't know it. How long will he be there?
Weart:Well, have we finished with the APJ I don't know too much about what was going on, so perhaps I can't ask you the right questions. I am curious about what your relation with the editorial board was like, or I should say, with the editorial boards.
Chandrasekhar:I can answer that question. I had absolutely no difficulty with the editorial board. I used to go to the Council meetings, ask for page charges increases, ask for subscription increases, nominate people to the editorial board, with absolutely no hesitancy. Absolutely none. All the fears which people expressed at Chicago, as to what was going to happen to the JOURNAL, were completely and totally lost. I had marvelous relations with people, and the editorial board cooperated with me all the time. But of course, up to a point I selected my own friends.
Weart:The board then served as a shield for you against these attempts to have you ousted?
Chandrasekhar:It never went up to the editorial board, except very much towards the end. And there I simply refused — I said, "I can tell you my procedures, but I can't tell you what I do in given instances."
Weart:To what extent has the editorial board played a role in determining the balance of the JOURNAL, the types of articles?
Chandrasekhar:I was the complete master. In fact, I don't think there has ever been an editor more totaly responsible for the Journal or more autocratic. For example, take the "Letters" which I started. I refereed all the Letters. No letter was published which did not approve; letters were not refereed outside.
Chandrasekhar:Every single Letter during my time. I refereed it myself. And everyone knew that its rejection depended upon me, not upon anybody else.
Weart:Well, it's often happened, a journal has been under an autocratic editor — if you look at some of the early German physics and astronomy journals, you'll find an autocratic editor — but it astonishes me that it should have been physically possible.
Chandrasekhar:I will tell you one thing which may be of interest. You know, I have developed complete and total neutrality over the long years I spent on the JOURNAL. I have no sense of accomplishment in it. And I have no sense of having done anything beyond what happened to be the things I had to do because of circumstances. I mean, people ask me, do I miss the JOURNAL? I don't. Do you feel relieved? I don't. In fact, it astonishes me that I kept the JOURNAL for so long. The only thing I know is, that to a very large extent, it frustrated many of the things which I would have done otherwise, during the period. Don't forget that I became editor of the JOURNAL when I was 41, and I gave it up when I was 61. That is a period in which people ride on their reputations. But I simply had to do it 100 percent of the time. The funny thing is that when I finally gave up the JOURNAL, it was felt, by some people anyway, that I was pushed out by the University from there, and so I had a lot of job offers.
Weart:Outside, to other places?
Chandrasekhar:That's right. Because they thought that I couldn't possibly have relinquished the JOURNAL on my own intiative, with no prodding; people thought that I must have been forced to give it by the University, due to some misunderstandings, and that I had fallen out with the University.
Weart:I see. Why did you, in fact?
Chandrasekhar:In fact is is the opposite. I tried awfully hard — for example, I told you that we had a reserve fund of close to a half a million dollars. It was the University's funds, which had to be transferred. You can't do that wihtout the Board of Trustees' approval. And Edward Levi was opposed at that time. I went and talked to him, and he agreed to go along. And then he told me, "Chandra, the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL is one of the goodies of the University. Why do you want to give it away?" I said, "So long as you feel that the JOURNAL can be run here at Chicago, worthy of the way in which the University should run it, we should keep it. If I fail — and if you cannot supply me with an alternative to the way in which it has been run — isn't it time that we gave it up, so that the JOURNAL does not get destroyed?" Then Levi told me, "It seems to me that if you have loyalties to the University and to the JOURNAL, the JOURNAL always wins." I aksed Levi, "Would you have it any other way?" He said, "No." My relations with the University, with the editorial board, and most of all with the press, the compositors, — it's one of those marvelous occassions that the employees of the press, compositors) proofreaders, they had a dinner for me when I gave up the JOURNAL. And one of them made a speech: "I only set papers. I often see Chandra's Limit mentioned there. I don't believe such a limit exists." [Laughter]
Weart:Why did you give up the JOURNAL?
Chandrasekhar:Well, after all, I had kept it for 20 years. That's the first thing. And the second thing is that, literally, if I had died one year before the JOURNAL changed hands, nobody would have known what to do with it. It was simply not fair that a JOURNAL, which had acquired the national prestige that it had, should be so fragile in its structure. I mean, a national journal should have a national responsibility. I come back to the beginning, that it exactly what Shapley said, a national journal just have a national responsibility. But you do not create a national journal out of ashes.
Chandrasekhar:And therefore, Shapley's remark that a national journal should be nationally sponsored is entirely right. The only thing is, he was 20 years too early in his statement. I came to his view, that the JOURNAL had to go outside the University.
Weart:But you felt that first it had to be established.
Weart:It must have taken up a lot of your time. The growth, of course, is very striking, when you look at it on the shelf. In 1966, you went on a monthly schedule. In 1967 you started the Letters. You did take on a production manager in 1969. Did you feel an increasing drain on your time?
Chandrasekhar:Well, take for example the production manager. Why did I set it up? Because I knew that it couldn't change hands. That office down there did everything;weread all the proofs, we made all the advertisements; we made all the page charges; we made all the budget. Can you imagine an editor coming after me who would want to do all that?
Weart:I should think it would have taken up all of your time. don't see, how you produced anything.
Chandrasekhar:I had a girl, Jeanette Burnett, and I asked her to set up the production office. I had a promise from her, that she would keep the job for at least one year after I left. I set up the office in the press one year before I left, so that I could see its functioning. And this office had to be set up at certain point fairly high in the hierarchy of the press. They wouldn't have put Jeanette at that position, but I said, "I want to be in charge," and the press couldn't refuse me. So I temporarily occupied a position which was filled by my assistant. And when I left, she had to be there. It takes time, you know.
Weart:Yes, it's very delicate.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. That is why the giving up of the JOURNAL was a long process. It took me a total of four years to arrange the transition.
Weart:And now you're free of it.
Weart:There are some other events in the JOURNAL. One is intro- ducing the Letters in 1967. Row did that come about?
Chandrasekhar:Well, do you know what all the astronomers told me when I did it?
Chandrasekhar:"You are trying to ape the physicists."
Weart:This was your idea?
Weart:There had been no pressure from the astronomers to do this?
Chandrasekhar:No, on the contrary. I announced the formation of the Letters at the meeting of the Astronomical Society, in Madison, I remember. The common things I heard was at lunch tables and so on, when people didn't know I was there, "Well, Chandra just wants to imitate the physicists. That is his weakness, he wants to do everything the physicists do."
Weart:Why in fact did you want to do it?
Chandrasekhar:It was quite clear to me that discoveries in astronomy, like Maarten Schmidt's work and quasars were being made with increasing frequency. X-rays sources were coming up. I could see that important discoveries were made, and quite apart from what the authors thought or not, they should be rapidly disseminated among the astronomical community; I knew the need was there, and —
Weart:did you feel that they were being disseminated outside the JOURNAL?
Chandrasekhar:No, I simply felt that the JOURNAL was here to serve, and it wasnot doing its duty well if it did not foresee the responsibilities which would follow. It would have been a terrible difficulty to establish the Letters in '70 or '71. At least, I felt that it would have been difficult. I thought it was better to start it at a time when the pressure was not very great.
Weart:Why? I don't understand.
Chandrasekhar:Because I could see the momentum of discoveries increasing, I felt that the need will come, and it was better for the JOURNAL to foresee the need than to be forced to improvise some solution, when the need was being pressed from the outside instead of from the inside.
Chandrasekhar:I simply felt that the JOURNAL was there to serve the astronomers. I don't know whether the rest of the community thought so from the way I was running the JOURNAL but I tried to be desperately fair, I always used to ask myself, "am I rejecting this paper because I'm prejudiced against the author? or am I accepting a paper because I am partial to the author?" That's a question I always asked myself. If there was any doubt that prejudice is involved, I allowed the decision to be in favor of the author. And very often, the decisions were just mine.
Weart:I'm wondering what determined the composition of the JOURNAL? There were a couple of places where you intervened, for example, the editorial of 1959 on publication of papers in radio- astronomy. Why did you publish that editorial?
Chandrasekhar:Because some radio astronomers asked me, "Is this paper all right?" I said, "Why isn't it all right?" So I was getting a little worried. I always used to tell them, "Anything which is good astronomy is good enough for the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL. Anything which is bad, even in conven- tional parts of astronomy, is not good for the JOURNAL." Several of the people who were doing radio astronomy asked me, "Can we publish our papers in your JOURNAL?" I said, "Why not?"
Weart:Did you ever have this come up with other fields? Were there fields where you tried to encourage people, perhaps just by talking with them, to publish in the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL?
Chandrasekhar:The only. thing I ever did, and the way I would have done that is, for example; general relativity was never present in the JOURNAL. I started publishing in the JOURNAL on relativity. Others followed, you see.
Weart:So you encouraged it by example.
Chandrasekhar:Yes, in that sense. I think that's the one instance in which I made the innovation. Of course, people might say I did it because I was working in it, but the real reason why I did it was whether one believes it or not (what I. say ) I. felt that general relativity: had now come to play a role in astronomy, and it ought to be represented.
Weart:Did you have any difficulties in your relations with the ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL?
Weart:How did you decide the dividing line?
Chandrasekhar:I never decided it . I considered every paper that came to JOURNAL.
Weart:I see — so it was essentially up to the authors to decide which journal to send them to?
Weart:If it was a good paper you wouldn't say, "However, this would belong in AJ."?
Chandrasekhar:There were some efforts on the part of the ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL editors, particularly Clemence who thought that I ought to direct some of the papers from the JOURNAL to the ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL. I told them that it was too invidious job for me to try to do it.
Weart:Did they direct some papers your way?
Weart:That's interesting. So it was really entirely up to the community.
Weart:Would it be the same with, for example, SOLAR PHYSICS?
Chandrasekhar:I never would have redirected any paper to any JOURNAL. Its acceptance was solely the criterion of whether it was good astronomy.
Weart:I see. If you rejected it, it might be perfectly good physics, perhaps —
Weart:Well, are there other things I should ask you about the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL? You know much more about it than I do.
Chandrasekhar:I'll tell you one thing. In 1953, just about a year after I'd taken the editorship, I was working with Fermi. Our plan was, I used to meet him every Thursday morning at 10 o'clock, and we used to work till about 12, and at 12 we'd go to lunch together. Next week I would come back again to go through our discussion, having straightened out a number of loose ends. On one occasion, when I went there, I had a huge package with me. Fermi looked at it, and obviously there was a question in his eyes.
Weart:You had this big package.
Chandrasekhar:And Fermi had glanced at it. There was some query in his eyes, which I noticed. I told him — I remember it very well — "It's the March issue of the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL." He turned to me and said, "Why do you do it?" I didn't reply to the question because I did not know why I was doing it; and I still do not know why I did it. [Laughter]
Weart:I'm curious about the whole development of the journal over this period. Aside from your own influence, what do you think have been the main reasons for the very striking changes.
Chandrasekhar:Very simple. American astronomy became very good. A journal is what the authors write. The editor doesn't solicit articles; the articles come to him. If the editor has in some way encouraged publication of good papers, promptly, efficiently, and fairly, hehas done a little service, but the credit for the quality of the jouranl is not the editor's. It belongs to the astronomical community.
Weart:One other question about it. If one takes a look at it physically, compares it with one of the much earlier ones, of course, aside from the much greater size there are two things that one notes. One is that articles are much shorter, and the other, that the plates are gone, except for an occasional half- tone print. What sort of reaction did you get for these changes? How did you personally feel about instituting these?
Chandrasekhar:The changes in the plates were not made by me, because the plates before had to be hand-inserted in every place, and sometimes a journal would have 30 plates. Take 4000 issues of the JOURNAL, and in every single one you have to hand-insert — that kind of labor is simply not available now. Whereas if you put them all the the end, or if you want to put them in the middle, not in glossy prints but something else, it can be done.
Weart:Even at the end they're much fewer now than they used to be.
Chandrasekhar:For example, one very distinguished astronomer said, "I won't publish in the JOURNAL if my papers are not accompained by my plates right in the middle." I said, "I'm sorry that you feel that way. Your papers are very good and I'd like to publish your papers, but I am sure you're not insisting that I go and hand- insert your plates in 5000 copies?" Well, the astronomer sent a paper before long. These are technical problems. On the other hand, you see that feeling shows that somehow the conventional astronomer likes to have this glossy prints in the text.
Weart:I can appreciate it. There was nothing else to be done, I see. I wondered — have you served on any other important boards or committees, that influence the way funds have been given, review committees and so forth, government — ?
Chandrasekhar:No. I've never served on an NSF Panel, I have never served on an ONR Panel, I have never served on any committee. In some ways, probably, being the editor of the JOURNAL gave me the shield by which I could reject all other responsibilities which might or might not have come my way.
Weart:I see. You weren't asked, people simply assumed that because you were the editor that was enough? Or were you sometimes asked?
Chandrasekhar:I have been asked once or twice. But I didn't have much of an opportunity. Also, on the other hand, people might have felt that I wouldn't have — I don't know.
Weart:Did you get an impression from people that they felt you have occupied a position of great power?
Chandrasekhar:From people whose papers have been rejected — yes.
Weart:I see. Maybe this would be a good point for us to stop. It's almost noon. [Lunch break]
Weart:That gives us an hour, and that will be enough to cover the main things anyway, I think. OK, we're resuming after lunch. Now we get into your work in the early fifties on turbulence, leading up eventually to the book HYDRODYNAMICS AND HYDROMAGNETIC STABILITY.* How did you get into this, turbulence and connection and so on?
Chandrasekhar:I can state it very briefly. First, as I told you before, I was extremely pleased with the way my work on RADIATIVE TRANSFER ended. And after I wrote that book, I felt that phase of my work was finished, and I was planning to do something different. I remember talking to van de Hulst, who had worked with me on transfer theory during the late forties, along my lines: I told him, "Well, Hank, during the past 20 years I have been working on problems which in some sense other people had formulated — Eddington Schwarzschild, Milne and people of that kind. When will we formulate problems on which people 20 years from now will start working?" So I was anxious to make a clean break with astrophysics as it was understood at that time, and go on into something different. It seemed to me that turbulence was the area which was an intersection between problems of astronomy and problems of the type of things I could do. So I started working on turbulence. Actually, I was not satisfied with my work on turbulence as it progressed during the early fifties; I was disappointed at what was coming. I had learned the subject, published a few things, and at one point I actually thought that I would go up to the attic and bring down my old books and papers and start working on transfer theory. I was so ashamed of the thought that I said, I shouldn't do that. Then, a month or two from that time, the possibility of working on stability problems occurred to me. And here I felt that there was a whole range of problems which one could do. Even the simplest Benard problems hadn't been solved properly. So I started working on stability problem, and they grew and they grew. Later, I found that I was making a number of new predictions. So I set up a laboratory here on the campus, in which on the hydro- magnetic side, Nakagawa worked, and on the hydrodynamic side, Dave Fultz. That was a period of collaboration between the geophysicists, particularly Dave Fultz, and the group who did the experiments. I think a number of interesting things came out. During the time I was doing these problems, Billard asked me if I would write a book on it, and I agreed. Even though. I signed the contract in 1955, I was not ready to start the book till May 1959. I made up my mind that the book had to be finished by April of 1960, when * Oxford: Clarendon Press, 190 (reprinted 1968). I was going to Israel to give the Weizmann Lectures. I'd asked the editor of the Clarendon Press to meet me at the London Airport. I did that already in July of 1959, and it was tremenously hard work. I believe that that nine months was probably among the hardest periods in my scientific work. Of course I was editing the JOURNAL all the time, and I had students; it was a tremendous effort which I put forth at that time. It is always difficult to know retro- spectively whether the effort was worthwhile or not. But anyhow, at that time I did put the effort and I did complete the book as I wanted, and the editor did receive the manuscript at the London Airport, on my way to Israel.
Weart:I'm curious about this change. You say that when you began it, you foresaw that it would eventually be important for astro- physical applications, and yet it seems that you were moving into the physics community. You were not publishing in ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL at this time.
Chandrasekhar:No, that is right. But on the other hand —
Weart:— Did you feel that you were moving into the physics community?
Chandrasekhar:I knew that I was getting away from the mainstream of astronomy; that I knew. But on the other hand, here was a whole area here, which had to be explored. In the book I predicted a very large number of new results, new experimental results, the notion of overstability, the fact that rotation and magnetic field work opposing each other. We verified all that in the laboratory. You are right in pointing out that my initial motive in going into turbulence and hydrodynamics was hoping to lay the foundations of future theoretical astrophysics. But it didn't turn out that way. On the other hand, it was compatible with my temperament, in the sense that here was an area in which I could work profitably. Retrospectively, my judgement has been justified. That book was published in '61, and it has gone through four printings and sold some 10,000 copies; it continues to sell.
Weart:Where did you get your support from in this work? Was it from the physics community?
Chandrasekhar:I got it from the ONR.* It's very interesting. I had to give a talk to the Fermi Institute, a visitors' meeting, I had made all these predictions about hydrodynamic convection, and I made a comment at the end that it would be marvelous if all this could be experimentally verified. I concluded by saying "Sam Allison tells me that he has a 30-inch cyclotron, and that he would let me have it, but I don't have the money to refashion if for my work."
Weart:The cyclotron was to provide the magnetic field? * Office of Naval Research 6
Chandrasekhar:Yes. And there's a 30-inch cyclotron which was going to be discarded, because they were building a bigger one here. Sam Allison was going to dispose of it. I said, "I wish I could get hold of that magnet and remodel it for a hydromagnetic lab." At the end of the meeting, a representative of the ONR came to me and said, "Why don't you apply to us for funds?"
Weart:Who was that?
Chandrasekhar:A ONR representative.
Chandrasekhar:A representative of the ONR. He came to me and said, "Well, do you want money to refashion the cyclotron magnet?
Weart:He had been just sitting in on the meeting?
Chandrasekhar:Yes, it was a visitors' committee. And I said, "Why not?" So I applied, and Sam Allison helped. It was an enormous encouragement. Sam was so interested in these things that he provided technical assistance for me in the Fermi Institute. We set up the hydromagnetic lab, and we did all the experiments. All the experiments which I describe in my book were done right here. In a shed on the side.
Weart:I see. Did Samuel Allison participate in the experiments?
Chandrasekhar:No. He used to come around and talk.
Weart:Nakagawa did the experiments.
Chandrasekhar:Nakagawa did the experiments, and Sam Allison, as a director of the institute — I don't know whether as a director or as a person interested in the work, or interested in me because I was his personal friend — used to come around; that was an enormous encouragement.
Weart:I see. So you would say, "Here is this, here is that, can you verify it?"
Weart:And they would.
Weart:Did their work ever affect your theory? Did they turn out something surprising, and then you had to modify your theory?
Chandrasekhar:No, it was always a case of making the prediction and having it verified.
Weart:I see. Well, a theorist couldn't ask for a nicer laboratory.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. It was a very nice experience. There's one astronomical incident which occurs to me at this point. During the late fifties, when we were working on these problems, Jan Oort was visiting Yerkes. Oort came to my office one morning at about 11 o'clock and wanted to talk to me. I immediately turned around and asked him questions on some of the new things they had been finding in their 21-centimeter line work. And every now and again he would turn around and ask me about my work, but I always turned the question around and asked him something specific about this. And finally in the end he said, he said, "Now, I won't be put off, you tell me about your work." I had some pictures on my table in which we had just experimentally verified, for the first time, that the dimensions of the convection cell discontinuously change at a critical magnetic field, become very large. I had some photographs of that. So I showed it to Oort, and told him about the phenomena. Oort turned to me and said, "Chandra, all this is fine — but when are you going to come to grips with the real problems of astronomy?" I told Oort, "Well, Professor Oort, I don't feel like painting the Madonna just yet." He was a little shocked at my remark. It does explain that at that stage in my life, I was far more interested in trying to do things which I thought were useful in science, which I was able to do, regardless of whether I was an astronomer or a physicist or a mathematician. I'm not particularly parochial about it.
Weart:Your idea was that you would embody it in a book, then that book would be there whenever somebody needed it?
Chandrasekhar:That's right. And the book has had influence in astronomy, I think. Perhaps not as much as the other ones, but the hydrodynamic community seems to be using it.
Weart:Now, a further question about hydrodynamics, and particularly in the context of ONR support and so forth. Was there any feeling, either at ONR or anywhere, that this work might have military implications?
Chandrasekhar:I was never informed.
Weart:What about in general? Many of the problems that you've worked on are applicable, for example, to a fireball or a nuclear explosion, as well as to stars and so forth. Have you had any contact with the Cold War and with these developments?
Chandrasekhar:I was with the Jason group* during the late fifties and early sixties. I was involved in the fusion program, with Los Alamos, particularly, and La Jolla. * A scientific group involved in advanced defense analysis. See articles in the NEW YORK TIMES, 1972, and the PENTAGON PAPERS - SW. 8
Weart:In what respect, as a consultant?
Chandrasekhar:Yes, I spent two summers at Los Alamos, maybe 1957-58, or '56-'57, two summers of three months each, and I spent a month with Marshall Rosenbluth when he was at La Jolla on these [fusion] problems. I was with Jason, and in fact in 1961, I spent the whole summer with the Jason group, when it met in New Hamsphire.
Weart:What was your role in that?
Chandrasekhar:Well, they were interested in lasar beams and things like that. I was working on some problems connected with that. I did write a few reports for them.
Weart:So again they would present you with specific problems?
Weart:Did you have the same feelings about it that you had when you worked at Aberdeen?
Chandrasekhar:No, I'm afraid during the sixties I was getting disillusioned, because I was not satisfied — like most people — with the Vietnam War, which was all coming up at that time. Never- theless, many of my friends whom I respected like Marvin Goldberger especially who is a good friend of mine (who's now at Princeton) he was involved in that, and Steven Weinberg, John Freeman, former people from Chicago. They were all involved in it, and they asked me, "Won't you come along and do some work with us?" I didn't feel committed in the way in which I was during the Second World War. But on the other hand, it seemed that if my friends considered it worthwhile, and I respected my friends, I would go along with it. But once the early sixties started, I discontinued that kind or work. Among other things, the load of my own research and the editing of the JOURNAL simply left us time for anything else.
Weart:But while you were working on this, was the rhythm of your work — you would drop your work down here, go and spend a few months working on some specific problems, specific theoretical problems?
Chandrasekhar:That's right. For example, when I was in Los Alamos, in the fusion project, they had specific problems in plasma physics. Well, I started working on them, collaborated with Ken Watson, and Alan Kaufman. When I was in theJason group, Goldberger suggested one very specific problem in the propagation of electromagnetic wave, something which I felt I could do, and during that month and a half I did nothing but that..
Weart:I see. You weren't involved in discussions, speculations as to what could be made?
Chandrasekhar:No. They assigned a certain problem. Of course there were meetings, at which people were talking about the problems they were working on, I was in the group, I could hear what people were talking and in general we knew what was going on. But I pretty well concentrated on the particular problem that was assigned to me, and tried to do it.
Weart:Another question about this period. I notice at one point in one of your papers you say that you and Donna Elbert made tables with the Watson Scientific Computing Lab.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. That was a residue of the old work. In my RADIATIVE TRANSFER I had provided the exact solution for the illumination of the sky. But presenting the solution in the form of tables required computing what I call the X and Y functions for large numbers of parameters and variables. I arranged with the Watson Laboratory. L.H. Thomas was there, and he helped me program this problem, and we did a fair amount of work there. This went on for several years. Of course, at that time, I was not actively interested in it; it was a side problem which was going on. And when the whole thing was finished, we assembled it all and published it in the American Philosophical Society [TRANSACTIONS].*
Weart:What is your feeling about the role of digital computers in theoretical astrophysics and physics these days — or let's say, since the fifties?
Chandrasekhar:I would say that in the hands of good people it's a marvelous tool. But it also enables second-rate people occasionally to do first-rate work.
Weart:How is that you have rarely made much use of these machines?
Chandrasekhar:Two reasons. As my mathematical friend Harold Davenport used to tell me years ago, "It's difficult to teach an old dog new tricks." That's one thing. The second thing is, even apart from anything else, when the sixties came along I found that I wanted to change to problems which did not require a tremendous amount of numerical work. With that intent I went into relativity.
Weart:Why deliberately, that you didn't want to do numerical work?
Chandrasekhar:I felt that I wanted to work on more contemplative matters. I wanted work which would stand on the merits of its theoretical implications, and not require tables.
Weart:Was this an esthetic feeling? * Vol. 44 (1954), 643-728.
Chandrasekhar:No, I suppose it's something to do with vanity. For example, take Dirac. There's not a single table in any of his papers. But I want you to be absolutely sure that I am not raising a hierarchy in scientific work. Heisenberg, for example, some of his early work on X-ray spectra and atomic spectra had required some amount of numerical work. So I think numerical work is an integral part of scientific work. But it is also true that there are types of theoretical work which will stand on its feet, simply on the strength of what it is. I thought that I had been, for 30 years at that time, involved in specific calculations, specific problems, enlarging domains by solving a whole variety of problems, a range of problems, and putting them all together. Now I wanted to change the style of my work.
Weart:I see. You knew von Neumann. Did he ever try to get you interested in computers?
Chandrasekhar:Well, he was very much interested in computing, and he was also extremely interested in computing stellar models, and stellar evolution. He started talking to me about it, but later found that in his own colleague, Martin Schwarzschild, he could make much greater headway, because Martin was actively interested in those; and I was not.
Weart:I see. And you simply were not.
Chandrasekhar:Well, not that I would not, but the fact that at that partiuclar time, it was not in the mainstream of my interests.
Weart:Now, another collaborator that you had, in 1952-1953, was Fermi, and you did these two well-known papers on the magnetic fields in spiral arms and on gravitional stability in the presence of a magnetic field.* How did that come about? How did Fermi get interested in this and how did you come to work with him?
Chandrasekhar:It was really a part of Fermi's way of learning things. The collaboration was initiated by him, not by me. I used to see him now and again, as a colleague in the University, and one day he simply came and asked me, "Chandra, why don't we talk some problems in astrophysics, hydrodynamics and hydromagnetics, and perhaps something will come out?" He said, "Of course you'll have to teach me."
Weart:This was at the time when you were just getting started in hydrodynamics? You had already started —
Chandrasekhar:— started on it, yes. I had in fact given a talk on the Benard convection problem so he knew that I was interested on these questions at a physics colloquium. So he wanted to talk to me about it. I thought it was a marvelous opportunity to get to know a * APJ. 118 (1953), 113-15, 116-41. great physicist; and so I planned to meet him every week and discuss various problems. We used to talk for some two hours; and I used to go home and collect what we had talked about arrange them in order, and if anything needed to be done, I used to do it. Then next week, I would tell him what had happened to the ideas we had discussed, the previous week, We used to discuss it more. We went on for six months like that, and at the end of the period, Fermi said, "Well, we seem to have a number of new results, shouldn't we put them all together?" I said "Yes," and I undertook to write the papers.
Weart:Why did he come into this field?
Chandrasekhar:Fermi was incredibly curious. He wanted to learn everything that was going on. And his principal way of learning and getting acquainted with a new subject is not to read books or read papers, but talk to people who, he thinks, know something about it. I once wrote that Fermi seemed to me like a master musician who, when presented with a new piece of music, would play on sight with great conviction. Of couse, he could do it because he had a store of knowledge which he could bring to bear on any the subject. And Fermi had such a marvelous understanding of physics; that anything which was physics, when it was presented to him, he knew how to solve.
Weart:I'm interested because this is not physics anymore, it's astrophysics, and I've always been interested, for example — you know, the Fermi cosmic ray mechanism and so forth.
Chandrasekhar:It started in discussions connected with all these matters, yes.
Weart:So then he went on and did it after these talks about
Weart:You don't know why he decided to pick this as something to look into, rather than some other field of physics?
Chandrasekhar:Of course it is difficult for me to speculate. But I can imagine that after all, Fermi at that time was 50 years old. He had been in physics for 30 years. Clearly, he had a period of work in Fermi statistics, theory of beta decay, neutron reactions, the reactors in the war; then with the pions in the Chicago Cyclotron - it is natural that someone like him might say, "Well, I want to change my area of interest."
Weart:You see the main thrust here, one of the things that people have pointed out as very remarkable about astrophysics, particularly since the war, is the way that astronomers and physicists have gotten mixed in with each other. This seems to be one example; I'm sure you know of others. I'm interested in the mechanism, and why physicists would start to find astronomers, astrophysicists, interesting — even before general relativity came along?
Chandrasekhar:By and large, I suppose that it was due to the simple recognition by the aware physicists that astrophysics provided a realm where principles of physics could be used, principles of physics with which astronomers were not familiar then. It was really a case of many distinguished physicists going into astronomy, rather than the reverse.
Chandrasekhar:And indeed, there was a considerable resentment on the part of the astronomical community, at the physicists coming in.
Weart:Taking over their territory?
Chandrasekhar:Yes. That feeling was there.
Weart:Is that still there?
Chandrasekhar:Well, to give a minor example, I was in one of the selection committees for the National Academy for the membership during 1973 & 1974 and the people who had been elected to astronomy the previous years had all been people who were not professional astronomers, but coming in from the outside like like Giacconi and others. The astronomy member there resented the fact that no professional astronomer had been elected. I was also representing astronomy at that time, and the other thought that I was a 'traitor' in saying that I didn't consider there was any difference between the two classes.
Weart:Why do you suppose it is that the physicists have been able to come in so strongly?
Chandrasekhar:I won't say physicists as physicists. There are some physicists whose perception and understanding, whose breadth of knowledge, convinced them that the principles of physics have a role to play in astrophysics. Take Charlie Townes. After all, he was very good in spectroscopy; he was very good in these transitions which come in molecular lines. He had been a physicist working with lasers and masers for years. He looked around, he saw the discovery of formaldehyde [in stellar space], the discovery of OH masers — said, "My God, if I can understand the universe by applying my ideas, why shouldn't I go there?" I don't think one simply should say, here is a case of one group of people being superior to another. It's rather that there have been physicists so aware of the significance of physics for the understanding of astrophysical phenomena that when that knowledge is wide, and they come across astronomical phenomena in which what they have been doing has a bearing, they naturally go into that. Townes could have done more in laser spectroscopy — but now, he has infinitely more fun. So why would he not do it?
Weart:I agree. I've always found it attractive myself. To get back a little to your own work and the relation between physics and astronomy — in '61 you came out with HYDRONAMIC AND HYDROMAGNETIC STABILITY, which I suppose still is as much used by physicists as by astronomers. You would know better than I.
Chandrasekhar:I think it is used more by the hydrodynamics people. You take the JOURNAL OF FLUID MECHANICS, almost every issue has reference to my book, I think.
Weart:Right. Now, in his report to Yerkes Observatory for that year, Morgan drew attention to what it might do for astronomers, and particularly the implications for pulsars, and that led me to wonder whether in fact the discovery of pulsars had any effect on your work? Did it have an impact on you?
Chandrasekhar:I wouldn't say that it had an impact on me any different from any aware person at that time. Of course the pulsar discovery was in the late sixties.
Weart:Right, of course, Morgan was not in fact referring to pulsar work at that time, referring to rotating small magnetic stars; of course I had the wrong period. Still, when pulsars came along, did you have any wish to go back and do some of this hydromagnetics?
Chandrasekhar:Not that. But I was in many ways pleased that in the early sixties when I seriously started relativity, I worked out, for the first time I think, the stability of radial pulsations of relativistic stars and discovered an instability; I showed in partiuclar that a white dwarf, before [reading] its limit, becomes unstable.* I thought there was some poetic justice in my returning to my first love and showing that the limit really did not exist, in the sense that before the limit was reached, the star became unstable; that nature had a way of avoiding the singularity. I was pleased with that.
Weart:Did you think at that time that that meant that there were no such singularities?
Chandrasekhar:No, I only said that the singularity does not occur at the white dwarf stage. And of course, one didn't want the singularity to occur at the white dwarf stage. One wanted it to occur at the Schwarzschild radius.
Weart:I see. At what point did you begin to think that the singularity might actually occur? Not just the limit; through your early work, you simply said that the star somehow avoids going into the singularity. At what point did you begin to think that in fact singularties might exist?
Chandrasekhar:I would say that I was pretty convinced of it by the early sixties, myself.
Weart:This was because of the discovery of quasars?
Chandrasekhar:No. Because I had got back into relativity. And began to think seriously of these problems once again. To me, somehow, certainly in 1964, when I did the relativistic instability, it was fully * APJ 139 (1964), 1396-98 (with R.F. Tooper); 140 (1964), 417-33. PHYSICAL REVIEW LETTERS 12 (1964), 114-16, 437-38; see also. in my mind that the relativistic instability would make the neutron stars unstable, if the masses exceeded a certain limit; and that a black hole must form, in supernovae explosions if the residue left is outside range of stable neutron stars.
Weart:But now instability might simply mean that no Black Hole forms, that simply it's all blown out.
Chandrasekhar:Well, it is very unlikely, that if you have a star of ten solar masses, it will eject precisely nine solar masses. It would seem unlikely.
Weart:Let me ask you why you started your work on general relativity? Again, from the Yerkes Report in AJ, you say you "embarked on an invest- igation of the basic concepts of general relativity; "your" approach was from the point of view that what is required is more an explanation of what is possible in general relativity, rather than what can be explained in its terms. "Then you go on to say you already had some preliminary results. This explains your attitude, which sounds similar to what your attitude had been previously also to your work. But it doesn't say why general relativity.
Chandrasekhar:Well, precisely this. In 1930 when I first came to Cambridge, the first term in Cambridge, I heard Eddington's lectures on relativity. And Dirac told me that I ought to do relativity. But at that time my equipment prevented me from doing it. At a later time when I could have done it, I realized that people who had worked on relativity had essentially gone in dierctions which were not profitable, and I was afraid that it might not be conducive to my scientific product- ivity to go into relativity. In 1961, when I finished my book on stability, I was not happy in the way I was when I finished my RADIATIVE TRANSFER. I felt that I had spent ten years working very hard on matters which were, in some sense, "small". Perhaps that's not the way to describe it. Somehow I felt that the results I had were not commensurate with the effort I had put in. I wanted to leave the area. I thought of other things. I thought perhaps of going back to pure astrophysics as before, but I was reluctant to do that. I said, why not try my hand at relativity? I was skeptical of doing it. Just as a preliminary, in 1962, there was the general relativity meeting in Warsaw; I went to that largely to see what people were doing in relativity. Hermann Bondi was there, and he gave his work on gravitional waves, and I had long conversations with Leopold Infeld, whom I used to know in Cambridge in the thirties. And it seemed to me at that time that possibly someone with my background in astrophysics could formulate problems in relativity whose solution might be useful.
Weart:How did you feel about the field at the time, when you went to the conference? Did it strike you that the field was changing. beginning to go?
Chandrasekhar:I thought that Bondi's work was marvelous.
Weart:But in general, aside from that?
Chandrasekhar:I felt that there were new directions in relativity, primarily from two directions. One was Bondi's work, which actually later led to all this marvelous work of Roger Penrose and others, you know. And then there was this work on post-Newtonian approximations by Infeld, which essentially had got into an impasse, because they hadn't really solved the problem. So I felt that going into relativity, particularly in the post-Newtonian developments, would be the right thing for me, because this was a way in which I could learn the subject, get familiar with the concepts. So right from the outset, the principal thing I wanted to work on was to complete the post-Newtonian scheme.
Weart:I see, because you saw this as a good way to become familiar with the entire —
Chandrasekhar:The entire area. And on the whole, I consider myself very fortunate in having made up my mind to do relativity. Among other things, for the first time — it may be immodest to say so — for the first time, certainly after the early forties, I felt I was working in an area in which others were working in many ways were far more equipped than I was. I felt that I had a chance of being in close scientific proximity with people of the highest caliber. Certainly, to have known well and consider among my friend people like Roger Penrose, Stephen Hawking and Brandon Carter — it's a marvelous experience. It's a kind of intellectual stimulation which I had in fact not had before. Of course, I worked with Fermi, Fermi is a great physicist, but it was simple problems on which he worked. But here Im now in a community of young brilliant men. I was in Cal Tech for my first sabbatical in 1971. There was Bill Press, there was Sol Tukolsky, and every afternoon they used to come to my office and say, let's go for lunch together. I felt once more rejuvenated, once again with young people, tremendously bright, tremendously exciting.
Weart:Do you exchange correspondence with them?
Chandrasekhar:I see Sol Tukolsky and Bill Press quite often. In fact, Bill Press has asked me to come and spend some time with him at Harvard. Steven Hawking was here visiting in 1975, when he had a symposium for me for my 65th birthday. He asked me if I wouldn't spend some time with him in Cambridge [England] the following year. I told him, "Well, if that is for mathematics of relativity, I haven't done very much of that." And Hawking sort of laughed and said, "We'll change the name of the symposium." You know, its wonderfully nice to have such nice relations with young people. As you know, Stephen Hawking is one of the very best minds working in the area. And certainly among the others we must count Kip Thorne, James Bardeen and Penrose of course is at the pinnacle — Even though in age I am very much older than thesepeople, it has always been a satisfaction to me that these people treat me as their equal. We have marvelous times. I think I did the right thing, in changing to relativity.
Weart:I see. Let me ask you some questions about one specific paper, that may be the most interesting for the sixties, and that's the one you mentioned earlier on the dynamical instability of large masses. I'm wondering, in this one you note that it comes out to be about the size of the quasars.
Weart:It came out to be the right radius and so forth. Had you had the quasars in mind when you started out doing this line of work?
Chandrasekhar:Yes, I had. There were two things which happened. First, that I was lecturing on relativity, and in a way that problem which I formulated is a very natural one for one with my background. You know, the whole theory of the internal constitution of the stars started with Eddington's interest in pulsating stars. He worked out the theory of Cepheid pulsations, and Eddington told me himself that his whole investigations of the internal constitution stars started with his interest in the period-luminosity relation of Cepheids. One of the first things Eddington did was to study the radial pulsation of some spherical stars. With this knowledge, for an astrophysicst to go into general relativity, the first problem he thinks of is radial pulsations of spherical stars. So I wanted to study that. And just at this time, there were quasars in the news. And Geoffrey Burbidge and others were talking about galactic masses of the sizes of parsecs and so forth.
Weart:Did any of this have any effect on your decision to go into relativity?
Chandrasekhar:No, it was subsequent to that. I had made up my mind to go into relativity in '61.
Weart:I see. But even by '61, people were talking about peculiar galaxies and things like that.
Chandrasekhar:Yes, but my going into relativity was not derived from observations, no.
Weart:But your choice, as you say, was a natural choice, but it was also influenced by the knowledge that these objects existed.
Weart:What do you think now about quasars?
Chandrasekhar:I haven't followed it. I know what people say about it, and by and large I think that the view that they are extragalactic in origin is probably right.
Weart:The cosmological —
Chandrasekhar:The cosmological explanation. On the other hand —
Weart:You mentioned that you rejected many of Arp's papers.
Chandrasekhar:I won't go into that. I don't want to contend the modern science would not allow modifications. But it is not going to require modifications because of quackery. Let me explain exactly what he says in NATURE. He says, "You take two extragalactic objects. One shows a red shift relative to the other. The one that shows the red shift is farther away. So it is younger. So if you take two objects of different ages, at the same distance, the younger object will show the bigger red shift. So with two objects close together, when one is young and the other is old, the younger one must show a larger red shift!' He calls it a theorem. Now, anybody who argues like that — using such a set of English words — and I had a paper exactly like that sent to the JOURNAL. I just canceled that; "I'll publish your paper without that." It is quite all right to take observations and try to understand them. But you don't understand observations by dogmas or statements that make no sense. I was very strong in that. I probably shouldn't express myself so strongly.
Weart:No, I can very well understand it. You're certainly not alone in your views. Do you feel that black holes — I suppose we can call them black holes — play a major role in quasars, or perhaps even in normal galaxies?
Chandrasekhar:I think they must. I'm not very original in this. I mean, what are the theories for quasars now? They are massive stars which are in collisions, or massive stars which collect towards the centre; but as Martin Rees has said, in all cases, you must end with one big black hole. So to say that there are enormous big black holes — by which I mean a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand solar mass black holes — is natural, a common denominator for almost everything people have been saying about them. That's what Martin Rees says.
Weart:More or less on theoretical grounds.
Weart:One further question about this 1964 paper on dynamical instability of large masses. You published it in PHYSICAL REVIEW LETTERS.
Weart:Why is that?
Chandrasekhar:Because I thought the result was o interest and I wanted it to have rapid publications; and somehow I felt that since I was the editor of the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL myself — and as a rule, I have always wanted my papers to be refereed —
Weart:And you were the only referee for APJ Letters —
Chandrasekhar:— for the Letters, and so I said, "Well, let me try if those people would except it.
Weart:Just to see.
Chandrasekhar:Yes. And also, I have always felt that ones papers being refereed is terribly important, and while there have been years when I could have published any of the things I wanted without refereeing, I never resorted to that.
Weart:I understand. That only take us up to 1964 which is ten years ago, and I don't feel competent to judge or comment on the work you've done in this past ten years, or know what questions to ask. I wonder how you would characterize the work you've done in the past ten years? The main lines of it?
Chandrasekhar:The essential thing I would say is, my work during the sixties was unfortunately divided. When the sixties started, I expected to spend all my time on relativity. But instead, I started working on the theory of ellipsoidal configurations in collaboration with Norman Lebovitz. And it grew and it grew. I felt that this is an area which had to be set straight, and Norman and I were putting it in order. That essentially meant that till about 1968, about half of my research time was going to that.
Weart:And this was completely separate from the general relativity work. This is a whole different problem.
Chandrasekhar:A whole different problem. And I just went on. At an earlier time it would have been marvelous, because it was also one subject which was growing by itself, and essentially without any effort on my part. The methods Norman & I had developed were adequate to solve all the problems. But at the same time, I was only half looking at it, and I was doing it more out of a sense of duty.
Weart:How did you do this? Did you take one week on and one week off, or what?
Chandrasekhar:I sometimes did that way, yes.
Weart:Deliberately you set aside time to work on it.
Chandrasekhar:Or I would spend two or three months on the ellipsoids, and then I would go and spend two or three months on relativity, and by the time I would go to the other field it was a terrible strain. And in addition, of course, the whole matter of trying to get the JOURNAL to an end — that took me about five yars; from 1966 on I was constantly preparing to give up the JOURNAL. But I would say that from 1970 on, I have tried to concentrate on relativity. I went through a period of disappointment in my work, in the early seventies. The only thing I can say about my recent work is that I got interested in the theory of the Kerr metric, largely because of my association with Bill Press and Sol Tukolsky in Cal Tech in 1971. I've been studying the properties of the Kerr metric.
Weart:I think you mentioned earlier to me about the beauty that you see in the Kerr metric. At what point did this happen? Was this in the seventies?
Chandrasekhar:I think the importance of the Kerr metric was clear to me in late '69, not because of anything I did, but because of Carter's work. I was looking at the subject from the outside, and admired all the things which went on. But starting in 1974, I started working on my own.
Weart:Does it seem to be a field which is developing by itself for you?
Chandrasekhar:It's a lot of effort.
Weart:To push it.
Chandrasekhar:For example, I have been working very hard during the past one year on this one thing, and trying to finish this thing. I'm planning to write a book, you know, on the Schwarzschild and Kerr Metrics.
Weart:No, I didn't know that. That's your next book?
Chandrasekhar:Yes. In fact, my work on the Schwarzschild and Kerr Metrics is coming to some kind of an end now and I want to put them all together, as a book. Weart: What will you do next?
Chandrasekhar:Well, you know, I shall be 68. Weart: You seem very vigorous. Have you given it any thought?
Chandrasekhar:Well, it takes a toll on oneself. I don't know.
Weart:Let me ask then, what do you think should theorists attack over the next ten years? What are the areas that you'd like to see theorists in astrophysics in general go into, that are likely to be fruitful, in the next ten years?
Chandrasekhar:Well, really, I couldn't say that. In fact, have rather a different kind of view. I tell all the young men that if I were they, I would be terribly discouraged, because with so many people working on so many problems, I wouldn't know what to do. felt But seriously, I've never that I could dictate to other people, or even privately to myself. My attitude to science has always been: what can I do, within the limitations of my ability, to serve science usefully, as I see it? I never have been a missionary in any sense. So I wouldn't know what people should work on or should not work on. And when I say this, it is not any modest remark. When I say I really do not know what I would recommend, I mean exactly what I say.
Weart:Let me ask you some more specific questions. I mentioned to you earlier that we were surveying some people to find out how they feel about current problems, and I'd like to ask you about some of these current problems also. I'd be very interested, taking you as one test point in the entire astrophysics community — for example, how do you feel about general relativity and the Friedman model? Do you feel it is an adequate framework for people who do cosmology?
Chandrasekhar:As of now, it seems to be, yes.
Weart:Do you believe that Einstein's formulations of the general theory of relativity is likely to be permanent for cosmology, that one needn't introduce other terms, other types of relativity?
Chandrasekhar:I wouldn't think so. It is clear that the very earliest status of the universe, the first two or three minutes, may require modifications, but I would not offhand see why general relativity should not be adequate to account for cosmology in the large, any more than why Newtonian theory would not be sufficient to account for galactic structure. No one thinks that Newtonian theory is not adequate. And why should general relativity not be adequate for cosmology, except in the very early times?
Weart:Have you ever had any doubts about the Big Bang? Over the last 30 years, has that been the —
Chandrasekhar:I personally have not. But on the other hand, I am just a normal citizen, as far as that goes, in the sense that I have read it and discriminate what people say. I haven't worked in it myself,
Weart:Right, in that sense you're simply one member of the whole community. Also, in the same context, how do you feel about the questions of whether the universe is open or closed?
Chandrasekhar:I don't have any definite views. But on the other hand, I am slightly — I am not in sympathy with those who insist that the Universe be closed. It seems to me a subject which one should let our own experience, theory and observations, eventually tell us, rather than have a predisposition on that.
Weart:Yes. Somebody said, "Whether or not the universe is open, our minds should be."
Chandrasekhar:Yes, exactly right. That states my position right there.
Weart:We have just enough time, I have a few more general questions that we like to ask people, to try to get a picture as a whole human being. The first one is, do you have any strong convictions of a religious or philosophical nature?
Chandrasekhar:No. In fact, I can characterize myself definitely as an atheist.
Weart:How do you feel then about the universe which you've been studying all this time?
Chandrasekhar:Truly, in that sense, the most remarkable thing for me about the universe, the astronomical universe in particular, is why it is that what the human mind conceives as beautiful finds manifestation in nature? You take the ellipses and conic sections which Appolonius wrote about. You know the enthusiasm with which he writes about it? The incredible properties of these curves. And he talks about the beauty of these curves; he discerns them as beautiful. Who would have known that centuries later, those curves are the orbiting of the planets? How does it happen that the human mind thinks certain abstract concepts and thinks of them as beautiful? And why do they find replicas in nature? The Kerr metric is an example. Kerr discovered it in trying to explore Einstein's equations. They represent the exact descriptions of black holes in nature. It seems to me that there are a number of instances in which what the human mind perceives as beautiful has counterparts in nature is; and this to me in many ways is a very sobering thought. I don't understand that. Heisenberg had a marvelous phrase, "Shuddering before the beautiful." I would say that is the kind of feeling I have about these things.
Weart:Is this the feeling in this photograph that you have on the wall here — a person climbing up a ladder, and at the top of the wall there's some enormous, symmetrical structure above him that he can't quite reach —
Chandrasekhar:that's right. That is a the kind of feeling I have.
Weart:I see. In terms of relationships with society, have you ever been concerned about the benefits that people might ultimately derive from your work, or the effects it might ultimately have?
Chandrasekhar:I'm aware of that. But on the other hand, so much is said about the usefulness of science that I have been more concerned with the fact that people seem to completely put aside the cultural value of science. Science is a perception of the world around us. Science is a place where what you find in nature pleases you. That one can derive joy from studying and understanding science, that one can learn science the way one enjoys music or art — it seems to me people ignore these aspects. Indeed, I would feel that an appreciation of the arts in a conscious,disciplined way might help one to do science better. That's my personal view.
Weart:Have you always felt this way? Even when you were in Madras, did you have these feelings towards science?
Chandrasekhar:No, I couldn't say that. This is a feeling which I have towards science now.
Weart:It's developed over the years.
Chandrasekhar:Developed over the years, probably over the last 20 years.
Weart:As a result of your contacts — ?
Essentially, my own experience in science. After all, the step between trying to do science which is useful, which is profitable, which at the end you see as an architectural whole — the transition to what I am saying is a gradual one.