Oral History Transcript — Dr. Eugene Gordon
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Eugene Gordon; June 3, 1984
ABSTRACT: Move from MIT Plasma Physics group to Bell Telephone Laboratories (1957); Consultant to Javan group on gas discharge physics; first laser researches with A.D. White and J.D. Rigden; discovery of the visible He-Ne line, theoretical model for granularity of the spot, erroneous identification of the line; paper on masers (1964). Comparison of and interactions between research and development scientists at Bell Labs; development of research devices, ancillary facilities and reliability programs, funding; Gordon as supervisor. The single-frequency portable laser; the Holmdel group. The argon-ion laser, work with William Bridges, E. Labuda, Bennett’s talk on pseudo-CW lasers at American Physical Society meeting. Alan White’s tuning prism; the electro-optic modulator and origins of mode-locking. Administrative decisions at Bell Labs about experimental projects; Gordon’s duties as head of optical department. Work on acousto-optic deflection of light; applications of the argon-ion laser to medical research; development of diode lasers for room temperature operation. History of Journal of Quantum Electronics, Electron Devices Transactions, the Quantum Electronics Council, and CLEA.
Session I | Session II
Bromberg:Let’s start, if you will, getting you out of MIT and the plasma physics group there, and into the Bell Laboratories, and just talk a little bit about what you were doing before you got into the laser field.
Gordon:OK. Well, basically I joined Bell Labs because whenever I went to technical meetings as a graduate student, usually the best papers were presented by people from Bell Labs. I would say that’s probably the experience that many people have. And so, wanting to work in the best possible research, I never really even considered going anywhere else. It’s the only place I seriously interviewed. I interviewed once at Sylvania out on the West Coast, because they insisted, but I really wasn’t interested. At Bell Labs…those were the days when thermo nuclear fusion energy projects were getting started, and I was one of the few experimentalists working in gas discharge physics at MIT, and so they wanted very much for me to stay. I wanted to work on something that would happen in my lifetime and saw practical systems as too far away. My colleague at the time and good friend was Solomon Buchsbaum, (who also later went to Bell Laboratories,) and so the two of us became the nucleus of the Project Sherwood experimental group at MIT working in gas discharges and control of fusion.
Bromberg:I did not realize Bell was interested in that at that point.
Gordon:This was of course at MIT, and so my professor, Sanborn C. Brown, tried very, very hard to prevent anybody from recruiting us. The Bell Labs people were told to stay away, and so we were never approached by any recruiters while we were at MIT. Dave Rose (from Bell) had been a student of Sandy (Sanborn) Brown at MIT, and he came along one day and was visiting and I said without really giving it much thought, “What’s the chance of getting a job at Bell Labs?” and I said that in front of my professor.
Bromberg:That was Brown (the professor)?
Gordon:That was Brown, yes. So that he opened the door to his office saying, “Well, if you’re interested, we’d be glad to have you interview.” He had been told not to speak to us, but I’d opened up the subject…So in two weeks, Sol and I were both down there interviewing, and I chose to go. I started Nov. 1, 1957 having worked for Project Sherwood for about 10 months as a research associate. I started to work at first in gas discharge physics. And that first year at Bell Labs was a disaster, because I really had to build the program from scratch and I didn’t really know people to interact with who were skilled in that area, and so I was very unhappy during the first year, but in the meantime Sol came down the next July and we shared an office together, and I ultimately started working with let’s see, oh I remember what happened. I got involved in microwave tubes at that point, made an invention on a new microwave tube, and got very much involved in that. I remember Ali Javan was at Bell Labs at that time. He’s now at MIT, but at that time Bell Labs was trying to get a gas laser going, and since I had gas discharge background, I was advising Javan on some of the discharge problems, that’s how I got interested in lasers.
Bromberg:Just to clarify this for me, you were in the research department, is that right?
Gordon:No, I was in what’s called the Device Development area (Area 20).
Bromberg:Where was that physically located?
Gordon:At Murray Hill. But it was not what is known as the research area, Area 10, which was under Baker, (then Vice President of the research area). It is a development area; although much of the work had a research flavor, it was really always oriented toward product develop meat. Morton was the vice president.
Bromberg:At Bell Labs, I’m sometimes impressed by how some people don’t know at all other people who are even working in the same area. How did you get to know Javan’s work?
Gordon:Well, he was looking for someone to help him on gas discharge problems, and asked around --
Bromberg:And so he came to you.
Gordon:Yes, right. And it really wasn’t much of a collaboration, but it was enough to get me a little interested. One interesting side note on that was that one day I returned to my office and I found an individual that I didn’t know sitting there, and it turned out to be Gordon Gould. He was visiting Bell Laboratories and somehow or other found his way to my office -- which was not allowed. He was not allowed to be unescorted in the building, but he’d managed to find his way to my office. [He] knew I was working with Javan and was very curious about it. He offered me a job -- which I thought was very unethical -- since I had been working with Javan. Gordon Gould had his own company on Long Island, (TRG), [and was] trying to also make a gas laser, and I figured, you know, it was an opportunity to do some intelligence gathering; so I accepted his offer and went out there and he showed me around. And then I refused his job offer.
Bromberg:That must have been around ‘59 when they were recruiting for this big ARPA contract?
Gordon:Yes. That’s right. So there was a race between Gordon Gould and Ali Javan to get the first gas discharge laser. And Gordon Gould was not above coming into Bell Labs and recruiting some of the people.
Bromberg:-- well, he was one of the people who was doing a lot of recruiting. They suddenly got a million dollars, that’s a lot of money.
Gordon:That’s right. So anyway, at that time I was doing a lot of work on microwave tubes, electron beam trajectories in magnetic fields. I think I did a lot of the theoretical work which now forms the basis for the so called free electron laser, although at the time I had no idea that it would have anything to do with lasers.
Bromberg:OK. Maybe we should come back to that.
Gordon:But after Javan, Bennett and Herriott got the helium neon laser going at 1.15 microns, there was an opportunity for the development people -- remember, Javan was in research -- to get some money from Fort Monmouth. So a small contract was obtained from Fort Monmouth to make a DC-excited version of the Javan infra-red helium-neon laser. At that time Javan was using radio-frequency excitation with two ring electrodes. Well, it seemed it would be maybe a little more efficient to just have a hot cathode and run a DC discharge. I was a supervisor, I became a supervisor in 1959, developing these new microwave tubes, and I think it was maybe in ‘61 or ‘62 (I can’t remember exactly), so I asked if I could run this little group of people working on gas discharge lasers.
Bromberg:Did you have anything to do with the contract, or the contract was something that happened --
Gordon:No, the contract happened, and I guess my microwave work was winding down and the whole thing was just very fortunate circumstance.
Bromberg:You were going to take your group as a supervisor and turn them into this?
Gordon:No, I just moved, and I joined with Alan White and Dane Rigden, who were doing this work on the helium-neon discharge.
Bromberg:And they were working on the Fort Monmouth contract?
Bromberg:And they were also in the device development?
Bromberg:OK. That’s clarifying. So then you came in with them, and now you really moved?
Gordon:-- into gas discharge lasers.
Bromberg:OK, so tell me about that.
Gordon:So anyway, I recall that there were some very, very interesting incidents that occurred through that whole period. The first was that they (White and Rigen) were sure they could produce a visible laser in the same helium-neon system that Javan had worked on using slightly different transitions. For months they were going around telling people they were going to get a laser going at 6328 angstroms. Nobody believed them. And the only thing that prevented them from doing it was that the mirrors that were needed to work at 6328 angstroms weren’t around, and they ordered them from Bausch and Lomb, and it took several months before they came. And during that period they had done a lot of study on the discharge, looking at the light coming out of the side, and pretty well established that the potential was very strong for that laser to operate, and I remember one day, the mirrors showed up. It was a Friday, the year may be ‘62.
Bromberg:‘62 is what I remember.
I think it probably was. At that time the research people all went off in different directions. They were working on different kinds of gas discharges, using direct electron excitation, and I remember McFarlane was there and Bennett and Faust. They were sort of making fun of us, in a sense, the idea that we were trying to get the 6328 angstrom laser to go. When it happened that Friday afternoon I guess they (White and Rigden) must have worked late, and it happened in the evening, and (the laser) sort of went on and off. It was just sprinkling on. You know, it really didn’t go continuously. Very, very marginal. But they called me very excitedly, at night; and by the next day they had fixed it up and it was going continuously. That was a Saturday, and I came in, and walked into the lab, they turned it on, and there’s this burning spot on the wall, it was amazing. And they kept saying to me, “Look at it! Look at it!” I kept looking at it and they said, “Do you see anything funny?” I said, “No, I don’t see anything strange about it.” They said, “Move your head from side to side.” And finally I could begin to see that there was something strange about the light. It just wasn’t a uniform spot of light, but it seemed to have a granularity associated with it which moved when you moved your head.
So that turned out to be a very strange effect which piqued my curiosity, and I worked on it sporadically for a few months, and finally worked out the theory for it and published a paper with Dane Rigden on the granularity of optical maser light. Basically I did a very simple-minded but correct mathematical analysis which described it and also made it possible for us to predict that you could see the same effect with sunlight, if you made the circumstances appropriate. We were able to observe it with sunlight and so on, and so we published that paper in the IEEE Proceedings. Then my good friend Chap(in) Cutler from Bell Labs, who was a director, pointed out that (Max) von Laue had published a similar paper in 1916, in which he predicted this granularity effect, if you filtered the light and collimated it enough, and then I read the von Laue paper. There was a previous paper that had been published I think in 1873, (Franz) Exner, also describing it.
Bromberg:It gets a little bit discouraging doesn’t it?
Gordon:No. That often happens. I think it just shows that the particular effect was anticipated. Although I guess it was a big surprise, when we saw it. Nevertheless, I think that the paper was a contribution at the time simply because it explained what was going on. I didn’t refer to von Laue and Exner because I didn’t know about them when I wrote the paper. It explained the effect with a very simple optical-electrical analogy, so it was worthwhile. The von Laue paper was highly theoretical. In any case, the effect of the demonstration of the visible laser was absolutely shattering to the research community at Bell Labs. The research people, I think, were very embarrassed, and they immediately went to work to reproduce the work.
Bromberg:I’d like to know as concretely as possible what were the reactions to that.
Gordon:Well, from having had “pooh-poohed” the idea, and having gone off in the direction of direct electron excitation in the pure gas, all of a sudden, here these guys in the device area, which was always looked down upon by the research people at Bell Labs, come up with this helium--neon laser in the visible, which everybody was looking for. So I think they were properly very embarrassed.
Bromberg:What about your supervisor or the director in your division? Was there any change in research direction that was attendant upon this?
Gordon:Yes. Yes. I’ll tell you about that in a second, but I think I’d just like to follow up on the theme of what happened. So they immediately went back into the lab. They of course had mirrors immediately available that would work at 6328 and other wavelengths, and they announced in a couple of days that they had not only reproduced the 6328 angstrom line, but found several other lines in the same series, and so, we were very excited about that. We hadn’t been able to get them. So we asked if we could see them. They refused to let us into their lab. So for about two weeks we were kept out of their lab, and I finally complained to Rudi (Rudolph) Kompfner, who was the research executive director, that we had had them over the same day practically, and here they had these new lines and they wouldn’t let us come over and see them. So he did something and finally we were invited to come over and see particularly the green line that they were so proud of.
Gordon:Yes. So we finally were invited into Bennett’s lab, and I can still picture it, a relatively new lab with a steel bench, and the laser on the end. He turns it on, and immediately of course I look at the wall because that’s where the beam was aimed. I’m looking to see a bright green light, and I see a dim green spot. I said, “Where’s the laser?” They said, “That’s it.” I said, “That’s very dim. He said, “Well, it’s very weak?” I said, “Are you sure it’s lasing?” Yes, he was absolutely sure it was lasing. So he said, “Wait, it’s collimated” -- he takes this card and moves it along the beam. So I said, “Do you mind if I do an experiment?” He said, “What do you want to do?” I said, “I want to put my hand in the cavity.” Now, if it’s spontaneous emission, of course, it’s just coming out of the discharge and it’s collimated by the long discharge tube, but if it’s lasing then it requires the two mirrors and so on. So I just put my hand in front of the back mirror, and the spot was still there. So I said, “It’s obviously not lasing.” Then he started arguing with me and said well, it didn’t need the mirror for the feedback, and it had enough gain that it was lasing in a single pass. I said, “You don’t even understand how a laser works.” I was upset about the whole thing. So I decided to go back and write a paper from electrical engineering fundamentals on how optical masers, at that time we called them that, worked, and that’s how that particular paper on optical masers, oscillators and noise, was written.
Bromberg:On the other hand, that paper is in ‘63.
Gordon:I know, but --
Bromberg:Is that just the genesis of it?
Gordon:Yes, that was the genesis of it.
Bromberg:We’re going to get the paper actually developing --
Gordon:Well, I worked on it, you know, as I could, and ultimately got it published. I wasn’t in a big hurry. I published an internal memo on it a lot earlier. But as I wrote that paper, Bennett’s face was always right in front of me. I wrote it for him.
Bromberg:Did he ever tell you what he thought -- ?
Gordon:No, no, no. I never got that satisfaction.
Bromberg:He was just about to leave anyway.
Gordon:Yes. I got back at him, though, a lot later. But in any case, that paper was very revealing, and of course it got used in a lot of university course material on lasers and ultimately got published in a book. But you know, it was my strong feeling that the people who came into lasers from physics really never understood oscillators. And I think they understood it about the same way that Schawlow and Townes understood it, which I think is generally relatively naive. I think history has proven that to be the case. They were basically right but there was some luck, you know, in the fact that the wavelengths were so short that open resonators would work. I think that was a real issue that was not given enough consideration at the time. I mean, the fact that an open resonator might not contain a mode, and it was only later that the work of Fox and Li showed that that was the case. So I think the basic principles as espoused by Schawlow and Townes and so on were open to some very serious question. It turned out they were right, but I think that was more luck than real insight into the problem.
Bromberg:Let me just go back a minute, because Schawlow says in one of his memoirs that when they first had this paper circulating in ‘58 at Bell, a lot of question was raised precisely on the issue of the resonator, the properties of the modes. Did you by any chance see that paper as early as...?
Gordon:No. I wasn’t part of the research community.
Bromberg:OK. Where did you get the electrical engineering background? I think of Sanborn Brown as being in physics at MIT. Where did you get this oscillator knowledge?
Gordon:Yes, that’s a good question. When I came to Bell Labs, and became a supervisor, my department head at that time was a man named Harold Seidel, who’s still at Bell Labs, and who is really a superb theoretician in electromagnetic theory, and he was working on microwave devices.
Bromberg:Is he the same Seidel who worked with Feher and Gordon on the solid state maser?
Gordon:Yes. Right. And he taught me everything I knew about scattering matrices and so on. I think I was an exceptionally good student, because it is difficult to learn from Harold Seidel. He’s the worst teacher in the world. But I absorbed what he had to teach, and since I still had the strong desire to be a pedagogue, (I had taught at MIT and CCNY a little) I gave courses at Bell Labs in the evenings, and since that stuff that he was teaching me at the time was interesting, I worked it into a course and presented it. So I was well versed in that kind of material. Later on I gave a course in lasers using the same material that I used for the paper.
Bromberg:Is there anything to a guess I’m just forming that it also has a little bit to do with the devices development group versus the research group?
Gordon:Yes. Well, the device area was engineering oriented. Moreover, I think of the research people as the National Guard, and the device people as the Marines. I mean, the device people have to solve problems and do real jobs. And they use physics and science to do it, but their goal isn’t physics and science, their goal is getting the job done. They do what they have to do and they have to do it right, and generally more thoroughly because you’ve got to understand the device and you’ve got to get it into manufacture and so on. The research people play around. They get tired of a problem, they drop it and they go off and do another problem. Maybe they come back to the old problem at some later time, but they’re dilettantes, generally speaking. For example, here comes Javan and he has this sort of ill-formed idea about the laser, because I don’t think he really understood it very well. That’s my personal opinion. I think he had a tremendous amount of insight, but I think, you know, looking back, he was a terrible experimentalist. And you know, Bell Labs thought he was great, they gave him $100,000 to outfit this lab. But the guy who really made it happen was Herriott, who was a superb optical engineering person -- he really did the work. I’m not sure exactly what Bennett did, but my guess is that if Herriott weren’t there, it would have never happened. I don’t think Javan was a good enough experimentalist to make it happen. (Note that the first gas discharge laser used internal flat mirrors. The alignment of the mirrors was extraordinarily difficult.)
Bromberg:Now, you said get back to the reactions of your supervisors and directors to the red line. I guess I don’t know who your supervisors were.
Gordon:OK, at that time, my department head was Ray Sears, no, Don Chisholm. Ray Sears had gotten this contract from Fort Monmouth. I had worked for him. He was Dave Rose’s boss. I moved on and my new department head was Don Chisholm who has until recently been the president of Bell Northern Research Labs. He’s a high placed official in Northern Telecom at this point.
Bromberg:You say you moved on. You’re still with this little group that’s --
Gordon:-- yes, I moved on to a new department head. They kept reorganizing.
Bromberg:I see, and the whole little group with you; and was Miller in there already?
Gordon:No, No, Miller was not there. It was just later on that he came to supervise Ed Labuda, Keith Pennington, -- Colin Webb.
Bromberg:Right now it’s just Rigden, White and --
Gordon:-- and me. Right. So, several things happened. The first thing that happened was we had this helium-neon laser and this beautiful red beam, and there were so many things you could do with it, and so I told Don Chisholm, “You know, we ought to make a whole batch of them, and make them available to people in Bell Laboratories, so that the Laboratories would have helium-neon lasers. Where else are they going to get them now? Ultimately they’re going to get them from Perkin-Elmer or Spectra-Physics, because they have the capability of making 1.15 micron lasers at this point in time, and it would be easy enough for them to switch over. But I did a survey, and talked to all the research people. I remember we had a big meeting at Crawford Hill, and came up with a number like 25 lasers that could be used profitably by people in Bell Laboratories for research purposes. So we set out to make 25 lasers. We designed a standard laser, a standard one meter tube, and built the mirror mounts and got the mirrors and did all the things that we had to do, and processed tubes and made and shipped 25 complete lasers in a few months. Some interesting things happened as a result of that. Most people used them for what they were, namely, lasers, and they started to do experiments. A number of people in Bell Laboratories got intrigued by the fact that the discharge seemed to oscillate, just electrical low frequency oscillation, and of course they do, because the direct current discharge has a negative resistance characteristic. Unless you put in a large enough series resistance, it will oscillate. The research people were playing around with the ballast resistor. Under certain circumstances the tube would oscillate and they’d get intrigued by the oscillation, and of course that would lead to burning out the tube.
Bromberg:When you say oscillation, would you tell me about the physics here -- you mean it’s just an electrical -- ?
Gordon:-- yes, you get striations running down the tube, or the tube just would be unstable, so the current would fluctuate. And so here I’m getting back these tubes that are burned out for no obvious reason. I discovered that what was happening was that the people would stop looking at the laser and start to study the oscillation characteristic. So I wrote a little letter, that I circulated to all the users of the tubes, pointing out that if they were interested in the oscillation characteristics of gas discharges, they should read this article published in 1927 in the Zeitschrift fur Physik and they would learn all they had to. They wouldn’t need to experiment with these tubes, just put the thing on the highest resistor and leave it alone. But anyway, as a result of having made the tubes I was able to convince my bosses to set up a glass shop for polishing mirrors and prisms and all the other things with Darwin Deny. I built my own mirror coating station probably used the first mirror coating station -- with a laser for the witness samples to monitor the thickness of the evaporated layers. And so we had beautiful quartz and glass tube shop, we had a polishing shop, we had a mirror making shop, so --
Bromberg:Quite an investment growing out of this red line…
Bromberg:That they were willing to make.
Gordon:Well, it was obvious that everybody was intrigued. We were looking to a practical application. In fact, my rule for my group was, we only work on lasers that are visible and continuous, because the visible is obviously more interesting because it was easier to modulate and easier to detect, and continuous because then you could operate in a communication mode. In contrast the research area people were studying lasers of any kind. It was just, publish a paper with three more transitions. And it got to the point where you could put anything in a tube and if you pulsed it hard enough, it would lase. And so that was the mode in which most people were operating in those days, just turn out more transitions. We decided that the helium-neon laser was a critically important laser, so we set up a program to study the reliability and develop reliable tubes. We set up a program to study the physics of the discharge, so that we could improve it. And out of that came three papers that were published by White and myself and Labuda (Edward) on the physics, “Similarity Laws for Gas Discharge Lasers” or something like that.
Bromberg:So “we” is your group still.
Gordon:Yes. I was doing most of the theoretical work, you know, providing the direction, but Al White and Dane Rigden were superb experimentalists, and we had such good equipment and so much of it that we could crank out papers in a couple of days. Any good idea was immediately converted into a good experiment, and we were really turning out a lot of good stuff. But I think in the gas discharge area, those three papers were key papers, because they really established the mode of studying gas discharge lasers and understanding how they worked.
Bromberg:Why don’t you take a look at this and make sure. I know what three papers are at issue here.
Gordon:Well, there’s a whole series. There’s Gordon, Rigden, White, “Output Power of the 6328 Angstrom Gas Maser,” “Gain Saturation at 3.39 Microns” -- and then Gordon and White, “Similarity Laws for the Effects of Pressure on Discharge,” Gordon and White, “Excitation Mechanisms and Current Dependence,” and then later on, there’s one, Gordon and Labuda, “Microwave Determination of Average Electron Energy.” Those three papers were diagnostic types of papers, in which we really tried to understand the discharge and how it affected the laser gain and power. The paper with Labuda was part of his Ph.D. thesis for Brooklyn Poly.
Bromberg:These comments throw all of this material into much different focus for me. Now I begin to understand --
Gordon:-- yes, the goal of the work was to really understand that discharge, and to understand how the laser works and what’s going on, so that we could make improvements.
Bromberg:I’d actually like to take a moment to talk about these papers in terms of what happened in the course of them, whether there were any surprises, whether there was any special equipment, you know, just to go a little bit into them to see what kind of effort they involved and where the novelties were emerging, this kind of thing.
Bromberg:What I’m after also partly is to get an idea of the kind of work that was going on. By the way, are we still on this Fort Monmouth contract all this time?
Gordon:No, no, that was just a tiny little thing to make the tubes for them and it was delivered.
Bromberg:I see, so this was Bell Labs money?
Gordon:Right. All, after the Fort Monmouth contract, it’s all Bell Labs money. You know, what we had done was -- you’ve been in the Labs, you’ve seen these big monster steel tables with the holes drilled. We probably had the first one of those. White and Rigden had these big tables built and drilled these holes, two inch centers.
Bromberg:I haven’t seen those holes.
Gordon:OK, but the idea was that we built a lab in which the spectrometers had slits that I think were seven inches from the surface of the table, so everything was designed to be seven inches off the table. The mirror mounts held the mirrors seven inches off the table. The tubes were seven inches off the table. The chopping wheels were designed so that they rotated at seven inches, etc. So we spent months just building equipment that we could use, so that at that point in time, when we wanted to do experiments, we had everything we needed.
Bromberg:That’s very different from the way the research department was working, as far as I can tell.
Gordon:Well, the research people I view as people who sort of walk though a field kicking over stones looking for gold nuggets, or, if they’re a little more ambitious, they go to a stream and they pan. In contrast, I view myself as a gold miner who digs a tunnel into the mountain and shores it up with logs and things like that, and then goes at it seriously.
Bromberg:So it was a well engineered laser experimental setup.
Gordon:That’s right. We had tremendous equipment. We had, you know, the glass tube shop, the optical shop, and the coating shop. We could do anything we wanted, and we could do it very fast, and we got tremendous support, so, I mean, it was a paradise in those days.
Bromberg:You don’t remember the order of the funding?
Gordon:I can tell you. I can tell you how Bell Labs does its funding. The salaries in those days for the average member of the technical staff may have been say $15,000. And the cost then of a member of the technical staff, would be two and one-half times that. That takes into account the loading and so on. So you could say that the average member of the technical staff was costing perhaps $40,000 or something like that. And then there was maybe 10 or 15 thousand dollars worth of direct charge and capital equipment that would go along with that, and so that, you know, you just could count noses and that would tell you roughly what was being spent. So between myself, White and Rigden, and two or three technical aides, we were probably spending $200,000 a year.
Gordon:And you know, with the support of the shop and so on it might have been 250, but it wasn’t an enormous effort. But it was a well engineered effort, and I probably was producing many of the good ideas, and then I had these fantastic guys, White and Rigden and Labuda, to translate them into experiments.
Bromberg:That’s one of the things I wanted to know, how the work was divided. You were functioning as an idea person a lot?
Gordon:Yes, I would go into the lab. I was probably the worst one in terms of lining up the mirrors for the lasers, you know. I never had particularly good hands, but I was great at debugging experiments, figuring out what was going wrong, you know, so I would frequently come in at a key moment and say, “You’re doing it wrong, you’ve got to do it this way.” And then it would work. But if I had to sit down and construct something with my own hands, it went very slowly, and that was the key to my frustration my first year at Bell Labs.
Bromberg:I see. Were you also on one of these seven days a week, all hours of the day or night schedules, that I’ve heard?
Gordon:No. I remember in those days -- well, I would basically, even as a supervisor and then later as a department head and even as a director, I would work at home frequently early in the morning. I’d get into work quarter to 9, and I’d leave about 6. I never went back at night. Very very seldom. Isn’t that true? Mrs.
Gordon:Yes, it is. Well we were in Morristown. A lot of these people who wanted to go back at night lived very close to the Labs, but we were in Morristown, and maybe that was one of the reasons we moved to a place ten miles away.
Gordon:Yes, I didn’t want to be wedded -- I mean, I was perfectly capable of reading papers and writing them in the evenings, and I had enough of the Labs during the day, and to me family was very important. Mrs.
Gordon:We had a three year old and a baby, in 1963. The baby is in the kitchen now, an electrical engineering major at University of Pennsylvania. He’s home because he’s waiting to go to work at IBM this summer.
Gordon:OK. In any case, I also was active in Temple. You know, I’d run the men’s club, was president of the men’s club, and I ran the adult education, I ran the ushering squad, and painted class rooms on the weekends and did all of those things, so I look back and I say, where did I get the energy to do all of that? But what it really amounted to was that I’m an early person, and I frequently get up at 4 in the morning and work for several hours, and even while I was associate editor of the JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS, I did all the editorial work between 4 and 7 in the morning, and in those days there was a lot of work to be done because many of the papers were coming from Japan and from Russia. They were publishing quantum electronics here because there really was no other good journal for quantum electronics in those days.
Bromberg:That’s something I want to talk about in detail, but there were some things I’d like to follow up here.
Gordon:OK, I guess I just want to make one point here. Most of the Japanese papers were completely unreadable, so I used to translate them into English, translate “Jinglish” into English, and that took an enormous amount of time. The same thing with the Russian papers, “Ringlish” into English. It was really a labor of love, but it was always early in the morning. No, I very seldom worked those crazy hours. In addition, I was a very bad supervisor and department head in the sense that I -- I worried about the people, I worried about the work, you know, provided the ideas and spurred people on, but in terms of the paper part of it, budgeting and so on, I couldn’t have cared less. And I paid very little attention to those things, and I managed to squeak by, and I would get back to the office at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and then I’d take care of my phone calls. You know, I was in the lab or whatever most of the time. So even though it was a more formal kind of situation than in the research area, I was basically doing experimental work and development during that period. Nobody was saying you’ve got to get anything into manufacture, but a lot of the work was oriented. Carbon monoxide, I remember, was a nice pulsed laser in the green, but I said, “We’re not going to work on carbon monoxide, because it’s pulsed, it will never go CW, it’s not really going to be useful for communication purposes, stay away from it.”
Bromberg:That’s fascinating to me because so far I’ve only talked to people who were functioning through the research department, and the difference I think is important, and the more I can hear about it, the better. Now, what I want to pick up on is, you said at one point that there was really a lot of interest in that period, say around ‘62, in communications, and then also there’s your paper with Rigden on microwave modulation of light, and I’m very interested in what your memories are of what people were saying about optical communication and how that modulation work fitted in and all that.
Gordon:Well, OK, as you know, one of Alexander Graham Bell’s favorite inventions was photo-telephone.
Bromberg:That’s something everybody knew about, or that was just dragged in?
Gordon:That was dragged in later. But obviously with the invention of the optical maser, as Bell Labs insisted on calling it, or laser. They ultimately lost that battle, and properly so. But no, there was a tremendous emphasis on communication, and so at Holmdel and Crawford Hill particularly there were a lot of transmission experiments going on, in which the laser was beamed through the air, and they were trying to study the characteristics of atmospheric propagation, initially. And then of course there was a question of the modulation of the light, if you were going to use it for communication purposes, and one of the incentives of our work was to make the laser behave like a classical microwave oscillator, which meant that it had to be single frequency. Now, just to remind you, the klystron is a microwave source and it’s tunable and it produces a single frequency, and you can modulate that, and you can frequency sweep it, for studying characteristics of circuits, and so on, so one of our goals was to make the helium-neon laser into a source just like a klystron. Some of the positive things that came out of that diagnostic work were, we learned to use helium 3 instead of regular helium, which increased the gain a little bit, we learned what the effect of the dimensions was on the gain, in particular that as you made the diameter of the tube smaller and smaller, the gain per unit length would continue to increase. I finally concluded that it would be possible to make a discharge tube no more than an inch long, and still make it lase. Now, during that learning process, I recall I made a laser that was about a foot long, and so I had a complete laser package, which was a little over a foot long. And that was a dramatic thing because it took the laser which was this kluge of a thing on a big table, and all of a sudden you had a portable device. I remember going into Summit and buying a piece of luggage, Hartman luggage, very nice, and fixing it up and putting this laser in there with a power supply on the bottom of the laser, and all of a sudden I had a portable laser.
Bromberg:Did you bring this into your next meeting or something?
Gordon:No, no. Well, in Bell Labs it caused a lot of excitement. The president of Bell Labs at that time was Fisk and he asked me to bring it into New York so he could show it to the AT&T board. I actually brought it in and demonstrated it to AT&T, and of course it had enormous impact, because here you take out this thing and plug it into the wall and you turn it on, and here’s a beam coming out, you know, and it was very very exciting, very stimulating because everybody could just smell it, you know, that we were going to get into the communication business with light.
Bromberg:Now when was this?
Gordon:This was ‘63. I think by ‘63, we were already making these tiny little short tubes that were only an inch long. Now, the point about this is that it allowed you to get the mirrors very close together, and when the laser typically would go, you could control the transverse modes with apertures or by having a small discharge diameter. By choosing the radius of curvature of the mirrors, you could get the lowest, transverse order mode to fill up the discharge tube, so that the tube itself would act as an aperture, and control it to the lowest order transverse mode. But because of the large mirror spacing, there were many possible frequencies that could oscillate, and usually the gain profile was broad enough that you’d get many longitudinal modes going simultaneously. Bringing the mirrors in very very close, you ultimately get the spacing between the longitudinal modes sufficiently large that only one frequency could go. I remember, I think 1500 megacycles was the bandwidth of the helium-neon line but the mode spacing was like 100 mega-cycles, in the typical one meter lasers. But when you got them down to a few inches between the mirrors, then the mode spacing was more than 1500 megacycles, and only one mode would go if it went at all.
Bromberg:So single mode operation was a big thing. Is this something that you wrote up?
Gordon:Yes, there’s a paper in here, I’ll show you.
Bromberg:OK, so let’s refer to that.
Gordon:...Yes, Gordon and A.D. White, “Single Frequency Gas Lasers at 6328 Angstroms.”
Gordon:That was really a very dramatic result, because we had a little piezoelectric mirror on there, and by moving the mirror back and forth, you could tune the frequency of the laser, and it would sweep, and give output power versus position of the mirror, which you can convert into sweep on your oscilloscope. It looked just like a klystron mode, when you sweep a klystron. So the point was of course you could pick the frequency that you wanted, and you could now begin to transmit single frequency and use superheterodyne techniques for detection, and so on.
Bromberg:In your department you were making the devices. Were these transmitted to some place else that was working on systems?
Gordon:Yes, Stewart Miller down at Holmdel.
Bromberg:Were you working closely with Miller at this point?
Gordon:Well, we were continuing to provide devices to people in the research area.
Bromberg:What kind of interaction did you have between this device and this system?
Gordon:It was sort of a unilateral situation. We would make the devices and give it to them.
Bromberg:OK. They wouldn’t come and say “We want such and such from you”?
Gordon:No, I think Miller probably encouraged us on the single frequency. He didn’t ask us to make single frequency, but once we got it, he encouraged us because he felt it was very valuable. The interaction again made us feel like we were second class citizens at Bell Labs. We were not a part of his experiments.
Bromberg:You mean, second class with respect to the systems people?
Gordon:With respect to the research people. We sort of always felt like we had to win our spurs. Getting the helium-neon laser wasn’t enough. It’s interesting that, in the research area, if somebody does something like grow a crystal or makes something, they always insist on being co-authors. We were never co-authors on any of the research papers, no matter how many lasers we gave them. You know, it was a relationship which was very strange, because I think many of the people in the device area were very high quality, and I don’t think that the best people in the research area were better than the best people in the device area. But somehow the research environment fostered an elitism, which I think did not serve the Bell Laboratories well. In particular it made these kinds of interactions difficult.
Bromberg:Now, in terms of your interaction with Miller, again, I’m looking at paths of communication --
Gordon:Well, the interaction with the research people was never good.
Bromberg:Wasn’t Stewart Miller, you said he was in Holmdel?
Gordon:Yes, he was in the research area. Crawford Hill was also part of the research area.
Bromberg:OK, now I understand.
Gordon:He was doing experiments in communications research. So he was responsible for all the transmission experiments, for people like Dave Hogg --
Bromberg:The ones between the various mountains?
Gordon:Yes. So you probably know that during that period they tried transmission through the atmosphere and found turbulence was a problem. Then they tried transmission through hollow pipes, and they needed to put mirrors or lenses periodically to refocus the light, to overcome diffraction, and they found the loss of the lenses and loss of the mirrors was sufficiently great that they couldn’t transmit very far. Then they went to these gas lenses. And --
Bromberg:And all this stuff is very peripheral, in your…?
Gordon:From my point of view, they were my customers. I was giving them the lasers.
Bromberg:OK. That gives a much clearer picture than I’ve had yet of the whole situation.
Gordon:Yes. You know, basically I had this conviction that some day, you know, optical communication is going to be important probably with gas lasers and we had to develop modulators and we had to develop single frequency, and so I was doing all the things that needed to be done to make it into a practical technology. Sort of an interesting insight on that is how the argon ion laser came, because it really bears directly on that. There was a new transition described by people at Spectra Physics. Earl Bell was one of the authors, but it was a pulsed mercury discharge.
Bromberg:It came out in the press?
Gordon:Yes. It was a published paper (December, 1963). And it was mercury mixed with helium, a classical Penning discharge, and you could pulse it, and it would produce a line that was associated with an ion of mercury. First ion laser. I was not interested, because it was clearly pulsed and it wasn’t ever going to be anything but pulsed. However, Bill Bridges at Hughes was interested, and was trying to understand the mechanism. Now, remember, I pointed out earlier that I was the first one to really try to understand what was going on in the discharge, what was doing the pumping, and so on, and Bill was following that same line trying to understand the pulsed mercury.
Bromberg:Were you in contact?
Gordon:Yes, Bill and I were good friends, from serving on similar committees and so on.
Bromberg:Even in ’63.
Gordon:Yes, from the early sixties. So I was involved in the Device Research Conference, and Bill was involved in that too.
Bromberg:OK, you were both on the committee --
Gordon:We were on the committee, and so at committee meetings we would talk. I remember one day, after a committee meeting at the IEEE headquarters, on 47th Street over on First Avenue, we were walking. It was a nice sunny day and we walked to the PATH subway station on 33rd Street. We were talking about the mercury laser, and trying to think about what experiments he could do to try to understand the mechanism, and I said, “Well, you know, it could be direct Penning or you’re producing a mercury ion, then an electron comes by and strikes it.” We began to think about the mechanism, and I said, “You know, if you put argon in instead of helium, then it would behave differently, because the ionization energy of argon is different than helium and it wouldn’t excite the mercury ion, so if it didn’t work in argon and it did work in helium, that would say something about what the mechanism is.” So Bill said, “That’s a good idea. I’m going to try it.” So he went back to Malibu Beach and we got together, a month or two later for another meeting of that committee and he said, “You know, I tried the argon, and instead of observing the mercury lines I observed some new lines, which I discovered were ionized argon.” So he told me he had published a paper, or had submitted a paper to APPLIED PHYSICS LETTERS on pulsed argon ion. OK. At the time we were good friends. I had so many other things going it didn’t bother me. In retrospect, I don’t think he served me well, because I know that if the situation were reversed, he probably would have been a co-author, because even though it was an accidental thing, mine was a key suggestion and he applied for a patent with Hughes, so he has the patent for the pulsed argon.
Bromberg:Something that’s very interesting there is that the whole thing started out in a different direction.
Bromberg:To examine the mercury behavior, and then --
Gordon:-- right, and this was a sheer accident. The argon ion laser was an absolute accident. In any case, he said that it was pulsed. You know, he had this big tube and pulsed it with very high current, it was only a short current pulse...
Bromberg:So you went back to see if you can make the argon laser CW.
Gordon:Right. I was convinced that the key was very high current density, and the ability to sustain high current density through the discharge tube.
Bromberg:What was the --
Gordon:Well, it was just the characteristics that he had observed in the pulsed discharge that made me feel that the mechanisms represented ware the electron ionizing the atom and then another electron hitting the ionized atom and exciting it into a higher state, and that was the excitation mechanism, and it seemed to produce more and more power the higher the current. So it looked like the gain was increasing very rapidly with current, and when I said current, obviously I really mean electron density, and that means current density. So on the train back to Murray Hill, I became convinced that what I really wanted to do was riot make a conventional discharge tube at all, but to take one of those very short small-bore tubes that I had been using for helium-neon as a single frequency device, and build a tube that was short with a very small diameter, so that I could put reasonable amounts of current through it but get very high current density. And since we had plenty of experience lining up mirrors and getting the beam through these small diameter tubes, that was no problem. I decided, since it’s going to be high current density, I’d better make it out of quartz rather than glass, because it’s probably going to run pretty hot. The first tube was maybe seven inches long, with maybe a 1 mm bore or something like that, and because we had the glass shop I was able to get the tube in a day; because we had the coating facility I was able to make the mirrors immediately, and in two days we were all set up and ready to go. We lined it up, turned it on, and bang, it went just like that!
Bromberg:Really! “We” is you and Labuda at that point, is this right?
Gordon:Yes, I came back from NY and I said, “Ed, we’re going to make a CW argon laser.”
Bromberg:What was Labuda’s background? What was he bringing into the collaboration?
Gordon:He was hired as an electrical engineer with a master’s degree, and he knew nothing about any of this stuff. He was sort of just hired and, but a good guy. He ultimately went back to Brooklyn Poly. He was working on his PhD at the time.
Bromberg:He was an MTS (member of technical staff) also?
Gordon:Yes, he was an MTS. And he was working on his PhD and Bell Labs was supporting him. So he was a good smart young man, and I think he was lucky in a sense to be involved in that group. He and I were good friends, tennis partners, and I was the supervisor and you know, my attitude was: I just produce the ideas and everybody shares and everybody’s successful, and that keeps people happy. My view of the way a good supervisor operates was to make everybody successful. And I could feed them the ideas, and get the money and convince the bosses this is important and so on, and that was all that was really necessary to do. That was just my general approach to life. You know, keep people successful. But I had the needs of Bell Labs in mind and you know, the work was always oriented toward doing something that would be good for Bell Labs, and if it looked like it was off the track for Bell Labs, then I wouldn’t let anybody work on it, and I was pretty tough minded about it. I’d come in and say, “I don’t want you to work on carbon monoxide. Don’t work on it because it’s not going to be useful.” Then they’d stop work on carbon monoxide. I was a pretty hard-nosed person and maybe tough to get along with, but I was producing so many ideas that people were happy and excited, you know, publishing, everybody profited as a result, so it was a good environment, and because I was in the device area we were able to keep the work sort of focused on things that were good for Bell Labs. But anyway, on the argon laser, I included him because I thought it would be good for his career.
Bromberg:You got the thing set up and you got the green --
Gordon:-- right away. Instantly. But of course, the tube immediately got hot. You could see the quartz beginning to grow white. So we had to stop it in a few seconds and let it cool. So the next tube, which took a few days, had a water cooling jacket around it, and so we ran it, and the watercooled tubes could run forever and there was no problem. You could run those with high currents. But they would lase for about 10 seconds and then they’d stop lasing, even though the discharge was continuing, and that was a puzzle. But that’s where my gas discharge background really came together. I immediately figured out that what was going on was that these high currents were pumping the gas from one end of the tube to the other, and so that even though you filled the tube with gas at a uniform pressure, in a very short time, you had very high pressure at one end and very low pressure at the other. Well, I went back to Zeitschrift fur Physik and found a paper on gas pumping, and I was convinced that that was the right explanation. So the solution was very simple. It was to provide another path for the gas to go back from the anode to the cathode.
Bromberg:Was that a standard solution in this kind of case?
Bromberg:That was just the way you understood the problem, something that you invented.
Gordon:Yes, and I said, well, we can’t have a short length of glass tubing, because the discharge will run there rather than the way we want it to go because we have no way of forcing it to go through this small bore. So I said, we’ve got to make the gas return tube very long, and if you’ve got a short discharge tube and you want to have a long gas return path, you make it into a spiral, and in addition that spiral will give us flexibility, so if there are expansion differences, the spiral will take it up. So we built a spiral tube and we connected it between the cathode and the anode, and bang, that was it. So within a month we had solved all the basic problems associated with the CW argon laser.
Bromberg:Did you telephone Bridges?
Gordon:Oh yes, right after we first got it going, I called Bridges and I told him, and he said, “I can’t get enough current in the tube.” I said, “Well, I’ll tell you what I’m using, I found some old Varian magnet supplies. Why don’t you try a Varian magnet supply and get the tube shorter and smaller diameter and so on?” So in about two weeks he had it going CW. And then we decided we’d put krypton and xenon and all the other noble gases and got some of the other transitions going CW, and that’s the origin of our paper with myself, Labuda and Bridges. Now, there is an interesting sidelight on that, because when Bridges’ paper came out, that may have stimulated Bill Bennett, who by that time had left Bell Labs and was at Yale, to work on it.
Bromberg:So Bennett was going on this quite independently of you and Bridges, is that the right assumption? Or were you in contact with one another?
Gordon:No, we were not in contact with one another at all. Bridges and I were working together, and it just shows what Bell Labs was and what Hughes was, that two guys in different companies could collaborate that closely.
Bromberg:And all this went by telephone or went by correspondence?
It was mostly by telephone, except for those times we’d meet in New York at the committee meetings. And Bill Rigrod showed that if you put a longitudinal magnetic field on the discharge, it would pinch it down even tighter, and so we developed a magnetic field for the argon laser. We had submitted our paper to APPLIED PHYSICS LETTERS, and just at the time that it was with the editor but not published, there was an American Physical Society meeting in Washington, and there was a session on lasers and so on, and Bill Bennett was scheduled to talk, and he was going to talk on Lamb dip, and he got up and he said, “Well, I’m scheduled to talk on Lamb dip, but I’ve got something more interesting to talk about.” It was really an amazing thing to do. You’re scheduled to give a talk on one subject, and you just get up and use the time slot to give a completely different talk. He said, “I’m sure this one will be more interesting,” and he entitled it “Pseudo CW Argon Ion Laser,” something like that. He proceeded to describe his continuously operating argon laser, which was running for about a millisecond. He just happened to have a big hefty power supply so he was able to cram the current in for as long as a millisecond. But he was using a long tube with a relatively large diameter.
So he needed enormous currents. I was furious, because for one, he had used a slot for another paper to announce the CW argon ion laser and even though it wasn’t CW, people would forget that there was a “pseudo” in front of it, and so he had scooped us. So I decided that there would be no sense in sitting on our results any more, I might as well tell people what we had. But I didn’t want to just get up and do another “Me too.” So I cooked up a sort of a gambit, and I got up and said that we weren’t clever enough to reserve a slot at the American Physical Society meeting, but we had submitted our paper to APPLIED PHYSICS LETTERS, and we too had a pseudo CW argon ion laser, but our pulses are somewhat longer, about seven hours, because that’s all we work at Bell Labs and we don’t like it to run overnight! I think I did a very effective job of redressing that situation, and the people still remember that comment and remind me of it.
Bromberg:Is Bennett an idiosyncratic person, that he would use a slot this way, or did he usually do things?
Gordon:I think so, yes. He’s not a conventional kind of person.
Bromberg:He’s dead, isn’t he?
Gordon:I hadn’t heard that. What he did was, after a while he got out of lasers and got into computer science. But I hadn’t heard that he died. There’s a Bill Bennett Sr. who has died.
Bromberg:OK, then I got confused. I’m very glad to hear that because I want to talk with him.
Gordon:No, I think Bill Bennett, Jr…is still at Yale.
Gordon:In any case, the argon ion laser, I don’t think we really ever made any and gave them to other people at Bell Labs. We went on to use a prism which we had developed for helium-neon lasers. Remember, I told you that the research people had gotten all these other transitions going, after we got the first helium-neon laser going. Well, it turned out that there are transitions there and we were sure they had some gain, but very low gain, and so we decided we were going to try. Now, the technology had been evolving and there were Brewster angle Windows and high quality mirrors and so on. So we made a very high quality laser setup which would allow oscillations even at very very low gain, and now have to distinguish between the various lines, and so Alan White developed a beautiful prism which could be put inside the cavity, and it would be lined up for one wavelength but not lined up for another wavelength, and if you lined up the cavity properly, just by tilting the prism a little bit you could tune it from one wavelength to another. It worked for He-Ne and and he actually got the other lines prematurely claimed by Bennett. And so we were able to use that same thing for the argon laser and tune for the various transitions of the argon laser, 4880 and 5145 and all those other lines. That turned out to be an interesting result, and of course when you mentioned R.C. (Richard) Miller in here, he came in at that point in time and began to work on the physics of the argon ion laser, because what had happened to me was that --
Bromberg:-- he came from research at that time?
Gordon:No, no he was a supervisor in the development area. And what had happened to me was that just before I started working on the argon ion laser, I was asked to be a department head. That was in early 1964. And I refused. So several months went by, when Don Chisholm who had been promoted from department head to director, wanted me to take his slot as department head, and I was having too much fun so I just decided I wasn’t going to take that job, and about the same week as we got the argon ion laser going, he came up and asked me again, and I said, “Look, I told you I wasn’t going to take that promotion,” and he said, “Well I have one question for you. Have you thought about who your department head would be if you don’t take it?” and I said, “I’ll take it.” So that left my supervisory slot open, and I had to fill it in, and that’s when Dick Miller came in to be supervisor of that group. So he went to work on the physics of the argon ion laser, and there was ultimately a paper that came out on that, a very fine paper.
Bromberg:Now, this is the same Miller who worked with Giordmaine on?
Gordon:No, that’s Robert Miller. This is Richard Miller.
Bromberg:I see, OK, I was confused about that.
Gordon:No, there’s a Robert C. Miller and a Richard C. Miller, and Robert C. Miller is in the research area. So anyway, Labuda and I were basically doing all the work on the argon ion laser, but I guess there’s one other piece of work that I ought to talk about. I want to get back to the question you asked me about the modulator.
Bromberg:So now we’re back in 1962, really.
Gordon:Yes. After we got the single frequency going, in the helium-neon laser, White and I cooked up a scheme to actually provide a way of stabilizing the frequency of the laser by using a separate neon discharge tube in a magnetic field passing the light through it, and setting up a discriminator by varying the field and a feedback mechanism, so that you could tune the mirror, and so we ended up with a single frequency laser and a way of stabilizing it so you could really hold the frequency very very stable, and so at that point in time, we had all the essentials of a stabilized source. So modulators became very interesting. So I began to get interested in light modulation, and Rigden kept talking about this Fabry-Perot, and using a Fabry-Perot. He didn’t really understand it, wasn’t able to analyze it, but I was convinced that it was a good idea, so I did the analysis, and that was the origin of that paper on the Fabry-Perot modulator.
Bromberg:I see. So it’s really kind of taking Rigden’s interest here and then doing something more rigorous.
Gordon:Yes. It turned out to be a very key paper, not for the reason that the Fabry-Perot modulator was ever of interest, although many people have tried over the years to do it. It became very clear to us that it was not a good modulator. However, I convinced Mauro DiDomenico, who was at Bell Labs at that time, that he should work it out for the case of varying loss in the cavity, whereas I had worked it out for the case of varying reactance, so he just took all the equations that I had worked out, and replaced an imaginary term by a real term, and worked out the theory for a loss modulator, using a Fabry-Perot, and he added the gain associated with the laser tube and so he was able to talk about internally modulating the gas laser. So that was the interest there. However, when he wrote the memo --
Bromberg:Was he in the same area of development?
Gordon:Yes, he was…He was not in the research area.
Bromberg:And Fork and Pollack and those guys --
Gordon:-- They were in the research area.
Bromberg:I think that what I’m really fishing for here is to understand your modulation work, for example, your theoretical paper with Rigden, within the context of what people were doing on modulation. The thing that you get from just examining the paper itself is that you take off from some stuff that Kaminow did, with incoherent light, and that’s what you discuss in that paper, some work that he had done with incoherent light. [Break in conversation] All right, so we’re going to go back and start talking about the IEEE and its involvement in lasers, and let me just say a little bit about how I phrased that question, because it’s something I’m very very interested in. I’m interested in the way in which electrical engineers began to move into the laser field. They come slightly later than physicists. They bring their own traditions. I think that’s a very interesting question. I’m interested in the way all the institutions get formed -- the JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS, CLEA, the Joint OSA—IEEE Council, the whole thing. Because it’s a big topic, and the fact that QEAS is sponsoring this is not unconnected with that. I think it’s interesting from any point of view.
Gordon:Well, back in the early sixties, I was asked by Glen Wade, who was editor of the ELECTRON DEVICE TRANSACTIONS, to be an associate editor of ELECTRON DEVICE TRANSACTIONS, for quantum electronics. He felt, or maybe the Electron Devices Group, which is one of the groups in IEEE at that time, (they’re now called Societies), felt it should get involved in quantum electronic devices, and so he asked me to be the associate editor in charge of quantum electronic devices.
Bromberg:That was a new introduction of that area into it.
Gordon:Yes, so IEEE got into lasers and quantum electronics basically I think through Glen Wade’s initiative, on the Electron Devices Group’s initiative, and they picked me to be the associate editor in charge of quantum electronic devices.
Bromberg:Do you remember what year that was?
Gordon:We can figure it out because we can look at the masthead of the TRANSACTIONS. It was round ‘62 or ‘63. So anyway, I was beginning to get some contributed papers, but obviously if you want to stimulate interest, you do a special issue, so Wade asked me to do a special issue on quantum electronics and lasers. So I started calling people, and got together enough papers so that we could have a special issue in that area. It was scheduled for January 1965. Just about maybe six months, four to six months before that, we were approached by Karl Willenbrock, who I guess was once a president of IEEE, now I guess he is a professor in Texas or thereabouts, University of Texas, but he must have had responsibility for publications in IEEE at that time. Maybe he was chairman of the publication committee or something. Pergamon Press was beginning to do some probing, because they wanted to start their own journal in quantum electronics, and of course Pergamon Press had done that several times, and began to pick up on areas before IEEE did. So Karl Willenbrock was determined that Pergamon Press was not going to scoop IEEE in the quantum electronics field, and he approached Wade and me and asked if we would start a new journal on quantum electronics, and it would be sponsored by the Electron Device Group, and we even planned to use my special issue as the kick-off issue for the new journal.
Bromberg:How did Wade feel about that?
Gordon:Well, that was all right. It was all part of the Electron Device Group, and I guess if I were in Wade’s shoes I would have been pretty glad, because the thing was beginning to mature. At any rate, Glen Wade is the kind of guy who wouldn’t be bothered by anything like that. So things were moving along pretty well, when another group in IEEE, the Microwave Theory and Techniques, MTT, came in and said, “Hey, you know, we do work in quantum electronics too, because after all microwaves is only one part of the electromagnetic spectrum and optics is another and we use the same basic analytical techniques and so on, for optics as for microwaves, and so we have an interest here and we want to be cosponsors of this journal.”
Bromberg:Did that create any political --?
Gordon:-- Oh yes, it created a lot of political problems, but I think to the credit of the Electron Device Group, they saw merit in the argument, and so they agreed that MTT could be a co-sponsor. Now, in the IEEE when you have two societies or groups sponsoring a Transaction, then you have to set up another sponsoring mechanism, and that’s called a Council. So there had to be a Quantum Electronics Council, with representatives from the Electron Device Group and from the Microwave Theory and Techniques group, overseeing the JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS. It was called a Journal rather than a Transaction, and that’s one of the things you can do when you have a Council. The first few issues were published under Electron Devices and then the QEC was founded.
Bromberg:That also means Transactions refer to the groups, I assume.
Gordon:Yes, TRANSACTIONS OF ELECTRONIC DEVICES, TRANSACTIONS OF MICROWAVE THEORY AND TECHNIQUES and so on, I felt that I wanted to remain an associate editor and not an editor, so we got Bob Kingston to be the co-editor with Wade of the new journal. I remained for many many years an associate editor. I became the first chairman of the Quantum Electronics Council, so the Quantum Electronics Council basically met to oversee the JOURNAL, and I was a very inactive chairman. You know, I was a little annoyed at MTT, and I didn’t call very many meetings, till I got pressured by Larry Anderson and, I’m trying to think of the name of the guy from MTT who was on it. Oh, Bill Mumford was the MTT representative, and we did have some Council meetings, and gradually began to develop ideas for having our own technical meetings as well.
Bromberg:So it’s right in the course of this Council that CLEA begins to be --
Gordon:Yes, so CLEA was born in the Quantum Electronics Council, and --
Bromberg:Now the OSA somehow got involved. How did they get involved?
Gordon:Do you believe that they were involved in even the very first CLEA meeting?
Bromberg:I don’t know…
Gordon:OK. Well, there was another committee called the Joint Council on Quantum Electronics.
Bromberg:That’s right. Maybe I’m getting it confused.
Gordon:Which had the American Physical Society and OSA and Electron Device. I was on that committee, I represented the Electron Device Group.
Bromberg:Then when was this Joint Council on Quantum Electronics?
Gordon:That preceded Quantum Electronics Council, and the basic purpose of that committee was to oversee the International Quantum Electronics Conference. That was sponsored by a lot of different groups. Bob Terhune was on it, I remember. Also Peter Frauber from University of Michigan. Anyway, I was on that, and so I represented IEEE on that Council, and that’s how IEEE was involved in the International Quantum Electronics Conference. Now, QEC decided that since the International Quantum Electronics Conference met every two years, and was really a physics-oriented meeting, we would have a quantum electronics meeting in the in-between years that was more electrical engineering oriented, and that was CLEA, Conference on Laser Engineering and Applications.
Bromberg:As I remember, this started in ‘67.
Gordon:In ‘67. I was the first chairman.
Bromberg:The interest of electrical engineers in quantum electronics and lasers in particular must have been very well developed even by ‘62, ‘63?
Gordon:No. That’s a very good question. My motivation in starting the JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS was because electrical engineers were not interested, in general and those who were interested were not publishing in the electrical engineering journals, they were publishing in APPLIED PHYSICS LETTERS, or the JOURNAL OF APPLIED PHYSICS.
Gordon:Yes. My goal in the JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS, which only in recent years has been realized, was to seduce the physicists into electrical engineering. It’s the same theme as before. I felt that the only way the Electrical Engineering Society would grow in quantum electronics was if we brought the physicists in.
Bromberg:Was it also partly to get them to look at lasers in this more comprehensive way?
Gordon:Well, obviously when two disciplines can interact, you’re going to get a better result.
Bromberg:OK, so that was part of your feeling at the time?
Gordon:Yes, it was to bring the physicists in together with the electrical engineers and by getting them to publish in the same journal and to come to the same meetings, you get that intercourse that you wouldn’t otherwise get.
Bromberg:You weren’t getting that through having published in APPLIED PHYSICS LETTERS?
Gordon:Well, obviously, there’s sort of a chauvinism, you know, or whatever you want to call it -- I mean, I cast my lot with electrical engineering, not with physics, and whatever field I got into, when I found that IEEE wasn’t doing anything in it, I would get them started, whether it was camera tubes or whatever. So since I got into the laser business, I was going to get electrical engineers in IEEE into the laser business, and then to make it successful, we obviously had to attract physicists.
Bromberg:Right. I see. But tell me, is there anybody else I should be thinking of in the same terms who was also working with you, any other figure in the laser community whom I should be thinking of in this role of trying to stimulate quantum electronics within the IEEE and trying to stimulate a journal?
Gordon:Well, I think most of the incentives in IEEE were really very narrow and parochial, you know, we’ve got to get into this, and if we don’t get into it somebody else is going to get into it and we’re going to lose out.
Bromberg:Like the Pergamon Press bid.
Gordon:Right. Mine was more academic, in the sense that I felt that you needed to bring the physicists in to stimulate the electrical engineering profession, because obviously the physicists had the kinds of skills and background and so on, but this was really an electrical engineering enterprise, when you really get down to it. After the initial publications and so on, if you’re going to make useful devices out of it, then you’ve got to have the expertise, and the only way that expertise is going to get into electrical engineering in a reasonably fast way was through the physicists. So my goal was to get physicists to publish in the JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS and thereby get them into IEEE. I never really succeeded while I was associated with any of that. They still continued to publish in APPLIED PHYSICS LETTERS and so on. I think the JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS is one of the best journals today in IEEE. You know, the turnaround times and the quality of the papers and so on. It’s interesting, too, that in recent times, there’s been well, more strongly than ever before but one of the complaints IEEE publications committee members were getting was that there’s no place to publish papers in electro-optics, systems papers, or practical papers in electro-optics and there’s no place where they could publish, and so people kept saying, “You’ve got to do more in electro-optics to take care of IEEE members,” and that’s how CLEA got started. CLEA became so successful that we decided we could have a meeting every year, but the in-between years should be really focused more on engineering, not so much on the devices and the physics and so on. So I proposed the name CONFERENCE ON LASERS AND ELECTRO OPTICS, which never got accepted until recently. By that time I was out of it, I had been moved into some other work in Bell Laboratories, and they came up with the name CLEOS. Conference on Laser Engineering and Optical Systems I think, but recently they’ve gone back to CLEO.
Bromberg:What was APPLIED OPTICS, how did they look in all of this, because I should think that some of the engineers were publishing --
Gordon:Well, you can say APPLIED OPTICS was sort of passive optics, and QUANTUM ELECTRONICS JOURNAL was active optics.
Bromberg:But APPLIED OPTICS had lots of laser papers.
Gordon:Sure. Well, we were competing. APPLIED OPTICS competed with JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS which competed with APPLIED PHYSICS LETTERS.
Bromberg:But in APPLIED OPTICS, there wasn’t any physical presence of John Howard coming and saying, “I like this” or “I don’t like this” or anything, there was no intercourse with APPLIED OPTICS in the course of setting up the JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS.
Gordon:No we had nothing to do with them. There was none of that. It was strictly an IEEE activity.
Bromberg:Did you also get involved at all in education, educating engineers in the kind of thing that should know. Did you get involved in graduate --?
Gordon:No. No. I didn’t do any of that.
Bromberg:OK. If you know of anyone who did that I should speak to, I wish --
Gordon:Speak to Frank Barnes. He’s at the University of Colorado. That’s what he was doing.
Bromberg:Good. Another thing is, when we had a phone conversation, you said that one element in the story of the relation between physicists and engineers was going to be a conversation you had with Javan? Does that ring a bell at all?
Gordon:Yeah, well, I think it really had more to do with Bennett.
Bromberg:OK, so that was --
Gordon:That was the story I told you. I might have said Javan by mistake, but I think that paper which really, you know, took basic engineering principles and showed that everything we understood about lasers as oscillators could be directly derived from basic engineering principles. I think it was a very important paper, because it showed that the laser was nothing special. You know, it was just another electronic device.
Bromberg:What kinds of reaction did you get to that paper?
Gordon:Well, I got a good reaction, because first of all I think I first gave a talk on that in Puerto Rico, as I recall, but many of the schools adopted that paper into courses.
Gordon:Right, so it was --
Bromberg:I found it extremely difficult, by the way, if not incomprehensible, which means that I don’t have any engineering background.
Gordon:Well, it is probably not the easiest paper in the world to read. But I mean, the purpose was really to show that you could take basic engineering principles and apply them, and I didn’t want to apply them the way Schawlow and Townes had, you know, to a particular structure, and hoke up some mathematics and so on, that would solve that particular problem, but to provide a basis for solving any of the problems. So it was really meant to be a very fundamental paper, and in fact, you can go back and look at it and many of the equations are derived that other people struggle to derive by other means, but in this, you just grind the crank and out it comes.
Bromberg:I had trouble solely with words. Some had no reference for me because I have no engineering background.
Gordon:I write better today than I wrote then.
I found your other papers clear… OK, let’s pause for now.
J. D. Rigden and E. I. Gordon. "The Granularity of Scattered Optical Maser Light." Proc. IRE 50 (1962), 2367-2368.
E. I. Gordon, "Optical Maser Oscillator and Noise," Bell System Technical Journal, 43 (1964) 507-539.
Who later started Lamba Optics
E. I. Gordon, J. D. Rigden, and A. D. White, "Output Power of the 6328 A Gas Maser," APPL. PHYS. LETTERS, 2 (1963), 91-93; E. I. Gordon, J. D. Rigden, and A. D. White, "Gain Saturation at 3.39 Microns in the He-Ne Maser," PROC. SYMP. ON OPTICAL MASERS, Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, April 1963; E. I. Gordon and A. D. White, "Similarity Laws for the Effects of Pressure and Discharge Diameter on Gain of He-Ne Lasers," APPL. PHYS. LETTERS, Dec. 1963; A. D. White and E. I. Gordon, "Excitation Mechanisms and Current Dependence of Population Inversion in He-Ne Lasers," APPLIED PHYS. LETTERS 3, 197-199 (1963); E. F. Labuda and E. I. Gordon, "Microwave Determination of Average Electron Energy and Density in He-Ne Discharges," JOURN. OF APPL. PHYS. 35 (1964) 1647-1648.
E. I. Gordon, E. F. Labuda, and W. B. Bridges, "Continuous Visible Laser Action in Singly Ionized Argon, Krypton, and Xenon," APP. PHYSICS LETTERS 4 (1964) pp. 178-180.
E. I. Gordon and J. D. Rigden, "Fabry-Perot Electro-optic Modulator," Bell System Technical Journal, June 1963, 42, 155-179.
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