Oral History Transcript — Dr. James P. Gordon
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
See the catalog record for this interview and search for other interviews in our collection
Interview with Dr. James P. Gordon
Dr. James P. Gordon; October 27, 1986
Abstract: Gordon recruited by R. Kompfner to Bell Laboratories to initiate maser research; briefly comments on his collaboration on the 2-level solid state maser. Also prominently mentioned are: Charles H. Townes; and Physical Review.
I interviewed for jobs at a handful of places after I received my PhD, among them RCA and Bell Laboratories. Art Schawlow, whom I knew, was on the recruiting team for Bell. Rudolf Kompfner was actually the man who recruited me. He wanted me to come and work on masers. Kompfner was very inventive, always looking out for new technologies. He believed new things should be pursued. The ammonia beam maser already had some obvious potential applications: for example to time standards and low noise amplifiers. Traveling wave tubes, which Kompfner’s group was working on, like all other amplifiers at this point, had noise due to fluctuations in charge. The maser lacked this and was therefore, in theory, a very low noise amplifier. My early maser work stressed the application to amplification. Pierce, though he supported the work, was not very visible to me in these years.
I think I talked with Townes at the time he visited here and after that started working with Feher on the solid-state maser. Beam maser work was done in my laboratory, but the solid-state work was done in Feher’s. He had the sample, which he had originally obtained for other purposes, and he had the electron spin resonance apparatus. These experiments would therefore have been written up in his notebook.
The only reference to them in my notebook is dated October 1957. Of the other three authors [G. Feher, J.P. Gordon, E. Buehler, E.A. Gere, and C.D. Thurmond, “Spontaneous Emission of Radiation from an Electron Spin System,” Phys. Rev. 109 , 221-222], Buehler and Thurmond were materials people and had nothing to do with the actual experiment. Ed Gere was Feher’s technical assistant.
I do recall that we didn’t waste any time getting this into publication, so that if the submission date was November 1957, it must have been ready shortly before. On the other hand, in reflecting on this work some time ago, I had the recollection that we made it work before the three-level, maser. So the exact dates are something of a puzzle.
Among the experiments recorded in my laboratory notebook, there is some work to try to use the beam maser as a frequency standard. My approach was to broaden the resonance somewhat by imposing a magnetic field [???]. If the maser were out of tune, the field would shift the frequency. If it were in tune, the frequency would stay the same.
[In response to a question about why the results on the two-level maser were presented at the Electron Tube Convergence.] The Tube Conference presentation probably was the result of Kompfner’s involvement, and of the fact that my group was working on tubes. Historically, Kompfner, Quate, and Cutler were moving forces behind tube work at the Laboratory. Quate and Cutler did not have much to do with masers, although Quate was interested, and followed the work. And, historically, a number of reports on masers had been given at tube conferences, dating back to Joseph Weber in 1952.
I would think serious work on the two-level maser would have begun after Townes left Paris in 1956, since we would not have wanted to encroach on his prerogative to follow up his own ideas. Feher may have done some work before that, but not much, because I was involved in the basic experimental design.