Oral History Transcript — Dr. Aristid Grosse
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Aristid Grosse; April 5, 1974
ABSTRACT: Born in Russia 1905, childhood in Japan; early education in Japan and in Shanghai; undergraduate and graduate studies at University of Berlin from 1922; protactinium work with Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner 1926-1927. Moves to the U.S. (Universal Oil Products Corp.); comments on Vladimir Ipatief; travels to Europe (Cavendish Laboratory, the Curie Institute in Paris, and Berlin); Columbia University from 1939, dismissal from the Manhattan Project; president of the Research Institute at Temple University for 13 years (later affiliate of the Franklin Institute); desert agriculture. Also prominently mentioned are: M. S. Agruss, Francis William Aston, Niels Henrik David Bohr, Eugene Booth, James Chadwick, Arthur Holly Compton, Marie Sklodowska Curie, John R. Dunning, Gustav Egloff, Albert Einstein, Robley Dunglison Evans, Enrico Fermi, George Gamow, Hiram Halle, William D. Harkins, Georg von Hevesy, Karl Hoffman, Eugene Houdry, Lyndon B. Johnson, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Irene Joliot-Curie, Petr Kapitsa, Robert Andrews Millikan, Alfred O. Nier, Ida Noddack, George Braxton Pegram, Isidor Isaac Rabi, Ernest Rutherford, Frederick Soddy, Fritz Strassman, Leo Szilard, Joseph John Thomson, Harold Clayton Urey, John Archibald Wheeler; Atomic Energy Commission, Basic Science Foundation, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, Technische Hochschule (Berlin), Universal Oil Production Corporation, and University of Chicago.
Session I | Session II
Weiner:We agreed that we would pick up a few gaps in our earlier conversation. This related to the 1930-32 period, when you were going back and forth between Chicago and Berlin, and you stopped in Paris and in Cambridge, England, perhaps in other science centers.
Grosse:No, essentially this was either Paris or Cambridge.
Weiner:When was the first visit to Cambridge? On what trip, what year was it?
Grosse:Well, I would have to refresh my memory with the correspondence with Aston, which I, by the way, showed you today. The thing is, I got involved with Aston, I think, through the good offices of George Gamow, who had met Aston, who suggested that Aston, although he got the Nobel prize in chemistry, was not a chemist. And so I wrote to Aston suggesting that I’d be glad to prepare some compounds for him to investigate the isotopic composition. I was at that time particularly interested in uranium, i.e. whether one could prove the existence of what Rutherford and Auguste Picard called actino-uranium (AcU), in other words the mother substance of actinium and protactinium. And as a result of that, as far as I recall at this moment without checking the records, the first compounds that I prepared for Aston were the chromium carbonyl, molybdenum carbonyl, and tungsten carbonyl, N(CO)6. The three metals of the sixth group of the periodic system, right standing above uranium. And we felt that if chromium, molybdenum and tungsten would yield to that treatment, we may have a good chance to prepare uranium carbonyl. And so that would have started with Aston. I mean, one can easily check. Aston mentioned that in his first publication on the isotopic composition, or as Aston called it in those days, the isotopic constitution of chromium, molybdenum and tungsten. It was published in NATURE and then in the PROCEEDINGS of the Royal Society.
Weiner:This contact was before your visit, though?
Grosse:That was before the visit, so then when I had the chance -- well, it may have been also -- I mean, my first trip was 1930, yes, so it could have been late 1929 –- you’re right, as I recall now, my paper of uranium hexafluoride for Aston was 1929. I prepared the uranium hexafluoride. That was later to be my introduction to work with Al Nier on Uranium-235. That was done in 1929, as I recall.
Weiner:I’ll try to find the exact --
Grosse:Let me take a look at the list that you have.
Weiner:This is the beginning of the list, of the old -- this is probably easier to see.
Grosse:What’s the next page?
Weiner:This is another --
Grosse:No, it was a little later. Here is the uranium preparation by F.W. Aston, was published 1932, but that means it was prepared probably one or two years earlier. That would be in the thirties.
Weiner:Right. We can check the correspondence later. But that was prior to --
Grosse:-- so I had correspondence with Aston, first, and then he invited me to the Cavendish Laboratory, and that’s where I met later -- Aston introduced me to Lord Rutherford and Kapitsa. And that’s where as I mentioned to you before, I told Kapitsa I was very glad to see him again, and when he said, “How come again?” then the whole story of his visit to Shanghai came out.
Weiner:When he was 17 years old.
Grosse:17 or 18.
Weiner:You were younger.
Grosse:I was a boy of 12 years old, but my father is the one who vividly remembered that, and he told me about it when I was in China back in 1928 or ‘29.
Weiner:The visit then in 1930 was for how long?
Grosse:Oh, it was just a few days. You see, had to go back to Berlin, because we were beginning to do work for Universal Oil Products Co. in Chicago, together with Ipatieff, the great catalytic chemist of our century -- whom you see, by the way, looking at you from the pictures over there, on the left. But, having a few days’ trip, I mean things were leisurely in those days, it was not jet travel -- since I was in England, and I don’t know, sometimes I was first in -- I think it always was, first in England and then in Paris, because then I took the train to Berlin, and so I had a chance to be, right in the years 1930, ‘31 and ‘32, both in the Cavendish and in the Laboratoire Curie in Paris, in that most interesting period, when the neutron and the artificial radioactivity were discovered. And Cockcroft and Walton s experiments on artificial transmutation.
Weiner:Did you meet Cockcroft or Walton, either of them, on that first trip in 1930? Who did you meet besides Rutherford and Kapitsa on that trip?
Grosse:Well, let me tell you, I first met Aston, of course, and Aston knew that I was originally a Russian, so he wanted me to meet Kapitsa. And first he brought me to the beautiful dining hall of Trinity College, with all the portraits of the “old boys” like Sir Isaac Newton, Lord Byron, and others, and he told me the story that an Oxford lady was invited to Cambridge, and when she saw all that galaxy of luminaries in English history, she said. But in Oxford, of course, we have only our own people. So at that same luncheon, I was sitting next to Kapitsa, and I think between Kapitsa and Rutherford. I was highly honored, and at that time, then, I don’t know in what sequence, I only remember that Aston introduced me to J.J. Thomson. J.J. Thomson at that time was working in a sort of a small cubby hole. He was the discoverer of the electron but you know, Rutherford had a very high regard for J.J. Thomson, but he prevented some publications of J.J. Thomson in the PROCEEDINGS of the Royal Society, because J.J. Thomson was not at his most top level, mentally speaking, at that age. And so I remember very vividly all these impressions, and I don’t know exactly in what sequence. I remember that, I think it was in 1931 or 32, that Robert Millikan came to Cambridge and was discussing the pictures of the particle bent the positive way in a magnetic field, and he thought those were protons.
Weiner:That would be November or October ‘3l, I think.
Grosse:Well, it can be very easily established because these were the original pictures that Anderson took of the positron. And so with the announcement of the positron, we can time that visit very --
Weiner:I’ve seen the letter that Anderson wrote to Millikan, while he was in Cambridge, sending him the photograph that he described in that talk. It was October or November I think of ‘31, and the actual discovery that these in fact were positrons was the following summer, but he was showing those pictures. That would have been the second trip, then; it would have meant that trip was not summer but late fall.
Grosse:Wait a minute, we always went over, or I went over, at the beginning of summer, stayed for about three months or thereabouts in the States and then went back, I mean, by September, back to Berlin, to be there at the beginning of the academic year.
Weiner:I see. So in this case, this would be on the way back.
Grosse:This would be on the way back. It can be timed I mean quite definitely by the various events that scientifically took place, if one has the scientific chronology.
Weiner:Well, on that, did you meet Cockcroft and Walton before they had achieved their results?
Grosse:I think it was at the very first visit in 1930, and that was at the time when George Gamow was using his theory of alpha decay, was prevailing on Cockcroft and Walton that they could expect that the transmutation of lithium would take place at much lower voltages. I believe, when I met first Cockcroft, and again that can be established, it was I think shortly before that, before their experiments, successful experiments. It may have been that I first saw them casually and then later on, in the year ‘31 or ‘32. I only remember vividly one thing, that whereas Kapitsa the Russian got the Mond Laboratory for his use, the native English Nobel Prize winners were not getting anything as well as Kapitsa was. And so Aston had for example a comparatively small cubby hole with his mass spectrometer, and didn’t have those wonderful facilities that Kapitsa had for his magnetic laboratory.
Weiner:Well, in one case, I guess the simple bulk of the equipment was different, wasn’t it? And also the expense.
Grosse:Well, the thing is that the Kapitsa experiments were on a much grander scale. They were in regard to his low temperature work with liquid helium on super-magnets, whereas Aston was essentially concentrating on his mass spectrometer work. And since he had exhausted more or less the simple compounds that he could use to put in his mass spectrometer, I just came in an interesting time for him, because of my knowledge of inorganic chemistry. I could dig out various other compounds that did become useful to him, and particularly that was the first introduction for isotope separation of UF6 which later played, of course, the role in the whole development of John Dunning.
Weiner:Did Aston have anyone working with him at the time, anyone you knew?
Grosse:Aston was an individual who wouldn’t even let a scrubwoman get into his laboratory. And that was a very wise decision on his part, which I’m pursuing right now myself. I find that in my present work now in the laboratory, which I have in the basement, very similar to the Aston principles, if you have nobody in your laboratory at any time, you can be sure that anything that happens is due to nature, and not to human intent. Or human frailty to mess up things. Because his experiments, as I believe I mentioned to you last time, were really -- he was a master experimenter who was getting the ultimate benefit out of any particular physical contraption or chemical substance that he had available to him. And so he felt that if he left certain things at night, he wanted to find them exactly that same way in the morning, and not have somebody mess with his vacuum -- I mean, that he could then trace back much easier, instead of saying, “Well, look, somebody may have come in at night, turned this valve, this, this, that and the other.” So he had very strong feelings that -- look, for all these experiments, let’s leave the things the way they are. And he showed me in the back of the room the same equipment that he and J.J. Thomson used, for the first separation of the neon isotopes, which was the continuous distillation of liquid neon, and he left it and kept it that way. Once in a while he would take a stop-cock off these things and use it for his purposes. But the laboratory was there. There was a lot of dust in some places, but he knew that if the dust was there, nobody was touching it in the meantime years. So it was really a fascinating experience, to see Aston work.
Weiner:The consequence of course is that you don’t build up a group of students and you become, in his case, relatively isolated.
Grosse:Well, he was not isolated, in the sense that they had all these -- Cavendish was a very integrated, I mean lively group of individuals that were exchanging ideas. As far as his laboratory work was concerned, he was doing it alone. He was not particularly interested in many students. He was a wealthy man. He used to go to Switzerland in the wintertime for skiing. And I mean, he was the epitome of an English gentleman who was pursuing science for its own sake. I mean, going back to the age-old tradition, that if you take Joule and many other people, they were rugged individuals, taking care of science.
Weiner:You mentioned the atmosphere there and the life of the Cavendish. Did you in those various trips participate? Were you lucky to be there at a time when there were any colloquia or meetings?
Grosse:Oh yes. This is what I mentioned. There were a number of colloquia. I mean, this colloquium that I mentioned about Millikan was one of them. But regardless of the colloquia, now they were all donning their black robes for lunch or dinner at Trinity College, I mean in the dining room, and here were glasses of wine and so forth. Any kind of discussion would take place. Let’s not forget, Rutherford was a New Zealander who was working in Canada, at McGill. He was at Manchester. I mean, so he had -- if we would right now from where we sit make a straight line right through the center of the earth, we’d be coming out down in south of Australia, tip. So he really had the world viewpoint in his mind from the very beginning, I mean Rutherford. Therefore they had a very congenial group. They had individuals from all over the world coming there, like Niels Bohr for example and George Gamow and others, so it didn’t take much for them to get together, and there were many opportunities all the time.
Weiner:Did you sense that as being different from your own experience in Germany?
Grosse:Well, the experience in Germany was on a very much smaller scale. Everyone I think recognized that Rutherford and Cambridge was really the center of nuclear research. That’s where a lot of the physical ideas were born. The Marie Curie Institute was essentially a chemical institution. Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner were both chemistry and physics, but Rutherford is the man who first had the idea -- I mean, first developed with Soddy the theory of artificial disintegration, the mathematics of it. He discovered alpha, beta and gamma rays. He discovered radium emanation. He discovered the concept of the nucleus -- I mean, a lot of fundamental things. He had the idea of the neutron. So there was no question that, I mean, Rutherford was really the quintessence, and he gathered around him a lot of other Nobel Prize winners and outstanding scientists, both in the theoretical and -- like Dirac, C.T.R. Wilson, and many others.
Weiner:What about Chadwick? We haven’t mentioned him yet. Chadwick played an important role in actually running the research laboratory.
Grosse:Chadwick of course is the man who discovered the neutron, but it was essentially in the climate of Rutherford, where Rutherford originally postulated for many years that there should be a particle like the neutron in the nucleus, that it would have no charge and for that reason would penetrate very easily. And so when the Bethe’s experiment started, -- no, I’m mixing up, Bothe’s experiments on the effect of gamma rays on beryllium, and Irene Curie was investigating with Joliot-Curie what these particles may be, and did not get the right interpretation, it was Chadwick who had the concept that these things must be the particle that they were looking for at Cavendish, and the dream of Rutherford sort of came true at that time.
Weiner:When did you first meet Chadwick?
Grosse:Well, it was the same time that met Cockcroft in 1931 or 1930. I’m pretty sure that even on the first visit, I was spending a few days with Aston and we were having lunch in the Trinity mess hall, and one was meeting people, back and forth, and I talked Russian with Kapitsa and so met the various individuals there. Also, a number of the others, I mean that were working on electronic counters for counting alpha particles, which was developing at that time.
Weiner:People like Wynn-Williams.
Grosse:Wynn-Williams, I remember, since you mention him, quite vividly now.
Weiner:You mentioned at one time that you were there at the time of the discovery of the neutron. Do you mean, in general?
Grosse:In general, not at the specific date and so forth -- I don’t know, let’s check back.
Weiner:The work was January and the publication was February of ‘32.
Grosse:Well, so I was there either coming to New York, -- yes, on this last trip in 1932, I was there in March, I believe. Or it could have been, I mean if it was the year before -- I think it was after the discovery of the neutron.
Weiner:Well, that would have been an interesting time, because February was the neutron and April was Cockcroft-Walton’s successful disintegration of lithium. So that was a very exciting time. What about the Paris visits? I’d like to know --
The Paris visit, well, I first came to Paris before I even went to England. I think I first -- well, I was visiting Paris, I mean, and on many occasions before I became involved with, and got to know Marie Curie, which was quite an experience. That was, and I believe I mentioned it last time, we were trying to get, or I was trying to get some radium residues in order to extract protactinium. I mentioned to you I think before, and it was a strange coincidence, the way history developed later, that Lise Meitner was more German than Otto Hahn. And she was telling me that “das Protactinium ist ein Deutsches element” and that we will never go either to the Belgians, or the Czechs to get the residues of radium ore, either from the Belgian Congo uranium ores, or from the ores in Joachimstal. And so I felt that, with my Shanghai boy attitude, that the proper way would be to get Marie Curie interested and see whether one could get some residues.
So I believe I met Mr. Hiram Halle in 1930, and so I believe I visited in 1930, I think on the way back, the Curie Laboratory, with the purpose of trying to get Marie Curie interested. Now, I would have to look back. I originally contacted Marie Curie in connection with my work with Aston on the origin of the actinium series, where we were interested, I was interested to prepare various samples of pure radiogenic lead, like thorium lead with an atomic weight of 208, or pure radium G, pure lead 206, that could be analyzed in Aston’s mass spectrometer and one could see exactly what the isotopic composition was. And here is where got some interesting leads (Pb’s) from Marie Curie, and I still have some of the Katanga minerals that she gave me, and those were passed on in the last two or three years to the Deutsches Museum in Munich, and they are being kept there, together with my protactinium preparations. So these things started, I think at the same time as Aston’s experiments. So I was going to Cambridge primarily to see Aston. I believe I was at the Curie Institute already much earlier, in 1928, I believe, the first time, after I did the protactinium work, which was in 1927. On my way to China from Berlin, I went through Paris, and then picked up the boat in Marseilles to go to China, to visit back my parents in Shanghai. And it was at that time, I believe, that I first met Marie Curie.
Weiner:Do you think you might have letters in that batch in the other room from that period?
Weiner:Some letter of introduction from Hahn or Meitner?
Grosse:No, no, wait a minute. At that time, you will find that there were a lot of letters, I mean, that we were at loggerheads with Hahn and Meitner. As I was telling you, I was a cocky individual, and I was not showing the proper respect, and I was going on my own to Marie Curie. So, there are I’m sure, some letters. I mean, we can easily check back through the publications, because the minerals that I got from Marie Curie are mentioned in my publications in the JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY or the PHYSICAL REVIEW on the actinium series, what I got when, and specifically what it was.
Weiner:What was your impression of the laboratory, its facilities and its atmosphere and style of work?
Grosse:Well, first, there is no question, it made a -- the very historic fact, that here was the woman that really, I mean, started the atomic age, in a way that was different from Becquerel, who discovered that the uranium ores had some kind of activity that would blacken the photographic plate. But then, from this effect, going to the millionfold greater activity of pure radium salts, which was the work of a chemist -- and I, as a chemist myself, always pride myself that this was the great chemical contribution, just as in my book the discovery of uranium fission was a purely chemical event. From then on, I mean, physics took over. And so my impression of the Curie Laboratory was that here was a group of dedicated people under Marie Curie’s leadership -- I mean Irene Curie developed to be a top notch scientist on her own. They had a number of people surrounding them, working in the field of pure chemistry, of radioactive elements. I mean, they were interested in actinium. She was interested also in protactinium. And the physicists were interested in radiation. The discovery of artificial radioactivity came a few years later. That was, I believe, in 1934 or thereabouts.
Weiner:Late ‘33, early ‘34.
Grosse:So I was there before these things happened. And --
Weiner:You were somewhat in awe of Marie Curie?
Grosse:There was no question of it. I mean, she was (awe-inspiring) -- just as Rutherford was, in a completely different way. Here was a woman, I mean, who came as a stranger to Paris, extremely modest individual, a very shy woman. I remember that I was present when she was interviewed by a correspondent of a Russian paper, in Paris, and she spoke Russian very fluently and easily, and I spoke Russian with her also. And there was absolutely no difficulty of convincing and getting her to help out with the thing. She was very much interested in the whole origin of the actinium series, because Debierne, who discovered actinium, did all that work in the happy days of her life -- I mean, shortly after the discovery of radium and polonium. And so, nobody had isolated substantial quantities of actinium. Here was a way, through protactinium, just have pure protactinium, which I already had at that time, just let it sit and milk off the actinium as it was being formed there.
Weiner:So she could react to your --
Grosse:-- oh sure, it was just a natural thing, and I think in her book on radioactivity, which was published, oh, a few years before she died, she describes the work of protactinium and the isolation of protactinium, and so she recognized a fellow chemist, and so it was no difficulty for me to persuade her to help out on the other.
Weiner:On these various trips to Paris, were you ever present at discussions or colloquia of the type that they would have there?
Grosse:Not so much as in Cambridge. I mean, I remember discussing things with Irene Curie, with Joliot Curie, with Haissinsky.
Weiner:Who was the last person?
Grosse:Haissinsky. He was a chemist, and I met him, I mean, a few times subsequently. I would not know exactly -- there were a number of workers. There was Theng Da Chang, a Chinese, and people that were particularly interested in protactinium chemistry. I would have to check back in my notes to see whom I met there, in the Rue Pierre Curie, I mean, right close to the Sorbonne.
Weiner:Was Gentner there on one of your trips?
Grosse:Not that I recall. I have met Gentner later.
Weiner:He was a fellow there, but you have -- may have missed -- ‘32 to ‘34, he was a fellow.
Grosse:Yes, I don’t recall.
Weiner:Well, this is a good impression. I wanted that reaction of yours.
Grosse:I would like to just mention that Marie Curie made the impression, at that time of her life -- I mean, she was around 70 or close to that -- of a Buddhist monk from Tibet. She didn’t give much attention to her appearance as a woman. She was completely dedicated to science, and I think so was Irene Curie also. And she had, I mean, a few grey whiskers and a little grey beard, and what was the -- I mean, she was a luminous personality, in the same sense that Peter Kapitsa made a wonderful expression, I mean impression, with his deep blue eyes. He would sort of penetrate you and you would feel that you are here looking at infinite pools of light. And Marie Curie had something of that same moral magnitude, and this is the best way I can describe it at this time.
Weiner:What was her attire like, when you saw her?
Grosse:I would say, grey. I remember, speaking of that, that I met one of the French professors, let me tell you -- I have it right here -- the man I mean is G. Chaudron, who is the president of the French Society for High Temperatures.
Weiner:That’s an appropriate name for him.
Grosse:Chaudron -- very right. And he said, he was supposed to make some -- no, he wanted some analysis be made, or he was supposed to make some analysis for Marie Curie, back in 1900 or 1910, in those years, and he said, “In the quarter yard of the Sorbonne, in the middle of the quadrangle, there,” he saw a woman modestly dressed, and thought, here is Marie Curie, let me find out, when can I report to her and so forth. And that was not Marie Curie, but it was his future wife. That’s how he got acquainted. And he said, “By no means mention this to my wife, because she doesn’t like to be compared as a woman with Marie Curie,” because Marie Curie at that time was evidently not concerned with her appearance. And so she was completely dedicated to science and only concerned with that.
Weiner:When you came, Frederick Joliot was on the scene.
Grosse:Right, he was on the scene.
Weiner:Did you have any interaction with him? You said you met him and talked to him.
Grosse:Well, I talked to him, but I was more interested in various chemical questions, with Irene Curie; but I met him, and I saw that he was an outstanding physicist. Now, I had the privilege of working with a lot of outstanding physicists, never claiming to be one, but I mean, having been subjected on the one hand to the luminaries in Berlin, like Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Niels Bohr, and the various others that were gathered at the colloquia at the Physical Institute in Berlin, or at the Haber Institute, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physical Chemistry -- I mean, I was already subjected at an early age, I mean by that 21 or 20 even, to the most outstanding physicists of our generation. So Joliot-Curie was in that category. And of course he proved it, through the discovery of artificial radioactivity.
Weiner:I’d like to get back to –-
Grosse:-- but since you mention, I remember, in the formative days, I was -- when they were trying to explain the experiments of Bothe, before the discovery of the neutron by Chadwick, I was in the experiment that they were carrying out at the Laboratoire Curie, in regard to that radiation, and so that is when I was seeing Joliot-Curie and Irene Curie in action, not only on the successful experiments of the discovery of artificial radioactivity, but their unsuccessful attempts of interpretation, what the beta radiation was all about.
Weiner:Would this be the latter part of 1931?
Grosse:Right, before the -- before Chadwick really pinned it down. So I was there right while these things were going on.
Weiner:How long were your visits to the Paris Laboratory?
Grosse:Well, for a few days. Just a few days on the trip.
Weiner:Most of that time was spent with the chemistry problems that you --
Grosse:-- well, I mean, I would say off and on. There were a lot of other attractions in Paris.
Weiner:The thing I wanted to get back to before sort of fits in now, because it deals with the neutron. You did a paper in 1933 on the mass of the neutron, a paper from Chicago. What was it that led you to your interest in that subject?
Grosse:Well, I was a chemist. I mean, the neutron had a particular attraction to every chemist, just like Fermi’s elements 93 and 94 were beyond the range of usual chemistry. Here is an element with atomic number 0. And so from a chemist’s standpoint, it was again a substance that nuclearly could react with everything else, and at that time of course the difficulty was (and Lise Meitner was particularly interested in this thing) that whereas the alpha particles have all the same energy of the atomic disintegration, the beta particles had all kinds of energy. They were giving this energy distribution curve, and the question is, where was this excess or defect of energy from the average coming from, in each individual nucleus? Before Fermi came, with his theory of beta decaying with the neutrino, --
Weiner:-- the beta decay --
Grosse:-- the beta decay, we’re talking about. And Lise Meitner was really the world’s best specialist on beta decay at that time. And this was puzzling every physicist, as to how to explain conservation of matter and energy, if the energy varies from atom to atom; or to be more specific, from nucleus to nucleus. And so there had to be some kind of mechanism. And how many years later was the neutrino, the little neutrino of Enrico Fermi, discovered? That was just in the last few years, wasn’t it?
Weiner:In the mid-fifties I think, somewhere.
Grosse:Well, when they were discovered, tremendous penetrating power, going through mountains and so forth, so these experiments with carbon tetrachloride had to be made to prove the production of artificial radioactivity with neutrinos.
Weiner:So you were saying that this general interest, from a chemical standpoint, that you started off describing, led you to the neutron paper. Was there any discussion in Chicago at the time?
Grosse:Well, there was discussion with Eckart, with Arthur Compton and Dempster and so forth. I got their advice. There I was, in Chicago, though I was professor at the chemistry department, but they always had their teas, at the physics department, every month, where somebody would present a paper. And I remember vividly how a young Chinese student was there, because...Compton had an international group of students on cosmic rays, and was offered a cup of tea, and so in his new English he would say, “Thank you very much for the tea, Madame or Sir, whatever the case may be.” That was the way it was written in the book. But that’s where I met Dempster and the man who was later involved in the Manhattan Project on beryllium at the University of Chicago. I mean, I have been meeting all the physicists there.
Weiner:Allison, I guess you mean.
Grosse:That’s the one I was thinking of, Allison, and Millikan was there, and I think the head of the department was originally Dean Gale, who was Michelson’s assistant. Well, Chicago was then I mean really the cradle of American physics, originally with Michelson and Millikan and Arthur Compton.
Weiner:Harkins in the chemistry department had a great deal to say about the neutron. Were you aware if his -- in the discussions?
Grosse:Obviously that was one of the attractions. Now, let me tell you, Harkins was really not appreciated in the early days in this country, because he was a phenomenal genius, in this sense, that he was a physicist, a physical chemist, he was interested in nuclear science; he did a lot of work on artificial transmutation; he was perhaps one of the first to show, just like Rutherford did, I mean with his experiments on the splitting of the nitrogen nuclei, he was doing similar work. But there was nobody in the whole country that could appreciate that. Now, the group with Michelson, Millikan, and Arthur Compton established the tradition of physics, but to them Harkins was not a physicist. He was a physical chemist because he was professor of chemistry and teaching chemistry to students. And so, I believe Harkins was not appreciated by the few physicists, and there were very few that actually were working in the nuclear area. Now, Arthur Compton was not working. He was interested in cosmic rays. And it was Millikan that suggested, I mean, that here were nuclei of various light elements like oxygen and helium and so forth, in cosmic radiation. But by and large, I mean, they were not interested in radioactivity per se. The only man that was interested was Boltwood at Yale, originally, but he passed away already 1910, and then it was S.C. Lind at the University of Minnesota who was studying the effect of alpha particles on various chemical reactions. And I would think you would have a hard time finding two or three other people who were really interested in atomic or nuclear science, as one had in Europe and as it was in the days of Montreal, with Rutherford and Soddy working there, and Otto Hahn.
Weiner:Did you discuss the neutron with Harkins? Did you have really any interaction with him in terms of --
Grosse:Oh, certainly. We were exchanging, I mean, all our notes and impressions, and I remember also discussions with him, after Fermi’s 93 and 94, because we did these experiments in the old laboratory that is still highly polluted right now, at the old chemistry building at the University of Chicago. So I was one of the very few individuals with whom he could discuss these things. I remember his assistant was Gavid Gantz, and we had many discussions with him. And I used to pass by and see Harkins practically once a week or every two weeks, for eight years or so.
Weiner:He claimed some priority on the neutron, not challenging Chadwick, but wanting to point out that in fact he had talked about the existence of a neutron, much as Rutherford had done --
Grosse:Well, that is very possible, because Harkins had universal genius in a way. I had many discussions with him on surface tension phenomena, which I particularly appreciated in later years when I started working on soap bubbles. Harkins, I mean, did so many things in so many fields that he was a fascinating individual to discuss with, and you could jump from one topic to another. And as an experimentalist, he was top-notch.
Weiner:Yet he was isolated from the physicists, you were saying.
Grosse:Well, not isolated -- but the thing is, they said, “Here is a chemist” -- look, 90 percent of his interests were completely outside the realm of their comprehension or interest. And on some of the things -- I mean, Michelson was interested in high precision measurements, I did not need Michelson at that time. Robert Millikan at that time was already in Pasadena, and so Arthur Compton was interested in cosmic rays and had a lot of individuals coming to his laboratory, joining him in trips all over the world. Dempster was interested in mass spectrometry –- and the various other people, like Allison and -- we can take a look at all the other people who were in that laboratory -- by and large, they had enough contacts at the Quadrangle Club and so forth, to exchange notes. But there was not any kind of a close relationship. At least that was my feeling. And my feeling is that Harkins felt it keenly. I think if he would have been in Europe, where he would have had contact with whatever laboratory was right close by with some of the other chemists, he would have been recognized as one of the outstanding world leaders, and be effective.
Weiner:The question of the neutron is something I want to explore a little more. How did you first learn of it, of the discovery of the neutron?
Grosse:Well, I heard it whenever the news came out, that that was the same thing that Bothe was having in his hands, that Joliot-Curie and Irene Curie both had! Bothe -- I’m always saying Bethe because I worked with Bethe later on -- and it was not Hans Bethe, whom I met many years later of the carbon nuclear cycle. So I was interested in what was going on there. I knew of Rutherford’s ideas, that there should be a neutron, so that the charge of any nuclei which wouldn’t amount to the mass with all the protons, there had to be something. So the news that the neutron was discovered spread over the very small group of individuals. How many people do you think were interested in those years in nuclear science? Something like twenty. So you’ll see, with the correspondence of Aston, George Gamow, Hevesy and so forth, that as soon as one knew it, all the others would know it. It was a very close knit world community that was communicating things to each other.
Weiner:From 1932 on, the proportion of papers in nuclear physics in the worlds physics journals increased steadily, jumped from 32 to 33, from a very small fraction to about 18 percent, and then up --
Grosse:-- well, it was mostly the discovery of the neutron, the possibility of artificial disintegration, the fact that you just had to mix, and believe told you this story, how Fermi was mixing radium salts with beryllium to have a source of neutrons. Did mention to you the experiment that happened at Columbia? Where he was preparing -- Fermi was preparing an artificial neutron source? I think we covered that the last time.
Weiner:No, we want to get to that. (crosstalk)
Grosse:-- good. Anyway, that was the means of all kinds of people making experiments very easily.
Weiner:So your letter on the mass of the neutron, this was at the time when there were some experimental efforts at Berkeley and the Cavendish on determining the mass of the neutron?
Grosse:Well, I wouldn’t say that this was independent of it.
Weiner:By experimental, I mean a kind of conjecture --
Grosse:It was a conjecture, I mean, after discussing it with I believe Eckart particularly, who --
Grosse:Yes, at the University of Chicago, and with Arthur Compton to some extent. I mean Compton was also interested, how come this discrepancy occurs, that alpha particles all have the same range for a particular radioactive element, the range is the same, for alpha particles -- and for beta, it goes from practically zero over a maximum, then to very high energies, and where is the mass going to come from?
Weiner:But you didn’t pick that up any more, you wrote that and then –-
Grosse:-- that was the end.
Weiner:The next nuclear physics involvement was on the radioactive indicators, and that paper which we talked about before, 1934.
Grosse:As a chemist. At that time we should not forget that I was deeply involved with Vladimir Ipatieff and Hans Tropsch in catalytic chemistry. In contrast to the experiments of Paneth and Hevesy, where one could use only the natural radioactive elements, as Paneth originally used with radioactive lead like thorium-B, to mark lead atoms to study various chemical reactions in lead and the other radioactive elements -- now, suddenly, with the discovery of the neutron, and Fermi’s discovery that bombarding all elements in the periodic system, from 1 to 92 and beyond -- you can make everything radioactive -- it gave a tremendous possibility of investigating every chemical reaction by means of radioactive indicators.
Weiner:And here you report in this article in 1935, which was published in March, ‘35 -- it was submitted January, 1935 -- you did use sodium bromide.
Grosse:May I take a look at it.
Weiner:It was a question of a specific use of radioactive indicators in a chemical process, but you were trying to extend it and to say that this is --
Grosse:-- this was essentially to demonstrate the feasibilities and the possibilities. Now, we were fortunate that we got radium salts from Dr. Cutler at Michael Reese Hospital. He was a man that had a few grams of radium at his disposal, and so we were getting, on a loan basis from him, radium, which we did not take out. We used it with the capsules. Having a very large quantity, I mean, one didn’t care whether it was 50 percent efficient or only 20. We put this with beryllium and we had a source to make, I mean in this case radioactive sodium bromide, and just demonstrate the various possibilities. And this was the time when a lot of chemical investigations were started with a lot of radioactive elements. This was maybe one of the first ones.
Weiner:I know, I think it’s -- I notice this acknowledges support, partial support from the Chemical Foundation that we were talking about at lunch.
Weiner:That must have come not to you directly but probably to Harkins or someone?
Grosse:No, I’m pretty sure -- I will have to re-check, and I’m sure we will have letters on this thing, because I was careful not to throw letters out, and so they should be in the whole volumes of letters that I have available.
Weiner:We should check this out. And Agruss -- he was a fellow?
Grosse:He was my PhD student, and got his PhD on the isolation of protactinium, the technical extraction of protactinium.
Weiner:I see. He was a Stieglitz fellow --
Grosse:Julius Stieglitz, who was the brother of the famous photographer in New York, and it was Julius Stieglitz who made the arrangements and got him to be my PhD candidate. And since it was recently established that I got polluted with Pa, and I mentioned to you that I have something of the order of one micro-curie of Pa plus all the daughter products, I would like to know, and I haven’t ascertained yet, I haven’t checked, where Agruss is at this time. The same applies to my assistant Lyle Boorst, who is a physicist or became a physicist, who was also working with me on the preparation of metallic protactinium back in 1934 and 1935. At that time, we had something like half a gram of Pa, with actinium and the daughter products, available. So that’s quite a large dose of radioactivity.
Weiner:Weren’t you aware of some of the precautions that should be taken?
Grosse:Look, I first of all want to go on record that a little radioactivity is good and makes your mind scintillate and stimulates your mind. I’ve known all the old timers, like Marie Curie, Irene Curie, Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner, that lived up to the age of 87 and 85, Rutherford and many others, that -- I mean, were in good health. They had much larger doses of radioactivity. We were not trying to just smear oneself with radioactivity. But I think small amounts of radioactivity are good for you. There is always a difference in various parts of the world between the natural dose of radioactivity that one gets, and I think that the danger that the present young generation has is highly exaggerated, myself.
Weiner:But at the time these weren’t issues for you, you just were working normally.
Grosse:Wait a second we did take precautions. I mean, we knew that Marie Curie probably did inhale a hell of a lot of radium emanation. We were careful. But primarily, our main concern was that we wouldn’t pollute the experiments of one day for the days in future. So the thing is, we used to just spread newspapers -- this was the old tradition of Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner -- and periodically every month or two, take all the newspapers off the lab table, throw them out and put a fresh batch in, so that there would be no possibility of contamination.
Weiner:Where did you throw them out to?
Grosse:Well, we were not concerned, as long as they were not in the laboratory, and far away at that time. But I was surrounded. I mean, for ten years, first isolating small quantities of protactinium, two milligrams, then something like 40 milligrams at I.G. Farben, till I brought half a gram to the University of Chicago. And so our main concern was that our instruments, our alpha and beta -- electroscopes, were not contaminated, for the experiments would be misrepresented and lead to misinterpretation of the results, if that would happen. And of course we wanted to conserve everything, and I think we did pretty good. If I had one micro-curie out of something like half a gram of Pa that got into my body, we may have lost a thousand times larger amounts. I would like to know how much I had 40 years ago and 30 years ago. And one could of course perhaps check back and find out from animal experiments how much would survive 40 years later. But I think the amounts would be still infinitesimally small, so that the yield and recovery was 99.99 percent. But it evidently was lost, by vaporization and volatilization, because I must have inhaled the protactinium, and that which remains is embodied right now in this narrow region around the chest.
Weiner:Were you aware of any studies that were being started then on the biological effects of radiation? For example, from about 1935 Robley Evans, or even earlier, but in a strong way in 1935, he was involved in such experiments.
Grosse:Well, I’d known of the original -- Robley Evans got involved, and you’ll see that in the article on artificial radioactivity, it was Robley Evans who determined the radioactivity of the rocks that I was using. But it was at that time that it happened in Chicago that a number of women, who were employed in luminous watch dial operations dipping little paint brushes with their tongues and dipping it in the radium paint, got involved and got poisoned by radium. But going back to Marie Curie’s experiments -- she was not anxious to get radium into her body, I mean, in a way that would be careless. She did inhale tremendous amounts of radium emanation, in the course of years, and she crystallized pure radium salts with her fingers, and bringing them from one beaker to the other, small amounts must have gotten into her system.
Weiner:When did you first meet Evans, by the way?
Grosse:It was around those years, I mean shortly after I came to Chicago. I think I met Robley Evans already in California, at the same time that I met Bill Libby (Willard F. Libby), who first measured the beta rays of actinium, back in 1932 or 1933 at Berkeley.
Weiner:That’s when Evans was a fellow there.
Grosse:Right, and that was in the days of G.N. Lewis, and another exciting experiment was Harold Urey’s discovery of deuterium, and G.N. Lewis showed me the first samples of heavy water. That was of course a thrill to a chemist, to see that here was certainly hydrogen that weighed twice as much as the old hydrogen of Cavendish.
Weiner:That brings me to the next question, about the amount of traveling and contact with other scientific work that you had, once you were settled in the United States. Did you go to the American Chemical Society meetings primarily?
Grosse:The trip to California was on account of our good friends and the godmother of my son, Lolita Mitchell. She, the daughter of J. Ogden Armour, had her particular estate in California, at Santa Barbara. And we had a chance during vacation time to make a motor trip, following the tradition of my father and mother, who came to this country in 1899 and covered the whole continent from New York, on their honeymoon trip. Where does one have to go? Niagara Falls, so they went to Niagara Falls, and from there to Chicago, from Chicago all the way to San Francisco. And so since we were in Chicago, I felt that I was sort of tradition-bound to make the trip from Chicago to California, to San Francisco. So we got a car and traveled all the way out there, and visited Lolita Mitchell in Santa Barbara. And on the way back I took the opportunity to visit Berkeley.
Weiner:Did you see Lawrence’s laboratory then?
Grosse:I don’t recall exactly when met Lawrence. I believe it could have been at that time or just a few years later, because it was a number of occasions that I came to California afterwards.
Weiner:How about other places? How about meetings, I asked before?
Grosse:Yes. I was a member of the American Chemical Society, and Universal Oil Products and particularly Mr. Hiram J. Halle were highly liberal, so that in view of my interest in radioactivity, and the oil interests, we had opportunities to go to various meetings at the American Chemical Society. And of course, I remember visiting Cal Tech, and I was not at the observatory there, but I remember, I think it was Millikan that was then head of Cal Tech.
Weiner:So you got around pretty much. In 1935, you decided to visit Columbia. Can you tell the background of that?
Grosse:First, I knew the work. I mean, there were very few laboratories in the country that were interested in nuclear science, and one that I was reading about was the work of Dunning and Pegram. And so, with my European background, I felt that Dunning was the old timer that didn’t know much about what was going on, but that he had a young student, Pegram, that was doing all the work, and they were publishing, with the old timer being the senior author and the younger one second. So when I arrived, I think it was 1934 or 35, in New York, at one of the trips for UOP, because the headquarters of Mr. Hiram Halle’s place was right in New York City -- to visit Columbia. And there I distinctly remember that I was going first, I knew that the physics department was in the Pupin Building... [off tape]
Weiner:You were talking about your visit to Columbia and your expectations.
Grosse:Right. So I remember vividly I mean, I went down to the basement and was saying I would like to meet the young scientist, the physicist, who was doing very interesting work on neutrons, Dr. Pegram. And there was a young fellow sitting there in the cyclotron room or in the adjoining room to the cyclotron and said, “Why do you want to see Pegram?” And I said, “Well, he was doing some very interesting work with Dunning, and I suppose Dunning doesn’t know anything about the work, he’s the old timer, and Pegram is doing all the work.” And then that fellow put out his hand and said, “I’m Dunning.” And that’s how I got acquainted with John Dunning, and later he introduced me to Dean Pegram, and found out that I got things mixed up, and it was the first author that did the main work and got acquainted with John Dunning. It was in the year 1934 or 35, very early in the game.
Weiner:Were they already working on the cyclotron? That would fix the date, because I know that date.
Grosse:Well, the cyclotron was there already.
Weiner:They started in 1935 on the cyclotron.
Grosse:All right, so it could have been 1935. I don’t know exactly what date it was. But that could be established. It was, I believe, during a summer time. Now, that was already when Fermi claimed to have elements 93 and 94. We did not discuss those, any of these things, or that the Fermi interpretation was not correct, because at that time, after Fermi made the experiments -- you see, my whole involvement with Fermi was that the way he described the chemical properties of elements 93 and 94, I checked them first experimentally with protactinium, and found that the same reaction that he claimed for 93 and 94, precipitation with manganese dioxide and so forth, were also given by protactinium. And so I said: his interpretation may be wrong. It could be due to the fact that he was producing not an element beyond 92, but going downward. And I sent to Rome samples of pure Pa so that he could check these experiments. In the meantime, the articles that you know in NATURE and in some other journals were published, and that’s what got Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner involved in the whole Grosse-Fermi controversy, as they called it. It was Otto Hahn in his memoirs who said this is the thing that prompted him and Lise Meitner to check back, whether Fermi was correct or I was correct. And at that time, since they proved that I was wrong, Fermi had to be correct. I mean all these years from 1934 to 1939, when the discovery of fission was really made by Hahn and Strassman.
Weiner:But there was no discussion of this when you went you went strictly to talk about neutrons?
Grosse:Strictly to talk about neutrons, and the various fascinating things that happened. I mean, artificial radioactivity was then known. The neutron was discovered before that, because Dunning was making experiments and I wanted to know, I mean, the few individuals outside of S.C. Lind whom I met my first year when I came to this country there was practically nobody else working in this realm of science.
Weiner:How long did you stay at Columbia, for that --?
Grosse:Oh, maybe that was -- I was in New York for probably a few days, and stayed for an hour and got acquainted. John Dunning is an extremely jovial individual, and we got along famously, and that was the basic reason that later I came on some other occasions. Then when the fission story broke, with Hahn and Lise Meitner, of course I suggested to John immediately: “let’s find out whether protactinium can be fissioned also.” And that’s when the discovery of protactinium fission took place, shortly afterward.
Hoddeson:You were in Chicago when the discovery was announced?
Grosse:Right. So then corresponded with John -- right, immediately with John, and suggested that, what does he think about protactinium. And then already we had the question, which one of the uranium isotopes was involved in this thing? And I think you’ll recall that after the discovery of fission of Pa, Niels Bohr developed his theory of the nuclear droplets, and he first said that, I mean, protactinium would be fissioned by slow neutrons. And then it developed that it was not fissioned. And then the theory was adjusted to the experimental facts. And all this is part of the record in the PHYSICAL REVIEW.
Weiner:Lillian has a number of questions on that –-
Hoddeson:-- if you could answer one of the questions, the article you wrote on the fission of protactinium, along with Booth and Dunning, actually a letter to the PHYSICAL REVIEW in which you showed that –-
Grosse:Radioactive rubidium and cesium were formed. The same products as were found in the fission of uranium and thorium.
Hoddeson:But this is fast neutron fission and not slow neutron fission. The last sentence, “These results further emphasize the importance of direct experimental investigation of fission of the separated isotopes of uranium.” And this was because it was just theoretical speculation?
Grosse:Yes, in other words, the Bohr-Wheeler theory came post factum after the discovery of fission took place, and I mean, in the case of protactinium, it did not interpret or predict the results that we found with protactinium. Bohr and Wheeler found that they made an error in their calculations. Bohr and Wheeler felt that Uranium-235 would be more likely to fission, for certain theoretical considerations. Again, these theoretical considerations, in the minds of many people, were on very flimsy grounds. Enrico Fermi, who was both a theoretical physicist and an experimental one, made the bet with us, shortly before the fission of Uranium-235 was discovered, and he said it this way: “For some theoretical reason, it is more likely that Uranium-235 will be fissioned. On the other hand, the Almighty created Uranium-238 in abundances hundred-forty times greater than Uranium-235. So at the present time, I’m making a bet with you, 50-50, that the chances are, that it is 238 or 235, are one to one.” We made the bet also with Dean Pegram, but he never paid us off, because after the discovery that U-235 was responsible, we of course knew that the capture cross-section for slow neutrons would be so great that it was absolutely sure that if Uranium-235 could be concentrated, that a chain reaction would have to take place in concentrated Uranium-235, and from that moment on there was so much excitement that we forgot all about the bets.
Weiner:Did you get in touch with Bohr or Wheeler -- whether it was you or Dunning or Pegram or Fermi -- regarding the findings on protactinium?
Grosse:No, not to my memory. The thing is that Bohr and Wheeler published their results. I mean, it could have been instantly interpreted. It could have been possible that Fermi got in touch with them, but I don’t know about that. But let me tell you, for example, that sometimes communications are extremely slow. As I mentioned to you, I sent to Fermi some pure protactinium to Rome, which I understand from Amaldi whom I met many years later in Rome, is still being kept in Rome. I found out that Fermi did use my protactinium to check, but he never published those results, except in his patent on the fission of uranium, which -- we may have covered that before, but I found out about that only about ten years ago or eight years ago. In other words, since the time when I met him at Columbia in 1939 was 20 years later or so that I find out the experiment. We just didn’t come to discuss old time things because there were so many new things to discuss.
Hoddeson:I want to go back to the point I started trying to refer to. After the work on the protactinium fission was done, did you then go right into the work on the U-235?
Grosse:Well, first of all, let me tell you, we immediately tried to get busy with all the mass spectrometer people that we knew, namely Dempster, Bainbridge, Al Nier.
Hoddeson:Whose idea was it to use mass spectrometry?
Grosse:That was the only way that we knew for sure that you could separate. We wanted to have a small sample of Uranium-235. Now, Aston was doing that work originally with UF6. Well, Aston was not in the picture anymore. Al Nier I know, and he was doing the same experiments on the lead samples that Aston was investigating. I had already met Al Nier many years before I met John Dunning, and I prepared various samples of leads for his mass spectroscopic investigations. I also knew Dempster from the days in Chicago. So we were trying to prevail on any one of them to see whether they could separate some Uranium-235 from Uranium-238. The other group was the one at General Electric, Pollock and K.H. Kingdon. And so we got in touch with all of them to see whether you could get some sample. I remember John Dunning wrote to Al Nier. I wrote to Al Nier. I believe my letters to Al Nier are with the AEC right now, and Al Nier was the first one to produce samples, an invisible sample of Uranium-235, on a platinum strip, with some amounts that were clearly visible, of Uranium-238 on a ii platinum strip. And that was the thing that was --
Hoddeson:He did that work at Minnesota.
Grosse:He was doing that at Minnesota, but we were in close touch. So that’s how that part started. So we were waiting and waiting, you know. Now, in the meantime we were thinking, since we didn’t know whether Uranium-235 was responsible, Fermi was going ahead on the basis that he didn’t have to separate them, he’ll use the natural uranium for this thing. So he went ahead with Herbert Anderson, and Walter Zinn, and I joined Columbia, I mean, after we did the protactinium business, I went back to UOP in Riverside, and then on December 1, I left Chicago for good, because I felt this was going to be an exciting time. And with my whole family and my son, we moved over to New York and to Columbia.
Weiner:You mean you moved your household goods and everything?
Grosse:Everything. I left, I mean, and resigned from the UOP.
Weiner:I didn’t know that, I thought you took a leave of absence.
Weiner:Was the Chicago arrangement, with Halle’s support and all that --
Grosse:-- look, Halle was giving us full support and continued his support and helped, I mean, when we were at Columbia. And Halle was the first one, and we had lunches together with Fermi and John Dunning (and others) with Halle. He was the one that gave us support for filing patent applications that you see. We were requesting compensation from the AEC. Halle was wholly involved and helpful to us in this whole thing. He may have thought in his own mind that we were crazy, like many other people thought, but he did give us full support and help from the UOP patent lawyers and so forth, in their patent department.
Weiner:When you went back to Chicago in the interim, let’s say August of ‘39 to December 1st, was there any work on fission going on there that you got involved in?
Grosse:No, not in Chicago. There was nothing going on in Chicago at that time. The work that Allison started I mean, came much later.
Weiner:There was a cyclotron by that time at Chicago, or Harkins was trying to build one or get one.
Grosse:Harkins was trying to build one, but the thing is, the Columbia one was in full operation. And so after the fission was established, right, there was no necessity to do a lot of additional cyclotron work. At Columbia.
Weiner:I see, that’s where it was useful --
Grosse:It was useful to establish this fact. Then we knew -- look, why did we know? First of all, we had Harold Urey at Columbia, He was the man that first separated deuterium from protium. I called both of the isotopes hydrogen, so to me, I’m not saying one separated deuterium from hydrogen, one separated deuterium from protium. It’s the same chemical element. So he did that first. Then Harold Urey was successful in separating carbon-l3 from carbon-l2, using exchange reactions, and nitrogen-l5 from nitrogen-l4. So we knew at Columbia that basically, one can separate isotopes by a whole continuous process of either chemical reactions or what have you. John Dunning had the idea of using diffusion, and it is essentially John Dunning -- it is not appreciated that here was a completely new type physical process envisaged, in all its aspects of chemical engineering from A to Z, in his little notebooks. Now, John Dunning, many times when we had discussions, would put the things down in his notebook. And the whole essential aspects of the diffusion plant, as far as the physics were concerned, were put down in his notebooks. This came to the attention of the AEC 20 years later, when these books were classified. Originally, all the essential information on the diffusion process was in John’s notebooks. And in my experimental notebooks, where I did all the chemistry and was advising to John as to, first of all, we needed a gaseous compound. The only one that was readily available was Uranium-UF6 as a gas, but it was extremely corrosive and it reacted with gold and platinum, so John asked me, “What materials can we use for this?” Now, this is still top secret. I was the one, and I can’t tell you about it. I can tell you only that all my information is in my notebooks. My notebooks were in the hands of the AEC for years, and they are still not classified, and I got them back unclassified, because the AEC probably felt that at this late date, after well, it was before the compensation board, I mean, something like 10, 12 years ago, and I mean, this work was done in 1939 and ‘40, so that was 22 years after. It’s no use to classify something that was not classified for 22 years. And so here you have a strange situation. In spite of the top secrecy, I can go on record that I intend to keep that secret till my dying days, but this is the way the top secrets were kept. And the thing is that the real materials that are useful for the main part, the diffusion process, namely the diffusion barrier, that thing is still top secret and nobody knows about it. And I’m sure that all the people in the AEC, and I have recently the privilege and the honor to meet Dixie Lee Ray, she doesn’t know, or none of the members of the Commission.
Hoddeson:Is there any special reason why Nier’s name is first, in the letter to the PHYSICAL REVIEW?
Grosse:Look, the reason is very obvious. The thing is, we were trying to impress Al Nier. Al Nier was the crucial man, and since this thing was done primarily at Columbia, that we put Al Nier’s name first -- he didn’t suggest the idea, I mean to do this thing. But we were, let me tell you, we are four friends. I don’t know whether there is a picture of all four. I think there is one -- no, wait a minute, I don’t think there is. Not here. I have them at home. We were the top sort of friendliest team that you can imagine, never any hint of jealousy or anything else. Gene Booth was an outstanding experimentalist. I mean, he could do things that nobody else could do. John Dunning was also an outstanding experimentalist, but he was originally an electronic engineer, that he had the vision of the whole diffusion process from A to Z. I mean, involving all the -- a few thousand different stages for the separation. The fact that one would have to use tremendous energy for pumping and so forth. He said, “A.V., you do the chemistry, I know nothing about that, but you made UF6 for Aston, so, if you can help a Nobel Prize winner, you can help me.” So this is how these things were going on.
Hoddeson:I’d like to know more about the day to day work and the atmosphere in the laboratory.
Grosse:Well, let me tell you, the day to day work at Columbia was out of this world. It was completely unusual. Now, we usually used to come to the laboratory shortly before noon. We then, after discussing a few things that had to be discussed, adjourned to the Faculty Club, going over from the Pupin Building to the Faculty Club of Columbia on Morningside Drive, and there usually we met Fermi and Herbert Anderson and Dean Pegram, and there were certain tables for chemists, and I was sometimes joining Harold Urey with the chemists, but I was essentially the only chemist in the physics department. And so we were exchanging notes on the various affairs of the world. That was the time when Hitler was on the rampage. And Fermi, by and large, was the best political predictor of anyone in the group. He always realized that things would not happen as rapidly as you expect. And he would be able to have the best batting score on what the developments would be, and we discussed all kinds of things we knew that we would be involved (in) sooner or later. Then, I mean after this luncheon period, we would go back to the labs and order a lot of things, up to five o’clock, and do all the various chores before the experiments could start. Then we knew, at five the students would be out of the way. Then we would prepare everything for the experiment that we wanted to do in the night. Then we would go over, back to either the Faculty Club or Butler Hall and have our dinner, and after dinner only in other words, around seven o’clock or eight o’clock, we worked then from eight o’clock, no time limit, whatever the experiment took. We were completely undisturbed. It was in the middle of the night. We worked many times till two or three o’clock in the morning, and then slept till about eleven o’clock the next day. And so this was a completely unique opportunity.
Hoddeson:Did you have any students or assistants?
Grosse:No, very few at that time. Let me tell you, we had practically no money. For example, a lot of the chemicals I bought on my own money. I mean, a budget of $100 a month was unheard-of. We did try to get money here and there, and John Dunning was an expert in trying to promote cancer research and get some money, I mean from the cyclotron -- so all kinds of schemes were used to get something started.
Hoddeson:Did you participate in the life of the physics department?
Grosse:Right. This was a very close-knit department. I mean, the thing is, there were colloquia on all kinds of subjects, and we met at lunch practically every day. Rabi was there. Ed Teller was there. And a lot of people visiting Columbia, for the simple reason it was known that here is where a lot of things were happening. The visitors from Europe were going through Columbia; Jean Perrin, the father of Francis Perrin, came to Columbia. I mean, there was a “limitless” number of interesting people that were coming to Columbia in those years.
Hoddeson:Did the members of the physics department know what you were doing in detail? Rabi, for example?
Grosse:Not in detail necessarily. You know, Rabi was not an experimentalist. I mean, Rabi is a brilliant individual, but they say, if you wanted to have somebody “to mess up an experiment,” just ask Rabi to “participate for 15 minutes.” But that doesn’t mean that Rabi didn’t converse and discuss the various things with the various people. There was not a large group. There was Quimby. There was George Pegram. There was John Dunning. There was Walter Zinn. There was Herbert Anderson. There was George Well. And so we all met practically every day.
Hoddeson:Szilard was there.
Grosse:Leo Szilard was there. I should have mentioned that I met Leo Szilard when he was Einstein’s assistant in Berlin. And of course Eugene Wigner would come in once in a while. The whole group that was involved and interested in these things. For example, Glenn Seaborg would suddenly pop up, together with Kennedy, and they were two fellows, I mean, this tall, and we were setting up with Eugene Booth the thermodiffusion columns, and we said the Kennedy-Seaborg team is the one that one would need. Seaborg could lift Kennedy on his shoulders, and he would be able to touch the ceiling in this room, and then both of them could look at the bottom, to pick up samples from top and bottom of the column. So I mean, we had visitors from California, or those people going to Chicago. But the group all over the country was extremely small, I mean, you could count something like 10, 15 individuals.
Weiner:How about the problem of secrecy with all of this? When did that first come into the picture at Columbia?
Grosse:Well, this was initiated by the Columbia group and particularly by Leo Szilard. The thing is, we recognized –- I mean, not instantly but as time went on -- that this was a tremendous power that was placed in our hands. Now, the individuals that were involved that I mentioned –- I mean, there was Beams at the University of Virginia who was interested in the centrifuge separation. There was R.D. Fowler, who produced the uranium hexafluoride at Johns Hopkins. And you could count the few individuals. So to keep a secret, after it was recognized, we knew who were the people that knew something about it. So to get an agreement between those was comparatively easy, after the uranium committee, with Lyman Briggs as chairman of the uranium committee of the Bureau of Standards I mean, it was a comparatively simple arrangement. All the implications, what it involved, all the legislation, all that came later.
Hoddeson:Were you in touch with the work that was going on in France and England?
Grosse:Well, to some extent, since we knew personally of those. But don’t forget, very shortly afterwards -- I mean, we started, I was at Columbia in 1939, December, and the war in Europe was already going on. Everything in France was shot to pieces already. Now, in England, we knew that they were interested. Harold Urey and I, we were visiting Canada, We saw a number of, let’s see --
Weiner:Foster at McGill?
Grosse:No, wait a minute, first of all the man that came over -- well, not the old Foster and not the young John Foster who was later director of research and development, but the key people in Canada were people that came to Canada -- were the English delegation with G.P. Thomson, J.J.’s son, Thomson who came over. Then mean, a number of refugees from Germany that were working in England, and a lot of them came through Columbia. Take for example Rasseti, who was Fermi’s assistant and so forth, he was working at Laval University in Quebec. He was visiting Columbia. The interesting point is that Rasseti, being an enemy alien, working in Canada, had easy permission to leave Canada and come to the United States, and we who were not at war with Italy, placed restrictions in Rasseti’s path. It so happens that Rasseti being a Catholic had only to have the permission of the Archbishop or the Cardinal of Quebec, and he could say, “Look, you were working with Fermi, you want to see Enrico Fermi, go do it.” But our own immigration people wanted to be on the safe side, and so I remember that he was telling us that story, I mean, “no problem to get out of Canada” and back into Canada, but it’s to get into United States that was difficult. So, I mean, at Columbia we were sort of in the center of things, and the people at McGill or at Toronto or Ottawa and so forth were visiting us.
Weiner:But on the secrecy thing, at the same time there was a good deal of publicity emanating from Columbia, at least until the early part of 1940.
Grosse:Well, after we were sure that the thing was in the bag, namely, after the discovery of U-235 fission, that is March, 1940 -- after that, we knew that the atomic age was upon us. In other words, then we were sure that we could, with Harold Urey’s help, if it can be done for all these elements that I mentioned to you -- namely hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen -- that “uranium separation,” of Uranium-235 from 238 would be very much more difficult problem, but there was intrinsically no reason why one couldn’t separate it like the other elements. And so that’s where -- I mean, from March 1940, John Dunning started to fill up his notebooks, how one would do the whole thing, from Grahams theory of diffusion. We knew that the separation was proportional to the square root of the molecular weights of the species involved, what species were involved -- I was telling John Dunning how to make the barriers, the diffusion diaphragms was the work Eugene Booth concentrated on. Chemically I was giving him his advice, and the first thing is we were etching membranes, I mean out of brass, which we were dissolving out the zinc and leaving the copper in. Very soon we found that they reacted with UF6 and were no good. And so that’s when, from March 1940. The secrecy agreements and so forth, I think, were instigated at the end of 1940 or beginning of ‘41. So that was the period when all these various things were going on and being mulled over.
Weiner:You mentioned Booth. What was his position at the time?
Grosse:He was assistant, assistant professor and assistant to John Dunning, very much involved in the whole cyclotron work, and --
Hoddeson:-- who wrote the papers?
Hoddeson:The papers that you --
Grosse:-- well, we all wrote them together. Whoever had the particular -- I wrote the chemical sides, Booth wrote whatever experiments he made, John Dunning the others. I mean, we were all working as a real close-knit team. We were together for a few hours practically every day.
Weiner:Was someone the senior person who took overall responsibility for the papers? Someone had to take the --
Grosse:-- there was no senior. John Dunning was younger than I was. I was the one that was involved with Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner. Gene Booth was an extremely -- we were all just like close friends, like schoolboys of the same age in school. Nat, sometimes Dean Pegram -- but he didn’t participate in any of our papers. But Dean Pegram would say, “Look, why don’t you do it this way? Why don’t you do it that way” and so forth. But there was really no occasion. We worked as a team full of enthusiasm and the spirit of adventure and trying to do something that was very important, because we knew -- well, how did we know? Let me tell you, we corralled Peter Debye, one time when he came over to this country, and he was at that time invited to be Einstein’s successor at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin. And since I knew the whole background of Hahn’s institute and Lise Meitner and so forth, we first exchanged notes -- how were things going, what is Hahn doing? and so forth. And he said, “Look, they are asking me to take Einstein’s position.” Then we spread the word right now, we’ve got to do everything we can to keep Peter Debye in this country. This is how he got the job, I believe at Cornell. So how did this thing happen? Who comes first to New York? Well, everyone from Europe first comes to New York. If he was a scientist, he would get in touch with Columbia University. And so Peter Debye was an outstanding individual. He was given a reception, I think at Urey’s home. And then we spread the word that the Germans were really very much aware of the possibilities of uranium fission, and they were concentrating on this thing. So one thing led -- the work that they were doing or any information there was strengthening our position that we’ve got to get moving. And that this thing should be kept secret. So it wasn’t a kind of thing that happened overnight. It was a continuous process of gradually -- in the meantime, more refugees were coming over, and so it dawned on everyone concerned. This was a very small group of people. In that respect the whole beginnings of the Manhattan Project, it should be realized now, are something very much simpler than our whole energy crisis which involves so many industries, so many different interests, that nowadays there can be a lot of opposition from one segment of the community, resisting what the other segment wants to do. There, the admirals and generals said, “What are neutrons? Are they green?” and so forth, and “what will you do with them?” I mean, nobody knew anything about it. The people who were involved were all interested in doing it. So it was a completely different situation.
Hoddeson:At that early time, did you suspect that the work you were doing would eventually lead to bomb work?
Grosse:Well, we knew pretty soon. I mean, in January 1940 --
Hoddeson:-- the emphasis wasn’t on energy
Grosse:Wait a minute, in 1940 already we knew that a chain reaction would be possible. It was then the work of Fermi, Szilard, and Anderson, that there are a number of neutrons being given off when you start off a chain reaction in a solution of uranyl nitrate in water. So that was immediately, within a few weeks after we got the message over here, which you know was first at Columbia when John first put uranium in the cyclotron and saw the big blips on the oscillograph, of the fission, confirming Lise Meitner and Frisch’s discovery, I mean of the large energy of the particles. Also immediately Fermi had the idea of the chain reaction. What is necessary for a chain reaction. That in each fission elementary act, there would be a number of neutrons given off, and so he with Szilard was trying to immediately determine what they were, and they sort of guessed it was between two and three per fission. So from then on, the fission reaction was a possibility. Now, until it was known that Uranium-235 was responsible for fission, the question whether you could build a uranium pile was a big question mark. But since Uranium-235 was responsible for slow neutron fission, and it was contained only one part in 140, we know that the capture cross-section for pure Uranium-235 was very much larger, so the probability -- I mean, it was an absolute certainty that you could propagate a chain reaction in enriched Uranium-235. So it was a sure thing from March 1940.
Weiner:But did you extrapolate from there to a weapon?
Grosse:Well, from then on, the idea of a weapon -- I mean, was generated both in Europe -- in Germany they thought about it, the French thought about it. And obviously if you can take the pure Uranium-235, and I think it was Fermi who was the first one -- that the idea of a weapon was there. I would think that that came as a possibility already, I mean way before the Uranium-235, one knew that Uranium-235 -- It was a question. One would analyze: if it is Uranium-235, you’d be able to carry it out this way. If it is only 238, you would have a monstrous thing, and so forth -- it may be useful for something. And so one would already spin off the possibilities in one direction or the other. There were not any other additional alternatives. Either one or the other one. So one could spin off there and figure things out. But after March ‘40 one was sure that it was that one, right? There was no escaping that thing. And that’s where much more pressure was put on the uranium committee, so as to see that we get started.
Weiner:When did Mr. Halle stop being involved? You said he was involved in terms of the financing at first. I wasn’t clear whether that was a continuation of his support of you, or was he giving additional support to the whole group?
Grosse:No, he was providing support for the whole group. We felt, and I was the culprit in this sense because John Dunning, Al Nier and Gene Booth were university professors; I had the background with UOP, and I felt that if we would file patent application on the possibility of producing atomic energy, this would be of great value. And we wanted and did consider at that time to establish a Basic Science Foundation for supporting of basic research work in this country.
Weiner:Was this a title you used, with capital letters?
Grosse:Right, capital letters, Basic Science Foundation. Then I mean we spent over 30 years or so until that was recognized, and Halle did not drop us. I don’t know when Halle died. We would have to check up. But --
Weiner:Well, the secrecy problem with Halle, though -- was he aware of what you were up to?
Grosse:When the secrecy problem arose, then Halle was kept out of the secret aspects. I mean the lawyers were cleared, it was Jack Morell who was responsible for these things. He was in the CIA. So there was no problem of getting whoever, the very few individuals that were involved in this thing, to continue.
Weiner:Now, you were getting some support from the Research Corporation. At least the papers show that, acknowledging support, the Columbia fission paper. Research Corporation was set up on the basis of patents, as a basic science foundation. Was there any thought of working with --
Grosse:-- the thought was much later, to go to the Research Corporation, because the president of the Research Corporation was Dean Barker, who was Dean of Engineering at Columbia University, so there was always a close relationship.
Grosse:Joe Barker. Not Barkus, that’s another one, but Joe Barker. But the thing is, since Halle was giving us support to file patent applications, we had the support we needed. There was no need to go to the Research Corporation at that time. At a much later date, we came back to Joe Barker, and the Research Corporation was handling these things for us for a while.
Weiner:See when the acknowledgements start -- not the first paper, the summer paper it was the -- not the next one -- not the -- yes, you’re right, it’s very late, it’s, it comes up only in the neutron test paper, I think, no, still, not even there. I guess it’s the paper with Anderson, Fermi and you which is the last one of the series. That’s the one that acknowledges.
Grosse:That is on the branching ratio, is it?
Weiner:Yes, that’s the last one of the fission series.
Grosse:-- to refresh my memory --
Hoddeson:-- but earlier --
Weiner:The one on April 3rd, 1940 --
Grosse:-- that was when I was getting the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, I remember that.
Weiner:This one is earlier, though.
Grosse:Well, the Research Corporation was probably helping Fermi in his work. Right, OK.
Weiner:Anyway, what you’re saying is that you turned to the Research Corporation for --
Grosse:I don’t remember myself. I’m pretty sure that John Dunning and Fermi turned to them, and in view of the fact -- I mean Dean Barker was very close to George Pegram and so forth, so they had no difficulty for getting, and I presume Research Corporation gave them pretty much blanket authority to use as they saw fit. And so some monies were --
Weiner:Research Corporation was probably supporting your cyclotron partially, and that --
Grosse:-- this was part of the cyclotron work so that was automatically involved in that.
Weiner:Were you the one who introduced the patent discussions?
Grosse:I was the one responsible because I had all the background and filed many patents that brought in tremendous sums of money to UOP, so I was the one that told the boys, “This is something very important,” and we had discussions at Halle’s office, at the main office of UOP, on a number of occasions. And Fermi was joining in on these things, and that’s where we felt that we would put all our patents together, and that’s where Al Nier and John and I formed that nucleus originally.
Weiner:Was an actual corporation formed by you?
Grosse:At that time it was a group. It was not a corporation. Basic Science Foundation was formed very much later. We wanted to get Harold Urey involved, but Harold didn’t believe in patents and so forth. We wanted to get Fermi involved but Fermi was an enemy alien at that time. He also was filing patent applications through the Bank of America’s president, what was the name?
Grosse:Giannini. So there were various attempts in that direction. Nothing particularly serious, because we felt the most important thing was to get this thing done, because otherwise if Hitler would have been ahead, I mean, we wouldn’t have nothing to worry about anyway. But I remember, Enrico Fermi was usually joshing Herbert Anderson and said, “Herbert, when you’re going to be president of the Uranium Corporation of America, you can do these things and that things” and so forth.
Weiner:What happened then with these patents? They were just sort of hanging there?
Grosse:Wait a minute -- the thing was continuing all the time. It was Roland Anderson who was the patent counsel of the AEC. In view of the secrecy thing, that was applying, the Patent Office had a special division for handling secret patent applications. The whole thing was drawn out for a very large number of years. There were also various implications with the contracts, Navy contracts and others, where the Navy insisted they should get whatever rights may have been developing as a result of the patents, otherwise they wouldn’t pay Columbia for the various contracts that they have agreed to. There’s a lot of correspondence that one can find in Dean Pegram’s office in regard to these things. And so the whole thing -- when the patent claims were permitted by the Patent Office, particularly in regard to the diffusion process, it is only then that we felt, in agreement with the Atomic Energy Act, where the individual inventors could request compensation in line with the act, that the first compensation requests were submitted to the AEC. Then it went to the Compensation Board of the AEC, which happened somewhere in the sixties only. And then there were hearings for a number of years. A lot of the correspondence and a lot of my letters that mentioned to you, particularly the letters with Fermi, got into the files of the A.E.C. There were documents this high. There were many sessions in Washington. And the final overall result is, you see here, it was in June 1971, three years ago or not quite three years ago, that we got the recognition and the special award from the AEC with Glenn Seaborg and the other commissioners.
Weiner:When was the Basic Science Foundation idea established?
Grosse:It was at the very beginning, I would say around 1942 or thereabouts, with Harold Urey and Dean Pegram and everyone agreeing we recognized first of all that this was not just a purely national effort. We recognized that Rutherford, Chadwick with the discovery of the neutron, what they did with the various groups of British scientists, in regard to the possibilities of atomic energy generation, the contribution that the French made, that Enrico Fermi and his people made, that a Basic Science Foundation, promoting basic science in all disciplines, would be the logical thing to do. And in those days, I would say we were very altruistically inclined, and so this concept had agreement, I mean by all involved. Because it didn’t want to eliminate anyone. It was something that later was similar to the National Science Foundation. We thought that this thing would involve millions and tens of millions of dollars, as royalty fees or what have you, from the use of atomic energy.
Weiner:How far did the plans and the outlines of the ideas behind the Basic Science Foundation, how far did they get along?
Grosse:Well, these always were dependent on the simple following considerations. It’s no use to talk about these things in greater detail and spend legal fees and time, till the claims are permitted by the Patent Office. So first, get the claims. All right, this took something like 20 years. I don’t know, I’m just quoting from memory, but so, by that time, a number of people left the picture. I don’t recall right now when Dean Pegram died. And so -- when did Fermi die?
Weiner:‘52, I guess.
Grosse:All right, so this is already, I mean, before we appeared at the Compensation Board, a lot of the people that were involved at top level were already out of the picture. And then, even after that, I mean, so many more years elapsed until something happened. So this is a story that would have to be written. I mean, it would be worthwhile for The American Physical Society to get all the records, all the --
Weiner:-- where would they be, in Pegram’s papers?
Grosse:Well, depending on what the individuals are. I’m sure some of them are in Pegram’s. I’m saying, a lot in connection with the Basic Science Foundation are in the hands and in the files of the AEC. All of my correspondence with Fermi, going back to 1934, and you’ll be interested to see a letter from Professor Fermi written to Herr Professor Grosse, Chicago, University of Chicago, Chemistry Department, all written by Fermi in German. I replied to him in English and then he switched to English. You have sent me the calendar of the American Institute of Physics, where I see Gamow’s letter to, I believe it is Cockcroft.
Grosse:And there you see the funny English that Cockcroft used. I mean, Fermi’s English and German were very similar to that. But the main thing is, he got his ideas across, and these originals are all in the hands of the AEC.
Weiner:Well, we should find out about that.
Grosse:John Dunning has a lot of correspondence in his files. And I would suggest, if you haven’t done so, a lot of the things at Columbia should go to a historic center.
Weiner:Columbia, we talked them into preserving Pegram’s papers, they’ve now done it, and --
Grosse:-- Pegram’s papers is one, but I suggest John Dunning’s and Booth’s papers is something else. Let me tell you why. I have left .4 grams of protactinium that I originally isolated in Chicago, part of which we used at Columbia, I didn’t want to leave them at my home -- I gave them to the physics department of Columbia. They put them in their room where they had a lot of other radioactive preparations. But that was 1942. Do you think anyone knows it now, where these things are? About two generations of people that were for decades running the stare have superseded each other. It is I’m sure somewhere at Columbia. But nobody knows where. I’ve tried to get it out I mean, about two years ago, in connection with the Deutsches Museum in Munich that wanted to have some samples. But they are all now in the vaults of Columbia, and the thing is, the sooner one tries to get the written records down, the better it is.
Weiner:I have to go through Pegram’s papers myself. Fortunately Lucy Hayner was there, I don’t know if you remember her.
Grosse:Wasn’t Lucy Hayner in charge of the --
Weiner:-- Pegram papers. And also probably she would know about anything old there. But she died a few years ago, see. Anyway we did take care of the Pegram papers.
Grosse:Well, Pegram papers is one, but John Dunning is still alive, and so I would suggest, he was right in the midst of all these things, and it would be a crime, since you have historical interests, and I am sure that in future years people will say, “Why didn’t we have more Weiners?” I mean, this thing is so important. We’re spending millions of dollars to decipher what happened in Babylonia or Egypt and so forth, and here we could have done so easily these things, now. Nobody showed any interest. Let me tell you the AEC is amazing too, that they have no historical sense whatsoever. One would think that a number of the historical preparations like plutonium and so forth would be of interest to the AEC, that they would have some kind of museum or something.
Weiner:You’d think the Smithsonian --
Grosse:-- either the Smithsonian or what have you, but --
Weiner:May we smoke --?
Grosse:Sure, by all means, here is an ashtray…
Weiner:Lillian I think had some more questions on the fission papers. Do you want to go back to those?
Hoddeson:No, I think we --
Weiner:-- you have to intrude, that’s the only way.
Hoddeson:I want to know, one general question about Columbia: did you expect to stay on?
Grosse:Well, at Columbia first I was in the physics department. I was getting the Guggenheim Fellowship. And later when the Manhattan Project started, I was getting essentially the same salary I was getting at UOP. Now, we were not making plans for the future at that time, because it was such an exciting period that the question was, will the world go Hitler or will it go, I mean, the Western World? Then suddenly out of -- while I was at Columbia, I was taken off the Manhattan Project and sent to the Soviet Union. And so, I mean, I was considering that I would continue in this whole area, atomic energy.
Hoddeson:You were studying neutron capture by Uranium-238 and so forth, and branching ratios. I have no particular questions.
Grosse:Well, let me tell you, in regard to this branching ratios, don’t forget that I’m a chemist and I was telling you that the important thing that Hahn and Meitner established, or Hahn and Strassman established: “uranium equals barium plus strontium.” So the simple question that every chemist would ask -- now that fission has been established, what is the chemical equation of fission? Given a hundred atoms of Uranium-235, what are the final products that they give you? Now, is it seven atoms of barium or 52 or .7? How much europium? How much tin and how much this? And how much the other? And so I wanted to see what would be the equation of Uranium-235 fission or Uranium-238 fission or thorium fission, in other words, expressed in pure chemical terms: you have this element to start with, plus neutrons, what element does it give you? So I told Fermi, “The first thing that we as chemists should know is what happens.” “Oh,” he said, “you’re talking about the probabilities that the fission will go in this direction or that direction and so forth.” So with Herbert Anderson we got started on this paper on the branching ratios, which then permitted later one to establish the equation of uranium fission, and I published that in the JOURNAL of the American Chemical Society later on.
Weiner:JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL EDUCATION?
Grosse:No, no, that was another one. I’m talking about the paper on the equation of Uranium-235 fission that was presented at one of the meetings of the ACS, and sort of summarized the chemical aspects of this thing.
Weiner:Now, this paper is the first time you’re really working with Fermi and Anderson. I gather, if I can understand the Columbia situation, there were two groups working in parallel. One group is Anderson, Grosse, and Booth with Nier as the Minnesota cousin, and the other group is Fermi, Anderson and who else, Szilard? or was he --?
Grosse:Well, look, it wasn’t a clear-cut separation. I mean, it gradually became that Fermi with Herbert Anderson was working on unseparated uranium isotopes, and John Dunning and Booth and I at Columbia, we were concentrating on the separation of the uranium isotopes. Now, in between there were a number of other people -- Slack, Glasow, George Weil -- and whenever Fermi had a chemical problem, he would come to me for the simple reason that was the only chemist in the physics department. For example, uranium was considered at that time to have a high melting point of something like 1600 degrees Centigrade, and I have a small sample of uranium that I got from Merck in Darmstadt that I bought in Berlin in the year 1926 or something like that. So Fermi had a globule of something that he got from Metal Hydrides Corporation, that melted at a very much lower temperature, and looked like a nice clear bubble of metallic uranium. So I analyzed it for him, and found that it contained 99.8 or 99.9 percent uranium. And so, lo and behold, we found that pure uranium melts very much lower. It melted something like around 1100 Centigrade, which was a very important consideration for the whole building of the uranium pile. So it just shows that in those times even uranium, which was a very unrare metal -- I mean, you could produce it for a few bucks by pound and so forth -- was hardly known. So all this thing is recorded in the notebooks, I think those -- well, I have some of those notebooks. They were in the hands of the AEC.
Weiner:The notebooks you were talking about before.
Grosse:Those were my original notebooks. And so we worked -- I mean, it wasn’t that it was a closed group and you had to ask somebody else’s permission. We were sitting at luncheons -- here is the problem, we got this, and so forth, what do you think about it?
Weiner:What role did Szilard play in any of this?
Grosse:Szilard was involved -- Szilard was an all—around individual, that was at the lunch table every day also. He had friends all over the world, and he had many experiments that he had in mind. He was experimenting together with Fermi and Herbert Anderson. And we were discussing many chemical problems, how to solve them, if they arose. And so it was a daily discussion amongst the various individuals. And suddenly, Ed Teller would pop up and so Szilard would say, “Look, now we’ve got to get moving and do this” or “Get some support,” because we were trying desperately to get some money into this thing, and you know, the first $7000 that we obtained through the letter of Einstein was essentially the effort of outsiders, I mean, one went to Albert Einstein, why? Leo Szilard was his assistant in Berlin. He knew about Fermi. Einstein did. So Szilard, Fermi and Wigner and Edward Teller, who was also in Berlin, came to Einstein and said, “Look, we don’t have the prestige that you have, would you be willing to help us and write a letter to Roosevelt?” Now, you remember that I showed you that Einstein had the idea of a chain reaction back in 1922. I don’t know whether you’re convinced by that book that I showed you. So who knows? I’ve asked Wigner recently, right, whether Einstein ever mentioned these things, but I’m sure unconsciously he had it in the back of his mind. And so he was willing to support them right away. So who concocted the letter? Einstein, you know, was the most modest individual. He wouldn’t feel that he could do things effectively. So I’m sure he just said, “Look, you write the letter. If I agree, I’ll sign it.” So Szilard, knowing Einstein from way back, fixed up one or two letters, less complicated, more complicated, and he signed it, and it was through Alexander Sachs that these things went to the President.
Hoddeson:The paper with Fermi was published in PHYSICAL REVIEW, and the paper on the equation of Uranium-235 fission was published --
Grosse:-- in the JOURNAL of the American Chemical Society.
Grosse:Well, one was on the more physical aspects. Since then they were known more or less as branching ratios. To a chemist, one was interested in the purely chemical aspects of it. I would still like to see, for example, the equation of protactinium fission, I don’t think it has ever been -- Here essentially, in one equation, but a chemical equation, the chemist expresses the whole information that has been gathered in a large number of physical and chemical investigations. For the fission of Californium or Berkelium or what have you.
Weiner:Is anyone thinking in those terms?
Grosse:I don’t know. Right now, I mean. I’m involved in desert agriculture, as you saw.
Weiner:We’ll learn about that. The Guggenheim was for the year of ‘40 to ‘4l, I’d like to know the circumstances of it, whose idea it was.
Grosse:That was Harold Urey. I mean, he felt, “Look, A.V., he said, you’re not getting any money.” I was running -- I really did a stupid thing, I have to confess. If I would have stayed with UOP, I would be now on a pension. Right now, the way things developed, I’m not on anybody’s pension. I’ve forfeited my right to get it from UOP. I’m not getting it from Columbia, I’m not getting it from Temple University or any other place. But that’s what keeps one young. No, no question about it, you see. And so, the thing is, it was Harold Urey who had connections. I think he was on the board of the Guggenheim Foundation. He arranged that thing. I made an additional stupid thing, I donated a thousand dollars each to the physics department and the chemistry department of Columbia University, right two days after Pearl Harbor, because we were desperate for money at that time.
Weiner:Why was it foolish?
Grosse:Look -- it depends on what point of view, I mean, I would do it again, myself. But from the standpoint, we didn’t get -- the investment that I made then is just what we got back from the AEC and not more. So --
Weiner:You took money from your personal --
Grosse:-- right, these were my personal contributions, and the original checks are in the hands of the AEC. One check was a thousand dollars to the chemistry department, $1000 to the physics department.
Weiner:Was it earmarked for specific research?
Grosse:It was earmarked and it was well known. I mean, it was for the purpose of atomic energy, because we all recognized, this was a watershed for the future, and this was, don’t forget, already after we knew that Uranium-235 was fissionable -- it was right two or three days after Pearl Harbor. It was within a few days after. It was Harold Urey that arranged the Guggenheim Fellowship.
Weiner:But you have to make application for it, and you have to be judged by referees and so forth.
Grosse:Right, and the -- oh, here comes the --
Weiner:We were talking about the Guggenheim application.
Grosse:Right. The Guggenheim application was on two fields that interested me. One was the study of the fission products of uranium, protactinium, and thorium, a pure chemical subject. The other one was the study of catalytic reactions using isotopes for tracers. I never had time to work on this, because when the application was made -- I mean, we just got involved in the whole atomic energy business, and so from then on it was a concentrated effort in that direction.
Weiner:When did you put in the application? What month and what year?
Grosse:I don’t remember exactly. I mean, you will notice from the publications that I think the one on the fission, the branching ratios with Fermi which was in 1940, was already acknowledging that it was done on the Guggenheim Fellowship.
Grosse:My recollection is that it was not a long drawn out affair. It was very pro forma. Now, you recognize that a lot of things can be done with all due attention to detail and so forth. For example, a civil service examination takes a month or so until it goes through -- unless the government wants it; then you can pass the examination in ten minutes, which happened to me.
Weiner:When was this?
Grosse:I was taken off the Manhattan Project and sent to the Soviet Union, and I had to pass a civil service examination, because we considered that would be one way of doing it. And the chief of the mission came to Stettinius and said, “Can we get Grosse because he’s on a salary, and would it be possible, for the purpose of sending him as a member of the American Rubber Mission to the Soviet Union, to put him on the government payroll?” “Well,” Stettinius said, “certainly we can arrange these things. It will take so and such time.” Ernie Pittman looked at his watch. He said, “You have Harry Hopkins’s letter from the White House. We can only give you 15 minutes. If you can arrange it in 15 minutes, fine and dandy.” Stettinius said, “We could try,” but in the meantime some other thought occurred to Pittman and that’s the way it was arranged. I’m only saying, that if there is a necessity, it can be done quickly, and in this particular case, I think Harold Urey had enough prestige with the Guggenheim Foundation to say that, “We need money very badly for a thing of national interest,” and so it was arranged. I don’t remember all the details, whether I did submit a long application. I think I just submitted the two topics I wanted to work on.
Weiner:References of individuals?
Grosse:Not that I know of particularly.
Weiner:Urey would have been a reference.
Grosse:Urey was a reference, and Dean Pegram I think was the other reference, but I don’t know of any other ones that were necessary at that time.
Weiner:Now, the urgency here was that you needed money, I gather. To live on.
Grosse:I needed money to live on, because I was using up what savings I made at UOP. And furthermore, I mean, I was the chemist that was doing the main chemical work in regard to the diffusion process.
Weiner:But here you had given at a little later date $2000 from your own funds.
Grosse:Well, let me tell you, I got this $2000 from UOP because I was doing a lot of patent assignments for them, and I felt that UOP should pay some money for the time that was doing, and I confess, I was altruistic and maybe stupid, looking at it from the present standpoint of everyone being materialistic, and so I felt the money that came from UOP, I should donate for the important cause, as I felt it at that time, and so that money was given to them. In the meantime was already –- I knew that would be getting much higher salary after we got into war, in other words, right after Pearl Harbor the die was cast, the whole country knew that it had to -- we knew that the whole atomic energy thing was going to be pushed very much more than before, which truly happened.
Weiner:Actually, did you ever become an official part of the Manhattan Project?
Grosse:Well, what do you mean an official part? The thing is that Columbia University was conducting these things, with the OSRD, as an individual contractor. I was paid officially by Columbia University, but I was not made a member of the staff of either the chemistry or physics department. That was a purely university affair.
Weiner:So you were paid with OSRD funds through Columbia?
Grosse:Or any funds or what have you. I mean, I was on the regular payroll of Columbia University. I didn’t know the details, what particular projects, contracts, and I didn’t care.
Weiner:Right. You say that after Pearl Harbor -- seems to me the last paper of the fission work is January of ‘41. The last actual published paper. What happened from -- the paper was published in February of ‘41.
Grosse:Yes, but the work was done I suppose much earlier.
Weiner:It was submitted January of ‘41. Now, what happened in 1941, between that time, between the beginning of ‘41 and the time you were assigned to the Rubber Mission?
Grosse:Well, the Rubber Mission came completely unexpected, let me tell you. It was, I believe, in October of that Harold Urey -- Harold Urey, you know, very generously let me use his office. He moved over into the Chandler Museum in the basement of Havermeyer Hall at Columbia University and let me have his office. He came into my office and said, “A.V., how would you like to go to the Soviet Union?” Well, to a White Russian, I mean, this is something like putting his head in the lion’s mouth. And he said, “The thing is that I got a call that the rubber director (Mr. Jeffers) is considering sending a mission to the Soviet Union, based on the recommendations of James Conant, Karl Compton and Barney Baruch.” They felt that we ought to explore how the Soviets were making synthetic rubber, and he said, “We know that you speak Russian fluently as a former White Russian, and as the man at UOP who developed the process to produce butadiene and other hydrocarbons for the rubber program, you would be an ideal person.” I said, “Harold, if it’s necessary, I would go.” So all of a sudden I was taken off the Manhattan Project and briefed, and we were exploring and getting tremendous amounts of top secret information from all the various rubber companies, the oil companies, how we were expecting to produce synthetic rubber here, to exchange the information with the Soviets. And in December already of the same year, we are on our way to the Soviet Union, going through Puerto Rico, Brazil, Ascension Island, to Ghana, through equatorial Africa to Khartoum, Cairo -- over Jerusalem and Baghdad to Teheran.
Weiner:This was all by plane?
Grosse:This was all by plane with the Air Corps.
Weiner:Before we get to that, I want to fill in the period of time from your last publication on fission in February, ‘41, when it was published, to that time. You were on a Guggenheim in 1941. There are no publications. Is that because of the secrecy?
Grosse:Well, let me tell you. We were not publishing. The publications that appeared in print were a very small fraction of the investigation that we started to carry out from March of 1940. Then we immediately knew what the chemical problems were. The work on fluorocarbons was initiated then because we needed materials that would withstand the action of uranium hexafluoride as solids, as greases, as waxes, in addition to all the purely inorganic compounds that would be useful for the diffusion barriers. None of that work was ever published, and I would say that was 90 percent of our work. So from March 1940 on.
Weiner:March 1940 to about --
Grosse:-- to the whole time that I was there, coming back from the Soviet Union, none of the work was published, except in some classified reports.
Weiner:You were involved all that time, all 1941, on fission work at Columbia, then?
Grosse:Well, if you call separation of Uranium-235 fission work, yes.
Weiner:That’s what I mean, the consequences.
Grosse:Yes, the consequences of that fission work…
Weiner:That is pre-Manhattan Project, but I don’t think the official designation had yet.
Grosse:-- yes, the Manhattan Project came very much later, after the whole thing was more or less in the bag, when it had run into so much money that engineering work had to be started, and I remember how General Groves and Colonel Nichols first came to Columbia. That was shortly before my trip, I mean, that was in September of 1942. No, wait a minute.
Weiner:Before the group transferred to Chicago.
Weiner:They achieved chain reaction in Chicago in ‘42, so they must have moved some time --
Grosse:-- that’s when they achieved it, here I mean, December 2, 1942. So that was October ‘42 that I think General Groves came to Columbia. I remember, we had a big luncheon there with General Groves sitting in the middle and all the various atomic scientists, both chemists and physicists, getting together.
Weiner:During this period, how often did you come in contact with Szilard?
Grosse:Oh, Szilard was right there, so very often. I wouldn’t say necessarily every day of the week, but every second or third day.
Weiner:I’d like you to characterize your reaction to him, and what role you saw him playing, and how he was regarded by the other people.
Grosse:Well, to some extent -- and I want to be very frank with it -- the thing is that many of the people were suspicious of Szilard because he was a world character. I mean, he spoke a number of languages. He was at home in England -- he was originally Hungarian of Jewish extraction. He knew Albert Einstein. He was a very influential individual in many ways. But people felt: look, if you get together with him, he may be carrying the ball. And so there was suspicion. Not among people like Fermi or John Dunning, but a lot of the people that were suddenly confronted with somebody out of the usual realm of possibility, out of their daily experience. And I could sympathize with Szilard because I was a Shanghai boy. Now, imagine my position, coming to Berlin let’s say with Otto Hahn and use Meitner. There again they felt: now, this is a queer duck, he speaks German like a German, he was educated in Berlin, he has a German name, von Grosse, but the thing is, he doesn’t think like we think; he wants to work with the Czechs and the Belgians. So my point is, I had the experience, I mean similar to Szilard. He was a fugitive from Hitler. I was a fugitive, or I mean not individually but the whole family, from the Bolshevik regime. Now, let me confess now, in this respect, as I look backwards, I can see that I’d been creating a lot of suspicion. Let me tell you, for example, Harold Urey was very much for the Spanish Loyalists, because at that time the Spanish Civil War was going on. I knew that the Communists were stirring up a lot of problems and so forth, so I wanted Harold to get acquainted with the true Communists. So when I had a chance to talk with Litvinoff, and get Harold introduced to Litvinoff, and I brought him to the Soviet embassy in Washington, a lot of people here later felt: look, is Grosse a Soviet agent, or not? I was accused of being a top agent for Adolph Hitler, myself.
Grosse:By a group in Chicago, while I was going to the Soviet Union. And as a result of that, I was taken off the Manhattan Project by Leslie Groves.
Weiner:Which group? A group of scientists, or ?
Grosse:I don’t know myself. I’ve never seen them. But being a country as we are, we can’t keep a secret. It would never have happened in the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, that the accused can see the papers where he is accused, but Bradley Dewey, who was deputy rubber director, showed me these things. He said, “Grosse, according to these papers you’re a top Nazi spy. You’re representing Professor Haushoffer of Munich who is the chief geopolitician.” Now, he didn’t show me who the accusers were, but it was a group at the University of Chicago, which was as you know very pro-liberal and anti-Fascist at that time.
Weiner:Who was Haushoffer?
Grosse:Haushoffer was the big German geopolitician who was supposed to be the chief advisor of Adolph Hitler on all geopolitical matters.
Weiner:But how did you get linked to him.
Grosse:Look, very simple -- here’s Haushoffer with a purely German name, here is Grosse with a German name, Grosse studied in Berlin and so forth -- why not put the two together? Who cares about the true facts? There was nothing in this thing, right. Now, I discussed that with Gen. Leslie Groves. I discussed that with James Conant. But Groves told me very frankly, he said, “Grosse, we are at war. I have no time now to explore all these things. We have to take you off the project.”
Weiner:Then why did they put you on the rubber project?
Grosse:Wait a minute -- that was when I came back. You see, when I first went -- I think the thing was started when I was sent to the Soviet Union. The group of people at the University of Chicago said, “Grosse, be careful of him -- he will spoil our relations with the Soviet Union.”
Weiner:Because you were a White Russian.
Grosse:Because I’m a White Russian. And so they alerted the FBI or whatever government agencies they did alert. In the meantime, General Groves was furious that some of his men were taken without his knowledge and sent to the Soviet Union, of ‘all things. So he tried to get me back, as I learned later, but by that time, we were already in equatorial Africa or in the Soviet Union, and so they asked the General, “What is your beef? Why can’t we send him?” He said, “I can’t tell you.” So that’s the way it was left.
Weiner:Presumably there were two reasons. One was that you were needed for the project; the other, you had some sensitive information.
Grosse:Well, I had very sensitive information, and obviously I could not feel very well when I was in Moscow, talking to our embassy people, I couldn’t tell them about my work and so forth, but they told me. And it was Eddie Page, a native Philadelphian, who was secretary of the Embassy, who said, “Grosse, if the Soviets want to keep you here, there’s nothing we can do about it, because you were born in the Soviet Union. They could claim you’re just -- perfectly legal thing for them to leave you in the Soviet Union.”
Weiner:I think you described the details of the rubber mission and the difficulties with the Soviet Union in the --
Grosse:-- right, so you have that information. And so when I came back, that’s when these things came up, and then I was taken off the Manhattan Project. But Arthur E. Pew and Eugene Houdry that knew me, who were instrumental in sending me, together with J. Howard Pew, who, by the way, I mentioned to you, paid for my insurance to go to the Soviet Union, with Lloyds of London. They just laughed at that thing and said, “Look, if they said that you’re a Nazi agent, we know much --” Eugene Houdry you know was very familiar with all the Nazi manipulations. But then later, after these things happened, I was then accused of being a Soviet spy. From one extreme to the other.
Weiner:Where did that come from --? Oh, the Litvinoff --
Grosse:Because of the Litvinoff -- look, I don’t know what the things were, but the thing is, after the war, after the Nazis were eliminated out of this thing, then I mean the accusation was, “Look, Grosse may be a Soviet spy.” And so I can see backwards that my attempts trying to educate -- I mean, I was seeing Litvinoff during the war. I just wanted Harold Urey, who was a very frank and honest individual, to see the facts for himself. And so I felt, this being a free country, it was my duty to see what I could do to get him acquainted with the people that we were working together with, just for educational purposes. And so we had a most interesting time with Litvinoff at the Soviet embassy. But after the doors of the embassy were closed and we were inside, I can well visualize people later on said, “Look, who knows what they were cooking up there?” And by the way, let me tell you, when you say Urey, in Russian Urey means the name “Julius” -- the first name Julius. So whenever I came with Harold Urey, they said, “Tovarich Urey is here,” and in Russian that means a Comrade, mentioning his first name, Julius meaning Urey in Russian. It’s something that is very personal. So the word got through, if the ambassador says, “Comrade Urey is with us” -- right? -- that he’s an insider. Now all these are little trivial things, but they add one thing to the other, and I’m mentioning it on the record because it’s interesting in later years to be able to see, why certain impressions may be created. Of course, later on I was completely cleared and so forth. I got Q-clearance now from the Atomic Energy Commission.
Weiner:It’s an interesting period, the immediate postwar period. Because of the time, and I want to save some time for looking at these letters, I want to get towards the end of this, on the immediate postwar period. Now, it seems to me that because of your war experience, and because of the whole change in the situation of science in the country, that this might have affected your own thinking and your own expectations about what your work would be and what your role would be. Did you have any plans in mind? Did you have any hopes of work you’d like to do?
Grosse:Well, let me tell you, I was then I mean, after I was taken off the Manhattan Project, and Groves said very frankly, “Look, we don’t know, we’re at war now, what will happen later,” and you saw that he was extremely helpful later, in regard to the foam business. But anyway, I was sent to the Soviet Union, and I also had contacts with Arthur Pew and Eugene Houdry in regard to Eugene Houdry’s butadiene process, so when these things happened, Eugene Houdry made me director of research of the Houdry Process Corporation, and I started working very closely also with Arthur Pew. Then the Houdry Process Corporation was taken over by Socony-Vacuum, and Eugene Houdry was fired and I was fired from the Houdry Process Corporation by General Hausman, who became the new president of the Houdry Process Corporation. About two months after General Hausman fired me, General Hausman asked me whether I would like to take over his job as the president of the Research Institute of Temple University. In other words, here you have a thing that can happen only in this country. Man fires you and then offers you the same job that he had!!! David Hausman was the first president of the Research Institute of Temple University for about one year. I was president for 23 years, till my foam work, that I got involved in with General Groves, got Temple University so upset that they decided to relinquish our connection, and so the last two or three years, three years now already, we became an affiliate of the Franklin Institute.
Weiner:You got Temple University upset because of reactions of the students and the faculty?
Grosse:Right. The thing is, I was foaming in the generals at Edgewood Arsenal. You remember I told you. I didn’t show you pictures, but I think I have pictures right here. This is a chain reaction here, but I can show you pictures, but we won’t have time now. Now, thanks to General Groves, we got a number of generals, including General Bryan Milburn who’s looking at you from over there, inside the foam. And so Temple University, with all the unrest that University of Pennsylvania had with their students, and the various sit-ins and so forth that they had at Temple University -- they felt that we were a part of the industrial-military complex, involving riot control with foams and so forth, so we’d better stay away from the Research Institute of Temple University. And that came as a very sudden decision, that Andy Pew, Arthur E. Pews son, who is now chairman of our board and was chairman of the board then, received at his home, It was lying at his home here while he was on vacation up north, till he came here, and suddenly he found that Temple University decided to disassociate itself from the Research Institute.
Weiner:This is what was happening on several campuses throughout the country.
Grosse:Right. So that’s the way, how these things happen.
Weiner:When you look back at the years since 1945, since the end of the war in 1945, with the expectations you had, would this somehow follow your plan?
Grosse:-- let me tell you, it did. The thing is, I recognized then that one of the most important things for our future as a nation would be the mastery of high temperatures -- for the purposes of rocket engines, for the purposes of atomic energy at high temperatures. It took a much longer time to materialize, but I think right now, I have the know-how, how to make a nuclear plant thermally much more efficient than what they are doing now. We did spend something like 25 years here at our laboratory in high temperature research, going up to 5000 degrees Kelvin, and containing it not for micro-seconds but for hours at a time. We have the know-how built in here that think will be extremely useful in our present critical energy situation, for the future.
Weiner:These have been very rich years, not only because of the special projects and the way you followed them through with the foam and plastic bubbles, let’s say --
Grosse:-- yes, desert agriculture now, as you witnessed today.
Weiner:And high temperature research. And at the same time, you -- not only yourself but the whole program. When you look back over your whole career, starting your education in Germany that latter part of your education in Germany is there any period or piece of work that you felt was the most important, in terms of your own contribution one thing or series of things that stands out?
Grosse:Well, I would say, the things that stand out, mean, first is the work on Uranium-235 and the diffusion process, and my contribution was essentially the diffusion barriers, which are still top secret. I mean, there is a tremendous investment in money that is involved, in essentially our position. Both our military and industrial position for the whole Free World very much depends on that. Second, I showed to you my report to Harry Truman on the possibilities of an earth satellite.
Weiner:Back in the early fifties, right.
Grosse:Back in 1952 when I got acquainted with Werner von Braun and made the prediction what the Soviets are likely to do. And then the third phase -- I mean, that’s what started the Eisenhower decision on the Navy project for the first launching of the small project Vanguard. And then I mean, starting in 1966, the bubble work, and that led to the concept of bubble agriculture. You were present today maybe on an historical day for the future, where the first time, the rich people of the Middle East that have the money from all the oil products got a first-hand view of what the possibilities are.
Weiner:For desert agriculture.
Grosse:From a practical economic standpoint, of growing things in the desert. And did you see the first plants, that the seeds are already germinating outside? I want to show that to you before you leave.
Weiner:That was a pretty good breakdown of what you consider most important. What if I had asked the question in another way -- about the most personally satisfying work to you? That is, while you were doing it, the actual enjoyment of the process of it -- which work period would you identify?
Grosse:Well, I was very fortunate that first of all, in the days -- I mean, when I was in Europe with Hahn, Meitner, Marie Curie, Rutherford, I had, I was fortunate to be in one of the main developments of science in this century. Second thing, the second period, right here, being involved in the whole atomic energy project, which did start at Columbia, with all its ramifications, Then I shouldn’t exclude the work in catalytic chemistry with Ipatieff, Tropsch and so forth at UOP, where a lot of basic processes for the oil industry were created. Second thing, the interplay of one with the other should not be eliminated, because you always get much more enjoyment if you are versatile in not one field but also in other fields at the same time. Then, I would say the work here at the Institute, we have trained a substantial group and done a lot of work on high temperature chemistry, which I think will accrue to the whole value of our energy program, in years to come. And so I did what I really wanted to do and I felt was the most important thing, after the war years. That brought me together with Werner von Braun and the whole space group. In future, it is the background or the mental background for the things that I’m trying to do for the energy committee of the city of Philadelphia.
Weiner:Of which you’re chairman.
Grosse:Well, you see the letter of Frank Rizzo right there on the -- mantelpiece. And then the work on desert agriculture and bubbles, I mean that may lead to another thing. Here I feel, one can for comparatively small amounts of money, as compared to the Manhattan Project or the Space Project, obtain results that will benefit the whole tremendous continent that you see there in front of your eyes on this globe, from Saudi Arabia to Morocco!
Weiner:So your estimate of important work and satisfying work pretty much overlap.
Grosse:It does overlap, and I think this is one of the bounties of --
Weiner:-- throughout your career, you’re not identifying some time five years ago or sometime 20 years ago, you’ve identified all of your life.
Grosse:Well, it is overlapping and so forth, and I can go back -- remember I showed you my book on metal organic compounds, with E. Krause. Now, this thing may apply right now, in a very effective manner, in the future, for fuel cells, which is again part of the energy program. You see, if one has the advantage of having intimate know-how for simple fortunate reasons of the way one had the opportunity in life, you have possibilities of cross-fertilization, that you just cannot anticipate ahead of time.
Weiner:I think that’s a very good note to end on. We ought to find out what’s going to happen in the next ten years, but I’m not going to ask you to predict that. In ten years we’ll find out. Thank you very much.
Well, it was a great pleasure, so shut it off, we’ll go --…
Session I | Session II