Oral History Transcript — Dr. Jules Gueron
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Interview with Dr. Jules Gueron
Jules Gueron; April 14, 1978
ABSTRACT: Conducted to discuss a draft of Weart’s book, Scientists in Power. Much of the time is spent on minor textual comments, but there are also extended remarks and reminiscences; French science in the 1930s, in particular Gueron’s career in physical chemistry, the rise of the Centre National de la Recherché Scientifique (CNRS), and the relations of Jean Perrin’s circle; the chain reaction work of Frederic Joliot, Lew Kowarski, and Hans von Halban in France, 1939-1940, and with Halban Kowarski in England and Canada, 1941-1945, with emphasis on political relationships; and the French Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique (CEA) from 1946 through the 1950s; in particular, contacts with industry, personal relations, Joliot’s Communism, and steps towards the nuclear bomb. A number of other technical and political matters involving French scientists 1930-1960 are touched on.
TranscriptSession I | Session II | Session III
Weart:So, shall we start talking now?
Gueron:I know you are short of time…
Weart:No, no... take as much time as you like because I can always come back Saturday.
Gueron:Well, I want to say a few preliminary things, so as to clear the table for...
Weart:Oh and… propos, si vous preferez vous exprimer en francais si c'est plus exact...
Gueron:I have no problem in English; you may have problems with my accent.
Weart:Ok, I don’t mind it, just if there is some point that you find is easier to express in French...
Gueron:Ok... I want to make this preliminary statement. Yours is a valuable book, and we are speaking about events, about which you may have whatever judgment you want, but they are important events. We are speaking about people who are fundamentally first-rate men. So, what I will have to say is mostly, by nature of our talk, in the way of remarks and criticisms either of what you have done or of the men involved. But this must be understood, in the background that it's a very good work and that you are speaking of first-rate men. I wanted this very clear you see.
Weart:I understand that what one always gets is the bad points, because the good is taken for granted.
Gueron:Bad or doubtful, but I want this very clear you see. Because I will be in some cases very critical, but without any bitterness or animosity. But if I am just saying ok, that is admirably put and what a great fellow, it's no use.
Weart:That's right; no I expect that exactly, that's precisely what I sent it to you for. You can either send back a short note saying everything is fine, which is useless, or you can tell me where I'm wrong.
Gueron:Well, not necessarily wrong, but where we may differ. I have brought to you first a copy of the letter I wrote to [Francis] Perrin about over 2 years ago, following an interview he had given to Revue Generale [?] Nuclaire. I don't know whether you saw that.
Weart:No, I didn't, in fact.
Gueron:Well, here is a photocopy of the Review, and here is my letter.
Weart:Oh, thank you very much... is this a copy for me or is it...
Weart:Ok, well I see... I can't comment on it completely. Because I haven't read the article...
Gueron:But I thought we could start with this because it covers part at least of the period you are considering, and it may give you the general tone of my attitude. Before we go turning, just going page by page, I would say that my main criticism to your script is that it seems to me that you have taken a bit too much for granted the books about Joliot. They are not biographies, they are hagiographies.
Weart:I well believe it, the problem is to know what...
Gueron:... and even that of Goldsmith. I had the occasion to meet Goldsmith occasionally here in New York, while he was finishing his book. We had crossed each other, he came over to me and said "Gosh, I should have seen you before; I'm writing a book on Joliot... I should have interviewed you." I told him "ok, interview me now." We had a few, a rather short talk, and he never approached me again. To me though the reason is very clear...
Weart:Because you disagreed with him...
Gueron:Because he was writing a hagiography.
Weart:No I don't rely on Goldsmith's book at all, it's least reliable.
Gueron:And Biquard's is...
Weart:But he was a good friend…
Gueron:Oh, of course he was a good friend, more than a good friend, he was a henchman. You see, we used to joke about Joliot, sa moiti‚ et son Biquard. You see, I have a very deep opinion that, which I cannot prove, but which dates from my first dealings with Joliot, indirectly before the war, we have to come back to that, and after the war, first in October '44 when I went over, the famous visit to Paris, which upset general Grove so much, and when I met Joliot directly on a person to person basis for the first time, we didn't mention any word at the time of course of the uranium work. But Joliot at that time was a man out of himself, he could never stop speaking.
Weart:Even at that time?
Gueron:I would say perhaps mostly at that time, or at that time it was mostly understandable because he was just getting out of a period of very great strain. But once he started he never could stop. And with all his glory, he never overcame his bitterness. I think that some years later in the Commissariat, one day when he was in a kind of confidence mood he told me of his beginnings, when he was already Irene's husband, but was not famous yet, he told me in a sort of harsh, bitter accent, "you know, these days, there were famous men visiting the lab, and they didn't even introduce me." See, he was a Nobel Prize, he was at the top of his career but these things still stung to the point that he could speak in this way of them to me who was not specially close to him. So this is the background of Joliot, a man having revenge to take. And while I am not doubting at all his fundamental generosity and sincere penchant, I personally am certain that he made a political choice. On practical reasons. He chose the wrong horse and the horse practically threw him on the ground. I’m afraid that this has to be my cold-blooded judgment. I think I will be able to document it not by a full-scale psychological or historical argument, but by a number of topical facts.
Weart:I don't think what I have written would contradict what you have said, although it doesn't come as strongly in that direction as you've said. But certainly, it seems plausible what you have said.
Gueron:It's a... you see, we are here to speak very openly, and I want you to have my view very clearly, and I repeat I cannot justify by incontrovertible...
Weart:But what you say does fit with other things that I have heard in fact.
Gueron:You see Irene was a very different person. She was less intelligent, but also less astute in the deprecatory sense. She was much more plain and sincere. Joliot really at the end of the war was fighting for a career, for great prominence, to some extent in compensation of his having been underground. And he was looking for a reward of a commitment which might not have been easy for him to take. At the same time you see, in relation with this sense of frustration, I remember in these days of October '44, and really he was speaking to a man who was unknown to him, how he expatiated on the fraternity, on the closeness of relations in the party, like a man who at last had found a family. He did not argue about the doctrine or about points of policy. It was purely sentimental.
Weart:Very interesting. This is when you visited him in 1944.
Gueron:In October. So shall we start turning pages...?
Weart:It would be interesting perhaps for you to tell me a little about yourself first before we start to go back to 1900 etc... can you tell me a little about your origins, how you became educated and so forth...
Gueron:Well, we'll come to that because I have a few things to say about that. What I may tell you at the time is how funnily things occurred... I was among the first Young Turks of French chemistry at the time of the creation of the CNRS [At the time, this stood for "Caisse Nationale de la Recherché Scientifique"]. I was probably one of the first "boursiers" and later Charg‚ de recherché, and I was among the first who were on the Committee of the CNRS when they started introducing the younger people. This was at the time I'd left Paris after my PhD to take an appointment in Strasbourg. And at the time, it was rather funny because I had set up some apparatus that was very primitive and modest by present standards, but on which I had worked a long time on, with my hands. You did not buy things over the counter. You had to build them. And when I left for Strasbourg, I had to go on with the work, I knew that after I had left no one could use these things so I asked my boss, my doctorate patron, with whom I was on the best of terms, to take these things with me. And to my surprise he said "Quite impossible, these things are inventoried, they belong to us, you can't take them with you." So I had to...
Weart:Was this because of the CNRS or...
Weart:... was this traditionally the case?
Gueron:Yes. So I had to upset completely my plans, and I had to look for money. So I sent my plan to the CNRS, it was at the very beginnings, you see, so these things were not very many, so that I had occasion, it was my first contact with [???] So I went to see Laugier... And he somewhat laughed at me and [???] something huge. I think I asked for 15000 francs. So he heartily laughed at me and said, "Ok you'll get it, but after all you are in the physical sciences, I was in Physical Chemistry — and while I won’t have any problem, you had better go and see Joliot for him to endorse it. So I applied for an appointment with Joliot, got an appointment, went to the College de France. And as I was nobody at all, I couldn't be received by such a person as Joliot. I was received by a gigantic fellow [???] and that was my first meeting with Kowarski [???] We found that we could speak rather seriously about some points of thermodynamics, and we parted good friends, and I got my 15000 francs.
Weart:So you never met Joliot on that occasion.
Gueron:Much too [???]
Weart:But Kowarski would have been junior to you really at that time, in terms of his scientific...
Gueron:You know, Kowarski is four months older than I am. And we were about on a level, recent doctorates.
Weart:You had just gotten your doctorate too, I see.
Gueron:But not having worked exactly under the same sort of material circumstances and difficulties that he had, I was a bit more advanced in the science society. But academically...
Gueron:So, all right. I was not at all involved in nuclear sciences. I was doing chemical kinetics mostly. Nevertheless I had enough curiosity and interest generally speaking to be aware of what fission meant. And in fact it was in Strasbourg, in the first part of 1939, when Joliot came and gave a lecture at the Strasbourg branch of the French physical society. And I attended this lecture with Yvon.
Weart:I didn't know he was in Strasbourg also.
Gueron:Yes, he was professor of theoretical physics in Strasbourg at that time and he lectured very well, he was a very good lecturer, he's a very good man, to a standing class of four, of which I was I think the one constant student, although I was a fellow teacher. Well, this indicated already a general trend although I was not a physicist, still less a theoretical physicist [???]. I didn't hear any more about fission, the war came; I was mobilized in Delpine's laboratory in the College de France. It was next door to Joliot's. Bachelet who you quote in the book, who I always considered a mild idiot.
Gueron:But the son of a communist senator, I think the only one in France before the war. He was on the same team. That is not in Joliot’s although he had had some minor dealings with the chemistry...
Weart:Did you know what was happening in Joliot's lab?
Gueron:No I didn’t, I had some idea that they were working on this, but secrecy. And it so happened that in March '40 I was with a colleague of mine, sent to New York as a Scientific Attach‚ to the French purchasing mission, in the ordnance department. [???] roaming the country to look at labs and advise them on orders and so on. And I was re-called at the end of the drole de guerre. In fact I sailed from here I think on June 4th 1940.
Gueron:Yes. We happened to land at St Nazaire, where I reported to the military authorities which of course had nothing to do with me: "We don't know where your laboratory unit has gone.” I told them "It so happens that my family has left Paris and is nearby here on the coast, here's where they are. I'll join them and when you have orders for me, you just let me know.” It must have been around the 12th of June and I didn't hear from them. I heard De Gaulle on the radio on the 18th, and with a brother-in-law of mine we crossed over. We spent…
Weart:With your family?
Gueron:No, I couldn't take them at that time.
Weart:You took a boat over to England.
Gueron:We were about five days on a freighter which had a loading of coal dust, and landed at Falmouth in the state you can imagine. Then we spent about 48 hours in a cinema hall and we arrived in London, and getting out of the train in the condition you can imagine, at Paddington, going out, I hit on Laugier and Kowarski.
Weart:On the street.
Gueron:No, inside the station.
Weart:Oh, in the station.
Gueron:They were coming at that time for a meeting of the Earl of Suffolk. So I went too. When they started counting heads, they said "Oh but you're not on the [???]" "No, I am not"(laughter). So I left. And it's about a little over a year after that, when they started the first expansion of the Cambridge team, then Kowarski came to me and asked me if I wanted to join them. Then I was seconded by the Free French Forces, we'll come to that later.
Weart:Maybe we should [???] ... maybe we should start it out now.
Gueron:Yes, but you see that's how I came into the game.
Gueron:No, there was another incident before. During that stay in the US, it became known in academic circles, because I visited a number of labs, that someone from Paris who had been working [???] in the College de France was in town. So I was asked for lunch at the Columbia faculty club, and I had lunch with [???] and I am not sure whether it was Fermi or Anderson. I had never seen Fermi up to that time. It must have been very disappointing for them, because I couldn't tell them anything at all.
Weart:I'm sure they were very curious.
Gueron:I was fully conscious of the importance of the fact; in fact I was rather surprised at that time to see a big article by Lawrence in the New York Times. It was a full page article. I remember commenting on it with completely lay friends of mine in the city. But I couldn't tell a thing to Fermi or Anderson. They may have taken me for [???].
Weart:They must have been very curious as to what was happening over there.
Gueron:Of course. You see, it must have been probably sometime in late April or early May.
Gueron:That's the background to...
Weart:Why don't we start going over the points that you have...
Gueron:Yes. You see, I have separated the notes.
Gueron:To put them in connection with [???]... I think a better title would be "Scientists Near Power.”
Weart:Scientists Near Power.
Gueron:Yes, you see I started putting...
Weart:I started writing...
Gueron:Yes, and after that I knew we would meet, and I put simply crosses in the margin. When it's fully written... Well you see this is a point on which I shall come later: "they were well on their way to building a reactor:" no.
Weart:This is page 3 [???] where I am saying that from my notes.
Gueron:They were not in their way because all this, this has really dominated everything for this group until mid '42, because there was always a big discrepancy between what they found in the sphere experiments and their knowledge of nu [Greek nu, number of neutrons per fission] and of cross-sections. Claude [???] explained why [???]... [???]. But there was also for them a recon [???] problem that they had relatively good knowledge of the fission cross-section of natural uranium, and, with what they knew of the capture cross-section, they could not reconcile their sphere experiments. They expected a much bigger result. And this was because their fission to capture cross-section was not [???]. Now...
Weart:The resonance capture cross-section, the fission capture cross-section?
Gueron:No. The thermal capture cross-section was too low. And this at this stage was what my contribution was. It was a completely idiotic thing, but typical of the way physicists, even when they had a chemical education like Kowarski, completely misread the results. The whole thing was that, to get the capture cross-section, you irradiated an uranium compound, and separated it from the fission products by a very highly efficient selective precipitation. That was precipitation of sodium uranyl acetate, which happens to have a very low solubility, and of course is highly specific, it's not like hydroxide or sulfate [???] and so on. Therefore you did that and really in one or two repeats at most, you had eliminated practically everything of importance. You could measure U239. It was a very rapid chemical thing. In fact in Cambridge I tried, myself and Broda and our ballet of girls, to get from the cellar where we irradiated in a block of paraffin to the counter in less than twenty minutes, which is in less than a half-life... from place to place. So...
Weart:... this is 1942, you were saying? This was early '42. And I had refined a bit on the method and so on, and we got completely erratic results. Until the day I said "of course, there must be Szilard-Chalmers event", and by a thirty second altering the procedure, that is starting not simply with dissolution, but with dissolution, a slight reduction and re-oxidation, we got beautifully fitting results, except that the capture cross-section was about twice what they had.
Gueron:And the Fermi group had nothing better for the capture cross-section at that time. It will come later because Halban pushed this result which was amusing and had its value at that time, he pushed it into a political argument which was completely silly.
Weart:We'll get to that when we get to those parts.
Gueron:Yes. But you see, it already shows here, because implicitly "they were well on their way", they could not be well on their way so long as they had this completely false, by a factor two at least, fission to capture cross-section ratio.
Gueron:It completely upset all their other [???].
Weart:Page 4. Nuclear energy program
Gueron:Yes. I don't see why you single out France...
Weart:…as being the earliest case of nuclear proliferation. On page 5... Ok, I see your point... On page 7... depending on the favor of more powerful figures. Arbitrary you say. It must be a less personal and more rational relationship... I see your point.
Gueron:The amusing point is that the first person ever to write to me for a reprint was Halban's father.
Weart:Is that so? Did you ever meet Halban's father?
Weart:Page 3... oh, you spoke of that already.
Gueron:Indirectly of course.
Gueron:Cotton was so close with [???], you may have a much better source than myself. You see, because when you speak of, I'm coming to a rather later period, this domination of the scene by the group you describe here, in French scientific life, needs a bit more nuance. Langevin was the uncontested father. And he was a bit more "au-dessus de la mile" than some others. And you must also realize that the [Jean] Perrin-Urbain group had to face bitter opposition from people who were not in Perrin's class. Because really, Perrin's work before the first war, I had occasion to read it [???] and so I... Really amazing, marvelous. Urbain was patient... rare earths... things which... modern methods... but which at the time were painstaking. But these people were very partisan. They were not wars of religion, but to some extent the sequels of wars of religion. You see, the great man in French chemistry around that period, the first half, the first third of the century was Le Chatelier. He really was [???] the first to understand Gibbs, to reduce it to terms for the practical chemist [???] to see the applications to [???] processes, phases, equilibrium. But he was adamantly opposed to atomic theory.
Gueron:He said: you don't need it.
Weart:Even as late as the 1920s?
Gueron:Oh yes, you don't need it.
Weart:Just like Berthelot.
Gueron:Just like Berthelot. You don't need it. It may be true but you have no proof. He was skeptical of all radioactive families. He said "I want to see them in bottles." Although he was not [???]. So there was a kind of war for each of them. Urbain was of course an atomist but he was piqued by Le Chatelier's attitude and wanted to show that he also [???]...[???] I remember having come — I did my thesis work in the lab which Le Chatelier had just left [???]... and I soon had occasion to find in the library of that lab a book of Urbain with marginal notes of Le Chatelier. They were scathing.
Weart:I wonder where this book is now, that would be...
Gueron:I was kind enough, I didn't steal it, and you could not make photocopies easily at that time.
Weart:So this would still be in the library?
Gueron:Might be. It was a book by Urbain called "Introduction… la chimie des complexes.” So you see there was a kind of war. To some extent, it coincided with differences in political attitudes, besides university clannish wars. Even from very notable scientists, Perrin's attitude and actions and those of his party met with a lot of opposition.
Weart:I've seen hints of it, but I've never been able to get any real stories about the positions at the time.
Gueron:Well, I don't know whether you ever met Rocard.
Weart:No, I never did.
Gueron:Rocard at the time, just before the war, committed a pamphlet. Rocard is [???] an acid person. This pamphlet was entitled "la regle du jeu de l'oie.”... You know what "Jeu de l'oie" is.
Weart:No, I do not.
Gueron:You throw dice, and if you have to go to this particular slot of the snake, you are struck dead [???] or you back to start.
Weart:Oh I see.
Gueron:It was all about this game invented by "le savant Perrinos", and the last word was that the dice were loaded.
Weart:I'd like to see a copy of that pamphlet.
Gueron:I don't think I have one.
Weart:I see, I understand.
Weart:He's not alive anymore?
Gueron:Oh yes he is.
Weart:I could write him for a copy.
Gueron:I don't know... a man you could approach, who was, he is Andre Weil at the Institute of Advanced Studies.
Gueron:Yes... a mathematician. Not [???]
Weart:I see, he was one of these opposing [???] also?
Weart:If you do find a copy of that pamphlet I'd be really interested in seeing it.
Gueron:Yes, but you know, not much was left of my lab after the Germans left. So you see that while no one could contest that they were doing a lot for science, no one with time elapsed can contest that it was fundamentally a marvelous job, you must realize that it was then in a climate where opposition did exist, not so much to what they were doing, but to a certain handedness in their behavior, a certain clannishness.
Weart:They gave advantages to a lot of people?
Gueron:Oh yes, you had the class of people who were invited to the Perrin teas, and the rest.
Weart:And the rest, I see. And the rest of course would not advance so quickly.
Gueron:No, certainly not.
Weart:I understand. And this would fall partly on political grounds you say.
Gueron:No... it was really a clan.
Weart:Just, you [indefinite, not JG] happened to be in the clan.
Gueron:You see, you got out of your license and you fished for a lab. To some extent it was a calling game. You landed in that lab and you were a part of the clan, or you did not land in that lab for any kind of reason, and you were out of the clan.
Weart:I see... le jeu de l'oie as you say.
Gueron:Well, the Jeu de l'oie was written at the occasion that Perrin went a bit too far. He tried to institute CNRS prizes.
Weart:I never heard of that.
Gueron:This finally was quenched, but the jeu de l'oie was written on this occasion because people felt that if the CNRS started donning out the prize which would have been rather heavily endowed, by this [???] they would go to the clan.
Weart:You could get through to get the prizes... that seem very reasonable.
Weart:This is all very interesting to me. This is things I haven't heard about before. 7... whether the near locking of science and politics was specific to France and, what is this you're saying "see Stendhal.”
Gueron:If you read some of the memory books of Stendhal "Souvenirs d'egotisme" or things like that, you will find some comments on the politician-scientists, or the courtisan-scientists of the Napoleonian times.
Weart:Very interesting... I know about some of these scientists but I didn't know that Stendhal had these remarks on it... very interesting
Gueron:I can't give you an exact reference...
Weart:No, but I know that the pattern is quite an old one... I think even in the days of Louis XIV... Page 8, about catholic professors, you think that is oversimplified. Yes I'm sure it is oversimplified, I thought I had to say something about that, and then you say... Pasteur and his attic [???], Curie and his Legion d'honneur.
Gueron:So that really this is rather crude.
Weart:Yes it's a... I originally had paragraphs and paragraphs there, I'm not quite sure what to do about it. In page 9, talking about the Ecole Normale, again it's not so simple. And about [Maurice] De Broglie, he resigned a naval commission at that time. Oh, is that the time of the loi [Jules] Ferry?
Gueron:I think it was, I can't vouch. But I am sure that if you go into the Notice necrologique de l'Academie des Sciences, you...
Weart:... will find that it was at that time...
Gueron:... but I think that's it.
Weart:As you said, he didn't need public money... one day I am going to write a book about the turn of the century, it's a fascinating period. Page 11... was it so clearly planned for Lucien [Herr, the librarian of Ecole normale?]... yes... I am relying on what other historians have written, I don't know myself.
Gueron:See, I am not so sure that Herr [???] saw that this was the place where he could need an iminence grise.
Weart:And Perrin's father was an army officer. His widow must also have part of his retirement pension... it's quite true. She did. I just didn't want to make that sentence longer but perhaps I should have made it... [???]... [???] that's just before note 6. Page 11.
Gueron:Do you mean Les Cahiers de la Quinzaine?
Weart:No, that's... I've forgotten what the name of the bookstore was, but it was actually a little bookstore.
Gueron:But was it Peguy's?
Gueron:In that case you see it was... it's not any bookshop.
Weart:That's true it wasn't just a bookshop, it was a very important one... even if... at that time it was beginning. Page 12, about Emile Borel. Of course he did much less mathematics afterwards, but he retained his professorship in the Sorbonne until the '20s or '30s. I'm sure that's true. Well ok, he didn't quite give up his [???]. Page 13, plastics, bakelite and celluloid.
Gueron:Sure, they are plastics, but the word is...
Weart:The word would mislead, perhaps one should say chemical materials or something.
Gueron:Or the early materials which we now call plastics...
Weart:They were not called plastics at the time, that's quite true.
Gueron:It's not only called, but... Page 14... it wasn't polyethylene... Page 14... electrically charged particles which had already become familiar to physicists... And after all you see, to the end of his life, a man like Le Chatelier refused to [???]
Weart:Is that so? Remarkable. And yet you say he was a very great man.
Gueron:Yes. I had my physical chemistry education with Le Rouanne in the Sorbonne. He spoke about the atomic theory, the modern valence theory. Eugene Bloch, who was a very great man taught an early course in quantum physics which was not part of any curriculum for the license. It was a cours libre.
Weart:This was in the '20's or…
Gueron:It was in the late '20's.
Weart:You didn't need to know the least quantum physics to get your license or even...
Gueron:No, you could not have a license, especially a license d'enseignement, giving you access to a doctorat d'etat without having physique generale.
Weart:But physique generale would not be necessarily any...
Gueron:It would not go beyond Maxwell's equations.
Gueron:No quantum... well of course, Planck's law, and nothing more.
Weart:Planck's law as a phenomenological law?
Weart:And no relativity, I suppose.
Gueron:Relativity yes. Because after all Langevin and Painlev‚ had been great sponsors.
Weart:Oh I didn't know Painlev‚ was a sponsor for relativity also.
Gueron:Not exactly a sponsor, but in the first you see these famous series of talks of Einstein at the College de France which were sponsored by Langevin, Painlev‚ appeared sometimes as an opponent, but it contributed to luster of the whole operation.
Weart:I see, I had no idea.
Gueron:I was in high school at that time. I got very excited.
Weart:Oh is that so?
Weart:You were at Lycee Charlemagne... did you go to the lectures?
Gueron:No, I didn't go to the lecture, I had no time and anyhow they were over my head but I passionately read Charles Moureu's book without understanding it very well.
Weart:17... yeah, Francis Perrin already pointed that out... quite right.
Gueron:You see, some of the most promising men like Andre Marcellin who was Jean Perrin's first assistant who was really one of the first men to introduce statistical mechanics in operating physical chemistry.
Weart:Killed in the war?
Gueron:Yes. I can't say... [???]... [???] He was a great mathematician.
Weart:So one should not say "sometime mathematician.”
Weart:Ok... surviving... yes exactly. Francis Perrin also pointed out to me. Not to mention...
Gueron:Not so many at that time.
Weart:Not so many committee meetings in the '20's.
Gueron:No... really... you had Faculty meetings and so on and there was certainly a lot of inside politicking in the university but nothing like the systematics of these things we have now.
Weart:It's on page 20... Page 21... Oh about the foreign laborers. Yeah... at that time you say foreign labor was relatively minor in France, mostly in the northern mining district, nothing to be compared with today's situation. Still, there were quite a lot [???]
Gueron:But with this kind of localization, you see.
Weart:I see, only in certain areas.
Gueron:We didn't have the Spanish, Portuguese, Arab…
Weart:No, it's become much more since [???]
Gueron:I don't know much about these [???] of Joliot... I had an assistant once in the Commissariat, he was a tough boy [???], he told me "I have strong family ties with the top management of the Commissariat, my mother was once a maid in Joliot's parents' household and my father was a private in General Guillaumat's army.”
Weart:Page 24, about the inflation, is that in common with all the public services... yeah.
Gueron:It's not specific of…
Weart:Not specific to the professors, no...
Gueron:Same kind of...
Weart:Same thing on page 26... it wasn't just the scientist's salaries that were fixed . That's a good point... In the notes to chapter one you object to my saying that Pierre Biquard's is the most reliable Joliot's biography, maybe I should have said "the most reliable Joliot biography alas. That's by contrast you see with Goldsmith's book and Michel Rise's book which are both incomparably worse.
Gueron:Biquard is an intelligent man; he's of course completely blind, completely systematized. He was an assistant of Joliot on the ultrasonic work... of Langevin I'm sorry.
Weart:An assistant of?
Gueron:Yes. Ultrasonic work, not during the first war.
Weart:Oh afterwards, I see.
Gueron:I knew a sister; a younger sister of his was a fellow student of mine. An organic chemist and she was deported and died in a concentration camp. I don't know whether it is Jaures or Suares.
Weart:Ok, I'll check that.
Gueron:It's probably Jaures.
Weart:I'll check it.
Gueron:By the way, it's out of...
Weart:In page 29, self-sacrificing geniuses like Pasteur, or Claude Bernard and you say...
Gueron:This is true but it is...
Weart:... contradictory to what I said in chapter 1... ok, well I have to deal more carefully in chapter 1... ok Page 31… on Barres, not precisely a reactionary, but very much like one. Dreyfus case pronouncement "J'aime mieux...
Weart:queun desordre.”... I didn't know that. Barr is is a little hard to... Page 32 "Moureu is not such a liberal himself" yes well that's true... tell me a little about Moureu. In fact I don't know too much about his politics.
Gueron:I am speaking here of Charles.
Weart:Yes, Charles Moureu.
Gueron:Well I don't know much, he was a very lonely man, a bit caricatural. I followed his, one year, his lecture course at the College de France. He was really an old style organic chemist but certainly with intuition, he did a lot of things, he pushed Ifres who was a caricature, but a hard-working man.
Weart:You would say he was just a center, not a particularly radical,
Weart:Not a strong conservative either [???].
Gueron:I don't know.
Weart:You don't know, ok... ok well that's good to know.
Gueron:Anyhow you see he did not refuse working with Barres.
Weart:Yes, I understand... which some of them might not have wanted to do.
Gueron:Yes, you see obviously people like Hadamard or Langevin or Perrin who had been very deeply involved at the time of the Dreyfus case would not have easily worked with Barres.
Weart:I see, that's a good point.
Gueron:They might have worked with the devil, but...
Weart:... not with Barres.
Gueron:Well, or not in the same way.
Weart:I understand... Page 37.
Gueron:That's purely a point of fact. You may be right, because my feeling is that in '25 Perrin was already in the Institute rue Pierre Curie and that this old laboratory on the top floor had been handed over to Bouton.
Weart:I see, now Francis Perrin told me, you note there and on the next page that I say "when Perrin's Institute was founded" and he told me it wasn't completed I think till '26... but you're right it contradicts with what I said on the next page... it turns out the date on the next page is wrong... I say it was finished in '22...
Gueron:Certainly not in '22.
Weart:When it was started is when...
Gueron:I remember very well that I had started my work in my future PhD lab it was pre-doctoral work and when Perrin got his Nobel Prize which was… I think was in '27 or late '26, and we all trooped the day it was announced to his lecture... for the occasion and it was already rue Pierre Curie.
Weart:You say the houses lining the street are stone; the Institute lying slightly off the street is brick. Yeah well one side is the houses and on the other side are the Institutes... so it's not exactly lining... yeah... let's see Page 38... The bulk of the time to teaching and administrative duties, you say. No. Teaching loads have traditionally been much lighter in French than in other universities. But there were few positions and lots of scientists had to take high school jobs with heavier loads and no labs. Yeah, it's a good question. Certainly, the officials duties were light, but there was the cumul. So it's the question for an average scientist how much was this total teaching. I don't know, Francis Perrin also commented on this that he thought it was a little...
Gueron:You see, for a full professor at that time, the teaching load was two lectures a week for a semester.
Weart:But for example, when you were in Strasbourg, did you have any cumul or was that professorship sufficient?
Gueron:Not at all, and at that time I was not a full professor and I had a load of 14 to 18 hours of lab supervising.
Weart:So you did have quite a...
Gueron:Yes, but I was not in the professor class.
Weart:I see, so it's a question of... but even people like Langevin and so forth would have some cumul perhaps.
Gueron:It would mean that they had 4 hours lecture.
Gueron:You see, a man like Fabry, who was at the Sorbonne and at the Ecole Polytechnique would give one semester course at the Sorbonne and one semester course at the Ecole Polytechnique and a course would mean at most three lectures a week.
Weart:I see, so...
Gueron:And to quite an extent it would be repetitive.
Weart:What about for the average scientist, the one who did not have a very high professorship, how much would the teaching load be?
Gueron:Well, for people who had mostly to do with lab classes, then it would be heavier.
Gueron:And for people who had to work in secondary schools, then it would be something like 15 hours plus essays to grade and so on.
Weart:[???] (not in the university) [???] They had assistants to do the grading for them.
Gueron:There was no grading to be done.
Weart:Oh that's right, of course, just final examinations.
Weart:I see, so there was a very steep grading. There were some who taught at very light teaching load, and for some it was very heavy.
Gueron:Yes, but for the people you are speaking of there really their teaching loads were very light.
Weart:Ok, good... Page 41... series of courses and examinations, you say more examinations than courses, graduates from engineering schools like Joliot were not granted equivalences to university license which allowed application to submit a Ph.D. thesis. They had to pass the university license exams, which were generally easier though somewhat different than those of the engineering schools. So he wouldn't necessarily have taken any courses, he just had to go through the examinations.
Gueron:Yes, or he might go to courses for refresher and to see what was in the program and what wasn't.
Weart:I see, getting a license if you graduated from an engineering school was not...
Gueron:You see this thing went on for very long, I remember even my eldest son who is now just over 40 was at Polytechnique and he wanted to get a license at the same time, he had to pass the license certificate, this was as late as '54-'55.
Weart:I see, and it was no particular trouble for him as a polytechnician.
Gueron:Except some difference in [???]. Now this is finished and you have some system of automatic equivalence.
Weart:You yourself took the license when you were... from the Sorbonne.
Weart:License... what, you were taking physique and chimie?
Gueron:Mathamatiques generales, physique general, chimie general.
Weart:I see. Page 43. About the tax problems and [???]. It is not as simple as that... but you know, to introduce... you have to tell the Americans something about what was happening in France, and it's very difficult to know what to say, maybe I should just make it shorter and not try to say as much.
Gueron:Or perhaps refer to some standard history or politic book, but it was not simply "le mur d'argent.”
Weart:No, it was much more. I mention... on this place I don't mention, in other places I mention that the radicals own supporters and so forth were also very tight with their money. Fixed government salaries you say, this is page 43, not fixed but tied to civil service scales ??, in other words they would go up but not fast enough.
Weart:I appreciate the very great care you've given. You really read this with very good care.
Gueron:It shows you that I was interested.
Weart:Page 47... for the Socialist party, you would say emerging from its recent split which led to the creation of the French Communist party... I do mention that on an earlier page... but it's lost here.
Gueron:But I'm not sure that it was a really revitalized party.
Weart:I see, in that stronger sense... and then, Blum you say was hardly a normalien. He had left the Ecole Normale after one year, I wasn't aware of that; he's always referred to as a normalien and so forth.
Gueron:No, he never graduated.
Weart:I didn't know that... very interesting.
Gueron:He went after that to law school and...
Weart:I see, do you happen to know why..., well I can look that...
Gueron:I think that [???]...
Weart:Sorry. We were just [???]. Jean Lacouture's Lyon Blum... right... yeah I really want to read that... let's see where we are... ok we've done that page... Page 48 about the religious propaganda.
Gueron:People would tell you that there was another kind of propaganda.
Gueron:You see, state rules which embodied separation of church and state, churches and state because after all there were many churches, although the catholic were predominant. And to some extent of course there was an anticlerical spirit but I think the word is not appropriate.
Weart:I'm sorry, which word?
Weart:I put it in quotes to indicate their attitude.
Gueron:Yes, the attitude was simply to separate, to sever connection between the churches and schools. It wasn't so much to ban, to extract something from the schools; it was really an organic separation.
Weart:Ok... I take your point.
Gueron:It was not a point of curriculum change you see.
Weart:I see, I understand... Page 50 you have a note down here.
Weart:Conceding broad powers to Poincare.
Gueron:It was not only the radicals and the socialists, and the gouvernement par decretaloi or pleins-pouvoirs was no exception. You might check exactly but it's a minor point.
Weart:That's my note, yeah.
Weart:On page 54... inspector's evaluation is only in high schools, not in the universities. Well, ok that's true. In the 1920's period, how many people still had a cumul in high schools, was it still quite a common thing for people to be teaching in... or even perhaps to start their career in a Lycees?
Gueron:Oh yes of course, especially in the arts, in the humanities and the arts. And because it was and it still is a tradition in France that the Ph.D. in the humanities needs an enormous book which takes 10 to 15 years to prepare as opposed to two or three years for a scientific Ph.D. to that lots of people did do that while they were high school professors, or especially did that when they were high schools professors.
Gueron:And then passed over to the university.
Weart:This is one reason that it takes fifteen years I suppose... I see, I see... Yeah, one has to...
Gueron:And you see people, normally there was absolutely no possibility of cumul in high schools, except...
Weart:There was no time for it.
Gueron:Except... no it was forbidden by law, while in universities cumul was accepted. But they could, and they often had to, for purely material reasons, cumul with private schools.
Weart:It was allowed to teach at a state Lycee and also at a private school?
Gueron:If it wasn't explicitly allowed and it wasn't explicitly forbidden.
Weart:I see... one did not have to do it in secret.
Gueron:At least it was an open secret.
Weart:Ok, now down here... this government... bureaucrats let's see... appointments were dictated by government bureaucrats only at the assistant level... and that professors practically decided the appointments from the assistant professor up. The administrative appointments...
Gueron:The others were elected...
Weart:Elected by university committees.
Weart:Rare exceptions raised outcries... well that's true, that's true... ok... yeah I should be more specific there... favoritism and nepotism were common I see, and you add yes but among the professors more than among the administrative bureaucrats... well that's true so I'll make that point... talking about... ok; Page 55 and the next page, so there were only about a thousand full professors in higher education... yeah ok right... actually you know statistics on French professors are very difficult to come by... and particularly for the funding, it is impossible to figure out how much the budget was in a given year. About the secondary schools, it is much too sketchy... I don't know, I feel I should say something about it... Page 56... about Joliot's student assistant you say she had tenure as an Assistant and later Chef de Travaux. Well that's true I should mention...
Gueron:You should check on her Notice de titres et travaux.
Weart:It's true that Irene had a job... That's true and that got over-looked at that point... Page 57, Rothschild's Institute could be traced to the Radium Institute and the Pasteur Institute.
Gueron:Well, Rothschild's Institutes you put them as if they were the first in time you see. The first in time was the Pasteur Institute. And that's clear that this was a really completely new invention at the time.
Weart:So it's a question of the phrasing there.
Weart:Ok, I see your point... I put things in there in reverse order...
Gueron:Yes, and the Radium Institute was not so much separated from the university.
Weart:Yes... that relationship was always a little difficult to handle I think.
Gueron:Not so much. After all, they were all university professors it was practically their university lab... but of course you see, you must be careful to make the difference between l'Institut du Radium which was practically Marie Curie's university lab and the Fondation Curie which was rather the hospital.
Weart:That's the building that's a little over behind there.
Gueron:Yes... and then Rothschild's, you put "Institutes", which one have you in mind?
Weart:Well, I was thinking... actually it's all supposedly one Institute right but there was the mathematics Institute and the...
Gueron:This is not Rothschild's.
Weart:Well partly it was Rothschild's.
Gueron:Well he may have given funds, but the only one which is legitimately called Rothschild is the Institut de Biologie physico-chimique.
Gueron:Which is completely separated from the university.
Weart:I see ok.
Gueron:While the Institut Henri Poincar‚ is definitely part of the University.
Weart:I see ok... Page 58 you add French [???]... to make it clear... ok. Page 59... Appell[???] and Borel studied physics together and Borel was a mathematician... all right I understand... They studied together, I don't need to say physics there.
Gueron:Yes, just... you know.
Weart:... studied science together...
Gueron:You are very thorough because you went even to Cavalier, he happened to be a fellow at the Ecole Normale of my wife's father.
Weart:Oh is that so?
Gueron:The first time I saw Cavalier he wrote a note to my father-in-law saying "mon cher Bernheim, j'ai vu ton gendre" and so on.
Weart:I see, small world... You had a note on this page something. Page 67.
Gueron:I don't think it was so ambitious.
Weart:The CNRS [Caisse nationale de la Recherche scientifique] plan.
Gueron:I think really the point was that you had to have more means and to have these means in the hands of the scientists and that progressively this would sort itself out. I don't think there was such a clear, formulated plan.
Weart:That was imposed on it later so to speak.
Gueron:Yes, because I remember very well the beginnings of that you see, because I was a PhD student at the time, and I remember one day Delpine who was not my PhD boss but I had been a military assistant in his lab, and he liked me and one day he told me "you should apply for one of these new fellowships.” I told him "Look, I'm by far not advanced enough" and he said "Well we have too much money.” So I applied and I got it you see.
Weart:He had enough money for everyone.
Gueron:Yes, it's often the same at the start of a novice institution, they are relatively richly endowed. It doesn't last, but at the beginning they generally have a surplus of means.
Gueron:You mentioned that at the beginning of the Commissariat, I saw that also at the beginnings of Euratom.
Gueron:The difficulty is to make the politicians understand that if you don't want to spend that money which has to be there at the start because you can see how things will develop, you have to make economies, you have...
Weart:From the beginning?
Gueron:Yes. This money because it has not been spent must nevertheless be left there because it will be spent.
Gueron:Even if it is not committed in an accounting sense, it is committed.
Weart:I understand something about that. In this country [USA], in the Space administration they talk about funding curves...
Weart:... and how steep the funding curve should be... but the CNRS started already with a great deal.
Weart:Relatively yeah... relative to the number of people who had been supported before.
Gueron:Yes... so I think you are overdoing the foresight in the planning. The point was to have more money and to have a structure.
Weart:And to have scientists in charge of it.
Gueron:Yes... and to have something which was not so organically linked to the university. This of course led to excesses, but we'll come to that later.
Weart:Ok... Page 68 about the Academie.
Gueron:You see, the very fact, or that's one of my pet ideas, it's not shared by many people of course, the very fact that you have to be a candidate for the Academie and to go visiting and begging for votes makes reform impossible. Because you have to beg before coming in.
Weart:Yes I understand, that's why Pierre Curie and Marie Curie were so... Madame Curie was of course very upset by that procedure and so on. I well understand that.
Gueron:And anyhow you see, the Academie has, I can't see that it ever had any weight.
Weart:Certainly not at this time.
Gueron:It's a club, it's very honorable, it’s advantageous to be a Membre de l'Institute you get your load of firewood from... that's all.
Weart:It had no influence.
Gueron:No. Salon influence of course, a club influence, but no organic one. It's nothing like your National Academy and still less like the Russian Academy of Science which is really an organic body and a [???]... [???] and perhaps they are right.
Weart:Yes. Even when you were coming up as a student you were already aware of this or did it seem when you were a young student that the Academie was somehow the pinnacle you were hoping for.
Gueron:Some people, certainly.
Weart:Just as some people will always have their eyes on the Nobel Prize or something.
Gueron:Yes... except that the Nobel Prize is really for achievement and the Academie is more of a kind of social business. Of course you see, you had to have some connections with it because that was the way you could publish. The Compterendus after all you see most of your... in this time in France you could not put in your thesis anything which had been extensively published... and there was tolerance for Note aux Compterendus... and either your PhD boss was a Membre of the Academie or he was not. If he was of course he would present your notes. If not you had to go and find one who would accept. My Ph. D. boss was not a member so I had to go and find one who was friendly to him and who would take care of reading my text.
Weart:I see, who was that?
Gueron:In my case it was Urbain. I remember one day when I was trying to discuss one of my notes with him, Urbain told me "Je suis trop vieux pour faire attention… ce que les autres ecrivent.”
Weart:So he would just present it... without reading it.
Gueron:Or raise objections without reading it.
Gueron:When I was with Prettre one of the two Young Turks on the first Commissions of the CNRS, we had once to report on the application of a man who had obviously series of notes in the Compterendus, and it was very easy to show that all he had done was to write 0 equals 0. So we exposed that and Perrin who was the senior member of the Commission said "Gosh, who presented these notes?" And we said, "It was you.” And he said "If one had to read all the notes one presents.”
Weart:So usually one could find somebody to present your notes?
Weart:No one had trouble with it. And no one might have read it before it was printed.
Weart:I see... Page 70... they were also government appointments.
Weart:Even though below 40... I was one of them... Oh I didn't realize the government specifically appointed people below 40.
Weart:I see, I see.
Gueron:Either there was a parity system or the youngest were only appointed by the government, I don't remember exactly, but you'll find out in the text of the decrees.
Weart:Yes I know... how did you happen to be elected or, I'm sorry, how did you happen to be chosen, do you know?
Gueron:Well, perhaps after all we were two in this discipline, Prettre and I, and we were starting to be known among the Young Turks of the French physical chemistry.
Gueron:Although neither of us belonged to the Perrin circle.
Weart:I see... ok. On page 71 about Anatole De Monzie... yeah I'm going to cross out a bit about De Monzie, there's no need to talk about him. As you say the gauche radicale was not really to the left and so forth... Page 72. ... all right, about the actual beginning of the CNRS.
Gueron:This I think you should be careful, because I do not think at all that the CNRS got overall jurisdiction on all research funds. And up to now it's not so... we still have university funds.
Gueron:And this is distinct from the CNRS and it's a permanent bickering point in the university budgets.
Weart:Yeah I guess the thing is as I understand it, there were separate lines in universities, research budget line and then there was the educational laboratory line...
Weart:And they took over the research budget line but then of course the educational laboratories...
Gueron:No, no not fully, not fully.
Gueron:There is still a research budget line in the university.
Gueron:So I think you...
Weart:I'll have to check back on that.
Gueron:Yes... check or tone down.
Weart:Well let me check because perhaps the present university budget line was added on... again was reinstated later on.
Gueron:I don't think it was ever completely taken... but I can't...
Weart:I'll check the decrees. It may have been just part of the... ok now 73 about the "decret-loi.”
Gueron:Well I don't know who is your observer but...
Weart:I can find out quickly enough... Jean Coulomb... .74... [???] into reserves.
Gueron:Yes well... you probably have the figures but you see this comes into the kind of thing I mentioned earlier, that at the start of these things you have a surplus of money.
Gueron:And then after they found the fact that they have not spent it and make the financial inspectors understand that this is not because they were unable to do their job, but because they did it well, in keeping, in setting up reserves.
Gueron:See, at this time in the public accounting things were not as clear as they have become after the war with the idea of planning and even after that you see, I had difficulties for instance in Euratom in making the people coming from other countries than France to understand that you had program commitments, yearly committing accounts and yearly spending accounts.
Weart:So these things were not understood by...?
Gueron:They were not understood at all at the beginning of Euratom by the Germans and the Dutch.
Weart:By whom, you mean, the political people or the scientists?
Gueron:Anyone from their civil service... because they worked only on yearly spending budgets.
Weart:I see... they were not used to starting large programs...
Gueron:And the idea of autorisations de programme, autorisations d'engagement, autorisations de paiement was completely foreign.
Weart:Is that so?
Gueron:I wouldn't say Davey [???] was a historian, he was a history high school teacher, which is not the same thing.
Weart:Ok... history teacher... yeah. Page 79. Blum is a former Conseiller d'Etat?
Gueron:Yes... he was a member of the Conseil d’Etat that was his professional status.
Weart:Yes that's true.
Gueron:He was not simply a dilettante.
Weart:Yes, ok... one perhaps should call him a lawyer I suppose or...
Weart:What does one call a member of the Conseil d'Etat, that comes up again later on with Toutee, does one call them government counselor or...
Gueron:It's the nearest thing to the Supreme Court.
Gueron:No, your Supreme Court is an administrative tribunal. See, it deals with constitutional problems and this is what mostly the Conseil d'Etat does. It adjudges on the constitutionality and the regularity of government acts. You may have, it may deal also on conflicts of persons but only with the government, not between individuals.
Weart:Yeah, I wonder how one would translate that.
Gueron:It's not so easy to translate. Perhaps you should put a footnote. But certainly you cannot compare it to an appellate court; the nearest analogy is Supreme Court.
Weart:Yeah... in Britain there isn't any real analogy, is there? It's...
Gueron:No, because there is no written constitution.
Weart:Yeah... I don't know, I'll have to think about that... Page 81.
Gueron:Yes this was the utopia, the fashionable and superficial utopia.
Weart:Yes... they all had modern paintings in their apartments and so forth. I think they really imagined that someday the workers would be that way too.
Gueron:Yes, I remember a sentence of Andr‚ Job who was a very good chemist somewhere on the fringes of that coterie, writing, it must have been in the 1915's or the 1920's: "L'humanit‚ entrera bient“t dans la plaine des loisirs.”
Weart:83... 84... oh yeah, this is something I wish I knew more about. There's clearly things going on there... between professeurs and chercheurs.
Gueron:I don't know what paper you are referring to.
Weart:It's something that I found in the archives, Archives nationales. I don't know who it's from, but it referred to a debate that had recently taken place, I guess in that Conseil Superieure de l ‘Instruction or whatever... that there had been some sort of opposition which I presume...
Gueron:Yes, this relates to something we discussed a few pages before. But I don't think that there ever was any question that the lab, the travaux pratique, the lab teaching, was to be funded by the CNRS.
Weart:Well I think that they tried to take it over and failed, you see.
Gueron:Well it may be. I have no remembrance of that time.
Weart:Anyway the most interesting thing here for me is the suggestion that there was an opposition between chercheurs et professeurs. But I haven't found any other echo of this and I wondered if you might...
Gueron:Well, certainly there were people who felt there was, and in fact it came to be so specially after the war, that there was some built-in opposition between CNRS and universities. Certainly some people feared that the CNRS money would not be all supplemental money, that there would be some shift and therefore the professors and their independence from everything might be threatened to some extent.
Weart:The picture I get from you, from what you've told me so far today is that there were, as I wrote the word, the old professors who had reservations about this new organization coming up, and there were also young people who simply were not members of it and who had reservations about it.
Gueron:And there would be people who were not so much opposed to structures, but who feared that the clan would get its hands on everything.
Gueron:See, all these things were mixed and it certainly was a subtle game. I was probably too junior at the time to fully see it, but you see, all these elements combined in a somewhat difficult way to disentangle.
Weart:Well I must say something if you don't mind.
Weart:My citing, my quoting you about the feelings among some of the other young people that perhaps the Perrin circle was as you say a clan. Because I think that's really interesting.
Gueron:And not only among the younger people.
Weart:Yes of course...
Gueron:Probably more so among the older ones.
Weart:But the interesting thing is that even among the younger people, because in the text I talk about the feelings of the older people. But even some of the younger people were excluded.
Gueron:Oh yes, there is no question that it was a class society.
Weart:Yes... Joseph Caillaux had advocated as early as 1910 introducing income tax in France... yeah, I want to say a little more about... it wasn't really a... but in the '30's he was quite conservative in a way.
Gueron:Yes but in fact he was a man... he was a capitalist. Fundamentally a capitalist and a liberal economist... but he was a man who, in fiscal matters, in general policy concerning Franco-German relations, he was a man who was far ahead of his time.
Weart:Ahead of his time... I see... by the way since writing this, I read a little more of Caillaux, and the way that during the '30's he, I shouldn't say attacked science, but felt that science was advancing too fast for society. I don't know if you recall any of that controversy.
Gueron:No, but you see this was the fashion during the crisis. Even a man as intelligent and with a scientific or at least medical background, even a man like Georges Duhamel called for a tr eve des inventeurs which is a recurrent theme of people who are frightened by the times that they live in.
Weart:I see... you do recall this being talked about particularly during the depression.
Gueron:Oh yes, no question.
Weart:Was this among your students and so forth or... was it all around you?
Gueron:We were plunged in the middle of the depression you see... people like, well my contemporaries, who graduated in '28 or so, we got our doctorates in the early '30's…
Gueron:Nothing, it was completely blocked, no openings, nothing.
Gueron:It was as bad as now.
Weart:I did some studies...
Gueron:My wife was a lab fellow. We were both on the CNRS.
Gueron:Yes. The year after we were back here, I was promoted to Charg‚ without any reason but she was dropped because she was married to me.
Gueron:So you see I had a promotion, she was cut out and we had half the money.
Weart:I see, I see... when was this, what year is this about?
Gueron:This must have been in the summer '34-'35.
Weart:I see. The CNRS was in fact a good thing for you?
Weart:When the popular front came along...
Gueron:Except in incidents like this.
Weart:Well yeah... but when the increase came, when the increase in funding came, it must have been a considerable help to you.
Gueron:There is no question. For quite a time, during my PhD, I supported myself, although my family was relatively easy. Not wealthy but there was no real problem. But I wanted to be independent. I taught on the side in a private school, in a private secondary school, where I was once bitterly attacked by the parents to the principal of the school, because obviously I didn't do my work for it: I lectured without notes.
Gueron:But you see also, a little later, when I applied for a lectureship in Strasbourg and got it, I was once... I was also doing work on the side you see; I edited the Physical chemistry abstracts common to the Bulletin de la Societe Chimique and the Journal de Physique. And I worked as a compiler for the Tables de Constantes. And when I went to Strasbourg of course I had to abandon these things and I was once summoned by Pierre Auger who had been prompted by editors of these things and who told me "You should stay, you should stay. You will have a future. Why go into the provinces?" I told him: "Look here, substantially, (it will be ok [???]). But I [???] have a family. This is my chance to go into a university." I told him what happened to my wife and I. I told him: "What can you offer?"
Weart:Nothing, in fact he didn't have anything to offer you.
Gueron:He didn't have anything to offer me, he could see that I had some promise and could wait for my opportunity.
Weart:I see, wait for a few more years...
Gueron:But he was in the clan, I was out.
Gueron:He was a normalien, I was not.
Gueron:You see somewhat [???]
Weart:Let's see, page 651 note 37... these professors were nearly exclusively secondary school teachers... I wasn't sure of that because all it says is professeurs... not very many university professors?
Weart:I see... Page 653 on Cogniot. You say: [reading] "One should be careful. Andr‚ Langevin was an orthodox party member and the link between his father and Cogniot before the war may have been less tight than he says, but I cannot assure it was not." Well I wish I knew... that's a good point... ok.
Gueron:Andre is an idiot, [???] he's really a minus.
Weart:I should go back to the text and say something like Cogniot is said to have been Langevin's friend or something like that to take account of it... it's a good point.
Gueron:You see Langevin of course was... had leftish opinion, like all of us. But Langevin became a party member only during the war and to some extent in memory of Solomon, his son-in-law. Langevin was a much more independent spirit.
Weart:I see you've read the notes with great care.
Gueron:This is why I asked for them, because really they substantiate the text.
Weart:Not everyone is taking nearly as much care with this as you have. I'm really very grateful.
Gueron:Well, lots of students or even fellows were surprised at the way I read their draft thesis.
Weart:Let's see, page 90.
Gueron:Yes, well I cannot say very much, simply be careful in this because in all these things which were really very sensitive, in this progress of science, you must be aware of the cercle d'admiration mutuelle.
Weart:Oh yes..., I know but in this case it happened I've made a study and I've read all the original papers and actually I'm quite impressed by the fact that Langevin, Perrin, Debierne to some extent were in some ways ahead of other physicists in pointing out this particular point. Not specifically the nucleus, but the fact that you have to make a distinction between the outside electrons and the inside thing whatever it was... anyway, I have studied that carefully myself.
Gueron:Ok, in that case...
Weart:I was interested; I was struck by it... I think more than they realized themselves.
Gueron:Well, that's the point you see.
Weart:Yes, I understand, ok... Page 92.
Gueron:Why do you say "partly resembled?” It was exactly the same as any other university department. You had one full professor, one or two assistant professors and a series of students, assistants, chefs de travaux, assistants.
Weart:Well, tell me, wasn't the Radium Institute, or perhaps not specifically the Radium Institute, but weren't those several institutes... they were, during the '20's and '30's, generally larger and they had a bit more organization than some of the earlier laboratories in the sense that there would not just be one professor and his students, but there would be perhaps a hierarchy of one professor and several groups under them... in the sense that...
Gueron:Well they were more numerous of course.
Weart:But not only more numerous, but because of being more numerous it was not just one professor and many students directly under but that... under the professor, they were beginning to form into groups, there was a little more hierarchy organization.
Gueron:Yes a little. But fundamentally there was still only a single full professor.
Weart:I see... ok... I understand. Page 93 about nuclear physics.
Gueron:Which field is not a pack of [???]. Here I would take exception you see. They were not free to doubt. They had a problem with the facts of beta decay.
Weart:I see. This is page 94, they were forced to doubt that energy was conserved.
Gueron:Well, they had a fundamental problem with beta decay and the conservation of energy. After all, that's what the neutrino was invented for.
Weart:I understand your point, you're right. Page 95, polonium.
Gueron:One did [???] than that, no. Page 96... of the particles of very high energy.
Gueron:You see, that's the point.
Weart:That's the point.
Gueron:It's not because it's an alpha emitter, but...
Weart:... because they're high energy.
Gueron:Yes, they are of the highest energy alphas.
Weart:Oh I didn't know that, the highest energy... or anyway very high energy.
Gueron:Well, you have to check in tables.
Weart:Ok, I'll check that.
Gueron:That's the only value of polonium you see.
Weart:I see, ok. Well thank you.
Gueron:It's a relatively short half-life, and therefore very high energy.
Weart:I understand, I see. I'll add that. Page 105.
Gueron:Oh, just I think you should put a capital.
Weart:Oh, capital Geiger. Ok. Unless you call it Geiger-Miller counter. Page 109, laboratories of inorganic chemistry.
Gueron:Well either you say chimie minerale or you say inorganic chemistry.
Weart:Ok, mineral chemistry is a bad translation... all right, good. Page 110... Ok, somebody already told me about that... You know I was walking down the street and I saw it there and I thought it was the same one but no. Page 111, when is an official...
Gueron:There was no official inspector.
Weart:Yes ok, I see you make it seem like he was an official inspector... no, as a member of the government went to look at the laboratories I should have said, right, ok good point... and then at the bottom the rebuilding of the Coll ege de France had started long before... tell me about that... it's this new building...
Gueron:Yes you see because I remember that the... when Delpine. Delpine was the successor of Moureu at the College de France, and he was applying for professorship when I was his military assistant, a period which ended in the spring of 1930. And when he moved into the College de France he didn't move as far as I remember in the old buildings but already in the new ones which was the same complex of houses.
Weart:Is it adjoint in fact on the same...
Gueron:They are behind rue St Jacques... so that...
Weart:On the other side of the rue St Jacques...
Weart:They're still on the same side.
Gueron:On the same side but behind...
Gueron:Left when you go up... but in the back of the primitive original buildings.
Weart:That's the building that's still there in fact.
Gueron:Oh yes, yes. So I remember well the old chemistry laboratories of Matignon because I had friends there, I used to go there and do some work, this was even in the... after the '30's, but the new complex was already being... so it's a matter of checking the exact date... it's not very important.
Weart:I see... now Joliot had... he had both... but I know that there was renovation going on, so is it possible that he had both the laboratory in the new building and also took over Matignon's old laboratories in the old building?
Gueron:Maybe that he moved in the new building himself and that Henri Moureu who was his Sous-directeur kept the old buildings for a while... I cannot assure you but I think you have to check dates if you want to be exactly accurate.
Weart:Ok... Matignon's old laboratory was pretty decrepit at that time.
Gueron:Oh it was... it certainly was.
Gueron:Probably Daudet would still remember if he's not too decrepit. He has aged terribly [???].
Weart:What was for Joliot and for the Moureu group. As a professor Joliot would probably forward the papers for both group to [???]... yes it was for both groups in fact a lot of this I mention here was probably for the Moureu...
Gueron:I think all this was Moureu.
Weart:Yes... I haven't found all of the budget records, particularly a lot of the budget records for Ivry I never found.
Gueron:Well Ivry was definitely an extension of the Radium Institute, and Moureu had nothing to do with it.
Weart:But in terms of funding I think there were a lot of CNRS funds probably.
Gueron:Yes but for Joliot, not for Moureu... while Air ministry and Agriculture...
Weart:Yes I think that...
Gueron:... would be for Moureu.
Weart:Yes that's true, that's true... so as you described it earlier Joliot sort of left Moureu to run the chemistry section...
Weart:... pretty much by himself.
Gueron:Oh yes and you see, Moureu is also part of the clan, I don't say that Henri Moureu was a nobody but if he had not been the son of Charles...
Gueron:Or nothing like what it was.
Weart:Off to a Lycée...
Weart:Page 116... There was a lot of interaction in chemistry, oil, dyes, fertilizers, pharmacy in the industrial…
Weart:Yeah, but even so not as much as in other countries I think, Le Chatelier complains about that and so forth.
Gueron:Le Chatelier complains about that, but he did a lot to change this, and in the organic chemistry it was hand in hand with the pharmacy, the pharmaceutic industry. You see Moureu had dealings with industry; a man like Delpine was a full time scientific advisor to Rhine- Poulenc and there were many others.
Weart:Did you have any contacts with the industry before the war?
Gueron:A little, I had a little with the oil industry.
Weart:This was when you were in Strasbourg?
Gueron:It was before, and also when I was in Strasbourg in... when I was in Strasbourg I was retained as a consultant by a French oil firm. I had quite a job to make them understand that I did not cash their check because I did not have the facility to do any work interesting for them.
Weart:I see, it would be difficult for them to understand. They were interested in research in fact?
Gueron:Oh yes. No in fact you see, this particular industry had approached me to found a laboratory, a research division, and we had had to spend one month in one of their plants, and had submitted a plan for establishing this. We had not agreed upon what I proposed, which had seemed to them too radical at the time. It was to have a central laboratory, to have branches in the plants and so on. But they were sufficiently afraid to refuse my plan but sufficiently impressed to want to retain me.
Weart:I see... so here on page 115, 116 it might be fairer to say that they had once held aloof from one another, but that this was now changing.
Gueron:I shouldn't... rather than say held aloof, I would say that they were less closely tied than elsewhere. Certainly much less than in Germany.
Weart:Ok... but not completely separated... I see. Page 117... Oh yes about these committees.
Gueron:I don't know which is your source?
Weart:Oh that's Laugier.
Gueron:That's Laugier... well Laugier is a bit of a meridional but fundamentally he is probably right. I've experienced similar things in the liaison committee I had instituted in Euratom. I can remember first sittings; I had an incredibly hard time to have anyone besides myself open his mouth. And they started to see that there was a point and they began to be happy.
Weart:Tell me which CNRS committees did you sit on? You mentioned that you were...
Gueron:I don't remember whether there was a specialized physical-chemistry one at that time or whether it was... I think it was inorganic and physical chemistry.
Weart:I see. And there was [???] of dividing up the funds?
Weart:You voted on dividing up the funds?
Gueron:We voted on the research grants and on the fellowships.
Weart:And how was this usually done? Someone would come in and would present them to you or...
Gueron:Oh, we had a number of sessions per year, we had the various dossiers parceled among ourselves and each one reported on the dossiers he had been entrusted with, and there was an open and general discussion.
Weart:I see... so it wasn't much...
Gueron:We only left the room when it was our own dossier...
Gueron:or request which was discussed.
Weart:But there was enough give and take so that nobody... if someone had a dossier and said we should do this and not do this, it wouldn't just be accepted immediately but there would be discussions.
Gueron:Oh yes we had discussions.
Weart:I see... I suppose many of the people would know the people that were being discussed?
Weart:I see...so it must have been some very interesting discussions... ok sorry. Page 118. Joliot and the socialists. You say "I'm not so certain about that, as far as I know he signed in 1939 the socialist protest against the Russian-German agreement.”... yeah... well...
Gueron:He and the communists tried to throw confusion on this after. When Joliot was a fully committed member.
Weart:I see. It might be fairer to say that Joliot began to drift away from the socialist party rather than to imply that he immediately left them at that point.
Gueron:I think you should check very carefully.
Gueron:There is no question that we were all trying to help the Spanish. I remember polishing old decrepit arms with Biquard and others.
Weart:To ship off to Spain.
Gueron:Yes, but this doesn't at all mean that Joliot had anything formal to do with the party at that time. It may be, I don't know, but in so far as breaking permanently, this, which I can think I am sure of, but you can easily check, this showed he would not have [???]
Weart:I see; the fact that he signed it would show that he remained with the socialists. I understand.
Gueron:Certainly inflation would placate the right... perhaps he...
Gueron:Oh it's very difficult...
Weart:But the problem is one has to say...
Gueron:To realize and then to condense.
Weart:And then to say it for Americans who would have no understanding of...
Weart:... French politics. Page 119 Centre Marcellin Berthelot.
Gueron:I don't know what that is.
Weart:I don't know either.
Gueron:It may be some local center of communist influence. I don't know, but it certainly is not something prominent which you can name without qualifying it.
Weart:I see... ok.
Gueron:And Marcellin Berthelot was certainly not a communist, he was a grand bourgeois, maybe a radical but certainly no communist.
Gueron:Maybe, I don't know.
Gueron:Ah yes but Crowther is not...
Weart:Not so reliable?
Gueron:Well Crowther is at least a fellow traveler, if not a full member of the party and with these people you always have to question the exactness. And the bias is enormous. You see, Crowther, he is a sort of Biquard of Bernal.
Weart:Yes, I understand.
Gueron:He is a very knowledgeable man; I don't know whether he is still alive or not.
Weart:Yes he is, he recently published a book in fact.
Gueron:But he is so biased and engaged that he is never there where you stand.
Weart:I see, ok.
Gueron:See this becomes all part of the hagiography of the foundation, the [???] foundation, [???]
Weart:Yes ok. Page 122 you say "It's an associate professor rather than an assistant professor.”... yes, it's a question of translation.
Gueron:Yes... maetre de conference.
Weart:Maetre de conference... ok associate professor, you're right it's a better translation ok... because assistant professor seems much too low.
Gueron:You see I think, I don't know whether you know the history of the discovery of francium.
Weart:A very complicated thing... yeah... I know.
Gueron:No, it's a very simple thing.
Weart:Well I don't think... I know something about it anyway.
Gueron:You see it's typical of the atmosphere. Apparently Debierne and Irene were not on speaking terms, although they were both in there you see. They had one common assistant, Marguerite Perey and they independently gave her the same topic. Marguerite never dared tell the other one that she had been assigned the same job.
Weart:Oh I didn't know that, that's funny.
Gueron:Until she had to show the results. And then Irene and Debierne could not agree to publish jointly, so Marguerite Perey was the discoverer of francium.
Weart:I see... no, I never heard that story.
Gueron:(laughing) Not even Goldschmidt passed on to you this piece of gossip?
Weart:No because we didn't get into that particular subject.
Gueron:The subject is irrelevant especially now, but it is very typical of the sort of atmosphere which prevailed and this to some extent links with what we said before about the organization.
Weart:Yeah. Debierne of course is a particularly difficult case.
Gueron:Oh yes. He was a completely [???] man.
Weart:By the way, speaking of those people, do you know what happened to Georges Sagnac, did you ever hear about him?
Weart:Sagnac... S.a.g.n.a.c..... a "physician"
Gueron:No... Sagnac was he not of those people who tried to refute relativity?
Gueron:Explaining that you could also find that the speed of sound was a natural limit.
Weart:Something like that. Page 123... yes, somebody else pointed that out to me also.
Gueron:Yes, well they had...
Weart:Ok... and I understand about that, I'm correcting that already. Page 124. Thorium has only the 232 isotope, apart from short-lived radioactive daughters. I see.
Gueron:You see, of course UX are of course isotopes of thorium, but in the sense you indicate here...
Weart:Ok I should say most elements or... yeah ok. I just had to introduce the notion of isotopes. Page 125... the work was hazardous... what were you going to say about that?
Gueron:I think it should be qualified because, apart from the carelessness with which they handled polonium, there was nothing hazardous at that time, with the amounts they handled you see... of course there had been the famous burn of Pierre Curie, but in so far as it was hazardous, they didn't know it was.
Weart:Oh I see. So when I say this I imply that they were aware that it was hazardous.
Gueron:And I think they were not aware,
Weart:...they were not aware of it.
Gueron:Or they were really careless.
Weart:Ok I understand, I understand. Page 126... if you can follow the decay for days, there is no hurry to do the chemistry... well ok that's true for a lot of the stuff they were doing before artificial radioactivity... it was not in fact so hurried.
Gueron:It was more the natural radioactivity.
Weart:That's true; it wasn't really until artificial radioactivity was it that this problem appeared of having to do things in 20 minutes or whatever?
Gueron:To some extent it appeared early in radioactivity when you had the short-lived...
Weart:Well that's true, there is some that are short-lived. Some of the families are short-lived.
Gueron:But in the early artificial radioactivity you had really [???]
Weart:Well it depends because...
Gueron:Yes it depends but you put it as a general statement.
Weart:Yes I should make it as some cases.
Weart:I see what you mean, I understand, in some cases it had to be done in a few minutes. Page 127... it's rather...
Weart:Down to the College de France... narrow in the opposite direction... you know I want to give some feeling of the Quartier Latin. To me the Quartier Latin...
Gueron:Yes, but rue St Jacques is really a rather spaceful affair of the Quartier Latin... not when you go near rue Pierre Curie.
Weart:But not compared to the streets here in New York you see.
Gueron:No, but compared with those in Paris and then it becomes again a very small street when you go to the level of rue Pierre Curie. But here at the College de France it's rather spacious.
Weart:Ok. Page 128... Langevin seminars mostly led by Edmond Bauer.
Weart:Edmond Bauer... I didn't know that... were less fashionable but more substantial... that's interesting. Did you use to attend those sometimes?
Gueron:The Langevin seminars?
Gueron:Yes of course.
Weart:Even though you were a chemist.
Gueron:I was always called a chemist by physicists, and a physicist by chemists. That's why I could [???].
Weart:I see. Langevin used to have visitors also at his seminars?
Gueron:Oh yes. Very many. That's the first time I saw Ziman [or, less likely, Zeeman, MG]. And all this was Bauer. Langevin was already at that time a distant figure, a father figure. But Bauer was the man.
Gueron:Of course it was a table of isotopes, but the main point is that for them it was a table of elements. And the thing you don't say here but which to me is very topical [???] it was that Hahn himself had published a theory on a second rare earth family.
Weart:On the second rare earth family.
Gueron:Years before. And then when he came on to these puzzling things, apparently he had forgotten.
Weart:Is that so?
Gueron:You see, and Seaborg unraveled the whole thing on this assumption of a second rare earth family.
Weart:But Hahn never, in terms of his search for plutonium, never looked in that direction.
Gueron:Although he had published it.
Weart:Interesting, I didn't know that.
Gueron:I can't give you the exact references...
Weart:Oh I could find it.
Gueron:... but you could... certainly Hahn had published this sort of things between I would say '25 or '20 and the fission paper. Probably largely earlier because otherwise he could not have dissociated, have these sort of unconscious dissociation
Weart:Dissociation... I'm sorry?
Gueron:between these two pieces.
Weart:Oh I see, I understand. Page 131, prometheum was not yet recognized... oh yeah, but the point is that it may have been in there.
Weart:Ok... so some way of phrasing that... at the bottom. Page 132, normally one would not apply for an affectation speciale, it was the laboratory or industry wanting the man to stay or come, which would arrange matters with the army... I see, ok I didn't know that... Daladier, ok maybe I should change that... Ok, now I must...