Oral History Transcript — Dr. Conyers Herring
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Interview with Dr. Conyers Herring
Conyers Herring; October 31, 1974
ABSTRACT: From Herring's childhood and early education to his election as department head for the theoretical physics group at Bell Laboratories in 1956. Topics include graduate education at California Institute of Technology and Princeton University; Ph.D. in physics, 1937; early interest in astronomy, wartime work (hydrodynamics of explosions, underwater explosions). Much of the interview is devoted to brief discussions of individual publications; discussion of working environment at Bell Labs and experiences there from 1945 through the 1950s. Also prominently mentioned are: John Bardeen, Felix Bloch, Richard Milton Bozorth, Edward Uhler Condon, de Boer, Peter Josef William Debye, DeMarco, Dutton, William Fairbank, Enrico Fermi, Foner, Frobenius, Theodore Geballe, Gorkov, Gorteov, Holstein, William Vermillion Houston, Josef Jauch, Charles Kittel, Kunzler, Kunzter, Lev Davidovich Landau, Fritz London, Bernd T. Matthias, Robert Andrews Millikan, George Moore, Stanley Owen Morgan, Nichols, Obraztsov, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Gerald Leondus Pearson, Pitaevskii, Maurice Rice, Henry Norris Russell, Frederick Seitz, William Shockley, Shur, John Clarke Slater, Rado Suhl, Dave Thouless, Titeica, John Hasbrouck Van Vleck, Pierre Weiss, Gunther Wertheim, Eugene Paul Wigner, Witteborn, Dean E. Wooldridge, Fritz Zwicky; Zmerican Institute of Physics, Bell Telephone Laboratories Journal Club, Bell Telephone Laboratories Library, International Conference on Semiconductors, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Physics in Perspective, Reviews of Modern Physics, University of Kansas, University of Michigan Summer Symposium in Theoretical Physics.
Hoddeson:In the 1930's, you were in several places - Caltech, Princeton, MIT, Missouri. While you were at these various places, 'earning, teaching and carrying out research in solid state physics, were you aware of the Michigan Summer School where some very exciting courses relating to solid state physics were being offered?
Herring:Well, certainly in the latter portion of the '30's I was very aware of the existence of the Michigan Summer School. I spent the summer of 1940 there.
Hoddeson:The Summer when London spoke?
Herring:Yes, London was there.
Hoddeson:You were then at Columbia. Is that correct?
Herring:That was when I was in between Princeton and Missouri.
Hoddeson:Did the discussions at Michigan that summer relate to the work you were doing?
Herring:Well,not specifically to the work I was doing, except of course that I gave a colloquium talk on it —
Hoddeson:— on what subject?
Herring:This was the electronic structure of beryllium.
Hoddeson:Do you have any papers left over from that time?
Herring:I have all sorts of my own documents3 but I don't have any reprints of the physical review paper that Hill and I published at that time.
Hoddeson:I'd be particularily interested, in a list of people who were there that summer. Might you have kept such a list?
Herring:Not that I know of, no.
Hoddeson:Information about the Michigan Summer School is quite scattered; it hasn't been collected together yet and should be because it was a very interesting phenomenon.
Herring:I must have taken some notes and things on the lectures there, but I'm not sure where they would be. They probably would be filed if I had them under subjects of specific lectures (pointing) in here. They'd be in all sorts of different places. I undoubtedly took notes on London's lectures, for instance.
Hoddeson:If you come across them sometime I'd appreciate taking a look; they would be very interesting for me to glance through. Changing Themes: Did you in those years have any contact with work being done in solid state physics in industrial laboratories?
Herring:Some I suppose, because it was during those years that Fred Seitz was at General Electric. Let's see, he was at General Electric for a while ,then he went to Rochester as I recall. I may be wrong on the order of those he was at Rochester toward the end of the 30's. It may have been that Rochester preceded General Electric, I'm not sure. I remember that Bill Shockley went to Bell Laboratories—
Hoddeson:Did you have communication with him at that time?
Herring:Not too much communication with him, I had some communication with him, but more on the work that he did at MIT I guess than on the work that he was doing at Bell. I know that we were aware of some of the work that some of the Bell Laboratories people did toward the end of the '30's. For example, I got interested in thermionic emission and some of the experimental work of J. A. Becker, and Walter Brattain, and also theoretical work of theirs and of Art Ahearn, experimental work of Ahearn's.
Hoddeson:Were you writing to them or meeting with them at that time?
Herring:I was not at that time meeting with them or corresponding with them, no.
Hoddeson:I see, you were just reading their papers.
Herring:I just knew of their papers, yes.
Hoddeson:Were any of these people at the Michigan Summer School when you were there?
Herring:Not that I remember, no.
Hoddeson:Do you remember some of the people who were there at the time?
Herring:At the Michigan Summer School? Let's see, I'm not sure how many out-and-out solid state people I can remember. Peter Bergmann was there; his work has been more recently in cosmology but at that time his interest bordered a little bit on solid state along with other things. Fermi of course was there - he did everything. And Uhlenbeck; I did have some interaction with Uhlenbeck on some solid state problems
Hoddeson:What was the interaction between you and Uhlenbeck about at that time?
Herring:The interaction was about the thermodynamics of irreversible processes. I should also mention Gregory Wannier (my roommate, actually). That summer, he was working on the famous Kramers-Wannier paper on the Ising model. And of course Wigner was there. Harvey Brooks showed up toward the end of the summer. And F. London lectured on superconductivity.
Hoddeson:Was there generally a feeling amongst you and the other people who were doing early work in solid state physics in those years that you were all then Dioneers of sorts training for research in a promising new field? Was there some of that feeling in that period?
Herring:Well I think, yes very much that it was a promising new field, yes. Those were the days of course, when there was not such a sharp division between who was a solid state physicist and who wasn't, because many of the leading physicists, in theory at least, that worked on nuclei and particles and so on also worked on solid state, like Wigner, Bethe, and Fermi and so on - and Peierls. And those of us who were younger and weren't able to be quite so broad, so we did specialize a little bit in solid state, we had the feeling that we were making contact with the mainstream of physics anyway because of some of these older people. And I felt very much that solid state was a very promising field for growth and expansion, and that's why I switched into solid state from my earlier interest in astrophysics.
Hoddeson:Do you have any feeling for when the term "solid state" began to be used in the way it is now?
Herring:My feeling is, it was already so used by the middle '30's. I don't know specifically about the two words solid state put together. Certainly "physics of solids" or something of that sort was in use.
Hoddeson:Let's now switch focus. I would like to narrow in on the year 1945-46 when you first joined the technical staff at Bell. Do you recall what you were doing when the offer from Bell first came?
Yes, I was doing war work up through pretty much the end of l945, up until about December I guess. In the fall, probably September or something like that, I had an interview with Professor Cooper of the applied mathematics department of the University of Texas offering me a very attractive professorship at the University of Texas, which I accepted. Then, since I was not able to start at the beginning of the fall semester I decided I would start my work at Texas in the second semester which would be about the 1st of February. So for a period- it may have been as much as three months like from November to January, I don't remember the exact dates- I was free from my war work and I was not due at Texas.
So I accepted a temporary offer at Bell. Now I should say one or two things about Bell. Earlier that year, I think probably in the summer or something, I'd had an interview with Hendrik Bode about the possibilities of joining the mathematics department at Bell. And I wasn't very much interested in that because their concern was definitely mathematics and mine was definitely physics. And I learned that there was going to be a new group in solid state physics set up, but I didn't make any contact with it at that time. But then sometime later in the Fall, after I accepted this offer at Texas but before I came to Bell, my old friend Dean Wooldridge with whom I'd been a graduate student at Caltech got in touch with me —
Hoddeson:— this is the Fall of '45. The new solid state group was already set up; that was organized in January —
Herring:Yes, all right it was set up, but I didn't make contact with it. That was the solid state under Morgan and Shockley I believe. Wooldridge had another group in physical electronics at Bell Laboratories and he was the one who got in touch with me about perhaps joining that group at least for a temporary period. And so since I had this spare time between finishing at Columbia University and going to Texas, I thought well it wouldn't do any harm to work a few months at Bell and see how I like it. So I came to Bell for two or three months at the end of '45 and the beginning of '46.And I found that I did like it, so much so that I resolved in my mind that probably if they made me a permanent offer I would leave Texas later and come to Bell. Then I went to Texas for the one semester.
Hoddeson:I see, I didn't realize that. And then you came back to Bell at the end of—
Herring:— at the end of the semester, in the middle of the summer.
Hoddeson:Right, and that's why, now I understand why they have got your name typed in on the July 1946 chart.
Herring:Yes I came here in July '46, my service record is supposed to date May '46 because I had the three months earlier. But in May '46 I was actually in Texas.
Hoddeson:I see. Well let's see now, you joined this new physical electronics group at a time when it was expanding dramatically. Between July '45 and July '46 the group under Wooldridge grew from 13 to 30.
Herring:Yes. Now let me see here. This group that is listed on the '45, yes the July '45 organization chart, includes just Wooldridge, Burton and Hagstrum and the glass blowing group under Weinhart. Weinhart was a member of the technical staff and these others were all glass blowers. So the real expansion of the group then came after July '45, as you can see, with the addition of a number of major technical staff people. Well let's see, there were some older people that came in presumably from other areas of the laboratories . But let's see, was Hagstrum there?
Hoddeson:— Hagstrum was there, Hagstrum, Burton and Weinhart.
Herring:So then the important people that they added were Hornbeck— Jauch was only temporary he was just brought in for the summer— but Hornbeck, J. B. Johnson who had been elsewhere in the Laboratories, Ken McKay, Julius Molnar, George Moore who had been elsewhere in the Laboratories, and I see I'm added at the bottom of the list here. We were the principal new technical staff people.
Hoddeson:There must have been a great deal of excitement at the time of all this turnover.
Hoddeson:Did you work at all closely with the other members of the group?
Herring:When I first came, I worked very closely with George Moore on problems of thermionic emission and its modification by adsorption and the effects of different crystal faces of single crystals, and so on. The whole department was a fairly tight unit. We had special seminars on particular topics. I guess we had two seminars going at the same time. We had one going through deBoer's book on Electron Emission and Absorption Phenomena, a sort of a self-education seminar.
Hoddeson:Who organized that?
Herring:I don't recall that there was any one particular leader. We all took turns in leading the discussions.
Hoddeson:How many were you?
Herring:All of the technical staff people I've mentioned and there may have been one or two people from other departments, Sid Millman may have sat in for instance, or John Pierce occasionally, I don't remember. But it was mainly our department. And we also had purely pedogogical courses. First in quantum mechanics, that had been started by Jauch when he was here, and I finished it. And then after the quantum mechanics I gave some lectures on statistical mechanics. And let's see there was another seminar that was not so specifically limited to the physical electronics department, although I'm sure a lot of our people took part in it, and also a lot of the Shockley-Morgan solid state department took part. That was one on going through Mott and Gurney's book on Electronic Processes in Ionic Crystals. I think that one took place during my earlier three months here rather than in l946.
Hoddeson:And you participated in that one? That was the tail end of a study group that to my best knowledge - I don't know for sure - began in '36, and was attended by Alan Holden, and Brattain and Shockley and Foster Nix and Jim Fisk and Dean Wooldridge and Ad White and maybe one or two others. It went for a long time right until the War.
Herring:Yes, they must have done one thing and then another and so on and I must have been in on the tail end of it.
Hoddeson:They went into Tolman, and then I believe, Pauling's book and then Mott and Gurney, or maybe Mott and Gurney and then Pauling.
Herring:No Mott and Gurney I think was the last probably.
Hoddeson:Do you remember any specifics about those informal groups that might help me better to understand how the new ideas in quantum mechanics and quantum theory of solids entered the work here and what effect they had on the research. They appear to have been of key importance.
Herring:Yes. I don't remember as much about the Mott and Gurney book, which is the one in my experience that would bear most on your interest. I remember more about the deBoer seminar which was a little less of the modern concepts but may have illustrated the manner of working in these seminars. In that seminar and also in the lectures that Jauch gave and that I gave on quantum mechanics and then statistical mechanics we followed the procedure of having each presentation written up in the form of lecture notes.
Hoddeson:Do they exist?
Herring:They exist, I have them.
Hoddeson:I would love to see them.
Herring:Yes. Let me write down things that you would love to see, and I'll get them for you. deBoer notes, quantum mechanics notes and statistical mechanics notes. In the case of the seminars where we were going through a book, probably each person that took a turn at expounding some portion of the book for the others wrote up his contribution, or at least such things that he said that were not in the book. In the case of Mott and Gurney, I'm not sure that there was any such, but in the case of deBoer there was, a lot of material that was presented was not in the book, and that was written up, usually by the person who presented it for distribution to the group, mimeographed and distributed. In the case of the course lectures on quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics, the lecturer was not burdened, usually, with the task of writing up the notes, but one of the listeners was and they took turns. One listener would write up one lecture and another listener would write up another lecture, and then the lecturer would proofread these and make corrections and then they would be mimeographed and distributed.
Hoddeson:Were these meetings during the working day or after work?
Herring:They were during the working day.
Hoddeson:I see. And were they open to anyone who wanted to come?
Herring:They were pretty much opened up to anyone who wanted to come, as I recall. Yes. In the case of the deBoer seminar they were so specialized that it was mostly just the physical electronics department, but the others had a few people from various departments I think. Even the deBoer seminar did come to think of it. Joe Becker, for instance, at that time was a department head in the development area, but he used to attend, and so on.
Hoddeson:Were they the kind of seminar where if there happened to have been an outside visitor for a day or a week or so, he or she would sometimes attend? Or was that not typical in those days?
Herring:I would presume that he would. I don't recall specific examples. We did of course have one type of seminar that I remember attending in which outsiders took a major part. These were the little get-togethers or bull sessions we used to have with John Slater and with Peter Debye, each of whom was at that time, or at least in the years early after the war - I don't remember when each of them started or finished-was hired as a consultant to come in about once a month.
Hoddeson:I see. And did they give lectures too? Or did theyonly meet with people?
Herring:Mostly just meeting with people. I think there may have been occasions when they lectured on something. I don't remember for sure.
Hoddeson:How long did that last, roughly?
Herring:Several years. I don't remember just how many. But my impression is that by 1950 it was pretty well ended.
Hoddeson:Were there many consultants?
Herring:No. I remember Slater and Debye on a regular basis. I don't remember any others on a regular basis, although there were some people who were brought in for briefer periods.
Hoddeson:Were there colloquins in those days?
Herring:In those days we had auditorium talks that were formal presentations of material generated within the laboratories, just as we have them now in fact, except they were more regular then. Nowadays we have the somewhat less formal solid state seminar and other seminars that have sort of drained off a large part of what used to be more formally presented in the auditorium.
Hoddeson:How often were these lectures given in those days, approximately?
Herring:I would say something like every other week. That may not be quite accurate, Certainly more often than they are now.
Hoddeson:I see. In about what proportion were they given by Bell Labs people?
Herring:Oh these were all Bell Labs people. There were also outside speakers that came in occasionally, of course.
Hoddeson:Did they speak to the colloquium, or did they give special talks?
Herring:Special talks , but also in the auditorium. I remember for example, Linus Pauling giving a talk, talking about the electronic structure of metals It just happened to be one of the days when Slater was visiting and I was sitting next to Slater. And I remember when Pauling said that copper had — he was sure — a metallic valence of 5, Slater nudged me and whispered "Do you believe that?"
Hoddeson:There was a great deal of administrative reorganization going on at that time, cases were being closed and new cases were being opened. I've been looking at some of these and I was wondering whether the people who were actually working in the groups were aware of this administrative paper work?
Herring:Well I certainly was sufficiently junior so I wasn't aware of it at all. I knew that I was supposed to write some sort of a number for my case number but that was as far as it went. When they told me to write a different number I wrote a different number.
Hoddeson:Who wrote up the case authorizations?
Herring:I don't really know.
Hoddeson:Anyway, you weren't consulted.
Hoddeson:About how much of your time did you spend then, on a typical day, talking to other people?
Herring:Well at that time I didn't keep records. More recently I have kept records of where my time goes although not really on just talking. My impression is it was, then as now, a sizeable bite of the day and it varied a great deal from one person to another of course. I remember that I did spend enough time talking with people that I didn't want to talk to, not to mention people that I did want to talk to, So that it was something of a frustration for me psychologically,even though it probably was only a minor fraction of my time.
Hoddeson:Did you feel it was part of your job to talk to people?
Herring:Yes, sure. I mean if somebody comes in and says he's got a problem he'd like to discuss with you, why sure this is one of the ways that you can be useful and of course if I was able to help the person with his problem, then I felt very good about the whole thing. But the thing that was frustrating was when somebody came in with some problem and took up a lot of time talking about it and I wasn't able to give him any help.
Hoddeson:Did you work rather closely with experimentalists in those days, or mostly with theorists?
It varied a great deal from problem to problem. I would say I had a good deal of contact with experimentalists. Yes, I've already mentioned George Moore and all his experiments. For many years I went in and talked at great lengths with him about a lot of his experiments. Later when Joe Becker joined the department and was working on field emission and other things I had a lot of contact with him. I had spent some time at least talking with some of the people that were working on gas discharge problems, John Hornbeck and Julius Molnar.
But when I look at the things that I wrote papers on some of them were closely related to experiments and some were not. Now one of the first things I did was this review article with Nichols on thermionic emission, and that of course did involve some close relation with experimentalists, although a good part of that work was purely theoretical also. I did work on minority carrier transport in semiconductors,which was a theoretical problem that had been suggested by some experiments, I believe by J. R. Haynes. But I didn't have terribly close contact with the actual experiments —at least I was simply taking some of the experimental results after the fact and trying to interpret them.
Then I got interested in problems of sintering, this is an interest that grew out of some of my work on surfaces in connection with thermionic emission. But the experimental work that made contact with that part of my research at that time was mostly being done by people in other institutions so I didn't have much contact with people here on that. Then at the same time I continued some of my interest in basic electron theory of metals, I wrote one little paper on correlation energy and the heat of sublimation of lithium, which I think was entirely self-generated out of theory. Then I got interested - I'm going on into the '50's now -
Hoddeson:Let's go back and discuss some more events of the '40's. Had the Journal Club begun? When did that begin?
Herring:I don't really remember. I remember that as far as my interest in it is concerned, I think it had been stimulated by the fact that there was something of that sort at Princeton in the last year that I was there just before the War. How we originally got started with a journal club here I don't remember. I may have some old documents on that, somewhere. Somehow fairly early in the game I got tagged as the leader of that, which I have been more or less ever since, although other people have taken it over for short periods. I don't believe we had a journal club right at the very beginning when I came.
Hoddeson:When the Journal Club began, did the members come from the physical electronics group by and large, or did they come from all over?
Herring:Well it was from all the different departments in physical research, from the start I think.
Hoddeson:Including mathematics and acoustics?
Herring:No not so much mathematics and acoustics, more the ones that were concerned with solid state, gas discharges and things of that sort.
Hoddeson:So that would be electron dynamics, solid state and physical electronics?
Hoddeson:How was it run? Who selected the papers, for example?
Herring:Well whoever had responsibility for organizing it would either suggest papers that he himself had seen that he thought someone could talk about effectively or go around and ask people what they had seen tha as interesting and try to badger them into talking about it. It has been very much the same sort of thing throughout its whole history, although I do seem to recall that there were times when the talks ran a little bit longer than they do now.
Hoddeson:How often would you meet?
Herring:Again, I don't remember for sure. I think there may have been a time when we met once a week, more often than now. All I remember on that is the humorous poem we had at somebody's anniversary or something like that, about scrapping the Journal Club so that on Mondays we could go out and get drunk or something like that. So we must have had the Journal Club every Monday. (Break during which Herring brings out notices of Journal Club meetings in the 1950's.)
Herring:You see Terry Eisinger was running it then. They had a program very similar to what, we now have today.I see this is Wednesaay, February 8th, that's an unusual date, Friday, January 20th, Friday, December 9th.
Hoddeson:You've got them all the way up until '60. This is a ten year period.
Herring:Some of them may have been lost of course. It's not a complete records but I've got most of them. So you can see the sort of topics that we had I think we had a larger selection of topics, that is a larger number of topics each time sometimes then, than we do now. But I think earlier than that it may have been a smaller number of topics again, per session. We very rarely have five topics nowadays, usually it's three or four.
Hoddeson:It must be very difficult for someone to talk about a topic in 10 or 15 minutes.
Herring:Well it's a test for your ingenuity but very often you can get across a lot of information in that time.
Hoddeson:I see in 1957 there's an unpublished paper—
Hoddeson:—0f Bardeen, Cooper and Schrieffer.
Herring:Yes. Well that was an especially exciting occasion that we can talk about it at length when you get up to that date.
Herring:We had a special seminar on that, I mean a special series of seminars.
Hoddeson:Well since we're on it now if you would like to talk about it -
Herring:Yes. Well, when the preprint came out, some of us were very excited and we decided that this was sufficiently important so that those of us who were really seriously interested in theory should try to go through the paper carefully and understand everything and we would have a series of seminars in which we would get together and try to iron out difficulties with it and so on.
Hoddeson:And what happened?
Herring:Well we did. I remember that, although Gregory Wannier is listed as the speaker at the Journal Club here, he was more skeptical than the rest of us as to whether this would prove of lasting significance.
Hoddeson:I'd love to have a copy of some of these notices?
Herring:Well, you're welcome to them.
Hoddeson:Thanks. I'll make a copy and leave the file on your desk later on today. How did the Bell Labs library in those days compare fulness to its usefulness now? Did you spend as much time in the library then as you do now?
Well probably spent more time than I do now, because I now have so many distractions. Just after the war the literature was of course just beginning to recover from the slump of the war years and all of us that had been working on war work had some catching up to do on the basic research literature. I went back to the ideal that I should keep in touch— try to keep in touch- with everything in solid state physics.
And of course I couldn't study everything in detail but at least I should know what had been done, I should have it in my card file in case I wanted to refer to it later and so on. And then as the literature grew and grew and grew, it took more and more time to do that, and I found that I had to just give up on more and more areas or at least make 10% samplings of the literature of an area instead of trying to record 100% of it and so on. But I did spend surely more time than I do now in the library.
Hoddeson:And how was the library equipped?
Herring:It was reasonably good. Of course it was not as good in its coverage as it is now, but it was a pretty good library. We had a library committee at one stage - it must have been 1950 or so, Charlie Kittel was the most abrasive member of it, and I was on it for awhile.
Hoddeson:Abrasive? In what sense?
Herring:Well, in trying to get the library to improve its facilities and services and so on. And I know he was very critical of the fact that it was not as good a library as the best universities have, and we all agreed that it was not as good a library as say - the Princeton mathematics and physics library. But compared with what I've seen over the years visiting other institutions and so on, even in those days it was a reasonably good library.
Hoddeson:What was lacking from Charlie Kittel's point of view?
Herring:I'm not sure I can say authoritatively what were the most important things to him. Certainly it was lacking in certain journals and books that a really good library should have. I know he was often bothered just by the acoustics of it, the amount of background noise and so on that the users of the library had to put up with.
Hoddeson:Was it the same library that I've come to know?
Herring:Well it was in all sorts of different locations. I think, when I first came here, the library was— that was before Building 2 was occupied -
Hoddeson:— I should ask you whether, when you were first hired, you came right to Murray Hill?
Herring:Yes. And as I recall the library was on an upper floor in Building l,towards the end that is now towards Building 2. Then when Building 2 was put into service for some time, they had the library in this end of Building 2, the near end of the building near the crossroads, near the bridge, and that was a beautiful location. They really had a very nice layout there. But somehow somebody coveted the space, or something and so it was forced to move away from there and then it moved down to this far end of Building 1 and now it's moved to the far end of Building 6.
Hoddeson:Were you in contact with K. K. Darrow in those years?
Herring:K. K. Darrow always had his headquarters at West Street, so my contact with him was on the rare occasions when he came to Murray Hill, or very often we would have conversations by telephone. He and I actually did communicate quite a bit because he would very often - in the course of preparing lectures or articles or something like that of a summary nature, of a pedogogical nature - he would want to understand some of the recent developments in solid state physics, and he would often call on me to explain things and so on over the phone to him.
Hoddeson:I see, I didn't know that. Do you know whether his summary articles were read very much by people working at Bell Labs? I know they were widely read outside the Labs.
Herring:I suspect that they were read a good deal by people who were on the periphery of the subjects that were being reviewed. When he wrote something on a topic in solid state physics, for instance, his articles were probably not read very much by the people who were working right in solid state physics.
Hoddeson:Because they were too general.
Herring:Because they were too general, yes.
Hoddeson:Did you go to many outside colloquia in that period?
Herring:More than I do now. Occasionally we would go down to Princeton for a colloquium or even into New York, I guess there really wasn't very much of that even then. We did have frequent visits: a team of us, four or five of us maybe would journey up to General Electric and spend a day up there or journey down to RCA and spend the day down there and so on.
Hoddeson:Do you remember specific occasions?
Hoddeson:Two or ten, roughly?
Herring:Yes, I would guess maybe I went to RCA at least a couple of times maybe more, two or three times —
Hoddeson:— in which period?
Herring:In the period l946 to '52 or '53, something like that, and a similar number of times to General Electric.
Hoddeson:Did you go to speak with a particular person about a particular problem?
Herring:Well these — what I'm talking about now — were trips where several of us went to talk usually about a particular cluster of problems, yes. But very often we would have a sort of colloquium type meeting at which they would tell us a variety of things that they had been doing, and we would tell them about a variety of things that we'd been doing.
Hoddeson:Did they visit here also?
Hoddeson:In a similar format?
Herring:I think so, although I don't remember so specifically whether groups of them came at one time, as I do when we were the group that was travelling, because going up to General Electric, I can specifically remember being with Ad White and several others on the train going up and talking about various things on the train, and so on. But I'm pretty sure it was a fairly symmetrical arrangement.
Hoddeson:General Electric, RCA - were there any other industrial laboratories that you were in communication with?
Herring:The other important industrial laboratory in that period was Westinghouse, and my own contacts with them were not as great as with GE and RCA. There may have been others who did have closer contact, maybe some of the gas discharge people, I don't know. But I don't believe I even visited Westinghouse until slightly later sometime in the 50's.
Hoddeson:How did the level of research compare, roughly, in terms of the number of first-rate papers that were coming out of equivalent research groups in the other laboratories? I know that's a very difficult question to answer.
Herring:I have some quantitative data on that somewhere in the files here, not from quite that early date but probably late '50's or something I can look it up for you. My impression is that by the late '40's already Bell Laboratories was quantitatively well ahead of the others. Back in the '30's the dictum- when I was not at the industrial laboratories, but we used to talk about them - the dictum was that General Electric was the number one place. But how it compared in terms of quantity of output, I don't really know. When we said the number one place I think we had in mind more the freedom the people had to pursue their own interests in research and so on independently.
Hoddeson:I understand that at General Electric the administration was very flexible and gave people a lot of freedom. I also get the impression that there was quite a bit of freedom at Bell too.
Herring:I think there was, yes.
Hoddeson:How did they differ? There's some fine distinction you seem to be making.
Herring:Well I don't really know since I wasn't at either institution at the time. But the impression that circulated in the outside world was that the work at Bell was a little more focussed than that at G.E.
Hoddeson:Did you find that your work became quite focussed in certain areas once you got to Bell?
Herring:No, I felt no constraints whatever, from the time I first joined Bell. I felt perfectly free to work on anything within my area of interest. Now if I had suddenly wanted to work on gravitational waves, I might have worried, But since my interest was solid state physics, I felt that anything I did in solid state physics was perfectly compatible with my job.
Hoddeson:Did you ever have to justify the work that you were doing in solid state physics in terms of its relevance to communications?
Hoddeson:What about the general company attitude towards the study groups? Were they encouraged?
Herring:My impression is that they were encouraged, yes.
Hoddeson:Were you asked to do any administration in the early days, I know that later on you became head of theory—
Herring:I was not asked to do anything until I became head of the theoretical physics department in '56.
Hoddeson:And how did that come about?
Herring:Well I guess there'd just been some discussions in the upper levels of management, I don't know how high up they went, to the effect that it might be a good idea to give theoretical physics a little more organizational prominence, and have a theoretical physics department. And it just happened that I was the person who seemed most suitable at that time to be the new department head.
Hoddeson:What did the job consist of? What did you do then as department head that you weren't already doing?
Herring:Oh, I suppose i' ve a little more thouht to the prospective evolution of our theoretical physics staff, to what types of new people we should try to employ, and so on. I also did reflect a little bit on the balance between theorist-theorist interactions, and theorist-experiment interactions and collaborations and wondering "Were we having the proper balance?," and so on. And actually I did some statistics on it, and it seemed that we did have a pretty good balance. But I didn't do any tremendously heavy load of administrative work.
Hoddeson:Could you tell me a little bit more about the statistics that you took. What kind of things were you counting?
Herring:Well, for example, I just counted the papers that the theorists of our department had had their names on in a recent period, and counted how many of those were theorist- experimentalist collaborations (just a complete joint effort), how many of them were pieces of theoretical analysis that had been stimulated by experimental work at the laboratories that were done in order to interpret or further that work, and how many were basic theory that didn't have any relation to any particular experimenter's work. And there was a fairly even division among those three categories.
Hoddeson:Now we're getting into the '50's. I'm not sure I have a chart here for this. Where was Bardeen at this time?
Herring:He was in the Shockley-Morgan solid state department up until the time that he left.
Hoddeson:Was he ever part of your theory group?
No, no. He left before the theory group was set up.
(Phone interruption serves to cut off this interview session at this point.)