Oral History Transcript — Dr. Robert E. Marshak
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Robert Marshak; September 19, 1970
ABSTRACT: Childhood and early education in New York, undergraduate education in philosophy at Columbia College, 1932- 1936; years of graduate study in physics at Columbia University, 1936-1937; influence of Isidor I. Rabi, the joint NYU-Columbia seminar in physics; transfer to Cornell University for graduate work in nuclear physics, 1937-1939; influence of Hans Bethe; thesis work on white dwarfs; first teaching position at University of Rochester, joint work with Victor Weisskopf in nuclear physics and particles; remarks on war years, astrophysics, cyclotrons, and other matters; Shelter Island Conferences. Formation of the Federation of American Scientists (F.A.S.) in 1946; Marshak succeeds Robert Wilson as Chairman, 1947. World Federation of Scientific workers, chaired by Frederic Joliot-Curie, wants to enroll F.A.S. (1947, in Paris meeting). Marshak’s work on two-meson theory. F.A.S. issues in the l950s; the Emergency Committee and F.A.S.; Einstein’s interests and views on relation of science to society; comments on J. Robert Oppenheimer; chairmanship at University of Rochester; Lee DuBridge; long-range plan and extensive development of physics department funded through AEC contracts; training of students from abroad such as Okubo, Sudarshan, Messiah, Regge. Last half of interview covers the Rochester conferences. Scientific work during the l950s, the V-A interaction (George Sudarshan) theory (a.k.a. Feynman-Gell-Mann theory of weak interactions); books and works with graduate students. Travels to Europe and India (Tata Institute), 1953. Accepts City College (CUNY) presidency; reasons for leaving University of Rochester. Also prominently mentioned are: Robert Fox Bacher, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, George Braxton Pegram, Julian R. Schwinger, Edward Teller; Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory.
Weiner:Today is September 19th and this is the continuation of a conversation with Robert Marshak started in Rochester a few months back, but this is in New York City, where the atmosphere is quite different. Last time we took your scientific work up through the late forties and we talked about the Shelter Island conferences. I would like now to go back just a little bit to talk about the post-war scientists’ movement, which we referred to in passing, and just to follow this through for a while. In the Association of Los Alamos Scientists which you were involved in, you served on a fact-finding committee which resulted in the book, Our Atomic World, which I now have and have read. You participated in the lobbying efforts in Washington, didn’t you, when Woodward had the office of the Federation which had been newly established in Washington? Alice Smith, in her book, refers to a group speaking before Representative Voorhis’ meeting for House members, Borst spoke, Urey, Stearns, Szilard and you. Do you recall that?
Marshak:Alice Smith says that I spoke?
Weiner:She says specifically “the twenty-nine-year-old” Los Alamos physicist.
Marshak:Does she mention my name?
Weiner:Yes, she does specifically, and then she refers to a report that you gave to the Association of Los Alamos Scientists which I haven’t seen but she probably got that from the archives in Chicago. The main thing is: do you remember the Committee meeting?
It is very vague in my memory. It could be a mistake that is that I actually was not at that meeting, because my recollection of increasing involvement with the scientists’ movement goes something like this. After Los Alamos, there was a somewhat older, more senior group, perhaps several years older than my generation. You distinguish generations by several years - for example, Bob Wilson, and then Philip Morrison, and so on, were all about three or four years older than I am - and when you are 29, 33 is very different. But even more than that, you see I was only a Deputy Group Leader whereas Wilson was Head of a Division and some others were Group Leaders. Weisskopf was the Group Leader of my group. So that even though I became rather friendly, I was a sort of younger fry in those days. And in the first initial weeks it is my recollection that while I participated in Los Alamos meetings of the Association I wasn’t working very closely with the inner circle during the early weeks. Actually, when I was asked to serve on the fact-finding committee, perhaps it was suggested that this was a way to help out, I started working on that book as my contribution during those weeks. So I don’t actually recall being the activist those first few months.
I invited Schiff and Nelson to join me on the book. It was pretty much my initiative to write that book, as I recall, and I thought I should invite the other two in order to do the job more rapidly, and we would divide up the work, and so on. So I’m not even sure that I actually made a trip to Washington, but I certainly became very quickly involved after the fact-finding committee got going because in order to do that job we engaged in conversations with quite a few people in order to get a sense of what they were thinking, and so in that way I became more closely tied in. Now it is true that my rise in political ranks was very rapid in the sense that I was elected Chairman of the Federation of Atomic Scientists the year after Wilson. I guess there were some preliminary movements - there were the regional movements, the Los Alamos Association, the Chicago, and so on, beginning (in the case of Los Alamos) after the VJ day. So that was August 1945. Say, by 1946, after V-J Day and some months of organizational activity, the Federation was formed. So then, from ‘46 to ‘47, Robert Wilson, who is now the Director of the National Accelerator Laboratory, was elected chairman of the FAS. And then I was elected after him. Whether there was a chairman before him for a short period I don’t know, but strictly speaking, there wasn’t too much time for one.
Weiner:Maybe Higinbotham was, though?
Marshak:Yes, Higinbotham was essentially the nominal chairman in those days, always tying things together. It may very well be that Wilson was the first generally-elected chairman. And I was then second, because I served from the spring of ‘47 to the spring of ‘48, or the summer of ‘47 to the summer of ‘48.
Weiner:I think there was something before that. Let me see if I can track down this other reference in Alice Smith. I made a note from her comment that you were on your way to a meeting of the New York section of the American Physical Society and you enlisted their support for the UN control of atomic energy.
Marshak:But I think that was after I was chairman.
Weiner:Then she has the dates wrong because she has all of this happening - or at least in my reading of it for I may be wrong - in October 1945, and Voorhis had a meeting for House members and you participated. It could very well be that the meeting (the Voorhis meeting) occurred later but she has it down, I think, in October l945.
Marshak:I’m pretty sure in October ‘45 I was doing atomic politics at Los Alamos, chiefly in terms of preparing that little book, or pamphlet, because we were trying to get it out as fast as possible. We wanted to hit the public and get them interested in the main theses of the movement. The atomic bomb is a terrible weapon. There is no defense. You must have international control, and so on. But then I returned to Rochester in early February 1946 - the end of January or early February - having left Los Alamos for a couple of weeks’ vacation tour to Mexico on the way back to Rochester because my wife had persuaded me we would never be so close to Mexico again, and we should see Mexico. And I gave several talks in Mexico City that turned out to be quite interesting.
Weiner:We covered that last time.
Marshak:But then I got back to Rochester and actually during the spring of 1946 I was not very active in atomic politics - I gave some talks, perhaps in the region - because I had made a commitment - and I always try to honor my commitments - after leaving Los Alamos, that I would write up all the reports that I had promised to write up. Actually, in terms of productivity, the Los Alamos period - well, the whole war period - was scientifically very productive. It may be gruesome to say it but it was very productive for me scientifically, in terms of developing many new ideas and writing quite a few papers about them. It was during those war years that I worked all the way from radar problems through the Montreal project where I did some of the key papers in neutron diffusion which served Los Alamos. Then later on, at Los Alamos, I worked on shock hydrodynamics, opacity questions and others. So I had quite a few unfinished papers when I returned to Rochester, because usually you pushed ahead to meet your deadlines of trying to get answers before you wrote up the papers during those years. And I had made a commitment that I would finish up as many as possible. So I remember working in the attic of my father-in-law’s house, because we didn’t have an apartment when we returned to Rochester or a house, so for about six months we were staying with my wife’s parents in their home. I sorted all these secret papers in the attic, and I ground out one report after another. I sort of finished that job by June of ‘46.
Weiner:I think we also talked a little about that and we talked about the content of the papers too.
Ok. So then I became interested in trying to help in the good fight more energetically and gave quite a few more talks, again I think chiefly in Rochester and in nearby communities. We had a chapter, or quite a group, in Rochester that belonged to the Federation. And then - I don’t know whose idea it was - I was nominated for the national chairman and I was elected. Again, I always seem to take my jobs seriously, and that is when I started doing a great deal of work for the scientists’ movement, and, as national chairman, I was invited to speak at some of the chapters, I remember speaking in New Jersey at Bell Telephone. Conyers Herring, for example, invited me to speak to a Summit, New Jersey, meeting. I think it was Lewi Tonks who invited me to speak in upper New York State, at a Schenectady meeting. It was as a result of my having been elected chairman of the Federation that I was invited to Paris for the first time - this was my first European trip - in November 1947, by the World Federation of Scientific Workers. Now, that is an interesting story. I could take a lot of time on it, but I might just take about two or three minutes on it.
The World Federation of Scientific Workers was a leftish international movement and the chairman of it at that time was Joliot-Curie, who was an avowed Communist. Now, the Federation of Atomic Scientists - and by that time, it was called the Federation of American Scientists - was certainly not a Communist organization, and not really left-wing. It was a moderate liberal group with very strong convictions about the uses of science for human betterment. So the question was: should I, as Chairman, accept the invitation of Joliot-Curie for a ten-year’s commemorative meeting in honor of Rutherford to be held in Paris, which meeting was clearly intended to serve political purposes. I decided that I should find out. Also it seemed clear that there were going to be people there like G.P. Thomson and some other British scientists who were not members of the British chapter of the World Federation which was run by people like J. D. Bernal. Well, when I got there, they were clearly interested in enticing me to try to take the FAS into the World Federation of Scientific Workers, and they invited me to their executive committee meeting. Bernal and Joliot-Curie were asking whether the FAS would join the World Federation of Scientific Workers; so I said that we were, of course, a democratic institution and I could not personally take the FAS into the World Federation. However, if they could persuade the Russian scientists to join the World Federation, I would think it would be worthwhile for me to try to persuade the FAS membership to join the World Federation because that would then provide a common forum for discussion of the outstanding issues between Russian and American scientists, and other scientists as well.
Of course, this took care of it, because they didn’t have a ghost of a chance to get the Russians to join at that time. The cold war had started and the Russians were not allowed to join the World Federation of Scientific Workers even though it was left-wing. I pointed out to them that we would, of course, run into flak from J. Parnell Thomas, who was at that time the precursor of McCarthy. But I would be prepared to live with that if they were able to get the Russians into it. That ended the negotiations because they knew they could not get the Russians to join the World Federation. It was at the Paris meeting that I listened to criticism of military support of science in the U.S. at that time, it was the ONR that was supporting basic research in the U.S. before the National Science Foundation was formed. I tried to point out that at least up to that time the ONR had really done an excellent job in not trying to control American science. We could, of course, go into what has happened since then but I don’t think this would help understand the history of that period. I think, on the whole, the record of ONR, as far as non-secret research is concerned, pretty well supports what I was trying to say then, that there would be no misdirected control of basic research.
Weiner:Let me get back to the meeting. Urey was the other American representative, wasn’t he?
Marshak:I think probably that’s right.
Weiner:And you were both representatives of FAS?
Marshak:No, I think Urey was there as a representative of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, the Einstein group. That was another problem.
Weiner:That is what I want to get into. By the way, you did tell me last time about the rest of that November 1947 trip, the visit to the British labs which fed into your two-meson theory, but this was the part that we had left out. What was the result of the meeting: were there resolutions of any kind passed? How did they honor Rutherford, and at the same time advance their particular purposes?
Marshak:They had some lectures scheduled about Rutherford but they also had some open discussions and they sort of used them as occasions to talk about science for society and social responsibilities. Actually, there are Proceedings and I have them somewhere. Perhaps when I find them, I’ll let you have a copy. They are rather interesting - it was a rather small meeting and quite a few different points of view were presented. It was dominated, of course, by the left-wingers, but there was a sprinkling of others; there were some good discussions. I remember Bhabha was at that meeting, G.P. Thomson and others like them.
Weiner:There is the 100th anniversary of Rutherford’s birth coming up in 1971 and there is a History of Science Meeting in Moscow at that time, so it will be interesting to see what will happen.
Marshak:That ought to be interesting. We did think at the time it was rather thoughtful of the French to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Rutherford’s death, and, of course, it was a nice gesture. I remember that Joliot-Curie was able to mobilize quite a bit of French government support. I believe it was Foreign Minister Bidault who had a reception for the group. It was given a non-partisan tinge as much as possible.
Weiner:Joliot-Curie was head of the French Atomic Agency at that time.
Marshak:I don’t think at that time. That was rather early, but maybe.
Weiner:I’ll check. [French Atom. Energy Commission (FEA) was created Oct. 1945, and Prime Minister Bidault as its head. See Scheinman, Atomic Energy Policy in France.... p. l0-ll.] You were talking then about the rest of the year and I didn’t know whether you were going to tie it in with this Emergency Committee.
I would say this as one part of it. Of course, the F.A.S. had many problems on its table. For one, we were still trying to push the negotiations for international control - the Baruch Plan, or modifications thereof. The civilian control of atomic energy issue had been settled - the McMahon Act had been passed - so I did not have to be involved in that. But there were many other issues. One of the major issues that developed near the end of the year was the attack on Condon, but I’ll come to that. You ask about the Emergency Committee. That was a rather difficult problem, I would say, for me, because I knew many members of the Emergency Committee. It wasn’t too large, on the order of 15 members at that time.
And of course some of my closest friends - Bethe and Victor Weisskopf - were on it, and it became a very ticklish question as to the relations between this Emergency Committee and the FAS. I think the Emergency Committee was founded primarily by Leo Szilard who, as you know, was a very imaginative thinker about atomic politics - in many ways he pioneered some of the concepts that were tried out later in trying to achieve desirable uses for science and in avoiding military control. He came up with many novel schemes, some of these rather unrealistic, but in any case he was an imaginative thinker about these matters, and I guess he felt that in the large scientists’ movement - represented by the F.A.S. - I think when I was chairman there were 3,000 members - that his views would be attenuated by the views of a lot of other people and he wouldn’t have as much clout for his own points of view. I think he thought of the Emergency Committee, by persuading Einstein to chair it, as a way of getting an independent input into public opinion. Also, Einstein was always interested in world government, and, incidentally, I discovered a few years ago when I had to give a talk on Einstein’s political activities and his work on peace, you might say “Einstein’s Scientific Politics Through the Years,” that Einstein was not as naive as I thought at that time.
I talked with Einstein during the year I was F.A.S. chairman to try to persuade him that there should be much closer relations between the Emergency Committee and the FAS, because I felt that they were going in different directions, and they ought to work together. And somehow, I must confess, I did think that Einstein was the instrumentality of Szilard, and in my one meeting with him at the Institute in Princeton, which extended for a couple of hours, I tried to urge him to work more closely with the FAS. I started saying that when I read some of Einstein’s letters to various people that are gathered together in a book issued by one of his former associates - Einstein On Peace...
Weiner:Published by Norden, I think. Otto Nathan and someone else did it.
Marshak:Right. It’s a very interesting book and you find Einstein not being naive at all. He really started worrying about non-scientific matters and the relation of science to society at a very early stage, well actually during World War I, when he was very courageous. And he had a sophistication which, I discovered to my surprise, continued during the intervening years. He was able to identify groups that were trying to use him for their purposes. One example is like when he refused to work with Henry Barbusse who tried to get him to join a front organization.
Weiner:Who was Henry Barbusse?
He was a Frenchman who, I think, again was an avowed Communist, a writer who was highly respected and who set up meetings like the “Conference on Cultural Freedom” during the 1930’s. He would invite leading world intellectuals like Einstein who attended the first meeting and then found that Barbusse’s friends had taken over the meeting and were getting resolutions passed that pretty much followed the Soviet line. Once Einstein discovered that ploy, he really rebuked Barbusse. However, the main point I wanted to make relates to Einstein’s espousal of world government. Einstein was really thinking about world government before Szilard probably even thought of it, and certainly before World War II. And therefore it wasn’t Szilard who was selling the idea of world government to Einstein but it was Einstein who was completely receptive and who had already thought a great deal about it. Now one of the big differences between the FAS and the Emergency Committee was that this small committee could get together a group of people who were much more unified in their thinking and, in particular, they pushed very hard for world government and were sort of the precursors of the United World Federalists.
And the FAS, in having 3000 members, indeed had a small coterie of world government members, but most of the members, you might say, were United Nations supporters. They thought the United Nations should be strengthened and that you were dreaming if you thought you could set up a world government. So that I think Szilard was trying to pull along the Emergency Committee - Harrison Brown was on the Committee at the time, and, of course, others - towards trying to mold public opinion in the direction of world government. And, I think, we were trying to say that there are so many other concrete issues that have to be resolved that it was wasteful to divert our energies away from backing up the U.N. efforts. Let’s try to get international control of atomic energy through the United Nations and so on and so forth. I’m not saying who was right but this was one of the issues that separated us.
Weiner:But also competitive as far as the source of funds because you would have to go to the same people essentially.
Marshak:Well, partly that, and they were, of course, pulling in more funds because of the much higher average reputation of the members of that Committee. We had senior scientists but it was clear that most of the 3000 members were not the senior scientists but more junior scientists, chiefly because there weren’t that many senior scientists around, and chiefly because at the beginning a lot of them were physicists and the older generation didn’t exist in the United States to that extent. So it was more the younger generation that was active in the FAS. Wilson was chairman of the Federation of Atomic Scientists. He did not join the Emergency Committee. I think Harrison Brown was probably the same age as Bob Wilson. There were a few persons in the younger group who were invited to help the Emergency Committee, but most were very senior - like Urey, Einstein and Szilard.
Weiner:What about your conversation with Einstein? I’m just curious about the kinds of questions you discussed and what his response was to them. Do you recall?
Marshak:He seemed to accept some of the arguments, moving to strengthen the UN and so on that we were working on. He was a very gentle person. He didn’t see any incompatibility and felt that we could both go on, and he really didn’t dare too much about the organizational side, whether we worked together or not - so there he was, with his white hair, believing that one must really come out strongly for world government but he probably could have been persuaded to have the Emergency Committee and the Federation united and still say what he thought as an individual under any organizational rubric. This was part of the difficulty, that as a result of their different emphasis from ours, we didn’t work together as much as we might have. And I felt at that time - and I don’t want to say I was a prophet - that they didn’t have the mass base... Interruption
Weiner:We were talking about the problems of the relationship between the Emergency Committee and the Federation, and the point that you were making was that you saw that it was a difficult thing, that you had a mass base which they didn’t have, but you hadn’t completed the thought of how this discussion with Einstein worked out and how the problems themselves were resolved or what tragedies they led to.
Marshak:I did not expect that Einstein at that time would personally want to discuss with his members any representations I made on behalf of unity. The reason I saw him actually was that I was at the Institute for Advanced Study for two months in the Spring of ‘48 which was arranged by Oppenheimer because I was eager to get away from the constant telephoning and interruptions arising from my being Chairman of the Federation. And I thought I might get a little science done. Because remember that in June of ‘47 I had presented the two-meson theory and had published the paper by the end of that summer and that was just when my political activities began. I again was torn between trying to get some science done and doing politics exclusively, like in November ‘47 when I got to Europe because of the Federation but at the same time went to Powell’s lab to do physics. Of course, I was being paid to do physics, not politics. So the Einstein meeting was sort of an informational meeting and a chance to get his views but I didn’t expect any action. During the year, I was in touch with various persons on the Emergency Committee trying to persuade them that in the long run the two groups really should be much closer together. At that time, I think I thought that it was a mistake for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to be the organ essentially of the Emergency Committee rather than of the whole Federation. I had hoped that the Federation would have a much closer connection to the Bulletin. But the Bulletin rebuffed the F.A.S. I’m not sure that it might not have been a more potent force even now had it had much closer ties to the most broadly representative of the scientists’ movements.
Weiner:It did have a large circulation. I think the figure was something like 20,000 even in those early years, or anyway by 1950, which is rather remarkable.
Marshak:They were willing to publish articles occasionally that the Federation asked them to publish but they wanted to preserve their independence. I don’t think it is worth getting into that issue - there are arguments on both sides. But as far as my own relations with the Emergency Committee are concerned, I would say that the several talks I had with some of the active people, like Szilard, about working more closely together were rather fruitless and did not produce too much change in the relation during my year. I think it was during my year that people like Weisskopf and Bethe, whom I knew much better, were beginning to agree with me that the Emergency Committee was drifting away on its own, and indeed, in a few years it did collapse because it didn’t have any mass base. I think to this day that we really might have carried a big wallop if a merger had taken place - we were prepared to give our distinguished allies honorary membership or an advisory committee and so on.
Weiner:I don’t know if they were the sponsors or, if President Hutchins of Chicago was, of the Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Conference in June ‘47. That was the conference that we talked about only as background to your meeting Phil Morrison on the train and finding out about the British work. Was that meeting an attempt at reconciliation or was it one of the many independent things going on?
Marshak:I was invited to that meeting in my capacity as Chairman. Hutchins ran it and it was clear that the Emergency Committee was spearheading that conference. To that extent they were trying to connect with the scientists’ movement by inviting a few officers of the Federation to the meeting. In other words, they were quite willing to involve the younger Federation in conferences, in discussions, and so on, but they wanted to preserve their organizational independence. That is the point I was trying to make before.
Weiner:It seems to me that this kind of problem is heightened at a time when there is general disillusionment because here is the McMahon Act already established. The chances for international control are not getting any better; they seem to be getting worse during this period. It seems to me there would be some uncertainty and doubt and Alice Smith has made this point in her description of the general atmosphere that some people were really very very skeptical about whether anything could be done. So therefore these kinds of divisions in the ranks would tend to be even more magnified at such a time. How would you characterize the atmosphere of the time - the optimism or the pessimism regarding the question of international control, regarding the role of FAS and the public stands it should take?
Marshak:I think it was becoming clear during my year that it was going to be more and more difficult to really persuade the Russians to join in any scheme like the Baruch plan. And I remember after the Paris meeting visiting England - Bristol, for scientific purposes, but Manchester for both scientific and then for what turned out to be very interesting discussions with Patrick Blackett, whose guest I was. Essentially he was developing the theses that he published in Fear. War and the Bomb about why we had dropped the bomb ninety days after VE day and essentially supporting very much the Russian position on this. So it sharpened up my own perception of the question to have him argue so vigorously on the other side as a non-Russian. And I guess that type of conversation and others, as well as the fact that there was so little progress - the key fact - made me realize that it was going to be tough going ahead. I published a statement in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists as Chairman, which I cleared with the Executive Committee, urging some specific concessions from our side, while maintaining our essential position, intended to move the negotiations along. Of course, if you look back, those suggestions were unimportant. It was clear that the Russians wanted to have their own nuclear weapons. We did not as yet realize that they had received assistance from our good friends Klaus Fuchs and Alan Nunn May and some other helpmates in the U.S. Now, as an organization, we were engaged not only in cerebration as much as possible, in arranging meetings and trying to develop ideas, but also in concrete actions. For example, one specific situation that developed during the year was the Condon case. I got very much involved in this during the Spring of 1948, issuing statements. I would say that in terms of the pubic press paying attention to the FAS, perhaps we had the most coverage during that period because I was issuing statements in defense of Condon.
Weiner:I have one [newspaper clipping] not on that, but this is the one about your going to the Paris meeting for the tenth anniversary.
Marshak:That was in the Fall of 1947. But you will find actually in the New York Times - in the Spring of 1948 - the complete text of a statement that I issued on behalf of the Federation pointing out the misrepresentations of the J. Parnell Thomas attack on Condon wherein he was called the “weakest link in our national security,” and so on. I might say, just for the sake of history, that Condon somehow did not appreciate our support. He thought we were trying to use his case as a way of increasing our own visibility, which, needless to say, annoyed me very much, particularly since as a result of that activity I acquired a beautiful case of duodenal ulcers. But nevertheless we thought it was proper to come to his defense and try to help, and I think we did.
Weiner:He had not been involved in any Federation or Emergency Committee work - anyway, not in a leading role?
Marshak:I don’t think so. At that time, he was Director of the National Bureau of Standards and, I guess, he was pretty busy. So, anyway, my chairmanship of the Federation ended during the summer of 1948, with a meeting of the United Nations Institute, sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace. The Carnegie Foundation had begun to sponsor an annual Summer Institute at Mt. Holyoke College, and arranged a panel discussion on international control of atomic energy. The two other speakers were John Hancock, who was then representing the US at the UN (he had replaced Bernard Baruch), and a Col. Abe Lincoln from West Point. I joked that my name should have been John Marshall and it would have been quite a historical triumvirate. The moderator was Alger Hiss, who, a few months later, was subjected to the first public exposure of his Washington activities.
Weiner:This was when?
Marshak:This panel was during the Summer of 1948. It was my last public activity, so to speak, as chairman of the Federation.
Weiner:What was the response, other than Condon’s own response, of the people to whom you addressed yourselves, speaking on behalf of a group of scientists, on that kind of science and politics issue? Did they attempt to discredit this point of view or did they listen especially carefully because you were scientists?
Marshak:I have the impression at that time that we were listened to6 very-carefully. The press seemed very interested in our views about the Condon case and I think gave it very fair coverage. One other thing occurs to me: as I said, I left Rochester for two months in the spring of ‘48 to go to the Institute for Advanced Study at Oppenheimer’s invitation. He did not have too many facilities at that time and I was placed in a room with several other theoretical physicists, right next to his office. Hal Lewis and some of the others were his former students and I didn’t really have that much peace because Oppie was quite interested in discussing the problems of scientific politics with me. He was serving as advisor at that time to our delegation in the UN working on international control, so that I remember meeting at his home people like Osborne and others. In many ways, it was a very active two months in scientific politics. And when the Condon case broke at that time, I was really more deeply involved in the Federation than I was at any other period.
Weiner:That was just at the beginning of these kinds of questions because, with the setting up of NSF in 1950, there was the question of FBI clearance which became a public issue. I notice that you have a statement - by that time it must have just been a personal statement - in the Rochester newspapers, there is a notice that you did speak out on that.
Marshak:After that, I did speak out whenever I thought it was justified. I remember addressing a public meeting on behalf of Astin, NBS director after Condon, when he was in trouble with the Secretary of Commerce. Mrs. Hobby, was it?
Weiner:Oveta Culp Hobby [Mrs. Hobby was Secy. Dept. of HEW, 1953-55. Sinclair Weeks was Secy. of Commerce and was involved in the Astin case.]
There were many other issues that came up during the year and I think one of the other issues that I was pretty active on, during my tenure as Chairman of the FAS, was the pre-birth of the National Science Foundation because that turned out to be quite a battle. The reason was that there was a very strong lobby, I think centered in Texas, worried about the patent provisions - that is, scientists receiving NSF support could deprive industry of desirable patents. So the lobby undertook quite an effort to change the National Science Foundation bill with the result that the bill was worded in such a way that President Truman vetoed it. And that delayed the creation of the Foundation for a few years. Of course, we were on the side of the angels, obviously, trying to fight that lobby and trying to get the National Science Foundation set up so that the public derived some benefit - from NSF-supported research. That was one of the domestic activities.
This is why, looking at it from a broader point of view, we needed the cooperation of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. They were so interested in the distant future, that they concentrated their activities on trying to move toward world government, using grandiose statements, which were fine. But there were these shorter-range issues that were also very important, where we could have used their assistance, that is, their great reputations to help us in those activities. But the Emergency Committee per se refrained from becoming involved in such mundane questions. So this was part of the story. It reminds me a little of present activities on behalf of an international university. There are people who are dreamers and think of it in such large terms that it essentially becomes unrealizable. The question is can you chip away at smaller parts and get some things done. It was part of the same overall dichotomy that we had, but I may be too severe.
Weiner:In the discussions on the NSF, was the question of military support of research raised, that is, the NSF as an alternative to support from the military?
Marshak:Oh yes, we were consciously aware of the fact that it would be much more preferable to have civilian control, civilian support for basic research. Since we had won the battle of civilian control of atomic energy, we certainly wanted to have civilian control of basic research support. We were grateful - we thought the ONR had done really a fine job - but the torch had to pass to a civilian agency. There was no unanimity about the NSF being the exclusive agency because there was, of course, the argument that it is good to have several agencies supporting basic research. If you’re unsuccessful with one you can have a second crack at it. Of course, there was already the AEC as a civilian agency, supporting quite a chunk of basic research, so the NSF could pick up the rest of it.
Weiner:It’s a continuing issue in terms of the relative role of NSF to other agencies. I would like to talk for a few minutes about those two months at Princeton - you sort of skirted around some of the background - and talk a little bit about Oppenheimer. It is an interesting period for him because he is newly on the scene there and playing a new role. It is within a year or so after his arrival. And playing a new role, not only there, but in American political life and in physics too where he was very much the senior statesman. I am just curious about his style of work, the kinds of things that were on his mind. I ask this too because I have been looking with Bob Serber at some of the letters from that period that Oppenheimer had written, and he and I might dig into them a little more deeply. It is good to get the background before we select some of those letters for subsequent use.
Marshak:What are your specific questions?
Weiner:In other words, was he a long-range or a short-range thinker, for example, on the same questions that you were discussing? Did he have thoughts or did you ever have an opportunity to get into a discussion on such things as the NSF or the Emergency Committee approach as opposed to the FAS approach?
On the NSF, I don’t remember any specifics. I think our points of view pretty much coincided. On the Emergency Committee, I think basically we were in agreement on that. As I recall, he was fairly scornful of the activities of the Emergency Committee. He thought they did have their heads in the sky. But there is a curious contradiction here because one of the criticisms, I think, people have made about Oppenheimer - who actually talked to Oppie about his support for the May-Johnson Act (he did support the May-Johnson Act initially) - is that he took the attitude that if a few people in high places had the right ideas, they could change things; and since he was one of them, things were going to be fine. In others words, I received that impression indirectly because I did not discuss it with him at the time. Although I knew Oppenheimer at Los Alamos and went to his home a few times, I was not an intimate in the way some of the other physicists were, like Bob Wilson, Bob Serber, or Hans Bethe. The statement that he had grown so much in his position in the world that it might lead him to think that somehow small numbers of people could get movement on large issues, was attributed to him, and this is part explanation of his stand on the May-Johnson Act. So, in one sense, one might think that he had reached the point after the war when he shared the intellectual orientation of some members of the Emergency Committee, that, as individuals, they could do more than the whole mass movement of scientists.
However, I am quite sure that he really did not approve of what the Emergency Committee was trying to do, as something worthy of his strong support. So I think by that time Oppenheimer was more closely identified with the intellectual thrust of the FAS, although he was not active in it. But he was ready to talk about the FAS, and certainly I talked with him many times and sought advice from him on FAS activities. I don’t think he was used much as a consultant by the Emergency Committee although I’m not sure of that because Weisskopf and Bethe were always very close to him, and probably did talk to him about their activities in the Emergency Committee. But I don’t recall any meeting where we all worked together - Oppenheimer and several members of the Emergency Committee and myself - talking it out, because he was at that time too busy being a public figure and advising the American representatives to the UN. He was really a national figure. But being in the next-door office, many a time he invited me over to his home, across the field, for a drink and we talked about different problems - in the presence of Kitty Oppenheimer.
Weiner:Did he talk much physics at the time? Did he have any time for it?
Marshak:He would run regular seminars but it was clear already by ‘48 that he wouldn’t do much more work of his own. I think there was a final paper that he and Bethe published around 1947 - it was the last paper that he published in physics.
Weiner:What do you think the reason was that he stopped doing physics?
Marshak:To be creative in physics - at least in high energy physics - means that you have to be very close to the latest ideas in order to contribute in a significant way. If you are not following very closely, it is difficult to be seriously creative. Of course, you could be such an intellectual giant that, somehow, you reach out to some very large problems and you hit on some marvelous solutions. But, say, in particle physics, you would have to know about the latest experiments. You can’t be creative if you have the wrong facts. So it really means a continuous exposure. And it requires time. If you don’t have time other than just to participate in seminars you can be very brilliant in asking questions but you won’t create new physics. Of course, all the Rochester Proceedings for many many years show how capable Oppie was in sizing up the situation. But I think it is also fair to say that sometimes he missed the point because he was not close enough to the action. His remarks were always witty and very perceptive but he didn’t come up with new theories.
Weiner:Sometimes oblique, or opaque.
Marshak:In the 40s, he had a lot of students around. Wait a minute. There was a paper by Lewis, Oppenheimer and Wouthuysen on multiple productions of mesons around 1948. It was the period when he had a group of his former students who were his first post-docs, so to speak, at the Institute after he took his job as director in ‘47.
Marshak:You see, I was there in the Spring of ‘48, which was a year after his arrival, and so the first batch of visitors he had were many of his former students. So he was, in a sense, doing science with his students through those discussions. I must correct myself. There were some additional papers, I remember now.
Weiner:But you felt this was a tapering-off period for him.
Marshak:I was not making any predictions at that time. When you look back, it was a tapering-off period. I can sort of understand it. If you still have your students around and you still have your communication channels with them, you can pretty much keep going for a while on the basis of your old understanding of ideas and a sort of a common language you have developed, a common understanding. For me, it is going to be interesting as City College president - I think perhaps I could continue for a little while on that basis too.
Weiner:Talk next year and see, and the following year.
Marshak:For example, there’s a fellow at Stony Brook called Mohapatra who worked with me on some very interesting problems and I’m thinking of inviting him to come once a week - I’m planning to run a theoretical seminar once a week in my office every Monday afternoon, if there isn’t a crisis. Now there is a crisis already this Monday! Mohapatra very quickly gets to the root of a problem and, to that extent, perhaps I can continue for a while. Essentially I would summarize it by saying that during the period I was at the Institute, Oppenheimer was continuing his science through his admiring students. Some original ideas, I guess, were developed during that period, but nothing, I think, very major that I can identify at this time.
Weiner:Let me ask a question. The answer may be based partly on your personal experience but maybe is just a question of opinion. I have been trying to figure out whether there really was an Oppenheimer school. So many people writing of the US in the pre-war period talk of “the Oppenheimer school of physics’ and I am not at all sure that there was one. It depends, of course, on your definition. To have students is one thing, but a school means to me a specific style and a certain class of problems with a certain approach to them which is characteristic of that group and which, in fact, perpetuates itself beyond the group. Now, I don’t know if you, coming up as a student in the thirties and doing your graduate work in the late thirties, perceived this and were aware that there was such a thing as the Oppenheimer school. Did you think of it in those terms?
Marshak:I knew that Oppenheimer was regarded as a great scientist and one of the key people in the country with whom you would like to work. Actually, when I was appointed an instructor at Rochester for one year - we went through that episode - after the first year there was a question whether I would continue at Rochester because Weisskopf, I think, would have preferred to have Schwinger there if he could get him. It was not unreasonable. Schwinger was well established even though he was about my age and he had already published some important papers which I had not. And so there was a question whether I would go the following year to work with Oppenheimer and I was interviewed by him in New York in that connection. But then it turned out that I had an opportunity to stay in Rochester, which was much more preferable, so the negotiations broke off, and I think it was Bob Sachs who received that appointment the following year.
Weiner:In other words, Sachs went to Berkeley?
Marshak:Yes. So I certainly had the impression there was an Oppenheimer school in the sense that he had trained a sizeable number of good students and it was considered very desirable to work with him as a post-doc. That defines one type of school. Now the style of a school is, of course, another question. Oppenheimer certainly had a special style. But there were profound styles, you might say - Niels Bohr had a special style which was a very deep-going thing, in terms of how he approached physics and tried to deepen the foundations of quantum mechanics at every turn. You might say in a certain sense that Bethe has a special style - in terms of great care and a pragmatic approach to important calculations. Now Oppenheimer always wanted to understand the larger problems in physics but he did not have an independent physics philosophy. He respected new theories as they developed and admired particularly Bohr, Pauli and later Feynman and Schwinger. His style was that of a master critic, a synthesizer, trying to distill the best of the theoretical offerings. Oppenheimer’s style added much zest to the early Rochester conferences.
Weiner:You could say he was a Sommerfeldian.
Marshak:Yes, perhaps he was following out Sommerfeld. Anyway, if you press me on Oppenheimer’s style, based on the two months I spent at the Institute, I would say they were sufficient to judge his scientific style because much of our time together was devoted to quasi-political conversations. I got a better sense of Oppenheimer’s approach and his taste in physics at the Shelter Island conferences and the first half-dozen Rochester conferences.
Weiner:I asked it, knowing that part of it was a matter of opinion and not so much participation. Getting back to you now during those two months at Princeton, did you find that it was a productive period? Did you come in contact with any others there?
Marshak:I would say my two months at Princeton were not very productive. Apart from the distractions of being involved in my activities as chairman of the Federation, one reason was that the great interest in the Institute in the Spring of ‘48 was almost exclusively in quantum electrodynamics. It was after the Pocono conference and Tomonaga had been discovered. Just about everyone was interested in QED and pushing ahead on the renormalization program. I started a few calculations, but, to be very frank, I was more interested in meson physics and weak interactions where this approach was not very meaningful. In that sense, I was glad to get away from the Institute and go back to Rochester where I could start thinking with my students about these other things.
Weiner:This was just about the time that you became a full professor, wasn’t it? We discussed it last time. It was 1949, wasn’t it?
Weiner:So that implies independence. I think it is time to get back now to Rochester. We talked about the Conferences - Pocono and Oldstone. There is some of your work (a few papers) that we didn’t talk about but I think that we can take them up later as sort of leading the way to the universal weak interaction and just work up from that. I would like to talk about the department chairmanship and how this came up. The Harris Professorship and the Department Chairmanship came in 1950 - I assume at the beginning of the academic year - but was that in the works for a long time? What kinds of discussions led to it?
That was not in the works. It was a very sudden thing and a very unexpected development. What happened was that Lee DuBridge had resigned in the summer of 1946 to become President of Caltech, and he, of course, was a very powerful person at Rochester; when he returned from the Radiation Lab after the war, he was given for that time the fantastic salary - which was bruited about - of about $16,000 a year while most of us were down at the $5,000 per year level. He had tremendous influence on President Valentine of the U of R and essentially appointed his successor, George Collins - whom he knew from the Radiation Laboratory - as chairman. It was the period when our synchrocyclotron was constructed - the first pion-producing machine that was started after World War II. The Berkeley machine was completed a little before ours, but the Rochester machine was a major undertaking.
One problem that Collins had as chairman, was that Sidney Barnes, a professor who has just retired, was appointed by DuBridge to take charge of the construction of the 240 MeV synchrocyclotron. Barnes actually was the same person whom DuBridge had hired to construct the small Rochester cyclotron when first he came in 1934-35. So, when DuBridge succeeded in getting the money for the 240 MeV machine, Barnes was given charge of the construction. Collins, being an experimental physicist and the department chairman, naturally wanted to run the operation. This developed into quite a hassle between Collins and Barnes. Without going into details, Collins accepted a position at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the Fall of 1949 to head up the cosmotron project there. At that point, President Valentine of the U of R took it upon himself - I guess he realized that it was an important decision, what with the large input of money involved and, and hence, the importance of the physics department chairmanship - to talk personally to various people in the department and he talked personally to me. After our conversation, he asked if I would put my thoughts in writing and send him a memorandum on my analysis of the situation and also to recommend names for a chairman. So I did that. I presented five names - Kenneth Greisen, Carl Anderson, Ed McMillan and two other experimental physicists - because I thought a department with such a major experimental facility required an experimentalist as chairman.
Weiner:In high energy.
Yes. Actually, in my analysis of the situation, I pointed out that Barnes was constructing the machine and he was doing a fine job, but that he himself was not really a high energy physicist. In terms of the research program, an operation of that magnitude required another tenure position for an experimentalist who would really take hold of the research program. So, apparently, Valentine liked my memorandum and in a month or so offered me the chairmanship. Someone told me later that it was somewhat similar to the way in which Jim Conant was offered the Presidency of Harvard. He was invited to write a memorandum and they liked the memorandum so they offered the Harvard presidency to him. I didn’t accept immediately. I was 33 and it was going to be a somewhat unusual situation for a young theorist to be running a department with older experimentalists around. And so I talked with my “seniors” to see what their needs were and it was clear that they needed, for example, some research space.
A large cyclotron laboratory had been constructed without any research space, machine shop space, and so on. So I said to Pres. Valentine, I’ll take the job if two “world-shaking conditions" were satisfied: (1) one more tenured position to be created for an experimentalist, and (2) something like 3,000 additional square feet of research space be made available - very modest - costing all of $30,000. I mention this to give you some sense of how things went in those days. The Treasurer of the University didn’t see why the University should invest $30,000. His argument was that we were doing research for the US Government and there was no reason why the University should spend any money to help the US Government. But President Valentine felt otherwise and he got the finance committee of the Board of Trustees to overrule the Treasurer and so the two conditions were met, although, after I accepted the chairmanship, the same treasurer opined: “well, you need some parking,” and actually subtracted the costs of the parking from the $30,000 and reduced the amount of research space accordingly. So it went. I might say that the person who was appointed at that time as the research physicist was Arthur Roberts, after I had entered into some negotiations with Bruno Pontecorvo, who was in England at the time, and who would not accept the associate professorship I offered him.
Weiner:Where was Pontecorvo?
Marshak:I think he was at Harwell. He went from Harwell to the Soviet Union later. He has continued to do good work actually. He was obviously a very creative person.
Weiner:You mentioned that Roberts came. I was just curious. Was he at Harvard just before that, or where was he?
Marshak:No, he was at Iowa.
Weiner:OK. And so when the conditions were met and you took the chair, did you have in mind a program other than getting the machine working and producing?
Marshak:Yes, actually I thought we should build up the low-energy nuclear physics program as well and that is why I hired Harry Fulbright at the same time. I think I must have hired on the order of a dozen people that first year. That was when I hired John Tinlot and Bruce French, who is now a leading nuclear structure theorist. Tinlot developed very well too. Unfortunately, he died a few years ago. He became a top experimentalist in later years. I hired him from Columbia. To refresh my memory now, it wasn’t just high energy physics. We already had cosmic ray physics going. Remember the story I told you about Bradt and Peters where those nuclear emulsion plates led to the discovery of the heavy primaries.
Weiner:Yes, it came through a pair of nylon hose.
Marshak:By early 1950 when I became chairman, the cosmic ray group was in full operation. They had discovered the heavy primaries, observed multiple pion production, and so on. It was really a well-known group. I fed into this group my own student, Mort Kaplon, who later succeeded me as chairman of the department. He had done a theoretical thesis with me but his research assistantship time was assigned to Bradt and Peters because of my great interest in their work. So when I became chairman I also supported increasing that program. Of course, the big program was on the synchrocyclotron which, by that time, was in operation. Later on, within a very short time, Roberts was the one who measured the spin of the pion with the method of detailed balancing. There were several other crucial experiments that were done on that machine.
Weiner:Who paid for these positions? Was there money in the budget? Or were these replacements?
Marshak:I was going to say the major research areas initially were cosmic rays, high energy physics and low energy nuclear physics. For the low energy nuclear physics program it was clear that the small cyclotron was in pretty bad shape and that Van Voorhis, the senior research associate in charge, was a very intelligent physicist - I used to call him a “walking encyclopedia” - but not a very creative experimentalist. The small cyclotron was not getting anywhere and was pretty obsolete. Fulbright was at Princeton and was energetic and young and I knew him from Los Alamos. So I hired him to beef up the low energy program and after a year he did take charge of that group. Van Voorhis left for another job. And that small cyclotron was completely rebuilt into a much more efficient machine, in another location, in the same building, but with much more shielding, more resolution, variable energy control and at much greater cost. The original one cost about $10,000, and the rebuilt one over $100,000.
Weiner:When was this?
Marshak:It was several years after I became chairman.
Weiner:The thing I am looking at here is the rebuilding of the large one. That is later - 1946 - when you had an AEC grant.
Marshak:You asked about funding. When I became chairman, the ONR didn’t have enough money to support all their projects adequately so that they started trying to get other newly-established agencies, like the AEC, to pick up some of their projects. I think these negotiations were started before I became chairman and were completed after I became chairman. We were transferred to the AEC, which I consider a very fortunate development because we got in on the ground floor with the AEC. I would say that during the 20 years that I was at Rochester after I became chairman, from 1950 to 1970 that we had continuous AEC support, and even in the last few frugal years, we essentially had no cuts. So we were lucky to have the AEC pick up our contract early in the game and were then able to sell them on maintaining their support by getting a goodly amount of research done. So the AEC was receptive to increasing and then maintaining our budget, and, in 1956, the AEC was sold on the rebuilding of our small cyclotron.
Weiner:You said you hired about a dozen men. Were these positions made available to go along with the machine?
Marshak:We needed both experimentalists and theorists. The point was that for a broad-based program in cosmic ray physics, high energy physics and nuclear physics to be done properly, and at the same time to have theoretical back-up - I always believed in a balanced program of theory and experiment, roughly two experimentalists to one theorist - we needed of the order of a dozen faculty positions initially.
Weiner:What I’m getting at is that the money for staff positions is different from the money for machines.
Marshak:The money came from these contracts. I received very little support from the university itself for the research programs when I first became chairman. I had to take full advantage of the increasing funding for science that was being made available and I think it is fair to say that I had no money in my departmental budget for research except for the a certain number of persons in professorial positions. The university paid for the pro-rated instructional time of the professors in accordance with a negotiated formula. But all the research associates, all the money for equipment, came from outside contracts, chiefly the AEC, with a good overhead rate, 50% or 55% or whatever it was - which we always thought we should get a chunk of but it went into the main coffers of the university with the argument that the overhead was a genuine contribution from the university. We later did get some of the overhead money back. Central administration did build up a reserve for bad times which was helpful later (e.g. for the new wing to the physics building.)
Weiner:Did the research associates who came in have any teaching responsibilities?
Marshak:In general, not. Sometimes, if you wanted them to teach a course, you would call them an assistant professor part-time, or if they were more senior, associate professor part-time. It occurs to me that one other program that I started in the early fifties - 1953 - was astrophysics, when I hired Malcolm Savidoff. I, of course, foresaw to some extent the increasing interest in astrophysics, and way back, in 1953, I hired him. He is still there too, and very good.
Weiner:You had a paper in 1949 on astrophysics which is sort of interesting.
Marshak:The one with Morse and York, you mean?
Weiner:Papers #31 and #32, one with Morse and York, the other with Wing. [#31 “Equation of State of Hydrogen, Helium, and Russell Mixture at High Temperatures and Pressures,” with P.M. Morse and H. York; #32 “Note on the Effect of Unequal Molecular Weights on the Internal Temperature-Density Distribution of a Star,” with M. Wing.]
Marshak:They were really both done earlier. I finally got around to writing them up.
Weiner:They were published in 1950 but were done in 1949, I guess.
Marshak:They were done even earlier than that. The Morse and York work was done when Herb York was a graduate Master’s student at the U of R in 1941-42 and when he was getting NYA support. He did computations for me.
Weiner:Yes, you mentioned that. So the astrophysics was yet another prong of the program, but a much smaller one. You did it with one man.
Marshak:Yes, at first, only one man. Actually, the Savidoff appointment provides an example of the difficulty of persuading the U of R at that time to put in its own money for new programs. Savidoff was first appointed one-third on the department budget to teach the astrophysics course and two-thirds from one special grant I obtained. But then I had trouble continuing him because the administration was very fearful of new programs, and there was a year or two when Al Noyes, the chemistry department chairman, agreed to pick up part of his salary to help me out because he believed in astrophysics; the Institute of Optics at Rochester picked up the rest of his salary. It was only when the College of Liberal Arts and Science Dean was removed and replaced by Al Noyes as Acting Dean that I was able to get Savidoff back into the physics department and plan for a few more astronomy appointments and the conversion of the physics department into a department of physics and astronomy. So it was always an up-hill fight, frankly, as far as the U of R was concerned; I never really was able, in the early days, to get that strong a commitment. Perhaps, to be philosophical about it, I was trying to move too fast, and the university was not prepared to move that fast, but at least it had the good will to let me move as fast as I wanted to, provided I got the money. So I proceeded to look for money. Since I did get the money, I built up the department into the largest department in the College of Arts and Science with a budget in excess of the total budget of the rest of the College. This was done essentially with grant money from 1950 until the time I resigned as chairman.
Weiner:Which was just when things were beginning to get tough.
Marshak:Yes, I didn’t resign for that reason but it turned out that my successor Kaplon had a hard time.
Weiner:You resigned when?
Marshak:I resigned in the Fall of 1963 to take effect February 1, 1964.
Weiner:What about the growth of the number of students, both undergraduate and graduate, during this period of the fifties?
Marshak:Well, there was a continuous growth, with a large derivative. We had to support most of the additional students with research assistantships. The teaching assistants were supported by the university, but, after a while, the number of research assistants was in excess of the teaching assistants because the undergraduate body was not growing very rapidly at Rochester.
Weiner:What about physics enrollments within that?
We started getting very substantial increases in the physics enrollment. For example, when I first came to Rochester in 1939, there were about 12 graduate students, and about one or two seniors graduating each year in physics. I think the graduate student population - almost all pre-doctoral - approached the 150 mark when I resigned as chairman. And when I took over as chairman it was perhaps of the order of 30 or 35, so that was a four-fold growth. The staff grew by an even larger factor if we count the post-docs: from about 10 faculty plus a couple of post-docs to 35 faculty plus 40 post-docs. There was a very big increase in the number of undergraduates who started out - it had reached the point where it was perhaps 50 or 60 - but I don’t think the number of graduates has ever exceeded about 15. There is a large attrition. We get the brightest students. It was well-known that the students who start out in physics have the highest averages, SATs, and so on, but they came under, I guess, some misconceptions.
We took the undergraduate program seriously. I assigned Joe Platt at one point as associate chairman for undergraduate teaching; he is now President of Harvey Mudd College. And Everett Hafner - who is now Dean at Hampshire College, building up a new school - was then placed in charge of undergraduate teaching to improve it. So we tried to do the right job for the undergraduates but I guess there was too much emphasis on training them for graduate work so many lost interest. I personally used to try to pressure the department into developing a separate terminal course in physics. I felt B.S. physics graduates could be useful as high level technicians. It was very difficult to move this research-oriented group, I must confess.
I think they are trying to move now, in the last few years. But we did try to put in good undergraduate instructors. I always took the attitude that people should be in the position to teach undergraduate or graduate students, and we’d move them around. By the time I resigned as chairman, we had a much broader department. As a matter of fact, we had just about every field represented, because what happened was that as the department grew with the input of grant money, the department’s interests broadened. And the Rochester Conferences helped in terms of our image with the administration when they realized that so many distinguished scientists were coming to Rochester and giving Rochester an international image. The administration would listen more to us. And in terms of support, I should say, towards the end, we were getting more substantial support from the University itself in terms of picking up professors’ salaries. I think the turning point came when the AEC itself insisted that professors’ salaries be paid in full by the university, and to compensate the U of R financially, the AEC then picked up more of the tuition tab for the graduate students, so the budgetary transition would be easier on the university.
Weiner:I would think that with the additional number of people to teach, since that was the university’s part of the bargain to pay for part of the teaching load anyway, that its obligation would increase.
Not quite - let’s say you needed about ten full-time teachers - each teaching 3 courses and doing no research - to discharge your teaching responsibilities. So, ten times three is thirty courses. Now, if I hire thirty people, each teaching just one course, then if the University pays one-third, it doesn’t cost them anymore. If what they really want to support is physics instruction, then only 10 are needed. But if I want 30 research-active faculty to create a distinguished and versatile department, which we succeeded in doing - the graduate ranking of our physics department reached No. 13, I think, right after Columbia, when there was an evaluation about five years ago; you won’t achieve that result with a very small number of faculty and with a very small number of programs. So that I wanted 30 faculty and I had to pick up the tab for twenty of them or the equivalent through grant money. But later on, the AEC said, no, you really should be paying more because you should be contributing towards the research of these professors; but realizing that this would cause financial problems for the university, the AEC agreed to pick up the tuition for the graduate students - which it had not done before - to equalize the university cost. This was very helpful because, when things became tight, the university had already picked up much larger fractions of the professorial salaries.
So when one had to pull in one’s belt, it wasn’t such a serious matter - still quite serious, but not as serious as it might have been. As far as the programs were concerned, I started saying that, when I came back from my sabbatical in 1961, I decided to make a thorough study of other possible fields for Rochester. I came up with several new areas - solid state physics and quantum optics, as well as a completely new nuclear structure laboratory, with an Emperor Tandem to replace the - by then - obsolete modified small cyclotron. We succeeded in raising about 5 million dollars for the tandem facility, a beautiful example of Federal-State-private collaboration, with about 3.6 million coming from the NSF - the largest grant at that time for an Emperor Tandem - another 1/2 million from New York State - the then Office of Atomic Energy Development - and finally another 1/2 million from the Rochester Gas and Electric Corp., the local “energy” company. That is how the nuclear structure laboratory was created. In solid state, I hired people like Ron Parks, very outstanding, from Stanford, in low temperature physics, after I consulted with various distinguished solid state physicists. We went into areas that were supposed to be some of the pioneering areas in solid state physics at that time. We built up quantum optics with Emil Wolf and Leonard Mandel. We even established an astronomical observatory - by 1961 we had several astrophysicists who thought it made sense to have an observatory and I agreed with them.
Weiner:What instrument could you have afforded that would have been relevant to astrophysics research?
Marshak:The observatory is a 24-inch reflector with a Coudé focus. It is a serious instrument and the observatory is located 40 miles from Rochester at an elevation of 2300 feet - the highest observatory east of the Mississippi - and the biggest telescope in New York State! The rationale behind the observatory was that some of the students were becoming very interested in observational astronomy - the space age was starting - and the astrophysicists thought some worthwhile research could be done and some could be prepared for completion on the large western telescopes. Again, in order to get that going, I secured the money for the telescope from the NSF, the money for the building from Eastman Kodak, and the 50 acre site - a beautiful site with a mansion on it - as a gift from Mrs. Frank Gannett.
Weiner:Was it donated privately?
Marshak:Yes, I persuaded Mrs. Gannett to turn over her estate to the university for the observatory.
Weiner:It seems to me that with all these fund-raising activities you had qualified yourself as a college president.
Marshak:It may be that some of the people on the search committee here had heard about it and that is why I was victimized!
Weiner:When you add up the funds though, it would have sufficed for many small colleges - in other words, the total amount of funds that you raised over that period which supported this very large physics department.
Marshak:I think by the time I retired as chairman, our operational budget was approaching the $5,000,000 a year mark. I had started at about $350,000, I think, when I took it over from George Collins, so it increased at least a factor of ten over a 13-14 year period. It was sort of interesting to try to do it but at the same time, I was trying to do physics
Weiner:Which we will get back to now, right. That does give me an overall view, and one question on that though - the implication is that you were a relatively narrow department in the early fifties. In other words, the three fields that you defined - low-energy, high-energy and cosmic rays, and so it is nuclear and particles physics, let’s say - and there is no indication of solid state, there is no indication of any of the traditional fields, anything of the old spectroscopy shops or anything like that. Would you say, in looking back at the fifties, that it was a relatively specialized department?
Marshak:Yes, and very consciously so. This was part of my very conscious philosophy about the department. I would rather we do well in few areas, rather than broaden out and not do too well in any area. When I started with the department, it was really a rather small department so that I thought we had to specialize. At the present time, the U of R physics department contains essentially every phase of physics, every major area. One could say that, since I resigned as chairman, biophysics has been added. Elliott Montroll’s operation has been added - Montroll was brought in as Einstein Professor. My successor as chairman, Mort Kaplon, was able to get the first Einstein Professorship for the Rochester physics department - he appointed Montroll, who brought what is called mathematical physics into the department. Interruption
Weiner:We have just really covered, I think for the moment adequately, the long-range plan for the department and the development of it.
Marshak:I think one could go on for a long time on the department but I think probably one should not. I would say one more thing: one of the important elements in the development was also the question of training students from abroad where I adopted, very early, the policy of opening up possibilities for them, for example, for the Japanese, as early as 1954, before any other American physics department. There was a time, for a few years, when the Science Council of Japan, a sort of counterpart of our National Academy of Sciences, set up a special committee to screen students for the University of Rochester physics department. That was the period when Koshiba and Okubo and, people like them, came - very talented young Japanese. Of course, later on, there were others, from other countries, like Sudarshan, Messiah, Caianiello, Regge and others; many of these were my own thesis students who are now leaders in their own countries. There was a deliberate “open door” policy that we had which I was able to maintain because I was chairman of the department, and I could retain the policy because I could raise the funds!
Weiner:This stems back, doesn’t it, from the special role that the Rochester chapter of the FAS carved out for itself in terms of internationalism. My note from Alice Smith’s account is that the Rochester chapter of FAS staffed an FAS Committee on Aid to Foreign Scientists, which meant graduate fellowships in the United States for foreign students, fellowships and assistantships. Were you involved in that at all?
Marshak:I think I will have to read Alice Smith’s book now. I think she has some misconceptions. I think other departments went along but what I am talking about was essentially a physics department operation, I don’t remember the Rochester chapter.
Weiner:This is much earlier. This is 1947 or 1948 that she is talking about - an FAS Committee on Aid to Foreign Scientists which was looking to the question of graduate fellowships in the US for foreign students.
Marshak:Yes, probably that was true, but it was a small operation - it was more an informational affair.
Weiner:This is another question because when you look at your list of students and collaborators you see a very large number of foreign names. Did the foreign students tend to work more with you than with others, or were they equally distributed? - I am talking now about the theoretical students.
Marshak:Remember I was the senior theorist at that time and the others were fairly young, so it was not surprising that they worked with me as I built up the theoretical group. One point is that the theoretical particle physics group was small since I was trying to broaden the department. So the fact that a lot of foreign students in particle theory worked with me can be easily understood. One other point - I think it is fair to say that the reason many of my good students and most of the outstanding ones, came from abroad was that we were trying to build up a top flight department and most of the rest of the university was not moving along as fast as we were. And so, frankly, the general U of R image was not that good, and the outstanding American students would prefer to go the Ivy League schools where the overall image of the institution was on a much higher level. This is one of the reasons I started the Rochester Conferences - to try to improve our image. For example, in the graduate evaluation of five or six years ago, the physics department was the only department in the College of Arts and Science at Rochester that was rated in the first 20. There were two other departments in the U of R medical school - pharmacology and physiology - rated that highly but that was it. The price of this lower image was that some of our outstanding students came from abroad - this was partly do-goodism - but also a recognition that we would rather have outstanding foreign students than mediocre Americans. Now, this doesn’t mean we didn’t get some good Americans. Of course, we had some very good American PhD’s finishing in our department - Conrad Longmire, my first student, had one of the top positions in Los Alamos - but by and large they did not stay in particle theory but went into governmental and industrial jobs that emphasized other fields.
Weiner:That is very interesting. That gets us into two choices now. One is to do for the Rochester Conferences what we have just done for the department, by that I mean sketch out the overall long range growth, or to go back into the detailed working out of scientific papers.
Marshak:Why don’t we do the Rochester Conferences today, and we’ll see how it goes.
Weiner:The question then is when do we get to the other. I want to in this series - whether today or not, but very soon - that it through the 1957 work. So the choice is: if you feel that...
Marshak:Which do you prefer to do?
Weiner:It’s very difficult to say. It just depends on how it flows.
Marshak:We can polish off the Rochester Conferences probably in an hour because you have read my article and that touches on many points.
Weiner:All right. I wouldn’t mind having the background of the Rochester Conferences at this time because we have all of those files now and I can go back to those files, understand them, and maybe come back with more specific questions. I have the article. I still think we will get into a good deal of the scientific work, and if we can’t do it in great detail we will do it to frame it out for more detailed work. So, that brings us to the Rochester Conference, and you were saying something that you didn’t say, I think in the Bulletin article that one of the reasons was to enhance the reputation of the university.
Marshak:The Bulletin article was within a framework of international cooperation. Actually, when George Collins was still chairman - remember, he left in April 1950 - sometime in 1949, perhaps in the fall of ‘49 after the last of the Shelter Island Conferences, I did propose to Collins that we ought to pick up with our own conference because our cyclotron was now going into operation and this was an opportunity to help put Rochester on the map. He was quite interested and tried to get university support for it, but then he resigned, so it became my baby after I became chairman. When I became chairman in April 1950, I resumed thinking about it.
Weiner:What was the month it was held in 1950?
Marshak:I think it tells in the article. [“The Rochester Conferences,” Science and Public Affairs: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 1970, Volume XXVI, Number 6.]
Weiner:The date is not here.
Marshak:From deduction, I think it must have been in the fall of 1950, November or December, something like that [December 16, 1950]. First of all, I had to raise the money for it; and this required contacting Mr. Joseph Wilson, then President of the Haloid Company and Chairman of our Board of Trustees, or perhaps just a member of the Board at that time. I had met Joe Wilson through Sol M. Linowitz. Mr. Linowitz, who later became Ambassador to the Organization of American States, came to Rochester as a young lawyer, a graduate of Cornell Law School, a very bright guy and very energetic, and he became the lawyer for the Haloid Company. So he knew Joe Wilson, the president of the Haloid Company. He also was interested in international affairs and he knew of my activities in atomic politics (as F.A.S. chairman, etc.). In 1948, he got in touch with me, when he was organizing a public meeting for the Rochester Association for the United Nations (RAUN); he wanted to have Oppenheimer as one of two key speakers (the other being Sumner Welles) at the RAUN meeting and solicited my help in securing Oppenheimer as a speaker. By 1948 I knew Oppie fairly well and persuaded him to come. He was a sensation that evening in the Eastman Theatre in Rochester. The capacity of that theatre was about 3000 and it was packed with a thousand standees; he really made an outstanding impression with people comparing Oppie to Jesus Christ in appearance and message! That—led to a very warm friendship between Oppenheimer and Linowitz, incidentally.
Weiner:Was the speech taped? You never know.
Marshak:It might. It was a great speech. The only one who was negative about it, interestingly enough, was Bernard Peters, who later on got involved in the Peters Case. He was denounced by the J. Parnell Thomas Committee, and Oppenheimer was the one who actually mentioned his name in executive session and that had led to a great deal of trouble for Peters… In any case, to get back, I knew Linowitz rather well by 1950 and, in gratitude for my help with Oppenheimer, he mentioned my plans to Joe Wilson who suggested a meeting. I met with Mr. Wilson, and he became interested and set up meetings with the presidents of the scientifically-oriented local industry. There was a meeting at which I made a presentation. As a result of that, I raised on the order of $2,000, not a large sum, but enough. Just to give you an idea of the University of Rochester here is a very wealthy university but you couldn’t really get that sort of money for a conference. They didn’t want to dig into their endowment! So, with the $2,000, I arranged a one-day conference which ran however, morning, afternoon and evening, and at which, I have jokingly pointed out, all the papers were by experimentalists and all the chairmen were theorists. But it was part of my scheme to have a conference that would mix theorists and experimentalists on an equal basis - in contrast to the Shelter Island Conferences that had preceded this conference.
Weiner:This is Side Two of Tape One. You were talking about the first conference. In your Bulletin article you suggested that one of the motivations was the upsurge in important experimental work being done on the new accelerators at Berkeley, Rochester and Cornell, and not the increase in theoretical work. Was this the case? In other words, was the sharing of these new findings and the need of theorists for this information one of the motivations? Interruption
Marshak:I’m sorry. Would you repeat the last question?
Weiner:The public statement that you made saying that there was not so much theoretical work but rather the importance and upsurge of new experimental work coming off the new big machines - I wanted to know if that really on balance was the situation, and, if so, why was the meeting necessary? Did the theorists themselves - you as a spokesman for them - feel that you needed to have this at that particular moment?
Marshak:We expected interesting experimental results from the machines. They were really just beginning to function. The Berkeley machine already was producing quite a few new things - I think by that time the exchange character of nuclear forces was established very spectacularly by the differential neutron-proton cross section having a backward peak in the center of mass system. The Rochester cyclotron had started and the Cornell synchrotron to some extent too. But Berkeley had the chief functioning machine - with the larger energy; it was producing quite a few interesting results. So it seemed quite worthwhile to have this meeting. I would say the First Conference was really a very modest effort. It was fairly localized in the sense that I’m not even sure many Berkeley people were there. There were some. Certainly, in terms of foreign visitors, there were just a few people who were visiting at, say, Columbia or Cornell or Princeton. I don’t think we brought any foreigners from a distance. The visitors were chiefly from the New York and New Jersey areas. But it did result in having people like Pauli, Yukawa, Bernardini and a few others in attendance. So the first conference was a very modest effort.
Weiner:Did it in any way represent an effort of theorists to get in at this new stage of accelerator work so, in some way, to influence the kinds of experiments performed?
Marshak:I don’t think we had any malicious objective in mind...
Weiner:I didn’t imply that.
Marshak:… of trying somehow to channel the experiments in directions that we had a particular interest in. I think we genuinely felt - or I certainly felt - that the next stage of experiment would be extremely influential in determining the course of future theory. I was right in that. Quantum electrodynamics was already firmly established by 1950. We had both the Schwinger and Feynman formulations, and I guess even the Dyson formulation showing the equivalence. So, in which new directions do you go? The two-meson theory was definitely confirmed, but that raised all kinds of questions. Obviously if there are two mesons, are there more? And the weak interactions were moving along in the sense that, by 1950, the muon decay was better established, and it was known to be was a three-body decay rather than a two-body decay. I think a could of years earlier some misleading results from MIT seemed to indicate a two-body decay - they had ten examples of a single 40 MeV decay electron, which would indicate a single finite mass neutral companion. But new data had overturned this finding. In any case, 1950 was a time when things were getting interesting from an experimental point of view and we expected some crucial experiments to clarify our theoretical understanding of the strong and weak interactions. And it did not seem unreasonable for Rochester to initiate this new type of integrative conference.
Weiner:What influences did the Shelter Island Conferences have on your plan for the Rochester Conferences?
Marshak:On the organizational structure?
Weiner:Yes, because, for example, the role of experimenters was far less in the Shelter Island Conferences. They were also excluded, except they were brought in when there was something...
Marshak:Rossi was brought in as the experimental consultant to the theorists on cosmic ray matters - a “house experimentalist.”
Weiner:Now experimentalists were participants in the real sense?
Marshak:Definitely. First of all, the first Rochester conference was very different. It lasted only one day. The Shelter Island Conferences always lasted several days in some secluded area. And then the experimentalists were pretty much giving the papers at the Rochester conference. So that I really considered the first conference a completely new attempt to overcome some of the deficiencies of the Shelter Island Conferences as they developed after three years. The first Shelter Island conference, of course, was terribly exciting, but it was clear, after three years, that keeping 25 people talking to each other when there wasn’t enough new material, was not a good idea. So, in a sense, the first conference was my attempt to accomplish several objectives at the same time - not only help Rochester get on the map but also to generate more interaction between experimentalists and theorists.
Weiner:How did you determine whom to invite?
Marshak:By 1950, our machine was working, so I had people like Roberts and Tinlot around with whom I could consult about the experimentalists. I also knew who was at Berkeley. I knew the Cornell people. In one way, it might be said that the first conference was more a generalization of something that was ongoing between Cornell and Rochester for several years, because Bethe and I had started a joint seminar of Rochester and Cornell just after the war. And I think the year before the first official Rochester Conference, I suggested to Bethe that we ought to take the joint seminar a little more seriously and have several talks. When the joint seminar came to Rochester in ‘49, I invited a few additional outside people like Bernardini from Columbia to join the meeting. And so 1950 was a sort of generalization of that. Instead of just Cornell, Rochester and one person from outside, let’s really get others from other parts of the country because the machines are ready. So, organizationally, it was more an outgrowth of our joint Cornell-Rochester seminar rather than of the Shelter Island Conferences. But also the reason I undertook the larger operation to the extent of one full day meeting - morning, afternoon and evening - was that I knew the Shelter Island Conferences had been discontinued, so I wasn’t competing with that, but trying another tack and I was doing a trial run.
Weiner:I notice that in the summer of ‘49 there was a cosmic ray conference in Colorado.
Marshak:That’s right, Idaho Springs.
Weiner:I happened to find this which gives a list of participants.
Marshak:Yes, I was there.
Weiner:I was just wondering whether that was a routine kind of thing or whether that was a kind of transition meeting or what? I notice it is a pretty interesting group. Many of them are the same type of participants if not the same people as you had.
Marshak:Yes, I think this helps to answer something. I had forgotten about this. I attended that conference…one reason was I had my ulcers by that time and I was sent to the hospital by my physician in June of ‘49 for a check-up. He said he really didn’t like my ulcer and if I didn’t take the summer off somewhere he would just operate at that time. I said OK, that I would go away for the summer to Jenny Lake, the Tetons. So I went to the Conference first and did spend six weeks afterwards resting and hiking. It didn’t really eliminate my ulcers which were only eliminated much later - by an operation in ‘58. This was also the Conference where I remember the Bernard Peters case became public knowledge - this fixes the date of Oppenheimer’s public testimony about Peters. Peters came to Idaho Springs just before the Conference, bringing all the clippings from Rochester and asking for help. I called Collins and worked out some strategy with the department chairman, George Collins. But to get back to the Conference angle, I would say this probably answers - this type of Conference and the one that was held in the Spring of ‘48 that I mentioned - where I got into quite a hassle with Luis Alvarez about the π-μ business - on the basis of the theory. I was right because it turned out the mu’s were just being focused onto the target and then appeared as if they were π’s. It was because of conferences like the one at MIT and like the one in Colorado (where I got to know lot of people and became familiar with some of the interesting experimental work) that I was able to draw up the invitation list. I imagine I also got some advice - I certainly did - from a few people in the department.
Weiner:It was still your decision, wasn’t it? There wasn’t a committee.
Marshak:I think I pretty much did t. I don’t think I had a formal committee. I probably used Oppenheimer as an informal adviser. Perhaps I didn’t indicate it in the article but, certainly, in some of my speeches, I indicated that Oppenheimer soon became a constant adviser. And, for quite a few years after the first conference, until it became too large, he served officially as chairman of the Advisory Committee. You are right - quite a few of the later Rochester invitees attended the Idaho Springs conference.
Weiner:I had never heard of the conference until I found this.
Marshak:It was rather an interesting conference. It was one of the last particle physics conferences that was called a cosmic ray conference, and where the cosmic ray people ran the show. My conference, in a sense, was the first time that the major papers were reports on results from the large machines.
Weiner:Who would be the one in charge at Idaho Springs? This gives no indication of who was the chairman or at least who was the guiding spirit. There are some senior people here.
Marshak:I think Bruno Rossi was the guiding spirit, because Idaho Springs had a cosmic ray facility which Rossi was using and which he had developed. Some of his students were working there.
Weiner:It was an MIT facility.
Marshak:Yes, near Idaho Springs. Rossi would certainly be a good one to tell you about the background of this conference.
Weiner:I find that cosmic rays tie in very well with the social history of physics - the prominence of cosmic rays in certain periods is very interesting, including a lot of Powell’s work, and also the fact that the Italians who remained in Italy during the war, were able to focus on that. It was their way of keeping up. The government didn’t seem to be very much interested in them as long as they were doing that, and it put them in a tremendously strategic position right after the war. But that is another chapter. We are back now as far as the organizational models, or lack of model, and the acquaintance with people and the way people were invited, and the financing. Did it occur to you when you planned the first conference that this would be the beginning of a series?
Marshak:Not in the way it developed. I did not immediately think of it as being an annual meeting. I wanted to do it once and see what happened. I think I approached it as a trial balloon. But it apparently was sufficiently successful to continue it. Let me put it this way. I think I thought of it as a series for a few years, but not for twenty years…In other words, I think now when I try to recall what I said to Joe Wilson when I asked for money, he said, “well, how long?” And I said, “For a few years, I’d like to try it.” And indeed the second conference was also supported by local industrial money. It was not until the third one that the NSF asked to be included.
Marshak:Yes, they approached me. I think it was Howard McMillen who learned about it, came to the second conference. The second one was terribly exciting. It had become a two-day affair - that was the conference where Fermi reported on his very new results on π-nucleon scattering - very spectacular results - with Herb Anderson. I think that Number One was interesting but I don’t recall that it was that spectacular. It was successful in the sense that we wanted to try it again. But it was Number Two that pretty much made it clear that we had hit the bull’s eye - in the sense of what it was contributing to science and also what it was doing for Rochester. You see, I invited Fermi for the previous week as lecturer - during which time he was awarded an honorary degree by the U of R - and then treated him to a two-day conference at the end of the week! You can see the payoff because, under normal circumstances, Fermi would not have been willing to spend a week in Rochester. But here we got him for a week. He was around the department where we were able to talk to him. He gave several additional seminars and he enjoyed the conference because he came back to the subsequent ones. It’s beginning to come back to me - I raised the money from Mr. Wilson, after I became chairman of the department, in terms of a visiting lecturer-conference program, and not just as a conference program. During the first few years, the visiting lecturer part was quite important, but it was completely overshadowed later by the conference side, partly because the Rochester particle physicists had grown in stature.
Weiner:Were there any visiting lecturers at the first one?
Marshak:Yes - Pief Panofsky.
Weiner:Did the experiment of having the experimentalists and the theorists together in the way that you have described work? Was there ease of communication? Were you, in fact, talking the same language about the same subjects?
Marshak:Yes, it worked very well. The first few conferences, you see, Enrico Fermi attended regularly.
Weiner:It was sufficiently ecumenical.
Marshak:He could work both the experimental and theoretical sides so it was great fun for him. I would say that it was only in much later conferences that we brought in the more abstract theoretical speakers and also, let us recall, those areas didn’t exist earlier. Even some pretty powerful theorists like Pauli, listened with interest to the new experimental results. It was fascinating to him, and obviously most of the theorists were extremely interested in the experimental results, as you will find if you read the Proceedings.
Weiner:Yes, I’ve read, not the earliest ones, but the later - in ‘56.
Marshak:I have around copies of the first seven conferences at Rochester.
Weiner:We have a set. I would like to skip your own papers of this period, as we agreed to do now, and skip your visiting lectureship at Columbia for the summer of 1950. On the second conference, you characterize it as “high energy physics was entering a golden age as symbolized by the Second Conference.” Was it the experimental results that really determined the Golden Age? What about theory?
Marshak:I think it was the experimental results together with the partial theoretical insights put forth that gave it a sense of excitement. Of course, later on, there were greater theoretical insights. In—Conference Number Two, the π-nucleon scattering experiments were sort of the highlight. There was also Brueckner who argued that the (3/2, 3/2) resonance could explain the results. I might say that Brueckner’s (3/2, 3/2) resonance - this was 1950 - wasn’t really that revolutionary; people who had worked on the strong coupling model of strong interactions were very much aware of the fact that the (3/2, 3/2) nucleon isobar would be the lightest. Pauli for example, published a book in ‘45 on strong coupling theory and at the end of my Meson Physics in ‘52, you will find some work which had been done applying Pauli’s approach to the (3/2, 3/2) isobar. Wentzel had worked on the strong coupling theory all through the war, and so on. So it wasn’t that Brueckner had discovered a completely new field but his contribution was to argue that certain experiments like the photo-pion production experiments at Cornell could be explained by the (3/2, 3/2) resonance playing a dominant role in that energy region. In addition, the 9 to 2 to 1 ratios reported for the pion-nucleon cross-sections by Fermi and his collaborators could be explained very nicely by this model. So the model itself, let us say, is sort of a semi-phenomenological model. Nevertheless, it is a model and it added interest to the experimental results. Also, take the similar discussions that went on about the strange particles. Of course, at that time, they were not called strange particles, but many V particles had been found and Pais was pushing his theory of associated production which actually turned out not to be correct. It was replaced and superseded. Pais’ view of associated production involved a multiplicative quantum number. The correct theory by Gell-Mann and Nishijima involves the additive quantum number of strangeness suggested in 1954. But, nevertheless, it took some time before Pais’ hypothesis was disproved and, when he first presented it, it was useful as a refining instrument for understanding the experiments and planning the next ones. So there was enough theoretical activity, certainly at the second conference, to produce a great deal of interaction between the theorists and experimentalists.
Weiner:What was the breakdown in attendance by the Second Conference? Did you get more theorists in?
Marshak:I think, if anything, we started bringing in more and more experimentalists as the machines went into action. I can’t remember exactly. I knew we had about 75 people and you have a photograph of everyone. Let me see if I vaguely remember the photograph. I’d say the number of theorists were between one-third and maybe 4O%. I think the majority were experimentalists but not overwhelmingly. There was a substantial number of theorists there.
Weiner:You get the feeling, at this beginning of the Golden Age, that after the Second Conference, it was beginning to be talked about and beginning to be seen as the focal point or indicator of the field.
Marshak:Not abroad yet. The Second Conference was again chiefly an American operation. In other words, it was not until I was offered the National Science Foundation support that I could think bigger and have foreign invitees. Also, you see, it was a while before there was any experimental activity abroad. Of course, there were the cosmic ray physicists. But to bring them in - they were so broke in those days, the Europeans had no money - the United States essentially had to pay for them. And I only had a couple of thousand dollars a year the first two years, so I could only operate with Americans and foreign scientists who happened to be in the United States at the right time. Also, with the Second one, I still was experimenting and wasn’t sure. I think I had clear plans for two of them - I had money promised for two years - and then the NSF came in. Though I must say that, even after the NSF came in, quite a few of the industries continued to make contributions. I used to use that money for the visiting lecturers and all the agency money for the conferences.
Weiner:When you started getting more international representation, were you in a position to make the same kind of selection of people to be invited as you were when it was just strictly for Americans?
Marshak:When I went international, which I always say began with the third one - I see here we have scientists from several other countries, my guess is eight to ten countries represented at the third one: Great Britain, France, Italy, Australia, Holland, Japan and several others; and then, of course, this is 1952 and before I went to Japan. There was a big Japanese Conference in 1953, the first conference which broke the ice after the war. I didn’t do much travelling between ‘47 and ‘52, so that in terms of getting good recommendations and good names from these other countries, I thought I should have more formal advice. And that is when I set up the first formal Advisory Committee. I think it was at this conference that Oppenheimer became official chairman of the Advisory Committee. The reason his advice was so helpful was that he was essentially representing the advice of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He would be talking with the younger people before he’d come to an advisory meeting, so I knew I had a sort of feeding from that whole group.
Weiner:There was no one from Germany there that year? On the list you, give you don’t include Germany as one of the countries, but that doesn’t mean that some weren’t invited.
Marshak:No, I don’t think Germany was represented at the third conference. It was soon after the war and I guess it was still a little too delicate to invite Heisenberg. Also, Germany had no experimental activity. They were building up from the ruins whereas the other countries either had small machines or big machines under construction. It served a very useful purpose for countries to send people before the machines were finished. So we didn’t have to wait until the machines were ready, but Germany didn’t have any machines until much later. There wasn’t any motivation generated from that point of view, and then, somehow, I. have the impression now that it was understood that Heisenberg wouldn’t be travelling to the United States for a while because Goudsmit had pretty much given him a hard time in ALSOS. It wasn’t that I personally would object to inviting him but we weren’t even sure he would come. I never did give serious thought to Heisenberg at that time for a variety of reasons but he was invited a few years later.
Weiner:This is already the McCarthy period and the McCarran-Walter period - I don’t know when that was - wasn’t designed to keep out the Heisenberg’s. It had a different motivation.
Marshak:But if you look at the other countries mentioned, like Great Britain, they had cosmic rays and the Powell group. It was also a question, not only of having a large accelerator to be invited to the Third Conference. It was also a question of having an active cosmic ray program. In order to be eligible, according to our standards, you didn’t have to just have a machine, because otherwise you would have excluded a lot of countries, but you had to have either an active cosmic ray program or an active theoretical physics program. Now, Germany did not qualify on the first two counts. The cosmic ray program was in shambles, I believe, after the war. It took them a while to build up; they were building up their cities around ‘52, so they weren’t very far along in their scientific activity. The only clear-cut case was Heisenberg and not much else. They didn’t even have young theorists of any particular reputation, so it was really a question of whether you invited Heisenberg or not. It is a complicated story, I guess.
Weiner:Yes. You indicated in the article that the reason the Russians weren’t invited was that the Russian high energy physics work was classified But at some-instance, later on in the article and from something I saw from the period, the indication was that the State Department asked you not to invite them, which may be the same thing, you see. I want to see if there is a difference between them.
Marshak:Let us put it this way. I suppose it is fair to say that since we knew nothing about Russian high energy activity, we could not produce an argument for inviting Russians, and in our own minds, making it worthwhile taking on the State Department to let us have the Russian visitors. It was only after we knew about their activities that we realized that there was a great deal going on and that we wanted them to join us in our discussions at the conferences. Now, if the Russians had declassified earlier and we were making this decision during the height of the McCarthy period, I am sure we would have made a try. We obviously would not have rejected the idea of inviting them because McCarthy was riding high, but I doubt whether we would have succeeded. The Russian involvement then became worthwhile to pursue when we realized that they had a machine that was producing experimental results and we wanted to get them involved. Then we had to go to bat on it.
Weiner:That is where Weisskopf was asked to help?
Marshak:Yes, he was very pleased, by the way, when I saw him in Europe. He hadn’t seen the article and I gave him a copy; my praise of him as the unsung hero flattered him but he was really very helpful. As a matter of fact, the thing that I didn’t mention in this article in connection with the Russian presence at the sixth Rochester conference - because I simply didn’t have time to check it out - was that those who helped Weisskopf on this matter included persons like Teller and Wigner - hawks, you might say - but they knew Lewis Strauss, and Strauss was the one who had to be persuaded. And so Weisskopf, being a shrewd man, went to the fellows who believed in the scientific tradition and nevertheless had influence with Strauss. Actually, it was touch and go. In the records you have, you will find that there was a time when it looked as if it wouldn’t work. That is why I think Weisskopf finally got Teller into the picture because Teller, he thought, had the greatest influence with Strauss.
Weiner:Let’s see, that is 1956. In particular, 1955 is when there is a great deal of difficulty with people being denied-visas under the McCarran-Walter Act. This had nothing to do with the Russians but these were people from Australia, Italy, etc.
Marshak:The first battle I had to fight, which I personally undertook, was the visa one. As a matter of fact, the reason I was not director of the Sixth Rochester Conference was that I was ill for quite a few months, and so, in order to keep the conference going, I asked my colleague, Arthur Roberts, to take on the direct organizational activity. I served as chairman of the Advisory Committee, and so he would consult me. By the time the conference rolled around I was in better shape. But he, for example, you will find in the records, was the person who worked with Weisskopf.
Weiner:That was for the one when the Russians came, which was ‘56? ‘55 was the one where the people were denied entrance visas. Here it is: The McCarthy Effect.
Marshak:Yes, I ran the Fifth Rochester Conference. When was that?
Weiner:The article says January 31 to February 2, 1955.
Marshak:Yes, and I became ill September of ‘55 so Roberts had to take over the sixth conference for April 1956 when the Russians actually came.
Weiner:I notice a difficulty in the impression of visas that you talk about in the article - you say that all those who wanted to come, could come. In the PR files at Rochester there is some back-up on that and the indication is that - it is nothing to contradict that - a lot of people had such difficulties so that they didn’t come; either they didn’t apply or they just had to change their plans because the thing came through too late. In other words, there is a slight qualifier.
Marshak:Of course, in telling the story, succinctly, as I was doing, one cannot always give qualifications and I had to pick out the highlights. What did I actually say about the Fifth?
Weiner:I think you said all those who desired to come...Let me say, where is it? “Visas were issued to all high energy physicists desiring to attend.” (p. 95, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 1970).
Marshak:OK, let me tell you why I said it that way. Basically, that is the correct statement. What happened was that Oliphant, for example, was invited, and, I must confess, he may have played some game to see whether he could get his visa. Then when I could get it for him, he decided not to come. Frankly, I don’t think he intended to come originally. There were others who were testing us out - I could go into some other names - and when I got them visas they didn’t come for one reason or another. Now, I believe in some cases it was too late, but the basic point I made in the article was that I actually got a visa for every person who had originally applied for a visa to attend the Fifth Rochester Conference. The percentage who showed up was not as large as I expected when I went to bat for them in Washington either because the visas came too late or American good faith was being tested.
Weiner:This doesn’t contradict anything here.
Marshak:For example, in my meetings with the head of security, Thomas Valenza, and his associates - where I got the reversals - I don’t know if I go into that in the Bulletin article?
Weiner:No, you don’t. You say that Keating interceded and that you took “the bull by the horns.”
Marshak:That is a long story and I might just take a few minutes on it. What happened was that less than two weeks before the Conference, I got a pile of cables from the concerned physicists. For example, there was Ferretti, Occhialini, several Australians - Oliphant and several people in his laboratory - perhaps on the order of ten saying they had been refused visas.
Weiner:This is the Edward Murrow business on the program. And you wrote a letter on February 16, 1955 to Besterman of the Judiciary Committee who wanted the information.
Marshak:Where did you get that?
Weiner:It is in the PR file in Rochester.
Marshak:They may have given you files that are confidential but it doesn’t really matter now.
Weiner:It doesn’t seem confidential to me - it is past history. I am trying to see who was affected and the number. There were “ten cases out of approximately 40 foreign invitees from the free world (no invitations were issued to physicists .behind the Iron Curtain at the behest of the Department of State),” you explain. “I should like to discuss each of the ten cases in somewhat greater detail…”
Marshak:To continue: I decided to do something about the visa refusals. I called my friend Sol Linowitz - he gets into the act again - this was 1955, and I asked for his advice. He said, “Well, I know Edward R. Murrow.” Mr. Linowitz had been bringing a many of well-known people from all over the country to his TV program in Rochester “Court of Public Opinion”, and he knew Edward R. Murrow. He said, “I’ll get you on the Edward R. Murrow program.” I said, “Great,” but after I hung up, I realized that that wouldn’t get the physicists to Rochester in time for the Conference. So I called up Congressman Keating from Rochester immediately - about ten days before the conference. He said he’d look into it and the next day he called back to say that the State Department denied all. That made me sound foolish and so I scooted off to Washington after Congressman Keating made an appointment with Mr. Besterman, the legislative assistant to the House Judiciary Committee, I believe. I met with Mr. Besterman, showed him the cables in hand and then things began to happen. Mr. Besterman first said, “Let me call Congressman Walter.” So he went off for a half hour and talked to Congressman Walter, and he came back and said, “Congressman Walter is very upset about this.” I said, “Great. What do we do now?” He said, “I’ll call up the head of security for State, Mr. Thomas Valenza and arrange for you to see him.” And so I went over to Mr. Valenza’s office where I found several associates with him. I opined that it was contrary to our national interest to keep distinguished physicists from attending our international conference. The Valenza group at first acted as if they didn’t know what was transpiring but finally they admitted that our rejected invitees belonged an organization officially considered a “fellow-traveler” organization under the McCarran-Walter Act and thereby mandating a visa turndown unless a waiver was secured from the U.S. Attorney General. I next inquired as to the mechanism for securing a waiver and was told that application was made through the local consul.
Weiner:They would have to go through the consul.
Marshak:Not really and that is the bottom line of this story. Needless to say, the consuls at that time were understandably, cautious about taking risks. So I said to Mr. Valenza: “Is it consistent with the law for your office to ask directly for the waiver?” and he allowed that it was possible to do so. I urged him to proceed forthwith after pointing out that no self-respecting foreign scientist would be willing to apply for a waiver through his local consul. This is how I got a reversal for everyone on the original list; not everyone reached the conference, for reasons already mentioned - too late to rearrange schedules or cases where American policy was being tested. However that may be; the positive outcome was that. Mr. Valenza and I worked out a fine arrangement whereby automatic waivers would be granted if necessary so that all foreign invitees could attend future Rochester conferences.
Weiner:It became a matter of principle for some people.
Marshak:Yes, I remember Rosenfeld was testing us out.
Weiner:Yes, as a Belgian citizen.
Marshak:And the Rochester Conference, I guess, wasn’t that famous at first so that foreign particle physicists did not choose to take the trouble to put up with all the bureaucracy. I think, after 1955, we no longer had problems with the McCarran-Walter Act. Our foreign friends realized we had worked hard to maintain the integrity of an international conference held in the U.S. and did not apply for visas just to test us. And, under my agreement with Mr. Valenza, all invitees on our lists would ultimately receive visas. I could go into more detail but that is essentially the bottom line. Actually, things are better now in that the principle has been accepted by our State Department that if an international union sponsors a conference in our country, then the scientists from those countries belonging to IUPAP, say, will automatically be allowed to attend the conference. This is now the basis on which our State Department operates but, unfortunately, the Soviet Union doesn’t operate on that basis yet.
Weiner:They are members of I.U.P.A.P.?
Marshak:Yes. But the U.S.S.R. does not operate on the basis that it will automatically grant visas to scientists from countries belonging to I.U.P.A.P. For example, in order to get Soviet visas for some Israeli physicist this year, we all put enormous pressure on the Russians - Bogolubov and others - and Bogolubov actually made a special trip to Helsinki to arrange for them to be able to get visas in Washington and Paris. Bogolubov happens to be the most powerful person in the theoretical physics community, and it worked. The amusing end to this story is that Sol Linowitz did get a program on the McCarran-Walter Act - having Congressman Walter and myself as panelists - filmed for the Edward R. Murrow show that never came off because a special interview with Nehru replaced it. In the half-hour program that was supposed to go on the air, Congressman Walter was asked: “Is there any difficulty to get visas for scientists invited to international conferences held in the U.S. because of your Act?” Of course, Murrow planted that question because he was going to interview me after that. “Oh,” said Walter, “none at all. Why they wanted some Commies up in Rochester and it was very easy to arrange.” It would have been interesting to see this program “live” but, as I stated, it was knocked off because Murrow got an interview with Nehru on something of very great urgency at that time.
Weiner:So you mean this transcript that I have, or this extract, may be one of the few records of it that has survived? There is a statement of Congressman Walter for the program to take place March 8-15, 1955, and you are saying that it never took place? And your statement was supposed to take place at the same time.
Marshak:It was all recorded. It was all ready to fly but they cancelled out because they got a Nehru interview that was very au courant. C’est la vie!
Weiner:Let me ask about the general effect of Senator Joseph McCarthy on physics at Rochester and elsewhere - what kind of - an effect this had on the physics community? I don’t mean only him, but the question of the general atmosphere. Were scientists put into a position of general defensiveness? Was there any special spot they found themselves in compared to other people in the university?
Marshak:No, I wouldn’t say particularly. Everyone was suffering the same damage. I personally was giving speeches very early. I remember giving one right after the Korean War, which started in 1950. When was the war over?
Weiner:It was over on June 25, 1953.
Marshak:And McCarthy already engaging in his operation in 1950?
Weiner:Yes, you gave a talk to the Ad Club.
Marshak:That’s the one. Boy, I got a reaction to that. I was getting some very nasty letters.
Weiner:One of your statements was: “I am sure that some of our work will have practical applications and some of it will be misused, but that is not our immediate concern. We shall obtain the answers which nature is willing to reveal and no Generalissimo Stalin and no Senator McCarthy can tell us what these answers should be.” This is from the actual talk, and then there was a press release that was put out.
Marshak:You have much more stuff than I have now.
Weiner:You told me where to get it. But you got a reaction from the public?
Marshak:I got some very nasty letters from people who were supporting him but only when I entered the public arena. Otherwise, I would not say that we felt it directly in Rochester. Rochester was a relatively conservative place and he wasn’t gunning after any professors there as he was—at Harvard. At Harvard, McCarthy went after Wendell Furry and engaged in a famous debate with Norman Ramsey who came to his defense. The biggest case in Rochester was the Bernard Peters case but that happened at an earlier stage and was due to J. Parnell Thomas.
Weiner:That was when it was possible to fight back.
Marshak:Amazingly enough, our rather conservative President at that time, Alan Valentine, really went to bat for Peters. He went to Oppenheimer and challenged him to provide the evidence. If he was unwilling to do so the University would sue unless Oppie issued a public retraction, which he did.
Weiner:I don’t know if that background is known, that part of it. In certain biographies of Oppenheimer, they say that he did feel the need then to set the record straight.
The fact is that he was pushed pretty hard by Pres. Valentine of the University of Rochester. It was one of Valentine’s finest hours. You know I personally felt kindly disposed toward Oppenheimer but nevertheless I thought this incident was uncalled for. It seemed to serve no particular purpose and for Oppie to be fooled by Parnell Thomas into thinking that the proceeding of a so-called executive session wouldn’t be leaked, showed uncharacteristic naivete on Oppie’s part.
Alice Kimball Smith, A Peril and a Hope: The Scientists' Movement in America: 1945-47, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1965.
[See Smith, Peril..., pp. 206, 208 which says REM went to Washington from Los Alamos in Rep. Voorhies meeting on Nov. 8, 1945, on way to N. Y. APS meeting.]