Oral History Transcript — Dr. Ralph Sawyer
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Ralph Sawyer; March 16, 1967
ABSTRACT: Childhood interests and family background; undergraduate at Dartmouth College (1911-15), graduate research on vacuum spark spectra under Millikan at Univ. of Chicago (1915-17,1918-19); faculty positions at Univ. of Michigan (1919); role of Randall at Michigan in continuation of vacuum spark work; WWI optical work for Bureau of Ordnance (1917-18); research interests directed to atomic spectra and structural analysis as result of work with Paschen at Univ. of Berlin (1926,1931), impressions of Paschenís laboratory and intellectual ferment at the Univ. of Berlin; spectroscopic analysis applied to industrial problems at Univ. of Michigan (1930ís-1940ís); role as WWII naval research administrator (1941, 1942-45) sets tone for remaining career as administrator, Dean of Graduate Studies at Michigan, 1946-65.
Session I | Session II
Weiner:Iíd like to start by going back to about 1915, when you graduated from the Atkinson Academy in Atkinson, New Hampshire.
Weiner:In 1911, thatís right. It was prior to starting Dartmouth, and you made a decision to go to Dartmouth. You indicated, in the brief autobiographical account that you wrote for us, that you had already become interested in science. I know that science courses were offered at the Atkinson Academy, but how did you develop this interest in science, and what form did it take by the time you entered Dartmouth?
Sawyer:Oh, I think that came from assorted reading, I remember that when I was in grade school I had a subscription to a popular boysí magazine that was called The American Boy. This magazine had a scientific section always, and hints about making scientific apparatus, and so on, and I was interested in that. My father was more or less of a gadgeteer, as an intelligent New England farmer had to be in those days. He did his own plumbing and repair work of various kinds. I got interested in doing things with my hands, of course, and I think I enjoyed the science courses at Atkinson Academy perhaps more than the other work, which is rather strange perhaps, since the Academy had only two teachers, a man and a woman. The man was, I think, really more interested in literature and classics than he was in science, but he taught mathematics and science. Itís hard to explain how these things really develop, but certainly by the time I graduated from the Academy I felt that I was interested in science. I looked at catalogs of a number of the engineering schools in the neighborhood, such as Worcester Polytech and MIT, but they did not seem just exactly what I wanted; I think I felt they were too restricted in their offerings. The two sons of our next door neighbor had both gone to Dartmouth, and I had two cousins Ė- the sons of my fatherís sister — who had gone to Dartmouth, and I suppose this inclined me to Dartmouth.
Weiner:And you went there in 1915.
Weiner:I am sorry, I keep saying 1915. You didnít elect to be a science major when you started, is that correct?
Weiner:So this interest in science that you had was not that strong an interest at the time. It was a latent interest. Would you say that that would be a fair statement?
Sawyer:I was interested in science all right, but I wasnít sure that I wanted to take the kind of a program they had for a science degree. Dartmouth had had only an arts degree always, until fairly recently. And when they put the science degree in there, they put a number of restrictions on it for some reason which I donít know, so that to get the science degree you had to take a year of physics, a year of chemistry, a year of geology, and a year of biology. As a matter of fact, you had to take what was really two full-year courses in physics. This seemed to me unduly restrictive. I wasnít sure that I was interested in geology, for example. My mother thought that an arts degree was better, too, so I elected the arts degree because this allowed enough electives so I could do whatever I wanted to, really. The only specific requirement for the arts degree at Dartmouth was one year of Latin, it seemed to me this was a good way to have freedom in the course.
Weiner:You were free then to take electives in the sciences.
Weiner:You did take mathematics and evidently you did very well.
Sawyer:Yes, I took mathematics in my freshman year. I had had a good deal of mathematics in high school, up through solid geometry. Strangely enough I had never had trigonometry. So in my freshman year I took algebra, analytical geometry, and an extra course in trigonometry for people who had not had any trigonometry. Then I went on into calculus.
Weiner:When was your first physics course at Dartmouth?
Sawyer:That was in my junior year.
Weiner:Do you remember who taught it?
Sawyer:Dartmouth at that time did have a science requirement, of course. You had to have a few hours of science anyway, to get the arts degree, and a few hours of social science. A good many people took the course in physics then because you had to have 12 hours of science, and the only way you could get 12 hours of science all in one year was physics, because they gave two three-hour courses of class work, and two three hour lab courses in the same year concurrently. So it was a big course, and it was taught by Gordon Ferrie Hull. It was given largely as a lecture course, with only occasional problem classes and no recitations. Hull was a very good lecturer. He probably had 200 people in his lecture course. He never assigned seats in the lecture; Ö he called the roll the first two or three days and got everybody to answer, and after that, I think, for the rest of their lives he recognized them on the street.
Weiner:And of the 200 in the classroom only a small fraction were physics majors?
Sawyer:Very few. I suppose in my class there were perhaps a half a dozen people who majored in physics.
Weiner:By the time you graduated from Dartmouth you had switched to physics as your major field?
Sawyer:Yes, I had decided on physics for graduate work. I did not have a physics major at Dartmouth because starting in the junior year you could not get enough courses to get a physics major so I took a combined major in physics and mathematics at Dartmouth.
Weiner:Getting back to the course itself, was one text used for the entire year?
Sawyer:Yes, and I think it was Kimballís College Physics, which was a well known text in those days. Kimball was a professor of physics at Amherst, and heíd written a college textbook that was very much used. He had at least one son who went on in physics.
Weiner:Was there much discussion of the subject matter outside of the physics lecture and lab rooms? In other words, did the students themselves — those who had a special interest — talk much about it?
Sawyer:I donít remember very much discussion outside.
Weiner:That was a basic physics course — electricity, magnetism, mechanics, and so forth?
Sawyer:Yes. It lasted through the year, with demonstration lectures, no recitation sections. Hull lectured three times a week.
Weiner:Was he good as a lecturer?
Sawyer:He was a good lecturer, yes. But otherwise you had to do it pretty much on your own. I think once in two weeks — perhaps less frequently — they had a problem hour. They assigned problems, and split the class up into little groups of 20 or 30 for the discussion of these problems. But it wasnít what anybody would think now was the way to give a beginning course in physics, certainly.
Weiner:Itís done that way in some places now.
Sawyer:Yes. Itís still done that way in some places. As far as I know it works pretty well. I am not sure how valuable the recitations are.
Weiner:How about special projects? Did any of the students have special projects in the laboratory?
Sawyer:Not as far as I know. I am trying to think what I took for physics: I took this 12-hour course — lecture and lab — in the junior year; in the senior year I think I had a course in electricity, a course in mechanics, and maybe one other course which Iím not sure of — I donít have the catalog at hand. But really I didnít have what youíd call a complete undergraduate major in physics.
Weiner:Did Hull teach the individual class courses?
Sawyer:No, I am sure I had one course with Procter, who was another member of the department. It was a small department. Hull, Procter, Meservey, and it seems to me there was one other — I donít remember.
Weiner:Who were the six you estimate were physics majors in your class? What I mean is, not necessarily their names, but did they go on into physics graduate work later?
Sawyer:I canít remember that any of them went on to get PhDís. One of them certainly did some graduate work in physics and was professor of physics at Simmons College until he retired. One of them went into the U.S. Patent Office, and then became a patent lawyer through studying law on the side — those are the only two I remember now. Certainly there wasnít much interest in physics.
Weiner:When you say there wasnít much interest you mean Ö?
Sawyer:Among the students.
Weiner:When you decided that you wanted to pursue graduate work in physics, what did you have in mind as a career? Had you thought of the step beyond graduate school, of what you really wanted to do once you had taken the graduate work?
Sawyer:I thought I was going to become a teacher. In those days there was very little industrial physics, of course, anyway, and very little in the way of research organizations such as we have now. Anyone who went on in physics in those days usually became either a high school teacher or a college teacher. I think I was really planning for college teaching.
Weiner:Did you have any specific field of interest in physics?
Sawyer:I didnít at that time.
Weiner:Then what factor was involved in selecting Chicago? You did have a fellowship from Dartmouth, and you indicated in your autobiography that you considered both Harvard and Chicago. What were the factors that made you decide on Chicago?
Sawyer:Hull was the first Ph.D. in physics at Chicago, I think he got his Ph.D. in 1894 or 1895. Procter, who was in the department, also was a Ph.D. from Chicago. I probably knew Procter better than I did Hull, later. They, of course, had a slant toward Chicago, but they suggested Harvard as a possibility, too. I went down to Harvard, since Harvard was only 50 miles from my home, to see what things were like at Harvard. I donít remember that I talked to anybody in the physics department. I talked to the Dean of the Graduate School, who was not a scientist, I think he was somewhere in the social sciences, and didnít seem to have very much interest in promoting graduate work in physics. I suppose Harvard and Chicago were the two leading graduate schools at that time, but people who were at Harvard at that time were really not in the new modern physics, I think. I am trying to refresh my mind on some of their names, and I canít remember them now.
Weiner:Well, Kemble was there at the time. And Chaffee perhaps.
Sawyer:Chaffee was in a different laboratory, applied electricity. Hall was a man there who was interested in thermo-electric effects certainly. I guess Bridgman was there at that time. They were good people, but they were interested in the older physics.
Weiner:And from what you knew of Chicago, Chicago contrasted favorably?
Sawyer:This was in the early days of Chicago, of course, and you heard a good deal about the people there, especially Michelson. So I decided to go to Chicago.
Weiner:And you went there in the fall of 1915?
Weiner:It must have been an interesting atmosphere, arriving there as a young graduate student of physics, with Millikan on hand, and Michelson.
Sawyer:It was a small department then. Now we would call it too small a department to carry on an actual program, I think. They had Michelson, and Millikan, Gale, Kinsley, Lemon — I think that was the whole staff actually. Perhaps DempsterÖ Dempster got his degree the first year I was there probably, and entered the department.
Weiner:About how many students were there at the time you arrived?
Sawyer:I suppose there were around 20 graduate students. It was a fairly small group and, as I think of it, not a tremendously distinguished group. Karl Darrow was there.
Weiner:Kelly was there, too?
Sawyer:Kelly, who became President of the Bell Labs — Mervin Kelly. And another man, Stacey, who also went to Bell Labs and did very well. The other people mostly, as I remember, went to smaller and middle-sized universities from that group.
Weiner:Kelly, Stacey, and Darrow were students at that time?
Weiner:Was it a practice for the students to be divided up among the faculty, and to work in groups under individual faculty members?
Sawyer:Most of them worked with Millikan at that time. Michelsonís last graduate student was Lemon, and that had been four or five years before. He had no doctoral students. Iím sure Kinsley didnít have any. Gale might have occasionally had one or two, but most of them worked with Millikan.
Weiner:How do you account for that? Was it the choice of research subject?
Sawyer:This was the choice of the students. Millikan was doing his work then on the charge of the electron, and most of his students were assigned some part of this work, such as determining the viscosity of air, or properties of rotating cylinders, or the charge of the electron in some gas other than air. They were all experimental aspects of the work that he was doing on the charge of the electron. He was involved in some controversy at that time, with Ehrenhaft and other people who insisted that there wasnít any such thing as an electron with a specific charge.
Weiner:This was in the period from 1915 on. Was Harvey Fletcher still there, or had he already left? He had done his graduate work with Millikan.
Sawyer:I think heíd left, I donít remember him as a student there.
Weiner:How did Millikan then relate the various projects of his students? Did he bring them together in colloquia, or Ö?
Sawyer:No, he certainly didnít. He assigned them problems, he gave them suggestions about what to do, and he left them pretty much on their own, which Iím sure was a good thing, it worked out. He was pretty busy in those days, not only with his own work, but with meetings and other activities; he didnít have much time, and you had to stand in line outside his door really to get to see him. Usually before and after his lectures thereíd be two or three people waiting around to see him. I canít remember that he was ever in my research room until I began to get results. He just left his research students pretty much alone. He was always willing to make suggestions, and he did make valuable suggestions, of course. I was the only student of his around there at that time who was not working on some aspect of the electronic charge.
Weiner:How did this come about — because of your interest in the other work?
Sawyer:No, it was a suggestion of his. He said he thought that we could do something in vacuum spectroscopy with the spark that heíd never used as a light source, but he knew that you could get a spark in vacuum in between two metal electrodes, and he thought this would be interesting to try. I must say he left me pretty much on my own. And I depended on myself, and talking with other students and talking with the head of the physics shop. I early found it was a good thing if you were doing experimental physics to be a good friend of the shop man.
Weiner:Who was head of the shop then? I know Tom OíDonnell was there.
Sawyer:No, OíDonnell worked with Michelson. Julius Pearson, a big Swede, was the head instrument maker. He had a brother, Fred, who worked with Michelson, who was Michelsonís instrument man.
Weiner:How about other work? Did you take course work in Chicago? I know you did because we have your lecture notes from Millikanís and Michelsonís lectures. You took a course in electromagnetic theory of light. Was it called that?
Sawyer:Michelson gave a series of four courses in theoretical physics: one on electromagnetic theory of light; one was electricity and magnetism; one was classical mechanics and one was physical optics. But these were very routine lectures, actually. We stuck pretty close to the old classical textbooks. So far as I know Michelson never made any theoretical contributions of his own. He just gave these lectures as part of his job. In the math department, A. C. Lunn gave some courses on theoretical and applied physics topics and applied mathematics. Lunn was a pretty good lecturer. Michelson used the old classical textbooks, which used algebraic methods; he did not use vector analysis. Lunn did. Anybody who wanted to learn anything about the newer methods of handling mathematical problems, like the vector analysis method, had to take Lunnís courses.
Weiner:Were these courses required?
Weiner:You could elect to take the four course sequence of Michelson. Was there a minimum number of courses required?
Sawyer:No. Everybody took those four courses. I donít know whether it was a requirement or not, but everybody took them because they were preparing for preliminary examinations. They had a number of intermediate courses which were taken by seniors at Chicago, I expect, which I had to take — a course with Kinsley on electricity, plus electrical measurements; a course with Gale on mechanics. Iím sure I never had any course with Lunn. Everybody took Millikanís courses on modern physics, I donít remember the name of his course.
Weiner:Was it a survey type of course?
Weiner:In other words, he didnít choose a specific aspect of mechanics or electricity, but he gave a sort of a survey of the new physics.
Sawyer:Well, yes, I think that was right. I havenít looked at the notes for a long time, but this is where you got the modern physics — it was from Millikan. At Chicago they had the quarter system, so he would lecture four times a week, and he had a series of 3 x 5 cards. Heíd always get into his office half an hour before class time, it seemed to me, and had several students waiting for him. He would grab the next bunch of cards, and go to his lecture. He was always a little slow getting started in lecturing, but he always got enthusiastic. In those days they had compulsory chapel at Chicago — it came in the middle of the morning — compulsory chapel for undergraduates. Millikan always lectured the period before chapel, and when the chapel bells began to ring it always seemed to us that it was a challenge to Millikan. He then got more interested and interesting, and he always lectured right through the chapel hour.
Weiner:Evidently this kept students interested. Was his lecture course the highlight for the students?
Sawyer:Yes, I think so.
Weiner:What did he introduce in the new physics? Did he talk about atomic physics? The new quantum theory?
Sawyer:I canít remember that he talked much about the quantum theory. He certainly talked about the electron and about the structure of the atom.
Weiner:Were you aware of other developments in quantum theory that were going on?
Sawyer:Oh, yes. We had a weekly colloquium at Chicago which in those days usually was a literature report. Either one of the faculty or one of the graduate students would report on something in the literature. At that time I remember Millikan was getting interested in cosmic rays, and he assigned me once to report on a long paper by McLennan at Toronto, who had been doing work on what he called residual radioactivity in the air. I remember he put an electrometer, which I think he had built, out on the ice on one of the lakes. I donít remember what body of water it was. But he had studied this residual radiation. Millikan was interested in that. He didnít tell me why, but obviously he was thinking even then about cosmic rays. And he was interested in other things. He really assigned the reports to the students. I remember he met me one day in the hall and said, ďSawyer, can you read German?Ē I said, ďYes, sir.Ē So he handed me a long German article to report on. It seems to me there were two — one by Gaede on his new molecular pump; Iíve forgotten what the other one was, but I know I polished up my German quite a lot on that.
Weiner:You had learned German back at the Atkinson Academy?
Sawyer:I had a year of German at the Atkinson Academy, and then I took a year of German at Dartmouth. Since I had not taken the College Entrance Examination in German (I didnít need it to get into Dartmouth) I had to take the beginning German over again at Dartmouth. Then, when I knew I was going into graduate work, I thought I ought to learn some more. So, in my final semester at Dartmouth I decided to enroll for a reading course in German — it wasnít scientific German, it was just literary German. I remember the professor said, ďYou canít do this, you havenít had enough German to handle this course.Ē But I talked him into it, and made an A in it all right. Maybe I did more work than the other students did.
Weiner:In this journal club, was there much cross discussion in the group by including faculty and students, or was there some sort of a division here?
Sawyer:There was always discussion, but as I remember it it was mostly among the faculty, possibly with senior graduate students. But, in general, I donít think of myself as having participated in much discussion at the journal club meetings.
Weiner:What appeared to you at that time to be the most interesting field for you? Had you by then selected a specialty? In other words, at that time itís very possible that optics could appeal to you, or acoustics, or high pressure studies, or anything.
Sawyer:I didnít feel committed to spectroscopy at that time. I remember my graduate work was interrupted by the war. Gale, Millikan, and Michelson, too, all went into war work, and so did all the students. I spent a short time with Millikan. When my number came up on the draft he requested me in the Signal Corps, so I was a month or so in the Signal Corps in Washington. Millikan was the chief scientist for the Signal Corps, and, the way the Army was set up then, that meant that he was the chief scientist of the Army.
Weiner:Did you have to go through any basic training, or did you go directly into Millikanís work?
Sawyer:I went right into Millikanís work.
Weiner:Was he working in a laboratory situation?
Sawyer:No, he wasnít. I hung around his office more or less. We worked on one or two small jobs, waiting for something specific to turn up. The only job I can remember now that I worked on was the design of a parachute. In those days the aviators didnít have any parachutes, and Millikanís division thought that they ought to have parachutes. We were considering the very simple problem of how big a parachute a man would have to carry. Actually, in those days it didnít seem to be known how large a parachute you would need.
Weiner:How did you tackle it? By calculations? Or did you do an experiment?
Sawyer:No, this was just a handbook job. We had to get up the force of the wind, and figure out with what velocity you would hit the ground. I remember we talked of jumping off the table. That would be a good velocity to hit the ground with, probably, if you were coming down from an airplane. How much resistance would you have to have to stop you?
Weiner:A good problem. But you didnít have any opportunity to pursue it to the design of an actual parachute?
Sawyer:No, I never got to that. Inside of a month there were two opportunities that came along: one was being commissioned to go to France as scientific liaison officer with the French Army, and one was to go into the Navy. I met a Navy man, a former student I had known at Chicago who was working for the Bureau of Ordnance in the Navy. This friend of mine said, ďThe Navy has got to have somebody whoís interested in optics, and how would you like that?Ē It seemed to me like a more active job than a liaison job. I was probably wrong about that. I think Leonard Loeb in fact did go to France at the time on a similar job, and there were a number of people over there.
Weiner:I have a question before we get on with this. You had already started your research work at Chicago, and then you interrupted it, and that was the work on the vacuum spark, with the idea of working on the ultraviolet.
Sawyer:Yes. I was working on it.
Weiner:How long had you been working on it? Iím not clear on that. When did you take up that problem?
Sawyer:I suppose that I had been working on that something more than a year, probably.
Weiner:You had certain difficulties with the rubber gaskets.
Sawyer:Yes, yes, I was having experimental difficulties.
Weiner:And then this was interrupted.
Sawyer:Yes. I wasnít making much progress really, because I was having trouble getting and maintaining a good enough vacuum in the vacuum pumps in those days. Then the gratings were metal gratings, speculum metal gratings, and they were attacked by the sulphur which came from the rubber gaskets, as the vacuum spectrograph was designed with rubber gaskets to make it tight. The gasket rubber that we had was all sulphur-cured rubber, and it gave off sulphur dioxide into the vacuum which destroyed the gratings. So actually progress was almost negligible. All I knew was that the spark would work if could get the grating and the vacuum to stand up.
Weiner:In this problem you knew the result you wanted. You knew that it was possible; it was just a question of devising the instruments. It was that type of a problem where you knew the solution, and it was a question of working out the steps to that solution?
Weiner:Then this was interrupted. After the month in Washington you did take the Navy commission. Did that take you directly to Rochester?
Weiner:Was that through the Bureau of Ordnance of the Navy?
Sawyer:Yes. The Bureau of Ordnance had an office in Rochester, under an officer who was called the Naval Inspector of Ordnance. He was really there to inspect field glasses and spotting telescopes and aiming telescopes for guns, and so on, which were being produced by Bausch & Lomb and Eastman Kodak. I was attached to the Inspectorís office. I didnít do any inspection. I was up there because the Navy thought theyíd better get into the optical business themselves, and they had taken over a small company in Rochester, the Crown Optical Company, which was producing binoculars and some other things for the Navy. The chief scientist of Crown Optical Company was a man named Zwillinger, of German origin and education, and my understanding was the Navy didnít really trust him. They thought theyíd better get their own men in there to back up this job. So they got me and another man who had some optics experience, and put us in there, and told us that probably inside of six months weíd be in charge of this operation.
Weiner:This was 1916?
Sawyer:No, 1917, the summer of 1917.
Weiner:How large an operation was it? How many people were involved?
Sawyer:I think Max Zwillinger was the whole scientific staff of this Crown Optical Company. What happened was that the war ended, the Navy moved the Crown Optical Company, lock, stock, and barrel to the Washington Navy Yard, and Max Zwillinger went along with them, and spent the rest of his active career working for the Navy in Washington.
Weiner:This became a Navy facility.
Sawyer:It became a Navy facility. It became the Navy Gun Factory Optical Shop.
Weiner:I see. Now, in Rochester there must have been a pretty good scientific group working for the Navy. Who else was involved? Not only in this Zwillinger operation, but in the other Ö?
Sawyer:Yes, I got acquainted with the people at Eastman Kodak. There werenít many people around Bausch & Lomb, but I got acquainted with the people at Eastman Kodak. Lloyd Jones, who was head of research, and a couple of professors from the University of Michigan, Sleator and Colby, were there. I got to know them and I spent quite a little time around the Eastman Kodak operation because there was more going on there than there was at Bausch & Lomb [which] was really a production operation. They had a very small technical staff there, although the man who was in charge was always very friendly. He was a German also, his name was Kellner.
Weiner:But he was at Bausch & Lomb?
Sawyer:Yes, he was the chief designer at Bausch & Lomb, and he was always very friendly and helpful, trying to teach the two of us geometrical optics. And then I happened to be back at Chicago because I had a fiancťe there, and ran into Lunn who sometimes taught a course in geometrical optics at Chicago. He told me that if the Navy would send the two of us back there for two or three months he would teach us geometrical optics, which neither of us had had before. So he did. He devoted his summer to teaching us geometrical optics.
Weiner:On a tutoring basis?
Weiner:Whom else did you go back with for these three months?
Sawyer:With the other naval ensign, F. L. Mason, who had been sent to Rochester. He was not a physicist. He was an optometrist, a graduate of the Ohio State School of Optometry. But they did teach [him] considerable geometrical optics. He knew at the beginning more geometrical optics than I did, I am sure; I think less at the end. And he went on after the war to become a teacher in the School of Optometry at Berkeley. He was not a physicist.
Weiner:Now, in Rochester, [there were] different groups of scientists working in optics on different projects, although related, I gather, to the total Navy war program. Each one had a separate project. What kind of cross communication was there [among] these groups? You mentioned that you were over at Eastman Kodak. Were you over there actually being involved in their technical work?
Sawyer:No, this was entirely informal. I got over there originally because I knew the men from Michigan were there — Sleator and Colby. Then I got acquainted with other people there.
Weiner:So you would visit during working hours. Did you see people socially too?
Sawyer:Oh no, there wasnít, as I remember, very much social life. I was pretty free. I had no duties at Rochester except to report in to the officer in charge so that he knew where I was, but I was free to go to Hawkeye plant, where they had a good physicist, and to the Eastman Laboratories, where Lloyd Jones was in charge.
Weiner:How were you influenced by this exposure to industrial operations and to a group project? You say you had freedom there, and it was a sort of continuation of your graduate studies.
Sawyer:Yes, thatís the way it worked out, and then at the end of the war I was transferred to Washington, and spent the last two or three months that I was in the service at the Bureau of Standards. Meggers was there. I got acquainted with Meggers and Kiess at that time. I suppose it was these contacts [and others with] some of the other people in optics there that I naturally talked to because [of] the job for the Navy, [that] led me into staying in optics.
Weiner:How long were you away from Chicago before this war work?
Sawyer:I think I left in June of 1917 and got back there probably in October of 1918, which was just the right time to be away. Everybody else was gone, practically.
Weiner:When you came back, did you immediately resume work on your dissertation research project?
Sawyer:Yes, the apparatus had stayed right there, nobody had touched it.
Weiner:When did you become aware that it would now be possible to solve the problems that had been bothering you before?
Sawyer:Oh, it was Millikan who had found that out. He knew the Bell Laboratories had developed the mercury diffusion pump. He had also become aware of antimony-cured rubber. I think he was the one that made me aware of both of these things.
Weiner:Did the pump and the antimony-cured rubber come about because of a war project?
Sawyer:Yes, they were both wartime developments. The pump had been developed at the Bell Laboratories. I have forgotten where the antimony-cured rubber came from or why.
Weiner:What was the pump used for? What war applications did it have? I mean, what type of project were they involved in that produced this pump?
Sawyer:I suppose it was vacuum tubes for radio communications. Radio was a development of World War I, pretty largely you know. This was how the whole radio communications system started, I think.
Weiner:At Chicago, then, Millikan knew of the pump. Were they available, or did you have to build them?
Sawyer:We had a glass blower there who made the pumps. He had a sketch of that.
Weiner:And Millikan was able to obtain this through personal contact?
Sawyer:Yes, Millikan brought this design there. I canít remember whether he brought in the first pump or not, but I am sure we had pumps made there locally.
Weiner:Was it a patented device, or had it been published?
Sawyer:I donít think it was a patented device. In fact I am sure that Gaede in Germany had published during the war or just before the war, a type of mercury-vapor pump, which was not quite the same as this.
Weiner:Then, combining these elements you were able to complete the research within three months. I think you indicated it was within three months.
Sawyer:Yes. We solved all the problems.
Weiner:Was the publication describing this work, which was essentially also your dissertation, the one in 1920 in the Astrophysical Journal?
Sawyer:Yes. There were three publications: one with Millikan in the Physical Review — I think that was an abstract or a letter, along with a short letter in Science, and then the article in the Astrophysical Journal.
Weiner:By that time you had already passed your qualifying examination, before you left for the war service, is that right?
Sawyer:I donít think so. I think I had the examinations afterwards. Before I went into war service I took pains to qualify for a Masterís degree at Chicago, which I never received. That required a thesis, and I thought I did have enough work done then so I could have gotten a Masterís degree if I wasnít able to continue. I never took the Masterís degree.
Weiner:But the research took you three months, and then you still had to complete the qualifying examinations. It was by the next spring then, by 1919, that you had completed all the requirements.
Sawyer:I completed all the requirements in the summer of 1919. I went to Michigan in the fall of 1919.
Weiner:In the little time that we have remaining for this morningís session Iíd like to perhaps cover this period of transition to Michigan. You had met some of the Michigan people at Rochester. Did you know them before then?
Weiner:This was Colby and Sleator.
Weiner:And how did the offer to take a faculty position at Michigan come about?
Sawyer:In the summer of 1919 Millikan met me one day in the hail, and he said, ďIíve got a letter from Randall, who is chairman at Michigan, and he would like you to come there as a member of the faculty. And I should think this would be a good place.Ē I thought for years that Randall had heard of me through Colby and Sleator, but more recently Randall told me that that was a mistake, that they never said anything about me, and what attracted me to him, to his notice, was the article in the Physical Review on the ultraviolet spectroscopy. This was an article with Millikan, and Randall said that he knew that Millikan had been busy, and had been away most of this time, and he thought I must have done this pretty much on my own. He wanted somebody who could do work on his own. There werenít too many jobs around in those days. I remember I never looked for a job. I had two job offers, one from the University of Michigan, and one from the Eastman Kodak Company through Lloyd Jones, whom I had met of course during the war in Rochester, who also wrote and offered me a job. I suppose maybe heíd seen the article in the Physical Review too, and recognized my name.
Weiner:Was there any problem in deciding whether you would take an industrial job or an academic one?
Sawyer:No, I think in those days, as now, people thought that an academic job is more attractive, and the industrial jobs then were not financially very attractive. As I remember I made as much money for nine months at Michigan as I would have made in 12 months at Rochester, to begin with.
Weiner:What did you expect to be doing at Michigan? You knew they had certain teaching duties. Had you ever taught before?
Sawyer:Yes, the last year before the war, my third graduate year at Chicago, I had taught an elementary section there. The way they taught elementary physics at Chicago was, they gave a man a group of students, and he was on his own. They didnít have any central lecture sections then, and if you wanted to demonstrate anything you could carry the equipment into your lecture room, and you could teach it the way you wanted. I had one class during that third year of my graduate work. They used Millikan and Galeís book. I was on my own. That was the only teaching experience I had had.
Weiner:So you knew that when you went to Michigan youíd have some courses to teach, and that you were alsoÖ
Sawyer:At Michigan they used another formalized program. They had two lectures a week, two recitations a week in a literary college course, and three recitations a week in an engineering course. The load there for an instructor in those days was 12 hours a week. I had three of the two-hour course sections, in the literary course, and two of the three-hour engineering sections. For several years that was my program. I would have five recitation sections every semester. Usually there were about 30 students in each, so I would have about 150 students in the recitation sections.
Weiner:Did you have anyone assisting you?
Weiner:Grading papers, or Ö?
Sawyer:No, no assistants at all. There would be an hour examination three times during the semester, and you had to correct all your own hour examinations, and if you wanted to give them any problems and tests in between you had to correct them too. So it was what anybody now would think was an intolerable and murderous program.
Weiner:How did you find time for research then? Well, you did find it, but the point is, how did you manage to balance your schedule so that you could have some uninterrupted time for research?
Sawyer:The quiz sections were in the morning; you had the rest of the day free. Your work was done at noon, but it meant you had for three days a week three hours of class work, for two days a week, two hours. You could spend your afternoon on research, and your evenings getting ready for your classes and correcting papers — that was about the way it worked out. I think they still have such teaching loads in some of the small colleges now, but the people there don't expect to do research also, mostly.
Weiner:When Randall wanted you there, did he offer any inducements as far as research facilities or opportunities? Was this part of the picture he painted?
Sawyer:I must say our negotiations were wholly by correspondence. I was never in Ann Arbor until turned up there in September to start work. But he did tell me that they expected me to carry on a research program, and that they would help as much as they could.
Weiner:And you knew then that you would take responsibility for graduate students as well as teaching these other courses?
Sawyer:Yes, I was very fortunate in that respect, because Michigan had done very little graduate work before then. I think they had always had a few graduate students, but I think they were mostly in history up until that time, and only seven PhD's in physics. After the war a number of graduate students turned up and wanted to go right to work for a doctoral program. One or two of them Iíve had, I had run across in the Army or Navy, [at] one place or another. So I had graduate students right away, because I had something I wanted to do with them, a research program.
Weiner:How would you describe your desire then, your plan for a research program? What class of problems did you have in mind?
Sawyer:I considered myself an experimentalist pretty much, I intended to go on with trying to develop the work in vacuum spectroscopy more, with the spark source. I also had some ideas that I might be able to do something with X-rays in that region, which I never did succeed in doing. I went ahead with the spark work. So that I got an unusual opportunity there to get research students. In fact during the first two or three years I probably had more than anybody else. I did have an active program, something I wanted to do.
Weiner:And they were attracted to that.
Sawyer:They were attracted to that, and the fact that I had come from Chicago, which was a good placeÖ
Weiner:Did you carry extra prestige with you because you were one of Millikanís students?
Sawyer:I suppose that must have been the case. I didnít think of it that way at the time, I guess.
Weiner:How about support for these students? Was the University able to offer them any assistantships?
Sawyer:Yes, practically all of these students had half-time teaching jobs. That was the way they supported themselves.
Weiner:These were from University funds, then?
Sawyer:Yes, there were practically no fellowships in those days.
Weiner:You had one when you went to Chicago, but that was still from University funds. It was Dartmouth funds.
Sawyer:It was Dartmouth funds. Dartmouth had two traveling fellowships in those days so one or two of their students could go on to graduate work. And at Chicago there were a few fellowships, I think the Physics Department had half a dozen fellowships at Chicago, but at Michigan as I remember it I donít believe anybody had any fellowship in physics, any of the graduate students. I think they were all supported by part time teaching assistantships.
Weiner:What about the equipment, laboratory facilities?
Sawyer:Equipment funds were pretty limited too. Randall had a little. He had one shop man, a mechanic, and one glass blower, and with the little money you had to build your own equipment. I built one or two spectrographs myself at Michigan, certainly pretty crude ones, but that's what you had to do.
Weiner:At that time there were no special contracts or grants?
Weiner:Or anything from outside sources?
Sawyer:As I remember the only grants that anybody offered in those days were very small grants from the American Association for the Advancement of Science; they had a few thousand dollars, and if you were lucky enough you might get $200 or $300 from them. I never got any from them; I never had any outside money until I got into working on industrial research — no support for basic research.
Weiner:We had just finished talking about the support, or the relative lack of outside support for students and for research. I wanted to ask you a general question to characterize the period in the early 20ís at Michigan. Your research program was being carried out. I notice you had a series of papers, co-authored. Were these students?
Sawyer:These were students.
Weiner:Were these papers the ones that led to their dissertation?
Sawyer:Yes. That was a practice at Michigan, to publish papers with the student. Of these joint papers, of course, thereís one by Millikan and Bowen. That was still from Chicago. But then Becker and Paton and Martin and Beese and Smith were all doctoral students of mine in the first few years.
Weiner:Who else at other institutions was involved in the same type of work? Which papers would you look for in the journals? I mean, if you wanted to find something relevant to your own work.
Sawyer:Gibbs at Cornell had a group of people working in spectroscopy. McLennan at Toronto, Bowen who went with Millikan to Cal Tech, was doing work particularly in the ultraviolet region. Those are the ones I think of offhand.
Weiner:How did you keep up with their work?
Sawyer:In those days spectroscopic work was not published in the Physical Review it was not considered to be physics. Youíll notice that my thesis research paper was actually published in the Astrophysical Journal. I had two papers, one was my thesis, and another one was with Millikan and Bowen in the Astrophysical Journal. That is where spectroscopy was published in those days, or youíd find H in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, but not in the Physical Review. In those days the only physics journals that were published in this country in physics practically were the Journal of the Optical Society, which started a few years later, and the Physical Review, which in those days published maybe 1500 or 2000 pages a year together, something like that. I could read everything in those days, not only spectroscopy, but the whole of physics.
Weiner:Was this absence of spectroscopy papers in the Physical Review a decision on the part of the editors and referees, or was it a question of choice on the part of the author?
Sawyer:I think this was a decision of the editors, that these things should not be published in the Physical Review; that they should be published in the Astrophysical Journal, and a little later in the Journal of the Optical Society. But following Millikanís work in ultraviolet, the work that he and Bowen continued, and the development of the Bohr theory of the atom, spectroscopy became a good deal more interesting. Youíll find a period then and shortly thereafter in the 20ís when the work was published in the Physical Review. By 1926 I notice that my papers were appearing in JOSA. I see the [Journal of the] Optical Society, Volume 13, 1926. The [Journal of the] Optical Society had started then about 1920. But the [Journal of the] Optical Society in those early days was publishing mostly work on colorimetry, optical instruments and things like that; it also was not publishing spectroscopy.
Weiner:As far as you were concerned spectroscopy was physicsÖ
Sawyer:I thought it wasÖ
Weiner:Öand Michigan thought it was. Are you saying that spectroscopy perhaps was out of fashion for a few years until it came back into the center of things with the new work in the mid-20ís?
Sawyer:Yes, that was certainly the case.
Weiner:What about correspondence with the other individuals who were working in your field? Did you have much relationship with them through exchange of information, letters?
Sawyer:No, there was very little in those days. I used to see them at meetings. I always attended at least one meeting of the Physical Society a year and/or the Optical Society, and always at my own expense. I never had any of my expenses paid to any Society meeting before World War II. I think I was asked in 1941 to take part in a symposium, at a meeting at Christmas time of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which was held in Dallas, Texas. I think that was the first meeting to which the University ever contributed any money for travel expenses. Things were certainly different in those days.
Weiner:One important event — it was of a different order — in the middle of this period was the fellowship, the John Simon Guggenheim fellowship that you received to study in Europe. Iíd like to know more on that: why you applied for it, what the circumstances were, and how it came about?
Sawyer:I was really on the first fellowship list of the Guggenheim Foundation. I think they gave their first fellowship in 1925. They didnít have a formal competition, but they gave a few fellowships in 1925. In 1926 they announced their first formal program, and I believe Randall encouraged me to apply for that fellowship. Randall had worked with Paschen, when Paschen was the professor of physics at the University of Tubingen. He had left Tubingen by that time, and was President of the Physicalische Technische Reichsantalt in Berlin, and he maintained a private laboratory and a private research program there. So Randall encouraged me to apply, and to work with Paschen. I think Randall recommended me to Paschen — I am sure he did.
Weiner:This was just about the time when Randall was trying to develop a summer school as one of the important things at Michigan, to make it more of a center for work in physics. Do you think that this recommendation, that you study with Paschen and you work in his laboratory for a while, was related to his efforts to increase the ties of the Department of Physics with European physics?
Sawyer:I didnít think of it that way. What Randall was doing in the summer session was to develop work in theoretical physics in the United States, and although he didnít have much money he was pretty fortunate, as I am sure he said in his own biography. In those days we had a small summer session. Not everybody could get an appointment there, and the appointments usually went to the senior professors. He had two senior professors, Colby and Williams, who didnít want to teach in the summer session. They had some funds of their own and they preferred to take the summer off. So he began by just taking their salaries and using them to bring somebody else in.
Weiner:Well, then my conjecture about relationship of one to the other is not realistic. You did apply then, on his recommendation. Did you really think you had much chance of getting it?
Sawyer:I didnít think my chances were too good. [It was] a new program, there werenít too many other fellowship programs in existence, and I thought there would be a good deal of competition.
Weiner:And of course the people competing for the fellowships were from all fields, it wasnít exclusively science.
Sawyer:Thatís true. It was in all fields at that time.
Weiner:When it did come through, you made plans then to study with Paschen. Had you written to him, or did Randall write to him to set this up?
Sawyer:I canít remember. I think I had written to him, because I remember putting in the application that I expected to spend the year in Berlin.
Weiner:And then when you got the fellowship and you left Michigan, did you go directly to Berlin or did you make some other stops in Europe first?
Sawyer:I went directly to Berlin, I remember, because I had to go alone. My family came over later. I went over in November, and as I remember I spent one or two days in London, but I didnít visit any laboratories, and then I went on through Holland to Berlin.
Weiner:What was your first impression of the scene there? How do you remember your first impression of getting into the swing of things?
Sawyer:I got along very well, I guess, to begin with. Paschenís wife helped me to find a room. I had to find a single room for myself. Paschen spoke English pretty well, and he put me right into his laboratory. Paschen in fact had a private laboratory in his own house in his Dienstwohnung. He had a private laboratory with double soundproof doors where he shut himself off from his family. He used to spend his mornings in his own laboratory in his home, then about noontime heíd come over, and spend an hour perhaps in his so-called presidentís laboratory, where he had a couple of research assistants, and a couple of guests usually, then heíd go and spend the afternoon doing the work of the Physicalische Technische Reichsantalt. He never appeared before midday.
Weiner:Was he very definitely the senior man in that circle?
Sawyer:Oh yes, no doubt about that.
Weiner:How many other students were there? Of course you were postdoctoral. How many students of all types were there, who had come there to work in the laboratory?
Sawyer:It was a small group usually. I remember Gerald Kruger from Illinois who was there some of the time. I donít remember any other postdoctoral research students. I worked primarily with his two or three research assistants. He had two or three research assistants and a mechanic who did odd jobs in equipment, and so on. We worked together there in a private laboratory. One of the people in the laboratory at that time was Hansen, who went from there to the Zeiss works in Jena, and became one of the triumvirate of directors that ran the Zeiss works in Jena. The Zeiss works was run by three men in those days before World War II, a manufacturing director, a technical research director, and a financial director. Hansen became research director.
Weiner:And when you knew him he was working in the laboratory?
Sawyer:Yes, he had just finished his degree. He spent two or three years there, in Paschenís laboratory.
Weiner:What about the laboratory equipment, how did that compare with Michigan?
Sawyer:Paschen had better equipment than we had at Michigan, he had pretty good equipment. I designed a new vacuum spectrograph, and his shop built a new vacuum spectrograph for me.
Weiner:Did you collaborate with him in the building of this vacuum spectrograph?
Sawyer:No, he left that all to me. We did discuss the problem, the spectrum that I would work on. But he had a new light source that he wanted to apply to the vacuum, which had never been used in vacuum spectrograph, the hollow cathode discharge — we discussed that.
Weiner:If you had to characterize the things you learned from him during that year, how would you express it?
Sawyer:I got vital information about the analysis of atomic spectra, especially the higher spectra — this was the field in which he had been very active. He again was not really a theoretical physicist, but he was interested in the Bohr atom, and the implications, and what could be done in higher spectra, so I had considerable discussion with him. I was there twice. I went back there in 1931 again, and itís a little hard for me to tell you what happened in 1927 and what happened in 1931. But he gave a lecture series at the University of Berlin, a lecture course on atomic spectra, and the Bohr theory of atomic spectra, and Kruger and I used to go to that. As you know things were a lot less formal in the German universities, and after a few weeks the professor signs the course books for all the students, and some of the students just quit coming after that. The attendance got smaller — I remember one day we went down there, and we got there a few minutes late, and we met Paschen coming out. This was sometime after the middle of the semester. Nobody else had turned up. He laughed heartily and said, ďCome in, Iíll give you a lecture.Ē So we went back and he gave us a two-hour lecture, and he said he wouldnít lecture anymore that term — this would conclude the course.
Weiner:The lectures were generally on atomic spectra?
Weiner:They were in German?
Weiner:Did you have difficulty following at first?
Sawyer:A little, I suppose, but I was spending all my days right in the laboratory with the assistants, and mostly they spoke German. One or two of them wanted to speak English, but mostly they spoke German. So my German improved pretty fast.
Weiner:This was a period of research concentration.
Weiner:Do you feel that in that year you spent more time in research than you would have spent in a cumulative way in several years back at Michigan?
Sawyer:Oh yes, I am sure I did.
Weiner:Was this any sort of a transition point for you, in terms of the types of, or style of research?
Sawyer:Oh yes, certainly, because this was the first work that had done on actual analysis of spectra, and determination of spectral term structure, so this really started me in a new field in spectroscopy.
Weiner:Could you have made that departure at Michigan? Had there been anyone to give that type of support that you needed?
Sawyer:No, no one there, and it certainly would have been very difficult. This really started me in a new field.
Weiner:During this period the new quantum mechanics had come into being. It was just in 1925-26 when a lot of the old problems were resolved. I know that there was considerable ferment and agitation just prior to that period. And about that time — probably just before you got there — there was the recognition that some of these basic problems had been solved. Did you sense much of this feeling? Heisenberg and Schrodingerís work?
Sawyer:Oh, yes, I am sure I did although I didnít participate in that. I didnít go to any of Heisenbergís or Schrodingerís lectures, but I used to go pretty regularly to the weekly colloquium at the University of Berlin, where they had discussions mostly of current research papers, sometimes reports on individual research, and this was a very stimulating group. The colloquia used to be held in a small lecture hall which was always crammed to the doors — l50 or 200 people I suppose. In the front row you usually had about eight Nobel Prize winners, the full professors down there too. They did most of the talking. It was interesting to listen to them.
Weiner:Who was there Ö who were some of the most distinguished physicists?
Sawyer:Planck, Nernst, SchrŲdinger, Einstein Ö I canít think of any other names right now.
Weiner:This was 1926. It was that Berlin group.
Sawyer:This was really the great height of physics at Berlin. In those days Gottingen and Berlin were the two live places in physics in Germany.
Weiner:Do you recall what they seemed most interested in at the time?
Sawyer:No, I guess thatís too hard to recall now.
Weiner:I know itís a difficult question. But there were lively debates you said, and mostly with the principal professors.
Sawyer:Yes. There were lively discussions among them always.
Weiner:And this was a way to learn, not only to see the greats in action, but to learn some physics too.
Sawyer:Oh yes, it was a much livelier place than Chicago had been, or Michigan, certainly, because there were more of them there.
Weiner:When you say ďapproximately 150 people,Ē students, does this mean that all of them were in physics?
Sawyer:No, probably there were people from chemistry and mathematics.
Weiner:But mostly from the University of Berlin?
Weiner:How about other Americans? This was a period when a lot of Americans were traveling in Europe on one fellowship or another, or on their own. Or maybe it was after that that they started coming.
Sawyer:No, I think it was more after that. I donít remember too many Americans there that I met.
Weiner:You did meet Arthur Compton when he came through. Had you known him before?
Sawyer:No, I had not known him before. He came to visit Paschen, and Paschen actually turned him over to me to show him his laboratory, and to show him some other things in the Reichsantalt. I remember Compton didnít speak much German. He was invited to a very formal lunch with the Directors of the Siemens Company, and he took me along, partially as an interpreter. I guess this was in the spring of 1927.
Weiner:I think so, according to his notebook. Do you have any idea how long he stayed in that area?
Sawyer:No, I donít; my impression is that it was only two or three days.
Weiner:Did you get to travel during this period to other institutions in Europe?
Sawyer:Not very much. My family was there that summer. I had two small children, and we werenít able to travel very much that time. I remember being at Gottingen, and thatís about the only other German university that I visited that first time, I think.
Weiner:Whom did you see there? Did you visit someoneís laboratory, or did you just visit in general?
Sawyer:I canít remember visiting anybodyís laboratory there. That first time I did very little visiting. I did quite a little sightseeing, but mostly that had to be on weekends, Saturdays and Sundays. I felt that I had all I could do to get the job done that I had undertaken.
Weiner:And you did.
Sawyer:I did get results, yes.
Weiner:The first results on that were published in Europe in a joint paper with Paschen, is that right?
Sawyer:Yes, the first spark spectrum of aluminum with Paschen.
Weiner:And then there was another paper in 1927.
Sawyer:Yes, that was a little extra job. The aluminum job was the one I spent most of my time on.
Weiner:What happened to the equipment you built there; did that stay?
Sawyer:I donít remember anything else being done with it, actually.
Weiner:Youíd built it for that particular work?
Sawyer:For that particular job, yes.
Weiner:Then of course the design — you described it in subsequent papers?
Weiner:Then I gather that the important thing about that year for you was the opportunity to work with Paschen and to get into a new field. And you accomplished in the course of this education a good piece of work. Am I right in thinking that thatís the most significant part?
Weiner:When you went back to Michigan, how were things there? Had things changed? This was just about the time of the beginning of the theoretical summer schools. Did this have any effect on your work, or on the general atmosphere and growth of the Department?
Sawyer:It certainly influenced the growth of the Department. I attended several of those summer schools, and listened to the lectures. The first summer session they had at Michigan, Saunders from Harvard was a lecturer. He was not really a theoretical physicist, he lectured on spectroscopy. And they had Karl Compton, I think, in one of the very early ones. Then they went to purely European theoretical physicists. The first one or two of them were very useful to me; the others just gave me background information. But it also gave me an acquaintance with a great many of the physicists of the United States, because we always had a group of younger active physicists there.
Weiner:By this time the centers of research were more diffuse. Earlier you mentioned Harvard and Chicago as the two main institutions. By this time in the late 20ís, where would you Ö?
Sawyer:Oh, we used to get people then from a good many other places.
Sawyer:From California and the Midwestern universities.
Weiner:How would you characterize your research work from the time you returned until the time you became involved in some of the industrial problems? Was this a continuation of the new interest you had started in Europe?
Sawyer:Yes, for the next three or four years it was wholly a continuation and broadening of the work I had done with Paschen. Then in 1931 returned to Paschenís lab; I was there again for a semester in the summer. At that time I worked on hyperfine structure and the use of Fabry and Perot interferometers for hyperfine structure, which started a new line of research for me.
Weiner:You were continuing with graduate students?
Weiner:Was Julian Mack a student of yours?
Sawyer:Julian Mack was not a student of mine; he worked with Laporte. He was interested in experimental work too, and he did some experimental work and some analytical work with me. Then I had at that time two or three post-doctoral visitors — R.J. Lang, a Canadian from the University of Alberta was there and spent a year with me. Richl, whom I had learned to know in Paschenís lab, came over and spent a year with me.
Weiner:How did you come to go over there again in 1931? Was this supported by some funds?
Sawyer:No, this time I had a sabbatical leave that supported me.
Weiner:By this time you had been back, though and [were] doing research, with approximately five or six years intervening.
Weiner:What was your intention in going back? Was it for a change of scene and stimulation?
Sawyer:Yes, and to broaden my field of research in the spectroscopic area, which you practically had to do by going over there at that time. Thatís where the research was done. We didnít have really very large centers of research in the United States even by 1931.
Weiner:And were your experiences there very different than on your earlier visit? Were you pretty much working by yourself and discussing problems with Paschen?
Sawyer:Yes, thatís right. I was in Paschenís lab, and he furnished equipment for me.
Weiner:By this time, were there more Americans visiting?
Sawyer:No, I donít think so; I donít remember. Lang from Alberta was there that second time in Paschenís lab. He is the only one I remember.
Weiner:Did you also resume attendance at the Berlin colloquia?
Sawyer:Yes, I kept going to them. Itís difficult for me to sort out the 1927 and the 1931 seminars, really. They were still a very interesting group.
Weiner:It was about this time that people were beginning to get interested in a serious way in nuclear physics, just prior to the discovery of the neutron. Was there much talk about it when you were there?
Sawyer:I donít remember.
Weiner:I know Lise Meitner was teaching a course in nuclear physics, I understand, at Berlin, but I donít know how well attended it was, or how popular it was. You have no recollection of that?
Sawyer:No, I have no recollection of that. She was not at the University of Berlin; she was at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin-Dahlem.
Weiner:Maybe it was a visiting course. Iíd like to start in this other area now. When did you get interested in industrial work, the application of spectroscopy to industrial problems?
Sawyer:I had always done a little industrial work. We had an industrial research division there in the engineering school at the University of Michigan, which did undertake to make contact or bring industry and science together for the solution of problems. I had done a number of jobs for industry. I designed one or two periscopes and mirror systems for the Detroit Edison Company. They were having problems with air pollution, actually, at that time in Detroit, because they had large power plants in Detroit, some in the neighborhood of residential areas, and they were worried about smoke pollution. So I helped them build a periscope or two, and a mirror system, so that the operators on the operating floor, or one of them, could look at the top of the stacks and see if they were smoking, and another one could watch the water gauges a couple of floors below. I had worked on problems like that — problems of radiometric analysis of ultraviolet light sources and heat sources, so I was acquainted with the industrial research program. Professor Duffendack had started already to do some work at Michigan in applications of spectroscopy to chemical analysis and so on. The Campbell, Wyant and Cannon Foundry Company came in with a problem, the analysis of cast steel, which was turned over to me. Duffendack hadnít done any work in the metals — heíd worked in gases — so they asked me if I would direct this program. I thought it would be a fairly simple job and I undertook it.
Weiner:This was in addition to your research program that you had been pursuing?
Sawyer:Yes. I kept on with doctoral students at the same time.
Weiner:Were these first jobs for the Detroit Edison Company done on a consulting basis?
Sawyer:They were on a consulting basis.
Weiner:What about the job that came through Duffendack, was that a contract with the University?
Sawyer:That was a contract the University made with the Campbell, Wyant & Cannon Company. Dr. Vincent who worked with me spent full time on the contract. I was a consultant. I put in a few hours a week at it, because Vincent had had very little spectroscopic experience, although he had had experience in gaseous discharges and in radiometry. I provided the spectroscopic know-how in this piece of work.
Weiner:This industrial involvement with the University contrasted with the earlier period in the 20ís when, in fact, there were no outside contracts and no grants. When do you think this began to change? When did industrial companies come to the University?
Sawyer:It was a relatively small operation. By 1931 or 32 it was getting enough so that several people in the Physics Department were spending all their time on it. We had one or two people in acoustics, one or two people working with Duffendack in gas discharges and spark plug problems and so on. By the early 30ís there were probably half a dozen research physicists in the Physics Department working on industrial problems.
Weiner:This was also in the midst of the depression.
Weiner:What Iíd like to determine is what effect if any the depression had on this relationship. Did it retard it? Did it stimulate it? Do you have any feeling for that?
Sawyer:No, donít have any feeling for that.
Weiner:I guess one way to find out would be to see what was going on before.
Sawyer:Campbell, Wyant & Cannonís principal business was making engine castings for the Ford Motor Company, which was very active at that period. It was their big period.
Weiner:I donít know if we mentioned the year of your first involvement in that. Do you remember it?
Sawyer:This was in l934.
Weiner:We are resuming now after an interruption of a few hours. Iíd like to get on to the specifics of the problems involved in applying spectroscopic techniques to industrial production work, and Iíd like to know what the characteristics of the problems were. I understand that there was some resistance to the application of the spectrograph in industry. You referred in one of your published papers to the ďbad odorĒ of the spectrograph in industry, and to some resistance, and you felt that perhaps it was a ďbad odorĒ that could be attributed to some of the people who claimed too much or who introduced it without fully understanding the problems.
Sawyer:Yes, nobody had demonstrated — at least in the metals field — that quantitative spectroscopy could be done with accuracy, or that the sampling of the material could be done adequately, because the spectrograph consumes such a small amount of material, or that the work could improve on the work of chemical methods, either in speed or accuracy. So we undertook really to put this business of metallurgical spectrochemistry on an entirely new basis with regard to both speed and accuracy.
Weiner:When you say ďaccuracyĒ do you mean reproducibility in an industrial context here — reproducibility of intensities?
Sawyer:Yes, that is, you must have a light source that is reproducible and that will excite selected lines both of the matrix metal and of the alloy metals in the same ratio every time. What we found out was that there was not a suitable, reliable, durable light source, [and] there was no technique for a quick sampling of the pot melt. The spectrographs that we began to look at just didnít have low enough scattered light, or adequate dispersion. The photographic emulsions were made for other purposes than rapid handling — everybody thought that what you needed in a photographic emulsion was one that would last forever. What you need in spectrochemistry is a photographic emulsion that you can handle quickly, you donít need to preserve it very long. And the processing techniques were made with the same idea in mind: to get all the hypo out of the emulsion, and get it washed clean so it will last forever. Again this was not necessary. The microphotometers were laboratory instruments — too slow and too delicate. And the methods of plate calibration were too slow. In other words, we really had to straighten out one by one all these elements of the spectrochemistry. We had to devise a new light source — which we did, after considerable experimentation. We devised what we called a controlled spark source that would do that same thing over and over again. We built a microphotometer that could be used rapidly and that would last. Nobody had ever thought of a microphotometer that somebody was going to sit at eight hours a day or maybe 16 hours a day, turning the crank. We had to develop with the help of the Eastman Kodak Company photographic emulsions that had high contrast, and with a small enough amount of gelatin so they could be processed rapidly. We had to devise methods of processing these things very rapidly in strong developers, in rocking baths, so that we got a uniform development over the plate. We had to devise quick drying methods. We had to devise a kind of slide rule by which we could convert the reading from the microphotometer into percentage very quickly. And all these things had to be durable. We had a very simple test for durability — just turn the light source on and let it run 48 hours, and see what happens. And the me way with the microphotometer: what will happen to it if somebody uses it eight hours a day seven days a week.
Weiner:Did you try this in an industrial situation?
Sawyer:The development was done at the University. It was a discouraging proposition for a while. The company got worried because the work went on too long. They thought they couldnít afford to maintain it. We were so sure that we could do the job that we worked for nothing for a month or two to clean the thing up. It turned out to be a great success, so far as the analysis of cast steel samples went. We found out that we could do this more accurately and more quickly and reproducibly than the chemists could, so that before we got through in 1938 we could take a chilled cast sample from the pot in the foundry, and inside of six minutes give an accurate report on the content of six alloy constituents with more accuracy than the chemists. In fact we put the chemical laboratory out of business.
Weiner:You mean at the foundry?
Sawyer:Yes. Our method was a job that could be done by high school trained people; it didnít take physicists except as supervisors. It was a technique, not a research operation, finally.
Weiner:During this period, whom did you deal with at the company who had the knowledge of the problem and understood the characteristics of the problem?
Sawyer:This company — Campbell, Wyant & Cannon — employed a physicist, on our recommendation, to supervise the laboratory, and he worked with us for a considerable part of the time, so that when we were done with the equipment he was able to take it into the laboratory and start it going.
Weiner:They built a physics laboratory around this project?
Sawyer:They built a laboratory to fit this project, yes.
Weiner:Thatís quite an investment on their part; it seems quite an enlightened attitude, a gamble that they were taking. Was there someone in the management of this company who had enough knowledge to see the potential of this, or did they rely solely on you and Vincent for advice?
Sawyer:I think they relied on our certainty that we could do the job. I must say we were a bit ambitious in the claims that we made, but as it turned out we more than realized our claims. Of course, as a result of this work for Campbell, Wyant & Cannon — which as I said had as its largest customer the Ford Motor Company — the Ford Motor Company put similar equipment into their own foundry, and from there we went on to put it into two or three other steel mills. Nowadays of course electronic methods of measurement have replaced the photographic. There are direct reading methods now in which the intensities of the spectrographic lines are read on a phototube, and an electron tube equipment reports directly in percentages. But the facilities, the possibilities for that didnít exist then — those were things that came out of the war developments of radar and other electronic uses. Ours was the kind of job that gave great satisfaction when you got it straightened out. Even though it isnít considered basic research, it required study, research, development, debugging, actual building of equipment; designing and building of equipment at every stage almost.
Weiner:Did you have all of the equipment set up at the University and working first?
Sawyer:Yes. We had a complete setup at the University. We had to build our own microphotometer in the physics shop. We built the microphotometer, we bought the spectrograph, we inspected it, and we adjusted it for them.
Weiner:It wasnít a question of a model that you were building for subsequent construction at the foundry?
Weiner:You built the equipment, and when it worked you sent it in. Did you get samples at the University? Did you have a foundry there?
Sawyer:No, we didnít have a foundry there, we got the samples to work with from their foundry.
Weiner:And once it was installed, were there very many differences observed between what you had set up in the lab situation and in actual practice at the foundry?
Sawyer:No, it seems to me there was very little.
Weiner:Anybody else involved, any graduate students or other people of the University as part of their training? Or was it just a special project?
Sawyer:In this particular thing we didnít use any graduate students. We used a physicist from Campbell, Wyant & Cannon named A. M. Sampson. A little later on we did involve graduate students. Dr. Vincent and I did have one graduate student together who got his doctoral dissertation on various aspects of measurements in applied spectroscopy. I had three other doctoral students who worked on problems on biological applications of quantitative spectroscopy.
Weiner:An interesting general question on this relates to patents. Did patents stay with the individuals who did the work?
Sawyer:There werenít any patents involved here. There was no new art here; this was really development of existing techniques. It did happen that we had some experience with the Carl Zeiss people. My friend Hansen, who was by this time research director of Zeiss, thought at first that they had a light source which was patented and of which ours was an infringement, think we convinced them or their lawyers that this was not the case. They thought that their spectrograph, which had a good deal smaller dispersion than the Bausch & Lomb spectrograph we used, was adequate to do the job. I thought it wasnít and they sent a man over from Zeiss to spend two or three months in our laboratory and learn the business really, to find out whether it could be done with the Zeiss equipment.
Weiner:The [subsequent] application and installation at Great Lakes Steel, I think, was a further development of a similar technique. Were there substantial differences? Or was it an extension of the basic work?
Sawyer:These were really extensions of the basic job.
Weiner:What was the difference? You were dealing with sheet then, werenít you?
Sawyer:There was a small difference in the sampling as I remember, but that was the only difference in the way the samples were taken.
Weiner:But at that time there was no on-line type of work being done?
Sawyer:No, Great Lakes Steel didnít have an on-line operation. Campbell, Wyant & Cannon had an on-line operation. They wanted to hold the melt until they got an answer, to see whether the melt met their specifications. By saving the holding time, reducing it from half to three quarters of an hour to 10 minutes or less, they had an appreciable saving in cost, in addition to the fact that the operation itself was carried out more cheaply.
Weiner:The actual analysis was done in ten minutes. Could you immediately do another one on a production basis?
Sawyer:Oh yes, sure.
Weiner:So it was a continuous sampling, a continuous analysis type of thing Ö?
Sawyer:Yes, we could handle a sample every minute — we had one man on the spectrograph handling the samples and taking the spectra, one man on the plate processing equipment, another man on the microphotometer, so this was a continuing process. We could, in a two-shift day, put through 300 samples, and we did.
Weiner:And this paid off for the company too.
Sawyer:It certainly did.
Weiner:I mean they not only saved the time, but they actually improved the quality of their product.
Sawyer:It improved the quality of the product, and it paid for the equipment. Itís my impression that Fordís policy was that they werenít going into a new setup like this, unless it would pay off its development costs in the course of two or three years in savings.
Weiner:Did you also play a role in the installation of this at Ford?
Sawyer:Oh yes, we were down there at Ford to help them install. Ford also had a man they put on the job with us to pick it up, then we had to go in there to work with them, to straighten out some of their problems, look at their spectrograph and so on. Those were the days when Harry Bennett whom you may not have heard of, had charge of security at Ford. They were having union troubles, and they had pretty strict security. I remember Vincent and I went down there one day to make some tests, and we were carrying along a suitcase with some equipment in it. We had some test apparatus that we wanted to carry in, and we went to Gate 4, which was the nearest gate to the lab. You had to walk through gate 4 and up to a booth which stood in the middle of the yard to check in. So we walked through the gate as we had before, and started walking over to the booth where you checked in, and I noticed by the time we got to the booth there was a man on each side of each of us — they didnít want to take any chances on what we might be carrying in there.
Weiner:This was at the River Rouge plant?
Weiner:What about the previous efforts that didnít work, the efforts to apply spectrographic techniques to industrial processes. Was it because there wasnít a commitment on the part of industry to a long term project? Was this the thing that made your project so different? The results were good and the people were good, but what I am asking is, had there been any similar attempts where this investment over a long period had been made with University people who collaborated with industry for this purpose?
Sawyer:I donít know. There had been some attempts in steel in German laboratories and so on, but I donít think anybody really analyzed the problem as we did, piece by piece, and found out, for example, that you needed a longer, broader line, a larger area of plate than they had done before, and a light source that was more steady and reproducible. The others were just undertaking, I think, to go on with what they had at hand: ordinary arc, delicate laboratory microphotometer, and so on.
Weiner:You reported on these results at a conference at MIT in 1941 on spectroscopy and its applications. I notice one publication mentions that this was the Ninth Annual Conference. I am not at all familiar with that, I donít know who sponsored it, and what type of a group it was. Perhaps youíd tell me something about that.
Sawyer:During that period George Harrison who was doing spectroscopic work at MIT inaugurated these summer conferences, which ran for two or three days. He had nine or ten of them before the war. I think they were never renewed after the war. They were actually meetings of people who were interested in spectrochemistry who got together to describe their work.
Weiner:Who was the sponsoring organization; was it MIT?
Weiner:What about the funds? Did people pay their own way?
Sawyer:They paid their own way except for the speakers. I think MIT had some travel money for the speakers. I donít know where they got that. This was before the days of research grants, so it may be that they were using some of their own money, strange as it seems today.
Weiner:And how large were these groups?
Sawyer:These were groups of 100-150 people, they were good-sized groups.
Weiner:Would you say they represented most of the active people in the field?
Sawyer:I think so. Now of course, as you may know, the big conferences at Pittsburg have grown up and draw three or four thousand.
Weiner:What was the changing role of spectroscopy as a field, i.e., its relation on one hand as a basic development in physics and its role in physics, and then its role as an applied field, an applied technique useful in industrial and other applications?
Sawyer:Spectroscopy is still useful in industry, but you donít see now in universities much of the kind of spectroscopy that I was doing before World War II. You hear some complaints from the committee on line spectra of the National Research Council, that we ought to have more people who are doing analyses of spectra, accurate wave lengths and so on, but this kind of work is not done very much anywhere. There are some new kinds of spectroscopy, of course, that are developing, microwave spectroscopy, fluorescent spectroscopy, spectroscopy excited by cyclotrons. There are new kinds of things all right, with some interest in spectroscopy, but actually the kind of work that I used to do is not done in more than half a dozen places in this country, if it is that.
Weiner:Is the National Bureau of Standards one of these places?
Sawyer:The National Bureau of Standards is one of the main places now, still is. Dr. McCormick and I (McCormick was a student of mine) trained, think five PhDís in the last five or six years in spectroscopic methods and spectroscopic problems. Itís my impression that none of them is working in spectroscopy. They went and got a job somewhere else. There was no trouble getting a job, but not in the field in which he was trained.
Weiner:Are they in physics?
Sawyer:Yes, in physics, but doing other things.
Weiner:You implied earlier, when you talked of the fact that articles on spectroscopy were not generally published in Physical Review during a certain period, and then later they were, that it was because spectroscopic results came to be of great interest in atomic structure, [and, later, in] nuclear physics.
Sawyer:Now spectroscopy again is not published in the Physical Review. Itís mostly published in the Journal of the Optical Society, or some other place, but not in the Physical Review.
Weiner:Do you see it now as a field in a very applied stage? We characterize stages of growth in a field, when in the early period [one is] trying to work out the theory, then later perhaps [one] works out techniques to apply these theories. Would you say that historically itís through those stages and is very much of an applied field?
Sawyer:The applied field is certainly not of interest to many physicists anymore. Itís done mostly in the chemical laboratories of the industries and so on, and thought of more or less as chemical physics. Some of the new spectroscopy is done in physics labs.
Weiner:I just want to develop that, and get the background of the work you had done in the 30ís and up until the war period. What brought you to the authorship of your book Experimental Spectroscopy? This was published in l944, but I imagine you had worked on it for many years before that. What made you want to do that?
Sawyer:Prentice-Hall came to me and asked me if I wouldnít write a book on spectroscopy, and I thought that I was in a position to do that, so I started to do it. It went very slowly as you can imagine. What with a teaching load, and some industrial consulting, and two or three graduate students, you donít get very much time. I took a summer off, in 1937 I think, and went to the State University of Iowa and just settled down there for the summer, and I got three or four chapters written there. I never would have finished the book if it hadnít been for the Navy. I went to the Naval Proving Ground really to install a spectrographic laboratory, and I soon found myself in charge of the whole projectile laboratory, and a little later in charge of all the laboratories there. But, at any rate, this was not a job in which you were expected or able to work nights and weekends, so I was able to write the book. I finished the book up during the war.
Weiner:Did you have the library and the journal literature that you needed?
Sawyer:I had all that I needed.
Weiner:I note that the book is heavily spiced with good citations from the literature, including pamphlet literature. You went back into the history part of it. How did the history chapter come about? Did you know a lot of this? Had some of it been treated in other books?
Sawyer:I had been giving a course on spectroscopy for several years at the University, in which I had developed a good deal of this material. I had a lecture or two on history, on apparatus design, and so on, so that the book was to a considerable extent an expansion of my lecture course.
Weiner:I see. You started the book in 1937. So if one wanted to get a feeling of what your lectures were like in that period, the book would be a pretty fair representation.
Sawyer:Yes, thatís right. The book was written partly as a textbook for courses in spectroscopy, and itís still used for that purpose, I think.
Weiner:I have the latest edition here. You know [that] youíve arrived when itís in paperback. It was [first] published in 1944. Is there anything particularly interesting about the Navy experiences? This is your second connection with the Navy. Had you maintained any reserve status during the intervening years?
Sawyer:No, I had not.
Weiner:Was this part of the OSRD — Office of Scientific Research and Development program that you were involved in? I know you worked for the Navy, but was it part of that larger program?
Sawyer:No, I was a reserve officer in World War I. I had a commission; I was commissioned for four years. When the four years was up my commission expired, and then there was very little reserve activity between the wars. As a matter of fact it was Professor Leonard Loeb of the University of California who was on active duty as a Commander at Dahlgren, who asked me if I didnít think itíd be nice to come back into the Reserve and help the Naval Proving Ground on this job. He said Iíd just work a few days at a time, and get a spectrochemical laboratory started. It wasnít the way it worked out, the war came along pretty soon and found myself there on full time duty.
Weiner:When did you start this involvement?
Sawyer:I was there for three months during the summer of 1941, and then I came back to the University. It was partly to finish up the spectrochemical equipment that we decided to build for the Navy. I came back to oversee that. I was back in the University when Pearl Harbor happened. Very shortly I was back to active duty. I went back to active duty in February 1942.
Weiner:This was at Dahlgren, Virginia?
Weiner:And you spent the period through 1945 there?
Sawyer:Yes. Loeb had left as well as Dr. L. T. E. Thompson, the senior civilian, and I found myself senior scientist. I was there until V-J Day, and then I was sent to Europe with the naval technical mission to interview German scientists and to see what advances had been made in the fields of optics and spectroscopy during the war.
Weiner:Did you continue any of your own work during the war period, other than writing the text?
Sawyer:No, I must say I didnít have time for anything else. I was senior scientist and soon in charge of all laboratories. In fact I must say I sacrificed my reading in physics to finishing the book.
Weiner:At the end of the war period, how long did you spend in Germany? Was it in Germany?
Sawyer:Yes. I was only there about a couple of months. I would have been there longer but my father died very suddenly, and the Navy sent me back to the United States.
Weiner:I didnít realize that this had been done in other scientific fields. I know the story of Sam Goudsmitís group that was pretty well publicized, but I didnít know that it also had gone on in other specialties.
Sawyer:The Navy had a group called the Technical Mission. I expect we were competing to some extent with the Army groups.
Weiner:And the idea was to learn what had happened in developments, military or otherwise, during the war, in these skills.
Weiner:Then you came back, and this was still in 1945. Was it at that time that you went to Bikini?
Sawyer:When I came back, (the Navy sent me back when my father died) I returned to Dahlgren, Virginia. I was discharged from the Navy in Washington.
Weiner:Did you go back to Michigan then?
Sawyer:No. What actually happened was that I was approached by the Naval Ordnance Test Station in Inyokern, California through a friend of mine, Dr. L. T. E. Thompson, who was the Technical Director and talked me into taking a job as one of their three associate directors in Inyokern. They couldnít pay my expenses out there for myself and family and furniture, and so they said, ďWell, you go to work for a short time for the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab at Silver Spring — which is a Navy supported activity, at that time under the direction of Merle Tuve — and they will then transfer you to Inyokern.Ē And so I did that, I worked out there for a month or two, studying navy weapons that I hadnít been familiar with before. I was all packed, and I was going to leave on a Sunday to start for Inyokern. My goods were all packed. And Thursday morning I got a call from the Bureau of Ordnance saying, ďThe chief wants to see you.Ē I went down, and found out they wanted me to become technical director of the first bomb test at Bikini. I said Iíd have to ask my wife about this. We lived in Georgetown. She was working for the Office of Price Administration, as Consumer Relations Adviser. So we decided Iíd do it, and I went back at 2 oíclock and said ďAlright, Iíll do it.Ē Admiral Hussey said, ďThatís fine, you leave at 5 oíclock by plane for Los Alamos.Ē But I had a little luck, the fog rolled in off the Potomac, the planes couldnít take off, and I didnít have to leave until the next noon.
Weiner:And you were involved in the project from then until the time you were appointed Dean of the Graduate School at Michigan?
Sawyer:Yes, what happened was that I used to go to Los Alamos every weekend almost, and spend three or four days, but my headquarters were in Washington. I left for Bikini in the spring, in May. After the first test we were getting ready for the second test, and the day we were going to have the dry run for the second test, the underwater bomb test, (I used to get up every morning and sit down at my mess table, and beside my place at the table would be all the telegrams that had come in overnight) I found a telegram saying that the Regents offered me a position as Dean of the Graduate School at Michigan. This was a day when I had no time to think about that, it was the day of the dry run on the underwater explosion, which didnít go off quite right. My ship was going to be the last one to leave the lagoon, and they had a big magnesium bomb out on a raft that they were going to fire to simulate the other explosion. This was going to be fired by remote radio control, and it went off before my ship got out of the lagoon. But the real shot went off alright.
Weiner:You stayed there until the end of 1946, or was it the fall?
Sawyer:The fall of Ď46.
Weiner:And you did take, of course, the position at Michigan?
Sawyer:I got back there in October, I think, a month after school started.
Weiner:Let me ask you a general question which really ties in to the period from 1946 on, and has also to do with your experiences during the war. [It relates to] the problems of heading a large-group scientific project with many scientific and technical people gathered together on a program. Are there any special characteristics of this kind of a project that you think are worth mentioning?
Sawyer:The special problem out there was to make sure that tie scientists got what they needed from the Navy, and that they got proper treatment from the Navy. The thing that symbolizes that in my mind is the fact that all the top staff out there had radio code calls, which is a hangover from the war, so if you wanted to talk with some other chief you could use this radio code call. My radio code call was BETWEEN, and this was my position all right — I was between the scientists and the Navy and the naval administration out there. But I never had any trouble with them, I got excellent support. Admiral Parsons was active in the bomb development. He was the Deputy Commander of the Task Force for technical work, and I got first-class support from him in everything that I wanted.
Weiner:The scientists, as scientists, posed no special problem because of their approach to their work and because of their training and different types of interests and so forth?
Sawyer:Everybody was interested in the job they were doing out there, and I could get along with them better than General Groves, who had his problems with the people at Los Alamos. We had no trouble with the military out there because there wasnít any question about who was running it. The scientists dealt with the military through me, and the military were committed. In fact the Task Force commander issued an order that the needs of the scientists would take priority over everything but health and safety. So this meant that we got what we wanted.
Weiner:Do you think the experiences there and during the war were important to you in your work at Michigan after the war? And if so, in what way?
Sawyer:The Navy taught me some basic things about administration. It weaned me away from individual research.
Weiner:Were the problems similar though? The types of problems that you had to deal with at Michigan?
Sawyer:Well, yes, professors at Michigan were pretty much like the scientists at Bikini, I guess, to deal with, and research was developing very, very rapidly. We had outside fund support and so on, and all kinds of activities were springing up at Michigan, of one kind or another. It turned out that I found myself on committees for all kinds of research activities there.
Weiner:The Phoenix project
Sawyer:Phoenix was the principal one, but there were a number of others. It finally turned out that I was on 30 different committees, most of which had to do with various phases of research of some kind or other, and chairman of a good many of them. This was what led to the setting up of a job of vice-president for research, to coordinate all these scattered activities.
Weiner:Did you during this period get involved in the discussions that I am sure were cropping up, on how the sudden availability of research funds affected the primary function of the University, or the dual functions of research and education?
Sawyer:I had a simple policy, which was also the policy of the President and the Regents. It was that research was supposed to support education, and we didnít undertake research in general unless it could contribute to the actual ongoing development of the faculty or the training of graduate students. We didnít intend to let it interfere with the education program, but rather to support it.
Weiner:In this period, was there an imbalance, perhaps because it was a transition period? I mean an unsettling effect on the total University because of, first of all the large number of students coming in, and a lot of research funds coming in at the same time. Were there special problems in carrying out this policy?
Sawyer:I donít think so, because the fact that there was research money and this research program made it possible to get faculty members. It made it a little tough, no doubt, for some schools, but we were in a position of leadership in most of these fields, and this just enabled us to expand our faculty.
Weiner:I have a couple of more general questions. One is, about the changes that you may have noticed in the graduate students coming into physics after the war, [compared to] the group coming in in the Ď30s when you were at Michigan. The number, of course — more of them were coming in. But do you feel it was generally the same type of person with the same type of motivation? Or were there differences that you can really point to?
Sawyer:We got a great many graduate students, as other places did, who had had war experience and knew a lot about wartime developments at the time. This is what happened at the end of World War I, too — a great many people coming with wartime technical experience. But it was also the case, I am sure, that there was a big growth in industrial research and government research activity, which made different kinds of opportunities available for people who had completed their graduate training in physics, and they didnít necessarily look toward the University. There were other opportunities for them, which I am sure attracted more people who had perhaps an engineering background and were not primarily interested in teaching.
Weiner:Did this reflect in their work in any way? Were they better or worse students because of this difference?
Sawyer:I think thatís pretty hard to characterize but they were older and more deeply motivated.
Weiner:I think Iíd like to ask you a question which [only you could answer] and that is, to comment on what you feel has been the most significant work in your scientific career. By scientific I mean in all aspects — whether research, administration, or professional activity — the one that you think has been the most significant.
Sawyer:For the last 20 years Iíve been a research administrator, basically. I hope that Iíve made a significant contribution in that field to the development of research and research policy and research programs, not only at the University of Michigan but elsewhere, because I was active with Congress and other agencies in the discussion of programs. So my research has been very little in the last 20 years. Iím sure Iíve gotten a good deal of satisfaction from that other kind of activity. In the prewar research activity, I suppose the most significant thing was first the development of the applied spectroscopic technique which was not pure physics of course, but very satisfying. Then the work I did in spectrographic analysis after my period with Paschen, for a few years. I let myself be pushed around by events perhaps more than some people allowed themselves to be.
Weiner:You responded to a need. You mentioned the word satisfying. Would you distinguish between work that you would regard as significant, and work that you would regard as most satisfying personally? Or Iíll put the question this way — what did you enjoy most? What did you have the most fun doing?
Sawyer:I think the thing I enjoyed the most was my work with Paschen in that period, and just following that.
Weiner:Between 1926 and 1931?
Sawyer:YesÖ oh, between 1926 and 1935. That was a very pleasant period, scientifically. But I donít think [that] as I got into the other administration after the war, I missed teaching. I missed the opportunity to do as much research as I had before.
Weiner:There are other questions, but I donít want to overstep the time limit weíve set. Thereís a question about a man, Beutler, whom you mentioned earlier. You referred to the sudden death of this man as premature. What were the circumstances?
Sawyer:He died of a heart attack.
Weiner:This was in the early 40ís, 1942, is that correct?
Sawyer:Yes. He was at the University of Michigan for a while, and was interested in the theory of gratings, and I thought he could contribute to the book on the theory of gratings. He left Michigan and went to Chicago, and he never quite got his part finished. There is a chapter in my book which contains quite a lot of his work, which I had to do a considerable amount of work on myself. I am sure I couldnít finish it up as he would have done it if heíd been able to.
Weiner:There are other questions I wished to ask about the work on Meggers, an evaluation of William Meggersí major contributions, the most significant work that you feel he did in spectroscopy. I guess we wonít have the time, really, to get into that.
Sawyer:No, we can barely touch on that. He devoted his whole life to the question of analysis of spectra and accurate measurements of wave lengths and so on. He didnít let himself be diverted by other activities, either administrative or otherwise. I suppose he made the biggest contribution of anybody in this country in those areas, simply because he devoted 60 or 70 years to it, 60 years anyway.
Weiner:Working on the same thing all the time?
Sawyer:Yes, I think so. He got into more complicated spectra and so on, improvements. But he really went down the same line of research the whole time.
Weiner:Was he unique in this? Was there any parallel? Any other group of people that could be identified with his work?
Sawyer:I donít think so. Possibly Julian Mack at the University of Wisconsin. He got into other kinds of things that involved spectroscopy. He spent his whole lifetime in spectroscopy too, butÖ and Randall of Michigan in the infrared fieldÖ but nobody as far as I know was able to work uninterruptedly without much of any other duties for that period of time.
Weiner:Even beyond retirement.
Sawyer:Oh yes, [Meggers] was still doing it on the day of his death.
Weiner:When we get into the [Meggers] papers there are quite a lot of questions. But for now I think we could call it a day.
Sawyer:Yes, I think weíd better, probably.
Session I | Session II