Oral History Transcript — Dr. Peter Van de Kamp
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Peter Van de Kamp; March 18, 1979
ABSTRACT: Recollections of family background and early schooling in Holland; interest in science and influence of C. Flammarionís writings; university training at Utrecht; contact with Julius and brief interlude on Einstein; astronomy at Utrecht and practical work with van der Bildt; move to Groningen and work with P.J. van Rhijn; contact with E. Hertzsprung; move to Virginia and association with S.A. Mitchell and H. Alden; decision to remain in America; contact with Vyssotsky; Ph.D. exam at Lick Observatory; life at Lick; organization of science in the Netherlands -- Kapteynís legacy; research on interstellar absorption circa 1930 and contact with R. Trumpler; peer review in professional journals; collaboration with Vyssotsky and work on galactic structure and interstellar medium; double star work, 1931, Barnardís star origin of interest; religion and philosophy.
Session I | Session II
DeVorkin:Dr. Van de Kamp, we were talking at the observatory and you mentioned that you had some general comments on the relationship of Dutch astronomy to American astronomy, and why the Dutch came here when they did. Could you give me those ideas now?
Van de Kamp:Well, Iím often asked why is it that so many Dutch astronomers came here, and are still coming. And I think there may be several explanations, and I would advise you to consult with others, especially A. Blaauw and B. Bok, I think. My idea is that the number 1 person who played a role there was J. C. Kapteyn, because he formed a school of astronomers, of which of course Jan H. Oort is the most striking and the best example — Oort in my opinion being, if not the foremost, one of the foremost astronomers on this earth. And Oort as you know knew Kapteyn and could tell you more about him. I just missed Kapteyn, because he died in the spring of Ď22. I was a student at Utrecht at that time, and I went to Groningen that fall as an assistant to P. J. van Rhijn, who had been Kapteynís assistant. The reason I was asked to come was because Oort had been asked to go to America.
Van de Kamp:No. I donít know the details about that. Oort could tell you that better, of course. But he went to Yale and worked with Schlesinger for two years.
DeVorkin:What was the reason that brought these Dutch astronomers to the United States?
Van de Kamp:Well, I think it was the reputation of Kapteyn, who was one of the best known and most important astronomers at the beginning of this century. Then of course, the people that did go gradually to America all had the benefit of a Dutch education which — here I may seem to be chauvinistic — was excellent in those days, on the secondary level, and I think itís still pretty good, although there are some signs of deterioration. In my day, three foreign languages were compulsory. Now, only two are compulsory. I think thatís not very good. Well, anyway, Dutch education, and especially Dutch science, I think, had been always very good. And the first Dutch astronomer who went to America was A. van Maanen. He was not, I think, a student of Kapteyn; he was a student of Nijland in Utrecht, the man with whom I studied. I do not know under what circumstances van Maanen went to America; whether he was invited, or whether it was arranged between Kapteyn and somebody else. But at any rate, you know, he went there and worked on parallaxes with the 60-inch and later on with the 100-inch telescope. Kapteynís assistant, who later on was director of the Kapteyn Laboratory and who was my boss, also spent some time in America, but it was only for a short visit. I believe he made a study of the night sky.
DeVorkin:He never intended to stay there?
Van de Kamp:Apparently not. Then the third one who went was W. J. Luyten, I think in 1921.
DeVorkin:For the record, youíre reading from a paper that you showed me before the interview.
Van de Kamp:Yes. It has to be slightly up-dated here and there, but basically whatís here is good, it just needs a little up-dating.
DeVorkin:This paper is as of 1938.
Van de Kamp:1938, yes. Now, the people then who came in succession before Ď38 were, Luyten, and then I came, then Jan Schilt, Reuyl, Brouwer, Bok, Kuiper, and Mulders — youíll find them in here. Strand should not be included really because he is Danish, but he spent many many years in Leiden. He was Hertzsprungís assistant, they both are honorary Dutchmen anyway. After that many more came, but we wonít go into that right now, I think.
DeVorkin:I think the general interest right now is the people who came prior to World War II.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:Now, was it directly Kapteynís influence and then Oortís influence after?
Van de Kamp:I think it was Kapteynís influence, then von Rhijnís influence. Hertzsprung of course also played an important role.
DeVorkin:What was it then that brought them to the United States, as opposed to England, France, Russia?
Van de Kamp:Well, I do not know what brought Luyten, youíll have to ask him. Have you interviewed him?
DeVorkin:No, we havenít.
Van de Kamp:I just had a letter from him. He celebrated his 80th birthday last week. I was invited to come. I donít know under what circumstances Jan Schilt went. Reuyl was invited to come. I do not know (under) what circumstances brought Brouwer. Then Bok and Kuiper. But I think basically all these people were invited to come and were very welcome, and they liked very much to go because of the opportunities which were much greater here than in Holland. Holland doesnít have a very good observing climate for visual work.
DeVorkin:Was your invitation something that was totally unbidden, or do you think that your teachers in Holland had been corresponding with people here?
Van de Kamp:I can tell you exactly, and I can even show you the letters about that.
DeVorkin:Yes, weíve already discussed your case in the first interview.
Van de Kamp:I was invited as a result of Kapteynís last paper which he wrote, and which required international cooperation, especially, essentially from America. And so van Rhijn wrote to Mr. Mitchell, ďWill you take some plates and van de Kamp will measure them?Ē And essentially Mitchell said, ďWhy donít you send van de Kamp? He can take the plates and measure them here.Ē And thatís the way it started.
DeVorkin:Was there a need, you think, in the United States for astute observers?
Van de Kamp:I think it was for observers and astronomers in general. I think America was well off as far as instrumentation is concerned, better off perhaps than any other country. And, as I often stress, America had the climate, and the money, and the idealism, for astronomy, for a long time. It goes back to the beginning of the 19th century, certainly.
DeVorkin:Why do you think they hadnít built up a work force of astronomers? Why did it exist in Holland rather than in the United States at that time?
Van de Kamp:Iím not quite sure about that. In Holland, if a person wanted to go and study astronomy, in a sense he was discouraged — the same way we discourage them here now — because their opportunities would be limited. On the other hand, a person who would study astronomy got his degree in astronomy, physics, and mathematics, so he could turn in different directions, and he always could become a high school teacher. He was prepared for that. And many of them did become high school teachers.
DeVorkin:But astronomy was an accepted curriculum in school.
Van de Kamp:In high school astronomy was taught under the discouraging name of Cosmography, which essentially was spherical astronomy: time, right ascension, delineations and all of that — not very inspiring, really.
DeVorkin:But it was a standard curriculum.
Van de Kamp:It was. I donít think it is any more now. In my day, everything was compulsory.
DeVorkin:And that would have been a reason why there were comparatively so many fine names who did go into astronomy and became astronomers?
Van de Kamp:Yes. In my own case, of course, I got a push in the direction of astronomy by reading Flammarionís translation in Dutch, and I could have become a mathematician very easily. But astronomy appealed to me as being closer to nature than mathematics. I think it was the right decision, too.
DeVorkin:What do you think about the effect of the war, in the late thirties, on bringing some of these later names to the United States?
Van de Kamp:I donít think that played a role, really. I donít think people started paying attention to that until it was too late, so to speak, until the thirties. Now, Oort of course went back, when he could have stayed here. As a matter of fact, he has received many offers after that. As I say, I cannot speak for Brouwer, Bok and Kuiper. You can talk with Bok and see exactly what the situations were, whether they were invited straight out or through the intermediary of their professors over there. Again, of course, astronomy is a very international science, and astronomers all over the world were always in touch with each other, always corresponded and met each other at meetings and so on. Now, I met Bok first 51 years ago at the meeting of the IAU in Leiden, and I think that laid a foundation for his coming. Incidentally, Bok there met the future Mrs. Bok.
Van de Kamp:Yes, Priscilla. And I donít know, how much of a role that played. At any rate, it worked out very happily, as you know. In the same way of course Mrs. Gaposchkin met Mr. Gaposchkin in Europe and brought him over here. Thatís a long story. I cannot give you the details about that because I donít know the fine details.
DeVorkin:OK. Well, do you think thereís anything else we should cover on this story?
Van de Kamp:The only thing I would like to add is that after 1945, this immigration, if you want to call it that way, of Dutch astronomers continued. And they were iost1y invited, a large number of them. You know the names. Thereís Maarten Schmidt, Gart Westerhaut of course — some of the important ones — and there were others. I donít have the names right here. I could list them for you. At least 10 or 15 were invited. In other words, the good education in Holland continued. I think there was a desire probably from a man like Maarten Schmidt to get a big telescope, which he did. I donít know the exact sequence of events concerning Westerhaut. So this has continued. I must point out also that there has been some immigration in reverse. Quite a number of American astronomers have gone to Europe.
DeVorkin:C. D. Shaneís son.
Van de Kamp:Shaneís son has thrown his lot with Europe now, definitely. He married a Dutch girl, which helps of course. He speaks fluent Dutch, very colloquial, with an accent. W. Butler Burton spent nine years in Holland. He was a Swarthmore student, and when the time came for him to do graduate work, he was very fussy about it, and he would not settle for next best but to have the very best. I said, ďThen youíll have to go to Leiden.Ē Which he did. He studied with Oort, van de Hulst, and you name it, all those good people. So he went there and got his PhD in Leiden, after eight or nine years. Speaks a fluent Dutch by now. They considered him so good that he was offered a position in Holland right away. And twice after that, he was offered a position in Holland. He must be pretty good for that. If Leiden offers you a position. But he finally had to make a decision, and he threw his lot with the United States. He felt, itís now either yes forever, or no forever.
DeVorkin:Where is he now?
Van de Kamp:He is now at Minnesota. I think I told you about it a little while ago. He is now the chairman of the department.
DeVorkin:Oh, thatís right.
Van de Kamp:Perhaps one other thing I can mention. I wonít say itís off the record. Itís on the record, apparently. But I donít want to stress it more than is necessary, for fear that I will be considered chauvinistic. But itís interesting that six astronomers of Dutch birth now have rather prominent positions in this world. There is, Maarten Schmidt, obviously, director of Hale Observatories. Then there is Westerhaut who is scientific director of USNO. And then Sidney Van den Berg, who is director of Victoria, the Dominion Physical Observatory. So far three big observatories in North America which are now in Dutch hands! (Laughter). Another thing, of course, Blaauw is president of the International Union. L. Woltjier is director of the European Southern Observatory. And deJager has just been made president of the International group of International Unions. Itís all the International Unions together. Before that, deJager was president of the European Space Agency. So I just mention this. Then of course there are lesser people besides those who are still carrying on, lesser people like myself. (Laughter).
DeVorkin:Well, youíre probably the most well known amongst the general community, for all your work and all your writing.
Van de Kamp:Because Iíve been around a long time. That helps, of course.
DeVorkin:The others have too. I may have some more questions about this area. Weíll come back to them later.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:I have a number of questions that will pick up where we left off last time. First of all, let me ask you about the letter that you wrote to the American Institute of Physics about your recollections of Einstein. Could you tell me something about the contact that you had with Einstein through the years?
Van de Kamp:I could. I have written them down, six pages, and hadnít I better give the six pages to you? Youíre free to copy them. If I would start now, I would tell the same thing, because this is a well seasoned summary, has gone through several editions, and has resulted in six pages of recollections from the first time I saw him, to the last time I spoke with him. Would that satisfy you?
DeVorkin:That would be fine, and we can put that in as an appendix.
Van de Kamp:This probably will be published in the Swarthmore BULLETIN. Itís too late for PHYSICS TODAY. And I also asked Charlie Federer, but he felt it would be too much for SKY AND TELESCOPE. This I understand.
DeVorkin:All right. You have correspondence with Einstein. Did you ever play music with him?
Van de Kamp:Yes, I did. I wrote him once. I asked him for a photograph, which he kindly sent to me, nicely signed, beautiful photograph. And we made music together. Thatís all reported in some detail in this.
DeVorkin:Do you have tape recordings of that music?
Van de Kamp:No. The tape recorder hadnít been invented yet.
DeVorkin:You donít have any recordings of it then?
Van de Kamp:No. Only memories.
DeVorkin:Do you have any knowledge or evaluation of his ability as a musician?
Van de Kamp:Yes, of course, because we played together.
DeVorkin:Yes, well, how did you feel about it?
Van de Kamp:Oh, he was a good musician. He was not a virtuoso but he was a good chamber music musician.
DeVorkin:What did he like to play, primarily?
Van de Kamp:Oh, I think real classical music. I think that evening, we played Hayden, Mozart and Beethoven. Yes.
DeVorkin:Finishing up from your first interview session, weíd come up just about to the war. Youíd been established as director here at Sproul.
Van de Kamp:In 1937.
DeVorkin:In 1937. Could you give me a review of your activities here at Sproul, up into the war years, and then could we discuss your wartime activities?
Van de Kamp:The European War actually three years after I came here. I got the program well started, the program of mass-ratios and perturbations, the essence of it really. And during the war of course there was the problem of staff, because Strand, whom I had invited from Leiden after he got his doctorís degree on his beautiful double star work, had to join the Army, or joined the Army.
Van de Kamp:No, the American Army. Yes, I think he was in the American Army. I donít think he ever shot anybody. I donít know exactly what he did, but he became a captain. He had been in the Danish Army as a youngster. But anyway I lost him, and the same with Armstrong Thomas, who was a young assistant in the observatory. He had been a former student of mine in Virginia.
DeVorkin:Was he drafted?
Van de Kamp:No, he volunteered, I think, and joined the Navy.
DeVorkin:Did he do research?
Van de Kamp:No. He was basically in the Pacific most of the time and rather involved with personnel work. He was very good with people. He was an old fashioned gentleman at a very young age.
DeVorkin:And youíre not sure what Strand did?
Van de Kamp:No, strangely enough, Iím not, but Strand could tell you. Have you interviewed him already?
DeVorkin:No, heís another one we havenít interviewed.
Van de Kamp:Youíd better do that. He can tell you that.
DeVorkin:What about some of your other staff, yourself, Miss Lippincott?
Van de Kamp:Well, I did a little observing. Pitman was not in the best of health, and did little observing. We had some student observers, I think. But basically during the war, the observing was carried on by one person, an amateur, Delaplaine, and he deserves all the credit he can get. Roy Welty Delaplaine. And he had been a night observer already when I came. Yes, Delaplaine had been a night observer for a long time, and he continued. And during the war, I wonít say he single handedly carried on the observing program, but he was the most important person, and he also had a full time position. He was in the physical education department of the Philadelphia high schools. He lived in Swarthmore. Astronomy was his hobby. And he had very good judgment about weather, so he didnít waste any time. If the weather didnít look very good he said, ďIím not going to work tonight, because Iím saving my energy for the good weather.Ē He had infallible judgment in that, which is very important, because an observer can just sit there all night and in a sense take credit, ďWell, I did my eight hours of work, but I didnít get anything because the weather was bad.Ē
DeVorkin:He was doing it because he loved it.
Van de Kamp:He loved it. He got paid. Actually a payment scale had been established by Dr. Miller, per half night. It used to be $5.00 for a half night of work, $3.00 for a half night that was broken by clouds, and $1.00 in case it was cloudy. But in a sense, weíve stuck to that later. We still have a system like that for our students. There is a certain cover charge for opening of the dome — clear or cloudy, a student gets so much, it used to be $1.00 per night, itís probably more now, and then he gets paid by the plate and by the quality of the plate, and that works out quite well. On a good night, a good student can make an awful lot — can make a lot more money than he could washing dishes in the college cafeteria.
DeVorkin:It prompts him to be careful and productive. Great.
Van de Kamp:Yes. It works well. Again, itís done by people who really like to do it. Not necessarily astronomy students. They may be physics students or economics students. I mean, anybody can learn how to take plates with a telescope. Thatís pretty mechanical. So itís really the motivation, and if theyíre not too clumsy, they can do it. Sometimes we have more demands. It used to be we had more students who wanted to do this than we could use, and we tried them out, and then, well, itís the survival of the fittest.
DeVorkin:The number of students available during the war was not too great?
Van de Kamp:No. I donít know exactly when we started with the student observers.
DeVorkin:What were your activities during the war? You continued to teach.
Van de Kamp:I started to teach, I would say. You see, I came in Ď37, but I did not teach until Ď42, except for an occasional small seminar. But by Ď42, John Himes Pitman did all the teaching. You see, I came here with the understanding that I would be primarily responsible for research and Pitman primarily responsible for the teaching, but there would be cooperation. It was a very nice scheme which worked out well in those days. It doesnít work out well now at the observatory. We have a very sad situation. But we wonít go into that right now.
DeVorkin:Well, what is it now? John Hershey does the teaching?
Van de Kamp:He does much of the teaching. But you see, when I retired in Ď72, there was a problem of who would succeed me. And people were not successful in finding an appropriate person at the moment. So then they started looking to Miss Lippincott: would she do it? She said, ďNo, I donít want to do it.Ē So to make a long story short, an arrangement was made by which Miss Lippincott was appointed director of the observatory, and Heintz, who had been here for several years, would be chairman of the department and would be primarily responsible for the teaching, while Lippincott would be primarily responsible for the research. Well, it is no secret that it doesnít work out. Obviously Heintz was disappointed because he wasnít made director, which I understand. But it was not my doing that he was not made director. It was the higher ups who decided that he should not be director. Well, at any rate, Pitmanís health began to deteriorate in 1942 and then I was asked if I do the teaching? And I did. At least, would I do some of the teaching, and I did, and I have done it ever since.
DeVorkin:How did you feel about teaching?
Van de Kamp:Oh, I always liked teaching.
DeVorkin:So you looked forward to it?
Van de Kamp:No, I didnít mind not teaching heavily when I first came here, because the observatory needed a lot of repairs. I suppose every new director feels that the observatory is run down. It was run down. You see, Miller retired in 1930. He had to because he was 70 years of age. Then he was kept on as research professor for five years, and as director of the observatory. But he did not do too much anymore. So by Ď36 they started looking for a director very intensively, and from Ď36 to Ď37 the observatory was run by a committee. Well, that was all right for one year.
DeVorkin:That doesnít really keep the observatory in good shape.
Van de Kamp:No. And then there was a long story, and I have all the files on that, but thatís not for today, I think. Finally the choice was narrowed down to me. Many were distinguished people who were considered, some of them were a lot more distinguished than I was, but they were much too old. It wouldnít have made sense. Men like Rubble, for example, it wouldnít have made sense for Hubble from Mt. Wilson to come here at his advanced age. So Iíve taught ever since then. But I had taught in Virginia, of course, as I told you, for eight years.
DeVorkin:So you had teaching responsibility.
Van de Kamp:Oh yes, I did.
DeVorkin:Well, during World War II, in 1945, you were involved with something called the ALSOS Mission. Could you describe what that was and what your involvement was?
Van de Kamp:Well, the ALSOS Mission had been established I think in Ď44. You may want to check on that.
DeVorkin:Yes, I can check that.
Van de Kamp:There is a book, as a matter of fact, on ALSOS. I think I have it.
DeVorkin:We can look for it.
Van de Kamp:Written by Boris Pasch, and I think there must be also a book written by Goudsmit, another Dutchman, who was the director. He died recently as you probably know.
DeVorkin:Yes, I know.
Van de Kamp:Well, anyway, this was a continuation of Einsteinís interest and concern, in I guess government circles, that the Germans might be ahead of the Americans and might get the atomic bomb before the Americans did. And that would have been very bad because then the Germans would have won, and what would that have meant? So this was a small scientific mission established to go to Europe, on the heels of the advancing Armies — this would have been 1944, after D-Day then — to try to interview captured German scientists and other people, and use whatever means at hand, to see what the development might have been. But this has been described much better than I can repeat to you. Now, as I say, the scientific director was Goudsmit and one of the people who was in it from the beginning, I think, pretty much, was Kuiper. He was very important. He made quite a point of it at one time. He almost got caught in the Battle of the Bulge. You remember that? He was one of the first people involved.
DeVorkin:You were later involved?
Van de Kamp:I was later. I came in after VE Day, when it was decided to finish up the whole business, to do the mopping up operations with Headquarters in Paris.
DeVorkin:After it was known that we had the Bomb, and they wouldnít?
Van de Kamp:I didnít know. Nobody knew, officially.
DeVorkin:Then you were involved in early Ď45?
Van de Kamp:Early Ď45 yes. I went in July. Well, and the word atomic bomb was never mentioned.
DeVorkin:So what kinds of questions were you asking?
Van de Kamp:What did I do? Oh, very simple. In the first place, I learned how an organization is in an Army mission. I was in uniform. I looked terribly heroic. I can show you pictures.
DeVorkin:What was your rank?
Van de Kamp:I was a colonel. We were all what is called ďsimulated colonels.Ē That means, if we would get caught — for which there was no danger any more then — we would have been given preferential treatment. Caviar instead of hamburgers. Well, the advantage, even after VE Day, of being in uniform was that it was sort of a passport. You could go anywhere very easily. I was there for three months, July, August, and September. And these were three of the most interesting months of my life, really, for me.
DeVorkin:Did you volunteer for this?
Van de Kamp:No. I was asked. In principle Iím a pacifist, of course, like any sensible person is in principle. And I was called up one day, by the man in charge in Washington, and asked could I do this?
DeVorkin:Who was that, do you recall?
Van de Kamp:???
DeVorkin:Was it a military man?
Van de Kamp:No, a civilian. I think. I have the files here. I can show you the files.
DeVorkin:Weíd be very interested in that.
Van de Kamp:Then I was appointed by (Alan) Waterman. Waterman appointed me.
DeVorkin:This was OSRD?
Van de Kamp:OSRD, yes.
DeVorkin:Were there any other astronomers, other than Kuiper?
Van de Kamp:No, I donít think any other astronomers, but there were lots of Dutchmen. Again, the old story. And why? Well, it has something to do with science. They were all good scientists. And they speak four languages. That was not unimportant. Iím not saying that this was decisive, but English of course was required. German was very helpful, because there was interviewing, not in my case but in others. I saw Goudsmit interview a German — I guess a general, some high up person. It was quite something. I still have that picture in my mind, of this rather small Jew, Goudsmit, interviewing this very handsome captured German general, looking like Conrad Veidt. You remember him from the movies? Conrad Veidt always played these things. This must have been hard on Goudsmit, because by that time, heíd been in Germany. Heíd found out that his parents had been deported to Germany and had been gassed. But Goudsmit was a gentleman, I suppose. He offered him a cigarette and so on. Well, anyway, I used German, because most of my work was translating German — ďevaluatingĒ is the word — German articles. Then French was helpful, because one was in France, and of course the Dutch was nice because I had Dutch colleagues there.
DeVorkin:You didnít interview directly, then.
Van de Kamp:I didnít interview directly. I evaluated documents. Those were scientific articles which had nothing to do with the atomic bomb. Of course, we did not know about — what it was all for.
DeVorkin:You did know what it was for?
Van de Kamp:No. I didnít know. We were only there to see what the German status was with science. And I still remember finding an article in some popular magazine which dealt with the possibility of an atomic bomb. And I went through that. I went with that to Goudsmit and said, ďHere.Ē ďOh,Ē he said, ďthatís just science fiction.Ē Actually it was not important. But it always amazed me how this atomic bomb business was kept an absolute secret. It didnít leak out. And itís probably because the organization was sufficiently small, and very few people knew. Goudsmit knew. One of my colleagues at Swarthmore College here, Ed Cox, professor of chemistry, was with another mission. There were lots of missions, you know, around Paris. And we saw each other frequently. Weíd come, have a meal together. Those were the first good meals I got again. In America, things were rationed, you know. But we had it good.
Van de Kamp:Yes. We were with the Navy mess. We had it good. Thatís another story all by itself. Well, at any rate, the day after the atom bomb was dropped, Ed Cox was rather excited. He came to our ALSOS Mission and I said, ďEd, nice to see you.Ē ďYes,Ē he said. ďMy colonel,Ē meaning the colonel who was his boss, ďwants to know, why wasnít he told about the atomic bomb before?Ē I donít know what Goudsmit told him. Goudsmit was a very tactful man, he must have given the proper answer, afterwards.
DeVorkin:How did you feel, hearing about the bomb?
Van de Kamp:Well, I think it was shocking. I still think it was a terrible thing. I donít know whether it was ďnecessaryĒ or not. I doubt that. It must have been very hard on a man like Einstein, who really initiated this whole business. By the way, I gathered, summing it up now, that the Germans were six months behind, or something. And one reason why they were behind was their own fault, fortunately. In the first place, they threw out or exterminated all the Jews, and that was quite a bit of scientific potential, and they (Jews) went to the other side. Then, they also exterminated non-Jews who were ďpolitically unreliable.Ē Well, it canít happen here, but in 1950, with that crazy lunatic in Wisconsin (Joe McCarthy), things were very bad here also. I hope that sort of thing doesnít happen again.
DeVorkin:Were you a recognized pacifist?
Van de Kamp:No, no. I was not an official pacifist.
DeVorkin:So they never contacted you, you never had any trouble from the McCarthy period?
Van de Kamp:I was never asked.
DeVorkin:Shapley had quite a bit of trouble.
Van de Kamp:Yes. Well, Shapley was more of a hero than I was. No, I was a pacifist. Well, that was a blot on the record of America, that whole period. One of the things I translated, and I passed along which was all confidential and restricted I have a copy of here though I havenít shown it to anybody. But I have it here. I doubt whether it has any restricted value at the moment. But one of these things is a letter written to the Reichsforschungrat. It was the NSF of Germany. A letter from high up, ďWhy arenít you making more progress with science?Ē Iím not saying, with the atomic bomb, but with scientific development in general? And the man who answered had, I guess, the courage to give a long reply to this, pages and pages: ďOne figures that after all, we lost so many good people, the Jews and then others that were politically unreliable.Ē
DeVorkin:That must have been an unpopular answer.
Van de Kamp:Yes. I think I have that still here.
DeVorkin:That would be interesting to have. Did you ever participate in Bokís Harvard NEWSLETTER that was circulated in Europe during the war?
Van de Kamp:Iím not sure I did. I know of it. You mean, giving news?
DeVorkin:Just news of astronomy, what was going on.
Van de Kamp:I may have, but I donít remember.
DeVorkin:Iíve talked to Bok about it.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:But I was wondering, if youíd had any association with it, you would have been able to assess its value.
Van de Kamp:I canít tell you.
DeVorkin:Did you meet refugees during this mission period in Europe — astronomers? And did you find out anything about how the war affected astronomy in Germany?
Van de Kamp:No. The man there, of course, who knows more about it than anyone else is Kuiper, and he wrote that up in POPULAR ASTRONOMY, as you probably know.
DeVorkin:Thatís right. He did.
Van de Kamp:Yes. And I think he was fair. Of course, he hated the Germans, which is understandable. I regard Kuiper very highly as a scientific man. The only astronomers I met while I was in France, whom did I meet there? A young fellow called Aden Meinel. Of course, he was on another mission. He was with a Navy mission.
DeVorkin:What was he doing there?
Van de Kamp:I donít know. I think they were looking to see how far the Germans had gotten with the V-l and V-2 and that sort of thing.
DeVorkin:He was identified as an astronomer, at that time?
Van de Kamp:Yes, he was an astronomer, because he expressed a desire to go see the observatory in Meudon. So, I donít know how it came up in conversation, but Meinel said, ďWell, Iím going to see the díAzumbujaís.Ē They were solar astronomers, both Mr. and Mrs. díAzumbuja. I went along with him, and he went there, and we took the usual things along, chocolate and soap, thatís what one did in those days. This was quite interesting. It hadnít been too bad in the country, in Paris. They managed during the war. But I always remember one thing that M. díAzumbuja told me, after saying, well, they managed during the war — but at the end of the war, ďthings got a little worse; we were forced to drink water.Ē (Laughter). Isnít that a nice French answer?
DeVorkin:Were they able to maintain any scientific work? Did you talk with them at all about that?
Van de Kamp:I donít know. It was mostly just a social visit.
DeVorkin:Did you meet any other astronomers?
Van de Kamp:No, I only met an amateur astronomer on the street, who was with a telescope. He was one of these people, bare feet, and with long clothes who showed — in Place de Clichy, I remember, a rather disreputable section of Paris — (the stars). We became acquainted, and have corresponded ever since. He believed in the salvation of the world. He was an idealist in the best sense, and he thought astronomy would play a role here. He has some kind of Russian name, anyway. I donít think I met any other astronomers. I did go to Holland for one week. Why? The reason was quite obvious. None of us had been in Holland for seven years or in my case, ten years. So naturally the question was raised with Goudsmit: ďIs there any chance we could go to Holland? I could see my fatherĒ and so on. To make a long story short, I got a travel order, by command of General Eisenhower, to go to Holland for a week, not only I but somebody else too. It was a package of two people. Well, I think it was understood that this was just our vacation, so to speak. But at the same time of course when we came back, we had a lot to report, and we wrote that down of course. But I still remember going there, not in a jeep, in a command car, which is larger than a jeep. The name of the car was Marilyn. I remember that.
DeVorkin:Did you write that report up? Was it a written report?
Van de Kamp:I wrote that up in letters to my wife, which you can read if you want to.
DeVorkin:Theyíd be good, for your record.
Van de Kamp:Yes. Recently, Maja and I went through them together, read the whole thing through once more. It was a very interesting period. Anyway, to Holland. We left Paris in the morning. In the evening, the driver after having crossed by ferries, because bridges were in bad shape — I have movies of that, by the way — we arrived in Amsterdam. I finally located my brother, my younger brother. I stayed with him. But I was a colonel, and was accompanied by a sergeant. So I had to take care of him. I said, ďI have to take care of this man before we can do anything else,Ē so the neighbors put him up. He was a not overeducated man. His English was so-so and he certainly didnít know Dutch, and the people with whom he stayed didnít know English. They got along beautifully. That shows you. The spirit was very good, of course. The spirit in Europe was wonderful at that time, just after the Liberation, after VE Day.
DeVorkin:How long after Liberation?
Van de Kamp:Well, in Holland it was only a few months after Liberation.
DeVorkin:Did you meet Oort?
Van de Kamp:No. You see, my time was extremely limited. And the only astronomer I insisted on meeting was Van der Bilt, who had been my favorite astronomy teacher in Utrecht. He had written me letters about how it was during the war, how terrible, what the Germans did, and all that.
DeVorkin:His letters did get out? Or this was before the Occupation?
Van de Kamp:No, they couldnít have gotten out before. It must have been shortly afterwards. I have all the Van der Bilt correspondence here. From a human point of view, itís very important correspondence. Also, as far as the human view of astronomy is concerned. Rather than the scientific work which he did, which was not that important.
DeVorkin:I see. Well, thatís an important aspect, certainly, of the social history of Dutch astronomy.
Van de Kamp:Yes. Van der Bilt kept in touch. Van der But was very close to Kuiper, and vice versa. Kuiper was not an easy man to get close to, but they got along fine.
DeVorkin:You returned to the United States in 1945?
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:You were in Europe when the bomb was dropped?
Van de Kamp:Yes. I found it out from the French newspapers.
DeVorkin:And then you returned after that. Did you return directly here or did you go on duty somewhere?
Van de Kamp:No, I returned here. I went to our beach home for a few days and then I had to go to Washington, to get debriefed and to get the payment arranged and all that sort of thing. They paid me for this. It was very nice extra income. It was the first time I ever flew, by the way. Iíd never flown before. We had to fly.
DeVorkin:The first time you were in an airplane?
Van de Kamp:The first time I was in an airplane. I still remember. We left Washington. First, I wrote my will. And it was quite a long trip. We went by what was called a C-54. A propeller airplane. We left Washington and hopped, or rather arrived in Newfoundland, then went from there to the Azores. In Newfoundland, we had dinner. We had breakfast in the Azores. Then we arrived in Paris for supper. It was a long trip, but a very interesting trip.
DeVorkin:Yes. Sounds like the Great Circle route. Would you say that World War II was disruptive in any way to your research or to research here at Sproul?
Van de Kamp:No, not too much, because our research depends so much on accumulating photographic plates, and waiting, waiting. Time plays a role. So all these plates that Delaplaine took were taken then and so there was not too much disruption there.
DeVorkin:Was there any reorganization after the war, any change of philosophy here at the college?
Van de Kamp:No. Not really. Things went on, back to normal. During the war, although itís a Quaker college, they admitted some Navy units. They felt they had to do that. But thatís a separate story.
DeVorkin:Did you teach any war-related courses earlier on, like navigation or anything?
Van de Kamp:No. I think Pitman gave a course in navigation. You see, the Navy units that came here, the person in charge was a civilian and had been the dean of a college, so he understood the situation. There was no marching or anything like that. They all stayed together in one building, different floors, except the floors were called decks. It was not an uninteresting experience.
DeVorkin:They were in uniform?
Van de Kamp:They were in uniform, yes. And also it was the first time I think that at parties, faculty parties, whiskey was introduced. For the benefit of the Navy of course. I think the faculty never recovered from that.
DeVorkin:During the war, in 1943, you wrote an article entitled ďCopernicus and the Present World Picture.Ē
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:What caught my eye was that it was published in the AMERICAN-GERMAN REVIEW.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:I donít know that publication. This was during the war. It seemed to me an interesting activity.
Van de Kamp:I think this was published under the auspices of the Carl Schurz Foundation, which is located in Philadelphia. Carl Schurz probably was some American patriot of German descent, I do not recall. I had dealings with them because before the war, I employed a refugee from Nazi Germany, Dr. Gustav Land, who has done beautiful work. He was already 59 years of age. But he escaped in time from Germany, on the day, in time.
DeVorkin:Was he brought here directly by your efforts, or did someone else intermediate?
Van de Kamp:From Germany he went to England and he was employed there, part time, I guess. Thatís all I want to say, I mustnít get him mixed up with Arthur Beer.
Van de Kamp:Beer was also a refugee from the Nazis.
DeVorkin:Arthur Beer was?
Van de Kamp:I think Land came to this country, I donít know who sponsored him, but he came to this country unemployed, but as a potential astronomer. And he got in touch, as one did in those days, with Shapley. Or with Frank Schlesinger. Those were the important people.
DeVorkin:Those were the two who were most involved in placement?
Van de Kamp:The most instrumental, especially Shapley. Shapley has done wonders, saved the lives of many people. Well, anyway, they seemed to think that Swarthmore might be a possible place for them. And yes, it was a possible place, but Swarthmore had no money for it. So this was my first begging experiment. I think Shapley may have suggested it: I went to Wilbur Thomas, who was in charge of the Carl Schurz Foundation, and he provided some money.
DeVorkin:I see, so thereís the contact with Schurz Foundation.
Van de Kamp:Yes. I built up a salary of $1200 a year, for Gustav Land, by getting so much from Carl Schurz, so much somewhere else. I donít remember it exactly, but it was all just little pieces. I went to New York to interview Gustav Land, and Olga went along with me, and we were very impressed. Just because a person is a refugee — there were also some fake refugees, you know — (doesnít make him desirable). But he was, they were perfect people. They were wonderful. And they have proven themselves. So he stayed in Swarthmore from, was it 1939? to Ď42. I couldnít keep him, because I had no more money. But the Schlesinger was very much interested, and Schlesinger said, ďI think we can use him, if you canít use him.Ē Then he went to Yale. Then Schlesinger retired but Brouwer continued with him, and he continued. This man had done very good work, here in Swarthmore, at Sproul and at Yale. He continued long after retirement still, in part payment I think. But that was a very positive experience in my life. We have a nice picture of him, in the directorís office hangs a picture of Gustav. And I have some nice movies of him too, the last time I saw him.
DeVorkin:How do you feel astronomy changed after the war? Do you have any specific impressions?
Van de Kamp:No. I think the big thing, as far as I see it of course, was radio astronomy, which was developed during the war among others by van de Hulst. You know that of course, that story.
DeVorkin:Yes, we managed to catch him for about half an hour.
Van de Kamp:Oh. Well, heís a busy man. I saw him for a few minutes in Holland when I was there last, at a meeting.
DeVorkin:I know that in 1948, Dr. Luyten, you and Dr. Schilt wrote a commentary on the future of positional work in astronomy.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:You have a number of items in here that you noted, and Iíd like to get your ideas on them. First, you said that there was a need for increased use of reflectors in astrometric research, to reach greater magnitudes. You, second, called for a survey of large proper motions, that should be done. And then all through it, of course, you indicated that there had been a tremendous drop in interest in astrometric work.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:Could you make comments on those three points? How you think theyíve changed?
Van de Kamp:Well, I think I agree with the first two, the need for reflectors, and of course that has materialized later. First in Strandís telescope, of course, his wonderful telescope.
DeVorkin:Strand was here by that time, was he not?
Van de Kamp:Strand had left Sproul. He was at the Naval Observatory by that time. But the real kick which was given was given at a meeting of the Cosmic Distance Scale Conference, in Charlottesville in Ď56.
Van de Kamp:Then there was a recommendation. Now, I initiated that conference, by the way. I donít want to get credit for that, but I initiated it.
DeVorkin:I want to talk about NSF conferences, certainly.
Van de Kamp:I initiated that conference. NSF was in the mood to do things like that, and there was money also, also important.
DeVorkin:What produced the writing of this particular position paper in 1948?
Van de Kamp:I donít know who started this. It didnít seem to me it was a very important paper. I assume that Luyten and Schilt and I got together at one time, but Luyten might have been the pushing force there? Certainly not I and not Schilt. Schilt was not a pusher.
Van de Kamp:I suppose Luyten. You can get an awful lot of information from Luyten.
DeVorkin:Well, the difficulty is we have a travel problem to get out there. We hope to see him at the IAU.
Van de Kamp:Thatís too bad. I just thought you were going to send me to Holland, pay for the trip and Iíll do the translation of Kapteynís book.
DeVorkin:That would be marvelous.
Van de Kamp:Now, this other thing, what was it?
DeVorkin:Survey of large proper motions.
Van de Kamp:Well, my gosh, Luyten has taken care of that, above all.
DeVorkin:What about the earlier proper motion studies. Giclas had taken the early Pluto plates and re-did them. Did he do this partly, do you think, as a result of your push.
Van de Kamp:I donít know. Youíd have to ask him. If you ask Luyten, itís like a bull who sees a red light, youíll get a very one-sided answer.
Van de Kamp:Yes, heís very angry with Giclas.
Van de Kamp:Well, a number of reasons. One is that he thinks Giclasí proper motions are too expensive, while his, Luytenís proper motions, are so cheap. The fact is, of course, that Luyten has done more than anyone else in discovering proper motions. Thereís no doubt about that. I think everybody and Giclas also would recognize that. Luyten is a very sensitive soul, and if a star which originally had a Luyten number is given a Giclas number in a catalog, for example, then that leads to unhappiness. Thatís all I want to say about t. I shouldnít say any more.
DeVorkin:Weíre at the end of this tape, now. Just before lunch, we were talking about the article that you wrote with Luyten and Schilt.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:Post-World War II, and the third point about that article that we were about to discuss was your fear for the demise of interest in astrometry.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:What caused you to be concerned about that at the time? What was happening in astronomy that was reducing interest in astrometry?
Van de Kamp:
Well, I would say it was in the air, somehow. That Astrometry was passe now, there are other things — radio astronomy of course, and so on. Radio astronomy played an important role, I think, in these thoughts. But this goes back further. I remember when I was at the McCormick Observatory, Mitchell, who started the parallax program there, was in fear almost that ďoh well, we are determining parallaxes now, and thatís fine, but soon it will come to an end, and it wonít be important anymore.Ē I think what played a role, I may be wrong there, but what played a role is that people like Mitchell, with what I call medium sized telescopes, had an undue exaggerated respect, almost a fear, of the very large telescopes, and there was this feeling, ďWell, now, thereís the 100-inch telescope, and what are we doing here with the 24 or the 26-inch telescope?Ē This feeling of course was not justified because parallaxes can be determined very well with small telescopes. And as a matter of fact, the first parallaxes determined on the 100óinch telescope by van Maanen were not good, because the reflector was not designed for positional work, while the refractors turned out to be, even if they werenít designed for photographic work, very suitable for positional work. And look here, weíre now in 1979, and parallaxes are still a very important problem. And look at the beautiful work that Strand and his colleagues have done and are still doing, with the 61-inch telescope. And of course, the idea of the reflector has been followed or copied. Fracastoro, in Turino has, I think, a 40-inch reflector which was specially designed for positional work.
We dedicated that several years ago. And then Fredrick at McCormick also has a reflecting telescope designed for astrometric work. I donít know whether thatís in operation yet or not. They had some problems with that. Iím not too pessimistic about this whole matter, because after all, parallax work is going on nicely here at Sproul, at McCormick, at Allegheny, and van Vleck, and I believe also at Yerkes and at Lick. I think the end is not in sight, or should not be in sight especially as long as we have people like Luyten, who are discovering the faint proper motion stars whose parallaxes should be determined. And it is interesting to realize that the most powerful astrometric telescope, is the Flagstaff USNO telescope, but I think itís still difficult for them to go beyond the 16th, 17th magnitude. And Luyten has been discovering large proper motions down through the 21st magnitude.
DeVorkin:That was with the Schmidt plates?
Van de Kamp:The Schmidt plates. And at the moment, there is no instrument that is available or suitable for determining parallaxes of these very faint stars, except the Schmidt telescope itself. So there is work to be done still. And I think one of the problems with astrometry, especially with parallaxes, has been that everyone is agreed that itís very important to discover parallaxes, but not everybody wants to determine parallaxes, because you donít get immediate results. And that is one of the general problems with astrometry. Now, people are interested in masses, in mass ratios. And as you know, Iím interested in perturbations. But very few people are doing that, because the time interval required is very long, generally speaking. Now, there is where places like McCormick, Allegheny, and Sproul have a certain advantage because they started long ago. Of course, Sproul is the only place where a systematic program for looking for perturbations was started, and that is being followed in a mild way elsewhere. There are a number of other people working on perturbations now. But it is usually as an additional job done at an observatory. And the explanation is purely psychological. Itís very difficult for people to devote themselves, or to start a program which will not yield results until 20 years later.
DeVorkin:Is this any kind of reflection on the pressures of the astronomical community, or on universities, to have young faculty publish quickly?
Van de Kamp:I do not know. That, Iím glad to say, has never played a role at Swarthmore. A lot of premature things have been published, of course, as a result of such pressure. Very few of us are not guilty in that respect, that we have not made such mistakes, I think. I could mention some cases, where investigations on the subject of perturbations, for example, were done prematurely, led to erroneous results, and now we are stuck with them in the literature.
DeVorkin:Iíd be interested in some of your references. Do you have the names or the particular papers in mind?
Van de Kamp:
Well, one of the first really was 40 years ago by Eric Holmberg. He wrote a paper. Itís a very nice paper, as a matter of fact. I think itís in the Lund publications, anyway, itís Scandinavian, in which he discussed this problem of discovering perturbations from parallaxe series. The conventional parallax of course requires about 20 plates. In that paper, he proceeded to come up with numerous perturbations with periods of one or two years. Now, thatís of course all spurious. Itís well known that if you have a series of plates which cover an interval of two years, youíre going to discover perturbations. The perturbation will have periods of something like two years. People just tie the ends together. Now, the paper is correct from a theoretical point of view, but the results are spurious. All right, so here we have these spurious perturbations. Now, I myself started determining perturbations in 1938, and I published some spurious results, partly I guess because I was impatient, and partly because itís the eternal thing, one creates results in the image of oneís limitations.
So I have made my mistakes, and now I am more careful. Itís obvious, of course, if you look for perturbations of very small amplitude, that you work at a threshold, and itís possible to make mistakes. And then thereís always the perennial problem of the danger of over-discussion. Over-discussion is not good. But at the same time, under-discussion isnít good either. In other words, one should be willing to take chances. And if it looks as if something might be real, you canít wait forever and not publish anything, which is also a mistake, I think. Perhaps you have to take a chance and say, ďWell, it looks as if there might be something there. Letís follow it up.Ē That after all is the test always, you make a prediction. I have another example of this, of course, which has been exaggerated in the literature. I worked on my own Barnardís star, and after some very provisional results published in 1945, which really are not worth talking about. My first (real) paper was in 1963, and it was followed up by a series of papers, including the very last thing which you may have seen in SKY AND TELESCOPE.
DeVorkin:Yes, I did.
Van de Kamp:Now, meanwhile, there has been a study by G. Gatewood, encouraged by H. Eichorn who was his professor, I think, to use the Allegheny and the van Vleck plates, and see what he could do. Then he found that he couldnít find anything. He called me up about it, and we had some correspondence, and he published it in a very fair way. The title of the paper was very good. It said, ďAn Unsuccessful Attempt to Determine the Perturbation of Barnardís Star.Ē Thatís exactly what it was. But this led to a misunderstanding. Many people said, ďOh well, van de Kamp is wrong because he wasnít confirmed by Gatewood.Ē Now, van de Kamp had 20 times as much material, covering this star from year to year. But Gatewood had just accidental groups of observations, here and there. That was not his fault. Nothing was his fault. The only thing that was at fault there was that some people took this as indicating that the Sproul observations were no good because they were not confirmed, and there was some unpleasant personal stuff involved there which Iíd rather not go into.
DeVorkin:Well, it might be useful. And you can have control over the use of this material.
Van de Kamp:Well, I have been told that Gatewood was told that ďWell, as long as you cannot confirm van de Kamp, make the most of it, that you disconfirm him.Ē
DeVorkin:Who told him that?
Van de Kamp:Well, should I burden you with that or not?
DeVorkin:Well, yes, it would be of interest. It doesnít mean it would be the kind of thing that we would take to the other person. We would just like to have it for reference.
Van de Kamp:Well, I have it not directly from the other person. van de Kamp may very well be wrong, but he has to prove it himself. Because he is the only one who collects more material. And thatís what Iíve been doing, and so far, I confirm myself.
DeVorkin:Did Gatewood ever ask you for your materials, that he could use?
Van de Kamp:My material has been published. His material was not published. It was only published in the form of a thesis.
DeVorkin:You mean in terms of the data, the basic data?
Van de Kamp:His basic data were not published.
DeVorkin:What is the difference between his technique and your technique for making observations? Is the difference really that you have a bigger data base, or does he use a different method of reduction for position?
Van de Kamp:He uses a different one, but that doesnít make a speck of difference. Thatís just talk.
DeVorkin:So what is the difference, if he used his method of reduction on your plates?
Van de Kamp:It wouldnít make any difference.
Van de Kamp:I think I know enough about reductions.
Van de Kamp:I use four reference stars. Actually, three reference stars seems to be a little bit more accurate than four.
DeVorkin:Three is better than four? This is Schlesingerís method?
Van de Kamp:Yes. Well, he, Gatewood, and also other people now, van Altena, all these people are affected by the computer age. They think: ďIn the old days, people used only four reference stars or three, because 20 reference stars was so much work.Ē Well sure, if you have 20 reference stars itís more work. In the first place, I canít get 20 reference stars. They donít either. They talk about it, but they end up with six or seven or eight or something like that. The thing is, itís better to have three ideal reference stars of the same magnitude and all that, and well spaced and well distributed, then to have a large group. Well, this is an open question. Itís open for discussion. There are people like van Altena and Upgren to some extent who argue for the larger number. The only person who has made a real test of this has been John Hershey at Sproul Observatory. And he wrote a paper which has been published two or three years ago on a van Maanenís Star, where he used 12 reference stars. And then he made solutions over a long base with three reference stars, five reference stars, seven, eight — and he found that there was no change really in accuracy. He published this, and showed that if you go from three to 12 reference stars, you get a minute increase in accuracy, if any. But the Gatewood people — with limited experience and encouraged by Eichorn — speak about fancy reduction methods which in my opinion have no value, not for this problem. Then they say, ďWell, van de Kamp used dependences and we used plate constants.Ē Well, this really shows that they donít understand, because dependences and linear plate constants are the same. So. Somebody who could give you information on that, if you wanted it, would be Herget. Have you interviewed him?
DeVorkin:Paul Herget, yes we have. But not on this particularly.
Van de Kamp:Well, he has some strong opinions on this.
DeVorkin:Thatís interesting. Could you give me his view?
Van de Kamp:Well, basically, that these fancy methods of Eichorn and company donít mean a thing.
Van de Kamp:Well, Herget is a man of some knowledge. I think.
DeVorkin:Letís now go back into the fifties, and talk about how you became associated with NSF, as program director, could you give me an introduction to your origins of your contact with the government there?
Van de Kamp:Well, I received a telephone call at one time.
Van de Kamp:Raymond Seeger. He asked would I be interested or would I come to Washington for a year? To make a long story short, it was arranged that I would go to Washington for a year.
DeVorkin:How did they settle upon you?
Van de Kamp:I donít know. Really, I never asked.
DeVorkin:Did you know Seeger beforehand?
Van de Kamp:No, I never heard of him. Iíd seen him before, probably. I must have met him. He was at this meeting in Paris, I found him in the picture at least, 1949.
DeVorkin:Maybe thatís it.
Van de Kamp:Well, as he said afterwards — I was there for one year — ďNow we have had someone from a small cottage, now next time we try to get someone from a university.Ē They tried to have changes. At that time they thought of getting a different program director each year. Well, thatís generally changed, and now itís a big bureaucracy. At that time it was just little me, all by myself. And it was easy in a sense.
DeVorkin:Did you go to Washington? Live there that year?
Van de Kamp:I went to Washington Monday morning early and came back Friday night. So I continued here to be in charge of the observatory, at a token salary. But I saw no reason for us to move to Washington. I stayed at a small hotel near the Foundation.
DeVorkin:What caused you to make the decision to do this work, rather than simply continue here at Sproul?
Van de Kamp:Oh well, the work at Sproul could continue quite well, I mean the routine work at the telescope and all that. Things were well organized. Somebody had to be found to do the teaching, of course. Who was found anyway? I would have to look that up. Well, anyway, there was a feeling of duty, almost, I think. Naturally, they tried to twist my arm, ďIt is very important, first time there will be a program director for astronomy only, you are just the right person.Ē And I never asked them why they picked me.
DeVorkin:What were your duties, as you understood them?
Van de Kamp:The duties were primarily to receive applications and then process these applications; get opinions of other people. Although in those days the program director had much more power, you might say, and could act dictatorially if he wanted to. At least I did, a couple of times. The grants were very small, a few thousand dollars. Sometimes you had to go back to the people and say, ďCanít you ask for a little more, for two years, because itís not worth processing a grant for $1500.Ē And also, one duty was to go around once in a while and spread the gospel, because many people didnít know that there was such a thing as a National Science Foundation. We had to go around to some extent and beat the bushes, ďHere we are, boys and girls, ask for money.Ē
DeVorkin:There certainly was military funding at that time.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:Did you have any contact with the people who were organizing the military funding?
Van de Kamp:No. Not formally. Not officially. I guess I met some of them some times.
DeVorkin:Did you have any say in how much money your particular section was to receive?
Van de Kamp:Well, astronomy was part of what was called the MEP division — Mathematics, Engineering and Physics. I have a feeling that occasionally things were discussed. But things were very (what shall I say?) naive. Not naive. Innocent. Things were still very simple. By the way, before I forget here, I was interviewed about a half a year ago, I guess, by Edmondson, who as you know also was with NSF later, and Edmondson in writing a book or is preparing to write a book on AURA. So he came to me, and I told him a lot of this same stuff. I answered a lot of questions that you ask here, right now. Thereís an overlap there. He sent me his, whatever he wrote up at the time, and I corrected it. I donít have a copy of it now. But you might be able to get it from him.
DeVorkin:Yes, Iím aware that heís doing this work.
Van de Kamp:Yes. Well, I just wanted you to know that this has happened.
Van de Kamp:And I have a lot of AURA papers.
DeVorkin:You have the records of AURA?
Van de Kamp:Yes, the ones that I could safely (store). Well, when I was with AURA, I was here at the observatory. So my AURA records have nothing to do with the observatory. I have them here. I have them upstairs in a box. And Edmondson stayed here twice for a couple of days and he went through them and took some along and made copies and sent them back to me, just as you plan to do now.
DeVorkin:I want to get to the fact that you were the director at large of AURA from Ď58 to Ď67.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:But in Ď54, Ď55, was there anything about the National Observatory that was developing at that time?
Van de Kamp:Oh yes. It was Seeger primarily, as far as I recollect. Another person whose name should not be forgotten in this connection is John Irwin, who always plugged for a National Observatory — especially in the Southern Hemisphere. Seeger was always initiating everything. Heís full of energy. And he said, ďWell, we must initiate two observatories, a national optical observatory and a national radio observatory.Ē They exist by now, as you know. And I was involved with some of the early panel meetings, as it was called, toward establishing the national visual or optical observatory. And as a matter of fact, I remember particularly one panel meeting we had in Michigan, with McMath, Struve, Goldberg and a few others. I can tell you more. And this was really the first panel meeting where things were spelled out, what a national observatory should be. I still remember, Struve started out by saying, ďDo we need a national observatory?Ē Just to get the ball rolling. There was no tape recorder in those days. There was no secretary. But I, as program director, made notes, verbatim notes. And I wrote up the whole business afterwards. This is a very interesting document now.
DeVorkin:Does that exist in the AURA files?
Van de Kamp:Yes. I have a copy here. You can have a copy if you want to.
Van de Kamp:I see no reason to be secretive about that.
DeVorkin:Now, did he ask this just to get the ball rolling?
Van de Kamp:To get the ball rolling.
DeVorkin:He was in agreement with the whole plan.
Van de Kamp:Oh yes. Yes. But to get the ball rolling. Then finally things were planned, and of course, the plan was so modest in that era. We must have a director. He should have a salary of $12,000, I think. Thatís only 25 years ago. Things have grown ever so much more than was intended. To some extent thatís probably good and to some extent probably not.
DeVorkin:Was there a question at that time whether both the radio and optical observatories should be combined?
Van de Kamp:No. I donít think so.
DeVorkin:They should be separate?
Van de Kamp:I think they were separate. You know Edmondson likes to play with words, and he thought of combining them — that would be called AURORA, you see. Well, thatís just a joke really.
DeVorkin:What was the feeling between radio interests and optical interests, for how the money was to be divided up?
Van de Kamp:I donít recall that now. I think nobody in those days foresaw that radio astronomy would develop as terrifically as it did.
DeVorkin:It has been developing much more in Britain and the Netherlands than here.
Van de Kamp:It started in Britain and the Netherlands, and Australia. Yes. But now the world over itís developing like mad. The positional accuracy is unbelievable. There used to be jokes about that. But they are getting close to what we do with photography.
DeVorkin:Were there any projects that you turned down, during your directorship or your work with the NSF?
Van de Kamp:I donít recall that. I think the first project that came to me was Luyten, proper motions. And I approved that. I donít think I consulted anyone, because I knew it was good, so why waste time?
DeVorkin:Now, in bringing in a person who was definitely astrometric, was this an indication to anyone that NSF was willing to get astrometry off the ground first?
Van de Kamp:I donít think I was selected because of that. I think I was selected because I was an astronomer who was somewhat mature, who perhaps was reasonably honest and fair, and who also had no ambitions to become a government person. I think that played a role. I think they wanted to get fresh blood in all the time.
DeVorkin:Yes. I know, somewhere around that time, Vasilevskis had put in through Lick a large request. Was that during your year?
Van de Kamp:Iím not sure if it was in my year or not. It may have been later.
DeVorkin:Yes. It took a number of years for that to come through.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:You donít recall it yourself.
Van de Kamp:No. Of course, since then, Iím still used as a referee every so often. Thatís another matter.
DeVorkin:Yes. But now the NSF section has gotten quite big and there are quite a few subsections.
Van de Kamp:Oh boy.
DeVorkin:While you were there as NSF program director, did the beginnings of the Astrometric Conference start. Did you work on funding for that?
Van de Kamp:Yes. I initiated it. Well, as I indicated, Raymond Seeger always wanted to initiate new things. And as a matter of fact, at the time when he called me on the phone asking whether I would come as program director, he also said, ďI should like that the NSF arrange a conference for research in small colleges, could it be held at Swarthmore? And that was held at Swarthmore. In 1955.Ē
DeVorkin:That was a first conference?
Van de Kamp:There were two of them. Then there was money left, and then we had a follow-up conference in Lynchburg. At this conference, incidentally, I proposed a plan for what is now called the Harlow Shapley Lectureship.
DeVorkin:How did the plans for the 1958 Astrometric Conference — develop?
Van de Kamp:1956. Since Seeger in his explosive way, was always going around saying, ďWe have to initiate things there, should be a conference on some subject.Ē I felt it was my duty to think up something, and I thought, ďWell (to some extent, I reacted in the way I do once in awhile) is this next conference really necessary?Ē But all right, I was sort of pushed by Seeger, ďWhy not have a conference on parallaxesĒ — ďoh, thatís sillyĒ — ďproper motions?Ē Then I thought in terms of the cosmic distance scale, that whole idea of populations was still fairly new and very effective and working, as it still does, of course, and that was it. So I proposed that and it was accepted, and then, well, what does one do? One has to get an organizing committee. So I said, ďOK, I will be on the sidelines.Ē There will be an organizing committee consisting of Alden, Baade, Nassau, Blaauw, Schilt and Luyten. Now, that was probably in late Ď54. And I had hoped, or was planning, to have the conference in Ď55 in the spring. And then there were many arguments. People were so interested in it. They disagreed, which is wonderful, of course, especially Baade on one side in his cheerful way, and Schilt on the other side.
DeVorkin:What sides did they take?
Van de Kamp:I donít remember the details of what was more important. I can see, in the case of Baade, it was the great universe up there. In the case of Schilt, it was the parallaxes and proper motions and that sort of thing. Some of this has been recorded, Iím sure. But it became clear that we canít get to see eye to eye on this, and then we arranged a meeting of the organizing committee in Princeton in 1955, and I think this was just before or after the meeting of the AAS in Princeton. And I have movies on that. And there the fight went on and on. Then gradually, things were worked out. Then a meeting was held a year later in Charlottesville. I would have loved to have it in Swarthmore. But it seemed inappropriate to plan it for Swarthmore, because I was program director, and you know, vested interests and all that. So I thought, well, why not in Virginia? And Alden was agreeable to this. Harold Alden was sort of a passive man but a very nice man, very honorable man, very good man. And this worked out very nicely. At that meeting, of course, one of the most important things decided was to give support to whoever wanted to hear it, that there should be an astrometric reflector. And that was the beginning of it. Then Strand could go with that resolution, and get a million dollars or whatever he needed.
DeVorkin:That was from the Navy, though?
Van de Kamp:Yes. All he needed was a recommendation, from wherever it came. That was with all these things, isnít it? If you want to organize a colloquium, if the IAU blesses it and says ďYou can attach our name to it,Ē then you can go anywhere and say ďI have been invited to organize an IAU colloquium, please.Ē It helps. Itís just a matter of prestige.
DeVorkin:Yes, that certainly does help. At this conference, do you recall any kind of impressions about the progress of astrometry, and the growth of it? Were you still worried about its future?
Van de Kamp:No. I think this was not only for astrometry, of course, there was also a lot of photometry and the Baade work, all that sort of thing. I turned out to be what it was intended to be — a discussion of the problems of the cosmic distance scale. I think I gave the opening address, I suppose.
DeVorkin:Yes, you did.
Van de Kamp:Iíve forgotten what I said, but I probably used the expression, one always repeats oneself, that this is going to be a soul-searching conference. I believe in that. Instead of having a lot of people, smart alecks who know it all and want to impose their opinions on other people. ďHere, boys and girls,Ē and it was essentially boys, I think the only women there, two women, Sarah Lippincott and then Helen Hogg, I think, who was going to be the next program director. She was the program director at that time. She succeeded me, you see. But this I always believe, and I still believe in, that you get together and let things be wide open and not pretend that we know all the answers. Thatís stupid. I think Einstein would have agreed with me.
DeVorkin:And so, the results of the conference?
Van de Kamp:Yes. They were published of course in the ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL.
DeVorkin:Thatís right. But the ultimate results ended up with the Naval reflector.
Van de Kamp:Well, those are the tangible results, you might say.
DeVorkin:And better understanding of astrometric work?
Van de Kamp:Oh, I think so. Gave people a lift. Very good for the morale of the whole problem. Well, thatís why we have had so many conferences. I have organized more double star conferences, and you might think, is it really necessary to have so many double star conferences? Every three years, we have had them. And the problem became to think up another name. Once I proposed a conference on non-single stars. But that name didnít seem to be so good.
DeVorkin:Was your association with AURA, do you feel, a direct result of your work with NSF?
Van de Kamp:You mean why they invited me? I have a feeling that they said, ďOh yes, van de Kamp was here at one time, letís invite him to be a director at large.Ē
DeVorkin:What was director at large?
Van de Kamp:Well, I think my contributions there were fairly passive. It was to go to meetings twice a year. Listening to what Meinel or whoever the people were at the time had proposed. And perhaps most importantly, to make a site selection.
DeVorkin:Now, this is site selection for the National Observatory?
Van de Kamp:For what is now the Kitt Peak Observatory. Yes.
DeVorkin:Right. Iíve asked a number of people this, and we get different kinds of answers. Was there any question as to where the final site for the National Observatory would be? Was there any controversy over that?
Van de Kamp:Not too much. I think it was understood from the beginning that it would be in the Southeast. I still remember that I made some notes, theyíre probably still in the files of the National Science Foundation, if they havenít been thrown out, because they throw out things once in a while, and I referred to this as the SWUSA Observatory, Southeast USA. In other words, in practice, that meant Arizona or New Mexico, and it definitely had to be away from California — to be out of phase with the California climate to have a different climate — and then of course, away from civilization. Then the site selection, I only recall on the spur of the moment, part of this was done by aerial surveys, and I think Carl Seyfertís son was involved with that. Now, unfortunately, you canít ask Carl Seyfert anymore. Itís a great loss to astronomy.
DeVorkin:Did he die young?
Van de Kamp:Yes, he was run over by a car, Carl Seyfert.
DeVorkin:When was that?
Van de Kamp:
He was 50, I think. In his home town. It was a sheer accident in 1958. Absolute tragedy. I mean two cars collided, and it was just hard luck. Terrible. He died the same year as Baade died, I think it was 1960, I think, yes. He was a very wonderful man. But Seyfert was involved. He was a very active man. Of course, Seyfert was really the strong man of the South, South of the United States. Now, well, I guess Larry Fredrick in a sense is. But anyway, finally things were narrowed down to about three or four sites. I think one was Kitt Peak. Another was near Kingman. In north Arizona. And the third one, Iíve forgotten. I remember, I took part in the visit to Kingman, where we were to see it. It was like an old movie, practically. We stepped off the plane, and we were met by the sheriff and by the local ladies, who had prepared a wonderful luncheon for us. They tried to make a good impression on us.
They wanted us so badly there. One objection to Kingman was that there were sawmills which produced a lot of pollution. Well, that would be cleaned up, they said. And another thing is that there wasnít much space. It was a nice location, high up, not too high, not too low, but not enough space to expand. And nobody at that time thought that the observatory would expand as much as it did expand. So finally, I still remember, I was at a meeting where a decision had to be made, and everything pointed to Kitt Peak. Edmondson spoke up very strongly in favor of Kitt Peak, and made a very clear impassioned speech before the voting that he could only vote for Kitt Peak and certainly for no other location. Well, it helped. I think most people were pretty well convinced anyway by that time. I have movies of that, by the way. I have a lot of Kitt Peak movies taken at some of these AURA meetings that were held up there when it still was a wilderness, and then of the dedication itself, just short shots here and there, of course.
DeVorkin:How would you evaluate Edmondsonís role in the development of Kitt Peak?
Van de Kamp:I think it was important. I think it was important because Edmondson is one of these bright people. Heís intelligent. He is well organized, and he knows what he wants. He speaks his mind. Heís very alive. I think in that respect his influence may have been more important than pure astronomical work — as far as research is concerned. Iím not too aware of Edmondsonís contributions to research. He did some interesting work now and then. But heís a good organizer and a very good chairman and all that. I think thatís where his strength lies and still does.
DeVorkin:Would you say that his influence has been a positive one to Kitt Peak? Has it gone in the directions that you felt, as director at large, it should have been going?
Van de Kamp:Well, I donít know whether heís responsible for the development, for what happened at Kitt Peak, after the site selection was made, although he was involved. For three years he was president. Yes, I think well of Edmondson. Anybody who is that good must have made some mistakes too.
DeVorkin:Oh, everybody does. All right, in the development of AURA of course there was an early problem with Meinelís directorship.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:Were you involved at all with that?
Van de Kamp:No. I know there was unhappiness.
DeVorkin:Who was it with? Was this directly between Edmondson and Meinel?
Van de Kamp:No, no, not Edmondson. I think it was Meinel versus primarily R. McMath. Yes.
DeVorkin:Was Shane involved at all? Iím wondering what the issues were.
Van de Kamp:No. I donít know. Well, Meinel was young, very bright, and not very respectful toward his elders. Not that he was disrespectful, I think. Again, the person who would know much more about that, though I donít know how prejudiced he would be, would be Edmondson.
DeVorkin:Yes. We have talked with him. And Iím just not sure that we had everything. Thatís why I was asking, for you were director at large, you may have had contact with the situation too.
Van de Kamp:No. I think in the early days, it was decided that there was only one person who could be director to begin with and that it would be Meinel. That I remember.
DeVorkin:He certainly was the one that built Kitt Peak, at the beginning.
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:And so you donít remember the particular issues. It was more personality conflicts.
Van de Kamp:(No). Very much personality conflicts, I think.
DeVorkin:Yes. See, I hadnít heard the name McMath before in this.
Van de Kamp:Oh, McMath was heavily involved in all this.
DeVorkin:What kind of a person was McMath?
Van de Kamp:Oh, McMath was a businessman, a millionaire with a very strong interest in astronomy, as we know, of course — the McMath-Hulbert Observatory. I donít know how he made his money, but I suppose in a legitimate way. I have nothing against people who make lots of money, if they spend it for astronomy or for other good purposes. Itís one way out. Itís a very good way out, as a matter of fact. Well, my relations with him were good. I never could have been a close friend of his, I think. He was very much older, and he was very much a business-type of man, ďPete, glad youíve come aboard with us,Ē you know, that sort of thing. ďYeah.Ē
DeVorkin:He was very much a committee man?
Van de Kamp:Yes. But I think he played a good important role.
DeVorkin:Did he enter into any astronomical discussions or discussions of astronomical policy?
Van de Kamp:Frankly I donít remember at the moment.
DeVorkin:Well, is there anything else about Kitt Peak in general, that we should discuss?
Van de Kamp:No. As I said, I repeat that you can have that first panel meeting transcript which I made.
DeVorkin:All right. Letís move on to another thing that is associated with your teaching. We certainly want to get to a discussion of the teaching and the students youíd had. But around this time, late fifties of course, Sputnik went up. (1957)
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:And the world changed for science in general, especially for astronomy. You were director at large of AURA and you were concerned I imagine, one way or another, with funding, and possibly with students here at the observatory. What did you see was the effect of Sputnik upon funding, upon student interest in astronomy, in your classes and that sort of thing? Did things change radically after 1957?
Van de Kamp:I think it helped funding, as far as I recall. As far as student interest is concerned, I think for a while, a little more, but I donít think it lasted very long. I remember, after Sputnik went up, I was asked by the college here to talk to the Weekly Collection, as they call it here, chapel they might call it in other places. They donít call it chapel but Collection. It doesnít exist now anymore in modern days.
DeVorkin:I saw that term in your file and didnít know what it meant.
Van de Kamp:Yes, Collection. And I gave a talk on Sputnik. As a matter of fact, I called it ďTribute to Laika.Ē You remember Laika was the poor dog which they sent up. If you like, I can give you a copy of it, because it gave my philosophy of the whole business. In those days.
DeVorkin:You mean the use of animals?
Van de Kamp:No. This is only minor. I pointed out that all this space business of course would never have happened if it werenít for the Cold War. It was quite obvious. And for Peteís sake, keep off the moon — which they didnít.
DeVorkin:Why did you want them to not go to the moon?
Van de Kamp:I think, I donít want to clutter it up. Thatís what I felt, my feeling, more than anything else, an esthetic question, I think.
DeVorkin:Could you expand on that?
Van de Kamp:Maybe I have explained it in my speech. I just didnít feel it was up to us to go there. Iíve always been grateful that the moon is uninhabited. Otherwise of course we would be at war with the moon. You know that. The way we are.
DeVorkin:(Laughter) Iím sorry, itís not a laughing matter.
Van de Kamp:No, itís true. Itís a marvelous technological accomplishment, Iíll be the first one to admit that. People walk around there and dance around and come back again. I mean, itís amazing! But I wonder what he would have thought of it? (Einstein) Itís not a breakthrough. Itís not a scientific breakthrough.
DeVorkin:Do you feel that we should go into space for exploratory missions? Or do you have something against any probes in space, or just manned probes?
Van de Kamp:No, I have no objections to probes in space. I think these recent pictures which we saw, of Jupiter rotating with the moons, are marvelous. Itís a matter of priorities. Now, if that can have a priority over making war, then Iím all for it. I should not like to have that take priority over what I call surface astronomy, the kind of astronomy that still 80 percent of (the) astronomers do. And come to think of it, isnít that marvelous, that you can do astronomy right here, without going there? We get messages from millions of light years away. You can analyze them right here. Now, I admit right away that going up a little bit helps. Thatís why we have put observatories on mountains in the past, isnít it? Here, this lousy location here, we do pretty well, as long as you select your problem accordingly. Then, of course, in X-ray astronomy, admittedly, you have to go up 30 or 40 kilometers. And, well, I canít very well object to that.
DeVorkin:What about the use of the space telescope for astrometric purposes.
Van de Kamp:I donít know whether it will work out. If it works out, fine. Obviously I donít want to be involved with this, because itís too difficult. I donít understand it. But I would not like this to interfere with what goes on here right now. I realize, if youíre going to do a thing like that, a space telescope, that itís going to be expensive. And I would admit that, if youíre going to do it at all, do it well, or otherwise, donít do it. You see, Iím the devilís advocate now. I would say, all right, give them a million dollars, as long as you give $100,000 to the Sproul Observatory.
DeVorkin:I see. So you donít want to see ground-based astronomy suffer?
Van de Kamp:No. Because I think, in the long run, progress will come from the ground mostly. Has any real progress come from space? Iím just asking you. Iím not an expert. Now, these pictures of the moons of Jupiter, they are fascinating, I think, but after a few weeks people will have forgotten about it. Thatís a great danger. Hasnít it been part of the trouble with all space programs? People take it for granted. Little Kiddies grow up, they donít know anything better, there has always been the moon and eclipses of the moon and all that. You know, itís not terribly exciting. Theyíd rather go to Hawaii.
DeVorkin:Much more hospitable. But the esthetics, about man in the moon, pieces of the moon, that you seem to have a feeling for, thatís very interesting. How do you think you gained that feeling? In other words, you feel that man really shouldnít go into space. If it wasnít for the question of funding ground-based astronomy.
Van de Kamp:Maybe, going into space, but not landing anywhere, messing it up.
DeVorkin:Well, they could go to Jupiter, I guess, they wouldnít bother that.
Van de Kamp:They wouldnít come back. Become part of the Red Spot.
DeVorkin:Yes, exactly. But that is quite an important question now, especially, some of the ideas that some people are generating, some physicists about colonization of space.
Van de Kamp:Yes, I know. My former student OíNeill.
DeVorkin:He was a student of yours?
Van de Kamp:Yes, peripherally for a few years. Jerry OíNeill, a nice fellow.
DeVorkin:What do you think of his ideas?
Van de Kamp:Heís crazy, in a nice way! Thatís really crazy. Swarthmore gave him an honorary degree. The physics people did, not the astronomers. And he referred (I wasnít here, I was in Europe at the time) to both Miss Lippincott and van de Kamp and how much he owes so much and all that sort of thing. Thatís very sweet of him.
DeVorkin:When was he a student here?
Van de Kamp:Late fifties.
DeVorkin:Because Iím wondering, do you think that any of your work, the search for unseen planetary companions of stars, could have influenced his interests?
Van de Kamp:I donít know, really. I donít recall him at all, you see, like so many, I mean, some of the other students I recall, like Sandy Moore Faber and Nancy Grace Roman, of course, those I recall very well. But Jerry OíNeill, I donít recall. Miss Lippincott has a much better memory for these things, she recalls him. Nancy Grace Roman is at NASA ďNancy and Several Associates,Ē NASA, (Nancy and Several Associates) — thatís what NASA stands for.
DeVorkin:Thatís good. Is that one you dreamt up?
Van de Kamp:No, everybody knows that. I wouldnít be surprised if Edmondson thought that up.
DeVorkin:So you donít recall OíNeill? Do you think your work has had an influence though on many students? Certainly you are literally the only person with the perseverance to look for planetary companions, and itís an extremely romantic search. Did many of these students participate in the observing program?
Van de Kamp:Oh yes. Well Sandy did. I have pictures of Sandy as a matter of fact. Most students here participated in the night work, and took plates on all kinds of stars, without realizing what stars they were taking, probably.
DeVorkin:They werenít aware of what you were doing?
Van de Kamp:Oh yes. Yes, they were.
DeVorkin:What kinds of questions would they ask you, as they were learning, as you were their teacher? What influence do you think you had on your students?
Van de Kamp:Well, I think I had a good influence, by and large. Iím very glad that over the 30 years or so I taught at Swarthmore, that a good number, about ten or so perhaps, of my students have gone into astronomy, and have done well in astronomy. People like Fredrick and Burton and Nancy Roman, Sandy Moore. Well, there are some more, Iíd have to look them up. Iím not including OíNeill because I do not feel responsible there at all.
DeVorkin:I see. He really was not your student.
Van de Kamp:No. He took a course with Sarah Lippincott.
DeVorkin:I see. How was the student teacher relationship here arranged? Did they have classes and then elect to take advanced course with you? Was there an astronomy major?
Van de Kamp:Well, no, not an astronomy major, really. Although some of them liked to be known as astronomy majors. But we always advised them to take all the math and physics they could get, astronomy was secondary. As a matter of fact, Sandy Moore Faber I donít think ever took an astronomy course with us. She did a paper with me and she is one of the better astronomers now, on the West Coast.
DeVorkin:Well, weíve come quite a long way again today. Iíve finished pretty much my general list of questions, but I leave it open to you at this time, if thereís anything you would like to add, about the development of the department here at Sproul, or the progress in astronomy in the United States during these last few years? What do you think are the present trends in astronomy, that are both positive and negative in your mind? Youíve already commented on the space program.
Van de Kamp:Well, I will give you an oblique answer, I guess. I go around and lecture a lot. As a matter of fact, during the last two years, I have probably lectured outside more than ever before. If you like I can give you a list of all the lectures I gave at different places, different countries, including the United States. Iím very pleased with the audiences. Letís first speak about the popular audiences. Now, the popular audience, it seems to me, some 30 years ago, had an awful lot of cranks in the audience, and thatís disappeared now.
DeVorkin:Cranks, people with their own theories?
Van de Kamp:
Their own theories about the origin of the universe. I think people are much better educated, or better mannered, perhaps, and the questions in general are much better now. Of course, right now, thereís always this matter of fashion in sciences. Let me put it this way — I often start a lecture by saying, ďIíll be glad to answer questions afterwards, but donít ask me anything about black holes because I know nothing about black holes.Ē There, I am in the same class with most other people. I donít always say that. As a matter of fact, I was in Florida two months ago giving lectures, and there was a question and answer period in the evening, and I knew it was going to be black holes again. This was for students and citizens of the town. So actually I got out some elementary astronomy book and I brushed up on black holes. I think I know now what black holes are. At least I could talk about it.
So actually officially I lectured on White Dwarfs, Neutron Stars and Black Holes. Me — ďthe latest authority on the subject.Ē (Laughter). Well, all right. People read about these things and it appeals to them, especially black holes because itís so mysterious. If you lecture — my friend van der Bilt told once that he went to a lecture of a Dutch Astronomical Society, and there were two lecturers there. One was quite simple and solid on observations of sunspots, something like that, and the other was on white dwarfs, and white dwarfs was wild stuff in those days. That was 50 years ago. And afterwards he talked to one of the people in the audience, a rather simple person, and he said, ďWell, how did you like the lectures last night?Ē ďOh,Ē this fellow said, ďI enjoyed myself. The first lecture on sunspots was all right — but that second lecture on white dwarfs, that was marvelous. I didnít understand a thing!Ē (Laughter)
DeVorkin:I know. People are fascinated by what they donít understand.
Van de Kamp:It also depends on who gives the lectures, and how. Now, I have listened to a lecture by Chandrasekhar once, for a whole hour, and I was fascinated, because he is such a beautiful creature, the way he lectures. As a matter of fact, I drew a picture of him, which I sent to him afterwards, and he thanked me for it. Wasnít that sweet? I said, ďI have to confess that I didnít understand a thing that you said, but it was beautiful.Ē And Eddington had that. Eddington was a marvelous lecturer. And Eddingtonís EnglishÖ I think everybody, every astronomy student should be forced to read Eddington. Do you know who does that, as a matter of fact? Willie Fowler.
DeVorkin:Fowler requires people to read Eddington.
Van de Kamp:Yes. And he sent me a copy, a specific article, which he requires his students to read. The article is 50 years old. Itís because of contents also, of course. But the style and the English are so beautiful. Well, I have listened to a lecture by Eddington. Iím an astronomer, after all, and I thought I understood pretty well. Afterwards when I came home and asked myself, ďNow, what did Eddington say?Ē And I didnít know.
DeVorkin:What contact did you have with Eddington?
Van de Kamp:Very little. I have a few movie shots of him. The only contact I had with him, if you call it a contact, at a distance, was in 1932 at the IAU meeting in Cambridge. We lived at Radcliffe College and for our entertainment, there was a boat trip on Boston Bay in some rather rickety ship.
DeVorkin:This is Cambridge, Mass?
Van de Kamp:Cambridge, Mass. About 400, everybody who attended that meeting was on that ship, and we went to some place where we were going to have dinner, I remember. And one of the topics of conversation on that boat trip was, ďMy gosh, if this boat now would spring a leak and sink, think of all the jobs that would be created in astronomy.Ē (Laughter). Well, anyway, there was a piano on board, and well, you know me. It didnít take very long for me to be convinced to play the piano. So I played the piano and played light hearted music, ragtime music and Strauss waltzes and there was sitting Eddington: Just thinking as usual. I was wondering whether he heard me at all or what. I had a similar experience once, similar but different, in Bloomington, Indiana in 1955, I think, where there was a conference, NSF inspired, and I had to go there to check up on it. It was on stellar atmospheres or something like that. And we had a party afterwards. I donít know whose house it was, but there was a piano, and there was Wrubel. Marshall Wrubel could have been a professional pianist. So he and I jazzed it up from the piano.
Van de Kamp:Yes, four hands, two hands, maybe three hands even. And Struve was sitting there. Struve accepted this quite well, because my wife was there, and she asked Struve how he liked it. ďOh, wonderful,Ē he said. And Eddington might have said the same. I think Eddington was not inhuman.
DeVorkin:Was Henry Norris Russell ever present when you were playing the piano?
Van de Kamp:Yes. He was in my captive audience, more than once, I think. Once anyway. That was at Lick Observatory.
DeVorkin:Was that in the twenties?
Van de Kamp:Yes. Ď24, Ď25, I was at Lick Observatory as Martin Kellogg Fellow at Lick. Well, there were always visitors, of course, and once Henry Norris visited. And on Sunday night — this was before the days, radio had barely been invented, television didnít exist — what was the entertainment? Well, home-made entertainment. And on several Sunday nights, we had musical evenings, and they were held at the houses of people at Lick, like R. Aitken, Trumpler, J.H. Moore. Incidentally I taught piano to a couple of these little kiddies on the mountain, I remember. Well, I remember on one of these evenings, Russell was there and he had to listen to what we were playing. I played the violin or the piano, and Mrs. Dorothy Havens (Chapel), she became later, played the piano also, and there were a few others.
DeVorkin:Whatís your recollection of what Russell thought of the proceedings?
Van de Kamp:Ignored it completely. Russell liked very much to be the center. He liked to talk or he liked to fold little birds from paper. So he was a restless man in that respect.
DeVorkin:Can you remember anything specifically of one of the evenings when you performed, anything that happened, anything anecdotal?
Van de Kamp:No. I kept a diary at that time and there are still some programs left. But one thing with Russell I remember. I told that to Edmondson also because naturally Edmondson is very much interested in Russell. Once Russell visited at McCormick Observatory. McCormick Observatory had only one large office, that was all, and then a small office for the director, thatís everything. In the large office was one computing machine and one measuring machine, and all this very good work was done with extremely limited resources. Well, anyway, Russell visited, and naturally it was a great pleasure. I donít think we, the young ones, that means Vyssotsky and Kovalenko and I, were permitted to talk to Russell. But Russell went into Mitchelís office and they talked together. Russell had a rather loud voice. The door was closed, of course, but that didnít give any privacy, because just before that happened, Mitchel had made a huge hole in the ceiling to get heat from the main room. We had a huge stove in the main room, and he was in the cold there. So we could hear all the conversation. Naturally we were listening. Mitchel did not have a loud voice, and Mitchel was telling Russell something and then, I still remember, we enjoyed it so much — then Russell very loudly said, ďMitchel, you are all wrong.Ē Well, this could have happened to anyone, of course.
DeVorkin:What were they talking about?
Van de Kamp:I have no idea what it was.
DeVorkin:Well, Russellís early work of course was astrometric.
Van de Kamp:Russell knew everything. See, Russell was the man who really knew everything. And read everything. Russell played a very important role. Iíve said this before, where have I said this anyway? —
DeVorkin:We did discuss it in the first interview.
Van de Kamp:At meetings, for example, whenever a paper was given, he was always positive. He always said something nice about it. And if the paper was very difficult or obscure, he was the only one who understood perhaps. Then he would say, ďYes, I think thatís very nice. I think what you mean is thisÖĒ and so on, and then he would put it in better language than the speaker had done. He was always positive. And in a sense, the successor to Russell of course was — I donít know whether it still is — Schwarzschild. Twenty years ago at meetings of the American Astronomical Society, I still remember that somebody would give a paper which was terrible and probably all wrong, and Schwarzschild would get up, and in his heavily accented English would say, ďI must be very dumb, because I do not understand what the speaker said. Could it be that he meant this?Ē or something. ďIím sorry Iím so dumb.Ē And he would have explained it meanwhile.
DeVorkin:Was Russell that tactful in meetings? Or more direct?
Van de Kamp:Yes, but as I say, he was never negative. Russell was never negative. No, not as negative as in a sense Schwarzschild was, in which I just said a moment ago. No. I donít recall that Russell ever called anybody down, but he cleared up things, I think, sometimes.
DeVorkin:Well, thereís nothing else we could add to that.
Van de Kamp:One could go on forever, of course, there are so many things — one thing leads to another.
DeVorkin:True. Well, is there anything that immediately comes to mind about Russell or other scientific colleagues that you had contact or correspondence with that is worth recording at the time?
Van de Kamp:No. The only thing about Russell that comes to my mind still because I found it in the files here — that when Russellís opinions and other peopleís opinions were asked — the three big people in the 1930ís were Russell, Shapley and Schlesinger. They were the big shots, the generals, they were often referred to.
DeVorkin:They were referred to as ďthe generals?Ē
Van de Kamp:Sometimes, yes. They were sometimes referred to as ďthe generals in astronomy.Ē
DeVorkin:Do you know who started that?
Van de Kamp:I donít know. And nowadays of course everything is decided by committees. But in those days, I think, appointments and so on were very much, I wonít say decided by these people, but they were consulted. They were consulted about the succession at Swarthmore here, after Millerís retirement, and Russell spoke very positively about me, which surprised me because we hardly knew each other. And this was primarily based on the fact that he had heard me give some lectures at Harvard, at the Harvard Summer School in 1936.
Van de Kamp:But this was nice. I told this to Edmondson, you see. ďAs his son-in-law you should know thisĒ — Iím not saying that I owe my appointment in Swarthmore to Russell, but it was the most single positive statement. Iím sure that Schlesinger also was positive, but thereís no record of that, and Shapley, I do not know. Shapley was apt to be rather positive about many many people, but I think Russell was discriminating. I treasure that, that Russell said that.
DeVorkin:Thatís marvelous. You had very interesting contacts with non-astronomical people, with Ira Gershwin?
Van de Kamp:Yes. Itís all there.
DeVorkin:And with the caricaturist and artist Hirschfeld?
Van de Kamp:Yes.
DeVorkin:How did all these relationships develop?
Van de Kamp:Well, you saw that painting of mine in the observatory, which was done for my 65th birthday?
Van de Kamp:Well, I think, to put it mildly, itís not very good. And I felt — Olga and I talked about it — ďit would be much nicer to have a caricature made by Hirschfeld.Ē Well, no sooner said than done, I wrote to Hirschfeld and said, ďWill you make a caricature of a mere astronomer?Ē
DeVorkin:So you hadnít had contact with him before?
Van de Kamp:No. I only knew him from the NEW YORK TIMES, from caricatures, for years. I collected a whole pile of them. I donít know what to do with them. Then, he wrote a very nice letter back, in the spirit of ďWhy not?Ē So I went there, sat for him for half an hour, and I left one or two photographs with him. Then he made this caricature which you have seen, which I gave to Olga for her 65th birthday. So then we became friends. Incidentally he plays the piano, much better than I do. Olga knew his wife, Dolly Haas, in Germany. She was a movie actress in Germany. She has been on the stage here, too. Extremely interesting people. So we are close friends. Whenever I go to New York I can stay there if I want to. So thatís the Hirschfelds. And Ira — well, Iím a great admirer of Gershwin, who is the number 1 American composer. You mustnít tell that to musicologists because they donít know these things, but I know. Oh, I also had a commission, later. I asked Hirschfeld to make a caricature of Gershwin and of Chaplin, which hang in my living room. Then I thought, gosh, it would be nice to have the signature of Gershwin. So I wrote to Ira, ďIím a great admirer of you and your brotherĒ — Actually I spoke more about the brother, because Ira is such a self-effacing man, I found out later. Then he sent me two signatures, as they appear on checks, and his own signature also. Then I said, ďMay I come visit you?Ē When I went to California, in connection with the Grant Measuring Machine, I visited him. I spent about two hours with him.
DeVorkin:This was the Grant Measuring Machine at Berkeley?
Van de Kamp:Out measuring machine was made by Mr. Grant. By Mr. Grant from a grant. From the NSF. Well, Ira is a nice man. This was ten years ago, you know. He was not in good health. Heís still not in good health. Heís had a stroke. But it was a very touching experience. Occasionally we have written since then, and occasionally I telephone him. I never met Chaplin but I have some letters from Mrs. Chaplin.
DeVorkin:Thatís right, and you have a picture of the family there.
Van de Kamp:Yes. Thatís very nice.
DeVorkin:Well, these very strong interests that youíve always had, artistic interests in music and composition and photography, how do you think they developed? Have you been really three people, more than one, or has it always been centered?
Van de Kamp:Iím afraid, three in one. Yes. Well, when I was young I was interested in music, had a little orchestra, and I conducted an orchestra in Virginia. I conducted the orchestra at Swarthmore College for ten years. Composed all these compositions.
DeVorkin:Iíve seen a number of them. There was a composition in honor of Otto Struve that you did?
Van de Kamp:No. I played it. That was made by Kulikovsky.
Van de Kamp:No, an astronomer, P. G. Kulikovsky; astronomy, Moscow. It happened to be at a meeting in Hamburg honoring Struve, and somebody brought up the idea: ďWouldnít it be nice to play this composition?Ē Kulikovsky said, ďI donít have a copy of it,Ē and I said, ďWell, but I know it by heart.Ē So I played it. Was it Ď64, International Meeting in Hamburg? I donít know if I can trace it.
DeVorkin:It was an IAU meeting in Hamburg.
Van de Kamp:Then it was Ď64?
DeVorkin:Well, is there anything else that youíd like to add to this? Sort of an overview of your career? What has been the most satisfying aspect, do you feel, of your life, both your professional and personal life?
Van de Kamp:Oh boy. Well, I think Iíve had a good life. Iíve had a happy life. Good people. I have nice friends. Good family life. I think teaching has meant a great deal always. I think in a sense, Iím a born schoolmaster. I still like to teach, and talk about astronomy, and then in a sense I like to do things with people, or perhaps, as Olga once said, ďYou really are a show-off.Ē In a sense, I am. She said it in a nice way. Of course, to evade your question to some extent, one problem is what am I going to do with the rest of my life? Because I have an awful lot of my life behind me, and Iím not going to live in the past, although itís very tempting to do that. Itís very interesting to look back and see, and itís also interesting to see that when one looks back, that things that happened 60 years ago or so are very strong in oneís mind, but things that happened 10 or 20 years ago are practically wiped out. One remembers different things in different ways. The first time I saw Einstein, I remember very clearly, as he walked downstairs — such a strong impression, visible impression — in Utrecht. Things like that. But the rest of my life, what am I going to do? I talked to good friends of mine in Holland about it. And they gave me advice which was at a time when I felt sort of down.
DeVorkin:Why was that?
Van de Kamp:Oh, I donít know. For some minor reasons. They said, ďThe main thing is to keep going. The worst thing you can do is retire.Ē Well, I mean, the college doesnít want you anymore and all that, we know that, because you are over age. And itís embarrassing for a college to have over-age people around.
DeVorkin:Are you working on Barnardís Star?
Van de Kamp:Oh yes. Iím still working on it. Now Iím trying to figure out why the declination measures are not as accurate as right ascension measures. I try to correlate it with local temperature and atmospheric pressure. Thereís a slight temperature effect but thereís not pressure effect.
DeVorkin:I see. Atmospheric pressure.
Van de Kamp:Atmospheric pressure.
DeVorkin:You have the barograph records.
Van de Kamp:Yes, exactly, they were all from local barograph records, but of course they are not basic. So I wrote to the Atmospheric Bureau, the Federal Atmospheric Bureau in North Carolina, and they sent me information. They will provide barometric pressure from hour to hour, for every day of the year, for 50 cents per day. Well, I wanted information for about 800 days, $400, that isnít worth it at this moment. So I asked them for 20 selected points to calibrate this. That worked quite well. These are not official, of course. Theyíre just a little unofficial.
DeVorkin:Thatís the barograph thatís in the hall?
Van de Kamp:Exactly, yes. The record should go back soon to Sproul. I want to get rid of them.
DeVorkin:What were your friendsí suggestions in Holland? Just to keep active?
Van de Kamp:Oh yes. Keep active. Keep on doing what you want to do. And then teaching, in connection with astronomy. Teaching is very important. I mean, thereís music, but I donít think I want to compose the rest of my life. Itís not important. No, I donít think so. I do that once in a while. I have these spasms, you might say. And play the piano. No, I guess basically I want to contribute something. And teaching is contributing because you influence other people, you see. I guess there is that influence. This attempt at immortality, you see.
DeVorkin:About Barnardís Star, was there ever a time when you got so frustrated with it that you wanted to give it up?
Van de Kamp:No.
DeVorkin:So itís really a constantly exciting, absorbing venture.
Van de Kamp:Because basically Iím terribly stubborn. I did give you that reprint of the Vistas article?
Van de Kamp:That shows you my various proper qualities. Well, itís nice to know that the last three years agree. I sent a copy of this to Strand. I just got a letter from him yesterday. Iíll show it to you.
DeVorkin:Sure, if you would read it I think it would be better.
Van de Kamp:ďDear Peter:Ē (This is March 13, 1979. Letter from K. A. Strand) ďThank you for sending me the latest on Barnardís Star. The perturbations look very convincing, and almost too good in cos(?). I wish we had started sooner with the 61-inch, but Harrington tells me that he begins to see the perturbation.Ē (Harrington, a former student of mine, now at USNO — very bright boy) ďHarrington tells me that he begins to see the perturbation from the short span he has. In view of all the noise from various people, the confirmation of the Sproul results from another telescope is most important. You asked me once why we had put the star on our program. This was the reason. All the best, Kaj.Ē The noise, he means, the people we talked about a while ago. They have not been noisy recently. As a matter of fact, one of them has said, ďWe have perturbations.Ē
Van de Kamp:Thatís what I heard. Yes. But I donít know. Now, I hope he retains his equilibrium. Thereís always a danger that he wonít.
DeVorkin:Thereís always what danger?
Van de Kamp:Well, thereís always a danger that somebody else who first is against you, is against you really, later on confirms that you have it, and then tries to create the impression that he was the one that really did it.
DeVorkin:Well, itís pretty obvious in this case.
Van de Kamp:Well, thatís why I was urged to put this in SKY AND TELESCOPE, as a news note.
DeVorkin:Yes. Who urged you to do that?
Van de Kamp:Both Lippincott and Hershey. ďWe better do that for the observatoryís sake.Ē You know, it was observatory work. Because if I had sent it to the ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL, then two things: it would have been published half a year later, and who knows what may happen by then or before that. And also, this is a very general problem, it has nothing to do with individuals at the moment: any article presented to any journal nowadays is heavily refereed. I think we talked about that before, perhaps?
Van de Kamp:And that often puts the referee on the spot, because he may be working on the same thing, you see. Is he going to be influenced enough or is he going to say, ďBoy, Iíd better hurry up?Ē Itís a human situation. So here it is in SKY AND TELESCOPE. Itís a news note. Not under my name. Joe Ashbrook is responsible.
DeVorkin:And at most thereís about a two month time lag there.
Van de Kamp:Oh, this was done in a month. Just as it comes in. It was less than two months, because, when Sarah sent it in then Joe replied, ďOh, you just missed the last issue.Ē Well, thatís all right, you see. In other words, it might have been earlier even, depending on the time.
DeVorkin:Well, it was certainly a nice thing to see. It was a very important article.
Van de Kamp:Well, there it is. Now, apparently, Ashbrook felt that he had to put in a reference to Gatewood. Thatís all right. It doesnít hurt me. It may hurt Gatewood eventually, I donít know. It doesnít matter. Ashbrook is a very fair man. I like him very much. Heís historically minded. He writes these lovely little notes on the history of astronomy.
DeVorkin:Weíve come a long ways. Is there anything else you feel we should include here?
Van de Kamp:No, next time, I think. I think youíd better come back some time.
DeVorkin:Well, thereís just so much to talk about. Are we pretty much finished for this session?
Van de Kamp:I think so. Iíll give you a copy of my collection speech, if I have one here.
Well, then, Iíll end this interview now. THANK YOU.
Copy in van de Kamp working file, AIP
Copy in van de Kamp working file, AIP
American-German Review 10 #2, 10-13 (December 1943).
Popular Astronomy 56 #8, 421-425 (October 1948).
AJ 63 #1259 pp. 150-152 (May 1958)
At University of Virginia
"Barnard's Star 1916-76, a sexagirtennial Report" Vistas in Astronomy, 1977
S & T
Session I | Session II