Oral History Transcript — Dr. J. Laurence Kulp
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Interview with Dr. J. Laurence Kulp
J. Laurence Kulp; April 11, 1996
ABSTRACT: Born February 11, 1921 in Trenton, NJ; discusses family ancestry and childhood memories. Describes his high school education and budding interest in chemistry; narrates his conversion to evangelical religion and how it impacted his future decisions. Undergraduate scholarship to Drew University; discusses his decision between science and professional baseball. Decision to transfer to Wheaton for last two years of college; financing his education and living expenses at Wheaton. Describes his first class chemistry education at Wheaton and the evolution of his religious beliefs. Finished master's degree at Ohio State University in one year; decision to go to Princeton for Ph.D. Entered Princeton in 1943; graduated in 1945. Joined the Manhattan Project during the war; discusses his budding interest in geology through Dicky Fields. Discusses his post-doc at Columbia, meeting Ewing in 1948, and developing the idea for a geochemistry department at Lamont. Describes recruiting grad students for geochemistry, the first two projects of the lab, and setting up the geochem lab in the Lamont mansion. Discusses his apprenticeship with Libby learning Carbon 14 dating techniques and how this lead to his subsequent research on radioactive fallout; describes in detail his work on Project Sunshine and its importance in history. Explains the numerous important projects that developed from accurate dating techniques, including the dating of the oceanic crust. Discusses the social and intellectual environment of the geochemical lab at Lamont and gives an overview of all of the projects that came out of it. Discusses his year spent at Oxford as an NSF fellow; describes his founding of Teledyne Isotopes and his departure from Lamont in 1965. Discusses his departure from Teledyne to become director of research and development at Weyerhauser; reflects on his many careers and the most important issues facing the world today.
TranscriptSession I | Session II
Doel:This is Ron Doel and this is an interview with J. Laurence Kulp. The J is for John as I understand?
Kulp:But I go by Larry.
Doel:But you go by Larry. Indeed. And I should say that we're recording this in Federal Way in the state of Washington and today's date is April 11, 1996. And I know that you were born in Trenton, New Jersey, on February 11, 1921 but I don't know much about your parents. Who were they and what did they do?
Kulp:Well my father was a practical engineer. He had about one year at MIT, at the turn of the century, and he had taken various correspondence courses. His work in the decade or so before I was born consisted largely in installing electrical generators, as the foreman or supervisor of installations around the country. He was constantly on the road and that was his primary activity. His grandfather, Philip Kulp, came from Berlin, Germany as a young child. His mother was Elizabeth Shaw, who came from Liverpool, England. As a young woman she was one of the first business women in Trenton, New Jersey, with a hair dressing shop. Which also sold cosmetics. My mother's family can be traced back to a castle in Scotland in the thirteenth century. Her ancestors came to a farm in New Jersey about 1650. The family stayed at that farm and were gentlemen/working farmers up till nearly the end of nineteenth century when they sold the farm and moved into Trenton. My mother graduated from Teachers College before the turn of the century — that made her a moderately educated woman for her time. She had various jobs as a teacher and secretary — but after I was born (when she was 43) she was a homemaker.
Doel:Did you go to see the farm that had been in the family?
Kulp:Yes I found the tract with the aid of the local library. There's not much left of it. It's all divided and partly suburbia now. It is located about fifteen miles east of Trenton in a town called Allentown, New Jersey. The farm was called Eglinton, E-G-L-I-N-T-O-N, which is the same name as the castle in Scotland which is in County Ayr, A-Y-R. I visited that site. It is now a state park. The ruins of the castle are rather well cared for and it's a beautiful park all around. I got most of the information on that part of the family by talking to the people at the visitor center at the park. They kindly made available a recent research report covering the history of the family and the castle. It turned out that our family is traced to the Montgomery clan which occupied the Eglinton castle and its lands as a barony. The adjacent barony in the thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries was owned by the Cunningham’s. General Montgomery of World War II fame came from this Montgomery clan and Admiral Cunningham, of the British navy also in World War II, was descended from the Cunningham’s. But between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries it seemed like the major occupation of these two baronies was to kill off the eldest son of the opposite barony. Not a very noble activity but apparently that's what happened in Scotland in those days.
Doel:You mentioned that your father's side had come from Germany. Did he speak German? Was German spoken at all?
Kulp:No. Never. In fact, in World War I, during World War I, he tried very hard to hide the fact that he was of German origin, and claimed that he was from the Netherlands because it was very unpopular to be a German in 1918.
Doel:Absolutely so. Yes.
Kulp:But Kulp is a very Germanic name and of course there are a fair number of Kulps in what is called the Pennsylvania Dutch Country both east and west of the Delaware River. And there is a little town called Kulpsville, spelled with a K in Pennsylvania.
Doel:Is that a fairly close part of the family tree? Have you traced it?
Kulp:I haven't been able to do hardly any significant tracing on my father's side. I've only been able to get back to his father, my grandfather, who I never met. He died before I was born. My parents married when they were about forty, both for the first time. My mother was forty-three when I was born. So I did know my maternal grandparents for a couple years when I was very young — but I never met my father's father who allegedly came directly from Berlin as a boy. There were many other Kulps that were coming over to America during the nineteenth century but I have no information on that. But I have much more detailed information on my mother's side.
Doel:What sort of house did you grow up in? This was in Trenton proper?
Kulp:Yes. During my first seven years in Trenton we lived upstairs on top of this beauty salon which my grandmother owned. My mother worked part-time in the salon and otherwise kept house there. As I said my father was rather itinerant. He was away a lot on these various construction jobs installing electrical equipment.
Doel:And he'd be away for weeks at a time?
Kulp:Yes. Apparently he worked seven day weeks, until a job was completed and then move on to the next project. When feasible he would be home briefly between jobs.
Doel:How about the vicinity of your home, church affiliation?
Kulp:My parents were, I guess you'd say, faithful Episcopalians. Religion was not a dominant thing in — my life anyway at that time. From five to seven I went to public schools near my home and our home was within a block and half of the Times Square of Trenton, the intersection of State Street and High Street. It was safe and pleasant. I had gone back recently and it is now a slum and a disaster but the building is still there. I've seen it in the last decade. There is no longer a beauty salon. Rather it now is a boarded up store in a very bad area. As has happened to so many cities.
Doel:Particularly on the east coast in the older industrial villages.
Kulp:It backed on an old Congregational Church which was rather well done architecturally. It had a small cemetery, a little garden separated from us by a six foot concrete wall. I was surprised when I went back at how tiny the backyard was that I had played in and rode my tricycle. It was a postage stamp of a yard. Over what I remembered as a very high stone wall was this church. Which still exists but it looked in rather poor shape fronting State Street.
Doel:You mention that your parents were involved in the Episcopal Church. Was religion something you would talk about at home? Were there discussions about it?
Kulp:No, not at that time. At that time I guess I went to Sunday school taken by my mother. My father went with her when he was home. So I would say they were I faithful, I don't think they were overly fervent, but they were regular. And I think they probably would have said they believed what the church taught.
Doel:Did you go with your father on any of the installation trips? Did he talk much about it when he was home?
Kulp:No. Of course at that time I was pretty young. I attended kindergarten and the first two grades. I remember enjoying the music in the early years but that's all I remember from that elementary school that was only a block away.
Doel:Did you move out from Trenton?
Kulp:Yes, then we moved up to Springfield, New Jersey which is a suburb of Newark and Elizabeth.
Doel:What prompted that?
Kulp:My father got a new position. This was 1928. It seemed to be a fine job for him and what was hoping to be a permanent job so he wouldn't have to be an itinerant anymore and he was the supervisor of a rug factory. It involved keeping the machinery running smoothly. I guess he was a combination maintenance engineer and production manager. We bought this house in outer suburbia, about ten miles from the factory in Passaic, in Springfield, New Jersey, and moved up there and I went to third grade there. I lived there in that house through my first two years of college. My parents stayed there until my mother died in 1962.
Doel:How big was that house? Did it have a library in it for instance?
Kulp:It was a small two story building with six rooms, one bath, attic and basement. The dining room doubled as my mother's work area, my father's desk was in the living room. One bedroom was usually occupied by a boarder. I had a small bedroom with a desk and a dresser.
Doel:I was curious what sort of reading materials for instance you remember having at home.
Kulp:Any reading materials I obtained from the library. There were a few books and one bookcase that I remember that was never opened. So, no I wasn't surrounded by books. I had, I was just a normal boy growing up with friends around the neighborhood. Played sports, went to school. I'm talking now of probably grade three through seven or eight. I don't remember anything dramatic that happened that oriented me towards science during that period.
Doel:Did you have any hobbies that you recall?
Kulp:No. Just did all the things that kids did. I particularly liked sports. I was quite good in baseball and I played that whenever I got the chance.
Doel:In Little League as well?
Kulp:They didn't have Little League then. It was called "sandlot" or "pick-up games." Kids would just get together and play after school and on weekends or whatever. It was pretty casual.
Doel:Did you have brothers and sisters when you were growing?
Kulp:No I grew up as an only child. As I look back on it, it was a very happy childhood. I guess I had a fairly loose rein on me. But I don't particularly remember taking advantage of it. I always thought very highly of mother and admired her concern for people. I remember one issue that had a very strong impact on me during those years. It really set my view of race and the relationship of black and white people in America. My father was a typical, hardworking, blue collar guy, who could swear a blue streak and had the language of the blue collar workers of the 1920s. Highly prejudiced. Other people were "niggers", "Wops", "Kikes", "Heines", the typical language of that day. I always remember that whenever he would use one of those words, or talk disparagingly about other races, my mother would always quietly say, now John — to my father — you know that isn't fair or right. That's about all she had to say for him to stop. Maybe there was more she said, but the general impression I got was that she was entirely correct and he was wrong. She thought kindly of all types and believed they should be respected for what they are — and that her husband was very wrong to be so, today we say, racist. He wasn't a bad man. He wasn't particularly. He was never mean to me. In fact he never hit me because he had been subject to severe chastising’s by his hot tempered father. Had he been in the south, it might have been even worse, but it was typical of the day. This situation had a very strong impact on me. I never thought of myself as particularly racist. I had about two percent blacks in our high school and one who was a superior athlete became a very good friend of mine. In fact I visited him in the last decade. He's elderly and decrepit now but he was a track star. To finish the thought on race, when I was a sophomore in high school, I didn't realize that in the north blacks are still supposed to sit in the back of the bus, at least in our area. I was down in Elizabeth, New Jersey, which is about six, seven miles away from Springfield. And that was where we would go for major shopping and dentistry. One day on a return trip from Elizabeth when I got on the bus I saw my friend Irving in the back with a couple of other black people. I didn't distinguish that they were black people. They said "hi" so I went back and sat down with them. The bus driver, who, I guess, today would be representative of the extreme southern sheriff type, fat and generally ugly and nasty. He said, "Hey kid you can't sit back there with those people. Get up front." That's the first time that I'd ever experienced that kind of thing. I was a little taken aback and I said, no, he's my friend, I want to sit here. Well he stopped the bus, he got out of his seat, a real big guy, came back and said, "You get up here". With some fear I replied, "No, I'm not going. I want to sit here on this bus with my friends." By then everybody else on the bus turned around to look at us. I expected that he would grab me by the scruff of the neck, and toss me out of the bus as I wasn't that big at that time. But he only glowered at me and you know he muttered some things and went back to his seat and drove the bus. Well that made quite an impression on me.
Doel:I'm sure that did. How old were you at that time? This was high school.
Kulp:I think I was a sophomore maybe in high school. But race-consciousness was a nonissue before then. Of course most of my friends in the neighborhood were white. These black kids that we had in high school came from a small section in one part of town where I guess their parents or grandparents had been brought in as servants’ years earlier and had lived in a restricted area. In school I didn't notice any overt bigotry among the students. We took the black kids as they were, and made friends and we did things. But that was sort of my background. And I've had lots of experiences since then but I never felt that strong racism largely because of the views of my mother. As I look back I realize she was a wonderful woman. Economically we were relatively poor. After my father moved us up to Springfield, he bought a humble, but new, small house for seventy-five hundred dollars. But this job lasted only one year as the 1929 crash occurred.
Doel:I was just going to ask you.
Kulp:And he was old, by then over fifty. And in that day it was almost impossible to get a job if you were over forty except sweeping floors or something. I mean it was really tough over forty. So he lied a lot about his age to try to get work. And he was a vigorous man so he got away with it for a little while. He managed to a few part time jobs, but basically aside from some temporary government grant jobs, like supervising paving or sewer job in the city to make sure the contractor wasn't cheating the town. Aside from that for about six, seven years he didn't have work. It was terrible. My mother began to be an Avon lady or something similar. She'd go door to door to sell whatever she could. And between their efforts we survived. I had a relatively rich aunt which I will say more about later. She was a very interesting person. Actually the most prominent successful person in our extended family. She was connected with the top political people. In fact she was president of the American Legion Auxiliary National and she gave speeches all over the country. She knew the various presidents [Calvin] Coolidge and the others in the 1920's. You may not know, as it was before your time, but the American Legion Auxiliary was far and away the most powerful women's organization in the country. Anyway, she would have my father send me down to Trenton where she lived once a year and she'd outfit me completely with clothes. She'd buy me a suit, and shoes and ties and shirts and an overcoat and whatever I needed. These were about all the clothes that I had from about 1929 until I went to college.
Doel:I was just going to ask, her full name was Claire?
Kulp:Claire Oliphant, O-L-I-P-H-A-N-T. Anyway that was just talking about the economics. So that whatever clothes I got I got from her.
Doel:You didn't see her outside of those annual, once a year or so?
Kulp:Not much. No, maybe one other time, on occasional years she might have come up or I might have gone down there. And one time I did stay down there at her house for a week I think at her invitation. She didn't have any children. She and her husband lived out in suburban Trenton. She commuted. She worked in the courthouse. And was, I guess, county clerk, later on in life, after she retired from being president of the Legion Auxiliary. She was always very active as I say in the patriotic front. She was a very, very vigorous Republican but she supported Roosevelt and his recognition of the problem in Europe and the need for us to re-arm before it was popular. I mean Roosevelt was as you may remember under great flack, not just for his liberal social policies, but also his support for the U.K. which Aunt Claire did not agree with. The social agenda as she was a Republican conservative on that.
Doel:She didn't approve of the New Deal but did approve of his interest in European —
Kulp:She was very supportive of him strengthening our Armed Services because of the situation in Europe.
Doel:This would have been around '37 or so when.
Kulp:In '33, '37. And I think she was president of some national women's patriotic league that supported the presidency during that period.
Doel:And you're quite right. Roosevelt at that time, I think, had complained that he was trying to lead on foreign policy but turned around and found virtually no one behind him.
Kulp:Yes. We were very isolationist. The majority of Americans were very isolationist at that time. He really dragged us in screaming and resisting wherever he could. And he still got the Lend-Lease going surreptitiously a little bit outside the law. But once it was established it kept working. And he was trying to work with Winston Churchill and help every way he could. Because he realized the stakes for humanity which only a minority of Americans understood.
Doel:Did you get to any political events when you went down to visit your aunt?
Kulp:No. Just heard about them. My father was always active politically; he was perpetually a ward leader. The guy who would have twenty, thirty, homes and he would knock on the doors and get the vote out. And he was a loyal Republican. My mother I guess shared his views. She was not active politically. She was more interested in church at that time. Actually she was just trying to keep us alive. The other thing that Aunt Claire did was use her influence to get an extension of your mortgage so all you had to pay was interest or a fraction of interest in order to keep your home. Otherwise you'd be turned out. With her political influence we were able to keep our home. So really what my folks were earning for was food. I never had any spending money that I didn't earn myself. Once I was a teenager beginning when I was about twelve, I started weeding, cutting grass and so on. I was allowed to keep all that money. Whatever I had for spending money was from my own work. So that's sort of the way it was up to high school.
Doel:What was the high school like that you went to? How big was it?
Kulp:Well let's see I went to three. We had a seven to nine junior high school in Springfield that I walked to. That had maybe three hundred students. There wasn't any individual class with more than thirty probably students. It was sort of a middle of the road suburban junior high school in Springfield. Then I went to high school at Roselle Park which was about six miles away. A very good high school at that time. I remember the studies were a little bit harder than they had been. But it was a great high school. It had a wonderful band, music program. By then I was quite competent on the trumpet. I was second chair trumpet in the band.
Doel:When did you first start playing?
Kulp:I think that was in fourth grade. You could sign up and the music teacher would find an instrument for you. Folks couldn't afford an instrument. So I had to borrow an instrument for many years until I got into high school. Then my parents somehow were able to scrape together enough, maybe with help from my Aunt Claire to get me my own trumpet. But I was taking these free lessons at school At Roselle Park we had the same portfolio as the U.S. Marine Corps Band.
Doel:Is that right?
Kulp:Yes. It was a super band. I mean I put a lot of effort into that and also into sports, baseball particularly. But I got sick one year, my junior year, and although I made the varsity I couldn't play. I had very serious measles that kept me in bed for about six weeks right during baseball season.
Doel:That must have been frustrating.
Kulp:That was a real disappointment for me cause the team went on to win the New Jersey championship and I would have been a regular if I’d played. It was a normal high school I would say. Now I would say that for the region, it was one of the better suburban high schools. As I look back on it, I had excellent teachers. Now I was not a gung-ho student at that point. I got B’s. My mother would have liked me to study a little bit harder. And I liked to play in sports and stuff like that and I was just an ordinary student. However, in my junior year I had this chemistry teacher, a man. When you look back someone or several teachers important in your life. Well the most important teacher I had as a junior was this chemistry teacher by the name of Collins. And he kind of got me excited — enough so that I worked hard and I received an A in chemistry, which was probably my only A. But I was interested. He stimulated me and I studied a little extra.
Doel:What sort of teacher was he? Was it his teaching? Was it the subject? When you look back.
Kulp:No a combination as always. His ability to convey information, but it is his excitement as a personality. He made science something exciting to think about. And of course it is. It's the grand experiment and it goes on and on. Learning about how the world functions provides endless intellectual challenge. As Carl Sagan says, it's the wonder of it all. At least there's as much wonder in science as there is in poetry. And that's not to demean poetry with a totally different function. But science is what has brought us to where we are today. Instead of a tenth of a percent having made it, twenty-thirty percent of the people on the planet being well fed and well cared for medically. We live better than any prince did two centuries ago. And we have the time to reflect and to read and the time to study if we want to. We can ruin our lives if we want to, but that's optional. But well clearly it's science and technology has brought man to his present standard of living and kids were dying in 1920s of Scarlet fever, diphtheria and other infectious diseases which are all gone. And now we worry about old age problems like cancer because nobody thought about that back then because most died before you got the cancer.
Doel:But the demographics have certainly changed.
Kulp:Yes. The whole ballgame has changed. Anyway this chemistry teacher triggered my first serious interest in science. I didn't make a wholehearted commitment to science at that time or chemistry, but of all the subjects I had studied up to then, this was the most stimulating because of this teacher.
Doel:Do you remember anything particular from the class? Were there? Did you have a laboratory in the classroom?
Kulp:Oh small lab. I don't remember anything about that. We had a pretty good geometry teacher too. So when the science was kind of coming together there was the math which also interested me a little more than it had. I had always been reasonably good in math just not because I worked hard at it but because it came easily and I liked. And I wasn't a stellar student until later.
Doel:Were there any other teachers who you found particularly memorable?
Kulp:Yes there was an English teacher who made English literature alive. She got us to read and open our eyes to a whole raft of ideas.
Doel:Did you have that chemistry teacher again, you mentioned him sophomore or junior year?
Kulp:Just that one time. One course. I was a normal high school boy. Music and sports were my extracurricular activities.
Doel:Were these science clubs in the school that you remember?
Kulp:I don't remember that. I know there were a couple of shows that I got into. I was in the junior play.
Doel:What was your role?
Kulp:I had a Scandinavian character part. So I had to speak with an accent. That was fun. I enjoyed that.
Doel:It sounds like your interests were rather wide ranging as you were growing.
Kulp:At that point, yes. Later I had an offer to be a professional baseball player, but I decided to be a scientist. But that's a story from my college years.
Doel:Very interesting. Yes, I do want to hear that.
Kulp:At that time I had broad interests, including dancing and girls. We had to return to Springfield as they opened a new regional high school in my senior year. That was too bad in a way because we had to leave our friends and Roselle Park was a superior high school. But we had no choice so we went back. I became president of the senior class and captain of the football team my senior year. Springfield Regional was a four year high school, with a student body of about five six hundred kids. The teachers in general were not the same caliber nor quite as good as they'd been at Roselle Park. I became most interested in science and math. I took what was the top math course, which I guess was trigonomics. They didn't offer Calculus yet.
Doel:That was pretty common in those days.
Kulp:Yes. Calculus was unusual. Only in the best high schools you could get that as a senior. So I was taking trigonometry and analytical geometry. I took physics. Biology never interested me. At that time Biology was mostly descriptive and I had no interest in extensive memorization. So I probably got C in biology. I didn't care much about that. But I did moderately well in the physics and the math in my senior year.
Doel:Was that pretty much your first exposure to physics?
Kulp:Yes. I had chemistry in my junior year and physics in my senior year. That was the way it was in that curriculum at that time.
Doel:Was there any astronomy?
Kulp:Only a little, maybe had one chapter in the physics book. Never heard of geology up to that point. Didn't know what it was. So, let's see what happened then. Well I played football but I was really too light and I guess I played reasonably well for them at that level. But I realized that it was foolish for me to plan on college football cause at that time I weighed a hundred and fifty. In high school, in those days, the big guys were usually pretty clumsy so if you're agile and quick you could still play with them. But not for long. But that was fun. But when spring came they didn't have a baseball team.
Doel:At this high school?
Kulp:At this high school. See my junior year I'd been on the championship team.
Kulp:And my sickness had mowed me down. In my senior year Springfield Regional didn't have baseball. So I played sandlot and some in the semi pro.
Doel:Were there farm teams right in that area?
Kulp:We used to go into Newark and watch the Newark Bears, who were a triple A team. When we would sneak in the bleachers, climb up the fence. Once in a great while pay our twenty-five cents. That was our love of baseball. I was also in the senior play. I enjoyed that. It was a detective story, "The Night of January 16". Anyway, as I said I was president of the class and so was pretty active in that capacity. My parents had always encouraged me to think about college even though they told me they probably weren't going to be able to help me financially. They urged me to take the college major curriculum. Beginning, when I went to Roselle Park I signed up for the college major rather than the general or business programs I guess. I signed up for college courses but at that time you didn't know what the future held.
Doel:Do you have friends whose parents had gone to college? Were there others that you could talk to about what college was like?
Kulp:No, in fact as I go back in my class, I think there were only five percent of us that went to college.
Doel:Is that right?
Kulp:I think so. I have quite a story to tell you about that. I didn't realize that we were going to go so much into my personal history. I have an interesting story about that. The end of my junior year, my mother and one of her friends managed to steer me to go into an evangelical camp in the Adirondacks. I had been planning because my junior year, I'd assembled my own dance band and we did some play for pay. It was a kid’s dance band. In those days there were no guitars.
Doel:Right you had the trumpet.
Kulp:We had trumpets, trombones, saxophones, clarinets and bass and piano. Anyway, my hope was that we'd go down to the Jersey shore, one of these half-baked resorts, and at least Friday and Saturday nights play for pay. And then of course that could have lead into drinking and other kinds of things which up to that time I hadn't indulged in. Not that I was real strict and my parents weren't strict, but I just didn't think it was a good idea. But I didn't have a lot of pressure to do it. The kids that did dabble in that were usually nonstudents and closer to lower echelon in our school. So I wanted to go down the Jersey shore and play with my dance band. Well my mother very astutely figured out that really wasn't a positive environment. She didn't tell me I couldn't. She was always very good about that. But she arranged for me to learn about this camp up in the Adirondacks where to become a counselor you had to be a pretty good musician because they had a concert band and symphony orchestra. And they had concerts every week and the orchestra accompanied a devotional service every morning right after breakfast with this camp family. It was a camp of some hundreds of people all ages. Today it would be more like a bible conference but then it was not quite as intensive in religious teaching, however it still was quite religious and there were several services on Sunday morning. But the attraction was that I could develop my music there and I could get in as counselor because I played trumpet well. She made the combination attractive enough, plus nudging. And so I applied and when I was accepted she really urged me to accept it which I did. Okay? So here I am now a typical sixteen year old with no use for religion of any kind, with little interest in the subject. My mother wanted me to attend Sunday school, but she didn't push real hard. So I wind up at this camp as one of the real rebels I guess.
Doel:You felt different from others who were at the camp?
Kulp:Oh yes. Some of them were committed Christian young people, born again with the culture of evangelicalism. And I arrived I guess as a young atheist or some such thing. I read a little Plato and a few other things and had some of my own ideas. Well that summer I underwent a conversion. I liked the people there. The other young people, very wholesome, wonderful kids. Some of them were in college. They were a little older than I was so they had significant influence. So anyway every afternoon — we had afternoons off — we'd go down to the beach and debate philosophy and theology among other matters. Of course to begin with I was one of the out persons. But the more we debated, the more they convinced me they could make a pretty good case for their faith. They were in most cases two years older, college kids, very devout. But they were great kids, real fun — all good things. And by the end of the summer, I said okay I'm going to try this religion and I'm going to believe it and commit myself to it. I'd always worked hard at whatever really interested me so I entered my new faith with gusto. I did my sports and my music that way. So I went at that pretty intensively. Well.
Doel:What did that involve for you then in your senior year?
Kulp:It was interesting. I guess as I reflect back on it, it made me a little different because I decided not to dance. That was the one of the criteria that they used to define good Christians in that group. It was not the main stream, certainly not Episcopalian, my parents' church. In fact, when I went back I went to a church — what would now be a Bible Church — with one of my good friends that I had met at this camp. They lived nearby and I felt comfortable relative to what I was hearing up at this camp. To return to the college story, beginning in my sophomore year, this Aunt Claire had encouraged me with the fact that she could get me an appointment to West Point because of her connections provided I could meet the academic standards. You had to pass these very stiff examinations. But if you did, then the governor or the senator could appoint you to West Point or Annapolis, and she had enough connections that she told me, that if I buckled down and made the grade — in these examinations, that she could get me in if I was qualified. So that was my program. And I took some special tutoring during my junior year to try and get ready for the exams. And I was working at it pretty diligently. When I got back in my senior year, among other things I ran into an English teacher who had sort of a Christian club after school. He was a thorough going pacifist. He was a very attractive personality and a great guy. And his contention which was convincing me for about six months was that to be a good Christian you had to be a pacifist. Remember now, we were still back in the '30s, the country's isolationist, war is the worst activity you can engage in. So naturally – not naturally — but being an aggressive, young, naive Christian, wanting to do the right thing, I decided I couldn't go in the Army, that wouldn't be right. Sort of like Vietnam draft dodging but in a different era.
Doel:We're resuming just after a very brief coffee break. And indeed you were saying that you had decided that in your faith you couldn't go into the Army at that point.
Kulp:You can imagine now. This is a young kid, wet behind the ears, naive as can be but very aggressive and I guess somewhat articulate. First he crushed his wonderful mother by telling her he wouldn't go to West Point when from her point of view not only was it a first class education — which it was — but it was the only one that she could see me having.
Doel:Because of finances.
Kulp:Yes. And I told her don't worry Mom; I'll make it somehow on my own. Brash. I did, but I couldn't give a lot of good reasons at that time except that I was going to do it. And up to that point when I set my mind to things, I was able to accomplish them. But then you can imagine the problem I would have to tell my Aunt Claire. Here's this president of the Women's Patriotic you know and had given me everything for years and I was kind of like her pseudo grandson. Because I was the closest thing she had. She had no children of her own and I was the one she showered all of her attention on. She was so proud of me. The one time she came up in my senior year was when I was in the senior play, because she once studied as an actress way back, turn of the century Boston. And I vividly remember that interview and it was very, very tough because I knew what she'd done for me, but I wasn't going to change my commitment. I said I can't do it. Well that kind of soured our relationship for the rest of her life, which only was another two years or so. I have always felt guilty not to properly have expressed my gratitude for her generosity and support to me over the years. And now I look on her as a wonderful woman who did a lot for me and in her own right was quite an outstanding person. She was back there getting the woman's vote in 1920. I have a couple of daughters and at least one of them looks like her a little bit and has a lot of her personality and a lot of her ability. You know it’s a gene kind of thing. Anyway that was the background of my pre-college experience. I would not go to West Point. But I was still aiming at college. So winter comes and I talk to my teachers about the problem. I don't know whether we had a guidance counselor, but I talked to my science teachers about college. And one of them said, there's this little college up the road, about seven miles west, in Madison, N.J., called Drew. Somehow they knew about it. They said this school has been — it was a Methodist seminary since 1860 — but it had only started a bachelor's program in 1930. We're now in 1938. Yes?
Kulp:And they said, it's a fine, very small but fine school. They've got first class people and they're trying to get students — so they're trying to offer some scholarships. Why don't you go up and talk to them and see what you could do. So I go up there and I liked everything I saw. Admission and the potential for a scholarship was possible because in my senior year I was getting the best grades to date. I wasn't very serious up to then. As a senior I said to myself this is important and if I'm going to make it, nobody else can do it for me. So I started being a serious student. At least a semi-serious student.
Doel:You were still active though in.
Kulp:Oh very active. In my senior year I wasn't a bookworm but I didn't throw away my time. At night I did my assignments thoroughly and tried to understand and I caught on fairly quickly. So anyway Drew admitted me and they offered me — it sounds ridiculous today — they offered me a hundred twenty-five dollars scholarship to help pay my tuition which I guess was two hundred and fifty at that time.
Kulp:Yes. My parents said of course I could live home and they'd feed me. That's what they contributed. I hitchhiked from Springfield to Madison every day so I had no transportation expense. After a while a couple of people that knew me who worked in Madison or Morristown and so going up at a regular time was easy. Coming back of course was more irregular so it took a bit longer. And I got a job at the college — from the word go — to pay the rest of my tuition.
Doel:What was the job?
Kulp:First I started working on the grounds raking leaves and stuff, and then I got a job in the library. They were moving into a new library and had a lot of work lugging books around. Whatever there was to do, I did it. I was able to earn enough for the rest of the tuition plus my books. That's how I went to Drew. You know you really want me to talk about Lamont. I can spend a great deal of time on my personal history — it's kind of fun reminiscing, hadn't we better spend the time on my Lamont days?
Doel:Lamont is a group of individuals who bring different talents and experiences to it so I do think this is part of history.
Kulp:Remember I'm in love with baseball. So I go up to Drew; I'm a freshman. The first thing when I arrive, I sign up for chemistry. I figure by then science is my field, possibly with a specialty in chemistry. I had received good grades. I found them interesting.
Doel:Did you know anyone who was actually working in the sciences in growing up? Or at any time?
Kulp:I can't give you that. It sounds good but these factors did not influence me. I'll tell you the way it happened for me. Each of us is different. I sign up for chemistry and calculus in my first year and physics in my second year. I didn't like physics. The problem was that in chemistry it turned out I could do straight A work. In physics I did A- or B+ work so I said well I guess chemistry is my thing. But anyway, I had a marvelous professor in chemistry. Cleveland Jordy was his name. He was highly revered, inspired many students to go on to their doctorate in chemistry. He retired years ago, but I have endowed chemistry scholarship at Drew in his name. At the time, the liberal arts college at Drew only enrolled a hundred and fifty men at this school, and no women. Our chemistry class was probably not more than fifteen to twenty students. Professor Jordy really worked with us. We had effective labs. After that freshman year, I was convinced that I was going to major in chemistry. That provided focus for my program. Also in the fall there was a unique character on the faculty, professor of the classics. He taught Greek and Roman, the original languages as well as translation. His name, very important, Sherman Plato Young. He was one of the great college baseball coaches of the era. I say that unequivocally even though I only know a fraction of them, but I'll tell you about this guy. He tried out for the New York Giants under the famous John McGraw and he was kept on the team for a while even though John McGraw liked big men and young was a shorty. Eventually for whatever reason Young continued his education and became a professor, but he had that experience in professional baseball with John McGraw. He was astute, he was a driver, and he was a master of men. He made you love him — like some of the great coaches can do. Drew had no football because it's such a small school; he had decided he was going to make baseball the number one sport. We played much larger schools such as Columbia and Princeton and Dickinson yet we had only a hundred and fifty men and zero athletic scholarships. Zero. How did he do it? Well this way. We all had to take phys. ed., right? Required course. So in the fall phys. ed. was essentially fall training for baseball. And he personally took the freshman class. He would drill us on all aspects of baseball and he was watching us to see what our potential was. At best it was only potential, not current ability. I wasn't bad as a high school player but most of the rest of the guys showed even less. But after completing his evaluation Young would say okay here's my team, here are the guys I want for the next six months. And all during the winter after basketball practice, we would go to the gym. And if we were infielders, he would work at ball handling, double play ball handling, grounders. He decided I was going to be his first baseman my sophomore year. He had an excellent senior for first base the coming spring when I was still a freshman but he was assuming I would be able to take over the next year. He'd get me against the back of the wall, with my glove. He'd stand about — it seemed like fifteen feet away, it was probably twenty-five feet — and he'd throw the ball at me and I was supposed to catch it no matter where it was. And he'd throw it hard. And he would chew me out if I missed anything. The only acceptable result was a perfect catch. And whether it was up here, over there, bounce on the floor, and he just worked my tail off for a certain amount of time every day. Well you can imagine how this enhances your performance. Then we got outdoors in February, March when nobody goes out to play baseball. He'd have us out there and he'd be hitting fungoes. He was a master of the fungo bat. He could put it anywhere he wanted. And he would have us chasing flies. There wasn't any college team that we met that could shag flies like we could. I remember being able to go way off first base out into foul territory, into the stands or anywhere and I could always catch the ball.
Doel:You could catch em.
Kulp:He did this drive us you know. Well next say chapter. Spring comes. I get a terrific streptococcus infection and I'm out for most of the baseball season. Can you believe it?
Doel:Second time this has happened?
Kulp:Yes. I think I could have been very good. Anyway, second year comes and I am the first baseman. And we won sixteen out of eighteen games — including pretty good name schools. And toward the end of that season in the spring — I batted about .400 by the way — Yes, I'm very proud of that. I had no strike outs and I had no errors at first base. Sounds too good to be true doesn't it? That's the way it happened. I attribute the result primarily to Doc Young. So I was kind of a star and he, had a bunch of home runs. Anyway Coach Young was contacted by professionals and I got a firm offer to go to a New York Giant farm team that summer.
Doel:So this is the summer of your sophomore year?
Kulp:Sophomore. Sophomore year.
Kulp:Well, I really thought about that decision. I just loved baseball, a potential career in chemistry, and at the same time I was interested in going to be a counselor down at this Christian camp in New Jersey for the coming summer.
Doel:Had you been back to Camp of the Woods since that first summer?
Kulp:Yes. Actually I spent three years up at that camp in the Adirondacks and my last year I was conductor of the concert band. We were again using the U.S. Marine Corps quality stuff. That was probably the highest point of my musical career. Because when I went to Drew, I really let the trumpet slide because there just wasn't time. I was working and I had my sports and I had studies and I just couldn't spend much time with my music as I had. So at one point in my senior year at high school I was driven equally toward sports, music and science. Music I decided wasn't for me even though I conducted. The band was eighty-five pieces. It was a substantive band. And we had a very good program. But anyway, the summer following my sophomore year I went to a Bible Conference in southern New Jersey, in which I was one of the four male counselors, workers. But it was before that I decided that I wanted to go into science rather than baseball. And that was real traumatic too because Doc Young like my Aunt Claire, in the West Point rejection, had done much for me. He probably did more to shape my lifelong attitudes and my desire to succeed and penchant to detail and willingness to practice and master things. He just insisted on this you know, and he was right. So he took these kids with no athletic scholarships or anything and made them into consistently winning, the consistently winning, and average baseball. Doc Young was a great guy. Plato was his name. He taught the classics. It's a wonderful story.
Doel:It sounds like that offer from the Giants was tempting to you at least.
Kulp:Oh, very much so. It was the toughest decision I've ever made in my context there. One other item that I wished to mention occurred in the spring of my sophomore year, when I was playing baseball. My father had finally gotten a job as an assembler at the ADT electrical alarm factory over in New York. They didn't pay much and it was a menial job, just assembly, but at least it was regular work. It was difficult for him to take off because he had to worry that he would be laid off if anybody objected. Yet, you know, for every one of my home games there he was in the stands.
Kulp:And although he wasn't able to coach me very much at that time in his life, and very often he arrived after the game started because it was as soon as he could get back from New York. He'd take the train out on the Lackawanna R.R. to Madison; walk up the hill to the Drew field. I knew he was there. I could always tell. He didn't come down and talk with me or you know things like that, but he was always there. And you know it has to be one of the good things that kept me going. Cause although he couldn't help me any other way. He couldn't help me with money, or my academic work, but he was there.
Doel:He was demonstrating his presence.
Kulp:He was there for me. My mother was more articulate, was more aware of many things. Probably had more influence intellectually. But yes, he was a good father with all his limitations. So I as I say, I had a happy childhood and I never felt deprived or never had any negative feelings about it. Well I thought my parents were fine people. I was happy to be a part of our small family.
Doel:What lead you to the decision that you did reach about the offer to play pro ball, to stay in school?
Kulp:Three reasons I guess. First, I could be injured tomorrow and that's the end of the ballgame. The second thing was I could be a 0400 hitter at the college level in which I was playing, but there's no guarantee when you increase the speed of pitching by twenty-thirty percent which is what happens between that and big leagues, you're inherent hand-eye coordination determines what kind of hitter you can be in the top line. A good part of that's genetic. No matter how hard you work. I mean you can practice like mad and work. I was smart enough to know how to play the game, always be in the right position. Fielding, I knew I could compete with the big guys cause I played my first base without errors. Well, I said to myself, it's a gamble because I don't know whether I could still hit at that higher speed. There's no way to tell till you get there. So that was a negative, which made it a significant risk. Then the third thing really was the world of ideas. By my sophomore year I was reading widely, not just science. I realized the excitement in the world of human knowledge. I said "You know, really my future is in the world of ideas not in mechanics as much as I love to play." So those were the factors.
Doel:When you think back, what do you particularly remember reading at the time? What of those readings that you just mentioned stand out?
Kulp:I don't think I can come up with a particular book. Just know that we were required to do a lot of reading in modern literature. I know I particularly enjoyed the Russian novelists. The psychology, sociology material seemed to lack clarity and rigor. It was hardly worth the time. But I learned a lot about culture and philosophy from literature. This view resulted in part from having studied under outstanding teachers and professors of literature. So to return to the summer of 1940 I go to this Bible Conference and I meet two wonderful young men who are going to Wheaton College in Illinois which has been characterized the Harvard of the evangelical colleges. Most of the evangelical schools are really sub-par. But at Wheaton — although they were very committed to a historical and very conservative Christianity — many of the professors were quite competent. Not quite as competent as I had at Drew, but a few of them were and the rest of them were reasonably competent. These young men convinced me that an environment like that might be very valuable to me experience for a couple years because I had been in what was called a secular college. So I decided I would go to Wheaton my last two years. They had a good chemistry department so I was told. My mother again was very disappointed because everything was jelling at Drew and certainly Professor Jordy in chemistry could have gotten me an assistantship up in Syracuse where he went for my Ph.D. if I took that route. So she again thought maybe I was throwing away my future by going out to this religious school. Even though she liked the religious idea, the fact that I had become "Born Again", of course, now I was more radical than she was.
Doel:In terms of religion.
Doel:Had you traveled much within the country? Was this the first time?
Kulp:I had never gone west of the Delaware River.
Doel:Yes. So this was a very new experience.
Kulp:Oh yes. I was going out to the Midwest and that was foreign country. I didn't know anything about the Midwest. So I started out hitchhiking. I had my bag and I think I had twenty dollars when I left home. I had no money. I had contacted Wheaton but they said they couldn't give me a scholarship till I proved myself there.
Doel:Yes. You were admitted but provisionally.
Kulp:No, I was admitted without conditions but also without scholarship support.
Kulp:Yes. They said, "we have a lot of jobs around and we try to place our young people but we can't guarantee anything until you come out." So "on faith", my sturdy thumb and my suitcase, I told my mother, don't worry. I'm going to do it. And she didn't quite believe me I guess, and she said you know we can't help you. And I said yes I know. I appreciate everything you've done but I'm going to do it. So I hitchhiked to Wheaton. It took me two days to get out there. I think I slept outdoors overnight somewhere along the way. The first thing I did when I arrived was to go into the job placement office. My first job was for a free room if I maintained the grounds. Then I got another job in the dining hall scrubbing pots and pans at night cause I figured if they had that I'd probably be able to omit my evening meal cause I could get scraps in the kitchen, which was usual for kids to do. And also I could maybe do some memorization stuff while I was doing mechanical work there. So that's the way I started out and I earned enough to pay the tuition, get my books, and then I had free room. And I had almost free food. I think I also took a job early in the morning so I could scrounge some stuff for breakfast. Later on when we quit the pots and pans at midnight, a generous old German boss that we had let us raid the ice box for anything we wanted to. We'd get these huge bowls of cereal and fruit and cream, and we'd gorge ourselves with this and then we could skip breakfast. So with these various techniques I worked my way through Wheaton College. By then I was a serious student and I got almost all A’s. I think I graduated second in the class.
Doel:When you think back on it at the time, how did it compare to being at Drew?
Kulp:In my context it was a rich, warm experience. I had lot of good friends. I learned a lot. It was not the crisp intellectual quality of Drew, particularly in the humanities which was a soft when you look at it from the outside. But the science was strong. The science was almost comparable. So to fulfill my aim to go into chemistry, it was fine. I was getting A’s in chemistry and they were able to direct me to Ohio State. Where I received full scholarship aid. From there on there were no financial problems.
Doel:What range of science courses did you take at Wheaton?
Kulp:At Wheaton? Well organic chemistry, physical chemistry, inorganic, advanced calculus. I had an advanced physics course, etc.
Doel:— was geology taught? Was that something?
Kulp:Yes. It was taught but I never took any course in geology or biology. Both subjects would have carried some anti-evolution baggage along with some factual material.
Doel:I was curious at when you were going through you were aware of these kinds of debates and issues of the younger earth?
Kulp:On religion. Oh yes. In fact in the scrub gang in the dining hall at night our main discussions were on theology and philosophy. And there were kids with different, quite different points of view. Some were what they called hyper-Calvinists in those days which had meant that God determines everything in advance and you really have no choice. And then there were the Armenians who said it was all up to man what he did with his life. And all views in between. We'd get into evolution, the existence of miracles, the cults, even occasionally politics. We'd get into everything. And this environment is where I learned the most plus the required reading. I think for any person who has a reasonably open mind, the more you read, the more experiences, the more data you get, continually modifies what you think about the world and what you believe. Unless you get to the point where you just shut it off and say I'm not interested in any new data because I've decided and I'm just going to believe what I believe now for the rest of my life. When I first went to Wheaton, while it's hard to believe, it was actually a somewhat enlightening experience. After I went through this conversion experience, in the summer following my junior year in high school. I joined a church that was extremely conservative. Extremely bible oriented. Where they had all the answers you know. And I was trying to learn those answers and their arguments for those answers and so on. This group believed that main line Christians were almost apostate. They believed they represented the true New Testament Church. They were convinced that they alone within Christendom had "The Truth". You know they just didn't do much standing up for what they should believe. And this group believed just what the New Testament people believed. And they knew it, and they knew the truth. But at Wheaton I was exposed to this big cross-section of the evangelical Christians, among them were Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists believe it or not, and they seemed to be conservative and devout as well. So I don't know what your background is or how you can really understand it, but to go to Wheaton College which in the big picture of things is a very conservative religious school, but still the Harvard of that type. It was an enlightening, opening experience because here I saw all these other Christian people from all these other main line churches who were believers also.
Doel:As you say, one learns tremendously from the discussion, from the dialogue and the diversity of points of view —
Kulp:By the time I was a senior, I was out on the liberal fringe of the Wheaton spectrum. That doesn't mean that I was denying any of their fundamental tenets yet. But I remember leading the physics honorary society chapel. They had chapel every day and groups would come from many evangelical organizations and missions as well as local student organizations. I threw out the idea that we need to take a fresh look at this evolution question because there's a lot in it that I suggested was consistent with a God who designed the world. This was heresy! I was already getting to the place well I thought I needed to help enlighten my fellow evangelicals because there's a bigger world outside. At that time I was trying to see what I could do to help bridge the gap to bring them along intellectually so that they would accept scientific data that was emerging in the world and try to digest those as you modify your theology to digest what I felt were facts. One story. A self-appointed Christian apologist on science and the Bible was Harry Rimmer. Very popular on the Elmer Gantry circuit. He had written a couple of books, one on science and the Bible. In this he goes to great length to prove that the long day of Joshua — where the sun allegedly stood still — really occurred. And that astronomers in Cambridge [University] had calculated back from an anomaly in the eclipses. From that they could determine there was a day missing. Further he asserted that the "proof' was published in some serious scientific literature. Well-being brash and a junior in college, and president of our honorary society in physics, I proposed for a project for the current year to critically examine Rimmer's argument. I said, if he's really right, this is one of the most significant discoveries in this whole apologetic arena. If not then he will be exposed as a charlatan. So let’s investigate. Let's write various letters to his alleged sources. Let's try to find out who the scientist was at Cambridge. Let's write the Cambridge library, the Cambridge physics department and inquire about this issue. Well what we got back showed that his assertions were a pure hoax, and he was a fraud. And when we reported this in our student journal, some of the Wheaton constituents were very offended as he was a very popular guy on the revival circuit, a Jim Bakker of his day. He'd come around and give a chapel talk every year at Wheaton. He'd get everybody laughing. You know, he was a great platform guy, terrific. So if you didn't know the facts, he could snow you on many items.
Doel:That's very interesting.
Kulp:So at that point, when I graduated from Wheaton, I was on the liberal end of the Wheaton spectrum. I stress the Wheaton spectrum because that did not include any denial of the basic tenets of historical Christianity.
Doel:Sure. You know I'm curious when you had mentioned your role of leadership in asking questions about evolution. You remember what you read? Or how you came to know what you did about the evolution controversy?
Kulp:The general literature on evolution and biology as in the Scientific American that were trying to make the argument against evolution as being valid.
Doel:Of course the Scopes trial wasn't more than a dozen years or so before that.
Kulp:Right, right. I don't remember whether I read about that one. I know I must have read some geology which took quite a different view and at least raised some questions for me. I didn't get any help from my professors as I had no courses in biological science in college. To return to my Wheaton days, I couldn't play baseball because I didn't have the time. I was working forty hours a week and I wanted to be a good student. So there wasn't time for much else. I had a steady girlfriend at the time. We went out, but we didn't see each other a lot, once a week or so, when we were able to find the time. I was very focused on doing well in chemistry so I could get into graduate school. I understood once there, everything is paid. Which it was. You receive free tuition and get a stipend every month which was enough to live on.
Doel:How was it that you went to Ohio State University?
Kulp:That was because a professor of chemistry at Wheaton had gotten his Ph.D. there and had good connections. I could also have gone to Northwestern I think without any trouble and maybe Illinois. But for some reason I chose Ohio State. I was glad I did. It was one of the top chemistry schools at that time. In the Big Ten it is still first rank. So when I got to Ohio State I learned that it usually took two academic years to get a master’s degree. But in reviewing the requirements I felt I could do it in much less and started to plan my courses with that objective. Ohio State had a trimester system at that time. If I began my research project in the second trimester and if I could carry a very heavy course load, I could perhaps get done in one academic year.
Doel:Was Ohio State at that point running around the clock, around the calendar because of the war.
Kulp:I believe so.
Doel:Who were the principal teachers there at the time?
Kulp:The primary men that I worked with were Edward Mack Jr., the head of the department, an outstanding physical chemist in his day. Then over in physics there was this Russian émigré, Dr. J.B. Kurbatov, K-U-R-B-A-T-O-V, a radio chemist, and Dr. M.L. Pool who ran the Ohio State cyclotron. And that's how I first got into the nuclear radioactivity business. I didn't know anything about it before.
Doel:Wasn't [Wallace R.] Brode there at the time?
Kulp:Brode was an organic chemist. There was a professor Johnson who taught thermodynamics.
Doel:Did you have courses in other than inorganic at the time?
Kulp:Physical and organic.
Doel:So you did have the organic?
Kulp:Yes I had one course in organic. It was a basic graduate program leading to the Ph.D., so you took all the core chemistry courses. All my courses were in the chemistry department except for scientific German. I finally passed the language exam, French and German at Princeton. I began to plan long range about the time I finished at Wheaton. I realized that from Wheaton I couldn't make the jump to the Princeton’s or the Harvard’s or the Cal Techs [California Institute of Technology] of the world cause they had very limited admission and very tough competition. So I thought that if I go to a solid first-class school such as Ohio State and then if I can make the grade at the Master's Degree level perhaps, maybe I can move from there. Well I did well enough at Ohio State that by mid-year Ed Mack, although he regretted it he told me, because he wanted me to get my Ph.D. there. He wrote a solid recommendation to Princeton for me. That put more pressure on me to finish in one academic year with an M.S. I managed to finish with good grades and do this thesis with Kurbatov in which we studied the use of radioactive strontium and barium in determining the surface area of hydro ferric oxide this resulted in my first scientific publication in the American Chemical Society Journal. It was my first publication. The project involved separating radioactive isotopes that were produced in the cyclotron and using the radioactive tracers in this experiment and so on. This work was very stimulating to me and was an introduction to years of research in isotope geology although I did not know where it was reading at the time. The bottom line was that I was able to finish my courses and a thesis for the M.S. in eight months.
Doel:When you look back on it, how well equipped were the laboratories that you were able to use at Ohio State?
Kulp:Excellent. Excellent. Actually in the physics department I was working with which had one of the early cyclotrons, Melvin Pool was the physicist in charge of cyclotron and he and Kurbatov worked together. Pool would bombard the targets and Kurbatov would do the chemistry to identify the resulting products, many of which were radioactive tracers. Here the physicist and the chemist worked hand and glove. I was immersed in the middle of that. During that year I continued my interest in Christian things and I was active in the local chapter of the Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship which is an organization of evangelical groups at various campuses. The intellectual emphasis within this group was greater than I had experienced at Wheaton. During this year I was becoming increasingly liberal. It became clear there were philosophical questions that weren't answered by the traditional approaches. I realized from reading and discussion with other students that there was a lot more to be said about evolution. But I was still active in the conservative milieu at that time.
Doel:Yes. So this was more an evolutionary process for you in terms of your own wrestling with these issues not any precipitous event?
Kulp:Yes, I would say that the evolution in my thinking began almost within a year of the time that I made the conversion commitment. But my initial emphasis was trying to become the best Christian I could within that context and I read everything I could of the writers who were expositing that point of view. For example I read [Jean] Calvin's Institutes for example. I read John Nelson Darby's multi-volume book on the Plymouth brethren (a sect I attended). Hamilton and other apologists for the very conservative theological point of view. I then began to see what I thought were some soft spots in the arguments and I began to ask questions. The process really went on for twenty years. It was a gradual change as I learned more and consequently my data base improved. Importantly, I was trying to be intellectually honest with myself. My scientific training forced me to examine assertions analytically. Further you can't be a serious scientist and be intellectually dishonest. You destroy yourself. You have to be honest with the data! You really have to be and if you're not, you'll get torn apart by your colleagues in short order anyway. Because what you do in science is to attack each new hypothesis. You try to disprove a new hypothesis if you can. And you get a lot of points from your colleagues if you are successful. That is the genius of science — all assertions are subject to critical test and proof of repetition. This is totally different from the assertions of the evangelical preacher who makes them without proof "ex cathedra". Take for example the recent hypothesis on cold fusion, i.e. that at room temperature you can cause fusion of hydrogen to helium, producing huge amounts of energy as a byproduct. An astonishing idea — akin to perpetual motion. The scientists who announced this finding reported it to the public press, not the peer reviewed scientific literature. Immediately scientists at other laboratories attempted to repeat the experiment without success. Eventually it was shown to be false. Your training as a scientist makes you, actually forces you, to re-examine your hypotheses when you get new data and be willing to change your ideas. A scientist never says he has the final answer — merely a most probable hypothesis or theory based on the data at hand. New data may require modification. Take for example Newton's laws, probably the greatest single step in modern science, and yet they weren't complete. Einstein had to come along and say hey wait a minute. There's a certain area of the universe where it doesn't fit. Therefore we need a broader theory that includes the new observations as well as those explained by Newton's laws.
Doel:One of the questions I did want to ask you, you mentioned that your strategy had been to go to a school like Ohio State and then to move into the big leagues.
Kulp:Get into the big leagues.
Doel:How did you make the choice at that point as to which school to go to for your Ph.D.?
Kulp:As an undergraduate I had not identified the specific school I wanted for my Ph.D. Step one was to obtain the master's degree with a good record.
Doel:I was curious. Did you know that you were going for a Ph.D.?
Kulp:Oh yes. I knew from the time that I sat in the freshman class with Cleveland Jordy that if you want to be a research chemist, a Ph.D. was a minimum requirement.
Doel:You mention that, of course you knew about his own background coming from Syracuse as I recall?
Doel:Where he had been. How much did you see him outside of the classroom when you were at Drew?
Kulp:Not a lot.
Doel:It was mostly in the university context.
Kulp:And conferences relating to the course. It was not the kind of association where I might have played tennis with him or something like that.
Doel:I was just curious if he had ever had groups of students to his house; things of that sort.
Kulp:If he did, I wouldn't have been included probably because I was never there at night. Remember, I was a commuting student while at Drew.
Doel:That's right. That's right.
Kulp:So I didn't participate in any of the extracurricular things except baseball.
Doel:How much did you know of the different other Ivy League or other major chemistry programs when you were at Ohio State? As I say, I was curious how you came to some –
Kulp:I think even at Wheaton as a senior I knew that the top schools in physical chemistry were Princeton, Harvard, Berkeley [University of California at Berkeley], Cal Tech, and probably MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. But I also knew that in the Big Ten there were at least three or four schools that were almost equally good which included Wisconsin, Ohio State, Illinois — Purdue more engineering. But the first three were very strong in chemistry. And therefore, when I went to Ohio State I thought I might well wind up with a Ph.D. there which would not be a bad result. But after I got to Ohio State and realized I could really handle it, I began to explore the possibility of transferring to Princeton which was my first choice at that time.
Doel:Do you remember what made it your first choice?
Doel:Do you remember what made it your first choice? Was it particular faculty members or a research program that you knew about?
Kulp:At Princeton? No, it was just a general consensus of people, other professors that I talked to, that it was one of the top two or three universities in the country in physical chemistry. I was not interested in going to the west coast because I was from New Jersey. I thought that Harvard might be a little harder to get into so Princeton was my first choice.
Doel:Had you visited the campus when you were living in the area?
Kulp:Yes I had gone through there. I didn't know more than it was a very attractive campus but that didn't mean anything in chemistry.
Doel:Did you know before you applied of any of the particular people there like Hugh Stott Taylor? The others?
Kulp:Taylor would have been mentioned by Ed Mack when I suggested I might like to transfer to Princeton. I knew that he was the number one catalytic chemist in the country, authored some books on the subject, and was now chairman of the department. He was the professor that I wanted to do my thesis under for my Ph.D.
Doel:Yes, I'm very interested in your impressions of him and then Princeton chemistry in general. Did you have, did you get offers from a number of schools of which Princeton was one?
Kulp:I don't remember that. I think I focused on Princeton and I worked hard to get in and Ed Mack said he would write a letter of recommendation. I waited 'til I got an answer from Princeton and when the answer was positive I did not explore further.
Kulp:I wasn't interested in any other place else then.
Doel:Sure, sure. To return to your chronology, did you go directly from Wheaton to Ohio State after your graduation?
Kulp:Well no. That's not what happened. I went from Wheaton to a summer job with Allied Chemical in Buffalo. They had a very fine program for new graduates, which for them was training and screening program to hire their future chemists in Allied. In Buffalo they had one of the oldest, largest dye manufacturing plants in the country. And I was assigned to that.
Doel:That was the National Aniline Division?
Doel:What was that experience like?
Kulp:Wonderful. It was two or three months long. First week was a general review of everything Allied did. So I got a big picture of the chemical industry. And then you were assigned to a particular job. I was in this laboratory in the National Aniline. I was assigned a project which was to measure the vapor pressure of a particular compound, maleic acid anhydride. Anyway there was a young Ph.D. there, an undergraduate at Hope College, who had just got his Ph.D. from Illinois. His name was Leon Windstrom. He was the supervisor for the project who took me under his wing. Maleic acid anhydride was an important intermediate for Allied Chemical and somehow the vapor pressure had not been very accurately measured in the range of their interest so they wanted me to set up an experiment to carefully measure it, which I did. It took most of the summer. We wrote a paper eventually being published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. It was my second publication which the one from the work at Ohio State mentioned above. The only other thing that I remember from my summer at Allied was that every noon time I would eat my lunch in about five minutes, generally a sandwich, and then take the rest of the hour to do glass blowing. I wanted to master glass blowing. Which I accomplished by the end of the summer. As you know, physical chemistry has a lot to do with gaseous reactions, which requires the assembly of glass vacuum systems. So this training was very useful for my entire laboratory career.
Doel:You need to know it.
Kulp:In addition while I was in Buffalo in the evening, a couple nights of week, I went to a mechanical drawing class. I'd never had any in high school so I thought this would be a good thing to add to my bag of tricks. With what little time was left, I spent pretty much in religious activities, mainly on Sundays. I attended the First Baptist Church there. I did not have time for much philosophical reading during the summer. I arrived at Ohio State in September for what turned out to be a totally positive experience. I learned a tremendous amount. Of course it was a very major step up from Wheaton as far as the professors were concerned — what they demanded — but I was able to handle it. I would estimate that year was ninety-five percent studying chemistry and five percent — again — religious activity on the side, mostly with an Inter Varsity club with other like-minded kids. We would meet for Bible study and discussion and occasionally on weekends help with local Sunday schools. That is a summary of my life at Ohio State.
Doel:How did you find the difference between Princeton and Ohio State?
Kulp:Significant. Consistently rigorous and demanding the chemistry. The curriculum was really top drawer. Whereas I was a pretty much straight "A” student in my master’s degree work at Ohio State, I was a "B+" student at Princeton. I was working my tail off.
Doel:I can imagine. I can imagine. Who were you working? You mentioned of course that you gravitated towards Taylor?
Doel:But who else did you study with during the first year?
Kulp:Well, Henry Eyring — famous for studies in rate processes — C.P. Smyth in inorganic, Wallis in organic, Turkevich and others.
Doel:And you arrived there in the —
Kulp:In the summer of 1943. I was assigned by H.S. Taylor to work on the Fischer-Tropsch process, for which he had funding from one of the oil companies. I don't know whether that means anything to you, but this is a reaction where you take hydrogen and carbon monoxide and make gasoline.
Doel:That's right. That was part of the war effort work, wasn't it — what he was doing?
Doel:Or had he been doing that earlier on?
Kulp:Yes. He'd been studying all kinds of catalysts trying to get the right one to make this happen. The first thing I had to do involved my glass blowing ability to construct a system in which we could change catalysts, pressures, and temperatures to conduct numerous experiments. I managed to explode one glass system containing hydrogen for which Taylor chewed me out for not being more careful. I didn't even have safety glasses on. Nobody paid attention to that environmental stuff - now regulated by OSHA — at that time. You just went ahead and did it.
Doel:What sort of person was Taylor?
Kulp:Highly intelligent, somewhat reserved, and articulate. He could get mad if you were careless. I didn't get real close to him as a person. But he was you know revered — Dr. Taylor to everybody — cause he had done a lot of good work and when he did lecture usually extra people came to hear him. And he had some religious interest. He was a devout Catholic, intellectual Catholic, you know. Because we had some interesting conversations about evolution when I presented my propositions for my Ph.D. oral exam. To get our Ph.D.’s at that time, we had to present ten propositions and defend them. These were propositions for significant potential future research programs, one of the very fine aspects of the Ph.D. program at Princeton. One of the propositions that I submitted had to do with evolution and geologic time and its importance to resolve the evolution question. It was clear that accurate dating of fossils was critical. At that time little work had been done due largely to lack of technical capabilities. Although Al [Alfred O.C.] Nier had done pioneering work with lead isotopes using mass spectrometry, just before the war.
Doel:That was just beginning.
Kulp:Yes, isotropic dating was just beginning. None of the other methods that we and others worked out on Carbon 14, Potassium-argon-ruedium-strontium, were even talked about before '42, '43. But by '45 when I got my degree, I realized that dating by this completely rigorous physical method would be the definitive science for geology and archaeology. And although I only glimpsed it in the distance there, I decided that it would be a very productive field for research. I decided this was where I wanted to put the next decade or two of my life. I felt isotropic dating would not only be important in its own right, but it would be definitive for the geological and archaeological sciences. Further, it would be central to the evolution question which at that time was still bothering me.
Doel:Indeed. And I'm curious about a number of things that you're raising right now. You say that Taylor was particularly interested in that question?
Doel:What do you recall from that discussion?
Kulp:Well he was interested in the relation of science and religion and I think he also realized that if certain of these experimental techniques could be developed and applied, it could challenge some of things, which even he believed. But being a scientist of course he was actually encouraging to have the experiments done. I never did any experiments in radioactivity or nuclear science at Princeton because shortly after I got there I was taken into the Manhattan Project. Once you were on that, you weren't allowed to leave. Your work was top secret. My draft board bothered me all the time, so I thought I might try for a commission in the Marines as an officer in radar. I figured, well, if I am going to go into the service, I'd like at least when it's all over, I'd like to have a strong electronics background which I could apply to my chemistry. So I applied to the Marines, took my physical. I guess it was in the early spring of '43 that I got my commission but I wasn't allowed to take it, because once you were on the Manhattan Project, you were restricted.
Doel:You'd be sealed off indeed.
Kulp:Thereafter, about every three months I'd get a nasty letter from my draft board, implying I was a slacker. Somebody at the university would write my draft board a normal letter and say they would have to talk to the State Director the draft because he's handling my case. But, of course even the State Director couldn't tell them what I was doing. They figured that I must have enough political clout to keep me out of the draft. It wasn't 'til the end of the war that I could tell these people that I really was doing something important.
Doel:Yes. Now that's a real interesting point. I didn't want to leave the topic of the relation of religion and science just yet. Because there were others at Princeton who were deeply concerned with that issue. In astronomy, Henry Norris Russell had been writing. Did you know Russell during that time?
Kulp:No, I didn't know him. He wasn't in the evangelical camp.
Doel:No, he wouldn't be.
Doel:Mainline, but still quite interested and he'd been writing on that.
Kulp:Oh yes. And Taylor was also concerned in his sophisticated Catholicism.
Doel:Did you have any dealings with Cochran in the biology department or any of the folks in Biology?
Doel:How about geology?
Kulp:Well that's a definitive story for my whole professional life. I must tell you this story. I'm now in my second year in Princeton.
Doel:This is '44, '45.
Kulp:Yes, 1944. And I now, we've been in the lab seven days a week, as close to eighteen hours a day as we can stay awake. And this was serious business. We were told that we we’re racing the Nazis to get a nuclear weapon before they did. We were convinced it would have been disastrous if Hitler had them first. Right or wrong that's what we were told — and I think there was a lot of truth in it.
Doel:That was simply what was perceived until.
Kulp:That was our motivation. Not only could we lose the war but then we could be destroyed by this madman — if in fact he had such a weapon first. So anyway in this 1944-1945 time period, Norman [A.] Bonner — who became an outstanding radio chemist, most of his career was at LRL [Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory] — and I were contemporaries in the project and good friends. He kept telling me — as a Californian — wonderful stories about mountain climbing and hiking in the high mountains, the Sierras. I had traveled to Wheaton but outside of the Appalachians I hadn't seen any real mountains. But I was always an outdoor kind of guy enjoying sports and hiking up in the Adirondacks. Bonner suggested we take a course in geology down the street from our Frick Laboratory to Guyot Hall to see what it's like. That might get us a little more outdoors, field trips and whatever. So we go down to the geology department and we go into the office of this guy by the name of Richard [M.] Fields. Dicky Fields. He was a very senior professor — a little bit flaky some of the people thought, because of his age or something — but as it turned out he was very astute, a very great enthusiast for the next chapter of geology. Well, he found out that here we are near Ph.D.’s in chemistry and willing to explore geology. We said we'd like to come sit in on his freshman class.
Kulp:He heard our backgrounds and our general interests and that we might be able to extract a few hours a week from our eighteen hour day to sit in on Geology 101. He hadn't listened to us for more than about ten minutes and he said, wait a minute. This is all wrong. He says you guys know too much already. If you know any geology, you already know too much. He said I'll tell you what. If you will come to my study for ten Monday nights, for three or four hours each, I'll teach you more than you'd learn in the whole year of freshman geology. Well he had one of these marvelous old houses there in Princeton. He had a library — big library — books from floor to ceiling, maps all over the place, globes. A perfect environment and we went there for ten weeks.
Doel:Just the two of you?
Kulp:Just the two of us. We were tutored. And he was fantastic. It was his conviction. See, he was the guy that also stimulated Maurice Ewing, the great geophysicist and creator of the Lamont Geological Observatory, to begin with. I mean way back. I think Field also got Harry Hess to come to Princeton. Field never was a great scientist himself, but he was a man of vision and knew how to stimulate others.
Doel:But he was a great organizer.
Kulp:A great organizer. Yes. And an enthusiast. By the time we finished a couple of these Monday nights we were so excited about this whole subject. He just made it alive. And he was of course was telling us what we could do as chemists. Geology had been largely a descriptive science up until World War II. Nobody knew the age of different rocks. Nobody knew the rate if geological processes. Field was even more adamant in the lack of quantitative work in geophysics. Here he stimulated Maurice Ewing to develop modern geophysics. So anyway we went through this geology program and about the end of the ten weeks, Norm and I applied to be transferred to Los Alamos. We knew that that's where the bomb was being put together, but that wasn't the reason. We wanted to get out there because we thought that in our free time we could climb mountains. Norm's authorization for transfer came through first. In the meantime Oak Ridge, which was the site of the diffusion plant which Princeton research was supporting, had run into some trouble. The word came down prohibiting transfers for anybody that was connected with the Oak Ridge diffusion plant because the problem had to be solved like yesterday and all effort had to be focused on that problem. So Norm got to go out to Los Alamos and I didn't. His whole career then took a different turn. He went from there to LRL, then for two years he was a professor at St. Louis University but he wound up at LRL until he retired. I stayed at Princeton. Anyway, about that time we were finished with Dicky Field’s program. Field then introduced me to Professor [Arthur] Buddington.
Kulp:Arthur Buddington, who was one of the top three petrologists in the United States at that time, I think. He taught a senior course in petrology with a whole lot of chemistry in it. And Field said that's what I ought to do is take his course if you're seriously interested in geology.
Doel:I'm just curious what you recall from that ten week period. Any particular topics or themes that you found particularly fascinating or that were unfamiliar to you?
Kulp:Only the terminology. Geology was still largely a non-quantitative science. It was essentially a matter of field description and integration. The whole of earth science could be revolutionized with the introduction of modern physics and chemistry to it as it was evolving during World War II. I was well positioned to participate in this enterprise. The chemistry of the earth appeared to be an exciting and legitimate subject.
Doel:Did you meet Harry [H.] Hess at that time?
Kulp:No I didn't.
Kulp:He was very young then, but I think he was on the staff.
Doel:He would have arrived by about thirty, in the 1930s.
Kulp:He would have been there but no I never met him.
Doel:Although at war time he may well have been.
Kulp:He was in the Navy. He might have been away in the Navy.
Doel:Away very much at that time.
Kulp:And in any way he was more on the structure geology, geophysics side. Buddington was exactly right for me because he was originally a chemist.
Doel:How well did you get to know Buddington? Did you in fact take that course?
Kulp:Yes. I took it. The relationship was different than with Field. Buddington didn't take us to his home, for example. But I talked to him at some length after various classes. Trying to understand better the potential application of chemistry to geology. He was the one that asked me if I would be interested in doing a post-doc at Columbia. Where I could begin to apply some of my chemistry to geology. At the time I had an offer from DuPont for at least twice as much money. I would have gone there as a catalytic chemist as a Taylor protégé. I visited DuPont for a whole day at their Wilmington installation. They were encouraging about a future with DuPont and made me this offer, which was very handsome, compared to a post-doc. But Buddington excited me. And he had me go up to Columbia where I met Professor Paul Kerr. Kerr had been briefed by Buddington in advance and so he said he could offer me a post-doctoral fellowship if I would want to come up there and work with him in mineralogy for starters. He said he realized I was interested in chemistry but maybe this was a place I could start. So it was due to Buddington that I went to Columbia to begin a career in geochemistry, because after that visit I decided this was really what I wanted to do. The money didn't matter all that. This is exciting applying chemistry to this new area.
Doel:Just before we get to the Columbia period, when you had the course with Field, do you remember? Was there discussion of AI Mueller's work, some of those early attempts? [William] Urry's view?
Kulp:I think he talked about Arthur Holmes who had tried to build a time scale on very crude data. And Field had pointed out how uncertain some of the age estimates were, but it certainly was in the right ballpark based on all other geological fields. It seemed to make sense. Field got us introduced to every aspect, including paleontology. He got me involved for a month or two with a paleontologist in the geology department where they had some bones and needed a better chemical procedure to extract the matrix so that the bones would free up, but you didn't dissolve the bones in the process.
Kulp:And so I worked with them for a while.
Doel:What was the name of that fellow? He had the joint appointment, did he not, between geology and biology department?
Doel:We can fill that in later. I was curious if there were any other people that you came in contact with at Princeton —
Kulp:— No —
Doel:— That you felt were particularly important. Henry Eyring visited at Princeton at some point during those years.
Kulp:He was there. Oh he was there.
Doel:Was he there at the time?
Kulp:The whole time, yes. And I took rates processes course with him.
Doel:What were your impressions, yes, what were your impressions of him?
Kulp:Well he tremendously enthusiastic. In particular, he'd come in and he'd start talking when he walked in the door and he'd still be talking when he walked out. He would write stuff all over the board. You were trying to catch up to see what he was talking about, to find out you would read his book. He was a genius and brought rigorous quantitative ideas of rates of chemical processes. It wasn't anything to do with radioactivity, it was in another field. So he taught part of our physical chemistry. This guy from Vermont was — I can visualize him. Organic chemistry was by Professor Wallis, a Vermonter. Then there was a Dr. Smythe who was in the Manhattan Project report. He was an inorganic chemist specialized in infrared structure of minerals, structure of chemicals.
Doel:That's right. He was the brother of Henry Smythe in the physics department wasn't he?
Kulp:Right. Right. He was a very nice gentlemanly old fellow as I recall. He wasn't as stimulating as some of the others.
Doel:Was his name Charles? Or was that his father's name? I'm confused.
Kulp:It could have been, that would be in the catalogue.
Doel:Indeed. I'll check.
Kulp:The fellow who was in charge of the Manhattan Project under Taylor was George Joris, J-O-R-I-S. He was Belgium I think. And I think he might have gone to Allied Chemical after the war. He was chief scientist under Taylor for our part of the project.
Doel:I was curious if you had any discussions with Eyring in addition to Taylor, because Eyring was known to be devoutly Mormon?
Kulp:No, I never had a personal conversation with him.
Doel:Did you have then any other career thoughts? Did it really seem to be whether to take the offer from DuPont versus going up to Columbia?
Kulp:I mulled it over for about two weeks after which I decided that it would be more challenging to go into a whole new field with unlimited potential. By then I'd gotten bitten with the excitement of geology, particularly in the interface with chemistry. I was still vitally interested in isotope geology with special emphasis on age determination but my initial appointment at Columbia was in mineralogy with Professor Kerr.
Doel:Right. Did Kerr see it that way too? Did he share the enthusiasm that you had for age determination?
Kulp:Yes, for the general enthusiasm of bringing chemistry to geology, but he didn't share the potential in age determination at that time.
Doel:How generally receptive was the department as you looked around once you were there to the sort of quantitative development you wanted to bring?
Kulp:First, Professor Shand, S-H-A-N-D, from South Africa, who was a petrology professor and would have been close to being a geochemist. At least he used chemistry like Buddington did in his petrology. I think he felt a little bit threatened. On the other hand he knew that it was useful to have young people with good training in chemistry to enter the field. Second, Marshall Kay who was always a broad based thinker and Walter Bucher, professor of structural geology, both thought it was a great idea. They were the ones who supported my appointment eventually as an instructor. But I went to Columbia as a post-doc and as a postdoc; I took all the courses for a Ph.D. in geology. I had to take Marshall Kay's course in stratigraphy Shand's course in petrology and Bucher's course in structural geology. And with Kerr I took several mineralogy courses. While I was doing that, I started doing research. And the research in the first year had to do with designing an improved multiple thermal analysis system to look at the structure of clay, minerals, carbonates, and others, and how they broke down under progressive heating. This was all done under Kerr's aegis.
Doel:And this was all in Schermerhorn that where you were setting up the facilities?
Kulp:Yes. I worked with Ralph Holmes who was the junior mineralogy professor. I pretty much had a free hand and it resulted in a half dozen or a dozen publications relating to thermal analysis but this had little to do with my long range research goals. It involved the application of a highly specialized aspect of chemistry to some mineralogical problems.
Doel:Just curious what you recall from that year of taking the courses from Kay and Bucher and the other folks? Did any of them stand up, do any of them stand out particularly in your mind as being influential?
Kulp:Okay, Bucher very definitely. He was a very broad based thinker. Stimulating a little bit like Field and very committed to backing geophysics and geochemistry. He was a strong backer of Ewing to get geophysics started. A great man who was universally loved. Shand was more reserved, but he was an intelligent scientist but not overly stimulating as a teacher. Kay could get bogged down in infinite detail. You know I think he knew every strata of nearly every rock type in North America, and didn't mind elaborating on them in great detail. Charles Behre was professor of economic geology. He was a courtly, wonderful human being, but I didn't think an overly strong scientist.
Doel:Did Ewing arrive during that first year? And I should ask this was when you were the Kemp fellow officially?
Kulp:Yes, I think so.
Doel:Yes, your first year at Columbia was the academic year '45 -'46?
Kulp:The summer of '45 I received my degree from Princeton. During the summer of '45, into the early fall, I worked on the Manhattan Project at the Nash Building at 130th and Broadway, part time. Then I was down at Columbia part time. When I got the Kemp fellowship late that fall I went full time to Columbia. During my first academic year my guess is that Ewing was already on the faculty. I didn't have any contact with him at that time. The summer of '46, I think, I headed a U.S. Geological Survey party in the Spruce Pine District of North Carolina in the Blue Ridge.
Doel:Picking up just after that telephone interruption. You mentioned that you were heading a geological field party during that first summer after a year at Columbia.
Kulp:Yes. We were mapping in the vicinity of Spruce Pine, North Carolina in the Blue Ridge. That went on for about four years and a number of my graduate students got their field experience on that project. After the first year though, I didn't spend more than a couple of weeks each summer there because I had other projects out west. In summer 1947, I also conducted a collection of pure clay minerals at type localities across North America. I think it was in '47-'48 that I first met Ewing and I believe that was the year Eisenhower was installed as president of Columbia. And then in 1949 the Lamont Family offered the site of the future observatory to Columbia. It was either after property title was transferred to Columbia or during the negotiations that Doctor Ewing presented his vision for an earth science research center with major emphasis on geophysics. At that time his geophysics group was in the basement of Schermerhorn Hall on the main Columbia campus. He had an assembly of bright young emerging scientists, including Frank Press, future president of the National Academy; Jack [E.] Oliver, who later was Chairman of Earth Sciences at Cornell; Chuck Drake, later Chair of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth; Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel; Nelson [C.] Steenland and a few others. There were five or six outstanding young scientists. I really didn't know them well and I was several floors away and doing different kinds of things, but somehow Ewing got to know about me because he invited me for a discussion in which he outlined his view of the potential at Lamont. He was thinking of organizing an Institute of Geophysics. Would I be interested in joining the team and creating a geochemistry department. He thought we could collectively get significant funding for research in geophysics and geochemistry from the government and the oil companies. I thought this sounded like a great opportunity. In '48 I was appointed instructor in geochemistry and this launched one of the first graduate programs in geochemistry in the country. Others started at about the same time developed under Pat [Patrick] Hurley at MIT, and [Harold C.] Urey at Chicago.
Doel:You're talking about Harold Urey at this point?
Kulp:Later Harrison Brown from Urey's lab went to Cal Tech with several of Urey's brightest students. These four entities started Ph.D. programs in geochemistry at about the same time. I can't tell you which was first or second, but by 1950, they were all running. Hurley's at MIT was the narrowest one. It was really just his work on the helium dating and related activity. Later on it broadened a bit but it remained fairly narrow. He personally was a very fine guy, and very helpful to us at Lamont in the early stages. Urey had an assembly of stars at Chicago, but they were not all devoted to geology. Urey was primarily interested in planetary geochemistry. It was only later that he kind of got into the stable isotope business (018/016) from his earlier work on the Manhattan Project that brought him more into geology. His field was chemistry. Bill [Willard F.] Libby was at Chicago just starting his famous work on natural carbon 14 which could be used for dating geological and archeological objects. They had a number of first rank post-docs but relatively few graduate students compared to what we had later at Columbia. One of Urey's early graduate students was Gerry [Gerald J.] Wasserburg. He was one of the more brilliant people of our time who went to Cal Tech eventually and made quite a name for himself. Another one who became quite famous was Harmon Craig who went to Scripps. Wasserburg had a series of Ph.D. students over the years, all of which were very good. I never heard much about Harmon Craig's students. The group at Chicago just sort of evaporated with the departure of Libby and Urey except for Clayton, who was very strong in oxygen isotopes.
Doel:No. Certainly after Urey himself left, core members of the group, and Libby had left, Harrison Brown had gone to Cal Tech to start the program as you say.
Kulp:Yes. They had it all at Chicago for a while. They potentially could have been the leaders in Geochemistry for several decades had they remained together.
Doel:Given their position immediately after the war, and having the instruments and having access to the detectors.
Kulp:Yes. They were way out ahead. And they used to look down on Lamont at the beginning because you know we were upstarts. We barely had our degrees and we were trying to compete with these Nobel Prize winners. But my students worked harder, were very bright too, and became more numerous. As time went on Lamont populated the Ivy League, Texas, Arizona and other universities with professors of geochemistry.
Doel:Were there particular people at Chicago who were unsupportive? How interested did Urey, for example, gets with Columbia's development? Did he come out to talk?
Kulp:No. He had little interest in Columbia after he left at the end of the war. He was very interested in precision measurements of isotope ratios of the light elements but he turned this activity over to his students. He, as you know, in the 1950s was mainly interested in planetary origins and was until his death a very imaginative scientist. Bill Libby in contrast was very supportive. He invited me to work in his laboratory during his critical discovery of Carbon 14 dating — for which he received a Nobel Prize and later encouraged to undertake the research on worldwide radioactive fallout.
Doel:I'm curious when you were talking with Ewing about setting up geochemistry with him. It seems that you had a clear idea of what you wanted to do. Were there things that you said to Ewing that this is what you feel you really need in order to set up the geochemistry program?
Kulp:Yes, in part, but it was not all covered in the first meeting.
Doel:And you're pointing at things that I should say on the tape, that you have here on the table.
Kulp:It was '49 or '50 where I know I wrote a report for Ewing which listed needs for geochemistry. I think that was the time where I first stressed the importance of age determination and put it at the top of the list.
Doel:How receptive was Ewing to the concept that you had in mind?
Kulp:He immediately recognized the value. I think that Ewing's initial view was that geochemistry would be just one of his many satellite operations. Later we had some strong differences of opinion. Eventually, of course, I had the geochemistry laboratory as an independent operation for when I raised the funds. But I think at that early stage he thought of me as just one more of his Frank Press or Jack Oliver people.
Doel:In the way that seismology or the other fields were all players?
Kulp:But from the beginning at Lamont I considered geochemistry to be a separate curriculum, graduate program, and research area, although it was initially very much smaller than the geophysics operation. It was just me with a couple of graduate students. But I could see that it could be developed in parallel. Of course geophysics branched out into marine geology and a lot of other things. Where appropriate, such as in the first determination of the age of deep ocean water, or the age of the ocean floor crust, we closely cooperated. The work in geophysics was absolutely first class.
Doel:I think that's an important point.
Kulp:Yes. In '47 through '49, apparently Doc Ewing was able to convince a clear majority of the other professors that it would be a good idea to have a professorship in geochemistry and a major for a Ph.D. in geochemistry. By '48-'49 I was appointed an instructor and the next year an assistant professor in this field. Then about '49, when the Lamont building was given to Columbia, Ewing had me out there to see what would be most appropriate for geochemical research and I identified the kitchen area and some of the basement as being most suitable for our initial laboratories. The estate was anchored by a large mansion house.
Kulp:The root cellar was Frank Press's domain for seismology. His instruments could be placed directly on the Triassic basalt silz which was ideal. The swimming pool would be used for underwater sound research related to sonar. Ewing had his office on the second floor. The big living room was used as a seminar place. What had been sort of a drawing room was set aside for Dave Ericson and his ocean floor cores.
Doel:Right. Let me just pause.
Doel:What was it like to work at a place like Lamont compared to the laboratory that you had had in Schermerhorn? How did you find the experience?
Kulp:Oh it was just marvelous. We were free to create and do anything we wanted. I used to take my dog with me. We would go walking around the grounds for a half hour for mutual exercise and thought before I'd go to work in the morning. This was a well-trained dog who'd stay where I put him. We enjoyed planning the equipping the laboratory spaces. The kitchen area already had gas, hot and cold water, and a drain. From there we developed our various glass and electronic systems. Electronics maintenance was put in one of the little rooms in what had been a pantry. Down in the basement we put our heavy iron and lead shield for Carbon 14 dating and other low level counting techniques. Until the new geochemistry lab building was constructed in '54, all of our work was done in the kitchen, basement of that building. That was our domain.
Doel:Did you miss having contact with other chemists, others who were still at the Morningside campus?
Kulp:No. We had relatively little to do with the chemistry department. They didn't have much interest. I did teach one course over there to try to keep some contact. It was an evening course, junior level, on solutions of electrolytes. I think there was one professor there by the name of [Marion] Barnes that had some interest. But in general there wasn't very much contact. They had no more interest in geology than classical geologists had in chemistry. These departments were totally different empires. So when Lamont Observatory was established, Ewing was recruiting young physicists and trying to get them excited about the earth, while I was interested in recruiting young chemists. I didn't recruit any geologists. They didn't have the necessary mathematical or quantitative background. Usually you took geology if you couldn't make it in some quantitative science. To recruit promising chem. majors I spent several weeks each spring lecturing at various top flight liberal arts colleges around the country to classes and seminars to introduce the students to the potential in geochemistry. I would urge them apply for summer research assistantships at Lamont. I was able to raise the money for this program. So we were very selective and recruited some top rate young chemistry majors at the end of their junior year. I had one or two who were physics or engineering majors, but most of them were chemistry majors. They turned out to be an outstanding group. My first Ph.D., Heinrich [D.] Holland was an undergraduate from Princeton. He is now senior geochemistry at Harvard. Then I had a couple of students who were at the top of their class at Wheaton. One was Karl [K.] Turekian who is now chairman of the department of geochemistry at Yale. Another was Paul Gast who headed the moon rock program for NASA — an outstanding geochemist who died at the untimely age of forty-three. Then Wally [Wallace R.] Broecker who followed me as director of the geochemistry laboratory of Lamont. He became the number one professor of geochemistry at Columbia and still is there. Three or four of these men have been elected to membership in the National Academy of Science.
Doel:This is the Dick Holland who was a professor of geochemistry at Princeton and then moved to Harvard that you're referring to, is it?
Kulp:Yes. I taught him in a laboratory section as a freshman at Princeton.
Kulp:Then Holland went off to the war. He was assigned to work with Von Braun's group at the Rocket Research Center near El Paso. After the war, he returned to Princeton, finished his undergraduate degree after which I enticed him to come as a graduate student to Columbia. Among my first graduate student's down at the Columbia campus were Herb Volchok, Karl Turekian and Herb [Herbert W.] Feely.
Doel:What was the curriculum that you made sure that any of your grad students went through by that point?
Kulp:As I said, they started with an undergraduate major in chemistry. After they arrived at Columbia they were required to go over to the chemistry department to take physical chemistry at the graduate level. If they didn't have enough math they'd have to go get it. And I think there were probably two or three courses in chemistry that were recommended and then we did the rest of it in our geochemistry courses. I gave about one or two courses a term in different aspects of geochemistry.
Doel:And these were all graduate courses —
Doel:— that you were offering? How many people would you have in them by now?
Kulp:In the early years, not more than five or six. I'd have one or two from petrology, Shand, or from mineralogy, Kerr. The others were my own students. Toward the end, when Broecker was helping conduct the courses, in the late fifties or early sixties, we probably had twenty, twenty-five graduate students at one time.
Doel:Right. Right. I remember seeing a note indicating that the number of grad students within geochemistry under your tutelage grew from about, as you say, two or so in the 40s to about twelve by 1953.
Kulp:Yes. The numbers continued to grow after that. By 1960, the geochemistry unit consisted of about 35 students, professors, and support staff. We maintained high standards in terms of the entering students. The most important program, as outlined earlier, was to bring in new potential students at the end of their junior year at college and then evaluate them during their summer research projects. Those that we ranked were offered graduate assistantship at Columbia which would cover all expenses when they finished their senior year at their college. So they got on a track and were either washed out at the junior level, decided they were not interested in geochemistry, or came to us for their Ph.D. program. Those that came back were highly qualified and virtually all successfully completed their Ph.D. at Lamont.
Doel:Yes. And as you say, it's important to point out the legacy of the Columbia geochemical program. That people that came through this training, the research programs, did go on to start Ph.D. geochemistry programs in many other major universities.
Kulp:Yes. All over. Early examples at major universities included the University of Texas (Leon Long and Fred McDewell), the University of Arizona (Paul Damon and Austin Long), University of Minnesota (Paul Gast), Yale University (Karl Turekian, who subsequently has produced over twenty graduate Ph.D.’s of his own), Princeton University (Dick Holland), Brown University (G. Letti) and Columbia (Wally Broecker). Smaller universities and colleges were the University of British Columbia (Glen Erickson), the University of Georgia (M. Wampler), Renssalear Polytechnique Institute (Don Miller), Whitworth College (Ed Olson), and Memphis State (Wayne Ault). The other thing I'm proud of with these students is that three or four were elected to the National Academy, more than any other one of the other schools that offered the Ph.D. in geochemistry. Paul Gast clearly would have been another if he had lived. Two brothers that come to mind who did outstanding work at Lamont and went on to highly placed positions were Walter Eckelman, who became senior vice president for technology of the SOHIO Oil Company having been president of Exxon production Research Company, and Donald Eckelman who was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Ohio University. I never made the National Academy myself. I think I might have had I stayed in academia, but I left in 1965 to be president of Teledyne Isotopes, a nuclear science and engineering company, after twenty years at Columbia.
Doel:Obviously for academics.
Kulp:It also would have depended on the quality of my future research. But by '65 when I left, I was already doing more research management and fundraising than my own laboratory work. I was raising money from government agencies, consulting with the Atomic Energy Commission, the U.S. Air Force and others in Washington and managing the Lamont Geochemistry Laboratory while doing less and less research myself. Further, I did not want to burden a first class research outfit with a figurehead rather than a working scientist. I decided that if I'm going to manage research, maybe I ought to try industry where I could use my managerial and scientific skills to lead a much larger group of scientists with significantly greater financial resources. At Lamont I could then let some of my really very bright, young people who could take the institution beyond my capability in science. This was actually the result under the leadership of Wally Broecker. I like to think that the success of my many students was in part the recruitment and selection process and an open, supportive, challenging environment in which they could thrive. Let their wings soar. And I think if you talk to them, they would confirm this assessment. They wouldn't say they accomplished what they did because they studied under the brightest professor of geochemistry, but rather that I facilitated and stimulated them to accomplish their professional goals.
Doel:Research programs and research schools often involve a constellation of positive factors that they weigh in the success of a particularly —
Kulp:These students taught each other with a marvelous intensity just like Ewing's students did. Ewing also had an even larger group of outstanding young scientists. As you know, Press was President of the National Academy. At the beginning, before Lamont, Press and I were lab bench partners in mineralogy.
Doel:I didn't realize that.
Kulp:He and I and Oliver and Worzel took a lot of the same courses together.
Doel:I was curious. Were you in the same class, say the structural geology class with Bucher?
Kulp:Yes. We were in Bucher's class; we were in Kay's class and we were in Kerr's mineralogy. And we all did fairly well. None of us were geologists by undergraduate background.
Doel:How well did you get to know them socially at the time?
Kulp:Not a great deal socially. I had fair contact with Frank Press for the first couple of years and some with Jack Oliver. I've seen Jack and Frank later in recent decades; our paths have often crossed at scientist meetings or at the academy. I've had a lot of contact with another fellow, Chuck [Charles L.] Drake, who retired after being chairman of the Earth Sciences Department at Dartmouth and has been very prominent in a number of major committees at the Academy. He lived just up the street from me and our families got together a few times.
Doel:This was at Lamont, you mean, in Palisades?
Kulp:Yes. We lived in Alpine, New Jersey, near each other — a short drive from Lamont. I visited him and have given lectures under his sponsorship even in the past two or three years at Dartmouth, when I was in the vicinity on other business.
Doel:I very much want to get later in the interview to the 1960s and the pressures that you took on in terms of organization and consulting, but we might want to break. We've already been talking now for some time.
Kulp:I was going to suggest, that you schedule our interview depending on your time. I have to go to a tennis match at 3:30. I'm still pretty active, at 75, playing mostly with younger people. We could go down the hill here and catch some lunch.
Doel:That sounds good.
Kulp:And come back and keep talking for a while. Why don't we do that and that'll be a good first cut through the interview. Okay. And let us pause then here for lunch.
Doel:We are resuming after a good lunch break. I just wanted to make sure that we are recording again properly. One of the things that you told me at lunch time was an interesting story from your days at Princeton when you had the occasion to go out to the Institute for Advanced Study where [Albert] Einstein was working and you had attended an informal seminar by Einstein at which some of the other major nuclear scientists were attending including Fermi.
Kulp:Well, I'll correct that a little bit. There was a seminar that Einstein gave in the Physics Department at Princeton.
Doel:He came over?
Kulp:He came over. I know that Fermi was there and I believe that for whatever reasons these physicists had been visiting. Others included Edward Keller, Wheeler from Princeton. It was a small group. After the lecture, I was, as a very young, merely a graduate student yet was listening in on the dialogue. But after the seminar, they broke for coffee and as usual scientists will get together and chew on any subject that pops up. For some reason the question came up as to when or if, man will actually land on the moon. And the astonishing thing in retrospect is that these very astute physicists were unanimous that man would never get to the surface of the moon in this century. And that was only about —
Doel:It's less than twenty-five years later.
Kulp:A little more than a decade before Kennedy said we will and twenty-five years before we did. Which just shows that each succession of graduate students builds on the past and we can do more and more as we go forward. Often things that we never thought possible. We always underestimate what science and technology can accomplish.
Doel:One of the interesting developments you mentioned when you were thinking about the competitors in an institutional sense that already existed in the field of geochemistry and applying new physical methods, chemical methods to geology. Cal Tech, the work that was being done at Chicago. How much contact did you have with one place that was certainly known for petrographic research and related research in the early part of the twentieth century, namely the Carnegie Institution of Washington? Was there much contact that you had with any of the people? Clearly their programs were different from what you had in mind.
Kulp:True. But in the isotope geology section of Carnegie there were some first class people. I think Dr. [Henry] Aldrich was the leader there; and by then young Dr. George Wetherill.
Kulp:Wetherill was one of Urey's students.
Kulp:A very bright fellow. I sent Paul Gast, who was by then about a second year graduate student at Lamont to do his thesis work in part at Carnegie. I sent him down to work under Aldrich to master the techniques for high precision strontium isotope measurement with the mass spectrometer. Then he was to complete his thesis and bring that expertise back to Lamont. It was an area in which we were weak. They were very helpful and he had a great experience down there.
Doel:When was it that he went to the Carnegie?
Kulp:My guess is it would have been '53, '54 period.
Doel:One of the other areas.
Kulp:It might have been a little earlier. I'm not sure we have to check. Because he came to Lamont one year before Broecker and he was in his second or third year when he went down there.
Doel:One contract that became available at Lamont around 1948 was analyzing the sediment cores from the ocean floor, which were being taken by the marine geology section. How involved were you in writing that contract? I was curious what you recall about how that cause that was one of the major grant projects that helped to build geochemistry at Lamont, was it not?
Kulp:No, I wouldn't say that. I think that major contract was with Professor Ewing's group, with [Dave] Ericson and others. What we did, I think we contributed to some of the geochemical ideas of what we might measure. We considered measuring the strontium isotope variation and the surface area of these sediments. I don't think we were going to do age measurements on them at that time. This was very early and the program was mainly in the paleontology of the marine microorganisms.
Doel:So for part of that project, geochemistry was brought in.
Kulp:Yes. We were a minor contributor really. Our first project which really helped us get started at Lamont was given us through Ewing's good offices. He had introduced us to his brother-in-law Dr. Peoples up at the Air Force Cambridge Lab.
Doel:You were saying about Dr. Peoples.
Kulp:He was directing research up on Ice Island in the Arctic Ocean. I think it was called T3 at the time.
Kulp:We said we thought we could make some useful measurements on that ice, radioactive measurements of various types. And I believe that was our first contract with the Office of Naval Research. It got us started on that area. Shortly after that, we got some help with the Carbon 14 dating and it went on from there. Most of our support later in that decade was from the Atomic Energy Commission.
Doel:Right. When did the AEC [U.S. Atomic Energy Commission] become the major player for the geo-chem lab, what year?
Kulp:I'd say about '53.
Doel:And prior to that it was a mixture or primarily ONR funding?
Kulp:It was ONR, I think the National Science Foundation started somewhere in there and we got some support from them.
Doel:And though of course until the mid-1950s, they were relatively small players in terms of the funding they could provide. You mention the work on the Ice Island, T3. When you were developing those early programs, what seemed to you the most promising? What did you most want if you could get the funding to get going?
Kulp:If we got the funding, we wanted to advance the methods of age determination on arts and archaeological materials, including ice. For the ice we were trying to measure the tritium content to get some idea of the age of the ice.
Doel:To do that work in terms of the origin and the evolution of the ice itself, how much contact did you have with meteorologists or oceanographers those who were particularly concerned with that set of questions?
Kulp:Well, again in the Ice Island project, we were on the periphery. We were just making these nuclear measurements. The broad project was under the direction of Dr. Peoples and others from Air Force Lab. They had the meteorologists and others involved.
Doel:But when you were doing that work you really didn't have any direct contact with them?
Doel:Your part was defined for instance —
Kulp:It was more supplementary. It was only later in, the early fifties that we were the prime contractors for the program.
Doel:How early on did the archaeological aspect, of the application say to dating?
Kulp:I wish I could give you the exact months. In the latter part of the forties, it may have been 1949 or '48, I had learned about Libby's discovery of the Carbon 14 method and of his attempt to use it for dating archaeological objects. It was one of the grand eloquent stories of modern science because it so exemplifies how science should operate. Libby had come out of the war after having been very involved with the Manhattan Project. He wanted to do something totally non-military, basic science. He turned his attention to what happened to cosmic rays when they came into the upper atmosphere. He realized that one of the things that happened is that when a cosmic ray collides with a nitrogen atom that it could produce a Carbon 14 atom. Then he began to think, if that's the case, these Carbon 14 atoms ought to immediately get oxidized to carbon dioxide and therefore you should be labeling the carbon dioxide throughout the entire atmosphere. If you did that you'd also be labeling it in the biosphere because the plants take in carbon dioxide and animals eat plants so that the carbon should all be labeled with this Carbon 14 at about the same concentration. Then he took what was known about cosmic ray flux at the time and what was known about nitrogen cross sections and then calculated, you might say on the back of an envelope, what the Carbon 14 concentration ought to be. And he conjectured if that's correct and if we get a little bit smarter in our measurements, maybe we can actually measure the Carbon 14 concentration in the biosphere. Further if that can be done, then we've got a dating method because when a living organism dies or gets buried it no longer has its Carbon 14 replenished by the photosynthetic cycle so the Carbon 14 in the material decays away at the radioactive half-life (about 6000 years). Thus we would have an elegant method of dating over the last 30,000 years or so. So then he said, how do we prove it? He had calculated, by the way, that the Carbon 14 concentration in living things should produce would be about 15 disintegrations per minute per gram of carbon. This would be true as long as the carbon was in the photosynthetic life cycle, i.e. whether it was in the atmosphere, in a new growing plant, or in animals that ate those plants. As a sample of the living biosphere, Libby procured some methane from a sewage plant in Baltimore. Methane is an easy gas to count in a Geiger counter. So Libby takes the sample of methane, puts this into a Geiger counter which he carefully shielded with a lot of lead, then eliminated the cosmic rays by putting a ring of other counters around the sample counter and canceling every count in the sample counter that was coincident with a count in the surrounding ring, as the cosmic rays would go through the entire array. Therefore he could detect extremely small amounts of Carbon 14. Lo and behold he measures this methane from Baltimore sewage and it shows 14.7 disintegrations per minute! So from pure theory he conceived an elegant age method and then proved it. The method, for which he received the Nobel Prize totally revolutionized archaeology and Pleistocene geology. Well I had heard of this development through one of my friends Dr. Jim [James] Arnold who was working in Libby's lab as a post-doc. Jim and I had been at Princeton at the same time working on the Manhattan Project. And so I called Jim and asked him if Libby might be willing to let me come out and learn the method if I were willing to take three or four months and be a slave in his lab. Libby said fine. So as soon as I could, I went out to Chicago, got a room, went to his lab, and worked seven days a week for about four months and as an assistant.
Doel:And when was that that you had gone out?
Kulp:I believe it's '49. I can't give you the exact time.
Kulp:I know that we were functioning by sometime in '49 at Lamont. So I learned the technology and told Libby I'd like to start applying this right away to geological material because at the time he was focusing on archeological objects. He was mostly interested in proving the method by measuring samples of known age by written history or tree rings. A tree ring stops growing the year that the wood is deposited so that it provides a perfect historical record. Thus if you have a Sequoia two thousand years old you can just go right back taking samples every hundred years and you should be able to calibrate the Carbon 14 dating method. After learning the method, and hopefully contributing a few improvements in Libby's lab, I returned to Lamont and with Ewing's help and I think from the AEC — I'm not sure of that. We got the money to build our system, which was an improvement over the one at Chicago and we began the dating process at Lamont. And of course virtually sample produced an exciting result as the age of these objects were almost entirely unknown.
Doel:One thing I was very interested in is who else you met during the time that you were out at Chicago when you were intensely learning the method? Who else came in the laboratory?
Kulp:Well, we'd go to these coffees and seminars and there would be a variety of scientists. [Harold C.] Urey was there commonly with his students, including Wasserburg, Craig and Epstein. Fermi was in residence at that time and would come to some of the meetings. Hans Bethe came at least once. As far as residents were concerned, I was involved more with Libby and his students, Jim Arnold, who became a professor at Scripps, and Ernie Anderson who later spent his career at Los Alamos.
Doel:Did you have much contact with Harrison Brown?
Kulp:No. I had a little bit back in the fifties before he died. Brown pretty much changed his research area after he moved to Cal-Tech focusing on human population problems and related matters.
Doel:That's right from the time that he became foreign secretary of the academy. In the early 1960s forward. Were there others that you found who were particularly interested in applying Libby's method to geological problems? Urey was just beginning to get into some of that.
Kulp:Well, Urey never got into the dating.
Doel:Not into dating; he was interested in the temperatures problem.
Kulp:Carbon isotopes and oxygen isotopes to get paleo-temperature. He had a student by the name of [Cesare] Emiliani who primarily worked that side of it.
Doel:Was Emiliani at Chicago at that point?
Doel:He had just arrived from Italy, hadn't he?
Kulp:Yes. I think he wound up either Florida or Scripps.
Kulp:Well, once Libby announced his discovery of the Carbon 14 dating method, it became obvious that it was of enormous importance and labs began to spring up around the world. I think we had the second one, but within months there were a couple European labs. Often these were combinations between the physics and archeological departments. There were relatively few at the outset that were focusing primarily on geological problems as we were at Columbia. But we also did some archeological samples along the way. The earliest techniques due to the limited sensitivity could only take us back to about thirty thousand years ago. Because after five half-lives, at 6,000 years per half-life, you have almost nothing left to measure as the background count is bigger than the sample. So at the time we were focusing mostly on more recent samples, i.e. less than twenty thousand years. Subsequently we were able to measure older samples.
Doel:Right. And we should make reference. These are pictures that we looked at during our lunch time break.
Kulp:Yes. And you might want to use one or more for your purposes. But this one picture shows the process. Take the sample, let's say a piece of wood, burn it, and extract the carbon dioxide, then purify the carbon dioxide. Subsequently, reduce the carbon dioxide with zinc or some other metal so that pure carbon, carbon black, would be produced. This carbon black was then made into a slurry with distilled water. The slurry, was spun then on the inside of a stainless steel tube and dried in place with old tank nitrogen to make the sample for counting. A Geiger tube in the simplest case is a cylinder which has one voltage on it and a wire down the center that has a different voltage and so when a particle discharges through the gas in the counter, it causing an electronic pulse or a "count." For Carbon 14 counting the counter is similar except that the outer cylinder is now a carbon coated cylinder which can carry a charge. So when beta particles from Carbon 14 would be emitted from the charcoal into the gas, it would cause a pulse. This was the technique for all our measurements during the first year or two. Later on we measured the carbon dioxide gas directly after it was highly purified which was a superior technique in both sensitivity and reproducibility.
Doel:And this is what is later in the geochem laboratory unit?
Kulp:Yes. We put that in the twelve ton lead-iron shield the basement of the Lamont mansion house. Well, in 1950-1951 the measurements of Carbon 14 were routinely reproducible but in 1952 — about the time the United States started nuclear testing at the Nevada test site — we started to get erratic results. Initially we didn't relate the testing with the variable measurements. We'd get ages that were either too young or were even beyond being modern. The results were highly erratic. Back in those days the electronics were so poor that we were always fighting their stability, continuous testing to make sure they were working correctly. The vacuum tubes would become unstable or would fail. We needed a technician just to keep checking that the vacuum tubes were working properly. When we had erratic counting results we initially suspected the electronics. We went through several months of the most horrendous problems. The system would stabilize for a while; the electronics seemed to be working right, when suddenly the results would be erratic again. It was driving us crazy. And then the light bulb went on. Somebody said, "Well, there might be other sources that are causing the samples or the background to vary." One may be radon gas products in the air that are being absorbed on the carbon as we were drying it. We tested that and found it did have some effect. We solved that problem by drying with nitrogen gas from tanks that had been stored long enough so the radon products would have decayed away, but we were still seeing erratic results on samples of known age. Suddenly, the light went on when somebody, possibly the most junior student who had only arrived that year, Wally Broecker, queried, "Could it possibly be that we're picking up traces of fission products from Nevada tests?" We immediately realized the potential source of trouble.
Kulp:Wally Broecker, yes. So, the first thing we did was start to measure the decay rate of the contamination. The half-life of this seeming contamination that we were getting matched. Decay time of mixed fission products that would have originated in Nevada several days before. It matched the travel time of the normal movement of continental air masses from Nevada to New York. This was a very important discovery. In one sense all it did was help us straighten our system out because we then realized we couldn't use this drying technique even with old air. Ultimately we abandoned that whole charcoal method and went to counting purified Carbon dioxide directly. As a result were able to measure C14 accurately again. But much more important as it turned was the demonstration that radioactive fallout from nuclear tests as far away as Nevada could be detected on the East Coast, and therefore probably was going all around the world.
Kulp:Somewhat later, in August of '53, Libby called a high level meeting at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California. Libby at that time was, as I recall was the only scientist member of the Atomic Energy Commission. He said to his colleagues, "We don't understand how much radioactivity is going around the world as a result of our testing but we sure better find out before we hurt somebody. We need to really know what is happening here." He brought together a number of Nobel Prize winners, including Bethe [Edward] Teller and many others. There's a list in the AEC files as to who was there. I was probably the most junior member who was invited. Libby had invited me because he knew that at Lamont we had the only other laboratory in the world at that moment that could measure this extremely low level of radioactivity as a result of my apprenticeship in his lab in Chicago.
Doel:Right. Yes, you had learned the method from him. And on the other hand, had he already known at that point your results coming.
Kulp:I didn't have specific results on any individual isotopes, but he knew I had detected contamination.
Kulp:At this meeting, they went through all kinds of calculations knowing how the bombs went off, the probable amount of fallout that may have left the test site, and how much it was diluted as it traveled beyond the test site. Their estimates differed by a factor of a thousand. The uncertainties were huge. Toward the end of the session I had the temerity to suggest well maybe we ought to measure the Strontium 90 which was the isotope of greatest concern and consequence for long range fallout as a result of its long thirty year half-life. They had not discussed direct measurements because aside from Libby the others were unaware that anyone had the capability of measuring such small amounts of radioactivity — a technique developed for the first time for Carbon 14 dating. I said I thought we had the necessary equipment to measure the Strontium 90. For some reason I think Libby's equipment was down for repairs or something like that. So he was very supportive. They desperately needed good information. He noted that a critical meeting was scheduled by the AEC in Washington in about three weeks to attempt to make a decision concerning fallout of Strontium 90 from tests in Nevada. Was it Detectable? If so" how hazardous might it be? I responded that I believed that with our facilities at Lamont, my graduate students and I could get a dozen representative samples, from the Midwest and the East Coast, process them through the chemistry, and rearrange our counting equipment to measure the Strontium 90 in this three week time frame. It was quite an extraordinary proposal or promise.
Doel:How did you feel when you were making it? I mean could you picture all that you needed to do?
Kulp:Well, yes, I understood what we had to do. I wasn't completely aware of some of the chemical details we would encounter because we hadn't done it. Before, you have to separate the Yttrium 90 daughter from the Strontium 90 and then count it in a special low background beta counter. The counting technology I did understand because all we had to do was substitute the Yttrium beta counter for the Carbon 14 dating counter. We had the shield and we had the cosmic ray protection and we had all the other things.
Doel:And what sample was it or what range of samples?
Kulp:Well the samples. We had just things we could quickly acquire. Shells from the ocean were used for background. Our measurement unit was Strontium 90 per gram of calcium. That was the unit because strontium is an element that chemically follows calcium into the body. So if you have an ocean of calcium and you add some Strontium 90, you're not going to see it because the Strontium 90 per gram of calcium is extremely small. We measured these shells. For the background level, just to be sure we took one shell that was thirty thousand years old and the other shell that was modern, to see if there was any difference. We predicted we wouldn't see any Strontium 90 in either sample and we didn't. We then had Wisconsin cheese a calf bone and surface soil from a farm in Wisconsin. And the reason we chose those samples was because Wisconsin's about half way from the test site to New York and they were readily available from the farm of one of the students. Then we attained some grass, other vegetation and soil from near Lamont. We also got samples from somewhat closer to the test site in Montana. Anyway, there were a total of about ten — twelve samples. The issue was whether we could actually detect Strontium 90 in the samples and whether the concentration was related to geographical location and biochemical history. You know cows eat grass and the calcium goes to their skeleton so we would expect to see it in calf bone if it was in the grass. The Strontium 90 deposits on the ground, so we ought to see it in the soil unless it's a highly calcareous soil. Most soils are fairly low in available calcium. The cows also made milk and the milk could be put into cheese and so the Strontium 90 per gram of calcium in that milk which was produced in this food chain should show up in the cheese. Lo and behold we got measurable counts of Strontium 90 in all these samples except for the shells. And this was the critical report.
Doel:Let me just pause there. And you were able to do all of that within the three week.
Kulp:The guys worked eighteen hours a day getting the samples, working out the details of the chemistry adapting the low level counting systems and calibrating all phases.
Doel:How many were involved in it? This was mostly —
Kulp:Oh four or five graduate students.
Doel:The graduate students. Which ones in particular?
Kulp:Broecker, [Walter] Eckelman, Herb Volchok, Lans Tryon.
Kulp:Walter Eckelman later became a vice president of Exxon, science and technology.
Doel:When you went to that first meeting at Libby's invitation, the RAND meeting, was that considered a classified conference or was it open?
Kulp:It was classified to begin with. By 1956, as you can see in the articles that we published in Science Magazine, we published all the data in the open literature.
Doel:Right. It was only; it was that window initially, from '50.
Kulp:Initially the work was classified and the reason was obvious. We were in a race with the Russians in the development of more efficient fission bombs as well as the hydrogen bomb. We didn't want to let them know what we knew. It was the early stage of the cold war. So the AEC was controlling all of this. Not because they wanted to hide what was happening to human beings from worldwide fallout, because we were going to release all the data as soon as we found out what the real story was. In fact by 1956 we published all the human samples, where we got them and who supplied them for study. One aspect was classified somewhat longer. When a nuclear bomb goes off, the radioactive debris is injected into the stratosphere. So in order to understand what was in the stratosphere and how rapidly it was dispersed and was reintroduced into the lower atmosphere, we had to measure it in the stratosphere. So effectively what we did was to construct a volley ball net from the South Pole to the North Pole where each strand of the volley ball net represented a flight of the U-2 aircraft that had a sampler. The ability and height to which a U-2 could fly in those early years, the mid-'50s, was top secret. Because of this, the height that stratospheric samples were taken from had to remain highly classified, and we never did release it, that is until the event where Gary Power’s U-2 was shot down.
Doel:Yes. Yes, 1960 was the —
Kulp:By that time we could then tell everybody, we sampled up to seventy-five thousand feet or whatever and here's all the data. But before that, all we could say is that we know roughly how much went in the stratosphere and we know roughly how fast it came down to the surface of the earth. We couldn't say anything more about that since we didn't want to let the Russians know how high the U-2 could fly.
Doel:I was curious, the detectors that were on the U-2, did you have a hand in —
Doel:Samplers, rather. Did you have a hand in building those for those years?
Kulp:Yes. We had a hand in the design and in the calibration. The flights were actually carried out, of course, by Air Force, but we worked with them very closely to make sure the calibration was right.
Doel:Were they difficult instruments to keep in calibration and keep going?
Kulp:Well they required a lot of care, but not excessive when you knew how to do it.
Doel:So what was the reaction when you had the results in the Strontium 90 study for that early meeting in 1953 in Washington?
Kulp:Well of course we were elated that we had been able to find it and quantitatively measure it as we had committed to do. We expected this result because of these contamination problems that we'd seen a couple of months before this in trying to do the Carbon 14 dating. But now we had actually measured the Strontium 90. Let me go back a bit. When we saw the contamination, we didn't know it was Strontium 90. All we deduced was that it was mixed fission products from the Nevada tests. What was important was to find out how much Strontium 90 was involved. Most of the mixed fission products have a short half-life and decay away very quickly so they weren't much of a hazard. The Strontium 90, on the other hand, had a thirty year half-life and furthermore, went to the human skeleton as a result Strontium 90 from worldwide fallout could irradiate man just like radium does in the bones which we already knew was a bad thing at high enough concentration.
Kulp:So when Libby got this information three weeks later it made a major impact at the AEC meeting they concluded. They immediately concluded that the United States would have to have a crash program to determine the distribution of Strontium 90 worldwide as a function of the type, size, number and location of nuclear detonations. That was the beginning of Project Sunshine. Others participated but we at Lamont were the prime scientific leaders in the measurement of Strontium 90 in human bone worldwide. With our colleagues at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical research facility, we developed contacts with other pathologists around the world so that we could get human bone material from cadavers when the medical students had completed their studies on them. You should know that normally a cadaver is taken apart by medical students and they study all the organs and then eventually what remains are ashes and the ashes are buried or discarded. These bodies, of course, have either are of unknown origin or were given explicitly by the person or the family. There's nothing secret or surreptitious about it as some activists have claimed. These samples were from normal cadaver material and we were allowed to publish all the information. If the medical school ashed the whole sample we would get that. If they would ash individual bones they would give us the separated ash.
Doel:When you did those measurements, it was on the ash that was received.
Kulp:If the samples came in the form of ash, they were analyzed directly, if as bone, they were ashed first.
Doel:You never actually received bones?
Kulp:Yes, some of the time, from some stations, we received refrigerated bone. This would have been after the students were finished with the bone, but had not gone through their normal ashing process. We needed to determine whether the Strontium 90 per gram of calcium varied in the skeleton. Whether it was different in the femur versus the sternum or so on. If you want to make a quantitative statement of the potential hazards to man, we had to know this.
Doel:You needed to know how much variability there would be —
Kulp:In each kind of bone —
Doel:Right. And that was actually how some of the reports were done, weren't they? That they were listing the amount of Strontium 90 detected in terms of what bones. They were found in. Rib was a very common bone used.
Kulp:Right, rib was a common. So we were interested in two things. In limited studies we wanted the distribution in the skeleton. But worldwide we were interested in the average Strontium 90 in the whole skeleton as a function of age of the individual. Because the newborn is depositing the calcium-strontium ratio in his diet. After about one year there is discrimination factor of about four which reduces the strontium to calcium ratio in new bone to twenty-five percent of the diet. The adult is replacing only three percent of his bone. Therefore adults have very much less Strontium 90 per gram calcium than a young person although it would be continually rising as they kept growing. So after this initial report, the AEC funded this program generously. We actually studied much more than human bone. We studied how Strontium 90 moved from the stratosphere to the troposphere, how it was washed out in the rain, how it went into the soil, how it went from soil to grass, how it went from grass to animals, and ultimately how it moved from diet to human skeleton. We determined all those discrimination factors and studied them across the world. The final goal of course was to actually know what man was depositing in his skeleton. We approached this from theory knowing the Strontium 90 calcium concentrations in diet and the discrimination factors? The theory was then proved by measuring actual human bone samples from a worldwide network. Because the overall objective by the end of the project — which turned out to be about 1961 — was to be to predict for any given test program — whether it was in Nevada or Christmas Island, whether it was a surface shot or an atmospheric shot, no matter what size of the shot, how much Strontium 90 per gram calcium would wind up in skeletons of people of any age anywhere in the world. By 1961 we had pretty well verified our theory and could make such a prediction. This work formed the basis for the International Test Ban Treaty that was signed in 1962-1963. It was very clear once we had all this data, that there was good news and bad news. The good news was that the amount of Strontium 90 that had been distributed so far from atomic tests through 1961 was so small that probably a negligible percent of the population was negatively affected. It was below what we would consider a maximum permissible level for a large population that would be contaminated. The bad news was that continued testing could cross a threshold of deposition of Strontium 90 where people could be affected resulting in a detectable increase in cancer rates. It was on that scientific basis that finally all political leaders were forced to agree that nuclear testing in the atmosphere must stop.
Doel:The Test Ban Treaty work, of course, began in the Eisenhower Administration and continued on and culminated at the end of the Kennedy administration in '63. How interested was, or I should say how much inclination towards that conclusion did you already have in the Eisenhower administration prior to say the election of 1960? I'm wondering just how interested the Eisenhower White House was in the results?
Kulp:I would give them a great deal of credit. We were never pressured to minimize the results. We were given all the money we asked for to rapidly get at the problem. And we were allowed to report the results in the open literature. Some scientists began campaigning for an international treaty very early. Because even from the first reports, they said that if we can extrapolate these results there might be a problem. Some exaggerated their effects or extrapolated the worst cases to be the average case and therefore they urged stopping testing immediately. There were others who cautioned that we should get solid data before unilaterally reducing our military potential in the Cold War. During the period from roughly '56 to '61, there was increasing information from Project Sunshine every year, which was fully released. In the first year we only had samples from a few stations, mostly in New York with a few others elsewhere in North America. By the second year we had established stations in Europe and Asia. From a scientific viewpoint, we hadn't quantitatively proved the theory we had developed until 1960-1961. Then we felt we could give the political people a clear basis for decision. Of course the actual Test Ban Treaty was signed several years after final technical report since political negotiations take time. So it wasn't anyone time where suddenly we knew or didn't know the facts. From my view we knew already there was a potential problem in '56, but it was not adequately evaluated until about 1960.
Doel:I'm curious what it was that made it possible by '56 for these results to move into the open literature. As you say there was one concern with the U-2 and once Gary Powers was shot down in 1960, then certain amounts of data were released.
Kulp:The classification of the capability of the U-2 had little to do with the distribution of Strontium 90 in man, worldwide.
Doel:It's a separable issue, that's right.
Kulp:By '56 we were already publishing in the open literature that Strontium 90 was generally in human skeletons and probably around the world. But we didn't have all the data to specify the distribution in the population as a function of age, diet and location. This took several years. There also had to be a year or two to educate other countries what the data meant because they weren't doing these measurements. They weren't involved in the original experimental program. Once the quantitative knowledge was available it took a couple years for the politicians to negotiate the treaty.
Doel:But do you mean this in terms of making it possible to publish that your data in the open literature?
Kulp:It's all published in the open scientific literature.
Doel:Certainly everything was published.
Kulp:From '56 on.
Doel:From '56 on. I was just curious what it was that made it possible by '56 to begin publishing these data as opposed to '55, '54?
Kulp:Well there wasn't any significant data on Strontium 90 in human bone in '54.
Doel:Fifty-five was the first year that —
Kulp:Really the first year that there were any significant number of bone samples, human bone samples, was probably early '55. So it wasn't very long after that until it was known that there was some Strontium 90 in human skeletons worldwide. Further it takes a minimum of about a year from the collection of data through its analysis and the essential peer review before a study is published in the scientific literature. Obviously the United States would not say we're not going to stop atmospheric testing unilaterally if the Russians don't stop because that would give them an enormous advantage. So even after the distribution of Strontium 90 around the world from nuclear testing in the atmosphere was determined, negotiations had to take place. Fortunately the Strontium 90 per gram of calcium in the human diet by 1963 was very small worldwide but with continued atmospheric testing would eventually cause some part of the world population to be in danger.
Doel:There's a note that appeared in the Hubert Hall volume on Arms for Peace and War that had mentioned that Project Sunshine generally was getting from 1953 on about a hundred and forty thousand, at least in that first, a hundred and forty thousand dollars. I'm curious does that sound like an accurate figure?
Kulp:That's not unreasonable in the first year.
Doel:How much of that was actually for the work that was being done at Columbia? I'm curious in general about where how much of the funding was distributed.
Kulp:Oh we might have got, we might have got a third of that to begin with. See Project Sunshine strictly speaking did not include this U-2 operation. That was critical information we needed but was paid for by the Air Force.
Doel:You needed it but it was administratively separate.
Kulp:Yes. It was in the Defense Department's budget. Because one U-2 flight would have used up five hundred thousand dollars or something like that. So that was all DOD funding. What was it you asked? As far as Lamont was concerned, our part of Project Sunshine was related to the distribution of Strontium 90 in man and his diet worldwide. The rain samples network was run by at the AEC New York operations office under Merrill Eisenberg[?] and John Harley. We worked closely with them. They also worked with the Weather Service because their stations operated the collectors. One of the parameters we had to establish very early was that the amount of Strontium 90 that was deposited to the ground - and therefore was available to the diet. The Strontium 90 that was deposited down was the function of where the bombs were set off, their size and altitude, the rain fall, the latitude, and the soil type. If you had no rain, nothing would come down. If you have high rainfall it's largely washed out. So early on we tried to quantify the rain-latitude relationship. That took a minimum of two, three years of studies in different parts of the world. Those were the kinds of things that came under Sunshine. I would guess that by 1956 you were talking more like a million dollars a year of which maybe Lamont had a third. I don't have accurate numbers on that just a rough guess.
Doel:No, even knowing the rough order of magnitude is very helpful on that. What percentage of the geochemical laboratory's did Sunshine and related work represent through the 1950s?
Kulp:Well it varied from year to year. I would guess, a really rough estimate, would be twenty to thirty percent.
Doel:That's interesting. Were you able to talk with other colleagues at Lamont or elsewhere in Columbia about the nature of Sunshine? I'm just curious how the classification worked.
Kulp:After the first year you could talk to anybody.
Doel:Was it just the period only from '53 to '56 or was it even before that.
Kulp:As I said before, there was little data on Strontium 90 in man before 1955, and by January '56 the first full report was published.
Kulp:The first article in Science had gone into the editors six months earlier. So it was probably after mid-'55 there were no restrictions on the results on human bone. The reason for classification in the very early stages of Project Sunshine (1953-1954) was the Russian/U.S. competition for nuclear weapons. You know in 1953 the Russians had not yet exploded a hydrogen bomb. We didn't know exactly where they were. We didn't want to give them any information they didn't already have. We were monitoring their tests and from the radio chemistry of their tests we could determine a little bit how far along they were in their bomb making — We didn't want them to know how much we knew. I'm not talking about us Columbia now; I'm talking about we the U.S. military.
Doel:As part of the national —
Kulp:Yes, national defense —
Doel:— national defense, national security concerns which clearly you were in.
Kulp:And at Lamont, as a university, we were trying to keep far away from classification as possible because we were entirely humanitarian orientation. Data on the worldwide distribution of radioactive fallout put pressure on our military as well as everybody else's military to stop atmospheric testing. Once the data was complete and evaluated, negotiation between ourselves and the Russians occurred. Obviously we both had to quit or else one side would have a big advantage.
Doel:Had you gotten involved in any of those negotiations directly? You had been I think part of Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace, as a delegate at one point.
Kulp:One meeting, yes.
Doel:What did that involve, what did you do?
Kulp:I think at that meeting we were just presenting data that different laboratories developed for policy makers inform them. I guess it was under the AEC auspices.
Doel:And this was data from Sunshine in terms of education to them so that they could better make policy decisions when they knew what you knew already.
Kulp:Yes. We were just reporting as scientists trying to give them the best information. We were never involved in policy making. We might have had our own personal ideas what ought to be done, but that wasn't our mission.
Doel:Do you remember any particular discussions about policy type issues amongst you and members of the geochemical group? Or broadly than that?
Kulp:Yes, I think that particularly in the early stages, we even published in the New York Times one article. We had a big fight with [Linus] Pauling at one point because we said that he was exaggerating the situation with regard to Carbon from nuclear testing. We were not trying to minimize it but we said we ought to be careful in the science to tell it just the way it is. Pauling was always of course an anti-nuclear activist. Although he was a very good scientist in many ways, we felt in this case he was prostituting science for his political agenda. And what we tried to do — fallible scientists that we are — was describe the most probable interpretation of the scientific results. And the only thing I can say is we were never pressured by the administration or by the AEC that gave us money, to come up with a particular answer. Let's be straight about that. I wouldn't have had anything to do with the program as a scientist if they had pressured us to minimize the results.
Doel:Who did you deal with particularly in the AEC as this program was developing? Was this housed within the division of biology and medicine within the —
Kulp:Yes, the Division of Biology and Medicine sponsored Project Sunshine and within that their main contracting arm was the New York Health and Safety Lab which was headed up by Merril Eisenbud and John Harley. We had a good working relationship with them. Early on Libby did some of this human work mainly on fetuses from Chicago but after 1956 essentially we did all the human work except for some cadavers from New York City that the New York AEC lab did as an independent check. They funded us to do the entire worldwide study for the obvious reason that as a university we would be more policy neutral and objective. I think this was right.
Doel:Now you mentioned that New York, it was Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital that had done, that was receiving.
Kulp:That worked with us.
Doel:That worked with you on that. I'm just curious.
Kulp:They set up all the sampling with other medical schools and hospitals.
Doel:I was curious how in the early years of Sunshine as you were developing getting the data which consisted as you say of the samples and often — what percentage of it came in as ash and what percentage was did you deal with actual bone fragments.
Kulp:Can't tell, I would guess, I can't be certain.
Doel:Okay. A majority you felt was ash.
Kulp:No, I would think that the majority came in the form of bone. The reason being that we were afraid that some of the ashing facilities at some of the universities or medical schools might be contaminated. And so we wanted to be sure that didn't happen. And so where they could ship with dry ice, for example, we preferred that so that then it was an uncontaminated sample. They were instructed to take the samples with rubber gloves and try not to contaminate it by touching anything else. They were very good about that. Interesting, early in the first year, where we could not tell them exactly why we wanted the samples, we didn't have to. You know, a lot of these activists and environmental rah-rah people are trying to make a lot of this. They don't understand the way scientists work. With cadaver material, for years people have been getting samples for all kinds of things, you know zinc poisoning, selenium poisoning, arsenic. All kinds of different studies that have been done on the population by doctors exactly the same way. So there wasn't anything new except in this case we may have said, we have a serious worldwide problem that we're looking into and we need these samples, and we'd like you to send them without asking us any more questions at the moment. And because they're scientists and they trusted us as scientists, they'd do it. We didn't have to tell them we're working on contamination from radio activity. I'm sure most of them assumed exactly that. But on the rules we didn't tell them that.
Doel:Were those analyses then that would those samples when they came in, was that done at Columbia-Presbyterian? Or was that work actually done?
Kulp:Mostly at Lamont. The ash work was done at Lamont to prevent contamination.
Doel:Mostly at Lamont. Okay.
Kulp:Because we controlled that very carefully, very meticulous. Of course we would run blanks through periodically to make sure there was no contamination or cross contamination.
Doel:And you say this was roughly twenty, the total project investment, was about twenty to thirty percent — was it of the time itself in the laboratory as well as the funding?
Kulp:Yes. Well also we subcontracted. A lot of the routine measurements on the ash samples were done by a commercial laboratory after the proper procedures had been rigorously established. We supervised everything and continuously ran blind blanks and calibrated samples.
Doel:Was that Isotopes, Inc.?
Kulp:Yes. Part of them. Two or three other commercial laboratories participated, for example, Nuclear Science and Engineering, Inc. We controlled and managed the program in terms of procuring the samples and getting them out for analysis. The AEC funded all this activity. They funded the commercial labs directly so the money went from the AEC to the commercial labs but with a proviso that we would that we were overseeing the quality control. They had to report to us in terms of results and calibration.
Doel:Were any of those new laboratories created because of the demands of the project or —
Kulp:I wouldn't say that, no. All of them expanded to do this work in this area. But they had all existed prior to this activity.
Doel:What sort of work, what kind of analyses would firms of that sort do?
Kulp:Well, they'd do medical samples for tracer amounts of radioactivity.
Doel:This was the routine medical style work?
Doel:But they hadn't really been involved in other areas in which Lamont would typically subcontract?
Kulp:No, this was a new program. Sunshine was a new program. And nobody had been measuring Strontium 90 commercially.
Kulp:We at Lamont had the technology and we taught each one of them how to do it because we didn't want to be overburdened with large numbers of routine analyses. We did special samples, calibrations, and background checks. We did important samples and special things. We didn't think it was appropriate for the university to carry out analyses on a mass production basis.
Doel:Within the geophysical lab, and we haven't yet covered and I want to cover the building of the laboratory, and the cost of constructions and the design and the many critical factors.
Kulp:Yes, we were just discussing the fall out program.
Doel:We're just on the fall out issue right now. I'm curious though within the lab itself during the 1950s, were there any individuals who didn't like the nature of this program or did you find that on the whole most people felt very comfortable in supporting the effort?
Kulp:No, I think they were all supportive. Well, you know as a little aside, the only people who were uncomfortable would be maybe a couple of secretaries who didn't want to see the raw material.
Doel:Didn't want to see the bones coming in and…
Kulp:Yes. That had nothing to do with the policy or anything else.
Doel:The scientific staff you felt —
Kulp:Unanimously supportive. After all this was one of the first global environmental problems, the solution of which produced a major contribution to humanity in achieving an international test ban treaty.
Doel:How interested was Ewing in this as an area of Lamont's work?
Kulp:In general whenever I contacted him he was always supportive. I don't think he had any negative feelings about it. I think he was quite positive. I mean it was the first great environmental — world environmental study which was directed at a purely humanitarian objective which was an evaluation of the potential hazard to man. And based on the results what should we as a nation do?
Doel:How many people came to be employed?
Doel:At Lamont relating to this project? I'm curious in a general way how much it expanded the training and.
Kulp:Six, eight maybe.
Kulp:Mostly full time. There were a couple that were half time that were doing age work as well as this. I would say it was on that order. We had about thirty-five people in the lab total who ranged from technicians who did chemical procedures or electronics to Ph.D.'s to post-docs. I had one full time Ph.D., Dr. [A.R.] Schulert who was scientific leader for this program.
Doel:Right and his name is on the report as your co-author, your second author on "Strontium 90 in Man and His Environment", which is the '61 compilation published via Columbia. I just want to make sure it's on for the benefit of the tape. Was that his, was he at Lamont primarily because of the project, you say?
Kulp:Yes, I brought him in. I think he was a Ph.D. biochemist from Michigan. I knew him from earlier times at Princeton. And knew his competence and we worked very well together. Because he knew something about the physiological side of the project, talked the doctor's language, as well as knowing quite a bit about the physical measurement of radiation he was well qualified.
Doel:When did he come on board? Was that at the beginning of —?
Kulp:Must have been around '54.
Doel:Okay. Because I was curious too, clearly.
Kulp:He was not involved in those first key measurements. They were entirely my graduate students who could make the low level measurements. That was Eckelman and Broecker, maybe [Herbert L.] Volchok.
Doel:Right. Was Karl Turekian there already at that point?
Kulp:Yes. He was not so much in the counting; he ran the emissions spectrograph. He also participated peripherally in Project Sunshine because he was the one that made the measurements of common Strontium in bone and food samples not the radioactive Strontium 90. Strontium is just another element like calcium although it's much less abundant. We needed to know how the common Strontium was distributed in man and in diet, not only the Strontium 90 but just the common Strontium so then we could understand how that chemistry worked. He did all those measurements.
Doel:Okay. Was Sunshine in some sense critical towards providing the support that was needed to produce the geochemistry Ph.D.’s that the lab?
Kulp:I would say no, but very helpful. You need the ability to shift people around and support them on different projects to keep the whole program going. So the more of these major projects you have the more stable the work of the laboratory. The same kind of thing happened with projects for New Jersey Zinc Co., St. Joseph Lead Co. in Missouri, and Exxon.
Doel:I'm curious to who you came most in contact with within the AEC? And I should say as an aside I'm aware that we're going to have to end this segment of the interview fairly soon.
Kulp:That was Eisenbud and Harley primarily. But then at a high level it would have been Libby for the first project.
Doel:Did you have contact with Shields Warren?
Kulp:Not directly. I met him once or twice.
Doel:I was just curious; Robley Evans was also there at the time.
Kulp:Early on. He was the radon expert.
Doel:He had also had an interest very early on in the 1930s type of age measurements. The very early work.
Doel:The helium measurements back then. I was wondering if you ever had a chance to talk to him about or whether that was?
Kulp:No I never talked to him. But he pretty well phased out by then.
Doel:His research interest certainly had begun to shift during that time as well?
Kulp:Did you want to touch on some names or things before three o'clock or?
What I think we probably best do is simply bring this part of the interview to a close and let me thank you very much. On that we will continue then with the interview tomorrow afternoon. For the moment we'll consider this.
Session I | Session II