Oral History Transcript — Dr. J. Laurence Kulp
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Interview with Dr. J. Laurence Kulp
J. Laurence Kulp; April 12, 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 continuing interview with Larry Kulp. Today's date is the twelfth of April, 1996 and as yesterday we are recording this in Federal Way, Washington. We had ended the interview last time on Project Sunshine. One of the questions I didn't get a chance to ask you at the time was whether research in the distribution of Strontium 90, in particular, lead to other research programs that were directly done at the geochemical lab at Lamont or more broadly than that? Did it inspire dissertations that were done through Lamont or the department of chemistry? How influential was it for education in the 1950s?
Kulp:I think it broadly supported three or four Ph.D. programs. Quite a few good scientific papers came out of it. These contributed to the stature and scientific reputation of the graduate students and the post-docs. But the ones that actually resulted in Ph.D. theses were quite limited, just a couple of them, as I remember. There were a lot of other ramifications though. The very low level measurement of Strontium 90 and Carbon 14 in human tissue and the consequent ability to track the metabolism of drugs in humans produced major advances in biochemistry. It is now possible to give people drugs and trace the metabolites without harming them. The radiation levels of the tracers now could be negligible. In the early days you'd have to give people rather high doses in order to make such measurements. The ability to just measure these extraordinary low levels of radioactivity to merely only two or three times the natural background of Carbon 14 was an enormous contribution to medical science. Incidentally, the use of fallout Strontium 90 as a tracer was the first time that physicians could accurately measure the rate of turnover calcium in human bones. You might think such basic skeletal information would have been available much earlier but it was not. They didn't know whether it was new calcium or old calcium that was coming out of the bones under different physiological conditions. But as soon as you had the Strontium 90 tracer, even though it was at extremely low levels, you could determine the relative rates of calcium turnover in the different bones in the body. This was also important for studies on aging and osteoporosis.
Doel:One thing I'm curious about too as that work developed; did you come into fairly regular contact with people for which this was a greater area of specialization? I'm curious in general how you came to learn the physiology and the aspects of medicine that were critical.
Kulp:It was interaction at meetings, and one on one with medical researchers. And then of course Dr. Schulert, Edward Perts and Rita Schlacter, who were trained in biochemistry had close contacts with the medical community. Our work was much more on the physical measurement side. The Sunshine Project as a whole was a great project in that it was the first worldwide environmental problem that was first suspected and then quantified by science. A model was developed to account for the dissemination of Strontium 90 by worldwide fallout. The model was tested experimentally and found to be valid in great detail. The net result, as we said before, was an international treaty on atmospheric testing which benefited all mankind. We now have before us other potential global environmental problems and I'm pleased to see it's being attacked with similar process and rigor. Just as with the Strontium 90 problem, you have extremists on both sides but, initially with very little data, some suggested it can't possibly be a problem. Others who said the world was going to come to an end as a result of this effect. In the case of Strontium 90 the problem was well defined with good science over about a ten year program in which the Lamont Geochemistry Laboratory played a major role. Most of our research at the geochemistry Laboratory during that decade had to do with the age determination by measuring radioactive decay studying the variation in isotopic abundances as they might shed light on the origin of the earth, and the origin of valuable deposits within the earth such as petroleum and metallic and non-metallic ore bodies.
Doel:I very much want to get to all of that in a moment. And I thought it just might be good to wrap up some of the questions with Sunshine before turning to the other areas to which the geochem laboratory contributed. One question, you mention that about twenty to thirty percent, if I’m recalling correctly, of the funding for the geochem lab in the mid-1950s.
Kulp:Second half of the 50s.
Doel:Second half of the 50s. How much time did it take you administratively to maintain your work in Sunshine? How much time was involved say in getting to meetings in Washington or elsewhere?
Kulp:I guess the proportion of my time spent on the scientific and administrative aspects of Project Sunshine would have been roughly proportionate to the funding. The day to day laboratory work was pretty much turned over to people like Dr. Schulert and Dr. Eckelman. Once we had the plan and had the contacts for getting the samples and had established what the techniques ought to be, then there was a routine flow of data collection that was done by others. Thereafter I participated mainly in two areas, one was administrative fund raising and the other was scientific interpretation of the data. I participated in the interpretation and the writing of the major scientific papers.
Doel:Right. Who else was involved in the interpretation of the data?
Kulp:Schulert, Eckelman, Broecker and Volchok were the key ones. And to a limited extent on the common strontium, Turekian, but he really got his Ph.D. and was on to Yale before we were heavily into Project Sunshine. At the time he was our expert in the analytical emissions spectroscopy. He contributed the basic papers on the common strontium in human bone and in dietary materials.
Doel:When you think back now to the meetings amongst those of you at Lamont regarding the interpretation, were there any points at which there were strong differences of opinion as to how these data ought to be interpreted or on the whole was there consensus throughout?
Kulp:Oh, there was always wild debate on our Saturday sessions. We often met on Saturday mornings for a discussion of results and things that had been going on the prior week. These were always very free form. In fact, I think this one of the kinds of things that went on at Chicago too, where the Nobel Prize winners didn't have any more to say than the graduate students. I mean they were equal when they were debating these results. And it was very much that way at Lamont. It was not the Germanic system where the Herr Professor supposedly knows it all and lets the others speak occasionally, rather it was a knock down drag out debate of what the data meant with everyone able to contribute their ideas. Really that was a key part of process that developed the students and proposed the best science. The resulting intellectual stimulation made everyone enjoy what they were doing.
Doel:Did most, was it fairly easy to reach consensus though on the implications of these data? Or do you recall particular discussions about how?
Kulp:Toward the end as the data accumulated and the model was being refined, there were differences on where the emphasis ought to be placed in future sampling, mechanistic studies and geographical scope. One factor that contributed to our free discussions was the fact that I was only a couple of years older than my graduate students. They had gone off to war, most of them, while I had got my Ph.D. on the Manhattan Project. The first Ph.Ds. that came through were very similar to me in age and so we were contemporaries. As a result they we’re not reticent to criticize either my ideas or those of each other — a most important feature of a vital scientific community.
Doel:You mentioned the Saturday morning sessions. Did you also meet socially? How often did you meet?
Kulp:We did not meet socially to any significant extent outside the laboratory. Another policy we adopted was that the lab should be open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Anytime anybody wanted to come in and work. Nobody punched cards; everybody was there far more than forty hours a week doing their work by their own volition. A lot of good things happen when you have that kind of environment. People are there because they wanted to be not because they're punching a clock.
Doel:You mentioned the people who were involved in interpreting and developing the Sunshine work within the geochemical lab. Was there a core group of people that you would meet with on a regular basis who were working on the national dimensions of the project? I'm curious how often you needed to meet.
Kulp:There were few regular meetings in that sense. Probably several of us would have met with Eisenbud and Harley, down at the AEC in New York City, every month or two, but it wasn't regularly scheduled. It occurred when there was something special to discuss. Then maybe every six months or so there would be something going on in Washington at a higher level. Early on it was Libby who would normally call those or some of the people in the division of Biology and Medicine. After about 1956, the program was pretty much defined and it was administered contractually by the New York operations office. And the high level people got involved when for example we had to coordinate with the Air Force for U-2 flights.
Doel:Were there concerns on the national level with other scientists? You mentioned of course the issue involving Linus Pauling. Were there others who were more closely involved in the earth sciences who took issue with any of the interpretations or the results that your work produced?
Kulp:No I wouldn't say so. At least I don't remember anything significant there.
Doel:And this is one of the last questions I have on this set of issues. Of course the question of fallout and the political dimensions came up in the 1960 presidential election between Kennedy and Nixon. I wonder if you recall feelings about the way in which that issue was being handled?
Kulp:I can't say that I do. I'd like to help you on that one, but I really don't remember anything that was significant. All I remember was that we were encouraged, as I said before, to get good data, do good science, and move as rapidly as we would to get this information. And we did not have pressure, one way or the other, to skew our results or anything like that. That would have been extremely damaging. But I don't think that we would have tolerated it anyway. I think that's true of the better scientists around the world on any of these questions. They may violently disagree with each other in the early days of the interpretation when data is thin. But you will find very few of any first rate people that will allow themselves to be prostituted for a political result. They just, they just won't do it. Also it's antithetic to everything science stands for and the whole scientific methodology that you must be intellectually honest. If you aren't, your colleagues will show you up very quickly. If you're caught manipulating the data, you're really finished, thereafter nobody cares about what you say [voice fades off].
Doel:Okay I was curious more or less whether you, whether the issue was such that it had excited greater political interest in the campaign on that set of issues.
Kulp:I don't remember that. I do know, by 1961 the picture on the worldwide fallout, its origin and effects were well defined and essentially forced agreement on an International treaty, banning atmospheric tests. This was the culmination of the Sunshine Project and its completion at Lamont. We scientists were not engaged in the policy negotiations up to the treaty. Following the adoption of the treaty, the monitoring function was taken over largely by government agencies. Later, for another decade or so, I was involved in research in the detection of underground nuclear tests using techniques that had developed under project sunshine. New sophisticated arrays of seismological instruments were developed and installed with advisory input from the geophysicists at Lamont. I involved in at least an advisory capacity after I left Lamont in 1965 to join Teledyne Isotopes Inc. in the detection of the infinitesimal amounts of radioactive gases that might escape from underground tests from the Russian test site. So that by getting air samples and so on and making these extremely sensitive measurements we could to some extent track what the opposition was doing.
Doel:And this was developed in the 1960s?
Kulp:The technology was largely developed under Project Sunshine in the late 1957's at Lamont. It was applied later by other agencies involved in arms control and related activities. There was one secret government lab that specialized in this work. By 1965, Lamont was no longer involved in this work. Government agencies contracted with Teledyne Isotopes and other commercial laboratories for support on this intelligence work.
Doel:That was contracted by that laboratory?
Kulp:Yes. After 1962, we at Lamont were not concerned with atmospheric fallout which was not very large and was steadily decreasing with the cessation of nuclear tests in the atmosphere. After that the government was interested in very minute amounts which were being detected from Russian, Indian, and Chinese tests. The heart of that program was the seismology, but if we could sniff a little bit of escaped gas from those tests then we could do some sophisticated radio chemistry identify the kind of weapons they were exploding.
Doel:Was that being done at the geochem lab at Lamont or primarily at Isotopes?
Kulp:No, fallout work ceased at Lamont after about 1962. The subsequent intelligence work was done in-house by government agencies and under contract to commercial labs such as Teledyne Isotopes. It was mostly classified work inappropriate for the university.
Doel:Was there a part of that work that was developed at Lamont?
Kulp:Yes, the technique of the measurement of the small amounts of gases was developed largely at Lamont. In the 1950s Broecker did some work on the abundance of Krypton-85 in the atmosphere, which is a gas that is emitted whenever there was a nuclear explosion or operating nuclear reactors. The amount of krypton in the atmosphere is very, very small. Nuclear activities add tracer atoms of Krypton-85, which is radioactive. Thus, you can get the average estimate of the total fission being done all over the world.
Doel:Yes. How involved — when did you become actively involved in Isotopes, Inc., Teledyne? When did you first become part of?
Kulp:Well I was on the board of directors from its founding which was around 1954. In 1965 when I resigned from Lamont, I went over to Isotopes to become president. Then within a couple years, we merged into Teledyne, which was a big conglomerate at the time that was growing rapidly. I stayed with them until 1975, when I came out here as Director of Research for the Weyerhaeuser Company.
Doel:We were of course interrupted by a quick telephone call. You had mentioned off tape -– and this might just be a good time to put this on tape since we are talking about Teledyne – that one of the main contributions that came during the time that you were involved in that company was the development of the solar systems for nuclear energy sources for spacecraft going out further from the earth's orbit into the colder and darker outer solar system. How much of that work derived from experience that you had at Lamont? How did the Lamont experience contribute?
Kulp:I would say in all honesty only in a small way. It was the knowledge of radioactivity and how you could use a long-lived isotope of plutonium as a heat source to produce electricity. No work on this was done at Lamont.
Doel:You mentioned that one of the main issues was designing it such that if the spacecraft failed to launch and the package came back.
Kulp:The goal was that if the thermoelectric battery reentered the atmosphere and plunged to the surface of the earth it should not break and distribute the plutonium. Part of our studies there had to do with what would happen to the plutonium if it were disbursed in the atmosphere or on implosion. What would be the particle sizes distribution of the plutonium? What would be the problem of cleaning it up? How big an area would it be? Where would the contamination go? All of that general background was something that had come out of the Sunshine Project.
Doel:You mentioned that one of the tests actually done on the power generating device was, made at White Sands where you actually accelerated the device and slammed it into a granite wall.
Kulp:Fired it into a granite wall.
Doel:Fired it in so that you had the equivalent of a free fall velocity.
Doel:I notice you're looking in, is that your collected works?
Kulp:Yes, I have brought down copies of all of the Lamont, geochemistry publications in scientific journals through 1965 and then a few more that I had participated in subsequently.
Doel:Okay. We may want to make reference to some of those. We talked particularly about programs that came out from the geochemical laboratory. You had mentioned and again this was a little bit off tape when we first began talking about developing the geochemical laboratory within the old main house, setting up in the kitchen area. What do you recall from the discussions with Ewing and others about what was needed, what kinds of equipment you wanted to bring into Lamont house, how to get it set up?
Kulp:Well, let me go back a little bit on the physical plant and what we needed. You don't need a fancy, new building to do good science. Start there. But you needed bright people and a certain minimum of space. You had to have water and electricity and a hood as a minimum. When we started geochemistry downtown at Schermerhorn in, 1947 - 48, we had one laboratory pretty much dedicated to my work plus part of my office. It was a big office and we had benches crowded in there to do some of the emission spectrographic work. We did the multiple thermal analysis up in another lab that connected to mineralogy. It was very constrained, and as you know, I had only two or three graduate students at the beginning. Then when we moved to Lamont, this of course was heaven compared to what we had. And I remember going around the Lamont facilities with Ewing and looking at the potential for a laboratory. I pointed out that for us in geochemistry the kitchen area where there was hot and cold water and drains. And the basement where we could put our heavy twelve ton shield for low level counting. There was no competition for the basement area because Frank Press wanted the root cellar for his seismographs which was separate from the main building, therefore very quiet, relatively constant temperature, and being directly on the massive diabase sill. He did his initial work there. The Marine Geology Research used the garage for a machine shop and later a boat anchored down in Piermont on the Hudson. The laboratory for the study of cores of marine sediments was in the former drawing room of the main building. So on the main floor of the mansion we had the kitchen area for geochemistry, the drawing room with the cores, a smaller room which was the library, and then we had the original large living room at the end which was used for seminars.
Doel:How difficult was it to install the shields in the basement of a house like that?
Kulp:Oh it was okay, because they came apart. They were just pieces that were reasonable size that you could carry around and stack up. Of course graduate student labor is very inexpensive!
Doel:Yes it is.
Kulp:And we all worked at it. Professors did too. It was very exciting to put all this together the first time. We had the Lamont Observatory functioning well by the beginning of 1950. All groups in the observatory were growing rapidly. By 1952, geochemistry was really crowded in its area and really needed a better and larger facility. Doc Ewing was very encouraging in our attempt to construct a new separate building for a geochemistry laboratory although aside from the first two projects that we got through the Navy, he did not play a major role in getting the rest of the projects. It was mostly my initiative with the AEC and others that got the funding for the new lab.
Doel:The first two projects were the ones that you had mentioned yesterday?
Kulp:The one with [Joseph] Peoples.
Doel:The Peoples and the T3 Ice Islands.
Kulp:Yes, that was one of them. I forget the other one but I think it was a Navy contract.
Doel:The sampling of deep ocean water —
Doel:Did that come later?
Kulp:That was either NSF or Navy money. But thereafter we were pretty much on our own to raise our own money, but with Ewing always ready to endorse our proposals. He had his hands full with very rapidly expanding geophysical program, with many more people than we had, too. Anyway, by 1952 it was obvious that we needed more facility and we began to think about a new laboratory. So with a couple of my graduate students, I sat down to draw up sort of the ideal laboratory that we thought could function for quite a while of course you always underestimate these things! So we designed this lab, as I recall it was about a hundred by a hundred and twenty feet. In this space we were able to have an expanded low level counting facility, two mass spectrometer labs, several wet chem. labs, machine shop, electronics Labette. The specific details of the laboratory are shown in the brochures distributed at the dedication ceremony. The financial story has some interesting aspects. Doc Ewing was generally supportive of the idea, but he said the university is really skimpy on what money they could give Lamont and he didn't have any money to speak of to put into it. We realized we could get maybe half of the money anyway out of the overhead of our projects and we'd only need a little bit from Columbia or from Lamont. But we were thinking we could build the geochemistry laboratory for one to two hundred thousand dollars, which seemed like quite a bit of money to us at that time. Our first major setback was when we went, by direction, to the Columbia Buildings and Grounds Department. This was a big, heavy-handed, bureaucratic organization who said we had to have a high-priced architect who normally designed for the downtown campus — right in the middle of Manhattan. The procedure was that they would design the building for us and would get some preliminary bids. Well we weren't very pleased with that because we could see immediately that the price would be far beyond our means. By the time they got through this one lab, it was guilt edged, complete with union rates for construction so that their estimate for the laboratory was somewhere around six hundred thousand dollars for twelve thousand square feet of lab space! Now to put it in perspective, six hundred thousand dollars was more than the whole Lamont budget at that time. In our context it was a totally absurd amount of money. Yet we needed this hundred and twenty thousand square feet — one hundred by one hundred twenty feet. Doc Ewing was always willing to bend the rules a little or at least do things in unorthodox ways to get some science done. The scientists were one mind, you know let us get to work. Don't get us involved in all this bureaucracy. Well we did two things. First we got a local architect who, for about five hundred dollars sketched out this building. We did all the detail work, but he put his name on it. Then we found a local contractor known for his high quality, low cost work in the Palisades area.
Doel:This was someone that you had known or found?
Kulp:Ewing knew the architect from Palisades. I knew of the contractor. The graduate students and I did all detailed plan. It was just a simple rectangular building out of cinder block, the cheapest thing you could put up, but it wound up as an efficient, solid laboratory. The contractor was very flexible, easy to work with, and did a real good job. After we completed the design, we put it out for bids, locally, to nonunion contractors. Our preferred contractor was low bidder. It was for about a hundred twenty thousand dollars instead of six hundred thousand estimate by the Buildings and Grounds Department. It turned out to be a moderately attractive building as you came from the front. We were able to get bricks on the front to make it a little more interesting. The back of it was all cinder block. It had a concrete floor with all the facilities in it. So for one sixth the amount of money, we had an excellent building designed ideally for our needs. The amount of research that has been done within this hundred and twenty thousand square feet over the past forty years has been astonishing. I believe the Lamont Geochemical Laboratory has the highest research production per dollar of lab space of any in the country. We have the documents here to prove it!
Doel:You're pointing to the four, five, six volumes indeed on the table.
Kulp:Yes. I mean very productive. We didn't need anything fancy and it was entirely satisfactory.
Doel:Did Columbia raise objections to going this route?
Kulp:Oh yes, at the beginning. I think it was probably Ewing's good offices who either shielded me or twisted some dean's arm to say let these young tigers do it. They're not going to hurt anything. But it was our problem and I had to raise the money and put all the pieces together. But without his broad support, we never would have made it.
Doel:How important was having Project Sunshine and the AEC overhead from the contracts in terms of making the building possible?
Kulp:Very important. In fact, the whole government support of science which was growing actively during the 50s. We were fortunate in being able to get our fair share because we we’re doing good work and had good support from people like Ewing. We also had support and letters from people outside Lamont. I would say that the Sunshine work was very definitely an important part of being able to swing the project because we had a commitment for that major funding which could be shown to the university administration. As long as we raised the money, the administration was glad to have research activity at Columbia.
Doel:Grayson [L.] Kirk was the president at that time.
Doel:Did he get involved in those discussions at all?
Kulp:I don't know. I think Dean [George B.] Pegram might have been the person that Ewing had to convince.
Doel:He would have been the natural sciences dean.
Kulp:They gave blessing to Ewing to construct the geochemistry laboratory as long as we stayed within the budget. That was fine with us. It has been a total success. Since I left in '65, it's been added to a couple of times under Broecker. I was back for the thirtieth anniversary in 1984. It was humming with excited and dedicated students as it had been in the early years. We had some excellent conference meetings at the anniversary. It is still maintaining the tradition.
Doel:With so many of the government contracts at that point, there were no allowances for bricks and mortar development, but one might be able to use the overhead. Was that the case with the AEC grants or could you use any directly for construction?
Kulp:Well it was all mushy.
Doel:There was more flexibility with the AEC grants than?
Kulp:Well there was more flexibility in general. Later on the contracts had become very structured with overhead battles going all the time. At that time we were able to shift money around from one contract to another if top scientists in AEC or the Navy who sponsored us thought that we were doing good work and we were obviously being highly productive for their investment. The one thing of course we were scrupulous about was our own salaries or anything that any benefit to the professors or the students. This was very rigorously controlled. But beyond that, we tried to be flexible because contracts would come in at different months and they'd run out and you'd overspend one and have to underspend another. But the main object was to keep this group of creative people productive. They had all minimal salaries and minimum stipends, which were standard. So we were never criticized for being flexible. Later on when the government became more bureaucratic there was some criticism and that you couldn't really pay a student who wasn't doing exactly what the government micro-managers said that he had to do. And we were not very careful about that. They were graduate students doing important research, really it didn't matter much whether it was AEC or Navy or NSF that was paying. Confession.
Doel:I think one shared pretty widely among —
Kulp:And then in those days it was sort of easier and more allowable.
Doel:Clearly things have changed.
Kulp:I don't think we misused a dime of the taxpayer's money. I mean these people worked around the clock and were totally dedicated. As I said with the building, there were absolutely no frills.
Doel:Yes, yes. How important were the research colloquia at Lamont in those days for bringing together the different kinds of specialists? Do you remember going to most of the colloquia in the 1950s.
Kulp:Yes, we would pretty much all go to them. Sometimes there was a mutual stimulation across boundaries, like on the deep water dating project. But in all honesty, geophysics and geochemistry were sufficiently distinct that we in geochemistry gained more when we had a visitor from Cal Tech [California Institute of Technology], MIT or Princeton who were working the same field as we were and would spend all day debating their ideas. In addition, as I said before, we had our own weekly seminars in geochemistry. Geophysics likewise had their own things going.
Doel:When did the weekly seminars begin in geochemistry?
Kulp:Well they were regularized as soon as we moved into the new geochemistry lab in 1954. Just as an aside when we had a dedication of the laboratory we had a large number of prominent geochemists from all over the world. We had buses to bring them from the city on what should have been a beautiful October evening. We had beautiful tents set up outside where we were going to serve all the meals and then give them lectures on what we're doing with tours to each lab. Included in the group were many earth scientists from the old school. They were very impressed when they saw and heard all the things we thought we would do in the next ten years in terms of quantifying the age of rock formations. As it turned out, that evening one of the biggest hurricanes of the half century to reach the New York area hit Lamont. The tents went down and we had to crowd everybody into the chemistry labs where we set up tables and managed feed everybody. We didn't have any trouble with the tours or the presentations, but the biggest problem was getting them back into New York because some big trees had blown down over Route 9W and we had to go through circuitous secondary routes to get them home. I don't think they got back to their hotels until two o'clock in the morning — it was quite an experience.
Doel:I can imagine. You had mentioned that I should say that, over lunch yesterday and of course we weren't recording. Were any of the colloquia in the weekly seminar series particularly memorable for you as you when you think back on it now?
Kulp:I know we invited many prominent earth scientists, but I can't think of one unusually memorable one just off hand.
Doel:Sure. One of the things that particularly for me the deep water sampling and the question of how long it took for the oceans to go through the cycle for the overturn. That was something that Bill [William W. Rubey] had become particularly interested in: studying the chemistry of sea water. How much contact did you have with him during the 1950s?
Kulp:A few personal conversations. I think that Broecker probably spent more in-depth time with him. That was closer to Broecker's project. You know he became quite an expert on ocean chemistry and climatology. He was a leader in the GEOSECS program. Back in 1954, he was concerned with the age of deep ocean water by measuring its Carbon 14 content. He and I, with Ewing's people, designed the sampling and processing system. No one had ever done this before and we didn't know what we would find but we had this hunch that since the ocean water must equilibrate at the surface with carbon dioxide containing the photosynthetic concentration of Carbon 14 and arctic surface probably sinks and moves slowly along the bottom toward the equator, that deep Atlantic water at the latitude of New York would be older than surface water. When I say we didn't know, we didn't know whether it would be tens of hundreds or thousands of years. The actual age would make enormous difference in terms of the heat flow from the floor of the ocean as well as the rate of movement of the water. I wound up getting this nice Cleveland Newcomb Prize from AAAS for a paper describing this work.
Doel:That was in 1951 that you won the award wasn't it?
Kulp:I think it was somewhat later but early in the Carbon 14 program. Today we have more accurate samples and far more accurate measurements but this was the first go. The apparent age of that water sample was about 500 years.
Doel:What I have with me here are a number of photographs that again we had looked at briefly before we began the interview and I think one of them you had mentioned was actually the device used in the sampling?
Doel:We're looking at that right now. Were you actually out on any of the ships?
Doel:This was collected by —
Kulp:It was collected by a Ewing's group. None of our people until after I left I think ever went on the boats. This was Ewing's operation. But we cooperated in defining what was needed.
Doel:What you wanted.
Kulp:And actually helped design the sampler and the sampling process.
Doel:We're looking at the cylindrical device that went into the water.
Kulp:The first one was flexible, a canvas, rubber type construction. Later on we had rigid modified fifty-five gallon drums that were open on both ends as we let it down and then it would clamp shut and because the pressure at the bottom was greater, the only thing that could happen as you brought it up was a little leakage because the pressure would be greater inside than outside.
Doel:But you wouldn't have contamination.
Kulp:Couldn't be any contamination because you're letting the thing down free flow through the water. Then it was a matter of triggering and closing tight enough that there would be no mixing with water outside the sampler as you bring it up. Once on board, it would be processed for the carbon dioxide.
Doel:Right. Were there any particular long term instrumental problems that you had to overcome during this effort or were they fairly easily resolved.
Kulp:No one had taken samples of that size at that depth before. So there was some mechanical engineering required to get the samples. This was done by Nafe, Heezen and Ludas in the geophysics group. Once on the surface, it was possible to acidify the water and then sweep the C02 that was released with tank nitrogen and the process it. That part was fairly straight forward chemistry. The counting had all been worked out in the carbon dating lab. The reason we could do the study was that we had the radio carbon dating lab all set up to make the measurements.
Doel:One of the other things from that early 1952 period, you were interested particularly in the way in which Lamont might be reorganized. And one document that I've seen I believe written by you, you had asked whether it might be possible to create a department of earth sciences that would incorporate geophysics, geochem, geology and mentioning that the duality of the organization was hindering the fund raising efforts. Do you recall debates or discussions on that with Ewing or with others about the structure of Lamont?
Kulp:No. It was sort of a little distant because we were pretty much raising our own money but I know Ewing had a lot of conflicts over a period of time with the people at Schermerhorn. And I think at one point he thought the whole geology department ought to move out to Lamont and which he would be the head of the whole department. He was a bit of an empire builder. The professor in the other more classical fields of geology resisted the idea. [W alter] Bucher and [Marshall] Kay and some others were generally supportive of him all along because they knew how important geophysics was and what it was doing and geochemistry as well. The hard rock geologists were really excited about the age determinations and things like that. But there were a lot of high level struggles I heard about more distantly. I really only got into one major conflict with Ewing and I don't even remember what year it was. But I would guess it would be in the later fifties. We met with one of the deans; it may have been John Krout, to clearly separate geochemistry from geophysics. In other words, essentially recognizing the fact that I was a full professor and therefore shouldn't be administratively reporting to some other full professor. I'd rather just be a colleague and that my program could be, while friendly and cooperative in every way, if possible, but nevertheless be independent. And it practically ran that way from '55 to '65. It started fairly early for all practical purposes but became more formalized in the last ten years.
Doel:Was that resolved in your favor as far as administratively?
Kulp:I would say so. When I left, I got a friendly letter from Ewing in which he partly pled with me to stay and partly saying how much I contributed to the establishment of Lamont as a first rank research institution. At the time of my resignation from the faculty, I just felt I had done most of what I wanted to accomplish at Lamont and was increasingly involved in administration and fund raising. Finally I decided that my talents might be better utilized as a manager of research rather than as a research scientist. I thought I would like to explore that option and so after almost twenty years I left academia. But I also knew that I was leaving a vital group and that in Broecker I had a protégé coming along who was brighter than I was and would do an outstanding job of leading geochemistry at Lamont. So it was a reasonably happy departure. I think a lot of my professor colleagues thought I'd made the wrong choice because of tenure which guaranteed a good income for life, a lot of freedom to do research, and in fact, if I had wanted to move back, I really had the choice of moving back more in the lab, sort of the way Libby had done until he went to the AEC or even Urey did in his whole life. If I wanted to go back and more active in the laboratory, I could have taken that course at that time. But I elected to move out and try my hand at R & D management.
Doel:I want to cover that a bit more when we move into the nineteen, the mid 1960s. I don't want to let that just drop. I'm curious in; maybe this is a point to bring in yet something else that we discussed a bit off tape. Mainly the recruiting efforts that you did on behalf of the graduate programs in the geochem lab that involved you’re going to a number of universities to look for promising candidates to spend their junior year in the summer at Lamont to size them up as you say for potential graduate students. When did that begin? When did you first begin to —?
Kulp:Probably around '49, '50. Right at the beginning.
Doel:Right at the time that Lamont was —
Kulp:At Lamont yes. Because that was the time I realized we now had the chance to grow and we had the chance to undertake many more projects and we would need the staff. And I was realizing the kind of efforts that were required in order to get this kind of staff.
Doel:Which universities did you go to?
Kulp:Well I'd usually go to the Ivy League. But the most promising were the Midwestern liberal arts colleges. I don't know if I let me see if I can remember some of them. First Ohio State was one of the Big Ten I went to because I had connections there. But I think among the others were Wooster, Oberlin, and Carleton, Wheaton, Grinnell, Macalester, and Hope College out in Michigan. These were all excellent liberal arts colleges that had reasonably strong chemistry departments. That was sort of the criteria. I did not get to the west. I didn't bother with the south because they didn't really have many strong chemistry schools at that time.
Kulp:Yes. And in the east I went to a few other liberal arts colleges like Drew, Hartwick, and Amherst. I limited this effort to ten to twenty a year; I couldn't do more than that.
Doel:Did you often give lectures in the departments when you went on the research programs?
Kulp:Almost always. Yes. It would normally be a seminar stressing the exciting problems to be solved in geochemistry. These were juniors and seniors and chem. majors.
Doel:Did you also give faculty lectures as well on the research efforts going on?
Kulp:Well, faculty were always invited. Later on in the early fifties to mid-fifties, I gave lots of lectures and I was the distinguished lecturer for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists [AAPG], Sigma Xi and others.
Doel:A distinguished lecture.
Kulp:With the AAPG it was a distinguished lecture series wherein you visit between ten to fifteen universities. I was a Sigma Xi national lecturer one year and that was on age determination and the geological time scale. These were larger affairs with all the science people, faculty as well as students, and members in the area.
Doel:Did simply going on this trip and interacting directly with the range of colleagues in these places, influence your own research program? How important were they to your own ideas or discussions, or were they not terribly significant?
Kulp:In those cases where people had been working in the same field they were significant. So this would be sort of a one on one, lunch or dinner, while I was there with the one or two people who were working in let's say isotopic chemistry. Outside of that, the answer is pretty much no.
Doel:Are there one or two cases in particular when you say that about the one on ones? I'm curious about which people you have in mind?
Kulp:There was a Dr. Fisk with Humble Oil when I gave my talk in Houston. He was very interested, particularly at that time, in our studies in the origins of native sulfur in salt domes of the Gulf Coast.
Doel:This may be an appropriate time to ask about that branch of your research that came out from Lamont, the identification of mineral deposits and locations. Did that stem from the 1950s?
Kulp:Oh yes. In fact I was just looking at a list here —
Doel:You've got the book open in front of you, you're —
Kulp:And just as an example, here's, a book covering '53 through '58.
Doel:Of your publications.
Kulp:Some of the publications.
Doel:This is your publications?
Kulp:Yes. I'm involved in almost every one of these.
Doel:But it's the compilation from the geochemical lab?
Kulp:Yes. I'll just tick off a few to show the range of what was going on. Dick [Richard] Holland was working on the transport and deposition of uranium, ionium and radium in rivers, oceans and ocean sediments. He's subsequently written books now on the distribution of trace elements and how they got that way over the whole planet. But this was his first effort in the area. He used uranium — ionium and radium — because they could be measured in very small amounts, and nobody had worked the problem before. I will skip the numerous papers relating to the fallout program since we have already discussed this at length. Another whole series of scientific papers concerning the techniques and results on various geologic and archeological problems that were solved by Carbon 14 dating were published between 1960 and 1965. In the first five years there were mainly compilations of critical dates with archeological or geological significance. Later on the Carbon 14 dating was applied more specifically to certain mechanistic studies in the ocean that Broecker was interested in. And while we could measure these extremely small quantities of Carbon 14, there were important applications in the medical field that had nothing to do with dating. An example is this one entitled "The Fate of Hydrocortisone, C14 in Man". This was a cooperative study with some medical doctors at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital where they we’re injecting hydrocortisone for various treatments and they wanted to know how did it break down; where did it go in the body? They could label the hydrocortisone with Carbon 14 at such low levels that there was no danger from its radiation. This permitted tracing the metabolic processes of many drugs. Another paper was the "Natural Tritium Content of Atmospheric Hydrogen". We were beginning to see the importance of tritium, that's the radioactive hydrogen, H3, which has a half-life of about a decade. This isotope is created both in nuclear explosions, in nuclear power plants, and by cosmic rays in the atmosphere. Tritium became a valuable short-term tracer for water from many different sources. This could range from the mixing of water vapor in the atmosphere to identification of ocean currents. Tritium permits studies of water movement in aquifers over the last fifty to a hundred years, which is a valuable time interval for those processes. An entirely different study which did not involve isotopes examined the origin of vermiculite in the Day Brook Dunite Deposit in Yancy County, North Carolina. These dunite deposits, by the way, are relatively rare and come from rocks from very great depths. Vermiculite is a biotitic like mica that has lost its potassium by weathering or hydrothermal teaching.
Doel:This was interesting in terms of convection of these materials to the surface.
Kulp:This study involved the interface of geochemistry and petrology. But as a general strategic plan, I had a different graduate student doing research on each of the major methods of dating geological processes from youngest (i.e. tritium; 0-1000 years) to the age of the earth (Le. uranium). Carbon 14 is useful for periods of a few hundred back to about seventy thousand years ago. This covers virtually all the time where man had paintings, fairly sophisticated tools, and entry into North America. We were able to identify the oldest cultures on the East Coast, which appeared six to eight thousand years ago. On the West Coast, the Mongolians coming over all the way from the Bering Sea down to the tip of South America, taking a few thousand years for the migration which occurred about eleven thousand years ago.
Kulp:Sea level was much lower than today before the ice age ended so these people could walk on dry land nearly all the way and sustain on shell fish. Their movement eastward across the mountains was much slower. Because while it was eleven thousand in the earliest caves there up and down on the west coast, it was up to perhaps on six thousand on the east coast. There's some evidence that maybe a few people came over as early as twenty-five thousand years ago but that's not confirmed yet. There certainly weren't any significant human intrusions into the Americas until very late in the last glacial period and possibly only right at the very end. This was an enormous discovery. Nobody had a clue about that prior to the discovery of Carbon 14 dating.
Doel:Certainly there have been some speculation, some ideas from language groups or otherwise but the point clearly is that this was the first quantitative evidence.
Kulp:Carbon 14 dating now allowed to define the time intervals for rising and falling sea level, advances and retreats of mountain and continental glaciers. None of this was known before archeology and Pleistocene geology was being revolutionized.
Doel:I'm wondering how did, this may be related to in the moment, I don't want to steer us away from this. How much did you get involved in the broader geological, geophysical debates in the 1950s say over how much the sea levels had dropped in earlier geological periods. Shepard had published a number of papers somewhat earlier on that others at Lamont took issue with. Was that something that was discussed pretty often in the geochem lab, or were those debates more centered around Ewing's group?
Kulp:I would say the broad oceanographic implications were all in Ewing's group, but the identification of the levels had to be done by measuring shells from the terraces or middens and that was our business. To continue the listing of the radio isotopes age methods, all of which were being investigated at Lamont by the mid-fifties. The next important method is based on the decay of X40 to argon 40. Most rocks contain potassium minerals and the amount of argon 40 generated may be large for older rocks compared to the small amount of atmospheric argon 40 that may be present from trapped gas at their time of formation. The method was suggested first, I believe, by Bill [Willard] Libby. By 1950, at least three labs including Lamont were working on it. The potassium argon method was important for several reasons: (1) it can be applied to a great variety of rocks as most of them contain potassium in some form, (2) it can be applied with ease to the oldest rocks and can be used to establish times of reheating, (3) it has great sensitivity so under the most favorable circumstances it can be applied to lavas as young as 100,000 years which means it can nearly overlap the Carbon 14 method if suitable samples are available. And as you know now, it has been used to measure these human remains of only a million years or so in Africa. Even in the early fifties when we attempted to check the age of the ocean floor basalt from the Mid Atlantic Ridge to New York to investigate continental drift; i.e. to determine whether the ocean crust was original(four and a half billion years -old) or was essentially modern, in which case there would be almost no argon 40. At that time we would have had difficulty measuring a ten million year old rock. Today we can easily date a one million year old rock by the K-A method. In the first experiment on ocean crust at the latitude of New York we found all the samples to be young, consistent with the theory of continental drift.
Doel:And a point, again, this was something I believe mentioned off tape, your results gave a clear indication that this was new material.
Kulp:It clearly showed the ocean crust was not original crust. This was a very critical experiment.
Doel:Do you recall roughly when that had occurred? That was in the early or mid-1950s. Do you remember?
Kulp:Mid or late 50s.
Doel:Do you recall which student made this measurement.
Kulp:Yes, Glenn Erickson.
Doel:It was Erickson. Okay.
Kulp:He later went to the University of British Columbia as a post-doc and then to head the physics department at Whitworth College in the state of Washington. Unfortunately he drowned on a vacation when he was still a relatively young man. Here it is. The work was actually published in '61. But I think the study was done in the late fifties. It was a hard, long pull to get his thesis finished because he was a perfectionist who never wanted to let it go.
Doel:Interesting. Thank you.
Kulp:Continuing, the next method is based on the decay of rubidium 87 to strontium 87. The technology for this method required mass spectrometry to ascertain the amount of radiogenic strontium 87. It was developed at Lamont by Paul Gast. Rubidium is found in all micas and some minerals. It is mainly valuable for older rocks due to its lesser sensitivity. Practically it is useful for dating from 50 million years ago to the beginning of earth history. Part of the importance of having methods, based on different chemistry and different decay schemes is the ability to cross check. You can take a sample; date it by more than one method, and then this completely eliminates the argument of the critic, well there's something wrong with that one method that makes the rock seem to be old. See when you have totally different chemistries, you can't, can't I mean creation. There's actually some people even today that try to argue that the earth is six thousand years old and all these make believe numbers and so on. But no serious person studying could come to that. Ages obtained by these different methods elegantly demonstrate the accuracy of the age determined for they are based on different chemistries with different half-lives. Further, these different methods have different contamination problems and different leakage problems. All these factors have to be worked out quantitatively. But they can be or have been. So as the ten to twenty years passed from about 1950 when essentially all quantitative nuclear methods for the age determination of rocks were conceived —
Doel:By the error bars.
Kulp:— the precision of measurement increases. The sensitivity improves and therefore the age span of the method expands. In addition to the rubidium -strontium we have the uranium -lead and thorium –lead methods. These are particularly interesting because you can measure thorium and uranium ages independently on the same sample. In the mineral zircon, for example, some thorium and uranium is incorporated as trace impurities. They decay to different lead isotopes at different rates. In each decay scheme, U238/Pb206/W255/Pb202 and Th232/Pb208 gives the identical result. There has been no subsequent alteration since formation of the zircon. But if leaching of the radiogenic product has occurred, you can correct for it. At Lamont this was developed by Walter Eckelman, George Bate and others. [George P.] Wetherhill at the Carnegie institution did some of the very fundamental work on unscrambling that uranium lead systems in zircons. Wasserberg at Cal Tech also did some very outstanding work on some of these systems. The unique feature of the work at Lamont was that all of the methods were under and development in the same period. But going back to my concerns as early as ‘45 at Princeton, I had at last developed a research program encompassing the entire age determination business. There could no longer be any question of the great antiquity of the earth, the geologic time scale, or the progression of life over hundreds of millions of years. Thus while the worldwide radioactive fallout study was important, it was properly terminated after about a decade of study and a verified theory in contrast refinement of the geologic time scale and application of these techniques to innumerable geologic processes steadily grows. Thereby about 1960, I published a greatly improved, geological time scale.
Doel:That was the paper in "Science" was it not?
Kulp:There was a major paper in "Science," but I also published it as well as editing a symposium on age determination that Lamont sponsored in New York City with the New York Academy of Sciences in about 1961.
Doel:Okay. Did you help to organize that symposium?
Kulp:Yes. I was the principal organizer and editor of the resulting papers. The participants included a large number of international experts in age determination.
Doel:Okay. That's good to know.
Doel:Please, go ahead.
Kulp:So just to kind of finish that off. By the 1960s we and others had synthesized a new geologic time scale, a frame in which all geological events could be incorporated. This time scale is being continually refined even now in the 90s, but the quantum step between what Arthur Holmes in his first crude (but valuable) attempt at a time scale in the thirties, and 1961 where we have established a time scale with an error generally less than sixteen percent back to the Cambrian at 500-550 million years ago was an enormous step forward. Now I think they'd probably say that some boundaries like the time the dinosaurs were extinguished may be known to plus or minus one million years. At sixty million years ago that's like a two percent error or less.
Doel:When you look back on it, did the lab concentrate particularly on more recent ages given for instance other work at Lamont on Pleistocene climate?
Kulp:No. We were just as interested in the age of the earth at four and a half billion as we were in Dave Ericson's most recent cores. We were working on problems over the entire time scale. Different students worked on different methods, of course.
Doel:I'm curious what you may recall from that conflict that was emerging between the astronomical data in the early 1950s suggesting the age of the universe might be only one to two billion years while the evidence was clearly there in geochemistry that the earth was at least two times as old. Do you remember discussions with any of the astronomers?
Kulp:No, I don't remember those. I do know that we didn't give that much credence to such speculation for several reasons. The lead isotope data on meteorites, which was done by Claire Patterson at Cal Tech, clearly defined the accumulation age for our planet at about four and a half billion years. At Lamont, we had micas that we had dated, cross-dated, with potassium-argon and rubidium-strontium, and other uranium minerals which were at least three and a half billion years old. But these dates were done on igneous rocks which cut preexisting metamorphic rocks which were derived by the erosion of still older mountains. So there wasn't any question in our mind then or now. The earth was on the order of four to five billion years in age. So the meteorites and the earth all pointed to four and a half billion, and then, once you've said that, you note we only belong to a small star. It couldn't have been the earliest star. The universe has got to be a lot older. Astronomers now think it's ten to twenty billion years since the "Big Bang." The debate continues mainly on the time between the Big Bang and the formation of our sun and planetary system.
Doel:Sure. It took a while in the 1950s before the revision of the Hubble constant came about.
Doel:That gave greater ages for the universe.
Kulp:Right. And of course in the early fifties all these methods in the early stage of development, so people tended to be more skeptical. Over time most of these questions resolved by further experiments.
Doel:How well did you come to know Claire Patterson during this time?
Kulp:Not well. We weren't close friends, but I greatly admired his work. I knew him first when he was with Urey's group at Chicago.
Doel:Before he and Harrison Brown went out?
Kulp:He, Brown, and several others went out to Cal Tech from Chicago about 1950. Patterson was the first one to demonstrate that you must have an extremely clean laboratory in order to measure these very small variations in lead isotope samples because contamination by ordinary lead in the air and on common surfaces can contaminate your sample. He was the first one that got really good low level lead isotope data on meteorites.
Doel:Cal Tech is credited as being the place that developed one of the first lead-free laboratories for this work.
Doel:Was the first.
Kulp:Was. No question about it. First class people. By 1954 when we moved into the new geochemistry lab at Lamont, we were pretty well stabilized. We had a staff of twenty, to twenty-five that grew to thirty-five, but from then on it was roughly constant until I left in 1965. By 1960 the fallout program represented about thirty percent of the research effort, age determination was probably about fifty percent.
Doel:Was there one clear program that represented the bulk of the other twenty percent, or was that?
Kulp:No I was going to try to get to that a little bit.
Doel:Please. Go ahead.
Kulp:The bulk of the remainder was looking at isotopic methods for understanding geological processes such as the origin of petroleum, of these millions of tons of native sulfur in the salt domes of the Gulf Coast, and metallic ore bodies of lead, copper, and zinc. And just scanning this we're still back just on '53 to '56; examples included: studies of the Precambrian lead ores and the more recent uraninite from the Sunshine Mine in Idaho, examination of the isotopic composition of the common lead from some of the huge gold mines in South Africa to get some idea of their origin and age, and Feely's classical thesis on the origin of native sulfur in the salt domes of Texas and Louisiana. He was able to show by the isotopic composition and by the chemical processes involved that these millions of tons of pure sulfur in the salt domes of the Gulf Coast were all formed by bacteria action.
Doel:That's very interesting.
Kulp:To summarize his work, salt plugs intrude the upper sediment layers near the surface. Originally the salt deposit is a flat layer at depth but it's plastic so eventually with differential pressure it flows upward through bones of weakness producing vertical columns of salt. Then on the slopes of these columns fluids move in from the upturned adjacent permeable strata. In its flow up the sides and over the top of the salt dome, it dissolves the salt leaving calcium sulfate in the form of anhydrite forming a cap. Now when this cap gets high enough up in the stratigraphic sequence, so that the temperature is less than eighty degrees, bacteria can live. They don't live at higher temperatures. These particular bacteria love to eat calcium sulfate, which is present in a nearly saturated solution, and give off hydrogen sulfide. The hydrogen sulfide reacts with more of the dissolved sulfate producing a sulfur. Each of these particular steps is accompanied by a unique fractionation of the sulfur isotopes. So by getting all these samples, looking at the chemistry, and making the sulfur isotope measurements, it was possible to reconstruct how the native sulfur deposits formed in the salt dome caps. No sulfur has been found at greater depths where temperature exceeds eighty degrees. The final piece of the puzzle was to understand where the bacteria get their energy to produce these large deposits of native sulfur. It is an interesting story in microbiology which Feely had to study to understand the whole system. The bottom line is that the bacterial food source (energy source) was petroleum from the surrounding sedimentary rocks which is washed up and over the salt dome cap with the saline water. But ordinary sulfate-reducing bacteria in the lab that the microbiologists normally study were always fed on an agar (sugar) solution. Okay?
Kulp:If the bacteria were suddenly switched from a sugar solution to an emulsion of oil and water they would all die. In working with Professor Starkey at Rutgers, a leading microbiologist, if we took a population of those bugs from their happy home feeding on an agar solution and reducing calcium sulfate to hydrogen sulfide, and immediately put them in another solution that contained only petroleum, they all died. Next, if we took the bacteria that were chomping happily away at room temperature on their agar, and suddenly heated the system to fifty degrees, they all died. Third, if we remove the calcium sulfate from the agar solution the bacteria cease to function. But if, on the other hand, we gradually change these conditions over a period of days — you know these bacteria reproduce in less than one hour — we essentially were changing the median population genetically by changing the environment and we got these to where in a salt solution in petroleum at seventy to eighty degrees they would chomp away and produce sulfur. Isn't that a marvelous story?
Kulp:I mean it’s great science.
Doel:And you're replicating conditions that you would expect to find in the geologic environment in which this prevails? Did this turn out to be generalizable to all salt domes? This is not limited to…
Kulp:Oh yes. Every salt dome near the surface has some native sulfur, but the quantity would depend on its history and the timing and quantity of the oil flowing over it. If you had some strata where the salt plug punctured through the overlying strata but there was insufficient oil, then the bacteria wouldn't have the food. And so it became very practical that you could begin to use this information to say where would you look for a large deposit. Conversely a large amount of native sulfur in a salt dome would mean the salt plug had penetrated some rich oil-bearing strata and hence this knowledge would aid the exploration for oil. This new understanding of the origin of the native sulfur in salt domes in Texas and elsewhere had major commercial ramifications. At the time Feely began this fundamental scientific investigation, the origin of all these millions of tons of native sulfur was uncertain.
Doel:How quickly were the commercial applications made? And how involved did Lamont people get?
Kulp:I am sure that the oil companies worldwide paid immediate attention to this scientific report and implemented it in their own operations. The commercial applications were done by the oil companies afterward. But we had gotten money from Exxon, Humble, and Texaco to support our research. But it was unencumbered money and I went to them suggested we can learn something of value by such a study. We requested a grant of about fifty thousand dollars which was a lot in those days. I convinced them it was worth a shot. So they just wrote a check for the money, we put it in the bank and went to work. There was no other obligation than to publish what we found in scientific journals.
Doel:Right. Were there any cases in which companies wanted to withhold publication of data say for a year or two once money was contributed? Not to keep it entirely secret but —?
Kulp:Yes. I can't give you chapter and verse but I know it happened in a few cases. Usually it relates to a particular mine, such as the St. Joseph Lead Mine, where the owners were concerned with knowledge that would benefit competitors. We did an exhaustive lead isotope variation, fractionation study to try to understand how the lead bearing solutions moved in the earth to produce that ore. And they asked us to withhold the report for a year before we went public in case they wanted to use it some proprietary way. We would never have agreed to an indefinite bottling of the information, but we felt that it was reasonable if they were going to fund the research that there would be a reasonable delay in transferring the information to the public domain. In most cases there were no such restrictions to our grants. I was summarizing for you some of the isotopic studies not related to the development of dating methods. The origin of the Black Hills gold mineralization was a very interesting one. That was done by looking at the lead isotopes, associated with the ores.
Doel:What made that particularly interesting for you?
Kulp:Well the great value of Black Hills gold deposits, probably the richest in North America. And it's been producing for sixty, seventy years. At the time we undertook this study the origin of the ore was not clearly understood. Did it come in during the Laramide intrusions of sixty million years ago or was it all Precambrian (five hundred million year and older), in which case it would have very different origin. And once you knew the origin then you could be smarter about where to go for the next ore body. It was very fundamental scientific study, but the results could be interpreted and used in application.
Doel:Were you also working on the question of uranium ores in the Colorado plateau during this period.
Doel:Cause that was a critical problem of course for the AEC during those years finding.
Kulp:Yes. We had quite a bit of work with that and did some of it in conjunction with Professor Kerr in the mineralogy department. Don Miller did his geochemistry thesis on the origin of these ores.
Doel:You're looking continually through the volumes right now.
Kulp:Yes. Another was my investigation of the lead isotope variations in the Balmat area in New York State to determine their origin. Paul Gast did a fundamental study on the relationships of the early Precambrian rocks in the Bear Tooth Mountains (perhaps the oldest in the contiguous United States) of Wyoming and Montana. That's up in the Yellowstone country. [Bruno J.] Giletti who's now a senior professor at Brown and Ed Latanzaro now a professor at SUNY (Stony Brook) also did studies in the area.
Doel:You mentioned Karl Turekian who's at —
Kulp:At Yale. Giletti went to Brown and his thesis was oceanographic phenomenon in the Arctic basin which was done under sponsorship of the office of naval research. He also worked on the isotope geology of some areas in Idaho and Montana.
Doel:What year was that?
Kulp:It was published in '59. Another important research project involved the deciphering of the sequence of the igneous and metamorphic rocks in the vicinity of New York City by Leon Long. Long and Don Eckelman also contributed significantly to an understanding of the metamorphic events in southeastern United States. (Leafing through Lamont geochemistry publications) Here's one that really came out of the Sunshine Program, but was very valuable to the radiobiologists. This was the concentration and distribution of radium in a normal human skeleton. Nobody had done that before.
Doel:Was it particularly difficult within the structure of Columbia to get dissertation committees together in such interdisciplinary fields? Or did you find that it was fairly easy?
Kulp:No, it really wasn't a problem. Either in competency or interest.
Doel:No, I meant sometimes administrative barriers between departments can intrude even if there's a great deal of intrinsic interest in working out on the interdisciplinary fields.
Kulp:No. I never noticed that in our case. Another subject, totally different, highly applied, non-thesis material, but one of significant national security concern which I was personally involved in. This involved studying the contamination of U.S. Military aircraft flying through clouds of radioactive debris produced by bombs detonated at the Pacific test site. This study was supported by the U.S. Air Force and the report entitled "Radiation Hazard from Contaminated Aircraft". The investigation involved flying aircraft through nuclear clouds that were formed during the testing out in the Eniwetok area. Our military was concerned, at that time, that in a nuclear war, planes would have to fly through contaminated clouds. The questions were how much radiation of the pilot occurred during penetration of a cloud? And when you got the airplane back, and you got the pilot out quickly to limit his dose, what was the quickest and most effective way you could decontaminate the airplane so the next pilot could get in and he could go up again.
Doel:This was very practical, but...
Kulp:Yes, but it required a lot of knowledge of radioactivity, a design of the chemistry for the optimum decontamination of these planes, detection of the location of the radioactivity and techniques for removing it. That meant measuring the isotopic composition of the contaminants, an estimation of the hazard and a projection as to how much dose the pilot would get. Of course we actually did experiments where the pilot was fully instrumented as well.
Doel:What did that involve for you when you were out in the Pacific?
Kulp:Designing the experiments, overseeing the analysis, the sampling and the particular chemistry required for decontamination, and then education of air crews and pilots. I was there for about six weeks, during the Red Wing Operation. Later they did some of this work back in the contiguous United States.
Doel:Within the Nevada test site?
Kulp:Yes. Again, it was the Air Force that did all that. Then, let's see, we had here the isotopic composition of lead in Precambrian mineralization of the Coeur d'Alene District in Idaho which is just down 190 on the other side of Washington. And that's been a very productive mining district, but again they knew very little about the origin whether it was relatively young geologically or very old. But once we got the isotope information it was quite clear. Returning to a critical research project in dating, one of the most definitive dates was obtained, a uranium lead date was obtained from the Swedish Kolm. K-O-L-M. This material exists as a series of pods of almost pure organic charcoal-like material in an upper Cambrian age shale. So the sample to be dated is contained in the shale, which also contains well-defined Cambrian fossils. Perfect for a calibration point in the geologic time scale. While people in Sweden knew that the strata was uranium rich, until Jim [James] Cobb did the study, nobody had attempted to define the age of the strata quantitatively independent of the fossils.
Doel:Where did many of the people who graduated with these degrees go? Did most of them go to universities despite some of the applicability of some of these studies; most did find their homes in universities?
Kulp:Yes, I would say sixty to seventy percent went to universities and colleges, thirty percent went to industry. But Walter Eckelman for example became senior vice president for technology, I think he was executive with SOHIO [Standard Oil of Ohio]. Earlier he was President of Humble Research and Production. And he was an example of one who went very far in the industrial area from the base of a Ph.D. in Geochemistry. Herb Volchok, in contrast, went into government research and wound up as head of this AEC Health and Safety Lab in New York City. But most of my Ph.D. students obtained appointments in universities both small and large, public and private. Many were noted earlier in our conversation. Glenn Ericson, for example, wound up in a small college here in eastern Washington, a fine small college, Whitworth. There are ex-Lamonters who are professors at the University of Georgia, University of Arizona, University of Texas, etc. Approximately seventy percent were in university or college.
Doel:Which was sort of —?
Kulp:The brightest and best went to the Ivy League universities except for Eckelman, who in addition to being a solid scientist, was a good personality, an excellent organizing ability –perfect for Exxon. There were only a few Broeckers, Gasts, Turekians, and Hollands around. They're in a special category and they wound up as you'd expect in the Ivy League.
Doel:And the other interesting point here is that this is precisely the period at which earth science departments begin to emerge. With the broadening of the earth sciences.
Kulp:They all wanted the geochemists and the geophysicists.
Doel:Yes. And so you had a market for that particular period.
Kulp:Oh yes. Very definitely. It was a good time from that point of view. There were plenty of jobs for all these people. They were in great demand. They had choice in their appointments. And of course I tried to place the best ones in the stronger schools.
Doel:How often would you recommend a thesis topic versus how many of those people that you've mentioned so far, how many of them came up with their own thoughts on what to pursue?
Kulp:I think in all fairness, the normal procedure was I would evaluate the graduate student for his interests and ability, consider the available funding, and then suggest a number of studies from which the student would select on of greatest to him. Our facilities also constrained the choice. By coming to Lamont after their junior year, for the summer, they had some idea of our range of interests and in discussing the other students' programs, helped define their desired focus. On the other hand if a student came to me and said I want to investigate high pressure Bridgman-type silicate pressure temperature relations. I'd say we don't have the facilities nor a professor with expertise in the field. So I'd recommend the Carnegie or Harvard. If you're interested in anything to do with isotopic geochemistry or age determination, this is your place.
Doel:Speaking of that work, Bridgman-type work, was there much contact between Columbia and [Francis P.] Birch the laboratory?
Kulp:There was much more in geophysics I think because they were applying that to geodesy and related matters. There is a whole segment of geochemistry which has to do with pressure temperature relations of minerals deep in the crust. We never touched that area except in the one or two cases where isotopes could tell you something. Returning to our major publications, we did a comprehensive study of the isotopic composition of Finnish galena’s to see what which of their ore deposits could be related and what their origin was. This work was done by a visiting geochemist from Finland, Olavi Kuovo. I'm trying to pick out some of the twenty percent that you were asking about.
Doel:This is all very interesting and I'm glad that you're pulling those out.
Kulp:Paul Damon did several studies in Mexico looking at the isotopes of metamorphic rocks in south central Guerrero and 'of quartz manzonite from Chihuahua. He has followed this up over his entire career and, in other areas, he is a world expert on many Mexican ore deposits. We also made lead isotopic measurements on carbonate rocks in north eastern Greenland with the aid of Dr. Lauge Koch in Copenhagen.
Doel:What was the thrust of that research question?
Kulp:That was to understand whether the lead concentration in the same kind of carbonate deposits was constant through time or was varying through time. The other one was as the concentration of clay carbonate relationships change, did the lead isotope change?
Doel:That of course has important sampling implications.
Kulp:Yes, we had another Ph.D. thesis by Don Miller — this is what you were asking before — on the isotopic evidence of the origin of the Colorado Plateau uranium ores.
Kulp:Now, after 1960 I did not have Broecker's papers in these binders. Because he was senior author, he was running his own program by then. He had a lot to do with defining the geochemistry of the salt lakes in the west. He had done a great deal in isotopic geochemistry of the oceans. He was elected to the National Academy largely on the basis of this work, and has become one of the leading lights in that whole area. I want to emphasize that. He had work going on at Lamont in the 1955-1965 period that was not age determination. It was broad geochemistry of the oceans and the salt lakes under his own aegis. So these books do not contain all the publications from the Lamont Geochemical Laboratory from 1950-1965, just the ones that I was personally involved in.
Doel:Right. I understand and I appreciate you saying that. How much do you remember of advising on Broecker's thesis? That's, of course, regarded as one that covered an unusually wide number of topics.
Kulp:Well I was significantly involved. But he gathered the samples, did the field work, made the measurements and contributed most of the ideas for interpretation. He was a very bright graduate student and completed his work in only three years. We discussed the main theme thrust of his research and what the data meant as it came in. He'd bounce it off me and we would talk about it. The important ideas were mostly his. He was a senior author in all these publications.
Doel:What did you find to be the most innovative or novel aspects of Broecker's work in that very early period as he was developing his thesis?
Kulp:Well, in the very early period he contributed greatly to improving the sensitivity and accuracy of the Carbon 14 dating method. And that was true up until his thesis. I guess his thesis was '57, '58 somewhere in there.
Kulp:After that he became much more interested in the geochemistry. Of the oceans and was very much involved with the planning of the GEOSECS program and a lot of other very important things. By the late fifties he had his own graduate students.
Doel:And of course that's somewhat unusual that someone who so recently out of the Ph.D. begins to develop and recruit other graduate students.
Kulp:Yes, well, they came to him. He developed a reputation very early. And you know other professors would recognize it and so they'd recommend people to come here.
Doel:And as you mentioned again, this may be one of the last topics we haven't brought into the tape that we talked about off tape. He was one of the three that you recruited to the geochemistry lab. You had also mentioned Paul Gast and Karl Turekian. When you visited Wheaton during the annual swings. What do you recall out of your initial meetings with these individuals? How were they called to your attention when you went to give the lecture?
Kulp:By the professors there. They'd identify these fellows as unusual young people. So I would spend extra time with them if I could. And try to get them excited about it. In Broecker's case, Paul Gast, who was a year ahead of Wally, was perhaps more influential than I. But, I'm sure I contributed also. And I particularly contributed, once he got there for the summer, to break through the Columbia bureaucracy so he could complete his senior year with a major in physics at Columbia. I think Turekian and Gast probably came almost entirely because of my influence. I think also they were not only excited about coming the first time because of the research and the fact of financial remuneration but the fact that here was a scientist from the Wheaton milieu who had made it and obviously was on the more liberal fringe. Although from very conservative religious backgrounds. They were already moving toward the liberal end of the Wheaton spectrum as might be expected as science majors. They would be asking more questions and would be advancing in their own thinking. I guess they thought of this as kind of a happy compromise where they still would be studying under someone with some "Christian" commitment but they could do serious science. It made for an easier transition from where they were coming from. Perhaps Gast was still the most conservative and Broecker the most liberal at that time. And Turekian, well you'll talk to Turekian and so can get his views directly. He's a fascinating guy.
Doel:Do you recall any interaction between your group and that at Toronto under J. Tuzo Wilson? Who, of course was growing interested in geochemistry at Toronto and the beginning of some research on dating.
Kulp:Not very much. I know there was a guy there by the name of, was it McFarland, something like that.
Doel:George Garland was there.
Kulp:Farquhar did lead isotope work. The other escapes me.
Doel:We can get that.
Kulp:But it was a small group — there were just about two young scientists and they mainly we’re doing uranium lead. Very competently. I think a couple of our people knew them pretty well and went back and forth. We had a very good relationship with Oxford University. I don't know if you realize that. I had several of my students go over there for a year at different times to help them move forward in their isotope program. After I spent an academic year there in 1958-1959 as a senior post-doctoral fellow, they had a fairly full complement of age determination going on. Most of which had originally come from Lamont.
Doel:That's very interesting.
Kulp:Leon Long, one of my Ph.D.’s, who's at Texas, now, did several important studies in Scotland, the Highlands, and on Dartmoor Granite. So a lot of the basic age determination work in Great Britain involved input from Lamont to start with although subsequently they developed their own competent people.
Doel:That's very interesting. How did that relationship come about?
Kulp:I think we had Professor Lawrence Wager, who was an internationally known petrologist, who came over in 1957 for the Kemp lecture at Columbia. I invited him out to Lamont to see our program and we had some good discussions. I think out of that, he saw the potential and realized it was essential that Oxford get into the isotope business. Before he left he offered me a post at Oxford for a year if I could get some funding from the NSF. By then I had been at Lamont for ten years or more and I thought this would be a fine opportunity to expand my geochemical horizon by being at Oxford for a year.
Kulp:I thought he was very progressive, a member of the old school, who wanted to bring Oxford into the modern era. At the time that we first started helping him, they had almost no isotope work. While I was there they got first mass spectrometer, and then I think Giletti and Long and at least one other person went over there for a year or better. And that helped get their people up to speed in the techniques.
Doel:Was there much interest in geochemistry amongst the earth sciences at Cambridge University?
Kulp:It was coming, just like here. I mean Cambridge and Oxford were evolving like MIT, Columbia and the others. They were a little bit behind us, by about a decade, but then they caught up. Great people; they caught up pretty fast. The first Carbon 14 lab in Britain was set up in Cambridge, closely tied to the archaeological department under Dr. Eric Willis. Later I invited him to come to Teledyne Isotopes as a senior scientist, during which time he advised on some studies at Lamont, although I don't think he ever was an employee at Lamont. Subsequently, he spent the rest of his career as advisor in arms control and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty utilizing his extensive background on low-level measurements of radioactivity.
Doel:Right. One thing in checking on your biography, was that when you were an NSF fellow you were at Oxford?
Doel:So that's '58-'59 academic year.
Kulp:Yes. A marvelous year for me and for the family — two daughters: ten and twelve, two sons: five and eight. The Headington School, just outside of Oxford, was an upscale private girl's school. And my oldest daughter — they were initially going to hold my oldest girl back a year because she was assumed to have an inferior "American education." She wound up winning the prize in English for her form. My second daughter got into trouble by daring to challenge her teacher — instruction was quite authoritarian with much emphasis on memorization — on the facts that Pluto was the outermost planet (Teacher said Neptune!) and that Hawaii was the 50th state (Teacher hadn't heard of Alaska or Hawaii as states!) They were using 1923 textbooks! But actually all of my three older children coped beautifully based on their more flexible American education. My oldest son, who got his Ph.D. in plasma physics at MIT eventually, was about eight and went to a middle school, the "Christ Church Cathedral Choir School for Boys." This is more like an average middle class, part-government, part-private school. He was first in his form in mathematics. The little guy, Jimmy — who is now a computer whiz — he was about six and he went to a pure government — we would say "public" — school. It didn't matter. You just walked down the block to this school. When they came home after a couple months, we had three totally different English accents. The girls would have a very broad, affected Oxfordian accent. John, the middle one, would speak sort of an average English. The little guy would have a Cockney accent. So, we had "My Fair Lady" going on around the dinner table very night. It was wonderful. When we came back on the boat, we spent about six weeks in Europe touring around before we came back. We were on the Staten dam to return to the U.S. In the course of that seven day cruise across the girls essentially turned off their accent. We settle immediately in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and put them in school in September '59. The girls had no trouble and of course people thought a lot of them cause they'd been in England for a year. But the little guy got into all kinds of fights as a first grader because they kept calling him the English kid because of the Cockney accent. He insisted he was American! Well, of course, in a few months it all worked out. But the year at Oxford was a great experience for all of us.
Doel:That's very interesting. [Interruption] Okay, we're resuming after a brief interruption.
Kulp:I have one additional paper that I want to draw your attention. I think it was significant because of its relatively early date: 1958. It was entitled "Inert Gases and the Evolution of the Atmosphere." The senior author on this paper was Paul Damon who, as I said, spent his career at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
Kulp:It was a very significant paper, giving his perception of the early atmosphere and its probable evolution.
Doel:Which inert gases were measured particularly?
Kulp:Helium and argon. He was able to demonstrate that there's too much Argon 40 in the atmosphere to account for it being original. Therefore almost all of this Argon 40 had to come from the mantle and from the crust during mountain building. It had been produced by potassium 40 and then released. This was a fairly significant paper back then and again it just showed the kind of breadth of interest in geochemistry at Lamont.
Doel:It's a critical problem too because that had been addressed from the 1920s, 30s, forward determining the inert gas composition.
Kulp:Of course there's more known now but it was a significant step forward. Plus or minus a decade I think.
Doel:Yes. Absolutely so. One of the interesting things that come to mind in hearing particularly about the interdisciplinary work that's being done at the geochem lab was that Ewing was also trying to get other aspects of biology and biochemistry developed within the umbrella of Lamont. And I'm wondering what kinds of interactions you recall with Roels for instance, Ostwald Roels who was on Lamont campus, there were attempts to build biological sciences.
Kulp:Very little with geochemistry at that time. We had just three interactions with the biological community. One was in the Sunshine program to describe skeletal turnover rates and calcium/strontium discrimination from diet to blood. Second was labeling drugs and following their metabolism. Third was in the sulfate reducing bacteria study. Other than that at least up 'til '65 we didn't have much relationship with the biological people.
Doel:Interesting. Now Gifford Pinchot, the son of course the more famous Pinchot, was involved. Ewing had tried to bring him in for certain programs. How much, did you have much contact with him or with any of those efforts to build?
Kulp:You must understand we were all very busy and focused on our own things. Once we got rolling which was by 1952, the geochemistry group was quite independent of Ewing's group. Not because we had any antagonism but there wasn't, there weren't that many joint endeavors. We had a few you know like the sampling in the ocean. But by and large, they were into seismology, geodesy, and marine geology and oceanography, and we were isotope geology, age determination, and worldwide fallout.
Doel:Intellectually and institutionally separate in terms of the funding.
Kulp:Yes. We had to get our own money.
Doel:Was the Rockefeller Foundation one of the patrons that you cultivated during the —?
Kulp:I didn't get anything from them.
Doel:Okay. Because they were interested in productivity of food materials in oceans and I wasn't sure whether this was something that had ever come —
Kulp:I don't know whether Ewing ever got any money from them, but we didn't.
Doel:There were a few other areas I wanted to make sure we had a chance to talk about also from that earlier period. One question I should ask you is that, it was 1944 that you were first married.
Doel:How was it that you had met your first wife?
Doel:She was connected with Wheaton?
Kulp:She went to Wheaton also. She was two years behind me and we waited until she graduated 'til we were married. So she graduated in '44 and we got married shortly after that.
Doel:Did she have an interest in science in this sort of things?
Kulp:Yes. She was zoology major. But she never really pursued it afterwards. She was obviously a competent mother and housewife. She was interested in art a bit, but she never really became a professional. Well that's not entirely fair. Later in life she went back and took some work and became a medical technician. We didn't need the money at that time, but it was more of a scientific and technical interest and a desire to serve the local hospital. She probably would have done it on a volunteer basis if necessary, but actually she was paid for it. She did that for maybe a decade.
Doel:One of the other things that I didn't get a chance to ask you about in —
Kulp:That was my first wife.
Doel:That was your first wife.
Kulp:We were divorced in 1987.
Doel:And then you were.
Kulp:I was remarried late in 1987 to a fine woman from Washington State who was a graduate of Oregon State University and an authoress.
Doel:Thank you. One area also that we didn't have a chance to discuss were other broader social and related interests outside of Lamont that you were involved in in the 1950s. You had remained somewhat involved in church activities during the 1950s?
Kulp:During the fifties, and into the early sixties, I was on the Board of Trustees of the Fuller Theological Seminary. It's one of the large, conservative, independent seminaries here in the west, in Pasadena, California. I had progressed a great deal in my philosophical view of the world by then and was on the liberal end of the spectrum of evangelicals. I played a major role in getting what turned out to be a very successful president has served twenty to thirty years. I think he's just retired, Dave Hubbard. Later in the mid-1960s, I resigned from the Board because the evolution of my thinking continued and toward the end of my tenure at Fuller, I felt I no longer shared the view of the majority of the folks there. I had stayed on the last few years mainly to help them with their academic program. Since that time, I continued to think and read and expand my data base. I guess it's fair to say that I've become something close to a secular humanist today, which is very far from where I started. I have no desire to do battle with those people except when they attempt to influence the local educational scene with their creationism or some other nonsense like that. As a scientist I have to say that I may still modify my view of the world, but the oscillations tend to dampen with age so dramatic shifts become less likely. I'm quite satisfied with my philosophy of life today which is very different from what it was.
Doel:When you made that decision in the 1960s to withdraw from the more formal involvement, at the time was it difficult or did it seem to be a natural point of evolution?
Kulp:My view evolved steadily from my college days to the present. I did have some twinges during my tenure at Fuller because they still had a Statement of Faith which is basically what the professors subscribe to. It was fairly conservative. Remember though in the conservative spectrum, at one end you have the Elmer Gantry’s and the Jim Bakker’s of the world. At Fuller, still in the conservative spectrum, you have fairly sophisticated theologians — fine, high-integrity people. Fuller would probably represent the progressive end of the evangelical spectrum. But in the big picture, the evangelical spectrum represents a rather small group. In fairness, it should be mentioned that these folks work hard at helping people. For the most part, these folks are not trying to make a buck on their religion. They're dedicated, but are intellectually naive.
Doel:Back in the 1950s you were also involved, I believe, in the Nyack Missionary Training Institute?
Kulp:Yes, that was very early, before 1950. The Nyack Missionary Training Institute, which was the major educational training place for the Christian Missionary Alliance young people, was trying to develop a bachelor's program that would be approved by the State of New York. They were trying to expand to a four year college, but they had to have certain academic subjects and they had to have people with credentials to teach them if they were going to get accredited. They also had to offer one course in science. Being a Wheaton 'Graduate they felt I would be sympathetic with their viewpoint. I needed the income, so I taught a science survey course two nights a week while fulfilling my full-time responsibilities at Columbia. I also was motivated by thinking I could help broaden the views of the students. When they started my course, most of them believed man was created six thousand years ago. In fact, the whole world was created six thousand years ago. So, I exposed them to all the sciences, including geology, biology, and astronomy. Toward the end of the academic year, I took them on an all-day field trip from New York out to the Delaware Water Gap running across all these different kinds of different ages. On the way back, I had some very interesting conversations and by then, the brighter ones were already saying, ''Yes, we're going to have to change our views. We must realize that the Genesis account of creation should be interpreted as a series of great paintings, not a detailed scientific description of the early earth. A few years later, I received a wonderful letter from a fellow named Paul Martin from this class way back in '46 - '47, who had gone out as a missionary to Israel. In it he said, "Dr. Kulp, I want you to know" — actually in '46 he was an older fellow who had been a pastor and then took my course and obtained his bachelor's degree and then went out as a missionary - "that your course is the most valuable thing that I had at Nyack Missionary Training Institute." And it was because he began to think and look at all the world, which he'd been so ignorant about. It was a satisfying effort for one year.
Doel:How did those organizing the curricula at the training institute react to the content of the course?
Kulp:They were very skeptical. Some of them were very happy when I left. The president, Dr. Tom [Thomas] Moseley, however, was relatively enlightened and was happy to have my input as part of the broad educational experience. He wouldn't have wanted them to adopt my views completely. But he thought it was part of the growing up to have this kind of input. And of course they very much wanted me because of my credentials to get their accrediting.
Doel:Did they get the accrediting?
Kulp:Later I had a number of technicians who were students at that school who worked part time. And they were very hard working, honorable young people.
Doel:That's interesting. And so many of them were coming through the lab during the 1950s, early sixties?
Kulp:Yes. Probably. And of course they were influenced by my graduate students and others.
Doel:Did any of them that you can recall become graduate students?
Kulp:Go into science?
Kulp:No, not that I know of. They really still had weak undergraduate programs. They would have to have been very exceptional. And of course, they went there to become preachers and missionaries. So whatever science they got was just part of their liberal education.
Doel:So it was more the job for the duration of the time?
Kulp:Yes. That's all it was. They were good workers as technicians.
Doel:One thing I was curious about in general. How often was equipment borrowed between the major laboratory centers of geochemistry during this time?
Kulp:Not at all.
Doel:Were instruments in geochemistry?
Kulp:No. Not at all. However, the movement of people between laboratories to learn the latest techniques was common. For example, the Carnegie Institution in Washington had a superior Strontium isotope measuring mass spectrometer. Paul Gast from Lamont went down there for a year to master their technology.
Kulp:Another example: I went to Libby's lab to learn the C14 techniques that he was developing. We accepted people from MIT, Finland, Oxford, and Princeton. There was good cooperation among the scientists to encourage the young people any time they wanted to learn a particular thing to go to one of their colleague's labs for a while. That usually worked very well both ways. Each would get high quality free labor for a while and the students would go back with all that technology to his own lab.
Doel:Consider the mass spectrometers that were in use in your geochem lab. How many were by the late 1950s, were commercially manufactured versus those that you were developing?
Kulp:Most of them were only partially commercial, maybe the tube itself, the electronics. You'd buy a box and it would have certain specifications. But I don't recall us having a pure commercial instrument. I think they were all built, somewhat, by ourselves. I always felt it was important that the students would be involved in actually building their instruments so they would understand its operation in depth, rather than just twiddling the knobs of something they bought.
Doel:Okay. Much less of a black box, but the tacit understanding of what it is they're measuring. That's interesting. And how many of the students, your students for instance, also learned glass blowing, the sorts of things that you had learned as part of your own toolbox.
Kulp:I think most of them learned glass blowing as one of their tools, because most of the experiments required some vacuum technology — certainly mass spectrometers had to have it. The electronic knowledge was variable among the students, but we always had at least one full-time technician as a backup for custom instruction and trouble-shooting.
Doel:When you look back on it, were there any generational differences to particularly note from the time? What you received in your training in the 1940s compared to what students in the fifties, early sixties at Lamont?
Kulp:It was evolutionary. By the time we were in the sixties, a lot of new technologies were coming on. But the explosion which accompanied the computer had hardly started yet. It was just barely starting in the sixties.
Doel:Critical as it becomes later.
Doel:It's not there yet.
Kulp:Now all the labs are very heavily computerized.
Doel:How much contact did you have with the machine shop, Angelo Ludas? Was he involved? Did he make instruments for the geochem lab as well the branches?
Kulp:He didn't make the mass spectrometers. We had those made outside. But he made some mechanical parts for us. He was part of our source. Although he was involved ninety percent of time with Ewing's program mostly for the marine activities, on occasion we had him full-time working for us in his shop.
Doel:How well did you come to know him?
Kulp:Fairly well. He was roughhewn, but great guy. He ran the shop for Ewing, great loyalty, and I think he managed to get the maximum out of the few dollars he had. He was highly regarded there.
Doel:One often hears too about the parties that Angelo Ludas organized at Lamont. Did you have time to go down to those?
Kulp:We weren't part of most of that. That was mostly geophysics.
Doel:Was that distinction drawn because of the different, the intellectual environment that the nature of the involvement or was it your outside commitments and the work?
Kulp:No. I would say it was just the subject area that brought certain groups very close together. And there weren't that many studies that brought the geophysics and geochemistry together. We were of course operating in separate buildings after 1954.
Doel:So that there were social implications that fell —
Kulp:You'd tend to spend your spare time talking to people with similar interests. This is true everywhere.
Doel:Who became particularly noted as graduate advisors in the geochem lab? You were of course doing an enormous amount of it. You mentioned that Wally Broecker.
Kulp:Yes. I did the bulk of it early on then Broecker and Gast shared it with me until 1965.
Doel:It really stayed within a fairly tight circle of people who were considered the advisers?
Kulp:Yes, but there were frequent contacts with people from other labs and at meetings.
Doel:Yes. When you say that in the early 1960s, you were becoming much more involved in fund raising and administration. Was that again an evolutionary gradual change or was there anyone set.
Kulp:No, it was evolutionary. And of course the more you were known and the more your students published and you published, then there were more requests to advise in Washington, D.C. Either on military requirements, science policy or serving on committees of the National Science Foundation, the national academy or other granting agencies.
Doel:I'm curious about those developments.
Kulp:I started to do some consulting with companies. Very often maybe I'd consult for a few days a year, but in the process I might get a fifty thousand grant for the lab. It was a vehicle by which I could contribute and get paid myself, but also that I could essentially raise funds. With Exxon, for example, because they thought well of me and our work, I might suggest a problem area that Exxon really ought to fund. Sometimes the funding would follow shortly. To run the labs this activity was part of the price. The labs cost a lot to operate and the university contributed only to professors’ salaries. The amount of money you had to raise kept going up. That meant competition for government dollars which meant we had to have strong proposals and that we had to have performance, but also we had to do a lot of selling. That was my job. And after a while you look at it and say, "I am more fund-raiser than scientist."
Doel:It sounds like you're thinking of the 1965 decision to go into industry.
Kulp:It took probably three years for me to come to that conclusion. But when I did, I was very comfortable with it.
Doel:I'm curious about the advising that you did do for the government in the early 1960s. Which committees and which agencies particularly did you, seem significant to you?
Kulp:Well one that was quite significant was the Advanced Projects Research Agency in the Air Force. I did other work for a specific Air Force group down at the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and the Hanscom Field up in Massachusetts. They both had research arms. I got quite well acquainted with young lieutenants who eventually became generals. So once I got into that organization and had established a reputation for excellent work at Lamont geochemistry, I could almost do as much as I wanted there. I really did more saying no than yes. But there were some things that I thought that were of sufficient interest for basic science and they were sufficiently generous to the lab that I accepted the work. I think Ewing did a lot of the same thing.
Doel:Yes. But did Cambridge research center, Hanscom, become one of the?
Kulp:They were important early, in the early fifties, they were not important later. In the later fifties, Kirtland was very important. It was through that that I did the work in the Pacific.
Doel:I see. That's interesting. Okay. The work you had mentioned about decontamination of air planes.
Kulp:Aircraft decontamination of those tests, yes.
Doel:And you mentioned that you were also on policy advisory committees in Washington. I was curious about.
Kulp:Not very high level policy. Let's see. I was in on some of the early decisions on radiation health. I think I was on one panel for the U.S. Geological Survey.
Doel:Involving geochemistry in particular.
Kulp:Yes. And ore deposits in that case. U.S. Army Chemical Warfare.
Doel:NSF you mentioned as well.
Doel:In geochemistry for instance. When you advised groups like the Army with chemical warfare and other aspects of relating to Sunshine, clearly as you say and this much of this work necessarily came within the context of national security and the concern was to understand basic kinds of information and affects including what could be found out behind the Iron Curtain. Did you have contact with those in the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] whose responsibility it was to try and understand or was that kept segregated?
Kulp:No. We didn't do anything with anything of a classified nature at Lamont except in the earliest stages of Project Sunshine. I did some work with the CIA at Teledyne Isotopes, but not at Lamont. That was later.
Kulp:We tried fairly hard to keep away any high security stuff that would restrict publication or that students couldn't work on freely. That was not appropriate for the university. So the only time we got involved with security was in the early Project Sunshine days where the government desperately asked us to help on a restricted basis. We helped them with the understanding that as soon as we could open it up, we would. I think it was and is important to keep that distinction.
Doel:How much, when you think back to it, in 1965, did you already recognize hints of the kinds of problems that emerged by '6S? The worries about Lincoln Laboratory, rather Hudson Laboratories at Columbia? The concern about military contracts at private facilities? Was that already becoming an issue at the time you left Lamont?
Kulp:I don't recall it being a significant factor with us. I never sympathized with the extremists. I always felt that there is an important role from the point of view of national security for university people to participate. As long as they kept their perspective and kept the high security stuff out of the student area. So with anything that I did after the early Sunshine period that was classified was always as a consulting individual, not as a part of the Lamont program. But I thought that that was legitimate and part of my duty as a citizen.
Doel:You know, of course, later part of the controversy involving Lamont came over the Bermuda Station and the military contracts that necessarily supported that.
Kulp:And I think that was all wrong in terms of the environmental extremists who were pushing it. But that's just my point of view.
Doel:You mentioned this already in a somewhat different context, but when you look at the development of geochemistry in the laboratory at Lamont, were there essential differences that you found between its development and that say at what had initially emerged at Chicago or later at Scripps and Cal Tech? Or do you find more similarities than differences between?
Kulp:In what terms?
Doel:Either the way that the teams developed or the instrumental approaches. For those of you who were concentrating on similar sets of problems and using similar techniques, say as opposed to the Carnegie group, which as you say was involved with very different research programs.
Kulp:Well the technology was similar. We were competitors in a sense but we shared all of our new information. And labs went forward. As we discussed before, at Chicago, of course, it essentially disbanded. Urey, Libby, Harrison Brown and their students dispersed. Only Clayton was left there, who was a first class oxygen isotope person. Chicago dropped rapidly from being a leader in geochemistry.
Kulp:What you did notice was an explosion of geochemical topics in the literature. Also when you go to a Geological Society meeting, geochemistry is a very big part of it. This contrasts with only a few papers back in the early days. Now geochemistry is one of the major sections and of course geophysics consists of several big sections. So if you look at that evolution, you'd see that the classical fields of geology have gotten progressively smaller and the quantitative side has gotten progressively larger.
Kulp:And I would say that the difference between Scripps and Lamont was that Lamont was far more oriented towards students. Cal Tech was smaller but very high quality. And they had inherited the core of the original Urey group of students. MIT never moved forward at the level of the others. I don't know for what reason because MIT initially was very strong in some areas of geochemistry. But [pat] Hurley eventually retired and really nobody took his place. There were some other scientists that played around with strontium isotopes for a while. The geochemistry scientists that provided most of the vanguard of the next generation, I don't mean this in a bragging way, were my students who went and headed up geochemistry at Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Minnesota, Arizona, Texas, NASA, and Brown. You hear much more of the active research papers coming out of those institutions than you do MIT or Chicago today. Scripps and Cal Tech continue to be highly productive.
Doel:One other area that we haven't discussed. Were you involved in the debate over whether Lamont ought to be relocated to Sterling Forest?
Doel:How generally aware were you of that question of whether —?
Kulp:I don't remember that one at all. Hardly even remember it being discussed. So it must have been at the Ewing level or after I left.
Doel:This was a discussion that was actually in 1960, '61. There was another tract of land being offered to Columbia at a greater distance from the City but one in which there seemed to be more land available for development and land that might not come into conflict say with views of the Hudson and the concerns that were raised over the building of the oceanography building. Issues of that sort. There was a discussion between university officials and certainly Ewing, at least, over what to do about that. And I was very interested to see if you had been involved in that.
Doel:Do you recall much debate too in the mid 1950's, '56, about the work that came to center on sudden climate changes and the long term climate sequences. The arguments that were being raised against the old [Albrecht] Penck-Eduard Bruckner system of the major climate periods that was of course later undermined by the work of Embree and others. How much do you recall of how involved did particular people in the lab come?
Kulp:I think only Broecker was involved in that in my lab. I was not.
Doel:When Broecker became involved in that sort of thing, would this be aired widely within the laboratory, or was it more or less a matter that as particular researchers got involved in these questions, it was their areas of interest to deal with.
Kulp:Yes, I would think the latter. I don't remember specific. But I would imagine Broecker would have brought up some aspects of it in our weekly seminars. Occasionally there would be a topic on that.
Doel:Right. You had, you mentioned a number of points, at the beginning of your work in Isotopes, Inc. and its management. What do you find, as you look back, were the major achievements or the major difficulties that confronted you once you left Lamont and went to Isotopes, Inc., later, as you say, as Teledyne Isotopes, Inc., a part of the Teledyne conglomeration of companies? What were the major contributions that you feel that you made during your decade?
Kulp:I was very active in formulating the research programs we would propose or which the company was operating under contract. This involved selling research to the various agencies, government and industrial. And of course a whole new area of financial management which is required of the chief executive.
Doel:What did you have to learn particularly to be effective in moving from academics into policy and management?
Kulp:I guess it was mostly the financial side and attempting to manage within the somewhat inconsistent guidelines of the government. Because government agencies were our major source of support until much later. As time went on we got more into industrial research. Most of the research work was cost plus which meant very small profit margins — the constant battle over appropriate overhead and general and administrative costs to stay competitive. It was a constant struggle having enough money to do the job right and yet to be competitive. It was challenging and satisfying. We grew from a few hundred thousand dollars to twenty million in a reasonably short time.
Doel:How big was the core group or the company?
Kulp:Well as I say, it started a couple of hundred thousand a year and —
Doel:I meant in terms of people, individuals.
Kulp:Well, I suppose, well it started with maybe a half a dozen and I guess at the peak it was a hundred twenty, a hundred and thirty something like that.
Doel:Were you one of the original founders?
Kulp:Yes. I was the principal founder.
Doel:I didn't realize that.
Kulp:But I only played a role as a member of the Board of Directors until 1965 and then when I decided to move. The company had grown to a state where we needed a new chief executive. Most of key people there wanted me to come. There were some money people from Texas involved as original investors who wanted to take the whole company. We beat them in court. They didn't have any of the knowledge that was required to manage a research organization. It was a typical case of a group of brash young scientists deciding to create a company and make it successful. When Teledyne acquired us, the original investors and most of employees were financially rewarded. Further the company now had more capital to work with. I told Teledyne 1'd be willing to stay five years to manage, but then I was going to start looking around. A big company like Teledyne goes through cycles of capital feast or famine. After Teledyne Isotopes had reached about twenty million in sales, Teledyne Corporate needed cash, so they sharply restricted capital for the subsidiaries. We had lots of ideas that could lead to expansion, but we were severely limited in capital from the corporate office. So there came a time when I felt that I was beginning to tread water in a way like I was doing at Lamont in '65, but in a different context. That's when I started looking around and received this excellent offer from Weyerhauser, a Fortune 100 company, to be vice president of research and development. Weyerhauser was a multi-billion dollar company in the forest products industry - growing trees, making paper and wood products. They wanted fresh blood, a new look, someone who had wide contacts in science outside the classical paper industry. George Weyerhauser had plans for an impressive new technology center to house 1200 scientists and technicians but he was holding off construction until he found a satisfactory leadership for the research and development organizations. This appeared to be an exciting opportunity, so I accepted their offer. An example of what a new scientific perspective brought to a conservative old line industry follows: When I arrived at Weyerhauser, they were still cutting the same old way. An old, experienced sawyer would eyeball a log as it went into the sawmill and then he'd make a few manual adjustments to position the saws and then it would be cut. Incidentally, this is one of the biggest forest products companies with the largest holdings of plantation timber — around six million acres — so obviously any incremental increase in efficiency at any stage in the processes, from tree-growing to producing the final lumber or paper has enormous multiplying factors. As I observed this sawing process, I was impressed with how primitive it was technically, for today we have lasers and computers. Remember, this was way back in the mid-seventies. With some top-flight mechanical engineers, laser and computer experts, I immediately started a design program. Within a couple of years we were able to have lasers which would scan the shape of this irregular, semi-cylindrical object, feed that data into a computer which would instantly compute thousands of different solutions, and then instantly present the optimal option to cut it in a way to get the maximum lumber out of that log. You know with this new technology, we increased the value of lumber coming out of the logs by fifty percent with zero additional labor. Such high benefit to cost ratios for research and development projects occur where new technology can be applied to existing processes.
Doel:That's an impressive achievement.
Kulp:My responsibilities included determining the research and development budget and searching for top-notch people. My position opened doors for me to visit universities to give lectures and do recruiting. I managed to convince Weyerhauser to give substantially more money to the universities in the form of pre-doctoral fellowships, post-doc appointments and research grants. Such funding is important as it gives you an open door to talk to the faculty and key students a couple times a year. The goal is to identify the best and then convince them to join your research team. And I did a lot of that and was able to hire a really outstanding group. We had a great ten year run, but I had to retire at sixty-five, according to company rules.
Doel:No exceptions are made.
Kulp:Correct. If you're lower level you can continue under the current law, but at the executive level you can't.
Doel:That law change happened of course after the time that you retired.
Kulp:I guess so. I basically agree with it because as I look around at my colleagues, there were some that by age sixty-five probably were no longer worth what they were being paid but you can't really demote them and it's too painful, particularly if they've been loyal and have worked up to a high level in the company to terminate them. But I look around now at seventy-five and I would guess eight out of ten of my colleagues from college or high school can't play tennis. Whereas I play all the time. But the more important thing is that I had a great run at Weyerhaeuser for ten years. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Doel:Are there other things that come to mind? You mentioned the one achievement that integrated the new technology into the company. Are there other things that come quickly to mind?
Kulp:Yes. The whole forestry area. When I arrived at Weyerhauser, there were essentially no mature plantations. Wood was cut from natural forests that may have reseeded themselves. Only in 1968-70 had Weyerhauser begun to establish plantations to grow about 30 years in the south — mostly Loblolly Pine — and 40 years in the west — mostly Douglas fir — before harvest. The potential technological improvements in all stages of the process were enormous — targeted at the goal of maximum wood per hectare per year. Some of those technical operations that we began to research aggressively in 1925 where: optimum preparation of the soil including addition of ideal concentrations of nutrients, optimum selection of seeds or tissues for regeneration to yield the ideal tree at harvest (i.e. the genotype for maximum growth, fiber length, straightness of trunk, small branches etc.), optimum production of high quality seedlings, optimum planting and control of competition, and later optimum thinning routines. Each of these steps required intense research, but as a result the modern plantations being installed today will produce up to three times as much wood per hectare per year as the first plantations (1968-70) and 10-20 times as much higher quality wood per hectare per year as the natural forest. For a given area of land the benefit to cost ratio is extremely high and increases with the area using these improved technologies. Since in the forest products industry, the single biggest cost of production is the raw material, the research focus on forest technology is obvious. To rapidly achieve these technical goals, the staff was selectively expanded; many university research groups and consultants were employed. At one time Weyerhauser had several times the number of Ph.D.'s as the largest university forestry departments. Weyerhauser now plants about a hundred million trees a year. They have had serious conflicts with some environmentalists because the latter don't understand the difference between natural forests which should be set aside for protection of ecosystems, wildlife, and human enjoyment and commercial forests that produce wood — that should be thought of more as corn fields with a thirty year rotation instead of one year crop. Incidentally, the plantation as it grows up, in its later, last ten or fifteen years, looks a lot like a natural forest in many ways, and most of the wild life is very happy in a plantation forest of various ages. You can hike in it, you can hunt in it, and you can fish in it. But it's not the same, so we should never destroy the natural forest. Natural forests should be primarily for habitat and plantations should be to produce wood. Plantations will give you perhaps eighty percent of the non-wood values of the natural forest. When people are ignorant of the difference and primary uses of plantations vs. natural forests we run into terrible political problems. Consider the spotted owl nonsense. It was allegedly that Weyerhauser was going to extinguish the spotted owl because it was going to cut down some old growth trees. Well, actually, Weyerhauser doesn't have any old growth anymore. The plantations range from about 1 to 30 years today but the owls don't mind it. The original claim of the activists was that these owls can only live in an old growth forest. But owls can live on telephone poles and do. We've counted them. All estimates on the population of spotted owls have been low. The more we look, the more we find. The picture always painted for the public is that loggers are going to go in and destroy all the habitat. In actuality, we have in the state of Washington, about nine million acres of old growth forest already locked up as wilderness... It's never going to be cut under present law. To listen to the environmental extremists, you'd think we would be cutting the last old growth tree if you allow any harvesting!
Doel:Did you feel that one of the contributions that you brought to Weyerhauser was bringing in the experts in the broadest realms to address these issues of the interface between the science and production?
Kulp:Yes. I expanded the front programs when I was vice president because I saw that it was mutually beneficial to the company and the university. The people that had directed the research and development before me really didn't have this perspective or the contacts that I had in the university world. So it was a fun and productive. George Weyerhauser who was the President and CEO at that time, a person with my type of background. That's why I came and why he hired me. He wanted someone who could see the big picture of science as potentially applied to industry and try to see how we take advantage of the emerging technologies. So that made it a great fun for ten years. It was my third career equally exciting to any other one.
Doel:Did it feel very different from the experience at Isotopes and Teledyne?
Kulp:Yes. First, I had the academic situation at its best at Lamont. Second, I had the entrepreneurial experience of running a science and engineering company. And then finally, I could direct the research and development resources of one of the Fortune 100 companies. There I had large financial resources, fifty million dollars a year, for research and development. I had a staff of twelve hundred scientists, engineers, foresters and technicians with a brand new lab which was first in the industry worldwide. Within a month of the time I was hired George Weyerhaeuser authorized the construction and within two years we moved. During that interval, I was able to hire a sizable group of top flight people.
Doel:How did, in your view of it, has that, have the initiatives that you pursued largely been kept in the last five years?
Kulp:Some of them but not all of them. By the time I left management had changed. George Weyerhauser had retired. The new top management was not as supportive of research and development and in the early eighties, the forest products industry had tough times. During that down period, the bean counters and lawyers became the dominant players at the very top management. And they couldn't see the long term contribution to R&D. Because after all if you significantly reduce the budget you don't see any losses in the short term. There was a period after I left where a fair number of my best people left also and R&D at Weyerhauser was restructured to become more applied. Just now it's starting to turn back into more research effort. Companies tend to go through these cycles. The reason R&D was so productive when I was there is that the president understood the value and backed it.
Doel:So for the first seven years George Weyerhauser was there and then he was no longer directly responsible?
Kulp:Essentially, yes. I am convinced based on my experience at Weyerhauser that R&D will allow a handsome return on the investment if managed well. This means basically that it must be run as much as possible like a university lab — like Lamont. To a large extent we were able to do that, and of course, it made all the difference. The good people were there doing their experiments whenever required. The lab and the library were open at all times. This was a different world from the usual commercial or government laboratory.
Doel:Very different. The culture of the work place is the critical factor. One thing, I don't want to get off the topic of Weyerhauser prematurely, but I was very interested because we hadn't really explored the founding of Isotopes, Inc. And I wanted to know more about what lead you to feel that this was an appropriate step to take. This was fifty —?
Kulp:Four. Well I looked at the world and I saw the growing need for sophisticated isotopic measurements on a routine basis for application to many commercial and defense problems. I also felt this was not appropriate role for Lamont or for any university. Hundreds of routine measurements, but requiring sophistication and a high accuracy was an unmet need — measurements for somebody else who's going to use that data in some scientific way of course or what. As a small example, I saw such a need in Project Sunshine, so one night in my living room I called together a group consisting of, two of my soon-to-be Ph.D.’s who were headed for industry, an electronics technician and a lawyer and presented my vision. They were enthusiastic and agreed to start the company when the two obtained their Ph.D.’s and we could acquire an initial $5000 investment among us.
Kulp:In total. And, at that point, I had already gotten sort of a verbal commitment from the AEC that they would contract out this increasing load of routine work. Of course, they wouldn't contract just with one company. They had three companies, which they felt were qualified. They said if the bids were anywhere near comparable, they would probably split the work because they wanted competition for a while and they wanted to have different companies involved. But I felt we had a good chance of getting a third of measurements. So we took the plunge. Within another month or so we got the first contract. Rented some space. Very cheap space.
Doel:Was it around Palisades or —?
Kulp:It was in Westwood, New Jersey, just a few miles from Lamont. My role was a member of the Board of Directors until 1965. I helped them get one or two contracts and I did a little consulting for them, but any compensation was minimal. I just had stock and went to these directors meetings. But then when it grew to the place that it needed more professional research management and I was ready to move.
Kulp:By the way I did not have the majority of the stock either. I was just one of a group. Although within about a year we needed a lot more money, and we got major money both in equity and loans from a group in Texas which carried the company for at least a decade. I look back on my life as having three major phases: one academic, one entrepreneurial, and one Fortune 100 R&D. Very different experiences. After I had to retire from Weyerhauser, I was director of research of the national acid rain program for a couple years under the Reagan Administration. That was a program ran at my office in the White House complex on Lafayette Square. The research which was conducted at a number of government and university laboratories over a decade — 1980-1990 — with total funding of about $500,000,000. Leading this diverse organization was quite a challenge. It involved totally different kinds of activity. Personalities ranged from Senators and Senate staffers to University professors and environmental activists. It was hard to get things done and could be very frustrating, But I felt I brought a degree of scientific discipline and critical experience to the program that it hadn't had before. By the time I left, I thought we had enough definitive information to answer the major questions as to the causes and effects of acid rain.
Doel:Did it seem a similar type of problem to what you faced in Project Sunshine in terms of narrowing down the increasing amount of data —
Kulp:Yes, in part.
Doel:Available in which to begin to —
Kulp:Scientifically it was a good parallel. In every other way it wasn't. The politics were enormous, the frustrations of getting decisions, so many people were involved in everything. And to be able to winnow out first class people from real duds is almost impossible in the government. I was able to redirect a small percentage of our funds to first class labs. And they contributed far out of proportion to their funding. [Interruption for phone call.] Where were we?
Doel:Anyway I was about to ask you, what were the particular high points and frustrations of the acid rain study?
Kulp:Well fundamentally the inability to direct the research and make decisions as to what contracts should be renewed, what investigator should be used. I was only able to nudge this huge steamer rather than redirect it. Once a government laboratory obtained its money it would tend to spend it independent of any outside direction.
Doel:What was, to use that analogy, whose was the stronger hand on the helm? Did politics come to play particularly in which laboratories, which facilities would be the ones that would do the research?
Kulp:Yes. The political situation was complex. Each government agency or laboratory would fight to get the fraction possible of the funding pie. Just to put it in context, I was effectively the chief executive of the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP). I had a board of directors consisting of a chairman of the board, Lee Thomas, who was the head of EPA at the time. The other directors were supposed to be the secretaries of Interior, Energy, Defense, NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], and so on. Aside from Thomas, rarely were these other secretaries in attendance. They always sent second level people. But they were my directors. They didn't function as a group trying to get a mission done. Rather, each of them were interested primarily in getting the maximum part of the budget. There was little cohesion in their viewpoints. My job was to formulate the best scientific program to determine the causes and effects of acid rain. Their emphasis was quite different. EPA, for example, had many people in it who wanted to exaggerate the problem. Because the more it's exaggerated, the more money they could get for research and control — and they liked control. Thomas, however, was a presidential appointee and was trying to do the right thing. He was relatively supportive of me. The program — NAPAP — was a ten year effort, and eventually spent five hundred million dollars. The funds were appropriated directly to these departments, not to me, except for my small executive staff. I had to go hat in hand to the agencies to get the funds for the research studies that I considered most important for the mission. Of course the power is where the money is. I had to use my best science salesmanship to try to get them to fund the most valuable experiments. I was only marginally successful in this effort. Some of the ineffective use of these funds was appalling to me. I assumed the directorship in 1985. NAPAP had been in existence for five years. The first two years they accomplished little because the bureaucracy was trying to figure out the substance and the location of the contracts. Data didn't start flowing in until about the time I got there in '85. I with my limited authority was able to help critically evaluate that data and then push a few of the better labs into doing the critical experiments which should have been done in my view years before. For example, planting seedlings of different tree types or agricultural plants and subjecting them to various concentrations of acid rain to find out whether there was any damage at ambient levels of acidity. Therefore having quantitative measurements rather than mere speculation.
Doel:Which agencies were you particularly interested in getting to do this work?
Kulp:Well, I would have preferred to emphasize contracts and grants with university labs rather than the government labs with the exception of the Argonne National Lab in Chicago which is run by the Department of Energy. They did first class research. We finally did get some definitive experiments going and got some answers within the two to three year period of my tenure. At the end of my service we put together a four volume summary of the status of the problem. I thought the results to that date fundamentally answered the basic questions as to the causes and effects of acid rain, although NAPAP was continued for several. The final report — now ten times more words — did not alter the primary conclusion of my interim report, but did fill in some details. The bottom line is the effects felt from ambient levels of acid rain. By the way, all rain has always been acid all over the world. The issue here is how much additional acidity is being put in by the S02 mainly from large coal burning electric power plants and what is the resultant damage, if any. We found effects were generally negligible to positive. The damage was minimal except in a few local situations. Acid rain is composed of sulfuric acid and nitric acid. The nitric acid part of it fertilizes crops, trees, most of which need more nitrogen to grow optimally. So actually they grow better with acid rain than if there wasn't any acid rain. Now this is not a reason to have acid rain. But the notion that you're killing trees and crops and so on from ambient levels of acid rain is just nonsense. However, there are some other effects. The sulfur dioxide reacts with ammonia in the air, forming particles of ammonium sulfate which decreases visibility. Average visibility over large regions and long periods of time is hard to measure, but a rough measurement of visibility over the last fifty years in the Eastern US shows it decreasing as the S02 emissions increased from 1900 to 1970 and then visibility improving as the S02 emissions since 1970 have been decreasing.
Doel:What airline pilots for instance have been reporting.
Kulp:Their input is largely anecdotal and is not overly useful. To continue, by 1990, there's great political clamor stimulated by the activists to pass a clean air act to further restrain the emission of SO2 — although the scientific data showed the effects to be minimal. In 1990, the Congress decides with Bush's help, that they will pass a Clean Air Act. One part of the clean air act is designed to cut the S02 in half. Why in half? Nobody knows. What improvement would there be in the effects? Nobody knows. At least none of the politicians know, but it will pacify the public who have been misinformed by the activists and the media. Cost: billions of dollars over twenty years to the American taxpayer for problematic benefits. One good thing about the NAPAP was that for the first time in history, Congress authorized a ten year research program instead of funding one year at a time. They spent five hundred million dollars. Congress passed the Clean Air Act about nine months before the final report, the definitive report, of the results from NAPAP. They effectively paid no attention to this enormous research program that they had funded. In fact even Moynihan, a very bright senator, who was an originator of NAPAP, which was given the charge to resolve the cost benefit issue of further control of acid rain, was disgusted when congress passed the clean air act prior to receiving the $500,000,000 NAPAP final report.
Doel:Was the alleged damage in the Adirondacks considered minor in the final report?
Kulp:Yes — negligible to small. There wasn't any provable damage to the Adirondack Forest from acid rain. The trees in the Adirondacks it turns out were damaged from cold winters, not from acid rain. A tiny percent of the lake area in the Adirondacks was most acidic than in pre-industrial time — mostly small, high altitude lakes. Many of these never had fish. And remember, the Adirondacks receive the most acid rain of any other part of the United States except western Pennsylvania which has few small lakes. That's because from the Ohio valley, the air masses contaminated from the large coal fired electric plants move northeasterly. The maximum rain out occurs about a day or two later because it has to react with hydrogen peroxide in the air in order to get the acid, a very complicated story. What happens when acid rain comes down? Well it hits the surface of rocks. Most rocks have carbonate in them and so it's immediately neutralized. If you have a granite surface, with thin soil, runoff into small lakes may not be fully neutralized. The result is an increase in acidity. This phenomenon occurs mainly in very small high altitude lakes, many of which never had fish. No large lakes on the Adirondacks or anywhere else are acidified.
Doel:But you have higher concentrations of —
Kulp:To repeat, there are no large lakes anywhere in the northeast or in the Adirondacks which are acid. None. Why? Because a big lake has a large watershed so the runoff gets neutralized. The bottom line is that in the Adirondacks, the area of highest deposition with numerous tiny lakes at high altitude with thin or no soil for neutralization, the lake that has been acidified to the extent that fish can be hurt or immobilized is less than one percent. Of that one percent probably half were acid — so fish didn't like it — before there was any industry. The reason being that in a temperate forest zone as the eastern United States, the temperate zone, the natural acidity of rain is about five, pH of 5.0. pH 7 is neutral, pH 1 is highly acid, okay? Because there are natural organic acids in the air, because there is nitric acid from lightning, because there's sulfuric acid from micro-organisms in the soil, all rain in temperate forests of the world is acid at about 5.0. The worst case in the Adirondacks for these tiny lakes is a pH of about 4.3. But the average pH for all lakes in the Adirondacks is about 7.0 — neutral. If we're going to spend billions of dollars to cut the S02 emissions in half, how much effect am I going to have up there on the minimal fish population in these small lakes? Well it turns out from the best models that we have developed is that we wouldn't be able to measure the improvement in fish populations — after spending billions of dollars. But that information was never used in the writing of the Clean Air Act. It was either ignored or with the great noise of the environmentalists, the Alar crowd, the NRDC [National Research Defense Council], it was pushed into the background. I thoroughly enjoyed the overall experience at NAPAP with all the frustrations. We provided a four volume summary — this wide.
Doel:You're holding your hands about six inches apart.
Kulp:Yes. This was in 1988 — an interim report — the final NAPAP report was two feet in width containing twenty-five thousand pages, which summarizing the ten years of NAPAP research. Instead of wasting billions of dollars to quickly reduce the S02 emissions in ten years, required by the 1990 act, the same or better result could have been achieved at virtually no incremental cost over a somewhat longer time period by simply requiring that all new power plants would have to use the latest technology. It turns out that the latest technology for removing S02 does not cost any more than if you built the old style plant that dumps the S02 into the air. Existing plants should be closed within ten years of the end of their accounting life. And of course the issue is becoming academic now, because natural gas is so cheap, the gas turbine's efficiency dramatically improved, and the emissions from a gas fired plant are negligible. So nobody's going to build a coal plant anyway and the S02 emissions will steadily decline. Finally, you could give up on Congress and assume that no new scientific information will influence them. But that's wrong, because in the very long term, reason will win out in a democracy over the long term, in my view. Further, all of science done in NAPAP has benefited forestry, lake and stream chemistry, limnology, emission control technology and other areas. So the five hundred million dollars’ worth of research was not wasted. Increasing knowledge eventually helps the democratic society, even though in the short term it was pretty hopeless.
Doel:It sounds as if you got a fair education in the U.S. political system.
Doel:I'm curious. Did you find any of the people in the Senate or House staffs devoted to scientific questions to be particularly effective?
Kulp:Some of them. Some of them were frauds but some were very thoughtful people who wanted to know as much as they could. And this included the elective representatives as well. Some of them were phonies. They would ask questions that were irrelevant; they didn't care what you answered. Others really wanted to understand the best scientific conclusions, although they may not have immediately acted on it.
Doel:Who did you particularly admire in that time?
Kulp:Senator [Robert] Byrd and his staff, believe it or not, Senator Moynihan, Representative Dingle, [Senator Mark] Hatfield. Those are just some that come to mind. On the other hand there were members of congress who had no interest whatever in scientific information. They had an environmental agenda that they were going to push no matter what. "Don't bother me with any facts." There was other representative who really wanted to know. But, in fairness, they had other pressures beyond the science like economics, environmental activists and others that bear on final policy decisions. One interesting observation is that although I was appointed by the Reagan administration through the recommendation of Bill Ruckelshaus, I was never pressured by the White House staff to come up with a particular conclusion. They only stressed the need for high quality science and the urgency of the results. I couldn't ask for more than that as a scientist. I told Lee Thomas when he first engaged me, that I accepted the position with a desire to help solve a serious scientific problem and that I had no political agenda. I stressed that I would not prostitute my science for anybody. They needed to know that going in. If I were ever asked to twist the data for a political objective, I would resign. I think most active scientists would have taken the same view, I was not unique in that. We worked very hard to find out what the facts were on acid rain and we published them.
Doel:Did you ever find an occasion where you did feel that kind of pressure in any situations?
Kulp:Oh yes, at the lower levels, I'd get input people at EPA particularly who had their own agenda. But the serious scientists, whether in EPA or outside, were supportive. I have always felt strongly about maintaining the quality of the environment. I have believed this is best supported by good science and sound economics. But my first global environmental concern was with worldwide radioactive fallout. It is important to focus our resources on serious environment not on the latest scare manufactured by the activists. And we have finite amount of money with many need from education, to clean water, so it is critical to spend it on significant matters with a high benefit to cost ratio. To see billions of dollars virtually wasted because people didn't carefully examine or listen to the science, is hard to accept. But I imagine some of this is inequitable in a democratic society, with limited education in the sciences and economics.
Doel:In some sense these are clearly long term problems which history of science has shown. On the other hand, there are many more issues immediately in the public sphere of interest in which these matters are cognizant.
Kulp:With a public that is almost increasingly ignorant about science and a rapidly advancing technological society, this is a huge problem. The schools are not doing the job, just looking at the math requirements over the last few decades.
Kulp:Yes. Just down. They're trying to reverse that now. But how can you talk about a literate, liberally educated person in today's society, that doesn't have a certain minimum of science. Just like a liberally educated person must have read some of the great literature or isn't somewhat aware of the history of the planet. He darn well better know some basic science too. In an increasingly technological society where he's supposed to vote and make decisions. That is a serious problem.
Doel:I fully agree. I'd like to give you a chance to say anything on any aspect of your career at Lamont that we haven't raised so far today or yesterday.
Kulp:No, I can't really come up with anything significant off the top of my head that we haven't covered.
Doel:One of the other questions that I tend to ask at the end of interviews. You've already spoken about the transition in your own religious thinking as you have come to learn more and question more about what is known in the natural world and the relationship of that know ledge to faith. I'm wondering if there are other strong convictions that have been important to your life in addition or if there is anything else that we haven't covered in that realm that you'd like to mention?
Kulp:One of the most basic needs for humanity is to develop and implement a universal language. This should be at the top of the agenda of the United Nations. They should select about a hundred of the top linguists in the world, give them all the money they need, and locate them somewhere for about ten years in very good quarters with the assignment at the end of that time to have a highly efficient, highly consistent world language. The nations of the UN should then agree that that language would become required of every student in every country in the world for twelve years of education they also used their own tongue and their own language. So that at the end of about thirty years everyone in the world who has basic schooling could communicate with everyone else. I think that would yield one of the greatest return to humanity for the smallest investment that I can think of. I feel very strongly about that. And it's appalling to me that no political leader has taken that idea, which isn't unique to me, and pushed it. Just look at the television. When heads of state gather, they can't talk to each other. They have to have interpreters. Highly inefficient to say nothing of misunderstandings. And then you get down to the ordinary people who ought to be talking to each other and the more they talk to each other, the greater the chance for peace, the greater the chance for trading technology, for benefiting in every possible way. And yet it's such a simple, straight forward idea. It can't be English or any existing language. It's got to be a new language that's highly regular, highly consistent, designed exactly for communication. You back that up with the computer and you should be able to get there in one generation once you had it.
Doel:Different from Esperanto?
Kulp:Oh, yes. That was an interesting idea. But it was very limited in its scope. You know it was a romance languages that related only to a part of Western civilization, a small fraction of the world's population. This is one world we're talking about. And I feel strongly about that idea.
Doel:Have you tried to affect it? Have you been in contact?
Kulp:No, aside from personal contacts with associates and students. I don't have the stature or reputation to influence enough people to do that. But if you could influence somebody who was going to be a senator or a president, who would take it and run with it, there might be some chance. Particularly if an American president would take the lead in pressuring other presidents. Just think of the benefit, and so easy in principle compared to other big problems we have. You wouldn't spend as much as you did on the acid rain program. Another significant problem is limiting the world population. While I agree with Dr. [Julian] Simon that —
Doel:This is Julius Simon?
Kulp:Julian Simon. I agree that the more people you have and the more creative brains you have, the more capability you have to solve problems. And therefore, and because there is no real restriction on earth resources, despite the nonsense that the environmentalists give us. The potential support for a much larger world population can be envisioned. I've given lectures on Earth's almost limitless resources at the University of Washington, Harvard, Yale, and numerous other places. And I've gotten very little negative response. Because, if we have virtually unlimited energy available to us, which we do, it's just a matter of what it costs. And even direct solar energy doesn't cost much more than what we're paying now for electricity from other sources. We have unlimited energy, we have unlimited metals of all kinds because all metals cost less today than they did a hundred years ago in real dollars. All metals. Why? Because technology advances faster than the grade of the ore decreases. And that can go on indefinitely. I mean every rock has copper, lead and zinc in it which we could take out at current costs if we had the technology. Advances in technology keeps lowering costs. Every time you have a new graduate student, he represents the potential for lowering the cost of something. Further, all materials can be recycled at an ever increasing rate. Since we have unlimited energy, with a smart enough chemist, we can make anything. Furthermore, electricity is a greater percentage of our total energy. The cost of electricity, if anything, has slightly declined over time. So if we have no restraint on resources, and if more people produce more creative brains, then as Simon says, it's hard to imagine a time within the next couple of centuries anyway, where population per se should be a problem. On the other hand, it's very clear to me that locally, in an impoverished, highly illiterate, Third World country, that the rate at which we can help them advance to the current standard of living of the first world, is greatly impaired if their population is rapidly growing. The population is growing in some cases faster than the technology or the GNP can match it. In which case, although not necessarily a higher percentage of humankind, an increasing number of people will be consigned to mere existence, which could lead to very severe social, military problems long term. Therefore, my conclusion, bottom line is we should work at restricting in every reasonable, acceptable way, the population growth of the world.
Doel:Do you know Julian Simon? Have you met him?
Kulp:Yes. I wrote a chapter in his book, Status of Humanity.
Doel:I wasn't aware of that.
Kulp:My chapter was forty-seven. It was on acid rain. I think population control is something that's very important for human society. For example, I would not vote for one dime for food for the Third World without ten dimes for contraception. Sorry, that's the way I feel about it.
Doel:Have you talked to Simon about those issues that you just raised?
Kulp:No I haven't had a chance. Maybe I'll get to it sometime. That would be interesting. He makes a good case for the fact that you don't have to limit population and I think there's some legitimacy to his arguments. But, clearly to me, retardation in the rate of growth in the Third World would be beneficial, if this is accepted why we shouldn’t go beyond mere general emphasis on contraception? Should we restrict birth of those likely to be seriously deformed or violent criminals? Should we castrate the sex offenders? Should suicide be made a noncriminal event? Should we approve doctor-assisted death? I wouldn't have much trouble with those things today. I might have thirty, forty years ago in my philosophy but not today. I think there are ways to improve the human race in its morality and ethics in addition to population control. The quality of life and quality of people can be advanced without or in spite of a call on divine intervention. We have the ability to do what we must do. We can make a contribution to a better life for humanity as scientists in our seventy to ninety years. At the end of that time we could say, we fought the good fight and contributed something. Then we should look to our kids to contribute the next increment. It's been a glorious adventure.
Doel:Eugenics and related issues certainly open up lots of cultural and political and some will argue ethical dimensions. Indeed this could lead us into another interview.
Kulp:But you wanted to know roughly where I came out on some of these things and —
Doel:Yes. And —
Kulp:— and after seventy-five years, there's where it is.
Doel:Yes. And I do want to thank you very much for this long interview. And just to put on tape, you will be receiving the transcript of the interview directly from the Columbia University Oral History Research Office and we'll be glad for your comments and reactions to it.
Kulp:And you'll really promise me I'll get that. Because I've had some interviews and I've got promises and I didn't get it to review. And my wife is even more anxious about than I. We would like to make sure that it's what we really think.
Doel:You will be getting it from the Columbia office.
And thank you very much again.
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