Oral History Transcript — Dr. Gordon Eaton
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Interview with Dr. Gordon Eaton
Gordon Eaton; July 8, 1997
ABSTRACT: Born March 9, 1929 in Dayton, OR; discusses family life and childhood. Comments on his father's encouragement of engineering; enters Wesleyan for undergraduate education. Discusses the influence of Joe Peoples in geology; describes summer job with the USGS water services. Comments on the value of hands-on experience doings research science early; describes his graduate education and the social environment at Cal Tech. Explains his PhD research on Miocene volcanic history under Dick Jahns; discusses the tensions between geology/ geophysics divide in his degree. Discusses his research and teaching at USGS, Wesleyan, and UC-Riverside; explains his transition into administration at Texas A&M. Discusses his difficulties as president of Iowa State University; describes his transition to directorship of Lamont. Describes in detail the biggest challenges and his biggest triumphs as director of Lamont; discusses the funding strategies of Lamont in comparison with other institutions. Comments on the building of the Lamont advisory committee; describes the changing of Lamont's name. Explains his decision to leave Lamont for the USGS directorship; discusses the challenges that face Lamont and the USGS in the future.
TranscriptSession I | Session II
Doel:This is Ron Doel, and this is an interview with Gordon Eaton. Today's date is the eighth of July, 1997, and we're recording this in the director's office of the USGS in Reston, Virginia. And I know that you were born in Dayton, Ohio, on the ninth of March, 1929, but I don't know about your parents. Who were they and what did they do?
Eaton:All right. My father, Coleman Eaton was a structural engineer, who worked most of his life for General Motors firms that were head-quartered in the Dayton area. First for Frigidaire and then for Arrow products during World War II. You know, products made — propellers for fighter aircraft that were used by all the branches of the services during the war. My mother was Dorothy Prior was a librarian. And I was one of these kids who grew up in a family way ahead of its time, where both parents worked. In part, it was economic.
Doel:Because the depression started when you were just about...
Eaton:The depression. And when my father's income didn't make ends meet, why my mother's came in. And her mother lived with the family so they had a built-in, free baby sitter. And it worked out very well. But I early came to respect the intellect of women, and working women, in a way that I think a lot of my contemporaries had to learn the hard way.
Eaton:Later adults. And I would suppose if my mother came back from the grave and wanted to know what I'd done with this, I'd point out to her that the two associate directors of the U.S. Geological Survey are both women. They put a lot of stock in education.
Doel:Did you have brothers and sisters?
Eaton:I had no brothers or sisters. I was an only child. And so I was expected to do well, to apply myself academically. And that came very easy to me. When I went off to Wesleyan, the first intention was to major in history.
Doel:I want to make sure we get to the Wesleyan period in a few moments —
Eaton:Okay, but I'm jumping a little too fast.
Doel:— but I'm still. I'm really curious. What kind of house did you have when you were growing up?
Eaton:What kind of house?
Eaton:Well, for the longest time, we were in rented houses. They were small, wooden, clapboard sided houses of no particular architectural note. And it wasn't until I was about halfway through high school that my father was able to buy the first house that the family owned. And it was a rather large, imposing brick house in a very nice neighborhood in Dayton. Incidentally, I just went back to my fiftieth high school reunion two weeks ago, and there were two hundred and twenty-eight of us there from the class. And the bus took us around all of our neighborhoods. Took us past all of the elementary schools and all of the junior highs to which we had all gone before we gathered in this one class at one high school. So I saw my old home.
Doel:That must have brought back some memories.
Eaton:Yes it did. It did. But this was from the period when my father was well-to-do, and my mother had stopped.
Doel:She had stopped working at that point?
Eaton:Yes. Dad had become a, probably a mid-level executive in GM. And so things were comfortable. And that's the home that I remember the most. Interestingly, in terms of my high school reunion here a few weeks back, it was the kids from an earlier period in my life that I found myself closest to, two had become physicians and have since retired, one is an engineer and he is retired. And we talked a lot about the life we led as children in the other neighborhoods — not the one that we ended up in finally, but where we were renting the houses. And it was amazing to me how much I felt I had in common with these people — some of whom I literally had not seen in fifty years. Most of them were largely, quite readily recognizable. A few had to be introduced. But not having had much contact with people from that period from my hometown for so long, I was surprised that I felt as much bonding with them still. That's something you carry with you for a very long time. None of them were, had gone on to careers in science. Most of them had not gone into careers in any sort of management or administration. So we had rather different takes on our lives as they had evolved.
Doel:That's interesting. As you say, there were a few professionals who did emerge.
Doel:Did you have a library in your house, particularly once your parents had bought a house?
Eaton:Yes. Yes. We always had a library. And one of the things my mother did as librarian was continually bring books home to me to read. And she tried to bring a variety each time. And I always found that there would be one or two I took a great interest in. And that's been a lifelong interest on my part ever since. I still buy far more books than I can possibly read. I keep telling my wife I'm going to read them all in retirement. But this wall is about a third of what I've got — this wall and the cases behind it. This whole next room is a library.
Doel:And you're pointing to shelves that are here in the director's office that extend around to.
Eaton:But it's all, it's all my materials.
Doel:Five shelves deep.
Eaton:So it shows you the influence. And I'm kind of interested here, late in my professional life, in the fact that knowledge is available in other ways now, other than the standard library. But I have to tell a story on myself. Because in the three and a half years, three and a quarter years I was at Lamont, I served on a lot of main campus committees. Because I had held a major administrative post trying to taking the Lamont job. And if I had meetings that weren't back to back, but I had time to kill on the campus, and there wasn't time to run back out to Palisades, I would go over to the library. And I loved to go up in the stacks. I loved, I liked wandering the stacks. I loved the smell of books and I loved card files. You know, I use the local library here which is all electronic, quite readily, but there's something missing. I don't whether it's the touchy, feely part of it, or what, but there's something great about sitting in quite carrel, way back in the stacks, with the fragrance of old books.
Doel:Seems like that's bringing up an old memory for you.
Eaton:Yes. Yes. So that goes back to my childhood I think as a memory.
Doel:And this is Butler Library you're talking about —
Eaton:Yes. Yes. At Columbia.
Doel:— on the Morningside campus.
Eaton:I mean, I knew where the electronic files were, and I would go and use them. But I dearly loved going to the card file. I just thumb through the cards.
Doel:And I do want to make sure we cover that, because you were involved in quite a few major committees, including the strategic planning committee at Columbia and others. And we certainly do want to cover those. What sort of books do you remember reading as you were growing up? Did you have an interest in a particular subject, or broadly?
Eaton:Well, I would say, yes, no, I did. I was particularly interested in the early settlement, well, the early exploration of the western United States. I had been taken as a child to the Grand Canyon when I was about ten years old. And it made a tremendous impression on me. And I got interested in canyons and in mountains. But then I got.
Doel:This was a family trip that?
Eaton:This was a family trip. Yes, taken by my parents. They later took me to Yellowstone. And so I got an introduction to the west. But what was happening during this period was that I became focused on the early exploration of the west, and particularly in the period of the 1820s, when the fur trade was flourishing and what's referred to generally as the mountain man — complete independence and freedom, roaming around in the Rocky Mountains, trapping beaver. But that then in turn lead to an interest in the mountains themselves and how they formed. I guess along about the seventh grade, I must have had a course in general science. And that really piqued my interest. And in that course there was some geology and some meteorology and some primitive oceanography. So that then they had just sort of swung off in that direction.
Doel:Was this one person who taught broadly over all the sciences? This class that you remember?
Eaton:Yes. Yes. It was a woman. And I couldn't begin to tell you what her name was.
Doel:But it's interesting that it wasn't broken into different subject areas, but rather whole.
Eaton:Yes. No. Right. It was sort of natural science in a way at a very superficial level. But I developed an interest in meteorology and for a while I thought maybe that would be the career that I would pursue. Then I went to work for the Forest Service. The interest in the mountains and in the west continued, and while I was in high school, I worked summers for the Forest Service. This was a period just after World War II. And most of the people on the crews with which I worked were high school kids because Forest Service had had about a four or five year period in which able bodied young men were off fighting the war, and they had to fill the ranks of trail crews and firefighting crews and control crews with youngsters. And I then decided that forestry was what I was interested in. So this interest was sort of encouraged on the part of some high school teachers. And I found when I went to apply — and there were a very limited number of forestry schools at that time — that there were limited numbers of slots for students. And there was veteran's preference as there should have been, and they were all filled. And so then I thought well, I'll go into history. So I went off to my freshman year as a history major. But we had to take a course in laboratory science. It was part of the degree requirement. It was encouraged in the freshman year. I was sitting in Cadman National Forest in western Montana, poring through the Wesleyan catalogue, reading about the beginning course in biology and the beginning course in physics and the beginning course in chemistry, and I come on this word geology, which I hadn't heard since seventh grade. And it said something very important to me. It said, during each of the two semesters, three of the afternoon laboratory exercises will be held in the field. Which meant we'd be out of doors.
Doel:That had a particular attraction.
Eaton:And that attracted me right away. So I signed up for that, and before the end of my Freshman year, I had elected to major in geology.
Doel:That's very interesting. What kinds of courses were offered in the sciences in high school before you went to?
Eaton:Oh he whole array. And I took chemistry. And I did not take biology. I now have seventeen hundred biologists and their support staff working for me, and this worries them somehow. Let's see. First of all I took four years of math. Both in high school and in college. Mathematics fascinated me.
Doel:Did it come easily for you?
Eaton:Yes. It came very easily. It wasn't until I got into the really advanced stuff that I found I had to work hard. So I took four years of math. I took chemistry. I had taken this general science course in middle school, or junior high. I had taken physics. But I didn't take biology. So I had sort of used, elective opportunities to take a lot of science.
Doel:You mention mathematics. Was the calculus offered in high school? Or was that not until you got to Wesleyan?
Eaton:No, at that time it wasn't. No. It ended with trig. It was only in the later, the next generation, which calculus began to creep down. And in fact, in my freshman year, we took analytic geometry. Plane analytical geometry. And then in the second semester solid analytical geometry. There we got into the first vestiges of calculus. And then calculus itself was a full second year. And then the third year was differential equations, theory of numbers, this kind of thing. It's changed now quite a bit. But I had a fabulous calculus teacher who used every equation we derived with a practical example.
Doel:That's interesting. This is Wesleyan now we're talking about.
Eaton:Yes. This is Wesleyan. So I bugged way ahead. But.
Eaton:So it was this. It was the exposure I think to the west, what came to be a growing love of the out of doors. Then some, the fascination with science and how things worked.
Doel:Did you already feel that you were aiming towards a career, at least a major in the sciences, before you went to? When you were in high school?
Eaton:No. As I say.
Doel:As you say, history was one of the ones that you were thinking of.
Eaton:And forestry was another. I don't consider that science. [Cross talk]
Doel:And forestry was the other. [Cross talk] I was curious if you did.
Eaton:Yes. No, I really didn't. So it wasn't until I got sort of, geology got a hold of me in my freshman year in college, that, you know. And even then I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it. We just visited Joe Webb Peoples, oh about six weeks ago. He had his ninetieth birthday. Lives in Westchester, Connecticut. And he was recalling the first time he was aware of me in the freshman class as a person — as opposed to a name on the roster — was after a lecture he had given on glaciology. And he talked about the work of a guy by the name of Max Demarest, who was an early glaciologist, who had lost his life in Greenland during the war on a — what was, I don't think they call them ski mobiles — but he was out on a rescue mission on the Greenland ice cap and drove through a snow bridge into a crevasse and died. And Joe had known him personally. And suddenly this whole issue of ice and glaciers and how they moved and re-crystallization caught my fancy. And I went up to him after the lecture, and asked him if it was possible to make a living in this field. And he indicated, yes, indeed, it was. And so that was really then the turning point for me that I decided to go into geology.
Doel:That's interesting. And again, this is coming during the freshman year.
Eaton:Yes. Yes. So it was a fairly critical year for me. My father had suggested civil engineering because he was aware of my interest in the out of doors, and he thought construction of highways and bridges would be an engineering way to be out of doors. He bought me a few books on civil engineering.
Doel:Did you go with him to work at times?
Eaton:Yes. In fact, two summers I worked also — in, must have been the first two summers in high school — I worked for his company as a draftsman's aide. And so I was given small jobs of tracing designs of parts and things. You got to remember now this is back in the days; the only copy machine was the blue printing process. We didn't even have let then. And Xerography was not a gleam in anybody's eye. But I enjoyed that too. I enjoyed sort of the meticulous demands of engineering drawings. And so I and my father worked on another floor in the building. But I rode with him to work every day. And I think this also was an attempt on his part to expose me to engineering in some way to see if it would take.
Doel:You had mentioned too the first trip out to the west and how that had kindled your interest. Were you able to get back out to the west as you were growing up?
Eaton:Let's see. We came out twice. And then the next visits to the west were ones that I made as a summer employee of the Forest Service.
Doel:Yes. That was the next time?
Eaton:Yes. Yes. So at that point I was on my own. In fact, they drove me out the first summer and dropped me at west Yellowstone, and then I made my way up to Orliss, Idaho, then onto Montana. Incidentally, we were driving through there in 1990 on Interstate 90, and we left Missoula and headed northwest and passed turnoffs whose names I recognized — Furrier, and Paradise and I was absolutely dumbfounded to come around the bend and see that the next exit was Hauwkin, which is where I found to work for the Forest Service. My wife and I pulled off, and of course with an interstate highway passing through you could hardly recognize anything. But I went in the local store, and I asked. And they said, oh yes, if you go back down the old road, turn and you'll see the Savinack Tree Nursery, which is where I had signed on. And it was, it brought back a lot of memories too. I can recall eventually when I went to work early for the Geological Survey, being fascinated by the project, the geologic mapping that was going on in that area, because I hadn't known geology really when I was exposed to the rocks in the area. And it began to make a lot of sense.
Doel:I was curious if you'd come to meet geologists already during those summers when you were out there? Whether you spoke with people about?
Eaton:No. The first time I met a practicing geologist was at the end of my sophomore year in college. And I took summer field camp in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. On a ranch near a little town called Dubois. And we were measuring stratigraphic sections in the Big Horn Mountains. And boy one day there was a lot of excitement. Mr. Wyoming Geology was going to be at the camp that night when we got back to the ranch — John David Love, who's still alive.
Eaton:John McFee's done a book on Dave's mother, Rising From the Plain. And he was there to chat with us. And it was really exciting. He said that he had grown up on a ranch in Wyoming. In fact, the quadrangle, U.S.G.S. quad is the Love's ranch quadrangle. And the only people they ever saw were cowboys and geologists, because there was a lot of oil exploration in his youth in that area. And he said, he and his brother had been cowboys on their father's ranch, so he decided to strike off into geology. But he never left Wyoming in that sense. And became the expert on the very complex geology of the entire state. He was the first practicing geologist I talked to. Now I had had a summer job after my freshman year at Wesleyan with the USGS water resources division. So I met a real live hydrologist, and worked for him.
Doel:Where were you working that summer?
Eaton:In Middletown, Connecticut, where Wesleyan was. Again Joe Webb Peoples. Joe and I are a good example of it's not what you know, it's who you know. He had arranged that summer job too.
Doel:Interesting. What sort of things were you doing that summer?
Eaton:There I was responsible for gathering basic data on wells. It was a ground water study. How deep was the well? How deep was the casing? Some of it in bedrock generally they cased it partial material and didn't case in the bedrock. What was the yield of the well? How many gallons a minute did it flow? Was it pumped? But then he let me, toward the end of the summer, take all the data that I had on depth to bedrock, and plot that as a map. And one of the things that came out of that was something I'm sure senior geologists and hydrologists in the area knew about, but it was a revelation to me. Quite a few miles long buried channel of the Connecticut River. The river had moved. And it had moved in a way that it didn't just migrate across the landscape. It was now flowing on the other side of a range of bedrock hill. And then I saw the value of just gathering basic data for no particular objective perhaps at first. Now I'm sure he had objectives in terms of estimating total ground water resources in different parts of the state of Connecticut. But the depth to bedrock thing was, well it was a part of that, for me and what he let me do, was sort of insightful in a very different way. And I do recall, I mean in a way Doc Ewing, who was one of the fathers of marine geology, collected basic observational data because we knew nothing about the ocean floors at the time. We had some very screwy ideas, in fact. Maybe they weren't screwy at the time; they were screwy in hindsight, ideas, for example, about the age of the ocean floor. The sea floors were viewed as something that had been in place a very, very, geologically long time and they were viewed as very stable.
Doel:Those were widely held assumptions.
Eaton:Yes, he established a requirement that every day the Lamont ship heave to and take a piston core sample, because we were going to learn something from these sediment cores. He may not have had an objective in mind other than just to find out what was there, but this seasonal experience of mine in finding out about the various channels of the Connecticut River was very similar, but microcosm of it.
Doel:But it seems important cause you were exposed to the actual practice of doing science at a very early age. At least for many, for many students in science. You were having actual research experience already by the end of the freshman summer.
Eaton:Yes. Well, actually it's interesting that you say that because I remember now, in the first semester of these freshman field trips, that we were taught how to use a Brunton compass to measure strike and dip of stratified rock. We had been exposed to the idea that in the movement along a normal fault there was frictional drag so that the beds that were down-dropped had a trailing edge against the fault surface that was caught up because of friction. I noticed at a series of stops under the direction of a teaching assistant, as we approached the eastern border fault of the Connecticut Valley, that instead of tilting up or tilting away from the fault, the beds seemed to be tilting toward the fault, more and more steep and steeply. I went back by myself on a Saturday and did a little traverse of about three miles in length to confirm this. And I, in fact, found that the down dropped block instead of being like that, was like this.
Doel:Right. You're putting your hand down.
Eaton:Yes so I took this observation to Joe Peoples and I said, you know, what you taught us in class and what I see out there don't seem to square. He said, oh yes, "Reverse drag." I forgot to talk about reverse drag. I think that he was mildly impressed that somebody in the class had enough curiosity about this to go back and look at it and question what the conventional wisdom had been. So, he provided that opportunity too. In fact, as I recall it now, I mentioned what I'd seen in two or three outcrops, and he said, "well — you really ought to go back and take a still closer look and gather some more data and tell me what you think." So, he kind of pushed me in that direction and I did have some opportunities. These are not particularly significant things in themselves, but they were a chance to make original observations and try to draw some sort of conclusion, but I didn't understand the value of it at the time.
Doel:It sounds like you were doing a lot of that alone or were there other students in the class that carried your interest?
Eaton:No, I was doing it alone. In some ways, I was a pain-in-the-ass for the other members of the class. They were taking the cause because they had to take it, and then they had to contend with this guy who was interested in it. He (I) was just a little too eager. I think that was the way they viewed this.
Doel:Did you see much of Joe Peoples outside of the classroom or was it?
Eaton:Yes, sometimes I baby-sat his children.
Eaton:We became fairly close. I did a senior thesis — it was an honors program research opportunity. I worked on a problem that he suggested which was an attempt to understand the variation in magnetic susceptibility of chromite’s as their composition changed. In the fall of my first year in graduate school, we co-authored a paper that he presented to the Geological Society of America annual meeting. Chromite is a spinel mineral, that's a solid solution series in which other elements can substitute for iron. I built the device· for measuring susceptibility. Not an original design, but one patterned after something in the physics literature at the time, for very crude measurements, I suspect.
Doel:How did you come to, I'm curious how you came to know even the sort of thing that was in the physics literature. Were you?
Eaton:Yes, I took quite a bit of physics. In my senior year, one of the senior physics professors at Wesleyan even tried to persuade me to go to graduate school in physics, rather than geophysics or geology.
Doel:Interesting. Did you have an interest in that? Were you thinking that that might be a possibility for you?
Eaton:Yes, for a while I was, but then the call of the outdoors sort of took over again. I didn't see physicists out of doors much. [Laughter]
Doel:One question I didn't get a chance to ask you before was why you chose Wesleyan as you’re undergraduate?
Eaton:Like a whole lot of other things, it was almost an accident. My mother was the chief reference librarian for the Dayton public library, and her boss was a Wesleyan graduate. He had a daughter — Wesleyan was all male at the time — who was going to go to Holyoke. And he suggested that she and my father consider Wesleyan. We knew practically nothing about it, other than the name, because our family was Methodist and the connection with the Methodist church seemed to be obvious, even though the Methodist church no longer had any connection with Wesleyan. I applied there and at Dartmouth and at Stanford and was accepted at all three. Had a band scholarship, offered me at Stanford — I've forgotten what they offered at Dartmouth. And I've often wondered about whether anything would have been any different had I gone to Dartmouth. All three had good geology departments, incidentally.
Doel:But you were looking, of course, broadly at that point.
Eaton:Yes. I wasn't looking at geology at that point, so this is in hindsight, now, looking backward.
Eaton:In the end, Wesleyan offered the largest scholarship stipend, so it was essentially that, plus the encouragement from my mother's boss. I'm on the board of trustees there now. It's interesting, all these years later, more than fifty, to see the place through very different eyes.
Doel:I'm curious what lead you to choose those particular schools. What had you known about them at the time?
Eaton:Well, the outdoor part at Dartmouth was clearly the call there, and the idea to get away from Ohio, to New Hampshire or out to California, had an appeal. I don't know how I, or we, "discovered" Stanford. Oh, I do, yes I do. I had a cousin who was on the English faculty there, so he had some influence in attracting our attention. I had been a pretty fair student in high school, and I must have done okay on the SATs. I don't have the faintest idea what my score was, but at any rate, I was admitted to all three. And I probably chose in terms of the size and diversity of (academic) fields and so forth, the least of the three, and I got a very good award and a good education.
Doel:You mentioned the band fellowship, what instrument were you playing?
Eaton:Flute and piccolo. I was pretty good at that back in those days.
Doel:Have you kept up with it?
Eaton:No. I kept up with it through the first years of teaching. I played in chamber groups on campus where I was teaching and then it gradually withered away.
Doel:Were you in sports during high school?
Eaton:Not much. I fenced at Wesleyan. I broke my nose playing sandlot football in my freshman year in high school and lost interest in physical violence. [Laughter] I had gone to a summer camp where there was some, but really not sports, in the usual sense just fooling around it.
Doel:I meant to ask you too, was religion important at home when you were growing up?
Eaton:Yes, it was, particularly on my father's part. We went regularly to church. He was a deacon in the church and an usher and I was expected to attend. They early on took me to the regular service. I'd go for Sunday school class early, and they'd go to an — I guess they must have gone to an adult Sunday school class —
Doel:Study group of some sort.
Eaton:— and then when the regular service came on, they would take me to that. When I was small and restless, as small children are, I was allowed to draw during the service. There were always pencils in the pews for signing the guest book and my dad would get an extra copy of the morning service and there was usually enough blank space in the margins to draw. This was "okay" behavior, even though there were other adults sitting in the pew with us. They seemed to think it was okay for this small child to make pictures. The reason I say now that it was a mistake, or was not a good idea, I find now when I'm bored at a lecture or at a church service, I usually carry and reach for some file cards or something in a jacket pocket And I'll take them out and write. I don't draw anymore, but I jot down thoughts about things I need to do that afternoon, something like that, because, I was taught that was socially acceptable in my early years. [Laughter] It's kind of funny. You're asking questions that are bringing out things I never would have thought of by myself. Once I demonstrated an interest in science as a profession, I got all kinds of encouragement from my father who laid off the engineering stuff altogether.
Doel:But as you say, clearly he was interested in seeing you consider that career option during the time that you were growing up.
Eaton:Yes. I think I can much more clearly see the difference between an engineer and a scientist than I possibly could have at the time.
Doel:Clearly that's not very clear at the high school level for many people in any case. Were there other teachers who were memorable for you in high school? You've alluded to a few.
Eaton:Yes, actually, my senior English teacher, whose name isn't going to come to me now — lender, fairly intense, dark-haired woman. She really pushed me to do a lot of writing outside the normal assignments and the general science teacher, as I mentioned, in the seventh grade. Then there was what must have been an arithmetic teacher in the fourth or fifth grade. It's interesting to me that most of the teachers that I remember as having made a strong impression on me were women rather than men. It's true that in those days that most teachers were women, but I was exposed to a few men, some of whom I found rather fatuous. They didn't seem to have quite the seriousness of purpose.
Doel:That's interesting. You found the depth also in the women was.
Eaton:Yes, in the women teachers.
Doel:That's very interesting.
Eaton:So — one arithmetic teacher, one English teacher and one general science teacher. The math teachers were all very challenging because the field it presented good challenges. It was there that I first got into starting to compete with some of the brighter kids in the classes. Where we'd try to tackle problems in different ways, and then compare notes afterward. In part, it was a race to get the answer, and then after people had gotten an answer, we'd compare our approaches to the problem. I can remember, particularly in trigonometry, in the senior year, which was greatly encouraged by the teacher, who was a male in this particular case.
Doel:I also meant to ask, were there things like science clubs that you took part in? Were those in high school?
Eaton:There were at Wesleyan, but I don't recall that there were in high school. It's interesting. We saw some pictures of clubs, of students in club when gathered at the fiftieth reunion. There was a set of my closest friends and I and our wives who were sort of drifting around together and we stopped to look at them. They weren't labeled and we'd say, what was that the French club? What was this one? We couldn't figure any of them out. We'd see ourselves in them, but we couldn't remember after fifty years — which, well, fifty-one or fifty-two years in some cases — what this or that group was. But I don't recall a science club. I really don't.
Doel:But you say you do at Wesleyan?
Eaton:Yes, informal ones for outside lectures and such.
Doel:Were they separate by the disciplines, say in physics and geology?
Eaton:Yes. They were. That continued in graduate school too.
Doel:Which ones did you take part in at Wesleyan?
Eaton:Oh physics. I don't remember taking part in a math club. Then Sigma Xi came on. I became a member of Sigma Xi and Phi Beta Kappa in my junior year, so those kind of took over from the discipline oriented things. It was my first exposure to the greater breadth of science, through a society that was an umbrella, rather than focused on a specific field.
Doel:What sort of things happened when you were part of Sigma Xi?
Eaton:Oh presentations by visitors were made. Occasionally, we made individual presentations; mostly these were in the nature of reviews of articles. Very few of us were doing anything original. By the time we were seniors, I think we were presenting the results of our senior thesis work.
Doel:Were there outside speakers that you invited in, as well, that you recall?
Eaton:My recollection is, yes. I couldn't begin to tell you who. They probably were not like those of today. Today Wesleyan brings in outside speakers who are of international note. Usually these people are in the country and they make presentations on campus. That sort of thing was not happening when I was a student, to the best of my recollecting just as opportunities to spend a junior year in Europe, which are prolific now. That kind of opportunity wasn't there, and then it was a very different era.
Doel:You mentioned Joe Peoples, of course, as one of your key influences at Wesleyan. Were there other instructors who also?
Eaton:Yes, there were. Malcolm Foster, in mathematics. He was a Nova Scotia, and the one that I took both plane and solid analytical geometry from, as well as the full year of calculus and Diff. E. [differential equations]. He is the one that made calculus so very, very interesting in showing practical examples of the application of the different formulas that were derived, and some of them were quite homely examples. I can still remember one of the early ones which was optimizing the surface area relative to the volume of a tin for Prince Albert tobacco. You want to put a certain number of ounces of tobacco in a tin, and how do you minimize the cost of the can. Well, you minimize the cost of the can by minimizing the amount of metal it takes —
Eaton:— but there are some other practical constraints to be considered. It couldn't be a sphere for example, which would give you the minimum surface, but he couldn't be stacked for shipping. He did this over and over and over again. I never saw any of this in a book anywhere, then or now, but he made calculus far less abstract this way.
Doel:Very memorable pedagogical tool for you clearly.
Eaton:Yes, yes. Exactly. And I still remember in one of his courses, I don't remember which one it was now, the derivation of the flow lines of a field between two plates, which could have been an electric field or a magnetic field, but which I saw in a different way. I saw it as flow lines of water in an idealized channel, flowing into an open body of water. I remember taking it to him and asking, is this a valid application of this equation that defines these flow lines? He needed overnight to think about it, he said whether or not this really was just superficially similar or whether actually it fit.
Doel:Do you recall what he told you when he came?
Eaton:Well, he thought in the end that it probably had validity, yes, but certain conditions had to be laid on the still body of water. It couldn't have currents, wind driven currents. This was highly idealized.
Doel:Restricted case. But that's interesting that you were thinking in that direction.
Eaton:This is what can happen in a very small school like Wesleyan was. At the time there were only seven hundred and fifty students. He had that kind of time to devote to individual students and, for me, which made a big, big difference. I think had I gone to a Berkeley at that point in my life, where I would have been one in hundreds, I wouldn't have had that kind of personal attention. Wesleyan at that time was also pretty much devoted largely to teaching. As I'm sure you know, most of the people that have gone on to careers in science at the Ph.D. level are not graduates of the same kind of institutions (large institutions), they're mostly graduates of small liberal arts colleges. That was probably propitious, but it was, in a way, accidental. You were asking about memorable teachers and Mack Foster was memorable. Joe Peoples was, too. I'm struggling to remember another, there was an economics professor who was exceedingly challenging in my sophomore year, and I did not like him. He used a Socratic approach in class. And it wasn't until I'd been out of school about four or five years that I realized that this is one of the best teachers I had ever had.
Doel:That's very interesting.
Eaton:This is why I worry today about student evaluations that are done at the end of semester to evaluate teachers. I would have given him poor marks then, but five years later, I would have given him the highest.
Doel:It's very interesting. You were able to reflect back on that kind of approach, the interrogation and questioning.
Eaton:There was another geology professor, too, Reuben J. Ross. He taught stratigraphy and paleontology, and he was newly a Ph.D. out of Yale. But he is memorable. Vernon Eaton, no relationship, taught both beginning physics and the theory of electricity and magnetism. He's the one that tried to steer me off into graduate work in physics rather than geology. He was a memorable teacher. Let me think so more. I was in the last class ever taught by the president of Wesleyan while he was president. Victor Butterfield. It was humanities and instead of meeting three times a week for one hour, we met for three hours in the president's office. It was a bit awesome for a freshman from a Midwestern public high school.
Doel:Must have been quite interesting.
Eaton:My recollection is that there were twelve of us in this class. We sat around the same conference table the trustees sit around in his office now for small meetings. For larger meetings, they have other rooms and larger tables. And it was one of these, it was nowhere to run or hide in that class twelve students and the president at one end of the table. It was a real challenge, because, if he doesn't get you today, he'll get you next week. He made sure that everybody took part in the discussion. That was memorable. Then, at that point, after that particular semester, he decided that the demands of the presidency were such that he couldn't continue. That had a profound influence on me. I don't know how I was selected for that class or how anybody else in it was selected, but obviously, since all freshmen were required to take this course before they graduated, most people took it in their freshman year. There had to be some mechanism for assigning students —
Eaton:— here and there.
Doel:That's very interesting. So this was already in your freshman year that you had.
Doel:That clearly made an impression on you to have that kind of exposure that early.
Eaton:Yes, it did, it really did. Butler Field had come out to Ohio recruiting. Wesleyan apparently had decided that it needed to expand the geographic area from which it was drawing students because of the lack of diversity, like any other liberal arts college in New England. He planned to come to the home of an alumnus in Cincinnati, so the call went out. My mother's boss said, well the president of Wesleyan is going to be in Cincinnati next week, and so I and others first met him then. We became friends, but it wasn't until I went back as a member of the faculty, not before I went off to graduate school from Wesleyan.
Doel:Right. This is right after your Ph.D. that you came.
Eaton:Yes. I went back and I took, along with John Rosenfeld, Joe Webb People's place. He had gone on for two years to the Philippines to do an AID supported study of chromite deposits in the Philippines. I got to know Vic quite well at that time. We really became quite good friends when I was on the faculty there. Now, in — let's see this is July — at the latest, in May or early June, latest May, at Commencement, his widow, now 90 years-old, got an honorary doctorate of letters from Wesleyan. I had a chance to visit with her, and sort of recall old times.
Doel:One of the things I wanted to make sure we got on tape — we discussed this briefly off tape before we began interviewing — was your first meeting with Maurice Ewing, which you had said was arranged by Joe Peoples.
Eaton:Well, actually, no, it was with Frank Press, first, it wasn't with Ewing, himself, and it was a telephone meeting.
Doel:It was with Press, indeed.
Eaton:I later met Ewing, but it was not then. Frank Press was a new Ph.D., a Ewing Ph.D., and perhaps was already writing, along with Jardetsky and Ewing, their book by Ewing, Jardetsky, and Press.
Doel:The massive volume.
Eaton:Yes. He (Press) called on the phone. He had a summer job to offer. Later I considered Columbia for my Ph.D. I had also applied to Cal Tech and been accepted, but Joe Peoples at the last minute said, "Look, you're going off into geology. You need to be exposed to as much variety in the local geology as you can. If you go to Columbia, it will be essentially the same geology that you've seen while you've been here at Wesleyan, but you go to the West Coast, it's a whole other story, a story of Tertiary deformation and Tertiary sedimentation."
Doel:That's very interesting. So he was thinking in terms of the regional geology and the kind of emphasis that existed within the graduate programs.
Eaton:So Joe said, other things being equal, why don't you go to Cal Tech?
Doel:How much had you known about Cal Tech at that point?
Eaton:I didn't know very much. You know, I'd heard its reputation as a tough place to go through, but I had applied and been accepted, and I figured I had as good a chance to get through it as anybody else. I was married two days after graduation, and worked that summer here in Washington for the Geological Survey, in the Geophysics branch.
Doel:What sort of things were you doing then, that summer?
Eaton:That summer, and the summer before, I was — what did we call it, it had a quaint name in those days, and it's all done by computer now — I was rectifying airborne magnetic records, plotting the flight lines on topographic maps. They used continuous strip film cameras in the plane, and so you had to know where you were starting from and then follow the film. Then, we transferred what we saw as the fiducially points on the strip film to topographic maps, then plotted the flight line over the ground, and then plotted the magnetic values and ultimately prepared magnetic contour maps. Now, all of that is done totally automatically but in those days it was all done by eye and hand. It was incredibly tedious.
Doel:Indeed. And, of course, that was a major new program within the survey at that time, the airborne magnetometer work.
Eaton:Yes, it was. It had been adopted from a submarine search tool during World War II, but even before that, it had been developed in Gulf Oil as an exploration tool, then adopted to the Navy use for sub hunting, then re-adopted to geophysics in the Survey by a guy by the name of Jim Balsley. Jim was the branch chief that summer when I worked down here. After my senior year. As I recall it, Jim was also a graduate of Cal Tech. So, there were "connections." Jim was somehow also a very good friend of Joe Peoples. Then, it turns out that Joe Peoples had a whole lot of influence on my career.
Doel:He had quite a network of people, didn't he?
Eaton:Yes, he did, he was a very outgoing and well-liked person.
Doel:Had you gone to any professional meetings by that point? Before you went to Cal Tech.
Eaton:Had I? No. I didn't really start going to professional society meetings till I was a graduate student at Cal Tech. Then I did, and usually to a local AIME (American Institute of Mining Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers), they would underwrite the cost of graduate students registration.
Doel:Those things were important. What were your impressions of Cal Tech when you got out there?
Eaton:Well, I suppose we first had to have impressions of California. Cause neither my wife nor I — my wife's a native of New England — had been there before.
Doel:What was that like?
Eaton:This was a very strange place to us with prominent, weird looking trees, palm trees with the tall slender, naked trunks, you know, and just a little fringe of fronds up at the top. Then, there was smog. We'd never seen that before, either. The produce in the two markets was different. It was a bit like going to another country, I guess, for a couple of people who were used to the east mid-west, but we quickly got quite used to it. There was tremendous spirit in the Division of Geologic Sciences at Cal Tech at that time. It turns out· that this was one of several, golden periods. The collection of students there at the time was really quite good and very stimulating.
Doel:I'm curious particularly who you're thinking about when you say that?
Eaton:Well let's see Lee Silver was a fellow graduate student. Clarence Allen was a fellow graduate student. Barclay Kam was a fellow student. Then there was a group of Canadians, who came down from British Columbia. All of them were economic geologists who were going to go back up to the mining industry and consultancies in Vancouver, B.C.: Dick Campbell, Lisle Jory, Doug Campbell, Dick Woodcock. Then there was a smattering of people like myself. Clarence Allen had gone to Reed, in Portland, Oregon, another small school. I've forgotten where Lee had done his undergraduate work. They were both ahead of me a year or two. Mark Meier, who's a retired USGS glaciologist, was my office mate. Fred Barker, an igneous petrologist from MIT was there at the time — a lifelong friend, and then there was a good group of undergraduate students who went on to strong careers. The faculty was exceedingly competitive. They still are... it was Dick Jahns, Richard Henry Jahns, Al Engle, Bob Sharp — all of them were in their late thirties at the time. We were about the fifth entering graduate class after World War II. Wayne Burnham was in this group too. I can't tell you who went before us, but somehow this group kind of clicked and gelled together, and we stayed connected to one another throughout most of our careers. Everyone but Barclay has, or is, retired. Hugh Taylor is still another person who was there in my time.
Doel:That's very interesting.
Eaton:Ed Stopler, who's currently head of the division of what's now called Geological and Planetary Sciences, two or three years ago, when I was given a distinguished alumnus award, threw a dinner for my wife and me. Ed musingly asked the question, what do you think accounts for a cloud of people like these passing through Cal Tech together and then a long period before another similar cloud, distinguished individuals, but not passing through in a continuous stream. We kind of concluded that perhaps it had to do with the fact that the war had just ended, that we'd been more sober than kids our age because we had responsibilities, whether we were in the service, as Clarence and Lee, had been, or not in the service, as I had not been, but still doing work connected somehow - with the summer jobs I'd had - for example, at my father's place of work. So, it was said maybe we were a little more intensely focused and disciplined at this point in our lives than others our age later. We had fewer sorts of distractions as interests. I don't really know whether that's a correct interpretation or not. But it was just — it was one of those things.
Doel:It's interesting. Others have shared that same impression. Clearly those who came in the immediate post-war generation felt those sorts of things.
Eaton:Maybe, we just matured sooner, but it was a great time. We had a great geology club, and tremendous challenges between faculty and graduate students. Everybody was on a first name basis. Harrison Brown, the geochemist, came there at that time.
Doel:I was just going to ask about him and Claire Patterson. How well you came to know.
Eaton:Claire came at that time. Sam Epstein came at that time. Heinz Lowenstam came at that time. So, it was a growing and changing division. We were taking on new dimensions and all this was happening while we were in graduate school. There were these sorts of new, blooming opportunities that we wouldn't have had, had we been there ten years earlier.
Doel:No, indeed. It was clearly a critical moment in the earth sciences. And Cal Tech had, clearly you were being exposed to a lot of different areas of the geological sciences.
Eaton:Yes, far more so than I would have been, perhaps, at any other place, probably at any other time, save for the emergence of marine geology and geophysics at Columbia. Most of the other departments of great note at that time, and Yale was one of those, were pretty traditional in their offerings and weren't really evolving radically. Cal Tech was evolving radically. Bob Sharp, who took over from Ian Campbell as division head, and Ian, himself, these were guys who were willing to admit new fields and new thoughts and see the value of it all, so, it was a very "yeasty" time. Now just across the lawn from us was Linus Pauling in chemistry and James Bonner in biology. There were some very significant — not that there aren't today. There were very significant names at Cal Tech, but there are probably more academy members now than then.
Doel:But the important point is that during the time that you were there, clearly there was this kind of ferment and you were aware of other people.
Eaton:Yes, and you were given an opportunity to, take part in it, in a variety of ways. You could do it vicariously, because some of your closest personal friends turned out to go off into geochemistry, which was a pretty new field at that time. Or you could go off in it, or other things, yourself, but, at any rate, you gain an appreciation of it in a way that you couldn't have gained at a distance, I think.
Doel:Did you have much contact with Gutenberg and others in seismology?
Eaton:Yes, I worked in the Seismo Lab. That was one of my — my first year I was a teaching assistant for Bob Sharp in the freshman course — but, in my sophomore year I worked out at the Seismo Lab under Gutenberg and Richter. Again, they were menial tasks, but I got to see the human side of science. These two guys would often get into tiffs with one another, and when Gutenberg got fed up with Richter, he'd just turn his hearing aid off.
Doel:Is that right? [Laughter]
Eaton:They were very human. The easy-going guy out there at the time was Hugo Benioff.
Doel:I was going to ask about him.
Eaton:There was this well-known trio of Gutenberg, Richter and Benioff.
Doel:Right. What sort of things annoyed Gutenberg about?
Eaton:I think in part it was Richter's personality. He had a kind of a prissy personality and he was easily frustrated. And he really, I think — and this is strictly pure speculation on my part — clearly was the junior member of the pair. Gutenberg had the lustrous name. What's interesting now, of course, is that the Richter scale is a household word for practically every American who's ever heard about an earthquake. And most people have never heard of Beno Gutenberg, except in the field of geophysics and seismology, and earlier, meteorology. Benioff was much more the engineer, much more focused on instrumentation and its development.
Doel:Quite an instrumentalist, wasn't he?
Eaton:Yes, but nevertheless, he taught a course in which the Benioff — what came to be called by the others — the Benioff zone, which we now call a subduction zone — first was recognized in the distribution of earthquake hypo-centers, and the depths. We looked at this in class, and we also by then had sparse data from spreading ridges, but we didn't have the transform fault data that Lynn Sykes later interpreted correctly as transform faults at Lamont. In Benioffs class we said, well, look, what does all this mean when put together? If these ridges are places where new ocean floors are being made, is the earth getting larger, because there'd be more crust. What are these strange things dipping at steep angles beneath the edges of continents in what we now call subduction zones? [cross-talk]
Doel:I'm curious what speculations were.
Eaton:We never really made the connection back in the early 1950's. You know, we kicked it around in class, and in the end, it never really came to anybody. It really took the later observations of magnetic stripes on the sea floor to bust this thing wide open.
Doel:You're right. We're talking now about the 1960s, mid-sixties, where this work particularly.
Eaton:But this was the '50s that I'm talking about.
Doel:Indeed. I'm curious what attitude you remember on the part of other faculty towards these broader concepts. Expanding earth clearly was voiced by a number of people in the mid-'50s. And how much had you already read of continental drift in Wegener's ideas?
Eaton:Tectonics and structural geology were taught by a generation-older guy, John D. Buwalda, who had founded the department at Cal Tech.
Doel:He was a senior member of the department.
Eaton:Yes. He was still there, still teaching, still taught seminars and he insisted on our doing reading on continental drift. We read the European literature, but it was obvious that, in America, people weren't buying the idea, and in Europe the literature reflected a continuing belief in Wegener's ideas of the drifting of continents. He also made us read Sir Harold Jeffries book.
Eaton:Harold Jeffries textbook The Earth in which Sir Harold demonstrated from first principles that continental drift wasn't physically possible. One can prove a lot of things with the laws of physics if one makes certain assumptions. He (Buwalda), himself, did not take a position, but I see now the value of what he taught, what he exposed us to like this. We could do whatever we wanted to do in our own minds with it. He didn't say this is wrong, and this is right. Everybody agreed that the early observations of Wegener were certainly impressive; they could not be coincidence, the way the continents fit together.
Doel:Was he explicitly talking about multiple working hypotheses?
Eaton:Yes, in fact, he put that on the table early on. It's interesting. He was not the most exciting teacher. The best teacher at Cal Tech for my money, at that time, was Bob Sharp, who's still active. Still leads alumni field trips. Geomorphologist glaciologist. Bob was a guy who, at the time, was either greatly loved or intensely resented by graduate students. In graduate seminars, he used the Socratic approach entirely, very much like the economics professor I had had at the sophomore level at Wesleyan. He'd assign us a set of readings, and he assigned questions that related to the readings. You had to come in, both with your answers to the questions and ready to defend them, in terms of reasoning. Sometimes Bob would just nail your hide to the door. You'd think you had a complete understanding and command of this topic on paper, and you knew damn well what the right answer to the question was. Then you'd confidently get up there on your feet and, pretty soon, you were a blubbering pile of protoplasm on the floor. He didn't do it in a malicious sort of a way, but he made you think, really made you think. Bob has been a lifelong friend ever since, although geomorphology was not a field that I really went very far into. I think I took only one or two seminars.
Doel:Very interesting. Would you see him outside of the classroom often too?
Eaton:Yes, he and his wife would invite graduate students and their wives up to their place, small numbers of them to their home, but I've also since led one — co-led — one Cal Tech alumni trip with him. We stay in touch. He has a cabin in Montana and I've got one in Colorado. We compare cabin notes, that sort of thing. He's in his eighties now. He did a great job, I thought, as chairman of the division, but he didn't seem to enjoy the job. In particular, he really didn't enjoy the squabbling among the other faculty members. As I say, they were intensely competitive with one another. That was my first exposure to a faculty made up of extremely bright people who were competing with one another all the time, even though they were in different fields. I didn't see that again until I got to Lamont.
Doel:Lamont. I was very curious about the connection that I sensed you were drawing between the two.
Eaton:Yes, the two places are almost exactly alike in that regard. I think this is what happens when you get a group of really splendid, leading-edge scientists together. You can't avoid it and you wouldn't want to avoid it, I would argue.
Doel:Would Bob Sharp talk to you about these differences? Were they fairly apparent to those of you as graduate students? The kind of tensions that existed.
Eaton:He did, yes, he did, at least to me. I hadn't really thought about that. I must have been doing — I forget what we called it — a one-on-one seminar on special topics with him — he and I had one on one meetings. They were early in the afternoon sometimes on the same day that he'd have a division faculty meeting. Some days he'd come into the room and was beet red. You know, I believe that if I'd stuck a pin in him, he probably would have blown up.
Doel:High blood pressure, you mean.
Eaton:He was really angry. It would take him a while to come down off the ceiling, and I'd hear about some of the things that had happened.
Doel:In general what were the issues? Were these tensions between the different methodologies, the different approaches, or —
Eaton:No. No. No, but I'd love to say they were.
Doel:— or the question of personalities.
Eaton:They were largely personality issues, I suspect. It often focused on the appointment of a new member of the faculty, what field he ought to be in, and etc. There was tremendous pulling and hauling. For example, "We've already got two petrologists, what are you talking about?" These sorts of things.
Doel:The 1950s were tumultuous in the sense of new fields beginning to open up, and the question of who one replaces with a new hire.
Eaton:I was not close to Bob or Ian Campbell when the decision was made to bring the gang of geochemists from Chicago out — Brown and Patterson and the like.
Doel:Of course that would have been very early at the time?
Eaton:It would have been, but I wasn't really that close to any of the senior, or even the younger, senior faculty. That must have been, in itself, a major, major struggle. It was the right thing to do, though. There are very few people from that group left. Heinz (Lowenstam) has died. Harrison Brown, of course, left, and went to Hawaii to the East-West Center and he has since died. Pat died about a year and a half ago. The guy from that group that I see often is Sam Epstein. He's still in good health and still quite active. He's emeritus on the faculty at Cal Tech. He and his wife and I and my wife belonged to a square dance club at Cal Tech back in the mid-fifties.
Eaton:So we've known one another a long time. And every time we're anywhere around, we always chat.
Doel:Interesting. When you think back on those years, were there things that you were already learning at Cal Tech that you found helpful when you took over the directorship at Lamont? In terms of those kind of interacting with that group of people.
Eaton:Yes, although they've also been tempered by being provost at Texas A & M and the president of Iowa State. I think what happened in those two latter jobs was that I came to appreciate the diversity of intellectual thought, the diversity and depth of all these different kinds of intellectual endeavors. I think that when you're fairly narrowly trained, as any Ph.D. is, you tend to think this is the beginning and the end, this field of yours, but you know there are people doing these other things, and they're pretty good, but they're not important. So, I had to really branch out. Agriculture was something I had to learn about, and veterinary medicine had to be something, and engineering, in its whole array of disciplines. So what I learned at Cal Tech from Bob Sharp, and from observing, then coupled with this exposure to competition among a broader set of fields, was really quite useful. Still I think that in terms of the intensity of the competition and the individuality and sheer intellectual excellence, Cal Tech was the analogy for Lamont, not these other places and jobs. These were, after all, at public institutions, and while there were some exceedingly bright individuals at them, there just wasn't the intensity of competition.
Doel:Not so uniformly distributed, even in terms of the [cross talk].
Eaton:Yes. It was present here and there, but often times it didn't connect. They were so far apart on a large campus, in different buildings and some very different fields. They weren't really so aware of the fact that they were, in a sense, competitors.
Doel:I should say we're now talking about the mid-19, early to mid-1980s when you go, when you're at Texas A & M and then to Iowa State.
Doel:And when you, what was your Ph.D. research? I wanted to make sure we spoke about that.
Eaton:It was the Miocene volcanic history of the Los Angeles basin.
Doel:Who had been your principal advisor?
Doel:Dick Jahns. I was thinking too in, the Ph.D. comes in 1957. It's the same year that Sputnik is launched.
Eaton:Right, that was incidental though, because I finished in '55. I left Cal Tech in '55 and took my first teaching job at Wesleyan as one of Joe People's replacements, and then wrote the thesis there.
Doel:I see. It was already. Okay.
Eaton:It took me two years, while I was teaching.
Doel:I was just curious. As you think back, did the IGY have any influence in your career? How aware were you of the IGY?
Eaton:I was fairly aware of it. I took part in a very limited way in some meetings. And to me it had a lot of significance just as a concept. International Geophysical Year. I think it may have been the first time I was aware of somebody designating a year or a decade to something. They chose geophysics, which I thought was wonderful. I don't know who was behind it, who the architect was, but it gave prominence to the whole field. It made you feel happy that this was something where you were doing in your own work. Nevertheless, I always sort of teetered on the force between geology and geophysics and I never really got off the geology of the teeter-totter end that much. I guess at various times in my career, when I was still practicing science, I would think of myself either as a geologist or an applied geophysicist, because my Ph.D. was in both.
Doel:That's one thing I was interested in. Whether you perceived any tensions in that degree, or did it seem fairly seamless to you by the time that you had gotten?
Eaton:It seemed seamless to me I wasn't able to see this until, through hindsight, that my interest in geophysics was really in using it to get at the third dimension of geology. My interest was really in the application of geophysics to geological problems, not in geophysics, itself.
Doel:Very interesting, in the techniques.
Eaton:Not in the development of geophysical theory, or geophysical instrumentation, and that sort of thing. That put me on the boundary, really. I saw it as one of many tools to use in geology, but I didn't use it in any sort of really path-breaking ways, the way Ewing did with the early refraction work on the Atlantic coastal plain, where he was really trying to get at the structure of the crust and the nature of the boundary between continental crust and oceanic crust. He was using geophysics as a tool to answer some very fundamental questions. The sorts of things that I applied geophysics to were a good bit more mundane. Let me give you a very practical example, one that goes back to the earliest part of this conversation. When I got to Wesleyan on the faculty, I had access to a gravity meter. I had had two really good courses in potential field theory from Hewitt Dix at Cal Tech, and I went out and did a gravity survey of the buried channel of the Connecticut River.
Doel:That you had worked on before.
Eaton:Yes, at the end of my freshman year. And, 10 and behold, there was a very nice negative gravity anomaly that clearly reflected the contrast between the alluvial fill and bedrock densities that allowed me to map the fill. It allowed me to do something further, too, since I already had all this well data. I knew the actual depth of the bedrock, so, then, what do you do with the gravity values? Can you extract other kinds of information from them (the gravity values)? I did that. We're using today, in some surveys, a technique that I evolved way back then. When these are significant changes in the level of the ground water table in an aquifer they are reflected in a change in mass as the water drains from the saturated sediment. You can actually estimate the specific yield of the sediments using micro-gravity. Look at the difference though in the significance of the problems. That problem, versus that of probing the fundamental nature of the oceanic and the continental crust and the boundary between them. That's a first order problem. What I was working on, I would argue, was but a third order problem, if that.
Doel:Without wanting to be too much of a devil's advocate. There were potentially fewer of those kinds of applications available by the late 1950s.
Eaton:Well, I suppose so. The known first order frontiers had been explored, at least somewhat.
Doel:I'm curious if that's also somewhat your perception of the way the field had begun to change.
Eaton:Well, yes, perhaps to some extent, but I think that's letting me off a little too lightly, though. Let me double back again and say that in looking at the information about the hydrology that we could glean from changes in the gravity field with a series of repeat measurements, I was doubling back and picking at my first summer job with the Geological Survey, so these things all get connected in a way.
Doel:Clearly there is the pattern that goes through your professional career of the repeated interactions with the Survey.
Eaton:I took an early flier and it was — it probably was — the only significant thing that I did in my early career. It was something that, in looking at all kinds of drill core and electric logs from wells in the Los Angeles basin, suggested. The Miocene volcanic was exposed only around the margins and I mapped these and had chemical analyses made of the rocks. John Shelton, who taught at Pomona, had mapped one set in particular.
Doel:I was curious if you had known him when you were out there.
Eaton:Yes, he had worked on the Glendora volcanic field, near Pomona and Claremont, then I worked on the rest of the L.A. # basin. One of the things that I saw in outcrop in the Miocene section of the Monterey equivalent was abundant volcanic ash, air borne, wind transported volcanic ash. I became curious as to the place of origin of this ash. First of all, it was of a composition that was rather different from that of the flows and the pyroclastic that were exposed both in drill-cores and outcrops. I dove pretty far into the question of atmospheric circulation of volcanic ash. I compiled a lot of observational data on how high ash clouds had been erupted into the atmosphere and what the wind structure of different levels in the atmosphere was. And I tried in the end — whether it was successful or not, perhaps, no one will ever know — to decide where this ash had come from, I decided that it came from off shore, it did not come from around the L.A. # basin, but you had to factor in possible climate change, and what effect that would have on atmospheric circulation.
Doel:That raises some interesting questions as to what exposure you had to people who were writing on those issues in the 1950s. Of course Revelle and Seuss were talking about particularly kinds of problems at Scripps.
Doel:Did you have contact with them during?
Eaton:I once talked very briefly with Roger, very briefly, but I talked more with a very prominent Japanese volcanologist and an Icelandic volcanologist, both of whom had done some work in this area, just simply in preparing maps of volcanic ash from around the globe. I looked at wind patterns in different parts of the globe. This got me deeply into the volcano logical literature. I saw that this could have an application to the question of continental drift. The issue was, okay, let's go back. You've worked in the late Tertiary, let's go back into the Cretaceous and look at atmospheric circulation then. The data won't tell you anything about latitude and longitude, but if, in fact, a continent has rotated, and assuming that the upper atmosphere, of course, circulated fairly uniformly from west to east around the globe, you might get a distribution that's pretty much a reflection of that. Ash plumes tend to stream off due east of the volcano that ejects them into the air at the upper altitudes. So I tried this on the record of the upper cretaceous in Wyoming and Montana.
Doel:That's very interesting.
Eaton:I was disappointed to see that there'd been no rotation. They (the cretaceous deposits) still streamed off to the presumed — to the east of the presumed — source, which would have been in Idaho.
Doel:When you mention continental rotation, it brings to mind the paleomagnetics work that Keith Runcorn was pursuing in the late 1950s.
Eaton:Well, he and Neil Opdyke, who was at Lamont at the time, but left before I came there and is now down in Florida, had attempted to do the same thing with ancient dune sands on the Colorado Plateau. They had a highly regarded paper published back then. My first effort was to try to demolish the validity of their argument by showing how different earth's circulation patterns of windblown sand from circulation near the surface over continental area really were. I didn't actually meet Keith Duncan until many, many years later. As I recall it, Neil and I met after I got to Lamont decades later. Both of them moved off into other significant applications, but they had really tried very hard early on with wind-blown, dune sands in the Paleozoic, to get at continental drift and atmospheric circulation from a new direction. They were the first.
Doel:How well received was that paper of yours?
Eaton:Reasonably well, I guess. It kind of grew on several people. There were two papers, one in the Journal of General Geology and one in JGR, which was back in the days before JGR Red, Blue, and Green. It was first a yellow JGR, all of it. Oddly enough, one of the gangs that picked up on it was the nuclear testing people.
Eaton:They were interested in the distribution of radioactive particulate matter from surface explosions of nuclear origin. I'm really dating myself here. So there was interest in the meteorological community. Then it was picked up again in the volcano logical community, by Howell Williams and Mac McBirney in their textbook, which employed several of my illustrations among many, many others.
Doel:You know, when you mentioned that about meteorology and the AEC and related interests, had you known at the time about Project Sunshine, or had contact with people like Larry Kulp, others who were looking at distribution?
Eaton:No. It wasn't until later that I found that the gang out at Lamont had looked at the distribution of ash in the Mediterranean. These were people, of course, who mostly weren't still there when I got to Lamont.
Doel:Right. That generation had already passed.
Eaton:But they had worked on the same issue. They had done far more, far more definitive work, of greater significance, than much of that that since has been done by other volcanologists. I was kind of poking around in an area nobody had been probing at the time and it was kind of fascinating.
Doel:Were you teaching geology and geophysics when you were at Wesleyan? When you came back as an instructor?
Eaton:I didn't teach geophysics there because we didn't have a geophysics course. I didn't teach geophysics till I went UC Riverside. And the last place I taught it must have been at Riverside. I taught a graduate seminar at Texas A&M while I was dean there, but it wasn't a geophysics course, per se. It was a kind of a graduate level beginning physical geology course for people who were taking graduate degrees, but who hadn't had some of this stuff as undergraduates. They'd come into geophysics from physics or somewhere else and had had little geology.
Doel:Clearly the California system was expanding at the time that you were hired to teach it at Riverside.
Eaton:Yes. Riverside was a fairly new campus. When I went there, it was only four or five years old. It had very different aims. The UC regents had decided they wanted to create something different — not another campus like Berkeley and UCLA or Santa Barbara, which had by then entered the system, and I guess, San Diego, had had an initial nod. I'm a little vague, here, though. They decided they would try to make a sort of Princeton-like campus at Riverside. It was going to stay small. There was going be a heavy emphasis on undergraduate teaching. The connection with the Wesleyan experience was pretty obvious, but, it was while I was there that they made the decision that they'd make it a general campus, and even begin modest graduate programs. So we had a master's level program. The State of California had earlier put forth a master plan for higher education; one which I still think is a very seminal and sound conceptual document. It was a very good, workable model. What's happened in the evolution of the plan since the definition of the three tiers of higher education — the university system, the state university campuses, and the junior colleges and so-called community colleges — the distinctions have become muddy because some of the Cal State campuses now have Ph.D. programs, which was not part of the original design intention, and there's been a greater proliferation of those campuses. But Clark Kerr led one of the grand efforts — he was one of the architects of one of the great designs for higher education — which has gotten out of hand with the growth of California. But all that was going on too. So I grew up in a period in which there was a lot of change going on. Perhaps not at Wesleyan, but by the time I got to Cal Tech as a graduate student, the whole field of pure sciences was expanding. Then, when I went Riverside, the UC system was in ferment, it was growing and changing. I had an opportunity to serve, not only on campus committees, but on what they used to call all-university committees, where there'd be a member from each campus. We would rotate around and meet on different campuses. The membership was made up of people from very different fields. As I look back on it I guess this was my first real exposure to working together with people who came from totally different disciplinary backgrounds than my own and really coming to appreciate the fact that there was intellectual fascination in almost any field you could name at a big university like Berkeley. There were veterinarians on the thing, and there'd be people from ag, law and etc. I remember meeting an entomologist early on. I knew nothing about the field of entomology. And I grew quite fascinated with some of the work he was, the early work in biological control, which is to say, bringing in other insects as predators for insects that were devouring your crops, or your vines.
Doel:But it seemed a particularly viable approach to many in the mid-twentieth century.
Eaton:What happened for me, I guess, began there and continued throughout my entire career. I grew up and out of the sharp focus and the depth of one field to have an appreciation for a lot of other fields. That lead naturally then, I think, to positions in academic administration, because I was tolerant of and interested in the views of people from other fields. In this regards one of the interesting stories at Lamont had been biology, marine biology, even though never set down very deep roots and became quite an equal player.
Doel:I'm curious what you came to know about the biology programs at Lamont and your impressions of what it was like to try to integrate that into?
Eaton:Well, my very first impression was to wonder why this effort so small, especially when some of the other kinds of things under way at Lamont, cried out for an interplay with biology.
Doel:I'm curious if you knew about some of the earlier people who had been there, like Bob Menzies and Burkholder [cross talk]?
Eaton:Well, only as hearsay on my part, but what I came to understand was that there'd been at least a couple of efforts to grow the marine biology program, and it had been run off, or the people had been run off it because it was not regarded as an equal intellectual partner by some well-established members of the Lamont staff. I think the efforts to plan it and nurture it were sincere, but they couldn't overcome some of the politics of the place. Politics is rite at Lamont, and probably always will be. I'd be the first one to argue that some of it is probably pretty important, in a positive way, though, but it's also where a destructive Lamont element comes from. It's interesting that, just last October first, I was handed the National Biological Service and told by the Congress to incorporate it into the USGS. We had actually been told this almost a year before, but it happened on October first. In came seventeen hundred new people, research biologists and all their support staff, technical, as well as administrative. Every now and then, I think back to the Lamont episodes, and I say to myself, this really has to work, because it makes such good sense, bringing in biology. In a fair number of areas in the USGS, the old USGS, there had been, biologists added to the staff in the past decades or so. The National Water Quality assessment program had a modest biological component. The accumulation of toxic substances and metals in the tissues of fish really requires that we do biological sampling, as well as sediment sampling, on the bottoms of streams and rivers. Or look at absorbed substances. Now that we're working together, the interface is disappearing, particularly between biology and hydrology. Surface waters and surface water composition have such a strong influence on the biota in turn and the biota are indicators of the nature of the health of a wetlands, say, or a stream I now see the validity of integrated science again, but. That's not the way we teach in graduate school. We teach depth, and, as a result, I think understanding often is in a very narrow sphere. A lot of the problems that the nation is struggling with now really requires the integration of a wide variety of disciplines — whether hydrology, cartography, information handling, geochemistry, especially low temperature geochemistry, or wildlife biology. This means you bring teams together to solve problems, and this, in turn, creates reward problems. Rewarding a team is different and has different levels of gratification, than rewarding individuals.
Doel:Indeed, the scientific community has not necessarily developed those kinds of structures. And support of priority issues are also then matters of importance.
Eaton:I think the concept of the relative value of this is still being tested and, certainly, the reward systems are being tested. In American sciences, we built a system around the German research university model that honors and recognizes individual achievement, in an increasingly narrow field, but at great depth. There's no doubt nor any argument that contributions are made this way, but there are also contributions of a different kind to be made in integration, in teams of these kinds of people tackling a problem. That's now happening here (in the USGS). The story of biology and its failure to get off the ground in a significant way at Lamont is part of that story. Having said that, however, I think the integration of oceanography and geochemistry and atmospheric science at Lamont, is a good example of how that all comes meaningfully together. Our understanding of the deep circulation of the oceans, the sort of thing Wally Broecker and Arnold Gordon put on the table, and have further developed, shows that Lamont has been capable of pulling elements together in an integrated way to make major contributions.
Doel:That raises a number of very interesting themes. I'm curious in a general way if you found it harder to integrate the biological sciences into Lamont compared to the Survey?
Doel:Why was that?
Eaton:In part that's because, in the case of the Survey, there was a Congressional mandate to do it. This wasn't something that we decided to consider and chew on for a while and, then, make a decision, one way or the other; it was made for us, externally. So the question then became, it's obviously going to happen; how do we make it work? At Lamont, evidently, somebody wanted to bring them in and, I suspect, the idea was fought. What may have helped make it a little easier back in the sixties, was an appreciation of the fact that we could use isotope ratios, to get at temperatures in the tests of small organisms that accumulated on the sea floor, but whose temperature had been equilibrated with sea water while they were alive and building their tests or shells. Paleontology is a sense, always played a role at Lamont, because there were the remains of these organisms in the sedimentary record, the record that Doc Ewing, a geophysicist, had collected. But somehow that didn't lead to the next logical step of looking at today's living organisms and the development of a biological program of research that ever really had a chance to flourish at Lamont and it should have. Maybe it will yet, you know, I'm basically an optimist. The Lamont story isn't over. We're doing an oral history here today in what I would imagine is the middle of the life cycle of this remarkable place.
Doel:There are quite a few questions we need to cover indeed about the decision that you made to come to Lamont in general. But while we're talking about biology, I'm curious how, among the different challenges that you recognized and wanted to take action on, how important to you was the question of integrating biology as a priority?
Eaton:If you said, on a scale of one to three, I would have given it a two. There were some other things that perhaps were more pressing than that, but it was something that was always in my consciousness. In part, I felt somewhat frustrated by the history that had gone before my coming there. There had been a serious effort to engage, and it had been thwarted, and the thwarters were still around. So, what was the new more persuasive argument for trying to bring this back up. I needed a context of how I saw the evolution should go.
Doel:I wanted to see that, and I wonder if I could ask even before this period of time, first, when, how well had you come to know Lamont during the times in which you were working for the Geological Survey in the 1970s and then the various scientifically administrative posts you held at Texas A&M and at Iowa. How well had you known about Lamont?
Eaton:I had had this very early invitation of a summer job from Frank Press, which had called my attention to its existence — and incidentally — it was brand new at that time.
Doel:Indeed. Indeed it was.
Eaton:It's like anything else, I suppose, you hear about something and then you watch it with interest over time.
Doel:It's on your horizon at that point.
Eaton:Yes, because it was an opportunity. I could have gone there for a summer job. I could have gone there for a Ph.D. I chose consciously, in both cases, not to go there. I went to the Survey for the summer and I went to Cal Tech for a Ph.D. but, I suppose in a way, it's like an early love. You know, you move on and you marry somebody else, but you're always conscious of this person who might have been your spouse, and so I followed it (Lamont) pretty closely. I followed it in the literature. I didn't personally know many of the staff, but I kept up with the literature, and it was obvious to me that it was a phenomenal place in terms of frontier science — major, major contributions.
Doel:Who did you know? Had you met Ewing?
Eaton:I had briefly met Ewing, via Joe Peoples, and I had talked with Frank Press. Let me digress for a moment on the Frank Press connections. Because just as I left Cal Tech, Beno Gutenberg retired, and who becomes the director of the Seismological Laboratory?
Doel:It's Frank Press. [Laughter]
Eaton:So, we were more or less intersecting in various places.
Doel:Indeed, he would have been arriving just about the time that you left to teach at Wesleyan.
Eaton:Yes, but I came back and visited the Cal Tech campus, and because it was a name I had known, and somebody I had once talked to, I followed him and his career closely. One of the things I have never done — and if you haven't interviewed him, I'm sure you're going to — was to have a discussion about Lamont with Frank at the emotional level. How did he feel about Lamont and why did he leave? When he left Cal Tech, he went to head the department at MIT. He then became the President's Science Advisor. I recall that he may have held the ambition, perhaps, as of returning to MIT as the president. That didn't happen. Then, he became the president of the Academy of Sciences. He's had an enormously distinguished career. At one point, six years ago or so, when I was starting create a fund-raising effort at Lamont, I approached Frank to get him to help, and he did help, but there was something in some of the things that he said that made me think that perhaps he's not all that happy about Lamont.
Doel:Did it seem centered on the institution or particular individuals?
Eaton:It may have been a collection of individuals, but I'm reading between the lines. The point is that I didn't find the unbridled or open enthusiasm expressed as in — "yes, let me get in on all this, and do whatever we can for Lamont." There seemed to be a reservation about this. Knowing some of the stories of ego bruising that still go on there at Lamont, it could be that he chose to leave because it was unpleasant for him, but I'm only speculating. It's a very inward looking place. It doesn't tend to look outward, but that in no way diminishes what it has accomplished.
Doel:No, I understand. But, at the same time, it is an important dimension and distinction.
Doel:Did it seem to you much more so than at other similar institutions.
Eaton:Yes. It really comes close to being a monastic sort of place. It's almost as though you could hang a sign out at the gate that says, "visitors not welcome." "We've got our work to do in here, and we're focused on that, and thanks very much — but." Yet, once a year we threw an open house and invited all kinds of people in. It was fun to watch the scientists work with kids. Obviously, they enjoyed it enormously and they had fun designing hands-on, scientific experiences that the kids could have that would carry with it a profound lesson, but was very simple. Take for example, the response of a solid to the rate of stress application, using silly putty. You can jump up and down on silly putty, and it is pretty hard, but if you stand there long enough, you'd sink down into it, because it flowed when one slowed the stress application note.
Doel:But you very much thought it was part of the culture of Lamont, and something that had deep roots. And if I understand correctly, you were the director that was first to put up signs that actually indicated that it was Lamont that one was turning off to at 9W, or had those signs already existed?
Eaton:Well, there was sign. We did put up a sign, but I'm not sure there wasn't an earlier effort by Barry Raleigh. During Barry's reign — I think it was his — he put up a sign and somebody put up a ship's anchor and a coil of rope. It was very much focused on marine science and some of the staff apparently went ballistic over it.
Doel:Particularly those who were not in those fields.
Eaton:Well, yes, I suppose but I think it may have been more like, "Just why this hokey thing out at the gate." You know, I was responsible for some signage, yes. You got to remember, however that I came into it in a very different way than my predecessors, Barry or Manik (Talwani) and Doc Ewing. I had been in academic administration. I had had to take the broad view in the jobs that I had had. For example, every constituency was important, not just other fellow academics. It was probably — well, I don't know — only time will tell, but it was certainly foreign to Lamont when I first got there. I sent out a little questionnaire early on, and I said help me get acquainted with this place. I sent it to everybody, not just the scientists — the technicians and secretaries, too. I asked, what do you like about this place? What's working? What do you not like about this place? How would you like to see it changed? Well, some people were dumbfounded that anybody would ask questions like this, because everybody knew what their roles and aims were. Who says you're supposed to like the place? [Laughter] I think that some of the scientists in particular we’re wondering, "what in the hell is this guy trying to do, foment a revolution of some sort?"
Doel:What kind of reactions did you get from that questionnaire?
Eaton:I actually got some very thoughtful replies. And, incidentally, some of the most thoughtful ones were from some of the senior-most, well recognized scientists, some of whom let down their hair. They talked about what was wrong with the place.
Doel:I'm wondering who you're thinking of in particular. You mentioned Wally Broecker before.
Eaton:I remember Lynn Sykes, in particular.
Doel:And Lynn Sykes.
Eaton:His response was thoughtful. Let's see, also John Mutter, Paul Richards, and Mark Cane — uh no, I don't remember, now, what Mark's reply was. But later, about a year later, I gave a state of the observatory address when we were clearly under stress — the turn-down rate had grown at NSF (National Science Foundation) on proposals, and some very good scientists, internationally distinguished scientists, were getting rejection slips from the NSF. We were beginning to be worried about what we saw was going on and were conscious of the fact that there were members of review panels who said, "look people from my institution only ask for two months of summer salary, but here are these guys at Lamont asking for nine, ten months. That's not fair." Lamont was still trying largely to go the soft money route.
Doel:And they were, they had remained exceptional in the amount of soft money, versus hard funding.
Eaton:They still are. They still are. Woods Hole changed some in this regard during my watch at Lamont. But, to the Lamont staff, it's more than a badge of courage, I mean, they could do it! One of the things that I used to express when I was chairman of Bob Carrell's NSF geoscience advisory committee was, that this was a fallacious argument that it was somehow unfair for Lamonters to ask for nine months of salary, when everybody else was asking for two, because one was going to get four and a half times more effort. They were going to spend nine to twelve months doing the science. Many weren't going to spend just two doing it, and the other nine teaching. I had trouble with this argument, but it never went away. There continued to be resentment toward Lamont.
Doel:Was that a fairly new argument as the field began to diversify? Clearly earlier on there had only been a few major institutions competing for these sorts of funds, and that was changing [cross talk].
Eaton:Yes. If you're going to talk about the history of Lamont, this is one of the significant things that has happened: in the meantime. Lamont has turned out a lot of its own competitors, more every year. Some of its very best students have gone off to compete from other kinds of institutions. But, there are statistical data that you're probably aware of — I think they were published in '91 or '92 — based on the window '69 to '92. They showed funding growth adjusted for inflation time at the National Science Foundation versus the production of new Ph.D. researchers. Ph.D. researchers in this period of time, late '60s and the earliest '90s, had doubled, but total funding adjusted for inflation had gone up by only twenty percent. You had a hundred and twenty percent of the money trying to support two hundred percent of the people. There was enormous pressure, too, from new institutions that had started Ph.D. programs, to spread the money around more widely. There were protestations from people like John Silber, who showed that the schools who were in the top twenty in 1990 in terms of total federal funding were the schools that were in the top twenty in 1960, but in spreading it more widely, it meant fewer dollars per institution and, as the money got thinner, the argument that it wasn't right for Lamont to be asking for so much money for salary, when other people at other schools weren't asking for it, arose anew. So pressure came as a result of diversity, but it also came as a result of the pressure for funds. And, yet, Lamonters go out there and compete. This is a very tough market, but they're still succeeding, but maybe not nearly as comfortably as before. A few of them used to complain that they spent far more time during the year writing proposals that didn't get funded than they did actually conducting scientific research, and, "wasn't this a great waste of time?" This was part of the impetus behind trying to raise other funds for the observatory, which Peter Schlosser has continued to try to do. I’ve gotten way off the track of your last question here, Ron, and I apologize. I have a way of wandering off down the path via free association.
Doel:No. It's okay. I found all that quite interesting. I think though that what we ought to cover just so that we're not too far out of sequence here is what factors lead to your decision to take on the directorship at Lamont. You had been at, and I don't want to go too far ahead of the story either, you were president of Iowa State after your time at Texas A&M.
Eaton:Right. And it was from that job that I went to Lamont.
Doel:Had you been contacted earlier to lead Lamont or to?
Eaton:No. I had never given it any thought, but in early 1990, I was at a fairly high level of frustration over the issue of athletics at Iowa State and the NCAA investigation to begin with. One of the things that you ought to know, by way of context, is that when I sat down on my first day as president of Iowa State, in the summer of '86, there was a neat stack of mail in the middle of a clean desk, and at the top was a big, fat, menacing manila envelope from the NCAA.
Doel:And you're holding your fingers apart about two inches.
Eaton:Yes, from the NCAA. I opened it and it said, Dear President Eaton, investigations by the NCAA have revealed forty-three violations of NCAA regulations — such and such a number in your football program and a much smaller number in your basketball program, and you've got these and so many days to look into this matter for yourself. We will hold a hearing on Iowa State violations in Kansas City in the fall. I didn't get off to a very good start there.
Doel:Had you known about this during your negotiations with Iowa State?
Eaton:No, I had not. I learned of it not long before I got there, but not a whole lot before. It led me, incidentally, to fall back on a campus friendship with the then head football coach at Texas A&M for guidance, because I was not active in athletics as a child. I was naive and here I am now, in a Division lA school, and I've got an NCAA investigation on my hands, and I don't know up from down. So Jackie Sherrill who was the coach at A&M at the time, was quite helpful in advising me. Why am I telling you this story? Well, the pall of it never left my presidency. About a year and a half before I left to go to Lamont, I'm watching the news, and it says, once again a tragedy has struck the athletic program at Iowa State University. And I said, "What?" and stopped right in mid-track. I was exercising on a Nordic Track machine. It was early morning. A football player and a basketball player had held up, on the main street of Ames, Iowa, at about eleven o'clock at night, a Burger King restaurant. They had routed everybody in the place at gunpoint into the walk-in freezer. What they didn't know was that the young woman who was serving the take-out window, had heard them come in and say, "hands up." She got just enough of a look — they had masks on — that she had dove out through the take-out window and sprinted to the police department. After they'd emptied the cash registers into a pillow case and started out the door, the parking lot was surrounded by police. The police told them to drop the bag and drop the guns. Instead, they fled back into the Burger King and the police shot them — but, not fatally.
Doel:This is coming back to mind now.
Doel:I believe I've heard of this, yes.
Eaton:Well, I finished working out in two minutes and from the newscast I'm getting now just the barest of details. I know the athletes' names, and I know what they've done I don't what the outcome is or where they are or anything else. I'm starting up from the basement of the president's house to the second floor, where my wife is still asleep and there's a rapping at the door. I open the door, and here was the media, microphone in hand. "Dr. Eaton, what have you got to say?" I said, "Hey, I know less about this than you do. I just heard it on TV."
Doel:It seems extraordinary to me that you hadn't been informed in some way prior to that happening.
Eaton:Yes, well, that was part of my problem. [Laughter] Somebody in the athletic department hadn't bothered or had decided not to call me. I had a vice president that I brought with me from Texas A&M, who was, himself, an athlete, a college athlete, and he was overseeing the athletic program. He came to me immediately. But it was — it was just the way it happened. There was a third incident. It had occurred even earlier. Three months after I accepted the presidency a plane coming back from a meet up in the northwest, a small plane owned by Iowa State (they had a small fleet). Got into the turbulence of a large jet landing at Des Moines and crashed in a neighborhood at Des Moines killing the stars of the women's track team and their coach, as well as their pilot. That happened just before I get there, and then I get up there and here's the NCAA investigation, and now four years later, here's this break-in by these two bozos.
Doel:That must have been terribly frustrating.
Eaton:Yes, and I thought, this is really not my cup of tea and I began to think about leaving. I toyed with the vacant presidency of a couple of other places. I competed for, and got onto in two cases, the short list, and then withdrew. About that time, Charlie Langmuir. Q; Again we can make sure that gets into the transcript.
Eaton:Charlie is an igneous petrologist. He was chairing the search committee for a director of Lamont. He called and asked would I be willing to help them in providing some names of potential candidates for the directorship. I said, okay; let me think about it for a while and I'll get back to you. I thought about it, and I put together a short list of names, but I guess that there was quite a gap of time had ensued. He had been on a sabbatical in France or he went to a sabbatical in France. At any rate, there was a long period of time in which we didn't communicate and then he called me from over there. I said, here are some suggestions.
Doel:Who are the ones you were thinking of?
Eaton:Well, Bill Merrill, who was at the time the president of Texas A&M at Galveston, an oceanographer. He's blue water, water column oceanographer. Today, he's head of the Heinz Foundation here in Washington.
Eaton:The other was Bob Hamilton, who had been the chief geologist at the USGS. I gave him a couple of other names, too. We discussed each of them. He called back again, and asked, is there any chance you might be interested in this job, yourself? This may or may not have been part of the original design. I never did ask because Charlie's not a guy, who's devious in any way at all, he's a really straight shooter. So I said, oh, probably not. I've been a university president, and I'm not that close to science any more, myself. I've had to deal with languages and history and engineering and English, all that sort of thing. One of the things that I was acutely aware of, Ron, was that each of the previous directors, including Barry, had gone to the job of director there from a personal practice of science, a practice that was still active.
Doel:Had been research scientists.
Eaton:They were still active. I was not active and hadn't been for ten years.
Doel:That was really since then, when you became the associate chief geologist here at.
Eaton:Right, actually, I suppose, so it had been more like twelve years.
Doel:Right. Which was '78 to '81.
Eaton:'78, so it had been twelve years. But then the idea of going to Lamont began to grow on me. I put the two thoughts together. I'm not really feeling like the Iowa State presidency is what I want to do to end my professional career. Then I said to myself, if you actually took something like this, would be your last job, and while you wouldn't be doing science, would be science administration, but that's okay because it puts together two things you've done in the past, science and management. You've done them each, so why not combine them. Second, and this was perhaps the most compelling argument to me, wouldn't be it nice — I don't suppose "nice" is the word that I'd said to myself, wouldn't it be meaningful to close your career back where you started, instead of somewhere off as a university president, wouldn't it be fun to double back and have one last wonderful brush with earth science. So I began to develop some enthusiasm. And the next time I talked to him, (Langmuir) I said, send me some yearbooks, please. I need to know what's going on at Lamont these days. I don't know how big you are or what the budget is, how many dollars scientists are bringing in, so send me this kind of stuff. And he did.
Doel:What were your impressions when you were reading the yearbooks?
Eaton:I was enormously impressed all over again. What had happened was that when I had gone into the provost ship at Texas A&M, I really lost track of much of what was going on anywhere in the earth sciences — Lamont, or the Survey, or Cal Tech.
Doel:Cause you were dealing very broadly, with different fields.
Eaton:Right. Here was quite a gap in my knowledge. I had to fill that gap with this literature that he sent and I was utterly fascinated by how the place had evolved. The whole issue of global climate change was something I hadn't been near, and yet it had been underway for a number of years. And some of the data came straight out of the old piston cores, which showed the great wisdom, and insight of Doc Ewing in asking to have those collected in the first place.
Doel:And some of that, of course reflected back to your early research interests as well.
Eaton:Some. I picked up on more of the volcanic ash story from work at Lamont, and caught up with names I had known, like that of Neil Opdyke, who had left and gone to Florida. And I learned new names, like Dennis Kent's name, which wasn't familiar to me because I hadn't kept up with the geomag or paleomag literature. I found my old fascination with science returning. And it's sort of a self-reinforcing, when it came to the decision. I called Charlie and said, well, if it can be kept under wraps, for a while because I don't want people here at Iowa State to know just yet that I'm seriously interested. That's another issue, of a political nature. In public universities, the candidate short list is a matter of public record [interruption to answer knock on the door].
Doel:And I should say we're already at ten minutes past three.
Eaton:Are we? That's probably what we're going to hear right now. [Brief interruption]Well, Charlie assured that this could be done. And they did it. They did it magnificently. And, in the interim I went into see Jonathan Cole.
Doel:Jonathan Cole, we're talking about.
Eaton:For an interview with him and with Mike [Michael I. Sovern] who was then president of Columbia.
Eaton:We eventually became somewhat fond of one another. I think he may have been intrigued that somebody would voluntarily leave a university presidency, even though it was not uncommon to do something like this. Once on board, I was very quickly captured to do a lot of things downtown on the main campus which made my directorship quite different from that of my predecessors because I'd come in with a very different background, but we'll get to that.
Doel:We'll pick up on that. Just one quick last question right now. Have you already, had you spoken with Barry Raleigh about the position before you took it on as well.
Eaton:Yes. Perhaps, you know that Barry came from the Survey to Lamont. Barry and I had known one another casually for a long time, so I surely did. He shared with me a document — you know it strikes me that this would be an important document for you to see, a written document, since you're doing an oral history. You might frame some questions from it. He had provided for Jonathan his "take on things" as he was leaving Lamont, what he saw as its strengths, its weaknesses, who were the problems, who made it work well, those sorts of things.
Doel:That would be a very important document to see.
Eaton:It was about thirty pages long. You'll have to ask him for it. I no longer have a copy, but I found it quite valuable to me in terms of getting started as somebody coming in from a different background. In fact, that document was the basis for my putting out my questionnaire with questions such as, how do you feel about Lamont, what do you like about this place, what works well, what doesn't work well, what we can fix if we work together. It was based on the observations that Barry had made. What also came with this, of course, was an account of how Manik Talwani came to fall from grace. I thus knew it was a really touchy sort of place, because, in a sense, they had devoured one of their own, a little bit of a cannibalistic tendency. They may have decided on that basis to go outside when they went for Barry. When they searched for me, clearly Charlie and the committee had something different than a Doc-like figure for the new director. They apparently had begun to see that in today's environment, director's had to have a different set of skills if they were really going to help make the place work.
Doel:And clearly there are important issues that we'll need to cover, including the group that helped him make that decision that formulated that committee and those considerations, including Manik Talwani's departure. I suspect, given the constraints on your time, we probably better hold those questions until the next interview session. But let me thank you very, very much for all that we have covered.
Eaton:I'm afraid I've been a wandering individual. I hope I haven't kept you from where you wanted to get.
We did very well, I think, for this first session. So let me thank you very much.
Session I | Session II