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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Henry Dorman by Tanya Levin on 1997 June 14,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Some of the topics discussed include: his childhood; education in geophysics at Columbia/Lamont; research in seismology; early use of computers in seismology and geophysics; influence of the International Geophysical Year on Lamont; international collaborations; Russian seismology; working with NASA and the lunar seismology experiments in the Apollo missions; move to University of Texas (Marine Biomedical Institute) at Galveston; Comparison of Lamont and Texas laboratories under Maurice Ewing; details of staff transfer, set-up of the new laboratory and acquisition of the Ida Green; factors in Lamont's success. Prominently mentioned are: Walter Bucher, Maurice Ewing, Cecil Green, Bruce Heezan, Gary Latham, John Lindberg, Jack Oliver, Walter C. Pitman, Frank Press, Marie Tharp, Joe Worzel.
Okay, this is the 14th of June, 1997. And this is an oral history interview with Henry James Dorman. And this is coming from Memphis, Tennessee. And I’m Tanya Levin, doing the interview. And I know that you were born on March 21, 1928 in Chicago, Illinois. But I don’t know anything about your family or your home life. Who were you parents? What did they do?
My father was Henry P. Dorman. He was born in Moultrie, Georgia, in 1898. He went to high school and college, entered the University of Georgia, joined the army, went to France, came back, finished his undergraduate work at Georgia, went to the University of Illinois in the Biology Department at Urbana. He met my mother there. She was a biology student. She grew up in Chicago. She was born in 1902. Lived on the northwest side of Chicago, near Devon and Western. So my mother’s parents I knew very well as a child. We lived at their house until I was six. My father’s parents I never met. They both died when I was about one year old, in Georgia. My father became, after he finished a doctorate in biology at Urbana, he became an M.D. He went to medical school in Chicago. My wife and I went and looked up his Ph.D. thesis in the library at Urbana a few years ago, and there were two copies there. It was published in a microbiology journal of 1927. So I made a copy of the biography. I learned more about my father’s family history than I had ever known, just from the little biography in that journal article. But we —
What was the thesis on?
It was on micro-fauna of a lake in Iowa. He practiced medicine in Chicago. He was a family doctor. He carried a black bag, and he made house calls. When he started practice it was really during the Depression, and things were tight. And he actually made medical examinations for the Metropolitan Insurance Company, so he went out and found a lot of people at home on Sundays for medical, you know, insurance and things. I went to high school at North Park Academy, which is still there. It’s no longer a high school. Now it’s simply a college. There was a North Park College with a high school academy when I went there. I graduated from high school in 1945.
And we want to get back to that and make sure that’s recorded. But before you get into high school, let’s make sure we get you fully grown up before then.
Okay. Yes, and I went to Carleton College, right out of high school. I almost joined the navy. But that summer the war ended, and I went off to college instead. And then when I got to Carleton, which is Northfield, Minnesota, in the fall of 1945, there were only about 40 men on campus and 600 or 800 women because the servicemen had not returned from World War II. But as the year went on, the male population grew to something like the female population. And we ended up with about 250 students in our class, my graduating class which was 1949. I majored in physics.
When you were younger, when you were a child growing up, did you like to read a lot? Did you have any hobbies?
Well, I was pretty sure I would go into science as a career.
Even when you were a child?
Yes, I think so. At that point, it was more in biological science. I had a course — we had a physiology instructor in grammar school, a man who came in once or twice a week and gave us lectures on human physiology. It was really fascinating. Of course, that was right down the alley of my own father’s work, you know. And so for a long time, I probably thought I’d be a doctor. He was willing, he wanted me to go to the University of Illinois Medical School the way he did. But I became a physics major in college, I think, because I really felt more interested in physical science, and when I finished my junior year I went to Northwestern University during the summer, took a course in earth science, geology course, this would be a full year of geology in one summer. And I was fascinated with earth science. And I decided I would finish my physics major at Carleton, but I would come right back to Northwestern as a grad student in geology, which I did. So —
So you actually had an interest in science when you were really young?
And do you remember talks with your father about scientific topics?
Not so much that, as I got a hold of some books early on about earth history. These would be popular books.
Do you remember some of the titles that you read?
I do not remember. I can just sort of picture one book that told about carboniferous coal swamps and insects of the — and I just don’t remember the titles. And I did get some books on physiology and anatomy and things like that, that I read when I was in grammar school and high school. Later on I found some of those tree trunks in the coal swamps. Well, just basically amateur field-tripping in Pennsylvania, a friend of mine and I when we were in the service stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, we used to take, we were both earth scientists and both geologists, we used to take weekends and go up in the Poconos in Pennsylvania and just camp out and look around at all the geology. We knew something about the geology of the Appalachians by that time from classes, class work, coursework that we had taken. He was a student at Johns Hopkins and I was a student at Columbia when we were in the service together, and we did some work on seismic, model seismology in the ballistic research labs at Aberdeen Proving Ground on the weekdays. And then we used to take these field trips on weekends, together. You know, we got a tent. I remember one time we woke up in the Poconos one morning, it had snowed and our tent was full of snow and our feet, the bottom of our sleeping bags were covered with snow because they stuck out. But that was an interlude. You know, the two years of military service was an interlude in the middle of graduate school at Columbia.
That was in 1954 through ‘56?
Yes. The service. Fifty-four to fifty-six. I was drafted. I didn’t mind going into the service that much. It was basically a two-year holiday out of grad school, which is very demanding, you know. Basic training was a lot of good exercise. I carried a Mickey Spillane novel in my hip pocket, and if we had a ten-minute break every hour when we were out on the dusty trail, you know, in basic training. And I read Mickey Spillane novels right through basic training. [Laughs] Then I went back to Lamont as a grad student after I finished with the service. I never went overseas during the service except to Greenland on a mission which was actually arranged by Professor [W. Maurice] Ewing. That was a real opportunity, of course. Summer of 1955, one of my friends, Charles Bentley, who was at Lamont then doing his graduate work, decided to join the Antarctic expedition of the IGY [International Geophysical Year] which was coming up. And he went. Basically they sent him to Greenland for a shakedown cruise on the ice with seismic equipment. So Dr. Ewing knew I was at Aberdeen, and he asked my boss, who was a friend of his, a geophysicist also, to loan me to the Greenland expedition. So I was a GI. And along came Paul Pomeroy who at that time was an air force officer stationed at Air Force Cambridge. Paul Pomeroy was interested in geophysics. I think Paul actually came to Lamont as a grad student, only after he finished his tour in the air force. But Charles Bentley and Paul Pomeroy and I went to Greenland then in the summer of ‘55.
So this was in the time right before IGY? But before we get too far into that, let’s just go back and cover a little bit more about your early life. So you were doing some reading in science at this time, and you were thinking about that you would eventually go into science and probably into biology.
Yes, I didn’t know what geology was in those days. When I started college, I had a friend, Don Metzler, from Chicago. Don is not a Lamont person. He was a friend from high school. He and I both went to Carleton together. And Don said to me, he said, “Why don’t you take geology? It’s an easy way to satisfy your science requirement.” And I said, “Well, gee, what is geology?” And he told me more or less. And even then I had a very vague idea of what geologists did. And I didn’t take him up on it because I was a physics major, and I was pretty busy. But I did go and take a summer during college to take a freshman geology course. And it was a very good one. It was taught by Professor Bill Reed, who was a faculty member at Lawrence College at Appleton, Wisconsin. And Bill came down to Northwestern and taught the summer course. And to take a year of geology in the summer, you go to class all morning and you do laboratory work all afternoon, basically five days a week. And then you go on a field trip to the Wisconsin Dells and look at the deformed, you know, the folded rocks and the unconformities and so on and the river erosion through the Wisconsin Dells area. And that, I guess, sort of hooked me on geology. I came right back to Northwestern as a grad student in the Master’s program there, and I did a Master’s degree in two years at Northwestern. My field problem was mapping a granite body in the South Manzano Mountains of New Mexico. I went out there with Dr. J.T. Stark, a Northwestern professor, and another grad student, Bill Basham, who later became a head of computing center of Chevron Oil Company in San Francisco.
Certainly by the time, well, when you were growing up, geology as a field was just beginning.
Well, see, there weren’t very many geologists in Chicago. Actually, Amoco has its headquarters in Chicago but not its geological headquarters. So there really wasn’t much earth science in schools, you know, in high schools or grammar schools in the Chicago area. Texas is different. Because Texas is just full of geologists. But Illinois in those days had a good geological survey, the Illinois Geological Survey is one of the bigger organizations in the country. And the University of Illinois has a fine Geology Department, has for many, many years. But a high school student in Chicago didn’t really find out what geology was all about. So I just sort of got into it like most other people. It was a switch later in life. I finished my Master’s degree at Northwestern. It was a very pleasant experience. A lot of fun. I enjoyed it. I knew I was going to be in earth science. I actually interviewed with Chevron at that point. The question is, would I take an oil company job in 1951 when I finished my Master’s, or would I go to graduate school some more? And I had majored in physics in college. I had more of a physics background than almost any of my classmates at Northwestern.
Did you find that helpful in your studies?
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Geology, you know, taking all the undergraduate courses in one year and a few of the graduate courses, and then the next year was not a hard job. I did very well. I was a star student in geology. And physical science was an important background. So I thought, well, I’ll apply to — I thought I might accept a job offer from Chevron. But I thought, I’ll apply for grad school. And I applied for grad school in four geology departments: Lamont [-Doherty Earth Observatory], MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], [University of California at] Berkeley and St. Louis. At St. Louis there was a seismology program which was well-known around the country. Still is. I remember what happened. From MIT I had an offer of an assistantship, and the Chairman of the Department, Robert Shrock, a paleontologist, wrote to me and wanted me to be his assistant the following year. And I thought, well, that’s nice. It’s an honor, you know, coming from a chairman who is well-known in paleontology, but actually I don’t want to be a paleontologist. [Laughs] I want to be a geophysicist. And I had a letter from Frank Press, who was a young professor at Lamont at that time, and he said, “We’d like you to come in June as soon as you’re able. And there is one of two things for the summer. One would be doing some seismic refraction work in the Adirondacks with Sam [Samuel] Katz.” Sam at that time was a senior grad student. “The other would be go to sea with us on an expedition in the North Atlantic.” And it ended up that I did the latter. I met Sam Katz, but it turned out he didn’t need the help, didn’t need my help that summer. And I went to sea on a seismic refraction expedition onboard the Atlantis which is a vessel sailing out of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
How did you even hear about Lamont?
Well, I guess I heard about Lamont because they were getting some reputation in geophysics at that point. It was a very young Lamont at that time. When I got there, there were probably only 30 to 40 people at Lamont in 1951. As I say, it was simply the big house, Lamont Hall, and a few out-buildings, like the old machine shop which was basically located in a greenhouse. And some of the other buildings, like the pool building, had not even been fully utilized and occupied in 1951. We had the seismic vault, the instrument vault, which was in the old root cellar. That had already been built when I reached there. I got to Lamont in early June. Actually, I flew to New York with my folks. They took a weekend off, and we went and we did some sight-seeing on Saturday and Sunday in New York. On Monday morning I went up to Columbia. I took the subway uptown to 116th Street, and I went to Dr. Ewing’s office. [Laughs] It’s hard to talk about it.
I know it’s difficult. You were with him a long time, working with him.
Yes. Give me just a minute. Let me get a cup of coffee.
That’s fine. We’ll stop here. [Tape interruption]
I was talking about my first meeting with Maurice Ewing. He had an office in Schermerhorn Hall on the second floor. And I think that’s where he had been ever since he came to Columbia. He came to Columbia at the, I think, mainly at the instigation of Walter Bucher, who was a senior faculty member, structural geologist. And Walter was, of course, a good friend of Maurice Ewing’s the whole time they worked together at Columbia. And when I met him, probably a Monday morning, early June of 1951, he had just — they were in the process of moving the whole Lamont operation from Schermerhorn Hall out to Lamont. It already was called Lamont Geological Observatory. But there was only a portion of the geophysics people were out there.
What was your first impression of Ewing?
Well, I told him, I think he was glad to have students come in in those days. Maybe they didn’t have a whole lot of students descending on them, you know. And he needed help. So I told him, you know, I had been a physics major. He knew that already, I’m sure. I told him I finished geology, and I was really attracted mostly by the fact that they had offered me a summer job in geophysics. And this was a very good way to start. MIT, I wouldn’t have had a summer job. Just before I left for New York, I got a late call from St. Louis University. Because I hadn’t heard from them about my application. And they said, “We’d like you to come down to St. Louis.” And they offered me financial aid. But by that time, I had already decided to go to New York. But I can’t remember whether I ever got a reply from Berkeley. Maybe I did. I can’t remember for sure. But anyway the main thing about the Lamont situation was I’d have a summer job in geophysics. I had been told by my professors at Northwestern that it was an up and coming program. Probably why I wrote to them in the first place, was on the recommendation of my professors at Northwestern.
Do you know if Lamont had done any recruiting? Or passed out any flyers?
I don’t think so. I don’t think it was that at all. I think it was simply I had sat down with Arthur Howland, my professor at Northwestern. He was a petrologist, a Princeton graduate, so he would be familiar with the East. And he would know about Columbia. And he probably told me there was a very active geophysics group at Columbia now. And this would be 1951 so, you know, things were beginning to happen at Lamont. And that’s how I happened to write to them. And, of course, I didn’t know who Frank Press was until I got a letter from him, offering me this assistantship and — You see, they intended to pay an assistantship stipend all through the twelve months of the year. That’s the way it’s always been at Lamont. That’s the way it is here now. So that was good. I had some financial aid. I suppose in those days it was $200 or $300 a month. But it was enough to live on very nicely as a student. And so Doc, I talked with Doc, and I told him I wasn’t a great physicist and all. I had gotten some good marks in my senior year of physics, and I wanted to give it all a try because earth science would seem interesting to me. And he said, fine. And he introduced me to Angelo Ludas. And he said, “Angelo is going to drive out to Lamont this morning. Why don’t you ride out there with him?” And so I got in Angelo’s — Angelo had already signed on as head of the machine shop contingent. There were a couple of guys working on electronic equipment, you know, marine electronics, seismic recording equipment. And there were a few others, students and so on. Partly it was just getting stuff packed up and moved back out to Lamont. Moved out to Lamont at that time. There were several great, huge rooms. Mostly empty by that time. In Schermerhorn. And so I rode out to Lamont, I met some people. I probably met Jack [E.] Oliver the very first day. I imagine I met Marie Tharp and Bruce [C.] Heezen the very same day.
I worked with Bruce quite a bit my first year at Lamont. Because I went out on the cruise. It was a two-ship cruise. The Caryn — C-A-R-Y-N — and the Atlantis out of Woods Hole. And the Lamont group was using those vessels for seismic refraction, two-ship seismic refraction line of profiles from New York down to Bermuda, then from Bermuda up to the Grand Banks and then some work. I guess the Grand Banks was probably, Newfoundland was our last stop. And we went into port at Argentina, Newfoundland, which is a lend-lease U.S. Navy base in August. And David Warren, another student, and I took a half-day or maybe it was a whole day, hiked up into the mountains around Argentina. And we came on all kinds of blueberries and we ate blueberries all day long up there. And we were stuffed when we got back to the vessel at night. And then the cruise finished off with some refraction profiles on the Grand Banks. That’s a shallow water area. It’s bigger than Newfoundland itself, you know, the shallow Grand Banks. And back to New York and into school. I lived in John Jay Hall my freshman year, or my first year at Lamont. On the campus, and I had a full load of courses at Pupin and Schermerhorn.
That first cruise was when you met Bruce [Heezen]? Bruce, was he the chief scientist?
Well, yes, I met Bruce before we sailed, of course. Because there weren’t that many people at Lamont. I was interested in the work he was doing because I was a geologist. Many of the people there were physicists or chemists and didn’t have as much background in geology. Bruce had been a geologist as a student in Iowa. In fact, he had written a paper which was published in the Journal of Paleontology about brachiopods from Iowa or something of the sort. So he was already well along the way in geology. And we teamed up the second year to do Jack Northrop to work up the data on the mid-ocean canyon of the North Atlantic. And David Ericson did the paleontology from core samples we brought back on the cruise. The second year we sailed from New York to the Azores to Dakar to Recife, Brazil to New York. Those were our stops. The second year that was a three-month cruise. We got back around October 1st. Got back just as the World Series was ending, actually. Because I remember on my way back from the ship in downtown New York, I came up on the subway. And as I came up the stairway somebody in a newsstand had a radio on and Bobby Thompson hit the home run that won the series, oh, won the pennant for the Giants that year. That was when the Giants were playing in the Polo Grounds in New York. And so we got back kind of late to start school in the second year. The first year we sailed around the North Atlantic, just between Bermuda and New York and Newfoundland.
The data from that summer was worked up by other people who were working at Lamont full-time. I was downtown going to school just about full-time. I only came out to Lamont once or twice a week during my first year there. But the second year Bruce and I and Jack Northrop worked up the data that we had collected on the mid-ocean canyon. It was mainly topographic data and core information from cores. And there were five authors of the paper, Doc Maurice Ewing, Heezen, who was on the other vessel. I was on the, wait a minute, Kevin Moran. I know what it was, Heezen came out on the Atlantis and joined up and we had two-ship expedition there on the mid-Atlantic ocean canyon. Northwest Atlantic mid-ocean canyon for about a week we tracked that thing. In those days you had to map the topography by sailing your ship right over it with a single beam echo sounder. And so we made a rough topographic map of the canyon by criss-crossing it with many, many ship tracks. That’s the time we drove the captain nuts by changing course in the middle of the ocean many, many times a day.
Who was the captain?
The captain was James Barrow. He was a sailor of the Moran Towing Company out of New York. This would be the early summer of 1952. Dr. Ewing leased the vessel. It was called the Kevin Moran. It’s a towing vessel. It’s an ocean towing boat out of New York. They had a huge towing winch for towing big loads across oceans. And Captain Barrow was an experienced navigator, of course. Very, very nice crew. Fellows that were interested in what we were doing. It was certainly an experience for them in the sense that they didn’t just sail straight across the ocean. [Laughs] They zigged and zagged all over the place.
They weren’t used to scientific research.
They weren’t used to that. No, they had never had any contact with a research party. I went downtown, and I got apprentice seaman papers from the Coast Guard. And I still have them. I think I could have gotten ordinary seaman’s papers after that summer at sea. And I never followed up on it. Just a while back, I came across the papers, you know, which said apprentice seaman. [Laughs]
But you clearly were enjoying your experience at sea?
Yes, Moran Towing Company had to sign us on and pay us a dollar for the summer’s work because we, according to Coast Guard regulations, we couldn’t sail unless we were employees of the company. And so I think we were all employees of the company then. You know, everybody in the Lamont party. That I guess was the summer of the Lindbergh-Ewing expedition. We had a young man join us from the University of Washington, I think an undergraduate majoring in biology, John Lindbergh, son of Charles A. Lindbergh. And he had written to Dr. Ewing and I guess Dr. Ewing had invited him to join this expedition. And he did, and while we were in Hoboken getting the vessel ready for the cruise, some reporters found out that Charles Lindbergh’s son was on this expedition. And there was a picture on the cover of Life magazine. It was called the Lindbergh-Ewing expedition. So there was some interesting publicity. And there was little blurb in the issue of Life magazine in the summer of 1952, I’m sure.
What was Ewing’s reaction to being placed second on the name?
[Laughs] Well, he was just sort of, “Oh, well. That’s the way it goes.” If you run into a young man who is the son of Charles A. Lindbergh, naturally that’s the only reason they’re interested in your expedition, right?
So what was Bruce like to work with on the ships?
Well, of course, Bruce was I think at that point most interested in coring because he was a geologist. He did not have a geophysics, or a physics background. He was a geologist and a very good one. A very imaginative, very innovative guy who had lots of ideas. And he was a lot of fun to work with. I enjoyed working with Bruce. He and I actually drafted most of that report on the mid-ocean canyon, the words, you know. We had a lot of fun working together. That would be in the fall of 1952 after we returned from that expedition.
Did he feel a little bit isolated from the rest of Lamont because he was, he and Marie were the only ones that were trained as geologists.
Do you think they, what was the reception among the rest of Lamont?
Well, I think, you know, Bruce was an easy guy to work with. I probably worked with him more. I was shortly into geophysics and seismology and so on, and I didn’t really work with Bruce on the things that he was most interested in, except for a very short time in the beginning. But he formed a group. He had a number of people with him. Bill [William F.] Ryan and other people who were definitely interested in his kind of earth science. Bruce got into just about everything. He wrote a paper describing and interpreting the magnetic profile across the Atlantic Ocean. He was not a physicist, but he knew that magnetic anomalies occurred because of things on the ocean floor. And he became interested. We were both interested in marine topography, and the mid-ocean canyon was an important discovery.
When we first came across it, I think it was Professor Ewing who saw this feature on the echo sounder in the lab on board the Kevin Moran, I think we had either crossed the first side of the canyon or we had crossed both sides of the canyon and gone beyond it. And he insisted on turning the vessel and going back for another run across that thing. And the Atlantis was a couple of days behind us, and they joined us about halfway through the survey of the mid-ocean canyon. And the Atlantis had started taking cores. The Kevin Moran was equipped to do some coring, too. We had a coring winch that was placed on the deck and welded down for 90 days, you know, while we were using the vessel. The towing winch was totally useless for taking deep sea cores because it had a relatively short cable, very heavy cable for towing barges. So it couldn’t be used. The towing winch was just a dead weight during the whole cruise. We had a trawl winch that we put on board the vessel. And we had trouble with that winch, too. The wire was wound so tight on the drum that the flange of the drum started to spread, and we had to use that trawl winch very cautiously all summer long. So we didn’t take as many cores as the Atlantis did. Yes, the Atlantis was with us the whole time from about the third or fourth day of the cruise, all the way through Azores, Africa and South America. We did seismic refraction profiling, two ships, that whole summer. The results are in the literature. Heezen was interested in the cores and the topography. He was basically the world’s leading scientist in marine topography, marine landscape. And he built his reputation with Lamont. It was his idea, for example, that we know there are earthquakes around the mid-Atlantic ridge.
We know there is a big, long ridge there going all the way through the Atlantic Ocean, north to south. We know that it seems to have a central rift zone in a few places we’ve crossed it and mapped a central rift zone with ship’s tracks, echo sounders. It looks as though the rift zone might go the whole length of the ridge right in the middle. And these earthquakes are scattered around, of course. But they’re not very precisely located from seismograph stations in North American and Europe. They could all be right on the rift zone if the errors were smaller. So he wrote a paper early on — it’s in the Lamont contributions — about this idea that there was a rift zone in the mid-Atlantic ridge and it had a lot of earthquakes on it, and that’s where all the earthquakes in the mid-Atlantic ridge occurred if you allowed for these errors. The errors in locating earthquake epicenters, of course, put them off the ridge here and there. There were no earthquakes located more precisely than a degree or two, you know that’s sixty or a hundred miles.
How did you feel about this theory when it came out? Did you accept it? Was it widely accepted at Lamont?
Of the earthquakes on the mid-Atlantic ridge? Oh, yes, I think so. Yes. It seemed like a good bet. I mean, as a physics experiment it was probably the most reasonable explanation of where the earthquakes were and why they were there. There were faults in the mid-Atlantic ridge, and the faults were all basically, all active faults were in the rift zone in the middle of the ridge. Nobody knew why. Nobody knew that this was sea floor spreading. Nobody knew that that’s where lava erupted and the crust grew by 3 centimeters a year. Because no observations had ever been done in any detail. We had only a few rough topographic profiles from echo sounders crossing the ridge. Bruce was among the first to point out that there were ocean ridges all around the world, 40 or 50,000 miles or ocean ridges in the Indian Ocean, the Pacific and the Atlantic. And that they were more or less a continuous series of branching ridges all over the world, and that these might have a key role in earth process. This was not plate tectonics at that time. It was just an idea that Bruce had. Being a non-physicist Bruce had a lot of crazy ideas. One of them was that the continents represented the original size of the earth. You just remove all the ocean, shrink down to nothing but continents and that this would be the way the earth was a long time ago, and that the oceans grew as the earth grew. And I said, “What is the basis for this theory of expanding earth?” At that time, there was a guy in Tasmania, S. Warren Carey, who was a great lecturer. And he went around the world talking about the expanding earth. He was a geologist. And he gave a lecture about the expanding earth in Schermerhorn one time. And he was a spellbinder. A great speaker. He would be a great Baptist preacher. Maybe he was later in life. I don’t know.
But you asked Bruce why he believed in —
Bruce believed in the expanding earth because he thought that the oceans were growing at the ridges. Which is true. But he thought this was contributing to the expansion of the earth. That the surface of the earth was growing by the amount that it grew at the ocean ridges. I think that’s what he believed. And he didn’t recognize the fact that ocean crust was being consumed at subduction zones. That the earth was staying about the same size, and there was crust growing and crust disappearing at the same time. And I argued this with him quite a few times. And I said, “Bruce, what is the physics of materials that allows you to expand the earth? We know that the earth is not acquiring more mass at this rate. It isn’t adding material. You have to expand the material that’s there and reduce the density of the material in the earth. And there’s no way that physics will allow you to do that.”
Did he have a retort to your —
No, he didn’t. He really didn’t. He said, “Well, there might be a way. Bob Dicke down at Princeton is now talking about the gravitational constant is not a constant.” Or the Big G. The basic proportionality between gravitational force and mass is not a constant. And maybe that’s the answer. Bruce was looking for an answer. But not being a physicist I don’t think he worried that much about it. He took the geological evidence rather than the physical reasoning he took more seriously.
Which divided him from the rest of Lamont.
So was there anyone at Lamont who backed him on this idea?
Not really. It was just an idea. I’m not sure if Bruce really took it seriously. Or he just wanted to explore this hypothesis. It wasn’t a matter of intense debate. It was just an idea. It was not a matter of intense controversy at all. We didn’t have time to argue things like that. [Laughs] We were too busy collecting more data. But Bruce, you know, believed or looked at this hypothesis for a long, long time.
You mentioned earlier that he had sort of formed a group with Bill Ryan. What did this group do? What was it for?
Well, they worked up the marine geological data, the topographic data, the core data. Bruce was the author of a famous paper in the American Journal of Science published at Yale about the Grand Banks turbidity current of 1929. It was his doctoral dissertation. And he called attention to the fact that the Grand Banks earthquake had triggered a large slump of material, of sediment, that slid off the continental slope south of the earthquake epicenter near the Grand Banks, came down the slope, broke all the submarine cables between New York and Europe. And the records from the cable company, which he obtained, gave him the time and place of each cable break. These lined up in a thing that looked like the cable had broken in a series going about 60 miles an hour down the slope. And this was the speed of the turbidity current that caught those cables and pulled them and broke them and carried pieces. Pieces of the cables were found later. And the ends of the cables were found, and the cables were repaired, you know, they were patched and put back into service. Because in those days you had nothing between New York and Europe except cable communication and some short-wave radio, I suppose. The cables were an important communication method. No earth satellites. And they were just, they were copper conductors with repeaters built into the cable at intervals.
There are a lot of old ocean cables. Now there have been some proposals to use them for geophysical experiments. Bruce with his doctoral dissertation, which he did in 1952 I think the paper was published, he became well-known. This was following an idea of Philip Kuenen of the Netherlands and some other geologists who called attention to the importance of turbidity currents in sedimentation process and the movement of sediment and the fact that these currents formed a graded, each turbidity current formed a graded bed of sediment. That would be coarse grains at the bottom and going upward into finer material. There are thousands and thousands of turbidity currents in cores from the North Atlantic. And those represent, a lot of them represent turbidity currents that occurred during Pleistocene ice ages when this process was much more active in carrying sediment off the continental shelf of North America into the deep basins. But the Grand Banks turbidity current was a monster. I think it was cored in a number of places and was identified as a meter thick here and a half-meter thick there. I think it was detected all the way out almost to Bermuda. And this was a submarine process that was not understood or accepted by geologists of that day. Of course, geologists in the ‘50s were not much concerned about oceans. I can say from my experience at Northwestern as a grad student that probably a number of the faculty members did not know how deep the ocean is.
They were mostly concerned with the continents.
Right. Of course, since continental drift was not believed in North America and sea floor spreading had been not even thought of, the geology of the oceans was something which might not even exist. I mean, we knew about the geology of the continent. We even knew a little bit about the geology of the continental shelf. But after you got off the shelf, that was just a black hole. No information had ever come out of it. Except for a few soundings and a few scraps of information on early expeditions. Of course, the depth maps of the oceans of the world were wrong. I mean, there were great errors in the charts of the ocean depths. I remember in 1952 we sailed with a chart of the North Atlantic which had a 4,000 meter sounding in the middle of the basin north of Bermuda. And that was an error created by some wire sounding, you know, that was basically a wire angle that gave them a 4,000 meter sounding, excuse me, fathom sounding instead of a 3,400 or 3,500 fathom sounding. A big error. And this was contoured all over the North Atlantic.
So there were lots of errors. And the charts were not very much help at all in interpreting what would be the geologic process of the ocean basins. So geologists didn’t have much idea. And Bruce came from Iowa, and he was a geologist and he got involved in ocean geology early. And basically it was a virgin field. There was nothing accurate or realistic known about ocean geology. So it was a pleasure to work with Bruce and everybody else. It was a group that worked, you know, everybody’s working on the same things. Everybody was comparing notes. Everybody was helping each other. It was a great situation. Mainly because we had a strong leader, Maurice Ewing. But he was not a guy who told everybody what to do. He sort of expected people to look around and figure out what they should be doing and to get at it. Based on your own skills and your own interest you would look around and find out what it is needs to be done next and you do it.
And that’s how you got hooked up with Bruce in the beginning, right? Because you came in as a geologist.
I think so. Yes, I was interested in geology, having taken two years of graduate geology at Northwestern. I was interested in it and probably knew more about it than most of the other grad students there at that time. Actually, Professor Ewing was a physicist by trade. He did a doctoral degree in physics at Rice University. He told us he had never taken a geology course in his life, even when he was a professor of geology at Columbia, which was true. But, of course, he had worked in Houston on oil company projects for a while, and then he had gone to Lehigh University and he became a marine geophysicist there. He taught himself; there was nobody to learn from. He and a few students, Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel and Albert Crary and a few others that were at Lehigh with Maurice Ewing did the early marine geophysics experiments off the East Coast. Basically he started his group at Lehigh. He went to Woods Hole during World War II, worked on underwater sound. And right after the war ended, he was invited to come to Columbia, mainly at the instigation of Walter Bucher.
What we haven’t really covered as much is your training in depth into both your undergraduate and your graduate training. But also, you mentioned a little bit about your grammar school, but to go back a little bit, you said there was a physiology teacher. That was really interesting because most grammar schools don’t have that. What other science was in your grammar school? Do you remember much?
Well, that was a special opportunity because this man, his name was Viggo Boberg, he was basically a shop teacher. He taught us manual arts. We made little pieces of furniture and metal things, not machine shop, more like a wood shop in our grammar school. He also, I’m not even sure where he did this, but he was also very knowledgeable on human physiology. He was not an M.D. I don’t know where his background came from. But he told us about the major organs and what they did and about the main facts of physiology. I think it was a very good course. We drew diagrams in our notebooks and came out with a nice notebook on physiology by the end of, this would be in the maybe third, fourth, fifth grade and that sort of thing.
Do you remember any laboratory exercises?
No, there weren’t any. There really weren’t. It was not like a high school biology course. Boberg was not a biologist really. He was not a biologist by training. I’m not sure where he — maybe he had been a biology teacher, I don’t know. But anyway, this fit in with my father’s profession, which was medicine. So I was interested in science. But as it turned out later, I was going to be more interested in physical science than biological science.
Were you getting any magazines into your home? Like Popular Mechanics?
My uncle, Edgar Rupprecht, he was a great-uncle actually, brother-in-law of my grandmother, had a manufacturing business in Chicago. It was on the South Side. I went out and worked in his factory during summers and during the war because labor was short. He had a little company with about 20 or 30 employees. It was a partnership with another man, Mr. Anthony. And they were making gaskets. These would be small parts that go in machines, automobile engines, refrigerators, all kinds of equipment. Gaskets are made out of anything from paper to rubber to fabric to tin foil. I worked in his factory during the war during summers. Because this was a trip. I went out to the South Side and lived with my uncle and aunt.
The first year I was there, I was sort of an apprentice to a the-maker, a guy who made a thing called ribbon die which are made with heavy plywood and steel knives. And it was a manual skill. And I made ribbon die with a man who was a skilled die-maker. And then midway in the summer, the guy died of a heart attack, and I became the die-maker. Of course, this was not using a lathe and drill presses and big machine tools and milling machines; this was basically using saws and crimpers and other hand tools. But I made ribbon dies which were used for small orders; you know, if you’re only going to punch a few hundred gaskets you would not build a steel die with machine tools to cut it. And then these dies were used in presses which stamped out and cut the material and made it. So I worked for three summers, I think, during World War II in the factory. And as I say, most of the people there were ineligible for the draft for one reason and another. Too old, too young or handicapped. And so that way I got interested in physical science. I didn’t want to go to engineering. I wanted to really learn the physics of the process, yes.
Were you receiving any other journals into your home at the time?
Well, we had Popular Mechanics. We had magazine, of course. Because Life magazine covered World War II in great detail. You know, they had the famous photographers, who many of them you’ve heard of, who went all over the world with the armed forces and with the Presidential meetings and all that sort of thing, you know. I watched World War II in the Chicago Tribune. There were maps of the battle fronts and stories almost every day. This would be like when I was 14 to 16 years old. I learned a lot of geography, I know, watching World War II in the newspapers. And I even remember that we had the radio on one Sunday and heard about the attack in Pearl Harbor. I remember hearing a speech by Hitler over a short-wave radio. You didn’t have to see him to understand the power that he had. [Voice breaks] Over people. So we were, it was a very interesting period. Of course I wasn’t involved in it.
It was a very difficult period.
Yes. My father was a veteran of World War I. He was not a draftee in World War II, of course. But my wife, whom I didn’t meet until 1956, her father was a veteran of World War II. And two of her uncles were killed in action. So I get a little bit choked up about World War II. Sorry.
No, it was a very difficult time.
There was a thing last night on the History Channel about Hirohito who was emperor throughout the war. And the Japanese portrayed him as the great war leader. But actually he was a man who would have preferred to avoid World War II completely. But he was pretty much dragged along by the government, the military leaders of Japan. So I think he was a great influence on post-war Japan. I happen to think Douglas MacArthur’s greatest contribution was as military governor of Japan. He brought that country through a difficult period and put them on the road to being a modern nation. I remember when I was a freshman at Carleton. I had a classmate there. I don’t think he was a freshman. He was a Japanese who had been, I think, probably just sort of isolated in the United States when the war came along. His parents were in Japan during the war. I went to Carleton in 1945, and here was this guy, still there, in school, had been there during the war. Kiowaki Murata. And I invited him home to Chicago with me over a holiday of some sort. And my parents were rather uncomfortable with a Japanese guy whose parents were in Japan. But I read something about him in the Carleton alumni magazine not too long ago. He’s written a book, and I need to get a copy of it some time, about his war experience in the United States during the war. Of course, he encountered a lot of hostility because Japanese people were basically interned, even though they weren’t, even though American citizens were sent to internment camps in the West. Japanese citizens were moved out of California. There’s still a big question in some respects about what happened to their property and would they ever get any of it back. Because a lot of the property, they were farmers and a lot of the property they have now is plowed up into cities and big, highly developed real estate areas. California’s been turned from farmland into city. Go ahead.
Did you have any siblings?
No brothers, no sisters, no.
Did you have friends when you were younger that you used to talk about science with that shared your interest in it?
[Sighs] I don’t really think so. You know, I wasn’t pals with anyone in high school or even in grammar school who was really interested in science. We didn’t work on things together or anything like that. That wasn’t it, no. In college, of course, I met people who I had a lot in common with, and of course in grad school I met many more people I had much more in common with than even in college because we became focused on geophysics. But in college I had a roommate, Kinsey Anderson, who became a particles and fields person. He was a physics professor at Berkeley in later years. And I saw Kinsey occasionally at AGU, American Geophysical Union, meetings. We had a very small, maybe 6 or 8, physics majors when I was a senior at Carleton. So we were a pretty small group. But there was no one in earth science except Kinsey and I in later years. And so I really didn’t have any projects or mentors in earth science or in geophysics before I got to Professor Ewing.
What type of home did you grow up in?
Well, we lived in the part of Chicago which is small homes, built on 33-foot by 125-foot lots. The neighborhood is still there. It was originally, when my grandparents went there in 1922, the houses were almost all new in that decade. It was a largely German-Scandinavian type neighborhood. I was really surprised when I went back there in later years, by 1980s, it had become, all the stores on Devon Avenue were either Chinese, Indian or Jewish stores of some sort, you know. It’s still an ethnic neighborhood, but a totally different population. Chicago has a lot of ethnic neighborhoods now. When Sally and I went to the North Park reunion about — we’ve been to two North Park reunions. One was in 1986 and one was in about 1992. We found that the ethnic neighborhoods were even more ethnic than they were when I was a kid in Chicago. You know, like Swedish bakeries and so on, with blue and yellow signs and flags and so on. I don’t really think that’s true, well, that’s not true in Memphis. I don’t know about New York. Has New York developed a more ethnic —?
Basically it’s sort of like going back to your roots idea, I guess. No, I really didn’t have any real strong influence. As I say, I didn’t know what geology was until I got to college.
Did you have any religious instruction in the home?
No, not really. I almost got confirmed in a church, but didn’t quite make it. You know, when I was in eighth grade I was in a confirmation class at our local church. But I got so busy, I said to my folks, “You know, I don’t see how I can finish this thing.” I was supposed to be confirmed by the spring, and so I quit.
It was never pushed?
No. My wife grew up in the Episcopal church in Canton, New York. Her grandmother made her go to church every Sunday or she couldn’t go to the movies on Saturday or something like that. She was raised by her grandparents. But she wasn’t that strong on church-going. We took our kids to church in Spring Valley, New York when they were little. But we got a little bit turned off by the preacher who was a rabid anti-war, not exactly protestor, but his sermons were about the Vietnam War. And my feeling was that the servicemen in Vietnam had a hard enough time without the folks at home jumping all over them. [Voice breaks] And we got a little bit disgusted and that’s about when we quit going to church.
That would be frustrating to hear that.
Yes. As it turns out now, Sunday mornings are our time that we have at home together. You know, there aren’t too many hours of the week we can spend at home together, and I would hate to feel like I had to go to church on Sunday morning. I don’t feel the least bit of guilt or remorse of not going to church on Sunday morning. And I’m happy to have some time at home. We went to a church concert last Sunday a week ago, yes, last Sunday, because the gospel choir is quite a thing in Memphis. It is all over the South. But the University has a gospel choir. It’s not all black students, once in a while a white student is in it, but mostly it’s a phenomenon of black churches. But the music is fantastic. We go to every gospel choir we hear about. We went to one of the churches here which has a gospel choir concert once a year. You know, the whole two hour thing is gospel choir. But otherwise, no, we haven’t been involved in the churches very much. Of course, the minister asked us to come back and attend regularly. But I don’t think we’re going to do it because we just like the time to ourselves. This is a busy job. You know, being a professor nowadays is not an ivory tower situation. I’m sure, I think you probably know that.
Yes, it is difficult.
It’s a busy thing. Just like everything. You know, people now are working two jobs, or families have two incomes. Everybody works hard. Everybody puts in long hours, professional work is very demanding in any field, including geophysics research. I’m sure the people at Lamont know that.
Yes, they still work the long hours that Ewing put in, I’m sure.
Oh, yes, yes. I remember seeing Maurice Ewing, well, from 9 to 5 he had to take care of Lamont business and his door was always open. And a lot of people went in and out. And every day my door is always open. And basically now I’m doing the same thing he did. He did his science up until about 8 or 9 in the evening, and he didn’t get much, you know, too many 5-minute periods put together end to end during a day to do science between 9 and 5. But he was in there quite late, almost every night. And then we — hi Arch.
When he, well, he lived on the Observatory grounds the whole time I was there. I’m not sure if he had moved out to the house at the Observatory in 1951 when I first met him. But he had a house there that had been there since the Lamont days. And then the director’s house was built. Maybe it’d been in the late 1950s, early ‘60s. It was built with a gift. It might have been a Lamont family member who made a gift to the University for a director’s house. I’m not sure. Or it was a local party or somebody. I’m not sure. You can find out.
I think it was a Lamont gift.
I think it was, yes. Some Lamont family member. Some Lamont heir had made a gift. And the house was built. It was designed by a local architect, Walker Field. I remember Bruce and I took a look at the house and we said, “This is interesting. Walker Field has done an interesting thing. He’s put a bathroom with a picture window looking right out over the front porch, front steps of the house.” And of course Dr. Ewing had to hand an opaque curtain in front of that window because it really was a bathroom with a huge picture window looking right out on the front steps. [Laughter] So we said this is an interesting design feature. The architect’s name was Walker Field and he was a Palisades person, and we said Frank Lloyd Wrong designed this house. It was a beautiful house, it is a beautiful house. But this thing really impressed us, I guess. Our first trip in there.
That would be something, something you’d remember if the curtain was up.
We had a little reception over there just last spring. Okay. We went up to Lamont. It was a Saturday in April. There was a memorial service for Jack [John E.] Nafe who died last spring. And Jack had been a faculty member there for a long time, since the 1950s. And we had a little reception after the memorial service. It was in Lamont Hall, and then we went over to the director’s house. And I saw a lot of people that I hadn’t seen for a long time. I saw Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker and a bunch of folks that I hadn’t seen for a long, long time. I saw Bill Ryan. I saw Walter [C.] Pitman. I saw Arthur Lerner-Lam. He came to Lamont after I left, but I know him quite well. I think Paul Richards was there. A few others. What’s the name of our oceanography professor? Physical oceanography professor at Lamont? He’s been there a long, long time. He was a grad student under Georg Wust.
Was this a professor that you had?
No, not that I had. A guy younger than I. But he came as a grad student and studied physical oceanography under a visiting professor, Georg Wust from Kille, Germany. If you can wait for a moment, I’ll look up his name. [tape interruption]
Faculty member now.
Arnold Gordon. I saw Arnold at the reception last spring. We had no physical oceanographer of any experience and reputation at Lamont in the 50s. Even though we were capable, of course, of taking water samples. We did take a lot of water samples. We took water samples by unusual methods. We brought up 500-gallon water samples in order to extract carbon 14, for example, to get, to find out what the age of the seawater was at the bottom of the ocean. The geochemists extracted carbon dioxide, measured the carbon 14 age of the seawater, meaning that this seawater is 10,000 years old, meaning it has not been in contact with the surface of the ocean, you no exchange with the atmosphere for 10,000 years. I was basically on the cruise.
I probably was on the cruise in 1952 where we built a kalunge, a gizmo for bringing up, for closing trapdoors at great depth and bringing up a sample from the ocean bottom, from 3,000 fathoms. And we took a bunch of them, and the geochemists had some apparatus on board where they extracted the carbon 14 and took it back to the lab, to Lamont for seawater age measurements. This was basically looking at the circulation of the ocean. [J.] Laurance Kulp, who was head of the geochemistry program, was interested in carbon 14 as well as m any other things. And he trained Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker who was one of the world authorities on the carbon cycle. I keep looking at Wally’s articles. Wally came a year after I did, and we sat together in physics courses in Pupin Hall that year. I think Wally had just graduated from college in 1952 and came out to Lamont then. Larry Kulp, I think had been his professor at Wheaton College in Illinois. Wheaton, of course, is a fundamentalist school, religious school, similar to North Park. Where I went to high school was another Swedish Covenant college institution. So I had a good idea that at Wheaton College there were a lot of fundamentalist people with religious ideas that didn’t admit the age of the earth.
Came to be known as the theochemists.
Well, I think maybe Bruce Heezen even invented that term. Yes. But, of course, they were a different branch of the Swedish Covenant Church because they believed they were measuring the age of the earth, you know, in billions of years. And I remember Bruno Gilleti came up to Greenland the summer Charles Bentley and Paul Pomeroy and I were in Greenland. Bruno Gilleti came up briefly to collect some ice samples for carbon 14 measurements. I think we dug a deep hole in the ice, and he was interested mainly, no, not in carbon 14; he was interested in getting some pre-bomb water. Snow. Yes. At that time, there was a lot of tritium contamination from atomic bomb explosions, and so rainwater contained tritium from bombs. And I think Bruno came up from geochemistry lab to collect some — And we dug the hole and helped him melt the snow. I don’t remember whether he extracted the carbon 14 right there or whether he packed all this in big jugs and took it back to Lamont. I think that’s what happened in the summer of 1955, there. So, and Paul Gast was there at the time. Paul worked on radioactive potassium argon relationships, if I’m not mistaken, for the most part. Then when he came to NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] later, he worked on all of the rare earth stuff, which became an important issue in the lunar geochemistry. As I say, the geochemistry lab was built in 1955 or ‘56. You know that. We were talking about early years. But my physics major at Carleton was mainly, it had nothing to do with earth science. And my studies at Carleton College had nothing to do with earth science.
When you were in high school, what kind of science were you exposed to? Did you have a physics class?
Yes, I did have a physics class. And I met my physics teacher just about five, six years ago at a reunion at North Park in Chicago. And his name was Ray Van. He taught physics and also, when I was a senior, he taught a course which was called pre-flight. It was an applied physics course about the physics of flight and basically it was sort of a high school preparatory course for military service, I guess. It was an interesting course. It was all about physical problems. And also I took chemistry, of course, in high school. I took some math almost every semester. I should have taken it absolutely every semester, but I didn’t in high school.
Up to what point did you get in your math?
Well, in high school in those days, it was customary — you never got into calculus in high school, but you did take courses in algebra, plane and solid geometry, trigonometry and so on. I think I missed the trigonometry course in high school. And I had to struggle with mathematics in college quite a long time before I got on top of things. And I was still struggling to a certain extent in grad school. I took the physics courses in Columbia, which were mathematical, and I had to work real hard in those. And I did fairly well. Of course, Columbia’s a very competitive situation in the Physics Department. A lot of Nobel Prize winners around there. In fact, I took courses from a couple of them. And it was really amazing how well a Nobel Prize winner could explain spherical harmonics, you see. Or, this would be solutions of wave equation or in spherical coordinates. So Columbia was a big help. I’m very strong on geophysics students taking as many physics courses as they can. We try to emphasize that here, or we’re trying to. In fact, we have just added a faculty member who joined us last fall. She is a mathematician, and her field is partial differential equations. Just exactly what we need for a mathematician in the geophysics program. And so we’re trying to do a good job here at Memphis in geophysics. The way they did at Lamont.
Of course in the early days there weren’t that many geophysics courses. I often thought of being a geophysics student at Lamont as being more of an apprenticeship than a student-ship. Okay, you took the physics courses. You took some math courses. Then there were maybe three courses in geophysics at Lamont. That was it. The rest of it was all practical work. You got out on the vessels. You collected data. You ran seismograph. You analyzed the data. You read the literature. You went to the American Geophysical Union meetings. You know, you gave papers. You got respect from the community because we were doing things at the cutting edge of geophysics. Lamont was respected. It still is. It’s the 900-pound gorilla of earth science. Lamont is such a huge place, I mean, people can’t even believe, who’ve never been there, what it’s like. The Lamont budget is greater than the research budget of all of the University of Memphis, right now by a factor of two or three. That’s because there are what? Four or five hundred people at Lamont? They operate a vessel. They have a tremendous staff of very experienced people. It’s incredible. I was very fortunate to go there and to work with all those folks. I remember being at a sort of a little party. It was over in Blauveldt. But then there were three people from the Office of Naval Research there. I can’t remember how we happened to get to this party, but anyway, Doc [Ewing] had been talking with them about a new project he wanted to do, and they took me aside. I was Assistant Director of Lamont at that time. And they told me what Doc had just said to them, and he said, “Do you think Doc really wants to do that?” And I said, “You know, it’s news to me. But if he said it, I’m sure he wants to do it.” And they found the money for it. I can’t tell you what it was. But he commanded a great deal of respect in the Navy because he was one of the early people who was doing a serious job in marine geophysics and was — the resourceful approach to every problem. Let’s do it. Let’s solve it. No nonsense. Get the work done.
Was that typical that you weren’t aware always of what projects Maurice [Ewing] was working on?
Well, no, this was a new idea that he wanted to pursue. No, we knew what he was working on. We didn’t actually have planning meetings at Lamont. Nowadays they want you to do all kinds of plans, you know, in universities. They want plans of this, plans of that. They want reports, telling how much time you spent on this and how much on that. And we didn’t do things that way. It was driven by outside needs. Ninety-nine percent of the Lamont budget came from external funds. There was no money in the University for geophysics. The Lamont budget consisted of about $100,000 from Columbia University and about $7.5 million from outside sources. So there was no arguing or competition for University money; there wasn’t any. The competition was for Navy funding, Air Force funding. And that competition was not with Lamont people; it was with other people in other universities.
Like Cal Tech [California Institute of Technology] or MIT?
Yes. Other institutions that were developing in geophysics, of course.
Like Woods Hole?
Well, Woods Hole was one of the early ones, of course. Doc had one foot in Woods Hole and one foot in Lamont for many, many years, of course. In fact, Dr. Ewing had a home in Woods Hole when he was working there. And he still had that house in Woods Hole for a long time afterwards.
So he retained his connections with —?
Well, he didn’t really retain a formal connection with Woods Hole. But he knew so many people there that it was a lot of cooperation. That’s why we happened to sail in Woods Hole vessels for a number of years until we had a Lamont vessel of our own, the Verna. It was first used by Lamont in the summer, or for a year, beginning probably in 1953, this you can surely get from somewhere. It was leased for one year from the owner who was also the captain of the vessel. And the lease was paid for by contracts from the Navy. And there was an option to buy the vessel. And after the year was up, Doc wanted to buy it. But he didn’t have any money. He went to Stanley Sallman who was Treasurer of Columbia University, and somehow a loan was arranged. Or Columbia arranged to buy it. I’m not sure which. Then the vessel became Columbia property. I believe it was the first voyage after it became Columbia property that Dr. Ewing had his accident and was washed overboard. This was the accident where, I’m sure you’ve heard of this by now —
Yes. It’s been well-documented.
Yes, two people were lost. One person was lost. Three were rescued, including Maurice Ewing and John Ewing. And Mike Brown. The man who was lost was a third mate or something, a man from Nova Scotia who was working on the vessel. The owner that we bought it from was from Nova Scotia. So the man who was in command of the vessel when that accident occurred was an old friend of Doc’s who had been in command of vessels at Woods Hole that he had known for a long time. Doc was injured. He was in the hospital in Bermuda for a while. He came home, and he had a limp. He actually had a head injury which was like almost partial paralysis of one side. And he limped for quite a while. And that got better over the years, but when he was tired he still limped. And it was probably that same injury.
Were there any ties to Scripps Institution?
Not really. We knew most of the Scripps people very well. But there had never been any staff traffic or any exchange of scientists that I know of with Scripps, except perhaps in the geochemistry area. Ed Goldberg of Scripps, I think, was good friends of the Lamont geochemists. Because he was interested in carbon 14 also. But in terms of oceanography or marine geophysics, it was more competition than a collaboration. I was invited to go to Scripps by Walter Munk. He was interested in some of the work I was doing in seismology. I turned him down. I said, “Walter, I’m busy here at Lamont. And I have lots of things to do.” I just didn’t want to go out there. I was once asked if I would like to spend a year on a sabbatical in Cambridge. Of course, it wouldn’t really be a sabbatical. It would be a year’s employeeship. I was not a faculty member. And the proposal was that I would work with a seismologist there, Robert Stoneley. This was passed on to me by a Scripps person who was visiting Lamont at the time, and I just said, “Really, I’m so busy here. I’m not interested.” One time I did go to Wisconsin as visiting lecturer, in the spring of 1963, spring semester. And I taught a course on marine geophysics there. Because I wasn’t that far out of the marine geophysics program at Lamont. I took part in it a little bit in the early 50s. One thing about being at Lamont, you keep up with progress in a lot of different fields because you’re working with people who are at the cutting edge in so many different areas of earth science. So I think I gave a good course in marine geophysics in Wisconsin. In fact, one of my students is Peter Voigt who is now in the Naval Research Lab in Washington. Another student was a guy who has been in geophysics, okay, I can’t remember that name right now.
That’s okay. It can be added to the transcript later.
And Dick — Okay, I can’t think of the name. I still see him occasionally. He’s in commercial work. And so at Lamont you get a lot of, you keep up with a lot of things once you work in marine geophysics for a few years and you work with those fellows forever after why you don’t really lose touch with the field. Of course, a lot of work has been done on the North Atlantic mid-ocean canyon since we found it in the early 50s. It’s a very interesting subject, but some of the guys who are writing on that subject now don’t even know about what happened on the first expedition when it was first found. So, okay, no I just enjoyed earth science. When I went to Northwestern and did my field project in New Mexico. We worked in the desert every day. You know, we made traverses up and over the mountain on foot. At the end of the month or two, we put together a geologic map of the mountain range which showed the major structural relationships, the pre-Cambrian formations and pluton of granite which was pre-Cambrian in age. And a major fault which was Pennsylvanian or something. I enjoyed working in the desert. I worked in the desert a lot for Exxon in later years. Always enjoyed it. If I could have thought of a way to have found a job in Utah, Nevada or New Mexico or someplace like that, it probably would have been a lot of fun. But, of course, I had a five-year career with Exxon. There were some Lamont people at Exxon when I got there to Exxon Production Research Company in Houston. There was a Lamont guy, and I can’t think of his name, who had graduated in later years. But I did my work on seismic data acquisition technology in west Texas, south Texas, New Mexico, Nevada. I designed seismic experiments for using sheer waves, converted waves, for difficult exploration areas. These were kinds of things that Maurice Ewing was interested in his early days in Houston.
How did working for industry compare to the academic institution setting?
Well, Exxon Production Research Company had a tremendous amount of talented people. There were very few that actually had degrees in geophysics, even in the exploration area. There were a lot more electrical engineers and a lot more geologists and a lot of physicists and mathematicians, but very few geophysicists who had actually had graduate training in geophysics. But I enjoyed my industry experience. You have the equipment. You have the resources to do anything you can sell to management. The reason they tell you to do it is they want it done, and they have the resources to do it.
More so than at an institution.
It’s like it’s different. Exxon does not hire people unless they have the money to pay them to do what they want done. Here the university hires professors and sits them down at a desk. The first thing you do is write proposals to get the money to do what you want to do. It’s not a given. If you go to work for Exxon, you have a chance to do what you want. The third week I was there I made a proposal. It was verbal. It took about ten minutes. Probably involved a half million dollars. They said, “Go ahead.” I said, okay, and went and did it. That sort of thing. University research has been competitive as far as funding is concerned. Especially after 1970. Up to 1970 or 1974, I never had a proposal turned down. If I wrote some proposal, I didn’t write a lot of proposals, and when I worked at Lamont I worked on projects mainly that other people were managing. Maurice Ewing. Jack Oliver. We had some main, big supporting contracts in seismology. But I wrote a few small proposals, and I got funding for every single one of them in the 60s. Now in the ‘70s, things began to get tough. What?
Was this typical for most research?
Yes. Well, I don’t know. Lamont may have had a special advantage in the sense that it had a tremendous reputation. It might have been very hard in the 1960s for Office of Naval Research or Air Force to ever turn down a Lamont proposal. I’m not sure how they felt about it. I did not deal directly with funding agencies so much in those days. But I wrote a few small proposals, and I got funding for them. Finally in 1974 in Texas I had one turned down. That was the first.
It must have been quite a shock.
Yes. And since then, it’s gone from bad to worse. Everybody has the experience now that they’ve had quite a few proposals turned down. There are still some very talented people who are mining a very rich vein of research money because they’re working on important areas and areas of high interest and high visibility. But there aren’t that many people who are hitting 80 or 90% success rate. We sure don’t. I think there is a higher success rate at Lamont because Lamont is staffed with a tremendous amount of very good people, and their momentum is very good. And also probably the funding agencies realize that Lamont has no other source of support except outside funding. Lamont wouldn’t be there if outside funding failed. So they are doing a very remarkable job, tight rope walking.
In terms of what you saw in industry, did the technology and instrumentation that you found at Lamont compare or was it a little bit behind the times?
Well, it’s hard to compare because I was working on land seismic data acquisition at Exxon with a field system that cost $10 million and was operated by 35 men. There were just no resources like that. That would be like having a whole Lamont ship to yourself. Lamont did not have a land program of that sort. That’s a commercial program. So it’s hard to compare. But the oil industry has a tremendous cash flow, three or four of the five largest companies in the world are oil companies. The United States uses 17 million barrels of oil a day, at $20 a barrel. That’s a tremendous amount of cash going into oil companies. It’s sort of a unique situation, even though they spend maybe only 1% of their budget on geophysical research, that’s an awful lot of money. Actually, probably less than 1% of their revenue goes into research. Quite a bit goes into exploration. That’s a tremendous amount of money because the energy industry is huge. Revenues of oil companies are bigger than revenues of auto makers. It’s interesting to see a company like that from the inside. Even for a little bit, you know, at a low level where I was.
You mentioned that while you were at Lamont you constantly came into contact with different groups and you were able to find out what the different fields were doing. What were you hearing about the biology program in the early 50s?
Was anyone really talking about it.
At Lamont, you mean? A Lamont biology program? Okay, the Lamont biology program went through several phases. I knew some of the people fairly well. There was at one point probably in the late 50s there was a guy by the name of Bob [Robert] Menzies who came to Lamont for a few years. I worked with him for a couple of weeks one time on marine foraminifer looking at fossil foraminifer for cores. I was sort of getting familiar with the looks of these bugs. I can’t remember exactly what I had in mind, but that was just a diversion I should really not have taken two weeks to go and look through a binocular microscope. I should have kept on my seismology.
Why did you take that diversion?
What caused you to take that diversion?
I don’t know. Well, it was just an interest in something or other. At that point foraminifer were the right and left coiling globigerina were indicative of water temperature. I got interested for a while in the history of the Mediterranean basin. We had just cored some black mud layers that were sandwiched in between fully oxidized sediments in the Mediterranean basin. It was clear that the east basin of the Mediterranean was quite different in terms of sediment column than the west basin. There’s a shallow sill between east and west Mediterranean. The Black Sea was something else. We had never been in the Black Sea, but we had some information about the sediments of the Black Sea. And this was before it became understood that the Mediterranean basin actually dried up within the last five million years and flooded again.
And that was work that Pitman and Ryan were working on?
Yes. And a guy by the name of Kenneth Hsu at the Technical University of Zurich had been involved in this question, too. A lot of the data that led to this discovery was Lamont data, of course. I looked at that a little while in the spring of 1956 when I first got out of the service, out of the army, came back to Lamont. But this was another short-time diversion. I decided eventually that if I’m going to work on climatology or ocean sedimentology I won’t be in seismology anymore. At that point physical science and seismology was just a bigger pull. I worked with Bruce Heezen on a brief project or two. But I never really got my feet firmly planted in marine geology, ever. Because there were many opportunities in earthquake seismology, mantle structure, crustal structure and so on that I worked on as a seismologist. We had super resources in both areas. We had an opportunity. I’m going to talk about the use of digital computers in geophysics. In the early SOs some Lamont people had been to talk with IBM [International Business Machines] about what would we be able to use computers for in geophysics. I think some IBM people had been to the Observatory and walked around and looked at various projects and not much came out of it. IBM had a big presence at Columbia University. There was a thing called the Watson Scientific Computing Lab on 116th Street just west of the campus. There’s a block there of buildings, big apartment buildings west of the Columbia campus. On the south side of 116th Street was the Watson Scientific Computing Lab. It was established there by IBM, operated by IBM for the use of Columbia scientists. And the idea was, I suppose, that this lab would give IBM some entree into various academic fields where computing might become important. They had an IBM 650 which was a very successful IBM machine of the 1950s. It was a digital computer. Nothing at all like today’s designs. It was naturally a primitive machine. There was very little software. During the Christmas holidays of 1956, six months after I returned from the service, IBM called us and offered to teach a course in how to use the IBM 650. This would be a three-hour course, meaning three one-hour meetings on successive days. It was an hour or two each day, and we went to these meetings at the Watson Lab. About 20 or 30 of us from Lamont went down there. And we sat down. A lady came in. It was Joyce Alsop, wife of Lee Alsop who became a Lamont geophysicist. She was an IBM employee. She told us how the IBM 650 worked.
Were there representatives from all the fields at Lamont that went to this meeting?
Yes. There were quite a few of us. I would say 20. I think Professor Ewing was there. I know Jack Oliver was there. I was there. Several grad students in seismology were there. I think people from oceanography were there. She had what she called a simplified system for using a digital computer. So we basically learned. They gave us sub-routines for computing sines and cosines, exponential functions, square roots and a few other things. And they showed us how to write machine language instructions. It was a decimal machine language. We wrote machine instructions in decimal numbers. We linked these to sines and cosines by a little scheme that they invented. All this was writing machine language. There was no Fortran, no programming languages except for the actual machine language, the language of the machine itself. We learned how to enter the programs on cards, do calculations and punch out results on punch cards. It’s basically a punch card machine with a drum memory and some blinking lights where you could set up the starting addresses and push the start button. It was one user at a time would use the 650. The reason it was more useful, say, than a Univac of the time was that it had card in and output, which allowed you to put a lot of numbers and a lot of numbers out at a high rate of speed for that day and age.
The only other communication device was a typewriter, that was on Univac of that age. So with punch cards we prepared programs, and I was taking Professor Ewing’s seismology course at the time. I decided I would do a calculation on modeling the dispersion of seismic surface waves on a layered earth. And I had some help from Jack Nafe and a few other people in getting these concepts straight in my mind. This was a thing we had just been studying in our seismology course with Professor Ewing and Professor Nafe. So I began working on that, and that became my doctoral dissertation. We interpreted the data on dispersion of surface waves around the world that had been gathered from the Kamchatka earthquake of 1952. It turned out that this told us that there was a layer of low sheer velocity all around the world at a depth of 1 to 200 kilometers. Basically it confirmed what Beno Gutenberg had found concerning the layer of low P-wave velocity or low compressional velocity around the world. So that was a very interesting development.
When you’re at this meeting, learning how to program the IBM, was it instantly recognized that this would be a great tool? Did Doc come out of it thinking that this would be —?
Well, he knew that it had a lot of potential because we were using desk calculators for lots of things in the lab. We had lots of desk calculators. You know, the kind with the crank on the side? And punching in eight-digit numbers and turning the crank, and this was data reduction. There was data reduction, there was theoretical modeling, there was all kinds of possible applications where we were using desk calculators, and we knew of problems that guys had tried to do on desk calculators that were just too big to do very much with it, you know, just too slow and too long-winded to try to finish a lot of modeling methods that had been proposed. Even simple methods of those days were very complicated on desk calculators, very tedious. But we had no idea what we were going to do with it at first. This was the thing. It was better to just show the scientists how to use a computer and then let them decide what to do with it instead of IBM coming into our shop and looking around and trying to tell us what to do with it. We sat there, and Joyce Alsop gave these three lectures in late December. I remember I had to miss my cousin’s wedding in Washington because it was a conflict between his schedule and ours at the Watson Lab. And I think my cousin was kind of teed off. [Phone rings; tape interruption] We sat there for these three hours, three days and picked up on all this stuff. And, yes, we knew we could write computer programs in machine language. It wasn’t that complicated. The manual for an IBM 650 was only about this thick.
You showed your fingers about half-inch apart?
Less than half an inch. Quarter of an inch. There was certainly less than 100 pages in this book. It told you how to use all the machine instructions and what happened inside the machine when you did this and how the memory was arranged and how you got data and used data and modified instructions so you could index through a duloop [?]. We didn’t have Fortran. Fortran had been invented at the United Aircraft, an IBM customer. But they were using Fortran on a bigger computer than the 650. I never used Fortran for a year or two after that. So we went home and started doodling on pads of paper and thinking about problems. And finally Jack Oliver and I thought, “Well, we’ll look at the dispersion of [?] waves on a layered medium by Norman Haskell’s theory.” Norman Haskell had written a very elegant paper about how — Dispersion means the difference in velocity as a function of difference in frequency. Waves of high frequency travel faster than waves of low frequency. That’s what dispersion means in physics. This was all very possible to model the dispersion of earthquake waves on a layered earth. The earth is pretty well layered. The layers get harder and harder and more rigid as you go downward. So we were talking about very long waves now, a thousand kilometers long which were influenced by layering in the first few hundred kilometers below the surface of the earth. So Jack [Oliver] and I diddled with this on a pad of paper. Finally I got the hang of writing programs. I began to test these things out. IBM gave us time to go down. We were able to schedule a half-hour here, an hour there to work on the 650. They had two 650’s in the building. So I gradually picked up speed on digital computing and got into it and got to be fairly adept at writing the programs and running the machine.
How did Lamont acquire these two machines?
These were not Lamont machines. They were at the IBM Watson Scientific Computing Lab downtown. Near the Morningside Campus on 116th Street. They were inviting Columbia people to come in and run problems on those computers. It was staffed by IBM employees. Joyce Alsop was an IBM employee. She showed us how to use the computer.
Was IBM hoping that eventually Lamont would acquire some computers?
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. It was to develop applications outside the business world. IBM machines were in wide use in business applications. The reason IBM was using punch cards rather than typewriters for input and output was because they had already developed a whole technology of punch card machines for business, for accounting and record-keeping. Business accounting purposes. Accounting machines, card-punching machines. Machines that could actually do logic in mechanical computers. Finally, electronic computers with the 650 and so on. They developed the 650 apparently assuming there would be a market for about 50 machines. So the economics of the project was set to succeed if they were able to rent 50 machines. They eventually rented about 5,000. So it was a huge success. IBM was a very successful company on the stock market. Their business was growing very fast in the 50s. They became the dominant force in digital computers for 20 years, you might say. I remember looking in the newspaper while I was in the Army one day. It was in early December 1954. I was at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and I had a paper. I looked at the stock market page, and I looked at IBM. Here IBM shares were selling for around $350 and they had just jumped $25 the previous day. So I thought that’s great. I’ve got $1700 in the bank at home. I called my dad and I said, “Buy five shares of IBM stock.” He checked with a broker that he played golf with, and the broker said, “Yes, IBM is a blue chip company. Go ahead.” So they bought the stock, and I held it for 10 years, and it turned into $17,000.
Very good investment.
Yes. The best one I’ve ever made in terms of a percentage gain in a long-term investment. Fantastic. And IBM’s strategy was very good. We rented an IBM machine from IBM shortly after that. The first machine that was small enough to get into a room at Lamont without taking up a whole building was the IBM 860. I don’t know. We got a desk sized computer which had a typewriter on it. Didn’t have a punch card input output. That was too expensive. But it had a paper tape input and output. It also could print sheets of paper on a typewriter-type device. It was a typewriter input and output. No video screen. We rented that. IBM’s policy in those days was ‘we rent a machine to a university for 40% of the retail rental price.’ So it only cost us a few hundred dollars a month. We started out using that for all purposes: seismology, oceanography, everything. It was an instant success because lots of people needed it and by that time we were able to use Fortran and high level programming language, which made it easy to write programs for science and data analysis and modeling and so it was used in oceanography, seismology. We upgraded to newer IBM machines as time went along. Finally we got more computers in different buildings. So Lamont was one of the first institutions to use digital computers in geophysics. Probably the first.
Were these computers paid for out of grants?
Yes. Out of grants and contracts. These were small amounts of money compared with operating ships.
Which funding agencies were willing to put up the money to buy the computers?
Well, we rented them by monthly rental. We were using Air Force funds, we were using Navy funds, whatever project we were working on.
That’s interesting that Lamont was one of the early —
Oh, yes. I think it was IBM’s idea to bring us in for a short course in writing computer programs that got us started. No doubt. Because several projects came out of that. Two in seismology and some in other areas. And they were successful. In fact, by that time Frank Press had moved to Cal Tech and he had gotten a computer at the seismo lab in Cal Tech. They were using a different approach to the same problem that I was working on. Finally, when I gave my paper at the Seismological Society meeting in 1959 or was it ‘58? He said, “Jim, you picked the best method. It worked better than ours.” And it did. It’s still used. By that time everybody recognized that digital computers had great applications in geophysics, as in everything else. People at Scripps and Cal Tech and MIT — In fact, some of the early digital computers had been built and operated at MIT. Some geophysical problems had been done. But they were mainly just too difficult to write programs in binary code without Fortran before 1958. There wasn’t much that could be done without using a Fortran which was invented by United Aircraft. Basically an IBM customer invented it for their own work and gave it to IBM and then IBM picked up on it and used it all over the world for all their customers. So we owed a lot to IBM because they got us started with low rentals on powerful computers. Some of the best computers of the day, well, we didn’t have the biggest computer or the fastest, but we had some that were very, very useful in early applications. For a while, I went down to New London, Connecticut to use the biggest IBM machine available in those days. The IBM 704. I went down to New London and worked on the IBM 704 at Electric Boat Company, the company that builds submarines. That was expensive in the sense they were charging us, what $300 an hour, for time on that machine? They were doing it as a commercial venture. Free time on fast, binary computers at Poughkeepsie. I drove up to Poughkeepsie twice a week in 1959 and ‘60, ‘61, and went into the IBM research lab there and handed my computer jobs to an operator. They brought back the output. I did that two days a week. I used to like to get there in time for lunch because they had a real nice cafeteria at the IBM research lab.
You mentioned Bob Menzies. What kind of a person was Bob?
Well, I don’t really know. I didn’t know him very well. He wasn’t at Lamont for very long. He was sort of a footloose guy. I don’t think he really stopped in any one place for very long. Have you heard anything about Bob Menzies up till now?
I don’t know where Bob is. I haven’t heard of him for years. Of course, I might have heard what and where he went after he left Lamont, but he just didn’t stay very long. I think he liked it okay. We liked him okay. I don’t know. He might have worked on marine paleontology or even biology of marine fauna. I’m not sure. But he just never stayed long enough.
Were you aware of any of the other biologists, such as Burkholder or Layton?
I didn’t ever work with Paul Burkholder, but I worked with his successor, the head of the biology program, Oswald Roels. Dr. Burkholder was a very accomplished person in biochemistry and biology. When he left Lamont he went to Lederle Laboratories which is in Pearl River. He worked on development of drugs with Lederle. He went diving for marine animals and tested marine materials for various compounds. It’s sort of like searching for new drug compounds that you do in the rain forest or in the deep ocean or whatever. He was a biochemist, and he was interested in development of drugs, pharmaceuticals. His successor, Oswald Roels, who became head of the biology program at Lamont, I think was interested in the same things really. Roels was a hard-driving guy. I think Burkholder was sort of laid-back, pretty quiet, a very smart, able man, but not an empire builder at all by any means. He did a good job as far as I know at Lamont. Not being a biologist it’s hard for me to tell, but Dr. Ewing felt that we should have a marine biology program.
Do you know why he felt that?
Well, it’s because we were working in the oceans, and the fauna and flora of the oceans give you a lot of clues as to the history, geologic history of the oceans. The fossil contents of sediments is important, both in terms of the bulk chemistry of the material and in terms of the many, many clues of the history.
How did Burkholder and Roels’ program, looking for drugs in the sea, how was that perceived by Lamont, by Ewing? Because it wasn’t so much about the history of the seas as an application.
That’s right. It’s an application, and I think it was fine with Doc as long as it paid its way, which it did. They had sponsors who paid for the projects that were going on. Don’t ask me what they all were. You’d have to look at Lamont records for that.
They had a lot of Rockefeller Foundation funding.
Yes, they had funding from a whole different set of agencies than we did, say, studying seismology or underwater sound. They had people who were interested in biological research, medical research.
What was Oswald Roels like?
Very personable, very engaging guy, very competent. He was a good friend, although I never worked with him; we were in totally different fields. I felt like he was a good leader, except for the fact that he tended to run things in the European fashion, you know, I’m the leader and I hire Ph.D.’s to wash test tubes and do exactly what I need done in my laboratory. I think that was one factor that prevented the biology program at Lamont from exploding in the way oceanography and seismology had done. It didn’t grow and become — there’s a lot of money available in biomedical research, of course. It’s the biggest field in the world. I mean, the National Institutes of Health is very big compared with the National Science Foundation, is it not?
It is. It’s very large.
Of course, it’s always been a very competitive field, too. But the Lamont program, I don’t know if it ever made fabulous contributions to biomedical research the way Lamont did in some fields of earth science.
Were there complaints from Roels’ grad students? Did he drive off people that would be coming in to work with him?
Well, I know of one particular young post-doc who became disenchanted and left. But that’s not rare, either. In later years I encountered some things with Oswald Roels that just surprised the hell out of me. I don’t think I need to describe those because they have nothing to do with Lamont. He was a good leader, probably too strong in terms of trying to run the lives of talented people who might just better figure out their own careers. I can talk to you about that off camera if you think it’s relevant.
It might be because it’s interesting that biology never did flourish at Lamont. While it had the resources and the people there and for some time it did have the support, it just never took off.
Yes, we had an electron microscope at Lamont. Instrumentation, that was a good instrument in its day. I think Paul Burkholder was an extremely talented and good person. I think Oswald was, too. They were totally different personalities. Burkholder, if anything, wasn’t really interested in running a big group. He was interested in doing his own work. His wife worked with him, I think. Oswald Roels was very interested in running his own group and building as big a group as he possibly could. But I don’t think he succeeded too well in terms of building a flourishing, productive program at Lamont or at the University of Texas. He was Director of the Port Aransas Marine Laboratory at the University of Texas for a while, after we went there, after we went to Texas.
So did he go with the Lamont group?
Not really. He came later. He was invited to come there by the university basically on the recommendation of the Lamont people who were already in Texas. But this is where the surprises occurred and eventually Oswald left the University of Texas. Not under the most amicable terms.
Did he have clashes with the Lamont people there?
I don’t think so. The only clash would be over money, and there was no clash over money because he was working under a totally different set of sponsors. As I say, there was no internal money except the building that he worked in at Lamont. That was internal money in some sense. But that was built as a wing on the seismology building. It was a prefabricated building. It didn’t cost that much to build in its day. But there was no clash over internal money because there isn’t any internal money, wasn’t any. Still isn’t much at Lamont.
I was just wondering if the problems that Roels had later in Texas whether that related somehow with problems with Lamont people out in Texas, or problems professionally.
You want to turn that thing off?
We’re back on record now. I was wondering, why did Burkholder leave when he did?
I’m not sure. All I know is that he went to Lederle, and I thought at the time he probably was going because Lederle had more resources to work on drugs from the sea. And that’s what he was interested in. I don’t think he was interested in managing a laboratory. I think he was more interested in doing his own science. It’s sort of like me. I’m director of this lab, but I really want to get back to geophysics. I’m going to retire in a year, and I want to work here. But I don’t want to have a thing to do with management of this lab. I want to work on science like I did in the 50s and 60s. I’ll have a lot of catching up to do, of course, because if you don’t spend full-time on science you get behind or you have to narrow your field a lot. You know, a Ph.D. has a half-life of about five years if you don’t work on it.
By any chance, did you ever hear of Perry Hudson?
Yes. Perry was an M.D., I believe. He lived in Palisades. He and Doc [Ewing] were well acquainted. I don’t know much about him. But he was a fast moving guy. I just don’t know about what Perry really was doing or why he and Doc were so well acquainted. Doc didn’t have time to spend much time with people that he wasn’t involved with in work. None of us did, or none of us do to this day.
So you weren’t sure that it was Perry that patched up Doc after his accident?
Maybe that’s what happened. Maybe Perry treated Doc afterwards. I’m not sure. Was that it?
Yes, he did.
I don’t remember that. I probably knew it at the time.
You came in and you started working on geology. When did you switch to seismology? What got you interested?
Well, I was a physics major in college. I took physics courses at Columbia. I took the standard courses that a new graduate student in physics would take, like mathematical physics, electromagnetic theory, dynamics. I took some more basic courses, like vector analysis and things that I had never done too well and learned too well in a physics laboratory where we did electronics experiments. Sort of like some senior college physics and some graduate physics.
Did you ever have Bucher as a professor?
What was he like?
Okay, a very great guy. Being a geologist I took a course from Walter Bucher my first semester at Columbia, structural geology. In it were all the geology grad students who had just come there that year. It was a great course, and I enjoyed it. In fact, I took an advanced course from Bucher also. So I took two courses from him. One time I was going across the campus near Schermerhorn, and there came Walter Bucher. It was in the summertimes, I guessed, and he stopped and he asked me if I wanted to be his assistant the following year. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is great, but actually I’m trying to get a degree in geophysics here, and I want to work at Lamont. I don’t really want to drop that.’ That was probably in 1953. It might have been after Arthur Gilkey died. Arthur Gilkey was a student of Bucher’s, and he finished his doctorate in structural geology about 1953 or 4 or something. He was also a rock climber, and he went off on an expedition that summer to climb a mountain in Pakistan. They got into a blizzard, and he was lost. He slid down the mountain, and his body was never found. I think it was after that that Bucher approached me about being his assistant. I can’t remember for sure when it was. Jack Oliver and I both knew Arthur Gilkey. He was one of the guys on the Morningside Campus that we knew the best in the Geology Department. His dissertation area was the Zuni uplift of New Mexico, the structural development and deformation of an uplifted area. He had finished that, and he was on this climbing expedition after he finished his doctorate. His father was a professor at Iowa State University or something like that. Not a geologist. But I was in the car with Jack [Oliver] — or was it 1955? Jack had just picked me up after I returned from Greenland, and we were driving around in his car. We heard this radio message that said Arthur Gilkey had been lost in Pakistan. [Voice breaks] We felt bad because he was a great guy. Okay, Walter Bucher. In fact, here’s his book.
Deformation of the Earth’s Crust.
He was regarded as one of the most gifted and innovative people in structural geology in his day, in the 50s. He had done his doctoral work at Heidelberg in Germany, I believe it was. He was familiar with the geology of the Alps, and he had a lot of ideas on all kinds of things. He never believed in continental drift. I don’t know if there will be a place in Jack Oliver’s book where he talks about Bucher’s ideas on continental drift, because it didn’t really involve seismology.
That would certainly be in keeping with Ewing’s own ideas.
Yes. Well, see, yes, Maurice Ewing didn’t talk much about continental drift because he was busy collecting data. He wasn’t in the theorizing business. He didn’t spend a lot of time like professors at Princeton or Cambridge, you know, talking about how the earth worked. He didn’t have a whole lot of theories. He wasn’t advocating this or that earth model. In fact, he was quite skeptical about sea floor spreading because he thought he knew too many things about the distribution of sediments in the North Atlantic that this did not fit with sea floor spreading. Well, maybe there was a hiatus in spreading of the North Atlantic or a change in the rate of spreading that made the thickness of sediments rather complicated. He was just too busy to worry about that stuff. He skipped a lot of meetings, like Geological Society meetings. He skipped a lot because he was just too busy to go to those meetings. Sometimes when he gave papers at meetings, they were very well received. Other times he just gave terrible presentations. I remember one in particular that was well received was in Helsinki, Finland. This was in 1960. He went to the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics in Helsinki. He didn’t go to many of the IUGG meetings, but this one he did. And he gave a paper about marine geophysics, of course. See, Ewing switched from seismology to marine geophysics when Frank Press left. Come in. How you doing? I’d like you to meet Tanya Levin. She is the Lamont oral history person. We’re doing an oral history of all the things I can think of about Lamont.
So you were telling me about the IUGG meeting.
Yes. In Helsinki. That was one of the few international meetings Maurice Ewing attended. I know where we were when the international meeting was held in Algiers of 1952. We were on a cruise in the Atlantic Ocean. And we stopped at Dakar, and I was wondering if Maurice Ewing wouldn’t want to go to Algiers for the meeting, but, no, of course not. He was busy with the cruise! And we didn’t waste a day getting in and out of Dakar and getting back to sea and shooting profiles. So many, many international meetings, national meetings, he missed because he was too busy. But in Helsinki, he gave a paper on marine geophysical results. It was very well received. A lot of Russian people were there at the meeting. There were a large number of Russian scientists, oceanographers and geophysicists of all sorts because they all came over to Helsinki, and they lived in a couple floors of one of the big hotels where the KGB guys could keep an eye on all of them. In fact, one man tried to defect while he was there from the Russian delegation.
Yes. He went to a church to seek asylum. The trouble was Finland was very reluctant to accept defectors from Russia, and he was turned back over to the KGB, right there in Helsinki. I don’t remember his name. I don’t know if we ever found out his name. But this happened during the international meeting. But when Dr. Ewing gave this paper, I recall afterwards we were going out of the lecture room, and one of the Russian oceanographers, an awfully big guy, huge man, about six ax handles across the shoulder, he slapped Dr. Ewing on the back and he said, “Ewing, you are a giant.” [Laughs] Dr. Ewing was six foot three, but this guy was a lot bigger than Dr. Ewing. So that was really funny.
Was that the general consensus of those in attendance, that his talk had gone over well?
Oh, yes. But as I say, I heard him give another talk that was poorly presented. Just technically not a good job. But this one was, he was talking about a subject he knew. He knew everything backwards and forwards.
What was it on?
I can’t remember any details. I can’t even remember the title of the talk. We probably could find it out from the program. But it was on marine geophysics results. He had been working on all this stuff full-time since at least 1956 when Frank Press left Lamont. You know, Ewing worked mostly on earthquake seismology, well, partly on earthquake seismology and partly on marine geophysics until Frank Press left Lamont. Then after that he devoted his full time to marine geophysics.
Why did he switch when Press left?
I think probably the reason was that first of all, Frank Press had been a great partner in seismology since Frank came to work with him in probably 1949 or 48. And also that the marine geophysics program was developing so fast at Lamont that it needed full attention. I’m sure he felt that he had to spend as much time on it as he could because there was so much involved. There were so many people. There was one full-time vessel. Later, there were two full-time vessels. It’s just a tremendous data gathering machine. Each vessel sailed 50,000 miles a year around the world. Once around the world each year. These were the most active survey vessels in the whole marine geophysics fleet. They worked more days a year at sea and took one core a day. You look at the record of miles of track of this and that. Lamont has more miles of gravity profiles, more miles of magnetic profiles, more cores, more miles of seismic profiling than any other U.S. institution. Every single one. And more than any foreign country. So that this is what Lamont was known for. Data gathering. Without the Lamont data I don’t think sea floor spreading would have come for another 10 years. People were referring implicitly or subconsciously to Lamont results when they put this whole theory together, when they put this whole explanation together because before you can theorize you have to have a certain amount of stuff to theorize about. That’s where it was.
You mentioned that at certain times Ewing papers didn’t go over well. Was it because he was outside of his field?
No, it was just because he was so busy he didn’t prepare well. I remember one of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. I think it was about turbidity currents. I can’t tell you where it was or when it was. I think it was in New York. No, it wasn’t. Well, I don’t know. I thought it was an AAPG [American Association of Petroleum Geologists] meeting. Maybe it was a Geological Society meeting. And he had slides and so on. He had some notes, but I don’t know whether he lost his notes or got the wrong notes out of his pocket or what. But he kept running between the podium and the screen, looking to see what was on the screen and then going back and looking at his notes. I’m sure he had a good story to tell, but he just didn’t tell it very well. He got nervous, for one thing. He didn’t enjoy getting up in front of meetings. He was not comfortable before a big audience, except when he had something to tell it didn’t bother him a bit. But he’s not a kind of guy who liked to organize meetings or get up in front of a crowd. He worked a lot with a lot of people, but it was mostly a one on one situation in his office. People who came in. And then if they needed somebody else, they’d call and somebody else would come over. And if a decision had to be made, they got the folks together who had the most input and they made a decision. These things were not done in committees. There was never a committee organized at Lamont. It worked by informal give and take and getting the input from the right people. And it worked very well until finally we organized a senior staff. Dr. Ewing decided in the late 60s. Basically when the Doherty gift came. I think the Doherty Foundation probably recommended that the Observatory should organize the senior staff. And I think Dr. Ewing thought that was a good idea. It was partly recognition of people who were not faculty members.
Because they wouldn’t qualify for funds from the University.
The salary would not be coming to them from the University.
That’s right. There were very few tenured faculty positions. In fact, the ones that there were weren’t fully funded by the University because there wasn’t enough University budget coming to Lamont. When I arrived there, there was a professor, Maurice Ewing, two assistant professor, Joe Worzel and Frank Press, on the Lamont staff. This would be out of 30 or 40 people that were working there then. I think Laurence Kulp was there at that point, and he was also an assistant professor of geology. So that would be four faculty members. But that’s the way it stayed for quite a few years. Okay. Jack Nafe became a professor when he joined the staff. But there was no great increase in the faculty because there wasn’t any University money for tenured faculty members. The University money was spread among several faculty members, and they drew a large part of their salary from other grants and contracts. This is because it being a private university they just couldn’t pour more money into a program without having somewhere to get it from. And this was the year when costs were increasing rapidly at the University. You know, Columbia had a great problem in the early 60s. It turns out that permanent staff employees, like clerks and bookkeepers and so on, were making three and four thousand dollars a year. And that’s when the hospital employees union organized the whole staff at Lamont, their non-faculty staff at Columbia. The pay was so poor, the turnover was so bad in the purchasing office downtown. Of course by that time we had our own purchasing office at Lamont because the people downtown couldn’t possibly help us enough with our purchasing to keep anything straight or get the stuff there on time. So we had a purchasing office. But the head of purchasing downtown was the only person who had been there in the office for over a year. The turnover was fantastic. And this is when Columbia got organized by the same union that was working at the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, I believe. You can check that out. I’m not sure what the name of the union was. But the pay was so poor. And housekeepers were getting horrible salaries. It was a period of time when the U.S. was prosperous and salaries should be increasing. But the University couldn’t keep up with its own costs. That was part of the problem that President — What did it? We talked about him earlier? — Grayson Kirk had. When Grayson Kirk faced the student rioters, he resigned and gave the job to the man from the School of International Affairs. What was his name?
[William J.] McGill came on in the 70s.
Andrew Cordier. Okay. After the riots, I say student riots. The rioters never got to Lamont, of course. That was too far to march. Nobody had cars. Twenty miles is enough to discourage any marchers. There was a meeting, though, held by Dr. Ewing. I was really surprised. I was away from the campus in the spring of 1968 concerning the marchers and the riots. I don’t know if Dr. Ewing was ever worried that they would get to the gates of Lamont or not. Because we had a lot of government contracts, and that was one of the protests. We had a lot of DOD contracts. In fact, we had some classified DOD contracts at that time. Work that was being done both at Lamont and at the Bermuda Underwater Sound Laboratory which was staffed by Columbia people. So he held a meeting with the whole staff and student body at Lamont there in Lamont Hall one day while I was away. I don’t know what happened at that meeting, but I think the subject was Lamont’s role in government research. You’ll have to ask somebody who was present. Joe Worzel was probably there. I was away from the campus. Dr. Ewing sent me, at one point, to a meeting downtown that was held in Low Library where several professors spoke about the — there were professors who joined the students in their protests. And the protests were about Columbia being involved in war research. Columbia gave up its Naval ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] unit at that point for several years. We moved our classified contracts off-campus by establishing a thing called the Palisades Geophysical Institute.
So that’s why it arose?
Yes. It was created as a foundation for research and education and research chartered in New York State under New York State Law as a non-profit foundation and it is still operating.
So what happened at this Low Library meeting that you attended?
I attended the meeting, and I was the only guy who came down there from Lamont. There were a number of people there. Several professors spoke about the injustice of classified research, that it was not appropriate in a university. I remember one of them saying that the folks out at Lamont are just doing their own thing, they’re just happily working away at earth science. We don’t really blame them for having government contracts. It’s the only way they can run their program. So nobody was really upset about Lamont. We weren’t the villains. Fortunately, it never affected our operations at all.
Even though you did lose Bermuda?
Well, we lost Bermuda in the sense that those fellows were working on some classified contracts. They kept right on working on those contracts. Any information that might be of benefit elsewhere was known to Lamont people who were still working with the folks in Bermuda. There was a permanent staff in Bermuda. It’s now operating off Cape Canaveral, Florida. But it’s still doing similar work of a classified nature under contracts with the U.S. government.
Were you aware of a remark that was published by Pitman and Oliver about their concern about the effect of government or other types of funding on the University?
No. What was that?
They published it, I think, about ‘68, just mentioning that they were concerned about the effect that it would have on research.
That what would have?
Military contracts with government classified research.
Well, of course, most of our support in the seismology program — Walter Pitman was not in the seismology program, but Jack Oliver was the head of it at that time — came from Air Force Cambridge Research Center, Air Force Office of Scientific Research. I don’t believe we did any classified work. But I think we could have. The people who did any classified work in, say, atomic bomb detection did this as consultants off the campus and so on. That’s still a big area of seismology, a very important area of seismology, and some of the most sophisticated, intensive, seismological research has been done in this field. And still is. But a lot of it now, of course, is unclassified because we have no more cold war. My son, Tom, never went to the Soviet Union as a U.S. soldier before the end of the Cold War. But he does now.
Was there any manifestation of ‘60s sentiments among Lamont personnel?
Not that I know of. I don’t really know of any. I’m sure, you know, there was a lot of controversy over the U.S. role in Vietnam. I’m sure there were a lot of people who wished we weren’t there. I think I told you earlier, my own attitude was that our soldiers in Vietnam were having a very difficult time of it, doing a very difficult job they had been ordered to do. That they deserved all the support that we could give them until they got home. So I never believed in trying to pull the rug out from under the soldiers in Vietnam. It was a very difficult period. I think President [Lyndon] Johnson tricked Congress into approving the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. That was unfortunate. But we didn’t know that at the time. That was the closest we came to a declaration of war in Vietnam. [Voice breaks] A lot of people suffered. It was the most frustrating, fruitless war this country ever fought. Not as bloody as the Civil War. Not as bloody as World War II, but a terrible tragedy. Of course, I think there were a lot of things we didn’t know at the time. I think that stories were given to the American people that weren’t true. The CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] lied to us, I think. Body counts were played for all kinds of — People had misgivings about the Vietnam War.
But it just wasn’t discussed.
I never discussed it with anyone at Lamont.
Was there any talk about environmental issues? Was there a growing consensus that Lamont should be more interested in expanding —
Yes, well, you know, Rachel Carson came to interview Maurice Ewing.
Oh, yes. When she was writing her book, The Sea Around Us. Silent Spring was an earlier book. Silent Spring was her first, famous book. And The Sea Around Us was the second. She came to interview Maurice Ewing for The Sea Around Us. She also interviewed Harold Jeffries. Harold Jeffries told her — this was on the ocean basins, not on environmental issues really. Harold Jeffries told her that the Atlantic Ocean had a floor of granite. This would probably be the early 60s. Silent Spring was published in the late 50s.
I think it was ‘62.
Really? Okay. I’m a little hazy about this. But what I’m telling you know I remember very clearly and that is that he told Rachel Carson that no, Harold Jeffries thinks the floor of the Atlantic Ocean has granite on it but it doesn’t. We’ve gone to the sea in ships, and we’ve found that there is no granite in the Atlantic Ocean nor in the Pacific. We hadn’t been in the Pacific at that time. But that arises from a theory of the earth that Harold Jeffries thinks there are measurements of granite in the ocean. They really are faulty measurements. They were based on old seismological data that was really contaminated by continental geology. So she went off and wrote her book. And she published in her book, she said there is granite in the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. I said to Doc, “Why do you suppose she said that?” He said, “I guess it’s because Harold Jeffries has the longest grey beard.” Harold is a very nice guy. He came to Lamont, and he worked in an office next to me for a semester or so. We socialized a little bit. His wife was there. One time Harold and his wife came out to our house for a little party. Some of our neighbors were there. And there was a guy who was basically an amateur astronomer, a neighbor of mine. He was absolutely on seventh heaven to meet Harold Jeffries. He spent most of this party talking with Harold Jeffries and had a great time.
Harold is a very soft-spoken guy. I remember he wrote a paper while he was at Lamont. It had a very deceptive title. You wouldn’t realize if you just looked at the title of the paper that this is a paper which tells you some very basic facts about for[?] transforms. I can’t remember the title of it. I’d have to look it up. It might even be a Lamont contribution since he wrote it at Lamont. But he was world famous, of course, because he started in the ‘20s as an astronomer. He was a student — Okay, let’s see. Yes, my neighbor, Harold Lazaar, who was so thrilled to meet Harold Jeffries. Harold, as I say, was a very soft-spoken guy, very nice, very great gentleman. He did some interesting work at Lamont. He was working with Cinna Lomnitz, then of Chile, now of Mexico, on, I’ll have to pass on that one. But Harold was at Lamont in ‘64 or ‘65. He came over during the spring semester, I think, and his wife came in the summertime. She had been teaching at Cambridge. So they were there the better part of six months. He gave some interesting lectures in Lamont Hall while he was there. Several times. The Lamont seminar room was really a great place for meetings, but a funny thing always happened when the speaker started. The speaker was introduced. It was nice. You’ve been in that room. It has some nice windows, and it has doors across one end to the porch, across one end of the room. The speaker would be introduced and then he would get started and then he would call for a slide. Then, when he wanted the first slide projected on the screen, a great commotion would start as everybody started puffing curtains and so on, you know. Some of those curtains were hard to pull. Sometimes it would take a minute or two before things would settle down and the guy could go on with his talk.
The room was dark. We had a number of people came there who were well known in various fields who simply wanted to find out what Lamont was all about. Maybe that’s why Jeffries came over. He just wanted to meet the people at Lamont, spend a little time there. And of course there was a tremendous stream of people from all over the world. Seismologists from Japan. I don’t know if Teddy [Sir Edward C.] Bullard was ever there for any period at Lamont. He went to Scripps many times. He practically worked at Scripps for years on end almost. Teddy Bullard wrote the biography of Maurice Ewing, in the Royal Astronomical Society. You have a copy of that, I suppose? He compiled a list of Maurice Ewing’s or the papers with Maurice Ewing’s name on it. There were about 365 of them. Not all of which he wrote, of course. Not all of which he personally wrote. And there were many typos in Teddy’s list. There was a very good picture of Maurice Ewing in that biography. Have you ever seen that?
I think I have. How well attended and by whom were these meetings, these weekly meetings?
Well, the subjects varied, of course. The subjects ranged all around from anything that was going on at the lab to anybody that we could invite to come there that had interesting things to say in our field. And there are so many fields of research at Lamont that there was no problem in finding interesting topics for every week. I think the meetings were on Friday afternoons. One year I was a convener, basically the guy who was responsible for filling up a calendar of seminars. I don’t remember whether we ran these things all through the summer. We did if there was a visitor who came, but otherwise during the school year we had speakers from the fall all the way through the spring.
How did you choose the speakers?
Well, we looked around and we saw who had a project that was getting finished at Lamont. Or we got a student who was working on something. Or we had a visitor who was coming in. One time I invited John Wells to come down from Cornell. John Wells had published some very interesting papers where he measured the number of days of the year in the Devonian, which is say 300 million years ago, by means of the growth rings of corals. He found out that corals had daily growth rings, monthly growth rings which depended on tides and annual growth rings which depended on water temperature, I guess. And so you could tell how many months there were in a year and how many days there were in a year in the Devonian and several other points in geologic time. These papers were sort of astounding and really interesting. I called up John Wells and invited him to come to Lamont. He did, and he gave a talk. He talked with a bunch of folks after the meeting. We took him to dinner. So that’s the sort of way we planned our seminars.
Did you have to have a special budget to bring in —
Yes, we did. We paid his expenses. I can’t remember whether we gave him an honorarium. But we paid all his travel expenses. We took care of him while he was there.
How concerned were you to pick topics in different fields, make sure that each field got —?
Well, we tried to make the seminars attractive to everyone at Lamont. Even if you were a seismologist you still might want to know about the growth rings of Devonian corals. It’s an interesting topic, just to find out what is really of great interest, really hot in some other field.
In general, did this work out, that you had a wide audience?
Yes, I think so. Usually the meetings were fairly crowded. There would be 40, 50, maybe more people in the room.
Was there a group that didn’t participate?
Not that I know of. There may have been seminars in certain areas, I don’t know if the geochemists held seminars in the geochemistry lab, you know, separate meetings or now. There are a lot of technical subjects in geochemistry or micropaleontology that probably would not be of general interest. But I think the meetings were pretty well attended. I can remember they were meant for everyone. You know, I can remember people from every group in all of Lamont giving talks at those seminars. Because a lot of things happened. A lot of discoveries were made, and a lot of people wanted to hear about them.
The environmental issues. Were people talking about that at Lamont? Were people discussing Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring? Do you remember? Have you read that?
Yes. I remember the book, and I remember what was in it. No, I wouldn’t say that that was a hot topic at Lamont. First of all, we did not have the people there who were working in those biological fields or working on groundwater chemistry. We were focusing mainly on the oceans, the deep earth structure, meaning what’s the core and mantle of the earth like? What are the continents and the ocean basins? What are the major structures? We weren’t focusing on biochemistry subjects. I’ve been a member of the Audubon Society since 1949, but we weren’t involved in the environmental movement as a science laboratory because it was just outside the work of physical geology, I think.
And there was no push to perhaps try to apply it, or to try to put in a new concept to go more in that manner?
Well, of course the geochemists were involved in the questions of contamination of the earth by atomic bomb debris. That not only provided a whole new set of geochemical tracers and also affected the work they were doing on a lot of things. Some of the problems they were working on were made more complicated by the presence of radioactive debris.
I think you mentioned that they weren’t just doing Project Sunshine with the bones but also I think it was Larry Kulp that went up to Greenland to get some ice packs to see if there was any fallout.
That’s just what I mentioned. He sent Bruno Gilleti to Greenland. I remember seeing Bruno in Greenland. He was only there for a day or two. But I remember seeing Bruno in Greenland, and he was a grad student of Larry Kulp’s at the time. I don’t think Larry Kulp ever came up there. But they gathered some pre-bomb ice samples, and I think melted them down and shipped it back to Lamont to extract whatever level of pre-bomb contamination was in that.
Did they find contamination?
Well, they found pre-bomb chemistry. But I can’t remember if they sampled — I think he probably did sample year by year. Because you know in the shallow ice you can sample year by year. You can count years like tree rings in an area of accumulation. In an area of ablation, it’s all gone. Old ice coming up and disappearing by evaporation and runoff. But in an accumulation area, like the high icecap, why, you can count annual layers like tree rings. It gets a little bit softer and harder in the summer. You can see that till you get down quite a few feet in the ice, then the visible distinctions are difficult to see. Yes, the geochemistry folks did sample that. I’m not sure what the results of their studies were, or exactly what they were after.
By any chance did you read or hear about a book that was published by Dean Jacques Barzun? It was called Science: The Glorious Entertainment.
I’ve never heard of the book. I remember Dean Barzun. He was Provost or Dean of the School of — anyway, while I was there, yes. But I don’t know a thing about his book. I don’t think I ever met him either.
You did switch to seismology. And it was because of your physics background that you just felt an inclination to go —?
While Lamont was still forming, there was an idea of bringing the entire Geology Department from Schermerhorn from Columbia over to Lamont. Of course that didn’t happen. Who was for it? Who was against it? What were they thinking? What were the arguments?
I don’t really know who was for it and who was against it. I knew all of the faculty members of the Geology Department by name if not personally in the early 50s because I was in Schermerhorn Hall a lot when I first came there, first two, three years I was at Columbia. Some of them were interested in what we were doing at Lamont. Some of them weren’t. They were all senior, mostly senior, distinguished people in their own fields. In a lot of cases their work did not overlap at all with what we were interested in. This is part of the old theory that what’s in the ocean is just not geology. We don’t have any idea that the oceans have any importance in earth history. It’s an isolationist point of view, especially in the middle of North America. You tend to think of continental geology and not too much of ocean. Because there wasn’t much known of the ocean. There was just no information, nothing to get your teeth into, at all. Nothing had ever been gathered. People would look back at the Challenger expedition of 18, what, 86, 76 or whatever, for data.
Eighty-six. At Wisconsin I went over to the library one day and they have a whole set of the Challenger reports. It’s about this much on a library shelf. Many, many volumes. And I looked up things, just for curiosity. Because I had never seen the Challenger reports. I’m not sure there is a set of them at Columbia or not. Probably. I don’t know. They would be downtown in Low Library if there are any. Old books of the early geophysics people, like Darwin and A.E.H. Love, they’re all in Low Library downtown. George Darwin was a geophysicist, and he was Harold Jeffries’ professor. When Frank Press and Maurice Ewing and [Wenceslas] W.S. Jardetsky were working on their book, Elastic Ways and Layered Media, Press would ask me to pick up a book here and there down at Low Library and bring it out to him because they were going through the old literature of seismology and geophysics. I don’t know where the Lamont library is now kept. Where is it?
It’s in Lamont Hall still.
It’s still in Lamont Hall. That’s interesting because there isn’t all that much space in Lamont Hall. There was this room which was originally a library of the Lamonts’ library. It was a room about this size and had bookshelves on all four walls.
The Jack Nafe Library now on the second floor. Downstairs they have a larger library.
We built an earth science library out here. We need to take a tour of the place. Maybe when more people are around. But you could take a tour around here.
So is it mostly that the geologists at Schermerhorn were working on land-based problems and they weren’t concerned?
Was it more of their not wanting to relocated because —?
Oh, I don’t think they would want to relocate at Lamont. That would be much too isolated. There weren’t any undergraduates out at Lamont. Why go out there when there really isn’t space and we’ve got a beautiful geology library, map library, and all these offices and labs in Schermerhorn? Why go out there? I mean, I never asked any of them if they wanted to go to Lamont. I just can’t imagine that they would. Some of them like [Walter] Bucher and Marshall Kay were very interested in what was going on at Lamont. Marshall Kay after he retired used an office at Lamont, and his son, Bob [Kay], is now a faculty member at Cornell. Jack Oliver brought him up there. Bob is a geochemist. He did his graduate work at Lamont and went to Cornell. In the 70s.
Did you have any classes from Marshall Kay?
Yes, I took Marshall Kay’s course in stratigraphy of North America. Both semesters of it. Most geophysicists did not do that. I was interested in the course, and I took the whole thing. I sat next to Bob Dott who is now professor stratigraphy at the University of Wisconsin. Bob and I became friends. I saw Bob at Wisconsin in 1963 when I was out there. But Marshall Kay was a famous man in geology. He was known for having an encyclopedic knowledge of stratigraphy, rock formations; and the concepts of the ‘40s and 50s and so on, he more or less invented a lot of them, especially the Ordovician period. That was his special interest. He knew practically all the formations or even all the outcrops in New York State of the Ordovician. Later on in life he went to Nevada and started looking at Ordovician rocks in Nevada because there are a lot of Ordovician outcrops which are difficult to relate to anything else because the geology of Nevada and California is so chopped up. But I got to Elko, Nevada as an Exxon employee in about 1982 or ‘83, and I rented a truck from the Ford garage there. And the guy had used to rent trucks to Marshall Kay in the ‘60s when Marshall Kay was working out there.
What was Marshall Kay like as a professor?
Very nice guy. Real mild-mannered guy. Very soft-spoken. Nice guy. His lectures were great. We took notes and drew sections based on what he put on the board. We didn’t use textbooks a whole lot. We used the notes Marshall Kay gave us in class. We read papers but basically the heart of the whole things was what Marshall Kay in class, so we took notes like mad and drew pictures and drew sections that he had all in his head. He understood the relationships between formations and why you had sand at this end and shale at the other end. He gave thesis problems to a lot of students, including Bob Dott, and a lot of other people who are well known in the field. He has a lot of students in American universities now who by this time are senior professors in their own field, maybe retired.
What were some of your other classes and professors at Columbia that really stand out in your mind as being particularly helpful for you later on?
Well, the two who were most interested in Lamont and what we were doing were Bucher and Marshall Kay.
In terms of your own career?
Let’s see. I took a course in economic geology from Charles H. Behre. This was sort of a special thing. This was about mineral deposits. I knew Charles Behre was an authority in this field. He had been a professor at Northwestern before I went to Northwestern. He had been at Columbia for quite a few years. The folks all told me to look up Charles Behre. I looked him up, and I took his course. He was a gentleman of the old school. He said, “Okay, this is a course in economic geology. We will be going down in mines in various places. There’s no use of women registering for this course because women cannot go underground in mines.” So that was it. That was the ‘50s.
Were there any women that were in that first day of class?
No, I don’t think there were. I don’t remember. I don’t think he threw any women out of there. I think he probably discouraged them before they ever registered. But he did mention this at one point, that women were not welcome in mines. That was because, according to him and I think this is true, no women worked in mines and if a woman had come underground the miners would have walked out of the pit, being superstitious about not ever wanting to see a woman in a mine. That’s all. That’s the way mining, engineering and geology was in those days. Nowadays, fortunately, we have a lot of women in earth science. And we have women working underground. When I worked in a salt mine in Texas — I didn’t mine the salt, I put seismograph stations in the salt mine — I never saw any women there at that time. But I think there are now. I’ve heard that there are.
Were there women working at Lamont besides Marie [Tharp]? That come to mind?
Not many. In the ‘50s. I’m trying to think of some. I’m not having much luck. Of all the grad students we had in seismology, yes. There was a young lady who came from Wisconsin. I can’t remember her name. But she suddenly left before she finished her program.
Do you remember why she left?
There were two reasons. Push the button.
Are we going off record again? You’re telling me also about minorities, about black people.
There are very few minorities in earth science. It’s still true. I knew three people in geophysics who were, three black people in geophysics. One is Waverly Person. He’s worked for the U.S. Geodetic Survey, seismology branch. He transferred to the geological survey when the whole government seismology program went into the geological survey. He’s just retired. Now he’s been in Denver for many years since they moved out there from Washington. A couple others. I knew a Roland Henderson. He was a geomagnetic person. He was also a government employee. I met a black geologist at Virginia at Petersburg, Virginia, Virginia State College in the ‘60s. But very few minorities. There are more black Nigerians in geophysics in the United States than there are black Americans. That’s because Nigeria is an oil-producing country, and there are a lot of people in geology and earth science subjects in Nigeria. A lot of them come to this country not only to study but also to work. I’ve had two of them as grad students. Well, no, wait. Yes, two as grad students.
Yes. Black Nigerian people. I had a grad student who finished his doctorate at the University of Texas. He’s still in this country. Joe Ebeniro. He had no connection with Lamont, of course. He did his graduate work in Texas. I think I was his advisor on his Master’s degree, and I was a member of his doctoral committee, too. My first grad student at the University of Texas was David Dumas, a black man who had grown up in Galveston. He went to high school in Galveston when the schools were segregated in the 1960s. He was very good in mathematics. When I met him, I guess David had had sort of a struggle. He started college, and he didn’t do very well. Then he went in the Navy. He started at Texas Southern, I believe, which is a black college in Houston. He quit after about two years, went in the Navy. When he got out of the Navy, his academic work was much better. He finished college. He went to Rice. He enrolled at Rice University as a grad student in geophysics. That’s about when we got to Galveston in 1972 and set up the lab. And David came to see us, and he wanted to work under us and do his graduate work under us at the geophysics lab. At that time, there wasn’t a great geophysics initiative at Rice. So we became adjunct professors at Rice. And I was chairman of his committee, and two out of the three people on this committee were from Galveston. He did his Master’s degree. It was a topic we gave him with data he collected with our equipment on our project.
Then he continued on. He enrolled in the University of Texas and did his doctorate. He finished and left Galveston, left the university about the same day I did. We all bailed out and went to the oil industry in 1981 because there was a boom going on. An oil boom. The price of oil was rising, and it hit a very high level. David wanted to get into the oil industry, and so did I. Gary Latham had already joined Chevron in January of 1981. And I joined Exxon in July of 1981, and David at that time went to a contracting company, Seiscom Delta, which is a geophysical contractor. David did a great job at Seiscom Delta. In fact, the day I left Exxon — this was after the oil boom had peaked and the price had dropped again — I was over in another Exxon building and the folks there were telling me what a great job David [Dumas] had done on a piece of software that he had brought to them from Seiscom Delta, installed for them in their data processing stream. He’s today working for a consultant in the oil industry in Houston. So he would be one of the rare black people in geophysics today. I probably would find a lot more now if I went back to Houston.
How much of an anomaly was Marie Tharp seen as when she was working at Lamont?
I don’t think she was an anomaly. Well, she came from Ohio. She had majored in geology in college in Ohio. I’m not sure what college. She was working at Lamont. She was doing geological work in Bruce Heezen’s office. Bruce was a grad student. She never was a grad student at Lamont. She just came to work as a worker her whole career there. She was an anomaly in the sense that we had very few professionals who were not either students — of course, she was one of the first research people who was not a student. And, of course, we had very few women in professional jobs at that point. There were a lot of local women from the neighborhood who worked at Lamont. Mostly as secretaries and technicians because they wanted to do some work outside the home and they also didn’t want to go into New York City and commute.
Were there any limitations you saw being placed on Marie? I know she had a hard time getting out to sea. Maurice [Ewing], he didn’t want her to go.
That very well may be true. I suppose it was. He probably felt that it would be difficult for her or for the men on the vessel. I’m not sure. It’s not that way today. I’ve never sailed on a vessel where there were any women aboard, either crew members or scientists. I don’t know because I — well, I did some of my sailing out of Galveston, Texas in the ‘70s. But, yes, I suppose that would be the case. I know of a woman here who wanted to go on an expedition and was told not to and she left here. It’s unfortunate.
That was just recently?
It was in the past ten years.
Shall we call this the end?