Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Dennis Hayes by Ronald Doel on 1995 December 29,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Discusses his youth and education in the mid-west and Colorado; his undergraduate education at the University of Kansas and his graduate work at Columbia University; his decision to go into geophysics; his work as chief scientists aboard the research vessels and his relationship with Capt. Henry Kohler; international cooperation in researach projects; the effect on Lamont of Maurice Ewing's move to Texas; his committee work for the National Science Foundation; teaching graduate students at Columbia; plate tectonics; and marine geology. Also prominently mentioned are Wally Broecker, Charles Drake, Gordon Eaton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Arnold Gordon, Bruce Heezen, Marcus Langseth, Jack Nafe, Jack Oliver, Neil Opdyke, Walter Pitman, Baring Raleigh, Mark Talwani, J. Lamar Worzel.
Let me begin. This is Ron Doel and this is a continuing interview with Dennis Hayes. Today is the 29th of December, 1995 and were recording this at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. In the first part of our interview we just discussed your coming to Columbia, but one of the issues we didn’t talk about in detail were the courses that you were taking and your impressions of them in the first and the second year. Which ones as you look back were the most memorable of the geophysics courses that you took?
As I mentioned to you before, I entered the program in the middle of the academic year. That was late January or early February. That was unusual. There were only two entering students: myself, Charlie Hollister. And we arrived in the middle of the gigantic blizzard. And as a consequence, de facto, the person that we met who supervised our registration was Jack [John E.] Nafe and Jack had a tendency to err on the side of putting people in programs that would certainly test them.
He wanted to give people a challenge.
So for me it wasn’t too bad because I’d had a lot of math and physics. I think Charlie [Hollister] may have had a somewhat tougher time. But I’m trying to recall my first semester. I enrolled in a class in physics, and classical mechanics at the graduate level. I had a class in dynamic oceanography which is the mathematical methods of studying ocean currents and tides which Nafe taught. And it was designed to be an advanced graduate level course. So I was in there.
You jumped right in.
I jumped right into the physics department. Let me see what other courses that particular fall.
This would have been the spring semester?
It was the spring. I can’t remember. I may have taken a seminar in geology but I think not. It might have been structural geology. I just can’t remember. But I had a lot of the basics, more scientific background than a lot of the students and so I found myself going off and taking a fair number of my classes in other departments, like applied math in the physics department.
I’m curious about — did you have any exposure to any courses in astronomy?
No, none whatsoever. There were astronomy classes at the University of Kansas but that was stargazing for poets.
I was thinking particularly of the Goddard Institute that had been set up. Whether you had been encouraged at all to make use of it?
No, not at all.
What kind of a teacher was Nafe?
Nafe was a very unusual teacher. He was someone who rarely taught from any prepared notes, and who more often than not would start a lecture from truly first principles. You know we joked about him as students. Every lecture began with F = MA [force equals mass times acceleration] and then it developed from that. He was very interested in teaching. He was very interested in the students but it could be hit or miss. He was either really very, very good because it was all clicking and that first principle development approach lent itself well to what he was trying to convey. Or it could be hopeless in the sense that it could go off down some dead end; as a student you could spend a good part of the class discovering that the first principle didn’t evolve the way he thought it was going to. But he was the one person here on the campus that most people went to ask questions about applied math and theoretical physics. He was more of a theoretician and more of a teacher than most. He didn’t write a lot of papers but he collaborated with quite a few people. He was extremely conscientious.
Did he bring visitors in to teach particular topics or did it tend to be his own lecture?
No. He taught his own lectures almost exclusively, with the rare occasion where he might have someone from the Lamont staff or someone else on the faculty teaching a particular lecture, not because he didn’t feel comfortable or didn’t want to do it, but because he had to be away or something like that. More than almost any other teachers he taught his own classes, virtually all of them.
Do you remember what kind of material you covered in the oceanography, in his seminar?
Yes. As I say he taught mostly dynamics of oceanography. So it was exploring the dynamic equations of fluid motion that were governing what happened in the ocean. It wasn’t so terribly different from the meteorology class that I talked to you about where we essentially took the basic equations, looked at them about twelve different coordinates systems and evaluated term by term what the relative importance was of various terms and tried to simplify the equation to some point where they could be solved analytically and not just numerically. I remember him talking a lot about tides and actually calculating and learning how to figure out where these amphidromic points are in the ocean in places where there are no tides. If you look at an ocean and you look at the primary tide generating forces, the moon and secondarily the sun, you can get with the moon a fairly simple pattern of what the high and low tides would be but when you superimpose. Then the continents on there and the higher order terms from solar and the other planets, it’s very, very complicated. I just remember that I found it somewhat difficult relating the mathematics of what was being presented in the class to what was some physical reality. I think sometimes Nafe had some difficulty making that bridge. Maybe he didn’t, but his students did.
His students seemed to be raising the issues. Do you remember particular discussions about that or was it a continuing issue that affected the class?
I think there may have been some of the advanced students in there who were more comfortable with it than I was. I remember one student, I kind of lost track of now, who really seemed to me at the time to be quite brilliant. His name was Walker, Jim [James] Walker, I believe. I think he’s a professor in one of the big ten schools.
I’m looking right now at a list of students from ‘61-‘62. And he came from Yale University. He had done his bachelor’s there.
Yes. If I remember him — and he provided extra help in particular seemed to understand everything more than most of us. I’m trying to remember. I cannot remember exactly when but I think it was when I took this course in advanced seismology which was really a walk through about the first half of the [W. Maurice] Ewing, [Wenceslas S.] Jardetsky and [Frank] Press book.
I want to ask you about that, but I’m curious did you read Munk and MacDonald’s on tides at that point?
No. In fact, [Walter] Munk and MacDonald didn’t exist at that time or maybe just existed.
It probably was just coming out at that point around 1960-61.
Yes, my recollection was that it came out after that class. It came out at the time I was a graduate student but not at the earlier time. And I do remember reading portions of Munk and MacDonald but it wasn’t a text I used for any particular class.
When you had questions of the sort of applying the principles of dynamic oceanography to the practical scientific problems that were interesting you, did you talk with any other professors about that? Were there others on the faculty, or other graduate students, who you could discuss this with?
As I mentioned, I remember in particular talking somewhat with Jim Walker but most of the students in this particular class were students who were like second or third or fourth year students and I was kind of thrown in there.
You were just beginning of course.
Yes. Well I probably would have been better off to have not taken that class so quickly. But Nafe looked at my record and said, well you’ve had the requisite math and physics which is what he was interested in.
What do you recall particularly from the advanced seismology course? Who taught that by the way?
Nafe taught it. I just recall sitting down and walking chapter by chapter through the book. Sort of going through and verifying the various derivations of equations. I didn’t find it that useful. And I’m sure I can look back at my book and find all of these. One thing that was true was there were a lot of mistakes in the book.
Is that right?
Yes, at least in the edition that we used. We discovered a few of those along the way. After many hours of anguishing how in the hell we would get this answer or this result only to find out that it was a mistake.
Do you remember any in particular?
I don’t remember the particulars right now. It was too long ago.
Did you call any to Ewing’s attention when you found them?
No, we presumed that Nafe did it. He was feeding the information back.
One of the interesting developments at that time was the work towards the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Did that come up at all in that seminar?
Not at all.
Were you aware of the applications of seismology?
I was aware that there was — certainly we were aware of the issue of whether or not you could use seismological techniques to verify nuclear tests. But everyone at the time was figuring out how to conduct the tests in a way in which you couldn’t verify the thing. And we were aware of that. And we were aware of the fact that there was some potential in examining and inferring from the radiation patterns in the various seismic phases some differences but it wasn’t anything definitive at the time. They were talking about looking at whether or not they were conducting tests in places that were highly seismic zones with a lot of frequent events, very complicated earthquake codas so that you might have the signature of several events and very complicated structure all integrated into these records. It was not something that was a major focus like a social issue or a challenge to the community or to us as students to solve that problem. It just wasn’t.
Of course one of the major controversies that had already emerged at that point was whether the particular geologic structure of the American southwest where the Nevada test site was, was in fact similar to what existed in Russia or China and whether what the signatures might indeed be affected by the differences. Those sorts of problems didn’t come up at all as practical matters in the course?
No. In fact there were — I would say, the courses that Nafe taught, and he taught a fair number of courses, were definitely bent more towards the theoretical issues and much less toward the practical application. I took a course in geophysical methods from Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel which was a useful course, in the sense that it took the modern geophysical tools; it explained basically how they worked and what kinds of problems you might apply them to. And that was interesting. Not only conventional problems but I recall looking at some case histories of applications that involved archaeological applications as well as geological ones.
Was that a particular interest of Worzel’s?
I don’t believe so. I think he just — in these case histories he came across the application of seismic techniques on a small scale in surveys conducted in Vatican City looking for catacombs. So he was using this to illustrate that you could do these experiments with explosives or ball peen hammers.
What sort of a teacher was Joe Worzel?
Joe came in pretty well organized. He was a teacher no different from his personality. Sort of what you saw was what you get. No frills. Kind of a little bit of a — gruff is not right, but rough exterior. But if you were interested and worked at things, he recognized that. He appreciated that. His classes weren’t large. There were eight or ten people in the class, something like that.
Would they be almost entirely graduate students or would you occasionally have an advanced undergraduate in there?
The classes were such that you could have undergraduates. I don’t ever remember having any undergraduates in the class. I teach that class or its successor now on alternate years and I occasionally get undergraduates. Sometimes from the Engineering School, sometimes people who are science majors. But the undergraduates in Columbia College — first of all, there aren’t very many science majors. Second, they’re scared to death of competing with graduate school students. Third, there is a kind of reputation that these classes have not evolved with the general grade inflation that has pervaded the Columbia College and hence this might cause a “dent” in your transcript.
This is in the more recent period.
Over the last ten years.
Including the time when you were chair of the department.
What kind of reputation did the classes have back when you came to graduate school? Did they have the same killer reputation do you think among the undergraduates?
I don’t think there was enough of a sample population that they had any reputation.
It was all too new even then.
And there were very few undergraduate majors and the undergraduate majors that were there were concentrating on the classical geological disciplines: stratigraphy and large scale tectonics and mineralogy, petrology structural geology. And it was really only in about — sometime about in the early ‘70s I’d say that there was — The exodus from the Columbia campus to the Lamont campus was essentially complete. Even at that time there was a still a small cadre of people downtown including [Ralph J.] Holmes in mineralogy. I can’t remember what year Fred Donath left, but he had his rock crushing lab in structural geology there for a long time. And Charles Berry was still there downtown and Marshall Kay and Rhodes [W.] Fairbridge. But aside from this more or less equal partition of professors at Lamont and Columbia, that sort of existed at the time that I arrived or shortly after, gradually migrated out to Lamont. Eventually Ian Dalziel came in to replace Fred Donath and he established offices up here. And one by one the vacated positions got taken up by people who wanted to be here because the facilities and the action were here.
When you first arrived, I’m still curious what kind of interaction you had with either the undergraduates or with other faculty more inclined toward traditional geology. Did you have any direct contact for instance with Fred Donath and the rock crushing?
Yes. I was very much interested in structural geology and I took two or three classes from Fred. I took basic structural geology for beginning graduate students which half of it was material that I had had as an undergraduate but half was new. Then I took an advanced structural geology which was the sequel to that. And then I took another course that had to do with tectonophysics or rock mechanics or something — I can’t recall exactly what it was. But Fred tried to recruit me as his student fairly early on and I think after the first year I was there he called me in and asked me was I interested in working with him on these problems. And had I not had stronger interests elsewhere and opportunities, I might have been interested. But I politely declined. Told him I was more interested in the large scale geophysical picture and the application of geophysics to large scale tectonic problems. Fred Donath — looking back — was so fastidious. His laboratory looked like an operating room. And I could never figure out how anyone could have a lab that looked like that and actually use it.
A moment ago you were pointing to piles of papers that you have; still in neat order on your desk right here.
I could never understand how you could have the time to —
To maintain it in that order?
Yes, to maintain it in that — I’m not really exaggerating when I say — a nearly sterile operating room environment. I just couldn’t understand that. And you know I’d see neat people, people who worked especially in analytical laboratories where cleanliness and orderliness is a necessary part of what you’re doing.
Did you come to know any other graduate students that Donath had?
I’m just curious if they talked about his working style and what you observed?
Don [Donald] Tobin started out as his student and then eventually shifted to seismology in the last couple of years. He was good friend too. Last time I heard about him he was some place out in West Texas working for one of the oil companies. Then there was someone else he had with him but I’m not sure he ever got his degree. I can picture his face very clearly. But he sort of had the reputation of being Fred’s gopher. He did some work on his own but I don’t believe that he ever completed his degree. Then there was Barry Voight who was Jon Voight’s, the actor’s, brother.
Oh is that right?
Yes. He was one of Fred’s students. And he was successful and graduated and went on as a professor at Penn State I believe. In fact it was interesting — I was over in one those little shopping malls nearby and I recognized Jon Voight. He was there with his son in a lamp shop or something and I went over and introduced myself and told him that I admired his work and he said he was living down here in Sneden’s Landing and asked what I did. And I told him I worked at Lamont as a geologist. And he said oh my brother’s a geologist. Is that right? That’s very interesting. We were students together. We took classes together and then quite different pathways. Anyway, Fred Donath left sometime I think around 1970. I don’t remember exactly — he went to take the chairmanship at Illinois. And he recruited me for the faculty out there as well. They offered me a position but I didn’t take it.
I presume this is high pressure structures of mineralogy and other that he was involved in.
Yes. He was really looking at the deformation of rocks under various conditions of temperature and pressure.
How did that compare to, when you look back on it, particularly to work that was being done in other centers in the country that did that? The Carnegie in Washington was also involved in —
Yes, that’s right. There were a number of, as you point out, a number of laboratories popping up that were certainly more capable, more sophisticated laboratories around, I think, at places like Cal Tech that maybe Tom [Thomas] Aherns and people like that were establishing at that time. But they were just getting to the point where they were able to conduct various tri-axial tests in the chambers. Before, they had been unable to do that. And they were still doing things at moderately low temperatures. They were just getting into it. Fred published a few papers. By today’s standards here at Lamont and the department he would not be considered a prolific publisher but he was publishing a number of papers that received some recognition. Some of it was kind of verifying certain basic theories that had been put forward before and extending them into different environmental realms. Looking at the transition from brittle to ductile deformation.
I’m curious. You mentioned a moment ago when you took the first of Donath’s classes that some of the material was very new for you. I’m wondering what you recall that you hadn’t been exposed to at Kansas.
Well, most of the structural geology that I had at the University of Kansas was primarily descriptive structure. You were describing what structures were, how you described structures, what were the basic stress systems that might be responsible for them, basic Coloumb-Mohr theory that was used for brittle failure. And that was material that was the introductory or first part of the class there. That was Fred’s class. Then he got into different things, more quantitative study.
How did his teaching compare to any of the other professors you already mentioned?
He was very well organized. [Laughs] He seemed well organized, very prepared. A little dry but I learned quite a bit I think from him. I thought he was a good teacher; someone who worked at it. He went in and he knew exactly what he wanted to say and always followed logically and at the end of the hour you would have some stopping point rather than down some dead end alley.
Compared to Nafe.
There were no surprises in the style of Nafe; sometimes exciting, sometimes frustrating.
In that class did you encounter work by Francis Birch and others at Harvard who were involved in that?
Yes we certainly did. Looking at the basic information that they were gathering on the properties of different kinds of materials. Fred had a few favorite rocks that he liked to experiment on. [Laughs] I remember a famous limestone formation in Germany that many of the sculptors need. I think it’s called the Solenhoffen or something like that; very, very pure white limestone. It’s really a marble. And he liked to do lots of experiments on that and a few other materials, structural formations that I think he liked because of their uniformity. Not necessarily homogeneous properties but predictable on certain scales that you could gather samples that were uniform, didn’t have a lot of irregularities with strange things happening. That goes back a long time.
It is back a while. I wonder if in the seminars that you had with Donath, do you remember talking for instance about the way in which Birch and others used the mineralogical information available in the early ‘60s to argue against in that case polar wandering? That was just coming into the literature at that point and arguments about whether the earth had been molten or solid.
I don’t remember talking about that. You mentioned [M.] King Hubbert before. We certainly did talk about some of King Hubbert’s ideas about the role of fluids and core pressure in accommodating large offsets going along the lines of low angle faults, and how that could happen. Essentially the effects of and internal care pressures, and companion structures.
Was this the famous work he had done with Bill [William W.] Rubey?
Yes. Without the element of the extensive pore pressure there’s no way that the theory would accommodate that kind of failure and those kinds of displacements.
Right. And did he accept the theory as it was presented? As I recall it had been critically reviewed by a number of people after it had first been presented.
No it was generally accepted. It was the acceptable working hypothesis.
Okay. That’s interesting. As I recall, Taylor Thom at Princeton had been one of the people who had opposed the theory once it was articulated. I’m just curious if that controversy at all had come up? You mentioned that you were taking these courses through the second year I would imagine.
Yes. I took courses pretty continually I think the first two and a half years. By that I mean I was taking three of four courses, probably four, maybe more, courses every term for the first five terms I was here. I took — I’m just trying to think. I took about between twenty and twenty-five credits in the physics department.
Is that right?
How did that compare to your fellow geophysics graduate students? Was that considerably more?
I think that most of the students who were geophysicists and who were quantitative oceanographers — there weren’t very many at the time — took a similar number of classes. Essentially, depending upon what you had when you came here, you took basically graduate mechanics courses. So that was two semesters. And you took graduate electricity-magnetism and I took those courses from Polykarp Kusch. Then I took courses in mathematical methods of physics which was really applied math with certain elements of quantum theory but it was mostly applied math. That was two semesters of four point courses. I took a couple of laboratories. I took courses in applied mathematics, partial differential equations, and numerical methods. So you start to add these up and you see that these add up to classes that were at least half of the class work that I did and they’re not in the geology department. So I mostly took geophysics, oceanography, structural geology, in the geology department. Those are courses that — I didn’t take any mineralogy. I didn’t take any petrology. I didn’t take any paleontology in the graduate school. I didn’t take geomorphology.
Who taught the geomorphology course?
[Arthur] Strahler. But I didn’t take any sedimentation or stratigraphy. These were things that I’d had as undergraduate and were not the direction that I was going in. I was one of the very few geophysicists who came in who could pass all the basic geological tests and qualifying entrance tests. Even some of the geologists couldn’t. I was one of the few geophysicists who could because I had had all this geology so I could come in and being given fifty different samples of things that you had to identify was a piece of cake for me.
Some geophysicists had never seen a rock or a mineral or a fossil.
I find that interesting because so — that the tests actually would work. You would come into a room and have to identify samples?
Yes. I can’t remember exactly how many there were but there were several tens, maybe forty samples of which you had to sit down and you had to identify what they were. In some cases you had to identify what type of rock if it was a rock. What were the basic minerals in them? What kind of fossil this was. When did it exist? Stuff like that. And it was not a hard test. It was a really sort of a geology 101 test, a little more than that. It was just to establish basic competence. So any geology majors who came in would just go right to it. But the geophysics people, people who had come in from physics and math, it could have been a clump of cement of which occasionally there was one. It helped to find that out.
That’s really interesting. Were there other tests? I’m curious who gave those tests, do you recall?
I’m trying to remember if we had other tests initially. I don’t think we had any kind of placement things. We had language tests we had to take. As an engineering student I mentioned to you one of my regrets was that I really had no time and no requirements to take any language. I took some Spanish in high school but that was not much. So I really was poorly equipped. So I took a German course at Columbia designed for reading scientific journals. Another class I took outside the geology department, and I didn’t have anything to do. [Laughs] I took a course in that and then my wife knew French and I studied French on my own and the test was kind of a Mickey Mouse test where you went in and you sat down and you were given a few pages of scientific material that you had to translate and someone would judge whether or not you had translated it adequately or not.
Was it a written translation that you did? And done by someone in the department, the evaluation, or outside?
Yes, definitely somebody in the department.
You mentioned something that I don’t think we covered on the first interview. How you met your wife and when did you get married?
I met my wife in my last semester at the University of Kansas. I met her at a social function. She was actually a member of what would have been the counterpart of this Omega Delta Kappa organization. The women’s counterpart on campus. So I met her there and I graduated the semester before she did and after I graduated she moved east to take a teaching job in Westchester.
Westchester, New York?
Yes. Then we were married a year later. But this was not my present wife. We were divorced in ‘72 or ‘73.
Did she have much interest in science? Was that what she was teaching?
She had interest primarily in music and literature. Ironically my present wife has the same interest. A little scary.
That can happen.
The resemblance, that’s as far as it goes. [Laughter]
A moment ago you had mentioned the different courses you had taken. You didn’t take geochemistry or you didn’t mention geochemistry. Did you take any courses that you recall in that field?
I did not take geochemistry here. I took geochemistry courses as an undergraduate but I did not take geochemistry here. And in fact, I’m trying to recall, I’m not sure there was a course called geochemistry offered at that time.
That’s very interesting.
I mean [Wallace S.] Broecker was certainly here on the faculty and there were other people. But essentially if there was geochemistry it was hard rock geochemistry. It was petrology geochemistry. And I’d had enough of phase diagrams. But Broecker must have been teaching a course at the time having to do with, you know, his text, The Chemical Properties of the Ocean, tracers and I don’t remember. I didn’t take it and I’m a little surprised that I didn’t looking back, because I have a strong background in chemistry and I had an interest in chemistry. So I don’t recall why I didn’t. I just think maybe my plate was so full that I just didn’t. I remember early on taking some course in the applied math department. I can’t remember. There was some integral (where I was sitting in) and I was struggling and I couldn’t do anything and Broecker walked in the library and I asked him if he had any idea about how to do this. And he didn’t have a clue. And to me it seemed strange at the time but you know looking back on it now I can understand. If a student came up to me and asked me about how to solve this particular equation or that equation, it might be a very fundamental thing that I hadn’t thought about in ten or fifteen years and I mean I wouldn’t be able to help them either without — I would be able to point them in the right direction. I would be able to get out the books. But I remember at the time thinking. Essentially he said something like I haven’t a clue. And you know he was the young hotshot professor there and I was a student who naively assumed he would tell everything.
That’s really interesting. So he was clearly identified. He had gotten his Ph.D. as I recall in 1958. So he was one of the younger people.
Yes. He was one of the younger ones and I believe he was on a fairly fast track. And he certainly was promoted to associate professor at the time I was a student. And I believe [Charles L.J Drake had been appointed associate professor early on in that stage as well. [Manik] Talwani became an assistant professor while I was a student. [Bruce C.] Heezen was not a professor at that time. He may have become an associate professor at that time. I think he never moved up from the rank of associate professor. Maybe he did at the very end.
I don’t believe that he did before his death.
I don’t recall the other people. I never took a course from [Jack E.] Oliver.
What I have here in front of me is a listing. This is from 62-63, faculty and staff members.
Yes. [William R.] Farrand, Bill Farrand. He taught classes in pleistocene geology. I sat in on a class from him. I never took a course from [Robert] Jastrow. I took two courses from [Bruce C.] Heezen — a submarine geology and an advanced submarine geology. I took at least three courses from Nafe, maybe more but nothing from Oliver. I took meteorology from Dick [Richard L.] Pfeffer and I took some physical oceanography from Georg Wust.
What do you recall from that course?
It was mostly descriptive. It was difficult. He had a very, very thick accent so it was difficult to understand. Classic theory. Very nice man and very personable but very formal in the typical -–
Germanic professor style.
[George H.] Sutton taught some of Worzel’s classes at the time.
Was it again a matter of convenience when Joe Worzel needed to be out?
Or he may have taught his class when Joe was on sabbatical or something like that.
Was there a great difference in style and content between George Sutton and Joe Worzel?
No pretty consistent. Interesting if you look here. This must be out of the Lamont bulletin?
Because it doesn’t list any of the professors that would have been — I had classes with most of them but not all of them. Jastrow was a bit of a renegade. He was an adjunct professor. He was very popular with the undergraduates.
What did the graduates think about Jastrow and his work?
I think the ones that actually worked with him liked him pretty well. The ones that were sort of “not quite there” were highly critical — sort of feeling that they weren’t getting their money’s worth and his attentions were elsewhere.
Well he was involved in quite a bit of organizing in NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] research through the early 1960s.
Yes he was. And he also — you know sort of late in the game he was doing less and less and expecting more and more. And I think he just kind of used up his credits. As I recall, he was held in pretty high regard by most elements. [J. Laurence] Kulp I didn’t really know at all.
Was he still teaching courses at Columbia?
If he was, they were advanced courses in geochronology or something like that that I wasn’t taking.
Was it simply a matter of inconvenience and your full schedule that you didn’t take any courses from Jack Oliver? Or did you feel that you had covered a lot of that material from having the course from [John E.] Nafe? I’m imagining that he taught one of the seismology courses.
I’m trying to recall why I didn’t take any classes from Jack. You know it may have been at the time that I took that class he might have normally taught advanced seismology or taught something else. Or it may have been that he just wasn’t there at the time that I was taking it. I can’t remember what the circumstance was. A bit unusual that I wouldn’t have taken a class from him but I didn’t as I recall. I didn’t take a formal class from Drake. At the time that I was a student everyone took their orals at the same time, their qualifying exams. It would have been the same week.
Is that right?
Yes. They were all jam packed in there.
What was that experience like?
Highly charged. A number of us, particularly people working in different disciplines, studied together. At that time you had a major and three minors, plus general geology that you were tested and this was for everyone. So most of the people had had a course or two in their minors plus whatever they picked up on their own in doing work intensively in small study groups of people whose majors were different. And we studied hard for a long time. But we were still taking classes and doing other things. But it was typical.
Those weeks sound like a very intense experience —
Oh, it definitely was. It went on. I mean you really sort of prepared for it, started preparing for it, reading and reviewing and all that, I would say two or three months in advance. And the students as much as, more so than the faculty, still to this day perpetuate the fear and everything about the oral exams. Although it’s true that for all practical purposes it’s the last wash out spot and then you’re pretty much on your own. And it’s not generally if, it’s when. I don’t think that there are very many people that we’ve had pass their orals who have for whatever reason not successfully completed a Ph.D. There are some but not really many.
But when the department was admitting its geophysicists there wasn’t really a sense that a certain number needed to be winnowed out? That the resources and commitment was there that if they could finish all of it would be.
Absolutely. And in fact the number of people who were winnowed out by the orals process was a relatively small number. So part of this fear and this anxiety and all this was just in a statistical sense not very well founded. But of course if you happened to be the statistic — [laughs]. Anyway it was quite an emotionally charged time. I remember very, very clearly my committee. Also your committee members were not known to you. You didn’t know until you walked in who was going to be on the committee.
Oh, is that right? Who was on yours?
Now if you selected certain minors, the presumption, sometimes incorrect, was that you were going to get so and so. And people would tailor their study habits accordingly. But you didn’t often know that and occasionally there were some big surprises. So in my case I remember Worzel who was officially serving as my advisor at the time. I actually took a major in gravity and geodesy and then I had I think general geophysics, structural geology, physical oceanography and geology. Those are the four. So I had Georg Wust on the committee. And I remember very clearly. He took most of his material from his class. He wanted answers really parroted back to him almost verbatim. So that was I guess fairly predictable. But I had Jack Nafe testing me on gravity and geodesy instead of Worzel who wasn’t there. And Chuck Drake was testing me on general geophysics. And Fred Donath whom I’d taken all these structure classes from was not there and instead was Rhodes Fairbridge who went through all sorts of large global pictures. And then there was one other person who was testing me on general geology. But it was, anyway, fairly early on in the game, I felt. They ask you about your major first and fairly early and I felt that I knew about as much in gravity as Nafe did. He knew a hell of a lot more than I did in general but I knew as much about that topic as he did. At that moment in time anyway. And so it became established and comfortable and everything went fine.
It was a good dialogue then?
It was a good dialogue with your —?
Yes. It was good. At no time did I feel real uncomfortable or in trouble, or anything like that. But I remember walking out of the orals. They schedule these things more or less back to back. So there are typically fifteen or so people taking the orals at any one time. Fifteen or twenty in one week. So you figure at the minimum two hour and typically sometimes it was longer than that, but they let me out a little early as mine turned out to be a little shorter. They threw in the towel. But I remember coming out and seeing Arnold Gordon coming into the exam and this guy was petrified and I was on top of the world. I had just finished! But he was absolutely white as a sheet. I remember kidding him saying something to him but I don’t remember what it was. The reason it was interesting was that Arnold was one of the group of about five people that had all studied together. It was Arnold Gordon, Charlie Hollister, and myself, and Bob [Robert A.] Page who was a seismologist and there may have been one or two geochemists that we had. Fred McDowell and someone else. Anyway Hollister was the last person to take the orals on the last day of the week. And he passed his orals. Charlie was worried because he was not the best student of the group on paper but he passed. We had a huge party at his house that night. He was also atypical as a graduate student in the sense that he was married when he came as a student and had a child. He also had independent means so that he lived a style of life that was not pretentious by any means but was definitely upscale from the rest of the students.
What most of you –-
He lived in a house. So we had a party at Charlie’s house and I think five of us came to the party. And we all brought a quart of gin and we made a five quart martini and we had a huge snow and we proceeded to have a big snowball fight which migrated into the house. Poor Charlie didn’t manage to sleep with his wife for about three months after that. She didn’t like the rest of us very much either. [Laughter]
I have a feeling that you weren’t back there very often, at least not right away.
Well, eventually. Eventually we were all forgiven.
That’s a pretty common release after graduate orals.
Yes. And it’s a wonder we didn’t all get killed. Arnold [Gordon] lives about three or four blocks from where Charlie [Hollister’s] house was. So it was a huge snowstorm and my wife was there and she was driving but Arnold didn’t have anyone to drive him and he was drunk as a skunk. And he drove down the road and he had to drive maybe a hundred yards across this field and across a narrow little bridge to his house that was set way back off the road. And he turned off and drove in and he didn’t get anywhere close to the bridge. He’s driving across the field, drives right into the little stream or whatever is there. He stops, gets out of his car, and staggers into the house. We’re watching all this. Luckily we’re behind him. And he’s laughing. It’s funny now in retrospect. You know today you’d be up in Ossining or someplace. But it was quite a celebration.
Every one of you got through of your group.
Of this five or so who studied together.
I’m really interested in what you were saying about that group study. Did you actually write up things that you shared with other members of the group at any point? Or do you remember discussions about broader theoretical developments as well as reviewing the principles of the work?
No, we were basically studying our own specialties on our own and then what we were doing going in a group, not necessarily always five of us together. It might be two, it might be three, sort of asking each other questions about what you knew but at a level at which they might be asked if they were taking things as minors. That sort of stuff. And there was a lot of emphasis on how you were thinking about a problem. I remember talking to Nafe early on when I came as a student. So I was probing — what kind of questions do you think are going to be asked, what are you expected to know and all this. And he said to me well he might ask you how many barbers there are in Chicago.
Not much of a help.
I said, are you serious? And he said yes, how many barbers are in Chicago? And so I started going through a deductive reasoning process of trying to figure out how you’d estimate how many barbers there were in Chicago. How many people are there and how many men and how often they got their hair cut and how much you could charge for a haircut and how much you’d need to sustain to make a living cutting hair at so many. And you end up with some number. So whether your number is right or not is not particularly relevant. It’s a question about how you might get there.
How you get there.
And so we’d ask questions and start questioning the reasoning. But we mostly asked questions of each other about basic things that we knew about in our specialties that someone might not know and might be asked.
Did you find that you had learned things in that discussion that you hadn’t learned —
I learned a lot in the brief sessions and I learned a lot in preparation and I think I probably had more facts plus more information, plus more analytical tools at my fingertips at that period of time than at any time before or after and I think most of my colleagues probably feel the same way.
I suspect that’s a pretty typical situation for graduate students in many fields.
My wife gave me piano lessons at the time just to break the tension. I’d come home after a long day or a long evening of studying and spend an hour or so learning basic pieces.
Did you stay with that?
No, I didn’t. I had taken piano as a boy for a while and didn’t stay with it then. Took it again for a few months and just got pre-empted with other things. I wish I had stayed with it.
One thing I meant to ask you earlier. Was there a geology colloquium that was operating at the same time as the seminar series here at Lamont in those years?
I don’t believe so. I don’t recall there being a weekly geology colloquium. The colloquiums certainly existed here on Friday afternoons, and it has always existed since I can remember. At some point in the game when we changed over from sixty to forty-five points it became mandatory for the students to attend. Before it wasn’t, it was just expected. I managed to claim a couple of credits towards the requirements for doing that.
By coming out here on Fridays. Were they still in the library at that time?
Yes, they’ve always been in the library.
What do you recall particularly from those early years in graduate school of the colloquia series? Were you presenting at the time?
No, almost never. I don’t think the students — I don’t recall ever presenting in colloquium there. That was for established people mostly from the outside, as it is now. Occasionally from inside but virtually always Ph.D. level people. I think its rare now to have a student. I can’t remember when a student presented in that forum. They present things in other seminars but not the Friday afternoon colloquia.
Some people who were here at Lamont in the very early days remember that graduate students had played a stronger role much earlier on. It’s interesting to find that gone by the 60’s.
It certainly was not happening by the time I was here.
Right. Who do you remember particularly coming through?
Golly. I have to think about that for a minute. There were a lot of people coming through. A lot of people gave seminars in the early 60s. A little later, sort of late ‘60s, early ‘70s people were giving seminars, people that were in some way related to the drilling project. That attracted a lot of people here.
The JOIDES [Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling] Project.
Yes. The deep sea drilling project had started. There were people like — I’m trying to think I think one of the Meyerhoffs came here early on. And there was still some controversy about plate tectonics, considerable controversy. They had people up from Princeton — [Harry H.] Hess came up here. Hollis Hedberg came up here. A couple people came down from MIT like Bill [William] Brace and [Eugene] Simmons.
That’s Gene Simmons I imagine.
Yes. And we had people come in from Woods Hole [Oceanographic Institute]. They would attempt to draw on a group of people that were — not so far away, not a great distance from Lamont. I have a hard time recalling people that were actually here when I was a student. I simply don’t remember.
Do you remember any discussions about any particular issues or controversies that were very alive at the time? Because by this point Heezen and the turbidity currents issue was a fairly well settled matter but much of the paleomagnetic work and the polar wandering work.
Yes. The paleomagnetic work was definitely very much a controversy that was alive. I can’t remember which of the various people, maybe all of them, I remember. I think [Allan] Cox came back here before. Maybe [?] Dole. I can’t remember if [?] Dalrymple came here. I remember Cox coming back here. I remember [S. Keith] Runcorn coming and Ted [Edward] Irving coming. We had a lot of programs going on, international cooperative programs, going on with people in Australia and South America and certainly Japan. To a somewhat lesser extent with South Africa and with the western Europeans, Scandinavia. Ewing was always brokering cooperative programs. Always. And so we had a lot of these people who had come to minds. There was a fellow by the name of Lane Hawkins who was a professor at Sydney. Often we would have people come here who were either planning or had completed a joint project and they would come and spend several months here at Lamont over the course of which they would give a lecture or two, including the colloquium. Hawkins would be an example of someone like that. Often it would be someone like John Connelly. A scientist from Japan, [S.] Murauchi and I can’t remember all. Out of Argentina as well. I’m trying to remember there was a group down in South Africa that we had a strong relationship with. There were people who would come over from England, and Norway and France and Germany. I can’t remember them all now.
That’s no problem. If any of them do come to mind if you want to add that to the transcript later, that would be fine. When Ewing would broker these cooperative agreements, did they tend to range across the board in terms of the scientific problems addressed or were they focused on the areas that Ewing himself had greatest cognizance in?
Well the ones that I’m most aware of tended to be marine geophysical programs, particularly marine seismological programs. But I think there were other programs that extended beyond that into oceanography. And you know he also managed to have visitors and set up these different programs. I think you asked me before, or someone did. What would Ewing’s position be on the biosphere? He would be gung ho about it because he was gung ho about all of the science and maybe he might be setting up some joint seismic experiment in the Falkland Islands with the Argentines at the same time he was trying to get Miss [?] Lehman to come over and study free oscillation of the earth over here. A lot of people that came and spent time there from all over the world. He brought Oswald Roels here. I don’t know if that’s a name that you know. He’s a marine biologist.
A marine biologist who headed, who was active at least in the biology programs.
That’s right and who tried to establish some aquaculture activities down in the Caribbean. I mean that’s purely Ewing doing this stuff. So he was involved in all that. If you could demonstrate that you had a good scientific project, a good scientific idea, he was someone who would work to enable it to happen. It you came in with some hare-brained idea about something, he was the first to chew it up. His interests generally were extremely broad. So, I would say they did, without question, span all of solid earth geophysics through physical oceanography, through the marine geology and geophysics and with other interests reaching out into other areas secondarily.
When you look back on it, from those early interactions that you had with Ewing, did you perceive that his evaluations of research programs that were being discussed seemed fair to you or did you perceive any blind spots in terms of ideas that he didn’t want to consider?
No, I think that I would say — by and large — I would say they were very fair. I think he was, what shall I say, I think he was a little slow to buy on to the whole plate tectonics sea floor spreading scheme. In part I think that he was a little slow because he was disappointed at not being at the central heart of that, but once I think he really looked very hard at the group of papers that came out of the magnetics group, before they were published and the stuff that came out of [Xavier] Le Pichon, his 1968 paper — he did that while he was here at Lamont — Then I think he very quickly became persuaded. He was still looking at the inconsistencies and the exceptions and trying to understand them very much. But very early on he wrote a short paper in Science or Nature with his brother John Ewing in which he looked at the distribution of sediments across the South Pacific. A very short paper. But ultimately he looked at those general distributions and interpreted those distributions as indicators of variations in the rate of change of plate motion, of sea floor spreading and plate generation. And that was a fairly early paper. He and I wrote early on a review paper about the Pacific boundary structure, trying to figure out what was happening to the sediments that were being carried into the trenches and why you didn’t see this happening seismically, essentially leading up to the idea that certain places that brought a lot of sediments in there were getting them plastered on and creating a huge mélange at the landward foot of the French.
I do want to talk to you in detail about those first papers that you were writing not only with [W. Maurice] Ewing but in collaboration with others, [Manik] Talwani and others in that time. And it’s clear that for Ewing this sedimentation was a very critical issue in the way that he judged ideas about plate movement or the continental drift.
Well, he found a few outliers. He found a few samples that had been taken from the oceans that were much too old to be there. And he was looking for more early on. He was looking to try to find a systematic sampling of sediments that were deposited in place or rocks that could be dated that were too old to have been generated by sea floor spreading. And in general what had happened to those, a few examples that existed, were primarily explained by major unrecognized offsets in the tectonic pattern of the ridge system in the actual geochronology of the sea floor, and hence the things were not anomalous as they were thought to be or they were within the error bars. But very early on he was looking for — he was hoping people would find examples that might — he never told me this — that might somehow open up some area of this revolution that still needed to be explained and he could be there as the champion to explain it.
That’s interesting. When do you think that he began to feel this? Was this after ‘67 do you think?
No, I would think it was before. This was in the times that were leading up to it. About in ‘66 and that period of time.
That’s very interesting. I had meant it in the sense that while others were looking particularly at paleomagnetic evidence or other signatures that were being interpreted as evidence of the drift, Ewing seemed to fix a great deal of attention on the pattern of sedimentation as his way of judging between competing theories of earth structure.
Yes, well he certainly made a commitment and was largely responsible for developing the techniques of academic marine seismology. And we collected seismic data in quantities that vastly exceeded any of our competing institutions and well before they did. So these were the fruits. These were the data of that seismic approach and so he was then left with interpreting them. He looked at both their geographic distribution and how that might be compatible or incompatible with these ideas, as well as paleooceanographic, tectonic, or sedimentological events that were recorded in the sediments as discrete reflectors that could be traced over very large regions. So he was interested in and wrote this whole series of papers, with his brother, about stratigraphy in the North Atlantic and the A reflectors in this Eocene event which ultimately it was speculated on what the age was and what the events were. So I think his — I wouldn’t call it a preoccupation, but his focus on sediments was a direct consequence of having made a major investment in perpetuating the acquisition and development of marine seismic data.
That puts it very well. And that’s certainly a very typical development in the sciences. I want to cover your early research and Ewing’s research in detail. I was curious though when a moment ago when you were — I’m still thinking of that period prior to the time that you finished your dissertation in ‘66. Were there long term visitors at Lamont that you remember interacting with particularly. And I assume that you stayed mostly at Lamont after those first two and a half years taking courses at Columbia.
Yes. I was essentially. In fact I think the first year, year and a half I was in Lamont Hall as was virtually everyone. The only other buildings on campus were the present administration building and the geochemistry building. That building was complete I think about it must have been about in ‘61 or maybe ‘62.
This was from ‘62-‘63 and I just gave you a map of the Lamont campus that existed at that point along with indications from thoughts at that time as to where the buildings might expand to.
The administration building was called the Marine Geophysics building and there were a lot of activities in there besides administration but meteorology, biology was in the cafeteria. It was in the basement; actually it was both the basement and the main level. I mean the main level was partitioned off and that’s where [Georg] Wust was in there and Sam [Robert S.] Gerard and Allan [W.H.] Be. Of course a number of these buildings didn’t ever eventually happen. Interesting that they had speculated on building up in this region.
Continuing beyond the current building was in during this interview.
They may have had trouble with the Rockefeller Foundation on the completion of this building. If you look out this window this side of this building is green. And these trees were little saplings at the time the building was put into place to appease the Rockefellers so the skyline wasn’t broken when you looked from across the river.
And those projected buildings — I should just put for the benefit of the tape — are the ones that continue along the skyline here.
Well certainly this one would. This one would be back in maybe away from that. But this one would have been — Maybe that’s what encouraged them to build out in this direction.
So seismology ended up over here. The core lab and then geosciences.
You’re looking at the bottom right hand of the map.
All the new buildings are really almost off this map.
Right. I’m wondering how much communication — once you were primarily here at Lamont — you had with all of the different elements that had already existed. Was there for instance much communication with the people who were in geochemistry when you were here?
There wasn’t so much communication with — well there actually was. There was. The students had a lot of communication among themselves. In fact we had activities mostly centered around sporting activities that we involved ourselves in regularly. So we played touch football for instance over the lunch hours two or three times a week out here at Lamont. Seismology had a team, oceanography had a team, geoscience had a team. We had lots of fun doing that. And we played for years. I have a couple of interesting anecdotes about [W. Maurice] Ewing. We played up there on the field between Lamont Hall and his residence. The trees that are planted there now didn’t exist. We played up there so we were pretty noisy. But he never ever, ever complained about anything like that. And usually sometime during the course of when we were playing up there, he would walk up across that area. He was always happy that we were there and occupied. He was not someone who was resentful of being disturbed or felt that we shouldn’t be doing anything like that. We played there for a long time. There was one incident where the end of the building which was a sun porch in lower level and was all glassed in — where several panes of glass in that section got broken.
This is in Lamont Hall?
In Lamont Hall. And the head of buildings and grounds at that time came to us and accused us of doing this. And we said we hadn’t broken any windows. We hadn’t done that. It was obviously possible that having played around there it could happen, but we didn’t do it. And so he complained to Ewing again, holding fast that people that were playing football up there were responsible for breaking these windows. Ewing — I don’t think he called me in — we were talking one day about some other thing. And he said gee I really would like to know; what’s the story here. Did you guys in your football playing have anything to do with breaking this glass? I said absolutely not. We definitely didn’t do it and if we had done it, we would have gone and told someone about it. And so he went back and he really gave this buildings and grounds guy hell. He said these are my scientists; these are people I entrust the ship to. Out the door.
Is that right? He fired the —?
Who was it; who was that guy? Do you recall his name?
I can’t remember his name. I can probably look back at my —
That’s fine. If it comes to mind we can add it to the transcript.
Yes. I mean I don’t know that that was a direct consequence but the timing was such that it may have been something that triggered Ewing who had been unhappy for some time or something. But there was no question as to where his loyalty was. He wasn’t about to believe the buildings and grounds guy over his students.
Interesting. Was there any other friction that you recall with any particular people that weren’t part of the scientific community at Lamont during those early years?
I don’t remember. It was a much more open, less — The number of students and other people for instance would go down and would work in the machine shop on their own. And you’d have to go in and check in with Angelo [Ludas] and get his blessing but you walked down and said well Joe Worzel told me to come down and do this, and will you get me set up. And Angelo would grumble and mumble and all this and then he’d get you set up to do what you needed to do. No, it was more of a family at that stage. More open. I think more socializing among the people, both students and faculty alike. There were more occasions for social gatherings both on and off campus.
What are you thinking of in particular? I know there were the teas that were the breaks from the instrumentation lab. Were there other —? Did you go to those?
No. I generally didn’t go to those. But there were parties in people’s houses. I gather — I don’t know — I didn’t experience it myself. But I guess there were some pretty wild Christmas parties in the early days up here. As I told you, Worzel used to host a students and few faculty over to his house in the summertime not infrequently. They had a huge vegetable garden that they had planted that was kind of a Ewing/Worzel thing, a community garden. I used to get things out of there, go over to Joe’s house and have a few beers. There was a lot of that. And as I said there were a lot of athletic things happening. In the summertime we’d play softball at least a couple of times a week after work. We’d go out and we’d play serious softball games. Now they do it occasionally. But anyone who comes plays. They might have twenty people in the field. It’s more for — It’s not softball. It’s something else. You know, the social milieu. But we played softball games and then people from the lab would come down and watch and a whole group of us would go out and eat pizza and drink beer. And during the summertime we’d do it a couple of times a week, regularly. And then as I said we’d play football a lot too. A lot of touch football. And we played for years and years and then we had a host of injuries and we stopped playing for a while and then we picked it up and played some more.
Did Jack Oliver play with you?
Jack never played with us. Neil [D.] Opdyke played. Neil had played at Columbia College. Jack did of course as well. But Neil used to play. Wally Broecker played once. I remember one time he actually (this is not in the category of serious injury) but he got knocked down or fell down or something defending or trying to get a long pass. And fell and kind of snapped his head back and hit the ground and was knocked out for a few seconds literally. And so he didn’t play after that. I’m trying to think of the older people who played. Neil played with us. Gary Latham used to play. Does that name mean —?
Yes, he was involved in
He was an excellent player. He played somewhere in college. I don’t know where.
Oh that’s interesting. I didn’t know that.
He was a good player.
Because he was involved in the Apollo work.
Yes, definitely. But there was a group of five or six hard core people like myself in each one of these buildings that used to play.
They were organized by the different disciplines?
Yes, they turned out to be that way. We’d get a game. There was always someone in one of these buildings who was the organizer. [William] Lieberman was the name who was a student after I was who’s a professor at Stony Brook now; he had played in college a little bit I think at USC. Not USC, at Cal Tech which is not so serious. Art [Arthur] McGar, Bob Page, [Peter] Molnar used to play. He was from MIT. From geochemistry, Ed [Edward] Catanzero and Fred McDowell and Bob [Robert] Wallace. Did I mention him? He used to play with us. And Paul Graim was a big enthusiast. And my friend Dave May played when he was here. Tom [Thomas D.] Aitken, and Phil Rabinowitz, Steve Ettreim and Jeff [Jeffrey] Fox. A lot of people.
Did any one team seem particularly good when you think back on it now?
I think we had the greatest rivalry with the seismologists. We used to devise plays and learn to play the terrain. So if there were overhanging branches, we would figure out how we could pass the ball through the branches.
This is pretty clever.
And Art McGar was a particularly competitive player, a seismologist. Occasionally we’d play on the same side and I used to have this particular place to throw the ball. A play where he’d go down (the boundaries were defined by these trees) and a “square out” and I’d throw this pass in which he’d dive into the thorn bushes just inside the boundary. No one would go after him. It worked every time. He loved it. I liked it too but I was throwing the ball. So we learned to play the terrain there. We had a lot of fun. A good time.
It sounds like that kind of social interaction also gave you opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise to talk about general ideas or techniques or did you really stay just social end?
No. We’d go out, we’d meet, we’d play ball and everyone would go over all sweaty to the cafeteria and have a sandwich or something like that and talk about other things. But it just brought us together. We had occasion to be together regularly, whereas now I think the students have fewer occasions or make fewer occasions to just have contact. If you have contact, part of the contact time is going to be science rather than a social occasion.
But as you say, the social cohesiveness is important when looking at how a place develops or how people interact within it.
Yes. So there was a lot of that. An awful lot of that going on with the students. And it wasn’t explicitly the students. It was mostly — But there were a handful of the other people that played who were young Ph.D. scientists who were here.
The thing we haven’t covered is your first interactions with Maurice Ewing. What do you recall particularly?
I’m trying to remember this. I remember his office was a hell of a lot messier than mine is.
This was over at Lamont Hall?
Lamont Hall, yes. I remember coming in and meeting him. And I remember him having some chit chat about his brother-in-law and his sister and the University of Kansas and all that. I remember very early on, I don’t remember whether it was the first meeting on, but very early on, it was one of the first eruptions in a very long time of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic. And it had just been reported out someplace. And he was very interested in this and so he wanted me to go find out whatever I could about this.
Was this a pattern typical of him to ask graduate students to do these problems?
I don’t know. I don’t think so in particular. I think he probably hadn’t thought about me being around. I showed up on the scene. There was an event that occurred a few days ago. He was interested in that.
So the timing was the bigger factor.
I’m trying to recall the specific projects. I got involved fairly early on in developing and testing the gyro stabilized platforms for him, having to do with the acquisition of gravity data at sea. And I guess that mostly happened after my first semester here. I didn’t have too much contact or interaction. I remember I’d written a little report that was mostly a kind of a history of what was known about Tristan da Cunha. My recollection is that he wasn’t too impressed with it. [Laughs]
How did he communicate that to you?
I can’t remember exactly. Just looked at it. He had a tendency to not say much. If he liked something he would articulate it. If he didn’t then he was fairly quiet. He had certain people here on the campus that he had, what shall I say; something like a love-hate relationship. He liked them, they were there, they did good things, he did this and that. But from time to time they did things that really annoyed the hell out of him; that he didn’t agree with whatever it was. This is not for general attribution but Sam Gerard was one example of such a person. And there were others. And so you could always tell when Sam or some other person was on the outs with Ewing because he would just fall into this pattern. He wouldn’t call them by name. He’d say what’s his name. He’d call him what’s his name. [Laughs]. So he had this little eccentricity. You know he’d speak disparagingly but not in a real cutting sort of way, in a kind of sort of gee I wish they’d get their act together way. I remember as students, we were either about to finish being students or we were just finished being students, Walter Pitman and I went up to Doc [Ewing] with some idea. Something we wanted to look at in the ocean and we wanted some ship time to do it. And at that time we were being block funded by NSF [National Science Foundation] and ONR [Office of Naval Research] and Ewing sort of endorsed everything that was to be done. Anyway we went up there and to be quite honest with you I can’t really remember what the idea was. But we thought it was a fairly good idea and we went to talk to him about it. And he started questioning us about it. And it was clear we hadn’t really thought the thing through very much. So it was obvious that it was not such a good idea or that it hadn’t been developed into good idea and so he listened to us and asked a few penetrating questions. I can’t remember exactly what he said but it was something to the effect of well I think you guys better go back and work on this a little bit more before we talk again. [Laughs] Yet, I think we finally decided that it wasn’t a very good idea. But then there were other times when I went in with ideas for which he was very enthusiastic. Endorsed them. I was out on the ship as chief scientist on the ship before I ever got my Ph.D.
This was a bit unusual.
This is the Vema 21 cruise, September through November of 1965, your leg as chief scientist.
Yes. There were two legs in there. One from Alaska to Hawaii and one from Hawaii to Panama. And that was my first real collegial exposure to Henry [C.] Kohler. I had sailed with him before but I was just a tech and didn’t really have any interactions with him.
What do you recall particularly of Henry Kohler from that?
Well I remember when I first sailed with him, he just seemed to be a little tough, unnecessarily tough, task master back on the Vema 17. And then I didn’t sail with him again until Vema 21. But there were lots of stories. I knew that I didn’t know very much and that there was a lot I could learn from him. And so I essentially told him that I was there to learn and work and knew that he had a lot that he could teach me. And he was skeptical at first that I was sincere.
Why was he skeptical do you think?
Because he had seen a lot of scientists. The scientists would tend to go out and they’d be there for a month or two and then they’d go back. And the seamen were there for a year and the technicians were there for a year and he was there for a year. But people come out all gung ho and revved up and wanting to do all this stuff and then they ride off in the sunset and that was it. So he had certain skepticism. But we had a short leg down to Hawaii in which we did a record number of stations which involved all sorts of things. I don’t know if you’re aware of how stations were taken off. But we always operated two wires over the side, even in extremely deep waters. Here is this little ship two hundred feet long with a trawl winch and a hydro winch separated by maybe fifty feet on the deck. And we would operate taking samples from the bottom on these two wires simultaneously on station. And you had to be very careful that you didn’t get the wires tangled up. And there was a very special technique that you had to use to maneuver the ship and do this sort of thing. Plus you had to be there to see what was happening in real time. I mean I recognized that right off. You couldn’t sort of get in trouble and come back up on deck and try to figure out what happened. If you were getting in trouble, you had to be there to see how you got in trouble and to figure out get out of it.
How to get out of it.
Exactly. So I think one thing that happened early on was that Henry Kohler was impressed with my energy and my commitment to this operation. I mean if we had stations, and we had a lot of them I was on the spot all the time. I was around and up and involved and I was generally trying to learn. More than half of the crew was people who were older than I was. And there were other people on the ship who were about my age. And I look back I was, really, I was pushing people hard at the time. I look back at that. But we made a record number of stations and measurements coming down from Alaska. And just at our last station before we got into Honolulu we got the coring pipe stuck in the bottom and we couldn’t pull out.
And you couldn’t get it back?
We couldn’t get it back. We couldn’t pull it back with the winch and we spent a lot of time there and finally after maneuvering around the wire and rocking the ship and this sort of thing, eventually it broke loose. It had been in some volcanic tuff. There was about two feet of material in the pipe that had us anchored to the bottom. The reason I tell that story is that after we got it out, we thought we were out of trouble. And then we went out of Honolulu after our R&R there to head on the long leg to Panama. And on our first station outside of Honolulu with three or four thousand meters of wire on the winch, the winch failed. The planetary gears in the winch actually broke. They probably had been strained in the operation before and this was the consequence because this was otherwise a routine station. We couldn’t go up. We couldn’t go down. I had to make the decision to cut the wire and to lose the equipment that we had there. The leg was designed to make a heat flow measurement across the east Pacific rise and the Columbian basin.
That’s interesting. Am I correct in thinking that Lamont didn’t have that many heat flow measurements at that period of time?
No, we were just starting to make heat flow measurements. We were making some but we didn’t have that many. We did it as part of the piston coring operation. And we were also in addition to doing the seismic and gravity and magnetics, we had this series of stations at that time that we were looking at the particulate matter in the water columns through the nephelometers. And we were looking at the heat flow. And we had two nephelometers mounted — two of them. We had one that was lowered on the hydro winch and then we had another nephelometer device mounted in the core head along with the instrumentation that took the heat flow measurement along with another instrument that took photographs of the bottom. In fact, I have pictures of the bottom showing the core head in the bottom in a field of manganese nodules. And you can see the uniform manganese nodule field with a vacant little ring blown out around the center, where the force the water coming down from the core head had been.
Symmetrical. At any rate, right at the beginning of this thirty-five day long cruise, we lost all this wire and we lost our heat flow instrument. We didn’t have any heat flow instrument, and we lost stuff that was on the core head including part of the nephelometer. And we had this long leg. So what we then did as we went across the Pacific — most of our targets were over in the eastern part of the Pacific. So we said well, we’re going to try to build another nephelometer and another heat flow instrument on board the ship.
And most thought this was a huge joke because these instruments were made from finely machined materials and we didn’t have very much machine equipment on board, few spare parts or other useful things like that. Anyway we ended up making this heat flow device that actually worked. We made it, instead of using a pressure chamber that had been machined for the heat flow instrument; we made it out of two old air gun chambers threaded together. The thing weighed about, oh God; it must have weighed about a hundred and fifty pounds. They normally weighed about sixty pounds. And we put all the optics and everything else in together, and by the time we got over to the eastern Pacific after a couple of attempts it worked. It didn’t give very precise measurements but it gave measurements that were useful and a lot better than no measurements anyway.
I’m curious on that. For that to work clearly the electronics was a critical component.
Did you do much of the work on the electronics?
No. I didn’t. We had a heat flow technician who was on board and we had a magnetics technician. They were doing most of it. We had circuit diagrams and we had parts and we had a few spares for other things. The components or portions of the things were there. The electronics was the easiest part because we had enough essentially to assemble things but we had to make switching devices. The temperature was recorded on film. So that required an optical device which would position a spot on the film that somehow was proportional to the temperature, the displacement of that spot. So it required a delicate optical system. A switching device that would allow you to sample information from the various probes and all that had to be calibrated and that sort of thing. So it was getting the optics and the machining so it didn’t leak and all that sort of stuff was a challenge. I think the thing is still around somewhere.
It would be interesting if we could find that.
I’ll have to ask Mark [Marcus] Langseth if he knows if it still exists because he was in charge of heat flow at the time.
But it was quite an ugly looking thing. [Laughs] At any rate, during that long transit from Honolulu I had told Kohler that I was very much interested in learning more about the actual operation of the ship. And he told me that he had been out with lots of people and a lot of them had professed to have the same interests and he invested some time and inevitably after a few days or a week they were just bored or preoccupied or didn’t have the time or whatever. And I said no that wasn’t the case with me. I was really interested and if he would spend time and work with me I would see it through to the end of the cruise. I was doing my other stuff but then in the evening and in the early morning hours, I was always up on the bridge shooting stars with the mates and with the captain. And he was showing me how to work them up and do that sort of thing. I did that for every single day for about forty days. And learning about other things, about calibrating a magnetic compass and about the radars and other stuff. So, I learned all this and in addition to building the heat flow instrument. I think at that stage of the game, Kohler was convinced that I was for real and someone who was prepared to work hard and was not out there just for the quick in and quick out. I think that cruise established a friendship with Kohler that grew over the years. And we had an extremely close friendship and one that developed also with his wife who sailed with him quite a bit.
Laney [Mary Evangeline].
Yes. Then after we got to Panama, before I left he surprised me. He had gone to the trouble and had gotten a Panamanian third mate’s license for me for my efforts. And so I still have my third mate’s license in recognition of my efforts at sea learning about the ship.
That must have been a pleasant surprise.
It was. It really was. I still have it tucked away some place in one of my goody drawers.
So it sounds as if you were one of the relative few who developed that kind of relationship with Henry Kohler.
Yes, most people resented, not most people, a lot of people resented Kohler because he had a very hardnosed approach to things. Much of the old school. You know, the captain is the captain. In his defense, he took a lot of young boys to sea over time and they came back men. And he looked after them; he trained them, and he looked after them. He made sure when they got off the ship after a year at sea that they had a good wad of money that had been set aside for them. He didn’t let them go out and blow all their earnings in each port. So, too many people they were critical of this approach. To him it was a kind of sponsorship particularly of the young seamen out of Nova Scotia. He did a lot in terms of providing apprenticeships for many of these people who stayed on with him. But he had very fixed ideas about the way things should be done and how they shouldn’t be done. He, in general, knew more about the basic mechanics of doing science that we were doing than almost anyone else that would come to the ship with the exception of someone like a Joe Worzel or John Ewing or Maurice Ewing or someone like that. So he wasn’t terribly tolerant when he saw things being done in a way that he didn’t think was right or wasn’t safe, which was appropriate for him. And many scientists didn’t like that authoritarian aura that existed on board. I, on the other hand, I didn’t mind it, because I knew that he knew more than I did. And I knew I could learn a lot from [Kohler]. And I figured if not all the time, more times than not he was right so why the hell fight it. At some point we got to the point, and he used to joke about it all the time. At some point we got to the point where my experience and my level of authority and my responsibility for the ships in general exceeded that of what I had when I simply went to sea. I had oversight responsibility for the ship, for his ship. He used to love it when I’d come out and he’d introduce me to his friends as his student and his boss.
That’s interesting that he’d say that.
And he literally had friends all over the world. He kept going back to the same ports and he would write to people months in advance, “We are going to be coming there.” He always got the very best treatment in these ports in exotic places all around the world.
Did this extend to those of you who were sailing as the scientific crew?
It generally didn’t extend to the entire crew. It extended to a small cadre of two or three of his officers, and engineers. It certainly always extended to me and I think to some other chief scientists that he liked and got along with well. But not to those who he didn’t. [Laughs]
It’s an interesting point that you’re raising with regard to autonomy and those who would say be on the experimental end. And this is a kind of friction that of course comes up in other branches of science between those who build instruments, or in an extended case here, operate the instruments; in this case the entire ship. Were there other kinds of tensions when you think back that also affected the way in which the ship would operate? Other factors that you felt you needed to take often into account in planning for a successful leg of the voyage?
There was a certain scheduling rigidity that Kohler really insisted on. I mean hell did have to freeze over for the ship to sail an hour late or to arrive an hour late into a prescribed port. He was very organized, had everything set up and he took responsibility for that. And often he would say to a scientist, all right we’ve got to head to port. We have to get here by such and such and it’s going to take this much time and I’ve got to allow this much contingency or we’re running out of fuel. And the scientist and Kohler might have an argument about that. “We should extend a few hours” or “we don’t need that contingency.” So there was always that. I have literally — I have seen him cast the ship off places with a crew member or a scientist running down the pier trying to get on board. I’ve seen him out there getting the Vema “turned around” and the crew guy frantically getting some private boatman to take him out, to get on the ship. He wouldn’t wait five minutes. But he mellowed out a lot in his later years. And as our friendship grew, then I remember, he would stretch to the limit for me. He would really do anything that I would ask him to that was at all possible. If I said we really need to find some way to stretch out a few more hours, how do you think we can do it? He’d say well, we’ll put on a few more turns and we’ll take a chance on this contingency. “Can we make this landfall? I want to get at close in as I can and I don’t want to change speed and I don’t want to do it this way.” Someone he wasn’t tight with he’d say, “We can’t do it; it’s dangerous.” To me he would say, “If that’s what you want and you really need this, we have to get it. It’s important — we’ll do it.” In the long term aside from the friendship which I really, really valued, the relationship that I built with him was one that served both of us really well. So ultimately I had responsibility for making decisions about certain things that could and could not be done on the ship and for crew salaries and policies and things like this. And having been there and understanding it and having the relationship that I had with him, I had an appreciation for what went into the job there. He put far more into the job than any captain that I know of. Some of what he put into the job people didn’t want him imposing on them. But in the long run whether they knew it or not they were better off.
When you talk to Neil [Opdyke] he’ll have some wonderful stories to tell.
I’m looking forward to that.
I learned a lot as far as someone who definitely was not a peer but someone who was senior at least at one point in the game. I learned a lot from him [Kohler]. I learned a lot about life and a lot about how to get things done.
It seems you regard him as a mentor in a way that you would other academic people.
Yes, I definitely do. I mean he didn’t have a Ph.D. but he had plenty of experience and plenty of education. He was a little late in coming around to some of the modern social acceptances. But they never got in the way. He still sort of ruled his ship and his crew, in particular, with a pretty tight hand.
Is that what you meant by modern social acceptances?
Yes. But again he softened there. And people always liked to have Laney [Kohler} be on the ship because her presence always softened him. Always made for a less rigid, more relaxed —
How often would she sail with him?
Well she started sailing with him I would guess regularly sometime probably in the maybe early ‘70s. And then I would say she’d probably go out for a few months on each cruise. Three to four months out of a yearlong cruise.
Out of the year. When you mention about the salaries when you became involved in setting that and the policies, is this also in the 1970s that you’re thinking of?
Yes, but it would be sort of the mid-seventies. I started having really responsibility for the ship kind of de facto a couple of years after Manik [Talwani] became director. So that was about ‘73.
So we’re talking mid-seventies?
Yes, about ‘74. And then it got more formalized a couple of years later.
Okay, good. I want to make sure that we talk more about that when we get particularly into those years. One question I meant to ask you a moment ago, when you mention the magnetics technician and the heat flow technician, what kind of training, scientific training, did they have?
Most of these people had — most of them were people who had come out of some school with a bachelor’s degree. They had some technical or scientific training and had come to the laboratory and someone would sit down and talk to them, and take a magnetometer apart, or take heat instrument apart. Showed them how it worked, showed them how it went together and they learned that particular instrument. And then as they got on board and they sailed and it was kind of a, you know, everything was a team effort; ultimately they picked up by experience and proximity more general electronic training. Sometimes there were people who had gone to electronics trade school or something like that but generally it tended to be college. And a lot of them ended up going on to school. Walter Pitman served as a technician.
Indeed, I was thinking of him.
Mark Langseth was out at sea I believe for a long time as a technician. And Bob Wallace went out for a year early on. So did a lot of people. Phil Rabinowitz, Peter Buell, John Diebold. I never went for a year’s period of time. I only went for a few months. But I sailed on the [Robert D.] Conrad cruise for three months as the gravity technician. And I sailed for two and a half months or so on the Vema.
So it tended to be people who wouldn’t stay long necessarily in that role? They would be turning —
Yes most of them tended to go for a cruise which was normally a year.
If they started as students, they couldn’t go for a whole year, generally, so they’d go for a few months. Many of them started as technicians and then decided they wanted to pursue this and then became students.
Phil Rabinowitz was an example of someone who came in on a trial basis and Ewing said, well I’ll send you to sea for a year and you do this and that. And if you do well, I’ll figure out how to get you in school.
We’re going to need to bring this part of the interview to a close fairly soon but one question I did want to ask you this time since we talked about your early meetings and interactions with Ewing; was what you observed of his scientific style when you began to know him. How did the way that he did his research compare say to others that you had had contact with?
I really hadn’t had that much personal contact with people who were doing original and basic research.
Prior to the time that you came to New York.
Yes. That’s right. And Ewing was one of the first people that I met here. And it seemed to me early on that there was a heavy emphasis on planning experiments and figuring out where to send the ship to solve a particular problem or to collect particular kind of data. There was a lot of time spent pouring over charts and maps and figuring out what was known and looking at records of data that had been collected in a general region and finding out how you could go out and get maximum utility out of a certain amount of ship time. There was a certain array of instruments that you must have. A lot of that.
Ewing wrote quite a bit in notebooks as I recall.
Yes. There were a lot in notebooks. I told you the anecdote about me asking him about the notebooks.
But I don’t think that was on tape.
Well he has these little steno notebooks and he must have had a hundred or more of them. There were about forty or forty-five pages in them. And he rarely was seen without his notebook and pencil. Rarely. Writing in it all the time. But I particularly noticed that when he went to the seminars, the Friday colloquiums, he of course would come with his notebook. And from the instant that the colloquium would begin he would start writing and the speaker might say, I’m so-and-so from so-and-so and Ewing would be writing in his book. To some people this is very unnerving already, because Ewing usually sat in the front row in the corner and wrote in his notebook right from the beginning.
It’s easy to see how that could be intimidating.
So in one of my occasions I was working late with him, talking with him I was in his office, I asked him — what he did with those notebooks, what he used them for. It was at that time that he told me that he didn’t do anything with them mostly. So I said then why on earth do you have them? And he said well in case of the seminars, I have them here to keep myself awake. I write in them to keep myself awake.
As you think back on it you have reason to believe him that he really did not go back to use those notebooks later?
I think he probably used them a bit as a journal. I certainly have seen him go back to current notebooks but I’d never seen him go back for instance and look through old ones. He had them all up there organized chronologically in some way but I never saw him go back and thumb through a few notebooks to a particular month and a particular year looking for something in his notebook. He may have done that but I don’t recall observing that.
Well this is probably time to draw this session to a close. Let me thank you again very much for this long session. We will continue.