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Interview of Robert Kraft by Patrick McCray on 2002 August 1 and 2, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/25490
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Biographical interview with Robert Kraft. Covers childhood and interest in math; family background and marriage. Graduate work at UC-Berkeley after teaching at Whittier College. Time spent at Indiana and later Yerkes, including major areas of research such as stellar spectroscopy. Appointment at Hale Observatories in 1960 and discussion of research and personalities there. Note Kraft's work with Greenstein and Matthews on gravitational waves. Takes position at Lick Observatory in 1967 and becomes acting director. Time at Lick including reflection on research and administration. Plans to build what became Keck Telescopes project and involvement of Lick Observatory and UC astronomy in this project. Reflections on career.
Okay, great. Well I have your CV and I understand that you were born in the Washington State area.
Why don’t we sort of start with that? Tell me your recollections about your childhood. For example, tell me about your parents.
Okay, I was born on the 16th of June 1927, in Columbus Hospital, a Catholic hospital in Seattle. My background is entirely farmers and working-class people. My father was born in Shelbyville, Missouri, in 1893, into a farming family. He had nine brothers and sisters. He was the oldest son of his father’s second marriage. As I understood it, there were half-brothers and sisters. They moved to Kansas when he was small. The old man farmed somewhere near Dodge City, Kansas. And then around 1905-1907, the whole family came west on the Santa Fe, settling finally in Turlock, California, in the Central Valley, where my dad’s father had a 40- or 80-acre tract. He was apparently successful as a farmer and died about 1940ish. I don’t remember the dates exactly. I bring this up because my understanding was that that part of the family had come from Bavaria and, in later years, what I didn’t understand is if he was a Bavarian or a descendent of a Bavarian farmer family, how it was that the family turned out to be Protestants. That’s all very strange.
The best guess I can make is that he married a woman named Ulrich. I think her name was Catherine and his name was Conrad. They spoke some German at home, but I think she was from the Northern part of Germany. I think they met in the states, but I don’t know for sure, and that may have played some role in why there was a Protestant background there. That was hard for my father. My father had a hard childhood on the farm as the oldest son. The next four siblings were girls. In those days the oldest son was chattel labor for the old man on the farm and that meant my dad didn’t get much schooling. He only went through the sixth grade. After that came the First World War, which my father participated in. He was sent to France, and as I understand it he was somehow connected to the Air Force. He learned how to be a mechanic on airplane engines, on the early airplanes used in the First World War. When he got back, he went into what I think would nowadays be described as the motor trade. I always remember that wonderful Beatles song about the girl who leaves home in the middle of the night. Do you know this tune?
Yes, I do, “She’s Leaving Home.”
“She’s Leaving Home,” and she’s going to elope with this young man who goes into the motor trade, as the Brits would say. Anyway, after the war was over, of course he didn’t want to remain a farmer, so he and his brother, who is the next oldest brother down the line, went to Pasadena and became automobile mechanics. Of course, that was the big thing to do in 1922, whenever it was. There he met my mother in 1926 and they were married and, as they say, the rest is history. After they were married they moved to Seattle, away from the Central Valley. They had met in Los Angeles. They moved to Seattle because that’s where my mother came from. The Depression essentially stranded them in Seattle, and Dad went to work for the William McKay Company, which was the Ford agency, as an automobile mechanic in Seattle. I was born one year after they were married and I was an only child—no brothers and sisters.
That was unusual for that time.
Well, it would depend. Economic times were bad and I think the records will show there was a drop in the birth rate during this period. People just couldn’t afford to have children. Not necessarily in a farm situation. Anyway, my mother’s family is a very different one. It’s a bunch of Irishmen. Grandfather Ellis was born in Ontario, Robert Henry Ellis. He was of Irish descent. My mother told me in later years that he was green. The whole family was unchurched, so this never arose very much when I was a child. In any case, he had a rather colorful career as a farmer, of course, as they all were. He had totally red hair and a red handlebar mustache, as I understand it, like a typical Canadian of descent from Ireland or Scotland might look. He homesteaded in Nebraska, and then somehow made his way to the Pacific Northwest. Farmed near Bellingham, Washington, and then went to sea. In fact, he came early enough that he was present during the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. He went to work for the Alaska Steamship Company and became a self-made engineer. So, at the end of his career, he was chief engineer on the Baranoff, which was the biggest ship of the Alaska Steamship Company in those days. He retired in 1940. In those days you had to ask yourself, “How do you go to Alaska?” in the era before there were really any airplanes. You didn’t go there by airplane; you went there on a ship. And the kinds of ships that ran, of course, were these mixed-passenger freight ships. So he had lots of ports of call and went to Point Barrow once every five years or so, Nome once every year. In those days you went to ports like Seward and Skagway and Sitka and Ketchikan. My mother was born in 1907. She was the youngest child of the marriage. Ellis was married to Viola McCormick. You can’t get much more Irish than that. Her family was entirely different. I suspect, though I don’t know for sure, they had been among the Irish families that came in the Irish Potato Famine. They immigrated to the Tennessee country. You know, you can’t tell the difference between Irish reels and hillbilly music in Tennessee.
A lot of similarities.
They were almost identical. Later on the family apparently moved to Texas. She was born in Georgetown, Texas, which is just north of Austin, and they were strictly a bunch of Protestants. Her family had some connection with railroads, but I don’t know what circumstances there were. Somehow or other she ended up in the Pacific Northwest and they were married. I grew up with that family, since we were in Seattle and my father’s family was all in California. One of the great boons of my life was the fact that one was orange and one was green, because that meant religion had nothing to do with anything.
Why do you think that was important?
I think it’s important because I never had to carry any religious baggage in my childhood. I didn’t realize that at the time, but as I look back on it I think that was a great positive thing. Now that doesn’t mean they didn’t carry the cultural baggage. And by that I mean Irish families, what can we say? Let’s say there’s trouble, there’s a difficulty, there’s something that’s wrong, a family crisis. And with families like this the issue is not, “How do we get out of the trouble and how do we solve the problem?” The issue is, “Who is to blame?” And that much better marks the character of my family life! I probably don’t have to tell you this with a name like McCray. So there were many, many troubles in that family, one of which was not the kind of emotional or psychological trouble that I was talking about, but rather because the oldest son of the four children, Clarence, whom I never saw, died in 1921 of tuberculosis. It was a very tragic, terrible thing, of course, for my grandmother. Anyway, there followed two other children, a son and a daughter, and then my mother. My mother came along very late. In other words, she was the youngest child. She was terribly spoiled, as I’m sure you can imagine, especially by Grandfather Ellis because he would be away three weeks of a month at a time on shipboard. And when he came home he didn’t want to hear the troubles of the 13-year-old or the 12-year-old and all of the difficulties they were in. But this little two-year-old he bounced on the knee. In families like that there are always what you call “the favorite children.” I’m afraid my mother lived with that kind of upbringing most of her life. She was not easy. None of the kids were easy to bring up. In fact, my mother got to be kind of a wild one, I guess as women went in those days, and Grandma packed her off to her sister in Los Angeles, the older sister who had married this guy in Los Angeles. My mother never graduated from high school; she didn’t get past the sophomore year. So there’s very little education there. We can call it quits there on the family background.
How did you become interested in science, then, given this background?
Well, it’s not so surprising, I think, in people my age, that science played no role in my childhood upbringing. I was rather interested to read Albert Whitford’s article, an autobiographical sketch of himself that was in Annual Reviews, in which he says on the first line that astronomy and science had played no role in his early upbringing. But, of course, he came from an educated family and was involved with Milton College, which was not my background at all. But Milton College was a liberal arts school, and I think his upbringing was pushed in the direction of the liberal arts rather than the sciences, as we understand it. Although of course he got much interested in it later. But it’s the same thing for me. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do in this world until I was 23 years old.
Okay. What types of careers did you consider?
Well, my mother and father were not happily married; they fought like cats and dogs. In that kind of circumstance you have a real Oedipus sort of complex, and my mother doted on me and had an awful lot of influence over what happened. In some ways that’s a plus as well as a minus in that when you’re an only child, you do get all the attention there is and all the financial resources that there are. And these were tough times. My parents lost their home in 1932 or 1933 because they couldn’t make the payments. We moved in with Grandpa in Seattle. Imagine the Depression. Finally they built a small house on a piece of land that my mother and dad bought from my grandfather. He had a five-acre tract in the suburbs of Seattle, where he had quite a large house for the time that he had built for himself. So I sort of grew up there. This was a remote suburban area with lots of five-acre tracts, so I had really very little opportunity to have any connection with other kids; we were just too far away from everything. My mother was overly protective and, just as a measure of that, I do not know how to ride a bicycle. That’s because my mother would never allow me to ride a bicycle. The reason for that was we had few very narrow concrete roads and everything else was unpaved and she was afraid I’d get hit by a car. If you don’t learn how to ride a bike by the time you’re 20 years old, you’re not going to learn.
It’s hard to pick up later on.
Certainly I’m not going to try to learn to ride a bicycle at my age!
Did you read a lot as a kid?
Not very much because it was discovered when I was eight years old that I was very near-sighted. My mother, knowing very little about these things (and I think the state of medicine in those days was we didn’t know much about these things), would say, “Well, no, you shouldn’t read because it’ll hurt your eyes and make them worse.” But actually the thing that was really the influence over me through my mother that was most telling was that… Let me back up. This was an era in which the movies had just begun. My mother was the ultimate romantic, and in that period when the talkies sort of first started up, in the late 1920s, it was the era of child movie stars. My mother had the idea that I was going to become a child movie star.
A Shirley Temple.
Yes, exactly, and there were others in that period. This a terribly romantic notion. So I learned how to play the guitar.
I see you still have a guitar in your office.
Yes, that doesn’t belong to me. That belongs to a graduate student who asked me to take care of it, so it’s not mine. So I was groomed into music and singing and appeared in all kinds of amateur shows and the kind of stuff that was popular in the 1930s. I took elocution lessons. In high school, I was in two of the senior plays and stuff like that. So I was sort of pushed into this theater kind of activity, which I have to say on some level I enjoyed. On another level I have to say I really had no childhood. I was pushed all the time to excel at something. And not having very many friends because of the circumstances where we lived, I had a very poor social life, very much dominated by these responsibilities all the time. So I’m not saying that that’s necessarily wrong, but it plays a role in what your outlook on the world is. Anyway, that was very much in the background. At the same time when I was in grade school and high school, I was a pretty good math student. In fact, I was a pretty good student on everything, and that played a strong role, I think, also. When I got to high school, of course that was in 1941… I had skipped a grade in grade school and that didn’t help either because it meant that you didn’t sexually mature until the kids around you were already in that stage, so it wasn’t the best thing. Also when I was in high school, at the age of 15, I got the mumps, which was not a good thing to have when you’re 15 years old for reasons that are obvious. I have two sons of my own, however, so I was not totally knocked out, but I did have some consequences. And then I had Scarlet Fever when I was 17, which was not a good thing.
You missed some school then.
I missed some school. But you know, I learned something out of that in high school. I had to study at home and I had to teach myself mathematical induction, and that’s kind of a hard concept when you’ve grown up with just memorizing the rules of algebra, because now you’re asked to induce something rather than deduce something. I had to learn that on my own and I’ve discovered through the years that self-study, in a sense of learning by yourself without anybody teaching you anything, has an enormous value. To make a long story short, the high school years were also interrupted by the fact that I switched high schools. When the war came along, they decided that the school district I lived in was a little closer to another high school than to the one I was going to. So I went to Lincoln High School in Seattle and in the middle of my junior year I was transferred to High — Roosevelt High School. It turns out Roosevelt High School was a better high school than Lincoln anyway, especially in the sciences. I don’t know whether this is a surprise or not a surprise to people now because I don’t know high school curricular life, but we were being taught calculus in Roosevelt High when I was a senior, and that was unusual at the time.
What did you think your career might be? You said you didn’t know what you wanted to do.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I think that what I imagined is that I would become a high school teacher, probably, or a grade school teacher.
Your grandfather was an engineer. Did you ever think about engineering?
He was an engineer. I never talked with him about any of this sort of thing; I was too young. I really didn’t see much of him when I was in the high school years, and so I just don’t have much to say about that.
Okay. Well what did you major in? I see you got your Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Washington in 1947, which would have been at least partly during the war.
Well it was really after the war. See, I graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1944. The war wasn’t over yet. I turned 18 in 1945 and the Germans had already surrendered, so the war with Japan was still not over, so I went for the physical and all of that. I was declared 4F because of my poor eyesight, but I think it’s largely because there was some feeling the war was winding down. They were starting to say, “Well, we don’t want everybody…” Then the war ended a couple months after my physical. So I went then to the University of Washington. One of the lucky things that happened just because of the circumstances of life at this time was then all the GIs started coming back, and many of them wanted instruction, of course, in mathematics. So I became a teaching fellow at the University of Washington even before I graduated because they were so desperate for people to do some math teaching. I would teach algebra and that sort of thing. Then I went on to graduate work in math there. Those were the days when the popular thing to do in math was modern algebra: groups, rings and integral domains, and all that stuff. The thing that would have helped me most later on in becoming an astronomer would have been more analysis.
You didn’t have much physics?
No. Let me dwell on that for just a minute because I think that’s important, at least for me. In my freshman year at the University of Washington, they wanted me to take some college algebra course again, which was silly because I had had plenty of algebra already. But anyway, I took it. But then the University of Washington had a single person that taught astronomy, Theodor Jacobsen. He taught the algebra course I took, since he was also in the Math Department. His background was Danish. He was the son, I believe, of the Danish consul, and he was an Associate Professor of mathematics and had gotten his Ph.D. from Lick Observatory in the late 1920s and wound up in Seattle. Of course, in those days, we had a small telescope on the campus and there was a transit instrument and things of that sort. His interest was in radial velocities and stellar motions and things of that general sort, which was considered kind of old-fashioned by that time, in the mid-1940s, when more astrophysics had come into existence. Anyway, class was held in the observatory, and that in turn induced me to take the course in astronomy, so I took the usual Astronomy 101 course and then got more and more interested in it. Then I started working with Jacobsen later and actually my Masters degree is the thesis on Cepheid variables that I did with him.
So your actual degree reads math but it wasn’t…
That’s right. My thesis was in astronomy, but of course I took the necessary math courses, the ones that you would call the graduate math courses like real variable and complex variable, and the algebra courses.
Were you still thinking you’d be a teacher?
Yes, I figured I would be, and that in fact was what happened. Well, I should back up a little bit. I hadn’t had very much experience with girls, of course, with the kind of background that I came from. I saw a few girls in college but nothing became very serious. My good friend, Fred Ballantine, who was the son of one of the math professors, and I got to be quite good friends. We went on skiing trips together. In those days you’d pile in the car with some girls and you went and hung onto a rope tow. I had no athletic ability at all. I didn’t know how to do anything. I couldn’t play sports. I enjoyed watching baseball but I couldn’t play it, or football or any of that kind of stuff. So when I was in college the best thing that happened to me was that they forced me to take a swimming course. That’s what you did; it was the war years and we had all these V12s around. The guys who were training to be officers in the Navy. They had half taken over the University of Washington during that period. So everybody had to take the swimming course. That was great; I learned how to swim, and it’s just wonderful. The first time I ever had anything I felt really good about athletically. I could swim the one-mile pool swim entirely by breaststroke, because I liked that better than the Australian Crawl. So this was good. Then Jacobsen and I started doing a lot of, we called it mountain climbing, but trail walking in the northwest. Of course, the Cascades are marvelous and I was absolutely in love with that.
Mt. Rainier, all those places.
I never climbed Mt. Rainier, but we did climb Mt. Hood, and that was a great experience. When I thought about it those guys that came down the slope and got killed last month or so ago in that disaster, we walked right over that very same place. You enter the crater from the south and you climb up the north wall from the inside. We did lots and lots of walking around Mr. Rainier. We went to Mt. Ruth on the northwest side and we took in Panhandle Gap, also through Indian Henry and up to Pyramid Peak and all of that stuff. We always meant to climb Mount St. Helens; he’d done it in earlier years and I regret now that we didn’t do it. But I do remember at the age of 12 sitting with my dad in a rowboat on Spirit Lake and admiring this wonderful mountain on the north side that’s gone now. Anyway, getting back to Fred Ballantine. I said, “You know, it would be nice to find some girls that had something between their ears.” So he said, “Well, why don’t we go over and see what’s going on at the Unitarian Church?” So I said, “Okay, let’s see about that,” because there was a Channing Club in the basement of the Unitarian Church.
What’s a Channing Club?
Well that, in those days, was the college student group that was associated with the Unitarians. The church then was on the corner of I think 16th and 47th Northeast. Anyway, we went there and there was a dance and so forth, and I met Rosalie there. Rosalie Reichmuth. She was a journalism major, getting a degree in journalism. The University of Washington had a very strong journalism school in those days. I think it’s fallen on less good times now. Anyway, she got a Bachelor’s degree in journalism. We had met before. She had interviewed me for a column that appeared in the University of Washington student magazine called The A Grade because I was one of the people around with a 4.0 grade point average or something very close to it. So she’d interviewed me for that and came away with the feeling that, “Why would anybody be concerned with this square?” It was just wonderful. Anyway, a year and a half later we met at this Unitarian church dance. She had come from a family which was also relatively unchurched. Rosalie grew up in Wyoming and Montana. She’d been born in Florida. Her father was a salesman for an insurance company that had headquarters in North Dakota. Very interesting guy. Rosalie has one sister. Her mother was a very independent woman who was a bridge teacher; she taught contract bridge.
A bridge teacher? Interesting.
Yes, she had a lot of trophies from when she was a life master and all that. Anyway, Rosalie had gone to a girls’ school in Georgia her freshman year and decided she didn’t want that anymore. When you lived in Montana in those days, of course, you didn’t go to Montana State or the University of Montana. I mean, these were very undistinguished places. So between the University of Minnesota and the University of Washington, she came to the University of Washington. She couldn’t believe the climate; she didn’t see the sun for six months in Seattle. Anyway, she stayed on and got her degree. As I said, we met in the basement of the Unitarian Church.
What year were you married?
We were married in 1949.
1949. So that’s the same year you got your Master’s degree.
So then how did you end up in Berkeley?
Well, the next step in this ridiculous saga is that I needed a job, because I didn’t figure on going beyond a Master’s degree. I needed a job, so I interviewed for a couple of jobs. One of them was to accept an instructorship in math and astronomy, of all things, (because these were the two things I knew best), at Whittier College in Whittier, California, Richard Nixon’s college, a Quaker school. Of course, there are two kinds of Quakers. There are real Quakers, the kind that go to meeting and say nothing unless the spirit moves them, and they’re usually very liberal and just damn good people.
Nixon wasn’t one of those, I guess?.
Nixon wasn’t one of those. There was another group of what I’d call moneyed and conventional Quakers, in which Nixon was part. I got this job to go to a new college, and it was a renewable position year by year. So we headed for Southern California. We were married in Billings, Montana, where her folks’ home was, and then drove to Whittier, California. So this is my first experience at being a Californian. In those days, of course, Whittier was surrounded by orange groves and smudge pots. It was a real country kind of town. We lived in a little house that I think the college actually owned. We lived over a garage. Not the first place; the second place we lived was over a garage and it was a very charming place to live. But, you know, Whittier, what can you say? Rosalie remembers vividly, and has reminded me of it from time to time, meeting somebody who was sort of a caretaker of the property in front of where we were going to live. You know, you’d say hello to him to pass the time of day. He said, “You’ll like it here in Whittier. There ain’t no niggers here.” And this was our first introduction to Southern California.
How did you react to that?
Well, it was a different time and we were just kind of jaw-dropping, but of course when you come from a place like Seattle—when you’re a kid, the prejudices that are out there are local, and in those days there was hardly a single African-American person who lived in Seattle. So there was sort of nothing to say. You know how you hear people talk and say, “No, no, no.” The big things were the Jews, of course, which were always hated by everybody, and the other thing, of course, were people from Japan, the Japanese farmers. Those people were around and really terrible stories were told about them. Everything was a cult and they were mysterious and devious and all this and that. Of course, they were all packed it off in the Second World War.
Yeah, but I imagine they all had their own communities.
Well, actually, since we were out in this suburban area, there were Japanese truck farmers around. South of Seattle, Renton down to Puyallup and so forth, the whole valley was full of Japanese truck gardeners because that was the lowland area.
Truck gardeners—that meant farmers who raised fruits and vegetables and that kind of thing. There was humus soil; it was a bottomland and a lot of good stuff for that kind of farming. I can remember as a teenager being in Puyallup where people said, “Don’t let the Japs back,” and that kind of stuff. So that was the level of the prejudice, and frankly Rosalie and I had never experienced anybody saying anything about African-American people because it just wasn’t any part of any of the experience we had. For Rosalie, the hated group, if there was a hated group, were Jews and Indians, if you’d lived in Montana. And nothing’s changed. Well, I mean, things are better now than they were, but those traditional things are there. Like we see I think right now in Europe a revival of the anti-Jewish sentiments that are certainly beginning to come again. I think that all comes out of historical backgrounds, too. Anyway it was kind of jaw-dropping.
So Whittier seemed kind of sheltered and provincial?
Yes, it seemed kind of sheltered and provincial in that respect. Anyway, so we went there. There are other amusing things to say. This was at the height of the time, in 1949 now, and we’re having an election, and Richard Nixon is running against Helen Gahagan Douglas for the congressional seat. And of course, the Red Menace was going pretty strong.
Which he took advantage of pretty well.
Yes. I guess it’s not so surprising that we’re Democrats, and part of that’s because of my working-class background. Rosalie was supposed to pack envelopes for Richard Nixon and she didn’t do it. The one thing that I thought was really interesting was that there was a parking lot right next to the Administration Building where the President of Whittier College was located, and every morning the one physics professor would come in in his old Model-A Ford, plastered with Helen Gahagan Douglas signs, and park it just as close as he could to the President’s office. I mean, the physics professor whose name I’ve forgotten was a real old-guard Quaker. He wasn’t having any of Richard Nixon. I just though that was really quite interesting.
It’s an interesting story. I guess he felt that they weren’t going to fire him at that point.
Well, he had tenure, so he wasn’t going to get fired. The main thing that happened to me in Whittier, really, is this. I learned about physics. You see, in the years when I was at the University of Washington, we were still in this wartime domain, and the physics was taken over almost entirely by engineering people. And physics courses were dominated by practical concerns, if you know what I mean.
Yes, more of an applied science.
More of an applied science approach to things—balls rolling down incline planes and statics, and I thought it was the most boring subject in the world. So I never really learned much in physics. I took a course in physical optics that was kind of interesting because there was some experimentation and so forth, and some theory in it that related to mathematics that I knew. But mostly physics just seemed to me kind of dull. I never cared much for machines anyway, except I was in love with trains when I was a kid, but that was human. I’m not a person who liked to fiddle with things; never have.
Not a tinkerer?
Not a tinkerer. But when I got to Whittier College I had to teach the freshman physical science course, and suddenly I could draw down on my math and my knowledge about planetary motions and stuff like that. Then I began to discover there was a lot more to physics because I had to teach this course. One day I suddenly learned that there was something called the Philosophy of Science, and at almost exactly the same time I learned that there was a thing called quantum mechanics, and this completely changed my life. I guess I could put it this way: I discovered there was a thing called theoretical physics. I couldn’t get enough of it. I was just entranced with it. That, I think, more than anything else, told me that I didn’t want to do math, because I wasn’t good enough. You have to be really smart to do math. You have to have a certain kind of super-creativity in you to make any inroad in math. I knew a fair bit of astronomy. If I could just learn enough physics, maybe I could make a career out of the connection between those two. So I finally decided I’m going to go to Berkeley and try to get a Ph.D. in astronomy.
When you’re making this sort of decision, I’m curious how your parents reacted to it, because of their very different backgrounds.
We lived apart from them and had almost no connection with them.
Okay, so there wasn’t any parental influence about being a doctor or a lawyer?
No. I think my mother was disappointed that I didn’t stay in this theater type stuff. My dad, I don’t think had a clue, in a way, about what I did as long as there was food on the table. We had a small child by then. My older son, Ken, was born in 1950. So this is a tough time, and on the kind of salary that I was being paid at Whittier College—I think it was four or five thousand dollars a year (factor in inflation)—we were able to save about a thousand dollars a year, despite the medical bills and other things that were associated with childbirth. The fact that Rosalie couldn’t work, although while she was pregnant she did work. She was a reporter for the El Monte Herald, so that helped tide us over because we had some extra income. She’d commute between Whittier and El Monte, and she did a very good job there. She’s very good at this sort of thing. But it was tough when you’re pregnant. Then after our first child came we had a babysitter, a girl who came in part of the time and Rosalie went back to work part of the time for the El Monte Herald. So that was tough. So we saved about two thousand dollars. Then I got a scholarship from the Bank of America for a thousand dollars. I forgot what it was called. It was something you could apply for and compete for, and I was given that, so we went to Berkeley with three thousand dollars. I guess I should invoke a little philosophical point here about my own outlook on the world. That is that I guess I’m Greek in the sense that I believe what happens to us is almost entirely an accident of fate.
We want to think that we make our world because of our free will. I’m sure that plays some role, but I think we’re almost entirely dominated by accidents of fate. I would say from my own point of view, it was for me, personally, lucky that my father always had a job in the Depression, even though on some occasions he only brought home $25 a week. In those days, before there were unions, you worked like people do in Mexico. I had a car repaired in Mexico one time so I know how that works. Of course that was 30 years ago, but I’m sure it’s pretty much the same. There’s El Maestro, who runs the garage, and you only get paid if somebody brings a car in to be worked on; there’s no hourly pay. And that’s the way it was in 1933. If somebody had a car to repair and they brought it in to William McKay Company, okay, you got a fraction of whatever the repair cost was, and that’s how you got paid. If nobody came in, you’re out of luck. In the Depression when lots of people didn’t have cars to bring in or didn’t have the money to pay for them if they did, you didn’t earn any money. So Dad went on strike with the other guys in 1936 to become part of the union. You’re out of a job for six months because you’re on strike. Things were pretty hard. So I would say, being an only child, for all the psychological damage that it does, has some plus to it.
There’s a plus because your parents spend all their attention on you. Even if my mother had these romantic ideas, it is a good thing to learn how to speak—it is a good thing not to be tongue-tied, as lots of scientists often are because of their introverted personalities. So I count these things in some sense as a blessing. Since, of course, my second love is music—I’m absolutely crazy over music—in some ways that came out of that too. Those are accidents of fate. But let me try to describe this one. I guess another accident of fate is meeting somebody in the basement of a Unitarian Church that I’ve been married to happily for 52 years. That may be the best accident of fate. But we went to Berkeley. Now, I had gone over to Caltech to talk, of all people, with Jesse Greenstein. I have to backtrack on this because it’s an important anecdote. In the summer of 1948, while I was going with Rosalie, Jacobsen sent me off to the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, BC, over the summer to measure spectrograms for radial velocities for R.M. Petrie, who was one of the important Canadian astronomers, and J.A. Pearce, who was the director of the DAO. There I met Andrew McKellar and K.O. Wright, who both had been important figures in astronomy. K.O. Wright is best known for work on abundances of the elements and so forth in those years, curves of growth and that kind of stuff from that period. Andrew McKellar, who died at a young age in this very sad story, is the guy who first interpreted the carbon bands in late type stars and realized that there was C13 there. This was a really important breakthrough. The C12/C13 ratio was not the ninety that was in the sun. In some stars it was more the order of four, and nobody knew how that was to be interpreted. So he made the really important breakthrough. Pearce and Petrie were both people interested in B type stars, and their work was very much connected with differential galactic rotation. In those days there was still the question of, “How does the galaxy rotate?” If you knew how far away B type stars were, which is what Petrie was terribly interested in, then you could calibrate the distances and then measure the radial velocities, and then you could see, for example, if the next spiral arm out was going ahead of you or lagging behind. So you could see the differential value of the rotation. So I went up there to measure radial velocities of B type stars, and that’s how I learned to deal with these plates taken with a 72-inch reflector up there, which was their big telescope. That was an important experience for me; kind of my first observatory experience.
Were you doing the observing?
No. I went one night with K.O. Wright, I think, as kind of an assistant to him, and that was my only experience observing, actually. Mostly I just sat in front of this measuring machine, turning a screw, watching the spectrum go by and setting a wire and reducing the data and so on. Jacobsen and I published a paper in the archives of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on a spectroscopic binary. I went over and talked with Jesse about possibly getting into graduate school there. He said my background wasn’t strong enough in physics, and that was okay. I was accepted at Berkeley as a student, but with no support. So here we are. We arrive with a small child one year old, three thousand dollars, and no job. So we get up to Berkeley, and now come the accidents of fate. Two weeks after I’m in Berkeley, I meet Otto Struve, who had then come as Chairman in 1950. He had just come from Yerkes Observatory. Of course, he was one of the world’s great astronomers. The other people there were Louis Henyey, Harold Weaver, who later became Director of the Radio Astronomy Lab, and John Phillips, who had been a student at Yerkes and was an expert in molecular spectroscopy. There may have been a few others there. It was the post-orbit calculation era in Berkeley.
So what you were saying is celestial mechanics and that traditional stuff—
Yeah, it was now all pushed into the background, and Struve had come to bring astrophysics, of course. Weaver, more or less, was in statistical astronomy and galactic structure and dynamics, and Henyey taught theoretical astrophysics. But he too was from Yerkes, and Phillips taught spectroscopy. Struve, of course, did what Struve did, which was teach the elementary courses and then have a lot of interrelationship with graduate students and was doing his own research. People like Bengt Stromgren would come as visitors, and that’s the first time I met Stromgren. And we had good speakers. Hermann Bondi came, and that was a big influence on me, and that was a great experience.
So pretty lively group.
Yes, it was beginning to be an important center again. You’ve got to remember Caltech at that time. Jesse had just come. One of the things that I think people often don’t realize is that both Berkeley and Caltech at that time became transplanted pieces of the Yerkes Observatory.
I know Greenstein brought Don Osterbrock.
Yes, he came and he brought Don later, Guido Munch, and all these guys. I mean, they were all transplanted Yerkes. If you look at that historical picture of the Yerkes Observatory in about 1945, it’s just a “who’s who” of almost everybody who was important in astronomy. Hertzberg is even in the picture at his lab in the basement. I mean, it’s just a miracle, that picture. And sure it was a lot going on at Santa Barbara Street in Pasadena, but that was not the whole story. I mean, Yerkes was kind of the center of the astrophysics universe. Anyway, so Struve had come, and two weeks after I arrived in Berkeley, the woman who I think had come with Struve (and I don’t know her name anymore), along with Ms. Ness, who was Struve’s secretary who’d been with him for years from Yerkes, she quit. She was the person who measured all of Struve’s spectrograms. And so Struve would have all the spectra from the 60-inch at Mt. Wilson and the 100-inch at Mt. Wilson. He was working on the beta canis majoris stars, which are B type stars, also known as beta cephei stars. These are early type, B type stars in a certain kind of instability strip that have periods of the order of hours and apparently have some kind of oscillation. So guess who knew how to measure spectrograms of B type stars because he’d been at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory? So Struve latched onto me, and I had a job. We just bob like corks on a sea. So I had a job, and this made all the difference, of course. These prism spectrograms were about the same dispersion, same size and everything else, as the ones I was measuring in Victoria, so it was just made to order. So I went through the graduate courses and took some physics courses. I took a course in atomic physics and it was an eye opener. It was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
How much astrophysics was being taught?
Well, Henyey taught the theoretical astrophysics. In fact, I had the great advantage of a year’s course in physical foundations of astrophysics. It was a course in physics designed for astronomers, and so you got a lot of mechanics. It was the first time I saw Hamiltonians and all that kind of stuff. We learned about thermodynamics. I remember that Henyey taught thermodynamics through the point of view of J. Willard Gibbs. So we had canonical ensembles and grand canonical ensembles, and I couldn’t understand the damn things, until I realized suddenly one day that the averages being taken over space were identical to the ones being taken over time. All of a sudden it all cleared up; it was wonderful. Then there was some E&M, some bits of relativity which everybody in those days said doesn’t apply to anything because this is sort of a pre-cosmology era. People often said, “Cosmology, well that’s what one or two people do because they have access to the 200 inch; otherwise it’s of no interest at all.” Anyway, that was very helpful. So now I took a couple of regular physics courses. But mostly I took stellar atmospheres from Henyey and I took some stellar structure. Of course stars were the preeminent things in those days, and we had some statistical astronomy from Weaver and some galactic motions and that kind of material. A lot of stuff that I should have had, we just didn’t have in those days. One thing is I learned how to start doing research, so I worked with Struve, of course, and so my name was on some of those early papers.
He was your thesis advisor?
Not really. George Herbig was. But Struve was for me a little bit more of a mentor, because if you wanted to see George Herbig you went to Mt. Hamilton, whereas Struve was there in Berkeley. Struve was very good to me. He pulled out of the Mt. Wilson files an old spectrum of Epsilon Aurigae from around 1930. This is a binary system in which it had the B type star in orbit with some huge so-called infrared star, some great monster thing that nobody had ever seen in the optical. The only reason you know it’s there is because it’s an eclipsing binary system. When your B type star goes behind the atmosphere of this huge companion, you suddenly start getting double lines everywhere because the line of sight’s going through the atmosphere of the companion. So the first paper I ever wrote for the Astrophysical Journal was a discussion of the spectrum of the atmosphere of this unknown object.
Based on how the light’s coming through its other atmosphere.
Yes, based on the spectrum. And this was hard, partly because there was no calibration on the plates—this was before people put calibration marks on photographic spectra, so you had to guess what the real conversion to intensities was. It’s kind of a messy job.
Herbig was about your age, I would guess.
Herbig is six years older than I am, and Don [Osterbrock] is three years older than I am. Then, a guy being six years older than me was a big deal. Now we’re all sort of the same age. So Struve was a great influence on me. I would say the other great influence was a fellow graduate student named John Crawford. John went out of astronomy around 1960 and I haven’t really heard from him since. We both were fellow graduate students together, and John had a Master’s degree in physics. He was a little older than I, and he had actually worked on the Manhattan Project before he came to Berkeley. He was getting his Ph.D. with Henyey, because he was in theory. What happened, from a research point of view, was that I got interested in this star AE Aquarii, because Alfred H. Joy at Mt. Wilson Observatory had written a paper on this thing. It’s sort of a dwarf nova except it doesn’t have major outbursts, just minor outbursts with lots of flickering in the light. But it’s a binary with a period of about ten hours. There was also another star, SS Cygni, which is in fact the prototype dwarf nova, sometimes called U. Geminorum stars after two prototypes. SS Cygni is a period of about six hours, two stars going around each other in six hours.
To make room, one of them has got to be a white dwarf or some kind of collapsed object. Well, about this time Hermann Bondi came through giving the colloquium in Berkeley, and he was talking about, as Hermann Bondi would have said, accretion [said in a heavy German accent]. I guess his background was German, and he’d worked with Fred Hoyle and they were doing all this work at that time on stars accreting material from the other stellar medium. So it was the earliest work on accretion. A star goes through the interstellar medium and how much it accretes goes inversely as the cube of the relative velocity of the interstellar material and the star, and he worked this all out. It falls on the backside and all of that. So he came and gave this talk. What was interesting about the spectra of these two objects that I just mentioned, the AE Aquaii and SS Cygni, is a short period that indicates there’s some kind of thing like a white dwarf in the system. The other thing is, because we were Struve’s students, we had been introduced to Beta Lyrae, a star with all kinds of gas streams. Kuiper, Struve and Stromgren had written their great 1939 paper on this star. Kuiper, who was interested in the three body problem, what we call the problem restraint, as they say in French, where you have two stars so close together that the equipotential surface between them becomes a sort of figure eight.
And if the star fills one of these Langrangian surface lobes, you can lose matter through the Langrangian point into the region around the other star. This is like when you see pictures of novae and you see the star just filling this Roche lobe, then the matter streams and it makes this accretion disk around the white dwarf or the neutron star, whatever it is. That kind of thing was supposedly going on and the star was treated in this famous paper by Kuiper, Struve and Stromgren. So we knew all about that because Struve was there. The model that Joy and others had put forward was that the hot star in these systems had some kind of a shell around it, and matter was streaming out of it. Anyway, we put our heads together after listening to Bondi and said, “Maybe it’s just the other way around, that the companion is losing the mass, and the emission lines that we see from the collapsed object, which we said maybe is a white dwarf, is really due to an accretion disk.” It’s a ring that’s going around the secondary star. So we wrote a paper that was accepted into the Astrophysical Journal published in 1956 on AE Aquarii, where we proposed the model in which the late type star, which was some kind of F or G type star, was losing matter through its inner Langrangian point onto a ring around the secondary star, and the luminosity of the secondary star was due to accretion onto its surface as a result of the viscosity of the disk, what caused the disk to spread out, and eventually this stuff would accrete on the surface of the white dwarf. You could make a very good case that the luminosity was just equal to the kinetic energy given up in that material falling on the surface. I guess I would say that Jack and I were the pioneers of what I would call an accretion disk in a close binary system. It really seems sort of silly now to claim to be the first to discover something so esoteric but..... That was, as far as I know, the first paper written about a phenomenon now widely accepted.
How was this received? How did people react to it?
Well, people thought maybe this is okay. There were those who thought, “Well, okay, this is some wild idea.” Our argument was that the main sequence larger star, remember.... This was a result of the fact that the stellar evolution was just being invented, and we argued, “Hey, this has got to happen because the larger star, which was once a dwarf, is now so old that it has swollen up and tried to become a giant. So then it fills the surface and spills the matter over. So we put stellar evolution together with the accretion disk. Now there were those who said, “Well, this star is too faint for that. It isn’t evolving yet.” Maybe that’s true. We had the wrong period because Joy’s period was 16 hours and it turned out later that it was more like ten, which actually favors our interpretation because then the surfaces get smaller, so that helps. Anyway, we assumed the same kind of model would apply to SS Cygni. So we left it at that. I think that maybe was the best thing that I did as a graduate student working with Jack.
How are you getting the data for this research?
Well, I took a couple of spectra with the 36-in refractor at Lick of AE Aquarii in order to classify it, because we didn’t have the Mt. Wilson spectra. That helped set what kind of a spectral type it had, which was important in the idea of whether it could possibly fill that surface.
How did you learn to use it?
Well, that was part of my thesis. I applied for and received a Lick Observatory fellowship after being there a year or two, and that meant I didn’t have to actually work for Struve any more, but we kept a close connection anyway. I remember the paper on Epsilon Aurigae0 was because Struve called me in. Stromgren was there as a visitor, and they sat with me for two hours while I explained what I was doing with Epsilon Aurigae. Stromgren was such a great guy. He made some very helpful suggestions, not a criticism of what I’d done but, “You need to add this to it.” He was that kind of person, and Struve was, too. If you had a research problem, they were yours. Never mind if there was some administration thing to do or some other crazy thing we need to go off and do.
Before asking you about telescopes, I want to ask you a couple of questions about Struve. At this point in time, in the 1950s, he’s one of the leading figures in American astronomy. What impressions did he leave on you about his role in the big picture of astronomy?
Well, Struve had energy, and he was in many ways self-taught. He was brought up in the celestial mechanics tradition, and everything he learned about astrophysics he learned either by studying by himself or he learned from visitors who came through. Some of the German astrophysicists came to visit, like Wurm and others, who knew about atomic and molecular physics, like Pol Swings. He learned a lot from them as well as from his own study. Struve was tireless. He had no use for people who weren’t as dedicated as he was. He could also be a very kind man, and a very cruel one. What you learned from him was not so much any particular detailed physical thing, but rather he was kind of a model. He was somebody that you admired and wanted to be like. He was not afraid to tackle almost any problem. George Herbig was the editor of a book we all contributed to around 1960, which was a tribute to Struve. I think that book summarizes it very well. There was hardly a subject in astronomy in those days, in the context of that time, that Struve didn’t know about and have a finger on. He wrote 400 papers. Not every one of them is an imperishable masterpiece, but he was into everything basically.
Okay. At this point in time I understand there was a fair amount of rivalry between the east coast observatories and the west coast observatories. Did you ever get any sense of that?
No, I don’t think Struve was much concerned about or involved in that. Remember, Jesse Greenstein originally came to Yerkes from Harvard. I don’t think Struve had much interest in that particular battle, which went on between some of the Lick astronomers and the Mt. Wilson astronomers vs. astronomers at Harvard. Yerkes, I don’t think, was really involved.
Did he talk about Shapley at all?
No, not to me. I really don’t think that was part of his agenda, but Don Osterbrock, next door, knows so much more about these astronomer things. He may be able to shed some light. Now, on the national level, this is about the time the National Science Foundation, founded in the early1950's, starts. I was one of the first national Science Foundation pre-doctoral fellows at Lick. I was the first post-doctoral fellow in 1955. I did my thesis with George Herbig, which was on Cepheid variables. There was a mysterious business in the spectra of Cepheids that they show emission lines of ionized calcium during part of the cycle. The thesis was intent to unravel that from an observational point of view. That was all spectra taken with a 36-inch refractor.
What was Herbig like to work with?
Fine. I never had any real problems. I didn’t see him all that much because basically I would go up to Mt. Hamilton, commuting from Berkeley. I spent the summer of 1953 on the mountain, but otherwise I just commuted back and forth. I would see Herbig from time to time. At most I think I saw him two or three times while I was getting the thesis material together. Of course, he showed me how to use the spectrograph and all of that, but he left me pretty much alone. I had a fair idea of what to do. I produced a manuscript and took it up to him, he criticized it and did some revising, the usual thing.
I talked to him a couple years ago. One of the things he gave me in preparation of the interview was four or five pages of typewritten recollections that he had. One of the things that was really interesting to me was he mentioned that, even though it was decades later, he still felt resentment of how the Lick people were treated by the Pasadena people. I think much like a patronizing attitude that they had.
Well, I think that was fairly general. If you were at Mt. Wilson, you had the 100-inch and you were on the inside track for the 200-inch, you knew there was a kind of a first- and second-class citizenship in the country, and you knew who the first class guys were [laugh]. It’s kind of understandable. You can’t deny that they had a corner on the big stuff. I suppose that was true. In the cosmology game, or the galaxy game, which was of course the big deal at Mt. Wilson, with Edwin Hubble. One can have a great deal of respect for Hubble. I didn’t know him, I never met him. I would have felt a lot more in common with someone like Walter Baade, whose scientific outlook, although in a very different field, would have been more to my taste and outlook.
What do you mean?
Baade, I think, looked very deeply into astronomy on a very broad front. In the end I think he was trying to integrate the ideas of stellar evolution into the concept of the populations as he had developed. Of course, he died before the problem was fully solved, but it’s people like Arp and Sandage who carried on very much in Baade’s tradition. Of course, Sandage took on a lot of the cosmology side of it that was Hubble’s tradition. I think Baade had a somewhat broader outlook on the subject as a whole. I wasn’t into those fields at that age, but looking at it from a distance now, that’s how it seems.
That characterized more of your research approach as opposed to focusing specifically on one area? You had a more broad approach?
Yeah, I think that’s right. I’m not trying to take anything away from Hubble, but I think I would have felt more comfortable with Baade. I only met Baade once, unfortunately, at Santa Barbara Street.
Tell me about the telescope and learning to use it.
You mean at Mt. Hamilton?
Yes. I think the 120-inch came along when?
It went into operation in 1960, so I’m up on Mt. Hamilton five to seven years before the 120-inch came into operation. The 36-inch refractor was not the easiest instrument in the world to use. It has all the problems that refractors have for a variety of reasons, namely that chromatic aberrations or the focus is in a different place depending on what spectroscopic spectral region you’re interested in. You’re trying to get the light through the slit, so if you’re working in the blue you’d better look for the blue focus of that smallest image. H and K lines, of course, are near four thousand angstroms so you’re really in the blue. We put this two-prism spectrograph on and you can imagine how much light gets through the prisms, although they were built with whatever glass that transmits more in blue. The prism spectrograph at McDonald had quartz, which does transmit. There were the usual problems with setting a refractor. The refractor was usually set up so that the barrel was on the east side of the pier, so that means that you’re in a good position to observe anything that’s over in the west because you’re working over the top of the pier. Now if you want to observe some things coming up in the east, you’ve got to reverse the telescope. If you wanted to reverse it and come around on the east side to observe something in the west, what you would do is raise the floor up to the top, and then this becomes more nearly horizontal. You move with this around this side and you run with it, because the counter weight has got to go around and come up on the other side. So you use your weight hanging in the air to get the counter weight to come up on the other side as you hang on the telescope at the end.
It sounds like a very physical process.
Yes. Usually that works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I was always able to do it. I was a lot younger then, as I’m sure you can imagine.
What is this fellow up here doing? [referring to picture hanging on wall of 36-inch]
I don’t know what he’s doing there. If you wanted to be completely safe you could plant the telescope and turn a bunch of gears around.
Okay. This is a naive question. Was there any chance of somehow the weight shifting and you finding yourself above the floor.
You bet. Well you might find yourself hanging up in the middle of the air and not being able to bring the counter weight up on the other side. I guess that happened to a few people. The other thing that’s always a problem with this kind of a telescope is that you have an enormous mechanical advantage at the eyepiece end. The clamps won’t hold it. If you take any significant weights off the end of this, the telescope’s totally out of balance. That happened to some people. If you now hang a 200-pound spectrograph off this thing, you’ve got to change counter weights all over the place before you can get it to balance out. So if you put more weight down here, a lot of the counter weights that are along the side here have to be moved up so they’re not so far out on the end.
I think the spectrograph for this is now in the Air and Space Museum.
I don’t remember. It very well could be.
It’s very long, isn’t it?
Hmmm.... Of course since there’s a prism, the structure angles around. Changing instruments here meant that you had to put a hook over the telescope and a rope that went down below the floor to hold the telescope in place while you were changing instruments so the telescope didn’t take off because the clamps wouldn’t hold it. So there are a lot of physical things you’ve got to do when you deal with one of these old refractors.
Did you like observing?
Oh, yeah, it was fine.
Some people really seem to get into the solitude and other people said, “Well, it was just how you got data; it was cold and dark.”
Well, it was cold and dark. It wasn’t always comfortable, but fortunately there was KRE in Berkeley. In those days, KRE ran classical music all night long. I heard the Brahms’ Third Symphony for the first time in that dome, with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra and I thought, “My God, this is just grand.” Of course, it was better in the dome because you’re in this huge space with echoes all over the place and everything was just grand.
You bought the recording and you realized it was recorded in Studio 8H and it was pretty tight.
Was classical music your preference?
Oh, this has been a passion with me. I have long-playing record collection with about a thousand long-playing records and there must be 600 CDs in the house. This is a passion over the years. I suppose I would have done music if I hadn’t done science. With music what you really discover, I think, is that doing music in some ways is an entirely physical matter. It really is. The ability to play the violin well or the piano well is a physical act. The necessary coordination and the rest of it, in its own way, is like being a baseball player. It’s different, but it’s like that. In some ways, the only thing that sets the great musicians aside is a question of taste because any musician who is well known has the technique and the physical ability. The question is do they have the taste and the necessary countinence to do what the composer indicates in the score. That’s where the real test, beyond the physical test, of the musician occurs, and that’s what interests me. It’s very interesting to go to the opera. We go to the San Francisco Opera through the whole season. Of course, I was brought up much more on instrumental and chamber music, but I do enjoy the opera very much. There you see it in spades—the ability to sing and sing well. Many people sing well, but whether they use the voice with taste is another question. Whether there are beautiful phrases that respect what the composer has written in the score, or whether it’s simply a vocal display for the singer is a question of taste. That’s what makes all the difference, and I’m afraid the audience is kind of the same way. Many people who go to the opera go to it the way people go to baseball games. What they’re interested in is not the music but the vocal display. So whatever extravagance the singer wants to put into it that distorts the vocal line and the meaning of the phrases, it’s just fine, as far as they are concerned.
I’m fishing here right here with this question, but is there any similarity to your views about music and using a telescope or picking an area of research? Everybody presumably is a good physicist, but some people become successful and some don’t.
Of course, in science some people are a lot smarter than other people, too. Creativity is what counts, and it’s very hard to measure who will be successful in that way. It’s hard to say. In astronomy at least, there are kind of two— I’m polarizing this, which I shouldn’t because people are mixed. But I think one polarization that one can make is that there is a kind of what I’ll call Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal about doing science. I think most of us (certainly my own work would fall into that category) get into something and sort of build on what’s there and make some kind of small advance, usually largely a result of gathering a lot of data together and then seeing how the pieces fit into some kind of a broader picture. You hope it’s right. You make some kind of advance that might be described as minor but it pushes a field forward, largely because it has a considerable amount of statistical weight to it. On the other hand, I think there are people, and I do not denigrate this at all, who play for bigger stakes. You know, you can think of examples. It’s hard to do this. I sound like I’m being unkind to somebody, and that’s not what I’m trying to get at. Let’s take some examples; it’s probably the best way to do it. One of the best examples, I think, is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. What is the thing that Frank Drake is best known for?
SETI, yes. Now, if such a connection were actually made, it would change the history of the world. There’s simply no question about that, and I think it’s just grand that they’re trying to do this. I just think that’s wonderful. But when I say Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal, what I mean is the probability of success is probably really small.
But the stakes are really high.
The stakes are enormously high. Others of us do things where the probability of success is much larger, but the stakes aren’t that important. You know, you kind of push some field forward along. Big deal. Let’s take another example, Chip Arp, who is a good friend of mine and whom I love dearly. He’s such a great guy. I don’t know whether he and the things that Geoff Burbidge talked about are right or wrong. I’m not a cosmologist and I don’t know that much about it. I think Chip certainly deserves a hearing, and he certainly deserves to be taken far more seriously than many people do. And I think a lot of the stuff that he shows has not yet been satisfactorily explained away. That may or may not be right, but it is playing for very high good stakes. If QSOs are not primarily or even partially cosmological, it would certainly change everything in a very profound way. So that’s once again something that is like this Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal for science.
Yeah, since you bring it up, I want to ask now. Why do you think work like Chip Arp’s isn’t taken as seriously, isn’t given the fair hearing that you described?
Well, I guess as far as most people are concerned, almost everything they see fits in comfortably with the traditional paradigm, and it would only be if they began to see some terrible contradiction within the traditional paradigm that they would now be looking around for some other kind of explanation, and I think that’s probably the thing that drives it principally. There’s not been seemingly a need for this new interpretation. Now, another example of something that is kind of difficult to understand, to fit into the standard paradigm but which did make a big change in our fundamental understanding, is the solar neutrino problem. I think that was a big-stake problem. That is to say, “Why aren’t those neutrinos there? Don’t we know the nuclear physics of the p-p chain and all of that?” And models for the sun must be substantially right. I mean, after all, the sun does shine. We do know how far away it is. You know, all the basic parameters are there and the feeling that, okay, we change some of the opacities in the sun and get them a little better. But all of this seems as if it’s all okay. Why don’t we get the right answer? The conclusion that somehow this has got to do with something that’s fundamentally weird about neutrinos. I think this is on pretty firm ground, but surely everybody would have said, “Well, the measurements are wrong,” or “John Bahcall doesn’t know what he’s doing.” But none of that was true. I mean, John stuck with this, and the way it turned out is that we’re now pretty sure there’s something going on with the neutrinos that is very fundamental. So, sometimes these things that I call long shots work and sometimes they don’t, but I wouldn’t put anybody down who does science in a different way than I do. That’s crazy; it’s nonsense.
You graduated in 1955?
And then you spent some time at…?
Oh, I thought Indiana then Yerkes.
No, I went to Mt. Wilson first. 1955-1956 I was an NSF post-doctoral fellow at Mt. Wilson. I think I was the first one, but that’s only because the NSF had just been established.
Well tell me about Mt. Wilson when you got there.
Oh, that’s fun. They didn’t know what to do with me because they’d never had an NSF fellow before, so I was just treated like a Carnegie fellow. You know, Carnegie fellowships were very few in those days. Well, Mt. Wilson was a great place. The first rule at Mt. Wilson was that fellows and visitors didn’t get to use the 200-inch. That was the exclusive property of the Caltech faculty and the Mt. Wilson staff. So you could have time with the 100-inch and you were welcome there. Mt. Wilson was a wonderful place when Bowen was the director because you came as a fellow and you were shown your office and told kind of what the rules were about applying for telescope time and, “We hope you have a nice time here,” and that’s it. You know, you’re on your own. That’s when I met Baade. Baade was going off for a year to Europe, I think, on leave or maybe he’d retired by then, and I just got to see him once. The people that I knew best there in that period were Olin Wilson, Alfred H. Joy, and I met Paul W. Merrill for the first time, Armin Deutsch, and they were all good companions and friends. I met and worked a bit with Allan Sandage, and Chip Arp was around. He wasn’t on the staff at that point but I think he was soon to take off for Indiana to study Cepheid variables in the southern hemisphere on a contract that Indiana had, and so I had a chance to chat with him as well.
How did your research programs fit in with what they were doing?
Well, what I wanted to do during that period was look at cataclysmic variables to see if they were all binary stars. This was not known. The seminal papers in this subject were the two by Alfred H. Joy that I mentioned earlier on, and the paper that Jack Crawford and I wrote together trying to interpret this. The other thing that had occurred that was very exciting in this period was Merle Walker’s work. Merle had been a student at Berkeley; he was ahead of me a couple of years and got his Ph.D. I think in 1953. I hope I have that right, but it was a year or two before me. He came to Mt. Wilson as a post-doc, I think as a Carnegie fellow. Certainly he was there and he was, I think, on a fellowship, so I assume it must have been a Carnegie fellowship. Merle was into photometry, and this is the days when UBV was first established. Remember the Morgan-Keenan paper was published in 1953. So it filters necessary to work in UBV system were just becoming available and people were beginning to use that. Merle did two important things as a fellow at Mt. Wilson. He did the first color magnitude diagrams of very, very young clusters, like Orion, where you saw the stars contracting to the main sequence when you got faint enough.
And so all the stars are above the main sequence. That was essentially Merle’s first really important work. The other thing he did was he was looking at cataclysmic variables—old Novae, U-Geminorum stars, things like that. What was beginning to be discovered was that such objects had irregular variations in brightness. When you looked at them, over the course of a few minutes, they could change in brightness by several hundredths or even tenths of a magnitude. They’d flicker, is a way to describe it. One of the best cases was T-Coronae Borealis, which is a recurrent nova that goes off every 60 years or so. It’s the classic recurrent nova. Anyway, Merle was working on these one night at the 100-inch. He had some time, and they’d flicker and carry on. He set on Nova Herculis, DQ Herculis, 1934. It had blown up in 1934 and it was probably the best known and the best-studied nova in the period before the Second World War. Here we are in the 1950s, you know, it was still an important object and people talked about it. Tons and tons of spectra were taken of it when it blew up and all that kind of literature that astronomers worked on in that period. Anyway, so Merle was looking at the flickering and, of course, it did some mild flickering, and while he was observing it, all of a sudden it did this. It made a perfect eclipse curve.
Just for the tape, you show a peak and then it comes down to a trough.
Yeah, yeah. And it turns out it was an eclipsing binary with a period of four hours and 54 minutes.
Okay, so something has come in front of it and—
Yeah, something has come in front of it. Then spectra were taken, but all you saw was the blue star. There was a blue star with emission lines was all you saw on the spectrum. So it was an eclipsing binary, and here was the most famous at the time of all novae, and it turns out to be an eclipsing binary with this terribly short period. As you think about it a little bit, our AE Aquarii model kind of comes into view. What’s it going to be? Well, if it’s a couple of main sequence stars, they’re too big to go around each other in four hours and 54 minutes, so one of them has got to be some kind of collapsed object, and the other one probably can’t be much more than a main sequence star. So it begins to look like SS Cygnai and AE Aquarii. And it turns out that the IAU meeting in 1954 was, I think, in Brighton. I think this was in England. I’d have to check that, but I think that’s correct. Merle showed these light curves at that meeting, and it was kind of the toast of the meeting, as I think you can imagine. There wasn’t any such thing as stars in binaries with four-hour periods. I mean, this was crazy. Maybe it was four hours and 39 minutes (you’ll have to check. It was something quick).
So this was a real breakthrough and that told me, in the face of the model that Jack and I had built, that it was time to do spectroscopy of old Novae and U-Geminorum stars and see if they all look like this. So that’s what I set out to do. That was my research program. I took some spectra with the 100-inch on the Newtonian platform. There was a nebular spectrograph. Normally it wasn’t used for this kind of work. It was used for nebulae and emission line objects of interstellar matter and that kind of thing, and for galaxies. Minkowski used it a lot for that sort of work and Baade used it, but I think mostly Minkowski. But I didn’t have much success. So I got a lot of spectra but I couldn’t find any radial velocity variations, so I got to see a lot of what the spectra looked like. In those days, fourteenth or fifteenth magnitude was about as faint as you could go. If you’re thinking about periods of the order of a few hours, then you can’t take a spectrum that last more than—I set the limit at 40 minutes, because you’re not going to detect anything. It would just get smeared out. So in 40 minutes with the 100-inch nebular spectrograph, looking at these mostly hydrogen emission lines, you would kind of bottom out at about 14 or 15. So this was pretty tough going. Nowadays, of course, with CCD it’s an entirely different story. So it wasn’t terribly successful, but I did get to see a lot of spectra, what a lot of them looked like. I kind of worked on that stuff for a while.
How was it for you having worked with a 36-inch refractor to then go to Mt. Wilson and all of a sudden be working with a 60-inch and a 100-inch?
Well, it wasn’t very different really. Working from the 100-inch platform is scary.
How high up is that?
Well, you’re about 60 feet above the floor in the dark, and you’re climbing up ladders. It’s easier to climb up ladders in the middle of the night than in the daytime, if you want to know the truth. And you have to sneak this platform around. Remember, the 100-inch has a north pier, so if you want to look at anything that north you’ve got to keep the platform from running into the mercury tank on the north pier, and that requires you to lie down on the floor and look in the guiding eyepiece at various odd angles. Here’s an eyepiece and you’re trying to guide the star and you’re lying on this platform and then trying to keep the telescope from running into part of the north pier.
So you really had to contort yourself.
Yes. It’s not easy. I was there over the winter and, needless to say, we always picked some nights when Mt. Wilson was 20 degrees or something, and there you are sitting on this platform on a chair or lying down on the platform trying to sneak it past this tank with the wind blowing at 25 miles an hour and you’re wearing this electric flying suit and you’re plugged into a transformer up there. Those were the days. Anyway, it was an interesting experience.
I think it was George Herbig who referred to it as the wooden ships and iron men.
It was very much that way. Anyway, at the same time, I did some work at the coudé-focus because I was still interested in Cepheid variables. One of the interesting things I discovered when I was at Coudé were double lines in the spectrum of the classical Cepheid, which was unheard of. You had double lines in W Virginis stars. You know, there’s this whole bunch of long-period Cepheids that occur in globular clusters. They’re also known as W Virginis stars. They’re the stars that got mixed up with classical Cepheids back when the distance scale of the galaxy was too small. It was assumed they were the same thing when actually they’re about a magnitude and a half fainter, so that there’s a lot of history behind that. It goes way back
I think that was right around the time of Baade’s work on the Andremeda Galaxy and doubling the size of the universe.
Yeah, Baade’s work was a little bit earlier. That came around 1952-1953. Yes, that was a great breakthrough, and that’s tied up with the Cepheid business. Identification of those two things had confused the issue for a long time. Actually, when it really comes right down to it, Alfred H. Joy had the answer to that problem years before, and so did Trumpler up here at Lick, but they, I think, didn’t move it along to finally interpret it in the right way. I mean, they didn’t capitalize on what they had found. In a way, maybe that’s the difference between Baade and some of the other people. He capitalized on that. Basically, what it amounts to is that when Trumpler looked out at the galactic clusters, which are mostly confined to the galactic plane, he discovered that the clusters got systematically larger the farther away you went, and that sounds a little fishy. You have a galactic open cluster, and the farther away you go, no matter which direction you look, they all seem to get bigger than the ones that are locally around. How can this be? Trumpler said, “Well, see, there’s absorption of light in interstellar space, and those clusters are not as far away as you think they are. So when you convert the angular size into a linear size, they’re closer and therefore smaller than you thought, in the absence of interstellar material.” In other words, the faintness of the stars is because there’s material in between, not because they’re farther away, and Joy found very much the same thing. In the late ‘30s he did a survey, “Radial Velocities of Classical Cepheid Variables in the Galactic Plane,” and he looked all around and observed 100 Cepheid variables, more or less for radial velocity, to get the velocity curves. This was to do differential galactic rotation, just like you’d do with B type stars. They are far away. Study their velocities at a distance and so forth. And he knew they were more or less confined to galactic planes. He started looking at it and discovered, “Hey, if I do the scale height…” That is, you know how far away the Cepheid is and it satisfies the period luminosity law, right? So you know what its actual luminosity is and that tells you how far away it is. No you sort the Cepheids into bins by distance from you. The funniest thing, when we’re near the sun, the scale height’s this high, but when I get out over here, a thousand parsecs away, it’s higher.
A lot bigger.
It’s a lot bigger. And Joy said, “Well, you know, if there was interstellar matter, they wouldn’t be that far away, therefore they’d be closer and the scale height would remain constant. But they didn’t capitalize on it because I think they weren’t that sure that that was the explanation for what they were seeing. It’s Baade who put that all together. And when you factored that in, that there was three quarters of a magnitude of interstellar dust, diminution of light by interstellar dust, per kiloparsec, when you put that in then you could compare these with Type II Cepheids in globular clusters, which are in the polar direction. They’re not affected by the interstellar matter. But the identification of those two things was wrong. Therefore the globular cluster distance scale was completely different from the distance scale for the classical Cepheids and the B type stars in the galaxy. That, of course, changed all their distance scales, and Baade was able to capitalize on that. So that’s part of the background of that paradigm.
Did you ever think of getting into the galaxy-cosmology game, especially when you were at Mt. Wilson and had access to the big telescopes?
Only a little bit later on in my career, I did some work in galaxies. I was interested in Cepheids and therefore interested in their galactic distribution, and that also played some role. Then, of course, in later years I’ve been completely taken up with the halo and with globular cluster, so my interest has always been more galactic structure then extragalactic problems.
After Mt. Wilson, you spent four or five years at Indiana and Yerkes, but before talking about your time there. During this time, Sputnik is launched and there’s the Cold War. How did all of this affect you personally? Or did it have an effect?
Well, I should back up and say in 1954 my second son was born. I’ll come back to them later on and what they’ve done in the world, what they’re interested in and so forth. I don’t know quite what to say about it. I think the real crises began to come more in the ‘60s, the Kennedy era, and on into Johnson’s term and so forth. Of course, we were profoundly anti-Vietnam War, as I’m sure you would guess, but I think in this particular period I wasn’t as involved in political things. Getting ahead of the story a little bit, after I came back to Mt. Wilson as a staff member. We lived for a time in Altadena, and then later, for a much longer time, in Claremont. This is getting ahead of story, but just because you brought up the political side of it. I was very active in public speaking all over the area, in business clubs and various sorts, wherever I could get an audience, and there were others that did this too, speaking against fallout shelters, trying to get people to understand what nuclear war really meant. A number of us who were in science, and particularly some of the physics people around Caltech, were active in this kind of thing as well.
Any ones that you recall specifically from Caltech that you worked with?
Not that I can remember exactly at this point. It’s just too long ago. I think Matt Sands was interested in this sort of thing. I remember we had a workshop at the First Universalist Church in Pasadena about this sort of thing—the futility of defense in the event of all-out nuclear war, and that fallout shelters weren’t going to solve this problem. Which at the time, of course, was an almost subversive thing to say because the government was pushing this kind of idea very hard. Fortunately, the good sense of the American people was to ignore it, and that may have had more to do with it than our discussions about the rationality. At the time (we’re talking here in 1955 or so) I wasn’t much into these things. I suppose I should back up a little bit and say that I guess I was amongst those people who hoped that the post-World War II period would be a time of some kind of reconciliation between the Soviets and us, so I was much farther off in the left. In fact, the first time I ever voted for president I voted for Henry Wallace in 1948. Rosalie voted for Truman.
Any recollections of the McCarthy era?
Not that intersected me directly. I was a graduate student at Berkeley at the time and I think we were kind of removed from that. You know, your mind is on trying to study and get your thesis done. In a general way I was of course upset by it, but I don’t recall being involved in any real definite way. Naturally, I voted for Adlai Stevenson.
In spite of Eisenhower’s popularity.
How did you end up at Indiana and then Yerkes?
Yes, this is another one of those “bobbing corks on the top of the ocean” things. Jobs were pretty scarce because, although the NSF had just sort of come into existence, still there wasn’t much push yet for science faculty, particularly astronomy faculty. So there weren’t very many jobs around, and I remember that Merle Walker, who had made a very considerable splash with his work at Mt. Wilson, did wind up at Case Institute; he got an Assistant Professorship at Case Western Reserve, so that would have been one of the Middle Western groups. That was considered pretty good. That was not like getting an appointment at Caltech or Mt. Wilson or Lick or someplace like that, or Harvard (although there were questions about Harvard in those days). That was considered pretty good. In those days you didn’t write letters of recommendation. The directors and the big guys had private discussions about, “Who do you have? You got any good students?”
Yeah, it was kind of a much more informal networking sort of way of doing things.
Did Struve help in that regard?
Yeah, I’m sure he did, although you weren’t told. It kind of all went on behind the scenes.
So you would get a letter saying, “Would you like to come to so and so?”
Yeah, or maybe somebody would give you a telephone call or something like that, or there’d be an informal letter in the mail saying, “We understand from Struve that you’re coming out, you’re a Ph.D., and we’re interested in looking at your qualifications.” Then you’d write a letter. So that’s kind of the way it went in those days. So I remember being at Mt. Wilson, observing, when Struve happened to be on the mountain with me. I think I was at the 100-inch and he was at the 60-inch. I remember, in those days, you would sleep in the morning and come down for lunch at 12:30 or something in the monastery at Mt. Wilson, with those terrible oil furnaces in the rooms.
Too hot or too stinky?
Well, dangerous might be a better word. Anyway, I was sitting there and I had had two offers of an appointment, again coming from sort of behind the scenes. One was an offer to go to Harvard and the deal there was one of these six-year up-and-out sorts of things. Nobody who came as an assistant professor at Harvard ever got tenure; it was unthinkable. The authorities didn’t advance their own; they went out and bought somebody who was expensive somewhere. So you knew you had a certain time and you were going to be on the market again, and they wanted me to come up and fix up their 61-inch telescope out in the country and assist in building some kind of a spectrograph for it. Interview: This letter would have been from Shapley?
No, it would have been from Whipple, who was then Director. So there was that. Then the other possibility was to go to Indiana University. The reason that arose was that they needed somebody to teach the courses at Indiana, and because Frank Edmondson, who was then Chairman of the department, was going to go to Washington to become Director of the astronomy section of the National Science Foundation for a year. So they needed somebody to come and fill that in. So it was a one-year appointment because he would come back. There was a great plus to going to Indiana, which was that, in those days, Indiana bought three weeks of telescope time at McDonald Observatory. If I went there, I was told that I could have most or all of that time observing. You know, the 82-inch at McDonald, that was the third largest telescope in the world. So this was a big deal. It had a Coudé spectrograph, and there was Struve’s marvelous cassegrain spectrograph with the two prisms, and Al Hiltner, who knew how to do photometry. This was really quite an opportunity, whereas if you went to Harvard, well, okay, what were you going to do with a 61-inch out in the sticks in Massachusetts? So I’ve got two kids and a wife to support in the days when wives didn’t generally work. It’s a very different situation now. Besides, she would have to work as a journalist, and journalists were not exactly paid a whole lot; they’re probably still aren’t. So who comes on the telephone, right there at Mt. Wilson? I mean, you just didn’t call people every day. Whipple comes on the phone, urging me to come to Harvard—they needed me and so forth. Well, that was kind of flattering, as I’m sure you can imagine. But Struve came down after Whipple was on the phone. Of course, in those days, Struve chain-smoked. Struve was walleyed, which gave his visage a very stern appearance because one eye kind of looked at you while the other eye was looking off like that somewhere. It was a powerful psychological effect on you. It really made him seem very formidable.
In the photographs I’ve seen, that was always my impression.
Yeah. But he sat in the rocking chair there smoking away and blowing smoke all around. He said, “Well, Mr. Kraft, I think you should go to Indiana.” So that’s where I went.
Well, because it was a greater opportunity to do some first-class science. I think that’s what counted with Struve. So I accepted the Indiana offer. We packed all of our stuff on a little utility trailer, including the refrigerator, and I wanted to see my parents and Rosalie’s parents one more time before we went way back East, because neither she nor I had ever— well, she’d been in Georgia in a girls’ school. But I had never been east of Billings, Montana. So we piled all this stuff on this little utility trailer and away we went up to Seattle from LA, then drove east through Billings and Nebraska all of that. There were thunderstorms in Illinois in the middle of the night and as we came across Illinois, the younger boy, who was then two years old, developed one of these fevers that little kids can develop, a fever of a 103 or something, while we’re driving this car through thunderstorms on these Illinois roads. Which in those days, talk about concrete, narrow, two-lane roads. If there ever were any they sure were in Illinois. So it was a harrowing trip arriving in Bloomington, Indiana, kind of in the early morning hours and contacting John Irwin and saying, “Where’s the nearest doctor?” It turns out it was a typical little kid’s fever which went away.
What did you think of the Midwest?
Well, I really enjoyed the Middle West. Bloomington’s a great place to live. Of course, we had every advantage there. Middle Western universities are like oases; they’re just wonderful. You’re in the middle of this sort of right-wing religious world and there are these oases of rationality and intellect in these various places; it’s wonderful. Bloomington was certainly that way and, of course, Bloomington had a Unitarian fellowship, which we—Rosalie was kind of more into it than I was but we both were into it. There was the marvelous music school in Indiana, of course. You know, the Metropolitan Opera toured in those days. From New York, they toured out in the far West, they got as far west as Chicago. When they came to Indiana they didn’t go to Indianapolis, they came to Bloomington. In Bloomington I heard the Vienna Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Met in two performances, one of Eugene Onegin of Tchaikovsky and the other of Rosenkavalier by Strauss. Those were, of course, exciting moments, not to speak of the beautiful performance just by the students and the Indiana people of Verdi’s Requiem in the auditorium there. So it was a great place to be. And I really enjoyed teaching.
What did you teach?
Well, I taught what I learned in Berkeley, of course. What do people always do? So I taught stellar atmospheres, of course, and spectroscopy. I had the three weeks at McDonald.
Was it a good observing run?
Yeah, I can’t remember the details anymore about it but I certainly enjoyed that trip, driving down there or taking the train. Geoff and Margaret Burbidge were just about that time coming on the Yerkes staff, so I kind of met them for the first time, and there were neighborhood meeting. You know, Yerkes was still the center of everything and the Middle West had these neighborhood meetings where Michigan, Case Institute, Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, the University of Chicago and Yerkes—
A lot of the same universities that became the charter members of AURA.
Of AURA, that’s right.
In fact, you were at Indiana when AURA formally was created.
Was formally created. That’s right, and Frank Edmondson, of course, was very much involved in that.
What was your reaction to that?
Well, I thought it was fine. I mean, I didn’t have anything to do with it particularly, being a young assistant professor. I think you’re looking out on kind of a short term in a sense that the time at McDonald was the thing that was going to make the difference. Of course, one of the things you did at McDonald was, you didn’t have a microphotometer, so you had spectrograms and you needed to do tracings of the spectrum on paper, was that you went up to Yerkes because they had a microphotometer.
How long of a trip was that?
Well, it’s about three and a half to four hours. You just drive up there and spend a week or something, with their permission, naturally. So my first time I met people like Chandra and Kuiper.
Any anecdotes about being up at Yerkes?
Well, that would come later when I actually joined the staff, but it did mean I met people that might have played some role in my getting an appointment there on the faculty. Anyway, so I had this one year at Indiana. Then, as I say, this fickle-finger of fate, as we used to say, comes into play. While Frank was at the NSF, he received an offer to become Director of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and he declined that offer in the end, and the price that the Indiana administration paid was to make my position permanent.
I’m not sure I follow.
Well, he agreed to stay on at Indiana, but only if they would give him something in return for that, and that was making my temporary appointment a permanent appointment. So I became a regular assistant professor. So I say, if he hadn’t had that offer to go to Lowell, I might be out digging a ditch right now. I mean, you just have to understand that life is a series of these curious accidents, and sometimes they’re positive and sometimes they’re negative. This was a positive one. So I had a permanent position, except for tenure, of course, and that came later downstream. Eventually, I had an offer to go to Yerkes. But leaving Indiana was a hard decision to make because with the time bought at McDonald and the formal teaching responsibilities life at Indiana was perfectly reasonable. I had a good graduate student, Don Ferni, a South African at Indiana who later took a position at the University of Toronto and stayed there the rest of his career. He’s now retired. He was interested in variable stars, and did a lot of interesting things, especially with Cepheids. He and I had an observing trip to Mt. Wilson that was lots of fun and we took coudé spectra of various things at the 100-inch coudé, and did some stuff for his thesis and then some other stuff that I was interested in. So that was an interesting experience.
There’s a funny story about that, too, which maybe takes up too much time to go into. The night assistant at the 100-inch had a very thin, small wife, kind of a waif of a woman, and the night assistant loved to pull legs and tell strange tales and stories. So he was telling Don Ferni this long story about how there was this mysterious ghost-like woman who would appear occasionally in the 100-inch dome holding a candle, and then she would disappear. Neither Don I nor knew what was going to happen. So here’s poor old Don sitting there guiding at the coudé focus on some one-hour exposures, as was the case in those days, and about four o’clock in the morning, there appears this small waif-like woman in the doorway of the 100-inch coudé. Don, I think, just about fell off the chair. What had happened was that the night assistant’s wife had come over so that they could both go up to the catwalk, the 100-inch telescope, and see off in the distance the atomic bomb being exploded over the Nevada Desert. You could see it from Southern California. It was known this was going to happen. I guess it was in the newspapers or something, and they came up to see if they could see it; I guess they did. He had obviously set this up to scare us. Of course, the 100-inch was wonderful because it was so quiet. You know the 100-inch was driven by falling weights, so it was always was terribly quiet, and as the wheel would rotate every so often, filings would fall down the spokes of this huge wheel with the gear teeth in it, and so you’d hear this “whoosh” sound in the quiet. Then of course every 45 minutes or so the counterweight had to be hauled up so you’d hear a pump running; it ran up to the top. Otherwise it was totally silent. None of this terrible noise you have with telescopes these days, the constant roar going on all the time. So it added to the kind of general eeriness of the event.
That’s a really good story.
Anyway, let’s get back to the business. So I had a fine time at Indiana, and trying to leave there was really terribly difficult.
Was Frank disappointed that you left to go to Yerkes?
Yes, I think he was, and we were sorry to leave because we had the Unitarian Church connection, the town, the music, and the advantages of being in a university environment. Here we were going to go to this town, population 1000, on a lake 400 miles to the north, with absolutely nothing there. I came home one day and said to Rosalie, “You know, this is the big time and we’ve just got to go,” and she said, “Yes, I know, we’ve got to go.” So we went and we made the best of it, from a social point of view. Actually, Williams Bay is kind of an interesting place to live; it’s different. The great Yerkes Icecap. You know, 400 miles in that part of the world was an enormous difference in climate. We saw the Northern Lights. We lived in what was called the Kuiper House. This was the house that Kuiper lived in for years and years and years—95 Dartmouth Street. The house, of course, was the property of the University of Chicago, as were all the houses that the staff lived in.
Was Aden Meinel there when you were there?
No, I think he had left by that time.
To go be Director at Kitt Peak.
Yeah, I think that’s right. I don’t remember that he was there. I was only there a year and a half. You know, this was a time when Yerkes was trying to build itself back up again after Struve’s departure, so they’d made a lot of appointments of younger people on the assistant professor level. Geoff and Margaret Burbidge, Helmut Abt—
That’s right, I’d forgotten that he went there after Caltech. Did you work with him at all?
Yes, we were there on staff at the same time. Yeah, Helmut’s a great guy, still a very good friend. I’m trying to think who else was there. Of course, Kevin Prendergast, who later was at Columbia, and after a little time at Columbia, Kevin kind of dropped out of sight. He hasn’t turned out any astronomy in recent years. Nelson Limber was also there, who later on went to the University of Virginia as a theoretician, a student of Chandra’s. Sadly, Nelson died at an early age.
Did you work with the Burbidges?
Not very directly, although I got to know them. Margaret and I both shepherded one student. We certainly chatted a lot and I saw Margaret a number of times down at McDonald. Those were interesting because we usually always took the train, and on one occasion I had a six-week run at McDonald consisting of two weeks on the 82-inch, two weeks on the 36-inch and two weeks back on the 82-inch again. That was very tiring, as I’m sure you can imagine. Another time I was down there at Christmastime and I took the whole family down, so the kids were down and my older son even went to school in Fort Davis, Texas. He learned how to say “ma’am” and “sir”. So it was an interesting experience. But I’ll tell you, at Christmastime when the nights are 14 hours long, you couldn’t develop plates. So you had to wait; after you were done you had to put the calibration marks on and then you developed the plate, so you didn’t get to bed till ten or eleven o’clock in the morning. Then the kids were there, so you can imagine what that was like. So of the 21 nights that I had over Christmas, 19 of them were clear. I tell you, I was ready for the undertaker after that.
Did you find yourself wishing for a cloudy night?
Yes, well that’s right, it turned out Christmas Eve was cloudy. That was good.
You mentioned your sons. Since it comes up, what paths have they taken?
Well, that’s interesting. My older son went to grade school in Indiana and then again at Yerkes, then he went to school in Altadena for a little while, then we moved out to Claremont and he went to grade school and high school in Claremont. When we moved up here, unfortunately it was his senior year in high school, which is not a good time to move a boy. Claremont had such wonderful schools, and Santa Cruz was just awful then. It’s better now in retrospect, especially since the university came. The long and short of it is that when Ken was in high school in Claremont, he got very interested in music, and that has stayed with him all the rest of his life. He’s a professional Rock and Roll musician. That started in Claremont and went on here. He and another group founded a group called Snail here in about 1968 or 1969. They were the toast of Central California for about ten years. The band stayed together for ten years. They made two records for an outfit called Cream Records, which was distributed nationally. They went on a national tour. They were doing pretty well. The company unfortunately didn’t have much backing and went out of business. You know, music, like many things, is a very corrupt business. It’s “who knows whom” and all of that. I think they were very good. I don’t think there’s any argument about whether they were top of the line or not, except they were very good and they had a very big following.
Of course, that was largely confined to here. They were good enough that one of their songs made it to the stuff you hear on airplanes. I’ve forgotten which airline. I think they were on American Airlines for three weeks or a month or however long those programs last. So they got some recognition, but again it’s just like anything else, it’s the breaks whether it gets to be a real big time operation or not. One problem that I think set them back quite a lot is that in 1980, my older son had a brain aneurysm. Actually, it was what is called an arterial venous malformation in which an artery dumps directly into a vein in the brain. He recovered completely, which is most remarkable, but it was hard to keep this operation going under those circumstances. He was married in 1983 to a young woman from Santa Clara. They have a son, my grandson, Cary, who’s now 14. Ken now mostly is a teacher. He is the grand old man of Rock and Roll in Santa Cruz, and this is a music town.
Yes, I was looking through the weekly pages on different bands playing.
Yes, there’s a lot of music here. So he has 20 to 25 guitar students. In addition he produces bands. He works at something called Mars Studio where they have all the mixing boards, and all of that sort of stuff. So groups will come to him and ask him to produce a CD, which he then does, but of course he acts as a teacher. He mixes all the stuff down. And it’s the old problem of, “You guys are not doing this right.” Of course, everything comes on individual tracks now, so you can bring this up and that down. He offers, of course, advice and all that kind of stuff, and of course he produces music that he often doesn’t care for at all—grunge or whatever—because he’s definitely Rock and Roll. He plays Country and Western, of course, too. There are a number of musicians around who also make a living by backing singers. Here is a good place to discuss Kevin, my younger son. My younger son, Kevin, born in Oakland, California, while I was a graduate student in Berkeley, is also a musician but his path has been somewhat different from Ken’s. His move to Santa Cruz was also rather troubled, since at the time, strange to say, Santa Cruz was a very conservative place. This was at a time before the University was really a going concern and before the influx of Silicon Valley types, who on the whole were far more liberal than the population of retired Central Valley farmers who made up a large fraction of the Santa Cruz population in 1967.
So here was Kevin, with his long hair and broken cross peace symbol, and of course he was an object of scorn among the other 13 year-olds in the local middle school. Luckily, he later fell in with a group of kids from the local Unitarian Fellowship and life became a bit easier for him. Greatly influenced by the Beatles, Kevin too organized a small duo and later a trio that played the clubs in town, and in later years, they became cruise musicians, playing Princess lines, etc. all over the world. Kevin loves travel, has been almost everywhere in Europe, the Caribbean, Alaska, South America, etc. Their musical style is of course more eclectic than Ken’s, partly out of the necessity of playing in a cruise ship milieu. Kevin is also fascinated by and is good at languages and has studied Spanish, German and Portuguese. Amazingly he took the idea of organization of languages to the point of getting a B.A. in Linguistics at UCSC when he was 45 years old! This is a really tough course and UCSC has one of the highest ranked programs in the country. One of Kevin’s great adventures was learning enough Chinese to teach English for a year at Beijing University in 1989. At the very end of his stay was the Tiananmen Square massacre, and he had to leave China rather abruptly—some of his students at the University were in the protests. At the moment, he teaches English as a Second language in Watsonville and also teaches the lower security inmates at the Watsonville jail (many of whom are, not surprisingly, Hispanic, since Watsonville has a large population of farm workers from Mexico.)
Let’s talk about your time at Yerkes.
The main thing I got into at Yerkes was working with Al Hiltner, who was a well-known photometrist. This had to do with the distances to Cepheids, as I was saying earlier on. Since the Cepheids lie in the galactic plane, they’re essentially all reddened or heavily reddened - as you go out some distance, they’re heavily reddened. The question is how do you evaluate the reddening? Of course, you get the absorption because the total absorption in the V-band is proportional to the color excess in B minus V. That constant proportionality is known from the work of Whitford, Morgan, Johnson and all the guys who set up the UVB system. So the question is what are the color excesses of these Cepheids? What happened in that period was the discovery essentially by John Irwin at Indiana University that there were a few Cepheid variables in galactic clusters. That had always been one of the great puzzles of astronomy, that the known Cepheids are young stars, fairly massive. Why don’t you see any of them in galactic clusters like the Hyades or Pleiades or something like that? As you know in that period just was when UBV system was getting started. One was able to use B-type stars to determine color excesses, and there are always B-type stars in young galactic clusters so you could get the distances to those clusters since you could evaluate the interstellar absorption from the color excesses. Then fitting the color magnitude diagram to the standard main sequence defined by nearby stars with trig parallaxes.
So the discovery of Cepheids in galactic clusters was important, and the two most prominent examples that John Irwin noted in his study of Cepheids were U Sagittarii and S Normae. He was working in the Southern hemisphere and set up on M25. That cluster happens to be in Sagittarius, which is not a part of the sky Northern astronomers much looked at it, of course, in those days. And discovered this U Sagittarii was right in the middle of the cluster. So you could use the B type stars to get the reddening and apply that to the Cepheid. Then you knew the normal unreddened colors of the Cepheid. The S Normae, in the open cluster NGC 6087, also in the Southern hemisphere, was another one. So I took advantage of this. In fact, Hiltner, Klaus Bonner and I were involved in a— actually, I wasn’t much in it; they really did the photometry. They did a huge survey of V and B-V for Cepheids in the galaxy. John Irwin, Chip Arp and others did surveys in the Southern hemisphere and so forth. The long and short of this is that we knew the observed colors of lots of Cepheids. The question is how do we get the color excess? So what I did was to establish what is called G band photometry. That is, you look at something in the spectrum. In this case it’s the G band of the CH molecule, which is around 4300 angstroms. It’s a feature that varies in strength as the Cepheid goes through its cycle because the Cepheid changes its temperature, and this molecular feature changes strength. It’s quite a strong feature so we used interference filters that had a narrow wavelength spread. You put that on top of the G band in the Cepheid, and then you measure that against a broad band so that you measure the difference between the narrow feature and the broad feature to measure the strength of the CH feature.
Now you do this to U Sagittari, where you know the colors, and that establishes a relationship between B minus V and the strength of this band. That’s independent of reddening, now. So now you go off and observe that, and all the Cepheids around the galaxy, observe the G band. You assign the B minus V it should have and compare it with the B minus V that’s observed. Of course, you have to know the phase because they vary all the time. Comparing the two gives you the color excess and thus the interstellar absorption. So basically that’s what I did at McDonald Observatory, because in those days the Yerkes University of Chicago controlled McDonald. This was the legacy of Struve. So I had long trips down to McDonald, and one time I couldn’t make the scalers work, integration devices, and I couldn’t make them work. I was tearing my hair out. Of course, I don’t know anything about electronics. Al Hiltner happened to be at a Regents meeting that was taking place in El Paso, so he came over to McDonald, 200 miles away, and sent me downstairs to get a screwdriver. I came back up and everything was working. He never told me what he did. I kidded him—well, he’s no longer alive—but I kidded him for years that it was the laying on of hands.
I guess a lot of instruments are like that.
Well, he knew all about them. Somehow I hadn’t thrown some switch or done something that should have been done.
Did you ever build any instruments?
No, no. I have zero instrumental ability. I’m what’s called a “user”. Anyway, so that work was done and most of the papers came out after I went to Mt. Wilson because it takes time to gather the data and analyze it. But it turned out that I was able, with the collaboration of Hiltner and others, to turn out color excesses for Cepheids, and this enabled you to evaluate the interstellar absorption and therefore to correct the distances and use the period-luminosity law then to get the actual distances. From that you can study things like differential galactic rotation and so forth. So that’s most of the science I was involved in at Yerkes. The other thing that’s slightly anecdotal, especially for me, was we lived in the Kuiper House. Kuiper lived in that house for years and years, but when he became Director of Yerkes he moved into the Director’s house. So when I came to Yerkes I was assigned to that house and lived there for a year and a half. There was a small woods off to one side, and you walked through the woods and got over to the Yerkes Observatory. In the winter, of course, was the great Yerkes Icecap.
The door faces north and poor Helmut Abt one time fell down on the icecap and broke his arm. Anyway, you walked through the woods. In the woods there was a wire strung along the path from tree to tree. On inquiry I found out what this wire was. The house across the street from us on Dartmouth Street was called the Frost House, and that was named for the Director of Yerkes in a period before Struve was Director. Frost unfortunately had retinal detachments and went totally blind something like five years, actually, before Struve became Director. So he was directing the observatory as a blind man. This is kind of especially interesting for me because in the last couple of years I’ve had five retinal detachments. Nowadays you can do something about it. In Frost’s time you couldn’t do anything. I’ve undergone a lot of eye surgery in the last couple of years to correct this. If I didn’t live now, I would be blind, so this is especially poignant for me. He would, of course, hold on to the wire to guide him through the woods. His house was across the street from where we lived, and so I used the same trail and always wondered about this wire that was hung on the trees. You know, this is 25 years after Frost was not Director anymore, so it’s one of those traditions, I guess. Okay, let me go on to the formal Mt. Wilson days.
How did you get invited to go there?
Well, it’s the same old story. Somewhere in 1958 or 1959, not long but six months to a year after I went to Yerkes came this letter in the mail from Ike Bowen asking me if I would consider joining his staff at Santa Barbara Street. In those days you didn’t understand how these things happened; they just sort of happened. I suppose Bowen must have called up some of the old time staff members at Yerkes and talked with them. So I don’t know exactly, but the fact that I had been a post-doctoral fellow there certainly didn’t hurt. I should say one other thing I did while I was at Indiana, just before going to Yerkes. I had another run at Mt. Wilson. They let me come use the 100-inch in the summer for a few weeks. I finally did get a radial velocity curve for DQ Herculis, for Novae Herculis, from the emission lines. The 100-inch was fast enough with that spectrograph to enable me to work on DQ Herculis, so I was able to get the velocity curve for that. Another interesting thing happened at that point. Jesse Greenstein had a lot of interest in old Novae and had taken spectra of them over the years. After I published the orbit for Novae Herculis, he took a series of spectra with the 200-inch nebular spectrograph around the cycle.
The nebular spectrograph was the small instrument at the prime focus?
Yes, way up with the prime focus and the cage. Of course, with much more powerful equipment, he was able to shorten up the exposure times, and he took some kind of continuously trailed spectra through the eclipse. You have this rotating accretion disk and here’s the dark star coming in front and of course the first thing it does is cuts off one side of the disk. So the emission lines suddenly do what’s called a rotational disturbance. Normally you see the whole disk so you see an emission line like that. But when you cut off one side of it you see only the gas that’s going away from you, so you get this enormous distortion of the radial velocity curve, if you can get spectra fast enough. Then when it comes off the other side, this part of the disk is covered and the other side is coming toward you, so you get a velocity curve that does this and goes “whoosh” and you have the eclipse and then “whoosh” like that. So he took this series of spectra. And, you know, this one side of Jesse I think has really never been mentioned very much and I think it’s very important. Jesse was really a very generous man when it came to research. You know, when they got into the post B2FH period and they were doing abundances at the 200" there was a contract at Caltech and a whole crowd of people working on abundances.
This was the big abundance program?
Yes, the abundance program with the 200-inch. He had a lot of young people around—people like George Wallerstein and Pete Conti and others. When you go back and you look over those papers, there’s hardly a single paper where Jesse is the senior author. It’s always the young people who are pushed out in front. Helfer, Wallerstein and Greenstein, for example, and so forth. Jesse was very good about that. He took these spectra of DQ Herculis and they were just spectacular for the time. He contacted me and said, “You know, why don’t we work on this stuff together?” So we wrote a couple of joint papers on these spectra, and I was very grateful to Jesse for that.
Was he a good observer?
Yes, Jesse knew what he was doing, of course, and he was a very smart guy, just incredible. Over lunch in the Athenaeum at Caltech, any subject you wanted to name, he could write down the first principals and work out some physics about it, you know. A really remarkable guy.
Now I understand that you were at the Hale Observatories, but there was always that tenuous connection with Lick Observatory. You didn’t talk that much about this?
No, because the junior people— Things were different in those days. At Hale, there was an observatory council of senior staff members from Caltech and Carnegie . The Director sort of ran the show. The rest of the staff was not invited into the administrative decisions. It’s not like a university is now. Not like UCSC and Lick, you know, where the faculty meets and there’s a long discussion about who’s going to be appointed and “What are we going to do about this and that and the other thing?’ It’s a very different style.
How many nights a year would you get on the different telescopes?
Well, it depended a lot on what you did. It was harder, of course, if you did dark time. It was always kind of traditional that way. But since I was mostly a stellar spectroscopist, except for the novae work, which required relatively dark skies. For the coudé work that I got involved with, you could end up with 20 nights at the 200" and another 20 at the Mt. Wilson 100".
You didn’t need dark time for that?
You could work in the full moon with coudé spectroscopy because the slits were so narrow and you didn’t have to worry much about the sky. When you got the faint things with some of the shorter cameras where you open the slit, it could be a problem.
In thinking of your time at Yerkes and then coming to the Hale Observatories, how would you compare and contrast those as institutions? What were the things that really struck you when you came back full time at Santa Barbara Street?
Well, in many ways they were rather similar. Both places were very personality-driven. That’s the impression you get from the outside, although you didn’t see it up close quite so much, largely because when you’re junior staff you aren’t involved in the decisions. However, there were more faculty meetings at Yerkes I think, because at least it was a part of the University of Chicago whereas Santa Barbara Street was private very much top-down run. In both places the Director had a fair amount of clout as compared, maybe, with nowadays in the decision making process. I would say that there were always clashings amongst the personalities—strong-willed people with big elbows in both places. I think it’s fair to say that the group of older people at Yerkes, Morgan, Kuiper, Hiltner and Chandra, didn’t always see eye to eye. Kuiper was very ambitious and wanted to get into some new kinds of technology. Kuiper, I think it’s fair to say, was not very sensitive to other people’s concerns, and was pretty much self-justified, if I can put it that way. This led to a lot of trouble after I left Yerkes.
Yes, but he eventually left and went to Arizona.
Yes. And there was a lot of trouble at that point with what the University of Texas was going to do. I had left by the time those matters came to head, but I think possibly that was inevitable because of the rise of prestige among Western universities. You know, the University of Texas, before the Second World War, was pretty much a “cow college” in the sense they didn’t stress graduate programs or research or any of that sort of thing. I’m not saying that that’s right or wrong, that’s just the way it was. On the other hand, as you well know, the post Second World War era was an era in which the Western universities began to follow the model of the University of California. For example, the University of Washington I went to had certain graduate programs and all that sort of thing, but it was still pretty much a “cow college.” I remember we had a math professor who was hired as assistant professor in 1948 or thereabouts, and he taught topology. He had a Ph.D. from Harvard. And it was very clear from his attitude and everything he said that he’d come out to this poor old Seattle to save us from the Indians. He had come from civilization, namely Harvard.
He was there to rescue you.
Yes, and you weren’t allowed to forget that. To a large extent it was true. I’m not saying he was God’s gift to humanity, but I am saying certainly upgrading of the Western institutions was very important. Of course, the University of Washington now is a powerful organization in many fields, including astronomy. Maybe it’s not exactly like UC-Santa Cruz or Caltech or Chicago, but it’s still an important department.
You had mentioned some of personality-driven conflicts at Yerkes. Did you notice, were there similar things at Hale?
I believe there were at Santa Barbara Street, but in the period I was there, I was never part of any of the administrative stuff. I think during Bowen’s tenure things were reasonably smooth in the sense that people had their positions kind of staked out. I believe things were okay. As time went on, essentially after I left, things started to come apart, as I’m sure you know, when Babcock became Director, and later the marriage between Caltech and Carnegie was dissolved when Maarten Schmidt was Director.
I knew that there were conflicts. I just never understood the root of those conflicts.
I don’t really know, either, what was involved there.
Was it because of Babcock’s or Schmidt’s approach to things?
No, I don’t know whether that was it or not. I really just don’t know quite what happened, and I think almost anybody you would ask has got their colored opinion about what happened. The facts of the matter aren’t so clear to me because I wasn’t really involved. I had my own personal fallings out with certain people, but those things always happen.
Well, let me back up and start a little bit more from the beginning. I came out there in 1960 and joined the staff, and I was on the Mt. Wilson staff for seven years. I think I was asked to join because of the interest in Cepheids and things like that. Staying with the research for a few moments, I got into two fields of considerable interest, I thought, at the time. One was stellar rotation. I just got very interested in that and there was I think a very important paper that came out at the very end of the time I was at Mt. Wilson related to stellar rotation.
Which one was this?
Well, there was a whole series of papers on rotation of stars and clusters that was trying to deal with the rotational distribution and things like the Hyades and Pleiades and so forth. I think the most important paper was the last one I wrote in that vein, and that was examining the rotation of solar type stars, or stars maybe a little bit more massive than the sun—because it was tough going, observationally, to deal with much fainter stars—as a function of their age. About at that time, there had developed in astronomy the Stromgren photometry which, when you translated it into stellar evolutionary effects, enabled you, in dealing with late F-type stars and early G-type stars, to sort them as a function of age. So you could look at the stars that had just peeled off a little bit from the main sequence. Those would be a little older than the ones that were right on the zero age of the main sequence. Then, with very long exposure, you could look at essentially solar type stars in galactic clusters that were young. So I worked using very, very long exposures at the 100-inch coudé and some other exposures at the 200-inch Coudé, I was able to look at essentially solar type stars in young galactic clusters. One of the great thrills I had in that period was picking up this plate out of the hypo in the 100-inch coudé darkroom, of this early G or late F-type dwarf in Pleiades and looking at the lines and seeing them all smeared out. These stars are rotating around 25 kilometers per second—ten times faster than the sun. That then led logically to the idea that they must slow down. We see right now the sun being spun down, because a star like the sun, with an external convection zone and a magnetic field, has a corona and therefore it has a coronal wind, and the solar wind carries out magnetic flux. Since the flux is coupled back to the star, it acts like a taffy and it continuously takes angular momentum out of the sun.
So the inference was that 109 years ago, the sun was also spinning at 25 kilometers per second, and in the intervening 109 years, the solar wind has carried away most of the angular momentum of the sun. So I felt this was an important paper, and it is a paper that people did refer to for about 20 years. There’s a lot more work now, especially on the rotations of stars in young clusters farther down the main sequence— there are large rotational velocities and there’s all kinds of complicated stuff. But this was the first indication, I think, of the angular deceleration of the sun. So I was very happy with that. It was very much coupled with Olin Wilson’s work. Because what you found was that those stars which were rotating more rapidly and were therefore younger and also had stronger ionized calcium emission, which you’d kind of expect because that arises in a chromosphere. Olin showed in those years that, as you went from the younger clusters to the older clusters and to older field stars, the calcium II emission dies away. So the rotation is related to the Caii emissin.. The younger stars are more active and so presumably the winds can have a greater effect on the angular momentum transport and so forth.
What year was this paper? …
1967. It was one of the last papers– 
I know you did a series of papers.
Yeah, this was kind of the one at the end, and then I wrote a review article about this and other aspects of stellar rotation for the compendium about Struve.
As you were working at the Hale Observatories, some new equipment was being introduced. I can’t recall the year, but Dennison came in and he formed an electronics laboratory there and Bev Oke came and brought the two-channel spectrometer and auto guiders and things like that. I just wanted to get a general sense of how these new tools affected things.
I think they came a little more after I left, because when I was there things were still pretty much the old way. I would say the most interesting, instrumental innovations that occurred in those years were Horace Babcock’s devices for measuring magnetic fields in stars—calcite block crystals and the left- and right-handed polarized light that you got showed the magnetic splitting and so forth. I think that was a very interesting bit of high-resolution spectroscopy in that period and led to the realization that stars could have strong dipole magnetic fields. I mean, A-type stars would have such things.
How about image tubes and things like that?
Those were beginning to come in. I remember using an image tube. An English astronomer came over and we looked at a fainter galactic cluster for rotational velocities using an image tube that was installed at high resolution in the 100-inch coudi, and that was quite interesting. So those were beginning to come in, but didn’t get yet a wide circulation
Did these tools, as they were introduced, from your perspective, change the nighttime work? Did it make it easier?
Not really during that period but, of course, later on, with the introduction of CCDs and all that sort of thing, which came in in a lot of different institutions. Even before that, the Wampler image dissector scanner here, which was the envy of everybody for a while, but that was invented at Lick. But I had left Mt. Wilson (Santa Barbara Street) before this revolution in instrumentation occurred. The only other thing I wanted to say about research at Mt. Wilson that I think was important was what I said earlier on about statistical weight in investigations. We had learned up to that time that at least some novae and dwarf novae were close binaries, and so the first thing that I wanted to do when I got back there and now could use the 200-inch (especially after Jesse’s demonstration with Novae Herculis), was to make a systematic survey of dwarf novae and then later novae, to see just how many of them you could detect as close binaries, if you could just take spectra fast enough. So you had to have speed, so you had to have the 200-inch nebular spectrograph to do it. So I embarked on a program there, and that really paid off. It was quite clear. The samples that I took would be considered small now by contemporary standards, but for the time I think they clearly demonstrated that these objects were all close binary stars and they all satisfied this model that Jack Crawford and I had put forth when we were students together. The most fun I ever had with a telescope was with a star called WZ Sagittae. …That one was really funny because I changed the technique of observing entirely. In those days we used to trail spectra down a slit to increase the signal-to-noise.
What do you mean “trail”?
You have the slit and you offset the telescope from the sidereal rate, so the star drifts down the slit slowly, or fast, depending on how short the exposure is, but you let the star drift down. Then you put it back to the top with the slow-motion equipment and you let it drift down again. The idea is you get a widened spectrum because you get images—you get lines, basically, instead of holes in the spectrum. That increases the signal-to-noise because with the photographic plate, if you just leave the star in the same place it produces blackening, and after a time the blackening goes nonlinear. You want to avoid being in a nonlinear regime, so you can’t leave the object just fixed in a certain place. You can increase the signal-to-noise by lengthening the spectrum, so you’re widening the spectrum. So that’s how you get your signal-to-noise up in the old days. Well that’s how we always took spectra at coudé focus and I would say, “Well, here, limit this exposure to 40 minutes and trail the spectrum to increase the signal-to-noise.” Well, this thing has emission lines. It also has absorption lines of a white dwarf with emission lines in the middle. I took these 40-minute exposures.
The emission lines were all double, which is what you get from a rotating ring or disk, and I took one spectrum and the right-hand component was much stronger than the left-hand component. Then, in the next spectrum, the left-hand component was much stronger than the right-hand component. I thought about this in the dark room. I always developed the first plate of the evening just to be sure it was alright with the spectrograph. I went back up to the cage and I said, “You know, if this thing had a really short period, maybe if I just trailed it down the slit once very slowly, I would see the radial velocity change. Maybe there’s something shifting back and forth in a very short period.” And sure enough, I developed this spectrum in which one trailed once down the slit for a couple of hours. You could see this S wave superimposed on the double emission, which remained constant. You saw this S wave with an 81.6-minute period. I just couldn’t believe it. This hunch was right. A binary star with a period of an hour and 21 minutes set the record in those days. There are even shorter periods known now, but that was very remarkable for the time. Let me say that I think every scientist has hidden in his papers something that he did that was ahead of its time and for which he sort of feels he never got any credit. I have just one of those. Now, I get plenty of credit in this world, but there is one thing that we did that I think was kind of interesting for which we’ve never really been noticed. There were three of us involved. That is Jesse Greenstein and a guy by the name of Jon Mathews. Jon Mathews was a physicist at Caltech who died mysteriously on a sailboat where he was trying to sail across the South Pacific alone. A very adventurous guy. He disappeared and I think nobody knows what happened to him. He was my age, 40-ish or 35-ish.
Anyway, this has a connection, which is interesting, with Yerkes as well. While I was at Yerkes Observatory, Chandra gave an occasional colloquium, and I happened to attend a colloquium in which he talked about gravitational waves. Now, you understand all these equations went on blackboard and discussion of quadrapole moments and all this stuff. I understood very little of it. At the end, he said, “If we have two white dwarfs and they went around each other fairly fast, if Einstein is right, they will emit gravitational waves, and that will cause them to spin down and eventually come together.” Well, I listened to that with great interest, and went my way. Suddenly, with this WZ Sagittae, the model is there’s this M-type dwarf and this white dwarf in the system and they’re going around each other in 81.6 minutes. A Polish scientist I was working with at the time named Voytek Krzeminski who was a photometrist and who was up here at Lick as a matter of fact.
He did the light curve and discovered the eclipses of WZ Sagittae after I discovered the radial velocity variations. A funny thing was the eclipse and the radial velocities were 90 degrees out of phase, and I’ll explain why that’s true in a minute. Now, you remember our model of SS Cygni and AE Aquarii. We said, “the red star is swelling up in response to stellar evolution, and that’s what’s driving the material through the inner Langrangian point into the ring around the other star.” But now we’ve got an M dwarf. M dwarfs aren’t undergoing stellar evolution. They just sit on the main sequence. They’re not swelling up. They’re not doing anything. They’re too old. So what the hell’s going on here? Then I suddenly thought of Chandra’s lecture, so I said, “Could this thing be emitting gravitational waves?” So I went to Jesse, because he knew all about everything. I didn’t know anything about gravitational waves, except remembering Chandra’s lecture. Jesse said to go talk to Jon Mathews, who knows all about this stuff. So Jon knew where all this stuff was in Landau and Lifschitz, which was the bible of this kind of thing. We found the equations that governed how much energy is radiated and how much angular momentum is radiated in that situation. The three of us wrote, I believe, the first paper that was ever written, it’s in the Ap.J. letters, that this object might be emitting gravitational radiation and, if so, it wasn’t going to last more than so many years. The reason the matter flows is because, with the emission of the gravitational radiation, the lobe around the M stars shrinks all the time and that’s what drives the matter out through the inner Langrangian Point. It’s got nothing to do with stellar evolution. It’s gravitational wave grinding down the M-type star in the system. So we published this paper. Later on I wrote a little short paper that was published in some IAU transaction about how gravitational wave grinding might be more general, because Willem Luyten and I had shown during this period from proper motions and radial velocities of dwarf novae that they had mean magnitudes down around plus eight. And if that was true, how could stellar evolution be the thing that was driving it? They were too faint. But maybe gravitational radiation was driving this mass transfer. I didn’t know how to do that right, I’m not a theoretician. John Faulkner here had picked up on that, and in the period around 1970, John Faulkner worked a lot on this and wrote a number of papers about the importance of gravitational-wave grinding in binary systems of this kind. Well, the reason I say this is forgotten is that the physicists who work on LIGO and all these other things haven’t the slightest idea that we did any of that work.
What was your reaction to Taylor and Hulse’s binary pulsar?
Well, of course it’s right and ground breaking. Sure. I think it’s right. Our suggestion is much more complicated than that. They had essentially two point sources of mass and you’re not dealing with exchange of matter. The WZ Sagittae problem is much more complicated and not nearly so clean. When you’ve got two point sources of mass and there’s no matter exchanged between them, the only thing that’s driving that is the gravitational wave part. It’s a much better demonstration. Personally, I have to say— I don’t know if I should say this for the record or not.
We can seal that part if you want.
Okay. I can understand why the physics community would want to actually see gravitational waves, and I also understand that what they’re really interested in are what I would call gravitational wave trains. That is, a collapse event then occurs and a train comes out. You know, it’s like the analog of atomic physics, and that’s fine. You want to know how much of this kind of radiation there is in the universe and you recognize that it’s a tough experimental job, and I’m not going to take anything away from that, but when it comes right down to it, does anybody really believe they don’t exist? Every piece of evidence there is tells you that there are gravitational waves. The experiment is an enormous expenditure of funds and energy and it’s getting bigger and bigger. I guess I’m being old-fashioned and na?ve, but it just makes me wonder.
I think a lot of astronomers have that viewpoint. I can recall when LIGO was being talked about, a lot of astronomers were downright hostile toward it and the fact that it was called an observatory because there was nothing to observe.
Yeah, in a certain sense. I think maybe the best thing that may have come out of it. Of course, there’re always serendipity things and I think that’s maybe what is the biggest item. But maybe the best thing that will come out of it is an enormous increase in the technology of mensuration. These guys are actually measuring something, right? But what they’re trying to measure is so evanescent that the tools they will develop to make the measurement in and of themselves may be the most important fallout. That’s another way of looking at it. Not all is lost.
I’m just curious since you mentioned that. Do you have any thoughts on how a fairly small community of a physicists managed to get what is getting close to half a billion dollars worth of equipment to build this thing?
Well, I know nothing about it, of course. I’m not part of that community. I shouldn’t throw stones. It’s always bothered me a little, especially after the Taylor and Hulse result. It’s so incredibly obvious.
Did you think it’s almost a morbid curiosity, this feeling that we have to see it?
Well, I suppose. But I think the justification is more along the lines of things that we’ll see that don’t have to do with binary stars and things like that—the wave train business coming out of supernova collapse and things like that. So I’m not going to knock it, but I just sit and wonder sometimes.
I had a question. While you were at the Hale Observatories and you look back over the all of your research, do you see any common threads or things that, you know, kind of running through all of it?
Well, not really because I think one of the important things in science is not to get into a complete rut. There are people who are doing, in effect, something that just branches off from their Ph.D. thesis and they’re 65 years old. So I’ve tried to switch it around. I mean, when you get older it’s harder, of course. You tend to stay more with a given subject. But I think when you’re younger it’s nice to have several things you’re interested in. Broadly I guess I’ve always been a stellar spectroscopy person. I’ve never been very comfortable doing photometry and things like that.
You spent all this time looking at stars, doing stellar spectroscopy. Did all of your time spent looking at stars give you a different picture of the universe? When you went home at the end of a long observing run, did you feel that you were starting to see the universe in a different way?
Well, it depends on how you use the word “universe”. I’ve always been interested in, I would say, more the smaller advances and trying to establish a certain field with enough statistical weight to say, “Yeah, we know what’s going on here.” I also am amused by curious, I guess, strange things. That means I guess I’ve never been a person terribly concerned with the big-picture kind of approach. I don’t denigrate that at all, it’s just that people have different styles and different interests and different ways. You know, I just love something that makes a mess out of something. What I mean is that here’s some object, some bunch of things that don’t fit into the picture, and why is that? It sort of amuses me more than maybe trying to understand the big picture as a work. So, often, attempts to understand the big picture lead to kind of frustrations. I don’t get involved with it.
Were you ever tempted to go into quasar research or other certain hot topics that sprung up?
Well, the only time I ever got into galaxies was I got kind of interested through Kurt Anderson, who was a graduate student at Caltech in the years when I was there. He came up here for a couple of years as a post-doc. A guy now at the University of Virginia, Bob O’Connell who was also post-doc here for a while, got sort of interested in Seyfert galaxies and things like that. We wrote some papers in that era. For example, we looked at some of Zwicky’s small galaxies and tried to get rotation curves for them to estimate the masses, and that was done at the 120-inch coudé, which was a very, very tough job in those days because you were looking at this terribly faint thing and I remember having a black cloth over my head and staring into the eyepiece, trying to guide this thing and hold it fixed on the slit. Then at coudé you have to have an image rotator that counteracts that rotation of the image as the telescope moves, because you’re putting the slit in a certain direction in order to see what the rotation curve is in that direction, and then you put the slit this way to see what it is in some other direction. The whole sky rotates at Coudé because that’s a fixed position on the floor. It’s just like an alt-az telescopes; every focus rotates, of course. In those days when we had the equatorial mount of telescopes for the most part, if one were working at Cassegrain or prime the field was fixed, but the coudé would always rotate. Guiding at coudé was trickier, and you wanted to hold the image fixed with the slit in a certain direction. So it was hard to do on a small galaxy which was kind of spread out and faint. In fact, half the time you thought, “Where is it?: You can’t see it. It was a pretty tough time. So anyway, we followed up on NGC 4151 (I think it was 4151; it was one of the famous Seyferts) because it had absorption lines. If you looked down in the UV below H and K in the spectrum of 4151, you saw these three absorption lines of helium, and that meant you were looking at material that’s being ejected for a Seyfert galaxy, you know, out of the core. We wrote some papers on that again using the 120-inch Coudé. That’s as far as I’ve ever gone into any kind of galactic research. That was interesting; it was fun to do at the time. Anyway, I left Mt. Wilson in 1967 to take a position here.
How did that happen? I mean you were sort of lured away by the competition, if you will.
Well, again this is something you might sort of want to conceal.
Okay, we can do that.
There were really three reasons, I think. I was having some deterioration of relationships with at least one of the astronomers on the staff at Santa Barbara Street. I don’t want to go into a lot of details, but this caused me a lot of dismay.
Can you say who it is just so…?
Well, I had kind of a falling out with Allan Sandage. I think this is not all that unusual because I believe Allan has a history of fallings out with people. I look back over it and, from this distance, you look at these things and you say, “Well, I was pretty grim, too.” This is not some kind of “all his fault” kind of nonsense. You know, when you’re younger you take offense more easily about this, that and the other thing. I also seemed to have an uncomfortable relationship with Olin Eggen, who was at that time on the staff at Caltech. Of course, Allan and Olin were very close to each other during this period, and that may have had some bearing on all of this.
Was it personality-based, or was it some scientific element?
Oh, there were some scientific elements and some personality elements. I don’t think there’s any point in going into that side of it, but it just made me feel kind of uncomfortable. Well, that was one side of it. A second aspect of it was that my older son, who was the longhaired, hippy freak kid in that period.
This is the musician? The guitar player?
I actually looked your older son up on the web this morning.
Oh, is that right?
Yeah, I found some stuff on Santa Cruz bands and they had a picture of him.
Oh, is that right? I didn’t realize he was out there. Anyway, like most 16- or 17-year-old kids, he had his share of brushes with the police and God knows what in that period, and of course any kid who had long hair in that period was automatically suspected of all kinds of crimes and misdemeanors. For example, the police department got to following him around, figuring that they would catch him pretty soon with marijuana. The funny thing, of course, in the neighborhood, they did finally catch a kid who was on marijuana and of course he was the captain of the basketball team.
Pasadena’s a fairly conservative place.
We were living in Claremont at the time. We had a tract house out there. So he was beginning to be in a band, or he was running a band. It wasn’t called Snail, but we were in Southern California. We just got to the point that I said, “We can’t take this kind of stuff anymore.” Then finally, the smog, which was getting worse and worse and worse and pushing out especially into these areas that were kind of up against the mountains. I remember Kevin, my younger son, coming home from a bicycle trip and having to lie down in the davenport for two hours just sort of gasping. You know, he was out pumping all the time through the smog. So this combination of things… Well, the other thing that had happened earlier on was that the last year I was a graduate student at Berkeley was the first year that George Preston, who is an astronomer at Santa Barbara Street now, was a first-year student. We got to be very good friends and did a fair amount of science together and certainly talked about a lot of stuff. George, after he got his Ph.D. in 1959, accepted an appointment on the Lick staff and I remember in 1964 coming up from Santa Barbara Street and we were writing a paper together, interestingly enough, with Sidney Wolff, who was George’s graduate student. We wrote a paper on H alpha absorption that was kind of the analog of Olin Wilson’s calcium II emission thing. That trip I came up to Mt. Hamilton and worked for a few days. That was when Kennedy was assassinated and everybody was in tears and nobody could work. Nothing to do but go home. I just left the mountain and went home back to Claremont. Anyway, after the 120-inch came into operation up here, George Preston had said to me, “It’d be nice if someday you came back to Lick,” and I said, “Oh, I’ve got the 200-inch. Why should I come back up here?” They pursued me a little bit about the possibility and, in fact, in 1964 also I was asked about it and I declined because I didn’t want to live on top of a mountain; I didn’t like that idea.
This was before they had moved back to Santa Cruz.
Before they had moved down here. Then the crisis came in UC about what was going to happen to Lick and all of that. I just wrote an obituary for Whitford that will appear in the BAAS, and there’s a long discussion of that. Anyway, the long and short was that, after they moved down here in 1966, at first I didn’t want to come because, to tell you the truth, my parents had come to live in Santa Cruz. They only lived here for about a year and moved back to Seattle. That’s because my father’s relatives, his brothers and sisters, lived around Turlock, and some of them retired here in Santa Cruz. If you look in the phone book you’ll see some Krafts here that are remote cousins of mine, but I never see them. So they moved back to Seattle and the idea of living in the same city as my parents did not appeal. I won’t go into that. We’d been disconnected from them for years and years and they’re fine people and all of that, but the idea of living in the same community was just too close. Then in 1966 or 1967, with all this other stuff going on, I contacted George Preston. He talked with Whitford, and they were still interested and made me an offer and I accepted.
How did the Lick environment— I understand by this point that you’d moved off Mt. Hamilton but, just as an institution, how did it compare with the Pasadena environment?
Well, it’s a smaller place, of course. I didn’t know at the time that I was walking into kind of an administrative chaos, but people were certainly fine. Pete Conti was here at the time, whom I knew, and of course George Preston, whom I had worked with a lot and was a good friend. Merle Walker was here; I didn’t know him terribly well, but it was okay. Tom Kinman, who later went to Kitt Peak, was on staff here. Stan Vasilevskis, was good with astrometry. So there were a lot of really good people here. I didn’t know Whitford really at all because he worked in an entirely different field from what I worked in, but it all seemed fine. When we first moved here we were down in Student Services. The buildings weren’t finished yet and we had a big move and all of that. So it was fine and the 120-inch coudé was just great. It had some advantages over the 200-inch coudé, actually. So I was perfectly happy.
What were those advantages?
Well, I think the coudé spectrograph was certainly the equal and in some ways better in terms of the equipment it had and so forth, which George Herbig had built. Of course, he was my supervisor as a Ph.D. student. So everything was fine, but then the crisis came after I came up here.
Caused by what?
Well, it’s a terribly long story. First of all, the crisis of the administrative decision of the university to move the staff off the mountain and to downgrade the Lick Observatory from the organization where the Director reported directly to the President into a situation where he reported basically to the Chancellor. The observatory was welcomed with open arms here by Dean McHenry, the Chancellor, because this meant he had a formidable research group embedded in this young campus, which gave it a lot of prestige and so forth, which he was anxious to have. But Whitford had been beaten pretty badly by the university committees and internal wranglings within the university, essentially over how the 120-inch was going to be governed. The Lick astronomers, I think, saw themselves very much as a reflection of the Mt. Wilson style, except that they lived on the mountain. The new telescope had trouble with the drive, it had trouble with the mirror, and Whitford came in with a clean broom and swept out the incompetent people who were doing these things after Shane resigned, and got the telescope going. If it hadn’t been for Whitford, the 120-inch would never have worked. It was his personal commitment to make it work.
So after the telescope went on line, and the astronomers here had spent seven or eight years of their lives trying to get this telescope going, you can imagine their attitude was pretty much, “it’s ours.” On the other hand, we have all these other campuses of the University of California, all of whom wanted a piece of the action and were saying, “Hey, there’s this big telescope up there. You guys can’t control it.” Not to have a monopoly. This is one of those things again. You can understand both sides of this story. There were secret committees, and all kinds of stuff went on, and the astronomers on the mountain felt beleaguered and under siege. Finally they were told they had to move off the mountain and they would be given the choice of either coming to the new campus here or making a new headquarters in Berkeley, and they decided to come here, which was the wise thing to do because, in the University of California by then, there were innumerable organized research units in Berkeley that had higher standing and more money and people from than the Lick Observatory. So you would just be one of a lot of organizations, whereas if you came here you’re a pretty big bump on the log. So that was kind of the way it went, but after they came here they got into trouble with the administration, but not so much with Chancellor McHenry as with McHenry having all this other stuff to do with things that were going on on this campus to establish it. He turned the Lick Observatory over to the Vice Chancellor for Sciences, a guy named Francis Clauser. Francis Clauser was an engineer who came from Caltech, and I think the fair thing to say— I don’t know, it’s unfair to Clauser to say that he was a crazy man, but at least from the astronomers’ point of view he came pretty close.
So he didn’t have a lot of sympathy for astronomers?
That’s right. Well, he had ambitions for astronomy that were very strange. For example, unbeknownst to the Director, he invited some NASA officials out here, took them up to Mt. Hamilton and told them, “Wouldn’t it be a great thing if we took the 120-inch and flew it in orbit?” I mean, this is a ground-based telescope, and when you compare it with the Hubble space telescope, it’s an absolutely insane idea in terms of its focal length and everything else. This was without even talking with the local astronomers or with the Director of the Observatory.
I can only imagine what the NASA people must have thought.
They must have thought he was out of his mind. Anyway, he didn’t last very long but he was still Vice Chancellor of Science when I came. Now Whitford was just beside himself with this kind of oversight and the tension between the Chancellor’s office and Clauser, and the observatory just reached great levels. And at that time, George Preston had become chairman, because at that time a graduate program had been established and so there was a chairman who reported to the Vice Chancellor. Thus one of the members of the observatory staff then became chairman at that point because basically the only people here who were astronomers were members of the Lick staff. So in that same year, George Preston and I proposed to sort of redo the Yerkes Observatory here, and by that I mean go to the National Science Foundation and get a big grant to bring a whole bunch of theoreticians here. We’d have theory and observation in the same place. Our model was the old Yerkes Observatory, when Struve was Director and there were guys like Henyey and Chandra, a whole theoretical group, along with the observers. We felt that’s what made the place strong, and we wanted to reestablish the Yerkes style here. So we applied to the National Science Foundation. They gave us a departmental improvement grant in 1968 or 1969, and that’s what brought the theoreticians here. We hired John Faulkner, George Blumenthal, Stan Woosley came later, Doug Lin came later and so forth. Anyway, that’s how the theoretical group got started.
Were you looking for particular people or particular areas?
Well, we obviously wanted to do something with stellar evolution because that was the big deal in those days. Bill Matthews came and of course his work was done in galaxies and interstellar matter. Some people that came then didn’t make tenure and we hired other people later, like Stan Woosley, and the rest, as they say, is history. George Preston, being chairman, couldn’t take Clauser anymore and George resigned. The funny thing was he took my old position at Mt. Wilson. Playing musical chairs. This was the last straw as far as the Lick staff was concerned. They decided to ask Whitford to step down, and guess what the new boy on the block had to do. See, I really think they were deeply involved in all of the crises and things that had gone on here. Whitford at some times made some decisions which didn’t sit well with some members of the staff, because Whitford, for all his virtues, was also a bit of a micromanager. Some of the people on the staff were in many ways like some of the people at Santa Barbara Street. Once given a responsibility, they did not want any supervision from above- “this is my show, you delegated that authority to me.” Whitford had a way sometimes of meddling a bit, and this is said I hope with kindness, but it is nevertheless true. Anyway, I’m the one that had to carry the hemlock; I was asked to take Whitford aside. I invited him for drinks at a local bar and we sat for a long time and I said, “The staff thinks that the time has come.”
How did he respond?
He took it I think quite well. There was some bitterness, needless to say, but I think he realized that all of this had taken so much of a toll on him. As I said to him in my infinite wisdom—40 years old with infinite wisdom—I said, “Well, after running the show for 15 years, you sort of play all your aces and kings and now you’re down to nines and tens in terms of the power and influence you can wield against the people who are there that you’ve got to deal with every day on an administrative level.” I think that happens to everybody in an administrative position. You get to that point. The important thing is to recognize when it happens and understand that this is it. This was hard in those days because the Director of an Observatory was for all organizations like Mt. Wilson and here and Harvard and all those places, being Director of an observatory—that was a lifetime job. You took it and you were expected forever, till the day you retire, to hold that position. It was a measure of your prestige or manhood, whatever you want to say. It wasn’t put it in those terms in those days, but that’s what it was.
But that was understood.
It was understood. So this was not easy and the thing that was really deplorable about all of this is that now you had to have a new Director, and nobody would do it. So guess what? The new boy on the block did it. I became Acting Director. I told McHenry, “I do not want this position. If you now embark on a nationwide search for a Director,” which they were perfectly willing to do, “I’m willing to hold the fort down for a while, until you can get somebody to come.” Well, that went on for five years. I wasn’t really good at it and I didn’t want to do it, but I did it for two years while they were searching around and approached a lot of people and there was a nationwide search that went on for a long time. McHenry kind of intimated that he’d like me to take it on a permanent basis, just take it, just because he wanted to get rid of the problem, but I said, “No, it’s not for me. I want to do my research. I don’t want to be involved in this administrative business.” The main reason I think we couldn’t get anybody to come, of course, was that Ronald Reagan was governor and the university was in the pits. He was not sympathetic to the University of California. You know the story about Clark Kerr. So these were bad times. It was the Vietnam War period of time.
Was it difficult to be a Director without making enemies?
I don’t think so so much around here at that time. We were in the process then of hiring all these theoreticians and things were pretty much set. The only problems I had was dealing in that period with the rise of the influence of the people on other campuses in connection with the use of the telescope. I can’t remember exactly the details anymore, but I think I established, for the first time, a time allocation committee that involved people from other campuses. I bit the bullet and said, “You know, we’ve got to come into the twentieth century, folks.” That wasn’t welcomed particularly, but it wasn’t heavily resisted. It was kind of opening up the telescope for other people and others around who seemed pretty satisfied. We had Joe Wampler at that time, and he was producing these new instruments which were pretty miraculous like the image dissector scanner. Lloyd Robinson came at that time and worked on all of these things.
Did you hire these people because of their instrumental ability?
No, Joe Wampler had been on a junior staff position here when I came and I’ve forgotten the details whether we then hired him as assistant professor. Too long ago; I don’t remember the details.
How did being the Director affect your own research?
Well, it obviously cut into it. After I was here for two years I said, “Thank you very much.” At that time I had a lot of connections with JILA at the University of Colorado, the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics. I’d been on some of their visiting committees and stuff like that. They offered me a position for few months where they would pay, so I didn’t even have to take sabbatical leave. I just said, “I’m going. Somebody else around here is going to have to be Acting Director for a while.” So George Herbig did, much to his dismay. Then I came back and it was the same old thing. I’d be Acting Director again. But fortunately there had been some informal contacts with Don Osterbrock over the years. Finally Don came in 1973 and accepted the permanent Director position. Much to my relief I got out in July. One of the things I enjoyed here was working with graduate students, and that wouldn’t have happened at Santa Barbara Street. I really liked that; I would teach a little bit. I taught the stellar atmospheres and I started teaching a course for junior-senior physics majors on stars and that was nicely confined to ten students. Physics majors you could reach if you could put some math and physics into it. It was good; I really enjoyed teaching that course, which I gave every other year.
While you were Director, either permanent or acting, I understand that, based on the Yerkes model, you brought in some astrophysicists. Were there particular areas of research you wanted to work in?
Of course, stellar evolution and interstellar matter were seen as important. We started bringing in some people who had cosmological interests. Since we had this astrometric program that was going on, we thought it would be nice if we had someone who was interested in stellar dynamics and that sort of thing and that’s why Doug Lin came, although that’s considerably later. So that’s how things go over the years. And supernovae, and so of course Stan came. So certain areas we targeted but like everything else you target some area and five years later it’s no longer the cutting edge as they say. So it’s hard. You keep refreshing these things as time goes on. Anyway, Don came and I think solidified the theoretical-observational mix. We had a quieter time, I think, altogether, throughout the university. The financial situation got somewhat better as Reagan moved on to higher things. After screwing California he could screw the country. We’re still living with that legacy, I’m afraid. Anyway, you could see where my politics fit.
At this time you have Lick and Mt. Wilson, but you also have in the early 1970s Kitt Peak and Cerro Tololo, with the two 4-meter telescopes. What were your thoughts on the relationship between the private observatories and now Lick’s new public observatory?
Well, I was all for it. I served on the AURA Board for years as the University of California representative. I can’t tell you exactly what years, but I was very much involved in that. I have used both the 4-meter and the 2.1-meter. I’ve even been in Chile and used the 4-meter down there over the years at various times. I never had any problem with that. I think most people around here didn’t worry about it after a while. I thought it was a great thing because I never believed in the system, the sort of unwritten statement that you had down in Southern California that, “Well, we are the elect, and only people like us really know what to do with telescopes, blah, blah, blah.” That’s just nonsense. It doesn’t mean that those guys aren’t good; that’s not my point. But other people could do things now that formerly couldn’t be done except by the elect few. I think astronomy has done much better since.
Greenstein and Goldberg had a big falling-out in the 1970s.
That’s what I understand, over aspects of the governance of at Kitt Peak. I’m not really sure what that was all about. I wasn’t really involved in it. Well, they’re both fairly aggressive and opinionated people, but then important people often are.
I had another question also. I’m hopping around a little bit. What do you see the role of Lick Observatory, in this era of new observatories in Hawaii and Chile, fitting in?
That comes in this recital a little bit later in the sense that, as you get into the Keck telescope era— Maybe we could get to that a little bit later because it’s exactly relevant to this question. I guess I should go back to my own research in that period, aside from fiddling around with Seyfert galaxies. I’ll mention another fun research episode because it started out another train of activity. Briefly, I still fiddled around with cataclysmic variables. This is the time x-ray sources started coming into existence so I fiddled around a little bit with Cygnus X-I. We did an estimate of the distance to that and a few other loose ends in that category. Since I had become kind of the stellar spectroscopy guru of dwarf novae and that kind of stuff, as soon as the x-ray binaries began to be seen and the pulsar with it, the model was very similar—something overflowing this Roche lobe. Except you’ve got a neutron star in here, a black hole or something like that. So I remember going back to Harvard and an x-ray group that was back there, Gursky and these guys—
Like Riccardo Giacconi and all of those scientists?
Giacconi and those guys had asked me to give a couple of colloquia on what these cataclysmic variables looked like. They were all very much interested in that because it’s basically the same kind of an object. But I never really got into that racket. It’s a tough job. But I got interested in a star that George Herbig had worked on called FG Sagittae. A crazy star. George had written a paper with Alexander Boyarchuk, a Russian astronomer who was here as a visitor. Boyarchuk later was a Russian President of the International Astronomical Union, so he was a fixture in Russian astronomy, Soviet astronomy. At the time, he was a young person who worked with George. They worked on this crazy star, which had risen from something like fifteenth magnitude up to about ten in the course of eighty years or something like that. While this was going on it moved from being a blue star to a red star. So Herbig and Boyarchuk looked at it in the late 1960s using high-resolution coudé spectroscopy, and it looked like a normal super giant B or A type star. They wrote a paper about it and derived abundances etc. After reaching about tenth magnitude, FgSge then started to get a bit fainter. George had lost interest in it and I asked him if it was alright if I took some spectra of it. So I was interested in taking spectra, and by that time people were noticing it was getting quite a bit redder. All of a sudden, the spectrum started filling up with strange spectral lines that I didn’t know what they were, but it sure as hell wasn’t normal. Here were these four lines of neutral iron from 3920A to 3930A, and in between were some strong absorption lines. What were they? You know, they were not there in standard stars. Well it turns out the whole spectrum started filling up with “s-process species”: barium, ytrium, cerium, lanthanum, etc.
Yes. These are elements that in the B2FH picture of element formation are made by capture of slow neutrons on the iron peak. The captures are slow compared with beta decay. The R-process, rapid capture, occurs in supernovae, presumably, in which the flood of free neutrons is enormous. You build up some elements before they’ve had a chance to beta decay. For example, europium is built up in the solar system essentially from the R-process. Barium is almost entirely from the S-process. Often the barium to europium ratio is used as a measure of whether the R-process or the S-process has dominated the particular abundance of elements in this star. There’s a lot of stuff on this right now from Chris Sneden and David Lambert and these guys where you look at very old stars and you see that the distribution of all these heavy elements is consistent with the R-process. There’s no s-process contribution at all; it’s interesting nuclear astrophysics. Anyway, all this s-process stuff started to come out. So here is a star which is doing its nuclear dredge up before our very eyes. We’ve always wanted to see something like that. All these predictions about how you produce barium stars and all that kind of stuff, you see an example of it, but here was a star actually doing it in real time. I was very excited over this. Kurt Anderson was around as a post-doc here, and Ed Langer, who was a teaching professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, had come here and worked with me in summers, and we did this paper together. Ed was into nuclear astrophysics and knew something about that. In all the years that I was at Mt. Wilson, I never got into the abundance racket. That was where the action was then. But somehow I was interested in these other things. I’m glad I was.
What do you mean that’s where the action was?
Well, Jesse’s abundance group—an enormous amount of 200-inch time went to trying to establish how the chemical elements came into the universe. This is the era of Helfer, Wallerstein and Greenstein, and looking at globular cluster giants and discovering that they have iron abundances that were two orders of magnitude down from the sun. You know, that whole business, so-called alpha elements and the R-process elements and the S-process elements and all that. Where did they come from? How did they get into the universe? Does this tell you about supernovae? Fred Hoyle had opened up the bottleneck that you couldn’t get past the light elements to get to carbon 12, and that whole story. So I never got into that game, but here was this FG Sagittae and so it’s time to pick up the books and start studying. It was a field I really didn’t know very well. So that got me interested in this sort of thing, and we published a paper in 1973 and I wrote an article for Sky and Telescope about this crazy star. You know, it’s gotten even stranger as the years have gone by. I don’t work on it anymore, but about five years ago it suddenly turned into an R Coronae Borealis star. That is to say, it got cooler and cooler, and more and more of these S-process species, and then one fine day carbon bands started showing up.
All of a sudden it had a belch and threw off a carbon shell and the brightness just dropped like a shot by about five or six magnitudes because of this huge, opaque carbon envelope, which is what an R Coronae Borealis star is. Then after a while the carbon shell dissipates and it burns off, so to speak, and the thing recovers in brightness. Then it did it all over again, which is what R Coronae Borealis stars do. So we can see that this star is kind of a gold mine of nuclear astrophysics activity. I’m out of that activity now, but anyway it got me interested in abundances and that’s what I’ve been interested in since. So that’s just an anecdote. Anyway, Don Osterbrock’s tenure as Director was very successful, and this place developed a considerable reputation for both theory and observation during that period and Joe Wampler’s machines were great. Along, of course, came CCDs a little later. Joe and others here were into that. Sandy Faber came and was appointed sometime in that period; I guess she was appointed while I was Acting Director. Well, you’ve talked with her. So I thought the place was doing just fine. Then there came this era of discussing whether maybe we could build a very large telescope. There was the University of California project. Maybe Sandy’s described quite a bit of that to you already.
I know a bit about it. Nelson had his plan, Wampler had his.
Wampler had a different plan, and there was a Greybeards Committee trying to decide which to build.
Were you part of the process?
Yeah, I was on the Greybeards Committee.
What did you think? I know it’s sort of hindsight.
I think we had a lot of faith in Joe Wampler; we knew him, we knew what he could do. Of course, naturally I supported the thin-mirror monolith. That was our thing. We didn’t know Jerry Nelson particularly well.
He wasn’t really part of the telescope astronomy community, was he?
No, he wasn’t. I think he had an interest in astronomy, but Jerry’s interests were much more technological. Engineering physics, I think, may describe it. Of course, he was at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, which wasn’t even a faculty position. I mean, this is kind of off to one side and these are all kind of research appointments in a different part of the university. Anyway, I think the decision, which the Greybeards Committee made, which was a four to three decision, in retrospect was the wisest decision. I think the rationale, which Margaret Burbidge put forward very effectively, was that you could experiment around with segments and build a kind of small scale version and see what happened, whereas with the thin-mirror monolith, nobody really knew how to do it. I’m sure Joe could perfectly well have done it, as we have seen from the experience at Arizona, it’d be perfectly possible to do. But nobody knew. Of course, if you do a big thin-mirror monolith and you break it, you’re done. Your game’s over. So there was certainly some logic to going that way.
Did this debate over this cause splits in the department?
Yeah, it caused some trouble, needless to say. I think people around here were disappointed. Certainly Joe Wampler was disappointed as well as Dave Rank, who was our infrared astronomer on staff. They were into instrumentation and devices and things like that. I think the other thing that worried people here was essentially losing control of astronomy in the university. That is, if Lawrence Berkeley Lab was suddenly going to be the place where all this happened, it was possible the leadership of astronomy in the university would pass to Berkeley or to the lab or some other people, and obviously an organization worries about things like that. That’s perfectly natural. Anyway, that was the decision that was made. Well, the question then was, “What was going to be the response of Lick Observatory?” And certainly in this place there were those who said, “The hell with it. They’re never going to raise the money anyway. Let’s just go our own way and forget it.” Joe Wampler, of course, was very much in that camp and there were a few others who felt that way. There were others who sort of had no opinion really, or certainly didn’t want to voice anything particularly strongly. Wampler and Rank had a plan to build an alt-az 2 meter on Mt. Hamilton to sort of supplement the three-meter already there.
The members of the astronomical community here, before the ten-meter telescope design went the way it went, had supported this general idea because there were a lot of users in the university, and the two-meter telescope built “on the cheap” would certainly provide a lot of observing time. So that’s kind of the way it stood and that would have been part of the point of view of going it alone. Then it transpired that Don offered his resignation. I don’t want to put words in anybody’s mouth. I’m saying this in an entirely uncritical way, just to relate what happened. I think Don probably didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of trying to deal with the messy political fallout of that decision. That’s perfectly understandable. I mean, anybody could take that point of view, and it’s a perfectly sensible point of view to take. I think Don doesn’t enjoy situations where there’s a lot of conflict. He steered this ship very well, and did it for seven or eight years, whatever it was. I can easily see how a person wouldn’t want to deal with those possible issues because, obviously internally here, there would be a lot of divided opinions and concerns about what was going to happen to the institution. I guess I’d have to say you come with an institution like this, and no matter how you slice it you develop a certain kind of loyalty to it. My view of this situation was that we lost this battle, but there is only one ballgame in this town, and the President’s office was completely behind the ten-meter project. Again, it’s the old Lick bugaboo. I mean, when people moved off the mountain all the Lick people said, “It’s those damn physicists at Berkeley that conspired against us.” Actually, there was some truth to that. The physics community was very powerful at the University of California, as you know, and those guys felt that the Lick astronomers were a bunch of old fuddy-duddies anyway who didn’t know what end was up. And there’s some truth to that, too. It was a very conservative organization on the mountain. Scientifically, very conservative. And again, the President knew Luiz Alvarez very well.
This was David Saxon, right?
Yes, Saxon. And Luiz Alvarez knew Jerry Nelson very well and knew the people at Lawrence Berkeley Lab very well, and certainly told the President that Jerry knew what he was doing. So again, these old kind of conspiratorial things began to come forward around here, as I think you can imagine, but my view was that you’ve got to live with this. You’ve got to understand where the President is coming from, and we aren’t going to do anything else in terms of a large telescope except follow this path. So if this institution knows which end is up, we had better go along with this ballgame. Furthermore, there’s a positive side to it. We have something to contribute that nobody else can contribute. There are people around here that know about instrumentation, they know about figuring mirrors—there’s a lot of knowledge and skills around here. They know how to build instruments. We have to be in this ballgame, and we better go with it. If you want me to run this place, the number one priority item for us is going to be support for this large telescope program in any way we can. So I sought the Directorship. At first, after I was appointed, I considered the business about the two-meter at Mt. Hamilton and established a university committee about it. We began to have more of these campus-wide committees. The astronomy community at the university said, “No, we think we’ve got to put all the effort into the ten meter project. This is a diversion.” So I cancelled it. I killed the 2-meter project. Joe Wampler wasn’t happy, and some of the others weren’t happy, and Joe eventually resigned. He went to ESO. Joe and I remained very good friends over the years, and Joe’s not the kind of guy who is sour about these things. It’s just that we had a difference of opinion. I remember being in Munich on several occasions, and when I was there with a visiting committee of the Max Planck Institute, Joe and I would get together. He would arrange that we go to the opera together and things like that. So all that stuff has gone, passed on by.
In 1984 with the Keck donation, Caltech enters the picture in a big way. What was the reaction here to that?
Oh, yeah. This is a long and very complicated story and I just don’t want to get into it.
It’s an interesting story.
It’s an interesting story. But the project did indeed have a large fallout here in many ways because we did certain things to help the project. We built the small telescope in which the first pair of segments was installed. And to see that the edge sensors would work together…
This was the prototype?
Yes, there was a prototype and we built this self-working telescope that was used as the test bed down here. What this did was improve our shops, and later on when the Keck project actually got going, we did the secondary mirror here, and that required building a new wing on the shops. It required a whole lot of new mensuration equipment to measure the figure on the mirror and our shop guys just did an absolutely marvelous job. Joe Miller was the chief honcho in all of this and did all of the measurements of that secondary mirror, and it was a great success. It was the most difficult secondary mirror ever made because it had to be figured to fit and produce satisfactory images in conjunction with the primary mirror. We have subsequently built all kinds of very successful instruments in our shop, and that’s all a result of money that came in from the Keck project and enabled us to expand the facilities here. So that all worked out very well. Anyway, the long and short of the connection with Caltech is, again, accidents of fate are partly involved here. We thought we had the money to build it as a UC project at one point, and that fell through.
This was the money from the Hoffman Trust.
Yes, the Hoffman Trust. There was a long story about that, and Sandy may have told you some of the story about that. I will just say, the irony of it all is that in the University of California, fundraising is in the hands of the campus Chancellors and not in the hands of the President’s office. Since this was a President’s office project, and the money came from there to do all the preliminary work on feasibility, they asked an old blue, named Trefethen, an alumnus of Berkeley, to do the fundraising. He’s a businessman and he founded the Trefethen Winery in Napa Valley. His wines are well known. They asked him to go around and see the big money people. The trouble was he had to check in with every Chancellor first, to be sure they weren’t competing with somebody that the Chancellor had lined up to give some money to UCLA or someplace. It was absolutely crazy. So nothing ever came of his schmoozing to get money out of Silicon Valley or some steel company or whatever. All of that was in vain. There was this telephone call from this person who said, “I have a sister, I think, who might have some money for this project.” They called somebody at Mt. Hamilton. Finally that got down to here and we made the connection. It was completely serendipitous. But eventually that fell through, because the Hoffman lady who was going to give the money died unexpectedly, quickly. Then there was a real set-to with the family about where the money was going to go, and it would have been strung out forever and the newspapers would have been full of stuff like, “University Prevents Heirs From Receiving Proper Inheritance.” You know how these things go.
As I understand it, the money was tied up with artwork. I mean, it wasn’t just a cash donation.
That’s right, it was tied up in various ways and we just didn’t want to get into that. Meantime, the Caltech connection started up. It is worth noting that Jerry Nelson was a Caltech undergraduate student. Let’s see, where did Jerry get his Ph.D.? Was it Berkeley?
That’s right, it was Berkeley, but he had been a student at Caltech, and people down there knew him and respected him. They were kind of looking in on this project themselves, knowing that it existed, and at that point, of course, we were looking for partners because we couldn’t raise the money ourselves. We finally just got together with Caltech, and they were interested and we were interested. They had the big money on their Board of Trustees, namely Mr. Keck. I think Mr. Keck himself probably wasn’t all that interested in astronomy, per se. He’s kind of from the backwoods of Texas, and not a man with the polish of one of the big-money people in California. So I think a lot of it was that he was going to show them he could really do something big.
So there was some ego involved?
I’m sure. Yes, I think that’s quite clear. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think almost everything we’ve ever done in private science over the years has been with people who had an ego or a feeling. They wanted maybe not their name, but their father’s name, or some memorial to them. Mr. Lick’s the same thing. This happens again and again.
At Yerkes as well.
Yerkes. So here’s the modern version of that. So he put up the money, and the deal was that we put up the operating funds. Basically it’s Caltech’s telescope, but UC guys put up the money to operate it, and that’s the deal.
Were people here sore about that arrangement?
I don’t think so. It meant a lot of money had to come out of the President’s office regularly, but okay. Caltech was spending a $75 million endowment, so the University of California over say 20 years could certainly afford to spend $75 million (add the factor of inflation in). So it think it was a great deal. NASA got a little into the act later because, you probably talked with Sandy about this.
Actually, we didn’t talk about this. I know they were trying to put the smaller telescopes on the sides.
Well, there were other reasons that we were a little short of funds and NASA helped out in that department too.
Yeah, for operations, maintenance, instrumentation and all that sort of thing. It’s a tough job out of that budget that you see supplies become instrumentation money, and instruments or a large telescope were a lot more money than people thought. It doesn’t scale linearly; it scales to some power, so it’s tough. Anyway, my job, coming back to being Director here under those circumstances, I could say two things about that. One is I don’t know anything. I don’t know anything about instruments, I don’t know anything about telescopes, but I did take a lesson, and that’s the lesson of Ronald Reagan, of all people. You know, I love ironies. What you have to do is spout the pious platitudes. The thing will do itself if you set the priority and speak in broad generalities about the future and where we’re going. I would say, without Joe Miller’s help, this would never have happened that we got through this in a good way, because he took on all the responsibility for running the shops and labs during this period. As I said before, doing the secondary mirror and a lot of other things.
My job was to keep the place together saying, “We are going to build this telescope and we are going to be major contributors to this, and everything that goes through our shops and labs— I’m sorry if you want to do that project over there at Mt. Hamilton. I’m sorry if we don’t have room in our shops. Now, you are three or four down on the priority list. We are doing a thing for the Keck telescope now and I’m sorry. You’re just going to have to wait.” That built up our shops and their reputation enormously. I think the most successful thing that came out of that whole thing for Lick Observatory was that our shops remained intact and were expanded. I want to say why that’s important. Our shops run on hard money from the state plus rechargeable income from contracts and grants. So you build an instrument, you ask (say) the National Science Foundation to support some of it and then we recharge the salary of guys in the shop to that grant, which then enables us to use the hard state money for some other people to do something else. When you have hard state money, you can maintain a shop that always has people in it, because you can always pay their salaries. Suppose you contract, as has happened with Gemini and others, you have a totally democratic situation and you contract this infrared instrument out to a bunch of guys at Dismal Seepage College in Iowa. (You can substitute any other institution you want). They don’t have a permanent shop. Everybody that’s hired to build this instrument is on the instrumentation money.
Well, we’re going to build this infrared instrument. Great. Well, we have this detector that some company in Santa Barbara is making - a wonderful detector, marvelous signal-to-noise. We’re told it just does everything. So we design this machine with a focal ratio and where all the hardware stuff is designed around this detector. Fine. We start building the instruments and spending money hand-over-fist. Everything’s going fine. One day somebody says, “Well, you know, they’re having trouble producing this detector.” “Oh, is that right?” “Yeah, they can’t seem to fabricate them the way they thought they could. The signal-to-noise is terrible, and there’s all kinds of charge transfer problems between the pixels and there’s this and that trouble.” “Well, that’s too bad.” So a few more months go by. They can’t seem to make them at all now. But we’ve got this device and we’ve built the whole thing around this detector. So what happens? Well, we’ve got to keep paying everybody, right? Because we can’t let all these people go now, so we’re paying them to do nothing, right? Here at Lick, if that happened to you, “Oh well, okay. we just transfer them to another job, because we’ve got this hard state money.” See, that’s the disaster you get yourself into if you have too much democracy in the way you hand out instrumental packages. So we must not let this get away. If somehow the Lick Observatory was dismantled because of Keck, and all these guys in our shop suddenly lost their jobs and had to do something else, we’d be exactly in that mode.
There’s some contract that goes to a group of people up in Berkeley and something happens just like I’m saying, and you’re going to be paying money hand-over-fist for nothing being done at all. So that is the saving grace of this place. We have a “hard-money shop” and labs, we can continue to build instruments because we can do what I was just saying in the face of troubles, and that’s paid off enormously in the long run because our instruments from here that have gone to Keck and been extremely successful. That’s important and I think the preservation of the Lick Observatory as the guiding spirit of astronomy in the University of California is, well, if I ever made any contribution as an administrator, that had to be it. I’m not taking credit for the work that people did, but it was just keeping us oriented toward the goal. Now, it’s much easier to direct when you’ve got a project in view and people know there’s something out there that’s going to happen downstream that’s going to be great. So I was Director for ten years and it was a great time.
You finished in 1991, which I think was the same year as the dedication.
That’s right. The main thing we were able to establish in that period was the founding of UCO, because one of the things the University wanted us to do was to devise a scheme to govern the University of California’s relationship with the Keck Telescope. So we established what was called the University of California Observatories, of which Lick was one part and the connection with Keck was the other part. We established it on the rock of the Lick Observatory, for the reasons which I’ve said: because the shops and the labs are here. Gene Smith at UCSD and I did the first draft of the governing document for UCO (University of California Observatory). We had a secondary shop and lab at UCLA for infrared work, and that comes out of the UCO concept because not everything has to be done here. So there is now a secondary shop and lab that’s flourishing very nicely which is going very nicely down there with funds that are flowing out of the UCO budget, and that’s fine because they’ve got a good infrared group down there and that’s the way it ought to be. So that’s basically what happened in the end. I think it’s working out, on the whole, very well.
At the next level up, between UC and Caltech, do you think the partnership has worked out? Have there been conflicts? Are there some problems?
There are some problems that are developing now, mostly because the budget is falling behind. Part of the trouble is that the astronomers don’t have a very close connection with the operating people out there. There’s quite a bit of discussion now in UCOAC, which is the UCO Advisory Committee. “U-quack”, that’s what I call it. This is where everybody brings his complaints. That was one of the things we established at UCLA as part of UCO. Let me comment on that, too, because these are accidents of fate again, as I’ve said so many times. How did UCO get established? Well, it had to go through a whole passel of committees in the university, as I’m sure you can imagine, on both the campus- and system-wide levels. Of course, we didn’t have any trouble on the campus level, the idea being that the headquarters would be here. The Director of Lick would also be the Director of UCO at Lick mountaintop and would operate in concert basically with the Keck operation, at the UC side of the Keck operation. There would be an all-university advisory committee, and that’s the UCOAC, which would meet with somebody other than the Director of the observatory being chairman, so it’s all-university participation.
There would be regular meetings of this committee and they would set the policies for the whole the UC side of the Keck connection. This all had to be ratified with committees. Well, the way the university operates with things that come before the system-wide senate committee that deals with these issues is that you’re lucky if the chairman gets the documents to the committee members the night before they have to get on the airplane to go to the meeting. You know, it’s that kind of thing. Administration in the university is unbelievable sometimes. Anyway, the document was put into the hopper. And as luck would have it—I mean, this committee was hardnosed, and you’re not at all sure that the knives aren’t all going to come out: “Oh, you’re going establish this at Santa Cruz, huh? Well this really should be at Berkeley where the center of everything is.” That kind of thing could surface with that kind of committee. I hope I said that without sounding too paranoid. Anyway, that kind of stuff happens. But as luck would have it, Gene Smith, of all people, who had co-written with me the original UCO plan, was the San Diego representative and an astronomer as well who served on that system-wide committee. So he was in the meeting and explained the whole thing to them, so it was approved. Now, what is the probability that some isolated faculty member from UC San Diego would happen to be the same person who helped draw up the document? You see, it’s the corks bobbing on the ocean again.
Tell me about plans to build CELT.
Oh, I don’t know anything about that. I went to the last UCOAC meeting just out of interest because Jerry was giving a report on it. I know nothing about it. I stopped being Director in 1991, after ten years, and I stopped being Director knowing that my time had come. It’s a lot easier directing when there’s a goal and there’s a telescope or something like that out there to be built, something to be built up, than to be the caretaker, so to speak, of the situation after the dust has settled. Now everybody wants a piece of the action and the elbows start coming out. So it was a good time to stop, and besides, I was 65 years old, so why not? The last ten years I’ve been even more active from a research point of view than before.
Do you get to use Keck much?
I’ve used it quite a bit.
Do you like it?
I like it. It’s a great experience, and now that you can sit down and Waimea in front of the terminals and not have to go to the top, it’s even better.
Do you miss riding on the telescope at night?
No. I’ve stopped observing. I’ve got a lot of stuff still in the can that needs to come out, and in the next couple of years I’ll finish it off. I think at that point I’ll probably just stop observing. You know, I’m 75 years old, so it’s getting to be time. But I’ve had a lot of adventures in-between, various things. These last few years I’ve been doing great things on abundances and globular clusters and halo field stars, trying to map out the chemical abundance of the galactic halo and how the elements came into the universe and all of that, with observations both at Lick and Keck. I’ve had several graduate students who have been involved in this work. I don’t have a graduate student now because I let my NSF contract run out last year because what do I spend NSF money on? I spend it on graduate students. That’s a six-year commitment, and I felt that it was unfair to commit to a graduate student, both to the student and to me, if I’m going to be 81 years old at the end of this thing. That’s not good. In the meantime, as you know, I served as President of the AAS for 1974 to 1976 or whatever it was, and then later as President of the IAU.
Did you enjoy that?
Yeah, an interesting experience.
Well, you see a lot of people from all around the world and learn how the IAU operates. I’d been a vice president, of course, for six years earlier on. I met a lot of interesting people when I was vice president, like Hanbury Brown who was president. There was a lot of travel involved and it was fun to go to the executive committee meetings all over the world in Australia, England, and France. Then, of course, we had officers’ meetings every year in Paris, and I wouldn’t want to turn that down. So it was nice both from a social point of view and a scientific point of view.
I have one last sort of general question. It’s the classic one that everyone gets asks because I think it’s really important. During the course of your career, what do you see as the biggest change in astronomy?
Well, I think it’s obvious the extension of astronomy out of the purely optical domain and to all sorts of wavelength intervals, which has enriched the subject enormously. I think the greater democratization of our enterprise is on the whole a good thing in two ways. One is the opportunity in people from all kinds of institutions to have access to observing facilities, and also access to very large computing facilities that you see around the country. I was just at Livermore at a 3D stellar structure conference. Of course, the computing facilities at Livermore are perfectly enormous. If you want to do 3D calculations you have to do it in conjunction with folks like that. I think that democratization was obvious. But the other one is the closer relationship in graduate students and professors. When I was a student, there was this Sehr geehrten Herr Professor/Doctor [spoken with German accent] who was five miles up in the air compared with a poor graduate student. But now there’s a much closer relationship because your life is so complicated with this and that and the other thing, and generally the students know the computer stuff upside down and sideways better than you do. You really have a much closer relationship with the student than you used to. You need the student. He needs you for advice, counsel and learning how to write papers without dangling participles.
An awful lot of science students can’t write worth a damn, and they can learn that from the professor if nothing else. Just having graduate students and seeing them develop and go along, like really good guys like Nick Suntzeff and a couple of other recent ones I’ve had. Eileen Friel now of NSF, has done well. Matt Shetrone, a recent student, is now the astronomer – in residence out at McDonald and is getting tenure now. The other one I recently had, Jon Fulbright, a post-doc at the Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, is now going to Santa Barbara Street. I think I may have mentioned this earlier. It’s really nice to see that happening.
The other thing, of course, is that I guess that science on a personal level has changed a lot in a sense that you see the enormous teams of people, much more like physics committees. I guess I wouldn’t personally feel very comfortable in that. In a way, I guess if I were young now, I don’t know whether I would go into astronomy because it is connected with how your personality is. It is connected with a personal outlook on the world. We were all brought up much more one-person-at-a-time. “The personal confrontation with God in the dark in a cage at the top of the 200-inch” is one way of putting it. Whereas now you have this kind of working in these huge teams.
I guess the other thing I find a little bit on the downside is that all the papers can now be downloaded off the web. That bothers me a little because I think in the old days, when you picked up the journal, you kind of looked at everything on the back of it, the titles, and there were things you didn’t know that much about or that you had a faint connection with, and maybe you looked at the paper; maybe you read the abstract at least. Nowadays, you just dial up what you’re interested in; you don’t see any of the rest of the literature. I do worry over this kind of compartmentalization of astronomy, which I think has gotten to be a bit out of hand, but on the whole, I don’t have any complaints.
Well, it seems like a good place to pause. I’ll let you get some lunch. Thank you very much.
“Studies of Stellar Rotation V: The Dependence of Rotation on Age Among Solar Type Stars” Ap.J. vol. 150 (1967) p. 551.
“Binary Stars Among Cataclysmic Variables: Nova WZ Sagittae, a possible Radiator of Gravitational Waves” Ap.J. vol. 136 p. 321.
He was later President of the IAU six years before me (Russian).