Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Conrad Longmire by Finn Aaserud on 1987 April 30, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/25515
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Discusses his education and career; research on the effects of nuclear weapons explosions; JASON; the MIT Radiation Laboratory, 1942-1946; Los Alamos National Laboratory, 1949 onwards; factors contributing to JASON's founding and Los Alamos' role in it.
...although people from Los Alamos help out, you know. They go to meetings, and
Yes. Right. That was your role after a while.
Well, yes. I really intended to do more with them when they started, but as it turned out, I was working full-time in the Defense stuff anyhow, and they were kind of working part of the summer here and occasionally.
Yes. We'll get to that.
You want to ask question?
Yes, I'll start out asking questions and then we can see where we're going. Do you have a fuller publication list than this? You sent me one that starts in '58.
Well, I could get one. It would be a long list, and a lot of it would be EMP related. I don't know if you're interested in that stuff or not.
Well, yes, I would be, as a background for what I'm doing.
Yes, it got so long. See, this is what we normally put into our proposals. And they got so long that it was too many pages. You know, you're usually limited as to how many pages you can have, and so we cut them down.
Yes. Well, what I would appreciate is if I could get a copy of that list and if you could check off the Jason-related ones, if there are any.
None? OK, I would be interested in the non-checked ones. Do you have any papers in relation to your Jason work? I was thinking about correspondence, manuscripts, membership lists, you know, whatever might pertain to the early period of Jason.
I don't think so. No.
Because I have some difficulty getting the full list from that early period.
Right, people tend not to keep things. I never actually attended any of their, like their summer sessions, so I never really got assigned a Jason topic. I have occasionally seen reports. People have sent me reports to review. But not even many of those.
So you have acted in an outside capacity rather than an inside capacity.
That's right, yes.
I'm interested in that, because I—well, the people I've interviewed mostly are Jasons themselves, so I think it's good to get some kind of outside perspective. I need people like you and people from the agencies, people with—
Yes. I can't of course give you the view of agencies, but as an outside scientist working on some of their problems, I can tell you—
—exactly. Agency people are just one example, and you're another one. I'm not putting any judgment on what's most significant.
Well, you lead the way and we'll see where we wind up.
Yes. Well, I have your....I'd like to talk a little bit about your early career, and why you turned to physics, if you saw—well, we could start with the war experience, perhaps, because that was before your university career, correct?
I worked during the war between my undergraduate and graduate school. ... I started at the University of Illinois in 1939, I guess, fall of '39, and I started out planning to be an electrical engineer. At that time, I didn't know that one could have a career in physics. I hardly knew what physics was. We had a physics class in my high school, which was a small school of twenty kids in my class, and about all we learned in physics was how to boil water, and we turned electrostatic machines. We didn't really get any of the flavor of what physics was really about, and I knew roughly, I thought I knew something about what engineers did, but not really, and electrical engineering was what attracted me. So my first two years in college at the University of Illinois, I was technically in the EE school. In the sophomore year then we had the sophomore physics class, and I soon decided that physics was what I was really interested in, and I learned that one could make a career in physics, and so I switched over to physics after the end of my sophomore year.
What brought you into that, the subject itself?
The subject itself. We had, sophomore physics was taught by a very good teacher. His name was Wheeler Loomis. I think he's dead now. I'm not sure.
I believe so.
He gave the big demonstration lectures, and also the people that I had in the quiz sections, as they were called, were good. The instructors were very good, the professors, but as a matter of fact, so were the EE people, were very good at the University of Illinois, but it was just that physics appealed to my liking more than EE.
What was it with physics that appealed to you more?
Well, you know, Newton's laws, the understanding of how things worked, the mechanics of how the world worked. Although things get pretty complicated before you really understand much, but at least to start it's simple. But at about the same time, at the beginning of my junior year, the war broke out. Let's see, no—we got into the war, I guess.
That was in '41, you got your BS in '43.
Right. So then it became clear that if one was getting educated, one probably should get educated about something that would be useful, and the physicists in the country, scientists in general, my impression is, very quickly got organized in such a way as to help the young people know what to do and things like that. So in spite of switching to physics, I still took a lot of the EE courses, vacuum tubes and vacuum tube circuits and things like that, and then in December of '42 I guess, I left school, because we had a summer session in 1942, and so I got out actually in December '42, and by that time I had a job at MIT at the Radiation Lab. I went there just after Christmas, with some other of my fellow students.
How were you approached to go there?
Someone from the Rad Lab came by the university, like a few months before. It may have been Loomis himself, I'm not sure. By that time he'd gone there. He was in the administration of the Radiation Lab. And so as soon as the semester was finished, those of us who were going were shipped off to Boston. It was quite an experience for me. I lived on a farm in Champagne-Urbana, which is, you know, kind of a country town. It was very nice. Very interesting. I'm sure you know about what they did at the Radiation Lab, the radar. I was in the radar beacon group. Art Roberts was my —I forget what he was called, a group leader, probably. Then I also met Joe Platte. Do you know Joe Platte?
I've heard the name.
Of course he was there at that time. He had gotten his degree, I believe, at Cornell. Yes, I think Cornell. And he got his degree just before the war. After the war, he taught for a while at Rochester, and then he became president of Harvey Mudd College out here just outside of Los Angeles. There's as bunch of schools there that are small but I understand very good schools. And we used to go swimming at lunch times, at the Radiation Lab, and he talked to me occasionally about graduate school, and I gradually decided that I would probably go back after the war and get my degree. He said that he, near the end of the war, he had accepted the appointment to go back as a professor, and I decided I would apply to go there, and I got in.
Yes. How large a group did you work with at MIT?
Well, the beacon group itself probably had, oh, I would suppose 25 or 30 people in it.
Did you collaborate with somebody in particular?
Well, we all sort of worked together. I actually designed circuits for what were called discriminators and coders. If a radar set wants to ask a beacon where it is, it does something to its normal pulse. In those days it made the pulse longer. And if the normal radar pulses were like one microsecond long, and you wanted to interrogate a beacon, you might make your pulse two microseconds long, and so there had to be a circuit in the beacon to decide how long the pulse was. If it was long enough, then the beacon responds. And the beacon responded by emitting a series, a sequence of pulses with short and long spaces between them, and so you had to have a circuit which produced that sequence, and I worked on those circuits. It was great fun.
Yes, right. Did you get your education for doing that there, or did you profit from your engineering background? How was that?
Well, I had learned enough at Illinois to do that work. Now, when we got there, when new people came to the Radiation Lab, they got sent to what was called the Radar School within a few months of their arrival. You know about the MIT Radar School, which I think was for two months or something like that, one or two months.
OK, I spoke to Dubridge about that, yes.
And of course that taught us all about what radar was about. At that time it was classified, so we couldn't learn too much about it at school, but my background in electronic circuitry was good enough. What we learned at the school was what radar was about.
How much did you know about the general effort that this would feed into?
Well, we all knew of course that radar was used in airplanes, and that there were ground radar sets to search for airplanes, things like that. I did not myself work in the systems end of it. What I did was more or less pure circuit design work.
Did you come into contact with the Los Alamos effort?
No, I didn't have a contact with Los Alamos. There was a time in probably 1943, maybe the summer of '43, when a bunch of people left the Radiation Lab, and went to New Mexico. I don't think the word Los Alamos was mentioned. They were going out West some place, and I never knew what they were doing there. Clearly the people who already had their PhDs and knew about nuclear physics had I'm sure realized what was going on, but it was a very well kept secret, at least around where I worked.
They might have talked about it, you know, when they were off by themselves, but it was certainly not common knowledge what they were doing there.
So the compartmentalization worked on that.
Yes. It was, I think, very effective, except for the internal spies.
So how long did you stay there?
I arrived there in late December of '42, and I left in February of '46. The war was over in the summer of '45, and a lot of people left immediately in the fall already to go back to the universities. I stayed around through the fall to help write up the radar series. I wrote some articles in the MIT Radar Series.
By then you had decided to —
Yes, I had decided to go back, and I applied to Rochester and was accepted, and I also applied for a National Research Council Fellowship, which I managed to get, and that paid my tuition at the University of Rochester, and I think there was a, I also got a living. It was like $120 a month or something to live on, which was a very good thing, because it meant I could get through school quickly. On the other hand, I did miss, you know, most graduate students do some teaching, teaching labs and things like that, and I didn't do any of that, and I've often thought that that would have been a profitable experience if I'd done that. But I had a wife and child already so I was in a hurry to get through.
OK. Did you marry during the war?
Yes. I got married in '43. And then after I got out of Rochester, I went to Columbia for a year and I taught at Columbia.
Who did you work with at Rochester?
The first semester of that year, Hans Bethe was there as a visiting professor, and he taught a course in nuclear physics, and my essentially only job was to assist him in doing calculations and things that he was interested in.
Yes, and that of course was very beneficial. I got to see how he did physics which was a great help.
That was the main collaboration there.
Dubridge had left already then when you came, hadn't he?
Dubridge left Rochester I think at the end of the first year when I was at Rochester. Yes, he had already left and gone to Caltech.
Did you have any contact with him in Boston?
Well, I knew him. He was the director of the Radiation Lab and also the head of the department, and he gave talks. He was a very friendly guy, very effective. But I didn't have any real technical association with him. My professor at Rochester, well, I had two very good professors. One was Bob Marshak. I don't know if you've ever met him.
I haven't met him, but I know of him.
You know of him. And the other was Julius Ashton. They were both very good teachers, and the classes were small, so it was a very good place to be.
Dubridge told me that after the experience at MIT, when he got back to Rochester, he decided that he wasn't up to the research any more, because administration had taken so much out of him.
I think that's probably right.
That's part of the reason he went to Caltech to be president there. Of course, that was not your experience.
Yes, mine was different from his.
Oh, of course it was, you didn't have administration. But my question is, to what extent did the experience at MIT play a role in your decision to go into physics?
Well, it's very hard of course to say what would have happened if the war hadn't come along. You know, I might have gotten out of school as an undergraduate and gotten a job with a bachelor's degree and stayed there. Now, at the Radiation Laboratory, I met of course a lot of very good physicists who had their PhDs, and probably it was that contact that convinced me that I should go on and get a PhD.
Yes. Did it change your conception of what physics could do, or purpose for going into physics in any way?
Well, I certainly got a better idea of what physics was about, when I was there. I took some courses or sat in on some courses at MIT. I remember, I had a course from Hamlin (?) Fishbeck. I've forgotten what it was. Maybe quantum mechanics, something like that. And I read a book on quantum mechanics. A fellow gave me a book, a little book, not little, a textbook by Rojansky. Did you ever see that book?
I never have seen that, no.
It's probably out of print long since. And it was written at a very elementary level, you know, with lots of saying what we're going to do, then saying what you're doing as you're doing it, and then when you're done, saying what we did, and it was a book that you could just read. You hardly had to do any work on the side to learn what it was all about. I had never really heard of quantum mechanics before that time. And I read that book and I was really fascinated. Quantum mechanics is a fascinating subject.
You learned that it was a fascinating subject by that experience.
Yes. That's right.
You hadn't heard anything about quantum mechanics at Illinois?
No. I don't remember hearing anything about quantum. That's rather strange, when you look back. These days, of course, undergraduates are taught classical physics, but they're also told that this is not really right, not totally right, and they're told quite a bit about quantum physics as undergraduates. But we weren't. There really wasn't much quantum physics in the undergraduate curriculum. There might have been more if I'd taken more physics courses. I took so many electrical engineering courses.
OK, evidently that's a development, and Wheeler Loomis was an earlier generation.
Yes. That's right. In fact, I'm not even sure what his own personal area of physics expertise was. Probably not quantum mechanics.
No. I don't think it was quantum mechanics.
On the other hand, they were building a cyclotron at the University of Illinois while I was there, and Kruger, a fellow named Kruger was there, and there were some younger professors, I think Dankov was there. But I had no contact with them.
Yes. Kirst was there?
Kirst was there, correct.
So there was a definite experimental effort there.
They had a...?
So what was your dissertation on?
I did basically nuclear physics. It actually had two parts. One was, I did a calculation of the scattering of neutrons from beryllium 9, using a model in which you think of beryllium 9 as being beryllium 8, a core plus a weakly bound neutron, and then some people there were doing an experiment on that, and then the other part was, I looked into something called simultaneous beta gamma emission, beta decay with gamma decay. If you have a forbidden transition, if you emit a gamma simultaneous with the beta as part of the process you can get around some selection rules, and there were a few cases where that might have explained some data. I've forgotten how it came out.
OK, was that part of a general effort at Rochester at the time?
Well, these topics were suggested by Bob Marshak, and as I say, the neutron scattering from beryllium 9, they were doing an experiment on, and so I did the calculations. It was only moderately successful, as I recall.
It got you your PhD, though.
Yes, it got me the PhD. And then as I say, I went to Columbia. That was a good year, for me professionally, although it was almost a disastrous year for my family. My wife had a brother who was in the Army. He was over on Governor's Island. You know where Governor's Island is. He was a doctor. And he got pneumonia, a very rare type of pneumonia called Friedlander's pneumonia, which usually, you wind up with an abscessed lung, and they went in to drain this and they punctured an artery and they didn't know it, and damn near bled to death, and he was at death's door for a couple of months. We'd go over there every night to see him. And then, after he got over that— he got over it, he's still alive today—we had one child at the time, and we spent about half that year thinking that she had leukemia. It turned out it was not leukemia. It was just one of those rare bugs that they have in New York City that people from the country are subject to, and fortunately she didn't have it. Then when we got ready to leave, I had some kind of an infection, a bug again that I picked up, I was pretty sure, and made the mistake of showing it to my brother-in-law, this doctor, who by that time was up and around, and he told me that I had something very bad wrong with my blood. My white blood count was high, and he thought I was very sick, and he told my wife in fact that, just before we left to go to Los Alamos, that he didn't think I would survive to reach Los Alamos. But I did.
That's quite an experience of New York.
That's right. Fortunately, just before I left, I went up to the Medical School of Columbia University, which is up in the Bronx, and got to see the blood specialist just before he went on vacation. And he looked at my blood count, and he told me that he saw a lot of that, and basically it was sort of like people with battle fatigue. A lot of soldiers coming out of Europe had this, and he said, "The chances are you'll get over it in a few months and you'll be as good as new." So I went to Los Alamos, and after a few months I had a blood test, and sure enough, I was OK. So I've had one life, I guess, maybe I have eight more to go. This is quite a bit of rambling pretty far off the Jason group.
Yes, sure, I just wanted some background. What brought you to Columbia?
Well, it was the fact that Hans was going to be there, Hans Bethe. He was at Cornell. I got my degree at Rochester. We used to go down there occasionally. Marshak was his student, and so probably Bob Marshak persuaded him to take me on as an assistant.
OK, fine. You were there for a year?
For one year, right. And then I went to Los Alamos in the summer of 1949, and that was just at the beginning of the H bomb stuff, program.
Yes, right. What brought you to Los Alamos? Did you apply for a position there?
Yes, well, what happened was, I shared a room with O. Bohr, Niels Bohr's son, you know him.
I know him, yes.
How is he, by the way? Do you see him these days?
Not these days. I saw him, well, a year ago.
He's the head of the Institute there?
Well, he's not any more, but he's active. He has some psychological problems.
Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. But anyway, I shared an office with him, and one day, probably, I don't know, in February or March or so of 1950, no, 1949, Edward Teller came through, and he was on a recruiting trip, but I didn't know that. What he was really trying to do was persuade some of the people that had been involved in the project during the war to go back and help build the H bomb. But anyway he came through, and a bunch of the people on the staff got together with him and talked for a while. He's a very interesting personality of course, very intense guy. And so after he left, that was the first time I'd really thought about Los Alamos, and I asked my room mate about Los Alamos, and he had been there during the war, and he told me what it was like. I think he showed me some pictures. So I got interested then in the place, and I wrote to them, and very soon got an offer, so I went there.
Yes. Did Teller explicitly ask for your help?
Not really, no. I didn't know him or he didn't know me when he came through.
So there wasn't any contact then.
There wasn't any discussion at that time, but when I wrote to the lab, I think I actually wrote to him, and he had an assistant, Freddie de Hoffman. Do you know Freddie de Hoffman?
I know the name, in San Diego.
Yes, I think he's still head of the Salk Institute. So he told Freddie to get in touch with me and find out when I could come and so forth, and so I went in the summer of '49. I really intended to stay there only a year or so. In fact, originally I had an appointment to go to the Institute for Advanced Study in the year following my year at Columbia, but because, you know, my family had such a tough year there, and we really were desperately poor, and Los Alamos was offering pretty good pay—I think my starting salary was $6000 or something like that—
That was a good deal better than Columbia.
Yes. So I went out there, intending to go back to the Institute the next year or maybe two years later. Then things got just very active at Los Alamos. They were doing the H bomb stuff, and there was a lot of work done on fission bombs too in those years, and, well, one thing led to another, and I wound up staying there twenty years. By that time, Oppenheimer was dead.
When you went to graduate school, did you have any preference as to what you wanted to do? Did you have a conception of what kind of career you would prefer?
Well, I assumed that I would probably teach, stay at a university, and I really didn't know at that time that one could work let's say in the Defense business on really interesting physics problems. And so, when I went to Los Alamos, I was amazed at how interesting that stuff is. A lot of people have sort of succumbed to that, if you allow me to put it that way. A lot of people who really basically, you know, would think twice, at least twice before they worked on weapons, it was so interesting, and as a matter of fact, you could also take the point of view that it was important to find out whether it would or wouldn't work. In fact, probably 90 percent or 95 percent of the people who worked at it probably at least sort of hoped that it wouldn't work. But they hoped that they could prove it wouldn't work. But I don't know, the world wasn't quite that fortunate, I guess.
So what projects were you involved in immediately when you got to Los Alamos?
Well, I got involved immediately in the thermonuclear. There were two aspects of it. First of all, there was what are called, I think we can— I will try not to go beyond the unclassified stuff. There was a type of fission bomb, basically fission bombs called boosted bombs, in which you used DT reaction to get more yield out of them. I worked on that. In fact, I basically designed the first boosted bomb device. Then the rest of the time, most of us worked at first trying to make the Super work, which nobody figured out how to do.
But the booster worked?
The booster worked. Well, the first booster shot was in 1950, in Operation Greenhouse. I'll have to check. Yes, let's see, let me find it.
Yes, this is the AEC I'm looking for. It's "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons." You've seen that, I'm sure. The old edition of this used to have a list of shots. Let's see, Greenhouse, there—Greenhouse, item shot, Greenhouse, 24th of May, 1951. In the same series, there was an experiment that had to do with, it was a test of how you might ignite the Super. People were learning about the same time that even if you ignited it, it probably wouldn't burn. It would go out. But then, shortly after, Edward Teller discovered how, realized how you could in fact burn the thermonuclear fuel, and it turned out that that was, once one knew how to dit, it turned out to be fairly easy.
Yes. That's still classified, isn't it?
That's basically classified. I think almost everybody knows it anyhow, but I won't go into it. It's sort of aside, anyway. You know, there have been histories of that written. Some of them are not very accurate. There's a book about Oppenheimer and Lawrence, for example.
Yes, Chiles, isn't it?
I forget the fellow's name. A lot of it is right, and probably including the sort of analysis of the personalities, but it has a lot of historical facts that are wrong in it and that's unfortunate.
In the scientific arena.
So it was the booster thing leading into the —
It was related, yes.
Who did you work with?
Well, at Los Alamos in those days you worked with some pretty impressive people. Hans Bethe was there. George Gamow was there. Edward Teller of course was there. Fermi came there. And it was just a wonderful place to work.
How did you find the environment compared to the university environment that you were used to from Columbia?
I found it an environment in which it was easier for me to contribute, actually. It was organized a little bit, you know, and so easier for a young guy to get into the action.
OK, so you were encouraged to stay, after the one year.
Were you still thinking of leaving soon?
Yes. After the first year, I thought, well, surely in two years I'll go back. As a matter of fact, I did go away for a couple of occasions. I went to University of Rochester for a semester. I taught there, I think in '51, and then in '53-'54, I went to Cornell for a year and taught quantum mechanics. I had, by the way, in my class, Steve Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow.
I have to talk to Steve Weinberg of course.
Yes, he was in Jason for a while.
What about publications? Were you able to publish in the open literature while at Los Alamos?
No, of course you couldn't publish there, but there were so many good scientists there that you didn't miss it, because you know, your work was appreciated. You didn't miss it as long as they were there. Later, of course, that kind of wore off, and the top notch people didn't come any more. Well, Bethe always came to Los Alamos. But then, around '55 or so, the Sherwood Project started at Los Alamos.
Yes, the controlled fusion.
Yes, right, by Jim Tuck and —he was the main person who got it started at Los Alamos, and a lot of that was unclassified, and I got involved in that, and published some papers on stability and things like that.
Right. Would a long tenure at Los Alamos have any effect on your opportunity to go back to the university at that time?
Well, actually, I could have gone back into the university until at least in the sixties. In fact, I considered doing that. I had an offer from the University of California in San Diego some time in the early sixties. I don't remember. But by that time, I think my taste had changed. I didn't really, I wasn't really strongly attracted to the idea. I was kind of tired of Los Alamos, but I didn't really know what I wanted to do. And about the same time, I got interested in what's called nuclear effects, the effects of nuclear explosions. In fact, I really got interested in that in 1962 when we had the high altitude test series, Operation Dominick. And I started working in that, and it turned out that the AEC, or Los Alamos Laboratory, was not really very interested in the effects of nuclear explosions by that time. In the early days, they had done a lot of good work on blast and shock and fallout and that kind of stuff. But by that time, most of the people there regarded their main job as putting bombs in the stockpile, and there wasn't too much appreciation that it was important to understand about the physics of nuclear effects, for example, EMP.
Did other institutions look into that, like the RAND Corporation for example?
Well, there were some people at RAND who got interested in it. Now, there were a few of us at Los Alamos who got interested in these nuclear effects, and there were a few people at RAND. It wasn't really, working on these nuclear effects was not the official policy or program of either of these institutions. But they certainly didn't try to talk any of the people out of working on them. It's just that, you know, you sort of were left to yourself, and the reason we started Mission Research is that there were a number of people scattered around the country who also were interested in working on nuclear effects, and there was one government agency that was interested in having them do it, and that was the Defense Nuclear Agency. So we were all working some place where the managers were quite happy to leave us alone to do that, but it seemed to us that it would be good if we got together, so we could talk to each other. In fact, before we started Mission Research, I had a one man company in Los Alamos for two years, with an office downtown, and went to work for the Defense Nuclear Agency. In order to do that, I had to incorporate myself, form a corporation, because the US government does not like to deal with individuals. It wants to deal with corporations. So I had to get incorporated. I had to set up a bookkeeping system, double entry system. I had to read a book on how you do bookkeeping. It was kind of fun. Did you ever do any of that?
It's actually fun, and I must say that being in business is really a great way of life, as long as there is someone who wants your product. Now, the product that I had and that the rest of the guys here had, that formed Mission Research, was, we turned out really quite good analyses, physical analyses of nuclear weapons effects. Things that affect blackout or communications blackout, and EMP, that kind of thing. And when we started, the government, there were agencies of the government that were really very interested in that, and these agencies had people in them who were technically quite good. Now, I must say that nuclear effects was kind of in its infancy in those days, so it wasn't too surprising that—we were all beginners, essentially, including the people in the agencies. Quite a few of those were military people, by the way. The Air Force Weapons Lab used to have a very good program, very good people there. The Air Force used to send people to school to get their PhDs. And anyway, our efforts were appreciated. The Defense Nuclear Agency and a few other places supported us, you know, as well as we were supported in Los Alamos. In addition, in business you make a little bit of profit which you can use to make your business grow a little bit. So it all worked very well, and basically we continued to do the same kind of physics that we would have done at Los Alamos.
The government was your sole customer.
The government was our sole customer.
Yes. You were a non-profit company?
No, we actually were a profit corporation, yes. At the time we started Mission Research, non-profits were sort of in disfavor, and we decided to try it as a profit-making corporation, and in those days, if you worked and did research for the government, your fees were like 10 to 12 percent, and not too many things were, all reasonable costs were paid for. The audit agencies, you know, didn't give you too much hassling about ridiculous things. And so with your—you could accumulate enough profits to be able to hire another guy. Now, what that means is that when you hire a person, you have to be able to pay his salary at the end of the month, at the same time that you send in to the government your bill, and then in those days like a couple of months later, they would pay you, so you had to have enough to pay your rent and your salaries for say two or three months. And so if you kept your profits, you could gradually grow a little bit, and that's what we did. It worked very well, really, until—well, probably until the last four or five years. Now, what has happens is that the nuclear effects has now become at least a more sophisticated science, actually there are quite a few sciences in there. The military no longer sends people to school, to get their PhDs, at least not very much, so the agencies have a hard time getting competent people, even as competent as they were in those days. In addition, the effects science has gone past that point. So a new guy has a lot to learn. In those days, we were all beginners. So the agencies are really not running their business as well as they did in the beginning. It's also somewhat more confusing today about, you know, what's best for the United States, what's best for the world in this Defense business. The answers aren't so clear any more. And everybody of course hopes that real peace would break out. If real peace breaks out, then we would have to do something else, and most of us would be glad to do that. But living in a state of confusion is —it gets bad.
Yes. Are you worrying about the schools now, to some extent, that people aren't getting the proper background?
No, we're able to hire. There are probably too many physicists being trained. We're able to hire them. But the agencies, the government agencies are not. They can't pay them enough.
OK, I'd like to —
— so that brings us up to —
—I would like to bring you back again because you haven't spoken about Jason very much, hardly at all.
That's right, we really haven't. Why don't you ask the questions?
So we'll go back to the 1950s. You were at Los Alamos then.
And before the advent of Jason, was there any development toward the establishment of a similar kind of organization? Was there any seen need for that, and if so, were you involved in discussion or attempts at such?
The people who later joined Jason, most of them used to come to Los Alamos in the summer time. You know, a lot of things were being developed, and there was a lot of pretty good physics going on, so they used to come there. Then when the stockpile began to get full of bombs, there really wasn't as much to attract them there. We used to invite or respond to their interest quite a bit just to have people around who knew something else and could talk to us about particle physics and so forth. But I think that's probably why the need for Jason arose. You know, physics by that time needed to be applied to other things than just the nuclear program. And I think the Jason group has worked on a rather wide range of topics. You, I'm sure, know better than I do what they've — yes.
So you're talking about —
— so the needs of Los Alamos went down.
You're talking about Watson, Brueckner–
— yes, Goldberger, Francis Low, Jeff Chu, Garwin.
Did you participate in discussions at that time with them about it?
Yes, at that time I was the alternate division leader of the theoretical division. Carson Mark was the division leader. I don't know if you've ever met him.
I haven't met him.
He's the man who probably knows, in case he hasn't forgotten, knows most about the history of the H bomb development, so if you ever have a chance to talk with him, I'm sure you'd find it very interesting. And as alternate division leader, one of my jobs was to kind of coordinate the summer visitors. So I got involved with them quite a bit. I was not involved in the discussions, so far as I can remember, in the discussions that led to the establishment of the Jason program.
You were, in fact, but —
Oh, I was?
How did it happen?
There's a letter here from Charles Townes who was recently appointed the vice president and chief scientist of the Institute of Defense Analysis, and he was heavily involved in establishing Jason, and he together with Marvin Stern, who was on his staff at IDA, who I'm going to see tonight, by the way, -
Oh, is he here?
He's in San Inez.
I see. I'll be darned.
And the two of them, at least the two of them went to Los Alamos to discuss the establishment of such a group.
And that was in September, I think, of '59.
I see. They talked with Bradbury?
Well, extensive discussions were held at Los Alamos with Brueckner, Goldberger and Watson, and Weaver talked with Longmire, Lowe and Frieman.
OK. Maybe I didn't realize what was happening.
You probably were, but —
Well, one forgets. I might have been, because I know I did agree early to be a member of the group, as I said.
Yes. In the same letter, Townes sets up a list of people who have agreed to participate.
And you're among them. Also I have here a list of persons who attended the formal meeting establishing Jason. That was in Washington on the 17th of December, 1959. And you are on that list also.
I don't know if you remember that.
I do remember being in a meeting there, but I wouldn't remember what year it was.
Right. You said you did not participate in any summer study?
I don't think so. You know, I've gone down for a day or something like that, to give a talk on something, but I never really, you know, went and spent the six weeks or whatever it is.
Because you were on the full membership list for a number of years.
Yes. But see, I was doing that kind of thing all the time anyhow. And they were teaching and then in their spare time they were doing it.
But in that indirect way, at least, you contributed to Jason or to Jason's work.
Yes. And I remember one time giving a talk on how to get harder X- rays out of nuclear devices, and how you could use those to shoot down re- entry vehicles. So I did contribute something, I think, but not much.
You mentioned that part of the motivation at least for establishing Jason was that there were less interesting things to do at Los Alamos.
That's right, and IDA, you mentioned, the Institute for Defense Analysis got established because there were lots of other physics problems, scientific problems that were of interest to the government, and I'm quite sure that the administration at Los Alamos did not actively press for the formation of Jason. I'm sure Townes and the IDA group did it.
Actually there was an effort by Watson, Goldberger and Brueckner and Gell-Mann too but he was a lot younger to establish a private company, a private consulting company.
Oh, is that right?
And they even had a name for it, Theoretical Physics Incorporated, and it was those people who were caught in the act, so to speak, by Townes and IDA, and convinced to do it under IDA auspices, that they'd have more impact that way and be more helpful to the country.
So that also indicates—
That was certainly a good idea.
That also indicates that there was some frustration on the part of the physicists, that they didn't get the input that they wanted perhaps. Did you feel the same kind of frustration working at Los Alamos, that the number of interesting problems decreased?
Oh yes. Yes. By the early sixties—if I had it to do over again, I would have left Los Alamos in the early sixties. I was not, you know, it was losing interest. It just wasn't as interesting as it had been. But I never came to the point where I got hold of myself and said, "Look, you've got to do something." You know.
Did it pick up again after that? Was that a low point?
The weapons program has not, I don't think, has not got any more interesting. No. The nuclear weapons program. There are other things that are going on in the labs these days, well, it started in the seventies I guess. The inertial fusion program was I think a very interesting program. It spent an awful lot of money and they still haven't really gotten any place. But as far as the technical problem, it was a very interesting technical problem. These days, there are X-ray lasers, free electron lasers, things like that. Those are very interesting programs technically. And it's only because of that that the labs I think can really hold competent productive scientific people.
Whether they'll ever produce anything of great importance, I don't know, but they're close, you know. You look at these things and you can't prove easily that they won't work.
Yes, right. You say it was essentially Los Alamos people who later established Jason?
Well, they really weren't Los Alamos people. They were Los Alamos visitors.
Yes, of course.
Townes came there probably because they were there. That was in the summer time.
Yes, right, but it was their Los Alamos experience that was the precursor for Jason work.
Yes, that's probably right.
Were there any particular projects at Los Alamos that these people were involved in, that brought them together?
Well, yes. In the late fifties, most of these people would have been working on the Sherwood program when they came to Los Alamos.
So that was what brought them together. Of course I should have asked them about how important that was, but they probably knew each other from the academic scene too.
They did, but they spent a fair amount of time together out at Los Alamos, in the summer time.
That was what exposed them to national security problems in the first place.
Yes, that's right.
Because these were mostly, well, post-Los Alamos people in the sense that they hadn't played a leading role during the war.
That's right. They were all young during the war.
It was the next generation.
So could you point to a time when you quit Jason? Or how did that occur?
My recollection is, I went to some meetings for the first couple of years. And then I just didn't do it any more and finally said, "Look, you might as well take my name off the list." I don't know when that happened. Probably four or five years afterwards.
Yes, I don't have a record of that unfortunately. Were you still connected in a consulting way or did you maintain contact with the work that Jason did?
Not very much. Not very much. I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know what most of the projects they were working on were. Probably I would have had more contact with them, except that -
—in the fifties?
Yes, and after that, except that I got interested in the nuclear effects, and there were two things. There was EMP, and there was also the general phenomenology of nuclear explosions at high altitude, which is a kind of plasma physics. It involves all kinds of pieces of classical physics, X-rays and gamma rays and neutrons and hydrodynamics and thermodynamics and a little bit of everything.
Thanks for the article, by the way, that helped.
OK. So I was really actively interested in working on those things at that time, and so that's why, if I hadn't been I probably would have gone with the Jason people just to find something interesting to do, but I had these things going on at the time, so I stuck with that.
That was separate from Jason.
Jason didn't work on such things.
What brought you into that, at any rate?
Well, why did I get involved in EMP? See, there were people at Los Alamos who were working on EMP in the fifties. But it really, it was not, it didn't have any importance. It was an interesting and curious phenomenon but didn't have any importance in those days, except that they used to try to use the EMP to measure certain aspects of staged weapons. You can probably guess. Having to do with times. And one needed to know a little bit about it, but basically those requirements were satisfied by just measuring it, and learning how you could use it. In 1960, the people who were building the Minuteman system got frightened by the suggestion that EMP would burn out the inner site cable that connect all these Minuteman sites. The suggestion had been made that EMP would be important by the British, and there was a man by the name of Pete Hoss, did you know Pete Hoss?
No, just from this article here.
Who, I think he was the one that actually suggested that cables might be burned out. Basically the idea was that the bomb goes off, it pushes the geomagnetic field back, it's a very hot plasma, pushes the field back; if it pushes the geomagnetic field across the cable, it induces a voltage and you get current flowing and the I squared R losses, heating could possibly melt the cable, and there was a little bit of data on the magnetic perturbations produced by low altitude explosions that in fact had been measured by Pete Hoss. So the people at TRW, it wasn't called TRW in those days, I forget what it was called, the technical people who designed the Minuteman system, forerunner of TRW, they called a committee together to look into this, and I was one of the people who got invited. Why, I don't know, but anyway I got invited, and also Dick Ladder from RDA was invited and some other people, Bob Christie, and we looked at the data that Pete Hoss had, and we made a sort of halfway reasonable physical theory of what was happening there, and both Ladder and the fellow that he was working with at the time whose name is Bill Karsis and I concluded independently that it was not going to burn out the cables. They had been thinking of laying right next to the cable a big, a really heavy conductor to try to shield the cables from this current, and it turned out they didn't need to do that, and they were very grateful. So that was the beginning of the EMP program. Now, you see, there was a need to know, for understanding in people. You need to know whether it will affect systems. And across the next few years—
The meeting took place when exactly?
It was probably in the fall of 1961. I think. Let's see. Yes, I went to Boston in the summer of 1960 and stayed until '61. I worked at AFGO for a year. What I was supposed to work on there was the problem of discrimination of decoys from real things, real RVs. And when I got back, this thing started. So I worked on EMP then for about a year and a half or so, doing nothing else, and the laboratory let me do that. You know, nobody told me not to do it. And there were some people down in Albuquerque at the Air Force Weapons Lab who were interested, so I gave this series of lectures down there. They invited me to do this.
You went entirely alone on that?
Were you alone at the laboratory?
There were a few other people that were interested in the lab. I was almost the only one doing the theory. John Mallek and Ralph Partridge were involved in making measurements, and there's another fellow who's still at the lab, his name is Jerry Sedam, who also did some theoretical work. And in a couple of years then we worked out most of the important phenomenology that goes on in EMP. The other phenomena that happen in a high altitude nuclear explosion are also very interesting. There's a lot of physics that goes on there. Basically, if you shoot a bomb off at say in the hundreds of kilometers range, air density is very low. The bomb debris becomes a plasma. It also shock heats the little bit of air that's up there, so you get a plasma stuck in a magnetic field, the geomagnetic field, and lots of interesting things happen. So I started to work on that also. Probably an important part of that, as far as I was concerned, is, I went out to RAND one summer for a month.
Which summer, do you remember?
It was in the early sixties. I've forgotten. I could find out. And LeLevier and the Ladder brothers were there, and they were also interested in those things. In fact, the high altitude events probably wouldn't have happened except for the interest of these guys in the physics group at RAND, Al and Dick Ladder, and their concern was about the communications and radar blackout that would happen when you shot off bombs at high altitude. When I was out there, I think it was really when I was there that I got interested in understanding what happens when you shoot a bomb off in say the ionosphere, and that interest, that's a very large subject area, and we continued to work on that for years. When we started Mission Research that was probably our principal area of activity. But I'm sorry, none of this has much to do with the Jason group, and I don't know if they worked on these areas or not.
I don't think, much. Of course LeLevier was a prominent Jason.
Throughout the period.
Right, and he was certainly active in the high altitude phenomenology.
Yes. I think there was some interaction there. I think that fed into some Jason work. Yes, I do think so. And indirectly, of course, your work might have fed in through LeLevier in some sense.
Yes, could be.
But I want a full overview of all the projects that Jason was involved in at the time.
Have you talked with LeLevier?
Yes, I talked with him a few days ago down there.
I think the Jason group, of course, are a very competent bunch of guys. They're very good physicists. They have a lot of good sense, just a lot of good common sense in addition to being, you know, good physicists. I think they must have given the government really very good advice over the years. One could wonder whether —what one wonders about any scientist working on basically weapon-related things, you know, does he color his advice because he is interested in working in the area? That's a very hard thing to know. Certainly I've never seen any cases that I would say, aha, that's what these guys are doing. But mostly they are kind of probably more hawkish than the average physicist.
But it probably goes the other way, because they are interested in those things, they're willing to give the government advice. They're willing to think about them.
Yes. Of course, they're not dependent.
Right, that's just a —
It works the other way, I suppose.
It does augment their income a little bit.
Yes, sure it does. But there are other people who are more dependent and are giving that kind of advice.
Of course, the same question could be asked about this corporation.
That's right. And in fact it has been suggested by lots of people, especially in the EMP area, that those of us who are in EMP are just trying to frighten the government so that we can continue our own salaries.
One thing I was a little curious about. You said that you were working on the effect of nuclear blast, nuclear bombs. To what extent were you dependent for that on actual tests, and to what extent did the Limited Test Ban Treaty deter or affect your work? A lot of questions on —
— yes, well, high altitude nuclear tests, the Fishbowl series happened because of interest in the potential blackout, communications and radar blackout. So those tests were really planned to (crosstalk ), yes, right. Now, EMP came about almost as an accident. As I say, EMP was of interest in the labs from the standpoint of measuring times, time intervals. It was really mostly after the last test series that people really became concerned, highly concerned about EMP as a vulnerability mechanism for military systems, although there was this thing about the Minuteman, probably in the fall of '61. The thing called high altitude EMP—you know what that is. That was really discovered experimentally in the Fishbowl series. There were a number of experimentalists who went out to measure that, to measure the EMP that would be produced. No theorist had actually tried to make a calculation. There was just no need, nobody knew of any need to do that.
But the effect was there.
The effect was there, and in fact it drove all of the instrumentation off scale. Everything that had been set up to measure it was driven off scale, so that of course got people's attention, and those of us who could manage the time to work on it, that was all the inspiration we needed to try to explain what happened. And then when we began to understand it and think about what it could do to systems, it became clear that this was a real threat to electronic systems that were kind of open, that were not shielded. You could always harden against it by shielding, but of course systems always have to have antennas and things like that. Now, did I answer your question or did I get off again?
Well, I asked a lot of questions at the same time. Were you involved in setting up the tests in order to make an experiment?
I did participate in committees that planned, that discussed the need and argued for these tests, yes. There was a committee at that time chaired by a fellow by the name of Bill McMillan. You know him? He was at that time I think chairman of the chemistry department at UCLA, and he was close to the guys at RAND, or RDA, and he chaired a committee, I've forgotten what the committee was called, but basically it was a committee to advise the forerunner of DNA, which was called DASA, Defense Atomic Support Agency, as to what tests they ought to perform. See, we'd already had the preliminary test ban, the moratorium, and then the Russians started testing in the atmosphere again, so it was in people's minds that this might be the last chance we had to test in the atmosphere. So the tests were done specifically for blackout, not for EMP. If we could have had another atmospheric test series like three or four years later, we would have learned more about the limits and bounds on EMP. But I think we can calculate that quite well. It's a fairly simple thing.
Do you have other means of finding out?
You can do plasma measurements. For example, you can measure things about the conductivity of air, of dosed air, and to calculate the high altitude EMP, you only need to know two things basically. You need to know and be able to calculate the Compton current. The Compton scattering formula is quite well known, so that you can calculate that quite accurately. The other thing you need to know is the effect of air conductivity. The Compton current generates EMP and the conductivity absorbs it. The conductivity is the conductivity of a plasma, basically, and you need to know electron mobilities, things like that. You can measure those in an experiment.
You said before that the measurements were completely off.
Right, that's right —
— in the first experiment. You wouldn't expect that to happen again?
No. No, there were later experiments in which some experimenters from Los Alamos did in fact get actual data.
Yes. So would you say in broad terms that your career at Los Alamos started with classified nuclear weapons making, and then you had a period of unclassified controlled fusion involvement.
That's right, yes.
And then again you started classified, the effects of nuclear testing.
Right, and that is getting more and more unclassified now. You know, as time goes on, the subject of EMP is basically unclassified. The only classified thing about it is certain bomb parameters, the rise rate, for example.
Yes, that's what I was coming to, what basically is a historical article—
It's a very brief review article, yes.
Yes, it does give references to the basic articles.
And some of those are classified reports. Unfortunately you can't get them unless you have clearance. Some day we'll get them declassified. They're still classified because they actually have some weapon data in them, specific weapon data. And if that was taken out, then it would be unclassified.
The DNA reports are classified, I suppose.
Some of them are, yes.
Yes, the classification isn't given here, but —
Yes, it says unpublished.
Unpublished means classified?
It basically means that it's classified, yes. That was put in because of the Freedom of Information Act, which caused the classification people a lot of worry. No, I never minded working on classified things. In fact, some of the most scientific or physics fun I've ever had was working in Los Alamos in the early days, in the H bomb days, and that was classified, and I know that that can be fun and important, and for most of us, that's what we try to do. We try to find things that are fun and important, right?
To what extent has this place remained the main place for that kind of study, after it was established? Do you have competitors?
Oh yes, we have competitors. However, I think most of our customers would agree that we have really only one competitor that approaches things in the way we do, tries to be scientific about things, rather than engineering, and I'm not criticizing engineers, it's just that, you know, there's room in the world for real scientists and engineers. The other place is RDA, the group that was at RAND.
Yes, and the Ladder brothers, those guys, Bill Karsis. They were a very good group, in fact still are. The government just doesn't really need or know how to use us physicists any more.
There was one group falling off of Los Alamos, and one group falling off of RAND.
So did RDA go in the same direction? Were they mainly interested in these effects?
Right. RDA when they started, of course, they got involved in a lot of systems programs for the Air Force. They were essentially advisors. So their business was different from ours in that regard. They were advisors to both the DNA and the Air Force and other government agencies. We basically contracted to do the basic research. Now, they have argued that they need to do the basic research too in order to keep sharp at it, and they're right. Our relations have always been very good. We realize that they do very important things for the country, or did at least, and they've always been rather good to us and we think they understand what we're trying to do.
Yes, but the two falling offs, so to speak, were different. You came here because you wanted to work on something different.
That was the whole RAND physics—
—that's what they were working on anyhow. They left because they were a unique group in RAND. The rest of RAND really wasn't interested in that at all. They left it for lack of interest I think in RAND.
Yes. Well, I think in the Air Force essentially.
That could be.
—funding—that's what LeLevier indicated anyway, that it wasn't ? with the Air Force.
Yes, they were always together. They just left, and what we did was collect a number of people that were scattered around the country that had the same interest.
Right, but that was the difference I was getting at anyway. So have you had contacts with Jasons in different connections?
Well, yes. No. You mean in different, in connection with programs other than what I work on? Not really.
And other than Jason work, too, any connection with Jason people, in any connection.
The contact I have had with them has been mostly about EMP. They have occasionally taken a task to investigate and make recommendations about EMP programs, and I know that, or I believe that a couple of years ago, they made a recommendation to the directors of Los Alamos and Livermore that the laboratories undertake certain efforts related to finding bounds on EMP. And the work they actually did was to investigate nuclear devices that would produce bounds on EMP. And the labs did that.
Yes. Did they ask Jasons?
Jasons did the study and wrote a recommendation. At the same time, I independently was trying to persuade the labs that they should do that, and so we were both working towards the same ends, and in fact I talked with the Jason people occasionally.
Jason too of course performed some evaluation work. Have they been here and evaluated in that capacity at any time?
I don't believe so. Now, DNA might have hired them to do some evaluation work that we didn't know about. I don't know.
Right. Nothing that you were involved in ?
Nothing that I was involved in. They were, DNA did hire them way back in the 1970s, early seventies, there was a fellow at the RAND Corporation, this is after the RDA physics group left. His name was Cullen Crane, who, I don't know if you've ever heard of him—well, anyway, this fellow was saying that EMP is a hoax. These guys are either crazy or they're doing it to, you know, perpetuate their salaries. And so the Jason group got tasked by DNA to look into this. Now, in this case, in my opinion, the Jason group didn't do a very good job, because instead of reading the reports and trying to settle the argument, they started out from scratch and first did their own version of EMP, and at least, I didn't think that was necessary at the time. But I don't know, it might have been useful to DNA.
Of course it's more interesting to do one's own work.
Yes, right. Also, I might say, if they have any faults at all, one of them is that they're not very good as historians. They do not, you know, when they begin to look into something, they don't go back and make sure that they've read all the earlier references and stuff like that. But you don't expect physicists to be your formally good historians.
No. And Jason sometimes accused the government of not being good historians, not remembering projects. There are degrees of —
Yes. But they are a very bright bunch of guys.
The kind of guys, you know, it's fun to work with.
Yes, right. And you have done some work with them, but not—
A little bit. Yes.
Are there any specific experiences you—?
—one thing, one other thing that we did, a little bit, we talked about together, was the microwave program. You know, there's been a lot of interest in this country in the last two or three years in making very high- powered microwave sources, which we could use as weapons. And the Jason group got asked to look at that, in the beginning, when it was just getting started.
Which was when?
I think about maybe three years ago, three or four years ago. And they did, and we were also working in that area, so we talked a little bit with them. I did not see—well, I guess I might have seen their report on that. In fact, I think LeLevier sent me a copy and asked me to comment.
Yes, OK. I'm mainly interested for the time being in the first fifteen years. I'll be biting off too much, I think, if I take the recent period, and the recent material is probably too—
—when did it start, in '59?
Were they involved in the, what's the name of that project, project to fill up the geomagnetic field with energetic electrons?
Oh yes. Yes. Kristophalous.
What was the name of that program?
Argos program, yes, right.
They were involved with that.
Yes, that's right. I had some contact with them in that. In fact, I think I worked, that may have been one of their very first jobs, to—I remember, we all went to Livermore.
Yes. Do you have some more to say on that?
This is essentially all.
OK, otherwise I could turn the tape over.
No, why don't you save it. We're essentially through.
It will be saved forever, because I don't have two interviews on one tape. OK, good. Shall we leave it at that?
That's fine with me. And if there are any questions, you know, that come to your mind that you feel you'd really like to know the answer, that relates to this, you can call me up and we can talk over the phone. But I think it was covered probably a lot more than you need to know.
Well, I don't know, we do have a general interview program too, so, it feeds into that as well. So that's why I started out with all the motivational stuff.