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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.
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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of William Fastie by David DeVorkin on 1983 February 4,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
This interview discusses Fastie's career as a physicist, beginning with a position as research assistant at the Johns Hopkins University Physics Department (1941-45), as a research physicist at Leeds and Northrop (1945-51) and later as a research contract director and research scientist at Johns Hopkins (1951-68). After covering his family background and education, the discussion details Fastie's contact with A.H. Pfund and R.W. Wood, including many anecdotal recollections regarding the classified work of Pfund and Wood during WWII; and his interest in instrumentation as reflected in his work with Echelle gratings and spectrographs. Other topics discussed include: Baltimore city during 1920s; undergraduate and graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University; physical optics; spectrum analysis; infrared gas analysis; pyrometry; Eschelle gratings; Leeds and Northrup; Applied Physics Laboratory (APL); National Defense Research Committee (NDRC); John Sanderson; J.A. Bearden; John Charles Hubbard; G.H. Dieke; John Strong; and George Harrison, among others.
For the purposes of the oral history, we would like to know something about your family origins — what your father's profession was, your mother's profession, if she had one, and relevant information on your brothers and sisters.
Both my maternal and paternal forebears came to Maryland and Baltimore County about 1800, within a couple of years, plus or minus. They were farmers in Hereford and Towson. They had all moved from the farms to Baltimore by 1890.
What part of Europe did they come from?
They were both from Germany. My paternal family came from the mountain parts of Germany. I guess it was the Alpine section of Germany or Austria. The origin of the name is interesting, though. It is possible that the Alpine Region was the one region in Europe where there was a little bit of traffic between countries; and the name may have been Italian without the "e"; Fasti. It may have been Polish with a "ja", or "j", or it may have been Scandinavian with a "je". My maternal forebears were named Saumenig, and I believe they came from Western Germany; but I don't know exactly where. And they came at about the same time. My father was born in 1875 on the family farm in Towson, and my mother in 1879, in West Baltimore. My father's family sold their farm after my grandfather had died, and moved to Baltimore, using the money from the farm to buy a grocery store, and promptly went out of business, losing all the farm money. By that time their children were old enough to support their mother. In any case, the farm disappeared. The farm land that they sold in 1890 would probably be worth $25-million right now. Thankfully, none of the money got in the way of having the family develop. (laugh). That's one of my cracks. We weren't hampered by having too much money.
Well, what does that mean? Was your family reasonably well off, comfortable; or were they in bad straits financially?
Until the depression they were very well off, and my mother's family remained relatively well off. My mother had three unmarried sisters, three maiden sisters. My father had five maiden sisters. Any my mother and father were the only ones in those two families to marry. There were some other cousins. The Fastie name is around Baltimore. I understand that there was a cousin that went West, an Uncle Theodore, who was never heard of again. But I heard 10 years ago that in Western Saskatchewan there are an awful lot of Fasties, so he might have been quite prolific; and nobody ever knew about him. But in any case, I don't know anything about that.
Okay, fine. What is your father's full name and your mother's full name?
My father's name was William Ferdinand. My mother's name was originally Carolyn, but she officially changed it to Carrie, for some reason, the diminutive of Carolyn. People did that sort of thing then.
What was your father's training and occupation, and the same for your mother?
My father went to business school in Baltimore, and worked, until the depression, for the same firm all of his life, John E. Hurst and Company. It was a dry goods house in Baltimore, a wholesale distributor of clothing and bed clothes, serving the South mostly. Baltimore was a major distributor for New England cotton and linen products, which the dry goods houses sold to small Southern retail stores.
Was your father a salesman?
No! For as long as I can remember, he was a cashier for that company.
What was a cashier at that time?
He kept the books and if somebody came in and bought something, they would come to his little window, and he would take their check or their money and give them a receipt. They called him the cashier. He was not the accountant. He was not the bookkeeper, but he kept the books, and the accounts.
Did he have training in accounting principles? He must have.
Yes, he went to Strayers Business College in Baltimore.
Did your mother have any special training?
She left school in the fourth grade, and never had any training, never had a job. Her mother had died, and her explanation was that she had to stay home and take care of her father; therefore, she never went to work. And in fact, she claims that is the reason she got married so late. She didn't think her father could manage without her. However, her two maiden sisters did work. My father said the same thing, that his mother needed him. He couldn't afford to get married; and so they got married in 1912, which made him 37 and her 33. And they had four children.
Okay, where do you stand with the other three?
I'm the next to youngest.
Were the others boys or girls?
The two girls were older. The first girl died when she was five, in a playground accident. My living sister, who is a year older than I am, resides in Baltimore County. She is a retired school teacher. My brother is four years younger and runs a small printing business in New York. He has been in the photographic and the printing business all of his life.
All right. Well, you were born December 6, 1916.
I'd be interested in what your first recollections of home life were. What was home life like?
We lived in a rowhouse in Baltimore City as almost everybody in Baltimore did, until 1922. I can remember the early 1920's. I think I can remember the year 1920, mostly being around the house and remembering some little things, but not anything that has very much significance. I remember getting punched in the nose by one of the neighborhood kids who was bigger than I was.
Can you remember books, or anything that your father or mother would have been involving you in, that could have been influential in your later life?
Not in that period, no. I went to school when I was six years old. I couldn't go in the fall, because I was only five and one half, so I went in the mid-term, and I promptly got diphtheria after about a month in school, and was out for the rest of that spring year. That summer we moved to Woodlawn, in Baltimore County, which is a northwestern suburb of Baltimore, and our home was on the streetcar line. I went to school the next fall at Woodlawn Elementary School.
That was a public school?
Yes. Although I had learned to read, I was put in the first grade. My mother insisted that I belonged in the second grade. My mother was very aggressive about that sort of thing.
Did she teach you how to read?
I don't remember. I think I had learned how to read in the three weeks that I was in the first grade before I got sick. She was trying to say, he has finished the first grade. You ought to put him in the second grade. They wouldn't do that; but she finally prevailed, and when I was in the fourth grade I was promoted to the fifth grade because the grades were split. The teacher took me out of the fourth grade and put me in the fifth grade, I think, mainly because it would shut my mother up.
I see. What was her motive for that, do you think?
She thought that I was very smart, and wasn't learning enough. She didn't realize that I was lazy and wasn't learning enough. She was just very aggressive about that sort of thing. She didn't have any education herself, and she actually argued with the teacher that I never did any homework. The teacher said that's impossible because he always knows the assignments. The teacher finally said, okay, we'll put him in the fifth grade. That will stop him. My mother stopped complaining about the fact that I never did any homework. I still didn't, but she stopped talking about it.
When you were put ahead, then, one grade, did you sense more competition? Was there any problem, or it was just the same thing.
It was just the same thing. Elementary school was so easy that it was just nothing that really mattered, and I continued to get straight "A's," although I didn't study very much. That bounced back on me when I got to high school, because I continued to take the lazy approach, and things got tougher. It took me some time before I caught up to that one. And I never really did catch up to it in high school.
You felt the pinch in high school?
I didn't feel the pinch, because I could still get "B's" and "C's" and get along without having to work. I think I had gotten into the habit in the elementary school. Again, I think it was laziness. I really do. I think it was mental laziness.
Did you have any early hobbies or special interests?
Oh, I liked to play softball from the time I was six years old.
Is that something your father liked to do, or was that on your own?
It was basically on my own. The neighborhood kids and I decided that was what we wanted to do. I didn't like to play football. I didn't have the opportunity to play tennis. When I got older I learned to play golf. There was a nearby golf course, and it cost 25¢ for an 18-hole round. It was actually a city golf course. We lived right over the county line. Softball and golf were my major athletic hobbies as a young man. But playing softball was always a joy and a delight. I didn't play it very well, but I played it well enough. I was never an athlete. I had a rather strange growth period. When I graduated from high school, for example, I weighed 120 pounds, at age 16, and was 5 foot 10. In the next eight years I grew eight more inches. I was very large when I was in the first grade, compared to most of the kids. I was smaller than average, or average when I graduated from high school, but eight years later, I was 6 foot, 6.
I'll be darned. That is a peculiar growth curve. Was there anybody else in your family with that trait?
No, my father was just about six feet. My mother was 5 foot 4, I think. My mother's family, her sisters, were rather large women. The one that worked for Henry Rowland was about 5 foot 10 or 11, herself.
Yes. Did you have any other developing interests through elementary, junior high school, high school that would help identify early influences on your career?
I liked to read HORATIO ALGER type stories. But actually, my great passion was TOM SWIFT stories, boyhood science fiction. He invented the telephone. He did all those crazy things. And I somehow got fascinated with it. When I got older, I started reading some of the Mark Twain stuff, Stevenson, TREASURE ISLAND and KIDNAPPED. I must have read TREASURE ISLAND ten times in my lifetime, and not just as a child. I may have done that when I was 50 years old, for all I know.
Did you ever read science or science fiction on your own during your early school years?
No. In high school, I read POPULAR SCIENCE magazines, but not even as a subscriber, only occasionally.
What was your interest in reading that particular magazine?
I don't really know. I was interested in technical things. In high school I decided that chemistry was a really exciting subject. I never took biology, because it didn't interest me. I took physics as a senior. I took chemistry as a junior. The mathematics didn't interest me, because it was so elementary. It was taught at a relatively low level.
What was it at that time in high school, geometry, trigonometry, calculus?
No, calculus. This is Catonsville High School. I graduated in 1933. There were seven years of elementary school, which I did in six, and four years of high school, no junior high. I thought geometry was exciting, but it was so easy. I was in a class with a bunch of girls, for example, who just could not comprehend it, didn't think it was important, simply hated it. I had a pretty good teacher, who was one of the few male teachers in the school.
This was a public school.
This was a public school, yes; and he would make the students come up and do the homework problems on the board.
Were these proofs?
Yes, theorems; prove the following theorem. The girls in the class would absolutely shudder. They mostly couldn't do it; but he kind of pushed them and forced them to learn enough about it so they could get through the course. I would do the problems on a first-look basis. I would not look at that problem until I got up to the blackboard and then would work it out. I considered that to be a challenge, because there was no other challenge. To do it in advance was ridiculous. It wasn't any fun, but to go up there and, gee, how do I do that one? That was fun.
Was this something that your friends knew that you were doing?
I never mentioned it to anybody. I may have never mentioned it to anybody else before in my life. Nobody ever asked me about that. We did not have solid geometry. Trigonometry was the senior course, but algebra was taught so dully that it was just no fun at all, and I just ignored it. I took my "C" and got out. It wasn't worthwhile because it wasn’t fun to be in class even.
But the geometrical proofs were a challenge.
Yes, the way I played that game. Making it tough.
Was there anything interesting about geometry to you, particularly?
There must have been. But I don't really have any conscious knowledge that it was there. Chemistry I thought was fun, because we had a laboratory, and there was a very, very good lecturer. She was a very good teacher. Physics was not as much fun, because it was taught at a level at which I didn't really learn very much, except a little about motion and a little bit about light, a little bit about sound. The teacher didn't understand the subject very well. By that I mean she didn't know anything beyond what was in the text book, but she knew that very well.
Did you have a lab with physics, also?
But it wasn't as much fun because of the teacher, maybe?
I think it was because it was so elementary. It was not really exciting. I decided that I was going to study to be a chemist. I was going to be an industrial chemist, because I could get a job in a laboratory and mix chemicals together. I graduated from high school in 1933. My father had lost his job in 1932, because the dry goods company had just gone out of business, and there just weren't any jobs around. It was the depths of the depression. My father never had another job in his life. He died in 1937.
Let me ask you this: Up to the point of your father's loss of his job, even with the depression on, did you have intentions of going on to college?
Up until the depression, yes. The depression made it essentially impossible. My sister went to Maryland State Teachers College, which now is Towson State University. She started in 1932 and finished in 1936. She got a job as public school teacher, which took some of the financial pressure off of the family. I went to work. While I was going to night school here at Hopkins, I was working in a grocery store in the daytime. There was probably a way to go to college. I probably didn't know the ropes. My aunts would have given me financial support, at least, to some extent. They were not so well off that they could have afforded to put me through college, but they would help me.
Where would your father have stood in all of this? He was out of a job. There must have been considerable pressure to make some money.
Not too much. That was one of the greatest experiences of my life. You don't need very much money to get along when things get tight. And you can make progress. You can go forward. I get a little bit upset with some of the modern day people who think that getting a 7% raise when the cost of living index has gone up 5% is an insult. My father worked for years and years and years without ever getting a raise. In fact, I think his maximum salary was $2750 a year. On three occasions, working for Johns Hopkins University, I have gotten a raise that was more money than my father ever made in his life in one year. That was my differential.
Yes. This is already post-World War II you are talking about.
Oh yes. It's post-1960, I think.
Well, we've identified your financial condition. You worked at a grocery store during the years that you went to Johns Hopkins in night school.
Well, the very first year I didn't apply to Hopkins, because I didn't have a full time job that fall. But the Roosevelt Administration, recognizing the financial problem that existed in education, started some night school classes in local high schools; in Baltimore some of those classes were at Forest Park High School, which was about a mile from where I lived, and right next to the grocery store where I was working part time. So I would walk to work, which was only two miles, and then I would walk to the high school and take the evening course; and then I would walk home. Quite often I would get rides, but it was close enough that it didn't matter. There were also street cars, if I couldn't walk, if the weather was bad. It was a very convenient arrangement. I took a physics course and a math course that spring semester. One of the instructors was John Sanderson, who had finished his graduate work at John Hopkins. It was still the depression. He hadn't gotten a job. He was a student of A.H. Pfund, and he was staying on as a low-paid instructor in physics. This is the way the University worked. They would get jobs for their people, and they would keep them here until they could find a job. It was a very nice arrangement. There was another physics student who taught the math course. His name was Hume, and I've lost track of him. Sanderson went to NRL a few years after he got his degree here, and became head of the Optics Division when Hulburt was promoted to be director of the laboratory. Sanderson, after being involved in the Johnson Island tests of the early 1960's, resigned from NRL and took on the job of educational director for the Optical Society, in their Washington offices. He is now retired. He did an awful lot for me. I last saw John Sanderson at Hulburt's funeral. He was moving to South Carolina, and he was just leaving when I saw him at Hulburt's funeral and I haven't seen him since. Friedman was there. Dick Tousey had gone to his home in Maine, just a few days before, so he couldn't get there. Tousey was one of Hulburt's greatest admirers. But gosh, the funeral was rather impressive. I went because I had known him so long and was responsible for getting him as the dinner speaker for the Rowland/Wood Symposium, which was part of the University's 100th anniversary celebration. I had told Harry Woolfe, who is now the director of the Institute for Advanced Studies but was the J.H.U. provost then, about Hulburt, and he said, my god, I've got to go see him. So he and I rode down with Dick Zdanis, who was the vice-provost then and now. That's when Harry Woolfe found out that Hulburt had been captain of the world champion lacrosse team of 1910. At the evening dinner. Harry Woolfe gave him an old beautifully polished wooden lacrosse stick engraved with the message "To Capt. Eddie and the boys of the 1910 championship team." And Hulburt, at 85 years old, stood up and started weaving and bobbing (laugh); it was a very nice thing. I had not known his family at all; but I was astonished because Hulburt had written to me on several occasions; and in a very friendly way. I had met him right after Sanderson went to Washington. Sanderson, whom I owed everything to, essentially, had gotten me to come over and meet Hulburt during World War II. Somehow or another, Hulburt had remembered, and he always treated me like I was a prince. I never understood it, because I thought I was talking to a real king. He was a great man. When I went to his funeral, and the wake, at that beautiful family place afterwards, right on the shores of the Tred-Avon, which I had sailed by many times, his family knew me. He had talked about me. I got a very nice letter from him after he got his honorary degree. Herb Friedman had suggested that, and I had not. But Hulburt was under the impression that I was responsible for his having received the degree. It was a very nice letter. And my hands were tied. There was nothing I could do about that. I just ignored the letter. I just couldn't explain it to them; no way.
That's interesting. Well, I'd like to talk to you about your contacts like that during World War II; but let's get back to your first years at the evening college. Now, you said you started by taking physics. Was chemistry available? Did you still want to go into chemistry?
I studied physical optics at Forest Park High School (John Sanderson) for a semester. I got a dose of optics and recognized, my god, that's fun.
This is after you graduated from high school?
Yes. Late 1933, early 1934.
And this was the evening class at a high school that was close to where you were a grocery clerk.
Yes, but they weren't high school classes. They were essentially introductory college courses for people that hadn't been able to get into college; and I certainly fit into that category. By next fall, I had recognized that the Johns Hopkins University was the place I should be (my aunt had been pushing me, anyhow, as I told you earlier), and now I had a contact. John Sanderson says, why don't you enroll at Hopkins. It's very simple to do and it will be very good for you. So I came over to enroll and I had two jobs. I did not have a full time job at that time in the grocery store. I worked only on Saturday, and made $2.00 a week. I got another job with a friend who had an office downtown. He was the father of my best pal in high school. He was running a little manufacturers' representative business, and it was just hellishly bad. He said, look Bill, I don't have any money. My business is going to hell. I can use somebody in the office, and I'm out most of the day, and you can study there. It is better than studying at home, and it's close to the University. It was in downtown Baltimore. I used to get a ride to work. I'd let a street car or two go by, then one of my neighbors would pick me up and give me a ride downtown. I'd save 10¢, and I'd walk up to Hopkins, and then I would take the streetcar home; so it cost me 10¢ a day to go to school. My tuition was $19 a month. My boss was paying me $2 a week, which is what my father made when he started working in the 1890's. He said that will pay for your lunches and your carfare. It was much more than I needed for that purpose. He said, if you can't pay the tuition, Bill, I'll pay it. And I set myself the goal that, by god, I was going to not ask him for money to pay my tuition. And so, on $5 a week, that first year of night school, I paid my tuition of $19 a month, which was very difficult to do!
Yes, it doesn't leave much. (laugh)
I also got a few tips for delivering groceries to people on Saturdays, and things like that. But it didn't leave much. In any case, that's what I decided to do, and I did it! I took chemistry, because chemistry had been more interesting to me.
The second half of the physics course was being taught that first year, and I decided, well, I'll take physics the second year. I took three years of night school. Before I started I went to the registrar, who was one of the grand ladies of this University, Irene Davis, who later married Alsoph Corwin, who was a professor of chemistry. I told her I wanted to take the chemistry course. She said, that's fine. I told her I would also like to take a math course. And she said, well, you can't take three courses. In the first year you should take English. She was the daytime registrar; but she was there at night, talking to people and helping them to decide what to do. She was acting as an advisor. She was a magnificent lady: My wife worked for her. That's how I met my wife. She was on this campus. She was an integral part of this University, absolutely dedicated to this University. She is still alive; and she was here as registrar for the rest of her employment period.
Yes. Let me get something straight, though. What were the first courses you took, then, in the night school, not at Johns Hopkins, but at the high school?
That was a physical optics course, one semester.
An optics course, and anything else?
A mathematics course. Pre-calculus, one semester.
How did you decide to take the optics course in the first place?
I just looked at what was available, and that looked interesting. And there wasn't any chemistry. It was too difficult to have a chemistry course, because college teachers were going over to the high school and walking into a classroom and teaching, with no laboratories, no nothing. You can't teach chemistry, essentially, without having a laboratory.
Yes. But you can teach optics on a blackboard.
And with demonstrations; Sanderson brought a telescope in, or a spectroscope, and prisms, lenses, mirrors, all easily portable.
What was it that fascinated you about optics?
I think I would have to manufacture that answer. I don't think it would be a real answer. I don't really know. I didn't very consciously make those decisions. I just went ahead with what I thought looked like fun. I had not forgotten that chemistry was pretty exciting. And in fact, I took the chemistry course as the first course I took at Johns Hopkins evening college. But Irene Davis had said, "take an English course this first year. I can tell from the way you talk that you are interested in technology. You are interested in chemistry and physics and mathematics. But take an English course. It will be good for you." And she was so right. I took an English writing course from a famous professor here, who taught night school, and whose teaching assistant succeeded him as head of the English Department. He died 10 years ago. I never learned to be a good writer; but I learned something about the mechanics of converting ideas into the written word. And it was extremely valuable to me. I learned that a paragraph is supposed to start off telling you what that paragraph has in it, and ending up summarizing that paragraph. And very few people know that. (laugh together).
Or practice it. Right. Then you did continue taking physics courses primarily.
Well, the next year I took physics and chemistry.
Okay. This is 1935, 1936.
Yes. And then in 1936-37 I took the second half of the physics course and half a calculus course. That's the only course in mathematics that I took at Hopkins at night schoo1. I took one English course, one half math course, one chemistry course and one physics course, but the chemistry and physics courses both took two years.
Your vita shows that you were three years in evening college, and then you went directly into the graduate school in physics.
Johns Hopkins University has the policy that, if the Physics Department accepts you as a candidate for the graduate school, your educational background doesn't matter. That was called the New Plan. It was called the Goodnow Plan. Somewhere along the line, every president wanted his name on that plan, so it changed its name every now and then. It later became the Bronk Plan, I think. The Goodnow Plan is the right name, because it was instituted, I think, in the teens by Goodnow, who, I believe, succeeded Remsen as president. I believe the present name is the New New Plan, but the plan isn't used very much anymore.
Okay. Let me turn the tape over. This is Tape #1, Side #2. Now, how did you become singled out, then, for this? You must have had a number of professors who we should talk about, in the evening school, through whom you must have become known to the physicists. Could you reconstruct how you came to be known, and how your interests developed?
Well, first, John Sanderson was still here, and J.A. Bearden was teaching the night school physics course. Bearden became a professor here in 1929. He had been a student of A.H. Compton at Chicago, and had done some very important work in x-rays. He came here because he wanted to measure the calcite crystal dimension, and he knew he had to do it with x-rays, using gratings. He is still here every day at the age of 81. Also, John Sanderson introduced me to a number of the advanced graduate students who were instructors in night school. One of them was R.T.K. Murray, the teaching assistant for Bearden. Hume was also still here, waiting to get a job. So I had some of these young guys giving me some rave notices, and I never quite understood it, because I never really had done very well. But I remember one incident which I think is hilarious, and may be significant. I had awfully good marks in the first half of the physics course (1935-1936) and one time Bearden was standing at the door of the classroom, the big lecture hall in the old Rowland Hall, (The original Rowland Hall was built in 1929, without a ladies' room in it. Incredible?) Bearden said, on that last exam I gave, you didn't know Jacob's Law (or somebody's). I asked you to describe Jacob's Law, and you didn't even write anything down. I said, oh, yes; that's right. I didn't. But you asked me Jacob's Law. Why didn't you ask me about the laws of gases (or whatever). I don't study physics by the names of people. I study them by phenomenon. He said, oh, you know, I think you're right. When I got the paperback, he gave me full credit for the question. And I claim — now, I'm making this part of it up, when I tell this story — he gave me full credit for the question, and then he gave me extra credit for not answering it. (laugh).
That's very good.
Certainly, if Bearden had said, that guy's no good, I would never have gotten into the graduate school. Then I took the second half of the night school physics course from him the second year. At the end of that time I was offered a scholarship in the Physics Department. Everybody got scholarships. If you couldn't get a scholarship and you were willing to pay the tuition, they might take you, but if they thought you were any good, they would always give you a scholarship. So the next year, 1937, with very little education, I was thrown into the Physics Department graduate school. I was taking differential equations and theoretical mechanics. I didn't have any mathematical background that would enable me to understand theoretical mechanics or differential equations. I was also taking physical optics from A.H. Pfund, and a course in electrical measurements in the Engineering school, the Electrical Engineering Department. John Charles Hubbard was the professor of physics, just a beautiful man, who was in charge of students. His passion was to make sure the students were happy or getting along, or doing the right thing, and were progressing. He spent an awful lot of time with students. I had just finished doing an experiment in the electrical measurements course in which I had measured 108 different wires, all of different shapes, all of different lengths, all of different cross-sectional areas, some square, some ribbons, some different metals, and had proven Ohm's law really works. It took six hours to make the measurements, and six hours to write them up. I had done a simpler experiment in the night school course in physics in three hours total that really proved Ohm's law. I didn't think I needed to spend 12 more hours on that subject. I wasn't learning. The courses where I was trying to learn stuff were too hard for me. Why should I be studying stuff that was trivial? So, I mentioned this problem to some of the graduate students. They said, look, that's a required course. Everybody takes that course. It’s a snap course. Don't worry about it. It's easy, but it’s on the curriculum. Just do it. Hubbard stopped me in the hall one day and said, how are you getting along? And I told him this story. And he said, oh, thank you very much. And the next day he came looking for me, and said, I have taken you out of that course. We won't assign students to that course any more. So, when I was an undergraduate, I told Bearden how to teach physics, and when I was a freshman graduate student, I told Hubbard how to rearrange the curriculum, and I didn't know what the hell I was talking about. (laughs). I was pretty brash, I guess, and that sort of thing apparently made an enormous impression! In any case, I did very badly as a graduate student. You can imagine. I didn't have the beginning of a college education. I was doing so badly that I decided that I was going to concentrate on physical optics, which was something I could understand, and that had a lab associated with it. I spent all my time in that lab, and a lot of time talking to the teaching assistant, Archie Mahan, who is still a very dear friend of mine. I even was able to talk to Pfund occasionally because he gave lecture demonstrations, and you could walk right next to him, and talk to him. And so when the late spring came around I saw Hubbard again, and said, Dr. Hubbard, I am really interested in physics. I know how badly I have done, but I really want to stay in the program. I really want to work as a physicist. I thought I was going to work as a chemist, but I really want to work as a physicist. I was wondering if you could tell me where you thought I could get a job in industry as a laboratory assistant. He said, oh! You're going to leave? And I said, I don't think there's any alternative. He said, I was hoping that you would be a teaching assistant next year. And I said to myself, this poor dumb old man (he must have been nearly 20 years older than I was) doesn't understand how bad I am; but I am not going to tell him, because if I can get another year in before they find out about me, I'm going to have a hell of a good time. So I came back the next year. I was completely surprised. I not only had a scholarship, I had a teaching assistant's fee. I think it was $300 a year. I was rich. I think that was when I bought an automobile, even. (laughs). I paid $100 for an automobile, because I could save money on car fare.
During this time were you still living at home?
And I'd be curious as to what your father and mother thought about a career in "physics"? Did you know what their feelings were?
Yes, get all the education you can get. We don't have any money. We know that you are not helping to feed the family very much, but it doesn't take very much money. Get all the education you can.
So, there was nothing wrong with physics in your father's mind, let's say.
Oh no, or my mother's; not that either of them really understood the subject. My father was a very, very intelligent man, very quiet, almost introspective. He didn't really say very much, but he was a very smart man. My mother was wise, you might even say that she wasn't very smart. She was wise the way people that have no education can be.
So at this point then, 1938, let's say, you were asked to come back as a teaching assistant. You were wondering when you were going to be found out.
Did you talk with fellow students who were in similar situations, who did not have a formal full undergraduate education, and were thrown into physics, let's say, and having to take differential equations; or were you really alone in this?
I was pretty much alone although there were others. In fact, two of my very good friends were New Plan students, but the usual procedure was that they would become New Plan students after two full years of undergraduate work. And I hadn't even had one, because I had taken very difficult courses in night school, chemistry and physics, which took two years each. And you could barely take two of these courses at once. They were big courses. I only did that once in three years of undergraduate night school. So, although there were people that did not have undergraduate degrees, they had more undergraduate education than I had. They did not have, at least in my perception, nearly as hard a time as I was having. Also they were well organized. Part of my hard time was that I was disorganized. I was never a good student. I learned something about it, though. As a matter of fact, I learned a very important thing, that if I sat there and feverishly took notes, I wouldn't learn a thing. But if I sat and listened, I could learn a lot more. Sometimes the teachers, instructors, professors got the impression that I didn't give a damn, because I wasn't writing it down.
It seems that some of the teachers you had were quite perceptive of particular qualities in their students. They would single you out and accept you, even though you didn't know why they accepted you.
Anything in hindsight that you could offer that would allow us to better understand why they accepted you at this time?
Well, the two examples that I gave you, I think, are part of that.
Correcting their teaching style? (laughs).
Yes, (laughs) showing them how to run the University.
Right. But anything else?
Well, Pfund almost from the moment I came here had recognized and supported me, and he was very kind to me. Pfund essentially became a second father to me. All of Pfund's friends, including his former students, including John Sanderson and Shirley Silverman, who became associate director of the Bureau of Standards, and earlier was director of the Office of Naval Research. His students called him Papa Pfund. He treated them like they were his sons. He didn't have any sons. He had a daughter. Without consciously thinking about it, looking back on it, I must have thought of him as a second father. He was that kind of a guy. But he was also an incredibly good teacher, an incredibly good laboratory experimentalist. I think one element of our relationship was that Pfund did not really have a very deep understanding of advanced physics. He didn't understand mathematics any better than I did, hardly. But he had a deep feeling for physics. He was a student of R.W. Wood at the University of Wisconsin. Wood came here when Rowland died in 1902 as professor of experimental physics. He brought Pfund with him as a student. Pfund got his Ph.D. here in 1907, stayed here the rest of his life, and was department chairman when he died in 1949. So my whole graduate school experience became almost entirely Pfund. After the teaching assistantship, the next year I became laboratory instructor in Pfund's optics course. I did that for two years. In 1940, with laboratory research being developed by NDRC, National Defense Research Council, under the Office of Science Research and Development, Pfund was beginning to get more and more requests for research studies relevant to the war effort and needed some assistants. So I stopped being a graduate student in 1940, became Pfund's laboratory assistant, and stayed on in that capacity until the end of the war.
The record here says that you were a graduate student through 1941.
I was. Actually, I did no studying in that last year. I stopped being an instructor and started working for $1 an hour for A.H. Pfund as his laboratory assistant in his war research. I registered in that 1940-41 semester, but I didn't take any courses.
Yes, understood. How were your own personal research interests developing in, let's say, the period 1937 through 1941? You were in physical optics. What was it that you saw as a research goal, or as an activity for you in optics?
First as a student, I took Dieke's laboratory spectroscopy course on the very spectrograph that is going to be used as a monument to Rowland. I was fascinated by the detail that you could get in spectra. But of course, Rowland's spectra of the sun were lining the halls of Rowland Hall then. It was fascinating to take one of R.W. Wood's replica gratings and go around town and find out whether it was a neon sign or a mercury sign or an argon sign that was on a store front by just putting the thing in front of your eye and looking at the colors, and guessing the wavelengths, and determining what the composition was. It was really elementary equipment. One of the fascinating things derived from Rowland was the experimental approach: Keep it simple! Do simplistic experiments. That was Wood's forté, and it was certainly Pfund's. Wood had been here as a chemistry undergraduate student in 1890 and 1891. He left the university; he failed his chemistry courses, because he spent all of his time in Rowland's laboratory. He had to go to a lesser school to get his undergraduate degree. He graduated from Harvard a couple of years later.
But, please don't record that. (laughs). I like to make wisecracks. I say that whenever I'm talking to Harvard men, and they all enjoy it.
Yes, but I think that historically that's correct.
In physics it was correct, yes, but maybe it wasn't correct for chemistry at that time. The undergraduate school here was not much then. But the graduate school was number one. Well, Wood went to the University of Chicago. He drifted around. The only degree that he got was his undergraduate degree in chemistry at Harvard until his friend Einstein gave him an honorary degree in 1931 from the University of Berlin.
For the tape, I'm referring to a portrait, a photographic portrait on the wall of the office here that shows "R.W. Wood and Friend," it says. The friend is Einstein. So that was when Wood received an honorary degree.
That's the 1931 picture of the two of them in Berlin.
And Wood later got an honorary degree from Johns Hopkins University. But he never got any other degree. Neither did Rowland. Rowland had a civil engineering degree, the only college degree he ever had, from Troy College in New York, which is now Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Rowland also got an honorary Ph.D. from Hopkins.
You apparently are in that tradition. You don't have a bachelor's degree. And you actually have no formal degree of any kind. Is that correct?
That's right, yes. As a matter of fact, I claim that I did better than either Rowland or Wood, because they had a bachelor's degree. So I went them one better (laughs). That's also a lie, but it's one of my jokes.
Why is it a lie?
Well, I can't compare myself to people like Rowland and Wood. They were absolute towering giants, incredible people. Rowland was widely recognized as America's greatest physicist during the last quarter of the 19th century, and even today is probably in the all time top 10. I knew R.W. Wood very well. I enjoyed him tremendously. The very first year I was in graduate school, he gave demonstration lectures in physical optics at 4 o'clock on Friday afternoons in the big lecture hall across here, where I had taken the night school courses, and where the physics colloquium is still held once a week. He would bring in magnificent optical demonstrations, and fill the bench with them; and talk for an hour about it and show these things off. He would show you the reversal of the sodium lines, like that picture on the wall there. If the sun was out on that Friday afternoon, he would bring the sun in and spread the Fraunhofer spectrum of the sun across the room.
Would he just set a laboratory mirror, a standard mirror, up on a window and let the sunlight in, or something?
He'd crack the blind so a streak of light went across the room. Then he would just stand with a grating in his hand, in the right place, so that it would focus on the ceiling. It was a concave grating, one that had just been ruled. He would do spectacular things. There were chemists who took the course. There was one chemist who by Friday afternoon was so tired that he would go to sleep in Wood's class. Wood would always have set up a high-voltage transformer connected to a condenser with a spark gap across the condenser. Whenever Wood saw this fellow falling asleep, he would go over and close the switch, and BANG! (laugh). The guy would jump, wake up, and Wood would go back to his lecture (laughs). He had that experiment there every time just to keep that guy awake. Every time he'd do it everybody would roar. This guy would wake up, startled every time, but he always went back to sleep again.
Marvelous. You had courses from Wood then, certainly?
That one course, period, in the spring of '38. Wood retired as Department Chairman that year at 70 years of age, but continued to work in his laboratory here until his death in the mid 1950's.
Well, physical optics were of interest to you. You were getting interested in spectroscopy. Were you aware of what was going on in modern physics at the time? Did you have any contact with quantum mechanics?
Oh yes. Dieke was a spectroscopist with broad theoretical knowledge. He tried to teach me quantum mechanics but failed miserably. In fact, Dieke and Herzfeld helped Wood update his optics book, called PHYSICAL OPTICS. It became a lot more mathematical, but basically it was only the mathematics that Herzfeld and Dieke handed to Wood, because Wood didn't understand mathematics any better than Pfund, or any better than I do. Wood was strictly a phenomenological guy with an awful lot of flair. He liked to make big noises, for example. Close the condenser! smash! He used to pull some stunts on James Franck. Franck was here as a German refugee, before he went to the University of Chicago, and he used to play pranks on Franck, usually involving setting off an explosion. He was interested in explosives. He was a scientific detective involved in solving some murder cases where people were bombed to death. He understood those problems. That's why he was doing shaped-charge work at Aberdeen. It was something he probably did because he liked to make loud noises. The work was highly classified but Wood broke security on some occasions. He and Pfund hated each other at this stage of the game. Pfund was 60 and Wood was 70, and they couldn't stand each other.
Even though one had been a student of the other?
And they hated each other all through this time, or just later on?
I can only talk about the period in which I saw it happening. I knew both of them well enough so that they both talked to me about it. I couldn't do anything but listen. I couldn't do the analysis that would explain how it all came about, but there was one hilarious incident. I was working for Pfund during the war. It was classified work, and Pfund had locked his laboratory. But he got tired of running from his office to the laboratory. There was a door between the two. He had a lock put on it, but he figured out how to keep it from locking, so that he had the security, but he also didn't have the inconvenience of having to use a key every time he wanted to go back and forth, because he was back and forth all the time. One time he was in the laboratory, R.W. Wood walked in, looking for something that he assumed that Pfund had stolen from him. Pfund says, what are you doing in here? There is secret work going on and you're not allowed in here. Wood looked around and says, (I wasn't there, but Pfund told me this story) I don't see anything very important going on in here. Pfund says, that's because you're not as smart as you think you are. One day when Pfund was out of town, I passed by Wood's office and he said, come in, I'll show you something. He showed me some spectra that he had taken of shaped explosions, the classified work at Aberdeen, and he explained it to me. He went into great detail, and it took him about a half hour. Then he leaned back and said, what do you think of that? I said, it's absolutely fascinating. It's amazing. He said, what are you doing? Tell me what you're doing. I've told you what I'm doing. And I said, Dr. Wood, you know, if I told you what I was doing that I wouldn't be here next week. I'd get fired. I'm enjoying myself. I don't want to do that. And he says, yes, I understand that. He says, "I don't know why that boy treats me the way he does (that boy being A.H. Pfund). But I'm going to get even with him. He locks his doors, but he leaves his transom open. (The old Rowland Hall had transoms above the doors because there was no air conditioning.). I think, around here in this laboratory somewhere I've got some German cigarettes. I'm going to smoke them down to the butts and throw the butts over his transom. That will scare hell out of him." I'm sure that never happened, but I never mentioned it to Pfund. (laughs). I was not going to get in the middle of that nonsense. The battle between Wood and Pfund had been going on for many years. Wood had developed techniques for observing Raman Spectra. In fact, Wood had many spectra of Raman Scattering on his plates long before Raman's discovery, but Wood did not understand the theory of spectra well enough to recognize what he had. In 1942-3 Pfund conceived of an optical system which he hoped would permit direct visual observations of Raman Spectra without the need for photography and worked feverishly to demonstrate it. R.W. Wood was to be the first to see it. One day I walked into his laboratory, which was pitch dark. In the glow of his Raman lamp I saw him intently peering into his spectroscope. After a long period he sat back and sighed. You can't see the spectrum? I asked. "No, I can't see it, but I almost can."
You were working with Pfund on material that was classified during the war?
But later on, were some of the early publications, e.g., "Selected Infrared Gas Analyzers", based on that classified work?
That was the big job that I did during the war.
Okay. That appeared in the JOURNAL of the OPTICAL SOCIETY in 1947.
Could you describe this work? Did you begin this actually in 1940-41? What was the motive for this work primarily?
Yes. There were many problems involving analysis of gases that were relevant to the war situation. One of them was, how good is a gas mask? Another one was, what is the composition of the air in the living spaces in tanks, airplanes, submarines, amphibious vehicles. The living spaces in amphibious vehicles and tanks were very, very dangerous, particularly if they were firing their guns. What is the air like in the living space of military airplanes? The CO and CO2 became important.
So these were analyzers; certainly the carbon dioxide is infrared spectra, so that's what you were after.
Yes. Pfund had invented a new technique for detecting gases by their infrared absorption, though it was not a spectrometer. The technique was to have a cell filled with the gas to be detected, let's say CO2, very sensitive thermopiles were in the cell to measure the temperature of the gas. If light from an infrared source passed through a sample cell into the detector cell, and if there is no CO2 in the sample cell, the CO2 in the detector cell will come to its maximum temperature. But if there is CO2 in the sample cell, some of the IR energy is removed and the thermopile will indicate a decrease in the temperature in the detecting cell. Conversely if there is CO or H2O in the sample cell, no radiation is removed that will affect the heating of the CO2 in the detector cell. It is called a nondispersive infrared gas analyzer. It is a very simple instrument, a light source, a sample cell, and a detector cell. Pfund had invented this instrument before the war, and had done some very exciting biological experiments. One day he had one of these instruments in his laboratory, and I knew all about it, because I was his student before the war, and then his assistant during the war. Even before the war, before I began working as his assistant, I had been teaching his course, and I had the run of his laboratory and I had the opportunity to watch a super experimentalist doing his thing. One winter he would leave the colloquium early and go down to his laboratory. He gave a talk on his infrared gas analyzer to the physics colloquium in the spring and apologized for having left early all winter. But he said, "I was trying to find out the reason that people went to sleep at the end of these lectures. I decided that it may be the atmosphere in this room; so I have been making CO2 measurements, and CO measurements, and H2O measurements. And I find that none of those gases have changed significantly during the course of the lecture; but I still figure it must be a gas problem; and I think I have discovered a new gas. I'm going to name it BO." (laughs). That was at the end of his lecture.
Anyhow, the war came along; he had that device, and that's when he began to need an assistant. He assigned me the job of developing it into a portable instrument, which involved portable galvanometers at first, and then electronic amplifiers; and he just gave me full run. He didn't give me any restrictions.
This was NDRC, I take it.
Yes, NDRC. By now, I was making $2 an hour, I think.
Was there any question as to what you would do during the war? After 1941-42, whether you would be drafted?
Me? Oh, yes. Oh, I'll tell you that story. That's wonderful. But let me finish my account of the instrument. So he gave me that job, and absolutely gave me carte blanche, which is the way this place was. You don't take people by the hand and say, now, do this next. Do this next. Fastie, go work on that problem. And I would talk to him, and give him verbal progress reports, but he never gave me any directions. He would give me advice when I asked for it. I'd say, what do you think I should do, and he would tell me. But he wouldn't instruct me to do things, which is the way that research has got to be carried out, even though he was dealing with a pretty rudimentary scientist.
Did you feel that you were up to it? It was something you could do?
Oh boy, I ate it up. Yes, I knew what I was doing by that time. I knew what my forté was by that time without ever thinking about it; there was no question but that I could work on that problem. In the process of working on it, doing a little bit of literature research, I ran across a different technique of doing basically the same thing, which did not involve a temperature measurement of the gas, but a dual system where the light came from the same light source through the same absorption tube, but split into two beams. One of the beams had the wavelength of that gas absorbed out of it, CO let's say. The other beam was clear, so that a radiation thermopile could measure how much gas was in the sample cell. And you could change the length of the cell, of course, depending on the concentration range you wanted. You could do a lot of things. For example, you could put another cell in the path and fill it with one of the gases that might be interfering with your prime measurements; so you could do nice combinations. It was a very simplistic device.
But that was more versatile; it was a comparative measurement, rather than an absolute measurement, which was better.
Well, it got rid of some of the problems I was having in making his device work, because measuring the temperature of that gas accurately enough proved more and more difficult. I was only measuring the temperature difference between the walls and the gas, but it was difficult, particularly in a non-laboratory environment. I went to him one day and explained this other method to him. I had tried it, and I said, "It works; and I think it is better than your method."
And what did he say?
It took him about 30 seconds. He said, well then, you ought to use that method, and not mine. And that's what we did. It may have taken him 10 seconds. And that was a pretty important instrument. In fact, that led me to my postwar decisions about where I was going to work after I left.
You mean Leeds and Northrup?
Yes, that instrument became important. We used it at Fort Knox to measure the atmosphere in the personnel space in tanks. We used it in airplanes. It was considered, but I don't know whether it ever was used on a submarine. I never got one on a submarine, but it sure as hell was a potentially important instrument. It was used by the Marines to test their amphibious vehicles.
Let me ask a question about this. You were developing the portable instrument, but was this instrument meant to be used by the actual occupants at the time? Or was this a testing instrument?
Testing. On submarines it may have turned out to be a permanently installed instrument, but for the immediate purpose, it was used for testing prototype tanks, etc. These measurements had been previously made by obtaining many bottles of gas samples during simulated combat conditions and chemically analyzing the samples. The selective infrared gas analyzer reduced the testing period from months to hours because the gas composition was known immediately; the ventilation configuration could be adjusted and another test conducted in a few minutes. One of the interesting aspects of the tank testing was that it had been decreed that the ventilating fans must blow the air toward the ground. Sucking in the air from the ground level was forbidden because there might be mustard gas hugging the ground. Another decree was that the top side ventilators must be designed so that no bullet could ricochet through them. This design was accomplished but with the result that very few air molecules could ricochet through the vents. For some tank designs this dilemma was resolved by reversing the fans. To hell with the mustard, full speed ahead.
This is Tape #2, Side #1. Go ahead.
We also were working at Edgewood Arsenal, using these kinds of devices to study the efficiency of gas masks. They had very crude methods of doing that. And we used them in field tests of Japanese bunkers. Whenever the Army captured a Japanese bunker, Army engineers would draw plans of it, and send the drawings back; and at Edgewood Arsenal they would build one just like it. Then they would study the air quality inside those bunkers when they were under attack by flame throwers. They only had chemical methods of analyzing the gases which was too slow. We provided them with our analyzer which could quickly measure the amount of CO2 and CO that built up during an attack. There were other instruments, one that Linus Pauling had developed, an oxygen meter. We found some remarkable things. If you dropped a load of napalm into the main bunker, in some of the chambers away from the main bunker, rooms would not heat up, but all the oxygen would disappear. The soldiers would suffocate; they couldn't get out. That was offensive warfare. But the analyzer was just one instrument in a series of instruments that was involved in these tests. By that time NDRC had recognized that the analyzer was useful and they had gotten Leeds and Northrup to manufacture a few dozen of them. And I became the consultant to Leeds and Northrup. And after the war I went there as a research scientist. I didn't work on the development of the analyzer. I decided I was not going to become the engineer on that development; the engineers could do that. I would work on other things; but Leeds and Northrup did market that instrument. I believe they still do. It became important for "Cat" towers, catalytic cracking towers in the oil industry. I don't know what its total application was, because I purposely did not try to hang onto that. I wanted to do other things.
What is its marketed name, so that we can identify it?
Selective Infrared Gas Analyzer.
Okay. Leeds and Northrup would have its name on it?
Yes. You asked me earlier about my draft status. Until about 1944 I was on a deferred status because of the torrid letters A.H. Pfund would write every six months to my draft board explaining that if I was drafted, the entire war research program would collapse. In 1944 the draft board sent all their remnants to take an army physical so they could weed out the 4Fs and simplify their job. I was classified 4F by a young army doctor who examined my chest x-ray and declared me tubercular. My father had died of tuberculosis, and my lungs had been x-rayed by experts who discovered that I had had childhood tuberculosis which had scarred my lungs and which probably had made me immune. I tried to explain this to the army doctor but all he would say was that I needed medical treatment. I told him I would not accept a 4F status and demanded that he consult an expert. By this time I was shouting. He walked out of his office and did not return. I told Pfund about it and told him I was going to file a protest. He said, "Fastie, I have spent many hours writing letters to get you deferred, and now I don't have to do that anymore. Shut up and get back to work." And that was that.
Let's not leave the war years just yet. There is a lot to talk about. You mentioned at lunch a very interesting recollection of R.W. Wood's first discussion of what we call the Echelle grating today. Could you repeat that for us now, please? What meeting was this?
Yes, but before I tell you that, let me tell you that just before the war, R.W. Wood, again working with astronomers, had made large mosaic diffraction gratings, transparent replica diffraction gratings, for the first Schmidt camera, I believe, on Mt. Wilson. I am not sure, but it was a smallish one, I believe.
An 18-inch, yes.
I believe I know that one.
He recognized that he had a problem in getting all of those gratings lined up. So he would cement one of them down on a glass plate. And then he would put another one down, not gluing it yet. He would put a third one over the two of them, and he would see the moiré fringes between those two. He would get them lined up and glue the second one down. Then he would do the same thing with additional gratings and get them all lined up against each other that way. He got very good spectra with a very, very big grating, the biggest grating that was ever made, until that time, 18 inches in diameter. It had relatively low resolution, but he was looking for only moderate resolution, because this was the first time it was possible to obtain spectra of very faint stars.
These were, of course, what we would call objective gratings now.
Was that your first contact, or your first recollection now with something astronomical; or would you say the earlier solar stuff, the Rowland spectra, was?
No, R.W. Wood's trick of showing the solar spectrum in his lectures was an early contact. But John Sanderson had given me several nights of experience on the Johns Hopkins 9 inch Warner and Swasey telescope. You know that I am not now an astronomer. I never was. I became interested in just having a telescope that I could look through; I became interested in astronomy by looking at the rings of Saturn and the moon, but I did it for pure hobby purposes. There was another telescope right down the road here at the Maryland Academy of Sciences that was at 27th and Charles Street, which is only five blocks from where we are sitting. A night school friend of mine, who went into chemistry as a graduate student and later became chairman of the Chemistry Department, Walter Koski, and I used to go down there and just play around, not doing any astronomy, just as a hobby, just playing games with the telescope, looking around the universe. Baltimore has a poor sky for doing that.
So you weren't reading anything about things that could be done in astronomy, anything about instrumentation.
No, I was not interested in that subject at that time. I used that telescope because Koski was a member of the Academy. He liked to go there, and then I would go to the Warner and Swasey one on other occasions with other people as a graduate student.
You were aware of Wood's production of these huge gratings?
Oh yes, he talked about that in a physics colloquium. But then at the end of the war he did invent the Echelle spectrograph. And again, in his relationship to the astronomers, he knew what the astronomers were looking for. He knew what their problem was. He recognized that you can't have one of these big Rowland spectrographs attached to a telescope, that the spectrum was too long, and the instrument was too long. You either had to settle for it a little piece at a time, or do something else. So he figured out how you could put the pieces together. Instead of getting one long line of spectrum, he put the pieces in a square array, one short spectrum above the next. He accomplished this by crossing one low-dispersion grating with a high-dispersion grating, and getting all the same information, not only in a more convenient format, but in the range where all of the spectra were as bright as possible. When you try to work at the ends of a Rowland spectrograph with its long line, you get off what's called the blaze of the grating. The grating gets inefficient when you get away from the most profitable angle. Wood had invented the blazed grating in 1909 for infrared studies. He recognized, by god, if you did it his way with a crossed grating, a concave Rowland grating, you'd be blazed at all wavelengths, and you would have a much more efficient system, plus one that was much more compact, much more adaptable to astronomical research. And as I told you, there are on the Space Telescope, which will be launched in 1986, not only many Rowland concave gratings, but there also is an Echelle grating crossed with a Rowland concave grating. Basically, Wood invented that grating in 1909. Then he invented a combination of a Rowland grating and an Echelle grating in what's called the Echelle spectrograph. Wood called it not an Echelle, but an Echellette. It was later named an Echelle by George Harrison.
When was that? When did George Harrison name it an Echelle?
Soon after he began working on the engine that was necessary to make gratings that were good enough to do this.
That was after the war.
That was after the war. George Harrison was chairman of the session of the Optical Society meeting in New York that I attended, I believe it was 1945, but it may have been 1946. Wood contributed a paper to that session in which he described his new spectrograph. George Harrison, who was one of the famous spectroscopists of the day, immediately recognized the importance of it. I was watching him. He was becoming more and more excited as Wood described the spectrograph, and at the end of it he announced that this was one of the great inventions in spectroscopy. This was a terribly important thing, and it was going to revolutionize spectroscopy; certainly it was going to revolutionize astronomical spectroscopy. George Harrison had the perception to see, in a 10-minute paper, what the implications of it were. And from that moment on, he spent the rest of his life developing the ruling engine that could make that kind of grating. He had also recognized that using the Rowland engine to make those gratings would not work, even though it happened to be the best grating engine anybody had ever invented, and made magnificent gratings. But it had one defect which are called Rowland ghosts. Harrison knew that the Rowland ghosts got worse and worse as you went to higher and higher diffraction orders. In fact, it went as the square of the order number, and what Wood was proposing was a grating that worked at perhaps the 10th, or the 20th order, and the ghosts would be magnified by 100 to 400 in intensity.
They would just get too bright.
Yes. And in fact, Wood had Wilbur Perry, who ruled the gratings during Wood's later years, make a grating on the Rowland engine that was blazed at a very high angle, working in a very high order. I studied that grating in the early 1950's; and it was the most spectacular grating I've ever seen. The first Rowland ghost was as bright as the main line, demonstrating that you just can't do it with the Rowland engine. Harrison recognized that immediately, and started developing interferometric control so that he could space the lines much more accurately. The reason that the ghosts appear is that every time the screw on the Rowland engine takes one full turn and repeats, there is a non-linearity. Each 1/500ths step of the turn is not the same as you go around, and then the error pattern repeats on subsequent turns. And in that repetition you can see the pattern of the full turn, the pitch of the screw determining how many lines are ruled per turn.
Understood. What I'm trying to identify here, though, is first, did you know that Wood had done this before he gave the paper? Did you have any contact with the development of this design? Did you watch him? Did you know that he was doing that?
No. It happened during the war.
Yes. I mean, this was not the time that he sat you down and told you everything.
No, he didn't tell me that. He told me the secret stuff. (laughs).
Yes. Well, he may have been afraid that Pfund would steal the idea. I don't know. I mean, there is no way of explaining why he published that paper then, why he didn't tell Pfund about it, why he didn't tell me about it. I heard about it by going to that meeting and listening to it.
Okay. In hindsight now, understood that it is hindsight, how quickly did astronomers, to your knowledge, pick up the idea of the Echelle and use it?
Very slowly. It's used at all observatories now, but I think that it probably took 10 years from the time that he did that, before it was used to any great extent. One of the reasons was that the gratings didn't exist for 10 years, or maybe 15; I've forgotten the sequence of events. As soon as Harrison could make good enough Echelles, and as soon as Bausch and Lomb learned how to replicate that large a grating, they began to be used. But their spectacular use is going to be on the Space Telescope. There will be one aboard, along with all of those Rowland gratings.
Yes. Was the Echelle ever used by any other name? I have seen a good number of early Aerobee designs that Richard Tousey has discussed, not as Echelles, but as cross-dispersers, pre-dispersers, the use of two gratings. Are these Echelles in a sense?
Well, not necessarily. Tousey had the problem that he was trying to measure the ultraviolet spectrum of the sun, whose spectrum gets much weaker at short wavelengths, and there is much brighter scattered light from the longer wavelengths that overlaps. The scattered light wipes out the weaker spectrum. A double monochrometer narrows the spectral range that can get to the second grating to only the short wavelengths. Scattered light is reduced by a large factor by double monochrometer techniques. On the other hand, Rense was using Echelle spectrographs for his solar work and getting the square pattern, and that automatically solved the scattered light problem, because the grating generally scatters within the spectrum. It doesn't scatter vertical to the spectrum. So when you disperse the orders with the cross-dispersion grating, you also get the effect of a double monochrometer.
Yes. That's why I was wondering if Tousey was not using an Echelle, but just not calling it that?
No, he was using a double monochrometer for the purpose of cutting down the scattered light. And the Echelle spectrograph automatically does that. And I think Tousey later on did use the Echelle spectrograph.
Yes, he did. But Rense did it first.
I think so, but I'm not sure of that.
Okay, that can be checked. Do you think there is anything else we should talk about of the war years right now?
Perhaps the fact that I worked on a number of other exciting projects, but not to the depth that I ever published anything. In fact, one of my early mistakes probably was that I had my fingers on some exciting stuff that I could have made into publications. But I didn't really think publication mattered that much. I thought it was more fun to be doing something else other than writing papers.
What were these things?
Oh, I worked on the question of whether you could extend the infrared limit of a photomultiplier tube by using Pfund's brilliant suggestion (which didn't work) that instead of depositing the sodium as a bright shiny surface in a photomultiplier cell, it is put down at a slightly increased pressure, so that the surface comes down black, will absorb more light and will have a bigger photoelectric effect. Well, it's a marvelous idea, and I played around with it. I made my own photocells. It was just great, using cesium and sodium, and trying a little oxygen, just lovely to be doing things that had not been done. Sodium and cesium cells were well established, but we were playing around trying to make variations on them, trying to make black surfaces. It never did work. It extended the infrared limit an insignificant amount, but it was an interesting thing to try. We had a contract to study the infrared properties of olive drab, because there was a grave suspicion that the Germans had a photocell that could see further in the infrared. If they had it, we wanted to know how bright our soldiers' uniforms were, whether they were well camouflaged. And we found out that they were, by just measuring the reflectivity. It was a simple experiment. We also had an interesting project that I was deeply involved in, and it was very successful: to measure the air temperature with a weather sonde. It sounds simple, but you've got to do it in full sunlight. All the methods that were being used were giving false results because of one thing or another. By that time the thermister had been developed. They were using thermisters inside of tubes, as the balloon went up, the air would pass through the tubes, and they would try to measure the temperature of the air by shielding it from the sun. But of course, the thing that they were passing the gas through was being heated by the sun, and they never got the right temperature. So we thought about that problem, and by this time Pfund had two more assistants, one of them Wilbur Peters, who stayed here during the war, became a student of John Strong after Pfund died, and then got his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and has been there as professor of physics ever since, mostly working in the infrared. The other one was Lou Drummeter who was also a student of Strong. He went to the Naval Research Laboratory and spent the rest of his working life there in the Optics Division. I think he is retired now. He worked for Sanderson. We were sitting around talking one day about how we could make that measurement. And I said, why don't we coat a thermister with magnesium oxide, because it has such a high reflectivity? Its temperature will not be affected by being in the sunlight. And Wilbur Peters jumped out of his chair, and said, Lou, we can do that. We can try that this afternoon! And it worked like a charm. We then said, but we can't do that, it will flake off. So we actually became chemists and developed a paint. I don't think we used magnesium oxide. I think we used something else, but we learned how to make something that was hard enough with such a small amount of binder that it was still a perfect diffuser. I tell you that story because that was the simplistic approach that we were all using as a modus operandi, to figure out how to do it and do it quickly; do it simply and make it so that it is possible to translate it easily to the people that are going to have to use it. Those thermisters were made by the Weather Bureau for a long time, using our formula for the paint, essentially. That was exciting. We built a wind tunnel, essentially, a vacuum wind tunnel, and were able to generate any wind velocity which has to do with the balloon's velocity, any pressure having to do with altitude, and we could shine light into it and measure the temperature. We had one black test object and one white one, so we could make the comparison. One of the things I'll never forget is that the weather guys in the Army (this was during the war) came to see us, and we gave them a demonstration. We shone this great big white light in there and you could hardly tell the difference between the white one and the black one, there was so much light. But the black one looked very white. You could see a difference, but the black one didn't look black anymore; it looked white. The guy said, but, ah, it can’t be black; it's white! And we tried to explain to him that the eye is a poor photometer when it gets overloaded. We never did get it over, but we finally convinced him that the experiment was working. And he understood the results, but he just never could get over the fact that the experiment was working, that when we shined the light on that black thing, it turned white. Of course, every black material has a 4% reflectivity, because of Fresnel's laws of reflection. That's one of the things I run into trouble with, because people say, gee, we’ve got to have a black baffle on this telescope, and our specification should be .01 reflectivity. I say, you can't do that; Fresnel says you can't do that. The laws of physics don’t permit you to make that kind of a paint. It's remarkable, how many people don’t know that.
I understand that. You are doing a lot of work around, and in, the infrared. You got into balloon sonde work, in a way.
Now, around the end of the war, 1945, I know that at NRL, at least in the Optics Division, Tousey's group was deeply immersed in analyzing captured infrared gear from the Germans.
Did you have any similar experience?
No. Of course, I left at the end of the war, so I wasn't involved in the postwar thing, except that I knew what was going on. I had one nondiscovery during the war that I think is worth telling you about. One of the projects that we had along with our other infrared problems was that all of the infrared transmitting materials that might be useful for military purposes were terribly sensitive to water vapor, like rock salt, for example, and potassium chloride, all of the good ones. Some of the modern materials hadn't been invented yet, although we got the very first calcium fluoride crystals that were artificially grown. We used them in our gas analyzer instruments. But I was trying to develop an infrared transparent protective coating for rock salt, let's say. I would evaporate films, and I would try them. I would put it back and put another film down and try it. And I wouldn't clean the bell jar in between. I was putting down multiple layers, and I would get magnificent colors on the bell jar wall. And I admired them. I didn't realize that I was making interference filters, multiple layers, and every now and then I would get really bright colors. Finally, I'd clean off the bell jar, because it was getting so cruddy; I was afraid I wouldn't get a good vacuum, and I'd start over again and get these beautiful colors again, after another few weeks of experiments. And at the end of the war, we found out that the Germans had invented the interference filter. And I had them RIGHT at my fingertips! And missed it. It didn't depress me at all. What the hell, if you're not smart enough to do it, you're not smart enough to do it.
(laughs) Did you do any development of interference filters at that point, after the war?
No, I was working on something else.
What was your decision process for going to Leeds and Northrup? Were there options? Could you have stayed here? Could you have gone into anything else? Did you have other interests? I know that at NRL, when the V-2s became available, all those infrared people like Tousey (he was working in the infrared, even though he had a tradition of working with Lyman in the ultraviolet) dropped the infrared and went straight into the ultraviolet rocket work research. Was there any kind of similar thing as a result of the war that caught your eye, caught your fancy, that you wanted to get into?
I had become fascinated with conceiving and designing new instruments that had never been made before. The idea of doing something that nobody had ever been able to do before, that would enable you to do new physics experiments, even if you didn't want to do the physics yourself, was fascinating — to make a better spectrograph, to make a better thermopile, to make a better anything. The better interference filter was no longer available; it was done. If I had been smart, I would have made a real splash in physical optics in that area. At the end of the war, Pfund sat me down and talked to me like a Dutch Uncle, and told me that I had now to stop working for him and write a dissertation. And I said, but I've never passed my exams. He said, well, I'll get you through your exams. I said, no, I've been away from studying too long; and I've got a world of experience working these four or five years with you. I think I can make out like a bandit by going to work in industry, and I can have an exciting time. I'm not a mathematical physicist. I didn't take all the courses I should have taken. I don't want to go back and take them now, and I got a job offer at Leeds and Northrup. I know that they are doing some exciting things, and it's instrumentation. That's what I really like. And he says, well, I have to find jobs for most of my students. You're an exception; but before you make that decision, I want you to talk to Dieke. So I went to talk to Dieke, and we talked along the same lines. Finally Dieke said, well, at least, stay around long enough to write a master's thesis. It will be no work at all. I knew him pretty well, and had a high regard for him. He had been awfully kind to me, although I had hardly talked to him, in terms of physics. He was so far above my level; he lived in another world. I said, I think I will be better off with no degree than with a master's degree. And he stared at me for 10 seconds, and said, you're probably right.
Would you mind explaining that to me.
A master's degree is kind of an admission in this university that you couldn't get your Ph.D. Now, maybe I'm overstating it. And no degree is a badge of merit, if you're doing anything worthwhile. I figured, well, it doesn't make any difference. If I can do anything worthwhile, a master's degree isn't going to make it easier for me. I can do it without it. That's good personal politics. And he just looked me in the eye and agreed with me. The story I tell is that the conversation went this way, and I've told you what the conversation really was. But my lie is that Dieke said, but we don't want you to leave without a degree. And I said, Dr. Dieke, that's not fair. You let me in without one. (laugh). But that's a lie. That's not the way it was. (laugh).
We'll put that all in quotes. No problem. (laughs). That's a story, though.
But I did go to Leeds and Northrup and work on instrumentation problems, and had a marvelous time.
Granted. We'll get to that very soon. But I'm just trying to close all possible loopholes here. The APL had already been developed. It was down in Silver Spring. And I know that at that time there was an official contact with Johns Hopkins. I'm wondering if you had any contact with the APL people before you left for Leeds and Northrup.
So, no interest in them or what they were doing.
No. Bearden had been working on the proximity fuse, on one aspect of it, which was not the one that was used, but Bearden was deeply involved in that. And that was not really APL. That was started at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, and then Merle Tuve moved it to Silver Spring and made it APL. But Bearden had a project here. Where we are now sitting was the back yard of the old physics building. Wood's office overlooked that lawn. Part of Bearden's experiment for trying out the proximity fuse devices was to move something up and down on a hoist. We didn't know what it was, but they would go out with a little black box, and they would hook it up to the hoist, and run back in and make the measurements. They would move it up and down. We didn't know what the hell they were doing. But R.W. Wood sat there, and he was awfully curious, and he figured out exactly what they were doing, just watching that box move up and down. (Gregory Breit worked here at that time with Bearden. He was a friend of Tuve's.). But there was another very good physicist, whose name I've forgotten, who worked with Bearden. And one time he was passing Wood's office. Wood says, come in here, and he went through the same routine. He showed him his work on explosives, and said, now, tell me about your work. And of course, he got the same answer that I gave him. Wood didn't take it. He said, “okay, you won't tell me what you're doing. I'll tell you what you're doing„. And he told him. Of course, there was another security problem. I don't know why it was a problem, but the solution of it was absolutely hilarious. Wood had a laboratory and an office on this side of the building overlooking the lawn. He also had his main lab on the other side of the building, and he was thrown out of the two offices on this side of the building. I don't know what the hell good that did, but that's what actually happened! I don't know whether the president of the university did it, or the FBI, but in any case, Wood was so damned curious about things; he had to figure things out for himself. That's why he got involved in the explosives business, the detective business. He was famous for some of his detective work. He solved several murder cases in Baltimore.
That's fascinating. He is quite an amazing fellow.
Oh, absolutely, a spectacular man. I have another marvelous story about him. He was a consultant to the Atomic Energy project. All on his own he figured out that it might be possible to separate U235 and U238 with a fine mesh grid, which was one of the methods actually under development. R.W. called the research labs at Buckley Mears. He knew they made fine grids but they were under security and stone-walled him. Wood got mad, and told the director of research, on the telephone, that he was R.W. Wood of the Johns Hopkins University and was working on the atomic bomb project. The next day the F.B.I. was here and R.W. was no longer a consultant to the Manhattan Project.
Well, for the purposes of our discussion here then, you had no contact with interests in rocketry at the end of the war?
Or with astronomy.
Your idea was to get into industry in a situation where you could experiment.
Yes, and certainly stay away from the University, where no degree was not a recommendation. I never even gave it any thought that I would work in the University, or that I would work in one of the government research laboratories. It was difficult to get a job, for example, in the Naval Research Laboratory, without the educational credentials.
Would you have wanted to go there, if you had had the credentials?
I don't know. The subject never came up. Without them it was senseless to talk about it.
During very early 1946, you were already at Leeds and Northrup.
It was during that time when Tousey and some of his group came up here to talk with John Strong and with Wood, in fact, about the basic design of their spectrographs. I take it you had no contact with them at all.
Is there anyone I could talk to about that period, who was here?
No, I don't know of anybody on campus that knows anything about that. But why don't you talk to Strong?
I certainly discussed it with Tousey and with his group; but I would be very interested to get anything from the Johns Hopkins section. Who would I talk to here who would remember Van Allen’s old group at the APL, because Hopfield is no longer here. Clearman is, I think, at Tufts. Did you know them at all?
No. I don't believe that the Physics Department knew that Van Allen existed.
That's important to know.
There was very little relationship in those early days between the Physics Department and the Applied Physics Laboratory. To my knowledge, nobody here knew about Van Allen.
So the fact is that there was no contact, as far as you recall. And whatever they were doing, whatever their interests were, was completely separated from the Johns Hopkins Physics Department? That's even after you came back to Johns Hopkins in 1951?
It continued that way.
Yes. I happened to be involved in breaking down that barrier later on. We'll get to that sometime.
Yes, absolutely; because I didn't know there was the barrier. This is exactly what I want to know. But let's talk about Leeds and Northrup now. It's pretty obvious why you went there, but before we get right to that, when were you married, and how did you meet your wife?
I met my wife on this campus during the war. She was working in the registrar's office for Irene Davis. I mentioned Wilbur Peters as a guy I worked with as a graduate student, who is now at Michigan. His girl friend also worked in the registrar's office, and introduced me to my future wife.
What is your wife's full maiden name?
Frances Jeannette Hutchinson.
When were you married then?
The fall of 1946.
Was this an element in your feeling that you had better get to work and make some money, that you were married now?
No, the motivation was not money. The motivation was doing what was exciting. I told you that I had learned in the depression that I didn't think money was very important. I had found out that money didn't really matter, that you could live on almost nothing, if you had to.
Yes. Well, let me turn the tape over, and ask you what the atmosphere for research and design was at Leeds and Northrup. I shall identify this as Tape #2, Side #2. Where was the particular part of Leeds and Northrup where you went to work?
I was in the research laboratory in Germantown, which is a suburb of Philadelphia. The whole plant was there beside the Reading Railroad, near Wayne Junction.
Any trepidation at leaving Baltimore and your family? It wasn't that far away, I guess.
No, it wasn't. It was the fall of 1945, that I went to Leeds and Northrup. I got married in the fall of 1946. No, this looked like the right place for me to go, because I knew the place. I knew that they were working in the infrared and working on instrumentation, thermopile detectors, things that I knew all about. It looked as though there was plenty of opportunity to do really nice instrumentation associated with optics, infrared, detectors, and making instruments that would sell by the hundreds or thousands, rather than making individual instruments for individual problems. It sounded like a nice thing to do, exciting as hell.
These were your expectations.
What was the atmosphere like when you actually got there and started working? How did they fulfill your expectations?
Reasonably well, I would say. My boss, who became a very good friend of mine, was Raymond Machler. I don't think he's alive now. I've lost track of him. But he used to come to see me every few years, and I always got Christmas cards from him and his wife. I had a desk in the lab — they didn't have an office for me — which was fine for me. I didn't need an office. The first week I was there, I came into the lab one morning and there was a big stack of books on my desk. My boss came in and said, oh, those books there, they are all the books about pyrometry, about optical and infrared pyrometry temperature measurements in industry.
Whose books were they?
The librarian had brought a stack of books in that he had asked her to bring to me. He said we want you to become our optical pyrometrist. Those books will tell you all about it. I started reading some of the stuff; and finally I sent all the books back to the library. It must have been the next morning. When he came in and said, where are all those books? I said, I sent them back to the library. He said, you can't tell me you read them. I said, no, but I can tell you I haven't read them. He said, why not? I said, because you want me to be your pyrometrist; I'll do that, but I'm not going to read about everybody else's mistakes. I'm going to keep my mind clean, because if I get my mind poisoned by the mistakes that are in those books, I might not be able to find the solution to the problems. And those books don't tell me what the problems are. They just tell me what's been done. He thought that was crazy, but five years later he didn't think it was crazy. But he didn't tell me that I couldn't do that. I didn't even ask him whether I could do that. I said, if I'm going to work on pyrometry, I'm going to work on pyrometry in the laboratory, and I'm going to do things that I think might be useful to you. And that's what I did. I had gotten a little bit of the Wood-Pfund-Dieke-Hopkins flavor. He was perfectly happy to accept that. But that was almost the first week I was working (laughs) there. I was telling him that I wouldn't do it the way he told me to do it. And I became very good friends with him. I never in the whole five years or six years I was there did anything he told me to do. I did what I thought I should do.
What were the specific design problems that he assigned to you?
Well, not specific design problems, but specific problems such as, here's something that we would like to be able to do. What do you think of that? And I would say, well, that problem doesn't interest me, or I don't think I know anything that would be useful to the solution of that problem. Or, hey, that's interesting. I'll have a look at it. He was head of the physics laboratory; and one of the things he had kept as his project was the development of a new infrared pyrometer, that would solve some of the defects of the very successful pyrometer that they had built for industry before the war and had sold a huge number of them. But their business had gone down after the war, because their competitor, Brown Instrument Company, now a subsidiary of Minneapolis Honeywell, and which was right down the street in Germantown from Leeds and Northrup, had introduced a better one that was much more sensitive, much more stable, and had put Leeds and Northrup in second position in that field. They wanted to get back. It had been an important business. Not that this little pyrometer, which is nothing more than a thermopile, at the focus of a lens, was very expensive; but you had to hook it up to one of their recording potentiometers that use up ink and paper, and repair parts. And that was their business, selling those recorders. These instruments were the things that made people buy the recorders. This was important, and they had lost the business. He had a young technician, a girl, who was working under his direction; and he would tell her what to do, and she would try it and come back and give him the results. Then he would tell her to try something else. I was just observing this and seeing that they were getting absolutely nowhere. I walked into his office one morning and said, I have been watching what you have been doing on that thermopile problem. I think what you're doing is wrong. You don't understand what the problem is, and you're just randomly looking for solutions. I said, you've got to figure out what the defects are, and then you can do it. Once you know what's wrong with it, you can fix it; but if you don't understand what's wrong with it, you'll never fix it the way you are going about it. And he said, well, what would you do? I said, I don't know, but it wouldn't take me long to solve that problem. And I think it's an interesting problem. He said, you know, my job has been getting more complicated all along. I would love to shove that problem off on somebody else; and you've got it. This was a few months after I had come there, maybe within six. And I got married a few months later. The director of research, who was Irving Melville Stein, who as a young man had worked with Edison in his laboratory, told me that young engineering scientists — when I told him I was going to get married — are usually useless, but the first year they are married, they are absolutely useless. (laugh). Well, the first year I was married, I solved that thermopile problem. It started going through engineering, and started going through sales, and they had the thing out very quickly. I was talking to the head of the division of sales one time. They had sold a maximum of 700 of those things a year before the war, and their business was down to about 250. I asked, "How many of those instruments do you think you are going to sell?" Each one of them was a few hundred dollars. But each one of them carried a $1500 recorder; so we're talking about $2,000 worth of equipment; a thousand of them a year is $2 million worth of business. At that he said, well, I think we can double our sales. I said, well that's not as much as you used to sell. Leeds and Northrup's yearly gross was about 20 million. He said, yeah, but those guys, the Brown Instrument Company, have got the market cornered, and I don't think we're going to get it all back. I said, you're absolutely crazy. This instrument is better than theirs. It is almost as much better than theirs as theirs was better than ours was to begin with. Furthermore, the need for that instrument has exploded. You're going to sell thousands of those things. The first year they sold a thousand, four times as much as they had sold the previous year of the old model, and twice as much as he thought their ultimate limit was going to be.
That's really something.
The sales department didn't really understand the problem. And of course, I didn't understand sales at all. But I understood the difference between a good instrument and a bad instrument. When you had one that sold by the thousands, what the hell, the best one was going to wipe the other ones out.
Yes, sure. Did you get a raise? (laugh).
I got so many raises that it almost made it impossible for me to decide to come back. (laughs).
Well, let us not talk about coming back yet. But while you were at Leeds and Northrup, as I understand it now, you rediscovered the Ebert design.
How were you led to that while you were at Leeds and Northrup?
By the time that I had been there for two years, the director of research was promoted to be vice-president, and my boss was promoted to be director of research. I became head of the physics research laboratory of the research department. I didn't particularly want that job. The new vice-president proudly announced to me one day that he was going to make me head of that laboratory. He was going to promote my boss to director of research, and I was going to become head of the physics laboratory. And he said, how do you like that? And I said, well, I'm not sure it's the best thing in the world for me. I would really like to continue working in the laboratory, but I don't think I have any choice. If you want me to do that job, I either have to do it, or leave here and go somewhere else, because you are not going to let me tell you that I don't want the job. If what you want me for is to do that kind of work, I'll do it; then I'll try to do as much research as I can. But that's not really what I want. He didn't like that at all. But it should have been a warning to him that I probably wasn't excited about what I was doing at Leeds and Northrup any more, or as excited as I had been.
I don't want to put this in your mouth, but is it the idea that you were more interested in the physics and in the experimentation than in the company, so to speak?
I was interested in the company. I thought it was a great company. They had real potential for doing really advanced instrumentation. I recognized that the war had changed technology in a dramatic way. It was going to be possible for instrument companies to become very much more important. I thought that was a fine place to be. But I wanted to be in there developing the new instruments. I didn't want to be directing other people to develop new instruments, because I thought that I would be less useful to the company that way, and to myself.
Why didn't the vice-president, who you told this to, take that in the same way? Why was he disappointed?
Well, he would have liked me to bow down and thank him and tell him how delighted I was, that I was doing so well, and that I was appreciative of the promotion. I gave him no thanks. I gave him a negative response to a remarkably good promotion for a man of my age (32, 33) and experience and background. In the process of the promotion I inherited a job, that I had not been involved in within the physics program at Leeds and Northrup, to develop an ultraviolet steel analyzer. A sample rod of steel is placed in a spark gap, and the spectrum of the spark is recorded to determine how much chromium, for example, is in the sample. And the world had changed. First the analysis was done by chemical means, wet chemistry. Then it was done by photographing the spectrum of the arc and developing the photographic plates and measuring the brightness of the spectral lines, the density of the lines on the microdensitometer, which Leeds and Northrup had on the market for that purpose. That was inefficient, slow and inaccurate. With photomultiplier tubes and grating spectrometers, and all of the possibilities of electronic and recording techniques, a much quicker system could be devised that would go bang, bang, like that, and tell you what the composition was. It wasn't today's computer-oriented system, but it was beginning the evolution of that sort of thing. This was 1947-48 I'm talking about now.
Almost a real time system, getting closer to real time analysis.
Yes, exactly. We had a contract with the University of Michigan, because they had been responsible for instituting these spectroscopy techniques in the Ford Motor plants, and had a contract with the Johns Hopkins University, because Dieke had been responsible for introducing the photomultiplier tube into this type of spectroscopy application during the war. We had these two contractors supporting the program. And all of a sudden I was running the program. So G.H. Dieke was now working under a contract that I was directing.
(laughs). That's an interesting reversal.
It happened another time later on. We won't get to that today.
Okay. Had you read any of Lyman's work about fluorescence of metals in the extreme ultraviolet.
So this was completely different, but it was relevant.
Yes. These spectra were not in the extreme ultraviolet. The emission spark spectrum was in the visible and ultraviolet region where air is transparent.
So, wait a minute. You were the head of the physical laboratories now?
But you were still doing research.
Well, that job was one that I had inherited, and it was an ongoing program. There were people working in the laboratory whom I was now supervising. But when I looked at the program, I said, ha, this program needs something that it doesn't have now. It needs a more efficient spectrograph than that kluge which we were working with, and which we had built for the first test. The first test was being conducted here at Hopkins, and consisted of nothing more than a Rowland spectrograph with photomultipliers behind slits, sitting on the specific spectral lines. It had all kinds of thermal problems, and all kinds of mechanical problems, and each photomultiplier tube had its own characteristic. It was a mess.
Excuse me, were these 1P21s?
Was this your first application of 1P21s?
Yes. To continue, I said, what we need is a monochromer that we can use one photomultiplier tube on and quickly change the position of the wavelengths in a precision way. We need a very stable, a very rugged monochrometer. And I started looking for it. I came down to Hopkins one day and talked my old pal, Hank Crosswhite, about it. Dieke and Crosswhite had built some off-axis parabola systems, using plain gratings. Crosswhite said, well, why don't you do it that way? And I said, aah, that's two mirrors and a grating, and it's two off-axis parabolas, which are hard to make; and the parabolas have astigmatism. That system can only use a short slit. That doesn't look very good to me. I said, do you think you could do that with spheres? Do you think you could use spheres instead of parabolas? And Crosswhite said, oh, yes, you can, because we have one that is a larger f-number, where the sphere does just as good as a parabola. I said, but we need a small f-number; gee, I wonder if you could do it with a single sphere, using one-half of it for the in-put and the other half for the out-put? And Crosswhite started shaking his head; shaking his head, I said, why do you say, no. He said, I'm not saying no. I'm tracing the rays through the system.
So his head was bobbing back and forth. He was visualizing the system. That's marvelous.
Yes. He says, yeah, that'll work. But you've got coma.
I had been working on a spectrograph with Wilbur Peters during the war at Pfund's request, and we had found, that the spectrum was not nearly as good as we thought it was going to be. Earlier Pfund had set the spectrograph up and had shown us the very good spectra he got. He asked us to set it up and do some more measurements, but we couldn't get good spectra. Finally, we just tried moving things around. We switched one of the mirrors around from being off-axis one way to being off-axis the other way; and the spectrum came out beautifully.
Because we had set them up so that the coma was adding. If you set them up the other way the coma subtracts. We went in to Pfund and told him that, and he went over to his reprint pile and showed us a reprint of Czerny and Turner, circa 1931, in which they describe a system using off-axis spheres to correct for the coma. After Crosswhite had said, yes, that will work, but it's got coma; I said, no it doesn't, because Czerny and Turner have shown that corrects the coma. I walked down the hall to Wilbur Perry's lab. He was ruling the gratings and making optical elements for the Physics Laboratory. I asked if he had a large spherical mirror that I could buy. He said, yes, I've got one right here. I said, if I took it with me, could I send you a check for it from Leeds and Northrup. He said, sure. So I carried it back to Philadelphia. I had a Gertner optical flat that I used in place of the grating. I set the mirror on a Thomas's Register, which is a very thick book, on the floor, because I could open it to the right page to get the proper focus. The mirror had a 30-inch focal length. So I put the optical flat 30 inches at the bench level on a bracket overhanging the bench. Then next to the flat I put a piece of glass that was covered with aluminum, put some scratches on it, and looked at the image of the scratches on the other side of the optical flat with a microscope. And I saw diffraction limited images.
And I said, I've got a spectrograph!
Yes. Well, diffraction limited image of the slit.
Yes. But I knew that that didn't make any difference. I could put a plane grating in place of the optical flat and would still get diffraction limited images. And I knew that I had a spectrograph. In fact, I immediately started building three of those spectrographs. I got a designer, a $90,000 budget approved for doing this, and built three of them, because we wanted to get one to Michigan as soon as we could, to get them to do some actual measurements with it.
Of the metal emission spectra.
Yes, right. So we built these things, and I had a young assistant, a research technician, who was trying it out, and he came back to me one day and said, it's got terrible images. And I said, what's wrong? He said, they look like hour glasses; and in fact, they did. He showed me, and they were very sharp in the center, but at the ends of the slit, the images were degraded. It was astigmatism that was killing us. I said, gee, you know how we could get rid of that? We could use a curved slit.
Yes. You have a paper on that later on.
Yes. But this was to get rid of the astigmatism, and when we put the curved slit in, we got beautiful images, really long spectral lines. Well, we built those instruments. We sent one to Hanford to measure the D/H ratio at the Hanford atomic plant. We really had something going. We sent one to a steel company. And we sent one to the University of Michigan for performance evaluation. The whole project eventually failed after I left Leeds and Northrup, because Leeds and Northrup did not take the initiative to carry the project to full scale commercial application. I had argued that we were building this complicated package from many very, very clever instrumentation modules and that we should be developing the modules and selling them as standalone instruments. There was potentially millions and millions of dollars of business for the company. We had a beautiful spark device for getting accurate sparks from the samples. We had amplifiers and high-voltage supplies for PM tubes. We had a new spectrograph with remarkable properties. We had many subcomponents that belonged on the market in their own right. I told this to the vice-president for research. He had been director of research, was then vice-president for research, and was about to move up to be president. I said, you've got to spend several million dollars to take advantage of all these magnificent developments that the electronics laboratory and the other laboratories in the research division have made. It's foolish for us to try to build only this big complicated device for a particular purpose. We've got to build that, too; but there is much more money in the component market. I said, you really do have to go into an engineering program that will cost the company several million dollars, but you will get it all back very quickly. He said, well, as you probably know, I am going to be president of this company. I said, yes. He said, I don't want to go to the board of directors at this moment with such a proposition. That's the moment I decided to leave the company. I didn't have a job, but I decided I was going to leave. Not because he had turned me down, but because I recognized that with him as president that company wasn't going to go anywhere. I didn't want to work in that company any more. I honestly did not do it out of pique. I did not say, well, if you are going to turn me down, I ain't going to work for you no more. It was the fact that I recognized that this was a terrible mistake on his part. I knew he was a very smart man, but he was much too conservative. At this time, then along comes John Strong, whom I had met during the war, and who was professor of physics here, and says, “Fastie, that's an important spectrograph. Why don't you come back to Hopkins and develop it”? And the Korean War was coming up, and I figured, well, I'm going to leave here anyhow. Hopkins would be a great jumping-off point to my next job. (laugh). Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find another job in the 30 years since then, but (laughs) that's exactly the way I thought about it. It would be a marvelous thing to do, because I'm going to leave Leeds and Northrup. I get to work on this instrument which looks so promising. It's just exactly what I want to do, and John Strong just offered me the opportunity. But I didn't jump, because I wanted to see what Dieke thought about it. Dieke was working on our project, and I called him to tell him of Strong's offer. He said, “yes, I know that”; and I said, “I've got to talk to you about it. Can I come down and talk to you this week end”? He said, “well, why don't I come up to Philadelphia” — he had a contract with us — I haven't talked to you about that contract for some time. I haven't seen what you are doing. I'll come up. He came up and I began showing him the laboratory and talking to him about it. In about five minutes, he says, “okay, I think I understand all of that. Now tell me about coming back to Hopkins”. Six hours later at dinnertime, he said to me, “I don't know why we're spending so much time on this. You've already made up your mind that you're coming back. Why should we discuss it any further? I said, “I haven't made up my mind I'm coming back”. I looked him in the eye again, and I said, “in fact, if you tell me I shouldn't come back, I won't”. He just looked me in the eye and didn't say anything. But five minutes later he said, “you know, I think you ought to come back”. But he knew I wasn't lying to him. He knew that I was just leveling with him.
He and I had become reasonably good friends by then, and became much better friends later on. And that was his wife, Sally, who just stopped by here. She was a chemistry student, got a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1937. They married the next year. I've known both of them as friends for a long time. She became a local astronomer working in several local colleges. She's a lovely lady, absolutely lovely, a very good friend of mine and my late wife. After that discussion, Stewart Macaulay, who was the Provost here, called me and urged me to come back with strong (no capital) promises of long term support. He asked me what kind of house I wanted, and a week later called me again to tell me he had found just what I wanted. I was so flabbergasted that I almost bought the house sight unseen. I did buy it on the first look. The starting salary here was at the level paid to some full professors and promised to grow only slowly. It was 2/3 of what I was making at Leeds and Northrup with promise of continued astronomical growth. But I was still convinced that money didn't matter. The nicest thing that happened then was that my late wife, who had fallen in love with Wanamakers and Strawbridge and Clothiers, was not concerned about cutting back either.
I see. Now, you had known John Strong during the war.
Had you known anything about lead sulfide cells at that time?
Oh, I knew they existed, but I had never worked with them.
Okay, there was no connection then with Strong and the lead sulfide cells. I thought there was.
I don't think so.
Okay. Now, you're coming back to Johns Hopkins. It's 5:07 right now. We'd better stop. But I just want to make sure we stop at a recognizable place to pick up from the next time we talk.
You came back as a research contract director and research scientist.
I came back as a research scientist initially. A year later I stopped working with Strong by mutual agreement. What he said was, “you and I are competitors”. He said “you don't need to work for me. You can work for yourself. Why don't you just go off and do it”? And we parted company the best of friends. That's when I was appointed a research contract director, so I could direct my own research.
Here I was, working on my own now. But everything worked well. Dieke was very interested in what I was doing, and he not only told me where I could get money for supporting my independent research, but he got money from the University to support building an infrared Ebert spectrograph.
Yes. Now, let me ask you three quick questions, and then we will wrap it up. First, where did you get the money? Were there any contract or patent problems, or proprietary problems from Leeds and Northrup with your continuing to develop the instrument at Johns Hopkins? And third, when did you find out that it was a design based upon the Ebert?
That's too long a story. I think we'll take it up at that level, though, next time, because they are all exciting questions. There was no proprietary problem. There was no question about what I was going to do when I came here. In terms of getting money, the first contract I got after I left Strong was with the Office of Ordnance Research doing a rather different thing than I had been doing; but something I had become interested in as a laboratory technique, using vacuum technology.
The Office of Ordnance Research.
Yes, that was the Army's support group, and later on I was working mostly under the Office of Naval Research.
Yes, the ONR money.
Yes. All right, fine. Well, let's leave those three questions for their full elucidation the next time. How does that sound?
Okay. Thanks a lot for the first meeting.