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Interview of Paul Routly by David DeVorkin on 1990 September 25, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/28564
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This interview begins with a discussion of Routly's undergraduate experience at McGill University, before moving on to discuss: his introduction to astronomy at Princeton University; his work at the Mount Wilson Observatory; a comparison of the astronomy programs of Princeton and the California Institute of Technology; his recollections of other astronomers at Princeton; his executive position in the American Astronomical Society; and his final career move to the United States Naval Observatory. Other topics and affiliations discussed include: Robert King, Henry Norris Russell, John Schopp, Martin Schwarzchild, Lyman Spitzer, John Q. Stewart, Marshall Wrubel, Pomona College, telescope design and construction, spectroscopy (spectrum analysis), and the history of astrophysics in general.
Paul, when and where were you born?
I was born in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania in 1926, actually was born in Chester, Pennsylvania but my family was living in Swarthmore and the nearest hospital was in Chester. That's where I was actually born, in Chester.
What year was that?
I was born in 1926.
What did your father do and your mother?
My father was an insurance executive and my mother was just a housewife in those days.
My father's name was James Lawrence and my mother's name was Adelaide, they called her Addie.
Did you have any brothers and sisters?
I had actually three brothers but two of them died, one in infancy from interception of the bowel and one died at the end of the World War I flu epidemic. The only living brother I really knew was a brother called Bill who is ten years older than I am.
So you were by far the youngest?
That's right. I was the baby.
What was family life like?
It was normal, I think.
Were there a lot of books in the house? Did your family take trips, travel a lot?
No, I wouldn't say my family was intellectual at all.
How did your interest in astronomy develop then?
Well, it was kind of funny. My interests developed along mathematical lines and then when I came to go to graduate school — by the way I went to graduate school at McGill first.
You're jumping ahead a little too far. I'd like to know where you went to undergraduate and where you went to school and maybe if you had any teachers who were influential in your life.
Well, your question about how I got interested in astronomy is sort of connected to the other. So I went to McGill University in Montreal and I got a B.Sc. in Pure and Applied Mathematics in 1947 and then in 1948 I got an M.S. in Theoretical Physics.
All at McGill?
That's right. Then I applied to go to American Universities after getting an M.S. at McGill first.
How did you end up at McGill?
Because I lived in Montreal.
So your family must have moved.
When did they move?
They moved in 1927.
When you were one year old?
That's right. I didn't like it in Swarthmore so we moved. (laughter)
Obviously not, as a one year old child. Yes, I can see. You cried all the time. So your family moved you and everyone else to Montreal. Your father stayed in the same business, insurance?
And you went to schools in Montreal?
Any particularly influential teachers, grade school, high school?
Well, I had some very good teachers in high school. The physics teacher was very good, Parsons by name. And, of course, at McGill I had about three or four professors who were very good in their fields. One was an expert in complex variable, one an expert in algebra, and one an expert in theoretical physics. And the fourth one, I think, was an expert in diaphantine equations. That guy was amazing. His name was Rosenthal. Anyway, he got his Ph.D. from Cal-Tech in diaphantine equations under Bell I think it was. One morning in February I wrote to a whole bunch of American universities to go to graduate school and one morning early I got a telephone call from somebody in Princeton I never heard of before. A guy by the name of Lyman Spitzer and Lyman said to me, "Come on down to Princeton." He said he was the head of the astronomy department. I said, "My God I've never taken any astronomy, I don't know anything about the subject." And he said, "Neither do I."
How did he find your name?
I applied to the physics department at Princeton and he was on the Board I guess. He saw my background and he thought, "My God this is just exactly what we need, what I need to work with me." So he was the first one to make an offer.
But you had no interest in astronomy up to that point?
Not to that point. So I went back to my professor at McGill that day and I said, "I got an offer from Princeton. Some guy by the name of Spitzer called." He said, "Who?" I said, "Spitzer." He said, "For God's sake take it. If you don't like it quit after a year."
Spitzer had just become chairman at that point, maybe a year prior, you said it was '48?
It was '47 when he became chairman of the department.
He had been at Yale before, is that right?
So tell me a little bit about your going to Princeton and what your first impressions were. You must have been just over twenty-one years old.
I was. Well, Princeton was a big town as far as I was concerned and I never could get over the fact that you'd be walking along the street and you'd run across people that were famous people like John von Newman or someone like that.
Did you recognize him?
Sure I did. Or Oppenheimer. Just an amazing place. And Princeton was an amazing institution. First of all I was very impressed with the generosity of the people there. Like Spitzer for example. If you had an idea at all he was the first one to make damn sure you got credit for it. He was very generous that way, as well as being a very brilliant man himself. But you would never guess how brilliant he was by just talking to him. You would just think you were talking to a banker or somebody. He was always self-deprecating. He would say things like, "I don't understand very well but this is what I understand is the situation" and then he would come out with a brilliant analysis of whatever it was you were talking about.
How did it work in the beginning when you first got there? Were there classes?
Yeah. There were two years of classes and then I went to Mount Wilson to work on the 100-inch with Lyman. Well, that was a funny experience because I went with Lyman and there was another guy from Princeton there at the time by the name of Malcolm Savedoff who went to Rochester. Well Savedoff and I went up to the hotel on top of Mount Wilson and I was going to observe with Lyman. Of course I was not an official guest up at Mount Wilson Observatory that's why I was staying at the hotel. Malcolm and I were in this cabin and we were talking about things like "Well we're going to start the job when night falls" and things like that. Well, our conversation was overheard by somebody and the first thing we knew the whole place was surrounded by police. They thought we were going to hold up the hotel. Finally at the last minute the police were told, "These are not robbers. These are two guys from Princeton, for God's sake." And they had to retire.
How did Spitzer take that story?
I'm not even sure he was aware of it.
Okay. Who was your classmate at Princeton?
My classmates were Malcolm Savedoff and Bev Oke and John Schopp and Bill Buscombe.
What did you think of all these people?
They were very good. The trouble was I didn't know as much astronomy as they did. I probably knew more mathematics than they did but I didn't know as much astronomy. I always felt this was a disadvantage at first.
It was and it wasn't. Later on we're going to talk about my teaching career, I guess. Then it was a disadvantage because I didn't even know the stars.
Oh, I see. But you had gone to Mount Wilson and this was to assist Spitzer and what project was this?
That's right. This was my Ph.D. project: Interstellar sodium and calcium lines.
Were you doing a theoretical study?
Well, it was a mixture of theoretical and observational. We were working at the high dispersion Coude spectrograph on the 100-inch. We were observing interstellar absorption lines and their components, of course. Then measuring the equivalent widths of these things and the radial velocities and from this we inferred the clouds of calcium and sodium that were lying along the line of sight.
And that ended up as your thesis.
While you were there and this was in the summer of possibly '50 or '51, certainly Baade was there. Did you meet him?
Sure I did.
Were you aware of the globular cluster work that was going on at that time trying to do HR diagrams of globulars?
You mean Sandage's work?
Sandage's. Oke was involved a little bit. Sandage, Baum?
It was just beginning, let's put it that way.
What were people talking about? Do you remember those conversations?
Baade talked about population one, population two stars, I remember that. And Paul Merrill was just talking about spectra all the time. And Babcock and I were good friends because of the—I was very interested in the ruling engine.
Was that Horace Babcock?
That's right. I also knew all the opticians very well, like Don Hendrix and Mel Johnson and so on.
You got to know a lot of people while you were there.
Sure I did.
How long were you there or were you there several times?
I was there for only about something like five or six months.
That's a pretty good time. So you sought them out, the instrument people?
I sure did. I also knew Bowen fairly well. And Jesse Greenstein, of course, was there.
What was the atmosphere like there? Was it a place that you would prefer to be than at Princeton?
I've often thought about that. Cal-Tech to me is a very, very high powered place but there is one very, serious drawback to the place and that is they are very wasteful of the manpower they have. Let's put it this way: the student body they get are always Class A students and at least half of them don't make it to the end. Many of those people landed up at Pomona where I taught later so I know what I'm talking about.
Why don't they last?
They don't last because they get interested in girls, or they want music, or they want something else which Cal-Tech doesn't offer.
I see. So it's just the narrowness.
That's right. Either you love physics and mathematics or forget it.
The climate for astronomy. Were you definitely getting actively interested in astronomy under Lyman Spitzer? Was that something that you found his brand of astronomy to be more fascinating or did you find maybe that there was a brand of astronomy out there that was closer to instrumentation at Mount Wilson that might have been more interesting?
I didn't have much instrumental background. Baum was the only one who was doing any instrumental work in those days. And as far as Lyman's work was concerned it was so theoretical that by the time you put the equations on a piece of paper you never knew you were dealing with astronomy.
(chuckle) fair enough. Going back to Princeton in the first few years. Was there any talk at all about Lyman Spitzer's interest in space activity in the ultraviolet solar spectrum?
There was that famous paper that he wrote for the Rand Corporation. That was kind of an in-house thing. I was aware of it but it wasn't recognized generally I don't think.
It wasn't anything that people talked about in the halls?
Lyman Spitzer was still working very quietly with Goldberg in '47, 48, '49 on an ONR astrophysical consulting group for the navy, that was to analyze tounsing (?) spectrum?
Another thing about the Princeton years, of course, that's very important to me is the older generation of astronomers, Russell, Dugan and Stewart.
I never met Dugan and I just saw Russell momentarily at tea and so on. He had already retired by the time I went there.
What was it like when Russell came into the room?
Good God! He just monopolized the conversation. It was like listening to a buzz saw.
You're kidding. (laughter)
It was amazing. The ideas that would come out of the man, even one percent was just fantastic.
He was constantly bubbling over with ideas?
What kind of ideas was he having?
He was talking about things like eclipsing binaries and which stars to observe and which needed this and that.
To a fellow like yourself at the time who came out of physics and mathematics and as you said you didn't know the names of the stars, what did you think of somebody like Russell?
He sort of took me by surprise but he obviously was a genius and so was Lyman a genius. First class people.
I was just thinking in terms of Russell saying well if this is what it takes to be famous in astronomy or to make it in astronomy were you going to turn yourself into a Russell or a Lyman Spitzer or what?
My tendency was to go along Lyman's direction not Russell's direction. Now Russell, of course, was sort of the founder of spectroscopy, the theoretical founder of it, let's put it that way and that's something that I became something of an expert in myself.
Were there any myths, legends or stories still going around among the graduate students about Russell?
No, they didn't know Russell. My contemporaries didn't know him but Stewart, of course, was around.
Tell me about Stewart, what kind of a fellow was he?
Stewart was kind of a funny guy. He was a very Princetonian type of person and very, very much for things like the P-rade and so on.
The P-rade. It's called the Princeton Parade, they have it every year. That's kind of like the alumni week or weekend. And I never could understand what Stewart did in the department. He was almost an embarrassment, I think.
I think he was past his creative period if he had one. He really couldn't talk to Lyman or Martin Swarzschild very well about theoretical matters. So he was kind of there by himself, isolated. Newton Pierce was also there at that time. But Newton Pierce was strictly an observationalist and Stewart was kind of in between the theoreticians and the pure observationalists.
Newton Pierce worked with Dugan. I'm just curious if you knew of any stories or events where people would talk about the relationship of Russell, Dugan and Stewart?
No, I know nothing about those people. But there is one thing I should bring up. One morning I went down to Spitzer's office and he said while he was shaving he had a terrific idea. I said, "What idea is that?" He said, "I don't think I can tell you." and that was the beginning of Forrestal. I think he was shaving one morning and he had the idea of a stellarator or something like it.
Was this '49, '48?
Somewhere around there, '50 maybe.
Forrestal Campus. And you're talking about what is called Matterhorn.
Do you know why it was called the Matterhorn?
No, I don't.
Spitzer, of course, was a mountain climber and I wondered it there was the relationship. I'm sure it had something to do with that.
Might have been.
At that one coffee or event when you saw Russell walk into the room, was he instantly noticed? Did the atmosphere change?
Right away like that (snapped his fingers).
He would walk into the room, all conversation would stop and he would start. Buzz sawing, I'd say.
Really! Just to the entire room?
That's right. This happened about four or five times at various teas.
So it happened regularly.
Of course, Lyman was very solicitous about Russell?
What about Swarzschild?
Swarzschild was very respectful, let's put it that way. He had the European's respect for a real genius.
So even though Russell would show up for tea that's the only time you saw him.
And that's the only time he ever came into conversation.
Did you ever have discussions with him directly about your research.
No, never did. You see the only people that were students of Russell's were guys like Menzel and Bob King that I worked with later on at Cal-Tech, we haven't come to that yet.
Bob King we should talk about. That's right. Some of the furnace work when Russell was at Mount Wilson. Russell went to Mount Wilson all the time. That's very interesting. Tell me a little bit more about John Schopp as a student if you had any contact with him.
Schopp, he was a great baseball player I know that. He got married to a woman who was essentially a nymphomaniac. She really was. Good God, that was a disaster. Then I think he went to Europe for a while. But anyway Schopp was a guy who would march, politically march and things like that. In fact I think was even arrested once or twice. I think so.
As a graduate?
I'm not sure of that.
Okay. I was a student of his in San Diego and he certainly was quite active them. As you were moving along at Princeton and were working on your thesis on interstellar calcium you must have been thinking about a job.
Well, I went to Lyman about that and he suggested I go to the spectroscopic labs of Herzberg up at the NRC in Ottawa.
That would have been interesting. Was that mainly because he thought of you as a Canadian?
No, I don't think so. I worked with Shenstone at Princeton. I was interested in spectroscopy I guess and so Lyman thought maybe a two-year fellowship up there would be a good idea. So I went up there on a two-year postdoctoral fellowship and I went with a guy by the name of A. E. Douglas who was Herzberg's right hand man so to speak. And as far as I'm concerned Douglas was the one that should have got the Nobel Prize not Herzberg.
I certainly know that name Douglas.
A. E. Douglas. There was also a Douglas who was tree-ring man.
Maybe I'm getting them mixed up.
And I think the initials are the same, A.E.
Is this the husband of A. V. Douglas who was the biographer of Eddington?
I don't know about that. Douglas was a genius with his hands. He could make anything work with spit and sealing wax.
Was it a good move for you for two years?
Yes, it was and then from there I went to another postdoctoral fellowship working with Bob King at Cal-Tech.
And there's your contact with King. And what was that? He was a furnace man.
That's right. Of course by that time the whole rationale to the spectroscopic work was to determine absolute f-values so I did some work with Bob King on the King furnace and also on absolute f-values and also had some grad students working under me — well, they were really working under Bob King. Let's put it that way.
Was this a Carnegie postdoc?
No, I think it was an ONR fellowship. I mean funded by the ONR.
Did you ever write the proposals or do anything that way? That was King?
You were there for two years doing fundamental absolute f-values?
What was your role in that because King was doing the furnace work? Were you doing lab work too?
No, King by that time had moved from Mount Wilson down to Cal-Tech and he sort of got out of the experimental work. So I was really taking King's place at Mount Wilson.
Where was the furnace lab?
At Mount Wilson on Santa Barbara Street.
Did King ever talk about he and his father and Mount Wilson and Russell, people like that, to you?
A.S. King by that time had retired of course and I never met him even. So I think Bob did mention A.S. a couple of times but very seldom did he talk about his family and very seldom did he ever talk about Russell although I know he got his Ph.D. under Russell. I think Russell in those days was very much involved with spectra. The letters I've been doing — lot of letters to A.S. King and Robert King.
I'm just wondering if there had been any stories about Russell?
You were continuing on for your second postdoc getting through three years, now this must be 1954.
What were you doing thinking about further jobs?
I was beginning to wonder what I was going to do finally because this business of going from postdoc to postdoc wasn't exactly my idea of fun.
You were about twenty-eight years old.
That's right. So a job opened up at Pomona College which Bob King — he's graduated from Pomona. Bob sort of pressed me to take this job. He thought it would be a great opportunity. So I went to Pomona and it is true. It's like the Swarthmore of the west The students are very good. But there is no research going on there.
Did you want to stay on in research? Had you been thinking about that?
I didn't know. I was kind of fed up with research by this time.
My feelings are these. Here I was working with atomic beams and absolute f-values at Cal-Tech and people were slaughtering themselves in wars and so on and I couldn't see the relevance of what I was doing.
This was, of course, during the Korean War.
That's right. So I thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing here anyway? What am I worrying about silly little things like this for when there are huge questions that are unsolved yet." That was a disquieting feeling I had about research.
Did you stay in contact with John Schopp or any of those students? John went to San Diego.
Now who was the head of San Diego, way back in the early days?
A guy named Smith.
Smith called me aside one time when he was about to hire John Schopp, he said, "What about this business of John Schopp being arrested and what about John Schopp being such a politically active person? Do you think this would embarrass San Diego?" I said "No." (laughter)
I think Smith was still there when I became a grad student but he was retiring.
I think that was his name. I didn't know him very well then
I didn't either. I had no classes with him. That's funny, that's a great story. How did you feel about being a teacher after you started doing it.
I felt that I was making a bigger splash so to speak teaching than I was doing with research in the sense that I was molding the lives of maybe 100 to 150 students every year as compared to these absolute f-values.
I'm not sure. I'm sure that the teaching is valuable but I remember in the early '60s as an under graduate at UCLA hearing that those are about the toughest things to get from people like Lawrence Aller and others saying, "Where are those f-values. He needs them. He needs them." You knew, of course, how many places they'd be valuable but you still felt there were better things to do.
That's right. Here there were people dying in hospitals, for example, of cancer and I was worrying about f-values.
Okay. You make a good point. But what is different about teaching in this regard? What are you doing for the students?
As far as the students are concerned, when you teach a student you mold the man's mind so he can really think and for me this is more satisfactory than working in a lab by yourself on absolute f-values or trying to determine the spectra of CN+ or something like that that Douglas and I did.
What did you think of the students you were getting?
The students were very good and I used to flunk the students because they couldn't speak English properly. Every question on an exam for the elementary class I would always say, "Discuss so and so and this and that." Every type of question was an essay-type and either they could write the damn thing right or I'd flunk them, one or the other.
So they just couldn't put down a list of equations in an answer.
All through high school they were used to answering exam questions like true and false, yes and no, things like this and they never ran across a person before who said, "Either you write the damn thing correctly or I'll flunk you."
Did they object?
Sure they objected. One class rebelled to such a point I had a long conversation with the president of Pomona College about it. His name was Lyon, E. Wilson Lyon and Lyon said, "What are you doing to make these people so upset?" I said, "My God, I'm flunking them because they can't speak English properly; they can't write English properly." He said, "What do you mean they can't write English properly?" And I would tell him what I was doing. Well, he said, "You just keep on doing what you're doing, that's fine." Now the point was that these kids were smart enough and good enough so they knew when they really had to perform, then they did perform.
So they had the ability, they just weren't making the effort.
You bet they did. That's right.
Did you build an observatory there at all?
No, it was already there.
What was it.
It was called the Brackett Observatory. You've heard of Brackett, of course. The Brackett series in hydrogen. He was the Brackett, I think.
Ah, it's the same Brackett. You mean Lyman, Palmer, Funt, Brackett.
I think so. Either him or his son was the Brackett you're talking about. I forget which.
Oh, one of the Bracketts. Was this a useful teaching observatory?
I upgraded all the instrumentation in the observatory and it was one of the best equipped under graduate observatories in the nation when we got through
What exactly did you do?
We had a 12-inch Cassegranian, we had a big solar telescope, we had a transit instrument. We had a planetarium.
Oh really, a little Spitz.
Well, that's really quite a bit of equipment. What was your thought though in training students? Were you training them to become astronomers or training them to become better educated?
Just so they could think properly.
Did you have students who would make instruments for the telescope?
There were people like Harlan Epps who was an expert on optics and he would provide eye pieces and things like that.
Really. He was building optical things while he was a student with you.
That's right. And there was another man, I think he lived in Tuhunga, California. He used to help me all the time with my machine and so on.
He's a well-known amateur.
That's right. Very well known.
He made silver telescopes for Lockheed later on. I know who you're talking about. It just slips my mind. Maybe we'll remember him.
He was working at Lockheed I think when I dealt with him.
Very well known in the southern California area.
Obviously you had contact with him but did you have contact with the Los Angeles Astronomical Society at all?
So just with these few very, very fine instrument people who happened also to be in the LA Society.
Not Carpenter or anything like that.
I'll recognize it right away.
I know, me too.
George somebody. George Carroll.
Carroll. That's good. Thank you so much. He made wonderful lenses. I'd love to find some of that instrumentation for the collection. You know the national collection here. There are some wonderfully gifted amateur telescope makers who made some of the most beautiful instrumentation. Carroll is one of them. Edward Byers was another.
I didn't know him.
There were a number of these people who became semi-professional and then truly professional.
You know one of the things I always told my students. You can make the optics of a telescope easily but you cannot make the mechanical parts easily.
Mechanics are really tough. Did you have students who built photoelectric instruments or did you use photoelectric instruments at all in the beginning, in the mid-50s?
We had a 1P21 but we didn't do much with it. The smog in Pomona was fantastic and very few nights were clear enough to observe.
I can imagine. But wouldn't it be more just getting the thing to work at all and working with an electrical system.
Oh, it did work all right.
Was it commercial or was it something that was built right there.
I think it was built.
Locally, but you didn't build it yourself.
No. In those days there was no commercial available. Was there equipment available?
I didn't think so.
What contact with astronomers did you continue to have while you were teaching?
Every summer I'd go back to Cal-Tech and join Bob King again.
So you had a built-in summer job. Who paid for that?
ONR I guess or Cal-Tech. I don't know who paid for it.
But that wasn't your problem, they took care of that. That's a neat setup. Any contact with people at UCLA?
George Abell of course.
That must have been a little later. I'm thinking still in the 1950s. Well, he was there in the '50s.
Right. And who was the guy who got lost with his students up in the mountains somewhere?
Herrick? Samuel Herrick?
No, not Sam Herrick.
You mean somebody from UCLA?
That's right. In the astronomy department.
What happened? What's the story?
I'm not sure I remember the details of it but anyhow "X" let's call him. X and a female student got separated from a field trip I think up in the mountains somewhere and they spend an overnight up there before they were found.
I think so too.
But it's not Abell?
It wasn't Abell, no.
The others who were there when I came in '60, '61, that's already a little later, were Popper. Dan "The Man" Popper.
Dan Popper. And, of course, I was in touch with one of the astronomers at USC.
Russell or Gibson Reaves?
Considering that there were a number of places around teaching astronomy. USC, UCLA, Pomona, San Diego State, did you ever have a local group of people getting together to talk?
No. It was never that professionalized.
Any contact with Griffith Observatory?
No, very little.
Tell me what the effect of Sputnik was on your teaching life and your professional life.
I think people at Pomona began to take it seriously then.
Take what seriously?
I mean the whole field of astrophysics and astronomy. It was no longer just a thing that academics would throw around. It was a politically viable thing.
Let me turn the tape over. Did Sputnik end up providing you with more money or larger classes or more students or more headaches?
Yes to all of the above.
Were you in contact at all before Sputnik with NSF and with any kind of national interest in improving science education?
What about after Sputnik?
Even then, no. The thing that caused me to leave Pomona was interesting. Lyman was the president of the AAS at that time and he came to me and he said, "Look I know you're doing a good job teaching here at Pomona but it's not going anywhere. It will never be a famous department. And what we need in the AAS is a permanent executive officer to take over the day-to-day running of the society And this was the job they offered me. So I left Pomona and came east for that. That was 1961, I think.
That means that you moved to Princeton.
After Lyman was no longer president of the AAS, which was two or three, or four years later you stayed in—
Princeton until 1968 when I came to the Naval Observatory.
Didn't you go to Ojai at all?
When was that?
That was in the summers of 1957, '58, '59, '60, '61, I think it was.
So you were there quite a bit. Why don't we go back and talk about that.
That was an amazing experience. Here was a group of kids. Twenty-six kids at first I think it was, something like that. They just finished their junior year in high school and they were from California. What we wanted to do was to expose these kids to a real professional scientific experience which they never had in high school. And these kids were picked very carefully — so they were very brilliant kids.
How did you get involved in this?
Foster Strong the Dean of Admissions at Cal-Tech came to me and he said, "How would you like to teach at the summer science program." I never heard of it before. It never existed before. So Foster and I started the program in 1957 I think it was.
Where did the money come from?
It was a grant that was given to us but the trouble the first year was that Foster had gotten some equipment which was absolutely basic to the program, in other words astrographic equipment which failed to work properly so I did some very, very fancy footwork through George Carroll and so on and I went to a guy by the name of George Moyen who had a double astrograph, Ross lenses and everything and I was able to able to borrow George Moyen's astroraph for the summer science program.
Was this a guy who lived out in Malibu Canyon?
I head about this guy. He's a legend. Okay go ahead.
Anyhow I borrowed George Moyen’s astrograph and every night I used to carry the damn thing on a tripod setting it up and so on because we had no place at the Thatcher School for it during the day. It was awful.
Where was George Abell in this?
Next year I hired George — I took Foster Strong's place and I then hired to George as a teaching professor. He and I both taught.
Then after you left he took it over.
You left in '61.
Somewhere around there.
I don't think we overlapped. I don't think I was there until summer of '61 or summer of '62.
You must have come the next summer afterwards.
I think so.
It's amazing how many people in that program are now famous astronomers like Eddie Krupp.
Was Ed Krupp in the program? Who else was there?
Well, they're not just famous astronomers. They're famous people period. The story we heard was if a kid was applying to Harvard let's say and he had in his application that he'd gone to the Summer Science Program that's all they wanted to hear.
Did you have any regrets leaving teaching?
The reason I left teaching was because the students even at Pomona were beginning to defecate in the principal's office and things like that. Remember back in the old days the students gained control of what they would do and what they wouldn't do and finally got to the point where they would sit in the president's office and registrar's office and places like that. In other words as a professor you were spending more time policing the damn thing than you were teaching. At that point I said the hell with it, it just wasn't worth it.
That's too bad. That wasn't the case at Ojai was it?
In going to Princeton to become the executive officer of the American Astronomical Society you certainly left teaching.
You didn't have any major regrets?
I left teaching and I didn't leave teaching. I taught at Rutgers while I was at Princeton.
And that was astronomy there?
That's right. It was an elementary course which they didn't have.
What were your duties as you saw them for the American Astronomical Society? What did you see that the Society really needed when you became executive officer?
The first thing I had to do when I became executive officer was run the Visiting Professor Program and run the Foreign Visiting Professor Program. We were also making several movies of astronomy. George Preston was in one of them.
That was about '64, '65, wasn't it?
Was Mort Roberts in one of them?
I know the movies. I didn't realize that you were involved in that. What did that involve? What did you have to do?
I had to sort of coordinate all the efforts and read the script and make sure the script didn't say something that was just ridiculous as far as astronomy was concerned.
At that time you were about forty years old. Placing you at that point in your career, did you feel pretty satisfied with what you were doing as executive officer?
I did and I didn't. I did at first but later on I didn't because I had no vote on the council and I began to worry about things like security for the job and things like that because the council could just summarily dismiss you just like that. You had no tenure. So this is what I began to worry about after a while.
Your job was also running the meetings each year, or twice a year?
No, that was the Secretary's job.
Who was the secretary when you were executive officer?
G.C. McVittie. Did you have to work closely with him.
No, thank God.
Because he was sitting out in Illinois. So your work was more in visiting lectures, movies, that sort of thing. No so much the meetings, membership, things like that.
Later on I took over the overall budget. Frank Edmondson was, of course, the treasurer. But later on all these guys like Edmondson and McVittie would send me their financial data and I would incorporate the financial data into a general statement for the whole society.
You were involved as executive director at the time when the planetary astronomy division was —
It was just beginning.
And there was a lot of tension over it too. What are your recollections of that?
I had very little to do with that. In fact it may even have happened after I left.
You dealt more only with the council. You were organizing the council?
No, I was dealing mainly with the president of the society.
Things really have changed in that position.
The presidents of the society were first of all Lyman, then Goldberg, then Beals and then the guy, where was he, in Santa Cruz I think? Whitford.
Whitford certainly. So you were executive officer under all these.
Did they treat you and the society the same or differently?
Of course, I had the closest relationship with Lyman and it was very difficult working with the other ones at a distance so to speak.
When you were there at Princeton did you reestablish connections with the astronomy department and get to know what was going on there?
That's where I knew Bob Danielson and Dimitri Mihalis I knew very well from California days and that's when Dimitri and I wrote the textbook on galactic astronomy.
How did that textbook develop? Whose idea was that?
The idea was this. I was giving this course at Rutgers, as I said, and at one point in the course I came to this question of galaxies, galactic structure and so on and I was trying to figure out what I was going to say, how to simplify it so it wouldn't involve too much astronomical knowledge, and Dimitri was giving a course at Princeton at the time on galactic astronomy. I asked Dimitri one day to see his notes. I read through his notes and said to Dimitri afterwards — this was a field by the way which was very poorly covered, covered maybe in research in journals but no where else. No text or anything like that. I said, "My God Dimitri you have a textbook here and I know exactly who would be interested in publishing it." He pooh poohed the idea at first and I said, "No, no you should really publish the damn thing" and Freeman was the outfit I was thinking about. So what finally happened Dimitri said to me, "I'll publish it if you'll help me write the damn thing." So I said, "Okay." That's why I'm not listed as a co-author just a —
I have that book and I saw your name in it but I think it's on the title page.
That's right but I'm not a co-author.
It's really Mihalis' notes that you put into form.
In a way you're the editor, an interpreter probably.
That was interesting. Did you use the book yourself teaching at Rutgers or was it too advanced?
No, it was too advanced?
Were you aware of what Schwarzschild was doing with Stratoscope?
Sure I was.
What did you thing of that program? How did Schwarzschild take it?
The main trouble with the Princeton efforts in space, this includes Schwarzschild, Danielson, is that I never thought they had the proper person involved who knew that much about the equipment involved.
Tell me more about that.
I just felt they needed somebody who was an experimentalist. Now Danielson was very good and so was Schwarzschild but they were both sort of theoreticians so to speak. I mean if you gave Bob Danielson a soddering iron he wouldn't know what to do with it.
I don't think so and certainly that's true of Martin.
That's right. Yet this is a very complex and demanding program that didn't fly once but flew many times. I'm thinking of Stratoscope II the big one because One was already gone by the time you got there.
What was the name of the guy who's now down in Australia who's a Canadian —
Who is doing what?
Well I thought he was the head of one of the big observatories there. Anyway he was their instrumentalist and I thought he was lousy myself.
He was the instrument person at Princeton working on Stratoscope?
That's right. And I thought that's where the team was weakest.
It wasn't Danielson?
The name again — I know I'd recognize it I'm sure. At that time Lyman was beginning to think about OAO also. Was there any talk about that.
Not to us.
It was still too early. How many years were you executive officer.
From '64 to '68 then I came here to Washington.
You came to Washington in '68. What was your decision? Why did you leave Princeton?
I wanted to get back into research.
There was no chance for any detailed research as executive officer. What kind of jobs did you look for? Did you want to come to the Naval Observatory?
I didn't look for a job. I was just sort of vaguely wanting to get back into research and Strand came to me at the Czechoslovakian IAU meeting in fact and said, "How would you like to become director of the A&A Division," A&A meant Astronomy and Astrophysics Division which previously had been headed up by the fellow from Puerto Rico who was also the head of Sierra Tololo for many years, Victor Blanco.
Apparently you said yes.
That means you came here not Flagstaff.
Right. Flagstaff was part of A&A.
Jerry Kron was out there. So Kron would work for you.
Did you know Jerry at that time?
Not at that time, no.
What were your duties? Did you make a decision immediately about coming here? Was it something that looked good to you.
Yeah. They were talking about a GS-16 which I thought was very nice and I also liked the permanency of the thing. Now that I have been here for several years I realize there is no permanency to these jobs.
No, not at all.
And it sounded like a stage which was broad enough for me to operate on and so on, so I accepted the job. Now by a stage broad enough to operate on what I mean by that is this, the operation of the 61-inch reflector in Flagstaff was under my control and the programs which were running on the big reflector were also under my control.
What were your ideas about what should be done with them? Were you satisfied with the programs that were going on?
Strand, of course, was doing astrometry with the 61-inch.
The background of the 61-inch goes like this. Strand's great contribution to the question of parallaxes was as follows: Before Strand's time people thought that reflectors were no good for parallax work because the secondary would change position and the optical axis which intercepted the photographic plate kept changing all the time. Now what Strand did was he had a parabolic mirror and a flat mirror. Didn't have a curved mirror as a secondary. And furthermore the truss system was designed in such a way that as the telescope moved across the sky the secondary mirror moved parallel to itself so as far as the photographic plate was concerned the optical axis of the telescope always intercepted the same place on the plate and his contribution was the ability to do parallax work with the reflector for the first time and therefore go to fainter stars. That was what the 61-inch was really designed to do.
How well did it do it?
Did it very well, still is.
So you were satisfied with that.
Very satisfied. First class piece of work and Don Davidson was the guy who did the mirror configuration. Davidson was another optical person I knew very well in southern California.
Still can't remember the third person on the Stratoscope?
Not off hand.
There was a business manager named Reardon but he wasn't —
I'm sure we can figure it out.
I know he came from Toronto and he was a great mountain climber and he imitated Lyman all the time even in speech. Then he went to Australia as the head of something or other, Siding Springs or some place like that.
Where is he now?
I think he's still probably down in Australia.
You started in 1968 at the Naval Observatory and what research did you pick up yourself.
I didn't do any research myself. I just caused it to be done.
That was more to your liking?
It was managerial.
And you were satisfied with that.
Well it had to do, let's put it that way.
After you're out of research for a certain amount of time it's kind of tough to pick it up.
That's right. And furthermore there's a big difference between the kind of research they do at a place like the U.S. Naval Observatory and what they do at an academic institution. At a place like the U.S. Naval Observatory the projects go on for years, decades even, covering many, many people whereas in the academic field you're sort of operating by yourself.
Did you have people like Worley working for you doing very long-term double star work.
I'd be interested in your comments about the importance of this long-term type research in astronomy.
I think it has it's place. Let's put it that way, yes.
Do you think it's appropriate for the Naval Observatory?
Yeah. After all that's the only way we can get the masses of stars.
Not only Worley's. I mean putting astronomy and astrophysics in a Naval Observatory context, did you ever have to defend astrophysics, tell navy officers —
All the time. Every year almost. Every budget year we had to defend it.
What was the process like and what did they listen to?
We told them that we had to keep track of let's say – the guidance system on the navy's missiles involve stars. Now these stars either are fixed in space or there not fixed in space. And we have to be very certain the stars they lock onto are not double stars, let's say, which do change their position ever so slightly but enough to bug up the whole works.
What was the positional requirement that the navy had for their ballistic missiles? Did you ever know?
No. That's kept very secret.
But you told them that you had to produce it as accurately as possible.
We would tell them what we could do and what we couldn't do and they either accepted it or they didn't accept it. And you knew they accepted it if you got your budget for the next year.
And you normally did?
That's right. Thank God I'm not there now.
Why the budget cuts in the Defense Department, my God!
Well, all over the place. Here too. Is there anything we haven't covered in this interview that you feel we should cover? More about the Naval Observatory? More about your life and work at Pomona? Anything you'd like to add at this point?
No. I don't think so.
Because if things do come up we can add them. Since you come in every week we certainly can. Maybe you'll remember the name of that guy.
Yeah. I'm sure Angie will know.
Good. Then we can put it right into the interview. Okay, thanks a lot. We can treat this sort of as a first session but I think it was a really good interview. Have you ever been interviewed by Steve Dick or anybody else for the Navy.
No. But Steve is very good, isn't he? I've read his stuff.
Oh, absolutely. I was just curious because he had been interested in interviewing a few people and you wouldn't mind if I told him about this interview.
What was your overall feeling about astronomy in the Navy as you were working for the Naval Observatory. Did you still feel a part of the astronomical community?
First of all I didn't like working for the Navy, let's put it that way. Didn't like working for uniformed officers. First of all they didn't know the first damn thing about what we were doing. Like for example a new superintendent of the Observatory would come in and the first thing he would say to all the directors, "My God I understand we're sending reprints to the Russians. That's got to stop." And we'd have to educate this man. Good God. In other words, every superintendent we had we had to give him a course on astronomy that would last for maybe two or three years so he wouldn't do something stupid like that. This reminds me of a cartoon I saw once of a UFO hovering above at 100-200 feet and two generals standing down below looking at the UFO and one general says to the other, "Let's shoot it down and see if it's friendly." (laughter)
That's a good joke. I like that. If you think of any more like that, let me know. Thanks a lot Paul.
Your welcome David.
I hope this was as interesting for you as it was for me. Tell me about Marshall Wrubel.
I was writing my thesis in 1951 at Princeton when I first met Marshall. Marshall was there as a post doctorate fellow I think. Anyway Marshall was an amazing guy. He got his Ph.D. under Chandrasekhar at Yerkes and he was an expert on the curve of growth, things like that. Marshall was a brilliant pianist. In fact he had been trained at the Julliard for years as a pianist and he was torn at one point in his career as to whether he was going to become a professional astronomer or a concert pianist. He was that good. So he finally decided to before a professional astronomer but he always maintained a wonderful interest in music. In fact I think that's one reason why he went to Indiana because of the music department.
Huge amount of music there. Biggest music department in the United States. So that combination is really quite interesting. Did you maintain any contact with him in his advocacy for computers and that sort of thing.
Yes I did.
What was that like?
It was on an informal basis I think based on things like personal letters and so on between he and I but nothing official.
Talking about your letters, have you saved all your correspondence with astronomers?
No, I haven't. In fact I made damn sure it was destroyed.
Because I didn't want anybody else fooling around with it, that's why.
Like Snoopy Historians.
I'm glad we're interviewing you then so we can get at least some of you back.
Well you see that Marshall Wrubel story you would have never known unless somebody told you.
That's right. It's nice to know that.
You know the circumstances of his death, don't you?
Marshall was a scientist at Los Alamos during the war and he used to go back to Los Alamos in the summer time. I don't know what happened one time; anyhow he was in Colorado I think with his daughter climbing a mountain one day and he suffered a heart attack up there and she tried to get him down. She was just a kid, I think. And he died on the way down right in front of the girl. I think she was about ten or twelve years old at the time. He died as a very young man, I think he was about forty, not much more than that. He was a very bright fellow, Marshall Wrubel was.
Did you meet Louie Henyey (?) at Princeton when he was that.
You were gone probably. No, it was '50 or '51, you were there, but you didn't see him.
I don't think so.
Okay, thanks again.