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Interview of Orson L. Anderson by Ronald Doel on 1993 November 17,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
This is Ron Doel, and this is an interview with Orson L. Anderson. Today's date is November 17, 1993. I know you were born on December 3, 1924, but I don't know much about your parents. Who were they, and what did they do?
I come from a ranching community in Eastern Utah. Most people of that day and age earned their living, in the towns I grew up in, by ranching or farming. The ranchers had their cattle in the desert in the winter time, and took them up into the mountains nearby (close to the "Wasatch" Mountains but not the "Wasatch" Mountains) in the summertime. That was the cycle that I grew up in. We had a log cabin, a very nice log cabin in the mountains, for summer time, and then in the winter time I went to school in a house that my parents had in "Kreis," Utah. They were, by today's standards, relatively poor, but I don't think they considered themselves poor. My father acquired a 700-acre homestead out of The Homestead Act, and the mountains in which he had this homestead are very beautiful and I still have twenty acres of that original tract. Now, I was a youngster when the Depression came, nine or ten, and then life became more severe. My father found it convenient to give up ranching and go into construction, so he had a very small company in which he repaired roads and built dams and what not.
He was independent in this business?
Independent. Such an operation is impossible today, due to regulations and permits and stuff like that such a small operation. But, we struggled through the Depression years, up until the World War, with this company that he had. So, my Dad was a construction entrepreneur, road construction, "rent" construction, dam construction. He was also a rancher, raised and sold cattle.
Had he had any college training, or your mother?
No. My mother had high school and my Dad had high school and that was it. There was an intellectual streak in the family. My father's brothers went to college, three of them. My father and mother were very nice to me but they never discussed college with me. It wasn't in their life.
Were you close to your uncles? Was college something you talked to them about?
Well, I was close to my uncles, liked them very much and admired them very much, but their example did not influence me to go into college, to a scientific career. What happened was a sequence of events in which my perspective gradually changed. The first was I enlisted in the Air Corps — the Army Air Corps, now the Air Force.
You're talking about after you completed high school.
Before we talk about that, I'm curious: When you were a child, did you read about science? Did you have any interest in science?
No, but I read about everything.
What do you remember from that time?
Well, I remember going to the library and picking up all kinds of interesting books, and reading about that. I read some poetry, I read some literature. My English teacher encouraged me to read certain things and I did. I was an avid reader, and I got my books from the Carnegie Library in the little town of Price. That put me on the road to becoming an intellectual, sort of an intellectual, anyway. I'm not sure that the people on the north side of this campus would consider me an intellectual, but, anyway, I was different. I was more intellectual than my brothers and sisters, let me put it that way. But, I had no idea about science at that time. Because I was intellectual I was a year ahead of my class, and I was seventeen when most of my friends were eighteen. I enlisted in the Air Corps when I was seventeen because they enlisted when they were eighteen. Okay. Did you have some more specific questions about my childhood?
Yes, I did. How many brothers and sisters did you have?
I have four brothers and one sister — which was typical of that day and age. My father came from a family of seven sons and two daughters, and my grandmother came from a family of twenty-three siblings.
That is quite a few. You mentioned that none of them shared your intellectual interests?
All my brothers are now into offshoots of the construction trade.
My one brother owns a construction company, and the others are in various things — mechanics of airplanes — stuff like that. They took the path my father laid out.
How large was the high school you attended? Was this in Price?
Price, Utah, yes. It was the Carbon High School. The county of Carbon could afford a high school, none of the towns could. So, it was a high school that was countywide. Carbon County was named for the word associated with coal. It was a coal-producing region of Utah. Looking at my yearbook, graduation, I would say you were talking about 1,000 students all together, with a senior class of 100-200, maybe 250.
Were any of your teachers particularly memorable?
Sure. My English teacher, yes. She was very strict but I remember her very well. I had an art teacher that impressed me. I remember their names, and they influenced my life. I also had a debate coach that influenced me. Those three stand out, the rest are kind of vague.
Do you remember, particularly, any of your science courses?
I don't think I did that good in science but I was a wiz in math. That was easy for me. That stood out. I think the science courses were perhaps too descriptive for my taste.
You felt even at that time you wanted something more mathematical?
Yes. Well, if it was filled with equations I was more comfortable, I liked it. But, if it was just talk, maybe I was bored.
What subjects did you have, as far as the sciences? Did you have physics and geology, or chemistry?
Well, you had some kind of weak thing called "science" which was a mixture of geology, astronomy and biology. That's what I remember. There was a class in physics for seniors, special students that I got into. But, apart from that there wasn't what you would call...I mean, the science program that I had in 1940-42 wouldn't compare to the science programs in almost any school today. But, there were some very strong teachers and they steered the students they liked, that appreciated it, into outside reading.
And that happened in your case?
That happened to me.
Do you remember what kind of reading you picked up then?
I remember I was studying calculus under the influence of my art teacher, believe it or not. He got some books for me and I was reading Chaucer and other things like that, because of my English teacher. My debate coach picked me up and trained me in extemporaneous debate. Which was a wonderful thing, extemporaneous speaking. I was on the debate team. That was very good training for me, and it probably did more to teach me logic than anything else. We went around to various places, as these debate teams do, and had contests, debated certain issues, positive and negative, all that stuff. It helped me very much, as much as anything, to think logically. Those three things were important.
To be certain you didn't have a strong interest in science as a subject through your high school years?
Did you pursue any hobbies, in addition to the reading and debate, which took a lot of your time?
I didn't think of them as hobbies, I thought of them as ways of making a living, getting money for things a young fellow needed in those days. I helped run a roller-skating rink, I worked for a newspaper, helping put type in place for the printer. Things like that. Before that, I was delivering newspapers. So, I didn't think of any of these things as hobbies, but many of them were very valuable training.
I don't think "hobby" was a word that had the significance it does today. You did things you liked to do, of course, but...hobbies? Well, sure, I think a hobby might be making model airplanes. I did that for a while, but it wasn't something I persisted in to the point that it really became a hobby.
That's clear. While growing up, did you find you had any particular interest in either geology or mineralogy?
Yes, I did. I was very interested in rocks and minerals but didn't know much about them. None of the teachers could help me very much in that, but I thought it was just a curiosity. If I had known then that you could earn a living by studying rocks and minerals, I might have changed my life early. But, I never suspected you could!
There were no teachers nor any other students who particularly knew geology or mineralogy?
No. Now, I hadn't really made up my mind what I was going to do. I'm seventeen now, a senior in high school. My teachers and friends were encouraging me to go on to school. I won a couple of scholarships and I was valedictorian of the class, things like that. So, there was urging to go to college.
Full scholarships to schools, or partial aid?
I can't remember. Maybe $500 or something like that.
Which was considerable back in '41.
It would have been easy for me to go to college, except there was World War II going on.
Yes. It was about 1941, then, that you had finished high school?
Yes, it was 1941...it was '42 that I finished high school. Then I went to a junior college in town while I was debating my future as a soldier.
What was the name of the junior college?
It was then called Carbon Junior College. It's now called the College of Eastern Utah. It was just being started up. That's where I got a little more experience in chemistry and physics, a little more training there. I was seventeen, I was a first-year college student, and several of my classmates, who were eighteen, decided to go join the Air Force. I went with them and illegally joined the Air Force I was seventeen. I didn't know it was illegal! [laughs] But, anyway, I was accepted to enter the cadet program. I probably did very well in the examinations they had, considered potentially an officer, but I was only seventeen.
And you didn't know it was illegal?
I found out later that it was. After it was done. My parents didn't know it was illegal, they just knew common talk about it. They said, "You can't get in until you're eighteen," I said, "Yes, but here it is." So they said, "Well, the people who told us must be mistaken." See, that was the attitude. I was held in reserve — that is to say, I was allowed to go to college in Price for several months before I was taken into the service.
And you concentrated on chemistry, you say?
Yes. At that time I was beginning to feel that there was something to science. The chemistry and physics classes were taught at a different level than in high school, and they were more in keeping with what I thought was my interest. They even had an equation or two, once in a while, you know.
You felt more challenged?
I felt more challenged. So, that was the extent of my training. I still hadn't selected science as a topic to study, but during this period I was taking these classes. I was also taking some other classes, too, which I don't remember. But, anyway, I went into the service and I was called up by the commanding officer shortly after I got in (I'd just turned eighteen), and was severely reprimanded for joining at seventeen. But, I was now eighteen, so they let me stay. I became a pilot, and I was what is called an operational test pilot. I was stationed with an engineering squadron in the South Pacific, which moved from place to place right behind the front lines. The duty was to test airplanes that were going into combat or out of combat. It was not the experimental test flying that you usually hear about, but this was operational. The reason we were there was that there was something major done to an airplane in those days, when it went overseas. If it was flown over, it was a bomber. They took the bomb bays out and put in gas tanks. Well, gas tanks had to be taken out, the bomb racks put back in, and that called for a major test. Or, they were fighters, brought over on carriers, and they took the wings off so they could all fit on; then the wings had to be put back on. Again, it required a major test. My squadron had that duty. I was eighteen, too young to have this responsibility. But, there you are. The reason I bring this up is that it was during these duties that I met technical representatives from the aircraft companies — Boeing and Lockheed, etc. They were with us too, and their duty was to examine faulty airplanes that the company had produced. So, I got to know these technical representatives in the course of my work. Most of the test flying work was boring in the sense that, say, they put a new propeller on, you would go fly it for five hours upstairs and take notes about the rpm and the settings and things like that, then come back and turn in your report. Then somebody else would decide whether the propeller was good or not. That was the kind of work I did. But, I got to know these people, these technical representatives, I admired them very much, and that's when I decided to become an engineer.
Did you talk with these people during work, or did you get to know them well enough that you would meet them after regular hours?
I talked to them more after work than during work. I was in a military echelon, and my reports went to another officer, etc. I didn't have decision capacity or authority, so I didn't talk to them. Very often, in the course of my work, they might come to me and ask. But I got to know them personally, and then after hours I got to know them socially and I came to admire them and what they did. This really was the first time I had an orientation about a career.
And these people had training centered in mechanics and engineering.
Yes. Mechanics and engineering. They had gotten a degree in aeronautical engineering, typically, or electronics or something like that, and had a bachelors/master’s degree from some school like Caltech or MIT that specialized, etc. So, they were pretty smart people.
Did you hear information from them about Caltech and MIT?
Oh, yes, I heard about that. And, of course, in the nature of my discussion with these people, I realized that math and physics and chemistry are the important ingredients for a career if you're going to be an engineer, and you'd be better off studying those very intensively first. They told me that. They emphasized that. The most important thing was to do those well, rather than to go to a big school and specialize in engineering, because if you do those well you could always, always get a better job or go to a better school. I never got the impression from them, "Go to Caltech because that's the best school." I got the impression from them, "Go to someplace where you can really intensively learn math, physics and chemistry, and when you know that, then decide what you want to do." That was the message I got from those people. I think of our little test pilot group of about fifteen all together, about six of us who were cohorts, my age or a little older, of those six, I think I was the most interested in a career, a technical career. So, they had talked to me quite a bit about that. Even though I was in New Guinea and the Philippines and places like that, it wasn't long until I was taking correspondence courses in these subjects.
That's interesting. Which schools offered the courses that you took?
Oh, I can't remember. They were not these name schools, but they were schools that specialized in correspondence courses. I can't remember.
It's interesting that this was possible to do. And you were doing this from the Pacific theatre?
Yes. They were being mailed. My courses were mailed to me.
And you found that you could create sufficient time to get through these courses?
Oh, yes. Well, there were boring periods. There were times when there wasn't anything to do, and there were times when we were very busy. Typically, a situation was a carrier would come into port and there'd be all these planes to fly, it would be very intensive, and then there wouldn't be a carrier around for a while, you see. So, the work was very "pulsive," and I found enough time.
What kinds of courses were you taking then?
I started all over with calculus, all over with basic physics, and all over with basic chemistry. But, these were more intensive courses. I'm sure that one of those engineers recommended this correspondence school. Does ITT sound familiar, or something like that?
It's possible, yes.
Something like that. They had quite a few classes in military service, on the fronts.
Were any others taking courses with you then?
Not among my cohorts.
So you did this through the war years?
Through the war years.
How soon did you get out of the service?
I was discharged the ninth of December, 1945 and was on a boat back home during VJ day. I had contracted a malady, the name of which I've forgotten, one of those strange, jungle maladies, and they had decided to send me back to a hospital that understood these things. I was on my way back when VJ came. That would be in September, I guess. September. I went into this hospital, and it turned out that this malady had cleared up because I had crossed the equator! So, anyway, the hospital I went to discharged me because the war was over. I had no interest in staying, and I went home to my place in Utah. I had this question, where am I going to go now? What school am I going to go to? I noticed in the newspaper that a very famous scientist was going back to the University of Utah to become dean. His name was Henry Eyring, and a lot of people were following him. Walter Elsasser came to Utah because of Henry Eyring. Henry Eyring brought him, he was a famous astrophysicist. There seemed to be something going on at the University of Utah, so I decided to go to the University of Utah.
Instead of MIT or Caltech I ended up at the University of Utah, which was a good decision.
When you thought to apply, did you already know that Henry Eyring had gone there? Or was coming back there?
Well, Henry Eyring had gone back to Utah before I was in a position to make this decision. But, I had read about Elsasser coming to Utah because Henry Eyring had recruited him. I knew a little bit about Elsasser somehow, I don't know why, and through the library found out a lot more about him. I said, "Hey, something's going on here, maybe I'll go."
Do you remember what it was you were reading about Elsasser, when you think back on it? Or how you had come to know of him?
Well, I think his idea about the core of the earth had made popular literature, the self-starting dynamo. I associated that name with him, probably through American Scientist or Scientific American. Something like that, I really don't remember. It wasn't that I was reading technical things, but I had heard about him in the popular press, or, the kind of works I'd be reading. It was probably a Scientific American in the library in New Guinea someplace.
That's what I was going to ask you: you had access to at least some journals while in the theatre?
Something like American Scientist, Scientific American.
Were there any other journals you remember reading, of that sort?
Of course, I was stationed at the front lines but I often had duties going back to get supplies at bigger bases in the back, and that's probably where I saw it. It's a vague memory now, how I knew that, but it was those two things, Henry Eyring and Walter Elsasser, that said I ought to try this. So, I went for an interview with Henry Eyring and he just swept me off my feet.
What were your impressions of him when you met him?
Henry Eyring is a genius. I don't know why he was never considered for a Nobel prize but I think he came close. He was a very dynamic man and he had the ability to put any problem into context so he could see the mechanism for solving that problem. He sort of thought on his feet, and it was very, very interesting to watch him do that. Of course, he was the author of "rate process" theory, and everything he saw around him he cast in terms of that.
He was working on chemical surface reactions.
Yes, chemical surface reactions, whether it was "creep" in the metal or turbulence on an airplane wing or something like that. He had a knack of seeing that in terms of the basic physics and chemistry that he was aware of. All of his students were able to publish papers because of that; he was an idea person. He could throw out an idea, he could throw out several ideas, while you were talking about a subject. The students were bright, but they didn't know how to get an idea, and he taught me how to get ideas.
It's interesting that you chose to go directly to him when you were thinking to attend the university.
I went to him, and he convinced me that the engineering school was good. I was set on engineering. He convinced me that the engineering school was a very good school and I would learn a lot there, but he hoped I would come to some of the seminars anyway. It was that kind of approach. I thought, "Boy, with all this activity going on, that was great." Well, I didn't do well in engineering. I got passing grades and all that, but I wasn't that interested. I was determined to be an engineer, but where I got my kicks was taking math. When it came time to graduate, three or four years later, I could have chosen to graduate in math or engineering, either one, and I was teaching mathematics, teaching differential equations and calculus as a teaching assistant. That's how I earned my keep, and was known by the mathematicians. So, I graduated with engineering and I had, in the meantime, learned a lot of things from Henry Eyring's seminars.
You had attended those regularly?
I had attended those, and I knew the students well who were associated with him more directly. But, the funny thing was, when I got my bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, I thought it would be good to go to some Army or Navy base where they specialized in this kind of thing, probably thinking of my old days as a test pilot. I had to take a test that the Navy had for the Inyokern up here in California, and I applied for a job as an engineer there. They gave me a profile test and I failed as an engineer. They told me I didn't have any ability at engineering; that they didn't want to take the risk of hiring me.
When did this happen? Right after your bachelors?
In 1948. I had graduated. I was very angry about this. I went over to the admissions office, took their profile test and got the same answer! Low in engineering, high in architecture. So, I talked this over with Henry Eyring and he said, "It's obvious. You've just been stubborn all the time. What you really need to do is go into physics or mathematics. It's not too late, just go over there and register." So, I decided, "Well, mathematics, I can't earn a living at mathematics." So, I thought I'd go talk to the physics department. I talked to them and, "Sure." They gave me an exam and I passed it real easy. In three years I had a PhD in physics.
You mentioned attending the seminars of Henry Eyring. Who else did you come to meet? Did you come to know Elsasser?
Yes. As a matter of fact, I took one of his courses as a senior.
What course was that? That's interesting.
A sub-elementary physics course which specialized in astronomy, in astro-physics, that was junior level. I took that course from him, I liked it, I got to know him. Then, when I went into physics, I took a lot of his classes.
Were the graduate courses that he offered in geo-physics as well as in astrophysics?
No, they were mostly...well, in an aspect of geophysics, yes. What we call geomagnetism. Yes.
But as an undergraduate, in the courses that you took, you really weren't exposed to those sorts of things that we would now call geophysics?
That's right. As a matter of fact, I would have been very surprised if that had been called geophysics. It was, obviously, magnetism.
Regardless of what it's called, were you able to see, as an undergraduate, the work that Elsasser was doing in earth magnetism?
I didn't appreciate that until I was a graduate student in physics.
Were there any other professors who had a strong influence on you when you were an undergraduate there?
No. Those two stand out. The rest are all about the same. They were all good. I think there was a strange guy who had a "soft" position. His name was Eugene Poncelet. He was Belgian. He taught me to write, and for several years I was working in his laboratory. He was interested in the theory of fracture, and had some strange notions about it, strange as it turned out. He was the one who proposed my thesis in physics. I don't think he was of the intellectual calibre of Elsasser and Eyring, but he had a strong influence on me because he had extremely good logic in his writing ability and he was in charge of the classical field of the department, which I specialized in. I was still on the mechanics side, mechanics and — (?) — side, and because of that I came into contact with him; he was one of the professors on my thesis. He talked to me a lot. He was trained in France and had very rigorous rules about speaking and writing and logic. It was very good for me. The country boy needed that.
I appreciate what you're saying. Were you involved in any other activities, to a large degree, while you were an undergraduate?
There was the problem of earning a living, and I was married and had a child by this time. I made a living by several activities. One of them was flying in the Air National Guard.
To be certain, are we talking about your undergraduate or your graduate years?
I can't remember. There is some kind of a vague transition. It probably covered both. I flew in the Air National Guard, that gave me some money, but I made most of my money by surveying gold claims in Nevada. Being an engineer, I had had to learn how to survey things, you see. I knew how to survey anything. Out in Nevada, there were lots and lots of mining claims that were not in use. A person could keep a claim alive if he "proofed up on it," as they say — if he did a certain minimum amount of work. This had to be recorded every year, and then he could keep that claim, even though he wasn't mining. For some reason there wasn't much mining at that time, so everybody had this problem and one way they could solve it was to have their property surveyed again, or the road surveyed into the property. Something like that. It was an easy thing for the students — myself and three others who were bona fide engineering students. We formed a little company and we went out on weekends to that glorious air of Nevada and surveyed claims. Then, we'd send in the survey results and we got paid for it at a handsome rate. It was very profitable for the time we spent for it, and it was fun. There was that activity, and flying. What else? I learned how to play golf. I haven't played golf for years, but I learned how to play golf in those days, too. But, flying and surveying and all the seminars, I think, kind of ate up my time.
What year were you married?
So that was while you were an undergraduate.
How did you meet your wife?
She was a nurse at the hospital I went to when I came back from the South Pacific. Unfair advantage! So, we got acquainted, and after I got back to school she said she'd like to get married and I said why not. Anyway, this was the story of my undergraduate career. I see myself gradually orienting over to physics from engineering — first engineering and then into physics — and later into geophysics.
But, it was a critical decision at the time you finished your bachelor's degree?
Did you already know many of the people in the physics department at that time you decided to pursue physics?
It's a small enough school that there were several people I knew, yes. One person was Art Ruoff, who was a professor of high-pressure work in material science at Cornell, a very famous guy. He was there at that time.
Was Richard Thomas there at the time?
Richard Thomas. It doesn't ring a bell. I'd have to look at some of my records. Peter Gibbs was there. He stayed on at Utah and became a professor. I became the department chair later on, and I knew him well. There was another person there in the mathematics department, whose name I will tell you later. He became professor and head of the department of mathematics at the University of Texas at Dallas. There was a chap who became vice president of Boeing. He was in the physics department, he had an engineering inclination like I did (I'll think of his name in a minute). So, out of this group of a dozen students, many of them turned out quite well, actually.
And when you went into the physics department, did you support yourself in part by teaching in the undergraduate physics program?
I was teaching math. The math department liked me.
Who were your principal contacts when you did your masters and then your thesis work?
Well, the person in the math department...oh you mean in my thesis?
All of them, during your graduate training.
The person who was my principal contact and supporter was a fellow by the name of Thorne. What was his first name? Just Professor Thorne, in the math department. He had a big influence on my life, yes. He encouraged me to graduate in math. I could have.
By that point did you and he talk about career possibilities?
Well, I asked him about a career in mathematics, and he didn't give me a very satisfactory answer.
That you remember?
I don't remember. I don't think mathematicians had the opportunities in those days that they have today. Teaching was about it, I think. So, I didn't get all that much encouragement from him about a career, but he thought I ought to graduate in math because that's what I liked, and that's what I did, at that time. I later had a lot of contact with him. He thought my decision to go into physics was rational.
You mentioned that Poncelet had been an influence on your thesis?
Yes. Poncelet. I could go get my thesis and show you. My thesis consisted of a couple of theorems which had to do with fracture and flow. I later found out that those theorems have been rediscovered several times since, but it isn't what you'd call a typical thesis. It's short, to the point, and it describes these theorems. But, it was enough to impress the faculty to pass me, including Poncelet, including Elsasser.
He was on your committee?
He was on my committee. So, I think that shows it wasn't bad. But, I look at it today and I think, my goodness, I don't think it would pass muster today.
Standards have changed over the years.
Anyway, Poncelet was responsible for bringing up the problem of the thesis.
And this was in his own area of work?
Yes, his own area of work. He was definitely in mechanics. But, that thesis got me a job at Bell Labs. That was the important thing. I didn't know how important it was.
How much time did it take you to do the thesis work, once you started on it?
My thesis? A year.
And was it something that Poncelet and you interacted on quite a bit, or was it something that you develops on your own?
No, we interacted on it quite a bit. I think he was glad to have it solved because it gave him confidence in his own ideas of fracture and flow, which were controversial.
Were you aware of the controversy at the time?
Yes, I was.
How did you become aware of those discussions?
He told me about it. He told me about other people talking to him at meetings. I think the ideas are naive by today's standards, but they weren't bad back in the late '40s. They were pretty good. It was close to the heart of the approach of Henry Eyring, which is one reason, I think, he was in Utah. It consisted of a simple idea. I've got a crack here at some material, and down here at the end there must be some chemical bonds that are being stretched. So what you do is you calculate the probability that these bonds will break, or not. If they break, the crack goes forward. If they don't break, the crack — (?) — is halted. So, this gets into reactionary theory, or very close to it.
Which is close to Eyring.
Which is close to Eyring. So, they were thinking along those lines. Eyring would take the point of view (and I'm sure he did), "Well, another application of `rate process' theory."
So this illustrates also how Eyring worked at Utah.
Yes. When I was working in this field that was the image I got from Eyring: "Yes, this is reasonable, I can see you should have the activation volume in there someplace, but it's all right." That would be how he would approach it.
So he didn't collaborate closely with these other people, but would give them advice if they asked for it, or raised it in discussion.
Yes. Well, he had these seminars that were very well attended, and we got up and presented our work.
This is Eyring you're speaking of?
Eyring, yes. We were all criticized by our peers, students and faculty, about this, and that's where you get this interaction of Eyring with this idea.
Was there much socializing after hours when you were a graduate student?
Yes. We were a very tight-knit social group, and the graduate students were inter-departmental. There's no question about it.
That's interesting. So, you got to know people across the disciplinary spectrum?
All over, yes. Chemistry and physics and math and quite a bit of engineering. This was an unusual situation because of the impact of his personality. He was dean; interdepartmental was his responsibility. He was such a vigorous, active guy that he just crossed borders right and left. That was reflected in the student body. The student body was very aggressive (the graduate students and we had a few undergraduates). I can remember that we wanted to have a class in statistical mechanics, and Elsasser couldn't do it for some reason or other. It looked like the class was going to be cancelled, and this group of students from several departments decided they were not going to allow this to go on. They wanted to have — (?) —. So, we organized the class ourselves and we took turns, made assignments like that. Pretty soon the faculty was in the class!
This aggressive group of students (I really have to give you the names of all the famous guys who came out of this group) was a special situation at Utah at this time, and maybe at other colleges. You had mature people who had come back from several years in the service, a no-nonsense group who knew fairly well what they wanted and wouldn't put up with nonsense. They decided that they needed to have a class in statistical mechanics.
Were there any other areas where you felt your training was not all you wanted it to be?
Optics, yes. There was a Professor Harris there who was supposed to teach optics but he didn't do a very good job, and we all grumbled about it. As a consequence, when we came to my preliminary exams, before my thesis, Pete Gibbs and I flunked the optics part. But, everybody knew that Harris wasn't doing his job, so the department, as a group, gave us a penalty which, if we overcame, we would be allowed to pass optics. They told us if we translated into English the first five chapters of Max Barnes' Optique, we could consider that we had passed optics.
The first five chapters!
Holy mackerel! But it turned out that when we came to something we didn't understand, we'd go talk to people and they'd help us, and we never had to translate five chapters. They relented and let us just translate the first three.
This is quite interesting. How did it work when all of you taught statistical mechanics? How did you decide amongst yourselves who would do what parts?
I can't remember, but since we were teaching material we didn't understand, I guess it was just easy — Chapter One, the first five parts, or something like that. I don't even remember what text we used, because this is back in 1945. That's before the standard texts we have today were written. But, there was somebody...oh, yes. Eyring had written a book on statistical mechanics, that was part of it. Yes. Eyring and Kimball. Ah so. I think that was the book we were using.
Did Eyring come to the seminar as well?
Well, he didn't come very often. This was a class, not a seminar. It was legalized as a class about halfway through, but he did teach us some things. We went to his office and said, "We don't understand this," and he would teach us right there. I think we used Eyring and Kimball's book on statistical mechanics, but we had something else too. Some famous physical chemist's book, I can't remember now, and that was our class. But, it was a winning class and we had many of the professors of physics in our class, when it was halfway along.
So, it was a very intensive training, I think I got a lot out of it, and so did these others. We've talked about it several times. The guy who is vice president of Lockheed is named Darryl Stewart. He had a lot to do with the Polaris missile. Anyway, Darryl and I...thinking about that class brings him into focus. He had a lot to do with that class. So, you're looking at a cohort of people there who are not typical and who were in an environment which had some real stars.
Speaking of Eyring did he ever talk to you about his religious beliefs? Was that something that came up?
I never talked to him about his religious beliefs. I don't know what they are, but I do know he had a tragedy there, during this period. His wife became insane, was committed to an insane asylum just about the year I graduated with my PhD. When he came to Utah she just went downhill, and there were lots of problems with that, personal problems. But, I don't know anything about his religious beliefs.
He was a devoted Mormon. At Princeton he would ask graduate students about their families; he had a strong interest in genealogy. I was just curious if that had ever come up.
Is he a Mormon? For heaven's sake. I'm a Mormon too. I didn't know that. That's why he came to Utah.
I'll be doggoned. Where did he get converted? He came out of Germany?
He had been born in Mexico; his family had been down there. He had spent, of course, some time in Princeton before going out to Utah.
I know that. And he spent some time down at Scripps, too. He's kind of a wanderer. I attributed that wandering to the fact that he lost his wife. Well I'll be doggoned. All the time I knew him at Utah I didn't know that! Well, how about that. Glad to know that.
How big an influence was Elsasser on your career?
A big influence. Here was a model scientist, to me. He was quiet where Eyring was verbose; they had opposite personalities. He was a thinker, but when he spoke it was gems that came out. If I wanted to be a scientist I'd rather be like Elsasser, rather than Henry Eyring. As for ideas, I would say Henry Eyring had lots more ideas, but I don't think the good ideas that he had were any greater than the ideas of Elsasser.
Was Elsasser someone you came to know outside the classroom? Did you see him in the evenings?
No, he was a recluse, as far as I could tell. He seemed to draw in on his life, but that may be because of the problem with his wife.
Elsasser, you mean?
Elsasser. I had very little social contact with him. It seemed like he wanted it that way.
Did Elsasser have many graduate students who were interested in the problems of magnetism and the work that he was doing?
He had one, whose name I have forgotten. Maybe I can think about it.
We can always add something like that to the transcript.
He didn't have a lot of students, nor do I think he wanted a lot of students. I think he preferred the one-to-one relationship.
Okay. You mentioned that your thesis proved helpful in getting you into Bell Labs?
How did that come about?
How did I get the job?
Bell Labs has a system for recruiting that was unique. There isn't a Bell Labs now. But, anyway, they used to send their recent employees, the ones that had been hired in the last five or six years, out on recruiting searches. They would come to these various schools in regions around their own alma maters and sort of survey things and make a report back. For instance, when I was going out to recruit for Bell Labs, after I got there, the problem was to find people who knew geometric optics very well. There weren't very many in this country at that time. This was just before the laser and were discovered; now there's a lot of them, but then there weren't any. So, we were kind of snooping around, talking to professors: "What's new in optics? Who's teaching optics?" That kind of thing. That way, they could get a hold of it. At this particular time, when somebody was recruiting, they were looking for somebody in acoustics. Warren Mason at Bell Labs, the great acoustician, wanted to increase his staff by people in acoustics, and that's the same as mechanics to a lot of people. When this person came (whose name I do not know, never did know) to Utah, on his search through that area, he dropped a name, "Well, we're looking for somebody in mechanics." So, they said, "Well, we have one student who is specializing in mechanics. His name is Orson Anderson." Okay. I didn't know this then, I found it out later, but when I was getting close to my degree somebody from Bell Labs dropped by and wanted to interview me. I was glad to be interviewed. Wow. That was a big name. The next thing that happened was I was invited back to Bell Labs to have a talk with Mason.
So this is in 1951, when you had gotten your degree?
We're talking '50 and '51 in this period. I don't think they were overly impressed with my thesis, but it was on a topic that was close enough. When they interviewed me they found out I was knowledgeable in it and had a reasonably wide grasp of physics.
What gave you the impression that they may not have been overly enthusiastic about the thesis? Was it the controversy?
Well, they didn't talk about it.
I don't think it was controversial, but it wasn't mentioned or anything. They didn't fuss about it. So, anyway, I was selected to. I was offered a job, much to my surprise, and back I went.
Did you have any idea as you neared graduation of what you really wanted to do? Did this possibility seem to be on track, or were you not certain?
No, this was not on track. I was thinking of wings and propellers when I was an undergraduate.
Right. I meant, though, as you wrote your thesis.
It seemed to me like I had just gradually been changing direction all the time, slowly but perceptibly, and I was now in a different direction. My thesis was fun, and I enjoyed it, etc., it got me into the interview at Bell Labs so I can't complain about that.
But it didn't seem to you that it was leading you toward a particular kind of career?
It was a research area that you wanted to — (?) —
I had found my specialty. I was in physics, but in classical physics. That's really what happened, and I appreciated that. I appreciated the fact that I was in classical physics. I wasn't in quantum mechanics or particle physics, I was in classical physics, and the subjects that are considered classical physics I was relatively strong on.
How did you regard the department, as a whole, on twentieth century physics, on quantum physics?
I don't think it was sharp on that because I don't think they had Julius Swinger or somebody like that around to really teach that. I think the people who were teaching it know they were knowledgeable, but they knew they weren't expert in it. I would say they were quite competent but not outstanding in this. Anyway, here I am, in classical physics, and mechanics and acoustics are part of this, and that's what they wanted at Bell Labs. I'll go get my thesis.
I'd like to see that.
It's not published. I got a couple papers out of it.
I'm sitting here with a copy of your thesis: "Physical Constituents of Stress and Strain with Applications to Anelasticity". Was this discussed when you began working at Bell Labs? Did other people have an interest in this?
Oh, yes. The anelasticity was the thing that they liked about it.
There are major sections here on elastic strain energies, wave velocities, fracture propagation flow...
The main thing, in the beginning, was this theorem with which you could break the stress factor down into two parts: one was fracture, and one was flow. I proved some properties about this theorem. So, it was really kind of on mathematics. Anyway, that's it. You can take it if you like. I have another copy.
That would be good to have in the AIP's library. You mention in the acknowledgements Poncelet of course and Dan McLaughlin. Oh, I forgot. You asked about important guys. Dan McLaughlin was there and he is very, very important in crystallography. He was an exciting personality. Darryl Stewart took his thesis under him. Oh, I shouldn't forget Dan. Well, he's in the calibre of Elsasser, yes. As a matter of fact, he was on my thesis committee too, and he was the hardest guy to convince.
What was his background in particular? What was he working on?
Let's see. If you go into the theory of X-rays you find that (I'm trying to reconstruct his problem at the time, now) there are factors, they call them. You have to go through a Fourier transform to go from the pattern you see with X-rays to the structure itself. There's an inverse calculation that you have to make, and in that calculation there are, let's call them, structural factors. There are numbers that help you make the transformation. There is some ambiguity about these numbers, and he was trying to straighten that out.
And he had concerns about the use of the numbers as signifiers?
Yes. So, that was the problem he was working with. Probably later on I'll remember more about that. Dan McLaughlin had a part-time appointment in physics and a part-time appointment in metallurgy, I think. Was it metallurgy? Something like that. Because that was essentially considered work in X-rays. There was a lot of work in metallurgy with X-rays. You had this dual appointment, and he taught the classes in X-ray. They were very good. The question, really, that I've pondered several times was, why was it, really, that at this particular time at the University of Utah they had such outstanding scholars, four or five of them? Really great scholars. I don't think it ever measured up to that. The university never measured up to that after that.
Do you have a feeling about why that was?
These people were on the skirts of Henry Eyring. He went to Utah and he seduced these people into coming with him, you see, and they did. After a while, they found better offers elsewhere.
Yes. Was Eyring able to provide financial benefits for these people through the university?
He was the dean, he had control of that budget. But, more important, he knew everybody in Washington, and the first big ONR, (Office of Naval Research) contracts were being partitioned out. You talk about a big whack of ONR money!
I was just going to ask you about that, because you also note in your thesis that funds for your own research were provided through the ONR.
So many people throughout the physical sciences at the Utah were supported in this way?
Oh, yes. All these professors had a big bunch of this money. I can't remember whether it was $1,000 or a bunch, but it was Eyring's influence on the Washington scene that provided this bunch of money, so all the students were taken care of. As a matter of fact, now I recall that in the last year, maybe the second-to-the-last year, things got easy because of this money. I didn't have to fly any longer; I didn't have to go out and do measurements and surveys. We were being taken care of. But at first it wasn't that way.
Who were Eyring's strongest connections in Washington? Was that something he would talk to you about?
The Cosmos Club.
That was the nerve center for many leading U.S. Scientists at the times.
Oh, he knew everybody back there. He was dealing with power at that time. He came out of Princeton, you see, and the other power centers. He knew MIT people, etc. So I think the reason you had this burst of intellectual activity was because Eyring decided to go to Utah. It was fortunate for me.
Indeed. You also mention that you had assistance from Professor Leon D. Linford, and also from Mervyn Hogan and Ralph Baker?
Okay. Linford was head of the physics department, and he was a strong man as department head. There's no question about that. I draw a blank when I try to think of what his specialty was. Mervyn Hogan was chairman of the department of mechanical engineering. I was acquainted with him as I became an engineer, and he followed my career closely. When I became a physicist he still regarded me as a good engineer, and he was an intellectual resource to me in the field of mechanics as a subdivision of physics. There were questions I could always ask him. He was very, very good, and he later left Utah and became manager of Westinghouse's missile program. So, that was his particular thing. The last chap: what was his name?
Ralph Baker was also in the department of mechanical engineering, but I didn't have any intellectual benefits from him and I can't remember why.
You thank him for excellent instruction in the foundation of mechanics.
Oh. I'm thanking him for the classes he taught.
Right. You also mention, of course, Eyring, and Karl Christensen for the promotion of research in the field.
Eyring was dean and Christensen was also dean. Eyring was dean of graduate school and Christensen was dean of the school of mineral sciences. That included metallurgy, ceramics, ore dressing, that kind of thing. The University of Utah was connected to Kennecot Copper, a big industrial base out there. They went into mining quite a bit. For some reason or other, some of the classical disciplines, like metallurgy and ceramics, were in that school. Christensen was the person who provided the money. He managed money very well. Eyring didn't give a hoot about money. He had influence, he'd make the arrangements and get the flow started, but he didn't manage it, Christensen managed it. So if you wanted a place to sit, or an experimental laboratory, you either had to go to the physics department, the chemistry department, or the school of whatever it was — the School of Mining and Mineral Sciences I think it was called — to get that. So, he was important. But Christensen was not an intellectual, you see. He was a competent engineer, but he wasn't an intellectual.
That's interesting. Looking also through your list of references, one of them was Percy Bridgman's Reflections of a Physicist. How much did you know of what Bridgman was working on at the time, as you recall? Were you aware of the high-pressure research that Harvard was doing?
Yes, I was, very much. I didn't do high-pressure research, but I think if I had been inclined to stay at Utah, as an assistant professor, I might very well have gone that route.
Was it the Harvard work in particular that you thought of at the time as high-pressure, or did you see others...?
Well, let me tell you about that. In Reflections of Rupture, Bridgman noticed if he took a hollow cylinder and burst it, he got certain patterns in the breaking of that. These patterns are...He didn't understand why, and in this thesis I tell why.
Did you come into direct contact with him at that point?
No. Several years later, when I was at Bell Labs, I did.
Okay. Another interesting item here is Eyring's collaboration with "Glasstone" — I think that's Samuel Glasstone — and K.J. Laidler in "The Theory of Rate Processes," which you mentioned, and Arpad Nadai's 1950 book on the theory of flows and the fracture of solids. Had you run into Nadai during the time he was in this country?
No, I hadn't, but he read his book. However, Mervyn Hogan had. He had been in contact with Nadai, and there's a book on photoelasticity by Nadai. Mervyn did research in photoelasticity. So, yes, those were strands that were thrown out. This was one reason I owed something to Mervyn Hogan, because it turned out that when I was doing my research, I crossed the path of his research.
When you arrived at Bell Labs, did you have a clear sense of what you were going to be doing with them? Did you discuss this with them?
They wanted me to measure the elastic constants of certain solids, and because I was in mechanics they thought that I might be able to do this as a function of pressure. Well, that just sounded great to me. While I hadn't done that at Utah, it was the kind of thing I was prepared to do, so I undertook this assignment. I learned how to measure the velocity of sound very accurately, under the tutelage of Warren Mason and his group. Herb "McSkimmett" really had the craftsmanship and experimental technique. From there I proceeded to make some experiments, and they were quite, quite good; they were really quite profitable to the company and to me, as an individual. So, I moved right into my work at Bell Labs. It was a couple of years before I got any papers, because it was an experimental setup.
Right. Your first paper was, in fact, in 1952, a year after your degree: Conditions for the Derivation of the Stress Deviator Tensor.
That was my thesis.
And this was just a part of the thesis?
That's the main part, apart from the applications.
Okay. And I believe the D.A. Stewart you had mentioned he was your collaborator in the next paper; An Application of Rate Process Theory to Glass Electrical Conductivity.
And that was also in 1953?
That was a project we did under Henry Eyring that we hadn't finished when I graduated. We decided to finish it up.
I noticed in many of your initial publications in 1953 and 1954 that you collaborated with Stewart, and also Mason. Was it something that Bell Labs clearly encouraged?
Yes. They encouraged collaboration very much.
How did it actually work when you wrote of these articles? Would you write a draft and then your collaborator would see it?
Yes. Well, I think the important thing about Bell Labs that comes to my mind is that they had a lot of patent responsibilities. They lived on patents, and usually the course went something like this: You wrote down your ideas very carefully. We were taught to write everything down. Then we took it to a collaborator or a department head to have it witnessed. Our notebook was witnessed. Yes. During this discussion about witnessing it, there was usually "Well, you didn't do this and you didn't do this, how about this?" type of thing. So, there was interaction, early, on the notebooks themselves, and very often. Because of that witnessing, it led to collaboration.
So it wasn't personality so much as the organization?
Yes. Now, if any principal involved in this witnessing or writing thought there might be something patentable, he took the notebook to the patent department. They did not deal with manuscripts, they dealt with your notebook.
Now, if there was something patentable, then they'd hurry up and get a patent. Then you could publish.
How often did that happen during the time you were at Bell Labs.
I had five patents. One brought in millions and millions of dollars to Bell Labs.
What was that?
Well, down on the list, about number fifty-four, you'll find something that says "compression bond." That was the name that was given to it. The telephone company had the problem of transistors. They had to make electrical lead transistors. The transistors were very carefully balanced chemically, with "NNP" carriers. So, if you brought anything resembling melting to the surface of transistors, you destroyed the transistor's function; it couldn't operate. The question always was, how could you attach an electrical lead that's sufficient without melting? You're not talking about much melting, just a little bit, right at the surface, because all the action was at the surface. I stumbled onto the solution to that, and it's interesting how this worked out. I was worrying about glass and ceramics, and I had a similar but not very critical problem. I had to get electrical leads to them in a pressure vessel. When I put pressure on, the lead would fall away unless it was very strong. I had the same problem. So, my assistant and I were in the laboratory one time and I said, "Let's just take a piece of gold wire and see if we can press it on with the tip of a soldering iron." Then we did. We just took a little gold wire, a soldering iron — it was hot — pushed it down — it's a wedge type thing — and it made a nice lead. We didn't think about it very much, but we did write it down in the notebooks — I wrote it down in my notebook — and it was witnessed. But nobody in my department thought more about this. However, I was having lunch with a friend of mine at the same church-that's how I knew him-and he was in the transistor department. He was telling me how difficult it was, what a big problem it was, to make these electrical leads. They were throwing away six and seven transistors for every one they tried to make at Western Electric. It was costing them in the neighborhood of, oh, I think he said a dollar or two, to make a transistor, just because they had this problem of many being invalid. They had a big expense scrutinizing them to make sure that it wasn't bad. Then I said, "Well, why don't you just do what I do, which is put a gold lead down on it, press it down. Maybe that will do." He said, "Well, you did this?" "Yeah." "Can I see what you did?" "Sure." So, we went back, he did it, and it wasn't long until we were collaborating, trying to do this with transistors, and it worked. It really worked, and it dropped the price of a transistor down to pennies a piece (because they were putting them out by the millions at that time). So, I was saving upwards of a dollar for each transistor that was successful, by this patent. I was the lead on the patent. I didn't get any money out of it, but I sure got a lot of freedom, because I had carte blanche after that.
That's very interesting. When did that happen?
I'll get it out of my files in a minute. There were a series of papers about this. In San Jose there is now a museum for transistor technology, and in that museum there's a mural around the side. There's Orson Anderson and Christensen, up there on this mural, because it was so important to transistor technology.
And Christensen, you say, was listed as a co-author on this paper?
We can find it. I'll make sure it's put in later.
I know exactly where to look. I'll go in my other room and give you the article. Now, I blundered into this (it wasn't an intellectual feat), but I got the credit. The research department, Christensen and the research department, made sure I got the credit for this and a lot of respect. It solved a very imposing problem that the metallurgists hadn't been able to crack.
And this happened reasonably soon after your arrival?
Not long after. Four years maybe.
I do see it right here. It's number ten on your list. Your name first, of course, then Christensen and P. Andreatch: Technique for Connecting Electrical Leads to Semi-Conductors, in the Journal of Applied Physics, 1957.
That's right. That would be a couple years after we actually did it. And the patents were firmly in place. They sold the rights to their patents to many, many firms, for unbelievable sums. I'm talking millions, because it solved this problem. But, you see, this was the kind of thing I was good at. It was a mechanical problem; I was using principles of flow and fracture and in the course of constructing my experimental apparatus, I just automatically did it. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I remember the patent attorney quizzing me on this and asking me how I got this. "Why did you think of that?" I said, "Well, it seemed to me reasonable, because if I had a hot iron I would be melting the gold and it would push out and scrub the top of the transistor, or glass, and clean it. So, you'd have the surface contaminants removed. Then you'd have glass against the solid..." You didn't have the surface contaminants. Then I ought to be able to get adhesion. Well, I knew what adhesion was. It was part of classical mechanics. I had studied adhesion, I knew all about it, it was part of my brain cells, you see. Then I had to tell him what adhesion was and how it worked, see. Well, it's really a problem in classical mechanics, not metallurgy, because all those ideas were in my mind and automatically came out. So, that set me up. I was a little tin god around there, for a while anyway, doing this problem, and I wasn't even in transistors at all. Sometimes that helps. However, I have to tell you a little story. When I first got there, at Bell Labs, my department, which was acoustics, was moving and didn't have all their space connected. There wasn't room for me, so they put me into the research department, that had to do with fundamental research. In the same corridor I was on there were four future Nobel laureates. Across from me was Phil Anderson, down the way was Bratton, Barden, and the fourth guy, Shockley. In between were a lot of prima donnas, who never made Nobel prize, but who were — (?) — The anecdote (I haven't told you the anecdote yet): Phil Anderson was a very caustic person. He, of course, got the Nobel Prize, and you know about him. He is the kind of person who speaks his mind; he was great with criticism, irrespective of your feelings. No tact at all. I was explaining to an informal group my work in glass. I was at that time very interested in the mechanical properties of glass. There were some strange things going on and I was trying to understand them. It was glass I was taking the measurements on when I put the electrical lead on, you see. It was the glass I was interested in. Phil just popped right up and said, "Orson, you'll never get anyplace with glass. You ought to throw that stuff away, forget about it and get into transistors." I said, "I don't want to get into transistors. What's wrong with this?" He said, "It'll never amount to anything." Well. Do you know what Phil Anderson got his Nobel Prize laureate about?
Not in detail, no.
Understanding why a glass can be a transistor. He became the expert in glass.
And not all that many years later, was it?
Not all that many years later either! Well, when Phil Anderson attacks you, there's no way to reply. You just grin and bear it and tape your mouth shut, because he's got a caustic wit. You can't exchange caustic remarks with Phil, he's just too fast on his feet. I just ignored it and went my own way, but it always amused me that he went into glass later on.
Did you ever talk to him about that?
No, no I never have. I don't want to bring it up, because his mind will be closed to that. He's too egotistical to ever do that. But, I did get along very well with Barden and Shockley and — (?) — But, I was placed in this group, you know, of brains, when I first got to Bell Labs, who weren't in my research. I just happened to be there for about six months.
What kind of interaction did you have with them?
Well, I was a country boy from Utah, and they had all come from places like MIT and Harvard, so, I soft-pedaled the interaction as much as I could. But, there was Brent Mathias there, too, with the same group, the famous guy in semi-conductors who died from a heart attack too early in his life. Brent and I got along all right and I liked Brent, because he appealed to me because he always took the theoreticians on. I remember one time Barden said, "A — (?) — electric cannot be a super conductor." Mathias got up and said, "Well, we'll see." He went back to his lab and in about two weeks he produced a super conductor that was also a — (?) — electric. It was that kind of environment. It was very, very vigorous.
Was the relationship between experiment and theory something talked about in a philosophical way?
Yes. There was lots of clashing over that, experiment and theory. I would be more on the side of Mathias in this regard.
Is that how it seemed to be? Mathias against most everyone else, as theoreticians?
Yes, yes. Shockley would be both, but Barden would be a theoretician. Mathias just delighted in pricking their balloons, all the time. He was fast and he was in this business. Well, I appreciated this and I thought it was a great circus. If you got bored, you just listened to the conversations around you. But they were a bunch of prima donnas and they thought very highly of themselves, all of them. I appreciated being immersed in this culture for a while. But, then they finally got my place ready and I went back with Warren Mason, who was a much nicer guy and easier to get along with.
And you didn't have as much contact, then, with this group?
Well, I knew them then, by that time, so I could eat with them at lunch or something like that.
And that's where you'd principally see them, at the lunch table?
Yes, at the lunch table, something like that, or a social gathering of some sort. And, I was invited to their going-away parties and birthday parties, etc., from then on.
Did you see them much in the evenings, after hours?
It was principally at the lab, during the day?
All at the lab, yes. I wasn't that close, in the social milieu of the evening, but I had been introduced to them and they thought I was a strange critter. You know. What can you say about a man from Utah, you see? I was tolerated, as a special kind of God's creature.
I assume they knew of your work with Eyring and Elsasser?
What did they think of the kind of work they were doing? Did that ever come up?
I never heard them talk about it. I think they were too engrossed in themselves. They were on the edge of great things, they knew that. They were consumed by that. Shortly, four of them were Nobel laureates. So, they knew it. Anyway, that's just a little anecdote to my introduction to Bell Labs. But I was glad to go back to the acoustics end, where life was a little more tranquil. I didn't feel this intense competition I felt in the first corridor. In a sense you had to prove yourself a genius every day.
That can be quite a bit of pressure.
Did you have much contact with Karl Darrow? He was at Bell Labs at that time, wasn't he?
I didn't have much contact with him. I don't know whether he was. I have a suspicion he was there before I was there.
That may be the case.
But I had contact with John Pierce, who was another genius. Hendrick Bode, the great mathematician, was in charge. We got transferred out of physics into the mathematics department because they didn't know what to do with acousticians. For a while, anyway, that happened, and Hendrick Bode was now my division leader. Okay. That gives you some idea of Bell Labs.
Indeed. You mentioned a moment AGO that there was someone you had met in church from Bell Labs, if I remember correctly. Was there a Mormon community of people you knew from the laboratory?
That was Christensen. Well, yes. There was the Short Hills ward, and there were a number of people. Fletcher, the son of the great Harvey Fletcher, who was — (?) — of Bell Labs for a while. He was there. There were a lot of Mormons there. Mormons have no hang-up between religion and science, so the percentage of religious people who are scientists is much higher in the Mormon church than any other church, by leaps and bounds.
Certainly far higher than the Catholic church.
Oh, far higher. We don't have any problem with Genesis, but you do if you're a Catholic. You can't reconcile Darwinism with anything Catholic. At least the practicing Catholic. Some people just put these two compartments in. But, because science and religion get along well in the Mormon faith, children who are Mormons don't leave their faith when they graduate with a big university degree. That's really what it amounts to.
And you stayed active in the church through the time you were at Bell Labs?
Well, I was active and inactive, active and inactive. I'm active now, and at this particular time I was becoming inactive. That is, I wasn't a regular attendee. But, I knew Christensen and Fletcher because I went once in a while.
Yes. That's quite interesting. After about 1954 or 1955, when your reputation was established at Bell Labs, where did you want your research to go? What did you see the direction as being?
Well, I had carte blanche. I could work on anything I wanted, and what I wanted to work on was minerals and glass, because they had strange structures. Physicists at that time thought about cubic crystals, crystals with high symmetry. The transistors they used were all cubic, but in mineralogy you have all these strange beasts that are monoclinic and triclinic and orthorhombic, with very complicated structures. The atoms don't line up, and it takes a set of six or seven elastic bonds to define the solid instead of three. That seemed like a fascinating thing to me. I was interested in minerals because they had more elastic — (?) — to measure than cubic material, and I was interested in glasses because they have strange properties at low temperature. Anyway, my mind was going in that direction. In the meantime, Bell Labs was going in another direction. They were learning more and more and more about these simple cubic solids, and I felt uncomfortable about this. For several years I felt uncomfortable.
This is the late 1950s that you're talking about.
Yes, in the late '50s. Nobody said why are you doing this? I published my papers, etc., but I decided to bring it to a head. I went to Bill Baker, the vice president of Bell Labs. I got an appointment with him and I said, "Bill, I'm just not interested anymore in doing this kind of acoustic work on transistors and things that are simple cubic solids." Bill was a chemist and knew all about polymers, so he understood my point very well. I said, "There's a lot of challenges over at minerals, especially rock-forming minerals, hard minerals, and I'd like to work on that. I've been working on that, I'd like to continue to work on that, but I feel uncomfortable, so I wanted to tell you my feelings about this and see what you think." He said, "Well, if you want to work on that you'll know from me that you can, but I understand your point, because you're saying the rest of Bell Labs isn't using your product. That's it, you've got it right on..." I said, "They're not using my product. My market for my work is outside of Bell Labs." He said, "Let me think about this. Don't get upset and do something rash, just let me think about this." So, sometime later he came to me and he said, "A good friend of mine is Maurice Ewing, and he's director of the observatory at Columbia University. I talked to him about your problem and he said, `Anderson is doing exactly what I want done. We pass sound waves down through the surface, they go into the sediments at the bottom of the sea and they come back. And what are these sediments? They're little grains of all these minerals.'"
He said (this is now Ewing talking to Baker), "I've asked around since you called and I find that some of the people in my institution are using Anderson's work — (?) —. We'd love to have him here at the institution." So, Baker came back to me, he said, "This is what I heard. You do have a market, it is out of Bell Labs, so if it's all right with you, it's all right with Ewing and me, to spend half your time at Lamont-Doherty and half here, and we'll worry about the finances, don't you worry about that, but why don't you go up and set them up a laboratory?"
I want to be sure of the chronology. It was 1963 that you first became adjunct to the professor of geology at Columbia University.
Before that...I don't want to lose track of...I want very much to get back, talk to you about Ewing and the start of that work, but you were also, between '60 and '63, manager of the materials and chemistry department of American Standard Research Labs?
Yes. What happened was, the head of American Standards was setting up a lab next door. They said they wanted to do fundamental work in ceramics. Well, ceramics is another name for what I was interested in, and they went up the line to Bell Labs to help them find somebody, and this was passed down the line, and because I was interested in this, it came to me. So, I got a one-year leave from Bell Labs to go set that up for them. It turned out to be more like eighteen months, but I could see this wasn't my cup of tea — managing, you see — however...
Did that take you away from research, pretty much, that year, or eighteen months?
I kept my hand in, but it diminished my capacity, there's no question about it. But, it had several important things to my career. First, it was training in management, and I never forgot it. When I wanted to be a manager, I could always be a manager. I think that getting a leave from research, temporary leave, to take a management job is the ideal way to get some training in management. Because, if you want to get into management in your life you might just stay, instead of going back. But, anyway, I got the laboratory set up and it was running when I left, but unfortunately they had a little recession and American Standard shut it all down, several years after I left. People called me up and said, "How come you were smart enough to know to get out when you did?" So, I was on leave. Now, this was a private thing between me and the vice president.
Baker. It just wasn't known that I was going to come back. Well, Warren Mason knew it too, but...so, when I was ready to come back I came back. But, another thing is, I recruited two important people for this thing at American Standard: Ed Schreiber and "Nahiro Soka," from Japan. You'll see them on many papers with me at Columbia. So, when I came back, after I got my leave and came back and got interested in the glass, they were still staying at American Standard. Then I had the conversation with Baker about being out of sync, that my market wasn't in Bell Labs, and I went to Columbia. Well, I was charged with setting up a lab at Columbia, so naturally I said, "Let's take these guys." They were delighted to come to Columbia, and I was an adjunct professor, which meant I also worked at Bell Labs.
You were also visiting professor of physics at the College of Ceramics at Alfred University?
How long a time was it that you were up there?
What happened was that they came to me...Somebody wanted me to become a department head. I got one of these letters, "Would you be department head of ceramics?" I said, "No, but maybe I can help in some other way." It turned out that once a week I took a train up to Alfred, which...I'm not sure you know where Alfred is but it's pretty close to...It's west of Syracuse and east of Rochester and south of both of them.
A reasonable train trip to take.
A reasonable train trip. I would take a train trip up there once a week, spend half a day giving some lectures from things I knew, then I'd take the train back. I agreed to do that because I thought, "Hey, wouldn't it be nice to do a little teaching, get back to teaching for a while?" And that was good. It taught me about teaching and, again, it allowed me to think about a career at Columbia.
Because that was occurring at virtually the same time.
Yes. And I can remember very clearly getting the news on the train, going up to Alfred, about Kennedy's assassination.
Really. So that was the fall semester, then, that you were...
Yes. I can't remember the details of my teaching schedule or how many months I taught, but after a year it was too hard on me — or nine months or six months or whatever it was — it was too hard on me and I said, "I just have to give this up."
Did you have students when you were up there at Alfred?
Did they have graduate students...?
That's where I got Ed Schreiber.
That's interesting. Very interesting.
There was somebody else who came down from Alfred and stayed with us a while, but I've forgotten his name. "Madivoney," or something like that. But Schreiber was a pillar, with me many years, and he was a student at Alfred when I was giving these lectures.
Okay. That's real good to know. I want to turn for just a moment to the transition that you made in '63, and ultimately into Columbia and the work with Ewing, but just so we know this: In your lab, when you were doing this work at Bell Labs, in the last years — the late '50s and 1960 — how many people were working with you, or was this a fairly separate activity?
Well, Bell Labs is set up in such a way, like many industrial laboratories, that you don't get a lot of people around you. You're really a star. You're allowed to have a technician, in rare cases a mechanic, to do your own work for you (because chemists usually have a mechanic), and I had a very good technician. He was the third guy on that patent — Andreatch, Peter Andreatch — a very good technician. So, all the work I did at Bell Labs was with myself and Andreatch. Unless I collaborated with another member of the staff. They would have, typically, an assistant. Now, sometimes two members of the staff would share a technician and there were a few cases where you'd have two technicians. But, typically, that was the case. You had to stand or fall on one. Now, on the other hand, there could be visitors to Bell Labs for a year, by arrangement, and they could come and work in your lab. Then there would be two senior people and a technician. But, it's not like at a university, where you could have several graduate students. That's what makes universities attractive.
Indeed. Indeed. One of your articles was co-authored in 1963 with R.B. Runk and J.L. Stull, on "Laboratory Linear Analogue for — (?) — ."
Oh! That was teaching up at Alfred.
That came under that.
That was 1963, around there, The American Journal of Physics.
What happened there was...What's the other guy?
Runk and Stull.
Stull. Stull was teaching physics up at Alfred, and he had been teaching physics, the principles of physics — exchange of momentum, the usual things they have — he had what's called an "air tract," kind of a diamond-shaped thing with little pinholes coming out of it, and he blew air, — (?) — vacuum into this long thing, the air came out of the pinholes, and a little rider on top was suspended and you could push two riders together, they'd hit, and you could see the exchange of momentum. I was learning "lattice" dynamics at that time, and I told Stull, "This would be a great experiment for glass. You could see all the modes of, say, all nine modes of nine of these little cars, and all we have to do is get a spring between each one and have something give harmonic motion on the end, and then we'd change the frequency and we'd see all the modes of this linear ladder." We could see when half of them were moving against each other, we could see when every other one was moving against each other, etc. We could plot this up on a diagram and the students could see something about the linear chain and, you know, an important thing. I said it would be a good thing to apply this, so he made it and it worked, beautifully. So, we got that publication.
Okay. Okay. That's interesting. Real good to know.
So that's something that came out of my Alfred teaching.
That's real good to know.
When you were doing the work at Bell Labs and at Alfred, in the last few years before you went to Columbia, who did you regard either as the most interesting group, also doing that work outside of Bell? What was, in the broadest sense, that community, who were also working on...?
We were alone. There was nobody else. Now, this very bright chap named "MacSkimmett," Herb MacSkimmett, at Bell Labs, through his knowledge of electronics had made some equipment for measuring velocity of sound crystals with ultrasonics that were just a leap ahead of anybody else. We just learned from him and improved it, and the rest of the community had to follow him. With his ultrasonics, he could measure very tiny effects in transistors and other things — other solid state devices — which was why Bell Labs was interested in it. But, the techniques that were developed by Mason's group made this pre-eminent. There wasn't any competition. It all came later, of course, but there was a two-year edge on it.
Right. Had you known of Maurice Ewing and the work that was being done at Columbia already?
No, I didn't. It was news to me. I never heard the name. I didn't even know there was a oceanographic institution at Columbia. I knew Columbia, of course. I had been there as a visitor, but I didn't know anything about it until Baker mentioned this.
What kind of contact did you then have with Ewing, after Baker mentioned what Ewing was up to?
Well, Ewing was the director of a very vigorous laboratory, and this was the time when "plate" tectonics was being proven. He had very little time to spend on anybody, because there was so much going on.
Right, '62-'63-'64 were extremely critical years.
Right, so his mind, for the most part, was occupied with organizing the ship cruises that would get all this data. He knew something important was going on. What he wanted out of me was expertise about the velocity of sound in these rocks and minerals, so that these people who were measuring refraction profiles of sediments could talk to me about it, and we did. Now, there's an article by Nafe in there. They had this problem about analyzing the returned refracted wave, after it went down through the water, through the sediments and came back up, to say something about the sediments themselves. You couldn't say much about the sediments unless you knew something about the velocity of sound through the minerals in the sediments. Nafe was into that very much, so I got a couple of publications with Nafe. That was my contact to what was going on at Columbia. But that was enough. Ewing was happy with that. He felt we were getting a reward, and after those publications the adjunct professor was formalized professor.
Right. And that was 1967, about four years...
Probably. Something like that.
...when you became, technically, research associate at Lamont-Doherty. The publication you mentioned was in 1965, The Bulk Modulus Volume Relationship for Oxide Components and Related Geophysical Problems, it was at least one of the ones.
Yes, that was the key that helped sort out these problems.
For a journal like JGR, at that time, how long would it take from the time that you submitted an article to the time it would appear? Was it within a year?
Nine months. Now, shortly after I moved to Columbia I became editor of JGR. I wasn't really a geophysicist, I was a solid state physicist, or acoustician, in geophysics, finding my little ecological niche. But, I went to the AGO meetings. They used to be held in Washington all the time, at the old Statler Hotel. The Statler Hilton, on the hill there on Connecticut Avenue. I was listening to all these great things that were happening and trying to say, "My goodness, some kind of revolution is going on. Everybody is so excited," etc., etc., etc. I went to the men's room, three guys followed me in, cornered me and said, "We are the search committee for the new editor of JGR, and we want to know if you're interested. I said, "My God, you're crazy! I don't know anything about geophysics. I happen to know a little bit about acoustics. I know that somebody likes to know something about this, but as far as the whole field of geophysics is concerned, there's no way." He said, "That's exactly why we want you? And I said, "What?" He said, "Yes, because we've got everybody grouping up into two warring camps — those that like `plate' tectonics and those that don't like `plate' tectonics. We've got to find an editor who doesn't care which wins."
Who was on that committee that found you in the men's room?
I'll have to give you the name later. It's a name that's sort of slipping around the edge of my mind, but he was a seismologist at the geophysical laboratory in Washington. I'll get it...
That's fine. We can add all those all later on, at another date.
But, I just was very reluctant and they were persistent.
This was, of course, in 1966, just before...
Now, who's the great guy whose name begins with "A" who was editor of Science for years and years and years?
Phil Abelson. Phil Abelson was the master mind behind all the things that were going on. He was the big silent behind everything. The editor was a guy named Peoples.
Bill Peoples, and Peoples did a yeoman service. But, Abelson figured we were in a new era and that Peoples wouldn't do as the editor any longer.
Were others growing concerned about Peoples' editorship at that point?
He was stodgy and it was slowing down for other reasons, but the main problem, as I was told later, was that Abelson was concerned about this new era coming up. They wanted somebody vigorous who could cope with the deluge that was anticipated. It was Peoples' description of the kind of person they wanted for editor that was being carried by this committee. But, I had to go talk to Peoples about this, and he persuaded me that this was the right thing to do.
So he felt good about leaving at that time? He didn't feel he was being forced out from the editorship?
Did I say I went to Peoples?
I went to Abelson. I went to Abelson, not Peoples, and it was Abelson who persuaded me that this was a good thing for everybody, including myself. "I don't know anything about geophysics." "You learn, you're going to learn something new, and it will be just as hard for everybody else to learn something new as you." That was his tack.
Had you met Abelson before this?
I knew he was editor of Science, I respected his name but I hadn't met him before, but he was the guy. So, I became editor. Clearly, Abelson was the hidden power behind JGR, no question about it, and it was him who told me it was time to leave JGR eight years later, too. You know? He was there all the time. So, I took it on and they said, "We want you (this is Abelson talking and I think the committee too) to capture this new field for JGR. It can go to the Geological Society of America, it can go to some new organization that we don't know about, but we want to capture it for JGR. It could go to oceanographic journals. We want to capture it for JGR." JGR was not a very big journal at that time. So, I made a few conditions on working and help, stuff like that...
Yes, I wanted to hear what you had asked them.
Mrs. Peoples had run it before. She was his wife, she did the editing. She was the assistant editor, but she did a lot of the editing too, copy editing. They worked together in the east wing of their house...
Did she have training in...?
I don't know. It was a creditable job, no question about it, and it worked when the journal was small but it wasn't going to work when it was large. In the meantime, the AGO was growing, its offices were increasing, and they were thinking of starting kind of a professional publications' department at that time. So, I said, "Okay. What I need is somebody to do the job that Mrs. Peoples does, but at my institution. Somebody who works for your office but is assigned to live with me, up there at Columbia." Okay. That was the deal that was struck, and guess who was the person who came to help me. Judy "Holoviak," who is now the big person in charge of all publications at AGO. Well, it didn't work out the way I expected. It was just too much of a burden for Judy to work in Washington and work at Columbia. If she chose one there was some disadvantage, if she chose the other...So, after a year of this we gave up, all of us, and said all the people connected, assistant editors and whatever, should be in one place. We could correspond by mail and, if necessary, have meetings once in a while. So, that ended that. That was a new era for AGU, where they had their own publications department, and I was part of that transition. Well, I don't know why it is but all the women who work for me become famous! Priscilla "Grue" is one example and Judy "Hoviak's" another. We're on very good terms. But, anyway, she went right up the line and became dominant in publications. She was one of the youngest people in publications when the office was first formed. Together, we tripled the pages of JGR, and captured the "plate" tectonics stuff. Not only that, but that captured the planetology when the lunar landings came along.
I wanted to know how you felt you had done that in actual practice; whether you had contributors who, given the multi-disciplinary nature of what you were dealing with there, had other journals to which they could have made contributions.
I can't tell you this. All I can tell you is that I'm very good at organizing things. I have a talent for making things work in organization, and I played it, to do these things or these things, but I would suspect that what really happened was that I focused on some critical people and wooed them.
How did you find out who the critical people were? Was this something you were coming to know, through the three earlier years that you were spending half-years at Columbia?
Well, Scripps will never admit it, and Woods Hole will never admit it, but at that particular time Columbia's Lamont was the leader. They were doing the things that were important at that particular time. All I had to do was talk to the graduate students, and this was some group of graduate students because there was suddenly a new burst of activity in oceanographic work. There weren't enough seasoned professors to lead all the ships, so the graduate students at Columbia were the principal officers, scientific officers, of many vessels that went out at that particular time. Paul Fox was a good example. He's not a professor at Rhode Island. I went out with him several times when he was a graduate student, and he was the principal officer of that ship.
That's quite remarkable.
This was a time when the field was growing rapidly and bursting, the talent wasn't there, and the graduate students knew more than the professors anyway because they went out to do it, you see. So, Ewing just let them go, and that's a remarkable thing he did. So, the graduate students at Columbia, at this particular time, knew where the action was.
So, it was just meeting the Columbia graduates where you figured out who to...
Yes. I came to recognize that so I took their word for who the right people were.
When you were thinking, say, of work in oceanography, who did you come to identify as the key people whose papers you wanted in JGR?
Chuck Drake knew more about it than anybody at Columbia. He had the vision and the responsibility, etc. He was a marine geophysicist, and that's the kind of people we wanted. He knew where it was, and I was a good friend of his. On the faculty side. Then there were people like Princeton's Paul Fox. They just happened to know. Then, the other thing that was happening was that all the important people were trekking to Mecca, which happened to be Lamont at that time. Dan MacKenzie came, for example, Morgan came. They spent a few months there, to find out what was going on. So, all I had to do was look at the list of seminar speakers and attend that. I didn't have to leave Lamont to find out what was going on.
So, you had the time and freedom to get to all the seminars that were going on.
And your base was principally at Lamont-Doherty.
Did you get to the Columbia campus much at all?
Sure. I had to teach. I went down there to teach.
Did you have contacts on that campus with other people in the department?
Actually, it was not a lot.
So, this whole center of intellectual work that you did was in terms of...
Yes. — (?) — were fossilized. Those who didn't go to Lamont from Columbia were fossilized. There's no question about it.
How about in paleomagnetism, finding leaders?
Now you're getting a little bit...I had a harder time with paleomag because there wasn't a lot of paleomag going on, except the seaborne part. But, there were paleomagneticians who worried about the ocean floor...
For instance, there was something very important going on with Cox at Stanford, so I felt a little weaker about paleomag. Still, there were lots of contacts at Columbia to help me with paleomag. Well, pretty soon I had some of these principals as associate editors, and then if a paper came in in that field I just shipped it off to them and followed their advice. The organization of the journal's editor staff was soon complete, and it was fairly good. It "netted" a lot but it wasn't infallible. It made some mistakes, some serious mistakes, I know what they are. In the long run they didn't count too much. Then, about the time I got it organized for sea floor spreading and "plate" tectonics, why then come the lunar landings and they had to return samples. Now this was research I could participate in. All the others I did not participate in, but the return lunar samples, I had lots and lots of papers on that.
I want to get into that again in just a moment. But, how did it work as far as...It was the four years between '64 and '67 that you were still splitting time, half in Bell Labs and half in...?
It started out as half and gradually merged to full time at Columbia.
So, from that first year forward, it was more and more time...
I can't remember the details. Of course, I was still nominally at Bell Labs when I wasn't there, for a year or two. I would think a two-year transition was about it, in fact, although the record shows me over a bigger period.
So, really, by '65 or so you were pretty much full-time.
Yes. And I resigned, officially, sometime about then. Just to clean up the record. But, it was too bad. I really enjoyed Bell Labs. I learned a lot. That was where I honed by skills, but I didn't have a market there for my work, and I had a big market in geophysics.
Right. I'm curious: What were your views on the continental drift controversy, as you began to edit the journal?
Well, it didn't take me long to realize that the graduate students were the smartest people around in this field, and the professors who had a stake in this were dragging their feet. It was true of Maurice Ewing right on down. Fairbanks was the same; he was dragging his feet. So, I lined up with the students right away, but I couldn't say so because I was supposed to be impartial. It seemed to me that the community wanted an unreasonable amount of positive evidence that this was the case before they would they would agree. That was my point. In coming from physics, you never had to have such a burden of proof on anything I had ever seen or experienced.
Hmmm. That's interesting. Who was...Let me ask this first. Did you have much contact, directly, with Harry "Hesse," for instance, at the time?
Yes, I knew him pretty well, and he's the exception of a senior professor: He knew right away that this was going...There were a couple of others, but there weren't many.
Who else are you thinking of when you say that? Of the senior people?
Roger "Ravelle." Bullard. And Roger "Ravelle's" associates down at Scripps. They learned soon. I think Roger Ravelle and Harry Hesse and Bullard are the three examples; outstanding senior people who knew very soon. Then the nation, go outside the world, you see more people, but in this country...You only had to talk to them to realize the problem had been solved, they were just cleaning it up.
Were they...The three that you mentioned, Hesse and Bullard, were they frequent visitors at seminars at Columbia?
Yes, they were invited. I saw each of them once at Columbia. But, on the other hand, Princeton isn't very far. Scripps was a long way away, but on the other hand Ravelle was in Washington an awful lot. So, I think there was more travel back and forth by these three. Bullard, of course, was busy back in England, but he never failed to come to these big meetings.
Did your evolving views cause any difficulties with Ewing? Or did Ewing respect the position you were in as journal editor, and not try to influence you?
Well, Ewing personally did not like "plate" tectonics but he was a man of principle, and he did not, as far as I know, handicap anybody or thwart anybody or bypass anybody on his staff, underneath him, who felt the other way. Ewing was stubborn about the facts he knew, and the facts he knew were not entirely consistent with that. It turned out that Ewing only had part of the story. When the full story came out, why even the facts that he knew were influenced by it. He was worried about the amount of sediments — where they were, the thickness of the sediments — and it wasn't until sometime late in the game that the thickness of the sediments on the ocean floor were really understood. Then it became very clear that they were quite thin at the ridges and very thick at the edge. It wasn't that clear. One of the problems was that the turbulence of these landslides (there's a special name for it I've forgotten). The thickness would pile up because of the motion of large groups of avalanches, a sort of underwater avalanche, that would sort of move sediments a long way. There was very little friction.
So you had a lot of lateral displacement.
A lot of lateral displacement, and that confused the issue. And although that was understood early in the game, the extent that that would "fuse" the thickness of the sediment layer wasn't appreciated. So, Ewing was a specialist in that, and a couple of other little things made him reluctant to go along. But, he never opposed his staff.
Did anyone else at Columbia, or Lamont-Doherty, seem to worry about...?
Yes. "Worzell," the assistant to Ewing. He was more outspoken about his opposition. I can't remember what Worzell's point was. Something to do with gravity. The gravity surveys weren't working out, in his opinion, but the details of this I don't remember. Last I heard, Worzell still wasn't convinced. But, anyway, the graduate students knew.
As they often do.
As they often do. And they were running the surveys. They were running the ships. They saw it all come together. They were making decisions about who would go on the ships, what kind of experiments would be done. They were involved in that high-level decision at that time. Now this is done by big committees, established by inner-agency groups. It's very bureaucratic to decide who goes on a ship. But not in those days.
As you say, it was growing and there were not...
Not enough people around.
...enough people in positions to do that kind of work.
The Paul J. Foxes were making these decisions. "We've got to leave next Tuesday.."
Was that something you also played a role in? Would you help to make a decision as to who would be members of particular legs of expeditions?
Well, I just observed that this was happening. I went on two cruises with Paul Fox and got a chance to talk to him about it. He was in charge of the ship. He decided, "Well, we're going to give up this leg and we'll try this one instead, because we lost part of the drill," or something like that. That was the kind of decision he made.
What all that makes clear is the degree to which students coming out of Lamont-Doherty had intensive, hands-on experience, in knowing the techniques.
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Now, the same thing was going on at the other oceanographic institutions, but not to the extent that it was at Lamont.
The senior authorities tended to have greater control over the research programs, and deciding the expeditions.
Yes. Okay. You've run me out dry.
Oh, there are more questions. I wanted to ask you in general about this. Once you started making the transition to Columbia and Lamont-Doherty, how did you become familiar with the broad range of work that was being done in geophysics? Did you start attending AGU meetings at that point, fairly regularly?
Were there other groups that you also came to play a role in?
Well, every time I had a paper come in JGR had to think about it. I had to think about this: What is this subject? Is it important? Who are the experts in it? Where is the line? Where is the edge of research? I had to do that. Well, I didn't have any experience to do that, but I knew who to call to find out. So, I had my little card sets on these various subjects, accumulated a lot of notes, — (?) — and it's surprising how much I learned in a hurry.
But, you already had started your transition about three years before you became the editor of JGR.
I'm curious, in a general way, how you made the transition into geophysics...
Well, I was establishing an ecological niche at first, and I didn't really care who was at the Avery, over here, or who was over there. I didn't really care at first. I mainly cared about what my work would do and where it fit into the general scheme of things. I was very knowledgeable about that, got more and more knowledge, but paleomag was a different animal. I never thought I'd think about paleomag or seismology on the ocean floor. I never thought I'd think much about that. There are lots and lots of fields in geophysics that I just didn't think about at first. Where I had to think about it was when I became editor.
Right. When you were teaching at Columbia, were you teaching in the fields that you had developed at Bell, principally? Or did you have some other responsibilities?
Well, I was a natural to teach X-rays, and I was a natural to teach minerals. That's a part of geology more than it is geophysics, so there was enough work to be done at Columbia, with undergraduates and graduates, in those classical fields that I was aware of, that I knew something about. There wasn't any lack of opportunity to teach. Then, of course, in a graduate sense, I could teach the things that I was doing. A lot of students were interested to know that. In this connection, I came close to seismology because the question was, "What does the velocity of sound, and the density that you measure by seismic waves, what's that got to do with the composition and temperature of the earth?" That was the kind of thing I was unraveling, so I had some association there with seismology. But, the broad field of geophysics, no. Not out of my work.
Okay. When you started working on the project, including temperature of the earth, etc., were you already developing contacts with people like Francis Birch at Harvard?
Well, if there was one person in the whole world who was doing things close to what I was doing, it was Francis Birch. He had started out with velocity of sound measurements, he had started out with elasticity measurements (my thesis is on elasticity), then he generalized these ideas to say something about the earth. Well, he's my prototype.
Right. Right. When did you first come in direct contact with Francis Birch?
I had a lot of correspondence with him before I met him personally. He's a person who lives in seclusion most of the time. He doesn't come out very often, to meetings. Once in a while he does. But, I contacted him. My first contact was this: I wrote a paper, which I thought was an important paper, and it was published in the proceedings of the Academy of Science. It must be about '63. I thought, "I'd like to get it in the proceedings of the Academy of Science, but I've got to get an academician to submit it." So, I went to Maurice Ewing and I said, "Would you please submit this? Do you think it's good enough to go into the Academy proceedings?"
There's one that was actually published in 1965 — "Two Methods for Estimating Compression in Sound Velocity at Very High Pressures" — is that the article?
That's the article. Well, Ewing says, "I'll think about it. I'll let you know in a few days." What he did was call Francis Birch and say, "I've got this guy working for me, he's submitting an article in your field, what do you think about this." So Francis said, "Well, let me look at it." Then Francis says, "It's pretty good," so it went in. Then, Francis called me and asked about some details on what I wrote, which weren't important enough to prohibit publication but were questions he had, technical questions, and then we started corresponding. There was some respect on both sides. I certainly had respect for him, but he was very careful. What's the word I want? Hospitable, with concerns about etiquette and form.
Well, he was certainly a New Englander, in all senses.
In all senses. So, it was nice to deal with him, see. Later on, why, we were in kind of a competition. We were publishing papers that were very close. But, I was very friendly with him, I think that he liked me. It's hard to know for sure if a — (?) — likes you or not, but at least you can tell if he openly dislikes you.
Yes, that's quite so.
So, that was my relationship with him. But he is my prototype.
As you developed the program at Columbia, did you find any others who seemed to be getting interested in the sort of work you were doing, say if they...
Once we got going (this was myself, Schreiber and "Solga"), and started publishing all those papers...You can see, like in 1968, there was a whole slew of them...
Indeed. Your publication explodes at that time.
It explodes at that time. Why, everybody became interested. There was a group set up at MIT, under Gene Simmons, there was a group set up at Penn State, under Graham (I called him Buzz Graham; I can't remember his first initials)...
Again, we can add that later on.
Anyway, in particular, those two started making measurements very much like I was doing. Then what happened was I went for six months to Caltech as visiting professor, gave a series of lectures, and I motivated "Hartlett Spessler," who was a graduate student there, and Hartlett, six months later, was doing the same kinds of experiments at Caltech, as a graduate student.
But that had not been done at Caltech previous to this time?
No. As a matter of fact, I motivated six students to go into this field, at Caltech, in that same class: Bob Leiberman, who became a student of mine, Leon Thompson became a student of mine. Let me see..."Sammis," Charlie Sammis went on to do this kind of work. He's now at the University of Southern California. Sue Keifer went into this field. She's now with the Academy of Sciences. She did some theoretical work in this line, very, very good work. Somebody else I'm missing...I can't remember.
Okay. Again, we'll get that...
These were the students in the class I was teaching at Caltech. I took a clean sweep. Every one of them went into my field, two of them came to be my graduate students.
That's pretty good odds to come out with.
One of them stayed there and set up his lab under Don Anderson.
I was just going to ask you who you had contact with while you were out...Was it one semester you were at Caltech?
Who did you come in contact with there?
Don Anderson, principally.
Was Gutenberg still active?
No, Gutenberg was old and feeble at that time. He was still alive, but he wasn't active. Frank Press had just left Caltech.
Had you known Press already, from Columbia?
No. Just before I went to Columbia he had gone to Caltech, and just before I went on this mission to Caltech, he went to MIT.
So you never overlapped. You knew of him...
We never overlapped at the same institution but we knew each other very well. Let's see, who did I overlap? I think Don Anderson was the person who had the biggest contact with me. Then there were several chemists who came into my classes — Epstein and Wasserburg, somebody else, who came into my classes. But anyway, I had no idea this was going to happen. They offered me an associate professorship. I didn't know the rules of the game. I didn't know that when you went for six months, at an institution like Caltech, that they were mulling you over for an appointment. I thought they just wanted to learn what you know! But, they were mulling me over for an appointment. They made me an offer as associate professor, I said no, "I'm a full professor at Columbia. It would be disgraceful for me to go to an associate professor."
They weren't willing to make it...
They said they couldn't, because Don Anderson was still an associate professor, and they couldn't promote me over him.
Ah, these are the issues that affect careers. Indeed they are.
While I was out here at Caltech I came to UCLA to give several lectures, by invitation — George Kennedy invited me over, and Ted Griggs — and George became very interested in me as a candidate for the institute.
How well had you known both Kennedy and Griggs before you came out to Caltech in '66?
Not very well at all. I wasn't very much into the high-pressure business. Just a little bit. But these guys were on the edge of research. They were on the edge of the envelope, and I knew about them. But after I came out here to Caltech and got acquainted with them, I became quite friendly with them both. We used to meet at meetings, etc. Because, you see, the story about my appointment here is this: I was happy at Columbia. I wasn't looking for a job. But, this was interpreted wrongly; that my coming out here to Caltech meant I was looking, you see. So, George pushed my candidacy here, for the institute. He knew I'd been at Caltech, so he wrote the professors over there, asking for a nice letter of recommendation, and all but one gave me one. One of them really gave me a bad time. I don't know what was said, but George said it was pretty bad.
This was from Caltech?
Yes. He was Pauling's son-in-law, and he said...A glaciologist. Anyway, he called me up, Kennedy called me up and said, "Well, you've been blackballed." I said, "Blackballed for what?" He said, "Oh, well, this guy turned you down...I mean, we had to turn you down because you got a bad report from Caltech." I said, "Is that so?" Anyway, years later, Kennedy decided to do something about it, so he did an investigation of this chap, who was pretty well known, and said he decided that was not to be considered. So, he put me in again.
Had you met this person, this glaciologist?
Yes. I'm looking for his name right now.
I think I know who you mean, but can't come up with the name.
I just can't remember. Kamb, "Barclay" Kamb. He blackballed me. He had sat in on a lot of my lectures, and he told these guys that my lectures were not well conceived, they weren't organized logically and completely (Of course, what I was talking about was the edge of research), and that he didn't think I would succeed. That was Barclay Kamb's opinion. Well, then, Kennedy did his own personal research on Barclay Kamb and decided that Kamb wasn't reliable. So, then he organized a campaign against Kamb, in the institute, then put me up again, and this time it flew.
So this is now in '71, when everything begins to fly.
Before I get into that...I'm curious...Of course, during the 1960s, it was a difficult time for many geology departments, as these new developments were occurring in geophysics, for them to understand the future direction, what research ought to be emphasized. Did you sense that there were those kinds of arguments and concerns in the geology...in the division of geological sciences at Caltech?
No. Don Anderson wanted somebody like me, and I think the logic of that was clear: This was a personal thing between Kamb and me, I guess. Kamb didn't like my style. See, I could motivate the students to change direction, but I couldn't convince him that I was a logical creature.
Of course, it was difficult at times for people in the more classical fields of geology, as it were, to maintain their own students, as geophysics seemed to becoming the major focus of interest.
That's right. Maybe I was considered a threat to take those students away, and I did! But, I don't know the reason for this. I've looked into Kamb myself, and he's the type of person who publishes very few papers. They're all extremely good. It's just a matter of style.
I may not have left Columbia for UCLA had it not been that I had a personal crisis in my life. My wife and I were getting a divorce, so it seemed like...The job was superb, no question about it, but I had a superb job there at Columbia too. But, putting a continent between me and my wife seemed like enough to tip the balance.
Yes, yes. So, really, all those factors came together for you.
Yes. It was a very acrimonious separation, so I needed distance.
I can understand that. I'm wondering, too...As you began working more and more at Columbia, in that interim period, even before you assumed the editorship of JGR, you were working on problems like looking at the conditions for a density minimum in the upper "mantle." Clearly, at the time, not only were you looking at the work of Birch and his own studies of the upper "mantle," but a number of others, like Gordon MacDonald, had moved into that topic — and many others — and it was already the upper mantle project that had developed.
How much contact did you have with the upper mantle? Those who were actually working on the...
Oh, a lot. Charles Drake was the president of the upper mantle project, he was at Columbia and he admired my work so he made me the chairman of the international committee on physical properties of the upper mantle.
What did that entail in practice, the chair's...?
Again, it was an administrative post. I had already had enough administrative experience that it was a piece of cake for me. But, it entailed gathering an international group together, softening all the pressures that come from jealousies of the Eastern nations, etc. (kind of the United Nations problem), softening them so you could be effective and making decisions about cooperative work, and about places and times of symposia in the field. This is hard for some, it's hard for others, to do that. But, I gained the respect of my colleagues from abroad, from the Soviet Union and Japan and South America, in this field, Eastern Europe, Italy, Germany and England. So, we could easily do this job. We could find places for symposia, we could make recommendations to national bodies about cooperative ventures, and we could find symposia to meet at without rancor.
What I'm curious about in particular...Of course, the cold war was in a milder period by the mid-'60s than it had been earlier, say in the late '50s or earlier '60s.
But, were there particular difficulties in making arrangements with scientists in Communist China?
Communist China was off-limits. It was the only country that was. You couldn't go to Communist China.
Were you aware of the research that was being done? Did you have private contacts with the people in Communist China?
No, I didn't have any private contacts. I knew enough about it from the general organizers of the upper mantle project that there just wasn't anything going on at that time. You're talking about the time of...What's it called?
The cultural revolution.
It was just before the cultural revolution, during the cultural revolution, and anybody who was smart enough was being pushed down at the time. So, this went on without any cooperation with China, or by Communist China. But, at the same time, things were thawing pretty good in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The main problem that a chairman had was to give some kind of weight to Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Soviet Union that would be commensurate with the facts, because they were jealous about that, etc. So, the weight I discovered was appropriate was two members on the committee from the Soviet Union, one from different parts — Siberia and Moscow — and an alternating member, one every other year or so, from Hungary and Czechoslovakia. That worked out pretty good. That was an understood thing. You had to know those things in order to get along.
Well, "Balushauf" was the chair of the international upper mantle committee in — (?) —
Did you work directly with him on some of the arrangements?
Oh, yes, because all the chairmen of the commissions were part of the committee, the big committee. Not the executive committee under "Balushauf," which we were a committee of the whole. It was during these committee meetings that major issues were discussed about where upper mantle project would meet and if we could afford to get an assistant for somebody who was running some kind of a place for a data repository, things like that; where would we get the money, etc., what are we going to do if the Soviet Union doesn't come through with their news. That kind of stuff was discussed at the general meetings, so I got to know him personally. He was a very fine man, I liked him.
I was curious as to what your impressions of him were, as a person.
He's a charmer. I mean, he's a real good social animal, no question about it. He's a charmer. The ladies all love him, he treats them so gallantly. He was very respectful to various people like that. The only time he was aggressive was in print, when he wrote things in discussion of a principle. He was a little aggressive then, but you'd never see that in these meetings.
Did you ever talk to him about his opposition to the continental drift and the emerging plate tectonics?
He was a man before his time. What he should have done was come forth with his objections now, instead of at that time.
He clearly had to be aware that many people in the West were beginning to accept tectonics.
You see, what he was talking about were the exceptions to plate tectonics. And in order to get attention, he kind of had to move against plate tectonics. But, if he had said, or if he could have conveyed the idea, that plate tectonics will not answer everything, especially in the middle of continents; that we have to have something in addition to plate tectonics, if he had conveyed that idea, of course he would have been fine. But, he didn't convey that idea (although I think he really felt that way). What he conveyed was the idea that plate tectonics was bad, that we shouldn't consider it because it wouldn't solve these problems. And, he made some mistakes. He tried to argue against the geophysics of the oceans, and his arguments against it were not very good.
What was he arguing in particular?
Well, he was arguing against the fact that the oceans are young, that the ocean floors are young. That's essentially what he was trying to — (?) — and he was saying that you can't say that because you don't have enough data. There are places where you can see that the argument that the ocean floor is old...But that was what Ewing was saying, too; there's too much sediment piled up here, and he forgot about the landslides, the ocean slides. So, there were things like that that kind of set people against "Balushauf." But, his main idea was right: that plate tectonics will not explain anything except the oceans, and some of the edge of the continents, next to the oceans. But, it will not explain all the things we see on the interiors of continents; something else was needed, and it's still true.
Did you get a chance to meet any of his students when you were over there? Others who were working with him or under him?
No, and it's not "Balushauf's" fault, it's just the way the Russians operate. They don't like competition; they don't like people like themselves to come to your attention somehow. Maybe it's the formal way they treat scientific matters, I'm not sure. But, if you come to an American lab, you're going to see a person's associates, right off the bat. But, if you go to see "Balushauf," you'll always see Balushauf, and that's true with others too.
The situation in the Soviet Union at that time still resembled what the German institute model had been, earlier in the century.
Yes, very much so. Very much so.
Did you have any difficulty with the State Department, doing those international organizations?
Well, they asked me to do something I was sorry I agreed to. They asked me to...I was flying between Moscow and Leningrad and places like that...to be very observant about directions and bypasses and things like that. This was not really the State Department, it was the CIA, operating through the State Department. They were trying to get information about flight paths, etc., through scientists. I was asked to do something about it and I did it, but just once.
This was a debriefing when you got back?
Then I was debriefed when I got back. I was very unsettled by the debriefing.
Was that conducted by a scientist, or by someone who clearly seemed to be part of the agency?
I don't think he was a scientist, but he knew scientific jargon. But, I don't think he was a scientist.
He didn't impress you as far as...
I don't think he was a great scientist, I think he was a CIA operative.
That certainly was what was going on at the time.
It's obvious that what they wanted to know was what are the ranges, what are the areas that are restricted to civilian flight. But, the next time I went to the Soviet Union I was asked to do that and I said no. And that's the extent of my interaction with the State Department.
When were those two occasions? The first and the second time?
Well, I'd have to look at my record of when I was going, but I suspect it was like early '70s.
Okay. At the time when the actual work of the committee, the operation of the upper mantle project was already underway.
Yes. Okay. That helps put a time frame on it. One other thing I was very curious about: You were entering geophysics as a topic and as a major research area at a time when people like Birch continued to oppose the ideas of David Griggs and others that convection was playing a large role, yet, in "enterogeny." Do you remember getting involved in any of those debates and discussions? How did it seem to you at the time, when you came in? When you were entering into...?
Well, I heard David Griggs' side of it, because I was here and he was here. I had never heard Birch speak — (?) — but I read his article and I heard David Griggs. Yes, the answer to your question is, I'm aware of that. Do you have another question?
What I'm curious about is, as you were looking at things like the structure and composition of the upper mantle, and using some of the "chemical" thermodynamics to investigate the properties, were you leaning, as you recall, one way or the other, toward the existence of convection, as an agency?
I was leaning toward convection.
I was just curious if you recalled any discussions with others about that? How you came to be aware of that as an issue.
Well, as a physicist, I know that motion requires a force. We had all these plates skidding around at an absolutely giddish rate. There has to be forces involved to move them. Where are these forces coming from? It seemed to me it was reasonable they were coming from convection of the mantle, and all I had heard added up to that, those simple statements. So, I wasn't really wasn't concerned about the arguments about what the nature of the convection was or how to make it work or all those things. I think I was thinking there's got to be a force down there someplace, and what else could there be? That was my summary of it. Griggs had an idea for that force, and Birch didn't like that idea for the force. It doesn't mean that Birch was against convection, it just means that Birch was against that idea for the force.
He actually did oppose the idea of the existence of convection.
He felt it wasn't proven.
Yes. In fact, he and Gordon MacDonald had presented a number of arguments that indicated to them the likelihood that it was not an active process.
Right. But still I get the tone that..."Convince me and I'll believe it, but you haven't convinced me." I don't think it was opposition, it was just that if you're going to present an argument, it's got to be complete and convincing. As to whether or not he believed for or against convection, I don't have any idea.
Okay. That's interesting to note.
But, Griggs and Birch were quite different in their personalities. Griggs was very open. The personality that I described for my great mentor at Utah, Henry Eyring. His personality was a little bit like David Griggs. He was open, fast, many ideas coming out, very sharp in his logic, and wouldn't feel offended if one of his several ideas was false. They were ideas to be pursued, and his students liked that. He was an idea man, and they could run with his ideas. And they won, whether or not their idea was correct or not, because they proved it out. So, he was like that. Francis Birch really tried very hard to make the case convincing. If he couldn't make the case convincing, he wouldn't bring it up.
Which left him, perhaps, wedded to the concepts he was trying to establish...
Now, my research is more like Francis Birch than it is Dave Griggs. If you look at my papers you'll find that for each paper in which I mention the earth, there will be three or four where I don't. Most people in geophysics have got to solve the earth's problem with every paper they write. I feel that material science is valuable sometimes, without earth-shaking pronouncements. The reason is, I don't know about the earth so much. I'd like to, but I don't know it; so, what I don't know I don't say.
Another thing I was curious about...In reading through some of your papers, when you were writing in 1967 the equation for the thermo-expansivity in planetary interiors, you mentioned the ideas that Ramsay had put forth in 1948 and '49, I believe, on the phase change as opposed to the content change. Do you recall whether that was considered to be a lively issue among geophysicists, in your acquaintance?
Well, later on you'll see a paper of Ramsay's hypothesis revisited, about 1988.
In much more recent times.
In much more recent times. Right. To me, Ramsay's hypothesis was pretty well blasted by Birch's experiments and Birch's theories. Now, it never was popular, with that idea of a phase change. It didn't strike me as being logical, and Francis pointed it out very clearly. He pointed out that if you have a phase change in a material, the atomic mass and the atomic weight don't change. For that reason, here's restrictions on the amount the velocity can increase, the velocity of sound, but the core of the earth has got not only a big density change but a big velocity change, and you can't account for that except by changing the atomic mass. Now, Birch went into this in great detail, and he showed to me that the core cannot be a "silicate." You can't have a mass, an atomic mass or the average atomic mass, that the mantle has. Because the velocities don't jibe with that. So, I was persuaded by that argument Birch, and what I read about Ramsay's hypothesis I discarded. On the other hand, Ramsay had lots of ideas that are useful, besides that main, clinching point he wanted to make. So, I have quoted Ramsay in a positive way several times, but not for that idea.
One of the other things that entered into discussion, certainly, in the early '50s and late '40s, over the Ramsay hypothesis, were the measurements of planetary diameters and the resultant calculations of likely densities. The earlier measurements astronomers had accepted seemed more in accord with Ramsay's theories than the subsequent revisions.
Well, you can't be sure about the other planets. You can about the Moon and the Earth, but not about the others. And Venus. But, we don't have a seismic condensity profile of the other planets. I think the case for Venus has been clinched. — (?) — I can't remember how. But, with the other planets, you just don't know, because you can't put the analysis that Birch put to the Earth. You don't know how the velocities change as you go into the "court."
The astronomers, and also the geochemists, like Urey, who were getting interested in the problem, were simply using the estimates of the — (?) — composition and likely mass to make these judgments on the basis of simply what was available to them at that time.
I was just wondering if that entered at all into your own thinking. Was that something you would hear a lot about or not?
Well, here again, I don't think anything can be contributed, until you get seismic information, useful to the argument. The question is this: When all the planets are composed of the same materials, and when you made the Earth you segregated it, you took the iron out of the rock, put it down the center, and you're left with an iron-free, more or less, mantle. When you did that, the velocities and densities were really changed in rocks, so the average of the core and the mantle is no longer...The velocities are no longer the velocities you'd have with the average meteorite that formed both core and mantle. See?
So, now you have a planet you're looking at and you're talking about the average mass — you know its composition and — (?) — composition — but you don't know if they've segregated, as they did in the Earth. I'm not sure I can see my way out of this problem. You could have two answers.
Yes. I was interested, from that 1967 paper, that you noted in the acknowledgments that you had had helpful comments from John Jacobs as well as John Gilvarry on that. I was wondering how you came in contact with Jacobs and Gilvarry.
Well, Gilvarry was a person who was very interested in the equations of state...
He had been working at Rand.
He had been working at Rand, yes. He was a very bright theoretician who didn't have tenure. He never got himself in a position to protect himself from arbitrary management decisions. As a consequence, he sort of bounced from place to place. But, his work was very, very good, and the work he did at Rand was exceptionally good. So, I admired him very much. I met him at a meeting in England and found out he lived in Santa Monica, here. So, when I moved out here I made contact with him a couple of times, socially. So, I admired him very much for that. I think he's an unsung hero in the equations of state. He's just never made the club. His last days were unfortunate. He became an alcoholic. Now, in the case of Jacobs, again, we met at a meeting someplace, I became quite interested in his book on the core of the Earth, and we corresponded many times on problems of — (?) — He invited me to give speeches and he did other things to encourage my work. We saw eye to eye on the core of the Earth. So, he appreciated my own experimental work — (?) — .
He was at British Columbia?
Yes. No, he's an older chap, and he's suffering from the British system of letting their people go when they get to be 60, or something like that. So, he's sort of making the tour through the colonies. But, he's back in Wales now, and I guess that's all right, to go to Wales. It's suspiciously downhill from Cambridge, where he was originally. But, he's a very active guy, still doing good research, although he's old, obviously old. But, like I say, he's making a tour of the colonies.
We've been talking somewhat past the time you were at Columbia, and I wanted to ask if there were any other impressions or any other areas of work that you developed at Lamont-Doherty that you wanted to discuss, that we hadn't.
Well, do you know the Robert Frost poem, where he says, "I came to a road, my roads forked in the woods. I took the less traveled road, and nothing was ever the same." Remember that little poem?
Yes, I do.
Well, that describes my feelings about research. But, when I went to Columbia I was starting out something very new — the velocities of sound on minerals vs. pressure — not much pressure, and the whole idea was this: If I got an accurate enough measurement of the velocity of sound at small pressures, I didn't have to measure it at high pressures. I showed this by showing that if I extrapolated my work, like a marksman, you know, I would hit the target up here, called shock waves. I could fill in by extrapolation of careful work at low pressures, into the shock wave. Well, that impressed a lot of people, and that's why all these other groups started. The next step was to do work at higher pressures. So, to get into high pressures, I had to consider the "diamond" cell, and all this stuff. Suddenly there was a lot of interest in "diamond" cells, and the high-pressure work suddenly looked to me like the well-traveled road. It hadn't been well-traveled before the work I was doing, but now it was pretty well traveled.
But then you had Harvard, Don "Galt," I believe, was doing some of the work...
Oh, yes. The geophysical laboratory was going into this, and...
There was "Boyd" in England...
— (?) — I could look down the road and see what was happening, and I decided, "Well, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to do something different." So, I decided, after some years...I decided quite a few years before I actually did it, but I was on my way to making measurements for elastic — (?) — at very high temperatures. Now, this was a hard thing to get. With ordinary ultrasonics, you can't get above 800K, because the transducers start acting up, etc. So, it took me quite a while to figure out what to do, but now I'm up to 1800K.
And this has been a long...
Yes, this has been a long haul.
The last two years...
But, you see, it was the less-traveled road. As a consequence I am now the proprietor of the only laboratory in the world that can make measurements at high temperature, although it's "pressure equals zero." I was content with this role, because somebody wanted to have the measurements around, but they didn't really think this was first-class stuff; you weren't really pushing frontiers. But, now I'm pushing frontiers. Now I have this data (high temperature, "p" = zero,) and I now use thermodynamics to sweep over into the high pressure domain.
This current work that you have right next to you.
Now I'm using my thermodynamics to go into that field, and you wait and see: In a few years this will not — (?) — Does that explain the answer? Is that the answer you want?
Yes, that's part of what I was thinking about. I was interested in a general sort of way what your impressions were, when you came out to Caltech, about the work that was being done at UCLA — your growing acquaintance with "Shlichter" and others who were there.
Oh, I really admired UCLA. I thought it was first-rate. I had a much higher impression of the work at UCLA than I did of Caltech. When I came out to Caltech, for instance, to that meeting, the problem that the students had to do was to find the temperature distribution in the earth, using conduction. They hadn't really gotten into convection yet, and I could see, from my work at Lamont, that all this was going to be very shortly washed away. So, I had the impression of Caltech then (and I still carry it) that they are the very best practitioners of what is currently correct and what is going to be correct in the immediate future. But, they don't have any long-range foresight.
So you feel Caltech has to play, at different times, a catch up, after a trend has been established elsewhere.
Where were they in plate tectonics? Now, at that time, I was back there with plate tectonics. All those papers were on my desk, as editor, and here were these guys weren't using convection in their calculations of the temperature profile of the Earth, at Caltech.
Do you remember any conversations in particular with people there, about tectonics or...?
No, I didn't do that, but I think they were a little bit suspicious that it wasn't going to work. That's good at Caltech today, too, but the people here, at the Institute of Geophysics...At the same time that was going on, Dave Griggs was asking himself, "What can I do to explain convection?" Now, he may have gotten a model that didn't please Birch, but he knew that was an important problem. And George Kennedy was worrying about properties at high pressure, accurate properties at high pressure, because at that time he was the leader of that. George Kennedy's work has been superseded by the "diamond cell," but at that time he was paving the way. I think that, in my view, the seeds of the future are here at UCLA, not at Caltech.
What were your impressions particularly of, say, Shlechter, and his research?
Oh, beautiful. Beautiful research. Look, Dave Shlechter was inventing a seismometer that would measure the vibrations of the Earth, this way. At that time they didn't have any — (?) — "normal modes" of the Earth. That's a good example of foresight. He devoted many, many years to developing this instrument. UCLA always has a problem getting funds, compared to Caltech, because what they're doing isn't popular. This was a good example. Dave Schlecter was worried about a seismometer that would measure the "normal modes of the Earth." When the normal modes were finally found, and discovered to be important, then everybody got into the act, but they all had to copy Shlechter's seismometer. While they were doing little things like that, Dave Shlechter was down on the South Pole, because at the South Pole of the axis (or it can be at the North Pole or either at the South Pole), you wouldn't have the effects of wobble or "Corialus" force, because you're on the axis. Well, he could see then (although that's the time he got disabled), but he could see then what we know now; that you can see the vibrations, how the vibrations are affected by these little wobbles on the Earth, and measure them. So, he was always ten years ahead of everybody, in my opinion, and he was a very capable scientist and administrator. He set up a beautiful institute.
When in 1971 you came here you were, of course, in the Department of Earth & Space Sciences, and also part of the Institute for Geophysics and Space Science. What I'm curious about is how you negotiated how the position would work and what your impressions would be. Did you set any demands or...?
Well, my manager was George Kennedy.
In creating this position, yes.
Yes. He created this job, and he filed the ratios and told me about it. It seemed like it was a good idea, to me, because I got to teach in the Earth & Space Science department. I couldn't teach in the Institute. The same at Lamont; I couldn't teach at Lamont, although a lot of teaching is done, and although a lot of teaching is done here, officially no teaching is done. So, you need to have an outlet there.
What was the ratio of your research vs. the teaching?
Well, half-time in the Institute and half-time in the teaching department...
And that's how it was when you first...?
That was right there. Well, this was all right with me, because I had already had that experience at Columbia and it seemed like it was a good thing. But, I did not negotiate that, George Kennedy did. He had a harder time selling the department on me than he did the Institute.
Is that right?
They didn't know me. They didn't know my field. "What's this guy, this solid-state physicist, doing here in geology?" He had a little salesman's job to do.
Right. And you hadn't, as you say, met too many of the people who were in geology...
I hadn't met a soul in geology. When I came out here I was in the Institute. I'm sure geologists came to my presentation, but I wasn't officially introduced.
Did you come to interact with them much after your appointment, or was there still a distance...?
Oh, yes. I have many good friends in the geology department, who appreciate my work. I think the geology department has changed considerably in the last twenty years, and it's easier for me to establish friendships now than it was at first.
For what reason, do you think?
Well, because I was too far away from classical fields, like paleontology, "stratigraphy" and field work. But now the department is enriched with seismologists and types like that, crystallographers, and they are closer to my work.
The changing nature of the field of geology and the practice of professionals.
Yes. In other words, I think it's just harder to see the distinction between the new geology and the new geophysics, so, naturally, I find it easier. Mind you, I didn't have any bad feelings about it. There wasn't any sharpness at all, between me and the department members. It just seemed like a lot of them didn't have much in common with me, and they felt the same way.
I noticed a number of the papers you were writing in the late 1960s, I think principally at Lamont, you had some support from the Air Force?
How did that come about?
When I was thinking of establishing a laboratory at Columbia (As a matter of fact, Bill Baker sent me up there to establish a laboratory at Columbia), I had asked where the money came from and I was introduced to Bill Best by, I think it must have been, Maurice Ewing and one of his assistants. They arranged for me to meet Bill Best, who was then in charge of the Air Force office of scientific research. We hit it off right good, and I'm sure he talked to Nafe and Drake and others and they said, "We need to have this information to understand the propagation of sound through sediments." But, anyway, he was enthusiastic. So, I didn't have any NSF support for several years, but it was AFOSR, and Bill Best told me later that he thought he'd taken a little bit of a chance on me because it wasn't clear that this would help the Air Force. But, it did. The Air Force at that time was very much occupied with the problem of discrimination between nuclear waves and ordinary explosions (you know, earthquake waves), and it turned out that some of our research on the pressure and temperature effects on the velocity of sound helped in that regard. But, anyway, it became progressively easier for Bill Best to justify my work, under the mission that had been granted the Air Force.
It was sufficiently broad...
Yes. At first it looked like it was marginally related to the mission of the Air Force, but then it became easier to say it was connected. So, he was my mainstay for a long, long time. Then, in 1980, the situation changed in Washington, and the mission of the Air Force was changed. By that time I had secured a foothold at NSF, which is my mainstay now.
Were there any other patrons who were major sources of support for your work at that time? In the '60s and '70s?
Not then, but now I have ONR as well as NSF, and ONR is more friendly to me than NSF. That's because they have a physical acoustics branch at ONR. After all, what goes through the water is acoustics, and physical acoustics means understanding the physics of acoustics. The project monitor there, whose name is Logan Hargrove, actually came to me and wanted to know if I would join his physical acoustics group, two years AGO, because he had seen some of my work — (?) — and thought, "This is what we need." So, we're starting up that work now, here, and we're getting three-year grants at NSF, if you're lucky, too.
Back in the 1960s, when you were dealing with Bill Best, the Air Force Office and scientific research, did you and Best talk in detail about the kind of program he wanted the Air Force to sponsor? Was that something that...Or were the discussions you had with him more or less limited to the kinds of work you wanted to have...?
Bill Best regarded our lab as the fact-finding lab. We were the ones who were going to settle what the numbers were in all these theories of propagation of sounds through the Earth. We were going to get the numbers right, and we were going to place limits on the numbers they could have. The seismologists were either observationalists or they were theorists, but they were not fact-finding laboratories, and he thought we filled that bill. That's how he thought about us. So, the only question was would the theorists and the observationalists use our numbers, and they did.
Of course, the use of seismology in the detection of remote atomic explosions was becoming a major concern throughout the 1960s. Was that something he spoke with you about? The Air Force's worry about the test ban treaty and...
Well, I heard about it in seminars and stuff like that, but he never required us to think about it in our laboratory work. We were the fact-finding people, getting the numbers for the other guys. That's how he thought about it. He was pleased with our progress.
And at either Caltech or UCLA did you find there was any kind of research or equipment that you wanted to get or do that you couldn't? And at UCLA I'm thinking in particular right after the time you arrived here.
No. Even though we had a lot of specialized equipment, and even though it's expensive, it's not nearly as expensive as this stuff that geophysicists want. I mean, they want big global arrays of this and that, they're talking big, big bucks with their equipment. By contrast, we're, you know, little bucks. So, I never had any conflict with that. There was one time when I thought our equipment was becoming dated, and we needed to get solid-state equipment instead of the old-fashioned electronic. So, I tried to get the laboratory updated, it took two tries at NSF, but I got it.
When was this that you're thinking of?
Fairly recently? Well, I'm trying to find...To answer your question, I haven't seen any resistance against that except one time it took my two tries to get my laboratory updated.
Many people would regard that as a pretty number of tries. There were a few other things I wanted to ask you about. In 1963 you were on board as the physical science administrator of the inorganic materials branch or division of the National Bureau of Standards?
How did that come about?
There are two people involved here. One is named Wachtman, John Wachtman, and another is a fellow whose "escaped my name." Wachtman was sort of the division leader of this division at the Bureau of Standards, and his boss was the division leader. I came down to help them set up an acoustics laboratory, — (?) — ultrasonics. That was the reason I was down there. But, for some reason or other they needed to have a temporary leadership of the division for a few months. It was a fake thing, so they got an outsider in — namely me — to be the nominal leader of this division for a few months, because I was obviously an expert in this kind of work, especially in the new things they wanted to do. And, bless me, I don't know why this all happened. All I can say is that they needed to have a "fake leader" for a while.
Uh huh. I hear you. Well, you were on the "Mackawano" board committee. I'm wondering if you recall any particular discussions about who ought to get the award during that time. Was it easy to achieve consensus, or was it a fairly contentious time?
Well, if you're talking about the '60s and '70s, it was easy to achieve, but if you're talking about after that, the '80s and '90s, it was becoming a very, very hard thing to achieve. That's because the numbers of geophysicists had grown so much. When I was in it, why it wasn't too difficult. It seemed to me like they were obvious choices. But, the difficulty has always been that there are nine...Nine divisions of AGU, is it? And nine is the commensurate number. I mean, there's nine, and there's eighteen, and there's twenty-seven, etc., so if each division puts in two names you've got eighteen names to choose from, and one or possibly two awards to give. So, giving the awards is essentially a problem of settling the inner-division squabbles of the AGU. It's been too many years since we've had an oceanographer for an award. They're not going to vote for this, because oceanographers are being discriminated against. That's the problem with "Mackawano," and maybe that's the problem with all the awards: There are just too many vested interests. And how are you going to say that the person put forth by oceanography is better or worse than the person put forward by the hydrology? This is really the problem.
These really are difficult questions.
Yes, because if the hydrologists say he's real good, he must be real good, etc. So, there's too many candidates because of the large number of divisions. It's not an easy task. It was much easier back in the '60s and '70s.
Speaking of the late 1960s, beginning in 1969 you were also a research associate at the Museum of Northern Arizona. How did that affiliation come about?
Oh. Let me give you some background on that. I'll be right back. [Interruption] . . . for the — (?) — project. I don't know if you know about this or not, but this is...Bulletins were made by this — (?) — project. Let's see if I can't just read something. Here's one of them.
"Powell" Research Project Bulletin, March 1977: The Costs of Transporting Coal from the "Kipoweritz" Plateau to Southern California.
Now, look at this: I am the leader of this diverse group, and these are the participants from those institutions.
And the NSF funded institutions are, of course, listed here: Arizona State University, Dartmouth College, John "Mellure" Institute, Northern Arizona Society of Science & Art, Inc., the University of Arizona, and about three others, including the University of New Mexico.
NSF, in its wisdom (or Congress, in its wisdom), decided back in the early '70s or late in '69 — something like that — that they wanted to have a really strong program in environmental science. A lot of us were concerned about this too, so it was sort of like going to the Peace Corps for a while. I decided I was going to do something in environmental science, so a few of us proposed to examine this problem. What happened, across the whole range of scientific and engineering experience? What happened because you built Lake Powell? You built a dam, you made this big lake; what were the consequences to the area and the people? I was the leader of that. Our headquarters was at the Museum of North Arizona, for this work.
How did you become the leader? How did it work out that you became the leader?
Because it was my idea.
But, it grew...It's very interesting. There's a good story in this, and I've always wanted to pursue it someday. We wanted, a bunch of physical scientists, wanted to do this, and we were thinking of physical science. What about the sediments in the lake? How long is the lake going to live? What happened to the air quality above the lake? What happened to, you know, a number of things? What happened to the shore ecology? What new plants came in, what plants were destroyed — that kind of thing — biology, geology, atmospheric physics, geophysics were the things that came to mind. Some of us got together, and Dartmouth comes in because of my friend Chuck Darke.
Yes. Who had gone to Dartmouth.
Yes. And he was interested in "lineology." He wanted to patrol the lake and see what was happening to the currents and the sediments. So, we got together, we wrote this proposal, and it went nearly through the NSF but faltered on one point, and it was a serious point. What really happened was, the reviewer said was it more important to people than it was to the lake or the lake shore or the plants? What happened to the people, because of this? So, we decided, okay, we'll get somebody about people. We looked around and got some recommendations. We were at this time at the Museum of Northern Arizona, we got an anthropologist in, and he says, "I won't be your house nigger. You've ten scientists in physical science and you expect one social scientist to answer this great bundle of questions? I won't join this just so you'll get a proposal, I'm sorry." Big meeting. What is it you need if you're a social scientist? What's the scope of social science involved in this problem? Well, it was mapped out for us by a number of people — political science needed, laws needed, geologies needed, ecologies needed, and economics needed. All these things happened, five fields. Well, it turned out there were five physical science fields. So, it looked like it was quid pro quo. So, we decided to get a meeting together, we got all the people together and we almost got agreement except the social scientists had a caucus and they said, "We won't serve under a physical science director." Well, Chuck Drake — (?) — and said, "We don't need a director, we need a coordinator. In fact, we need two coordinators. So, what we'll do is we'll have one coordinator for physical science and one coordinator for social science, and we will exchange the administrator every other year," or something like that. So, that's the way it turned out, and it's operated for seven years. It was an incredible experience.
I can imagine that would have influenced your point of view on that issue.
So, I learned a lot about these other subjects by being a half-time administrator. The original idea was mine and I did all the footwork on it, but just to show you the scope of things...
We're looking at two large volumes right now...
There's three of them. We're looking at the last one. This is the bulletin that came out, the last few pages, when the project was terminated. Then Congress decided they didn't want to be funding ecological work, it wasn't really what NSF ought to be doing, so they cut us off. Poor NSF, I feel sorry for them. They're told to do something, then they're told not to do something.
We're looking at the end, where sixty-four distinct reports are noted here, a number of them continuing to be for sale, and a number listed as withdrawn.
Yes. Well, those are the reports that came out of it. Now, we were supposed to write books. It was intended that...We had just finished our research and we were going to write five books, of an inter-connected thing, that was decided, and Congress cut the money off and ran, called R-A-N-N — (?) — (Research for Applied National Needs, I think), and we never got to write the books.
That sounds like it was rather a disappointment for you, then.
Well, it was. But there wasn't any resource for writing these books, and NSF wasn't interested; they were forbidden to continue this by law. So, this really wasn't distributed...I mean, the intellectual digestion of this work and the consequences were never realized.
I had an office and a place to sleep at the Museum of Northern Arizona, and as a consequence I was made, whatever I was, at the Museum of Northern Arizona — Associate — because I had the rank of people who ran departments. And the Museum of Northern Arizona was glad to — (?) — for this, because it brought them a lot of notoriety and a lot of good news.
Did you ever get a feeling for what the politics were that came to interfere with the final plans that all of you had to produce "these volumes?"
Sure. It was environmentalists vs. non-environmentalists in Congress.
It was that simple.
It was that simple. The environmentalists were thinking that this was something they ought to do, it was a way of spending public funds to do creative environmental research, but there were others who were not environmentalists, who were opposed to that, and felt that no federal money should be paid. I think this was a result of the Republican administrations coming into power at that time.
So, in a nutshell, that's it. This was a very creative part of my life. It didn't help my research on the other side very much, but it certainly was fulfilling.
I can well understand that. I'm very glad that we had a chance to cover some of this type work. Let me just finish up here on a few brief questions. In addition to the role you played in editing the JGR you were also on the publications advisory committee for the GSA — Geological Society of America. When did you first start advising them? How did that come about?
I can't remember exactly, but essentially I played a minor role in this meeting. They wanted me there, because I could answer the questions having to do with to what extent should geophysics be a part of GSA, and where do you draw the line. I did my best to answer those questions but, actually, the kinds of questions they were thrashing around with were so paramount that we never got around to using this talent that I might have used for them. They were concerned with such questions as what are we going to do about the size of the GSA Bulletin, and what about "pace" charges, and are we a non-profit organization? Things like that. I'm sure it's the same class of problems that the AIP deals with their governor's board, except it's on the editorial side. But, you understand what I'm saying. So, I was called into this for a specific purpose, but that purpose wasn't fully realized.
Right. I want to close with one final question. You've already mentioned that you're involved with the Mormon church, but I'm wondering if you have what you would consider strong convictions. Religious convictions.
How have they influenced your research, as you think back on it?
Well, I just happen to have written this down for another purpose, and I'll give you a four-page list on that, which you can draw on.
If you like, we can simply make it part of the transcript.
But, I'll answer your question anyway. Why don't you stop it while I search for this.... [Interruption]
Very good. Thank you.
It was written a long time ago.
Can you spare this?
I'll get a copy, before we go.
I'd appreciate it.
But, you might glance at it, and then ask questions.
What we could do, if you like, is simply include this as an addition to the transcript. If you'd want to do that.
Okay. But maybe you have some specific questions.
I was more interested in it in a general sort of way, but very few people have ever thought about it sufficiently to have written down their own point of view and statements. I think this might work as well as any particular questions I might ask, from a quick reading.
I might just make a comment about why there are more practicing Mormons in science than other religions. Well, in the first place, the number one thing is that God doesn't use magic. He uses the laws that later become known as physics, whatever they are. The second difference is this: That we're taught, in the ethics of our church, that whatever we carry into the other world, after we die, we'll need and use. Therefore, it behooves us to learn a lot; the more we learn, the better we'll be. So, it's a religion that promotes intellectual creativity. Another important principle is that we believe that God created the Earth and the universe, but our faith doesn't depend on how he did it. So we won't get into wrangles about how long a day is, it's not important. See. Our faith does not hinge upon how he did it. Another point is that we are expected to try to figure out how he did it.
And the scientific way of attempting to find this understanding is not in conflict with any of the tenets...
No. And another thing we have is a very careful description in our church theology about the difference between theory and facts.
How does that work in practice, as far as relating to your scientific work?
Well, how did Man get down here? Did he evolve from apes? Well, that's a theory. We'll listen to any theory long enough, but you can't call it a fact until there's more justification for it. So, we won't throw out theories, but we won't accept them as guiding principles. If you add all those things together, you find it's easier to be a Mormon as a scientist than any other faith. For instance, if you add all these things up you can say the creation of the universe didn't happen out of nothing — ex — (?) — like they say. It can't happen. What happened was there were certain elements that were brought together, transformed, and made into what we consider the Earth. The elements are indestructible, and you don't things by magic.
So, certain kinds of metaphysics or theoretical speculations might fall into that realm, of seeming to be magic.
Yes. The other thing is the principle that everything that humanists (I talk about humanists) say exists today is against...I want to use a stronger word than "against"...violates the very same principles the humanists had a few years ago.
What are you thinking of when you say that?
Well, I think there are lots of examples in the thinking of people; what constitutes thought, what constitutes action, what constitutes knowledge, what constitutes truth. Ideas have changed. So, the things that humanists felt very strongly about were later abandoned, and this going to be true with the approach humanists have, all the time. So that you've got to think about what humanists say and feel very strongly about is possibly not going to last, in their view. Psychology upset the whole world of humanist thought. That's a good example. So, we don't pay much attention to what the humanists say. The last word hasn't been said in science. But here's the real point that makes Mormons different, too: Nor has the last word in religion been said. At that point we depart from most places, because if it's not in the Bible it's not going to be true. People believe that. We believe that whatever is needed for a particular time will be a revelation, could be a revelation, for that. So, we don't count it out. We don't discount it. So, we say the last word in science hasn't been said, and the last word in religion hasn't been said. If you put all those things together, it's easier to live, and this is a Mormon's view on science. It's a Harris cartoon. You might have seen it before, I don't know, 1980.
Yes. A 1980...
The New Yorker.
A scientist or at least a scientific worker, sitting, looking rather unhappy, at his desk, and two in-baskets, or boxes, as you will, theories piled high, almost toppling with papers, proves practically nothing in it at all, if anything at all.
A Mormon's view on science. And I don't have to tell you that the number of proofs that come in are very small, and when they do come in they cause a revolution in science. So, I hope that answers your questions.
That puts it very well. And, as I say, we'll make this an appendix of the document.
Okay. Let me give you a copy. While you gather up your stuff I'll go xerox it.
Orson, I should add on here not only to thank you very much for what has become a long session, but we will, of course (and this should go on the tape) not make the tape available to anyone or its transcript without your express knowledge and approval, as defined in the permission forms that you will be getting from us.