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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Charles B. Duke by Babak Ashrafi on 2007 January 23,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Topics discussed include: family background, education at Duke University, graduate work at Princeton University with Don Hamilton, Ruby Sherr and Eugene Wigner, his work at General Electric with Roland Schmidt, Walter Harrison, and Gerry Mahan, magnetic breakdown, optical absorption spectrum of impurities and solids, teaching at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and University of Rochester, electron scattering, involvement with the American Vacuum Society (AVS), his work at Pacific Northwest National Labratory, and his work at Xerox with Chip Holt and Sudendu Rai.
Today is January 23rd, 2007. This is Babak Ashrafi: at the home of Charlie Duke, with Charlie Duke in Webster, New York, the interview for the AIP oral history collection. So Charlie, you were born in 1938, in Richmond, Virginia.
And your father was?
Charles Joseph Duke, Jr.
And he worked at the William and Mary College, did you say?
My father’s family members were farmers by trade. They had a farm in Portsmouth Virginia. It turns out that his father was the Democratic ward boss for Norfolk County, so he was a major force in Virginia politics. My father, for a living, had gone into the insurance business. He went to William and Mary, and shortly after he graduated from William and Mary, he was appointed to the Board of Visitors. The reason for that, of course, was that his father was well connected, and the Board of Visitors’ job is to raise money for the college. Money came from the state and the state rewarded the ward boss from Portsmouth and Norfolk who influenced who got elected. So my father was very well known in political circles. He reorganized the state government of Virginia for Governor Bill Tuck, and the Byrd family, who at the time were very good friends of my family. So my father was well positioned in Virginia politics. When John Stuart Bryan, for whom I’m named, a Richmond publisher, was asked to be the president of the College of William and Mary (in Williamsburg VA) he said that he would only come to the college as president, if my father came as Bursar. For your listeners, you should think of the president being the analog of the CEO, and the Bursar as the analog as the COO of a firm. Once someone asked John Stuart Bryan, how he ran the college, and he said that any time he had a problem, he only had to say two words “Hey, Charlie”. That’s how my father came to be Bursar. I was born in Richmond, because the hospitals were in Richmond. My father was Bursar of the college at that time.
And your mother?
My mother was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. There was a firm called Smith and Welton in Norfolk and Portsmouth, VA. Her father was the Welton of Smith and Welton. She was one of four girls and two boys. The Welton family was at the time, I suspect, quite wealthy. In retrospect, I would say that I do not know what my mother’s financial situation was. My guess is that each of the girls must have been millionaires or close to it when the parents died. And so my mother was well endowed with financial acumen, and she, in fact, invested a lot of that money in my father. She built a house at Virginia Beach, where they entertained the power elite of Virginia. I still remember one Christmas when Bill Tuck (who was governor of Virginia at the time) came to discuss a reorganization of the state government with my father, that my parents had bought me a big train set, and I couldn’t get near the train set. Bill Tuck and my father sat there on the sun porch, playing with the train that was -presumably [chuckles] my Christmas present. So my recollection as a child, really, was of a father whose job was Bursar of the College of William and Mary, but whose profession was doing a variety of jobs for various governors of Virginia. You didn’t get paid for doing such jobs in those days, so my father’s career was largely financed by my mother. So that was my early upbringing. I might add since we’re on tape here, that when I was 13, my father died intestate with substantial debts. Thus, my mother suddenly had lost her meal ticket. She had made these very large investments in my father, and all she had to show for it was debts. This situation made her a very unhappy and frustrated woman. I had to work my way through high school and college because the money had been spent for a political career that never materialized. So in my youth, it was feast as a very young child and then famine as a teenager and young adult.
I have a sister, Ann, who is a Ph.D. in psychology. She lives in Ottawa. She moved to Ottawa, when she got married and her husband took a job at Carleton College. He was a professor, and she got a job in the school system. She also experienced an untimely death of her husband when her daughter, my niece, Lee was a few years old. So she went to work, and became the head of all of psychology for all of the school systems in Ottawa. There are several distinct school systems. There’s the public school system, and there’s a Catholic school system. So she’s a very well known person in Ottawa. When I go up to visit her, she knows everybody when we go out [chuckles]. So she’s the heir of my father’s wide acquaintanceship.
I see. Were there some early influences in direction of science or technology, or early interest that manifested it in you somehow?
I am a scientist totally by accident. My interest as a youth, frankly, was in the ministry. I was licensed to preach in the Methodist church. I used to go to youth camps every summer. And I went to Duke University in Durham NC, largely for financial reasons. I got a good scholarship there, and I didn’t want to go to William and Mary because everybody knew me in Williamsburg. So the notion of going to William and Mary was very unattractive. Duke was a viable option. They had a good Divinity school. So I went to Duke and majored in Religion. During my first three years at Duke, I took a lot of religion courses, which I later used to teach Sunday school in various and sundry places. But after a summer’s experience as a minister in Hamlet, North Carolina, it became plain to me that I was not suited to be in the behavior modification business, and was not going to be successful in that business. I was somewhat disillusioned, so I shifted my major to mathematics and graduated as a math major.
So you went to, did you say, North Carolina?
Hamlet, North Carolina.
Hamlet, and to teach what…
No, I was a minister. I was a minister there for the summer. In the Methodist church, they allow ministers to have sort of assistant ministers. And the people who are interested in becoming a minister in the Methodist church can go around and what’s the right word, you become apprenticed to the minister. So when the minister goes vacation, you can preach and so on and so forth. So I was sort of the summer assistant minister, of I believe the First Methodist Church in Hamlet.
You entered Duke in, let’s see. You graduated in ‘59. Did you enter Duke in ‘55?
Yes. I graduated from high school in ‘55.
Okay. So had you been taking math classes all along?
Yes. When I first went to Duke, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was interested in religion, so my strategy was to take the distribution courses first. One of the things I very quickly learned was that if you were going to take courses like religion and history, you had to do an awful lot of reading and it took a really long time. Whereas I could take math courses, not work all that hard, get an “A,” make 100s on everything. So it became clear to me that I was good in math and so I sort of drifted into a math major, although my formal interest was in religion.
So was this an aptitude that you discovered while you were at Duke, or before?
I presume, while.
Okay. And so in your junior year, you switched to a math major?
I may have switched actually to a formal math major earlier than that, but I think it was probably my junior year. The answer your question is in the deep, distant past.
Was there any interest in physics?
I took freshman physics, from a gentleman who some of your readers will know, named Bill Fairbank, who was a famous low temperature physicist. None of the students had studied Calculus, so he had all these magic formulas to pick up extra numerical factors, because you had to do an integral, but he couldn’t tell you that. So you had to introduce an extra factor of two that resulted from the integral. My roommate and I took freshman physics, and both of us were very competitive and we did reasonably well in freshman physics. But Fairbank was kind of a, what’s the right word—a free spirit. He didn’t take the course very seriously. He never prepared for the course. We’d sit there and we’d do little problems in the classroom, and so I was kind of disgusted. I sort of thought, you know, this was not serious. So I got a good grade in freshman physics, but I would have never taken physics again, except as I mentioned to you over lunch, my senior year I had so many credits, that if I took more than one course, I’d graduate. Since my roommate was a physics major, I audited a nuclear physics course, and another physics course, I can’t remember what the other one was. And as I mentioned to you, I took all the tests. The top graduate student score would be a 32 or a 33, and my roommate and I would make a 97 or a 98. So the physics professors thought I really ought to go to graduate school in physics. And so they encouraged me to do that. I applied to five schools. I know Princeton was one, Harvard was one, and Wisconsin was one. I don’t know, Yale might have been one. In any event, they were all five top schools, and I got in all of them. I got fellowships from four of them. I didn’t get a fellowship to Princeton, but by this time, I had really had it with studying. Incidentally, I had the best academic record in the history of Duke University. I had a straight-A record that had only happened once before in the history of the entire school when I was there. Apparently, it’s common these days. But in those days, it was unheard of, and to do that, you have to really focus on getting that job done, right? I’d had enough of that focus. I was not going to spend my life studying all the time to get A’s. That was not going to be my life when I left Duke, period. And although Princeton was the only graduate school that did not require additional course work for a PhD (students had to pass the general examinations and write a thesis) I didn’t get a fellowship at Princeton. They give entering graduate students assistantships. But my mother felt that I really ought to go to Princeton. She was highly insistent that I go to graduate school in general, and Princeton in particular. She’d wanted me to go to Princeton, as an undergraduate but I couldn’t get in, of course. And if had gotten in, I couldn’t have afforded it. I mentioned to you that I drove up to Princeton, in anticipation of seeing how this might all work. I went to see Eugene Wigner and had lunch with him and his wife, a delightful lunch, after which he assured me that if I managed to get through the generals okay, he’d be happy to take me on. And so that’s how I decided to go to Princeton.
Now, do you remember which professors at Duke encouraged you to go to graduate school?
Well, certainly, Bill Fairbank did, and also the chair of the department, whose name I cannot recall.
Okay. And you said you picked out Wigner, because you’d seen his name mentioned in…
In our nuclear physics textbook, D. Halliday, Introductory Nuclear Physics (Wiley, New York 1958) second edition. Eugene had written the theory of nuclear reactions, in which I was interested. So that attracted me. Most important, Eugene was at Princeton. Since Princeton was the only graduate school option that did not require further course work, I had to find somebody at Princeton that I might be interested in working with. You’ve got to remember from my point of view the question is, “Why do this sort of nutty thing?” So I decided to go to graduate school in physics at Princeton largely on the basis of that delightful lunch with Eugene and his lovely wife Mary.
Right. When I got to Princeton, I first worked for Don Hamilton, who was the Dean of the Graduate school at the time, as a graduate assistant in the Beams Lab. So my initial assistance ships were in the Beams lab and then I worked for a man named Ruby Sherr, who’s still alive, and an emeritus professor in the physics department at Princeton. It turns out that Duke had an IBM 650, so because of my math background I knew how to program a computer. Well, I was the only person in the physics department who knew how to program a computer. So Ruby latched on to me, because he wanted me to do nuclear physics calculations for him. He sent me out to UCLA in California to work with Mike Melkanoff and John Nodvik who had written a code for elastic proton nucleus scattering. I learned to run that code, brought the code back to Princeton, and went up to NYU two or three nights a week to analyze Ruby’s data. I’d leave early in the morning and spend the night in NYU, running this code all night. I wrote two papers one on proton carbon scattering [Phys. Rev.125, 975-987 (1962)], and the other on proton oxygen scattering [Phys. Rev.129, 975-987 (1962)]. That experience during my first two years of graduate school was my introduction to becoming a physicist.
So you first arrived at Princeton. And when you get there, you have to pass the general exams.
And you don’t have to take any classes?
So can you give me a chronology of the things that you just mentioned; what happened first, what happened second?
Well, the first thing that happened when I got there was after about three or four weeks, I quickly recognized that I didn’t know any physics. I went to classes, but I could see that I didn’t understand very much of what was happening. I got some old generals, because I understood that passing these exams was my task; and quickly realized I could not work any of these problems. I did not have a clue. And I still remember the Chairman of the Department was Robert Dicke. I went to see him. He let me know in no uncertain terms that better men than I had flunked out of Princeton, and this was no shame. [Chuckles] At that stage of the game, I decided I was going to make a go of this. So I spent my time studying course material.
So you weren’t discouraged; you were challenged.
Well, I was pretty discouraged, but I guess it might have been some combination of Eugene and Don Hamilton who convinced me that I should continue to give it a go. Don Hamilton had group meetings every week. So I got into his group, got to know the people in the group, and he was very encouraging. Eugene was always very encouraging. So the faculty really encouraged me a great deal. It was the beginning of my second year when Ruby Sherr recruited me from Don Hamilton. I was in the Beams lab filling cold traps, and doing the minutia of keeping the experimental arrangement working, which is fine. But somebody figured out that they wanted to use the fact that I knew how to run computers and Ruby Sherr was the indirect or direct beneficiary of that. I don’t know. And that’s how at the beginning of my second of my second year, I got shipped out to the western data processing center at UCLA. I spent quite a bit of time out there. As I mentioned in one of the materials I gave to you, when I came back at the end of that year, I got married to my wife, Ann. Mike Melkanoff was going to Paris, and so three days after I got married—I got married in Williamsburg on a Saturday, we spent Sunday in transit— on Monday night, she was in our apartment in Princeton cooking dinner for Mike. The dinner was served on a card table, because we had a bed, two chest of drawers, a couch that someone had left behind, a card table, four chairs, and a stove. That was it. So Mike had dinner on a card table covered with a tablecloth that we had received as a wedding present. Mike prided himself on being a gourmet. He went on about this all the time, and I was a bit nervous. But my wife passed this test with flying colors. I don’t even remember what she served, but he had multiple servings of everything we had, and talked about how wonderful the meal was. I was unbelievably impressed with my wife’s cooking.
So at what year did you take the generals?
It would have to be ‘61.
And that was your second or third year?
So you went through a series of textbooks, and then had to do problems.
And was the atmosphere that everyone was on their own? Were students helping each other a lot?
Students helped each other a lot. At least, other students helped me. Without the help of my fellow students, I’d have never made it.
Were there particular ones who acted as mentors to you or were particularly helpful?
Well, I worked with a guy named George Renninger who is now a professor of physics at Guelph in Canada. Art Jaffe was a year behind me, and he was helpful. I think there was a chap named Minayak Dutta Roy who worked problems with me. And there was one more gentleman, Oscar, I can’t remember the name right now. So the answer was, there were several people who worked and helped me along. I wasn’t shy about asking for help, and these guys all knew how to work the problems. I didn’t get a room in the graduate college. It was a very elaborate place where you ate as well as roomed. So I had to room in town. And I roomed in town with another graduate student in the same rooming house, Jack Kossler who is now a professor at the College of William and Mary. I got to know him before he later married to his wife, Peggy. So I got to know Jack and Peggy Kossler. I also got to know Franz Gross fairly well, who also became a professor at William and Mary. So the answer is yes, I got to know several people reasonably well. And these people, again, were willing to help you if you have a well-defined problem. Besides I was working on the generals problems, and other people were interested in working general problems, too. It’s just that they could work them a hell of a lot faster than I could. [Chuckles].
So then you did fine on the generals?
Yes. I can’t remember if I was third or fourth, but I think I was third in the class. That produced another crisis, because I was one of three people in the class who did not have fellowships. And if you had an assistantship, you had to have a teaching assistantship for the final two to three years, not a research assistantship. So I thought I would get an NSF fellowship. Since I was now third in the class, and since 22 people had them, why shouldn’t I get one? Well, I didn’t get one, and I had just gotten married. So, I was going to walk. I figured I’d earned it, right? I had proven that I could be among the best, why was I unworthy of an NSF scholarship when 20 of my classmates had NSF scholarships. So I told this to Eugene, and I was out looking for a job. And Eugene said not to worry, not to worry, right? “You’ll have a research assistantship, and all you’ll have to do is your thesis.” I just didn’t believe it, because the department policy was that you weren’t going to do it. So I left a little bit skeptical. Later that afternoon, George Shenstone who was the chairman of the department, called me in, told me I had a research assistantship, [chuckles] and I had a research assistantship working for Eugene for two years. So Eugene not only got me to go to Princeton by being kind to me, but he saved me from leaving when I didn’t get a fellowship at the end of being successful in doing the generals. Of course, I know now that things like this happen all the time when professors take care of talented students. As a kid, however, you don’t know these things.
Right, right. And so then you had to start working on a problem.
Yes. Well, it turned out that the work that I’d done on proton carbon scattering, and proton oxygen scattering, had revealed that the absorptive part of the optical potential was peaked at the surface of nuclei. So…
Now this is work that you did before your generals?
Yes. I told you I was at the western data processing center, running these codes on proton nucleus scattering. I ran them for proton carbon scattering out at the western data processing center, and proton oxygen scattering at NYU. I guess Ruby Sherr must have gotten those data. I was doing this work in collaboration with Ruby’s group. Ruby had recruited me somehow. But I didn’t actually work for Ruby except in the second year. As we just discussed, the first year of graduate school I worked for Don Hamilton; the second year I worked for Ruby; and the third and fourth years I worked for Eugene. The proton-carbon and proton-oxygen scattering calculations revealed that the absorptive part of the optical potential was peaked at the surface of the nuclei. So the question was, “Why is that?” Well, when I first started working with Eugene, he was trying to give me some hints as to how to go about answering this, which I was too ignorant or stupid to be able to understand. Eugene’s theory was that a student had to do it himself. He wasn’t going to. He was willing to help you with anything else in the world, but not your thesis. Your thesis had to be yours. So about the end of third year, I realized if I was going to write a thesis, I just had to go do it. So I went and took some of the solid-state notions on many-body theory, approximate single particle motion, and quasi-particles, and I did a little calculation. I took the nucleus as a bunch of nucleons and asked if I put another nucleon in, how it would scatter off of this array. And what you discover, of course, is that as the density of nuclear matter gets bigger and bigger, the Pauli exclusion principle gets more and more restrictive whereas as the density gets smaller at the outside, the Pauli exclusion principle becomes less severe. This happens because as the density increases you decrease the volume of phase space available in the final state of the nucleon-nucleon collisions. So what happens is that as the density increases as you go in the nucleus, then the amount of nucleon-nucleon scattering you get decreases. So there’s a peak in the amount of nucleon-nucleon scattering right at the edge of the nucleus. Far outside the nucleus the absorption potential is zero, because there is no nuclear matter there. Deep inside, the absorption is constant and constrained by the Pauli principle suitable for nuclear matter at the density of the nucleus. But at the surface, the density of nuclear matter decreases smoothly to zero outside the nucleus, and in this region the Pauli principle is less effective. Thus, more nucleon-nucleon scattering occurs which looks like absorption from the perspective of elastic nucleon-nucleus scattering. And this is the standard way of calculating optical potentials, I might add, in solids, or anything else. And so it turns out that this is purely an exclusion principle effect. At very low densities, there’s not enough nuclear matter, so you don’t scatter from anything, because there’s nothing to scatter from. Then you start to scatter from it, and there’s an exclusion principle that isn’t very effective, so there’s a lot of scattering. And as you get further in, the density gets higher, and exclusion principle sets in, so you go down until you get in the center, and you get a flat amount. And so I was able to calculate the optical potential associated with nuclear matter, and that was my thesis.
So how did you become familiar with condensed matter of many body methods?
When I got to GE, I mentioned—so you want a historical, a chronological?
So I wrote my thesis. Eugene looked at it. He clearly wasn’t too thrilled with it, but his view of life was, you know, it was okay. Get the kid out, let him get a job and see what the hell he does. And [chuckles] Eugene was a very kind man. He never phrased it that way, but nevertheless, that’s what his attitude was. So he arranged for me to have interviews at GE and RCA because he believed that any competent theoretical physicist needs a few years of practical industrial experience to ground him in the “real world”.
Can I just interrupt for a second?
You said you used many-body methods in your thesis.
So how did you, how were you familiar with application of those to nuclear phenomenon?
Oh. That was a popular research topic at the time. Brueckner had written a book on the Nuclear Matter, great big blue book, and there were courses on many-body theory. So I just got a couple of sets of lecture notes on many-body theory and just worked the problems. I mean, this is how I do physics, right? I get a book or a couple of papers; I figure out what problem I want to work; and I go work the problems. That’s how theoretical physicists do it. At least [chuckles] that’s how I did it. That’s how Eugene did it. I’m not sure that I understand the question.
Oh. I was just trying to see what background you brought to the problem. That’s all.
The ability to read a textbook and learn how to work problems.
Fair enough. So then you finished, and you were talking about how Wigner got you to talk to industrial laboratories….
Right, he got me interviews at GE and RCA. I interviewed with Bob Parmenter at RCA, (now an emeritus professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson) who basically told me, come back when I know some solid-state physics. I found that interesting, because many years later, I did come back when he tried to recruit me from GE to become a professor at the University of Arizona at Tucson. So I did eventually pass that test. But at the time I was disappointed and went up to interview at the GE Research and Development Center in Schenectady NY. Roland Schmidt headed a group, Metallurgy and Ceramics, which did work on superconductivity, biophysics, and theoretical physics. Walter Harrison, now a professor at Stanford, was in the group. Charlie Bean was in the group. Howard Hart was associated with the group in some way, but my records do not show him as a member. Both Howard and Charlie remained at GE and are now in national academies. Who else was there? Ivar Giaver, who was about to win the Nobel Prize for tunneling in superconductors. So it was a group of people that were doing basic solid-state physics. When I went out to interview with them, Roland wasn’t there. They made me an offer, so I went to work at GE. Roland and I always used to joke that I was the only person he’d ever hired without ever having seen him. Now when I arrived at GE I knew practically no solid-state physics, so I worked with Walter Harrison. And my first problem was on magnetic breakdown. When you have a magnetic field and a periodic potential, as the field gets bigger and bigger, then the periodic potential becomes ineffective and you just get cyclotron resonance. But at low fields, then the electrons diffract off the crystal lattice so you don’t observe cyclotron resonance. If you look at something like the magnetic susceptibility you observe there’s a change in the shape of the signal as a function of the magnetic field. It’s been a long time now. I don’t remember the details. This was a big problem that Walter Harrison was interested in. So I brought my mathematical techniques to bear on it. I wrote the equations down, learned how to get all the asymptotic solutions and derived a very elegant solution, which Walter helped me with. And then went down to The Eastern Theoretical Physics Conference to give a paper on this. While there I believe it was either Quinn or Luttinger who pointed out to me that Clarence Zener had already solved this problem in 1932. So all this elaborate work getting the asymptotic solutions and matching the phases on the boundaries of the different regions went for nothing: The problem had been solved 32 years earlier in another context (electric breakdown in dielectrics). Thus, my first research project in solid-state physics was a false start that wound up published in proceedings of The Eastern Theoretical Physics Conference. My second solid-state project was calculating the optical absorption spectrum of impurities and solids with Gerry Mahan. It came to a better end with a paper published in the Physical Review 139, A1965-A1982 (1965).
We’re talking about Gerry Mahan.
Gerry Mahan had come to work at GE in a different group at about the same time I had, and he was a solid-state physicist who had experience in the finite temperature many-body theory. My calculations had all been zero temperature. And so I had some experience in doing such calculations, and he was interested in working with someone, so we worked together. Basically, Gerry taught me solid-state physics, I have very little doubt about that. My career in solid-state physics got started with Gerry Mahan. We wrote a number of papers together on what we call the Matsubara formulation, which is the finite-temperature formulation of many-body theory. In many-body theory, you try to calculate the ground state at zero temperature. When you do the finite temperature formulation you calculate a partition function, because all the equilibrium properties come from the partition function. So it’s, either you’re doing that or you’re calculating the linear response diagrams to evaluate transport coefficients. So you’re calculating different things. I’m trying to remember. I believe both of them were in the book A.A. Abrikosov, L.P. Gorkov and I. E. Dzyaloshinsky, Methods of Quantum Field theory in Statistical Physics (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1963) that was basically our textbook. So we taught ourselves how to do these calculations. Well, as I say, this was how it was done in those days.
Can I ask you; I found in a brief bio here, that you were an affiliate professor of the Physics Department, University of Washington, and ‘63 to ‘69.
No. I got the wrong dates, then. The University of Washington would have been ‘88 and ‘89. So I missed that, too.
Oh, no, this was in American Men and Women of Science.
In American Men and Women of Science?
Yes. They have their dates wrong.
Well, they screwed up. That all occurred when I was at Pacific Northwest Lab when I was Deputy Director and Chief Scientist at PNNL.
Okay, I was wondering because it seemed out of sequence. Okay. So you were talking about learning about solid-state physics from Gerry Mahan. Let me ask you one other question. So what happened to theology?
What happened to theology? Well, I wound up teaching a lot of Sunday school.
Well, it turns out, in Schenectady. Ann, I and our two daughters belonged to the First Reform Church. And I taught courses in Old Testament and New Testament history. So I’ve taught high school students and that’s what I did on Sundays.
Did you do any of that at Princeton?
At Princeton, the answer is no, I didn’t teach. I don’t really remember the details of the arrangement, but every Sunday we went out with a little boy, who was I think retarded in some essential respects, and we took him to church and so forth. I can’t remember the details, but the religious experience at Princeton was not so much associated with using the knowledge as it was extending personal contact.
And you never ventured into the theology department at Princeton?
Oh, no. Believe me, I had all I could do. [Chuckles].
Okay. So after Gerry Mahan and your, you said you used the Matsubara formulism for many-body theory.
Okay. Did you ever come in contact with Matsubara? Do you know anything about him?
No, I’ve never met him.
Okay. I’ve tried to look for information about him. It’s hard to find.
I could believe that. I mean, why was it called, “Matsubara”? I presume the answer is that he wrote the key papers.
Yes, right. He was one of the sources the Russians used a lot.
Right. Well the key point was, that you had a lot of these sums to do, and you had to convert them into contour integrals. So the technique is for converting the sums into contour integrals at finite temperatures. I can still remember worrying about what the contours were, and where the poles and cuts were. You had different kinds of poles for fermions and bosons. So there was an elaborate set of things you needed to do to get a formalistic looking like sum over poles into an integral that you could actually do by mapping the sum into a contour along a cut and doing the integral along the cut. That turned out to be the trick that enabled you to actually get numbers out of all of this stuff. I think that trick must have been due to Matsubara.
Okay. So in the period between ‘63 and ‘67, in Schenectady. Right. In ‘67 you went to Urbana.
As a visiting professor at John Bardeen’s invitation, for six months. John had been a consultant to Roland’s group in Schenectady. —When I got to Schenectady in ‘63, superconductivity was hot. And there was a superconductivity conference at Colgate, at which several of the members of Roland’s group were giving papers. I got to go to that conference, at which John was in the middle of his controversy with Brian Josephson over what is now called the Josephson Effect (the flow of supercurrent in a tunnel junction at zero bias). Since John was a consultant at GE, Brian came to GE, John came to GE, and many other famous solid-state physicists (e.g., Brian Pippard and Morrel Cohen) people came to GE in conjunction with the conference. . So I got very rapidly immersed in solid-state physics through that, as well as working with Walter. But that’s how I got to know John. Of course, as John and I had both been students of Eugene, I suspect we invited John over to the house. I’m not sure we did at that time, but I got to know John then. He was very enthusiastic about my coming out to The University of Illinois at Urbana, and so I did that for a semester. I liked it. I taught a course in magnetism. I enjoyed it very much. But I went back to GE. I’m not sure why. I don’t remember the calculus at that time. Ann and I had two little kids. I suspect I probably wasn’t sure how I was going to make a living as a professor. So if you had had my financial experience of having started off as a fairly affluent young child and wound up working your way through everything when your mother was never convinced she was going to put food on the table, you would be fairly conscious of taking jobs that you could see were going to pay the bills.
Can you tell me something about how problems were picked in Schenectady? How was the research direction selected?
Well, the process in our group was that every year we had a review of all of the work that the group had done, and in front of the whole group. Everybody got up and gave presentations. I gave presentations on these various calculations that I was doing. Everybody participated and there was some discussion about what would happen, at least for people like Walter Harrison and myself. Subsequently Seth Silverstein and Alan Bennett joined the theory group, which consisted of Water Harrison and Ed Hart before I arrived. As far as I could tell, it was those group discussions that really led, to individual decisions on what problems to study. You’d have to pick something that was hot, that people were interested in, but it was more of a social conversation, a consensus was not required. It was just a question of what was interesting and what was not interesting. Now for the experimentalists, the other efforts in the group were radiation damage in solids (Jim Corbett, Bob Fleischer, Bueford Price and Bob Walker), electrons in metals (Bob Doremus, Tom Moore, and Ben Roberts) and far infrared spectroscopy (S. Roberts). In a closely related group Howard Hart and Warren Solidar studied type two superconductors like niobium-tin in high magnetic fields. This work was clearly pertinent to GE businesses because they wanted to create large superconducting magnets for medical electronics. So they did fundamental studies. We were talking about how the flux lines move. In a Type 2 superconductor, you get flux penetrating the superconductor, and as you change the field and the flux lines move about. It is of interest to study how the movement of the flux lines depends on how you process the material. Their relation to the metallurgy of the sample is analogous to that of dislocations. So there was a lot of practical interest in that topic. Howard and Warren were much more closely coupled with the manufacturing operations and the development operations, because they were studying the microscopic of strength and heat generation in high-field magnets. And then I think there was another group of people who studied ceramics. They were interested into things like phosphors and the coatings, the very strong coatings of gas discharge lamps. You had to put them inside of a container when they were high-pressure. And the containers had to last and not be eroded by water or by other things. So that was another dimension. So I recall extensive experimental activities that were associated either with the lighting or with high-field superconducting magnets. Later, I was asked to consult for the Lamp Division, and I wound up going out to the Lamp Division for almost three or four weeks every year. Not at the same time, but I would go out there regularly. And I worried a great deal about how energy got transferred from the discharge into the phosphor. We talked a lot about what kinds of doping you could put in to make that energy transfer more efficient and how you would prevent the defects from arising from the radiation. I became somewhat of an expert on that, wrote some papers on it, and consulted with them. So I eventually got absorbed into a practical problem, and I was the guy who went to the Lamp Division from the group.
So let me see if I understand. When you first arrived at Schenectady, you worked on issues that were of interest in the literature, say in the academic literature. And you were…
We worked on things that were of interest to people that were in the group at the time, and they were very highly oriented toward hot topics in solid-state physics.
Okay, and not necessarily towards the needs of GE.
The needs of GE set the context. Think about it as strategy versus the operations. I’m now going to give you an interpretation, since I’ve been a high level manager determining these things. I’m sure that the Guy Suits (VP for R&D at GE at the time) had a portfolio, that he knew what his growth businesses were, that he knew he had a stable business in the Lamp Division, and that he wanted some support work to make sure that that business kept growing. And I’m sure we were a little piece of that. He had a growing business; he wanted to do superconducting alloy magnets for medical electronics and circuit elements for electricity transmission. So he wanted a piece of these businesses, and I’m sure we were the leading edge of his investments to achieve this strategic goal. So he had a R&D portfolio, and he had the guys who were doing technology development work. In the Lamp Division, the division VP had the guys doing the product development work and the manufacturing work. And he counted on Guy Suits to support a tiny little research group out at the front end, whose job was to go out in the world, find out what’s going on, and figure out how to get GE ahead of the curve. That’s what Roland’s group was about. It was, go out and get ahead of the curve. Now, how do you judge a group like that? And the answer is, in those days, you judged a group like that by its recognition in the peer group. So it was wonderful when Ivar won a Nobel Prize, and Walter was very well known. Charlie Bean was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Howard Hart became a member of the National Academy of Engineering. The judgment made on that little, teeny piece of the portfolio was excellence, as measured by peer recognition in the community. Now that didn’t mean, if you were the manager of the group, if you were Roland or if you were subsequently his successors, that would be the only thing you were judged on. It may not even be the primary thing you were judged on. But if you were part of the little group of people who were doing that kind of work, that’s what you were judged on. That is certainly how the Xerox operated from 1972-1992, and how GE operated until the mid 1970s. These are things I know. You have a portfolio; a tiny little piece of the portfolio is devoted toward outreach and bringing new stuff in. By “a tiny little piece” I typically mean five percent of your total “R” investment. Ten percent would be a large number. So if you have, say a hundred people working on a subject, and certainly in the Lamp Division, there were hundreds of people, you can afford four or five people going out there, fiddling around with energy transfer and phosphors and so forth, to find out if they could find out something interesting. I think actually we did make some change that reduced the damage to the lamps, and increased the light by 20 or 30 percent, and everyone was thrilled. It was probably an accident [chuckles], but one that added a lot more to the profits than the cost of the research. You get the flavor!
So you’ve given me now, a manager’s perspective of that. Can you recall what your perspective was? Were you aware that you were at GE and not Bell Labs, and not at Princeton or Illinois, and that your role—was there an awareness of a distinction in your role at GE, as opposed to these other places, or was it all the same, you were all doing the most interesting solid-state things you could?
No. GE was out to make money, and they had to make money by selling things to customers.
And as a physicist in your group, you were aware of these things?
You bet you were aware, absolutely. Now that didn’t mean that you personally and your personal work had to fit rigorously into that mold. But everybody knew that Bell Labs was a sinecure i.e., they were basically paid for by taxes on the phone system. Bell Labs didn’t have to sell anything. From GE’s point of view, Bell Labs were a joke. They were a great place, but boy, if we got paid for by taxes, all we’d have to do is this great fundamental research. We didn’t get paid for by taxes. We got paid for by an overhead on products that were sold to customers, and that’s a very different way of getting your funding. I can assure you that everybody who worked for the General Electric Company was keenly and acutely aware of that fact. So that’s one of the main motivations for getting hooked up with the Lamp Division. Prior to that, since I’d been a nuclear physicist, I consulted at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL) with the people in the Reactor Division. Staff members at the GE Schenectady Research Laboratories were keenly aware that you were expected to expand your interests and eventually come up with something that would be profitable for the company. But that, especially for young people like me, wasn’t what got you a raise for the year. You did what was expected of you during the year in which you were embedded. It was pretty clear that you were not going to be doing basic science all your career, and that you were going to have to figure out what you were going to do when you grew up. And the attitude of folks, I think Walter Harrison was the one that made it pretty clear, was that if when you grew up you wanted to continue to do basic science, you went to a university. The notion was that going to a place like GE was a good initial stint because the standard physicist’s arrogance was that if you were any good and you wanted to do basic research, then of course you could get a job—Walter went to Stanford, Ivar and Charlie went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), and I went to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. The notion was that if you were any good, you could get a professorship at a good university. In those days, it was even true. We’re talking about the [chuckles] late sixties and early seventies. Universities were expanding. I got offers from a number of universities when I decided to leave GE. But I obviously was going to go to Urbana because of John Bardeen.
So in this period, ‘63 to ‘69, you wrote in this very nice outline of the biography some of the other work that you did. Should we talk about some more between ‘63 and ‘69 or move on?
It’s up to you.
Well, why don’t we talk about some of the work you did, you mention here electronic tunneling, surface science.
Well, the surface science work was a totally different thing. The tunneling work emerged from the work with Gerry Mahan. He and I had done Matsubara sums. I never had done the superconducting tunneling. Well, Walter Harrison was interested in tunneling, so I got interested in tunneling. It became clear to me that there were things called zero bias anomalies; there were some mysteries, because the tunneling current did not follow the one electron model nice and smoothly, even for ordinary metals. Close to zero bias, there were little dips and peaks and all kinds of interesting things. And they depended on the magnetic field and the temperature. So there was a field called zero bias anomalies, which I got interested in, because it was the application of many-body theory to tunneling. That led me to systematize how to apply many-body theory to electron tunneling in solid-state junctions. John had written a model called The Transfer Hamiltonian, which he had used for superconducting tunneling. But that was not terribly useful for the kinds of things we needed to do. So I basically took the Matsubara formulation, took John’s Transfer Hamiltonian model, and mapped it into a Matsubara form similar to linear response theory. This enabled me to evaluate systematically the many-body processes that happened in the barrier, the many-body processes that happened in the electrodes, and to produce a systematic Matsubara formulation of the tunneling problem. In that context, I could then go back and do the superconducting tunneling. I could calculate all the various magnetic effects with people had seen. I could calculate phenomena like phonon-induced zero bias anomalies. I could calculate inelastic tunneling. So all the tunneling phenomena that before had each had been their own little world, I could write in one systematic, simple formalism. I could and did write a book that had a chapter on this, a chapter on that, reviewing each one and showing which kind of diagrams they were; this is what you got, this is what the experiments were. So I basically took the group’s interest in tunneling plus the technology of the Matsubara formulation and converted them into a book [Tunneling in Solids (Academic Press, New York, 1969)] that covered the whole subject, which turned out to be, as you know, immensely popular. And that’s how that book came about. The surface science was a fundamentally different activity. There was a researcher at GE named Gert Ehrlich, who also ultimately left to go to the University of Illinois, but many years after I did, who was in a completely different group. I’m trying to think of what that group’s job was, catalysis, fuel cells, perhaps. In any event, Gert’s expertise was electron field emission, and he made field emission tips. In those days, field emission was done in glass tubes, so you’d have to make the tip, and a detector and put it all in a glass vacuum tube. And the reason that you did that in a place like GE is because nobody else had any technology for doing all this glass blowing. So the places where that work was done were industrial labs, especially GE and Westinghouse. So we were the centers of expertise for the experimental work in that field, because of the expertise in glass blowing, and the technology of being able to make the experimental apparatus. Gert had discovered, or maybe he didn’t discover it, but anyway there was a big mystery. Field emission was described by the Fowler-Nordheim equation: an equation that says you get field emission from a metal, because the emitted electron goes through a triangular barrier at the surface A field emitted electron goes through; a thermionic emitted electron goes over. The free parameter is the work function. So you could discuss how the current should scale with the work function. The mystery, then, was why when you adsorbed nitrogen onto tungsten the work function went up, but the current went up, too. If the work function went up, and the Fowler-Nordheim model was correct, the current has to do down. That was the problem that was posed to me.
By Gert Erlich. How could this be? Having been working on tunneling, my response was, “Well, of course. It’s resonance tunneling.” I had a summer student, Mike Alferieff from MIT, so we just simply worked the problem. We took a one-dimensional potential, we put a little potential for an adsorbate in front of it in an external electric field, and we calculated the tunneling current. And lo and behold, if you calculate the energy distributions, you get a huge peak right at the virtual energy level of the adsorbate, no fantastic surprise, frankly. But it instantly solved the problem, and we became famous. But of course, lots of people didn’t believe it. There was a huge debate over whether this was really the solution to the problem. So a whole bunch of folks went and tried to look for the resonances in the energy distributions of the field emitted electrons. But they were not immediately successful. It turns out that the reason for that is that these resonances on most metals are down so far from the Fermi surface in energy that you’re down into the noise when you do the measurement of the currents. So Ward Plummer (elected to the National Academy of Sciences just this year) at NBS wanted to go to a low-work function metal and also put on an adsorbate that had a high-energy resonance, so you could get it up to higher energies. I forgot what he used as the metal, but he was putting the divalent elements on it. Eventually he actually resolved the first peak in the energy distribution. That was a huge thing: The first new thing in electron field emission in decades. So that is how that all came about.
And this was all while you were at Schenectady? Yes.
Yes. That’s all while I was at Schenectady.
Now, can I ask you how it came about that you were consulting for the Lighting Division? Did they seek you out? Did you volunteer?
Well, I don’t know how it got started but I think people were expected to consult for the operating divisions, several of which like the Lamp Division and Switchgear Division had their own regional R&D labs. I was happy to consult for the Light Division, because my wife’s family lived in Cleveland. So after I had gone out there once or twice, I realized that I could take my family with me on those trips. Of course, that meant the grandchildren got to see the grandparents. Unfortunately, they lived in Lakewood on the other side of town from the Lamp Division facility at Nela Park. I can still remember driving through snow storms for an hour to get to the Lamp Division from Lakewood, but I was very keen on going out to the Lamp Division because that meant that we got to take the children out to see Ann’s parents, and that was regarded as a highly desirable thing. So I’m not sure this completely answers your question. You asked how it got started. I don’t really recall. I became quite interested in lighting. The Lamp Division was a large business. They had a nice customer center in Cleveland at Nela Park, where they educated customers all about lights, e.g., how the lights were made and the color spectrum. So there was a lot of good physics there. I got to work with a young man named Tom Soules . So I had all of the things you would want: A good collaborator and a pressing reason to go to Cleveland. I enjoyed the work. I learned a lot. The people wanted me. I had a young colleague who worked with me. And I got to take the grandchildren to see the grandparents. What’s there not to like about this?
During this period Schenectady, ‘63 to ‘69, did you have any kind of managerial role?
Okay. Were you involved in funding or fund-raising?
No. I was solely an individual contributor, and my recollection is that I was reasonably hard to get along with.
I was naive enough to believe that you ought to tell people, quote, “the truth” i.e., what you think. Fortunately, I had a number of managers who found that not only not offensive but also somewhat amusing, but that’s not true in general, as we both know.
What about when your notebooks, was there was some procedure for preserving these for controlling how the notebooks moved in and out?
Yes. Everybody had a lab notebook. Now, for a variety of reasons, I constructed my own lab notebooks. I didn’t use the official one personally, but I kept detailed records of my calculations in loose-leaf form, because I was constantly making mistakes and putting additional material into the notebooks. Since I was doing such basic work, nobody seemed to care very much. I was telling you earlier about the experimentalists and the theorists. Experimentalists, especially the guys working on the superconductors, all kept very careful notebooks. When they got filled up, they went to the library. So that was a very rigorous scheme. If you were doing any kind of experimental work, you kept a meticulous lab notebook. Theorists tend to keep loose-leaf notebooks, but they were not expected to file a lot of patents. The main use of the official notebooks was to establish the priority of a patent claim if the patent was litigated. I tried to explain to you about the portfolio, earlier. The people at the front end of the technology development process were not judged by exactly the same criteria as the people at the other places in the process. Since we were judged essentially by the public recognition of our work, we were not subject to, let’s call it, excessive rigor when we didn’t follow the internal procedures to the letter. Again, since we’re on record, this is one of the attributes of an outstanding research organization, where you tailor what you do to people where they are. Roland Schmidt was a superb manager. He eventually went to become GE’s VP of R&D and then president of RPI, and Chairman of the Board of the American Institute of Physics. But I guarantee you, if he had been a guy who insisted that everybody toe the line; he’d have never gotten up that ladder. As a senior manager you’ve got to encourage people who work for you. They are the ones who are going to do the work. You’re not going to do the work. The best you can do is get them out there. What I’m describing to you is what I always believed as a research manager, later. The people who work for me, I don’t try to tell them what to do. I try to get them in contact with the people who have the problems so that they learn for themselves what to do. And then when they something, an idea, you encourage them. If a manager tells somebody what to do, there will be resentment instantly. The most important thing, if you’ve got talented people, is you get the talented people to the customers, you get the talented people to the source of the problem, you let them figure out what to do, and then you reward the hell out of them when they get something done well. And oh, by the way, you take up for them when they make a mistake, because you’re going to make a whole bunch of mistakes and you’re not living in exactly the same world as most other people. Sometimes the managers in the groups that you’re interacting with don’t exactly understand the attitudes of the people that you manage. The environment in Roland’s group was really excellent, and it was quite different from that in most other groups. I remember Gert Ehrlich was very unhappy with his group. He did not feel at all satisfied about how he was able to go to professional society meetings, and so on and so forth. So that’s a very pertinent question. Outstanding performance only comes from motivated people. No one is motivated if they are subjected to what they regard as excessive controls.
Okay. So, but just to make sure I understand; for your work, for your group’s work, there wasn’t any particular stringent control of your notebooks or who you talked to about what.
Your proposed restatement of my answer to your question is not generally accurate. There was control but the control was not exercised uniformly across all the people in the group and across all the activities in the group. For the tiny number of people who were out at the front end, your statement is accurate. But there were a substantial number of people in the group who were associated with technologies with envisionable product applications for whom that statement is not correct. They kept notebooks religiously. They consulted with customers and manufacturing folks. They filed patents. So it’s where you are in the product development process that determines the appropriate procedures—that’s the intellectual structure that I want you to envision. Think about a value chain. At one end, you have customers; at the other end you have ideas. A whole lot of things have to happen to an idea before it’s useful to a customer. First, you must convert that idea into a technology option. People like we were talking about do this. Next you have to convert the technology option into some kind of a product option. Then you must convert the product option into a product. Next, you have to deliver the product to the end customers. Finally, you have to get the feedback from the customers all the way up to the front end. New products are created and delivered via this value chain. The model that I need for you to have in your mind, is that the behaviors and the management practices that are appropriate depend upon where you are in this chain. What is very appropriate for the guy who’s doing customer feedback is totally inappropriate for the guys in manufacturing, whose behaviors and practices in turn, are totally inappropriate for technology development.
I understand your point about the value chain and the different kinds of requirements for different people in the organization.
So Roland’s group was generally at the front end of the value chain, but not all of its members were at the very leading edge of the value chain. Part of the group was trying to develop technology with a product in mind, and part of the group was trying to develop new ideas.
Okay. Your trip to Russia. Did you make many trips, either for these kinds of conferences—you said that they were good with you, better in your group than in other groups. And were they particular significant ones?
Well, my first travel abroad was to a tunneling conference in Riso, Denmark. I believe that was in ‘67. And then the second trip was to Russia in ‘68. Those were the two that I certainly remember. The trip in ‘68 was to the International Conference on Semiconductors, which is a well-known international conference. People from GE went regularly, and so I was not exactly an exception, in any way, shape or form. As for the tunneling conference, Ivar had just won the Nobel Prize. So a bunch of us went. Gerry Mahan went, I went, Ivar went.
And in ‘69, you will be?
In ‘69, I went to the University of Illinois, quote, “permanently” unquote, as a professor, i.e., not on a visiting appointment, on a regular appointment.
And you went there in large part, because of John Bardeen?
Okay. So what was it like there? How was it different than being in the GE group?
Well, the first thing that’s different is that everybody is his/her own boss. I had an appointment in the Coordinated Science Laboratory (CSL). I had the office and some money in the CSL. I also had an appointment in the Materials Research Lab (MRL), so I had money and I had facilities in the Materials Research Lab. I had an academic appointment in Physics, with a salary paid for teaching by the University of Illinois, and ultimately, I had contracts. From the point of view of operations, if you are a researcher at GE or I suppose, any industrial lab, you do not control your own resources; your manager controls your resources. At GE we had very enlightened management, so they let you control your own sources of problems. Nevertheless, they had total control of all your resources, from travel to computers to any sort of junior help like postdocs or summer appointments. Every time there was a budget cut, you got forcefully reminded that you were a peon controlled by a system that did not care at all about what you needed to do your job. In addition, as I learned many years later at Xerox, most mangers want to tell their people what to do, which in my opinion is lethal for this kind of activity. So the first difference is that at a university you have control over your resources. You have control over what you do. On the other hand, your resources are not guaranteed. If you don’t do good stuff, the money doesn’t come. So you’re an independent businessman, as opposed to a hired hand who gets told what to do. Now I’m casting this in black and white terms, but you have to understand that at a research university faculty members really are independent businessmen. You do get paid, but you get paid to teach, and that’s made pretty clear to you. And oh, by the way, it’s okay in Illinois, at least in my day, to teach graduate students, but there were formulas. You had to have so many graduate students and so on and so forth. You had to acquire so many points, either by teaching courses or graduate students or by performing other duties. So for your salary from the University of Illinois, there were things that you had to do. They might give you a little slack at the beginning. But in general, there was a formula and the formula was expected to be followed. It was a teaching formula, for your teaching salary. My research money came from the Materials Research Lab, from CSL, and from the Air Force. I don’t know where other professors’ research funding came from, but they came from whatever they came from. For those monies, you had to please the sponsor, so you were doing things that the sponsor was interested in. Now in those days—You’ve got to remember we’re talking about the late sixties and early seventies— things were a lot looser than they are now. The view was that if you have good people you turn them loose to do good things. So it was more of, “Gee, Charlie Duke is an okay guy, and he’s doing stuff that’s publishable, and he’s going to conferences,” and so on. There weren’t a whole lot of extra questions asked, at least that was my impression. I didn’t feel oppressed by it. I think today, young people have a much tougher time. I have served on some Boards for the Military. It’s not really that way with military funding these days. The NSF has its own unique features. There is a lot more control exercised by funding agencies today than in the early 1970s. So I don’t think young people today live in that world to the extent that I did. I think the world has changed profoundly. But in that day, that’s the way it was. That was totally different from GE, where you were expected to work on what you were told to work on. For reasons that were to some extent accidental, I was a tiny part of a tiny group the members of which were allowed to work on what they were interested in as long as they had some customers out there that were happy. So that’s the first big difference. The second big difference was the sociology. And I must say that at GE, the sociology was much closer to Urbana than at Xerox. At GE, we had visitors fairly regularly. My wife occasionally threw parties. Other people threw parties. I still remember those parties because we have little picture books from them. I can show you pictures of Volker Heine at a Christmas party, and John at parties. So there were people coming through and parties being thrown fairly regularly. Not as often as at Urbana, but every few months or so. The only big different was the fact that GE tended to pay for the parties, whereas at Illinois, everybody had to do everything themselves. Our group (at GE ) was very congenial. But its environment really was very local.
When you say, “our group,” do you mean at GE or Urbana?
At GE, Roland Schmidt’s group, Metallurgy and Ceramics. So when I got to Urbana, it was just more of the same. Visitors came every week. There was a group of people in the physics department who entertained. The Dukes entertained; the Bardeens entertained; the Pines entertained; the Holonyaks entertained; the Schlichters entertained. There was a group of people that entertained, and various people had visitors through. My wife learned to cook for fairly substantial numbers of people. And as I mentioned in one of notes that I gave you, we bought wine by the case from Hans Frauenfelder. If you want that story on the tape, one of the more interesting things occurred I believe at Nick Holoynak’s birthday party. The wine had just arrived, and I had bought a couple of crates of the cheap stuff and one crate of the good stuff. So I took three bottles over and we did a blind testing with David Pines John, Nick, and Charlie Slichter; all these guys who claim, they knew the good stuff from the bad stuff, absolutely. We did a blind test. The only person who got it right was John Bardeen. That was the last time I ever believed in this mythology of the difference between 20 bucks a bottle and five bucks a bottle. Today I guess that would be 60 bucks a bottle and 20 bucks a bottle [chuckles].
Right. So you were telling me about the differences in the sociology.
Well, in Urbana, professors were all equal. You know, professors were professors were professors. The Deans were professors. And oh, by the way, the professors didn’t have to cow-tow to the Deans. There was no view that if the Dean or department chair tells you to do something, you had to do it. Persuasion rather than power was the order of the day. The Department Chair got along by getting along. The Department Chair didn’t get along by ordering people around. So it was a very, very congenial environment. At least I found Urbana very congenial. And even people who had very different points of view got along. I can remember David Pines, Charlie Slichter, and John Bardeen were very different people but they all got along. Nick was kind of the practical engineer, and he got along with everybody. There was a certain amount of grumbling and griping, but basically, the physics department at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign was a congenial, collegial environment. It was not a power-oriented environment.. The Deans got laughed at more than they got feared. At GE, I was fairly insulated, I guess you would have to say. I saw my own, narrow little thing, and I had good bosses. Roland was an excellent boss, and he was followed by an equally good boss named Bill Johnson. So I had exceptionally good managers at GE. But my colleagues like Gert did not have comparably good managers. As you begin to recognize that if you’re going to stay around you’re not going to have exceptionally good bosses forever, you’re going to go some place where you think you’re going to have a little more freedom. This is what made the University of Illinois an attractive proposition relative to GE, although I had been treated exceptionally well at GE and have always had the highest opinion of most of my personal managers and colleagues there. Xerox was much less congenial than GE. It was and remains very power-oriented, a fact that I learned too late.
When you were at Urbana, what were your contacts or relationships with industry? Did you do any consulting?
Oh, I continued to be a consultant for GE. Nick Holonyak, with whom I collaborated regularly on III-V semiconductor tunneling and light emission was actively involved in something called The Industrial Affiliates, within the context of which I consulted for Ford and for GM. I’ve forgotten the specifics but we had a group of companies and almost every month we went around to visit them. But they didn’t pay us personally. They paid into a kitty that we could use to support research. So there was a group of us who participated. I think it included Nick, myself, and Dale Compton (then director of CSL), I can’t remember who else was in the group. But we had an Industrial Affiliates program, and companies were very anxious to work with us. So we would take the students. I remember I went to Cocomo, and to some plant in Chicago. I almost got killed flying into Chicago Midway on a small plane. I didn’t do that again. So the answer is yes, there was a very active consulting activity.
And was it all through Nick’s industrial affiliates program?
It’s wasn’t Nick’s program. Nick and John were my Godfathers. Nick connected me with the real world, and John took care of me. Both of them were close personal friends. John was like Eugene. If I needed something done, I’m sure I could have gone to John. I never had to. I got to Urbana with a very generous package. That generous package didn’t come from the air. Nobody in Illinois knew who the hell I was. John did the same thing Eugene did. He told them to fix it, which I have done many times for kids coming to Xerox and when I was at PNNL recruiting people. This is what perceptive bosses do. They pick the people they think that are going to be the winners, and they arrange to make life pleasant for them. That’s what you do. That’s your job. So there was an industrial affiliates program at Urbana, and Marv somebody or another, ran it. It was a university program, but certain people were the backbones, who went out regularly. Nick and I, and I believe Dale and another chap from Electrical Engineering, went out regularly. You’re getting a very biased view of this, because I had a circle of friends. They were the people I knew, and I knew they participated. But the industrial affiliates program was much bigger than us. There were many other participants. We were not the only people who were driving this thing. It’s just that we had our little group of companies that we went to. Nick seemed to know everybody, in my view.
Do you want to talk about some of your research between ‘69 and ‘72?
Well, that’s at Urbana.
Well, when I got there, the tunneling book had just been published. The first big thing that happened in Urbana was that some work that I had already done at GE on surface science became hot. I had started a project with Charlie Tucker, who worked at GE, on Low-Energy Electron Diffraction (LEED). While I was still at GE I went to a LEED theory seminar with Charlie for reasons that I don’t really recall. What does “low energy” mean? Well, low energy is low, relative to nuclear energy. So we’re talking about 50 eV. to 500 eV. “Low” to a semiconductor physicist is a millivolt. LEED is not on the same scale. At the time “LEED theory” was high-energy band theory. But if you look at the LEED intensities, —remember you talking to a guy who did his thesis on nuclear matter and optical-model absorption. — it was clear that electrons in this energy range were moving through a highly absorptive medium. I tried to point that out to folks at the LEED theory seminar, and they all laughed at me. So, I went back to GE and Charlie Tucker was interested in pursuing this topic. He did experimental Low-Energy Electronic Diffraction. His interest was metallurgy. He used it to study what was on the surface of things that would cause them to break in difficult environments. So he was at the technology end of the spectrum. He was thrilled to work with a nut like me. We wrote a little paper in which I worked out the scattering of an electron in a periodic potential in the presence of strong absorption, which was not exactly hard for me to do, since I’d done my thesis on a similar topic.
When are we talking, now?
This actually occurred in ‘67. The paper was published in ’69. It was submitted in early ‘68. That paper created quite a stir, but it was pointed out to me, very forcibly, that my model was incomplete because I used isotropic scatterers. So I had the damping right, but I had the scattering wrong. So one of the first things that I did when I got to Illinois was that I worked with a Post-Doc, George Laramore to correct this shortfall. At first we constructed a full quantum field theory of electron-solid scattering. So that instead of calculating LEED intensities via an ansatz, I had a real theory, and it turned out to my amazement that we had a solvable quantum field theory. Renormalized is perhaps a better word. You could actually calculate all the diagrams, all the standard stuff. So that was cute. When we got around to putting it into code form to make approximations to do the elastic scattering calculation, we put in multiple phase shifts to describe the scattering of the incident electron from the atoms in the solid. That put the theory on a firm, complete theoretical basis. We predicted both elastic and inelastic diffraction. Inelastic diffraction is when the electron loses energy but still diffracts, so you can observe what looks like a LEED pattern, but a LEED pattern for electrons that have lost a plasmon’s worth of energy. After we constructed the theory we first applied it to the LEED from the (100), (111) and (110) faces of aluminum. That was to calm my critics. People were yelling at me fairly substantially. Now the party line at the time was that the outer atomic layer spacing at surfaces was expanded because the atomic vibrations at surfaces were larger than those in the bulk so that all surface atomic layers would relax outwards from the bulk. But it turned out that the top layer spacing of aluminum (110) was contracted, and that was really a shock, a big shock. The reason for this behavior turns out to be associated with the electrostatic restoring forces between the electrons leaking out of the solid at the surface and the charged ion cores left behind. If you have a very open surface, then you’ve got these ions sticking out in the tail of the electron distribution and they want to pull back. So it’s an electrostatic effect, that subsequently, and nowadays, people compute routinely, for all kinds of surfaces. But at the time, that was a big discovery. So we did a lot of new things: We constructed a unique quantum field theory; we applied it to elastic scattering and discovered these contractions that were new an unexpected; and we applied it to describe inelastic diffraction, which had never been done before. So we had a theory of inelastic diffraction, and that was totally novel. And then we learned how to apply this theory to determine the energy versus momentum relationship of surface plasmons. So we converted the notion of electron solid scattering from high-energy band theory into a real quantum field theory that could do lots of other things. It could be used to determine surface atomic geometries. When it was, we discovered that these geometries weren’t what the world thought they were supposed to be. It could be applied to determine energy versus momentum relations of surface plasmons, that had never been determined before. Consequently, this theory greatly expanded the reach of what the study of electron diffraction from surfaces could do. Now at that time (1970-72), I was becoming active in the American Vacuum Society (AVS). I had been invited to their 1968 meeting in Seattle, and had given a talk there on the electron density distribution of low index metallic surfaces, which Alan Bennett and I’d been working on. But then I was involved in the planning of the Surface Science Division meetings. It turns out that the Surface Science Division was formed at that meeting. Peter Hobson was the first Chair. I was the second Chair. But the year before I was Chair, there was going to be an International Union of Vacuum Science and Technology (IUVSTA) conference. Bob Park and I proposed that we initiate a new international conference on solid surfaces (ICSS) at this meeting. In Seattle, they had this boat trip that goes out to an island, and at the island, you get some salmon along with an Indian ceremony. The AVS sponsored “all that you can drink” on the boats back and forth. So Bob Park and I took this trip, and we got thoroughly potted. We talked about, “Well, this organization (AVS) is kind of nowhere where science is concerned. Why don’t we have a real conference, invite some Nobel Prize winners, and show these people what real science is all about.” We proposed this to the AVS leadership, and probably no one was more surprised than we were when, in fact, the leadership actually thought it was a good idea. They were willing to sponsor the conference with real money for speakers. So we planned the first International Conference on Solid surfaces (ICSS), which was in ‘71 in Boston. John came, Eugene came, and Bob Schrieffer came. All my buddies from the old days [chuckles] came and chaired sessions. Bob Schrieffer even gave a paper.
Now you mentioned that you turned to the American Vacuum Society because the American Physical Society wasn’t interested.
Oh, yes. All of us were physicists and we were all used to giving papers in American Physical Society (APS) meetings. This turns out to be a famous story that still gets told in Council and Executive Board meetings in the APS. We went to, I guess, the Condensed Matter Physics Division, although it would not have been called the Condensed Matter then, and asked for some invited paper sessions and other sessions. We were turned down flat.
You’ll have to ask the people involved. My recollection is that they argued that surface science wasn’t “real” condensed matter physics. In other words, it was outside the scope of what the big wheels thought they wanted to do. That would be my interpretation, in retrospect. All professional societies have this problem as became very apparent to me in the American Chemical Society at a later time. The people who run these societies have their own personal interests and agendas. They got to be leaders because their interests were similar to the people who ran it before, so they tend to be fairly ingrown. Since there are only so many sessions the leaders don’t particularly welcome anybody coming in with something new. At the time, I thought they were a bunch of really bad people. I’ve subsequently realized that this is life. But I was very annoyed about their unequivocal rejection of us, and the American Vacuum Society was welcoming us. So the surface science community, which had a lot of physicists in it, basically just deserted the American Physical Society (APS) and went to the American Vacuum Society (AVS) for a while. Leading edge papers were given at the AVS meetings. The APS eventually caught on and started having sessions, reversing their initial stand. But this occurred only after I had become president of the AVS, surface science had become a big thing, and Physics Today had special issues on the topic, like once a year. So it had become clear that Surface Science had become a big deal in physics. It was also clear that many of the people involved thought the APS had missed one of the major new physics frontiers of the 1970s, and this was a new experience for the APS. [Chuckles] And they were not real happy with it. I still remember that when I was on Council and the Executive Board (1995-98), Judy Franz (Executive officer of the APS) would remind people regularly when Materials Science, or some new group came up requesting more representation at the meetings, that I was sitting there, and the reason that Surface Science had gone off to somebody else was because they had done that to us. She didn’t want them to do that to this next group. She must have brought in Materials Physics and at least a couple of other topical groups that became divisions into the APS because of her lectures at the Executive Board meetings. So it made a big impression on Judy, and she made the APS a much more welcoming institution. Everybody learns. It’s not like it’s a big deal.
You mean Judy Franz?
Judy Franz, right. She was not the secretary then. Bill Havens was the secretary then.
So then in ‘72—now, is there anything that is important that we should mention before moving on to ‘72, Xerox?
Well, I don’t have my crib sheet here. I’m not sure what I had covered. No. I gave both of the key things that I had at Urbana; namely, good friends, surface science in the AVS, and the ICSS, right. All those things were good.
Okay. But in ‘72, you decided to move on to Xerox. Can you tell me how that came about? Are you okay? Do you want to take a break?
No, I’m okay. As I indicated in the little crib sheet there, leaving Urbana was probably the most difficult and traumatic decision I made of my entire career, and it came about in a very unfortunate way. The Chairman of the Department when I came to Urbana was a gentleman named Gerry Almy. He was a wonderful, wonderful person, as was his wife, Ruth. And they were good friends of the family. But in 1972, or maybe it was ‘71, he retired and was replaced by someone else. Now in mid-year of ‘71, I had four programs in Urbana. I had a III-V semiconductor program with Nick Holonyak; I had a silicon program with Dale Compton; I had a surface physics program with Frank Prost; and I had my own little theory program that was centered in the Materials Research Lab.
Can I interrupt? Can you tell me about how these different programs were funded?
Yes. Nick’s program was funded predominately, I believe, by some combination of the NSF and the military. He had his own contracts and had at least one Bell Labs employee among his students. He was a member of the Materials Research Lab, just like I was, but that was not a big feature of his program. He had mostly his own funding. My program was in the Materials Research Lab (MRL), which was an ARPA lab, a wonderful arrangement under a man named Bob Mauer. Then there was an entity with its own building called The Coordinated Science Lab (CSL), which was a Joint Services Laboratory. It was directed by Dale Compton. And Frank Probst’s surface science was in CSL. At a later time Gert Ehrlich left GE to come to CSL to do surface science. Dale, who was the director of CSL, had a silicon program that was funded by the Joint Services. So we had Nick, who had somewhat independent funding but also was a member of MRL. Most of my money came from MRL. The money that funded Dale’s experimental work and Frank’s experimental work came from CSL. So the experimental programs of the two people that left were both associated with CSL. Frank left to do something else He was involved in a computer-assisted project called PLATO, and he decided he would prefer to do PLATO. This turns out to be a long story. Frank is a very interesting person. He was almost blind, and he really never felt like he got the scientific recognition he deserved. He had complicated reasons for going to work for PLATO. Dale got the offer to be head of Research at Ford, so it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. So here I am with these four programs, and we are publishing five or six papers in each program each year. Nick’s group published more, but I was only involved in five or six papers. So I went to the chairman of the department, and asked him, was he planning to replace either Dale or Frank? Both Dale and Frank were professors of physics. CSL and MRL could not make academic appointments. They offered lab space, and research money. But they were not academic units, so they didn’t give PhDs. Hence both Dale and Frank had their academic appointments in the physics department. Nick was in the electrical engineering department with a complimentary appointment in physics, but Dale, Frank were both in physics.
Okay, and you were in the physics department?
I was in the physics department. So from the physics department’s point of view, two-thirds of my program has just left. So I went to the new chairman of the department and asked him, was he going to replace these folks. He said he’d think about it. Then he came back and said no, he couldn’t replace either one of them. I asked him why, and he said it because he had asked the dean, and the dean told him that he just didn’t have any positions. So I said, “Well, can we go see the dean together?” He said sure. So we went. The dean was Dan Drucker, who I also knew independently. It’s a long story but to tell a brief version, I had been associated with computing on campus ever since I arrived. I felt that I could reduce the cost of computing by a factor of ten, so I had been empowered to design a new computer for MRL, which I had done. Subsequently it eventually did reduce computing costs by a factor of ten. But after this computer had been purchased, I had been asked to sit on the committee overseeing the university’s central computer facility. I had made one very simple suggestion to them: Namely, that if they disconnected the job scheduling program then they would be able to improve their throughput. Well, they improved their throughput by a factor ten instantly, because it turned out that they had a lot of very small programs and the scheduling program was just spinning trying to schedule them optimally. Suddenly they didn’t even need to buy a new computer. So I was a very famous guy on campus, very famous. Dan Drucker knew who I was, not because I was a physicist in the physics department, but because I was the guy who had sorted out the campus computer problem. You’ve now got the scene set, right? The Dean of Engineering, who ultimately controls the appointments, the Chairman of the Physics Department, and a young Turk in the physics department, who, oh, by the way, has just solved a historically huge computer problem, which I’m not even sure that this chairman of the department was aware of, are all to meet to discuss the young Turk’s problem with keeping his research program alive. So here we are, and I was asked to start the conversation, which I did. I said, “Dan, you know…”, and explained to him what I just explained to you, and that I thought it would be very reasonable to replace these guys. I pointed out that we were talking about several million dollars’ worth of funding and it seemed to me that it was a good financial investment as well as a good intellectual investment. Then, to my absolute amazement, Dan said it was the first he’d heard of it. I turned to Ralph, and I said, “Ralph, you told me the you had told Dan.” Well, Ralph sort of sheepishly admitted that he’d never brought it up to the dean
To the dean.
To the dean, right. The conversation just ended. Drucker was clearly upset.
So you were saying that both you and the dean were upset.
Right. But this conversation just ended, and I went home and talked to my wife, got on the telephone, and I had job offers in a few weeks.
Uh-huh [yes]. Can I ask who you talked to, and how you go about, from your position, looking for a job? Were you looking for other academic positions? Were you specifically looking for industry? Did you do a broad search?
Oh. I was going to go back to the industry.
Oh, you had decided that.
Well, that’s where my contacts were. I had contacts at GE, I had contacts at Xerox, because Xerox came down as part of the Industrial Physics Program, and so I had been sending students and people. In fact, Larry Schein who was one of the people I worked with, who was in Dale Compton’s group, had just come to Xerox. So I knew the people here at Xerox, and I knew the people at GE, so they were the people I immediately contacted.
And you didn’t try to do a search in academia?
Could you imagine how I would have thought about academia at that moment? Put yourself in this situation. I have lots of friends in the department. Ann and I are entertaining all the time. As I mentioned, I had John over the night that the man on the moon landed. My mother was there, and John came over. We watched the man on the moon. Here’s my mother, sitting there with the guy who invented the transistor that made it all possible. I mean this is a wonderful place, right? And here, this person…
Oh, wait. Something’s wrong [technology glitch; tape stopped].
So moving on to Xerox now, can we talk about how you chose Xerox out of the… You said offers started coming in a few weeks.
Well, I talked to people. And it turns out that there was a man named Mike Shahin who came to Illinois regularly. He was thrilled with the notion that I might be willing to come to Xerox, so he set up an interview for me at Xerox, and I interviewed. Actually, Xerox had two research organizations. They had a basic research organization, and they had an applied research organization. I was not interested in the basic research organization. I knew enough about industrial labs to realize that this was not where you were going to have a good career in industry.
Can you explain that?
Yes. I think I already did, when I described to you the value chain and the fact that at the very beginning of people’s careers they could be right up at the front end of the value chain. But, people cannot stay there for a whole career. In order to have a successful career in industry, you’ve got to find out what the business is, what the customer wants, and you’ve got to do something that makes a difference. And you can’t do that effectively in the fundamental physics laboratory. If you want such a lab to be effective, you have to a certain extent, to isolate it. But on the other hand, an individual contributor can’t think about having a career there because a good career in a business has got to be delivering value for the business, not going out doing great anything. I mean, it isn’t that science is bad; it’s that you can’t be peripheral. It doesn’t matter that what you do is great. You could be great in something else, and it would still be peripheral. So Mike arranged for the interview, and I came to Xerox. Peter Wharter offered me a job reporting to Mark Myers under some very favorable conditions. They almost doubled my salary. They allowed me to set up my own research group in surface science; although it turns out I never really wound up doing. But that was a very important criterion. And I knew the Mike Shahin very well, and the job could start whenever I wanted to start. So they met all my terms and conditions with an almost 100% pay increase. So who’s not to like it? And oh, by the way, when I took one look at the benefit booklet, I couldn’t believe it. Not only did you get a salary, but also you got healthcare (I didn’t have that). You had a pension (I didn’t have that). The benefits were really wonderful. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. You remember, now, I had to earn my way through high school and college after having a wonderfully prosperous early childhood. So, I’m paying attention to that dimension. And I might add I had left GE three years earlier. I think I made about $16,000 a year when I left GE. This offer was for $33,000 a year. It was a factor of two better than GE’s salary. This was a good offer. So I leapt at it.
Okay. And can you describe what you were hired to do? Was it primarily to set up a surface science group?
My first assignment was to set up a surface science group. Remember, I came to Xerox in June 1972. I was writing a lot of papers, especially on LEED. I had gone to Czechoslovakia to deliver a series of invited lectures on LEED at a surface science conference there (1971), which I had to edit for the proceedings. I finished an article with Nick Holoynak on light emitting diodes, which got published in Physics Today (August 1972). I was preparing presentations for a NATO summer school on electron emission spectroscopy in Ghent Belgium (August 1972), a surface science summer school in Milwaukee WI (September 1973), and the Enrico Fermi Summer School in Varenna Italy (June 1973). I was writing a massive invited review article on the “Determination of the Structure and Properties of Solid Surfaces Via Electron Diffraction and Emission” for Advances in Chemical Physics 27, 1-209 (1974). So in my first year at Xerox, mostly I was finishing up nationally recognized stuff and traveling around the world to give invited lectures. My managers were thrilled with that. There was no doubt about it. In May 1973 Mark Myers went to Canada to start the Xerox Research Center of Canada. His boss, Peter Wharter, asked me to take on Mark’s job of managing the Materials Research Laboratory. So I did that. And oh, by the way, the other thing that his boss had asked me to do, which I appreciated, was my direct contribution to Xerox in my initial year. I became part of the team that planned Xerox’s future products. We put together a big booklet on all the products describing their attributes, the customers and the markets. So while I was finishing up the surface science work, I was managing the applied materials science effort and spending my time learning about Xerox products and markets. Believe me, I understood what an industrial career was all about. I recognized that doing research in industry is an avocation. It may be a sponsored avocation, and you might love it—you might get a little extra money and benefits from it—but don’t kid yourself. It’s a hobby. [Chuckles] I knew that way back in ‘72. So I’m not sure if I’ve answered your question, but the answer is that for my first year I was in principle setting up surface science activity. I was writing papers. I was hiring people. I brought a post-doc named Uzi Landman with me, and he was doing some surface science calculations. We were trying to hire an experimentalist, which we eventually did—a chap named Dave Adams. Those two chaps were working together. What happened eventually is that they went off and did their own thing, and I went off and did other things. That’s how it eventually worked out. But surface science was never a big deal for Xerox as it turned out, whereas other stuff I did, e.g., my work on organic solids, was a huge deal for Xerox.
And then within a year, you moved into management.
No, I really didn’t, actually. Although for a little while I appeared to. As I noted earlier, in the spring of 1973 my manager, Mark Myers, went to Canada to start the Xerox Research Center of Canada. I was asked to take his place as head of the Materials Research Laboratory (MRL), because I had done product planning, so I knew what the products were. At about this time, Xerox became involved in a patent dispute with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) so I realized we had to have something fundamentally different in order to deal with the prospect of losing patent protection on Xerox’s current products. Following a thorough review of the activities in MRL, it looked to me like the use of organic materials to make flexible photoreceptor belts was something that we could patent. Hence I focused materials research on these devices. They offered new architectural advantages so that you could design desktop and hallway machines with capabilities that would have required much larger machines using the drum inorganic photoreceptors of the time. It was cost effective. I could see there was a lot of potential here. And there was a small amount of research going on in the fundamental research lab that could be built on. The next thing that happened, barely six months later in October 1973, was a massive reorganization in which the applied research organization (where I resided) was merged with a smaller local corporate research organization to create The Webster Research Center, known locally as WRC. I was promoted to Research Fellow, a rather exalted position that was the individual contributor analog of a Vice President. There was only one other Research Fellow in the company at that time, Bob Gundlach, now a member of the National Academy of Engineering. I started a little group called the Molecular and Organic Materials Area. . The group consisted of an experimentalist who did transport, an experimentalist who did photoemission, a chemist who made the materials, myself, and another theorist. We went off to try to figure out how to get charges through polymers because in those days electronic transport in polymers was range limited transport. Namely, if you cast a polymer film and shot charge into it, the charge just stayed there. Polymer films just wouldn’t support current flow. That’s characteristic of localized charges. The charges go in, they lose energy, and boom; they’re trapped. So we studied the electronic structure of polymers and molecular solids. We learned that there were certain kinds of polymers that you could get charges through. They had to have certain attributes. You could dope them with other materials so that you could get the charges through more readily. You could put other things on the surfaces to manipulate the surface contacts. Other applied groups were picking up on these things, so Xerox was developing quite a technology out of these ideas. Of course, as usual, there was a lot of competition, some conflict. We were on the fundamental end saying, “Gee, here’s a good system. Mumble…mumble. And here are the things you ought to do.” The applications guys were trying a million things, and mostly they weren’t working. Every now and then, they worked. So they thought we were not very useful; we thought that trial and error would not get them to a satisfactory outcome fast enough; and so on and so forth. So all of the standard stuff is happening, right? Then about three years into that, the management of the company realizes that it has got to have another generation of technology because of the patent situation. In about five years Xerox had gone from 80% market share down to 15% market share as measured by new copier placements. The company was falling apart. There are books about this. I’ve nominated Xerox for a National Medal of Technology, and for this nomination I documented the history of this period in some detail. We had a new president—David Kerns. And Kerns said, “We’re going to introduce a new technology set, and we’re going to do Leadership Through Quality. We’re going to turn this company around.” So a big chunk of the research lab was transferred off to the product development organization, and the 10 Series technology—it was called Third Gen—was developed. The first product came out, I believe, in ‘81, and then there were several follow-on products. The rest, as they say, is history. Xerox clawed its way back. We owned the market from 60 pages per minute to 120 pages per minute for 15 years. All courtesy of this technology set. So it was a “save your company” thing. It was big.
And this came out of the group that you set up.
Yes. But of course our group didn’t “do” it. Thousands of folks in the Xerox development organizations actually designed and delivered the 10 Series products. Our group created the new knowledge and insight revealing that going the route of organic belts and their associated radically new developer packages was technically feasible and could produce materials with the properties needed to make commercially viable devices. Also, in 1978 I led a company-wide effort on modeling the xerographic process. This effort resulted in the models that were used to demonstrate this feasibility before the products were built and tested. For these contributions I was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1993.
Can you describe for me the organizational structure of Xerox? So you got authority from whom to set up this group, and how did you communicate to Xerox once you got going?
Let me begin by answering your question about the organizational structure of Xerox. When I arrived at Xerox in 1972 R&D activities were funded at both the corporate level and within individual product development groups. For example, I was hired into the Research Laboratory Department (RLD) of the Information Technology Group (ITG), the product development group for xerographic copiers in Webster NY. At that time there also was a corporate funded research organization, the Rochester Corporate Research Center (RCRC) in Webster. As I noted above, however, in late 1973 RLD was merged with RCRC to form The Webster Research Center (WRC). Jack Goldman, who had recently formed the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and the Xerox Research Center of Canada (XRCC), was the corporate executive in charge of all three Centers. This structure, a Corporate Research Group consisting of geographically distributed Centers, was to be the organizational structure of centrally funded research in Xerox for the next 32 years, enduring until 2006. Later, additional centers were added in El Segundo CA and Grenoble, France before the whole structure began to disintegrate associated with Xerox’ near brush with bankruptcy in 2001. It finally ended in 2006 when what was left of the Corporate Research Group was merged back into the organization responsible for product programs. Next, let me disabuse you of the notion that somehow the accomplishments described above were all planned. In 1973 there were groups in both RLD and RCRC, which were working on organic materials for photoconductors and developer materials (i.e., carriers and toners). From the applied research organization there was the Materials Research Laboratory that I had headed. From the corporate research organization there were physics and chemistry laboratories. They were working on some photoconductor materials, too. The “Molecular and Organic Materials Area” (MOMA) that I formed in WRC was a combined group that did theory and experiment, physics and chemistry. We were actually working on materials that were not terribly interesting to the company because we were interested in generating the design rules for a new generation of photoreceptor and developer materials packages. I was publishing, going to conferences, entertaining the external leaders in the fields of interest, and generally trying to make sure that I understood the fundamental physics and chemistry that would lead to useful design rules. So there were several competitive groups, and they all had their own management chains. The only common place that we all came together was at the head of WRC, who happened to be—amazingly enough—Mike Shahin, the person who had recruited me from the University of Illinois. So I was a special case. Mike knew that I had done the detailed product planning and managed the applied materials research organization. I was a Research Fellow, which was a big deal. I told him I wanted to go do this, why I wanted to go do it, why I thought it was going to be valuable, and he let me do it. And so I was doing it essentially in parallel with the groups whose official job it was. Mike had a chemistry laboratory that was supposedly making great new polymers and finding out great new uses for them. He had a physics laboratory that was studying photoconductors, and in that laboratory there were one or two guys in there who were working on organics. Everyone was competing for resources. The situation was chaotic. So the notion that this was a carefully orchestrated thing where we knew exactly what we were doing and we went out and figured out how to do it; that’s not the way it happened. It happened via the usual chaotic situation where you had one group of people saying, “Well, you should go this….” One guy says go south; another guy says go north; still another guy says go east. And you’ve got to figure out which one is right. We figured out the answer to the question of whether it should be north, east, or south, but our group didn’t actually go there. In the fall of 1978 another massive reorganization occurred in which the chemistry and physics laboratories were restructured and large portions of them moved to the development organization to form the nucleus of the 10 Series development teams. These teams developed the 10 Series products. And oh, by the way, because it was early in my career and I hadn’t learned some of the elemental things that are required to be an effective manager, stupid us, instead of getting them on board and giving them all the credit, of course, we wanted some of the credit: Stupidest thing in the world. I’ve long since learned that if you want the development groups to do something, what you do is arrange for them to discover it for themselves, and then you encourage them. Well, I was too young , inexperienced and stupid to do that. So that it probably took a year or so longer than it should have because we were always arguing with each other in front of the various review boards about this, that, and the other thing. It was not a pretty process; it was an ugly chaotic process, but it eventually got done.
So you were at Xerox from ‘72 to ‘88. That’s a long period. Can we break it up into different kinds of work that you did or different positions you held so that we can talk about it in pieces?
When I first came to Xerox in June 1972, I joined the applied R&D organization in Webster called the Research Laboratories Department of the Information Technology Group. I expected to establish a surface science research group but wound up doing product planning. Then in the spring of 1973 I took my manager’s job as head of the applied materials science effort when he went to Canada to found the Xerox Research Center of Canada. As described above, a massive reorganization occurred in October of 1973, and I became a Research Fellow in a new Corporate Research entity called the Webster Research Center (WRC). At that time I set up and directed the small interdisciplinary Molecular and Organic Materials Area (MOMA). In the fall of 1978 there was another massive reorganization at Webster and I wound up managing the Material Science Laboratory (MSL) in WRC, which was a bigger group again. That was all happening where in the cheat sheet I have myself being the head of MOMA. But there were three phases to that. There was the initial phase where we were a little group. Then there was a phase when I managed MSL from October 1978 through October 1980, but MOMA still existed in MSL. So I had two jobs at the same time. I was running both MSL and the little group, MOMA, which was where I thought the action was. This is why you said I was a manager. The answer was no. I wasn’t really a manager; management was a task assignment. My heart was in getting these polymers developed. In October 1980 the MSL management assignment disappeared because we had another change in management, and I went back to just directing the research in MOMA. In 1978 I was promoted from Research Fellow to a newly created position of Senior Research Fellow, the highest technical rank in Xerox. That was my official job title for the rest of my days at Xerox. In1982, after the first 10 Series copier was introduced, MOMA ceased operations. I carried forward my physics research as director of a small 4-5 person Theoretical Physics and Chemistry Area. Then there was another change in management, so I wound up doing imaging science, electronic publishing, electronic reprographics and digital color systems architecture and design. This initial portion of my career at Xerox terminated when in June 1988 I left to become the Deputy Director and Chief Scientist of the Pacific Northwest Laboratory (PNL). What happens in industrial labs is that there are management changes at the top, and they precipitate further changes downward. This is one of the reasons that for my entire management career, I have always avoided (if I could) having my management assignment as my primary job. I have always tried to have a technical job that was being done solidly at the same time that I held a management responsibility because my notion of these management jobs is that they’re two or three year assignments. When I ran the whole show, I made that official. I wouldn’t allow people to keep the job for more than three years. It was three years and over or up. People get used to these jobs, and they get stale. And oh, by the way, one of the bad things that happen is that they start to think they know what they’re doing. Then they start telling other people what to do. That’s exactly what I do not want research managers to do. I want them to encourage the people to go out to the customers; go out, find out what’s going on, and figure it out for yourselves, guys. And if I happen to know how to do it, then I’m still going to send them out to discover how to do it for themselves. I’m not going to sit here and tell them what to do. It’s the kiss of death. Then it’s my problem. I want it to be their problem. This is actually a very important point unrealized by many managers.
You’ve got a lot of these interesting points, but I wonder if you could talk about the process of your learning about management.
By example. You learn what works and what doesn’t somewhat on your own. I guess the most I ever learned about management was when I worked for a man named Chip Holt, which was in 1994. We’ll discuss this later, but that’s when I came to the Wilson Center. At that point I sort of formalized my thinking about management practices and even led the Wilson Center Senior Team in offsite sessions to scrutinize and improve their practices. This occurred, however, too late in my career. It would have been a lot better if I’d done it 20 years earlier. Chip was an outstanding manager who created the DocuTech product line for Xerox. He was very clear about the processes that he followed to manage. I had the opportunity to see him up close in action as the Wilson Center developed the image-on-image color xerographic marking engine that became the iGen3 product line. Thus, Chip was the individual primarily responsible for both of Xerox’s major new product lines in the two decades between 1987 and 2007. He was a R&D manager who understood very, very clearly that his job is not done until the product is in the hands of customers. The notion that you must manage the whole value chain from concept to customer turns out to be the central element of management success in innovation. This fact has now been documented by several studies. The one that I recall is a 1990 study by Hewlett Packard of 20 or so product programs half of which had been successful and half of which had not. It turned out that the key ingredient distinguishing between the two was that all of the steps in the value chain had been executed acceptably by the successful programs whereas one or more had been executed unacceptably in the failed programs. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This notion was not part of the mental models of most of Xerox Corporate Research’s executives. Their point of view was that they generated options for someone else in the company to exercise or not. Most often it was “not”. Xerox’s hero research managers, like George Pake, from my point of view, never understood what their job was. If George had understood his job, Xerox would be a $70-billion corporation, not a $16-billion corporation. George took the academic ethos and put it into an industrial setting. The net result is that he founded a wonderful lab —PARC, The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center— I’m sure you’ve heard of it. But he didn’t get many of PARC’s amazing discoveries into profitable Xerox products because he didn’t understand what his job was. I’ve been telling you about the value chain, right? Well, George didn’t perceive that his job as research manager encompassed the first three and last steps in the value chain—create the concept, define the product, design the product, and get feedback from the customers —not just the first step. We can talk about how I know that and what the specific decisions and things are, but from my point of view, that is the root cause of why PARC never was as successful from Xerox’s point of view as it should have been. Its founder and manager, who was so incredibly successful at producing this front end organization that generated all these wonderful new concepts and technology demonstrations, never recognized that if you are going to create value in an industrial context, you can’t manage just the front end. You’ve got to manage the interface between that front end and the rest of the value chain, and ensure that you have heard and acted upon customer feedback.
And if we’re talking about beginning in 1972, you’re feeling your way through. You’re learning through trial and error.
Yes. By trial and error.
Okay. So what were your relationships with academic scientists while you were at Xerox?
Excellent. The lessons that I had learned at both Illinois and GE were that if you were going to do new things, you’d better stay on the cutting edge. Maybe you weren’t doing exactly the same thing as the leading academics, but you needed to stay in on their radar. In that era, the popular organic materials were quasi-one-dimensional organic crystals. These were never going to do anything for the Xerox Corporation, but we had a little effort in it, it turns out, simply to stay in touch. Xerox people participated in the surface science conferences, the chemistry conferences, and the physics conferences on these kinds of materials. We had a plan to make sure that we covered all the conferences. We had a systematic plan; we identified the leaders in the area in each of those areas; and we had a game plan where we invited them to Webster and showed them what we were doing. We hired a few as consultants based upon a series of interviews where we carefully identified all of the people we thought were key players. We made sure that we had contact with them and that they came, visited us, and maintained some sort of contact with us. So there was a very systematic effort to make contact with the university community, to stay in touch with the university community, and to use that for relationship purposes primarily. There was a pot of money that we used to just give these people—$10,000…$15,000 for whatever—because we wanted to sponsor their research groups. So there were a number of vehicles that we used to ensure that the leading groups knew about us and were connected to us loosely in some form. That was a very productive enterprise. I think that I mentioned in there that I chaired two Gordon Research Conferences. I chaired the Gordon Conference on the Chemistry and Physics of Solids in ‘77 on molecular solids. It was associated with the Conference on Quasi-One-Dimensional Materials in New York City. We mixed and matched the people who did the traditional organic molecular solids, guys like Martin Pope who did research on anthracene, with our guys, who were studying polymers and more complicated but still largely molecular solids, with the quasi-one-dimensional guys like Alan Heeger and Alan MacDiarmid. We got all those groups mixed up and talking to each other. That was really exciting and interesting. People enjoyed it, a lot.. In ‘83 when the technology had matured, I did the same thing again. I got the photoconductor guys together with the display guys together with the “charge bleeding off” guys who make the rubber mats. So we got all the technologists together talking about where organic materials were going to go. These were great conferences, really great conferences that jump-started the field of organic electronics. And they changed— I mean, the conference didn’t change, but people changed. They learned things they’d never heard of before, and they changed what they did. So progress got made a lot quicker. I’m a great believer in the Gordon Conferences. But again, you’ve got to have an attitude that you’re not going to just have all the old guys who’ve been coming all those years to do this same old stuff. You have to find people who are doing similar things who are going to mix it up and call each other nuts and have some real good wars and so on—get everybody to think, which is, as you can tell, my philosophy of research in general.
So at Xerox, especially when you were managing the larger group, can you tell me how decisions were made about what kind of research to support and what kind to give up on or to not support?
First of all, I want to say that there is no process or set of values that is stable over time. So the way that happens is very time dependent. Now, again, I’m going to oversimplify for the purposes—So I’m going to do the two endpoints. In the Xerox of 1975, we knew we needed a new product line. We had some notion of the direction, and so the primary investment decision was to start some new things that we thought had the possibility of nucleating something that would get us from here to there. We weren’t putting a lot of money in the back end. We were trying to put money in the front end; we were trying to put money in a diversified portfolio. (I’m using words I wouldn’t have used then.)
What’s front end? What’s back end?
The front end is the idea end of the value chain. And the back end of the value chain is the customer. The back end of the product development chain is the development of the product as it is to be manufactured. So when I’m talking about front end, I’m talking about the research at the beginning. And when I was talking about the interface, I was talking about the interface between research and product development. PARC was founded in the early 1970s on the basis of a prescient vision of Peter McCullough then CEO of Xerox: That Xerox could be the leader in the next technological revolution by pursuing the architecture of information and creating new products to implement that architecture. PARC was founded with the mission to turn this vision into reality. George Pake, PARC’s founder, executed the first step in the value chain brilliantly. PARC created the concepts that are the basis for today’s networked PCs and their associated software. But to make them the basis for Xerox’s growth, these concepts had to be incorporated into business models and converted into profitable products. That’s what George didn’t orchestrate effectively. Had he done so, Xerox would be a different firm: A great firm rather than an “also ran”. George was a wonderful guy. I admire him, but you’ve got to understand what it takes to be successful in an industrial setting, which is what you told me at the beginning you wanted me to talk about. To be successful a firm must establish and manage the whole value chain. When you don’t really know what you want to do, you just know the sense of direction, then you’re investing your money trying a whole bunch of things and seeing if something sticks. But you have got to carry the experiment all the way from concept to customer, not just part way from concept to technology demonstration. So in the information products business Xerox of 1975 had a great front end, brilliantly executed, but unconnected to its product development process of the time and ill suited to be implemented by the sales and service business model that characterized Xerox’s copier business of the day. In the copier business, Xerox had a well-developed product development process but its front end was struggling to create ideas for a new generation of xerographic products. Ultimately the third generation technology set discussed earlier provided the 10 Series product options that yielded Xerox’s profitable growth in the 1980s. Combinations of PARC and Webster technology provided the basis for the DocuTech digital publisher product line that provided the foundation of Xerox’s growth in the 1990s. In both cases, the connection between concept and customer was made all the way through a complete value chain. But most of the concepts created by Xerox PARC’s brilliant front end were lost to Xerox because the firm was not sufficiently adaptable to develop business models and value chains to deliver to customers products that they wanted to buy at affordable prices. Now, I’ll contrast that situation to the Xerox of today. There’s no front end at all. Xerox has several major product lines. Those product lines are mature. There’s not a whole lot of new technology in them. There’s incrementally new computer technology and control technology, but there’s not a whole lot of new marking technology. So what you’re doing now is you’re trying to refine. You’re trying to get things that are more manufactureable, that are more controllable. You’re trying to design your control system so that it compensates for the peculiarities of development systems. It’s mostly a control and engineering challenge. Under these circumstances, you’re investing heavily in tools. Those tools may be manufacturing tools, design tools. In addition, you’re investing in people who can learn to use the tools and use them competently under direction and under time restraints to solve problems. When you design a product and start testing it, you discover it never works the way you think. So the product development process really is solving problems in the product where you thought you designed it to do one thing and it doesn’t really do it. That’s the first round of product development. The second round of product development occurs when a product gets out in the field. You discover customers are using it in ways you never anticipated. Therefore one must initiate a whole new round of problem solving to figure out what has gone wrong because the customers didn’t do what you thought they were going to do. So the product development process is based on effective, quick problem solving. And unlike research, you have no control over the problems. You are handed the problem, and you have got to get some kind of solution. And you’ve got to get some kind of solution in “x” days. It doesn’t matter that it is elegant; it doesn’t matter that it is wonderful or publishable or anything. It just has to be delivered on time. In the final stage of the value chain, the problems to be solved result from customer feedback. That’s the back end.
So you described the two endpoints. You said that one was Xerox about 1975, and one is now. Can you talk more about the period between ‘72 and ‘88? So the product that you started working on in ‘72-’73, by 1980-’81…
…is in the field. But of course, we didn’t know it was a product. Right? We simply knew that we had to have a new set of technologies.
When I was doing the product planning for Peter Warter. So by 1973, I realized that we were getting close to the end of the product lines based on alloy photoconducting drums. I think I need to be more specific. When we did product planning, we built a huge book. And that huge book contained a description of the various products we might offer.
That you might offer? Or that you were offering?
Might offer. This is planning. It was clear we wanted to create copiers that made copies faster. Xerox was using photoconductors that were rigid, and were deposited on drums. Now, to go faster than say 40 or 50 pages per minute, you’ve got to have a drum that’s several feet in diameter, or otherwise you cannot use full frame exposure that is required to achieve the high speeds. So it became quite clear that we needed photoreceptors that were flexible; otherwise, we weren’t going to be able to speed up the machines without making them huge. So we knew they had to be flexible. We knew this could be done because Kodak had made a dispensable flexible photoreceptor, and so had IBM. But they didn’t have all the right attributes, and they didn’t live very long for the reasons that I was just describing to you—mainly, charges get accumulated and performance collapses. We didn’t discover the notion that you needed flexible belt photoconductors or that organic polymer films were potential vehicles to achieve them. Those things were determined by our market studies and by technology sets that were not adequate for the purpose but existed. These data indicated that there was a direction out there, and that direction had to be flexible and inexpensive. The original flexible photoreceptor was a nickel belt with an As-Se alloy photoreceptor on it. It was very big, very costly, and was used in very big machines (the Xerox 9200 duplicator and 9700 printer). We wanted to make fast, smaller, less expensive machines. The Kodak and IBM machines convinced us that this was probably possible. But we didn’t know how to do it. So the first thing to do is to figure out what your design rules are if you’re going to accomplish this. That’s where all this business about shooting charges into polymers comes into play. What’s the difference between range limited transport and regular transport? What are the traps? How do the traps get there? How do you get mechanical flexibility without destroying the electrical conductivity? I don’t want to dwell too much on that, but mechanical flexibility means that the polymer is able to undergo certain kinds of mechanical motion and come back to the same state without being destroyed. But those same motions have a high tendency to create charge traps. And even if these traps are not electrically active, they induce diffusion and defects. So the very attributes of a polymer, which make it a nice…
So you were saying the mechanical properties work against the electrical properties.
We had identified a well-defined problem. The well-defined problem is how do you create a polymeric photoconductor that is sufficiently flexible that it will make a good belt and will have a long life, but yet which has electrical properties that are adequate to sustain repeated use. I might add that at the time people already knew how to make materials that exhibited good one-shot behavior. Achieving a materials package that exhibited adequate one-shot properties was not an important issue. The problem was that after the fifth or sixth shot that the photoconductors were starting to die. So the issue wasn’t that you could not get a nascent polymer and do it once. The issue was that you trapped so much charge during the course of repeated operations that the thing didn’t last very long. So the engineering problem was fairly well defined. The understanding of the problem in those days was at the level of energy band theory. If you picked up a book, which is what I did, and you studied the properties of organics, these properties were calculated in terms of energy band theory. If you went to the solid-state community, the story they told was presented in a German book on organic solid state that articulated all the band theory stuff. And if you used that theory to make predictions and tested them in the lab, they failed. So clearly that was not going to be the answer. Then there were the chemistry guys. The chemistry guys never got beyond a molecule. They thought in terms of molecules embedded in a medium, and that was it. The medium changed the polarization of the molecule, changed its energy levels, but you didn’t have any notion of what the medium did to the whole system. So you needed a model that described the transport attributes but still contained the localization notions. You needed to deal with charge transport in disordered systems of localized molecular energy levels. How did you control that disorder? You have to do this because the disorder had to be small enough to get charges through. But yet you knew that when you were running the photoconductor belt around its supporting rollers that you were going to create a lot of disorder just because of the mechanical motion. So you had special kinds of disorder, and you needed to understand the interaction between the static disorder, the dynamic disorder and the charge transport. Now, this sounds like a solid-state physics problem, right? So you can make theories of that. We did, and we tested them on our little model materials systems.
And these are all what you described really as front-end research.
Yes. That’s all front-end research.
And this period lasted until when?
That period lasted, I would say, until—Well, when the product started coming out, interest in that began to wane.
And that was about…?
Okay. So then the lab and perhaps your role changed?
We had a new manager, and I invented a new job for myself. From my personal research point of view, I became manager of a Theoretical Physics and Chemistry Area. So once again, to keep myself off from a main management assignment, my personal research was now in theoretical physics. That’s when I became and stayed as Esther Conwell’s “manager” (quote, end-quote, “Nobody ever managed Esther”) for quite a number of years Michael Rice also was in this group. I had worked with Michael at GE and recruited him from Brown Boveri in Switzerland. Our challenge collectively was to find interesting things to do. For myself as a Senior Research Fellow, it became very clear at that point that light lens imaging had a finite life. Scanners were becoming good enough that we were talking about marrying them with electronic printing to create electronic reprographics. It was clear to me that the next generation of Xerox machines was going to be a scanner coupled with a printer. So I started studying electronic reprographics. But this is a systems design problem. It doesn’t have really anything to do with solid-state physics. You have memory; you have computation; you have a print engine; and you have a scan engine. How do you put all these together in such a fashion that it does something that a customer wants at a price that the customer can afford? There were several fundamental problems here. First of all, if you just made a copier look-alike, it generally was not going to be cost effective. It might be cost effective in the big machines because it turns out that to make the big machines copy completely automatically we attached to them automatic recirculating document handlers. These were mechanical devices, and they were so unreliable that if you could do electronic scanning—but you had to do it at 100 pages per minute— then the reliability improvements alone would pay for the extra cost of the scanner. So there was an opportunity to do this in the high-end business, but it required fast scanners. And we didn’t have fast scanners. In the low-end business, you could make the copy come out immediately, but the cost was prohibitive. Canon introduced a line of products that were basically just electronic copiers, which were hardwired scanners and printers. They were not successful because they cost too much. So you had two kinds of design problems. First, there’s a lot of data on a page. So there’s a lot of technology involved in getting that image packaged in a form that can be shoved over wires to a printer in the timeframe to make the print. There’s a lot of electronics and systems design there. Then, there’s another whole dimension, which is what do customers actually want to do with these devices. Our development groups tended to focus on this dimension of the problem. Do they want to get an electronic image and store it and then print it occasionally? Generally speaking people, I thought, did not want to use electronic reprographics for copying. Copying would be an unusual function. Although that was heresy at the time, it became the basis of Xerox’s DocuTech product line. These products offered the functionality that you could take electronic information from a PC, you could scan information, you could lay out pages, do editing functions at a workstation, and then assemble your entire document and ship it off to be printed. And oh, by the way, while they were printing 100s of copies, you could go prepare the next document. So you could keep the DocuTech printer operating. That was the philosophy that we were espousing—namely that you did not want to reproduce the copier, but that you wanted to merge scanning and printing in a fashion that offered the customer new functionality such that they could afford to pay the extra money for the digitization of the whole process. Light lens copying is really cheap. There’s no way you could make a scanner for the price of a lens system.
Can you tell me about how—Now, you’re changing your role. How did those negotiations or discussions go at Xerox? When you moved from running a group that’s doing front-end research… Once the technology that you had been developing matured in the ‘80s, and now you’re changing to running a small theoretical group, and you had new management.
Directing the Theoretical Physics and Chemistry Area was a minor assignment. My main assignment was developing the notion of electronic reprographics. This was a task assignment. At the time WRC was a large organization, several hundred people. There was a group of people who did computer science. There was a group of people who did imaging science. And there was a group of people who did systems integration. I was a Senior Research Fellow. I assembled and chaired a task force with all those people. We studied this problem and made recommendations. Those recommendations went into the planning process. So it’s an independent assignment. These two things were going on simultaneously, and they were unrelated. Managing the Theoretical Physics and Chemistry Area was basically done because we had talented people. We had Esther. We had Michael Rice who also was very talented. We were heavily into the organic molecular solid-state stuff; we were on the circuit. The new boss thought, “Well, I’m not going to kill that.” Incidentally, this is also good management practice. When you’ve got people with really unusual talents (and both of those people have really unusual talents), you don’t go moving them around doing something else. That’s nuts. They are unhappy; they are unproductive. You’re unhappy; you’re annoyed. That just is crazy. There’s a little book called First Break All the Rules that reports the results of a survey of best management practices of the most successful managers as measured by the Gallup Organization. The first rule is hire for talent—place talent where it can be productive and rewarded; don’t try to make everybody do everything. I have to admit, I convinced the management to do this. It’s crazy not to capitalize on world-class talent when you are fortunate enough to have it.
Was this an effort to tie the research closer to product development?
It was an effort to tie what those two people knew how to do closer to what the company needed done at the time. We had enough people doing relatively unproductive things that we could afford and Esther and Michael going off, doing their thing. I was a senior member of the management. I sat in all the laddering ratings. I knew what people were doing. If the management team had gotten rid of the bottom 40% of the lab, then I would have moved Esther and Michael, but not when we retained people of far less capability who were doing things of equivalent relevance. I’m going to keep the talent we have, and everybody agreed to that. So that’s what I meant when I said that managing the Theoretical Physics and Chemistry Area was kind of on the side. Those people worked for me because I was the only person they were willing to work for. They didn’t work for me because that was really an important aspect of my job. But they didn’t take much time. I liked them. I’ve known these people forever. So you need to think of that as an accommodation. If you’ve got outstanding talent, accommodate it. Because when you lose it, you’re never going to get it back. Esther brought us tremendous value because she is a famous woman scientist, and she was in the National Academies. She got people into the Academies. She got Xerox publicity. She marketed Xerox to women scientists and technologists. I once did a little estimate of how many millions of dollars in publicity—based on just what she had done that year—her efforts were worth to Xerox. Of course she didn’t contribute to this thing or that thing, which was hot internally at the time. Who cares? The amount of money that she made for the Xerox Corporation that year in terms of publicity value dwarfed the whole budget of the research organization. You’ve got to understand how you create value. You don’t always get value in the obvious way. When you have that kind of world-class talent and world-class recognition, you have the capability of generating public press and attracting talent that otherwise would be hopeless. Both Xerox and the nation wanted women in science. Esther was going out, giving talks. She was worth her weight in platinum. Who cares if she writes papers on what she wants to write? Well, unfortunately, a lot of people cared, and they thought they knew the right answer. But if you’ve been a part of the system for a long time, you have influence.
So was this a fight in Xerox? Or did everybody basically understand your point and go along with it?
No. We’d just pulled Esther and Michael off to the side, and no one else ever had a say. If you have done enough for an organization, then you get accommodated. I had done enough for the organization; they were going to let me do that. Besides, nobody else wanted to deal with it. [Laughs] Where were we going? The real work was exploring electronic reprographics. That’s what has changed the way we did the product development, changed the way we looked at things, and helped move Xerox into the digital era. But people in the rest of the company didn’t pay as much attention to that as they might have. The DocuTech product line was invented essentially independently of the corporate research study. The Corporate Research Group always liked to think that they were ahead of the power curve. When I subsequently got to know and work for Chip, who was the father of DocuTech, I learned that our studies, frankly, had fallen on deaf ears. He had rediscovered these things for himself.
Is that right?
Interesting. Let’s see. Looking at your outline, you continued your involvement in AVS and in AIP.
Well, that was the time when I was on the board of AIP. That was always good for one anecdote, which I’ve shared with several people. Did you see the AVS video interview of me?
Yes, I did.
So you heard the anecdote. I don’t know if you want it on tape or not. In 1976 I became the AVS representative to the AIP Governing Board. And as you can tell from this conversation, I’m in a different space from most of the board members of the AIP. [Laughs] But in any event, I got appointed to the executive committee because I do know something about finances and that sort of thing. I still remember we had an executive retreat at Wood’s Hole, with Joe Burton and Bill Havens representing the American Physical Society (APS). For some reason, there was an altercation between APS and AIP on whether AIP had delivered something on time to APS. So APS was refusing to pay their bill until something happened. But the real issue wasn’t that they weren’t going to pay the bill; the real issue was that there was real hostility. I’ve always felt badly about that. I can’t even say that I was angry. It’s just that I’d never seen an organization in which the biggest member of the organization was continually hostile towards the organization’s management. Hostile is the right word. It wasn’t just fractured relations. There was real hostility there. I felt that this organization ought to get itself together. You’ve got enough enemies out there in the real world without fighting among yourselves. In any event, APS brought this to the executive committee. Jarius Quinn was on the executive committee representing of the Optical Society. The executive committee talked about it for a while, and then Jarius and I introduced a motion to the effect that APS was going to pay their bill in 24 hours, or they were going to be expelled from AIP. And it passed.
And they paid.
They paid, and things were a lot quieter for the rest of my tenure on the board. [Laughs] As I stressed in the AVS video, this is no longer the case. Judy (Franz) gets along well with everybody. So does Mark (Brodsky). So in the Mark/Judy era, this problem has essentially disappeared. But in the Bill Havens/Joe Burton era, it was a real issue. [Laughs]
And then you mentioned here the formation of the materials and Processing Division of the AVS.
Oh. I got elected president of the AVS in 1977. That year I also won the Medard Welch Award of the AVS for the combination of the tunneling book, the understanding of Low Energy Electron Diffraction, and my work on organic materials. The organic materials work was big because we had pointed out that semi-conducting organics are not organic semiconductors. And we had a whole new set of rules for calculating their optical and transport properties. This was a tremendous change in the way people viewed these things. It was fundamental. Now it is regarded as somewhat obvious, but in those days was regarded as crazy by the solid-state physicists, but not by the technologists who had to make flexible organic photoconductors. So I got elected as president of the AVS, and took office in 1979. By now I am accustomed to dealing with assessing which direction the future is likely to go and positioning a R&D organization to get there. It was quite clear to me that the electronics industry was the future of the AVS, not metals. Their past had been vacuum technology. They had a good present in this area as well, but this was not a growth industry. Metal surface physics wasn’t going to get you anywhere in terms of industrial oomph. The great thing about the AVS was that it had been run by people from industry. I mean, these guys were managers; they owned their own businesses. These were really wonderful guys to work for. I wanted to keep that going, so I proposed Electronic Materials and Processing Division because it was clear that the AVS had the surface science that was going to be the foundation for the next big transition to smaller microelectronics, i.e., the transition from “wet” to “dry” (plasma) processing. The semiconductor processing industry at the time did not really have a home. They had somewhat of a home in electrochemical society, but this was based on their wet processing past and present, not their dry processing future. I don’t know if you know the distinction between wet and dry processing. Wet processing is the use of chemicals in solution to develop the photoresist, i.e., wet chemicals and wet chemical steps. At this time the industry was in the process of making the transition from wet chemicals to ion etching. So the minute they move into the dry processing they move from the electrochemical society arena to the AVS arena. I wanted the AVS to capture the moment. I wanted the AVS to be the home for these people once they went to dry processing because they were already doing a lot of the other steps dry. So that was the notion underlying the Electronic Materials and Processing Division. We formed the division. It instantly became the biggest division in the society. As usual, I went around, found the leaders, got the leaders to come and give some papers, and tried to encourage people. So the division took off. That was a huge thing for the Vacuum Society because it had started off as a vacuum technology group. Then it had moved into surface science. But while surface science gave the Vacuum Society the scientific cachet, which it desperately wanted (the people really wanted that), it didn’t give them the heft. You know, you’ve got to have economic heft if you want to be a major player. The semiconductor industry offered that possibility. So to me, this was a very fundamental thing. It was building on things that the vacuum society had been good at…. Incidentally, they also had activities in thin films and ion processing. So they were good at those too, but they weren’t as predominant in those as they had been at the others. Forming the Electronic Materials and Processing Division took all the things that the Vacuum Society did, and it put them in a context where they could deliver big time economic value to the country. It could marry the science, the vacuum technology, the analytical technology, and the thin film understanding to make better chips, better components. And it did. I frankly regard that as a significant contribution to the prosperity of the United States.
And you also started a new journal.
The Journal of Materials Research. I don’t know how I got associated with materials research people, but someone approached me to run their journal, and so I asked the folks here if it would be okay, and they said it would be. So I became the founding editor of The Journal of Materials Research. Now, I don’t know why I thought that would be an interesting or good idea in retrospect. [Chuckles] It was. I like the people. I subsequently got elected to the Council of the Materials Research Society and, as you saw, was very active in their governance at a later time.
Okay. So anything else we should cover in this period before moving on to the Pacific Northwest Lab?
Well, I think the other thing that I mentioned to you is that even after electronic reprographics I had another major assignment. The management changed again, and the new manager turned out to be the boss who hired me in the first place. His notion was that it was great I was doing all this technology planning stuff and so on and so forth, but he had a laboratory that had some great people in it that wasn’t contributing enough, and he wanted a strong technical leader. So I got assigned to be a lab manager again.
So who hired you?
Mark Myers was the hiring manager. He had come back as the head of the Webster Research Center.
I see. He went to Canada and then came back.
That’s right. He went to Canada. Then he went to the development organization. Then he returned to Corporate Research as manager of the Webster Research Center. When George Pake subsequently retired, he took George Pake’s job as Vice President of the Corporate Research Group.
Now, would you repeat what you were just saying? I was looking for his name.
In 1984 Mark Myers returned to Corporate Research to manage the Webster Research Center. The Webster Research Center started off being in materials, chemistry, physics, and that sort of thing. Then it expanded into imaging science. And then it expanded further into systems science. I don’t recall exactly what the stimulus was. But the man who had been heading both systems and imaging science labs was a systems guy, and as I recall he was looking to retire at the time. Mark wanted somebody to run the imaging science lab. The sociology of these organizations was that I was never really regarded as a manager. I was regarded as a Senior Research Fellow, a guy who had ideas, who could get things done, but never as a guy who pushed papers. At least, that was how I thought of myself and how I was told I was thought of by others. There’s good news and bad news to that. I mean, that’s not exactly an unrequited wonderful thing. The point is that I was acceptable to people. And so when he was looking for someone to run the lab, several those guys were Fellows; some of them had served with me on these committees, and so they were very enthusiastic that a real scientist would be the lab manager. So I think they prevailed upon him to do that. But that again is sociology. I’m trying to give you the flavor of the diversity of reasons for taking assignments. Some assignments you take because you see the future and you make an effort to try to make that future happen. Some assignments you take because one of the bosses says, “I’ve got to get this thing done, and Duke is the guy who can get it done for me. Charlie, would you do this, please?” And some assignments you take (and I’ve given you now another example, which was Esther and company) where you have people who for whatever reasons you find difficult to deal with in some sense or another. You can give them to somebody where the problem not only goes away, but in fact they become productive. So it’s really a one or two off, and this was more of the flavor of that. I knew the people; I’d been working with them. Their old boss was going to retire. They looked around. Who did they have? They didn’t have anybody they really wanted—“Well, do it for us.” So you get these assignments for all kinds of reasons. The flavor I want to convey to you is that at the top in the Webster Research Center—and in the corporate research organization as well—there’s a small group of people who constitute the senior team that makes the critical decisions for the organization. The full membership of this team may not even be official. You can be an informal member of the team just as well as you can be a formal member of the team. But there are people who are involved, who are respected by each other, who talk to each other before they do dumb things, and who—in this case—asked me to take an assignment. It doesn’t take too much to run a lab. You’ve got a secretary. She does almost all the detail work. You’ve got the three area managers. You’re encouraging them to do their own thing. I already was spending time coaching and counseling some of the folks, so there was not a huge extra burden there. It’s just not a big deal. So you can take that on in addition to whatever else you’re doing. If the boss wants you to do it, you do—no problem. I’m not even exaggerating. That really is how it is.
Okay. So can you describe the lab’s work?
Yes. That lab’s work was imaging science. We had a group of people who studied color and the science of color. We had a group of people who studied perception, how you look at things and perceive them. We had a group of people who studied digital imaging. That was actually the big deal. We were starting off in digital imaging. That’s another reason I think I got that job at the time—because that was part of electronic reprographics—how you capture the digital image, how you manipulate the digital image, how you compress the digital image, how you correct it. One of the big deals is color correction. If you scan a color image, you have to correct it if you’re going to make multiple copies and get the same thing every time. So there’s a lot of processing you have to do to the digital image. There’s a course—In fact, there’s a whole school of digital imaging over at RIT. This isn’t as big as physics; it’s not even as big as plasma physics; but it’s sort of like a subset of physics.
And were you still involved in physics?
At the time? Yes. I was still doing surface science.
Okay. What year are we talking about now?
We’re talking about ‘87 to ‘88. I was still writing papers on surface science. At that time I think we were applying our computer codes to do the structure of semiconductor surfaces. We were doing more and more semiconductors. I haven’t mentioned him in this interview, but Peter Mark and I started to work with in the late ‘70s. He was editor of The Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology. We became good friends. He died in ‘79, the year I was president of the AVS. John Vossen and I created the Peter Mark Award. Anyway, he was a good friend, and he had an experimental group. When he died, they were just left. He had a young post-doc named Antoine Kahn, who’s now a famous guy, a professor of electrical engineering at Princeton.. I took Antoine under my wing and hired him as a consultant. He came up here, and I went down there. So I helped for a couple of years to get him established. He was, of course, just a post-doc, so he had to become a junior faculty member. Then he had to get famous enough to become a regular faculty member. When that happened, I sort of let him go his own way. But that was all happening during this period, so I was doing a lot of surface science with him on the work that his group did. What his group did was III-V semiconductor surface science—the surface structures and energy loss spectra and so forth. Sponsoring Antoine to be a full-fledged member of the community, is what I was doing as my personal surface science work during that period. We determined the atomic geometries of quite a few III-V semiconductor surfaces.
So you leave Xerox.
To go to the Pacific Northwest Laboratory, now the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Now, I didn’t say much in the written material about the reason for this. How did it happen? It happened because they had a very unusual man out there—Bill Wiley (a Black man)—who was a biologist. For whatever reason, he had become head of PNNL for the Department of Energy (DOE).
So you were saying that Battelle ran the lab for the DOE.
Right. And so there were sort of two sets of titles. If you asked for our official business title, they were Battelle titles. But if you asked anybody in the external world, including the customer—the DOE—we had DOE titles. I was Deputy Director and Chief Scientist of PNNL, and I was a Battelle something or another in the Battelle system. [Chuckles] Anyway, Bill was a very unusual guy. He was probably the first manager I worked for that led me to understand what first class manager is. I mean, Roland is a first class manager, but I didn’t know him long enough to really appreciate his modus operendi. Bill was a guy who had big visions, who had good taste in people, and who was willing to make sacrifices to make those visions happen. So for a number of years, I suspect three or four, I went out to PNNL three or four times a year to consult with them, associated with something called the Molecular Science Research Center. Bill tried to hire me repeatedly, but I was perfectly happy at Xerox. I enjoyed going out and chatting with these people. That was another dimension in which I could do some surface science, but not a whole lot. Bill had invented this construct called the Molecular Science Research Center, and had hired a young man to try to get it off the ground. The young man was “young” in many respects. He didn’t understand about dealing with customers. The DOE had some very real requirements that he didn’t understand. The young man was a scientist, but a very ordinary scientist. That displeased the DOE. In any event, the Battelle managers were doing their thing, which precipitated a crisis when the DOE basically told them that they weren’t going to continue to fund this project. Bill was in a bind. So he approached me, and he really wanted me to come out there. I told him I wasn’t going to come out there to be a center manager, that I had already run much bigger things than that. Besides, I was happy where I was. [Chuckles] I’m not looking for a new job. So one thing led to another, and I got the job basically to transform PNNL from a reactor laboratory into an environmental sciences laboratory. Bill was struggling because they were closing the reactors, so he said he wanted me to come out and reposition the place to get them out of the reactor business and into the environmental sciences business. Now that is a big enough job to be interesting. And oh, by the way, my first job would be to fix the Molecular Science Research Center, which in my ignorance I didn’t think was too big a deal. It turned out that I learned otherwise. So I took the job. My existing boss, Mark Myers, was flabbergasted. I had never evinced much evidence of interest in the management track. I had always taken management assignments as task assignments other than being a group leader. A group leader was where I thought my natural place in life was. [Chuckles] So he was very surprised; his boss was surprised. We parted on very good terms. I mean, it wasn’t like there was any problem. I wasn’t unhappy with Xerox. But I thought, “Gee, you only get one shot in a lifetime to transform a national lab. Come on, boss? if you had that shot, you’d do it, wouldn’t you?” It turns out that his boss would do it, so…. [Laughs] So we all left on very good terms, and I went out to Richland, WA. The first thing that I learned in Richland was that the relations between the DOE and the people out there were not good. First of all, local DOE site managers’ relationships with Battelle were as good as their relationships with any of their contractors. These were always rather contentious I discovered. But the relationships with headquarters were not in as good shape. The people out there who worked for Bill really didn’t grasp that you had to please the customer. Everything they did was for Battelle this, Battelle that, Battelle something else. So my attitude was, “Well, hell. I’m just going to please the customer.” So I got my butt on the airplane, spent a lot of time in Washington, talked to the people at the DOE and got a list of their customer requirements. “If we want to do this, what do you want us to do?” The answer was A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. I said, “If I deliver this, you’re okay?” “Yes.” So I just worked down the list and delivered them. At the end, it turned out there were some extra political things associated with money going to Washington State because of various things going on in the Senate. The bottom line at what I’ll call the operations level was that I delivered what was asked for. At the political level, the Deputy to the Secretary of Defense delivered what the state government and the senators wanted. So our interests were parallel. Believe it or not, I generated a half a billion dollars that went into constructing the physical facility. I chaired the teams that did that. The people in Washington clearly had confidence in me. They could see that I would get it done, and I wasn’t going to give them a lot of flak. I was going to find out what they wanted. I would either tell them I can or cannot deliver it. If I can’t deliver it, and it is important I will try. And if I have a problem, which we occasionally did, I went back and said, “Look guys, this is what you said you wanted. This is what we tried to do given the money, what we could do. You sent us out this inspector, and this guy was a bit of a maniac. Now come on. Do you guys want to get this done or not?” That approach worked. I really never had any serious problem, as opposed to the way it had been going on before. That way was “We want to do this. Well, we want to do that,” and “Oh, I’m going to control you by sending out this tough guy to do an inspection who’s going to fail you.” I mean, what an unproductive way to try to transform a National Laboratory. But I was lucky. I worked with a chap named Bob Marianelli who was amenable to doing things in a cooperative way. Not all the guys in Washington are. So that worked out fine. My second major task at PNNL was to take the technologies that were developed at PNNL for waste remediation on the site and package them for commercial use to clean up hazardous waste sites. This did not work out so well. It became clear to me during the course of this assignment that the people at the site had no intention of cleaning it up. Indeed, they had no intention of doing anything more than the minimum required to keep the money flowing from the DOE. What they wanted was the government to feel obliged to continue to pour money into the site. So my job was done, and it was time to leave. I called up my friends back in Webster, and within a few weeks I was back at Xerox. [Laughs] That’s the story of my life.
For one reason or another, if things don’t work, you’ve got to move. You can’t stay in untenable situations.
So you came back as Manager of Corporate Research Efforts at Webster.
Well, my boss, Mark Myers, was going to take a leave of absence and go somewhere. (I’ve forgotten where). So he was looking for somebody to run the Webster Research Center (WRC). He set it up so that I was sort of in charge, but I was sharing the responsibilities the facilities manager and the site computer manager. So the three of us managed WRC for a year or so. That was the first time that it was ever clear to me that if I asked for something I could get it without any flak, which is disastrous. I mean, you’ve always got to have arguments. So be careful. If you’re ever the boss, be careful what you ask for because you’re going to get it, and half the people who give it to you are going to be waiting for you to fail and helping you, assist you to fail. [Laughs] So at the end of that assignment, I really wasn’t all that interested in pursuing a management career in Xerox. It wasn’t that I felt badly about it. It’s just that this sort of job isn’t my thing. I had had a shot at running a fairly large organization at PNNL. I didn’t mention all of that. But we had a lot of other organizational problems out at PNNL. Bill was away a lot of the time. I was basically the COO. I got to learn what life as the boss is like. It is not a lifestyle I coveted. I was happy to go back being a Senior Research Fellow. As I indicated in the written material that I provided you, it became clear to me that digital color was the future. We knew how to do the xerography and how to do the image processing. The problem was that we didn’t know how to put it together in an affordable reliable package. So I started studying control theory. The SCC had collapsed, so I went down and hired the young man who was their chief control guy to come up here and teach us modern control theory.
Superconducting Super Collider, SSC. So we hired the young PhD who had done the control system for the injector and was doing a control system for the main ring. I figured, “I could do a lot worse than this.” He’s become very successful in WRC. We started off doing the same old thing. I mean, the story of my career is repetition, right? We started having everybody who was anybody in control theory through here to give seminars. We decided on what the top two schools in the country were for what we wanted. They were Michigan and Berkeley. And I went out to Berkley, got a deal with Berkeley; I went to Michigan, got a deal with Michigan. Xerox people were working with them; their students were coming here. That was going fine, and that’s where we were at when we had the next reorganization, which formed the Wilson Center. In the Wilson Center, I discovered that once again I’m a manager.
I guess now we’re talking…
‘94. I might add just in retrospect that one of my big assignments actually—certainly before the Wilson center was formed and even more so afterwards—my job was to phase out basic research in WRC. I knew the people. I liked and trusted them. They liked and trusted me. This was a well-understood assignment that was on my performance appraisals but was not known to anybody else but myself and the people I talked to.
So you described a situation earlier that you had talented folks and it just didn’t cost that much to keep them.
Right. Well, that changed in ‘92. Paul Allaire took over the company, and in ‘92 they merged several of the organizations—a big one together with a small one. It was clear that we were on a trajectory to generate efficiencies by merging those organizations and reducing people. When that occurred, it became clear that we could no longer afford the kind of luxuries that we had enjoyed in the past. So many of the people in the organization who were here (I’m thinking of Len Brillson; Esther Conwell; Michael Rice), were people who one way or another were just not going to survive this new arena. So you had to decide what to do in each case. In Esther’s case the decision was made to do nothing until we had a good package that she could retire with. We eventually got that in ‘98. I talked to Esther, told her, you know, what the story was. I had not ever shared it with her before, but she’s a bright lady. Michael Rice, I got him into control theory. He really didn’t want to do control theory, so he took a package, too. I found jobs for several of the other people, at good universities. They are all very successful; they’re all making a lot more money than the bosses who ostensibly got rid of them. But that was my job; it was very clear that the world had changed. We were not in the basic research business anymore and weren’t going to ever get in it again. So you have to find other alternatives for all these talented people.
Now what did you make of this new direction at the time? Did it seem reasonable to you, or did it seem like a mistake?
Well, you know, I can answer that question emotionally or rationally. Emotionally, I’ve always believed that you must have outstanding talent to do outstanding things. The outstanding talents that I have been associated with and attracted have always been in these basic research environments—not always physics, but always basic research. Now I would say Nick Holoynak may be an example of the contrary. Although he packages what he does as basic research, it’s really very good applied engineering research. So from the point of view of raw horsepower and talent, I think it’s a good idea to have some fairly unstructured front end, which you could use as a vehicle for attracting talent. From that point of view, I think the company has made a mistake. But that’s a small piece of its activity. The fact is that you are going to be good at what you focus on, and you’ve got to focus on the things that are essential to the organization’s survival. We could do without basic research and still prosper. So if I were the CEO, I’d probably have done the same thing. To put it in a context that I talk about in lectures, these changes resulted from the change from the Cold War era and the era of vertical integration into the era of the global economy and what I call horizontal industry structure. Do those words make sense to you?
I don’t know what horizontal industry structure means.
Well, let’s go back to the Cold War and talk about what made America, successful other than its massive financial might. What made America successful in that era entire value chains existed inside of individual companies. These firms had the capability of creating new products all the way from concept to customer. In chemicals, there was Dupont. Electronic appliances, switchgear, locomotives, airplane engines were created by GE. Airplanes were designed and built by Boeing or McDonald/Douglas. It was an era in which individual companies would span the whole value chain of activities from the research front end all the way up to the delivery of the product and the product service. The reason that they did that is because there were no reliable suppliers of the pieces of the value chain. In order to get reliability, a firm had to do all the activities itself. It was often high cost. And for advanced technology (e.g., nuclear weapons, the space program, ballistic missiles) you had to learn how to do it. Therefore you had to learn to do the job on the job. In order to do that, the control had to be there because you couldn’t trust somebody else was going to go out and push in that discipline and deliver you what you needed. That worked very well in the Cold War era because we had only one major economic competitor, the Soviet Union—that also was our military competitor. We were still rebuilding Europe, still rebuilding Asia. In the ‘80s Japan came on strong. But they were not part of that defense establishment ever. So it worked very well for the times. And then what year did the Berlin wall fall? Was it ‘90?
‘89. Right: 11/9/89. The Berlin Wall fell, and within five years, the whole economic system was changing. Firms were buying components of their products from other firms (e.g., the PC industry). The U.S. was getting intense competition from the Far East. The Internet was occurring. Xerox was already a worldwide company, and we were doing the design for most of our products in Japan. We had joint design teams that were working around the clock using the electronic communications. So the entire situation changed. Technical talent became more widely available. In fact, the technical talent—most of our staff over here that we’ve hired recently are Chinese or Indian. We can’t find Americans who’ve got the necessary capability. So you’ve got the global technical talent. You’ve got easy communications. You’ve got a global economy. You’ve got industries in which firms like Intel and Cisco are buying the front end— the research one place, the patents another place, some piece of the development activity someplace else. That’s what I mean by horizontal. Horizontal is well illustrated by the PC industry where the system integrator gets the disk drives from a number of different firms, chips from still different firms, and software from still more different firms. A firm like Dell does nothing but just buy piece parts and assemble them. That’s an example of a horizontal industry. An example of a vertical industry is the electric turbine industry where GE makes the turbine. It makes the turbine blades. It designs the turbines. It makes the components of the turbines. It hires itself out to do the installation of the turbines. So GE and Brown Bovari in the electric power industry are good examples of vertical industries. But they are becoming more horizontal. Look at Boeing. Boeing used to make all its own parts. Now it buys parts. The whole world is going horizontal, and the whole world is going global. In a horizontal, global world, someone else can often provide you with some of the steps in a value chain generally better than you can. You have to find a segment of the value chain where you’re the best and leverage off being best to make the whole process work. So that, I think, is really the driving force. I think the environment changed, and therefore the elements that make for success changed.
So how does this apply to basic research?
Now that’s a really interesting question. Much of its answer is in a report of the task force on industrial physicists that I chaired for the APS in the fall of 2006. Basic research in industry now is valuable only if it is linked to a value chain and business model to create economic value. So the notion that you’re going to learn new things for the sake of learning new things is going to be regarded as much less valuable in this new world than it was in the old world. For a physicist that is a big deal because learning what happened in the first 10 to the minus 33 seconds is not going to be regarded by the taxpayers of America as something they care a lot about. So if you talk about threatened programs, think high-energy physics. Think astrophysics. Even within the basic research portfolio, the balance of the portfolio is going to shift. Instead of having a lot of investment in the front end and hoping firms or somebody else puts it in the middle of the value chain, I think there’s going to have to be a shift of investment to more in the middle, less in the front end. There’s also going to be a shift between disciplines. Disciplines that have a prospect of having impact will go to get more funding. Those that have fewer prospects will get less. But choices are not particularly clear at the discipline level, like physics versus chemistry. Given a choice between investing in high-energy physics or network science, however, the nation’s rational and economic interest is to invest most in network science and only a small amount in high-energy physics to keep a nuclear energy skill base alive. An important aspect of high-energy physics is that as long as we were in the nuclear era when we were developing new nuclear weapons, the U.S. needed a stockpile of trained people. That need has diminished. The funds spent satisfying that need now are better spent elsewhere, e.g., on science and technology to make our communications and transportations systems secure. Am I giving you the answer to your question? The answer is that basic research is in an era of transition. It’s in an era of transition from one type of learning to another. From one based upon the intrinsic unknowns of the frontier to one based on the potential value of what you might learn to solve the problems in the here and now for the people who pay the bills. There’s another big change, which is that the creators of the basic knowledge are going to have to become better connected to the users of the basic knowledge in order for them to claim their fair share of the government sponsored research.
I’m not clear now on what you mean by “basic.”
My notion of basic research is when you go and explore something simply because you want to know.
So if I understand you correctly, you’re talking about research for curiosities’ sake.
Curiosity driven is another term, right.
But tied to potential economic benefit.
No. It’s curiosity driven research such that you can envisage that if you were to satisfy that curiosity, there would potentially be valuable things that you could do with the new knowledge.
So it’s curiosity plus.
Curiosity plus, right. I gave you high-energy physics as an example of a discipline that has satisfied that criteria for a long time but no longer does because the plus was the skill base. If you’re going to have nuclear war and nuclear weapons, you want all those skills. So having a research program in nuclear physics and particle physics, this is an important national initiative. The nation must maintain that skill base. Similar considerations apply to solid-state physics. Does the nation want an want electronics industry? If so, it needs that skill base. The astronomers had a tougher time, and they were invested in much less generously. I’m saying all this because this is a physics conversation, right? As I understand the ethic of the APS, for example, it is very heavily driven from my point of view by particle physicists and by astrophysicists. Well, these are exactly the areas of physics that are going to suffer in the coming era. Now either the leadership of the APS has to get on top of these notions or the APS will stagnate. This doesn’t mean the occurrence of a cataclysmic anything, but you’ve got to start supporting other little things so that as they come up so there will be jobs for new physics PhDs, and the departments will be in demand. I’m simply applying the law of supply and demand to the physics profession the way I apply it to my own career or the way I’ve applied it to the companies I’ve been involved with. When times change, you’ve got to change with them. Now, who knows? Complexity theory is an example I happen to know about from my network studies. If theoretical physicists were to go big time into the study of…I’ll say networks, but these could be biological or anything else… of how complex interconnected systems like the brain work then there’s an area of physics that has a real future. There are big problems the solutions to which clearly have the prospect of being exploited to generate economic value. How is the brain organized? How does the brain work? It’s not like there aren’t any interesting problems. Nor is it that those problems are unattractive to physicists. But they’re not historically what the current physics profession is heavily invested in. So we’re arguing about who’s going to build the next collider and where it’s going to be located, but that isn’t the future of physics. What is the future of physics? Maybe it’s complex systems; maybe it’s networks; maybe it’s bio… I don’t know what it is. But I know it is not astrophysics and particle physics. So that’s my view of how these ideas apply to the physics community. But this is a challenge for the physics community because the leaders of the physics community come from these areas, and they naturally think that those are the areas where the excitement is. So I think that there’s not always good strategic thinking. But I was reading Leo’s piece in Physics Today. Leo is the President of APS in 2007 and an old friend of mine from Illinois…
Leo is on a good track. He says, “Physics education doesn’t get the job done.” You don’t have enough inclusion; you don’t have enough people who are available for the existing jobs. We’ve got to improve physics education. Now that’s a winning track. That’s a winner for the APS, Why? Because we do need more educated people. [Chuckles] It is good for physics to do that. That is valuable. Physicists will get money to do that.
How did the reduction of basic research at Xerox affect your research and your relationship to academic physicists or other physicists in general?
Well, I’m going to answer that question, but it’s not as clear-cut as it seems. Even in 1994 I continued to have a small surface science research activity. But I had a severe heart attack in 1996. At that stage, I just stopped that parallel individual research career. It seems reasonably clear to me that I would have had to stop it at some point anyway. So I think if you are talking strategically and policy-wise, it is clear that by the time 2000 rolled around, I would have had to have been out of personal basic science research anyway because, especially since I became a vice president, I could not have justified spending a couple of head count on my own thing. That would have appeared to other people to have just been too unfair.
So in ‘94 you explicitly moved into management. You weren’t just informally part of the leadership.
Yes. I was now formally an “executive”—In ‘96 I became a vice president.
So after ‘94 what was your position, and what were your duties?
The organization was run in a team mode. There was a level in the organization that consisted of the managers of the individual laboratories. Then there was a level in the organization above that where people had portfolios. My portfolio was the “basic research” portfolio, but in this case “basic” meant research as opposed to technology development.
You were describing your portfolio.
So I wound up with the people who were not assigned to specific product oriented development activities. This was a fairly diverse group. I managed it very informally. But the main contribution I tried to make there, which I think you have already heard, is I tried to get people to think: “What are the areas of new knowledge that are going to have a big impact on Xerox products? Why are we doing the stuff we’ve been doing all these years when we know we’re reaching the point of diminishing returns? Think, guys, think!” So we explored a lot of software things. We explored some materials things. We were really in an exploratory mode and finally wound up with the notion that implementing modern controls notions across networks is likely to become the foundation for the printing and publishing industries in the Internet era. So we initiated a lot of exploratory controls projects, the results of one of which is already in a product. So we got ourselves into some new areas that already are generating profits for Xerox. We acquired some patents that I think are going to be very valuable. But I’m a broken record, right? Which is “Use your head, guys. Go out—talk to the customers, talk to people. Find out where your work will matter.” That is my theme as a manager.
Now after ‘94 were you still bringing in people from outside, academic leaders in, say, control theory?
Yes. That whole thing was going on. It was part of this job.
Okay. And then in ‘96, you have a heart attack but also you become—there’s another reorganization. Is that right? No. In ‘98 there’s another reorganization.
Can you tell me about what happened there? You became Manager of Strategy and Planning.
Well, the head of the Wilson Center was a man named Chip Holt who was singularly the best manager I have ever worked for. I have never encountered anyone in any organization in any capacity who comes close to Chip Holt.
Wow. What made him singular?
Two things. First, clarity. “If you’ve got a job, you do the job. I’m not your mother; I’m your boss. You agreed to the job. You get it done. You’re committed. You have no choice but to get it done.” Second, he was such a wonderful human being—pleasant. If you’ve got a problem, you go to him. You don’t get beat up. He gets it solved. He’s like Bill Wiley, who is the second best manager in my life story, in that he’s very politically astute. But that isn’t what makes him good to work for. That’s what makes him good for the organization. What makes him good to work for is clarity and responsibility, genuine interest in his people, and utter, total honesty. Chip had all those things in spades. And he also turned out to be the father of DocuTech, so he had a singular accomplishment. I successfully nominated the company for the 2003 IEEE Corporate Innovation Recognition for DocuTech so I got to learn all the details of how that product line came about. I had the privilege of working with him personally on this nomination.. It turns out this happened after he had retired, but he wrote his part of our application, what he had done, and we put this whole thing together. So under the guise of making this nomination, I got to really understand how he thinks and how he understood what he had done. That was one of the more satisfying research projects—which is what it was—that I’ve ever been engaged in.
So you were describing your role in ‘98.
Well, Chip Holt retired, and we had some new bosses come in. It turns out one of the new bosses who came in, the second of the new bosses, was a person who had been my protégé in an earlier era. [Chuckles] So he asked me to be his chief of staff for “strategic operations”. So I said sure, and that was my official job. A year before I actually retired, I had planned to retire and go to William and Mary. I had trained my successor, and I turned the job over to her as though I would have retired when planned, although I retired a year later. So my last year I didn’t really have any official duties. I was just a Senior Research Fellow. That’s what I meant when I said “almost to the end.”
So between ‘98 and 2005, you held this position.
I presume you mean VP for strategic operations of the Wilson Center. You could say that, but in fact it’s not straight line. I held it for a couple of months, and then we tried a young man, and he left for another firm. Then I held it for a couple more months, and we tried a young lady; she didn’t work. Then finally we just gave up, and I did it. [Laughs] I told you before how it was at the time, right? I know all these people well. We’re friends and coworkers for many, many years. We’ve all been doing this for years together. You just do what you’ve got to do. It’s not a big deal.
So do you want to say more specifically about what you did between ‘98 and 2005?
I don’t I remember what I wrote down. The biggest thing that I did for my own avocation, I think I did mention. Sudendu Rai is one of the young men whom I had identified as one of our high potential leaders back when I was directing the basic research effort. He came in to me one day with a research proposal. He and I talked a lot because he is a very bright young lad—less young than he used to be. And I’m less young than I used to be. He had done a simulation that produced an amazing prediction. We had been worried about how to implement control systems in print shops, and I had some ideas about those control systems. We came up with the notion that he should simulate the effect of these control systems in a real print shop where he had humans doing what we thought could be done in an automated fashion. And so he ran this algorithm at a local print shop. I introduced him to the guys who ran the local print shop. That’s what vice presidents do—introduce people and encourage them. And it turned out that he calculated that he could triple the productivity of this print shop. So he and I had a lengthy set of conversations. I told him he’d made a mistake. There is no way this could be the case. So we went over the code, and I couldn’t find a mistake. So I said, “Okay. If it’s this good, then we’ll talk to the people.” And he went over to work with the print shop manager, Guy Williams, which turned out to be very helpful. Now Sudhendu really did exceptional things. He went over, and in order to convince them that he could do it, he volunteered to show them what he could do with a couple of their big jobs. They let him go over on the weekend with the skeleton staff and do just those jobs on the weekend. It turned out in one case he got a factor of 10 improvement, and in the other case he got a factor of six improvement. This boggled their minds. At this stage of the game, they are now willing to contemplate doing something.
Now this is not a part of Xerox.
This is part of Xerox. This is a print shop that Xerox owns and runs. We sell the service. Sudhendu has now convinced this one man—Guy Williams—that in fact he’s got something. So now he goes over on the nights and weekends and does a number of these jobs. Well, of course, he’s starting to learn a whole new world. He’s learning that sometimes it doesn’t matter what the boss says. Guy can say certain things, but it’s Sam who runs this machine and Sally who runs that machine. He wants to get things done, and he’s got to get Sam and Sally on board. Forget what Guy says. He can’t do it if Guy won’t let him, but Guy doesn’t enable him. [Chuckles] So he learns how to present these things to these people. It turns out that for a variety of reasons they were worried about reductions in force because they needed to get some new business. Thus, they were particularly upset about Sudhendu because he was going to show how to reduce the workforce. So he made some kind of deal with them about the fact that if they would test this thing, he had figured out how he could get some extra business for them. He and Guy figured that out. They both realized that they were not going to be able to try this on a big scale if the people who actually did the work thought that they were going to lose their jobs. So they came up with a plan to generate significant extra business if they could get this thing done. They tried it, and low and behold, their productivity did improve by a factor of over three. Now they had the capacity for this extra job. So they accepted this extra business. Everybody kept his or her jobs. Guy Williams got a big bonus, and all the people got big bonuses. Suddenly, the scheme has worked in the field. So the next step is to try it somewhere else. Well, we do the same thing again. I made sure the senior vice president understood what we were doing. He was supportive and got everybody lined up at the top levels. Nothing happened. So then we start working through Guy to get some of his buddies on board, and we got another buddy—a chap named Ahmad Meradji who was in charge of a bunch of print shops. So Ahmad agreed to try it in his print shop. Same thing happened, only his scheme to raise the extra money fell through at the end because the shops got cancelled. So the effort is getting to be a little more visible and successful. But then Ahmad gets annoyed, quits, and leaves and goes to get another job. So I set up some meetings with the next round of managers. We do this whole thing all over again and succeed in training a group of people in the field. Now, I have a plan to deploy the scheme in the print shops that Xerox already manages and have the finances all worked out. It turns out its implementation in a typical print shop has an 18-week payback time, after which the productivity improvements produce pure profit. So we implement the plan. We get half the people trained. Then low and behold, we have another reorganization, and two of the key people get fired. The lady who was helping us gets transferred off to another job. So we start all over again. To make a long story short, we went through that cycle three or four times. Finally, it took when we implemented it via the quality training in the Xerox Black Belt program. We finally got this thing instituted as an element of the Black Belt Program, for the service force that operates print shops in customer premises. By doing it in that way—although we still haven’t gotten it to operate as effectively as we think it can—it has now been institutionalized as part of Xerox’s work process. I still think they’re leaving a lot of money on the table. They’ve captured a nickel on the dollar in my opinion. But this has to do with compensation programs and such matters. I’ve described to you how you have this great success where people want to do it, and then boom, there’s a new set of rules, a new set of bosses, a whole new situation. And as always, the compensation of the top guys is what success depends on. If you’re not increasing that compensation, they’re not really interested in you. Whether it’s good for the company’s business or not is sort of irrelevant because the way an industrial organization works is that you fix people’s compensation on goals. If they don’t make the goals, they don’t get their bonuses. This is how the senior managers get everybody to stay focused. So if you’re at the top of the house, this looks like how you want to run the business. But if you want to get anything new going or to really change your business, it’s a disaster unless it gets incorporated at the top of the house. So I am continuing to work with the people to try to get the new director of research, who’s another one of my protégés from an earlier era, to try to get it up to the president of the company so that they try the thing the way it was intended to be implemented and see if it’s worth all the money we think it’s worth. After all, Xerox isn’t growing its revenue. So my attitude is “come on, let’s get with it”. This literally, from my point of view, is worth billions of dollars a year for Xerox. It’s not like it’s a tiny little thing.
So that brings us up to 2006 and your retirement.
I’m retired. I’m here! At home with a fire and a cup of coffee and a delightful young man who’s a visitor.
And you wrote in your outline that little changed in the first year of your retirement. This would be last year.
Yes, this past year. Well, I was already the chair of a National Research Council study on network science, and that got published. I spent a couple of days at the Pentagon wandering around briefing people. That took time. I renominated Xerox for the National Medal of Technology. That was a month’s task right there because this was a very massive document and takes a lot of effort. So I don’t know what the future of that is. I nominated a couple of people for the National Academy. I nominated a couple of people for Fellow of the APS, a couple of people for Fellow of the IEEE. I nominated a young man for the IEEE Control Systems Award, which he actually won. I was happy about that. This all takes time, but it is the same sort of thing that I was doing. One of the things you do when you’re one of the senior managers is you try to make sure that people get recognition and reward. That was one of my unofficial responsibilities. At performance appraisal time, I went around and tried to identify people with whom I ought to work to get recognition and reward. So that didn’t change much. I was on a National Research Council Committee on Technologies to Deter Counterfeiting and wound up writing the outline of that report and chunks of it over the course of the year. That takes a lot of time. Judy Franz called me up and asked me to serve on an APS task force for industrial physicists. The initial chair was a young lady who I had known in my earlier era as a graduate student at Caltech when she worked for Henry Weinberg. She decided she couldn’t be the chair, so I agreed to serve as the chair. You know about all of that, I think. A report was issued, and I’ve given you in that folder the copies of the publicity on the report. The senior leadership of the APS is sensitive to the issues surfaced in this report, but I don’t think they appreciate the danger of just letting the situation drift. But we’ll see.
And you’re going to start teaching?
Yes. Now I’m going to start teaching. The physics department at the University of Rochester a set of lectures called the Montroll Lectures each year. I’m giving three Montroll Lectures on getting value from research knowledge. One lecture is on the changing global environment; another lecture is on the transition from the vertical national economy of the 1960s into the horizontally integrated global economy—you’ve heard the high level story. And the last lecture is on “What does this mean to you, graduate student in physics?” [Chuckles]
So you’re a research professor of physics, and you’re going to give these lectures?
Yes. Second week in April.
Okay. Is there anything that we’ve left out that we should talk about?
Only what you might be interested in for your various and sundry assignments.
Well, thank you very much.