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Interview of Phillip Mange by Ronald Doel and Fae Korsmo on 2002 December 30, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/31144-1
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Interview discusses: his family life and childhood, Kalamazoo High School and historic Chenery Auditorium; attended Kalamazoo College, drafted into Army; in charge of communications station outside of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; returned for physics degree at Kalamazoo College; attended graduate school at Pennsylvania State University; finished Ph.D. and worked in Ionosphere Lab, with Marcel Nicolet as thesis advisor; joins Nicolet in IGY Office in Brussels, 1955.
This is Ron Doel. Fae Korsmo is accompanying me, and we are beginning an interview with Phillip Mange. We are making this interview on the 30th of December in 2002. And I know that you were born in Kalamazoo, Michigan on the 5th of June in 1925.
But I don’t know about your family. Who were your parents and what did they do?
Let me explain. As you may know, in that part of Michigan and elsewhere in the country there was a lot of immigration from the Netherlands prior to the turn of the century and continuing at other times. My mother was a Vandenberg and her father, my grandfather, was born in the vicinity of Kalamazoo, but his parents had come over two years earlier, sometime after the Civil War. The name Mange is strange, I realize, like the disease. My paternal grandfather was also Dutch in origin, born in 1868, also after his family’s immigration. My father was an ordinary postal clerk, but had been a pattern maker, and worked well with his hands. I say had been a pattern maker; during World War II he was on the Prometheus in Brest, France, a repair ship (“mothership” to a fleet of destroyers), doing that. My mother was relatively unschooled. She aspired to be a nurse. She aspired to literature, but she had had an eighth-grade education and then had gone to work in an insurance office. In later years she ran a book club, worked in the White Cross Guild for a principal hospital, and was ultimately accepted into the Ladies’ Library Association in Kalamazoo, which by the way, occupies the oldest building east of the Mississippi first owned by females. Anyway, enough of that. So I came along, and I was a fairly ordinary kid. Not very athletic. My brother, born two years later, was more athletic and savvier than I, took more risks than I. He could climb a certain tree, did it before I did, and so forth.
How big was your family?
Our parents had just the two of us. My mother was one of seven [laughs]. Dutch Protestant-Calvinist. Oh, the culture there I still relate to in some ways, because the denominational college is Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, which has gotten to be quite a large place. Has a fine physics department and so forth. I did well in school by trying hard, and I found that I could keep up.
What kind of house did you grow up in?
My father had the house built in the ‘20s, just after he came home from the Navy, for $6,000 at the lower side of a nice hill. The hill sloped upwards to a high ridge, where the more important people of the town lived in wonderful estates. And we kids played in the woods there, skiing and sledding, or whatever. It was a wonderful place. I was surrounded with, as my brother points out, many boys. There were forty-one boys and two girls within about three or four blocks of us, and so it was a very strange population. Anyway, I was not the athletic type, but I applied myself and got to high school and took some physics and so forth. At that time World War II came along —
I wonder if before we got to that point, I’m curious also, were your parents religious?
Yes. I am still a member the Christian Reformed Church, which is largely orthodox and historic Christian in outlook. I take issue with certain fundamentalist points of view in the Protestant world, and I read with deep interest Pennock’s recent book where he’s assessed various points of view. I’m delighted to find in the middle of it Van Till’s point of view [Howard J. Van Till]. Let’s see, there are three others in that section which I like very much. But the one with which the book is most concerned, that of [Alvin] Plantinga, who is at the University of Notre Dame and came out of Calvin College, I would disagree with. The man doesn’t understand science. Okay? [Laughs] So, you know, this has been an issue throughout my life, really. I will now offer you one diversionary comment. I should say this, really, it relates to this. In Belgium in ‘55 to ‘57, I had met Armand Delsemme, who is now a retired professor of astronomy, and his good wife Delphine, who also trained as an astrophysicist-astronomer. They live in Toledo, Ohio. And I came to know his book, Les Origines Cosmiques de la Vie in French. Published by Flammarion, 1994.
In it he started with eukaryotic experience, the Big Bang actually, and traced it through and says, “I think the thread of history, of scientific history, now supports the idea that you can see how we came to be here from there.” The Delsemmes are a wonderfully admirable pair. When I retired in ‘93, the first thing I did was sit down and translate that book so I wouldn’t forget the parts of it. The thing I admired about it is that sections in it have numbers; it’s not just a story. If you want to find out something about brown dwarfs you can go and look and see what he thought how many there were at that time, or whatever. And so I translated it in my fractured French. It’s a joke. I sent it to him, and he had a laugh. But, to make a long story short, I goaded him into rewriting it in English and updating it, and he sent it off to Cambridge Press and it came out. He even gave me a credit in the front of it. This is the paperback edition [Our Cosmic Origins: From the Big Bang to the Emergence of Life and Intelligence].
You’re reaching into your briefcase and you have the paperback edition.
Yes, that’s the paperback edition. And I told him I didn’t agree on the metaphysical side, but I’m still proud [laughs] that he cited my name in the front alongside famous astronomers, which is more than I deserve. Anyway, he rewrote it well himself. It’s not my translation, which was a joke.
Was politics also discussed in your family when you were growing up?
Oh yes. We grew up in a family where my grandfather thought that FDR was going to ruin the country. My father was not vociferous in the way my grandfather was, but he thought that the Republicans had done the best job of running the country. Later on I think he had a more tolerant view. He died very early, at the age of 59: heart attack. Anyway, yes, we were always intensely interested in politics. My mother was a poll-watcher on election day, for example. We were involved. Let’s see, I don’t know what else I could say about that.
Do you remember books, and were there magazines and newspapers that were coming regularly to the house?
Yes, there were, besides the church paper, which was just one of a number. I’m trying to remember what they were, frankly. I don’t know anymore. I know that as I got into high school and beyond I thought Atlantic was a wonderful magazine, and I just decided “Why am I missing all of this?” Because Atlantic is still a wonderful magazine, or has now become again a wonderful magazine. For example. In high school, well in growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money. Most of the time we didn’t have a car.
This was the Great Depression, after all.
Yes, but my father was a postal clerk; he had a job. His income went down to $1800 a year at one point — down to that — but he always had a job. When we didn’t have money, why, we didn’t have a car. And when we had a car it was one my grandfather might have given us for use until it started needing repairs, and so forth. An illustration, then I’ll stop. My brother and I looked longingly at a Monopoly game in the drug store window. It was $1.95. It was six months before we could get it [laughs].
Did you have an interest in science as you were growing up?
I was interested in how things work, but I got into a seventh grade class in woodworking with Mr. Lemon, an old high school associate of my father’s. They respected each other. I produced some things there, and I still have them: a bookrack, which I’m so disappointed in that I just deplore it, because it’s not a very good job. I could never do very well. The other kids were making model airplanes, pasting tissue on balsa, and they would fly. I never made one that worked, or that I carried through. I was disappointed in it. As illustration of that, I’ll jump ahead a little. In the Army I was sent to a school to learn toll telephone and telegraph technology, and you were to proceed at your own pace. You’d study something and then take a quiz and go ahead individually. I’d usually get done with the written part, or the study part, in maybe two-thirds of the scheduled time and then I’d go up to the sergeant and say, “I want to take the next course.” And he’d say, “Well, have you thought of this?” And they’d find some reason to send me back so that I wouldn’t go on right away. But then one day we had a course to “Wire up a PBX.” That was the old switchboard for an office of say 100 lines, and you were given a batch of parts, nothing connected, and required to build it, soldering along. After about 150 percent of the allotted time had gone by, they came by and wondered whether I was malingering. That says something; that tells the story. But I could do trigonometry in high school and I coached my brother, two years younger, and I challenged him through it. He was eternally grateful, after a while. But anyway, I did well in high school.
You mentioned physics. Did you have a physics course in high school?
I had a physics course and it was taught by a Mr. Fox, who went away in the middle of the year, and then came back with a Navy suit on and something on his arm which had lightning flashes on it. We said, “What’s that?” He said, “That’s radar.” We said, “Okay.” We had another active student in our high school physics class. For his project, he built a wind tunnel with a model that measured drag and so forth. He became AF Brigadier General, Ken Druckenbrodt. Long since retired. I met him again at a reunion. A good guy. Anyway, my courses were A’s and I received the Bausch and Lomb Award, so called, for the high school. And the last kick, why, a buddy of mine and I, three of us actually, put in for the first of the Westinghouse science talent searches, but I had no project of any consequence. I talked about the sun in some crazy way, an idea I got from one of the others, and the project meant nothing. The exam was what I really wanted to experience. For ten years after, they sent me questionnaires to track my career [laughs]. So my career has not been distinguished, it really hasn’t.
The other thing I have to mention, because it’s a big part of my life, is an appreciation of music. In high school I played a schoolboy flute well enough so I ended up in the band in a lead position. I never could double tongue well enough, though. I was never going to be a great flutist, but I actually played in the college orchestra later; I could play simple things. But the flute cost only $65, and after years it wore out. I’ve never replaced it. It’s gone now. But I like symphonic music. One of the things that appeared in the Depression was a wonderful program arranged by some philanthropist so that you could buy 78 disks of, say, a complete symphony each month that came in brown paper wrappers. The orchestra or the soloist was not identified by name — just some generic name. A different recording was released each month for a year. And so I first came to hear Beethoven’s Fifth. Also Debussy (What was that wispy puff of sound just floating out there?) What does that mean, for example. And then there was an operatic series. Well, we felt we didn’t have enough money to get that; they cost a few dollars for each opera package per month. We didn’t get the operatic series. Then came high school. I needed to make some money so I applied to the school system and worked as a janitor, but then I was assigned to the Kalamazoo High School stage and auditorium.
Well, why is that important? It turns out, that I didn’t know it at the time, but the stage and the auditorium is highly unusual and still there. It’s called the Chenery Auditorium. It was built in the ‘20s. The school system had decided they wanted a large auditorium for the city. The auditorium seated about 2,700 people (now reduced) and is the size of Carnegie Hall, or the concert hall in the Kennedy Center. It has a balcony and a gallery which run all the way across in one big swoop, and it is a remarkable auditorium, very fine for its acoustics and the age. It had a stage with a five-story flies, all the way up to a top-level grid, and a loading gallery to load ballast for the sets that you would fly. They were supported old style, with ropes that came down and went round belaying pins set transverse in a metal anchor cylinder. I applied for and I got the auditorium janitor job. I chipped gum off the seats in the summer, and helped the stage manager, who had been hired by the school system from a job in Chicago. He was a stage carpenter. He could throw something together and build anything.
Before the Depression they hired Howard Chenery, stage director, playwright, actor, and dramatics instructor, who could paint scenery as well. He was marshalling a road show company somewhere, and then everything went bust. I heard this story from him but I didn’t know if I believed it, but then I’ve read it since. There were road shows out in those days, and when the stock market collapsed, the next day everybody was out of business, with actors out of a job and they all went home. Well anyway, he had legendary influence. Later, I auditioned for a high school play under him. I went to work there. At that time, the community concert series sponsored a visiting ballet and a major symphony every year, as well as other events. Because Kalamazoo had this wonderful theatrical stage facility and — prior to air travel — was on the main line between Chicago and Detroit, major companies could do a one-night stand in Kalamazoo and go on. I worked as a stagehand on the Ballet Theatre way back then. And the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with Antal Dorati, the conductor, came through.
I handed Dimitri Metropolis a glass of water when he came with the Minneapolis Symphony (now the Minnesota Orchestra) and I watched Artur Rodzinsky conduct the Cleveland, just to give you an idea. Lily Pons came, et cetera, et cetera. And I learned to walk a flat. I could do that! Sixteen feet high without having it fall apart! So that was the other part of my life, and at one point I decided I wanted to be on the student council, although I wasn’t very popular in my homeroom. So I decided to run in the campaign for Student President of the high school. It had about 2,200 students in it. My buddy said, “I’ll be your campaign manager.” He gave the best campaign speech I’ve ever heard. By the way, he was killed in the “Battle of the Bulge” shortly thereafter, I mean, after we graduated. I ended up being the President by seven votes [laughs]. So I had a lot of experience. I learned to speak to large groups.
Did you enjoy that, being on the council?
Yes, the first semester, that was it. But I didn’t want to go on. I wanted to be in a play and was given a bit part. I’m a ham, but I’m not very good. I don’t focus; I forget things. My brother’s much different. He’s focused and accomplished. Then I graduated from high school in January of ‘43. I had $125 at my disposal, that was all. But guess what? Kalamazoo College then charged $250 for tuition and they gave me a half-time scholarship; so for one semester I went there and then I went in the Army.
Did you know at that time what you wanted to do?
I wanted to do something in science, but doing experiments was not my forté. And I knew I was not a great theorist. I was interested in how things worked and I liked to talk about it, but that’s it.
Would there have been science clubs in the high school? Anything of that kind that you were involved in?
Not that I remember. Well, yes, maybe there was, but I was too busy sweeping floors and trying to figure out when the next council meeting was coming along. The guy who came in second for Student President was the brother of my Physical Chemistry professor at Kalamazoo College (Lawrence Strong). Their father had been a clerk with my father in the Post Office. When he came in second, he was so disgusted that he refused to take the job as vice president. It sort of strained relations there.
What was it like for you that first semester?
Great relief. [Sighs] You actually had time away from class to sit there and do things! But I didn’t know whether I’d get through the semester or not. I was the kind of kid who did not create, had no creativity, really. I just wanted to get the stuff in so I could throw it back, and although I appreciated the time. I worked very hard and I got five A’s the first semester in college. Okay, but never again. I went off to the Army and some of the squareness was blown out of me, as it should have been. Rounded off the edges to some degree. It took a long time. Crazy career. So, let’s see, where was I?
One semester done.
Just one semester, and during it I took the second semester of college physics. The professor, who later won the Oersted Medal of the American Association of Physics Teachers, John Hornbeck, was getting on, and he had some health problems but he was still effective. The other professor was Howard Maxwell who went to Ohio Wesleyan to become head of Physics there. And if you track these events, the person hired to take Maxwell’s place, just as we were leaving, was somebody named Ian Barbour, you know, the religion/science writer at Carleton College. There was another relation with Carleton College. Larry Gould, who became president up there and was important in the IGY, was known as a younger man in Kalamazoo to my mother and her family. There are threads that run through all this. Anyway, academic life was appreciated and admired. And you see, this obtained in the church culture too. At one time Calvin College of my denomination had produced 50 people who were in departments of philosophy across the country. Oh, and there was the Knapp and Goodrich book: R.H. Knapp and H.B. Goodrich wrote a book published in 1951, analyzing which colleges or universities were most productive in the generation of future PhDs and MDs. Well, Reed College won by a large margin over the major institutions. But among the next three or four there was Kalamazoo College, and in chemistry it may have been number two. It was notable for that, and it had a fine physics department. Okay, enough of that.
Did you know you were aiming towards physics at the time?
Oh yes. I didn’t want to do chemistry — that was too “messy,” and I didn’t always appreciate a concept like fugacity. I thought I could stay away from the messy, complicated stuff. I do not, still, have the capability to do a comprehensive investigation of a subject. Give me a little problem I can sort of work through, and maybe I can see another step and report it, and I won’t see the second step, which I should see. That’s the kind of person I am. I ended up in the Army, and they sent me to a limited service camp. I have a weak right eye; I was born with it. Astigmatic. Oh, a comment about testing. Before I turned eighteen I tried to enlist in an Army program to train radio technicians, and I still remember the place. It’s still there: 209 East Jackson Boulevard, Chicago. I took the train over there, sat down in a nice breezy room just after I’d completed my semester in college. I got a very fine AGCT (Army General Classification Test) score. But I was rejected (bad eye). After I was eighteen I was drafted into the Army; I cited my score and said, “Look, I want to get into something technical.” They said, “You’re in limited service.” And as inductees we were herded into a room at Fort Custer which had hundreds of people in it. We all had little narrow writing boards on our knees and we were trying to take the exam, and I got a score which was 15 points lower.
Very instructive events [laughs]. But anyway, my AGCT score was good enough so that it came time to decide my assignment, they sent me off with a bunch of other guys to the University of Detroit, a Jesuit school, and entered me in the second out of the first three 12-week terms for the Army ASTP engineer program. But after two terms, in the spring of ’44, they washed the program out; troops were needed for Europe, or wherever else. Out of our 400-person group, they selected one to go on to the Signal Corps for technical training — not me — the selectee was a fellow who looked like a robust Humphrey Bogart and had shrapnel all through his face. (While in training, a colleague had been trying to tamp explosives with something metal and it blew up.) He not only looked like Humphrey Bogart, but talked like him. He was selected, but said, “No, I want to go back to the tank destroyers.” So they said, “Well Mange, you’re the number two person. We’re going to send you down to Camp Crowder, Missouri.” So that’s how I ended up there. And for one year, I knocked around in 12 different units, going to different schools until finally I came out a repeater man, so called. I went home on furlough. I left home on VE Day (1945), assigned to Alaska, but ended up in a station along the Alcan highway, nine miles out of Whitehorse, YT.
That station was a terminal along with Dawson Creek on the wire mainline for all the Air Force communications between the states: along the staging route to Russia. Our Army signal battalion maintained that communication system. The war was over in Europe, not yet in Japan, but it was nearly over and those enlistees who had 80 points could leave. The old-timers just moved right out of the station. (The station had been created out of AT&T personnel who were switching experts from the heart of Manhattan, and it had been built with Western Electric equipment.) I was there one year with the result that I went from PFC to Tech Sgt (three up and two down). I was in charge of the station after six months. I was a callow kid of 21, and didn’t know how to handle things sometimes. There were a number of social questions. But anyway, I survived; the station survived and it didn’t burn down and it functioned. It was turned over to the RCAF in June of 1946, when I was discharged.
And you were learning about electric equipment on electronics communication.
Yes, we ran the test board. I used the Wheatstone bridge, and you measured how far it was out to this fault where everything had stopped, and you’d send out your linemen. You know, it could be wintry out there, and cold with snow coming down. You hoped you’re right [laughs]. Lots of stories. I could go on. But that was wonderful training. I learned all about Bell System practices and what is acceptable or not.
What do you remember most when you think back to those years?
You keep reminding me of social things. We had an ignorant kid from Norfolk. He worked in the shipyards. His name was Kitchin; he had biases. We had Jewish kids in our group, switchboard operators. He had it against one of them because he thought that person had taken his time, or was welching on the job, so he had to fill in. See? That kind of thing. And one day, the American Red Cross worker in Whitehorse came out and gave us a Christmas gift: a bottle of whisky. Somebody poured a whole glass full of it that Kitchin drank, and the man went wild. He says, “I’m going to get that Jew boy!” He ran out the door toward the bunkhouse, with four of us after him, and one got on each leg. He had a butcher knife in his hand, and we wrestled him to the ground just before he got to the bunk-house door, and it was all we could do to hold him down. He went out like that [starts snoring loudly] and stopped. Here, I’ll give you this too.
Okay. Okay, you’re handing me here — Thank you [Letter from Mange to Lou Lanzerotti, AT&T Bell Labs, dated 12 July 1994].
That’s my description of looking at the aurora and looking at the ground currents at the same time. Lou Lanzerotti was talking about such events, and asked if anybody had anything to contribute, so I wrote this to him and he was surprised that I remembered the detail.
If we could have this manuscript, I’d like to add it to the transcript.
You may have that. Okay, sure. That describes it. That’s another thing I remember. Getting used to the idea that I was in charge and wondering how to be a little less square. Back at the University of Detroit in those days, we were an isolated squad: out of 400 there were about 12 or 13 of us who had had some advanced training. In succession, one person was designated squad leader in charge. Because they’d been around the Army a little bit, our squad was always pushing the rules, and we were always getting in trouble. Finally they came down to choosing Mange, “You take it.” So one day, we were supposed to wear dress uniforms for one class and then change to gym fatigues. Instead, they fell out in fatigues and the next class was PE, and I put them all on report. So the commanding officer put me on report, and the smart guy who wanted to go back to the tank destroyer, the brilliant guy, came up to me one time (this is Humphrey Bogart talking, you understand) and he said, “Mange, did you do that?” He says, “Listen, you do anything else like that,” he says, “I’m going to bash your teeth so far down your throat they’re going to come out your —.” And I said, “Well, I have to do what I have to do.” [Laughs] You know, square. And because I’d see things black or white, I couldn’t see that there were easy compromises, ways to get around things.
It took a long time for me to grow up and understand some of these things. So you asked me what I remember. Well, I’m not sure which event we’re talking about now. Anyway, I got through the Army, and was discharged on my birthday in June of ‘46, and I decided, “Oh, okay, I’ll attend Calvin College.” Calvin College had a fine chemistry program, a budding math program, but nothing to speak of in physics. I wanted to be a physicist. The P-Chem prof. there said, “Phil, why don’t you become a physical chemist?” I said, “I don’t want to [grumbled]. I’ll go back to Kalamazoo College.” So after one year I went back to Kalamazoo College, and graduated from there in two years, along with several brilliant colleagues who went on to make names for themselves. One, Steve Smith, worked in JILA. Well, first he went to the Bureau of Standards and he worked with Branscomb, and then to JILA under Branscomb. Still reviews APS papers. Brilliant. I tried to study with him one night and after two hours he was still going strong. He said, “Well, we’ll take a break,” but I was worn out, and couldn’t keep up with him anyway. He went to Harvard to grad school and some of the rest of us went other places. I had a choice of Ohio State and Penn State. Penn State made me an offer one day, and Ohio State made me an offer the next day, but I had already taken the Penn State one. That’s how I got to Penn State.
What schools were you thinking about? Were there others in addition to Ohio State?
No, those were the two. Our prof. says, “Well, I think you there, and you there,” and he made the judgment. I had a good friend who went to the University of Rochester; he wanted to work in optics. He became a film manager, developer of film at Kodak, and was ultimately given a special award by the cinematographers in Hollywood. And Wendell Discher is still around, one of us. Another one who came from Kalamazoo was Cecil Dam, Dutch heritage. He had brothers, good scientists. He was just a year ahead of us and went to Cornell. That was a mistake, because he spent five years there and got a Master’s degree. He worked for Prof. I.G. Parratt who had followed as graduate mentor the eminent Floyd Karker Richtmyer. So he relocated himself to Ohio State, received his Ph.D. in three more years, then taught at Cornell College, Iowa, and now is retired. Great guy, fine oboist, now lives in Ocala, FL. You know, it’s that kind of thing.
What did you know about Penn State before you went there?
Zilch, zilch. My prof. says, “Well, Marsh White is a professor down there.” Marsh White was legendary; he died after reaching a hundred years several years ago. He was the Sigma Pi Sigma father. But when I got down there, what he taught was simply basic physics. It’s unfair, but my friend who went to Cornell said that there those who taught only basic physics courses were called drones. Even though they were professors, they were thought of as drones. Certainly the feeling was there, quite strong. But at Penn State, I learned that Marsh White was someone who would brook no interference. He had his points of view and he went all around the country fostering Sigma Pi Sigma. Well, that’s fine, but of no particular importance in the advancing understanding of physics, to my thinking. It was not a strong department then, let’s put it that way. These days there are theorists there and astrophysicists who are remarkable.
Well, after two years of being a T.A. and learning how to interact with students in a classroom to help them understand, and to understand myself, I looked around for some place that I could do a Ph.D. thesis and be paid for it. The Ionosphere Laboratory, located in the Department of Electrical Engineering, was such a place. The Physics Department could award you a degree for a thesis done there. Now I didn’t know any hands-on engineering, as we’ve already said. And I don’t know when I had taken an electronics course. But I went over there. Oh, the one notable theorist in the Department of Physics who was a great teacher, a great motivator, was J.J. Gibbons. Everybody knew J.J., and J.J. had been recruited by Art Waynick, the head of E.E. and that laboratory, to come over and work on propagation problems in the ionosphere. J.J. brought students with him. In spite of the fact that I had done poorly when I failed his basic theory course, I had taken it over again. But anyway, he had me come over there. I arrived and Waynick said to me, “Look Phil, we’ve got this Belgian guy, this theorist coming. His name is Marcel Nicolet, and he’ll be here in a couple of weeks. And by the way, his English isn’t very good. You might want to try to practice or brush up on French, if you know some French.”
Did you know some French?
No. Well I had had French. As a desperate attempt to meet language requirements, I took some French in college, and met my wife there in French class. But we were supposed to produce something in French for a class exercise, and my friend, Cy Dam and I got up and sang, “O Tannenbaum” in German as a joke [laughs]. So she didn’t like it very much, and I didn’t know any French, really. I’m not a linguist, it doesn’t stick very well. I don’t know when we’re going to get to the IGY, maybe we’re getting there [laughs]!
So why was Nicolet coming to Penn State?
As background, in the EOS recently, Rishbeth had an article, and mentioned a turning point of working on basic understanding of the ionosphere, rather than using simple approaches. He cited fundamental topics at a 1954 conference. It was sent to me for review. And of course, being lethargic and dilatory, I didn’t send it back very soon. Finally I wrote to say, “Yes, publish it, but you should mention that Art Waynick was adamant in fostering the point of view that you must understand the basic physics if you’re going to understand the ionosphere and its behavior.” That didn’t get in, but it was Nicolet’s goal. And that reminds me, in about ‘83, I went to an URSI meeting in Boulder and presented an overview of research topics at Penn State that Waynick was proud of in his laboratory. Years later, Stewart Gilmore said to me, “Why don’t you get that published?” I didn’t have the picture that went with it, and at the time I never thought of publishing it, because I wouldn’t have thought of submitting it to EOS. EOS does that kind of thing now. Back then, I didn’t think much about that.
You were talking about why Nicolet was coming.
Okay, why Nicolet was coming. Let’s go back on Nicolet’s history. I’ll go way back. Nicolet grew up in the town of Trois Ponts, Three Bridges, in eastern Belgium, outside of Liège. And he married his school sweetheart, Alice, a wonderful, gracious woman, who spoke English in some curious way. Some thought it was because she was French (her native language was French), but it was really that she had a lisp. She was born with it; spoke with it all her life. A wonderful, gracious woman. And they were childhood sweethearts. I came to learn that in Belgian society, well, Marcel wasn’t thought to be very cultured. A little crude, you know, a country boy maybe. But he had an indomitable will; he wanted to be on top. And great pride. And as I say somewhere in some notes which I’ll give you, he was like a little boy. I learned to work with him this way: if he said something I agreed with, I’d praise him, even outlandishly. It didn’t bother him; he loved it. If I disagreed with him, and sometimes I did, I’d say it once and never repeat it again. I’d just leave it, because there was no way of working with him otherwise. So that started our relationship.
Now in the early days he had become a meteorologist and did forecasting. World War II came. He was in Belgium, and as the German armies pushed across Europe and pushed the Belgians towards the coast, the Nicolets were pushed west with the English. And he found himself outside of Dunkirk along with Van Mieghem, another meteorological chief at the Meteorological Institute, with the British whom they were supporting. Well, they were let back through the German lines. Their wives went with them at first, but then worked their way back through France. (And by the way, their comments about the lack of French accommodation for anybody who was in France were devastating. The women of France wouldn’t let them in the door, even though they were Belgian refugees.) They got back to Brussels within a month, and so then they were re-established. The Germans said, “Well, you can work here. But you can’t work on forecasting.” So then Nicolet said, “Well, all right, I’ll work on the sun.” So he became an actinometrist. The field was actinometry, solar radiation. And from that, he became interested in the ionosphere: why is the ionosphere there? How is it created? I have a monograph by Nicolet, it’s a classic that came out in 1945 that describes all the possibilities: what might cause the D Region? Why? If this is the reaction, would it cause this? Or that? So, he became interested in the Earth’s atmosphere as it fringes out into space, and he was a naturally interested person in any kind of space effort.
A person working across the Channel, Queen’s University of Belfast, was the eminent D.C. Bates, and you will know him because his star pupil, Alexander Dalgarno, now retired, was the editor of Astrophysical Journal Letters in this country for many years, until just recently. Bates and Nicolet formed a team across the Channel, and they published a classic paper in 1950, “The Photochemistry of Atmospheric Water Vapor” [Journal of Geophysical Research 55, 301-327]. It was the classic approach to sorting out all the photochemical and the chemical reactions themselves within the atmosphere, taking into account especially the solar distribution of energy, and then predicting atomic/molecular possible distributions as function of altitude. And it was probably the pioneering paper of that kind. So Nicolet was a natural adjunct member of the Ionosphere Laboratory. And when in 1950 there was a Pasadena conference (so-called Pasadena because ONR Pasadena sponsored it, although it met at Inyokern), and there were these earlier scientists (I’ve got a picture here), Nicolet was one of them. And Waynick was there, I think. He wanted to recruit such people for tours at Penn State. What was Waynick’s interest? Waynick had worked at the Cavendish laboratory in the United Kingdom, knew Jack Ratcliffe and the notables of that world. He wanted to guide his own laboratory to importance. I could go on.
Were there other visitors coming in at the same time?
Well, he fostered the idea of foreign visitors, all the time. We had A.P. Mitra from India. That’s a story, not to Mitra’s credit, I think. Later on we had Sid Bowhill and Erwin Schmerling. Bob Jones, emeritus at Linfield College these days, was running the lab while Waynick had gone back for a year to Cavendish lab. Waynick wrote, “I’ve got these two positive geniuses that I’ve engaged. They’re going to come to the United States to our lab, and one is Bowhill and the other is Schmerling, and they have their degrees.” And Bob wrote back after talking with me (after my degree I was still working in the lab for a year). The salaries were so low we couldn’t believe it, so he wrote back to Waynick, “I suppose when you say they have their degrees, you mean their Master’s.” Waynick replied, “Listen, you stop talking to Phil Mange!” [Laughs] Waynick was so frugal. My good friend Bob Parkinson, with whom I still have contact, was working on ionospheric research there, a colleague. He had a scope that wouldn’t work, and Waynick made him tear the scope all the way down to its essentials and rebuild it. He wouldn’t spend an extra dime on it! But we learned.
What was the source of money that brought these people in? Was it firm or —
The Air Force. Wolfgang Pfister, Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory. He would show up every six weeks and we’d sit there, one after another of us, and tell what we were doing. There was a memo circulating events of the week. Waynick was very organized. He wanted a new little nugget for any research event that happened in the week and a monthly review and then a quarterly review. The quarterly review was all bound up and it went to Pfister, and Pfister came down every six weeks and talked to us. Later Nicolet had a grad student, Art Aikin, now late in his career at GSFC. Back then, Marcel discerned after a while that when he talked to Art Aikin, one of their ideas would pop up later as if from Sid Bowhill. And so Nicolet says, “Okay, we’ll do something.” So they put something in the flow that was erroneous or farfetched, and it popped up. [Laughs] This kind of thing was going on all the time, because Waynick believed in documenting, and he wanted to know how things were going. By the way, his regret was that Phil Mange was the one guy who got out of there without ever having done a hands-on project. I never had gotten my hands dirty because I was working for Nicolet.
Well, okay. Nicolet came for two six-month terms, then he went home, and he and I communicated. We were working on the dissociation of oxygen in the atmosphere, but this is a wonderful story now, this piece. He came in September I guess, and along about late October, November, he came down the hall to me and he said, “There’s one place in the United States where there’s more space data available than in any other laboratory, and that’s the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.” Later he said, “I’ve written to the Director of Research down there, Hulburt, and we’ll see if we can’t go down and visit them.” So back comes a letter from Hulburt saying, “Come Marcel, you can stay at my house, and bring along whom you want.” So I and my new wife, and Rune Lindqvist from Sweden and his wife, as well as Bob Nertney, a propagation theorist, came down to Washington. And I think it was on that occasion we stayed in the Hay-Adams and thought it was pretty nice for $14 a night [laughs]. The Naval Research Lab had just established a Director of Research at that time, a civilian director, who was under the commanding officer. E.O. Hulburt was a remarkable physicist, and a very gentle man.
He and Nicolet would come across the Potomac by boat, in those days — no Wilson Bridge — from Alexandria, and at about nine or nine-thirty they’d assemble in Hulburt’s office. We kids would come out from town by bus and join them, and we’d sit there and hear a wonderful seminar by some notable in the laboratory for an hour or two. Then he’d turn us loose and send us around the laboratory for everybody to talk to. What a wonderful introduction to a place for a grad student! On that occasion, in that week, I met and heard from Herb Friedman, Dick Tousey, Fred Haddock and John Hagan, who became the Vanguard chief later on. Also Cornell Mayer, I think, in radio astronomy. Homer Newell, Jack Townsend, all those people. I came to know them through discussions: do you think this or that? And they’d go to Nicolet and ask, “Do you think that it’s the Lyman-alpha mission of the sun or is it X-rays that create the D Region?” And Nicolet would give them a hesitant answer and say, “Well, if a certain reaction coefficient is this much, you get that.” Of course there’s a chain of logic in between, and Nicolet would speak elliptically, always. You never knew how he came to that result, but he knew. He did know, always. But, everyone said, “We’ve got to get Nicolet, we’ve got to have him around because he has such insight.” Well, it was a terrific introduction to the laboratory. I met all these people. Nicolet and I worked on trying to figure out the distribution of oxygen, O2 and O, in the high atmosphere up through where dissociation is the result of the solar action.
We used Herb Friedman’s data, in effect, but there was a problem with it. His rocket-borne ultraviolet sensor had recorded a small signal through the lower atmosphere before it sort of blossomed out as it got above the absorbing atmosphere. Well the question was, what was this? Nicolet decided there had to be a hole in the detector, a light leak. We ignored it. The Friedman-Lichtman-Byram paper was a trailblazer and we interpreted it. On the other hand, at one point, to be personal now, there came a time when Nicolet had been there for six months, that he required me to get up and defend what I’d been doing on my thesis. “Oh, really?” I didn’t think we were making any progress at all, and I got up and I said, well, this and that and that. Silence. The committee sat around.
And this was just the committee?
Yes. Nicolet says, “Look!” An explosion. “Get up there.” I stood up. He says, “Now what’s the reaction between this and that?” “What’s the coefficient?” I put it down. “What do you get from that?” He went through stuff like that with me. Then he said, “You can see that you’re going to get something out of it.” Afterwards the committee retired, and Nicolet said, “I had to do that to you or we were done.” He said, “I had to defend my integrity, but that was a terrible presentation. But you did show the idea was; you showed what you know.”
How did you feel after that?
A sense of salvation. In my graduate school, I went through the prelims, the written prelims, and I knew I was failing them right and left. I thought, “I will never get through this, I will never survive! I’m just a waif!” There was another guy down the hall. I considered him a little bit on the fringe politically, but I thought he knew physics better than I, and after 10 minutes sitting in one of these written prelims, he crumpled his paper up in a ball, walked out of the room, and that was the last anybody ever heard of him. That’s the way I felt. I’m sure they were not hard prelims. But they passed me. They said, “Yes, you can start to do a Ph.D. thesis.” Well then after this explosion on the part of Nicolet, time passed, he came back, and we had a thesis — a very simple thing, nothing very profound. But we met again. The professor I had had for a Master’s program was D.H. Rank, the spectroscopist, and Rank came out of a Pennsylvania German family and spoke blunt English. In grad, school at Penn State, with a kind of brute force, he found solutions to his spectroscopic problems. A straightforward person without finesse, but he would achieve. Well, he was on my committee, a great friend of Nicolet’s. And so when we met for my final thesis defense, Rank said, “Do we have to go through all this again? Well, what did you find?” And that was it. They blessed me with a degree. It’s like winning a Redskins game: you’re not sure how you got there, but you’re happy to be there finally. Well what was I going to do then? I stayed on for another year in the Ionosphere Lab, and one of my tasks was to guide three computresses. Now computresses were people who pushed Friedman’s calculators all day long in order to solve differential equations by step integration or whatever.
And these were all women?
These were three women, and they were admirably performing people. That was one of my jobs, personally I tried to work on diffusion equations. Now some of what I’m going to say is in various documents I’ll give you. In April of that year (I have an account written here), I was looking around at small colleges. I wanted to be a college physics teacher, because I liked students, but I got a call from Lloyd V. Berkner. I had known of Berkner, after all I’d worked in the Ionosphere Lab. I knew the kinds of things he’d done in the past. I knew him from a distance. I knew him from meetings in some sense, but not any more than that, really. Got a call from him. He said, “Phil, as you know, Marcel Nicolet is now the General Secretary of the IGY.” I think the idea was he could use some help over there.
How much did you know about the IGY at the time?
Well, some by osmosis from Nicolet, but it would always be by osmosis, because as I described in my notes here which I’ll give you, Nicolet liked to hold things to himself. There was another aspect to it. I had written my thesis on diffusion in the thermosphere, and in 1954 there was an IUGG meeting in Rome. Waynick asked the Air Force if they wouldn’t send me to Rome, as a civilian. And they said, they had only two slots for that, but they gave us one, and sent me. I arrived in Rome about 10 days early because of the uncertainty of military transport, and I had a wonderful series of walking tours of Rome for the next few days. I went to this IUGG conference and gave my paper and argued with V.C.A. Ferraro, who was the Chapman protégé who had worked on diffusion and much theory. We had some differences, when he asked a curious question at one point. Perhaps it was at this meeting or six years later when I gave a similar paper, an expansion of it, but he wanted to know how you could introduce something into the atmosphere and it would diffuse downward. He thought it always diffused upward in the atmosphere. Well, if you introduce a concentrated source and nothing else, it will diffuse downward, but much more slowly of course, because of the increasing concentration, but it does diffuse downward. I didn’t understand why he didn’t understand, but at that IUGG conference, I was exposed to the whole of thinking about space.
The papers were in sessions of the Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy (IAGA), I suppose. But in the course of that conference, I vaguely understood that there was to be a session about the IGY after it. Nicolet didn’t invite me, even though I was his student, and it turned out that was the second plenary session of the CSAGI, but I didn’t attend. I went home. I would rather have had the 10 days afterward and gone to it. But one thing happened there. Now you know the history of the IGY, that among other people, besides Berkner, who were present when the IGY was proposed, there was Fred Singer. So I’m walking along Via Del Corso in Rome one evening during the IUGG conference, and there were a couple of people dining al fresco, and one was Fred Singer; the other was Tommy Gold. They said, “Hey Phil, come on up.” (And this is recorded here.) So I said I would have dinner with them, which was a pleasure; I had heard earlier that day, or a day earlier, Fred Singer talking about his plans for the MOUSE: Miniature Orbital Unmanned Satellite for Earth, if I have the acronym right. And he said to me, “What do you think about that?” I said, “Well, it’s fine, but who’s going to pay for it?” Now if you read Needell’s book on Berkner, there’s a whole section in there about the pulling and hauling to implement such a program. Well I was unaware of all that. I just sat there wondering who’s going to pay for all this. That’s how naïve I was about life in the world at that time. So I came home. That was ‘54, and it was in ’55, in the spring when Berkner called me up and said, “Nicolet needs help.” That gives you some perspective. I was aware of the IGY, I knew things were happening, but not much.
What I was curious about this point, how well did you know the general community of folks who were working on ionospheric issues? Did you know Joe Kaplan by then?
I knew the name of Joe Kaplan, after all, everybody knew of the Vegard-Kaplan bands. But no, not really. I will make a comment here. After I joined the U.S. committee staff, I learned that Joe Kaplan had remarkable Hollywood contacts and Air Force contacts, which he used effectively. In planning policy or strategy or tactics, he was usually the front man, expressing group views.
Were there other sectors besides the Naval Research Lab that seemed to you particularly strong in the field?
Well, Aberdeen Proving Grounds was launching rocket experiments. The Air Force Cambridge Research Labs were very active. The University of Michigan had a program, as well as Kaplan at UCLA. The RAND Corporation was involved in studies; Will Kellogg was there, beginning, I think at that time. One person I met is still in town, Maury Dubin, which reminds me, while I was at Penn State, Nicolet would write papers and write them in English, and then I would try to edit them so that they were more intelligible. He’d be composing a paper, writing in English, and suddenly revert into French for a paragraph, then come back; we’d put it together. I was diffident; I wouldn’t exert very much influence as a stylist. The result was that others would come along and say, “Who wrote this? This still needs correction and improvement.” I do have standards, but I would only push so far. This yielded a paper by Nicolet for the volume, Physics and Medicine of the Upper Atmosphere, ed. Clayton S. White and Otis O. Benson, Jr. (University of New Mexico Press, 1952). So anyway, at one point, Nicolet sent me down to the associated San Antonio conference. It was sponsored by the Lovelace Foundation, Sandia Corporation, with Air Force involvement. There I met a lot of other people. Nicolet presented a comprehensive overview of solar radiation, how it might vary, including its spectral characteristics. There I met Maury Dubin, then at AFCRL. Maury Dubin’s still around, in retirement, but still involved in various space projects. So anyway, I met people through all these events; and we religiously came to every URSI meeting at the old Bureau of Standards. CRPL was the center of the world, almost. I became aware of Merle Tuve, controversial in his outlook.
Were those ideas about Carnegie?
Yes. I was roughly aware of them, just barely. I knew there were issues. On the other hand, Nicolet pointed out to me, he says, “That library (Carnegie Dept. of Terrestrial Magnetism) at Broad Branch Road is the most wonderful archive, and it goes way back. You can get anything there!” Nicolet was an Associate Editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR) in the old days when it had a yellow cover. One thing I did in Belgium was to write a paper summarizing atmospheric diffusion theory, but much of it was wrong. After submission, Tuve (Editor of JGR) challenged the paper in a trans-Atlantic phone call to Nicolet (Associate Editor), who vigorously defended it, but never revealed to me the substance of the objection (!) I had inferred too much mathematically. Only years later G. Prölss, a German scientist, pulled me aside at a meeting and gave me a paper pointing out my errors. I walked away with it, went home and read it. It was a proper statement. Returning to the main point, at Penn State we circulated. At Stanford, R.A. Helliwell was conducting ionospheric research early on. A colleague of his, a theorist working on atmospheric propagation at lower frequencies, 150 kilohertz, was a principal competitor. Our man would spar with him in successive URSI meetings.
Marcel Nicolet was a master sleuth in seeking to understand the behavior of the high atmosphere and ionosphere, driven largely by the sun. He was always speculating ahead, while cultivating experimenters from any related field to find new data, and winnow the possibilities. He claimed to know no mathematics — except the Ricatti equation (!) — but “followed his nose,” as he said, selecting results from here and there to divine fundamental processes. On the other hand in social relations, his similar approach — to ferret out the truth by multiple level inference from isolated comment — would sometimes lead him astray. Hearsay from one person, coupled perhaps with off-hand personal remarks from others, might seem conclusive to him. He was always a bit wary. Nicolet had been a member of the Belgian Royal Meteorological Institute, but as a prominent international leader in space theory, the Royal Institute of Aeronomy was established for him at the same general location.
Let’s continue, and I’m so sorry for the interruption. This machine was acting up. You were talking about Nicolet’s way of dealing with folks. And you had just mentioned about the Institute of Aeronomy that had been created for him.
Yes. He was very clever, to talk a little about something else. He wanted more space for his institute. So he went to the government and said that he needed a building. A high building, also to provide a platform for meteorological instruments. His instruments needed to be up above surrounding influences. They recorded precipitation, wind, temperature, and cloud cover. Also monitored was energy required to hold a black ball at constant temperature during varying weather. Tables were prepared for the Belgian clothing manufacturers so they could decide what kind of raiment was needed, wherever you were in the world. Well, they built the building. There was quite an extensive first floor, then two completely open floors below the platform, without walls, but so designed you could just put the bricks around them later for extra space. That’s the way the Aeronomical Institute was first created.
When was that first created, roughly?
We moved into that building when I was there. We worked both in that building, and in the IGY headquarters near Nicolet’s home on Den Doorn several blocks away. It was a rented house, a rowhouse, just like his. No, not like his. His was more elegantly constructed, but it was a nice house. As to Nicolet’s style — it is outlined in my notes on Needell’s book. His wife Alice and my wife and our daughter (one and a half on arrival, three and a half when we left) got along very well. And by the way, Nicolet had a succession of graduate students after me, some of whom have made wonderful names for themselves, and have been very fine theorists. As far as the IGY effort was concerned, I was supposed to help him administratively. But that turned out to be simply doing the things around the office. There were another one or two people there. It was like being a “go-for,” even collating material in great stacks and all that kind of thing, but notably cleaning up his English language correspondence. That’s what it amounted to.
When you were still with him at Penn State, did you see him in the evenings or was it primarily contact that you had in the labs?
Oh yes, we would socialize. After a little while, his wife said, “You know, Marcel, I need a beer. My stomach isn’t —.” In Belgium as you may know, and as he was quick to point out to me, the preferred beverage is beer. I grew up in a tee totaling family. I went through the Army and never drank beer, except smelling it second hand and third hand [laughs]. So when we went off to Michigan to visit my roots, we brought back two bottles of several kinds of beer for them to try. In State College at that time, you couldn’t buy a bottle of beer. You had to go to Bellefonte, 15 miles away, to get beer from the state store. I took him to a football game. At that time, Pete Ramos was the quarterback at Penn State, the star quarterback in the east. Nicolet told this story over and over. He watched, analyzed the game and so forth. Later, when he came to leave the country, as a foreign visitor he had to go through a visit to the IRS. I don’t know if it’s still true. But in those days, if you were classified as a businessman, the IRS assessed 30% of whatever your income and that was the tax. If you were not classified as a businessman, but as some kind of a professional, you were under the same kind of income tax laws as an American. Well, the question was, what kind of an examiner were you going to get? The people who came to Penn State in those days were wary of the New York office; they wanted to go to Scranton instead.
They always made their pilgrimage to Scranton. The Scranton examiner said to Nicolet, “Oh, you come from Penn State. I have a nephew there who plays football.” “Do you? Oh, what’s his name?” “Pete Ramos.” “Not Pete Ramos, the finest passer in the east?!” And Nicolet always thought that that was the thing that got him the best treatment — you get the idea. [Laughter] He loved to tell stories. When he died, he was an embittered man, I’m afraid, and I only saw him a couple of years before he died. But at some times later on, after our Belgian experience, which had its strains at the end, he was like a father, a second father. We had a father/son relationship. He had no children, and Marcel and Alice always took delight and interest in our children. It was that kind of a situation. That gives you an idea. The relationship was good. On the other hand, you see when he ran IGY business with us, there was this problem. As I note in one of these documents, just before the IGY while I was there, the China question came up. We’ve talked about that. He was off in the Congo for 30 days to assess science or science opportunities in the Congo. He was completely out of communication. He did not call or anything, left no instructions, and I was sort of the senior member after all. But there was a geographer, a graduate geographer, a woman, who had led a very sheltered existence in Belgium, and she was his closest confidante. To be a confidante to Nicolet, you had to assume a minor role and always be agreeable, in my view. Thus, there was nobody in the office to handle new questions, as that account describes, I responded for him.
And I want to make sure we cover that, but we haven’t talked about your decision to actually go to Belgium. And did you have other opportunities that you were concerned —
I was looking around for small college opportunities, and they were offering me positions at $4500 a year. I didn’t think I would survive very well at that level, even though $4500 was worth more then than now. So I went to various places. I talked to Albright College. Calvin College got in touch with me, I find by looking in the file. But what happened was, Berkner called me up and said, “The Science Foundation will support you half time for two years in Belgium.” I didn’t know that Berkner was one of the leaders in establishing the NSF, had been mentioned as a leader of it, as a possible director of it. He said, “They asked me how much, and I said, ‘Oh, you could probably get him for $7500.’ How does that seem? You would have to pay for one-way passage for you and your family too.” And I said, well, it sounded interesting; it’s more than $4500. And he said that Nicolet would have to take care of the other passage home and half the pay. So I discovered in the Penn State student paper that the Penn State Choir was going to Europe, and we paid for three seats on their flight. It took us to London, and then we flew to Brussels. We got there for $700, so that left me $6800. Well, I expected from Nicolet $6800 for two years and he said he couldn’t pay it.
And you didn't know that until you got there?
No, no. I was already there. And he nicked me for about $300 or so. He said, “That’s all I can pay you on our scale here.” Now look, that’s one side of it. The other side of it is, I wanted to buy a car. I bought a Bug. But in order to get a license in Belgium at that time, you had to show property which could be accessed or taken over in case you were subject to a liability claim. What to do? I went to Nicolet. He listed his own house, put it in. The world is just different in different places.
When we turned the tape, you went to Belgium.
Yes. Now, I did ordinary things for the whole two-year period there. Let me back up and cite my association with the other professional in the office, Mademoiselle Delphine Jehoulet. She became the wife of Armand Delsemme; they married shortly after. But she became ill and was out of the office my second year. She introduced me to Belgian culture and was very direct, no question of social finesse. I got a perspective on life from her. But we used to joke about our status, and this was true throughout the whole two years I was there. In the house where we had the IGY office there was a phone in back, and we thought it would be a good idea to move the phone up in front, or have an extra phone. And we went to Nicolet with the question and he said, “Well, okay.” The phone company came, then told us to submit a written request. So we went to Nicolet, but he said, “No, I don’t think we’ll do it.” [Laughs] That’s the degree to which we had his confidence. Another description. Berkner was interested in helping Nicolet. He wanted to make the IGY go. Now, understand, Berkner was the kind of person I described; he was imposing. (I won’t go through that because it’s in the document.) But to help things move, to watch and make sure it was developing properly, he’d come to Brussels regularly. He was involved in ICSU and much else under the sun, as we now know. He’d drop by, give me a call, and I’d go down to the Metropole to sit and chat in his room for a while, every several months or so. I’d talk to him about office issues.
They were not earth consuming or world issues. He cut a figure in those days. Two comments about him: One was that somebody reported they had seen him behind a potted palm in the Metropole on the long distance telephone to America for one half of an hour (unusual then). There was another aspect of Berkner’s style which was disturbing, because he had, as we didn’t then know, his hands in so many issues that he often couldn’t get to all the meetings, but would send J. Wallace Joyce, Wally Joyce. Now Wally Joyce was a perfectly amiable guy, but he’d never take an immediate position on anything while representing Berkner, and people began to believe that was part of the stock Berkner style: he sends Wally Joyce. Well, they would want a decision or an expression, but Wally would take it back. Wally was wonderfully able to write clearly much faster than I. So there was another aspect of him. But Berkner wanted to help Nicolet and so he’d come and visit me to ask about progress. Now, at one point he had a major concern (described in my notes on Needell’s book).
Well, we can make sure to attach that.
Berkner decided there needed to be a Coordinator for data centers. Now, as you know, there was a World Data Center for each discipline, in the Soviet Union and the United States and then a third country. And these were being developed in ‘56 and ‘57 so they could receive and archive data. They were essential to the IGY operation; after all, there was the heart of scientific interest in the IGY, to gain access to all the data. Well, the role of looking after these data centers in some coordinating sense, fell to the General Secretary, who claimed he was the only full-time IGY executive on the job, Nicolet. On the other hand, Nicolet never went to visit a data center unless there was interesting science; he didn’t do that. He was busy. So one day, Lloyd Berkner, who had lots of Navy connections, discovered Retired British Vice-Admiral Sir Archibald Day, who was doing hydrographic surveys in Lake Nyasa. He brought him to Europe, and he circulated into Belgium and in France. Obviously Day must have talked to Chapman, who was President of the IGY; then Day went back to Lake Nyasa without having met Nicolet, if you can imagine. Sometime later, Day comes to Uccle, and he is the Coordinator for Data Centers. Day was a wonderful person.
What sort of person was he?
He was tall, lanky, maybe six three, six four, wore chin whiskers, little puffs of white. The rest was shaved. Wore half-glasses on occasion, I think, moved with some grace, an absolutely punctual man. He rented a house up the street for his office; he rented an apartment not far away with his good wife Lady Day. Some people said, “Can you say that? It’s like la-di-dah.” [Laughs] I’ve forgotten her first name. Anyway, she was Lady Day. She was a very nice person. In the morning, you could see him tending, looking at the roses in his yard that he rented, and he’d look at his watch, “Oh!” And off he’d go, right on time, to get to his office. He had been Chief of Staff to Admiral Ramsay, who organized the Dunkirk withdrawal, and Day was himself responsible for the details of all that.
And he told me that you cannot work beyond your limit without rest, without sleep. You must take sleep. Even at the time of Dunkirk or whatever, he went to bed as needed, and then got up later and went on. He was that kind of person. And Lady Day told me, “You know, when Archie would be in a far foreign port, Singapore or somewhere, he would on occasion be in charge of the liberty boat to come back at midnight. Archie would stand at the boat, waiting to return to the ship with his watch. And if he saw a sailor running down the hill, about 10 yards away from the boat, but midnight had come, he’d say, cast off.” That’s Archie. But he was a humble man. I saw somebody say to him, “Now that Britain is a third-level power,” and he wouldn’t flinch. This was the time Britain, France, and Israel had attacked Egypt — the Suez Crisis. He said, “I’ve made up my mind. We’ve got to go through with it now, no matter what. We started it, we must finish it.” Well, Archie came, set up his place. Nicolet’s reaction was to do nothing. What happened was, there’s Archie. He’s got an office, he doesn’t even have a mailing list for IGY contacts in the various countries. He can’t get it.
Well, I was aware of this immediately, of course, and I’m sitting there handling the English language correspondence that Nicolet thinks is important, and when I see something that’s significant, I put it in my noodle to go around to tell Archie. (I finally got him a mailing list or something. I’ve forgotten how that worked.) Anyway, Admiral Day would drop by the next morning to see Marcel. He would begin by talking to him about something he’d heard that was scientific or whatever, and then Nicolet would open up, because once on a substantive topic, Nicolet would comment. And Archie would play this a little bit, and then say, “Well, what about this?” and it would be something that I had triggered him to be aware of. Nicolet always liked to be asked for information. He glowed, and then it would pour out. So that’s the way Day got started. On the other hand, it was a transparent process, and after a month or two my relationship with Nicolet was absolutely icy, for the last few months in Brussels. Except that Alice, my wife Ginny, and I would still visit the Nicolets on occasion. We maintained friendly relations. It was only after the IGY that things got warm again [laughs].
Did you feel it was because of the —
Oh absolutely, there’s no doubt about it. And the other thing was, I mean, Nicolet didn’t believe in me. Obviously he knew what was going on, and we wouldn’t have a direct discussion of it. In the meantime he knew I would be leaving and he was recruiting Mike Baker, F.W.G. Baker. Mike Baker came to work for Nicolet. He had a fine degree from Britain in some bio area. My wife and I talked with Mike during the month or two before we left. Mike was just taking over IGY reporter for Oceanography. Mike became more involved than I, and ultimately married Colonel Laclavère’s daughter. Laclavère was the IGY Reporter for Oceanography. Mike married his daughter and they lived in the south of France with their children.
One thing I wanted to ask you was, and it happened just a little bit earlier, was before you went to Belgium with Nicolet, you’d been approached by the administrative office of Haller, Raymond, and Brown to —
I put that in this paper, too.
Yes. I’m wondering if, and you have written about this, but —
I offer a comment there as to what I think, why that —
Yes, and I’m curious what you think did happen.
I think Berkner set that up. He was testing Mange to see where his loyalties lay. That’s my view. After all, the HRB man who called me was a retired military man, as so often is true in technological centers. You know, APL (the Applied Physics Lab, Johns Hopkins University) has I don’t know how many retired admirals or captains on staff. Well, he was the office administrator for Haller, Raymond & Brown, HRB. It became HRB Singer, and then there were various goings-on until it fell apart financially. I don’t know, HRB Singer may be in the ash can today. But Haller was the dean of the chem-phys school, Raymond was a professor of physics (infrared studies), and Brown was a star student there. HRB had spun off out of the university.
The HRB man said he had an inquiry for me, and asked me to drop over there for a cup of coffee. “Suppose somebody wanted to get some information from you, and you were living in a foreign area, and they would be willing to pay you for it. Would you do that? There’d be a condition. The condition is that you couldn’t use the money they would pay you in any obvious way. You would just have to bank it for that period.” I said, well, I didn’t see anything wrong with doing such a thing. I’d consider it. He says, “Okay. People have come to me, and they wondered, you may never hear anything about this again, or you may.” Well, two or three weeks later he called me up, “Want to come over for coffee?” Oh, the first time I had told him, “Well, I’m dickering at the moment. There’s a possibility I’ll be going to Belgium to work with Nicolet.” At HRB he said, “Well it’s in connection with that.” I said, “Oh, now I had better go home and think about this. I’ll call you in the morning as to what I think about it.” I called him back and I said, “No, can’t have two loyalties, not from my view.” He said, “Okay. You still might hear from us, or you might not.” That was the last I ever heard. I think Berkner was trying to find out what kind of a guy Phil Mange was [laughs]. Well I mean, Berkner was always working on questions. Oh, now let me get back to the question of Admiral Day’s recruitment. I think the reason that Berkner treated Nicolet this way, was that it was the only way it could be done. I don’t think he could ever get agreement by everybody if Nicolet were there to stall him, because Nicolet would view it as an attack on his empire, or his fiefdom. And I think he finally decided it had to be done. I really do attribute the grandest and most noble purposes to Berkner. He may have been whatever he was with his forceful style, but I think in the end he had integrity. I always believed in him.
And just to be clear, what kind of information would Haller, Raymond & Brown be looking for, in your view? What were they after?
Well, look, in the IGY central office as the Simpson account tells it, there were no Americans with executive involvement. Oh, and I make a point elsewhere, again, about Berkner. He was told that if he was going to be involved internationally — and the State Department told him this — if he didn’t alert them to significant issues coming up before hand, they would cut him down. They said that flatly, and there’s some law, I think I mentioned it to you, which says that you can’t conduct foreign policy as a private citizen of the United States, and I understand it’s never been enforced or used or whatever, but it’s often used to threaten. He told me that flat out. So, they didn’t have any direct information as to what was going on unless Berkner was there, and in the ordinary workings of the system, they thought, well, there might be something that was significant. Just to take an example, I was sitting there one day and in drops an astronomer from the Helwan Observatory of Egypt. So I chatted with him and we said this and that and the other thing and he went away. I think they were just interested. They were probably more interested in the political ties that were roiling. The other thing was, the Communist Chinese had come in with this provision that they would never sit down at the same table with the Taiwanese. Now, I didn’t even know that. It came up as a real fact as recounted in the Simpson document.
We’re talking, just to make clear, the Communist Chinese involvement in the IGY, that was a precondition.
That was a precondition, and the Bureau had apparently accepted it. Correction: the Bureau had not accepted the condition, they accepted the participation and paid no attention to that, or at least didn’t remark on it. Then later, when Taiwan tried to join the IGY, the Communist Chinese said no. In the Bullis account it points out that the Chinese withdrew, and doesn’t say anything about them coming back. They did not return. They may have sent data back through Soviet channels, for example, but they didn't come back, as far as I know. Well, State would want to know that, if there was something like that. And when I was being grilled by Abe Manell and the political affairs officer (whose name I’ve forgotten) at the U.S. embassy in Brussels, and their comment back and forth to each other was, “We haven’t got any handle on this, have we? Phil Mange is here, and he’s the only handle we’ve got, but as Phil points out, he doesn’t have any executive responsibilities. He’s not a manager in the organization, but this is the best we can do.” That was the kind of comment that went back and forth.
Of course, the intelligence community was privately interested in this information in the 1950s as well.
Sure, times were heating up.
You were talking particularly about the emergence of the crisis involving Taiwan’s involvement in the IGY.
See, I don’t know very much about that. That’s the whole point. All I know is in the stuff I sent to Simpson.
Did Sidney Chapman believe that that effort was done by the Taiwanese themselves or that it had been motivated elsewhere?
Sidney was not the kind of person to infer things like that. Marcel Nicolet would have been. I talked with Sidney on the phone to Gottingen in this connection, and he said, “Phil, I’ve written this letter to try to calm them down (in Taiwan).” Our view was (and maybe it’s wrong, I don’t know, I think it was an appropriate view) that in Taiwan they thought the Tokyo conference is taking place right on their side of the planet, so shouldn’t they be involved? I think that was the motivation.
What was your interaction like with the State Department officials over this?
Well, that was Abram E. Manell. Abe Manell was unusual. I’ve got some papers here I’ll give you. As you may know, he died recently, here. When he died, I called his brother, who was listed in the obituary. I said I had known him, though it was many years ago, but I had a very high regard for him. I went to his funeral, which was a full military service in Arlington, and I found out that he had been a Naval officer and in charge of two gunboats in China: command of a gunboat on two separate occasions on the Yangtze River. Subsequently, he took a doctorate in international law. He was the USIA chief as I understood it at the time, for Benelux. And let me go on to this event when I first met him, and I have some comment here. (This is what I want you to see. First off, this is on the top.) I met Manell because of the following. Nicolet, in the summer of ‘55 when I had arrived, suddenly received a letter from the National Science Foundation (well, from the U.S., anyway) which said there would be a courier coming to give him something in three or four days, and was he going to be there? And it worried the dickens out of him. He couldn’t sleep and wondered if the U.S. might be going to use him.
On this particular day, I think it was a Saturday, or it might have been a Friday, but it was the end of the week, in the morning, about 10 o’clock I guess, an NSF courier (whose name I’ve forgotten) and Abe Manell showed up at Nicolet’s office. They passed over a handout. It was about one sheet long, and it said the U.S. was planning to launch a satellite under the aegis of the IGY. That was the idea. And Manell went on to discuss how it was important from the U.S. point of view that the announcement come first from the international IGY office in Brussels. Now, Nicolet didn’t buy this right away. I think it took an hour or two of discussion, with back and forth, before he finally bought into the idea and said, “Well, okay.” Then, Manell had to confirm it. He got on the phone back to Washington, to the White House press office, and they told him they’d changed their mind, and said they were going to announce it first. And Manell had Nicolet sitting there, witnessing a discourse which was remarkable.
In effect Manell told Washington, “Look, you can’t do this, this is terrible.” At the same time, he said it in such a way as not to upset Nicolet. Of course, Nicolet was perceptive and it was a wonderful performance. It finally ended up that the announcement would be made simultaneously, or some such thing. Manell and the NSF emissary had brought along an embassy employee who had contact with the news media in Belgium. He got on the phone and dialed everybody on his phone list, perhaps 30 or 40 of them. He would say, “Professor Nicolet is going to make an important announcement this evening at seven o’clock in the Palais Des Academies. Would you be able to have somebody there?” And often the response was, “Who’s this Nicolet?” Manell had explained that no U.S. representative would be there. The U.S. would not foster it. I would set it up and then fade. So the evening came. The Palais des Academies is a wonderful old building, but at that time it had only one public telephone, downstairs, and the press conference was to be held in the grand hall upstairs. And we went down there with a box of these —
You’re holding your hand up —
It was probably about 100 copies of this famous press announcement. And we got there maybe half an hour or three quarters of an hour early and people were starting to mill around and come in already. We were upstairs and the phone was downstairs. So, after a while, Nicolet, being gregarious, would respond when a reporter would go to him and say, “Well, Professor Nicolet, what is this all about?” He would hint something and it would go around. Then I began to hear rumors; is this about something going up? Something like that. I looked at my watch. It was fifteen minutes before the hour, but it was getting out of hand. Nicolet was just talking to anybody who’d come up to him. And I said, “Monsieur Nicolet, don’t you think you ought to go up to the podium?” “Yes, yes, yes, I’ll do that.” [Laughs] So Nicolet got up there at a quarter to seven, and the fliers were handed out, and he starts to talk. Well, one guy near me by the name of Anderson (I’ve forgotten his first name), a United Press correspondent, takes the piece of paper, looks at it, bounds out of the room, and he’s gone. And he had a colleague downstairs who’d tied up the one public phone. [Laughter] Nicolet goes on, he starts to tell, and somebody says, “Well, how big is this thing?” And he gives dimensions, and he’s describing MOUSE.
I made the point that neither Manell nor anybody from the Embassy was there at all. Now this is a commentary on the (faulty) recollection of a famous scientist [Reads from a note from Nicolet to Mange, 16 January 1995]. “Dear Phil, Thank you for the Washington Post.” (I had written to Nicolet about Manell’s passing). “When he was in Brussels at the American Embassy he was in charge of Scientific Affairs.” Well, not quite. “When the delegate of the Academy,” (it was NSF) “came to Brussels to give me by hand the announcement of the launching of satellite (Vanguard) during the IGY, Manell asked me at 9 a.m. to make a special announcement. Public announcement was made at the Palais des Academies officially at eighteen hours local, to correspond to 12 noon.” Well maybe it was seven, I don’t know. “During the whole day, all newspapers received the various notices by phone.” I typed this out from what he wrote, “At 5 p.m., I began my talk on the atmospheric problems and the possible use of satellites. Anderson from United Press was there with a friend after preparing in the Academies a contact permanent by phone with the U.S. At 5:45, Manell told me by special sign, ‘Yes.’” No, he wasn’t there. I triggered it, see; that’s what I was getting at. “Anderson left the room and told to people going to the White House for 6 p.m. the story of the satellite.” This is his style of English. “Mr. Haggerty at the White House was not able to answer the questions I gave in my talk. Problems, problems.” [Laughs] And, oh some other comment here which is not important. “The following day, I was a Belgian spy in an Italian newspaper.” Et cetera, et cetera. The next day, Anderson said, “Can I have you come down, Nicolet, to my office and answer some more questions?” He said, “Oh, Phil, you go down there.” So I went down, and Anderson said, “Well, now look. Tell me, why does the satellite stay up in the sky?” Or whatever, something like that. So I expound, he stops, and he pulls the sheet out of the machine. He says, “You just used a word, you can’t use that word to the Kansas City milkman.” I said, “Oh all right, we’ll cast it this way.” We got about a page out and I said to him, “By the way, when you get this done I want to look it over.” He said, “No, it’s going out on the wire as you talk.” [Laughs] My introduction. Then after we had our session, Anderson pulls out a teletype tape, which says, “Pour it on there Anderson, you have scooped the White House!” And he had. What had happened was that once the White House press staff went in, the doors were locked until the briefing was over. But the press heard before they walked through the doors what the announcement was, and they were furious. So, indeed Manell arranged it that the news would be announced simultaneously as a saving position, but we pulled it off anyway. Now, if you read Needell’s book, it just says that everything went well. But this is the inside story. I know it doesn’t make a bit of difference for history.
I would really think that’s an important point.
It’s very important.
I’m curious how well you got to know Beloussov.
Not very well. No, I knew him mostly through people like Pem Hart or Stan Ruttenberg. But as I recount, again in here, you’ll find some comments about that a little bit at the end. Beloussov, Nicolet told me about Beloussov. They were in some meeting and I don’t remember what the meeting was, some meeting of the Bureau, perhaps at the time of the Suez crisis, and they were trying to think about IGY planning, and they were worried. Wherever they were sitting in whatever country or city, they were worried that war was going to break out, and they wouldn’t even get home. And Beloussov is sitting there about noon or beforehand, when he says, “I’m going out. I’ll see you later.” And he went away during lunch. Later in the day he came back and he said, “It’s all right. Nothing will happen tomorrow.” And Nicolet said, “That man had direct connections to the political center of the Kremlin.” So that’s a story.
Yes it is.
Now, I have this other story. You haven’t seen this yet, have you? Maybe you have. Is this your writing? [P. Mange, “The IGY of 1957-58, an Unprecedented Surge in International Scientific Achievement,” American Association for the Advancement of Science: AMSIE 1997, Seattle, Washington; Session: Continuing Lessons from the IGY Forty Years Later, 17 February 1997]
Well, I have another copy for you, and I want to annotate it. There’s a notation at the top of there, right and left. In this account I tell the story about Beloussov, and this was told me by Nicolet who was there, so that is its origin. On page three, bottom of the paragraph: “At a dinner at the IGY planning meeting in Rome in 1954, dessert was delayed and it was suggested that a participant, who was an amateur graphologist, analyze the signatures of those sitting around the table. Without concern about validity (signatures are inadequate, but it was only a game), he did so, and when he came to Beloussov, he said, “dreamer.” After dessert and pousse-café, Beloussov came around the table. Looking the handwriting interpreter in the eye, he said, “Do you think it’s possible to be a dreamer in my country?” I think that’s wonderful.
It really is.
Was that characteristic of the way that Beloussov had, that kind of force of personality? What were your impressions of him?
Well, he knew five languages, and the regular comment was he would perform masterfully in trying to bring consensus and do things honorably. He was integrity itself, as I understood it, but that’s second or third hand. But that’s the story that was always told.
Do you remember, Phil, when the Russians presented their IGY plan at the Brussels conference in 1955? Were you in Belgium at that point?
No, I don’t think so. Again, one of the first things I did when I got to Belgium, we collated stuff and there was a meeting, okay? But I wasn’t sitting in on much of it. I did not have a vivid impression. Or let’s put it this way, yeah, the Russians presented their plan. So did, not Saudi Arabia, let’s pick somebody else, I don’t know, so did Venezuela. That’s sort of the way it was. Later on, when I went to COSPAR conferences afterwards, I was more directly concerned with what the Russian scientists were saying, because I knew something about the areas they related to what I was trying to do.
There was a question I wanted to ask you a moment ago about Nicolet. What did he think of American politics at the time that he was there?
Oh, he liked America and he liked Americans, he really did. And he believed in them, and he felt that America had been wonderfully beneficial to him. The science people he met with were uniformly appreciative of him, and he liked to talk with them, and I never detected any whiff of, well, a whiff of exasperation over some event which involved, what’s the French word, oh, “l’administration chinoise,” red tape. But otherwise [laughs] But just to go on, he became embittered as he got older. He felt others didn’t understand. Let me explain the kind of diligent mind he had. You know the meeting document for AGU meetings — the volume that just came out runs to 1,500 pages or whatever? Okay, he’d go through one of those systematically. He’d sit down when he got it (they were so much smaller in those days!), select the pertinent sections, and read every one of those and say, “This is important, that’s not, this is,” and on and on, and he’d chart out where he was going to attend. On political events, he tried to apply the same approach, and sometimes he was wrong. But on the other hand, if you grow up in Belgium — You can’t rise in Belgium unless you’re aware of political inconsistencies, let’s put it that way. And as he grew up, he always found his way up. Oh, a wonderful anecdote about the King. One Friday he was sitting in his office, and he’d gotten some press about who he was, and why he was important in the Space Age, and he got a call from the palace. And they wondered, could he come to the palace and talk to King Baudouin in the afternoon, about the IGY? Oh, well yes he could. He’d been planning to go to the Ardennes with Alice, but he called her up and they called it off.
He went over there, and after talking for something like, he told me (maybe it was embellished), four hours, the King said, “This is very interesting. I wonder if you’d come back and tell some of these things to the Queen too.” Okay, and he went away. Now, one of the things he talked about was the early Polar Years, and I have a relationship there that you may not know about, the story of Edward Israel. I have something here about Edward Israel. Nicolet incorporated the story of Edward Israel, complete with picture and whatever else, of this memorial, and wrote it up in a document, something like EOS in Europe, and he showed it to the King and talked to all about it. I wrote a squib for the Kalamazoo paper, which would never publish it. Didn’t have enough pizzazz. Anyway, this is the marker.
You’re taking out a photograph now.
Reads “Edward Israel, Arctic pioneer.” And this is in Kalamazoo. “Near here is the grave of Edward Israel, who went on the nation’s first Polar expedition led by Lieutenant Adolphus W. Greeley. The team set out in 1881 for Ellesmere Island in the Arctic Ocean. Expedition scientist was Israel of Kalamazoo, age 22, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan. He collected valuable astronomical information and assisted Greeley in many administrative chores. Disaster struck in 1883, when the relief ship was sunk en route. After a severe winter, 18 of the 25 expedition members died. Israel died on May 27, 1884. The entire city of Kalamazoo, with mixed sorrow and pride, honored Israel when the body was returned in August of that year.” That’s a nice memorial.
Now, subsequent to this, there’s been a book published within the last several years about the Greeley Expedition and how poorly it was handled. Adolphus Greeley was an Army officer and he did very poorly. You just have to read the book to understand, and it was really a terribly mismanaged operation. More lives could have been saved, but he wouldn’t follow what his subordinates told him. Greeley first set up the network of pole lines for telegraphy across the United States for the U.S. Army prior to that, and after it he became the Chief Signal Officer. And ultimately, while living in Georgetown I think, almost in retirement or his old age, they gave him the Congressional Medal of Honor. So on each side of this terrible management, this unconscionable behavior, he did wonderful things. It’s an interesting story.
Why don’t we make a copy for the Center for History of Physics.
Wait a minute, I wanted to say something further about Manell. We’ve talked about the satellite announcement, and then let’s see, how else did he come up?
He came up in the Taiwan issue.
Oh, I came to know him that way, and then when the Chinese issue came up, I knew him well, and I thought I had full confidence in him. Well, I did have full confidence in him. Maybe he didn’t compromise me by having the papers passed on to Tokyo, that particular story there. Maybe it was just that the State Department did it on its own, no matter what he thought; it wasn’t up to him to make the decision obviously. But after the satellite announcement, he took Nicolet out to dinner, as he would. And Nicolet came back with nothing but glowing tales of Manell. He said, “He really understands what science is about. He told me about the history of this and that in science, and what a remarkable account of development it would be. “That man, he’s really wonderful.” So, American diplomacy at its best! And Manell took me out to lunch later, too, as far as that goes, but the point is that that really worked. On the other hand, as I point out in the Berkner account, during the IGY Berkner was trying to get the State Department to pay attention; I recounted that in my comments on the Needell book, which I will leave with you.
And I’d like to very much see that. I wonder what you recall about what Lloyd Berkner said about the Department of State? And of course, he had been a consultant during the Truman administration.
I can’t help you.
Did he talk about his earlier experiences with you, at the State?
He was very much on point when he was talking to me. Not that we didn’t have fairly extended discussions, but there was always a lot to discuss. Then there was the minutiae. One thing that came up was, does Nicolet have enough money in his office? And I was wondering whether Nicolet was paying attention to this or that or the other thing. Berkner came back to me later, he said, “It’s okay, I’ve talked it all over with him.” [Laughs] See? I mean, you know, I was sort of wondering, after all Nicolet trimmed me by $300 or something.
Do you think Nicolet was embittered because of the lack of recognition?
You mean, in his old age?
No, but he felt that people were rediscovering things he’d known in the past and they hadn’t paid attention. That bothered him. And even the business of ozone, you know, he said that when the British went to Halley Bay, initially, when they came back they couldn’t believe the readings they had gotten from their Dobson spectrophotometer. Now the Dobson is an uncertain instrument, and Nicolet had used it at Arosa in the ‘30s. He remembered that the British early ozone readings were so low. When the ozone hole was “found,” he wondered if it was really new. So, I challenged Sherry Rowland with this once. He said, “No, the British straightened that out later.” Well, I tackled somebody else in the British group (I don’t know who it was anymore), and they brushed it aside, apparently. That’s my reading of it. A novel event that they couldn’t really explain and Nicolet wondered if it was a problem with the Dobson calibration uncertainty. So there was that.
And he would find things that were published now, new events because something 20 years earlier didn’t strike recognition, and that embittered him. Gradually, he withdrew from the scientific world. He withdrew from the Academy finally, in Belgium, where there had always been a schism between the Flemish academy and the French academy, and he didn’t like the way that had gone. And then there was, for example, how strongly he felt about such a culture question. Let me explain. Did I tell you the carillon story? In Belgium there is a town called Malines, its French name. It’s Mechelen if you’re Flemish. It has a wonderful tower built only to two-thirds of its projected height, but its height is already perhaps 500 feet. It’s a massive edifice that just goes up and stops, and there’s a carillon at the top of it which may be the best carillon in all that part of Europe, and you can go there and sit below it on a summer afternoon and hear the notes float down. It’s wonderful. So I said to him one day, just as a matter of conversation, “Marcel, do you ever go over to Malines to hear the carillon anymore?” He said, “No! I do not go to the foreign country!” Well, it’s 15 miles away, and what had happened was, that Malines had been re-designated Flemish. In Belgium the rule has been (I think it’s still true), if you have more than 50% of the population declaring itself to be either Flemish or French, then a lot of things flip.
For example, in the school system, the primary language studied is the first of those two, and the other language must be the second language. Well, the French don’t like to study Flemish as the next language. They would rather study French and then English or something else. Instead of taking some kind of a moderate view, accepting a “this is life, how can we get through it” kind of view, Nicolet wouldn’t do that. Furthermore, all his documents and papers for all his labors were up in the top level of his house, the attic level, and he wouldn’t release them. Alice told me that she had had somebody come from the Aeronomical Institute and take away most of it and gave books to people. Ackerman was the one who was the head of the institute for a while. He’s no longer there; I think he’s retired. Mike Baker might know where some things are. But the point is most of it’s gone, and he wouldn’t let any of it out. Ah, now we come to another point. One day I got a call from him, and then a letter (and I’ve got some correspondence floating around here) about Bulkeley. Do you remember Bulkeley?
Oh, Rip Bulkeley.
Well, Rip Bulkeley came to see me and Nicolet sent me a warning in advance. He said, “Don’t you talk to this man! You mustn’t!” I said, “Well, I don’t know, what does he want?” He said, “Well, I don’t know what he wants, but he has these strange connections,” and Nicolet thought he was involved with the British military at some point; he had discerned that was true. Maybe he was. Et cetera, et cetera, and I’ve forgotten all the details except “Be careful of Bulkeley, don’t tell him anything, Phil!” Okay. And Bulkeley, in his letter to me somewhere, told me that he tried to see Nicolet on three separate occasions: one, two, and three, and there were some problems, and so forth. And then he wrote a book which I thought was relatively inconsequential [laughs]. I didn’t see any great harm in Bulkeley ranting around and expressing himself, see? But that’s Nicolet. And one day I was talking to Guy Brasseur, who has standing in the space community around here. And I had known him slightly, and Nicolet said to me, “Who are you talking with over there at that table? Were you talking with Brasseur? Be careful.” So finally he withdrew from the Belgian Academy, he had arguments with them in one way or another. He said, “Oh, they don’t understand.” Finally, he was just working on; he kept thinking he would calculate oxygen absorption again in the Schumann-Runge region, below 200 nm where the band structure is very detailed, with utmost precision. To go over it again and again and again and worry about geophysical effects…I think he lost his perception of what might be important, but it was something he really wanted to work on and get exact; he’d worked on it years earlier. Finally he couldn’t move very well, and although he liked to go to the Canary Islands, Alice could only wheel him around in a wheel chair. Finally he just succumbed. I don’t know. That’s my perception of it.
And I know we’re going to have to bring this interview to a close fairly soon, and you’ve given us documents that we need to read before we talk to you again the next time. And if I start asking questions, it’ll probably be about the broader Taiwan issue. We’d probably best wait until we’ve had a chance to read a little more. There are many questions we want to get back to, but I do want to put this on the tape, and also we have a transcript, that you will be getting a copy of the transcript and all will be edited for your —
I rely on you, do with it what you want.
And it will not be released outside without your express approval according to the access forms that you will be getting with the interview. And I would like to thank you so much for this first interview.
Robert T. Pennock, ed. Intelligent Design, Creationism, and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives. MIT Press, 2001.