Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
We encourage researchers to utilize the full-text search on this page to navigate our oral histories or to use our catalog to locate oral history interviews by keyword.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of D. Allan Bromley by Finn Aaserud on 1986 October 29,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Some of the topics discussed include: David Allan Bromley's childhood and early education in Canada; his undergraduate education at Queens University; his studies with J. A. Gray; his work on his Ph.D. at Rochester; his early days at Yale and his subsequent career there; his first visit to Washington and the NSF and AEC; the development of the Yale physics department; heavy ion facility and computer center; involvement and editorship of treatise on heavy ion science; collaborations.
The first question I usually ask is on status of papers — whether you have any plans for placing of whichever papers have accumulated during your career. What's the status of that?
That is a topic that I have not even begun to think about, and so I simply can't answer that at the moment.
No, but physically they are here essentially?
Physically here in the laboratory, that's correct, and in my home. I've given no thought to their ultimate disposition.
Is there an active archives program here?
There is an active archives program in the Sterling Library here at Yale, and it is reasonably active, not as much so in the sciences as I would like. As a matter of fact, after much effort a year or two ago, I managed to find the Breit papers just before they were destroyed. I have them all here, and when I get a few moments of time, I want to contact Joan Warnow, and we're going to turn them over to the AIP library. I think that, for most physicists, it's clear that the utilization of their papers will be vastly improved if they go to the AIP, rather than if they stay in isolated libraries around the country. I've been sort of involved with the AIP library since its foundation, so clearly that will figure largely in the decision I may make subsequently. That's on the perhaps totally unwarranted assumption that anyone is really going to be interested in this vast collection of paper.
Well, the Breit papers are crucial, I think, for the history of American physics anyway. I'm happy to learn that. But it's you that we're concerned with today. We are in D. Allan Bromley's office, and we're going to do an interview about your career, so let's begin with the beginning. You were born May 4, 1926 in Westmeath, Ontario, Canada, it says here.
Maybe you could say something about the background of your parents first.
Yes. Both my father and my mother's families came to Canada in about 1837 — my mother's family from the Scottish Highlands, my father's from the Rochester region in the United Kingdom. This was along the Ottawa River, sort of on the northern fringe of civilization in Canada at the time, and Westmeath at one point was one of the major outposts of civilization in the north of Canada. But in about 1850 or so the railway moving west to the West Coast bypassed Westmeath and so it ceased to be as major a center as it once was. Since about that time it has stabilized at a population of about 200. As a matter of fact, when I was in the senior year of grade school and the senior year of high school, I was the only student in the class. The only reason that I was about to continue to the university at that time was because I succeeded in winning a national competition sponsored by the Canadian Women's Temperance Foundation for an essay on the evils of alcohol. I wrote a particularly stem-winding essay which described these evils, and as a consequence did not have a drink of anything alcoholic until after I had graduated from undergraduate college.
Is that manuscript retained?
There is a copy of that manuscript somewhere, yes. It's a somewhat historic document. So the tradition in that part of Canada was certainly not an academic one. The family for a great many years had been immersed heavily in the lumbering business, and in farming. One of my uncles, my paternal uncle had received his MD and had been quite well known in that regard, but my father, for various reasons, had maintained the family farming tradition. I grew up on a relatively large farm in northern Canada, with a mixture of dairy, grain growing, and all the usual things. It became clear very early in the game that farming was not something to which I was terribly attracted, and so I was the first person, I guess, from the village to actually go on to get much in the way of higher education.
What was your parents' background in terms of education?
Both had completed high school, but that had been the extent of their formal education.
Yes. So you stayed in Westmeath and went to school there?
I stayed in Westmeath and went to school there until after four years of high school. In Canada, as you know, at least at that time, an Ontario high school had a 13th grade which was equivalent in many ways to the freshman year of a US college training. I took that l3th year at Pembroke, which was the nearest larger town, and from Pembroke applied to various universities. But before taking the 13th year in Pembroke — because I was considerably younger than the rest of the student cohort that I had been with, because I had skipped a variety of grades along the way — I spent a year in a lumber camp in northern Quebec. It was an experience which in retrospect I wouldn't have missed for the world, but at the time it was a very tough experience.
What was the economic situation in your home?
The economic situation was such that having just come through the Depression, there was no real chance of my being able, or my family being able, to afford college education. It was for that reason that my attending university was predicated upon gaining external support. I got some of that from this Canadian Women's Temperance Foundation — the key part — but then I was successful during my undergraduate years in obtaining sufficient scholarship support to actually take care of all my expenses.
Did you have any sisters or brothers?
Yes. I have in fact three brothers and one sister, and all are still alive. My three brothers actually are all still engaged in farming. They have rather large operations.
In the area?
In the area. My sister married a farmer in that general area, and so the entire family is still concentrated in the vicinity of Westmeath.
Influences in the home generally — religious, political, intellectual?
Yes. There was no question that it was sort of assumed from the beginning that all of us were going to do something of significance. I think that both from my mother's side and my father's side, there was very obvious and continuing support for intellectual activity. There's no question about it that without that support, I would not have managed to get into the areas I did. I started obviously as a result of my great essay as an English major, and in fact continued as an English major for my first couple of years at Queens University. Then it became abundantly clear that I could starve as an English major. And so without knowing too much about it, I decided to switch to engineering. My roommate was an electrical engineer, and I, for reasons which I must say I've forgotten at the moment, decided initially to become a chemical engineer. And I lasted for three days as a chemical engineer, because the place smelled to high heaven, and I have to admit that my choice of engineering was based on a totally unscientific evaluation. I went around and smelled the engineering buildings, and the electrical engineers smelled much preferable to the rest, and so that's what I finished up with — an electrical engineering degree with a minor in physics.
That was quite a switch from English to the engineering sciences. Do you have any remembrance of what could have triggered it?
Yes. Oh yes, it was simply triggered by my rather cold blooded evaluation that the career prospects as an English major, which I had not really begun to consider until I was well into my program, were not as rosy as they might be, and so it was purely an economic evaluation.
Pragmatism in that way.
And your own evaluation of the situation was due to no prodding from family?
No prodding from anybody. No, this was purely my evaluation.
Is there anything in your youth or your education that you could point to that led to your scientific interest?
Possibly one thing that was important was because in my final year — as I said earlier — of high school, I was the only student in the grade. The teacher whom I had at the time was a marvelous lady who had a doctorate in pedagogy, but who unfortunately had been spared any contact with anything scientific throughout her entire career. She knew nothing whatsoever about either physics or chemistry or biology. So I was essentially turned loose with a room full of scientific equipment and some manuals and told that I should figure out what the curriculum proposed by the province of Ontario would require of me in the way of experimental studies. I must admit that I had a marvelous time, and I carried out a lot of experiments that were never envisaged by the province of Ontario. But at least it got me very much interested in things scientific.
You were actually formally given that kind of freedom.
Yes, complete freedom. I was told, “Here's the curriculum — for physics, for chemistry, for biology. There is a room full of equipment. I don't really know what it is. I don't know what you should do with it. You should figure it out.”
So that was a positive function of being in a small place.
It was indeed. It was indeed. I look back on the small schools. I attended a one room school until I finished elementary school, and it was a marvelous experience, because when you had finished what you were supposed to be doing and were bored with it, you simply listened to what was happening three grades up. For that reason I was able to skip a number of grades and, I feel, received an excellent elementary education.
Were there any fellow students at that time that helped you along, or were you alone in the classroom?
I was essentially alone in the class all the way through.
And teachers obviously also were scarce — well, she was positive in the sense that she gave you this freedom.
They were positive in the sense that they recognized that they really didn't know very much about the subject, but they were perfectly prepared to say, “You go ahead and figure out what you can.”
Any specific influence while growing up generally that you would point to, in any direction?
Probably the most important influence in that sense came from my paternal grandfather, who had retired when I was about three or four. At that time, he undertook to teach me to read when I was about three, and so by the time I was four I was reading fairly fluently. I remember that before I went to school, he had read the Bible to me once, and I had read most of it to him in return, and it was a wonderful educational experience.
That is quite a start. And he was also in the area; he had moved with the family, so the whole family was around.
Yes, the whole family was there, that's right.
On both sides.
On both sides.
Let's say that we are through high school now and let's start undergraduate education. You went to Queens University.
To Queens University, that's right; Queens University in Kingston. As I say I started out as an English major, then switched to electrical engineering, but in my senior year, we had in the physics department at Queens a really remarkable professor, J. A. Gray, who was one of the latest and final students that Rutherford had at the Cavendish in Cambridge. Gray had a habit of wandering around interviewing the senior students in the Faculty of Applied Science where all the engineers received their training. He selected a small number of students, and it was considered an enormous honor to be selected by Gray. He invited you to come and do graduate work with him. This was true in my case, and so I decided that, yes, I would do graduate work in physics. The year that I graduated with my undergraduate Bachelor of Science and Engineering degree, I spent a summer at the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa, working on cosmic ray experiments. I had the great good fortune to work with Eric Pickup(?) who was one of the dominant figures at that time in international cosmic ray circles. That was in the summer of 1948 when everyone was flying these large emulsion stacks on balloons, and so I had the good fortune to spend some time on the T-Star and the S-Star and the R-Star. These were some very special events where a very high energy cosmic ray had come into the emulsion stack. A huge cascade had developed, and we tracked those cascades track by track through literally a cubic foot of emulsion. That was in the summer of 1948, and at the end of that summer it had become clear, to me at least, that I wanted to do research in physics. I had become very much enamored of cosmic ray physics, but I realized, at least I thought at the time, that it would be a very wise idea to come back to Queens and work with J. A. Gray, because he had a truly formidable reputation for excellent training of young people. Just to give you a sort of a detour to illustrate that point, I, many years later, was at an international conference in Vienna where there were 15 invited speakers from 15 different countries. I found to my astonishment that seven of those speakers were Joe's boys, who had been through this same master's program at Queens. Again, a number of years ago, after I came back to the US, I know that the Department of Energy became interested in where the directors of laboratories that were being supported in nuclear physics here in the country had come from. It was with considerable consternation that they discovered that over 50 percent of them had come from Canada, through Chalk River, and that a very large fraction of them had held one or more degrees from Queens, where they had been one of Joe's boys.
So it was a remarkable school. Gray was one of the worst lecturers it has ever been my experience to hear. He was absolutely incapable of presenting a coherent sentence to any group of people. But he had absolutely rigid standards of performance, and if a student did not measure up to those standards, he simply was dispatched — rather crudely, as a matter of fact. Over the years Gray managed to simulate and inspire a really remarkable cadre of young people, and it was a privilege to have worked with him. So after the summer in Ottawa, I decided that I would come back and work for a year with Gray, get my Master's degree, and then go on somewhere else.
You could not take any more than a Master’s degree?
At that time, there were very few doctorates awarded, although they had the authority to award them, and I as a student and Gray as a professor both recognized that it would not be a desirable course. The Masters was a good thing; the Doctorate was simply not appropriate at Queens at that time. So I went back and did a thesis — experimental thesis — involving the study of neutrons from a radium beryllium neutron source, detecting the energy of the neutrons by looking at proton recoils in a cloud chamber. It was sort of a make or break experimental project, and I still have scars on both arms where molten solder dripped down out of the control circuits of this cloud chamber. But eventually I did get the thing working, and we did get the neutrons measured. I developed some gadgetry for doing it, found it exciting and rewarding, and finished the project there. At that time, with Joe's encouragement, I had applied for and had won an 1851 Exhibitions Scholarship which would have taken me to Oxford for further graduate work. But I became more and more aware that the really exciting cosmic ray work, of which I was aware at least, was being done at the University of Rochester by a group headed by Helmut Brott(?), who was a Swiss physicist who had established the cosmic ray group at Rochester, and Bernard Peters, who was the number 2 guy in the group, who had come from Berkeley. So more or less at the last moment, I decided that rather than go to Oxford, I was going to go to Rochester to work on this cosmic ray activity that I'd picked up at the Research Council. I had also won a Research Council of Canada Fellowship and an Ontario Research Council Fellowship which gave me rather elegant financial support, so I had a considerable degree of freedom. So that was in summer of 1949. My wife and I were married on the last day of August, and in September, 1949, we were planning a honeymoon on the paddlewheel cruise steamers on the lake. It was to deliver us in Rochester in time for me to take up residence as a brand new PhD student.
Maybe we'll just stay a little longer at Queens, if you don't mind.
What about other students, other teachers there?
All right. At Queens at that time, we had, first of all, some rather remarkable faculty members who focused particularly on teaching. There wasn't that much original research going on, and the university wasn't that well known for original research. The focus was really on teaching. J. K. Robertson was chairman of the physics department. He had written several textbooks, used both in Canada and in the United States, on physical optics and geometrical optics, and was internationally known for that work, and so I had a lot of contact with him. In mathematical physics, we had Flammer, who had been trained in Germany, and who was a remarkable teacher, in the sense that he had the sense of instilling a certain amount of mathematical instinct into his students, so that mathematics became something that you understood; you understood how to use it in addressing physical problems. I think that was very important. The other thing that was particularly good about Queens — and it was something that gave me a bit of a leg up with respect to most other physics students — was the fact that they emphasized mathematics, much more so than most universities. Norman Miller is one of the most effective mathematics teachers I've ever seen. I had all stages of calculus and differential geometry and complex variables — all sorts of things. I happened to have managed to track him through the mathematics program. I also, it turns out, had Israel Halpern for a calculus course. I must say it was with a considerable amount of astonishment that one morning in the middle of a calculus class on three dimensional integration, three Mountie officers in full uniform appeared and removed Professor Halpern from the classroom, because he had been Bacon in the Canadian spy ring, during the war years. Actually I don't think he ever had the slightest idea of doing anything unpatriotic; he simply was so enthusiastic about what he was doing in high explosive research that when someone at a bar asked him what he was doing, he told them everything. Anyway the next morning Professor Jeffries, who was chairman of the mathematics department, appeared and said, “It seems that Professor Halpern is no longer with us. I will continue the course.” So that was mathematics; mathematics was considerably ahead of the normal undergraduate program. Gray and Robertson were the two dominant figures in the physics department. But then I had contact with some remarkable men like Donce(?) and McKay in chemistry, and with people like Stewart and Pollock and Gemmit in electrical engineering. On the whole, I have been completely satisfied over the years that the people whom I had as instructors at Queens would certainly compare well with anyone available anywhere in the world at the time. I have never felt that my undergraduate education was something that I would want to have changed. The English background has been enormously helpful. The engineering education has been enormously helpful, because it taught me something quite distinctly different from physics; that was that how to approximate, how to make sort of back of the envelope estimates, and sort of establish what the order of magnitude is, and then you can go back and fill in the details and do the right calculation. And you also develop an instinct for whether something makes sense, from a construction point of view, from a mechanical point of view. All that was very useful.
Getting an engineering degree at Queens, was that a matter of choice or a matter of necessity, so to speak?
No, it was a matter of choice, because it would have been much easier for me to have gone on and simply, a, get the English degree, or b, switch from English into one of the other arts and science programs. Getting the engineering degree I think in part was related to the continued exposure to my undergraduate roommate, who is still one of my oldest and best friends. We went through the last year of high school together, and we were roommates for four years as undergraduates and we had very different interests and everything else. He was a really amazingly competent athlete, and I was not all that outstanding as an athlete. But we had a marvelous time, and I think it was that interaction that probably steered me in the direction of engineering.
You said that Gray was as terrible lecturer. Was there some other positive kind of communication that he had with his students?
It was a rather visceral communication. Joe was about 6 foot 5, and he was completely bald, and when he walked he never moved his arms. So he was a somewhat formidable figure, and his approach to training students was one that I don't think would travel well. He sort of kept pushing. His idea was to push students and see what would happen, keep pushing them until something snapped. I well remember one of my fellow students who was having major trouble with his girlfriend. Joe was aware of this, and it was affecting the student's research program, and so Joe walked up one day while the student was working at the lab bench and quite consciously pushed a lead brick off the bench so that it fell on this student's foot. And the student, not surprisingly, said, “God damn, why don't you watch what you're doing!” Joe patted him on the back and said, “There, there, Gordon, I knew you had it in you. You need to unwind a little!” His technique was not a usual one at all, but the one thing he had was absolute standards, that you had to measure up to those standards of rigor. Your experiments had to be such that you knew exactly what you were doing and what the error was, what the difficulties were, and he would come around every morning and quiz you on every aspect. If you couldn't answer those for a period of a few weeks, you were no longer there. People just disappeared.
But he was a positive effect as far as you're concerned?
Oh absolutely. Absolutely. He really inspired I think in a whole group of us who worked there at the time the feeling that, you know, there was a certain responsibility in doing science, that it just was unthinkable to do shoddy work, and that you had to know exactly what you were doing, and it was a privilege to understand something new about nature.
So it was a rather broad education. You were doing research in cosmic rays as part of the engineering background.
That broadens it quite a bit. So you were not new to physics obviously after this.
No. And I must admit that there was considerable doubt in my mind though. After graduating as an undergraduate, I had spent a summer at Niagara Falls as an operating engineer with Ontario Hydro. After a while at this it became again very clear — that's really one of the other reasons why I went back to physics — that I felt that somehow or other electrical engineering was not going to offer me the opportunity to tackle as many new things as perhaps some other fields might. So I picked two fields that struck me as interesting. One was surgery and one was physics, and since I didn't know a hell of a lot about physics and practically nothing about surgery, the decision as to which of those to follow up on was not the most informed possible. In fact, one of the things that had a very large impact on that decision was, one night at about 8 o'clock, I called on my local physician up in Westmeath for some trivial problem. I've long since forgot what the problem was, but I was sitting in his waiting room and the waiting room was full of people. I was thinking, this looks like a very profitable operation; maybe there's something in this medicine business. I was tilting more and more in the direction that medicine looked better and better, and about 8:30, while the room was still full, an incredible looking woman — I think a professional lady — came in. The nurse, who was interviewing potential patients, in view of all the other patients, said, “And what seems to be the problem?” There was a certain amount of mumbling and the nurse couldn't understand it so she said, “Look, you have to speak up; I have to tell the doctor what it is.” This woman said, “I want to see the doctor, I've got boils all over me butt.” The thought, at 8:30 in the evening, of coping with this situation, I must say, took away a lot of the gloss from the whole idea of medicine. Whether that really had much to do with it — sort of the final straw or whatever it was — I remember it rather clearly, as an influence. So I decided that I should go back and do physics. I spent the year then with Joe Gray doing the Master's degree at Queens, and during that time went through this business with the 1851 Oxford Scholarship, and made the decision to go to Rochester.
Did you do a dissertation at Queens?
Yes, I did. I did a dissertation and it was subsequently published in the CANADIAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICS. We published a short article on the instrumentation that I'd developed in the REVIEW OF SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS.
What was the particular attraction in physics?
The particular attraction in physics is a little difficult to be explicit about. From my point of view, I think the attraction was that one was working really on the frontiers of human ignorance. That was intriguing. But there was something of the sense of being in the marvelous position of being able to play a marvelous game, involved in a sort of continuing adventure, where people actually paid me for doing this and might be expected to continue to pay me to do it. So I must admit that I've always looked on physics as one of the greatest adventures that is available to anyone, and I have been one of the singularly fortunate people who have been able to be involved in it for most of my career.
So your expectation was in research, rather than in teaching?
Absolutely. My expectation from the beginning was that I would be involved in research.
And in experiment rather than theory?
Experiment rather than theory because — well, it's a rather interesting thing. One of the components of my decision to go into physics was that, in what I thought at the time was a rather cold-blooded analysis of my own activities, I felt that I really was more successful in dealing with things than in dealing with people, and that I enjoyed that more, and clearly physics was going to take me in that direction. In the event it's turned out that I've probably spent 95 percent of my time dealing with people and about 5 percent with things. But nonetheless, that was one of the inputs, components, of the decision.
So at that time you expected to go into a university position eventually?
Yes. I had every intention at that time that I would. I suppose it's the standard thing that happens to students if they admire their professors. There's sort of a feeling that that's a pretty good life and it would not be at all bad to replicate it.
Which you have come to criticize somewhat in a later age.
Yes indeed. At that time, I admit to this unfortunate feeling, however.
At this stage, what was your parents' opinion of your career?
At this point, unfortunately, I must say that my parents were very proud. When I graduated from Queens, I had won, at the undergraduate level, the Governor General of Canada's medal, and various other medals and scholarships and what not. They were very proud about the whole thing, but quite frankly, I think that no one, including my parents, really understood what I was up to. And I must say that I can illustrate that best by just leaping ahead a little bit. When I finally received a PhD, from Rochester, in 1952, I went home and I met on the street in Westmeath a little old lady whom I'd known or who had known me from the time I was born. She said, “I understand you're a doctor.” And I was very proud and said, “Yes, yes, I'm a doctor.” And she looked me in the eye and said, "Are you a real doctor?” And I said, “Oh yes, of course, I'm a real doctor.” Then she came in with the killer line which was, “You mean you can fix people?” And that sort of put the whole thing in perspective. So the people in my home village I think were never terribly sure what a physicist was, particularly in those days, because that was still, when I graduated at the first level, before Alamogordo.
Yes. Not even your old teacher —
Yes, that's right.
Let's go to Rochester. You said something about your background for the choice of Rochester. To what extent did you consider other possibilities?
Well, at the time when I was applying to universities, I applied to the University of Wisconsin, because I knew it had a distinguished program in nuclear physics. I applied to Yale. Of course, I had applied earlier to Oxford, and I applied then to the University of Rochester because of this excellence in cosmic rays. I came very close to going to the University of Wisconsin because I received a marvelously warm letter from Heinz Barschall — who has since become an old and valued friend — who was a bright young faculty member there. He decided to pick a few people from the applicants and go get them. The letter almost did it, and it would have been interesting, because had I gone to Wisconsin, two of my present Yale colleagues, Charles Bockleman and Bob Adair, would have been classmates. So I wouldn't have done anything wrong in going to Wisconsin. I got a letter from Yale which I cherish. I still have the letter from Bill Watson which said — and I can almost quote it – “Dear Bromley, It is true that from time to time we do admit graduate students.” But it had to be the most negative generally unenthused letter that I think I've ever received, so Yale did not rank high on my priority listing. Rochester I went to simply because I was convinced — and I had checked with Pickup and with some of the other people with whom I'd been working at the Research Council — that Rochester was really where the action was in modern cosmic ray physics. So clearly that's what I was going to do, and I made the decision quite clearly on the basis of working with Helmut Brott(?) and with Bernard Peters. As things happened, I arrived in Rochester after my honeymoon, and appeared at the departmental office on a Monday morning, ready to begin work. That afternoon, Helmut Brott died of a heart attack. That was Monday. Friday, Bernard Peters was run out of the country because he was judged a security risk. This was, after all, the days of the McCarthy activities. Peters had been a student in one of Robert Oppenheimer's seminars at Berkeley, and so Bernard was run out of the country and went at that time to India, to the Tapa(?) Institute, subsequently went to Copenhagen where he still is as one of the distinguished cosmic ray physicists of the generation. So at the end of my first week at Rochester, the cosmic ray group had evaporated, well and truly. With some consternation I remember going to see George Collins, who was the chairman of the department and who in fact to this day is responsible for me if I become a ward of the state. It turns out that to come into the United States, George Collins had to sign a document that said that if I ever became a ward of the state, that he would in fact be financially responsible. So I went to Collins and said in essence, “What the hell do I do now?” And Collins said, “I've an old cyclotron in the basement. It hasn't been used in seven years. But you could have a look at it.” And so I asked him, “What budget do you have to do this?” And he said, “$19.75.” Well, it turned out in retrospect that this was a very good experience, because another graduate student, Leonard Goldman, who is now associate director of the Omega Project at Rochester, and I went down and looked at this beaten up old cyclotron. It was the second cyclotron that had ever been built, the first one east of the Mississippi. It had been built by Sidney Barnes, and it was the first accelerator to have produced artificial radioactivity. But it hadn't been used for years and was in dreadful shape. So we spent the better part of a year, and we rebuilt this thing. I personally machined pole tips with my bare hands. We wound coils and we designed all the stuff, and there was a real sense of satisfaction. There was a marvelous machinist at Rochester, Arthur Gibson. I'll give you some feeling for Gibson's characteristics. Viki Weisskopf, when he had come to Rochester right after the war — when Lee Du Bridge. who was then chairman of the department, recruited him — was adopted by Gibson. Gibson was his sponsor when Viki became a citizen of the US, for example, and over all the years until Gibson died, when Viki used to come back to Rochester, he would never go to the physics department office first; he would also go down and visit Gibson in the machine shop before he would go visit anybody in the rest of the department. And if you were accepted by Gibson, that was really the mark of having arrived. What the physicists thought of you was one thing, but what Gibson thought of you was a real mark of distinction. So he had been brought there by Du Bridge. He and Du Bridge had sort of an understanding. In fact Du Bridge used to bring new potential faculty members down to see what Gibson thought of them — a rather interesting arrangement. Anyway, Gibson took Goldman and I under his wing and taught us how to be machinists, and that turned out to be very interesting. We got a lot of experience, and we built a new cyclotron out of this thing. It also taught us how to get funding. We went around to all the major industries in the area. We begged, we did everything that was even halfway decent, and we eventually got the necessary funds so that we could build this machine. Having done that, we undertook to do our PhD theses. We didn't have any supervisors because nobody was interested in this thing, and so we were sort of anomalies; for the first year of this work, we didn't have any advisor at all. We just sort of wandered around and did things on our own with the cyclotron, got started with some work, and at that point Rochester hired Harry Fulbright from Princeton, very bright young man, as assistant professor. We were assigned to Harry as his first graduate students when he came to Rochester. This turned out to be a traumatic experience for everybody, because Harry was used to rather docile Princeton students who sort of said “Yessir” and “Nossir” and did what they were told and didn't cause any fuss. We unfortunately had been on our own sufficiently long that we didn't take at all kindly to having somebody who we didn't think really was that much more knowledgeable than we were telling us what to do; so it was a tense period. I can still remember one day, Goldman tying about 30 feet of chain around his waist and sort of staggering up the hall saying, “Yes, Massa. What now?” in response to some instructions. It was a tense time. Subsequently I have to say that Harry is one of my closest friends. We've gotten to understand exactly how we each function, and I have tremendous respect for Harry's ability to make things work, and I hope he has some respect for mine. So anyway, I started working on a project which, at the time, was very topical. That was back in 1950, and it was just when the shell model was being developed. The shell model became a cottage industry overnight, after Maria Mayer and Haxel, Jensen and Suess had developed it. It gave the spins of all ground states, and it explained an enormous amount of material. We had the Schmidt lines which sort of classified magnetic moments and so on, but there was one problem that seemed to be a real difficulty for the shell model. It hadn't yet been realized that carbon 14 was going to make a great dating technique — Libby did that later — but it was known that carbon 14 lived for 5700 years as the half-life. There was no good reason why it should. And so people began to speculate. There were conferences around the country during 1950 where people were wondering, “Is this the thing that will break the shell model?” Because here's carbon 14 which has this 5700 year half-life; the only way that that can really be true is if the ground state parity of nitrogen 14 is negative, so that the carbon 14 beta decay is pseudo-scalar. Otherwise, it should have happened in a matter of seconds if not minutes. And so I undertook to try and find out whether this was really the problem — whether the shell model was right. The shell model said nitrogen 14 is positive parity without any question; it's got 2π/2 holes. So, my problem was to undertake to find out what the parity of nitrogen 14 really was. I had concocted an incredibly complicated experimental program which was going to use neutrons from our new cyclotron and the D-alpha reaction on oxygen 16, and a lot of correlations and distribution work. In retrospect, I would still be a graduate student if I had stayed directly with that particular problem. But very fortunately, just when I was well started at the problem, Stuart Buckler, who was working with Peierls at Birmingham — a graduate student — appeared at Rochester without warning. He was on his way through on a trek through the US, going back to Australia. He appeared one morning, a few people saw him, and it became very obvious that the faculty decided that Buckler was as a graduate student just a little too damned junior for any of the faculty to worry about taking him to lunch. So I was sort of dragooned to take care of this British graduate student who was coming through, take him out to lunch, keep him happy, find out what he was doing. It was probably the most important luncheon I've ever had in my life, because as we chatted over lunch, and I was telling him what I was doing, and he was telling me what he was doing, he described to me the whole idea of stripping reactions – neutron-proton transfer reactions. And not only that, but he showed me a couple of pages of formalism which would allow you to calculate the expected angular distribution. And this was exactly what I needed. So I actually did the first stripping reactions in the US, because no sooner did Stu get off on the train than I was back downstairs figuring out how I was going to do this marvelous series of experiments. What you did was, carbon 12 and D to P and carbon 13, and you could tell whether you had an unequal 1 or an unequal 0 or an unequal 2 so you could tell whether carbon 13 had the same parity as carbon 12, and then you did the D-N reaction on carbon 13, having nailed it down to nitrogen 14. And so you could pin the parity of nitrogen 14 to the parity of carbon 12, which was the puzzler. That was great. The only trouble was that Buckler, being a very shrewd young man, had realized early in the game that if he wrote down what he really was calculating — which was the spherical Bessel function times the Legendre polynomial with the statistical factor in front — it was going to look mighty simple, and it wasn't at all clear that the Birmingham faculty would give him a PhD for it. So Buckler was up to this challenge. Buckler decided, instead of writing the spherical Bessel function and the Legendre polynomial, he would write them in terms of their generating functions, which gave you an absolutely formidable expression, with 16 running indices over these monstrous sums. Well, I wasn't sufficiently adroit to recognize what he had done, so I had this marvelous formalism, and I can remember spending weeks with a Marchand desk calculator pounding out these calculations with these damned 16 indices.
Had he given you the formalism?
Yes, he'd given me the formalism, and so I cranked this out and proved that, “Yes indeed, this is what negative parity would give, this is what a positive parity would give.” It wasn't until I was all finished that Bruce French at Rochester came down one day, and — I guess, as a good honest theorist should — took a look at this thing and said, “What the hell are you doing? That's a spherical Bessel function and that's a Legendre polynomial.” Now he tells me, after I'd calculated the whole thing. But anyway I did the experiments. I was the first person ever to make a carbon 13 target, which was required for making a bomb, and doing a double metastasis chemical reaction. I was trying busily to convert — what the hell was it? Barium carbonate was the form that it came to you in from Oak Ridge, and I had to do a double metastasis reaction which got it from barium carbonate into something or other — magnesium, a complex compound that I could break up eventually into elemental carbon. I had to learn a fair amount of chemistry, and I blew the whole end out of the laboratory one day when it got out of control, but I ended up with the world's first elemental carbon 13 target. We did the experiments, it worked beautifully, and I was able to answer the question. The shell model is absolutely reliable; there's something wrong with carbon 14. It always sort of bugged me, and it wasn't until years later — when I was at Chalk River — that I went back and really found out what was wrong with this. It turns out that Mother Nature has just decided that the particular matrix element that controls the beta decay of carbon 14 is the same one that controls the decay of the 2.31 state in nitrogen 14. There are about four terms in it, and two of them are of opposite sign and about the same size and they just neatly cancel, and it's just a fluke. Mother Nature decided “Let's make carbon 14 live a long time,” so it had nothing to do with the shell model. It was a nice thesis, and I got it finished. I remember the first paper I gave at an APS meeting was on that topic. It was a post-deadline paper at Washington, Goldman and I were both giving papers, and our wives were both with us. The paper before ours was on a device to measure the viscosity of blood, and the talk consisted of numerous slides showing a grey box with two black knobs and a meter, and about halfway through the ten minute talk, someone stood up from the audience and said, “Mr. Chairman, if this man doesn't know what's in that grey box, let's throw him out.” And so the discussion escalated, and by the time we got up, our two wives, the two of us and the chairman were the only people left in the room, because the rest had moved out in the hallway to see the fight that they were sure was going to erupt. The chairman was terribly upset because he wanted to go too, but felt that he had to stay and listen. So we gave our talks to one another. We were determined, by God, that we were going to give these first talks. That was my first experience with a public presentation of physics. That was at the end of 1951. I was very fortunate because, having come on to this — what at the time was considered a very topical problem — and having met Buckler and learned how to do it real fast, I managed to complete my PhD program in two years. So I completed all the requirements for the PhD at the end of 1951, and Rochester asked me if I would stay on then on the faculty. I agreed, because my alternative at that time was an offer from Queens, my old university, which offered me $2800 a year for 33 contact hours a week, and somehow the honor was too great. I did not go back to Queens. I stayed at Rochester, and Harry Fulbright and I, with a bunch of graduate students and a post-doc, Joel Bruner, built the world's first variable energy cyclotron. We took the old cyclotron that we had built. We moved it up to the other end of the building, and we made it into a variable energy one. That was the first of a long series of such machines. Bruner and I actually were the first persons who used the strong focusing principle. This was Christofilos's discovery — you know, the Greek elevator operator — and we got the paper and decided that we could make lenses to focus our beams this way, and so we actually built the first quadrupole lenses. We in fact even made a milling cutter that cut through hyperbolic pole tips, something we subsequently learned was totally unnecessary. But we had those, and we loaned them to labs all over the country, subsequently. We got the variable energy machine to work, to work well, and we were able to do quite a bit of research then during the time I stayed on at Rochester as a faculty member.
Let's backtrack a little bit. It seems that you had quite some freedom to develop your own thesis, because when you came there, —
— the situation fell apart —
— completely, and you took up whatever you were given. But you were given complete freedom to do it, and then when a dissertation started to materialize, then you had Buckler visiting, and you changed entirely again.
Did that lead to any problems at all?
Not at the time. That was sort of exciting, because we made a lot of mistakes — there's no question. Both Lenny Goldman and I made a lot of mistakes along the way because we didn't have anybody to go and talk to. We would try something, and it would screw up, and then we would back off and figure out another way to do it. In retrospect, it's probably the very best sort of education you can get, because we were totally on our own, and we had to sink or swim.
But that wasn't typical for an American university.
No. Not at all. We were anomalies, and we had sort of fallen out of the system, and were on our own.
It was even untypical at Rochester?
Oh, totally untypical at Rochester too. We were the orphan graduate students that no one quite knew what to do with, and so no one bothered us, and we had a good time.
What about the surroundings generally; could you describe that?
Yes. The surroundings in Rochester at the time, I must say, — having said that we were the orphans, and on our own, which is certainly true — were particularly exciting. I was singularly fortunate in getting to Rochester at the most exciting time in the history of the physics department at Rochester, because the year after, while we were beginning to put the cyclotron together, George Collins left Rochester and went to Brookhaven to build the cosmotron, and Bob Marshak became the chairman of the physics department at Rochester. Bob was determined that he was going to make this a first class department; he was going to improve the department. I remember well that the first consequence of that desire to improve the department was that the qualifying examination grew from a humane sort of normal examination to one that ran from 8 in the morning till midnight on three consecutive days, followed by a half day oral. And it was an interesting class that I went through with. Among the people who were in the class with me were Albert Messiah, who subsequently wrote Messiah's QUANTUM MECHANICS and became director of the physics division at Saclay in Paris.
Yes, we used that in Oslo.
Yes. And another guy in that class was Albert Petchik, who is one of the most distinguished people in plasma physics, and who spent his career at Los Alamos — marvelous theorist. Tullio Regge from Regge pole activity was another classmate. So also was Eduardo Canyello, who already had a PhD from Milan. So this was a pretty high powered group of theoretical students, to compete with, and it made for a very interesting and challenging class. One of the high points I remember of this period was that Tullio Regge brought his girlfriend — a very attractive Italian girl — with him to Rochester. When we were running through these exams on these three days, Tullio would sit down at his exam table and would dash off a particular problem. Then he would go back to the back of the room where his girlfriend was knitting, and they would neck like crazy. This was highly disconcerting to the rest of us, who were writing at the time. So this went on for three days. The third day, I felt that the time had come to slow up Tullio a little bit. I admit it was a terrible thing to do, but after we got into about an hour of the exam, I stood up and asked the proctor if I could have a table of Tschebyscheff polynomials, not because I had the slightest intention of using it, but because it was patently clear that by asking for it, I would inject a note of disquiet in Tullio and in Messiah, because I was damn sure that there was no legitimate place for Tschebyscheffs in the exam. But they would wonder what the hell I wanted it for, and I subsequently learned years later that it had hung them up for at least two hours as they attempted to figure out, what the hell Bromley was doing with Tschebyscheffs. Well, this was sort of typical of the general approach in those days. It was sort of a free-wheeling class. There were a lot of damned good American students in the class, too, and we had a good time. We really had a good time, and we learned a lot of physics, and it was exciting because it was at a time when Rochester was at the peak of its international visibility. Marshak, for example, organized the first Rochester Conference during that period. I, in fact, had the somewhat unusual distinction of being the press liaison officer and bartender at the first Rochester Conference. I was still a graduate student. So the press, I remember, was fraught with peril, because some reporter whose name I now forget happily — came up to me and said, “Look, what's wrong with Wigner?” I said, “What do you mean, what's wrong with Wigner?” He said, “I asked him how things were in Austria and he said, I don't know.” So I expounded at some length about how Professor Wigner was of course a distinguished member of the Princeton faculty, and it's understandable that he didn't know exactly what was going on in Austria, and the TIMES the next day had this article in which it said, “D. A. Bromley of the Rochester physics department claims that Eugene Wigner is well aware of what's going on in physics.” That is the sort of quote you don't need. Fellow graduate students got a tremendous yuk out of that particular incident. The bartender routine was also interesting. The first afternoon of the first Rochester Conference, Piccione arrived from Italy, late, to give a talk. So at about 4:30 Piccione began talking, and he was walking back and forth behind the lecture table talking at enormous speed. Marshak stood up from the audience and said, “I hate to interrupt, but I must tell you that cocktails are now being served in the Faculty Club.” And Piccione — I can still hear him — said, “I have not come 2000 miles for Goddamn cocktails!” But the audience nonetheless disappeared, so I dashed over and was waiting there as a good bartender should for the first distinguished physicist to appear. The first distinguished physicist was a little gentleman, somewhat older than some — who sort of was talking to everybody and said, “I want a scotch.” I didn't know anything about liquor. After all, my Canadian Women's Temperance background had not prepared me for this. He said he wanted scotch so I gave him one; I filled a water glass right to the top with scotch. I can still see him, he took a healthy slug of this drink, and he was talking to somebody, and smoke sort of drifted out of his ears, and I can still hear him say, “My God, I'm an old man!” It was I. I. Rabi. So I was off to an auspicious start. Later in the evening my wife, as befitted the wife of a graduate student, was washing dishes, and she was feeling very sorry for herself. She was all alone in the kitchen washing mountains of dishes, when another guy wandered in and said, “Look, I'm tired of physics — can I help?” So she had a wonderful time; for three and a half hours she and this guy chatted about anything and everything. She had a marvelous time, and it wasn't until the next morning that she found out that her dish drier had been Enrico Fermi! So it was an interesting time to be at Rochester. We met, one way or another, a lot of the major figures in physics in the world, and for that reason I am very much indebted to Rochester, because it gave us an exposure to what was exciting in physics, to where the frontiers were, and to a lot of the people who were on those frontiers that it would have been very difficult to obtain anywhere else. And those Rochester Conferences continued to be extremely important. I spent a lot of time with Robert Oppenheimer, for example, at various ones of those, and I've never forgotten, on the second Rochester Conference, Leprince-Ringuet was chairman of the opening session. He was supposed to speak for five minutes and then give each of the speakers something like 30 minutes to make their point. Well, Leprince-Ringuet has never spoken for five minutes in his life, so he talked for about an hour and a half, beautiful French — “soixante-dix plus minus twelve.” It was all tangled up with French-English, and very charming. So when he got all done, he sort of smiled at the audience and said, “Now, the time seems to have gone; the speakers now will have only seven minutes in which to present their material.” The first speaker scheduled was C. C. Butler of the United Kingdom -– V-particles. So Butler stood up from his place in the audience and said, in the most incredibly snotty English accent I've ever heard, “Inasmuch as I too have nothing of any significance to say, and inasmuch as I shall not be saying it in such charming French, I shall say nothing.” And sat down. Sort of the neatest putdown I had ever encountered. So as you can see, it was an exciting period, and it was exciting too in the sense that Marshak was really intent on building up the department and expanding it, and there were seven of us who at the end were assistant professors in physics. Marshak had sort of made it clear that if we produced, we would be promoted. And that was the time when Rochester's then president, Alan Valentine — who used to be a master of one of our colleges here at Yale — moved on to Washington for government service, and Cornelius W. de Kiewiet, who was a South African Boer hunter from the Cornell history department, came to Rochester as the new president. One of de Kiewiet's first official acts was to create the Institute of Canadian Studies. To do that he removed something like 70 percent of all the assistant professorships which had been assigned to the various science departments, mine included. So I went in to Bob Marshak and said, “Look, Bob, I think I'm going to leave at the end of this year.” Bob said, “Why would you do that?” I said, “Well, look, given the president's latest announcement, there doesn't seem to be a tremendous future here at Rochester.” Bob's remark was a classic. It was, “I don't know — people die, you know.” But it was at that point that I decided to leave, for two reasons. When you leave your own country — I'm sure you've been through this — there is always a period when you feel that deep feeling that you really should go back. Where it became clear to me most was, we were at an art theater in Rochester and they were showing a short showing the queen trooping the colors, and I turned to look at my wife, and tears were running down her face. I decided it's time for us to go back, and Chalk River had made me an excellent offer at that point, and so it was back to Canada.
Well, you started out wanting to go into cosmic rays. Then you changed to instrumentation, working out the cyclotron, and then it became nuclear physics. How difficult were those transitions? Were they difficult at all, or were they part of the same thing for you?
They were not difficult at all, really, because it's hard to say whether they were difficult at all. Looking back on them, they weren't difficult; they were challenging, but they were exciting. They were interesting. Here was an opportunity to do something that had never been done before, and I think that I really should be extraordinarily grateful because I had the opportunity to have much more freedom than most students did, and also, to develop much more independence than most students do.
How was your economic situation?
Ah, excellent point. As I told you initially, when we arrived in Rochester, my economic situation was excellent, because I had the NRC and the ORC fellowships. We had in fact rented a rather elegant apartment which had been created to lure a Viennese color chemist to Rochester to work at Eastman Kodak. But one month after we were in Rochester, I received again a singularly nasty letter from the Ontario Research Foundation which said, “Dear Bromley, Inasmuch as you have seen fit to hold the Ontario Research Council Fellowship outside of the Commonwealth, it is herewith terminated.” It had been a four year fellowship. So they still send me little questionnaires from time to time, and I take perverted pleasure in answering those questionnaires even yet. They ask why am I here rather than in Canada and stuff like that. That was one of the nastiest actions I've ever encountered. I would like to think it was counter-productive, but the fact was that we, within three days, had moved out of our fancy apartment, and into the attic of a home where there had been a fire that burned the floor out of the living room. It was covered with sort of sagging plywood, and we were reduced to absolutely minimal economic conditions. I would not have been able to continue except that my wife fortunately was able to be employed as executive secretary to the chairman of the board of Sibley, Lindsay and Kerr, which is the biggest department store in upper New York state, and so she kept me afloat during my PhD program.
So that was your economic situation until you became employed.
Until I became a faculty member, it was absolutely marginal.
While we're talking about the help of your wife, maybe you could talk about her background.
Yes. I met Pat, Patricia Jay, in Kingston, when we were both at Queens, on an ice rink. We both skated regularly, and so we met there. She was an English and drama major, and so, we dated. That was in my junior year. We dated then through my senior year and the year that I was a first year graduate student. We were married, as I said, just before we came to Rochester. When we first came to Rochester, she was involved, because she'd had a lot of experience prior to that, with the Girl Scout office in Rochester. But whenever our finances sort of went through rock bottom, she very rapidly took actions to become gainfully employed at Sibley, Lindsay and Kerr. So during that time when I was doing my PhD, she was working full time. It was a tremendous strain on her because she was trying to keep our apartment together, and do this job which was a very demanding one. Then our first son arrived one year after I became a faculty member. She has always been interested in the artistic and in the languages, but she's gotten involved in much more interesting things once we came to Yale, and we'll come to them later. But at Rochester her entire activity was, first of all, keeping us eating, and then secondly looking after our son.
What about fellow students at Rochester?
They were very important. Leonard Goldman, whom I told you is a faculty member at Rochester now, worked very closely with me during the whole business of rebuilding the cyclotron, and is an old old friend. People like Messiah, like Regge, like Petchik and Canyello provided a real challenge. These were people who you knew perfectly well were smart as hell, and knew an awful lot more physics than I did at the beginning. So it provided a real incentive to work rather hard, and during that time I did work rather hard. As a consequence, I learned a hell of a lot more physics and mathematics than I would have otherwise. So that we learned a lot from one another during that period, and the general atmosphere in the student body was one of real enthusiasm and excitement, and there was a certain social cohesion to the group. We had a lot of social activities involving just the graduate students, and it was a very pleasant place to be.
Did you have any thoughts at the time, or now, about the comparison between the Canadian and the American educational system, because of your experiences?
Yes. Yes indeed. The one striking difference between the Canadian and the American educational system was that the Canadians provided all their students with really a much greater exposure to mathematics. This was extremely valuable, and it made up for perhaps some lack in other areas. It was the thing that distinguished my background most of all from what the students here in the US had had. The other thing was that the Canadians on the whole were more demanding of the students, and the assumption was that you were going to work a little harder than over here. On the other hand, Canadian students were always a little short on opportunities to work with equipment. There wasn't the same supply of equipment, there wasn't the same support that was available to most American students.
So the combination was a profitable one.
The combination was very profitable, yes.
So we have dealt with your student years at Rochester. We've also dealt some with the last part of your stay there. Maybe we could say a little more about the work after you finished your PhD.
Yes, when I finished the PhD, almost immediately we started into rebuilding this variable energy cyclotron. That took probably a year to complete. At that time Sandy Wall, N. S. Wall, had joined us, and once we got it finished he and I worked together on a series of experiments, understanding the proton scattering on middle mass nuclei. For a while we were terribly excited because we thought we had found the first real obvious spin-dependent effect in nuclear scattering. As it turned out, it was a complete red herring. What we were seeing was the fact that the neutron threshold in our range of targets sort of flirted with the energy we were using. Sometimes we were above it and sometimes we were below it, and by accident it all lined up to show an effect that was absolutely dramatic. As you increased the spin of the target, the effect was striking. It was also totally erroneous. Fortunately we learned about this before we published it. That was the first thing we did. Then we did a whole series of DP-DN experiments of the kind I'd done in my thesis, because at that time the only other place that was doing these was the University of Liverpool. We were able to really answer a lot of outstanding questions that had been raised about the validity of the shell model — the extent to which shell model wave functions were pure, the extent to which it really made sense to consider the canonical shell models. So most of that period I spent working on nuclear structure of one sort or another, but began at that time to do experiments on interaction mechanisms as well.
What was the relationship between theory and experiment at Rochester?
That's a sad feature, in a sense, because Bruce French — a fellow Canadian who had come to Rochester by way of MIT and the US Navy — is certainly one of the most distinguished nuclear theorists anywhere. Certainly at the time it was recognized that he was already in that particular regime. But the interaction between the theoretical and the experimental groups was essentially negligible. There really was nothing of any consequence. If you had a very specific question, and you could go and nail down Bruce and get his interest, he would answer it. But in terms of a continuing interaction and byplay, it didn't exist, unfortunately.
How did that affect you and others’ experimental work?
It probably meant that our experimental work was less significant than it could have been, because — particularly at the stage in my career, when, you know, you were starting — you don't have the background of experience that can be helpful later on. We tackled problems that we thought were particularly interesting, but I recognize on looking back that had we had the benefit of Bruce's deeper insight and more experience, we would have picked cases that perhaps were more open to unambiguous interpretation, and we might have used our time perhaps to somewhat better measure. We also could have helped the theoretical people, because we could have anchored a lot of their calculational activity with very specific experimental fact, which simply wasn't available; the lack of communication hurt both of us.
Which meant that you would have to follow up on theory somehow on your own.
That's right. That's right. And then it's an amateur sort of activity; it's not at the same level of sophistication or depth of knowledge.
You were promoted before you left.
I was promoted to an assistant professor, yes, and it was at that time — just after that happened, as a matter of fact, that de Kiewiet created the Institute for Canadian Studies at the expense of the associate professors. He of course graciously was prepared to continue these assistant professorships. That wasn't the question. It was that when the time came to convert them into tenured positions, they were gone.
Right. You didn't consider going into Canadian Studies?
No, I did not. I did not consider that. At all. I must say that I always wondered a little bit. When de Kiewiet first showed up, the first day he appeared for anything official at Rochester was the day I graduated with my PhD. Rochester, like all universities, has a very elegant dramatic ceremony where one goes through all this. De Kiewiet I remember managed to get everybody unhappy because he sort of whipped through the Bachelors and the Masters and the MDs and everything else, and then he strode up and said, “And now it gives me the greatest pleasure to welcome the scholars, the PhDs.” The MDs were furious about this, but the PhDs were supposed to trek up onto the platform, shake de Kiewiet's hand, grasp the diploma, raise hat — the standard three hand adventure that you go through when you get a degree — and go back and sit down and listen to all the speeches, all the good things that were being said. Well, Messiah was the head of the rank, for some reason. I don't know how Messiah happened to be head of the drill. But Messiah went up onto the platform, went across, shook hands, did all the good things, picked up the diploma, walked off the platform and out the door of the theater and home — followed by all the rest of the PhDs. I must say, I owe Messiah one for that, because we missed all the damn talks and everything else, but it made de Kiewiet and all the rest of the officials furious.
Maybe we should finally do the move back to —
— Canada. All right. That happened back in 1955, and I had been negotiating for a year with the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. about this position. I had talked to Queens University, they had talked to me, and they had increased the salary from $2800 a year to $3500 a year. But even so, it still was not quite up to things, so I decided to go to Chalk River. It was interesting, in a sense. Chalk River is only 60 miles from my home, and I'm the only physicist on the face of the earth who was born within 60 miles of Chalk River. I had had some contact with that because in our undergraduate days, my roommate had spent his summers — since he came from Chalk River — actually building the first reactor at Chalk River. But since it was a deep secret at the time, they told the people working on it that they were building a nylon plant. And I remember Clayton used to come back to university at the end of the summer absolutely baffled. Why in the hell were they machining blocks of graphite to the nearest thousandth of an inch, if they were going to make it into nylon? And it did pose something of a conundrum. So anyway, I accepted the job, and I accepted it on several conditions. I accepted it on the main condition that we be assigned a single house in a particular part of the town, because I had gone up and taken a look at the town, and there were a lot of crummy little houses, there were a lot of multiple houses, there were a lot of things I didn't like. So I got back a letter from Gordon Baines who was the administrative officer of the whole laboratory, saying “We accept your conditions, welcome aboard, great, good.” We decided that the only way to really move back would be to take advantage of the fact that appliances and everything were much cheaper in the US. We ordered a stove, a refrigerator, a washer, a drier, a dish washer, everything, before we left the US, and we had them delivered to the lawn in front of our apartment. We'd subsequently moved to a better apartment. And we rented a truck, and so this stuff was moved into the big moving van with all our furniture. My brother came over to help me drive this thing to Canada, and we had carefully calculated our timing so that we would appear at the Customs Office at the right time at the Thousand Islands Bridge. I remember the guy that drove the truck that brought our appliances walked around looking at this huge moving truck, and wandered over and said, “Son, did you ever drive a truck like this?” And I said no, I hadn't, but I was sure it was straightforward. He said, “Son, how far are you going to drive this truck?” I said, “600 miles.” He sort of looked at me and shook his head and said, “Son, you're going to have an awful sore ass!” And then the other nice note of that period was, the neighbor's youngster who was about six kept looking at the stuff and our furniture and saying, “That won't all go in that truck.” That was exactly what I was thinking at the time, but having this from an external source was not helpful. But we did get it all in the truck. We took off for the bridge, and we discovered that the truck had a governor on it, so there was no way that we were ever going to drive more than 47 miles an hour. We were not going to make any of our proper timing. We got to the bridge after everything was closed, and we finally rousted out a Customs officer, who kept screaming, “Drive the damn thing up here where I can get at it.” We kept pointing to the canopy over the whole strip, pointing out, you know, maybe it was too low, and he saying, “Drive through!” So we drove through and we moved the whole damn canopy about a hundred feet north into Canada, which did nothing whatever for our discussion with the Customs officer. We spent hours and hours and hours there. But we got to Chalk River, and I went to Gordon Baines’s office and said, “OK, I'm here, where have you assigned us a house?” And Baines had a duplex in the wrong part of town, and said, “Take it or leave it.” By that time, here we were with a truckload of furniture, so we took it. It was a bad day. We were unloading the furniture. I remember, my wife and I were standing in the kitchen of our new home, and she, in a perfectly normal voice, turned to me and said, “If we had a Phillips screwdriver we could take the top off that cabinet so we could shove the refrigerator in there,” and zip the door opens, and the woman next door — (off tape) — had this Phillips screwdriver, which made it clear to us that privacy was not going to be one of the high points of our stay in this part of the world. After 20 minutes, Pat said to me, “OK, you've made your point. When are we leaving here?” She didn't change her mind for the next five years at all. This was not a pleasant place to live. It was a marvelous place to do research, and we were there for six years.
Did you have other options than Chalk River?
I didn't really — I had other options, yes. For example, I was offered an excellent job by General Electric at Schenectady, and I'd gone down to talk to them. I'd been offered an excellent job by General Motors, and at Michigan State University and a variety of other universities in this country. I had not explored anything in the way of other universities in Canada. But I went to Chalk River because I felt at the time that I wanted to go somewhere where I would not have teaching responsibility, where I could really devote myself to doing as much research as I possibly could for a period of a limited number of years, just to get that experience and background.
What was it in the background of the laboratory or your knowledge of it that made you decide on that?
Well, I knew several of the people who were there, because most of them were Queens people of various vintages. I had met them at various meetings and gotten to know them, more by reputation than personally, but I had the distinct feeling that it probably was the greatest concentration of really first class physicists anywhere in Canada. I had decided I was going to go back to Canada one way of the other, so it really sort of came together without too much difficulty. I was rather pleased that the opportunity existed. In fact the salary was terrible; I was paid $6000 a year. Nonetheless I felt very pleased to be going back.
What opportunity was there for research there?
Superb opportunity for research. I was very fortunate. I just gave a talk dedicating the new facility at Chalk River two weeks ago, and as I was thinking about that, I realized that I learned four things very early after I arrived at Chalk River. The first thing I learned was that there was just an enormous amount of nuclear physics that I didn't know, and that I was going to have to learn real fast, because the other people up there obviously knew more than I did. That came as a real shock, because I thought at Rochester that we really had been on top of the whole business, but my Canadian colleagues knew a lot of it that I didn't know. So that meant a lot of hard work. The second thing that I learned was that I had, by great good good fortune, found myself in what was certainly one of the best, and many people around the world would have said the very best, group of experimental nuclear physicists anywhere in the world at the time. These were Harry Gove, Ted Litherland, Eric Paul, and Einar Almqvist, really a superb group of guys. The third thing was, I found out there was going to be competition, lots of it, right from the start, because I'd discovered that my study window looked across an open square into Harry Gove's study window. After I had been home and working for several hours in the evening and my wife would say, “Look, you've got to knock it off and get some sleep,” I would look out the window, and there was Gove working away at his desk, so I would turn around and work for another hour or so at my desk. I'm sure that he was doing exactly the same thing, as a matter of fact. So this was a very excellent technique that the company had put into place. And the fourth thing was that I learned that the pressure to get things done came from the absolute top. We'd been there about two weeks, and Saturday morning Pat went to Ottawa. You had to leave on a train at 5 o'clock in the morning and you came back about 9 o'clock at night. I was at home babysitting our young son, and about 11 o'clock in the morning, I got a phone call from the secretary of Dr. Lewis, who was director of the whole laboratory. She said, “Dr. Lewis is holding a small meeting at his home this evening to discuss fusion and the role of Chalk River in fusion.” I said, “First of all, I know nothing whatsoever about fusion, and secondly I am babysitting, my wife is in Ottawa, and she will not be back until after 9 o'clock, and so I'm afraid that I won't be able to attend the meeting.” This was greeted with a marked silence, followed by the comment, “Shall I tell Dr. Lewis that you may be a little late?” which made it abundantly clear that I'd just been given some insight into how this laboratory was going to be run. I was there, even though I knew nothing about it and was a little late. But the opportunities for research were, first of all, conditioned by the fact that the main function of that laboratory at that time was to develop a new type of reactor, the Can-Do Reactor series. A tremendous amount of money and effort was being poured into that project, and the basic research activities were considered as a sort of overhead. Their costs were so small compared to what is being poured into the engineering and development of the reactor that no one really cared about what it cost to do the basic research. So we had superb support in technicians and equipment and just about anything we wanted. From my own point of view, we had, for example, the world's only liter of helium 3, and so we were accelerating helium 3. We ran the same damn liter of helium 3 through our accelerator perhaps 300 times, and we used it as a projectile, and we did an awful lot of interesting nuclear structure work, nuclear reaction work. We had the world's first fast slow coincidence system, something that everybody uses now, and so we were able to do gamma ray spectroscopy that nobody else could duplicate at the time. We were the first people that recognized that the collective model that Bohr and Mottelson had invented in Copenhagen for very heavy nuclei actually could be used even better in light nuclei. So we had a marvelous time and studied a lot of it, and we published a lot of papers and got a lot of visibility. And about that time, we had an old 4 MEV Van de Graaff. About that time we began wondering, what should we do; this is not really competitive anymore with the facilities other people have, what should we do for the future? And so we finally decided that we should try to get a tandem accelerator. Nobody had ever built one, but it had been invented by a man called Bennett here in the US in 1939, and reinvented by Luis Alvarez in 1951. So this was now 1955 or early 1956. So Harry Gove and Eric Paul and I went up to see Dr. Lewis; when I think of the proposals we have to write now to get something new, it's with nostalgia. We went up to Lewis's office, and Lewis said, “Well, I'm very busy this afternoon; do you want to make it brief?” So we said, “Dr. Lewis, we want a tandem.” Lewis said, “What the hell is a tandem?” So we sort of sketched what a tandem would be, and he said, “Where would you get one of these, supposing that you're going to get one?” We said, “Well, we think that High Voltage Engineering in Boston is the only place that might be able to build one for us.” He said, “Oh yes, Dennis Robinson's place.” I said, “Yes, that's it.” It turns out that Dennis Robinson, who was president of High Voltage Engineering, had been Lewis's aide-de-camp all during the war years when they were building radar. So Lewis picked up the telephone, Browning 21313 — I just happen to remember from the old days — and got Robinson on the phone and said, “Lewis here.” Robinson, from years of sort of Pavlovian conditioning, sort of dropped to his knees at the other end and said, “Yes, sir!” So Lewis said, “We want a tandem, whatever the hell a tandem is,” and Robinson said, “Right you are, we'll get right on with it.” We didn't write a contract for six months, and it was a pure formality, because by that time the damn thing was well on the way to being built. So the first tandem was finished in 1959. Joe Almqvist and I drove down with a huge old Oldsmobile that the company owned filled with detection gear to the High Voltage plant, and ran the first experiments on the first tandem in 1959. Beautiful machine. It was then shipped to Chalk River, and the late part of 1959 and early 1960 was when we really for the first time had several things going for us. During the time when this was being built, Jim McKenzie and I — one of the other scientists at Chalk River — had decided that we wanted to find out what we could do toward making much more effective detectors of nuclear particles. Neither of us knew any solid state. That turned out to be a real advantage, because we couldn't understand why the hell the solid state textbooks told us you couldn't make a detector out of silicon. Since we couldn't understand it, we went ahead and did it anyway. And it worked, beautifully, and so we had a whole new series of detectors waiting just to try out when the new machine came. For the first time the new machine allowed us to accelerate heavy ions with high precision. Fred Goulding(?) in our instrumentation division had built the first transistorized nuclear instrumentation. They had built the first multichannel analyzer that was integrated circuits and solid state. So we started off with a bang. We had new detectors, new instrumentation, new accelerator, new beams, a whole new ballgame. And we were very fortunate. We were able to come up, right at the start, with some really new and surprising results, and I guess, in a very real sense, we started the modern field of heavy ion science at that time.
That was already toward the end of your stay there, right?
That was toward the end of my stay there, but you know, we'd been building up to that. We had developed the technique of handling this helium 3 material. We had invented the fast-slow coincidence circuitry. We had developed the semiconductor detectors. We had the transistorized instrumentation. And it all sort of moved in as the new tandem came in, so it all came together and was extraordinarily productive for a period of a year and a half or so, at the end of the time I was there. Now, I have to say that, just about the time the tandem came there, although it sounds a little stupid, I was beginning to feel that I had perhaps spent enough time at a national laboratory. I was beginning to miss graduate students, to put it bluntly. I had an overwhelming feeling that if people stay too long at a national laboratory, the brain gets soft. There's a pressure that's brought to bear by good students that you must have, I think — students who force you to face up to the fact that some of your long held convictions and certainties could possibly be wrong. You know, a student says, “Why?” And you stop and think: “Yes, a damn good question — why?” And sometimes you can't answer, so it forces you to re-examine everything you think you know on a sort of repeating basis. So, about 1959, both Harry Gove and I, who by that time were the heads of the two research groups that were using the machine, decided it was time to leave, I should say, one of the interesting things about that use was that each of our groups had the machine for one week on, one week off. We just alternated. There were the two groups; nobody else could touch it. We operated for 16 hours a day, and then we closed it down and went home to sleep. The assumption was, if you stay up 24 hours a day, your stuff is not going to be any good. It was a marvelous opportunity, because we literally had all the time we could use. We had lots of technician backup and support, and we had the freedom to do whatever we wanted with this machine. However, Harry and I both decided the time had come when we should go back to universities. We both knew that the University of Toronto, which is one of Canada's best universities, just happened to have two openings for two nuclear physicists, and since by that time we had been rather highly visible, not only nationally but internationally, we just sort of assumed, with all due modesty, that somebody would come and talk to us about these two professorships. As it turned out, Willie Watson, who was chairman of the department at Toronto, went on a vacation in Europe and stopped off at his old university, the University of Glasgow, on the way back, and hired two guys to fill the two positions; nobody ever said a single damn word to either Gove or I. And it was that that triggered our decision that the time has come; we now start looking around —
— to emigrate.
To emigrate, that is correct. I had been asked within a year to examine three possibilities. I had been asked to become chairman of the department at Michigan State and help them write the proposal for their new cyclotron, and I had gone to talk to Lewis and said, “Look, I'm not sure I want to be chairman of a department, but they've asked me if I don't want to do that. Would I consult with them and write the scientific part of their proposal?” Lewis said, “Bromley, I'm hiring you 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and if I think that you need more work to do, I'll let you know.” I said, “Thank you, Dr. Lewis,” and walked out and told the MSU people, “I'll write your damn chapter for you.” Nobody's going to tell me that, so I did write the chapter for them. Florida State offered me the chairmanship of their department. I'd gone down and taken a look at that. I must say, what put me off there was that Alex A. E. S. Green, who was the head of the search committee, opened the bidding when my wife and I got there by saying that he was looking to complete his stable of physicists. I pointed out that I didn't feel I was ready to go out to stud yet, and that was sort of the end of that discussion. The one that I spent the most time on that year was the following. Larry Hafstad was the executive vice president of General Motors. Our paths had crossed at various times, so Hafstad tried to recruit me as his scientific advisor. I must say it would have had an enormous amount of money associated with it, and you know, a new car each year, and the gold key to the washroom and all this kid of jazz. I guess maybe one of the things that as much turned me off that as any other one was that I discovered that when I signed in, they have a tame psychologist upstairs who immediately gets the form you sign when you sign in, and he gives an instant horseback estimate of your potential. Now, in my case because my grandfather was David, it would have confused the issue enormously to have two Davids, so I used D. Allan. It turns out that of all the possible ways to sign your name, that one is the absolute no-win one. You know, if you sign D. A., it means you're prosaic and pedestrian, and nobody would care less, and if you sign David A. that means you're stuffy, and if you leave off the initial it means you're timid, but if you sign D. Allan, you're narcissistic, including 19 other bad things. So I got all this stuff through Larry Hafstad's good office and decided that any company that would do this obviously was not the sort of place that I wanted to be. So I had then been dickering with Harvard, Berkeley, and with Chicago. We were at a cocktail party in Washington — one of those marvelous cocktail parties thrown in the old days at APS meetings by General Atomics. Pat was with one group of people, I was with another group, and Bill Watson, who was chairman of the Yale physics department, introduced himself, or was introduced — I don't know how it developed. Bill said, “Has your husband ever considered the possibility of coming to Yale?” She said, “I don't think so, but there he is over there; why don't you ask him?” So Watson came over, introduced himself, and said, “Have you ever considered coming to Yale?” I managed to pull the worst boner that one can pull under those circumstances, perhaps as a consequence of too much General Atomics liquor, but I think out of sheer honesty. I looked Bill in the eye and said, “Where is Yale?” I can still see the look on Bill's face. My God, what are we doing here? I have to admit that I had no idea exactly where the hell Yale was. It was somewhere between Boston and New York, but I'd never really focused in on it to any great extent. Anyway, out of that conversation came a sort of extended courtship, where I was invited down here on repeated occasions to give talks, talk to people and what not, and I finally decided that I would come here. The reason I decided was perhaps peculiar. It was because I felt that if I went to a place where nuclear physics was healthy and in good shape, I would be one of the boys, and that would be fine. But on the other hand, I had a feeling that Yale was a university with excellent reputation, and would probably get great students. But it was a university where the nuclear physics activity was rapidly becoming moribund, and that therefore it was a challenge. I have to admit that for the first year and a half I was here, I was totally convinced that I had made the worst mistake in professional physics, but as things have developed, it turned out that was wrong.
Well, you're here still.
I'm still here, that's right.
That kind of proves the point. Before we go into Yale, maybe we could compare a little bit the working conditions and working arrangements between Rochester and Chalk River. They seem to me from what you've said to be entirely different.
They were entirely different. Entirely different, in many ways. First of all, there is the difference that is always there between a university and a national laboratory. A national laboratory, by its intrinsic structure, has engineering support, technical support, financial support that you never find at any university. So, at Chalk River — as indeed at Oak Ridge or Brookhaven or any place — once you've established your credibility, you simply have to decide, I need the following, and it appears in due course. At a university, you damn well have to take care of all the multiple stages of making it appear, and that's a totally different ballgame. The second thing I think was that at Chalk River, we had something that no university probably in the world had at that time, and that was a critical mass of people of roughly the same age — quite able people who were interested in a sort of subsection of physics, and who had the freedom to spend literally every waking hour really thinking about this, trying to decide, “What can we do with this and what should we be doing?” And it's tremendously exhilarating. I can still remember those days, when you would work from 7 o'clock in the morning till 2 o'clock the next morning, and you would sort of resent like hell having to sleep for a few hours, because you were just on the edge of finding out something, so the next morning you were up and at it again. Tremendously exciting. It really was an adventure. That you saw much more in the national lab environment. And as a matter of fact, that lies behind something I tell all my students now. I tell all my students, first of all, that the worst invention that man has come up with in the way of jobs is the assistant professorship. It's a dreadful concept, because your promotion to tenure depends, despite what anyone says about it, on the research you do. The teaching is tricky. If you do it badly, you're automatically out. The assumption is, you can do it well. But if you do it too well, it cuts time out of your research, and then you'll get clobbered also, so the trick is to develop that razor's edge of adequacy in teaching. Now, what would you like to do now? Your wife is now back at the hotel, I believe.
I don't know.
We can continue, if you wish. My wife is going to join us at the Lawn Club. We can continue for an hour or so if you wish.
Yes, that's fine.
Do you want to do that?
We were talking about Chalk River compared to other places. Was there any place comparable to Chalk River?
At that time, there were a few places worldwide that I think were comparable to Chalk River. One was the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell in England. Others were the Weizman Institute in Israel, the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and probably the Oak Ridge Laboratory in the US. Those were the ones that I would have thought of as being somewhat comparable, at that time.
Regarding work structure, to what degree was work at Chalk River managed to an extent it wasn't at Rochester?
Again, it was not managed at all. Both Harry Gove and I had our groups, with three men in each of the groups, and we were totally free to do whatever struck us as most interesting. In the entire time I was there, no one ever even hinted at anything that they would like us to do. The way we used to do it was, we had a laundry list. Whenever we thought of something, we would add it to the list, and then every couple of days we would sit around over coffee and sort of figure out what the ordering should be. I must say, that was one of the things I learned in Chalk River that was very very effective. Lloyd Elliott, who was director of the physics division in Chalk River, insisted that all his staff — the professional physicists and the technicians — all got together for half an hour to have coffee in the morning. And all got together for half an hour to have tea in the afternoon. We all sat around. It could degenerate into a whole set of floating bull sessions, but quite frequently the discussion was, what's the most exciting thing that's appeared in the grapevine or in the literature; what did you hear? It was a marvelous communication mechanism, and a lot of good ideas sort of boiled out of that. People would wander down the hall saying, “Let's go back to this point.” It's something that I've tried to emulate here, but it's much harder to do it at a university, because there's the pressure of class schedules and all this sort of thing, so we've never been totally successful. At Chalk River there was no pressure whatever. There was no management whatever. The assumption was that they had a good group of guys, and that they should turn them loose.
Yes, so there was no mission orientation that put some restrictions on you.
None at all. None at all. There was only once, for a period of ten days, when, they were having trouble up at the reactor. Lewis asked me, would I go up and just be a complete SOB and wander around and ask embarrassing questions and see if I could think of something or come up with something that the professionals had missed? That turned out to be fun, as a matter of fact, and we did come up with what the problems were, so it seems it's a technique that Lewis used to use occasionally. He would ask one of the guys from the basic research wing just to go up and take a look, completely from square zero and say, “OK, why is that so, why are you doing that, how did that get that way?” It's a good technique. I use it here occasionally. When something goes hairy, you get somebody in from the outside completely, and turn them loose.
What about the relation between theory and experiment at Chalk River compared to Rochester?
It was much much better. We in fact had offices in the physics building that were all intermingled. People like Eric Volt who is now director of the big laboratory at Vancouver, McManus, who is now at Michigan State, and Bill Sharp, who is unfortunately now dead, were sort of interacting with us at the coffee and tea breaks each day. There was a continued interchange of ideas, and on frequent occasions we would publish jointly or we would sort of publish companion papers on something. And right across the hall from me was A. G. W. Cameron, who is now at the Harvard Smithsonian Observatory. Al would come rushing in at least twice a day with an experiment that either required a target at 10-14 degrees or 10+14 degrees. He never did come out with one anywhere in between, but they were fascinating ideas, and we had a great time. It was a very exciting place.
On your vitae, biography, you have listed some other successes at Chalk River. For example, the first use of the light helium isotope is listed as going on from 1955 to 1958.
Yes, that's right. We used the first liter for most of that time, and I remember the day that I was notified from the reactor that they had produced a second liter. God knows how the price was arrived at, but the first liter was quoted as being worth 1.7 million dollars. The second liter was at 870 thousand dollars, and so I sent my chief technician up to the reactor building to bring back the flask that had this second world's liter of helium 3. We were all sort of breathing a sigh of relief, because we figured, my God, if we lose the first one, now we have a fallback. Halfway between the reactor building and the physics building, this poor technician was so sort of tensed up by the fact that he personally was carrying 870 thousand dollars in his bare hands that he focused on his hands to the extent that he lost track of his feet. He got his feet all tangled up, and he fell on this flask of helium 3 and smashed it all to hell, and the world's second liter of helium 3 went to the stratosphere. It was not a good day.
Also, this was the origin of the nuclear molecule.
To be quite honest about it, the new detectors that McKenzie and I had made needed to be tested. So I decided right at the beginning that one of the first things my group would do with the new machine — the tandem — would be to measure some elastic scattering of carbon on carbon, which was a perfectly simple straightforward thing to do, so we measured it. And we got a most peculiar result. We had expected a nice smooth Rutherford scattering curve, and instead it oscillated and flapped all over the place as a function of energy. So we decided, there was something wrong with the detectors. We went back, and the next day we re-measured it, and it turns out that the points being measured just happened to be at the right energy so that it was a nice smooth curve. Had we stopped there, it would have been too bad, because we would have missed a tremendous amount of interesting physics. But fortunately, as a matter of principle, we had always taken the rule that if two results didn't agree with one another, you'd better damn well measure it a third time, at least. So we went back and did it right, and sure enough, we found all sorts of resonances which had been totally unexpected. We really worked like the devil for about two weeks, and we realized for the first time, we were forming molecules. In the normal environment, nuclei never come close enough together to be bonded by the exchange of neutrons and protons the way atoms are bonded in the molecules by the exchange of electrons. But under the collision conditions induced by an accelerator, you can actually bring them close enough together to form the molecule. This has tremendous importance for the life history of a star, for example, as you try to burn carbon. It wasn't known then, but it is now known, this a ubiquitous feature of all interactions of nuclei. So we proposed at that time that we were forming these molecular complexes and we were able to study them and show that they rotated and vibrated and did all the other things that god-fearing molecules are supposed to do. So that was a very exciting period and, as I say, I think it did start the modern era of heavy ion science.
It's interesting, this seems to be kind of a transition period, in the sense that you were able to buy the tandem; on the other hand, you were very active in learning about semiconductor theory, so that you were also more directly involved in the instrumentation of it.
Yes. Well, that was one of the challenges up there, that because you had such great support, any time you had an idea, you had the opportunity to have other people help you, and you had the facilities to go at it. I had spent a lot of my time up to then, after all, building the Rochester cyclotron and developing various detectors and what not. So it was not a break really; it was simply that we had the opportunity to spend a little more time at developing instrumentation. It seemed at the time that there would be a tremendous research payoff in having some new instrumentation that was perhaps unique and ready to go when the new accelerator became operational. So that was the rationale for spending as much time as we did on the development of new instrumentation, and it really did pay off handsomely.
Do you have any comments about the positive or negative effects of that generally?
Yes, indeed I do. It seems to me that one of the real problems we face in our whole science today -– worldwide — is that too little emphasis is being placed on developing the instrumentation. We have been living off our instrumentation capital for more than the last decade, because during the period of essentially flat funding, there's always a tendency to protect your people at the expense of developing future instrumentation or developing new techniques and new technology. And I'm afraid that we have fallen behind other areas in physics — in fact other countries, even in our own area — in terms of this development. There's been a great tendency for the young people coming along now to want to go to a place that has a completely working operation, where they can exploit it, turn the crank, generate a lot of data, a lot of new physics. But they don't want to devote much of their time to investment in the future, in developing the instrumentation, and it's a problem I face right now, as a matter of fact. It's much easier to find someone who wants to come to a lab like this where the instrumentation is in place and the equipment is ready to go, and who will use what's here, rather than being prepared to participate and contribute to the development of the next generation of equipment. So I see it as a serious problem. In the old days, we did a lot more of the development of our own equipment. In part it's because instrumentation has become much more sophisticated. For example, I could design my own circuits and build my own circuits, but nowadays that's become so specialized that you sort of whack together collections of integrated circuits for which no one really understands what's inside the block box. It's not as easy as it used to be. But I find myself thinking that I remember Joe Gray telling me that when he was a student he had to blow his own light bulbs. I'm afraid that this is each generation looking back at the last one and saying, good old days, we had to do thus and so. Here at Yale, I've taken the point of view that there's so much physics we have to teach our students that it really isn't very profitable to try and make them technicians at the same time.
You have expressed a challenge of precision. Does that hook up with your concern for instrumentation?
Very much so. Very much so. The point is that there is an esthetic reward that comes from measuring something that has never been measured before, or measuring something in a way that's never been done before. In particular there's an esthetic reward in measuring something with real elegance and accuracy. Nature is such a marvelous source of wonderful complex phenomena that to be able to measure something and really understand what's happening is in itself a great reward. That's what's fun — what makes it fun as an experimentalist. It's also tremendous fun to understand. The theorist shares that — we do too — but just being able to measure something — there's something tremendously rewarding about seeing beautiful data. I find.
Yes. Is that something that distinguishes you from others in particular, would you say, or is it something that’s common?
I don't know. I think, perhaps as much as anything else, it dates back to my engineering background. I notice that an awful lot of physicists have engineering backgrounds, and I notice that there is a characteristic difference. The engineers have somewhat more of a visceral resonance to really elegant measurements, than the folk who have come through the straight physics channel.
But you don't find different approaches to actually doing experiments?
Yes, you do. Again, I think it dates back to the engineering business. One of the real secrets of success in physics, it seems to me, is doing things just well enough; that's an art, not a science. You can devote an enormous amount of time and effort to measuring something far more elegantly than is productive, because it won't tell you anything more about nature if you measure it vastly more accurately than necessary, and so, there is an art in knowing when to stop. There are two kinds of physicists, I must admit, if you draw the extremes. There's the kind of physicist who gets a tremendous kick out of measuring the fine structure constant to 18 rather than 17 decimals. That's not me. I much prefer doing the kind of experiments where you uncover a new phenomenon, a new mechanism, or some new behavior, something that nobody's ever seen before. I think one should do the experiments until one is really sure that one knows what's happening, but then I'm prepared to leave it. I want to go on and do something else that is also new, and if somebody else wants to measure that into the ground to the last decimal point — marvelous, I’m delighted that there are people who like doing that. I don't.
Well, it's good for you, of course. But, well, that's quite a fundamental difference, and that affects the relationship between theory and experiment as well.
Because you are a theorist in some sense, in finding the new thing. Well, to get back to earth again, to concrete things, you started a very long-term collaboration at Chalk River, which is reflected in your publication list, with Harry Gove, Almqvist, Litherland, Kuehner.
That is right. As I told you, we had a marvelous arrangement where we had the two groups, and on occasion we collaborated and mixed in different ways. But there were the six people, and we operated one week on the accelerator, one week trying to figure out what we'd measured the last week, and then wrote up things for publication. We kept doing this, and it was a marvelous collaboration, in the sense that each of us really had brought something quite different to the collaboration, and when you work for as long and as intimately as we did together, you don't even have to discuss it. It just sort of automatically develops that somebody sort of decides, this is what we should do, and somebody else just steps in. For example, with Kuehner and Almqvist and I, it worked beautifully. I usually ended up coming up with what we were going to tackle. Almqvist immediately would sense what instrumentation we had and needed and could do with. Kuehner was off writing the software that would analyze the data that would come up. And we never actually sat down to discuss this. It just sort of happened, that this is the way it worked.
That was the regular division of labor between you.
Yes. And there were always changes, you know. The boundaries would shift, depending on where the pressures were and what needed to be done, but that was the sort of division of labor that we used, and in Harry Gove's group, the division was rather similar. It usually was Ted Litherland who thought of what was going to be done next. John Ferguson was the guy who figured out all the software and stuff, and Harry figured out how it was going to get done. This was wicked competition! Just wicked competition. And none of us ever admitted it openly, but by God, it was there.
These were two well defined groups.
Oh yes. Harry and I were formally the heads of these groups. At times it was difficult to keep it totally under the surface, but no one in the laboratory doubted exactly what the hell was going on.
How would you describe your administrative duties at Chalk River?
Zilch. The administrative duties were simply that I was responsible for making damn sure that the three of us did the best possible research we could, and that our technicians did what we wanted them to do; once a year we had to rate our technicians, and that was it. There was essentially no administrative load whatsoever.
What were the research groups at Chalk River, and how did you fit into them?
The research was divided into the departments. There was the physics department, chemistry, metallurgy, biology and so on. Within that particular departmental structure, there was the substructure, the branches — the nuclear physics branch, the instrumentation branch, the something or other branch. Within that, there were the sections, and Harry and I were section heads. We really had no administrative worries. The people at the department level worried about all the bean counting and budgeting and personnel.
Did you have anything that even resembled graduate students?
Not at all. Not at all. But that was despite my valiant efforts, because when I went back to Chalk River, it was patently obvious — after having spent time at Queens and visited other universities — that we had facilities that were just infinitely superior to any available at any Canadian university. So I immediately started working with Harry to try and seduce some graduate students from Canadian universities to come up and work with us, because it was patently obvious, we could have given them a magnificent educational training, and they could have kept their connection with the universities. And boy, did that run head on into a brick wall! The Canadian universities have always taken the point of view that what's mine is mine, by God, and that's it. So if they spot a good graduate student, starting back in the sophomore year, they're not going to let that student go until they get him a PhD, if they can avoid it. I think that's terrible, because people should go to another university. We strongly advise our undergraduates to go to another university to do graduate work. But the Canadians absolutely refused to send any of their students to Chalk River because they thought that they would lose control of them, that we would take over control of them. The only time I ever broke through that barrier was when I got outside of nuclear physics. I got intrigued by what has subsequently become known as “beam forest spectroscopy.” Actually Almqvist and I did the first beam forest spectroscopy anywhere in the world. It's a question of what happens to an ion beam when it goes through a thin foil — what does it do in terms of its atomic behavior? And the reason we got interested in it is, Almqvist and I were bending down adjusting some stuff one day, and I noticed that his eyeballs, as well as his teeth, were fluorescing a brilliant white. He looked like hell in in this dark room, and so the question was, “How come your eyeballs are fluorescing?” He said, “I don't know; yours are too.” So we went back off and started thinking about this, and it turned out, we had just discovered the ultraviolet bands in molecular nitrogen. So we immediately set up a small experiment and we measured those. We published it in the PROCEEDINGS of the Royal Society. I got a graduate student from the University of Western Ontario, in atomic physics, who was very interested in this. He came up to Chalk River and made a lot of good measurements. He had a great thesis, and that was the one time in all the time I was there that we ever got a graduate student to come work with us, and that was because his thesis advisor was sick. I'd like to say that it was for another reason, but that's how it happened. At any rate, we did the first beam forest spectroscopy at Chalk River back in 1956.
You were section head until 1957, and then you became a senior research officer in 1958.
What did that involve and what were the practical implications of that?
The practical implication was that my salary went up substantially, and I'm inclined to think that the practical motivation for it wasn't much of anything except the fact that the management at that point became aware that I was listening to blandishments from elsewhere, with a little more attention than I had up to that time; I think this was just a bit of a sea anchor that was being added. It didn't really have a hell of a lot of implications. It just gave me more seniority and salary, and I sat in on some meetings at a higher level of discussion occasionally, which I considered at the time a waste of time, practically. So, it was nothing much.
So it didn't make you more of an administrator?
No. I was delightfully free from administration during my time at Chalk River. That, in fact, is why I continue to recommend to my students, if they want to be academics, they should get the hell out, and end run the assistant professorship altogether. They should go to a national laboratory, and spend five years really doing research without worrying about all these interruptions and digressions, because if they really have confidence in their own ability, they will have confidence that after five years they will have an international reputation. Then they can come back in and leapfrog the assistant professorship and come back in with tenure.
While at the laboratory, you had a Canadian top secret clearance.
To what extent was the work in the laboratory classified?
Totally unclassified. The work in the laboratory required no classification whatsoever. The classification was required primarily because the US AEC insisted that if they were going to talk to the Canadians, by God, everybody in Chalk River was going to be cleared. That was the first point. The second point was that there was some classified stuff going on in other parts of the laboratory, and having top secret meant that I could go and look at those things. But as far as my own work and as far as the work in nuclear physics was concerned, none of that was classified at all.
Were the Canadian and American clearances coordinated like that?
Very much so. And they trade information on a rather complete basis, particularly in the nuclear area.
I noted that it took a while until you got an American clearance.
When we come to that, there's a fascinating story about my American clearance. That one is in part a result of a fantastic screw-up within the AEC. I was once shown the most secret thing in the United States, by mistake, while I was still a Canadian citizen. The choice that then faced the AEC was, essentially, to shoot five or six senior AEC officials who had been responsible for this gross breach of security, or to make me a citizen real fast and clear me so it was all OK! The latter was chosen as the happiest, ultimately. We'll get back to that.
Yes. Rehovot, or however you pronounce it.
Yes, Rehovot in 1957. That was a tour de force in some sense. It was the first time that I had ever really had the opportunity to travel to any extent. It was decided that Chalk River, by 1957, really had reached the visibility in our field that we should be represented at this big international conference. It was an IUPAP type A conference. And so Lloyd Elliott called me in one day and said, “We have decided that we want you to represent us at Rehovot.” So that was fine; I was delighted by that. But I then remembered something I'd been told by somebody at Rochester, that when this opportunity arose, one should never flub it. So I got one of those little GE pocket notebooks that has a map of the world that is two inches by two inches, and went in to talk to Lloyd carrying this map, pointing out to Lloyd that it was practically no distance at all from Rehovot to Venice, to Zurich, to Copenhagen, to Stockholm, to London, to Paris and so on. I don't know whether he had intended all along to be sort of open handed about the whole thing or not. But anyway, I ended up with a seven week junket, which hit all the high points of Europe, and was a tremendous experience. Rehovot was a great experience because — while it became something of a joke at Rehovot — Chalk River still at the time felt that they shouldn't send more than one person. So I was representing the entire research output of not only the six of us, but about six other guys who were doing sort of related work. I ended up presenting papers in every damn session, I think, at that Rehovot meeting, and it got to be a bit of a joke toward the end of the meeting, where Bromley was going to get up and talk about something else; I guess that was the first time I really sort of got a chance to get into the international operation. It was a marvelous experience, I must say. A lot of people that I met at that thing are old old friends. I still remember. My immediate predecessor as president of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, Kaj Siegbahn, I remember from that meeting, because Kaj had overslept on the morning we were supposed to go to Jerusalem. Rather than say anything, two of Kaj's graduate students who were at the meeting simply went out and sat on the road in front of the bus. It was patently obvious that the damn bus was going to leave for Jerusalem only by running them into the turf, and that they were going to sit there until Siegbahn arrived. This was my first experience of true Swedish loyalty to your research professor. A very impressive demonstration.
How long did they sit there?
Oh, they were there for about 20 minutes. Everybody on the bus were screaming and yelling and carrying on, and finally Kaj strolled out, and we went to Jerusalem.
No police took them away or anything?
No, no. Those were much more civilized days.
Well, what specifically did you learn?
At Rehovot? Several things. First of all, I was able to, in a sense, calibrate what I had somewhat suspected but was unable to make in any way objective. That was the reputation that our group in Chalk River had in the international community. That was very gratifying, because it was clear that we had reached a stage of visibility where it was clear that we were certainly one of the major groups in the world at the time. That was one of the very important things. Secondly, I think it was very important to get a feeling for where the major areas of activity were developing worldwide — what things were going to be important, what things were beginning to die. It gave me an opportunity to sort of get a feeling of the way the spectrum of interest in all of nuclear physics was shifting and changing. I think it was very useful because it had a lot to do with what we had decided we would tackle with our new facilities and our new instrumentation back in Chalk River. One of the problems in Chalk River was that you were geographically exceedingly isolated, and without this opportunity to sort of get a look at what the world was doing, and what the world thought of what you were doing, you tended to perhaps charge off on tangents. So that was enormously useful. In conjunction with that visit, I had the opportunity to visit and give talks at, oh, perhaps 25 or 30 institutions in Europe, and the Middle East. That was interesting because it was an opportunity to see what kind of facilities other people had, and sort of get a feeling for where we stood with respect to the rest of the world. It gave me a new sense of appreciation for how damn well we were being looked after at Chalk River, I must say. And perhaps the most important thing of all, though, was that it provided contacts with institutions which are still very active today. We still get people here, in fact, within this week, from a number of institutions with which I first made contact on that trip. Now we are in the happy position where something over 50 percent of the major nuclear physics laboratories worldwide have one member at least of their senior staff who has spent a couple of years with us here at Yale. And so it's a network that developed.
That European trip was the beginning of it.
Oh yes. Oh yes.
How many people attended?
There was perhaps something like 600.
So it was a large one.
It was large.
So you didn't get to know everybody.
I didn't get to know everybody, but I got to know a lot of the people. In fact, to be honest, I think a lot more people got to know me than I got to know, because of all this traipsing up to report on what Chalk River was doing.
So it has its positive implications like that. Well, what about the European trip; that was your first trip to Europe?
Yes. It was, I suppose, one of the most educational periods of my entire life, because on your first trip, you not only are seeing what's going on in science, but you're getting an impression of how the rest of the world lives, how the rest of the world thinks about all sorts of things. I was very fortunate because I was traveling essentially representing Canada, and nobody knows what Canada is, particularly in Europe. It was all summarized for me by a waitress in a bistro in Paris who said, “You look like an American but you don't sound like one; what are you?” And so the Canadian background meant that you were accepted openly and warmly anywhere.
Yes. There were in fact some anti-American sentiments?
There were very definitely anti-American sentiments. They were very pronounced in France, in Greece, in Turkey, and to some degree in Germany, but no anti-Canadian at all.
You didn't keep a diary on the trip, did you?
I kept in fact a fairly detailed one. I have no idea where the hell it is. It's somewhere in my books somewhere, but I did keep one.
That would be of historical interest, obviously.
What was the most lasting impression among the Europeans?
The most lasting impression?
Yes. I'm fishing.
I think the most lasting impression came from two things. One was in Copenhagen, with Niels and Aage Bohr and Ben Mottelson. That was a fantastic operation; for the first time, I really appreciated the way this cooperation worked. Aage was the central processor, Ben was the memory bank, and Niels was sort of the general operating system, and it was amazing to see this. Aage couldn't remember any data; he didn't give a damn about data. But Ben sort of knew everything that had ever been measured, and he would fire it in and Aage would grind it up and Niels would sort of sit there and say, “Nonsense.” Then they'd sort of wipe out the whole thing and start over again. I found that extraordinarily impressive, to see the level of sort of integration of the minds of these three remarkable men. So that was one. The other thing that was remarkable, to me, was the level of experimental proficiency that the groups at Harwell and Aldermaston in the United Kingdom had developed. In terms of instrumental elegance, in terms of doing things with real style, they were ahead of everybody else in the world, certainly ahead of us in Chalk River. It was, I think, a revelation to see just the sort of things they could do, and it had a lot of impact on us when I went back.
Negative experience in Europe?
The negative impression — this is a terrible thing to say, but I've not forgotten. I was at Orsay, and there was a group there that I knew had been working on Coloumb excitation from my Rochester days. By that time, it was about seven years that they'd been working on the Coloumb excitation of tantalum 181, and they hadn't published anything – nothing. But there was a huge group, about eight people, good people. I had met some of the people, I was impressed by them, but they hadn't published anything. And so I asked who was the director of the physics division, “I haven't seen any publication of this group.” “Don't be ridiculous. You don't understand how it works. If they publish something on this, they'll have to think of something else to work on!” I must say, I didn't forget that one either, and there is some of that in some of the European laboratories. It's an element of, we've got a problem, let's not screw it up, let's just keep working on it because we get paid and nobody bothers us and that's just marvelous. And that sort of quiet relaxation is something I've not forgotten, because I've seen traces of it in laboratories in this country. The odd time you see it in your own laboratory, it's time to sort of blast things loose.
He wasn't even a little tongue in cheek when he said that?
No. He was extremely annoyed.
OK, “stupid Canadian.” OK. In 1959 you published an article on basic physics education in high schools.
Does that mark the beginning of such a kind of interest?
Well, yes, it does. I was more and more worried in the years I was at Chalk River about the fact that the young people coming in that we were seeing — that I was talking to when I went to universities to give colloquia and what not — I felt were not nearly as well educated as they had been when I had been through the system. I had spent some time talking to a number of people about this question of what was happening in the high schools. It seems to me that there really are these problems that many many people are now addressing. But it was clear even then that we have tended over the years to vacillate between focusing entirely on who the performing physicists — the professional physicists — are going to be, and to hell with the rest of the people — or, to hell with the professional physicist. We tried to get some scientific literacy in, and it seems to me that we've got to somehow figure out how to teach sciences and mathematics in the high school sufficiently well to attract a large number of people — to excite their interest, to get them enthused about the potential for adventure, if you will, in the scientific and technological fields. At the same time, while we've got to teach the ones that are going to be professionals enough so that they can really proceed as professionals, we can't do it at a level that turns off and loses all the other people, or we’re going to end up with a society that simply doesn't understand and won't support the performers. It doesn't work. So I've had an interest in high school teaching since back at that time. I've been involved in it on and off ever since.
Was that written in a Canadian or American context?
That one was written in a Canadian context.
For THE CRUCIBLE, yes.
At that time I still hadn't really decided what I was going to do as the next professional step.
But the problem is more general than Canadian.
Oh yes. In fact, it's worse here than it is in Canada, although as a matter of fact, the Canadians have a rare genius in this respect. They have, over the years, sat back and watched the US destroy its pre-college educational system with one crackpot idea after another, and with commendable restraint they have not done anything. They have just sort of watched. A few years ago they decided, now, the US has tried one idea; and having staggered through that one they have replaced it with something else. So there's only one crackpot idea usually on the field at any given moment. The Canadians, however, watched them all over the years, and about five years ago, they implemented them all at once in the Canadian system and just bloody well destroyed it! Absolutely astonishing piece of activity.
Well, in Norway we have a tendency to adopt whatever the Swedes do — that's how the story goes, anyway — without learning from their experience but just adopting it automatically.
Canadians have had this problem for a very long time.
It's a love-hate kind of relationship.
We talked a little bit about Yale before. I don't know what influenced you to go there. You decided to go to Yale, kind of late.
It was a very late decision –- almost, in fact, after I had firmly decided to go elsewhere. Originally, the idea was that I was going to be research director on the heavy ion linear accelerator which we had here at Yale at that time — one of only two in the world. The other was at Berkeley. Furthermore, in my discussions with Watson, he had sort of been encouraging in saying that, yes, “When you come to Yale, if you accept our offer, of course I will be more than happy to support you in any proposals you might want to make to get new instrumentation at Yale.” I formally joined the Yale faculty as of February 1, 1960. But I then went on leave of absence for six months, because I was one of the major figures in organizing the 1960 IUPAP General Conference which was the next in the series of the 1957 one in Rehovot. We were organizing it in Canada at that time, and so I was playing a major role in that. So it just didn't seem to make sense to come until after that was over. That was going to take place in August in Kingston. So I was on leave for the six months, and during that six months all sorts of things happened here at Yale, most of which I didn't know about. The first day I arrived here on campus in September, I was met by one of my colleagues who said, “There have been some big changes. The first big change is that Bill Watson is no longer chairman. He's been replaced. The new chairman, Vernon Hughes, has announced that there will be addition to our facilities in nuclear physics only over his dead body” — which cast a somewhat different light on the entire picture. So that was the start. That was the first day.
That's right. So I remember going home, having a stiff drink, telling Pat about this, and saying, “I don't know.” So, as I said earlier, for the first year and a half I was here, I was convinced that I'd made probably the biggest bloody mistake in the history of modern physics, because first of all, I discovered that, having come from a lab that probably had the best instrumentation in the world, when I got here — and got here to actually make measurements — I found that we had really about three old TMC amplifiers, that had been miserably designed in the first place so that the output tube died more or less linearly with time, and the gain shifted with time, so you had to make very short measurements; otherwise the signal just disappeared out of sight. There was just nothing in the way of instrumentation. There was nothing in the way of support. It was a dreadful dreadful situation. So my first order of business was to pirate my old chief instrumentation engineer from Chalk River, Charlie Gingell, which I did — I brought him over. He's still here and he's been a godsend; he's my chief instrumentation engineer here now. So that started a rebuilding of Yale's instrumentation, and I got a whole bunch of graduate students. We started doing physics with the HILAC, and it became very clear that the HILAC had been designed for chemists, not for physicists. The beam was focused 97 times by 97 optical elements before it got to the target, so it was like taking a large salami and sort of massaging it all the way down. It came out the other end of the machine just the way a salami would and sort of blew all over the place. It was just damn well impossible to focus on any quantum variable. It was sort of like mashing linoleum into linoleum and trying to figure out what it all meant. So I got here in September. By October of that year, it had already become abundantly obvious that if we were going to stay anywhere active in nuclear physics, we needed some totally new facilities. So I started in October to try to design what we would need, and out of that came the design for the first Emperor accelerator. The first tandem we had at Chalk River had five million volts on the terminal. Thirty-three copies of that have been installed subsequently around the world. Then people decided that it wasn't big enough. That was true. We built it as big as we could because we didn't know how to hold more than five million volts. But then there were about, let's see, nine so called king size tandems built; they went up to seven million volts. But when we got here, it was clear that we needed something bigger than a king? so the question was, what's bigger than a king? An emperor. So that's where the Emperor name came from.
Were you involved in the installation of tandems in other places?
On a consulting basis, yes. Oh yes, a lot of them. But the design here was for 10 million volts. That was considered to be tremendously aggressive at the time. In fact, a lot of people thought I was a damned idiot. We started off working with high voltage engineering, and eventually, in early 1962, wrote a proposal for the first of these machines, which seemed like a very nice machine. Then came a shoot-out, because Vernon Hughes had been designing the Los Alamos meson physics facility; it was is what it turns out he was actually designing — it was all designed here at Yale. So there came a question, which of these facilities is the university going to support — Bromley's tandem, whatever the hell that is, or Hughes's LINAC, whatever that is? Normally, that is the sort of thing that would be decided in collegial discussions somewhere. That one didn't work at all here, so we ended up in one of the hairiest meetings I've ever attended, which lasted for hours and hours and hours, in the office of our then provost, Kingman Brewster. That was a very bitter, heated few hours. But anyway, at the final end, Brewster said, “OK, I've heard enough; we're going to get the tandem,” and that was the end. I owe Kingman a lot for that. So at that point they agreed to submit. Griswold, who was our president, submitted the proposal to NSF and DOE and NASA. After a lot of negotiation, what they all did was, they sent out our proposal to eight other universities — Stanford, Rochester, MIT, Pennsylvania, Seattle, and one or two others. Instead of sending back reviews of the proposal, in this case, every damned one of those universities sent in a competing proposal, saying, “The hell with Yale; we want one of those; they look like good things.”
It was a recommendation, of course.
It was a recommendation, but I could have done without it at the time, believe me. Because we then were in a real shoot-out situation. Remember, up to this point I had no administrative experience at all. I knew nothing about getting money. I knew nothing about Washington, knew nothing about anything. Here's a young Canadian babe in the woods. So I went off to Washington to visit NSF and AEC, and it turned out that the guy that I saw at NSF — the vice director of NSF at the time — was a good old Yale man who had been fired from the Yale faculty. He had about as much sympathy for Yale's future as you would expect, and pointed out without equivocation that it wouldn't be bloody likely that he would support anything here. So I wander over to DOE, and it turns out that the guy in charge of nuclear physics at DOE was also a Yale graduate who had been removed from our faculty. Sitting down discussing this thing, George said, “Look — you're only going to get an accelerator at Yale over my dead body.” So this dead body business I was getting very sensitized to at that point. We sort of kept arguing about this. Finally, I remember, I was down there one day talking to Glenn Seaborg who was then chairman of the AEC, and was getting nowhere. So I called Kingman Brewster and said, “Look, I'm getting nowhere.” And Kingman says, “Hang in, I'm coming down.” And the very fact that the provost, about to be president of Yale, was, a, prepared to fly to Washington for anything scientific, and, b, knew enough about it to talk knowledgeably when he got there, was dramatic, in terms of the reception. The AEC people were dumbfounded, and it had a lot to do with the fact that we did get approval finally to get the first machine. But it turned out it was a cliffhanger, even then. AEC said finally, "We're going to buy one of these things, but we're going to give it to the university that can provide the laboratory to house it. We don't think we're going to pay for it. We're going to make that a condition.” Just at that point Princeton had an ancient alumnus's widow die which gave Princeton something like 50 million dollars. Princeton said, “Well, that sounds like a good idea; we'll build the building, we'll graciously accept this thing” — a terribly discouraging sort of development. Fortunately the Yale Corporation was meeting the following weekend here, and I had an opportunity to meet with the Corporation the night before their meeting. It had Dean Acheson and Jock Whitney and Keith Brennan, then director of NASA, and a lot of high powered talent. So we managed to dispatch a couple of bottles of good scotch and discuss what tandems were, and what one could do with tandems, and how, if nothing happened, the damn Princetonians were going to get our accelerator. So the next morning Kingman had decided that he would at least try and get a foot in the door. He asked the Corporation for $750,000 to start toward a building for this program. Glennan says, “That's nonsense; you don't need $750,000, you need one and a half million; let's approve it and get on with it.” And the Corporation did approve it, from alumni funds. So the Yale alumni actually paid for most of this building, and once the NSF saw that the Yale alumni were doing that, they came through with $750,000 to add to it, so it worked out beautifully. So we thought we were home free. Marvelous. Yale is going to get the first one. But we weren't quite home free, because that was decided on Christmas Eve, 1962, and I had a call from the guys at AEC saying, “Well, it's all clear; we’re flying out to Chicago on the morning of the 26th; we're going to sign the documents; you're going to get the first of these machines.” So, marvelous Christmas present. I went home extraordinarily happy, pleased. Since I’ve learned never to really trust all these things, on the morning of the 26th I called the AEC and said, “Well, is it signed?” and they said, “Well, no, it isn't. There's been a small problem. Your old colleagues at Chalk River have decided that they want one, and they in fact, we are told, have signed the contract for the first one.” That was unacceptable, so I managed to get the controller of the AEC back from his vacation in Florida, and Glenn Seaborg back from California, during the 26th. That night Seaborg sent a wire to Robinson, the president of High Voltage Engineering, which said: “Dear Robinson, Of course this is a free enterprise situation and you, as president of High Voltage Engineering, have complete freedom to take any course of action that may seem best to you. However, I feel that I should point out to you that, if the first of these new machines is sold to an entity outside the US, you will never make another sale within the US.” Strangely enough, Robinson saw the merit of that argument, and stalled Chalk River until the 27th. On the 27th the AEC signed the contract for the first one to come to Yale, and they decided to send the second one — they bought two — for a very strange reason, actually, which has never been much talked about to Minnesota. Williams had been a former commissioner of the AEC and was a professor at Minnesota. He was dying of cancer, and the AEC thought that it would be nice to do something for him before he died. So, the second machine was allocated to Minnesota, who had not really done very much in the way of asking for it or anything else. But there it went. The NSF bought the third machine, because they decided that no way was the DOE or AEC going to get a jump on them. So they bought one for Rochester, and the Chalk River folks got the fourth one. So it all was within two days. The whole thing was sorted out, but there'd been a small change in the priorities.
So Seaborg had the power needed behind that decision.
Well, whether he had it or not, Robinson thought he had, and —
— that's all that counts, of course.
That's right. So I'm eternally grateful to Seaborg for this vote of confidence.
Did that action affect your relationship with the Canadians?
No, not at all. They would have done exactly the same thing, had they had the opportunity. So it was all recognized as good clean competition.
Did you know anything about Yale, did you have any connection with it, before coming here or before getting the offer?
The only connection I had with Yale was this somewhat snotty letter from Bill Watson many years before when I had applied as a potential graduate student here. That was my only contact with the place.
So there was no interest expressed from anybody here in the work at Chalk River, for example?
No. None at all. It was a complete out of the blue sort of thing. Perhaps that's not quite fair, because when we started doing the heavy ion work in Chalk River, there was a conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It was the first international conference on anything having to do with heavy ion science — in 1959. At that time, I presented a lot of our stuff, and both John Kuehner and Joe Almqvist presented a lot more of it. I think that the Yale and Berkeley people, who sort of up to that time had always felt that heavy ion was their subfield of science, were a bit taken aback, because here was a group of upstarts who were doing an entirely different kind of physics that had much much higher energy resolution, much higher precision, and was obviously going to open up a totally new kind of activity. So I'm assuming that Bill Watson's interest stemmed from the fact that there were a whole lot of Yale folk at that conference. I got to meet a lot of them there, and I gather they came back here and sort of got together and decided, we'd better go take a look at this guy.
What was the state of Yale physics when you came here? Particularly nuclear physics?
Bad. Bad. Very bad. It was bad for two reasons. Gregory Breit, was an absolute genius, and should have had several Nobel Prizes because he has had a seminal effect on a whole series of fields of physics. He didn't get it because of his personality and because he didn't have a cadre of students who would support his getting it. Breit was getting close to retirement. He was a singularly difficult man to deal with, even though he was, as I say, a genius. He had tended to sort of make life impossible for young nuclear physicists here, and had scared off a lot of them, and as I say, the machine that they ended up building here, the HILAC, was really designed for chemistry, not for physics. So things were sort of in a bad unfortunate state.
Who was behind the building of that?
Of the Heavy Ion Accelerator? It was the theorist, Breit. And so he really was the dominant figure here by far. As a matter of fact, Breit was the dominant figure in all of physics here, and there's a bit of history that goes with that. That is, from 1875 until 1940, Yale was recognized worldwide as one of the major physics institutions, one of the major science institutions in the world. During the war years, an awful lot of the Yale faculty members went off to war service. Some were killed. Some went other places. For example, the man who invented biophysics had his daughter die of cancer during that period. He was one of Rutherford's boys -– the name has just slipped me at the moment, I'll get it in a moment — who came back to Yale and founded the first department of biophysics. So physics was sort of denuded. But worse than that, while all other universities, like Stanford and Caltech and MIT and Harvard, were bringing in trainloads of war surplus equipment and hiring people from Los Alamos and the Rad Lab and everywhere else, Yale was running a series of studies —what will be the role of the private institution in the postwar period? The answer should have been obvious. It will be zilch if all you do is run studies of this kind and don't go out there and recruit. So in 1959, Griswold, the president, began to realize that the sciences were in such a sad shape here that it was a disgrace. So he called Robert Oppenheimer up as a one man visiting committee to come and do a survey of science at Yale. Oppenheimer spent a couple of weeks here, and then he wrote a report, and the report was devastating. He was asked to present it to the Corporation. Obviously I wasn't there, but I heard some wonderful stories about this activity. Oppenheimer presented his report and it was greeted with a deadly silence. Out of the silence, finally, Senator Taft, who was on the Corporation at the time, sort of said, “Well, I don't know; I never took a science course when I was here.” And Dean Acheson, who was also on the Corporation, sort of flipped his moustache and said, “Mr. Chairman, the prosecution rests.” He and Taft just didn't see eye to eye on many things, but that was a low blow. Anyway, as a consequence of that and that report, Griswold decided that he had to throw real resources in support behind the sciences. So I, and a very large fraction of the people of my generation here at Yale, were all hired within a period of two years as a result of that initiative; and that's how Yale science has been building back.
Oppenheimer's report was as late as 1959?
Oppenheimer's report was in 1959. Yes, and it was paralleled by the Brooks Report on engineering in 1960, which was another reason I came here, in fact. I was so impressed by this report. Harvey Brooks, dean at Harvard, wrote it — good old Yale man. Harvey figured that engineering is now as much a professional discipline as law and medicine. Therefore, there should be no undergraduate engineers. They should take math and physics as undergraduates and take engineering as a graduate professional discipline. Marvelous idea. Yale got halfway through implementing that, and what happened was that it was as great idea except for the fact that the 70 odd faculty members in Yale engineering thought it was nonsense. So we managed to kill the old engineering school, and it's taken us something like two decades to try and start putting the pieces back together again, because we never were able to go all the way and develop the professional school which I think would have been a brilliant idea. But we then had this period; both the sciences and engineering were in really sad shape in the early sixties. And so, it was a period of massive buildup, in the process of trying to regain our appropriate stature in the field.