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Interview of Leland Haworth by Bruce Wheaton on 1977 March 9,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Topics discussed include: his family history, his educational background, beginnings of nuclear physics and particle acceleration, Cockcroft-Walton generator, his fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), his World War II research at the MIT radiation lab on radar systems, his time at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, his work with various accelerators including the Cosmotron, and his time with the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Science Foundation.
Today is the ninth of March 1977. I am Bruce Wheaton in the office of Dr. Leland Haworth at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Dr. Haworth, you were born in Michigan in 1904.
Your father was in academic work. Is that right?
Yes. My father came from Indiana and majored in history. He got a Bachelor’s degree and Masters’ degree at Indiana University then went up to northern Michigan at Marquette to teach. He and my mother met there. She came from Flint. He then, after one year, went to Columbia as a graduate student and a year after that came back and they were married and moved to New York while he continued. I was born in Michigan simply because mother went home for the event. I’ve never lived in Michigan.
So immediately you went back to New York City and you live there until you were three.
Dad got his degree about 1905 and continued as lecturer at Columbia for a year or two. I remember two things from New York City. One, a visit to the Bronx Zoo and seeing the hippopotamus and its enormous mouth. The other was, as we left, I can remember going down to the train with mother. I had by then had a baby sister and mother had a helper who worked occasionally. I can remember the helper going along and my mother carrying the baby and me being led by the hand by this black girl to the train in the train-shed in Penn Station.
Was this someone that was a general helper in the household?
And this was when you were leaving New York that you remember this?
Leaving New York. I can just remember the trains. That’s the totality of my memory.
Are there any aspects of your family background that you recall as being significant in terms of exposure to scientific subjects or an awareness of the …
Not the scientific subjects. To intellectual subjects, yes very much so. But not to scientific subjects.
Were there any opportunities for example that because of financial conditions of your family in those early years that you felt, looking back on it, that you felt you missed things that could have been important in your early education?
Well, I think probably yes, looking back. I was not aware of it at the time. I went to a tiny high school. My father became a freelance writer about the time I was six. Moved back to where he had grown up.
That was Indianapolis?
That was about ten miles outside the center of Indianapolis. Indianapolis had a very good state and even city historical libraries and my father’s specialty was American history. By traveling back and forth occasionally to Washington, New York and so forth, he was able to get along pretty well. Particularly because he was really recent American history.
When you say that there was intellectual enrichment in your own family, what do you mean by that?
As a boy I was terribly interested, still am interested, in history. And the family had of course a pretty good library of various kinds but no science.
And you exploited the family library?
That’s right. Then an usual opportunity, not unusual in the sense of other people don’t have it but unusual for me, came during World War I when I was a sophomore in high school. My father filled in for a year and a half at Indian University, in the History Department, for someone who was away in Washington on war leave. We rented a furnished house of an English professor who was also away on war leave. He had an enormous library that I devoured. We were down there only a year... the family was there only a year; dad was there a year and a half.
What sorts of things were you interested in reading then?
Again, history and historical novels and political science to the extent that a fourteen year old kid can appreciate political science. As a matter of fact, I went to college expecting to major in that sort of thing.
Oh, yeah. Political science probably.
What about philosophy? Was there any interest in philosophy in those early years?
Not much, no.
A little reading?
Yes a little reading but not much. Incidentally, of course, that fact that Dad was his own boss so to speak we spent an awful lot more time together than the normal father and son. Living out in the country, we both enjoyed hunting for example. We’d go hunting and he would regale me with a lot of the vignettes of history that you read now in good biographies but at that time, you didn’t read in much of anything.
What about subjects that are closer to science? When were you first aware of the interests in the natural world?
Well, I guess I probably became interested in more in things you’d think of as engineering. I got interested very early in radio for example. I had a little crystal set way back in 1920 or something like that. I didn’t take it too seriously. In my sophomore year in college, I took a course in physics from Arthur Foley.
This is at Indiana?
At Indiana. Yes, he was the head of the department and had got his own degree way back in the 1 890s, I guess at Cornell. In fact, most of the Indiana department at the time had their PhDs from Cornell. It’s a very small department of course. Although he was no longer active in research, he had been apparently pretty good at research in sound. He, for example, was the first one that took photographs of sound waves. That is, of the disturbance in the air by using a spark discharge and letting it provide the light for its own [disturbance]. You’ve seen them probably in the textbooks. I believe that Henry Foley at Columbia is his grandson. His own son was a professor of physics at, I think, the University of Utah, or one of the Western universities. I think Henry is probably his son.
So his orientation was primarily experimental?
That’s right. There were no theorists at all.
So this first introduction that you had was very much in line with your early interests and experience with wireless work and construction.
That’s right. But he was an excellent teacher and so I decided to major in physics. I guess probably the best teacher of science at the level at which he was teaching I ever had been in Indiana, a man named Dutcher. I took advanced heat and thermodynamics and advanced light in lecture.
Who would teach mechanics?
Dutcher did. Although this was really only a part of a sort of a combination course.
How many semesters would you take in courses that attempted to fill in a theoretical framework?
It really wasn’t much. It was more the experimental. Remember this is the early 1920s, there weren’t very many people thought of as theorists in those days.
Except in a few special places.
That’s right. But I mean in American universities that’s so especially in the state universities.
So you did a good bit of construction of apparatus, redoing experiments, cookbook type experiments?
Well just the standard undergraduate experiments. Then I took a masters’ degree there but that year was a waste of time.
That would be ‘27?
‘26. I did a little experiment on fluorescence and phosphorescence and the effect of different parts of the spectrum and so on. But it was very, very crude.
How much access to European literature would you have or would one be expected to have at that time? For example, Lenard’s work on phosphorescence.
I don’t know how much I might have had but I had very little. It was a backward place, there’s no question of that. You can’t even compare it with the present university. It was a pretty good undergraduate college.
Do you remember about how big it was?
On the campus, about 23,000 students. A few things were good. There were some very good people in zoology, for example. That sort of continued, as you know when Miller came there later. There were one or two very good chemists. The president was a very old man who had been president since 1905; he was already in his 70s or maybe 60s anyway. He continued on until he certainly was nearly 80 and in 1936 or ‘37 he left. They appointed Herman Wells who of course is the one who made Indiana into...
So an introduction to science itself didn’t occur until you were an undergraduate.
But you made this decision to go on and get a master’s degree. What was in your mind at that time? What made you do that?
I was expecting to ultimately go to graduate school.
And do research?
Well, teach and do research. I was not aware of the opportunity of having financial support. [That the possibility of] teaching assistantships and so forth was as great as it was.
That was a problem?
That’s right. My father could have helped some; I didn’t feel he should. And in the end he didn’t, not because he wouldn’t have if I’d asked him. But my concept then was to go out and teach in high school for a couple of years and save money and then go to graduate school.
How had you financed your undergraduate education?
That was essentially from my father. Oh, I had earned some money in summers and all. A very important part of my background was that my father’s father was a farmer. They were all Quakers. He had become interested in fruit trees and he had had a little nursery where he grew little apple trees and sold them and used some of his own products and built himself a small orchard. Oh, along about 1912 or ‘13 my father began to do this as an avocation. Before he died he had some 90 acres of apple and peach trees. While I was still in college, it had grown that big although they weren’t overbearing. I worked in those most of the time in the summer and after I got to be about sixteen, I was the chief market man. We took stuff in to the wholesale fruit market in Indianapolis.
This was something you could continue to do when you were an undergraduate?
I did in the summer, yes. Although the money passed through my father’s hands, I had been an important component in earning it. So I felt that I had sort of earned at least part of it.
Did you live at the university when you were at Indiana?
Yes. We lived too far away to commute, at least forty-five miles or something like that. There was no direct train. We had to go and change, sit many hours in a way station to change trains to get there and so on.
Do you remember the textbooks that Foley or Dutcher would use?
No, I’m afraid I don’t.
But they were regular textbooks, published books. Some people at that time were using their own notes.
No. They were not [using notes].
Did you get the feeling that they were standard sort of books that would be used...
It seemed to me one of the books that Dutcher used was by somebody named Elson — but I couldn’t be sure of that. How the master’s degree came about is a curious thing. I was a senior or maybe a junior. There was a wave then, throughout the country, the teachers had to know all about methods. Legislature after Legislature passed very stringent laws about how much professional education courses you had to have, practice teaching and things of that sort. I was just caught.
You had expected as an undergraduate to be taking your A.B. and be able to teach?
So I took some education courses. I took some of them as a senior but I had to go back to finish. Then there were some requirements of a broader science than I had taken. For example, I took a course in physical geography, and of course in practice teaching.
Had your own high school experience included physics or something that you knew you wanted?
Oh the A course in physics.
It was called physics?
It was called physics. But it didn’t amount to much. As I said it was a little high school. The graduation class the year before had four students. Mine had seven.
I’m surprised that they had a physics course then.
Well, back in those days, there wasn’t all the side kinds of courses that there are now. They were all intellectual courses.
The person who taught the physics in your high school, did he also teach other things? Chemistry?
There wasn’t any chemistry. There was only physics. I think he also taught mathematics. But certainly an earlier man had taught those two, physics and math courses.
Had he been a source of inspiration for you? I’m wondering since you decided to go back and re-experience that high school environment?
I had some very good teachers. I wouldn’t say that particular one. The very best teacher I ever had at any level was a woman from whom I took English and Latin as a freshman [in high school]. Francis Done was her name.
Well, you taught high school for a number of years.
For two years.
Did it live up to your expectations?
Well, it was fun but I was anxious to go on. I taught actually in Indianapolis. The first year I lived at home, oh about twelve, fourteen miles each day. I taught in Arsenal Technical High School which was then I was told was the second largest high school in the United States. It was named that because it was on the old arsenal grounds at sort of the east of the site of Indianapolis. But the first year and a half, I taught in the mathematics department.
What kinds of mathematics did you teach?
Oh, the standard high school things, algebra and geometry.
No, I did not. They gave trigonometry at that school. Incidentally, they did not where I went to high school.
What mathematics had you had as an undergraduate?
Well, up to differential equations.
Were you expected to know differential equations to do physics as an undergraduate?
I don’t recall. Buy anyway, I had done it. I’m not sure now whether I did that as a senior or as an undergraduate.
I think the pattern shifts. It depends on the institution.
I don’t remember whether I did that in my senior year or first postgraduate year, but I did it at Indiana.
Your plan then was to teach for a couple of years, save money so that you could finance your graduate education?
And the second year of teaching, I got married. We then lived in Indianapolis in an apartment. My wife was secretary of the dean of the medical school in Indianapolis, which was the Indiana University Medical School. Her father was at that time and for several years after, the chairman of the Botany Department at Indiana.
Is there anything else about that undergraduate and masters’ degree experience in Indianapolis that occurs to you as being of particular importance?
No, not off hand.
Because you then decided to leave, to go to Wisconsin.
We’d saved some and she had worked too. We’d saved quite a bit and actually I didn’t decide specifically to go to Wisconsin, but I wrote around actually asking about fellowships and scholarships, and was offered a few at Wisconsin. It was a small scholarship. I was anxious, especially since I was married, to move ahead. So I took that rather than a teaching assistantship which was supposed to be halftime in those days. The stipend for the scholarship was only about half but nevertheless I took it.
Did you have an advisor? Someone who told you about the existence of fellowships and scholarships in Indianapolis?
I gradually found out. I don’t really remember how.
And then you wrote around to a number of places. Where else were you interested in going?
Well, I wrote to two or three or four of the Midwestern universities. I remember I wrote to Cornell with no luck. One interesting thing is I wrote the University of Illinois with no luck, and I later was on the faculty. There’s another fellow there the same way, Jerry Kruger. I was offered two or three. I remember one of them was the University of Minnesota. I think one of them was Michigan.
The fellowship that attracted you to Wisconsin then was…
It was actually called a scholarship.
But it freed you to do full time study and research?
What was the stipend on that?
$250 for the academic year. But the teaching things then were $500. Clear through the 1930s it was $600 and just as an aside, many people with a PhD stayed on at Wisconsin because of the depression on this $600. The university let them be sort of postdoctoral fellowships.
Did you know at the time or did you find out later how these scholarships or fellowships were funded. Were they university funds? Or did the university have money from outside organizations?
The scholarship was university funded and they also had a fellowship which paid just twice as much. It was university funded. But Wisconsin was a very fortunate university in that they already had the Steamboat patent. And they had the 357 research foundation and so forth. They had a little more money than some places. The Steamboat patent had been in the early twenties as I recall.
So you arrived at Wisconsin to do physics. What about your graduate education there? Let’s see that was in 1928. I guess Van Vleck was there?
Van Vleck came the same year.
Did you have contact with him at the beginning?
Yes, I knew him from the beginning. It was a small place of course and a small department. Incidentally, he replaced Max Mason who had been their theorist and who had gone to the University of Chicago as the president. Another man of importance in that kind of thing was Warren Weaver. Although a mathematician, he was of course very much interested in physics and taught dynamics and electrodynamics after Mason left. You may be aware that Mason-Weaver was a well-known major text, written in a quite different approach than [other] texts in those days. I stepped into electrodynamics the second semester without having had the advanced dynamics course and without having had the first half of electrodynamics. It was really too much for me. I just didn’t really understand it. It was a bad handicap for me the whole time.
Did you have the feeling that your conception of physics as a discipline was changing rapidly as a result of experiences such as that?
What about the new theory, the quantum theory that Van Vleck was bringing?
The de Broglie and Schrodinger and Heisenberg things of course were very much in the air, you know, talked about a great deal.
Had they been talked about at all in Indiana?
No, not really. You knew the names but that was about all. It was fairly early that the Bell Labs people did the electron diffraction and so on. Davidson and Germer, as I say it was great excitement about all that sort of thing. It took me a while to catch up and understand, and I guess I never did understand the way a real good person would. (Laughs)
Was that excitement was centered on Van Vleck?
No, it was not. Oh, I’m not saying that he wasn’t center but it was much more than that. Mendenhall, the chairman of the department and very much dominated the department. I don’t mean in anything but a nice way, but he was just the great man of the department and was chairman. He had been rather slow about… well, they used to say such and such happened before Mendenhall was quantified. (Laughs) He was one of the ones who were a little slow in accepting a lot of things. Here was a man over in chemistry incidentally who, way back in the 1890s, had apparently disproved something or other about some ionic theories and forevermore was doubtful that any of this modern stuff had any validity. I can remember hearing a lecture in which he dramatically let a chart, which had all the elements listed alphabetically on it; unroll from way up at the top of the lecture room wall. And, he said, “There they are, ninety-two elements, ninety-two confessions of ignorance.” (Laughs) So they had been a little slow. I don’t think Mason was [either]; I think Mason was more of a traditional theorist. I don’t think he had been particularly up-to-date, certainly not a leader in the sense that Van Vleck was.
So Van Vleck went to Harvard…
… went to Harvard in a few years. He was replaced for a year by Wigner, most people don’t realize that. Wisconsin was the only reason that brought Wigner to this country. Then Wigner went to Princeton on leave. He came back again and then finally went to Princeton permanently and was replaced by Breit about 1935.
Did [Wigner] have an audience in Wisconsin?
What did he teach in that year?
Well, he taught the theory courses. I think Weaver was still there and teaching in electrodynamics. Wigner certainly taught the various quantum mechanics courses and taught the thing they called advanced dynamics where you first come across the Hamiltonisms and so on.
That was already when you were an instructor there?
Yes. I started being an instructor in 1930 while I still had a year to go on my degree.
What kinds of books did Van Vleck have you read?
His was mostly from notes. I did not take the regular courses from Van but the main course… I did not have very much from him in the sense of classical courses. But, a one semester course on magnetism was the principal thing that I took from him.
Did he teach a course on quantum theory, atomic theory?
Yes. My memory is that it was a kind of a shifting thing. That Van’s courses were not necessarily every year the same thing the way some of the others were.
I was just wondering about this input of European literature. It’s an issue that recurs over and over again. Different places were at different stages of capability
Yes, well Van very much used the current literature.
Would you read Sommerfeld’s book?
Well, that was in a different course. Mendenhall himself taught a course which I took for which Sommerfeld’s book was essentially the text. Incidentally, Sommerfeld was there for several weeks once while I was still a grad student.
Yes. He had been there in ‘22, ‘23, I think, and he came back again.
I think he was there for a full academic year at least a semester earlier before I was there.
He wouldn’t have taught a class.
No, he did not teach a class while I was there. But whether he had on the earlier visit I don’t know.
He gave a series of lectures?
That’s right. Then there was one year when Wigner wasn’t there either. Neither Van nor Wigner was there.
Do you have any recollection how many people would have come to listen to Sommerfeld? Approximately.
I would guess fifteen to twenty-five. He was there for a little longer than some of them. Dirac was there, for example, for about a week. There, there was a tremendous crowd.
There was. Yes, because everybody wanted to understand his new formulation of quantum theory. Do you think anybody did at that time?
No. Well, let me give a comment which I think would have expressed most people’s views. The day after was a day for Weaver’s class, and Weaver started his class by saying he had listened with intense interest to Dirac. He said “it was a great lecture; it was a smashing lecture; it was this and it was that and I didn’t understand a word of it.” (Laughs)
But it was on matrix mechanics rather than the theory of the electron?
No, that came a little later. His first paper, of course, on antimatter, the theory of the proton and the electron. Incidentally, as an interesting sideline on Dirac, on that visit he borrowed a canoe from H. B. Wallin who was one of the professors who incidentally was Manny Piore’s professor, and went out on Lake Mendota late in the afternoon or early evening and lost his paddle. And was out on the lake all night and they were just frantic, couldn’t find him. It was way into the night and it was quite a story.
Professor Piore mentioned in his experience in the early ‘30s there was a small study group that tackled such problems as Dirac’s quantum mechanics.
Yes, I was not part of it though.
Was there something equivalent to that two or three years before when you were a graduate student?
You were going on your own.
How many other people would have been roughly in the same situation at the same time?
I would guess that there probably were twenty graduate students or something of that size, maybe a little more. Mendenhall himself had half of them, I guess. Mendenhall, of course, his earlier interest had been radiation. But he by now was very interested in surface effects in metals. He had quite a school of people working on the photo-electric effect.
Measuring work functions?
More that sort of thing, yes. My own thesis was the energy distribution of secondary electrons resulting from bombardment of a surface with electrons.
There again, there’s an extensive European literature on that from the early part of the twentieth century. Was that gone through as part of your education research?
Oh, yes, sure. We read very assiduously those things. We were led astray to some extent by a German who later confessed that part of his data was manufactured. What was his name? But the Fermi lattice energy level thing came along about that time and Al Hill wrote a paper, a very early paper, on that sort of thing. John Slater was doing some of the same things that you say the Europeans, of course, were. There was very little literature on the particular kind of thing I was working on.
Well, take for example the introduction of Fermi statistics. Did that have an impact on your own work at that time?
Oh, yeah, sure.
It provided a certain set of data points that one would like to be able to verify or not. Did it influence experimental work in other ways?
Well, for example, one of the things that one expected was that in these energy distributions, there might be more or less sharp energy levels among the secondary electrons and indeed I found such things. But the never ending problem in all that photo-electric work was of course the question: Do you really have a clean surface? The problems of the techniques were tremendous.
Yes. There were certainly some heroic efforts.
I often kept a sample in as high a vacuum as we could get for more than a year, outlasting it by a visible temperature.
Did you ever use Karl Compton’s trick of having something that would scrape it?
No. I don’t think that would have been feasible in the particular kind of apparatus I had to have. The questions of getting a good vacuum of course were very difficult. We were using, in those days, to measure major small currents, Compton quadrant electronomers and even those were very difficult if you needed high sensitivity.
Would you make that yourself?
The electronomer itself was made in the shop. However, we did all our own making of the fibers and mounting the gidgets…
Keeping the acid bath clean?
That’s right. Then about 1930 or ’29… I think the summer of ’29, Lee DuBridge spent a summer at Schenectady in the General Electric laboratory devising circuits to use a new very sensitive high good resistance vacuum tube called the FP54. And he devised a balanced type of circuit that I read about. It seemed to be just the ticket for the tiniest currents I had to measure. So I built one. Then I became the campus expert on this thing, helped various other people.
But there were people around who knew how to make the proper seals and how to get your electrodes in?
That’s right. One interesting sidelight is that Albert Whitford, the astronomer at Berkeley, was a physics graduate student and got his degree bout the time I did. He was one of those that couldn’t get a job and stayed on as a graduate assistant. But fairly soon, he was employed by Joel Stephens the astronomer at Madison, to help him with respect to measuring currents from photo-electric cells in front telescopes. I helped Albert one summer to make a circuit with the FP54 which then was used in the summer at Mt. Wilson. He took it out there. Stephens had an invitation for the summer and as a result, Albert became an astronomer.
This FP54 was like a single stage amplifier?
Yeah, that’s right.
Just a simple triode. Nothing like a proto-photo multiplier or anything like that?
It had four electrodes and what Lee devised was essentially a bridge.
That was what made it original?
So it was a balanced circuit. Balanced against its own leakages and drifts and so on. But with these tiny currents, very, very tiny, you see, unless you had a very high grid resistance you couldn’t build up any voltage.
And the stability.
So you used this in your dissertation research?
And this was under Mendenhall?
How many people would have been working under him on project related to those interests at any one time?
Oh, six or eight.
How close control would he maintain over the work? I don’t mean doing it but I mean would he come around once a day or something?
No, no. As a matter of fact, he was inclined to let you be the judge if when you needed to talk to him he’d come around on his own occasionally. But, partly this of course was because of this long drawn out business of getting the thing clean. You knew what you wanted to do but it took you months and months to do it. The older graduate students actually knew more about his technique 1/m not in physics, but the technique 1/m than Mendenhall did himself? So if you wanted help technique-wise, you went to one of the older graduate students.
Who would you go to for example?
Well, the man who helped me most at first was a man named Cardwell. Cardwell was there, I think, for two years while I was there. He went from there to Tulane and then later went to the University of Kansas, retired from being chairman of the department there. Then there was a man named Davis who had the lab next to mine and is why I probably leaned on him the most. He got his degree the first year I was there. Then the second year he again was staying on because he couldn’t get a job but in the middle of the year he got a job with the Kimberly-Clark Paper Company and he went there. Incidentally, I was given the fellowship which was a big help. Davis got very much into the business of their paper colors and so forth and measurements of spectrum and things of that sort.
What about nuclear physics? What exposure had you had to nuclear physics or attempts to accelerate particles at that time as a graduate student?
Well, none as a graduate student. But, about the time I got my degree, three things happened. Lawrence’s work and Van de Graaff’s were two of three and the other one was the first use of an accelerator in England, Cockcroft and Walton. Those three things happened more or less the same time.
Just as you were finishing your degree?
Yeah. I always understood that what inspire Cockcroft and Walton to try was such low energies. It was believed, you see, that you had to have much higher energies. Then the man who was the head of the Bureau of Standards and got in trouble with… later finished up at the University of Colorado, Ed Condon. Condon published a paper 1928, ‘29 on the business of penetrating the barrier and so forth. And that encouraged Cockcroft and Walton to go ahead with the relative low energy.
Had anyone at Wisconsin mentioned that? Were you aware of it?
Oh, we were aware of it.
I mean before Cockcroft and Walton?
Oh, yes. It was a big spread in the Physical Review.
And that was discussed?
Oh, yes sure.
Is there an organized way of discussing the literature?
There was a weekly colloquium — they called it — somebody discussed a current paper.
And Condon’s paper was discussed?
I think it was discussed and I think in that colloquium. But, I can’t remember the discussion. It didn’t mean very much to me because it was fairly early in my [studies]. Incidentally, the one duty that the bolder of this departmental fellowship had was to run the colloquium, to decide who should talk about what and so forth.
That was a big job.
Yeah, but it was a useful thing. I mean, you learned something. You were sort of forced to sort of at least look at the paper.
You think there might be some kind of record of what was discussed?
I doubt it very much.
You don’t have anything like that?
Records like that are very interesting.
Yeah, I know. There just might be. The person who would have been the one to ask is a woman named Molly McQuire who was the secretary of the department for years. Whether she’s still alive, I don’t know. She retired several years ago. There’s still some people though who go back to that day; Rawly Rawlison just retired last year was a graduate student the same time I was. He got a degree, as I remember, the first year. Gibson Weiner was a graduate student on a NRC fellowship at the time I went there. The old Rockefeller Foundation type fellowship. But he came back as an Assistant Professor while I was still there. I don’t remember whether I was still a graduate student. Ray Herb doesn’t go back quite as far. But Rawlison might know. He was chairman of the department for a while. I’d expect he’d be more likely to know than Weiner for example.
Were Cockcroft and Walton’s attempts to multiply voltages for acceleration purposes the first realization that Condon’s suggestion or Gamow’s theory might be reversible? That you could use lower energies to…
As far as I know. It certainly was to me and it’s my impression it was to everyone. Let’s say the first experimental verification. Of course Rutherford used natural particles to make the first man-made disintegrations but they were more energetic than this. Well, in any case, Van de Graaff came along [at Berkeley] and of course they were working on what later became called the cyclotron. The first paper was titled something like “The Production of High Energies without High Voltages” or something of that sort. It wasn’t until later that they called it the cyclotron.
What was your own feeling at that time about the relative merits of direct DC voltage build ups versus the cyclotron?
As early as I’m talking about I didn’t have any because it was outside my immediate field of interest. The cyclotron always intrigued me but it was a casual interest at the most. Two things happened there to get [the Wisconsin] department into the nuclear field. The first one chronologically was that there was a man named Glen Havens, who got his degree in the early ‘30s, who was one of the very many also stayed on not finding a job. Very soon after the first successful Van de Graaff paper reporting reasonable success this electrostatic device, Havens conceived the idea of putting a Van de Graaff generator inside a tank and evacuating the tank. It was a steel tank about five feet in diameter. But of course he couldn’t get it low enough.
How early would that have been?
Well I would guess more like ‘33.
So it was after Merle Tuve’s work had become at least been in the literature.
He worked on this for quite a while. He worked on this for quite a while. Just getting the tank and getting something set up took a long time. Then he did get a job. It was with one of the rubber companies. I don’t remember which one. And, be left. Mendenhall cast around for someone to take this over and chose Ray Herb who was then maybe even a first year graduate student, certainly not more than a second year graduate student. They put graduate students on their own in research very early. Ray had been an undergraduate there and I had had something to do with him because he was also a student of Wall’s. Wall and I were close friends and there were a lot of these newer techniques with which I was familiar that Wall wasn’t, so I was in actual fact Ray’s senior thesis adviser. Although officially he was a student of Wall.
Was he an undergraduate then if you say senior thesis?
Yeah, that’s right. He went to Indiana. Ray never went anywhere except during the war to the Radiation Lab. Never been anywhere but Wisconsin. He was a little Polish boy, a red-cheeked, very shy and I can still remember sitting at the desk in the advanced electricity lab which I taught. I’d be working on something or other and I’d sort of see a shadow. And there standing opposite me was Ray just waiting for me to look up because he wanted to talk to me. And then be would blush and stammer and so on. Well, anyway, he took over this project and within just a few weeks he’d reversed it; reversed the concept and decided to make it a pressurized [tank]. He must have been a second year graduate student because he chose two youngsters to help: Donald Kerst and David Parkinson. Both of them incidentally I had known. This advanced electricity lab was a good way to get to know the undergraduates. All the physics majors and all the physics minors took this course. I can remember they took it when they were juniors. Dave Parkinson had had his first two years over at the Milwaukee Extension Center and created quite an impression from one of the people who had gotten his own degree at Madison. He sent word that here was this marvelous student coming in. I can still remember somebody saying to me “I hear you have a very good student in the electricity lab named Dave Parkinson.” I said “Yes, I’ve got an even better one named Donald Kerst.” And they were partners in this lab. They sort of worked together through their undergraduate work. They might have been seniors or they might have been first year graduate students.
So this would have been ‘32?
Along in there, yes. Well, the rest is history of course.
Would anybody have read Rutherford, Ellis and Chadwick at that point?
You hadn’t mentioned people on the faculty who were interested in nuclear physics or natural radio-activity.
There weren’t. This was the beginning really. Oh, the theorists had some interest but I was just about to say as a matter of fact that Ray was the first person there — first experimentalist there — to get any real interest in the nucleus at all.
Were there accelerator tubes at that time or was he just working on the Van de Graaff?
Just working on Van de Graaff.
Just to produce the high voltage.
That’s right. His first research using the Van de Graaff was a very popular subject then, proton-proton scattering. They devised very clever and elaborate scattering chambers, collectors that they could rotate around on axis and so on.
What kind of detector would they use?
Probably a linear amplifier type of thing, an ionization chamber and linear amplifier. They were just coming in.
You read it off a meter then?
No. Individual counts; with an elementary type of counting circuit. Well, about that time in the fall of ‘35, possibly ‘34, Gregory Breit came; Wigner left.
This was after Van Vleck had left also.
Van left probably ‘30 or ‘31. Van and Wigner were both there one year, as I recall. Wigner was there as a visiting professor. Then he went to Princeton as he was brought there from Europe as a visiting professor, then be came back for a year or two.
Did van Neumann come out at all?
No, I never met van Neumann until much later. Incidentally, do you know that Wigner was married and his wife died within a few months? There was a girl named Amelia Frank, a graduate of Goutcher College in Baltimore who came as a graduate student the same year I did. We sort of worked together a lot in our courses and so on. It was a small, close knit group. She and Rawlison, incidentally, had a sort of an interest in each other for two or three years until he met the women he later married. That itself is an interesting story, but we won’t go into that, nice story. They were brought together by Polly Bunning who was then a graduate student in biology at Madison, and was later president of Radcliff. Her name was Mary Polly Ingram. Anyway, Amelia was a very hard working — not brilliant but solid — student.
She wrote some papers with Van Vleck, I think.
She supported herself and a kid sister who was an undergraduate on this teaching assistantship. Well, she finally got her degree and her and her sister graduated the same year and she and Wigner by then had become engaged. After a long hard travail everything was just, you know, going to be much nicer, more pleasant and easier for her.
Wigner had been there for…
Probably his second year. In the winter of ‘36, ‘37 about this time of the year, they were married.
This was when Wigner was back the second time.
Yeah, that’s right. They were married. Within weeks it was discovered she had a very devastating, bad and metastasized cancer. She died in a few months. It was really tragic. Whether that had some bearing on Wigner’s leaving, I never knew. Wigner of course was one of the finest people you’ll ever know. It was really tragic.
Van Vleck said something very interesting in an interview that I read, that physics was a girls’ subject at Wisconsin. That was the way he characterized the approach to physics in the late 1920s. Did you have any kind of feeling for what might have motivated that?
You didn’t feel that way at all.
No. It was certainly not because of a lot of girls around, because there weren’t. In fact I can remember only Amelia.
What about the relative likelihood of getting a job from physics? Where there other fields — more closely related to engineering that might have seemed to be more vocationally directed?
He might have felt that. Incidentally, of course, Van himself was a Wisconsin product, as you well know. His father was head of the math department. I’ve understood that his father was the first real American mathematician. You know the first really outstanding mathematician in this country. Van of course did his own undergraduate work there, his doctoral work at Harvard.
His was the first Ph.D. in physics from Harvard that was exclusively theoretical, didn’t have any experimental work.
He went to Minnesota for two or three years and then came to Madison. Well, anyway going back to Breit. Breit came there from Carnegie in Washington and this was of course after Tuve and Hafstad [work] which Breit had been very interested in. Breit brought a couple of people with him, a man named Dahl, I guess.
Dahl had taken part in some of the Tuve and Van de Graaff work.
That’s right. [And a man with] a name very much like one of the really great physicists Heidenburg, not Heisenberg but Heidenburg. The plan agreed to in advance by the university, or at least by the department, was that they would build a voltage doubler circuit along the lines of Cockcroft-Walton. This they started to do in an ordinary laboratory, not very high-ceilinged or anything. Well, they needed rectifier tubes and the way the rectifier tubes were built, you probably may not have seen them. Have you ever seen the old gasoline pumps that had vast cylinders? You could actually see the gasoline.
I’ve seen not a whole cylinder but a small section that would fill with gasoline.
Well, they were [150 cm] tall and what a pump turned by rank would fill the gasoline up to some level marked on this glass cylinder and then it would be drained into your car so you could tell how much gas you bought. Well, they used four of these, stacked one on top of the other. This was actually a quadruple rather than just a doubler.
These were the actual gasoline cylinders?
Yes, the glass cylinders. With steel plate [2 cm] thick and [30 cm] big around between them and then two cylindrical electrodes sticking one up and one down.
These would be about ten, twelve inches in diameter?
That sounds very much like Cockcroft and Walton’s apparatus itself.
Yeah. You would… the filaments that were the source of the electron was simply fed down from the top. You take a cap off the top and put them down in and hang one in the first gap and the second one in the second gap and so. There were steel cylinders about [15 cm diameter] in the middle copper rings used to keep it from having any sharp edges. The condensers were sheets of ordinary window glass about [50 cm] square with tinfoil or lead foil or something glued on to the alternative sides and then they were stacked up on a high platform.
Yes. Tuve and Breit had used those at the Carnegie.
That’s right. The accelerator tube was the same general construction as these rectifiers except that they were short sections of the same thing cut off. And there are six or eight or those. And an ion source was put up on the top. It was oil cooled and the oil was brought in by two long tubes stretching across the room for twelve, fifteen feet. Well, they got that partly built, not finished, and then they left. Heidenburg and Dahl both left.
I’m wondering why they moved so far away from the idea of Van de Graaff generation. I had always implicitly assumed, and I would hope that you Breit to Wisconsin at that time had been Herb’s work on the Van de Graaff. From what you’re saying, it had very little to do with it.
Well, that certainly was a reason. But this project was a very much a project of Breit’s heart. He was the director of the project, no question about it.
Was it because Cockcroft and Walton had actually succeeded in disintegrating lithium?
I think it was a question of intensity. See, you could get an awful lot more ions of course out of this.
What was the state of Herb’s work at that time in ‘35 when Breit came? Had he had success at that point?
Probably not when Breit came. Well, in any case, they left and I never quite knew why; it was probably a question of financial support and so forth. They were very likely on some of these same marginal stipends that so many people were on at that time.
Did they get jobs in industry?
Yes, they got jobs. It seems to me Dahl went to St. Louis directly, but I’m not sure.
Yeah. Yeah. I’ve forgotten about Heidenburg. Well, in any case, Mendenhall again cast around for somebody to take it over and be asked me. So that was how I happened to get into it.
Why wasn’t Breit doing that?
Breit was not an experimentalist. I don’t mean take over in the sense of taking Breit’s place.
Was teaching classes on nuclear theory at that time?
Yes. The sort of general plan that Breit had was that the Van de Graaff would be used primarily for proton-proton scattering types of things and the Cockcroft-Walton would be used for disintegration, that is, for nuclear structure [studies].
Had Breit associated himself with Herb’s work in addition to doing the Cockcroft-Walton?
Not in the sense of direction or anything of that sort. Just as any theorist does in experimental work in the interest of the department.
But Herb hadn’t had any particular success?
By the time I got involved, he certainly had. But whether he had at the time Breit came, I’m not sure. Well, I then was fortunate that a graduate student name Percy King expressed an interest. Late in the Dahl-Heidenburg thing be had been associated with them. We finished the machine and did some experiments on lithium disintegration and so on. Made some measurements on the range of particles in Breit curve types of things in solids. We were able to make measurements of that type of thing by differentially analyzing our alpha particle yields with different energies and so forth in our target films.
Measuring ranges, alpha particle ranges?
Yes. I was there then only a year and I left and went to MIT on a fellowship. First King got his Ph.D. on this work and it was taken over by somebody else and so on. But Breit was still there for a year so afterward and still be did not continue the intimate direction the he had with Dahl and Heidelburg but was still there for advice. He was very helpful in the writing of some of the papers which King and I did after we’d already left. Breit helped a great deal on that.
How was your working relationship with Breit?
Very good. We were always very good friends. Breit was, in many instances a difficult man. But be and I got along fine. I don’t think we ever had a cross word.
What happened when Herb did have success? In 1935 he got to three quarters of a MEV successfully and I was wondering what Breit’s reaction was? Was there a shift in interest to the kind of work that was now possible with this pressurized Van de Graaff?
That might well have been. Breit was very much interested in proton-proton scattering, there’s no question about that. He felt that this at that time this was the key to understanding nuclear force.
What did that mean for your work on Cockcroft-Walton?
Well, he was certainly still interested. I don’t know if there was any diminution in his interest there. But we had a long hard road to hoe and we didn’t get an awful lot done before…
You did essentially duplicate Cockcroft-Walton’s disintegration of lithium.
But at somewhat higher energies.
What was the energy that you reached? It wasn’t as high as a half an MEV?
I would guess four hundred thousand. I get a little mixed up about how far we got. You know, I helped build another one; John Manly built another one at Illinois couple of years later still higher.
One more thing before we leave for MIT. You’ve been mentioning off and on the difficulties people bad throughout this period of time in getting jobs. And that they were able to stay on at Wisconsin. Wisconsin had the funds to hold people?
They had funds for these half-time teaching assistantships. The big elementary physics courses would be a lecture — one lecture a week or in some courses two lectures a week, and then these so-called quiz sections and laboratory sections. The faculty member that gave the lectures usually took one quiz section himself because he had to have the feel of things. And essentially all the rest were taught by graduate students. A few instructors.
Done the same way today.
That’s right. Well, there were a lot of courses because it was required for all the engineers; it was required for the home-economics girls and so on and so on. They gave these jobs as post-doc jobs to people who already had their degrees and just didn’t take on more graduate students. There were a few that were so-called research assistants. Mendenhall himself for example always had one or two research assistants. In that period, he used Ph.D.’s rather than graduate students. I mentioned Wifford who became a research assistant at the astronomy department and so on.
So they partly financed this by cutting down the number of incoming graduate students. Were they able to get more money from the university?
No, the university was in very bad shape. Wisconsin was one of the hardest hit states for some reason I don’t know quite why.
Where did the money come from for Herb’s work and your work?
Well, we didn’t have much money. Let me give you an example of how little money we had. We, of course, wanted to have a control over the voltage of this device and the obvious way to control it was to have a variable transformer — varitran was the trade name for the best one — and this cost $40. We didn’t have $40. And so the shop made up a lot of these stove pipe rheostats. You know what I’m talking about.
The thing that slides across the top.
Yes. Well, we turned one of those in facts, two in parallel over into potentiometers, if you want to call them that, we put that across the 220 volt line. Now, I’m sure it cost the university in power, wasted power, within a year far more than the $40 that the department saved. That didn’t even occur to us. Incidentally, I guess the nearest I ever came to getting killed was because of that.
It sounds a little dangerous. (Laughs)
It was on a wall like right there behind the door, I and then the rectifier tubes were over at a position that was about like a little beyond that door. Now these tubes, of course, every time we’d open them up were then very soft. There’d be a lot of little discharge for quite a while and we’d have to gradually ease them in. Because of the scattered x-rays we had between there and the position where you controlled this thing some 2’x4’ in a framework on both sides of which we’d nail both sides we’d nail lead sheeting and that was our shield.
About a centimeter thick?
Half a centimeter. It was pretty soft, you see. Well, the shop had pulled a boner and through a satellite handle on this rheostat there came a brass screw that connected to the brushes. I was running this up and down and my thumb clamped on that brass screw and of course that tightened. But unfortunately, I had my left hand on this lead shield which was grounded and there I hung. I just couldn’t let go. Well, I managed to let out one yell and I actually walked up that… it’s a terrible feeling… a vibrant feeling back here in my head, just kept going back. I just found myself walking up that lead shield. Well, this fellow named George Mason who was working with me, he was a graduate student by that time, and after I yelled, he ran and threw the switch and I just fell backward. But if I’d been in the lab by myself and I’d often done that by myself that would have been all there was to it.
I hope you got rid of the screw.
Yeah. I don’t know where they raised the money to buy Herb’s tank. The tank itself, I don’t know. The rest of it was all made there. And you see, there was a shop with two people in it and they continued to have And, of course, the students themselves just made practically everything they had. Herb and the others devised ways of making these big aluminum hoops by bending them on a big wheel in the shop.
For the two or three high voltage casings inside the tubes.
Well, they had a whole roll, you see. The little spark discharges distributed the voltage. They must have had twenty-five, thirty of those, I guess, or maybe more.
This is on the accelerator tube itself?
Yeah. Also up the belt, surrounding the belt. It’s on ends, one around the tube and one around the belt.
So it was ingenuity and access to the shop…
…and raw materials and labor.
Do you have any feeling for what your work cost in research expense?
I don’t except it wasn’t much. But the one at Illinois, where much more of the stuff was bought and so on, the totality of the funds we had other than shop help and so on was $5,000.
That was a lot of money even then.
I came in after it was started. Manly had started the year before I went to Illinois. He hadn’t gotten very far on it. But the $5,000 had been raised.
He had started when you left Wisconsin for MIT, or the year before.
Yes, about then. He went to Illinois at that time. He had been there a year.
What about going to MIT? Now, you went as Lalour Fellow. What was that?
That was the doing of Van Vleck incidentally. I had no future at Wisconsin. Obviously, the department wasn’t going to grow. Somebody did retire, leave or something and they had one assistant professorship and they gave it to Rawlison. It was when Mendenhall died was when that created the vacancy. He died while I was still there. It was clear that there was just no expansion. Nobody was near retirement.
What position did you hold at Wisconsin just when you left?
I was an instructor. I had been an instructor for six years. It was quite fair. They made no bones about it that I could stay on but there wasn’t any prospect. I could stay on for a while. Well, the Lalour Fellowship came from some Du Pont money. There was a family named Lalour who were associated with the DuPont’s and intermarried.
Some Lalour created a small foundation. The man who operated it was named C. Lalour Burdick. His mother was probably a Lalour. He was in the Du Pont organization. One of the chief ways of dispensing this money was I think about four fellowships each year.
In the sciences or in physics?
Most of them were in chemistry. And one of them was definitely assigned to Professor Frederick Keyes who was head of the chemistry department at MIT. Although it was from this foundation, it was as though MIT had the funds.
So MIT was the recipient of at least one of these fellowships.
That’s right. Now Keyes was very much involved in and interested in and had the school of cryogenics. He had this vacancy and Van Vleck, who knew Keyes because Van of course was very interested in the results of some of the magnetic work, suggested me to Keyes.
You had taken this course with him on magnetism.
That’s right. And I don’t know, some reason Van sort of became a kind of a godfather to me in many ways. I never quite knew why but we were very good friends and be looked after my interests. He had a very profound influence on me and was very responsible for various things that happened to me for a while. They asked me to come over and I went rather reluctantly. I was so sure I wouldn’t accept that I didn’t think it was fair for them to pay my expenses over there.
You mean, they asked you to come to look things over?
That’s right. I remember I gave a colloquium or seminar something a talk at Harvard — and incidentally it was the first time I met Goldhaber. I think, it was that trip. That was where I first met Goldhaber at a colloquium he gave. Well I felt so strongly about how unfair it was that for example I rode coach from Madison to Boston. I didn’t use the Pullman because I was going to save them money. Well, I found it very interesting. The upshot was I accepted.
You had never done this kind of work before?
Never done this kind of work. It was incidentally a four-year scholarship.
How much did it pay?
$2,500 which was a good deal more than I was making.
What were you making at Wisconsin?
I was an instructor. I was lucky. I got an instructorship in ‘30. I started out at $1,800. They paid $1,800 to someone who didn’t have their degree then you automatically got a raise to $2,000 when you got your degree. I got my degree in the summer of ‘31. And when Mendenhall went to the university to get the [additional] $200 — I can still remember — he wrote a letter to the then Dean Fred, who later became president of the university. I can still see the scrawl that Fred put across the bottom of the letter sent back to Mendenhall saying “It can’t be done unless you have the money.” One of the most generous things that anybody ever did happened a year or two later. Rawlison had his degree in May or June, and had been given the salary promotion and a year or two later he went to Mendenhall. He said “It just isn’t fair. You got to take a $100 of mine and give it to Haworth.” And they did.
So that made $1,900.
Yeah, except meanwhile we’d all got cut 25%.
Was that true also of the scholarships and fellowships for the graduate students?
Mine wasn’t quite 25%. They had a variable scale but some of the people got cut as much as 30%. For many years my take home pay for nine months out of the year and nothing more was $150.80 a month. I once taught six weeks of summer school with 24 classroom and laboratory hours for $92. So it was pretty tough. Well, anyway this $2,500 was important but that wasn’t the reason. The reason was that I didn’t see any future [at Wisconsin].
And you were willing to change your research field again. This would be the third type of work that you’d done.
That’s right. An interesting side light on that trip, because it’s Van Vleck, you’re aware I’m sure Van’s intense interest in railroads. I’m told that when he was about a small boy that his one request for a Christmas present from his parents was a New York-New Haven-Hartford time table. But in any case, I stayed with the Vans when I was there on a trip for three or four days and stayed with them. In the course of conversations, Van discovered that I had not been in New York City since I left as a three year old. Well, nothing would do but I had to go see New York City on the way back. Specifically, I had to do it by going down on the overnight boat. Well, I was anxious to get home and I thought that was a sort of a flippant thing to do with somebody else’s money anyway. So I used every argument I could think of to try to convince them I shouldn’t do it. And then I used the very worse one. I said “Anyway I have a ticket back through Albany.” Well, this was a challenge to Van. So be took me downtown. We went to North Station and we went to South Station and went to the steamship line. He turned in the part of my ticket that carried me from Boston to Albany, for a ticket from Fall River to New York on the overnight boat through the canal, the Cape Cod Canal, a ticket from New York to Albany and a net return of 42 cents. He spent a whole morning doing that and of course with great pleasure.
Excuse me to keep going back to Wisconsin but I find one thing that I meant to ask. At the end of one of your papers you mentioned that the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation had supported some of the work. Do you have any recollection of what that form of support took?
No, I don’t. It was through the department, of course.
A monetary grant for research expenses?
That was the main source of research funds other than salaries.
I see. The department didn’t have a research budget?
A very small one, if any. I’m not sure whether they bad any at that particular time but the Steamboat thing was already a big thing, you see. Of course, the Foundation has many other sources now.
But things didn’t work out very well at MIT?
Well, it was not too well. No. But the real thing was that again through Van’s intervention, Willard Loomis was working for people at Illinois and he and Van knew each other well. And Van suggested me and the upshot was I went. Now, I wouldn’t have gone had this other worked out. Keyes, as it turned out, was a rather difficult man. He was always very nice to me and so forth. But there was a very deep unrest in this group that was working under Keyes. As a matter of fact, most of them left very quickly. Some of them that year. It was partly perhaps he tried to run it too close to his vest, to manage it too closely. He could be rather sharp at times and then he was sharp with me at times but not in a way that I resented in the personal sense.
So that when this opportunity at Illinois came along, there was no particular resistance.
That’s right. I had been very careful in advance to say that I wouldn’t promise to stay the full four years. An interesting thing, incidentally, that happened that year that’s very important to physics, among other things. That was Sam Collins was my laboratory mate in the Eastman Lab there at MIT — I don’t know whether you know it, the building…
Oh, the refrigerator. I mean the liquidation…
Yeah, that’s right. And that year was the year that Sam really got to work on that.
Was he also supported by this Foundation, Lalour?
No. I don’t know if there’s any particular source of funds other than MIT funds. It was not a complete success by the time I left but it was well on the way. There was another case where I almost got killed. The logistics of all this work was that you build a platform somewhat above your head. These labs at Eastman had very high, ceilings. You build a platform… oh, seven feet above the floor or something like that and hung your cryostat down from that and then you could drop the outer casing off and work on it standing on the lower floor. But the experiment was up on the upper floor. And these platforms, you know, covered the half the room. Well, Sam had a platform. And up above the window on that side he had an electric fan and, it was rather confined up above, I was working on something in a vise underneath that fan and some way it got entangled in the cord for the window shade and dislodged itself and came down and just grazed my [head], it was an enormous thing. If it would have hit my right ear, I’d have been dead. Sam was white as a sheet. Did you ever know Sam Collins?
He is from a mountaineer family in east Tennessee, a rugged, very fine man. One of the nicest people. This was, incidentally, completely his idea as far as I could tell, not Keyes, although Keyes recognized the merit of it.
Did you have the feeling that there was more money available for research there than you had seen at Wisconsin?
What was the intent of your appointment to Illinois as far as research was concerned?
Well, Loomis was looking for young staff. Obviously, Van was the one that gave me the real recommendation. And then there was the specific thing, although I was left free to decide what I’d like to work on. My own decision was influenced by the fact that I could join up with Manley who was of course very anxious for me to come and go back to this other thing. I had left the nuclear thing reluctantly except it was just one of these choices you have to make because to have to eat.
So you were happy to go back to it.
I was very happy to go back to it.
And this was a Cockcroft-Walton type multiplier again?
That’s right. Even with the $5,000, it was much [better]. For example, we bought rectifier tubes.
Were they better than the ones you had built?
Oh, yes and no. They weren’t any better than the others were after they had been run long enough to really break in. But we had enough money that if one of them burned out, we got another one. We also had commercial condensers which we bought from Westinghouse. On the other hand, the accelerator tube itself, of course, was fabricated. But, $5,000 went a lot farther in those days of course than it does now.
You had had about two years’ experience in what we now call nuclear physics, had you at that time studied seriously Rutherford’s work?
No. I was just in the beginnings of that. I had been so immersed in the building of machines and so on…
That’s the point that recurs over and over. I know Livingston said at one point that when he began to cut his ties with Lawrence, he said he was feeling very schizophrenic about the field. On the one hand, he had spent most of his time building the machines; on the other hand, there was nuclear physics that one had to come to grips with.
This was a sort of intermediate period back before nuclear physics. The physicists built their own equipment, even with very little shop help. They’d do an awful lot, most of them with their own hands. But at most, they had the help of mechanics in the shop, one or two in each department — there were only two at Madison. I guess there were three at Illinois at that time. When things began to get bigger what would happen was one or a few physicists would just drop their research and build a machine. It might take a year or four years. And then they’d go back to research. Now there are machine builders who spend all their time on machines, building and operating machines, and then there are people who do research.
But you were aware of this as a dichotomy?
Did you identify more with the machine building part of it at that point?
Well, as it turned out it’s been true throughout my subsequent career. But that’s just a chance; it just happened so. We got it done. We got a reasonably well functioning machine by the end of my first year at Illinois. Then there was of course a lot of equipment to build, detectors and amplifiers and so on. Incidentally, at Madison we had used a linear amplifier with ionization chamber, but that’s not what we used at Illinois. We were interested in neutron absorption scattering and we’d build a time-of-flight equipment. But it was a deuteron-deuteron neutron source — and we got our modulation, our pulses, by deflecting the deuteron beam on and off a heavy ice target. And we had a lot of paraffin moderating stuff around.
You mean ice made of heavy water?
No this was just ordinary paraffin. The same thing as the neutron scattering, you slowed them down. We had a beam that went into the next room and we did our counting with boron ionization chamber, the neutrons would cause a boron-neutron interaction and then the Geiger counter was used to detect the products.
There would be an electronic counter that would keep track of what the Geiger counter would say?
Yes. The first work of the sort was done in England and Luis Alvarez had done one experiment of that sort. You take a time interval, and count for a while and then you make a move to the next item and everyone count for a while and so forth.
What kind of discrimination did you have?
Oh, this was micro-second time intervals. There were two or three groups. There was a group in Britain, and then there was a group at Cornell that Bob Bacher was the head of, that included some graduate students like Charlie Baker, who was here at Brookhaven.
I guess Livingston was there at that time too.
Yes, but not in this group. Livingston was building the cyclotron, maybe probably had it built by that time. Well, the cyclotron was the source. But Livingston was not part of this research. Of course, he had it built by that time because it was a source for their neutrons.
Were you following cyclotron development fairly closely?
Well, Bacher and Baker and McDaniel were using the little cyclotron at Cornell. But the one at Cornell and the one at Urbana were the first two built outside of Berkeley. They were eighteen inch, something like that. I was not following it closely, no. The thing I was following closely was the neutron business. One of the groups, not us, conceived the idea of putting the pulses on a cathode ray tube, photographing them and counting the pulses at leisure. Manley and I did that at first and then we got awful tired of counting those pulses, even though we had graduate students to help. And I devised [what was] as far as I know, the first multiple channel counter for this. I used what was then called a gateing circuit. It was essentially a flip-flop. I don’t mean I devised the flip-flop, but I put a number of these in a series, and when it was a count that triggered the first flop and then that triggered the next one and so on.
There was no energy discrimination in that?
Yes, by the time of flight. And I’d build up a ten or twelve channel counter of that sort and we then [registered on] that many mechanical counters. It was a great advantage in several ways. One, it saved an awful lot of time of counting; it also gave you some immediate results. You could guide your experiment by what happened. We did various things like [measure] scattering cross sections.
Was Lubkey involved in a good part of that work?
That’s right. He was our principal graduate student in the first few years. We had a water tank, I think; it was an enormous trash barrel or something of that sort. We did some experiments on the decay of the slow neutrons. We had pulses again, you see.
This was basically the same system? You said you got to about four hundred kilovolts?
I think we got to five hundred.
But once you did that in ‘39 then you did these experiments that went in on ‘40 and ‘41?
That’s right. That machine then was taken to Los Alamos during the war; the university sold it to the Manhattan Project. It was taken to Los Alamos and was still being used in A63. I saw it down there while I was a commissioner. It was a pretty good little device.
Actually I was wondering how visible Bethe and Rose paper was.
Oh, I was aware of it alright. But it was not a thing that concerned me so to speak. There was a move to get a much higher energy accelerator at Illinois. There was a big argument going on between the cyclotron proponents and Van de Graaff. The one who was most interested in doing it, that is, most likely to do it, was Jerry Kruger. He had the help of Ernie Lyman who had come from Berkeley and had been associated with the cyclotron work. And Reg Richardson. The chief exponent of the Van de Graaff was, of course, Kerst. Illinois physics had been a sort of an Indiana-like place until the late ‘20s. The other parts of the university, of course, had been more superb. There was an old professor who was then chairman of the department. Loomis came from New York University in the fall of ‘28 and I think that same year be brought Jerry Almy and Jerry Kruger. They probably had their degrees, Almy from Harvard and Kruger from Cornell. They gradually built up the department. They brought Jim Bartlett two or three years later, and they brought another theorist named Carmin. About 1936 or ‘37 or 38, there were two or three retirements of people who had been there a long time. So Loomis suddenly had some money and he couldn’t make up his mind whether to invest it in a very distinguished appointment or in several youngsters. I know he tried very hard to get Franck and Franck finally said no. He was even trying after be started talking with me because at one point, I remember, he said, “Well, I’ve got a chance to make a very senior appointment. If so, there won’t be funds for these other appointments.” But it finally came out [to be] the youngsters, and quite a crop of them. There was Goldhaber and Kerst and Richardson and Lyman. It seems to me there was one other. The year before he had brought John Manley and Ed… he was a mass spectroscopist who had been a student of Bainbridge’s. He was a tragic case, two or three years later he had a skiing accident and a brain concussion and sort of became an oddity and finally bad to drop out. He was good in mass spectroscopy. So in two years, you see, there were about eight people much younger than the existing department. It almost doubled the size of the department. Most of them had nuclear interests. Kerst, after he got his degree at Wisconsin, had been at the General Electric X-ray laboratory in Chicago and while there had read some of the early papers proposing induction accelerators, Wideroe and others. He had the ideas of pushing on this. He went to the GE people and asked to be allowed to try to build these up, to develop them.
As a cyclotron or a linear accelerator?
No, this is what the betatron became. With the idea that the interest to G.E. of course, would be as an x-ray source. But they wouldn’t do it and some way Loomis found out about Kerst and brought him [to Illinois]. Kerst from the beginning worked there on the betatron. The great good fortune that Kerst had was that Bob Serber came that same year. The thing that made the betatron successful was that Serber worked out the orbit theory and the focusing theory which is still called betatron focusing. Up to then the idea had been that you’d just inject [electrons] and hope some of them survive for a million times around or whatever it might be. But by shaping the field, you see, it made it really work.
Did the war disrupt at all before ‘41?
Not much. We all voluntarily didn’t publish. For example, I didn’t publish this multiple counting thing. In fact, I turned it over to the Cornell group, became part of the Manhattan thing sometime around ‘41, I guess. In fact, it never was published because at the end of the war, of course, it was very unsophisticated.
How and when did it become clear that there should be a moratorium on publication?
It grew fairly rapidly after they discovered fission.
Now were you aware of the fact that this counting technique shouldn’t be published?
Oh, it was just the sorts of things we knew. I mean, we just knew it. I don’t know. I mean, from the moment fission was discovered, people became aware. I can still remember John Manley within a week taking a neutron source and uranium down in the basement of the physics building to see if he could get it to…
There were quite a few people who did that.
Well, there was some resistance. Szilard was one who was pushing secrecy, voluntary in-house control.
Breit was one who was pushing it.
It’s of particular concern because it’s a radical departure from ordinary values in the scientific community.
Yeah, but you must remember that the whole intellectual community, in this country as well as everywhere else, was as radically anti-Hitler as any group in the world.
Well, Joliot-Curie was also, but there was a great deal of resistance on his part to the early imposition of secrecy requirements. Was there an official prohibition, say, from the editors of the Physics Review? How was it communicated?
No. It was just a voluntary. There might have been [an official ban] finally. I don’t recall. But it certainly started as an entirely voluntary thing. A number of people were sort of the missionaries of the cause, so to speak. They talked to people. Breit was one, for example. He felt very strongly about it. Now, I think, it’s probably fair to say that the group at Illinois would have been about as receptive as any group. I don’t know what may have been the feelings in other places. But in the first place, people like Reg Richardson and Jerry Kruger were kind of conservative people and the Free Speech issue would not particularly have excited them.
If this had been a directive that had come from the government, as it was not at this time, would there have been a different reaction, do you think?
On the part of some people, I expect. Two important people, Goldhaber and Serber, were Jewish. Goldhaber’s own family had been involved. Incidentally, Mrs. Goldhaber’s parents disappeared during the war and she never knew what happened to them. She was not there the first year, but they were engaged. The summer after the first year, Maurice went to Britain and they were married. She was at the University of London. He’d come from Cambridge, of course. I still have the announcement of their marriage. It just says “Gertrude Goldhaber Moritz (and its spelled M-O-R-I-T-Z) Goldhaber married” That’s the totality of the announcement.
With a date, I hope.
No date. I still have it. There was to be a celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Goldhaber’s coming to Brookhaven; and I turned it over to Anderson who was one of the assistant directors, to be published in the [Lab] bulletin on the week of the celebration. He forgot it. (Laughs) I gave it to him too early. But it’s a little bit of memorabilia of those long ago days.
So other than not publishing your work, until 1941, there was no direct disruption of research activity?
In the fall of 1940, probably September, there was a dedication of a cyclotron at Indiana University. It had been built by a group that Allan Mitchell had brought there. Allan became chairman of the physics department the year after Wells became president. He brought a young group, Larry Lang was one of them, for example and Konapinsky, he’s a theorist. And, they had built this cyclotron. Now, we had had in that area of the country a sort of an inter-university physics seminar that met once a month. It included Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Chicago, and Purdue, Indiana. I believe that was the totality of it. We would go to each other’s places, driving of course, incidentally, of course, nobody ever had their expenses paid to do anything of this sort. You paid your own if you went anywhere. And, so they sort of combined one of these meetings and made a little more of it than usual at Indiana with a dedicatory assembly. Lee DuBridge who was then chairman of the physics department and I guess Dean of the graduate school at Rochester, came and gave the official dedicatory address. After it was over, late in the afternoon, he asked six or eight of us to meet with him on an entirely different subject. Just in the meeting we were in, it was just the Illinois people. He may have had others with some of the other people. But there was Wheeler, Loomis, Larry Lyman and Reg Richardson and I guess probably John Manley and myself. He told us of plans to have a laboratory. He told us what it was, a radar laboratory at MIT to work on microwave radar. Well, be didn’t say microwave. I had never heard of radar. I don’t think any of us had. But he said they were going to try to recruit people from the universities and particularly physicists because many of the techniques were very akin to things that those associated with accelerators were familiar with. Well, we went back and pretty soon it was decided that three people would go from Illinois. One of them was Norman Ramsey. Norman had come there in the fall of 1940; this was the fall of 1940. One of them was Norman, Ernie Lyman and the third one was another man who’d just come there whose name I can’t remember. He died during the war. They went to the radiation lab sometime in the late fall or early winter of ‘40. And about that time Dick Bolt, who’d come new that year, went back to MIT; but for the acoustic work and not the radiation lab. So we lost four people right there. Wheeler said “That’s enough. We can’t give up any more people.” Right after Christmas he called a departmental meeting. Sheepishly he said, “Well, DuBridge convinced me to come and be the social director.” (Laughs) So we lost Wheeler in January, I guess of ‘41.
Were you aware of National Defense Research Committee at that point?
Oh yeah, sure. To what extent it was a publicly known thing, to what extent it was just through our own channels, I don’t remember.
Did DuBridge talk about it?
I just don’t remember if whether he did in that organized sense.
But you knew about it.
Yes. So here were four people out of the department of perhaps fourteen or sixteen people, a third of the people were gone. I guess I probably was the next one to go when I went in the fall of ‘41.
Loomis approached you about that?
Yes. He was back a week or two in the summer, late summer of ‘41, and asked me to come. We’d just built a house and we were just moving into it. Oh, I was keen enough to go but I was somewhat doubtful how useful I’d be. I suggested Reg Richardson might be a more useful man because he’d been a cyclotron man and so on and knew more about RF. I didn’t know much about that frequency of RF. But Wheeler preferred that I go, so I did. The Manhattan Project was just beginning to stir. Nobody went to that from Illinois for another year. Manley went, Serber went, Kerst went but Kerst didn’t go until ‘43. Manley and Serber went before there was a Los Alamos but Kerst didn’t go until there was a Los Alamos. As a matter of fact, he went for the specific purpose of taking a somewhat larger betatron they had built in the meantime as an x-ray source.
How did you find the state of work on radar when you arrived at the radiation laboratory? Were there a lot of other people who felt the way you did that they hadn’t had much experience?
Yeah, I think probably. Actually, it turned out that I got not the RF end but the receiver and indicator end and all this business of counters and trigger circuits. Just the right thing.
What were your responsibilities there?
Well, I was originally just one of the boys and first I worked just on some circuits to do particular things with respect to the display on the cathode-ray tube — indicator tubes we called it. I got that fairly well in hand. The radiation lab was divided into two kinds of groups, two kinds of technical groups. One was the so-called systems group and the other was the component group. Then there was a third which was research which Rabi had headed.
These groups communicated freely with one another. There was no attempt partition?
No, no. There was actually no cover up at all. Everything was open.
But not open to people outside.
Oh, sure. But we did not compartmentalize. Well, Norman Ramsey was in the airborne systems group, and he and Ed Purcell and another one or two were responsible for the radar set to be placed in a single-seater Navy night fighter flying off a carrier. Ed had ideas about a scanner, a spiral scanner. Norman, I guess, was the project engineer. Ed was actually in Rabi’s research group but, as you know Ed Purcell would be, he had ideas about everything. So he asked me to be responsible for the indicator. It was a thing; by the way, that Lloyd Berker had asked the lab to do. Lloyd was the head of the Navy’s electronics division. He was a reserve naval officer and went into active service. He was head of — I don’t remember what they called it — but it’s in the Bureau of Aeronautics electronics group. He had nothing to do with shipboard stuff. All the airborne radar, radio jamming and so forth was under Lloyd’s auspices and he was back and forth a great deal with the radiation lab. I got to know Lloyd quite well although he was in Washington. I went there in October and — up to that time; the lab had been a series of groups, the leaders of which all reported to DuBridge. It was just getting to be too much. DuBridge asked Bob Bacher and Ken Bainbridge to make a study of how the lab ought to be re-organized. To help him in that study, Bacher brought Jerry Tape.
I didn’t realize he was there.
Yes. He was just in his first or second year at Cornell as an instructor. They recommended that there be a higher ranking. Grouping together the groups into what we called divisions. There was a components division for the transmitter; there was a components division for the receiving end and there were various systems divisions, airborne system, shipboard system, a ground based system group and so on, beacons would follow a little later. Well, it was decided that Bacher was the head of the indicator group, which was the one I was in. Would be head of the receiver components division. He then asked me to be head of the indicator group. Then in ‘43, he went to Los Alamos. Again, I filled in behind him and became head of the receiving components division. By that time, Zacharias was head of the transmitting components division. Louis Ridenour had been the regional head of the airborne division and when Louis went in the Army as a civilian adviser, Milt White succeeded him in the airborne division and Zacharias succeeded Milt as head of the transmitter component division. Zach and I had a single outside office, with a girl and so on, and he was we worked very closely together, in a kind of a sense there was an overall components pulling together. We got to be very good friends, worked very closely. Then, you were asking whether there was an interchange of information. There was very much. The systems division people would come to the components people and shop for things and ask us to develop this or that somewhat differently than there had been. A lot of it of course was just adaptation. Then, in the last couple years of the war, we went a step farther. Somebody in the components division group would develop, say, a receiver or indicator or some particular aspect of the transmitter group and then they would go and join the systems project while the thing was put together into a system and developed and tried out. He would have had only one or two people up to that point because so far he had nothing physical to work with. Then when they’d finish they’d come back and repeat the process. Of course, all the arguments would always go on between the ways of organizing. Each systems group, wanted its own little indicator group and receiver group and magnetron group and whatnot; arguments over whether there should be central shops or division shops and so on. They still go on.
So did you get some experience with RF work? Or did you stick with detectors and display?
I learned a little bit about it, enough to know what you could do but not enough to be able to go out and make any development myself. In fact, in some senses, I became a systems man, in many ways the indicator was the key to the concept of a given system. In the pulse rates and the length pulse. We were the ones that finally used the information. So that Louis Ridenour told me after the war I was the best systems man in the laboratory. (Laughs). He was, of course, just flattering me.
And that went right up to ‘46?
I stayed on and worked on the radiation lab series of book.
So when did the radar work stop for you?
Well, the development work stopped after VJ Day, but I was asked to be the editor of a part of one volume, and I stayed on until the New York meeting. I went to the New York meeting on the way home, that end of January. The family went by train and I drove down to New York. I went back for about half the time clear into the next summer. Worked on that a lot at Illinois. Loomis gave me very light duties.
What we’re living conditions like for you and your family in Cambridge in that period?
We just rented a house. No problem. In fact, we lived in two places.
So what did you expect to do going back to Illinois?
I joined up with Kerst. Our accelerator was gone. But Kerst was by then working on a big, three hundred MEV betatron. I joined up with him and I worked on the magnet design.
This was the fall of ‘46?
Well, the summer, or spring of ‘46. The fellow that worked with me was a graduate student. His name is Price who is in the next office here now [at Brookhaven]. I had nothing to do with his being here. Glen Price. But, of course, right after the war Macmillan and Veksler published their phase stability papers and it became obvious that synchrotrons were the real way to go. But Kerst wouldn’t give up.
Yes. I wanted to ask about that in some detail.
Some time along about then people became really aware of the radiation loss in a circular orbit and that it really was substantial.
That would have come from betatron work?
Any, but it would affect the betatron the most. But you see, there was this very nice relationship that the total change of flux within the orbit and the field that you needed to do the focusing, were linear. They were proportional. Of course, this destroyed that because in order to make up for the radiation loss you had to get more flux through, or you had to do something to get more energy. So Kerst had various schemes, as things saturated there would be more flux inside the orbit then outside. And this got the thing very complicated, a thing be called “flux forcing”. Well, he had a very substantial sum of money that came from the State. The State Legislature specifically appropriated some money for this machine on the ground that it was likely would provide a cure for cancer. The people at the department tried very hard to prevent that from happening. It was not that Kerst promoted it or anybody promoted it, just the idea that radiation was a cure for cancer had suddenly gotten a popular appeal. Ray Herb used to have to fight the same thing at Madison.
There was a lot of money coming from the ONR at just that time for this sort of project.
We had a contract we ONR immediately. The department did. As a matter of fact, half my salary for, I guess the rest of the time I was there, was paid from an ONR contract. Whether ONR provided any specific funds, procurement funds or anything of that sort for the betatron. Anyway, the original funds came as a specific part of the university budget for this betatron. Well, we all tried very hard to convince Kerst that it ought to become a synchrotron. But it, you know, it was the pride of creativity or pride of something, not pride of authorship but akin. He just wouldn’t do it. Wyman was working on it; he tried very hard to. The Illinois thing did become a cyclotron. It was started sometime soon after I left and was being finished just after the war.
How long were you there after the war?
I was there for a year and a half, from February of ‘46, and I actually left Illinois in June. Well, Loomis himself wanted it to be a synchrotron. But there was this very peculiar thing, you see. The money had been voted by the Legislature for Don Kerst.
It was explicitly written into the…
Well, I don’t know whether the name Don Kerst was.
That it was to be a betatron?
Yes. Had the money come in more normal channels, whether Loomis would have forced the issue, I don’t know. But he didn’t. We all became very discouraged. Although I did not leave the University of Illinois, I came to Brookhaven. But I don’t know whether I would have come to Brookhaven had this become what I wanted it to become. Clearly, I wasn’t pushed away. I didn’t leave because I was unhappy. But had I been real happy I’d have stayed. Well, of course, everybody’s knows it was the wrong thing. The betatron was a mistake. Had there been nothing else, it would have been alright. But there just was a better way to do it and it should have been done that way. Incidentally, Kerst had more money than anybody else. He could have built an appreciably higher energy synchrotron than anyone else was building or that the betatron could be. The necessity of flux-forcing made it a much tougher job than Kerst thought it was. You know how you kind of go down a path and you think just around the corner it’s going to be alright. It would be inconceivable to build a betatron of the energy, of say, the Cornell synchrotron or the CEA at Harvard. The amount of iron you’d have to have would be just tremendous.
So this was in the background when you were contacted by the Associated Universities?
Yes. Many of the people who were associated with it were close friends and associates from the radiation lab days. First of all, DuBridge, who was the first chairman of the so-called Initiatory University Group and there was Bob Bacher who succeeded DuBridge as chairman when DuBridge went to Cal Tech in the summer of ‘46. There was Rabi and Zacharias and George Collins, Ramsey, Milt White and so on.
How familiar were you with those early attempts to organize?
Oh, the general idea was being talked in the general ideal was being talked about in the fall of ‘45. Nothing very specific, though. But my specific knowledge of it I think probably came as a result of my coming back to MIT so much while working on the Radiation Laboratory technical series.
If you had stayed at Illinois when might you have known?
Well, not quite that early. However, fairly early, not later than early spring of ‘46, they began to talk about Wheeler Loomis as the first director. I was probably Wheeler’s closest confidante in the department. Why, I definitely was because of the Radiation Lab experience. You see, many of the people at the Radiation Lab didn’t come back. As a matter of fact, an awful lot of the people never came back from anywhere. At the time of the Washington meeting at the end of April that year they were very definitely thinking of Wheeler as their director. The first time that any question of coming to Brookhaven was raised with me was at that Washington meeting. Bob Bacher got me aside and asked if I would be interested in coming and being responsible for the accelerator program. I can date the fact that Loomis was by then involved because he said “the one we think would be the director is somebody you think very highly of.” I said “yes, I know, Wheeler Loomis.” Well, nothing very specific was done about it at the moment. But they did go ahead intending for Wheeler to be the director. There was that year a Physical Society meeting in June in Chicago. By then Wheeler had agreed to be director. There were two problems from Wheeler’s standpoint. One of them was that he had amassed a fair amount of retirement credit at Illinois and Illinois had its own state system and it was not transferrable. Whatever he’d put in could be taken only as cash. AUI could not figure out any way to compensate that. The main thing was that at the time of the Chicago meeting, they had some meetings with some of the Army representatives. One of whom was Ken Nichols who was very prominent in the Manhattan Project. He was, I think probably Grove’s deputy by that time. He later was general manager of the AEC in the middle ‘50s. Now he’s a very hard-nosed guy. I’m not sure anymore whether he personably was involved, but certainly his influence was, and he was pretty rigid and inflexible about what kinds of controls the Manhattan Project would force on this laboratory. You must remember there wasn’t an AEC yet. Wheeler was in his late fifties and was happy where he was and more than most, he didn’t like restrictions. He just gradually talked himself out of doing it. I can still remember standing for an hour in a washroom while he would just talk; and I just watched him gradually talk himself out of it. Finally, he told me he wouldn’t do it.
Do you think the restrictions — potential security restrictions — were the main issue?
I don’t know that the security restrictions loomed as large in his mind as the business of financial and other kinds of rules. All the red tape and having to get approvals every time you turn around. Now actually, it didn’t turn out that way. I never knew Groves; I met him a time or two but I never knew him. As far as I can tell he was a pretty broad-minded guy. Although many of the people who were in the war-timer project will castigate him up one side and down the other, I think that the things they resented really came from lower down in the hierarchy. They were completely unused to this sort of thing. Industrial people didn’t resent it nearly as much as the academic. Well, the next man AUI went to was Milt White. He said no.
Were the reasons similar?
I don’t know. I didn’t know about it at the time. I didn’t know of any other before Morse. Sometime in the summer, after they had a charter and all the rest of it, then Bacher approached me again but with the idea that I would take a professorship at Cornell then be loaned to Brookhaven. That was the scheme that was expected to be a very important part of the senior posts at Brookhaven. By that time, there was a Board of Trustees which Bacher was on, but he had been chairman of the organizing committee for a time. Cornell was not one of the very first universities that met. The first meeting was in January. There was a letter written by Pegram to Groves in late January of ‘46. There was another group around Cambridge that was thinking of the same sort of thing. Groves answer to Pegram early in February was that he was interested, he’d arrange a meeting and Nichols and various others met with Rabi and Pegram and some others.
When this was originally to be at Columbia?
Yes, that’s right. They’d already had a meeting of fifteen or sixteen organizations that said they were interested in joint sponsorship. But the first thing Nichols said to them was “Now, there’s no use to talk to us unless you get together with the Cambridge group. We’re not going to fiddle with more than one.” So they had a meeting with the Cambridge group and there were six universities and a couple of industrial groups.
Bell Telephone and Standard Oil?
Yes, that’s right. They were certainly at the first meeting. I think they were at this one. Eager Murphery was from Standard Oil. I’m not sure who was the individual from Bell Labs, but Wilbur Kelly was then president and Jim Fisk was already an important guy there. The next official thing was that the nine universities got together and invited in Cornell and Hopkins. Some of the nine just didn’t make it to that February meeting. I don’t know which one it was. There was one meeting where Kistiakowsky was the invitee from Harvard and he didn’t make it and Harvard didn’t have anyone there. That might have been that meeting. Well then, the upshot of that was they wrote another letter to Groves proposing that [the facility] be operated by one of the university but have a committee or board representing these universities, perhaps other universities, and industry, and even the government. But Groves responded by saying that he preferred that more than one university be involved in the management. I’ve never seen any correspondence except maybe in one of their meetings. They couldn’t get a charter under the education laws of the State of New York for an organization in which a university was a member. That is, the universities could not themselves be members. Also it was very doubtful whether a couple of the universities could legally be members of any organization. So they concocted the scheme of an autonomous corporation that was sponsored by the universities. The corporation then was set up, chartered with five original trustees, Pegram, Rabi, Smythe, Brakeley and Bill Watson from Yale. They worked up bylaws in which the nine universities each nominate two trustees. But the trustees are elected by the Board; they are not representatives of their universities in any sense.
You weren’t involved in any of that?
No. That was before. But about the time they were getting to this stage, Bacher approached me again to come as a professor at Cornell. They had the idea that each interested department would have one or two or three extra people and that those who were interested, would come to Brookhaven and work. As a matter of fact, a few appointments were made that way. Lyle Borst was appointed as a professor at MIT but came to Brookhaven. A few people came on lease; Livingston was already at MIT but it was the same kind of arrangement. Leslie Nims came from Yale in the biology department in the same arrangement. Dick Dodson at Columbia and so on. But that just never worked. It didn’t work for two or three reasons. One, the departments at the universities just felt they couldn’t do this. They were taking too much of a chance on getting stuck with more staff than they could pay. And the second thing, of course, was that people just weren’t just ready to move for a year or two and go back with kids in school and all the rest of it. A thing that helped a lot though was of course the transportation improved so much. Remember in 1946 people didn’t ride airplanes very much and the flexibility for riding airplanes wasn’t so great and they were slower. A matter of fact, one criterion for choosing a site for Brookhaven was that it was supposed to be within an hour’s automobile trip from one of the New York City railroad stations. Of course, that’s trivial now. Fortunately for us LaGuardia [airport] has developed a lot, and of course Kennedy [airport] wasn’t even in existence then. Then we got the little airport at Islip and so on.
Was there any complication introduced that you’re aware of when negotiating began with the AEC rather with Groves and the Manhattan Project?
Well it went like this. A contract was worked up by the Manhattan Project, Manhattan district. It was offered to AUI sometime in the fall of ‘46. AUI had some comments and there was some back and forth but it finally got settled. About the time it was being settled the AEC actually got organized, sometime in the late fall of ‘46. But it did not take over the work until January 1, 1947 and Truman signed an Executive Order that transferred all the Manhattan district things to AEC. In, I think, December of ‘46 Groves or somebody gave this proposed contract to AEC for comment because they were going to take over. The AEC decided that it had to really look into it. They didn’t of course have any policies of their own yet and there was no precedent for this kind of a contract. There were some wartime contracts but not for a long range thing of this sort. So what they did was say they would like to rehash the whole thing and on something like the 7th of January, 1947 they simply gave [AUI] a letter contract. The actual definitive contract was argued over until the next December and finally was signed but retroactive to January 1. Well, the January 7th letter was retroactive to January 1, 1947. It was not much more than a letter of intent. The definitive contract was finally signed about December. The AEC had to get organized with its own contract people and get their own policies because clearly they had a lot more contracts than AUI, some a lot bigger and more important [like] the production contracts.
So that negotiation was still in effect when you came?
That’s right. Although I had no part in it.
Do you have a feeling that your experience with accelerators or your experience at the radiation lab at MIT bad more to do with the feeling that this was a position for you?
I expect the MIT work because it had to be something that I was familiar with technically.
Except that you hadn’t really worked on cyclotrons at that point.
No, that’s right. But I had certainly read all there was to know about cyclotrons and so on. They were working on a cyclotron here, as you know, a synchro-cyclotron. I was not sympathetic with that. I mean, the universities were getting it. Why let that be the key thing for Brookhaven?
That was the original seven hundred MEV proposed synchro-cyclotron?
Yes. Of course, when I came the reactors were under me too. I didn’t know a damn thing about reactors.
The reactor apparently was the first priority item.
That’s right. Well, you know, the universities had accelerators and the concept of going up to multi BEV was really not seriously thought of until sometime in ‘46. The first one, incidentally, to propose a multi BEV proton-synchrotron was Will Brobeck at the University of California at Berkeley. He first proposed it. I don’t remember whether it was a published paper or just a report but he conceptualized the ten BEV, now called GEV, proton synchrotron. Bacher approached me in the summer of ‘46, as I said to be a professor at Cornell and bridge into here. I visited Cornell and visited here and probably early August or mid-August of ‘46. By that time Phil Morse was the director. So he was involved. I interviewed the president of Cornell; they interviewed me and so on. It seemed to be all in order. And then it turned out that the custom in this physics department at Cornell was that they not appoint a person of that seniority without the unanimous approval of all the departmental tenure people.
All in that department?
Yes. Two of the people were away and beyond reach. I remember one of them was Hans Bethe. I can’t remember who the other one was. They just couldn’t do it until they got back. Hans was some place in Europe and they couldn’t find him. Well, I just couldn’t keep Wheeler dangling. I had to say yes or no. It was August and he was good natured about it of course. I went up to talk to him. He’d spend every summer at Martha’s Vineyard. But finally I just had to say yes [to him]. I think I probably would have come because I was always very attracted to Cornell. I don’t know that Brookhaven would have gotten me but the combination would have probably gotten me. So I said no [to Brookhaven] and I stayed at Illinois. Well, somewhat the same thing was going through at Princeton but didn’t get as far. This was [due to] Milt White. He sort of sponsored me on that but he’d never gotten serious to same extent. But then next late winter Morse is called me up and the question then was to my coming to Brookhaven alone. After a long period of hesitation, I finally decided to come.
In the same capacity as before except Cornell was out of the picture?
Yes. Well, a little different in that, as I recall it, when Cornell was talking to me it was just accelerators. I would have had the job that Livingston then took. But when I actually came in ‘47 I was the assistant director for projects. That didn’t make it any more attractive. In fact some ways less attractive. I couldn’t be as intimately concerned with accelerators. The first decision I had to be party to was there was a lot of argument, discussion about whether we needed those meteorological towers or not. They were to monitor the cooling air; reactor would have a lot of radioactive argon in it. A two hour half-life or something like that. But there was so much of it. [The towers] were there as part of the monitoring. We had asked to have a very local weather predictions and so forth. The first thing Morse asked me to do was to decide on that. Here were two fields I didn’t know very much about. But it became clear to me that it would not be prudent not to monitor. I don’t know whether in retrospect that I would now say that it was completely necessary or not. They’d been very useful. There were a lot of things we did that because of uncertainties we wouldn’t necessarily do now.
Was there a conscience recognition that the Association of Universities would compete with the Berkeley operation?
Oh, yes sure. Rabi for example was very conscious of it. Remember again that the purpose of this was really to give university people access to big facilities. Well, you know, Berkeley is a long way away. (Laughs) And to be frank, although they’ve been generous, there’s never been as much of an overt policy [to give access] at Berkeley as it is here.
I think when we stopped you had just arrived at Brookhaven with somewhat expanded responsibilities than those that had been proposed under the arrangement with Cornell. Perhaps we could start talking about the planning of the machines themselves at this point.
You’re talking now about the accelerator not the reactor?
Yes. Hadn’t Livingston originally planned a solid magnet cyclotron; that in discussion with Rabi and others this was modified very early?
Well, it was not that quick. First a few people worked on the ideas at least and I think did some experimental work on RF devices and so on up at MIT. For example Marty Potkin, who is still here in the accelerator group and one of the very early employees, was up there. Then they moved down here. By the time I got here, the first of August 1947, there was a group here working on it and other ideas. There was some work on cavities and so on, that is, experimental devices. There was discussion going on about higher energy accelerators. They hadn’t completely decided whether a higher energy accelerator would be for protons or be some kind of electron machine. That summer there had been a theoretical physics conference out on Shelter Island. I was pretty deeply immersed in all of it. A lot of people were there and several of them came to Brookhaven and stayed a little while after the conference. The two that I think of most vividly were Oppenheimer and Bob Marshack. We had many discussions with them. Serber was around, although he was still at Berkeley then. It was at a very crucial time in particle physics. Back in the 30s, the new meson had been discovered and people thought this was the Yukawa meson. Yet its lifetime and various other things just didn’t fit and it didn’t seem to be involved in strong forces and so forth. Marshack was the first one to talk about the idea that there might be two mesons. People had been anxious that their accelerators would create mesons pairs but they had been thinking about mu-mesons. Well this then raised the sights some, if Marshack was right. Very soon there was experimental evidence. But Marshack had postulated it before. Well, we then began to say well we’d like to make multiple pi-mesons. We didn’t call them pi. We were still talking about mesotrons then. They were pi-mesotrons then or pi-mesons. Then they became pions. They went through a double shift in names. Well, this would need more energy. Then, of course, there was the question of creating nucleons and it was as certain as anything could be that you had to create nucleon pairs. Then you had to worry about the relativistic effect and so forth. This required 5.6 Bev on a completely stationary target. Not taking any credit for the Fermi energy. These considerations were all in the air in ‘47. The Shelter Island Conference was ‘47. I didn’t come until ‘47 either. We were looking at two possible proton synchrotrons. One, about two and a half Bev and one about ten Bev. There were proponents of both. Livingston had his heart set on a cyclotron, although he was interested in the others. He didn’t say “let’s do this to the exclusion of the other,” but “let’s do this first”.
He was already well into the design?
That’s right. Some of us were rather cool to say the least to the cyclotron. From the beginning, Rabi certainly was. It still wasn’t known really what AEC was thinking about any of this.
Was this before or after it was clear that Columbia was going to build a synchrocyclotron?
Oh, I think by this time it was clear they were. And there were others: Chicago and Berkeley. You don’t start a new thing off by just being in the same league as what is already. Remember the slogan at Berkeley was “unique and necessary facilities”.
But it also said for investigation of nuclear forces. Did it say anything explicitly about pair production?
No. The concept of Brookhaven itself was that it was to do things that you couldn’t do in the traditional way in universities. Incidentally, a lot of people have gotten sort of confused in recent times and claim that people were saying that a lab like Brookhaven couldn’t be operated by a university. Of course it could. But you didn’t operate it as part of the regular campus. After all, California operated Los Alamos but not as part of the Berkeley campus. That was the point. The first proposal was that one of the universities — presumably Columbia — would operate it. Well, I was just by chance in a good position to discuss things with the Commission people because Bob Barker and I were very good friends. He was the first scientific commissioner. I knew Jim Fisk pretty well who was the director of research. At first even the biomedical stuff was under him. I’d known him from the war days just like I had Bob. So partly because it was my responsibility but partly because I knew them, I did most of the talking with them. Well, I didn’t try to prejudice them one way or the other. The AEC had twelve million dollars already appropriated for high energy accelerators with no specifics of what accelerators or where or anything else.
The AEC had requested that and it had come through?
Yes. The budgets were not nearly as stratified as they are now. They’ve become more and more stratified as time went by. Well, we, as an organization, had some pretty good ideas about how to build a proton synchrotron rather economically. Most of the new ideas came from John Gould. He had come from GE and there they had been working on the concept of an air core synchrotron, no iron at all. That would have been an electron synchrotron. It finally had to go simply on the grounds that if you got enough magnetic fields to be really useful and had such strains that you couldn’t hold the coils together. John adapted some of the ideas of that cross section of the coils would have been elliptical, so that there is more coming out of A & B than at D. John thought to make such a device but with an iron return path. Well pretty soon he found out that you really come close to this same thing by simply having a coil like A and another coil like B in back. Just a single return path, not an H but a C, it would be about as good just be shaping the iron around. Then it was even recognized that you could do this. Of course, this is now taller. In other words, you could do it so you could have access. This was the kind of concept we had.
And cut down the expense.
Yeah. I talked to Barker and asked about these ideas and I can remember Bob saying “Look, this is likely to be something we’re looking for.” One trip I made to Washington, Bob old me, “We have decided not to support the cyclotron.” I hadn’t in any sense tried to discourage them. Rabi might have, I don’t know. They just said that the ONR is providing the university cyclotron and we’d rather spend our money on something more front-running. So I came back. I lived next door to Phil Morris and went over that night and told him about it. He called Stan who lived in the same little town to come in the next morning. We sat in Morris’ living room. I told Stan there’s no go and he was of course disappointed. But he jumped in and we worked on the synchrotron. It was in October that they turned off the cyclotron. Berkeley was of course working on a concept of proton synchrotron. I guess, I decided hammered it down everybody else’s throat — that we ought not to try to do the ten Bev as a first attempt for a new laboratory.
That was before you went out to Berkeley?
There was quite a bit happening before we went to Berkeley. AEC people called a meeting. They asked representatives of Berkeley and representatives of Brookhaven to spend a day with the general advisory committee discussing this question. This meeting was within a month or two, one way or another, from Christmas. Stan and I went; I can’t remember whether John Good and Ken Green went along or not to that meeting. The four of us were the sort of the steering committee. Stan and I did the talking. From Berkeley there was Ed McMillan and Louis Alvarez and I think Bill Brobeck. Ernest [Lawrence] was not there. Ernest was a member of the committee and I think he deliberately absented himself from that session. Seaborg was in Europe. I don’t know if he’d have some if he’d been in the country or not.
This could have been January ‘48?
December ‘47 or January ‘48, one or the other. Well it turned out we each proposed a two and a half Bev proton synchrotron. Berkeley was proposing the conventional H shaped core. Well, it was pretty obvious that it really wasn’t right to build two accelerators of the same energy even though they were technically different. There was a lot of discussion whether one of them ought to have high enough energy to be above the 5.6 Bev nucleon pair thresholds. But we both were reluctant to do it for the reasons I’ve already said. Here we were new. Ken had built a cyclotron at Carnegie in Washington and John had been involved in the big betatron at G.E. I hadn’t done anything that approached this. There wasn’t anybody else that had. Anyway, we had no shop. We were just beginning to have shops. The Berkeley reluctance was partly because they were still in the throes of the two hundred and forty inch cyclotron so they didn’t want to either. It was thrashed around and argued about and so forth for a long time. Finally, in mid-afternoon, they came to a kind of consensus. Well, I guess we’ll just have to let you both build this size machine.
This was financially feasible? Twelve million dollars?
That’s right. As a matter of fact, we weren’t going to use it all according to our estimates.
What was your estimate?
Well, I think ours was three or four million. They all turned out to be too low of course. They always did in those days. Well anyway, there was a consensus. Oppenheimer sort of summarized it. One of Koppie’s best abilities was to summarize the results of a meeting or a series of meetings. He was just extremely good at it. That was the last item on their agenda so Oppenheimer said “Well, we’re adjourned.” And, everybody stood up. All of a sudden Enrico [Fermi] sat back down. He said “this doesn’t make any sense.” The subject was discussed again and it was finally decided that we should go back and think it through some more. The bee was sort of put on Berkeley that really after all, they were a going concern. They ought to take seriously the business of a big machine. At least six Bev. They went through a phase in which they proposed to make magnet blocks like this…
Like the H.
Like the H… but put them in a circle. It was only two and a half or three Bev which would, you see, give a tremendous relative aperture. You see, this was still the old betatron focusing days when your orbit amplitude are very large and the problem was how big this aperture have to be in terms of the circumference of the machine in order to confine the things properly.
They didn’t know.
They didn’t know. But if you reduced it by a factor of two at least, then that would be the same as making this magnet twice as big in its linear dimension, you see, for the six Bev. The proposal was to do that, and then once that had worked, they would tear it apart, add another equal number of magnets and put it on a bigger circle, as big a circle as they dared, and get to the higher energy. They made that, at least informally, as a proposal.
This was two months later?
Several weeks later.
How high did they estimate they could go this way?
They would build these to their best estimate with what was needed for six [Bev]. But they would put it then on a circle, say, half as big or something like 40%. This was discussed with AEC and with us and so on. Well, then they decided that to take a machine like that and build it, then tear it down, doesn’t make much sense. So they came back with another proposal. Of course this, remember, was iron like this and then there are what are called the pole pieces. Well, the next proposal then was to build all this but not put in the pole pieces. Then put some coils, 1, 2, 3, and 4. Had a great big vacuum chamber but on the larger circle. Now, that would have worked if anything would work but of course since they didn’t have the pole pieces, they couldn’t get up to the higher field. So it’d still be a two and a half or three [Bev] thing but obviously to modify it into the final machine would be much less drastic. Now the AEC had put it on the two laboratories to come up with a joint proposal. So the “going to Berkeley” that you’re apparently referring to was when Stan and I went out to Berkeley, and this to us made a lot of sense. At least it did to me. Stan by this time was enthusiastic but he was a little bit unhappy still with cyclotron. And Stan, as you probably know, was a bitter hater of Ernest. He always felt that he was done-in on the cyclotron.
Had he come over to C magnets at that point or not?
Oh, yeah. He bought the C magnet easy enough. He was right with us on that. I don’t want to give the impression that he wasn’t in favor of this. It was just he felt badly about losing the cyclotron. He wanted both I guess. I don’t mean to be critical of Stan in any sense. But he just wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as he otherwise might have been. He later became so. This looked to us like a good scheme so we said, “sure that sounds fine.” So we went to AEC jointly with Berkeley and by late April, the AEC had approved the two machines, had approved ours formally and I think theirs and the two went ahead. Berkeley proposed that they build a so-called quarter scale model, which would be scaled down by literally by a factor four over the six Bev machine. They would rush a head and build it. And, you see, it would be one Bev or so. And that indeed was done. They got the quarter scale model done about the time, as I remember that we began to inject protons into the cosmotron.
That was considerably later.
The winter of ‘51, ‘52. The fact that the quarter Scale model worked gave us a good deal of encouragement. The fact that we got a beam around the cosmotron once gave them a lot of encouragement and they put the pole pieces in to begin with.
Based upon your success?
Of the cosmotron. Now, they were slowed down a good deal by another project. It was a linear accelerator. They built it at Livermore with the idea of producing plutonium. A lot of their good people got diverted to that for a time. So the bevatron wasn’t finished until about 1954, whereas the cosmotron was finished in ‘52. That was a bigger project. They might have been a year behind us but no more than that, if it hadn’t been for the other machine.
You said that at the very beginning, you had a plan for two and a half Bev and a ten Bev machine?
Well, but I say before we even went to this meeting, we had decided to try to go to the two Bev. You see, the ten Bev was just too much.
Was there an equivalent high energy suggestion from Berkeley at the very beginning also?
No. Well, we made only one suggestion and they made only one suggestion. We had both studied the ten Bev but we were both kind of afraid of it. Now, we upped ours a little bit to three. It turned out to be 3.3 but our target energy was actually three.
Theirs was up a little bit too as I recall.
Well, the idea was they should be above 5.6 and they chose six. The difference between three and 3.3 was that we were able to go to a little higher field than we were afraid we could and still keep the focus. But we deliberately increased the radium to get from two and a half to three. Now, they both cost much more than they were supposed. I don’t really know how much the betatron cost. I remember we spent around five million.
What was the most critical aspect of the design of the cosmotron?
The magnet, because it was very weak focusing at best and if there were perturbations, you could get into harmonic oscillations and you could just lose the beam. We had to have a laminated magnet of course but the rise time was so slow that we could use centimeter and a half thick the lamination.
About six units to a packet?
I think nine or ten perhaps. Then the packets were so thick. We took several hundred of these packages and made very careful measurements of the field; the first derivative of the field spatially, the second derivative of the field spatially. And then we did the business of sorting them. That was one of Ernie’s major jobs at the moment. We placed them so that the harmonic effects would tend to cancel out and we took the field itself as the first order correction and then within a bundle of those we made second order corrections for the first derivative in the field and so on. By derivative I mean spatial derivative; the radial derivative, of course was what counted. Incidentally, the Russians did not do that at Dibna and they got in very serious trouble because this was their 10 Gev machine. Not only would there be differences between chunks of steel from one melt but they came from many melts in the steel factories. It didn’t even occur to them. So they had to put very complicated arrays of correcting coils on. But we had no difficulty. We later put a few correction coils on to just enable us to go up a little higher but that’s because of the fact we had the one site.
It would have been too much for them to take it down and do the sorts of studies that you did and then put it back together in a different way.
It was of course a much more massive thing. If you’re really using your entire aperture at these energies the radium of curvature must be proportional to the energy you want; which means then that the amount of iron goes up with the cube of the energy. So in principle, a ten Gev machine Would require twenty-seven times as much iron as a three Gev machine. So that that thing at Dubna is really massive.
If I recall from that design paper, the fine control that’s necessary for the field modulation and the accelerating frequency modulation was done by using the field itself to control the RF. Was that standard practice or was that an innovation?
Well, this was the first proton synchrotron to be finished so it had to be an innovation. The electron ones start off at relativistic energies.
That always impressed me as a particularly neat trick.
This was the problem that was most worried about in the first thinking about proton synchrotrons: you could not just use a constant frequency. And that meant you couldn’t use resonant cavities. Maybe you can change the shape of a cavity. But the RF was brute force with the use of ferrites.
There was another new thing, ferrite. Do you remember how that came about? Was that just a process of trial and error to try to determine what would work best?
No, it was a new material. Oh, again, I think probably Blewett came up with the idea of using it. Actually, we got from Phillips.
Livingston mentions that it was given to you or loaned to you. Was that correct?
No. I don’t think so. I don’t remember that. There may have been some samples.
Maybe for some tests. Because that’s a kind of interaction between this sort of basic research and industrial support that’s of interest. What were the technical problems of getting the cosmotron actually into operational stage? Were there very many?
There were certainly some engineering problems. For example, we had some bad difficulties with respect to the vacuum chamber.
It’s a big chamber.
That’s right. Incidentally of course, it was because of the vacuum chamber a major reason why we wanted to open [design]. The vacuum chamber was made actually in quadrants and then just slid into the magnet. The cosmotron had four straight sections and the curved part of the vacuum chamber was in four pieces.
There was one section per ninety degree turn?
Yes, that’s right. Now, if I could jump ahead and I said there was an interesting thing about CERN. This was part of the business of the discovery of strong focusing. It’s a very interesting little story. Livingston went back to MIT in the fall of ‘48. He never quite got over the cyclotron business I guess. By that time, I was director; I became director in the summer of ‘48. I got Milt White to come on a part time basis. He commuted back and forth between here and Princeton; a week as a time or occasionally a half a week at a time for about a year and a half. Then he just got worn out understandably. He dropped out and I got George Conch to come from Rochester. George stayed here the rest of the time until he was retired.
Blewett stayed, right?
Blewett stayed and Green stayed. They’re still here. They’re on post-retirement appointments now. In the summer of ‘52, the cosmotron was working and CERN had begun to get organized. They sent a team here to spend a few weeks while they were trying to decide what they were going to build. By this time, of course, we were beginning to be interested in a larger machine. Nobody saw anyway of doing anything except just scaling up a cosmotron, betatron, whatever.
Increasing the iron…
That’s right. By the cube of the energy. We both figured that they just got beyond any sense beyond about fifteen Bev.
“We both” means who?
CERN and myself. This was, you see, in principle one hundred and twenty-five times the cosmotron. The cosmotron weighed two thousand tons. Now we could see ways to trim it down some because of safety factors that we no longer needed. These were such big stakes financially that anyway you could cut down even a percent [meant saving] a lot of money. So there were all sorts of schemes to see how we might use a little bit smaller aperture or go to a little bit higher field and so forth. One thing though was obvious: if you tried to build a machine five times the size of the cosmotron and have a quadrant for a vacuum chamber, you’d have a horrendous vacuum chamber. It was pretty obvious that you’d have to divide the thing into more than four sections. We talked about eight and we talked about sixteen. Stan came down for the summer or at least for the duration of the time that the CERN people were here. A lot of people came in the summer.
This wasn’t part of his design of the Cambridge machine, was it?
No, no. This was prior to that, quite a bit prior. I don’t mean that he might not have been thinking about it but there was no serious project on that. The magnet was shaped like [see following illustration] because you wanted a stronger field here [A] than you did out here [B]. You wanted the field to spread out like that. Of course what would ultimately happen would be that you’d get saturation in the iron, and the field would get more and more gradient to it. Stan wondered what would happen if you alternated the return yolk; put the iron in here on half of them.
Turn the whole thing around on the others.
Because the effects of saturation would be the opposite, you see. What Stan hoped, of course, was that the effect would average out. So he asked Ernie to calculate it. Ernie did and… but empirically, just went through a calculation and to his amazement found out it would not only work, it’d be better. So he tried it. I think he tried it first with eight sections, then he tried it with sixteen and that was still better. After a while, he did it with a recursion formula and found out the more sections the better. Then, of course, he was having discussions with people and there was a sudden realization — and there’s still argument about who was the first to realize it — that it was really a fundamental theorem and that it was really a basic thing. But it was within a course of a very few days. Stan and Ernie and Arthur Schneider were all in on this. It was then realized that this was a real way to look at it. Now there was a time when there was over-optimism. Stan, for example at one point said, “Oh, you can build a snake-like thing and make them go anyway you want them to.” That’s of course nonsense. There were times it was hoped that you could, on this kind of scale, use a fixed magnet to do this. You can make fixed magnet things as indeed the (Merrill) people later did. But there are a lot of handicaps to it. Well, it then was easy to see that this was the way we ought to go. I set up a special group to pursue this. Meanwhile, John Blewett had seen the implications with respect to focusing of an ordinary beam going into a straight line by quadrants... I mean, by quadruple magnets and then very quickly after that saw the implications for LINAC. And of course it was that Louie Alvarez picked up and solved the problem for him and his proton LINAC by putting strong focusing elec-static electrodes in that. He sent me a telegram which is sort of an historic document. It was the first time the strong focusing actually been applied to a beam.
There hadn’t been any kind of pilot test even on the simple C magnets?
No. Louie did it very quickly with his LINAC. At least I’m not aware or I don’t think I was aware of any. I’m not talking about the quadruple, straight line type of thing. Whether there had been any on an orbital device, I don’t remember at the moment. Blewett and Courant and three or four others were set up as a little group to start pursuing this. We had a terrible time getting Ken Green to come over to that group. He was so in love with the cosmotron, but we finally did. Of course, the CERN people went back and pursued it. Then one of their men, the head of the project, very quickly realized that there were some real problems of harmonic oscillations that one had to worry about. So the thing became a much more ticklish job than was originally believed. You had to be in just the right little sector of a phase diagram and so forth to avoid first, second, and the lower harmonics. Oscillations can be brought about because of irregularities in the magnets or because of the phase oscillations coupled with the orbital oscillations and all that sort of thing. Arthur Schneider and Ernie Courant steered us through all that. There was a time of a few weeks from the CERN people decided that it was probably not practical to build a machine of this sort. So there was a great deal of not only the ordinary kind of cooperation but of actual very basic ideas being exchanged between the two laboratories. They picked up this idea here, and we learned from them to be afraid of the harmonic oscillations, and they learned from us that there were ways around it and so on.
When was the magnet design change as radically as it was; going from a C to this E?
There was no point in the C. Remember that this was eight feet tall. If it’d been a fifteen Gev machine, it’d have been forty feet tall. An enormous thing. The cross section of the actual AGS magnets is [small]. It’s a circumference of half a mile. The magnets are only a few feet long so you don’t have to some in from the side like that. The H magnet is the right kind for this. Of course you can go to higher field because of the symmetry. [We] never considered using any C type.
That was limited by the necessity to maintain a reasonable sized chamber for the beam? I think Livingston said that in principle you could carry this to arbitrary levels, that you could focus to any extent you wanted to, and that the requirement was set by keeping the poles from being sufficiently pointed that you reduced your useful beam diameter to an infinitesimal cross section.
Oh, maybe so. But I will guess you would have one hell of a time avoiding the difficulties of harmonic oscillations and so forth if you tried to do that sort of thing. I don’t know. Ask Ernie Courant that question.
Could we come back for just a minute to how you decide the energy level at which you want to go. If I recall correctly, the statements, certainly for the cosmotron and I guess also for the AGS, were all couched in terms of support for investigation of nuclear forces rather than for the investigation and production of sub-nuclear particles. I’m wondering about whether you can draw distinctions between nuclear physics and particle physics.
No, no. If you mean by “nuclear physics” the physics of compound nuclei, it was not true in either case. It was all particle physics.
There were criteria that were used to set the energies.
So. In general this was not true of the Cosmotron Bevatron decisions. What you really try to do is build as high energy a machine as you can get money for. That’s theorem number one. (Laughs) Well, I mean, include you own conscience as a citizen you have to think about that too. As much as makes economic sense in the view of yourself and of the people that provide the money. Now, what are the criteria that decide that? That’s a much more difficult question. In the case of Cosmotron our lower limit was that we wanted to be able to make several mesons in one event, meson pairs pi-meson pairs. Pi-mesotron pairs. (Laughs) Hopefully more than that. Well, that already got us up somewhere between one and two Gev. You had to have enough energy in the center mass system to make a pair. The bevatron was definitely fixed by the nucleon pair energy and of course it produced nucleon pairs. The Nobel Prize for Segre and Company: actually (laughs) the GAC ought to have won the Nobel Prize for that. Because once the machine was built it was fairly easy to do the experiment. For the AGS, we had a long travail about how far should we try to go on that one?
That’s really the cutting point. Where do you fix that limit?
Well, I fixed it arbitrarily trying to balance. Some people wanted to go as high as a hundred Gev. Well, that would have been nice. But after all, we were embarking on an unknown technique. There was a question of how long it would take and that isn’t inconsiderable, you know. There were some that wanted to top off at ten or fifteen. This, incidentally, was before we know about the machine at Dubna which was ten. They didn’t reveal until the first Atoms for Peace Conference, I guess somewhere in ‘55, that they were doing that. The question of cost obviously entered and an important thing was that the ABC had some money, or had the potentiality of have some money. That particular year and only that year as far as I know they appropriation act had a line in it. A single sentence that said “regardless of any other provisions of this act, money can be transferred from one pocket to another to build a high energy accelerator.” This was probably the fiscal ‘55, maybe fiscal ‘54. Now it’s very interesting how that came about. I never saw it written down; I never heard the principles say it but it’s the story that I was told by people who ought to know. Yale University wanted an accelerator and wanted it very badly. Uyan Thrip who was then the president of Pan-American, the Mr. Pan-American and a very, very sort of influential guy in all kinds of circles, went to Senator Robert Taft, who was himself on the Board at Yale and who was the minority leader in the Senate. The senior Bob Taft had just a couple of years before been beaten out by Eisenhower for the Presidential nomination and was a member of the board of Yale. He was a Yale law graduate himself, probably a Yale undergraduate. Taft used his influence to get this sentence in the appropriation act. He did not endeavor to get Yale an accelerator but he endeavored to fix it so that there wouldn’t be any blockage if it was decided by AEC that Yale ought to have the accelerator. Money would be available.
This is despite the fact that Yale was involved here in AUI.
That’s right. Now, these accelerators were not in competition. That was quite a different energy range they were talking about. All things, of course, in the government are in competition for funds but they were not scientifically in competition.
Was there a design?
Yes, there was a proposal. They ultimately got one. But this meant that AEC, if it wished, could use other funds to do the initial financing of the AGS which is what they did. We were anxious, of course, to get started. We didn’t want to overshoot. The presentation I made in the formal written proposal, I made use of the following thing, which I was not kidding about. It seems a little naive if you plotted cost against energy it go something like that. We now know that it would be more linear than that because we now know more about how well we can combine the particles. But we felt that the larger we went in energy and therefore in circumference, the larger the aperture we’d have to have. Beyond a given point, this probably isn’t so, but we thought it would [go like this].
That’s a parabola?
Oh, something like that. But we made calculations of various energies. Well, if you draw that line, that’s dollars per electron volt, because this is energy and that’s dollars and the minimum was right there.
About 30 Gev. Now, (laughs) I say it was a naive sort of thing but it was one facet. There’d been a lot of discussion with AEC but the formal proposal on this was one seven-page letter. You know, now it’s a whole book, in fact several books. That wasn’t the first; there’ve been many discussions and communications. But, I still remember a lot of fun I had over this. Each year I’d give what I called, the “state of the laboratory” speech to the staff just before Christmas. On the morning that I was to give it that year, 1954, a letter came giving formal approval. Well, I had decided that this year I was going to talk about how Brookhaven had now arrived and was sort of settled down. I talked about how we’d grown rapidly and got a lot of new things and so forth and now we had to settle down and really get some work done. Then, I said “Now I’m going to tell you that all that I’ve been saying isn’t true at all.” And I told them we got the approval for this. (Laughs) Some people like George Cotches for example, still remember that.
So that was 30 Gev?
I think actually we proposed twenty five and again later upped it some. Yeah, we didn’t have to increase the size but we found that we could go a little higher in the field than we thought we could. It turned out to be thirty. Well, it turned out to be thirty-three actually.
And the cost?
Well, we proposed a little bit analogously to the Berkeley Bevatron except in a different sense. There was a sort of a limit to how much the AEC thought they could promise. It was not appropriated in one year. Se we proposed that we start off by building the file magnets but that we not provide all the RF and particularly we not provide as much experimental space as we had really visualized. We were open and above-board about this. And that we would then later come back for more funds to increase it. Our original proposal was twenty million dollars, expecting to come back for about seven more. Before we got more than a year down the road we saw that to do it in two steps was going to increase the cost a lot. The AEC was apparently a little more affluent, or thought they were going to be. So it was a mutual agreement we do it all at once. So we did do the whole RF. We did even a little more experimental space we’d originally proposed with AEC’s approval of course. We ended up with a cost of thirty-one million. So we went up about a little more than ten percent but we bought more than was originally planned.
Was this a single target arrangement or was there some kind of a beam switch?
Oh, there is now all kinds of beam switching.
But there wasn’t any at the time?
The original machine was to include one so-called beam line. The cost of the original machine [included] the magnets and what-have-you for one external beam. Now, there is any number. And incidentally, the original one was going to make much more use of internal targets and external secondary’s rather than external beams. But now there’s very little internal target work as I understand it. In fact, they are all ejected beams.
And was the original design to include the linear accelerator injector?
There was a fifty Mev linear accelerator injector beginning in the mid-sixties. I don’t remember the exact date because I wasn’t here. They had a so-called AGS, a modification in the improvement program. They replaced the fifty Mev injector with a two hundred Mev injector. The point being that with the high energies, they could get more particles captured.
This is still linear?
Still linear. But you see it would be a higher field, four times as high a field at injection. That modification incidentally cost much more than the original machine did.
In real dollars?
It was forty-eight compared to thirty; maybe comparable in real dollars. And Johnson wanted to lower taxes instead of raising them.
I’ve always wondered about the linear accelerator injector. Had anybody been working on linear accelerators here?
Well no, but proton linear accelerators became feasible with strong focusing. It just wouldn’t have been feasible before that. The only way you could prevent defocusing was with grids which cut down the intensity. And again, it was John Blewett. Other than for orbit theory and the strong focusing and so forth, John Blewett has been the source of more accelerator ideas than anybody; than all the others at Brookhaven put together I guess.
You think all the others anywhere or all the others here?
When did the AGS first work?
Final energy in summer, early fall of 1960. It wasn’t seriously doing experiments until perhaps early ‘61.
It was at that point that you left to go to Washington?
I left in April of ‘61. Now, we went through a model too. We built an electron model of the AGS. That was the only technical contribution I made. We were going to have an electron model and it was very, very difficult and I said “Why don’t we do it electro-statically.” With some reshaped electro-static electrons you can get exactly the same field. It turned out to be, of course, much easier. It was built up in a shack behind the Cosmotron.
That was after approval?
After approval. It was, incidentally, not foreseen in the original request and it cost us a half a million dollars.
How big was that?
Oh, twenty or thirty feet across. It only went up to an Mev or so.
Well, that about covers most everything that I was interested in in Brookhaven.
You’re not interested at all in the reactor side?
Why don’t you just say what you think is important.
Well, I don’t know that there is a whole lot. The worst stumble we made at Brookhaven was over a reactor, the first reactor. None of the principal [physicists] in the conceptualizing and organizing Brookhaven had any experience of this sort at all. In order to get started, Lyle Borst was brought here with a dual appointment at MIT and here. The Manhattan Project people had the concept of having an industrial organization do a turnkey job for the laboratory. You just hired a great big organization, tell them to build a lab, and then take the scientists by the hand and leave them there. A sub-subsidiary of Kelex by the name of Delnar Corporation was set up to do this. They undertook among other things to build a reactor; but with guidance, conceptual ideas, and even a design in broad strokes by the Brookhaven staff. And Lyle had an organization with some very good people in it to do this. Then when AEC came along, and all this was before my time so I’m not sure of the exact details, but AUI managed to convince AEC to let AUI have the contract for the reactor. The Delnar Corporation withdrew; in fact I think it probably died out. It certainly died out since and I think it did at that time. But the S.K. Ferguson Company which was a conventional construction organization, a very large one with activities all over the country, simply took body and soul the group of engineers that had been working for Delnar on this project. The Ferguson people would do the construction. I think that Delnar had expected to engineer it, but I think probably going to subcontract the conventional construction. They just went ahead. The ground was broken the very first week I was here. I can date it very well. I can still remember Lyle Borst running a big steam shovel up on the hill where the reactor is and breaking ground. It was the 7th of August 1947. There had been very bad judgments about cost. They were even so optimistic at first — I’m sure this wasn’t taken seriously — but they had a phrase like “Hanford Flux for a Million Bucks’” But I think the first serious thought they had was they would be spending four or five million dollars. About the time I got there, Ferguson made his first estimate and it was twelve million dollars. With the inclusion of a “hot” chemistry laboratory, which was in the Brookhaven thinking but not in the Ferguson estimate, it turned out to be about twenty-five million. It went ahead very rapidly. People were then still geared for the wartime speed. But as it was being finished, some of us got a bit nervous about the thing. I can remember having a discussion, for example, with Zacharias who was then one of the trustees. The result of some of these conversations, I decided we better have an outside group of competent engineers look at it and see whether it was really alright. I had meantime discovered soon after I came that Brookhaven for some reason or another didn’t have a single mechanical engineer on its staff. It had electrical engineers but no mechanical engineers. Just Dave Jacobus was the first experienced mechanical engineer. I had known him at MIT during the war and I brought him here, actually to work on the Cosmotron; but for the reasons I’m just about to come to, signed him to the reactor. I got a committee then which was chaired by Gus Kenzel who was then the vice president for R & D of Union Carbide and who had been very involved in Union Carbide’s activities during the war at Oak Ridge and other places. Well, they soon found that there were some very serious problems. And I can exemplify them best by saying the following I guess. If you have a structure that’s going to have temperature fluctuations and it’s supposed to stay put, not break or whatever, there are two ways you can do it. You can make it so strong that it stays put and doesn’t break, or you can make it so flexible that it will accommodate itself Well, what they’d done was go precisely in the middle. There were two focal points for this. One was the steel framework that held the reactor proper. This was a natural uranium, graphite moderated, air-cooled reactor. An enormous thing and there was real danger that this whole structure that was holding the graphite and the uranium would buckle and crack. They had cooling ducts, which were sheet steel that were the size of a hallway in a building. They just rigidly fastened these to a rigid framework with some studs. These people said “well, you’re in for trouble.” We actually made some hot air and these things just popped all over the place in the ducts. So, Gus Kienzel recommended that we turn for remedial help to the Babcock and Wilcox Company, who were one of the makers of power plants, particularly the boilers. They don’t make the generators of course; GE and Westinghouse and Chalmers do that, but they make the heat part of it.
These problems hadn’t been confronted before in other reactors?
Just not confronted. There was only one reactor much like this, as far as I know, in existence. If they had, nobody faced it. And, well Babcock and Wilcox were very accommodating and jumped in and fixed it. But we lost a year. Still, it took only three years to have it operating. We could no more do that now than you could fly. Once it was done and done right, why it was fine. It never gave you any trouble and was used until 1968, something like that. Meanwhile in the late ‘50’s or starting in ‘56 or ‘57 maybe, we came along with a design for a much higher flux, smaller, water-cooled reactor which we still have. And still is the best reactor for neutron beams in this country. It’s been surpassed by the Grenoble reactor which was modeled after it actually. It was just going into the construction phase, when I left in ‘61. It took quite a while to get funds for it. They were given to us probably about ‘59. It went into use in probably ‘62, ‘63 along there.
When was serious effort put into the biology program here?
Well, more or less in the beginning, with several different sort of eras. Of course, the use of radio isotopes and so forth was thought of as a very important thing.
There had been some experience during the war with that.
Yes. But we felt a very strong responsibility for being a sort of a school for the life scientists and the chemists to teach them the tricks of using nuclear tools. Much more so than the physicists. We deliberately had quite a variegated group of biologists. Not try to be real strong in on or two things to the exclusion of everything else but to have some competence more or less across the board, so that people could come here, learn the techniques, and then take them home. Well, of course, after several years, this began to be accomplished and young biologists learned their nuclear techniques from people right at home. So then there was a phase in which it did sort of focus around a few things but they were pretty much in the nuclear realm. They had to be or the AEC couldn’t support them. There was a great deal on the radiation effects on plants. We had what was called the gamma field where there was a very high level source put at the center of the field. It could be lowered down into ground and taken up.
You see pictures of that with a circle, dead trees around it.
The dead tree one was later on. There was a gamma field and then later there was a gamma forest. The gamma field was the project of Ralph Singleton and Arnold Sparrow. Singleton had a sort of an agricultural background and Sparrow was interested in genetics. The gamma forest was by George Woodwell, an ecologist. Sparrow was interested in mutations and things of that sort as well as just the straight destructive effect. Woodward was more interested in just the straight destructive effects of all kinds of stresses, be they radiation or lack of water or change of temperature or what have you. Then, there were a lot of different activities. I expect there was greater concentration in the plant field than anywhere else. There was Sparrow and Singleton left though quite a long time ago. There still is Harold Smith. In the last decade there began to be much more molecular biology and biochemistry of the sort that’s done in universities. One of the most unusual things in the biology department is due to a physicist by the name of Schombrin who has gotten deeply involved in using neutrons to study structures. A bit advantage of neutrons is that x-rays are scattered in proportion to the mass of the nucleus doing the scattering. Therefore if any involved structure has anything at all heavy, even carbon, you don’t even see the hydrogen. Whereas in neutron diffraction the hydrogen is a fairly strong scatterer. You see the effects of the hydrogen as well. There are other advantages too. By combining neutron and x-ray diffraction, they are apparently able to learn about the structures of complicated proteins that can’t be done any other way. This is something we’ve talked about since the beginning but it turned out that the old reactor really didn’t have strong enough intensity.
What about general attitudes about continued level of funding? Clearly there were always limits and one always knew that. But I’ve heard other people, for example, Panofsky, say that in this period of time there wasn’t really much feeling that there were going to be limits to how much money was going into projects such as this.
You’re talking in general now about Brookhaven?
In the context of Brookhaven.
I think there was not much reason to worry in the ‘50s. And if there was it was immediately removed by Sputnik of course. But what an awful lot of people don’t realize about an awful lot of social phenomena as well as other phenomena is that if you go up a hill and then down the other side, you aren’t necessarily any worst off then you were before you went up the hill. People begin to believe very often that something that’s transient phenomenon is a permanent phenomenon. The baby boom after the war, for example. It’s amazing how many people thought the birth rate would continue like that. Well of course, there was a very strong reason why there were a lot of babies after the war. (Laughs) There hadn’t been any babies during the war or during the depression. And, a lot of people don’t believe me when I say I didn’t know anybody in the 1930s of my age, you know, the younger people, who had as many as three children. You just couldn’t afford it. Of course, they didn’t do it during the war because the men were away. So it was inevitable that there’d be a lot of children in the decade after the war. But everybody believed that. So they talked about the declining birth rate. Well, it was a recovery. And the same thing was true with Sputnik. Well, qualitatively not quantitatively. After the war of course funding of science by the government went [up and began to saturate]. Then Sputnik came along and it [went up even faster]. They seemed to think that it was going to keep on like that. Of course, it wasn’t. It’s certainly way above here now. But there were some specific things. The Vietnamese war had a lot to do with it and in two ways. One, of course, the guns did go and the butter couldn’t all keep on. But it was a very specific reason too. That is that Mr. Johnson became very, very irritated at academia because of the criticism of the war. There is just no question in my mind that science suffered from his individual, personal attitude.
In ‘61 when you were appointed to the Atomic Energy Commission, was it clear that the level of funding was beginning to saturate?
No, it was still post-Sputnik. I don’t know when the post-Sputnik saturation would have set in had Vietnam not come along and Johnson’s attitude and so forth. But of course it was bound to slow down. But it slowed down I’m sure much more because of the particular thing. Well, for example, we got SLAC through — which was by far the biggest in dollars of any accelerator up to that time — AGS which was thirty-five million. It’d been in for a long time. It’d been before Congress for a while. Some of the Congressmen got concerned about Ed Gintzen’s role in it. Ed, as you know, had this business of Varian Associates.
Do you think that was the major reason that there was a resistance?
Oh, it had a lot to do with it, no question. But we got it through the first year I was on the Commission. I had testified for it a couple of times before. Beginning about 1950 there was a committee. It had somewhat the role of HEPAP but not quite as broad a role. Do you know what I mean by HEPAP?
No. You’d better tell me about that.
“High Energy Physics Advisory Panel.” Vicky Weisskopf was chairman for several years. It’s advisory to the head of the physical sciences division of AEC and makes recommendations about high energy machines and things of that sort. Well, in the 1950s there was a committee that was more specifically advisory on the business of accelerators as distinguished from the whole high energy program. It was advisory to all agencies who were involved in high energy physics which meant, of course, primarily AEC, secondarily ONR. Actually ONR was more involved than NSF in those days. AEC, ONR, NSF, the Air Force equivalent of ONR and that’s about it. It was administered by the physics section of NSF. But of course most of our recommendations went to AEC. Bob Bacher was chairman of it in the first half of the ‘60s and I was in the latter half of the ‘60s. In 1958 after the Sputnik event, Jim Killian had become science advisor. He and PSAC set up a program in which they asked this advisory committee to come up with proposals for a high energy accelerator program from the standpoint of the scientific needs and the technical feasibility with some relationship to cost and so forth. Then this was to be passed on to another group which was a panel or committee representing PSAC and GAC. The PSAC members were Hans Bethe and Manny Piore. The GAC members were Ed McMillan and Jessie Beams who was not a high energy physicist but a physicist. And then Jim asked me to be on this. Piore was the chairman. And that’s what you hear referred to as — Manny probably talked to you about it — as the Piore panel.
That evaluated SLAC?
There were to first evaluate the whole program. The Piore panel was supposed to come with a national policy, not to set the police but to propose a national policy for high energy physics. And of course that happens in high energy physics eventuates from how it happens about accelerators. So we made a lot of general proposals. That was in ‘58. Then in ‘59, we were called back to specifically look at what became SLAC. We endorsed it. We had recommended it before but this was then a moot question. We recommended strongly that it be built and we recommended that the Defense Department fund it. Our reasons were several. One, we felt it was good if the Defense Department did really become involved in the high energy business. Two, if they were going to be involved obviously this accelerator was the one because the klystrons and the high powered RF was something of vital interest to the Defense Department in all kinds of ways. The people in ONR and the Air Force Office were all for it. We got it up to Don Quarles, of whom you’ve probably never heard. He was the deputy or vice president of Bell Labs through the ‘50s. He was again someone I’d known during the war because some of our radar sets were built by Bell Labs. Then when Sandia was set up, it was set up by the AT&T organization; sort of by Western Electric and Bell Labs working together, it was set up as a subsidiary of theirs and Don was made president of Sandia. He was then brought in the government during the middle years of the Eisenhower administration. The equivalent of the job that Harold Brown had, the DDR&E—the director of defense, research and engineering. It was not called that then. He became secretary of the Air Force, then he was deputy secretary of defense and had been appointed and approved by the Senate to be secretary of defense when he died suddenly of a heart attack. Well anyway, he was at this time in that DDR&E job, I guess. He was the one who was going to decide SLAC. We just couldn’t quite convince Don to do it. He was all for the project but he just didn’t quite think the Defense Department ought to do it. Well, AEC later endorsed it. I’m not quite sure at what stage… along in there I did testify before the Joint Committee a couple of times on it but I don’t quite remember what years. It was at that time that the question of Ed Gintzen came up. Clinton Anderson was one of the ones that were the most [concerned]. It was a little strange because there were some things that Clint had done that were not too…
Well, Gintzen removed himself, didn’t he? Panofsky took over.
Oh, yes. He removed himself but they didn’t buy it right away. Well, we managed to convince them that year. I’ve forgotten whether it was the first year or the second year I was there. But that was a lot of money in those days, still is. Incidentally, he did it with the money just as Bob Wilson did with his job. By that time, people were going to put in escalation. Well, I shouldn’t say that. We know enough but they wouldn’t let us. It was a curious thing; the government had a sudden reversal on that. They wouldn’t let you put in escalation for a long time and then all of a sudden they forced you to. Their fingers got burned, I guess. Most people weren’t willing to but it was a long time verboten thing. I think probably the success things like the nuclear submarine and particularly the Polaris missile. Red Rayburn did a very good job of laying that down and taking account of all these ins and outs and so forth. The government learned a lot from that.
In ‘63 you agreed to take over the National Science Foundation?
What were your feelings about doing that? There were real problems with the National Science Foundation. (Laughs)
Oh, I didn’t want to do it to be perfectly frank. Not because of the problems but because I was very happy and having a lot of fun and I thought doing important things with the Commission. I squirmed around as much as I could. Finally though I had to tell Jerry Wiesner that I would do whatever Kennedy wanted me to. So we met with Kennedy in the Oval Office early one morning, Kennedy in his rocking chair. He said “Well, there’s only one director of the National Science Foundation and there are five commissioners, I think. I think we can get along without one of them.” (Laughs) So I went on and took over the Foundation. There was nothing else to do but go. It turned out that from the standpoint of what I was interested in, it was a good time to go. Two things that I had been deeply involved in at the Commission had come to a culmination. One, I had been the commission ball-carrier in all the inter-governmental and even some of the national activities that led to the nuclear test ban. I had been a very strong advocate of the limited test ban. This is one I’ll be a little bit egotistical about. I had a lot to do with the fact that there ever was one. The other was more a spot ting, just when we started our authorization hearings before the Joint Committee, Kennedy asked the Commission to do a study of nuclear power and the prospects for nuclear power. I was assigned the job of doing this. Well, I sort of volunteered, in a sense. I spent a great deal of my time in the next six months on that. I got very interested in it. Although we hadn’t had an awful lot to do with it, it was a matter of very great interest to me for the reasons that we were talking about at noon. I had been very concerned for a long time about the diminishing resources for energy. Up to that time all the pro-nuclear power arguments had been economic ones. It would be cheaper. Some people back in the ‘40s were foolish enough to say that it’d be so cheap you wouldn’t even monitor it, wouldn’t even meter it, which is nonsense of course. Because the fuel is only part of the cost. To me the economics were important but only for the other reason we were talking about; if it wasn’t cheap, people wouldn’t use it. The government wasn’t going to do it. It was the marketing business that would decide it. The government had to be concerned with it; not to make something a little cheaper. You could do that with automobiles. But to do something about the fact we would ultimately run out of fossil fuels. The report that I wrote really pitched at that level. Well, I got that finished in November of ‘62. The call from Khrushchev to Kennedy about the test ban, that he would accept the idea of a limited ban came early in ‘63. These two things happened about the time that Jerry Wiesner broached the same question of going to NSF. Had I still been involved in those, it would have been very difficult for me to have left. As it was, I really didn’t want to go but it didn’t matter too much. I was really thinking more than of my personal affairs. My wife had died in February and I went to Washington in April of 1961. I wouldn’t have been able to go. She’d been an invalid for a long time and I doubt that anybody would even raise the question. In the winter of ‘62, ‘63, Jerry Wiesner’s secretary and I got interested in each other and we were married the next May and that’s my present wife. So during that winter when this whole question of NSF was coming up, my real interest was in my approaching marriage. Incidentally, she knows a lot more about what went on in Washington that I ever did. She was in the government from 1941, just after Pearl Harbor until 1954. First in the Defense Department. She was secretary to the chief of the chemical corps for many many years. Had some interesting experiences. Her last boss in the chemical corps was Tony McCauloff who was the one that said “nuts” to the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge. Very fine guy, by the way. But then at his suggestion, she applied for overseas service at SHAPE when NATO military arms were being set up. She was one of the first girls to go there and was in the Eisenhower-Gunther office for four years. She came back for a while; then she went to Japan and worked in the Far Eastern Command as a civilian for two or three or four years. In the meantime, she got to know Das Starboard who is presently the assistant to the administrator of ERDA for national security but who was asked by somebody to organize the science advisors office just after Sputnik, when Killian first went there. Starboard suggested that they bring Irene back there from Tokyo to be Killian’s secretary. She was secretary to Killian and then Kistiakowsky and then to Wiesner and for a little while to Don Homing so she was right in the swim. Well, that’s an aside I shouldn’t have brought it in, I guess.
So what major problems did you see at the NSF when you took that on.
I didn’t know very much about NSF to be perfectly honest. Those of us that were in the nuclear business didn’t really get involved much with NSF. I knew about it in two senses, two ways. One, because I’d been on, and then chairman of, this committee that I spoke of, the accelerator committee. But that let me see only a little bit of it. Then, I was a sideline observer to the beginnings of Greenbank. In the fall of 1960, Lloyd Berkner was president of AUI. He came in January 1951 and was president until the fall of 1960 when he resigned to go down to Texas and set up the graduate institute. The trustees asked me to do double duty and be the president of AUI as well as director. And I was president not acting president. I said I would not promise to continue for more than six or eight months. Well, this was just when the one hundred forty foot radio telescope was in its most horrendous state. So I had the job of trying to get that on the right track, although the major steps were taken after I left. I did do enough to get it sort of stirred up.
When did Maxwell Small come on the scene?
Several months later after I left. Berkner tried to get by on too small a budget. Berkner was a great man. I really mean that. But he was great for ideas and for suggestions and as an advisor but when it came to operating something, he was hopeless. He made two bad mistakes. One was to try to do this job in Greenbank by managing it from New York with a minimum staff, not getting the people on the observatory staff to do it. Then he very badly underestimated the budget. When bids came in, he tried to do it on a half a shoestring; not even a shoestring. They accepted a bid when the guy who was going to be project engineer was telling his own management he couldn’t do it for what they bid. So he got in very serious trouble. Then there was this question of the brittle fracture of iron and so forth.
Which was written in the bid, right? That was part of the contract.
Yes. What I did was to manage to get that called off. We just weren’t going to continue with that. Through the good efforts of Ted Reynolds who had been the original chairman of the board of AUT, who is the financial vice president of Harvard and who had very good contacts at Stone Webster, Ted got Stone Webster to agree to make a real study of the thing and see what we ought to do. So I had to do this in the face of the fact that Alan Waterman at NSF had had an advisory committee chaired by the same Gus Gensel that advised us on the reactor and add on it Bruce Rule from Cal Tech who had designed the two big telescopes out there. Somewhat against the better judgment of Bruce Rule, that committee decided that maybe they ought to let them go ahead with this device that we were all so worried about. I had to convince the NSF people not to do that in spite of the fact that this advisory committee said they should. Randy Roberson was a big help on that. I don’t mean that any of that worried me in any sense. In fact, many of those kinds of things were challenges. I knew very, very little about the Molehole project, which is the one they were really worrying about. Incidentally, we did get that in good shape. And although it was going to cost an awful lot of money, perhaps more than it would have been worth, it was politics that killed that in the end. It wasn’t politics that got it into trouble in the first place. We had that all pretty well straightened out. What finally killed it was that Albert Thomas, the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee for NSF, had died. Joe Evans was the next in line and who was very jealous of Albert. This was his way of showing he was now boss. It was just as simple as that.
What about the other political complication at the NSF in that period of time? Steven Smaill?
Well, those two were the only ones that were problems.
Molehole and Smaill. Can you say that those were at all responsible for a politicization of the NSF?
No, I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, politically the Steven Smaill was true. This is a thing that people just refused to understand.
Because it was blown up so?
In academia. I have not read, I confess, Lomesk’s final version of that. I read at least three manuscripts. He provided me three chapters. One was the thing on the early directors; one was Smaill; one was Molehole. I never read the other chapters in the manuscript. For some reason the book was published for a long time before I knew it. Nobody told me; nobody sent me a copy. When they finally found it at the NSF that I didn’t have a copy, they were just tremendously… it was Phil Handler that finally told me. Well anyway, how he finally came out on the Smaill thing I don’t know. His first version was just so far away from right. To put it all in a nutshell, this is what happened. Smaill had a grant that was, you know, sort of in mid-career and there was this episode in Moscow. Jeff Keller, who was then the head of the division that had physics and math and chemistry and so on, saw a little scrib in the New York Times about it and came to me and said “This fellow has a grant”. And I said, “Well, you’d just better find out. We’ll hear about it from somebody, reporters or Congressman or somebody. You’d better find out about what the whole circumstances are.” Which he did and of course we did get tackled by people like Rowdabush. There were demands that we cancel the grant. Well, it didn’t take more than two weeks to get all that settled. In the meantime, there were a lot of things that turned up that we didn’t like. It turned out that nobody at Berkeley knew where Smaill was. He was in Europe somewhere. They didn’t know anything about him. They were paying a salary and we were reimbursing it. Nobody knows where he was. We reimbursed the full salary in July. In July one of the congressional committees, the one that had been the old Un-American Activities committee, tried to get Smaill to come and testify because of the episode in which he and others lay down in front of a train out there. It had nothing to do with NSF or his grant or anything else. They tried to serve a subpoena on him and he was in Europe. One of the San Francisco papers published an article that claimed that he had run away to Europe to avoid, that. Of course he hadn’t. He was asked questions about that in Moscow by reporters and he said well, he couldn’t have answered to the subpoena because he was vacationing with his family in Greece. (Laughs) Well, this was in the middle of July when we were paying the salary. So what I was really worried about was not the repercussions in Congress about Smaill’s anti-Vietnam thing but if one story like that gets out and be verified, the whole house of cards could collapse; all kinds of questions of “Don’t you fellows know anything about who you’re paying and when and why and so forth.” So this was the thing I was really worried about. Only one other Congressman raised any questions on either side of the issue in that summer. That, interestingly enough, was the Ohio Congressman that hired the secretary.
Hayes. He was the only other one that wrote to me about it. Wayne Hayes. Well, we had a policy, a long-standing one back in 1954, about questions of the political activities of grantees and so forth. It had a few teeth in it for anybody who was really subversive or anything like. There were two sources of it, essentially the same words. One was an Academy committee chaired by Jay Stratton who was then at MIT and later the president of MIT. And there was another source of essentially the same words: the NSF board. Jay was on the board much later. A document was sent to the White House at their request in the days of Sherman Adams in Eisenhower’s office. Sherman endorsed it and sent it to all the agencies and said this is the Federal policy. So we just got that out and showed it to people. And that was that. But, there was this business of his salary and Berkeley said they didn’t know where he was. So our controller just said well, we won’t reimburse anymore salary until you come up with some statements about it. Berkeley said they couldn’t. So they in turn wouldn’t pay Smaill. And of course he got mad about that. Then he pulled a kind of a fast one. It was not really crooked but it was a kind of a fast one in the following way. NSF had a policy that going to meetings abroad we would reimburse the travel expenses, the transportation; let’s put it that way, the transportation expense at the rate of Jet economy. But that was all. Unless there was some overt thing that had to do with some small conference which was going to have a direct effect on research. But not just to attend bit meetings. This conference in Moscow was going to be after his grant had run out but he had a proposal in for a new one. In any case, he wasn’t quite sure that NSF would refund the travel. So he applied the fall before for a travel grant from the Academy which, however, was funded by NSF. He agreed that if he got an Academy grant for the same thing that he would then notify the Academy and not accept money from them. Well, it turned out, he got both and he took both. Now, in terms of all the wandering around Europe he did and so forth, they weren’t enough to pay salary expenses. So he didn’t make any money. But he didn’t live up to the agreements. A third thing was that he deliberately — and we know he did it, deliberately — violated the thing we were all held to with government money, that you had to use American transportation if it was available. He came back from Europe with his family on a French ship. There were other things of this sort. Never anywhere did he pocket any money or anything of that sort. But he just didn’t care. And in some ways was even defiant about this.
You don’t think that had a negative effect on the Foundation?
I haven’t come to the real problem. The next June I happened to be out in California in Los Angeles. One day I called Roger Heyns who was then the Chancellor at Berkeley to ask him if he would serve on the National Science Board. I had proposed him but I couldn’t ask him until I got a clearance from the White House; I got it while I was out there. So I called him. And the next day I got a call from John Wilson, the deputy director of the NSF, saying that Smaill had come in with a proposal for a grant which included half the math department in Berkeley. Some contracts under ONR had run out and they wanted to get NSF support. But Smaill talked them into putting it under his wing. It was perfectly obvious that he was just going to show those NSF guys that he was running things. Well, we immediately said “Sure, we’re perfectly happy to finance your work providing it meets the standards.” Of course, we knew it would because he was a very fine mathematician. “But, we will not let you administer the research of a lot of other people.” And, we said that from the beginning, informally and finally formally. We proposed simply to break it into two pieces and we would just fund him at the same old rate and that they should come up with another suggestion for the principal investigator. Well, unfortunately, although about four of us read it, the letter had what could be interpreted as an ambiguity in it.
Your letter to him.
The Foundation’s letter. And he chooses to interpret it as saying that all we would do is reimburse his salary. We talked about “his personal research” and so forth, but of course we meant also his graduate students and post-does and so on. But he chose to imply that we were offering him just a post-doctoral fellowship. So he let fly letters and conversations all over the country. It got picked up by Dan Greenberg and Science and Dan called me one Sunday morning at six thirty and asked me all about this. I told him I really didn’t want to talk about it for protection of the university and Smaill and so on. But finally, I did tell him off the record what all this was about. But he chose to put in Science anyway, not Leland Haworth saying it, but an NSF official saying it. Off the record, of course. Perhaps I was really naive but I really meant off the record. Well then, there was a succession of correspondence back and forth between NSF and Smaill. But Greenberg always had a copy of a given letter before we did. He would call us up and ask us about a letter and we hadn’t even gotten yet. Now whether Smaill was holding back the original on purpose or what, I don’t know. But it happened two or three times. He also sent copies to a mathematician at Columbia who had been a buddy of his when he was at Columbia. I can’t think of his name. The trouble was with academia. I got all kinds of nasty, threatening letters. That I ought to go out and shoot myself and so on and so on. Thirty or forty people at the University of Pennsylvania signed a thing saying that they wouldn’t take any personal money of NSF until Smaill was exonerated. They quickly decided to withdraw that statement, (laughs) thanks in some extent to Goddard who was one of the deans and who is now the home secretary of the Academy. But it was a very bitter summer, six weeks or two months. It did hurt the NSF. It paralyzed the management of NSF for at least two months. I don’t think politically it hurt us. I think it was just one of those things that happens and blows over. I got a lot of queries, of course, because it was in the newspapers and people would write their Congressman. They would just send us these, what do you call them, buckslips with the letter and ask us either to answer the person or send them something. We’d usually send them something. I’d gotten up a statement the year before on our policy about this sort of thing and just updated it. I never publicly accused Smaill of anything. Phil Handler did a little bit. But he was then chairman of the board. But I never did. I may have made a mistake in not coming out more forthrightly about it. But I really honestly was trying to protect the university. Because the university was really very derelict that summer of 1967.
I know personally there were a lot of things going on in that university in 1967.
Year, that’s right. It was in the throes of troubles. Roger, incidentally, was at a meeting of the board when there was that big eruption around a parking lot or something like that.
1969, I think you mean… People’s Park. Somebody was killed.
Yeah, that’s the one. We finally got an agreement through Dean Elberg. He finally stepped in. He refused to for a long time; said it was the math department’s business. But he finally stepped in and managed to get an agreement. They came up with another principal investigator. We couldn’t say “we appoint so and so in the math department,” which we would have gladly done. All we were waiting for was a proposal that broke it in two. Well, Elberg finally managed to get one and I took the two proposals to the board for approval. I wouldn’t normally have had to have them approved. But in this circumstance, I wanted to. Roger of course abstained. He told me afterwards he never wanted to vote yes on something so much in his life as on that one. (Laughs) He was entirely unsympathetic to Smaill.
Is there any kind of a statement that you could make about the progression, the derivative of funding for NSF in the six year period?
I don’t know if I can make a single statement. I can make three or four little ones. Before I even was at the Foundation, but after I decided I was going to go, I visited Albert Thomas who was chairman of the appropriations committee, and I took John Wilson along. John at that time was an assistant to the president of the University of Chicago, then George Bedel. John had been in the NSF for a long time starting at the very beginning and had left a couple of years before to go to Chicago. I brought him back then as deputy. I didn’t know him. But did it on recommendation. We weren’t in the NSF yet. It was probably along in April. Albert told us that he felt the NSF had a very rapid rise of funding after Sputnik. Well, beginning with the IGY and a little spurt and then with Sputnik. It was three hundred and twenty-five million or something like that.
I think in ‘63 when you came, three hundred and twenty-two million. But in ‘58, it was forty and in ‘59 it was one hundred and thirty.
He was going to recommend no change for the next year no matter what we said. He’d made up his mind and that’s exactly what he did. But the Senate voted an extra fifty in the committee.
That made it three seventy-five?
No. Albert stuck to three twenty-five. They went to three seventy-five and we came out with three-fifty. If I remember the numbers right. We went up a bit at a time and by fiscal ‘68, I think, we had four hundred and ninety-five million. There were two things that happened that resulted in the situation looking worse than it was. One was that in fiscal ‘69 the Congress passed that law about an expenditure ceiling. It was the first time. All NSF controls were appropriations and obligational authority and there was no time limit. We could spend it all the first week or all in ten years if we wanted to. So it had been an entirely obligational authority. But t hen that year for the first time they passed a sweeping thing that said the whole government could not write checks for more than so much. The Bureau of the Budget then had the job of apportioning out to the various agencies how much they were able actually to spend, as distinguished from to obligate. You could obligate your whole appropriation. Now we got badly caught two ways. One was that we had grants, of course — two and three year grants — and we had no control over how the universities spent that money. The other things was the inevitable pulling back and slowing down on making obligations; which is what most of the agencies did. They would order something and it would be there in two months, so if they didn’t order it, they didn’t have to pay for it. Well, we’d done this. The money that we were going to write checks for in 1968 had been promised the universities in 1967.
This change occurred in ‘68 or ‘69.
It happened in the summer of’ 68. The other thing was that we had a fellowship program in which the commitments were all made in one year but the money was all spent the next fiscal year. Well, we were in just a hell of a jam. I just spent a tremendous amount of time personally on that, including sitting up at home when I had a bad case of the flu. Well, we managed to sneak by. Thanks in part to the fact that, after he was inaugurated, Nixon upped our ceiling by ten or fifteen million dollars. We did, of course, slow down. We never slowed down on obligational authority. So we did not obligate nearly as much that year as we otherwise would have. We had a big carryover from that year to the next. So there were two years there where we had big carry-overs. One from Molehole, twenty or thirty million and one from the expenditure ceiling. And Congress simply took advantage of that — as they should of course — and give us a lower appropriation. So that in the year when they finally appropriated only four hundred and forty million or something, I don’t remember the exact figure, as compared to a previous figure of four ninety-five, the money actually available in that year was about the same. The same thing happened the next year. By that time, of course, I was gone. I was there for the hearings but I left the last day of fiscal ‘69.
Because Nixon had made it clear to you he was going to appoint somebody else?
Oh, yes. Lee DuBridge made it clear to me. It happened this way. I had stopped in to see Lee in Pasadena and I had assumed I was leaving. But when I learned that Lee was going to be science advisor, and then I thought, “gee whiz it’d be nice to stay around for a while while Lee is here.” I said something of that sort to Lee and he said “Oh, you’re old and tired. You’d better quit”. (Laughs) Well, that was the word. I didn’t need any more word than that. I don’t know what I’d have done if they had… It was made pretty clear to me by a lot of people that I wasn’t going to be reappointed. Then, interestingly enough, there was a little period after the long episode when people raised the question with me. And I remember using some pretty violent words with Phil Handler. (Laughs) Very soon after Nixon was inaugurated — within a couple of weeks — Lee arranged a session for Phil Handler, who was then still the board chairman, but not yet at the Academy. It was in the wind that he’d be at the Academy but the election wasn’t until April. With me and Lee himself, of course, for a session with Nixon. We met him in the Oval Office and he didn’t even have anybody in there with him of his own people. It was supposed to be fifteen minutes and actually we talked for an hour and a quarter. He said all the right things, absolutely all the right things about science and so forth. We were just terribly enthusiastic. We thought, “oh we’ve misjudged the man.” Then, probably in March, the science board met in Washington. Lee arranged for the science board to have an audience with Nixon in the Cabinet Office, the third Cabinet room. We gathered around the table; of course I’d been there many times in other circumstances including a lot of Cabinet meetings. But, you know, the various chairs have the names of the secretaries. I kind of held back because, you know, here was the board that was dignified citizens and so forth and I was just a staff guy. So I hung back and when I got ready to sit down, the only seat left around the table was the Vice-President’s seat. I asked someone. They said “No, he wasn’t coming.” I sat. Well in about fifteen minutes, he did come. (Laughs) Well, he was mad that I was sitting in his seat. So I was going to go back and sit up against the wall, which I’d usually done when I was in there, but there was somebody on the staff who had sat at the table and who gave me their chair. Nixon didn’t say quite all the right things that day. I, for example, made a strong plea. This was at a time when there were these bills before Congress to not let anybody have any funding from the government if he’d ever violated any university rule in any way. You remember that sort of things. I made a strong plea for the administration to take a position against that and they didn’t like it. I think that the Vice President was more strongly against it than Nixon.
At least he showed it more anyway. On the whole, the good things that Nixon said on either one of those days, not one of them ever happened.
What about the Daddario-Kennedy bill and the reorganization of the NSF, in the last year that you were there, to include applied research?
Well, that had a long history, of course. It started in ‘64 actually when that advisory group in the Library of Congress made a study of NSF. They made a report. Then there were a lot of hearings in ‘65 about it. Incidentally, Daddario and I became very good friends, so I had a lot of conversations with him. I think maybe Lamosk mentioned this in his book in passing. I was over at Mims house for a drink after work with Phil Yager who was the principal staff guy for the subcommittee.
Daddario. And Phil Yager was there. They were talking about what they might do and everything else. I said, “Well, fix it so that we get some freedom to do applied research.” I said, “If for no other reason, it’d make us honest.”
Because it had been going on for a long time?
It’d been going, sure. They used some weasel words about what constituted basic engineering: the words that the board had adopted to define that. But it wasn’t basic. They did put a thing in their first draft bill. But it was too broad in the following sense: It opened up, I felt, the possibility of our being assigned some great big industrial project to support that might just swallow all the money. So I got Mims to change it so that we could support applied research in universities, non-profit institutions and in other places, providing it was in an area that the President had ruled was in the national interest. I don’t remember the exact words. And that’s what finally came out in the bill. So I was quite happy with it. Many of the board members weren’t. They didn’t like the idea at all. Herb Carter, for example, was very unhappy about it. Daddario bill was a great handicap to me in the following way: everybody knew it was coming. It was put in in 1966. It provided for these six presidentially appointed positions. The result was, I couldn’t hire anybody in a top level position because the first thing they would ask me is “What happens if the Daddario bill passes and then my position becomes a presidential appointment.” I said “I can’t tell you whether Mr. Johnson will appoint you or not.” And I just had turn down after turn down on that basis. It finally was passed in the summer of ‘68. Too late, of course, to do any good. Don Horning, who was the science advisor, and I agreed that we would not try to get anyone to come at that late stage because there was an election only a few months away. Suddenly, in about early September, Mr. Johnson said he’d like to have us make some recommendations. I talked to John Macy who was his “appointments” secretary in that sense that he was also head of the Civil Service Commission and was Johnson’s guy for two years.
What was the point of that? Johnson knew he was leaving.
I don’t know. But anyway he wanted some. John managed to convince him that he would be satisfied with one and I recommended that Lou Levin be the deputy director. When the bill passed even the deputy director became a Presidents appointment. I couldn’t appoint anyone. John Wilson had gone back to Chicago after seeing this coming. Incidentally, he was fortunate. That constituted a legal abolishment of his position, so he became eligible for a pension. He got a ten thousand dollar retirement, (laughs) probably twenty by now with the inflation. I couldn’t appoint a deputy director myself I’d have to get Johnson to do it. I created some fictitious title like associate director. Put Lou Levin in. So I recommended him as deputy director but they didn’t act on it.
That created real problems for you at the very end?
Well, no. A problem for at least three years because nobody would accept a position, you see. Not knowing that the Daddario Bill might pass the next month and then they’d be out. Maybe not three years, two and half years. The bill was introduced early in ‘66.
But in opening up and legitimizing support of applied research, it was good?
I think so. For a little while, we were worried about whether the RANN thing was going to run too far. (Laughs) But I think it’s probably [alright] especially since the formation of ERDA. They took over a lot of the energy things we were trying to do.
There was also this interdisciplinary research of relevance to problems of society.
Well, that was the forerunner of RANN. Actually, I started that. I put a line in the budget for ‘69.
Was there internal resistance to movement toward social research of that kind?
No, I don’t think so. There was a lot of enthusiasm, as a matter of fact, among some people. We put Joe Snow in charge. He then did run it until it became RANN.
So were you optimistic about the NSF when you left?
I was sort of pessimistic about the total picture but I knew that better days would come. But as far as NSF was concerned, I felt they were in pretty good shape.
And then you came back here.
I came back here as Special Assistant to the President. Jerry Tate, as President of AUI, had been my deputy director. He came during the Radiation Lab days after that reorganization that I said Bacher and Bainbridge dreamed up. Then Bacher didn’t feel he needed an assistant as division head so Jerry came into my group, in the indicator group. It had a subgroup which was building some of the training devices. He went into that. It later became a group in its own right and he went with it. I guess it was when Bacher left and I became division head that we then split it off into a separate group, but it was in my division all the time.
What have you been doing here?
Oh, a variety of things. I headed a small project or two that AUI was doing as distinct from Brookhaven. In one of them, NSF asked us to advise them on the resurfacing of the big telescope at Arecibo; actually a Cornell job. But they were not certain about some of the aspects of it. With some reason. So I got Max Small into that and other Brookhaven staff. Jerry did a lot of things then but I found that if there was anything division-wide that I wanted to do at the Radiation Lab and wanted somebody to do it, I’d get Jerry. So after I got here and wanted a deputy director. Incidentally, I was largely instrumental in his going to Illinois right after the war. I brought him here first as an assistant with the intention of making him deputy director after he’d earned his spurs, which he did quickly
Did he perform as well as for Greenbank? (Laughs)
Not quite, no. He wasn’t the total boss. Max has to be boss of everything or it doesn’t work. One was Jack Livingston who is the project engineer on the big VLA. We let him go from Brookhaven to NRL to do that. He was the real guy but he was assisted by one of the mechanical engineers who were very good. Then the next one in 1971; the Office of Science Technology asked us to do an energy study. This resulted from Nixon’s first energy message in which he said they’d put first priority on the breeder reactor and on gaseous conversion of coal. He had asked Ed Davis, his science advisor, to some up with other first priority things. Dave Freeman, who was then his energy man, asked us to make a study in which the idea was to have a general look at the thing and see what some of the problems were, to come up with a scheme for having a number of sub-projects to study these various things. OST funded the general study itself and then was going to get the agencies to fund the specific studies. But when the time came they wouldn’t do it. (Laughs) He should have known they wouldn’t. So the agencies themselves did the specific studies, with outside advice. The little staff that I had, which included people like Kenny Hopmann and Phil Palmada who are the heads of what’s called the National Center for Energy Analysis, became individual assistants to the various agencies. The project here stopped after a year. At least three years ago I’d dropped down to essentially halftime pay at my suggestion. A year and a half ago, I dropped down to the maximum I could be paid and still get Social Security. Now I’m a consultant. For example, take this report I’ve been working on; members of the Academy never take any fees for anything they do for the Academy. And although AUI has a contract to do this, I don’t feel I should be paid indirectly any more than I should be directly. So I’ve done that all on my own. It’s what I’ve really been doing the last several months.
Well you’ve done a lot of interesting things. Is there any one thing that you look back on as being that closest to your own interests? Was it doing your research at Wisconsin, or building the Cosmotron?
Oh, I don’t think I can really single one out. Each one as it came along was interesting. I think probably if I had to pick out the things I look back on with the most satisfaction, as having accomplished something worthwhile, foremost of all, would be Brookhaven. I feel I had a real role in Brookhaven’s being a success. After that would be the test ban treaty. Certainly it would be the AEC. But the test ban thing I’m really rather proud of. This was during the period when there was all the agony over whether you could have a test ban and have inspection. The Russians were trying to get us to say we’d be satisfied with one or two or three inspections a year. But they set all sorts of requirements. You had to know within a quarter of a mile of where it was you were going and so forth. So it really was meaningless. I was pretty sure they really weren’t going to come down to cases and allow it anyway. On the other hand, the atmospheric test ban could monitor itself because we simply said that you shouldn’t do anything that allowed any detectable radioactivity outside your own boundaries. And although there have been some differences to cross, it’s been trivial. There was a lot of resistance. In the summer of 1962, there was a Committee of Principles, which was; oh people like the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State and the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, Glenn Seaborg, the science advisor and the President’s advisor on national security. Who was then McBundy? There was the Committee of Principles. They were sort of a sub-unit to the National Security Council. Then there was a committee of deputies; the deputies for all these people, the people who acted for them. Jerry Wiesner was his own deputy. Although he had a man, Perge Cainny, who always came too. McBundy sent Carl Kayson. We met intermittently in the summer of ‘62. I was all the time fighting the battle. I was also fighting the AEC back in my own agency because there were a lot of them that didn’t w ant any test ban. Among the commissioners were two of us for and two against the one sort of in the middle. One of the two that was against would not have been against a limited ban. They were against a total ban; one was against anything. But I managed to convince the committee of deputies in the summer of ‘62. The decision had been that we lay on the table in Geneva a proposal for a complete test ban with some number of inspections. I don’t even know what it was. I convinced them that we also ought to lay on the table a proposal for a limited test ban. And somebody was assigned to write up a draft of a proposed treaty. Well, they came back with a terribly involved thing, an international organization that would monitor here and monitor there. I remember exploding in the next meeting and saying “Well, you look, you just missed the whole point. The whole virtue of this thing is that it will police itself.”
At least for atmospheric testing.
The limited ban; that’s what I’m talking about. It was to limit it in the atmosphere in the oceans. It could be in water within your own territory but not water that would get in the oceans because obviously that would be transferring it outside your own territory. A woman who was in the disarmament agency and I drafted a very, very simple proposal. One and a half pages, something like that. And essentially that’s what finally the treaty became. A lot of people complained that it was too simple. A lot of people now feel that it was a bad thing because it delayed the final total ban. But it sure settled a lot of problems. The world was just in a hell of a tizzy. The Russians had had those bog tests, hundred megatron weapons, and there was fallout all over the place, mothers wouldn’t let their children go to school and so on. It just smoothed things down a lot. So I really am very happy about it. Although a lot of people now feel it was wrong. Now, I might feel quite differently. Unquestionably the seismic tests are in a lot better shape. I would not oppose a total ban now. I don’t say I opposed one then. I just didn’t think it was feasible. I still don’t believe it was feasible then.
Thank you very much, sir. This has been most interesting.
Thank you. I‘ve enjoyed it.