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Interview of Sam Schweber by Alexei Kojevnikov on 1998 October 18,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/31884
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Topics discussed include: family background; Schweber's education at City College, University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton University; Herbert Jehle; general relativity; Eugene Gross; Abraham Pais; J. Robert Oppenheimer; Eugene Wigner; Francis Pipkin; David Pines; quantum field theory; Melba Phillips.
October 18, 1998 I believe, and I am Alexei Kojevnikov. I am sitting in the house of Sam Schweber in Lexington and recording an interview. So Sam, do you mind if we start with your European childhood and your family background and what brought you to the United States.
I was born in Strasbourg, France in April 1928. Both my parents are of Polish origin. Polish Jews. My father came to Strasbourg probably 1922-23 after he had been a soldier in the Austrian Army.
What part of Poland did he come from?
He come from Galiua near a place called Rimenauf [present day Rymanow in Poland], which is in fact the place where Rabi was born. He was drafted into the Austrian-Hungarian Army, was captured by the Russians, and spent until 1922-23 in Siberia, and was eventually freed, made his way to Germany, to our country and then came across to Strasbourg. My mother, who had been likewise born not too far away from where my father was born, she was born the Auscheinitz which is a little village ten miles down the road from Rimenauf, her mother had died very shortly after her birth and eventually at age three or four she was actually brought to Strasbourg because her father was a traveling salesman of some kind and put her in an orphan asylum in Strasbourg. And so she grew up in Strasbourg from before the war (she was born in 1901) and raised in German schools, and more or less, her native tongue was German. They were married in 1925. My father had a business in wool clippings, which was fairly prosperous. That is, we certainly, during a time that I can remember, we lived in a fairly large apartment. I would be sent to summer vacations and things like that. So we were part of the Jewish community, of the Polish-Jewish community.
What language was spoken in the family?
My mother would speak German to me, and my father would speak Yiddish, and I would be going to school and learning French, and on the streets we’d be talking Alsatian. That was the potuia [???], that was the native language there.
Were you able to speak Polish?
What education did they have?
My father had primarily gone to Cheder, and so the education would be mostly religious and learning how to read and write in foreign language, which would be Yiddish and German. My mother had a regular schooling. She went to the German schools and through the war, and in 1918 after the Armistice and the French came back, she had gone to all the regular German schools. Her native tongue is really German, and that’s what she’s most comfortable with. She certainly learned French, and once I started speaking, that is, mostly only speaking French, she would certainly only speak French to me. With my father it was always Yiddish.
But she also spoke German?
Well between, she would answer in German, she would understand Yiddish, but that was the(
What was this attitude towards religion?
It was an orthodox home. I mean not from fanatical orthodox, in the sense that — well, let me put it this way. French schools, once you go to school, in my days you would go to school from eight to noon. You’d go home for noon for lunch, come back from two to four and I would stay in school because you have supervised homework and you would stay in school. There were no classes on Thursday, but you had classes on Saturday. And I would go to class on Saturday, but I would not write, okay. And it was perfectly(
It was okay with the teachers?
I mean it was perfectly acceptable. It was most of the Jewish community would be doing that, at least in the Polish.
What were the attitudes towards the Jews in Strasbourg in those days?
Well, let me put it this way. It was clear that we were Jews, and every once in a while you would be called names because you were Jewish. So you had a double sense. You had a sense that on the one hand you were Jewish and therefore not really French, and by virtue of being Alsaten, you were not quite members of what the French or that Alsaten-Jewish community was about because they had their own separate temple and things like that.
And so the synagogue was also separate for the Eastern Jewish?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I mean, there were 3 synagogues in Strasbourg. There was one which was the appeals of consequence, which was general one, appointed by the French government, and that one we were part of that. Then there was the Hungarian-Jewish community and then there was the Polish-Jewish community, and they were separate.
So were the differences in religion, or it was simply ethnic?
Ethnic. Ethnic, right. Accent in the Yiddish that you spoke.
And in schools, do the children mix together?
Yeah. One wouldn’t know who came from where and that didn’t matter.
And with French children as well? Or(
Yeah, yeah no. There one didn’t sense any difference. Where did the Jewishness show up? It showed up throughout the ‘30s. I mean this is now in terms of periodization, up to ’38, it’s one kind of world. And I do remember fairly distinctly ‘36, ‘37 the unbloom and the unrest which goes with that period. ‘38 Munich and is certainly a very telling and chilling time. And thereafter, having a sense something ominous was going to happen, there’s no question about that.
Did your parents ever go to the place where they were born?
No. No. The Jewishness also manifested itself that from a very early age probably starting in ‘35-‘36, I was a member of a Zionist Youth Organization which met regularly.
From what age would you be there?
Well we would be starting 7, 8 and upwards. And some of my cousins, or second cousins actually, immigrated to Israel and established a Kibbutz in ‘39, ‘38-‘39. Other friends — I mean and there were two groups. One was Shamitz Irir and the other one was the more religious we belonged to the religious conferment. So, in terms of cultural background(
You didn’t go to Cheder, yourself?
You didn’t learn Hebrew?
Yes, oh sure, but that more with private teachers than in the regular school. So I went to Istansbud. It was essentially the elementary school taught. The war broke out in ‘39. We happened to have been in French vacation in a vacation during that time in Savoie. My father had actually left at the beginning of ‘39 to go to the World Exhibition in New York with a definite plan of seeing where we would immigrate. Would we go to the United States? He was looking at that situation over, and when he came, when he would have come back, he would have gone to Palestine to see if that would have been a suitable place for us to go. And the war broke out in between — in September, and he never came back. So my mother, I have an older sister and I, were in the Savoie [inaudible, spoken in French].
There were just two children in the family?
Two children in the family. And in September of ‘39 when the war broke out, we couldn’t go back to Strasbourg because, Strasbourg was in front of the Maginot line. And so we were evacuated. We had a choice to go where we wanted and we went to Vichy. Because they had gone to Vichy taking the orders the year before so, starting in June, I mean in September of ‘39, we were in Vichy and we were there when France fell. When the Petain government would take over. So I remember very distinctly the Germans coming in and that episode. And in late ‘41, my father who was only a visitor in the United States and therefore we couldn’t come to the United States, had made arrangements for us to go to Cuba. And late in ‘41, we went to Cuba. This was just before the rest of France became occupied. We went through Spain, which at that time all perfectly legal because I was not of draft age, I was thirteen. And we went to Pouf which was on the border of France and Spain and crossed there. Went from there to Barcelona and from Barcelona to Madrid and from Madrid to Lisbon.
Did you hear from your father all the time?
In between while you were caught in France, was there communication with your father?
We could write.
What was he doing?
He couldn’t work because he was a visitor. And so he was trying to find a way of becoming a legal immigrant and trying to see what kind of a business he could go into here.
Where was he, in New York?
In New York, right. He was living with a friend in Brooklyn. And so we made our way in late ‘41 to Cuba and we had to stay in Cuba till the following July.
Where were in you Cuba?
In Havana, in Rigado actually where we lived.
Did you also go to school there?
I went briefly to — I mean in France there was a hiatus because after from June of ‘40 when France till late that year, things were fairly chaotic. And then it started over again and I went to a college in Cusset, which is a few miles from Vichy. Nothing intensive either. It was really a strange time. In Cuba, I went for a few hours a day learning Spanish and things like that. We were only there for roughly six months.
You were crossing the Atlantic on a ship?
Cause that was at a time when the U.S. started war with Germany right?
The U.S. started the war in December of ‘41, and by that time we were already in Cuba. And we were stopped several times on the way from Portugal to Cuba by German U-boats, inspected and things like that. And we came here in July of ‘42, and eventually settled in the Bronx. And what happened is I went for a couple of semesters to high school.
So that’s when you learned English?
Right. Essentially what happened was that for more or less a year I didn’t speak anything, and then eventually I —
You didn’t lose any of the years in terms of education because of(
Yes. No, I mean the rigorous training that comes from this period like I mean really from the age of 12 to 14 or so, there was really no school. And it started again seriously only when I came back. And that is when we came to the United States, which was the fall of ‘42. So I went to high school from the fall of ‘42 to June of ‘44, and in June of that fall I started City College of New York. And that really was the saving feature. I mean if you think back, City College at that time was an outstanding school. But in terms of cost(
It had many campuses, right?
Well, there is several free colleges in New York. There is the City College of New York, there is Brooklyn College, there was Queens Colleges. These were the three big ones. So the City College of the city of New York is a separate college, on 137th Street and Convent Avenue.
Did you say free?
I was going to say, the total cost for the first term was $2 for registration and $2 for library fee. That was the total cost of the entire(so it was totally free. You had to buy your own books and you had to be able to get yourself there, but yes, it was no tuition.
Before we go to the college years, do you remember any science books in your family or maybe a high school teacher who would — so when would your interest in science start?
It starts in high school, I mean when I discovered. I mean, I always had an interest in mathematics and I remember even as a little kid trying to figure out what algebra was about in terms of reading books and things like that. In high school in the United States, I had some very good teachers. I mean, there was an outstanding geometry teacher whose name was either Mr. Felman or something like that. And I gobbled up geometry. I mean it was really something which clearly came very naturally. The same was true with algebra and any kind of mathematics.
Just how much mathematics did you learn in high school?
Well, in high school I learned geometry because I know previous mathematics essentially, so I took a course in geometry and I took a course in algebra, and that was it.
No. No calculus. And there was an outstanding physics teacher. Again, this was war time and the man was a real good, I mean, he clearly knew physics. And so there a sense there was something special to physics.
So, when you went to the City College, did you make your preference what you would like to study?
I mean again, when I started out, I started as a chemical engineer, because in terms of thinking of, what would be — I don’t know why chemical engineering, but that’s what I started out as. I was very fond of chemistry, and so the first year the chemistry course was the same as for everyone, irrespective to whether you — so by the end of the freshman year, I had become a chemistry major. And so I took all the chemistry courses, like Inorganic Chemistry, Qualitative Analysis, Quantitative Analysis, Organic Chemistry. I had a very good chemistry, Organic Chemistry teacher who really tried to get me to go on and become an M.D. or a biochemist or something like that. But somehow in my junior, at the end of my junior year, people said very good things about physics.
And so which year was that?
That was ‘43. And by that time I had taken the calculus courses and things like that. And I had taken the physics course because as an engineer you had to take physics. And Simanski [???] was a teacher in that and so I’d done very well and it was clearly a very nice way of teaching physics. It was all macroscopic theory. And then I took thermodynamics with him in my senior year.
And that physics, was it mostly quantitative or qualitative? Was there any experiment in all that?
Yeah, they were all that.
What was the place of quantum physics in those days?
Oh, it was, I mean it’s not that different from the way it was taught in 1870. I mean in, what is it called, the Scottish text-book of Thomson & Toit. I mean that’s the standard way you teach physics, right? You first teach mechanics, then heat. There was no atomic physics or anything like that.
Was there any labs?
Yeah, there was a lab which was the standard. You learned about venires and ink line planes and things like that, and nothing very inspiring. And then the second year, there would be somewhat more technical courses, like I took a course in electricity and magnetism in the senior year, and I got a reading course in mathematical physics by Mr. Wolf. We went to Kemble, the textbook in quantum mechanics, mostly to learn mathematics, and that’s what convinced me to go on to physics.
The Kemble book?
No, just this exposure to these people and to the way of thinking and to the attraction of mathematics.
You mentioned Simanski.
Simanski taught the heat or thermodynamics, and just the elegance of the presentation and the clarity, so I mean I was, there was something very clear about seeing the world that way. And so I actually applied to graduate school in physics.
So that means there was kind of a decision about the career, because it was no longer engineering?
Oh, the engineering had been given up after the first year and it had become chemistry, pure chemistry.
Well, it stands that maybe chemistry would be a career in sense of just practicality?
No, it was always the beauty and ultimate truth and things like that.
What did your parents think about that?
My parents? I mean we were on fairly hard times in the United States, and the fact that I was doing well in school and clearly the teachers had said I should be encouraged, it implied my mother was ready to go to work, and she did work, so that I would be able to go to college.
So, but you didn’t say what trade your parents were doing here?
I mean, here my father continued doing the same thing as he did in Europe and much less successfully, which was buying up wool clippings at factories which were making garments and then sending them for reprocessing to make wool and whole cloth out of it. But he had a partner and the partnership was not a very successful one, so financially it was really a totally different world than we had known in France before the war. My mother worked as a seamstress. She took in things at home. She had worked for a while at a place and so tailors would send her things and she would do piece work.
And your sister?
My sister. When we came she actually never went back to school, and became trained while on the job as a bacteriologist and started working in the hospital as doing bacteriology and those kinds of things.
In New York?
Right in New York. Everyone was in New York.
And in New York, did you also live in a Jewish community? In a Jewish neighborhood?
Not particularly. I mean let’s put it this way. The neighborhood we lived in, which was the University Avenue in the Bronx, was probably the majority of the people were Jewish, but there were many people who were not religious. So it was Jewish, but not like parts of Brooklyn, okay.
And you kept your lifestyle?
For family, was it still the orthodox Jewish family?
Yes, my parents have always been orthodox. Have remained orthodox. My sister has remained orthodox, is married to an M.D. who’s orthodox. They actually immigrated to Israel in ‘67 and to give you an indication, she has a daughter who’s married who has now thirteen children, and by virtue of her religion. So, no they have, but it’s not the black cat kind of orthodox, it’s not the extreme right wing. It’s orthodox as a way of life. It’s fairly rigorous.
And how about the City College, was it also, was there also Jewish in terms of students.
I would say that probably 70 to 80% of the student body was Jewish.
And the teaching was in English or Yiddish was also taught?
Oh, no, no, no. Nothing but English(no other foreign language.
How about teachers at this college?
They were all very outstanding.
Were they also from local communities? And were they Jewish themselves?
Some of them were, some of them were —
Because at that point, it was still a point where there was quite a bit of anti-Semitism in America academia.
‘44-‘45, yes, but City College was precisely staffed by many of the people who couldn’t make it — who didn’t get jobs at Columbia or NYU or something like that. So there were outstanding teachers both in physics and mathematics, in philosophy. No in general, it was certainly an outstanding school with higher standards. There’s no question about that. Look when I applied to graduate school even, I didn’t know it at the time, okay. I had applied to various places and I got accepted at Caltech and various other places. I decided to go to University of Pennsylvania, stupidly, because they gave me the highest scholarship to go there, and it was close to home.
And that was in what year?
This was 1947. I graduated in June 1947 in the fall of ‘47, I go to the University of Pennsylvania as a physics major.
By that time it was already clear that physics was a very exciting field.
Yes. And this is now after the war. In retrospect, there was not the best of choices to go. A person who really influenced me deeply there was a man by the name of Herbert Jehle.
This is in Pennsylvania?
This is in Pennsylvania, yes. Herbert Jehle was actually a very good theoretical physicist. He had been trained in Germany by Switiger [???] and people like that. He had Ph.D. with Switiger. He was a Quaker, and therefore once Hitler came to power, got into a fair amount of trouble in Germany, was put in a German concentration camp. Found his way out of the German concentration camp and landed in France, only when the war broke out to once again be put into a concentration camp because he was German. And luckily he was able to get out after the Germans occupied France. Came to the United States —
He wasn’t Jewish?
No, he was a Quaker. And came to the United States, taught at Harvard for a while, and then got a job at the University of Pennsylvania after the war. I took several courses with him.
Was he in theoretical physics?
He’s theoretical physics, right, and he eventually went into bio-physics, things like that. The other person at the University of Pennsylvania, at least I took courses from, not that I got very close to him, was Walter Elsasser, who was at the University of Pennsylvania at the time. And I took statistics with him.
What was he in personality?
At the time he actually had gone away from doing physics and was doing geo-physics. Radiation transport through the atmosphere. He was worried about the constitution of the Earth. His best student, a man by the name of Isenberg, who later went to the University of Oregon, actually did a thesis on the iron core within and tried to find the origin of terrestrial magnetism. What kind of a person was he? I think he was mostly left to his — he didn’t interact very strongly to most of the people there. That is, one didn’t have the sense that he was an influence upon what physics was then, because he wasn’t doing physics. A person who taught quantum mechanics was a man by the name of Ufford, who had written a standard textbook. And Ufford taught it essentially that way Dizac teaches quantum mechanics. Reading his own — I mean reading the book word by word and going through all the(nothing beyond that. So it was not a very inspiring course.
And generally, in City College and in Pennsylvania, what besides the regular curriculum did you learn about physics from extra reading or from just the general?
No, I mean.
Anything strikes you?
I remember in City College, I would go Sunday afternoons to the public library, and really work my way through Kemble. And Kemble probably because of Wolf, and my real first introduction to quantum mechanics was going through Kemble in 1934. Reading other things in physics, not that much. We would talk about some degree of physics. Certainly atomic bombs and things like that, what was the physics behind that.
That was from the general publications you’d get?
Yes, right, right.
Because at that time there was probably no physics books on atomics or all that?
No, I mean the Smythe report was coming out at that stage. No, I mean I think I certainly read some relativity that was special and general. Eddington is a book that I read at the time. And that was it, okay. So I was always looking at(
In terms of studying physics, were you interested in it’s philosophical aspects or more mathematical? And also, at what point did you think you had to decide between the experiment and theory?
There was never any question that it was always the theory which was attractive. So it was never doing the experiments, okay. I mean, that was never the attractive part of physics. And at Penn you didn’t have to take any experimental, any experiments, so I never took an experimental course at Pennsylvania.
How much mathematics?
At Penn, we had a course in mathematical physics, okay. Which was —
Just mathematical equations?
Yeah, it was Smith. Lloyd P. Smith has a book on mathematical physics which is a standard Cornell course, which goes through the usual things: theories, partial differential equations, complex variables, all of those things. The other person who was at Penn who was much more of a presence in terms or theoretical physics was Herb Callen. He was a student of Laslo Tisza, and he came there, I think, during the second year that I was there and went, started. One felt his presence, okay. I mean he started a theoretical seminar where he would have people talk about some of the things which were going on. He was interested in solid state physics, so first exposure to things like dielectric breakdown. The theory of dielectric breakdown. The people who were doing thesis, and this was Isemberg, Larry Spruck, would be the people who talked. And so you were starting to be exposed to what other people did in physics. You certainly didn’t get it from Ufford and you didn’t get it from Elsasser. And Jehle, but Jehle was primarily interested in fairly high-brow things and mostly general relativity, and so I would talk general relativity with him.
Did you discuss physics with classmates and students? Or it was mostly teachers in regular classes?
Mostly teachers in regular classes. With classmates we would discuss some of the problems, but since it was competitive you were supposed to do it by yourself, and so you didn’t talk that much with other people.
And besides classes, what was the student life like in those days?
Most of my activity at that time — this was really the University of Pennsylvania. I was still orthodox at the time. I would go home once every two weeks. I had a girlfriend in New York. But I came more and more deeply involved in politics, left politics.
At the university?
At the university, yeah.
And in what form was that?
Support for Wallace primarily, okay. I mean this was just at a time of the debate. I mean Wallace was running, and so a good deal of my energies outside of physics were taken out in helping the Wallace campaign. I had a close friend, an older friend who’s a graduate student in physics, who, shall we say, nurtured these tendencies. But realize the Zionist movement that I was part of in France already, was socialist, okay. It was to make kibbutz cement things like that. So it wasn’t Marxist because we were religious. But if it would have been Amin Sharir, it would have been Marxist, okay.
Was this a continuation of the Zionist movement?
Yes, yes. I mean in New York once again, I became a member of the Zionist organization. In New York, actually while in high school, I went through a religious school almost every night in Washington Heights in a German-Jewish community which was not far from where I lived. And at City College I would actually study Talmud with a friend who was a physics major at City College.
Is it that kind of religious transformed activity itself. A left politics.
Was it the organization of the campus? Was there any student political organization?
We didn’t belong to that. It was really directly we just supported the Wallace Campaign of the Labor Party. I think it was — Let me put it this way. It was a reaction to the extent that I can reconstruct or recall to the beginnings of the Cold War. I mean, here we had been allied with Russia, USSR. There was the hope that there could be some peaceful way of going on and all that we were seeing was ever-mounting tensions, and in part blaming the United States for it and Wallace was seen as an alternative. As a possible way of —
And that was ‘49?
‘48. ‘47-‘48. ‘48 I remember very distinctly helping the Wallace Campaign. And the democratic convention which nominated Truman was in Philadelphia and somehow I got tickets to go and I was present when Truman was nominated. But, that is, my soul was with Wallace, okay. Not for Truman or anything like that.
But within the political spectrum, was there any particular place where you placed yourself at that time?
I mean, we would be supporting Wallace, who was running on the Labor ticket at that time.
And were there also differentiation within throughout the left wing movement between different directions or it was more or less united?
There was still a Communist party at the time. It was Earl Brouder and these people. I don’t think in ‘48 the party had been — I don’t think —
I mean within the circles which you moved, were there any differences? Were there any communist there and were they?
My friend was probably a communist, okay.
Which means that probably he didn’t state that.
Right I didn’t know. I would not have known, okay. Because in part we were working for, and I don’t remember when the communist party was outlawed, okay. At which stage was declared to be — declared. I think it probably comes a little bit later, but I’ m not sure.
And among this political movement, were they mainly physics students? Is it the same friend you studied Talmud with?
No, no, no.
That was different. Then maybe we should mention some names, if you remember, so that to make these things —
Well, the person in City College was Harold Melovitz, who eventually became physicist, was in Michigan for a while. National Bureau Standards and eventually immigrated to Israel and is in Israel now. In Philadelphia I don’t remember the name of the friend who sort of say, groomed me politically or nurtured my left wing tendencies.
Was he a classmate?
He was slightly older that is he probably finished his Ph.D. while I was, my first, two years of graduate studies. I would say there were not that many in the physics department, partly because people worked very hard, okay. I mean it was really working on physics whatever physics they were doing. The lights would be on a good deal of the night. And then no, I mean I certainly, if I think of myself I would be there at 8 o’clock in the morning and still be there at 10, 11 o’clock at night doing nothing but physics most of the time.
Was there any political discussion club, or some kind of a( it was mostly informal and the [???]. What moved you to Princeton, or what caused you to(?
What moved me to Princeton is Jehle felt that I would do much better at Princeton, and it’s he who actually — his intellectual circles, or at least he would go fairly often to Princeton to the institute. This was Oppenheimer had already gotten there. And he was friend of Ziggy Voitizen, who was a student of Oppenheimer’s and he knew David Finkelstein. Not the one that you’re thinking of but again the student of Oppenheimer. And so he would get the sense of what was happening in physics from these people. Epstein was the other person.
Which Epstein? Was he not at Caltech?
No. It’s a young, again, we are talking about somebody 25, 26 years old.
You did your master thesis with Jehle?
And what was the topic?
On general relativity. And so what he did was he went to the university and taught to Wigner and to Wheeler and said, they said I should apply, and I applied and I was accepted. So in the fall of ‘49 I come to Princeton. And Princeton is a very different atmosphere. I mean the Princeton atmosphere at that stage, we were probably 10 of us were accepted.
Did you consider applying anywhere else?
No, I didn’t apply any place else. I just went from — And the attitude was Princeton was we have accepted you as a student, therefore you must be very good. You don’t have to take any courses or anything. You’re free to do whatever you want, and do the best you can. And that was really the spirit of Princeton at the time. The only requirement you had at the end, sometime in the second year you would take a very intensive set of examinations, three days of(
No, written. From 9 in the morning till fairly late in the afternoon for three days on all subjects in physics. And then there would be an oral afterwards. And so the first year I didn’t take the quantum mechanics course. I took Bohm’s course in quantum mechanics, and I think Wigner’s course in statistical mechanics, and I took a fair number — a lot of math courses.
But didn’t you say that you didn’t have to take courses?
I didn’t have to take courses, but since they were offered, I mean, certainly you would go and take them. I undoubtedly took more math courses than I took physics courses. I took course in probability theory with Feller, and courses on differential equations, and Hilber’s Space and things like that so I took probably more mathematics than I took physics. And the person who I was closest to, mostly because they put me into an office with him. It was David Bohm. It was in the fall of ‘49 I was put in an office with him.
So it was just the two of you sharing an office?
Just two, right, in his office, and since I was still kosher, I could excuse myself from living in the graduate college. And I didn’t live in graduate college anytime because the food wasn’t kosher and I lived in a private room. And so I would be working most of the time in the same place as David.
So, what were his or yours working habits? Were you more or less at the same hours in the office?
Yeah, we would be working mostly —
He was getting out late?
He would be, well he would teach in the mornings or something like that, so the strongest interaction would be late in the afternoon and evening. And we would stay there till 11 or midnight. And he would be reading many things, and he would tell me what he’s reading and then what he’s thinking about. He used to live in the same house as Eric Collar, who’s a very fine intellectual historian. And Eric Collar was a very close friend of Albert Einstein’s. And in the same house, and it may, I think — his companion was a Mrs. Lowie, and she was the mother of Hannah Lowie, who was David Bohm’s girlfriend. And they lived in one side of the town. And very often I would walk them home, and meet the Collar’s, and I got to know Collar fairly well. And he, every once in a while then taught at Cornell and I would see him when I eventually landed at Cornell we’d meet in Cornell. What was life like at Princeton? So it was a very — Bohm introduced me to a wider world, and that’s the time when I first shed my religious affiliations.
What were his views of religion at that time?
Oh, I mean he was clearly agnostic, and I think he always was that way. I mean I don’t know what happened later. And he certainly had no, didn’t —
Did you talk much about religion at that time?
No, no, no.
And so you mentioned that he would tell you what he was reading about? Was it was mostly physics?
Yes, physics and mathematics, right. No, no, but he had a wide circle of friends and my political view were really very much more shaped than during that period, and my social circles expanded. He took me to meet people like Melba Phillips in New York. That’s when I first met Melba. He took me to his circle of friends in Roosevelt. Roosevelt is a nearby community of fairly liberal, probably communist, or at least certainly some people are communist there, intellectuals. It was a community of Ben Shahn, the artist who’s painting are really charged with moral themes. I mean, we’re coming working class and all of these things. Posters for — so in that sense, Bohm was very important. He introduced me to Eugene Gross. Eugene Gross had left.
He was older than you?
He’s 2 or 3 years older than I am, and he had already finished his Ph.D. and was up here at MIT in the first year. On my first year we both drove up, he drove up here to a physical society meeting, and I stayed with the Grosses, and my first non-kosher meal was in Cambridge with the Grosses. And that’s where I first met Eugene Gross. Then became a close friend and came to Brander’s eventually. In terms of intellectual life at Princeton, the two characteristic things were Wednesday afternoons there was always a theoretical seminar at the institute, and all the graduate students and all the theorists from the university would go over to the institute. And so this is really where you learned what was going on in theoretical physics.
Were there many visitors?
At the institute?
No, no. I mean the speakers from other places?
Yes, there would be speakers from other places, but very often just people presenting their own work of — And this was now a time when Pais was there and Frankie Young and Frances Lowie, Marie Gillman, and Resios was there. And so that’s where I got introduced really to what theoretical physics is about.
And you mentioned mostly quantum fields?
That’s what they were doing there. That’s what they were doing there primarily. That was theoretical physics at the time. Uhlenbeck was there, but even Uhlenbeck was doing quantum field theory with Pais. So for the most part, the only person who wasn’t doing quantum field release was Potscheck, who was doing neutron scattering, and Van Hover did some things with him. But otherwise it was dominated by quantum field theory.
How big the assignment it was? So, how many people would be(
I mean the seminar room was a long table with blackboards at one end. Oppenheimer would sit at the end, listening and always turning around, and constantly smoking. I would say there would be over 30, 35 people.
Was any of them of dominant personalities?
Was it all just run by him? How did the seminar proceed?
The two dominant theoretical physicists during the time that I was there and was some rivalry, and you could tell was Wigner and Oppenheimer. Okay, those were the two dominant physicists in theoretical physicists. The institute, and remember that Wigner and Oppenheimer were not together during the war, okay. One was at Los Alamos and one was in Chicago, and so there was no overlap. The first time they really interact was in Princeton in fall of ‘47 when Oppenheimer comes there. So when I come in ‘49, it’s clear there is tension. Because on the one hand, Wigner is always a phenomenon. Wigner never rode in the quantum field theory. He stood aside from that; was not terribly interested, or if he said that he was interested, didn’t partake in it. Whereas Oppenheimer was deeply emeshed in it. Oppenheimer was certainly at the institute a dominant figure, and then almost always knew what the speaker was going to say. Often very critical of what was being said. He set the tone.
So, how would this seminar proceed?
Well it would be announced, the topic. The man would get up and talk and then there could be interruptions, okay. I mean, strong interruptions.
And who would interrupt?
Primarily it would start most of the time with Oppenheimer. But it was no formalities, right. It wasn’t as if we were waiting till the end before you started asking. It was very intense, and always the very latest of things.
When did you learn first about quantum mechanics? The finer things?
Well, as soon as I came there. The advanced quantum mechanics course taught you about the lamb shift, at least that’s...
So Bohm’s course had this thing?
Bohm’s certainly had notions of self-energy, how to calculate a lamb shift in a non-relativistic case. And I sat down, and at that time, the only thing which was out was Schwinger, and we plowed through Schwinger, to understand Schwinger, 1, 2, 3. So that was Princeton at that time for the most part.
Was there also a Journal Club?
There was also a separate Journal Club.
And who ran that?
That was primarily more the experimentalists. And there you got exposed to lots of interesting things which were happening in experimental physics. In the experimental physics side, there was three main groups. I mean there was Dicke, who was doing all sorts of interesting things from positronium to possibly different ways of doing lamb shift to inversion of populations of atoms, what later would become super radiance. The other active group whom I got very close and good friend is still a good friend is Donald Hamilton, who was doing nuclear magnetic — I mean he was doing, molecular beams. Tried to do things to measure radioactive molecular beams. And Francis Pipkin and Aaron Lemonick were two of his graduate students who help build the molecular beam there. And to the point they work so closely together then people often thought that Lemonick and Pipkin as one person. And Aaron Lemonick became a very close friend. He stayed at Princeton and eventually became Dean of Faculty at Princeton for many years and still is at Princeton at the present time. And yes, Monday nights there would be the Journal Club, which would meet every Monday night and people would present.
Would you normally go to these(
Yes, very definitely.
Do you also present things there?
I also presented some things.
Who would decide the office?
I think the person who decided were the people who ran it which were Dicke and Hamilton. What I talked about at the time was proton deuteron scattering.
Did Olson, your theoretical physicist, come to the Journal Club?
Yes. And it was the entire everybody that is, all the experimentalists. Dicke, Hamilton, Reynolds who ran the cosmic ray group, and Ruby Scherr, who ran the nuclear. And one of the great tragedies, which I still remember very distinctly, was one morning I come to Palmer Lab, which was all wrote off and lots of fire engines, the cyclotron had burned down. I mean they had a cyclotron which actually burned down. So that’s one of the reason that there had been this interest in nuclear scattering and things like that. And yes, the entire department would come and listen to that.
And you mentioned tensions between Oppenheimer and Wigner. From what kind of things you would tell this. I mean, how did this — did this show up in some remark —?
The tension? No, no I mean it was —
Was it just your understanding, or were there some actions?
No, one felt it. I mean it was always each one trying to prove I’ m as good a physicist as you are, okay.
Was it mostly about physics or was it also —?
It was always about physics. It was always about physics. I mean there was no politics whichever.
And were they outside the groupings, or were they just two individuals?
It would be two individuals, I mean. Yes. And huge respect for one another but it was clear that they didn’t do physics —
What year did you pass your major exams?
In early ‘50.
Who were on the commission?
Everybody. They, all the major — all the professors interview you. The written exams, I don’t know who graded them, and then the orals you have three sets of, I mean, you saw all the faculty. The entire faculty saw you and then they got together and they graded you.
Who was difficult as examiner?
The one that I remember was Wigner who gave me a hard time on general relativity. I didn’t expect general relativity to creep up there.
And how was his English?
Very good. I mean, excellent. The first year I was there, I was actually Wigner’s research assistant. That’s how I got paid.
So they did give you some scholarship?
Oh yeah. I got paid as a research assistant. I didn’t have to teach or anything like that.
And what did you do as a research assistant?
Well he asked me to do, what I remember very carefully, he asked me to do — this was a time when people were becoming interested in nuclear shells, and so he was asking me to do, oh calculations, Thomas Fermi calculations of atoms, Thomas Fermi calculations of nuclei plotting, trying to see —
Yes, you were talking, we were talking about Wigner and being a research assistant to Wigner.
Yes. And so I would see Wigner every week and tell him what I’d been doing and he would go over what I’d been doing and things like that.
What was his personality? I know some students were, pictured him kind of hard to deal with person or not very easy to approach.
I don’t know. I must say, he must have taken a liking to me. I remember the first year I was there, I was invited to go to his house for Thanksgiving.
That food’s not kosher.
No, but I mean I went and I didn’t eat his turkey but, I also remember the question that he asked me. At the house, he said, “Would you be able to figure out how to design the switch so that if you flipped the light at the top you can put it down and off at the top or at the bottom.”
Okay, yeah, the circuit switch.
Yes, right. That first year, the fall of ‘49, I don’t know how it came up, but it was clearly in the air that the issue of whether one should build an H-bomb was discussed and was becoming a very hot topic. And my political views were very strong at that stage. And actually, there was a planned meeting where I was going to speak against the bomb and he was going to speak for building the bomb.
What kind of meeting would that be?
It was just the graduates — I mean, that would say a discussion of should one build the H bomb.
Okay, I mean how much politics were spoken on campus?
Not that much, but the issue of the H-bomb was clearly something which the physics department certainly was aware of.
What were the other grad student’s position on this?
I think for the most part that — well, I don’t — I mean, let me put it this way. I clearly didn’t talk to Ken Ford about it because he went off and — I probably was more left radical than many of the people.
Who shared your views among the colleagues, among grad students and classmates and the closest in the physics department?
Dave Bohm. I’m sure that my stand was possibly a result of my interaction of the(
No, I can’t think of anyone else.
Did Bohm speak at that meeting too?
No. I didn’t finish. The meeting was scheduled, I remember that very distinctly, and then it was canceled and Wigner didn’t want to do it, and so the meeting was canceled. I think I was aware of goings on with the institute at the time of meetings going on, important meetings. Because you saw people like Rabi and then a number of other people being at the institute and then there was the announcement in January, February of ‘50 of Truman saying we’re going ahead. And then not very much more thereafter, okay. The other big thing that then happened was the Korean War. I mean, in ‘50. And the way that shows up, and I remember that very clearly, is that the physics department then becomes deeply involved in various projects. Hamilton and Dicke become involved in further work on radar. Asked if I would like to work on that, and I somehow I declined. But there was a great deal of activities going on. You felt that something, I mean an emergency had happened.
When were these discussions about the H-Bomb? Did you remember reading anything about it at that time?
So what were the basis of your knowledge?
Oh, the basis of my knowledge as I said, was clearly much more discussions with Dave Bohm and anything reading in the newspapers, I mean —
What were his basis?
Well, he clearly had known much more about it from wartime in terms of possibility of fusion and things like that.
Where would you discuss politics with him, and what kind of occasions?
Oh, any place. Any place. It could be in the office, it could be walking home.
And how would you describe them? Or can you specify more exactly what he was thinking at that time?
I think it would be mostly — something which I couldn’t appreciate or didn’t quite appreciate is the other catastrophe that a nuclear war would entail or the use of any kind of such weapon. I mean, this haunting notion that possibly the most important thing to do is to try to find some kind of agreement in respect to weaponry.
Did he tell if he once was a member of the communist party?
No. At that stage, I’m even trying to think. I mean I knew that he had gone down, and at this stage I don’t remember explicitly when he was called down to Washington and when was(
It was May ‘49.
Okay, and when was he — and he had been cited for, citing for contempt comes maybe later?
No, yeah, that was December 15, I think. But the hearing was in May ‘49.
And did he go there afterwards again?
Not that I know.
And so the pleading of the 5th Amendment was on that single case?
So, then I probably knew that he had told me that he had taken the 5th Amendment, and one can make whatever inference one could make. Though I didn’t think he was a member of the communist party at the time. I was always thinking maybe in the back at some earlier stage and while he was at Berkeley as a graduate student, but he was already.
Would he talk about Hiroshima in the —
Not — I mean everybody had read John Hershey’s talent of Hiroshima that is how behind — I think it was more the belief that somehow one could come to terms with the Russians. That there were ways of achieving some kind of almost preventative, and the going ahead with the H-Bomb was surely the way not to do that. That is, not to come to terms.
And anything besides this international politics and the nuclear weapons?
We would go to the movies together, and then I first saw “The Third Man” with him. No, we would do — we would go out to eat eventually together. As I said, I would go to New York with him. I also acquired a girlfriend. The other person became a very close at that time was a man by the name of Gene Solitan [???], who became a teacher here at Northeastern.
Was he also in physics?
Also in theoretical physics. He was a member of the same class and we studied together for the big exams, okay. He was my partner in studying for the big exam. So, who were the major figures at the time? Wigner, inner-department —
When was your time to choose thesis topic and with whom to?
Since I was so deeply attracted to quantum field theory and some form of mathematics, I turned to Wightman, even though I hadn’t taken any courses with him.
When was this? Was it after the exam?
This was, right, after the exams right. After the exams. What happened is, after the exam(or actually before the exam. In the summer of ‘50 I was employed with the cosmic ray group. And Arthur Wightman and I rode up a little primer on relativistic collisions.
A primer. I mean you know, how to calculate various things in height.
For the cosmic ray group, okay.
For the experimentalists, right. Up to and including then at the end doing cascade theory for showers. And so I got to know Arthur Wightman, and I was really the way that made me decide to take him as a —
Was he the only choice in the quantum field theory?
At the time, yes.
Wasn’t Oppenheimer a possibility?
No, Oppenheimer was at the institute.
He had no graduate students at the stage.
And what was Wigner doing at that time?
Wigner was doing nuclear physics r-matrix and the theory of nuclear reactions. He was doing a little bit of relativistic quantum mechanics, as can you describe two body relativistic by making interactions at the singularity, I mean with the G-thing but no field theory, okay. And so in a sense I was —
And was Wheeler?
Wheeler was not around, I never saw Wheeler during the time that I was there, okay. Except the only time I saw Wheeler was in 1951, he gave a talk at the institute on ‘51, still trying to convince the audience that it might be possible to build a nucleus out of electrons and protons, okay.
And what was the argument?
It just said if you make the wells deep enough and think of it as highly relativistic, maybe there might be a way of making clonicals [???] out of that.
But Bohm was not, as a matter of principle, doing quantum field theory?
No, I could have — let me put it this way. By the time, the issue came up of choosing a, a thesis advisor, I guess Bohm was certainly a possibility, but he was getting into trouble okay. And after May of ‘50, which was roughly the end of the first year, he was told you can’t come on campus, and so technically you couldn’t do a thesis with him, right.
How was his plasma work looked up on at that time?
He wasn’t, well he was doing, I mean he was doing Bohm-Pines and things like that.
Did you come to meet Pines?
Yes, Pines was there the first year that I was there with —
Was Paul Segrassant [???] there at the same time as you?
No, no, no. He was much more — He was only there the last year and I. Okay I said it wrong. I said something which was not true. The first year I was there, I was not in Bohm’s office, okay. Though I’d met Bohm and then things like that. The first year David Pines was in his office, and when Pines graduated, I got his desk. And so the interaction got(or at some time, I think maybe David Pines might even had left at mid-year and I came there at mid-year or something like that. Because I still remember David Pines being in that office, okay. Or maybe it was the adjacent office.
Did you come to know Pines?
Yes, I got to know Pines during that first year.
And was Pines part of your political circle?
Much less, no. It was Eugene Gross who shared political views, and Eugene became much more to the right as time went on. No, but at that time we certainly saw it too often in terms of assessment. I mean, politics.
And Pines was, what did you know about Pines’ political views?
Much less, much less. I mean he was much more taciturn when we talked. One would talk physics to him and much less politics and things like that. The impression, and again I don’t know if it was formed at the time whether it’ s something which is later, it wasn’t clear whether Wigner was convinced of the Bohm-Pines approach, okay. I certainly remember, either Bohm — I think it was David Pines talking because it was his thesis defense talking about what he did — and that Wigner had his reservations, okay.
Do you remember what kind of?
Oh physics wise. No, no it was clearly always physics.
No, but what kind of reservations?
It probably had something to do with the frequent of collective variables, okay. I mean, proving that these were good variables that you didn’t over count or you didn’t under count or whether he had all the right degrees of freedom.
But generally, how was plasma work looked on that time in Princeton because it was, it wasn’t the new kind of physics and it wasn’t the new quantum field theory which at that time, the?
I mean, at the university, it was less high-brow. Wigner students, people like Janes who were older class. That is same classes, Pines and Wightman. Janes did a thesis on ferroelectrics. Impressive, but not highly quantum field theory. Wightman was, I was under Wheeler and Marshack. Theisman, who was an older generation again of Janes’s generation did his on r-matrix, that is, nuclear scattering. Who else of the older class? The older class was Harry Lipkin, and he was half experimentalist half theorist. He did his work on positron scattering.
Did he go to Israel later?
He went to Israel right then, okay. After he finished his Ph.D., went up to Israel to live on the Kibbutz and then he eventually left the Kibbutz to go live on — and he was certainly a person who would have shared, okay. The group of people who shared the political views, Dave Bohm, Harry Lipkin who went off to a Kibbutz and he also became right wing as time went on. And then there was a bio-physicist whose name I temporarily forget who became a very famous bio-physicist at Cal-Tech who was at Princeton at the time was in physics. And he was likewise of this left fringe.
And what was the occasion that you went to see Melba Phillips in New York?
Just social. Dave Bohm had known her from Berkeley. She had come back periodically to, and clearly she likewise was having political troubles at the time. And we just knew one another from those, and so we when we went to New York, we visited.
Was this a big gathering or was it(?
No, I mean, it was just a few people came.
Was she also coming down to Princeton?
No, I never saw her in Princeton. She was at Brooklyn College. She taught at Brooklyn College at that stage.
So besides this Wigner’s [???], you don’t remember any discussions or edited to Bohm’s plasma work in the department?
No. I remember him giving a big, big talk upon theory of measurement to which, but no one came. You see there were three —
Was it all, when he came up with his interpretation, and argument with von Nenmann?
No. Let me put it this way. The three big meetings of physics at Princeton were Monday night were the Journal Club, Wednesday afternoon people would put the institute a theoretical seminar there, and then Friday afternoon would be the colloquium. The colloquium would be mixed, I mean physics, whatever. One which stands out in my mind during the time I was there that I can think of, on one occasion, the one occasion I remember Einstein coming to colloquium on a Friday afternoon was Blackett came and talked on geo-magnetism. And clearly Einstein was interested; he was interested in part in unification of gravity and magnetism and various things like that. But he came, okay. He was very interested in what Blackett was talking about. Blackett was really much more interested in terms or orientations of magnetic fields in various stones and minerals that you find all over and things like that. The other talk that I remember very distinctly is Jastro [???] coming and talking about hard core nuclear physics. He was at the institute at the time, and Oppenheimer having very divergent views on whether Jastro is right or things like that. So you could see the tension palpably, okay. I remember some talks of something coming up from Brookhaven talking about heavy water and aging. But there must have been other things, right. I mean remember some talk on super-connectivity. Furry came by. So it was(I remember going to the institute. One of these talks with a packed audience, Dave Bohm talked about the quantum theory in measurements(his interpretation of quantum theory in measurement. Which was more or less Bohr like, okay.
So what year might this be?
It would be ‘50.
Okay, and why would there be the interest in this talk? Was he presenting any new results or was it(?
I think it was essentially the outline of what quantum theory measurement is in his book. I don’t think that he ever spoke about the Bohm quantum mechanics, at least I don’t remember him talking about the Bohm quantum mechanics. He had various other students. He had a student by the name of Koutz who was there at the same time. This is all people of the generation of Wightman, Janes, Pines which are two or three years earlier. What else stands out?
What was his style of working? Did he sit at the desk, or was he doing lots of calculations?
No, Bohm would be sitting at — would be reading — Well, depends whether you asking, when he was preparing his lectures, which is one thing. Or when he was thinking about his own way of, whatever work that he was doing. And at that time, he was really trying to figure out new ways of doing quantum mechanics and he was reading all sorts of mathematics, okay. That’s why I remember most distinctly is his reading various mathematics books, learning new mathematics and then talking about it. Not the technical side of it, but how you can re-conceptualize and then(
Like which kinds of mathematics?
Which kinds of mathematics would he be looking at? I think he was looking at topology(and mostly I would say topology of one kind or another.
So when do you think he came up to his interpretation? Was it still at the time that he went to Princeton?
Yes, it was still at the time that he was at Princeton because he has discussion, I mean during the time, what happens, if I remember, if my memory serves me right, like after he is held in contempt, he is told he can’t appear. And a group of us go to see Dobbs, and Dobbs tell us, gentlemen, there is a war on, okay. And essentially kicks us out of the office. And that’s almost only(
Who was in the group?
Almost all the graduate students of my year. That is Farrell, who had been a, in the Navy during World War II, Ken Ford, Sticks, Stearn. Every —
Who spoke to Dobbs?
I think I may have said something.
Was it a long meeting?
It wasn’t a very long meeting. I mean, he really, I mean, if there was ever somebody who was really deeply anti-Communist it was Dobbs. I mean he saw red. What happens then is he is not allowed to come to campus.
Was it just a formal rule, or because —?
No, it was enforced. And so I remember very distinctly —
In what way?
He couldn’t come to campus. I mean he was not allowed to come, and he respected that. And I remember very distinctly at that stage, there were two of us. And now I don’ t remember who the second one was who went to Oppenheimer and told him, “Look, this is what is happening,” and Oppenheimer was very gracious and said, “Tell Dave he has a space here, he has an office here anytime he wants,” okay. And David went to the institute and worked at the institute. And that’s when he starts talking to Einstein and about his way of thinking, about the wave guard theory, things like that.
But was he at that time in his thoughts kind of ripe, or —
We talked —
I am just trying to think whether he started developing his interpretation before or after he was banned from campus. Or when do you remember him first talking about this thing? Or was that obvious in early course that he had certain reservations about the Copenhagen interpretation?
I think it comes after he gives his big talk. I also remember at the time that — What happens in the spring of ‘50, one of the students in the class by the name of Stauber, who’s Norwegian, goes skiing and Tacuman’s Ravine up here in New Hampshire where the snow stays very late, and it may have even been during Easter break. And he gets himself killed. And now I don’t remember if it’s ‘50 or ‘51, it maybe ‘51.
It might be ‘51, but I can check this.
I think it’s probably ‘51. Because my feeling was at that stage, my interaction with Dave Bohm, was I took on the task of writing up the thesis from his notes, and so talking to Bohm, we’d be trying to understand what Stauber had been doing.
What work was that?
Again, plasma isolations of one kind or another.
The thesis wasn’t published? Was this thesis published?
No, but it’s available at Princeton. No one seems to have a copy of it, and I wouldn’t know where to find it. No, I mean my impression now and the distinct once he’ s told that he can’ t come to campus and he’ s held in contempt of Congress, then things become(to some extent, I see less of him because he doesn’t come to campus. And the interaction is certainly less intense, though I do see him, and that Christmas is when we go to Roosevelt for a Christmas party. The issue of why he’ s actually indicted and has to go down to Trenton, I mean, where one has to bail him out, and I remember driving down with his girlfriend, Hannah Lowie to get him out of jail. And then once starts talking —
Did you actually bring him back?
Yes, we brought him back from — Oh no. I think what, no, no what happened is we drive down to Trenton, the two of us, and when we were at the jail we find out that somebody had come and given out the bail and he had gone back with him and that Hannah and I drove back. Then we didn’t see him at the Lowie or Collar’s house. And then one starts talking about ways of getting out of the country, okay. And it comes to the point.