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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Leonard Cutler by Babak Ashrafi on 2006 January 18,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Dr. Leonard Cutler briefly discusses his family and educational background and early career; describes in more detail his career at Hewlett Packard beginning in 1957, including information on research, management and funding.
This is Babak Ashrafi with Leonard Cutler, January 18, 2006 at Agilent Labs in Palo Alto. I have that you were born in 1928, I believe?
Where were you born?
Were your parents’ scientists or engineers?
What did they do?
They ran small businesses like little groceries stores and a little restaurant and so forth. Then my mother worked for the County of Los Angeles.
Did you go to school in Los Angeles?
Yes, I went through high school in Los Angeles, and then I did my college work at Stanford.
Do you have siblings?
Yes I do; a brother and a sister.
Did they end up in science or engineering?
No, only I.
What was your education in L.A. like? Was there, early on, physics or chemistry?
Yes. There were classes in physics and chemistry and somewhat advanced math that we could take.
How did you fall onto the science or engineering path?
I was just always interested in scientific things from the time that I was a little kid. But I also was interested in music, so I had a decision to make: was I going to be a musician or a scientist? I decided that I wasn’t a good enough musician to really be able to make a good living at it, and I thought I could be a good scientist.
When were you thinking about this?
This was in high school.
Was there anything else — your parents or a relative or a friend — who influenced you in that decision?
I had a cousin who was an electronics engineer, and he encouraged me.
Were you thinking of a scientist in terms of industry or university? Or was it too early to think about it?
It was too early.
So you finished high school; you took some advanced math there. Did you go directly to college?
No. I joined the Navy. This was in 1945. I was in the Navy for a year and a half. During that time, I went to the electronic technician school, and then I taught some of the courses in that same school. So that was my Navy experience.
You said you were in the Navy for one year?
A year and half.
Then I went to work for a company down in Los Angeles, Hoffman Radio Company. Then after about a year of that, I started in Stanford. My original major was engineering, but I soon realized that I wanted far more basics in terms of math and physics and so forth, so I switched to a physic major.
What did you do at Hoffman Radio?
I was a technician who worked on frequency meters, doing calibration, troubleshooting and repair.
How did it come about that you went to Stanford?
One of my friends in the Navy decided to go to Stanford, so I thought that was a good school and decided I would do it.
Was it the only school you applied to?
Yes, at that time.
So you were thinking of engineering, you were saying.
So when you showed up at Stanford, were you taking engineering courses?
How did you come to decide that you wanted to do science instead?
That was after about two quarters of freshman engineering. I decided then to switch to a physic major.
Was it electrical engineering?
Do you remember what went into that decision?
Mainly I wanted more depth, and I was interested in fundamentals and understanding things other than just building things based on learned principles.
You entered Stanford in ‘48, roughly?
I think it was ‘47.
Can you tell me about the physics education you had at Stanford in ‘47? Did you get to quantum mechanics?
Not then. That was later on. Actually, I ran out of money after, I think, four quarters. Then I decided I would take time off and work, so I went to work for a small company in Los Angeles.
This is Gertsch?
Yes. I was there for I guess about nine years, and I decided that I really wanted to get back to school and finish up. I applied to Caltech and also Stanford. Caltech would have accepted me, but they wouldn’t take all of my credits. So I decided, “Well, let’s go to Stanford.”
In your nine years at Gertsch, what did you do there?
I designed some frequency meters. I also modified some design on some filters. Did some design work on power supplies and so forth. I eventually wound up as Vice President of Engineering. But it was very small company.
Was this mostly application of things you already knew when you were working at Hoffman Radio?
No, there were a lot of things, so I learned those,
But things you learned at Stanford in your four quarters there, or things you learned at work?
Mostly things I learned at work and taught myself.
Was there a person who was particularly influential, maybe a mentor? Or someone you learned from?
Yes, a very good engineer by the name of Bernard Diener. He and I got along very well, and he taught me a lot of good things. I think he was pleased with what I could do.
And your role changed from engineer to management?
Well, it still is engineering. It’s more of a title than anything. As I said, in 1957, I decided to go back to school. Went to Stanford because Caltech would not accept all of my credits, and it would have meant an extra year. So I came back to Stanford and finished up a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s and a Ph.D.
Can you tell me something about how your interests involved in that time? How you decided what kind of work you were going to go, what kind of theses?
I was interested in frequency standards because of some of the work that I had done earlier. So I got involved in atomic frequency standards, and that’s a very interesting application of quantum mechanics plus a lot of other physics. I really delighted in it. What was the other part of your question?
I’m trying to understand how your interest developed when you came back to Stanford. So when you came back, for example, had the curriculum changed much in ten years?
Yes, it had gotten better. One of the first courses that I took when I got back was quantum mechanics, and I was fascinated by it. Then I took a lot of other courses: of course, some general relativity; of course, some field theory. So I had all this stuff.
Was there someone in particular who influenced you that you talked to a lot?
George Pick [?]. He was undergraduate advisor. Then my graduate advisor was Dirk Walecka.
But you always knew you wanted to do work in frequency measurements?
Yes, certainly, that was one area that I wanted to work in. I wanted to work in other areas where quantum mechanics would be applied, but I soon got very heavily involved in frequency standard work after I finished grad school.
Did you get into a lab when you were an undergraduate?
Yes, there were classical physics labs, which were quite different then from what they are now. Mostly some experiments with gradients and whatnot, interferometers and things like that and more of the classical optics. It’s quite different now.
Was there an undergraduate thesis requirement?
How about for your master’s?
No. We just had to complete the coursework and satisfying degrees and so forth, and there was an examination at the end.
Did you know when you went back to Stanford that you would go to graduate school and get a Ph.D.?
I was pretty sure that I would. In fact, that was one of the questions that I asked George Pick, was whether he thought that I was good enough to get a Ph.D. He looked at my record and he said, “Yes.” So that pretty well quenched it.
Did you see yourself then as being an academic physicist?
No, I did not make up my mind whether I’d be an academic or in industry. However, when I came back up to go to Stanford, I was married and already had one child, so I needed to work. I went to work for Hewlett-Packard. I had a choice between Varian and Hewlett-Packard. They supported my schooling. They pretty much funded me all the way through. During that time is when I got involved in some of the frequency standard work at HP.
Did they recruit on campus? Did you go and find them?
I went and found them. Actually, the sales representative for Hewlett-Packard was Norm Nealy, Nealy Enterprises. They were also the representative for Gertsch. So when we did road shows I got to know a bunch of the HP people and they got to know me.
And you said you did more frequency work at HP.
Was that also the topic of your dissertation?
It was my part of my dissertation. The biggest part of the dissertation was a theoretical study in elastic and corrections to an elastic electron scattering of nuclei. That was a big part of my thesis. The second part was noise in lasers. I found an error in Towne’s, Shimoda and Wang’s original paper. Plus, they had an approximate solution and were able to get an exact solution for some of the early stuff.
So your work at Stanford was theoretical.
And at HP?
Some theory and a lot of practice, a lot of design.
Did you think about that issue much, whether you wanted to be an experimental physicist or a theoretical one?
I felt that I had done a lot of work in engineering-type stuff; therefore, I felt that my schooling really ought to be more theory. I haven’t been sorry about that.
Was there a strong distinction at Stanford between theoretical students and experimental students?
Not really, but it depended on who your advisor was. You could have an experimental physicist as an advisor or a theoretical, and I chose theoretical.
But I mean in the sense that one had to choose one or the other. It wasn’t as if though you were just learning. Were there people who were studying both aspects of physics? It sounds like you were doing a lot of engineering work; a lot of practical, but also you’re studying theory. Was that common or was that rare or Stanford?
I don’t think it was too common. I wouldn’t say that it was rare, but not too common.
Was it clear to you, as you finished up, that you’d be going to HP? Did you look around?
I felt a great deal of loyalty to HP because they had supported me in giving all my schooling. I saw that I probably had a pretty good future at the company, so I decided to stay with them.
Were you thinking mostly of yourself as a research physicist? Or did you also think about moving into management at HP? Was that something you were interested in early on?
I was not interested in management. In fact, I never have really been interested in management, although I’ve had to do some.
Can you tell me about your early work at HP?
One of the first things that I worked on was an oscillator for a frequency modulation station monitor. They needed a good oscillator for that, so I designed one. Then I also designed some oscillators for the early frequency counters. Then I designed several precision oscillators that we sold as precision oscillators — these are all quartz oscillators. Then we heard about Varian, who was doing work with rubidium and cesium gas cell devices, so we got interested in that and that started a program on that.
But early on, you were an engineer. Can you tell me about how the scientific research at HP is organized? So is your work tied very directly to product development?
In the early days, yes; but then later on, in the latter part of the ‘60s, HP formed a laboratory called HP Labs. There, you could further out things.
You started at HP in ‘57.
Correct. And I got my Ph.D. in ‘66. I was working at HP all the time, too.
Through ‘57 to part of the ‘60s, your work was closely tied to product development. At what point do you move into HP Labs? Do you remember?
Actually, I helped form HP Labs. That was around. . .I think it was around ‘66.
Can you tell me how that came about?
Packard said, “We have drunk from the Well of Knowledge for many years. It’s now time to return something to that well.” That was one of the basic reasons.
Was there any consideration of how it would help the bottom line of HP? Or was it just an interest in science?
Clearly, they were interested in proving the bottom line, but there was also an in interest in pure science.
So how did you get involved in the attempts to set up HP Labs?
I was part of the small team that initially started developing it. Then very soon I dropped out of that and just became a member of the labs.
So how was it set up? How was it funded?
It was funded directly from the corporation. I think it was roughly 10% of the research dollars that were spent in all of the divisions, so that amounted to something like 1%, because division research was about 10% at that time.
How was research priorities selected? How were projects selected to pursue in HP Labs?
We looked at the potential of the product that would come out of the research. We also looked at the contribution to basic science. I was mainly the former.
Who did HP Labs report to? Did someone ever say, “No, no, that’s not going to pay off? We’re not interested in that”?
The first director of HP Labs was Barney Oliver, and he was a very powerful guy, one of the brightest guys I’ve ever known. So he had a lot to say about what got worked on. Also, Bill Hewlett controlled a lot of it. Bill was very good technically.
At what point did you hear about Varian’s work?
That was in 1959 or 1960.
So that’s before the HP Labs were set up.
Should we say something more about your work at HP before HP Labs?
Yes. Another thing that we found was that Varian had developed a cesium beam tube. A performance of cesium could be considerably better than rubidium gas cell devices, so we started the program. I developed the first all-solid-state set of electronics to go with a cesium tube to make a solid-state cesium standard. That came out as a product in 1964, I believe. It was very well received; it was the best thing available at the time.
Were you working as part of a team? Were you managing other scientists and engineers?
Yes. We had a group of engineers helping to do a circuit design. I did some of the circuit design myself. We also started our own program on a cesium beam tube, and so I contributed there.
I believe you’re an engineering section leader?
What does that mean?
A section leader has project managers reporting to them, and the project managers have engineers reporting directly to them. Also about that time I was made Director of Quantum Electronics, which is a title more than anything else.
So you were both managing people and doing your lab work still.
Did you work in the calculations and so on?
Was this something that you were familiar with from your previous working experience, or was it new for you?
I had done management work at Gertsch, for example. I managed a couple of engineers.
How did your role change once HP Labs was set up?
About the same time as the labs were set up, I was asked to go back to Massachusetts to — Well, let me back up. We decided that we would buy the frequency standard operation from Varian. This was located in Beverly, Massachusetts. I was chosen to go back and manage that, which I did for about two and a half years, and it was started in early ‘67. The Frequency and Time Division had moved to Santa Clara, so we decided to bring the eastern group, which was my group, out to California with as many people as made sense.
How big was the group in Varian?
Probably about 20 people.
When you went there, did you notice some organizational or cultural differences between HP and Varian?
Not a lot.
Did your role become more management, less science and engineering when you were managing 20 people?
Clearly, I had to do management-type things and administrating and so forth, but I still was able to do some science. That was where I first met Norm Ramsay. He was a wonderful guy to know. So I did still get to do some technical work. Then, as I said, we moved the operation out here, and at that time I wanted to join the labs again. So I was made a lab director… I can’t remember the name of the first lab. It might have been Physical Sciences Lab. Physical Research Lab.
In which year?
That would have been around 1970, late ‘69.
Yes, Director of the Physical Research Lab.
But previous to this, you were a manager of the Frequency and Time Division; you mentioned that.
Frequency and Time Division East; not the whole Frequency and Time Division — that was much larger and out here in California.
Okay. But around ‘68, you became a member of the advisory panel for the National Bureau of Standards. How did that come about?
Because I had gotten to know a bunch of people in the frequency standards group and they knew me, they asked if I would be interested in becoming one of the advisors. So I said yes.
And you did that for a good 20 years.
Well, off and on. Not a continuous 20 years.
What were the differences or similarities between what you saw in a government and what you had seen in industry?
Clearly, the government labs could look further in science than industry was willing to do. In particular, the National Bureau of Standards was after making the very best measurements that you could possibly make, or the very best equipment as a standard that you could possibly make. So they were always looking for the next generation of things to come along. They had some tough times financially, which industry also has, too, but it’s a little different when you’re working in a government group.
You moved to Santa Clara then. So you came back to Palo Alto, and you said you explicitly wanted to get back into the lab.
Meaning do less management and more research?
So should we talk about what work you did when you came here? Or before we go, is there something you want to say about your experience with the Varian group in Beverly?
Well, there were some very talented people there: Bob Vessot, who was well-known internationally for his work in hydrogen lasers, so he was part of that group; Joe Holloway, who had designed some of the cesium beam tubes, was part of the group. He came out here with us; Bob Vessot did not. He was working either in 1970 or ‘71 and he developed a brain tumor that killed him. So that was a great loss. The people back there were good and were interesting to work with.
It’s interesting, you seemed to straddle both applied or experimental as well as theoretical physics, and you straddled management and research physics.
I imagine you have an interesting view of the various roles of research physicists in industry.
Yes, to some extent.
How did that change or develop, in your experience, in HP?
What aspect are you asking me about?
I’m asking a very general question about how research physicists fit into, let’s say, HP Labs, in your experience.
There were very few to start with, and we started hiring more and more of them when it became obvious that they could solve some really difficult problems. As a result of being able to solve those problems, our products could become quite a bit better. HP certainly had the reputation of making the best instruments around for a long time.
Did research physicists tend to stay research physicists? Or did they take on various roles in the company?
It was a bit of both. Some of them moved into management and some of them stayed research physicists.
So there’s no particular pattern you can discern.
Were there changes in how research physicists moved about the company, what roles they took over time?
Probably yes, but I’m not a good one to observe that.
Okay, so you came back to Palo Alto and you went back into the lab.
What were you doing? This is now, we’re talking...
1970. Late ‘69 or ‘70. We started a program on magnetic-bubble memories. I don’t know whether you’re familiar with those at all.
Turns out that thin anti-ferromagnetic material would get domains that you can control the size of by applying an external field. If you generate a bubble — in other words, an isolated domain — you can manipulate it and move it around with external magnetic fields. This looked like a good area to pursue at that particular time, so we worked on that. There were a number of other companies working on it, including Bell Labs and a lot of the universities. We ultimately developed a one-megabit memory. What was happening is that — These are nonvolatile memories. So on the low-cost side, disks were improving rapidly. On the high end, solid-state memory was improving rapidly, both in performance and cost. So this little space where we were with the bubble memory shrunk, and we finally killed the program.
How long did that program last?
Maybe five years. I don’t know.
Was that your main activity during those five years?
No. We developed a new cesium beam tube, and that was one of the things that we did. I also got involved in Bay Area Rapid Transit.
Yes. There was an accident, and it was called Fremont Flyer. Fremont is the end of the track. A train was coming in and was supposed to stop. Instead of stopping, it speeded up and went over the edge and so forth. The supervisors of BART decided that they wanted an external panel to review this, so Barney Oliver was chosen and was one of the members. Well, he was certainly the best member of the group. He asked a fellow by the name of Dave Cochran and me to help him out. So we developed a logic system for detecting when trains were in blocks. Plus, we found the reason for the speed change that caused the train to clear the end of the track. So we were involved with BART for probably several years.
On this specific problem, or also other things?
On the train detection and also on the speed control problem.
So that’s two kinds of government interaction you’ve mentioned. One was the National Bureau of Standards, and the second was BART.
Were there other kinds of consulting roles you had outside HP?
Fairly recently, I was asked to sit on a review of the California Institutes for Science and Technology. This was something that the Governor set up. The idea was that he would give $100 million to something like perhaps four universities to form these institutes.
Is this Schwarzenegger?
No, this was before Schwarzenegger. Gray Davis. The universities were to get external funds to match the $100 million that they were getting from the state. There were eventually four of these institutes, and I can’t remember their names. But I was asked to sit in on a review over there.
What about other interactions with academia?
I kept some contacts over at Stanford and visit there occasionally and interact with the people.
Visit informally or as an instructor or a researcher?
You were Director of the Physics Research Lab from ‘69 to ‘81.
That sounds about right.
What were the duties of the director?
To work on the budgets, to propose new projects, to kill projects when it was appropriate, hire people. I was still able to do some technical work. I probably was a rather poor manager because of that, but I didn’t care.
You didn’t get much pressure to stop doing your technical work and do more management?
There was some pressure, but not a lot.
Were there some episodes in controlling the budget or creating new projects or killing projects or bringing new people on board that were particular important to HP Labs in these 12 years that you were the Director?
These things were all important. They were all important to all of the laboratories. We eventually had a solid-state lab, an electronics research lab, a physical sciences lab. So, about four labs.
And in the whole period, the funding was directly from corporate?
10% of the research for the...?
Do you want to talk about your technical work during this period?
I mentioned the BART stuff.
Was that something you did outside? Was that considered work outside your HP work, or was it part of your HP work?
Since Packard had agreed to help BART, it was part of my HP work. I think I’ve told you the sorts of things that we worked on there. There were the magnetic-bubble memories. We also acted as consultants for the commercial cesium standards down in Santa Clara, because they’re fairly complicated devices and need fairly good technical work to solve problems, so we spent some time doing that. Those were the main things at that lab.
I have a question, which has two sides to it. Either as a research scientist or as a director, were there standards for what kind of records researchers kept?
Yes. There were laboratory notebooks, and these were checked out. If there were things that could be considered as inventions, there was a place for signatures and dates and so forth, so that they could be used as documents to back up inventions.
What do you mean they were checked out?
They came from a repository, and each book had a number. Each individual was assigned a book with a number, and when that book got folded, it was back where he was able to keep it, but if he left the company, of course, he gave it back.
Those are still kept somewhere?
Probably. We have the same sort of thing here at Agilent.
How has record keeping changed? Do they still have that kind of notebook checkout system at Agilent? Must be a lot more electronic now.
We have discussed electronic techniques as recently as within the last year, but so far, nothing much has been done.
So what is the system now? Is it what you described?
It’s essentially laboratory notebooks.
Then you stopped being Director of the Physical Research Lab in ‘81. Is that right?
That’s probably about right.
And you moved to something called the Physical Science Lab.
Yes. That was set up by Don Hammond.
What’s the Physical Science Lab?
It was sort of an outgrowth of things I had been doing, plus things that Hammond was interested in. He was an expert in quartz, and so did a lot of work on quartz resonators. One thing I forgot to mention early on is that we developed the laser interferometer, which is presently for lithography and integrated circuits. Development work on that was. . . I think that was started in about 1965, and it became a product.
How long did work on that last? What was the product?
Probably a couple of years. There were two other guys and I who held the basic patents on 190 interferometers. So that was a good thing for the company.
What’s the difference between the Physical Research Lab and the Physical Science Lab?
The Physical Science Lab had Don Hammond as its director, so it brought in quartz and stuff.
So it was a technical difference? It didn’t serve different functions in the company? It didn’t have different missions?
The Physical Research Lab... Let’s see. Well, I can’t remember the details too well. Hammond was hired by Bill Hewlett, so he was made Lab Director. He worked mainly in the area of quartzes and that stuff. But also elsewhere when we started the cesium beam tube program, which we did. So I reported to him for a while.
And then you became director. Is that it?
Okay. So your role changed when you went between two labs.
Yes. Then eventually, I was Director of what became known as the Instruments and Photonics Lab. There, we developed optical time domain reflectometers, did some work in developing optical modulators for fibers, and also worked on a trapped mercury ion frequency standard.
Can you step back a second? How is it that you went from Director of the Physical Research Lab to working with the Physical Science Lab?
Actually, that’s not right. I was Director of the Physical Research Lab, and then Joel Birnbaum became director of the labs. He didn’t like the name Physical Research Lab, so that was changed then to Instruments and Photonics. So I was a continuing Lab Director. But the association in Hammond actually had been in earlier years.
The chronology I have (and maybe it’s wrong) is that you were Director with the Physical Research Lab ‘69 to ‘81, then Director of the Physical Science Lab ‘81 to ‘84, and then you moved to Instruments and Photonics ‘84 to ‘87.
That sounds about right.
So you were Director of Physical Research, then you were Director of Physical Science, but you reported to Hammond.
Yes. Hammond was the Center Director.
What’s the organization? The center and then a bunch of labs?
Yes. There were several centers and labs under each center. That’s not the original organization. Originally there were only labs. But then they decided that it was too much for the director of the laboratories to manage all these different laboratories, so they needed center directors. He managed through them.
What center was Hammond’s center?
I can’t remember what it was.
Did the funding change when the organization changed?
Yes. The center directors had a lot of control of the funding.
But it was still the 10% corporate funding?
Yes. 10% of the research was done in the divisions, so it was really about 1%.
I see. So you had these three directorship titles — Physical Research, Physical Science, Instruments and Photonics Lab. Did your role change as your title changed? Or was it basically the same?
Same sort of thing.
So I believe we talked about your research through ‘87.
Yes, high-temperature superconductivity in 1986. We decided that it was important enough that HP couldn’t neglect it, so we formed a Superconductivity Lab, and I was made Director of that. I was Director of that until 1989 or so.
Do you know why it was you rather than one of the other lab directors?
I think it was because I had a stronger technical background than the other lab directors.
And their background was more management?
In some cases, yes. They were all technical, but they were more interested in management.
How often did HP set up a new lab? Is that a rare thing?
Yes, it’s fairly rare.
Where do you recruit staff from? The other labs or outside HP or both?
Both. We hired some very good people from Stanford, some of whom are still here in other areas. There were also some internal people that were quite good that we moved into the lab.
What was your agenda for this lab?
To develop a superconductive device that would be useful to the company.
So that’s pretty broad.
Did you have a lot of leeway in deciding what that meant?
Yes. First of all, we had to work on materials, and the material was yttrium barium copper oxide, YBCO. It’s the one that we chose. It had fairly high temperature and was fairly easily produced with fairly good quality. In fact, it’s one of the materials that is still important today. So we were going to try to develop some devices around that, but things professed fairly slowly because the basic physical understanding of this material still isn’t known. There are a lot of theories that people have worked on, but not one of them has been thoroughly accepted.
What kinds of products and instruments were you aiming for?
Very low noise devices, amplifiers, logic. We could make fast logic with low power. So those sorts of things.
Was there a lot of conversation with other managers or other groups at HP in trying to decide what the new lab should do?
There was some, but mostly... See, this was under Joel Birnbaum. Mostly, it was Birnbaum who decided what we should do.
You were director for three years.
Yes. That’s about right.
Does the lab continue?
It continued as a department in another laboratory, and then eventually the project was killed because we just couldn’t see that the problems were all going to be solved, so we killed it.
That was after you left as Director?
Were you involved in the decision to kill it?
To a small extent.
How is it that you moved on from being Director of that lab?
I was made what was called a Distinguished Contributor, so it was a technical position; no longer a lab manager.
Now, in that position, you’re working on your own projects? Are you managing a group of people?
I managed a small group of people. We were developing a new cesium standard, and so I had a group that was working on that. We finished that up in about 1991. That rapidly became the best commercial cesium standard in the world. So we did a good job.
This is, you say, from 1990 to 1991.
Okay and after that?
Let’s see. I did some work on improvements in laser interferometers. We also designed a new beam tube for the new cesium standard. So, continued technical support of the cesium business down in Santa Clara, and that was one of the main things. Right now I have a very small group. We have a subcontract with Rockwell on a chip-scale atomic clock, so this is kind of fun. We’re also working, again, with the laser interferometer stuff. We were starting some work on low-noise microwave oscillators. That’s about it.
Has research at HP and Agilent, in your experience, always been closely tied to development? Has the relationship between research and product development changed or for technology development?
It swings back and forth as to whether it’s far out or closer in. As the company gets into small problems financially, then they tend to look closer in rather than further out, as you might expect.
How about either limitations or advantages to doing research in industry as opposed to research in—
You were saying that you had more freedom in academia.
Much more freedom in academia to do what you want. On the other hand, in order to do what you want you need to get funding, so a fair amount of time is spent in running courses and so forth. So that’s quite different from industry.
When you were deciding which new products to start, you had control of the budget as well.
To some extent. Generally, each lab was given a budget, and how that budget was split up was pretty much decided by the lab director.
How about your training and experience in physics? Was that something completely separate from your business management skills? Or was there some interaction between a person’s capacity to do one and also to do the other?
That’s a hard question to answer! In my case, I didn’t take very many management courses; I took mostly technical courses. I did take a few management courses.
When you were at Stanford, or afterwards?
When I was at HP. Of course I was at Stanford part of that time at the same time. But there are a lot of management courses that are made available to both HP and Agilent people. Some of those were mandatory, and I’ve had to take some.
Do you find them helpful?
To some extent. A lot of it’s just common sense.
I’ve tried to ask this question a couple of times. I’m not sure the best way to ask it. You’ve been at HP since ‘57. If you look back over it, has the nature of research and industry in HP changed?
In what ways?
Very early on, transistorized instruments were just starting to be developed around 1957. Commercial transistors were becoming available and so forth. Then things like the laser interferometer, that was the result of an idea that Al Bagley and Joe Rondo [?] and I had using a header interferometer. When we started building this, this rapidly took over and became the standard in the industry. I know that at HP, for example, now, there’s a group under Stan Williams that’s doing fairly far out research. I hired Stan, actually, into HP; when Agilent split off, he decided to stay with HP. But they’re doing fairly basic research in materials and devices based on crossbar switches where ultimately single molecules between the crossed would act as the conductors to make the switch work. So that was the idea that they had, and that’s pretty far out.
These are technical changes in the nature of research.
What about changes in the role or the proceed role that research plays in the company in terms of its importance, in terms of its payoff, in terms of how it’s funded or organized, its relationship to the business units? Has that changed, in your experience?
The funding model here at Agilent has changed within the last year. Part of it comes from corporate and part of it now comes from the divisions. The part that comes from the divisions sort of encourages us to work on things for those particular divisions.
Do you have to go out and get that funding? Or is it some set percentage?
I don’t know how that’s decided. I’m fairly far removed from that, I think. But as far as talking about the importance of the labs, I think that they have always been pretty well respected for what they’ve produced. One of the things that we do is to keep tracks of the things that we have developed and the parts that they play instruments. We even try and calculate a financial value for those.
Who does that? The lab directors, or...?
No, the lab directors do some of that.
What happens to that information?
It gets shared with top management.
Is this an initiative with the lab directors? Or is this something that the top management asked for?
Well, it’s something that the lab’s management is for, then it gets reported all over the company.
Has there been ongoing discussion within HP or Agilent of the value of the research labs? Or has that been just taken for granted all these years?
Oh, I think it always gets discussed, and every once in a while, somebody will say, “Let’s get rid of the labs.” But so far that hasn’t happened, so that says something in itself.
Has either — on the one hand, the reason to get rid of the labs or the justification for keeping the labs — has that changed over time? What have those reasons been?
One of the reasons is financial. The divisions, who would like to keep the money that they have to give to us... Before, when corporate was supplying all of the funding, the divisions were taxed, and so a part of their funds came to support the labs. Now they’re no longer taxed; they have to pay for it directly. So this changes their viewpoint, as you might imagine.
What’s the difference between tax and pay directly?
Corporate tax means that a percentage of their sales got taken by corporate, and then corporate allocated that out to the labs. So that’s taxed. The other one, which is in place now, is the divisions actually give money directly to the labs, to those labs that they want to.
So the labs have to convince the divisions that they’re worthwhile.
Would it to be fair to summarize what you have said as the top management has always seen the labs as very valuable, and they’ve had to convince the division folks to contribute money to the labs?
So the division folks have not shared—
Some of them have. As you might expect, the division which hasn’t received much from the labs, just because of the programs that we work on, they’re the ones who don’t really support us or would not be as supportive.
How is it now? Are the labs doing fine? Can you tell me that?
As you might have heard, we just sold off the semiconductor products group. As a result of that, the group which the labs is part of, has to cut themselves, so they let go of a lot of people and so forth. The labs went from 300 and some-odd people down to about 150 people. Part of these people went with the semiconductor products group and formed a new company, and parts of them were workforce management, who were canned.
The 300 and 150, that’s the staff for all four labs?
Right now, there are only two labs plus my little group.
Okay. Is there something I should have asked you about? Something interesting that we should’ve talked about that I didn’t ask?
I was involved in the late 1 970s in an interesting relativity experiment. This was with Professor Carol Allie at the University of Maryland. We took two groups of clocks — one that stayed on the ground and another one that was in another group of clocks in an aircraft. It was supposed to fly as high and as slow as possible to look for the gravitational effect. We were able to measure that in two hours, which isn’t great, but nevertheless, it certainly agreed with the predictions.
How did that come about?
I had met Carol Allie at a number of conferences, so he knew my work. We had the best small cesium standards available at that time, so he wanted me to work with him.
Were there other collaborations with people in academia?
That’s the main one.
We’ve kind of run through the questions I jotted down and I wanted to ask you about, so unless you want to add something...
I think its fine.
Okay. Well, thank you very much.