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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Gerard De Vaucouleurs by Ronald Doel on 1991 November 20,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Topics discussed include: De Vaucouleur's family background; his introduction to the French Astronomical Society; his interest in astronomy; his education and classes he took in spectroscopy; Jean Cabannes; Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin; Daniel Barbier; Henri Mineur; Nick Mayall; Bernard Lyot; Harlow Shapley; Institute of Astrophysics; E. C. Slipher; Physics Research Laboratory at the Sorbonne; G. Vakuler; Paul Couderc; Lick Observatory; Donald Menzel; Mount Stromlo Observatory; Arthur Hogg; Pierre Querin; Frank Kerr; Magellanic clouds; Colin Gum; Bill Buscombe; Ernst Opik; Vera Rubin; Lowell Observatory; Gerry Kron; Fritz Zwicky; Albert Wilson; Roger Putnam; Bart Bok; Australian National University; Ed Carpenter and V. M. Slipher.
This is Ron Doel, and this is an interview with Gérard de Vaucouleurs. We are recording this in Austin, Texas. Today is November 20, 1991. I know that you were born on April 25, 1918 in Paris, but I don't know much else about your family or about your early life. Who were your parents? What did they do?
Well, my parents were divorced when I was a young child and I was raised [and] educated by mother, (?) de Vaucouleurs, who was a painter. She had great merit in raising two children. I had a sister, Lorette [?], who was three years younger than I, and we were a very small, tightly knit family. My mother had a brother, George, George de Vaucouleurs, who had an early interest in astronomy. He became a member of the French (?) Society in 1925. In fact he was presented to the society by Flammarion on the very months when Flammarion died in 1925.
Is that right?
My mother had also some interesting astronomy. She was not scientific (?), but she had a very active intellect, and she had bought in the 20s a large illustrated book Popular Astronomy, published by the Larousse (?) Company. In Paris it was called (?) by (?), who was not an astronomer, but it was illustrated by Lucien Rudaux (?). Lucien Rudaux was an amateur astronomer, an excellent artist, and he published many books, articles on astronomy, including some in this country. So in the late 20s I looked at this book several times, and there was an interest in the sky. When I was probably four or five years old I remember my mother waking me up at night on the 10th of August, 1920-something, I don't remember the year, and we were on vacation in Brittany, to show me the (P?s), the meteor shower. That was probably my first contact with the heavens, and this terrified me. After that, the same night, when she put me back to bed, I had the terrific nightmares of, I don't know, infinity of things — these showers, the meteors in (?) fights. I was of course a very small child at the time.
But, in the late 20s and early 30s I was very much interested in history, geography, strategy. The walls of my room were covered with the maps of the battlefields of the First World War. Of course you realize I grew up in the shadow of the First World War.
And we would religiously observe the minute of silence on the 11th of November, at 11:00 a.m. to commemorate the Armistice. My mother had lost a brother, another brother she had named Henri (?), who died in 1917. He was on the French battleship in the (?) which was sunk by an Austrian submarine. And so my second name is Henri in commemoration of her brother. So there was a general interest in intellectual things, and especially astronomy.
Yes. It's interesting that your mother knew of the (P?s). That wouldn't necessarily be knowledge that many people of her generation would have.
No, but as I said, she had read this book on (?), which it was well illustrated, and of course from my brother she — her brother was an engineer and he had a scientific interest.
Did you have conversations with your uncle about astronomy? I realize he was in the French amateur group. Did you talk to him at that point?
Not before 1932. I became interested in astronomy seriously in 1932. Coming out of school in Paris I came across four booklets published by a French priest, (?), who was a Professor of Mathematics at the Seminary in (B?), and he was a prolific writer of elementary and popular science texts on mathematics, physics, astronomy. And he wrote I supposed in the 1910s or early 20s four booklets, the titles of which would be in translation, Where are We?, Where Do We Come From?, Where are We Going?, Who are We? And these four books convinced me that I should become an astronomer, because this was the most fascinating topic I could think of. So I switched from military strategic things to more peaceful endeavors. And my mother bought me my first telescope, you know the folding type used by mariners?
On the 2nd of June, 1932, that was her birthday, and I immediately started looking at the sky. I still have this first notebook of observations. I remember it, you know, it was the time of many (m?) activity, you know, in the 1930s, and I looked at the sun (?) faithfully every day, and there was not once but (?) to be seen, so I decided that's (?) with other boys [laughs]. I turned to the planet, the moon, and the stars.
So my real interest began in 1932, and my uncle, Charles de Vaucouleurs, introduced me to the French Astronomical Society in I think February 1933, or beginning of 1933, so I can remember the French Astronomical Society since 1933. I expect that in 1993 they would give me a medal (?) which they give to members who have been with them for sixty years or more.
So after that I was then 15 years old. All my schooling and my efforts were directed in the direction of becoming a scientist, an astronomer.
I dropped (?) everything. I even, in 1930 (?) I even went to the Estelle (?) (?) on the (?) to sell my collection of stamps, to get some money to buy astronomy books. I just cleared the decks, and that was a great mistake, because I am sure they would be worth quite a lot today.
But you were 15 at the time. That's a different perspective.
That's right. But I really cleared the decks of any other activity and became completely absorbed by astronomy, even at the expense of my studies sometimes.
Where there other friends who shared your interest in astronomy?
Or was it something you did on your own?
I tried to attract my sister to work with me, but after a few months she revolted, you know. She was a girl, and she had other interests. She was a musician. She played the piano beautifully, ever since she was very small, so she was aware of course of what I was doing, but would not work with me in astronomy. No, but quickly I began to not only attend the meetings of the French Astronomical Society, once a month they had a meeting, and especially they had an observatory in Paris on top of the Hotel Dessociaté Savant (?), which the buildings are still there, the domes are still there, but they are now empty of telescopes. The French Astronomical Society moved their observatory to (S?), oh, about 20, 30 years ago. But they had then two telescopes: they had the 6-inch and the twin 7-inch photographic — no.7-inch visual and 6-inch photographic something — twin telescope. And I used these telescopes in 1935 and until 1939.
Very actively. And they gave me an early prize for my (?) at the French Astronomical Society Observatory. And also I began quickly to shift from looking at the planets, you know just I did a lot of — First I had this, oh, an inch and a half telescope, but then in 1933 I had a regular telescope, with a 40 millimeter refractor that my mother bought for me, and then 1934 she gave me the money to buy a 3-inch refractor. After that I went to the Astronomical Society for larger telescopes. In those days I was living in (?), that's a suburb of Paris.
And the sky was relatively dark, and I looked at all the (?) object, not exactly all, but most of the (?) objects, because the planets I was observing regularly, Mars, especially after 1935, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, and I would send reports on my observations for Astronomy (?).
It's the magazine, Astronomy.
Yes, it's the magazine of the French Astronomical Society. I began to attend informal meetings of friends visiting the Flammarion (?) Observatory (?) while Madame Flammarion was still receiving and entertaining friends (?) husband.
What kinds of people would attend those meetings? Were they also professionals you mean who —?
Sometimes, yes. In fact, one of the earliest photographs I have of my session in astronomical setting is a photograph —
We're looking now at the book Life in Astronomy.
— of a group of friends at the (?) Observatory in 1934, and on it we see, if I can find it, we see (?), there was my boss, who was Director of the Institute of Astrophysics —
— (?), the French optician (?), and Paul (?), the physician who was also a world class double star observer, who still lives in retirement in Normandy, and Madame Flammarion, and I was there. 1934, therefore I was 16 years old. And in fact as a result of this visit, Andre (?) invited me to bring my refractor, my lens, the 3-inch doublet, to Paris Observatory where he tested it and adjusted the two lenses (?) to minimize astigmatism, and I had the refraction (?) immediate range with which I could see a fair amount of detail. I was fortunate to have very good, very keen eyesight in my right eye, which was my observing eye, and I could really see up to the limit of what the refractor can show. Also, by observing the planet I learned how to draw —
Was that something your mother helped to influence?
Not that she taught me, but perhaps it's inheritance. I don't have — at my home I have many paintings from my mother. I don't know. I was not taking the drawing lessons in school, because they were not compulsory, so I learned to draw correctly by observing the planets. But later, in the last class of the Dc. (?), after the Bachelor degree, the drawing was compulsory, and I discovered that I could draw very well because of this experience with the planets. Repeatedly I have met comprising of my drawings as photographs, and the comprising is good. I was probably influenced also by looking at the drawings made by Atoniadi. Atoniadi was I think a (?) observer who had worked with Flammarion in the early 1900s, and then he was given access to a 32-inch refractor at (?) Observatory which he used until 1941 I think to make superlative drawings. He was really an artist. I was not quite as good as he was I think as an artist, but the (?) of my drawings have checked many times against photographs.
What kind of contact did you have with Atoniadi?
I did not — I never met him.
Is that right?
No. I just had a request from Dr. Kim (?), who is Director of the Mars (?) section of the British (?) Association, and he wants to write a biography of Atoniadi, (?) 40s (?) extensive bibliography on Atoniadi, and I wanted to do a critical review of all his work. I never had time to do it, so — But he died in 1944, and in 1943 I was at the Sorbonne and had organized in my lab experiments to invite (?) target that would look somewhat like Mars, and I invited him but (?) his friend Baldet (?), Victor Baldet, who was an astronomer at (?), but he declined to attend. And now I can understand, because he died in 1944. His eyesight was declining, and he didn't want to be subjected to testing by a young student. I wonder what else I can tell you.
I'm interested in that. I wanted —
Also I could add that in 1935 or so or '36, '35 I think, I was given access to the Library of Paris Observatory, through Dr. Paul Bass (?) I believe. I was introduced to (?), the Director of Paris Observatory at the time, the inventor of the talking clock —
— and he gave me permission to use the Paris Observatory library, which is open (?) what I could read at the French Astronomical Society library. In fact, in order to have access to the reviews and publications I have volunteered to help the librarian clean up the dusty shelves and put some of the library in order. They were keeping fairly good order in the books, but the professional publications, like Astrophysical Journal or even Popular Astronomy, or contributions from (?), they were (?) close it because a (?) astronomer would not read there. So I offered to clean up the mess in order to have access to them.
So this gave me a very good background in astronomy, because even before I finished my undergraduate degree, I had an extensive knowledge as a (?).
I cannot claim I have read everything that was published in astronomy since 1900, but (?) I went through (?), Popular Astronomy, Astrophysical Journal, The Bulletin of Harvard College Observatory, Harvard Annals, and I was very familiar with occultant (?), and this has helped me throughout my life. In fact, much later when I was a professor here, my students used to make fun of me. They would make some (?) sketches, you know, of the faculty for a Christmas party, and I remember one student imitating me and saying, "Oh, but in that presentation you failed to mention that Dr. So-and-So published a paper on the same subject in the April issue of 1913, the (?)." [laughs]
For example, I started very early a collection of mostly (?s), and I have now my collection of the (?) almost complete back to the 1840s.
Is that right? That's interesting.
So — and I started very early a rather extensive professional type library. I graduated quickly beyond the popular books, although I was an academic (?) astronomer, mainly because I didn't have the tools to do professional work. I spent a lot of time working on (?) tasks and learning visual and later photographic photometry.
I wonder, before we get to that —
— when you mentioned about reading through the literature, there were two other languages at least besides French in the (?) and also English —
(?) at school I had nine years of German, and I could read easily. I can still read with the help of dictionary, but during the war I could speak German, and I tried to speak German with German soldiers in Paris, although communications were sometimes still tense — [laughs] — but nevertheless, I could speak fairly well. In fact in 1944 a German soldier asked me for directions in a Paris subway, so I gave him his direction, and as he was leaving he turned around and said, ["Are you a Berliner?" in German]. I said, "Nein, nein, (?) Pariser." [laughing] But it means — and I had never been to Germany, because of course relations between France and Germany were quite nonexistent. There was no exchange of students in the 1930s, so —
Would you have been interested to do that though, had that been possible?
There was no concept of this. I corresponded for a few months with a Hungarian student who was learning French and (?s) speaking German, but there was no communication with German schools because of the tense situation, so it just means that our French professors of German were very good.
English I learned on my own. When I discovered in 1932 or '33 that English was the language of astronomy, I picked it up for myself. I still have my books. What I did was simply take a dictionary, take an article, ApJ. or a bulletin, and translate it from beginning to end, leaving blank the words I could not understand. And then later could fill it in.
That's interesting. Yes.
So the result was that, by the time I went to England in 1950, I knew all about the scientific language, but I had no idea what a traffic light was, or any practical, you know. But of course, I learned English quickly, being in England.
Yes. Do you recall, when you look back on what you began reading then, were there any particular topics or any articles that stand out in your mind as being very influential at that time?
No. Because I really read hundreds and hundreds of articles, and I was interested in just about everything in astronomy — even the sun, and certainly the planets, especially Mars, but also the stars, double stars, I published a paper on double stars in 1938, and then during the war two papers on the new (?), very close pace (?), variable stars, telephotometry, and I was also interested in galaxies, but I could not do anything about it for a lack of sufficient (?). But I began filling five or six written notebooks of references to (?s) subjects back in 1934. And this was you might say the seed out of which the (?) grew many years later.
So I had this interest, I looked at most of the [m] objects, and I began taking photographs about 1936. 1937 I photographed accidentally the supernova in IC 4182 (?) when it was fading.
And 1939 I observed the supernova in the NGC 4636. I was (?) scientist (?) me. And then I (?) observation of (?) on high precision I developed a rigorous (?) method of making visual (?), which allowed me to make visual observations (?) and in the case of polaris (?) I realized a (?) polaris, 1938, '39 which had about (?s), which is only a tenth of (?).
And not knowing of course (?s) back to 1890, or such dates.
That's what I was curious about. How did you begin to learn the techniques that you were doing? You were doing the statistics on the sunspots, as you mentioned, you were doing the precision work with photographic photometry?
Yes. I used observation by a colleague, Mr. Tebo (?) who was a (?) astronomy. He had been observing the sun (?) since 1918, and (?) sunspots (?) from his data and his observation (?) two or three solar cycles, and they were pretty good. Of course I learned statistics when I was at the university. But I remember reading even when I was still in high school, reading a book, an elementary (?) book on calculus which was, the title was, well, in French it would be (?), "Calculus Being Made Funny and Easy." And I remember someone was — it was (?), she was 16 or so, she's just 16, (?) this book say, "Oh, you should not buy funny books." [laughs] I was trying to be a little ahead of my class program, at least in mathematics and physics. I was very good of course in physics, not so much in mathematics, but in physics I was already at the top of my class in high school and (?) college. Because I realized that physics was the way to be strong. This I realized very quickly. I knew just enough mathematics that I could do my physics. I was a little disgusted early in life with mathematics by the way (?) strings of Euclid theorems, you know, that are like sausages in a string. I couldn't see any application. It's only when I began to see the application to calculating planetary orbits and soon then I began to be interested in mathematics.
So the way that it was taught was not with any reference to application.
Yes. It's only after I was 14 that I began to be interested in mathematics to the extent — I remember in the class, after the (?) class called "Special Mathematics," that's preparation for what the French call (?), initially I wanted. Because I had been so advised by — what was his name? The Head of the Geophysics Institute in Paris at that time. I remember it was my mother who went to visit him and asked him, "What should he do to become an astronomer?" and he said, "He should become a (?)." But then that was in the late 30s, and I was very conscious that war was coming. In fact, my mother in 1932, even before Hitler goes to power, I had read enough books. I remember I was interested in history and strategy in those days. I remember coming one day, I think it was at lunchtime, coming back from school, I told my surprised mother and sister that, "We are going have a war again. A war is coming again." It was 1932. "The Germans are re-arming now." So after 1935-36, it was very clear to me that I was in a race against time to get a degree, something before the world collapsed. And so I realized I was not good enough to be certain to enter the (?) by competition in the time available, so in 1937 I switched to the Sorbonne for (?) in Science that I did in two years. Regular time is three years, but I knew (?) —
Correct. You got out in '39, yes.
(?) special mathematics that helped me very much with mathematics of course at Sorbonne, geo-mathematics (?), and then I took geophysics, and astronomy, which used to be called astronomy apart from the (?), but it was just celestial mechanics.
So I was very much aware that there was little time left, and I could not — I had to have some degree before the war, because we didn't know what would happen of course. So I did that. I also took ROTC at the time, and I graduated in the summer of 1939. The main —
I wonder, before we get to the period right after your Sorbonne lessons, to go back to the question of the people that you were associating with in the French Astronomical Society. Was there anyone for example who you associated with when you began doing the photometric work, or was this something that you developed on your own?
No. No. It was on my own. It was on my own by reading. As I said, I read extensively through the American and British publications, and I had a feeling for photometry. If you come right down to it, I am really a photometrist. I was always interested in metrology (?) precise measurement; whatever it is, precise measurement. Because I had this notion that if you can measure the next additional (?) place, you are going find something. You see, next additional place oftentimes will reflect — because I read books about emissions of sounds, how to we make discoveries. I was very much interested in philosophical aspects as a student.
Do any of those books stand out in your mind when you look back now in discussions?
Books that I read. Well, in 1930, the first serious astronomy book I read was by Paul Coudair (?). Paul Coudair was a Professor of Mathematics. He was in fact my Professor of Mathematics in 1932. But before I knew him and he became an astronomer at Paris Observatory in 1945 or '44. He wanted to be an astronomer when he came out of (?) 1925, but in those days there were no jobs in astronomy except if you wanted to take a look at an unpaid job in Nigiers or someplace so he decided to be a Professor of Mathematics. But he wrote popular astronomy books at a fairly high level all his life, and in 1930 he published a book, his first book, Architecture of the Universe, [same title repeated here in French], which was really a gem — the first book to introduce the French-speaking public to the expansion of the universe. And my Uncle George had bought it and he let me read it during the summer of 1930. That was a little hard for — I was 12 years old then, it was a little above my head, but still it fascinated me, and then in 1932 when I was in Coudair's class, in fact mathematics, I read his second book, [title in French], which was a bigger book and also beautifully done. And after that he wrote many books on exploring the universe, on cosmology, on many topics. Later he wrote books (?) astrology (?), and I wrote his obituary for (?) about three or four years ago with another of his admirers, (?). So Coudair's books were very influential. As I said, the spark came from (?) from his very popular books. I bought all the books on (?). They are to understand arithmetic, to understand algebra, to understand trigonometry. He had essentially published as popular books his mathematics classes at the seminar he (?). But he's been a prolific writer. He (?) 50 (?) books. (?) He died in the late 50s or early 60s. I never met him. But I was greatly absorbed by stellar photometry in the late 30s. The main event which (?s) I did my (?) between '37 and '39. It was not a very complete one, it was a quickie, because I was rushing against the clock. Then later during the war or after the war, when I came back to Sorbonne, I took one more in adult physics — no, I took three more classes: two courses in advanced physics, they were on spectroscopy. I took Atomic Spectroscopy from Officer (?) Croze, C-r-o-z-e, he was a half-blind man, he had (?) or something explode in his face in (?), so he was almost blind. He also provided the atomic data for (?) on (?).
If he had not been so handicapped by this accident, he would have (?) more. (?) he was a good spectroscopist. Then I took Molecular Spectroscopy; that was not diatomic (?) spectroscopy from (?). (?) was a, he received a Nobel Prize for his contributions for (?).
And then Instrumental Spectroscopy also, (?), so then three semesters of spectroscopy, not (?) atomic molecules, but I remember that Kessler (?), bless his soul, was a great scientist but he (?), he was so confused all of the time. So one summer, I think it was the summer of '38 or '39 — '38 probably — (?) I don't understand this, let's go back to the source. So I took the two (?s) books to (?) spectroscopy, and these were the only two published, only poly (?) atomic was not published yet. In German I translated for (?) I translated them cover to cover, and then I understood spectroscopy. [laughs] My wife also was more (?s) about spectroscopy. In fact you can see you can see this painting that was painted by a French painter in Morocco.
It's a painting, and this man has never met Antoinette, but he had a photograph that was (?).
That was in the — yes, it's familiar. It's familiar to me.
(?) brochure. And from that he made the painting, she's not bad, and then she had this (?) —
The spectrum on it.
It got me more interested spectroscopy. It was very nice of him.
I'm curious, just to shift for a moment before we get back to this: Were there any other people who, teachers, who you felt had a strong influence on you?
Oh yes, of course, yes. My Officer of Physics, Jean (?) Cabannes, C-a-b-a-n-n-e-s. He was a leading French physicist. He was at the time. I just met him after I completed my undergraduate degree. It was in June or July 1939 I went to him. He had been my professor in geophysics (?) and I said, "Here is what I have done," and I showed him my work on photographic photometry, and so on, and I asked him whether he would take me as a grad (?) student in his lab, for an (?), and he said yes. I would have started my dissertation (?) in '39 except that the war came up. So yes, Jean Cabannes was an outstanding professor. In fact I wrote him (?) enthusiastic but very (?) appreciation of him in something like (?) or something in the 40s. He died in mid-50s I think.
He had an interesting astronomy, because he had been working for many years on the emission of the night sky, and he had married a niece of Jean (?) Fabry, and in fact he succeeded Jean Fabry in the Academy of Sciences after Jean Fabry died. In fact, I met Fabry, he introduced me to Fabry when he was retired, in 1923 I think it was. He was a father figure, with a big, droopy moustache on the French (?) of the First World War —
And he was still coming to the physics lab to see what was going on. Yes, my Officer Jean Cabannes was very influential.
Given the time that you were at the Sorbonne, through '39, did you maintain much contact with people like Baldet and Jean (?), the other —?
Yes. I was, as I said, active in several of the Commissions of the French Astronomical Society, and about 1936 or '37 they created a Commission of Astronomical Photography, which I joined. It was chaired by Julius (?) Saget, S-a-g-e-t, who was an Engineer, and he had (?) a small observatory in his house. He had opened the roof in (?), but he had an 8-inch or 10-inch refractor there, and thence a number of aficionados of astronomical photography might want some (?) of the (?), and the members were Jean Tully (?), Master Jean Tully, (?) Baldet was of course professional, came (?) regularly, Ferdinand Kennesey (?), Flammarion's astronomer. I suppose that after (?s) Jean (?) must have come several times. That's where I met (?) in 1937 or '38, '38 I think. And one book I read that helped me greatly was King's (?) book on astronomical photography —
(?) book. And in fact so much so that I have to come to the period, not (?) period of my association with (?), at the observatory, his observatory at Le Houga (?). But I began to switch from visual to photographic photometry about 1939. This was a crucial year, not only because it was the beginning of the Second World War, the Second World War for us did not begin at (?). In fact it was almost over by the time (?). But I met — I must now tell you about Julian Péridier.
I wonder, before we go to your work with him, when you met with people like Baldet, did you also talk about their own professional research interests? Were you aware, for example, of his commentary work?
Oh yes. I still have his dissertation —
That would be something you would talk about.
Of course. Of course. I was very well aware of what — I had a very extensive interest in astronomy, and I have (?)'s thesis, I have Baldet's thesis, I have a large number of older dissertations that I have kept; I still have them at home, because I have to move after I —
I have to vacate my other office at (?) publications through the house. Baldet was very active in photography and was reporting on these experiments he was making at (?). People were, you know, it was a sort of a show-and-tell session. People would say I've done this, I've done that, and we'd discuss developers and techniques of fixing, glazing, photo typing —
All sorts of things on photography, (?) proceedings or the minutes of the meetings we have published not each month but after each session in astronomy, and King's book I remember reading very carefully.
The very interesting thing was that —
And of course many papers in Popular Astronomy also.
Yes. Sorry, I didn't mean to step on your words. But I was interested — contrasting the situation in the United States, where there is such a clear dividing line in many cases between the amateur work and the professionals where you don't find that intersecting, what were in your view the feelings? What made — was it something that seemed to be unique in your experience to France or —?
No. My recollection is that there was — that professional astronomers look kindly on amateur astronomers as long as they were an audience, but they did not like them the moment they were doing professional quality work. They were taken as unwanted competition. That was my strong feeling at the time that — professional astronomers were nice as long as you were an amateur of no consequence. But the moment you are doing — I had in fact an (?) direct experience myself, now that you mention it. 1938 I had used the Danjon (?) cat's-eye photometer — I don't know if you know what it is —
— to observe measure Mars and Venus, which were in conjunction. And I was planning to — one could borrow instruments from the French Astronomical Society for active observers, and you could borrow the instruments for (?), so I asked permission to borrow the Danjon photometer to do some (?) photometry. And surprisingly this was turned down, in a very peculiar way. The administrator of the observatory (?) of the French Astronomical Society, instead of saying (?), saying, "Your application has been denied," he came to my apartment without warning to explain in a rather unbiased way that no, they could not let me have it because Monsieur Danjon wanted to use it during summer. He never used it. He has his own at the observatory (?). By 1938 he had long ceased to use this instrument. Well, he was developing other things. He was still a (?). The one we had at the French Astronomical Society at the observatory was only (?) amateurs there. But other time people were perceiving that I was going to be a serious astronomer, and somehow there was no (?) to help amateurs, I was still a student, to do serious work, as long as it was somewhat primitive or infantile or — They wanted the amateurs to provide an audience, but not to compete.
That's very interesting.
Now that's not always true, and it's not always. Whether this was a personal reaction of (?), I am not being antagonist, but — or whether it was on Danjon's instructions, or what, this has always been a mystery in my mind, why I was turned down. I explained I wanted to use it to do stellar photometry and Danjon should have been flattered that someone wanted to use his photometer, which at the time I thought was a good instrument. Maybe I understood why (?) forget. That was probably the only time where a request I made was turned down from the French Astronomical, from the observatory of the French Astronomical Society, because Danjon did not use the photometer in the summer. He was (?). So that was very strange. Oh yes. In 1938 probably, within the framework of the photographic commission, SAF (?), I developed a plan to study, to do calorimetry (?) of open clusters, of (?) clusters. This goes back some years. There was in the early 30s a French priest named Mainage, M-a-i-n-a-g-e. I don't know what congregation he belonged to, but he was a French priest, and for years he had taken photographs of the sky, especially open clusters, with I think it was a 6-inch photographic refractor. He died, and his collection was inherited or passed on to Charles Boulet, B-o-u-l-e-t, who was the librarian of the French Astronomical Society. And I had become a good friend to him because I was helping him with the library, but he also had a little store in Paris where he was selling astronomical instruments and scientific instruments and books. I bought (?) in fact a good many of my volumes of (?) notices (?) from him. In fact these volumes of mostly notices that (?) interesting came from the observatory of Charles — I think it was Charles — Farmal, F-a-r-m-a (?) -l, the man who built the aircraft that so many American flyers flew during the First World War —
Farmal was the (?). He had an observatory in the village of (?), (?) Valley near Paris, and before the First World War he obviously was quite interested in astronomy, and (?) many books and they were — he was rich, so they were all nicely bound. After he died, his widow presumably sold his collections, and I remember buying, well (?) several tens of years of coming from his observatory through a lady who was reselling them, and she passed (?). Anyway, the collection of (?) of Mainage came to be the property of Mr. Boulet, who gave them to me. I was active enough, he knew me well, and I said I will try to do something with them. So, that out of that I developed the idea — and remember, that was only a few years after (?)'s work. But it was obvious to me that what was needed was to make calorimetry diagram of the (?) clusters, which of course became very fashionable after the war. And I wanted to do it by photographic photometry, and I had a plan where I wanted to list a corporation of a few active amateurs to do this work. And —
Partly to coordinate the research.
That's right, yes, (?) of plates, and how to measure the plates, and so on. And I remember after I presented my plan then Baldet took me aside after the meeting of the commission and he said, you know, "We cannot support this, because you will never do anything serious with amateurs." Even though I was still an amateur, he could clearly see which way I was going, and he said, "You will never do anything with amateurs. Don't even try."
He was wise I think.
Yes. So Baldet was very encouraging then to you to move into professional work.
Yes, yes, yes, yes. He was friendly, and during that same period, before I met Baldet, was my stint as a lecturer of the Paris Planetarium. In 1937 there was a (?) Exhibition in Paris, and among the attractions was, (?), I remember there was a man of glass, the Glass Man, a German exhibit of a man made in glass, so you could see all the organs inside, the veins and everything, and next to it, near the attraction, was the (?) Planetarium, a beautiful instrument, and I'll show you a photograph of this. (?) there. 1937, and probably through the French Astronomical Society, I was invited by (?). (?) was the founder and secretary of the Astronomical Society of the North of France, (?), which was very active and enthusiastic (?) for astronomy, (?) girl's college (?) to show them the stars and things.
Yes. Were there many women that were interested in amateur astronomy at the time?
No, no, not many.
It's like today. There were a few, of course, but not many, no. Probably even fewer than now. But she certainly was very active and enthusiastic about it. And so I was hired of course the summer 1937. I was just between leaving high school and beginning the Sorbonne, so during the summer I lectured I guess until October in (?) lectures at the Paris Planetarium. We had a total of about half a million visitors during that summer, and it's a beautiful teaching instrument. The session would last 45 minutes, and we all had a basic theme, but we each developed our own presentation.
Right. And very extemporaneous in presenting it to (?).
And after the — Yes, yes, of course after giving the lecture hundreds of times it became fairly standard.
But each, we had our own presentational style, and it was a very beautiful instrument of teaching, and for many years I tried to say we should promote, you know, get a planetarium in our (?). But I wanted to see the (?), speech which is primitive. The other thing really gives you the illusion of the sky, and you can change latitude, you can — Especially for the Paris Planetarium they had added to the original Zeiss equipment some equipment that had been developed in Moscow, from Moscow Planetarium.
Hmm. What kinds of things were those?
A special projector to show eclipses of the moon, for example. I don't remember — shooting stars. They had a machine that was producing absolutely incredibly good illusions of, impression of shooting stars. It was used in fact to study systematic (?).
Is that right?
Yes. So, there were several accessories that had been added, so it was a very complete machine, and in three quarters of an hour we could not show all the machine could do. After the exhibition the company that was, that bought the planetarium, went broke, and they tried to sell the planetarium to the (?) or to the newly created (?) of National (?), and so we made a special session, I think it was in November '37 I think, after the exhibition closed. We had a special session for Jean Perrin (?), who was then the Undersecretary for Scientific Research in (?). And (?) didn't buy it, so the planetarium was crated and kept in storage during the war, and after the war finally it was acquired by the Palace of Discovery, who has been in operation ever since, except that the original planetarium was replaced I think about ten years ago because it was completely worn out.
But I remember that they had not paid customs duties because they said, "We'll import it just for the duration of the exhibition; it will be exported to Germany." Somehow the Germans did not recover it during the (?), and after the war they said, "Well (?) property, we will just take it. We will not pay custom duties." And then it was taken over by the State, (?). Anyway, and that's where I met (?), the Parisian astronomer, who was a pupil of Paul Swings (?), (?) spectroscopies.
And, as I said, he is now a retired Professor of astronomy at Toledo (?).
So that was an interesting period, 1937. That was the beginning of my undergraduate studies.
Right. I'm curious —
During the undergraduate studies I became friend with a student at the (?), Le Nouvelle (?). Le Nouvelle was the son of a Professor of Mathematics I believe in the war, and he was interested in astronomy and in military things, and we were in fact both students at the (?) School in (?) during the war, and after the war he was for a few years an astronomer at (?), and then at Haute Provence.
He was the first to make visual observations of variable stars in infrared by means of an image converter built by Larmo (?).
Built by I'm sorry?
Larmo, (?) Larmo, the French scientist, who was at the time an astronomer at Strassburg (?), became later an astronomer at Paris, and later Director of the Institute of Astrophysics. And in my book, (?) book after the war (?s) showed the, probably the first photograph of the equipment (?) just after the war to make visual observation in infrared, (?) an image converter. But later he shifted to the — he became a little fed up with the French astronomical establishment, as many astronomers have (?) experience after the war, and he switched to the Ministry of Armament and he was involved in the spectroscopy of atomic explosion in the Pacific. And I have lost track of him. I don't know if he's dead. I wrote to (?), the astronomical society in the war where he had been active and he even lectured, his father was well known there — they don't even know, they don't even have a record of his existence. I have lost track of him about 15 years ago. Whether he died or what, I don't know. I have been unable to track him down. Francois Le Nouvelle, he was, in fact he was present in 1941 at the marriage of my sister. So he was a close friend, and we had many discussions of astronomy and things, and I lost track of him. I'm trying to remember, but of course I had colleagues at the Physics Research Lab at the Sorbonne, but I couldn't say close friends. Certainly they did not influence my thinking.
I met (?) probably in 1938, and certainly he became quickly a top (?). He published most of the last (?) 30 years after the war. He was an amateur astronomer, he had a 10-inch refractor or reflector in his house near a suburb of Paris, and then he had made plans for a 20-inch when the war came, and after the war, when he was — He was in infantry (?) and was captured by Germans in 1940. He spent five years as a prisoner of war in Germany, tried to escape two or three times, and they caught him every time, and when he came back in 1945 I arranged for him to become an Assistant (?) in the Institute of Astrophysics, and very quickly I introduced him to Henri Coudair (?) of the Paris Observatory and I remember Henri Coudair thumbing quickly through his notebook of publishing that he had done, and (?) few minutes and he could see the professional quality. He closed the book, and he said, "Do you want to work for me?" So immediately (?) major contribution to French astronomy in this way. He is retired now. He lives in retirement near (?). He's lost his interest in astronomy, and especially many, many enthusiastic young astronomers in France become (?) not with astronomy, but with the French astronomical establishment. That's very common. So —
That's interesting. You're suggesting this is not simply in the 30s and the 40s, but that this has been a continuing —
I could speak for the present situation, because astronomy has (?) in influence at the time, the past. The setup is different now. It's probably different now. That's something I have been worrying a great deal about (?) and wondering, "Why is it that with the talents that these (?) bring forth, (?) good received, I should say, good education — we have a much broader knowledge and (?) I can compare with my students. And why don't we produce more?" I think it is the system. It is the system, the way it was operated. And I tried to find an explanation why France has not made more contributions to astronomy, considering that many of the people are better trained (?) than people we have here. It's different. Now I think the systems are converging. In fact you had to train yourself practically in the past, or go into an observatory as an assistant and then after 15, 20 years you will get a Ph.D. or Doctorate in Astronomy. The system today is different, and of course the French are making much more contributions. Part of it was the lack of (?) large instruments.
But I've seen too many people being disgusted, leaving astronomy, because of the personal things and the way the system was operated.
Maybe it's too centralized. It was too centralized, especially when Danjon was the Director of (?) you might say, "The Big D" as they used to call him. And over here if you don't get along in one place, you just go to another state, and I've noticed how careful people are to keep the independence (?) of schools. In 1962-63 I was the chairman of the department, and so I went to a Whole Union Conference on the Graduate Education of Astronomy. And (?) force at the time by the representatives from Cal Tech to impose their (?) onto our school, that we should have common textbooks and we should follow the — And you should have seen the revolt of the chairmen of the other departments, especially on the east coast, against any (?).
The Harvard and the Princeton groups for example. Yes.
That's right. Any attempt to force the Cal Tech techniques or ways to other schools. And I think that the separation between the various states and their efforts to preserve their identity and their separation has been an element of strength in the country in (?) in astronomy. While forces (?) certainly from the centralization. Not only (?), not only just in astronomy of course. This very strong central government was established by the kings and the (?) survived and this has certainly been an element that has prevented — Of course another element was that (?) the burning of the (?). That just killed two generations of astronomers. Maybe in the (?) of that undertaking will be corrected in the next century with (?) for promotions.
Was there anyone else besides Danjon that had the kind of authority that he did?
No, no, no. It was his personality. He was dictatorial. He was a very good astronomer, very authoritative, and either you submitted or you resigned. (?) and no, when (?) was Director in Paris, the provincial observatories were fairly independent, and — because the system changed after 1968. Now there is not even a Director at Paris; there is a (?) of the committee of the — of the (?) committee of the (?) democratization of the system. And this is discussed by Thorndike (?) in his book in fact.
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. And in your review of it in (?).
And there (?) can see, or at least in Marseilles, (?) he did not submit himself to an election.
Did you have much contact directly with Danjon?
A little, yes, a little, but can we go back first?
That will come later.
I think a very important event in my development in astronomy was when I met Julian (?) Péridier in 1979.
He had been interested in astronomy since his youth. I think he began observing with small telescopes in the 1890s, and he became a member not only of French Astronomical Society but also the British Astronomical Association and later of several others, I don't remember which one, an Italian society and so on.
And for some reason he did not become an astronomer. He was an electrical engineer. He studied at the (?), which is the Central School for Engineers, and then at the (?) in Paris. So he became an electrical engineer, and in his youth he was from the South of France, and before the First World War he was an engineer working with a company that was electrifying the southeast of France at the time. Then he came to Paris I think a little before the First World War, and then I know very little of his (?), because he was not boasting or bragging about his achievement, but when I met him in 1939 I was introduced by (?). He was looking for a young astronomer to operate his observatory in the 1930s he built. But at the time I met him he was the, what the French call PDG (?), President Direct, General Director. That's the CEO or —
He was the Chairman really of the Paris Transport System — buses, subways, tramways, everything. So it was a big job. He was (?). But he had always kept his interest in astronomy. That's why he had a beautiful library, which is now on the next row (?) of this (?) building. And in the 30s he had a country house at a small village called Le Houga, Le H-o-u-g-a, two words, in the (?) department, about a hundred kilometers from (?), maybe a 100 kilometers north of the Pyrenees (?) in the southwest corner of France. This was an eighteenth century hunting lodge, beautiful, that he had bought, because his wife, Madame Péridier, Adrienne (?) Péridier, had some family ties with this area, and I think as a child she had played in that house. And anyway, he bought it in the 20s or 30s. So on a small hill outside the village, another (?) hill, he built a very fine observatory of professional quality really. There was a twin 8-inch refractor with vision (?) and photographic, the mounting of which was English, and the tubes and the lenses were French. The lenses were made by Andre Coudair (?), who was, especially when he was young, he was making mirrors and lenses to (?), but these were superlatively good. They were good. The precision was (?) 20 or something. It was perfect (?) refraction (?). And then he had 12-inch Calver (?) telescope. Calver was (?) telescopes (?) in the late nineteenth century. He had also (?) observatory (?) telescope, and there was a little photographic lab, and then an office, and then during the war he built us an apartment, for the observer. And then in his villa, in the village, it was slopes. It was well level in front, but there were three levels in the back. Under his villa he built a laboratory and the library. The books are here. Well equipped. There was a little workshop, a large room for library experiments, a darkroom, a little bedroom, and a library. And so I met Péridier in the spring of 1939, and we decided quickly that we were going to use these facilities to do photographic photometry, (?) photographic photometry of bright (?) stars, and I remember testing (?) to measure the photometers, (?) photometers to measure the plates just before the war. Then we built two out of focus (?) cameras of the King Havat (?) style, and I still have the big one. Both in fact are still here. And then I went to — so I finished my (?) at the —
At the Sorbonne, right.
(?), and then early July '39 I went to Le Houga to start using that fine observatory.
Péridier was mostly in Paris, so you were isolated perhaps (?) at the observatory.
Yes, he was in the summers and his vacation time at Le Houga, but during most of the year he was in Paris, yes. After the war the Paris Transport System was nationalized, and then he moved more often to Tolouse (?), where he had transportation enterprises there, (?) there. So I went to Le Houga on the first or second of July, 1939, and I began observing Mars. And then I observed (?), although it was badly positioned; Mars was pyrrolic (?), but (?) in France, but nevertheless (?) 40 observations. And I probably started making some photometric experiments in the lab and organizing the darkroom and these sort of things.
Later, during the war, Péridier bought a recording microphotometer (?) for the laboratory — which again is almost unique for (?). It was an early model, not early model but it was, oh, it was still (?) old fashioned models with a galvanometer spot is recorded on the photographic paper and (?), very heavy machinery. Today of course they would not design it, but it was commercially available at the time. And all this was described in fact in a brochure — perhaps you should have a copy of it, let's make a note of that — describing the observatory at Le Houga.
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yes, that would be good.
Because a great part of my early life is tied to that observatory in connection (?) since we (?) which was a boon for (?). When I came (?) had absolutely nothing on astronomy. She (?) our books, and (?). [laughs] (?).
What sort of man was Péridier?
He was a modest man, very well educated, of course he was an electrical engineer, and we still have some of his notebooks, his class notebooks, and he authority of course, being the boss of a large (?). But very kind and very modest. It's very difficult to know what he did. When I wrote his biography I realized that I knew really not too much about him. (?) publication here. No, these are reprints I sent him. So, I'll find it.
That's fine. Sure. Of course it was clear the Mars opposition would be a major theme of investigation, given that year.
Where there other programs that you had in mind that you wanted to do?
Yes. We started — (?) in detail now, because at first to install the telescope, adjust them, most telescopes. I used the refractor really. To me it was larger, but not as fine an instrument as the refractor. The refractor at the moving platform, electrically controlled (?) so I could — there was a sort of (?) so you could bring your eye, you know, to be within a millimeter of the (?) precisely. I have never had such comfort in observing. It was very well set out. He was, as I said, he (?) enterprises of tramways, so he was able to build a platform, a very sturdy platform which was in the control of the observer. I have photographs of myself observing, focusing (?) the refractor in 1939, and this was — Let's see. It was very well designed and that increased of course not only the ease but the quality of the visual observations, and the photographic observations too. So — I never returned the illustrations for the book. I wish I had done that.
We can also make a note of that in the transcript later on. That's fine.
Let me try to remember that period. I remember I went back to Paris on the… I think 9th or 10th of August, 1939, to take my final exam at the ROTC. And (?) one observation of Mars at the French Astronomical Society, so as to avoid too much of a gap in observation, went back to Paris just for two or three days, took my exam. At the French Astronomical Society, 10th of August, 1939. That (?) is a sketch. Now 18 years later I was at Flagstaff at the (?) observatory, and E. C. Slipher was still alive, and he had in his window an enlargement of the photographs of Mars he had taken — it was not labeled, just photographs. I remember I walked into his office and I looked at this, I said, "This is Mars on the 10th of August, 1939." He looked at me in disbelief, you know, and he said, "Let's check." It was on the 9th. And he had taken it, you see, he was in South Africa, and so it's (?), so (?) one day, I didn't say 1956 or some other (?) position. A good math observer can tell you. You show a picture of Mars, a photograph of Mars, and he can tell you which year it was.
And what is it that —?
In (?) of '24 or '39 or '56 or '71 or '86. Even those features, gross features are the same, there are always minor changes. You can tell.
So it would be in the albedo as well as the transparency and the —
The shape of the these parts always changes on Mars, always changes so that although the spots are there for centuries, the detail keeps changing and the observer can tell. So it's —
Of course there are only two or three people on earth who can identify a spot being — it's small like a spot (?). This doesn't add anything to the knowledge of Mars, but it's (?). That explains the fascination of the planet; it keeps changing, and it's difficult sometimes to really believe that this is just drifting sands. Features that vanish four years and they then come back. Some features are very prominent for decades and vanish, and then perhaps they will come back. I remember doubting some observation of (?) in '77. But on photographs of these past few years you can see these features again.
So they become valuable for talking of long-term changes.
That's right, that's right, that's right. Some people still cling to the idea that perhaps there is some kind of life or activity on Mars, biological activity that is not just drifting sands.
You feel there has actually been a revival of professionals who have that point of view now from the (?)?
I don't know, because since the space (?) went to Mars it's been taken over by geologists and meteorologists. They haven't got a clue of what Mars looks like through the ages. So they will look at craters and the rivers and dry beds (?) and (?). That's fascinating of course, but what they don't grasp really is the seasonal pattern of the changes in their (?) albedo.
Too few people have spent long enough studying Mars directly to really have a memory of all these changes and (?). There was (?), there was (?), and there was (?), but not too many. But of course so much more interesting detail studies that can be performed now that these — But still sometimes I feel there is still something to discover on Mars, that we don't really fully understand. We still (?) don't understand how the water vanished, having made all these river beds and all these meandering rivers that are all dry. Where is the water? That's really a problem. There is still some water of course in the polar caps. And, but it's so little, (?) able to sustain any kind of life it seems difficult to believe that.
Back in '39-'40, when you were in the Mars Section, Secretary of the Mars Section of the —
Yes, I created it in fact. I organized it informally with observers, and then I turned to the French Astronomical Society and said, "Hey, I have organized this group of observers. Will you take us as a commission of the French Astronomical Society?" So I received a very stern letter from Madame Flammarion saying yes, I was very active, but did I realize I was only 21 years old and I should give the precedence to the elders in the field. It was not up to me to decide.
So you kept running into resistance.
Into (?) — because I was a little too active to be easy to (?). [laughs] I was too enterprising, I was too active, or too much of a busybody, you might say. But we had this group of keen observers of the planets, for example Baron (?) (T?n) in Belgium, who just recently ceased observing. He's been active for almost 55, 60 years in observing Mars — with a relatively small telescope, but he's been really active. There was [D ], a Swiss physician, also a very keen observer of the planet. And then (?) like (?) later and Adolfus (?). And then so the chairman of the commission was George Fournier, who was — there were two Fournier brothers, but George Fournier was the most active. He was a schoolteacher by (?), but he had been hired by Gérard (?) Desloges (?) —
In those days there was a French (?), that was Gérard Desloges, who was a wealthy man. He had properties, I don't know what kind, probably landownings, and since 1907 until 1941 he maintained temporary observatories with several refractors. The main ones were 37.30 (?) meters and 50 centimeters in diameter; therefore very substantial, very strong, 20-inch, and this was an (?) lens for (?), and he moved it from places in the (?) of France in the mountains to later in Algeria, in (?) in search of the best seeing conditions, and his main observer was Fournier except during the First World War when Fournier's brother substituted in 1939 (?) no money in the 60s perhaps, just (?) —
And he the chairman of the commission. We even gave an (?) chairmanship to Atoniadi, because partly a question of prestige I guess, (?) had to bow to everybody. All I wanted to do with this group was to make these amateurs follow strict rules to make not just drawings of the planet, make estimates of the bypass (?). I was interested in substituting to the qualitative sketching a scale like (?) stars. One can make a visual observation of variable stars easily. I thought, "Well, we should be able to have numbers for the brightness of the spots so that we can study seasonal variation, (?) the changes, and put numbers." And (?) the scale, which is essentially a log of the softness-brightness, which is still used by many people today, and amateurs in Britain and elsewhere.
So your work was the first that — there hadn't been an attempt to do quantitative brightness estimates among the British?
Yes, a little. There was — no. Not the — no, no. There was, there were a few, yes, there were estimates of what Fournier called "cut detonality" (?), but they were not brightness (?). They were relative to each observation, and there was not a quantitative scale. What Fournier had done that was the best thing, I don't know, 1914 maybe or some such time, was to attach photographic paper which a square or a circle that had been exposed to light, so he had a series of targets, (?) spot that had a known contrast to the (?), and he had a series of (?). He put them up along the telescope under the light (?) and he would look at the planet and look at that, and he had found that this pattern (?) relative to its surrounding has the same contrast as the target, and the targets were measured in the laboratory. So he did produce the first photometric measurements, visual photometric measurements of the brightness of sunspots (?). But this was just one experiment; this was not for a large number of experiments, nor was it considered for many years. It was a very interesting first setup (?). To my knowledge there had been no useful photographic photometry, except some useless photometry by the Russians on very small (?) too blurred to be of any good.
And this was done by the professionals in the Soviet Union?
Yes. Yes. Yes. This is all told in my book on physics on the planet Mars. I don't have a copy here —
— because (?) stuff has been moved to the house.
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Sure. But we'll be talking about that again of course when we move to the post-World War II era.
So these observers had agreed to make drawings — there were a set of instructions which was issued in 1938-39, and they all tried to follow the rules the best they could. So, and a large number, several hundred observations were collected in 1939 which analyzed in 1941, '42, '43 during the war, when I came back from the service, to reduce all the observation to a common system, to find the systematic (?) of measuring — Because the drawings were, they were (?) also tried to make them as precise as possible, so we measured (?). Fournier had developed in earlier years sets of stereographic (?) projection of (?) grids if you want inclinations, so we made copies of these grids, different sizes, different inclination, and using the ephemeris we could superimpose on the drawing (?), (?). So, and these were large numbers. (?) measure (?). (?) spot on Mars on were made on the drawings. They were (?) multi (?s) tables to reduce to a mean system, and similarly for the size of the polar cap, the (?) precision, and then the brightness steps (?). My own contribution to that (?) was published in the Annals of the La Houga (?) Observatory, in Volume I, which was published in 1942.
Péridier started a series of annals and also reprints, and this is the (?), like xerox copy, of the list of publications we produced until 19 — You know, (?) was an amateur observatory, but the only one working on a professional basis you might say. So we could exchange publications with observatories and help build up our library.
That's very interesting, yes. Do you remember which observatories you had regular exchanges with? Was that something you personally developed?
Most observatories, I don't think I still have the distribution lists, but they were very extensive; in fact, we used them to stock our (?) list here. Let's see. We printed I think 200 copies or 400 — several hundred copies of the publication. So they were widely distributed to all the major British and U.S. and German and Italian and, well, I don't know, I still have to organize some of the archives of the observatory. But this was (?) run like a professional observatory. Now the reports of the Mars Section of the French Astronomical Society were published after the war. After 1945, about '46 or so, we organized several meetings of the members where we presented, we (?) the results of our analysis of the collective data, and this was published in (?) astronomy (?) in a little booklet. Here there is a brief description of the observatory that Péridier published in the BAA (?) Journal in 1945, so you can see what the, you know, what the observatory looked like.
Okay. That's a large building, as this photograph here in the BAA Journal makes clear.
It was once very substantial.
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. And your work was interrupted there by wartime service in the army?
Yes, yes, yes, of course. I observed Mars around I think the 31st of August, 1939. At the time the apartment had not been built, so I was living in a room across the street from, across the road from the observatory. And there was an old woman who was — of course I was working at night, so I was sleeping during the day, morning. And there was no room (?) and she would bring in my breakfast. I remember this was a breakfast of the type they would make in the South of France in (?) they stuff goose, you know, for goose liver. And so they used the fat of the goose instead of butter to cook, and she would always bring me some fried eggs, floating in a half an inch of hot goose fat. [laughing] (?) But anyway, I remember how that morning she came up, she was all in tears, "Oh, Monsieur, it's terrible, (?)!" So I opened the window, you know, the shutters of the room, and I could see the little posters with the (?) flags (?), you see. So Monsieur Péridier came back in a hurry from Toulouse by car, we closed the observatory, and then we went back to Paris to the train in (?) or (?), I don't remember, the nearest (?) station, and we went back to Paris on the 1st of September. And then we reached there we were sorry that we didn't stay put continuing my observation of Mars, because I lost two months’ worth of observing of Mars in 1939 because I was not called until November.
You know, we didn't know what would happen and thought we'd be (?). I could have come in another couple of months, observing instead of wasting my time. Since the call up was not coming, they were (?) by (?) or by what skill you had. So I even started taking classes again in the summer I remember, but of course couldn't finish a semester, taking classes in statistics. Probably it was statistics from (?), and I remember something that in those days seemed to me very strange that is said. In two occasions. One was (?) concerning potential (?), another by the Physics Officer concerning potential (?), wondering about the deep nature, the true nature of (?) of potential. And to me there was no deep nature (?). There is no such thing as potential nature; we made it up. It's a formula we cook up to (?) a calculation. The (?) just the limit of an infinite series which does not exist in nature of frequency functions.
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yes.
The relative frequency, (?) the limit goes to a probability, but there is no deep nature; we make it up. And similarly potential does not exist in nature. That's a formula we developed to calculate the force. But there is no — So when people start thinking, discussing (?) so people will agonize about the true nature of their own self or their souls, these things we make up! [laughs] We define things that do not exist in nature, and then we start agonizing about their true meaning.
This is not the sort of science (?). I am a [knocks his fist on the table three times] down-to-earth experimental physicist by training and observer in astronomy, and I don't like people who wander too far from reality. That's my own slant. It may not be appreciated by others.
When you had that revelation, that sense of the issue not being as it was presented, was it something you discussed with others at the time, or did you just — ?
No, no, no, no, I did not, no, I did not discuss it. I was — well, before the war of course the only lectures I had given were those at the planetarium and then lectures at the French — Oh yes. Because we had processed, you might say, half a million visitors at the planetarium, we were several active members of the French Astronomical Society. There was (?), there was (B?n), we were all members of French Astronomical Society. We said, "Why don't we try to attract people to the French Astronomical Society to get new members and do some (?)."
So we organized a series of more advanced lectures in astronomy at the observatory of the French Astronomical Society, and during the summer and fall of 1939, and we had about 500 people came, and out of those about 50 or so became people members of French Astronomical Society. So the team of the planetarium lecture as a group received a medal from French Astronomical Society, I think it was called a Jacquemetton Prize, for we recruited a substantial number of members at the time.
But I had not lectured. Okay, so I was called up in the artillery in 1939, but I went to boot camp and then to the artillery school in Fountainbleu (?), and France collapsed before I got (?). I was the (?) that did not graduate, because we were due to graduate in July, and France collapsed in June. So I spent — And then I was hoping to be demobilized quickly, but you know the Germans had left 100,000 men to the French, just as the Allies had left 100,000 men to Germany in 1918; they wanted to wipe out the shame of Versailles. And I was old enough to be demobilized in May 1941, but not old enough to be demobilized in July or August 1940. They were demobilizing month by month, you know, and I was on the brink of it. That was (?). It seemed at the time, it looked like a very long period to wait. I was a very — What they did with us after the (?) subsided, regrouped what was left of the French army, was to man the anti-aircraft station posts in the (?), probably in other places too. But we had anti-aircraft guns, but the Germans ordered that all the means of moving them should be removed. So they were fixed positions, they could not be changed into anti-tank weapons by (?). So they had a fixed location, and the job was supposedly to watch for Allied British aircraft and shoot them. (?) because our (?) was very inconspicuous. They were too busy in Britain. So it was a waste of time. So to kill time I remember writing down problems in astrophysics. I did several things. I started writing (?) of mathematics too, so as not to lose what I'd learned so recently. I still have it, a little book somewhere, you know, performing calculus and things.
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yes, yes.
It may be at home now, but I have kept it a long time. When I can't remember some (?) or derivative, and then I worked on problems in astrophysics, just for practice, and I remember typing them, just to try to keep some interest. I remember also making drawings of the moon seen with the naked eye too.
Just to keep in practice.
I had no telescope lens. Yes, to keep in practice.
Was it possible to write to astronomers elsewhere, or was that difficult because of the (?)?
Yes, it was difficult. I was demobilized in May, 1941, and (?) but I was still in the (?) in (?) of course, and then I went to Marseilles to visit my mother, who had been moved from Paris because of the administration. She was in the French radio, French National Radio. And then in July, 1941, I went back to Le Houga, to the observatory. I didn't want to go back to Sorbonne, didn't want to go back to Paris, which was occupied, in the Occupied Zone. I had no job as such of course, I just got (?) in '39, so I went back to the Péridier Observatory and resumed my observing. 1941 was another good opposition of Mars and then I secured a large number of very good observations when Mars was high in the sky. And then I started a long series of photometric, out-of-focus photometry of bright stars and double (?) stars. That was, I measured the plates seven years later after I was at the Institute of Astrophysics with a (?) photometer, and that was eventually published in (?) Astrophysic (?) in 1948 I think.
What was that particular research addressing when you were doing that photometry?
Well, remember in those days, the magnitude of even the bright stars, naked-eye stars, were not all that well known, and it was to strengthen the (?). Because in (?) visual images of bright star before the war I had gone through several mean (?) catalogs, we had used them —
There was something called HPDP, which was the revised Harvard Photographic (?) Photometry by Mrs. Gaposchkin (?), and there was a German catalog and a Russian catalog. The Russians had published — what was it? I saw it once, and (?) forget this — some of (?) Institute, published a general (?) mean catalog of color equivalents of, such coloring (?) of stars. So I had become aware that the brighter stars didn't have such big magnitudes, and I made extensive comparisons, which are (?) in great detail; this is just a (?) calculator. During the war at the Péridier Observatory. I wish sometime I have time to put them in a file, a computer file, and finish that reduction, because I took into account many (?) effects and extension, everything in great detail, so these observations I put (?). I did not quite finish that one. It would be terrific to finish it, but I will have to put some of those observations into a computer. And then photographic (?) were also even less well determined for bright stars, because (?) and then observe some selected variable stars, polarize and (?). (?) gamma giuseppe (?) has spent a lot of time observing gamma giuseppe visually, and also in collaboration with another (?), (?) Dolaet (?) and I, D-o-l-a-e-t (?), and he was also very good at visual photometry. And I remember in 1938 gamma giuseppe briefly brightened by (?). (?). And our letters, we sent a letter to each other only to discuss (?), warning the other that gamma giuseppe is brightening. But it had brightened (?), so that's good photometry. [laughs]
Good independent confirmation.
Yes. In fact we published. Then he was taken prisoner also. He was a prisoner of war for several years in Germany as a POW, and he could do was (?) visual observations of gamma giuseppe, which he did. He published some in fact in Germany, and (?) of the (?), and then after the war I think — or during the war, I'm not sure. I think after it. But he was (?) before the end of the war because he had become very sick, and you know they had this scheme between the (?) and the Germans that they would have (?) workers going to Germany to work with German industry, and in exchange they would send back sick prisoners. Then, because there were not too many volunteers after the war, it became compulsory. It was (?) work service, and they would send people to Germany and they could work and then the Germans will return prisoners who were or must be on repair. And I remember when (?) came back from his POW period he was green and thin and — But anyway, we'll go over it later, we compared my photographic observation on gamma giuseppe with his visual and the agreement was very good also. So this high precision, which of course is doubted by most professionals who don't have any experience of this type of work, can be objectively demonstrated. Good visual observers can, if they apply (?) do photometry good to three or four hundreds range (?), sometimes even better. I remember determining at least two (?) of algor (?) photographically, (?). But that was published in August after the war. I also remember reducing to the international photographic system, photographic magnitudes by Braille (?) had been published in a German publication. I don't remember who it was, (B)B?.
You remained at Le Houga through '43?
No. Yes. Let's see. Let me see what I've done. Yes, I was working happily at Le Houga, but I was of course concerned with finishing my studies, resuming. Now my Professor Cabannes had been in touch with my mother in Paris, after my mother returned to Paris, probably '43 or '42 — yeah, '42 I believe — to ask, "Where is he? What's happened to him?" So my mother told him, and then Monsieur Cabannes secured a State Fellowship for me, a research fellowship so that I could come as a graduate student, and this I received in the fall of 1942. I remember that the salary in those days was 18,000 francs per year. It was very small, but it was better than nothing. It was — I don't know how it would compare with graduate student stipends here today. You know, there is different currency, different times, different inflation. What (?), I don't know. It was meager, but especially living at home with my mother, it was adequate to go on. And then he wrote to me that I could not go and spend more time in a private institution when I received the State Fellowship; I had to come back to school, to the university and begin my dissertation. So I returned to Paris, I think it was about March 1943.
I remember —
February of '43. Yes.
I remember observing in fact the Whipple (?) comet in February, 1943. In fact there was a (?) (?) and I remember observing that from Le Houga. I remember people in the village asking me whether it was a sign of peace or war or (?).
In fact I personally witnessed — I did not take part in it, because I was (?) and it was too much for me, but I witnessed a procession on the church of the village made by the (?) to pray for rain after — that was 1943 or '42. That was the mental state of villagers in France in 1942. In fact I kept for many years a newspaper clipping that the (?) (?), southwest of France, was inviting the faithful to pray for rain, because that would be good for the crops and for tourism.
Well, I'm sure (?) (?) (?), but at the time I remember I was shaken that in the 20th century such medieval practices should (?). Of course I know (?) (?) (?). [laughs]
Yes. So I went back in March '43. So I started work at the Physics Research Laboratory at the Sorbonne, where Monsieur Cabannes was the Director, and —
Did he or you have a sense of what you wanted to do, what research program?
Oh yes, oh yes, yes. This we were discussing when (?), as soon as I contacted him in '39. He had written in 1929 I believe a book called [a book title in French], (?) (?) (?). That was a standard text. It was in a series, "Lectures and Reports on Physics." Many of the most famous French physicists published (?) (?) (?), all sorts of modern topics were discussed. Cabannes was the expert in (?) scattering. He had done his dissertation just before the war in 1913 on (?) scattering. He is the first to have produced blue sky in a bottle.
As the saying goes. And he had written his book reviewing the work done and what needed to be done to finish checking the theory or finding (?) (?) observational theory and increasing the precision. And this meteorologic aspect appealed to me. It was photometry, where I thought I knew what I was doing; it was meteorology, going to the next decimal (?) place; and it was (?) my professor, it was close to the heart of my professor. (?) immediately agreed that's what I was going to do. And (?) I tried a program of I don't know, but ten steps, but needed to be done where decrease in gases had to be studied, so we find this, we find that, test the theory.
So that's what I started doing.
And you felt that the laboratory equipment that was there in his —?
I was given tools when I came in. It was a sort of office and laboratory space, and there was a darkroom. And to show you how old these things were, when I looked through the drawers of the cabinets in the office I found still a small (?) prism that had been used by Lucman (?) in his experiments in interference color photography at the turn of the century.
In fact I used that prism to good effect. Then I started, the first thing I did — because it was taking time, an unusually long time to build the equipment. I had to — I don't know if you have seen these tubes which are shaped like a cross, these tubes that have been designed by Cabannes and are (?) the business are cross-shaped tubes. And in profile, they look like this.
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yes.
The light goes, a beam of (?) light is projected through it, a very strong beam of course, and then the glass is painted black; it's a paint that has the same refractive index as the glass, so that the light that goes into this hole gets lost. It suffers a very large number of refraction and goes through the glass into the paint, so none of the light goes back.
Back out, yeah.
And then one looks from the other direction, so one can see the beam of light of pure blue sky. It's the most beautiful phenomenon you can see — it's the deeper sky, and it's the sky that is bluer than what (?) seeing. You see from the stratosphere. It's very deep blue, it's very beautiful. But to build this — and these have to be built. Glass blowing of course was available, but then one has to make special windows that have no biofringes (?) because they must not share (?) the polarization of the beam. Because light scattered by molecules is polarized. And one of the important factors is this. Except for monatomic (?) gases like argon probably (?).
The light is not a hundred percent polarized, as the original (?) theory (?), but it's slightly depolarized, and one has to measure this depolarization factor very precisely. It has to do with the asymmetry in the molecule. And so that the windows must be produced in such a way that, you see, they are soldered, they are fused to the tube. But they must be very thin, they must have been cooked in such a way that they have no stress, no biofringes, and that the process of welding them to the tube has nothing produced (?) biofringes. So the process is to make such tubes and then break some of these windows that have been so hard to make, and then measure them by special devices to test that it has absolutely no biofringes.
So this took time. Several years, in fact.
And then there is the (?) and all sorts of things. So, since I could not get started immediately on this, I started trying to refine my photographic photometry technique in order to get the utmost precision. In the laboratory photometry of course you don't have to (?) atmospheric extinctions (?), also the factor that lower the precision of astronomical photometry — The aim was to get three places, and one (?), but photographic photometry which I (?) achieved but it was quite a struggle. It was more. As usual, a dissertation turns out to be more difficult than you expect when you start, and because of the war it took much longer. I think I lost essentially three years because of the war. Well, two years if — I did something at Le Houga (?), that was a 3-year gap in my studies, because of the war, and then dissertation took probably a year or two more than it should have because thing were not moving fast in the wartime and —
— just after the war things were difficult. So I started doing experiments in photographic photometry. And this has been a topic that has kept me active — especially in the 40s, but again it's been a (?) many times. I think a good part of what I was doing on galaxies that was good was due to the fact that I really knew photographic photometry very well because of these studies.
And I started — there was — even when you take a — Suppose you expose a plate to uniform light. It should be uniformly darkened. When you measure it with a precise microphotometer, and that's another problem, to find a photometer that's good enough to measure that, you find that the dark is not uniform. These irregularities of the darkening of course cause systematic error in photometric measurements. And the theory that was in favor in those days was due to Eberhardt (?), the German photographer and physicist. You have heard of the Eberhardt Effect probably in photography. But, and in typical German fashion he baptized them "Sheeh deeken feeler" (?), (?), "Sheeh deeken feeler," that is, "The error is due to the thickness of the layer," photographic layer. His idea was that the photographic plate on the (?) glass (?) but it's a little better than window paint, but not much. The glass is produced from, (?) through rollers.
And this causes the glass to be an even thickness with the wave structure, the eccentricity of the bearings of the (?) through which the glass flows —
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yes, yes.
— (?) to make these big plates, and then they are cut whatever size is needed. These big plates therefore have — So he realized that the emulsion which is not a liquid, but he considered it to be a liquid, when it's coated on these big plates it flows like water, therefore that in the depression of the glass the emulsion will be thicker and the other parts will be thinner. And therefore there is more (?) (?) to be darkened here than here.
So he thought the errors, the variation of the thickness of the layer caused these photometric errors. And he was mostly dead wrong. It's only when the whole layer has been thoroughly exposed down to the bottom when this begins to matter, but in most of the practical range where you do photographic photometry the processing errors and even the measuring errors are dominant. So I started to study plates that had been uniformly illuminated (?) through a mask with holes so that I could measure the (?) and the density (?) exposed to uniform light, and then I would measure very precisely the densities and study then the thickness of the layer which I measured by interference techniques. I produced actually (?) rings between the upper face of the layer of the photographic layer and the bottom face.
Now that's very difficult because the agility and the glass (?) refraction index so that the beam reflected at the interface between the (?) and the glass is very weak. And the one on top is normal, but from — So, but I found plates where the different sufficient and by using high contrast techniques I could photographic the fringes of interference, positioning the thickness of (?) between the top (?). And there you can make a map therefore of these irregularities of the thickness. Then I would remove the emulsion and then compare the photographic plate to a standard flat of the shape of the surface. Then I would map the background density and the density of the spots.
Actually (?) uniform (?), so I measured a number of plates. You find things like the small photographic plates are cut out of big plates, are coated, and those which were cut near (?) corner, near the limits of the original plate, you can see a pile up of gelatin (?) near the edge. You can see piles of (?), so it's easy to see which ones were on the edges and which are not. And then, because there are the errors due to uneven processing. No matter how hard we try, the best processing techniques to use a brush that doesn't damage the emulsion, the brush that wipes out removes the (?) products of the developed (?) and bring new developer to the — Otherwise the fusion is very slow. And then the irregularity is (?) in the washing and certainly in the drying. The plate never dries uniformly, no matter —
There is always one error. And so all this contributes, and I published a couple of long papers in (?). Photographic, studying these (?).
Right. That was '46 that you actually published Theory and Practice of Scientific Photography.
Yes. The papers were late in 1943, but the magazine was delayed and stopped by the war, so they appeared only after the war.
And this is well covered by (M?) in his, he has a chapter on photographic studies where he's done a good job of reviewing in this astronomical (?).
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. David Malin.
He reviews thoroughly —
(?) life in astronomy.
— what I did about — and I've reviewed this topic several times until the 1980s, because people will just not learn it. You have to keep repeating and repeating. Now a few students have read this thing, have benefitted, and learned to do good photographic photometry. Also at that time — In fact the first job that Officer Cabannes gave me when I became a graduate student — to see what I could do, because at the beginning I had nothing(?) (?), there were two very old, old microphotometers at the physics research lab. One was a Zeiss microphotometer of 1914 or so, probably the first recording microphotometer. It was monstrous like (?), you know, make any (?) Zeiss the equipment is always very heavy, very well built, but the optics is not always as good. Anyway, this is a (?) at the, I think it was (?)—electric detector, and I remember there was[n't?] an electrometer (?) in it. The measuring device was the electrometer to measure the (?), and the wire of the electrometer was (?) in front of a slit, and the shadow of that slit was illuminated, and the shadow that wire was (?) (?). Tried to make it work. I don't remember whether I succeeded or not, but it was (?), it was already a 30-year-old instrument and probably the very first recording microphotometer.
But there was a more recent one built by Cholangi (?). (?) Cholangi was the French physicist and astronomer.
Who had been an assistant at the physics research lab in the 1920s. And 1926 he built the first modern French photo-electric recording microphotometer. It had photo sight (?) to begin with as a detector, which is much better (?) —
And then it was recording on photographic paper. It was not (?) like the old things, but was flat, and it was producing flashes every turn of a screw (?) that will operate a scale and, anyway, this thing was not working, and I just put it back to make it work again. I learned a lot about the electrometer tubes and (?) amplifiers at the time. But it was already too old to be useful for what I wanted to do. I needed to measure densities in two places.
Fortunately (?) then became an astronomer at Paris Observatory, and he had developed in the 1940s, about 1940 had developed a very much improved modern version of this microphotometer. Very nice instrument. And he had two such units at the (?). In 1943 you probably known that the French established the (?). They (?) in 1936 after the (?) (?) (?) came to power in 1936 and Jean Pierre (?) became Undersecretary for Research. They decided at that time to build, to (?) and build two institutions: one was the observatory in Paris, the French (?), and to complement it a laboratory in Paris where the observation will be reduced and (?) laboratory experiments could be performed. And that was the Institute of Astrophysics.
Now these two institutions were under construction. The old Paris Observatory began to operate just as a (?) (?) (?) (?), first one was the 32-inch reflector that had been built at the Optics (?) Lab in Paris in the 1930s and which I was the first, with my wife, to use in 1946. It had just been finished, and I was the first user of that telescope, which originally goes back to the 20s but was built in the 30s. It was a very fine instrument, first quality. As administrative (?), the Institute of Astrophysics had been created, but there was no building; it was under construction. It was built in fact during German occupation, during the war — slowly, but it was built.
And these were still funds coming out from CERN to construct it?
The French [???]. That's what is remarkable, and why we were very lucky in France, that the Germans loved France so much they did not treat us like the Poles, feeling (?) they had inferior races and they (?) to destroy them. In France, as they say, Paris is the place where good Germans go where they are led. So, oh, they love France, just too much. [laughs] So they did not — Of course there was the Resistance, especially in military years there were atrocities made, but they were not, they didn't have the politics for systematic destruction. They wanted to divide France into — they wanted to (?) the parties in Brittany or in other places, but it was the existing administration was allowed to perform, even in the zone that was under the Red German (?) occupation. Oh, another reason why I came back to Paris in 1943 was that well after the Allied landings in North Africa the Germans occupied the whole of France, because they wanted to be sure, well they wanted to [???] South of France, and they wanted to seize the French Fleet, which had been (?) too long. In fact, the day after the Allies had landed in North Africa, I was on my way from Toulouse to Le Houga by bus, and it was a very slow rip. Usually it takes three hours. It was very (?) all day because the other way German columns of tanks were coming through, and I remember how shocked I was to see that they were displaying their flags, because (?) on the (?), and I thought of inviting [???], where is the IF? What are they doing? Look at these targets. They are all displayed. And they were waving at the popular (?). The people were not (?), but the Germans were in a good mood. you know, they were just having nice trips through southern France. I remember when we arrived at the Le Houga, of course when you automize columns moving there are always mechanical failures. So there were some (?) that were behind them, (?) behind with mechanical problems, and just as we arrived in Le Houga, and just before (?) the bus, there was a staff car, a German staff car racing through the village trying to catch up with the columns, and they were racing so fast through the village they caught one of these fat goose —
A fat goose was hit, you see, and the bird just went to die (?). The car came to a screeching halt, they hung back quickly, they picked up the goose, and took it. [laughs]
This is all what you were witnessing from the bus, (?), yeah.
Yes, yeah, from the bus, just an incident, (?) incident. But anyway, since the Germans were everywhere, there was less reason to stay away from them because they were everywhere, so I decided of course I would go back to Paris.
That's good to know.
Two reasons. One, I had to because my (?) said you cannot [???] State Fellowship, and second, you must do your dissertation. There was no incentive to stay away from the Germans, because they were everywhere.
How much, how difficult was it to get funding for either new instruments or new developments, given this situation?
Well, the university, the lab at (?) from the university I suppose (?) funds from the CNRS (?). I did not apply directly at that time to CNRS for funds because I was a grad student and my director was taking care of funding. I was a research fellow, first (?), then attache [???], trustee status (?) for graduate students. (?) was paid a small but acceptable salary, so there was some money in the lab then, within reason, and the director could allocate funds. And of course we had a workshop and facilities to have things built. I was never good at building things. One great difference of the French school system, probably still the same today, is that if you go through the regular school system, the (?), you may learn Latin, suffer seven years of Latin, and one of the anxious days of my life, when I was able to sell my Latin dictionaries finally after my Bachelor degree. Because I was very conscious of (?) one or two years of Latin (?), but seven years was too much. When you come out school you don't know how to drive, at least in those days, you don't know how to use any machine tool, you look like an idiot when [???]. For someone who is into experimental science, that's a handicap.
You don't know how to use a checkbook. You don't know anything practical, but you can talk forever about the laws of La Martine (?) for whatever —
That's a very interesting comment.
17, 18th, 19th century, (?) to discuss the (?) analyze the (?) of some of the classical works of French authors, but you don't know anything practical. You are a gentleman. There was still time to produce 20th century gentlemen in the middle of the 20th century.
That's a very interesting comment. Did you feel that that was generally a problem, that people who were interested in, say, experimental physics or astrophysics had great difficulties in talking with those who were instrument makers, those who were —?
Yes, yes, indeed, yes indeed. Because I felt it very much, and as I become more involved in experimental things I realize that our education was too much bias being toward being a bourgeois gentleman and not gonna get your fingers dirty, while in astronomy for most of my life I had to get my fingers dirty. I remember that about 20 years ago one of my grad students here was a, he loved computers. [???] computers [???] comets. Not only that, but it doesn't prepare your way for a career in astrophysics. He loved computers. And then finally, since I was his supervisor, I dragged him to the observatory to work with us, what we were doing at that time, regular velocities, or photo(?), the 82-inch. And then he saw me at night, you know, on my knees and with screwdrivers fixing (?), and then later he told me that it's only then that he realized that the life of an astronomer is just not, you know, dreaming the beauty of the universe at night, but you have to do things particularly (?) to get things done. And then he started trying to do a good dissertation.
So my background in physics was very useful. Because although I'm not a nuts and bolts instrumentalist, when it's needed I can design something (?) and to some extent fix them. I cannot build them with my hand. I am not good at that, at building things. I admire greatly people who can, you know, transfer my drawings into real instruments that work. That's something that I've missed. But, so I started making these experiments from photographic plates and emulsions, and then in order to — I'm going back to Cholangi —
One, they were waiting for the Institute of Astrophysics to be completed.
They were housed in a few rooms at the [???] —
[???]. But that's the [???], and then Cholangi was a former student of the [???] and then Daniel Barbier, who was an astronomer, originally from (?). He was then at Paris. They were essentially the only two staff members of the Institute of Astrophysics. They had two or three rooms to house what used to be called (?) astrophysic. And then two of the Cholangi modern photometers were also in an adjacent room, so Cabannes (?) contacted Cholangi and he gave me access to his instruments. So I used the Cholangi microphotometer at the (?) before. They were installed in the Institute of Astrophysics, which probably took place in 1944.
So I was involved in a good deal of laboratory work on photographic processes during the war and until shortly after the war, and now the next important step was in 1945. Yes?
If I can just ask one other question on the institute. Did you say that Henri Mineur was also involved?
Henri Mineur was the Director, but Henri Mineur was a leftist —
He had been very active. He was a protegee of Jean Perrin and the [???] and before the war he was a young astronomer, he was probably 30 — I think he was born in 1900. Henri Mineur was a remarkable man, but he was (?). In 1918, when he was only 18 years old, or 17 or something, or 18 years old, he volunteered during the First World War and came out as a captain in the infantry. It's remarkable because he was underage. You see, he volunteered in 1918, and I don't know why he was promoted to captain so quickly, but it's quite remarkable to, after about just one year of war, to come out as a captain in the infantry.
I think it was infantry. I think it was. So he was a patriot. But after the 1930s he became a communist, as Cholangi was indeed. There was a great movement in favor of communism in the 30s in France after the [???] came to power, and also enthusiasm for the Russians and the Soviets after the Germans attacked the Soviet Union. I remember even Churchill said that he would even ally himself to the devil if he had to, to fight against Hitler. So, indeed in this country also. I remember in fact meeting Mineur. That was a very strange occasion. I was briefly during (?) in Toulouse in July 1940 for a few days, just trying to — My mother had been (?) to Toulouse with her (?) of the French radio, and she had been sheltered by Monsieur and Madame Péridier at Toulouse. She didn't know anyone, and when she found herself in Toulouse she contacted the Péridiers and they offered her and my sister shelter for some months during, it was June, 1940. When I finally located her, I went to see her for a few days, and then at that time it happened that in Toulouse we had simultaneously her and Mineur (?) an astronomer whose name escapes me, a fairly well known (?) astronomer, discoverer of comets —
Yes. We can add that later. I think I know who you mean.
Yes. La Nouvelle. And so we had an impromptu astronomical symposium at Toulouse Observatory the day (?). There was Dr. Ploqeue (?), P-l-o-q-e-u-e (?), and there were one or two astronomers there of the staff. So we had, in the midst of this chaos and the collapse of (?), we had a perfectly satisfactory astronomical symposium in early July, 1940. And then, and then of course Mineur was only 39 in 1939, so he was called back to the army as a captain. When I was [???] too, (?) officer, and he was a captain. But then he was everything that was wrong for (?). He was a communist, he was a freemason, so he was dismissed from his position, and he also, being a patriot, he went underground to join the Resistance, and he was in fact arrested twice by the Germans, and liberated through the intervention of a German astronomer.
Which astronomer was that? Was that Kiepenheuer?
Kiepenheuer, yes. I tell the story somewhere in this book. But anyway, so that Cholangi was the acting director of the Institute of Astrophysics. Alright, so Mineur not physically present in Paris; he was keeping quiet somewhere in the country. Not keeping quiet, in fact, fighting with the Resistance people. Okay.
I'm wondering how much the politics of both of them played in the practice of the institute at the time. Did it seem to you to be in some sense a center for left or the Resistance?
No, not too much. No, no, no, no.
Not at all.
No. The observatories were used as shelters for people who wanted to stay from the Germans. For example Schatzman was a physics student in the occupied zone. When the deportation of Jews became a problem in France, I understand that he found shelter at the (?) Observatory.
And that's what made him become an astronomer. Otherwise he would have gone to physics, I think (?) physics. But that's how he became aware of astronomy. Oh yes. In the winter of 1944-45, there was a cold spell in Paris. In fact winters are always very cold in France when there is a war. It's a bad habit that happened in the First World War and Second World War, so somehow the weather does not cooperate and [???]. So there was no heating at the Sorbonne, so the lab was closed. It was just before Christmas I think, and so came (?) January. So there was a 10-or 15-day period when I couldn't go to the lab. I was living not far from the Sorbonne. My mother had moved from (?) to the Sixth District of Paris, which is about 15 minutes from the Sorbonne near the Garden of Luxembourg (?) in 1937. It was more convenient for her work, it was more convenient for me, because I was beginning to (?) Sorbonne, so it was 10-15 minute walk to the Sorbonne, and every day during the war I was passing in front of the Senate building of occupied Germans, there were German sentries, a flag there, but we (?) ignore this, and there was almost peaceful coexistence. So the lab was closed, and as usual, when there is a deep freeze someone forgets to turn off the water. So when the thaw came there was a flood, so I went (?) lab the assistant said, "Oh, Monsieur de Vaucouleurs, it's terrible, your lab is under not one foot of water, but several inches, it's flooded," and one of my plate collections — I mean, it was cold because I'd left some — I should not have done that, but I left some chemicals in the trays, you see, in the lab, and it was ice.
It was really, really cold. But when the water came again there was a burst pipe and a box of what I considered to be precious plates had been ruined. So by that time it was, let's see, almost two years, not quite two years since I'd gone back to Paris and was struggling together with the people (?) experiments. I was fed up with the antiquated facilities at the physics lab, and I knew that the Institute of Astrophysics had just opened for business.
There was no one there except (?) Barbier, of course (?) manager, and also a Physics Professor who was doing volunteer work. His name was Vigroux, V-i-g-r-o-u-x. He was a Professor of Physics somewhere, but was spending a lot of time as volunteer work doing studies of the spectrum of the ozone. He was interested in the ozone, because (?) had developed an introverted spectrograph to study the (?) spectral (?) stars, measure the balomel (?) jump and those sort of things.
And of course in (?) beyond 3500 angstroms (?) you see the burns/baryons (?) of ozone.
That vary. So Barbier and Chalonge (?) lab studies of the ozone spectrum, its dependence on temperature, because under spectrum they could also get some information on the strength or the sickness of the ozone layer and probably its temperature if I am (?).
Yes. Were they interested in it as a meteorological problem as well, or did they contact any — that you know of?
I don't know. This I don't know. They were interested in it as a problem in doing astronomical spectro-photometry —
The data were published, and I think they did publish some studies of the seasonal variation, but I have forgotten.
Hmm. That's interesting.
Of course ozone was a very popular subject for French physicists and astronomers, because it was first studied and found (?) by Fabry. And then — Fabry and Brieso (?). There have been some studies by Yu (?), Chinese, at Lick Observatory in around 1930, but the study really (?) and made studies from the geophysics point of view. But the subject became active again in France in the late 30s and 1940s because of this work with the Chalonge spectro-photometer. They still had many spectra of stars (?) Cholangi, because he let me borrow his collection of plates to make a plate of standard stellar spectra for (?).
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yes, yeah.
Let's see. Yes. So, when I saw the catastrophe in my lab at the Sorbonne, I turned around, went directly to the phone, and called Cholangi, and I said, "Cholangi, here is what's happening to me. Do you have a room for me at the Institute of Astrophysics?" He said, "Yes, of course. When do you want to come?" That was the extent of my entrance examination to the (?) [laughing] Institute of Astrophysics.
Because he knew me already, he was aware of my work, and he knew I was a student of Cabannes, which was a recommendation.
Did that cause any hard feelings on the part of Cabannes?
Oh no. No, opposite. No no, opposite. In fact, I kept my lab at the Sorbonne for another two years. But he realized it was limited, that I was to be an astronomer, which it would be good for me to be in contact with astronomers, and, as I said, he had always a soft spot for astronomers, so there was absolutely no problem. I was not leaving. I was still a grad student at the Sorbonne and his (?), supervisor until my dissertation, but he realized I would have better facilities, that my (?) were there, and the building was empty. So I was given a very nice lab and (?) lab, very nice, brand new photographic lab. That was — so, just as a matter of good form, (?) it was not because I produced a Vita for Cholangi. That's why I entered the [???], I am the first (?), no joke, in 1945. But I kept my lab at the Sorbonne for another — practically to the end, until 1948 or '49. '49 I think. Yes, I remember. That was a great help, because then I had access to two (?). I could get money for (?) at the Sorbonne, and also at the Institute of Astrophysics. And that was completely different, that was CNRS money.
So that was a great help. It was not much, but from two places I managed quite well. So that was a help to (?) my equipment. I was a very busy body by then. I was still active in the French Astronomical Society — not observing, because I had other things to do, but publishing papers, giving lectures. And then I immediately applied to — let's see, of course in the spring of 1944 met my wife, Antoinette, and she became my (?).
I wanted to ask you how you had met her.
By accident. By accident. She had been, she had finished her school studies in 1939, but her parents were not scientifically inclined. She had the gift for mathematics, and she instead she was considering becoming a Professor of Mathematics in secondary schools in France. But her parents were not wealthy, and there was no (?) or interest in the family, and also the war came, so she had to take a job as a secretary. And she was I think in the beginning of her mathematical business (?), I don't know which one, and but by 1944 she wanted to — she was not happy being a secretary, she wanted to get back to some studies, and I met her as a prospective student looking for the secretary that [???] office at the Sorbonne and looking for directions. Of course I was very familiar with Sorbonne by then. That's why I showed her the direction, and then she got the information she wanted, and I said, "Can I see you again?" and yes, I could, so we met again and a few days later, after she was almost killed, or she could have been killed during the bombardment of (?) of — The Allies came, you know, that was time just before the landing in Normandy, and the Allies were systematically bombing on the communication nodes around Paris. They were destroying all the — not so much the railway stations in Paris as the —
As the centers outside the —
The yards. The yards outside Paris.
And there was a big bombardment of the big yard, the railway yards the north of Paris, at the edge of Paris, and of course — and in fact I watched that bombardment from my balcony. I lived, as I said, not far from the Sorbonne, south of the river, and I didn't like to go to the cellar in bombardment. First, I developed an immunity against listening to the sirens, so when the air raid alarms were sounded (?), my sleep was so deep that I didn't pay any attention. My mother was very upset. But anyway, I remember watching the pathfinders dropping their flares, you know, their precision navigation that would bring — a few aircraft with skilled pilots who were navigators would drop flares, a big circle about a mile or two across so that the others that just, who don't know, (?) somewhere inside that circle (?) bombs (?). There was some fairly active flack (?), and some of the bombs would fall outside the circle, so crews (?) would be either scared or (?) by the flag and they would just drop their bombs anywhere. So there was some damage near the church, and my future wife was living in that vicinity (?). She went to the cellar with her parents, and she told me that her parents were green as (?), because it was right on them, but she was very collected, she had a brain, and she was very collected, and she took all her things, her bag and some food, some water, she was mostly shaken. Of course, young people still do not realize the danger as much as older (?) it's true. Anyway, but she could feel the building, you know, shaking when the bombs dropped, and in fact they, the (?) was pierced by bombs a hundred yards from where she lived, and it fell in through the subway.
The subway is very close to [???]. Anyway, so when we could meet again after that bombardment, I remember her shoes were covered with dust, plaster dust you know from the (?) —
— (?) so much plaster and dust from (?) the streets were still, in that part of Paris, (?). Anyway, but then after four years I had been in bombardments before. It's amazing how I lived through the Second World War almost unaware of the danger. In June 1940, I remember after the (?) school was (?) to the (?) France — no, it was, let's see, I was in the (?) department I think, and I found myself with a friend who was a physics student. I didn't know him from Paris, but (?) so you had more physics students than (?) types, and he was very — we all wondered what would happen next, you know, it was the end of the world, as you can imagine, France being occupied, invaded by Germans, it had to that extent it had collapsed it had not happened since 1815. And he was very quiet, he said, "It's alright. The Americans will come into the war sooner or later. They can't help it. They are slow reacting always, but (?) they will be threatened just as much, and then France has been destroyed by (?) aircraft the Germans had, well, the Americans will be (?) and they will destroy Germany." He was very (?). I have forgotten his name, but I remember we were at the window and we were discussing, and he said the forecast was very good, he said, "It's a matter of time. Now we have to wait. The Americans will wake up, and once they start counting in the war machine the Germans haven't got a chance." That was — we didn't even consider what would happen to the Soviet Union, you know, but that is the ratio of the industrial powers (?) and population that there was no question.
So I am not saying the war years were fun or happy or anything, but — of course we did not know the horrors of the concentration camp, the extermination camps in Germany, so fortunately we were not aware of that, and I lived like an innocent almost through the war. I was busy in astronomy, and one thing I knew is I wasn't going to join the Resistance: first, because they were strictly visible (?) at the time. After the war already (?) been a Resistance, you know, like after the war there was (?) in Germany, but at the time what you could see was the Germans. And also, I was convinced that astronomy was more important than incidents in the political lives of nations, and that it was not my job to play the little soldier since the French refused to play soldier when they had an opportunity. That may be egotistic, not patriotic, but I answered the call when it came, there was no sort of course of the yellow bellies running to Canada as that happened here during the Vietnam War; we simply had been trained to be a (?) officer, and that's what I was studying, and I did not graduate because (?) collapsed before.
But I was prepared to do what was needed, but not volunteer. The (?) you learn in the army: never volunteer. [laughs]
Anyway, so I lived. In retrospect I was very lucky. I lived like an innocent. I was stopped just twice during the war: once by the Germans, once by the French police, checking (?), still I looked very young at the time, so they were checking whether I was avoiding the compulsory service or the service (?) in Germany, but I was old enough to escape that.
So it's only after — In fact, [???] Second World War has hit me much harder after the war up to the present time than it did during the war, because of this isolation and this fortunate ignorance of what was really going on.
So, in 1946 — So I transported all my equipment and set up shop in my lab in the Institute of Astrophysics. That was '45.
I wonder if I could ask you at this point: When you look back to that period of time — '45, '46 — what was your impression of work that was being done in French astronomy? I wonder what seemed to you to be interesting work as you began to hear what others were doing after the war.
Well, of course publications were limited during the war, but there was still the (?) Observator (?), the Annals of Astrophysics that were published.
They were the two main journals. And there was only one French study, one French dissertation of stellar photometry by someone named Lagola (?). That was before the war, but I became aware of it only during the war when I did my work on photographics by someone who did (?) dissertation. I think it was in Algiers. On trying to study the errors of photographic [???] increase the precision of in focus (?) stellar photography. I was in touch — when I was at Le Houga, until we bought the microphotometer I would (?) frequently travel to Toulouse to the observatory where I could use their microphotometer, which was an old — It was not a microphotometer; it was a thing with a (?) recording. Uh, tsk, I've forgotten. But they had a microphotometer which I used to measure plates. So I would meet with the Director, (?), and Lacote (?). Lacote was later Director of Strassburg (?), but he was an astronomer at Toulouse. He was using supposedly the 30-inch reflector built by Fouqué (?) in the 1870s. (?) was old, you know. French astronomy was revived after the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s (?). It looks like France needs a defeat to wake up and move. There was much more done in French astronomy after the defeat of 1870. It was reviving, many observatories were established in France in 1880s, (?), and then it was allowed to decay, and after the First World War, French astronomy was (?).
In 1932, according to statistics made by (D?), who was Director of (?), French astronomers contributed only 5 percent of the world production in astronomy, just counting reference in the (?). And then it took the Second World War, another defeat, to wax again (?).
I think that's what it takes.
I was curious about that, because it was right in that period where Mineur had written the report on the state of French astronomy — the question of introducing more astrophysics.
Yes, that's right. Of course some astronomers were awake, were aware of it: Danjon, who was an advisor to [???] who was active and became Director of Paris Observatory in 1944 after his (?) died; Mineur was aware of it; and Cholangi; and Dufet (?). Dufet was a former student of Cabannes too. So French astronomers were beginning the long pull which took two generations to bring back French astronomy up to speed you see.
The story is best told by (?)'s autobiography.
Yes. I'll make a note of that.
That's the best (?). The French astronomy from the First World War to the present. (?)
I'm just curious. In your view, what effect did the Mineur report have — a large effect on the attitudes of the French astronomers?
I don't know.
Yes. Was it something that was discussed that you were aware of at the time?
No. I was a grad student, remember, and especially a physics student, so I was not "in" yet.
I was not a professional astronomer. In fact, it's been one of my problems, because I had been too active as an amateur astronomer, especially in the (?) because I had no choice. I was treated by some French astronomers like an irrelevant physics student that was definitely inclined to astronomy. That's (?) some of my first students thought what they wanted to do was work on galaxies. There's always been work on galaxies, but I didn't have — I began to photograph galaxies with calibrated plates at (?) Observatory during the war and just after the war. (?) long exposure plate (?) 18-inch refractor (?) exposure, so it was (?). But my work on galaxies on the professional level really began when I had access to the whole (?) Paris Observatory. And we were married, with my wife, on October 31st, 1944. It was a struggle to find an apartment in those days. And then she started studying —
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. de Vaucouleurs: — she was (?) astronomy and mathematics at the Sorbonne, and I was busy with my dissertation. But still we could, (?) we applied for time on the 30-inch refractor, 32-inch refractor (?) in I think just after the war, probably in the fall of 1945, and we were given a couple of weeks on it. As I said, we were the first user of the newly (?) 32-inch refractor in February or March 1946. And then we took calibrated plates of many (?) galaxies. We recorded the plates with the Cholangi microphotometer, and I published the first results in (?) Astrophysic 1948 in a couple of — I published three papers — no, excuse me. Yes, three papers. (?) right? Yes, three papers. One in (?), and two in (?) Astrophysics, 1948 I think. First I discussed the techniques, showing all that had been done by my predecessor (?). I was very innocent in those days. I was doing the things that, showing how Hubble and [R ], the leaders (?) had been wrong. You don't do that as a grad student. But I was too innocent, and I thought science was to find the truth you see.
And of course, and also to (?) study the subjects (?) been done before. It was not much exaggeration (?), but still I forgot (?) the standard procedure. So I published a paper in (?) discussing the techniques and why improvements was needed, and then I published a (?) of our studies in (?) astrophysic. This was a key paper, and it's been used by many others since (?) how to do things right.
Right. Now these were refereed journals then?
And none of the editors had any comments to you about the criticisms that you —?
The refereeing process I think — Now what I did then was to send the draft of my paper, the text of my paper to Redman (?), to (?), and to Hubble. Hubble never bothered to answer — typical of his attitude towards (?) people. And Redman sent a long, friendly letter acknowledging honestly that yes, he had done this and it was not right, he could have done better, and that — In other words, defending what he had done, but very honest and (?) discussing my paper. Later I was flattered that he had reacted in this way, because Redman, when I was in England in '50, '51, was attending meetings of the RAS (?), and practically after every paper he would get up and start destroying the (?) speaker, showing that all he done was wrong and it was not worth doing. He was very critical.
But in his letter, which I still have somewhere, he was critical but friendly, and encouraging me to (?) to improve this difficult technique of photographic photometry of galaxies, and that's where the r1/4 formula was developed.
Right. Were there any others that you were in contact with in galaxy work at the time? Were there others that you wanted to discuss?
A little later I met Shapley in 1949, in Paris, at a time when — well, that comes a little later chronologically. I should (?). And I was corresponding with Nick Mayall at Lick Observatory, who was always very friendly. In fact, he and Dr. Shane I've called the most, the nicest astronomers I've ever met. They were really marvelous people. Mayall of course is (?) in Tucson (?).
But, so we went with my wife to (?) in February, March '46. Then we had a second run this time on the 50-inch probably in '50, in '48, I don't remember. But that was — or '49 even. I don't remember. I think we went three times to (?) — '46, possibly '47, I would have to check the dates, and in '49 we had applied for time, and there was such confusion in the commission that was a time assignment (?) for the CNRS, that we had been given the same time on the same telescope as Brigg (?), who was the Director of Toulouse (?) Observatory. I wanted to do the spectroscopy of carbon stars. So we said, "Alright, let's each one night take turns on the telescope." Anyway, the weather was so bad we didn't lose very much, but that was one more drop in the bucket that this confirmed our decision to leave France.
Just (?) go anywhere. First, we had no sponsor, because there was no one testing galaxies in France at the time. I was opening the field literally, and in those days if you didn't have a sponsor, preferably Danjon, you were (?).
Was Danjon — I'm sorry to interrupt, I'm just curious, was he neutral about that kind of work, or did he sense that it was inappropriate somehow for people to be (?) —?
Mmmm, it's not the type of work. What he wanted is people to work under him.
To follow his own research program.
He had — not even his own research, but you had to be his boy. You can look at French astronomy of my generation, people like Fairinbuck (?), like Larmo (?), like Henri Coudec (?) — all the people who were at the positions were his products, his pupil or people he had taught. He had to (?) people everywhere.
Yes, okay. That makes it clear.
And sometimes astronomers were (?), like Koganof (?). Koganof came to astronomy through celestial mechanics. He was a student of Zsazi (?), and some reason he was (?) to (?) for many years before he could return to Paris. It was, you had to make a submission to him, recognize him as your squire and make your —
Yes. That makes it clear.
He was not hostile as such, at least in the beginning, until he realized what I was doing, Dr. Cabannes' student, and in astronomy I didn't owe Danjon anything, I learned all by myself or reading and — Because you see, the one thing that was very weak in French astronomy in those days was there was no formal teaching beyond the undergraduate level. We had celestial mechanics, and the practical astronomy which was done at the lab sessions you might say were done at Paris Observatory, the one (?) Lombare (?). Lombare was the head of the (?). He was killed by the Germans also during the war. And the astronomy consisted teaching students, most of those who took astronomy in those days were mathematics students not interested in astronomy.
How to read the vernay (?). I had learned to read the vernay when I was a little kid in school, so I skipped most of my practical sessions at the Paris Observatory. (?) to a telescope was the last lab session where we were admitted to visit and look and look without touching at the telescope (?). [???]. It was a joke really. So unfortunately, there was no systematic teaching of astron — yes, basic astronomy, yes, but the astrophysics was very weak.
Was there anyone in your mind who seemed to be doing that?
No. No no.
It was simply absent?
Remember also the number of professors is very limited in the French system. One Professor of Astronomy, and he has an assistant. In this case it was the head of (?), and the nearest we came to — I remember one of my exams, I had a written exam in astronomy. One of the problems was computing the orbit of a spectroscopy (?) from regular velocities. That was the closest you came to astrophysics, you see. [laughs]
A good way to put it.
That was alright. It was easy for me, but you didn't have — So we, in fact we, when my wife took astronomy she took it from Danjon. She took her astronomy in '47 or '48. And Danjon was the professor, (?) Paris Observatory, and so she automatically was (?) Professor of Astronomy. He was a very good teacher, an excellent teacher, and but that was also, you know, if you look at (?) still celestial mechanics what he had taught at Strassburg for many years. There was very little — it's only after a few years after Schatzman graduated in '48 in the 50s invited him to be (?) or some junior position to teach astrophysics. The teaching of astrophysics in France began only when Schatzman was asked or allowed by Danjon to give some astrophysics courses, and also when (P?r), Jean (?), Officer of the Collège de France.
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yes, yes, right, right.
But in fact (P?r) and Schatzman wrote Astrophysics General (?) as a supplement to (?). So it took almost ten years after the war, almost a decade, before there was an organized teaching of astrophysics in France.
Did it seem that — ?
I remember that when my wife was doing astronomy, Koganof published a translation of (?), a book on (?). You know the story? Have you interviewed Koganof?
No, I haven't.
He's, well, a Russian-born French astronomer. He came to France I think in the 1930s, a time when Russians could still somehow legally come to escape the Soviet Union, with his parents, and he told us a story that, to show how pitiful conditions were in Russia in the 20s. I think he came to France about 1930, and when he reached, the train reached Hamburg (?) he told us his parents bought him a banana, and he tried to eat it with the skin. Poor boy had never seen a banana in Russia, you see, until he was — by then he must have been 15 years old or so. He was a few years older than I, I think. And anyway, speaking of the war, you know as I said the Germans were trying to dismember France or to federalize provincialism, separatism, and especially they tried to (?). So in June 1940 (?) with units that retreated to Brittany (?). And the Germans demobilized people and asked them — if they were (?) they were set free. Those who were not Briton (?) were sent to POW camps, but the Britons were set free you see, to separate them from the French. And Koganof had the nerve to tell a German that — Koganof of course is like "horse cough" you know, and it's a Briton name. He got out. [laughs] And so he vanished in the countryside as quickly as he came, in case some officer had discovered that Koganof is not Briton.
[laughing] It's not quite a Brit —
And then he vanished in a small village, and then to occupy his time he started translating Unsold's book from German to French, and his French translation of Unsold's fundamental book on stellar atmosphere was published by the CNRS after the war. And that's where my wife and I started studying a little stellar astrophysics on our own, because previous to that there was no other book. I did not (?) the energy to translate Unsold from German from the original text, because I had already done this for two books of Helzberg (?), and that's enough translating. [laughs] But, and then I remember she translating into French articles, good, very long review papers by Menzel, by Kuiper, that were published in Popular Astronomy after the war, very, very good, extensive review papers. But it was spotty, and I must say teaching is much better organized now. It's (?) here.
Right. Did the — I'm sorry, I didn't mean to — I was curious about your impression of the work of Bernard Lyot. Did that seem to be limited to solar astrophysics enough that it was not generally — ?
No, I was very much — in fact (?) presented some of my notes to contribute to the academy. He was an experimental (?) man of genius, real genius. In fact I remember that Professor Cabannes told me one year after the war that he was trying to nominate Lyot for the Nobel Prize —
Hmm. That's interesting.
Because he was such an outstanding experimental physicist. He had really (?). He too started as an amateur, but became a professional quickly, and he was a dominant figure and very active and always developing. But it was work (?) physics, you know. Because he was so capable and knew optics (?) so well, and he would be (?) that make even a (?), but he could make them work. And Dollfus (?) has been his heir. A. Dollfus has followed in the footstep, was brought up really as an astronomer in (?), and has kept this, has inherited from him not only his instruments and notebooks, but also his experience in using delicate techniques to use calorimeters (?) or polarimeters (?).
(?). Yes, Lyot was a dominant figure, but he was probably not as an individual. He was (?) less influential I would suspect because French astronomy in those days was so much dominated by the leftists and by the communists and the socialists, and that I suspect — not that he's — I mean, he was one of the leading astronomers and was on the council, but there was such a block of leftist influence. Now I must said that on the other hand people like Danjon and Ferndike (?) and probably Dufet (?) were on the other side.
Where rightists more than —?
Well, they didn't want to be bothered with politics. They were center right, you might say, not (?) extremist. Barbier was the son of an army general, and he was more right (?). But they were not (?) like the communists were.
And they were, you know, their goal to of course communist government after the war, and then there was a string of socialist governments, and — so —
Yes. How did they all fit into that (?)? Was he more apolitical?
Was he what?
Apolitical? Were you saying that Lyot wasn't —?
I wouldn't know. I would imagine that he was not involved in politics, but he lives in the 16th (?) (?) of Paris, if that means anything to you. That's the (?) quarters.
Yes, yes, that's quite right. Yes.
So, I have not been aware of any political action on the part of Lyot. Danjon was more set against the communists and the others, but you cannot say he was a rightist. They were just middle of the range people who wanted to be astronomers and not be bothered with socialists or communists. But I remember once in 1948 after the coup in Prague, when the communists seized Prague in a sort of putsch that succeeded, that one. There was a great fear that they were going to try the same in France, and the communists were agitating in the street and, you know, proclaiming strikes and this and that. In fact I was taken to task by, I don't know, someone — I don't know if it was Schatzman, perhaps Schatzman, or someone else at the institute, because I was not in the street on strike, and why. I said, "Look, I have a dissertation to finish. It doesn't make any difference whether one young junior astronomer will start screaming (?) in the streets." But, you know, you could feel, and the staff was scared, because all of a sudden — that was after the Prague coup — the staff, the clerical staff at the institute started displaying (?) on their desks prominently in the morning. Up to that time we couldn't see any political things at the institute, but they were all scared that the (?), so they were playing safe. And just not being active with them was already a bad mark.
So, of course at the time I remember, "This is getting to be a little too hard. We have just had five years of the Germans. Now we are going to be under another dictatorship (?). That's enough." So that's probably when we decided, with my wife, to get out as soon as I would finish my dissertation. That's when I think I made my first tentative (?) to contact American astronomers to come to (?).
And that included your talk with Shapley, when you met him in (?)?
Yes, yes, well I had written to Shapley about astronomy. No, it was not political in this case, I don't think. It was, I probably sent him also my photometry of galaxies. I expressed interest in what he had done. I was very familiar with his work. Shapley was one of my heroes. In fact, he still is. He was really one of the greatest. Such a — when we published at first (?) he was kind enough to send me this letter of compliment you see.
That's quite nice.
A letter from Harlow Shapley on —
Yes. It's like having an autograph (?).
Now Shapley — I must have, yes, I expressed (?) to him, but later, I think '48, '49, to go to Harvard to work on galaxies.
But that comes later. I have to — yes. So I became very busy. See, we were actively observing. We had several (?) in galaxies. We, I was working actively on my dissertation and my equipment. I was also, I was asked after the war — as I said, the war is a good thing for the French; it kicks them into some action — and so there was a revival, and the French (?). Now I started a series of classes. Yes, there were complaints. We were very well aware that we were all well trained for — our training was mainly in intellectual things and we didn't know a damn thing in the lab, how to do things. So a series of practical classes of lab, you might say. It was called (?), "Teaching Preparatory to Research."
Practical things for research worker, going from glass blowing to translating from German, English, and Russian —
That's very interesting. Yes, yeah.
— to the language classes. Because most of the French couldn't — it's changing now, but even though supposedly they learned English or sometimes German in school, they couldn't read it or speak it. So they were unable to communicate at meetings. I've seen this just after the war when the French were insisting on giving their papers in French at international meetings and nobody could understand (?). So — and so I was asked to organize the teaching of scientific photography, initially for the physical sciences, and it was a class of, I don't remember, 12 or probably 24 lessons, 24 3-hour sessions. It was seriously organized. And this began in 1946, and students from mainly physics, but sometimes other areas as well taking the class to learn how to process and measure and all that. And in fact I wrote a little booklet on scientific photography for the students which was published as a booklet, with the clumsy title of (?). Where is it? And then later, later, this was (?), Scientific Photography for the Biological Sciences, where Dr. (?) took over.
First he assisted me in these lessons, and then after a year or two we decided to ask the CNRS to sponsor classes in scientific photography for biological sciences. And finally, with some other comments he had written, we put together a standard text or handbook on scientific photography. It's a pity this was never translated into English.
Because we worked very hard, the five of us, to — there is everything except astronomical photography, because I had books on astronomical photography, but this is the substan —
These were areas not covered by any other treatise, in other words. The astronomy was covered, but other fields were not and therefore —
That's right, that's right. My teaching was not about astronomy but about the use of photography in scientific photometry and (?) measurements.
And you had gotten funds from the CNRS?
The CNRS was paying for that. It was a little additional income too.
And one of the people who — and then I mentioned this to the Astronomical Society at the Photographic Commission, and just on my own I said to set aside two positions, to openings for members of the French Astronomical Society working (?) on photography. And one junior member of the commission at the time was Paul Griboval, G-r-i-b-o-v-a-l, and 20 years later he came to here to build (?) camera.
And he was still very young at the time. He was a draftsman in the Ministry of Common (?) or something like that, but then he came to advance himself in study, so he volunteered. I don't remember who the other one was. So among the whatever (?) my classes were something like 12 to 20 students, something like that. Because they were (?) sessions, you couldn't have too many. But I remember I noticed that he would stay after all the others had left. He would stay on until he had finished everything precisely. And he gave me good reports. So he was very keen. So I spoke to him and asked him what he wanted to do in life, and he said, "I want to do research." He was full of questions. He wanted to do research. And he was interested in astronomy because he had on his own built a telescope (?), so he was interested in astronomy, since he was a member of French Astronomical Society, and (?) wanted to do research and was not satisfied being at the (?) military.
I said, "Alright, I will try and see if I can find a position for you here." So I went to Mineur, and I said, "Look," — that was '47 I believe — I said, "Look, you know I am working in physics and astronomy, and I am teaching this course. I need an assistant." I was a grad student. But it didn't seem to me extraordinary. You see, the nice thing is, instead of being treated like a student when (?) were a grad student there, for there were a few of them and they were hand-picked, but we were treated like junior researchers; we were not treated like students, you know. We were very much on our own. We didn't have to attend classes. So he said, "Alright, I know you are hard working," and in his (?) he said, "I like people who work." Because unfortunately he was drinking. I understand he had diabetes and needed to drink, but some of his (?) pushed him to drink alcohol, in fact just wine, too much, and he was often coming in drunk to the Institute of Astrophysics, so we would come into the office before of the manager and say, "Can we see the boss today?" and he would say, "No, not now," or "Yes, you can go in." Well, that cost him his place at the academy, so (?) competing with Danjon and his reputation. Because, it's a pity, because Mineur was a brilliant mind and open to many things. He had this leftist slant, but he was — well, he killed himself, really. Anyway, so he said, "Yes, okay. You cannot apply for an assistant being a grad student, but I will apply for one for me and place him at your disposal," which he did! So, beginning in '47 I think, late '47, I had Griboval as an assistant, full-time assistant when I was still a grad student. I was probably the only one —
I would imagine.
— only grad student in the whole world to have a full-time assistant. But, at the time it did not seem odd, or people did not show any indication of envy from others. I was of course the first grad student to be at the institute. After the war, it must have been six months or a year or something, I supposed it's late '45, Schatzman came as the second grad student, then the third one probably in '46 was Pikair (?), and the fourth one was Michard. Michard is a less well known French astronomer, but a good astronomer. In fact he's come here about 15 years ago he came to spend a year or six months here. He was later Director of Paris Observatory and then of Niece (?), and then I think he's retired now. And then a little later came Peyturaux, P-e-y-t-u-r-a-u-x, who is less well known, but he did a good book on the solar spectrum in the energy distribution of the sun. So these were the first four or five grad students at the institute, and they all have made their contribution to astronomy.
So, you see there was no formal application. (?) hand- picked through individual initiatives, the grapevine, but that — No structure or process of finding graduate students worked that fine. Of course it was not this mass processing we have here. I'm sure that this process did not bring out all those who could have become good astronomers, but that was commensurate with the number of positions.
And also, because it was restricted to the good pleasure of the Director or some of the senior scientists there who would advise the Director, they were already picking the cream of the cream, and it made good astronomers. Now they are mass produced, their dissertations are mainly a product of the ideas of the supervisor and the computer, and many of them just vanish in the landscape or become part of these teams of 45 astronomers (?) [laughs]. It has changed. I'm not saying one process is — the times are different. Remember, my generation is part of the, what the French call "the class (?)," that is to say, the holo (?) military contingence, you know, the drop of the birth rate during the First World War. So there were people who I have known in this country, people who graduated during the Depression, and that the great (?) in astronomy. I remember an Officer of Astronomy at the University of Northern Arizona, a solar astronomer, but he told me that he graduated, I don't remember, in 1933 or so, and his first job was at Lowell Observatory at 500 dollars a year.
He was glad to earn (?) at 500 dollars a year. And so he's still in astronomy because he wanted to, but really his (?) has been a Professor of Physics and Astronomy in college. So there were a few positions, but there were a few candidates, and there was this selectivity. The professor just decided he wanted someone who was a grad student, and that's all there was to it. You know, there was no committee of selection, letters of recommendation, and whatnot.
And then you had to move on your own. So, okay —
You were finishing your —
So that was a great help you see, because Griboval was not only very, very keen, he was a very good draftsman; he helped me greatly with the equipment for my dissertation. He helped me because we had exposures that would last several days. You know, light scattered by a cubic centimeter of gas is not very strong, and so photographically it took very long exposures, and we had to keep some (?) —
So simply getting the data for your thesis was taking a lot of time in the years after the Second World War.
Making the observation. Yes, of course.
There was about two years I would say of constructing, designing, constructing the equipment, and about two years obtaining the observation, making the measurements, plus one year writing it up, something like that. It took from '43, strictly speaking from '43 to '49, but I was doing other things at the same time —
— and fortunately my professor was very lenient. As long as I was productive publishing papers, he did not insist that I should concentrate on my dissertation. It would be done well when the time would come. So he never pressed me for time. Although, after the war the CNRS started placing limits on how many years you could be (?). I think it was five years. I was (?) for two years and attache (?) for (?) — for five years. Yes. In fact the pressure in the end came from me, because we began to feel, with my wife, that we had done a lot and I should be promoted before my dissertation. That was not strictly impossible, but not too likely. Also the level of the salaries was very low, and there was (?) inflation after the Second World War, and we had to do a lot of extraneous work, you know, tutoring high school or Bachelor degree candidates in mathematics. It's a good thing that so many people can take mathematics or physics; there is a lot of tutoring to be done. Both she and I would do a lot of tutoring. And I wrote a lot of popular astronomy articles for newspapers — not newspapers, weeklies. (?) and then (?), all sorts of magazines, and I was lecturing a lot to ones who would listen. First we had lectures at the Sorbonne for undergraduate students. I remember giving lectures on — seminars really — on (?) of light, on the (?). At the Astronomical Society I gave lectures on galaxy photometry, and my wife gave, I remember she gave one, the only lecture on (?) and classification of galaxies. This were of course, we were not paid; this was volunteer, lecturing at the Society. Well, it's getting late. Should we not go —
I think that would be fine. We can pause and —
— and have a bite?
That sounds great.
We can (?) and —
Continuing after a lunch break. As you say you mentioned —
So, also during that period I began publishing. My first book was written actually. It was called Le Problèm Martien, "The Problem of Mars."
It was putting together notes I had collected just before the war, in the late 30s, on what was known about the physics of the planet Mars. Because first as a physics student, I was a little annoyed by the fact that all the previous observers of Mars had been concentrating on making pretty pictures and describing what they saw. And this led of course to the famous controversies about the canals, which of course had been dismissed as illusions as early as 1909 in France by Atoniadi.
And it's surprising that such was again, how popular writer and propaganda can mislead people for a long time. It was not until essentially 1971, when we had the Mariner pictures, the close-up pictures, that the illusion of the canals was finally put to rest in this country. As late as the late 60s you can see people trying to — discussing canals on Mars. That was one little difficulty I had with Slipher at Lowell Observatory, because to the bitter end he maintained that his visual observations and his photographs showed (?) canals.
Yes. This is E. C.
E. C. Slipher, yes. And he still had good eyesight I know in 1958. We were sharing the 24-inch refractor, and I was making my sketches, and there were of course these fuzzy streaks and pattern, but he was no longer drawing. In fact, he never wanted to show me his drawings. I had only glimpses of them, of the 1920s, because he was still drawing the canals in (?) style. To the bitter end he insisted they are there.
And you are talking about the time when you were at Lowell in the late 50s.
That's right, that's right.
So this delusion was perpetrated, this illusion of such (?) was perpetrated into the 1960s, and even after the first Mariner pictures, 6 and 7, came, people were still trying to identify (?) with a canal on Mars. Canals are totally nonexistent. So suddenly in some respect what Lowell did was to give a bad name to planetary astronomy for half a century. And that's why some (?) some disdain to planetary astronomers. I have mentioned the story of (?).
This was at lunch when you mentioned that Jesse Greenstein (?) had (?).
And was surprised to see that there are really spots on Mars.
When he actually looked through the telescope.
Yes. Okay. So, in the late 30s, mid-30s and late 30s, I had written letters. In fact I started with letters. I wrote to Fournier trying to tell him that there was this amount of physical information, radiometric measurements for example, on Mars that is important. In fact in a letter to him, I still have the draft, I sketched the temperature curves on Mars that found their way into the book. I wrote that book when I was at Le Houga in 1941-42. Because Fournier was an old style observer he was making sketches and descriptions but was not particularly interested in the physics. He was a schoolteacher and he had done some physics. Anyway, so I decided of course if the old man doesn't want to listen, I can perhaps write a little book to put all this story together. So that forced me to systematize all that was known about the atmosphere, the temperature, the (?) constitution of the sun (?), the photometric work of Lyot, and the radiometric work of (?) and (?) and Menzel and Petit (?) and so on. And I put this in the little book called Le Problème Martien which, during the war, surprisingly, there were efforts in the other unoccupied part of France to encourage continuation of intellectual life; that the nation was not dead with the defeat; that one should try to sustain young people or people working. So in 1942 a prize, a literary prize was advertised in the papers by a group formed in Niece, France. The title of the, the name that organization called itself (?), "So that the Spirit May Live," and they were prepared to, it was they announced a prize of so many thousand francs, I don't remember, for a book or a manuscript of scientific nature, (?). So I submitted my manuscript of Le Problèm Martien, and it the prize was named after (?), who was a benefactor presumably, so I sent to the indicated address my manuscript, and surprisingly I received the prize — probably because I was the only one to send in a manuscript, I don't know. [laughs] But anyway, that gave me a significant amount of (?), but it was not a large (?), (?) in those days. It was 1943. When after the war there was an explosion of new enterprises, publishing houses that tried to (?) life, intellectual life, and there was an Elzevir Company —
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yes.
A famous name in publishing, but there's another Elzevir company, a publisher in Paris, and they started a collection called Problèm, problems in science.
And somehow they contacted me, or I knew, I don't know. I came in touch with them. But I submitted to them my Problèm Martien, and this was published in 1947 or '46, '47 I think, by this company, Problèm Martien, (?), it was a woman (?), you see, that (?) in '43. And then later, the next year I followed by a booklet on the theory of photography.
What makes a photographic plate. What happens in a photographic plate.
Well the theory of photography (?) had taken myself some photomicrographs (?), distribution of grays and the thickness of the emulsion and the function (?) of exposure time, (?) —
Some photomicrograph from Kodak and some electron (?) to micrographs from (?). Anyway, this was a series (?) of various photographic effects, which was the natural result of my work on the photographic effect.
Technically the first books published were in beginning of 1946 my Eléments Théoriques et Pratiques de Photographie Scientifique, which were essentially the lab notes, the guidebook for the students that came in the laboratory classes of scientific photography. It was published by Revue d'Optique, 1946. But of course in August, 1945, there was the atomic bomb. I was at the Péridier Observatory, it was the summer, and I tried immediately to understand what was going on, what were the physics of the phenomenon.
So I dug into (?) on nuclear physics, and then Professor Cabannes gave me copies of the (Smi?) Report, the American report, and the British statement about atomic energy. So I had these two documents, plus what I could dig out of (?) books and journals, and it was so new that we wanted to understand. So I wrote a lengthy review article that was published almost simultaneously in France in the French Bulletin of Astronomy and in Belgium in the (?), and I happen to have two copies here, so you can have one.
Oh, very good.
That's a reprint from (?), the bulletin of the Belgian Astronomical Society (?), (?) article, 23 pages, and you can see in the bibliography my sources of information.
Yes. When you were writing these, who did you consider the audience would be? It was a very general —
Amateur astronomers and people interested in science. It was published in two astronomy journals in France and in Belgium. And since atomic energy was already known to be the source of nuclear, of the energy of the sun —
So that had an astronomical impact. And then after correcting some mistakes which (?) we didn't have too much information in the beginning — as I said, Professor Cabannes gave me the official British and U.S. reports — so I revised it, extended it, and then I wrote a substantial booklet which was published by the Hermann company, because this (?) a famous publisher on the (?) Sorbonne, just facing the Sorbonne, and they had a series called Actualités Scientifiques et Industrielles. These were reports, what the French would call (?), extensive review papers, booklets —
— on very many scientific topics. Mineur published astronomy, (?) astronomy courses in them, of course the (?) and (?), of course they had also translations from German or English. So they had contracted with (?), the French physicist, to write one of these for their series, which was called Actualités Scientifiques et Industrielles, and but (?) at the liberation was appointed Chief of the — first he was appointed Director of the CNRS. At that time that's what he was. And then he became the head of the (?) Atomic Energy Establishment. But he was busy. First he had been — he was a communist too, he was a Resistor (?); in fact, he fabricated a (?) for the police when they took over the City Hall in Paris during the liberation of Paris. Anyway, so he was too busy and the book was not coming, so somehow the manager of the Hermann company, a Mr. Freeman (?), who has played a significant role in my life in fact, because through this book — I don't know how Mr. Freeman, the manager, came to discuss this with my professor, who had published books for them, and my professor probably said, "Hey, I have a student who has written an excellent review paper on atomic energy in my lab, and perhaps he could write it for you." So he sent me to Freeman, and so I came to write a book on nuclear physics. [laughs] Being a molecular physicist I wrote a book on nuclear physics called La Conquête de l'Energie Atomique, "The Conquest of Atomic Energy." The subtitle was "Nuclear Physics and Chemistry from Radioactivity to the Atomic Bomb from 1896 to 1945." So I traced back essentially all the modern physics from the time of discovered radioactivity. And I was (?) number one series on the (?) number in a series it sold well, and Julia Curie (?) was shown the book, since he was supposed to have written it, and looked through it. In fact, the manuscript was sent to him for checking. Also they were very anxious that I should stress the French contribution, which of course was ignored in the British and U.S. reports. But of course until it was stopped by the war the French were at the forefront of the research on nuclear fission. And you know how they contributed to the liberation of heavy water (?) in Norway during the water. Oh yes. The stocks of heavy water in France were shipped to Norway I think, or Britain and then Norway, to escape the Germans.
So they gave me enough information (?) I could cover the French contribution adequately. So Julia Curie, it was reported to me, said, "He has written a good book on a subject he doesn't know," because I was a molecular physicist, so —
That's a good compliment to have. Yes. I'm wondering, taking back to the physics of Mars and when you were considering the questions —
The physics of Mars came later.
Yes. That was the translation —
Le Problèm Martien?
Which appeared in English as The Planet Mars, in translation by Mr. Moore, Dr. Moore now in fact. It was his first contact with astronomy in fact and his (?) translation, and (?) quite a few parts. (?) bit of French or English. And that was published by Faber and Faber in 1950. But then later these Problèm Martien was just a Reader's Digest abstract type. It was more pages, but it was a booklet like this, 64 pages of something more extensive I had planned, which was an exhaustive review of all the work of physical nature using physical tools, not visual tools, only visual observations, that had been done on Mars since the beginning of the century. And there was much more to it than most people knew. So that became, was published by Albin Michel, French publisher. They had a good semi-technical or even almost technical series of books on scientific topics, and it was the Collection Sciences d'Aujourd'hui, "Sciences of Today." I translated — Physique de la Planète Mars was published in 1951 in French, and then after we moved to (?) I translated it into English, brought it up to date to 1954, I did more of the work (?), especially (?) spectrophotometry. When I moved to (?) immediately I was interested in the (?) spectrophotometry of the planet Mars, and that was published by Faber and Faber in London as Physics of the Planet Mars, 1956 [note: in the PERSONAL NOTICE it says this book was published in 1954], which was just in time for the (?) composition. And that book has been the bible of Martian studies in the early days of the Space Age; that was the only technical book about Mars. It was translated into Russian a few years later. They didn't have permission of course, but one morning I was (?) two copies of Physics of the Planet Mars (?), and I deciphered the name on the title being G. (?) Vakuler. They spelled V-a-k-u-l-e-r, the phonetic spelling in Russian. So now when (?) or other people ask me for my name and de Vaucouleurs is much too long for them, get lost in French names, I said, "V-a-k-u-l-e-r," that's the phonetic spelling for the Russians.
When the first study appeared, did you have contact with the American astronomers who were interested in —?
Which one? Which first (?)?
In '46, when (?) book.
Well, we had sent, we had sent our publications. There was one volume of the Annals of Le Houga dealing with the system of photometry on Mars that I had introduced, and it is discussed at great lengths, calibration system (?) also. But then we had planned on a second volume of which I have still the manuscript. In fact I wrote it while still in the military service, and probably finished it at Le Houga. (?) giving the use of this data to the (?) function of distance to the (?), the center of the disc, and to look for variations and to detect seasonal changes. But somehow this second volume was never published. I don't think Monsieur Péridier objected to it, it's just that he didn't have time. So what we did instead is to publish a series of short papers, notes to Academy of Sciences, and then a couple of articles in Astronomy and in (?), in the French and Belgian bulletin, giving the main results. For example here is — I did the determination of atmospheric pressure by photometry from these studies. It was published —
It was published in 1945.
So during and after the war I published where I could these photometric studies of the planet to derive some barometers (?), especially atmospheric pressure. (?) part of the light scattering is due to dust, and that no (?) a lot of dust, so my estimate of the atmospheric pressure is much too high at that time. I knew about dust, I made the correction, but (?). Yes, I found the pressure of 4 centimeters of mercury, while actually the (?) pressure is (?) —
Pardon, excuse me. Pressure I found at the time was 7 centimeters of mercury, but then taking into account other determinations by others I set the most probable values (?) turns out to be (?). But anyway, I was trying to use my freshly acquired knowledge of (?) scattering to study the atmosphere of Mars.
I was familiar with light scattering.
What reaction did you get from French astronomers to that work? Do you recall any discussions (?) ?
Yes. Some of this, at least in France, the Council of French Astronomical Society was rather dubious about all the consequences (?) we were drawing from these observations, and people who had never observed Mars (?), "How big is the (?) of Mars?" and "What is the resolution on the telescope?," "How much do you think you can see?" and they were all very dubious. It's funny because there were one or two physicists on the council who said that it's visible, the test has been done before, let him publish it. I mean it's — but I was still for the astronomers amateur, and that's when I first came to the Institute of Astrophysics, '45. So all these had been done in a private observatory (?) and by a young amateur, so that was suspicious by definition.
But anyway, and I was also involved in photometry of the twilight. In fact Dollfus — I had invited Dollfus to come to the observatory for a summer. He was a young (?), I think he's eight years younger, and he very much followed me and he was (?) member of the Arts Commission and (?) his contributions, and I inspired him how to become an astronomer. And, oh yes, one thing I should mention, that at the physics lab Monsieur Cabannes had (?) a great confidence in this graduate student, and on two occasions he gave me to supervise Masters theses — even though I was still working on Ph.D. It was his practice if you are good enough for a Ph.D. you should be able to supervise a Master’s degree. And one was Dollfuss’s Master’s degree, about 1947 or so. I knew of course Dollfus (?), I knew he wanted to be an astronomer, and at the time he had been advised, I don't know by whom, to try to get a job as an assistant, observatory assistant (?). So I told him, "Look, you are serious about astronomy, you should not enter through the small door, back door as an assistant, which puts you in with the technical staff." So I said, "You should do a Ph.D. first." And first he had finished his (?) undergrad studies, first step would be to do a Master’s thesis, and I can introduce you to my professor. So I did. And, much to my surprise — in fact it was in the same corridor at the Sorbonne where I had met my wife several years earlier — I had gone with Dollfus and I had arranged to see Professor Cabannes. He was always very busy, so we caught him on the fly, and in the same corridor, and I introduced Dollfus and explained what he wanted to do. I said, "He is a very serious (?) astronomer. He's worked on Mars with me," and so Cabannes said, "Alright. I will take him as a grad student of mine," and he (?) me, he said, "Now, he's all yours. Give him a topic and," — he couldn't be bothered with supervising a Master’s thesis. You see, it was a small number of selected people, and then he was both testing him and testing me. So I gave him for a topic, "Photometry of Very Small Photographic Image." Now that was already in anticipation of the work I wanted to do on the nuclei of (?) galaxies. The images in the center are very small. The photographer had taken 46 (?) pretty good scale, about 12 (?) per millimeter. It was at the (?) 32-inch refractor. It wasn't bad. It was giving me the same plate scale I think as the prime focus on the (?). It was a good (?). I still have the plates. And you are dealing with a very small image, (?) tenth of a millimeter or less —
So, apart from the atmospheric turbulence, seeing (?) is also important, of the blur which is due to scattering of the image of the light and (?) the emulsion. So I asked him to produce point sources and zero width line essentially, micron size line, and then expose them to a series of exposures and look at the relation between exposure and size and the (?) scattering function on (?) the emulsion, which he did. He produced his point sources, which had to be much smaller than a few microns, a very ingenious way. Photographic plates were packed in, wrapped in black paper in those days. And the black paper was not very good quality, and it was full of microscopic submicron (?) size holes. So by crossing one such sheet of paper with another one we punched a small hole of (?) millimeter, he could isolate (?) submicron size holes into one of the small holes, producing a single (?) applying (?) contact he could maybe study. This was his Master’s thesis, and some of the results show up in the Handbook of Photography.
How much interaction did you have among the graduate students who were at the institute during the mid- and late 40s? Did you socialize much at home as well or —?
No, no, no.
— is it just at the institute?
Not at home. Just at the institute. We had (?) people who I could call friends were (?sco), (?) — There was not much socializing as the grad students do here. No. We knew each other at the lab. First there were a few graduate students, at the Sorbonne. They were not all in the same field as I. In fact I was very much alone in my field. There was a significant section of the laboratory devoted to infrared photometry, of infrared spectra. The director was Victor Leconte (?), who was a leader in infrared spectroscopy in France at the time. There was another physicist, Jean Paul Mathieu, M-a-t-h-i-e-u. Jean Paul Mathieu was a physicist of some note. I don't know if he's dead now. He was a good deal older. There was the assistant of the lab, the (?) assistant. That's a title, Laboratory Assistant, that he was the third in charge of the lab, named Lennuier, L-e-n-n-u-i-e-r, who did (?) in physics in France. But there was not much social relation. The only ones I had really were active amateur astronomers.
Of course I knew Schatzman, but he was a pure theorist, not interested in planets or even galaxies at the time. He was doing his dissertation on (?) theory. (?) I knew just because I saw him at the time he was a solar astronomer, and Michard (?), he was working on the sun. So there was not very much social contact. Times were still difficult.
We were, relatively speaking, poor, couldn't afford to entertain (?). We had a very small apartment (?) western part of Paris, 2-room apartment, and in the first winter in fact when the laboratory closed, we spent 10 to 15 days in bed with my wife — but not doing what you think. I was writing (?). [laughs] And water condensation on the windows was flowing on the floor of the room and freezing on the floor (?). So it was cold, you know.
Yes. Mm-hmm [affirmative].
So food was scarce. Once in a while my wife would visit her parents, who would give her some piece of food bought in the black market — because there was no other way to get meat or things. Things were survivable, but it's tough, you didn't have time to have fun as these people have today. There was no time for fun. And my wife (?) said, "You have never been young." I said, "Well, that was not my choice, you know, but I grew up during hard times. So I can appreciate what I have. I don't feel frustrated because I don't have the latest, biggest, most expensive (?)."
It's — we grew up knowing life is not fun, but it can be interesting, and it's survivable. We were very lucky that we were not treated like the Russians or the Poles or Eastern Europeans, except of course the isolated incidents of course. (?) irregular war activity with the Resistance, but I was not aware of these people. In fact to travel between Paris and Le Houga Observatory which at the time it was not occu — Even when the Germans occupied the South of France, there was still (?) and there was still a line of demarcation between the zones, because, except for (?) occupation the government of the unoccupied, the (?), was still under French administration. And that — many people of course today object to the (?) as forced collaboration with the Germans, but it was a shock absorber between us and the Germans. We were not under a (?) like they were in Czechoslovakia. We still had a French administration and we also compromised and arrangements could be made. Because the people (?) were before the war, (?).
So, there was a great deal of, they acted as a bumper or shock absorber between the Germans and the French population. So I am not as extreme in the condemnation, as many people are today, because they (?) the French keep, at least half the population of France, keep some kind of protection against the Germans. In the occupied zone that was different, but there was still a French administration, so we were not under direct orders from German administration or soldiers or police.
So, that was a great help, I'm sure many people would have been deported owe their lives today to the fact that there was some French administration to help. Oh, there were some fascists and extremists like the militia in the French (?) German, but by and large the population was of course, knowing we were occupied by enemy and we were glad to have people who were speaking French to us and helping.
So, what was that part when I drifted into this consideration?
The social environment of the graduate student (?).
Ah yes. Well, there was not much of this partying. Almost none, what you see today here.
We were young research workers. We were not treated as students. And we had the great deal of —. Of course the professor was available frequently if he wanted advice and guidance. In fact I was so happy to speak to my professor that once he had to let me know that I was coming to see him too often; he had other things to do. But he was really (?), really receptive.
Because he didn't have too many students anyway.
So it was a different situation from the grad students here today.
Right. I'm wondering — you'd begun to mention this awhile earlier: Was it already clear to you by the time that you received your doctorate that both of you would be going to Britain?
Oh yes. Because — I think it was a year before that we decided. Look, we had grown up through the Depression. We had lived through five years, six years of war, and we had several years of post-war conditions which were very tough for us, you know. It took several years before rationing was lifted, and salaries were miserable, and we decided, to put it bluntly, that we were born on the wrong side of the Atlantic. That's the way I put it. So it was not too late to correct the mistake. So, that's how I — I think I first wrote to Nick Mayall and Harlow Shapley, telling them what was the obvious: that there was no future for extragalactic astronomy in France, based on point of view that I was alone, and that my professor was a physicist. And in fact at one stage a little later I considered going back to physics (?), I was so fed up with the condition in French astronomy. But I had astronomy in the blood, so that was not considered very seriously. There was the threat of a communist coup, just as in Czechoslovakia. And you know it was close. Why France did not go the way the Czechs is that because — and at the time this escaped my attention — and this France was occupied by the U.S. army. That allowed the French government to bring back the army of occupation in Germany back to Paris. They brought most of the French army that was stationed in Germany and put them back on Paris. And essentially they looked (?) communist, now let's talk. The communists understood they had no chance.
Because, while Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Russians, and therefore the communists had a free hand to send (?) through the window and (?), in France the U.S. army was there — invisible but there. So the French government, first it was De Gaulle who was in charge, and he was no communist, even with communist in his (?). They were free to move back several divisions, not divisions (?). He said, "Say to me now: What do you want to talk about?" That settled it. But this escaped our attention at the time.
That was I think October '48. By the time — And then I was being heckled, you might say, by one or two people perhaps in the institute, for not being out in the street, you know, shouting slogans to support the communist (?). I said, "I'm not interested in striking. I have a dissertation to finish, and (?) in the street, that's of no interest to me." So it didn't — so we decided — and also it was very difficult to have access to telescopes in our province because of course there were others applying, so the prospect of even taking a few photographs now and then when the High Committee would not goof and assign the same period to two different astronomers to see on the same telescope. All of these sorts of things, "Well, there is no future." Then I discussed of course — but first I had to finish my dissertation, which I did in May, 1949. But then I looked all the more seriously at discussions of Danjon and especially with the Secretary of Paris Observatory. Fouqué (?) was a nice man, he had been there for many years, and I discussed also with Paul Coudec.
But I remember this — I've forgotten his name — this librarian, no, Secretary of the observatory was his title, telling me, "You know, now with your dissertation you can be appointed an astronomer in some observatory. But in order to avoid the envy or jealousy, you know it would be wise to start as an assistant in some provincial observatory, perhaps in Algiers." You know, they were giving me something of the story they had given Paul Coudec in 1925. And, so I said, well, (?) so many years before this and that, I will be 50 before I could start using a telescope on galaxies. I don't have the time. I'm not going to spend the most important part of my life — I was already 31. I thought that we lost time to the war, and it was time to move on, and I was not going to wait after the rest of my life before I could get hands on a large telescope. And also, as I said, I was the only one trying to do extragalactic astronomy in France; there was no sponsorship, there was the Danjon dictatorship you might call it, so that you had — In fact one day he had the nerve to tell me, "All you've done with Professor Cabannes doesn't count. Now if you want to (?), I will give you a subject."
In other words, because it was physics based at Cabannes.
That's right, (?). He wanted me to drop — I had worked essentially 10 years with Professor Cabannes, six years on my dissertation and was approaching the end. I loved my professor, who had always been very good, very (?) my astronomy, and now he wanted me to you know come hat in hand, rope around the neck, begging him to "Please give me a subject of your own choice and then I will perhaps be — " No time. I didn't have time to start another (?) in astronomy. So under these conditions, the economy condition, because our salaries, my salary was, my fellowship was very low, there was no certainty I would be promoted the next step after the dissertation. In fact I spoke to a biology professor, a zoologist or something. Anyway, he was fairly high in the CNRS, and I told him that I'd been turned down, my request for a promotion before my dissertation, because some people said, "He has done enough. He has done not only his dissertation but other things." After the paper on galaxy photometry was published, I had several books, which (?) didn't have. And he said, "Well, they tell you today that you cannot be promoted because you do not have your Ph.D. yet, but (?) will tell you your feet are too long or something, the conditions are difficult, the money was tight, the number of positions were limited. So all these combination of circumstances — what in our mind was the threat of the communist takeover in France —
I was not antagonistic to all their beliefs or professed dedication to improvement of the people, but we knew already enough that — We had lived five years, six years under the Germans, thank you for the Soviets.
Did you care about the —?
And then I was anxious to get into a place where I could extragalactic astronomy with other astronomers. So, I would have to check this, but I think I wrote initially (?) to Shapley. He already knew me by then because I had sent him a manuscript of papers on galaxies. And then Nick Mayall, we had corresponded about I think rotation of the galaxy, or something like that. Anyway, I think it was (?) Nick Mayall and Harlow Shapley. Perhaps some others, but I must have forgotten, (?) to get (?) positions in the U.S.
Did either of them have any ideas that you recall? Were there any suggestions made then about possibilities in the U.S.?
I think Mayall must have told me that had no openings at Lick at the time. I don't remember exactly. This is too far. I would have to look at my correspondence.
But Shapley kept my name in his mind, and in 1949 we had the first conference on cosmic physics, interstellar media (?). That was sponsored by the U.S. Navy, and there was a Navy Captain who was (?) the tape recorder, and that was I think in about June, July, 1949.
And I remember that during lunchtime I was eating lunch with Nick Mayall — in fact I met him in person at that time — and with this Navy Captain. And the Captain said, "I don't understand you astronomers, why you make all these indirect deductions about the composition, the density (?) of interstellar media. Why don't you tell us? We'll send a rocket, take a sample, you know, (?) bring it back to you. [laughing] Mayall laughed. He would not want to offend the man. But then during that meeting Mrs. Gapushkin (?) was present, and she came to me and said, "Dr. Shapley wants to see you." He was in France not for the meeting, but for some Harvard business or, I don't know exactly what for. But anyway, I remember he was staying at the hotel in the (?). So I was very happy, I went to see him, and he told me that they were finishing building the — was it the climate station, the (?) station —?
— near Boulder, and he was looking for staff. But in a few minutes we both decided that even with the attraction of coming to the U.S., I was not going to be a solar astronomer; I was not going to sacrifice that, what was already 15 years of involvement in studying galaxies and several years of actively beginning to observe them, to do solar astronomy. Just, I didn't — I think basically it's because we knew already too much about the sun. It's too complicated. Galaxies had to be explored. The sun, well we had explored in the early 20th century and we had to refine.
Your wanting to commit to galactic study. Did the planetary studies also influence your decision, do you feel, at the time? Were you looking for any options, opportunities to do other work?
No. I had been made fully aware already by the establishment, the astronomical establishment, (?) my physics colleague, that planetary astronomy is for amateurs. I did that because there was this interest in Mars that in those days we could still believe there was life on Mars, and therefore I did not agree that this was a subject that was inferior to others. But that was not my — surprising, even though I have written many papers and books on Mars, it was not my main line of interest. I trained myself and prepared myself many ways to study galaxies. That was still a frontier field. I remember one day speaking with Daniel Challonge (?), who was always very good to me, complaining that there was no interest in what I was doing on the galaxies, especially because Danjon was completely indifferent (?), and Challonge, who came to astronomy as a physicist also, remarked dejectedly, "Well, if we first enamored, one must do what is in fashion." I said, "But it's very fashionable in America. It's just that France is lagging. We have done anything in this field, but it is a frontier field. That's where the most important things are awaiting, more than (?) planets." Also before the space age we were limited in what else we could do, but planets. Now that's too small for most (?) observation, especially in those days. So, and except for Mars, I had only a very limited interest in Venus and Jupiter and Saturn, even though I observed them with some systematics for some years. So it more out of necessity that I didn't want to continue in that direction.
Now because of this early involvement, it turns out that once you get into a mechanism, you cannot get out easily. Because my last paper on Mars was published in 1979. There was a lull when I was in Australia. I just (?) I was fooling on with extragalactic and stellar work, and then (?) station, and I returned to Mars only when I was given a position at Lowell Observatory. And at Harvard Dr. Menzel was very anxious to go into planetary and space astronomy.
So, it's almost willy nilly that I dropped back into my youthful elements. And then I was the obvious choice as a P.I. on the Mariner 9, because there was no other astronomer that knew anything about Mars on that team who had actually observed it. And I had just written that Physics of the Planet Mars, which was very much used by the space people in the early days. So I said, "Well, I am not going to pass up that opportunity to have a close look at that planet that I've looked at for so long from so far away."
And that (?) to my regiment for several years. What was I discussing when —? Oh yes, my involvement with Mars. That's jumping ahead, but when I was at Harvard and I continued here the big project for the mapping of Mars, and then as a byproduct is the (?) period of Mars, based on 300 years of observing, and that was finally published in 1979. So from the mistakes of my youth I've (?) back again until ten years ago and 20 years ago. And, but I am still interested in looking at (?) changes, so (?) astronomers, and there are some very good ones now, are taking (?) observations on Mars. Occasionally there is (?) asking me to write (?) paper (?).
But also, remember, astronomy has been exploding so fast, that it's no longer possible to be both a planetary astronomer, a stellar and extragalactic astronomer. We have to specialize and specialize and specialize. And (?) just beyond the time we have to study any subject.
Yes, that's quite true. But, you had gotten the — you had at least heard from Shapley and from —
Oh yes. That's right. I had met him in Paris in the summer of '49 and then we started talking about our favorite subject, galaxies, and so it was clear that he did not have a position for an extragalactic astronomer, and I was not interested in taking a job as a solar observer. So we discussed amicably on the galaxy (?) also, and then before leaving, suddenly he turned around, turned to me and said, "How tall is your wife?" In those days the English system was still difficult for me, so, but I knew that, so I said, "60 inches," so he stopped a split second, he said, "Oh, 5 feet." He said, "Wait for me," and he came back with a box of nylon stockings. Now in those days this was a great gift.
You know, after the war nylon stockings or any stockings were very rare in France. In fact the GI's who came through Paris in August-September 1945 in the trucks, they would proffer cigarettes, chocolate and nylons to girls. They could get a girl for a box of nylons. So I remember my wife rejecting (?) offers of whatever cigarettes or chocolate from GI's in the (?), because — And in fact the newspapers even started publishing warnings to the women of Paris, telling them, "We are not starving. Don't go begging for gifts from the Americans. We are not starving. Behave yourself." So —
Yes. How did the offer from Great Britain —?
What is that?
How did your eventual position in Great Britain come about?
Yes. That came — So we had decided that we were going to move out, and yes, that came as a result of my publishing the book on atomic energy at the Hermann Company. I had become friendly with the manager, Mr. Freeman. Mr. Freeman was a Mexican Jew who loved Paris and served his country in a minor consular capacity in India and various places, but he had married a sister — if I remember correctly — he had married a sister of Mr. Hermann, the owner of the (?), (?) French (?), and he loved Paris. Somehow he lived through the war. But I never saw him during the war, I must say. I met him in 1945 after the liberation of France. So I cannot say for a fact that he lived in Paris in the war, but I just suppose it. (?) if he was Jewish that he would have trouble with Germans —
But, he was Mexican too. So — Was Mexico at war with Germany during the Second World War?
I don't believe so.
Perhaps not. So, anyway, he loved Paris. So — but he had been around, and he could perceive some of the difficulties I was having with some astronomers, and also (?) being an amateur astronomer, a physics student (?) to go into (?). It was difficult and conditions were difficult, and we talked about (?) subjects. And one day after I had published the book on atomic energy, so that must have been '46, or '47, because for some reason I spoke with him relatively frequently about various things. Oh, he had marvelous stories about the scientists, and what (?) some French scientist that he had seen at (?). Especially the will among some to be the great dictators, establish their position by being dictators and using dirty tricks to force people to submit. He had seen it not only in astronomy, but in other sciences. Since he was publishing hundreds of books from prominent scientists, he got to know them fairly well, so he had a lot of gossip. [laughs] But one day he told me, he said something to the effect that, "Join the Anglo-Saxons." He said, "Join the Anglo-Saxons." I said, "That's strange to say, since you love Paris so much." "Ah yes," he said, "but since I am Mexican I go back to my country any time, and they are afraid of me, some of these scientists." I don't remember who it was, it was probably not astronomers, but some people in the CNRS and so on. Anyway, but he gave me this (?), "Join the Anglo-Saxons," and that stuck in my mind, because he was (?) — had good intention, was friendly, he knew the scientific circles in France, and he had been around in his (?), not only (?) to do extragalactic astronomy, why not to go to the United States. At that time there was no other activity, very little else in Britain or in other countries.
Very little. In the 30s and early 40s, if you followed the work of half a dozen men, you knew all there was to know about extragalactic astronomy. So, and that stuck in my mind, and then when — Yes. So I would go to him for advice. He was a man probably in his sixties by then. Yes. Shortly before my dissertation was finished, I said, "Alright. We are going to finish this, and now when do we get out and how. Where do we go?" It did not occur to me to look for a post doctorate fellowship somewhere. I don't know if the programs were —
This was just something not discussed among any of the astronomers?
This was not something that for example Danjon or anyone else had recommended?
No. I suspect these post doctorate fellowships developed after the 1950s. Perhaps first (?). It was not a concept that after graduating you would post graduate further studies as a post doc; that was not available in France as far as I know. You went into civil service to become an astronomer, or you would go, stay into research with the CNRS.
Yes. There was a biologist, a French — really he had no nationality. He was one of these people who had (?) passports, you know, for (?).
I think he was of Russian origin, but he was the head of a department of CNRS laboratory not far from the Sorbonne of Anthropometry (?) or something like that, the human and animal science; he was some kind of biologist. I think it was anthropometry or something. Now, I think he was Jewish. He had gone to England during the war, escaped probably, I don't know when exactly, but probably '39 or '40 he had escaped to England. He admired an English girl, and he somehow had been placed in charge of a weekly science program for the BBC, the French branch of the BBC. And of course during the war, especially during the war, the foreign branches of the BBC were greatly developed. All during the war we listened to the BBC every day you know. In places like Le Houga, a small village, there was no one in the street at the times the BBC bulletin would come in. People were listening through the noise — what do you call it?
The jamming, through the German jamming you could turn on the BBC. And so, they had greatly developed the services, and somehow he had convinced them too that they should have a science program to (?) in the Allied countries and so on. And they knew they had millions of listeners. So that was well established, and much to the surprise of the journalists running the BBC, this science program had been very successful. There was (?) correspondence from French listeners asking for this and that. In fact there was at least one instance that French listeners writing, "The French review tells us this and that about science, but tell us what the score is really."
They had great confidence in the objectivity of the BBC news and information. And he had run this program at a fairly high level — popular, but a fairly high level. And since the journal (?) (?) the BBC, English channels (?) were running the show, the radio people didn't understand a thing about what he was — not because it was French, but because all those in the French (?), whether French or English spoke both languages perfectly. You had to ask people whether they were French or English; you couldn't tell. Very good. But they didn't know the substance. But as long as the Easterners' mail was coming, was highly favorable, they kept it. So when — now, for several years he went back to France, I don't know, '46 or '47, and he was commuting between London and Paris keeping his laboratory going and this program. It was too much. So after a few years he decided he had to give up his radio program. But he was very anxious that it will not fall into the hands of journalists. He wanted (?) to find a scientist who would keep not necessarily (?) or his (?), but — And, because he had published books at the Hermann Company, Freeman spoke to him about me. He said, "I know someone who would like to learn English and go to England and leave France," and so we were put in touch.
In the summer of 1949. And I went first to London I think in August '49 for just a few days, to look at the job and in a lot more detail. It was a very good job, very well paid (?) for the days, especially for a young graduate, because the English during the war had introduced what they call an expatriation allowance; that is to say foreign people — and they had kept it after the war — who were contributing to the program, because presumably they had to live in a hotel rather than at home or, and commute from their (?) to England to run a program they gave them a 25 percent or so allowance. So, at the time when the English staff at the same position would be — the title was Program Assistant, but in fact he was very much in charge of whatever he wanted to do. He didn't have to submit to censorship. His stories (?) didn't have to be approved by the BBC or anything. The BBC is a really fine organization. They really mean it when they want to be free and objective; there is no censorship.
I imagine you saw this as a temporary position —
— that would allow you just to keep looking for other —
I could not see any way of either having a good position — and remember there were only two telescopes in France usable at the time, a 32-inch and a 50-inch. The 50-inch was put out of operation, almost put out, when during a re-silvering operation it exploded. It was a very old (?). It had been cast in the 1880s or 70s. It was very (?) glass (?) stresses being (?) too long, one day it exploded, a big piece came out. So the surface became distorted, so it was almost useless, and there was a 32-inch (?) can only go so far. One could have been stationed in Paris, and then to apply is six months, a year, and that runs for one or two weeks of telescope time.
It was not my (?), because I had waited too long — being an amateur astronomer, being a physicist. I wanted to go into active extragalactic observing, because that was to be my life.
Did you know any astronomers in England at the time? Were you in contact with any of the —?
Yes. I had corresponded with Redman (?).
And we had met the Burbidges in 1948 or '49. She had graduated during the war in spectroscopy at the University of London Observatory, (?) in northwest London in 1943, and she had been an assistant and an observer, then assistant to the Director, and then when Cecil Gregory (?) retired, she had become Acting Director of the (?) Observatory and she married (?) in 1948 I believe. He was still a grad student in physics. And so she interested him into astronomy and they started working together in spectroscopy, but there was absolutely no facility for observing anything in England. It was worse there than France. So they applied for time in (?). We had one of the telescopes and spectrographs, and they stopped in Paris to trace the spectra, record the spectra, so as I was more or less in charge of the Challonge microphotometers there, I introduced them to their use. So that's how we became acquainted with the Berbages in 1948. So I looked at the job. It would be very (?), travel around the country, meet scientists in general, astronomers in particular, learn English — because I learned German in school, so although I could read through a scientific paper, I couldn't speak.
So (?) London, I was completely blank when the lady at the restaurant from whom I was asking direction told me to go to the (?), the station of the subway was at the first traffic light. I had not a clue what "traffic light" was.
Because the French (?), (?). Anyway, so I struggled with my very, very little English, but since my job was in French that was problem, and we had taken some English lessons in 1948 or '49, and now I've had English at school, so we were not completely blank. So that was very good, and I took the job, beginning in January 11, 1950. So I resigned from the CNRS — or rather I took leave without pay. Because of course that was to see how satisfactory the job would turn out to be. Also we wanted to be able to come back to something.
So, I consulted with the administrators of CNRS and it was agreed that I would keep my lab at the Institute of Astrophysics, and my assistant —
For at least for at the beginning. And I would be on leave without pay.
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. So you saw this at least as a one year interim position.
No, not a one year; for some years. The position was — I don't remember what the terms were, but it was either renewable (?) for three years period at the time or — it was relatively stable. Since this had been a successful program for many years, there was no great instability there. In fact the program continued for more than ten years; perhaps it's still (?) now, but I know it continued more than ten years after I left England. I contributed to it at least until the mid-1960s. And so we moved to England in January, 1951, keeping my lab, my assistant — of course (?) my assistant (?).
What do you recall most in the period when you were working in Great Britain?
Well, first it was a great relief not to be a student any longer, and to have a good salary — as I say, it was 25 percent higher than what they were paying their own staff. In fact the British journalists were somewhat jealous of it, but they, of course the administration (?) find a scientist, and we need one for this program, and (?) expatriation allowance. So we jumped from the rather low — I don't remember how big the jump, because it (?) from French francs at that time. I think that when I (?) salary was something like 32,000 francs (?). Now, how much would have been in dollars and pounds I can't tell you, but it was inadequate. In fact, when you had a fellowship from the CNRS the law said that you should not do any other work. It was presumed you were working 24 hours a day on your dissertation. But it was impossible. So I remember when I went to CNRS to say I want to take a leave without pay, that was no problem, but I said, "You know, it's impossible to live on. Especially I'm married, and I have no children," but my wife was not working at the time, she was still a student beginning her research work. She published one paper on spectroscopy (?) German spectroscopy student there that somehow (?) after the war. "But we have to work a lot outside and write articles and be tutoring," and he said, "Yes, we know the salaries are insufficient, but we are not supposed to know about it, you know." Of course. But that was tolerated, because — just like the black market was forbidden but tolerated, because there was no way to survive, and especially during the war.
Right. Were there astronomers that you did — other astronomers besides those you knew — who you came into contact with (?)?
Well, when in England they might (?). What was nice, I had one or two levels of supervisors in the French section of the BBC. It was at Bush House (?), which is at the south end of Alwich (?), which is on Alwich, which is, I don't know if (?) London it's east of Trafalgar Square and next to Australia House, next to the Australian Embassy. And they had been (?) there during the war and were still there. And my job was to contribute talks in French, occasionally reading them myself, but usually there was a speaker to read them. And then visit laboratories, contact scientists, keep informed with science in Britain, or anywhere else in the world — there was no requirement that I should aggrandize British science, which was very active — and then contact scientists and request them to write radio talks. Usually they were a 15-minute duration. I would have two talks per session. We had half an hour every Monday evening. So, and the rest of the time I had time to prepare my talks, and plenty of time to do my research work in astronomy, and my wife of course had a lot at that time, and she was not working. And then, to avoid losing contact with astronomy, we were (?) assistant work and (?) volunteer assistant at the Mill Hill (?) Observatory working with Martha (?) Berbage.
So, for a year and a half we spent most of our afternoons, especially my wife, measuring (?), and then program it with the 15-inch refractor — no, it was 24-inch I think. It was bigger, fairly big. I can't remember if it was 15- or 24-inch refractor at Mill Hill Observatory. With the London fog especially thick in those days, we could hardly see the sun at noon. It's really foggy, winter. We measured (?) plates. I have a photograph, measuring (?) plates. I would meet various visiting scientists from France and British scientists and just giving French surmise, a sort of Reader's Digest summarizing in French some of the English publications. So it allowed me to meet many people, like Officer Dunred (?), the Head of the Royal Institution in those days — I wonder if he's still with them; the University of Cambridge, I went several times to the observatories to meet Redman, and that's where I met Dr. (B?). (B) was a Czech astronomer, Jewish, who had come to England before the war, and we became very friendly, and later he invited me to write articles for his visitors (?) in astronomy.
I met some of the younger British astronomers. They remember me, but I don't remember them. [laughs]
(?). And then I quickly was essentially hired, not at the (S?), but adopted by the Scientific Office of the French Embassy. They were advised by the CNRS that I was going to London in that capacity, that I was on leave from the CNRS, and they could use me for French scientific spying in England, so I became friendly with the French scientific counselor and his assistant. His assistant was English. I've forgotten her name (?).
What sort of things were they interested in learning?
Well, I remember visiting for them the (?) Radio Station, when Dr. Lovell (?) was still mainly observing material by radar, and also it was just after they had built the first large reflector, the first fixed reflector which had 250 feet aperture, was chicken wire on the post with a vertical post carrying the antenna which could be tilted a little to (?) zone.
So that was — In fact, when he was appointed Professor of Radio Astronomy at Manchester — it must have been 1948, '49 — I remember the French made fun of it: who had ever heard of the radio astronomy? What was that anyway? The first French radio telescope in fact was set up by Dr. Lefiner (?), Mauruse (?) Lefiner, who was originally an electrical engineer who had somehow drifted to astronomy and became interested in radio techniques, and on his own essentially, just after the war he went to Berlin, the French zone of Berlin, and essentially liberated a (?)radar. You see, somehow from the military he got hold of a (?) and took it all the way back to (?) Observatory and set it up as the French radio telescope. And I remember vividly his demonstrating to me when they just had the receiver and they were observing the sun, radio waves, continual radio waves from the sun, and by just conking it up and down by hand having the antenna beam going through the sun, you could hear the noise of the sun going up in the [makes noise like swooshing sound of loud wind], like this. It was very impressive. That's 1947. I think his only assistant was then a soldier, a draftee, and he (?) made (?) telescope (?).
So I watched the early stages of radio astronomy with great interest (?) early post-war. I remember going to Sheffield to represent the French Embassy at an exhibition of French scientific books, at Sheffield I remember. I remember attending a symposium on scientific photography in Bristol. Now Bristol is the place where the modern theory of Guernay (?) and Mutt (?) was developed, just at the end of the war, on the quantum theory of photography. That was the real key to understand pho — Before that it was sheer cooking, you know, kitchen recipes. With the Guernay and Mutt theory of the quantum effect then we began to be able to write a book on (?).
Yes, that's interesting.
The scientific explanation of photography. So it was a very interesting time. Things were happening. And then I would — There was in London during the war a society for visiting scientists that had been established to accommodate (?) and accommodate refugee scientists from the continent. And this was continued after the war, and I met some people there. I don't remember all the places I visited, but it was a good time with my wife. We were then working on the model of elliptical galaxies to try to explain the r1/4 (?). Because the r1/4 law predicts an extremely sharp spike of light right in the center.
And in those days, until 1970s, most theories say that's impossible, it has to be isothermal. And that's what I believed too, because that was the only show in town at the time, the isothermal gas way of Hamden (?) that had been used by Hubble and by (?) as models of galaxies. But the fact is that (?) shows it wasn't show. So I tried to build a model which was wrong (?). I thought it was due to mass segregation. In those days the time scale of the universe was still very much in doubt, and the long time scale of 10 to 14, 10 to 15 years was still a possibility.
How many people on the European side argued and accepted the long time scale? Clearly some of the Americans were leaning in the opposite.
No, it was debated on both sides. Those who believed in the primeval (?) theory and spoke of a short time scale, and in those days it was 1.8 billionaires (?), (?) constant.
Others like (?) argued that because of the high degree of relaxation of special clusters and galaxies it has to be millions and millions of years, and of course there was there was the (?) theory was just being promoted. So the possibility of a very long time scale and relaxation by Banary (?) and Carters (?), and therefore mass segregation was still a very reasonable possibility. So I thought — we tried to explain the spike in the center of the galaxies by mass segregation and I argued that the most massive giants would be in the (?) center and then the dwarfs would spread more, and one could cook up a model that would explain the (?). But my (?) diagram (?) population was wrong. We knew very little about population, (?) diagrams at the time, and second of course the (?) scale argument. If you believe in the short scale (?) have to, then there is just not enough time for Banary and Carters. We didn't know of course about the fast relaxation mechanics of Inan Baer (?), which allows relaxation or a system in a very (?) potential way it falls the collapse on itself, which (?). Not to — the relaxed system without the (?) of energy. You know, the different muscles are distributed almost the same. But anyway, that's what we tried to do as research. And then I wrote several books. Physics on the Planet Mars was finished, the French edition, Physique de la Planète Mars.
And also I'd been asked by a French priest, who was editing science books for (?) Spes, which was a (?) publisher in France (?), and he asked me — Of course 1948, writing my dissertation, and writing in the afternoon, and (?) in the morning I was writing the (?) Larousse (?) astronomy which (?) had started. But he died before it finished, so I was asked to finish it. (?) in the galaxies. But when I read it (?) needed to be redone. So it was greatly amplified. I essentially revised the first half and wrote (?) the second —
— so it was a lot of work, done very quickly, with great help from my wife, and I produced this Larousse Astronomy, which was very (?), more than I don't know, 100-150,000 copies. It went to Italian, Spanish, English editions.
It was quite a help for you of course at that point in your career.
And do you know that popular book, I covered the whole spectrum of astronomy. Especially you could see the level of (?) was an amateur, and even though I tried to be popular and simple, the stars, galaxies (?) much higher scientific level and more up-to-date, since I was just a student and my knowledge was very fresh, very up-to-date. As I said, at that time I could almost cover any topic in astronomy. I had learned a great deal by my reading before and after the war. And surprisingly it is after this popular book when some professional astronomers who had been doubtful about me and (?), you know, "He's an amateur observing Mars," when they read the book they said, "Gee, he knows a lot of astronomy, you know, he's good at astronomy." Finally —
— I (?) some recognition from the — Of course, (?) at the Institute of Astrophysics knew —
That's an interesting comment.
— what I was doing, but in the community many people had dismissed me as an amateur observing Mars, and that popular book surprisingly showed points of my knowledge of stellar galactic and (?) galactic astronomy.
It's an interesting way that this happened. You mentioned a moment ago that when you had visited Cambridge — Did you get in contact then with Hoyle or Bondi or other astronomers?
No. No. I never — to the best of my recollection, I did not meet Hoyle or Gold or Bondi.
I met them later, but not at that time.
Also the study state (?) came I think a little later. They were not well enough known. Now Hoyle is a few years older than I, and I remember reading some of his early papers on gases, hydrogen galaxies in Austria (?). This is just after the war, perhaps '46, '47. I had noticed his work, but, I must confess I have forgotten when these studies (?) out, but I think it's the early 50s.
Probably at the time I'd left England I suppose.
But I met in correspondence people like David Evans (?), who was at the Cape of Good Hope, First Assistant at the Cape, and later of course he came here and asked for my help when he saw the situation was deteriorating in South Africa — not so much politically as at the observatory.
So he came here in '66 first, and then permanently two or three years later. I'm sure — Oh yes. I met J. G. Wittrob (?), Professor Wittrob of Imperial (?) College —
— who was a student of Millener (?) and he had written a book, a good book, on the structure of the universe, and a few years later — in fact on my way to Australia I translated it into French to keep busy during my sea (?) travel. And we became good friends. Anyway, we spent essentially 20 months in England. I would commute frequently to Paris to see my family. They were convinced that, in London they still had rationing, and rations were very small, and an ounce of meat every other week, but there was plenty of cheese and some eggs and we were not starving at all, and I always managed to produce very decent meals with what we had. And the English friends were always marveling, "How do you do this? How do you (?) marvelously. You must have (?) in France, no?" French cooking on top of English rations.
I also acted to both increase our resources and also develop my practice of English. I was invited — I don't know how, through whom, perhaps with the BBC or perhaps — I don't know exactly how — I was invited by the Workers Education Association, W.E., which is joint ventures between the trade unions and the University of London. They are (?) activities which involved teaching popular courses on many topics, including astronomy, to the great public. This goes way back in the 19th century with Ridenour (?) trying to educate the people, the downtrodden masses or the tired.
And they would try to educate them, even those especially who had never had the chance to go to school or have a university education. And this was continued with great success. So in I think the fall — anyway, in 1950 I taught a semester course — I think it was one or lessons a week — on general astronomy. And then — or perhaps (?). And then, even though my English was much poorer than it is now, the people (?) came for more classes (?). You could see housewives, workers, anybody to their interest (?). They asked for more. So I taught another semester of night classes, and going at — it was in the outskirts of London, almost an hour by bus, in the deep of the British winter. Classes that brought me home about 11:00 p.m. or so, waiting for buses to come out of the fog. That was really hard. But it was very useful to practice English, meet the people, become acquainted with British English. So that was a great help, because in the first few weeks struggling with English was really something.
I can imagine. Yes.
(?) 19th century Victorian dictionary that my wife had, that the blunders we made were (?) to the English. But I loved England, I love the English people, and it was — and the difference between the attitude of the British public and the French was very striking. One thing that I noticed almost immediately, that if you see a stray cat in the street in France and say, "kitty, kitty, kitty," he will run away from you usually. They are afraid of people. In England any stray cat in the middle of the street, you say, "kitty, kitty, kitty," he will come to you. They trust people. And that's wonderful. It speaks a lot for the people, you know?
And of course the observance of tradition and discipline. In France at the bus station people will crowd and rush and push each other; in England they cue.
They line up on the cue. Yes.
They line up, they make a cue, even if you are alone you cue. [laughs] So, it may sound dull to some people, some races, or, and, but it makes for a disciplined nation, and certainly pulled them through during the war.
So I admired many — In Latin countries, Latin America, they usually look at France as the most civilized country in the world, and they frequently say so. But, and certainly it is one of the most civilized countries in the world, and we can see it here (?) takes us. It's really difficult to swallow some of the manners and lack of such and behavior of some of the people here — not belching in public, and scratching themself where they shouldn't, and, I mean the people have just no manner; they are barbarians, as I told a Harvard student once. Although I don't teach (?) and of course it's not. But it's true that civilization comes from Western Europe. But I know many Frenchmen will be very offended by my saying so, but I deeply feel that the English are the most civilized people on earth. For example, in France if you are arrested you are presumed guilty until you can prove you are innocent. Well in England it's like this country, it's the opposite. So, there are fine points which make them more free, less afraid of authority. You cannot say the French are afraid of the cops, but they avoid them, they ignore them as much as they can, while in England you go to police for help, and I suppose here in Austin sometimes. Well, here it varies.
But — of course it's the same civilization as this, but I'm very much against this stupid division of Europe into little pieces, because to a Chinese a Frenchman looks just like a German, or an Englishman. It's only — just like some people confuse Vietnamese with Chinese or even Japanese sometimes.
Historical circumstances, yeah.
So, it's true, it is the same civilization, the same laws by and large, but the differences that survive are noticeable and we were happy in England, even though the living conditions were more difficult than in France from the point of the weather. But we liked it. Obviously it was not going to be very long.
And then what happened is that in 1951 there was an exhibition in Britain, the Festival of Britain Exhibition, which was the sentinel of the great exhibition of 1851. So they had built (?) they had built the exhibition (?) products of industry and (?) and whatnot. In fact it was shortly after the first radar contact with the moon, I remember at (?) 1946, then that was a few years later, but they had built — the English had quickly repeated (?) built a very tall tower, the (?) tower they called it, where they were (?) showing to the public radar signals sent to the moon and coming back. And they had in the middle the Dome of Discovery. It was a huge inverted flying saucer with many exhibits of science, and crystals and whatnot.
But in the center was a 74-inch reflector that was destined to be transferred to Mount Stromlo. It had just been built. Calvin Parsons (?) at Newcastle has built two 74-inch reflectors: one for Pretoria and it had been delivered. I think they had — the mounting was sent at the end of the war just before (?) came after the war. And then the second one had been ordered for Mount Stromlo Observatory and was sitting as a showpiece in a center with a dome. So when I saw this, I said to my wife, "Well that's it! Well I'm going to Australia." My correspondence with American observatories had not been very successful — they had no jobs, or it was not (?) line of work. I would have liked very much to go to Lick Observatory.
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Had you corresponded with anyone at Lick to ask about possibilities or —?
I think I corresponded with Mayall at the time, yes, but I'll have to —
That's fine. I was just curious (?) —
I have to revise my, er, check my correspondence. But I saw these large telescopes, 74-inch was pretty big in those days. It doesn't mean that they were the largest in the world, after the 182-inch — well no, the 200-inch hadn't built. But anyway, 74-inch especially in the Southern Hemisphere was very attractive.
So I said, "Well, we are going to Australia." So I wrote to Professor Violett (?), (?) astronomer, and explained to him, sent him a write-up, bibliography, and told him I wanted to study (?) galaxies, especially do a (?) in the Southern Hemisphere, because we are (?) in the south of (?) in those days. So it was badly needed. And so he asked me to meet one of his former professors, Professor Stratton, who was then the current old man of British astronomy. He had acquired his military, his colonelship, during the First World War, and had become a sort of military scientific advisor to the military between the two wars, and of course had been the director of the Cambridge Observatories for a long time. He was a specialist in nova spectra, spectra of novae (?) and things like that. Anyway he was one of the leaders of British governmental astronomy, and he had been a professor of (?). So I met Professor Stratton in the late spring of 1951 at the Society for Visiting Scientists. And I don't remember what we talked about. He questioned me about various things, and apparently the exchange was satisfactory to both parties, and he probably wrote back to Violett that I was a valid candidate, and so Viollet turned around and went to the just recently founded Australian National University to create a research fellowship. It was not strictly speaking a post-doctoral fellowship. They do have now — what they call today research fellowships are post-doctoral fellowships. But in those days it was a staff position on the ANU. The ANU had been established by an act of Parliament in 1948. After the war when their scientists had gone to Britain to help, they realized that Britain was no longer able to protect Australia. They had come out of the war, but pretty diminished, and that they should count more on themselves to protect. They had the scare of their lives during the war when the Japanese were in New Guinea and bombarded the (?).
And I understand that in those days you could buy beautiful property for pennies in Sydney. You know, people, they were just scared. And so they really realized that they could not count on a distant home country to protect them, so they decided to develop, and science having come of age during the Second World War with the technology (?), first they brought back all their own scientists they could. Also the Australian radio (?) astronomers worked as radar people during the war in Great Britain, and that's how Australia had such a good head start in radio astronomy. And so it was just on paper, the Australian National University, but very ambitious plans, and a large in northwest (?) set aside for their buildings, and they had created departments of various sciences, and they created the Department of Astronomy on paper by designating as Professor of Astronomer the Commonwealth Astronomer — that is his title — that is the head of Mount Stromlo Observatory, which was one of only (?) observatories in Australia, but it was — Commonwealth Solar Observatory had been established before the First World War but it was built during the 20s and 30s on the (?). And in those days the saving point was the solar terrestrial relationships.
So, (?) in the early part of this century (?) solar observatory established, Mount Wilson Solar Observatory in the beginning, the (M?) Solar Observatory, so —
Right. The Smithsonian had also been involved in that.
That's right. So astronomers were selling solar terrestrial relationships in those days. But quickly Violett decided to drop "Solar" and it became the Commonwealth Observatory. And, you know how in England the head of Greenwich (?) was Her Majesty's or His Majesty's Astronomer, and there was His Majesty's Astronomer at the Cape, so in Australia they had the Commonwealth Astronomer; they did not call him His Majesty's Astronomer because Australians want to show that they are not as subservient as the Canadians are you see (?). [laughs]
Anyway, but it was essentially the same, and most of the staff was English or British or New Zealand. They had no, practically no native Australian astronomers except those who were in the state observatories for example. The head of Sydney Observatory was Harley Wood (?), a native Australian. But the state observatory did not have resources to build large modern astrophysical observatories. During the war they reacted as an optical munitions plant. They were building (?) and things like that. So the astronomer (?) university was, the head of the Physics Department was Professor Oliphant (?) at the time, we had to mix scientists.
And then (?) became the Professor of Astronomy, although he never taught a class in astronomy (?). But he was a (?) grad student.
...person was really —
That's another story. He was someone who wanted to exercise his authority. He was (?) by the theorists and spectroscopists. He was authoritative and somewhat dictatorial, but not as bad a Danjon because it was tempered by the British education. If he had been French he probably would have been as bad.
Just being British, English. In fact he was mixed, South African and English, but his father was an Admiral in the British Navy, a Paymaster (?) General I think. And being First Assistant at Greenwich, he was trying in Australia to run his observatory like a ship or like Greenwich, and this didn't go well with the Australians, nor with me. Because even as a grad student I was treated as a junior researcher — not as a student. And there were a few occasions where there was a conflict of (?). I had by and large good relations with him. In fact once he (?) suggested that I should be his successor at Mount Stromlo when he left for Greenwich. But there was friction, because he was trying to assert authority, and it took me some time to determine what was the matter with him; that I was used to being treated that way, I was not going to submit, and it took me a little time to say, "Well, he's the British Establishment" — that's how they view the Navy (?) Greenwich, you know, and that was a conflict of culture and tradition.
But I'm grateful to him of course for the fact that he gave me this opportunity, and he was by and large always favorable. In fact, the last thing he did before leaving Mount Stromlo for Greenwich to become the last astronomer (?) was to at the (?) give me a Doctor of Science degree, the first earned DAC (?) at Cambella (?). The first one was an honorary one to Sir John Cockroft (?), the British atomic —
— and I remember being very intimidated and impressed with him. I signed a great book and (?) Sir John's name. Well anyway, the Astronomy Department in those days consisted of Rayleigh (?) as a professor, then Ben Gascoigne, who is a New Zealander and was the First Assistant I think, was nominally the — not lecturer, but, well some — what do they call him? I've forgotten the British name for that position.
Reader (?) perhaps?
Reader. He was a Reader. Yes. And then I was the Research Fellow, and that was the Astronomy Department of Australian National University, 1951. [laughs] So we moved to Australia, so I terminated my appointment with the CNRS and telling them, "I'm not coming back." Well one thing interesting came up in 1951. There was the Korean War, and the French atomic scientists, especially Madame Julia Curie and (?) Curie, who was by then the Commissar at the, head of the Commission Energy Atomic (?), (?). They were scared for some reason. They were both communists, so they were looking at the picture through prisms, and they were convinced somehow that the Americans, those awful Americans who were attacking the peaceful Koreans, you know, would deprive the French atomic scientists to prevent the development of an atomic bomb in France; they would deprive them of Kodak nuclear plates. So Madame Curie, Madame Julia Curie, asked me to come visit her at the Institute of (?), which now is called [French name ending in "Curie"], (?) French had forgotten Marie (?) Curie, but we've been (?) Curie or something. Anyway, she asked me in the spring or summer, during one of my visits to Paris to —
And this is 1950 or '51?
'51. Just after the outbreak of the Korean War.
And shortly before — we already committed to go to Australia, but she had asked around who knew, who in France would be able to supervise the fabrication of nuclear emulsions, so that French atomic research would not be stopped essentially, (?). The British were producing a low quality (?) nuclear plates. And (?) had written I was known, had taught scientific photography for the CNRS for from '46 to '50 I think or '49, '50. '49 probably. I had published a couple of books on photography, so someone gave her my name. And that's to show you how little was known in that field. I was a freshly graduated individual. I was an astronomer, I (?) in physics, and my work on photography was (?) to my dissertation. And still they had to ask me to come to supervise their (?). (?) of good salary and things, but the first — and once she had impressed me very much, (?), that after writing me, instead of going to the business of discussing what they wanted, she started a diatribe against the Americans, the (?), and the — you know, she was reciting Humanity (?), the French communist newspaper. She was really polarized. Of course Kodak never stopped exporting nuclear plates to France, but in their party they had talked themselves into believing that they would be deprived nuclear plates. And (?) after (?) we came to the business and she was offering good conditions, but there was not a great future. It was more an industrial position (?) and I just told her I was not interested in coming back to France to do that. If I had had to go back to France, I would have gone back to physics with my professor. He was very ready to take me back as a physicist in his lab, but I just love astronomy too much.
And, so that's how we decided that since we could not go already to America, at least not to a place where galaxies were actively investigated — And in those days there was not much. There was (?) in Burma (?), Lick and Harvard. And Harvard had no jobs. Perhaps that was (?) position, but no real jobs. Lick had no position. And at Mount Wilson I had no contact, because (?) simply abstained from (?) later I had no contact. Of course Sandage was not in the picture yet.
Began working with (?) in '53, when Hubble died. Yes. I think he's what, eight years younger than I? He must be 65 now. So he was probably just finishing his graduate studies then. So we went to Australia with VIP treatment, first class, all expenses paid for me and my wife. It was a new experience for a young graduate. But the stay in England was extremely useful, because when we came to Australia we realized that instead of being junior astronomy (?) French astronomers, "those people from the continent," as they say in England, who were (?) most VIPs. We were astronomers, French of course, but who had lived in England. We came from the Allied countries, and so we could be forgiven for being French. We spoke English decently. Of course I was educated, so I could even speak good English, literal (?) English, because when I would doubt I used the French — you know, English is two languages — and (?) the difference between "I'll be back" or "I shall return."
Of course, many (?) would say, "I'll be back," but (?) said, "I shall return." [laughs] So that's the difference several times. At first we were surprised, because we were still struggling with English, and people would complement us on our elite mastery of the English language, and we knew it wasn't so. But we realized that by using the word's French origin, which came more naturally to us, to the English speakers, it sounded like good formal English. So that was an interesting experience.
How much time did you actually have for your own research when you first arrived? Did you have other responsibilities?
No, no, it was pure research. I had to do what I wanted. I had submitted a program to (?) and when I arrived I discovered I could not carry it out, because he didn't have the equipment nor the telescope time. (?) built up Mount Stromlo from a rather modest institution to a much larger ambitious observatory, but in great (?) bluff he would hire people, invite astronomers, (?) country when he could not deliver. He was hoping that things would work out, he would get things in time and meet his obligation, but oftentimes could not, especially in Australia where things are moving so slowly. And this has created a lot of friction and —
It must have been very frustrating.
Very frustrating, not only for me, for others, especially for Powell (?) and Shield (?), (?) Columbia. I have to tell you this story (?) Columbia Station someday. That's sweat and tears. Well anyway, but (?) is, as a Frenchman, someone who had lived only essentially in Paris and London, I was very poorly prepared for pioneering in the bush is Australia, because that's what Mount Stromlo was at the time. (?) was a skeleton of a city with 30,000 people. And now it must have 250,000 or 300,000. At the time Cambere (?) was still very much a dream in the eyes of planners. In fact we left Australia five years later. We'd had enough. Just the time where we could have stayed, because things were beginning to pick up in the early 50s, both in the city and at Mount Stromlo (?). So, it took us five weeks to go to Australia on the liner "Himalaya," (?). It was I think its second trip to Australia, all new. It took five weeks instead of four because there was damage to one of the propellers, so they had to, not to exceed 21 (?) I think, so it was slower, and, well of course we (?) all the (?), and evening gowns for my wife, and tuxedos for — and white and black and everything because (?) British you just couldn't travel like (?) — [laughs] —
Like the French people, or an American. [laughs] You had to dress, and most of the time was used changing from one (?) to another. But, and then of course you had early morning tea, you know, and this we tried to stop as soon as we could, because to be awakened at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. by the steward bringing hot morning tea, no thank you. We liked it, but — And then breakfast, and then tea at 10 o'clock, and then lunch, and then 4 o'clock tea, and then dinner, and then dances or — But after a little while we became tired of that, so that's when I decided to translate (R?'s) book, (?) of the Universe, from the English into French. I had brought my portable typewriter — which in those days I would carry everywhere, even taking the train from London to Paris, I would carry it and start typing on my knees, my talks for (?) and so on. And we walked (?) out, there is no doubt, but we loved it. In fact, we came across the — we had been given some basic instruction about Australia by an Australian girl we knew in London. In London we exchanged English for French with as many people as we could; we'd meet two or three times a week, and (?) (?) in French we met up with an Irish woman who is from Dublin, and she spoke beautiful English, (?) best (?) spoke in Dublin. But her English was very beautiful. English not usually spoken (?) a very harmonious language. But when it is spoken by Winston Churchill or some lady, it's beautiful to, it's beautiful. It's just that we don't speak it as it can be. Yes. So we had been given some basic instruction about do's and don'ts in Australia. So we came from the right country. And of course England was still very much the mother country in those days. When many Australian young girls would save and save, take a little job in Australia, when they are 20 or so, (?) save to have enough to buy a ticket home — even if they were born in Australia. The liner (?) what it is, it's Australia to England. So we saw essentially the sunset on the British Empire. We went though of course the Straits of Gibraltar and then the Suez Canal and Red Sea, we stopped in Aiden, and then Calcutta, a place in Ceylon — oh —
We can add those things later on. That's fine.
I should remember. And then across the Indian Ocean to Paris. Then to (?) and then (?). So it was a very entertaining trip. And then we discovered Australia when — First we took the train from Sydney to Cambere, and some people (?) new immigrants, or at least were coming to Australia from Europe, they begged us not to judge Australia and Cambere by the railway station in Cambere, which was, it was a little wooden shack like — not 19th century (?), (?).
It was primitive really, with no heating — because Australia is supposed to (?) except night can be very cold, and you can close the — Australians are very conscious they must have fresh air at all times including (?) their houses, so their houses they have these ventilators by law. All houses, a room must have ventilators so that fresh air can flow through the house. Not (?) winter can be cold.
And you have these gales. And, in fact, like most European immigrants, the first thing we did was to put a piece of cardboard to close these ventilators — not knowing that it's against the law! [laughs]
But Francour (?), when he visited us several years later, noticed that (?) Australian-born person, he immediately noticed we had committed a crime of closing the ventilators. Most Europeans do that.
When you came, when you arrived in Australia, did you already have a fairly clear idea what your research programs were going to be for the next three years?
Oh yes. Yes. It was to do a redshifts survey. (?) wanted to measure the radio velocities of only (?) galaxies south of M35 (?).
The old Shapley-Ames catalog —
— applying them into the southern latitudes.
That's right. South of M30 there was (?) no redshifts because there was no large telescope we (?) enable our spectrograph south of — well, south of (?). There was nothing. Pretoria had this stellar spectrograph and the Hugh (?) galaxy spectra were taken by David Evans. But that was not his line of work, you know, just to see what the spectra could do. So very little was done and nothing was done at the Boyden (?) Station, South Africa, nor in Argentina. So it was virgin territory, and the trouble is that I could not start on this program until the last year of my stay at Mount Stromlo five years later, because when we saw the 74-inch in London in '51 we say, "Well, next year it should be Australia" and (?) took until 1956 before the telescope became operational at Mount Stromlo.
What else was there? That's a terribly long time.
A terribly long time.
What else was available to you the first year?
They had the original 9-inch Odie (?) refractor. There was a Colonel (?) Odie in the late 19th century who was interested in astronomy and (?) the 9-inch refractor, and when he died he bequeathed it to the Mount Stromlo Observatory, a 9-inch refractor. There was a 13-inch reflector that had been given by G. H. Reynolds.
Reynolds was a wealthy British amateur, a serious amateur who became later president of the RAS (?), and he had a 29-inch reflector in his backyard with which he did the first photographic photometry of galaxies, of the Andromeda nebulae and in other galaxies (?) 1913. Now that's (?) he proposed a formula to (?) distribution to (?) which was later adopted by Hubble to (?) elliptical galaxies and too many (?) formula but Hubble popularized it by applying it to 15 (?) galaxies. Now, Reynolds was well aware that there was a big gap of knowledge of galaxies (?) in the Southern Hemisphere.
So to promote the photographic study of (?) in the south he made gifts of two 30-inch reflectors: one to Hellwan (?) Observatory in (?) on 1909 I believe, while (?) is at plus 30. That's not really very close, but certainly more so than in England. The British astronomers in Egypt didn't do very much with it. (?) and Gregory took photographs and published a few measurements of positions of galaxies from Hellwan in The Hellwan Bulletins (?). There were a few photographs taken by the Harvard station at Boyden (?), not much, and then he gave another telescope, about 1923, to Mount Stromlo, another 30-inch. But the purpose of these gifts had been completely forgotten by the successive generation of Australian astronomers, so that when I arrived at Mount Stromlo I knew fully well, I understood what he wanted, Reynolds had wanted to do. He was (?). But I was surprised that none of the natives — or at least those who were on the staff — knew what this telescope was intended to do.
So I discovered that there was no 74-inch telescope, no spectrograph. So I couldn't do the program for which I had been hired. (?) essentially sort of implied or told me "next year," and he couldn't. The observatory directors (?) optimistic about what their institution is supposed to be able to do tomorrow, but the fact takes longer. And then he had promised the 30-inch to Gerry Kron and his wife. They were visiting at Mount Stromlo. I think they spent a year in 1950-51 to do photoelectric photometry. They brought their photometers from Lincoln (?) and introduced Arthur Hogg (?), the Associate Director —
— and Ben Gascoigne, and they introduced them to photoelectric photometry. And that started Gascoigne in a very productive study of galactic clusters and cepheids in the measuring (?). But he had promised them 30-inch, so it was not available to me. At first we lived for a few months in Cambere before our housing was ready in Mount Stromlo. So when I went to Woolley (?) and essentially complained that there was nothing available with which I could do my work, he said, "Use the Odie." I had come to study galaxies in Australia and he referred me to a 9-inch refractor, a 70-year-old refractor. That was a joke. There was a Zeiss camera on top of it, so I managed to take some photographs of Novae Scorpio (?) in 1952. To do something I took (?) photographs of the (?) clouds, which (?) 16th/60th (?) magnitude, which I used for star counts later. But really I couldn't do very much.
Yes. How good were the library facilities down there? Was that also a limitation or —?
Not very much. No, the library was good. Because the observatory was established in the 20s, and they had started exchanging publications (?), so the library did not have too many bad gaps. The library was satisfactory, even in the beginning, and I'm sure it's very good now. No, the library was one of the strengths. But of course it had been an established observatory for several decades. But I brought from England war surplus German binoculars, anti-aircraft binoculars — 18/80 (?) millimeter lenses, giving a six degree shield and showing the (?) magnitude. So I started — Coming from the north, I was anxious to look at the sites.
So I started looking at star (?), clusters, galaxies with the binoculars, taking some photographs of them with the 5-inch Zeiss camera, and then I came across — And coming from the north, the most famous stars in the southern skies, (?) —
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yes.
— by the (?) in '43. So I wanted to look at it. And I couldn't find it. So I starting looking on (?) chart. And so show you how (?) explode (?) so the sky was, even in 1950s, the only (?) shot I could look at was in the Cordoba publications of 1879. And so I used that to locate the star and it took me (?), and so I established finding charts for it, because there was nothing, and then I started making (?) estimates on magnitude, since I had a lot of training in that area, and I found the star (?) books (?). So, when you see a star like (?), you see it one magnitude brighter than it's supposed to be, you say, "My goodness, it's exploding again."
So I went to Woolley and said, "(?). Let's send (?) to Copenhagen, to the IAU (?) central office," which he didn't like the idea of my doing astronomy from my backyard in Cambere. Well he knew I couldn't use telescopes of the observatory, but he (?) kind of peculiar astronomy. He said, "Oh, we must first take the spectrum and check (?) spectrum." So they had a little instrument, it was an objective (?) prism and sectors, which they used to do spectral photometry on bright stars. So the next day or so —
Woolley said, "Well, we have the spectra (?). It's an M star." I couldn't help — I had not been trained to be respectful to the director in the British way, you see? Because I had not been treated this way. So I laughed. I said, "Well, that will be the day, when (?) is an M star," or something like that, "It's just not possible." (?) made a mistake in the stars. So Allen Agen (?) was visiting at Mount Stromlo at the time, and he was Woolley's protégé, and in fact (?) trying very hard to make him the successor when (?) suggested me and finally Agen became Director of Mount Stromlo 20 years later. But asked Agen, who had brought his photometer, and was (?) the refractor, because there was no telescope to use to do his photometry. He was discovering (?) variables and doing (?) sequences and clusters. I said, "Please, will you — Woolley says that (?) is an M star, and I'm saying it's impossible, and (?) might be brighter than it should be," and Agen of course immediately understood the significance of it, (?), the possible significance that (?) brighter by one magnitude. I'm sure in retrospect Woolley didn't know what Eta Carinae (?) was. Because he was a solar astronomer and a theorist, and Eta Carinae didn't mean anything to him. That's probably why he was not receptive. So Agen took some measurements, and then later Arthur Hogg (?) decided to use his photometer to make some measurements, and of course the measurements agreed within a few hundred (?) with my visual observations. So finally — I know. There was one of us that — Father O'Connell (?), who later became the Pope's astronomer at the (?), he was at the time Director of the Jesuit College Observatory at (?) and New Southwest (?), and he was visiting Mount Stromlo; he had taken (?) place (?) for, oh, many years, perhaps 15 years before. And of course he immediately understood why (?). In fact he asked me, "Why haven't you sent (?) to" —
"Copenhagen." I said, "No, the Director will not allow it." So as soon as he went back to (?) he looked at his (?) collection, and it turned out that (?) had brightened by 1/19 (?) in 1941, and no one had noticed it in ten years. That shows how little we — (?) sky was exploding in the 50s. That star that was such a brighten (?) the sky, (?) was passed over, could be too bright by one magnitude and no one noticed it. The most famous stars in the southern sky. That really beat me. It showed how little exploration we had done.
So finally a telegram was sent to Copenhagen, and then Gascoigne (?) found the right star this time. [laughs] So perhaps Woolley became a little more confident I knew what I was talking about when I was giving him some information, but I had a very difficult first year because I had nothing to work with. And it was not — he was caught, he was in a bind, you see. The 74-inch was not there, the 30-inch he had already committed to a visitor from the U.S., and that was very important to him, and Kron introduced them to good photoelectric photometry, and so the (?) —
So it was Gerry Kron who was down that year?
Yes, yes, yes. And so I could start observing only with a 30-inch a year later in 1952, when the telescope became available, and he split it between Gascoigne and me, and gave me then generous allocation of time to make about usually two weeks of dark time and 10 minutes out of 12. Because I had a 3-year fellowship, and so I had to do in three — and so I could not expect transfer, I decided that the only thing that seemed to be worth doing was doing a photographic survey of the Shapley-Ames Galaxy south of M35 degrees, because most of the southern Shapley-Ames Galaxy had been classified on small scale refractor plates and their (?) were either nonexistent or very doubtful.
That's what I was going to ask, that you had some doubts about the classification that had actually been employed in the (?)?
Oh, but in the Shapley-Ames Catalog it is marked "uncertain," "uncertain."
Sometimes they were short exposures with refractors, and (?) there is nothing (?) galaxy so much as the nucleus of a spiral (?).
So many of these classifications. Also they classified as zero (?) galaxy was becoming, was recognized, and still in the classification (?) Shapley-Ames (?) especially but the Southern Hemisphere, (?). For example one of the largest in the (?) sky NGC 4945 was off by a degree or so, and there was gross errors, both in (?) and (?). So (?) surveyed with the Reynolds telescope, I then measured sizes, types and did what statistics I could. That came out just as I was leaving Australia. It was, it came out 1956, under "Memoirs of Volume 13 of the Commonwealth Observatory," and that has been very useful. In fact, Sandage when he went to Australia in the 70s to do what I should have done in the 50s, the velocities, by the time there was a spectrograph —
— he mentioned that it was very useful to find the object and know the types. So it has been — for a number of years it was very useful, because there was nothing else.
It bridged the gap between the Shapley-Ames Catalog and the modern (?) or revised catalogs.
I want just to check with you on the time, to make we're not running.
I think we are getting close, 6:24.
Yes. Perhaps we ought to end this session on this note, and we have a good, clear dividing point.
And we will continue this.