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Interview of Jorge Sahade by David DeVorkin on 1997 August 24, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/33325
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In this interview, Jorge Sahade discusses such topics as: his family background; being a land surveyor in Bueno Aires, Argentina; going to the University of La Plata for mathematics and astronomy; Alexander Wilkens; Bernard Dawson; W. J. Hussey; the beginning of the astrophysics program at La Plata; spectral intensities; going to Yerkes Observatory; Otto Struve; eclipsing binaries; McDonald Observatory; Gerard Kuiper; visiting Mt. Wilson Observatory; spectroscopy; being the head of the Argentine National Observatory at Cordoba; getting a Guggenheim fellowship to go to University of California, Berkeley; teaching stellar atmospheres; Carlos Jaschek; using Martin Schwarzschild's book as a textbook in his classes; Nick Mayall; being a member and president of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
How do you pronounce your first name? Is it George?
In Spanish it's Jorge (pronounced hor'-hay). It's a derivative of George.
Jorge Sahade. The auspices are the American Institute of Physics and the National Air and Space Museum, and we're in the Holiday Inn Hotel in Kyoto, Japan during the International Astronomical Union meeting. We start out these oral histories mainly to find out what stimulus, what influences on you were important in interesting you in astronomy and becoming an astronomer. So if you could start out first telling me who your father and mother were, when you were born, where you were born, and what your schooling was like, that would start out the interview very nicely.
Well, I was born in Argentina in a small town 30 kilometers from the City of Cordova. The City of Cordova is the capitol city of the Province of Cordova. And this town's name is Alta Gracia. I was born there, 23 of February, 1915. I went to school in the City of Cordova, to primary school in the City of Cordova. When I reached school age, my parents moved to the City of Cordova.
Who was your father? What was his name?
Yes. My father's name was Nallib, and my mother's name was Maria, the surname was Kassab. They came from Syria to Argentina after the war, the First World War, and they just established themselves in Alta Gracia with a small store.
So were you born in Syria then?
No, I was born in Alta Gracia, in Argentina. My parents came from Syria at the end of World War I. 1915.
No, then they came before that. My mother was born in Damascus and my father was born in Javrut, which is a small town close to Damascus. They were Syrian Orthodox. I think this tradition was more connected with the Russian Orthodox Church.
What was your father's education level and your mother's education level?
My mother went to a Russian school in Damascus, as far as I know. She knew even some Russian, something of the Russian language. I don't know whether she knew English, but probably she knew some French. I don't think my father knew much as far as foreign languages were concerned.
As you were growing up, did you have brothers and sisters?
Yes. I had one brother and one sister that I really knew. Two sisters died before I became aware.
And have they gone on in professional careers, as you have?
My brother became a land surveyor.
Now, in Alta Gracia, did you go to school at all?
No, not at all. At the age of 6 or 7, I was already in the City of Cordova.
And your parents moved to Cordova so that you could go to school?
I suppose so.
Were you the eldest? No, you must not have been.
Well, I was the oldest of the living family.
Okay. What was your early schooling like?
I went to a religious school for the first three years, and then I moved to a state school for the last two years.
A state-supported school?
Did the religious school require that your father pay for your education, or was it free, or do you know?
I don't remember, but I would think that something had to be paid. My father was not very successful in business when they came to Cordova, you see, so I suppose they had some difficulties at some time.
Did you help your father in his business?
Well, sometimes I helped him in taking care of the shop.
What was sold in the shop?
Oh, clothing. How did your interests develop in school?
Well, I became interested in mathematics actually. I finished primary school, then I went into the secondary school at the university after the, what we call the Collegio de Monsêrrat in Cordova. This is a school that is connected with the University of Cordova at the secondary level. This is a very old school. And we started the humanistic plan.
What was that?
Well, it included Latin, and we had foreign languages. We had French, six years of French, three years of another language that you had to choose between English, German or Italian. I chose English.
Was that your choice, or your father's?
It was my choice.
Do you remember why you made that choice?
I thought that German was quite difficult to learn in only three years; it would make more sense to try English. Italian I was not interested in. And we had a very good English teacher.
So how did your interest in mathematics develop? Do you remember?
Well, the teacher of mathematics in that school was very good. We had very good teachers. And the coverage of mathematics was quite good. It included integral calculus.
At what level was that?
That was a secondary school, which is pre-university.
So you had integral calculus. This was before you went to the university.
Was there any question that you would go to the university? I mean, your parents were not university educated.
They were eager to put me in the university, only my mother wanted me to be a medical doctor, because in those days, if the son became a doctor it would be a very important thing. see. But I was not that keen on becoming a medical doctor. I would have liked to take mathematics from the start, but that was impossible in Cordova. There was no mathematic at school. So I just took engineering, civil engineering.
And that was it. Was there any physics available or astronomy available at that time?
Well, there was physics of course, but at one point I decided to abandon engineering to take up land surveying and try to come to Buenos Aires, to see where in Buenos Aires I could study mathematics.
Was there something in land surveying that involved the kind of mathematics you liked?
No. But it involved some astronomy, practical astronomy.
That's right. Now, this is a good time to ask: when can you remember becoming interested in astronomy?
Well, I was very much interested in astronomy then.
Because of the land surveying?
Yes. The things we did in land surveying with astronomic observations.
Oh, I see. So it was really through land surveying that you became acquainted with astronomy.
Yes, that's right.
That's very interesting. What was it that fascinated you about it?
I think I just like to look at stars, observe them.
Now you were using transit instruments?
Were these portable transits?
Yes, small transits.
Do you remember the makes, the types of transits?
They must have been German.
Fauth or Zeiss?
Zeiss probably. But I'm not sure of the name.
It was probably one of those small ones that could be mounted on a tripod, and could be moved around.
Yes, for the determination of latitude.
And did this mean that you also had to keep accurate time?
For longitude and that sort of thing.
Okay. Who was teaching these concepts?
It was a gentleman, an engineer, who came from Switzerland. His name was Jagsich.
I think he studied in Austria, but I'm not certain.
How far did you take the land surveying work then?
I finished. I got the degree. And then I came to Buenos Aires.
As a land surveyor.
That's right. I got a position at the Military Geographic Institute.
About what year was that?
That was 1938. Yes.
About 1938. So this was a public service or a government job basically?
And what were your duties, and who did you work for?
Well, first I was in the office of photogrammetry, and then I asked to be transferred to geodesy. Then I started trying to find out whether I could take up mathematics at the University of Buenos Aires. And that was possible, of course. But I found out at the same time that there was a possibility of taking up astronomy at that time. Astronomy had started at the school.
You were working by then. You were self-supporting?
And was there a question of how you would support yourself during this advanced training?
Well I mean the university was free. I didn't have to pay anything. It was completely free.
So you could continue to work while you went to the university.
Yes, that's right.
What administration at the time had that policy?
Well, you know, this policy of not charging, not having the students pay, is true at the present time. The government doesn't like the policy, but the universities insist that they should not charge the students for tuition.
So this has been a very long standing policy.
Yes. But then, in astronomy it was a recent policy. In order to bring people to study astronomy, they decided not to charge observational fees because it was a small charge to the university.
Okay. A small matriculation fee, or something like that.
But what would be the advantage of doing astronomy? Why would the government, why was the government interested in astronomy at the time?
Well, it's not the government itself; it's the University of La Plata. The University of La Plata actually started as a very modern university, and for some years the University of La Plata was the best one in Argentina in physics and many of the sciences. For instance, you take the University of Cordova in Argentina. The tradition there was social sciences, law, and medicine. And science started only rather recently. But in La Plata science started right from the beginning actually. Because the observatory at La Plata was started before the university was created.
Wasn't that the observatory where C.D. Perrine observed?
No, that was Cordova.
Oh, that was Cordova. Perrine was at Cordova.
Okay. So at that time at least you had no connection at all with astronomy at Cordova while you went there.
Okay. So who was at La Plata? Which astronomers were there?
The director was an engineer. He was a geologist actually. But he is a man who started the school of astronomy. His name was Aguilar. He was a well-known geologist, and a good thing that he did was to start the school, because the directors normally, both in Cordova and at La Plata, were foreigners.
At that time.
Yes. Except when Aguilar became the director. Of course when he was there, he was an Argentinian.
Okay. So did you continue to work in the Military Geographic Institute as you took courses at La Plata?
And so how did that work out?
Well, I had to spend more time than necessary, but it went alright. But then, I resigned from the military institute and got a position at the observatory.
Okay. Was there any effect because of the war at that time in 1941?
So you were very much out of the war.
Okay. When you were hired there, what were your duties?
Well, I started working with a German professor. It was at the University of La Plata. His name was Alexander Wilkens. Actually, he was a celestial mechanician, but Aguilar wanted to start astrophysics in La Plata, you see, and he asked Wilkens to take up astrophysics.
Asked Wilkens to take up astrophysics? A celestial mechanician?
Yes. [laughs] So when I came to La Plata to the observatory, Professor Aguilar asked me in which section I wanted to work. And I said celestial mechanics. But he decided to send me to astrophysics. [laughs]
He wanted to develop astrophysics.
How large was the staff at that time?
The astronomical staff was not very large. The number of students in the school were three.
Three people. Okay. Well how did you know what astrophysics was at that time?
Well, I actually wanted to work in celestial mechanics because that was closer to mathematics. Then, I just started trying to do astrophysics.
So you had to agree with his will.
Were there courses? Did he teach a course in astrophysics?
You mean Wilkens? Yes.
Bernard Dawson was also in La Plata in those days. He was from Michigan. He came to La Plata with Hussey. I mean Hussey brought him to La Plata.
Yes, that's right. And Hussey was the director of La Plata for some time, and Dawson was just one of the astronomers in those days.
Were there astrophysical type instruments at La Plata at the time?
Well, the two main instruments of La Plata were a 43-centimeter refractor and an 80-centimeter reflector. Both were from Gautier, made in France.
Was there a spectrograph with the reflector or refractor?
Yes. I think it was called the Hartmann spectrograph, because Hartmann was also in La Plata during the same years.
Hartmann? The same Hartmann of the Hartmann Test, the optical expert?
Yes, I suppose so.
Okay. I'll try to check that.
He didn't do much when he was there, but he was there.
So to work in astrophysics, did this mean taking theoretical physics courses, or did this mean learning how to use the spectrograph with the telescope? What did it mean to do astrophysics at that time?
There were courses. One question is the question of what I would do as a student, and the other question is what I would have to do as an employee of the observatory.
And you were both at once.
So you were both student and employee.
Okay. Let's start with the student part. What was your curriculum like, the courses you took?
Well, there was some physics. Dawson gave a course in computational work, and there was a course in astrophysics, but I would say that it was not very good.
Do you remember the textbooks you had, and what kind of library was available there?
My recollection is that the book Americans followed was Cecilia Gaposchkin's.
Okay. Her 1924?
Yes, I think so. I don't remember the year.
A Harvard monograph on stellar atmospheres.
Yes. I think so.
Okay. Any other books that you remember?
Of course we used Russell-Dugan-Stewart.
Okay. That was generally available?
Would you have used Rosseland's book on theoretical astrophysics or Ambartsumian's books?
Did the library have the [Handbuch der Astrophysik]?
I suppose so, but I cannot be sure at the moment. The library was alright in those days. There were no constraints, beyond budgetary constraints that are there today.
Okay. So you had a good basic library, and you were able to use it.
Okay. So that was the student side.
What about the side of the employment, the staff side? What were your duties?
Well, I was worked with Wilkens, a celestial mechanician. He was trying to do astrophysical work by using spectra, but I don't think what he did was very good.
What was he trying to do?
Determine the difference in temperature in double star systems.
He was looking at double star systems, which of course are very interesting for celestial mechanics purposes. Was that a way that you could combine celestial mechanics and astrophysics?
No? Okay. So he was trying to determine differences in temperature. What were your duties?
I just had to try to work out the observations that he had made and we were making with him at the reflecting telescope.
Were these simply classifying spectra, or measuring the lines?
Line measurement was important, especially pectral intensities at certain wavelengths, yes.
Oh yes, okay. And you said it wasn't working out too well?
I don't think it was very good work.
Okay. So where did you go on from there? I mean, did you eventually have to choose a thesis as a student?
Well, in those days there was no actual thesis work as students have to do today. We had what was called a final work.
Like a thesis of some sort.
It's like a thesis, but not quite. And I did something with Wilkens of course.
With Wilkens, yes.
Do you remember what it was?
Oh, it was the determination of the intensities of certain lines in stellar spectra. It was not very good either. I was not very happy with what he gave me. I got my degree in 1943, and then Mr. Aguilar decided to send me and Carlos Cesco to Yerkes. Wilkens was in charge of trying to find a man with whom we would be working outside of Argentina. I think he liked the idea of us working with Struve, because for him Struve was a German.
I see. And there was a lot of sympathy in Argentina for Germans at that time?
Yes, in general I would say yes. Wilkens was attracted by the name of Struve, but not because Struve was very good, but because Struve was a German.
But Struve turned out to be very good.
Yes. It was a good thing that that happened.
So you were supported by —
The University of La Plata.
To do advanced work at Yerkes.
And did you arrive there in 1943 or something?
We went on a cargo ship that took passengers. We went all the way through without stopping on the way, to New Orleans. From New Orleans we went to Chicago first and then to Yerkes, and there we met Mr. Struve and the rest of the staff of the Yerkes Observatory.
There was Greenstein and Morgan and Kuiper, although Kuiper was not there at the moment, Van Biesbroek, Hiltner and Morgan. Did I say Morgan before?
Yes. And Chandrasekhar of course.
Yes, Chandrasekhar would come and go. Louis Henyey was also there.
So there was a very strong staff.
Who did you work with?
You worked directly with Struve. What was your general feeling going from La Plata? Did you feel that you had been well trained, were you well prepared to work there?
Yes. Struve immediately made us start working on spectra, measuring a spectrum. And we felt alright. We felt perfectly prepared to do whatever he asked us to do.
Where there courses to take at all?
We took several courses there. We just listened to the lectures. We didn't actually have to take courses.
Oh, I see.
We just went there to do some work, to learn how to do research.
Oh, okay. So it was mainly observational work.
Yes, that's right.
What problems did he have you do?
Eclipsing binaries mainly.
By then were you personally interested in eclipsing binaries?
Yes, I became very much interested.
Was this before you went to Yerkes?
No, I became interested while in Yerkes. We also used to go to the McDonald Observatory. Because in those days McDonald was under the University of Chicago, and Struve was the director of both institutions.
What was the flavor of the institution like there? Was it exciting for you to be there?
Yes. It was exciting, and also it gave you the sense that it was a serious matter to be at the Yerkes Observatory.
Was it running smoothly? This was the wartime of course.
And Greenstein and Henyey were running an optical bureau. Were you involved at all with that, or were you doing pure astronomy?
Pure astronomy. And we had lots of observing at McDonald. We used to go for a month or so. Once we went for two months.
This must have been a wonderful time for you.
Yes. And what was the ultimate goal — to gain experience?
Yes, to learn astronomical techniques.
Where did you publish your first research paper?
In Yerkes. The first thing we came across was published, just a note. And then there came several papers.
And this was on eclipsing binaries?
That's right. The first one was not exactly on eclipsing binaries, but involved a radio velocity measurement to find out, if I remember correctly, whether an object was two stars actually or one. But the rest of the material was essentially on eclipsing binaries. There was also some material on Wolf-Rayet stars.
Okay. This was a very interesting time for eclipsing binary work, because there was the thin atmosphere or thick atmosphere solutions.
Chandrasekhar was involved. Also Kopal's work at Harvard. Kopal was developing techniques for the solution of binary systems. There was still Russell's method. Which methods was Struve using, and what kind of data were you trying to get out of them?
The idea was to understand the peculiar systems.
Okay. So you were not so much doing orbital analysis.
No. We were trying to understand why there were peculiarities, what they meant.
Yes. These were emission —
These were emission lines, or funny shaped lines.
Right. How did you work? Did you work with Cesco together as a team?
Yes. We worked as a team.
So Struve would give both of you a problem to solve.
That's right. Actually all the papers we published were under both names. Sometimes Struve was in — most of the time Struve was in, of course.
How would it develop? Give me an idea of how Struve managed your research. Did he come to you, simply give you a problem and walk away, or did he give you a problem and work with you?
If I remember correctly, he gave us a problem, we would try to work it out, and if we had any questions we would come back to him, whenever it was necessary.
I see. When you would either run into a problem or have a result.
How was he to work with?
What do you think his real power was, if you were to describe what he was best at doing?
Well, he was very patient, and he has a great respect for astronomy and for the objects he dealt with.
That's quite nice. That's interesting. How long were you at Yerkes?
From October '43 to February '46.
And all of this time you were supported by La Plata?
La Plata gave me $180 a month. I would send my mother $90, and I would live on $90. I had enough money to buy books. A full lunch was only 50¢.
Was your father no longer alive at that time?
No, he was still alive, but he wasn't very successful in his business.
Not very successful.
Yes, so you would send money home regularly.
You mentioned you would send it to your mother. But not to your father?
No, because she was running the show in a way. [laughs]
Right. I understand. Where did you live? Did you live in the battleship?
No. In the winter we would rent a flat, the upper part of a house in the neighborhood of the observatory. The name of the landlord was Forsburg. They were from Norway I think, and they had a small house with two floors.
You and Cesco.
Me and Cesco. And we would pay $24 a month during the winter months. In the summer we had to leave, and we would go to the observatory.
And live in the battleship.
How was living in the battleship at that time?
Oh, in the summer it was alright. The winter is not so good.
Yes. And of course the library there was wonderful.
Oh, sure. Everything was wonderful.
That was quite a place. There were also very strong personalities there, and sometimes they all didn't get along too well. Did any of that affect you, or was this?
No. It was not evident that there were any problems. I think Struve was strong enough to insist that things be done in the way he wanted.
Yes. You worked there until February of '46, and I know that things didn't really get difficult there until after that time.
Yes, that's right.
When Struve finally left.
Yes, that's right.
So you didn't experience any of that.
What were your plans then? Did you see any other observatories in the United States and visit?
I went to Mt. Wilson, and I suppose I went to Cal Tech.
Were these research visits or simply cordial visits?
Just a cordial visit, because I used to observe at McDonald.
Okay. So you didn't work at any other observatories in the United States during this time.
Okay. When you were at Yerkes, did you know that you would be there for almost two and a half years?
Well, actually I went for two years, but I tried to stay longer just to finish up things.
Did you want to stay permanently?
I don't think I thought about it. We made very good friends, and it was a very congenial atmosphere, not only among the observatory people but also among the people in town.
In Williams Bay.
In Williams Bay. And people who came to Williams Bay in the summer, like the Livingstones. They were from Chatsworth, Illinois. Both have died already.
It's wonderful; you must have kept up all these friendships to remember the names all these years. So then in February of 1946 you returned to La Plata?
I returned not to La Plata but Cordova.
How did that happen?
For several reasons I didn't want to go back to La Plata, and I was offered a position at Cordova, so I went to Cordova.
You didn't want to go back. Would you share the reasons?
I prefer not to.
Okay. What was the instrumentation like, and what kind of position did you have at Cordova?
At Cordova I was an astronomer, a third astronomer.
A third astronomer. I mean there is a first astronomer, a second astronomer, and a third astronomer. I suppose I was the third astronomer.
Who were the first and the second at that time?
I don't remember. Cordova had a, or has a 60-inch telescope, the one which was started by Perrine.
Yes. It's quite a large instrument.
For a time it was going to be as large as the largest one in the States.
When Perrine was there, yes. That was the first decade of the century, second decade?
First. The idea arose in 1907 or 1909 or something like that. But Perrine made some mistakes; he wanted to figure the mirror in Cordova, and he had neither the elements nor the people who could do the job.
I didn't know that. So how was the 60-inch finally finished?
It was sent to the States. The mirror was sent to the States.
When was that?
So was the telescope fully operational when you returned?
Yes. But there was only one spectrograph, and that was built by Gaviola, a 40 /mm spectrograph, with a Wood grating.
This was a plane grating I take it.
Yes, okay. And when you were hired, what were your duties? Did the first or the second astronomer tell you what to do?
No. I would do whatever I felt like. So I started doing spectroscopy of eclipsing binaries.
Did you continue corresponding with Struve?
Yes. Not collaborating with him, but we maintained our contacts.
So there are letters between you.
What types of systems were you drawn to? Did Struve ever suggest to you particular systems? You had, of course, a Southern Hemisphere observatory, and you could see parts of the sky that Struve could not. How did your research evolve?
I started working on the spectra of the brightest objects, but the spectrograph that was available did not allow you to do whatever you wanted. There were some limitations. So you worked within those limits that were imposed by the instrumentation.
Right. 40 mm was basically classification dispersion like Morgan did or somebody like that.
No, you could more. When we worked at McDonald the dispersion was not higher.
Oh really? Oh, I see. So you were working at the Cassegrain focus?
That's right. The only difference between McDonald and Cordova was that Cordova was a linear dispersion, because of the grating.
If I remember correctly, the McDonald Observatory was a prism spectrograph.
Yes, a prism spectrograph. Okay. What were your goals now? You had this spectrograph, you were working on peculiar systems, but you said that your instrumentation was limited; there was only so much you could do.
But there were many objects that could be observed.
And so what were your overall scientific goals? What problems were you trying to solve at that time?
Well, I was trying to study peculiarities to try to explore stellar evolution, looking at how these binary systems evolved.
Now at that time there were terrible problems trying to straighten out the evolutionary status of giants, and most of your binaries were probably giant type systems, were they not?
Early type systems.
What we understand as early type systems. Close, and short period. Were you studying mechanisms of mass transfer?
I was not trying to work out the thing theoretically, just trying to devise some kind of mechanism from the experimental point of view.
Exactly. What about your other duties? Did you have any teaching duties?
I was teaching at Cordova, yes, but not astronomy, because astronomy did not exist as a subject in Cordova in those days. Astronomy was started in Cordova in 1959, I think.
That's quite late. Yes, I see. So were you teaching general students.
I was teaching students in land surveying, I was really teaching mathematics.
Was your interest in mathematics still as keen as it was before?
No, I just wanted to do it in the best possible way.
Okay. Where did you publish most frequently?
The Astrophysical Journal.
In the Astrophysical Journal. Okay. Now Struve, in the first few, or last years of the forties, when he was still at Yerkes of course he was the editor.
Did you have any more difficulties or less difficulties publishing in the Astrophysical Journal after Struve left, or when Morgan took over, or when Chandra took over?
Not at all?
Okay. Your papers were always accepted?
Yes. Well, I had difficulty with some referees.
But no big differences.
Okay. You probably had just as much difficulty with Struve as you would have with anybody else.
[laughs] Probably I think, well, this will come when we talk about Berkeley, because I went to Berkeley afterwards. I was in Berkeley, with Struve again.
Oh, I didn't know that. Okay, and this is important to know. But what were your goals for building up astronomy? Did you want to develop astronomy and develop a program in the early 1950s?
Well, I was in Cordova, in political times which were not very easy in Argentina, because it was Peron's time.
And how did that affect the observatory and your work?
I became the director of the observatory in 1953, just because one of the officers in the government was a friend of mine.
Who was that?
Tosello. He was an engineer.
Okay. How did you know him?
Oh, I knew him from the university.
And then he had become influential in the Peron administration?
Yes. Those days were very difficult, because political things were weighing very heavily and everything.
Did you have to become political yourself?
No, I didn't do it.
How did you?
It was difficult. There was a book you know that Eva Peron wrote, you remember? I don't know whether she did actually write it, but it was under her name. It was sort of a lecture book for every activity in Argentina, you see.
So you were compelled to use the book in the courses you taught?
No, not in the courses I taught, but we had a day in the week, each week we had a day in which we were supposed to gather all the people of the observatory and discuss chapters of this book. I tried to assign them subjects which were very mild in order that they will not feel uneasy.
Oh, I see. And you led this kind of discussion?
No, I would assign chapters, and each one would make comments.
Oh, I see. So you turned it more into a seminar.
That's very interesting. [laughs]
[laughs] It's not really exciting.
But this had nothing to do with astronomy.
No. But in those days it was rather difficult. I tried to mix politics as little as possible. But then I decided to leave, to come to the States.
And how did you make that possible, and when was that?
I decided that in 1954.
Just a year after you became director.
Did you write to Struve saying you wanted to come?
I wrote to Struve, and Struve was delighted at the prospect of my coming at Eastertime. So I applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship.
I was going to ask how that worked. And you got the Guggenheim?
And how long did that let you work in Berkeley?
I went there in January of '55. I arrived there sometime in January, I don't know whether at the beginning or the end. I asked for renewal, or of an extension of the fellowship very soon after I got there. [laughs] That was accepted. So I, as a Fellow of the Guggenheim, remained there two years. And then I became a sort of member of the staff.
At Berkeley. With grants that Struve was able to receive and so on.
Now, were you in a way trying to stay away from the politics in Argentina?
Yes. I didn't like that.
And if you had stayed it would have meant that you would have had to be political?
I didn't feel at ease. I didn't like it. I didn't like the situation. And I thought that we should leave the country. In those days it was not very easy.
Not easy to leave.
How did you manage to leave?
You needed a sort of a, how do you call it, how do you say it in English, uh, sort of a guarantee that you will not be talking against the regime. And fortunately, I knew somebody in the government.
Was this other?
Not Tosello. Somebody else.
Somebody else. And he was willing to sign for me.
Is knowing that person's name important? Should we? We don't need to record it? Okay. Were you married by then?
And did you have a family?
Yes. I had two children.
Two children. How did you meet your wife? And what is her name?
My first wife was a teacher of cosmography, of astronomy, elementary astronomy in schools in Cordova.
And it was called cosmography.
Yes. And how did you meet her?
Oh, at the marriage of a friend of mine in Cordova.
And when was that? What year approximately? Or when did you get married?
Maybe '46 or '47.
So when you returned from Yerkes.
I got married in '48.
Okay. She accompanied you, your children came with you to Berkeley?
Did you have any intention of coming back to Argentina, or did you really want to stay?
Not in those days.
Yes. And so you continued to work with Struve.
Yes. I used to come to Mt. Wilson to observe.
Oh, not to Lick Observatory?
How did you arrange that? That's an interesting twist.
Well, that was not difficult. We would just apply for time, and we would get it.
And that was to use the 60-inch or the 100-inch?
We observed on both, both instruments, yes. We had many observations with the 100-inch.
Why did you not just go to Lick Observatory?
It was easier to get the time at Mt. Wilson, and maybe it was easier to observe at Mt. Wilson. I don't quite remember.
Well, at the time, now we're talking in the fifties, right?
You had really just the 36-inch Crosley with a spectrograph; you had the radio velocity spectrographs with the 36-inch refractor, of course. But you had much bigger telescopes at Mt. Wilson. Was that part of it too?
Sure. We observed mainly with the Coudé spectrograph of the 100-inch.
So you used the Coudé, which was a wonderful spectrograph.
You probably used many different high dispersions.
Yes. And you published jointly with Struve.
Yes. How long did you stay in Berkeley?
I left in June '58.
And what finally convinced you to leave?
Well, my wife wanted to go back to Argentina. And I got a good proposal from Argentina, from La Plata.
So it was at La Plata. Okay. What about the politics?
No, that was gone already.
The Peron’s were gone.
Was the government much more stable at that time?
The government then was not very stable. It was democratic, but not very stable. While Frandici was a very good man he didn't have the ability to convince people that he was trying to do things in the right way.
Yes. Sometimes that can be very difficult even if you have the best of intentions. What was the position that you returned to? Was it director at La Plata?
No. I was the director of Cordova, but then no, I didn't return as a director. I was a director for a year, so I never lasted long, you know. [laughs] No, I was a sort of a head of a division.
Astrophysics. Astrophysics II, actually.
What's the structure like?
Astrophysics II meant stellar atmospheres, because I was teaching stellar atmospheres.
Who else was there?
The Jascheks were there.
Yes, and his wife. Also, Itzigsohn, an astrometrist.
That was who, sorry?
Interesting name. What was his background?
I think he was a land surveyor. He taught himself to do astrometric work and he was very good.
So Jaschek was working in astrophysics, you were working in astrophysics.
That's right, yes.
And you were working in this division now. How was the observatory organized?
There were many divisions. You realize the observatory of La Plata has not only astronomy but also geophysics.
Okay. And was Jaschek the director?
No. He was the head of Astrophysics I.
Okay. Who was the director then?
I suppose it was Cesco, but not the Cesco that went with me to Yerkes, but his brother. He was a celestial mechanician.
What was his first name?
Okay. And where was Carlos Cesco at this time?
He had left La Plata for political reasons and went to San Juan. San Juan is in the western part of the country. Three persons from La Plata left La Plata and went to San Juan. One was Cesco, the other was Dawson, and the third one was Nissen.
There was a small observatory?
They created a small observatory with an amateur's telescope.
Oh, I see. I didn't know it was an amateur telescope. Later on this became Yale-Columbia?
Yes, that's right.
He must have been a wealthy amateur.
It was a small telescope, and the amateur gave it to Cesco. They were very good friends.
Cesco was the director.
No, not Reynaldo, no — it was the same Cesco that was with me at the Yerkes Observatory.
I'm sorry. Carlos Cesco. Okay. So you were the head of the division of Astrophysics II, and that was stellar atmospheres.
That's right. I was supposed to teach, to give a course.
Was this primarily observational stellar atmospheres?
No, it was theoretical.
So it was theoretical.
Yes. My work was observational, but my teaching was theoretical.
And what level of theoretical work did you use? Were you using —
I used a chapter by a Frenchman —
No, not Ferinbach. In that handbook —
In the Handbook der Astrophysique?
Let's see. Well, it will come.
Okay. But if it was in the Handbook der Astrophysique —
I used Shklovski also.
For the interiors I used Schwarzschild.
Schwarzschild, oh, sure, okay. That just came out in about 1958, so it was just out.
Did you have students computing model stellar, stellar models?
No, not in those days.
Okay. What kind of computing equipment did you have?
Oh, in those days we didn't have much. We had a Millionaire.
Oh, you had a Millionaire? I know those, sure.
[laughs] We had a Swedish Facit.
Like a Marchant or a Frieden?
Well, it was less elaborate.
That's very interesting. So you had an old Millionaire.
[laughs] Well, Dawson used to work with the Millionaire all the time.
I'll be darned. So you used Schwarzschild as a general textbook, but you didn't work through stellar models completely.
No. It was not my specialty.
Yes. You did stellar atmospheres before Lawrence Aller's book was out or anything like that.
No, Aller's book was already out. I used parts of Aller's book of course.
Okay. So what years are we talking about here then?
I'm talking about '58.
'58. Okay. That's when you went back.
And how were the conditions in the post-Peron era?
The conditions were acceptable.
And you felt comfortable?
I was then asked to be in charge of a large telescope project. [laughs] We had then experience with the 84-inch Kitt Peak telescope.
Oh, the 84-inch Kitt Peak
How did you obtain funding for that, a telescope of that size?
Well, the director of the university was in favor of the project. The observatory was in favor of the project, and we got a loan from the Inter American Bank for Development.
The Inter American?
Bank for Development. They gave actually a loan for the university's equipment, to equip the universities.
I see. That's quite a major instrument. Now, was it a straight copy so that you just went to one of the Warner & Swasey?
Yes. Nick Mayall was the director of the observatory in those days. He presented me with the plans of the telescope so we didn't have to pay anything for them and we called for bids.
We called for bids from different companies.
Were these Argentine companies?
Was there any pressure to try to find Argentine companies that could do it?
No, I don't think there was any in those days.
And the lowest bid was from Boller & Chivens.
Boller & Chivens. Well there was a young but rapidly growing company at that time.
Yes, that's right.
And were you then the primary project director in building the telescope?
That's really quite a large undertaking. It must have taken much of your time. Were you still able to do research during this time?
Did you have?
Less time what I would do otherwise, but I mean I did research.
Yes. Did you have assistance? Did you have a staff who worked with you?
I had some people, yes.
And how did you organize them? Were they colleagues or students?
Actually one person was just an administrative person, but she was bright enough to be able to do some things. And another person was a student who was trying to get her degree.
Her. It was a woman?
Her. Yes. There were lots of women in La Plata. We have a large number of women in astronomy in Argentina.
Is there any particular reason why?
No. It's just like that.
It's open to women.
And there were other people who were astronomers also that worked with me in those days.
Now during all of this time I'd like to know if there professional activities beyond the university in Argentina. Did you have anything to do with developing an astronomical society or the IAU? And I'd like to know how those larger responsibilities grew in your career.
Well, the Astronomical Society was actually created at the time I returned from Berkeley.
You know Gratton?
He was in Argentina in those days. And I think he did much for creating this body.
And this was within Argentina.
Was there ever any interest in a continental-wide astronomical society that would bring in the other countries as well?
When I was the president of the IAU, I tried really hard to try to organize this, —
A South American astronomical society.
Well, not South American, but Latin American.
Latin American. Yes, that would have been wonderful.
But there were some votes against. There were people who were not in favor of this.
Because some people like to agree on things provided they will be the head of it. I was not looking for being the president of the new organization, but this was not understood.
You could have made them the head.
Sure. Why not?
Can you tell me who objected?
No. I prefer not to.
Who then agreed? Who thought it was also a good idea?
Well, I talked particularly with people in Mexico.
And so Mexico generally was supportive.
There were many that thought it was a good idea, but there were others that didn't like it much.
I see. Now, the Mexican observatory at Tonantzintla had staff who also had contact with McDonald, with Yerkes at that time, and with Lick Observatory.
But were there contacts, were there professional collaborations between Argentine observatories and Tonantzintla, or with any of the other Latin American observatories?
I think it's possible. There are people in La Plata who have been in Mexico and they kept up contacts, and there are Mexican astronomers who have been working with Argentine astronomers and have come to Plata.
So there is some collaboration, but not an overall unification, so to speak, of the Latin American states.
No, but it will come.
What do you think will help make it come? What is needed?
We need time. Time.
Just time? Not constant pressure?
Well, sometimes pressure doesn't help.
Okay, I understand that. How did you become active in the International Astronomical Union? What was the process through which you became involved, and what value did you see in it?
It just happened. I like to be active. I don't like to just sit down and wait for things to just pass by. If I can help the process in some way, then I try to do it.
When did you join the IAU?
Well actually, Struve made us, Cesco and myself, join the Union.
That was back in the forties.
I think it was in '46.
Were you able to go to meetings on a regular basis?
I think my first IAU was Berkeley, in '61.
Oh, 1961. So not while you were in the United States, but after you were back in Argentina.
When did you become active in the organization? I know you were made president, but you must have had commission responsibilities before then. What commissions were you in?
I was in Commission 29 in '64.
In 1964 you were elected into 29?
No, I was elected President of Commission 29. I was in the Commission from the beginning.
From the beginning.
Then I became member of Commission 42 when Commission 42 was created.
Did you become a member of the executive council at some point?
1967. And from there you became president
Yes. And I know that the IAU met in Argentina.
'91. And that was a direct result of your being president?
No, I finished my presidency in '88.
That was in Baltimore.
Yes. Right. And the next meeting was in Argentina.
How did the decision come to bring the IAU to Argentina?
Well, I asked members of the Argentina Astronomical Association whether they would like to have the IAU meet in Argentina sometime.
This is while you were president.
Oh, before you were president.
It was in '85 when I became president, and we had the meeting of the association a few months before the IAU met in Delhi.
Oh, in Delhi. Okay.
So we asked the members of the astronomical association whether they would be willing to host the IAU sometime. They said yes. So, we extended the invitation.
And it was accepted?
And the invitation was accepted.
Let's go back then if there's anything else about the IAU that you feel is important for us to preserve. In other words, your participation in it or something about the IAU that you think is important to
We used to publish an information bulletin of the Southern Hemisphere.
No, I didn't know that.
That activity was actually supported by the IAU. But then when the support dried up, we terminated the publication.
When did that start?
It started after Berkeley. Let's see. Yes.
After your stay in Berkeley.
No, after the IAU in Berkeley, in 1961.
Oh, I see. Okay. And what was in the information bulletin?
Well, short papers actually, and news about what was going on in research in different countries in the Southern Hemisphere. We had a representative in each country, and he was supposed to report. At the time when Westerlund was in Australia and Evans was in South Africa, their reports were just wonderful. We had much information about those countries, but afterwards the interest became less clear.
Oh, I see. And was this a way to coordinate research in the Southern Hemisphere?
Well, first of all, to find out if collaboration could take place.
Did collaborations develop?
I am not aware. But it's possible.
What do you think was the most important thing that you did or that the Union did while you were president?
Well, we did two things. One was to establish the position of President-elect. I thought that it would be a good idea to put a man who was going to be president to have the opportunity, to give him the opportunity to be able to take a part, to participate in the decisions that would be valid for the time when he was to be president.
Absolutely. It's interesting that that hadn't been done up until then, because it's such a logical thing to do. Did everybody agree that this was something that should be done?
Yes. There was no opposition. And the other thing was to establish the category of associate member among the countries.
Yes. Now what did this allow? Was this part of the problem with two Chinas or something?
No. It was just an attempt to try to promote astronomy among countries who are interested in having astronomy, but yet don't have much astronomical tradition. So the idea was that they would become associate members, they would get about nine years or so to establish themselves as an astronomical country, and then go on as a regular member. But I don't know whether this has been successful or not.
What counties could you name, countries that became associate members?
Peru and Morocco.
No, I'm not sure.
There were quite a few.
Indonesia became an actual member in '79.
Yes. Okay. That's an interesting change, and the idea of associate member is sort of a way to encourage countries.
Yes. But I don't think it has worked out as nicely as I thought they would.
Oh. Any idea why not?
Maybe nobody has encouraged. Probably you need to be pinched.
Pinched. Okay. Well we've gone about an hour and a half, and this has been a very nice interview, but I want to make sure that, if there is anything you would like to add, any part of your career, we do so now, because we just barely touched the surface.
Yes. Well, maybe we could meet again sometime.
That would be great.
Yes. If I come to Tucson in November, perhaps we can —
Well, I won't be able. I'm in Washington. That's where I'm based. Do you ever get to Washington?
You see, if I come to Tucson, it will be because of the Gemini project.
Oh, Gemini. Okay.
If I continue on the Gemini, then I will probably come in November. In October there is a meeting in the UK. So in the States it would be in November, in Tucson. You said you wouldn't be able to come to Tucson.
No, I wouldn't be able to.
Well, we'll see.
Okay. In the meantime, we will have this interview transcribed, and I'll send a copy to you for your editing.
And if things occur to you that you would like to expand upon, or change in any way, we will be able to do that, you would edit it basically.
And then we'll send you permission forms for how it should be treated. Because we treat these as private documents.
Subject to the limitations you specify.
I have many additional questions I always like to ask, but what research project was the most fun for you, or the most satisfying for you so far in your career?
Understanding the evolution of binary stars. I mean, particularly, the closed binary system.
Do you feel that there has been significant progress during your career.
Yes. I'm sure. There were, in the days I was in Berkeley, people who believed that the larger star will have a larger mass than a smaller star. Even Kuiper in those days — he actually delayed the progress in the understanding of systems for many years because he would not accept the idea that a less luminous star could have larger mass than the more luminous star.
That the mass luminosity relationship didn't hold in close binary systems.
Yes. How was that finally reversed?
We wrote a paper to the American Philosophical Society.
You did and who else?
Struve, Su Shu Wang, and Velta Zebergs.
When was that published?
That was published after I left Yerkes, uh, Berkeley.
So after '58.
Yes, I think it was published in either '58 or '59.
Okay. I can certainly find a copy of that.
And there we mention the possibility that secondary star can be more massive than the primary. And it went to a referee. And the referee, whom I am sure was Kuiper. [laughs] And he said we should abandon these funny ideas.
It was not.
It was published. [laughs]
That's great. And I take it that paper made a big difference.
Yes. I think so.
Was that a great satisfaction to you?
Well, I think it was important.
Yes. I can well imagine. It changed the whole idea of the nature —
There was conservative thinking.
Yes. I mean did this help to understand mass transfer and mechanisms like that?
Yes. That certainly changed the way people thought about binaries. Okay. Well thank you very, very much.
Well, you are welcome.
Yes. This has been a lot of fun, and you have a tremendous amount of energy after this.
[laughs] I am only 82.
Well, that's terrific.