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Interview of George Field by David DeVorkin on 2007 December 5,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
In this interview George Field discusses topics such as: his time at the University of California, Berkeley; Charles Townes; Lick Observatory; working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); radio astronomy work with Ed Purcell; detecting neutral hydrogen gas at big red shifts; Fred Whipple; moving to the Harvard College Observatory; planning for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Charles Lundquist; Riccardo Giacconi; Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; Northeast Radio Observatory Corporation (NEROC); orbiting solar observatories (OSOs); Dave Challinor; Bart Bok.
What I’d like to do is to take you back to the period in the late ’60s where you’re at Berkeley, and I’m interested in what your view is about the future of your own career. Were you looking in the late ’60s, for another venue?
How did you view the astronomical community at that time?
I think that my thoughts were largely influenced by being a member of the Greenstein Committee. And I think that was an important factor in my being asked to be director of HCO. The argument goes like this: I had relatively little administrative experience at Berkeley. I’d gone there in 1965. That department, in my opinion, was in need of updating.
At Berkeley. And they were open to that. And my concept of astrophysics at that time was that it is a multi-wavelength business. So I hired an X-ray astronomer, Stu Boyer, and I also hired an infrared astronomer, John Gaustad, who is now at Swarthmore. So that was my foray at the time. I had no business doing that because I was not chair of the department. But they were looking for guidance, and I had a big influence on what happened at that point. And the only true administrative experience that I’d had when I came here was as chairman of the department for one year.
But it was a substantial department.
It was substantial. It had fingers in various pies. Some of the staff had already gone over the hill; one of them died shortly after I came there. That was the theorist, Louis Henyey.
Henyey, yes. But you had people like Ivan King.
Ivan King was active. Hy Spinrad was very active.
George Wallerstein was gone.
Wallerstein had gone. And I believe that Bob O’Dell, who became the space telescope scientist, had been there; he’d left recently. So there was a complement of people working on optical observations using the Lick 120. And there was a very active radio astronomy group.
Harold Weaver built it.
You just “yes” in quotes.
Yes. The engineer who built it was Jack Welch. And Jack at that time, I think, was in the engineering department with an appointment in the radio astronomy laboratory there. He is a very smart guy, and he began to move into radio astronomy in a big way, made some very important discoveries. I saw that complement was missing something in the space astronomy area. There was nothing in space astronomy.
You had Charles Townes not too far away.
Townes arrived a year or two after I came. He came to my office and asked whether a certain experiment would work. I went to the board and showed that it wouldn’t. He subsequently went and discovered it.
He went and discovered…?
The very effect that I was saying wouldn’t be there.
Ammonium line in interstellar space — not a maser. He thought that maybe there would be ammonium molecules in space. He turned out to be right. I was wrong, and you know I had a reasonable argument, but anyway. [Laughter] Yeah, he came, but he was never that involved in space. One of his sidekicks was an instrument builder and he decided to make balloon-based observations. Paul Richards.
Yes, ballooning. I lump balloons in with space as a precursor or as a supporting unit.
Yes, right. Certainly a precursor, but in terms of budgets, it’s a factor of ten or 100 down. Okay, so that’s true, but that came along later because Townes arrived there, I think, approximately a year after I did.
Okay. Let me ask then about larger scale dynamics. You have the wonderful situation at the University of California system where you have this central Lick Observatory, which had a staff, but was also supposed to be available to all campuses. Did you get involved at all during this time?
This was just about at the time when they were moving to Santa Cruz, but were you involved at all in how the Lick staff was to change, rather than being distributed throughout all the campuses, when they moved lock, stock, and barrel to Santa Cruz?
That was a little earlier than when you were there.
I’m not sure when it happened, but that was not my particular forte. I was doing Theoretical Astrophysics; I was trying to see if we could get into new fields, and the only thing I remember from that period was a presentation by Mueller, I forget his first name, who was a high-level NASA administrator. He came to UC.
George Mueller. There was a guy at Goddard who I think became Head of Science at Goddard in the sort of ’70s, ’80s. What was his name?
Well, Noel Hinners was Director.
Hinners, yes, but pre-Hinners, I think. I just don’t want to confuse the guys.
That’s quite all right. This can always be corrected. You have editorial control, literary rights, and I send you with a transcript, and you decide whether things work or not.
Okay, that’s fine. But to get back to Lick, this fellow from NASA, who seemed to have a great deal of power, scheduled a presentation for all of the astronomers at UC, which I attended along with everybody else. And he said, “We want to put your 120-inch telescope into orbit.” Now, there was a clash of cultures. Right? And of course, I knew that that was going to happen sooner or later, but they were very unprepared for something like that. But I guess this came up in connection with NASA space and the impact at UC.
There wasn’t much interest among the astronomy faculty that I could see in doing space research, until Stu Boyer came there. But what I think you were aiming at is, what was I thinking of during that period?
I was a member of the Greenstein Committee. The Greenstein Committee met in the late ’60s, if I recall, and I had a big impact.
You were in charge of one of the major studies within the committee?
That’s right. I belonged to several panels. But I said to Jesse that there’s something missing here, which is cosmology and relativity. And he talked to whoever — it would have been maybe Bromley, who was doing a physics study at that time. And I ended up being a chair of a panel that reported to both. Maarten Schmidt and Steve Weinberg and several other highly qualified people were members. And I remember this thing just for fun. They got into a debate about the distance scale, and Schmidt, whose forte it was, contended one thing. Weinberg, who was writing the book on cosmology, contended another thing. They got into an argument and I said, “Why don’t you guys work it out over lunch and come back and report?” Maarten Schmidt came back and said, “Weinberg is right.” So that was interesting. But anyway, there was a feeling of adventure in this committee, that we can start to break things open in this whole thing, and so that affected me a lot. When I presented the report to the Greenstein Committee, Greenstein, who was a famous character, very interesting guy, leaned back in his chair — at least, I think that’s what he did — and he said, “George, you have written our report for us,” because I included all of the techniques to do these experiments, particularly cosmology. So that sort of solidified my view of what should be done, and that was ’69, okay?
I didn’t have any plans myself to do it, but at least it got me on that path, thinking along those lines.
You were thinking globally, in a way.
Yes. Now, a key member of that committee was Ed Purcell. I had done research with Ed Purcell. I wrote a paper which, for years, lay dormant. And to my astonishment, this was published in the ’50s, it’s been rediscovered. It’s in a book behind you, which was very difficult to dig out. If you see that journal on top of the pile, tattered and so forth, just pick up that book. It’s The Proceedings of the IRE, Institute of Radio Engineering.
I can’t find the front.
Right. It’ll be hard to find.
It’s got advertising and everything on it. Okay, Proceedings of the IRE. Oh! “Excitation of the Hydrogen 21-centimeter Line” by George Field. January, 1958. [G.B. Field, "Excitation of the Hydrogen 21-cm Line," Proc. Inst. Radio Eng., 46, page 240, January 1958] Huh. Okay.
All right. As I say, that didn’t make a big hit in the astronomy community because they don’t read The Proceedings of the IRE. And recently, people have grumbled to me, “Why the hell did you put it there?” The answer was that Ed, being an engineering type, belonged to this organization. They had requested that he do something on radio astronomy. He turned to me and said, “Will you do this?”
Yeah, because there are other articles in here by D.S. Heeschan and N.H. Dieter, M. Cohen from Cornell, H.W. Dodson, J.S. Hey and V.A. Hughes. This is —
Yes, it’s a radio astronomy issue, I guess.
And it’s huge! Oh, wait a minute. These are all ads over here. [Laughs]
It’s amazing isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s an engineering thing, but that’s fascinating. What was the fallout from that?
Because at the time, radio astronomy in the ’50s was — in the United States — was it engineering or was it astronomy?
It was definitely astronomy; it had already moved in that direction. I had worked in the field, published some papers and so on, and this was after I had finished my term as a post-doc here at Harvard. And that’s when I worked with Ed. So the reason I brought that up is that recently it has come to the fore in astronomy now. You may have heard about the idea of detecting neutral hydrogen gas at big red shifts, like three, four, and five. And to do that, you need 21 centimeters. And I was among the first to realize that there were influences in deep space that normally aren’t considered. In particular, what is called Lyman alpha pumping, and I’d written a paper on that and that is covered in there. Also in there, I sort of assemble all the data that is needed to do work on extra-galactic 21 centimeters, which I was working on at the time.
This was something that the Hopkins ultraviolet telescope was looking at helium and other pre-galactic — what do you call it? The cosmological period before galaxies formed, right? Or clusters formed. Primordial structure.
Right, right. Primordial stuff, yeah.
But this might be an even more sensitive indicator.
Let me see how I would respond to that. If you’re really looking at a period before galaxies formed, there are a few background sources to study with, let’s say, an optical spectrograph or red-shifted optical lines. However, this gas had to be there, and although it’s very hard to detect, it’s there. You don’t need a background source. You detect the emission So that’s what’s happening now, and there’s actually a group here working on that. There’s great interest in it, and so they had to go back to this paper. They had trouble finding it; I don’t think it’s in ADS at all.
I looked briefly at your ADS version of the bibliography. But I wasn’t looking for it.
It may be there; I’m not sure.
Okay, so you have all of these different things going on with the Greenstein Committee primarily. And then, I’m of course very interested to know who first contacted you about the situation at Harvard. Did you learn anything from the relationship of Lick Observatory to Berkeley in the multi-institutional way of trying to find ways to do research on a large scale? Do you think you were sensitized at all there to the problems that you faced eventually coming here?
No. To me, large scale means NASA. Everything else is small scale.
Oh, I see, but this is very large scale for me!
I see, okay. [Laughter]
No, seriously. Were you aware of the problems between Harvard and Smithsonian at this time?
Greenstein was on an ad-hoc committee that was asked to look at the relationships between HCO — Harvard College Observatory — and SAO.
I see. I didn’t know that. He was an important figure in my appointment, but I didn’t know exactly what role he was playing.
Okay. You might be interested to know that another member of the committee was Ed Purcell. Others were Edwin Salpeter and Lyman Spitzer and John Simpson.
Very good people, all of them.
And they were convened to look very carefully at what was going on here. The difficulties that Leo Goldberg and Fred Whipple had in working together and it was very serious.
Hmm. And who called the committee, Harvard or Smithsonian?
I’m quite sure it was Harvard because it was precipitated on Goldberg’s resignation.
Oh yes, sure.
So you were unaware of all of that?
Okay. Do you recall who contacted you then?
Yes. Ed Purcell.
Purcell. And do you remember what he said? Was it by letter?
I remember what he said. There was an amusing coincidence. Ed had a summer place in Randolph, New Hampshire.
Oh, and you came from that area?
No, I have family ties there, but I was born in Rhode Island. So it happened that when we were at Berkeley, we were deciding whether we would like to maintain some ties with the East Coast. Each summer I would come east; my family was here and my wife’s family was here and so on. In particular, there was a family, let’s call them the Morse’s, who were closely connected to Dartmouth and they lived in Hanover, and their kids, over time began to settle in the area north of Hanover for a summer place. And one of them had built a special home there; another one had occupied a house that belonged to the Morse family that was up there, and so on. I had gone there as a kid. So we decided, “Let’s build a house up there near these other cousins,” and so on.
That’s why you had an address up there.
I know a lot of the correspondence has that as an address.
Yes. So we were there one summer; it must have been summer ’71, I’m thinking probably. The phone rang; it’s Ed Purcell. “Hey, George! Why don’t you come over for a visit?” [Laughter] He and his wife were very kind to us. I’m trying to remember her name. I knew her very well, a wonderful person. She was a Japanese scholar, and she died recently. But anyway, my wife and I arrived into their mountain retreat; I guess you’d call it. It had a porch overlooking the White Mountains. And Ed’s wife prepared some lunch. My wife Sylvia at that time went in to talk to her. Ed said, “Let’s sit out on the porch.” He said, “Look, are you interested in becoming the Director of the HCO?”
Yes. Well, you know a few preliminaries. There wasn’t a lot of talk about problems and all that stuff. It was just, “We’re looking for somebody to do this.” On the way home, my wife said, “Well, what were you talking about?” And I think my response was, “Oh, they want me to be the director of HCO.” And she said, “Well, why didn’t you tell me?” I said, “Because I don’t want to do it.” I was very happy in Berkeley. I had been a post-doc here. I did not have unmitigated admiration for all of the things that have been done here. I’d been asked to come here before, and I thought under very inauspicious conditions, okay? And so I really didn’t want to do it. So that’s how I started out. But of course, since Ed was the person who asked me, I owed him an explanation. I’m not sure exactly what happened then, but I talked to him, and at that point, someone, probably he, informed me about the problem between the directors. I mulled that over and instantly came to the conclusion that I was definitely not interested in replacing a person who had had difficulty with the setup. And so whatever happened, it would have to resolve that problem before I would be interested.
Now, did you know Fred Whipple or Leo well enough to talk with them?
I knew Leo pretty well because he was in space astronomy, and I had served on a number of committees. Fred I knew from the old days, when I was a post-doc here. But that’s about all. For details on this, you might be interested in the honorary memoriam or something like that that I wrote for the academy, which has just come out, about Fred Whipple.
Oh! No, I haven’t seen that.
It’s a 30-page thing, and it’s out in print. I think it’s also on their website — on the academy website.
Wonderful. So this is a biographical memoir originally.
My heart was in my mouth when I sent a copy to Babby because I did not know whether she would approve or not. She did approve.
Good. That’s good.
There I describe my encounters with Fred at the time that we were discussing these things in 1972. No, maybe still late 1971. He was very generous, very open to me about the situation.
You had indicated in a written note to I think Dillon Ripley, that you had just been a guest of theirs in the British West Indies. When you had talked with him at that time, you were already at Harvard. And this was before the dual director position. I’m sure you were thinking about it, but there was nothing explicit going on. But you were being asked to inspect Mt. Hopkins and you wrote saying, “Shouldn’t Fred be involved, after all, he is still Director?” I’ll try to find the note. Your hiring as HCO Director, just to get some dates right, was announced in January 1972. It seems by July 1972, you must have been the candidate because in a letter, which is an internal Smithsonian letter, from Bartnick to Bradley...
Sorry. From whom to Bradly?
Bartnick. He was a second or third tier administrator here for Fred.
Never met him.
No. He was gone. This is basically just a note to Bradley, who was working for Ripley at that time. It says, “Whipple feels strongly that the new Harvard College Observatory Director and Whipple can work out issues and is very enthusiastic about the candidate. They don’t say who the candidate is.
That’s very interesting.
The search committee was Purcell, Klemperer and Alex Dalgarno.
Oh, but this is a different search committee.
Didn’t you list some other people? Did you list Ed on this one?
Oh, that was the advisory, the ad-hoc advisory committee. This is a problem of keeping this history straight, or getting it straight. There are so many interlocking committees; there are so many different people looking at this. You’ve got two huge institutions, Harvard and Smithsonian, and both have approval processes that have to work in parallel.
Yes, I can see that. Sure
Now, I’ll eventually ask how did you feel dealing with that situation as Director of both Institutions. But you came here basically with the understanding that you would assume the Directorship in July of ’73.
No, ’73 is when I arrived on the property.
Weren’t you here in ’72?
Okay, I’ll tell you what I was doing in ’72. I was sitting in New Hampshire. I had been due a sabbatical all the way along, and so I told Harvard that I would accept that position, but I wanted to think about the future and plan the future, and that I would take a year to do so, and I did it sitting in New Hampshire.
OK, so how did you go from “No” to “Yes” is what I need to know.
You mean why did I accept the directorship of HCO?
I’ll tell you the honest truth. I had forgotten the fact that I had accepted the directorship of HCO before I made this plan. I guess I had. It was left open what was going to happen. But I believe I had the backing of whoever had to back me — that whatever plan I came up with would be instituted.
For Harvard and Smithsonian?
Oh, okay. So you in your sabbatical year in New Hampshire, you were already thinking of a joint Directorship?
Yes. I was writing a document, which is the charter for the CFA, and I was visiting here and talking to scientists. I would come down every weekend, or go back every weekend or whatever, and… I have a notebook somewhere where I wrote down everything that happened. [Looking for the notebook] This is not it. I have it at home, but in any case, I will check that out.
So you have a diary, a notebook?
Oh, well that would be extremely important to have a chance to look at.
Yes, you had suggested that I look at your papers that you deposited at Smithsonian Archives. I got as far as your director’s correspondence, and I also looked in the Asst. Secretary for Science, David Challinor’s files. Your personal papers are there, too, but they’re not processed and they’re sitting in Iron Mountain, and I have to call them to get them in. So it will take a little while longer.
I see, okay. Personal papers, that’s interesting. I don't know exactly what that means.
It’s an unorganized accession number; it’s not a collection yet. So they haven’t worked on it. It’s something you apparently deposited a number of years ago.
Right. There was a discussion, maybe ten years ago, maybe even much earlier, because when I stepped down as director, they wanted to be sure and document these things. I think the decision was made at that point that the SAO papers would definitely go to the Smithsonian, HCO papers would stay here, other papers of which there is still a lot as I was telling you, I don't know what’s going to happen. I’m still talking to people. Okay, but let’s say yes, that notebook would be important or helpful.
Very. Well, let me go back to try to set up a chronology. In 1972 January, there was an announcement that you would become the Harvard College Observatory Director. Greenstein writes to Ripley, applauds having you here as HCO Director definitely, but he also applauds the production of a memorandum of agreement that would be on the new Joint Advisory Committee for both organizations. This is before anybody was talking publicly about a joint directorship. The only evidence I found so far about a single person possibly doing the joint directorship is in Goldberg’s resignation letter, but he was talking more about what Harvard College Observatory should do — what Harvard should do in order to compete with Smithsonian is to gather up all activities at Harvard pertaining to astronomy and stick them in a center, and he called it an astrophysics center. He did not include SAO, but later on, in a letter, both E. M. Reeves and someone else claimed that Goldberg had this idea of a joint center that included SAO. But I’m just not clear; it is not clear. Then your document comes out a bit later where you say explicitly that the idea of a joint center has been discussed for quite some time.
And when was that letter?
I’ve got it here. [recording interrupted — discussion of document lost] Where did the idea of divisions come from?
I am not sure. During this year, let’s call it academic ’72-’73, right, I was visiting here. I was talking to everybody that I could about the scientific programs and who were potential leaders — some of them were already leaders. There were others that I thought were better staying in the lab, you might say, and I was trying to form an impression of the staff. And as I did so, it seemed to me there were very natural groupings of people. Many of them were already that way. Take the tracking program. That was a program that was little or no interaction between them and let’s say, the radio astronomers. So I began to think in terms of groups, and then I began to think how would one administer these groups? It had to be inclusive of both sides. The point was, there was a matrix: science this way, support this way.
So you got your fingers sort of crossed into a matrix. I’m saying that for the record…
Yes. And each scientific group, let’s call it a division, would have both Smithsonian and Harvard components, and that had to be understood by everybody. The budgets were to remain separate. Now maybe — I haven’t seen this memo that he wrote to me, or I haven’t read it for a long time — he invented the idea, or maybe I did. I don't know.
Well, let me find it. Lundquist to Field. This would be September 29, 1972. [Looking through papers] He is sending you materials. These are in chronological order. He also did an analysis of the Greenstein report.
Oh, that’s interesting.
Yes. Well, that’s something I wanted to talk to you about. You were running a very large organization, and you had people like Chuck Lundquist — who left in ’73, of course — but there were others who would write position papers for Whipple, and they continued doing that for you. Was that a new idea for you?
Yes. I mean, sitting here in this office, I don’t remember asking people to write position papers. I must have, but I don’t remember it.
Here is his letter to you, and this is when you were in Woodsville, New Hampshire, and Chuck says on September 29, 1972: “Dear George, As you suggested, I have considered some of the organizational questions that came up in our conversations last week.”
It’s like three single-spaced typewritten pages, so it’s definitely serious consideration. And toward the end, he starts talking about divisions.
I see, okay. [Shows Field the letter.]
Now, Chuck Lundquist was a — maybe you hadn’t really interacted with a person like that, with his background. He came from ABMA [Army Ballistic Missile Agency]. He came from Redstone Arsenal, and he was very familiar with large organizations.
Yes right. Well, it seems clear to me that in the second paragraph he says what I told him, right? “I tried to think within the structure you outlined as I understand it…"
So you asked him to think about divisions.
I’m not sure I did. [Laughter] Let’s say we had a conversation, and he went home, thought about it, and sent me that letter. Chuck had, as I recall had big responsibilities at SAO and he had indicated that he was not sure that he wanted to continue in such an enterprise. In fact, as I saw in that document on the second page, he is saying, “I personally would not feel very comfortable working within this framework.” So a part of it was his meditating on his own future, I think.
Yes, because you asked him about that — he and his wife — what were they thinking of doing, and from my understanding, he left because there was an opportunity to take over a very large responsibility at Marshall. Someone had died in a car crash or something like that.
So that was fortuitous that he had an opportunity.
People like Lundquist, though, must have been very important to you. I know that you were faced during this time, as you said, with not only forming the divisions, but with helping both the Smithsonian and Harvard units retain their identities, which was very important not only for internal identity but also for funding. Is that fair?
I mean funding was a big issue. And then you were also searching for the leaders who would be the leaders of the divisions.
I know that there was high-energy astrophysics here, for instance, but it was gamma ray, and it was ground-based.
And were you involved in the negotiations for bringing Riccardo Giaconni and his group here?
Okay, we definitely want to talk about that. And what your motivations were. Just set me up in how you want to present that.
Sure, okay. They were on a roll at American Science and Engineering. Riccardo had cooperated and collaborated with some of the people at Harvard, possibly at Smithsonian, I don't know. And if I recall, Alex [Dalgarno] was familiar with that issue and told me that there had been discussions in the HCO council of perhaps inviting him here under some arrangement — or at least making a more formal arrangement. During that period, Riccardo himself, who I regard as a genius whom I had met in Princeton — I knew him — had been making noises that he was unhappy at this commercial operation. He didn’t like doing that; he wanted to do science. So it was a natural thing to explore with him; would he be interested in being part of this whole thing? So that’s how it happened. And I was looking for a first-class space operation. Celescope had been done; it unfortunately did not produce much. And Goldberg at HCO had been fabulously successful in solar research using space equipment, but I wanted to do a broader range of things. Leo was a solar physicist; he didn’t have much experience or interest in going far from the sun, I think. So I was greedy — I wanted everything. So let’s have the solar physics division or group continue, and let’s have Riccardo come here and make important discoveries in the field of x-ray astronomy, which he did, right? He found the first black hole. And that was a big deal, because of course, he had a lot of NASA money flowing.
Well, that was very important. I mean, he had UHURU at the very end, but also I know he was involved in HEAO as well, and with every indication that there would be more to come.
That’s right. Yes. And then there was “Einstein”. Basically, he did “Einstein” here.
And his group was involved in Roentgensatellite (ROSAT). Just before “Einstein,” the European one, they did the High Resolution Imager for that too.
Right. I’m not familiar with that. If you named the name I would know, but I can’t remember.
Did Giaconni ever discuss with you or were you aware of interests that he or his group would have had to come here earlier, but that there was somehow resistance here?
Well, as I said, Alex told me that there had been contacts along this line, discussion along this line. I did not know in detail what the proposal was and what happened to it, no.
Okay, so this was sort of a new initiative on your part.
It looked like it to me, but maybe there was a long history that I didn’t know.
Well, as you came here, quite quickly there was a long period of time when they knew that there had to be a reorganization, and the idea of amalgamating under one director was being considered strongly. But the actual management model, or the structural model between the institutions, was up in the air. There were two models that had been considered. One was called the JILA model, the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, where there was a combination between the National Bureau of Standards and University of Colorado. And the other was the California Institute of Technology — Palomar-Mount Wilson model, where you have multiple funding sources, multiple institutions somehow agreeing to work together. And at different times, these two models were played back and forth. I know Carl Haskins was brought in; various other people were brought in to consult. Were you involved or concerned about these types of models, and what would work and what would not work?
Yes. I took a trip to the west with the specific purpose of exploring that, and I talked to whoever was the head of JILA at that time. I was trying to remember. It might have been Lewis Branscomb. And I talked to a famous amalgamator in Boulder.
Walter Roberts, yes. And I talked to…
You call him a famous amalgamator. That’s wonderful.
Well, he put together what turned out to be a big empire, right? Starting small with a little observatory and so on. And then I did talk to people in Pasadena. I don’t remember who and so on. I certainly would have talked to Jesse, who was at that time was a good friend of mine, but I don't know who else. There may have been another institution in there, but again I don’t remember. But again, I think probably my notes would show who it was.
Okay. I definitely would love to get copies of those.
So you were definitely involved; you were aware of it. Did you have a preference before the divisional structure became evident? This would be like in the fall of ’72.
Yes. To tell you the truth, I already had in mind what I wanted, and I told these guys what I wanted. And I said, “Am I crazy?” and they said, “No.” Nobody said, “You’re crazy,” so I went ahead. In other words, I wasn’t modeling it on any particular channel. In fact, when you mentioned that this had been studied by some group, I didn’t know that. Nobody told me.
Okay. So you’re sitting up in New Hampshire, but you’re going on these different inspection trips and that sort of thing.
Okay. Let’s talk, if you’re willing, about how you chose specific directors for the divisions. First of all, how you identified what the divisions would be and what they would be called. So we already mentioned Giaconni coming in, but he would also take over parts of the gamma ray group to, would he not? Is that how it worked?
Good question. The fact that he would be the head of any enterprise involving space x-ray astronomy was never in question. Whether he would take over the responsibilities of guiding Trevor Weekes, my typical response to that would be, “Let Trevor settle where he wanted.” I think there was a document that spelled that out. Every scientist is free to choose whatever division he wanted to be in. That’s always better, and it still is true, as far as I know.
That’s very interesting.
And naturally, that would give them an opportunity to think about how life would be under so-and-so versus so-and-so else.
Okay, so Giaconni was definitely your choice, and the divisions you have here, which are not in alphabetical order or anything — not even in order of energy spectrum, although you do start with high-energy astrophysics, then you have optical and infrared. So I guess you’re going in the direction of energy, but then you move to planetary, radio astronomy, satellite geophysics, solar and stellar physics, and theoretical astrophysics.
Right, and that’s more or less the way it ended up, I think. I think planetary physics had a different name, and their names have since morphed into other things, but that’s more or less it. But let’s take as an example, solar and stellar. Those people were largely the people who had been doing solar physics. However, they also were involved — in fact it was obvious they had to be involved — in ultraviolet techniques. And some of them had interest in going beyond the sun. An example would be Andrea Dupree. Another example would be Bob Noyes. And so in talking to these people, I was interested in their ability and enthusiasm about broadening the subject. And I ended up with Bob Noyes. Bob Noyes is a superb scientist. His management skills are left to another discussion. So I didn’t hit a homerun in every case; that is certainly true. But I did my best to identify the people that I thought would be most effective in pushing these fields.
Andrea, of course, just barely had her degree, I think at that time.
Is that true?
Well, she’d been working, as had Bob, with Leo quite a bit.
Oh yes, right.
And she was doing mainly solar work from the OSO data, the ultraviolet data. But she did, just as you say, move into stellar work, and especially the sun is a star kind of thing. Would you take any credit for that kind of migration, or is that something that pretty much Andrea did on her own? How would you typify the growth of the awareness of the sun as a star? Where did that idea come from, to broaden that kind of work?
I believe it came from within the solar community.
Within the community, yes.
They had begun to realize at that time that they had isolated themselves too much from the broad astronomical community, which was focused on stars. And they had their own journal, Solar Physics, and recently I’ve noticed that they are submitting papers to ApJ, and that’s probably been going on a long time. I didn’t notice it. Andrea was an interesting case. I thought of her as more senior than what you said.
I could be slightly wrong.
But as time went by, I recognized that she had great abilities, not only in scientific but also managerial. So I promoted her, in a sense. She was one of those who moved over from contract to a permanent SAO position.
I was also concerned about fairness in hiring. This is a little byway, but that in turn was stimulated by the fact that I got a letter from the Castle that henceforth, there will be a women’s program committee in every unit.
Ah, I think Ripley was encouraged to do that very strongly.
Yes. It was that time in the federal government when they were trying to respond to the law. I took that seriously and I appointed such a committee here with one SAO representative, Ursula Marvin, and a Harvard representative whose name was Martha Liller. I’d known Martha a long time, and she was the curator of the plate stacks. Those two people got together, they did a wonderful job, they saw an opportunity, they went into it. And that certainly was a backup for me as I thought about...We did have some more fairness in the appointment process. So Andrea, I think was maybe a beneficiary of that awakening in my mind and other people’s minds.
So you have other divisions.
The ones that were most traditional to Fred’s interests, of course, were satellite geophysics and planetary physics, and those, I would suspect, would be the ones most set in their ways.
And I’m wondering how did you come to choose directors — I should say associate directors for those?
Yes. Okay, in the case of planetary physics, I clearly wanted somebody of an outstanding reputation who could carry the ball in that area. Fred had, of course, carried the ball in that area for 40 years, but he was getting on, and I thought it was time for some new blood. So I identified Al Cameron as a person who had a reputation in the field, but perhaps he was not a great manager, either. But I took my chances with that.
He came in though.
He came in.
You hired him.
And do you remember your discussions with him?
Yes. I said, “There may be an opening at Harvard,” and he said, “Great.” [Laughter]
Well, I mean, it was a Harvard position, not a Smithsonian position.
But Al Cameron did nucleosynthesis; he did all sorts of stuff. He was much more mainstream than Fred was. And in the nature of planetary physics, he was still very much in the physics mode of things. Did you discuss this with Fred as a change. Basically, what Fred was doing of course, is small body stuff within the solar system, very important, but mainly orbital stuff. And Al wasn’t doing that at all.
That’s true. I don’t know if I discussed it with Fred. It would have been polite to do so. He of course knew Al from way back, and I’m sure he would have supported his appointment in a general way. Whether he would have been concerned about how his interests would fare under Al, I don’t remember. By and large, all of my discussions with Fred were very positive. I can’t remember a single moment when territoriality entered. It wasn’t that — he’s not that interested.
Well you were — In the few letters I mentioned, especially the one to Ripley, or maybe to Challinor, sorry, it is clear though that you were aware of possible sensitivities that Fred may have.
Yes, oh yeah. Sure. I mean, that would be evident from the friction that had come up over the years between HCO and SAO, right?
Well, it may reflect the fact of my own interests. I had worked in planetary physics myself, written a number of papers. They were not distinguished, but I was aware that that was a frontier, and I still feel that way. It’s a very important frontier because planets will be found elsewhere and it will become a very active field — NASA will be interested and so on. So we’ve got to be careful how we approach this. And I saw it as a growth field, really.
Yeah. Now you mentioned as an aside that NASA would be interested. And I am curious before we go on with these categories, did you — and we’re looking again at your document from November of ’72 — did you think in terms of NASA programs when you did this identification of fields?
It was very much in the back of my mind in every case, sure. Yes.
So that is always is a calculus, a part of the calculus, one of the variables. Very practical.
Let’s move on to satellite geophysics, which was probably the earliest application that Fred had in mind for satellites, and I know that, I can’t remember the guy’s name; it started with a “W.” I have it here somewhere. Do you remember who it was?
Oh, George Weiffenbach.
Weiffenbach, yes exactly. My impression from looking at some of the documentation is that he was a different case than the other directors, associate directors. Could you tell me a little bit about him?
Right. He was a manager. He had not distinguished himself to any great degree in the scientific community, but he was a manager. And that was a big project.
And that was basically the satellite tracking, the geodetic work, the laser ranging systems and that sort of thing, yeah.
Right. But there were some people in that group who were very smart. One of them was Ed Gaposchkin. Another one is a fellow who I think is still here, Perelman is his name, I forget his first name. He’s very smart, basically an engineer and a good manager, but knew how to get things done and so forth. So I certainly wanted to preserve what I could of that activity, although I perceived that it was probably phasing down, owing to new technology that was being developed elsewhere. That’s the way I perceived it, right or wrong.
Exactly. But you had a lot of support functions here that were involved — tool building, as I would call it, ranging from atomic clockwork to building very sophisticated instrumentation. And I had also noticed in the records at Smithsonian that there was a lot of contract work being done here building instrumentation for other observatories. Including the one that fascinated me was the Swedish Space Observatory, which was a ground-based facility, and they needed very, very precise amplifiers and things like that, which could be built here. It was a huge infrastructure here; I mean it still is. I know that you had said in the part of the interview that I failed to tape that when I mentioned that Smithsonian represented a national service. But quite seriously, did you take that seriously?
I don’t want to say it. No. I was preoccupied with making this place survive, which was complicated enough, right? I know that the Smithsonian Institution is a National Institution and it has to incorporate that in everything it does. I wanted to be part of that, but I would say that it was lower priority in terms of what we actually did for other observatories. I was surprised to hear you say, for example, that we were doing things for the Swedish Space Observatory.
Oh yeah. It was just one that I ran across, and I said, hmm. And it was the standard contract sort of thing with a work order and the whole nine yards, you know? And there was quite a bit of that going on. Okay, but in the case of satellite geophysics — and we’ll get to aspects of that in a few minutes — I know that Leo, one of his deep concerns in the ’60s was the fact that so much of what was going on at Smithsonian here was not science, was not asking questions about the universe but was performing services, performing functions. Was that ever a concern for you in terms of — he couched it in terms of the quality of training that we can provide Harvard undergraduates and Harvard graduate students. He felt it had been deteriorating because more and more Smithsonian people were teaching and it was hard to get the Harvard people to teach.
Hmm. I see. Let’s see, I would put it in a positive way that Fred, through his insights at the moment that the observatory came here, managed to find a way to get NASA to build up the observatory very rapidly. And it had inertia behind it, and it did satisfy his need for scientific work. Well, I think he would have said to you that all the time I was looking… [Phone interruption] That at every opportunity he was broadening it. For example, he brought in a meteoriticist. He brought in Ed Fireman, who is doing radioactive study, and so on. And well, it’s interesting because in this memoir, I referred to a conversation in which Fred tells, maybe he doesn’t say it explicitly, but it’s obvious that he chose a certain path back in the ’30s and ’40s of research before he came here. And I asked myself the question, why were other astronomers — let’s say, Leo or Jesse and so forth — why were they going off in a different direction, which was broadly perceived as the mainstream? And I address that question… I don't know, really. I think Fred mentioned to me once that he had been interested in cosmology, but that he chose for his own personal reasons to stick to the solar system. And certainly he became a dominant figure in that field, and I think he would have been a dominant figure in cosmology, but he chose to do it that way. Ursula Marvin interviewed Fred. Do you have that document?
Yes, yes I do, at home.
And she asked that question.
Oh she did! I’ll read it tonight.
He was talking about stellar astronomy, what would have been the equivalent of cosmology at that time, and that when he came here, he wanted to pursue that, and that Shapley told him, “No.” I don’t remember the exact words, but that was an important point in his career.
Well, he tried three times to do what you might call stellar astrophysics. He worked on supernovae with Cecilia. His thesis was on cepheids, and then there was a third that escapes me right now, all in the 1930s. And each time, it didn’t work out very well.
Because of Shapley, you mean?
No, I don’t think so. I think that they just barked up the wrong tree. I looked at some of the citations in the papers and things like this awhile back, and the data wasn’t good enough, or it was beyond the data. The work with Cecilia on supernova mechanisms at the time, even though it was interesting, didn’t catch on, and it wasn’t successful for him, for his own purposes.
Oh, now that’s interesting because that’s a somewhat different take. Now where did you get that information? From your own appraisal of the information, is that it?
Looking at the papers.
Looking at the papers, which I did not do.
Digging them up, and also his letters, his correspondence. There was some correspondence at the time. Also, the referee’s reports; I found a few of those. They’re very hard to track down. But this other one though, if Fred said it — of course, that’s how Babette would know about it. It also fits — it fits Shapley’s style. And that was a very important time.
So that will be a very interesting aspect of your work, I believe.
Oh yeah. You may get a sense here, I’m teeter tottering between a biography and an institutional history, and right now it’s institutional history with a biographical thread for Fred’s work, but I want to go beyond that because I didn’t want to end the story with the 1972 — that whole period. I want to end on a positive note, and I see that your tenure gives me that chance, believe it or not. [Laughter]
Yeah, I see, okay.
Of course, that’s how I feel now. I may change my mind. [Laughs]
Right, sure. I understand.
But in the case of satellite geophysics, that was continuing programmatic work, that was continuing essentially engineering work, but was it also an important source of overhead, of funding?
Oh yeah. That was explained to me right up front. “If you were to discontinue this work, the SAO overhead would drop by a factor of ten. Don’t do it.” I said, “Okay, we won’t. Set them loose and see what they can do.” And they did what they could do. I think by that time, Fred had lost interests in the details of that program. He was very interested in the MMT, and so there, I was able to bring him along in an area which I thought was important, and he was very helpful.
Yeah, he stuck with the MMT all the way.
That’s right, yup.
We did a series of video histories with Ray Weymann, Aden Meinel and Nat Carleton, and all those people a number of years ago, mainly for the Smithsonian. It was really great, getting them out there. It was really fun. Okay, what about the other divisions? Dalgarno went to take over theoretical astrophysics, correct?
Was that like a no-brainer?
Yeah. He is a distinguished theorist. I was looking for Harvard-Smithsonian balance, and so on.
That’s right. In the large scheme of things though, especially since you told me you left it up to people to choose…
Decide where they wanted to go.
But is there anybody who had trouble fitting in the new scheme?
Who were they and what…
Well, one of them was Dave Layzer.
Dave Layzer. Okay.
He is a theorist who had always been associated only with Harvard, I believe. He wrote a letter to me and maybe broadcast, opposing the concept of administrative division because, he said, successful organizations grow organically from the interests of the people in them, and that superposing some arbitrary bureaucratic apparatus is bound to fail. I took that seriously; he’s a sensible and very smart fellow, and the upshot was that he retained his office. He went on doing his own thing, and that was that.
But he moved into Theoretical Astrophysics or he didn’t?
I don’t think he did. I don’t think he ever paid any attention to this divisional stuff. But he was a Harvard professor and that was that. He didn’t need large funds, and so it was no problem.
Okay. Now the radio astronomy division — that was Ed Lilley?
A lot more was going on there. And this was a very interesting thing that I wasn’t too aware of, but before you came here, there was an initiative for a 440-foot steerable radio telescope. And that was a multi-institutional consortium: MIT, Harvard, various other places. And this was led by Smithsonian and it was always called a radio radar telescope. It looked like a movable Arecibo, basically. But there were always problems because it was competing with the VLA initiative from NSF, and also Arecibo itself. By the time you got here, it was dead, I think.
It was dying, I think, yeah.
It was dying. That’s quite right.
Was this the New England something…?
NEROC, right. I became a member of the board, and I could see that they were not making much progress at that time.
Yeah, but there were two things going on. There was competition with other funding with the interests of NSF and others, but there was also a problem with getting MIT on board. Can you characterize what that was and how strongly you felt this had to work, or had to be diplomatically, simply morphed into something more doable?
Yes. I’m surprised that getting MIT on board would have been a problem, because as I recall, Jerry Wiesner was the head of the board or the advisory committee of NEROC. And I don’t remember, I think he was president of MIT at the time.
Now, his background in radio engineering would have qualified him to do that and made him interested in what was going to happen.
But it was an issue of the way the whole consortium would go together, and whether Smithsonian was the right way to get the funding, through the Smithsonian, because people knew you had to keep Lincoln Labs in there because they knew how to build the instrument. They were the ones building the instrument, but Smithsonian was supposed to somehow be the front for this with Congress. Do you remember any of that?
I see. I don’t remember that particular point. Now, I came into the picture from another direction, which is the Greenstein Committee. There was a panel on radio astronomy, of which I was a member, and I think they were focusing on the VLA, if I remember, at that time. And that got to be number one. If you look at the documents produced by that panel — I believe they were published separately, Radio Astronomy Panel — I think you would find that there was discussion of something like the NEROC antenna. And it was, in the end of it, not approved or given priority by that committee. And so by 1972, when I came, it was a dead issue.
Right. But you had reproposed a 220-foot.
[Laughs] We had?
Yeah. There was some effort to revitalize it, but it didn’t go anywhere. So that’s a surprise to you?
That’s lost in the noise.
Okay, but it does get me to the problems that you faced as the combined director. And I’ve listed at least four of them that I have uncovered, that I found interesting and important certainly. One was disparities in overhead between the two institutions. This all dealt with bringing money in. The other was continuing relations with NSF support, and there were some very serious threats that NSF leveled. Who was it? It was the astronomy program person, Robert Fleischer. We can go over it. Third, even though it was much smaller, it was I think very uncomfortable, and that was the divestiture in South Africa. And this was student unrest and things like this that were issues you had to deal with. And finally, continuation of your own research interests and how you parsed your time, should I say, and parsed your efforts and energy and the degree to which you planned it out, you know, I might ask. So let’s start with the dual overhead issue, the fact that there are very different, enormously different characteristics of how Harvard went about doing things and how Smithsonian went about doing things. This is above and beyond the other dual issues, like how much would you be paid by Smithsonian, how much by Harvard and stuff like that. But rolling it all together in this new CFA, where you have literally one administrative unit, add two distinct institutions and you had to deal with dual overhead and getting them normalized. How did you figure that all out?
[Laughs] Very good question. John Gregory was an important figure in all of this. John was an experienced manager, knew NASA inside and out. So he was the choice to replace Chuck Lundquist in effect. And he was very helpful to me as an advisor. The NASA funding to HCO was almost entirely, as I remember it, the solar program. That had run smoothly for years. The NASA people knew the solar people of course, on a personal basis and so on. And that continued at least for a while, until a major problem occurred. You probably have run across this. It was that Harvard had proposed a follow-on mission in solar physics, at least participation in it.
A follow-on to Skylab?
Well, that’s what I’m trying to remember. It was a space experiment. I don’t remember whether they were proposing to be the chief PIs on this satellite or whether they were just one instrument. I think they were one instrument on a satellite that NASA planned to fly. The key people there were Ed — you mentioned his name earlier; he wrote a letter to somebody…
Oh. E. M. Reeves. Ed Reeves.
Yeah, Ed Reeves and Bob Noyes, who at that time was the head of the solar and stellar physics division. That group got behind, and it got to the point that NASA sent up a group to look at it. Noel Hinners. And they cut us off. That was very tough. Ed Reeves ended up leaving. Bill Parkinson, who was also involved, refocused his efforts on laboratory work — he’d always done that — but he managed to escape the ax. So I guess I would have to admit that I was not paying proper attention. The thing got out of control before I realized it. It was too late. And at that point or thereabouts, John Gregory advised me that he should take over responsibility for administering these large contracts, or advising me at least, keeping in touch. And in turn, I appointed him to something like a deputy director. That went down well in some quarters and not so well in other quarters. In particular, Riccardo was very unhappy, because it seemed to him that contract authority was being splintered. He would not be able to do all the free-wheeling things that he’d always done at NASA, but he accepted it. The only real confrontation I had in the nine and a half years was with Riccardo in my office. He came in, sputtered, fumed, and got pretty angry.
I’m sorry I missed it! [Laughing]
I didn’t give in, and he went back to his office. And that was the end of it.
I’ll be interviewing Bob Noyes this afternoon. Where does he stand in this failure of the program?
I think that he very much regretted that it happened. I think the people who had been running the OSO program for years had taken responsibility for them, and it was just assumed that they would continue, and that there would be no problem. So Bob, let’s say… stepped aside and he was not in any way tainted with this.
Well, there were problems with the OSO program, and I do believe this was the one OSO that wasn’t funded.
There were problems at NASA with the OSO program and their relationships with Ball.
It had gotten to be a very — and I don't know the full story, and that’s part of my interest because we’re very interested in Ball Aerospace — but the contract went to somebody else.
Oh, that particular contract?
Yes, for the last OSO.
Okay. Now was the contract that you are speaking of the prime contract for the whole instrument?
The prime contract, right.
And was that the one that was cancelled here?
I see, okay.
Yes. I’m 90% sure. And so it’s something I have to look into, and I’m sure Bob will be able to clarify that.
Yes, he would know, sure.
Okay, well, that was of course, one. But in managing the dual overhead issue —and I know this is a very dry subject — but it really at times made a difference as to whether a Harvard proposal, a Smithsonian proposal, and it made it very difficult to have a Harvard-Smithsonian proposal. And there was an effort to create a Harvard-Smithsonian, Inc. —incorporated thing. In fact, that’s how I found the folder. It said, “Inc.,” and I said, “Inc.?” You know, some sort of layer, third organization…
Third organization that could meld all this together. I remember that, and I was in favor of it. But let me be…
You were in favor?
Yes, of exploring the idea. And I would like to tell you that my interest lay elsewhere. I just couldn’t care enough about overhead, right? And the guys in the trenches certainly were dealing with that on a daily basis, but I just never really confronted that issue.
So this would be something that Gregory would be deeply involved in.
Okay. Is he around?
The last time I looked, he’s still alive. After he left here, that would be something to understand better at some point, why he left in one weekend.
Oh. I don't know anything about that.
This was after my directorship, and some friction, some problem developed and he was told to leave within a few days. I have contacted John since then, and I was always very closely dependent upon him. I regarded him as a friend. But he said, “No, I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to rehearse the whole thing at all. Ever.” So he is around; he’s probably in the phone book. But he wouldn’t talk to me, which I was surprised at. I think it relates to the personalities involved and that he didn’t want to be on record as having anything to say about it.
Who did you replace him with? Oh no, no. This was after your time.
Okay, now NSF.
Yeah, I can tell you that very, very quickly.
Oh yeah. NSF decided, why should it be funding this new organization that’s probably richer than it is? Now mind you, Fleischer has a reputation for saying that to a number of institutions, but it was always Smithsonian that he was focused on. Was this a surprise to you?
Yes. I think I had submitted a proposal through HCO. I’d been supported by NSF for years, and I got a letter from Bob Fleischer — maybe you’ve seen it — that we have decided not to fund any proposals coming from — I don’t remember what the words were, but it was clear that it had to do with CFA, the joint organization. And the upshot was that the president of Harvard University asked for an appointment with the director of NSF. He brought along a lawyer, I was present, and the discussion was along legal lines, I think. It happened that the president at that time, Derek Bok, was the former dean of the law school, and he had the general counsel of the University there. And it was a remarkable thing. At the time, the director of NSF was a scientist engineer. Well known guy; you can look it up. But this must have been in ’73. I don’t think he had anybody else in the room. And what I witnessed was a very cordial conversation in which these guys trapped him. He thought that he was going along a path which would result in something favorable to NSF.
This is the Director of NSF?
Fleischer was not in the room.
So okay, let’s make sure. It was Derek Bok, his lawyer, you, and the Director of NSF.
Yes, that’s what I remember.
Without Fleischer, yep. Because the University was arguing that this was an institution-wide problem. They could not accept this solution, right?
It was a horrible precedent, if it had gone.
Right, right. And interestingly, the president of the University recognized that, and he maneuvered him into an impossible point. The guy gave in, basically. It was like a courtroom scene.
And so it was legalistic, actually. It wasn’t based on science or…
No, no science. It was the legalities of their refusing to fund a Harvard professor.
Okay and you were there because you were the Harvard professor.
Okay, so you weren’t there as director of CFA.
Well, if I were there as an administrator, it would have been as director of HCO. I don’t remember why I was there. I was the offended party, but I was also concerned about the future funding of other projects by Harvard University personnel.
Exactly. But you had corresponded with Ripley and Challinor during this time, alerting them to this problem.
And the question was, could the Smithsonian take up the slack? Or how much of the slack could the Smithsonian take up in terms of operating funds? Does that ring a bell?
It doesn’t, and it is in a way a troublesome point because if I was dealing with both of these organizations and claiming the right to apply for funds through NSF, that’s not a pleasant kind of thing to contemplate.
Now, it was a very serious problem.
Oh, it was a serious problem, but to be telling NSF that there is no way that Smithsonian is going to get involved funding Harvard, right? That was the whole principle of the CFA, that there would be independent funding. And at the same time be asking the secretary if everything went — became —
How would we support these people, you know, that sort of thing.
Yeah, what would be the upshot? So I’d forgotten that I did that.
Okay, there was a third thing going on. Periodically — and this actually happened before you were here, and I’ll ask you this: were you aware that in the summer of 1970, probably you weren’t aware of this, the OMB issued a report on the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.
Okay. I haven’t gotten to the bottom of it and how and why they were asked. But it could well have been from the Castle, Smithsonian Castle, and came up with the possibility that the Smithsonian has grown to the point, and it seems from the standpoint of Congress, to be duplicating the national observatories, that it might be better placed under NSF. This is new to you?
No, not entirely. Now I do remember reading about that.
Okay, because little things would reverberate over the years after this — suggestions of where should this monster go? I mean, as Leo evidently said on your — Four-headed monster. I’m just trying to figure out what the four heads were.
Harvard, Smithsonian, NSF, and NASA.
And NASA? Those are the four heads! [Laughter] That’s how you would take it.
There was also — I mean, it was, should Hopkins be part of Kitt Peak? There were these issues, but the deeper issue…
Wait a second. Oh, oh yeah, right.
Mt. Hopkins. But the deeper issue that the Smithsonian castle was asking and that Congress asks is, the Smithsonian’s mandate for research is to do stuff that is relatively unique, or that’s an oxymoron. That is unique, that cannot be done correctly elsewhere, as either of us — A certain scale, a certain breadth, or a certain problem area that cannot be supported in a university mode. And this OMB study was done that concluded that SAO is not sufficiently unique from other astronomical institutions. So what the heck is the Smithsonian doing with this? I haven’t looked into this too deeply…
That’s very interesting.
Yes. But it does fit the fact that You see, I’ll just babble a little bit here. I studied Charles Greeley Abbot’s longevity. Not the fact that he lived to 102.
How he lasted in the Castle, how long he lasted?
Yeah. I mean he was the first secretary to be retired in office. All the other ones prior to him died in office. So okay, there was something going on here, especially during a time when the astrophysical observatory was his power base in Congress. He was doing something that no other observatory could possibly get away with.
Which is exactly what? Focusing on a narrow field of research?
Focusing on the solar constant and its variations and claiming that there are correlations between that and things like crops and cycles and economics and agriculture and everything like that. And then getting into things that were practical, like solar energy. And then doing the nation’s business on the mall, the visible part of astronomy. These are the elements that sustained Abbot and the program for so long, until Leonard Carmichael comes in, looks at it, and says, “What the heck is going on here?” Carmichael was the first truly academic secretary of the Smithsonian with a university base. That’s part of the history that I’m looking at.
I believe that surfaces in my memoir also.
Yeah, I think so. And it had to do with the fact that Carmichael was looking for a way to broaden the activities, that’s all.
That’s right. But that was the uniqueness of the Smithsonian — the kind of Smithsonian work. And somebody with a very long memory started looking at the modern Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in 1970 and saying, well how is it different than any other major observatory? What is it doing? That could also be the element that prompted you to make sure that there was at least in writing the statement that there’s national service. That’s what I’m wondering about. So I’m looking for ways to stimulate your memory as to what the motivations would have been.
Sure. Well certainly the satellite tracking program was conceived as a national service program. So maybe I picked it up from there; I don't know. Or maybe Fred said something that did it. It was not foremost in my thinking, I have to say. I wanted to make it a modern astrophysical research institution.
Sure. So you weren’t aware of that report. It is a very interesting report. John Jamison and Dean Anderson brought it to Ripley by early ’71, and it was circulating.
Sorry, who was John Jamison?
Jamison was a third tier administrator in the castle. So you never ran into him?
I don’t remember the name. What was the other fellow?
Dean Anderson. He became Undersecretary under Adams.
Oh, okay. Well, the names are familiar, but I didn’t really know them.
You knew Challinor, didn’t you?
Oh, very well. By the way, where is he? What’s happened?
I haven’t heard recently, but he’s been sitting at the zoo for a good number of years.
Oh, in other words, doing his own research.
Oh, that’s great.
I last had extensive contact with him about ten years ago, and I ran this thing called Dialogues for the Smithsonian. I mean, I was committee chair. And then he participated, and he is really great. Now, I found his letters and your correspondence with him very, very personal, very open and cordial. Could you characterize your relationship with Dave Challinor?
I respected him; I thought he was a great fellow. He was a certain kind of personality that I enjoyed, and we were always friendly, had a good interaction. He was extremely important in getting this concept through, getting it approved and so on.
CFA. I believe that he was behind it, and I’m not sure exactly why, but anyway, he was very supportive all the way along. I think one of his prime interests was Mt. Hopkins, the MMT. He wanted to be sure that that was successful, and so he interacted on a fairly frequent basis with John Gregory, who had been the project director for the MMT. And I thought that was great; I didn’t worry about it quite as much because I saw that he was interested.
Well, how was he in a pinch? In other words, when you really needed his help?
I perceived him as supporting what I was trying to do, and I would have to think about a “pinch,” you know, where something came up that was really a tough problem. Let’s see, there probably must have been, but…
Well, one of them was divestiture in South Africa.
Oh, yes. I think I realized right away because I was attuned to this kind of thing, that that was a political problem. Fred had had to deal with it, I believe; there had been protests here. And it seemed to me that the straightforward solution was to divest, get out of there, and not try to fight political battles that I had no expertise in. And I don’t remember who came up. Let’s see.
It was Congressman Diggs, who you wrote to on a number of occasions.
Oh, is that right? He was a black representative, is that correct?
That I don’t remember. I don’t even know. I know the name, but I never even thought that. No, he was just leading the charge against it.
To divest, or…?
Okay. Maybe he initiated that and I don’t remember specifically, but…
Did you meet with him?
I don’t think I ever met with him. There was one astronomer here on the Harvard side whose name was Bill Liller. He was Martha Liller’s husband. He had used the facilities there from time to time, and he was actually in favor of improving the facilities, putting money into it. And so there was a disagreement on that score. I thought the MMT was far more important, and so on. So, at the end of the day, I thought we should divest. Now, the root was that ex-officio, the director of SAO, was a member of the council for the Boyden Observatory.
So I could sit and talk to these guys about the way things are. They were realistic; they understood that perhaps our interests lay elsewhere. And it ended up that we gave the observatory — transferred the observatory — to another research organization in South Africa.
In South Africa, that’s right. It was the dissolution of the consortium…
Yes, that’s right.
… that was mainly… I guess Smithsonian was the only American member, or Harvard I should say. Harvard was.
That itself is a very interesting point: that at one point, Harvard owned it; that was a pet project of Shapley.
Oh, the Bloemfontein.
Bloemfontein. And my understanding is that everyone here thought that it had been transferred to the Smithsonian, but when the papers had to be looked up, it had never been transferred. Is that your understanding?
That’s my understanding. That’s quite right.
So, the Smithsonian was divesting something that didn’t belong to it.
Well, the Smithsonian was divesting the tracking station that was down there.
I didn’t remember that. I guess that’s right.
Yeah, it was the tracking station that was the issue and one of Diggs’ annoyances — or in one of his letters, or one of the people working with him — was that NASA had immediately decided it would divest of its tracking facilities down there. But they were joint NASA and Smithsonian, and Smithsonian did not pull out as quickly. And, of course, that means you. So I was wondering if you remember any of that.
I don’t. My focus was entirely on Bloemfontein, which I was told belonged to SAO. I visited the tracking station, and recently, I’ve been putting my slides on a CD-ROM, and that’s a beast of a job because we had 2,000 of them. And just yesterday, I was looking at a picture of the staff of the tracking station that I took on my first trip there. And I noted that it was racially integrated, which may have been unusual at that time.
So I didn’t feel uncomfortable when I visited there. It seemed that there was a good relationship between the black and the white people working at that station. That must have gone ahead pretty smoothly; the person who would have been involved is this guy named Mike Perelman, who was manager of the satellite tracking network at the time.
If I then extend my investigation of this whole period, I should talk to him.
I think so. I don't know if he’s still here, but he was the last time I looked.
It’s a name I’ve seen, but I don't know. Beyond that, before we move to your personal research and how you managed and parsed out your time and your energy is there anything that I have missed that you feel is significant for your CFA directorship that we should record and talk?
I will think about it. Right now I can’t think of anything. I think it’s a complete study, but if I think of something, I will definitely mention it.
You will definitely have a chance to read both the transcript and anything I write.
So, now let’s get to parsing out your own research interests. Would you say that there was something that you could do here, or that you ended up doing, that you couldn’t have done at any other place?
[Pauses, thinking.] No, because I’m a theorist, okay? I actually started out in radio astronomy and did some observational work in radio astronomy, which I did at NRAO. As a post-doc, I did it here at Harvard, using the facilities that had been funded by NSF for Bart Bok, and that’s another story that could be written out sometime, because why did Bart Bok leave, right?
Do you have the answer to that?
Yes. Menzel. You see, when Shapley stepped down, there was a discussion of who should succeed him as director of HCO, and Menzel won and Bok lost. All the way along, Bok imagined that he was the favorite of Shapley, and he found it hard to get along with Menzel. I can understand why; their priorities were very different. Particularly, Bok was left in his politics, as was Shapley and Menzel. I don't know what his politics were, but he was heavily involved in defense research and so on.
So there was friction about that, I think.
Yes. Babette Whipple said one thing about Bok that was surprising, but could explain something. Whipple and Bok were very close, until Whipple found out, according to Babette, that Bok was pro-apartheid.
Pro-apartheid? Is that what you’re saying? You mean in South Africa?
Yeah. He came from there. He observed down there.
Yes, of course, that’s right. And he was still in favor of it?
I always thought of him as a leftist.
He is socially, but that’s what doesn’t fit.
I mean, it will be recorded, but this is something that we can excise or whatever.
But when she said that to me yesterday, it just blew my mind.
But it is true that Whipple did side with Menzel, and that was one of the very important ways that Menzel gained power over Bok. But Bok also short-circuited himself. He got so angry when Menzel agreed with the Harvard Corporation that they would get rid of Boyden Station.
Yeah. I’ll send you a paper I’ve written.
Oh, okay, sure. So there was some history there that I did not appreciate.
I asked you because I know quite a bit about it, but maybe you got another “in,” you know. I’m always hoping! There’s no final answer; there’s no right and wrong to history, you know. There’s always more to be learned. And it was a terrible time because Bok really shot himself in the foot — really bad. Yeah, the entire observatory figured Bok would be the successor.
Oh yeah, oh yeah. And then there were other things thrown in there — the House Un-American Activities — it was a mess during that time. J. Robert Oppenheimer led a blue-ribbon panel to examine Harvard astronomy…
…for Conant. I’ll send you my paper.
For Conant. James Bryant Conant. Do you know how much Conant and Shapley hated each other?
Yeah. Shapley tried to get Conant removed in the late ’30s.
From the presidency?
[Laughing] Oh, geez.
Yeah, he was one of the committee of eight, or faculty of eight — eight faculty members.
All to the left, was that the point? And they thought that Conant was too far to the right?
Or too centrist, or too distant from Harvard. Too lofty, too out there, too Washington-centered in all of that. It’s one of the reasons why Conant reacted so strongly after World War II divesting Harvard of all the military stuff, and then left.
Of all the military stuff? You mean, getting rid of all the secret stuff?
Yeah, no classified work, even though professors still did classified work on contract as consultants. But one of the reasons why SAO came here was — McGeorge Bundy saw it: this is a wonderful opportunity to open a new federal line of funding that would allow them to get back to classified research. A lot of stuff in this history.
Well, okay, I do have one thing to relate that is related to that. At that time, it was the Vietnam War when I came here. I was very strongly against the Vietnam War; I thought it was a huge mistake. And I think it was the day after I settled into my office — a short official came in and said, “Dr. Field, I need you to sign these papers to allow you to continue as a classified facility.” And I said, “No, I won’t. There’s no classified work here, and I don’t want anything to do with it.” Turned out there was classified work; it was satellite tracking. And the upshot was, very soon I got a letter from a general saying that you are hereby taken off the list and so forth, and the classified materials will be removed. And I did nothing further with that. I said what I meant, and that was the end of it. Now, Babby had something; it happened that Babby was visiting us a few days ago. And she started speaking about the enormous cabinet.
Did she tell you about it?
Oh, we opened it. It’s open.
Yeah, I got at it. [Laughter]
Well, she told a story that I had not appreciated. Fred never told me.
What’s the story?
The story is that this cabinet had been in Fred’s office, and when he died, it was moved to her home. The Smithsonian people came in a truck and put it in her basement. Recently, she had had occasion to open it — I don't know why — and she had to hire somebody to blast it open to remove the lock. It took the guy two hours to do this; that’s what she told me. And I said, “Well, why was it locked so thoroughly?” and she said, “I think there were secret papers in there.” But she didn’t think these secret papers were that important because of the passage of time, but that was her opinion.
Partly. There was no top secret stuff in there. It was restricted material that has since been declassified, dealing with — going all the way back to Project RAND. He was part of Project RAND along with Lyman Spitzer.
What was RAND again?
Well, the RAND is the RAND we know of.
The RAND Corporation.
Yeah, RAND Corporation. But it started as an Air Force contract to look at various new technologies, looking at the technologies that came out of World War II; how will future wars be fought? And Lyman of course, was famous for creating the feasibility of a world-circling spaceship, which was the public, visible side of the Project RAND report. But the embedded more classified stuff dealt with the upper atmosphere geodesy and all sorts of ways that satellites could be used to better understand how to build a ballistic missile system — a viable, operational system. And Fred obviously participated in that. This is well known to historians, but…
I didn’t know about it.
Yeah. Fred continued in that sort of thing because he was also doing hyper-ballistic studies for reentry vehicles, mainly for the Naval Ordinance Test Station and the David Henry Diamond Lab and others. And he continued in this dual capacity. There’s no question that the Smithsonian standard Earth and many of the…
And the standard atmosphere, too.
And the standard atmosphere. All of these, but the standard Earth was a geodetic one, and that of course was very, very important continuing on. I also found in the safe materials, and they’d already been removed from the safe — Babby had already gone through everything. But there were contractor reports and consultants’ materials. He consulted for Convair, for a lot of other places. And this is interesting material.
I bet it is.
All of his V2 panel stuff was in there, and there’s nothing classified there anymore, but it was classified at the time. But it was classified very softly; it was restricted, never, never top secret.
Or even secret?
No. I saw no secret — well, yes, I saw some secret stuff, but it had been stamped out, so it already had been declassified. So I went through. I’m pretty familiar with these kinds of records — and there was no problem. But really interesting stuff. All of his radio research lab work, his notebooks, and his files are in there.
Yeah! From World War II.
The Chaff stuff, yeah.
Wow, that’s interesting. That’s a gold mine.
Sure it is. The radio research lab materials at Harvard Archives — I’ve gone through those for Whipple, and it’s just his daily log, which is interesting, very interesting, but not the project files. That’s what he kept. How he got away with that, I’ll never know. So that’s the story.
Okay, that is a story, yes.
Let’s get back to you, though, and how did you parse your time?
Right. I’d always done theoretical work and teaching at Berkeley. Let’s discuss the teaching first. I thought it was important to continue teaching; I invented an Undergraduate course called “Matter in the Universe”, which was very popular. I dropped that after one year, and it was taken over by Eric Chaisson, and ultimately by…
That’s here, Chaisson was here.
Yeah. And I think he got a raw deal. He was an assistant professor; he was doing a great job teaching, he was doing a reasonable job research. And I tried to get him an academic appointment that would continue him part-time at HCO, part-time teaching. But that is against the university rules. He had come up against the eight-year rule, and he was thrown out, which I thought was a problem because he was really a fantastic teacher.
Yes. He’s written some good stuff.
Yes. But that’s beside the point. It has now been taken over by…who am I trying to say? I’ll come up with it in a while. Anyway, so I did that, and then I continued doing the graduate teaching. I always had a graduate course on my specialty. There were a number of pre-docs at Berkeley who were working on problems that I’d given them. I think there were three of them, and one of the purposes of the NSF grant was to continue supporting them there or here. They were going to come here.
Oh, okay. The one that you went to Washington with Derek Bok over — that had been rejected by Fleischer on the institutional basis, yes.
Right. And I didn’t fight that further. I did not see the need to do that because there were other sources of funds within the observatory for supporting graduate students. And I had three or four that came along, and we worked together, published, and so forth.
Did any of the pre-docs — they stayed at Berkeley. They didn’t come with you.
Well, let’s see. I think all of them ended up staying there, as I remember. They all got their Ph.D.s — I’m trying to remember. Chun Ming Lung [spelling??], was one, and Bruce Mouschovias, who is now at Illinois.
His name is Telemakos, like the hero in The Iliad, Telemakos. And he is a Greek fellow; his last name is Mouschovias [spells it out]. He’s a highly opinionated fellow, who founded a group at Illinois, did some very good work, but became inflexible in his approach to science, I would say. But anyway, he’s published a great deal. The other guy I think is the computer expert in Minnesota. He’s a professor also. If these names are of interest, I can get them.
No, it’s quite all right.
Yeah. So, what I morphed into is the graduate advisor of a stream of students that came through the Harvard astronomy department. And there may be six or eight of those.
So you took on the graduate advisory responsibility as director.
Isn’t that asking for a lot?
Well, not really. What these guys were looking for was advice, and you know, problems to work on. And that I gave them, and of course, now it’s completely computer-oriented. And the last student I had, a Chinese chap — not Chun Ming Lung [spelling], but another guy. Hongsong Chou was a post-doc. I can come up with these names; you know, it’s hard right away. Did a highly computer-oriented thing using parallel computers at MIT and so forth, and produced a paper that was really very interesting, except that there were other people working on the same problem who did a better job at the same time. He got his PhD. He, like many of these guys, dropped out and became a financial analyst. Three or four of my students and post-docs have done that because they have the facility with probability and computers that is needed in the financial industry. Anyway, that’s what I did, and I kept writing papers. I used to write five papers a year; then it dropped to two or three. And now I’m very active again. I’m working on a big paper that I think will be… I think it’s going to be important, but that’s what I do.
I think Babette told me to ask you about it.
[Laughing] Oh, did she? Oh, it’s interesting because it’s amazing all of these people we’ve been visiting with, anyway. She was at our house and she asked me what I was doing, and I tried to explain the best I could what this paper was about, and it caught her imagination and started a conversation. I’ve been talking back and forth with her.
Wonderful. She’s a remarkable woman.
Oh, she’s amazing, and she’s had such difficulties, you know.
The health problem, yeah. Have you known her for a long time?
No, no. Well, for now a few years. I’ve interviewed one of her daughters; I hope to interview the other. They’re all wonderfully interesting people.
Very creative people.
Very different people. Hiring a Theoretician to direct this place, okay. I know that when Geoffrey Burbidge, for instance, was hired at Kitt Peak, everybody was saying, “Why are they putting a theoretician in such a largely observational place?” Was there any sense in your mind, or anybody else you talked to, saying “Why would you want to go and deal with hardware and people and everything like that when you’re a theoretician? You don’t need all of this stuff.”
Yes. Oh, you’re saying, not whether I was suited for the position, but whether the position was suitable for me. Is that what you’re saying?
Yes, okay. I thought of it as fun, basically. At last I’d have my hands on the wheel, right? And that goes back to Greenstein report, that I’d gotten a taste of having my hand on the wheel with this little subcommittee. And I saw that honestly — I think I gauged it correctly — that the Smithsonian was well-funded, SAO was well-funded but misdirected. We spoke of that earlier. These funds could be put to work on cosmology, basically, and little-by-little it’s moved in that direction; Harvard has moved in that direction. They’re involved in big ground-based telescopes. I don't know if you knew that, but there is a guy who is joint professor between astronomy and physics who is involved in a very large telescope effort. I think it’s going to be of the order of 30 meters. I don't know much about it; it’s sort of an ultimate type of telescope.
Well, I know that there are a number of these initiatives. Andrea has talked about them; others have talked about them.
I see, right. This particular fellow is a key fellow in it.
But do you think it was important for you as a theorist, being chosen? I mean, could they not choose an observationalist because the observationalist might be more parochial? Was there any kind of element there?
Well, for one reason, Ed Salpeter had turned it down.
Oh, so Ed was…
He had been invited to be the director of HCO, or so I was told. I’ve never asked him… but that’s what I was told.
Interesting. Well, he was very much a theorist as well. So they were looking for a theorist.
Well, at least they were open to it. I think a theorist has a broader outreach, or, how shall I say it, a broader view of the field as a whole because his theoretical work would impact various other fields. His work would be disproved by any of a number of techniques, right? So he’s aware of these other techniques. And I had been particularly involved in radio astronomy, which is different, if you will, and at Berkeley had been very involved in discussions of optical results. Stu Boyer had been working in X-ray astronomy and so forth. So I was comfortable with all of these things, partly I think because I’d served on many NASA committees that went back to the ’60s.
Right. But even before that, in your training at Princeton, you were exposed to Lyman Spitzer and Martin Schwarzschild and I would say they both had an extremely healthy view of the importance of being at the interface between theory and observation.
Oh yeah, absolutely. Yes, sure. And I inherited that from them.
That’s what I want, to be sure.
I never wrote a paper with Martin, but I did write a number of papers with Lyman.
With Lyman, yeah. Because that is a very special kind of theory that pays attention to observations. [Laughs.]
Well, that’s an interesting point, yeah. I remember Lyman telling me that when he was appointed director at Princeton, that he had insisted that he have time to make observations at Mt. Wilson.
Exactly right, and that tradition actually came from Russell. Russell didn’t do observations at Mt. Wilson, but he went there for several months every year.
Did he? I see.
Just to check it all out and tell other people what observations to take.
I see. [Laughter] That’s interesting, and in fact, maybe Lyman picked that up from him.
Yeah, but Lyman had his own projects there.
Oh no, I realize, which were very different.
And so did Martin. Martin did his solar chromosphere work there that led to the balloon work, to Stratoscope, yeah.
Did he? I hadn’t realized that he had done solar physics before.
Yeah, he’d done this with Robert Richardson, and they were interested in the convections model, and he needed high-quality imagery.
And he was trying to obtain that with the facilities at Mt. Wilson?
At first. Well, he was doing mainly spectroscopy with Richardson, but also imaging. Yeah.
I had no idea.
Yeah, this was in the ’40s.
I do remember that Lyman told me that he encouraged Martin to go into Stratoscope. I think Martin was hesitant to get into quote “space research,” but he did do it. Any more questions?
Well, there is one element that has been in my mind, and that is that from Leo Goldberg’s very first utterance that Harvard College Observatory should expand its venue to compete with SAO and engage astronomy across the campus, he made a point. There’s a lot of astronomy being done in physics; there’s astronomy being done in chemistry; there’s astronomy being done all over the place. There should be a center, an umbrella under which all of this takes place. Then you will have possibly the horsepower to compete with SAO and that sort of thing. Did you follow that at all?
Not at all. Well, of course, I didn’t want to compete with SAO.
That’s a very important point.
Sure. SAO was a highly effective, highly funded organization that it would not make sense to go into competition with, particularly in the same building, right? [Laughter] It doesn’t make sense to me. Now, Leo did have a point. I know that he mentioned the center of astrophysics or something like that.
He called it an astrophysics center.
Astrophysics center, right. And in fact…
But that was just a passing statement.
It’s an odd thing that recently there was a meeting of the CFA Visiting Committee. It was the day before last.
Yeah, I know. I was running around between them.
Oh, you were there?
No, not at the Visiting Committee, no, no. I was interviewing Andrea that day, and she was running in and out.
Oh, that’s right, and she told me that she had been interviewed by you. This is all coincidental, but she was there and many other people were there. One of them was Jim Moran, and he said, “Did you realize that the concept of CFA had been put forward by Leo Goldberg?” Now, was it he who said that? Anyway, there was sort of a three-way discussion involving Jim, me, and Dick McCrae, if you know him. He’s a theorist observer at Colorado, whom I’d known well for many years. And he had served as an assistant professor here just before I came. And he knew Leo very well, so maybe it was he who said that. But anyway, you’re telling me that yes, there was such a discussion, maybe a document that said that. But I did not realize it at the time.
It was his resignation letter, which went on for pages and pages and pages of why. Yeah, essentially it was his resignation letter, where he said…
Was that public? No, of course not.
Well, I’ve got it here somewhere. Do you want to read it?
I would like to read it sometime; let’s not bother with it right now.
We can make a copy of it and just don’t tell anybody.
Okay, so you did not follow that model.
No, I did not, although there have always been discussions in the astronomy department about the proper relationship, particularly with the physics department. And from time to time, it is noticed that half of the students in this building are from physics. The Graduate students choose topics in astrophysics, and we support them, and that has always been the case. Should we go beyond that? Well, I went one step beyond it. There was a fellow named Bill Press, who is no longer a professor here, but at the time, he was a very young fellow. He was appointed a full professor at the age of 27, and he was appointed with a joint appointment in astronomy and physics. He was a relativist; he had made his mark in black hole physics. He came to the department, had an office here. He spent most of his time here. He taught courses and related subjects and so forth. His real expertise was in optimizing computer programs, and he wrote a book which became very well-known called ...
I can find it.
It’s a very well-known book. It’s sort of a handbook of how to do these things on computers. And recently — that is for me it’s recently, but it was about five years ago — he left here to become the Scientific Director of Las Alamos because he had been doing a lot of consulting work on defense. That did not work, so he left that position, but he is still a scientist on the staff. Anyway, he was touted as a brilliant physicist who would work in astronomy. He was approved for a full professorship here at the age of 27. That did not really have a big impact on the observatory as I had hoped it would. So that particular venture was not completely successful. Since then, there have been other attempts — like this guy I was telling you about with the big telescope, Chris Stubbs, his name is.
Stubbs. I don’t know him. Okay, Chris Stubbs.
Right. He had been at the University of Washington, and somehow the physics department became interested in him. He is a very productive individual, both in astronomy and doing this work on the big telescope. So that is working. Alex Dalgarno, of course, always had connections with applied physics and chemistry, with his work on quantum mechanics and molecules and so forth. But I don’t believe he has a joint appointment. I’ll tell you another fellow who does: Pat Thaddeus. Do you know about him?
Oh yes, yes.
He does have a joint appointment with applied physics. So I guess that’s the way it’s gone, and the geographic situation is not favorable. It would mean moving people a mile away, and they have resisted that, understandably.
So that is a continuing issue…
How it fits into the university as a whole.
… the physical location of the observatory apart from the campus still perseveres in this sort of issue.
Yes it does.
I think when one looks at Menzel’s directorship, one can see that he did bring the campus closer — or he brought the observatory closer to the campus. That was very much what he did and how he became acceptable as Shapley’s successor. It took several years to do that, and of course, he is hated in the memories of many people here for that reason.
Really? What did he do that was so awful?
Well, thinned out the plate stacks, got rid of the AAVSO, moved the Bloemfontein time stuff, all of this divestiture and focus.
Oh yeah, that’s right.
Because he was being told that if he doesn’t, we’re going to get a theorist in there — literally a good theorist in there, as opposed to Menzel, who wasn’t regarded as a theorist anymore.
Oh, he wasn’t?
Not by Oppenheimer and his committee, which included Ira Bowen, Stromgren, Charles Shane, and Purcell — no, not Ed Purcell, but it was a physicist. Anyway…
Well, okay, but in what sense, at the end of the day, was the observatory different from what it had been vis-a-vis the university?
The library was not controlled at all by library standards, the buildings and grounds were not subject to Harvard. Then the curriculum was… I mean, there was the department of astronomy, which was considered a second-hand responsibility, you know. There was a lot of separatism.
Oh, I see. With respect to the education and the standards applied to degrees that would be true. Yes, I see that.
Yeah, there was a lot of stuff like that. And so, let me just ask this to finish up, at this point at least because we haven’t talked about the Field Committee or anything like that. That’s beyond my focus at this point. But I hope not for the future. We can discuss that, or some historian should. But the future of Astronomy as you see it here, at Harvard-Smithsonian if you want to call it that, how do you feel about the future?
I would feel extremely optimistic. The various groups now have very powerful leadership; they’re doing very good work. Just to mention one example, Giovanni Fazio and what we used to call SIRTF is now called Spitzer. Fantastic. I asked him the other night, “How many observers do you have?” He said, “1,000” on that telescope, and they have it planned out for the next five to ten years. There is some participation in Hubble. There is this big telescope stuff, Magellan, which we’re involved in.
That’s what Andrea was talking about.
And the SMA, I think it’s going to prove to be an extremely powerful instrument. And it happens that the theory group is very strong at the moment. Bill Press left; he had not been that active. They have appointed four very good people, all on the Harvard side, one of whom recently...
Okay, you were talking about the theoretical division.
Yeah. The people in it don’t think of themselves as theoretical division anymore because they got money, substantial money from outside (a benefactor stepped in), and they are now operating as something — that you’ll see as you go out — the Institute for Theory and Computation.
Yes. I saw that sign. Very interesting.
And I guess there are now five really top people doing computing, but also deep thinking. The guy up here is prime expert on the Dark Ages. This is at red shifts greater than ten of what happened, and he’s probably turned out 20 students who are working on this. And they have now — I gave a talk recently on turbulence to this group — 20 people showed up, most of them post-docs.
That’s really a lot of people.
So I think theory is in very good shape, and optical infrared with the big telescopes, radio infrared — I think it’s humming, and the future is bright.
Where would you put yourself in this, as facilitating this bright future?
A transitional figure.
A transitional figure, okay. I see. Well, you were followed by Irwin Shapiro. Irwin of course was very different than you.
Yes, he is theoretically oriented as well, and he had the idea of the interferometer, and he drove it through, and that was quite an achievement, I think. Funded by the Smithsonian.
So you see yourself as a transition?
Yes. The sky’s the limit.
Well, thank you so much.