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Interview of F. Douglas Shields by Henry Bass on 2007 October 16, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/35174
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In this interview F. Douglas Shields discusses topics such as: Acoustical Society of America (ASA); physical acoustics; absorption of gases; family background and education; going to Tennessee Tech for school; joining the Air Force; Vanderbilt University for graduate school; Francis Slack; teaching at Middle Tennessee State University; Robert Lagemann; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; isotopes; University of Mississippi.
[October 16,] 2007, and we are at the National Center for Physical Acoustics on the University of Mississippi campus in Mississippi, and in the United States. The time is 2:17 PM and I’m about to interview Doug Shields for the Acoustical Society of America, Technical Committee on Physical Acoustics. Okay. Let’s get some background information first Doug. What is your present address?
220 Highway 6 East, Oxford, Mississippi.
And who is your present employer?
What’s your business?
Research. Acoustics research.
What is your present job title?
Senior research scientist.
That’s in your company, your self-employed company?
Yeah. [Laughter] I guess.
How long have you been with this?
I’ve been self-employed aboutless than a year. I worked with the MilTech Company for about four years and for the University of Mississippi about fifty-four or something. [Laugh]
Okay. I think that’s what we wanted to hear. First of all I’m going to talk to you some or ask you questions that are related to your activity and your association with the Acoustical Society of America. What year did you join the Acoustical Society of America?
I think it was 1957.
There was an Acoustical Society then?
Yeah. There was.
What was your age and profession at the time?
I was, I was thirty-one and I was teaching physics at Middle Tennessee State College in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Were you doing research there?
So, that was your reason for getting involved?
What area of acoustics were you interested in at that time?
I guess you’d call it physical acoustics. It was in measuring absorption in gases
What were your reasons for joining the Acoustical Society?
To stay current with the research that was going on in this field.
Was there anyone who encouraged you to join the Acoustical Society?
Not in particular, no.
What ASA committees were you or are you a member of?
I guess Physical Acoustics, though I’ve not held any office in the committee.
Is there, are there any particular ASA meeting or meetings that stand out as being something special, something special and sort of different?
The first Acoustical Society meeting I attended, if I remember right, was about 1958, was in the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., a famous old hotel. And, the thing that stands out in my memory was that Joe Percy was to give a paper and he tried to give that paper and with his speech impediment had difficulty, and Bruce Lindsey got up and read the paper for him in a very meaningful way.
That’s great. I wonder if Joe’s still around? Do you know if he is?
The last I heard he was. I haven’t heard anything about his death.
I haven’t either. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen him though. Are there any other Acoustical Society meetings that stand out in your mind?
Oh, there’s so many it would be hard to pick out one.
Are there any ASA members that you met that had a special influence on your future?
Oh, I can’t think of any specific ones, though I think I received inspiration from being associated with a number.
Are there any things you’d like to say about the Acoustical Society of America as an organization, either its past, or its present, or its future?
I think that it’s a great fellowship and has offered me a great deal of encouragement and support. I’ve enjoyed very much the Association. I don’t know what to say about the future, but I think it’s probably got an even greater future.
Besides the Acoustical Society of America, what other professional organizations do you belong to?
None right now.
Have you provided an oral history for any other organization?
If so, which one?
Okay. Okay. Let’s talk some about your, your background and history. I’m going to move this microphone just a little bit closer. You seem to be not quite as loud as I am. Okay. When and where were you born?
Nineteen twenty-six, in Nashville, Tennessee.
Before entering college where are some of the places you lived?
Just in Nashville.
What were your parents’ occupations?
My father was deceased and my mother operated a school cafeteria, and later was a clerk for the Draft Board in World War II.
How many brothers and sisters did you have?
One brother and one sister.
Are they still alive?
My sister is. My brother is deceased.
How could you describe yourself during your early years?
I think I was happy, but maybe lonely some.
Were you inquisitive? Were you a bookworm? Were you more of an outdoor person?
I, I think I was, I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to say. [Laugh] Ask me another question.
Okay. As a youngster, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I know when I was in high school I wanted to be a basketball coach and I wanted to be a teacher in high school.
Were you a basketball player?
Yeah. I played some basketball in high school. I wasn’t very good but I enjoyed playing a lot.
What made you want to be a coach?
I felt like that was, I think, my high school coach’s influence in me and I felt like that was a way to influence young people, young boys.
Before college, what were your hobbies and special interests?
Basketball, and badminton, and fishing, and mostly that sort of thing.
Do you have any special heroes?
Can’t think of any special heroes.
What subjects did you enjoy most in high school?
I guess math and science.
Looking back, were there any particular people during that period that, that had a strong influence on you and your future?
I don’t think so. I didn’t think I had any really outstanding high school teachers. I can’t think of anyone that fit that category.
Let’s go on to your college years. At the undergraduate level first of all, where did you go to college and what was your major?
I went to Tennessee Tech and was undecided the first year I went there. I signed up for the Air Force when I was seventeen with the understanding I could stay out of the Army until I was eighteen and six months. And so, I started college and stayed in college for two and a half quarters before I went to the Air Force in May of 1945. I think I left the Air Force the day the war was over in Europe. So, later on when I came back from the service I majored in physics.
At the same school?
What made you choose that particular school?
I think I wanted, wanted to coach in high school. I hadn’t had any experience in football and I thought maybe I might could play football there, because this was a small school.
When you say when you came back from the Air Force you majored in physics. What influenced you to do that?
Mainly the physics teacher there. In the Air Force I went to a radio mechanics school and came back and talked about taking engineering. That was an engineering school. But he, the physics teacher, convinced me that all the fun things in engineering you learned in physics and didn’t have to do mechanical drawing and surveying. So –
That’s true isn’t it?
— he signed me up for physics.
That pretty much true?
It’s pretty true. [Laughter] I don’t think —
That’s good advice.
— engineers now don’t do mechanical drawings.
I guess that’s true. Yeah. Did you ever change your major while you were in college?
No? As an undergraduate, did you belong to any special clubs or participate in any special school activities?
I played freshman basketball when there were hardly enough boys at college to have a team hardly without me, and a member of the Physics Club and instructed physics laboratories. I think I was athletic editor of the annual one year or something.
On your undergraduate college days, was there any particular person, a particular teacher, a professor or someone that had a special influence on you, on your future?
Maybe my physics teacher, Dr. Dicus.
During that period of life, who was your inspirational model? Who was your hero?
I’m very religious and I would think my religious heroes would be taken from scripture, but I don’t think I had any teachers or leaders like that that were especially influencing my life.
Did you ever participate in a rally, or a protest, or a cause?
I don’t think so. No, I don’t think anything would fit that category.
Looking back again, would you go to the same college and take the same major if you could start all over again?
I think so. I think I had a good experience.
Let’s go on to the graduate level now. Did you go on to graduate training for a Masters degree?
What led you to the choice of that school?
It was close by. I lived in Nashville and they offered me an assistantship.
But typically, Vanderbilt’s pretty expensive. How were you supported, just an assistantship?
I had an assistantship and I had a little bit left on the GI Bill, I think —
— and I got some support from my family.
Were there any specific projects that you worked on while you were at Vanderbilt?
Yeah. I worked on a Masters thesis that was constructing an ionization chamber to measure the intensity of x-rays coming from a low-voltage x-ray tube.
Who at Vanderbilt had the greatest influence on your future?
At the masters level, Dr. Francis Slack, who was head of the department, I think.
Did you continue on for a doctorate? Obviously you did, but you went on at Vanderbilt?
Yes, but only after I stopped, and worked, and taught some for about three years.
Why did you choose to go back to graduate school?
I was teaching at Middle Tennessee State and I thought I wanted to teach in high school, but after I got a Masters degree they wouldn’t hire me to teach at a high school because they’d have to pay me more than they would someone with a B.S. And so, the president of Middle Tennessee State said, "If you want to continue to teach here you’ve got to get a graduate, a doctor’s degree." So, I started back to school and went to school at Vanderbilt at the same time I was teaching full-time.
So, how, were you supported by your teaching salary at Middle Tennessee?
I taught full-time and supported my family. I had, during that process I had a couple of children —
— three children.
While you were in graduate school, after you got out of the Air Force?
Yeah. I started back in graduate school probably about 1952 and started working at Middle Tennessee in 1949 and stayed there until ‘59. And during those ten years I taught and got my doctor’s degree and started a family.
When were you married?
I was married in 1948, fall of ‘48.
What was your doctor’s thesis?
The thesis title was — I’ve got it written down here somewhere — The Absorption of Sound in Argon, Nitrogen, CO2 at Temperatures Between Zero and Two Hundred Degrees Centigrade.
And at what frequency range did you make those measurements?
A few kilohertz, but the measurements were in a tube so that I could, change the pressure. The frequency range was from two to ten kilohertz.
What about f/p?
F/p range ranged for the absorption peak for CO2 is…
Oh, fifty kilohertz or so. Isn’t that right?
Yeah, so that’s what you were after?
Fifty kilohertz to maybe a hundred kilohertz f/p.
So, you were after the, the maximum absorption in CO2?
Yeah. It had been measured but its temperature dependence had not been measured.
I had the idea that I’d make the same kind of measurements in the halogen gases, but I wound up doing well to get through making the measurements in carbon dioxide. After I finished my degree I went on to make the measurements in halogen gases.
But was that part of your doctors dissertation?
Not the halogen gases, no. (Bass: Right.) I made the measurements inside of a tube and I had to correct for the tube losses. And, the tube losses were under controversy as to whether or not the theoretical equations applied. And so, the first work I did was in the classical gases, argon and nitrogen, to show that we could calculate the tube losses correctly. Then we knew how to correct the tube losses to get the relaxation absorption of CO2.
When you started making measurements on the halogens, was that then at Middle Tennessee State?
So, you took your research back to your home institution?
Yeah. I went back to Middle Tennessee State and, and I think probably I had the first federally funded research project at Middle Tennessee State. I got a contract from the Office of Naval Research to support that work at Middle Tennessee State.
At Vanderbilt, while you were there, who there had the greatest influence on your future career?
Dr. Robert Lagermann. Dr. Lagermann was an acoustician, but he had done most of his acoustics work in liquids. He gave me a great deal of support and pretty much of a blank check to get equipment I needed.
Tell us something about your lab at Vanderbilt. What kind of lab facility did you have?
The machine shop in the basement of the physics building had a little room adjacent to it and I cleaned out that room and they let me have that as my lab, and I built my sound system in there from scratch and worked there for a year.
How’d the air conditioning work?
I don’t remember being hot, or cold, but I don’t know if they had any air conditioning or not. [Laugh]
Let’s go on and talk some next about your military time. First of all, were you ever in the military?
Yes, I was in the U.S. Air Force for seven days and six months. No. Yeah, that’s right, seven days and six months.
During what year?
Nineteen forty-five. What were your duties?
I signed up for the Air Force and was classified fot pilot training, but at that time the war was over in Europe and they had lots of boys that had been classified for pilot training and didn’t need us. I went through basic training at Keesler Field and was sent to Truax Field, Madison, Wisconsin for radio mechanics school. They were going to send us overseas to serve as MPs in Europe. But, because I’d been classified as a pilot and they didn’t use me as a pilot they said that they hadn’t fulfilled my contract and so they discharged me. So, I served seven months and six days and got two teeth filled, and $200 mustering out pay, and two years of GI Bill.
That’s not so bad, is it?
No. I came out on top. [Laughter]
Is there anything about your military service that you feel had some significant impact on your future?
The radio mechanics school that I went to was interesting to me and easy for me, and I enjoyed it, and it looked like that would be something that’s fun to work with.
Was that, when you went to military was that the first time that you were very far out of the South? Had you traveled before?
I may have made a trip to Chicago once, once or twice, but that’s about all.
What was your highest rank while you were in the military?
Did you ever go to any technical, or business, or trade schools, or anything like that?
Just this radio mechanics school when I was in the service for six months.
Okay, after college what was your first place of employment?
My first place of employment was Oak Ridge National Laboratory for a year.
Oh, that was after graduate school?
After the Masters degree.
After the Masters degree?
And then after Oak Ridge then you went to…
I stayed at Oak Ridge one year and then went to Murfreesboro.
Then you went to Murfreesboro? Okay. What was your title there at Oak Ridge?
Scientist, I guess.
What did you do?
I worked with a man who was doing research on barrier material for separating isotopes in a gaseous diffusion plant.
Oh wow. That’s interesting.
Was there anyone there that had a particular influence on your future?
At Oak Ridge?
At Oak Ridge. Right.
Well, I learned a lot while I was working in the laboratory, and the man I was working with was a very good scientist, I think. Helpful.
Uhm-hmm. And then after that you went to Middle Tennessee State?
And you were there for ten years, you say?
Yes. Uhm-hmm. From 1949 to 1959.
And what was your rank when you finally left?
Professor of physics?
And that’s the period of time when you started doing the halogen measurements?
Yeah. Where’d you go after Middle Tennessee State?
And you’ve been here at Ole Miss since then?
Nineteen fifty-nine? And when did you actually officially, technically, leave University of Mississippi?
Which time? [Laughter]
I guess that’s a very difficult question to answer. But, you went to ITD. When did you go to work for ITD?
I went to work for ITD in 1988, I believe.
And then you worked until ITD became incorporated into the university again?
And went back to work as a state employee. And, I think I retired from the state employee’s work, what, how long ago? Maybe around — I can’t, I’m sort of mixed up on that. I don’t remember.
I think that if my memory serves me right that would have probably have been in about 1992.
I worked with, I came back to work for the university about 1992 didn’t I? And then worked in — when did we do, when did we lose the, lose the Navy funding from that part of my work, about ‘94?
Might have been ‘94. It might have been that late I suppose.
Something like ‘94 I think.
I think I retired a second time from the university in 1994.
And then you went to work for MilTech at that time?
No. I worked part-time for the university for a couple of years and then went to work for MilTech, and then worked for MilTech about five years I think, or something like that.
The next question I’m supposed to ask you is, did you ever write a book or have something published? I’m not going to ask you to go through a list of your publications here. Instead, I will ask you though to, if you will, provide a copy of your resume so we can take a list of publications from that.
Okay? You can do that. What’s your present marital status?
You are? What’s your spouse’s name?
Cora Beal Hardison Shields.
Okay. What is her occupation?
Taking care of me. [Laughter]
A full-time job, huh?
Now, when and where did you meet Cora Beal?
Nashville, Tennessee in 1943.
Nineteen forty-three? And when were you married?
We were married in Carters Creek, Tennessee in 1948.
So, you dated for five years?
Uhm, yeah. Four years. I met her. We started dating — yeah, we dated about four years.
Four years? Have children?
What are their names?
Oldest is Alice Mackey, and the next is a Jr., Fletcher Douglas, and the next is Ann Hardison, and the next if Ben, Ben Shrygley Shields.
How many grandchildren?
Do you have any great grandchildren, or close?
Not yet. No.
Ask Nathan. [Laughter]
Well, probably not too far if I can judge from that Nate. The next question here is, is there anything special about any of those folks? I guess, there’s something special about every one of them? I’m not sure…
Yeah. You know the saying, "They’re all above-average." [Laughter]
You’re right. Yeah. Personal interests. What is your favorite form of entertainment?
Athletic events, and yard work, and fishing.
Okay. What is your, your favorite author?
I don’t know if I could pick out a favorite author. I think I like reading biography and historical novels best.
What’s your favorite movie star?
I don’t think I’ve got a favorite movie star. Well — no, I don’t think I’ve got a favorite movie star.
How about singers? Anything like that?
I don’t even know their names.
I don’t either, most of the time. [Laugh] Any special TV programs?
Not anymore. They don’t have any good ones on anymore. [Laugh]
How about any sports teams that you particularly follow?
Ole Miss. Go Rebels.
I would hope so. How about art or artists?
How about any particular quotes that you like?
None that bear repeating. [Laugh]
Okay. One of the things that this doesn’t ask about and I think they would like to be, make it on this part of the record is I know the church is an important part of your life and your religion is an important part of your life. Would you like to address that in any way here?
Yes. That’s been a very important part of my life and I have enjoyed working with the University Christian Student Center and the church activities related to university students, and with the church of Christ at Oxford, many close relationships through that body, and a great joy and fulfillment in that work.
I know that the, the church of Christ in Oxford has been having a lot of controversy recently on whether or not they’ll move. Has that been settled?
No, I don’t think it has. The controversy over the sale of a house, of a building, and that’s still undecided.
Okay. Do you have any hobbies now?
Yeah. I might say that my son was elected, at least nominated as an elder yesterday in the church.
Oh wow. That means you’re not young anymore, doesn’t it? [Laugh]
Do you have any hobbies now?
Mostly grandchildren and doing some care of my acreage that I own, mostly.
Do you still have cattle?
No, no cows.
No cattle? No livestock? No horses?
We’ve been trying to get rid of a coon that’s hanging around the house. [Laugh]
I don’t think that counts. That just, you just go out and bush hog? Is that what…
Yeah. Mainly. Uh huh.
What are your future plans? What do you see yourself doing in the next five or ten years?
I’m wondering how much longer I will work, would want to work. But, other than that I think there’s lots of things that I enjoy doing at the present time that I would enjoy continuing doing with less stress and less pressure to keep a schedule.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to say I have enjoyed working with you a whole lot for about thirty-seven years?
Yeah. And me you, Doug, very much.
Uh huh. Uh huh.
Very much. Great. Thank you.