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Interview of Wolfgang Panofsky by Elizabeth Paris and Jean Deken on 2004 April 8, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/39783-2
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In this interview Wolfgang Panofsky discusses topics such as: his time at the High Energy Physics Laboratory at Stanford University; Stanford Linear Accelerators Center (SLAC); Atomic Energy Commission (AEC); Edwin McMillan; Burton Richter; running a physical laboratory; Luis Alvarez; the Cold War; University of California, Berkeley; teaching and setting up research projects for graduate students; serving on the President's Science Advisory Committee; Robert Marshak; McCarthyism and House Committee on Un-American Activities; Paul McDaniel; Vietnam War's effect; working with Chinese physicists; Frank Oppenheimer; Department of Energy; safety measures in the laboratories; arms control; Marvin Goldberger; JASON group; Richard Garwin; John Holdren.
We’ll start out just talking, trying to break down these years of the Cold War from the ‘50s to the mid ‘70s. You’ve talked in previous interviews about the specific physics that was going on during those times. So for this hour, hour and a half we’ll try and concentrate more on the physics culture and broader questions rather than the specific formulas and discoveries that were happening then. There’s two areas: one specifically physics culture and then the wider culture. As I'm sure you know, there’s an explosion of physics students after World War II. In the years until 1941, say from 1900 to 1941, the number of physics Ph.D. students was doubling every 13 years. From the years from ’41 to ’71, the rate was twice that — it was doubling approximately every seven years. Maybe we could talk a little bit about how that affected the physics education, whether you were getting more graduate students. How did that affect the department, to have an enormous influx of students come in?
Well, of course, immediately after the war, I was pretty much of a young kid. I was involved in teaching sort of peripherally. At the end of the war, I worked with Carl Anderson at Caltech, and we wrote together a textbook because we felt that an old textbook which Millikan had written was terribly obsolete, and it was a real tour de force. We got a mimeographed edition out for use of Caltech graduate students. But this was simply sort of an interlude, and then I was involved in war work and went to Berkeley. Again, I didn’t get involved in the teaching process until sort of ‘48, I guess. Again, I just was sort of keeping my nose to the grindstone. I wasn’t thinking very hard about the sort of demography of graduate students or explosion of the number of students going back to work and all the rest of it; I was just going about teaching. Frankly, I didn’t react to the fact that the population increased.
But at that time, once I became a junior professor at Berkeley, I acquired graduate students fairly rapidly. My first graduate student was actually a student in electrical engineering with whom I kept in touch, who wrote a thesis under my supervision on modulators for pulse-forming networks. Then there were some other graduate students. Then I got roped into teaching. Again, it was sort of amusing. Artie Burch, who was the Chairman of the Physics Department in Berkeley, rather than telling me, “We are happy to offer you an associate professorship,” he said, “Are you free at 8:00 in the morning Monday, Wednesday, and Friday?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “In that case, we can appoint you.” So then I started teaching both electrodynamics courses and experimental courses in advanced experimental techniques, and worked quite hard on that.
Again, I don’t have anything much to say about the general demographics and explosion of students. In fact, I wasn’t very much aware of it. I guess I was essentially one of the crowd returning back to work after the war and I really didn’t give it any major consideration but simply got caught up in the stream of simply doing teaching.
What about in your Stanford years? The years ‘60 to ‘70 were a huge —
Yes, that’s right. Well there, again, I joined the Physics Department at Stanford, and the Physics Department at Stanford was a very conservative group. There, Leonard Schiff and Felix Bloch were sort of the dominant figures in the department here and the staffing of the department was controlled by their financial resources but also by their policies. They wanted everybody to share equally in the teaching load, so all members of the staff essentially had to participate in freshman teaching as well as advanced teaching. But, at the same time, the Department would not recruit people in any one field where there was a particular need. The Department sort of followed what I called the Noah’s Ark policy, two of a kind, which was one of the reasons why SLAC was later created. It had to be organized separately because SLAC clearly unbalanced the total physics teaching and physics resource activity at Stanford.
I worked very intensely on freshman teaching. For instance, I taught for several years in what’s called “The 50 Theories,” which was the pre-professional series in elementary physics. We had to set up experiments and so forth. I found it very difficult to make those responsibilities consistent with all the other things that I was doing. For instance, I used to at that time be part of the President’s Science Advisory Committee which met Monday and Tuesday and came back late Tuesday on an airplane, and then would be met by my wife, and we would scramble after coming back and setting up lecture demonstrations. She would go to various parts of the lecture room and take a bead at the set ups whether you could actually see things on the different corners of the lecture room and the rest of it. It was quite a collaboration. Then I went home to crash. Then, again, the lecture rooms were too small and there so many students, I had to give the same lecture three times in a row and the first one was usually somewhat creaky and sleepy. The second one was good, and the third one, you feel like a broken phonograph record. Because of the pressure of students, teaching that course was quite a chore.
Again, I'm being essentially non-responsive to your demographic questions because, to be frank, I never paid any attention to it.
During your years at Stanford, when you came to Berkeley, then when you stopped having so many students when you came up to SLAC, how did you set the research projects for your grad students? How were they set?
You mean how did I select research students, and how did it work?
Well, how did it work to get your students, and then how did you decide what your students would work on?
Frankly, by random encounters. Namely, again, there was no systematic process. Students had to take a preliminary exam before they made a formal arrangement with a member of the faculty. They had to pass an exam in the general proficiency in the major disciplines of physics. Then, it was more or less a dating game as to who would hook up with whom but there was no formal process. I had a rather large number of graduate students at that time working with me at the high-energy physics lab.
Large compared to others or just large in general?
Probably more than most. …Again, I don’t have any statistics. I would say I probably had essentially as many as any of them did, but I don’t know that I had any more or any less. That worked fine. At that time, I had to run Ph.D. students on adoption of — well, there were two theses on the experiments on negative pion adoption in hydrogen deuterium. I had another student on negative pion adoption in uranium that means meson-induced fission. I had one student on proton-proton scattering.
This is the late ‘50s?
Early ‘50s, because I left Berkeley in ‘51. As I said, I had one engineering student. Then I had another student that got a Ph.D. thesis in the half-life of the pi meson and the cyclotrons. There may be one or two more. I don’t remember.
How were the projects chosen?
Again, at Berkeley, things were also fairly informal. There were several graduate students working at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory sort of as assistants. We would become acquainted and then sort of informally decided, “That’s it.”
At Stanford, too, they would have a project first, and then —
Oh, I'm sorry. I’m talking Berkeley now. Then at Stanford, it was a little bit more formal. Once the mating game proceeded and you decided, then we had to get approval from some kind of a Physics Department committee. But the actual initial encounter was sort of a random collision.
And they came to you with an idea?
Either that or I would find that they were smart people and grab them. I don’t think there was any particular — you see, there were jobs, I mean, there were assistantships at the high-energy physics lab where people simply would get paid to baby-sit shifts, and so forth. So I would get to know the younger generation irrespective as whether they were working with me or not. There wasn’t any formal arrangement; there was no formal process.
Now, at Stanford, again, I had a whole raft of graduate students working on measurement of the difference of radiation lengths in atomic hydrogen and molecular hydrogen and several, one on photo pion production; and then I had one graduate student on muon pair production. There was one thesis on the radiative correction to electron-proton scattering at low momentum transfer. There was one graduate student working on precision measurement of the muon decay spectrum. There were quite a large number.
Did you try to push them in directions that you thought there would be jobs for them?
No. Again, once they were done I would help them to get a job, but I wouldn’t — when we were doing the work, to be frank, I didn’t pay any attention to the job part of it. We just plain worked on the science. When things came to the end, I would try to be helpful for them to find a job.
And how successful were you at that?
Medium. Well, they all got jobs, not necessarily the best ones. Again, I don’t know what you want, specific instances?
If you could think of some…
I can give you several examples. One who worked on the pion lifetime went to Stanford. Crow, who worked on the precision measurement of the mu to K spectrum, went to Berkeley academically. Essentially, Martinelli, after Stanford, went to the Rand Corporation and worked on military stuff. I had an interesting example which may be worth recording. I had a lady who came from the south by the name of Sue Gray Norton, and she married an Iranian and changed her name to Sue Gray Al-Salam. She gave a paper on meson-induced fission at Stanford, being at that time seven-and-a-half-months pregnant and riding here on a bicycle and caused a fair amount of attention. Then she went back to Iran and taught physics, but wrote me plaintive letters because as a woman, when giving physics lectures, she was not allowed to touch the apparatus because that was a job for a man to do. She would give the lectures, but a man had to move the demonstration stuff around on the lecture table. She wrote me plaintive letters about her professional life as a physicist being somewhat impaired by the discriminatory society. Then two of the students went to MIT. As far as I recall, none of my students went to industry, but one of them, as I said, went into defense research.
Maybe that’s a good segue into the Cold War, general political climate, and differentiating the periods a little bit. A historian recently said that in the history of the Cold War, we tended to equate sometimes “national security” with “military preparedness” rather than with sort of the struggle for the hearts and minds of men, and that this explosion in manpower, this science explosion, has as much to do with military preparedness as it does with showing that this is a society that can produce great knowledge — that this political system is the best for producing the best kitchen, right, if you remember from Khrushchev, or the best, you know. Maybe we can think about the ‘50s and ‘60s and to the ‘70s, in that vein, and talk a little bit about the periods there.
Well, of course, I straddled both subjects because I was doing normal, basic physics, but at the same time, in my various advisory rules in Washington I was largely doing national security activities. I was Chairman of the strategic military panel of the President’s Science Advisory Committee for quite a long time. Then I was negotiator with the Russians on the nuclear test ban with a technical working group in 1959. So, I was sort of living in both worlds, but I never connected them in any way.
Now, one thing which has been said which is difficult to establish, since I had a fair amount of communication with Washington people and was involved in military advising, sort of implicitly, when I was asking for support for SLAC or testifying before Congress, the fact that I was active in both things somehow or other gave me entree, even though explicitly that was never mentioned. I think it is probably true that during that time, nuclear physicists still sort of had either a halo or a curse because of their perceived role during the “Hot War,” which in turn then gave them easier access, better communication, and so forth. And also a feeling of, if you could call it, gratitude. I think you probably know more about this that when the cyclotron in Chicago was started, rather than Fermi asking for it, there was almost pressure from the then Atomic Energy Commission, saying, “What can we do for you?” So although this is not explicitly the case in things I know about, implicitly, I wouldn’t be surprised if simply in terms of the atmospherics of the interaction that the fact that I personally had national security activities going may have had some relationship with the relative ease in being able to negotiate with the Atomic Energy Commission and so forth.
Were you then seeing the same people for arms-related things, but then you would have to come back —
No. No, not the same people unless it went to very high levels. For instance, when we negotiated the contract for SLAC, we had some rather hard-nosed confrontations. I don’t remember, but that’s on the earlier tapes. When we negotiated the contract for SLAC, the Atomic Energy Commission insisted that this laboratory should be required to do classified work, and I refused and prevailed. It may be true, although never explicitly factored in, that the reason I prevailed was that I, as an individual, had security clearances and was working on military issues and so forth and so forth. So that my motive for doing that was not that I was not basically opposed in the existence of such activities, but that I felt very strongly that it would be detrimental that they were in any way mixed into the activities of this laboratory. Again, this is more atmospheric rather than explicit. I don’t recall any instance where it was explicitly recognized that because physicists had made contributions in this area, therefore they should be liberally supported and blah, blah, blah.
Around 1953, ‘52 to ‘54, several things happened that changed the climate one might think, the H-bomb test in ‘52 and then Stalin’s death in ‘53 and Khrushchev’s subsequent speech, a sea-change for the Russian stance or the USSR, the Soviet Union stance. And then in December of ‘53, Eisenhower makes his “Atoms for Peace” initiative speech. Can you maybe talk about how that changed the place of physics and physicists?
Well, I’ll give you a frank answer. I saw no impact on the work at all at the Stanford Lab. Again, at that time, I was working in Stanford Physics Department, and I had a new physics lab. I was doing personally some military work, but there was no connection to nuclear power work or nuclear medicine or “Atoms for Peace.” That speech was noted, and as far as I could figure out, it was basically not a major event as far as the life of physics at Stanford was concerned.
Did you feel it affected funding ease at all?
No. At that time, the work in the high-energy physics laboratory was supported by the Office of Naval Research, not the AEC. The answer is no. Again, the only instance which was — again, but this is just an anecdote — Ginzton was running the microwave laboratory, and I was running the high-energy physics laboratory. We were both using klystrons. Ginzton was developing klystrons for radars and military purposes, and then the Office of Naval Research revoked his clearance because he’s a Russian-born physicist; his father is an émigré from Russia. I got very unhappy about that, and I personally intervened with the Chief of Naval Research and got his clearance restored. And, again, the reason I could get an appointment with the top Naval big shot and point out to the absurdity of the situation, because at that time, for a while, the same klystron was used for military purposes and for our machines and was either painted red or blue and was the same tube, and then Ginzton was not allowed to touch the red tube even though he had designed both the red and blue tube. There was a certain amount of absurdity associated with that. I sort of blew my top and went to Washington, and we were able to fix it. That’s more anecdotal of some of the absurd things which happened at that time rather than any systematic thing.
There were hardly any of the events that you cite. It just had, to my recollection, essentially zero impact in the basic science. One of the reasons is at that time — does the name Mannie Piore mean anything to you? He was basically the patron saint of… he was the person who was the Chief Scientist for the Office of Naval Research. He had the vision that some excess funding, which was left over after the end of the war, could well be used in supporting basic science. And he made that stick, and I knew him fairly well. He was a typical link between the two worlds, but again, he made no attempt that those two worlds should interact in any specific way. So whatever interactions there were was essentially an individual enterprise. I was involved in military things because of my advisory stuff in Washington but Bob Hofstadter and I worked on some military committee things together and so forth.
The announcement didn’t have maybe much impact.
Not anything which we reacted to.
But in 1955 in August is the first “Atoms for Peace” conference in Geneva which came from that initiative announced in December 1953.
That’s right. I know about it, but I didn’t go.
All of the official sessions had to do with nuclear power matters, but there were meetings at night, sort of focus group meetings outside of the official program, and one of them was on high-energy physics machine. At one of them, Lawrence and Veksler both gave talks about the current state of the highest energy proton machines in each of their countries, which is when, incidentally, the US found out about the Dubna machine. Lawrence and Veksler had dinner and Seaborg was there. This was one of the first times that —
No, high-energy physics played a major role in basically penetrating the Iron Curtain. That was in 1955. 1956 actually was the first visit to Dubna, and I was part of that. So I think it is true that high-energy physics was probably being clearly not directly applicable to military activities, was probably the first scientific discipline which sort of penetrated the Iron Curtain.
Now we come to your stories from yesterday of 1956.
In 1956, I don’t remember how that was actually arranged, but a group of Americans visited Dubna, and the group included Luis Alvarez from Berkeley, Bob Marshak from Rochester, me, and a bunch of other people. We went to Dubna. I mentioned yesterday that we took an SAS plane, and we got stuck and made an emergency landing in Riga and we were kept until they got spare parts flown in. It was sort of an interesting event. We then went to Dubna, and when we walked along the streets, they set up barricades where the people working in Dubna were being kept at arm’s length. They were sort of looking at us walking on the street — like animals in the zoo, I mean we were really a strange bunch of beasts walking along the streets. Then, I became acquainted both with Veksler and Dzhelepov. Dzhelepov is the head of the lower energy physics activities. He was in charge formerly of the synchro-cyclotron at Dubna. He really went very far: he invited some of us to his house. I remember admiring a bear rug in his house. To make conversation, I asked, “Where did you get that?” He said, “My grandmother shot him while she was working on the railroad.” (Laughs) We became friends, and later when he came to this country, we had him in our house and so forth.
Veksler was very insistent that they had no secrets. So, for instance, I wanted to look at one particular magnet, and for some reason or other, it was locked up, and nobody could find the key. And so, Veksler took a hatchet and broke the door down just because I’d asked to see it. I mean, they were clearly under strong internal or external compulsion to demonstrate that there were no secrecy barriers there at Dubna. Then, of course, in the next year, there were the first or second of the Rochester meetings, annual meeting of high-energy physics. Veksler then gave a talk, and said, “There used to be two kinds of high-energy physics: experimental physics and theoretical physics. Now we have to add to that diplomatic physics.” That was quite a memorable occasion. He was quite an impressive gentleman.
Then, of course, you are familiar with the story between Veksler and McMillan on the invention of phase stability where they both simultaneously invented the principle of phase stability which McMillan very extensively used in the various installations in Berkeley. There was a very gracious exchange of letters between them recognizing the independence of that particular invention. High-energy physics played a major role in sort of leading to what I might call comity among scientists during those difficult times.
During, for example, that 1956 trip, how did the language interpretation work?
There just were interpreters around. It worked quite well, but very few of the Russians spoke English, and as I recall, I may be wrong, I think none of our group spoke Russian. So, it was very much needed.
Did you bring interpreters, or did they provide them?
They provided the interpreters. I remember as part of that trip, we were also shown the research reactor in Moscow. You know who Artsimovitch is? He’s one of the key reactor developers and plasma physicists, showed me around there. I remember we were making conversation standing on top of the reactor. At that time, Fermi had just published a paper that the next accelerator would be in orbit, having an accelerator basically being one big ring in outer space, outside Earth because that would make it unnecessary to have a vacuum system for the accelerator. Artsimovitch asked me whether I had made a cost estimate, how much that machine would cost. And I made a quick calculation, and I said that the sum of the Soviet and American military budget would pay for it in two years, and he changed the subject. That was interesting. But anyway, we were able to make jokes about basically our rather nonsensical escalation of military confrontation.
Now, I've heard stories when Russian delegations, a little bit later than this, visited, and there was a feeling there were some KGB agents, that interpreters were KGB agents. There was this feeling that they were being watched and that the people they were talking to were being watched. What was the feeling during these 1950s trips in terms of that?
Each of us wrote a detailed trip report afterwards, but we just assumed we had no privacy. We assumed that rooms were bugged and made jokes about it, but we just relaxed about it and that was that. Our assumption was that conversations were being carefully noted and all that, but it didn’t impede us any. The relationships were really quite cordial, even at the 1956 thing, but there was no mixing with the general population. We were just among a fairly top level of scientific people, and we assumed there was no privacy. To the first approximation, we just factored that into it, and there were no attempts made to the best of my knowledge of pumping us whether we were doing anything secret or classified or whatever.
There’s this one episode which I mentioned. The Russians were leaning over backwards to show us that they didn’t want to hide anything. Other than the fact that we were acutely aware of the fact that probably everything was bugged—For instance we stayed, I think on that first trip in Moscow, in the Ukraine Hotel, which is one of the old Stalin-style hotels. Every second floor was essentially used for electronics for bugging. The elevator would only stop every second floor, and appropriate jokes were made about that.
How did you know?
Firstly, the elevators didn’t stop there, and we sort of asked the translators about that and they sort of generally admitted that it probably had to do with that kind of thing. Of course, in those days of vacuum tubes, bugging equipment took a lot of room.
Generated a lot of heat probably, too.
Heat and electric power consumption and all the rest of it. So, none of this was viewed as anything dramatic, controversial, but sort of part of the scene.
One of the next big events that may or may not have affected funding issues and other politic issues was Sputnik in October of ‘57. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Sputnik, of course, had a major effect on the whole way of science communication to the American administration. It did not have any effect, as far as I know, on high-energy physics and funding patterns of that kind, other than it’s sort of a general liberal spirit. I’m sure you know all about that. The science advice in the government before Sputnik was not at the White House level, but was in the executive offices: the highest level was in the Office of Emergency Management. And then, after Sputnik, this was certainly viewed by the top level of the government as a “falling back of science behind the Russians”. It was highly interpreted that way, much more in the government than in the scientific community. As a result of that, Eisenhower moved the science advisory group and the Office of Emergency Management to the White House, and that was the beginning. Then James Killian became the President's Science Advisor and the President’s Science Advisory Committee was started and all that. You know all about that. I was very much involved in that at that time. But, to the very best of my knowledge, that did not really link in any, again, demonstrable way to funding pattern other than if you wish a more liberal spirit in funding pattern, but not in any policy to fund science more liberally than before. I think if you look at the growth pattern, there’s no obvious discontinuity on that.
Just about half an hour ago, you were talking about unofficial access. From what you described now, it seems that access has changed to a new level.
That’s right. That’s correct. You see, before Sputnik, I got involved often in some advisory things. One thing I should mention, when I came to Stanford, one of the first things which happened, Oppenheimer was asked in Congressional testimony how would you detect a nuclear weapon smuggled across land boundaries in a crate, and he said, “With a screwdriver.” Then the AEC asked Hofstadter and me to write a report on how would you use radiation detection and accelerators to detect a nuclear weapon in a box, and we wrote together what’s called “The Screwdriver Report”. But that was a one-shot thing; it was not an organized thing. Then, I was…the scientific advisory board of the Air Force had a panel to look into parts of the defenses, and I was asked to serve on that. But these were sporadic things.
But after 1959, the President’s Science Advisory Committee was established, and at that time, negotiations started with the Russians on a nuclear test ban. In 1958, as you probably know, there was what’s called the Conference of Experts, under the directorship of Hans Bethe, he was the head of the American delegation, then to establish the means of verifying a nuclear test ban. After that, they wrote a report, and then Teller and his group raised all sorts of questions how the Russians could cheat. So, then, a new set of negotiations started on some of the phases of detecting possible Russian cheating, one on nuclear explosions in outer space and the other one on how one could decouple or muffle underground explosions. I was asked to chair a panel for the President’s Science Advisory Committee on detection of nuclear explosion in outer space, namely what you could do to police that if you really wanted to and both Bethe and Teller were members of that panel and one of the spectacular things happened, that we wrote a unanimous report which both of… [tape break]
…these gentlemen signed. And after that, the powers-that-be decided I was ready to negotiate with the Russians, so I became the head of what’s called Technical Working Group Number One which negotiated with the Russians in 1959 on detection of nuclear explosions in space, and vice chairman of a panel to negotiate on new data on how to detect underground nuclear explosions. And it was quite a dramatic occasion because I had decided to take a six-month sabbatical absence at CERN, and we were ready to go with my family on a boat to CERN. Then I was suddenly called to negotiate with the Russians, so I said goodbye to my wife and flew over their head to Geneva, and they went alone on the boat. Then I rejoined them in Geneva and spent essentially almost day and night on that negotiation which was a very tough negotiation, in contrast to the visit to Dubna, very adversarial. I don’t know whether you want to know more about that.
Were some of the same people involved?
It was a different cast of characters?
Entirely different cast of characters. Eisenhower had the idealistic concept that you could take scientists from the two countries and basically put them into a room and have them establish a joint scientific basis of technical matters, namely the question of detecting nuclear explosions. Then from that objective evaluation, have then the political level decide what to do. That sort of idealistic concept of Eisenhower’s turned out to be unrealistic. There were several instances where basically the two sides disagreed, and I said to my Russian counterpart, “The technical facts are clear. Why are you objecting to this?” and he said, “My instructions are to take all facts into account.”
Meaning political facts?
Right. No. Let me give you an example. One method of detecting nuclear explosions in outer space is what’s called ionospheric radar, that when a bomb goes off in outer space, it ionizes the upper atmosphere and that changes radar deflections from the upper atmosphere. Therefore, if you have a radar which examines, which essentially bounces off the top of the atmosphere, this is one way to monitor nuclear explosions. But it’s also a way to monitor re-entries of missiles as they disturb the atmosphere. He knew that, and I knew that, but that was not our business. He objected to this being incorporated in a possible control system for nuclear explosions. So I said, “Our job is to see how to detect nuclear explosions,” and he said, “My instruction is to take all facts into account.”
Then on a final fact, which is also interesting in a basic way, I wrote sort of a pious concluding paragraph that said, “Our assessment is based on current knowledge. Future development will indicate whether detection of nuclear explosions will get harder or easier depending on whether we learn more about the signal or more about the background,” because at that time, there wasn’t all that much known about background radiation in space. My counterpart Federov said, “No. In the future, it will always get easier because according to our dialectic, science is on the side of communism, and therefore detection will always become easier.” So, we agreed to disagree and leave the paragraph out, and nothing was lost. But it was an interesting experience about the fact that Eisenhower’s sort of idealistic perception that you could get a bunch of scientists, lock them in a room, have them define the scientific basis, and then the politicians take over after that, that layered procedure didn’t work all that well. That was a sort of interesting episode.
Let’s move a little bit into the ‘60s and the Gulf in Tonkin and the escalation of the war in Vietnam. Can you talk a little bit about how this affected physics funding and the feeling about science and what you were experiencing there?
Again, I’m sorry I’m giving you not very good answers. As far as physics funding is concerned, I simply have no answer. It didn’t seem to influence things all that much. Of course, the McCarthy Era had a lot to do with the way science interacted with the government, but that was before.
We can go back and talk about that right now if you’d like.
Well, are you familiar with the Loyalty Oath in Berkeley?
I was in Berkeley at that time, and the Loyalty Oath business started. It started with the UC representative in Sacramento coming back to the President of the university, saying that it’s likely that the California legislature will pass a law making employment of anybody who was a Communist or Communist associate should be illegal in the University of California, so in order to preempt that, we should have everybody at the University of California sign an oath that they were not a Communist or a Communist organization member. The president and the trustees bought that in an ill-advised way, and that caused a lot of controversy within the faculty of the University of California. Some of my colleagues refused to sign. Since I had security clearances and all of that it was sort of a moot business, but since some of my colleagues’ rights were not respected, I told Lawrence, “I quit.” That’s when I went to Stanford, for that reason. Before that, Lawrence, who was very conservative, took me to see John Francis Neylan, who was the head of the Regents of the University of California. Lawrence drove me up the peninsula, he had an estate here in Atherton, and we sat down. Neylan, who was fairly elderly at the time, said, “Young man, what’s bothering you?” and I said, “I want the rights of the people to be respected.” The Neylan said, “Now listen to me, young man,” and he talked for two hours about this, that he really had no objections to Communists, but he wanted the faculty to exercise some discipline. So we parted company and I went to Stanford.
You said you felt that the years of the McCarthy, House Un-American Activities and the loyalty oath, that they affected the relationship of scientists to the government.
Yes, to some extent. Firstly because of that kind of thing, that there was an increasing pressure on scientists who work on government contracts to also, in some way or another, have loyalty checks or security checks and one had to take a fairly activist attitude to avoid that. That was one reason where in the course of negotiating the contract for SLAC, we had to fight that. But, then in Berkeley, it was even stronger, since at that time there was this very major increase in nuclear testing, and Lawrence was really sort of mixed up in it: he tried to involve a larger and larger fraction of the Berkeley radiation lab in nuclear weapons activities again during the McCarthy Era and that caused, quite apart from the Loyalty Oath, caused a fair amount of tension between people who’d just as soon combine both activities and people who felt, “No, we work on basic science. Leave us alone and let us do our basic science.” The very presence of the Korean War and of McCarthy simply caused a lot of tension within the scientific community at Berkeley, partially because the laboratory was doing both. This was one thing which sensitized me that, in starting a new laboratory here, I wanted to have a fairly clean picture as to what our mission was, irrespective of personally what we were doing.
In this time between the escalation in Vietnam — I actually have a letter that you wrote in 1967 where the colliding beam storage rings were being proposed and initially accepted with a year to do more research, and then when that year was up, not getting funded, not getting funded, and the final major proposal in ‘66 for $17.9 million was, again, not accepted. In ‘67, you wrote a letter to Paul McDaniel complaining about the way that the government was taking advice for the direction of science from scientists, that is that they would take the advice and then not do it. You mentioned in that letter that you didn’t see the storage ring, although all of the scientific community said what a great idea this was, you didn’t see them being funded except in the unlikely event of the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam. I don’t know of you were being rhetorical about that or you were really pointing to the fact that Vietnam was taking up resources.
I have not the slightest remembrance of ever having written such a letter. Did you find a letter like that in the archives or something?
There is, yes, a letter from you to Paul McDaniel. The question being that the resources going to Vietnam and the resources not coming to the storage ring and whether you —
I must have been annoyed. You’re hitting a total blank. I have no recollection of ever having written that letter. Maybe you can dig it out of the archives. I literally don’t have the slightest idea that I ever did that.
Irrespective of the letter, the difficulty in getting the storage rings funded, did you feel that that had anything to do with —
No. I mean the trouble is there were so many continuous battles about getting this funded or that funded that any one thing — I mean in the benefit of hindsight, drawing one particular one-to-one correspondence between why this particular thing didn’t get funded because of US spending money on Vietnam. I’m surprised, frankly, that I wrote that letter, but I must have been awfully annoyed.
Do you remember anything about the funding dropping off around that time?
No, but, again, this may have to do with my memory rather than with the facts.
We talked a lot about Russia. We’re sort of in the middle of the Cold War here in the mid-1970s…
Did the Vietnam War change relationships with the Russian physicists? Did the fact that the US was embroiled in this war —
To the best of my knowledge, no. It did change some of the relationships of the lab and Congress, but as far as I know not the funding. During the Vietnam War, of course, we are here on campus, there were lots of student protests, and I was quite active. I decided to have the lab be wide open, and we had Vietnam protest meetings in the auditorium.
Oh, yes. I was called to Washington to explain before the Joint Committee of Atomic Energy how come I was using university property for anti-Vietnam protests, and I said that we part of the university and I thought the feuding and having open exchange on these things, even if they were uncivil and all that, it was a better way than anything else and they bought that. Again, this was one case where possibly the fact that I was also involved in security affairs made me more credible in saying that, so I just plain told them off basically. But, we had meetings here, and I talked. There was a huge meeting here in one of the stadiums here at Stanford, and one student came up, and they said, “We have to put our body on the line,” and I said, “You are here at Stanford. You are both a mind and a body, and you better put both on the line.” They bought that.
There was lots of commotion, of course, during that time, on campus. Then there was, of course, the famous Franklin Case. I don’t know whether you know about it.
I know a little bit about that, and I’d like to talk about that. I don’t know if we want to do that now. Maybe when we do the…
That was, again, with Vietnam. There were riots on campus, and there was a Professor Franklin in the English Department. By some accident, the way the university here works, there’s something called the Advisory Board, which, if you look at campus today as of yesterday, the Advisory Board had its 100th anniversary. This is an elected body of the faculty of the university.
Elected by the faculty?
Elected by the faculty. I happen to have gotten elected, but normally what they do is just dull bureaucracy about promotions and tenure and all that kind of stuff. They also are the hearing body in case the university proposes to dismiss a tenured faculty member. Mr. Franklin, A, was charged by the university of disrupting a speech in the auditorium of a conservative speaker; and B, he was charged with leading a student mob to break into the computer center with an ax, breaking down the door because they were running a military program or what he thought was a military program; and then various other exciting to riot charges. The Advisory Board — I happened to have been elected by pure accident — I spent a whole quarter every day, from noon to seven p.m., hearing that case. At that time, Don Kennedy, who later became the president, was the chairman. What made life problematic here for SLAC was that on the one hand, as Director of SLAC, I reported to the president; but at the same time while sitting on the Advisory Board, the president and Mr. Franklin were parties before the Board. I was in principle not permitted to have talked to the president without having a lawyer from Mr. Franklin be present at the same time. Because of the way the rather convolute set-up goes, that we, the Advisory Board, were the hearing body and adjudicating body and the administration formally presented its case, and Mr. Franklin formally presented defense. The Board retained a counsel who sat with us, so any contact between a member of the advisory board and the president would be what’s known in the trade as an ex parte contact. That was certainly one thing, in addition to robbing me of a lot of sleep.
How long did this go on?
That went a whole quarter, ten weeks. It went on for ten weeks. And we wrote a long-winded opinion.
What was your decision?
The decision was to find him guilty on three counts out of four. He was asked to leave, and he is now a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. My son took a course on Melville from him. (Chuckles)
Did he really? Did he get a good grade?
Yes, I think he did.
There were no hard feelings.
He was this very intense person. He was severely criticized in some respects because he would lead a group of students into various aggressive activities, and then he would sort of duck out in the last moment. That was a somewhat unpleasant feature of it. It was interesting, and it was a learning experience for me, but it was also awkward.
How was SLAC business conducted for that quarter? Could you simply not talk to the president of the university?
I just didn’t talk to the president. By and large, SLAC was running quite well without the president. SLAC’s a big place, and as long as we don’t have a crisis, or unless he has to interact with the Scientific Policy Committee, there isn’t much unless we cut a red ribbon or something. There is not all that much or day-to-day interaction with the president other than the friendly this and that but it’s not a day-to-day relationship.
I want to follow up, cause we talked a lot about the Soviet Union in this period, and I just want to bring up China and get your thoughts on interactions with China during this period, the ‘60s to the ‘70s.
Well, In China, again, there was a Chinese physicist by the name of Zhang Wenyu who studied in the United States. He was a very nice man; he’s now dead. It turned out his thesis supervisor was Bill Wallenmeyer who was the head for a long time of the high-energy physics branch of DOE. Zhang Wenyu came to this country wanting to explore how to have China enter high-energy physics. He visited several places, and we became good friends. He was a very nice man. I went to China to talk to them.
When was this?
You can probably reconstruct it. It was during the time of the big Chinese Xinjiang Earthquake. Let me try to reconstruct it. It was probably ‘81 or ‘82, somewhere in the very early ‘80s.
Was this your first visit to China?
That was my first visit to China, and it was really a very tense initial visit. It was tense because there was an earthquake, and a lot of the buildings were condemned and the People’s Liberation Army had put tents all over the streets of Beijing for people to move into the streets and stay out because of the building damage. I thought my trip would get cancelled, but Zhang Wenyu said we must continue. We had our first discussion.
Then a mission came from China to discuss more formal collaboration, and then a collaborative agreement was signed between Deng Xiaoping and President Carter on Science and Technology cooperation. I can look all that up as far the year is concerned. The first protocol annexed to that agreement was a Protocol on Cooperation in High-Energy Physics which was signed by Jim Schlesinger who was at that time the Secretary of Energy and Fang Yi who was the head of the Science Technology Bureau. Since then, there have been annual meetings of a joint US-Chinese committee essentially to approve a laundry list of collaborative items. Initially, the Chinese decided to build a proton accelerator in the region of the Ming tombs. Both I and TD Lee thought that was a very bad idea, because at that time the AGS was already moving towards a 30 GEV region to build — I think it was 12 GEV or something of that kind. It seemed to me to be totally non-competitive. So, we invited a delegation here, and TD Lee and I conspired to show them that an electron machine which would be dual function both for basic high energy research and for synchrotron radiation for applied work might be a good way for them to enter the business at much lower investment and also appealing at the same time in a dual function, pure and applied. Fang Yi and I visited together, and Bob Wilson actually agreed with this, so they became convinced to change course, and that was the beginning. We were very personally involved in basically twisting the arm and getting them to change from the Ming tombs proton machine to what then became the Beijing electron-positron collider.
This is a personal story. They proposed that I should become a consultant to the Chinese Academy of Sciences to advise them on how to build the ring and, on thinking about that, I didn’t want to become a paid advisor to a foreign government, so instead we entered an item into the annual collaborative agreement list that “there shall be a senior advisor furnished by the Department of Energy to the Chinese.” I was being “furnished” by the Department of Energy to the Chinese as an advisor without compensation.
So you became a line item.
I was a line item, unpaid consultant. I would go there quite frequently, and we worked very hard. It was a very successful enterprise. Even though they had zero experience, they built the BEPC in, for them, record time, in four years. The actual design was done in this laboratory.
Oh, it was designed here at SLAC?
The initial conceptual design: I have the design report here. It was quite an interesting experience. There were 30 Chinese in Mao suits on bicycles who would go through the front gate every day. One interesting fact was we had a strike at that time, so here we had 30 Chinese in Mao suits going through an American picket line. I gave the Chinese a lecture that this was not a revolution but was a form of capitalist bargaining because the contract between our union had expired and they were still fairly far apart on wages and benefits and so forth; therefore they were on strike because our people felt that the value of their labor was higher than what we’re paying them. But as soon as that got settled, everybody would go back to work. So everybody took avid notes.
Where were they staying if they were biking in to Stanford?
We arranged for several of — they lived in groups in various apartments nearby. We got one complaint that two of them were taking a bath by sitting in the washbasin and it broke off the wall. There were a few smaller, minor housekeeping complications of that kind. We arranged for office space for them on the second floor of the central control building here. Then we arranged for appointments for different technical people to talk shop with them. Then they established a local bank account here, so when they needed foreign hardware, they could just buy it. So, it worked fine.
How long a period was that team here for the initial design?
For about three or four months.
Then they went back.
Then they went back, and then there was a fair amount of traffic back and forth, including me but including other people, for shorter visits. Then later, Maury Tigner spent a year and a half there. But we’ve been having continuously the annual meetings. They did a very good job. The machine worked well. They did a bunch of quite good world-class experiments. They measured the mass of the tau meson; they discovered a whole bunch of new resonant states. They did a lot of good work. But they now have a crisis as to what to do next. They went back and forth. That’s a long story. I don’t know that you want to know all of that.
But we’ve had good relations with them. The actual cooperation had actually sort of dried off significantly simply because working on their machine just became less interesting over time as other things advanced. Now in particular, Cornell has now reduced the energy of their machine, which used to be in the same energy range as the B-factory here. Cornell decided they couldn’t compete with the B-factory, so they reduced their energy and are now competitive with the Chinese machine. It’s a complicated theta triangle between the Chinese machine, Cornell, and the B-Factory here.
There’s just one other big topic in this period that I wanted to see if we could touch on, and that has to do with the minority issues and the civil rights movements that’s happening in this time. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how that affected the setup of SLAC.
Again, I don’t remember the time, but before affirmative action became a popular subject or even before the term was invented, I sort of invented it in one of our Director’s, what we called check-off meetings, I raised the question how come we have so few minority participants, so we decided to become activists about that, and we did a number of steps. Firstly, just the plain fact that unless you had a private automobile, you couldn’t get here, and since most of the minorities in this region lived in various low-rent areas, we arranged (this was pre-Marguerite [Stanford shuttle]), and we arranged a shuttle to the train station. Just transportation that increased the minority employment, right — that simple fact. Then we took an activist stance in sending physicists — and we paid for that — as speakers to various minority colleges, Morehouse University and a bunch of other ones, I don’t remember, to get people excited about high-energy physics.
This is the program that Al Ashley was involved in?
No, that was pre-Al. That was before that. That was simply direct enterprise before there was an Affirmative Action office. In fact, I think before the terminology “affirmative action” was ever introduced. We actually were quite activist about that. I had good relations personally with the black community here in Palo Alto for complicated reasons… established a scholarship at the Jerusalem Baptist Church in Palo Alto and various other such things, so we had good relations with them. We did a number of relatively pedestrian things to increase our minority participation. Of course, it didn’t do anything major because we have problems in that the pool of Black physicists is just very low; the discriminatory pattern about that reaches way back.
Then I volunteered to serve on the University Minority Affairs Committee here. That was an interesting experience because Stanford had the problem that the Asiatic community, a lot of the Asiatics often had psychological problems because they were under enormous family and parental pressure to go into science and engineering when, in fact, some of the students really wanted to become poets or whatever. On the other hand, as far as the Blacks are concerned, Stanford had a fair number of Blacks, they just wanted to “help their community”, so they all were aiming for either business or law. The internal pressure of their community to go into science and technology was extremely asymmetric.
Well, then the government became interested, and we had… we established an affirmative action program here, and Al Ashley became the Affirmative Action Officer, and I had him report directly to me. To be frank, we did all sorts of things, but it didn’t really change things very much because it didn’t simply identify top-level at least Black physicists very much because the pool was essentially very low. I mean the problem was not within reach of a single laboratory. As far as inter-racial participation at other levels is concerned, we have lots of Black, Asiatic, Spanish-speaking, what have you: we are very integrated. But I think we have the privilege of having invented affirmative action here before there was affirmative action. We did several pedestrian things which helped, but which didn’t in any dramatic way change a thing. The other thing we did before there was affirmative action, we instituted a summer program basically aimed at minorities. We would actually pay promising undergraduates from all over the place to spend some summers here, essentially apprenticed to some of the activities here. Then we gave them lectures: I gave some of them.
And this was minority students primarily?
Yes. They were essentially minority students, again, with the hope being that we would seduce some of them to go into science. Again, it’s a good program. It has a finite size. We had some recruits who turned out to be pretty good, but it certainly had no major impact on the national scene. Then it got formalized by outside pressure. We did it without calling it affirmative action, without having an affirmative action officer; we just did it from the directorate. Then that became the thing to do, and we had Al Ashley organizing. Then he became separately responsible for some of these programs and now Sue Von Gee. We basically pre-invented it.
Before the term was coined…
We had always very good relations. When I retired, I have a plaque out there from the Black Employees Association or whatever it is saying goodbye. We had always very good relations with the Black community, and of course the Asiatic community is of course extremely copious here. Of course, the standard language on the third floor here is broken English.
Did you have civil rights demonstrations in the same way that you talk about the Vietnam War demonstrations?
We had not “demonstrations” at SLAC, but we basically had quite a few noisy meetings in the auditorium where there were basically people making speeches and yelling at one another. We had no demonstrations and sit-ins and so forth.
But we had one interesting thing. We had one bomb attack here. I happened to have been in Washington at the time, and somebody dug a hole under the fence and set off an explosion at one of the modulator sections along the accelerator and blew it up. I was sitting in the cafeteria at DOE, and somebody came by and said, “Did you hear about the explosion at SLAC?” My hair stood up on end. Nobody had told me. The depressing thing was that we never caught the person, although it didn’t do much damage. Since electrons go relativistic, the fact that one section got disabled doesn’t make any difference to the machine working, so it didn’t interrupt operations. We had to fix the modulator, so the total damage was quite limited, but nobody ever took credit for it. At that time, we were speculating, because it was during the Vietnam War, we were being very liberal in having lots of meetings and confrontations, so it could have been a right-wing conservative who wanted to object to our openness on this; or it could have been an anti-Vietnam since we’re a government sponsored institution; or it could have been at that time we didn’t hire anybody, it could have been a disgruntled applicant who wanted to get a job and couldn’t get a job. I mean, we just didn’t know: nobody ever took credit…
No notes, no message?
—there was no message which came with the attack. It was a not very destructive attack. Of course, there was an investigation and people asked, “What are you going to do about it?” and we really couldn’t “do” about it. We have all together about 12 miles of fence line, and we don’t have electrified fences. If somebody wants to go in the middle of the night and dig a tunnel under the fence, there’s not a heck of a lot we can do about it. So it happened. We didn’t get any message. There were no consequences. There was no recurrence. And that’s the end of the story.
I have another story. When we had the bubble chambers, we would use our guards because they didn’t have enough to do to transport bubble chamber film to Berkley, because Berkley had a large facility for developing bubble chamber film. This was during the Vietnam protest. And I asked this fellow when he came back if he had any trouble going back and forth, and he said “No, but I had to pull my gun to get in.” To get into Berkeley! So at this point I decided to have a tantrum and we disarmed, absolutely forbade any fire arms at SLAC which we just hadn’t paid any attention to, but I found out that Stanford, that I was trying to persuade to have a “no firearm policy,” Stanford University, and it turned out that didn’t carry because some of the faculty members who lived on campus wanted to retain guns. So right now SLAC is a weapons-free zone, but Stanford University is not. That’s the status quo. But this happened during the Vietnam War. The interaction with funding, other than the fact that I was basically called before the Joint Committee to explain ourselves, I’m not aware of anything. [Break]
You don’t look up to watch the weather?
Well, let me give you an example: I was in a B29 over the first nuclear explosion and we were all deadly tired, and people asked me, “How did you feel about this historical moment?” And my honest answer is, “I turned over and said ‘Oh, it works,’ and went to sleep.” Basically if you’re a 23-year-old kid and stay up for two nights to get ready with some gadgetry, you’re just plain, maybe that’s unfortunate, you just don’t think about the profound questions of the world.
I think it’s naturally human.
It may be a defect, but it’s a fact. [Chuckles]
Just to talk about your personal experiences, your home life, work life. You mentioned in your interview with Harvey [Lynch] that when you had decided to leave Berkeley that you didn’t necessarily want to go too far. You had little kids; you didn’t necessarily want to make the big move back across the country. You talked about Adele helping you with your physics demonstrations.
Well, firstly I had the very good fortune that I got married to a lady who was the daughter of a physicist so she knows about the tribal customs of physicists, so that helps…
Can you describe what you’re referring to as “tribal customs?”
Well, we got married when she was 18 and she was the daughter of Jesse DuMond, a quite well known X-ray physicist and he was my thesis supervisor. So as an example we used to go on dates but I had to go back to fill liquid nitrogen traps, so not only did she go back but we also got Poison Oak so we made experiments whether liquid nitrogen would cure Poison Oak.
But anyway, people have a lot more energy when they’re young, and we had a fairly large family. We got married during the war. And we took; we just had a very brief vacation during the war. We lived in Pasadena and we went to Santa Monica and went for a long walk on the beach. Then on the way back, my wife was feeling sort of peculiar, stopped at a hospital and she had twins in ten minutes, so I almost had to deliver them. Then in Berkeley, it was complicated: it was hard to find a place to live so we lived in Concord and I had to commute for a long distance. But at the same time, I think we made it possible to interact well with the kids. We went on lots of mountain trips together and it worked fine. I have five kids altogether, and we’ve still good relations and all that.
Did any of them go into physics?
No, I have one grandchild and the University of Chicago, who is an undergraduate in physics, so in the first generation, no; the next generation, yes. Because I did a lot of night shifts, for instance, here in Stanford, well, you’ve been in our house, basically we lived downstairs and we had the entire second floor turned over to the kids and we just told them to be quiet in the morning and let me sleep. But we interacted a lot. I mean we took a lot of mountain trips together, and they took music lessons and had their teeth straightened and all the various things, and they are all productive functional people.
But not physicists.
Not physicists. One son is a computer engineer, two of them are musicians.
Are you a musician?
No. I like classical music but I’m essentially passive. But I have one oboist and one viola da gambist who has written a textbook on viola da gamba. One of the twins. But no physicist in the next generation and the generation after that, one who believes he’s going to be a physicist. And the great grandchild, you can’t tell.
Too soon to tell.
That’s all I can say.
You mentioned you took a lot of mountain trips. How did you arrange that with your travel schedule and work schedule?
We just did it. I fitted it in. We were very conspiratorial, we just plain scheduled things. For instance, I’m having my 85th birthday two weeks from now. And my wife and I are going to hide in Death Valley.
Now you’ve let the secret out. …
To be serious, we somehow managed. It was not a problem. It was a lot of hard work because of the scheduling and keeping kids quiet. But we took the kids and visited my parents and so forth. We are a fairly close family and still highly interactive. So we just adjusted. But I used to have many night shifts at the Accelerator, and the kids understood that fairly well. And then of course my wife is a hard-working lady. But then when we excavated SLAC, we discovered a fossil and she spent 22 years of her life restoring that. Have you seen that?
It’s in the museum.
That’s her sixth child, essentially.
She spent a long time on that.
She spent a very long time. A, she’s a perfectionist; and B, this was a totally amateur job. She didn’t care how long it took. In addition to that, even though it took 21 years, it was obviously not continuous, but it was not interacting with anybody. She’s a very good machinist, so she’s a very good mechanician, so she basically machined grooves into each bone and then put steel members into that and then hooked the steel members so the thing doesn’t have any — When you go to a museum, most fossils, they have big props up underneath, and on this one, you see it just hangs on two cables and it’s otherwise totally internally self-supported. And that’s… the reason is that all the bones have internal steel structure which she put inside. That’s why it took a long time. It’s well known — actually she has written it up.
Yes, we have a SLAC numbered publication that she authored.
There’s a SLAC pub and sometimes people go… and speak about relation with China: she has a lot of interaction with Chinese paleontologists, and she made a Chinese glossary of Chinese paleontological terms. She has lived in a scientifically interested environment all her life, so the sort of crazy customs of scientists are no surprise in the family.
Like the constant night shifts?
And travels. And of course during the war things were complicated because at that time secrecy things were such that you just had to go and go away.
You couldn’t even tell her?
No. Not during the war. During the war she did some pounding a mechanical calculator on some calculations, so she got slightly involved. But mainly because of domestic responsibility, she had her hands full.
Did she ever help you? You said she’s very mechanically inclined. Did she ever help you with building any machinery or anything?
No. Not directly. We’d talk about things, but she is not that interested in particle physics, but she’s very much interested in many natural things. Mainly she is a lot more gifted in geometry than I am.
She’s a shell collector too? An amazing shell collection. And cactus.
She’s also a shell collector. She’s also interested in essentially anything which has to do with nature.
So we were talking about the tribal customs with the night shifts, the traveling, secrecy. What other things do you think she sort of already knew about?
She helped me a lot doing the teaching periods, and I mentioned that she would help me evaluating whether lecture demonstrations were effective or not. She’s also very artistic so she helped me making some of the displays and lettering and all that. But in general, we did not interact in the actual particle physics work. But then of course, one thing which was de facto very helpful, all the time she was working on her animal, she was holed up in the basement of the control room putting the thing together, and lots of the mechanicians visited her so it helped a great deal. She has a lot of empathy with all the people around here who do hands-on work, so that it sort of helped to create a community.
Her sister is married to Dick Wilson. Is that right?
Her sister is married to Dick Wilson. That’s right.
So both of them married into this tribal…
That’s right. Dick Wilson, actually, was a post-doc here at the high-energy physics laboratory when I was director, and I introduced Dick Wilson to my wife’s sister, with certain consequences. That’s right; we are all a fairly prolific family. I think the Wilson’s have six children, and I have five. We call it the Panofsky fast-breeder. [Chuckles]
In general, we are a big family but I think that your question is where did my rather irregular, not nine-to-five lifestyle give problems, and I would say “no” partially because my wife understands how it works —[tape break]
— and we do lots of things together. Anyway, now we’ve been married for 62 years, which is a fairly long time.
So something is working right, at least for 62 years, then.
In a previous interview, you mentioned I think that your father’s interest in art history, that being his vocation, and he talking about it a lot actually turned you and your brother off.
Well, yes, I think that’s probably true. At least, we never took a great — my father was a very prominent art historian in Germany, and he had two sons, and he called the two sons “die klempner” “the plumbers”. My brother was an astronomer who then turned to meteorology, so neither of us pursued the father’s profession. And this is more joke than anything else, but my father used to go to museums and take his children and then spend three or four hours in front of any one pictures and the children being bored to tears, while he and my mother, who was also an art historian, would discuss one painting, which is not a good way to keep children amused. But whether that is the reason we were not interested, I have no idea, but at any rate, the answer is no, but, again, we have good relations. My father’s letters have now been edited. My father was a prolific letter-writer; there is a gentleman by the name of Professor Wuttke at the University of Bamberg in Germany who is issuing my father’s letters in five volumes. And it’s a beautiful job. Two of them have come out, whether he’ll live long enough to get the rest of it out, I don’t know. But it has a lot of correspondence between myself and him also on our respective attitudes.
How did your father, having had you sit in front of a painting for four hours when you were a kid, how did that affect your interactions with your own children, do you think?
Not very much. My wife is very artistic. She paints. There are several of her paintings around the house. I don’t know cause-and-effect, but for reasons which I don’t — as I said, two of my children are musicians professionally, and also my granddaughter is very artistic and paints and so forth and so on. But there’s a lot of difference between art scholarship, which was my father’s — my father was not an artist. But then my wife’s father was also manually very gifted and he was an extremely good machinist and designer. In my publication list, I wrote my wife’s father’s biographical memoir in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s quite a long biography. So, that’s in the library.
Well actually I meant how did it affect the way that you chose to talk about your own vocation with your own children?
I don’t have the slightest idea. [Laughs]
Did you talk much about physics with your children?
I talked a lot of physics with my children. I’ve tried to explain geometry to them and I’ve been helping grandchildren with science projects and all that kind of thing. But let me explain, in some way or other, I’m not very conspiratorial about what I do or don’t do with my children, or whatever. I just sort of spontaneously do this or that or the other, so I do indeed interact with grandchildren on science projects, and I’m very heavily, was heavily involved with getting the Exploratorium here going, and I took the kids quite often to that. Have you been through that?
The tactile dome, you mean, or just the whole —
Tactile dome, yes. I’ve been through the tactile dome with my wife, I’ve been through with kids, all that. We gave them some hardware from SLAC. Not very much; I go there occasionally.
Didn’t they give you some sort of honor last year?
Yeah, last year. The trouble is they have an annual event where they give people honors, which to me it’s essentially for the fat cats of San Francisco. It’s fundamentally a fundraising event, and it’s full of well-to-do people from the Bay Area community and all that and all that… Well, you have to do that if you run a museum from which essentially has very little public money. I find it somewhat… the original founder of the Exploratorium was Frank Oppenheimer, and we were very close friends.
He was the brother of —
He was the less prominent brother of Robert Oppenheimer, and he was an experimentalist and a theorist and a chain-smoker, and died early. Very nice man. I got to know him very well. He lost his job after a run-in with the Un-American Activities Committee, then became a gentleman farmer in Colorado, and then decided to go back and found a museum. I worked with him in the original day when we just prowled around San Francisco where a good place to be to do that. But he was very interesting. A very nice man. Very, very tight, high-strung gentleman.
Really? So you became friends with him at Berkeley?
Yes. Yes, in fact he worked on the proton linear accelerator. He did some microwave modeling of the proton linear accelerator cavities, which I designed. Alvarez was the head of the proton linear accelerator activity there, and I was sort of Alvarez’s chief honcho, and Frank Oppenheimer was part of that group, and he then became the founder of the Exploratorium.
But as far as my private life is concerned, it’s basically a fairly open book, a fairly standard family. I mean, Vice President Quayle’s campaign about family values is probably… [Laughter]
I’ve been curious, how did you get the nickname “Pief”? Was that a family nickname?
Not at all. That has to do with the German funny papers.
The Katzenjammer Kids?
Yes. There are Katzenjammer Kids, but also there is a well-known cartoonist in Germany by the name of Wilhelm Busch who wrote Max und Moritz, and he also wrote a cartoon strip called Plisch und Plum, which are two dogs. And there was a visitor by the name of Pief who went through life with a telescope, and he was being asked, “Why do you use a telescope all the time?” and he said, “I want to see what’s going on far away, and I am here anyhow.” He had been [unintelligible]. But then he fell into a lake and got pulled out by the dogs. At any rate, his name is Pief. One reason why everybody called me that, because my real name with middle names is so long-winded that nobody wants to use that. So when I was in college, basically, people said, “What do you want to be called?” so I just pulled out the nickname and it stuck.
So you picked it?
Well, no, I had the nickname all the time. But people just got tired of my regular name because it’s essentially unpronounceable to my friends.
When you say you had it all the time, from when you were a young child?
I don’t remember when it got picked up. But actually, Pief, the nickname Piefke has multiple origins. There is the Plush und Plum one, and then there is Piefke and Pafke [?].
That’s the one I’ve heard. Who are Piefke and Pafke?
My brother is Pafke, yes. And that is also some other comic strip in Germany, but I’ve never seen it, so I can’t trace that. It’s not the Katzenjammer Kids, and it’s not Max und Moritz, so the one Piefke I trace to Wilhelm Busch, but the Piefke and Pafke I’ve never been able to trace. I cannot give you an authentic —
So even for you, the origins are shrouded.
I’ve had the nickname for a long time, but whether it was derived from the one or the other of these comic strips I can’t be sure.
Well I don’t want to overstay our welcome today, so we will talk about tomorrow.
All right. I have no secrets about my private life, but I don’t think it’s particularly interesting, because it is really correct that the complications of my professional lives are real, but somehow or other we manage to adjust to that. And of course, I quit running night shifts after a while. Obviously, I sort of stopped doing that in the middle of my SLAC career. But on the other hand, absences have been fairly frequent.
Sure. You travel a lot still.
You stopped running night shifts because you got so senior that you didn’t have to anymore or because —
I just plain didn’t stay awake during the night shift. [Laughs] I didn’t have the control of doing that.
Tomorrow we thought we’d talk about two different things. One is the change in the safety which we talked about yesterday, and then also —
That would be relatively short. I’d be happy to talk about it, but I don’t have any profound insights.
And then the other is medical physics, starting from Berkeley pre-war.
Yeah, but again, I’m highly inexpert. I mean I’ve been exposed to it, but I’ve been totally uninvolved in it. I’ve been in a situation where my colleagues frequently — [Tape 4 of 8, Side A]
In our last recording we talked about the SSC, and we can talk about that again. But the next linear collider, of course a basic assumption is no one country or even one continent can “afford” to build the next linear collider, and of course that basic assumption is technically simply wrong. If you can, from one day to the next, appropriate $87 billion as supplemental appropriation for Iraq, we can certainly “afford” a $10 billion spread over eight years if there was a political will to do that. So the fact that the next linear collider has to be a “truly international” enterprise is arguably a matter of political reality, and it probably is indeed a political reality, but certainly the statement that no one country or continent can afford it is simply technically invalid. And the difficulty is that in order to have it be truly international, we are now going through incredible gyrations in the management. We’re going through a very elaborate, successive process, firstly of design selection, and then site selection, and management arrangement, and we’re even going so far to trying to decentralize technically the actual operation, to make it possible that your actual operations people can sit by their computer and run different components remotely from their home base.
In other words, you solve by political necessity making particle physics what are called “space-like,” to make basically a pundit that means that, like NASA that means that we’re behaving as if the product, the machine, is going to be untouchable by human hands even though it actually sits there on the ground. So the question is really how many technical compromises do you make in order to accommodate to what is the political reality of the truly international arrangement, and one can study and one can decide how to do that.
The real problem is what happens if something goes wrong? Namely, if there is a major problem, either in terms of not obtaining operational goals, in terms of beam delivery or something just breaks or there’s a major failure or something or other, then eventually there has to be a concerted effort to fix it, and so how can you simultaneously have a highly decentralized management operation but still have the reserved capacity that if something goes really terribly wrong that you can go fix it. I don’t know how that’s going to work. So we are really going quite far from the non-affordability argument to the international management business. And I’m not arguing about the political reality of that; I’m not close enough to it. That’s probably very real. But the question is how much in terms of the technical realities are you sacrificing in order to accommodate that political reality? I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. But I certainly hope it will go.
I have the problem that fundamentally the United States is not a reliable partner in international enterprises. We changed our mind in ITER by going, joining it, unjoining it, and rejoining it. The present administration is being very negative about formal commitments which go beyond go beyond any one administration in the treaty world, but in order to create something like this, you have to make binding commitments which transcend successive administrations. So by virtue of making it truly international, you are creating impediments which are tough. And Jonathan Dorfan is a hero and he’s doing an exceedingly good job at being the head of ICFA and setting up these rigorous deliberative bodies, getting cooperation with Fermilab. But for instance, right now, there’s a real tension between CERN and the rest of the community about the next linear collider because their succession of technology is combining — at what point do you decide, “Let’s go,” or when do you wait for the next technology? All these things are extremely difficult decisions on an international basis. I don’t know the answer. I’m just a worried bystander.
A worried and informed bystander.
Reasonably well informed. There’s certainly no question: it’s really quite remarkable how much international consensus there is that the next linear collider is the next logical step in the accelerator business. I mean, independently, ICFA the European commission, the HEPAP here, and the Asian Committee on Future Accelerators, that each one of them came up to the same answer. So there is international consensus, at least among the committees; there are obviously individual dissenters. But how to translate that international consensus among the scientific committees into a functional business, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
In your interview with Harvey, you talk about how with the SSC you had — you didn’t say lip service, I’m saying lip service — but there was lip service, ‘yes, the SSC is a good thing,’ but people voted with their feet to stay away. Do you see that being a problem?
That kind of happened here, too, because in order to vote with your feet here depends the way your feet are going to go. That’s not known. In the case of the SSC, again, it was a truly national facility, but when there was a site competition, 30-some states said it was the greatest invention since invention of the wheel, and then as soon as it was decided to have it be in Texas, it became “the Texas machine”. So there was a disconnect between the competition of getting it where they wanted to get it and the true, down-to-earth cooperation. That extended both to the political commitment, and also to the individual physicists’ commitment, which was to some extent related. One reason the physicists didn’t vote with their feet was because they weren’t very happy with the administrative setup, because the DOE had a site office, and they basically had 10,000 line items where they had to sign off in any budget change in any one of the line items. So it put too much micromanagement control into the hands of administrators who simply didn’t have the technical background to exercise that much control, so people didn’t like that, and then the relationships were not good between the DOE and the SSC director.
One thing we didn’t talk about that, here we had always exceedingly good relations with the AEC or the DOE. There were always people on the staff level and at the higher level both, who basically felt fairly comfortable in dealing with us, and we never had any personal animosity. I mean we didn’t necessarily get what we wanted, but we didn’t have any micromanagement problems.
And was that the result of a conscious decision to try to get along with the AEC, or was that just sort of a happy accident?
It was some of both. It was partially due to the fact — again, times are different. This was one case where the Cold War atmosphere helped. During the hot war, physicists had demonstrated — call it the “hard way” if you wish, that they could manage and produce more rapidly and more efficiently than industry contracted to by the government. And people remembered that, so there was much more willingness to have the academic contractors have their way. The national laboratories were much less contractors than partners.
So one erosion that has happened since the Cold War, that now when there are flaps in Los Alamos about mislaid hard drives or Wen Ho Lee or whatever, everybody yells and says, “Change the contractor,” or in Brookhaven when there is a flap about tritium contamination, “change the contractor.” Well the fact that, historically, the AEC couldn’t exist without its national laboratories that has sort of disappeared, so there’s been a gradual shift from partnership to contractor relationship. So how that’s going to go, I simply don’t know. And CERN is again, a sort of a scale model. Have you studied the CERN management arrangement in any way?
No, not specifically.
They have a council which basically each member country is represented by two representatives, one political, one technical. They have veto power, but then they nominate a director general, but then the director general serves for a fairly limited term, and there is an unwritten law that the director general has to be rotated among the member states. So if in the NLC [Next Linear Collider], politically there’s a necessity that the director has to be rotated among the different nationalities, and so forth, all this adds a political complication, which isn’t necessarily the best way to get the job done. I’m perfectly happy to agree that that’s a political necessity, but how it actually is going to get done, it’s still not a closed issue. Anyway, end of speech. [Laughter]
Third floor of Building 040 at SLAC was where the Theory Group was located.