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Interview of Edward Gerjuoy by Greg Good on April 14, 2013, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/40682-3
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Edward Gerjuoy ws born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 19, 1918, of a Romanian immigrant mother and Russian immigrant father. He attended Thomas Jefferson High School, along with other classmates who became well-known physicists. He studied at City College of New York. He was minimally involved in the Young Communist League. He completed the Ph.D. in physics under J. Robert Oppenheimer at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1942. Gerjuoy discusses his teachers, professors, and fellow students. He describes the classroom atmosphere, the personalities, and the courses. Gerjuoy, who learned no calculus in high school, became a theoretical physicist, specializing in quantum mechanics. During World War II, Gerjuoy worked as a civilian scientist on anti-submarine warfare, ultimately leaving a Sonar Analysis Group under Lyman Spitzer. After the war, he taught at the University of Southern California, New York University, and the University of Pittsburgh. He also worked at Westinghouse Research Laboratory, General Atomic Laboratory, and directed a plasma research group at RCA Laboratories in New Jersey. At age 56, Gerjuoy decided to take a sabbatical and started a degree in law. While on leave from the University of Pittsburgh, he served as one of three judges on the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board. He nevertheless remained active in the American Physical Society, especially on the Committee on the International Freedom of Scientists (CIFS) and the Panel on Public Affairs (POPA). He played a role in the Wen Ho Lee case regardin gnational security matters at Los Alamos. He was editor-in-chief of Jurimetrics Journal of Law, Science, and Technology for six years. His interest in recent years relates to quantum computing.
It is April 14, 2013. I’m Greg Good, and I’m interviewing for the third time Ed Gerjuoy. So let’s get started. I think that this will work just fine.
You’ll hear me from here.
I can hear you from there, and I’m sure it will show up.
I mean that can hear.
Oh yeah. I think that will do fine. Yeah. So I wanted to ask you questions mostly about your career in the law, which might seem to people like a left turn from a physics career.
It’s a left turn or a right turn, yeah.
Or a right turn, yeah. A turn, in any case. So how did you decide to go into law?
Well, let me say, this week, this very week, I gave a TEDx talk at a conference in Nijmegen, which is essentially supposedly on aging and relative aspects of aging. I was asked to speak essentially on successful aging, I think. I spoke actually; I prepared a talk which was filmed here and then sent there. It’s on the web right now.
I’ve seen it, in fact.
You have seen it?
I did, yeah.
Oh, great! You have seen it. Okay. Anyway, I explained there what I’m going to tell you here. At the time, there was no statute, which prevented universities from forcing retirement of professors when they reached age 70, no matter how good they were, and so on. There is such a statute in force now. In fact, at my university, University of Pittsburgh, about four or five years after I would have had to retire, it came into effect. So I knew that my health was very good, and I knew that I would want to continue working. I just didn’t see the point of waiting and going on until I was age 70 and then trying to do something. That was number one.
Number two was that the field I was working in, which was mainly atomic collision theory… I was mathematically inclined. I had originally in college a combined major in math and physics, and I think compared to most of the theorists, I actually was pretty good at math. That’s what I did. But there are, first of all, a limited number of problems that you can use theory on. I mean you can solve electrons on hydrogen and electrons on helium. As the problems get more and more complicated, there’s less and less likelihood of reasonable analysis. That was combined with the fact that computers began to come in, and as computers come in, the point of more complicated problems — I mean there’s no point of doing anything else but programming them. It’s just foolish. As a matter of fact, a number of people in my field were beginning to put in large computer programs. The man named Alex Dalgarno, for example, is in this field. I did not want to do this.
So actually what happened was — and I’m now telling you the absolute truth — I decided I was going to change my field of physics. That was my first thought. I was thinking of going into statistical physics, and I looked into the literature and so on. Every field of physics has pretty smart guys in it, and I decided that it would probably take me a good three years before I could learn enough statistical physics to start doing publishable work. At that point, sort of a bubble rose above my head, you know, “Gee, three years. I could do a lot in three years. I could get a law degree in three years!” So that’s really what happened. But the main impetus unquestionably was the fact that I knew I’d have to retire, so I’d have… And in fact, that’s what I did.
I first of all… You know, I hadn’t been to school for — I mean I had to take the LSAT, and I took it. Actually, I thought that I’d done pretty terribly. I discovered that I was in the 90th percentile, pretty good you know. Then it became a matter of applying to a law school. I had a sabbatical coming up. That’s how I took the first year of my sabbatical, and I determined that I was going to apply to law schools as far from Pittsburgh as possible because again, although I’d been a good student, it was a long time since I’d been a student, and I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t flunk out. If I did flunk out, I wanted to flunk out as far from Pittsburgh as possible!
So I applied actually to California, one of the schools, and the big school there is Boalt Hall, which I did not get in. But there’s another school called Hastings School of Law in San Francisco. It’s a branch of the university. It’s a pretty good school, and I did get in there. I was there. I went the first year there on my sabbatical, and I started out. Actually, I really had forgotten how to be a student. But as time went on, I got better and better and I finished pretty well. I finished the year there, and I would have loved to stay, actually. My wife was with me; she’s a Californian. But you know, I just needed to live. I had money; we still had children. So I came back to Pittsburgh, and I applied and got into the University of Pittsburgh law school, and so I finished my second and third years at Pitt. In fact, what I did was I went on half time. I mean I’d given up all my research grants, actually, before I went off to law school. But I went on half time and I went to law school full time, and I did my teaching in the evening, at night. I finished the next two years that way, and as a matter of fact, I got better and better. I may as well boast, so I actually — believe it or not, I came out second in the class!
Okay. Now you made this decision in the 1970s. You were in your mid-fifties when you started.
Yes. I started law school at 56. I got my law degree when I was 59. 1977. That’s right. Then what happened is for a year — I mean you know, I got out of law school and it wasn’t clear what I was going to do. You know, I couldn’t apply for a job like a regular law associate. I mean it was different. I did sort of flounder for a while. But while I was in law school, I had to try to decide what I wanted to specialize in, and people advised me that I should go into patent law. I got that advice from all kinds of people. But I really didn’t want to. I thought patent law was very dull. As a matter of fact, it’s now become a very sort of exciting, interesting field of the law. It’s called intellectual property law. But in those days, it really was you still were grinding away looking at patents and I didn’t want to do that. So I chose environmental law, which I was interested in.
Now the University of Pittsburgh did not have a specialty in environmental law, but what they had, they had sort of an extern program. You could take courses — get course credit working with some outside group. The state of Pennsylvania has what was called then the Department of Environmental Resources. It’s now the Department of Environmental Protection. But they have an office, I mean a headquarters, in Pittsburgh as well as in Philadelphia and so on. So what happened was I was assigned to work with one of the lawyers there at DER. I’d go down there a couple of times a week, and that’s how I got started in that field. I worked with them for a couple of years and then graduated. Well, they apparently were sort of impressed with me.
In any event, there was a board in Pennsylvania called the Environmental Hearing Board. It still exists. The Environmental Hearing Board acts as a court of appeals from decisions of this environmental agency now called DEP, the DER. It was a three-man board then; now it’s a five-man board. It’s actually expanded. It was a three-man board, and the members are nominated by the governor and they’re confirmed by the State Senate. Actually, it’s a fairly important job. I’ll say a word about that in a minute.
Now as it happened — So my name was mentioned to the governor by the people at DER who knew me. The governor was Thornburgh, and as it happened, Thornburgh knew me because during the Vietnam War, I actually had organized an anti-Vietnam War group at the University of Pittsburgh. I had organized it. At that time, Thornburgh was just getting into politics and wanted to run, and he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to run on an anti-Vietnam — he was a Republican — against the Vietnam War. So we had quite a few conversations and so on. So he knew me.
Well, can you pin that down to a year when you did that?
When I was head of the…
When you started this anti-Vietnam War group.
Well, we’ll have to remember when the Vietnam War was!
Yeah. Well, roughly ‘66 to ‘74.
Well, it was not long. I would say ‘67 to ‘68. I don’t know. It was fairly early.
And I really was the organizer. There’s no doubt about that.
As a faculty member.
Well, this is a faculty… It was a group. It was a faculty organization against the Vietnam War, and the University wasn’t exactly happy with it, but they didn’t really stop it. But for instance, I can tell you one of the things was that initially we, the members of the group, were sending out things to people and so on. The president then (he was a nice guy), he called me in very nicely and told me that he wished… He did not want me to use university mail for any anti-Vietnam War correspondence. So we did our correspondence in ordinary mail, for example. That was that sort of thing. So I was heading that, and then as I say, actually I resigned after three years. Somebody else took it over. But—
But Thornburgh got to know you then.
Yes. During this period, Thornburgh was beginning… He may have served something locally. He was beginning his attempt at national — and he wanted to run for Congress. He was wondering what it would — and so somehow he heard of me and we talked. We talked quite a bit. In fact, he tried to convert me to be a Republican! [Laughter] But anyway, whatever the reason was (I’m sure that was it), he nominated me to the State Senate.
To the State Senate?
I mean he nominated me to this position, but it had to be confirmed by the State Senate.
I see. So he nominated you to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board.
Environmental Hearing Board. It was a three-man board, and it was a six-year term. As a matter of fact, this was about 1981 and so on, so it was about three or four years after I’d gotten out of law school. I had done a few little things not very important, and I spent… We had about three weeks or four weeks to come, and I spent most of my time trying to figure out good reasons why they should put me on the Board because I really had very little legal experience, and this was… You really were a judge. An administrative law judge. Most administrative law judges, though, are much lesser. You see, they have rules of procedure, first of all, and the rules of procedure of the Environmental Hearing Board were almost identical with the rules of procedure of the ordinary court system. I mean it was really much… We heard expert testimony. People could get questions of witnesses, you know all kinds of things. So I was trying to explain why I deserved to be a judge, you see.
Well, I got to the State Senate, and the only question they wanted to know of me was what was I going to do about the University of Pittsburgh job I had? They thought it was a conflict of interest for me to be on the Board and remain as staff of the University of Pittsburgh. So I had about five minutes really. I was sitting there, and essentially what they told me was, “If you’re not going to resign from the University of Pittsburgh, we will not confirm you.” Well, I don’t think I would have done it if it hadn’t been for the fact that I knew I would have to leave the University of Pittsburgh when I was 70. I was 64 or 63 at that time, so I agreed. That was it, and that’s when I retired from the University of Pittsburgh, and that’s when I started my legal career.
It was actually quite interesting. It was really very interesting, but there were certain difficulties. Let me say first of all that the salary at that time was really not very good. I’m sure that’s one of the reasons I got the job because. It really was ridiculous to appoint me. Now I’m pretty smart and I did a good job, but I did not have the legal experience to be a judge. But I heard… I had… Oh, there were probably 100 cases a year which came before me. Now most of those cases got settled and so on, but I had a reasonable number of full term cases. I had to write opinions, and what was done is there were three people on the Hearing Board at that time. One was in Pittsburgh, one in Harrisburg, and one in Philadelphia. I had one law clerk; I had a secretary, and that was it. We would write opinions and circulate them to the other two. The opinions had to be signed by a majority of the judges, but I also wrote any number of lesser things: for instance, orders limiting evidence, orders permitting interrogatories, all kinds of things like that, all kinds of procedural issues. So I did that full-time.
And you did that full-time for six years.
Yes. Now let me say I did not want to lose my connection with the physics community, so during all that time, and starting almost when I was in law school at the end, I actually served on a lot of committees at the American Physical Society. I did that deliberately, and also I was on an AAAS committee. But yes, that’s what I did.
Then what happened was after the end of six years, my term was up. Thornburgh was no longer governor, and I had seen there were other people on the Board who had come to the end of their term, and they had been permitted to serve on. All of a sudden with essentially no notice, the governor would appoint somebody to replace them and there they were out. I didn’t feel that’s what I wanted to have happen.
Okay. So you ended at the end of your six-year term on purpose.
That’s right. But also the thing to understand is this. I was retired from the University of Pittsburgh, but I had kept my contacts there. For instance, I had kept an office. I kept a parking permit. I had kept that parking sticker for all the years of my retirement. I didn’t hardly use it because otherwise I knew when I came back good parking was very hard to get! [Laughter]
Yeah. But the thing is that it was also a very lonely life for me on that Board. That was one of the real problems because really all the major law firms in Pittsburgh and a lot of the minor law firms in the area were appearing before me. Therefore, it was completely unethical for me to get too friendly with any of those lawyers in those firms. So my social life remained with the physicists whom I had known. So even during all this period, as I say, I went back there at night, weekends, and so on. I did some mail, and I continued doing some of my legal work, and in fact, I published a number of physics papers during this whole period.
You did. Yeah.
So that was done. Then when my term was over, as I say I knew my term was going to be over. When my term was over, I knew people at Stanford, and I was given a visiting appointment in the Department of Mathematics at Stanford. I went out there. I had a good friend there. Only then was I able to dicker with a law firm to see what kind of a position I could get because before that it would have been unethical to do so. I managed to get a position with one of the — it wasn’t the biggest, but one of the quite well-known law firms in Pittsburgh.
It was… [Laughs]
I probably can find it.
No, no, no. I mean it’s something just blocked.
[Laughs] It will come to me. Let me just go on talking.
Okay. Ah, Rose Schmidt Hasley & DiSalle.
Rose Schmidt. At that time, it was just called Rose Schmidt. Well, they picked up Hasley and DiSalle just about the same time I joined them. Yeah. Rose Schmidt was a very, very famous law firm. They had represented Westinghouse and things like that. Okay. Yeah. So I joined them, and I was hired as “of counsel”. What that means is this. You see, again, I couldn’t be an associate. What law firms do, they usually hire people at two levels. Either you’re a partner or an associate, a young associate. An associate is a guy who is at the beck and call of everybody there to do work for them and so on. The partners are the big shots. They get the clients, and their job is really to hang on to clients. Well, certainly it was ridiculous for me to be an associate. It would have been ridiculous when I just got out of law school, and I didn’t want to go out chasing clients. So “of counsel”, what was just — For instance, the people who become “of counsel” in law firms frequently are partners who have retired. They become “of counsel”, and essentially you get an office. You get a secretary. But you’re a consultant. I was paid an hourly rate depending on how I was used, and I was the particular consultant in that law firm on environmental matters. Now they had another environmental group, but I mean that was [unintelligible]. My experience with the hearing board and my knowledge of science made me actually pretty unique, so I was a valuable consultant. That’s what I did, and I did that from 1987 until 2003 when the law firm actually broke up. I was a part of the firm, but I wasn’t a partner. But they broke up, and at that time, although I still had connections because I had done some consulting with some other large law firms in Pittsburgh, one of them being Reed Smith, which is a very large firm. I decided that was it. I didn’t want to start again with another law firm. So that’s when I went back to Pitt.
Okay. Now I want to go back to the Review Board years, ‘81 to ‘86. Were there times when your background in physics or in science generally was important?
Well, that’s a good question to have been asked. It’s very strange. Let me explain on that. I was a judge, see? I was not a lawyer. I am neutral as a judge. If one of the parties comes before me and they put on a case that’s weaker than they should have put on, it is not my job to improve their case and so on. I mean I can ask questions, but my questions are essentially for enlightenment. Now see, I didn’t have a jury, but the rules of court were essentially as a jury. Therefore, I was really — As a matter of fact, there were many occasions when I had expert witnesses appear before me. As a matter of fact, I should say this. I’ve written articles on this. There is more and more scientific testimony in cases now, but in my case, just about every situation that came to trial had scientific testimony because that’s what the thing was. You see, the issues that came up were appeals from actions of the Department of Environmental Resources.
Now a typical case is this. Here’s a typical case. Probably 40 to 50% of the cases I heard had to do with claimed pollution by coal mines. A typical case is somebody out in the middle of Pennsylvania, he has a water well. And his well becomes polluted. So he looks around and there’s a coal mine not too far away, so he says, “That must be the reason for my pollution.” He gets… Somebody comes in and so on. Anyway, he calls the Department of Environmental Resources and he says, “They’re polluting my well,” and the Department sends somebody out to investigate. Now under Pennsylvania law, then and still now, if a coal operator pollutes a well, he is obligated to supply that household with good water for the rest, essentially, of time. It could be expensive. So what happens is this. The guy who investigates comes out from the Department of Environmental Resources, and either he agrees that this coal mine is doing it or he doesn't. If he agrees, the Department issues an order ordering the coal mine operator to give this guy water, see? That’s pretty expensive and so on. So almost invariably, the coal mine operator will appear. Suppose the guy doesn’t agree and he doesn’t issue an order. Then this guy with his well, he doesn’t know what to do. He gets a lawyer and he appeals. So in either case, this case comes up to me, you see, and if it doesn't get settled, it goes to trial. Then what are the issues? Well, the main issue is, is the water flowing in the underground aquifer from that coal mine to this guy’s well?
So it’s a hydrology problem.
Well, but not of the usual type because, see, the aquifer could be a couple of hundred feet down, for instance. You have to know the rate at which water flows in an aquifer is less than a foot a day. So the way you determine the direction of the flow of the aquifer is extremely subtle. It’s not a trivial thing. I’ve given a talk on this. What you do actually is you determine the pressure gradient in the aquifer, that’s the way to tell which way the water is flowing. You determine this pressure gradient by measuring the heights above sea level of a number of wells in the area. You then sort of try to figure out what the gradient is. Well, so somebody comes in and he says — They’re just a couple of inches, so he has his data, and then the other side comes in and they have their data. You know, I’m in no position to say which of these guys did that measurement correctly. I really am not. I am in a position to see if they’re asking sensible questions and so on, and I am in a position, for instance (and I can take this into account when I write my opinion), sometimes these guys only testify for the defense. Sometimes they only testify for the prosecution. I mean in other words, you don’t get people who are on both sides, and especially the people who testify for the defense. I mean there are people that testify for insurance companies, all they testify for. It’s hard to believe that they’re really objective. [Laughs] Yeah. But that’s the sort of situation. So therefore, the real issue was did the lawyers know how to examine these witnesses to show that they were or were not competent? By and large, they did not know. I don’t think I’ve told you this, but if you want an illustration, the best illustration I can give you at the moment is from my days in the law school when I was working as a student, with the Department of Environmental Resources. Did I tell you this story?
Well, I was assigned, as I say, to this lawyer there, and I would go. One of the cases that was there was the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Company. Now the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Company no longer exists. It was about 20 miles outside Pittsburgh. They applied for a variance. A variance means that although we’re breaking the law, we ask you not to enforce it against us. The variance was requested because there were limits on the amount of soot essentially that you can put into the air. The measurement of the amount of soot was made visually, it was called opacity.
So this was not parts per million at this time or the microns the size of the dust or anything.
Well, it was mostly a measurement made on the basis of the visual opacity. Anyway, they applied for this variance, and there was a hearing before the Environmental Hearing Board. I mean somebody was on the Board then. One of the witnesses for the defense, for the Wheeling-Pittsburgh, was a guy who testified, and as a matter of fact, he said his main specialty was in weather. He was a weather forecaster, and he was testifying about this opacity and so on. So he testified, and then this guy I was working with, he tapped me and he says, “Why don’t you cross-examine him?” and I was thunderstruck. This was the first time I’d ever even, you know… But he says, “All right. Cross-examine him.” I’ll cross-examine him! So I go up and I cross-examine him. Now when you cross-examine a witness… When expert witnesses testify, they always have to write a report, and they give their qualifications and so on. The first thing you do (I had learned that much), you sort of look at their qualifications. So I look at this guy’s qualifications, and he doesn't have many qualifications. But one of his prominently displayed qualifications is that he’s a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. That’s listed there. So I go up and I start asking questions, and I get him to admit that to be a member of the AAAS, all you have to do is send in…
Just have to pay your dues!
That’s right. When he admitted this finally, there was a gasp—literally a gasp. The guy who was my instructor. He writes; he makes notes hastily. I can see. A couple of other questions I asked him, which I’ll get back to. When I came back, this lawyer slaps me on the back. “That was a terrific cross-examination!” It was clear I was the only one in that room who knew what the qualifications, what you had to do to get in AAAS. [Laughter] See, that’s the sort of thing that’s typically the case.
Right. Mm-hmm [yes].
One of the things that happened also in this very case, this guy was testifying on opacity, see, on what it is. One makes the measurement essentially of the particulate concentration in the fumes by seeing how much light goes through the fumes. So he was testifying that this measurement of opacity wasn’t any good, whatever it was. So I asked him some questions, and I said to him, “Did you look at the theory of this opacity?” and he says, “Yes.” So I said, “Well, what’s the equation you use?” and he says, “The Schrödinger equation.” So now, you see, I’m a lawyer. I’m not testifying, you know. So I look around the room. No one’s showing surprise. It’s perfectly clear that I don't have a single guy on my side whom I can call as a witness to say how ridiculous it was to say that this was a phenomenon governed by the Schrödinger equation! [Laughing] You know, it’s Maxwell’s equation, whatever. So I just let that go. There was just nothing I could do because the only way I could testify was I’m no longer a lawyer; I become a witness, and as a judge, it’s the same way.
One of the things you learn in law school, for example, and this guy… I mean it’s a typical case. You see, two guys have an accident. They collide their cars driving at some intersection. One of them says that the other guy went through a stop sign and the other guy says that there was no stop sign. He saw it later, and it was blocked so he couldn’t see it. Okay. This is on the way home, you see, for the judge. So what the judge can do, he can stop. He can go past this intersection and see for himself whether the stop sign is blocked. Not allowed. That’s what he’s not allowed to do. He is not a witness, see? He must not do that. It’s up to the other side to present these expert witnesses. See, that’s the sort of thing. [Laughs]
Right. So you couldn’t say, “Explain how Schrodinger’s equation applies to this case”?
You couldn’t say —
No, no. I could say that, but there was no point in my saying that because no one would know it. That would just give him an opportunity to sound as knowledgeable. So no, I didn’t pursue that, but I got him to say a couple of other things. Then there was that key thing that he had given as his qualifications [laughter], and that was my main cross-examination. That’s right.
Okay. Yeah. So take a step to the side during that period in the 1980s when you were getting involved in the American Physical Society committees. Tell me a little bit about the committees and how you’ve interacted with APS.
Yeah, but let me tell you one other story which just came up.
Okay, and then we’ll come back to that.
Yeah. But while I was a judge, somebody testified again. This was on the water flow in the aquifers and so on. He obviously didn’t know what he was talking about, and I got sort of impatient. We had a blackboard, and I wrote down on the board — Give me a piece of paper here. I wrote on the board. I said, “Haven’t you ever heard of P = ρgh?” You know, I wrote this on the board. He said, “What has Pittsburgh got to do with it?” That was ρgh.
ρgh. P equals…Yeah.
So that was the level! [Laughter] That left me. So that’s technical witnesses.
And actually as I say, one of the things I’ve done, I’ve written a number of articles on this and have talked about the need for law schools, especially more and more, to have witnesses who know something. What I say is what they have to understand is not so much the facts of science because I mean these are so specialized, as I say. What they really should know about is what I call the sociology of science. They should know what kind of criteria you have to distinguish a good scientist from a bad scientist. They should know, for instance, that people who were on committees of important organizations or they get prizes or if they’re editors of journals (and they should know the difference between refereed journals and non-refereed journals). That’s the sort of thing they should know. Estimating the qualities of witnesses, and if they have juries, you see, what you’re supposed to do as a judge is instruct a jury on what is relevant. It’s perfectly reasonable of you to tell the jury that you should look at the qualifications and here are some of the criteria and things like that.
So it’s good to know that somebody has a Ph.D., but it’s really important to know what they have a Ph.D in.
That’s right, and what they’ve done with it. For instance, one of the things which I mentioned is that people write books, and that’s not nearly as good a criterion as, say, being the editor or writing articles in refereed journals because most publishers — If you write a book, you can usually find a publisher. It doesn't mean anything. Now what is significant — and again, what the lawyers never used to do, and I actually taught a few of them — it never occurred to them to go and look at the reviews of those books in decent journals because that tells you something. So as I say, I’ve —
So that’s more the sociology of the science.
Yeah, that’s right, the sociology of science, and I’ve written a number of articles and I’ve talked about that. Okay, now we can get —
Well actually, before we get to the APS, I’m wondering when you moved into law, because we know you were an activist in several ways before you did that, was there an area of activism that you were especially thinking about when you moved into law?
No, I wasn’t, although… I would have loved to be an ACLU—I mean something like that, but I didn’t even think of that. Yeah. But what did happen, actually, is that just about the time I got out of law school in fact, the American Bar Association has a number of different sections, you see. There’s a section on science and technology, and I decided to join the ABA and I decided to join that section. They had a journal. It soon became apparent to me that they didn’t really know what was going on. What happened was I started attending some Bar Association meetings and so on, and this editorship of that journal became vacant. I applied. I said that I thought I would be glad to be the editor. After considering it, again, I mean I was not young, but I had very little experience nonetheless. So I edited the Jurimetrics journal for six years. I was the editor-in-chief.
One of the things I started there, as a matter of fact, was refereeing. They had never sent the articles to referees. The thing would come in. The editor would review the article and decide whether he wanted to publish it or not. I started the idea that I would not publish an article if it didn’t have a referee, and I started getting referees. In fact, when I’d left, I left them after six-years term. The governing board of that section had sort of come to the conclusion I sort of knew…and they had decided that the journal should be taken over by a law school. Actually, I tried to get Pitt to do it and they again weren’t interested. It was taken over by the University of Arizona, which by the way, was one of the few law schools in the country that had real scientists on their teaching staff. They had a couple of PhDs, and so that’s where the journal was taken over.
Okay. What was the name of the journal?
Jurimetrics Journal of Law, Science, and Technology. Jurimetrics is what it was. Yes, and I was editor-in-chief for six years.
And those six years, when was that exactly? Late ‘70s?
It was roughly… Well, I got out of law school in ‘77. I’ve forgotten, but it coincided roughly, let’s say, when I was on the Hearing Board.
More or less, yeah.
Yeah. Well yeah, right. So that’s right. So that’s when I did it.
The reason I was asking is you had been anti-war.
You had already been involved with ACLU just as a citizen.
And you had future activity in environmental activism.
Well, I’ll tell you one thing I did. You know, I did get this position, and that gave me a certain amount of prestige and so on. The section of law, science, and technology which ran Jurimetrics, they had sessions at various Bar Association meetings. I had more to say, and I gave a talk at one meeting, and that was on the difference between the legal and scientific fraternity (I forget what the precise title of the talk was) in terms of the human rights record. Actually, it got some people mad, and I was astonished. I pointed out, and it’s absolutely true, that the scientists, especially physicists were way ahead of the lawyers in terms of human rights. There was a section of international rights and responsibilities or something like that. They didn’t do nearly what the APS, for instance, was doing. I even had an explanation. I can give you that talk. That is, I think, mainly because science is international. We knew. I mean I knew personally people who had suffered and got me interested and so on. Whereas the lawyers were not international. They were a much more…
Right. Okay. So let’s move to APS then and talk about the first committees that you became involved with at APS.
Oh. The first committee I became involved with, which was well before I started going to law school and so on. The Panel on Public Affairs did not even exist yet as the Panel of Public Affairs. It was some sort of a subcommittee of some other committee. I was appointed to it, and I forget now, and that must have been… I would say that was about 1970. Yeah. So that was the first committee I was on. Then I was appointed to the Committee of International Freedom of Scientists, which I later chaired. I chaired it at least twice.
Now this would have been late ‘70s?
Well, this is late ‘70s, ‘80s. The last time I was chairman was about 2000. But they were extended, as I say. That was certainly something I was very interested in was the human rights. There’s no doubt about that. But then there was another — I actually chaired POPA at one point (the Panel of Public Affairs) later at some time in the ‘80s. I was on the Council of the American Physical Society. On many APS committees, if you get nominated, the nomination is usually pretty much you get the job. But on Council, for example, they really make it that people are nominated so that there are a number of people for each post. You know, you write this description of your credentials.
A short statement, yeah.
That’s right. People get to know you to a large extent. If you’re known for one reason or another, people recognize your name. Whatever it is, I was a member of Council. Then the thing that I also did which I think is interesting is I got involved with the AAAS. I got a little bit more involved there. They have a physics section I was on. But I was nominated; I mean I was appointed. There’s something called the National Conference of Lawyers and Scientists. Now that is an organization which is jointly administered by the ABA and the AAAS, and its purpose is to investigate questions at the intersection of law and science. It’s run by the AAAS largely by money financed coming from ABA. Anyway, I was appointed by actually, at that time, the head of the AAAS who knew me. He appointed me.
Who was that?
I’m trying to remember.
It will come. It will come.
William Carey. One thing I’ve lost is remembering names. But he appointed me, and again, I was a fairly unusual appointment, although not the only one, because for instance, other scientists were on the board. Another lawyer and scientist was appointed. But during that time, I also did some of these human rights things I tried. We went on an expedition to China, as a matter of fact. We were invited by the Chinese.
This year would have been… I would say around 1990.
So just after Tiananmen Square.
No, no. It was just before.
Just before Tiananmen Square, okay.
That’s right. So it would have been 1988, 1989. Yeah, that’s right. It was before. We talked there in Shanghai and in Beijing. We gave talks and so on, and the idea was to sort of talk about American law and so on. So I talked, and I had an interview. I mean I sort of met with — I’ll never forget this. I met with… He was not exactly the mayor of Shanghai, but he was very high up, the assistant mayor or something. We were talking about this and something, and I was curious. I said to him, “Where does a Chinese lawyer find the statement of the law?” and so this guy says, “Oh, it’s no problem.” He pulls out a book, and he says, “Here it is.” You know, if you’ve been a lawyer and you’ve looked at the tomes and tomes…! [Laughing]
So to have this Chinese official point to a volume that’s about two inches thick —
Less than that!
Less than two inches thick.
That’s the Chinese law. That was it. So anyway, that was — yeah. But in the course of this position, that’s when I got to know Bill Colglazier, as a matter of fact. We had a lot of interaction. That’s when I wrote a number of papers. One of the important issues is how can you improve justice? How can you improve the use of science in justice? That was sort of how I got on some of these things. Yeah, so that’s what I did.
Okay. Who was Bill Colglazier?
Bill Colglazier is for a long time… I got to know him. He was assistant actually to Harvey Brooks, a Harvard Professor, the first person to head the pre-POPA committee that I was on. The one before it was called POPA. He was an assistant, essentially. I guess maybe he had a post-doc with Harvey Brooks.
Okay. So Colglazier was a physicist…
Yeah, he was a physicist, yeah.
…and he volunteered.
Yeah, I think he was a physicist. Then Colglazier for many, many years was the director of the National Research Council, you know the one who organized all the books which come out and so on. That was Colglazier’s job. For some time now, a year or two, he has been a scientific advisor. I’ve forgotten his title. He’s speaking now. I just had some lunch with him. That was where I went! To the secretary of state.
Oh, so he’s got… I know who you mean now.
Yeah. He gave a talk here, and I knew I knew him and so on, so I came to the talk. We were having lunch, and that’s where I went back to get it. Yeah. So that was Bill Colglazier, yeah.
Okay. Now let’s see. What other committees did you work on in APS?
Well, I worked on the… I was on Council. I was on the Audit Committee. They’re probably all listed there. I was on the Audit Committee. As I say, I was on CIFS, and I chaired CIFS at least twice. I mean the last time was about 2000. The connection with that time that I was—I got on the Wen Ho Lee, you know.
Well, that was the next question. How did you get involved in the Wen Ho Lee case?
Well, what happened was this. The New York Times, which I read regularly, they published, oh, a couple of very long articles about the Wen Ho Lee case, and I read them. There just were aspects of it. I mean this guy was accused of so many… So I spoke to Irving Lerch, who at that time was the member of the APS administration which was supposed to be coordinating the work of our committee, CIFS. I spoke to him. I said, “Well, this guy is not a physicist. He’s really more of an engineer, but we’ve always had a fairly liberal attitude upon the jurisdiction of CIFS. Should we try to do something here?” So he said, “Yeah.” So he found out who the lawyer was who was representing Wen Ho Lee, and I called this guy. His name is John Cline.
Yeah, but I don’t know if it’s George. But it’s [Cline]. I called him up and I told him. I didn’t mention that I was a lawyer, but I did mention we have a committee and we were curious on whether or not you can use some help from us or something like that. So what he did was he sent me the transcript of the hearing which denied Wen Ho Lee bail. What happened was they denied Wen Ho Lee bail, see. So I got that transcript and I read it, and I was just astounded. I mean that transcript was unbelievable. The things in it… See, Cline was actually a pretty good lawyer, and what happened was the government put on witnesses about how… on what Lee had done. I don’t know if you know what he did. I’ll tell you if you really want to hear. But Cline couldn’t get any witnesses to counter what the government was doing. So the government was asking that he be denied bail. This hearing was just on the bail hearing. So Cline said to the judge, “Well, he’s in his fifties. Can’t he be held under house arrest,” in particular because the FBI — I mean it was not the FBI so much. It was the security people from the Department of Energy. They actually were maintaining — they had been following him around, and they were planning to be wherever he was. So they would have maintained people outside while he was in his house. So Cline says there’s no real danger. They can watch him. So what did the government — This is all in the transcript, which I still have. I couldn’t believe it. So the government put on one of these guys in security who said that Wen Ho Lee is so dangerous, he knows so many secrets and so on, that we can’t be sure that if we put him under house arrest that this enemy, who is not named but obviously was China, you see, wouldn’t send in a helicopter with armed men. They could land down there and they’d kill these government representatives and they’d take Wen Ho Lee and fly him out of the country. This is in the transcript. [Laughs] So the judge denied him bail.
So he was denied bail on the basis of assertions.
Yeah. But the point is the government also put on witnesses about how important was the stuff he had done, all kinds of stuff like that. So as I say, I got this and I called Cline up. John Cline. I said, “Couldn’t you find… This is just ridiculous! Couldn’t you find witnesses to counter this kind of nonsense?” and he said he had tried and he hadn’t been able to find any witnesses. Wen Ho Lee had not been much help. Okay. So I said to him — then I told him I was a lawyer by then, and I said to him, “I think I should be able to find you witnesses.” So he said, “Well, we’d be glad for you,” and he put me on the defense team. That’s when I got on the defense team, and my job was to go out and try to find some witnesses, which I did.
So in a couple of weeks after we talked, I made a trip out to Los Alamos. I went to Albuquerque because I knew people at Los Alamos. I had a couple that I knew very well. You know, why can’t we get some witnesses to talk? Because Wen Ho Lee really was just very peripheral in that thing. Well, when I got out there, one of my friends actually sort of called a house party at a point and invited a number of people whom we know. I started talking to those guys, and they didn’t want to testify for Wen Ho Lee. They were furious at Wen Ho Lee! They were so angry at him they said they’d be glad about anything that would happen to him.
What Wen Ho Lee had done was this. At the Los Alamos Laboratory, they have essentially two computers. There’s an internal computer, and the internal computer anybody at the lab uses and they can use it freely. But the idea was if you want to communicate with anybody in the outside world, use the external computer for email and things like that. That was their method of guaranteeing that no one could hack into the internal computer.
So the internal computer simply is not on the Web.
That’s right. That’s right.
Yeah. It’s isolated.
That’s right. Now what Wen Ho Lee had done, he had downloaded some reports he had written and so on and downloaded them from the inside computer to the external computer. He was going to apply for a job in Taiwan, I think, somewhere like that. Well, it was dumb. Of course security watched this, so they knew immediately when he had done it. And then he was Taiwanese and so on. They followed him around actually for nine months, and they finally arrested him. But that’s what he had done. But the result of that was that inside, the use of the computer got to be much more restricted. So these people who were used to freely… All these restrictions got much worse, and they were so furious at Wen Ho Lee for having done this dumb thing that they didn’t want to testify for him!
So they weren’t furious at him for a national security breach…
No, I don't think so. That’s right. Yeah. So after talking to them, I sort of came home. I was actually a little baffled. But I got to talk to others of my contacts and so on, and I got the name of a man who had retired from Los Alamos about three or four years ago, which was before this whole thing had happened, and who was generally agreed to have been one of the most ingenious and inventive bomb designer that they’d ever had at Los Alamos. In fact, he lived in Albuquerque, and so I contacted him and told him the case. He said, “Oh, Wen Ho Lee.” He knew Wen Ho Lee wasn’t doing anything important, and so he agreed that he would testify. He wasn’t mad at Wen Ho Lee, you see, because he hadn’t been subject to those irritating security restrictions.
It didn’t affect him one way or the other.
That’s right. It didn’t affect him. That’s right. So I got him in touch with John Cline.
Can you say his name?
Anyway, I never got to actually partake in the case because what happened, although I was put on the Wen Ho Lee team, see, I immediately had to get cleared. The lawyers for Wen Ho Lee had to get clearance and so on to get to see anything, and so they started the clearance process. I actually filled out the forms, and an FBI guy came and investigated me, and I actually got cleared. But I got cleared only about three days before Cline had secured another hearing on this bail thing at which this guy testified and things came out. One of the things the government had done was it had raised the classification level of some of these documents Lee had had, in other words, so that they seemingly were more important than they actually were.
To make it look more important.
That’s right, which is a nasty thing to do. Anyway, originally there were about 20 counts against Wen Ho Lee, including espionage… I mean actually he could have lost his life. I mean they were really…
Oh yeah, yeah. Very serious. What finally happened was the government agreed to drop all the charges except one. Wen Ho Lee pleaded guilty to that charge, and he was released on time served; he had been held well over a year. That was the actual outcome of the case. But the judge — this is the thing. The judge apologized to Wen Ho Lee. That’s one of the noteworthy stories of the case. The judge explicitly, he was a good guy, admitted that he had been hoodwinked, that he should not have denied him bail. They should not have refused to let him be in the house, so that’s what happened.
My role in the case, as I say, it was in the book. There were a couple of books that have been written on this, one by Wen Ho Lee and a ghost writer and so on. They both mention me explicitly, that my finding this witness and so on was the thing that saved him.
Yeah, yeah. Well, it sounds like this bomb designer was the critical witness.
Oh, yeah. There’s no question. No question. That’s right.
How did it come out that the government had increased the classification level on the documents?
They should not have. I mean that’s… How did it come out?
Yeah. How was it found?
Well, that could be found. I’m not quite sure, but that could have been found in various ways. I mean they could see the classification level at the end, and they could have asked people. It might have been they asked this guy, this witness whether he had seen these documents and what was the classification previously. But something like that came out. Or there’d be records. You know, you’re entitled to get interrogatories and things and ask the government. You think of all kinds of questions when you do this, and they might have asked the government, you know, to list the classifications at the time Wen Ho Lee was arrested and so on. They might have gotten a whole list and then comparing them seen that. Yeah. But I don’t know that detail; I just know it came out because I never was explicitly involved in that part of the case because it was just finished, as I say. That second hearing when this guy testified and the judge… The government’s case collapsed and they admitted it. But they just refused to say we had done so, so they agreed on time served on one count and all the others were dismissed. So that’s what happened.
Yeah. Okay. This is non-chronological, but I wanted to go back and ask you some questions about earlier parts of your career that I didn’t ask you about before.
In particular, I wanted to ask about your time at General Atomic Corporation, so let’s just start there. How did you get the job at General Atomic?
Well, what happened, there again you see, I had been —
And I should say this is 1958.
Yes, yes. That’s right. I came to Pitt in 1952. I came as an associate professor. I mean I’d already been an associate professor, and I came… It was one year of… I had tenure, but with, I guess, the right of the University to reverse it. But I was a tenured professor, associate professor. It had been six years, and I really had done a lot of pretty good work. I thought it was time for me to be promoted. I mean they were promoting other people.
So I went to Halliday, who was the chairman of the department. He was a nice guy, and I told Halliday it was time for me to be promoted. Halliday agreed with me; he said he agreed. But Lorne Page — maybe we shouldn’t mention his name. [Laughs] I don't know. But there’s this other guy in the department who really was a very bad teacher. Anyway, he had done an experiment. That was about the time when the idea of parity violation came in, and he had actually done a good experiment showing that in beta decay the electrons didn’t come out symmetric front and back showing there was a parity violation. He had done that experiment and he had gotten a fair amount of publicity. So Halliday said to me, “I’d like to take this opportunity to get Page promoted. I don't think I can get two of you through, so I’d like you to wait another year.” So I said to Halliday, “Gee, I don't get this. I’ve waited. I mean I don't care. I think it’s my turn to be promoted; I should be promoted!” He didn’t want to do it.
Well, Creutz, who was the chairman of the department at CMU, had just recently gone out to be the director at General Atomic, which was just being started then.
Right, with this brand-new building and campus and everything.
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, right off in La Jolla. I’d gotten to know Creutz. I mean I’d gone to seminar, didn’t know him well. My wife came from California; she’d always wanted to go back. I thought, “What the hell?” So I wrote to Creutz and told him I was interested in the possibility of a job, and he said I could come out and he’d give me an interview and so on and looked around. Then he offered me the job. It was quite a salary, and so I took it. That’s what happened. I went to General Atomic, and I was at General Atomic for four years.
Right. What sort of projects did you do at General Atomic?
Well, I went to work on the fusion program, which I hadn’t known anything about — in other words, plasma physics and so on.
That’s right. Well, yeah. But the guy who was heading the group was Marshall Rosenbluth, who was a very smart guy and so on. I hadn’t known anything about plasma physics, so I was learning plasma physics and I knew some atomic physics and so on. I wrote a couple of papers, and I made a reasonable contribution to the group. Actually, Don Kerst had come out to do the experimental work there in the group. I’d never met him before.
And you were still a theorist in the group.
Oh, yeah. I was a theorist and so was Rosenbluth, and a couple of other people were theorists. They had experimentalists. Right. But our job was developing plasma physics and eventually building a working plasma device. And in fact, they had already built it. General Atomic had a small experimental reactor, and that was what they were working with. It was using helium as the coolant rather than water, and it was a different kind of reactor. So that’s what we were working on and I did that sort of thing, but as time went on, it was less and less the kind of environment that I liked.
In what way?
Well, first of all, the stress. General Atomic was a subdivision of General Dynamics. Getting money out of this research was more and more what you wanted to do. Weapons, they didn’t care and so on, and I was not too interested. I just did not like sort of the mental stress. I was not a great patriot. I did not… Although General Atomic was a very good lab in that respect. But as I say, more and more, just slowly, it became clear that what they wanted ultimately was to make a lot of money for General Dynamics, and I wasn’t so interested.
This was not the kind of thing that motivated you to do physics.
That’s right. So as a matter of fact, I decided I would look for another job just about then. But then just about that time, I got an offer from RCA Laboratories to come and head their plasma group. They offered me a salary to do this which was so incredible I couldn’t turn it down, and so that’s what I did. I went out with my family for two years to RCA Laboratories, but the same thing happened there. It became apparent in a short time that what they wanted of me was to hire a huge number of people and get them a lot of patents in plasma, and patents weren’t that easy to get and so on. So actually, after working there — this was at the RCA Lab. After working there for about two years, again it became apparent that I was not the kind of research group head they really wanted. Then just about the same time (I had been sort of in contact with Pitt), it was another chairman there and I got an offer from Pittsburgh that I would come back as a full professor, tenured and so on, and really quite a good salary.
And this was 1964.
This was 1964. Right.
Who else did you work with at RCA?
At RCA I did not work with anybody. I headed a group on plasma essentially something, and I was put in charge of a number of subgroups. Well, first of all when I got there, there were other groups in the lab, but I was… It was not quite clear I was fully in the lab or not or at the lab. But my job was to hire, so what I did actually was I started hiring. I hired about ten people. I also was responsible for a group about, oh, 45 miles south of Princeton. There was an RCA factory there doing things, and that group was responsible for sort of analyzing and working with people who were doing experiments. They were stationed, these other people, outside of Cape Canaveral, and whenever something went up into the atmosphere there, they did measurements on the plasma wake and so on. They had contracts to do that. In fact, my first task, the reason I got hired in the first place, was that RCA had gotten a big contract from the government to do research on wakes and plasma wakes which might be associated with nuclear explosions. They had hired a number of people at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory to write reports and so on. What had happened was that these reports were so far from any practical interest the government had that the government refused to accept the report and wouldn’t pay RCA. I think it was a couple of million bucks. That was when RCA looked around; they asked around, and they were told about me. That’s when they offered me the job. My job was to… So the first thing I did when I came there was to rewrite the report. It really was a terrible report. I rewrote it. It got accepted and so on, so that was actually —
So RCA got their payment.
That’s right. Then I was head of the group, and I hired about ten people. Then it became apparent they wanted me to hire a lot of people. But then I had to go out and get money for them. They wanted patents, and again it became apparent that this was not what was going to happen. I didn’t think this was what I wanted to do. So I just stopped hiring, and when I stopped hiring — I didn’t tell you, but there was this other group in — yeah. But when I stopped hiring, it became apparent that I was being paid far too much because I was really being paid as a pretty top executive in the laboratory there. I’ll tell you what it was. I was being paid $35,000 a year, which in those days…
1964? A lot of money!
Yes. That was a hell of a salary, yes. So I knew my days were numbered there, and it became apparent. But as I said, the other thing is I used to go down about 45 miles south of Princeton. I had to supervise the people who were down in that group.
Down in Cape Canaveral.
No, not at Cape Canaveral, but who were associated with the group in Cape Canaveral. I can tell you a couple of things about… I’ll tell you in a minute. It’s been a life full of checkered incidents which I remember, all except proper names. [Laughs] But anyway. So just about the time at RCA when I started thinking about looking around for another job, I got this offer from Pitt. It was at $21,000 which was far less than I was earning, and I accepted it without even a hesitation.
Without a blink.
Yeah, and I came back to Pitt. That’s how, yeah. Now I’ll tell you about this group down in my job.
Just south of Princeton.
No, it’s about 45 miles south of Princeton. I used to drive down there. It would take an hour or two. When I went down there the first day, the first time I went down there, I was talking to them and something came up that they were doing. It essentially had to do with a problem in which the method of partial fractions was useful, so I said to them, “Did you try…” and again, they didn’t know. So I said, “Let me show you how to do it.” I went up to the blackboard. I started doing it, and one of the guys there rushes to the door and shuts it. So I looked at him and I said, “What the hell is going on?” He said, “You’re not allowed to do any work. You’re a supervisor, and if the union saw you doing this, we’d have a big fight.” So that’s why he went and shut the door. [Laughter]
Now were these people PhDs?
They were engineers?
They were engineers. They were all engineers. There might have been some master’s, but there were not PhDs, were not scientists. As I said, they didn’t know. But we were doing some work, and I just mentioned that partial fractions was one of the things you could do. So yeah.
Yeah. And the facility was unionized.
Yes, that’s right. Now the other thing that happened, and this really is hysterical and just took me so by surprise. I started talking about it and I haven’t stopped talking about it since. These people were working for me. At the end of every year, I had to evaluate them. That’s what their raises and so on depended on. So I got my instruction. You know, there was somebody supervising me. I was told the range of numbers — as a matter of fact, I think it was something like 220 to 760, something like that. So I said to this guy, “Where the hell did you get ratings like that?” So he explained to me what happened. He said, “They used to do it between 0 and 100,” and somebody would get a rating of 50, say. He’d come home and his wife say, “What’s your rating?” and he’d tell her. Then they’d have a big fight because his salary would depend on it. So they decided to change the range so the wife would never have any idea what it meant. [Laughter]
So two random numbers in the hundreds.
That’s right! [Laughter] So he’d come home. He’d say, “530.” “Oh great!” I mean that would be just in the middle or something. [Laughter]
Yeah. So I had one other kind of question to ask. I know that you have some opinions about Nobel Prizes in physics, and I wanted to ask if there were some people you thought should have been nominated who weren’t. Just because their work was that good and that important.
I don’t know. I don’t remember. I don’t think so. I mean I’ve been asked this question elsewhere. I think my response was I think about half the time the Nobel Prize committee gets it right, and the other half they get it wrong. No. I don't think I know people who should have been nominated. I think it’s more often the other way around that people get nominated who shouldn’t.
That’s a question I don't want to ask. [Laughter] At least not on tape.
No, no. But I’m not sure again. I mean actually, it’s really more I think they talk about the National Academy of Sciences where I think people… where politics plays such a large role.
Yeah. So there were people other than yourself, because I know you —
Well, I didn’t get nominated.
You weren’t nominated.
And I can tell you I think I should have been. Well, I may have been nominated. I wasn’t elected, obviously.
Oh, that’s true. You wouldn’t know if you were nominated.
Yeah, yeah. That’s right.
Yeah. And there were others who you think should have been nominated who weren’t.
Yes, yes. There’s somebody at Pitt who I’m surprised has not been nominated. I’ll tell you his name. Ted Newman. He’s gotten a prize. But he should have been nominated.
He’s that quality.
Okay. It’s hard to remember back over three interviews. We interviewed last April.
At the APS meeting.
And at my house.
We interviewed at your house last October, I think it was, and now today. It’s hard to remember what haven’t we talked about.
Well, we haven’t talked about what I did after I came back from my law career.
Well, that’s true enough. Okay, so let’s talk about that.
Yeah. You heard some of that. You know, I came back from my law career — and you know, I really had been working. I’d made a deliberate attempt to remain with the physics community, as I say. I had worked on committees with the department.
And it was your social life in Pittsburgh.
That’s right. That’s right. I’ve always… Well, aside from the fact I had problems before. Of course after I got off the board, I could be friends with lawyers. But I made some friends, but generally I like physicists a lot more than I like lawyers. [Laughs] That was more — yes. And also my career, I think it was… although I had written articles. But I had not really made — You know, I wrote these legal articles that hadn’t really made an impression. The legal community has a long way to go before it really understands what’s going on in science, and I can tell you something about that in a minute.
So anyway, I came back to Pitt, and I had to make a decision what I would work on. As I told you, when I had left the University, I had made a decision I wanted to work in another field. When I came back, I definitely didn’t want to work where I was because the kind of atomic physics I’d been doing —
Yeah. That was passé by then.
Yeah, passè. Now what was not passè of course was lasers, which had really come in about the time that I had left. When I was at RCA, it was all about lasers. But it was really a huge establishment and so on. I didn’t think I could do very well in that. I understood quantum mechanics, and here was quantum computing. So that’s what I decided to work on was quantum computing. In fact, what I did was I went to a conference and I heard some talks there. I heard a talk by a guy named Wootters, who is a well-known guy. It was an interesting talk. The first paper I wrote was sort of on a paper he had written sort of generalizing it and so on, and it got published. That’s how I started working. There was somebody at the University of Pittsburgh, a guy named Frank Tabakin who was a professor there. We actually started to run a little group on quantum computing and some things. But what happened was that his wife, who had been a lawyer whom I had known—I mean I had been friendly with them. But she had developed multiple sclerosis and she was having trouble. Anyway, she wanted to be in Massachusetts where their children were or some of their children were, and so he decided to retire and move out there. So after a relatively short interaction into quantum computing with him where nothing got published or anything, I was left as the only guy at Pitt really working in quantum computing theory.
So this is right around 1990. Is that right?
No, no. No, no. I didn’t go back to Pittsburgh to the University till 2003.
And this would be around 2005 when he would have gone. But there was a group at CMU. There was a guy named Bob Griffiths who was a member of the National Academy who was very smart who had gone into quantum computing and so on. So I started attending group meetings he had, and I still sort of attend that and got to know him. I started working on some other problems, and in particular, I got to working with a group at Washington and Lee University. I can tell you, actually, if you want to know how that came about. One of the things I did after I did this paper on… as I say, this first paper I wrote, which was on one of the measures of entanglement and so on. It generalized this guy Wootter’s paper. Then there is a famous algorithm called Shor’s algorithm for factoring large numbers. I wrote an American Journal of Physics paper, what I think is a very good paper, on Shor’s algorithm.
In quantum computing, despite all the big talk, it has proved to be difficult to find algorithms in which you can demonstrate that quantum computers are better than classical computers, and you have to understand what better means. In computational science, the common measure is complexity, and complexity means how the problem increases in difficulty as a function of the size of the problem. Now what Shor did was he talked about factoring large numbers. The number in particular is a large number which is a product of two primes. It turns out first of all that a tremendous amount of the efforts which are made to keep secret and not to allow information to go out is done in methods which involve having a large number which is the product of two primes. There is a group called the RSA Laboratory in MIT in Cambridge which was started by three professors there, and they got the patents and so on. When you type in your password on your computer and that information is transmitted on the other side, it’s encoded using methods which depend on this large number with two prime factors, and the point is you have to have a method of encoding and decoding. An encoding method is given, which essentially is a public method, in the sense that I can tell a thousand people (banks and so on) how to send encoded information into the bank. They all know what to do, but they can’t decode. The decoding is done only by one person, and this is what is meant by a public key system, which is different from what they used to think of when Edgar Allen Poe was writing, in which two people get together and they get to say, “We have a private key. We know this symbol means this, and this symbol means this.” What I’ve just described, what Edgar Allen Poe used, is a private key system. But what I use to send private information to a bank is a public key system. The bank can announce the encoding procedure publicly; everybody knows how to encode. It’s the decoding that’s the difficult problem. It turns out, however, that if you could know the prime factors of this big number on which the public encoding is based, then you too could decode other people’s information, not just your own. In other words, in this public key system, the decoding depends on a method which you could find for yourself if you knew what the prime factors are. So keeping those prime factors from the public is an essential feature to guarantee the security of this public key system.
What Shor did was find a quantum computing algorithm for factoring these large numbers, and this made a big impression because of its importance. The best known non-quantum computing method for factoring large numbers is called the number field sieve. The complexity of the number field sieve is an exponential function of the size of the number N being factored. In the Shor algorithm the complexity is about N3. Now let me ask you a question. Do you know what the size of the number is we’re factoring?
Well, you haven’t said, no.
It’s about 21000, We’re talking about numbers of 300 decimal digits. I mean these are incredibly large numbers we’re trying to factor!
Yes. Now let me describe the key points made in that American Journal of Physics paper I mentioned. Suppose you were clever enough to get a classical computer which could factor one of these 300 digit numbers in two weeks. Well, what the RSA Corporation [a computer security company] would do, they would say, “The hell with it. We’ll start using numbers N which are the square of what we’ve been using. We’ll use a number which is 600 decimal digits.” In this connection, the other thing you have to understand is that finding large primes is trivial compared with factoring. In fact, somebody wrote an article in which he had a business selling large primes, which he readily could find. In short, the RSA Corporation would have no difficulty finding a new 600 decimal digit number N, a product of two large primes, to be the basis of its new public key system. But the key point, the point to be stressed, is that the same classical computer which was able to factor a 300 digit N in two weeks would take about 43 million years to factor this new 600 decimal digit number N, because of the exponential behavior of the complexity. On the other hand, suppose you had a quantum computer to do the factoring, using Shor’s algorithm, and suppose again it factored the 300 digit N in two weeks. And suppose again the RSA Corporation said, “OK, we’ll start using numbers of N of 600 digits.” Then now that same quantum computer would take only 12 weeks to factor the new immensely larger N. The new 600 digit N would not make the public key system significantly more secure than it was with the previous 300 digit N. That’s what the Shor algorithm could accomplish. So I just noticed that there were a couple of articles in the American Journal of Physics on quantum computing and so on. None of them had talked about Shor’s algorithm. It just struck me. So I wrote an article about Shor’s algorithm, and after some negotiation with the editor because it was pretty long, it got published. I think it’s a very good article. I recommend that paper to anybody because Shor’s papers are very hard. So I did that. Then what happened was… So in the course of this paper, I wrote a few things which were original about this problem, but not much. I always look at the Archive, you know, and I saw…An abstract came down the Archive about somebody who had sort of examined Shor’s algorithm and so on. This has been what Shor had predicted, that the probability, there’s a certain measurement you make. There are certain points and that the probability of getting that result is some number, and they had improved on that to some extent. So what I had done in my paper, I had actually noticed that actually the probability should be of the order of 90%. Shor had estimated 40; these people had got something like 60. So I wrote them a little letter essentially saying that well, you hadn’t seen my paper, but I’m not surprised. But actually, the probability should be about 90%. So we corresponded a little bit.
The next thing I knew, I saw another archive paper which discussed Gerjuoy’s Lemma. [Laughter] So I got to talk to them. They were a couple of computer people, and there was an interesting problem which had come up having to do with what I’d learned from when I was attending this Griffiths group. So I asked them if they’d be interested in working on it because it involved computing, and that’s the one thing I didn’t know to do, and one of the people there obviously knew a lot about it. So yes, and we started talking. In fact, we published three papers together, that group and myself, in this area. So that’s what went on. But it’s been three years since I’ve published anything. The last paper came out about three years ago in January, and that’s why I say that I’ve got to really get to it. I’m slowing up and I’m forgetting names, so I may have reached — done it, but we’ll see. I’m still going to try.
What do you think your next project is?
Well, I know what it is. It has to do with quantum information. There’s something which has been observed. You know, one of the problems in computing and information and so on is the effect of noise. Claude Shannon was absolutely a genius and never got the Nobel Prize. I never knew anything about him really until the start of this, but he developed a quantitative theory of information. Do you know what I’m talking about?
I do, yeah.
So quantum theory has taken over some of this, and just this quantum computing, there’s the issue that I want to send stuff over a wire. Now that’s what Claude Shannon was involved with. I want to have a channel, but it’s a quantum channel. I don’t send ordinary things. I send wave functions or the equivalent of wave functions over that channel. It’s fine, but what happens if there’s noise and the noise makes it difficult to detect what was originally sent. So the theory develops measures of the quantum capacity of a channel, you know, how much useful information you can send. If the channel gets enough noise, essentially the capacity goes down to zero. It has been observed — it was discovered just recently that if I have two zero capacity channels of a certain kind and I put them in parallel — I don’t do anything; I just put them in parallel — all of a sudden I’ve got positive capacity, which does not happen in classical communication at all. So I’m trying to understand this, and that’s what I’ve been sort of talking to Griffiths about. So that’s my next project, whether I’ll do it or not. It’s not a trivial problem.
Not a trivial problem, no. No.
But we’ll see.
Yeah. I wonder if there are any of your colleagues at Pittsburgh that stand out in your memory.
You mean in past or present?
In the past and the recent past.
Well, as I say, first of all, Dave Halliday was a very famous guy. He was really a very good guy. I mean he stopped doing physics, but he was a good chair and I was friendly with him. The fact that I had left didn’t mean anything. In fact, I was one of the authors of his obituary in Physics Today. What happened was — in fact, I can tell you this. He died. I visited him. When he finally moved to Seattle, and actually, I was in Seattle about six years ago and I visited him. We really stayed friendly, and he died. His wife died and then he died. You know, no obituary. I sort of noticed this. What the hell is going on? So I spoke, and I spoke to Bob Resnick, and we decided to write an obituary for him. That’s what happened. So I wrote that obituary. So that’s one person. I mean he was very good.
Wade Fite was somebody who also died relatively early. He was quite a good experimenter in atomic beams. He was one of the earliest atomic beam experimentalists. When I came back to Pittsburgh in 1964, I would say the main group, their most celebrated group, was a group in experimental atomic physics. I sort of got hired to work with them; they knew me. Wade Fite had been at General Atomic, too, and I got hired to sort of work with them, and I got to know him. But I got hired before that, as you know. I came in 1952. But actually, I didn’t really get into atomic physics until more like 1955. Sort of really more around that. By that time — My early work was in nuclear physics, not in atomic physics. But anyway, I had gotten originally to work with Wade Fite at General Atomic. But Wade Fite was one who died.
There weren’t… I mean Bernard Cohen, who also had a… You know, he died very recently. He was a very good experimenter, but he was a person who really believed in nuclear energy and so on. That’s what he concentrated in. He was worth knowing and important. But there weren’t too many people unfortunately at Pitt who made contributions to fundamental physics, you know. As a matter of fact, Lorne Page, as I said, did this experiment, and in a certain sense that was very important. It was one of the few original experiments which clearly indicated that there was parity non-conservation. So I don't know whom to name. I mean the point is unfortunately Pitt was not a first-class…
Not a first-class physics center.
Yeah, that’s right. I mean it was acceptable, and certainly Halliday and Resnick’s book was very famous. You know, we had good courses. I never felt it was a low-class place, but it was not a really high-class place.
But let me say about Ted Newman. He got his PhD from Peter Bergmann, and he came there. You know, general relativity, there’s a rather small group of physicists who work on it. Ted was one of them. But it became clear as time went on that he was pretty good, and he’d never been made a member of the National Academy and so on. But he recently got a prize from the American Physical Society. He got the Einstein Award. He has worked with physicists abroad and things like that. So I would say that of the people who have been at Pitt, leaving aside Halliday and Bob Resnick, probably at the moment, the person whose contribution to physics has been most important and recognized is Ted Newman.
Yeah. Who else can you think of that I should do an interview with?
You mean relative to me or just period?
Relative — Well, let’s start with relative to the Pittsburgh experience. I guess Bob Resnick is…
He’s still here alive.
He’s still around. I know his wife died just recently.
His wife died recently. His health isn’t good, but he lives here in Pittsburgh. He lives in Weinberg Terrace, as a matter of fact. Well, it would be interesting to interview Bob. First of all, of course he worked with Halliday and they wrote that book together. He left, you know. He didn’t get tenure at Pitt. He left. He ended up at Rensselaer Poly. He was there. Then he retired and went down to Florida. I mean they made a huge amount of money on that book. It sold ten million copies and so on.
I know what it cost me!
Yeah. Okay, right. Then he came back to Pittsburgh actually because his wife was ill and they were staying here. But he didn’t make much of a contribution to physics, I think, as such. He has actually I think given Rensselaer a fair amount of money; I don't think it was given to Pitt. But he’s —
Certainly influential in physics education.
That’s what I meant. That’s physics education. That’s right. So now there’s a woman at Pitt now whose name is Chandralekha Singh. She’s involved in physics education, and she has been on the APS Forum on Education and so on. She is very active and she’s pretty good. But again, I don't know what to say. I mean again, since we’re bragging, I would say that if you asked me of the people who had been at Pittsburgh and so on, I would think that my contribution to physics, especially if you take into account the work I did in committees and so on, has been probably as important as anybody, except maybe Ted Newman. That’s what I would say.
Okay. Very good. Well, I think that this has been a good session. Lots of stories.
A few names to look up.
Right. You know, you might want to talk to Ted Newman. He’s interesting. He’s a smart guy and so on, and you might want to talk to him, actually. He just got this award, and he knows me. We’ve been friends. He came to Pittsburgh as an assistant professor when I was here already. He’s about ten years younger than I, I guess, or maybe even a little more than that.
Okay. So he came to Pittsburgh 1960?
No. I came here in ‘52, and I would say he came about ‘55 would be what I would say.
About ‘55. Oh, okay.
Yeah. He got his PhD and came here. Then of course I left, but he didn’t leave.
Right. He was there through his whole career.
That’s right. That’s right.
Yeah, okay. No, that’s good. That’s one of the most important things that we get is recommendations on who else to interview.
I see. Well, for instance, one thing he could do for you, he was a student of Peter Bergmann’s, and he could tell you things about Peter Bergmann, whom you might find interesting. I can tell you a story about Peter Bergmann.
While we still have the machine running, go ahead.
You know, during the War, I worked on underwater sound, and I became quite a specialist. But then I got hired by Lyman Spitzer at the Sonar Analysis Group, and I got to be a little star there. Now one of the people in that group was Peter Bergmann. Actually, I got to know him then. One day, Peter Bergmann and I were having some discussion, argument about something; I forget what it was. Then Peter Bergmann, he comes up to me and he takes my head between his hands, and he just knocks his head against mine, bang! I just went reeling around the room. I came out of it, and I was ready to fight. I mean I was going to — [Laughs] And Peter says, “Don’t worry. Don’t get angry. This is the way we solve things. In our family, we used to do it. But just to show you there’s no hard feelings,” and he picks up a telephone and slams it against his head! [Laughter] That was Peter.
So basically saying, “We have a disagreement here that we’re not going to solve…”
Yeah, but the fact that I did this. [Laughter] I guess he had a particularly hard head is all.
Or a strange family.
Okay. Well, good. I will see if we can get an interview then.
Actually, there were two former students of Bergmann’s at Pitt. The other one is called Al Janis, who I think got his Ph.D. a year earlier than Ted. But Janis is not I mean — But the really outstanding theorist, the guy who has really made contributions is Ted Newman, and he’s still publishing.
Okay. Well, we’ll see if we can make an arrangement for an interview there. Good. Well, I’m sure we could go on a lot longer.
But at this point, we’re rambling.
Well, I don't know. Well, okay. I guess this is our final interview.
Unless we think of a theme for another one. [Laughter] But this is good. We’ve had three good interviews.
Right, and you’ve listened to my talk.
I’m glad you did! How did you like it?
I liked it.
Yeah, yeah. I guess first I read kind of a summation of it, too, and it sounded interesting.
Yeah. But now you also read that biographical interview that was published in Physics in Perspective.
I did. The one from Physics in Perspective, yeah.
Yeah, which of course gave you a lot of information about me, and that detailed some of the things I’ve said to you. Yeah, how my life was changed by not going to work on nuclear fission.
I mean it was. It was changed.
Yeah, and went off in directions that might not have been anticipated.
That’s right. But as I say, I mean it’s sort of curious. I am getting famous for being old, and I’m willing to take that fame. I can’t get anything else. [Laughter]
Well, I told you the story, I think, of a geophysicist, Sydney Chapman…
…who was asked why he did all these joint papers with young physicists. He said, “Well, who else am I going to work with?” [Laughter] Because everyone was younger than him already.
That’s right. And you know, I did an interview or so for the Atomic Heritage Foundation. There are very few people left. Have you ever interviewed Benjamin Bederson? He was at Los Alamos as a military guy.
During the War.
Yes, during the War.
And then he got his degree in physics after the War?
Yeah, yeah. That’s right. He has been quite active in talking about it, actually.
Is he still alive?
He’s at NYU. He’s retired from NYU. Come on.
So Ben retired from NYU Physics Department.
Yeah. He’s talked about Los Alamos quite a bit. He’s been interviewed by the Atomic Heritage Foundation and so on.
Right. How about in your interviews with the Atomic Heritage Foundation, did they focus on the earliest part of your career?
Well, pretty much. But the point is what they wanted to know about Oppenheimer and my interaction with him.
Yeah. But that’s how I got involved with them because they wanted somebody who could talk about Oppenheimer as a teacher, and so I did that.
Okay. So the things that we’ve talked about were beyond their interest.
Most of them, except the early — that’s right. Most of them, yes.
Okay. Good. I’m coming up dry. So we’ll just end now.