Richard Garwin - Session III

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Interviewed by
Dan Ford
Interview date
La Jolla, California
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Interview of Richard Garwin by Dan

Ford on 2004 June 28,Audio and video interviews about the life and work of Richard Garwin, 2004-2012Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,

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In this interview Richard Garwin discusses topics such as: the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC).This interview is part of a collection of interviews on the life and work of Richard Garwin. To see all associated interviews, click here.



Eisenhower decided to bring the President's Science Advisory Committee into the White House, and it would have a permanent chair who would also be the President's Science Adviser. Rabi did not want to spend full-time in Washington, giving up his physics work. So Jim Killian, president of MIT, was chosen as the President's Science Adviser and chair of the President's Science Advisory Committee, PSAC, and served very well.

So, my first involvement with PSAC was probably to serve on a panel chaired by William O. Baker, president of Bell Telephone Laboratories. This was a panel that worked with the National Security Agency. In addition to Baker, there were Bell Labs people: John Pierce, Hendrik Bode, John Milnor of Princeton, a mathematician, Oliver Selfridge of MIT, Luis Alvarez of Berkeley, and John Tukey of Bell Labs and Princeton. We worked very hard for a couple of years, maybe to some good effect. You can read a little bit about the panel in the book called The Puzzle Palace and maybe one called Deep Black.

Then I joined the PSAC Strategic Military Panel which had such worthies on it as Hans Bethe, W.K.H. Panofsky, Richard Latter, Al Latter, Dan Fink, and other physicists, radar experts, missile experts, and the like.


Did PSAC meet with the president, or was it preparing things for his Science Adviser?


PSAC was chaired by the President's Science Adviser. It met two days every month, had about 18 members. It had also about 10 or 12 panels active at any time, which met typically two days every month as well. Each panel had two or three PSAC members on the average, and perhaps 10 or 12 other experts from the United States scientific and technological communities. They produced reports that were nominally for the president, but very few of which rose to his level. At the half point in the study, a panel report would be briefed to the main committee — and modifications perhaps requested. Then the final report was briefed to PSAC, so it was really a report of the entire Committee, even though the work had been done by the panel. Some of these did go to the president or the National Security Adviser for the decision.

Spurgeon Keeny, in these early days, played a very important role, because he had an appointment not only in the Office of Science and Technology with the President's Science Adviser, but also on the National Security Council staff. During the entire PSAC operation, from 1956 or so until 1973 when it was disbanded by President Nixon, there was one Executive Secretary, David Beckler. Dave Beckler is still around. They live in Florida, I think, half the year and in Washington the other half.

But we're getting probably too far afield. I went to IBM in December 1952 because I didn't want to do high-energy physics anymore. I didn't like the sociology, so I left the field to work in low-temperature physics where I could work by myself, or maybe with a colleague and maybe a student or two. So at IBM, I had several PhD students.


I think, from what I understand from Henry, the sociology must have gotten worse and worse.


Oh yes. I said six weeks and six people, and now it's six years and 600 people. That was not to my taste at all, but if that's what's necessary, I certainly admire people who can get results under those circumstances. A lot of very smart people — very energetic and ingenious — work.

One of my students actually is president of the American Physical Society right now, a woman… I know her very well. [off-topic.]