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Interview of Richard Garwin by David Zierler on April 14, 2020,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/XXXX
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In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Richard Garwin. AIP has several interviews with Garwin already on record; the discussion here focuses on Garwin’s interest and work in recent years. Garwin describes his involvement in pandemic research generally and the Covid-19 crisis specifically. He discusses his involvement in advising on bioterrorism, and he reflects on the import of his research in the realm of national policy. Garwin describes the strength of the United States today in the world arena relative to earlier parts of his career, and he describes his involvement in the creation of the hydrogen bomb. He discusses the current status of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, and he discusses the prospects for ongoing nuclear security in the face of threats from Iran and other U.S. adversaries. Garwin offers his views on the ongoing threats from climate change and terrorism and the challenges facing America’s energy future. He describes his work for the JASON national security advisory work, and he reflects on some of the individuals that he considers heroes. At the end of the interview, Garwin reflects on the singular genius of Feynman, and he reflects on the life of his wife, Lois, who died in 2018.
Okay. This is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is April 14th, 2020. It is my great pleasure to be here virtually with Dr. Richard Garwin. Dr. Garwin, thank you so much for being with me today.
Yes, you're welcome.
All right, I'd like to start just with a little context here. We are very honored to have several oral histories with Dr. Garwin in our collection already, and so this interview, the aim of this interview is not to do a full life narrative of Dr. Garwin, but to focus on some of his more recent activities, and then we can spend some time discussing other aspects of his career. So with that, I thought, Dr. Garwin, we can start with the most current and pressing of issues, which is coronavirus, a topic that you have been closely working on. And my first question is, which ties to other aspects of your career, it is: You have long-standing interests and concern in both government preparedness and international cooperation. And I wonder if you can talk a little bit about how you see the lack of those two issues as playing into the depth and intensity of this crisis, both on a national and on an international scale?
I first sent emails about the new coronavirus at the end of January, January 27. I think I sent five emails on that day. And of course, hundreds or thousands since then. The novel coronavirus of course began as an epidemic in Wuhan. China had experienced and was shamed by its initial performance in 2002, 2003 with the SARS, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome disease, which was really quite similar. It was also a coronavirus. They brought that under control, and the world responded very rapidly to that, and there were only a few hundred deaths, as I recall, but that was enough because the World Health Organization and the United States were attentive to potential pandemics. Mostly pandemic influenza, because we lived in terror and expectation of a seasonal influenza that would have the lethality of the Spanish flu of 1918-19 and the infectivity of some of the more recent influenza infections. There was no reason that shouldn't happen sometime as the genome for the influenza virus was reassorted through the various mechanisms of animal and bird infections. So that was to be expected, and of course we didn't know when.
SARS looked as if it might be something like that, despite its being a coronavirus, but that was brought under control by the accidental feature that people developed a temperature; they had symptoms before they were contagious, before they could infect others. The Chinese moved very rapidly to implement remote temperature monitoring at airports and whatnot. And that was done worldwide. And the world distinguished itself in that response.
The problem with SARS-CoV-2, the disease later named Covid-19 by the World Health Organization, is that people are contagious before they have symptoms. And they may never have symptoms and they are still contagious, probably not through droplets from coughing and sneezing (by definition before they have symptoms) but just by breathing and especially speaking. So that's been a particular interest of mine the last couple of months. And so that's why Covid-19 is so hard to control, and we're doing our best.
The Chinese, after weeks of trying to hide it and chastising the physicians who wanted to spread the word to their medical communities, finally came clean, or more or less clean about it, although they're trying to rewrite the history early on. They imposed draconian standard epidemiological control measures of social distancing that I talk about in my papers of 2006 or so. I'll get to them in a minute. It takes a long time for the disease to die out compared with the time required to expand, because with a disease like Covid-19, the reproduction factor R0 seems to be about 6, compared with 2 or 3 for most influenzas. The time, the interval between generations is about five days. So on the way up, it doubles every two or three days. You have one case, then a week later you have five cases, and two weeks later, you have 25, still manageable. And three weeks after day zero, you have 125, then you have 600, then you have 3,000, then you have 15,000, with a lethality in Wuhan, apparently of the order of 2%, but probably considerably less because probably many more people had the disease without symptoms...
You see in New York state, for instance, there are more deaths from Covid-19 every day than from all other causes of death combined. I've been trying to work on these things, especially through the JASON group of consultants to the government. We're not funded on this, but we're just doing it with emails and a Slack app with various channels on epidemiology, and decontamination, and whatnot.
I've long posted on the Garwin Archive a prescription that I sent around in early February, “Protecting yourself and family against Covid-19,” as to what you do, how you can sanitize your gloves and how you sanitize your hands by weak bleach, as advocated by the CDC for Ebola control. I add a little household detergent to that, in order to wet the skin better. And washing your gloved hands and rejuvenating the gloves, if there were any contaminate left on them, by baking them in the oven at 180 degrees Fahrenheit for a couple of minutes and so on. Anyhow, so that's available.
And I do other things. I gave a talk last Thursday, April 9, I guess it was, by Zoom to about 50 Zoomers on “Questions and answers on Covid-19”. My talk was supposed to be today or tomorrow in Paris on “Communicating with the authorities and the public on nuclear power and nuclear weapons”, but this seemed to be a better topic! So anyhow, that's what I've been doing. My involvement stems from my work with the President's Science Advisory Committee, PSAC, in 1967 on the Nixon Executive Order for banning offensive biological weapons research, and then in 1972, on the elimination of mandatory vaccination against smallpox in the United States.
After that, especially after 9/11, also on bioterrorism and the work at Erice, Sicily with the World Federation of Scientists with detailed prescriptions as to what people should do in the case of either a bioterrorism-caused pandemic or a natural pandemic. And it has all this stuff in it, of social distancing, of hand washing, and of practicing, every two weeks, you know, everybody, every company, university, school, or whatever. Every two weeks, Friday morning, people should wear their masks and their gloves and practice the hand washing so that they would be ready when a pandemic struck. Of course, none of that happened. [Perhaps it would have been better to practice one day every two months.]
I also co-chaired in 2006 a Columbia University workshop on pandemic influenza with Steve Morse from the School of Public Health at Columbia University. We had CDC people and researchers. Larry Wein from Stanford, a pandemic modeling economist. Tim Germann from Los Alamos had a wonderful paper with interactive maps and things like that. Anyhow, that's what I've been doing on Covid-19.
So I'd like to ask, I mean, my question, if you can reflect on, given your long interest in the issue of government preparedness and international cooperation, to what ex--
I'll explain this, it's been miserable from the point of the view of the actions of the United States.
It could hardly have been worse, with the ignoring of facts, the denigration early on of the intelligence community by President Trump, the putting in office of friends and contributors rather than competent people at all levels, and elimination of a lot of its civil servants. It's just been awful.
I'm on the Board of the Union of Concerned Scientists, UCS, and we've been trying for decades to maintain the position of science within government, which was what the President's Science Advisory Committee was all about. It had nothing to do with the support of science, but only science for the government. And the other aspect of this administration has been of course the denigration, the absolute abandonment of all cooperative efforts. Whether it's NATO, or the World Health Organization, or the United Nations. All the things that civilization as we know it has put in place — as if you could reject all these things and the wisdom of ages and just invent things anew because you never had a chance to govern before. Boris Johnson, of course, before his bout with Covid-19, was a kind of mini-Trump.
I wonder if you can talk about your role, your long-standing role, not just as a scientist, but as a public intellectual with an expertise in physics. It seems like today, that respect for scientists and the ideas that they have for the betterment of society at large, it seems that it is under attack now in a way that it has not been in recent memory. And I wonder if you can reflect on your experiences as a public intellectual, you know, over the course of your career, and look at that through the lens of what's happening today in terms of how scientists are being regarded in society in general?
Well, I hate to be categorized as an intellectual. I used to have lunch pretty much every day at a table for 10 or 11 people at the Columbia University faculty club when I was at the IBM Watson Scientific Laboratory, just a block off the campus. It was with I.I. Rabi and Polykarp Kusch, and Willis Lamb, and people like that. They prided themselves on being intellectuals. (laughs) I objected to that categorization for myself. I don't like to be called that, because I'm a practical person; I'm an engineer. I got my bachelor’s degree from Case Institute of Technology, which was Case School of Applied Science when I entered in 1944. I graduated in '47, an accelerated program because of the Second World War. And then I got my PhD with Enrico Fermi in 1949 at the University of Chicago.
In part, it's because there is political benefit to opposing intellectuals — “those people from, especially, Harvard and Stanford. You know, these schools with very high regard for themselves.” That’s the pattern.
I don’t think it would be happening if there weren't votes there, to be gotten by appealing to the masses and arguing that “these people oppress you; they don't listen to you.” And to some extent, that's true. If you look at the Democratic platforms, they really did abandon, in recent decades, the working person. Look at Chuck Schumer, who gets his support from and is very friendly to Wall Street.
And the Democratic-- I should say that I was a Republican until last year, ever since 1955 when my wife and I moved to Scarsdale. We had two children already, and of course they went to the public schools. We had to register for the primaries in New York State. So we flipped a coin, and I was the Republican, as Scarsdale was a Republican town at that time. In that way we would know what was going on in both parties.
When I was nominated for my second term on the President's Science Advisory Committee in 1969, when President Nixon took office, the local Republican organization attested that I was a Republican in good standing. I didn't do much, but apparently, I was okay.
But it was not okay anymore when the Republicans abandoned all individual thought and fell in line behind President Trump. It didn't make any sense to be Republican anymore.
Until a year or two ago, in public polling scientists have had better standing than almost anybody. Maybe except doctors and military. So it isn't really a feeling of everybody, but now that it's politically attractive… There was just a recent article yesterday, I think, by Bill Broad in the New York Times about President Putin's decade-or-more-long campaign to denigrate all professionals in the United States, and all truth. This is a part of the classic disinformation campaign of the Soviet and then Russian governments. But it's much more effective, because they have very smart people, and Putin is a person with a long history as a good tactician. He wants to reduce the power of democracies and support his view of power. Which is very appealing to President Trump.
I wonder if you can react. I'm not sure if you saw the recent story that upwards of 30% of Americans believe that coronavirus was created by scientists in a lab for whatever reason they might do such a thing. Do you see this as a new phenomenon? This suspicion, even if it's not a majority? Do you see this as a new phenomenon, the suspicion that scientists are not primarily motivated by advancing the public good? Is [this] something new, or is this a strain in American thought and discourse you've always-- ?
No, I think that's not a conclusion you can draw from those facts that you state. My experience is that scientists are mostly interested in the public good. There might be some scientist, for some purpose (laughs) who did this. “Might be, who knows?” is a sensible response. That says nothing about 99.9% of scientists in principle. Again, the possibility is raised because it's politically advantageous to do so, and it's been supported by RT, which used to be “Russian Television” and a lot of internet trolls in Russia.
Perhaps it comes about because everybody in the United States is taught to think for himself or herself. That's good, but there are things that you can't think out by yourself, and as is dubiously ascribed to Lincoln, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”
You don't have to fool all the people all the time to win elections and dedicated support, if it catches on and people believe. in my opinion, Steve Bannon was one of those responsible for the elimination of government competence, for the attack on authority, for the idea that all we need to do is to destroy the present system and we'll have a much better system.
This is not looking at how hard it was, to get where we have been. And how, if you make any random variation, it's likely to be a negative, going down from the peak. But it's this “thinking for yourself. You're as competent as anybody else to judge the facts.” And that exposes people to carefully designed misinformation and disinformation. We have whole industries, multi-billion-dollar, multi-hundred-billion-dollar advertising industries that are devoted to that, with people who are educated as to how to persuade others.
Even debaters — there's nothing wrong with debate; that's a good thing. Our country was founded by people who were accustomed to argument. Coffee houses and whatnot. They did a great job in recording their arguments in that way. And in refining them and in preparing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Really admirable. But they had respect for people who would put things coherently on paper and refer to others. The present people don't know enough to have that respect. They just have the feeling that whatever they think is as good as anybody else, and they're led in that by President Trump, who for hours every day gives us an insight into how people behave.
Mmhmm. Would you like to prognosticate on some of the long-term strategic implications of coronavirus? What it's gonna do to the balance of power? And the international sc--
No, no, it's much more what's going to happen to our government and our society. I think it's quite likely that we will have a depression. But who knows? And Mr. Trump still has until January 20th, even if he is defeated in the election. Of course, I'm really concerned about the health of Joe Biden. And I mean if people, Trump supporters, but there were also probably Sanders supporters who felt so passionately about their cause, that their candidate was better than any other, but especially on the right… I mean, people with guns and conviction that they are correct. I really worry about assassination and such things as well as just disease.
So, we’ve got to get through this. I hope that China can serve, over the next six months or so, I think that all the tariffs against Chinese imports should be dropped, and that we should be buying things from China, even though in the long run, we want to have more competence and core manufacturing capability in the United States, strongly expandable. Achieving that really needs a lot of preparation and investment, and this administration is totally incompetent and misguided in pursuing such things.
We are where we are in testing for Covid-19. I spent hours with a colleague looking at the March 11th testimony of Robert R. Redfield, the head of the CDC, to a House oversight committee. After hours of persistent questioning, they got him to respond as to when we would have the drive-through testing that South Korea had implemented, and he said, "Not at this time. I think we’re trying to maintain the relationship between the physician and the individual." The person who was asking the questions then responded [quotation verified by RLG:], “Well, most Americans don’t really have a doctor. They rely on the E.R. to help and people are panicking, E.R.s apparently.” Redfield had no reply to that. So it's not an accident that we don't have testing capability. It's by design. These facts will come out, but their airing may do no good, because the disinformation campaigns of the President and his supporters may be so effective that we don't have really a functioning democracy.
Is the United States in a weaker and more vulnerable position today than it has been at any point in your memory?
Yes, absolutely. In fact, early on in the Trump administration the intelligence community gave an astonishing assessment that was made public, that other governments and intelligence agencies were exploiting the lack of knowledge and lack of competence of the President and the White House, and it's gotten worse from there.
Are these reversible trends?
There's a possibility that it can be reversed, but what one has to do first is to learn from China. China concealed the epidemic for the first month. But then China did all the right things. And now China is going back to work. Even in Wuhan. And China has re-opened internal transportation. Their only new cases come from air travel, people who fly from Europe or from the United States, maybe via a second country. And they are automatically sequestered for two weeks at their own expense in hotels, but monitored carefully, and every contact is followed, and they have apps on the ubiquitous cell phones so that you can tell, when somebody comes down with the disease, whom may have contacted or approached over the past few days. They even warn you, if you're interested, that a person who has been in touch with a Covid-19 communicable person is over there, across the street. We need to do that too, if we ever get through this acute phase.
I've been following closely a number of physicists who are involved in various aspects of mitigating the problems of coronavirus. Either from their expertise, being able to image the virus, from studying the way that it travels in droplets from when you speak or when you talk or from designing ventilators on an emergency basis, and I'm curious. Do you see your role and interest in coronavirus specifically from the perspective of a physicist or engineer, or is it more from your perspective as a concerned citizen that has lots of ideas about lots of different topics?
No, I have a vast experience in this. You can read my papers from 2006 and you'll see all of these counters to the pandemic influenza, which work as well against coronavirus. Coronavirus is vulnerable to temperature. And it's vulnerable to this particular mild bleach, and so you have to do the right things. So, no, if people say I'm a physicist and I don't know anything about this, and besides, I'm 92 years old, which I think is the general feeling, it's a big error on their part. It's very difficult to counter such things, so I'm going to discuss now my personal style.
What have I done? The things that I've done were often done overnight, or within a short time. I revolutionized the technique of particle detection in nuclear physics and high-energy physics in 1950, when I added just a little diode to the conventional Rossi coincidence circuit, which had microsecond resolving time. By putting in this little diode and a capacitor, the circuit then had a few-nanosecond resolving time. That meant that you could use 1000 times the beam current, or 1000 times as much radioactive material as other people did [thus being able to identify the same number of events in 1000-fold less clock or calendar time]. If you didn't do that, the other guys would publish 10 times, 100 times faster than you. You were out of business. So I published that; it wasn't my interest to have a career in that field, but I was getting my PhD, so I published that so everybody else would have it as well. Also some novel aspects of scintillation counters which were used for many decades and are still used.
One of those became a wavelength-shifting conversion technique for concentrating solar light for solar energy. So that was one thing. Then the next was in 1951, during the second summer I went to Los Alamos. Enrico Fermi had suggested that I be a consultant to the Los Alamos lab in nuclear weapons, because I had made some suggestions to him at Chicago about nuclear weaponry, and he said he couldn't talk about it in Chicago, but if I were a consultant to Los Alamos, we could talk about it there. I shared an office with Fermi, that first summer in 1950, and he was working with Stan Ulam on the classical hydrogen bomb.
I learned all about those things and everything about nuclear weapons by spending a week in the classified report library. So the second summer, when I got there in May, 1951, after spending a month in Korea, during the Korean War with Joe Mayer, a physical chemist and faculty member at the University of Chicago, trying to help the newly created Tactical Air Command set up laboratories, where the question was, what should they work on? We were dispatched by senior scientists, of whom Joe was one, to gain experience with the Korean War. We went and wrote a report when we came back. I invented some things there that I worked on later in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, when I chaired the PSAC Military Aircraft panel.
Arriving at Los Alamos in May, 1951, I asked Edward Teller what was new; I knew him well from Chicago, and from the previous summer at Los Alamos. He told me about the March 9, 1951 Secret publication by Teller and Ulam. The unclassified title is "Hydrodynamic Lenses and Radiation Mirrors," which had the idea for what became the real hydrogen bomb. Edward said to me that he really needed an experiment that would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the concept of radiation implosion — a classified term at the time, but declassified in 1978 — would work. I looked at that for a couple weeks, and on July 25th, 1951, I published my own four-page Secret memo with a big fold-out drawing of the hydrogen bomb as I designed it. It was tested 16 months later, November 1st, 1952, at Enewetak, in a series called Ivy, and it was code-named Mike, so it was the Ivy Mike test. At 11 megatons yield, it was almost 1000 times the yield of the Hiroshima bomb.
How did I do that? I had been using liquid hydrogen and liquid deuterium as targets in my particle physics research experiments at the University of Chicago, so I knew all about liquid hydrogen and designed the metal Dewar vessels to contain the cryogenic liquids. I had designed all those things, built most of them myself with my own hands, as Fermi did. He built many of his conceptions with his own hands, ranging from the CP1 (Chicago Pile 1), the two-watt, hundreds of tons of graphite and uranium metal or uranium oxide in cans in a lattice. I didn't leave anything to chance. I designed the whole thing there, and although the Theoretical Megaton Group to which I presented it with Fermi's introduction, didn't pay much attention to it at the time, the laboratory director, Norris Bradbury, did. He appointed a very capable hard-driving physicist, Marshall Holloway, to head the program to create the engineered version of my design, deploy with 7000 personnel to the Pacific in 1952 as part of the Ivy series — Ivy Mike shot, and it all worked.
I just designed the whole thing myself, but “… Based on Ideas Prevailing in July 1951” as I titled the document, LAMD-7416 (S/RD) "Some Preliminary Indications of the Shape and Construction of a Sausage, Based on Ideas Prevailing in July 1951." Richard L. Garwin, July 25, 1951 [Clarification added by RLG 08/21/20: After my involvement in MIKE became public as a result of a New York Times article by William J. Broad, I described my role as the “architect of the H-bomb.” Not he inventor or the engineer. I reviewed the concepts for the different types of houses, the available technologies and components and materials, and made all the decisions to put this in a 4-page memo with a large fold-out drawing. Incredible as it may seem, that is how it was. Validation may be found on P. 327 of Edward Teller’s Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics.] I did the same with touch screens in IBM, which IBM didn't pick up, but with the difference that my IBM physicist colleague, James L. Levine, was an equal partner in the touch screen effort.
And I guess the last example that I would like to adduce, is the experiment in January 1957, with Leon Lederman, demonstrating the non-conservation of parity in the pion–muon–electron decay chain. I think that in the book, The God Particle, or maybe in talking about the book, Leon was asked, "Well, what was Garwin's role?" And he said, "Well, he didn't do anything except if he hadn't been involved, it would have been a 43-day experiment rather than a 43-hour experiment." That's what I recall.
Just one more thing I would like to say, is that Daniel F. Ford, who did a lot of the audio interviews that are at the American Institute of Physics, which he never transcribed… I bought the digital recordings from him five years ago or so, and my secretary transcribed a couple of them and then I had them transcribed by a service in New York City. My secretary, Jean Hernandez, and I, mostly she, went over them because the transcribers didn't know anything about the subject. (laughs)
Ford was a very good interviewer, and when he was going to write a book about me beginning in 2004, he asked my colleague Kurt Gottfried, a professor of physics at Cornell, whether he thought that was a good idea. Ford had been the only staff for the Union of Concerned Scientists for a couple of years after it was formed in on March 4th, 1969 at MIT. They knew one another well, and Kurt said, "Yes, why don't you ask him? I think it'd be a good idea." Dan was then a writer for the New Yorker, so I acceded and I suggested that he talk to a lot of my friends and colleagues and my wife and family and others. Dan Ford recorded himself, he said, "Well, when I'd first met Dick — " You can call me Dick. Dick Garwin. "When I first met Dick, it was with Henry Kendall." (Henry, later Nobel Prize winner, for his work in particle physics, was professor of physics at MIT and worked at Stanford.) Henry had made an appointment to see me. I was in Boston at a meeting of some kind, and I said, "Well, I can give you 15 minutes." He wanted to run by me the experiment that he was planning at Stanford. He invited Dan Ford to come along, and so I popped out of my meeting at the appointed time, and I talked to them, and listened. I was looking at my email or whatever, at the same time, and then Henry asked me, "Will it work?" And I said, "Well, yes. Sure. I don't see any reason why not." I went back to my meeting. Dan said to Henry, he recounts, "You know, that's the rudest man I've ever met." And Henry said, "Well, you don't understand. That's how he deals with everything. That's how he gets things done." So unfortunately, that's how it is, or how I've been.
I hated the telephone for many years. I would do almost anything to avoid the telephone. I still don't like the telephone. (laughs) It interrupts me. And I feel that it interrupts other people. I'm happy to have a telephone call, or now Skype, or Facetime, or Zoom, by appointment, but I just don't like to call people up and explain what I'm talking about. I like to send them an email. But a lot of people are cross-polarized—i.e., this doesn’t work for them. Many read things on their phones first, which is really very pernicious; you compose something very carefully, and they don't understand it because they just glance at it on their phone.. Anyhow, that's what I wanted to say.
Let's go down some of the other categories that you wanted to talk about during our time together. Let's talk about the current status of the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile. Where is it today relative to previous decades in terms of its reliability and safety?
It's fine, and it's something that I know about from the very beginning of my involvement, in 1950. At that time I learned all about all of the work that had been done, reading the weekly progress reports of all the groups at Los Alamos during the Second World War. And then after that, learning all about fission and fusion. I also invented things that were in every nuclear weapon, a key part of every U.S. nuclear weapon, in the stockpile in the early ‘60s. Many, many thousands of weapons. And I contributed to the design of a lot of the testing, of the above-ground testing, and some of the underground testing systems that were used, that go by the name of GAN-X, gamma-ray imaging, and PIN-X, pinhole camera imaging for x-rays. And so I'm intimately familiar with those things.
I've made simplified computer models of such things. I worked on the exploitation of the so-called Rossi-alpha curves that diagnose nuclear explosion tests, and I studied with JASON full-time in the summers for a couple of years, for many years actually in the run-up to the comprehensive test ban treaty of 1995, which was signed by the United States in 1996. President Clinton was first to sign and then the French president, I recall. So I know all that, and I know the arguments for and against nuclear explosion testing.
I chaired the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Advisory Board for the State Department during the Clinton administration for eight years. One of our chief topics of interest was a comprehensive test ban treaty. In fact, I had flown home from Paris in 1963, a day early, for a special PSAC meeting to consider whether the government should sign the limited test ban treaty. I'd done a lot of work in preparation for that.
We know a lot more about our nuclear weapons now than we did before, as a result of the science-based stockpile stewardship program that was created in 1995 or so with the advent of the comprehensive test ban treaty. Of course, there are always people who say, "Well, we know so much. We can design brand-new nuclear weapons. And they'll be smaller and less costly to maintain and so on." But if you design new types, you're taking a great risk, and why should you do that?
I've been involved a lot. There have been at least two large formal reports by the National Academy of Sciences — technical reports involving former heads of the National Weapon Laboratories, former directors of the Strategic Command, and so on —, as to what other states can do under the CTBT to advance their nuclear weapons, and what that means for our security, and what the United States can and should do. I'm really quite satisfied with the safety and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons.
In 1950, when you were working on the design for the hydrogen bomb, being on--
'51, '51. Being only six years removed from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, did you ever dwell on the likelihood of whether this particular bomb would be used?
It was made to be used if necessary, but if you use it, its purpose has failed. I felt personally that the United States could do without the hydrogen bomb, that it was sufficient to have fission bombs that would produce 100 kilotons or so of yield. That we didn't need the unlimited energy release from a thermonuclear weapon. And on the other hand, I felt... You know, this was a time of McCarthyism and felt that it was unlikely that the scientists could survive opposing the hydrogen bomb in principle, because the Soviets would build it, and then there would be political panic in the United States, even though we didn't need a weapon of that size. And of course, that's the way it has happened: without any limitations on number, on the explosive power of nuclear weapons. We no longer have 25-megaton weapons. We have a few three megaton weapons. But the vast number of weapons are 100 kilotons. Which are perfectly accessible to boosted fission. So no, I felt it wasn't my job, it was the American people's job at a time when the American people and their representatives paid some attention to such things, to decide such matters.
What do you see as the utility of the United States retaining a nuclear stockpile today?
We need it because otherwise we are at the mercy of Russia, who — it's not beyond them to use a few nuclear weapons in demonstration and even to tell us to evacuate a city and then to destroy it. That was one of the things that was discussed, I understand, during the Second World War after Germany had surrendered, and it was clear that if we were going to use the nuclear weapon, it would be against Japan. I know that a lot of people, Szilard and others, wanted a demonstration that would be persuasive, and President Truman and others decided that that it would not be. And I think they were probably right for Hiroshima. You can argue about whether they were right for Nagasaki, I don't have a strong view of that.
You single out Russia as a reason for the United States to retain a nuclear capability. Is that to say that the same could not be true for any other country? That might threaten the United States?
Russia is different because they have orders of magnitude more nuclear weapons and deliverable nuclear weapons than anybody else. The Chinese have a few hundred nuclear weapons, and of those, less than a hundred are deliverable by ICBM or submarine-launched ballistic missiles against the United States. So there's no possibility of our disarming Russia, either preemptively or in response to a strike.
Under certain circumstances, with an appropriate control mechanism and whatnot — I've written a lot about this over the years — the United States could eliminate its nuclear weapons, but it's not something that I favor. I think my most recent paper on it is titled, "Eliminate nuclear weapons, ban nuclear weapons?" So that's my most recent statement about it. [Of course, my earlier papers are of better quality.]
Let's shift focus to your work on limiting Iran's centrifuge nuclear enrichment program. When did you first become involved in these efforts?
It was in 2004 or 2005. I could look it up of course. When a non-profit in Washington arranged a technical group including Pief Panofsky and myself and three or four other people. Marvin Miller from MIT. To meet with Javad Zarif, who was the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations in New York. We would meet with him at his office in a building in New York City, and discuss with him the potential for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, which they claimed they didn't want to do, but also the incompatibility of the magnitude of gas-centrifuge enrichment effort of uranium that they were mounting compared with what they would need to fuel the Bushehr commercial nuclear power plant. That plant been initiated by Germany and finished by Russia in Bushehr. Iran has justified their enrichment effort, their development of centrifuges and the building of tens of thousands of them on the basis of autonomy — that is, supplying their own fuel for the Bushehr plant.
You need to have about a ton of uranium-235 per year that's burned up in a full-sized nuclear plant like that. A ton of uranium-235 would be about 50 implosion weapons, of a nominal 20 kilotons or so. So a perfectly reasonable implosion weapon of the type done by China initially, and then the design given to Pakistan and spread by their proliferationist physicist A.Q. Khan to lots of countries including Iran. So we said, "Look, you're doing this, and you don't have enough centrifuges projected to fuel that plant. You don't need to fuel the plant. You can buy enriched uranium ahead of time. It costs very little, and you can store it safely for as many years as you want, and then if somehow this supply were cut off, you could launch the enrichment effort then. So how about limiting to 500 centrifuges?" The George W. Bush administration had a principle: “not one centrifuge will turn in Iran.”
Our little group was not negotiating, of course. But we were discussing the consequences of this or that option. And we realized that 500 centrifuges at the nominal one separative work unit per year (1 SWU/yr) would produce about 3 kilograms of uranium-235, so it would take them seven years to have enough fuel for one 20-kiloton implosion weapon. The Iran Deal, of course, shipped 98%, I think, of the separated uranium, none of it more than 5% uranium-235, out of the country. So it was no longer available; that was an enormous accomplishment. It also limited the number of centrifuges and the type, so that the advanced centrifuges could not be fed with uranium and so on.
The Iranians were complying with the Iran Deal. But of course, they were also fomenting terrorism, not nuclear terrorism, but terrorism. Attacks on Israel and so on. It wasn't as if the Obama administration hadn't thought about this in negotiating the Iran Deal. They just couldn't negotiate anything more than limitations on a nuclear program. And the whole world, including Israel, thought that this was a good thing. The only problem adduced with the Iran Deal was that it didn't last long enough — that some of its provisions expired in 2023! So what the Trump Administration accomplished was to have them expire in 2017 rather than in 2023. They eliminated the possibility of negotiating a follow-on deal, which the Iranians would have been really quite amenable to doing.
What concerns you most about Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon?
Well, that we will then use a nuclear weapon to attack it, or the Israelis will encourage us to do that, and there'll be a lot of support for that by people who don’t understand the consequences, and by an uninformed and, worse, misinformed public.
Did you see any flaws in the Iran Deal as it was being created?
Oh, many flaws. Of course. I mean, it's this enormous thing, I don't know whether you've seen it. It's hundreds of pages and it identifies people by name and organizations and whatnot. But no, the important things that are really very good, they checked all the boxes. They eliminated the heavy-water-fueled reactor that would also produce plutonium — the way the North Koreans have produced plutonium initially, which was the focus of U.S. efforts to limit it.
And then of course, they had a secret uranium enrichment centrifuge program as well. I've studied these things in technical detail, and a person who worked for me for a couple of years when I was on staff at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York around 1997 to 2003 or so, Scott Kemp, was my research assistant. Scott had a passion for physics and went to graduate school at Princeton with Frank von Hippel. His thesis was on both the history of the centrifuge enrichment device and the technology of centrifuge enrichment, which was very useful to me in my technical studies with the JASON group. And then Scott, after he got his PhD from Princeton joined the State Department for a year or two, and was the point person on the Iran Deal. Some things of the Iran Deal, such as the disabling and redesign of the heavy-water reactor, so it could still do research, and the technical limitations on the centrifuges, were done really very well.
Do you think the Iran Deal will survive in the long term, given the Trump Administration's opposition to it?
Not with the Trump Administration. The publicity is that they have imposed these sanctions to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table. But really, what they want to do is to have a totally unilateral... They don't understand that a normal contract benefits both sides. And the moment you introduce any benefit to the Iranians, it's a no-go with the Trump Administration.
Let's switch over to North Korea. What worries you most about the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the North Korean regime?
Well, it gives them a lot of power on the peninsula. Because it takes only one nuclear weapon to destroy a lot of Seoul, South Korea. I've discussed this in some detail. I was asked to provide a half-hour paper for a session of the National Academy of Sciences, 05/01/2017 which is posted on the Garwin Archive, titled, “Strategic Security Challenges for 2017 and Beyond.” In that paper I talk about North Korea.
The greatest strategic problem in the United States, aside from the absence of competent government, which has always been...
When we bought our house in Scarsdale in 1955, I was 27. About then I asked myself, you know, “what is it all about?” Well, it's about family and country and environment and survival against the nuclear threat. But all this depends on the preservation of the democratic form of government. And that's what is most imperiled.
So I'm not really much concerned about North Korea and its nuclear weapons. I've written a couple of papers, I've been working on it a long time, a couple of technical papers with Ted Postol on unmanned aircraft, orbiting aircraft, hundreds of kilometers or more outside North Korea, with fast interceptor missiles that can reach the North Korean ICBMs in boost phase while their rockets are still burning, and destroy them with non-nuclear weapons, just by colliding with them the way you shoot down airplanes. It's really tricky, but entirely feasible these days. But there are many, many bureaucratic oppositions to it — for example, people who advocate F-35 aircraft, which are about 100 times as costly, and have finally been judged to be impossible after two years of consideration. Anything to avoid real evaluation of the Airborne Patrol System that Ted Postol and I have proposed.
Let's talk about your concerns about terrorist attacks on the United States. Are you more concerned about one form of an attack over another in terms of the likelihood of, say, bioterrorism or a dirty bomb or a chemical attack? Or are you equally concerned about all of those threats?
No. I’ve written all that. I was at a meeting in Washington on April 19, 2007, and I've written about it. “The Day After,” was the purpose of the meeting. Suppose there has been a terrorist nuclear explosion in a U.S. city with a yield of 10 kilotons, about the size of the Hiroshima bomb. A ground-level explosion in an American city, for instance, New York. What do you do? Well, the meeting was co-chaired by Ash Carter, future Secretary of Defense, and by Bill Perry, former Secretary of Defense. I had worked very closely with both of them for many years on many things. Almost all participants were talking about attribution. Who did it, what do we do to retaliate, and whatnot. But the whole idea of terrorism is that you're already doing everything you can to destroy the terrorists, and you're not going to be doing anything more. And nuclear weapons are not useful in retaliation, so my interest was to ask, to prepare for helping this one city in the United States that has suffered, you know, 100,000 dead or something like that, in an instant. And so to organize, first to make sure that injuries to critical industries, finance industry and everything else, don't bring down the whole country. But the other is to support the people by bringing in food, bringing in all kinds of support systems from all over the country. Ashton B. Carter, Michael M. May, and William J. Perry published an extensive paper, “The Day After: Action in the 24 Hours Following a Nuclear Blast in an American City.”
And of course, that’s what we can't do with this epidemic — bring in resources from untouched areas of the country, although some of that was done with medical personnel to help with the early massive Covid-19 expansion in New York City. I had previously looked at epidemic bioterrorism, and you know, you'd have to have a germ, a particular thing, that is going to — and there are two types, in general. The ones that were developed for military use for the most part were not lethal. That's not the purpose of them, although they had some lethality. And they weren't contagious, because contagion is not very useful for military purposes; a contagious bioweapon could spread to your side, and if you had widespread vaccination to avoid that, the other side would have a leading indicator, by the fact that people were getting vaccinated in the country of origin against the ultimate spread of this contagion. But for terrorism it's very different—especially from a nihilist group or one that feels it can no longer survive in any case. I was most concerned about smallpox, because there were two legal stores of smallpox: in Russia and in the United States. And then there were illegal stores, even in the United States, it turned out. The Soviets had militarized smallpox, and they had it loaded on rockets.
And then there's anthrax. Anthrax is not very communicable among people.
I considered all those things, but the worst terrorist tool right now is information technology, is cyberterrorism. Because a lot of people are very knowledgeable about such things. They do it for good purposes, protection. They do it for the criminality, for stealing, for extortion, and simply to cause trouble and loss.
That's what I say in my strategic threats discussion of May 1, 2017. The problem is that people don't read these things, or many others that provide insight and analysis. I work on so many of these important problems, often proposing solutions, and with detailed background in the field; people don't understand that there is expertise behind these papers or talks. For instance, I testified in 2015 on a robust electrical grid, about countering problems to the national electrical supply grid from either severe space weather or from intentional attack with a nuclear explosion above the atmosphere in the United States, and what you do to preserve the long-distance transformers of which there are a few hundred in the country, and which take years to replace.
There’s been a lot of publicity about how vulnerable the transformers are, either to the severe space weather, the ground currents that saturate the transformer cores, or to electromagnetic pulse from a space nuclear detonation. I wrote the first paper at Los Alamos, still Secret, in 1954 on electromagnetic pulse from nuclear explosions. And I’ve worked on this ever since, so I know what's been done, I've run the models, and so on. What destroys the big transformers is over-current and it takes seconds or minutes to do that. So all that needs to be done, as I said in my testimony of 2015, in just four short points, is that people ought to short-circuit the system before the transformers are injured. The systems know how to deal with short circuits, they turn off the generators. And they don't overheat the transformers. And so you don't lose any transformers as a result of the space nuclear explosion. Many of those who were advocating countermeasures to space nuclear explosions were really doing so in order to deploy ballistic missile defenses.
Staying on the topic of strategic threats to the United States, where do you rank climate change as a strategic threat to the United States?
That's a big problem, and we have a lot of technology that could help the United States solve that problem, but we're not the only people who burn fossil fuels, and so we need to do it worldwide, and we need to subsidize some of that in the days when we had an economy. And we need to lead, technically. So we haven't done that so much.
In wind there have been developments elsewhere that we've managed to deploy here. So wind is really the cheapest, but it's highly intermittent. And then there's, of course, solar photovoltaic, and other solar approaches. Solar photovoltaic is largely distributed, and so that leads people to distributed grid systems, and that could be a good thing to do, but when I propose rapid islanding to counter these blackouts, people tend to say, "Well, when we achieve our goals of local generation, islanding will become feasible." But, as with the other things that I've done in my lifetime, you can do this right away. Because all you really need to do to island, to avoid the entire northeast power system collapse of 1965, I guess it was, that I experienced first-hand driving into Manhattan, is to be able to shed load. So some people should sign up in advance that you can cut their power, and we need to install water tanks — resistive loads to put across the grid to absorb excess generating capacity for a few seconds while generators are shut down gracefully. So when you plan to island a neighborhood or a city, you cut the external power, and now you've got a second or so of generator spin-down time, and what you need to do during that second is to either cut the load, or you add these resistive loads, so you're just boiling water, resistive loads, if you have excess generating capacity. So if you don't have enough generating capacity, you cut the loads, and if you have excess generating capacity, you add load by boiling water through electrolysis. But people don't like these partial measures. They want to solve the problem totally for the long term. And the same with the pandemic. So you've got to consider the worst, and then back off from that when feasible.
What do you make of scientists, some even prominent scientists, who have questioned the theory behind greenhouse gases and climate change?
Well, a good friend of mine, Will Happer, is one of them. A Professor of Physics at Princeton. I'm personal friends with him and his wife, Barbara. They're very nice people, but I think he's misguided. He is an expert on carbon dioxide use by plants and things like that. And he'll tell you all about the stomata, the little pores in the underside of the leaves, and how they respond to carbon dioxide and what happens to them at night and so on. But he's no expert either on climate modeling or on sea level rise or things like that. I used to drive him to work every morning after my wife, in 2015, no longer drove. We were in La Jolla for the JASON Summer Study for two months typically, and I had a car that was otherwise not being used, so I drove Will to and from the JASON Summer Study location from La Jolla Shores up the hill to near UCSD. And, of course, we would talk. Sometimes we would talk about carbon dioxide and climate change, but ultimately, it was no sense talking to him about it.
Will is an excellent scientist and he had a self-defined mission. When he joined the National Security Council in 2018 for a year, one of his goals was to work with others on reversing the efforts of the Obama Administration and the world to reduce carbon emissions.
[This paragraph added by RLG 08/21/2020: Despite our friendship and mutual respect, this is something which is not understandable to me. I thought his approach—which I understood was to create an internal multi-departmental team to provide a report to counter the consensus view of the nugatory role of net anthropogenic carbon dioxide, was inappropriate, and that his personal analysis welcoming CO2 increase did not consider the balance of harm vs. benefit for such aspects as sea-level rise, extreme weather, and ocean acidification.
So as far as you're concerned, the science is entirely settled on climate change?
Oh, I wouldn't say that. No, I think that certainly, and everybody agrees, carbon dioxide has a greenhouse effect, and the details are in the cloud cover, what it does, because with higher temperatures, there's more water, there's more cloud, and the question is what that does to the balance. I think that the people who have done the modeling and the climate community of scientists have done their very best jobs. There may be a couple of people who are antagonistic to people who deny climate change, but mostly people are doing their very best jobs and they're as honest as they can and as competent as they can be. But you can't have everybody knowledgeable about everything. I'm not an expert, but I believe in this case the experts whom I know. I don't believe that all scientists have good understandings of everything, and some of them have an exalted view of their own ability to decide the merits.
Let's switch over to the state of civilian nuclear power in the United States. Do you think that our civilian nuclear capacity should increase over the long term? Should we build new nuclear power plants?
Not unless we can build them to be economically competitive with the renewable resources — that is, with solar and wind. I published an idea long ago, in 1960 for the first time: superconducting DC power lines, transcontinental in scope, that would carry 100 gigawatts. So, essentially, all of the power that's produced by the fleet of nuclear plants in the United States. And with almost no loss. That was refined in a publication in 1967, with an IBM colleague, Juri Matisoo, in the Proceedings of the IEEE. It was reviewed in 2007, IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON APPLIED SUPERCONDUCTIVITY, VOL. 17, NO. 2, JUNE 2007 1641, Superconducting Lines for the Transmission of Large Amounts of Electrical Power Over Great Distances: Garwin–Matisoo Revisited Forty Years Later, by Paul Michael Grant. Paul Grant, an expert in high-temperature superconductors, reviewed this document and said, "Well it was really right and insightful. And could have been done then. And a good thing to do now." These dc superconducting bulk power transmission lines would be buried, in contrast to the normal tower-supported high-voltage transmission lines, because they have to be maintained at liquid-helium temperature.
With my experience in building the hydrogen bomb and things like that, large-scale cryogenics, which of course now is — you know, there are multi-mile-circumference accelerators that are not only at liquid-helium temperature, but they're at superfluid-helium temperature: two degrees Kelvin instead of four degrees Kelvin. I had designed those DC superconducting lines in 1966 in considerable detail with 30-kilometer spacing between the refrigeration stations and so on. That would just add to the quiver of arrows for countering climate change, because it would be a lower cost.
On the other hand, it's another target for terrorism. You've got to weigh that too. I think we need a bigger effort on batteries. There are other means of storing energy — in hot rock or molten salt, and so on, for thermal storage in a power-tower-like solar-electric system, or the more common parabolic cylinder solar-electric farm. So that's what we should be doing. The solar photovoltaics and wind energy are really quite good for most lesser-developed countries; we need to help make those available.
What would it take for the United States to be able to build new nuclear power plants on an economically competitive scale?
A revolution in this financialization of the economy, which for the last 20 years or more has a very bad impact on US society. We've got these companies that are led by financial experts or people who have come up in that world. They used to be led by technical people. [By “financialization” I mean the decades-long adoption of corporate goals of return on investment for a firm, and the interaction with the stock market, which per se does not provide investment in the firm but in large part an opportunity to gamble. In turn, financialization inspires futures which are fine for grain or fuel oil, but not necessarily for stocks, and these beget further derivatives such as opaque collateralized debt obligations.]
It would also take the ability to deploy South Korean reactors, because they know how to build them cheaply at half or a third the price that we have here. That's what we did with France. We had Westinghouse build pressurized-water reactors in France, and then the French had some participation, and then the French negotiated rights to build reactors on their own. And now the French, of course, build reactors in other countries as well. But South Korea, I think, has better reactors. It's a more economically competitive system than that of France, which is centrally managed and directed. But if you're not going to have the opportunity to deploy the cheapest, then you're not going to make the right decisions.
And what are your views on the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel?
Well, I say in my categorization, that's one of the things I've spent the most time on in the last 10 or 20 years. You know, fighting the “global nuclear energy partnership”, GNEP, that was imposed on George W. Bush. So: reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from light-water reactors (LWRs), don't do it. Fast-neutron power reactors in China, yes, but reprocessing is mandatory and okay. Safety and cost (emphasize cost) are the problems. So we don't have a design that will produce nuclear energy from fast nuclear reactors at a cost comparable with the LWRs.
The way to make it cheaper is not by building them and learning, that takes too long. It's by having — as I proposed — a world fast-reactor laboratory, internationally staffed, where people work out advanced modeling at all scales, ranging from the fuel-cycle modeling to the neutronics, to the water flow around the fuel pins with helical wires around them to channel the water. And modeling accidents during off-normal activities as well. That's what you really need to do to make good progress on such a thing. I've been to China many, many times, and I've been there when they've been pitched by TerraPower there. Their candle-like “breed/burn wave,” which they no longer espouse. The TerraPower fast nuclear reactor is a totally conventional molten sodium nuclear reactor. You can't tell the difference from one of theirs and other people's. The Chinese promised me that they would give me a read-out of their fast nuclear reactor program, so I had a session with half a dozen of them in Beijing, and I gave them my detailed views on fast reactors. They didn't give me a paper, they gave me an oral presentation on their program by their second in command. My judgment is that the only thing that's in the works is the commercialization of the Beijing Small Fast Reactor, and so that was going to be their next step. Other future reactors are just talk.
If we were able to isolate purely on a technical capacity, you know, notwithstanding the political stumbling blocks, or the economic problems, would the United States today have the capacity of moving entirely away from fossil fuels as an energy source?
Well, you wouldn't want to move entirely away from fossil fuels, because — or at least the equivalent of fossil fuels — because airplane propulsion is very difficult to do any other way. And on the other hand, you can offset or you can have biofuels for airplanes, so that you can make your diesel or your JP-8 whatever it's called, I forgot, jet fuel, from bio sources. Or you can offset and so on. Natural gas is another problem, so you can build solar houses. Commercial establishments for the most part can get by simply on the waste heat from the lighting and the computers and things like that. So you need better insulation. A lot of this has been done in Sweden.
I was just going over with my second son some 1984 publications and communications with other people for how you ventilate essentially sealed homes without transporting the internal heat or cool to the outside, and maintaining the humidity as well. And all that is very well done, and the idea that these are job-killers is crazy. These are job-creators, and new kinds of jobs; there are industrial firms that could expand greatly.
When people talk about nuclear expansion as the only way we can do this, (because even doubling the wind or the solar photovoltaic is a strain), I would bet, and I would advise further doubling rather than nuclear, because the nuclear is very special. It takes a long time. You have to be extremely careful, because of the terrible consequences of an accident. I was part of the American Physical Society study team in 1975, with Frank von Hippel, Hal Lewis, and others, on the safety of LWRs. We looked at boiling-water reactors (BWRs), and at pressurized-water reactors (PWRs); it was just before Three Mile Island. And so we analyzed those. We figured that 10,000 to 15,000 people was the maximum who would be killed by the worst meltdown with uncontained reactor fuel. I've analyzed the Chernobyl disaster with my late colleague, Georges Charpak, and we believe that 20,000 to 30,000 people will have died, mostly in the former Soviet Union: Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, particularly. But very few of them can be attributed, because it's cancer, and you don't know for sure that they died from that. The analyses of the IAEA and the World Health Organization lead to that, as well, although these organizations are very reluctant to state it clearly. That was the paper I was going to give in Paris, April 16 or 17, before our program was canceled and I gave the one on “Questions and Answers on Covid-19.” In principle, nuclear power is really much safer than coal, especially, or probably even than oil-fired fossil fuel, considering the sulfur atmospheric pollution. But it's lumped, so you have this thing that happens, and it's not only that people die years later, but it's more, that land is unusable for residential, commercial, or agricultural purposes. A lot of land, a whole state’s worth of land essentially. So no, I would not advocate resurgence of nuclear power, at least not with the current plants. If there were a proposal that would be economically competitive, yes, I would have to look at it. And then we would have to look at the failure prospects for these things.
When the Fukushima disaster happened, did you think that that was something that could happen in the United States, or was this a unique problem to Japan and their nuclear industry?
Oh, absolutely it could happen in the United States. In fact, (phone rings) I was sitting in the-- (phone rings). Let me quickly answer this, it's a friend.
It's a lady my age with whom we've been friends since 1953. (laughs) I was sitting in the office of the Secretary of Energy, Steve Chu, essentially when the Fukushima meltdown was happening. And there were, I think, four outsiders that he asked to join his team of 30 or 50 insiders, who were people from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as well as from DOE and the National Labs. That day, I think that Ed Lyman from the Union of Concerned Scientists had testified in Congress, saying that the problem really was not the earthquake. The reactors in Japan passed that with flying colors. It was not even the tsunami. It was the results of the tsunami that denied the plant at Fukushima Daiichi, where there were six reactors, two of which were safely on higher ground; but three operating reactors suffered meltdowns. The reason was that the sea water penetrated the electrical rooms and shorted out the connections that would've started the diesel generators to maintain the cooling of the plants after they automatically shut down in the earthquake. Ed testified that this could happen in the United States if anything kept the diesel generators from starting. That could be terrorism, for instance, but it could be flooding. Just plain old flooding. And he was absolutely right.
But the government itself was denying that there was any relevance of the Fukushima Daiichi experience to the United States. And the government was totally unable, even then, to give any guidance to the plant operators or to the public. As I recall, guidance to the public, to the reporters, was through two UCS employees, Ed Lyman and David Lochbaum, who had been a Nuclear Regulatory Commission instructor, instructing people in the industry about maintenance and safety of their nuclear plants, so he was intimately familiar with these things. I had worked with Steve Chu for six months the previous year, from April 2010 until about September 2010, in bringing the Macondo oil well and BP oil spill under control at the orders of President Obama. Chu was technically a very capable person. I'd worked on oil spews earlier; I knew a good deal about oil wells, because when Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and set fire to 500+ oil wells by explosive decapitation, I initiated a program, a two-day meeting in Washington, sort of a week later, what to do about this. Anyhow, that's another long story and I've told about it in a couple of talks. “Quenching the Wild Wells of Kuwait” was an article that Henry Kendall and I published in Nature, I think in September or October 1991, as a result.
I know you wanted to talk about recycling some studies from the 1970s. I wonder the first one, if you could talk about PSAC or air traffic control?
Well, from the time PSAC was formed, in 1957, and before that, I had been part of the team that advised President Eisenhower. First, there had been the Technological Capabilities Panel, the TCP, of which I was not a member, about 70 people under the direction of Jim Killian, the president of MIT, who was an economist. With the test of the U.S. hydrogen bomb in November 1952, and our lithium-deuteride-fueled, solid-fueled bombs, tested in 1954, and the Soviet test of their hydrogen bombs beginning, I guess, in 1954 or so, the country leadership was concerned, President Eisenhower and others, about what this all meant to the United States security. So Killian was asked, was a member of the Science Advisory Committee of the Office of Defense Mobilization, ODM, chaired by I.I. Rabi of Columbia University. So Killian was selected by the ODM Science Advisory Committee to lead this Technological Capabilities Panel work. I think there were seven sub-panels, one of which was the Intelligence Panel under Edwin H. Land, which had only six members. Land famously said he didn't want to lead a panel which wouldn't fit into a taxicab. (laughs) But of course, they couldn't talk about any of the things they were doing in a taxi cab. I joined the Land Panel in 1960, but I had worked with the Vice President for Research of Bell Labs for six months or so, in 1955–56, to look at some of the questions of intelligence and cryptanalysis and things like that. So I knew these people, and then when PSAC was formed, I was asked to be chair of the Military Aircraft Panel, and I served on other panels including the Strategic Military Panel. Each of these met for two days every month.
When Kennedy was elected in 1960 and took office in January 1961, he had asked me to be a member of PSAC, so I did that for the four-year term and then had another term beginning January 1969 with President Nixon. As the 1950s and ’60s rolled by, the PSAC Military Aircraft Panel gradually had a broader role. We created some sub-panels, each meeting for two days every month. One was an Air Traffic Control Panel, so we flew all over the country in commercial airplanes up in the cockpit in the extra seat, and visited air traffic control centers and looked at the technology, and devised systems, including totally non-voice systems using what became the Global Positioning System satellites, for aircraft navigation. And some other satellites, just a few of them, in geosynchronous orbit, more or less, for the third task of air traffic control — monitoring. So there's communications from the air traffic controller to and from the aircraft pilot or co-pilot, and there is navigation of the aircraft, and then there's monitoring of aircraft positions that should be independent. We devised solutions to all of those, and worked with people technically to cost them out and whatnot.
We wrote a 200-page report, which was suppressed in 1971, was suppressed by the Nixon White House because the FAA wasn't pursuing that path, and they didn't want alternatives presented. But our canny executive secretary arranged to send it to the National Technical Information Service, NTIS, where it was available from them, either in hard copy at substantial cost, or on microfiche. I got it on microfiche and it’s now posted on the Garwin Archive.
I recycled that report in 2011, I believe it was, in a talk at NASA Ames, directed by Pete Worden, who had been a principal adversary of mine during the Star Wars era. But he had come around, and when he introduced me to give this talk, “The Air Traffic Control System for the 1970s,” he said, "You gotta know that Dick Garwin is always right." I'm just quoting him.
Okay, so that's one of the things we recycled, and then of course--
GPS was another one.
What was another one?
GPS was another study that was recycled.
Oh, GPS, yes, because JASON has been involved in learning about these things. One of the things that we did in JASON in 1980 or so for Bill Perry when he was Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering or whatever. He asked us to look at small submarines for housing strategic ballistic missiles. And that was at a time when the MX missile, 100-ton missile was being discussed, with no place to base it on land that would be invulnerable to Soviet attack, which was the main reason for considering a replacement for Minuteman, except that the Air Force, in an excess of candor, said, "Well, it’s been a long time since we've had a new ballistic missile. That's reason enough to have a new one." And that was their motivation.
But defense intellectuals, Paul Nitze and others, said, "That's not enough, you've got to have an argument." And the argument became Minuteman vulnerability. Which of course was replaced by MX vulnerability, when the 50 MX missiles were finally procured and put into Minuteman silos. And with 10 warheads each, they were much more attractive targets than the Minuteman with only three warheads each.
Sid Drell and I and a small team of JASON members had looked at this, and I said, "Look, let's have small non-nuclear submarines," because I had also headed the Antisubmarine Warfare Panel for PSAC for all those years, meeting also two days each month in the Old Executive Office Building. And I said, "Let's have a minimal crew of a few in these 500-ton submarines, and the missiles would lie down outside, in their capsules, and we could have four 100-ton MX missiles in their capsules, two on each side of this little submarine, and its only purpose would be to be invisible. They would patrol a couple hundred miles from U.S. shores because the MX missile has inter-continental range to strike anywhere in the world. And by the way, it would have better accuracy than the land-based MX, because we'll use ground-based transmitters in the United States, pseudolites, pseudo-satellites, and they will transmit GPS-like signals that will be processed by the missiles and so by the time they reach the ionosphere, where there could be some atmospheric perturbations from nuclear weapons and so on, they will have good navigation data independent of whether the submarine knew where it was to begin with. Again, what we did was to solve all the problems. And so that was our proposal for basing the MX missiles in capsules attached alongside small submarines — four missiles to a submarine. I was eventually given by the Air Force a person to help me after that was published, and the unclassified version was published in the MIT Technology Review. But their heart wasn't in it, and nothing happened.
More recently, in 2008 I think it was, JASON was asked by the Strategic Command, maybe the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs who had been head of the Strategic Command, to look at what would happen if we didn't have GPS. So we looked at that, and Ellen Williams, who's now Chair of JASON, chaired that study. And then we had another study from the National Academy to look at, this was the prompt conventional (non-nuclear) global strike. That has presumably been implemented, so just a few missiles in the Trident fleet are being equipped with non-nuclear weapons and high-precision re-entry to bring the non-nuclear weapon to within a few meters of the desired target. I have views about that too, and I've published them on the Garwin Archive.
And the other recycled study that you wanted to discuss was drones.
I mentioned that, that's the Predator from General Atomic, to have a fleet of a couple of them always patrolling off the shores of North Korea, and ready to fire their two or four very-high-speed interceptors against North Korean ICBMs while they are still in boost phase. This doesn't handle some future ICBM that might have short burn time but handles the ones that exist now and that are anticipated. That's what you need to do, and we should have been doing all these years, rather than funding the Missile Defense Agency (its current name) that keeps us from real security.
Dick, I wonder if you can talk generally about your long involvement in many scientific advisory boards or panels for the government? What are the relative advantages and disadvantages of serving as an outsider, as opposed to serving within the government, if the ultimate objective is to get the government to, you know, pursue a policy according to what you believe the best course of action is?
I've only been open to two offers of government employment, which of course never came. One was, well…. Anyhow, I felt that, you know, government employees all have a limited span of influence, and my understanding — I'm not a great manager — I was offered the head of IBM Research in 1960 or so, but, I guess IBM Research Division was created in 1960. But, might be 1956, but 1960 was when the IBM TJ Watson Research Laboratory was opened, and Emanuel R. Piore, who had been head of the Office of Naval Research just after World War II, and then had worked I think at Avco Everett. Anyhow, he was our first Director of Research for the IBM company. And when he became Chief Scientist of IBM, I think he wanted me to succeed him as Director of Research, but I didn't want to do that. I'm really not good at that sort of thing. I'm really good at technically doing things myself, maybe with one or two other people. And beyond that, it seemed to me it would take 100 people and a big management role, and that's not what — so I've always been just content, I would say, at doing what I could do from the outside — telling people what I thought and providing a basis for their understanding and their doing what I thought was the right thing. But of course, this has led to a lot of frustration.
I have been of course, head of the Arms Control and Nonproliferation Advisory Board, ACNAB, in the State Department for the Clinton Administration for all eight years. I have been on PSAC, I have been in the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the eight years of the Obama Administration with John Holdren, with whom I had worked for decades. He's a great man and was a good leader, and we did Ebola and things like that. And at that time also, of the discussions with Javad Zarif and keeping the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in force.
I'm different from most other people, because I have really this aversion to management, and probably very little competence and probably personality flaws, not being very diplomatic. So I thought I wrote... Okay, go on, please.
The next item: unfortunately over the past decade plus, you've lost a lot of friends and colleagues, and I wonder if you wanted to reflect and offer any retrospectives on any close colleagues in particular that you wanted to share some memories on?
No, I’ve said everything I’m prepared to say. I can’t do justice to them off the cuff.
I was very close with really all of them, in different ways. And many, many days of meetings and mutual efforts.
At the beginning of your career, did you think that you would specialize in a particular area and stay with that? Or did you know from the beginning that your interests and your involvement would be highly diverse?
No, I had no idea. My father had a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1921 from the Case School of Applied Science, where I entered in 1944, but he was, the family was Jewish, and although he wasn't religious, you couldn't get a job as an engineer in the Cleveland area as a Jew. I think my uncle, one of my mother's brothers was the only Jewish employee of the Ohio Bell Telephone Company. He was their, let's see, what do you call it? Comptroller, I guess, and a very capable person.
My Dad taught high school electricity in a public school in Cleveland. And then in 1940, he created a small firm, Garwin Theater Equipment Corporation, GARTEC, with his brother Joe. They ran that out of our new home in University Heights; the two-car garage was expanded in construction to be two two-car garages, one behind the other, and the shop was in the rear space, with various benches and tools. I grew up helping fix audiovisual equipment and I could build amplifiers and things like that.
I went to Case because I could commute via public transportation from home. We didn't have much money, but anyhow I probably wasn't ready for that. And then graduated in probably April 1947. I had applied to Chicago and also to a couple of other schools. Robert Shankland, a physics professor at Case, asked me and my Dad to lunch. He said that by all means I should go to Chicago because that's where Enrico Fermi was.
My math teacher at Case wanted me to be a mathematician, but I didn't have a real aptitude for mathematics, I thought. And I wanted to be a physicist. My father wanted me to be an engineer because engineers had real hands-on, he was a great hands-on person, but he didn't understand that by then, engineers didn't. They were largely theoretical, and they designed things, but they didn't troubleshoot them or make them work, like architects, unfortunately. So it's experimental physicists who have hands-on experience.
When I went to Chicago and I took courses, Enrico Fermi taught a freshman physics course, which was quite something, and I hadn't been doing anything in the lab for six months or so, so I went to seek him — I recounted this in Working With Fermi at Chicago and Post-war Los Alamos— and offered to help him in the lab. I said I was really quite good with electronics, and I knew my way around machine tools and so on. He had his own power hacksaw and lathe in the lab — tools that he used. And so my eyes lit up when I saw his lab, a double lab of some kind lab in Ryerson Hall at the University of Chicago. So he took me on and we worked together from that day on, so I could do things [for Fermi and myself].
I really do like to do things myself. I'm very good at picking up the status of the field and as I told Dan Ford when he was looking for a title for his book, which he never wrote unfortunately, I said, "How about ‘The Next Step’? " because I'm very good at taking the next step. But I'm not good at outlining a whole course of research the way some of my friends have been. But bring me in, I can usually take a considerable next step or even a leap.
What was attractive to you about joining IBM and the Watson Laboratory? What was exciting in 1952 about that prospect?
It was December 15th, 1952. It was getting out of Chicago; Chicago street crime was just awful. And a lot of rapes in homes and things like that. I had a young wife and a son who was born in November 1949, and in 1949 we lived in an apartment that Harold Agnew had built, by enclosing wrap-around porches on the ground and second floors of a large old house about six blocks north of the university. By 1951 or so we had moved into university housing only half a block from what became the Enrico Fermi Institute for Nuclear Studies. But when I would go back to the cyclotron, where my research was, after dinner, I would swing a big pipe wrench as I walked the half block or so. And I didn't want to live like that.
So when I was called by Emilio Segrè, who had been one of Enrico Fermi's students in Rome, and then a colleague there, who then came to the United States and worked on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. Segrè had been asked to go to New York to look at the IBM Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory that was expanding to become the IBM Watson Scientific Laboratory, with work in solid state physics. The University of Chicago’s 450 MeV cyclotron was a big, expensive facility, so they had adopted a routine that you needed four or six people on a team. You needed to schedule your work six weeks in advance, tell them what you were going to do, and I didn't want to do that. I wanted to decide one night what I was going to do the next day in my research. I had worked at the cyclotron, by myself, with liquid hydrogen and liquid deuterium targets. I had devised all kinds of ways to do this.
Fermi devised the Fermi Trolley, that moved the target around inside the cyclotron, which was a wonderful step forward, and I devised a means for reading out promptly the beam power that was dissipated in the little target of copper or graphite, by nuclear reactions of this 450 million electron volt beam. This allowed ordinary people, the cyclotron operators, to tune up the cyclotron without having to understand the couple-minute delay time constant of the thermocouple that Fermi had installed to read the power in the cyclotron target.
I just wanted to get out of Chicago and be master of my own research soul. I didn't want to apply for grants, because that too would require saying in advance what I was going to do. So those were the things that drove me. It turned out that the Director of the IBM Watson Laboratory, Wallace J. Eckert, an astronomer, was the person who had introduced the punch card in the 1930s into scientific computing. He was a wonderful person and became a very good friend. And so that's what I wanted to do, and that worked very well. The first thing that I was involved in was to work on liquid helium and superconductors that had really not benefited from the advances in physics and understanding post-World War II.
So I did some things in devising techniques. I had a graduate student who worked on vortex rings in superfluid helium, which are quite fundamental. Others, one of whom became the president of the American Physical Society, Myriam Sarachik, her thesis was the skin depth of superconducting lead as a function of temperature and so on.
We did all kinds of interesting and potentially useful things. I learned the technique of spin echoes from my neighbor, Erwin Hahn, who had invented it [for his Ph.D. thesis in Physics] at the University of Illinois at Champaign–Urbana. I worked with them to devise a multi-megabit sequential memory for computers, a serial-storage memory, and invented something there, patented it. That eventually was used in every nuclear magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] machine world-wide — of course, long after the patent expired. (laughs)
Paul Lauterbur, who shared the Nobel Prize for MRI, made a special trip to see me. Maybe a special bypass, because he was probably in town for doing something else — he asked me whether I knew that my patent was in every MRI machine; I didn't. I've been very happy in doing what I've been doing, and fairly influential. And of course very frustrated, because people don't do as I suggest. Even worse, they don't even know that I have said (or written) it, despite my having made the effort of providing regular email distribution, in the old days via LISTSERV, and as soon as the Web came along, the Federation of American Scientists began to host the Garwin Archive.
So it's been available and is easily searched, but people don't know how to search. I don't know whether you know to use the qualifier "site:". Do you use the “site:” qualifier?
I gave a talk, election day in 2008, at the big auditorium at Fermilab. Must have been 500 people there. I spent a few minutes on the Garwin Archive, and I asked how many people know of the “site:” qualifier? I think maybe five people raised their hands? It's just amazing, the difference it makes in your life.
In my prepared presentation I said that there are these two people that the President, whichever he would be, we didn't know of course that day, should select as, or consider as, Science Advisors. One was John Holdren and the other was the president of Rensselaer, a nuclear physicist — I forget her name at the moment.
Yes, Shirley Ann Jackson, right. Their pictures are in my talk, in the Garwin Archive, of course.
Is there a branch of physics that you most closely identify with?
No, I've been in particle physics and applied physics — many kinds of applied physics. I've been a cryogenicist, the people who work at low temperatures. But mostly applied physics. And I'm not very good at mathematics. I should have taken a year or two longer in my graduate work and I would have been a different person. But I can't say that I would have been happier.
What have been some of the greatest mysteries, to you personally, in physics, that you've been motivated to study and learn over the course of your career?
I don't study mysteries mostly. I solve problems, I take the next step.
So then, what are the biggest problems that you have encountered that you were most motivated to solve?
Well, it's not a matter of motivation, it's what comes up. The biggest problems are those that I mentioned. They're not physics problems. They're problems of family, of security of the country against malign influences, of environment. It used to be atmospheric pollution [e.g. my work with the NAS Committee on Motor Vehicle Emissions and Fuel Economy]. In 1972, I played a key role in facilitating the visit of 20 Chinese scientists to the United States because I was on the Board of, maybe I was Vice Chairman, of the Federation of American Scientists, and Jeremy Stone was passionate about opening relations with China. And I was on the Committee on Scholarly Communications with the People's Republic of China, of the National Academy, and they were at sword's point, maybe dagger's point, (laughs) with respect to one another. So I thought there would be blood on the runway if they showed up and met the Chinese, so I tried to make peace between them. I got IBM to support a week's visit of the Chinese group to the New York area with visits to Bell Labs and IBM and to New York University and Columbia University. And to my house (laughs) and various restaurants in the neighborhood. To add confusion to the visit, the name of the support person that IBM assigned to help me was Garvin. (both laugh) Not Garwin.
Yeah. Focusing on problems, what are some of the greatest problems that you feel like you have solved or contributed to over the course of your career?
Problems almost never stay solved, but they are... the focus on smart weapons, transferring the capability for precision navigation and dropping of bombs to the bombs themselves. With inertial navigation and especially GPS. The solutions to space weather and especially electromagnetic pulse destruction of the large transmission line transformers, except that people don't want those partial solutions, they want to solve other problems and so they deny...
More: conquering pandemics. But people didn't make the investment in public health and we need more public health. I remember when a colleague at Columbia went to Harvard to head their public health department, I made a special visit to see him and gave him an agenda at the time for what I thought he should be doing. And arms control in 1980. We had been meeting through Pugwash, which was formed in 1957 or thereabouts. International group of scientists, adherence to the Pugwash declaration. But under the aegis of Pugwash, American scientists and Soviet scientists could meet for a day. And of course the Soviet government was smart enough to know what was going on, but it was okay. And they had a minder called Levchenko. Anyhow, I dealt with them and became really quite close to some of the Russians. Among them, Evgeny P. Velikhov. There were four Russians who were selected as advisors by Gorbachev.
Gorbachev. Then Gorbachev came in. So he picked these four; Evgeny Velikhov, a physicist who became head of Kurchatov. My friend, Roald Sagdeev, who's now at the University of Maryland, who married Susan Eisenhower, and Evgeny Primakoff and Georgi “Yuri” Arbatov as his kitchen cabinet. We had been meeting with them in the National Academy CISAC, Committee on International Security and Arms Control, context.
Before that, we had been meeting since 1960 or thereabouts in the Pugwash context. So in 1980, I met with Velikhov and Sagdeev and some others in a series of Pugwash sessions on nuclear weapons in Europe, in a lakeside building on the north shore of Lac Léman in Geneva at an establishment there. A small building where there were public meetings. The two of them said, "Well, you keep saying ‘arms control and reductions’, can you be more specific?" I recall going to the blackboard and drawing pictures, and I said, "2000 nuclear weapons on each side in the first year immediately and down to 1000 in the second year and henceforth. And then after five or ten years, we'll think about going lower."
Of course it's taken a long time, but we have 1550 strategic nuclear weapons in the Russian and in the American stockpile, plus more in reserve. It's become much more difficult, because China has several hundred nuclear weapons, and North Korea has maybe 50, and Israel has some, and of course, Britain and France have a couple hundred each, and so people just don't feel like reducing to where they are in the same category as other countries.
I made a lot of contributions to arms control, and of course also to means of verification through satellite imaging, which was highly classified and still is, in some respects. Contributions to space and particularly space intelligence with initially the Corona, not coronavirus, but the Corona film-return satellite program, which I was “read into” (i.e., formally granted access to this highly secret program) in 1960–it had just started flying productive missions in August 1960, and flew until 1972 with 100-some missions — and then especially to the ELINT [electronic intelligence] satellites, the ones that monitor radio emissions, radars and stuff like that. And especially to the near-real-time imagery satellites, both the photographic satellites that produce beautiful pictures, the predecessors of the commercial satellites that you see that don't produce nearly such good pictures, and also the radar satellites — synthetic aperture radar [SAR] satellites, of which there are unclassified ones operated by German firms and Canadians and others. They produce pictures, radar pictures which have couple foot or even better resolution and of course that don't depend on absence of clouds or presence of sunlight.
I did a lot in those things, and I'm really proud of that. I was recognized with the R. V. Jones Award for Scientific Intelligence, and with President Obama's Presidential Medal of Freedom, when it meant something, before it was debased by the current President. I received also the National Medal of Science, which according to my late friend Ed Frieman, was long delayed. Was considered by various presidential committees (laughs) with the others, but it was turned down because they didn't have the guts to give it to somebody who was as often critical of the government as he was endorsing it.
Is there an individual that you would identify, of all the people you've met, that you would consider a hero to you? Or somebody who's exerted the greatest and most positive influence on your intellectual development, or development as a person?
I have many heroes. And of different kinds. Jim Killian was a hero — the first presidential science advisor [Eisenhower]. President Nixon disestablished the President's Science Advisory Committee and the Office of Science and Technology in February 1973, just after my term was up. Killian felt that I was in part responsible for that, because I had testified on the supersonic transport and incurred the wrath of the Nixon White House staff. Jim Killian told me at a reception of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Somerville that he always agreed with what I wanted to do, but not with the way I did it. (laughs) He was a hero to me for what he got done — for what he built. Edwin Land was a hero, Ed Purcell, Panofsky, Sid Drell, Fermi, Hans Bethe — I’ve written about all of them.
Harold Agnew. I was a graduate student with him, we were very good friends and he was an excellent leader of Los Alamos, ultimately. And a very nice guy. But did these people have any influence on me? I fear not. Well, Fermi certainly did, because I modeled myself to whatever extent I could after Fermi. Fermi was quoted in a 1981 article in Science magazine, big article about me by Eliot Marshall, as saying to Murph Goldberger, "Garwin is the only true genius I've ever met." And of course, it was 1981 when I learned this. The sourcing by Marshall was that he was told by Marvin Goldberger, with whom I was a graduate student and then worked on JASON for many years, from 1966, or 1960, really, although I was a member of JASON only from 1966. Goldberger was a good friend and a fellow faculty member at the University of Chicago with Fermi and me. I believe Fermi said it, but I can't understand how he would have said that, because he knew Richard Feynman. And Feynman was indeed a genius. And he also knew John von Neumann very well and John von Neumann was a genius. But perhaps Fermi understood, or thought he understood, how their minds worked. And maybe he felt he didn't understand how mine works [or used to work]. I certainly don't myself.
So you reject the assertion at the end of the day? You reject what Fermi said about you?
I think he said it, but I don't believe it's true. I think he was mistaken. (laughs)
So then, you know, besides humility preventing you from accepting it —
No, no, no, that's what I think.
I think, am I a genius? No, I don't think so.
So why is Feynman a genius, if you're so comfortable calling Feynman a genius, why is he a genius and you're not?
Oh, because he discovered all kinds of new things in many fields, and in fact, Fermi once when I was on the faculty, oh must have been '50 or '51 or something, told me that he was going to Caltech for a couple of days to "sit at Feynman's feet" and understand about Feynman diagrams, which didn't teach anybody anything new, but they taught them a new way of thinking about these calculations that Fermi and everybody had been carrying out for many years. It was very hard to keep track of and add up the contributions of different paths, all of which were possible in quantum mechanics but had different amplitudes, coupling coefficients and energy denominators. The Feynman diagram made it trivial to lay out these paths and count them and make sure that you did them all. And that's only one of the things that Feynman did.
You so naturally referenced Feynman, you know, in referencing genius. Do you put Feynman in his own league? I mean, would Schwinger be in that same league, or is Feynman really on his own?
He's on his own. I didn't know Schwinger. Hans Bethe, when Feynman died, I guess, contributed, maybe to Physics Today, an article that said [approximately], "About some things you say, ‘I wish I had thought of that.’ About Feynman you say, ‘I could never have done that.’” Hans was an excellent physicist with whom I worked very closely, but not in pure physics mostly. Initially on the hydrogen bomb — not together, but in parallel. I worked on these PSAC panels with him — on the Strategic Military Panel, and on other PSAC panels and on PSAC itself. And I worked with him in the Union of Concerned Scientists and in writing books. And we were good friends, with him and his wife, Rose. He was totally straightforward and extremely competent. (laughs) He was head of the nuclear weapon theory effort at Los Alamos during the second World War. And did radar at MIT before that. Then headed the theoretical development of the thermonuclear weapon.
If Feynman was so easily identified as the genius of his generation, and you refuse that title for your generation, I wonder if you could identify among your contemporaries or colleagues who you might feel comfortable bestowing that title on?
Oh, I don't know, I really don't know people very well. I think that Phil Anderson was... I don't think he was a Feynman, but he was very perceptive and competent. Also a friend, but I don't know many people. I don't.
But did you know Feynman?
I met him, maybe six or ten times. Longest I spent with him was probably an hour at an outdoor sandwich lunch, just a few people, at Brookhaven when he was visiting one year, one time. But I went to a couple of his lectures at Los Alamos at a 40th or 50th anniversary of the Lab. And I followed what he did in liquid helium and other things like that. [We had some technical correspondence as well, on superfluid helium.]
What kind of advice do you give young colleagues who are looking to grow in their careers as physicists?
The less advice from me the better. I mean, everything is so very different from when I experienced it.
[This added by RLG 08/16/20] Let me give one example of the different outlook between young post-Ph.D. physicists now, and in 1951. On 09/10/2018 I drove to Cohasset, MA for a two-day Harvard Physics Department post-doc retreat, at which I was to give the keynote address the next evening. Since the publication of a William J. Broad NY Times article in 2001, I have gradually become known as the architect of the first hydrogen bomb, tested 11/01/1952 at Enewetak, so people at my table during the day asked how I was assigned that job in June of 1951, when I was only 23. “My” current Wikipedia page (over which I have no influence) even says, “best known as the author of the first hydrogen bomb design.” and “He was assigned the job by Edward Teller, with the instructions that he was to make it as conservative a design as possible in order to prove the concept was feasible.” But that is not what Teller states in the cited memoir — only that “I explained the overall scheme of the new Super to Garwin and asked him to draw up a concrete design, complete with dimensions. The design need not be a deliverable weapon, I said, but I did want as complete a proof of the principle as he could provide. Garwin produced just that.”
Teller explained and asked. He did not “assign” and was in no position to do so. I was looking for what to do as a consultant at Los Alamos that summer, with J. Carson Mark my boss. Carson was head of T Division (Theory) and never assigned a task to anyone, either. Incredibly, I could have done anything I wanted that summer, and indeed did some other things not yet made public. But my young colleagues at Harvard two years ago are far from the only ones who cannot conceive the freedom of action I had at Los Alamos, or the freedom Los Alamos had to set its own course. [I think it is useful to provide this statement in my own words. I can understand how, with the best intentions on all sides, these fine points of relationships and contributions from 69 years ago may be blurred.] [Resuming the text of the interview]
And I don't have that many colleagues, because I intentionally worked at IBM. I was an Adjunct Professor of Physics at Columbia. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of students who ever came to see me in office hours. I was Professor of Applied Physics, and of Public Policy at Harvard for a year, and for half a year, I guess, Applied Physics there, where I introduced a laboratory course, in applied physics. And I guess I was a mentor to Ash Carter, and especially to Robin Staffin who was one of three people who went to do the MX missile-basing study at the Office of Technology Assessment. These were Ash Carter, who was recruited at Oxford by Sid Drell, where Ash was a Rhodes Scholar. And Ted Postol; I don't know who recruited him, but he and I have worked very closely on national security matters, even in recent years. And then Robin Staffin, who was my assistant at Harvard when I was working there as Professor of Public Policy, but also acting in a staff role for the United Nations on abolishing nuclear weapons. That UN work was in support of a British member of the House of Lords, Solly Zuckerman, with whom I wrote papers, and I helped him with his papers published in the New York Review of Books.
I was very sad to hear of your wife's passing in February of 2018, and I wondered if you wanted to talk a little bit about her life and your partnership with her?
I've written about her in the obituary for the local newspaper, and in the memoir I delivered at her memorial luncheon on April 21, 2018. Of course, I appreciate her even more now.
[continued] We married very young, just when I was about to go to the University of Chicago in 1947.
Where did you meet your wife?
We were married on April 20th, 1947, and my 19th birthday was April 19, 1947. We went to the same high school, but I was a couple of years ahead of her, because I had skipped some grades. But mostly, though, we knew one another from our five-year-younger brothers, because her brother, Howard, would come to our house in University Heights, he'd ride his bicycle, where we had a pool table, so he would play pool with my younger brother, Ed. They were in junior high school or late elementary school. Lois would call and she would ask us to send Howard home for dinner, because her parents had a grocery store in Cleveland, and Lois was responsible for putting dinner on the table for both her and Howard. It was funny, because all the boys and men in the Garwin family sounded the same. My dad would answer the phone, or Joe, or maybe even my brother, but no, my brother was busy playing pool. Lois wouldn't know who was answering. (laughs) So we would send Howard home for dinner.
But it was really my cousin Judy, who's about my age, who was a best friend of Lois's. I think she was encouraging our friendship.
Did you seek advice from your wife on all the political matters you were involved in, or did you keep those worlds separate?
No, I told her everything I could of what I was doing, so she knew that when we went to Los Alamos, I was working on nuclear weapons. And I would tell her about that. I would tell her about some things that were going on, you know, office politics or whatever. I'm not a gossip. In fact, one of the reasons I left Chicago was Fermi's longtime associate, Herb Anderson, who was a Professor of Physics there. They had worked together at Columbia University, where Fermi showed up in December 1938, after having received the Nobel Prize for Physics in Stockholm earlier that month. Enrico Fermi and his wife Laura had planned to leave Italy definitively, with their two children, Giulio and Nella, because the race laws had just been introduced by Mussolini. Fermi wasn't Jewish, but Laura's family was. They took their children and they offered Laura's father, who was an admiral in the Italian Navy, and a hero of World War I, they asked him to come too, but he said, "What are they going to do to me? I'm an old man, I'm a hero of the Italian Navy." But in fact, he was in the first roundup of Jews, and was shipped to an extermination camp and killed.
We were good friends with the Fermis, and Lois handled the social side of things, for which I had no particular talent. Unlike a lot of spouses, she was interested in what I would tell her, and she felt good about that, she would often say, about knowing what I was doing. I would travel for the most secret things, and she would know that I couldn't tell her about that. When I was working on satellite reconnaissance, well I was working on “space things,” and whatnot.
One of the reasons that I left Chicago was that Herb Anderson told me one day in the lab, he said, "You know, the Physics Department at Chicago is not big enough for the two of us." I didn't think that was a very nice attitude. (laughs) But he held it sincerely. And I couldn't see that there was anything to be done about it, and besides, I had these other reasons for doing something else, because I couldn't change the sociology of high-energy physics, then six weeks scheduling time with six people, which is now six years and 600 people or 6,000 people.
I did a lot on gravity waves, too. My partner and I, Jim Levine, at IBM were the only people, really, who took Joe Weber's results sufficiently seriously to set up a gravitational wave antenna, a big aluminum bar, to work at exactly the same frequency and better sensitivity and show that he was not detecting gravity waves — that there were no gravity waves of that magnitude. Although in principle, there could be. Then I helped in the LIGO work by impressing on the Director of the National Science Foundation, at that time an engineer from IBM whom I knew fairly well, that they should go forward only after they had a summer study of one or two weeks with participants who were involved in all kinds of low-noise, low-signal detections. Not just the people working on LIGO. And they did that. Rainer Weiss, one of the Nobelists, wrote me just after the prize was awarded to the three of them that he was against the idea of the summer study in the first place, but he regards it as essential to their success. So I was happy with that. And I'm mentioned in the New York Times at one of the Discovery presentations, in an auditorium at Columbia University, by the reporter who sat next to me and reported the beam on my face when the results were revealed.
Forgive me, I don't know if you're a spiritual person or not, but I am curious if your views on spirituality have changed or evolved over the course of your life.
No, as a Jew, I would normally have had a Bar Mitzvah, but I at the age of 13, I was resistant to that, and my parents said, "Okay, you stay in Sunday school until you're confirmed, then." Which I think took a little longer. And my wife-to-be, Lois, was also a member, I think, of the same confirmation class. So that was good. But I didn't get along with the religious establishment. I'm not anti-religion. In fact, I really don't know Lois’s beliefs.
My wife, of course, was much more involved in practicing the faith, that is. And seders — Passover dinners — and things like that. Lois and I would go to temple for the High Holy Days, for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, and so on. But I don't believe in God, so it makes it difficult to accept any particular religion. (laughs) On the other hand, we decided early on that the children would be raised as Jews and they would go to Sunday school and the boys would have Bar Mitzvahs. They didn't do Bat Mitzvahs for girls at that time, for my daughter Laura. She would have been Bat Mitzvah too, under the current circumstances, because I didn't want them falling prey to some newly foisted religion when they grew up. I wanted them to have experience with a traditional religion. And it happened to be Judaism.
Do you think that your non-belief in God has any particular weight because of your experience in physics and knowing how the world works? (Garwin: No.) Or do you just think that that's a--
No, I don't think. No.
A personal belief that has nothing to do with your scientific expertise?
Well, it's pretty hard to have traditional views of God when you're a scientist. But people do. I was a good friend and colleague of Charles H. Townes. He used to drive me to work occasionally from Riverdale in the Bronx to Columbia University, and he was a member of CISAC and helped create JASON. He was a devout practitioner of some branch of Christianity.
Harold Agnew was a dedicated anti-religionist. And I remember he told me that he had been driven home, 20 years ago or something, from the Pentagon to Washington D.C. by a person who was, I don't know, the Deputy Secretary of Defense or whatever, and he tried to talk his friend out of religion. (laughs) He then realized, “you either believe or you don't.”
When you say a "traditional" view of God or religion, I take that to mean an anthropomorphic God who is interested in human affairs and does miracles from time to time. But I wonder if you would include in that, you know, a non-belief in the idea that creation implies a creator?
No, I certainly don't believe creation involves a creator. No. This “person” would have to have such detailed knowledge in order to do all this, especially in biosciences.
Well, Dr. Garwin, I think I have one final question for you, unless you had any other additional items that you wanted to discuss. And that question is, we've talked a great deal about your concerns for the future. You know, whether they're related to strategic threats like nuclear warfare or climate change or the inability of effective leaders to govern our country. On the opposite side of that, what are you optimistic about for our future? What are you excited about? What are you hopeful about? Either in your capacity as an engaged citizen, or in your capacity as a scientist?
Well, I think that the rate of advance in understanding, particularly in biosciences and technology, is enormously impressive, and that's a force that could be for good. But in the United States, this is opposed by the power structure, by a lot of people who have business interests. And they don't understand. I remember a talk organized by the Twentieth Century Fund at their centenary, at which Ted Sorenson, who introduced the speaker said that they had thought of having Henry Kissinger speak, but he would have charged, and the Twentieth Century Fund believes in free speech. (laughs) And so that's why we have a speaker, Bill Bradley, former Senator and Knicks basketball player. Ted Sorenson himself would have done a better job.
The founder of the Twentieth Century Fund I think was Edward Filene, a Boston commercial industrialist who favored unions and respect for the working man. He told his fellow commercial leaders there, something like, “If you don't do this, you'll have revolution. And for your own good, you have to support these people." I mentioned earlier financialization of the United States economy. I gave a talk May 1, 2000 to the graduating class at University of California Berkeley, a merged graduation of Physics and Astronomy. On the day before, I changed the last paragraph of the talk, to my shame. What is still in the talk is a mild, final paragraph, “While you are enjoying your work, occasionally seized by the divine passion for solving a problem, put some time aside regularly to think about your role in preserving your society against ignorance and unreason. Particularly should you be aware and work to understand and communicate your views on questions such as the national missile defense or Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that I have described. Congratulations and a hearty welcome to our wonderful profession. Thank you.”
But I had also written, "There are large forces in the United States who, if you tasted better, would eat you. Not just shear you." I really would like to find that draft, because that's what you see in the current world. You see people who have no respect for other people, whether the other people are rich people, poor people, people with disabilities of one kind or another. I admire so much the founders of the republic. And the people involved-- it was no playdate for the people who fought the revolution; it wasn't a sure thing at all. And who built the country, step by step.
Am I optimistic? Very little optimism. No, I like individual people a lot, some of them. My late wife, I admire more and more. And wish, you know… All these things come at some opportunity cost, imagining alternatives from what actually happened.
Okay, well thank you, if you have other things, we could, and you found it valuable and the AIP finds it valuable, I could do more.
Thank you so much, Dr. Garwin, it's been a pleasure being with you.
Okay. You're welcome. Thank you!