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Interview of Charles Zemach by David Zierler on 2020 July 15,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/45350-2
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In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Charles Zemach, retired from the staff of the Hydrodynamics Group (T3), Theoretical Physics Division at Los Alamos. Zemach recounts his childhood in Manhattan as the son of Jewish immigrants and his experience at Stuyvesant High School. He describes his undergraduate work at Harvard and the influence he felt from Julian Schwinger and George Mackey, and he explains his decision to remain at Harvard for his Ph.D., which he earned under the direction of Roy Glauber. He describes some of the major questions in theoretical particle physics in the early 1950s and the excitement surrounding quantum electrodynamics, and he explains his research on neutron scattering, which grew out of Fermi’s work on simple delta-function interactions twenty years earlier. Zemach discusses his postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania, and then at Berkeley, where he describes the relevance of his research on the bootstrap theory that Geoffrey Chew was developing. He describes the series of events leading to his work for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) in Washington, which Sid Drell encouraged him to pursue because it would allow him to participate in some of the great challenges in nuclear arms control during the Nixon administration. He explains how the ACDA was set up to solidify Kissinger’s control of nuclear policy, and he describes his role in the SALT I and SALT II negotiations. Zemach discusses his subsequent work at Los Alamos, where Harold Agnew recruited him to become leader of the Theoretical Division and where he focused on fluid dynamics as it related to nuclear bomb design. At the end of the interview, Zemach discusses some of his activities in physics since his retirement in 1993, including his ongoing interest in fluid dynamics and his work on river rights in the Santa Fe area.
OK. This is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is July 15th, 2020. I’m so happy to be back with Dr. Charles Zemach. Chuck, thank you so much for joining me again.
Well, it’s a pleasure to have this experience.
OK. So let’s pick up on where we were last time. We left off our conversation last time where you were getting ready to go to Washington to do some official work for the government.
OK. Have we really covered everything on the Berkeley experience?
Let’s—we can go back a little on the Berkeley experience. Let’s go back a few years before you went to Washington. What were you working on in those years before you went to Washington?
I already talked about the bootstrap method. Probably the thing that had most effect on the rest of the physics community—was developing a systematic method for analyzing experimental data that came from bubble chambers or cloud chambers.
Let’s talk a little bit about that. Go ahead.
OK. Well, in those days, I’m looking at the ’60s, Luis Alvarez had built this monster bubble chamber, and then other people all over the world were building bubble chambers. And this produced an outpouring of elementary particle data; new unstable particles were being discovered, and new resonances, and all sorts of things. What do you do with all these pictures of lines on pieces of paper? Everybody was working on that in his own way. I developed a systematic method, which began with a systematic description of what I called angular momentum tensors. The forerunners of this method appeared in Zemach, "Three-Pion Decays of Unstable Particles", Phys. Rev. 133, B1201 (1964) and Zemach, "Methods for Determining the Spin and Parity of the B Particle", Nuovo Cimento 32, 1605 (1964). The comprehensive treatment was in Zemach, "Use of Angular Momentum Tensors and Determination of the Spins and Parities of Resonances", Phys. Rev. 140 , B97 and B109 (1965).
These were tensors of arbitrary spin, integral or half-integral, which depended on momentum vectors. This method proved very practical. I got an invitation to visit the Collège de France in Paris, and it was a very polite invitation. It started out by saying that “everybody in the world is using Zemach tensors. We want you to come and talk about that.”.
The tensor method was also applicable to the group SU3, and simplified the proofs then current on the use of SU3 in strong interactions. I used it in my graduate course at Berkeley on particle physics in 1966. The course notes were written up by a group of students, and distributed in the physics department.
In 1959-60, I took advantage of a Guggenheim fellowship to visit the Institute of Physics at the University of Rome.for a year. Wolfgang Panofsky passed through Rome and gave a lecture on prospects for the Stanford Linear Accelerator, then under construction. This motivated a Rome colleague, Francesco Calogero, and myself to consider what electron-electron scattering experiments might be feasible at SLAC. This led to: Calogero & Zemach, "Particle Creation in Electron-Electron Collisions", Phys. Rev. 120, 1860 (1960). The interactions we described had implications for gamma-gamma collisions (photon-photon interactions). Francis Low wrote an article at about the same time which was also related to gamma-gamma collisions. By the mid-1980’s, this subject had become a major experimental and theoretical field, and a conference on gamma-gamma collisions was to take place in Amiens, in northern France. Calogero, Low, and I, as the first investigators in the field, were invited to the conference as guests of honor. Calogero and Low were not able to come. I was the sole guest of honor and had to make the major speech at the banquet. I began by thanking the conference hosts for their hospitality and efficient planning. Then I said, “The only thing I have to complain about is that I haven’t been able to meet any physicists who speak French more poorly than myself”.
A last topic. In 1963, Calogero wrote a series of papers on the “phase” method for scattering of a particle by a central potential. The method transformed the Schrödinger equation into a first-order, non-linear differential equation for the phase shift, substantially simplifying the mathematics of computation. I followed this up with Zemach, "Phase-shift Equations for Many-Channel Problems", Nuovo Cimento 33, 939 (1964). An analogous method can be derived for the Bethe-Salpeter equation. This was not realized until the calculations described above were nearly complete; otherwise, substantial labor might have been avoided. Extensions of this method have appeared in the literature.
Right. So, Chuck, what was your entrée to Washington? Was there somebody that recruited you to come out?
Yes, after I left Berkeley, I spent some time at the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC), and I had associates there. Wolfgang (Pief) Panofsky was the director of SLAC, and Sidney Drell was his principal deputy, I knew Sid Drell back from graduate student days when I was at Harvard, and he was at MIT. Drell and Panofsky were active on the national scene and informed on nuclear arms. They were both members of the President’s Scientific Advisory Committee (PSAC). I think this was founded by Kennedy. They told me that the Director of ACDA, Gerard Smith, would be the Chairman of the US Delegation to the SALT negotiations (this was true), that Sid and Pief’s connections with ACDA could secure me a frontline position in ACDA’s role (this was true), and that ACDA would have the lead role in determining US negotiating policy on strategic arms (this was wildly untrue; ACDA was a ten-million dollar agency contending with the Department of Defense, at the time a 50-billion dollar agency, and with the formidable State Department and the CIA , all vying for attention from President Nixon’s National Security advisor Henry Kissinger, who liked to decide everything by himself. Sid said that by joining ACDA, I could participate in some of the great issues of nuclear arms control and US foreign policy. I had many frustrations, and some unforeseen changes in the direction of my Washington career, but on the whole, I owe a great debt especially to Sid for a fascinating experience. At SALT, The US and USSR were going to negotiate seriously for the first time on limitations of the nuclear armaments of both countries.
There had been a lot of preliminary discussion of this sort of thing, going back to Johnson’s administration. But this was the first time it was actually being done. Both President Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, were prime movers on the American side on getting these arms control negotiations started.
You know, Nixon has a bad reputation, and he may have done a lot of not very wise things. But he was a true internationalist. When he started out, he and Kissinger collaborated on a document which was called "The State of the World". One of the principles in that statement was that with reference to the antagonisms between the US and USSR and China, “We are now passing from a period of confrontation to a period of negotiation.” SALT was the star jewel in the crown of the negotiations.
Senator Hubert Humphrey wanted to establish an agency which covered the same nuclear concerns that the Defense Department was responsible for, but not from the point of view that you needed more and better weapons all the time.
Chuck, you’re talking about the ACDA, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency?
That’s right, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. However, on my first day at ACDA, my immediate superior warned me that when I go around in Washington, I should never say “disarmament”. I should say that I was a member of the Arms Control Agency because “disarmament” was a bad word.
And “disarmament” was a word that only the pinkos and the liberals and the academics used.
[laugh] That’s very funny.
So that’s why naturally when I mentioned it here, I may have misled you.
The whole thing was called the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. The reason for that is the Senate passed a bill creating the Arms Control Agency. The House of Representatives passed a very similar bill, but they called it the Disarmament Agency. And then they met in conference, and the compromise was to call it both names. But “disarmament” was a naughty word, and you didn’t use that, especially in a Republican administration.
And, Chuck, can I ask, why you? What was it about your background and expertise that compelled Washington to summon you for your advice on SALT and disarmament?
Probably under the influence of Drell and Panofsky, ACDA decided that trained physicists would be especially apt in understanding diplomatic/technical issues, and a number of them were hired in this period, both junior and senior. Notably, Jim Timbie, a PhD experimental physicist from Stanford, and Ed Ifft, a physics PhD from Ohio came to ACDA, and then went on to full careers in the State Department. The reason I was interested is that I was always interested in foreign affairs, and I had spent a year after college touring Europe and North Africa, and I kept up my interest in all this. So that was something that I always would have wanted to do if I weren’t in physics. Sid Drell told me that the Arms Control Agency was going to run the negotiation.
Well that turns out to be totally false. The negotiation on the American side was run by Henry Kissinger, who didn’t really want anyone else to elbow him around. He formed a committee which had five agencies. It had the Arms Control Agency, the State Department, the CIA, and then on the military side it had the uniformed military, which was called the Joint Chiefs of Staff, JCS. And then there was the civilian side of the Pentagon, which was called OSD.
Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Office of the Secretary of Defense, thank you. [laugh] That I used to know very well.
I worked, Chuck—just so you know—I worked at the Department of State for 12 years, so I’m pretty good at all of the government acronyms.
OK. There was a time, I might mention, in the middle of the Nixon administration, when they appointed a new secretary of defense. At one of his briefings, somebody was talking in terms of acronyms, and he, the secretary of defense, said, “Oh, what does OSD stand for?” [laugh]
There were these five agencies, and Kissinger, who was really a brilliant man. Many in Washington thought he was ugly and ruthless (including me), and he had many enemies. But he was a brilliant man, and he knew how to grasp the reins of power, and he formed this whole set of committees.
There was the big committee called the verification panel, which consisted of the JCS, the OSD, CIA, State, and ACDA. And then there was the verification panel working group, which were the ordinary people like me, who would then respond to demands of the senior members of the group to do analyses and make proposals. He also had the Washington Special Action Group, WASAG. You remember that too?
I did. That was covert action, right?
Were you in the government during the Kissinger period?
[laugh] No, Chuck, when—during the Kissinger period, it would be at least five years until I was born. [laugh]
There was something else called the deputy secretary’s’ committee. I think there were a couple more committees. Five committees, which were essentially the same committee with different names, and Kissinger chaired all of them. And ACDA was in the verification panel. The reason for the name was that the military were complaining about the dangers of negotiating with the Russians because no matter what we would agree to, they would violate the agreement. The question of verification was vitally important. Kissinger decided, well, we will have all you people get together in a panel, which we’ll call the verification panel, and we will study that question especially. The verification panel was under Kissinger and over the verification panel working group, that is, the people who did most of the analyses and recommendations. This large bureaucratic enterprise managed SALT, but it was managed in such a way that Kissinger tended to keep everything closely held by himself. The system more or less worked. In my early years in the first Nixon administration, before the Watergate business became too hot, I felt it was really working very well. The verification panel working group answered the questions that Kissinger and his staff, the national security staff, would present to them on any SALT issue at all. The amount of work was rather large. I remember in the first four years, that is to say in the first Nixon administration, this group produced 350 papers. They weren’t all different papers. Some of them were draft 1 and then draft 2 and then draft 3, and there would be a final draft. But there was a committee from these five agencies which would meet regularly. I was the deputy ACDA person in the beginning, and then I eventually became the leader of the ACDA group. We had a lot of fundamental differences. But when you have more or less the same set of people confronting each other or negotiating over four years, they get to be friends more or less. They don’t necessarily change their opinions. But the mechanism of negotiation is smoothed out. We would write these papers, and we would disagree. There were two ways of handling the disagreements in the final paper. One way would be to say, “The JCS representative believes that,” and then such and such, “and the OSD representative believes that, and the State Department believes that.” So differences were not compromised in the draft of the paper, but they were laid out. The other method was to say, “Some believe that such and such is true, and others believe that such and such is true.” That formula was used when it wasn’t too clear which agencies were on one side, and which agencies were on the other side. In the first four years of that, I thought that was actually a very good system. And a number of people, for example Gerard Smith, the head of ACDA, and Paul Nitze, the dominating figure in OSD, both told me that they thought the system was working very well, and they really learned a lot from these papers. And then all this stuff would be fed up to Kissinger, and decisions would be made, but not debated with the agencies. Final instructions to the delegations came out of Kissinger’s office, they were signed by Richard Nixon, and they may or may not have had any connection with what the verification panel working group actually recommended. So it was a flawed bureaucratic system, but in the first four years it was working pretty well. After Nixon’s very complete victory in the 1972 elections over McGovern, came a period which was by many people called the purge. The top people who were giving Nixon and Kissinger problems in the first administration were let go. In ACDA, I was at the highest level which was not let go. So when the new bosses came in, I was already the main person who knew anything about SALT. The new persons were determined to “clean up the mess” in ACDA.
Chuck, I want to ask where—?
It caused a fair amount of discomfort with the policies. My boss Spurgeon Keeny, the assistant director for Science and Technology, whose bureau was handling SALT was fired and other people were fired. It was difficult for me politically at that time.
The new director was Fred Iklé, formerly of the RAND Corporation in Los Angeles. His ideas were somewhat different from the earlier ideas. But somehow we managed to get along, and I actually got promoted under him, so I didn’t do too badly.
Chuck, where was your office? Where did you work on a day-to-day basis in Washington?
In the State Department building — do you remember it? The seventh floor was where the Secretary was, and the Policy Planning staff was, and various ceremonial rooms, and the top leaders. Then there was the sixth floor and the fifth floor, and so on. ACDA was on the fifth floor. ACDA actually had the old offices which Dean Acheson had had, and they were good offices.
We were in the State Department building, and we had access to the State Department telegram service and the map service, and the other State Department offices were within reach. We did a lot of traveling to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon people did a lot of traveling to us because we were always having meetings. It’s fair to say that the SALT negotiation was an H negotiation shape.
The military and the civilians on the American side did a lot of negotiating with each other, and the Soviet military and the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs did a lot of negotiation between themselves. Then it was passed up to the leaders, and there would be the crossbar of the H, which was then very simplified. Most of our work was negotiating with one another, not with the other country. But that was a characteristic which I was told happens in most negotiations, at least most negotiations in which America takes part. The Americans spend more time negotiating with themselves than they do with the other sovereign power.
And, Chuck, on that point, in terms of those internal negotiations, what were the general points of view with regard to SALT and arms control that you represented, and who were some of your main antagonists, in other words, the people who most disagreed with your points of view?
Well, I could spend many hours on that question.
But let me try to be brief. On most disagreements, OSD and JCS were on one side, and State, CIA, and ACDA were on the other side. Kissinger’s doctrine at that time was “We are now passing from an era of confrontation to an era of negotiation”. That was a serious statement.
A popular word at that time was “détente”. “Détente” is a French word which has several meanings. The usual meaning is a state of relaxation from tensions. So “détente” was supposed to express the spirit of the US-USSR negotiations over nuclear arms where we were relaxing tensions.
There is another meaning for “détente”. If you fire a rifle, you pull the trigger, you’re releasing the tension on the trigger. So “détenter” means to fire a rifle. [laugh] But the word “détente” was popularized in the US government, and was repeated.
Now State, CIA and ACDA, while sometimes disagreeing on details, were supporting the Kissinger program, which was to negotiate on nuclear weapons, and really do something substantive about the arms race. People in the Pentagon came to this point of view rather reluctantly. After four years of negotiation or after two years—the first two years of negotiation—actually they started to relax a bit.
Many of them were just adamantly hostile to SALT, and some of these people were in the negotiating group that I had to deal with.
And then it was up to Kissinger’s national security staff. He was good at picking clever people, and they handled the differences.
Here’s an anecdote that I find amusing. The first SALT agreement was signed, in the fall of 1972. It was before the next election. Brezhnev and some assistants came over from Moscow to sign the thing in a formal ceremony, and Nixon was there to sign it. The leaders of the two countries were signing the agreements in a State Department reception room, and it was something of a party. Champagne was passed around. Kissinger was walking around rather ebullient that this two-year effort had now been completed.
SALT I was then complete and there was an agreement to go on negotiating, and that was eventually called SALT II. The main participants were there, and I was there, and my boss, Spurgeon Keeny, was there. Also, State Department officer Raymond Garthoff, Smith’s chief assistant at the negotiations and Gardiner Tucker, a key player for OSD in Washington. Garthoff spoke fluent Russian, had written a book on the Soviet military, and was a creative negotiator, disrespecting protocol. Tucker was an anti-SALT hardliner.
Kissinger was walking around, talking to all these people. As Spurgeon Keeny told me later on, he was following Kissinger around and eavesdropping.
First, Kissinger came to Keeny, and said, “Thank you very much for all your work on SALT. It really helped us. You were very good, and we really appreciate your work.” That was an unusual compliment because he doesn’t usually give compliments. Then he comes to Garthoff, and he says, “Thank you for all your work on SALT, Ray. I wasn’t always sure which side you were on, but your work was brilliant.”
“It was absolutely brilliant.”
[laugh] That’s very funny. [laugh]
Then he gets to Tucker. And he says, “Thank you for all your work on SALT, Gardiner. If it wasn’t for your help, we would’ve finished half a year earlier.”
“But never mind, thank you anyway.”
[laugh] That’s great. [laugh]
What was your title, Chuck? Chuck, what was your title while you were there?
In the beginning, I was a staff member. The Science and Technology Bureau of ACDA was divided into two divisions. One of them was offensive weapons, and the other was defensive weapons. The head of defensive weapons left at some point, so I inherited his job. I forget what the real title was, but I was head of the defensive weapons division. But it didn’t mean anything.
The offensive weapons people and the defensive people worked together on both things. The main work in SALT I was actually on limiting ABMs, and that came under the defensive weapons category. And then when the election occurred, and the purge began, and Iklé came in replacing Gerard Smith, he rearranged everything. He sent out a memo saying what the different people’s assignments would be. Next to my name, he had an asterisk, and down below the asterisk it says, “Dr. Zemach’s assignment has not been determined at this time.”
With one exception, I was the highest ranking person not fired. The exception was Sid Graybeal, who was a very smooth diplomat, knowledgeable, and also friendly with the defense community, and he had a long background with the CIA. He was the head person on SALT in the new regime, and I was the asterisk.
At a certain point, some wag put an 8.5×11 piece of paper on my office door with a huge asterisk drawn on that. And my friends starting calling me the asterisk. Well, that didn’t last too long. Spurgeon Keeny was replaced by a rear admiral, Tom Davies. Tom Davies was also a little skeptical of SALT in the beginning, but that was part of his job. I was appointed as his deputy. In the beginning, it was a little difficult, but he was really a decent guy, and he knew a lot about the navy, and he told me awesome stories, most of them uncomplimentary to the navy.
Eventually he even promoted me. When I entered ACDA, I had rank GS-16, general service or something 16, and the top rank was GS-18. He promoted me to 17. So I got along with him, though I was worried about it for a while.
I had advanced from asterisk to Graybeal’s deputy. Then he was chosen to head a negotiation with the Soviets on design of the Standing Consultative Commission, a body that the SALT I agreement had provided for to monitor compliance. I became special assistant of the director for SALT. I had survived the purge.
Chuck, how much of your work was traveling abroad and actually taking part in negotiations with the Soviets?
In SALT I, I went once to Helsinki, one of the sites of negotiations, along with Vienna. I was a junior person in my first two years. In SALT II, the negotiations were all in Geneva, and I was regularly a member of the delegation. I would write, occasionally alone, but usually as part of a committee, the statements presented to the Soviets by our Chairman. The delegations would meet for some period of time undetermined in advance, but usually 8 to 12 weeks. Then the delegations would go home and reconsider the progress. So you had round 1, round 2, round 3, etc. One round was expected to last longer; it lasted five months. I rented a villa on the shore of Lake Geneva, brought my family over, and we did a lot of skiing in France on weekends.
In those days, I was head of the ACDA component of the US delegation until I was demoted to second in favor of Ralph Earl. Ralph Earl was an interesting guy. He was the son of a former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania. He was a protégé of Paul Nitze, who recommended him highly to Iklé. Despite that sort of conservative origin, he was a very positive presence on the delegation. In later years, he became Chairman of the US Delegation.
How long did you stay with the agency, Chuck? How long were you in Washington?
I joined in June of 1970, and I was with ACDA until July of 1974. I was invited to join the Policy Planning staff (S/P) of the State Department. The Policy Planning staff was the elite bureau in the State Department, and that was quite a high honor. I had become known throughout the State Department for my work on SALT. I managed to separate from Iklé on a friendly basis. I stayed in Washington till the end of August of ’76.
And who was director of policy planning during your time in S/P? Oh, was it Win Lord?
Win Lord, yes, Winston Lord.. Now that was a wonderful experience, that period in Win Lord’s S/P, because if I may say it this way, Win Lord believed in academic freedom. He believed that everybody could say what he wanted to say, and nobody was recriminated against, and he always listened to anybody’s suggestions.
And during that period I broadened out, I spent some time on SALT in Geneva, but then I paid attention to some European matters. I became the leader in a State Department study of the post-World-War-I Spitsbergen treaty, and the Spitsbergen archipelago, which lay north of Norway, above the Arctic Circle. There were conflicts between Norway and us and Russia and the rest of the Europeans. I wrote the, National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM) on it— a Kissinger construct — which recommended a certain policy for us versus the Norwegians. That was adopted. That was my main impact on a government decision.
I also teamed up with another person in S/P, Anton DePorte. He was a scholar who knew almost everything about European history. We tackled the question of the tense controversies between our difficult NATO allies Greece and Turkey.
On the one hand, Greece and Turkey were aligned with the US, standing up against the Russians, and we had a military presence in both countries, for which they were well compensated by our dollars. But in fact, many Greek politicians had more animosity against Turkey, and vice-versa. The day in 1453 when the Turks conquered Constantinople seemed like yesterday to many Greeks.
Under US pressure, the Greeks and Turks were reluctantly negotiating on five concerns: —Who had rights to the oil riches under the Mediterranean waters between them. (Some years back, Greece commissioned the Continental Oil Company to explore those waters. Continental found no oil worth the development cost. Neither current government was aware of this.) —Which country’s air traffic controllers should control the airspace between Turkey and the nearby Greek islands. —Whether their respective air force build-ups, sponsored by the US as a deterrent to the USSR, were too threatening to the other country, Plus two other issues. In the background, loomed the nearly intractable problem of Cyprus.
When addressing such conflicts between two of our allies, the State Department characteristically seeks to compel them to negotiate, with no effort on its own part to understand the problems, or to devise a compromise which might be acceptable to both sides, if there is one. Anton and I studied and understood the substantive concerns of both sides, and worked out end-states which should have been acceptable to both sides, if State were wiling to engage in advocacy, or ultimately, to knock heads together. We even had an approach (though not an end-state) for the Cyprus problem. We failed to get any support, at any level of the State Department, for our program.
My effort on the Greek-Turkish problem was my best in S/P, intellectually, but failed, practically.
Chuck, you went in as a physicist, and it sounds like you came out as a diplomat.
Well, yes. If I had not gone into science, I would have liked to be a diplomat. Incidentally, there is an advantage in dealing with State Department officers on technical matters and being known as a physicist (or wearing a military uniform); They are modest in the presence of supposedly higher expertise. They accepted calculations and tables from the Pentagon as truths from on high. I would redo the calculations on the ACDA computer and often found errors. So where were we?
So you leave Washington in August of 1976?
That’s right, and I came to Los Alamos.
What was the connection to Los Alamos? Were you recruited to work at the lab?
Yes. In my early days in Washington, I was called up by Harold Agnew, the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory where the first nuclear bombs were made. I’d never had any connection with Los Alamos before. The position of Theoretical Division Leader was open, and he would like to hire me.
He had gotten a high recommendation from people at Berkeley. I told him that this offer comes too early or too late because, right now, I’d really like to see SALT through. But I followed up that by saying, “Nevertheless, I would like to be invited to Los Alamos for a visit so I could see the place and get to know what it’s like.” I came out to Los Alamos, and gave a talk on arms control, which they were not used to hearing. I decided it was a beautiful area to live in.
That was 1971. By 1976, SALT was not progressing very well. The SALT II negotiations were stymied on a number of issues, the Ford administration was about to replaced by a new election, and Kissinger and his people were already abandoning ship. He was traveling around the country making speeches to important business groups, subsequently followed by the founding of a Kissinger consulting agency. And he brought his chief associates along.
SALT was in the doldrums. It was time to worry about my next job. I called up Harold Agnew and said, “Now is the time.”
And what was your work at Los Alamos?
—The Dvision Leader job had been filled. So I became a staff member in the Theoretical Division, which was much better in my opinion.
And what was your portfolio at Los Alamos? What projects did you take on?
Well, in the beginning, I wanted to continue on elementary particles, and I did that. Concurrently, I was becoming interested in fluid dynamics. The particle physics first, a little out of chronological sequence I had a colleague, Gerald Guralnik, a visitor to the lab from Brown University, and another, Tony Warnock, who was a Cray computer expert. We undertook a rather ambitious project: a lattice quantum chromodynamics (qcd) calculation — space-time was represented on a 12x12x12x32 lattice — of the masses of the strongly interacting particles, as composite states of quarks and gluons. The dynamics was based on the Feynman path integral which, in principle, was an integral over an infinite-dimensional space. Integral evaluation was done by Monte-Carlo sampling according to the Metropolis algorithm. Other contemporary calculations exploited the same approach, but efficient sampling depended on careful preparation. This lead to: Guralnik, Warnock, & Zemach, "Factorization, Invariant Measure, and Random Selection of Matrices in SU(n) and Other Groups and Random Selection from Trace-Biased Invariant Distributions of SU(3) Matrices", J. Comput. Phys. 61, 89 and 105 (1985). Results, representing several hundred hours of Cray time were presented earlier: Guralnik, Warnock, & Zemach, "QCD on a Cray: the masses of elementary particles", Los Alamos Science, Summer/Fall, 41 (1984). It had nothing to do with bootstraps. But it made sense on its own basis. I had joined the contemporary physicists’ world.
There was an intermediate period where I became the Deputy Division Leader for Theoretical Physics. I was misled. The Leader of T Division, George Bell, said, “This will really be an interesting job, and you will be able to share direction of the development of physics at Los Alamos.”
That sounds pretty exciting, that opportunity.
Yes, that was something quite new to my experience, but it sounded exciting. Well, it didn’t work out that way. The Division Leader liked to decide everything by himself, and never consulted me. When I would go to him with suggestions, he would always agree to these suggestions, but nothing would happen.
At that time, we got a new lab director, and the first thing he did was reorganize everything, including the office space of a large part of the personnel, requiring relocation and much reconstruction of our office space. George Bell was a good physicist. He didn’t like to mess with that, so his Deputy had to. A heavy burden on me for more than a year, but I did save the T Division budget more than $500,000, and was rewarded by a hefty salary increase.
Chuck, why would fluid dynamics be something that would be studied at Los Alamos?
Oh, it’s very important for Los Alamos because the nuclear bomb motion is a problem in fluid dynamics. You set off a bomb, you ask what is going to happen? That is the problem in fluid dynamics. I was not one of the bomb people. But the bomb people were experts in the very complex fluid dynamic equations The bomb computer codes would often crash in high compression processes and there were many other unresolved questions such as describing fluid instabilities and turbulence.
It was a very important part. But Harold Agnew, as director, had diversified the lab. He had promoted elementary particle physics, atmospheric physics, biology, and all kinds of chemistry, and the development of new sources of energy. At the time I joined, it was a developer of nuclear bombs, and a diverse scientific research lab.
A couple of things I’d done which were worth remembering: I had a colleague named Ralph Menikoff in the fluid dynamics group, whom I met when first arriving at the lab. We did what was probably the first decent calculation of Rayleigh-Taylor instability, by using conformal mapping: Menikoff & Zemach, "Methods for Numerical Conformal Mapping", J. Comput. Phys. 36, 366 91980) and Menikoff & Zemach, "Rayleigh-Talor Instability and the Use of Conformal Maps for Ideal Fluid Flow", J. Comput. Phys. 51, 1983. This led to: Zemach, "A conformal map formula for difficult cases", J. of Computational and Applied Math. 14, 207 (1986) and a series of conformal map papers with Jerzy M. Floryan (University of Western Ontario, Canada) of which I would single out: Floryan & Zemach, "Schwarz-Christoffel Mappings: A Genera Approach.", j. Comput. Phys, 72, 347 (1987).
Here —without modesty—I would claim that Menikoff and I brought conformal mapping out of the stone age and into the computer age. Are we running out of time?
Not at all.
To support that rather bold statement, I’ll give you a concrete example. Let w = w(z), w = u + iv, z = x + iy be the map of the region above the boundary y = -D cos(x) to the upper-half w-plane. Due to a condition we named “crowding”, the u-variation is quite compressed with respect to x-variation in a boundary region which is sharply concave toward the interior. Maximum crowding in the present example, as expressed by the derivative du/dx, is at the boundary point x = 0, y = -D. At this point, this derivative equals 1.16 x 10 -5 for D = 5, 1.21 x 10-11 for D = 10, and 2.73 x 10-124 for D = 100. We could handle any magnitude of D. The map routines available at the Los Alamos lab Computer Division could barely do D = 5, and all failed at D = 10. No computer code anywhere before ours could deal with D = 100.
One more mathematical diversion before I get on to fluid dynamics. I joined Paul Stein, another mathematically-inclined member of T division, to write Stein & Zemach, "Symmetric Function Algebra on a Computer", Advances in Applied Math.13, 430 (1993). Symmetric function theory is an extensive field with applications to group theory. We also established SYMPAC, a publicly available library of computer routines stored at the lab to manage the artifacts which are part of this field. Our purpose was to explore what the Cray computer could do to speed up the calculation of numerous numerical tables related to symmetric functions. In 1954, Paul, along with Nicholas Metropolis, Mark Wells, and Ray Blivins, had tested the capability of the first modern computer at U. of Pennsylvania by computing the character matrices of the symmetric groups S(15) and S(16). The computer times were 5 hours and 12 hours respectively. Our computer times for S(15) and S(16) were 2 seconds and 4 seconds. The computation of the character matrix of S(20), a matrix of size 627 x 627, required one million words of Cray memory and 59 seconds.
What else? Well, My major opportunity in fluid dynamics came when I teamed up with the most experienced fluid dynamicists in our group, Frank Harlow and his co-workers Rick Rauenzahn and Didier Besnard (from Limeil, France). I had looked over a draft of their paper on a turbulence model. The turbulence distribution depended on position in space and the magnitude of the wave number of the energy spectrum. it was named the “local wave number (LWN) model” for short. I offered corrections and improvements, and so became a co-author. This “two-point” model promised to analyze turbulence in a more complete way than the existing “one-point” models.
And, Chuck, this work was in the 1990s?
Yes. The work was done in 1992, but it appeared as Besnard, Harlow, Rauenzahn, & Zemach, "Spectral Transport Model for Turbulence", Theor. Comput. Fluid Dyn. 8, 1 (1996). Tim Clark, my graduate student at the time, and I, made a quite successful comparison with a French wind tunnel experiment: Clark & Zemach, "A spectral model applied to homogeneous turbulence", Phys. Fluids, 7, 1674 (1995).
Chuck, who were some of your most important collaborators during your tenure at Los Alamos?
There was David Sharp, and, as mentioned above, Ralph Menikoff, and Gerald Guralnik, a lab visitor from Brown University.
Chuck, when did you—?
And Frank Harlow, I should mention Frank Harlow, and Paul Stein.
When did you retire from Los Alamos?
That was in 1993.
And what’s been some of the work you’ve done in physics since your retirement?
Tim Clark, my former graduate student and now a physicist in Albuquerque, and I have upgraded (so far, only for homogeneous turbulence) the Local Wave Number model cited above to a Local Wave Vector model, that is, extending the dependence of the turbulent energy distribution to the wave vector of the turbulence spectrum, thus including the fluid mean flow terms exactly. Calculations are proceeding on simple systems. Because I am retired and relaxed, and Tim has other obligations, the pace is casual.
In 1998, CRC Press, which publishes the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, issued the Handbook of Fluid Dynamics. I was asked to contribute an Appendix on “The Mathematics of Fluid Dynamics”. I was given a quota of 55 Microsoft Word pages. I submitted 80 pages, which were accepted.
And what else have you worked on in recent years, Chuck?
By “recent years”, do you mean after I retired?
Not much after the 1990’s. I just retired.
In what ways have you followed recent developments—?
I did work on some political things.
Oh, really, like what?
Los Alamos had a colony of active river runners, which I joined. In time, I did many western rivers, including the Grand Canyon 16 times. In the 1970’s, public interest in river-running as a recreation and as a business increased from very small to very large. The Bureau of Land Management, the National Forests, and the National Parks took on the role of regulation, for safety, environmental conservation, and traffic control, and they faced the sometimes-too-greedy commercial operators, the private river runners, and riverside property owners. In the 1980’s, I was president of the Adobe Whitewater Club., New Mexico’s club for private river runners. I leveraged this position into becoming a major voice in New Mexico in the multitude of negotiations among these interests in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and, I believe, did a good job of safeguarding the interests of private boaters.
Chuck, I’m curious if while not involved directly if you’ve been following some of the developments in physics since your retirement?
No, I’m afraid I have not, not in technical detail, and not since about 2000. a
[laugh] It’s a real retirement.
I usually read Physics Today.
Well, I read it, but that’s about all.
Well, Chuck, for my last question, I want to ask you, you know, looking back over the course of your career, what do you feel are some of the most important contributions you made as a physicist?
Well, I would say the systematic analysis of experimental data by means of angular momentum tensors. My work has been on recognized physical systems. I did not add any new building blocks to the structure of the natural world, nor did I add any universal laws. The bootstrap idea may be one of those fundamentals, but it has faded from the memory of the physics community. My start on the Bethe-Salpeter relativistic wave equation may become important if physicists chose to study dynamics again, as they ought to; the future will decide. I should add what I started with, —thermal neutron scattering—which is important for reactors. The conformal mapping work is significant, though that is in the domain of applied mathematics, rather than the domain of physics. Whether the work on two-point turbulence modeling with Tim Clark will bear fruit is also for the future to decide.
And who were some of your most important mentors, the people that taught you physics and who were most instrumental in helping you along in your own career?
First, my PhD advisor, Roy Glauber and second, my secondary advisor Abe Klein. As for teachers, there was Julian Schwinger, and George Mackey who taught me modern math. At Berkeley, I learned from colleagues rather than mentors: Sheldon Glashow, Geoffrey Chew, Steven Weinberg, Charles Schwartz, and the experimentalist, Art Rosenfeld.
What were some of the greatest mysteries in physics during your career, things that were not really well-understood?
At the start of my career: The question of parity, and the description of weak interactions which could not be done adequately until one realized that parity was not concerved. Whether Einstein’s theory of gravitation, at that time supported by only three experiments, was sound, or needed fundamental change. How to extract physical predictions from quantum electrodynamics, or from any quantum field theory. How many more “elementary” particles remained to be discovered. How to connect gravitation and quantum theory. Whether the anti-proton existed (which theorists never doubted). Freeman Dyson had a $100 bet with Maurice Goldhaber, director of the Brookhaven National Laboratory on that. As the 1960’s progressed, the bubble chambers posed new mysteries, and led to SU3, quarks, etc.
Did you follow string theory during its early days in the 1970s?
No. It came after I left Berkeley, and I had undertaken a busy new role, on arms negotiations with the USSR.
So I’m sorry, I can’t tell about the relation of the ’60s physics and today.
Right. Well, Chuck, I want to thank you for spending this time with me. Your memories are such a hugely valuable addition to the historical record, particularly because you serve as a useful reminder that physicists can play important roles beyond academic departments, you know, physics departments, that you did very important work in arms control and even diplomacy during your time in Washington. So that’s—in particular—that’s a very valuable thing for people to understand.
Well, thank you. Regarding the suitability of physicists as diplomats, I might mention again that ACDA played a key role in acquiring them. Whether there will be a long-term consequence of this will be interesting to see.
Very interesting. Well, Chuck, again, I want to thank you so much for this time. I’m so happy that Shelly Glashow connected us because he emphasized, you know, how many important contributions you’ve made to the field, and I’m so happy that you were able to talk about your work in your own words.
OK, I appreciate the attention.