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Interview of Louis Lanzerotti by David Zierler on March 1, 2021,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 Louis J. Lanzerotti, Distinguished Research Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Center for Solar Terrestrial Research in the Department of Physics. Lanzerotti describes the origins of the Center, and he recounts his Italian heritage and his upbringing in southern Illinois. Lanzerotti discusses his undergraduate experience at the University of Illinois and his initial interest in civil engineering. He explains why he transitioned to physics, the formative influence of Charlie Slichter and the opportunities that led to his graduate admission to Harvard, where he developed fiber optics research under the direction of Frank Pipkin. He explains his decision to accept a postdoctoral offer at Bell Labs, and he explains how Bell Labs became involved in space research. Lanzerotti discusses his initial work on the Applications Technology Satellite 1 and the earliest incarnations of space weather as a discrete field. He describes his work on communications and geophysical collaboration and his involvement it the beginning of the Voyager, Ulysses, and then the Cassini missions. Lanzerotti describes the breakup of Bell Labs and the considerations that led to him joining the faculty at NJIT. He explains his ongoing research focus analyzing data from the Ulysses mission at the Van Allen probes, and he describes his service on the National Science Board. Lanzerotti describes his long association with the AGU, and his work on Director of the Board for AIP. At the end of the interview, Lanzerotti reflects on the opportunities in his career that intersected with the zenith of American scientific power and influence, and he prognosticates on both future prospects for foundational discovery and the societal commitments required to achieve them.
This is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is March 1, 2021. I am so happy to be here with Professor Louis Lanzerotti. Lou, it’s great to see you. Thank you for joining me.
Glad to have the opportunity. Thank you for contacting me…
…on behalf of AIP.
So, to start, would you please tell me your title and institutional affiliation?
Well, at the present time, I’m listed as a distinguished research professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, The Center for Solar Terrestrial Research in the Department of Physics. I’m retired from Bell Laboratories for quite a few years now.
But you’re not emeritus at NJIT. You’re still active.
Yes, I still have some research ongoing, and we’ll see how that goes for the rest of this year, and then into next year.
Lou, are you teaching at all for NJIT?
I’ve taught some tutorial courses, and I have been involved with a couple of graduate students, but I’m not doing any classroom teaching, no.
Tell me a little bit about the origins of the Center for Solar Terrestrial Research. How did it get started?
The Center for Solar Terrestrial Research began when Phil Goode, a solar physicist, went to NJIT as a professor, and then he ultimately became a department chair. He was very involved and had done a lot of work in helioseismology and in solar physics, and over the course of a few years’ time, when Caltech was divesting itself of the Big Bear Solar Observatory, Phil Goode encouraged and cajoled NJIT. This was before my time of joining them, but I did know Phil before this time. I had known Phil since he was a graduate student at Rutgers back in the ’60s, when I was calibrating our spaceflight instruments, and Phil was a graduate student at that time. But I had not had a lot of contact with him. Phil Goode negotiated with NJIT and negotiated with Caltech to basically transfer, sell, the Big Bear Solar Observatory telescope on Big Bear Lake to NJIT. And then NJIT — that was when Hal Zirin…who was retiring from Caltech, and they — Caltech had had a long — I’m not an authority in this. Let me emphasize that. But Caltech had had a long history of solar physics, certainly from the time that I am aware of, Robert Leighton and the five-minute oscillations on the Sun. But when Hal was retiring, they decided to go in different directions than solar physics.
And so, NJIT took over Big Bear Solar Observatory in 1997, and Phil Goode set up the Center for Solar Research. And two people from Caltech moved to NJIT at that time: Dale Gary, a solar radio astronomer who is in charge of and runs the Owens Valley solar radio array; and Haimin Wang, who is basically a theorist and a data analyst. Both had been at Caltech with the solar group when they moved to NJIT. And Phil became — in the end process — then Phil began to enlarge and enhance the observatory, and he got all kinds of funding from various sources to now — to have the now-1.6-meter adaptive optics telescope there, which is the largest telescope of its nature on the planet now, except for the new NSF-supported Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope Observatory in Hawaii, now. So, the Big Bear Telescope, which was renamed the Goode Solar Telescope a couple of years ago, has become — is a very important solar instrument. And then after my retiring or moving out of Bell Labs in the early 2000s, I stayed on as a consultant for some years after retiring, part-time consultant, particularly in some wireless-related stuff and natural activities influencing wireless. I then joined NJIT as a part-time distinguished research professor. And at that time then, because much of my research had been involved with heliospheric research, solar-terrestrial research, a lot with very heavily emphasis in space-weather kinds of things, they — Phil changed the title from The Center for Solar Research to The Center for Solar Terrestrial Research, which it has to-date. And it’s grown substantially. There have been — another faculty member was added in radio physics. There have been two more added in — three more added in solar terrestrial. The chair of the department and Director of the Center now is Andy Gerrard, who is an ionosphere, upper atmosphere, magnetosphere person. There are two assistant professors now in the same area, and we have just added a solar physicist coming from Japan, actually. So, the center has expanded quite a lot from Phil Goode’s initial dates of the late ’80s, early ’90s.
Lou, just to clarify, it was the center and Goode and what he had built up that attracted you to NJIT. That affiliation with the center didn’t develop after you joined NJIT.
What affiliation with the center?
Your affiliation with the Center for Solar Terrestrial Research. That was what compelled you to come to NJIT. You didn’t develop that relationship later on, after you joined the faculty.
Well, there’s a — how best to explain? It’s a mixture of Phil Goode and NJIT. It’s a mixture of family obligations. It’s a mixture of my age and what I really wanted to do. Over the course of my career, I have had opportunities to go to other institutions and to leadership positions in various ways. My wife was a professional. She has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard. We met in quantum mechanics class at Harvard, and I felt some obligation to orienting my career to not impact her as well. She was a woman in chemistry in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and there weren’t very many of those. And so, I was not about to affect her life as well. So, when I retired from Bell Labs and looking around on what to do, I was offered a couple of positions elsewhere, which would require some travel on — either moving on our part, or being separated. And I just wasn’t willing to do that, at my age, and with my wife’s situation with her job. And we loved our home that we built, in the woods in northern New Jersey. And so, the NJIT thing was very attractive. I mean, it’s one of those lucky things, one of those fortunate things in my life, that a lot of things just fell out, as time went on, not necessarily from conscious decisions, but just — they happened to be there, and Phil Goode and NJIT happened to be there, and I said, “Gee whiz, why not? Why move? Why be separated?” So, here we are.
Lou, a question we’re all dealing with right now: how well have you adjusted to pandemic research, doing things online, over Zoom? Has it been difficult? Has it given you sort of more bandwidth to work on things you might not otherwise have been able to?
Well, it’s not as desirable as it would be to have face-to-face interactions with the students. I mean, one of our graduate students now is basically down in Mississippi, because it’s cheaper living there, and he can work on this thesis. But he also says it would be better to be back here, interacting with us. We had regular lunch discussions for the solar terrestrial group, you know, a dozen or more of us every week. And we’ve not been able to have those informal luncheons where you talk about other activities and other science, for example. I mean, that was one of the beauties of Bell Labs, sitting around the lunch table arguing about science. One of the fascinating things about Bell Labs was the interdisciplinary lunch tables that we had. So, it’s harder. I mean, with my Van Allen probes spacecraft project, we have a team telecon every week by Zoom. We have, then, our weekly luncheon, brown-bag lunch, on Zoom where we talk about physics with the group. And we also have, during the week, other meetings where it’s necessary. But it’s much more difficult with this situation. I don’t find it — I’m sort of a person person, in that I like to interact face-to-face. And it’s harder to discuss some physics and some science when you’re behind the screen like this.
Well, Lou, let’s talk about happier times. Let’s take it all the way back to the beginning to Illinois. Let’s start first with your parents. Tell me a little bit about them and where they’re from.
Yeah. How much history do you want?
Well, I’d like to know how the name “Lanzerotti” — how they got to Illinois, for one.
Ah. Okay. Well, maybe — if you don’t mind too much detail, you probably should start with my grandparents.
My maternal grandfather Giovanni Orienti was a stevedore in Nice, France. He was from Modena, Italy. He basically was raised in an orphanage and as a foster son. And he didn’t have any education. He was basically illiterate all of his life. But he was tremendously good at numbers, and he went off, after two years in the Italian cavalry to work as a stevedore on the docks in Nice. My maternal grandmother Carolina Orienti was — her mother was Catterina Pedroni, and she married Enrico Beneventi, and they lived in a small town south of Modena in a town named Vesale. My great-grandfather Enrico was a blacksmith there — poor, very poor, blacksmith. And his wife Catterina was a Pedroni. She was an illiterate Pedroni. The Pedroni family, actually, is quite famous in the sense that my grandmother’s uncle, Catterina’s brother, was the discoverer of gold in Fairbanks, and that’s why Fairbanks exists. If you go to Alaska, every July they have a celebration for the discovery of gold by Felix Pedro, Felice Pedroni. He went by Pedro when he was wandering around North America looking for gold. The 100th anniversary of the discovery of gold, the celebration people in Fairbanks invited Pedroni family from Italy and any in the United States to come for the celebration in 2002, and my brother and I and our cousins, we all went. And that was a fine time. Anyway, my grandmother was born of this Pedroni family, and they were very poor. And as a young child of 15 or so, she moved to Nice as a child caregiver and a housecleaner and all. And she met my grandfather — Giovanni Orienti was his name — in Nice. And that’s where my mother Mary Pauline was born, in Nice, France. And my mother, after her birth, was sent back to Vesale, raised by her grandparents — my great-grandparents — and my grandmother remained to work in Nice. And then they moved to Marseilles, and then after that, my grandfather Giovanni Orienti moved in 1909 to North America to mine coal in northern Illinois. Because the Pedroni — two of the Pedroni boys had gone to northern Illinois and then to Washington state, before one of them, Felix, wandered off to Alaska. They had mined coal in northern Illinois, so they had some contact there. Some people had moved there from that area of Italy.
On my father’s side, the Lanzerotti side, the Lanzerotti’s had lived in a town called Romeno in the Austro-Hungarian Empire since 1595. And that area was an Italian-speaking part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was in Sud Tirol, which became, then, Italy after the First World War. The First World War was fought in that area quite heavily, and in fact, my grandmother Carolina’s brother Felice Beneventi (Felice Beneventi was named for Felice Pedroni, the gold discoverer who was my great grandmother Catterina’s brother) fought for the Italians against the Austro-Hungarians in the First World War and was killed in that area. Anyway, my grandfather, Luigi Lanzerotti, Louis, was a — worked in some electrical thing or something, but they were fairly poor as well. He met my grandmother, named Eugenia Francisci, in the little town. There was all this intermarriage in the town. I mean, we visited there a number of times now. We’ve had the opportunity. And everybody is related, as you could expect from a very small town of less than a thousand people. He met my grandmother. They were married. And my father, Emanuel Luigi, was then born in Romeno. My grandfather, Luigi Lanzerotti, moved in 1904 to North America to just south — to a town called Eagarville, which is south of Springfield in Illinois, to mine coal as well. That was a time when coal was — these folks mined the coal to stoke the furnaces of the factories and homes of the United States, and really were very — coal was exceptionally important in terms of the economics of this country. There had been a couple of people from — why to Eagarville, I don’t know. But a couple of people who were from the village had gone to — from Romeno had gone to this Eagarville, which is a very non-existent now, almost — 50 people, maybe 100 — to mine the coal. There were three coal mines being sunk in that area. The coal mines were owned both — some of them were owned by railroad companies that needed the coal to stoke the trains. He was — Luigi — so then, two years after he moved — he moved shortly after my father was born. Two years later, he sent for my father and his wife, Eugenia, and they moved into Eagarville in 1906.
My maternal grandfather, Giovanni Orienti, also sent for his wife and his daughter, and they had had a son by that time. They moved to Illinois too in 1911, after he had a job in the coal mines and had saved up enough money. My grandfather Giovanni was very shrewd with numbers. Illiterate, but shrewd with numbers. Saved money. Saved every nickel. He never spent anything on anything, and so he could afford to bring the family, and I guess Luigi the same. Then my grandfather Giovanni — then they started — the Standard Oil Company and the railroads sunk three new mines near Carlinville, Illinois, right in Carlinville, which is where I was born and grew up.
Where is this in relation to Chicago?
Oh, way far south. 250 miles south.
Where Giovanni Orienti first went was Cherry, Illinois. He went to Cherry, Illinois, which is 100 miles or so west of Chicago, just after the Cherry Mine disaster. The Cherry Mine disaster was one of the largest mine disasters in the country at that time, and it is still listed as one of the largest — many, many miners were killed. He went there, and he worked in the mines in Cherry after the disaster. But they heard — the group of miners — they were basically all Italians in that area. They heard about the new mines being sunk near Carlinville, Illinois, and they heard that the mines — that the seams of coal were much taller than in Cherry. The mines in Cherry were very narrow seams, and the miners had to work on their backs and crawling on their knees and stuff. So, they moved then to Carlinville in 1919, I believe. My mother was young, and they had two other children at that time. The son who had been born in Marseilles and a daughter who had been born after — in the United States. And he immediately got a job in the Berry mine just outside Carlinville, and that’s where they lived all their life. So, that’s the story of my — and then my parents met. Well, an interesting story about my grandfather Luigi. This has nothing to do with physics, of course.
Luigi was injured in a mine accident in Eagarville, and he lost a leg. And so, he had four children at that time. He had four children. They were all less than 8 years old. My father was the oldest at 8 years. Was in 1910 or ’11. And apparently, they were very poor. And my grandmother was taking in washing and all those kinds of things to support the family. My grandfather Luigi, my interpretation is that he was somewhat of a — was a very friendly guy, but he probably was a little bit — maybe too friendly and maybe too much of an impulsive type. He knew some miners in Leadville, Colorado. Leadville is a — I’ve been to Leadville a number of times, because that’s where Luigi is buried. He took my father, who was 8 years old, and they went to Leadville — him on his crutches, and my father, to beg for money from the miners that they knew in Leadville. And this was in August 1912. And he caught pneumonia in Leadville, and he died in Leadville and was buried in Leadville. And then the Leadville newspaper at that time, they record this — I could look in my notes here — they record this poor Italian person that no one knew, having died in Leadville. Anyway, my father Emanuel was sent back on the trains, and he made it back to Illinois as an 8-year-old. And then Luigi was buried in Leadville, unmarked grave. I did find the cemetery where he was buried, and I put a stone there, but I have no idea where his grave is. But there’s a stone in the cemetery for Luigi. But they were tremendously poor. So, my father, at the age of 12 — he was in the sixth grade — had to quit school and went to work. And so, my father went to work delivering groceries for a grocery store in Gillespie, Illinois. They had moved to Gillespie from Eagarville, about two miles away. And my grandmother had boarders in the house, and she did washings and all those kinds of things. And she raised four children as a single mother. And they all turned out fine. None of them became gangsters. And you know, at that time, in the 1930s, central Illinois was a hotbed of the mafia and some of those things. In fact, outside Carlinville, there was a big mafia estate, for example. And even with four children, none of them became gangsters. They all became respectable citizens. So, it’s very interesting.
So, my mother Mary and father Emanuel met. I think they met through my father’s sister. She worked in a glove factory in Carlinville, and my mother worked there a little bit, too. My mother graduated from high school, and then she worked in the high school office, and she taught typing classes, because she was apparently very good at typing in addition to working at the glove factory. So, they met, and then I was born in 1938 in the little hospital in Carlinville. And I grew up there, although they lived in Gillespie, and then my father bought a store — managed a store in a place called Cottage Hills, just outside St. Louis. And that was a fortunate part of my life too, which I’ll come back to in a moment. And then they moved back to Carlinville when they lost the lease on the store, and he then opened another little store more like what would be called a bodega these days, in Carlinville. And they lived the rest of their life there, and that’s where I went to junior high school and high school and graduated.
Lou, what do you remember of World War II, both domestically and what was happening internationally from the news?
Very little. I remember the end of World War II. I remember the little celebration in Cottage Hills that was held, because my father — the store that he managed at that time was sort of the center of the community, and the intersection of the state highway in the front of the store and the road by the side of the store that went to the school was sort of the center of the community. The school was three rooms, with outdoor facilities including a well with a hand pump for water. And so, I remember the celebration of that. I remember that my father had to register for the draft, but somehow, because of age and children, he was not drafted. But I remember when he went off to register or be inspected or a physical exam or something. I do remember that distinctly, because I remember playing on the floor with some wooden boats that were more like Navy kind of boats. It’s very vague memories. Very vague. I remember that my — that’s an interesting question you ask. Now, you’ve jogged my memory. I remember that in the store, they had to take food ration coupons. There were these coupons that people had to have to buy sugar and meats and things like that. And my father was an incredibly honest person, and I remember him talking at times about people trying to scam the system. You know, the system of regulations in terms of ration stamps to buy things. He would never sell anything without stamps and all the appropriate things. I do remember those, the ration coupons that you had to have. But I don’t remember much else of that. Yeah, I don’t remember much else.
Part of that was that, you know, I was handicapped. I was born — they diagnosed me later as cerebral palsy, and I was born with a bad club foot with a bad limp and a short leg, which I still have the short leg. But that sort of existence sort of complicated things that occurred during the kind of war time. I mean, in 1942, I had my first operation at Shriners Hospital, lengthening a tendon behind my knee in order to try to lengthen my leg, for example. It was 1942, you know, just after the war started. So, I was in the hospital there for like, three months, in Shriners in St. Louis. And fortunately, my parents lived in this place called Cottage Hill, which was — well, at that time, I mean, an old car — I don’t know how long it took them to drive to Shriners. It must have been a couple-hour trip just outside St. Louis. I must say that Shriners Hospital is a fantastic place. They did wonders for me. Then I had another — and then, you know — so I grew up, and I went to school with this club foot and this limp and all this stuff, which was different, and so that probably affected how I was thinking [laughs] about the world at the time, if I was thinking about the world at all.
Lou, when did you start to get interested in science? Was it early on?
Well, back in — let me make one other comment. I had another operation at Shriners when I was 10 years old, where they twisted my hip around, got rid of the club foot and lengthened another tendon, so I was just left with a limp. But I’ve never had very good balance. I’ve always had to worry about balance. So, I think that’s part of the cerebral palsy, you know? I mean, there’s always been some balance thing there.
Okay, getting back to your question regarding science: I always did very well in school, apparently. But when they moved back to Carlinville, I got very interested in crystal set radios, and then one-tube radios, for example. And I built crystal sets, and I built one-tube radios, and I was always excited about trying to pick up a St. Louis radio station on my little one-tube and crystal set radios. And wrapping this wire around an oatmeal box, or a tuner and all that stuff, was very exciting. And I remember hanging antennas out of our second floor. We lived above the grocery store in Carlinville. And I hung a wire from a tree to my bedroom window, and my father was all upset about how lightning would strike and burn the house down. And so, I tried to explain as to how I was trying to ground it. You know, who am I? I’m in grade school or middle school, and [laughs] do I really know what I’m doing? So, we had these arguments about whether I was going to burn the house down or not. But the antenna that I put up was really very good, because I could pick up more stations on my radio sets and stuff. So, those — but the number of parts and kinds of things that were available in Carlinville were not very large. And so, that was somewhat frustrating. And there was no mail order then, and no Radio Shacks, so it was somewhat tough. You could go to the store that sold washing machines and early TVs, and they had some parts and things, but it was not a good thing. One of my Boy Scout merit badges was in Morse code (or radio or whatever the badge may have been called at the time). I’m proud that I was able to achieve the Eagle Scout rank; the lifesaving badge was very hard for me because of my right leg not being good for kicking.
Did you have a strong curriculum in math and science in middle school and high school?
No. I think it was just conventional. Just conventional. We certainly didn’t do algebra 2 or anything like that in high school. In middle school, it was just conventional. There was no algebra in middle school. It was just mathematics. And in high school, it was a standard curriculum: algebra and then geometry, and then solid geometry. Helen Stemmons, the high school math teacher was very good, and in retrospect over the years, I’ve always felt that I disappointed her. She asked me to take these national tests in math. Apparently, she thought I was fairly good in math. And she’d asked me to try to study for them, and she gave me additional work to do. But I don’t know. I enjoyed the crystal set radios. I enjoyed boy scouts. I enjoyed hiking in the woods when I could, and fishing on the ponds, and I just didn’t do as much as she wanted me to do. So, I never did very well in these national tests. But apparently, I must have been reasonably good in mathematics, because otherwise, she wouldn’t have spent that time. I don’t recall her spending that time with other students that she tried to spend with me. And then after I graduated and finally graduated college and all, we talked about these kinds of things, she and I, and she admitted that I was one of the better students that she had had over many, many years.
Lou, when it was time to think about college, what were your career ambitions at that point? What did you think you might want to major in and use that for a job later on?
Well, I’ll be quite honest. I never thought about college. The high school guidance counselor never talked to us about college. I had had a bad experience with her in transferring from eighth grade to high school. For some reason, she didn’t seem to like me. When she asked my — I still remember this. You’re jogging me. When she asked my telephone number in eighth grade, I told her my telephone number. It was 380K. I remember that. 3-8-0-K. Those were the old numbers, when you lifted the receiver — number please. And she thought I was being flippant with her. And there were a couple of other instances like that, when she just, for some reason, didn’t like me. I wanted to take first-year Latin in high school, because all the better students that I knew were taking first-year Latin. But she wouldn’t put me in first-year Latin. She put me in shop class. I’m glad she did, because I liked shop class. But I thought that was strange, you know, that I thought I was doing okay academically. Why couldn’t I be in first-year Latin class? And it seemed to go like that during high school.
My parents didn’t have any interactions with the counselor Ann Chapman during high school, except for senior year. And in senior year, my mother would go with me to talk to her about my future and all, and she never had much to say and certainly didn’t talk about college, even though Blackburn College was in Carlinville. It’s a Presbyterian school. My father was always worried about my future, because he knew I couldn’t do physical labor, which all of his relatives, except for him, did. I mean, my father never wanted to go in the mines. That’s why he — he hated the mines. His brother worked in the mines. I mean, I had relatives in the mines. But my father took me a couple times to meet the local telegraph operator, because you know, telegraph, radio. And my father thought that that would — that was a sedentary kind of occupation that might be okay for me. He also took me to visit several larger grocery stores, where I might be able to be involved in management and those kinds of things. But I never knew of any colleges, other than a couple in Illinois. The University of Illinois seemed to be out of the question for somebody in my family’s background and money. And the guidance counselor never even suggested I go to Blackburn. So, talking to my parents, you know, they encouraged me to apply to Blackburn, which I did. And so, I was a first-year student at Blackburn College, and I lived at home. And that really — Blackburn opened my eyes to the larger world. I had not seen anything other than, you know, the coal mines and the farms of central Illinois.
So, Lou, this is to say, up until this point, you really had working-class aspirations. You didn’t think you’d become a professional at the end of high school.
Oh, I wouldn’t have known what “professional” meant. I mean, that word was nothing that would occur to me. Oh, I should say, in retrospect and with regard to the guidance counselor, I never — this is only years later. I ranked fifth in my high school class. I was the top boy. And I only learned that on graduation night, because they put up a list of the ranking of the class on the robe hangers, where the robes were hanging. They put up a list of the class rank. The first four were all the girls, the ones who had taken [laughs] first-year Latin, in fact. But I was the rank — I was the first boy, and then the next boy was ranked 10th. So, in thinking about this in later years, I said, you know: the guidance counselor must have known what my academic background had been, and still never talked — and certainly the word “professional” never came up. Anyway, Blackburn really opened my eyes, because there were students there, foreign students. There were students from Chicago, and they were different, I’ll tell you. Students from Chicago were very different than students from central Illinois, and they probably still are. And it just opened my eyes to the wider world. And I recognized all of a sudden that if I stayed at Blackburn, I’d become a teacher, or I would become involved in biology, possibly — a physician, or something like that. And none of those things really appealed to me. But the math at Blackburn, I liked the math, and I liked the chemistry. So, I started thinking maybe engineering, whatever that means, is something. And so, I convinced my parents that I thought I should do engineering and apply to University of Illinois, which I did. And they helped me a little bit financially, but I worked in cafeterias and laboratories my three years there to put myself through as much as possible. Yeah.
What were the circumstances of your change over to the big university?
What do you mean, “circumstances”? What do you mean?
Just, your decision. Your decision to go to Illinois.
I think it’s just recognizing that I didn’t want to be a teacher, and I didn’t want to be involved in anything in biology. Blackburn was very, very strong in the biological sciences, and it was very strong in the educational — Blackburn students did their practice teaching in Carlinville schools. Several of them were teachers in my classes. And teaching just didn’t seem to appeal to me at all. It was not the thing to do.
Were you thinking about physics or engineering at all before you got to Illinois?
Oh, yeah. I was thinking about engineering. I mean, that’s how I convinced my parents that that’s what I should do. By reading some materials about engineering — and I said I wanted to be a civil engineer, because they build bridges and buildings, and these are really nice. And I convinced my parents that that’s the only way I could do that, and they should let me do that. I was not thinking about physics. So, I went to Illinois in civil engineering — so I applied and went there in civil engineering as a transfer student. The first semester of civil engineering, I took the first course in physics: Physics 106, Mechanics. And I took a course in construction materials, which was civil engineering. And I took a couple of other courses. I can’t recall exactly what they were. But in October of that year, which was ’57, was the launch of Sputnik. And coming in the mechanics class that morning after Sputnik, of course, the professor, Becker — it was Robert Becker who wrote a very famous mechanics book — talked about Sputnik and the orbital mechanics of Sputnik. And I contrasted that with this course in construction materials that I was taking, which was discussion of bricks and concrete blocks and those kinds of things. And I said: my goodness. The future is in this Sputnik kind of stuff. And that’s physics, and that’s not in bricks and concrete blocks. And so, then towards the end of my first semester, I went over and I transferred into physics. Now, at Illinois — Illinois is a very interesting place. The physics department is embedded in the College of Engineering.
Very unusual. Very unusual in the United States. But that was very fortunate for me. So again, one of those very fortunate things in my life, you know. Parents this supportive of education, as much as they could be. Shriners Hospital. Blackburn College. Very important, Blackburn College. And then physics being in the college of engineering.
Meaning, that you got there — you would’ve never even thought about physics had it not been for the way engineering was situated.
That’s right. That’s right. It was trivial to transfer to physics. It was trivial. I mean, I was told that I would have to make up some courses and all this, which I did. I mean, the second semester then, I took Physics 107 and 108 together, which are normally taken sequentially — electricity and magnetism and then optics. They were normally taken sequentially. And then because of the transfer, I had to jam in some philosophy and economics, you know, and I took the course in the summertime, at the same time I worked in the lab, in a plasma physics lab. But it was this — physics being — now, some of my classmates in physics were in the liberal arts college taking physics. But if I had started out in liberal arts, I’m not sure I’d have been in physics. And if physics hadn’t been in the College of Engineering, it might have been very much harder to transfer to another college. But here, it was trivial. I just went into wherever it was I had to go into. And they said, “No problem,” you know, except you have to worry about making sure you catch up and all. Yeah. Very fortunate thing in life again.
How did that transfer from you being exposed to physics to you getting sort of more involved intellectually in physics?
Well, I just began reading more, a little bit more on the outside about physics and the fundamental aspects of nature and all. And then my second year, my third year then where I began taking advanced electricity and magnetism and advanced mechanics, the advanced electricity and magnetism was being taught by Charlie Slichter. Charlie Slichter had come from Harvard just a few years earlier to Illinois. Charlie was very famous. He just died a few years ago. And he came to Illinois, and he taught electricity and magnetism. And I don’t know. The way he taught and the way he thought about physics really gave me more intellectual understanding and underpinnings of physics, in answer to your question. Charlie was also very important in terms of his interaction with students. He organized meetings in the evening, on occasion. Not rare occasion, but on occasion. Not often, but on occasion, where he would talk about the future of physics and the future of someone’s career in physics or something related, for example. And I went to those. And he was such an outgoing person that it was really very — I mean, Charlie Slichter was really important in terms of my thinking about physics, and that’s how I ended up going to Harvard, because Charlie encouraged me to apply to graduate school at Harvard in addition to the two or three other graduate schools that I was planning to apply to. I applied to Cornell, because they had applied physics, and applied physics always appealed to me in terms of engineering. I applied to MIT. I applied to Columbia. But Charlie said, “You’ve got to apply to Harvard.” And so, I did. It was because of him that I ended up at Harvard. So, he provided some of the underlying intellectual foundations for my interest in physics. About a decade ago, I was invited for a joint colloquium in electrical engineering and physics at Illinois. And Charlie came. And you know, he said he remembered me. We had met a few times between then and now, because he visited Bell Labs a couple of times. His brother was at Bell Laboratories, for example, as a chemist, and so I met him at Bell Labs a couple times. But he came to my talk. It was really very nice to see him there. And we had a nice chat at that time as well. It was just a few years before he died. I very much enjoyed physics in the College of Engineering, and even served as Chairman of the Engineering Open House in my senior year, February 1960.
Was Charlie’s encouragement that you should go to Harvard to work with somebody in particular, or he just thought in terms of your interests that that would be the best place for you?
The latter. He thought that it was just a good place to go, and it had nothing to do with anyone to work with or any topic to study or anything of that nature. He just thought that — at that time — you know, we had an interesting physics — I did a quick glance back, knowing that you were going to talk to me. I did a quick glance back at my memory in terms of…the students in physics, and that graduated in that year, maybe different in other years, but it was an unusual year. There’s something at Illinois called a Bronze Tablet, where the top few percent, two or three percent of the graduating students are listed on a bronze tablet in the library. And the year — I did a review of this, because I knew we were going to talk, just in case. About 10 percent of those students were physics students, on that bronze tablet. Seven or eight out of the bronze tablet of 1960. Some of them were in liberal arts, physics, and some of them were in engineering physics, several of us. And at that time, the interest in students for going to graduate school, those who went to graduate school were then going to the west coast. Everybody wanted to go to the west coast. Caltech or Stanford. Not so much Stanford, but Berkeley in particular. And I was the only one who was interested in going east. And part of it — and that’s why I applied to the east, and part of it was because I thought, mistakenly or otherwise, that the east was where America started, and the east was where the culture of the country was embedded. And that’s where things were really happening, was in the east, even though California was an attractor to many others. That’s why I applied to the east, for no other reason. And then Charlie, of course, said Harvard. So, I applied and was admitted with a Harvard Fellowship.
Lou, what were your impressions when you first got to Harvard? What did you think of it?
Well, there were a couple of different — I took the train from Springfield, Illinois, to Chicago, and then caught the overnight train to Boston. It was the New York Central. And there was one train a day, I think. You had to catch it in the evening in Chicago to get to Boston in the afternoon. And so, I took that train. Well, I was sort of overwhelmed by the Harvard Yard and just the general area of Cambridge and Harvard Square. It’s very different now than it was then. I mean, then it was much more — the surroundings of Harvard then were more working class than they are now.
Much more working class. And that sort of appealed to me too, of course, coming from where I came from. But Boston was really something. I knew Boston was a center of the formation of the United States. I mean, the United States had given my relatives tremendous opportunities. They worked in the coal mines. They worked awfully hard. They were very poor. But they never complained about anything. They were just glad to be here. And you know, my interpretation of how they behaved is just, they were glad to be here. And it was really interesting. They never complained about anything. My paternal grandmother never wanted to speak English. She learned English, but she never — but she still was just glad to be here. She wasn’t interested in going back to Italy, even though she had these four kids. So, the first thing I did, the first weekend I did, was I wanted to see where America started, and Paul Revere. So, I went off to Old North Church. I took the subway, got off near Faneuil Hall, walked across — there was no Big Dig at that time. You could walk across the roads there. And I saw [laughs] two or three of these shops with sausages hanging in the windows, and it struck me. I remember writing home about that to my parents. And then all of a sudden, out of one of the windows, somebody shouted out something in Italian. You know, I knew a little bit of Italian. [laughs] And I said — it was really strange. Really strange. So, that was fine. So, then I walked up towards Old North Church. I forget what that street is. And behind Old North Church is this park, and there’s all these old men out there playing dominoes, and they were all talking in Italian. [laughs] And I went into Old North Church, and then I went out, and I looked across, you know, to Bunker Hill. And I thought: this is where America started. This is what gave my family this opportunity. Then I went back to this park, and all these old guys were playing dominoes and talking Italian. You know? And you still see this today in Boston, in the North End. And then I realized later, when I had put it all together, you know, a few days later — the North End is all Italian.
It’s not old Yankee at all. [laughs] And I thought that would be old Yankee, and I would see where the real America was. That was the biggest cultural shock I’ve ever had in my life.
And I’ve traveled all around the world. But that was my introduction to Harvard and to Boston, and to America in that sense.
Lou, who were some of the professors on the faculty at Harvard that you became close with?
Well, I mean, the professor I did my thesis with was Frank Pipkin. Frank Pipkin was an atomic physicist. Really good. He worked tremendously hard. He was really good.
And what was his research at the time you connected with him? [55:00]
Well, he was just beginning this group in high energy physics. He was doing his low energy physics, his rubidium atom studies for timing and all. But he also wanted to grow a group in high energy physics and in elementary particle physics. And elementary particle physics was the leading edge. It was the frontier of physics, and it was a frontier at Harvard, too. And Harvard and MIT were building the Cambridge Electron Accelerator, the 6 GeV electron accelerator, just up in the north of the campus there. And so, Frank Pipkin was putting together this group, and he was a young, dynamic person. I never had him for any classes, but I went to talk to him about doing a thesis with him and putting together an experiment in elementary particle physics. And that’s how I got to know Frank. I mean, other professors there were Norman Ramsey, very famous. Karl Strauch was a nuclear physicist, had been in the Los Alamos Manhattan Project. Also, Kenneth Bainbridge. Kenneth Bainbridge taught a course in atomic physics that I took, but he was getting on in years as well. I had electricity and magnetism from Wally Gilbert. Wally Gilbert at that time was just beginning to change to his biology, where he then won a Nobel Prize. But he was still teaching electricity and magnetism. Very fine course with Greens functions and all those kinds of things. He was an excellent teacher. I was not theoretically inclined. I was more experimentally inclined. And so, people like Ramsey and Pipkin and Strauch were more in my interest of things.
Lou, how did you go about developing your thesis research? What did you work on?
Well, we were really starting from scratch, with Frank’s experiment. Frank had put together a group of three or four graduate students, and he had a postdoc named Doug Stairs. Doug had just finished in nuclear physics with the Cambridge — with the Harvard cyclotron, and he stayed on then as a postdoc with Frank in particle physics. Frank wanted to test electrodynamics with a — to look at electrodynamics. And so, he was designing — and then with the graduate students was designing a detector system, a dual-arm detector system where you could use X-rays or extracted electrons to strike a target and make the elementary particles from a hydrogen or a solid target, and then detect the products in the two arms. And so, I was very much involved with what was called wire orbiting the magnets to understand the particle trajectories in the magnets, for designing scintillation detectors that could be used for detecting particles exiting out of the magnets. We were using — in fact, I developed some of the first fiber optic links from scintillation detectors to photomultipliers. The fiber optics at that time were just terrible, and the loss was just very, very large, so you couldn’t use very long fibers. But Frank thought that they — and I thought that, you know, we should try to pioneer that if we could. And so, we got some fiber optics from a little company in Cambridge to do that. So, we built this dual-arm apparatus, and then I used photons extracted from the Cambridge electron accelerator to photo-produce Rho mesons, which then decayed into pions that you could detect in the detectors going through the magnets, and changing the angles of the two arms, you could look at the mass and infer the masses in all of the produced particles.
Lou, as you say, this was really at the frontier of high-energy particle physics at that point. I’m curious, as you say, you were more on the experimental side of things. What were some of the advances in the theoretical side of things that may have been advantageous or useful to yours and Pipkin’s research?
You know, I’m not sure that I can remember back that far. I’m not sure that I can remember back that far. I do know that we had some interactions with people like Sidney Drell. We met with him a couple of times down on Cape Cod, in fact. He had been there for some National Academy study or other, and he was doing work in electron scattering and all. I don’t recall very well the theoretical underpinnings of some of that at that time. It’s been too long ago, and I’d have to do a review.
I’ll do another one to test your memory. Who was on your thesis committee, besides Pipkin?
I think Strauch, but I can’t remember who else. I can’t remember.
After you defended, what opportunities were available to you? Were you looking at postdocs? Was Bell Labs part of the consideration right from that point? What did you want to do next?
Well, I began thinking about what I wanted to do next, towards the end of my — after finishing my experiments in ’64, and starting to write my thesis, I began thinking about what I wanted to do. And I began to — Frank encouraged me to apply for jobs, for opportunities, and he encouraged me and got me interviews at Princeton, at Penn, and Stanford. Princeton and Penn both were building the Princeton-Penn accelerator at that time, and he thought that that might be an interesting opportunity for me, at one of those institutions. Stanford was beginning to build their large linear accelerator, and I went out there for an interview and talked to them as well. And I had opportunities at all three institutions — I think basically assistant professors, because at that time, there were more opportunities than postdocs. Stanford may have been a postdoc. I’m not sure. I can’t remember. But I began getting — at the CEA, there were several visitors from Stanford that were also doing some experiments using some equipment that folks had, that other groups had built. Not with Frank, but with Richard Wilson’s group. For example, he was doing elastic and inelastic scattering of electrons on nuclei. And there were groups from — a couple of people from Stanford there. And I don’t know. I began looking at the — in late ’64 began looking at the opportunities in elementary particle physics. And it seemed to be going in a direction which I might not be interested in. I wasn’t sure why. It seemed to be becoming — really big physics and bigger groups. Frank’s group was big, but it wasn’t outrageous. But when I looked at Stanford, it was really beginning to be large.
And the groups in Europe seemed to be getting large. At the same time, the space program was building up. And the space program was getting a lot of press and publicity. And the space program was not involved with elementary particles so much, except it was, in the terms of Van Allen belts and all. And so, I told Frank that I wanted to see about getting a job in industry and in the space program. And he was not too enthused about that. And in fact, later after I took the job at Bell Labs, he said: well, if you don’t like two years — after a couple of years, I’ll get you a good job in academia, if you really want to come back. So, I went out for interviews with a number of aerospace-related companies. And there were a lot of advertisements at that time about how this company and that company was on the frontier, and it seemed really exciting. It also seemed like these instruments that people were putting in space were small — could be held in your hand almost, you know? Rockets were big, and satellites were big, but you know, these instruments that people were doing were small, and more of a single person or a few people kind of things.
So, I went out for interviews, and I had several job offers from different aerospace companies. And one of them in California offered me a job. I mean, I remember some things really well, and other things not so well — offered me a job $14,500 a year. And as I was leaving, the director of this lab — it was a very exciting interview, and was really — this was really an interesting place — the center — the lab said to me: you know, you really should come here. He said: this is the best place in the United States, except for Bell Labs. And I’d never heard of Bell Labs in terms of space research. I mean, I knew that Bell Labs did all this semiconductor stuff and had invented the transistor, you know, a decade earlier, or two decades earlier. But I’d never heard of Bell Labs. And they never advertised, and they never advertised for positions or anything, so I didn’t know what to do. So, I was just about to accept this job on the west coast, and all of a sudden, Frank called me one day, and he said — I was over at the cyclotron lab, you know, working on my thesis and helping folks with their experiments. And Frank called me, and he said: there’s a guy here from Bell Labs who is interested in interviewing you, if you’re interested in industry. And I said, “Bell Labs?” I said, “Sure.” So, Walter Brown came around to the cyclotron lab. I think it was in March — It was a very cold day — and sat down and told me what he was doing in terms of space research at Bell Labs. I was so surprised. And he said that they were interested in having somebody come through to do some calibrations of instruments that they were building to fly, and data analysis and all, and would I be interested in interviewing? I jumped at the opportunity. So, within a week or so, I traveled down there to Murray Hill and had an interview. And the interview didn’t go well at all, because there’s a lot of smart people at Bell Labs, I’ll tell you. [laughs] And you know, I gave a good talk, but all the discussions with folks offline, you know, in their offices didn’t go well at all.
Lou, did you get a sense at the time, or later on, how Bell got involved in space research?
Well, yes. I’d known about Telstar, but I didn’t know that Walter Brown had flown these instruments on Telstar, which measured the radiation environment. And I didn’t know that it had been so important for measuring the electrons from the Starfish explosion, which was a day or two before the launch of Telstar, which wiped out Telstar. But I didn’t know that they were doing anything else. I had not looked in detail at what — because they didn’t advertise, so I didn’t know that they were hiring people. And so, you know, the aerospace companies, I knew what they were flying in space, or how they were involved with NASA and whatever, but not Bell Labs. And you know, in retrospect, that’s how Bell Labs recruited. In fact, in the late ’70s, I was asked to go up to Harvard to be a recruiter, and Harvard professors didn’t care to talk to Bell Labs people. Nobody from Bell Labs physics wanted to go to Harvard to be a recruiter, [laughs] because they never got very much attention from any of the professors, because everybody thought that their students should go into academia. So, I gave up after a few years of doing this, because nobody — I went because nobody else wanted to go. But that’s how Bell Labs recruited. You’d send the staff out and follow a graduate student throughout his or her career, and possibly make them an offer to come at some point, when they’re finishing up. That’s how Bell Labs recruited. They didn’t run ads or anything like that.
Lou, after that initial shock of all of these smart people in the room, what clicked for you? How did it all come together?
Well, they offered me a postdoc. They offered me a postdoc at a much less salary than the west coast. I think it was $1,000 a month. And I was engaged. We were planning to be married in ’65, with this woman that I had met in quantum mechanics. And a postdoc just — and a lower salary I was not sure about. But for some reason, I was really taken by the work that Walter Brown’s group was doing at that time.
Which was what? What was Brown’s group doing?
Well, Brown’s department was involved in several things, and had always been involved in several things. But they had instruments being prepared for flight on two NASA satellites, called ATS-1 and ATS-3, which were Applications Technology Satellites for communications. ATS-1 was geosynchronous. ATS-3 was going to be somewhat middle orbit. And they were also building instruments for the two interplanetary spacecraft, called IMPs — Interplanetary Monitoring Platforms — 4 and 5. And you know, they showed me the hardware when I was there, and you could hold this all in your hand, and they were soldering pieces together in the lab. Those were the good old days of the space program, I’ll tell you. And that all very much appealed to me. Even though the interviews didn’t go well, the hardware really went well — the hardware aspects. And also, the interest was in the fact that they were interested in these phenomena for practical reasons as well, for telecommunications, not just from the point of view of pure science, which also did appeal to me. You know, some people who had been at Bell Labs, some of the more imminent folks that I knew and know, you know, sometimes characterized Bell Labs as sort of an ivory tower. I never viewed it as an ivory tower. I viewed it as a place where you could do really clever things and creative things that you wanted to do. But I always had in the background of my mind, you know, how would it possibly impact the company, and what relationship does this have to communications? And at that time, you know, communications and the applications of communications covered a wide spectrum of stuff.
I mean, and all the communication was being done at Bell Labs, so they could cover a wide range. And I guess if you were really, really brilliant in the theory department, [laughs] you could get by with doing esoteric stuff. But I always viewed my job as always applying in some way, if necessary, to the company’s commercial interests, and I did that throughout my career.
Lou, what was that first project that you started on?
It was ATS-1, the Applications Technology Satellite 1. It was in the process of just being completed and buttoned up. It needed calibrations. There was an electron machine at Bell Laboratories in what was called the “Elephant House,” at the time, and it was 1 MeV electron machine — was used for semiconductor research and all. And I set up a beam line and a vacuum chamber and all that I had built up — that got built up from the shops, to calibrate ATS-1 prior to its launch. It was a crash program. I mean, I worked all of New Year’s Day and New Year’s Night on ATS-1, in New Year’s ’65. I mean, we had only been married six months, but I left my wife in the apartment. She never complained about anything, and she didn’t have a job yet at that time. But I spent all New Year’s calibrating ATS-1, because it was such a crash program.
What were some of the goals of ATS-1? What was it designed to look for?
Basically, the radiation environment at geosynchronous. Totally unknown — variability and intensities and all, and ATS-1 carried three instruments to measure the radiation environment — three instruments of different characteristics. One was from the Aerospace Corporation, and one was from the University of Minnesota, Jack Winckler group at University of Minnesota, and George Paulikas and Bern Blake’s group at the Aerospace Corporation, and then Bell Labs. Because Bell Laboratories was thinking about geosynchronous communications, of course.
When did the term “space weather” start to come into use, and was it related to what ATS-1 was designed to do?
It’s a very interesting question. What’s the origin of the terminology, “space weather”? I’ve talked to Juan Roederer about this. And he and I have thought about writing a very short commentary on the origins of the term “space weather.” I’m not sure exactly where its origins are, and I’m not ready today to say what he and I think about this. But I will say that when Sir Edward Appleton accepted the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the ionosphere, you know, his backscatter, back in the 1920s, in his Nobel lecture, he used the term “ionosphere weather,” because he talked about the applications of the ionosphere to communications and to radio communications. That’s the first usage of this word “weather” in the context of space-related things that I have encountered, was Appleton’s term “ionosphere weather.” But you know, Bell Labs had dabbled in this at various times over the years, over the decades. They had looked at solar radio emissions back in the 1940s, from their Holmdel facility. They had looked at the inductions that could occur on telephone cables from geomagnetic disturbances, and in fact, in the 1930s, for almost an entire solar cycle, AT&T, via Western Electric, via Southwest Bell I guess, had sponsored a program — basically unknown today — where they were monitoring the induction of geomagnetic effects on telephone cables in connection with the U.S. Geological Observatory in Tucson. And all that data exists in some data books. Never been analyzed. Never looked at. But I ran into that at the Bell Labs library way back and during my early days. And so, Bell Labs has always dabbled — Bell Labs and AT&T has always dabbled in this on and off. The problem is, in space weather, big events that cause a lot of attention occur so infrequently. And so, management of — whether it’s a power company or whether it’s a communications company — does not pay much attention to this after the event is over a few years, because management changes, and corporate interests change, with time. And I think the little effort that we continued at Bell Labs over the years, and in collaboration with outside groups, really had a persistence that most industry didn’t have in terms of looking at “space weather” effects.
What did you work on after ATS-1? Was it ATS-3 directly after?
Yes, we did, and it was not a success in terms of the satellite, very much. I worked on IMP-4 and IMP-5 and got really good data, interplanetary shock data, interplanetary particle data, and that was my next attention to space weather. I didn’t use that term at the time. And the scientific — let me, as a tangent here — the scientific community was really not interested in the applications very much. Certainly, the academics were not — and NASA was interested, because of astronauts. But it was not a concerted kind of interest and a concentrated kind of interest. I don’t want to pat myself on the back here, but I was one of the only ones out there in the ’60s and ’70s who kept saying: hey, you know, there’s an application here. And I’d like to come back to that in a moment. But when we flew ATS, it was a big solar event of May ’67, I think it was. I can’t remember exactly. But we had data both from ATS-1 and the interplanetary data. And I was analyzing those two sets of data, and I plotted them together, and it was amazing that the intensities and fluxes of these low-energy protons were basically the same inside and outside the magnetosphere. I mean, this was the early days of the space program, and people didn’t understand this — wouldn’t understand this at all and expected the magnetosphere to exclude solar particles much more efficiently than apparently was the case. So, I showed these data to Walter Brown and to others in our little effort, and they were really very excited. And I said, “Look, this is important.” So, while I was waiting for the launch out in Lompoc, California, waiting for the launch of IMP-5, with our instrument on IMP-5, I wrote a little paper for Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, where I pointed out this similarity, and I said: look, if you’re going to be designing solar cell cover glass arrays — solar cell array cover glass, you’ve got to consider the possibility of these low-energy protons from — the solar events also are going to damage the array, and not just the particles that we’re measuring within the magnetosphere. And that paper was published, and that was one of my first space weather — if you want to call it that — papers. And of course, AT&T and Bell Labs liked that. And the results actually — the science thing was published in Phys Rev Letters. I published a paper in Phys Rev Letters. And Walter Brown was a very interesting guy. He said, “You should publish this all by yourself,” even though he had such a central role. So, a single-authored paper in Phys Rev Letters, where I published those results – that understanding and that discovery, if you want to call it that.
And then, I don’t know. Because of the collaborations we were doing with people measuring geophysical phenomena on the surface of the Earth, you know — what happens to these particles that are hitting the ionosphere? What does that do in the ionosphere, and how do you measure these on the ground and all? We said: why not do some ground-based measurements also, that we could study the space environment? Because we have more control over that than we do with NASA spacecraft. So, we set up some ground-based measurements in Quebec and in New Hampshire, where we could measure geomagnetic phenomena on the ground. And I also then established a station down in Antarctica, conjugate to the array in Canada and New Hampshire. So, we had different things going on at the same time, and in parallel to this, I was working on a proposal, and I was on a proposal with Tom Krimigis for the Voyager experiment. And you know, AT&T was broad enough that they said: okay, you know, you can collaborate on Voyager, as long as you do other things, too. And it was part of the situation where it — look, if we understand other planets, we can understand the Earth better. That was an argument that I often used to justify our research.
And so, then I recognized — AT&T launched a communications satellite at 75 degrees west. And the magnetic field lines at 75 degrees west, through an AT&T geostationary satellite come down near the South Pole in Antarctica and near Iqaluit on Baffin Island in Canada. So, I said: hey, you know, let’s install some ground-based magnetometer and magnetic stations at South Pole and up in Baffin Island. And we can measure, you know, some effects on the surface of the Earth that maybe are affecting satellites, too. So, we did that as well, in parallel, in the ’70s and into the ’80s. And so, because we’ve gotten known for these kinds of measurements, we got involved in some classified research as well through Bell Labs in Whippany, New Jersey. Did some research in the southwest United States, some classified research in the northwest regions of the United States as well, because of this kind of ground-based stuff that we were doing in addition to our satellite measurements.
Lou, as you say, you never lost sight of the fact that Bell was in the communications business. In what way did remembering that influence the kind of research you did and your overall scientific motivations?
I think it had a fairly large role — because the labs — was not an ivory tower, in my perspective, but nevertheless, it was fairly liberal in terms of its understanding of research, and the management was really good in that way. They were all technical people and very cognizant, really good management. They could — you could convince them that this was not just good science, but it was also really relevant to the communications. And it did influence me for some of my research. There’s no question that some of my time was spent that way. But that’s because they allowed me to do some other things as well, such as Voyager, and then the lightning experiment that we flew on Galileo — the Galileo Orbiter Probe — was in collaboration with the German group and an academic group in the United States, the University of Florida, and the Ulysses spacecraft, flying around the Sun. I was a PI on that. They allowed me to do those things, because I could convince them that they’re somehow related to this more down-to-earth stuff that we were also doing, and even the classified stuff.
You know, in 1972, an AT&T cable in Illinois was knocked out of commission, an L-4 cable, from a big geomagnetic storm. And the analysis that we did for that resulted in changes of the powering supply for AT&T cables. There’s no question about that. That made a big impact on the company, and it certainly, certainly didn’t hurt my career at that time. But of course, those kinds of things have a half-life of, what, a few years, even though I may have made my total career salary on that event. [laughs] You know, people don’t remember that a decade later. But that influenced me and some of the work that we did on ocean cables back in the ’90s, then. In the 1990s, I convinced the lab that there were some interesting things to be done on monitoring some of our ocean cables in connection with some of the ground-based geophysics going on, both by us and other groups. And so, we instrumented some ocean cables in the Pacific and in the Atlantic to measure the voltages and currents under geomagnetic conditions, and how they performed. And in fact, the first ocean fiberoptics cable, TAT-8, in 1989, nearly went out of commission from a geomagnetic storm. And the only reason why it didn’t was because the cabling power supplies had been changed sufficiently from this ’72 event that it prevented the cable from being out of commission. And I reminded the company of that. You know, AT&T was highly regulated, and state regulators would call the labs and ask the labs why certain research was being done. And I remember a couple of instances where — in one instance, the California regulator asked my boss’s boss — why we were doing magnetospheric research. And so, he could explain. He could explain — or my director could explain, you know, why we’re doing magnetospheric research. We lost a cable in ‘72. We’re monitoring this. We understand the radiation environment on communications satellites, and so, you know, it was fairly clear — that enabled my career. [laughs]
Lou, were you involved with the Voyager missions from the beginning, or did you join that later on?
No, I was involved from the beginning. We wrote the proposal. Tom Krimigis at the Applied Physics Laboratory wrote the proposal, led the proposal group. We were half a dozen under-35-year-olds, and we beat two senior groups. We beat the Van Allen group. We beat the Chicago group with our proposal. And some NASA officials were really upset about that, that we had succeeded. Krimigis is a very interesting guy. He’s a member of the Academy of Athens. Right now, he’s in Athens because of this virus, largely, although he still has an office at Applied Physics Lab. But I had met him in ’68 in Iowa. There used to be a Midwest Cosmic Ray Conference, and I went to the Midwest Cosmic Ray Conference in ’68 to give some of our results. And I met Krimigis at that time. And so — well, it was ’67 or ’68, and then he moved to Applied Physics Lab shortly thereafter, and we just stayed collaborators over all these years. He put together this team. I was a member from the beginning. We did all the calibrations for Voyager — Voyager’s — at the Bell-Rutgers tandem accelerator, which is where we calibrated our IMP instruments as well. Not our ATS, but our IMP instruments. Bell collaborated with Rutgers in this tandem Van de Graaff, which existed for quite a number of years. It was a frontier of nuclear physics. Now, it’s gone. It was donated to a group in Australia. But we used that accelerator for our calibrations of IMP and for calibrations of Voyager.
Lou, what were some of the technical challenges with doing calibrations for the Voyager mission?
Well, the technical challenges were trying to get accelerator time, [laughs] because the accelerator was being used for frontier nuclear physics all the time. So, it had to be late at night, oftentimes very late at night. I planned the determination of our runs either before 2 a.m. or substantially after 2 a.m., because there was a tavern on River Road in Piscataway, which still exists, that I wanted to avoid [laughs] everybody leaving at 2 a.m., because of possible problems. But anyway, that was a technical challenge, just getting accelerator time. But setting up the beam line, setting up the calibration chambers, because our Voyager instrument had telescopes on each end, and trying to just determine the angular responses, you had to have a chamber — which I designed — that could rotate the instrument inside this chamber to get various angles of incidence and all, and to have pure beams of ions, not just protons and helium. But we were measuring all the way up to iron, so we had to extract iron out of the accelerator. So, those were some of the technical challenges, together with just the data accumulation, how you handle the data accumulation. We built special electronics boxes to do that. We didn’t have an emulator for the instrument at that time.
Who were some of the key institutional collaborators for Voyager that you worked with?
Well, on our team, there was a fellow Tom Armstrong from University of Kansas. There was George Gloeckler from University of Maryland. There was Charlie Fan from University of Chicago. He had gone to Arizona at that time, and there was Ian Axford from the UCSD, University of California at San Diego. And he later left the U.S. and became a director at a Max Planck Institute in Germany. Those were our principal collaborators institutionally on our instrument, but then on Voyager, you had the Goddard Space Flight Center, and you had — collaborating with Caltech, the Caltech group. Ed Stone, who now has led Voyager over all these years. But before he was the leader, it was Robbie Vogt from Caltech. You may have interviewed Robbie. I don’t know. Then he was involved with LIGO later. And then there was — the optics group was from Arizona. The plasma wave group was University of Iowa and TRW. Fred Scarf was from TRW, and he was the instigator trying to ensure that there were sufficient — there were wave measurements on Voyager, and Don Gurnett was his collaborator. And after Fred’s untimely death, Don took over that. Those are some of the major institutions.
How did you get involved with the ACE solar wind mission? How did that get started?
The instrument flying on ACE is called EPAM, and EPAM is basically the backup instrument for our Ulysses experiment HISCALE, basically the backup, almost with — I would say no modifications. No modifications. We built a backup instrument at APL for Ulysses, and when the ACE opportunity came along, we proposed that under the auspices of Rob Gold at APL, and it was selected because it was cheap and easy, and it was a very good instrument.
Lou, looking forward to Cassini, I wonder if you ever reflected on your early hunch that Bell actually would be a good place to pursue space research. And there you are, involved in Cassini, and it’s almost as if you couldn’t have picked it better yourself.
Well, my involvement with Cassini sort of faded away after a time. I didn’t do a lot of work after the initial efforts on Cassini. I was too involved with Ulysses, for example, and then some of this cable work at Bell Labs, and some of the other research I was doing. So, I did relatively little analyses in work with Cassini, and certainly nothing with regard to its neutral measurements. But yeah, I mean, Cassini is an example of how things just fell together in one place.
What else did you work on during that time? Was it exclusively space-based stuff, or were you doing other things for Bell?
What do you mean, during what time? I was always trying to — I was always balancing and juggling in different research directions. Oh, yeah. One thing that we did get involved with — after the spinoff of Lucent by AT&T, wireless was becoming a much bigger effort and much more attention. I mean, they — Bell Labs had done a lot in wireless years and years — over the years, you know. Big handsets and all that. But one of the things we recognized was that there’s a lot of noise in wireless systems, or there could be, at least at that time. And so, one of the noises in wireless systems comes from the Sun — solar radio noise, solar radio bursts — so we did some analyses of retrospective solar data that NOAA had collected over some 40 years or more. And I had a postdoc type who did — together with her, we did this analysis of this big database of NOAA’s solar noise, and we wrote a couple of papers about that, showing the probability of solar noise at various amplitudes and its implications for wireless devices that existed at that time. Not just handsets, but base stations, for example. And the probability distribution of seeing noise of a certain amplitude at a certain frequency was really of very interesting importance to the company. So, we devoted a fair amount of attention to that kind of a problem, to that kind of a research issue. Even got a patent out of that for protection of wireless under unassumed noise sources, one of which could be the Sun. We began setting up a solar radio telescope at Bell Laboratories to monitor solar noise and do a much more thorough job at that. But then the divestitures and all the things of Lucent came to bear — the financial problems that arose at Lucent from just poor management caught up with us about the time that I was retiring. And so, that solar radio telescope, while we took some data, never really contributed to the company, and we moved it to NJIT, and it’s now out at Jenny Jump Observatory in New Jersey.
Lou, I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the funding structure on some of these projects. I mean, Bell is famous for not having to worry about grants, because all of these things are done under the auspices of Bell. And yet, you worked pretty closely with the NSF on a lot of the space research. What were some of the considerations and the most appropriate places to secure funding for some of these projects?
Well, much of the funding, in terms of salaries and all, were Bell Labs. When we wanted to go down to the Antarctic, we convinced Bell that we should write a proposal to the NSF to put instruments down there, and that we would ask in this proposal for logistics support, but no money transfer, just logistics support. And we wrote that proposal to NSF, and the NSF program manager was ecstatic. He thought it was just terrific to have a commercial company that was not asking him for any money [laughs] out of his pocket to do this research. It was only going to come out of the logistics budget. [laughs] And so, we did get the logistics funding. So, you know, when I went down to the Antarctic, I flew down on a C-5, and you know, and then the LC-130s, and I was listed on the manifest as having been given the support to do that, for example. And so, that’s how the funding basically went. When we went to the South Pole, it was the same — moved the instruments to the South Pole. It was the same situation. With regard to our cable work with AT&T, AT&T was willing to — Long Lines. It was Long Lines — was willing to have us do that research as long as they didn’t have to put any money in, because they felt that they were putting money into Bell Labs as it was. And that was the way the company was — my view of how the company — Bell Labs was supported, through the operating companies. And so, Bell Labs was willing to support that at that level.
Lou, what were some of the key research questions around the Ulysses mission?
It depends on who you would talk to about that. It depends upon who you would talk to. If you would talk to the Chicago group, it was probably the access of galactic cosmic rays to the heliosphere and where the boundary might exist, and the gradients of cosmic rays, for example. If you talk to me about Ulysses, I would say it’s the effect of the Sun on the Earth, and whether high-latitude phenomena that you might not normally think about, or you might not normally investigate, can also affect the Earth and the Earth-space environment in unknown ways. In others, it was just the excitement of — what’s the nature of the heliosphere like above the poles of the Sun, where the solar magnetic fields come out like they do in the polar regions of the Earth? But my justification for being involved, and as I justified to Bell Labs, was the possible effect on the Earth of a more solar-polar phenomenon. How do particles get from the Sun to the Earth if they’re ejected at high latitudes, or do they get here, and we really don’t know very much? And in fact, JPL — in the Ulysses project, at some point — the Ulysses project published a quarterly publication describing the mission and new findings and all that, and I was invited at least once, maybe twice, to write something for that quarterly about why I was — just your question. And I wrote about the possible applications of Ulysses’ findings for understanding space weather kinds of phenomena on Earth.
Lou, your affiliation with Bell Labs went right up to the end. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about what that transition was like with the breakup, specifically in the impact that it may or may not have on the research that you were doing at the time.
Well, I mean, there were several breakups. There was the ’84 divestiture, then there was the spinoff of Lucent in ’96, and then there was the Agere separating from Lucent in 2000 or so, I guess, and then it became a separate company. I would say that the divestiture in ’84 had relatively little impact on what I was doing and what I was planning to do and continuing to do. It may have had some impact — it certainly had impact on folks who were transferred to Bellcore, the research arm that was supposed to help the seven local operating companies. Certainly, it had an impact on those folks. But I really — it really had no impact on what we were doing. It was still AT&T, Long Lines. It was still Bell Labs, and I was still looking at where what I was doing might have some application for the company, at the same time that I was being excited by some of the research.
See, the Lucent spinoff in ’96, though, was the biggie, I think. I was giving a talk the morning of the spinoff at the Naval Research Lab on space weather. I was giving a talk on space weather the morning of the spinoff, and I remember reading in the paper that morning in the Washington area — it must have been Alexandria, where I stayed that night, or maybe closer to NRL. I can’t remember — that there was a spinoff of Lucent. And I remember commenting on that to the — in my talk at NRL, about how this could really affect things at Bell Labs and my activities. But things continued, and things continued partly because Lucent was making a barrel of money, or they thought they were making a barrel of money. Every year, they would set up out in the parking lot of Building 1, where we were located, this big display of all the stuff that they were doing and invite everyone around the world to come. And that’s when we were doing some solar radio noise and stuff, and we said: hey, look at what we’re doing that’s — might be related to wireless. And so, it continued, but then when Agere separated, which was the semiconductor stuff — and of course, all of Bell Labs was semiconductors, except for me and a few others — that really changed everything. It really changed everything. And I happened to be at retirement time at the same time, you know. Again, one of those very fortunate things in life.
Lou, we talked about some of your broader interests, particularly with your wife and supporting her career in terms of the timing of your retirement. Can you talk about some of the decisions you made and opportunities you saw to stay on, to some degree, as a consultant for this next stage in your career?
No, they asked me to stay on, particularly with regard to the wireless kind of activities. But I didn’t have a very significant — I was not a very significant role, I didn’t think, and after a while, it just got tiresome to have an office at Bell Labs and one at NJIT, when the NJIT activities were beginning to ramp up a little bit more. And so, while I had this patent on wireless, and I had a patent — one of the people on the patent is a person who became the president of Bell Labs about a year before he moved on. You know, so I had support and all. But in the early 2000s, the opportunity came up from the NSF to have a — the NSF, the geosciences division, was supporting a — enhancing faculty in solar terrestrial research in universities. There’s not very much in universities. I forget what the faculty line is called. But the NSF put out a call for proposals for institutions to propose to have a faculty line, where NSF would support half the faculty if the university would support half the faculty, for about a five-year time period, and then the person would either get tenure or not. And so, I got involved at NJIT in writing that proposal. And so, that took some of this time and effort as well, and attention. And so, we were successful, and our proposal was successful. One of the two or three that were selected that time came to NJIT. Now, he’s the department head of physics at NJIT. He’s really a good person. In 2004, I also got involved — I was appointed to the National Science Board by the George W. Bush administration, with Senate confirmation at that time. And so, that began taking up my time, and so I just thought it was time to call it quits. I couldn’t do too many things. I was slowing down.
Tell me about some of your initial work when you got to NJIT.
Well, I basically was continuing analyses of Ulysses data. There was a young faculty person there in solar physics who has now gone back to Germany, but he and I wrote a couple of papers on Ulysses data and solar events and solar particle events. I think we have one paper on astronaut safety from — near Mars, from what we could determine from Ulysses, going all the way out to Jupiter, for example, several times. So, I did some analyses of Ulysses data, some analyses of Voyager data. I had — tutorial of a couple of students related to those kinds of activities. And I just basically kibitzed around the department — around the group of solar and space physics folks.
Lou, what was some of your work with the Van Allen probes? How did you get involved with that?
Well, the people at APL were writing a proposal for Van Allen probes, and they were — I don’t know. I was not involved at the beginning of that, but they approached me — Don Mitchell in particular, from APL. He was very much involved with the instrument design and all. He approached me and said — look, back in 1974 or ’75, Mike Schulz and I published this book on particle diffusion in the radiation belts, which is a classic now. It’s referred to an awful lot. And the Van Allen probes is related to radiation belts, and I had not been doing much in radiation belts for quite a long time, but every once in a while, I would write a paper, and using some ground-based data too, related to particle motion. And Don Mitchell approached me, and then Tom Krimigis, and said: hey, you know, we want to write this proposal. We want to make sure that we possibly have a winner here. Would you be interested in collaborating and kibitzing and adding to the proposal and writing and all? And that’s how it started. So, it’s part of this being, you know, on and off collaboration with APL for a long, long time, and that’s how I got involved. And so, we won. We won the proposal, and I was the PI, and we flew, and we’ve been very successful, and we’ve had a lot of interesting research come out of it. I have not been centrally involved in a lot of the research personally. I mean, my name is on a number of papers, but I’ve not put it on a — probably twice as many papers as my name is on, because I haven’t done that kind of analysis or that kind of work anymore. But certainly, my background has helped stuff that we have done. So, that’s how I got involved.
Lou, what do you see as your key contributions to the National Science Foundation and serving on the board there?
On the National Science Board? A significant portion of my time from 2006-2010 was spent as the Chair of the Board’s committee that produced the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators. This is a massive undertaking of the Board, and is widely cited and used by the government, industry, and academia. I need to be careful here, to try to not get mixed between board confidential and public information. A couple of the central activities that we were involved with, that I was very much involved with, was Advanced LIGO, and whether it should be Advanced LIGO, or whether LIGO should exist or not. Another big issue facing the board at the time, in addition to all the other things that the board addresses, was the NEON program, which has had its ups and downs. NEON is this environmental program that exists. It’s an MREFC program, and it has had some difficult times at times. Another one was the possibility of NSF underwriting and supporting the mine experiments — elementary particle experiments in the mine in South Dakota, the Homestake Mine. The National Science Board decided not to support that. In retrospect, speaking as an individual, that was a very wise decision on the part of the board.
Why? Why so?
It would have tied up NSF resources in ways that I believe — this is personal — was not central to the NSF’s mission of supporting frontier science. Its support would have been too peripheral to some of the central science objectives of the Homestake Mine project. Advanced LIGO was really a difficult one to handle. It was a difficult one to handle. All the theory to that point had kept saying: well, just a little bit more, and we’ll see one. Just a little bit more. And how do you weigh that, you know? I mean, you have these eminent people, some of whom I knew pretty well over the years. Certainly, the board made the right decision in that regard. NEON was iffy.
Well, it all worked out in the end.
In particular, yes. Yes. You know, can we swerve back for a moment…
…to your questions about space weather? I’d like to go back about 1975.
NASA had long supported something called particles and fields research. The head of science in NASA Headquarters supported particles and fields. They supported astrophysics and astronomy and some planetary research. The person who was head of NASA science — appointed head in like ’74, ’75, was a person named Noel Hinners. Noel Hinners was a native of New Jersey. He had worked for — after graduation from Princeton, he had been — Rutgers, Caltech, Princeton. He was basically a geologist. He had worked for Bellcom. Bellcom was the organization that AT&T set up at the request of NASA to provide systems engineering support for the Apollo program. And Bellcom hired three or four geology types to be involved with their systems engineering. Noel Hinners was one of those. And after Bellcom was disbanded because of the lunar program success — the systems engineering was no longer needed, so AT&T dissolved Bellcom. Noel moved to NASA. He moved to NASA in charge of the lunar program, lunar science, and then something else. And then he became the head of all science. I had met Noel a couple of times in Bellcom, because we went down to visit Bellcom a couple of times at their request because of our work in space and radiation and all that stuff in the ’60s, because it was relevant to systems and engineering and astronauts. I had met Noel. I didn’t know him. But in ’74, ’75, Noel put together an advisory committee called the Physical Sciences Committee for his division. There was nothing like that that existed at that time at NASA. All the advice was more informal from senior people. On that committee was a bunch of interesting people. George Field of Harvard was the chair — a very well-recognized plasma physicist, astrophysicist — Riccardo Giacconi, an eventual Nobel Prize winner. Frank Drake of the Drake Equation. Carl Sagan was a member. Bill Kraushaar, from Wisconsin, a gamma-ray astronomer. There were really some of the leading people in the United States in space-related astrophysics and research. And then about a year later, Noel asked me if I would become a member of his committee. And so, I agreed. Bell Labs agreed that I could do that. In these committees, it’s very — I mean, look. Advisory committees are always looking for money for their disciplines. [laughs] And of course, the managers have to balance all this off. So, during some points at several of the meetings, Riccardo Giacconi in particular — Riccardo had come to the United States, and he was working at — he had done some particles and fields at this little company in Massachusetts, with Bruno Rossi. He kept saying that, well, too much of our resources are going in this particles and fields stuff and not enough in the astronomy and astrophysics and certainly not enough in X-ray astronomy. [laughs]
And so, it’s time to sort of phase out of those particles and fields. Then George Field and Hinners asked me to give a presentation on particles and fields, on where the frontiers are, which is now solar terrestrial research, basically — where the frontiers are and why we should be doing this and what it is. So, I worked really hard putting together the view graphs for this thing. You know, at that time, it was flip charts — flip one of the pages, and you could see, you know, the overlays and all that kind of stuff. I put together this talk, and it was a public talk. I mean, these meetings were open to the public except for closed sessions having to do with budgets and stuff. And I gave this talk, and the talk was divided into three parts: one was where I thought the frontiers of solar terrestrial research were. I’m not sure I even used that term. One was the applications of the discipline to astronomy and astrophysics, in terms of space plasmas, in terms of what was known at that time in astrophysics and what might be seen from measuring around the Earth, and the other had to do with applications, what’s now called space weather.
And I’m sure I didn’t use the term “space weather.” Well, in that committee, in the audience for that meeting was a staff person from a Senate Appropriations Committee. I think it was Appropriations. Or was it — it was Appropriations, I think. Apparently, he was really taken by this talk and by the applications aspect. And so, he called me up — no email in those days — he called me up and said: look, would you be willing to testify on these kinds of topics that you discussed at the PSC — Physical Science Committee meeting, in particular related to applications? And of course, one of the applications at that time was just two years or three years before had been the outage of the AT&T cable in Illinois, which was a big issue at that time. And so, my goodness, I didn’t know what to do about this testimony. You know? How was I — they don’t pay to go, and this and that. So, I had to talk to Bell Labs management. Bell Labs management said okay, they would support my travel to Washington and whatever was needed, and they would try to help me put together the 50 copies of whatever it is you have to supply. I mean, it was something that was beyond anything I had ever done up to that point. So, I gave this talk to the Appropriations Committee, and it made a big impact, apparently, on NASA. It made a big impact on NASA. It made a big impact on Noel Hinners and the operations, and it made an impact on the Physical Sciences Committee in that [laughs] Riccardo — Riccardo and I have been friends forever after that. I mean, we were always friends — in fact, the year before he died, he called me up complaining about some NASA budget, and what was I going to do, and was I doing anything about it? He was living out in La Jolla at that time. Not well, but he told me he wasn’t well. There was never any other discussion in the Physical Sciences Committee about getting rid of particles and fields.
But what happened was, Noel Hinners then hired somebody to look into establishing one of the — a division or section or whatever it’s called, related to solar terrestrial research. And he hired someone who then approached the National Academies to put together a committee to look at solar terrestrial research and where the frontiers were, and those kinds of things that I addressed in my testimony. Well, this committee — the National Academies put together a committee chaired by Stirling Colgate. And Stirling Colgate put together this committee of the leading plasma physicists, mostly theorists at that time. Mal Ruderman for example, and Marshall Rosenbluth and David Pines were on the committee. And these were people I had never met, but you know, I knew who they were. They were the eminences of the United States. And in addition, on the committee was Charlie Kennel, who was well known in space physics. And I was added because I was involved with this testimony and all. And I think there was one — oh, Gene Parker was involved, from Chicago. And so, the Colgate Committee wrote this report, the Colgate Report, talking about how this space research around the Earth is so relevant to plasma physics, even particles in a dipole magnetic field — I was floored by their emphasis on particle motion in a dipole field, [laughs] for example. I mean, Mike Schulz and I had just published this book. So, that was basically — I view that as basically — Noel’s work there is basically the origins of what is now heliophysics in NASA. It’s gone through ups and downs and different leadership and all, and it became heliophysics after some period of time. But I really regard that Colgate Committee and the activities of Noel Hinners there as the origins of what’s now heliophysics in NASA. And it has to do with the applications. This staff person from the Senate really was taken by that, and obviously he talked to his committee and to the Senate about the importance of this for the country. I feel fairly good about that. One thing that did occur, though: this staff person thought that I should buy him lunch.
And I said to myself, “How do I voucher this?” You know? And I was just a poor working stiff at the time, so I paid for his lunch myself. And he had a big healthy lunch. It was costly, but I paid for it myself. I didn’t ask Bell Labs to pay for the guy’s lunch. [laughs]
Lou, what were some of your motivations to do the online journal for space weather, to found that project? What were some of your motivations in doing that?
Well, I knew that AGU — I’ve been involved with AGU on and off over the years in various ways. I was chair of their public affairs committee at one time, for example, and I was on the governing board of the AIP as one of the AGU representatives. And I had known Fred Spilhaus for a long time. Fred and I first met on a bus going from Zurich to St. Gallen, Switzerland in 1967 for the IAGA meeting in St. Gallen. That was when Bell Labs, you know — they encouraged me to go to this international meeting. I was really — on the base of some — our ATS work and the analysis that I had done. I appreciated Bell Labs doing that. Anyway, by accident, Fred and I had sat next to one another on this bus to St. Gallen. And at that time, he was not the executive director of the AGU, although he was working there. But I knew AGU was doing this — having a study of some space weather possibility of a journal, but I was not involved with that committee at all. I had been asked if I would be willing to serve as the editor of JGR Space Physics a couple of times, and I was asked whether I would be interested in being the editor of Reviews of Geophysics once, I think. But being at Bell Labs — and I just felt that I could not do that with everything else that I was doing with my research. I felt that it would be too much of an impact on my Bell-related career. People at Bell Labs were involved in some journals and things, but not like academics. Not the same kind of level. And I just never did it.
But anyway, I was at NJIT, and I got a phone call from AGU saying, you know, we’re thinking about starting this new journal, and we’ve had this committee looking at this, and would you be interested in being — thinking about the journal and some ideas for it, and even considering being an editor? So, at that time, being at NJIT and not having the Bell Labs salary and things, which would be — which I felt committed me to do things for the company more, I said, “Sure, I’ll think about all this.” And so, I thought about all this, and then I agreed to do it. I agreed to do it under the condition that it not become another JGR space physics. Less science and more applications. I’m not sure that that’s the case these days with the journal, but it’s not my judgment anymore. But certainly, when I became the editor — when I finally agreed to become the editor, I tried to insist that the applications be forefront, otherwise you’d just have another journal.
Lou, a question close to home for me: how did you get involved with the American Institute of Physics?
Basically, it’s through the AGU. When the AGU was a member of the AIP, they had — the membership at that time, on the board, had a number of members proportionate to the size of the membership organization, and AGU and APS were the largest organizations, and they each had seven or eight members on the board. And I was asked to be one of the members of the board. And it could have been Fred who asked me. I don’t remember. But I had been involved with AGU activities for various things. And so, that’s how I got involved with AIP. Now, AGU has dropped out of AIP. I think it’s a real pity. I think it’s a real pity. American Meteorological Society has joined, fortunately, and I think that’s wise — very wise on their part. I’d like to see AGU back, but AGU mentality has changed somewhat since the days of Fred, and I don’t want to go into the details of that.
No, of course. But Lou, I wonder — it would be valuable to get your perspective, not so much on the details of AGU leaving, but as you say, it would be valuable for them to return. On what basis might AGU be made to understand the value of rejoining AIP?
AGU is very interdisciplinary. It’s very interdisciplinary, and that’s really a good thing about AGU. When AGU was much smaller, I could go to many of the — at their meetings, you know, I went to meetings on solid earth and other things. Now, it’s harder to do that with its size. But I think its value in being a part of AIP would be interdisciplinary. Much of AGU is based upon physics, and some kinds of chemistry, and those things are brought by the AIP membership in very important ways, which I think are missing now in AGU not being a member. When I was chair of the AIP board, we reorganized AIP, and that was a good thing. Part of AGU’s problem was that their membership fee was too high, they thought. It was based upon, again, the number of AGU members and the number of APS members. I think that has been alleviated to some extent now so that they could rejoin without, perhaps, a cost factor that they viewed. But I think the AIP brings this interdisciplinary aspect to the physical sciences, broadly, that AGU is missing. And then AIP brings a couple of other aspects that AGU is missing. One is the library. Another is the historical aspects, which you and Greg and others represent. There’s nothing like that in AGU, and for geophysics in the United States, and for them to emulate that or to reproduce that would be very, very costly for them. As a member of AIP, it sort of all falls in your lap. [laughs] And that’s something that they’re lacking as well. And then AIP can speak in a broader sense to the physical sciences than just a disciplinary organization. It’s hard sometimes to get everybody to agree on certain things, and I certainly agree with that, and so you have to be very careful about policy statements and those kinds of things. But yeah, at one time there was discussion — I know I had with Fred Dylla on possibly AIAA joining the AIP. And I still think that — I don’t know whether that’s being pursued or not by Michael Moloney. But that is something that I also thought would be a good thing. I saw a fair amount of value in that for both AIAA — I’m a member — I’m a fellow of AIAA — and for AIP, and for physical engineering kind of sciences.
Lou, what do you see as some of your principal achievements as director at AIP, of the board?
Oh, I think it was the reorganization of the AIP Board and the spin-off, so to speak, of AIP publishing. That was absolutely necessary. Both of those were absolutely necessary, given all of the national and international forces out there. There was just too — with regard to the spin-off of publications, there was just too — it was beginning to get too many and too much adversarial discussions within the AIP board on new and existing publications. It was debilitating, in the sense that AIP could not execute its real mission of representing physical sciences because of these arguments about publications. And of course, publications are important for all of the organizations that are members. And so, this spin-off — the reorganization, the tightening of the board membership and the spinoff of the publications were central, and I’ve never patted myself on the back for any of this. It did occur during my leadership, and I’m pleased that it occurred, and that everyone involved saw the wisdom in having this occur. I really enjoyed watching AIP Publications begin its new life out on Long Island, or wherever it may ultimately be. [laughs] But beginning its new life and looking at things in a business sense, a nonprofit business sense, without the constraints of being looked over their shoulders by a board which was not necessarily always friendly.
And as you say, this was a decision that ultimately benefitted everyone involved.
My view is yes. I have not stayed close to this by any means. No one has kept me close, and there’s no reason why I should be close. But I do believe that this has benefitted everyone. I see the organizations that are still involved with AIP Publications. I see the publications that they’re still doing and the new ones that they have looked at and are doing, and I think it is a benefit. And I think it’s a benefit to AIP as an organization itself — the library, the history, the whole thing. Yeah.
Lou, to navigate all of this obviously required political skills, and not just in an amateur sense. You’ve actually pursued a professional political career.
Yes, but only because I’m in a small town. In retrospect, I could never have done that. [laughs] You know, back in the ’70s, it was all new math, and our local school here is only K to 8. And eighth-grade algebra was basically the new math, set theory and those kinds of things. And there were several — there were quite a number at one time, people living in this community who were engineers and scientists at Bell Labs, either in Whippany or Murray Hill. And they had children in the school, and they didn’t like the new math, and they wanted their kids to really be on the forefront of every — science and math and stuff. And so, a couple of the residents not so far away from where I live here organized some evening meetings to discuss the problems in the local school district and this new math and set theory instead of real, hard algebra. And in fact, I had — when our children were in the eighth grade — they were two years apart — I gave them a separate algebra course. At a used book sale, I bought an old algebra book like I used, which was all these word problems and X+Y=Z, and if you do this and that — and I gave them each a separate course in algebra, the same time in eighth grade that they were doing all this set theory stuff. So anyway, these neighbors organized these meetings about the school district, and they disliked the president of the school board, and this and that. So finally, I don’t know. One of them — I mean, at one point about ’80 or ’81, they said, you know: you’ve got to run for the school board, to me. And I said, you know, “I’ve got to make a living. I’ve got to put kids through college in four or five years.” So anyway, they convinced me to run for the school board in ’82. And it was a contested election. The person who ran against me had been a longtime resident of the town and was married to someone who had been an even longer time resident and whose parents had been even longer time residents. And the school board election was in April, and it was a snowy day, and the election was called off [laughs] because it was snowing. And the person who was supporting me had put out big signs around town supporting me, and it was all snowed in. But anyway, the election was called off for the next week, and the next week, I was at JPL with Voyager. But the election was held, and I won the election [laughs] in ’82. And my wife had a little celebration party at our home here, a half a dozen people came in. She ran the little party in celebration of my election. So, then I was on the school board for three terms.
I ran for two more terms and won each time. But then I resigned after eight years, because I was appointed to the Augustine Commission. The George H. W. Bush administration had put together the Augustine Commission, and they instituted the Space Council, headed by the vice president — which the Trump administration also brought back. The Trump administration brought back the Space Council under the vice president. But this was under Vice President Quayle. We met with Quayle a number of times and published this report, the Augustine Report on the future of the space program. But because of the intensity of that activity, I resigned my last year on the school board.
And then, about three years later, some of the political activists in town — a number of women were political activists in our town — tended to be women, many of them — they haven’t run for elections so much as they — behind the scenes. And they approached me, and: would I be interested in standing for election? And I said, “No, I’ve got to make a living.” [laughs] “Kids are out of college, but I’ve still got to make a living.” So, this one lady invited me over, and she sat me down in her kitchen, gave me a cup of coffee, and lectured me on what’s right and what’s wrong in the town, and why I need to do this. So, I ran for election, and I won seven elections; 22 years I served on the township committee. They wanted me to be mayor several times. The council elects the mayor. He’s not elected separately. But I didn’t have time. You know? You couldn’t do everything. So, I refused to do that until I was at NJIT, and then I said, “Well, okay. I’ll be the mayor now, if you want me to be.” So then, I was the mayor for three years in a row, and then I said, “That’s enough.” And then three years later, there was some strife on the council, and they said: you’ve got to be the mayor again. And I said, “One more year, and that’s it.” So, then I was the mayor for a fourth time, and then after the next year, I declined to run for election. I didn’t want to be the Claude Pepper of Harding Township. You know Claude Pepper?
No. Who’s that?
Claude Pepper was a representative from Florida. You know, I could say I don’t want to be the [laughs] Nancy Pelosi of Harding Township. I don’t want to be the McConnell of Harding Township. But Claude Pepper was this well-known representative from Florida who was a representative until his 90s. You know? And I don’t think that’s appropriate. At some point, you need to change. [laughs] And I mean, there are these complaints now about Pelosi and a few of these people at the top. They’re just too old.
Yeah. Lou, for the last part of our talk, I’d like to ask a few broadly retrospective questions about your career, and then we’ll look to the future. The first is: you mentioned at the beginning of our talk: you’re very well attuned to how lucky you have been to be at the right place at the right time, in so many different ways, in terms of where physics was situated at Illinois, or the opportunities that got you to Harvard, or Bell, or your intuition that this would be a great place for space research. I think one of the connecting threads through all of this narrative is that you really came of age intellectually and professionally during the height of American power, what we call the American Century, in so many ways. My question is: were you aware of that at the time, looking back? If we look today to all of the challenges that we face — not that there weren’t challenges 50 or 60 years ago — but did you have a sense experiencing, in real time, that you were really a part of the pinnacle of American power, in a scientific sense, in a corporate sense, even in a political sense? Did these things seem unique historically at the time, or was there never much opportunity to reflect as these things were happening?
It’s very difficult, for me anyway, to answer a question of that nature. It’s very difficult for me to answer a question of that nature. I came from this small town in Illinois where my relatives never — I don’t know that I ever looked at things in that view. I remember there was a recession in the late ’40s when my father was running this grocery store in Cottage Hills. I remember that. So, that was not a pinnacle. And then I remembered the difficulties my parents had in running their little grocery store in Carlinville where we lived above the store, this little bodega, you know, and trying to cater to customers and keep the business going. So, I don’t know whether I ever recognized these kinds of things growing up as a child. And of course, I never — you know, in high school, small town farming towns — in high school, the big emphasis is on athletics, and I could never be a part of that, so that never — you know, athletics were never a part of that. I could never be a part of that. Going on to college then, it just — and graduate school — certainly, America was leading in the space age. There’s no question about that. Harvard was — I did feel that Harvard was in the center.
After Kennedy’s election, he came to Harvard, and I remember — I was in a group — there was a pile of students standing out there cheering him on as he drove up in back of Harvard Hall. I was in the front of that line, so obviously I recognized the frontier, the power at that time, of Kennedy and the presidency. And then his going to the Moon — I remember, of course, the day he was shot. I was in the cyclotron lab. I was building cables for our experiment, soldering connectors on some coax cables that afternoon. But I guess in retrospect, certainly the nation was at its peak in many ways at that time. How we never continued the Apollo program, even at a lower level, still evades me. It still evades me. The shuttle was something that should not have been done. I was in these committees and chairs of committees where we really caused some hard questions — posed some hard questions about the shuttle. But you know, again going back to my relatives, they never complained. They certainly saw — I remember my father talking about this recession. Was in ’48, I think. ’47 or ’48. But I don’t remember them ever complaining about things, and ever — so, whether they thought that they were on top or not, I don’t know. But I know they never complained, my relatives. They were just glad to be here and be able to have the freedoms to do the kinds of things that they wanted to do. There’s some of that missing right now in the United States — people recognizing these freedoms that they have to do whatever they want to do. There’s some of that that’s missing. And maybe it’s missing because we don’t have the same experience of being on top of things. I don’t know.
Lou, on the science side: you’ve authored hundreds of papers. You’ve been involved in countless collaborations and research endeavors and committees. Is there anything that stands out in your mind that gives you the most personal satisfaction, either because you were really central in advancing something fundamental, or just something that was so enjoyable for you to work on, you think about it fondly? What sticks out in your memory?
I think the thing that really sticks in my memory is all the collaborations that I’ve had, all the people that I’ve been so privileged to collaborate with, and the people at Bell Labs that I’ve worked with. In particular, my colleague Carol Maclennan at Bell Labs, who did so much of the fundamental computing and data handling for our various activities, so adaptable to whatever came across our research. She just died a year ago or so, after a stroke. She was my age. Another one is a person at Bell Labs named Les Medford. He was so adaptable and so, so rigorous in his hardware. When he said something worked in the field or in space, it worked. There was never any doubt. And all the other collaborators — universities and companies and nonprofits — I don’t know. Yeah, those are the things that really stick to mind more than any scientific advances. It’s all these collaborators that enabled the understandings that we did.
You know, in terms of scientific understanding. I don’t know. I mean, we did some odd things. I mean one odd thing that we did I’m sort of pleased about is we put a limit on what we think is the poloidal magnetic field at the core mantle boundary from some of the cable research that we did. So, you know, there was research that got spun out of these more practical things. That’s a paper in Geophysical Research Letters. By looking at the — by using a long cable data — this was from California, Point Arena, out to Hawaii, Hanauma Bay. Looking at the DC level, we said that we could say something about the electrical conductivity and the poloidal magnetic field at the core-mantle boundary. It was originally — tried to be looked at by a fellow named Keith Runcorn in England. Now, you know, I’m really proud of that. Not many people look at that. Not many people have looked at that in the past [laughs] or in the future, but it’s there.
One of the things we did — you know, let me — it was also the Bell Labs environment. One thing we haven’t touched on, and I glossed over, and it just occurred to me since you asked this, and it may not be related to what you asked, but these lunch-table discussions at Bell Labs were incredible. I had some eight patents — not very many, but eight patents — and probably half of them originated from lunchtime — or four or five of them originated from sitting around the table at lunch, discussing science. I mean, there was politics at times, no question. But most of the time, it was just science. And it wasn’t just the physics people. It was the people from linguistics, the people from statistics, and the math area, and we’d sit around and bounce around all these ideas, you know, and say: I’ve got this problem. How would you solve this? Or, I need a new filter for this data. Can you do this for me? So different than academia. If somebody in academia has a filter problem, they do it themselves, or they have some graduate student do it. At Bell Labs, you’d wander over to Building 2, and you’d sit down with Jim Kaiser in his office and say, Jim — Kaiser is a very well-known filter expert — Jim, build a filter to do this for me, will you? And he would do it. You know, we had an open-door policy. And that’s the same thing that happened at lunch. I had a visitor from Italy back in the ’80s, and he wanted to meet John Tukey. You know, Tukey spent, I don’t know, two or three days a week at Bell Labs, two or three days a week at Princeton. And I said, “Well, here’s his room number. It’s over in Building 2. Just go over and walk in and say hello.” And he said, “For John Tukey,” he said, “you can do that?” I said, “Sure. We have an open-door policy.” So, he went over, found Tukey’s room, went in. Tukey welcomed him with open arms. They spent the whole afternoon talking about whatever it was they talked about. This guy from nowhere just wandered in, and John Tukey talked to him. And that’s the way Bell Labs operated.
One day at lunch, we were sitting there, and Walter Brown happened to be at this lunch. He wasn’t always at the lunch tables. He had other things to do. But he happened to be there. And there were several people there from math and stuff. And I said, “Look, Voyager is about to get to Jupiter. And Jupiter’s got all this radiation.” This was in ’79, I guess, or ’80. And you know, “All this radiation’s going to hit these icy moons. What’s going to happen to the ice on the moons if this radiation hits it all the time?” I said, “Do any of you guys know anything?” It wasn’t all guys, but you know — Carol was there, and I think Maya was there. And I said, “Do you guys know what happens if you hit ice with electrons and protons?” And nobody had any idea. And Walter Brown said, “You know, that’s an interesting experiment. Why don’t we set up something to do that?” So, he had this accelerator, Van de Graaff accelerator, that they were using for some semiconductor stuff. And so, within about a week, we set up an experiment in the lab where we could fire protons at ice. You know, we put a cold finger in and made ice and fired protons at it and measured what came off and all. And that developed into a science program that probably went on for about eight years, on and off. And I didn’t have a lot of time. He didn’t have a lot of time. But we justified that to AT&T, and again, this comes back to what I said. We justified this on the basis of ice as an insulator, and resists are insulators, and it’s important to understand resists for semiconductor manufacturing. Big deal.
So, for about eight years there, on and off, we did experiments, published a lot of papers, got invited to international meetings. I got invited to most of the international meetings, because it was sort of astronomy, geophysics related. And we published a couple papers in Science on this, a paper in Phys Rev Letters, because we discovered what we called electronic sputtering, for example. And it had not been thought about before. The sputtering rates were much higher than you have for conventional nucleon-nucleon sputtering. But it was one of those lunchtime things that came out. So yeah, I’m proud of that, too. Now, those aren’t referred to quite as much anymore. That field has really gone on. But we built some of the first — and published several papers, actually. You know, the moon Iapetus has a dark side to it, so we published a paper speculating that the dark side could be produced by charged particles interacting with some organic materials on the moon, because we did — we sputtered, and we modified mixtures of ammonia and methane, for example, and looked at the resulting products that you could change and would have implications for interstellar molecules and interplanetary dust and molecules and stuff. So yeah, I’m proud of that. [laughs] It started just as a lunchtime discussion at Bell Labs. So, it’s hard to say what is — all these little things just sort of added up to a wonderful opportunity that I would never have imagined. So, it’s hard to answer — you know, it’s not really related to your question, and I don’t know.
[laughs] What a long, strange trip it’s been.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I was very fortunate. Very fortunate. Everything just — I don’t know — made the right decisions and was provided with opportunities to make a decision. [laughs] Okay. Look. I don’t know whether you — when I got to Harvard, Karl Strauch was my advisor the first year, and he advised me not to take quantum mechanics the first year. And I have never understood that, either. It’s like being advised not to take Latin your first year in high school. I couldn’t figure that out. I had a wonderful course in complex variables from Sydney Goldstein. A wonderful course. Electricity and magnetism from Wally Gilbert. I think there was an atomic physics course then from Bainbridge. But no quantum mechanics. Well, so I took quantum mechanics the second year, and in that quantum mechanics class was several — three or four, four or five — students from chemistry. They would come and audit. It was Kurt Gottfried. Kurt Gottfried was a longtime professor at Cornell. He was a marvelous teacher, Kurt Gottfried, in quantum mechanics. But three or four of these — four or five of these students from chemistry came and audited it. There were three men and two or three women, and one of the women was a cute blonde. And that’s the one I married. So, if I had taken quantum mechanics the first year, would I have met her. Who knows? It’s interesting how life goes, isn’t it?
[laughs] Lou, for my last question, looking forward: maybe the 21st century will also be an American century. That very much remains to be seen. One thing that we can be sure about is that it’s going to be very different from the 20th century and during the core of your research career. Looking forward, what are you optimistic about when you look at the next generation of researchers in the field? What are you optimistic about, both in terms of the science to be discovered and the professional prospects that the next generation has to look forward to?
I look forward to — I think that what we’re going to see, I believe, is these — several things. One is that there’s going to be more contributions by women. My wife is not going to be a singular point, for example. There’s going to be more contributions for women, and I think there are those now, and I’m very pleased to see that. I think the immigration to the United States — the United States has benefitted by the immigration of my relatives, and I think that the immigration one sees now will take roads similar to those that my relatives saw, provided they are given the opportunity and they are not put down, or they are not — how do you say — they are not led to believe that they are different. I was never led to believe that I was different, even [laughs] with the high school guidance counselor, even though I couldn’t figure out — I never believed that I was different. At times now, there’s some emphasis on some folks being different. I think that’s harmful. So, I think in the future, if that’s not the case, we’re going to see a lot of contributions from these individuals, just like I think my generation and our relatives have made to the success of this country.
In terms of science, I’m not sure that I really am very good at understanding where the frontiers of solar terrestrial research are these days — the frontiers of heliospheric research. I think one of the frontiers of heliospheric research is trying to understand the boundary of the heliosphere. And that’s being pursued by a new instrumentation satellite being developed down at Princeton by Dave McComas, for example. I think that more intense studies of the radiation environments and the space environments of some of the planets — even Venus, as a matter of fact — would help us understand the Earth more, better. I think in terms of understanding the Earth, the development of small spacecraft in arrays will give us a lot more information about some of the fundamental physics. The magnetosphere multiscale mission that was launched with four spacecraft looking at reconnection processes at the boundary of the magnetosphere was very important — the Southwest Research Center down in San Antonio — Jim Burch led that operation. I think — but those were bigger satellites. I think with some of the CubeSats and smaller kinds — in arrays, one will get — one needs to get more spatial and temporal data on some of the fundamental space processes, such as reconnection, such as wave generation, such as particle interactions. Those are some of the frontiers close to Earth, I believe, that we will see going forward. And I think if the next generation is provided this opportunity of freedom, we will see some of that.
Lou, I want to thank you for spending this time with me. It’s been a great pleasure hearing all of your perspective and insight over your remarkable career. There’re so many people at AIP who are so happy that we were able to do this. I want to thank you so much for spending this time with me.
Well, thank you for contacting me. I hope that this ultimately will be useful to anybody who may read it going forward.
[laughs] No doubt about that.