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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Haroutune Dadourian by R. Bruce Lindsay with W. J. King on 1964 April 4,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Youth and family life in Turkish Armenia prior to turn of century; time at Yale Sheffield Scientific School and early research interests; World War I work for U.S. Signal Corp; teaching experience and associates at Sheffield School; his book on mechanics; experience at Cavendish Laboratory, 1914; impressions of Joseph J. Thomson, reaction to Niels Bohr's atomic theory. Trinity College in Hartford, state of physics department; his preoccupation with wartime plight of Armenians. Comments on philosophy of science, reaction at Yale University to the theory of relativity, hazards of x-rays, concepts of centrifugal force, indeterminacy and complementarity. Also prominently mentioned is Leigh Page.
Well, perhaps we might begin, Dr. Dadourian, by asking you to say a few words about your early life and education. We know that you were born in what is now part of Turkey, in Asia Minor, but that you are of Armenian origin. Perhaps you might like to say a few words about your early schooling and the kind of subjects you studied which might have given you an interest in your future professional career.
Well, my elementary school work was done in my hometown in Everek, in Turkish Armenia, and in 1893 went to the St. Paul’s Institute in Tarsus to get my secondary education. I was there until 1900. The last two years I taught mathematics there. Then in 1900 I came to this country and landed in New York on October 16, and two days later entered the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University.
How did you happen to pick out Yale as a college?
Dr. Christie, who was the man in charge of the St. Paul’s Institute at Tarsus, had some connection with Yale people, so he suggested that I come to Yale. And then the idea was for me to go back and teach at St. Paul’s.
What sort of school was St. Paul’s Institute? Was it something more than a secondary school, more like a kind of junior college?
Well, so far as the mathematics and the sciences are concerned, it was below the secondary school level. Trigonometry was the highest mathematics course taught there. But in the arts and languages we studied a great deal of subjects. We studied not only Armenian and Turkish but also French and English. The Institute was made possible by a donation of an American, a son-in-law of one of the Vanderbilts, and so it was an American school.
How many students did it have in your time?
I should say under 200. There were six classes; that is, some of the lower classes were elementary school classes.
Was your family a professional family?
My father was a small manufacturer of copper goods. At the time, all the kitchenware and so on were made of copper. He had a shop where these things were manufactured and a store in a separate place where they were sold. But my father was more interested in religious reform. He was a member of the Armenian Church, which is somewhat similar to the High Episcopalian Church. The services were conducted in ancient Armenian, which was not very well understood by the general public, so, for many people, our house became a kind of church on Sundays. As a result, some of those who came to our house for services on Sunday adopted the Protestant Church. The Armenian Church authorities didn’t like that, so they accused my father of being subversive, and he was put in jail for a short time. Then, after that, my father wrote a letter to the Church authorities stating that from now on we will be Protestants. It was a good thing. I was very young then; I must have been eight years old or something like that. I used to play hooky from the Armenian Church school because there were two teachers there in the boys’ school and neither of them paid any attention to me. So, I used to take a square board, which we were supposed to take when we went out to the outhouse, and put it just outside of the door. And then I’d play hooky for the rest of the day. But when my father became a member of the Protestant Church, I was transferred to a Protestant school where there were fewer than 20 boys and girls, and I completely changed and became a very good student there. In that sense it was a very good thing.
Did you begin to develop some interest in mathematics and science at the St. Paul’s Institute?
Yes, I became very much interested, except that we didn’t have any books outside of trigonometry. So I had no chance of studying any more mathematics. When I came to this country I had to enter for undergraduate work.
Did you come to this country primarily because of educational advantage or did your whole family emigrate?
No, I came alone.
Well, tell us a little about the Sheffield School at that time. It had been going some 30 years, I guess, when you entered it. Was it considered an institution of very high rank then in science?
Well, I think it was considered the best institution in the country. It was considered to be way ahead of Harvard or MIT at that time. But even then it was not much a scientific school because it was mainly an engineering school. So, when I took the courses I took electrical engineering because that was the only way to study physics. So, I spent a great deal of time on subjects that did not particularly interest me. For instance, I had three years of drawing and machine design, which was not necessary even for an engineer, it seemed to me. But in graduate school I concentrated on mathematics and physics.
Who were some of your teachers at the Sheffield school do you remember any of them? Let’s see, was Bumstead teaching there?
Oh yes, H. A. Bumstead was teaching. He was the second man; at the time I entered he was assistant professor. Charles S. Hastings was the head of the department and his main interest was physical optics. He lectured to undergraduate classes in physics but in graduate work he didn’t do very much. He wrote a textbook on physical optics, and he also was a consultant to the John A. Brashear Optical Company for their optical work. But he didn’t have very much influence on graduate students.
Wasn’t there an old Professor A. W. Wright at that time?
He was in the academic department, and the academic physics department didn’t amount to very much.
That was Yale College.
Yale College, yes. You see, the two combined much later, in 1919. Bumstead was really the only man in physics who did much research work. There was also Lynde P. Wheeler.
Did you have him as a teacher at all?
I had him for undergraduate work. Since the Yale graduate school did not have any graduate professors, the work was done by volunteer professors. For instance, in the physics department Bumstead and Wheeler, and then later I and some others, gave courses in the graduate school for nothing. And we had to work more for that one particular course than for the undergraduate work we were being paid for.
Where did J. Willard Gibbs fit in? He certainly was teaching something.
Willard Gibbs died the year I graduated, in 1903. So I didn’t have a chance to take a course under him.
Did you hear at all about him while you were there? Was there anything that came down to the undergraduates?
No, the undergraduates did not even know that he existed. He gave some graduate courses, and at that time there were very few graduate students and most of them were not of high caliber.
Wheeler, of course, took his degree and, I think, did a thesis suggested by Gibbs.
Yes. And E. B. Wilson took a course and wrote the book on vector analysis.
What made you decide to go on into graduate work in physics after you had graduated from Sheff?
Well, I was very much interested in geology but I found that I had to do too much memory work in it. And then I thought I might take chemistry, but after taking a freshman course in chemistry, I decided that was not my subject either. So, the only thing left was physics, and I happened to be very good in freshman physics, so I took all the physics undergraduate courses that I could and all the mathematics I could. So, I thought I was better adapted to the study of physics and mathematics than subjects which required more memory work.
I understand you did your thesis work under Bumstead. Could you say a few words about him; what you think of him as a teacher, an investigator and a supervisor of research?
He was very good as a teacher, and he was also the best man we had at the time as an investigator and in the guiding of graduate school work. In fact, he was the only one really in the whole university, for both the Sheffield and academic physics departments.
His work at that time, I think, was mainly in radioactivity, and you went into that, I believe.
Yes, I went into that. Another reason for our becoming interested in radioactivity was the presence of B. B. Boltwood. When I started to do graduate research work, I used to go to Boltwood’s private shop on Orange Street and get the radioactive material from him. That was before he was appointed professor of physics.
You worked, I believe, on radioactivity of air for a while.
Yes, of the underground air and also above ground. I tried to fly a kite and study the radioactivity a thousand feet up, but my kite didn’t work as well as I thought it would.
Inevitably one thinks of those early experiments in radioactivity of air in connection with the later discovery of penetrating radiation, cosmic rays. Was anything thought about that at the time? Did anybody have any suspicion that there might be penetrating radiation that got way underground?
No, our idea was that the underground radiation was due to the presence of radioactive substances in the ground rather than anything coming from above.
Why didn’t you follow that work up later on? You stayed at Yale for a good many years and…
Well, I went to Cambridge in the summer of 1914, and I worked under J. J. Thomson, and at his suggestion I did some work on soft X-rays. Then I came back and the war started. While I was working on soft X-rays, I became interested in writing a book, much to the disgust of Bumstead, because at the time I thought I was going back to Armenia and a book would be more valuable than a couple of research papers. So, I worked on mechanics and published a book in mechanics.
You had been teaching this for some years, I think.
I was teaching from 1906 until 1917. In 1917 I received a telegram from Professor A. Trowbridge of Princeton, asking me to come and see him. By that time we had already entered the war, you see. So I went there and there were several other people: Karl Compton, H. B. Williams, and F. A. Saunders from Vassar to name a few. Trowbridge said that the British had devised a method of locating enemy guns, and we went to work with that. “I don’t know,” he said, “if the government will pay us or not, but for patriotic reasons we should work this summer anyway.” So, on the 1st of July of 1917, 1 went there to work with this group on locating enemy guns, and I stayed there until 1919.
Was this work done at Princeton?
At Princeton, yes.
And was the Signal Corps interested in it?
Yes. In the Signal Corps, I was appointed under the title of aeronautical engineer, because that was the only category they had, you see. Then we were put on pay, and Trowbridge and most of the others went abroad, and H. B. Williams and I were kept there. I supervised the building of the apparatus until long after the war ended and devised a mechanical method of locating enemy guns very quickly, which I called the phonoelement.
This was the notion of registering the sound that arrived at various stations.
Yes. If you have three stations, you take the time of arrival of any sound at these three stations. Then you can plot two curves, hyperboles. Theoretically, the intersection of these two curves is the point at which the sound originated. Of course, on account of the errors and so on, we had to have five or six stations where the sound was recorded, and then the position of the big guns was located.
What did you use for microphones, for receivers? Do you remember?
I don’t remember just now.
You did something, I remember, with tuning forks.
I don’t remember. I have to look it up.
You sent a copy of the paper on calibration of tuning forks from the standpoint of frequency, you know.
I think I have a typewritten brochure somewhere which also describes the method I devised for determining the position mechanically.
This is interesting to me particularly, curiously enough, because this is the same kind of war work I did myself during the Second World War for the Field Artillery. Of course, it had become much more elaborate and we had very elaborate microphones, and all. But the fundamental idea and method was precisely the same; it hadn’t changed at all in this time, of course, but we paid more attention to meteorological difficulties, winds and temperature gradients and so forth. But I was very much interested because yours was very pioneer work, and, as a matter of fact, I think Sir William Bragg wrote a little account of it in his interesting little book called The World of Sound, which was a collection of some lectures he gave at the Royal Institution shortly after the war. He brought in the military implications of sound and the principal one was gun ranging. So, that’s very interesting work. You stayed there for about two years, I guess.
I stayed there two years and then John Zeleney asked me to come back to Yale, but 1 thought I’d better have some more permanent position so I accepted the position as associate professor at Trinity College.
Before you get into a discussion of Trinity, may I ask you a few more questions about your associations at Yale, because I think I know rather well, from my own stay there, many people that you must have been very intimate with, such as J. Zeleney, for one, and then Leigh Page, of course, A. F. Kovarik, D. A. Kreider and F. E. Beach. They are all people I’m sure you knew.
Yes, of course.
Could you say something about your relations with any of them?
Oh, yes. Kreider was not a physicist; he was a chemist mainly, and he was an entertaining teacher for elementary work; he didn’t give any graduate courses. Neither did Beach give any graduate courses.
Did he eat a lot of peanuts when you knew him?
Yes. About the book, the elementary physics books
Hastings and Beach.
The students used to say that there are three people who understand it: Hastings and Beach and God!
You’ve heard the famous limerick about that book, you know. The student wrote in the book: “If there should be another flood! For safety hither fly/Though all the world would be submerged/This book would still be dry.”
Well, I think the dryness mainly was due to the fact that everything was introduced by definition, instead of introducing the subject and bringing in the definition at the climax, at the end, after the students understood what it was all about. For instance, take the kinetic energy, which equals 1/2 my2. And as a result, it was a very dry book. So, I came to the conclusion that the thing to do is not to start with a definition, but use the definition to pull the thing all together, so to speak.
What about Leigh Page?
Page was a very good friend of mine; in fact, his son is my godson, and I used to see him a great deal until his death. Leigh was very good in mathematical physics; he was not interested in experimental work. And he was the first man to be interested in relativity, in 1907 or ‘08. Strangely, Bumstead didn’t think much of relativity and he tried to discourage Leigh Page from going into relativity.
Why didn’t he think much of it?
He didn’t think much of it, no.
Didn’t he think that this was a valid theory, or was it that it just seemed too unreal?
Well, he thought really that it was self-contradictory. He didn’t study it carefully enough, you see. But, in spite of that, Leigh Page continued, and he became very expert on the subject. Let’s see, who else
Well, there’s Kovarik. When did he come?
He came after Zeleney. Zeleney came around 1915, wasn’t it? And Kovarik used to be with Zeleney at Minnesota, and he came after Zeleney came.
I wonder if we can go back to Leigh Page again. What kind of a person was he like?
He was a very quiet type of a person, and in the early days he used to worry about his health, unnecessarily really.
He had a bad case of typhoid fever, think, just about the time he came back to do graduate work. It seems to me Mrs. Page told me once, and this may have made him somewhat conscious of his health.
Yes, he was very conscious of his health, but later he got over it. And another reason may be that his mother was an invalid for a long time and that may have had some effect on him. He was very much interested in investment. His father was very well to do, his father and grandfather. But he was a very likable person.
Somebody told me that when he died he was worth a million dollars. He must have built up those investments.
Yes, I should think so. Of course, he inherited quite a lot, too.
Do you happen to know how Leigh Page got interested in the subject of relativity?
Well, I couldn’t exactly say. Well, from reading about relativity in the journals.
He was almost a contemporary of yours in Sheff; he was in the class of ‘04, and you must have known him somewhat in college, I suppose.
No, I didn’t know him in college.
He didn’t take engineering, I suppose.
He didn’t take engineering, and his father wanted him to become a railroad man or something like that, so he went to one of the Pennsylvania towns and worked on boilers and that kind of thing. And later he taught in a school for a short time, and then came back to Yale-- it must have been in 1907--and stayed on.
But you didn’t know him during undergraduate days.
No, I didn’t know him during undergraduate days.
He was always considered a very fine lecturer in mathematical physics. I suppose you listened to some of his colloquia.
Yes, he was very good. And Bumstead also was a very good lecturer. I think the physicists and mathematicians make a great mistake, especially in graduate work, in carrying the facts and figures and formulas and so on, I mean, through lectures. Take my graduate work on electrodynamics, for instance. At that time Maxwell’s two volumes were the standard books. I think it would have been very much better here for Bumstead to say, “We’ll study these books, and then have discussions.” After all, the number of graduate students were two or three in a class. The thing to do is to have the graduate students study the book, certain sections of it, and come and have a discussion with Bumstead, and to have Bumstead occasionally lecture to supplement and put interest and enthusiasm into the thing. Instead of that, he lectured and we copied, and I think that’s a very bad arrangement.
Page did the same thing.
Everybody did the same thing. I don’t know whether they do it now or not. For instance, a very striking example of it, last year or sometime, a neighbor of ours across the pond, retired captain in the Navy who wanted to go into the teaching of mathematics, took some courses in the University of Hartford on mathematics and the calculus. Now, he came to see me and asked me to explain some of the things he couldn’t understand. He showed me his notebook which consisted of equations and some of the symbolism which was new to me, and apparently he didn’t understand anything about it. “Well, let’s have your book and see what these symbols stand for,” I said. It was an exact copy of what was in the book! In other words, the teacher copied it from the book onto the blackboard, and this poor devil copied it into his notebook, and he didn’t know what it was about. To my mind, the lecture should be confined to arousing enthusiasm, to clarifying, to introducing new things that are not in the book.
Was there anyone at Yale who was doing that?
At the time?
No. I didn’t do it either. Well, I didn’t do it because I was brought up on that kind of a thing. I gave every year one course on electrodynamics, on advanced mechanics, on Fourier seies, and so on. Now, if I were teaching now, I wouldn’t go about it that way, and even if I have something new, I would rather have it memeographed and pass it on beforehand so that the students could study it.
I think that’s an extremely sensible idea, and some have, indeed, tried to do it. I, myself, ultimately adopted that system; in fact, I made the students talk about the material.
Of course, it’s much more difficult.
This is correct.
This is why they put the equations on the board.
Exactly. And especially, equations are put on the board with hard chalk; it’s pressed hard so they can’t see what is being written. And sometimes they put things on the board that shouldn’t have been put on the board. Suppose I were lecturing on relativity and mentioned Einstein. What’s the sense of writing the name Albert Einstein on the board? It makes no sense to me. That’s what people do. A Yale mathematics man came to Trinity about a month ago--I went to the lecture--and he was following that kind of arrangement, putting down the names that were perfectly familiar, writing them out. I don’t know, I couldn’t see the equations; I suppose younger men were able to see them. If you go to Switzerland to do mountain climbing and you have to have a guide, fine; the guide does not take you on his back. All he does is show the way and call attention to the interesting sights, and, if you have difficulty, to help you. Now, that should be the function of a teacher.
How did you happen to get interested enough in mechanics to want to spend so much time writing that very interesting book of yours which went through three editions and made quite an impression? You must, of course, have become interested in the subject earlier and have taught it, so how did this come about? Dadourdian: One of the subjects I used to teach to undergraduates was mechanics; that’s why I became interested. The American books at the time did not satisfy me, so I used J. H. Jeans’* book and that was not quite to my liking. Also, as a result I became interested in the criticisms of Newton’s laws made by Mach, Pearson and others and their attempt to introduce new laws, none of which seemed to be satisfactory. So, that’s why I happened to become interested in writing a book on mechanics.
Dr. Dadourian, what led you to these particular men, to Mach, Pearson and Hertz?
Because they were the critics on mechanics, you see.
Had you gone into that yourself, or was there someone there at Yale who suggested that these men might offer a better approach.
Well, I was teaching mechanics, you see. I was interested in seeing what other people had written and wrote about, and so on.
This was a kind of junior-senior undergraduate course that you started with?
I think they were juniors.
Was this the course which later was taught by E. W. Brown in astronomy? He came over into physics sometime in the late teens or early ‘2Os. *Perhaps, J. H. Jeans, An Elementary Treatise on Theoretical Mechanics, Boston: Ginn and Co., 1907.
Yes, after I left.
Did you know him at all? He was the great authority on the theory of the moon.
Oh, yes, I used to know him, but not very well.
Well, that book of yours made quite an impression.* I thought you might like to know that I looked it up in our library at Brown; we have two of the three editions. I found the first edition there, but I’m happy to say that the second edition was out. Evidently, somebody must still be using that book, that should gratify you considerably. You had an interesting idea there, to develop what amounted to a presentation in terms of your interpretation of d’Alembert’s principle, which I think is a very good way to begin the formulation of mechanical principles.
I wrote something about that and sent it to the American Journal of Physics. I don’t know whether they’ll publish it or not.
This is recently?
Yes, recently. You know, one thing that troubled me when I was an undergraduate, they defined potential energy as the result of the work done against a conservative force, or conservative forces. But kinetic energy was just born without any parent. So, I was looking for some explanation. Why kinetic energy? How does it come about? Why is it one half instead of something else? So, I came across a name for it by A. E. H. Love, who wrote a book on mechanics, in which he called the mass times acceleration the kinetic reaction. So, since I was interested in the negative of mass times acceleration, I called that kinetic reaction, and I said, “Well, when a force does work against frictional forces, then the result is called energy and it is called heat energy. When the work is done against a conservative force, the result is called potential energy, and the expression of it depends on the conservative force which has no definite expression for it.” There are different conservative forces, of different magnitudes and of different measures. And when the work is done against kinetic reaction, then the result is kinetic energy. So you have: - S- mvds
Yes, space integral.
Then you get the measure of kinetic energy.
It seems a rational way of looking at it. Did you find that you had success in getting this viewpoint across to your students?
Well, my students were all very enthusiastic, all of my students.
How long did you keep up teaching mechanics? Did you continue to teach it here at Trinity?
Until I retired. That was one of the conditions on which I accepted the professorship of mathematics, that I would continue teaching *H. M. Dadourian, Analytical Mechanics, 1913, 1916, 1931 Editions. mechanics.
How widely used was the book, do you know?
Not very widely used. In the early stages they used to write to the publishers that if the author would send them solutions to problems, they’d use them. At the end of each Chapter I had some general problems--many of them were taken from English textbooks--and they were rather difficult for most of the teachers who were teaching mechanics at the time. And later the thing diminished because, strangely, the teaching of mechanics in university after university was taken from the physics to the engineering departments. These teachers in engineering are interested in answers, not in the way of getting the answers, so as a result the number of books that was used was small. For instance, at the City College of New York, in the old days mechanics used to be taught in the physics department. One teacher was very enthusiastic about my book. In fact, when I was in New York he asked me to come to meet his class.
That wasn’t J. G. Coffin, was it? He wrote a book on vector analysis. He was a student of Webster.
Yes, I think so. But, later mechanics was taken over by the engineering department, and of course engineers didn’t use my book; it was too difficult for them. One of the things I insisted on was having a homogeneous equation, that is, having every term having the same quality. For instance, an engineer will write down something--suppose it’s energy, you see-- and often not pay any attention to dimensional considerations. My idea was to have every term in the equation with the same dimension. That is, there is no sense in saying that one dollar equals two miles, or something like that. And the engineers don’t pay any attention to the dimensions at all.
Well, they’re getting over that. The modern engineer is quite a different person, I think, from the engineer in your day.
Yes, oh, tremendously different, yes.
Tell us a little bit about your coming to Trinity. You said that when you left the Signal Corps at the end of the First World War, you might have gone back to Yale, but you decided to accept this position at Trinity. What was the situation here with respect to physics. Was Professor Perkins here at that time?
Yes, Perkins asked me to come here. He was here, and the year I came in he was Acting President of the college. The President had resigned, so for one year he was President of the college, and that was the time when he asked me to come and take over the physics department, and also to continue afterwards after he came back to the physics department.
At that time was there just one professor of physics?
Yes. There were only two of us, Perkins and I, because the student body was rather small. I published some papers on soft X-rays and I was going to continue, but Trinity didn’t have any money available for research work. I needed a 2,000-volt battery and I couldn’t get it, so I had to build one, using test tubes as containers of each element. And by the time I had built the battery and set up my apparatus, some papers came out by Karl Compton and two men in the Bureau of Standards; they had already done the work for me. And then the mathematics man died.
Who was the Professor of Mathematics then?
He was a new man, a relatively new man, who came from Columbia. I don’t remember the name now. Then the college asked me if I would take over the math department, and I had a difficult decision to make. At that time my wife was very sick; she was so sick that one of the surgeons said that she would be an invalid for the rest of her life. Fortunately, he was mistaken. And then I liked the idea of staying here in Hartford, in Trinity. So, more or less reluctantly, I accepted. So long as I stayed at Trinity I thought I couldn’t do any research work in the experimental side because there was no money, no mechanic, nothing available; so I went over to the math department.
You still kept up your interest in physics, too.
Oh, yes. I consider myself primarily a physicist. I did almost enough mathematics for a Ph.D. but my main interest is in physics.
How did you get along with Professor Perkins after he went back to physics? Did you have collaboration with him? You must have taught more or less the same students.
Yes. We got along very well. He had a lot of other interests, outside interests, so he didn’t do very much research work except for writing books. He wrote a very good book on elementary physics. And before I came to Trinity he had written a small book on thermodynamics. I think you’re familiar with that.
Yes, yes. I’ve heard of it.
Both he and I had too many outside interests; that’s the trouble.
He was interested in this Institute for the Deaf, I understand.
Oh, yes, he was the president of the Institute, and he was a director of one of the insurance companies, and he was very much interested in church work, and also he was interested in music, I mean, playing himself. Lindsay Well, it is wonderful that he had any time left to teach, let alone research.
Yes, that’s right. He was a busy man.
Was any effort made during that time to bring in other people in physics?
When you went over to mathematics and he came back…
One of the former students, named A. P. Wadlund, was brought in.
Wadlund, of course. I remember him. He actually did some rather important work in connection with the charge on the electron. He remeasured the viscosity of air, and did a very nice job, and this led to a change in the value of ‘e’. But Wadlund died rather prematurely, I think.
Very, very prematurely.
Did he do the work at Trinity?
I’m not sure, but I think it was abroad. I can’t remember. I think he went to Sweden and did some work. He was of Scandinavian origin, now recall.
Yes. My trouble is that from the time I was very young I had too much interest in outside work, I mean, internationally, because of the situation of the Armenians. I was involved in too many things.
Did you ever go back to Armenia?
I went back in 1911. But in 1914 during the war my brothers and everybody else were eliminated. You know, what happened to the Jews in the Second World War happened to the Armenians in the First World War, and I think it was done at the connivance of the German government because Turkey was an ally of Germany during the First World War. The Germans had an idea that the Turks were a dying race, because some publicists said that they all had venereal disease, which was untrue. And they actually published, saying that if it were not for the Armenians, Turkey would fall into their lap like a ripe olive, or something like that. And that’s what they did, and because they got away with murder then, then why not in the Second World War with the Jews, and that’s what happened. And those conditions, as a result, kept me busy for many, many years in many ways. For instance, during the First World War I was chairman of the Defend America by Aiding the Allies Committee in the Hartford area, when the historians and teachers of government and so on were not interested at all until we got into the war. But I was interested because I knew what was coming. So, I think probably I spent far more time and energy in international troubles than on physics or mathematics.
You corresponded a good deal with Armenians who were back there in Turkey and trying to maintain their national identity?
Yes. Not only that, but I was chairman of various organizations in this country, and I wrote a great deal. For instance, in the fall of 1938, about a year before the Second World War started, a group-I don’t know what group it was--asked me to give a talk at the Center Church House. I selected the question whether Hitler is going to attack Russia. After considering the pros and cons, I came to the conclusion that Hitler was going to attack the West. And I wrote it out in a long article, showing why Hitler was going to attack West first and sent it to magazines. Nobody believed in this, and it came back. I sent it to the New York Times and they wouldn’t publish it. I sent it to the Tribune, and there was nothing doing, so eventually I gave it to the Hartford Times and they published it in two sections in March of 1939, six months before the World War began. You know, the British and the French leaders could have sat down for an hour and arrived at exactly the same conclusion I arrived at, if they were not doing wishful thinking; they were hoping and praying that Hitler would attack Russia, so they believed in it. I mean, that kind of thing kept me very busy all the time.
Did you have a good deal to do with helping Armenian refugees come to this country?
Well, I did. While I was at Yale I had quite a number of young men coming there to study, about a dozen of them. And I used to be a member of various organizations.
What do you think of the present situation with the Soviet state of Armenia? Are the people living reasonably comfortably?
Oh, yes. I think they are doing very well there.
Much better than under Turkey.
Oh, well, there is no comparison. Under Turkey they were living underground, I mean, in the literal sense, under the ground. There’s no comparison. The trouble is that Russian Armenia, that is, the present Armenian Republic is only a small fraction of Armenia proper. You see, what happened in the fall of 1914 is that the Turkish government took all the young men of military age into the army, which they had the right to do, and after putting them to work on roads--they didn’t give them any arms-- they killed them all, except the physicians. Then they took all the able- bodied men who were not of military age and put them in prison and killed them, and then drove the rest of the women and children and old men into the Syrian Desert. From a region covering Bulgaria and Greece as far east as the Persian border, from all over--the country was about 400 miles wide and about a thousand miles long--Armenians were scattered all over that region--they were all driven to the Syrian Desert to die of privation.
There aren’t many Armenians living in what is now Turkey at the present time?
Probably not more than 25,000 or 30,000, something like that, most of them in Constantinople.
They are still tolerated, I suppose, as merchants and businessmen.
Not very much. I don’t know what the situation is now, but they don’t amount to anything, the number of people. I have a cousin there who is an old man, otherwise I don’t know very much about the Armenians there.
Were you at the Cavendish Laboratory in the early l920s?
And were you working for J. J. Thomson then?
Under him, yes.
What kind of a person was he?
He was ”the” professor. There was only one professor at the time. He was very nice, once you knew him. And there was at least one Nobel Prize man, C. T. R. Wilson, who was just a reader or lecturer. And I remember I asked one of the men working there, “When is Professor Thomson going to have his vacation? Because I’d like to take a trip to Scotland when he’s away.” He said, “Oh, we don’t ask the professor that kind of a question.” So, I asked Thomson, not being an Englishman myself. I was surprised that it was thought to be an intrusion to ask him when he was going to take his vacation.
What would a typical day have been like at the Cavendish Laboratory? Were you doing experimental work?
Experimental work, yes. And, you know, I needed some glass tubing. I had to go to the chemist and buy the glass tubing.
So you paid for it yourself.
Yes, yes. They didn’t have tubing in reserve. And when you saw J. J. Thomson and Everett, who did the actual manipulations, you would think that Everett was the professor. Everett was just a mechanic; he was told what to do and he did it.
I understand that it’s been said that Thomson was not a very good manipulator with his hands.
No. That’s where Everett came in.
But Thomson had the ideas.
He had the ideas. In fact, you know, in those days, from say 1895 until the First World War anyway, anybody and everybody who amounted to anything in physics in this country or in Europe sometime or other was at the Cavendish Laboratory. He created a tremendous center of physics there.
Well, how did he do that? Was it his personality, or his manner of teaching, or the men around him?
He had his personality, and he, you see, discovered the electron, and he had ideas, and as a result he had some very good men like C. T. R. Wilson, and so on.
He was fairly liberal with his own ideas.
Oh, yes, yes. He made suggestions for the work.
He’d always be going around the laboratory, speaking with the students? Is that it?
I understand that in his later years he was not very hospitable to Rutherford’s notions of the nuclear atom model, and so on. He still kept to the old classical ideas, I think, to a certain extent. This was natural, perhaps; old people tend to be conservative. In fact, I think some people in England felt that he hung on to his job as Cavendish professor longer than he should have, that Rutherford should have had it sooner.
Well, you know, when Rutherford was at McGill, Yale could have had Rutherford.
Yale wanted him, I understand, to come here.
I don’t know why he didn’t come, but because probably he expected to be invited to England.
When did you first learn of Bohr’s ideas on the application of the quantum theory to the atom? Were you in England at that time?
I think that came a little later. I think Bohr’s idea came after 1914.
And by this time you were back in the States again.
Yes, back to Yale.
Were there many men here in the States who picked up Bohr’s ideas when they first appeared, or did you have to go abroad to learn them?
I think most people got the ideas. It was natural because Bohr’s idea was something like the solar system, you see, and it was much more natural than the relativity idea. It was very easy to fall in with the ideas of Bohr.
It was strange though that Leigh Page never liked the quantum theory. He went in for relativity, but he didn’t like quantum theory. He tried, I remember, many times in the ‘20s to see if he could prove that it was contradictory and inconsistent and so forth. He never really enjoyed the notion of quantum mechanics, for some reason or other. On the other hand, W. F. 6. Swann had no hesitation. You never knew Swann, did you?
Oh, I knew him when he was there, yes. I knew him very well.
A very interesting man.
Yes, a very interesting man, a good musician.
Yes, he played the cello beautifully.
I don’t remember why he left Yale.
To go to the Bartol Research Foundation, Franklin Institute.
Yes, I know but…
Well, there must have been politics in the department in your time, and then, of course, the politics was even more active in my time. You see, John Zeleney was chairman, and Swann was director of the Sloan Lab, and it was like having two heads to an elephant.
Yes, that’s right.
I think it didn’t work very well. It worked a little better after McKeon came, because somehow McKeon and Zeleney got along a little better. McKeon, of course, stayed on until he retired. Did you know Lewis McKeon?
Oh, yes, I used to know him. I used to see more of him during the World War. He was working on somewhat similar work as I was.
He’s still alive, though he’s retired. He lives in Rhode Island now, you know. He lives down in Jamestown, the island opposite Newport, and I think he makes his permanent home there, although he comes to New Haven occasionally. I see him once in a while down there. Zeleney, of course, passed on here quite a few years ago.
Zeleney had an idea, he told me just before he died that probably he had too much X-rays in the younger days, in the early days. But I don’t see why he didn’t feel the effect for almost 40 years. But that was his theory. His temperature or something was abnormal just a few months before he died, and he ascribed as a possible cause his being exposed to X-rays in the old days.
They weren’t very careful in those days.
They were not very careful. In fact, an Armenian friend of mine, a physician, died of exposure; her fingers actually dropped off. They used the X-rays without any shielding.
Well, you didn’t work with soft X-rays too long to endanger yourself, I guess.
No, I don’t think so.
You took precautions.
I took precautions, yes.
Was Elizabeth Laird working in that field at the time you were? She did something at Yale, I think, for awhile.
She came in a little later.
She worked in soft X-rays, too.
Yes, she did. She was at Mt. Holyoke.
Did you know Donald Cooksey at all?
He worked in X-rays, of course.
Yes, he did. Yes, he came quite a little later to Yale and got his degree there and continued to teach there until almost his death. Donald, the younger man.
Donald, of course, went West
Oh, I was thinking of the older boy. Donald, also, I used to know and he went West.
Charlton was the older one.
Yes, that’s right. Donald went out to California, to the Radiation Lab. My memory is becoming rather strange because perfectly familiar things, words or names disappear for a time, and then I have to wait before it comes back, you see, a very strange situation. The man in the University of California who introduced the cyclotron
E. 0. Lawrence.
Yes. He got his doctorate degree at Yale.
I was there at that time. I remember that, sure. Did you know Horace Euler?
He was a curious man in many ways.
He certainly was curious, and he was very much excited about the atomic bomb. He was afraid that the earth might explode, so he wrote a letter to the New York Times.
He was afraid that when they made those experiments in the Pacific, they would pierce the ocean floor and let all the volcanic effects come out, and the earth would blow up.
He was interested in spectroscopy. He took many, many pictures. In those days spectroscopists didn’t have any theory, you see, for spectroscopy, and so they kept on taking pictures all the time.
He became rather queer in his old age. I know after he retired he moved up here to Meriden and he began to get very interested in religion, and he started to look through the Bible to find all the pornographic parts in the Bible, in order to prove that there was something bad about religion. It was really a shame, too bad the way he went, because he was a very keen man. He also got interested in mathematics from a strange viewpoint. Maybe you remember. He got interested in number theory; he would calculate pi out to a hundred places.
Oh, my, yes, a tremendous number of places. And logarithmic tables he was interested in. Well, he must have followed Mark Twain’s footsteps. Have you seen Mark Twain’s latest about letters from heaven?
I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t read it.
I read it. Well, the first one is fairly interesting, but most of the book isn’t interesting at all.
Dr. Dadourian, where did you learn of wave mechanics during the ‘20s? Was that from the journals again?
From the journals, yes.
You also got interested, of course, in connection with your work on mechanics, in these problems of foundations, what you might call philosophy of physics. So, you must have read rather widely in Eddington, Bridgman, Duhem, Poincaré, and so on.
Oh, yes, I’m interested not only in the philosophy of science but also in philosophy in general; I have been always interested in it, and I have done a lot of reading.
Actually, was this something of a reaction to your own training in the university? I have been thinking about both your own experience and the experience of Leigh Page at Yale. Leigh Page didn’t learn about relativity at Yale and said he went outside…
No, I didn’t mean that. He learned about relativity by reading while at Yale.
He was at Yale, but it was outside his own college work.
It had to be, because Einstein’s paper is 1905, and he graduated in 1904 from Sheff. He didn’t come back to graduate work until 1907 or ‘08. And then he read this, of course, and by that time the thing was several years old.
But, nevertheless, at Yale the idea of relativity was not looked upon with approval.
Not by Bumstead, and some of the others didn’t have ideas on the subject anyway.
Well, it was rather obscure.
Yes, but this was outside the framework, or outside the community at Yale. And your own interest in the philosophy of science was outside.
I mean, you were not using the work that they were using at Yale. You turned to writing your own book.
Yes, that’s right. Now, one of the statements by Bumstead that I remember in connection with relativity was, he said, “You know, the Jews have quite a number of first-class men, but they have never produced a man of the same caliber as, say, Newton, not very topnotch.” You see, in connection with relativity, he downgraded Einstein.
Do you think it might have been because of his anti-Semitism?
I don’t think it was anti-Semitism, but he was making a statement. Because Einstein’s work, you see, became popular and the name became popular. His reaction I don’t think was anti-Semitic, but he was saying in a way that after all, Einstein is a first—class physicist, scientist, but he has not reached the top, you see, and can’t possibly reach the top. But later, I suppose he changed his mind about the situation. You see, this was long before he died.
He died at about 1920.
1920, yes, on the way from Chicago, in the train. He used to smoke too much.
So did Leigh Page.
Not as much.
Well, in his earlier days. I think later in life he stopped somewhat, but…
But I understand he used to smoke even in the bathtub, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was one reason he died relatively young.
One of the first things I remember in going to Sloan Lab when I went there in 1923 was to see Bumstead’s picture hanging up in the library; it had just been painted, but it hadn’t been painted from life because he died, you see. So, they got some photographs, and the artist painted his picture from photographs, and it still hangs in the library of the Sloan Laboratory there. This is not so common now, to paint pictures of celebrated professors, as it was years ago. I don’t know that any picture was ever painted of Willard Gibbs.
No, there is a very good photograph.
That reminds me again to ask: how well did you know Lynde P. Wheeler?
I knew him very well.
He wrote a biography of Gibbs, quite an interesting work.
Yes. I knew him very well and I knew his family, too. I used to visit them. In fact, I got a letter that I have to answer. One of his sisters wrote that her sister, who was a professor of music at Wellesley has recently retired, Hattie Wheeler.
Oh, is that so? I didn’t realize that. Lynde himself died only two or three years ago. He lived to be a ripe old man; he was over 80.
Yes. And he looked very well almost up to the time of his death.
He’d been rather active. He’d been a consultant with a firm, somewhere in Boston.
I was surprised when I heard of his death from one of his sisters.
Kreider died only not too long ago, two or three years also.
Yes. He lived down in Pennsylvania, I think. He was a Pennsylvania-Dutch.
As you were saying, he was a rather amusing man. I don’t really think he knew very much physics. As you said, he was really a chemist.
He was a chemist, and he didn’t practice chemistry, so he wasn’t much of a chemist either.
But he liked to give these demonstration lectures; he was considered very good at that, and he also liked to joke, you see, and tell stories. I remember there was one, they used to tell me, where he would have a bowl of red-colored water, red ink, in a dish on a turntable. And he would say, “Now, gentlemen, watch me, and I will show you how the Israelites crossed the Red Sea.” And he would whirl the thing around and say, “Look, the red! See!”
Yes. In those days--I don’t know whether they do it now or not--the senior class used to make comments about the professors, the best teachers, the worst teachers, the most egotistic, and so on and so forth. Kreider used to get to be the best teacher on the academic side, and an instructor of mathematics, who became later president of a Scandinavian college in this country--a man whose name I don’t remember-- used to be considered the best teacher in math. Well, that shows the undergraduates’ way of evaluating a person. Now, that mathematics man who used to get the honor of being the best teacher year after year just never went above an instructor’s position because he used to tutor and make more money than he could possibly make as an assistant professor and so on, you see. And he carried his tutoring methods into the classroom. So, to my mind, it was the poorest way of teaching, really-getting the answer. Well, I used to tell my students that getting the answer is very important if you are an automobile salesman. Your success depends upon the number of automobiles you sell. That’s the answer. But the answers to the problems are listed at the end of the book: you can’t eat it, you can’t sell it, you can’t do anything with it. It’s of no value at all. It’s the process of getting there; getting the answer is the important thing, not the answer itself. But this man was mainly interested in helping students to get the answer. So, as a result, he used to get the honor of being the best teacher. If you want to find out who is a good teacher and who is not, you have to ask his students 10 years after they have left college, after graduation, and then you have a really good estimate as to who is a good teacher and who is not.
Looking back, whom do you think was the best teacher you ever had?
I think Bumstead was the best teacher, but as I say, he followed the regular way of lecturing in graduate work. He could have been an even better teacher, especially in graduate work, because the student was supposed to be serious and there were very few, so a discussion method or seminar method would have been very effective, much more effective than the lecturing method.
Have you followed the careers of some of your own former students to see what they’ve done?
Well, some of them, yes. The most prominent one is a Professor at the University of Illinois. His name is Daniel Alpert. He recently was elected a life trustee of Trinity College. Last summer, when the new mathematics and physics building was being opened, he was invited to give a talk on the thing. He said something that I didn’t realize that I was any good at. He said, “While English is not Professor Dadourian’s mother tongue, I learned more how to express myself clearly and concisely from him than from anybody else.” So, I must be a better professor of English than of physics and mathematics. On my 80th anniversary some years ago, former students of mine gave me a dinner, and he came to it. And another man who majored in physics and then got his doctorate degree somehow or other had gone to Macy’s and became the Vice President of the Macy Corporation. He died, unfortunately, recently. He came and brought his son to this 80th anniversary. When I retired the trustees and the faculty gave a dinner to the retired professors; it was the first time they did that. Perkins and I were the only ones there at the time; there were two other retired professors but for some reason or other they didn’t come. One of the professors was sitting next to this man, and to make conversation, he said, “Are you going to stay for the commencement exercises?” This was the Friday evening before the commencement weekend. He said, “No. I came to hear Dadourian. I’m going back to New York tonight.” So that impressed this man very much. Then the Jesters, which is the college players, gave a play in which they impersonated some of their teachers, members of the faculty, and I was one of those honored. And the man who represented me had his class in front of him and said, after some remarks, “Gentlemen, there are four kinds of fools: there are fools, and damn fools, and goddamn fools, and you!” So, various versions of that circulated all over Trinity.
You mentioned that you became head of the mathematics department here rather than leave Trinity College. What was the great attraction of Trinity College here?
I’ll tell you. As I said, my wife was mortally ill almost: in fact, she was in bed for three years. And I was getting older you know. In those days there was no demand for physicists: the colleges were not expanding much, and industry didn’t have any, except for General Electric and Westinghouse and the Telephone Company. When I came to Trinity I thought I might do some consulting work with manufacturers. So, I went to see I (?) P (?) , whom I happened to see a great deal of later because we became members of a small group, a conservation group. I asked him if there was any possibility in Hartford--Hartford at that time was a manufacturing town--for consulting work, and he said, “Mr. Dadourian, Connecticut manufactures bolts and nuts and so on. They are not interested in experiments, and there’s absolutely no chance; they do the same thing over and over again.” That was the situation in those days.
Among the various philosophers of science you have read, whom do you feel is the most realistic?
Well, it’s difficult to say. What do you mean by “realistic”?
Well, this is why I’m asking the question. I’m interested in knowing what you consider to be real. I noticed in the article which you sent me on centrifugal force, you use the term “real” in that. So, I’m interested in learning what you meant by the term “real.”
What I mean is that it’s more objective, more reasonable. Now, for instance, defining kinetic energy as 1/2 (my2) without bringing out how this comes out, taking the thing out of the air without any preliminaries, is not realistic, you see.
Yes. Well, in the article you sent me you distinguished between two kinds of forces, and in one case there’s a temporal sequence; the force is in existence before and it produces an effect. In the other case, the force arises as a reaction. So, you make the distinction there between these two forces. One you call a reaction, such as the centrifugal force.
Well, you see it’s not a force. What I mean by that--I’m glad you brought that in-—is that you define equilibrium as being the case where there is no acceleration. That’s one way of putting it. And you also have equilibrium when the vector sum of the forces is zero, and as a result there is no acceleration. Now, when the so-called centrifugal force, if it is a force, is equal and opposite to the force that keeps the body in circular motion, the body is said to be in equilibrium, and there should be no acceleration. But there is acceleration. So there is a contradiction, you see. That was brought out very clearly by Heinrich Hertz in his book on mechanics, but nobody paid any attention to it. In this article I wrote I began to quote a physicist and an engineer, making perfectly absurd statements, contradicting each other, contradicting themselves in the New York Times as a result of a comment made by the science editor of the New York Times, who was explaining why artificial satellites don’t drop down to the earth. And these two men made perfectly absurd statements. They were confused, both of them-- one of them was a physicist, as he stated, a young man I suppose. The reason was that they were using the word “force” which is not a force in the sense in which the term is used in connection with equilibrium, so you had to make a distinction there. So, I don’t call the mass times acceleration the negative of a force; I call it a kinetic reaction, give it a different name. When we give two different persons exactly the same name, then you get into trouble, don’t you? That has been the case in physics; I don’t see why it should be kept going without any correction. These people said, in connection with it, “It is not a force; it is a brake force. It’s put in to produce equilibrium,” and so on. If it is not a force, why call it a force? They said it is an imaginary force. Why does an imaginary force come into physics? What does a person’s imagination have to do with imaginary, non-existent things in physics? They were contradicting themselves. And if these people were just ordinary people and not professional people, I wouldn’t mind it. But that is the situation all over the country. The time is long overdue to revert that situation.
Perhaps we’ve been writing too many equations and not listening to what’s behind the equations.
Well, this is not a matter of very great importance from the point of view of the development of physics further and further, but it is important from the pedagogical point of view, to clarify the situation for the undergraduates. I don’t pretend that I have discovered something that would lead to something new, not,at all, but clarifying the foundation of physics, is of some importance.
Do you recall your reaction to the introduction of the new wave mechanics, whether you felt this was a logically consistent...
I think so, yes.
You felt this was a natural outgrowth.
Yes. I’d like to ask Dean Lindsay about the complementarity. What do you think of that? I am very much interested in that.
Well, no one questions that the indeterminacy principle, as laid down by Heisenberg, is certainly a valid deduction from the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics, and it is a very useful theorum. It’s really, in that sense, a law deduced from the principles of quantum mechanics. And you can actually use it, for example, in estimating widths of spectral lines. In other words, it has a definite application. But, now, there were people, the philosophers, who said, “Aha, this principle whi.ch is developed by the physicists now shows that there is no longer det,ism in physics; therefore, there is no longer determinism in science. Therefore, determinism in general has been proven false.” And so, many philosophers then were led by that to say, “We must go back to free will.” Well, this is one aspect. Now, the other was that Bohr, who was not quite so silly as that, certainly--I’m sure, because he was a very deep thinker--nevertheless began to think that this indeterminacy has a wider application than just to physics, because somehow it suggests that no matter what kind of experience you’re trying to describe, there are mutually exclusive ways to do it. There is never just one way in which you can describe an experience.
You have a choice always of either you do it entirely this way, or you do it entirely that, or you may, if you like, make a mixture, but you can’t have it both ways, equally and simultaneously. And this was his idea of complementarity; that is, in the case of quantum mechanics, either you have a chance to use the purely kinematic point of view of fixing position in space and in time with precision, or you have the alternative of the dynamic point of view where you can measure the velocity and energy of the system that is being discussed. But you can’t have it both ways simultaneously with the same order of accuracy. What you can obtain in the accuracy of fixation, say of position of an electron, you lose in the knowledge of its velocity; what you gain in the precision of finding out exactly what time an event takes place, you lose in the energy that corresponds to the system that partakes of that event, and so on. Now, there’s no question that this is a very interesting point of view, and I think most physicists accept it. But Bohr here, I think, was unwilling to stop. He said, “Now, this has a larger connotation, not only in physical things but in all events in the range of human experience. There is this complementarity. You have a choice of discussing things from complementary points of view. You are always forced to these exclusive points of view.” He gave many examples.
Two of them are of very common knowledge, and they are very interesting, whether you believe in them or not. At any rate, they are very suggestive. One is, of course, the attempt to understand life. Now, he says, there are two ways in which you can try to understand the nature of the living organism. You can adopt the analytical approach. By that, he means, you can take the organism pieced bit by bit and just examine what each little piece is for, what part or role it plays in the operation of the organism as a whole. But there’s one unfortunate thing about that: by the time you get to the last piece you haven’t got a living organism, and therefore you haven’t really understood it. The analytical method breaks down ultimately. But,now, the complementary point of view is that you just examine how the organism behaves, you see. You just look at it, and you see that it does this, and does that, attiso on. It stays alive, presumably all the time, but you really never do find what makes it tick. All you observe is what it does. And you don’t have an explanation. So, you see, you again forgo a complete explanation of life, if you use simply the observational point of view to which the analytical point of view, on the other hand is again complementary. Then he went even further and decided he would use it in such a field as sociology. Then he says) let us take concepts, such as the concepts of love and justice. These are mutually complementary viewpoints because insofar as you treat a person with complete love, you cannot do him justice, and if you treat him completely justly, you do not show him love. Well, I tried it on my classes, and it’s very interesting. They don’t agree!
I agree with you that the indeterminacy principle has nothing to do with the freedom of will. I think the philosophers are all wet in their deduction from it.
Why? Well, it’s up to the philosophers to say why they think that proves freedom of will. There’s no relevance to the thing, no connection with the freedom of will. Look at the indeterminacy principle from the point of view that the things one measures are of the same order as the means by which we measure them, and that’s where the indeterminacy comes in. For instance, if you want to determine the position or the speed of an electron, you have to use something very much smaller than it, some proton or some particle which is very much smaller than the electron. Now, when you come to the subatomic problem, what you are measuring and what you are measuring with are of the same order of magnitude, and that’s where indeterminacy comes into play, and there is no connection From that you cannot arrive at any conclusion as to whether human beings have freedom of will or not.
Phillip Frank, who is a very well-known philosopher of physics, has written a rather interesting series of articles on this general question of philosophical mis-interpretation of physics, and he discusses this rather well in one of his books.
Well, perhaps we have been discussing serious matter long enough. This is the end of the interview with Dr. Dadourian.