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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Karl Darrow by Henry Barton and W. J. King on 1964 June 10,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Studies in Europe, 1912; graduate study under Robert A. Millikan at University of Chicago; employment with Western Electric Co. and Bell Labs, 1917-1956; brief time doing experimental work on the "carbon microphone" and long distance sound detectors; review articles on contemporary advances in physics, 1920s-1930s; description of early meetings of American Physical Society (APS); 1933 visit to European centers for physical research; work on the relationship between commercial and basic research in physics. Organization and growth of APS, his terms as Secretary, 1941-1956, during which he introduced "invited papers" to major meetings; problems within APS and within the area of physics in general; his role in fostering international cooperation in physics. Outside interests. Also prominently mentioned are: Hans Albrecht Bethe, William Lawrence Bragg, Percy Williams Bridgman, J. J. Carty, Arthur Holly Compton, Clinton Joseph Davisson, Arthur Jeffrey Dempster, Enrico Fermi, James Brown Fisk, Harvey Fletcher, James Franck, Lester Halbert Germer, H. E. Ives, Frank Jewett, Arthur Lunn, Albert Abraham Michelson, George Braxton Pegram, Isidor Isaac Rabi, Frances Orr Severinghaus, William Francis Gray Swann, John Hasbrouck Van Vleck, Harold Worthington Webb; American Institute of Physics, United States National Bureau of Standards, and University of Chicago.
Karl, when you came in, was the Society able to get along with not more than two or three parallel sessions or was it already more advanced than that? Do you recall?
I would think so, but this is a question to which I should rather look up the answer. If would be in the files of the Physical Review.
Yes. That can be found. You spoke last time about the change in character of the meetings from the time when you and I first remember them. At that time, when practically everyone was in the same session, the speeches could be more general and didn’t have to be so specialized. I wonder if that change was marked by that time.
I would say that the change was beginning. I may have mentioned this when I last spoke before this machine, but in my first 20 or 25 years with the Society, I had a reputation for asking questions after papers. The reason was that for every paper there was a general audience, so that it was instructive to many to hear general questions asked. Now if I were to go into a session I should probably find it all full of, say, specialists in neutron physics, and neither they nor anyone else would relish questions designed to make what the speaker had said clear to people who were not neutron physicists.
I think we did touch on that last time.
Yes, we did. We need not develop it, then.
The Society still had to find another way of doing it, to cross-fertilize, so to speak, to give the whole membership some information on these more recently developing fields in a form they could understand.
Let us say the Society should have looked for one. I’m not aware that we were ever very successful in finding one.
Well, I wondered about the invited papers, Karl. Didn’t you have a good deal to do with getting those started?
So far as I know, I am the originator of the idea of invited papers. I can remember George Pegram saying, in my very early days when I asked if it was all right to invite speakers, that occasionally they would have a symposium and, in effect, he brushed off the question in this way. It was clear that he had no experience with, or enthusiasm for, the idea of invited papers. So I think I will arrogate to myself credit for them, and it is perhaps the best thing I ever did for the Society.
Well, I think that you did start them and they certainly have been very valuable for the Society.
Dr. Darrow, may I ask a question as to why you felt there was a need for these invited papers?
Well, it’s hard to think back 25 years. I think the answer to the question is really a paraphrase of it. The idea looked good to me, but why it looked good to me, I cannot say.
Perhaps it wasn’t so clear then, but from the standpoint now of what we have just said — that there was some need for non-specialized information for those not specialists in fields — this was the best way I can think of that the Society might fill that need.
Of course, invited papers of late years have become pretty specialized, too, apart from those in the general interest sessions that we have inaugurated only in the last couple of years.
General interest sessions?
At the latest New York meetings.
Perhaps I’ve missed something here, Karl. You don’t mean the big ones?
Yes, I do mean those meetings, but perhaps you missed the particular sessions of which I am speaking. We had one at the New York meeting in ‘63, and we had three in the New York meeting of ‘64. The one which was the debut, the one in ‘63, was signalized by the fact that we had Viki Weisskopf as one of the speakers and, owing to him primarily, the largest hall in the Statler-Hilton was so overfilled that when I left at the end of one of the papers, I could not get back in. I always wondered why the Fire Department didn’t enter and clear the hall.
I do remember that talk. I didn’t realize it was a planned thing.
Another speaker at that session was Alpert, whom I invited from the University of Illinois to speak about low pressures, and the third speaker has escaped my mind at the moment, but the three — wait a minute, now — it’s almost coming back. The third speaker was Dirac. Yes, it was between Weisskopf and Dirac that I went out at the request of the President, I think, to get the lighting improved, and I was never able to get back in.
I think we ought to go back a little earlier than that, though, and talk about the way in which the Society evolved. Do you have any pattern of reminiscence which might carry us through the evolution of the Society?
No. Off-hand I think of nothing in particular. The increase in the number of meetings, perhaps, in the last scores of years. First, the introduction of the so-called March Meeting to provide for the divisions of solid state physics — no, I must change that a little. The original idea was to provide an extra meeting for the divisions to use as their meetings of prime interest. We did not know which divisions would take advantage of that, but almost immediately the division of solid state physics leaped in, and then the division of high polymer physics, and lastly the division of chemical physics. That series of March Meetings which goes from place to place around the country, is one of the innovations of my time, and another is the sequence of Southwestern meetings which we owe to the initiative of W.V. Hausman. They have been small and extremely nice meetings; extremely nice because of being small. Only there does one still find the atmosphere of my early days in the Society.
As I recall it, there was a conscious attempt to reduce the size and number of papers at the national meetings at one time; in part, by the establishment of regional meetings and sections. Am I right in remembering that?
Certainly that was one of the ideas, even though at the time of which I speak, in New York and Washington meetings were what we would now call reasonable. Meetings were not huge ones. But that was the idea. And like many areas of physical research in late years, solid state physics has proliferated so enormously that in addition to having, perhaps, four- fifths of the papers of the March meeting, they send in quite a lot to both the New York and the Washington meetings.
In a sense, we were struggling against that tide in physics
An experiment which failed was that of the Metropolitan Section which at one time we hoped would draw a considerable number of contributed papers and thus alleviate the New York meeting. But we found this was a completely forlorn hope. Nobody wanted to send his paper to that poor little section, and it was finally dissolved after a final meeting at which I think there were only 26 in attendance.
I had something to do with that section, too, and it certainly did fall flat on its face. People didn’t want any more meetings unless they were real meetings. In the New York area particularly, they didn’t want any more meetings.
It was, however, the only section that has ever died. The other four sections are still flourishing, and the Southeastern section, in particular, manages to be a little Physical Society of its own. They meet now, I think, for three days at a time, and they’ve got a considerable number of contributed papers. The New England section gets just a few. The Ohio section and the New York State section operate with invited papers only. This I know to be true in the New York State section; the Ohio section may have an occasional bunch of contributed papers.
Dr. Darrow, these are some of the problems that the American Physical Society has had to face in the past few decades; the matter of specialization, and the matter of the meetings being too large. Are there any other major problems that the American Physical Society has had to face during this period?
Of course the problem of the journals. But that is a problem of which you should ask the managing editor and not myself. And the problem of finances, but that is a problem you should ask the Treasurer and not myself.
On the organization of the annual dinner, Karl; there were dinners, there were invited guests at the speakers’ table before you took these on, but they certainly expanded. You developed that into a very nice occasion. Did you have this in mind when you came in as Secretary?
I don’t know whether I did or not. I have a vivid memory of Dayton C. Miller, long-time Secretary and for two years President of the Society, getting up at his place at the speaker’s table at the end of the banquet and saying: “By the custom of the Physical Society, there are no after dinner speeches.” Do you remember that, Henry?
No, not clearly. But I do remember there were times when there weren’t any, so that must have been one of them.
I think we must have occasionally had after dinner speeches by Arthur Gordon Webster, though his time overlapped mine by only a few years. I mean of course my time as an attendant at meetings in the East (Webster died in 1923). And I know we had a number by the late W.F.G. Swarm whose wit and whose extreme skill in after dinner speaking always made him welcome. So I would say the institution of after dinner speakers did not begin with me, though probably it became more the system after my Secretaryship began.
I think so. And then I think you were also interested in foreign guests. Guests from other countries often enlivened those occasions rather more than our people did — people like the Braggs.
Yes. I can remember an occasion in Washington which was in Arthur Compton’s Presidency, thus before my time as Secretary by several years. The year was 1934, and the nation was beginning to come out of the great depression. Quite a number of men in the hall were wearing tuxedos — not only those at the speakers’ table for which table the practice must have been established before my Secretaryship, but also among the audience. Well, Arthur Compton serving as President and thus as toastmaster said that it was nice to see this sign of the waning of the depression. I shuddered inwardly, because there beside Compton was sitting Lawrence Bragg (not yet, I think, Sir Lawrence) and he was not wearing a tuxedo. With his usual quick-wittedness and sense of humor, Bragg rose and said, “It is very fitting for me not to be wearing a tuxedo, since I come from a country that owes you money.” — W.H. Bragg (later Sir William), Sir Lawrence’s father, did not address the Society at any time that I recall, though I heard him at the University of Chicago in 1914 and Harry Barton has heard him at Cornell. [This paragraph is a revision of the original transcript made by Dr. Darrow in March 1970.] It must be admitted that our foreign guests don’t always time their visit to coincide with our dinners.
Dr. Darrow, would you want to compare the early meetings of the Society, such as they were when you first went to these meetings, and the meetings at a later date, say during the ‘40’s and ‘50’s? What important changes do you feel have taken place in these meetings?
Well, just the changes which I think we have already discussed. The increase in size which has lead to increased specialization in the sessions, and the increase in attendance which has converted the lobbies of the hotels into subway jams. The old tradition, of course, in Washington, when the meetings were really conducted on the lawns of the National Bureau of Standards, vanished when the National Bureau of Standards became the host to only one session at a time. Even now I think nostalgically of riding in the Connecticut Avenue street-car all the way from the Raleigh, our now-vanished hotel of my early years (it was at 12th and Pennsylvania, N.W.) to the Bureau. Where the cars crossed the Calvert Street bridge we looked down upon the treetops, and that for us Northerners was the first glimpse of the fullness of Spring.
Can you say something in general terms about the influx of physicists from Europe, which certainly had a profound effect on the Society toward the end of that time when we met out on the lawn of the Bureau of Standards? That was a change in the character of the Society, it seems to me.
Part of this change consisted in the selection for the Presidency of physicists who had been not only born abroad but had achieved fame abroad before they came to the U. S. Michelson and Rabi were not of this category, having been brought to the U. S. A. in childhood. Instances were Fermi and Bethe, Witner, Uhlenbeck and Weisskopf.
But I remember that it did introduce quite a different element into the Society, a very alive, very vigorous, very stimulating element, although there were some people who sort of basically wished that it could still be the old American Physical Society.
Of course, it introduced theoretical physics to the Society in a big way. The Society of our earliest days, long before I became Secretary, had relatively little theoretical physics in it.
Was Franck ever President?
But there were others. It would be of interest to have your impression of some of the Presidents. You once spoke about the privilege of having known a man like Fermi, and I wonder if there were others, too?
Some of the Presidents were very interested in the work of the Society, some of them were obviously not much interested but did their duty faithfully, and a few were not interested at all and rushed through the Council meetings. Perhaps I’ll not name the last. Both Bridgman and Fermi felt compunction about becoming President. Probably because both wanted to reserve all their time for research, and rather scorned organizational and administrative positions. Bridgman, however, was easily persuaded after he was told that there were no financial problems; but to get Fermi to serve it was necessary for Rabi, Chairman of the Nominating Committee which had nominated him, to tell Fermi that he, Rabi, was not going to convoke the Committee again. They were busy and important men and they had other things to do than to look for a new candidate for the Presidency. At least that is what Rabi said in my hearing. What he said privately to Fermi, I do not know. But I know that Fermi withdrew his refusal. Fermi may have had some insidious feeling of waning health. I know that he died before the year after his Presidency was out. On the other hand, I have no reason to think that nearly three years earlier, when he was nominated for Vice President, he felt his health failing. But of course Fermi and Bridgman were, among all the people we have known, two of the most determined to shun all kinds of work which were not their own research.
Dr. Darrow, what do you feel is the function of the President of the American Physical Society?
The Constitution says nothing about this except that he must name the Tellers of Election, also the Tellers when an amendment is before the membership at large to vote. The By-Laws say nothing about it except that the President is expected to deliver a retiring Presidential address at the end of his term. This is perhaps a peculiarity of our Constitution; it assigns practically no functions to any officer, leaving the officer to deduce from his title, or anything else, what he is supposed to do. I suppose the By-Laws say that the President shall preside at the Council meetings, but I’m not even sure as to that, so that the Presidency is really what the incumbent makes of it. Harvey Fletcher went to work immediately and introduced, or caused to be introduced the amendment to the Constitution which extended the franchise to members from the Fellows who previously had had a monopoly of it, and also the amendment which created the Nominating Committee so that the Council no longer nominated the officers. At the moment, I recall no other President who has taken an active role in putting through amendments to the Constitution. There was, some years ago, if you will remember, a Committee appointed to recommend amendments to the Constitution, but I have forgotten whether it was the President who inspired this. I think it may have been. I think the President in question may have been Frederick Seitz. Apart from these cases, amendments to the Constitution and to the By-Laws have been mostly little procedural things that I have put through myself. And another thing which was perhaps, not quite little, nor procedural, substituting for the requirement that Councilors be elected by majority vote, simply the requirement that the two leading candidates should be the elected councilors. Now let me think, what were the amendments that they most lately put through? There is the amendment, of course — I’m sure Frederick Seitz was responsible for this — which continued the sitting of a President upon the Council for five years instead of three after his Presidency and the amendment which introduced the office of Vice President-Elect. The point here was that in the early days of the Society, a President was allowed to serve two consecutive terms and generally did. It was felt about 1930 that there were so many great men worthy of the Presidency that we’d be restricting opportunity if we didn’t cut the Presidency down to one term at a time — one year at a time. Ever since then there have been people who have felt that that meant the President didn’t stay long enough on the Council to become really deeply versed in the Society’s problems. And so this latest flock of amendments was instigated primarily in order to have each person who starts the climb to the Presidency stay on the Council for a total of eight years. I have reflected with interest that if we had gone on cutting the term of the President in proportion to the membership of the Society, the President now would be serving only about three weeks at a time.
Presidents have certainly reacted differently to their offices. There have been times when either through the President, or through others, the Society has been urged to get into public matters such as the Bill to establish an Atomic Energy Commission. I remember there was a lot of fuss about that. By and large, however, would you say that the Society has fought shy of such things?
It certainly has. I have always considered this, all such things, as the affair of the Institute. I’ve always been glad that the Institute was here to take charge of such affairs. You will remember that we had a President who felt that the Physical Society should do the things that the Institute was doing. But, as I used to say at the time, the time to have arranged for that was the time when the Institute was founded, and the next thing to have done would have been to choose a Secretary who was an empire builder instead of a Secretary who was entirely satisfied to conduct only the meetings. Since neither of those things were done, the situation by, shall we say 1950, had become essentially irreversible, even had anyone wanted to reverse it.
Yes, I agree with you. The choice was made at the time you indicate. Then the Physical Society might have chosen to become like the American Chemical Society, and I think it did not.
They would have required for that a hard-working Secretary with a desire to enlarge his functions and build up a big staff around him.
So you would say, then, that the Institute of Physics, the existence of it, has enabled the Physical Society to remain more strictly a learned Society.
I think there can be no doubt of that statement. And I can’t imagine anyone thinking the contrary.
And by and large the membership seems to be fairly well satisfied with that. They wouldn’t have much time, the way meetings go, to devote their attention to anything else, would they?
Now, I’m not sure that I understand the bearing of your last remark — the members or the officers?
I meant the members as a whole. If any great issues of a public nature should come up, there really isn’t much time for the membership as a whole to give attention to them at meetings — at national meetings.
Do the members of the Chemical Society give attention to political problems at their national meetings?
I don’t have good firsthand knowledge about that. But such matters do appear in their news magazine, and I suppose there may be sessions in which they could be discussed.
I must admit, I don’t read their news magazines. For awhile the Federation of Atomic Scientists had meetings concurrent with ours, and I think they provided what some people called a forum for the discussion of problems of general interest.
Oh, one thing we’ve overlooked, I think. We used to meet with the Optical Society once a year. Was that still in process when you became Secretary?
Though at the moment I do not find my 1942 diary, I can put together the course of events from my diaries of 1940 and 1941. In December holiday week of 1940 our Society met for the last time with the AAAS. In December holiday week of 1941 we met at Princeton: the AAAS was meeting also but in a different city which our Council had deemed not sufficiently a centre of physics (it should be realized that the policy of AAAS, like that of the British Association, was to meet occasionally in places where science was not yet much cultivated) to be a good meeting place for us. In January 1943 our Society met in New York, and this is convincing evidence that it was the 1942 holiday week meeting of the AAAS which was cancelled — the event which led to the permanent transposition of our Annual Meeting to the end of January. The joint meetings of APS and OSA in February at New York ceased after 1941, so it was therefore something other than the cancellation of the AAAS December meeting which caused the termination of these February meetings. [This paragraph is a revision of the original transcript made by Dr. Darrow in March 1970.] Before my time, there had been occasional years in which the Society refused to join them because they went to places where there seemed to be too few physicists to matter. They have hardly the missionary spirit of going to places where science is not well developed. In the thirties we did not, and I remember that the Society met by itself when the AAAS went to Kansas City and again when it went to Richmond, Virginia. But we were still meeting with it in all but these exceptional years until, in ‘42, AAAS suddenly called off their meetings for the duration of the War, and we did not call off ours.
Don’t you think that the matter of crowding was also becoming impossible and we would have had to break away from them in any case about then?
Perhaps not already then, but pretty soon.
Dr. Darrow, this is a hypothetical question rather than an actual question. What do you feel should be the role of the American Physical Society in the physics community as such?
Well, perhaps it is an answer to your question to say what I have said before, that for me the Society has only two roles, publishing journals and organizing meetings. Is that an answer to your question?
No. It seems to me there may be another alternative and that is to put forward a certain attitude towards physics as such. For instance, one would be the matter of invited papers. In the organization of these meetings, it certainly would help create a milieu in which discussions around certain subjects might then take place. The invited papers would provide a broad background for the members who are present at the meetings. This is what I had in mind. Do you feel that the Physical Society should have a broad role, or do you feel it should be confined to merely making it possible for people to meet?
Do you mean should the Physical Society provide more and more in the way of invited papers in symposia or provide less and less so that the contributed papers may become more and more dominant; is that the alternative that you are putting?
No. It isn’t so much the matter of the number of papers but the fact that you are bringing to the attention of the American Physical Society, by these papers, certain areas of research. You are providing the attention in terms of broad papers, rather than specific papers. My question relates to whether this emphasis upon introducing such aids, so to speak, to the physics community is proper, should be enlarged, and are there any other areas of this broad nature which should be a part of the Physical Society’s activities?
I seem to have some difficulty in grappling with your question. Is it that you think the officers of the Society should try to influence the course of physics by the subjects they choose for invited papers and for symposia?
This is one of the problems.
It is certainly arguable. I think our tendency is to let physics develop by itself and try to fit our programs to what is happening, rather than make things happen by emphasizing certain things in our program. It would take a very wise man, I think, or perhaps a very rash man, to feel that he could and should influence the course of physics by stressing one subject rather than another.
I wasn’t thinking in terms of particular areas as much as the fact that these are certain areas which should be brought to the attention of the physicists. This is more of what I had in mind than trying to bring to the attention of the physicists these areas which should be investigated. Let me make a black and white position which I’m sure you’ll disagree with, but let me put it forward for the sake of argument, that one possible function of the American Physical Society is simply to provide a physical framework in which the meetings can take place; that is, to provide for a hotel, to provide for the physical facilities. Is there anything else that the American Physical Society should do? Does it have a laissez-faire attitude toward the physics community as such?
You’ve just spoken as if we still had the system of thirty years ago in which all the papers with rare exceptions were contributed papers. That certainly was a laissez-faire period and I think, perhaps, laissez-faire is not too strong a word even for the present times since we certainly do not attempt to control or direct the trend of physics.
In other words, the invited programs are stimulated by the demand rather than anything else, as well as you can read it.
Now, take your own field of History of Science; perhaps that offers an example of something that we ought to stress at our meetings more than in the past, just in order to draw attention to it and build it up. As you know, we plan a symposium on this subject at our next New York meeting. Perhaps there should have been others in the past. There can at least be more in the future, if the Officers so wish. Yes, I think you might consider the history of physics as something in which the Society could take a role of encouragement.
I think this would be most useful, speaking as a historian, to the historians of science in terms of documentation, and also in terms of criticism.
I should like, also, before this period ends to commemorate the fact that we had started international meetings, more or less in my time. There was certainly never a meeting in Mexico before my time. There must have been meetings in Canada; certainly, when the AAAS went up there. And I remember also a meeting in Montreal in February, 1926, which was one of that sequence of joint meetings of the Physical and Optical societies. When there was a first meeting in Western Canada, I don’t know, but I can get the copy from the records. I’m sure that meetings in Western and Eastern Canada have been more frequent in my time, and I know that no such thing as the scheduled joint meeting, to be held in the summer of 1965 in Honolulu of our Society with the Physical Society of Japan has ever existed before. And I’m sure that the Mexicans have regarded our meetings as very helpful to the progress of physics in their country. At the latest Mexico meeting, as I happened to have found out in the last few days by refreshing my memory, we had a supper at registry — we counted supper as a registration — for Mexican and for U.S.A. attendance. From the U.S.A. there were 368 and from Mexico there were 126. I don’t think there would have been that many Mexican physicists in 1950 when we first met in Mexico, and I suspect that they have helped the progress of physics in Mexico.
The tradition of counting Canada as part of America for the American Physical Society goes clear back to the beginning, I think. I believe Rutherford was present at a meeting of the Society in the first year of its existence, when he was in Canada. He was in Montreal at that time.
No — Rutherford, at that time, was in Canada.
Yes, Rutherford was in Canada for about the first nine years of our Society’s existence. Canadian members of our Council have been Rutherford himself; J. C. McLennan; A.S. Eve; H. L. Bronson (still living, known for his invention of the Bronson resistance) J.S. Foster.
Well, Foster certainly was. He was active, quite active.
Now we have about 10 minutes remaining to us and I wonder if we could get into some of the areas outside physics that you have been interested in, your own personal interests; your interest in France? As I understand, you received the Rosette n the French Legion of Honor?
Not quite. The rosette is the next grade up. Mine is the grade of Chevalier which is indicated by a narrow little red ribbon in the lapel.
And may I ask the occasion of the grant?
The reason for it essentially, I think, was my long activity, and going back and forth between France and the United States, and participating to a certain extent in the life of physics in both countries in periods when the life of physics had not expanded to such a great extent as to make it seem rather ridiculous to pretend to have general contact. That’s an involved sentence but I mean that when I first began going to France, there weren’t so many physicists in France and I knew a large proportion of those few.
In those days one could walk into any laboratory in the world and be shown everything that was there; very pleasant.
Yes, you would be received by men at the tops of the profession. Rutherford would receive you; Zeeman would receive you; Fabry would receive you.
You and I went to see Rutherford one time together, if you recall.
I don’t recall that he ever denied me an appointment, or that he ever talked to me less than half an hour.
You were granted an honorary degree from Lyons in 1949?
You have the date, I see. I could only have said it was about then.
Had you been active in the affairs of the University?
No, not at Lyons. It was just that my best friend in France was a Professor at Lyons.
I’m sure this must have been a very pleasant occasion.
It certainly was. I’ve always regretted that I didn’t go over in person, but it was a bad time of year.
I believe you also have an interest in the Humanities; that is in writing, in literature?
Yes, I suppose my fondness for music did that. What the Mexicans call the plastic arts, including painting and ballet, has taken a great deal of my life.
Have you not been interested in sculpture to the same extent as painting or would you not exclude that?
There isn’t so much sculpture in the world as there are paintings.
Would you want to say a few words about who are some of your, what shall I say, favorites or perhaps, who are some of the most stimulating people in these areas to you?
I have not met many, you realize. I have gone to many theatres, but never known an actor; and many operas, and met only three or four singers; and many picture galleries, and I know scarcely a painter.
Would you want to express an opinion as to who are the most creative people in the field of literature. Who are your favorite authors; who are your favorite composers?
My favorite composers are almost everyone who lived more than 20 years ago, except a few to whom I seem to be insensitive, notably Handel and a large part of the work of Bach. My favorite painters are almost all of the famous ones who lived before the abstractionist era, with a few exceptions such as most of the work of Rubens. I suppose one of my favorite writers of the last few years has been Roger Martin duGard in France. But in this country I have read biography more than fiction.
William Dean Howells?
He was of my father’s generation and by current standards rather soft and milky. Anthony Trollope who is equally soft and milky interested me far more, but that was because of the British milieu.
Do you think that your own capacity as a writer, Karl, was stimulated by any particular writers before you at all, or just by general reading?
Just general reading, I should say. You will recall, perhaps, that I advised general reading in the article I wrote about how to address the American Physical Society; not reading all the time the PHYSICAL REVIEW. But the competition has become so tremendous that few physicists have time to read anything but — I was about to say anything but the PHYSICAL REVIEW. But it’s much worse, of course. They have no time to read anything but a small part of the PHYSICAL REVIEW.
Yes. Sam Goudsmit would say they don’t read PHYSICAL REVIEW either. Do you think that we’ve lost out on that side?
This is yet another contrast to my early days. I remember the Physics Library at the University of Chicago had a PHYSICAL REVIEW, though it was by no means the dominant thing on the shelves. The dominant thing was probably the Annalen der Physik, followed at short distance by the Zeitschrift fur Physik with the Proceedings of the Royal Society. Everybody read those. I’m not sure that many people read these now.
Now this has moved the center of gravity of physics over to this country ...
... accompanied by an inflation of such huge proportions that there’s no time to read more than part of one thing.
Well, do you think it's possible to recapture a balance between the humanities and the sciences?
Perhaps, only if we'd start working less. One of the things that I deprecate about the present period is the long hours the physicists work. Part of my well-known aversion to air travel arises from the fact that it has taken from them the days and nights on ships and on trains that used to be gaps in their furious activity. So many stories I have heard like that. One, independently told of Bethe and of Van Vleck: on the return of each from his honeymoon, he said to his wife, "From now on you may have one evening a week. The others I work." Van Vleck has got over that stage, I believe. So far as I know, Bethe has not, but I don’t really know.
It’s a kind of dedication that’s an over-exaggerated dedication. Do you think it’s born of interest? I mean intense interest.
I have always assumed so, but one should have a questionnaire sent out to the younger generation, with which I have almost no contacts. But the one young couple in physics that I know pretty well, both husband and wife work like demons or like beavers.
I think I know whom you mean.
I mean Noemie and Lennie Koller [Earl Leonard] who drove you to the station. This does not mean surely that they are devoid of interest in cultural matters. They do extremely well.
Yes. They’re interesting talkers.
But there are others who work just as hard and it seems to exhaust them.
Dr. Darrow, in these two interviews, we have covered many topics, but we haven’t been able to cover them thoroughly or completely. I’m sure that you must have more to tell us. Would you want to add something at this point?
Something was fleeting in my mind a few minute ago. It seems now to have vanished from my mind. I commented adversely on the tendency of the last few decades, which I have witnessed in France as well as in this country. In my youth one could see the physicists by going to the great cities. Now more and more they are isolating themselves in suburban or deep country communities such as Murray Hill, the National Laboratories, Saclay and Orsay in the environs of Paris. Some of these places are away out, so isolated that the people there must live a life to themselves. The others are just far enough out from the metropolis to preclude any real communion with metropolitan life. This, I am afraid, is now true with Orsay — with Saclay, at least, and probably with Orsay. As you will remember, when we went to France in the early days, we went to see the people in Paris. Now there aren’t so many people left in Paris.
Is Cern far enough out —
No, Cern is almost, I would say in Geneva; but Geneva, of course, is a small city, not 300,000 even.
Now, Brookhaven is an example of the National Laboratory.
Brookhaven, Argonne, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge — are there any others?
Those are the ones you think of.
Yes, I am almost unique in preferring metropolitan life — almost unique among physicists. I deplore this change, but I don’t think many people do.
Even the Bureau of Standards is talking about moving out.
More than talking I am afraid.
Between Columbia and the Bureau you have the birth of the Society, really. It actually began at Columbia, but the earliest meetings somehow centered about the Bureau of Standards.
The first By-Laws provided that the Society should always meet in New York. This was a strange thing. It can’t have lasted long. The first meeting outside of New York was in Denver; a summer meeting of the AAAS.
It wasn’t for several years, then, that the Bureau of Standards really began to furnish —
It must have been at least three years. When we met in Denver in ‘52 I looked up what exiguous records there were of that meeting of 1902. It was then that I found it had been the first meeting away from New York. There were only eleven papers and one of them was by two men of whom one, Gordon Ferrie Hull, was still living in 1952. I tried my hardest to have him come to Denver and speak, but he couldn’t make it. It must be admitted he hadn’t spoken in 1902 either. It must have been the other man of the pair who came, but even so it would have been nice to have the same name on two programs in the same place fifty years apart. The Chicago meeting also must have been one of our oldest meetings. I ought to look it up to see when we had the first one. It was certainly before 1906. I always found the Chicago meeting a very nice one; regret the recent yearning of mid-western physicists to convert it into a monster meeting. They seem to feel that the prestige of the mid-west would be higher should the Chicago meeting become another New York meeting. They don’t know when they are well-off.
Well, I think we’ve kept you five minutes over your time.
Is there anything of special import that you still wanted to ask? If so, I will stay on and I will attempt to answer it.
Not at this time — no. Dr. Barton?
I don’t think of anything at the moment. We would still like it, Karl, if you could come sometime and listen to these tapes; perhaps in the fall.
It will have to be in the fall, I can foresee.
And I would hope that I might then suggest things that you might like to add.
In the fall we shall know whether the next New York meeting will have grown in as much of a percentage as the last one did.
O.K., well thank you very much, Dr. Barton, Dr. Darrow, thank you.
The revision of the Constitution which went into effect in 1966 has changed these provisions.