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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Theodore Dunham by David DeVorkin on 1978 April 14,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Extensive interview covering early life and family in New York and Maine; schooling and early interests in astronomy in New York City; observing Halley's comet in 1910; World War I and college years at Harvard University majoring in chemistry; medical degree from Cornell University; contacts with Henry Norris Russell and Harlow Shapley, and decision to move into astronomy; graduate work at Princeton; postdoctoral work and staff position at Mt. Wilson in the 1930s; interests in instrumentation and planetary atmospheres; the role of the Schmidt Camera in spectroscopy; planetary spectroscopy and the nature of the interstellar medium; founding of the FAR (Fund for Astronomical Research); World war II and work in optics for the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD); travels to Britian during the war; decision to leave astronomy after the war; move to Rochester for biophysical research; return to astronomy in 1952. The second interview concentrates on his contacts with Henry Norris Russell and activities during World War II.
This is Tape 1 of a followup interview with Theodore Dunham, Jr. in Cambridge, Mass. Dr. Dunham, you mentioned that there is a possible confusion of dates in the earlier transcript, could you repeat that? This concerns your first contact with H.N. Russell.
Yes. In looking over the transcript, I am not entirely sure whether my principal, or perhaps my only, major early contact with Henry Norris Russell took place primarily in the spring of 1921, when I was about to graduate from Harvard College; or whether it was in 1925, when I was just on the way to completing my work at the Cornell Medical School. That needs verification, and I think I can get the date settled by correspondence with Russell, if I have letters, or by diaries, or notes. So I'll be doing that.
Where would your letters to Russell be, up in New Hampshire?
Well, I think some, but I'm not sure of that. They could be in Australia, in Tasmania, in the shop down there where a considerable part of the files were left in 1973. We brought a fraction of them back here, but they are probably 2/3 there and 1/3 here now.
Diaries, that’s very interesting, where are they?
Well, they aren’t ever complete diaries. I never kept a complete diary, but I did keep what you’d call diaries for intervals, different stretches of time, and I don't know the start and stop of them, When the pressure got too high, they got interrupted. Then they began again, because they seemed worth putting down, as notes.
To your recollection, did you keep them at all at Mt. Wilson when you were there?
I don’t think so, not regular diaries, no. There were notebooks, what I called "coude notebooks" up on the mountain, describing how things were done and what, and they’re in Australia, I think.
You have them here?
No, they are almost surely in Australia, but I need them to identify some of the Mt. Wilson plates. I have right here the Mt. Stromlo notebooks, about five workbooks, with the night by night record of what was set up and how the spectrograph and the telescope were set running and so on, technical terms. Same thing at Mt. Wilson. There are about five of each.
The notebooks, particularly from Mt. Wilson, would be of extreme interest I think to historians some day.
Yes. Well, I think they would be. Again, they're written so fast, trying to keep track of the sky, the dome, the telescope and especially the spectrograph, and developing plates and all, that they're not always complete. One could really justify having someone there as a secretary who understood the thing, writing down what happened all night, because it's almost a full time job, We didn't use tape recorders. We might have done that very well, on tape.
Right. But you do have these books.
We have them, yes, all the trial plates, solar spectra and tests. We were running spectra of the sun in the afternoon, focussing, adjusting calibration with photometric wedges and all that kind of thing — so we have those. They're not very interesting in themselves, but they’re essential in order to understand and work on the plates and decode them.
Do you have lecture notes from your teachers, from Russell?
I have some. I used to save notes rather extensively. I never threw any away, so I think I do have, probably.
Where would they be?
I think they would be in Australia at this time, I think so — from Russell and, I would be almost sure that there are some from Arthur Milne of Oxford when he was at a symposium at Ann Arbor in `29.
Oh, you attended that?
Do you have recollections of it? I’d be very interested in your recollecttons of that symposium. That was a symposium on astronomy?
Yes, it was a summer school on astronomy and quantum mechanics, physics of various sorts, and there were a number of very competent people there. Dirac was one of them. I don't want to cover the whole thing right at this moment. I was mostly involved with Arthur Milne and Harry Plaskett, who was also there.
Yes, that's right, he mentioned that he saw you there.
Yes, That was the first time we ever met, and the first time we ever met Milne, too. This led to a great deal that followed — about having the Milne children with us during the war for five years, for instance, and all sorts of things. Other connecting links with Harry Plaskett, working at Oxford, the first photoelectric recording of the solar spectrum that we did together there. I brought over a trunkful of great big amplifiers and vacuum systems, that we used in those days, and galvanometers. All sorts, of crazy gear that you wouldn’t look at now.
So the Milne children were with you during the war?
Oh yes. Very much so. That was a real episode in our lives, because we hadn’t any children of our own. We adopted two after that. But they were, you might say, our first crop of children. And they stayed five years — two little girls 7 and 10, when they arrived. Now one of them is in London married to a businessman, and they have a daughter. Her picture is on the back of the "Encyclopedia of Ignorance," with Duncan. The other daughter is married to a very competent British physicist, who has been for six years or more in Australia. We've seen them down there. He's the head of the science department at the Gedong Grammar School, in one of the best private schools in Australia. We're in constant touch with both of them.
When you had the children, this was in Pasadena?
It was both in Pasadena and in Cambridge. They first came across to Montreal, by special arrangement. There was a boatload of 125 of them, and the Milne children were added to them. They weren't under the committee that sorted them out in the United States and distributed them, These were direct arrangements with Milne. We just sent him a cable one day in June of 1941.
What was your contact with Milne before then that had him ask you or did he ask you? Dunham; No. We asked him whether he'd like to let them come over. This was at a time when the bombing was pretty violent, and it was a time when they were thinking about children much more than otherwise, and they had committees set up to find those who wanted to send them on the other side, and distribute them here. There was a big committee in Boston-Cambridge that dtstrtbuted them to families here, and even out in the. far West — one or two in California, but these were the only ones in Pasadena or Los Angeles, these two.
So they got off the boat in Montreal?
Yes. And Miriam went up and met them and took them down to her brother's country place in Tamworth, New Hampshire. She went east and met them. I was still at Mt. Wilson. They came west on the hot train in those days. Hot train, no airconditioning of course. They turned up in Pasadena, and had a rousing welcome from the whole community practically. It was one of those dramatic events, don’t you know, British children! Everybody got emotional about them in a great big way.
What year was that?
That was `41. They were with us from `41 to `45.
How old were they?
Seven and ten when they arrived. In 1943 we moved East as a family, if we had any base that was a base, I was running all over the place in charge of the Optical Instruments Section of OSRD. We had a house on Wright Street and then on Brattle Street for a couple of years while I had my main office at MIT in physics, and running quite a number of contracts around different parts of the country, rushing all over.
Did you have Milne correspondence during this period?
Oh yes, a great deal of it.
About the children?
Oh yes. He kept very close contact with them, everything under the sun. We sent a cable when Maggie wanted to have a haircut, a fringe, you know. He sent back a cable, "Maggie may have a fringe." This was an historic cable from a physicist. That kind of thing was the kind of correspondence that we had. Then we had all kinds of other discussions.
This material still exists?
Oh yes. We kept all that. The girls themselves have a little of it, but we have most of it, and a considerable fraction is in Australia. A little came here. Who is it at Cambridge, England, who is on the way to preparing the assembled material for a Milne biography?
Norriss Hetherington is the historian, and then R. A. Lyttleton, the astronomer.
Yes, it's Lyttleton and Hetherington, that’s right. Hetherington wrote to us about the question of correspondence, and whether we have any. We’ve asked both Eleanor and Maggie to what extent they’d like to have it turned over. Some of it is exceedingly personal, and it’s not up to us, but it's very much up to them to say how much they want to have it included because it has a great deal about his point of view about other people, and England and how it was being run and all. You can have all sorts of ideas about it, but I don’t think it’s really our affair exactly.
What do you recommend?
They haven't really seen any of that themselves, you see. It was just sent to us during the war when they were very young. They went back suddenly when the war ended one day, and so they're not really more than half aware of it. But they're very intelligent people, both of them, and I think they're the ones to get in touch with Hetherington, and each have xeroxes copies, perhaps — how would you do it? I mean, we’re just custodians. We ought not to say, "This is an historic affair, we ought to turn it all over." I think it's for them to understand that, and they very thoroughly do. I think you'll see from that book* that the family has *ENCYCLOPEDIA OF IGNORANCE a pretty intelligent outlook on science.
But from your recollection of the letters and your contact with Milne, you certainly should feel free to discuss his opinions of British science at that time. Do you recall any of his opinions?
He was working, to begin with, in what would perhaps be called the Ordnance Department, I'm not quite sure. But it was on ordnance problems entirely, and the mathematical side of it of course. I never knew the detail of it, although scientists never kept anything secret over there. You went to dinner with them at the clubs over there in London, and they told you the whole story. Over here we were all supposed to be in compartments, but we could talk about things to the British, and that’s the way we learned about what the other Americans were actually working on.
By talking to the Brisith?
Yes. There were no limits and no lids on at all in London. They assumed everybody was perfectly reliable, and they just talked.
What did he talk about with you? What did he think was significant that was happening?
Well, I can’t say that there was any very outstanding individual point of view, except for one or two people he had strong feelings about, about how they were running the university at Oxford, perhaps. The university in general. I mean, the general policy of the university.
What were they talking about?
They were talking about methods of administration, appointments, carrying on the future of the university and its quality. I can’t recall at the moment,
Did he ever talk about national support for science? or cosmology, new ideas in cosmology?
Well, in those days there wasn't any time to think about cosmology. They were so occupied.
What about national support for science?
Well, he thought it was very urgently needed somehow. I may be partly inventing. I don’t remember his exact expressions.
Certainly that would be in the letters?
Yes, I think so. And there are a considerable number of those. If you thought they would be interesting to your people, and I would think Eleanor and Maggie said so, it would be natural to have copies made of any of these letters that are of any account, and perhaps to send them, if they say so, to both you and and to Hetherington.
The best thing would be for microfilm, it's a lot more economical and permanent, economically efficient.
Better than xerox?
I think so. At this stage of the game, microfilm is convenient, the way letters are now. That would be much better. Are these letters down in Tasmania?
Certainly some of them. A considerable number, yes. I know there are some up here. We're going to go through them as well as we can very shortly now and we'll tell the two daughters what we have, and ask whether they would like to see them and how are they would like to settle this? If I can also tell them that the American Institute of Physics has a really effective project under way where they could also be useful, I think that would stimulate getting it to happen,
We could certainly make the original copies or take the originals and microfilm them, and if Hetherington wanted them, we would be able to send them to him at this expense rather than at your expense.
I see. Yes. Well, I think the thing is to get them up here probably, rather than to try to microfilm them down there. It might be done, if they’re sorted well enough. Richard Maddever, who is the husband of Eleanor Milne, has been helping us greatly on this fantastic identification and sorting job on equipment in Australia. It isn't really very difficult, it's just that he's the only person who has any knowledge about this sort of thing, and he only gets to Tasmania across the straits once every few months for a few days. And although we’ve covered his time and expense, because it has to do with the FAR project at the same time, it doesn't mean it will happen really fast. We've got a highly competent secretary there, who may be able to distinguish what’s in these files perfectly well, and at least say: "within this group, these are the personal letters from Milne, and here's another group that's from Russell and other scientists."
I’d like to finish up talking about Milne. Your first contact with him was in 1930 at Ann Arbor?
Yes, in `29 I think.
The nature of that summer school seems to have been to discuss how quantum mechanics and astronomy could come together, and howquantum mechanics could be used in astronomy. What were your recollections or impressions of that idea, using that new phyiscs in astronomy at the time?
Well, of course I hadn’t seen any of it closely enough to have any real experience with it. I realized the importance of it. But I finished the graduate school at Princeton in `27, graduating from there as a PhD, and went on a National Research Council Fellowship immediately to Mt. Wilson,, where nobody at that time was thinking in terms of modern physics, naturally.
They were doing observing. They got good spectra. They got good observations, on nebulae and variable stars, Hubble and the rest. But they didn't think that way. So I went there (to Ann Arbor), and it was really my first exposure to anything about Schroedinger equations and quantum mechanics. You see, Milne wasn’t going at it from that point of view. He was going at it from, I suppose you might call it the classical point of view, but the obvious physical point of view of working on relations that would express the opacity of an atmosphere and the formation of spectrum lines.
At what level were they formed? I never exactly liked that phrase, because of course the're formed at all levels, and just gradually grow as the radiation comes through the atmosphere. You have to do it an a continuous model, as one does now. But he was working on that, in an analytical way; the equations were similar but different from what Eddington was doing in every other alternating issue of the MONTHLY NOTICES in those days. They just played tennis, back and forth, you know.
Did you follow those debates?
Oh yes. I was very much interested. They really started and ended by using perfectly good physics. It’s just that they handled expressions a little differently, and emphasized constants and other ingredients in a slightly different way.
Did those debates get you interested initially in this? Or did Russell get you interested in stellar atmospheres?
Oh well, I'm sure that Russell got me interested, as much as anyone did at Princeton. Then I went to Pasadena and got observations, and helped to build the big coude spectrograph and doing a good deal of it myself out there at Mt. Wilson, and getting data and thinking: "Oh yes, we’re going to get the whole spectrum of several medium bright stars, rather than going to these awfully faint things and getting little coups in astronomy, we're going to do physics on the big stars that are bright enough, and get great big spectra." And there was a chance, with the big prisms that Hale had obtained for solar work, putting them into the coude spectrograph of the 100 inch with a 15-foot focus lens.
Right. We did talk about that last time.
Yes, I'm sure we did. It was that, naturally. I don't remember when I first learned that a symposium was planned there at Ann Arbor, but it was probably, one of those things that came out in one of those fliers that go around. They didn't come around quite as violently and frequently as they do nowadays to everyone, "Please come to our symposium." You’d be busy for 368 days a year probably if you did them all. But I heard about it somehow. And I just did it. I thought, if Milne is going to be, there, and Harry Plaskett, for whom I had a great respect, this is the place to spend six weeks or so. So we just packed up and went, on the way East, I suppose, and came on here afterward. We spent six weeks there in a little room that we rented, and it was hotter than anyone can believe. But there was a vast amount of swimming and an even greater amount of ice cream. Harry Plaskett and I used to try to slip into the ice cream center without the other knowing we were there, and we'd often meet at a table, consuming large quantities. That was the main indoor sport, and the outdoor sport was swimming in the lake.
Who else did you meet there?
Dirac was there
I believe Robert Atkinson was there too, did you meet him?
Yes, he was there. Yes, and we had very very interesting talks, and I've had some correspondence with him since. He was near Princeton of course, at Rutgers, and so I knew him there. He came down very often to colloquia and to lectures and for talks by Russell.
He and Houtermans — were working on stellar energy about that time. I'm wondering if you were aware of that?
No, I wasn’t really involved or paying much attention to that. I’m afraid I was the kind who stuck more or less to one area, and what was immediately in contact with it. Russell could look at everything all at the same time, and just turn the page over to the next subject and be right in it in a moment.
Yes. He wasn't at the Ann Arbor meetings, was he?
No, he wasn't there. No, the Ann Arbor meeting wouldn't have had a chance to be even half steady, if he had been, because he'd have been just such a fireworks center — thinking and action - that they wouldn’t have had the same continuity. But it would have been very stimulating.
What was it like going to an AAS meeting with Russell, or to a colloquium with somebody else talking, at Princeton? When people came in to give colloquia or lectures from outside, what was Russell like in the audience? What would he do?
Well, I think if you tried to generalize, it would be that the chap got up and started in carefully and quietly and didn't know just how to begin, perhaps, because it was always a small group; but he’d get sort of into it, and went along a little bit, and then Russell — having sald nothing and having looked at the floor or something else and his piece of paper he was writing on — would suddenly come up with "Well, did you think of this? Did you think of that? How did you handle this?" And the other fellow would wish he could say something like: "I hadn’t quite thought of that," And he’d try to think of some way to avoid saying that. He’d go along a bit further, and Russell would make nother very penetrating comment or remark, or ask a question.
He wasn’t trying to knock the fellow down at all, but he just was thinking a little faster than the speaker — quite a little faster. Often, I would have thought, about halfway through, it became transformed into a rather stimulating discussion by Russell, and the other fellow might as well have sat down, practically, but he sometimes kept standing up. But it wasn't an intention to take it over and put him down at all. He just was so enthusiastic about the subject and all its possible meanings, and he thought of so many ideas for the first time right at that moment, that you just couldn't hold him back. I don't know if that's fair to either Russell or the visitors who came to Princeton. But that's the way it somehow pictures itself to me at this distance.
Can you remember any specific instances, or any times when Russell did not do that, let's say out of respect for the person who was talking?
Well, I can’t say that I really did. There weren't very many distinguished visitors from a distance. It was more people like Shenstone and Veblen and Compton and so on at Princeton, you know. They didn't always come over to conferences at the observatory. They were probably at meetings or colloquia in the physics department.
What was Shenstone's relationship with Russell?
Well, he was very close, but I have a feeling that Shenstone did the detailed work and Russell put the sparks in — "what do we do next? How do we get from this to connect it up with what I thought last week? There must be something in here? (and so on). How do we go from here to there?" Shenstone did probably 90 percent of the hard work. But Russell did a great deal of it, on his great big pads of yellow paper, of course, with pencil.
He'd work out all kinds of relations in spectra and then jump from one to another, saying: "I think what we see in this spectrum will give us a clue over there in that spectrum," and so on. He kept it so much in his head that he knew where the problems were, where others might be in ignorance, like where does knowledge of each spectra stop? What terms do we need in order to get further for a breakthrough? And he’d see similarities, so he’d go back and forth and pull out another page and jump to that.
I don't know if you’d say Shenstone stimulated Russell a great deal, but he made it so Russell pushed ahead faster than he would if he’d been left all alone, because Shenstone had the facts very much right there in a very orderly fashion, and brought them out and worked them through, and did all the connecting numbers. Russell did an amazing amount of that without any computers or anything else, of course, in an extraordinary way. He could do it ever so fast, and he knew exactly what to do so he didn't waste any time on it. But Shenstone did it in a more orderly methodical way. That was the kind of thing it was.
They worked together, with different approaches, amazingly effectively as a pair. Not always as a team, because Russell was in touch with all sorts of people all over the country, of course, especially Meggers at the Bureau of Standards and Catalan in Spain, at Madrid. I was working for a time on the analysis of a Manganese I spectrum, and he thought that was a good thing to do for a beginner because it was fairly simple, and it had quite a bit that hadn't been done. Catalan had done most of what had been, and Charlotte Moore was also much interested and was compiling it, putting it together, getting ideas in a less dramatic way, but very effectively indeed.
So as a team, it all went around. One spectrum had a team of three or four here, sometimes around Princeton, sometimes one was way off, as in the case of the manganese spectrum. Three of the individuals, including a small graduate student, myself, working there at Princeton, trying to see how it would work and do it connectedly.
In the case of Russell-Saunders coupling, Saunders was at MIT, is that correct? Or was he local at that time in the twenties?
I somehow think of him in both places. I'm sorry I can't be sure.
Did you meet him?
Oh yes. But I didn’t know him well at all, because that was more on the theoretical side, and I as a graduate student was very much involved in the effort to get something very specific done at Princeton. And I said, I'll leave the coupling to them, see how it comes out, they'll tell me about it when they get it done. But I appreciated the way they went at it, the attitude.
At Princeton when their first work did come out, did Russell discuss it with the Princeton staff? I'm interested to know how he presented it.
He didn't discuss it formally. He'd just have ideas in the early morning, and bring them out before lunch time, and rush off for his pad of yellow paper and go on to the next thing. He didn't like great pronouncements like that. But you could see a steady development. I’m afraid I can’t recall exactly when the main output of that came.
Yes, the beginning of it was just before I got to Princeton,
Right. Let’s talk about a few otber people in a different vein, just the general attitude at Prtnceton, both when you were a student and later when you were on the staff. What was his relationship with R.S. Dugan and with J.Q. Stewart? Of course they wrote the famous textbook together.*
What were their relationships like?
Of course, again, you've got a situation where you have a comet in charge, as it were, and the others were rather different, two rather different satellites. I don't know what you'd call it, but it wasn't an equal relationship, I should think, at all. They divided up the actual work on that book to quite a degree, and Russell took on the part that, naturally enough, involved the greater amount of imaginative thinking, because even in those days, you might say that it was all perfectly cut and dried, but it didn't seem to be. There was a question of what is significant in astronomy at the present time, in observation and especially in its relation to theory and coming theory. You could see what was going to be the significant factor.
Do you recall ever seeing them work physically on the book? How did they break down the work assignments? Who did that? Did somebody write a rough draft and somebody else edit it or something?
What I seem to remember is that they all got together and made an outline, not all in one day, but a section and an area of the book, without exactly specifying chapters at that point, but general headings of what had to go into that book. They added to it as they went along, and eventually got to the interesting part about theory and stellar evolution, as much as you could say about it at that time — the Russell Diagram and all that kind of more theoretical thing. Then they each went to work on it in separate cubby holes and didn't discuss it much with each other until they had it pretty well drafted, written out, with material and numerical data for tables collected and diagrams.
Each person wrote different sections?
Yes. More or less so. I think that was it. That’s my recollection of it. You know, I got dragged into compiling tables and drawing some of the rough diagrams — the path of Eros in the sky — nothing very remarkable. But graduate students, of whom there were only two, of course, Arthur Fairley and I, did that sort of thing. They brought it together later, of course, and had very active discussions about it after they had, and they chopped it up and tore it up, especially the other two got torn up a bit and changed.
Dugan and Stewart?
Yes. They got new ideas put in, that hadn’t occurred to them. *ASTRONOMY I, II (Ginn, l926)
Yes, additions and different methods of organization somewhat. But they did the first work on it, the first actual drafts, as I remember. Then they'd get together and spend long hours discussing what to do to modify it and how the actual flow should be in order of subject matter and so on.
What was the personal relationship between Dugan and Russell?
Well, of course they didn't see each other very much. The Dugans had one half of the house there on Prospect St. which had the observatory offices in it and the telescope on the far end at that time, the 23-inch with its dome. The Dugans kept pretty much in their part, and I think that Dugan himself did most of his office work in there. He had a small office, I’m almost sure, on the ground floor behind the living room, and did most of his work in there. I don't think he had an office in with the rest of the offices. There were very few offices, of course, There was Russell. There was Charlotte Moore. There were two graduate students who sometimes shared one office, some times had little separate coops.
Then there was a secretary's office with a telephone which rang when someone wanted someone in the astronomy department. Then there was a classroom that would hold about 20 or so, three or four rows and a line of blackboards in front, and that was about all there was there. A telescope on one side, and the Dugans’ house on the other. Stewart lived in a separate house down some little distance on the other side of Princeton.
I'm very interested, since they worked such a long period of time together in a small department, how they actually seemed to treat each other, at colloquia, in structuring who was responsible for what in the observatory. How was Dugan treated by Russell?
Well, I think he was treated with a great deal of respect. I have a feeling that Russell knew that he himself was the leader, not because he was a great man but because he had more ideas. He just did have, that's all. And Dugan realized that he did have, but he didn’t just follow automatically what Russell said — he was entirely independent. And Russell saw to it that he was. Still it just happened that a much larger percentage of the original thinking came from one source, and some very careful and highly intelligent planning of observational methods, especially on eclipsing variable stars, with the photometer and the polarizing machinery on the telescope, all came from Dugan.
That was all visual, wasn't it?
That was visual entirely. There was never any photoelectric device while I was there. I did quite a bit of that, I mean just incidentally as a graduate. student.
Do you remember where the observing books were for the Halsted refractor?
Where they were kept after they were filed, you mean? No, I don't think I could say, but I'd be almost sure they were somewhere in that observatory building, with the records of the department. I suppose that Sptizer must know pretty well, because he took it over at a certain point, while it was still in full action there.
Let me ask about Stewart. I've heard that Stewart and Russell did not get along too well after a while.
I don't think they got on particularly well. I never could see that there was any one question. They didn't agree on methods I think or procedure in physics and science exactly. Stewart always had a tendency to go for the very classical method of approach on the thing, being rather gradual in his approach and getting things to a finish; and Russell wanted to put all the modern "bang" of physics on the problem fast and hard and get an answer out quickly, and then go and see if he could find somebody to test it, if it was something that could be tested, you know. And it led to Stewart coming in with somewhat different approaches, you might call them original; they were classical equations and classical methods rather than quantum mechanical usually, and at that time, you might have thought both ways about things a little bit.
This was in the thirties?
No. This was in the late twenties. Of course there wasn't any very well established quantum mechanics to go on, so you can't say that it should have been done the other way.
Right. But Russell was one of the first practitioners of quantum mechanics,,
He picked it up fast. As soon as he saw it right there, he just grabbed it. He did’t do it all himself, but he saw to it that it got done, and that it was the way that you should look at the thing, to get your results in a form that could reliably be compared with what was going on in the observational field.
Did Russell lecture and editorialize on the importance of the application of quantum mechanics?
He didn't do very much lecturing to graduate students. After all, there were only the two of us. But that wasn't the reason. He talked to us. It amounted to lectures, but the three of us sat around and chatted, and somebody else sometimes dropped in — often Stewart did, for instance, and would sit there quietly, They’d get into arguments slightly about what's the right way to handle this problem, or this data; the roots of it; how would an atom act if it were allowed to be in this environment for a little while; what would it pick up; what would it give out? I can't put it into words at the moment particularly well, but they just had a different way of feeling about how, an atom was reacting to its setting, I think.
That's an interesting way of putting it.
Well, that isn't very good, but it's just an impression from a distance now that Stewart would always think of everything as vibrations of one sort or another coming along, and an atom having a train of waves that was chopped off with a knife at a certain point, and this determined the width of the line. He'd keep pushing at that. More than almost anything else I think; resonance frequencies and broadening of lines, that general area about spectra. But Russell was concerned with that and knew it was important, but he was much more interested in the whole atom and what it was up to, and how it was an indicator of physical conditions, by its level of ionization and excitation, when exposed to different temperatures and electron pressures, and how it tended to combine with other particles.
But when Stewart decided to argue, how did he break Russell's train of thought? Usually probably Russell was the one who was doing all the talking.
How did Stewart argue? Was he very cautious and tactful, or could he just butt right in?
He wasn't impetuous about it, but he’d say something rather definite, just loud enough to be heard against the continuous flow of logic from Russell's mind and equations on the blackboard or yellow paper. Russell would always pay very intelligent attention to anyone else’s point of view. He never was sure he was right. He would be very sure that there was a strong point of view.
But he’d always listen to the other person. And he'd break his train of thought rather easily in order to give the other fellow a chance. I think he was fully aware of that, even though he was overwhelmed with his own ideas, which we would call brilliant and he would call tremendously absorbing and intense, and he had to get them across to someone, and that was usually someone who'd listen. Still, he was not convinced that they were the only ideas. And I think it was sincere, a real feeling he must always let the other person express his point of view, and that there might well be something important in it, that it was partly right.
I think he was basically fairly sure that his ideas were good and right, because he saw-through things, and he’d had experience and found that they did work out, 90 percent of the time perhaps.
Had there ever been any strong arguments?
There was no longstanding difference of opinion, scientifically or otherwise, between those two, or with Dugan, who of course didn't really work in theoretical areas, except on the orbits of eclipsing variables, eclipsing binaries, so far as I know.
But it’s interesting to be able to recall how Russell would react to other people’s ideas.
And his general attitude and his intensity. Did he ever get, would you say, carried away with his own intensity, to the point where he really was very preoccupied with his own ideas?
Well, I think he was preoccupied, but he didn't, as I recall it, ever really get to the point that we would call unpleasantly antagonistic to anyone because they wouldn't see his point of view. In fact, I think he often went ahead or ended, in a sense, by having another good idea that he wanted to follow up so fast that he almost let go what the other fellow said about what they'd been talking about five minutes before. He was on to the next thing so quickly. It's the sort of feeling that I have if I'm just saying what I think at this point.
OK. There’s one other question that I had about Russell in general. I’ve heard from his son in fact, that he had later on in life a certain kind of nervous condition, Do you know anything about that?
Well, in what sort of sense? Of course I didn't see him as much later on, really.
Did he have anything when you knew him?
He died in 1957, didn't he? That was it. Well, of course, we were way off in Australia and Rochester and so on. We didn't see him much then.
I'm really trying to understand the personality of the person, As a doctor, would you be able to say there was anything pathological in his personality or his health?
I don’t think, mentally, certainly, at all, except that every one of us is certainly very different from everyone else. We’ve just been talking about his characteristic way of meeting and talking about ideas with people. He was always very generous with people. I don’t think any paychiatrist would be able to put a label on it. I can’t imagine it. But then I’m not very good at psychiatry and I don’t believe in more than a little of it anyway, perhaps. I don’t know enough to know whether I do or don't. But I don't think it was that. I think he had nervous mannerisms to a degree, about the way he'd hold his hands, what other people call nervous. He’d lift them, move them around, having them in action a higher percentage of the time than other people did, small motions.
What kind of motions?
He'd just lift his hands and move them around and wouldn’t just let them be quietly relaxed in his lap. He needed to use them to express something, but it wasn't just gestures of expression. He just had them in some kind of constant motion — but not the way a patient with chorea does (muscular agitations that are uncontrolled motions often in children, and they sometimes carry through). But no, I don't think there was anything that was exactly characteristic of a condition.
He was what other people would call, without being tutored, "high strung," somewhat nervous. He just couldn't sit still or be still while you were thinking, in a way, talking, or not talking. If he were writing or doing something, he'd work at it very vigorously. He couldn't just sit still and look at what he'd written and think about it. He would get up and walk up and down the room and think about it, come back down,
He paced a lot?
He paced a moderate amount, not excessively but a certain amount. No, he was very-contented, because his thoughts would flow very continuously. That yellow pad had to be a long pad, it couldn't be a short one or it wouldn,t work, and it had to be yellow.
Why did it have to be yellow?
I don't know. I think he just got adjusted, that nothing else would take the thoughts. I think there is a difference. I get on normally writing on white paper, but I can perfectly well imagine that the yellow background is something that gives you a feeling that you’re writing something tentative as a draft and you're going to do something more later, it isn't the final thing.
If I were going to guess, I'd say that if he had thought about it, and I'm sure he didn't, he'd have thought that white paper was too formal, in a sense. That if he was putting it down, it would be more final there. He could experiment on yellow paper and play with it and the pages would just keep ripping off, till they were all over the desk, you see, in a few hours. Lucky if it didn't get in the wastebasket, But they usually stayed on the desk, and he sorted them out when he cleaned up, and if they were draft, he’d get someone to type it and say: "Now is, the time to write the article for the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN,” and he’d just rush in, start right in, and go.
He’d been thinking about it, walking back and forth across from his house to the lab several days, before, occasionally. He knew pretty well before he went down to the observatory. Then he'd look at the calendar and say, "This is the day, for writing the article," and so he'd do it in a couple. of hours, rushing into the library, getting a little data here and there, and he'd be all through with it and get it typed and in the mail the next day. He’d just toss it off. He wouldn't sit and ponder about it or worry about it. It was usually very striking, the way it started in and carried a new thought to other people that they hadn’t had.
Did you have contact with Russell during World War II?
Not very much. No, I was in an entirely diff erent area down here at MIT, with George Harrison, Bush, and Conant.
What was your contact with Russell after World War II? Did you notice any of his breakdowns, anything like that?
No. I don't know if he ever had what anyone would really call a nervous breakdown, do you? Because I wasn't in contact with him. I don't know if he really did or not.
His children did say that he had several when he was very young in life.
I think I've heard of it, but it never came across with visible evidence of it when I was there, and I never knew later.
He had a coronary in the early forties,
Did you see him after that?
Yes, I think we did, a number of times. But not in any consecutive way of working with him. There was the time, about 1952 or so, when I'm sure we talked together. I know we did, about the significance of work on the spectra of Southern stars. And when I had an invitation to go down to the Australian National University R.v.d.r. Woolley asked me to come down there; we talked about it at the IAU meeting in Rome in `52, I’m sure it was, sitting on a stone bench outside there, one of these great colonnade places. And Woolley said, “I think there ought to be some spectra going on with this telescope the Astronomer Royal (Frank Dyson) says we ought to have down there., the 74 tnch," He just said, “There shall be a telescope, you know.„ And so Woolley said, "Why don't you come down and build a spectrograph on it?" So we talked about it a while.
You were talking to Woolley at that time?
Yes, that is where the idea of the Mt. Stromlo spectrograph started — with Woolley in Rome. I'd been thinking about how we ought to do it somehow.
Russell was not involved in it?
No, not at that point. But I went and talked to Russell quite long and hard about the significance of it, and Russell thought it was a very important thing, to do it, and that the opportunity to do it for somebody like Woolley who wouldn't have all the plans in his mind already was a good one. This would be a useful way to do it — for someone who had done something of the sort at Mt. Wilson to have a sort of a second chance to do it, perhaps a little better, or at least differently.
But at least to have a very definite idea of what could be done, and not just go and get a grating and then wonder how to focus the spectrum. We had a method that we had established, using concave mirrors to focus in a very, simple way the spectrum from the grating. And when it was a short-focus camera and faint stars, we used a Schmidt correcting plate. And we used Schmidt cameras "indoors" in a spectrograph. This worked quite well at Mt. Wilson, you see, and Russell thought it would be very much worthwhile to spend two or three years or whatever it took, to have a chance to start from scratch with nothing but a telescope, and build yourself and everybody else a spectrograph that would really take spectra that would be as good as anything in the North, and have it in real operation, because it's part of a running telescope project, and Woolley was in charge of it.
Did you see Russell in Princeton in 1952?
Oh yes. Yes. He wasn't as active physically; but mentally, he was exactly as ever. I really think so. I really didn't see the intervals between. During the war, I question whether I saw him once — from '41 in England, when I was over there, to `46 — I think it wasn’t until I moved from here (Cambridge) up to Rochester, New York, because I wasn't in a sense allowed to do anything in biophysics at Mt. Wilson, so I went arounnd the loop very hard and vigorously in `46-`47, looking at what people thought could be done in the way of putting physics into medical research, and ended up there. So I didn't see him much during that interval, till the Australian thing happened.
Now at that point, when you went down to visit him again, of course you'd known him for many many years at this time.
Did he reminisce at all? Did he reflect about his own career or your career or the important things that had been done in astronomy? Was he the type of person to reflect?
I don't think he did so much, to me at least, in the way of reminiscing, as thinking: "where are we now and what are the things to do next about all this?" And he was tremendously strong always, and he wanted the theoretical result; to know what it was. But he was very strong on realizing that you couldn’t do it all on paper and computers. Perhaps you can now, a great deal more. You can compute the universe right up the street here. At least some people might think so. But he certainly didn’t at all, and he wanted to get the observations, get his hands on them, and do some brilliant things on pulling out the physical picture of how this works.
So he didn’t talk about the state of astronomy at that point?
He didn’t seem to, at least to me; it must have been different depending on who he talked to, naturally, who he responded to that way. But he didn't try to evaluate astronomy, I think, ever at all to me. He probably did to some other people. If he had been talking to Eddington and some other people he would have a different sort of approach.
Eddington was gone by that time.
Yes, he was, but I mean other people.
Who do you think, still around, would have had intimate discussions with him? Just as a guess?
Well, I suppose Oort, don't you? Wouldn't he have been pretty actively in this same thing of thinking about the structure of the universe? Although I don't know. He was talking and corresponding with quite a number of people, the Europeans, who were very actively working on the theory of stellar models and how they acted and how they led to what we see on the surface of the skin of a star.
But you had no direct contact with Russell on that?
No, we didn't really talk about that kind of thing. We tended to talk about the very urgent question of what do you do to get observations when you're doing it. That was my sort of approach, that I wanted to get the facts, perhaps even more willing to go right out and build something and do it, rather than see that it got done and then come back and try to analyze it, and I've only got as far as half analyzing it now, of course. But it's been a gradual step by step process. With him, he wanted to get the observations and get the results right out all within a month if possible.
Let's go back and talk specifically about your experiences. As you mentioned to me over the phone, you felt there was more to talk about concerning governmental work during the war, your work with OSRD, your later ONR work. I'm very interested to know about govern-mental support of science, how governmental or military support of science affected your research, how you felt it affected general research, during the war and also after the war.
What do you think is the way to approach this part of it, then?
Well, you've already talked to some extent about your basic work in OSRD in optics and that sort of thing. But I'm interested more now, since we’ve talked about your basic research, in how you felt the war affected your research and continued governmental support after that, both in Britain and here.
Yes. Well, of course there were two very different parts of all that war activity. It started in a much more informal way in the first year, 1940-41, under NDRC, before there was any more heavily organized OSRD under (Vannevar) Bush. It was really working with George Harrison, here at MIT, and with George Kloptsteg in Chicago and one or two others. We just got together once every three or four weeks and took stabs at where we could go to try to get our feet on the ground, in trying to see what problems really made sense for a group of civilians and civilian laboratory facilities that might be made available in the near future to work on. And then, that immediately was followed, as soon as it got at all half under way, by my spending about four months in England as one of the relatively few Americans over there.
I don't know whether this is sensible or not, but I would like to throw in the fact of how it got going. It was George Harrison and I talking one day down here at MIT about what American scientists could do about the war. There was a great feeling going on, before Pearl Harbor in that summer of `41, about the fact that something ought to be done and nobody knew what; there must be something.
We've got a gang of military people here in the United States who don't know exactly what is the best they can do, and the Germans of course have had scientific people working with their military for some years now; and we don't know very well just how well, the intelligence wasn't all that clear. But we did know they'd done very vivid things, and some of what they did showed by their actions. It demonstrated that.
So there was an uncertainty about what we could do, but a feeling we must do something. Well, one feeling was, we'd better get over to England, one or two of us, and find out what they're doing and thinking, because they were closer to it, and they had been developing things with a definite need for it, even before the war, more than we had. In the late thirties, we let it go completely.
Why did we let it go, do you think?
I guess nobody felt that they needed to push Congress hard enough to do much research and development. They just thought, if you have an army, it can protect the country. Then it came along that the Germans had an army, but also had all sorts of devices — missiles that we never even thought could be flown. I don't know it all that well, but it certainly was that point of view — that we'd better catch up fast scientifically ourselves. And then we had better talk with the military people here rather carefully. — because though we felt we might have some ability, we didn't know how to put it, how to urge it.
And we must be careful in not trying to over-sell ourselves. So the first thing anyway was to get to England and talk with them, before we were officially in the war. So it was in the summer, early September it must have been, yes, that I went over there as an individual, as a representative of NDRC.
`41, right. I was over there in Wales at the time of Pearl Harbor. That was quite a dramatic moment. But before that, I had an opportunity, with all sorts of connections that had been established (they weren’t formal but they were informal and very adequate indeed, because everything’s very informal over there) to travel around the country, a day at a time, one place after another, seeing optical factories and a captured German submarine, and what their periscopes looked like. The sub was tied up to a wharf in Liverpool. All sorts of things, a fire control factory in Scotland, Glasgow, and a mixture of laboratories and production firms, all of which were using rather older methods of production, testing, and control.
Do you feel the military needs in Britain were being translated easily to the industrial and research and development part of Britain? In other words, were the scientists well aware of what was needed? Was there good communication between the military and the scientists?
I think there was really very good communication, but I don't think either of them, if you know what I mean, were working very vigorously at it. I think they had methods they felt were quite satisfactory, and they didn't feel very alert to change them, unless they saw a great big reason as when radar came in , of course. And that was because it was an entirely new technique, but they didn't see the reason to change a great many things, or to do a very great deal of research and development, except on a moderate number of isolated subjects.
Did you talk to the radar people?
Not much, because I wasn't working in that down here at all, and there were other people doing it, Oliphant and others were doing it very well, and that wasn't our orbit. I was presumed to be concerned mostly with all sorts of optical instruments, night vision devices and fire control equipment and all that area, you know; aerial photography especially.
So I kept to that. One of the particular things I did while I was over there was to carry over a set of the anti-oscillation mounted binoculars that we thought could be used effectively mounted in an aircraft, and used by an observer or even by the pilot himself, to try to get a visual look at a target at night that had been detected by radar before he came right in on it and it was right in front of his nose — to see what it was and to aim at it if he were going to do any shooting, or dodge it if he weren't, but in any case to see it ahead of time.
It seemed quite clear that with about six-power binoculars, you could certainly see a target about four times as far away, more or less, if you could kill the vibration in the plane. I spent quite a bit of time flying around in planes with a model of these anti-oscillation binoculars, which were very simple things of course in principle, with a carefully balanced center of gravity and with dashpots in two cordinates made up at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics, largely under the guidance and stimulus of Brian O'Brian who was there at that time, and with his team, who were doing all these things at great speed.
What ideas did you bring back with you to the United States, as to how the NDRC should pursue military research? What recommendations did you give to your people back here at NDRC?
I never wrote a great big formal report on the thing. We were all too busy to write reports. We just went to work on what it was and talked a lot. But I think I picked up a whole group of individual, not so much general, ideas on individual problems, where quick work could be put under way to attack problems where a solution would be very much worthwhile, if you could get it quickly and well at the same time.
It wasn't so much an overall situation. It was individual problems. There was certainly a question about periscopes. How could you get the field wider and the exit pupil for your eye so you didn't have to set it exactly and hold it right there as it grows bigger? The German submarines had done it exceedingly well, and we took their submarines apart, including their periscope, the one that was captured. It had a wonderful Zeiss wide-field input and output on the eye piece.
We got the design of it and thought about it, and got people like Kalemorgan to go ahead under contract and develop something that was about as good, perhaps a little better — that kind of thing. And then lining up gunsights, especially guns in turrets, you know, that were well removed from the chap who was doing the aiming. This applied specially to the B-29's on the islands of the Pacific, and we worked out straightforward but not too easy methods of lining all the guns up with each other without having any direct link between them exactly, using computers as you might do now. That kind of thing. And we were interested in night vision devices and infra-red. There was a separate section that I was not in charge of, on infra-red devices, under Alan Bemis, under the Optics Division (Division 16) of OSRD, as it finally was.
Were you reporting to OSRD on anything while you were working at NDRC? Back and forth between Britain and the U.S.?
Well, of course, there wasn't any OSRD until it took over and replaced NDRC in `42.
Why did this happen?
I don’t know exactly. The NDRC was a much more informal affair, just a few people doing things. We had it separated out. Everything to do with optics in any way at all was under George Harrison. Then it split under optical instruments (Section 16.1), in my case, and fire control under H. Hazen in Division 7 of OSRD, but it was the same under NDRC.
Hazen was, I think the head of the electrical engineering depart¬ment at MIT, and Edgerton was with him, of course, with his big flashlamp business. He worked not only on flashlamps though that was always his pride and joy, but he worked on other problems in optics and so on, such as with Alan Bemis, working on the infra-red thing in Section 16.4. He was also down at MIT, mostly in meteorology, but he was very much in it.
He's a cousin by marriage of my wife’s up in New Hampshire, but he's living down here, in Concord, Mass. With a small team like that we didn't have many contracts for research in those days. We were feeling our way. I remember, the whole team of four or five of us, barged in on Bausch and Lomb one day. That was one of our first experimental visits to see what on earth this could mean. To work with and talk to military people, as we did to some extent, about what the problems were, and then we talked to production people, who were tremendously experienced over the years in all this.
We felt like pretty small fish, you see, because we didn't know the story exactly. And we weren't yet in a position to say, "Now, you ought to be developing this and that." So we went and listened and said, in effect, "If there's anything we can do and you can suggest it, we might be able to find facilities for helping to get a quick study made of it and some experiments run, and then you might be able to use some of it for production," We were pretty cautious. We got a little less cautious later, when we had felt our way a little bit better.
How did that work? You were between the military and production?
We were between the military and the production people who could really make things, and make them happen. It was, I think, a very awkward position for people who were not experts in either making things or in business contracts. None of us had any of that experience, except perhaps, George Harrison, more than anyone else; who, as dean of the physics department at MIT, had contacts with all sorts of groups that had to be meshed and made to work together, with different ideas, from different backgrounds and levels. But it was a very great experience, in a way. Our first actual project that we ever had was an acoustic one. Someone had a wonderful scheme, where he thought he could catch sound with two receivers, out in Portland Oregon.
Catch sound, and get the direction and approximately the distance of it from two sources, and so know where it was. He was going to catch the Japanese planes who were supposed to be going to bomb the West Coast about that time any day, you know. This was regarded as terrifically important out there. We were completely baffled as to whether this made sense, and whether to recommend it to upper levels of NDRC. Jim Conant, and I think Bush, were part of it, but not so much part of NDRC. I think it was mostly Jim Conant who was in charge at that time.
This was when radar was so crude that they were thinking of acoustical analysis?
Well, it was a competitor, certainly. They thought so. On the West Coast they were so terrified about this whole thing, you know, that anything would go, and if a local man thought that an acoustic method should be tried, why, you really had a responsibility if you turned it down. So we sat and listened.
Was it tried?
Yes, it was tried on a moderate basis. I can't say I remember what came out of it. I don't think it was in our orbit exactly. It was acoustic, not optical. But I was sent out to talk to them, you see, and see what these rather wildeyed people were saying, and I brought back the story to Washington and we talked about it. I think we managed to get them a small contract, but I didn't follow and supervise it as I did the others.
Who did you talk to in Washington?
Oh, our own people, mostly. They were a very small group at that time. It ended up with Jim Conant as chairman of the NDRC, isn't that the way it worked? Then there were four or five groups, and they didn't even call them divisions exactly as they did later. There were 17 divisions of OSRD, eventually, that split the whole of physics and engineering up nicely. But we just talked about it casually. It generally happened that the secretaries wrote up a con¬tract and when they had a contract they went to work. There were certain funds that were entirely disposable by the scienfitic group, if they agreed on it. It was quite an experience to have it that way, but we had to learn how, a little bit.
When you started learning how, did it give you ideas that you could maintain this kind of a liaison with the government in peacetime, and continue?
Yes, we thought about that. We thought about it, noticeably. But we were pretty careful. I mean, we weren't wildeyed people exactly, any of us, I think. We’d had some experience with how things run. Probably, I’d had less, being at Mt. Wilson, which is a fairly sheltered area, and Princeton which had nothing to do with organized research at all. I think we felt our way. Perhaps we did it rather well, when you look at the whole thing overall. The hardest part was of course creating the right relations and establishing and maintaining them with the military, because you’d expect the military to think that we were a gang of queer dreamers who were barging in, and they felt that they knew what they needed to run a war, with all the equipment and devices and weapons that they had, mostly aircraft and Navy in those days. And they would put in orders to the production people.
Did they indeed think that way?
The military tended to think that way. But they were on the whole, I thought, more ready to talk than we had expected. We didn’t ask them to listen to our ideas. We each agreed, without saying so, to listen to the other. They’d tell us how they did things, rather than what they needed. We’d say, "Do you think if you could make this part of it work a little better, would the whole result be a little better?" Then they’d think, maybe it would. One of the cases that just comes to mind is the writing down by the military of the specifications for the guns in tanks.
The Frankford Arsenal was of course doing that kind of thing, in Philadelphia, and had arranged to get fire control equipment for tanks and for anything that's on the ground. Frankford Arsenal is right in the northeast corner of Philadelphia. Everything had to be new and better every year or every few weeks and months. So tank guns had to be better. Some of the people in the Frankford Arsenal (and from them up to the majors and the brigadier generals) heard that there was something that the optical technical people called exit pupils. They'd heard about the aperture of the telescope. They'd heard about magnification.
These were the three factors that made the sight on a gun work. So of course, the trick was to get as much as you could on all of them at once, and of course you can't do it. You get into trouble. If you make the exit pupil bigger, you’ve got to either cut the magnification, or make the aperture of the lens bigger, and if you make the aperture bigger, you make the opening bigger, and you get hit. So, when a lieutenant wants to be promoted to be captain and a captain to be a major, he writes a new set of specifications that goes just a little above what he pulls out of the file on what a tank telescope ought to be. He feels that if there was 3 1/2 mm apertures on the exit pupil, it had better be 4 1/2, or even 5, then he’d be way ahead. But of course you won't cut the magnification — the optical people will take care of that! They thought you'd play the game, you know.
That's perfectly understandable for individuals who want to get a better result and quite sincerely so. They don't know how it's going to be done (about holding the magnification), but if you have an organization, you have somebody who does the designing, with beauti¬ful drawing boards, and beautiful drawings come off them with nice numbers, that go into the file, and it has exit pupil and magnification and aperture in there, and those are easy little names to put tags on. Someone else will design the lenses. It was that kind of thing.
Then about inspection, of course, everybody wanted to inspect the aerial cameras a little better than anyone else had, and the question was; what makes sense? One thing you can see, in an aerial camera lens or binocular lens, is bubbles. And so there were specifica¬tions, of course, and I suppose there have been since the beginning of glass times, on bubbles. Well, we ought not to put this on tape, but if it weren’t on tape, you’d simply say that the obvious thing that anyone who’s in charge of the whole effort on inspection would say is, "Let's write the inspections, if they have said they can have three bubbles up to 1 mm in diameter, let’s say, they musn’t have more than two bubbles or even one. Let’s make the maximum size of the bubbles. a little smaller." Well, this of course rapidly led to their not being able to produce anything, because the glass just didn’t come that way. And of course, as a matter of actual fact, it’s almost indistinguishable whether there are one or two bubbles in a lens anyway.
The light doesn't focus on the lens, it's the lens that's doing the focusing, and this just cuts out rather less than one percent of the light, and hardly disturbs definition at all, maybe there's a wee bit of scattering, but if you're running a war, you'd better get the lenses out, and have the surfaces a good figure, apart from whether there's a bubble or two. Well, that kind of thing was rather tricky. But I think we were able to make friends with a great many of those people, step by step, after a few months, and work with them on what was practical, from the point of view of which were the important factors on the final performance of an optical device, and whether it was for looking or photographing, and what is still possible from the point of view of the optical materials you can get and the methods of production, so that you get enough of them made.
I think in a way we fitted in there, and new devices were developed, new methods of quick aerial mapping, stereoscopic mappingdevices — taking two photographs in stereo. That had been done before, but it was obvious that it could be done in a simpler and faster way. And that was all developed under our section of OSRD toquite a degree in different places. And photography. A great deal of attention was put on aerial photography. Have you known Jim Baker here at all, in lens designing at Harvard?
I certainly know the name. (James Baker)
He's been connected with the Observatory to quite a degree, but he does a great deal of independent work on a consulting basis with the Army and Navy, and especially with the Air Force, still. He's probably the best designer in the country. Everybody says he is, and I think he is. He does very well indeed. He had a big lab that was set up here at Harvard, over on Soldier's Field in a building that was over there — I don't know if it still is, near the stadium. It was converted into a big optical laboratory for making models of very extraordinary aerial cameras for photographing in great detail. Jim Baker designed one of them that is an F/5 camera with an 8-inch lens, with about six elements of glass, and 40-inch focus and extraordinary definition — and an amazing arrangement for the rear element, which is a weak negative lens, to go up and down, with 10 sylphon bellows around the edge, controlling the focus, depending on the air pressure,
What kind of bellows?
Sylphon bellows were used in vacuum connections. They were made of thin metal. They use them in connecting vacuum systems. They're collapsible like bellows. They pull together this way, and so you can run them back and forth. The point is that if you have one end closed, they will expand and contract, depending on the air pressure. As the airplane goes up, this was arranged automatically to continue to maintain the focus.
You set the focus according to the barometer at takeoff, and then whether the plane's high or low, it will be in focus. This camera had such a very long focal length that it really made a difference, whether it was 2,000 feet or 20,000 feet up. It worked remarkably well. The production people hated this. They thought it was perfectly fantastic. They thought it was a weird toy. It was an open question, whether it was necessary. But anyway, we made it work, with ten of these bellows carrying that rear element and maintaining the focus, remarkably accurately, if you plot it out, and it really did it.
We painted all sorts of patterns on the runways at a small airfield at Orange, Mass., out west of here. We went out in small planes, with these cameras and others and maintained them and got them working. But the main thing was to get the vibration out. Everybody in the Air Force was perfectly off base about how to make anti-oscillation mounts at the beginning of the war. They'd put the bottom of the camera (center of gravity way up above it) in gimbels with some kind of damping, and they'd hope that that would take out the vibration effect and make the pictures sharp. Of course the center of gravity should be right in the axis of the gimbels.
We finally did that by making these things, ourselves, you see, under a contract, where we had freedom to do it, and then taking them to Wright Field and testing them out. It turned out that the definition was tremendously better and it was very, very simple. All you do is just drop the camera until the center of gravity is in the plane of the gimbels. Things like that. Well, we were rushing all over the place, partly doing these things, as individual experimenters, and partly doing the office work of setting up contracts here with five secretaries at MIT, and in general having quite a time of it. We rushed down to Washington on the Federal Express every other weekend to talk together. On Friday night everybody would converge on Washington and spend the weekend there for two days, and then come back to work.
How was it working in Washington?
Well, we didn't get involved in anything except contacting individual officers of medium high level there, and the office of OSRD at the Carnegie Institution in Washington.
How was Carnegie involved?
Well, only because Bush was involved as the chairman of OSRD. That was a quiet place compared to the rest of Washington, and it was a very good place for all these groups and different divisions to come together and talk these things over and have what amounted to official meetings, although they were held in a much more informal way than those things usually are — with a gang of secretaries downstairs to handle all the paperwork. It was quite simple in a way.
Did you feel basically, with the war effort, that you had carte blanche from the government to support anything you thought was necessary?
I think, very nearly, yes. That was the way Bush had it, and Bush had it from the President. The President just said, "Go ahead and do what you can." He had absolute confidence in Bush and the team he'd bring together. And Bush transmitted that. We'd talk with him, but we didn't have to very often. He just let each division do pretty well what was needed. Harrison was responsible for four of our sections. I was responsible for the Optical Instrument Section, called Division 16 and Section 16.1, and Fire Control was .3, what was .2 (I don't recall), .4 was the Infrared, and so on.
But we very nearly worked by ourselves, and then chatted informally together. But there weren't these heavy meetings or board votes and what not. We just said, "Is this the best way to do it?" And others would say, whatever level they were, "I guess it is," And we'd just go ahead and tell the secretaries to write up contracts and short letters, and that we were coming out to chat about this, Then we'd grab a travel voucher and rush out. It was all done by train almost entirely at that time, of course. We'd go out to California quite often. I’d go out there once a month, and supervise a project we had on making root prisms, with very correct angles.
You went out once a month?
So you were at least five days on the train going out or four days?
No, the fast trains were doing it in 2 1/2 days or 60 hours. The Super Chief going to Southern California. It was 40 hours from Chicago. Is that right or not? I think it was 60 hours, about, from New York. I’m sure that we left Friday afternoon and we were there first thing Monday morning. We got a compartment, George Harrison would go back and forth quite a bit. I went regularly at least once a month or once in three weeks, because I was watching this optical project at Mt. Wilson on aerial cameras and the oscillation devices too and a new kind of Schmidt camera with all-reflection optics that gave a much bigger scale on the images. But the roof prisms had to be made to bend light 90 degrees, but with great precision within a second of arc on the angle of the roof corner. We found a method to do that.
How was Mt. Wilson organized for war research and war work?
Well, it wasn't organized at all, except for the fact that a few individuals were pulled off and given leave of absence from the Observatory and the Carnegie Institution, to do all sorts of projects — whatever came up under NDRC and OSRD. But there weren’t very many, of course, in that group, because most of them had been pretty straight astronomers and were fairly well established and not used to doing that kind of thing. They did other things for the war but not in the full-time fashion that the few of us had a chance to do, under the organized OSRD here.
Right. I know that Dorothy Davis Locanthi did some aerial camera lens testing.
Yes. That was under our division of OSRD in optics.
Was she using the optical room of the 200-inch, where they were figuring the 200 inch mirror?
Yes, that's right,
To test the lenses. And the impression I had was that they stopped all work on the 200 inch. Is this right?
Yes, I think so. I'm not absolutely but almost absolutely sure. I think there was a tremendous gap in time there, because of course the project started soon after 1929, wasn't it? I'm sure it wasn't finished until 1946 or 47.
How did the opticians and the technicians who were working for you feel about that? Did you ever have sessions with them, and start talking about the delay in the building of the 200-inch caused by the war, even though they were doing optical work?
Well, we didn't put it exactly that way, but I think they did absolutely take it for granted that we all were plunging in on an entirely new set of projects and problems to be solved quickly. I think they took it very naturally, and I think they almost accepted it with enthusiasm. We all like to get away from the problems that are nagging us, and start on a new problem, especially if there are other people partly in it and partly responsible, so they don’t have to be sure that they get the answer to the new one absolutely alone. It has a slightly stimulating effect.
I suppose it ought not to, but it probably does. Anyway they followed along wonderfully and we all worked as a team. Everybody rolled up his or her shirt sleeves and nobody knew who was in charge of whom. They just did it, and we got in several very clever people. George Mitchell, for example, of the Mitchell camera company. He was a very competent individual on mechanical design; making small and medium sized devices work well. He helped to design the jigs that were used in making those roof prisms, for instance, so that they would come out automatically, a whole group of them, on a magnetic chunk on a Blanchard grinder, fine ground almost to a second of arc. One only had to touch them up a little in the polishing process. That helped greatly on many fire control instruments, to have a real source of fast and highly accurate roof -prisms.
What about people like Hickox and Bruce Rule, or the other opticians, working on the 200"? Were they working for you?
Bruce Rule did quite a number of different things. He wasn't working on any one project that I was directly responsible for. I'd have to think a little while to know what he was mostly occupied with, during those four years. But it was a number of other engineering problems. Hickox, you mean Hickox and not Hendrix? Those were the two H’s. Hickox, I don't think I know what he was doing. He was respon¬sible for the solar work on the big towers, before the war and I think after it still. I can't say I know what he did during the war.
Hendrix in the optical shop, a young and amazing genius, without a basic education at all, an electrician wiring houses who was brought in to help Dalton figure some of the fairly big mirrors. It was after the 60 inch, of course.
He worked for you also during the war?
Oh, yes. He was very much part of this project on aerial camera lenses, mostly designed by Jim Baker, and he would make some of them and figure them remarkably well, ever so fast. Nothing ever stumped him at all. He had much of a part on this roof prism job too. Dorothy Davis was, as I recall, primarily working on various methods that we all worked up for scoring the resolving power of lenses, using 4 resolution pattern, as they did it in those days. Mostly aerial camera lenses.
I see. How did you pick each person for a particular job?
Well, it had to be done so fast there wasn't much selecting. I mean, anybody who could do something got put to work just as fast as you could grab them. You would tell them how exciting it was going to be, and they'd go right at it. There wasn't any great personnel department selecting people at all. There weren’t enough good people around. I think most people were pretty good in those days. There weren’t any doubtful characters. They only worked on something technical if they really did have a certain amount of know-how. So it was more a question of knowing what this person had been doing and was good at, than it was comparing eight or ten candidates, the way it's done nowadays so often.
Do you think your team had always in mind that this was a war effort? Or did they get involved in the excitement just of the challenge of the optical designs?
Oh, I think it was both. There was a tremendous challenge, a sort of new freedom to be allowed to do things that we’d never have got to do if we’d been tied to a university laboratory in peace time. There weren't any grants around in peace time, or if there were, then they had to be applied for in a very elaborate and long winded way. We could just do things quickly and immediately if we had what looked like a good idea. Of course that was attractive and stimulating. But I think we were very much involved and aware, all of us, that it was part of the war. We saw the war end of it quite a bit, by flying in airplanes over the North Sea in combat situations and in the Pacific.
In combat situations?
Well, in England. Not here. I was just on the way to Saipan to get things going on lining up the B-29 guns when the war suddenly stopped in the. Pacific, so I didn't get over there.
Had you known about "the bomb" before?
Only vaguely. Not accurately. I knew a little bit about it, but not any details, because it wasn't my line, of course.
Where did you hear about it?
I think mostly later.
Was it in Britain?
No, it was after that, because of course when I was over there, there was a lot of communication about all those subjects there. But that was in `41, and early `42, at the very beginning, when I was over there, and there wasn’t any bomb going at all or even any project (then). No, I think it was just the kind of under cover putting together of indirect evidence. No one ever came out and said, "We are working on a bomb." They weren’t supposed to, and they didn't. But wegot pretty knowledgeable about the kinds of things that were problems, and what would be possible, from what was being talked about in physics, and I think we knew quite a bit.
We knew there was a Manhattan Project, and that it was doing something rather remarkable, and the only remarkable thing it really could be doing was something atomic, because nothing else was so extraordinary, that it would have to be separately established as a project. I don't know, I don't think we gave it a great deal of thought, until it happened. It wasn’t, in a way, our business. We had enough to do. But we knew the people who were doing other things, of course, and we just sort of got along together and had a feeling of what we were each doing. The classification was a great deal more definite here than it was in England. But we were all so busy we didn't worry about it. We didn’t spend much time being curious about what all our friends were doing. We did what we could.
Did you know anything about the work that I.S. Bowen and others were doing on the triggering devices, at Cal Tech, when you were out at Mt. Wilson?
Yes. In general. That wasn't so much under cover. We talked a little about it in general, but I wasn't really very much interested in it. I was interested in other things, so I didn't pay much attention to it. No, I heard only just a little, fragments in passing. It was an era of everybody being very much involved with problems that had answers, some of them moderately obvious and others not obvious, and you had to work on them, and that gave us enough to do. So I think we were so busy, we didn't care much or think much about the others. Sometimes there were joint problems and we could talk about them perfectly well, if they overlapped, of course.
I think we've covered very nicely a lot of your war work. I want to ask you some questions about the 1950's and '60's. If we could move on to them, Had you ever heard or been involved with Jason, the governmental program?
No. No, I never was really at all.
Were you ever asked to be?
No, that didn't come our way at all.
Did you ever talk to other people who were involved in it?
No, except just to hear the name and not really know what was going on about it at all.
You didn't ever have any general interest in it.
No, I don't think I did. This was in the fifties mostly, wasn’t it?
No. I was involved in Rochester, N.Y. Theoretically doing biophysical research there, because I wasn't "allowed" to do it in Pasadena, it seems. It took the form of developing an entirely new laboratory there, under the library, in Rochester, with several people working, and with quite adequate grants really, for once, from the Rockefeller Foundation, ONR, and the National Institutes of Health. We were very much occupied with that.
The optics and electronics needed for really trying to get down to the roots of recording the smallest amount of ultraviolet light possible, that would give you a decent spectrum of a small bit of a cell, without ruining its molecules by shining too much ultraviolet through it. This was a real challenge in itself, and it was quite exciting. I was not in any close touch with other government research really at all after about 1946, when I got through writing the great tremendous report we had to write on the whole NDRC, 0SRD effort.
Where is that report now? Do you have a copy?
I have a copy, I don’t quite remember where I got it from. I think it was picked up but I'm not sure, by somebody else and given to me. There were exactly 500 copies printed, for the military, and the poor people who did the work in OSRD weren’t supposed to have copies. There wasn't any provision for their having them. Not that they shouldn’t have them, because they wrote the report, of course. But I don't remember just how I got the copy I had. It’s up in the attic, I'm sure, in New Hampshire right now.*
It's quite interesting, because although these subjects didn't all get finished — they got finished to various degrees — they show how a gang of people in a whole multitude of labs around the country, using their own thinking and some input from the military and from the scientific people on the OSRD itself, how they met these problems. And they've got it pretty well illustrated and documented, when we had to leave it. A lot of people had spent several years of their time on these problems — we felt that we ought to put it down the way it was, with recommendations at the end: "If this were ever carried further, these are the problems you’d tackle, and these are possible ways you could start working on them..
Right. Did you make any recommendations in this report on the governmental support?
Not big overall recommendations. Only specific recommendations on individual recommendations. That somehow didn't seem to be the job for individual sections. This was all devoted to optical instruments and methods, of course, the part that I wrote. I got it from drafts, from other people, and put the whole thing together and edited it. It was a job that took most of a year. Then it was published by the Columbia Press.
Oh, it was published?
Was this generally available to the public?
Well, I think it was classified, "Restricted," which didn't mean much in the beginning, and even then that was dropped. I'm quite sure it's entirely free and open now. The only trouble is I don't know that there are any copies available.
Yes, but you do have one,
I have one. They were mostly put on the desks of admirals and generals all around the country, you know, and other high level administrative people. But as I recall, I’m pretty sure there were exactly 500 printed, and I and many other people said, "This has some merit beyond just the military, and there ought to be enough printed so that they can be distributed at least to a moderate number of central libraries, so that it can be useful." I don’t know what you'd find, if you went down to Widner** and searched the files for ten minutes, whether you'd find anything. I suppose I ought to do that some day. *Retrieved and copied by AIP, with copy In NBL (August 1978) **Central Library at Harvard
At the Harvard Library.
Or any other good library. Library of Congress is supposed to have everything that's ever been published, isn't it?
So it would be well worth while to ask them whether OSRD reports from the war are there. This is a book with good brown binding on it, about two inches thick.
What's the citation for it?
I think it must be THE OPTICAL REPORT OF SECTION 16.1 OF THE OFFICE OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT, OPTICAL INSTRUMENTS. Words to that effect.
With you as author?
As editor, and George Harrison signing it somehow for the division. I don't know what it says about authorship exactly. It is essentially the subject matter of each of about at least 26 individual contracts that we had running. There must have been more than that altogether, 26 at one point in time about 1945. Also technical drafts, on aerial photography, optical methods at Mt. Wilson, the University of Pennsylvania, etc., all that kind of thing.
The basic idea, though, of governmental support of research, especially as it was continued on with ONR.
How did you become linked up with ONR? How did you start approaching them for funds for the various work you did both in medical research, then later on in your other research? Did your war work basically train you to start thinking of using the military and government moneys for research?
Well, of course we all knew the people as individuals very well by that time. When ONR first started action, before NSF existed, they were actually looking for projects, and they just chatted with all of us who had been on the same fence, more or less, or slightly different sides of it. They asked me: "What do you think are the kinds of projects that could be useful? This may go further, we don't know, but we’d like to." ONR felt, I know, that they would like to hold their technical scientific group together and have them have something to do. And to have something to do seemed to me having some research contracts outside the government laboratories, in the universities, and other institutions.
So they chatted with us by telephone. We all continued to meet, in the aftermath of the OSU reports concerning what was going to be done with the equipment; what was going to be done with some of the people; whether they could fit in. We kept our lines open. So it went along like that. I don't know how it went with other groups, but the only contacts I had really were, first, about this project on evaluating obsidian as a possible optical material for searchlight mirrors for the Navy. I think it was rather silly, but several astronomers thought this might be a rather interesting way to use the test products to find out whether you could use obsidian, instead of glass from Corning or Schott for telescope mirrors. And it turned out that you can use it.
It was fairly obvious that it has certain disadvantages, a little more thermal expansion, and it isn’t always perfectly uniform. But with a very small amount of money, we managed to pick up quite a number of samples from five or six different areas, in different countries, especially Northern California and Iceland, which had remarkably good stuff, and we made test mirrors out of these samples. I think you know about that?
We already talked about that.
Well, that was that. Then, a little bit later, not much later, we got started on the Burch microscope, an all-reflecting microscope. Cecil Burch, you know, the Bristol, England physicist who thinks with one hand and does it with the other in ten minutes. He's a real genius.
This was ONR supported, the construction of that?
No, not the construction. Five of them were built by a very small firm near Bristol, Wilcox, Ltd., I think it was for the university, with British government support (or from the Nuffield Foundation?). They were turned over, or sold — I don't know whether the University of Rochester paid for this or not, possibly not. Anyway, there were five of them. I realized the significance, or I thought I did, of this, and got up a proposal to the Rockefeller Foundation. I knew Warren Weaver from the war pretty well, in mathematics, he was in Division 7 (Fire Control).
This all happened when?
This is about 1951 or 52.
When you were at Rochester?
About '51. I was up there, and really got mad at the world and the situation, and took a review course in medicine surgery here at the Harvard Medical School for returning veterans, you know, to get them acquainted with doing all sorts of things that had been done differently. And then I got myself an internship in the Strong Memorial Hospital, because I'd rushed off into research in spectroscopy from medical school, from Princeton, without doing anything in a hospital. I went up there and spent a year, but I was actually doing a lot of planning for the laboratory at the same time.
Yes. I took care of' patients, did all sorts of laboratory work for them and all sorts of procedures, but I was thinking rather beyond it in a research way. Warren Weaver knew pretty well what I’d been doing in all these optical instrument things, and that was the reason, I suppose, why the grant went through there, the grant request for about $75,000, from the Rockefeller Foundation.
The setting up of a reflecting microscope system was obviously an experimental system. lt isn't like Bausch and Lamb and Zeiss; a machine you just buy and take out of a nice shiny wooden box and look at tissue sections. It's a very elaborate semi-experimental device, with ball bearing slides, about 63 of them I think, altogether, that control the focusing and the centering and everything else.
The first two years, from the end of '48 and '49, after I'd been partly at MIT and partly at the observatory here immediately after the war, and got the report written on the OSRD, I went up to Rochester and did straight clinical work with some future planning for the first year. The second year was more planning for a lab, making specific plans, getting space laid out at the top of the psychiatry wing, where they didn’t have enough money to finish the floor. We had a huge space there that we could use, and we got plans, and a small staff of three or four physicists and engineers, and experimental people from Xerox and other places, to work for us.
Then we got the grant to get a Burch reflecting microscope as the central instrument. And then, with other people, we tested various photoelectric systems, for getting the most information, with the smallest error, out of the smallest possible number of photons. That was a good challenge, and it applied absolutely, and I knew it very well, to astrophysics too. I'm afraid I wasn't entirely honest, because I didn't always tell the people at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere that this might have another use some day, if it ever happened to be free, and available. But it's the same problem, of getting the most accuracy — on recording light with detail in it — from a finite source. In the first application, you mustn't "sunburn" the cells with too much ultraviolet light. In the second application, you have very little light from the stars in the spectrum when you aim for high resslution.
So we worked on that there, and got more and more involved in it. But I kept thinking, of course, of the astronomical problems, and the photoelectric applications, especially, and I jumped off from what I was doing in Rochester and went to the IAU meeting in Rome in '52, and everybody there seemed to be terribly excited, thinking about doing really new physical things in astrophysics, especially in observing and measuring spectra. So Woolley got keyed up and interested, though he isn’t working in that field himself exactly. He was the new director of the Mt. Stromlo Observatory at the time.
So that’s the tie-in, on how you got led back to astronomy.
That got me started once more. And then I spent more and more of the time, not full time absolutely, on the biophysics and the development of the microscope system, but also on planning for what might be done in the Southern Hemisphere, where Woolley and Russell and all of us of course realized nothing had been done at all with modern equipment.
Did you have any trouble justifying to Rochester the fact that you now were a medical person and were going to go to the Rome meeting, the 1952 IAU?
Oh no. I don't think so, at that stage. Because that wasn't a permanent sign-off at all. It was only in 1956 when I got an actual invitation from the Australian National University to come down and build their big spectrograph that I had to tell them that I could do this and that I'd been asked to, and it was an opportunity I ought to take. I expected to try to continue with the biological studies that we'd gotten going. I didn't know how exactly. But in the beginning, we hadn't any exact plan on how to do it.
Had your optical lab at Rochester been developed enough so that you could leave?
You mean, leave it on a permanent basis to go to Stromlo?
Going over to the IAU meeting was rather incidental. People went to meetings of course for a few days or weeks.
But going to Stromlo.
Going to Stromlo was another thing entirely.
It was unexpected, and of course, they felt disappointed that we couldn't put the whole thing through, because this was just at the point, in fact, where it was about to be applied to real biological problems. It was a long development in physics and electronics and optics. And it was a pity that we couldn’t put it right through there. We had it all built up on a pier and everything else.
There wasn't anyone else who wanted to do this kind of thing. What happened was, I said, "Can I take part of this down there and try to continue it at the National University, because H.E. Ogsten in physiology was at the Australian National University. He was at the Research School of Medical Sciences, which is what they call their medical school. They don’t teach students at all to be doctors. It’s entirely a research institution. He was very glad to have me bring this Burch microscope down there, and they let me take the whole thing, lock, stock and barrel, the whole lab.
So the Rochester project stopped.
Yes, it did. That part of it. Because there wasn’t anybody else, except people who were technically helping on what I was doing. It was just a lab I’d established, there in the space under the library, a whole big floor. They hadn’t really watched it very hard, tbe people in the Institute of Optics. They didn't think that way. They were doing other things. So I just took the whole thing down to Australia — quite a lot of accessory equipment and all sorts of experimental gear that we'd developed, and it's all down there now.
And that's my problem. I've got to see whether or not Rochester wants it. I would have to pack it all, and much of it was experimental, except the central Burch microscope. I'm now checking around, what a number of first-class labs really think of a reflecting microscope as a method to get spectra of individual small areas of cells, as an indicator of what they're doing and what the process is, especially normal and the abnormal cancer cells. I'm in contact with a number of groups. I just got the data down yesterday from New Hampshire, to put it to them.
OK. I'm out of tape. I want to wish you luck with the microscope.
Oh, we'll get something. That's one of my main remaining responsibilities, you might say, apart from what I want to do. I think something ought to be done to finish it off.
Thank you very much.
Have you had any contact at all with Linus Pauling in the last few years?
No, I haven't.
He's doing something exceedingly interesting in Menlo Park, working on the significance of what he’s particularly interested in, ascorbic acid or vitamin C. He and Cameron find that it has an extraordinary restraining effect on the growth of cancer cells, and it’s quite real. The business about the common cold was threshhold. But it is a very basic chemical, ascorbic acid, in its way of changing the performance and behavior of cells and the way they’re able or not able to multiply more than they should. I'm looking into this rather hard.
When did you first meet Linus Pauling?
Oh, out in Pasadena, the first day we got there in 1927.