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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Robley D. Evans by Charles Weiner on 1974 May 7,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Family background; grows up in California; early interest in electronics. Undergraduate and graduate studies at Caltech. Strong interest in history of science as undergraduate. Ph.D. in physics, 1932. University of California at Berkeley, 1932-1934. MIT from 1934; founder of the Radioactivity Center. Starts first course designated "nuclear physics," January 1935. Strong interest in study of radium poisoning; radium tolerance in humans, cancer research. World War II work, postwar work; establishment of Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Engineering. Markle Foundation supplies funds for the Radioactivity Center's Cyclotron; the 1940 Conference on Applied Nuclear Physics (sponsored by the American Institute of Physics and MIT); World War II work at the Radioactivity Center at MIT; radium dial paint studies; radium and plutonium safety regulations (Glenn Seaborg); work relations with the Manhattan Project; the MAMI (marked mine) project reveals indication of German plutonium project. Also prominently mentioned are: Carl David Anderson, Joe Aub, Joe Boyce, Vannevar Bush, Evan Byers, John Cockcroft, Robert Colenko, Arthur Holly Compton, Karl Taylor Compton, Enrico Fermi, Horace Ford, Ralph Howard Fowler, George Gamow, Newell Gingrich, Clark Goodman, Leslie Richard Groves, George Harrison, Hobart, Elmer Hutchisson, Ray Keating, Arthur Kip, Pinkie Klein, Rudolf Ladenburg, Charles Christian Lauritsen, Thomas Lauritsen, Ernest Orlando Lawrence, Gilbert Newton Lewis, Willard Frank Libby, Milton Stanley Livingston, Leonard Benedict Loeb, Sam Lynd, Edwin Mattison McMillan, Robert Andrews Millikan, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Elmer Robinson, Ernest Rutherford, John Clarke Slater, Sorensen, Robert Jamison Van de Graaff, Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton, Martin Wittenberg, Jerrold Reinach Zacharias; American Institute of Physics; American Cancer Society, Bausch and Lomb Co., National Research Council, Radiation Standards Committee, United States Federal Cancer Commission, United States Food and Drug Administration, United States National Bureau of Standards, United States Navy, University of Rochester, University of Utah Salt Lake City Project, Wesleyan University, World War I, and World War II.
When we left off last time a long time ago, we had taken you to the point of coming to MIT. We’d talked of the discussions you had at Berkeley about the several offers you had in the midst of the Depression, and your desire to go to MIT because it would give you an opportunity to continue with the work in radioactivity that you had been pursuing for several years.
We talked a little bit of the contacts that were made through — I forget I think we covered it — was it through Compton? Who wrote to you about coming to MIT? Compton or Slater?
This I have to look up, too. It was a telegram, straight out of the blue, and the text paraphrased would have read, “We wish to build strength in radioactivity, and will you come and do it?” It could have been signed by Slater or by Compton. My guess would be, by Slater, because I had immediately to make an inquiry as to who these people were. I knew where MIT was, but that’s all.
Let’s talk about the circumstances of your arrival. Did you go directly from Berkeley, did you go back home or did you make some stops along the way at other laboratories?
Probably I drove from Berkeley to Los Angeles, where both my wife’s parents and my parents lived, still alive, all four of them for a final good-bye, and then drove. We had a four cylinder Plymouth two- door, I think, car, one of the first with the steel roof, which is involved later in the transcontinental journey. We were on a very restricted budget, of course, and we probably stayed with relatives and friends, for the most part, and occasionally in the 1934 equivalent of motels, which usually were rooms in persons’ homes. The least expensive way you could do it. There was no particular tour of laboratories. It was more just a move of a young husband and wife and two small children, one who was not yet one year old and was on Gerber’s baby food and a bottle. That was our adopted daughter Nadia. And I designed a little rack on the exhaust manifold of the engine with a peewee clip from the laboratory, so that you could warm the baby food by putting the can on the exhaust manifold and latching it down and driving one mile. If we drove a mile and a half, the can exploded when you punctured it — if you drove one mile, it was just right for eating. So we drove across country in that fashion. Of course the car was heavily loaded and lots of luggage strapped on the back of the car — those cars didn’t have the trunks that one has now, sort of a luggage rack hanging on in back, with the spare tire beneath it or behind it. That was heavy with luggage. There were arrangements for the children to sleep in the car, and I think we were driving all night some nights then, because of the heat, and it seemed a good way to travel. We did that in later transcontinental automobile trips a great deal. We’d drive all night many, many times, stop at midnight for a steak dinner for 90 cents or something — and keep going. In Cherry Valley, there was a two lane concrete highway northbound toward Syracuse, with a very steep shoulder of three inches or more in height, and we blew a tire. Gwen was driving and she’s an extremely good driver. She didn’t hit the brakes, We were only going about, oh, at most 40, 45 and she didn’t hit the brakes because neither of us knew which tire was involved, so, if it had been a front tire in that kind of car, that would have made us go over for sure. But with this absolute flat tire, which turned out to be a rear tire and was therefore bearing all of this unequal load distribution of weight, the car did a series of snakelike turns down the highway while the casing flipped from one side to the other of the rim, and she’d correct it, and on one of these, one wheel slipped off the edge of the concrete — and we rolled all the way over, and back onto the wheels! Putting a crease across the top of the car, and synching down the left side window. Complete rotation, 360 degrees, all the way over, and back onto the wheels. We had seen this done in Plymouths at the Chicago World’s Fair, as an exhibit of the strength of the new Plymouth automobile and its steel roof. And it worked. The clatter of this one car event on the highway brought some farmers, and there was a retired Army medical officer who lived in one of the houses reasonably nearby. He took us into his home and examined us to see what — well, nobody had any broken bones Gwen had hit the roof pretty hard There were no life belts or anything of that sort Daughter Nadia had been in her crib, suspended in the back tonneau, as it was called then, the space between the back seat and front seat, and she was all right, but a suit case in the back seat had its handle broken off and the scar on the roof of the car was immediately over the crib, and when it came down it had missed her — so — The military doc was very nice and told us we were all right, and suggested that we continue to drive on. I changed the tire, unloaded all the luggage, changed the tire, and we drove on north. He suggested we go to Syracuse and have the docs take some X-rays of necks and things of that sort, so we did that, stayed overnight, and made some good friends in the medical department there who were enthusiastic both about the university and about football. And the next day — Oh, there was one small event. The doctor was kind enough to follow us, in order to direct us around a particular strange intersection, unmarked, where we should make a particular turn in order to get directed toward Syracuse, and on the way our car died. It stopped just cold. I got under the hood to have a look, and it was clear then what had happened. In the rollover the battery, not being tied down in cars of that era, had come out of its little rest in which it lived when the car was right side up, and so had been simply suspended on its cables, and after a few miles of driving the cable had worn through and the battery received a dead short. So that was simple enough. I put the battery back in its proper place and there was enough juice left to start the car, and we went on. That was the only event. So we arrived a day or so later here in Belmont, where we went immediately to the home of Harold and Ester Edgerton because we had met them in 1928, as the previous record shows, and reported in. That was Saturday, and within a day or two we found a suitable house in Watertown, rented a house yes — and our furniture had been sent on ahead, and had arrived and been misdirected and put in storage over in Boston. So there were enormous charges for it, much greater than had been quoted and had been budgeted, which put us in the red, continuously, until a few years later when I won the AAAS Theobald Smith award in the Medical Sciences and received $1000. That’s the first time we got back into the black.
Do you remember what the starting salary was at MIT at that time?
I think it was a little more than the $3000. Well, they went a little higher than Stanford and Caltech, on the assistant professorship offer. Their original offer, as I recall it, was the same as those two, and I wrote back frankly that their message had arrived just as I was trying to reach a decision between Stanford and Cal Tech, at the same sa1ary level, and I had been told that expenses were considerably higher in the Cambridge area, and if that was true information, was there any opportunity that the salary might be a little bit larger than the original value? They responded yes, that it would be, and they raised it a few hundred dollars. When I arrived Joe Boyce apparently had been delegated to explain to me that what had happened was that I had been given my first promotion before arrival, and should not expect a raise the following year!
Promotion not in rank but in terms of level.
Level. Well, salary, yeah.
Had you known Boyce before?
No. I don’t think so.
He came up, I guess, from Princeton.
He came from Princeton with Compton, yes. Boyce and Eddie La Marr and the Van Atta brothers and Van de Graaff all came up.
What was your first introduction to the physics department? This would have been the summer.
Yes, this would have been the summer of ‘34.
What was your first introduction to the department? Who did you first report to or have contact with?
My recollection is that John Slater was away, and your records on his activities will tell you where and why he was away. He was away f or a protracted period. I don‘t know whether this was a leave of absence or summer trip or something, but he was gone for quite a while, because I was well settled in before he showed up, and I was sitting in my little cubbyhole office, I believe I was on the third floor of the Eastman Lab, sitting there working one day, and the door opened and the man walked in and said, “I’m Slater.” I didn’t catch the name at first. “Pardon me?” “Slater.” “Oh! How do you do.” I think it would have been George Harrison who monitored my arrival and told me where my office would be and where my laboratory would be. The laboratory, as I recall it, was on the fourth floor and my office on the third floor, a very small one but adequate, and I had some apparatus coming. It came all right and promptly. I don’t remember the details of the transfer of my Berkeley apparatus here. I started with that.
As you know, we had some documentation —
— yes, you had documentation on the exact amount of money, $250 I believe was the price, and —
That was already here, had already come?
There were no marked delays of any sort that I recall in respect to its arrival and I set about putting it up, and George Harrison was then undoubtedly the person who got me started in the department, and several students appeared, graduate students who wanted to work with me.
How did that happen? Did they present themselves; snoop around to see what was going on?
That was the usual technique, yes. It had been just the opposite at Cal Tech where, as our previous meeting points out, Millikan had assigned the doctoral theses and just said, “That’s it, this is the subject you will work on.” Here, at least, in later years, all the years that I recall, the graduate student goes around shopping, stops with various professors and asks them what they’ve got that might interest the student. George Harrison reminded me that being a new man, I would expect to get a flood of students, perhaps more than my share, and that I could expect that to taper off later, but it never did. George could be a very, very poker—faced kidder at times. I remember, he asked me, “Have you got a place to live, Bob?” and I said, “Yes.” “Where is it?” “In Watertown.” And his remark was, “That’s a very poor address,” and kept right on walking. That’s right — I didn’t know how to take it. But he of course had Western experience too, had been at Stanford, things of that sort — great guy.
Was it clear from the time you came what you would be teaching that first year? How did you know that?
No. I didn’t know that until I arrived, and I was asked to teach sophomore physics, which I did for many, many years, and I asked to start a graduate course in nuclear physics, not in radioactivity. There was no field at all in nuclear physics until the course that I began in 1934. It was all radioactivity. You recall in our previous discussion, the principal books of the period, Rutherford, Chadwick and Ellis and Meyer and Schweidler and Gamow’s book and all that, the title is Radioactivity. So I felt that the field was broadening rapidly, with the support of Cockcroft and Walton and all of those who followed, and it seemed to become a very much broader field. And I preferred to call it Nuclear Physics, and started such a course.
Did someone ask you to teach that, or was it you —?
I think I asked if I might teach it. They said “Yes indeed.”
You asked Slater?
I asked Slater or Harrison.
I thought that was ‘35, the course. Was it your first year?
I believe so. I probably didn’t start in September. It may have started in the second term. Was there something that indicates it was not until the following year?
“In January ‘35 we began at the Institute what was thought to be the first full year comprehensive course in Nuclear Physics.”
Well, then, that proves it. January ‘35, yes, it was the second semester of my first year here.
Now, let’s just talk about that for a minute. Did that appear in the Catalogue? We can check it, of course. I’m just trying to think about when the decision was made to teach it. I don’t know when the Catalogue was made up — I’m curious — to track it down.
— yes, well, that I think would be a simple library job. I don’t any longer have those old Catalogues or even the President’s Reports. I had a complete set, being a saver, but I sent them all in to the library in 1969, when I moved, so they should at least have access to duplicates. It’s strange sometimes how you can’t find the President’s Report for 1935, for example. Just fascinating. So I thought my collection was of some interest and value.
Well, we can check that.
My hunch is it was not in the catalogue the first year, because the Catalogue generally is issued once a year, and comes out in time for the students to select in the fall what they want to take in the fall. That same Catalogue carries over to the rest of the year.
Well, that’s what I was getting at that in that case, the announcement of the course would have been in some other communication, bulletin or newspaper or something.
Yeah, or list of courses that students were issued.
Well, what I’d like to try to do is get a description of the course as it was made to students. Your claim here is that as far as you know, it was the first course designated as “Nuclear Physics” and of offered anywhere in the United States, and perhaps elsewhere.
And this is what we want to check, to see what it said and so forth. Well, what was the response, how many students in it, what level? That first course that started January, ‘35.
Gee, at the moment, I draw a blank, except that I was very satisfied about the number of people who showed up, and their enthusiasm for the subject, and I don’t recall, in my sorting out files that I did before you and I met, I don’t recall saving anything that related to those early years, or the first year.
In ‘45, in your book ten years later, you attached a syllabus to this radioactivity —
— yes, and that would have been the syllabus for the course, as it stood then.
But not necessarily at the beginning.
And the manuscript of your book is based on the course as it was being given by ‘38 or ‘39, ‘40.
Well, — so we still don’t know how it started. Do you remember anything about your preparation, how you decided what was going to be included? Did you use some of the standard texts as inputs?
There was no text in nuclear physics. No, I think 1 used mainly references to the few books that existed, like Rutherford, Chadwick and Ellis, and Gamow’s books and things of that sort, and the original literature, and I did that for many years. At that time, the Eastman Library was right there in the Eastman Building. That was long before our present library building was even conceived, and all the physics journals and books were right there in the physics department, and with a good librarian in Miss Chamberlain. I recall her showing me one day, some years later, several journals which were on my reference list, for students, in which someone with a razor blade or other implement had cut out the articles referred to, so that they were gone from the library — which was terrible. I probably based it on an expansion and extrapolation of the course called radioactivity that I’d been giving at Berkeley, as a jumping off point.
This was a graduate level course?
So these people were physics graduates?
Yes, physics graduate students.
They weren’t coming over from engineering.
Did you have any feeling about what happened to the people who went into that class? Did some in fact become nuclear physicists, as we know the term now? It would be interesting to see what happened in subsequent years.
Yes. Yes, they did. And on my last visit here, three or four weeks ago — I took to Arizona all of my residual roll books and a card file, showing the photographs and personal data on each of the students. But I didn’t begin that instantly. That took a while to get going. But it’s conceivable that I have the roll books from the very beginning. I’ll look for those.
It would give us an idea of the number of students, and then one can do a little looking up to find out what happened in their subsequent careers, whether they went on to get degrees in physics — if they continued —
— and if so, in what fields, whether this exposure influenced them in their work. It’s hard to say what influences work, because the war interfered pretty soon and people are scattered — Was there a laboratory attached to the course from the start?
Not the first year, no. That took a little while to develop, and I don’t remember how many years, but we could probably date it by the fact that Sandy Brown was strongly involved in it, at a time when it was going great guns, and —
I can tell you when he came here; it looks like it was, well, — certainly by ‘38, but it’s not clear here whether ‘37 or ‘38. I have that somewhere else in here. All right, that’s something we can check.
I really recruited Sandy Brown from Dartmouth. I found him as a graduate student working with Geiger-Muller counters in an attic room at Dartmouth when I went up there to give a lecture, an invited lecture on nuclear physics and related matters, and I suggested that he come here, which he did. I’ll look for a list of outside lectures, too. That might give us some clues.
You know, you listed in the history of the Radioactivity Center about 75 lectures.
Oh, I did?
You didn’t give where they were and that was going to be a question later on, to what groups, and what was the major subject? Well, we can ask that now for a second. In general can you categorize the lectures? Were they all popular, or technical talks to physics people, or both?
They were a mixture. Most of them would be to general audiences, with some scientific background. Can you tell me what page?
This is on page 3. You say, “In addition to the Society of Arts lectures in ‘37 and ‘40, since 1939 you gave over 75 public demonstration lectures to groups outside the Institute” — just since ‘39. That covers the six year period you’re talking about. I was curious about; say from ‘34 did this pattern start as early as ‘34, ‘35?
It may have, to a small extent, but it probably exacerbated with the Society of Arts lecture in 1937. You have some information on what the Society of Arts was and what that lecture series was, and they asked me — that’s interesting to me, to go back and see that that came so soon, having arrived in ‘34, and being asked to do a Society of Arts lecture by ‘37, in retrospect it should make a guy feel pretty good. I think I have somewhere some photographs of some of the lecture equipment demonstration lectures that I used there, the demonstration equipment, and I had things built in the machine shop that would be models of a nucleus, like a model of a uranium nucleus made up with the proper number of red spheres representing protons and blue ones representing neutrons, and with a hole, a tube down the middle of it, which as a canon that fired out a Ping-Pong ball, in which, when one opened the ping pong ball, after recovering it from the audience, there were two red marbles and two blue marbles right? Two protons and two neutrons in the alpha particle. It was that kind of popularization, in order to impress visually, what radioactive decay was, and that it was spontaneous, unpredictable in time, but that the uranium nucleus at some time or other in its own sweet time would emit an alpha particle, this device having a concealed trigger so that I could trip it at any moment I chose, while discussing it with the audience.
— you were talking about —
— outside lectures.
You say you have photographs of the device that randomly, or not randomly, as you triggered the —
I may have.
Did you save the model? That doesn’t survive, does it?
I think I gave permission to Andy, the stockroom keeper in the lecture hall, to dispose of all of that material, about five years ago. I had a very large suitcase and a couple of wooden boxes for use in this travelling demonstration lecture, and it was in great demand at universities and chemistry societies and various meetings of that sort.
What period would you say that started? Was this late thirty or middle thirties?
It would have started immediately at the 1937 Society of Arts lecture. That precipitated a flood of things. There was a great deal of outside lecturing at that time. George Harrison and I pretty much carried the burden for the department, and often we would each be giving as many as two or three outside lectures a week.
Was that pressure coming from the outside?
Yes. Oh, heavens, yes. Yes, none of us sought it. Interest — you mean, why did they ask? Well I don’t know that I ever asked any of them why they asked me to do it. They got the word that there’d been an interesting lecture and a competent lecturer was available, and if you’ve ever served as a person who has to arrange a program, you know, you go after people, if you get a good tip from somebody. So George and I did an awful lot of this.
He wouldn’t be talking on nuclear physics?
I was wondering whether this reflected an upsurge of interest in nuclear physics.
I would think so. Yes. Surely.
It might help me to understand, it if — the list would help, what’s your impression of the breakdown? How many were popular lectures, how many technical?
Well, my feeling would be that by far the majority, perhaps three-quarters or seven-eighths ,were technical groups of some sort, Dartmouth Physics Colloquium, New England Chemical Society, Northeastern Physics Colloquium, things of that type. Mostly within a day’s journey of Boston, so that one could drive there and back, sometimes staying overnight, mostly not.
Did you talk about applications of isotopes?
I certainly was going at that heavily by 1940. I see that I gave two Society of Arts lectures, one in ‘37, one in ‘40, and it may be the 1940 one of which there are a couple of photographs that I’m recalling. And if you can find out from other sources, or it may be on the list of outside lectures, if I find that I haven’t destroyed it — I know I saw that list, because I used to keep the folder of outside lectures, by the year. There were too many of them to have a cumulative file. Each year had a list of outside lectures. And one large one for which we built larger models of the same demonstration type of equipment, was at the opening of the first Cancer Drive, was it the National Cancer Society or whatever its proper name —
American Cancer Society?
American Cancer Society. The opening blast at the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom in New York was with Cardinal Spellman, and a large number of other notables. Eric Johnson was the lead-off man. I gave the demonstration lecture and showed radioactive iodine’s, as a tracer in thyroid physiology and treatment of thyroid disorders, demonstrated a couple of patients with Geiger counters and things of that sort.
Real patients, yes. Yes. One had had his radioactive cocktail, as we called them in those days, a day or so before, and had localized the iodine in his thyroid, so you could scan him with a G-M counter and a loudspeaker in the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom and show very clearly that the radioactivity was right there in his neck and nowhere else. Another one, a very good looking gal with a low-cut gown that swallowed a capsule which had radioactive iodine in it, but was supposed to be entirely coated so it wouldn’t dissolve. In the end she would excrete it. It was made by one of the New York physicians. First I. showed that it was active. Then she swallowed it, and we traced it down her stomach, and stopped at that. She was interested in thyroid work, was a technician. Unhappily the capsule did open at a later time, and she got a pretty good radiation dose to her thyroid, which didn’t need it, and I think it was Seidlen was the New York physician, now deceased, who made the capsule and gave it five coatings of material so that it couldn’t dissolve, but it did. So we were in touch with her for some years afterwards. My recollection is, she went on to graduate work and got an advanced degree, perhaps an MD, very competent person, just one of those things that happened.
What’s her name?
I’ve long since forgotten, unless we can find it by change in any residual records. I don’t know.
It would be good to look up the newspaper accounts of that American Cancer Society meeting — if you know the date we can check on it. That’s very interesting to me. I’m concerned in my own research as a subtopic about public response and public presentation, especially in physics —
Yes. Radioactivity there was a great thing. There was none of the present hysteria. You see, all of the present hysteria, as I see it, arose as a result of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki weapons. (I’m making a note here, let me pause a minute about the American Cancer Society, we want the inaugural lecture date and any other information that might be available.)
And I can look up newspaper accounts.
Yes, newspapers — outline — anything. Oveta-Culp Hobby, she was there. And some movie stars that gave me great encouragement to come down in the audience by, in the midst of things, catching my eye and going like that — nice people. The present hysteria, as I saw it, began very, very clearly with the Baruch Plan, and I don’t believe we have ever discussed this previously. After the Hiroshima and Nagasaki weapons, were detonated, then American scientists, appalled at the destruction which nuclear weapons were capable of producing, wished to have an agreement with the Soviets that we would destroy our weapons and they would never build any. There would never be any more nuclear warfare. And this was called the Baruch Plan after Barnie Baruch, in order to get American acceptance of it, American physicists and other disciplines closely associated with the work deliberately undertook to frighten the American electorate, so as to get the necessary Congressional votes on treaties with the Soviets or with any other nation. And they succeeded in frightening — we succeeded in frightening the American electorate, so that there was no question about getting the vote in our Congress Then, unhappily, the Soviets didn’t accept the Baruch Plan, and we were left with no international agreement and a frightened electorate, and we’ve been in that situation ever since, until what little things are beginning to be accomplished now in the SALT talks and things of that sort. But that’s where it began. And in the days we were talking about, the American Cancer Society and so on, radioactivity was an absolutely great thing, a life-saver, wonderful in new medicine and things of that sort. I believe you have a copy of my article in the ATLANTIC MONTHLY, ‘46. Most of the illustrations given in that article, although they’re not attributed to any particular laboratory, most of them are from my laboratory here.
What would you say was the theme that popular audiences reacted to most, in terms of nuclear physics and it applications? There are many applications...
Yes. I don’t recall that any one of them was overwhelming and greater than another, except as I might emphasize it for one audience or another audience. For example, with the American Cancer Society audience, I would not discuss geophysical radioactivity and the abilities that one had to trace underground streams, water courses and connecting aquifers and things of this type, with radioactive tracers, and the geological dating work in which I was very active, the internal heat of the earth and the cooling of the earth, the source of heat and energy for volcanism and for earthquakes — all of this we were heavily involved in, and if the audience was of that type I would emphasize those. If it was of a medical type, I would emphasize the medical applications. But it was all highly acceptable. Everybody loved radioactivity, and spoke with great favor, and when we began the radio iodine work, and began giving large doses of radioactivity to patients, it was called the radioactive cocktail and was written up with…
Did we miss the end of the sentence? The media were writing up with enthusiasm and in a supportive manner the uses of radioactivity, in medicine and anything else. Bausch and Lomb, for example, just to further illustrate this point, through one of its former employees, Elmer Robinson, now retired and living in New Hampshire, wanted to mark its own glass for use in spectacles, spectacle lenses, feeling that it was far superior to Japanese import glass, and wanting to have a method whereby an optician could easily test and find out whether this was Bausch and Lomb glass or whether it was some other glass, and this former employee of Bausch and Lomb, Elmer Robinson, knew of the problem, and came to me wondering whether modern physics had any approach, such as added fluorescent materials or etching or anything of that sort. I suggested the addition of a small amount of radioactive material to the melt, as a tracer, so that the lens would be slightly radioactive, and that several different kinds of tracers could be used, which would have characteristic spectra and could be identified, so that if Bausch and Lomb wished to use this, they could identify several different kinds of their own glass, or glasses of several different manufactures who were licensed to use the product could use it. And the patent was issued on this. Bausch and Lomb did not take it up, because about the time the patent was issued, as I recall the dates, the general atmosphere about radioactivity was beginning gradually to shift, and we were at the time of the beginning of the Baruch Plan, and of frightening people, and they were apprehensive.
Now you’re talking just at the end of the war — this glass thing?
Yes, I think that must be about the date. The patent expired perhaps five or more years ago on that.
The patent was issued to you?
Yes, and Robinson. I can get that date easily. Margaret can look it up if you’d like that.
I’ll make a note of it.
All right, date.
I would like to talk about a lot of those applications. I think first I want to get back to the course for a while, and the question on my mind there is what was the response of the students? They were exposed to this for the first time in a coherent manner. What did you find was their interest?
I felt they were —
— in the beginning and then as it evolved.
I always remember them as extremely enthusiastic about it. They had a grand time in class. I don’t know what else to tell you. It was a very favorable response and a lot more students in class than one had a right to expect, for a young guy in his mid-twenties, giving a graduate course. They were apparently delighted with the content and, so I’m told, with the presentation, because I was always one to prepare excessively for lectures.
The book shows that. I don’t know that it was excessive but it was comprehensive.
In general, for a one hour lecture I think 1 would have prepared, all through my teaching career, at least four to six hours, even though it was a lecture I had given every year for 20 years. I would go back over it, see what else had happened in the meantime, look at all of the peripheral questions that, any student might wish to raise during the class, so that I was grossly over-prepared for anything that might come up, as well as for what I planned to say. I always did this.
Did you also take the same responsibility for the laboratory that was later attached?
When did the laboratory first get attached to the course?
I do not recall accurately. Whether it’s listed in this early record —
The laboratory existed as of the time this was written but it doesn’t say how much earlier.
Well, here on page 1 it says that the laboratory manual was prepared in September 1939 by Sandy Brown.
You said, “From the beginning the course on nuclear physics included one three hour laboratory section.”
OK. All right, there we are then, right from the start.
And then by looking at Sandy Brown’s manual, which I would like to see —
— gee, so would I. I wonder if we have a copy of it — (crosstalk) —
— I’ll ask him, I’ll bet he has it —
— I hope he does —
Let’s find out about that. That would give it as close to the beginning as we can — and I can ask him —
Yes, if you’ll put that down for him.
Did you have any assistance in running the laboratory?
Oh yes. Oh yes, there was always at least one graduate assistant, I suppose it was one. I don’t recall whether there were ever two but there certainly was always one.
I won’t bother asking what kind of experiments you set up. I can get that from the manual and we can perhaps go back for some footnotes. What I’d like to ask about is the research that you got involved in. One particular thing that fits with this is the work with Livingston, which resulted in the publication in 1935, — correlation of artificial disintegration data.
How did that collaboration come about, and what was the relation of that to the work that Livingston then did with Bethe, on the Bethe articles?
They were very intimately correlated. Livingston and I were going to write the book on nuclear physics together, as co-authors, and we both followed the literature, covering both the data in English and in French and German. Stan’s languages were never strong, and so I took the foreign literature, as well as part of the English, part of the literature which was in English, and we abstracted the articles on 3 x 5 cards, and exchanged those at regular intervals. He was then at Cornell, and I was here, and there was no such thing as a copying machine, so these 3 x 5 cards had to be copied by hand. We each had identical sets. And among the various things we were doing was this correlation of nuclear disintegration reactions, and finding what to us seemed like very fascinating patterns and type reactions, which of course is now so old hat that nobody even things about its ever having had an origin. I’m sure we were not the first to realize that there were type reactions. But we certainly were among the first few who did, and we made those charts of the reactions, and found out — to our own surprise at least — why some reactions had not been observed, namely, that they had threshold energies, and had that much bombarding energy yet to cause the reaction to take place. The reaction of what we’d now call a large Q value. Because Q values for reactions were not recognized for quite a while. So Stan and I had this developing and very complete bibliography on all aspects of nuclear physics, on a worldwide basis, and out of it we cranked that one paper. Then, when Bethe arrived at Cornell, he discovered Stan’s file, and he went to it and absorbed it. And Stan said, that’s where Bethe learned his nuclear physics. From that file. Of course, he learned a lot more than that, because he came out with a lot of things that weren’t in that file, but that gave him his toehold. Then Stan was very busy, and when the pressure came on especially to try to finish the book before World War Ii broke, when it was clear that things were going to happen on an international level and we’d better try to get the book out in a hurry, namely 1940 or so, Stan said he couldn’t make it, he was too busy, and he’d bow out. It was my ball from there on, and I tried very hard to finish it and couldn’t. Then I undertook to have some people write the remaining chapters under their own names, and thus make it a compilation, and Phil Morrison, a graduate student at Berkeley, was one of those who undertook to write a chapter, and dii, and the arrangement always was that if we didn’t finish and didn’t get the book out, that the chapter would be published under its author’s own name in the open literature, and Phil’s paper is in the literature
What is the title?
Oh, I’d have to look it up. It’s related to Q values in nuclear reactions — nuclear reaction kinetics.
Was he still at Berkeley, or —
Yes, he was at Berkeley. The paper has one gross error in it that is the signs of all of the Q values are wrong.
Was it a typographical error?
No. No, it’s an error of concept, plus and minus. But it’s a good paper, and he wrote well. He was coming up the line then. He already had a very serious limp, but was by no means as crippled as he is now.
I didn’t realize that that was — progressing?
Yes. Yes. He was already displaying a limp, but I don’t recall that he had to have a cane by then. It was an obvious deformity which made his gait unique.
So he was involved in that project too. It was branching out.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
What was the thing that started you and Stan Livingston on this? Was it in your Berkeley days when you were both overlapping there?
Probably. Yes, I think it began probably in our least few months at Berkeley, and with Stan going to Cornell and starting up his own research show there, and undertaking to build a cyclotron somewhere else than Berkeley, to show that the machine would work in any geographical location. And having a few graduate students, and I have a feeling that he was teaching some kind of course, related.
Yes, I have that information somewhere but don’t have it with me.
Yes. Must have been using the material that we were gathering, in some way.
In this card file, the material in the card file got into Bethe’s review articles?
So this need for pulling together this mass of information was being filled through a series of articles, in this case it was used in Reviews of Modern Physics in the Evans-Livingston articles.
And then the Bethe-Livingston-Bacher articles appeared, starting the following year, ‘36, ‘37 —
So by 1937 you had at least those four articles including yours with Livingston in the basic body of the literature.
This is all prior to your textbook — you said that your efforts to prepare a textbook were about two-thirds completed in ‘38? But this was still a joint project with you and Livingston?
By then, I think I was alone on it.
That’s the implication here.
Yes. He was absorbed with Bethe and Bob Bacher. (Crosstalk) Weiner…Livingston was coming here?
Yes, that’s right. Yes.
Tied up with the cyclotron.
Well, all right, this goes — there’s an interesting point here. At the end of your article, Livingston states, “No bibliography is here appended because if complete it would exceed a thousand references, and if incomplete it might appear invidious to some.”
Hm-mm. That’s the card file. Yes.
That’s what I figured. OK, now I would like to get back to another thing that started very early upon your arrival here, and that is, your work with Dr. Aub.
You indicate, you started corresponding with him on some issues while you were still at Berkeley.
Then when you came here, I gather, from the beginning you did some collaborative work, the first time —
— right away — Right.
So tell us how this came about. First, who initiated the correspondence? From Berkeley?
I did, I did. The radium poisoning story. The thing that drew me into medical applications of nuclear physics, was the watch dial painters of New Jersey, who swallowed radium dial paint, and got carcinogenic sarcomas and other disabilities that Harrison Mortland particularly described in the early literature. And then when Evan Byers died — Evan Byers was a bachelor in Pittsburgh, I suppose multimillionaire, national amateur golf champion and president of Byers Steel, and a great man with the ladies, especially the married ladies. In running down his friends and acquaintances, we come to the most amazing things, where we have patients who have come to the laboratory who don’t know whether Evan Byers is their father or not. Other gals who are on lifetime trust funds, which have a different surname than Byers. His responsibility. He took a radioactive tonic called Radithor, which was put out by the William J. H. Bailey Laboratories, and actually contained what the label said, namely a microcurie of radium and a microcurie of mesothorium, in about a half ounce of distilled water, and one was supposed to take four of these a day, one with each meal and one at bedtime, as a tonic. And — if not an aphrodisiac. He took a lot of this, and so did several of his girlfriends, and after a while, it got to him, and he died a miserable death. Mostly, as I recall, Evan Byers could easily fill us in on his terminal symptoms, but as I recall, he was so heavily loaded that there really wasn’t time for him to develop malignancy, and it was osteomyelitis and related infections, which took him and one of his principal lady friends off almost simultaneously, within a year or so. His death was written up in “Time Magazine”, and this came to the attention of the California Public Health authorities instantly, and they said this would be a very bad kind of publicity to have for California; we don’t want any of it. So they went to the leading scientist of the state, Robert Millikan, and said, “What do we do about preventing this?” And he said, “I have a young man over in the basement of the Bridge Laboratory that you ought to talk to.” They came over, and we talked. So it was clear that the apparatus that I had developed for the study of geological specimens was the most sensitive radium detecting equipment that existed. And I became interested in radium poisoning. And the Public Health Association asked me to give their annual lecture on radium poisoning, so I studied the entire literature, and that was one of my early papers, “Review of Present Knowledge,” I believe it was called, “of Radium Poisoning.” By then at least one patient had shown up, a watch dial painter — I think she was from New Jersey, though it may have been Ottawa, Illinois — in the Los Angeles area. She was a patient of a physician named E. Richman Ware. And he had gotten in touch with Cal Tech, I think through Charlie Lauritsen. In any case he was quickly referred to me, and so was the patient and I gave some demonstration lectures in the Pasadena area at Cal Tech, in the Cal Tech auditorium, and elsewhere. I think the Public Health Association was in the Bay Area, as I remember it. This then provided at once an interesting patient, who was beginning to get osteomyelitis of the jaw, and was having sequestra come out, pieces of bone come out from her jaw, and be loose in her mouth and expectorated, lost all her teeth, the usual kind of first symptom of the acute radium poisoning syndrome. So I thought what might be done therapeutically to help this lady. She had an anemia but it responded to the normal treatments for anemia of the day, iron supplements and things like that. So it wasn’t so-called regenerative anemia which does not respond to therapy, and which was seen in the early very high level cases. We never see it any more. Nobody gets that much radium on board. I wondered what could be done for the lady, and we began studying her in some detail, and I moved to Berkeley and continued this work. I put it on the back burner — but with the same equipment, we could measure samples of her excreta, Radium is excreted mainly in the feces rather than the urine, so that it’s a difficult chemical job to reduce it to a manageable sample for the radium analysis, but we had exhaled breath samples from her and urine and feces, and some whole body measurements, but we weren’t calibrated for whole body work, and the Geiger-Muller counter was just barely being invented, you see. There were very few, if any of them, in the United States. I built some at Berkeley, began building them in 1934, for that, but primarily for the work on geophysics and radioactivity of rocks and the dating of rocks and measurement of thorium content of rocks — a point which we discussed in our previous interview. So, in the hope of being able to suggest some therapy for her, I became aware, I suppose in my review of the medical literature, of the work of Joe Aub, in de-leading patients with parathyroid hormone, which had just been quite recently discovered, and was available as an experimental material from one of the pharmaceutical houses. So I corresponded with Joe Aub, asking whether anything might be done, whether the chemistry, body chemistry of radium might be sufficiently analogous to that of lead so that there might be a prospect of removing radium from the skeleton, as he was successfully removing lead from the skeleton, certainly of experimental cats and to some extent of humans. When I arrived here, we arranged a meeting very quickly, and he had a patient with him a few weeks, referred by a local physician, and we went to work on her, and that was Mrs. Hobart, a Boston Brahmin, lovely woman, with the largest radium body burden of any living person we’d ever studied, over 20 microcuries.
How did she get that?
She got that as prescribed by a physician, as a tonic. And intravenous injections and drinking of radium water. It was a new and unofficial remedy, approved by the AMA until 1932. It was in “New and Unofficial Remedies,” the little black book, non-book that they publish every year of “New and Unofficial Remedies,” and it was removed in 1932.
There was no understanding —
No stigma attached to a physician prescribing intravenous injections of radium, and it was a widespread practice. We know of one physician in Chicago, for example, who injected more than a thousand patients, the normal regime being 10 microcuries intravenously once a week for a year! That’s 500 microcuries or half a millicurie. That is a very large amount of radium to be administered intravenously! That physician destroyed his records and left town. There were a number of physicians doing that. So practically immediately on arrival here, Joe Aub and I were in touch, and very quickly thereafter had a patient in hospital, and Mrs. Hobart, I don’t know to what extent her name should be revealed on final records, but you do have a caveat up front that protects identity — she was referred by her dentist, because her jaw was showing signs of resorption, her lower jaw, and the oral her that if she yawned hard, she’d break her jaw. It was at that stage, and Joe Aub put her in Huntington Hospital, which he was director of, and he was one of the very early researchers in cancer. Cancer was not big business in 1934. He was sort of an oddball for being a man studying cancer. But a perfectly wonderful man. Just a magnificent person. He died just a few months ago. But as one of his patients said, he was Christ-like, and this is true. Well, Mrs. Hobart went in the Huntington Hospital, under a carefully controlled metabolic regime, and we gave her parathyroid, Joe gave her parathyroid hormone and ammonium chloride to induce an acidosis, and undertook to remove as much radium as he could with this regime, and then cycled her by putting her on high calcium and thyosterol to rebuild the skeletal calcium deposits, and then cycled her again and so on. She’s written up in one of our early papers The net result was that her jaw healed. We can’t claim credit for that. It’s as Morris Fishbein used to say, “I treated him, and he got well.” But she certainly had a remission from the jaw problem, and we pub1ished the before and after X-rays of her jaw. That was encouraging. We only removed a tiny fraction, an order of magnitude, as I recall it; of 1 percent of her body burden of radium. It was very disappointing in terms of fractional excretion. We did elevate the normal daily excretion considerably, but the normal daily excretion is only 5/1000 of 1 percent of the body burden, and you can boost that up by a factor of 10 or 100 and still not get very far in three weeks, you see.
How old was she at the time?
She was probably in her late fifties or early sixties, possibly. We could easily check this out. We published her several times. She’s classic in the literature of radium poisoning. She had been given the radium for menopausal complaints. Radium was administered for anything for which there was not a recognized cure. Her daughter was given radium by the same physician for “debutante’s fatigue.” And she carried a body burden of five microcuries, which is 50 times the present permissible value, and her mother had over 200 times the so-called permissible body burden, 20 microcuries. And the second patient who came along shortly thereafter was Emma Carol, a radium dial painter from Ottawa, Illinois. She went into the Huntington Hospital. We tried the same parathyroid hormone therapy on her, and it worked very poorly and got only a slight elevation and no remission of symptoms, and Joe and I were very discouraged. We published those, and also Professor Ladenburg of Princeton got himself in a radium accident with a sealed radium source that he was using, and he put a soldering iron to it to try to touch it up a little bit, seal it, and instead of that it exploded on him. So I was called in on that immediately, and took the very first of our portable counting rate meters, an instrument that I had conceived and we had developed here — that’s the Edgerton, Gingrich and Evans paper, which is the counting rate meter — I took that down to Princeton and measured him, and then we got him up and in hospital. He’s in this same publication with Joe Aub and our two principal laboratory technicians, who did all the dirty work of measuring the feces and urine and all of that. At the same time, I developed a method of measuring with Geiger-Muller counters the gamma radiation from an intact living human being, without having to put them in a Waring blender and homogenize them and take an aliquot. This is called the meter arc method, by some, and the Evans meter arc by some, and it’s the standard, still is the standard method of measuring radioactivity which is in a concealed and absorbing body, anything, a human being or a waste drum or a sack of cement or anything else that you don’t want to open, but you want to know how much is in it, and preferably where it is. That was published.
The thing that motivated you was the real problems you were faced with, these cases.
Yes. Yes. Here were people, and I had equipment which could make meaningful measurements of their radioactive burden and could quantify the radiation that they were receiving, and was interested in therapy if possible, and since therapy didn’t work out very well, then I become interested in what amounts of radioactivity would the human being tolerate, and with what effects. What we now call the dose-response relationship. So I became interested in that right away. Then very soon the medical fraternity throughout the country realized that I existed, and so we had referrals from all over the country, and a modest number of patients — not many, two or three dozen, something like this — came, before World War II broke. But, on a basis of those, we were able at the beginning of World War II to set a permissible level, at .1 microcurie, which I pulled out of the few cases that we had studied and a crystal ball — I still have, it’s in my office in Arizona, not this office — but a genuine crystal ball. That value has stood, and it’s the world standard for permissible levels, and the permissible levels of plutonium content of the human are based on it, by ratio, and it is the value which was used for protection of plutonium workers all through the plutonium project of World War II, and has been declared by at least two authors to be the work which saved a plutonium disaster of illness, due to the handling of plutonium. Both Merle Eisenbud has written this in his book, and Glenn Seaborg has stated it in public lectures. Whether he’s written about it, I don’t know. In any case, we had enough human beings ready by 1940 so that we could give an intelligent guess as to what the human could tolerate. And no dial painters have suffered any known injuries since. No person has ever been injured that we know of by plutonium, as a body burden, nor by radio-strontium, which is based on the radium standard too. So it’s been a very satisfying piece of work. The Food and Drug Administration was also interested, in the mid- thirties, in learning what amounts of radium would be permissible in humans, because there were a number of products containing radium which were for sale on the open market. There were face creams, for instance, sold by Elizabeth Arden, and there were — oh, vaginal jelly which was loaded with radium and was supposed to help in the function of vaginal jelly, and just every kind of product, and food and drug , and we tried to do animal experiments in order to get values for them, and that’s the work of Evans and Bob Harris and John Bunker. Then Joe Aub and some of his people too became involved later, in the production of carcinogenic sarcomas in rats, which we fed radium paint, and we learned all about rats and nothing about humans. We found that the rats were sustaining burdens per gram of skeletal weight which were several hundred times what a human could tolerate, for the production of a carcinogenic sarcoma in the same fraction of their life span. And so the final paper on that says, “Well, see how interesting it is, here is a table of the relative toxicity of radium in the Wister rat and the human,” and the rest of the table was the vitamin requirements, and other poisons, mercury and so on — “Look, you fellows, don’t bother with animals. If you want to know about humans, study humans.” I’ve never done any more animal work since.
How did you come to that conclusion that this did not carry over for humans?
Just by seeing how vastly different the radiation doses were.
You were working with humans simultaneously.
Yes, with humans simultaneously, and that’s how we knew. We had enough, not many, two dozen or so humans, to know that the doses which the rats were sustaining would be disastrous to a human, and that therefore there was no way of scaling a permissible level in a rat to a permissible level in a human being. We therefore turned to the use of toxicity ratios. That’s how plutonium and strontium are tied to the radium permissible levels, by doing in animals a ratio of toxicity, the ratio of the toxicity of plutonium and radium is measured in dogs for example, and then it is hoped that the radium ratio of toxicity to the human. We have still under investigation the only possible experimental cross-check on that assumption, That’s because we had more than a hundred patients, considerably more than a hundred patients whose primary insult is not from radium but is from mesothorium, which is a short-lived isotope of radium with 5.7 year half period. And we have some fair measurements of the toxicity ratio for humans, and there have already been completed quite good toxicity ratios for beagle dogs at the Salt Lake City Project, where radium is used as the baseline. It’s a colony of 500 or more beagles with many different radioactive materials injected in them. Radium serves as the baseline. There’s a radium group and an un-injected control group, and then plutonium, radio strontium, mesothorium, radio thorium, and several others.
Salt Lake City Project is part of the university too?
Yes, medical school, department of anatomy. So all that — you asked me how I got into it.
Let me ask a question about Food and Drug Administration involvement. They sought you out. What was your responsibility to them? Were you designated a consultant? Here you were in the academic world, a non-government employee, you were doing something for the research staff which was then absorbed by them and used. I’m interested in this concept, how a scientific expert develops. Was there a contract?
I don’t remember that there was, no, or any exchange of funds. I wasn’t even paid my train fare down to Washington. They may have. No. No big deal, nothing like modern research. They just expressed an interest in this, and I was interested in trying to help them find the answer and went to work on it.
It would be good if you could find any correspondence.
I’ll see whether there’s anything —
Any correspondence with Aub when you were at Berkeley?
All right, if there’s any of that left, gee, I hope — we threw away so much before you and I met, you know. Gosh.
…what was the other thing here?
About the FDA.
Oh, the Food and Drug. Yeah. See, if there had been a contract or a grant, it should have been listed in this listing in the Radioactivity Center history. Of course, there’s a hiatus, as you realize, between this first one prepared for John Slater’s proposed history of the physics department, which he, I think, never finished, and the 20 year summary.
I have it. It’s not published.
Oh, is that right, he did? Oh, how nice.
I even have excerpts of it here.
Great. Great. Isn’t there in here a list or research grants — and things?
It’s at the end of this. The appendix — here it is, on page 30, right, it shows the grants — Evans I don’t see anything that relates to it
Well, let’s see what we can find in your correspondence. Now, do you recall what year this developed? I don’t know if you can pinpoint the year, that the FDA was —
No, I didn’t, but it would be easy from the dates of the administration of radium to the Wister rats. That would give it to us within a year or so.
Were those rats named after Casper Wister?
Well, they could easily be.
One of the scientists in early American history, someone who was involved — I may be —
— isn’t there a Wister Institute?
I don’t know, there may be.
It’s a very uniform, inbred strain of rat. Wister, that’s right. Well, let’s see, date of Food and Drug is easy, from the paper, with Harris and Bunker.
If you can look up that paper, and see what they say in acknowledgements, what they say about your status, if there’s any little — All right, so we’ll try to pin down that Food and Drug work. The reason I’m interested is because here is a government agency with responsibility in the field, going to an academic scientist for specific help, and this is a pattern that we’d like to follow.
I think it only takes one minute to find that. All right, OK, I’ll look it up.
— one question I want to ask and that has to do with the origins of the National Research Council Radiation Standards Committee. This comes up about the same time.
Yes, it does.
I don’t remember — we have some correspondence on it, back —
— yes, yes, that whole thing.
But what was the origin of it in terms of, whose idea?
You went to them?
Who did you seek out first, did you go through —
— I don’t know — Certainly Leon Curtis of the Bureau of Standards Radioactivity or Radium Division or whatever it was called in those days was strongly involved. No, it began because I wanted our measurements to be as accurate as possible, in the sense that accurate means correctness, whereas precision means reproducibility and I wanted them to be accurate in the sense of comparison with the international radium standard, the first by Curie and the second by Honigschmidt, which was the international radium standard. So in Berkeley I had of course this same problem of radium standards. There the radioactivity being measured was small. It was in the 10 to the minus 12 domain, curies of radium, — pico curies, as it’s now called — and there were no standards that were adequate. I brought standards from Germany, from the [???] and got a standard, got a sample of his material from a Swiss worker named Hersh, I think his name was. The US Bureau of Standards had nothing. They were able to work in the domain of millicurie, a million times as much, with the gold leaf electroscope, literally. That was the equipment that the Bureau of Standards had, total equipment for measuring radioactivity was a gold leaf electroscope. So I corresponded with Sam Lynd, who had, with a student named Roberts, measured the atomic weight of radium, and therefore had purified some radium compounds, and had put a fraction of those in solutions. Sam Lynd very graciously made a solution for me which became our primary standard for the measurement of radioactivity in rocks, and we described the origin of that very carefully in at least one paper, the so-called Five Way Paper, and that became called the Evans-Lynd or the Lynd-Evans standard. Well, I wanted something better than that, and as soon as these radium cases came along, I wanted things which were midway between, geometrically midway between the millicurie that the Bureau of Standards could measure and the microcurie, 10-12 thing — I wanted something in the microcurie domain of 1 and 2 and 5, 10. So I bought from US Radium Corporation several of their little ampules, which were labeled “10 micrograms of radium”. Radium is properly measured in grams, actually. It’s the only one that is. It is not in curies, it’s in grams. These came in little yellow boxes. These were the sterile solutions for intravenous injection by physicians.
The ones that were being used on some of the patients?
Yes. Exactly. So I bought several of those, and they at least were consistent with one another. They had precision, but we didn’t know about the accuracy. They were reproducible but we didn’t know whether they were high or low or what. So when I got here, and there was more work to do with human radium cases, we were stuck for standards, and I used some uranium ore, on which I had analyses and could weigh the ore that was based on a uranium analysis which chemists could do, and it was a well-pedigreed ore, and I used that as the standard for these first few patients. And was seeking to get better radium standards in the microcurie or microgram domain. So I inquired of other radium supply houses, like the Radium Chemical Company and Radium-Belge and so on, as to what they could supply, and yes, they could supply them, so we bought those, and by that time Clark Goodwin was here and was working with me, and we inter-compared them, and the inter-comparison was just ghastly. It was just, no sense to it at all. So, it’s like Bill’s famous remark about the two bathroom scales that he stood on at the Harvard Coop, wanting to buy one for his wife, and they gave a different weight for Bill, some five pounds difference between the two. He said to the clerk, “At least one of these is wrong, isn’t it?” At least one. So we didn’t know what was right at all about standards. Then we began to open up these vials. We’d open up the so-called 10 microgram vial of US Radium, and sub dilute it, with the greatest care in pipetting that we could and with calibrated glassware and the proper temperatures, and there’s always the problem of deposition Of radium on glassware. You have to protect that with hydrochloric acid and barium chloride carrier, and there’re many places where you can go wrong. We made our own dilutions, and we came out in quite good agreement with the Lynd-Evans standard, and thought that the US Radium Corporation’s ampules for intravenous injection were about as good as we were able to get in this country, but that it was a pity that the National Bureau of Standards couldn’t do anything. Leon Curtis, who was head of the radium department, also felt embarrassed and felt this need, and so I think the three of us really spearheaded the formation of what was called the Committee on Standards of Radioactivity. I reported some of this at one of the American Physical Society meetings in Washington — that is, the disparity between alleged standards from various sources, the horrible situation in which we were. And that’s how it started. It began as standards of radioactivity. It went on from that to standards of radioactivity not only as sub dilutions, liquid solutions, blank solutions — which you could use for calibrating and see if you got zero, and could use for diluting — and a set of standard rocks, which were carefully measured in all laboratories capable of making those measurements, prepared in 100 pound lots or something, prepared for distribution from the Bureau as official analyzed samples — that type of thing. We tried to get standardization going so that we could have accuracy in the measurements of radium.
This was NRC sponsored, before the Bureau? Or was the Bureau involved in the committee itself?
Just by its representation. Leon Curtis. My recollection is, I was chairman and Leon Curtis was vice-chairman. We sort of fought over who would be chairman, in the sense of each of us wanting the other guy to do it. Then after the war when we started up the committee again, I said, “Now, look, Leon, I did it before, you gotta be chairman this time,” and he said, “Well, I will be if you’ll be vice chairman. So we started it up again.
Was it operated by — for instance, your budget shows “Radioactivity Center,” that there were $500 grants from National Research Council to carry out the work of the committee, the testing.
I suppose so, but I’m at this moment really not sure what National Research Council Grant 151 was all about.
I do have the documentation but I don’t have it with me. I think that’s —
You do? That’s what it is, is it? Let’s see, that’s listed here —
I’m just trying to think of how the committee itself functioned. You don’t just meet and decide standards —
— no —
— you select, cooperate, other individuals — great deal of work?
— oh yes, oh yes, tremendous amount. And that’s pretty well recorded in those minutes. They’re quite complete. Of course, it turned out later that I apparently was the only person who had a copy. The Bureau didn’t have copies, even of their analysis of their standard samples. They got in a box after the war, and they could still find their standard samples but not their calibration.
We’re resuming now after the lunch break. We were talking earlier about the Wister rat experiments, when they began and what the relationship was specifically to the Food and Drug Administration and so forth — you have this paper?
Right. The paper is No. 143 in the collected papers of the Radioactivity Center, which you have. It’s by Evans, Harris and Bunker, called “Radium Metabolism in Rats and Production of Carcinogenic Sarcoma by Experimental Radium Poisoning.” It was published in the AMERICAN JOURNAL OF ROENTGENOLOGY AND RADIUM THERAPY Volume LII, October 1944, beginning on page 353, and it shows that the experiments on the rats were begun, the actual first treatments of the rats were begin on November 2, 1936, and were continued for some time after that, and there are comments in the text of the article about the interest of the Food and Drug Administration in learning about permissible values for humans. And there are the comments at the end of the paper, saying that you cannot determine human permissible values from rat experiments, and that — it’s supported — yes, the acknowledgment shows that it was supported in part by Grants No. 171 and 185 from the Committee on Radiation of the National Research Council, and a grant-in-aid from the permanent science fund of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Thanks. We should determine now how long we have — how long do you want to stay with me?
5 o’clock? Right?
That’s fine. Then, the point that we left on was how the NRC Radiation Standards Committee functioned. Not so much what it accomplished, we talked about that and there is some documentation of it, but just, whether you would meet in Washington, make plans or whether it was done by letter, by telephone, what proportion, how people were recruited as collaborators in the effort, whether contracts were let out then to various participating individuals —
There may have been a few contracts, but they were not involved directly, as I recall it, they were not involved directly or controlled by the committee or radioactive standards or standards on radioactivity, whichever its proper name was. Rather they would be grants-in-aid of research going on in individual people’s laboratories, Or they would be supported by local research, and it would be the interested parties, these people who were interested in the field, particularly in the geological applications of radioactivity. And Lane, we called him Pop Lane — is his name Arthur Lane? We can verify that point some time. He’s long since deceased. He was elderly at the time. He was very supportive of everyone interested in geophysical applications of radioactivity. He was by profession a geologist, and may even have been emeritus or almost emeritus at the time all this was going on. Well, the names of the people involved will be in the old minutes. In general, work was done in individual people’s laboratories and by correspondence. There was very little use of the telephone, pre-World War II. That was an extravagance that nobody even thought about using, except in the most extreme circumstances. You might telegraph, but the telephone was almost unheard of, on long lines then. So, at the meetings, results obtained since the previous meeting would be reported, and plans for future work would be laid, and persons would go ahead and do their part, or fail to do their part, and would meet again and carry on the program in that connection.
Were the results widely diffused through normal channels of the literature, or were they — there were reports issued by the
— yes, there were brief reports. The availability of these standards and reprints of those are in your set of collected reprints, with Curtis of the Bureau of Standards often the lead author, because that would be the proper place to go for the standards, since that’s where they finally were deposited and became available.
I don’t have any more specific questions on that until I get more documentation. Let me go back then to something earlier, and that is, on the origins of the Radioactivity Center. First of all, the concept. It’s one thing to come here and be told that they want you to pursue your field of work, and students come around in traditional style, and you’re provided with a laboratory, and MIT pays for the transfer of your apparatus, $250 worth, here, and you get set up to do research. It’s another thing to have something which is referred to as a Center with a name, and it develops subsections, even if there’s only one man to a section. I’m curious when the concept developed, when the name developed — if anyone had to be sold on it? Whether you had a short or long range plan for it? Whether you had some guarantee of support or indication where support would be coming from? I didn’t find it. Maybe I looked in the wrong place.
You didn’t find it in the history? My recollection is that Jack Irvine commented on the Radioactivity Center being something like an amoeba.
Like an amoeba, that I read — it’s a very exact description — but that’s a distinction in — I think you wrote that up in ‘45 — Evans Yes, ‘45, which would have been 11 years later.
I’m curious about the concept of it and even the name.
Yes. Well, I can tell you very easily where the name came from. We soon found ourselves doing radioactivity things that involved not only the physics department but of course the geology department, because of the initial work on geophysical radioactivity, directed toward the dating of geological formations, and such people as Pat Hurley were in our laboratory. He’s professor of zoology here and I think executive officer of the geology or earth sciences department, as it’s now called. And Pat was in the laboratory, either having just obtained or working for his doctorate. Clark Goodman was very much straddling the geophysical and geological side of things. We began to come up with applications or the possibility of applications of radioactive methods in many other departments — in chemistry very directly, because of the immediate use of radioactivity as tracers, with people like Jack Irvine taking his doctorate in chemistry. So it quickly became a group of students who were interdepartmental. They were not all physicists at all. Many of them were from other departments around the Institute, and those who were in physics were doing what we would call pure, basic physics research, nuclear spectroscopy, building a beta ray spectrograph and studying the shape of the spectrum of Radium E and the whole problem in those days. Things of that type. And then later Martin Deutsch’s work with nuclear spectroscopy, and that whole group of people. Long before then the interdepartmental character was recognized, and it was the treasurer of the Institute, the late Horace Ford, who suggested to me the name Radioactivity Center, and said, “You’re interdepartmental.” I guess we were the first interdepartmental laboratory, certainly one of the first. Re said, “You’re interdepartmental and you should have a different kind of name, and I suggest you call yourself the Radioactivity Center, and we’ll set up the books that way.” I said, “OK.” So we went out and the secretary ordered a rubber stamp which was circular and said “Radioactivity Center” and that was it.
When was that?
I wish I could tell you. We’d have to go to the bursar’s, treasurer’s office to see
I have a feeling it might have been ‘36, for this reason — in Slater’s history of the department, unless he’s using the days from the very beginning, this way, because he says, “The Radioactivity Center was set up from the beginning, with the radio chemical section to handle the very special radiochemical problems involved.” He mentions John Irvine starting radiochemical work as a graduate student in 1936. And so if “the beginning” is used accurately, then it could be ‘36. I don’t know.
It was very early. I would say it was ‘36 or before. I wouldn’t know how to — sometime between ‘34 and ‘36. My feeling would be that it was very early indeed.
Slater says that Evans’ first move was to establish a Radioactivity Center with complete facilities for radioactivity investigation, That’s a loose statement — I don’t know —
Well, “Evans’ first move” was to come in and set up and get to work, and let productivity and results speak for themselves, and never to pressure anybody, for more space or more facilities or more money or something else, except on a basis of performance. And when my group was performing and putting out great results and we were bulging at the seams and having five people per room, per bay, we’d say, “Gee. John can’t we have another bay somehow, somewhere? Particularly it would be nice if it were near our present ones. We just can’t take care of this many graduate students without a little more space.” And this has always been my policy — not to come in pounding the table and saying, “I want a whole lot,” but rather just come in quietly and tend to your knitting, and if the results come out, than let them justify the expansion. That was the way it went.
So you didn’t have a growing plan.
No, there was no castle building going on at all. No empire in mind at all.
— judged by the process —
— by its productivity.
What about the division of labor? You had very clearly defined, maybe not so clearly, but retrospectively described it seems that they were specific sections — detection, radio chemistry and so forth. Can you say anything about that, how it was set up in terms of specific division of labor?
Well, they certainly were not watertight compartments at all. Very commonly, the person who needed a fancy and different kind of detection equipment would develop it himself, and we certainly had no persons like a budding Kistiakowski who would sit off in a corner as an instrument designer. Nothing of this sort. The counting rate meter, for example, was invented over my ping pong table in my basement, in the middle of a rally, when I was playing with Newell Gingrich I suddenly stopped and said, “Hey, you know, wait a minute, we can do it, we can make a counting rate meter.” He said, “Oh, no you can’t,” and I said, “Yes I can,” and we sat right down and got a scratch pad, and I showed him how to build such circuits and how it could be done, and the next day Newell started in to wire up a breadboard outfit and it worked, and that became the counting rate meter that became so universally used. As part of it we used the trigger circuit that Harold Edgerton had used in the stroboscopes, and we sought his advice on how best to wire that up, and as a consequence the paper is with three authors. I don’t recall what order, but Harold Edgerton and Newell Gingrich and me. Things just grew that way. It wasn’t that I was an instrument man or Newell was, or anything — whoever needed it and felt so inclined did it.
Still if there was some kind of go-ahead, it would come from you —
The purpose — oh, sure — the purpose was to, if you had a good idea, go ahead, work on it. If you needed instruments, build them, or I’d try to get the money to have it built in the shop if it was a shop job. And later as things grew larger and budgets grew larger, the war came on, all those activities, I always felt that one of my major roles was to see to it that everybody else could work, uninterrupted by finances or bookkeeping or red tape. That at least everybody else could be free to use his head and his heart and his hands and get his work done, do what he enjoyed and be productive.
That would mean though that you would have to do these things…
— that’s right, that took me away from —
— the environment of work —
Yes, it took me away from the bench, I had a lab at home, where I could do some experiments and do counting and sources and things of that type, but that was not research that was pretty routine work. During World War II, I was responsible for the American measurements on all the Belgian ores which were brought from the Congo for the Manhattan Project. I had to decide on what the American values were for what the Belgians were selling us. Professor Andre in Belgium was the Belgian expert, and of course our numbers never agreed. The vendor said he sent us more than the purchaser said he got. Professor Andre and I finally straightened that out. It was a difference in our standards, and it was the matter we discussed a little while ago of accuracy versus precision. Precision in both our laboratories was superb. The reproducible measurements, but the question of coupling them to absolute radium standards, accuracy again, turned out to be the issue. You were asking about how the center grew. Does that give you some rough view of the process? It just grew from its own internal productivity and espirit de corps and spirit and fun in doing research, and my trying to provide the facilities so that these bright young fellows, and some women, women were involved, could do their work. And I always knew exactly what they were doing, and talked with them deeply about it, advised and discussed and suggested.
How did it develop as an interdisciplinary center? What was the organizational relation to the Institute? Were you still responsible to the physics department?
So it was an interdisciplinary center within the physics department.
How did the faculty appointments grow during the period? It starts off with one — you — then you have graduate students.
Were there many more?
No, not many more than —
— because of not much investment on the part of the department —
That’s right. No. I’m trying to think whether there were ever any other faculty appointments. I guess there was one or two other faculty — yes, there were a couple of other faculty appointments, but they never got along to an advanced stage. No other member got as far as tenure. No, the faculty investment was quite small, and there were cases like Arthur Kip, whose professor at Berkeley now. Art Kip had been one of Leonard people at Berkeley when I was a National Research Fellow there, and he had worked with me in the lab there when he was an undergraduate. He took his degree in Berkeley, long after I’d come here, and wrote and said he had his degree, and I said, “Come, we’d love to have you, I’ve got a job for you.” So he came and did some magnificent things, and then World War II came along, and Art Kip was chosen as the scientist to direct the antisubmarine program for the Atlantic Seaboard — Phil Morse I’m sure had to do with advising the Navy on who to appoint to this task. He was chosen because he was physicist and trained with that kind of mentality, that he’d been accustomed to handling biological data, which were lousy data, very badly correlated and didn’t look like the kinds of things that a traditional physicist would want coming out of his measuring system. He could deal with bum data and not be discouraged. So Kip did disappear and develop the anti-submarine program. Then he came back after the war and received a faculty appointment. My policy has always been to advance everyone who is productive to the maximum extent allowed by whatever the regulations might be. Like percentages of increase for technicians, which are specified TSR. We get a guideline, and if a person is producing well, I want them to have the maximum that is allowed. If they’re producing super-well and I think they’re being grossly underpaid, especially when there becomes a disparity between new hires and persons who’ve been here for five years, and the internal rate has not risen as rapidly as the external rate, then I’ve made a squawk to get these people onto a fair financial basis. So I’ve always believed that there was never any proper point in taking an offer from outside to the boss and using it as a wedge. I’ve never done that myself and I don’t expect anybody else to. And Art Kip got an offer from the outside. It may have been a Berkeley offer, I don’t recall at this moment, and took it to Slater, I believe it was, and immediately received a counter-offer at least matching it or exceeding it. Art didn’t like that one little bit, his feeling being, as mine would have been, “If I’ve been worth this all the time, why have you not been recognizing me and rewarding me to the same extent?” So he left. “Thank you very much for the counter-offer but I’m not interested.” “You should have done it some time ago.” And I couldn’t agree more.
So he’s at Berkeley.
And one of the others, a very capable young fellow named Robert Colenko, got an assistant professorship, and I was grooming him in the early sixties, in fact he is the author of his 20 year summary. I gave him that as one of his earliest tasks; I guess 1965, to become familiar with the past history and to be my successor if he elected to do so. And he received advice from other persons around the Institute that he should not fall in my shadow or follow in my footsteps, that he should step out on his own, and he tried to and fell flat on his face and is no longer here. So that was a sad day. People like Jack Irvine who had been recognized with distinction in the chemistry department — the faculty appointments, and there have been a great many from my group, these people all went out on their own. People like Martin Deutsch, for example, who went to Los Alamos, came back, had a good faculty appointment, and he worked closely with me and got the piece of the Radioactivity Center which was the nuclear spectroscopy and beta ray spectroscopy, and all that sort of thing, directed the student theses that were involved there. I think Martin had a faculty appointment while he was an active member of the Radioactivity Center. But as soon as they’re ready to stand on their own and start their own show, I always felt they should go and do it. So we would just peel them off — train them — we’re an educational institution. Train them. If they can run a show of their own and would like to, God bless ‘em, go and do it.
A question on that — were there any postdoctoral? Evans Yes. The so-called visitors were listed on the back of these documents —
12 or 11 visitors he lists. That’s just the institutional breakdown — from medical institutions —
Yes, right, Mayo Clinic, and Karlinska.
Anyway, someone named Sargeant from Berkeley, 1944. These visitors, the bulk of them were from ‘43 some are listed as absent — mostly 1944 — was this in connection with war work?
1944 — those first few from Dugway Proving Ground — no. We were doing war researches relating to the African campaign and the marking of land mines, a land mine being a...the land mines, they’re a weapon of defense, not of offense, and you have the problem, when you succeed in going on the offense over the same terrain, of removing your own mines. The Signal Corps thought they knew how to do this, by mapping, but they’d lost a lot of people and a lot of equipment because their mapping was inaccurate. So we developed radioactive tracers of a very fancy type and field detection equipment for sweeping a field, and recovering the mines. These were totally non-metallic mines, plastic and ceramic entirety, and they were marked with little pebbles, artificial pebbles which we made here by the tens of thousands, marked with cobalt 60, under secret classification, but later described in Van Bush’s book on Scientists in Wartime. Those chaps, at this moment, let’s see, 1944, I don’t remember them.
The question was about postdoctoral. Then you mentioned the visitors, and they seem to be working on war projects, which is a different concept from the postdoctoral.
Right. Well, a lot of these are not. Now, Ray Keating, Dr. F.R. Keating of the Mayo Clinic, he was definitely heavily involved in the thyroid work. He was here to learn how to use radioactive tracers in thyroid physiology and radioactive materials in the therapy of thyroid disease, and published several papers while he was here, and then was very productive then he went back and took this knowledge back to the Mayo Clinic. Professor Thomas of Yale, that was straight radioactive fundamental work, not related to the war. Dr. Martin Wittenberg is a radiologist, from Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. He was doing straight postdoctoral studies relating to his specialty, and there was a very important and extremely difficult problem in the clinical practice diagnostic radiology, of locating fragments of glass or plastic embedded in the human body, because its behavior with X-rays, its absorption coefficient with diagnostic equipment that 5 normally used is almost exactly the same as that of tissue, and you practically can’t detect it. So we were using sophisticated physics techniques to help Dr. Martin Wittenberg learn how to detect glass, and he became the world’s expert in recovering glass from persons injured in automobile accidents and things of that type. And this work also had a wartime component which was a spinoff from the shattered plastic windshields or canopies of fighter aircraft who’d been hit by enemy cannon shells, the 150 mm — what would they be? 12 millimeter, 15 millimeter? I don’t remember the exact size, but these would shatter a canopy. So that had a spinoff, but it was by a physician, for work in medicine, and Dr. Wittenberg later became the head of the Radiology Department at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. Professor Harold Green from Western Reserve was straight radioactivity, and tracer techniques. That was 1939-40. That was pre-war. Curtis Haupt in ‘39, that’s pre-war. I don’t remember what he was doing.
The major group, the residence group, was just a few faculty people who tended to go on to their own careers, and a group of graduate students who, once they did their thesis, would go on, plus this group of visitors — which didn’t cost the physics department very much, and a lot came from outside sources. Now, thinking back over that support, did you solicit? How much was solicited? Were you seeking support for things that you or the people there wanted to do? How much were you requested to do, industrial people coming to you and saying “We need some tests on — paper, glass, something else?”
Very little of it was solicited, and this was true of MIT in general. It was a saying around the campus during World War II that everything that MIT was doing in War research, and it was plenty, it had been asked to do — it had not sought. Only in the later years, when we were, like renewing research contracts with the AEC on the radium poisoning work, if you could call that a solicitation for funds — but it was an invited solicitation when it began. And the major postwar funding occurred as a result of a visit on Saturday afternoon, because we always had a six day week here, and a Navy captain, Bob [Conrad](his last name escapes me at the moment) came to my office one Saturday afternoon, introduced himself, said that the Navy was committed to set up an Office of Naval Research, and that the admiral was behind it and was going to provide the money and he meant it, and they had scanned the country, and they regarded my laboratory as a national asset — how much money did I want? Very brief and to the point.
How did you respond to that?
Did you have a figure in mind?
No, I’d want to scour my memory on that. I think this is related to the founding of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Engineering, which turned out to be headed by Zacharias. Unless I — I’m not remembering things straight in the late afternoon — the story is the following, that — Captain Bob (something) C his name will come, possibly just after you leave) said, “How much do you want?” And I told him what we were doing, and made an estimate, and he said he’d be back, and so I told, I guess by then George Harrison was Dean, I told George about it, and George thought about it and said, “Well, we ought to make it a real great big thing. I have been on a trip and somebody put in my hand a piece of man-made metal called plutonium. That is a real fantastic experience, to see what has been happening during this war, and nuclear science is big business now, and we should go much farther than simply letting the Navy continue to fund the Radioactivity Center. We should make a big expansion.” So we talked about that, and there were several discussions, which were informal things like walking up and down the Charles River Basin, with either George or John Snyder. John said that he’d like to be in it, and he thought that there was an instrument fellow at Los Alamos called Gerald Zacharias who was very good on instruments and would be very helpful to John Sweigert in the electromagnetic propagation and thing of that type, and wouldn’t it be a good idea to have him come, invite him to the Institute? And he came, and was here. Then George came up to my lab, and cornered a couple of us, myself and I’ve forgotten who the other fellow was. Maybe it was Sam. “How about having Zacharias be head of the Laboratory of Nuclear Science and Engineering?” — in a way in which the only answer possible was, “Sure, George.” So they folded my visit from Captain Bob Conrad — he later died of leukemia — Conrad, Bob Conrad — they — So that was given a vastly expanded budget and turned into an application to the Navy, and that was the origin for the Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Engineering. I turned over to you the minutes of each of the advisory committee meetings — I was an initial member of the advisory committee. So the Radioactivity Center became a part of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Engineering. And received its funding as a part of that funding. And then funds grew tight, after a few years, and the man, Mac — said, “Well funds are getting tight, we can’t let you have as much of a piece of this as you used to have. You’ve got awfully good medical connections here, you’re doing a lot of medical research — why don’t you go out and get your own money from the medical domain? We’ll perhaps provide the funding for the cyclotron out of Nuclear Science and Engineering. You get the rest of your money from the medical area.” So I did. Made a phone call, and the answer was, “Sure, we’ll do it.”
But some of the work that you pursued in the postwar period was not medical — carbon-14 work —
No, no — that’s right. All of that, that’s right. And that transferred over. That would explain the transfer over of people like Martin Deutsch and a number of others who became faculty members, as a part of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Engineering, and had their own show — which is perfectly all right with me. I’m all for growth and not for hanging on at all. When we did our Carbon-14 development, our policy was always to beat the physics out of a challenging problem, and then move the problem on. One day they brought a big truck over from the Mass General Hospital and put the whole laboratory full of carbon apparatus, Carbon-14 apparatus, on the truck, transferred the whole equipment to Mass General Hospital, and the staff, Dr. Loftfield and his technicians — that’s it. The physics is licked, you go do it now.
Basically you stayed small then, as a unit within the Laboratory for Nuclear Sciences.
Yes. And so when we were asked to find our own financing, from the medical area, then it was a very peculiar organization diagram. If you’d make a big circle, which was the Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Engineering, we would be a little circle, partly inside that one and partly outside it, the Radioactivity Center, because the Radioactivity Center cyclotron activities were being paid for by Nuclear Science and Engineering Laboratory funds. The part outside of it was not being paid for by Navy Nuclear Science funds. Other sources were picking us up, and when the AEC came along, one phone call, “Yes, surely.” No problem.
One thing I’d like to ask — the answers will take longer than a minute but at least we can pose it — let me just state for the record that we haven’t talked about the radioiodine work, and that leads naturally into the cyclotron story.
On both questions, I have a great deal of documentation, some from your side, some from the Lawrence papers, including Stan Livingston’s letters to Don Cooksey about co-instructions and so forth. Just one question that we began to talk about one time, but not on tape. That has to do with the funding of the cyclotron. There was correspondence between Slater and Lawrence, relating to an application for the cyclotron, from the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, in ‘37 — I know the sequence of that. Lawrence thought it looked good, and he knew that his recommendation had been to approve it, and up until January of ‘38, the correspondence shows that Slater’s from Markle Foundation. I wanted to talk with you about the incident with Markle. I wanted to see if you knew anything about what happened, about that particular application — let me get the sequence. OK. Slater writes to Lawrence 18 November, 1937, wants information about whether the Federal Cancer Commission is going to make the grant for the possible cyclotron at MIT. Lawrence replies on the 23rd of November, on the cyclotron, biological grants should be coming soon, after the Council meets on November 27th. Lawrence to Slater on 19th of January, ‘38, tells him off the record that he supported the MIT cyclotron application and feels that it will go through. Slater to Lawrence, on January 18th, the letters crossed, it was the day before, says that he still hasn’t heard on the grant. Next thing that shows up, telegram from you, to Lawrence, 27th of May, 1938, $30,000 grant is received from Markle Foundation for cyclotron, “intense radio activities for medical research our main objective” etc.. You’re asking for ideas on staff and construction. OK. Now, that’s really the kind of sequence. Do you recall anything about the expectations from the Cancer Commission on this?
Not a bit.
OK. Then as far as I remember, you talked about going in with Karl Compton, some time; I think the date is written somewhere May 18 or something, 1938, to the Markle Foundation. What led up to that? Whose idea was it? How did Compton come into that picture?
Our first year, actually less than a year of work with radio iodine was done with rabbit, with Sol Hertz as the bench man on the medical team, headed by, as a collaborative research, headed by Howard Means at Mass General, professor, and here, by Arthur Roberts, working for me. And the first, less than one year’s results were very exciting, new, and superb. We obviously needed stronger sources. I went to Van de Graaff and said, “What are the chances, Van, of getting stronger sources from your machine?” which was not yet producing. He was still having trouble with ion sources. Eddie Le Marr and a long series of people had worked on ion sources, trying to bring up the intensity, and so lie said, “Well, I really can’t assure you of any production of radioactive materials from electro-static generators,” which he always called them, “and I’d suggest that you build your own electrostatic generator to make your radioactive materials.” So Van and I were very good friends and I said, “OK, that’s a good suggestion.” Of course I did not want to build an electrostatic generator because I was aware that many nuclear reactions have thresholds and could not be even produced by the few million volts that were available. One needed higher energies to get above the thresholds of reaction in order to get any radioactivity produced at all. And also that the excitation curves, that is the yield against voltage, was a very steeply rising function, of barrier penetration. And so there was great advantage in higher voltage, which was gained by having higher bombarding voltages available, and one could easily sacrifice current as a swap for bombarding energy, and so I preferred to have a cyclotron. So I went to Karl Compton.
You wrote to Van Bush on October 14, 1937, on this subject, “the following discussion is in response to your request for a memorandum on cyclotrons and artificial radioactivity,” in which you reported essentially this sane discussion that you’d had with Van de Graaff. So you wrote to Vannevar Bush at least one —
Is that a confirming letter of a conversation, or…?
Well, you must have had a conversation with him, because he asked you then for a memo.
Asked you to prepare one —
OK, well, I went to Karl first, because Karl and I were very close, and he kept track of particularly the young people in the physics department and I suppose the older ones too, but he was right in there, and he had his own laboratory. There was a room with his name on it. He didn’t get there very often, but you might find him there Saturday in his shirt sleeves. Just a marvelous person, as is Margaret. And we were very close friends. So I told Karl what my conversation was with Van de Graaff, and he said, “Well, it sounds great to me, but I’m the yes man and Van Bush is the no man, and you’ll have to see Van too.” So I said, “OK,” and I made a date with Van Bush, and I spent the whole afternoon there, because he took all of his phone calls as they came in, and the consequence was, one or two sentences and then another protracted phone call, and one or two sentences , and then another phone call. But he understood the reasoning, and I guess he asked for a memo, following which he said “OK, “ following which Karl made a date with the Markle people. He and I went down on the train, and —
— I think the sequence, according to the documents, though, Markle was the second attempt. The first was through Arthur Compton, on the Federal Cancer Commission, because Slater is writing — you sent a carbon of this letter four days later, in other words, you incorporated this memo four days later to Slater — one to Van Bush on October l4 —same thing — Then, on November 18, by November 18th there was an application for a cyclotron at a cost of $25,000 that had already been put in. So between the times of your memo of October 14th to Bush, there’s an application, and you’re wondering whether there was news on it.
An application to —?
To the Committee of the Federal Cancer Commission or whatever, — this is something I know fairly well, I have to dig further — there was a two man subcommittee on the applications of physics to the cancer problem. The chairman of it was Arthur Compton, and he appointed another member, Ernest Lawrence, and then, on December 20th — so there was some preliminary inquiry prior to November 18th, right?
December 20th, Arthur Compton forwards your formal proposal, the MIT formal proposal — for that cyclotron — to Lawrence for his judgment, and Compton volunteers these observations, three points of special merit — “With Robley Evans in charge, one can be assured of intelligent and vigorous progress on the project, Arthur Compton says, 2) the specific problem in mind seems to be one of real merit and there’s a good chance for getting a valuable result; 3) it is an essential part of the program in which MIT is so actively interested that you can be confident that it will be given all possible support by the administration. If the proposal falls, grants in aid perhaps…National Institutes of Health... a cyclotron for cancer therapy” and —
Did I write it?
You’re listed as the directing investigator. Here we go — “An application for this purpose was submitted on October 29th,” which is 15 days after your memo was dated to Van Bush, “an application for this purpose was submitted on October 29th through Dr. Thompson of the US Public Health Service. At that time, the appropriate application form had not been received, supplementary to the same objective…"
Who signed the application?
This one has no signature. It may be the abstract prepared by the agency. Interesting.
Well. It certainly is.
I’m trying to say that there’s something that happened — I don’t know why it didn’t work. I want to find out.
I saw Lawrence’s recommendation in his papers, and he did make a recommendation that this would be one of the projects to be supported. For some reason you didn’t get it. The next thing goes back to your story briefly on Markle. Now, Karl Compton took you down to New York.
Who did you see there at Markle?
We saw, I think he was called the executive director, and this fellow, I don’t remember his name, he was killed later in an automobile accident — his name would be somewhere in the records. And I had some graphs and things of my results, and we arrived, and very shortly after our initial greetings he said, “Oh, Dr. Cannon just happens to be here today,” good old Dr. Cannon, a fellow I’d known with Joe Aub at the Huntington Hospital, because Joe Aub was his physician, and he was a dear old solid respected man in medicine. He had not seen any of our results, and he grew very enthusiastic over them. We spent an hour or more looking at the results, and discussing what could be done in addition, and what could be done with stronger sources, and —
— these are the results of the radio iodine?
Yes, of the radio iodine —
— with the old sources —
— using the little teeny sources available, radium and radium beryllium. And the same day the answer was given us, “Yes, and please file it formally.” And we went back to the Commodore Hotel, and Karl Compton hired a secretary, a public stenographer there, dictated a letter. She typed it out. It was sent over, for money for a cyclotron, to be devoted exclusively to medical research. That’s it. We came back.
Then on a date, whatever date I read before, you got the telegram that it was official, you had the grant. I said a minute — it took more — but I thought it was good to cover that, clarify a few things.
I’m very much interested in that application, — what happened in between.
You know, if we found those boxes you mentioned, that had a lot of stuff on the Marklë project, there may be some missing documents. But on this Federal Cancer thing, I’ll have to dig into that a little bit more.
Me too. It would be very interesting if it turns out that I knew about it, because at the conscious level, I have no —
— you knew about it. Let me show you.
I did know about it?
I’ll tell you why, because you wrote to Ernest Lawrence, I‘ve got to find that — I thought I saw it — well, Slater writes to Lawrence on November 18, 1937, “Dear Ernest, Evans and I are wondering if there has been any news yet from the Committee of the Federal Cancer Commission in regard to a possible cyclotron. Dr. Compton, as you probably know, made application” — he did, you see… “for $25,000 for a cyclotron and we have heard nothing from it so far.” Now I’m saying from this other document that the application was dated October 29th, was an informal one — so —
He also says, “Evans and Van de Graaff have been talking over their programs, and I think everything will work out very well. Van de Graaff has definitely decided to set up his present machine for artificial radioactivity as soon as possible. We are hoping to be able to produce enough for Evans’ work beginning sometime in the spring.” Exactly what happened? “This will fill in the time until the cyclotron is ready, after which Van de Graaff can use his machine for other purposes.”
That never came about. He never supplied any, no. They had continuing trouble with their ion sources. But we had splendid cooperation from Berkeley and from Rochester, who would bombard targets for us and send us the bombarded target, and then Jack would do the chemistry and separate the needed radioactivity, until we got our own machine going. And I think, if I remember correctly, Ken Bainbridge and his group at Harvard got going, got theirs going a little before we did, and they helped us with a target or two now and then.
Yeah, that was specifically indicated in these documents. There was an understanding then, a plan, it was planned beforehand.
Yes, and we were very careful in designing our machine so that newspapers or nobody could say one was bigger than the other. We made identical pole tip diameters, at 40 inches, which was the method at that time of stating the size of the cyclotron.
This is pretty well documented, a three way correspondence, from Bainbridge to Lawrence, from Livingston to Lawrence, and you and — I have documented that.
OK, let’s just say that next time — and I do want to continue —
— sure —
The radio-iodine story, leading up to the conference on applied nuclear physics, the work during the war — all this is pretty well documented, so we can summarize, and focus on specific questions that I don’t understand. The postwar transition, part of which we got into just now. And those are some of the major issues really on my mind. I’ll tell you what else, I have four questions — that seem to be — well, yeah, the effect of separating the cyclotron out of your direct work on the radiation, Radioactivity Center work — what this meant, you told me part of that.
Well, Stan Livingston of course was a faculty member, with tenure, full professorship — sure.
I’d forgotten about that. This correspondence deals with Livingston coming; by the way, it’s all documented.
I had a whole lot of that. I can remember going through that file when I was sorting, when was it, ‘69 or something, when I was told I had to vacate that file room we had, and I think I saved one letter out of the entire packet or correspondence with Stan. Threw the whole thing out.
I think I have — I wouldn’t have yours to him — he didn’t have anything when I saw him, but I have his to Lawrence and Yours to Lawrence, about him coming and all the details and so forth — Well —