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Interview of Leo Goldberg by Spencer Weart on 1978 May 16, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4629-1
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Early years; undergraduate at Harvard University, 1930-1934, and growth of interest in astronomy; graduate student and postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, 1934-1941; social and scientific life, atomic physics work; Robert McMath and character of McMath-Hulbert observatory; mechanical engineering work in World War II; chairmanship of University of Michigan Astronomy Department, 1946-1960; optical and radio telescopes and funding; work on solar infrared and element abundances; Chairman and Director at Harvard, 1960-1971; relations with Smithsonian Institution, other politics, fund-raising; work on orbiting solar observatories; relations with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Space Science Board, Apollo Telescope Mount, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force (Scientific Advisory Board, Project West Ford), and National Science Foundation (NSF); International Astronomical Union (IAU) and Chinese membership; editorial positions. An addendum dictated by Goldberg describes his six years as Director of Kitt Peak Observatory, particularly his relations with the Users Committee. Also prominently mentioned are: Lawrence Hugh Aller, Lloyd Viel Berkner, Victor Blanco, Bart Jan Bok, Wilbur Bolton, Wallace Brode, David Crawford, Leland Cunningham, Heber D. Curtis, Alex Dalgarno, Armin Deutsch, James Fletcher, Jesse Leonard Greenstein, Christian Archibald Herter, W. A. Hiltner, Harry Hulbert, Gerard Peter Kuiper, Francis McMath, Donald Howard Menzel, James E. Miller, Marcel G. Minnaert, George Mueller, Homer Edward Newell, Edward Ney, Randall Robertson, Frank Schlesinger, Harlow Shapley, George H. Shortley, Otto Struve, James Webb, Richard Wheeler, Fred Whipple, John Wolbach, S. B. Wolbach; Apollo Telescope Mount, Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy, Associated Universities, Inc., Ball Brothers, Goddard Space Flight Center, Green Bank Observatory, High Energy Astronomy Observatory, Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories, National Academy of Sciences (U.S.), Naval Research Laboratory (U.S.), Orbiting Solar Observatory, United States Navy, and University of Michigan.
To begin at the beginning, I know you were born in Brooklyn in 1913, but I don't know anything else about your family. So tell me, who were your parents? What did they do?
Both my parents immigrated to the United States from Eastern Poland, except at the time, prior to World War I, the district was part of Russia. My father worked in the needle trades. He started out in life making men's caps, and later on, in New York, switched over to ladies' millinery. In 1925, we moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he opened up a men's hat and cap store and manufactured his own caps.
I see. What sort of education did your parents have?
They had very little formal education, so far as I could tell. My mother died when I was nine, so I didn't really know her very well. My father did not have very much in the way of formal education. I think he was just apprenticed when he was quite young, in Russia, and just went to work.
I see, so it's a fairly typical emigre story.
By the way, did you have brothers or sisters?
I have one older brother, two years older than I, who still lives in New Bedford, in fact runs the business that my father established, and I have one half-sister, who was born of my father's second marriage.
This is after your mother died.
This was while you were still a child that he remarried, or later?
He remarried in 1924, I think. I would have been eleven at that point.
I see. So you grew up first around Brooklyn, then around New Bedford.
I grew up around Brooklyn until 1925, and then New Bedford until I went off to Harvard five years later.
I see. We're interested in how people become scientists in general. For example, did you read a lot in your childhood? Were there science books that influenced you?
Not particularly. My only contact with intellectual life was in school, actually, because in my home it was just that everybody worked. My father worked. He really had a very difficult time getting his business established in New Bedford, and as soon as I finished high school I would go directly to the store and work there the rest of the day, and on week- ends as well. So my only point of contact with things of the intellect was in high school. I did very well in most subjects, particularly mathematics and science, and therefore, according to the standard gospel of high school counsellors at that time, my career was pointed in the direction of engineering. Things like astronomy or physics or even biology, were, I suppose, considered quite esoteric in those days. You either became a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or a businessman. I originally had the idea that I would try to go to MIT. Shall I go on in this?
I want to interrupt and ask a little more about high school. So you hadn't actually had a particular vocation in science as such? There wasn't anything in astronomy or physics that particularly attracted you at that time?
Not at that point. I knew absolutely no astronomy. I had a course in physics and lots of mathematics. I had a course in biology as well.
Were these what interested you the most, or did you have other —
Oh yes, very much so. I always managed to do well; I did well in subjects like English, languages, but I didn't really enjoy it.
Were there teachers that particularly influenced you, any that you recall?
There were one or two. I remember a biology teacher particularly, Mr. Willey, who was, I think, well above the average high school teacher, a very thoughtful, soft-spoken man. I thought it would be fun to be like him. There was a time, too, when I did read books by Paul de Kruif.
Oh yes, MICROBE HUNTERS.
MICROBE HUNTERS. That made a strong impression on me. There was a time actually when I thought it would be great to be a microbe hunter, when I was in high school.
By the way, did you have any formal religious training when you were a child?
Oh yes, I had the usual religious training. I was bar mitzvahed. As a matter of fact, I went somewhat beyond that. I recall that when I began grade school, I spent at least one year, it may have been the second or the third grade, in a parochial school.
A Catholic parochial school?
No, no, it was a Hebrew parochial school, in which you studied English subjects, either in the morning or the afternoon, and Hebrew the rest of the time.
I see. I didn't know they had those in Brooklyn.
Oh yes. In fact, quite sure that — 1921, '22, I attended such a school.
What were the feelings about religion in your family?
They were very strongly orthodox.
Complete orthodoxy, kosher kitchen and so forth?
Oh yes, with separate sets of dishes. My father took very seriously attendance at synagogue and so forth. It was not very pleasant if we were caught running out, during the High Holidays particularly.
I understand. Was he in fact a religious person?
Yes, I'd say so. I think he was quite religious. Well, not so religious that he wouldn't work on Saturday, because he had to.
I understand. What were the feelings in your family, if there were any feelings, about science or about intellectual life in general?
I think there was a good feeling about it. It was clear that my father had a great respect for learning. Even though he didn't have very much learning himself. I think I was encouraged to do well in school, by the family.
Did you expect from an early age that you would go to college or university?
I think so. But for a time, it looked as though I wasn't going to make it financially.
This was before you actually went or while you were there?
Well, you see, we'd had a real disaster in our family. In New York, just about the time I turned nine. We had a big fire in the apartment where we lived, and my mother was lost in that, and also my younger brother, who was not quite two years old at the time. My (older) brother was rather badly burned so that he lost a year or a year and a half of school. The result was that when we moved to New Bedford, he and I were in the same class, and we found ourselves competing. We went through high school in the same class. We both wanted to go to MIT and there was only one scholarship, from the New Bedford MIT Club. Since I was two years younger, it seemed reasonable for me to withdraw and not to compete for the scholarship against him. So I had pretty well decided to stay on and work for a year.
Did your brother get the scholarship?
He got it, yes.
In fact you were pretty equal in school, even though —
I had a slight edge on him.
By the way, was this fire connected with your move to New Bedford?
No, I don't think so. We moved to New Bedford about three years after. The move to New Bedford was caused by the collapse of the ladies' millinery business. That was about the time the flapper era began, and fancy hats went out and these tight-fitting felt hats came in. That was the end of the millinery trade.
Getting back to college: it was actually just a stroke of luck that I happened to go to Harvard that year. I had not applied for admis- sion anywhere. I had not applied to take the College Board Examinations. We were already into the first week of June, and final exams were being given, and I remember being called out of an examination room by the high school principal, Mr. G. Walter Williams. He asked me whether I knew that Harvard had an engineering school. I said, "No, I didn't know that." He said, "Yes. It's a good school, too." He went on to tell me that there was a New Bedford Harvard Club that was offering a tuition scholarship competitively. If I were interested in applying for that, the committee would be interviewing people the following week.
The following week was also the week of the College Board Exams. Since he was in charge of the examinations, he could just admit me. He also volunteered to go up to Cambridge that weekend, and speak to the Dean of Admissions, whose name was Henry Pennypacker, and see if they would accept a late application. Well, all these things happened. I was awarded the scholarship and passed the examinations and enrolled in the Harvard Engineering School, which at that time offered undergraduate instruction.
That's interesting. So you were supported entirely by a scholarship?
No. The scholarship paid for the tuition, and I had no money whatsoever. That summer I did leave home and work in a hotel for about six weeks on Nantucket Island and I saved a little money. But it turned out that one of the members of the scholarship committee, whose name was Bryant Prescott, was a very important man in my life, because he and the others asked me how I would finance the first year. I told them I didn't know. I'd have to work, and perhaps I could borrow some money. He offered to lend me whatever additional money I would need, after my job and whatever I might be able to borrow from Harvard — that if I needed any more he'd be glad to lend it to me without interest.
How was it that these people — the high school principal, Bryant Prescott — took an interest in you, do you know?
Well, I'd done pretty well in high school. Actually, if the truth be known, I was neither valedictorian nor salutatorian, but I was just behind, and the two who were ahead of me were girls. I did very well scholastically.
I see. So in those days at any rate, people noticed.
I also had a bit of notoriety: Four years earlier, when I was crowned Spelling Champion of Southeastern Massachusetts, I went to Washington and there was a lot of newspaper publicity at that time.
Tell me about Harvard then, and particularly, how you decided to — I guess you became an astronomy major at one point?
That's right. As I said, I enrolled in the Harvard Engineering School. That Harvard Engineering School was a curious phenomenon, because much of the endowment came from the will of a man named Gordon McKay, and the will provided that Harvard offer engineering instruction at the undergraduate level. Therefore the Harvard Engineering School remained an anachronism, as the only professional school that offered undergraduate instruction. It was decided, I guess, that they would try to beat the will by just discouraging people from studying as undergraduates.
So at the end of my freshman year I, together with other members of my class, were invited into the dean's office and strongly advised to transfer to the College, to concentrate in engineering sciences, and then to return to the engineering school for graduate work. I thought that was pretty reasonable, so I did that, at the beginning of my sophomore year. I enjoyed the courses in engineering. I did pretty well at them. But I didn't really find them terribly exciting. I always had the notion that I wanted to do something that really turned me on, that I really enjoyed doing, and engineering didn't quite fill that bill.
So I had my eyes open. And of course Harvard is a good place to be, if you're just looking around for something interesting to do. I ended up by spending my summers working on Nantucket Island, in the same place where I got my job before entering Harvard, and for the first time in my life, I had some exposure to astronomy, just by walking along the beach at night.
You hadn't been able to see the stars very well from New Bedford, I gather.
Exactly. It also turned out that the owner of the hotel, a Mr. C. C. Ross, had an amateur interest in astronomy, and he used to attend classes at the Maria Mitchell Observatory, where Margaret Harwood was director. So early on I got to meet Margaret Harwood, because I would go up with this chap and we'd look for the Perseid meteors in August. Then there was the eclipse of August 31st, 1932, which he wanted to observe from the roof of the hotel. It was kind of a sloping roof, you sat up there on the ridge pole.
He had a Brownie camera. It was about 99 percent total. And I took notes for him. Then there was a coincidence. When I went back to Harvard after that summer, for my junior year, I signed up for third year calculus. The course was given by George Birkhoff, who was a great man, but a terribly dull lecturer. My outlook on life in those days was strictly hedonistic; I mean, I had to enjoy everything or I wasn't interested. I learned that Marston Morse, who was equally eminent, and from whom I had taken second year calculus, would be giving that course a year later. So I dropped out of George K. Birkhoff's course and looked around for a substitute, and found Astronomy I.
Because you'd acquired this interest in it, walking along the beach or whatever.
Yes, and looking at the eclipse just a month before. So I signed up for Astronomy I, and came under the influence of Bart Bok, who was giving the course at that time. John Galstad once described Bart Bok conducting his evening tutorial sessions at Harvard: John said that he walked into the common room of Winthrop House, I think, and here was this "Jolly Green Giant" who welcomed him. Bok was a very exciting lecturer. It was really a combination of things, it was Bok's interesting approach, and it was the supplementary reading that he recommended for me, books by Eddington particularly.
Let's see, there was SPACE, TIME AND RELATIVITY,* I believe. Also, I was taking the beginning course in atomic physics, from Otto Oldenberg, at that time.
Was this part of the regular course?
It was part of my concentration. It required so many courses in physics, math, and so forth. And reading Eddington Eddington of course had some very stirring accounts of how atoms behave inside stars and so forth — somehow the combination of atomic physics and astronomy just looked very appealing to me. So by the end of that year, I decided I wanted to be an astron- omer. I went to see Bok, and when I came back for my senior year, I was a concentrator in astronomy. Since most of the course requirements were pretty much the same — they were all physics and mathematics — I had no problem there. It just took me quite a while to learn general astronomy, to learn the contents of books like Russell, Dugan and Stewart,** for example.
This was a career choice, in a way.
Yes. Oh yes. Now, Bart was smart enough to size up my interest in atomic physics, and immediately introduce me to Donald Menzel, with whom I began working in my senior year and with whom I continued working all the way through.
Let me ask you one or two questions about this decision. What sort of life did you imagine yourself as having as an astronomer? Did you have any picture at that time as to what an astronomer did?
Yes, pretty well. I looked forward to teaching in a university and doing research. I showed some aptitude for research right away in my senior year, in fact. *A.S. Eddington, SPACE, TIME AND GRAVITATION: AN OUTLINE OF THE GENERAL RELATIVITY THEORY (Cambridge: The University Press, 1929). **H.N. Russell, R.S. Dugan and J.C. Stewart, ASTRONOMY (Boston: Ginn, 1926).
Yes, I want to get back to the papers you did, but first, what was your family's attitude towards this career choice?
I think it was sort of one of puzzlement. My father lived just long enough to see me graduate in 1934. He died about a month later. Of course, he knew already about my interest in astronomy, and I think it wasn't clear to him how I was going to earn any money as an astronomer. It wasn't very clear to me either, but somehow that didn't seem very important.
I see. Even though this was during the Depression.
Exactly. Well, yes. Nobody was earning any money anyway in those days, and you didn't have very high expectations. I remember thinking that, without regard to inflation, if by the time I was fifty I had tenure and was earning about $5000 a year, I would be quite happy.
Being an engineer didn't seem that much more likely a career in those days, I suppose.
No. But you know, I ruled out engineering just because it didn't excite me.
That was already ruled out before you started looking for something else?
I see. OK, tell me then about this business with Menzel. Maybe first I should ask, I presume it was Menzel's suggestion that you computed this table of multiplets?*
Yes. He started me out on a research problem at the beginning of my senior year. I think he had some spectra of Mira Ceti, it probably was, that he'd brought back from the Lick Observatory with him. I don't have any clear recollection of that. It didn't go very far. But I re- member that with them, I learned how to use an old-fashioned microphotometer, a Moll microphotometer. I'd hardly gotten started on those tracings when he came around one day, and he had just seen a paper in the PHYSICAL REVIEW by Condon and Ufford — it was called "Multiplet strengths by the method of spectroscopic stability," or something like that.** At that time, of course, there were extensive calculations of the relative strengths of lines within multiplets; *Ap.J. 1935): 1-25 **Vol. 46 (1934): 283. A. G. White had big tables in his book, and Henry Norris Russell published some tables about the same time. But there were no calculations over a wider range of wavelengths and excitation potentials, which Menzel recognized at once could be used for investigations of excitation temperatures and abundances and so forth. And this method of Condon and Ufford was designed to yield the relative strengths of multiplets in a transition array.
So he wrote Ed Condon at Princeton to try to get more in- formation on how you actually make the calculations, and Condon wrote back referring us to a former student of his who was a National Research Council postdoc at MIT — his name was George Shortley — who was working very hard on finishing up Condon and Shortley* at that point. So Menzel got in touch with George Shortley and I got to meet him.
That was one of the nice experiences in my life. George is very reserved and formal, but he's really a very, very warm man, with very high standards and very businesslike; he can get very relaxed during parties, but the next day he would be strictly business again. He had a very nice manner and sense of humor, a good man for a young person like myself to be working with. He showed me in detail how to make those calculations. So I just set out to make them for every conceivable kind of configuration.
Sitting down with a pencil and hand cranked calculator, something like that?
Yes. I'd have to write out the zero order states for all the configurations.
Count them up?
Count them up, yes. And very early on, I hit upon a shortcut. Probably I described this in the paper. I've forgotten what it was, but it enormously simplified the calculation, or rather shortened the amount *E.V. Condon and G.H. Shortley, THE THEORY OF ATOMIC SPECTRA (Cambridge: The University Press, 1935). of time required. So that was great fun. I did all those calculations pretty much before the end of my senior year. After that, it was a matter of drawing up those tables, which I did myself.
I'm curious, by the way, about the kind of education that you received as an undergraduate at Harvard. For example, had you had much quantum mechanics up to that point?
No. I began in my senior year. I went over and audited a course by John Slater at MIT.
That's a famous course.
Yes. That was one of my problems with making these calculations; I knew very little quantum mechanics at that point.
Had you had any relativity, special or general, at that point?
So your physics education was what they call classical physics.
Yes — optics, vector models, mechanics, that sort of thing.
What about in astronomy? Had you had any astrophysics courses?
The beginning of my senior year, Menzel gave two half courses in astrophysics, the first half on stellar atmospheres essentially and the second half on gaseous nebulae, and I took both of those. It was a gradu- ate course, but —
At this point we're sort of fading into your graduate career. Why don't you tell me how was it that you went into graduate school? I suppose it's fairly automatic. Even so, it's a real decision to make, to go to graduate school.
Well, if you wanted to be an astronomer, there was no other way. What else would you do in 1934 anyway? There were no jobs. If somebody offered you a fellowship or an assistantship, you were in good shape.
How were you supported when you were in graduate school?
The assistantship paid enough to support me.
This was a teaching assistantship?
No, it was a research assistantship the first year. I'll back- track. In the summer of 1934, I had an assistantship on the 61-inch telescope that had just gone into operation. I actually began it in May, I think. As I recall, seniors who were on the dean's list weren't required to take final exams — something like that.
So you went out to Oak Ridge?
I went out to Oak Ridge and lived out there. I earned some money of course doing that, and saved some of it. And then I had an assistantship on that telescope that went through the year. Jack Evans and I shared it.
Oh, I didn't realize.
Jack's a little older, but he had gone out and taught for two or three years, and then came back in the fall or summer of 1934. He and I shared that assistantship. We each had ten days a month out there.
From whom did you receive this assistantship?
But who specifically? You were an assistant to somebody
Oh, there was a guy named W. A. Calder who did photoelectric work. He had just gotten his PhD, and he was doing photoelectric work with the 61-inch telescope on eclipsing binaries. The photocell I think was a Kunz cell, it wasn't a photomultiplier. It was up at the Newtonian focus, and had cables going down below from the cell to an amplifier, I guess, and a galvanometer, and the galvanometer would project a beam of light onto a big scale. He would sit down there and take the readings, and we would center the star on the cell up above.
I see. All night long.
All night long. I can't remember how long Bill was a postdoc there, maybe a year or two. He went down to Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, and he's still there. I think he's retired. But he never did much after leaving Harvard.
That's interesting. I was particularly curious, when I asked from whom you got the assistantship — you mentioned that you had talked with Bok, and you had worked, of course, with Menzel, and then there was Shapley who was responsible overall — I'm curious to know how it was that you were chosen to get an assistantship. Who decided, so to speak?
Shapley, I imagine. I imagine he must have consulted his two senior people, neither of whom quite had tenure at that time, Menzel and Bok. But the money was under Shapley's control. It was endowed money. Another year I was a teaching fellow, ran the laboratories and the elementary course, and another year I was an Agassiz Fellow.
I see, either one thing or another.
The Agassiz Fellowship was the best one, financially. It was sort of a prize one. I may have just had that in my last year. I've sort of missed one year in there, when I don't remember what I had, but it was that sort of thing.
Did you have much contact with Shapley, either as an under- graduate or as a graduate student?
Not at all as an undergraduate. I'd say quite a bit as a graduate student, because it was a pretty small institution. There were only, I'd say, 50 people in the entire observatory.
I wouldn't even have thought that many.
Well, the professors, the students, the assistants, the secretaries ...
And the computers and so forth.
Yes. Now Shapley, in those days, was sort of like the Godfather, in kind of a benevolent way, from my point of view. I guess some of the staff members didn't think of him as benevolent, always, but that's another story. He seemed to run the place with the "divide and rule" principle, as far as the staff were concerned.
Somebody else has used exactly the same words to describe it to me.
Well, I don't know. Of course I stayed very close to Donald Menzel. Donald Menzel wrote, in his last years, an autobiography —
Yes, we have a copy of it.
You have a copy of that. OK.
Do you agree pretty much with his view of things?
I was rather astonished at some of the specific incidents that Donald mentioned. But aside from that, I'm not surprised. He was a very interesting man, Shapley. But for us, the young people there, the graduate students, he was a great figure. He inspired us all. He pepped us up, he raised us out of the depths of discouragement many times, and he was a great inspiration. Every Saturday afternoon, we all met downstairs and played volley ball. We were free most of the time to repair to the ping pong room, which was between the observatory and his house. He'd have parties all the time, at the drop of a hat. *Mafia chieftain in 1970's book - SW
A number of people have told us about that atmosphere. It was quite an atmosphere. Who did you particularly associate with? Did you go with a particular group of graduate students? Were you part of the solar group for example, regarded as such?
There weren't that many graduate students. Gee, there couldn't have been more than ten or a dozen graduate students, some- thing like that. I think I associated more with senior people. I was always very close to the Menzel family. They had a summer house not far from the Oak Ridge station, and I used to go out there weekends with them, and summers.
Did you stay in their house for the summer?
Not exactly stay there for the summer. I'd stay there week- ends. There was one summer, during the summer session, when Jesse Greenstein and one other student, Henry Hemmendinger, and myself rented a cottage that was just down the hill from the Menzel cottage. We were all out there together. That was the summer of 1935, when so many exciting people came to the Harvard Observatory, you know — Pannekoek, and Struve was there, and Minnaert and Merrill, Pol Swings, Bowen. We used to drive back and forth together every day.
Since you're mentioning visitors, I should ask you about Henry Norris Russell. The reason I'm asking is because someone I'm working with is particularly interested in Russell's biography, so I wondered if he came through? Did you have any contact with him in those years?
Yes, always. Russell made it a point to drop in on every one of the graduate students and ask them what they were doing. And of course, he was particularly interested in looking at what I was doing, because spectroscopy was one of his pet interests. So I talked with him, I always saw him and talked to him a good deal, and kept up the association with him after I went to Michigan. In fact I used to correspond with him, when we were doing work with the lead sulfide cell on the infrared solar spectrum. He was very keen about that.
Do you still have that correspondence?
Yes. There wasn't a lot of it but I think I still have some of it.*
That's good, that should be interesting. *To be deposited in Harvard University Archives.
I particularly have a letter in which, in fact I've quoted from it in a couple of publications, you may have seen it. It was Feb- ruary of 1947, I think, and it was a few months after Tousey had gotten the first ultraviolet spectrum of the sun.
I did see that quoted, yes. Goldberg. Yes. He was in Washington, and Tousey was showing him the spectrum, and I think he said, Charlotte Sitterly dropped in, and he said, "Looking at these spectra gives one the feeling that he's seeing something that no astronomer would ever expect to see, unless he were good and went to heaven." Something like that. I'm sure I have that letter.
Those things are always interesting. What was your impression of Russell? How did he seem in those days?
He was great. We were all in awe of him. One day he would give a colloquium on the theory of eclipsing binary stars, and the next day he'd be over at MIT talking about the analysis of laboratory spectra. We students just respected him enormously.
Where would you usually see the other graduate students, typically? Would it be when you were observing or ?
Would you eat together, sort of go around together?
We would eat together. There was one group, I think, I'm not sure whether this was for four years straight, but there was one year — in fact, it may have been the first year I was a graduate student — when Fred Whipple I know was a bachelor. I used to go around with Whipple quite a lot, by the way (it's coming back to me). Also, that one year would include Gerard Kuiper, who was there for one year before going to Yerkes, and Chandra (Chandrasekhar) was there for most of a year also. We didn't socialize much with Chandra, but Whipple and Kuiper and I used to go out together.
Martin Schwarzschild was there.
Schwarzschild was there, and Gerry Mulders was there for a year — no, that was Rupert Wildt; I think Mulders also. Wildt, on second thought, we used to go around with quite a lot. We used to work late into the evening. At that time Leland Cunningham (I don't know whether that name means anything to you?) — Leland was a very good mathematician who never finished college, and when I came around to the Harvard Observatory, Leland was working as a switchboard operator at the Boston Edison Company, from 4 PM to midnight.
At midnight he would leave, get in the subway and come to Harvard Square. The group of us would meet him down at Harvard Square, and we would all go to a restaurant called "Charlie's" and have something to eat, and then come back to the observatory. Cunningham would then work the rest of the night computing orbits. He worked very closely with Whipple.
You'll find a lot of Harvard announcement cards quoting the results of Whipple and Cunningham. One of Whipple's tasks was to look at every photographic plate made with the patrol cameras out at Oak Ridge. He would generally do that Sunday morning, come into the observatory with a big glass and just scan the plates quickly, you know. One day in 1940, I think it was, Whipple was ill and couldn't do it, and so Cunningham did it for him, and he discovered Comet Cunningham, 1940c or something like that. That really turned the place upside down, because Leland made the study of that comet his PhD thesis. There would be several telescopes out at Oak Ridge pointed at that thing every clear night. Eventually Leland went to Berkeley and became a professor of celestial mechanics, and he just retired not too long ago.
That's a very interesting story. I didn't know that.
I remember the day he made the plunge. He was taking courses as a special student, while working at Boston Edison, and eventually he earned enough courses, enough credit, to get a bachelor's degree. Then he had to make the decision to give up that job and go to graduate school. I remember how he agonized. But he did, and finished up all right. I haven't seen him for years.
Interesting. Tell me, were some students regarded as Menzel's students and some as Bok's and so forth?
It was clear who was Menzel's students, who was Bok's?
Very much so. Yes.
Was there a group of Shapley's students?
Very few. There were just one or two. Carl Seyfert was one, and there was a girl named Shirley Patterson, who became Shirley Patterson Jones. But Bok had more students than anybody else. I think he rather tended, for quite a while, to attract some of the weaker students, because he was so interested in them personally, he gave them so much attention. Whereas Menzel's attitude was more, "Well, here I am. You can learn from me, learn from my example." I think that he had a very fertile imagination, a very fertile mind, wonderful ideas — if you were good enough, you could get a lot out of him.
I gather you chose to work with Menzel. Were you consciously making a choice to go into work that was more oriented towards solar work and atomic physics and that sort of thing?
Atomic physics rather than solar work, because at that time, Menzel really worked in many different parts of astronomy.
But did you consciously decide to —
— it wasn't solar work, it was astrophysics.
I see, astrophysics in the spectroscopic sense?
Did any of the students get together to try to get any special courses or seminars that the students wanted?
I don't recall that we did.
It seemed your interests were covered pretty well by the curriculum.
Yes. Also, we had a lot of personal contact with the professors. Menzel kept peculiar hours. He would work at home, usually until about 5 AM, and then would get up before noon, and he would usually schedule his classes that way. There was one year, I remember, that I lived down the street from him, and on the way home, no matter how late it was, 11 PM or midnight, I'd walk by his house and I could see him sitting at the desk. I'd always go in, and we'd sit and talk astronomy. He'd be generally writing out his lectures for the next day or something else. We also frequently would go and play ping pong. He had a table in his basement.
Oh, he played ping pong too.
Yes. We would sometimes play for hours. So with that kind of relationship, you would always have access to him. In those days, people didn't travel very much. The same was true of Bok. I think Bok would take his graduate students out to drink beer with him, especially if any of them had problems with their girlfriends and were feeling discouraged. He'd take them out and feed them a few beers and pep them up and so forth. So you could really learn a lot.
Was there much discussion of nonscientific things philosophy, politics?
Yes, of course. In the late thirties and particularly as World War II approached, there was a lot of discussion, about Communism and the Soviet Union, about Hitler and what to do about him. Things rather heated up about 1940.
Where were the lines? If you could tell me who was which way?
Well, Menzel was quite conservative. He wasn't a hawk or anything like that.
No, no —
I'm not sure what "conservative" means in 1940.
Oh, conservative in those days — well, it was a funny environment, because there were people who were really sincerely pacifists and hated war in any form, and were therefore against getting involved in Europe. At the same time, not getting involved in Europe suited the pur- poses of, let's say, Stalin after 1939. And so it was a little hard not to draw the line between people who were against involving themselves because they were following the party line or because they were true pacifists.
There was nobody at the observatory, on the senior staff, who followed the party line. Bok was very anti-war. I think Bok was basically a pacifist. So was Shapley. I remember walking into Bok's office one day, and I was wearing a button, "Defend America by Aiding the Allies Committee," and he nearly exploded when he saw that. "You too?" As though I were Brutus and had stabbed him, or something.
Now, Menzel you say was conservative in terms that he was an interventionist?
Menzel tended to side with the establishment, and the establishment at that time was definitely in the direction of intervention.
What about the graduate students?
I don't seem to remember very much about them. Let's see, Walt Roberts was around at about that time. Walt tended to be very ideologically close to Shapley.
You see, the war came along while I was a postdoc. I wasn't a graduate student; I finished in 1938. By the way, it's interesting, in 1938 I attended my first IAU meeting. I had earlier been strongly encouraged by Menzel to enter the Bowdin essay competition, submit part of my thesis in that competition, and I won. That was $300, which in those days was enough for a round trip ticket anywhere in Europe and back. I remember, I went down to New Bedford — I still hadn't fully paid off my benefactor. I think I may have owed him four or five hundred dollars at that point. I just put it to him — and he insisted that I must go to Stockholm for the IAU. Never mind paying him back. So I went to Stockholm. That was a very important episode in my life, because for the first time, I met the international community of astronomers.
Of course many of them had already been to Harvard.
Yes, some of them had, certainly. But it's always a great thrill — every scientist has experienced it — to find people way over there in Europe who have read what you've written and are interested in it and want to talk about it. Anyone who went to Europe that summer of course, came back with a real feeling of discouragement about the future. But by 1939, I guess Martin Schwarzschild was there, of course, and I think Lyman Spitzer was there in '38-'39 as a postdoc. Either that or the year earlier, he and I shared an office that year. But most of the students who had been my contemporaries as students had already left.
It was a new crop.
A new crop, yes. Shapley was strongly pacifist at that time. I remember, I was out at Oak Ridge with him on September 3rd, 1939 — or was it September 1st, when Hitler invaded Poland?
The invasion was the 1st. The 3rd was the declaration of war by the French and British.
Yes, that's right. He woke me up with the news — he'd heard it on the radio — and he walked around as though he were in a trance. As though he just didn't believe that it had happened. Then he told me how he'd heard Roosevelt on the radio, and Roosevelt said he hoped that we could stay out of it. Shapley was really grasping at that with considerable hope. Of course, by the time Pearl Harbor happened, I was already gone.
Gone to Michigan.
Yes. Shapley was also — and some of the rest of us too — greatly exercised by the disappearance of Gerasimovich, who had been the director of the Pulkova Observatory and had been at Harvard previously. He'd also been at the 1936 eclipse with Menzel. I remember there was a time when there were telegrams being sent to Stalin on Gerasimovich's behalf.
I see, so that made a stir at the observatory.
He disappeared around 1937. I don't remember exactly when they did away with him, but I think it wasn't too long thereafter.
Some of the students and so forth around there would have been fellow travelers, so to speak.
I can't think of any of the astronomers who were. Some of my undergraduate friends were, all right.
The astronomers would have simply been standard American liberals?
Yes, that's right. Or conservative. Edmondson was as conservative as he could be. Still is, I guess. In fact, the day that Roosevelt defeated Landon, he came around the next morning wearing a black armband.
Is that so?
He meant it.
Just to switch to a different question about opinions and feelings around there, how much discussion was there of galactic and extra- galactic work, and cosmology, during the thirties, while you were there?
Well, as far as galactic astronomy or galactic structure was concerned, Harvard was not a very exciting place. Because Bart Bok's approach to galactic structure was basically that of Kapteyn and van Rijn. All of the really exciting thinking was going on, I think, mostly on the West Coast, by people like Walter Baade.
Was this the way you felt at the time?
I didn't really feel that way at the time, until I went out as a postdoc and spent a couple of months at Pasadena and got to know Walter Baade very well.
How did you go out there as a postdoc?
Well, it was a nice thing that Shapley did for me. suppose I ought to mention how I became a postdoc.
Oh, we'll get back to that. Right now I'm curious
It didn't seem very exciting to me. I didn't realize how one could take a giant leap forward, and learn about the spiral stellar structure of the galaxy, without slugging away at counting stars, gradually pushing out and out and out. It just seemed terribly dull to me so I wasn't much interested. Extragalactic astronomy was more exciting. That was all Shapley's work. He had a group of ladies who worked for him. They were all quite competent,sort of at the Master's level.
He had plates of the Southern Hemisphere that were made with the Bruce telescope, and there was always something new that he was turning up. For example, I was there when he discovered the low luminosity members of the local group, the galaxies in Sculptor and Fornax. And I had no way of judging whether the photometry was good or bad, work of high quality or low quality. It seemed like exciting work to me. And after all, that catalogue, the so-called Ames Catalogue —
The Shapley-Ames Catalogue?
Yes, it stood for quite a long time. I guess s only now being replaced by something better. When I went out to Mt. Wilson and met the great Hubble, he dangled this thing disdainfully —
— what, the Ames Catalogue?
— between thumb and forefinger, and "Now, this thing," as he referred to it — then he went on to tell me how inaccurate it was.
I see, sort of holding it as one would hold something one was about to deposit in a trash can.
Yes, that's right. Because he still had pretty bad feelings about Shapley personally.
Yes, when you mentioned you went out there as a postdoc, I wondered how Shapley felt about you going there — what you encountered, in terms of these bad relations that they had.
Oh, Shapley encouraged me to go. I wouldn't have gone without him. He sent me a note one day. I guess Shapley was always a little concerned about me, because he thought I was too narrow. I started right out calculating multiplet strengths as an undergraduate, and I didn't spend as much time as I should have spent just learning the facts of astronomy. I think he felt that was a real handicap in those days, in terms of getting jobs. At one time, I guess he and Bok tried to broaden me forcibly when I was a postdoc by suggesting that I measure the magnitudes of some Cepheid variable stars. I actually went out and generated a program and got plates in two different colors, just to prove to the world that I was a real astronomer.
I see. I don't recall if that became a published paper.
No. I was working on it when I got an offer to go out to McMath Hulbert. Actually that material was used by Father Francis Heyden in his doctoral thesis. But even before that, at the end of my first year of graduate work, I had a note from Shapley, suggesting, in view of my interests, had I considered transferring to the physics department? Or maybe going over to the MIT spectroscopy lab?
So he wasn't all that foresighted too, in many ways.
What was your response to this?
Well, my response was that I wanted to be an astronomer.
I see, and this was astronomy, so far as you were concerned.
Sure. We were going to do the abundances of the elements; that was the whole point.
Oh, you saw that already at that point?
Oh, absolutely. Sure.
"We" meaning you and Menzel?
Yes, exactly. You see, Menzel was one of the early workers on abundances. He was the first to derive abundances from flash spectra.
That's a question I want to ask you, at what point you got interested in abundances. OK, it was at this point. Why were you interested in solar abundances at that time?
Well, for one thing, this gives one a chance to do spectroscopy. If you ask me, why am I interested in atomic physics? Well, I guess it's the way my genes are put together. I'm really serious about that. I think that there are characteristics that people have that seem to impel them to work on certain subjects. They find those exciting and impelling.
I wondered particularly about abundances, because later on it became quite important, as people started to do nucleosynthesis. This was before anything much had been done on that. Was it seen simply as something interesting to know in the abstract, or was it in service of anything?
Oh, I don't know. I think in one sense, that it was important. I guess it was just beginning to be known — no, I guess it was known at that time that hydrogen was converted into helium.
That was known by '38 or whatever, it was clear.
It was demonstrated in '38, quantitatively almost, but prior to that it was pretty well accepted that the process must be going on. And the mere question of whether chemical composition was the same everywhere in the universe: that was an important consideration. As a matter of fact, at the same time that I made these calculations, intending to apply them to the sun, Jim Baker, who was a fellow graduate student at that time, had an idea of doing the same thing for a number of spectra along the Main Sequence. He found that Harvard didn't have a good spectrograph that he could use for that purpose, and he set out to design one. That's how he got interested in optics.
I see, at that point. He must have been interested in optics in the first place, to think of it.
Well, not so much, I don't think so.
It was really with that in mind?
Sure. So I think there was that question of the uniformity of chemicals, of the abundances of elements — and if it wasn't uniform, why not?
The whole question of chemical history or whatever.
By the way, the question of cosmology — do you recall much talk of cosmology as such, the question of the expanding universe, that sort of thing, origins?
In connection with the expanding universe, yes. For one thing, I remember one of Shapley's friends was the Abbe Lemaitre, and he came to Harvard and spent periods of time there, I remember. I don't recall his being there as much as a semester, but he was there.
Were you interested in those things?
No. Not particularly, they seemed quite remote.
That was something that you had heard discussed.
Shapley used to have these "hollow squares," as he called them, where there would be a variety of five or ten minute reports on what was going on. Very stimulating.
To get back to your own work then, tell me a bit about it. First, the multiplet formulae. You continued on that with Menzel, I suppose. Menzel says in his autobiography, and I wanted to check with you, that a paper by Bacher and Goudsmit came to hand, and you then worked together on that all night.
Yes. Well, we had always been intrigued, or rather frustrated by the problem of dealing with transitions from configurations that had more than one term of the same kind, that we had no way of separating. In other words, we could calculate the sum of the strengths from all of teh triplet P's or the triplet D's, but we couldn't separate them. One day he came around, I think that's correct, and showed me a paper that had just appeared in the PHYSICAL REVIEW by Bacher and Goudsmit.
We had configurations with equivalent electrons, so there would be certain terms missing because the electrons were equivalent. And when you had a transition from one of the terms that was allowed, to another configuration that had two or more terms of the same kind, then you couldn't separate them; even though you knew the separate parertage of the term and the configuration of equivalent electrons. And Bacher and Goudsmit described a method of representing the parentage as a linear combination of parent terms, in the configuration with minus one electron. Menzel came around with this paper. He didn't know much more quantum mechanics than I did. He said, "I have a hunch that the answer to this problem is in this paper." *Menzel file, BBA, at AIP. I said, "You do?" I looked at it and it didn't register with me. He left it with me and I sat and struggled with this, and I just couldn't seem to find the clue to it. It's not very important, but I remember it was a Saturday afternoon, and Shapley had one of his volley ball matches.
I went down and got completely exhausted and drenched in perspiration, came back upstairs to my desk, and just sat there feeling relaxed, and began to think about this problem again — and then suddenly it hit me. I immediately went over to his house, and showed him what I'd found. He agreed that it was correct, even though we couldn't prove it by quantum mechanics. So we talked about it some more, and then we agreed that we would get together at his house early Sunday morning and write a letter for the PHYSICAL REVIEW on this, and we did.* By the end of the day we'd put it in the mail. It was great fun.
I see. After this, or about the same time, that you worked on the multiplets and so forth, you began to work on what we'd now call solar problems. You worked on temperature of the solar chromosphere. You did curve-of-growth work on Helium I, and also on early type stars. I'm wondering how these interests developed.
It was all part of my thesis.
What was your thesis topic?
Well, it started with a suggestion by Menzel. The transition probabilities for Helium I were urgently needed in astronomy. There had been some transition probabilities calculated by Hylleraas for transitions from the ground state, which of course fall in the then inaccessible ultra- violet. But there were really no results for the visible. So I set out to calculate those, both the line transition probabilities and the continuous absorption probabilities.
By this time you needed a fair amount of wave mechanics.
I suppose that's right.
How did you learn that?
Oh, I'd taken this course from Slater, and I'd read a good deal about it. I went over and consulted Philip Morse about this, and he suggested that the variational method would be the best way of tackling the problem, of getting the wave functions. He tutored me *Vol. 47 (1935): 424. privately, showed me how to do it. I just set out, calculated the wave functions by the variational method. As a matter of fact, I did that jointly. There was another student of Phil Morse's named Albert Clogston, who is well known now.
He and I did these wave functions together, and published a joint paper in the PHYSICAL REVIEW.* That was Paper # 1. Then Paper # 2 was the calculation of the transition probabilities. Then there were the two applications, one to the early type stars, the other to the chromosphere.** All of that was in my thesis.
I see. So the applications were still essentially following the same line. Your real interest was in doing the atomic physics of it.
Had you had such interest at this point in other fields, observations for example, clusters, any of these things?
Not really. I'd done a lot of observational work — partly because I was hired to do it, as an assistant, on the telescopes. There was actually one year, one of those assistantships was to observe in Cambridge. I remember now, the telescopes were still out there in the Yard. But the papers that I did at that time were all connected with atomic physics.
Yes. I notice you mention among others one on gaseous nebulae.
Oh yes, that came as a postdoc paper. I actually did that while I was out at Mt. Wilson in 1940.
I see. So that came along later.
Well, tell me how you got the post-doc. You got your PhD in '38, and I presume you then looked for a job.
Well, it's kind of a human interest story. While I was a graduate student, around 1937 I think, an undergraduate classmate of mine who was then in Harvard Medical School, came over to see me, to *Vol. 56 (1939): 696-99. **Ap.J. 89 (1939): 623-46, 673-78, 90 (1939): 414-28. tell me about a young man who was having all kinds of psychological problems, problems of coordination and the like. He was the son of a very prominent professor of the Harvard Medical School named S. B. Wolbach, a professor of pathology. And John (Wolbach) was having great difficulty getting through prep school.
He'd been to a number of schools, and was sort of nervous and uncoordinated, and they really didn't know what to do with him. He was, however, an avid reader, and he'd lately gotten interested in astronomy and was just reading book after book and memorizing everything. He had a wonderful memory, and he could also manipulate large numbers in his head. The father was hopeful that somehow astronomy might be the door through which he could pass and have a useful life, somehow. So my friend Dave Cheek wanted to know, could he bring this guy around and maybe I'd be willing to work with him. So he did.
Well, as I say, it was just sort of a human problem, and I wanted to try to help the fellow. I didn't have much time myself, but I got him tutored by a post-doc at the observatory, Dick Emberson. Also I used my influence, whatever it was, a little later on, to get him admitted to Harvard Summer School, 1937, and after that as a special student, to work for what was then called an Associate in Arts degree. In the meantime, I had met the parents. In 1938 when I got my degree, there just weren't any jobs. Certainly not the kind of jobs that had led me to decide to become an astronomer. And the next thing I knew, Shapley told me that he could offer me a special research fellowship. He didn't tell me where the money would come from. It wasn't until three years later when I left Harvard — I had this fellowship for three years — that I learned that father Wolbach had put up the money for this.
You don't know how it happened, whether Shapley went to him?
Yes, probably. Shapley knew him right from the start. I had to talk to Shapley about this lad. I couldn't take him into the ob- servatory without Shapley approving, and Shapley knew the father very well. They were both Harvard professors.
The story continues. John stayed at the Harvard Observatory. He's still there. You see, the family has plenty of money, so there was never any question of his needing a salary. In fact, he's been on a kind of nominal salary which he's sort of given back to the observatory as a gift. And he's had a variety of odd jobs and responsibilities around the place. I had no idea what the outcome of all this was going to be. Except that I went back to Harvard, of course, and before I left Harvard, I had to raise the money for a new Harvard Observatory Build ing, which you may have seen, the Perkin Laboratory, and John made a very substantial contribution to that building, for which the Library is named after him now. It's called the Wolbach Library.
So on this fellowship you were pretty much free to do as you chose.
I had no duties, except I had all kinds of odd jobs that Shapley would get me to do. Such as the time he had trouble with the aluminizing tank that John Wulff at MIT had built for him, and it wasn't working. It was just like being in the Army, being called in one day by Shapley who said, "You — you're an aluminizing expert." I got organized and got the tank working. That was sort of all part of the special research fellowship. But basically I was free.
So he thought it would be a broadening experience for me to go see how the other half lived. He suggested that I just go and park my feet under a desk at Mt. Wilson for a couple of months, and go up to Lick, if I could find the money to pay the train fare out there, which I did. So I did and I had a wonderful time out there. I got to know everybody quite well, made lifelong friends. They were all very eager to show me what they were doing. In fact, I was the means of telling everybody there what the other people were doing at Mt. Wilson.
People in one room didn't know what they were doing at the other room?
Which people specifically are you talking about? Were there separate groups?
They were all working in so many different fields. There was Baade and Hubble. Gustav Stromberg was still alive, Adrian van Maanen, Paul Merrill (whom I'd met because he'd been to Harvard as a visiting lecturer) and Alfred Joy. Olin Wilson and Rudolf Minkowski became very good friends of mine.
This was the first time that you'd really gotten to know these people.
Yes. I knew Paul Merrill and that's about all. My relationship with Baade was very friendly, until he died.
How did the atmosphere at Mt. Wilson and Lick strike you, coming from Harvard? This particular milieu, how did it strike you as being different?
Well, it was a little bit stodgy. What impressed me was the enormously high quality of the observational work. Harvard had a well-deserved reputation for having second-rate equipment in those days. There's no getting around that. On the other hand, there was nobody as stimulating at Mt. Wilson at the time as Donald Menzel, for example. There was no theoretical work going on in particular. Theodore Dunham was out there, and he was a great fellow.
At Lick or — no.
Mt. Wilson. Lick was pretty quiescent in 1940.
It didn't make the same impression on you.
No. Lick was a very dull place at that time. I can't remember. It was pretty well ingrown, and there were no young people. Most of the people were quite elderly. They all had distinguished careers, like W. H. Wright and J. H. Moore. Even when I went out there in '46 or '47, after I'd been to Michigan — I took a Kodachrome picture of this group on the Berkeley campus. There was Leuschner and C. F. Meyer, Cunningham was already out there, Doc Moore, J. H. Moore, wonderful fellows, but they were pretty backward.
Do you still have that picture?
Yes, I have it. In fact, I have at home a couple of carousels of pictures of astronomers that I've sort of put all together.
I wonder if at some point we could borrow those to make copies of them?* We have a copying camera, I can just make copies of them.
If you like I can bring them in. I've got them at home.
OK, if you'll bring them in I'll make some copies of them, because we have a big file of photographs.
There are a few that are interesting. I should have started earlier and been more systematic about it. I've missed a lot of opportunities. *Selected copies added to photo files, AIP. Don't let me forget (perhaps we can come back to this) — I have some tapes that were taken during meetings of the Astronomy Missions Board, in the period 1967, say, to 1970, when NASA was discussing planks for the future.
On some of them, Jim Webb is there and George Mueller and Homer Newall, some of these people. I'm sorry to say that I had some more, I've got quite a lot of them, but I had even more and some of them were disposed of. But there's enough there. I think each box is marked with session of such and such a date. I also have summary minutes of all the meetings, so probably, by looking at these summary minutes, you could identify who's talking.
That's really very valuable. People didn't mind being tape recorded at the time?
No. You see, I was the chairman and my secretary at Harvard was the secretary, and she had to prepare the minutes. So she took these tapes, and before I left Harvard I picked them up.
I see. And being recorded didn't impede people's frankness?
Oh no. Oh, you ought to hear them. Some of it's quite good. Martin Schwarzschild of course is very prominent in it, as always.
Very good. One thing I want to talk with you later on of course is the Astronomy Missions Board. Those tapes are really very valuable. By all means they should be saved. If they're that old, then at some point they ought to be run off. (Pause to discuss tapes.) Maybe tomorrow we'll see what we can do about shipping these tapes to us, and of course they'll be available to you although I don't think we'll make them available to scholars for a while. I think things of that nature shouldn't really be open for scholarly use, except under very strong restrictions and so on. We'd certainly want to be careful about that. What do you think? We'd be glad to store them here, still, if you want to ship them. The main concern is that they be rewound to prevent deterioration, and possibly copied for the same reason. Let me know what you'd like. (N.B. Later agreed to leave them with papers to be deposited at Harvard.) OK, getting back to Harvard and your last years there. One thing I'm not sure if it belongs to that period or not, is your book with (Lawrence) Aller, ATOMS, STARS AND NEBULAE.
Was that done essentially at Harvard?
It was done at Harvard, yes. It didn't appear until 1943, but basically we did it at Harvard.
How did that come about?
Well, they were called the Harvard Books on Astronomy. Shapley and Cecelia (Payne-) Gaposchkin I think were the editors, and they put together a slate of authors. I suppose they consulted Menzel, and Menzel decided he wanted to do one on the sun, and thought it would be a good idea if Aller and I jointly did one on astrophysics. I don't know how we finally managed to come up with a book, because Lawrence and I never did think alike particularly, and Lawrence in those days just hated the idea of writing anything popular.
I remember one evening when he brought over a chapter that he'd written for Donald Menzel to read at Donald's house, and Donald told him that it was much too technical, he'd have to tone it down. And Aller's response was, "Oh well, if you want me to write a book for Pullman porters, that's different." That was his attitude. On the other hand, he was a walking encyclopedia. Basically what happened was, we started out by trying to write separate chapters, and in the end he would write most of the drafts and I would rewrite them.
I see, you would bring them to the Pullman porter level.
To the Pullman porter level. It turned out to be a pretty good seller. I know Shapley was surprised that it sold so well. ve had a lot of people tell me that they became interested in astronomy by reading that book — including Helmut Abt on the staff here, and including also a Chinese astronomer whom I met in Peking last October.
Shen Liang-tzao. Very nice fellow.
Did Shapley and Menzel have in mind popularization as something the Observatory should do as part of its job?
Always. They were always interested, partly because, I suppose, it lent itself to popularization, and it was a way of raising money too. They were always very conscious of that, as I was when I went there later.
So they would encourage people to go and give lectures or whatever?
Oh yes. For example, there were two amateur groups that were associated with the Observatory. One was called the Bond Astronomical Club, which I think is still in existence. They initiated the publication of a magazine called THE TELESCOPE, which started around 1936.
I see, so that was a club. Was it an amateur club?
In the Cambridge and Boston area.
Cambridge and Boston area. They met at the Observatory, and members of the Observatory staff and others would give them lectures.
Did you ever do that?
Oh yes. In fact, I was assistant editor of THE TELESCOPE magazine for three years.
While you were at Harvard.
Yes. I produced a few of the issues. That was right up to the time when it was merged with SKY and became SKY AND TELESCOPE. I had some issues of that thing around, and I don't know what I've done with them. I can't seem to find them, maybe they got lost. Our library doesn't have any copies of THE TELESCOPE.
The AAVSO* would be the other?
Oh, that's right, the AAVSO had its headquarters in the Observatory until the Observatory ran short on space and they had to be removed. The other was the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston. At one time they had their shop in the basement of old Building A.
I see. And would you interact also with them?
Not so much. There were one or two people, yes, that we got to know socially. Chester Cook, and there was a man named Hargbol, a Norwegian chap. And then of course there were the regular Observatory open nights, a tradition.
They really did more than many observatories do, in fact, in encouraging public participation. *American Association of Variable Star Observers
Yes. And people used to talk on the radio about astronomy. I remember Menzel giving a talk about the sun, and offering to bet any one of his listeners a million dollars to one cent that the sun would continue shining for the next ten billion years — a condition being that he be allowed to hold the stakes. He was very proud of that.
It sounds like a Menzelism all right. What else about Harvard that we haven't really covered?
Well, there's nothing that comes obviously to mind. I think we've covered it pretty well.
Then tell me how you got the job at McMath-Hulbert.
I think that was arranged by Donald Menzel. He was the instigator, let's put it that way. Donald would travel across the country periodically, and with his interest in solar astronomy, early on he began to stop at Pontiac (Michigan) and visit the McMath-Hulbert observatory. He used to come back to Cambridge speaking very well of McMath. He referred to McMath as "a real scientist," as he put it. I guess he talked to McMath about the possibility of hiring me. There was a vacancy at the observatory that needed to be filled, and I guess that went back to December of 1940, when I first heard about that.
There was a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Philadelphia, and I think Menzel was there and McMath was there. I think Menzel telephoned, and said it would be in my interest to get on the train and come down to Philadelphia to meet McMath. So I did. Then a few months later, I think it was in May, McMath was in Boston. I think he'd talked to the American Academy (of Arts and Sciences), showed his movies of the sun, and came over to Menzel's house. There was whispering, I recall. I was over there too that evening. And in the end, McMath went outside, I think with Shapley, and they sat in the car outside of Menzel's house, discussing my fate I guess. Shortly thereafter, I was offered a job there. It might even have been that same night, I'm not sure.
That was a strange place in those days.
I guess you got there in time to form an impression before you got involved in war work. Can you tell me what your impression was when you first arrived, before the war work really got under way?
Well, in the first place, the place was completely dominated by Robert McMath. He was just the unquestioned boss, even tyrant I guess in a way if he wanted to be. He let everybody know that they all had jobs thanks to his bounty, and that he was providing the place and the instrumentation for people to use, and you did pretty much what he wanted you to do. Theorists were looked upon with considerable suspicion. He told me some years later that I'd been advertised to him as a person who had more skill with instrumentation than most Harvard graduate students — and that could very well have been true but that still was not a very good recommendation.
He hadn't really expected he was getting a theorist.
Well, I think he was. Menzel was a great salesman always, and Menzel believed in the hard sell. I can well imagine him telling McMath that I have also aluminized mirrors and so on and so forth, and observed with telescopes. Anyway, there was a kind of snobbishness about the people there. They had built this place almost literally with their own hands, without the help of any hifalutin Harvard theorists. Therefore, I felt I really ought to know my place. That's about what it came down to.
I see. McMath himself of course wasn't a PhD astronomer, that sort of thing.
No, he had an engineering degree.
What was his character? What was he like?
(chuckle) You want to take up the rest of the afternoon?
I know you had a long association with him.
I just don't know how much you want to digress about McMath. He's a story in himself.
I'm curious, I guess, in terms of what you saw directly of him. Of course you saw a lot of him. Maybe he'll keep coming back, but if you could just say a little bit now.
Like most people, it's pretty hard to describe him in a few sentences. He was very complicated and it's hard to generalize. He didn't behave consistently at all times. First of all, he had a background that was just completely focussed on the business world. He had an engineering degree from the University of Michigan. He was in World War I; I don't think he was in Europe.
I think he did some kind of engineering work.
Yes. I think he spent some time at Mitchell Field in New York. Then he had a health problem, the exact nature of which I don't know, but his family sent him down South to manage somebody's property down there.
An estate, and I think it was there that he met his wife Mary Rogers (Garrison), who was to be his wife. His professional life really started around 1922 or '23, when he was made a general manager, I think, of a company called the Motors Metal Manufacturing Company. It was doing very badly, and I think he was sent in to manage its liquidation. At least that's the way he tells the story. I think his father must have had a financial interest in the company, as a prominent stockholder. As McMath tells it, he not only straightened the company out, but it began to make money, and he rapidly went up through the ranks and very soon became president and then chairman of the board.
So his family was not all that wealthy. A lot of it was money that he made himself, in fact.
A lot of it he made. He had a fair amount to start with; his father was not poor. But he made a lot himself with that company. As far as I could tell, he was not a real multi-millionaire but he certainly was a millionaire, in terms of his net worth. His father was a strict task master, I gather, and there were certain things you did and certain things you didn't do. There was the right thing and there was the wrong thing. And he pretty much imitated his father in that respect. He could be a pretty tough character to deal with.
He could be tough on his family and he could be tough on people that worked for him as well. What made him tick? I think he liked power. No doubt about it, he just loved to be the boss. He didn't care to be the boss of an enormous enterprise, but he wanted a little empire that he could call his own, where everybody did his bidding and where people were around him all the time to serve him, to meet his needs. He was terribly vain also. Credit was very important to him. I can come back to that in a minute and give you some illustrations. He got into astronomy through his father, who got into it through Judge Hulbert.
There had been some articles written on how McMath came together with Judge Hulbert. Judge Hulbert is quite a story by himself. He had quite an adventurous life. Judge Hulbert, in my opinion, was a wonderful man. I really enjoyed my personal relationship with him. I guess the Judge was a balloonist, among other things, and Francis McMath was a social acquaintance of the Judge. At a party one night, the Judge told Francis that he was going to try to observe an eclipse of the sun from his balloon. This was the January 1925 eclipse, and he was going to launch from Buffalo.
So Francis went down to Buffalo to see this launching. It failed to go, but they got to talking about astronomy. Francis told the Judge that he had a son who had enormous energy and restlessness, and he was trying to find some focus for him that would challenge him and get him interested. The Judge suggested that astronomy would be such a challenge. I think by that time, the father had already had a small telescope — well, I guess it wasn't so small — a 10-1/2 inch refractor in the back yard of his summer house at Clarkston, Michigan. He and the Judge together were experimenting on making motion pictures of the moon and planets.
They were having troubles with guiding, and at this point they enlisted the cooperation of the younger McMath, and he came on like Gang Busters. Before you know it he had people of Detroit Edison working for him, showing him how to design and build a frequency- controlled synchronous motor, and they got the thing working and made some quite respectable motion pictures with this thing.
Then Robert built a large house on Lake Angelus, and they transferred the telescope there. They established contact with the astronomers at Ann Arbor around 1929 or something like that, and received a lot of encouragement from them. And eventually they suggested that he ought to try to take movies of the sun. There were two people, Heber D. Curtis, who was the director at Ann Arbor, beginning I think in 1930, and Kevin Burns, who was on the staff at the Allegheny Observatory, where Heber Curtis had been before going to Ann Arbor. The two of them together designed this spectroheliokinematograph, and (Robert) McMath raised the money to get it built.
There Judge Hulbert was of enormous help. Tracy McGregor was still alive at that time, but they got money from things like the Rackham fund and then later the McGregor fund. After Tracy McGregor died, the Judge was president of the fund for many years. So they built this thing, and of course these pictures attracted an enormous amount of attention, and he began taking them out to Mt. Wilson and showing them to Walter Adams and others. So the next thing you know, with the help of the Judge, they'd raised money to build a 50-foot tower.
Did Robert McMath ever talk to you about his feelings about astronomy, what there was in it that attracted and held his interest?
I don't think astronomy really attracted him at all. It was the organization, it was getting people together. He was very good at getting people to work for him. And he liked to build things that were well-designed and worked well mechanically and all that.
But he could have done that while making money instead of spending it.
Well, he had enough money. He didn't want it. It's interesting — here was a guy who ended up spending half his days out at the Observatory and only half of them at his business in Detroit. Naturally he was concerned about the business being successful, but he was never interested in expansion.
Did astronomy offer him a feeling of contributing to an intellectual endeavor, or prestige?
It was prestige, importance. He sort of liked the respect, when people referred to him as "Dr. McMath" — with those honorary de- grees. The first one I think came from Pennsylvania Military College or something like that. He had one from Wayne University also, Detroit. He just liked being called "Dr. McMath." He liked to bask in the adulation. He'd show these wonderful gee whiz movies, and people would ask him, "Are you sure that the film isn't being run backwards? That the material isn't being shot out from the sun instead of falling in?" He would smile .a sort of a Sphinx-like smile and not say anything. He was really hipped on this business of credit. I don't know, I suppose there are psychologists who could explain him as basically a kind of an insecure man, who needed visible evidence of accomplishment. He needed big buildings, he needed people, he needed publications with his name on them, to make him feel that he was something in the world.
Movies of the sun are a pretty good way to associate yourself with that kind of thing.
That's right. Because he was not a scientist, in spite of what Menzel said. He liked playing the scientist. When I came there in 1941, every single paper that was published by the McMath-Hulbert Observatory (and you can check me on that, I'm just looking at the publications of the observatory of The University of Michigan) appeared as "By Robert McMath with the collaboration of..." Then there would be several names that followed. Orren Mohler, George Malesky who was the engineer, Harold Sawyer, etc. I saw my role as sort of taming this guy and making use of his talents, and yet making him respectable.
This was already in 1941.
Did you have run-ins with him over credit?
They weren't run-ins. There was a paper, I guess on his radial velocity spectro- heliograph — he asked me to edit it. It was ready to go to press. I persuaded him, I think on that paper, to put the names down in more conventional order. Also, after the war, when we began doing astronomy again — even on things that I had obviously done myself, I would add his name and the names of one or two other people who had gotten the instruments working. In other words, I tried to be as generous as I could, just so he wouldn't feel threatened. And that worked pretty well. But there were some examples in which he in effect had papers written for him, which were given by him as sole author, and I took a rather dim view of that.
I understand. Before we get into the war stuff, I want to ask you a few questions. First, you married in 1943 Charlotte Wyman.
How did you meet her? What was her background?
She was a school teacher in Michigan. She lived in Pontiac. I met her there, socially.
Teacher of science?
No, actually she taught physical education. She was studying for a Master's degree in science, which she got. By that time she was about ready to give up teaching.
Did she have a separate career after you got married?
She taught for a while, two or three years, in school.
All right. Tell me — a question I ask everybody — how do you think the fact that you're a scientist has affected your marriage, your children?
Well, speaking about the children, I've often felt that unless the children of scientists have the same kind of talent, they're rather disadvantaged. Many children, I won't say most but certainly many children, tend to follow in the father's footsteps. They have a business that they grow into and take over eventually. But if you're a scientist, unless your children do science, there isn't much that you can give them, actually. They've really got to make their own way. So there's that disadvantage. On the other hand, I think in my case my children have had their lives enriched somewhat by meeting a lot of well-motivated people. I think they've gotten a point of view on the world which they wouldn't have had if they'd been exposed only to business people, whose principal goal in life is to make money. And even though they're not scientists, I think their way of life sort of reflects that influence.
How has the fact that you're a scientist affected your marriage?
Well, I don't know. It's hard to answer that. I don't think it's affected the marriage particularly one way or the other.
It would have been more or less the same if you'd been in business?
I think so.
Tell me about World War II, then. You worked on fire control devices, naval bomb sights, I guess as consultant for the U.S. Bureau of Ordnance?
You worked in the Department of Engineering Research at the University?
That was a formality. When I came out to McMath-Hulbert Observatory it was July, '41, Pearl Harbor was just five months away. I don't know what McMath would have done if I hadn't been there, but certainly once the war started, I was very eager to make some contribution to it. I actually had gotten so far as to get myself invited to go back to MIT to work in the Radiation Lab.
You knew through your friends what was going on there?
Yes, Joseph Boyce I think had arranged it. I told McMath quite frankly that I was not going to spend the war doing astronomy. At the same time, however, I would prefer doing war work there, rather than in Cambridge, because I wanted to go on doing astronomy after the war. Anyway, the upshot of it all was that he and I got on a train in the winter of '42 and visited MIT, and talked to Boyce, who was I think at that time acting as a special assistant to K. T. Compton, on the National Defense Research Committee. Through his offices, it was arranged that we could have a contract with NDRC. I don't know if you're familiar with how NDRC worked, but
By university contracts, in general.
That's right. I suppose some university groups had their own original ideas on gadgets to develop, but mostly the ideas came from a relatively small number of people who were with the organization in Washington. In my view, one of the most talented of that group was a fellow named Edward J. Poitras, whom I had met actually when I was in Pasadena.
I see. An astronomer?
No, he was a mechanical engineer who was responsible for designing the controls of the 200-inch telescope. He was out there in January or February 1940, working on the 200-inch project, and by June he had gone to Washington. Ed started us working first on pneumatic control systems for possible anti-aircraft applications.
That's a mechanical engineering problem.
Well, it's mostly mechanical.
It wasn't only you, there were other people at McMath-Hulbert
Exactly, it was just making use of the whole facility. We had a very good design engineer, George Malesky, who was actually in the employ of McMath's company and on loan to the Observatory. Afterwards George went back to the company, and as far as I know he's still there, probably getting close to retirement. There were also two or three instrument makers and a couple of technicians, and a very well-equipped small shop. Ed would make the rounds regularly, he had a circuit he followed, going by train of course, through the Midwest. He would come around to our place and sit down and sketch things out freehand on a piece of paper, and we would talk it over. We'd turn it over to George Malesky, who would make some drawings for the shop.
You were doing mechanical engineering in effect.
Which was a new turn for you.
Mechanical engineering, and I guess there was a little bit of hydraulics in it too, because it was air flow.
Did you have to learn all these things, or did you already know how to write specifications and that sort of thing?
No — you just pick it up.
You picked it up as you went along.
It's really not all that difficult.
Did you ever use a lathe?
Yes — oh, I ended up by using a lot of the tools at the Observatory.
You hadn't done that back at Harvard.
No. I guess it was the war that sort of got me established out there. As I say, they didn't think much of theorists. In fact I found out later that my predecessor as head of the astronomy department, Heber Curtis, had strongly advised th against hiring me or any other theorists, on the ground that McMath was doing so well, he didn't need any theorist.
He probably knew that it wasn't McMath's temper.
Well, poor old Heber died suddenly of pneumonia in January of '42 so he wasn't around during the term. Anyway, very shortly — because things happened very fast in those days — there was a submarine problem on the East Coast in 1942, and all the pressure was on designing anti-submarine bombsights. The British had recently developed a new type of low-level bombsight which was much more effective at low levels than the old type which was based on measuring the depression angle. If you knew the altitude and the ground speed, then if you measured the depression angle continuously, when you got to the right depression angle, you pressed the button and the bomb dropped. This was based on measuring angular rate with a gyroscope. One could show that the error in distance was considerably less if you used angular rate rather than depression angle. I mean, an error in the angular rate would mean a much smaller error in —
This was in low level work?
Low level work.
The angular rate can change pretty rapidly, I guess, in that case.
It changes pretty rapidly, that's right, so a large error in measuring the rate makes a small difference in the release time. Anyway, the British had a mechanical version of this principle, and it was seen in Washington right away, or maybe it was seen in Britain too, that there were other possible ways of implementing the principle—electrically, magnetically, pneumatically. So they set up three different groups, to build one according to each of these principles.
We had the pneumatic, because we'd already spent a few weeks becoming experts in pneumatics. We produced a model in a relatively short time. There was a competition that was flown, down at Rhode Island, an anti-submarine at Quonset Point, and ours won. So we went on with it, and eventually there was a production model designed and built. It was manufactured by a company in New York, that went by the name of the American Cystoscope Makers Inc. My contribution to this thing was to derive the theory so that you could calibrate it. I think my colleagues there at the observatory had expected to calibrate each one empirically, point by point, using a test range which they had very cleverly designed using a small lathe. I showed them that I could calculate the calibration theoretically, and all they needed to do with the test was to fix the zero point. One altitude, one ground speed, and they'd get the rest. I would stand there, predicting where the setting should be placed.
They wanted to check this out of course —
That's right. They were very impressed with that.
Life actually followed theory.
That's right, it did. Later on, when the thing went into production, I spent quite a bit of time going to New York to help them with problems that they would encounter in getting these things past the Navy inspector. And it turned out that the theorist was the person who really understood how this thing worked, better than anybody else.
Did you have much contact with Navy people or Washington people, personally?
Yes, a fair amount. There was a lieutenant from the Bureau of Ordnance who was always there at the plant when I was there.
I wonder whether you had much contact with the higher ups?
Not so much. At one time, the company was not living up to its contract. We had a confrontation in Washington, I remember, and the head man at the Bureau of Ordnance, Captain Bussey, was involved. But I didn't make contacts at that point that were useful later on with ONR, if that's what you mean.
Yes, I was wondering if you did. I see. So this was what you got the award for, after the war.*
Yes, the bombsight.
This continued through the war.
It continued through the war, yes. They eventually built about a thousand of these things.
That's enough for just about every anti-submarine plane, suppose.
I see. Another question I always ask people about this period — when did you first learn that atomic bombs could be built?
I didn't really learn that until Truman made the announcement.
What was your reaction to Hiroshima?
Real shock and surprise. It turned out that Lawrence Aller had been at Oak Ridge. In fact, he wrote me from Oak Ridge during the war. I had no idea why he was there. The Smyth Report in particular was a great revelation. It was just like, I don't know, going off and sleeping for a few years, like Rip van Winkle, and coming back and reading about all these wonderful things that had been done in science.
Did it affect your attitude toward science, do you think? *Individual Award for Exceptional Service to Naval Ordnance Development (1946).
No, I don't think so. I think there was some question right at the start. One wondered if the loss of life was necessary, if there couldn't have been a warning. But basically there was great relief that the war was going to end, and that we had won the war, and that neither the Germans nor the Japanese had gotten the bomb first. Underlying it all was the feeling on everybody's part that it was a really just war, if there is such a thing as a just war.
I understand. By the way, that reminds me — I should have asked earlier — if at any point during your career, particularly your earlier career, did you run into anti-Semitism?
Well — some. The parties involved are dead now, but they themselves are not at fault here. But I can remember, for example, going to a neighborhood meeting of astronomers on the East Coast, while I was a post-doc. Those were very pleasant occasions. Harlow Shapley would always go, and one or two of the senior people, and sometimes the younger people would go along. I remember, we were sitting .... in small groups after dinner one evening, and Frank Schlesinger and Harlow Shapley were talking about the difficulty of finding jobs for people, Frank Schlesinger being the director at Yale at that time. And I heard Shapley tell Schlesinger — I was sitting over here, I wasn't eavesdropping, just sitting there — about the difficulty of finding jobs for Jews. I think the way he put it was, "Well, it wasn't so bad with Greenstein because he had such breadth of interest, but for Goldberg it was difficult because he's rather narrow, atomic physics and so forth, there's not much demand for such people." So evidently that was a problem.
What was Schlesinger's response? Yale was not a place that was noted for accepting Jews.
I know. I don't remember anything that was said after that.
So you had a feeling, but perhaps no direct experience, that it might be retarding your job possibilities?
Oh yes, very definitely. In retrospect, it was remarkably broadminded of McMath to hire me, because he was rather bigoted in many ways. He was about as WASPish as they come. And yet he would tell me, during the war, about all his good friends who were Jews, like Albert Kahn, the architect, and there was a man named Fred Butzel who was a respected judge, from a legal family. On the other hand, he would complain about how unfortunate it was that people who came down from Washing- ton to renegotiate contracts with his company, from the Treasury Department, all happened to be Jews. That was bad. So as I say, I think it was really rather broadminded of him.
Of course he would always tell me that I was "different," just like Albert Kahn, or whatever. I think when I was suddenly propelled upwards into the chairmanship of the department at Michigan, at quite an early age — McMath told me this, I don't know whether it's true or not but it probably is — that he had discussed me with the president of the university, Alexander Ruthven, at the time, and Ruthven wanted to know whether, in McMath's opinion, I was likely to populate the department with Jews? So there were these outcroppings. But I don't know, think it was probably a serious problem before the war, but not afterwards.
Well, tell me, you became chairman and director of the Observatory — but maybe even before that, coming out of the war, converting back to peacetime, was there a feeling of going back to exactly the way things had been before the war, or was there a feeling that things would definitely be different?
There was a considerable period of uncertainty, right after the war. Let me first say that I was not very happy with my experi- ence at the McMath-Hulbert Observatory during the war. It was just not the kind of environment I enjoyed. I didn't enjoy working for Robert McMath. And so I was actively looking for a chance to move. If there hadn't been a war and if I hadn't felt committed to this bombsight project, I certainly would have left very soon after arriving there. At one time, having sort of tested the water at universities, I didn't find very many opportunities that were open to me.
In '46, this is?
Say the fall of '45, beginning of '46. Universities were very slow in realizing what was happening, and there just weren't very many opportunities still. And as a result of my experience with the bombsight, I was offered a position at Franklin Institute doing much the same thing.
Meaning ordnance work?
Yes. And it was at that point that I decided that there really was a good reason why I became an astronomer, and I wasn't going to give it up that easily. But I did consider it seriously. Then, I think, toward the end of 1946, the pace began to quicken. One began to get the feeling that there was indeed going to be a difference. In fact, I came very close to going to Yale.
You applied for a job there and so on?
Well, I didn't exactly apply. It's rather interesting. Lyman Spitzer had been a friend of mine since he came to Harvard as a post-doc.
That was the time he went to Yale.
He was at Yale at the time, and —
— he was already there —
— and I visited him from time to time, and we got together. We were together some place well before the end of the war, when we both heard about the V-2 rockets, and I was quite captivated by the idea of doing astronomy from outside the atmosphere. While I was at Harvard in 1937, I think it was, M. N. Saha gave a colloquium about the possibilities of the stratosphere observatory, in a balloon, which he hoped would get above the ozone layer. He misjudged the height of the ozone layer, but that was all right. Then this was published as a Harvard publication. So when we began to hear about these V-2 rockets, once we got over the idea that these were weapons of destruction, it looked very exciting.
In conversation with Spitzer, who of course, also became very interested in this.
Spitzer had been interested, even longer than I, in this possibility. So he approached me with the idea that I would come to Yale and we'd set up a laboratory to instrument high altitude rockets and do spectroscopy. I thought it was a great idea, except that I wanted a permanent position at Yale. I really must have had my nerve with me, when I stop and think about it, because I hadn't really done any astronomy for several years.
I was just starting up again after the war. And probably I really wasn't entitled to tenure, but here I was asking for it. Probably, if he had felt that there wasn't a chance to get it, I might have accepted right then and there — but it was just that he thought it was a possibility. The negotiations went on. We began in the spring, then all through the summer. In the meantime Michigan had been trying to fill the vacancy left by Curtis's death, which they hadn't tried to fill during the war. They actually offered the job to two people.
They appointed a very high- level committee — Struve and Shane and Bowen and so forth. They ended up by offering the position to two people, to Ira Bowen and to Bart Bok. That was just before Bowen was appointed director of Mt. Wilson-Palomar. I guess Bart considered it very seriously. Shapley, who was on the committee that recommended Bok, of course turned around and did his damnedest to keep Bok at Harvard, by making him associate director. Then he had Menzel to contend with, so he made Menzel associate director for solar research, in sequence, and he just really sowed the seeds for the trouble there later, for Bok's discontent. I certainly had no ambition about Michigan. I think probably Judge Hulbert was the first person to ask me what I thought about my taking that job possibly. I laughed. I said, "I haven't been offered the job." I certainly didn't think at that time that I had the necessary qualifications.
You were only 33 or 34.
33 or 34. Anyway, Dean Keniston called me in one day early in September, and practically bowled me over by offering me the job — just as the tenure offer from Yale came over.
I see. So then you had to choose.
I had to choose. Hayward Keniston, who was a wonderful man, a Romance languages scholar, dean at Michigan — he was a great man in fact — I told him I would have to think about this. As I went out his door, he called to me and said, "Now, Goldberg, don't get the idea that New Haven is anything like Cambridge. It isn't." (laughter) Of course Keniston was Harvard through and through, class of '04, PhD.
Of course in terms of astronomy he was perfectly right, also.
Oh yes, sure. Paul Buck used to froth at the mouth, that one of the greatest mistakes Harvard ever made was to let this man Keniston go. He was never on the Harvard faculty. But his son of course has done very well, Kenneth.
So you did decide to accept the Michigan position. (Half-hour coffee break)
First, tell me about the University of Michigan astronomy department, as it developed while you were director there.
That was a very very exciting experience. To begin with, the department there had been quite a distinguished one over the years. However, when I moved in, in November 1946, it was pretty well run down physically and with respect to staff; the staff had been pretty well decimated during the war. There were three graduate students. The building was in terrible shape, dirty, and needing painting. The principal instrument in Ann Arbor was a 37-inch reflector dating back to 1911. And indeed, the major resource that the department had was the solar observatory at Lake Angelus,the McMath-Hulbert Observatory.
What were the relations with that, by the way?
The Observatory had been deeded to the University in 1932, I believe it was, with McMath appointed director. The two towers, the 50-foot and the 70-foot tower, were both built while the Observatory was owned by the University. But it was really run by McMath pretty much as a private observatory.
While you were director, you just sort of left him —
No, not really. About the end of the war, he had reached an agreement with the University so that it would be possible to appoint faculty members to the staff of McMath-Hulbert, or conversely, members of the staff at McMath-Hulbert who would be resident out there would have professorial titles. When I became chairman, the McMath-Hulbert Observatory academically was really fully integrated into the department, as fully as possible. It was very difficult to get the people to come and teach 50 miles away, but we began sending graduate students out to Lake Angelus on a regular basis, particularly during the summer, and they began doing doctoral theses. For example, Gordon Newkirk, whom you know, did his thesis on the solar spectrum of carbon monoxide in the infrared. The recommendations for promotion, for salary increases and all that were all done through me, through my office. Naturally McMath's recommendation would carry considerable weight.
I would think since he'd been used to running the place as his own, this would have led to some difficulties.
Well, actually it didn't. And I suppose I can take a certain amount of credit for that, because when I took the job, I viewed one of my responsibilities as being to get along with McMath. First of all, of course, I had scientific interests there, which helped. Second, I used to go out there regularly once a week, for quite a while. I'd spend essentially a whole day; it would take, after all, 2% hours to drive out and back, and I used to sit with him and talk with him and review the problems and so forth. I maintained very close liaison with him.
I think I learned early on how he should be handled. Although he tended to come on very strong and be sort of domineering and overpowering, in actuality he was not very sure of himself on a lot of matters — anything having to do with academic problems. He wanted guidance, but he wanted to be guided gently and he didn't want to be told that he was a damn fool even if he was. He may have thought so himself, as a matter of fact. In other words, it was a real problem of human relations. I didn't find it terribly obnoxious (except near the end, when he was approaching retirement). I don't recall any really serious quarrel that we had. I think on important matters, I could be persistent and have my way, as long as I let him have his way on a number of relatively unimportant things. Now, it was true, I should qualify that — I couldn't really disrupt his basic organization. He really didn't like the notion of having any of his people spend a lot of time in Ann Arbor. He wanted them there, near him.
And the result is that the place, I feel, never really became first rate. It was almost first rate. Particularly right after the war, when we were the first to use the lead sulfide cell on the infrared solar spectrum, and then later on, when we built that vacuum spectrograph and got these beautiful wiggly lines. But even there, we fell short of excellence. I can recall writing a memo to McMath, and even speaking to them in person, and suggesting that time-lapse photographs of these wiggles ought to be taken.
What line was this in?
Well, any line. Metallic lines. The lines all showed Doppler shifts. Although the seeing there wasn't terribly good, to be sure, nevertheless you could see the wiggles. Then the objection was raised that the guiding wasn't good enough. So I would say, "I suggest that you align the slit along the radius, actually crossing the limb, so when you intercompare several spectra, you can use the limb as a means of lining up, and the trail would then be along the length of the slit." And they still didn't.
So you wanted to do time lapse and look for oscillations.
That's right, and I didn't know that there were any such things.
When was the five-minute oscillation found? I can't remember.
The five-minute oscillation was found in 1960. And we got these beautiful spectra in the summer of 1955.
I see. So you could have done it then.
I think we could. Not only could we have done it, but after it was done — by that time I'd left Michigan — Dick Teske, who was still there, measured the oscillations. But there was a sort of reluctance to do it. I don't really know why. They were just so convinced you couldn't do it, and I don't think they realized how potentially important it could be, you see. So it was never done. Anyway, (gets book) this is a book on the moon by (Edmund) Neison, THE MOON, which was given to McMath originally by Judge Hulbert. And it's inscribed to Bob McMath: "Dear Bob, I finally obtained this old copy," and so forth. Then below it, January 19, 1960, "To Leo Goldberg, in memory of the full years, 1946-60, thanks — Robert F. McMath."
I see. And it's this beautiful old book.
So, in other words, we got along pretty well. (Interruption) Let's see, where was I?
Well, I was asking you about the department and how that got built up.
Right. All of the plans for developing astronomy, that is to say non-solar astronomy, at the University of Michigan, hinged around the construction of a large telescope, a 97-inch telescope, which Heber Curtis had come to Michigan to design as Director. That was the main reason he came there. Heber Curtis himself drew up the plans for such a 97-inch telescope. It became 97 inches because one of the pyrex discs that came out of the 200-inch melt was a 971/2 inch disc. Tracy McGregor purchased that for $13,000, and gave it to the University of Michigan, as a first step. The legislature subsequently appropriated a considerable sum of money. But before they could really begin spending it, the Depression hit full force. The legislature withdrew the appropriation, and Curtis ended up his life there as a very frustrated man. Of course, he did help, he directed his energies out toward Lake Angelus instead. But the department still hoped to build that telescope. Well, it seemed to me in 1946 that that would be a very serious mistake, and that Ann Arbor, Michigan, was not a place to put a 97-inch telescope. Not even outside of Ann Arbor, where we had a very nice site in the Base Lake area.
But anywhere in that latitude, so to speak.
That's right. At about the same time that we were reaching that decision, and discussing it with Judge Hulbert, who was still president of McGregor Fund, the trustees of McGregor Fund felt that if we weren't going to use that mirror, then we ought to give it back, and they'd give it to some group that would be able to use it. Along about that time, the British had announced that they were going to build the Isaac Newton Telescope. Judge Hulbert was very fond of the British, and very much disturbed at the deterioration in relations between the US and Britain right after World War II. He wanted to offer that blank as a gift to the British for the Isaac Newton Telescope.
After considerable negotiation with the university and with McGregor Fund, we came to the conclusion that we ought to build a Schmidt Telescope which would be a duplicate of the Schmidt at the Case Institute of Technology (now the Warner and Swasey Observatory). That would be a good instrument for that climate, and we could train graduate students in galactic structure with it. We proceeded on that basis, and we determined that something like $260,000 would be required for the telescope and for the development of the new site out at Portage Lake. We got the university to agree to put up $160,000, and we approached McGregor Fund for the $100,000, and it was agreed that as part of the deal, we would give back the 97-inch. All that came to pass.
I was asked in 1948 at the Zurich meeting of the IAU to approach Sir Harold Spencer-Jones to see if he would like to have this blank (he was the Astronomer Royal). Eventually it was shipped to the British and it's still in the telescope, although when they move it to the Canary Islands, they're going to have to replace it with CerVit. They certainly should replace it with Cervit. Frankly, I was rather disappointed at the way in which the Schmidt at Michigan was used. While it was at Michigan, it wasn't very exciting work. It turned out however — and I don't know any point in going into this — that the telescope turned out to have exceptionally fine optics.
You mean just in terms of the figure? Not design but just the figuring?
Yes, that's right. In terms of the images. There was an interesting story in back of that too. I'll just mention it briefly. We ordered the telescope from Warner & Swasey and the optics from Perkin-Elmer. We knew Dick Perkin very well.
By " you mean, who?
I did, and so did McMath.
How did that happen?
Well, I knew Dick Perkin back in the days when I was still at Harvard and Perkin-Elmer had just been founded. I knew Charlie Elmer and Perkin. They were both around the Harvard Observatory a lot, and the first astronomical business that they got was given them by the Harvard Observatory. I used to run across Dick from time to time. He came to Pasadena while I was out there. The company really flourished as a result of World War II. Dick took a personal interest in astronomy, in the optics, but somewhow when he delivered the optics (for the Schmidt telescope) the optics were really pretty poor. For one thing, the correcting plate was shot through with strains.
Yes, variations in the index of refraction.
They should have rejected the glass
They could have measured it with polarized light. A very simple test. So here it was. We learned this in January of 1950. We had a dedication planned for June, 1950. We called up Dick Perkin, and I told Dick that as far as I was concerned, we were going to ship the optics back to him, and we would hang the telescope from ropes in order to keep it in balance, and we'd go ahead with the dedication. "Oh, my God," he said, "don't do that! It'll look like hell. I said, "Sure it will look like hell. But that's the way the star images look right now." Instead of being 20 microns in diameter, which would correspond to 2 seconds of arc, they were 55, according to the Hartmann tests.
Well, we agreed that we would leave the optics in and try to get the telescope de-bugged, get the other problems solved, and in the meantime he would personally go down to Pittsburgh Plate Glass and have them carefully select a new piece of glass. He would take it to the Bureau of Standards and have them re-anneal it, and then they'd work on it and it would be done about November. By that time the bad weather would come, and we could take the old optics out. 7e could ship the mirror back, as they wanted to touch up the mirror.
The mirror had a bump in the center as well. When they finally got through with these optics, and the two prisms that they asked us to send back also, to make damn sure the two prisms were in good shape, they produced a beautiful, beautiful set of optics. You couldn't really take full advantage of it with the seeing at Michigan. But now that telescope is at Cerro Tololo on a very long term loan. And it is producing beautiful results. It's rather fortuitous. We are getting consistently a half second of arc definition. The quality of the spectra is very, very high. So we went ahead with that, and we made, you know, a couple of additional appointments. Lawrence Aller came to Michigan.
Was that at your instigation?
Oh yes. 1948.
He did a lot of work while he was there.
Yes, he was very productive. And turned out a number of good students. We also brought in some younger people. Lilley was one who eventually went on to Harvard with me when I went there. Keith Pierce was hired at McMath-Hulbert in 1948.
Tell me, in all this, in terms of getting the money, did you have any dealings with the state legislature yourself, or did it all take place through a dean or the president?
No, it took place through a dean (initially through a dean and a provost, and after a new president was appointed in 1951, there was no longer any provost). We were fortunate; we had a succession of outstanding deans at Michigan. There was Hayward Keniston at first, followed by Charles Odegaard, who later became president of the University of Washington, followed by Roger Heyns, who later became Chancellor at Berkeley. None of them were physical scientists, but they were outstanding people.
Did they give a lot of support for astronomy particularly?
Well, I think they felt that Michigan had a strong tradition in astronomy. It had a nucleus of research strength out at McMath- Hulbert, and I guess they felt that the department knew where it wanted to go. And that's what it takes to get support.
These are not things specific to astronomy. They're specific to the organizational or administrative momentum.
Yes, I think so. And I think they felt well-rewarded by the results. Hayward Keniston, we used to refer to as an associate member of our department. But after he retired, it was no different with Odegaard and Heyns.
Tell me about the McGregor Fund. What were your relations and why did they support astronomy?
They supported astronomy initially because Tracy McGregor had had a personal interest in astronomy. After he died, they continued to support astronomy because Judge Hulbert was the president. But they became more and more uneasy with the money that they were spending on astronomy, because the directors of the Fund had other interests, in medicine and social science. The last substantial gift that we got from McGregor Fund was for the vacuum spectrograph, and at that time Judge Hulbert was already an invalid. In fact he'd been an invalid for a number of years, after he had a stroke. I remember going out to his house and telling him with considerable enthusiasm why we wanted a vacuum spectrograph. Even at the time that they gave the $100,000 for the Schmidt, he was then in the presiding chair, and he banged his fist on the table and he said, "We're doing this because I, Harry Hulbert, want it!" And also with the vacuum spectrograph, which was on the order of $35,000 that we needed, it was his personal intervention. At that time he was no longer active, because he was an invalid, but they did it for him.
Why was it that Hulbert wanted to support astronomy?
The Judge was an amateur astronomer. He had a telescope in his back yard as early as around 1890, and he used to correspond with E. E. Barnard on his observations of the moons of Jupiter.
He was just always interested.
He was always interested, yes.
But there wasn't that much sympathy among the other Board members.
No. But they continued. You see, even as late as 1954, '55, when we got the support for the vacuum spectrograph, the NSF had really not gotten going yet. But they (McGregor Fund) tied us over at Michigan in the late 1940's, until ONR and NSF began to pick up the load.* So the department developed, from three students in that first year (1946-47) already present. We began to get a large number of applications, and began to move ahead. The other major development there was the radio observatory.
Yes, I wanted to ask you about that. Before we get to that let me ask you one brief question about the summer schools. There were some summer schools in astrophysics. Was this already going on before the war?
No. There were summer schools in physics before the war. Not in astrophysics.
How did that come about? The first was '51, there was one in astronomy in '51. Then there was a big one, a one month symposium, in '53.
'53, yes. I was responsible for those. I was strongly influenced by the summer schools that Shapley put on at Harvard when I was a graduate student. Also I'd heard a lot, of course, about the physics summer schools at Ann Arbor. There was a considerable tradition there. And so we started, was it in '51? When was Lindblad there? I know at one time we had lectures by Struve and Lindblad and Abetti — I know, McVittie came in '50. We also had Kuiper there for a while, and Struve. Then in '51, Lindblad came; if I'm not mistaken he got an honorary degree at the University of Michigan that same summer.
You brought them over to lecture?
And this was tied in with the tradition of the physics summer schools.
Yes. Minnaert didn't come. I tried to get Minnaert, and again, I think I have a file. He was kept out by the McCarran-Walter Act. *NSF: National Science Foundation. ONR: Office of Naval Research.
That's right, yes.
That was a horrible experience. That was the summer of 1950, that's right. It was the most frustrating experience imaginable.
By the way, were there any problems in the department, as a result of that McCarthyism business?
Not in our department, no. The University had them, certainly.
But not specifically in astronomy.
No. OK, the summer sessions. Well, I told you I was a great admirer of Walter Baade's, going back to the 1940 visit when I used to sit up on the Newtonian platform with him and just talk and listen to him. I remember going back to Cambridge and writing a note to Shapley, "How come we don't have Baade?" at the (Harvard) summer sessions. I guess I realized that there was trouble between Shapley and Mt. Wilson, but Shapley had actually gotten Baade over to this country to begin with, and Baade didn't have any animosity toward Harvard or Shapley. I got a kind of noncommittal reply from Shapley saying, yes, it would be great, he would argue you under the table, and so on and so forth — but nothing ever came of it. So I always had in mind, when I got to Michigan, that it would be nice to get Baade. So I organized that summer session with Baade. I was out in Pasadena. I used to go out to Pasadena almost every winter, and I'd end up usually having dinner in Baade's house at least once.
You were there for a few weeks every winter?
Just a week or so, yes. So I said to Baade, "How about coming to Michigan? Let's organize a summer session." That was just after he had announced the work on the populations, just after he had doubled the distance scale. So it was very timely, and in consultation with him, we drew up this cast of characters that we had.
That's quite a cast.
George Batchelor, Ed Salpeter, George Gamow and so forth — and I got the NSF involved, so that we could fund at least one graduate student from each of the leading graduate schools in astronomy.
So that was one of the early NSF conferences.
That's right. It was sponsored by the NSF. Also there were some post-docs like Sandage, the Burbidges, Gene Parker, Vera Rubin — I've got a picture of all of them hanging up on the wall here. You want to see it? (Pause)
OK. Before we get into the radio waves, I want to ask how you got interested in things outside the visible spectrum in general. And in particular, how you got started on this lead sulfide work, around 1946 — your particular interest in going into the nonvisible wavelengths, which has been one of your themes.
Well, the lead sulfide work wasn't my doing. McMath gets credit for that. During the war, McMath was on a couple of committees of the NDRC. One of them, I think it was NDRC, was a committee on prosthetic devices. (Maybe it was under the National Research Council.) It was a direct outgrowth of the war, of course. One of the members was Paul Klopsteg, who was dean at the Northwestern Technological Institute and later became Assistant and Associate Director of the brand-new NSF. McMath found out from Klopsteg that there was a man named Cashman at Northwestern making these wonderful infrared-sensitive cells. So it was through Klopsteg that McMath got hold of one of these cells. Kuiper was in there at the same time, but Kuiper used it on the planets. McMath used it on the sun. They were the first.
Were you involved in it from the observational side, or did you mainly do line identification?
Oh, I mainly did identifications. I looked at the tracings. Orren Mohler was a very clever instrumentalist, and very self-effacing. I think Orren deserves a lot more credit for the instrumentation of McMath-Hulbert than is visible on the surface. At first there was a Littrow spectrograph, and they mounted this cell where the photographic plate goes. They put a motor drive on it, and they just drove the cell across and scanned it that way. The early spectra which we published were made that way. The transmission in the 2 micron region was nonexistent, because it was glass. Crown and flint. Later, they built a Pfund-type spectrometer with a rotating grating with a cell stationary and so forth.
Yes, I made the first identifications of atomic lines by simply calculating them from the atomic energy level tables. There were no *Note: It was the National Research Council. laboratory spectra. And in fact, there was no way of determining the wavelength. You couldn't use overlapping orders because of the lens system. The overlapping orders would be out of focus, you see.
So you had to sort of bootstrap.
We knew what the dispersion was. So I would calculate these wavelengths and guess at the theoretical intensities and plot them with the dispersion that I expected to find, and then slide this along on the tracing. Eventually we began to pick out iron lines and aluminum lines and so forth.
I see. But that first step was like deciphering a code I suppose, you need the first few letters.
Yes, it was great fun.
Just as an example, I guess one of the most interesting things was the carbon monoxide.*
Yes. That came later, after we had the new spectrometer.
Right, but I'm interested in how that came about — I mean, in the first place, to be looking for molecular lines —
Oh well, we'd see these lines that were regularly spaced.
It was very clear then?
What threw us off, I would have identified — I did actually identify the spectrum — I would have identified it a lot sooner, if it weren't for the fact that there seemed to be twice as many lines as I would expect, knowing the constants of the CO molecule. I don't know, a week went by, and then it suddenly occurred to me what we were seeing: because of the high excitation temperature, the band was going up to its limit; there was an actual band head. It was a band head, even though it's a rotation-vibration spectrum. Normally you didn't observe band heads in the laboratory because the vapor would be too cool. So these lines were coming back on themselves. But other than that, it was pretty easy.
I see. Another thing you did at that time was the big survey of the abundances of elements in the solar atmosphere. In your paper *With R. R. McMath, O. C. Mohler and A. K. Pierce. Phys. Rev. 85 (1952): 140-41. on that,* you stressed the importance of abundances in dealing with origins of stars and galaxies. You talked about the imprecision of existing abundance estimates. Was this a continuous interest of yours?
No, it wasn't, except during my graduate student days. Actually it came about in a rather interesting way, because Gerard Kuiper started out to produce these compendiums. He planned these four volumes for the solar system. He'd lined me up to do the introduction to Volume I on the Sun, and also the absorption spectrum of the earth's atmosphere in Volume II, which was an outgrowth of the lead sulfide work. And then he thought it would be very important to write a critical review of abundance determinations.
For the book?
For Volume IV, element by element, with an estimate of how good each determination was and so forth. I finally agreed to do that, and when I got into it, I found that actually, it was in a pretty sorry state — the whole subject. In particular, there had been no modern derivation of the abundances, using real model atmospheres, and using the method of weighting functions which Minnaert had developed. I enlisted Lawrence Aller with it, and then Edith Müller came over to work for me as an assistant in 1952. At first I hit upon a way of doing it, just a quick and dirty way but still improving on the old methods enormously. Eventually we decided: Oh hell, let's try to do it right. So we did it. We calculated these weighting functions, and we did it right up to the state of the art as of that time. Before I knew it, it was an enormous thing, not just a review article, so we published it as a supplement. It certainly has been one of the more popular publications.
Yes. Is this your first contact with high speed computers?
Yes. Just about.
Did you work on it yourself?
I did not do that myself, no.
Who did that?
Well, we had a programmer at the computing center who did it for us. *With E.A. Müller and L.H. Aller, Ap.J.Suppl. 5, no. 45 (1960): 1-138.
I see. Have you ever been much involved with computers?
No, I haven't. I've never had to be, that's the trouble. At Harvard there were always bright graduate students who just thought in those terms, and there are a lot of bright people here that do programming also.
Say, tell me, looking back over this Michigan period — did you see yourself as a solar astronomer or a solar physicist? A lot of your work was on the sun.
Yes, I certainly did at that time. In part it was accidental. I just happened to take my first job at a solar observatory. But the problems were exciting. The field was moving along. What with the infra- red and with the high resolution spectroscopy, I certainly did view myself as a solar astronomer, yes.
How would you characterize the relations between solar astronomy and the astronomical community at large, from the forties to the present? How have these relations been and how have they changed?
Well, in the first place, solar astronomy was very well supported, I think, well before the rest of astronomy. And that is because of the potential practical applications. During the war, it was found that some reasonable predictions of communication conditions could be made from rather simple solar observations, and that got the military interested. Right after the war, as you know, Donald Menzel was very successful in getting both the Navy and the Air Force to support solar astronomy in a big way, leading to the development and construction of two large solar observatories.
You felt this at McMath-Hulbert also? I know you got ONR support, but that was pretty common everywhere in those days.
Yes, but the ONR support that we got at McMath-Hulbert was relatively modest still. It wasn't the really big money. It was on the order of 10 or 15 thousand dollars a year, and I think it stemmed from the ONR policy of wanting to keep in touch with leading scientists in all fields. In fact when I moved to Harvard, they continued to support my work, or the work of my laboratory, at about the same level, just to maintain that connection. I think I ended up with at least 25 years of continuous support from ONR. Anyway, there it was. And then came the space age. Well before Sputnik, solar astronomy was very prominent. That's about all there was to space astronomy, until they finally developed this three- axis pointing control. There was all the spectacular work done by NRL (Naval Research Laboratory), and then later in the early days of NASA, solar astronomy was the one thing you could do, and therefore it got supported.
Because the sun was easy to find,
The sun was easy to find, that's right. And also the sun is active, with interesting things. You could develop new techniques; the techniques of X-ray astronomy were developed on the sun, for example. Anyway, the upshot of it is that solar astronomy was very well supported, and I think the rest of the community began to look askance at the large amount of support. They began to nibble away at solar astronomy. I saw this happening in NASA, and in a way, it's been happening here at the national centers too. I myself — it's getting ahead of the game, but as director, even though I'm strongly sympathetic to solar work, I've found it necessary to change the balance of support, because solar astronomy here got the lion's share of support for quite a while. With the coming of the 4-meter telescope, and in the face of declining real funding, we have no choice. We have to switch money from one division, or what used to be called a division, to another. And that meant that both planetary science and solar astronomy were reduced in support. Now I think we're beginning to come to equilibrium; that would be my guess. And I think the support for solar astronomy, considering the limited amount of money that's available, is about right, as compared with non-solar.
Aside from funding — as a scientific field, do you think your colleagues regard solar astronomy in the same light as other sub- fields?
In the same light as other subfields?
Do they see it the same way or do they think there's something different about solar work?
What do you mean by subfields? You mean, like double stars?
Double stars, galactic work, things that are more —
Well, I think some of them do. Some of the far-sighted ones do. They realize that practically everything that you discover about the sun eventually is useful for other branches of astronomy. What has done a lot for solar astronomy right now has been the recent developments on the detection of global oscillations, coronal holes, all these things that are giving us information about the interior of the sun. Also, the possibility that there is long-term variability in the sun.
These are things which interest the other astronomers.
That's right. Also the neutrino problem.
So in a way there's been more connection.
Did you ever take a hand in things like the helium abundance problem, or things where spectroscopy would tie into very large cosmological questions, that sort of thing?
No, I can't say that I did. At one time, I think I wrote a small paper on the abundance of He3, an upper limit to the abundance of He3, which reduced the upper limit by quite a bit, but it turns out that it was further reduced by another factor of ten or so.* That was just again mostly because of my interest in spectroscopy, rather than my interest in cosmology.
I see. It's never been a particular interest of yours.
No. I can't say that I've ever been motivated by that.
Let me ask you though, because it's a question that I ask everybody, what are your feelings about the Big Bang theory? How well do you feel it's established? How have your feelings about it changed over time?
I think the Big Bang theory is pretty well established by now. I think the clincher has to be the background radiation. I just don't see how you could get around that.
Was that a clincher for you at the time? Or did you tend to pretty much believe in it before?
Well, it became a clincher as new observations have accumulated; the spectral range over which the black body radiation has been measured has broadened.
But I wonder, did you ever give much credence to Steady State, for example?
Oh, I think there was a time when I thought it was possible. It wasn't ruled out. But I don't think I've ever taken it all that seriously.
Did you ever find anything more or less appealing esthetically about Big Bang as compared to other cosmologies? *Ap.J. 136 (1962): 1154-55.
No. I know that in one of his early books, Fred Hoyle felt that the Steady State theory was more appealing esthetically than the Big Bang, but I don't find it that way. I mean, I think it is a damn violent universe, and I don't find anything wrong esthetically with the Big Bang.
What about, open or closed? Do you tend to think that the universe is open or closed?
I really don't know. I haven't looked at the evidence all that carefully.
I see. Just another general question before we stop: Did you ever read much science fiction?
Quite a lot. It's sort of come and gone. While I was at Michigan, I read a great deal of science fiction. I mean, enough so that I once appeared on a panel during a University of Michigan summer session on Popular Arts in America. I've read most of the prominent authors in science fiction, but after a while I got bored with it.
Once you read all the —
Yes, there's so much of it, and it's so difficult to get a new idea. Fred Hoyle's stuff I guess was about the last that I read.
This started after you became an astronomer?
Oh yes. Unlike my friend Harlan Smith, who thinks that science fiction is a significant route to the arousal of interest on the part of young people in astronomy, I don't think so. He was trying to sell this to the Chinese when we were over there.
They should have more science fiction in order to — that's interesting.
What do you think about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence? Do you think substantial funds should be allocated to that?
I think a reasonable investment ought to be made. You know, as an astronomer, I would love to see a Cyclops* built; not because I think it will ever be able to detect extra-terrestrial life, but because I think if I were on a committee, I probably would not be in favor of spending that kind of money.
OK, let me pause now. *Giant radio telescope array.