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Interview of Raymond Sawyer by David Zierler on September 1, 2020,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Raymond Sawyer, professor of physics emeritus at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Sawyer recounts his childhood growing up in many towns in the Midwest as a function of his father’s frequent job transfers. He discusses his undergraduate studies at Swarthmore College, where he developed his interest in physics, and he explains the atmosphere of wide career opportunity in the age of Sputnik. Sawyer describes his graduate research at Harvard, where he worked in Norman Ramsey’s molecular beam lab. He explains how Julian Schwinger came to be his advisor and he describes his dissertation study on symmetries and the weak interactions of elementary particles. Sawyer discusses his postdoctoral research at CERN where he joined the theory group and where he studied the decay of a charged pion. He describes his second postdoctoral appointment at the University of Wisconsin and his work in quantum field theory at the Institute for Advanced Study which he did at the invitation of Robert Oppenheimer. Sawyer explains the series of events leading to his decision to join the faculty at UC Santa Barbara, and he discusses his role in the formation of the Institute for Theoretical Physics. He explains his invention of charged pion condensation and he describes his work in university administration. At the end of the interview, Sawyer reflects on his contributions throughout his career, and he explains how he has kept active in the field during retirement.
This is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is September 1st, 2020. It is my great pleasure to be here with Professor Raymond Sawyer. Ray, thank you so much for joining me today.
Glad to be here.
OK. So, to start, would you please tell me your title and institutional affiliation?
I'm a professor of physics emeritus at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Of physics. And when did you go emeritus, what year?
When did I...?
What year did you become emeritus?
I don't even know anymore it's been so long.
But it was in the vicinity of 2000.
Vicinity of 2000. Very good. OK. Ray, let's take it all the way back to the beginning. First, tell me a little bit about your parents. Where are they from?
They're from the Midwest by birth, New England by descent and a lot of connections.
And where did they meet?
They met in a teeny town called Rochester, Wisconsin.
And is that where you were born?
Oh, no. That was a farming town and my mother grew up on a farm and my father was the son of the minister of the teeny congregational church there. And probably one of the few local available suitors given the fact that my maternal grandparents were people who, at the time, were—they owned a farm, but it was a tenant farmer and they owned another farm and they owned land. They were on the middle of rags to rags in three generations, so...
And where were you born?
And what was the move to Northfield; how did your parents get to Northfield?
Oh, through a long series of different jobs and places, and I don't think you want to hear all of them, but my father, with that upbringing in a nearly penniless household and going to the local schools in Wisconsin, did go to college. He went to Ripon College because that was something that congregational ministers' sons could do free and with support at that time. And he majored in physics in there, amazingly. And so he went out and eventually got an MA and taught in strange places, and then got married and came back to the University of Chicago for a PhD. And that was around 1929.
And what year were you born?
1932. And did you go to public schools, Ray?
Oh, yes, I went to public schools. But I'd better tell you all at once the complete saga, so we don't spend too much time on one place.
OK. My parents moved around, got a PhD, went to Michigan. The depression just struck. My father lost that job, got a job teaching at Carleton College but they started paying in IOUs, so he moved in 1936 to Centre College, Danville, Kentucky, C-E-N-T-R-E, and he was there until 1941. God forbid, I would've grown up there—
—if it hadn't been for the fact that he committed some crime against the mores of the South and was figuratively tarred and feathered and run out of town for not being patriotic in early 1942 after Pearl Harbor. So then we lived in Glen Ellyn, Illinois for a year, and then we lived in Chicago for a year. Then we lived in Oak Ridge, Tennessee for two years. And then he got a job teaching at Lehigh, and my last three years with him in high school were in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Mm-hmm. And where did you grow up; where did you spend most of your years?
All those places.
All those places.
Well, I mean, the most time in a row would've been Danville, and aside from that, it was for really short periods, a couple of years, a year, three years.
Ray, when did you start to get interested in science?
I don't know. I was interested a little bit in chemistry in high school, pre-high school, actually, I remember. I have to be careful with this because junior high and high school were a total disaster for me. In the year going into my senior year in high school I was in the lower half of my class and the high school would not recommend me to college.
Any college. They told my parents, you have to send him to prep school or something. He's not stupid but blah, blah, blah. And so it was only the so-called college board exams that people are so down on now, the SATs of the day, the stuff from Educational Testing Service, it's only that that saved my ass because I did, unexpectedly to everybody, spectacularly well. So—do you want this story or not?
So they thought, in fact they were pretty sure they could get me into the one place where there were connections, namely Lehigh, and so I dutifully was sent over there to the interview at Lehigh. And that guy said, "Oh, of course, you can get into Lehigh. Don't worry." And he said, "You shouldn't go to college at home."
And he said, "Yeah, I have a friend that I could talk to at Swarthmore, which might be a good place for you." Well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn't, but it was a whole lot better than going to school at home. And so, suddenly, there I was having totally confounded people's expectations and I was admitted with a scholarship to Swarthmore. It was amazing. That's the guy to whom I owe everything, actually.
Yeah. When did you start to get interested in physics? Was it during undergraduate?
Oh, well, I thought I would be a math major as an undergraduate. Ran out of math courses. Small place, you know. That wouldn't be true anymore. At that time, you were supposed to take calculus your second year of college. And the first year was analytic geometry or college algebra or something or other. Well, I mean, I improved on that a little bit by racing through at a rapid rate. But then, pretty soon, I had used up the math courses and took physics. And the physics guys took an interest in me. Infinitesimal class of physics majors there. And some of them—well, only one of the others, I guess, really proved out in later life. But they had a steady flow of students that came on and did all right. Nobody on the faculty was distinguished as a physicist. And you didn't study quantum mechanics, really. You had Richtmyer and Kennard's Modern Physics if you went to Swarthmore. If you went to Cornell, you studied quantum mechanics and advanced math and stuff like that, as I found out when I got to Harvard and encountered the incoming class there.
Ray, at what point did you know that you wanted to pursue physics for graduate school?
I don't know.. Everybody was applying to graduate school. I applied to graduate school. You understand that—although I'm complaining about everything to do with my youth, there was one enormous advantage to being exactly my age. It was the absolute minimum of the birthrate due to the depression, 1932. And so when I came of age and finally got a PhD from Harvard, it was just a little bit before Sputnik and all that, and coinciding with the big flow of post-war baby boom generation, whatever the hell it was, new students coming to college. And so it was the time of opportunity. People would call up and offer you a job. You didn't have to send them a bunch of documentation or get a bunch of letters of recommendation. They would just offer you a job.
Were you encouraged to go to graduate school by any of your professors?
Oh yes. Swarthmore was good on that. It was sort of the norm. There were lots of people headed towards academia there.
Did you know the kind of physics that you wanted to pursue for graduate school?
No. I didn't know anything about what the real things people do with science are. You might argue that I still don't know anything about anything real...
But I was always influenced by the people I ran into. And the bunch that I started hanging out with there were smart would-be theorists. And I had become competitive and worked amazingly hard. I was never focused in on working hard before. It had always been easy before.
Mm-hmm. Where else besides Harvard did you apply for graduate school?
I applied to the University of Illinois, but then they wanted a picture in the application and I did not have any. I did not finish the application. I applied to Yale because the head of our department at Swarthmore had a connection at Yale and said, "You can get into Yale." Oh, thank goodness I didn't go there. It was dominated by somebody named Gregory Breit. You probably haven't heard of him, have you?
Harvard was beautiful at that time.
So Harvard was an easy decision for you?
Well, it was nearly the only one. Harvard made me an offer with a research assistant, and when I graduated from Swarthmore, I got my few belongings and I hitchhiked up to Cambridge and started work as a laborer in Norman Ramsey's molecular beam lab.
How did you connect with Ramsey; how did that happen?
That's just the job that they offered me. Harvard institutionally offered me a research assistant and Norman, who was a great guy, was looking for people. He had the funding for it. He wasn't primarily interested in molecular beams, though at that time. He thought that all the best science that he could do would be over at the Harvard nuclear accelerator where they banged nuclei together to see what happened, or maybe just protons and protons. And, you understand, the molecular beam was sort of an ancestor of the atomic clock. And, in fact, one of his innovations there was essential for the atomic clock. He later invented the atomic clock and that's where he got the Nobel Prize.
So even a smart person like Norman couldn't tell what was the right thing to be doing.
And you knew from there that you were not going to be an experimentalist?
I was hopeless as an experimentalist. Well, anyway, all the glamour was in theory. Yeah.
My friends were all theorists.
How did you connect with Schwinger?
Well, at that time, if you got up your nerve and—you had to nail him after class because he would then go back to his office and talk to whoever was standing in line, but then he'd immediately get into his Cadillac and go back to Belmont where he lived if there was nobody that he had to talk to. And so you got in line and eventually you went in, and stuttered away, "Professor Schwinger, I'd like to work for you—" And he'd say OK. He'd say OK, and then it was up to the student to find a topic and work on it. Good training. That's good training.
So Schwinger would not give problems out to prospective students, you had to come to him?
De facto, yes. I mean, it wasn't a stated policy. And there might've been exceptions, but...
And what problem did you bring to him?
Well, the good thing about Schwinger still was he had created his own universe of physics problems or at least a way of looking at them. And that was revealed in his lectures. And so you follow his lectures. I was pitifully badly educated as far as general knowledge about physics. And it would've been good if I'd been better at some of the things you study in regular courses, statistical mechanics for example. But, on the other hand, you had a leg up with Schwinger because you had something that came from there locally and you weren't competing with somebody in California.
And so, Ray, what were you interested in? What did you want to do your dissertation on?
Well, I did my dissertation on—it was a very different game then, but it was symmetries and the weak interactions of elementary particles.
Did you have a close working relationship with Schwinger?
No. But when I started doing things that he liked, then he suddenly was able to communicate. That's all I can say.
And so you were doing things that he liked?
What were they?
Oh, I was finding little problems that his theory was applicable to. What was there not to like?
And what were those little problems you were finding?
Well, they had to do with K meson and hyperon decays. Nobody even uses the word hyperon anymore, do they? As I understand it, you are not obligated to follow the jargon of every field of theoretical physics, let alone those of the 1950s.
Who was on your thesis committee besides Schwinger?
Oh, man. I can't remember anybody except Abe Klein, Walter Selove. Those names don't ring a bell with you, though.
Abe Klein does.
He does? Interesting. Nice guy.
What did you want to do after you defended? What was your next move?
After I got my degree?
Well, I got an NSF postdoctoral fellowship. I wanted to kick the can down the road, and so I—I also got married before that, so my wife and I went to CERN for a year, to Geneva, a year and some months. It was an absolute paradise. I wasn't good at being at CERN and handling the social situation there as far as the other physicists are concerned, but I did, in my own way, still think about stuff that was valuable to me.
What was the social situation that you're referring to at CERN?
The social situation is walking into somebody's office and saying, let's talk about something.
Did you join a theory group at CERN?
Well, yeah, technically I was in the theory group, sure. But it wasn't a group focused on anything. CERN was just running its very first machine, the precursor for the second and the third, and finally the supercollider. And it was a small place. Geneva was paradise on earth. It was unspoiled. We came there on a very modest NSF postdoc salary and we had an apartment with a view of the alps and got a car and...
What work did you accomplish at—
Well, the main thing is that we drove all over Europe and so on. Spent a lot of time just seeing stuff. I had no idea anything like that existed and, in my mind, as well as that of, I suppose, a lot of average Americans, 1958, you'd still been thinking of Europe as some clutter of bombed out this and that, and people lining up for food. They had no general idea of how recovered and prosperous the place was. And so we were able, my wife and I, to do things that seemed astonishing at the moment. For example, to go into the actual caves at Lascaux where the cave paintings were. They've been closed to anything but specialists now for decades. In the high summertime, you could walk into the Uffizi gallery and you'd be the only people looking around, or the Prado. It was just wonderful.
Ray, what work did you do at CERN? What was your research there?
Well, the first thing I did—of course, I didn't know how to do this, but the first thing I did was—was it then or before I left Harvard? I don't know—well, get my thesis work published. And the second big thing I did was a little paper, a big thing called Decay of a Charged Pion. Oh, did anybody know about it? Well, no. I mean, Murray Gell-Mann did, but he has died. It was the same in disguise, but without the things that popularized it as in a really famous result, as is the similar paper that followed by Gell-Man, Levy and Bernstein. Oh, I mean, they gave me a reference, but I'm not in the history books for it.
And then you had your second postdoc at Wisconsin?
How did that opportunity come about for you?
That happened because I thought I was going to get my NSF renewed and so we're sitting there in April with no jobs and no experience and no idea of how you find a job. And Schwinger, for all his good qualities, never went out and looked for jobs, never called anybody up, but he'd answer a phone call. But applying for a job late in the season with hardly a record and explaining to somebody, “why don't you call up Schwinger and see”—not a particularly good tactic. And I sort of thought that we'd be coming back to no job or we'd just stay over there and do what? I don't know what I thought—what we thought. I don't remember being totally oppressed by it. I was just coasting along. But there was a guy named Robert G. Sachs, who ran the theory at that time at Wisconsin, who came through as a visitor and we talked. And so then he decided to give me a postdoc. You understand, it was April or May or some damn time. So that's how I went to Wisconsin. I was lucky because he had access to some money and normally speaking (this is before the era of personal grants from the NSF) everything would have been committed at that time of year. And anyway, most fresh PhD’s would go directly to teaching.
Now, was the understanding that the postdoc would convert to a faculty position at Wisconsin?
No. But Wisconsin had a really good reputation then because back before World War II there were very important people there. Wigner was there, even Schwinger was there for a month or two. It was judged to be a big-time place. But I would have to say that, by the time I got there, it seemed to be just me. That's what I have to say now in my arrogant hindsight. But in fact there was another postdoc that I worked with and we formed a lifelong bond. And so it was OK. Neither my wife nor I wanted to stay in the Midwest. Of course, I did have all kinds of family in Wisconsin, but I would've left for someplace.
I thought I would leave to come back East, because we thought that we wanted to live in Boston. That's what I thought.
Now, when you were a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, were you onsite in Princeton for that year?
Oh, yeah. Yeah. That was a nice thing that could happen to young people at that time. Can still. Well, it can still except it was better times then.
And were you looking to be at the Institute? Did somebody invite you out for the year?
I got invited by Robert Oppenheimer through another person's agency, yes.
And what was your research at the time that attracted the institute's attention?
My collaborator at Wisconsin, Kameshwar Wali, and I had written a paper that got some attention. That's number one.
What was that paper and why did it get attention?
What was that paper and why did it get attention?
Oh, sheesh. It was sort of in the predominant theme of the day which was turning from quantum field theory to S-matrix theory, and it had to do just with the spectrum of K meson decays. No big thing.
And who did you work with at the institute? Who were some of your collaborators there?
Only one, and that was a result of sitting in the same office with him, a very smart fellow named Benjamin Lee. Have you heard of him?
Yes. And what did you work on with him?
Well, it was back to a little quantum field theory. It was called Regge Poles in Field Theory. And that was, I should say, a seminal article for a while in the profession.
What were your conclusions with this collaboration? Why was it seminal?
Because it focused attention on the fact that quantum field theory might be good for something after all in the sense that it nicely produced, in some approximation, of course, a structure that had been, at a lot of cost and extraneous assumptions, started to be used by the S-matrix theorists. They were saying, here's maybe another way of approaching the problem. It took a long time for that to do its magic, and when it finally turned into magic it was in more competent hands than mine. But, eventually, then we came back to the dominance of gauge theories, which are quantum field theories.
I'm curious if you were in contact with Geffrey Chew during these years?
Oh, it was a small world. You knew everybody. But, yes, I had very little sympathy for his approach, though, and vice versa.
Why is that so? Why did you not feel sympathy for his approach?
Oh, David, it was a lot of crap.
I just want to hear.
Oh, you want to hear stuff like that in my interview?
Well, OK, but then you can bowdlerize it, can't you? You can edit this for your own purposes?
Of course. OK. Well, it seems that you didn't want to stay in Wisconsin because two years later you were a visiting professor at MIT.
Yes. I rather thought that I would stay there. In fact, they offered me a basically—well, as I said, an informal thing, oh, we can make you an associate professor but without tenure. We don't give tenure until people are 35. But I'm thinking, I don't know, because I already had tenure at Wisconsin. And then, one December day, I got invited out to Santa Barbara, which was just starting, and they said, we're going to be this great department. It's going to be this big in so many years and we're going to start over with the very best young people. All things, by the way, that didn't happen, or not in the way or on the time scale that they imagined. There was nobody here for professional companionship and they knew that it was going to be hard to attract anybody, so they made a joint offer. They made an offer to three people, all of them young people, all at the full professor level, all of them doing the same thing, Dick Blankenbecler from Princeton was the one that they decided on first, but that's because, you understand, it's all person to person. The guy who was putting together the thing, Hal Lewis here, was a friend of Marvin Goldberger's at Princeton, and he had worked with Dick and loved Dick, but they weren't going to make him a professor at Princeton. And so then they asked Dick who the second person should be, and he said Benjamin Lee. And then the two of them decided who the third person should be, and that was me. OK. So the offer got made to all three people, and we all discussed it, and we all said we were going to accept it, and only I accepted it. [laugh]
Because Frank Yang got to Ben and said, "That would be the professional mistake of your life. I'm going to go to Stony Brook and set up my own institute. You just wait another year." He was in the Institute for Advanced Study at the time.
He was saying wait a year and then go out to Stony Brook with him?
Yes. All of which happened. And then, once Ben bailed, Dick bailed. And so I came out all by my lonely self with the responsibility of finding people to come and to be company so we could have students and a real PhD program.
But you said you thought you might stay at MIT.
Oh, well, I didn't get to the end of the story. You're actually interested in this stuff. What I said was that they didn't promise tenure and that seemed to be a disadvantage. And here we are, Santa Barbara, and I came out, it was this beautiful, beautiful day, and they took me sailing. We didn't screw around with physics very much. And talked about their big plan and we had two colleagues coming. And I thought, why not? It was impulsive, but I'd made impulsive decisions all my life.
And so, how did it come that you would go out to Santa Barbara? How did that come together?
Well, I just said yes, and so when the picture changed I didn't say, oh, excuse me, I'm going to change my mind, particularly since I'd already said no to MIT. And I didn't want to go back to Wisconsin.
How developed was the physics program at Santa Barbara when you got there?
Oh, totally not. I mean, we were in this old shack that had been used when it was an Army training camp in World War II with one serious experimentalist, but only marginally in physics, in optical spectroscopy. Some faculty people did come earlier who, by and large, hadn't worked out in the way that anybody had hoped. And so we started from the beginning, before taking graduate students at the PhD level, of getting a few people to come. By next year we had hired Bob Sugar, whom you talked to, didn't you?
I did the theoretical recruiting and Bob Sugar came the second year, as did Jim Hartle, whom I already knew from a Summer Institute at Wisconsin. And then Blankenbecler came after all a couple of years later because he was Sugar's buddy. Then Scalapino, because he was a Californian and knew and liked Blankenbecler (who didn't stay very long—went off to SLAC). But we were OK for going forward. But the problem then was—the problems that developed had more to do with the change in demography and, more particularly, with the late '60s and 1970, where we got a bad enough reputation for student demonstrations that parents wouldn't let their children come to UCSB and enrollments went down. And since state support was linked to enrollments, the place starved and there were no new jobs for quite a few years until the middle or late '70s. It was a bad period here. I mean, I continued to do my work and so did everybody else. And since I'd already been pretty independent, it was easy enough. But it was demoralizing, and we were still sort of at the end of that really bad period when the opportunity for applying for this institute developed, which is one of the reasons that we threw ourselves into it, I think.
Whose idea was it to start the institute?
It was really Boris Kayser's at the NSF. But there was, on our part, sort of a pretend game that it was ours because we'd been led to believe that you couldn't give Boris the credit. So Boris just mentioned the possibility to me, when I bumped into him out at Fermilab one day when I was there for a short period in the summer, and we picked up on it and wrote a proposal for something that was much smaller—it was nothing like the institute that we finally have. The proposal just sat there and sat there and sat there. But then, instead of coming back with a review, a thumbs up or a thumbs down, we got the information, well, the NSF has decided that we'll put out an RFP for something more ambitious. But by now you've heard the story from two or three different people, so it'd be redundant for me to go on, wouldn't it?
No, because it's your perspective.
I don't think it's different from anybody else's perspective. But we had a leg up. In the first place, there were four of us and we were from different areas because we had populated this place, back when it was possible to populate it, rather accidentally with this diverse set of guys. And we were friends, with a record of sometimes working together on interdisciplinary physics problems.
And who were the four?
Who were the four?
Bob Sugar and Doug Scalapino and Jim Hartle, me.
And, of those, well, yes, I did communicate Boris's suggestion. The work and enthusiasm—and understanding of what the scope of this thing could be: a lot of it was with Doug, and Bob worked very hard as well. I got out of most of that work because I was department chair.
Ray, were there any models that you were thinking of for the ITP to emulate?
I don't think so.
I mean, was there anything else like it that you were thinking about or was this a—
Well, there were things very much like that that we read about.
Now, I'm not going to liken it to the Institute for Advanced Study, though I suppose it had the same general idea of a few permanent members and a whole lot of visitors. One of the things that we had at ITP in the beginning, and back when the PI’s were playing a bigger role, was a group several-year postdocs and who worked amazingly well together.
What was the goal with the ITP that could not be accomplished just by building up the physics department?
Oh, we could never have had anything close to that size, that's the first thing; or could we ever have attracted on a permanent basis the squads of people that came through. It was wonderful in its own way. I wish I had taken more advantage of it. But, for a while, it worked to give us all connections with people we would never had encountered otherwise because we weren't in their exact subspecialties.
What are some examples of some collaborations that you had that would not have been possible without the ITP?
Well, I haven't been very good at collaborating. That's one thing. And collaborations where we got together and wrote things, it's a little hard to tell. My only long-term collaborations—I'm trying to think. I had a fairly long-term collaboration with Lowell Brown at the University of Washington, but it didn't originate at ITP, although he was here for a year one time, or for some months on leave. I mean, ITP did contribute in the long run to it. But collaborations aside, in the stuff I have been concentrating on in the last few years—you know, at my age, if you're going to go on doing things, you have to narrow the scope. And in that stuff, well, the ITP has been useless except there was just one guy. Wait a minute. I might get so flustered I don't remember his name.
And what kind of research did you do in the '70s and '80s? What were the things that you were working on?
The '70s—I guess I thought of myself as a mainstream particle theorist. And so I'm following the trends, I'm not setting the trends, as much as I would like to be in that category. But then I invented charged pion condensation, and that's what Doug and I worked on. It was neutron star interiors supposedly in application. It was fun for a while, but nothing that would last out the course. And then I started coming back to particle theory. But already I felt a little endangered and maybe not able to keep up. So I went to administration and didn't think I'd be back to physics after that. But I emerged prematurely in 1987 and found a whole new set of games to work on, in the particle-astro world and which did not involve gauge field theory at the highest level. And that was an extraordinary bit of good luck, because that was just about the time that the gauge theories, decided to mutate into string theory. That left all kinds of bodies lying around at the side of the road.
[laugh] Ray, if we could go back with your work with Doug Scalapino, how did that originate?
Oh, with my idea and his expertise and energy. And so you could say he brought a lot to it because it was multibody and it was condensed matter in the sense of being—well, it was a condensation. And I had worked it out on the back of an envelope and maybe a little bit more, but I went to him and said not, "Could you help me?" but, "What can you tell me about this?" Then he got very interested.
And you said before you were not very good about collaborating, so what was it about this problem that—
It's not the problem, it was the person.
Oh, not very good at collaborating. It doesn't mean that I have lots of people I tried to collaborate with whom I then rejected or who rejected me. It was because when I started working on things, they were always a little offbeat. I never thought I should be working on mainstream things. I thought I should find my own sidelines because I'm not intellectually or temperamentally able to be in the mainstream. And then, even when I had what turned out to be excellent ideas, it would've been hard in the early phases to attract really smart persons because they want to go and do something that already has credentials.
And then you went into academic administration. In what capacity?
I was the executive vice chancellor. I was running the place because the chancellor, Robert Huttenback, wanted to be the person, by and large—of course, anything he wanted he could've done, but really he wanted to be the person that went out and raised funds and did social stuff and was the face of the university, which was fine with me. Talents I certainly didn't have. But I will still take the credit for establishing the jewel of the campus, one the best materials science schools in the world. (Robert Mehrabian, the Dean of Engineering, selected by me, now CEO of Teledyne, is not a generous person with respect to sharing credit—so I’ll claim it all.) We were doing fine, and I think that would've gone on for quite a number of years except we ran into an insoluble problem.
What was that?
That was a guy named Barney Klinger who made a proposal to him which had to do with—oh, the window dressing which made it sound environmental was it was going to be a cogeneration plant, but the use for it varied. First, he was going to sell power to the electric company. Then the electric company withdrew the offer to buy the power. Then Barney was going to sell the power to the ARCO offshore oil wells that they were proposing to build right off campus. Terrible mistake for the campus to encourage that. And, meanwhile, the campus would get compensated because the federal government, liking big oil, would be willing to put some enormous research station for marine biology here so we could look at the damage being done by the damn well. Huttenback and I actually went to Washington and talked to the secretary of the interior, good ol'—oh, God. I've forgotten the name of Reagan's secretary of the interior. [laugh] And we flew back thinking we'd done this good presentation on an airplane that, in the first class, it had a thing with facing seats and a table in between so you could play poker. The people we were playing with, the other two people, were a guy named Allen Weinstein, who later became Ferdinand Marcos's democracy advisor. I won't tell you why he was there. Even less will I tell you why the other person was there, Michael Douglas, the actor.
And we played poker. And it was endless. Oh, God, I wanted that flight to be over.
But that was as far as I got up into the stratosphere of Washington institutions. I don't even remember what the club was that we visited. Huttenback was susceptible to worldly stuff. He was desperate to raise more money. I thought he was good at it. I couldn't imagine how he would not be good at it because I thought he had the manner and the tools but the money wasn't coming, and he was getting desperate. And so Barney Klinger who was going to invest us in this money making joint venture invited him to meet other people as well. Here's a name you'll remember—nobody I met, but it figures in here—Klinger introduced him to Essam Khashoggi. Ever hear that name?
Well, I think an uncle or something of the guy that was carved up in Istanbul. He, at that time, was a partner with his brother, and his brother, Adnan Khashoggi, was claimed to be the richest man in the world. Essam had this huge estate on the beach and Hope Ranch in Santa Barbara. Do you know Santa Barbara?
And, well, Klinger got Huttenback invited to eat there and they ate off of gold plates. And we admitted a Khashoggi son as a student, even though he didn't have the credentials. Khashoggi promised to endow a professorship. So for a couple of years Bob Schrieffer was the Essam Khashoggi Professor of Physics. But when the kid plagiarized a term paper and got failed for the course and then dropped out, then Khashoggi, who was this infinitely rich guy had actually not come up with the cash, he was paying the pledge of $600,000 or whatever it is on the easy installment plan, $150,000 a year. [laugh] Defaulted on the $450,000. Do you get the picture? Poor guy, Huttenback. And he had his arm twisted to hire some operative for Klinger to sit on the fifth floor, the top floor of the administration building, where she would be of general use in “community outreach”. And so—oh, my God, am I saying this? Yes, I'm saying this. And then the director of planning told me this, Dick Jensen, and I believe him—after the bids came in for this project. It had to go out to bid. The bids came in and they sat on this lady's desk. They were sitting there but they departed over the weekend. And then they came back on a Monday and Klinger's bid was changed. Now, that's a felony. But it was in my domain of responsibility, actually, even though it had been ripped out from there, and that's why I resigned. But then all the uproar started about Huttenback’s house. I had nothing to do with that, but the genesis of our dispute got forgotten. But when he was fired as Chancellor and then later prosecuted, convicted and dismissed from his tenured Professor position, loyalists blamed me. I offered myself as a defense witness at the trial in Santa Maria. I even sent him a signed statement saying that I had firsthand knowledge that the University’s President and Vice-Presidents had known for years about his spending on his house, which they denied in their testimony at the trial in Santa Maria, according to news reports. But the H’s thought that Julia Child coming up and saying how important their kitchen was for fundraising would do the trick, and they never used me or even had their attorney talk to me.
And you thought you would stay in administration?
Oh, at that point? Not after I resigned. I thought, oh, I don't have any choice.
No. I mean, to his credit, Huttenback had said, "No, no, stay, stay. I'll talk to some people. I'll rethink it.” I thought I'd win it, but I didn't. No. I won it because I then had a better life being out of it than I would've had in, actually.
And so, when you got back to physics, what did you do then? What research did you pursue?
First I spent some months mostly just fighting that oil project. We had an acting Chancellor, Dan Aldrich, who was much opposed to the campus having a position. I did the campus politics to get him to back off a little, then went to hearing after hearing claiming to represent the faculty in some official way. Got to know Gray Davis, who was then State Controller and on the State Lands Commission, a little. Won it. Nobody except me remembers any of that. Oh, I had to do something different. Well, I didn't want to do phenomenology based on accelerator data, so I looked at real astro stuff for the first time. You know, there's a lot of particle physics that gets practiced at some level out there. I worked on neutrinos and plasmas in totally separate contexts. It was all right, really. It was fun. But a lot of the time I had trouble teaching. I used to teach a good course in quantum field theory, but the subject had moved too far.
What do you mean, it had "moved too far"?
It was different, we had acquired great people on the forefront who could teach a course like that—Mark Srednicki for example—better than I could ever have done. And the stuff in the field theory books was different. A lot changes in five years, even pedagogy changes.
You were no longer interested in mentoring graduate students?
Well, or they in being mentored by me, yeah. It was a favorable coincidence of interests.
[laugh] And what was the research that you were doing before you retired?
Just the beginnings of now, a bit of neutrino transport, a bit of plasma stuff. The important plasma stuff: if you look at John Bahcall's book on neutrinos and astrophysics, you'll find something which makes a difference to neutrino-producing reactions in the sun, which was called dynamic screening, some invention of Steven Koonin's of Caltech. And, for some reason, I've had this ability sometimes—I was able to look back at Koonin's thing and tell in 10 minutes that it was a lot of crap. Not that I was able to impose that view on anybody else. But then I did a talk on it at Aspen, a blackboard talk, just a very informal talk, and I described my methods and how I just got ordinary screening back, not “dynamic screening”. And afterwards, Lowell Brown comes up and he says, "I wonder how you really do that calculation." And I said, "Lowell, that's what my talk was about." I said, "I can show you more." He said, "I wonder how you really do that calculation?" And then drafts of a paper keep arriving in my e-mail and they have my name on it and Lowell's, and they're filled with the finite temperature field theory formalism that I am not so good at, but to him are the summit of knowledge. People are very different in their skills. And what Lowell could do is to go up to the blackboard and he could write equations and equations and equations, neatly, legibly. Fill the board; they're all correct. He doesn't have to look at any notes, it’s just like Schwinger could do. I can't write two equations without making a mistake, and they are nearly illegible as well. I have to go back and change this or that once I see it. People have different mental skills and different eye-hand coordinations. So Lowell was a great technician and I knew how to find things to calculate, let's put it that way. And that worked for a while. We did some good stuff, not only dispensing with dynamic screening but going back and redoing the final decimal points on the helium production in the Big Bang, plasma corrections that were not done correctly. Anyway, so I did that for a while and then the neutrino work that's turned into the speeded up this and that stuff.
Well, I think, Ray, we're approaching the end of our interview because we're getting to the point of the present day. So I want to ask, in what ways have you been connected with physics since you've retired?
Well, really, it's what I do.
I'd like to know about the farm.
It's in New Hampshire. It's been in the family since 1788, the land even earlier. It's got a house and two barns, some fields and a bunch of forest. The neighbor keeps six beef cattle there. I usually have gone there every summer, except not this summer. My son Eric, who loves the place and lives in Mass. goes up there a lot.
Well, Ray, for my last question, I'd like to ask, looking back over the course of your career, what do you see as your principal contributions to the field?
Oh, to the field? I don't know. I've demonstrated that it's a reasonable way of spending one's life and that, in the past many decades, it's been a great place to be. In the future, I can't say, but I can say that I have been doing great stuff throughout my 80’s and before as well.
Well, Ray, thank you so much.
It's been very fun talking with you today, and I really appreciate our time together.
We're coming out even. Yeah.