Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of David Rittenhouse Inglis by Steve Heims on 1977 May 10, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4690-2
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
The interview ranges from Inglis’ youth and family origins to his current (1977) activities. Topics include his student days (Amherst College 1924-28, Ann Arbor 1928-31), contact with European physicists and rising Nazism (1932-13), the physics departments at Ohio State, University of Pittsburgh, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins in the 1930’s, and the last of these in the 1940’s; atomic spectroscopy, ferromagnetism, uses of the vector model, shift from atomic to nuclear spectroscopy, the Thomas precession and spin-orbit coupling in nuclei, shell and droplet models for nuclei, intermediate coupling model for light nuclei, the earth’s magnetic field, wind-dynamos and nuclear reactors; Los Alamos during World War II, Argonne Laboratory in the 1950’s and 60’s; expression of social concern, especially in relation to the nuclear arms race, in the 1950’s through the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the political victimization of Donald Flanders, the Federation of American Scientists, congressional testimony concerning Lewis Strauss’ (nominee for Sec. of Commerce) experiences at Pugwash Conferences, obstacles to slowing or reversing the arms race.
Continuation of the Interview with David Inglis, In Amherst, Massachusetts, by Steve Heims, the date is May 10, 1977.
Norbert Wiener was a good friend of Aurel Wintner, who was a very close friend of ours — the Wintners had a place in Tamworth. Before we had our place in New Hampshire, we used to go to a place in Tamworth called Hayford’s in the Field — an old farm house, farm boarding house, which was very lovely — I’m sorry they went out of business when those things went out of style. So we were fairly close, lived there, and saw Wiener sometimes at the Wintners’ house. The time I most remember seeing Wintner, I think, is about ‘51 or ‘52. I was taking off for Europe from up there and Betty drove me down to the railroad station at Mountain View, as they called West Ossippie then, and I was about to take a train down to Boston to get the boat to England. We were waiting on this station a little while for the train to come along, in those good old days when the trains came. Norbert Wiener got out of his car, walked up to me, said, “Are you going to Boston?” I said, “Yes.” He didn’t recognize me — just a stranger. And he had a pack of letters about four or five inches high. He said, “Would you mail these for me?” I reminded him who I was, and he immediately — extrovert that he was — said, “Have you read my book?” I thereupon got my first lecture in cybernetics as my send-off to England. [laughter] Other times, I’ve dropped in at Wintner’s house and found the two of them deep in relationships between quantum mechanics and mathematics. They immediately pulled me into the conversation. Well, it was always a lively one!
Yes. I’m sure.
Yesterday we were talking. You asked me some questions, and I always ran into anecdotes so I never completely answered the questions. A couple of afterthoughts. You asked me, how were things at Ohio State, what kind of a place was it? And I told you that the tandem electrostatic accelerator was invented there. But in the growth of nuclear physics, I think perhaps the two things that took nuclear physics from low energy to high energy or medium energy were the tandem nature of the Van de Graaff — that you could accelerate a negative ion and strip it from the accelerated positive ion, which is the principle that was invented back there in 1930, just about as I was coming to O.S.U. And also, just about the same time L.H. Thomas invented the non-homogeneous magnetic field cyclotron, the sector cyclotron. He invented a way to get over the relativistic barrier. I told you about Thomas and the relativistic Thomas precession yesterday.
His other practical application of relativity was to invent the way to get over the relativistic barrier in the acceleration of particles in a cyclotron, by making the field inhomogeneous. And that, of course, has been crucial for the further development of big accelerators. Well, that seemed to me a great idea. I was enthusiastic about it. And about two or three years later, as I was about to leave Columbus, they obtained a munificent grant of $30,000 — believe me, that was an enormous sum — to build a good cyclotron. Alfeus Smith, the head of the department, and Raymond Poole who was an instructor, my colleague, just a little bit older than I was, undertook to decide what kind of a cyclotron to build. They had the obsession of catching up with Ann Arbor, and Ann Arbor already had a cyclotron, and they had to have a cyclotron that would be dependable and would work. So they went around and looked at what few cyclotrons had been built around the country, and decided how to build the best design. I urged and urged the, said, “Here is the opportunity to do something new.
Thomas has invented a principle that should be tried out, and it should make your cyclotron better than the one at Michigan, and by all means, let’s design a cyclotron to use that principle.” They didn’t make the decision until half a year after I left, but they made the decision to do it in the conventional way. I thought that was really a missed opportunity, because it was ultra-conservatism, to be sure you’d get a result. I was thinking of after-thoughts and one addendum — way back when you asked me about my boyhood experiences. I think I missed by a factor of ten a voltage that I mentioned, about rectified plate currents for that 50 watt transmitter tube that I built a transmitting set around. I said, 10 to 15 kilovolts. That was for a spark transmitter. For the tube transmitter, it was about a factor of ten less. I guess that’s the department of after-thoughts.
OK. One of the things I’d like to get at today, is the whole interesting phenomena which have happened since World War II; that physicists have come to look at the social challenge of nuclear power and nuclear weapons in particular. I know you later became associated with the Federation of American Scientists. When did you first hear of them? When did you first become a member or participate?
That started at Los Alamos. Essentially, it got its momentum just after Alamogordo. In the summer of ‘45. I’m not sure when the first meeting was. It may have been before Alamogordo. It started after a few people had been discussing these problems.
There’d been an Association of Los Alamos Scientists?
Yes, a few of the senior people had been discussing it before. Along about the time of Alamogordo, there was suddenly a realization, through all of the younger people that this is a problem — not all, but a great number of them. So there started to be some meetings. They began to call themselves the Association of Los Alamos Scientists. I think essentially not knowing yet, that there was the same thing going on at Oak Ridge and at Chicago. So that we very soon found that there were three local groups of people interested in the same thing. The name Federation, of course, came from the amalgamation of those three groups. I must say, at that time, I went to some of the meetings we held out there but not all of them. I didn’t get greatly het up about this yet, at Los Alamos. I was more interested then in thinking, now we’ve done this job we came out to do, how do we get back home? How do we wind up? I was involved in winding up the paperwork, of recording it all. I was for a while director of publications, and worked in close collaboration with Charlotte Serber who was the librarian, to get things in fairly good shape. But then, I went back to Hopkins at the end of the calendar year, to start the next semester. I started to leave as of December 31st, I suppose — I’d have to figure out — and then there was a water shortage, just before Christmas. Los Alamos had I think probably broken an Indian Rights treaty. I’m not sure about the treaty, but anyhow, we trespassed on the rights of the Pueblo, down the hill — not San Helfonso, but the one further north — that had the rights to the water from a certain creek. When, during the war, we began to need more water as the place grew, a pipeline was built across, over mesa and canyon, around the edge of the Jemez mountains to get water from a couple of miles north, a couple of canyons north, and this pipeline could freeze in the winter. What could freeze was a pool where the creek was dammed up and that pool could freeze over and stop the water flow, so that a GI was stationed up there all the time during the cold weather to keep the surface agitated so that the water would keep flowing. The soldier went to sleep one night, and the pipe froze up, and Los Alamos was without water. Not even sanitary water, nothing. This was a crisis. There was some thought of an epidemic, that kind of thing. We were just ready to leave anyhow, so we left a few days early. Well, we went down and had a vacation, to Arizona — Tucson, and later to California. That was our first vacation after a long period. Anyhow, to get back to social concerns — I went back to Hopkins. First there was the hassle about military versus civilian atom, and the creation of the AEC; the McMahon Bill, rather than a Johnson bill and all. You know about that?
My involvement in that was not very direct. I was interested in it, but I was not one of those who went down to Washington and gave some time to it, as John Simpson and Willie Higginbotham did. I was thinking, “now it’s time to do physics again.” That was my drive at the moment. Because I thought: “gee, after all, it’s three or four years we’ve been at this war stuff, and that’s not the real game.”
I noticed as I looked at your list of publications that you started to publish in the BULLETIN OF ATOMIC SCIENTISTS in 1951, and from then on, published a lot in there.
That was a time when a lot of people’s interest was flagging.
Yes, and mine did. That is, my main interest was to get back and do what we were doing, and also, I think it was a naivete of trust in the processes of government. We had not yet had the experience of realizing that the government is not making responsible decisions, due to a combination of vested interests and what not, and that one has to get in there and get his oar in to promote his interest, in order to get anything done in government. We felt, here is something so dramatic, we must tell the world about it, but it speaks for itself, the danger. Surely the statesmen of the world will do what needs to be done about it. There was all our mutual concern for the thing, that grew out of the discussions at Los Alamos, largely the senior discussions before the Association was formed — I guess that went through Oppie, input into the Acheson Lilienthal that later became the Baruch Plan — that seemed to be sort of passing on our awareness to the political process. And from there on we trusted that the political process would take care of itself. I think that was the attitude — which was the naive attitude with which many of us went back to our pure science. I did, anyway. I went back for three years doing no more than, in Baltimore, as a member of the newly formed Federation and in communication with it, encouraged by it, going around and talking to anybody who would listen to me — labor unions, ladies’ club meetings, this type of thing. During those three years, I was always on tap for anybody who would invite me to come and tell them about the new dangers, and the need for international control, whether it would be “one world or none.” Well, I guess I didn’t use that phrase, that was I guess Harold Urey’s phrase, but that was the spirit of the thing then. Our job was to communicate to the public the danger, and the political process would take care of it. It wasn’t until actually about the time I left Hopkins in ‘49 that I finally came to realize that what should be done in the way of serious negotiations about arms control was not being done. It was still Stalin’s time, and very hard to convince anybody to take any different approach, since it was so poorly received over on the other side. So about the time I left — and at Hopkins, by the way, I did have the experience of having a little brush with the administration, about starting a chapter of FAS at Hopkins. Isiah Bowman (before Detlev Bronk came) was chairman or president at Hopkins. Detlev Bronk succeeded Isiah Bowman as president. Isiah Bowman was a geographer, a conservative man. When I put up a notice on the bulletin board or something, summoning people to a preliminary meeting, to join or form a chapter of FAS, he challenged my right to do it. I think he called me in and said, “But there’s all this important work to be done, and I’m sure we should get together, those of us who are interested, but I’m not so sure we want a chapter of FAS.” But he didn’t forbid me to do it. So I went ahead and did it anyway, but from that time on, 1 didn’t get along very well with Bowman. This was not part of my reason for leaving, by the way. But I just remembered that, in speaking of how things developed after the war. I had the contrast between this poor reception of the FAS at Hopkins, and the rather cordial reception we got, or at least not discouraging reception we got, for pursuing these things at Argonne, when I went there a couple of years later.
That’s interesting, since Argonne was an AEC lab.
But you would think it would be the other way around, that a liberal university would have welcomed it, and that Argonne would have resisted it. There was a little resistance at Argonne, but only enough, kind of pro forma. One administrator there thought he had to refuse us permission to meet on laboratory grounds. So we had to meet outside.
I suppose there was support for it from the University of Chicago?
Oh yes. But, so far as this effort was concerned, there was a not very close connection between Chicago and Argonne. It was a different group of people. I had rather close contact with the University of Chicago, because I just made a point of going in once a week and making contact with people and discussing things, and it was different, being a theoretical physicist and interested in all the things that the people in there were — Fermi and Wentzel and Urey and all the rest. I made a point of keeping contact with them. Also, I saw something of Eugene Rabinovitch, and Hy Goldsmith and the people who were getting the BULLETIN going. I kept my contacts, but most of the group at Argonne did not go in so often. So we wanted our separate chapter of the Federation. And actually the Federation never went so strong at Chicago anyway. They had their individual interests, but it turned out a little later that the Chicago chapter was really the Argonne chapter, even though the associated BULLETIN was so strong on the Chicago campus. At least, when I got to Argonne, we did have a chapter at Hopkins, and my colleague in nuclear physics - Hanna, who has since become a very prominent experimental nuclear physicist — was I guess one of the most enthusiastic about going along with me on the FAS business.
By that time it was 1950 or so?
It was 1949 when I left there and left the FAS chapter more or less in Hanna’s hands. It was just a little, not very active, chapter during the time I was there, and afterwards. At Argonne my first contacts were not so much with FAS as with the people in Chicago and the BULLETIN — the first couple of years. Argonne was a little laboratory, out in the Argonne Woods still, that they called Site A, which had been set up very quickly when the original pile was disassembled at Chicago and assembled out in the woods. But it was still out there in the woods when I went there.
The work you were doing was mostly in nuclear physics; was it at all related to the reactor physics that was going on at Argonne?
Not very closely. My work was — well, I should say, it was not yet recognized that a National Lab could support pure science per se. It had to have some raison d’etre for the scientists there. So, when they hired a theoretical physicist like me, the raison d’etre was, to help out part time with reactor calculations. And I did. But that turned out to be a rather small part of the time, and there was an occasion for learning something about reactor physics. I think that was valuable for me. I don’t think I helped very much with their program, because there were others who were more specialized than I. But I got in my little licks at it. At the same time, my zeal was going into a combination of experimental and theoretical nuclear physics, and right at the transition time, largely experimental. If I may fetch these things all up as they occur to me —?
I want to pursue that experimental deviation of mine just a moment. It continued just a little bit, for a couple of years, into this period at Argonne. My interest in getting into experimental physics at all I think arose largely from my ideas about spin-orbit coupling. I told you that I’d had an idea about the origin of spin-orbit coupling, and it turned out — I mean, if you went ahead with the simplest transition or translation of atomic ideas into nuclear physics, you came out with a spin-orbit coupling that was much, much too small — essentially by the ratio of the mass of the electron to the mass of the proton or the nucleon. My ideas not only found the sign right, but also said that it should perhaps be a hundred times larger than that. Still, it was ten times too small to explain the well-known doublet splitting in the lithium-7. It came out closer to 50 kilovolts than 500. Well, I was most curious whether that meant that this very poorly resolved ground state of lithium-7 really had the doublet hidden in it, rather than the big 500 kilovolt doublet which could just be well resolved by the poor resolution of those days. Resolution in those days came from — I mentioned the range of the deuteron in a D-P (deuteron-proton) reaction, in foils. So you get a couple of hundred kilovolts resolution.
Nobody had magnetic resolution of these nuclear particles in nuclear reactions like that. But I had the notion you should be able to do it; some magnetic resolution had been done in Paris of natural alpha particle lines. And I thought, this could be done experimentally. — It looks so naive, now, to have to think in these terms. But it looked as though you could get enough intensity from something like a D-P reaction to be able to resolve particles going through a simple magnetic spectrometer, and it looked so fascinating, to find out whether that low state was really a doublet or not, that I thought, if nobody’s working on that, I want to work on it. And it was that which motivated the building of the first Van de Graaff at Hopkins, before the war, and the second one after the war, but I had the design of the spectrograph, and I’d started to assemble big chunks of iron that we were going to put together in the lab to make a magnet — all hand work. They had a pretty good shop at Hopkins. Well, that got interrupted by the war. So I came back to it after the war, and there were the chunks of magnet waiting to work on — and then the Van de Graaff had to be replaced. So it took me a long time. But I was still active. As I was leaving Hopkins, I did the job of observing the spectrum of Lithium-7 with much better resolution.
Not quite up to the third excited state and yet I didn’t have good enough resolution to tell the answer, so my first enthusiasm at Argonne, the thing I could do with much greater facility there — they had a bigger shop and so on — was to build a much better inhomogeneous field, 180 degree, n equal minus a half type, double focusing magnetic spectrometer, and Lin Lee came to Argonne to join me in that effort. But it all was motivated, in resolving that ground state of lithium-7, which turned out to be singlet after all. [laughter] Well, we did a lot of angular distributions and what not, in the meantime. In fact, at Hopkins, we did angular distributions among other methods trying to get identifications of states. A student of mine, Neuendorfer and I build the first multi-gap magnetic spectrometer. Do you know about the multi-gap? It’s a way of observing product particles at many angles at once. Bill Buchner and his people at MIT took up the construction of bigger ones later. But we did have plates, and we did get particles through magnetic field onto plates at five different angles at once. And the fundamental idea was there, that the advantage is that you don’t have to monitor the beam accurately in order to get an accurate angular distribution, because all the different angles come off from the same bombardment. Well, that was the type of thing I did. That was a digression —. Now to get back to Argonne and the arrival there, and the social concerns. The person there I found the most congenial for discussing the social concerns was Donald Flanders. He had been my wife Betty’s boss when she was one of those female human computers that functioned in those days, and he was now head of the computing department at Argonne.
But he and I felt this great gap between the extent of the danger of the arms race, and the triviality of the concerns about it in government, or the feeling of futility — the hopelessness about doing anything about it — in government. It seemed to us that this was the crime of the decade — that this problem wasn’t being attacked properly. And so that was the origin of my first article in the BULLETIN, in collaboration with Don Flanders. It was sort of questionable: should anybody at Argonne Laboratory publish anything like that? But that time, Lou Turner, formerly of Princeton, was head of the physics division at Argonne, and he very kindly, being a little bit further along in administration, looked it over and became interested. He appreciated that this was a real problem and suggested a few semantic changes, and passed it on to the administration — yes, the administration should have this kind of concern — and it was published all right, and it was called “A Deal, Before Midnight. t’ The BULLETIN had by that time taken on the symbolism on the cover of the clock approaching midnight. And it seemed then, you know — there were only a few bombs, and the hydrogen bomb hadn’t been developed yet. Our stockpile was really pretty low and the Russians were just getting started, so it looked as though: well, now, this is the last chance we’ll have to really make a deal, and not go ahead into this race, and we should hurry.
Yes. It was a time when the Baruch Plan was pretty much dead.
Yes, it was just being used as window dressing for empty conferences.
Yes, there didn’t seem to be anything happening.
No, they were just saying, “Well, we’ve got to build bombs and be strong. We’ve got to get in this race and stay ahead.”
The arms race was going ahead full blast.
“We are way ahead and we had to stay ahead, as long as we stay ahead, everything’s OK,” was the philosophy.
So, at the time that was really something to say.
Yes, sure: “Look, it isn’t too late, and the Russians, despite all of our disagreements with them, are human beings and we have to live in this world with them, and let’s think of ways to inveigle them into making an agreement.”
From then on, you began writing for the BULLETIN.
Yes. Then I got very much concerned. One thing nice about being at Argonne was that I was not playing this game of earning my living by my teaching in order to do research — this double game that most academic physicists are caught in. We justify our existence partly as teachers, while our heart is so largely in the research, that living a double life, we don’t have time for a third element. I think that’s what’s kept a lot of physicists out of doing something about these Social concerns. But I had a special position at Argonne, of having only a single life, in my professional life. I could spare a good deal of time for my extracurricular activity.
That was also the time of [Joseph] McCarthy and so on. Did you encounter that?
Oh, very seriously.
Well, most seriously in Donald Flanders, whose life it ended, I believe. Donald Flanders not only had this concern with me, which was tolerated at Argonne, but he had a daughter, Helen. Donald — “Moll” Flanders, as he liked to be called — had two associations, for McCarthyism to get at him through guilt by association. One was that his daughter — I’ve forgotten now, I think she had a boyfriend who had some taint of having attended a Communist meeting or something like that. I don’t quite remember what it was. But the more serious one was that his summer place, like ours up in New Hampshire, was in New York State. He’d previously taught at New York University. And, it was next door to Alger Hiss’ He and Alger Hiss were very good friends. And this was his main fault. So he was put on the dock — his security clearance was questioned — and we had to have security clearances to work at Argonne. So there was a proceeding, a trial of some kind, in which various ones of us had to testify. I testified. And —
— was it conducted by the FBI?
I don’t remember now, specifically under what auspices, but it was through the apparatus somewhere.
It related to security?
Yes, it was. I think it must have been probably FBI. There was a panel that was appointed to judge the case, and we had to have what amounted to a formal hearing, in which various ones of us testified our faith in his good American citizenship, and all that. Well, it was largely a character assessment that we were contributing to, and of course we had extremely strong faith that he was on the up and up, and there was no taint of preferring Communism over free enterprise, anything terrible like that, in our interest in getting together to deal with the Russians. I believe his clearance was approved, but still there was something about his being plagued by that connection with his daughter.
Did he stay at Argonne?
He didn’t stay long. He took his own life. And this was something that I found it very hard to understand.
Very soon thereafter. And I think it was largely — it was during the persecution of Alger Hiss, and he felt so bad about what he considered a complete miscarriage of justice. He was so sure of Alger Hiss’ being a fine and dependable gentleman, and very close friend, and Alger Hiss was being given such a rough time, and his only very recently been exonerated in the eyes of the law — and all but the right wing. I think it was largely that that led him to take his own life. A week later, his wife had an auto accident that she could have caused deliberately — ran headlong into an oncoming truck. So, call it suicide if you like. Essentially it looked like a double suicide. And it was a result of McCarthyism, a direct result. This was one. The other was… turn off the machine. One of my students, one of my theoretical students at Hopkins in those years after the war was Elmer Eisner, who went to Argonne a year or so before I did, after he got his degree with me. I think I wrote a recommendation for him to Bob Sachs who was associated with Argonne briefly, and came back later to a higher position. But Elmer’s wife, Judith, had before they were married been looking for a summer job, and had got one as a counselor in what turned out to be a Communist camp. So she stayed the summer all the same, and furthermore, Elmer’s father had once made a contribution of a dollar to a Community rally. All this was found out by the FBI, and Elmer was fired from Argonne. He got a job with an oil company and he’s still there, down in Houston, Texas.
Yes. [laughter] But those were my main brushes — experiences — at Argonne, very directly associated with McCarthyism.
But you yourself were not harassed?
Yes. Oh, that’s a story which I think perhaps should be told. But this was later, and when McCarthyism still hadn’t died but wasn’t quite in its heyday any more. By this time, I had been pretty active in FAS nationally I was the national chairman-elect, in the spring of 1959, I believe this must have been. It was after I’d gotten back from my leave of absence at Berkeley. I went down to Washington. As we were going down to Washington, we got a letter from a Congressional committee — we were going to the usual Washington A.P.S. meeting, in April — but a week or so before that, got a letter from a Congressional committee, saying that they understood that there was some objection on the part of scientists to Lewis Strauss. Well, in the meantime we’d been through the whole Strauss persecuting Oppenheimer business, and so on. And I felt pretty bad about that, and felt bad about various things, that Strauss had not only clobbered Oppie, but very unfairly had squelched somebody else — the motivation I’m sure came from him — it’s complicated, we needn’t go into it. But furthermore, Strauss had been so much the promoter of being sure that we didn’t let anything stop us in going ahead with the arms race. When it looked as though Stassen was getting close to a little bit of agreement with the Russians, at a special meeting in London, he had brought Lawrence and Teller from a Congressional hearing the next day to Eisenhower, to dramatize the need for a “clean bomb,” and that pulled the rug out from under Stassen.
Strauss did that?
Strauss did that, yes.
Incidentally, he also encouraged John von Neumann to sit on the Presidential Panel for Disarmament, though von Neumann expressed, “I’m really not interested, I don’t believe in disarmament.”
Well, this is just —
— but Strauss urged him to do it, and he did.
Yes, as a patriotic duty to oppose disarmament, I suppose. It was this type of attitude and action of Strauss that made us very much opposed to his further participation in government. So he was up for becoming Secretary of Commerce. Of course everybody has to go up for a confirmation hearing for a position like that, and there was a routine confirmation hearing, but they wanted to hear the other side. Various scientists were invited to testify. Well, I’d heard of seven scientists who were accepting, and I accepted. I was invited as incoming chairman of FAS. I was about to be inducted as chairman at that Washington meeting. So I was spokesman for FAS, in a way. I think the outgoing chairman also was invited. It turned out that only two of us turned up to testify. So the burden rested on just two of us, opposing Strauss. And this was a most horrendous experience for me, because I’d thought I was one of seven, I’d go up and say my piece and —
— and you were also let down by the others.
Oh, let down by the others. I guess I’d heard they were coming. I don’t know if they’d really committed themselves or not. But at least it was with the feeling that a lot of us were going that I agreed to go. And then I found the only two of us were myself and Dave Hill. He was a former chairman of FAS. So, we got down to Washington and found that only the two of us were there. Incidentally, as I said, I expected to attend the Physical Society meeting the whole time, and then just go over to Capitol Hill for a couple of hours. The night before, I guess when I arrived in Washington, I realized, “There are only two of us, we’ve got to prepare a statement. This has to be done seriously now.” And I prepared a statement, and I went to Dan Singer’s house, I think it was, and he looked over the statement and said, “Well, this is pretty rough, but maybe —.” He was a lawyer associated with FAS. He sort of toned it down a little bit, improved it. That was the only preparation I made. So, I appeared, all innocent, a lamb to be shorn, among the wolves of Washington, and when I came in, Strauss was there with all his lieutenants around him, and I was put up at a table. He and his two advisors on both sides were there. And I gave this talk in which I pointed out the things that I felt were wrong about Strauss, the Oppenheimer thing. I tried to make a case right there before the Congressional committee. I thought this was an opportunity to get the idea into Congress where it belonged, that we really should be doing something about disarmament. Strauss was personally taking it on himself to really stab the thing in the back. I didn’t put it like that, but this was the general tenor of my talk, which was considered most surprising in Washington.
My presentation was put off until just before noon. After I gave my formal presentation, and before I could be questioned, I had to be cut off, for recess at lunch, and I was asked, would I come back the next day? Well, I thought I’d given my couple of hours, but gosh, I couldn’t say no. Then, just before lunch, you can find this all in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD much more accurately than I can give it to you now — Senator Hugh Scott interrupted and said something that intimated that he was questioning whether I didn’t have some taint of Communism? I’ve forgotten just how he put it now. But I went away from that meeting realizing that my grilling the next day was going to be a rough one — that Scott had it in for me. I was partly paying my own way, and I was staying very economically at a little tourist house known as the Allies Inn, that was downtown in Washington, a nice quaint place, since pushed aside by a big building. I remember, I was awake absolutely all night. I just couldn’t get to sleep, over my concern for what Scott had said, how I could refute it. The next morning, I was first called into the office of a Senator who was on the committee, and who was sympathetic to what I’d said, and he gave me some advice, how to answer Scott and so on. Then I went up and was grilled.
Do you remember what Senator that was?
Senator Gale McGee. Well, Scott lit into me in great detail. He said, “Were you a member of such and such an organization in Baltimore in 1947?” And I said, “Well, let me see, I did hear of that — I think perhaps, yes, I did join it, yes. And I thought its aims were so and so.” “Do you know that that’s on the Attorney General’s black list? “No, I didn’t know.” I wasn’t prepared for this and I didn’t have the details at all. He said, “Well, your name was on the letterhead.” I didn’t remember that at all.
But everything was on the Attorney General’s list at that time.
Yes. Sure. So I was unable to defend myself ably. But to the detail that he had — he came out with various details, knowledge of things that the FBI had on me, that were in my dossier. I didn’t know they were in my dossier. Well, anyway, I had a rough time, and I didn’t do at all well in defending myself, not being accustomed to how you have to stand up in Washington, not knowing what to expect. Senator Gale McGee said to me afterwards, “I should have told you to use your middle name in talking to Scott — tell him you’re a Philadelphia Rittenhouse, and he can’t attack you as a Philadelphia Rittenhouse — the way he was doing.” if I had thought to use that tactic, Strauss would probably have been confirmed. But at any rate, I didn’t play it right. But the importance of all this — and you may be interested, if you want, it’s all in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD — is, that Senator Clinton Anderson had decided to stay out of this hearing. He hated Strauss but he decided, these confirmation hearings are routine, you don’t gain anything by using up your political capital to try to win a lost cause. So he just stayed out of it.
He was on the Joint Committee?
Yes, he was on the Joint Committee and he was a very important person in Washington. But he read the transcript that day, of the kind of a time Scott had given to me, and it made him mad. He had faith in me. He saw from Scott’s questioning that Strauss must have given him my confidential AEC security dossier, and Anderson saw this as one more of Strauss’ dirty tricks. He also read the testimony that Dave Hill had given, later. Hill did a more systematic job of documenting the transgressions of Strauss, than I did. So between us, it made some impression.
Strauss was not confirmed.
But the reason Strauss was not confirmed was because, what he did to me made Clinton Anderson mad. And Clinton Anderson brought in his big guns and licked him [laughter] So I feel that that one distinct political effect that I can trace to my activities, was due to my ineptitude. [laughter] And was related to McCarthyism, you see — that he tried to put the Pink label on me. Anderson had had enough contact with my thoughts, I guess, to be convinced that I was not Pink. Gee, that was a long answer to “McCarthyism.”
It’s all relevant. You kept on writing through the fifties, and one theme that one can see in every successive essay that you wrote — the relation of optimism to pessimism goes through that period. There was a time when, with the British-French proposal I think in 1954 for disarmament, which the United States had gone along with, and — Soviet Union all but accepted it, or a proposal very similar to it.
So that was a moment of great optimism.
Yes. And then Eisenhower came back saying, “No, we don’t want it after all, we don’t want this intrusion, but instead we prefer to have Open Skies.”
Yes — it was mostly, moments of discouragement — I guess one could go down the line —
Yes, of hope and discouragement. Hope for the Test Ban, and then all we got was half a Test Bann — and so on. But then, the thing — you’ll find if you skip on a bit, there came the ABM hassle, which was also some hope and, ended up a bit better.
Ended up successfully.
Yes. And that one, I think we did have a part in — a significant part in. From several parts of the country, there came little spearheads at the ABM proposal, opposing it. But the one that started at Argonne I think was an important one. Another started at Seattle. And it started when one of our friends in FAS at Argonne, John Erskine, a fine experimental physicist there, heard about some drillings that were being made out in a field north of Hinsdale, not far from where he and I lived. He heard that the Army Engineers or somebody like that was in there making some soundings for a site for anti-ballistic missiles. And there had been the non-nuclear ones in Chicago and elsewhere for some time, but he was curious about this, and he went out to see it — driving by on the way home from Argonne. He stopped by and talked to the officer in charge of this drilling, and learned, much to his surprise, that it was for a big anti-intercontinental missile site. This kind of concerned us, that they were putting those things, of all places, right close to the city It seemed ridiculous — if we were going to have them, they should be way out, far away from where any counter-attack would affect a city any more than necessary. Even out in Montana where the minutemen are located, there would be too much fallout. It was going to be the long range kind, the “Spartan” antiballistic missile which could be located much further from the city, more effectively. A few of us in our FAS group discussed it, and we called a local TV station to interview us at one of our homes. Mainly John and I gave talks that appeared on TV. Then the other news media in town got into the act, and for a few days we were deluged with queries. Several of us did a lot of talking about missile defense and how counter measures could nullify it. It caught on in the national news media, and I think it had quite a lot to do with the growth of the anti-ABM movement. I expressed my concern by writing an article for one of the national magazines, the SATURDAY REVIEW. It was called, “H Bombs in Your Back Yard,”  because these were the things with H Bomb warheads. That phrase, “H Bombs in Your Back Yard” sort of caught on as part of the sloganeering against the ABM, and so, I think that’s a place where we had some impact.
Yes. I noticed too that you did write articles for the SATURDAY REVIEW, the NATION, NEW REPUBLIC — that somewhere you decided to submit articles to those magazines.
Well, I mean, after a few in the BULLETIN, it became clear that the decision had to be made by people who were not reading the BULLETIN. You have to reach a larger public, if you’re going to influence people.
You just submitted them to the magazines?
Sure, and I sometimes submitted it to several before it was accepted. But I got to know Norman Cousins pretty well, on the SATURDAY REVIEW. Norman and I had mutual interests in the United World Federalists, and our paths crossed there now and then, and he organized some meetings I attended in the East. At the time when I had some claim to uniqueness as a writer in the field, I made out pretty well at getting things in the national magazines. But then the professional writers took it up, and squeezed me out. This was a happy occurrence. Lately I’ve had much poorer luck in placing my things. Now that I’m writing about the nuclear power problem, I sometimes submit an article to several magazines, and get a collection of rejections, and finally get it back into the BULLETIN, or ENVIRONMENT, or THE PROGRESSIVE. My articles that have appeared recently in THE PROGRESSIVE had been turned down by all three of the magazines you just mentioned. Because so many people are writing on this subject now.
More of a profession of science writers has developed.
Sure. And we as scientists don’t have anything unique to contribute any more. There are so many people thinking about the problem.
Yes. Maybe it’s in part that the information has finally come across.
Sure, we’ve succeeded in getting it into other people’s hands, and that’s fine. In the business of our present hassles, about ways to tackle the energy problems, I still feel that things aren’t being said right. I have an urge to try to say it — and don’t find it so easy to speak to a big audience.
You’re writing currently about. wind energy, which is interesting, with your background in nuclear physics.
Yes. This is a reaction to my background in nuclear physics. That is, when I went to Argonne, as I said, I was working on the reactor problem, and learning something about reactors in the process. I was enthusiastic about what we were doing there, and I thought it was great. I was happy when my office was finally one of the first places in the world, I guess, to be illuminated with nuclear energy. We thought that first you had to simplify the thing and make it safe, and in the National Laboratories we could do a good job of investigating all these things to see how safe it could be made and all that, and how efficiently it could be made. As long as we still had it in the National Laboratories, I was enthusiastic about it, as something for the remote future, because you could see that we were going to run out of fossil fuel some time. Even before the war, some of us were concerned about what’s going to happen when the fuel runs out. We’re using more and more of it, and civilization depends more and more on it. So it did seem to be a legitimate answer to that question. But obviously very dangerous. And the question was: could it be done right? And in finding the answer to that problem, I was enthusiastic, we should go ahead. It might someday be the answer and it might really be true that it would give electric power so cheap and plentiful that it would not pay to meter it. Then, rather suddenly, Lewis Strauss, to get back to him, invented or at least promoted the slogan, Atoms for Peace,” and got Eisenhower to promote this aspect of it. He said, “Quickly, we’ve got to get going on this,” and made a big show of it. “Get the power of American industry into getting this thing going.” After having kept secrets so meticulously, not even to be able to talk about fission cross-sections before, all of a sudden, “Tell everybody about it —”
And you should get the private sector into it.
Yes, “Get the private sector in,” that was Strauss’ push. That’s what “Atoms for Peace” was all about. I began to wonder if the safety aspect of it could be emphasized as much as it was in the National Labs, and if there would be any consideration of, “Well, we’ll see if it’s safe and then do it,” — or would we do it, and then find out whether or not it was safe? It looked as though the promotion were too fast for the state of the art. And I think I began to be a little concerned then, but I was hoping that it would work out fine. I didn’t really oppose it. I still felt it was something that should be done — but not quite so fast. And my first real brush with the administration on it was, when some of us at Argonne began thinking, “There are two aspects of it: First, we don’t really know the answers about safety. And second, we don’t know what’s going to happen, if and when we get into a world war.” I think we were quite pessimistic about the time it would be before there would be a nuclear war, then, if we didn’t get arms control. And I think that in that one sense, perhaps, it’s gratifying that we haven’t had the war yet. The one thing that’s better than we thought then is that we haven’t yet had nuclear war.
We thought it might come by now. And it hasn’t. Thank God! That’s great luck, in spite of many many booboos on the way. Well, so, we saw two aspects of it, that made it desirable to put power reactors underground. One of them was, that we don’t know about the safety yet. The containment is much stronger than you could supply with steel domes, if you put them underground. And second, if there should be a war, it’s going to be absolutely terrible. Our civilization will be so nearly destroyed that things that we’ve hoped won’t happen — but even so, we’ve got to worry about what’s left of mankind rising from the ashes. And the most convenient thing that you could do, to get civilization started again, is to have a power source that hasn’t been bombed out. So it had better be way underground. It was this combined motive that led Roy Ringo and me to write an internal memo about putting the reactors underground. We thought that this was too important a thing, and too internal a decision, to get at it through public pressure, that it must be a decision with the AEC. So instead of publishing this in the BULLETIN, we kept it as an internal document. Roy Ringo was an experimental physicist at Argonne and a very close friend. Fine guy. We had some differences of opinion politically, but we agreed on this sort of thing very closely. We wrote a good, short case for the fact that reactors should be put underground, and we made a rough estimate of what the additional cost would be. Our figure was a 3 percent increase of cost for the nuclear power plant, but we put it in the memo as 5 percent or so to be conservative. This was examined in Washington, and a Dr. Beck in Washington was assigned to do a follow-up job on ours, and make more detailed estimates of costs and practicability. He came up with, perhaps as high as 10 percent, but a good case still for reactors underground. It didn’t get any further. It was just turned down cold, and — well, it was looked at but then turned down. And we could not help but believe that the reason was not technical but financial. It was the year of the Price-Anderson Act, the year when Atoms for Peace had gotten far enough along that it was a serious job to try to convince industry to go into the business.
They’d had the plans and made designs for a couple of years, and the costs were crucial as to whether they thought they could make it economically or not. Adding five or ten percent was out of the question — even in the interests of safety. So from there on, it looked to me as though there were financial short cuts being made: “It’s cheaper to do it dangerously than to do it safely, so we’ll do it without adequate safety.” I think it was ‘56 when our memo came out. Price-Anderson came out in ‘57, but they were pretty close. It was the same concern — a concern for twisting the arm of industry to get them to undertake the program, that now we can’t get them to stop! Before you’re committed, it’s awfully hard to get started. And after you’re committed, it’s awfully hard to stop. And that’s the trouble with large-scale wind power right now; we’re not committed. It’s hard to get started. It was out of that, though, that my interest gradually worked over. For years I was much more interested in stopping the arms race than in worrying about nuclear power. I was a little bit disturbed about the nuclear power, and I felt that as it spreads world-wide, it was going to make more triggers for nuclear war. But that was less of a concern than what could be done about nuclear war through treaties. So I got into things like going to Pugwash meetings — always with a focus on, can’t first we scientists and the Russians’ scientists agree that from our different points of view, there are things that could be done about the arms race? And from there on, try to carry it to our political leaders on the two sides? So I wasn’t doing much about nuclear power in those days. I was more interested in international problems — the arms race.
Aside from your work with the FAS, you were chairman of the organization?
Yes, but only for a year.
Did it involve actual lobbying? Did you engage in that at times?
Oh, yes. As chairman of FAS but also as just an individual, I found my way around those marble halls, usually only incidental to taking a day off from the Physical Society meeting, but sometimes making a special trip to Washington. Also I made special trips to Washington for various, oh, study group organizations, privately financed study groups for disarmament, or something like that, that would pay my rail fare and later my plane fare to Washington. And I’d spend an extra day up on the Hill. And I knew some Senators.
Yes. You also were later on the board of directors of SANE.
Are you currently?
I still am, but I perhaps shouldn’t be. I haven’t attended a national meeting for about a year and a half now, and they have them four times a year. When I tried to resign a couple of years ago, Sandy Gottlieb said, “No, we still need you on the board, even if you can’t get down very often, you’re helpful for communications and advice,” and so I’m still on the board. But the last activity I did was, I went down once in the summer, for a protest demonstration against a new weapon about a year and a half ago, and took that occasion to see people in the government branch developing wind power. I try to get down to Washington once in a while for that. But let’s see, you asked about?
Well, in the early sixties Pugwash activities were more important than the SANE ones. I feel that it has been important and perhaps still is important — although not nearly as important as it was in the early days — to discuss these things with the Russians. I did not take part in the Pugwash meetings until about the sixth.
Yes, I think it was the sixth, according to Jerome Rotblatt’s book. That was the meeting in Moscow on disarmament.
Yes, the third was at Kitzbuhel. It turned out that for family reasons I had to come back from Europe just a few weeks before that. And I didn’t go right back to Europe where the meeting was.
Oh, you had been invited?
Yes, I had been invited, and I should have gone. That was an important meeting. But at least I did hear about that and the earlier meetings. The first meetings, the Russians would come and give their ideological talk, and then sit and listen to what the Americans had to argue about. I mean, Westerners, Americans and English, between them largely, but other Westerners too. Apparently they were really amazed at the way we criticized our governments, and suggested how they were doing things wrong, and exchanged ideas freely between us, on the Western side, before I was one of them. They told me that at the second meeting, the Russians would say a little bit of something that was significant. By the third meeting, they would first give a political introduction, and then would say a few remarks that made sense. But they gradually caught on that politics was something you discuss seriously. By the time I attended the 6th meeting, in Moscow, this process had developed quite well — it was a very interesting meeting.
Do you recall people like Peter Kapitza? Other people?
He comes in a little further along in my experience. I don’t remember Kapitza at that meeting. I don’t know if he was there. Maybe he was.
He was there. I guess perhaps Kapitza was too. Yes, I must have met him at that time. Tamm was there. I found Tamm a very congenial man, from the first time I met him, which was there.
What language did you speak in, by the way?
English. Well, English and German. I think there was one woman with whom I communicated in French. I don’t remember. There were two or three who spoke German and not English. But I can speak German OK for those purposes. So there was no trouble about language, even for those of us who knew no Russian. We were put up at the old Metropole Hotel, and the meetings were in a little house painted green, a mile or so from the hotel, to which we walked every day, called “The Dom Druzbe,” The House of Peace. They were pleasant meetings. Still, they each started out in their discussions, their presentations, with something that had to do with ideology. But by this time, they were willing to discuss some substantial ideas. And I was impressed at that meeting that the same idea came up from both sides, independently. It was essentially a stage-wise reduction, to a minimum stable deterrent. And it was a way of getting around the impasse that had been faced — that the Russians wanted disarmament before inspection, and the Americans wanted inspection before disarmament. You see, it’s quite clear, both are in keeping with the national characters of the two ways of thought. And there seemed to be no way around it. I think one good idea of how to get around it came from both sides at the same time, and illustrates the fact that the Russians were, by this time, really thinking about the thing.
Do you recall particular people saying these things?
Yes. I can name names.
Because that would be interesting, giving a picture of —
Yes. A Soviet academician by the name of Alexandrov, who was head of one of the nuclear labs there, a very nice man whom I liked a lot, came up with it on the Russian side. And it was Jerry Wiesner — after having had some talks with, or was influenced by Louis Sohn — who came up with it on the American side. It was Sohn and Wiesner together, I don’t know what proportion. Sohn is a lawyer type who worked on disarmament — wrote a book on it. The idea essentially was that you could divide things up territorially — I called it in my subsequent writings, “region by region disarmament.” Some called it “territorial disarmament.” But the idea was, you take a chunk of the country, disarm it, and let inspectors in to see that region, while you make sure that the borders are sealed so that you’re sure no one is transporting stuff. You choose the region before hand at random in some way so that they can’t empty it before you come in to inspect. But then you still have all your deterrent all over the rest of the country. You establish that firmly and then you go ahead and do this over and over again, until you get down towards the end and have to work out the details. So it introduced inspection and disarmament at the same time, region by region. Well, this was a good idea, and Alexandrov had it. This shows that we had got them started thinking. That is perhaps the best illustration I can give of the effectiveness of Pugwash.
Was there any enthusiasm for that?
There was enthusiasm for that as an argument for trying varied approaches. There was a lot of enthusiasm and hope for that, but it was discouraging, frustrating, in that the politicos wouldn’t take it up, or anything like it. On either side. Well, at least having talked about that and about mutual deterrents in connection with that and so on, it was much easier to get along toward the fact that defense isn’t necessarily good, on that ABM business.
Did you attend later Pugwash meetings as well?
Oh yes. I attended several, and I’m going to one next August.
Anything particularly worthwhile or particularly interesting that we should talk about, in the other Pugwash conferences?
I think the time has gone along. I’ll tell you the spirit of it. We talked of various things. One special sort of smaller meeting I attended in London a few years ago, had to do with safeguards. That’s very much relevant to my present interests, in the spread of nuclear reactors, the question of how you arrange safeguards so that materials will not be stolen or otherwise deflected from nuclear fuel processing plants and such in various parts of the fuel cycle. Pugwash has gotten to very many more detailed problems like that, and international economic problems, how can scientists help out the economics of the less developed countries? Various things like that. But the safeguards and the disarmament problems are the two I’ve taken particular part in. I expect, in going to this next one, to work more with others on the other side on alternative energy sources, as a way of de-emphasizing the spread of nuclear power plants.
When you were writing a lot for the BULLETIN OF ATOMIC SCIENTISTS, and general publications, did you get supportive response from scientists or the general public, feedback, reactions to it? Do you recall?
The answer is: yes, I got quite a lot of feedback.
You got a lot of feedback — which had the effect of encouraging you to —?
Oh yes, sure. You don’t do this thing in a vacuum. I’ve communicated with a lot of interesting people in the course of developing the ideas. Well, science is the business of one thing leads to another, and so it is with these things.
You didn’t at one moment decide, “Well, my role as a scientist is now going to be —”
— oh no, never. Oh no. It’s always been a competition between these two interests. I have to bring myself to get away from a calculation, to get that article out for the next issue, and then get back to the calculations. When, it’s not always like that, but at least, “Oh, I’ve got to get this idea expressed, even if it takes a little time from my physics.” But always the main thing is, get it done so I can get back to physics.
I know there are lots of things we could discuss further. I’m interested in your papers on the magnetic field of the earth and other things. But let me ask you what you would still like to say, what we’ve left out that is important to include?
Well, it may not be interesting for history of science or anything, but part of my activities that’s been interesting to me as a scientist have been my theoretical thoughts since the war. I’ve told you quite a bit about before the war.
Yes, why don’t you go ahead?
You mentioned magnetism. I told you the origins of why I got interested in magnetism in the first place. I’ve always been curious why a piece of iron is a magnet, and why the earth is a magnet and the sun. That was why I just naturally — whenever an idea came up about those things, I was fascinated.
One of your early papers was with Teller.
My first paper on the earth’s magnetism was with Teller, and it was a negative one, to show that a theory didn’t work. Someone thought it was a thermonuclear effect, and we showed it wasn’t. Then Elsasser suggested it might have to do with current generated by fluid motion, but a feedback mechanism was needed. Bullard had the idea that supplied that, but the treatment was highly mathematical.
Bullard’s paper was a kind of dynamo model?
Bullard introduced the dynamo model, in a way that to me was incomprehensible, in the sense that it hides so much in the computation that you can’t see the physics of it. Now, that’s true in quantum mechanics — I try to simplify in quantum mechanics too. There’s a formality there, and you can see the mathematics but you can’t see the physics, and the division between the two is very nebulous. It’s all physics, but it’s all much too rough and tolerant of approximations to be mathematics, theoretical physics… but even so, it gets so analytical that I try to disentangle the physical things that are going on behind it. This is true of Bullard’s paper. What I mainly did was make a model in which I’ could see that the general principle of a field influencing rotations of certain kinds of convection currents in such a way that the convection would regenerate the field, such that each part of the working of the model would correspond to some part of Bullard’s analysis. So I really didn’t invent anything there. I just tried to clarify. And in the process, I think, I did compare various approaches to this process of field regeneration. I took a fling at that earlier. Perhaps I ought to mention that, because Enrico Fermi was such a good friend, we got interested together in discussing in Chicago in the early fifties, the problem of the wandering of the earth’s axis of rotation. It’s just a modification of the rigid body rotation problem, extending it to a floppy body’s rotation. And how it was that slight asymmetries could change the body-fixed axis of rotation. It was just a little before plate tectonics or continental drift was fully accepted. Fermi and I discussed this.
When might this be, about?
This was just before Fermi’s death — ‘52, maybe. I published some remarks about it, after his death. Mentioning Fermi had brought it to mind again, but it had nothing to do with nuclei. It’s indicative of the breadth of his interests. My discussions of trying to unravel nuclear spectroscopy of the light nuclei — that’s something we didn’t get onto.
No. No, and I think we should.
The development grew out of discussions with Fermi and Maria Goeppert-Mayer. Maria acknowledges that her thoughts about introducing large spin-orbit coupling — which is the whole answer that got her Nobel Prize — grew out of discussions with Fermi. 1 had been always resisting introducing that large spin-orbit coupling, as I had always been trying to get away with small spin-orbit coupling such as is suggested by the Thomas precession. From those discussions, I got to examining more and more data about excited states of light nuclei. These are easiest to observe experimentally, the good resolution was possible there first. I think one of the things I had the most satisfaction in doing was seeing some sense in the excited states of that whole first row of the periodic table, and seeing that it was neither large spin-orbit coupling nor small spin-orbit coupling, but halfway between. That led me to get started some studies that others later developed into a big advance in nuclear physics, in understanding nuclear spectroscopy.
Yes. It was quite systematic. Which were the nuclei —?
— well, it was from helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen — all through that region there, and then a little beyond. And then that work was carried on much more systematically by Dieter Kurath who came to Argonne after doing degree work in nuclear theory with Maria Mayer. And then by others all over the world. They carried on the next step quite nicely by using computers more systematically. I was never very good at computer coding and later (inaudible). Well, that was one nice experience in the early days of Argonne. Another was — well, my intention in this was looking for regularities in data, and what it’s all about. 1 was intrigued by the nuclear rotation spectra of the even-even nuclei. Aage Bohr, with Rainwater, came out with the deformed droplet; the rotation having something to do with this being just a close analogue of molecular rotation spectra. It’s a rotation, an I (I+1) type of spectrum. The regularity was there, but the constant that you put in, showing how far the levels are apart, was just completely un-understood. This is the strange part of, about history of physics. Niels Bohr did a dissertation that had to do with the vibration of water droplets as they dripped from the faucet. Aage Bohr did his dissertation on the droplet model of the nucleus. Like his father.
That dissertation was more important. [laughter]
Well, I got in my two cents worth on that. I showed that this shouldn’t be considered just as a collective fluid. One should rather look at the behavior of the individual nucleons in the deformed environment, and total up their contributions to the angular momentum of quantum mechanics, and the interaction of the states. This led to an understanding of that particle-within-a-rotating-shell dynamics. Which was later carried on by many people. This cranking model, as it got to be called — I called it the cranked model, but Vicki Weisskopf called it cranking model and his name stuck. The cranking model was really a good basis for a much further calculation than I carried out. But I gave it a start. That was fun. There are a lot of other things, deviations to things like earth magnetism — they all seemed to be one way or another rotational problems. And now it’s windmills. Mentioning spin-orbit coupling — I gave a primitive explanation which held for a while, until people came to realize that there were many more complicated things going on in the nucleus. It’s now attributed mainly to a tensor term, in the nucleon-nucleon interaction, and effects of that tensor term on the mixture of states, in a simple representation. It really is only very roughly clear, why that should ever reduce again to, apparently, a single particle, a single nucleon term. There are various people who have worked on this problem. Essentially, what they’re doing is introducing spin-orbit coupling in the nucleon-nucleon interaction, then seeing its effect on motion of nucleons, in the nucleus. And I still come away with a feeling that the origin, even though there’s been much discussion of the origin of nuclear forces, there is some arbitrariness. It introduces relativity in a way to get out some rotational aspects of these nucleon-nucleon forces. And I can’t help having a residual suspicion that I’ve never been able to prove, that in that application of relativity to nucleon-nucleon forces, there is something of the same demands and limitations of relativity that have made themselves manifest in creating the Thomas precession in the simpler model. So there may be a grain of truth in looking to the Thomas precession, as I did, as the origin of nuclear spin-orbit coupling, but coming in through a much more difficult and erudite analysis, that hasn’t been carried out.
Yes. The prominent development during all this time was, meson theory, elementary particle physics.
Sure. The nuclear forces are attributed to mesons, and the mesons are exchanging between nucleons, and they carry spins, and they have accelerations — all of which must be compatible with relativity. Also, the Thomas precession comes from the fact that there is a particle being accelerated, and having a spin, which makes a spin-orbit coupling. And maybe, I think, after I get this wind-power foolishness over with, off my chest, and this book published, this is one of the problems I want to look at. More than trying to straighten out the details of physics, in my retirement, I intend mainly to explore and try to understand what other people have done, on a much broader spectrum. There’s a lot of physics that I haven’t had time to pay attention to, it’s so far away from my field. There have been wonderful modern things that have happened, everywhere, in physics and biology. And astronomy — oh gosh, there’s so much wonderful astronomy, astrophysics, that one should learn before he dies. After all, why do we do things? Why do we do science? Partly because it creates a wonderful feast of learning, for people to devour. But we spend too much time trying to cook the feast, and too little time trying to devour it. Maybe the end of life should be a time to devour some, just for fun!
Yes. Yes. Could I ask you one final impossible question?
All right, what?
You’ve been concerned with the disarmament issue for a long time. And we know it’s gone mostly in the direction of more and more armaments.
The armament race has gone on, with some limitations. At this point, from all your experience with this, do you see any systematic reason for that consistent movement always speeding the armaments race? If there is a systematic element working here, that blocks disarmament efforts, what is it? Is it something corrigible?
In physics, one of the most systematic things is momentum. It keeps on going. I said before, I’ve come to realize now, it’s very hard to get things started, the Price-Anderson Act, and so on — and it’s very hard to stop things. I think that we worked pretty hard at Los Alamos to get that thing started. And now it’s got such a lot of momentum — there’s so much vested interest. I think the difficulty is sort of epitomized by the size of the DOD, compared with the size of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Speaking of that reminds me that I’ve often wondered whether I accelerated at all the formation of that, when ten years before it was formed, I suggested that what we really needed in the government is an agency whose main business is understanding the possibilities in nuclear disarmament — an agency or national laboratory or something of the sort. I think that was an original suggestion, in those days. But ACDA has a budget of 10 to the minus third, is it — or somewhere below 10 to the minus third (10-3) of the budget of the DOD. And I think the corresponding is true in Russia. Once you get something started, it acquires a tremendous momentum and a tremendous number of people who are interested in seeing it go. And that has been the primary influence in both the governments of the great nuclear powers, between I think, in spite of the ideological differences, there’s a good deal of symmetry, in this kind of general interaction in making decisions. It’s peculiar — well, it’s wonderful, as long as it’s been mainly between these two powers, and three or four others on a much smaller scale, that the balance has been maintained. The balance of fear. The appreciation, on both sides, that they cannot in practice hope to wipe the other side from the earth and have the earth for itself. The appreciation that any attempt to do so would mean mutual destruction, has stabilized the thing, so we’ve gotten as far as we have. I just hope and pray that as we get — as there get to be more and more governments with nuclear weapons, the world will not be completely unstable. The nice thing now is that the lesser powers, so far, have had stable governments.
I hardly would have guessed that the stabilization of the deterrent, of massive retalization, would really have been effective.
I didn’t. I thought there might be nuclear war before this. It’s a wonder, with all the irrationality of mankind, that rationality has still prevailed. And the capability of starting a small nuclear war that can grow into a big one has not trickled down to the various temporary governments of South America, Africa, and so on, that have so little stability that irrational trouble could break out there so easily. As you look at the rationality or irrationality of various governments, it’s stayed in the hands of fairly rational governments — so far. The thing that worries me is that we can’t even count on these governments staying stable. The fact that it’s worked for 30 years doesn’t prove very much. What’s the half-life of something of which you only know that in one case — it’s at least thirty years? Afterthought (from letter dated May 10, 1977, 1:00 p.m.) “Where I replied to your final query about systematic trends, I failed to mention the main problem that is hard to stop: the population explosion. Possible insert: It’s hard to stop the arms race and nuclear proliferation but perhaps even more importantly it’s hard to stop the population explosion. It took some doing of science to start it — conquest of certain diseases, etc. — but seems to be beyond us without more from the behavior sciences to stop it. The combined nuclear and population momenta may be what dooms civilization: the latter creates pressures that may lead to nuclear war if the former is present where the pressure is felt. The main purpose of promoting wind-power, perhaps, is to do a bit towards slowing population growth in this roundabout way. The less developed world looks to us for example. They resist feeling the need to limit population growth because they expect us and our nuclear magic to continue to provide. They still retain the euphoria we once had about nuclear power. To see us restraining and doubting our magic by starting to depend in a big way on wind-power that is within the technical understanding and capability of them and their engineers would help debunk the expectation that magic science will provide and bring them to their senses about population growth. This sort of thing I argued mainly with Alvin Weinberg some years ago, but without the wind dynamos, under the rubric ‘Malthusian dilemma’.”
SATURDAY REVIEW 51, 11 (1968).