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Interview of Burton Jones by David DeVorkin on 1977 July 16, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4695
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Interview focuses on his college education at University of Chicago, and his graduate years at Yerkes; leaving school for the Peace Corps; return to Yerkes; work in astrometry with van Altena; interests in astrophysical applications of astrometric work; postdoctoral years at Lick; impressions of astronomical community's regard for astrometry and the rise of modern astrometry; research and living conditions at the Royal Observatory; 1973 Eclipse expedition in North Africa; return to Lick; impressions of astronomers, N.B. The interviewer knew Jones as a graduate student during his years at Yerkes circa 1966.
And what I would like to start out with is a brief biographical profile — where you were born, schools you went to, early influences, major influences on you that brought you into astronomy, that sort of thing.
I was born in Manistique, Michigan, October 28, 1942, went to Beloit, Wisconsin, in 1952, went to high school there; went to University of Chicago as an undergraduate, also as a graduate student.
When did you first get interested in astronomy?
Fifth grade or sixth grade.
What do you think got you interested?
Looking back now, I can't remember a specific incident that got me interested. I got interested at that time reading books from the library.
Do you think it was a teacher, maybe?
No, it wasn't a teacher. Really, I can't pinpoint, say, "This is the thing that got me interested." I always was interested in science.
What directed you into astronomy? What first turned you on?
Planets I guess. Space. Maybe it was the articles in COLLIERS MAGAZINE, by Werner von Braun, with the illustrations by Chesley Bonestell.
Interesting. Life on other planets, and science fiction and the whole bit. Later on I found the books by Fred Hoyle. I think they really got me seriously interested in 11th or 12th grade.
Yes. That would put you like around 1957-58? In high school?
In high school? No, 1959, 1960.
So can you pinpoint approximately when you decided on astronomy as a career?
Well, several times. And undecided several times. Whatever you're interested in you say, "That's what I want to do," in 5th or 6th grade, I said that. And then I sort of changed my mind. Probably my senior year in college is when I said, "This is really what I want to do for a career."
Did Sputnik have anything to do with your decision?
No, I don't think so. It might have, sort of indirectly. I mean, it wasn't, "there's Sputnik and the country needs scientists, I'm going to be a scientist." It might have been indirectly, because there was all kinds of support for science. It was very easy to go into science at that time because the money was there. The support for graduate studies, etc. And indirectly that may have had something to do with it.
How did you end up going to the University of Chicago?
That always struck me as a place that was more interested in education than sports, I guess, more than most other places in the country. Its reputation was a very intellectual place. And it was, I thought, after I got there.
Did you have a scholarship?
Yes, as an undergraduate.
How did you get that scholarship?
Well, you just apply to the University of Chicago, and generally they give scholarships to those that need scholarships. University scholarship.
Did you have any National Merit Support?
Not on this scholarship.
OK. Did you declare a major at University of Chicago?
Yes — physics.
What teachers did you have that were influential?
Well, there were teachers that were influential both ways, I guess. Zachariason was a really fantastic instructor, and Samuel Allison was also. Maybe they weren't influential — But they were very good instructors. I can't say that they Influenced me into going into astronomy or into physics, or not.
Did you have any courses from the Yerkes people?
Just S. Chandrasekhar. That was a physics course, that was joint physics and astronomy. I had quantum mechanics from him.
You took quantum from him?
What was your first impression of Chandrasekhar?
Rather formal. Very, very good instructor. But looked personally rather hard to approach. And I never did. I mean, I can't say I ever met him on a personal basis.
How many people were in the class?
Oh, 55, 60, on that order — I don't know.
Were they all physics majors or physics types?
Yes, they were all physics. It was a graduate course. There was probably 80 percent graduate physics students and 20 percent undergraduate physics students. And I had Chandra again as a graduate student, part of a course in cosmology.
During these years in Chicago did you ever go to the Planetarium?
No. Maybe once. I don't remember.
Did you have any external influences that might have aided your interest in astronomy?
I don't think so. I mean, my interest never really abated. Through college, I was still interested in astronomy. I never really gave it that much serious consideration as a career.
But were you aware of Grote Reber in the neighborhood? Reber was very close to where you lived in Beloit, wasn't he?
He was but I wasn't aware of it and I'm still not aware of it.
OK. That's the sort of thing that you always look for in interviews like this. You might have known him as a kid and had an interesting contact. What about Beloit College itself, did you ever have any contact with them?
Yes, as a graduate student I taught an undergraduate course there.
Right, so that was later.
That was later. Other than that, not really. Oh yes, there was, as a matter of fact. When I was in the 5th or 6th grade, we went up and looked through the Beloit College ten inch refractor they had there.
That's right. I'd like to know where that telescope is now.
It went to Dave Garroway.
Yes. Dave Garroway had it for a long time. Then he recently, within the last year, offered it for sale. I don't know if he sold it or not, but he had it for five or six years. As far as I know, after he purchased it, it was taken from Beloit and was never re-erected. I'm sure if you wrote him a letter he will tell you that, or maybe, something.
Not a bad idea. I imagine it was a Clark telescope.
Yes. It was a Clark telescope.
OK. Do you think there was anything in your family environment that stimulated you to go into science? What was your father's background?
Well, my father's father was in furniture manufacturing. My father worked on woodworking machinery.
When you were ready to graduate from University of Chicago, did you consider a number of different colleges for graduate training?
Which ones were they?
University of Wisconsin, University of Chicago, University of Arizona — I guess that was it.
Did you follow through with applications to all of them?
I followed through with an application to the University of Wisconsin and the University of Chicago.
What influenced your choice finally for Chicago?
I wasn't accepted by Wisconsin.
That's interesting. Do you know why?
How were your grades through Chicago?
Oh, fair, B, middle B average.
Did you state a preference for the type of astronomy you wanted to go into?
But you were accepted by Chicago.
And who were you accepted by do you know? For what reasons?
I don't really know. I had fairly good grades, and great scores. I had fairly good B average.
Then you got to graduate training. Was all of this training at Yerkes?
And so you moved to Yerkes in what year?
In 1965, fall of '65.
Fall of '65. OK. And what were the influences upon you there? I mean, when did you start looking at a specialization, and what specializations were interesting to you?
Well, when I went there I had sort of a vague interest in stellar interiors. After I got there, my interest ran more to stellar — pre-Main Sequence stellar evolution, and star formation, and things like that. But those interests surely weren't overwhelming.
So you were still really looking around.
I was still really looking around, right through my pre-lims.
Your pre-lims were about two years after you entered?
Well, they were two years minus three months. In other words, they were in the spring of my second year. Or rather, the early sunner of my second year.
OK. Had you considered observational as opposed to theoretical research?
Yes, it was observational. I don't think I ever really considered theoretical work.
Did you have consultations with any of the faculty? Were they influential in any way?
I don't think I ever had formal consultations. Yerkes is a very Informal place, you know, and it was very easy to talk to any of the faculty members. There was lots of personal direction.
Whom did you talk to?
Oh, W. Hiltner, N. Limber, C.R. O'Dell.
Did you talk to W.W. Morgan at all?
Not really, no. He was rather aloof. He's an aloof man.
He didn't talk to students unless they were pretty close to his interests?
He taught every couple of years. He taught a course in his own specialization. Essentially he didn't teach any of the regular graduate courses. He gave me the impression of being aloof. I don't think he really was. I didn't make any great effort to approach him. Perhaps if I had, he wouldn't have been aloof.
Interesting. Well, who was the person that you talked to the most, in your first three years ee as far as talking about what you'd be doing in the future is concerned?
Was there a reason for that? Was he just the most accessible or what?
He was probably the most accessible. The most accessible observational astronomer, anyway. Limber was very very easy to talk to. But his interests were purely theoretical.
Yes. Right. He recently died.
Yes, I know. It was really a shock to me.
He was out jogging?
Jogging, and he had a heart attack.
How did you come to work with W. van Altena?
Well, it's a long story. Originally I started working with O'Dell, on a rather vague and illedefined project, on T. Tauri Stars. I made a couple of observational trips to McDonald Observatory. I was really drifting for a year or so not really knowing and I got rather disgusted.
Was this before or after I was around?
This was after you were around (1967). And also, there were personal reasons. I was sort of disgusted with Yerkes and some of the staff at Yerkes, and with astronomy in general. So I quit, after working with O'Dell for a year, and went into the Peace Corps.
That's right. Were you successful in getting into the Peace Corps?
I was successful in getting into the training program. That was out here in San Jose. But I was not successful in passing the training program, and going on — for personal reasons.
What were they?
Well — personal — well, they were for using marijuana. The Peace Corps didn't like that at that time, I guess.
How did they find out?
I don't know. Someone told then, obviously. They had a full FBI background check on me.
I see. Very strange.
OK. So at the end of the summer, then, I was out of the Peace Corps. I was out of graduate school. And the draft was hanging heavy over my head at that time. It was the height of the Vietnam War. And so I went back and reapplied. (Actually) I went back to Yerkes, simply to ask for a job, and I talked to O'Dell and he said, "Why don't you come back to graduate school?" At that time, that was the easiest course open to me, so that's what I did. With probably a much more cynical attitude at that time than when I entered graduate school. I just wanted to get my degree and get out. And that's how I happened to look for something that offered a very well-defined, fairly easy project — a project I knew I could do in a short time and get my degree. And essentially, that's how I came to work for van Altena.
Did he know that you had this attitude? Van Altena?
I don't know. Probably. I. don't think I made any secret of it. He was a bit hesitant, and he made sure that I knew what I was doing, and that the project could be done. Yes, I'd say he was a little bit hesitant when I approached him to do it.
Was he surprised that you approached him?
I don't know. I don't think so.
What about O'Dell? Did O'Dell expect you to go back and work with him?
O'Dell expected me to come back and work with him.
And what was O'Dell's reaction when you didn't?
He was a little bit angry, I think. But he didn't say anything.
Wasn't it about that time that O'Dell was planning to leave anyway.
No. He was planning to leave much later for the Large Space Telescope Project.
OK. Because I was thinking in terms of the possibility that you knew that he wasn't going to be stable there.
Well, you knew you could get along pretty well with van Altena.
Yes. He's a very easy guy to get along with.
And your project?
My thesis project then was Internal Motions in the Pleiades, using Yerkes Observatory 40-inch refractor plates, with a very long baseline.
And that was simply a project that was outstanding at the time, and that could be done.
It could be done. Yes. It had been done previously by some people, but not going as faint as I could now go and probably not with the accuracy one could get with the 40-inch plates. In fact, we got the accuracy that we thought we could get. I did measure internal motions. It was fairly easy.
You pretty much decided that was a stable system? From the internal motions?
Well, two things came out of the project. One, of course, was that you could use the Virial Theorem to get a mass, which essentially agreed with the mass that you could see in the form of stars and the assumed mass of the fainter stars. The other thing was that one found that the stars on the outside of the cluster were moving in essentially radial orbits, in very highly eccentric orbits.
How did you feel about it once you had a basically successful thesis? Did you start feeling a little better about being in astronomy?
No. I didn't, really. I don't really know. Maybe by the time I finished my thesis project — I didn't have any plans at that time to leave astronomy. But I certainly wasn't, completely satisfied. If anyone asked me at that time, "Do you plan on making astronomy your career and stay in it the rest of your life?" I would have said, "I don't really know," I was helped because I got a post-doc fellowship at Lick after that.
Who got that post-doc for you?
Van Altena got it for me.
Was he pretty directed in getting you this sort of support for you?
Yes, he was. It was a direct result of his letter writing and personal contacts.
Did he consult with you before he paved the way?
Yes, Sort of and sort of not, I sort of pressed him on the point.
Pressed him in what way? You wanted to come?
No, I asked him maybe nine months before my thesis was done, about writing letters and he said, "Don't worry, I'll take care of it" And I said, "How are you going to take care of it? Where? Who are you going to write to?" And he mentioned a couple of places.
How did you feel about coming out to Lick?
Oh, I was overjoyed, I was here to measure my plates. I really like Santa Cruz and I like Lick. I was very happy to be here.
What about the people you'd be working with? Stan Vasilevskis was still active?
He was still active.
And Arnold Klemola was here by then?
Klemola was here working under Vasilevskis,yes, that's right.
So then you came directly out here without any incidents or breaks?
Yes, other than three or four days.
When you got here, what were the contrasts? What did you find, as to conditions for research and what youd be doing? What kind of an impression did they make upon you?
Well, simply in the astronomy community itself, there were three or four people here doing astrometry at the time, whereas at Yerkes, there's only one. There are a lot more people doing astrometric problems, which most astronomers apparently aren't that interested in, at least in the technical aspects.
Did that bother you one way or the other?
Not really. Its very useful to have someone to talk to about your work, about these things.
What kind of stuff do you find it useful to talk about?
Overlap solutions, for proper motion reductions and errors in the AGK 3 and these kinds of problems.
So it's purely technical stuff, Youre not talking in terms of applications.
Do you have interest in applications yourself?
Yes, I always have. In fact, I sort of entered astrometry from the astrophysical side, rather than the other way, and it was purely accident that I fell into astrometry. It's really the applications that I found most interesting. And you find a lot of astronomers are interested in the applications, interested in knowing which stars are members of a cluster, and the motions of particular stars. They're not really interested in how you arrive at which stars are members, or how you get the motions, or what difficulties you have.
Did you have contact with astrometers of the older school?
Yes. Stan, I think. Stan Vasilevskis.
You consider him of the older school.
Well, he's sort of a bridge, I guess. He was certainly brought up in the old school, but he's very very forward looking. He's certainly done very much, I think, to modernize astrometry, but basically I think he's a member of the old school. He's not really that interested in the astrophysical applications. He's interested, but he hasn't done that much in the astrophysical. He's certainly interested in having other people do the astrophysical applications. And I think, he's certainly always steered his students in that direction. He has done more than any person around about instigating modern implementation and programs.
Do you think that was because of facilities here, or something in his own upbringing, what?
I know very little about his upbringing. Essentially, he created the facilities here, so, as a matter of fact, he was responsible for the facilities.
The Carnegie Astrograph was here.
The Carnegie Astrograph was here, and the proper motion program had already been started, right. But the measuring engine is a direct result of his work.
Discussing your contact with more astrometers, I guess some of them were graduate students — was Hanson here at that time?
Hanson was here. Kyle Cudworth was here. Carl Kamper was also here on a post-doc. Arnold was here, and I was here. That's probably the largest number of astrometers together anywhere in the United States. except possibly the Naval Observatory? Though the Naval Observatory has fundamental astrometers.
How did you find everybody else at Lick accepting the demands and requirements and necessities of astrometry, and their attitude toward the need for further astrometric work and continued astrometric support? In general?
In general, I think there's a high level of support for astrometry. I think it's well supported by the other staff. Not supported, but approved, perhaps.
But, you know, in the recent past, there have been some inklings of lack of support, At a recent IAU meeting, a number of people felt, down in Australia, I believe it was, worried enough to try to get up some sort of a declaration, to indicate that astrometry needed more recognition, Are you aware of that?
You mean astrometry in general, not at Lick?
Yes, in general. Jones; Yes. Perhaps a scarcity, astrometers say it. I don't know if it's really necessary or not, I think astrometry at the present time has, limited applications to astronomy in general. I don't really know if it has to be supported that much.
Do you feel that the Lick Project pretty much will satisfy most needs? As far as the "fundamental frame"?
Well, no, That's something I was going to talk about later. No, it certainly won't, There are major problems in the Lick program.
What are they?
Well, when the Lick Program was designed, it was thought that everything was going to be done purely differentially. And there would be no major differences in the telescope between first and second epoch. That hasn't been the case. We're running into real problems. Very small problems, errors of small magnitude but they are systematic, between the two epochs.
Has it anything to do with the fact that the blue lens shifts in position. Or is it something else?
It possibly does, It's certainly something to do with that, The lens was taken out between the two epochs and put back in, so there is definitely a difference in the lens, between the first and second epochs.
What about the alignment of the pier?
That's no problem, The alignment is minor. The other problem when one is trying to define the fundamental frame, is that the correction for precession has to be made via the AGK 3, proper motions, which is hopeless. They're just shot through with systematic errors. Much much larger than the Lick systematic errors until someone else gets proper motions on a fundamental system for our stars there is no hope of doing anything with corrections for precession.
So Stan's hoping to be able to relate this to Fundamental Meridian work, pretty much?
Yes. For the present, I don't think it's going to be possible.
Yes. That's very important.
Well, how do you think that you will eventually be able to tie in to a fundamental frame?
If people deem it's important that we do so and if people deem it's possible that it can be done, of course, they can always get new proper motions on a fundamental system.
Would this actually be a Meridian Circle job?
It would be partly. It could be a Meridian Circle job. Or, it could be — but that's a big project — photographic, like the AGK 3, but making sure you don't have the systematic errors that the AGK 3 has. The other side of the coin is: is it really that important? Does anyone really care? Certainly you can use proper motions like ours to determine important astrophysical things — galactic rotation, and solar motion. You can use it to determine, for example, secular parallaxis for R.R. Lyrae stars, or for any group of stars. Does anyone really care that we really tie into it? Or that the ft 4 or FK 3, ties into us?
So you're saying, really, do we need an astronometrical frame for geodosy? Or for orienting the Earth in space exactly?
I mean, your frame is independent of the Earth.
My frame is completely independent of it, right.
Right. And you don't see any great needs any more for an astrometric fundamental frame?
I didn't say I didn't see any needs, I said, I seriously question the needs.
Who would I talk to who would see the need? I mean, who would disagree with this and say there's a very evident need?
H. Eichorn probably would disagree with that.
Eichorn feels that we should have a fundamental frame?
I don't know, I can't speak for Eichorn. You know, he may very well. Any of the Meridian Circle people would give another kind of opinion.
Since you mentioned Eichorn, do you use any of his techniques for plate overlap?
No, We don't, Probably one of the reasons is that our overlap is very very small, out on the edges of the plates, where our positions are probably shot through with systematic errors.
You do have a one degree overlap, don't you?
It depends on the declination zone, NorthSouth, we have a degree or slightly less than a degree. And the other reason is that it takes a lot of computer time.
And you've got such an enormous amount of data.
What computer do you hook up to, for the actual reductions?
IBM 360-40. Its a small computer. It certainly could be done, It just requires the money and someone to write the program.
Right, There's nothing inheriently wrong with his multivariate techniques.
I don't think so. I've used them for cluster work.
But you don't think they're really necessary here?
Well, they're applicable, and they even may be necessary, It's not my decision to make, whether or not we use them, basically, This is Klemola's decision, He was a student of Stan's, He was at Yale for a while, The Southern Hemisphere station.
Right. Well, let's get back to you, When you got here, what were your impressions about continuing on in astronomy here? And what were your direct duties?
I came here as a post-doc. I had essentially free rein to do whatever research I wanted to do, during this position.
Was it a one year postdoc?
It was one year, extendable to two years.
So what did you do?
While I was here, I used 36inch plates and Yerkes plates to measure the internal motions in Praesepe In collaboration with van Altena. I did proper motion studies and membership studies on two open clusters, and I also used astrograph plates and 48-inch Schmidt plates to measure proper motions of faint stars in the Pleiades, to get membership estimates for faint stars.
You were trying to get as faint as you could, I imagine.
As faint as we could, Yes, Down to about 17th, which, given the Pleiades modulus, was about 12th absolute magnitude, Pretty darned faint, We were down to the red dwarfs, literally. We were down into M2, M3, M4.
How did you choose these projects, as far as the membership studies go? Was it just in terms of plate material that was available?
Well, after doing the Pleiades I wanted to do another cluster for internal motion, Praesepe was the only other cluster for which plate material was available, That determined that project, The two projects with van Altena were essentially plate material projects, and they didn't take very much of my time, They were sort of projects to do in your spare time, What I really was interested in was the Pleiades project, for a couple of reasons. One was, after doing internal motions, I was interested in the Pleiades, as a cluster, The other one was, there was an outstanding problem there, in that one predicts that the faint Pleiades stars should still be in pre-Main Sequence contraction. And in fact, if you looked at the photometry for what people thought were Pleiades members, they didn't show these stars lying above the Main Sequence, but they showed a horrendous spread in these faint stars, and it was due to inclusion of lots of non-members, and also due to poor photographic photometry.
When you cleaned it up, what did you see?
When I cleaned it up, it turned out that these faint Pleiades stars lay below the Main Sequence, not above the Main Sequence.
Is there a metal problem there?
My own explanation was that there were dust-shells around these stars.
Which put them below, The evidence was not overwhelming, that that was the case. There were some infra-red observations made that showed that these stars had slight infra-red excesses.
Essentially, when I finished the project, I had no access to any telescopes to do anything further on it, and I sort of dropped it at that stage — After publishing the membership estimates and H-R diagrams.
What were they?
Australia and to Greenwich and to Cerro Tololo and Kitt Peak.
This was when you were still in astrometric work?
Definitely still in astrometric work.
Was Kitt Peak at all interested in that?
Not really. They wrote me a very nice letter, but essentially saying, "No, we're not interested."
Who was it at that time that wrote you the letter?
It was Art Hoag.
Well, how did you end up at Greenwich?
Greenwich said, "Yes, we would like to have you, and we will pay you." Awfully nice. I may have gone to Greenwich anyway, even if Kitt Peak had accepted me. It was nice to get out of the country for a couple of years.
Did you have letters of recommendation from van Altena?
Yes, from both Stan and van Altena.
Who did you write to, at Greenwich, C.A. Nurray?
OK, so you got to Greenwich. How did you find Greenwich?
Oh, a great place — very quiet, very peaceful, not much astronomical activity going on — but a very pleasant place. It's out in the country, in Sussex, very near the coast, a offices in an old 14th century castle, hedge- rows and nice local pub. It's typical English country, the American stereotype of the typical English country scene.
Right. Did you go there on an open appointment?
No, it was a three year appointment.
How did you start to feel about your own life? You know, you were still hopping from one observatory to another, and you're getting a little older. Did you ever start thinking about stability?
Not at that time. No. I didn't really know. I wasn't, you know, deep down inside, really sure if I wanted to stay in astronomy for the rest of my life.
How would you continue to study this?
Well, it would have meant essentially going into doing infra-red obeservations. Trying to get proper motions probably for some fainter stars, doing energy distributions and that sort of thing.
And then comparing the energy distributions to models of dust envelopes?
Yes, and trying to get bolometric magnitudes and see where the stars really are, on a log Te — bolometric magnitude diagram.
Did you have enough plate material to try to see if any of these were variable in brightness?
That's something I had to do in England. Photographic. Here we Just didn't have enough plates.
You went to England after one or two years?
After two years.
So let's finish up with Lick first. When did you decide to take the second year, almost immediately?
Almost immediately. I was offered the two years. I took it for two years.
And how did you feel about things as time progressed? Did you start feeling better about working here, or worse or what?
Well, we've been talking about fairly professional things. Personally, you know, I Just love Santa Cruz. It's a beautiful spot. I'm very very happy living here. I was rather contented living here at that time. Being contented personally, I was contented with my Job. Also, I was into some interesting things, I thought, as interesting things go.
Both personally and professionally you were satisfied?
Did you try to maintain a position here?
No. I mean, there were no openings at that time. Stan's Job would be over in a few years. Stan talked to me about it and told me that it would be over. He said, you know, "If you want to apply, your application will certainly be considered."
So how did you end up going to Greenwich?
After two years here, I had no further Job. So I wrote letters to several places.
What kinds of alternatives were you thinking about?
Nothing, really. I mean, I was not thinking of another career.
Would you have preferred say some 9 to 5 job in computer programming or teaching some place or what?
I doubt it, I don't know. What I'd like to do is not have any job at all, I guess.
Was it any concern to you how you would have managed yourself at that time?
Yes, I suppose it was, That's probably why I was still in astronomy.
OK. Well, what kinds of experiences did you have at Greenwich? I know you ended up going all around the world.
Not quite all the way around the world. Greenwich is a very quiet, very pleasant place. I think you could spend your life at Greenwich and not do anything scientific and still get your paycheck every month.
Was it really a lot looser than the American observatories?
Yes, It certainly was not "publish or perish." It was, "get accepted, and you've got a job for life." Also, it's a very large place. It has a huge number of employees with a very small number of astronomers, I think the place closest to it here is the Naval Observatory, because there's the Nautical Almanac office there, and there's the Time Service there, and a very small number of astronomers really doing research,
Who was doing research?
In astrometry when I came, they had a very good group. Clube was there, and Murray was there, And David Thomas was doing that, plus, there were lots and lots of assistants.
Were these assistants well trained?
Some of them were, they were trained to do what they did, Some of them were simply essentially card punchers. Some of them were fairly highly skilled platemeasurers. Things like that.
Did you find, not the platemeasurers but the staff, Murray, Clube, Thomas, as interested as you were in applying astrometric techniques to astrophysical problems?
Murray certainly was. Clube certainly was, Clube struck me as an exceptionally brilliant guy, Certainly very interested in making applications. He left, however, about three weeks after I arrived. So, there wasn't that much contact. Since I think I've heard he's gone out of astrometry and he's now in general relativity.
That's quite a jump.
It's not, actually, not really. He was a very very highly skilled mathematician. Murray also was, but he struck me as rather a flighty guy who jumps from project to project, never really completing any one.
Well, Murray has certainly done a lot of cluster.
Not lots. One.
One? Is that all?
Yes. As far as I'm aware, he's just done that one. He did a very good job. You know. He's also a very influential guy, very very highly skilled.
Well, were you happy working at Greenwich for those years?
Didn't you start to get lonely or anything? It was a lonely place.
Yes. I did. I got homesick for the United States, I think, more than anything, after six or seven months.
What about social life? I mean, did you have much of a social life here at Lick your first two years?
Not a lot, but some.
Enough to satisfy you?
Oh yes, enough to satisfy me. I have close friends here. At Greenwich— no. I never really felt I fit in with the English. When I was there, I lived with a family, in the country. They were exceptionally nice people. They had a huge garden and all. I lived there as essentially one of the family for 2 1/2 years.
Did you do a lot of traveling?
Yes. A fair amount.
Other observatories, or did you stay away?
No, I stayed way. Oh, I went to Edinburgh Observatory and I went to Athens and Paris and all the usual places that Americans in Europe go, I guess.
How did you end up going on that eclipse expedition?
That was serendipity, I guess. The University of Texas was trying to mount any expedition for the 1973 solar eclipse. This is while I was at Greenwich, And they were scrounging around for sources of money, and they found out that they could get money from NATO. But to get money from NATO, they had to have an international expedition. So they went to Europe, looking for someone to go along with them, so they could have an international expedition, and get money from NATO. That's essentially how I got involved.
So they took an American, at Greenwich.
And that still made them qualified.
I mean, were you interested in doing an astrometric study?
I was interested in going to North Africa, Essentially.
You still had pretty ambivalent feelings about astronomy and every thing. It was just a good experience.
Yes, And it was personally a perfectly fascinating experience.
How did the whole expedition work? Was it sort of a bootstrap thing?
No, Well, eventually Texas got money from National Science Foundation, so it was a fairly wellfunded expedition. I had very little to do with the preparation. It was done at Texas, The telescope was assembled there, and they did a fairly good job.
Something went wrong, though, during the expedition that you had to fix, Or something?
Well, you know, people have lots of things people have to fix, Not any one particular thing.
So there was no major problem that occurred during the expedition?
There were major problems, but they weren't apparent at the time, Its a very difficult scientific experiment.
What were they trying to do?
They were trying to measure the Einstein light shift at the edge of the sun, Very very difficult, and had never really been done satisfactorily before, It wasn't done satisfactorily at that eclipse, either, I doubt very much if there's going to be another funded expedition to do it.
Were you responsible for predicting which stars would be examined?
No, All the preparations were made at Texas, including where the sun would be and stuff. Three of us went there, about six weeks before the eclipse, and at that time, there was already a support group from the National Center for Atmospheric Research providing the backup facilities. NCAR. While we were there, we put up the telescope and put up the buildings. Bryce DeWitt was the prime mover behind the whole thing.
Considering that this was such a longstanding technical problem, and granted there a lot of technical hassles with being able to get good star images close to the sun, what kind of assurances did they try to make that this expedition was going to work better than previous ones?
Well, they were very concerned with thermal stability, so therefore the telescope was insulated. Great care was taken to keep it at constant temperature, at the predicted temperature of the eclipse time, Other than that, there was no real major difference from previous eclipse expeditions.
Did you think this expedition itself was warranted?
I can only speak in retrospect. At the time, I wasn't that familiar with the problem. It was only afterwards that I became involved with the reductions, and looked back at problems other people had. Not really. I don't think the experiment is impossible, but they needed much more lead time to get their equipment ready. They needed much more money. I think its a doable experiment, but it requires lots of money and it requires a very long lead time, because everything should be checked, in the States, be fore you ever take it overseas to try and do the experiment, And it's easy to check by means of night observations, And that was not done, because we didn't have enough time to do it.
That's an interesting thought, How was the organization? Did every thing work smoothly? Did you get along with everybody else?
Oh, yes, It was very pleasant. Everyone got along very well.
No trouble with the locals?
No, We were in Mauritania. No, I got along fabulously with the locals.
How much more time at Greenwich did you have, when you went on this expedition?
Lets see the expedition was in the spring of '73. at the time of the expedition, I had two years left at Greenwich, on my fellowship.
OK, we're back after a pause, and we finished with the Mauritania eclipse and you're back at Greenwich, but I want to get on to your interests and work, and how various opinions about the work in astronomy changed, beyond Greenwich, Was there anything in the last two years of your Greenwich work?
Well, I didnt stay there for the last year.
You didn't stay?
No, Greenwich is sort of a dead place. I mean, I was losing interest in astronomy and there was really nothing going on that was very interesting, I'd say. I went back to Africa that fall, to take followup plates of the eclipse, and then the University of Texas wanted me to come and do the reductions, so that's what I did, I left a year early, from Greenwich, and spent six months at Texas, and then came back to Lick.
Well, how did you get back to Lick? And was there any way that you might have stayed at Texas?
No way I could have stayed at Texas, I mean, maybe there was, if I'd worked harder to find it, but I didn't really want to stay at Texas. In any event, when I went to Texas, I already knew I had the job at Lick.
- OK, how did that come about?
Advertisement for the position. Stan Vasilevskis was retiring. Arnold was taking over for Stan, which means that Arnolds position was open, so they advertised for it. I was informed informally that if I applied for the job, essentially it was mine for the asking.
Who informed you?
So you maintained pretty close contact with him.
Yes, Not terribly close, but fairly constant.
How did you feel about it? Were you happy to go back to Lick?
Well, I applied for the job. And then I withdrew my application. I had really decided, this time, I was going to quit astronomy.
What precipitated that decision?
Basically I guess I just don't like associating with astronomers.
Which ones? Any in particular?
I dont want to name names. There are very few that I really admire, and I'll talk about them. I'll tell you those, rather than the ones I don't, George Herbig, Stan Vasilevskis,Bill van Altena, a few others. But most of them, I find, are really just too wrapped up in their jobs, too few outside interests, And that probably reflects me more than them, But in any event, that, and probably for various other reasons.
Well, what about the general temper of the times?
This was 1974.
Things were pretty tough then.
Oh, sort of. But the Vietnamese War was pretty well run down. Student protest was essentially over on the campuses at that time.
These things affected you, when they were?
Yes. Yes, very much.
Do you think it affected science, the science that was done by many of the people that you associated with in astronomy?
No. I don't think so.
There were a lot of people who were just totally dissociated from it?
I don't think it affected my science either, for that matter. I don't think I devoted any less time to science because of it.
But you left and came back, left and came back.
That didn't affect things too much.
Not really. I don't want to give you the impression that I withdrew bee cause of student protest. I mean, the reasons I left were purely personal and really diseassociated from that.
OK. Was it, as you said, the fact that you didn't want to associate with astronomers?
Well, probably my association with them. I did not have a very satise factory interaction with most astronomers. I didn't then and still don't find very much satisfaction.
Well, what is it? What are you looking for?
I guess I'm looking for a certain sense of irony in people, that I find lacking in most astronomers.
Well, Herbig is a pretty wry person.
Yes. I like George. But the others here Just don't have that — that's my impression of them. As I said, that probably reflects more on me than it does on them.
Well, you withdrew the application. What happened then?
Well, Stan called and asked, "why." We talked about it for a while. I said yes, it's withdrawn. Then he called back a few days later, said the search ccommittee had met, and would I reconsider?
And you did?
And I did. Yes. You know, my ego likes stroking, like anybody else's, I guess. I mean, you feel good, to have someone call back and say, "Here you are, you're really needed, won't you come?"
So you took it.
So I took it. Here I am.
But then when you got here, were there any other changes of opinion?
About astronomy, about working here, about what you'll be doing in the future.
Right now I'm very uncertain what I'm going to be doing in the future. I like it here. I like Santa Cruz very much. I like California very much. I like the mountains. I like the ocean. I don't have any plans to leave.
About astronomy in general, no. I have the same feelings toward the astronomers.
But it's quite tolerable the way it is.
It's tolerable to me the way it is, yes.
Maybe we'll get back to you in a few years, and see how you're feeling.
And maybe not. Maybe I won't be an astronomer, in a few years.
Well, if you aren't, then we definitely will.
OK, fine, yes.