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Interview of Ivan King by David DeVorkin on 1977 July 18, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4706-1
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Emphasis of interview — on King’s life and career through his graduate study at Harvard. Also, discussions on faculty positions at Illinois and Berkeley, scientific involvements — committee memberships, Velikovsky and Yale Symposium (1977), and recent questions on cosmology Arp’s work, populations, etc. Major sections on his early life in Far Rockaway, N.Y. and schooling at Woodmere Academy — family background and interests; Undergraduate study at Hamilton College (1943-46) — development of astronomy interest; Graduate study at Harvard (1946-52) — research and scientific interests; Work at Boyden station — photometer equipment; Work for Defense Dept. (1954-56) — computer work.
I know that you were born in Far Rockaway, N.Y., Dr. King, in 1927?
But I don’t know anything else about your family origins, the occupation of your father and your mother, your early home life and school years. If you could give me an introduction?
Neither of my parents went past 8th grade in school. My father is an artisan. He’s an upholsterer. He’s still active, because he likes his work. It seems to me that he interested me in math and science, although he basically doesn’t know much about them. My mother was always interested in the other side of things, in language music and literature, although again, she never had much formal education. I never picked up the music from her, unfortunately. She’s got an almost perfect musical sense which I never acquired. So, ma sense, I inherit my intellectual background from both sides, even though there was no formal education there. My father came to this country from Britain, where he was brought up. I’ve met many of his family, although he was the only one on this side of the ocean, and somehow they all seem to be in business. There are few professionals, doctors, but practically all business people in his family. My mother’s family is more intellectually inclined. She was born in Poland, but came to this country at the age of 1 or 2. In particular one of her brothers is a PhD., MD, psychoanalyst.
In the United States?
Yes, in New York. I’d say that practically everybody of my generation has been to college, and usually to professional school besides, on my mother’s side of the family.
OK, let’s get some names, your father and mother?
My father’s name is Myram, and my mother Anne Franzblau.
Did you have much contact with this maternal uncle?
Yes. He always looked out for my interests and was very much interested in me. Also, I guess I was six years old or so before he had any children of his own, so he had a sort of a special interest in me, and we’ve kept in some contact ever since.
You say he was somewhat of an influence, as well as your parents, on your own life.
Not really a direct intellectual influence. The really important thing that did happen in my childhood, though, was (and I think I’m probably going to put some confidentiality on this area) that my mother recognized that I was unusually bright, and took me into some places in New York for psychological testing, and somehow, the newspapers got wind of it. I think it is literally true that I was the first of those kids that got written up in the newspapers and for a while it became a craze. It ended up with radio programs like the Quiz Kids, which fortunately I was always protected from.
By your parents.
Yes. But what did happen was that some of these people — there was one at Columbia and another one at N.Y.U., and I really don’t remember who they were — arranged to get me sent to a private school, which my parents couldn’t have afforded. So I got a very good primary and secondary school education at Woodmere Academy in Woodmere, New York. It’s on Long Island.
Was this all of your grade school?
This all happened, I think, when I was 7 years old, so I didn’t get in there till 3rd grade, so I must have made the school transfer a year or two later.
What was it that caused your mother to take you for this testing in the first place?
I don’t know.
Do you recall your early experiences in school?
I do know that I was able to read when I was 4. But the way my mother tells it, she got tired of reading to me, and she said, “Look, this is a, this is b,” and so on. I do have a memory that I was actually reading newspapers at the age of 4 or 5. Funny how you have visual memories, but I can remember when the Japanese took over Manchuria, which was in 1931. It could have been some retrospective of course, but I can remember seeing a map of Manchuria superimposed on the Midwestern U.S. to show how big it was.
Could there have been something about that event, or events around that time, that caused you to remember that? Were your parents concerned about that?
No. I don’t know that they were particularly concerned, but they realized that I was unusual, and they wanted to do something for me.
What about mathematics?
No. In fact, I’ve never been particularly outstanding in math. I was not equally good in all school subjects. Through secondary school, I was sometimes not the first in the class in history, and sometimes not in English.
This is Woodmere?
Yes. But I was the first in all the other courses.
Who were your teachers at Woodmere that you feel were influential, especially in the sciences?
I wouldn’t say that they were influential teachers. They were good teachers. But there wasn’t anyone really influential. I got interested in astronomy. I remember, one day my father started telling me something about the planets, maybe just naming them. I mean, he’d never known much astronomy. I was about seven years old, and I got terribly interested in it, and started taking books out of the local library and reading, and got very interested in learning the constellations. I had a lot of fun that first year as the successive constellations came around in the different months, and I could get to see them and identify them. But I confined it all to reading. My father got me a little telescope, just a mariner’s type telescope.
Yes. Just an inch and a half diameter. I don’t think it magnified more than 12 times. You can’t see the rings of Saturn with it. You can see, just like Galileo, that Saturn “looks funny.” And I never had any great desire to build myself a telescope. I was naive in a lot of ways. I didn’t know these things existed, that is, like amateur telescope makers’ groups. Also, New York’s a big city, and we were way out on the edge of town. A trip into New York meant getting on the train for an hour, and it was something of an event. So I didn’t get connected with the people at the Hayden Planetarium, or anything like that.
Was going to ask you if you’d gone to Planetarium programs.
I did go to Planetarium programs when I was a kid. If I got to go into the city with my mother, she’d take me there. She knew I was interested. But I never got affiliated with any groups. I never met anyone there. I was just a member of the public who came in. And I read everything I could get hold of, on astronomy, in the local library. I was really enchanted by those Eddington and Jeans books that were popular in those days.
Would this be mid-thirties, late thirties, by the time you were 10 or 12, that you were reading these books?
Yes, mid to late thirties. I was seven when I got interested in it. I feel fairly sure that it was when I was seven in 1934. Yes, that’s right, because I did not see Nova Herculis, because I hadn’t learned the constellations quite soon enough. I missed it by a month or two. And that was the summer of ‘34. I’d quite forgotten. That’s how I date it.
That’s very interesting. You certainly were aware then, by that time, as you’ve already indicated that there were seasonal changes in the constellations.
Oh, yes, I was in process of learning the constellations at that time.
And as soon as you’d learned the constellations, you were aware of the seasonal change.
Oh, sure. That’s not very sophisticated. When you learn the constellations, you learn about seasons, sure.
But then again, you were six or seven years old.
Yes. And I guess I should mention for your records, and again I’d like to keep this somewhat on the confidential side. The people at, I think, a N.Y.U. Center for Gifted Children, gave me an IQ test, and I came out 196. Which is pretty high? I gather it’s sufficiently off scale that a number like that is not terribly significant, but that was the thing that hit the newspapers with a splash.
Still though, to the degree that it’s a recorded fact, and to the degree that these things are understood, there is no great reason, other than your personal feelings, why information like this should be confidential. There doesn’t seem to be any reason but certainly it’s your decision. In the family, did you have brothers and sisters?
You were an only child. Was there a reason for this?
I don’t know. I was going to blame it on the Depression. Yes, when I was two years old, things really went to hell. That may have had something to do with it. I never really questioned my parents about it. But families were small, then.
Did the Depression affect your father?
Yes. He was never totally without employment, but we got to a pretty low economic level. He liked to work for himself, but the worst year we had, we were living in a couple of rooms in the back of his shop. But we were never destitute.
You were living at home during your years at Woodmere?
Oh yes. It was a day school.
Was the school very far from home?
It was seven miles from where we first lived but an easy 20 minute trip on the Long Island Railroad. This was in Arverne in Rockaway. And then, later we moved to Far Rockaway, which is about half the distance to Woodmere.
Your experiences at Woodmere, which I would imagine was a prep school basically?
How would you classify or describe your experiences with the other children? Were you aware of their economic status? That it was different from yours?
Oh yes, it was quite clear that they were all quite rich, and I was poor. But it was a small school, and they were basically nice kids, and I got along quite well with them. There was never any great problem. Because I lived far away, the social question of “What are you doing after school?” didn’t come up, and I think that probably protected me from being exposed to the economic differences so closely. But later on, when there were parties, I went to parties.
Did you feel excluded?
No. Not at all. I didn’t feel any reason why I had to exclude myself, and as I say, they were perfectly nice kids, and we got along fine.
Did any of these other kids have a developing interest in science or astronomy that you associated yourself with?
No. I guess they went in various directions. There were small classes. My graduating class was between 20 and 25 in size. And I haven’t kept up with many of them at all. I know that there is one guy who is a quite successful architect and writer and lecturer on architecture, and there’s one successful novelist in the class.
Who are they?
Let’s see, the architect is Jeffrey Aronin, and the novelist is Sue Kaufman, DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE, etc. So actually, the thing I would consider most important there is that it was an intellectually pre-selected group. I remember one guy in my class who would sometimes have to make up work during the summer because he wasn’t doing well enough, but he didn’t have any trouble getting into Harvard. Where in college most people are getting one or two grade points lower than they got in high school, those from Woodmere Academy tended to get about the same grades in college as they did in high school. It was that rigorous.
Was the instruction quite disciplined? Was there rote memory? What was the style of instruction?
I’d say it was just conventional. That’s the only word I’d apply to it. There were memory courses. I remember, there were some damn good courses. I had a freshman biology course, which I guess is a little unusual.
Freshman in high school?
Yes. The teacher structured it around paleontology and a little bit of anthropology at the end, but he managed to bring in all of anatomy and a whole lot of physiology. There was a lot of memory work in that. That was the only biology course I’ve ever had, but it left me in a position where I can pick up a book now and read about modern genetics and what’s going on there, and have a feeling that I understand what they’re talking about. The language courses were very good. I took my graduation proficiency exam in French in college at the time I entered college, because the high school courses had been so good. The match was good, not particularly advanced. But it prepared me very well. I was going to college during the Second World War, when everybody had the question, when are going to into the Army? I was a year ahead already, and everyone was trying to get to college and to get as much college in as possible, before it was time to go to the Army.
You would have been still quite young when the war ended, in ‘45.
Yes. I was going to be drafted when they dropped the bomb. But what I was getting to, about school, was, I got out of high school without doing the senior year, and went directly to college.
Why was that?
Rushing ahead with education before the Army got you.
Was that true with everyone, or was this a choice that you made?
I don’t know of anybody else who did it, but because I was able to handle college work, at least the headmaster of the school felt that I could, he felt that it would be a good idea for me to go right into college. And he found a college that would take me. That was Hamilton.
Is this how you went to Hamilton?
Yes. At that time, Hamilton, I think for the only time in its history, had a liberal president. They remedied the error by firing him shortly after that. But he actually spoke at graduation the year I was a junior at Woodmere, and the headmaster talked to him about me. I didn’t happen to attend the graduation, but later on when he was in New York, I went to visit him. When he was down in New York City he interviewed me and said “Yes, come ahead to college.”
How did you feel about this, or your parents feel about this acceleration?
I guess I was eager to do it. I’ve always been eager to get ahead with things.
Well, this wouldn’t have accelerated your induction into the army.
No, the point was to get in as much college as possible before induction. So, and as it worked out, I went to college a few days after my 16th birthday. The college was running on four quarters a year. I elected to take an overload program, five courses instead of the normal four. In 1945 the college went back to semesters, and that slowed me down a little, but by the summer of 1945, I was only one semester away from graduation. I would have been the high school class of ‘44, but I went to college in ‘43, and in those two calendar years, I did 3 1/2 years of college.
You graduated in the winter?
In January of ‘46, I finally graduated. Yes. I was due to be drafted in August of ‘45. I tried to get that one more semester of college. And then when the war ended, everything became easier. They let me go back to college. I never did get drafted then, and I was able to go right through graduate school. And it was only in the Korean War that the draft finally caught up with me.
OK. I would like to ask concerning that, how did you feel about being inducted? You must have been aware that you were a very capable person intellectually, and here was this great ground battle. Did people talk to you about what you might do if you were inducted?
Yes. The standard plan in 1945 there was that you took a Navy test and got into something technical in the Navy, instead of being a private in the Army. Not that you got a higher rank, but you got some technical work to do, and I was prepared to go and do that, volunteer for the Navy instead of being drafted.
You were well aware of that option.
Yes, I was at that time. But I didn’t, as it turned out, I never had to take the jump, because the war ended so suddenly.
Let’s go back a few years and pick up some threads, in terms of development of your interests. I can imagine that by the time you were going to Woodmere, there was no question but that you were going to go on to college one way or another.
But I would like to know how your interests developed, in science. Specifically what was your major at Hamilton, and how you decided on, that major and what were the influences upon you?
Well, Woodmere Academy certainly didn’t have anything you could describe as a major. In fact, it had almost no electives. About the only choice you had was during your junior and senior years, you might or might not take physics or biology or chemistry, and you did or didn’t go on with your languages. So by choice I dropped Latin, after two years I guess, and went on with French. If I had stayed for my senior years, I probably would have taken senior biology. I took physics in my junior year. I honestly can’t remember whether I took a chemistry course. I don’t think so. I think that would have been senior year.
So you did have some physics training, and I would imagine no astronomy.
No astronomy. No. Just the books that were in the high school library and the local public library.
Were you reading astronomy throughout this whole period?
Was your intention to go into astronomy?
My intention was always to go into astronomy, except for a period when, just through sheer ignorance on my own part and the part of my family, I wasn’t aware that there was a possible career in astronomy.
When was that, do you think?
I think, around the latter part of high school, and throughout college, I sort of expected that I would go into graduate work in physics.
This was because you could see positions available in physics?
It’s a little hazy in my memory. It’s hard to imagine how I could have been so naive, but I didn’t know anything about astronomers, and I didn’t know any astronomers, and I didn’t know how one earned a living. It’s not a question of a higher or lower salary, but of how one got a salary at all, in astronomy. And the one who straightened me out was a physics professor I had in college. His name was Jerry McCue. He had interested me in this, I remember now, and then he had left Hamilton and gone to the M.I.T. Rad Lab. And he insisted I come to Boston. I stayed with him when I came there, and I had an interview with H. Shapley and B. Bok at Harvard Observatory. This was not quite a year before I graduated college. It was in March of ‘45. That was it, yes, because I remember, I didn’t know anything at all about astronomy. I’d never read anything on the advanced level, and they told me, “Read Russell, Dugan and Stewart, and read the HARVARD BOOKS ON ASTRONOMY over the summer.” So I did that. And that was the only astronomy I had before starting graduate work.
Was there a possibility that your self-professed naiveté was due to the preoccupation with the war? What about your parents? Did they also feel you should look for a lucrative career?
No. I think my mother would have liked me to be a doctor. But I think it’s just the Jewish Mother, “My son, the doctor” syndrome.
Are you Jewish?
Let me ask you about your religious instruction. That’s something I usually forget to ask until it’s too late. When I’m halfway out the door. Did you grow up in a religious household?
Yes, and orthodox household, and quite rigorous religious instruction, through the Bar Mitzvah age and a little past that. Then I just dropped off. When I was in college and got exposed to all sorts of other intellectual influences, I gave up religion and belief in God completely. But I still feel a very strong ethnic tie, and the only time I ever go back to a synagogue now is when some friend’s kid is having a Bar Mitzvah, and then I feel very nostalgic about it.
Do you go for the High Holy Days?
Oh, no. I would not go to a religious observance per se. But when I do go there for social reasons, I feel a very strong ethnic identification.
How long did you remain orthodox?
I guess, till I was about 15 or 16.
I see. At the day school did this cause any problem during lunch? Or were there a lot of orthodox kids?
School was mostly Jewish.
So you didn’t keep up your orthodoxy or the kosher household?
Was there any reaction from your parents about this?
No. I’m not aware of any. But we have not been terribly close. I don’t mean that we have had a falling out or been positively distant, but we haven’t had a close relationship.
OK. Do you have children now?
Yes. Four children.
And there is no religious instruction.
No. My wife feels about the same way about it as I do, except that she never had a serious religious training.
OK. Then it looks like it was almost predestined that you would go to Harvard. Did you have other influences upon you? Did you consider other places beyond Harvard for graduate study?
Yes. When I decided that I would like to study astronomy in graduate school, again, frightful naiveté, I got hold of a catalogue from the University of Chicago, and the difference is that Harvard listed the courses it was giving that year, and Chicago lists every course they ever considered giving. And they had a list of courses that was unbelievable If I’d stopped to think, [it was obvious] that S. Chandrasekhar couldn’t teach all those courses the same year — he was down for all of these theoretical astrophysics courses. So I was very impressed by Chicago. But when Jerry McCue got me to Harvard, and I talked to Shapley and Bok, it was then settled that I was going to go to Harvard.
Do you recall the interviews you had with Shapley and Bok?
Not really. I do know that the observatory was practically an empty shell at that time, because the graduate program had been completely disbanded during the war, and the first graduate students returned in September or ‘45, so I was almost in that first wave, coming in February or ‘46.
So you went immediately in the winter.
Yes. I simply got on a train in Utica where Hamilton was and headed for Boston, and started school, started graduate school the week after I finished my final exams for my last semester.
I see. Was it a figurative statement, did you actually stay through the winter at Hamilton?
The fall semester was my last semester, which ended in January of ‘46, and Harvard also being on semesters, I simply had a few days between semesters to make the transfer.
I see. Your complete support at Hamilton while you were there was by scholarship?
Scholarship, also working. I worked in the dining halls, waiting, washing dishes. They gave me a full scholarship, and to the extent that I’d make out a budget each year, and how much was I going to earn, and how much did I need, and they filled in the rest with scholarship. I’ve been very well treated in scholarships. The first year at Harvard, they didn’t give me a very big one, but Hamilton has a prize for a graduating senior, in science, and I won that, so that took me through the first year of graduate school.
Does that have a specific name?
Yes. I should remember it. It’s Root.
Is this a family name, an endowment?
Yes. Elihu Root lived across the street from Hamilton College.
Oh — that Root.
Yes. I think the prize came from some earlier member of his family. Two of them had been faculty members at Hamilton. But after that, Harvard was able to cover my needs with graduate fellowships and scholarships and what have you. I was never even a TA. I just had straight fellowship support.
So you didn’t develop any research experience or teaching?
No teaching. Well, actually, I was formally a graduate student at Harvard for only a year and a half, because then I got into the Society of Fellows.
I notice that was indicated n some of your early papers I have here, “Some New Galactic Clusters," you are indicated as a member of the Society of Fellows.
Could you explain how you got into that?
Yes. Well, it’s by nomination. Do you know the Society of Fellows at all?
Not to any great degree. If you could give a short description.
They take eight a year, for three years each, so that they have 24 Junior Fellows, as they call them. They are chosen from all fields. It’s not just science. It’s by nomination only, and at that time, it was by far the poshest fellowship that existed, with complete freedom. Some of the people already had PhD’s and some didn’t. It was intended to be complete material freedom, so you could devote yourself to intellectual things, and there were two luncheons a week of the Junior Fellows, and one rather elaborate dinner with the Senior Fellows, who included senior faculty members in the university and others, and with every stimulus toward intellectual things. The Society of Fellows had a lot to do with my intellectual development, particularly broadening me outside my own narrow research field of astronomy.
Do you know who or how you were nominated?
I was nominated by my professors in the astronomy department, by Bok and D. Menzel and Shapley. I think they were the three formal nominators.
You were aware of this at the time.
This was basically a fellowship, but more than that really.
Yes. And it was supposed to be basically on a post-doc level, though people did not have to have a PhD, and some junior fellows have gone on to the Harvard Faculty without ever getting a PhD. People like Arthur Schlesinger.
I wasn’t aware of that. Interesting.
Yes. Andy Gleason, who was my roommate for a while, is in math at Harvard. He was in that status.
You did get a degree.
Oh yes, because I was not going on to the Harvard faculty, therefore I needed the union card for elsewhere.
I see. Was this choice on your part?
No. There just wasn’t any opportunity. Also that was when I started getting all messed up with the draft. That’s right, the Korean War started in 1950, and I was a Junior Fellow until 1951. And at that point, I positively did not want to be drafted. It was different in 1945. You knew that there was a war to fight, and it was going to be your job to take part in it. But at the time of the Korean War, I didn’t want to get drafted, and I took a job working for Jim Baker, who was an astronomer at Harvard Observatory, but also doing optical design. So I went over to the Harvard Computer Lab, and did the first computer programming of optical design.
I see. That’s something that didn’t come out in your vitae or anything like that?
Oh, it’s listed as “mathematician, Perkin-Elmer Corporation.” It’s there in the job list. The money came from Perkin-Elmer. I was their employee. But I was working for Jim Baker and trying to set up these optical designs on the Harvard Mark I and later Mark IV computers.
This is already in the fifties.
And you had been at Harvard for a number of years at that point and had published a number of papers.
Not very many. A little bit.
I’m interested in how your interests developed, because you did start on a number of projects that had some observational basis, some direct observation. You’ve acknowledged the aid of Bart Bok quite early on, and so I’m quite interested in how your alliances and your influences developed. You took course work in your first year or two?
Yes. My first year and a half, I took formal course work. When I came to Harvard, I wanted to be a theoretical astrophysicist. This was conditioned, to some extent, by my exposure in physics. There I would take a course in modern physics, as it was called then, and do a reading report on the relatively recent work on the proton—proton chain and carbon cycle.
This you did at Hamilton College.
Yes. So I got interested in that sort of problem, and didn’t know about the rest of astronomy.
This is what you were interested in —
— when I started graduate work, yes. And I actually tried some research with Menzel. He passed on to me a research project which in retrospect was an unfortunate choice, because it involved electrodynamics, and that was the one course that I missed in the rather weak physics major that Hamilton had. I should explain that Hamilton has a very strong liberal arts orientation, with very weak majors. They require two majors, or they did at that time, which should be in related fields, but a major consisted of at least three one year courses. So I had, I think, eight semesters of mathematics and seven semesters of physics, and that was my major. Incidentally, I qualified for a major in German, because I had three years in German, so I graduated with honors in Math, physics, and German.
Was Yiddish spoken in your household?
My parents used to speak it, so I wouldn’t know what they were saying.
So you didn’t learn it from your parents.
I never learned it. No.
OK. It’s interesting about physics. Menzel immediately plunged you into that sort of work?
No, not immediately. It was after I’d been there for at least a semester and maybe a little longer. But two things really switched me out of theoretical astrophysics, and into stellar systems. One was that Bok was a very good teacher. Really inspiring. When I got to give that course when Bok was away in South Africa that really turned me on, later on.
Yes. I looked it over and I decided he hadn’t been giving a very good course, and made what I think were some real improvements in it. But it was an inspiring course.
Was it based upon his monograph, The Distribution of Stars in Space?
No, that was his other course. This one was “Stellar Dynamics.” And I think basically it came from what he had learned in Groningen. I don’t know whether he actually studied under J. Oort or they were contemporaries, but it’s what he learned at Groningen — or maybe Leiden; I’m not sure.
J. Oort was a student of J.C. Kapteyn, but I’m not sure about Bok.
Bok did his graduate work at Groningen and came to Harvard as a post-doc.
It might have been P.J. van Phijn.
Could have been. The dynamics would have come from Kapteyn or Oort.
It’s funny; there is an unbroken progression there, almost, in a lot of modern galactic dynamics. Consider the book by D. Mihalas and P. Routly, which is a nice little book on galactic dynamics. Now, as you know perfectly well, Dimitri’s field is stellar atmospheres.
And all he did was work up the lecture notes that he got from Maarten Schmidt, who of course had studied it from Oort who had studied it from Kapteyn. So there you have the unbroken succession.
That’s interesting. Have you discussed that with Mihalas?
Oh, he knows perfectly well where I stand on it, because I gave it the critical reading for Freeman, and turned in 20 odd pages of detailed criticisms of the book, so I know the book very well.
What’s your opinion of the book today?
It’s the best thing available. But I wish it were a lot better.
In what direction?
Well, it’s basically the succession of lecture notes from one person to another. I think if Maarten Schmidt were writing the book, he would probably modernize a lot of things in it. It’s a development of methods. Not of results.
There was little observational work in there.
That’s right. But anyway, Bok got me very interested, and at the same time (I think I’d like to put some confidentiality on this), Menzel was a terrible teacher. He really turned me off completely. He was muddled, and he would give the same thing over again in two successive courses, and he emphasized the wrong parts of the subject.
Well, it was supposed to get to be stellar atmospheres, but it never got very much past L-S coupling and multiplets and things like that. He was certainly taken up with atomic structure and the structure of spectral diagrams and so on. And the good astrophysics just didn’t come through. Now, you talk to Lawrence Aller or Leo Goldberg, and they’ll tell you that he was a superb research director. Apparently, if you could get past that stage and do research with him, he was marvelous. But I never got past that stage. And quite the opposite, Bok was not a good research director. I did my thesis in almost complete independence. I never got much advice from Bok. Well, for one thing, the way the thesis developed, I guess I really got seduced by the idea of going off to South Africa, and setting up the photoelectric photometer there that Harvard was building for the Boyden Observatory. Anyway, that’s what I did, and I had a great time.
Right. I knew you went south, and I was interested in your experiences there. You wrote an interesting article with Federer.
— I should explain to you that I didn’t write that article. What happened was that Paraskevopolous was supposed to be writing the article, but he died, and then Charlie Federer picked it up. And of course, Charlie, being very facile with this sort of thing, was able to work it into a good article. And then he gave it to me to check it over, for factual things, and at some point I tried to get my name off it, because I didn’t think I merited being an author, because there was almost nothing of mine in it.
It’s a history. I mean, it goes way back.
Yes. And it’s not my article. My name’s on it only because I helped polish it up. I had just come back from South Africa, and I think Bok was probably still there, or else he would have given it to Bok.
Did you go to South Africa specifically, to the Boyden Station, under the direction of Bok?
Well, he sort of set the thing up. No, it was under the direction of Shapley, really. The Boyden Observatory was run in a strange way. Shapley, in spite of all of his great liberal politics, was a real autocrat in the way he ran Harvard Observatory, and he ran the Boyden Observatory personally. Everything at the Boyden Station, as it was then called, went through Shapley.
In other words, to buy a brick, you had to get a requisition from Harvard?
And all the science that came from Boyden Observatory went to Shapley. All of the output of the observatory.
Who was the director down there? Or was there a director at Boyden?
Paraskevopolous — he was called director. He was really the superintendent of the place. He didn’t do science; he just saw that it worked. He had a PhD from Yerkes around 1919, and he had gone to run the station in Arequipa, and moved it from Arequipa to Bloemfontein in 1927. But he didn’t do any scientific research. He simply ran the station. So all of that had to be done through Shapley. But Bok worked closely with Shapley. They had a quite good working relationship. And I don’t know who made the decision, which they were going to put a photoelectric photometer there, but Al Linnell, who was a graduate student at Harvard at that time, built the photoelectric-photometer. He had the machine work done in the Harvard shops, and we picked up a DC amplifier design from Gerry Kron.
Did you do this directly or did Linnell?
He did it all. But Al had a wife and a couple of small children. He couldn’t go to South Africa. So I took the photometer down there, had a hell of a time with it, because I didn’t really know any electronics. I learned my electronics from that photometer.
This was a 1P21?
It was a 1P21, with a DC amplifier. Now, a DC amplifier is a real bitch. All the electronics that you learn is AC, and DC amplifiers have got all their own little quirks. And the thing wouldn’t work in South Africa. I finally took it to the National Physical Laboratory in Pretoria, 300 miles away, after struggling with it for three months, and an electronics man there looked at it very quickly and said, “It’s very simple, you’ve got a saturated core transformer regulating your filaments here, and it isn’t saturating at 50 cycles.” So that was the trouble. The output of the amplifier was sensitive to the filament current, which was supposed to be strictly regulated. So we put it on storage batteries and it worked fine from then on.
You had some kind of a network? You were transforming AC to DC?
It was a constant voltage transformer, which is supposed to have a saturated core and at 50 cycles, it wasn’t saturating. So anyway, I got that working, and I learned some electronics. I learned what negative feedback circuits were really about, and how the amplifier worked. I learned that it was being over-driven and was nonlinear. It was Kron’s design, but it was being run outside his design specifications. He designed it fine. But they were running it into a strip chart recorder that required driving it far beyond its linear range. So I went into this a little bit, and figured it out. It was a push-pull thing where the non-linearity’s were cubic because all the even terms were canceled out, and I figured out that if I increased the input gain of the recorder by a factor of 2, I was going to reduce the non-linearity by a factor of 8, and we got it down to the place where it had a very modest non-linearity that you could easily correct for.
You can stand for a little of it.
Yes. But anyway, that was my first experience with electronics. And I felt quite satisfied that I was able to cope with that problem and even correct a design problem.
Was your thesis directly involved with setting up the instrumentation, or was there a particular astronomical problem?
I did some observations in the thesis. The problem was an extremely unimaginative one, but you know, you can’t really blame other people for something that you’ve done yourself. Harvard’s idea of what a photoelectric photometer was used for, was to set up standard magnitude sequences, so my thesis was to examine the “E regions,” scattered around at declination minus 45. I set up magnitude sequences, and people at the Cape were also working in the E regions. I did I guess publish them separately, but eventually the scientific impact of them was that they got averaged in with others in the Cape compilation of magnitudes in the E regions. There was one thing that was badly wrong with my magnitudes, though. Again, I shouldn’t use the word naiveté, but inexperience — the blue system was done without a filter. There was a one 1P-21 photo cell and the blue system was “clear.” The yellow was defined by a filter. But the blue was not, which meant the ultraviolet came through even with a silvered mirror. It produced a horrible magnitude system. And no one today in his right mind would touch it. In those days, we didn’t know that much about magnitude systems. Nobody had ever tackled magnitude systems with photoelectric accuracy before. And I found, when I did get hold of some other magnitudes. Where did the other magnitudes come from? This is my thesis [opens book].
Has this thesis been published in any form, other than the E region studies that later came out?
Yes. One chapter of the thesis was on the effects of band width in photometric systems, and that did lead to a publication.
OK, that was ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL, 57 (1952).
Also a note in the earlier on effective wavelengths.
Right, ApJ, 115 (1952).
I guess so, yes.
And then another part of it would be the “Photoelectric Magnitudes in Some of the Harvard E-Regions.”
Yes, those were the observations. Right.
That’s the ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL, 1955.
Yes. OK. Now, I can’t remember, but somewhere I got some standard magnitudes that came from somebody else. Maybe they were from the Cape.
Did you have contact with Stock and Wesselink and some of the others who were doing some work in South Africa?
I had a little contact. Stock wasn’t on the scene in those days. Dick Stoy was there as His Majesty’s Astronomer at the Cape.
Stoy, that’s right.
And Cousins also was I think chief assistant or something like that, and was in charge of the magnitude work.
So I did my blue magnitudes without any filter, and that included some ultraviolet in the blue magnitude, and I did get hold of some magnitudes of some of the same stars from the Cape. I don’t remember whether they were using a filter, or whether their very thick lens refractor excluded the UV, but the color equation between my magnitudes and theirs had a very funny kink around the A stars.
Around the A stars?
This was 19—?
OK, that was before Johnson’s work?
Yes. And Harold Johnson knew what he was doing, and he turned that into the two color diagram. I didn’t understand what it was. It was a peculiarity in my magnitude system, and it was a nuisance. It meant that my magnitudes for the bluer stars were going to be uncertain, and I never understood the cause of it. Johnson did. He invented the two color diagram out of it. That was the major goof of my career.
Well, I wouldn’t put it exactly that strong.
See, there’s the color equation.
Figure 4 - 3.
Yes, and 4 -4 has some more, but I don’t know which.
r can see it easily there at zero.
So that’s the ultraviolet in my magnitudes. And I didn’t understand it.
Let me ask you a question, though, comparing your work to Johnson’s. You weren’t looking for a blanketing effect. Or anything like that.
No, I was just trying to set up magnitudes, and I had the notion that a magnitude was a magnitude. Things like sophistications of different color systems never even occurred to me.
But Johnson was very much in that, working with Morgan and other people.
Yes. You know, come to think of it, something I just said is not right. I was interested in color systems, come to think of it, because the first chapter of my thesis was on those band width effects. I was very much aware that because of the width of the pass band, you were going to have say an atmospheric extinction coefficient that depended on the color of the star.
But still, you were still thinking from the instrumental side. You weren’t thinking of a systematic effect say in terms of the spectral features of the stars you were looking at.
Well, basically I was thinking in terms of smooth curves and I was working with Planck curves. And if I’d thought about Balmer instead of Planck, I would have realized that all was not well.
Well, it’s an interesting event, I think.
Yes. I’ve kicked myself ever since for that one.
It couldn’t have been too much after, I don’t know the exact date that the two color plot came out. Several years?
Well, the basic Morgan and Johnson paper is 1953. But Johnson was doing that stuff around the same time. I don’t know when he —
Any indication that Johnson had seen your “kinks,” in your thesis?
He could have. I don’t know. The people at Harvard liked my thesis a lot, and I don’t know if you noticed, it was done on ditto stencils and I had a lot of copies of it. I sent copies around to everyone who was interested in photoelectric photometry. Certainly I sent a copy to A.E. Whitford at Wisconsin. Didn’t Johnson come from there?
I believe so.
Yes. And he might have seen a copy there. But I have no reason to believe that it ever had any influence on him.
Of course at that time there were a lot of unknowns in photometry.
Something that deals directly with your later interest I would like to bring up right now, because at that time, since we mentioned Whitford, there was this very Interesting Stebbins-Whitford Effect in redness of galaxies.
Yes, I know what it is.
Were you aware of it at the time, this strange thing?
Yes, I remember the first paper they presented on it. I wasn’t particularly interested in cosmology at that time, and didn’t really pay much attention to it. I got interested in cosmology much later.
OK, then we’ll wait for that period of time. We’ll work a little longer here and try to complete your Harvard work. I’d like to ask you, as a graduate student at Harvard, and especially once you were recognized and made a fellow of the Society of Fellows, you must have gained a pretty stable position there, relatively, and been able to observe what was going on politically at Harvard with some understanding.
No. That’s not so. Partly because of my extreme youth. After all, I was only 19 when I started graduate school. And partly because of the rather tight political structure that they had. People on lower levels didn’t know what was going on. At Harvard, instructors didn’t even attend faculty meetings. It’s a very structured hierarchy there. So I didn’t know what was going on at the observatory at all.
And Bok and the others never talked at leisure with you?
No. Well, I knew that something was going on, I think it was in 1948, when Bok was offered the Michigan directorship, and there was clearly some politics at that time, because both Bok and Menzel ended up as associate directors of the observatory. I think that may have been when Bok got his promotion to full professor, as a matter of fact. I’m not quite sure about that. But I was completely outside that and not taken into any confidences.
OK. We certainly hope to be able to talk to Bok in the near future and that would be a primary source. During your South Africa work, you had to, of course, live down there, and I’d be very interested to know your feelings about living under their social conditions? If people at the observatories were aware or affected by the social conditions in South Africa at all?
It was certainly awkward and, in many ways, unpleasant. You have to remember, it was the beginning of the Nationalist period in South Africa. The Nationalists came into power in 1948, I believe, and I arrived in South Africa in ‘49. They had not yet taken any of the regressive legal steps. They were just beginning to talk about them. I’m trying to remember the various things that they did. The apartheid laws had not yet been legislated. The “coloreds” still had the vote. They hadn’t abolished the judicial review by the Supreme Court. It was just the beginning of that period. Of course, social conditions were still pretty terrible there, the way the natives were treated. You just had to make your peace with that, and my feeling was, it’s somebody else’s country. It’s too bad for them, but I’m not going to be able to do anything by interfering in it.
What about the other astronomers who were there for longer periods of time?
There weren’t any others.
None at all?
I was the only astronomer at the Boyden Observatory.
At Boyden itself. But you did have some contact with other observatories down there?
Rather tenuous contact. I visited the Cape on my way in and out of South Africa, in 1949 and 1950. I was in Johannesburg a couple of times, and at Radcliffe a couple of times. I didn’t have a lot of scientific contact with them. Actually, I have a lot of relatives in South Africa. I would generally go up to Pretoria to visit my aunt, and stop in and see the astronomers on the occasion of those trips.
Relatives on your father’s side?
Yes. Several branches of his family immigrated to South Africa.
Your father’s family had been in England for several generations at least?
No, his father was born in Latvia. But his entire generation was brought up mainly in Scotland. He was born in Glasgow. His mother died when he was at an early age. He was the last of a lot of children. And he was brought up all over Britain.
Let’s move then directly back to your Harvard years, which were maintained until about 1952-53. Am I correct there?
How did your interest develop there? You did actually begin to write on dynamics, star clusters, at that time.
Actually, the only thing that I wrote then was for Shapley. He asked me to write a review for the I.A.U., and he simply put it in the I.A.U. TRANSACTIONS. He left my name on it, which is how it rates as some sort of publication. But I did get very much interested in Bok’s course in stellar dynamics. I got very much interested in the dynamics of globular clusters, although I was never able to get anywhere with the problems, at that time. I spent a lot of time working on theory of stellar encounters. But I never really did anything with star-cluster dynamics till much later, when I was at Illinois. I got diverted by this thesis work into photoelectric photometry, and didn’t get back to the star clusters till later. But there is a big break in my career, from ‘52 to ‘56, when I was out of astronomy.
Right. You were a methods analyst in the Department of Defense.
Possibly I can ask general questions now, and we can get an outline now, sometime in the future get a little deeper into some of these questions.
How did you come to become this methods analyst? What were the decisions? You got married in 1952.
All of these things fit together. I got this job with Jim Baker, because it had a draft deferment attached to it. This was 1951.
After you came back from Boyden.
Oh, that was a hectic year, because I was supposed to be half time in that job and a half time instructor in the astronomy department. Then it turned out, I couldn’t get the draft deferment unless the job was full time, and they already had me signed up to teach some courses, so I was a quarter time instructor, besides having a full time job.
Is this why your degree was actually deferred until ‘52?
I was writing my thesis that year, too.
Oh, I see. (laughter).
Yes, I wrote my thesis on my future wife’s kitchen table. That’s how I managed to spend time with her, at the same time.
Let’s talk about the job that you had with James Baker, then. This is appropriate now. And then how you met your wife.
OK. The job with Baker, he wanted someone to look into the use of computers in optical design What I did was basically a dead end, because it was programming algebraic equations, rather than the way one uses the fast computers nowadays, where you diddle parameters and use quality factors to tell you in what directions to go. That was just beginning around the time I left the field. So all I did was ray tracing and some playing with algebra, and it was not very significant. Nothing really came of it.
Did he introduce you to computers at that time then?
Well, he didn’t know the computers himself, but he made an arrangement with the Harvard Computer Lab, where I went down there and worked like a member of the lab staff, except that I was paid from elsewhere, and I was working on these optical problems. That was my introduction to computers, and they’ve been a major concern of mine ever since. All of my government work was computers. After a while the draft deferment went sour, and I was going to get drafted anyway, and sometime before that, Donald Menzel and Andy Gleason, who was my roommate, had induced me to apply for a naval commission, which I had fortunately gotten by that time. So when I got the draft notice, I requested assignment to active duty in the Navy. And they sent me to Washington, where all of my work was computers and statistics, and I learned some awfully valuable things. So my military service was done completely in Washington. It was done in the National Security Agency.
This was a ’54-’56 period.
Yes. Yes. And when I got out of the service, it was in November, it was not a time to start an academic job. It was pretty clear to me I could have had a Carnegie fellowship at Mt Wilson I think things had pretty well been set up, and I’d talked to W. Baade about it. And then I made one of those personal decisions. The agency said that if I stayed for one extra year, they’d send me to England for that year. And I couldn’t resist that. My wife and I couldn’t resist it. Incidentally, the occasion for our getting married, after going together for some time, was when I left Cambridge, it was go with her or go without her, so that was the time we got married.
How did you meet your wife?
At a cocktail party that Lew Branscomb gave. You know Lew?
He’s an astrophysicist of sorts. He’s now the head of research at IBM. But he was director of JILA for quite a while.
This was in Cambridge that you met your wife?
Yes. His fiancée was a friend of hers and I was a friend of his, so, we met at that party.
What is her background, college etc.?
She was doing PhD work in political science. She did everything but the thesis. Since then, in 1970, she went to law school, and she’s been an attorney for the past three years.
Very interesting. I’m trying to get some links with the Baker work. He was designing the super-Schmidt at that time, was he not?
Yes, but that was his own personal work. I wasn’t connected with that. He tried to set up an optical group, but nothing really came of it. He was the only one who was doing good optical work, and as I say, the stuff I was doing turned out to be a dead end, because it wasn’t the right way to do the problem. But it had a tremendous influence on me, in that it got me into computers, so that when I went to Washington, I was an experienced computer programmer, and furthermore, In the Harvard Mark I, the machine was so darned slow that if anything went wrong with the machine, especially at night, they would call the programmer to find out what his program was doing wrong, and because the engineer lived an hour’s drive away, you would generally try to fix the machine yourself. So I got into computer logic. And then in Washington, a lot of my work was connected, not as much with programming as with logical design of computers, and I actually went so far as to design one entire machine myself.
Which machine was that?
It was a classified project.
And it still is?
Yes. Also, I was working with machines where sometimes if the maintenance men were too busy, I would get in there with a scope and a probe and figure out what was going wrong. I learned a lot about computers which has stood me in good stead to this very day, where I can plan our departmental computer system, and talk to the engineers about what the hardware does, and help the software man and suggest: “Why don’t we do it this way?” It’s always been one of my scientific strengths.
Did you find the computer an interesting problem in itself?
Oh yes. Oh, but you have to watch out for that. I always warn my graduate students not to get too caught up in computers.
Why is that?
Oh, then they spend their time programming, instead of doing science. It’s hard to convince them to do the “quick and dirty” method that gets the scientific answer, and not to be so fascinated with the computer that they do something elegant, and play games with the computer, instead of getting the science.
I can appreciate that. But then, it was the difficulties with the draft, and not a preference choice, that took you to the methods analyst work?
But once you were in it, you found it interesting enough.
Oh, it was very interesting, yes. And then the opportunity to spend that year in England.
What were you doing?
I was simply working there doing the same sort of work. But it was just a great thing to spend that year abroad, a great lark. I sort of messed myself up astronomically, because I had to start at the bottom then, and I was really lucky to get a job.
So you were in line for a Carnegie.
Yes. I think I would have had a quite good chance. You never guarantee anything, but I would have had a quite good chance of going that route.
At that time, you were still primarily known in astronomy for your observational work, and this Carnegie fellowship then was probably going to be an observational position partly?
No. I remember talking to W. Baade about it. I was going to work on the structure of star clusters observationally, but because of my theoretical interest in it. And I later did exactly that. Starting in 1960, I went out to Hale Observatories and started observing star clusters. But at that point, I had done enough theory to realize that I couldn’t do the theory without the observational material. But in 1955, if I had gone that way, it would have been to start with the observation.
Did Baade talk to you directly about what he hoped you would do as a Carnegie fellow?
No, he didn’t talk specifically about a Carnegie fellowship. He just talked about my coming there. And mainly, he warned me about how difficult the observations were going to be.
What kinds of observations was he talking about?
I don’t really remember. I think I just wanted to do density distributions in star clusters.
That meant star counting.
With the 48 inch Schmidt?
Well, for some reason we were talking about using the reflectors. I don’t understand why, because the Schmidt was in operation then.
Was it still in the middle of the Sky Survey then?
I think it may have been tied up with the Sky Survey. Maybe that’s the answer. But eventually, I found that the Schmidt was really the answer to the problem. And I was able to do good observational work with it.
The change in your career interests, to cosmology. I’d like to be able to identify whether you made that change and then decided to go to Illinois and work on the same staff with G. C. McVittie, or whether you went to Illinois, and you then became influenced by McVittie?
That’s very funny. Because the answer is (excuse me for laughing at you a little) the answer is almost the diametrical opposite of everything you suggested. McVittie came to Harvard as a visitor for one semester, while I was a Junior Fellow, and he taught his standard course in cosmology, of which his book is absolutely representative That was my first exposure to theoretical cosmology, and it kind of traumatized me about cosmology, and convinced me that it was a subject I wasn’t interested in and would never understand.
Was it because of McVittie?
His mathematical approach. McVittie’s a mathematician. Not a physicist at all. He has no physical feeling. He’s got to do it mathematically. And if I don’t see the physics in it, it doesn’t mean anything to me. Anyway, McVittie wanted to go home at Christmas time, and exams weren’t given until January, and he needed somebody to grade his exam. I never understood how this happened, but he arranged it so that Sergei Gaposchkin and I were going to be responsible for grading that exam. Would you believe it?
I’m going to write it down, but I want you to explain your experience.
“Mac” left some very nicely written out answers. And I went through all the papers and graded them carefully, and there were good ones and bad ones. Sergei went through all of them and he said, “They all look OK to me.” So I went to Fred Whipple who was department chairman and said, “what’ll I do with this?” Whipple took care of it. I think he gave the students my grades. And he impounded the papers. Anyway, McVittie knew that I was taking notes in his course, and he knew that I was getting the stuff, and he was favorably impressed with me. I ran into him at the Dublin IAU in 1955, and he offered me the job then at Illinois. That was the reason. But he stuck one rather difficult condition on it, that I institute a course in astrophysics. I hadn’t learned anything worth a damn about astrophysics at Harvard, so I got out Lawrence Aller’s book, and taught myself astrophysics from his book, and that way I was able to teach a course in it. But I learned stellar atmospheres and stellar structure.
He had a book on stellar structure?
His second volume does stellar structure. I really had to learn it properly at Illinois, to teach it, and that’s when I got my intuitive feeling for what stellar atmospheres are about, insofar as I’ve got any. So that’s the story of how I got to Illinois. I wrote letters to about a dozen and a half different places, which was a lot of different places, looking for a job in 1955, and Illinois turned out to be the only offer that I got.
Did you get responses from others with explanations?
Oh yes. I even got nibbles from Case and Wisconsin. But it turned out that I didn’t get the job at either of those places.
Wisconsin might have meant that you would have done more in color systems and continued on with instrumentation? Or were you prepared to do that?
Oh, who can guess what would have happened? No. I think I would have gone my own way in any of those places. As soon as I got to Illinois, I started doing theory of star clusters, which is what I wanted to do. And just to follow the cosmology thing, I’ve gotten interested in cosmology only through finally getting a feeling that I understand something about it, and this is partly through reading Jim Peebles’ writing, which I find very clear and physical, and partly through a chance remark that Allan Sandage once made to me. I was talking to him on the phone one day, and he said, “It’s just a question whether the potential energy is greater than the kinetic energy.” And I’d never realized that before, because I had been hung up with McVittie’s tensors, his index wiggling, and with the Robertson-Walker metric, and now my greatest ambition in cosmology, which I hope to achieve during this sabbatical year, is to do an exposition of cosmology without ever going through the field equations. It ought to be perfectly possible, just using the principle of equivalence. Just through Gedanken experiments. I give all of the rest of it to my students without doing any involved mathematics, but the one connection that’s still lacking is between curvature and this thing that Allan Sandage so neatly described as whether the kinetic energy is greater than the potential energy. That determines the curvature. And it’s quite clear that if you use the principle of equivalence and the constancy of the velocity of light, in a suitable Gedanken experiment, you can certainly establish that relationship. Nobody’s ever done it, as far as I can see. And it looks like a fun sort of thing to think about during the sabbatical.
Where are you going for your sabbatical?
ESO, Geneva. ESO headquarters is in Munich... They have their telescope project and Sky Atlas project and scientific group, which means their group of tame scientists, in Geneva, and that’s why I’m going there I think they’ve got about a dozen people who simply function as astronomers, and that’s the group that I’m going to.
Are you going to have a year away “to think?”
Yes. Get away from the telephone and the graduate students — although I’ve got to keep up with my graduate students. I’ve got six of them doing theses. Well, five theses and one who is about to start a thesis. I’ve got to keep up with them. But, yes, to get away from things here. My God, I have days here when I have no fixed responsibilities on my calendar, and still I don’t get a single bit of research done. There are just so many things coming up.
Is this a recent development, or something that started eating into your time even at Illinois?
No, it’s been mainly since I came to Berkeley. There are more administrative things to do in a big department like this, and McVittie was also a great old autocrat. He ran everything himself, and we didn’t have to be bothered with participating in any of the decisions.
What about graduate student instruction, undergraduate instruction?
There wasn’t much. Here, it just takes a lot of effort, and there’s more administration to do. I spent three years as department chairman and that took a lot of time. And I’ve had a lot of trouble saying no. I’ve finally learned to say no, unless it’s very important. So I’ve turned down all but a few requests in the past couple of years. I did not turn down the request to be a candidate for president of the AAS, and I did not turn down AURA’S request to serve as a consultant to their board.
You were on the Office of Naval Research Committee for Astronomy, ‘68, ‘69 — I believe, you said you only met once?
Yes. I think it was the last year of the program. I think they washed the program out the next year. And we simply had one meeting at which we looked over all the proposals they had that year, and we rated them. No, the much heavier thing that I did, which ended only when I started with the AURA board, was to be on the Kitt Peak telescope assignment committee for 2 1/2 years. That was a lot of work.
Yes, I have an acquaintance who is constantly going out to Kitt Peak for that.
Yes and I took on the AAAS, Section D chairmanship for a year, and that took a certain amount of effort. Well, it took a lot of effort because of the Velikovsky Symposium, which I had a lot to do with organizing.
Are you sympathetic to some of his writings?
Oh, hell no! No.
What was the intention of that?
Oh, it was all Carl Sagan’s fault. He suggested that, if, the AAAS could have a symposium on flying saucers and (as he put it) “The fabric of science did not rip,” maybe we could also have a public exposure to Velikovsky, and have a debate on the subject. And I was standing in front of the fan, as chairman for Section D. I agreed that, as a moral principle, it was probably a good thing to do. Owen Gingerich and Don Goldsmith and I organized the thing. And I presided. My God, what an experience that was!
What transpired, briefly? I want to get to a few questions before our time is up.
Well, Velikovsky is difficult to deal with.
He was there?
Oh yes. He spoke for twice as long as he was supposed to. And I couldn’t shut him up; because the whole point of the symposium was that we are not shutting Velikovsky up. And he goes and speaks for 60 minutes instead of 30, and every time somebody made a comment, he would rise to answer it and take another 5 or 10 minutes, and this thing that was supposed to be over at 12 lasted till 1:30. I felt I was walking on eggs the whole time, because of his claque, who are a nasty bunch. He personally is charming. I had nice experiences with him. But his followers are a nasty bunch, and they are ready to jump on anything.
Why are people so possessive? You were at Harvard, in fact, during —
During the early Velikovsky period, yes, when Shapley really got us in the soup there.
Was he aware of what was going on?
Oh, yes. Yes.
Could you give me sort of a recollection of how Shapley reacted, and how Mrs. Gaposchkin ended up writing those articles and the boycott?
Well, I found it very striking, the difference in their approach. Shapley’s approach was political leverage, and Cecelia’s approach was to answer him carefully on his own ground. She gave an intellectual answer to him, and Shapley gave a political answer. And of course, the AAAS symposium was really a kind of apology to him for what Shapley had done.
I see. I didn’t realize that. Was this brought out specifically?
No, we wouldn’t have said anything like that publicly. I mean, one doesn’t want to say things like that about Shapley in public. He did something that was improper and basically inexcusable.
This was the thing with the Macmillan publisher?
Yes. He tried to suppress the book. To prevent the publisher from publishing it. I think it’s thoroughly reprehensible that the publisher who did go ahead with it, I forget who it was finally, descended to some pretty terrible advertising, just to sell more books. But I can’t in any way condone what Shapley did.
Why do you think Shapley reacted so strongly? Was it just his personality?
He was a vigorous person, and a real partisan. If he cared about something, he would really do something.
I wonder why he cared so strongly about Velikovsky. Was Velikovsky really a unique person at the time his book came out?
It was a unique phenomenon. It got a tremendous amount of publicity, and certainly every astronomer felt attacked by it — this blatant nonsense that everybody is reading and the READERS DIGEST is picking up on and the religious fundamentalists are going to town with. I think it just made everybody mad. Maybe I’m just voicing my own feelings.
Well, I appreciate that, because the next question would be let’s say, the astronomical community’s reaction to astrology, in the form of Bok’s book.
No, I’m not involved; I’ve never been involved with that. I did sign Bok’s statement in THE AMERICAN HUMANIST, which has put me on some crank mail lists, but as far as I can see, that’s the only real effect that it’s had.
You weren’t directly involved in that, so I don’t want to spend any great time on that. OK, well, we can’t go through the rest of your career at this time, but there are going to be hopefully plenty of opportunities in the future. So at this point, let me ask you a few questions.
Let’s see, I have the program of the Yale Symposium here to jog my memory a little. (Yale Symposium).
OK. I have the list of 12 problems that had to be identified and discussed at the Symposium.
Yes, I’ve got a copy of my paper here. Well, it was an unusual Symposium. In a lot of ways it was the kind of Symposium I like, because it wasn’t cluttered with a lot of contributed papers. I thought some of the invited papers were very nice. I was glad that some people reviewed subjects as well as they did. I was sorry that some of them talked so much about their own work.
Each person in each session was to give a general review of the general area that they were most familiar?
That was my understanding of it, and it’s certainly what I tried to do, although my talk was intensely personal — the subjects that I thought people ought to be working on. I was trying to do a public service by telling them what I thought the problems were, rather than just the ones that I was interested in.
Were the 12 that you outlined in order of importance? In order of degree of solution? In order of degree of —?
No, I like to do things with a flow of continuity, and that’s the way they were ordered. They kind of flow into each other.
You started with accretion of galaxies by giant galaxies.
Did I start with that?
Well, the first was dynamical friction.
Yes, probably. Here’s my original list — dynamical friction, that’s right. Yes. There I knew darned well that that was going to be an important subject, and that Jerry Ostriker was going to spend most of his talk on it. And I am impressed by its importance, by what a simple process it is, and how nobody had really noticed its importance before. I don’t know, you should ask Jerry how that original paper by him and Scott Tremaine and Lyman Spitzer got written. I’m not going to second guess. But it looks like one of those things where somebody was talking to somebody else, and somehow the idea developed in a conversation.
Ostriker would be the best source on this, I would imagine?
Yes. I think you should ask him. You’ll be talking to him anyway.
I certainly plan to. I tried to talk with him for a short time during the Symposium but very rapidly found that all the astronomers were very interested in finding out what everybody else was doing, which is understandable.
Yes. There were a few too many people there, and there wasn’t enough time to talk to everybody. That was really too bad. But it was really very good and very good opportunities for talk anyway.
Just as an aside, are a lot of these types of symposia conducted in this way? Do you find that people are catching the important problems as they arise and developing these small working symposia to help analyze them? I was going to ask if it was a very rare phenomenon.
I think it’s very mixed. It’s unusual, that one person organizes something the way Beatrice [Tinsley] did. And I think she really did us a great service. Usually, you need support from the IAU or something like that, and these things get done years in advance. For instance, I ran one on stellar dynamics in Besancon in 1974. Somebody proposed the symposium, the whole thing was set up, and then I was asked to be head of the organizing committee. That got started without my having done anything to start it at all. Then it depends very much on the people running it, and I think it depends on whether they want to be tough or not, and the polite people run lousy symposia. They let everybody in, and they let everybody talk, and very often, a phenomenon of symposia is that people are asked to talk on subjects that they worked on five years ago, because the people organizing the symposium don’t know the field well enough to realize that they’re not working in that any more. But this Symposium certainly had the people who were right in the middle of it.
And it was relatively restricted.
Yes, I guess it was. Oh, there were people who got in who weren’t Invited, who simply wanted to come. But Pierre Demarque told me that Beatrice had made some enemies by just refusing to invite certain people. He didn’t mention who. You can ask them if you like.
Yes. Immediately, the first three items that you had, dynamical friction, interaction and sweeping all dealt with, seemed to be dealing with the existence of galaxies that did not have interstellar mediums. In a way — “how to get rid of an interstellar medium in a galaxy.”
Well, the sweeping, the interactions and mergers come to some extent out of the dynamical friction. No, it’s more of a separate subject. Galaxies colliding with each other. The whole idea was that these are newly recognized or dynamical phenomena that are newly recognized as being important.
OK. During your discussion of the interactions between galaxies, you made a relatively strong statement, and I couldn’t tell exactly what the matter of it was, regarding Arp’s statistical studies?
I modified that, in the published text, because I realized I’d stepped out of line. What I really wanted to say there was here’s the new text. “These things are amply illustrated in Arp’s provocative Atlas; at a time when some of Chip’s work is severely criticized, we should remember how much we owe him for calling our attention to problems of peculiar galaxies.” That’s what I really wanted to say, that although I utterly disbelieve his stuff about non-cosmological red shifts, we shouldn’t forget that in the course of it, he’s turned up some awfully interesting systems. And if I had known that W. Sargent was going to make a really significant contribution to understanding of galaxies, based on an object that had been given to him by Arp, I certainly would have referred to it at that point.
I see. This came out later in the Symposium?
Yes, I didn’t know Sargent was going to say that. But I knew that A. Toomre has gotten many of his objects from Arp. They’ve had a very profitable association with each other.
It was interesting from my standpoint, to see Arp’s material used so consistently throughout the Symposium, and yet when people would talk about him, either informally or in front of the room, to refer consistently to his association of QSO’s with galaxies. Is this something that has sort of struck a nerve in astronomy, do you feel? Could you describe your feelings about it?
Yes. I wouldn’t say it struck a nerve, no. I just think it’s wrong, and I’m awfully sorry that people like Geoff Burbidge have taken it seriously and kept it going. And my own opinion is that — oh, I don’t know if I should say this — well, I think you find a connection between people’s prejudices in one direction and another direction. I think it all goes back to the Steady State universe. Now, Geoff is an old friend of Fred Hoyle’s, and was interested in the Steady State picture, although I don’t think he ever espoused it. Now, the worst thing that ever happened to the Steady State theory was quasars. And Steady State people — I’m now including Geoff among them — would very much like quasars not to be cosmological. And anybody who has any emotional attachment to the Steady State theory, I think has a predilection for non-cosmological quasars, and I just can’t help thinking that somewhere in Geoff Burbidge’s head, there’s some connection of that sort. Also, he likes to challenge established things. He takes the attitude that if you try to fit everything into a pattern, how are you ever going to find anything new? And he’s sympathetic to Arp for that reason. But I think Arp’s statistics are thin. I think, where people have taken the trouble to do the statistical work right, they discover that there is too much of what John Bahcall calls “The Gee Whiz factor.” That is, that this was one in a million, but there were a million things that might have been equally noteworthy, if you had run across them.
I shouldn’t be talking to any great extent about QSO’s, because again, that isn’t your direct interest, but I was wondering from what you just said, if the quasars’ red shifts were not cosmological, you would still have to contend with the galaxies. And how would this be an aid for the Steady State people? Because the quasars themselves show such a tremendous scatter.
Oh, because at the time this controversy began, there weren’t any galaxies far enough away that you could see evolutionary effects, and contradict the Steady State theory.
We’re still really not sure that we’re seeing evolutionary effects, though?
Well, now, we at Berkeley would argue that we’re seeing pretty darned big evolutionary effects. You ask Richard Kron about that.
Well, I’m aware of what he’s doing, and I’m aware that this is a longstanding problem, being able to separate out differential comparisons between galaxies. In fact, this goes all the way back to the Stebbins-Whitford situation.
But how far do you think you’ve come in that direction, of being able to discriminate evolutionary effects in galaxies, from the mere fact that their spectra are red shifted to a point where it’s difficult to compare the spectra to non—red—shifted galaxies?
That is a problem. I think that if nearby galaxies were as bright in the ultraviolet as the giant galaxy in the 1305 cluster, I think they would come ringing through a lot more clearly on the OAO and ANS. The satellite ultraviolet observations. But this isn’t something that I’ve pushed very hard myself. I’m a co-author of a paper that’s in press in the APJ on that cluster. But I’m very much the least of the three contributors. I didn’t have an awful lot to do with the paper.
I see. Getting back to the Yale Symposium, you mentioned one or two surprises. One was the paper by Sargent. But were there any fundamental and large surprises that came out? Were you aware of Martin Rees’s discussion, massive haloes and that sort of thing?
I was more impressed by Rees’s talk than by any other. I thought Sargent’s absorption lines in that quasar were the most interesting single thing But I very much liked Rees’s discussion of possibilities for the first generation, or population III or whatever, which I’ve always regarded as a skeleton in our closet. For some reason people don’t talk about it, but it’s an obvious discrepancy, just as bad as the missing mass. Between the missing mass and the first generation, I think we’re in a mess.
Did Baade ever wonder about this himself? Had he ever talked to you?
I had only that one interview with Baade in 1954. Afterward, I might have talked to him briefly at a meeting once or twice, but I had essentially no contact with him ever.
So you’re not aware of his changing attitudes, if they did change, as to the reality of the populations and the continuity, and whether there were intermediate populations?
No, I can’t contribute anything to that.
What are your feelings today about the reality of the populations, after Rees’s talk?
Well, I was impressed by his idea of the goings-on at very large red shifts, having made the original metals. I think it’s completely open. I thought he had some very interesting ideas. Clearly nothing demonstrated. I think he’d be the last one to claim that he’d proved anything or that he’d established this was right I just thought it was extremely provocative and interesting. As far as populations go, clearly, there had to be something that happened before Population II. It’s clear that there are great inhomogeneities or great differences between different samples of Population II. It is not clear to me that there is any boundary. In fact, I rather suspect that there is not a discrete boundary between Population II and Population I. I suspect that among the oldest stars, you get a continuous gradation right on up to solar metal abundance.
Well, there might be a continuous gradation of metals, but what about the great disparity in age between NGC 188 and some of the youngest globular that has been found now?
Well, that doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I was looking for an opportunity to inject this into one of the discussions, but somehow I never got to be recognized at the right time. I wrote a little paper, almost ten years ago, just showing that given the distribution of ages of clusters, and the small sample, that the expected age of the oldest known cluster was half that of the population it came from. Very simple demonstration. It’s “The Probable Ages of the Oldest Open Clusters,” is somewhere there. It’s a little one or two page thing, an ApJ note.
No. 40, — that’s 1968 — “The ages of the oldest open clusters” — and so the difference between 9 billion let’s say and 15 billion years is not significant?
Yes. The idea is that beyond a few times 108 years, there’s pretty much flat distribution of log of age. And if you look at the statistics of that kind of distribution, and recognize that, I think when I wrote that paper there were three clusters known that were more than 109 years old And if they have this logarithmic distribution, you ask, what’s the expected age of the oldest one in your sample of 3, and it’s half the age of the galaxy.
Does this throw a little bit of water on the excitement that some people thought these ages indicated, where there had to be a quick collapse stage of the galaxy, before stellar evolution continued?
No, I don’t think so. What I regard as a more convincing argument is the indication of some absence of field stars below the NGC 188 giant branch in the H-R Diagram. Unfortunately, very few of those are directly determined absolute magnitudes. If they’re spectroscopic absolute magnitudes, they’re really only Log-g determinations.
If they’re Olin Wilson’s K-line magnitudes, they could easily be population-sensitive.
So I’m not really sure about that. I would like to believe that the disc really is as old as the globular clusters. But I don’t see any clear evidence for it. DeVorkin; But you do also understand that there are a lot of people who see that there is a difference in age, and feel the significance of it? Is this something you were trying to remind people or, the work that you did?
I was trying to remind them of the fact that NGC 188 does not have to be as old as the oldest disc population, just because it’s the oldest cluster we know.
And I wasn’t at all convinced by R.D. McClure’s paper. I thought that the fits were so lousy that you couldn’t really believe them. By the way, I had no idea that he was going to give that sort of discussion, when I made the rather sharp remarks in my introductory talk that I wished the theoreticians would finally give us some ages we could believe. That was one point on which I did not feel satisfied. I’m just looking in my notes here — No, in these notes it doesn’t say that, but I remember, in the notes that I spoke from, there was something fairly strong about, “It’s about time you gave us something believable.”
Are you talking about calibration of the age of turnoff?
Yes. And the relative age of Population I and Population II stars. We’ve been going round and round with that ever since the original Hoyle-Schwarzschild paper in 1955. That’s the ApJ SUPPLEMENT paper. I think I got the year right The Sandage—Schwarzschild paper in 1952 was the first step toward understanding what the H-R Diagram really meant. But then when Hoyle and Schwarzschild did their work, which was published, I think in ‘55, those were the first real evolutionary tracks. Are you going to be interviewing Schwarzschild?
Be sure to get his story of how that research came about.
I’m quite sure we will be working on that. This might be a good place to stop.
This tape or transcript made from it cannot be used for anything but internal use by American Institute of Physics for the preparation of a transcript. Any other use has to be specifically by the permission of Ivan King. Is this acceptable?
Yes. Thank you.
 Astronomy I, II (Ginn, 1926)
 Series including works by Shapley, Bok, etc. in ‘40s (Blackiston)
 HARVARD OBS. BULLETIN # 919, 41, 1949
 Astrophysical Journal Monograph (U. of Chicago, 1937)
 GALACTIC ASTRONOMY (Freeman, 1968)
 “To The Stars via South Africa” (with C.A. Federer, Jr.), SCIENTIFIC MONTHLY, 74, 323, 1952
 “The Dynamics of Star Clusters” TRANS. INT. ASTRON. UNION VII, 410, 1950
 Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics
 European Southern Observatory, Geneva, Switzerland
 Objections To Astrology
 ApJ 151 (1968) p. L59