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Interview of H. William Koch by Finn Aaserud on 1986 September 18, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4715-2
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Youth and college education in Queens, New York; graduate studies and research work with Donald Kerst at the University of Illinois, 1941; Pd.D. in nuclear fission, 1944. Contract work during World War II for NDRC, Woolwich Arsenal in England; subcontract work on photo fission threshold for the Manhattan Project (Enrico Fermi); involvement in medical betatron work (Philip Morrison). Postwar transitions at the University of Illinois. Work at National Bureau of Standards as Director for the Betatron Laboratory and, from 1962, as Director of the Radiation Physics Division after Lauriston Taylor’s retirement. Work on radiation processing and food rpeservation. Directorship of Standards; his goal for AIP, its independence. Discussion of the scientific information explosions and the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant (Elmer Hutchisson) Manpower Statistics (the Bromley Report); long-range planning committees (Frederick Seitz); effects of Internal Revenue Service audit; 1977/78; classification of physics documents (Philip Morse, Thomas Lauritsen); information as a saleable commodity (Germany, England); electronic information systems (PINET and PIMAIL); translation of Russian journals. Also, major events in reorganization; move to Woodbury and that facility’s later expansion, computerization of publishing activities, relationship between governing boards and Member Societies. Attracting new societies, AIP’s early (pioneer) ventures: Manpower Statistics, history and education programs, and public relations. Series ends with a brief discussion of the career of Marshak Cleveland: his work in radiation treatment, founding his own company (Radiation Dynamics), and his new venture in Colorado. Also prominently mentioned are: Alan Astin, Edward U. Condon, Michael Danos, Ugo Fano, Evans Hayward, Raymond Hayward, Wheeler Loomis, Harold Wyckoff; and the American Physical Society.
We're back in the H. William Koch interview two days later, and will pick up where we stopped the last time. We could start talking a little bit about your family. You were wed on the 3rd of February, 1945.
Yes. That's such an easy day to remember. I don't know how we lucked out on that, because the date is 2/3/45, and how can a man ever forget this wedding anniversary with its unusual order of numbers? I married Margaret Giles who had gone to undergraduate school at Illinois, and she and I met there while I was in graduate school. It was a year after I had gotten my Ph.D. and she had gotten her Bachelor's degree, that we were married. All of her family had gone to University of Illinois as had a number of her relatives. She's from a small town in southern Illinois. Her family was reasonably prominent in this small town. That's not too difficult in a small town, to be prominent. But her father had, with his brother, in the Depression, about 1931, formed an armature company, a motor generator repair company. What they did was to re-make large motor generator sets that are used in mines. In Illinois one of the industries there always has been coal mining, particularly around the area of Marion, Illinois, where she's from — Carbondale, Heron and so on — and this company got to be quite large maybe ten or fifteen years ago, when energy was in short supply. The company has just been sold during the last year because her two brothers had reached retirement age and they felt they wanted to divest themselves of that burden. So the family is no longer in that business, but they were in it all of her growing life, and that made it possible for her and many of her family to go to the University of Illinois. We were married and did not have children from 1945 to 1948, and then once the children started, they came quite rapidly every 18 months. It was quite systematic. In fact, if you look at the history of our family, with the five children — four boys and one girl — and see when they each individually got married and when they each individually had children, you'll quickly see that they got married exactly according to the age, so the oldest one got married first, the next one got married, the next one, the next one. The youngest were twin boys and got married pretty much about the same time. And then they each have two children, except for the youngest whose wife is about to have a third child. So they each had children in this order, again, almost as if it was all very scheduled, and I guess that is one of the characteristics of my whole life, that there's been good stability — a feeling of security all along. Each of the children, I think, has felt that he or she has had a good life. They were all very loving with us and we with them, and they I think always have looked up to us. We've always had a good relationship with all the five. And one of the reasons is because of my wife who was always made a very good effort to maintain good relations. In fact, as the children were growing up, it was my wife who really brought up the children, because I worked very hard. It was the time period when I was at the Bureau of Standards that the children were growing up, and there I was in charge of the group, and I felt I had to set a pattern for the group, and so the result of that was that I really worked Saturdays, Sundays — many hours each day. In fact we would often run 24-hour shift work, but that's getting a little bit ahead of the story.
Yes, we'll get to that. So she stayed at home for the whole time?
Yes, she did, while the children were growing up. We lived in Silver Spring, Maryland all the time that the children were growing up. We stayed in one house, and in fact in a very small community that was quite a family community. She stayed at home, took care of the children. She did work the last few years down there in a part-time job. But she felt very strongly an allegiance to the children, feeling that that was her responsibility. When we came to Scarsdale NY, she was able — there the children were all in high school — to have more time to herself and she did take different part time jobs when we were in Scarsdale. The community that we lived in in Silver Spring, Maryland was a community that had some 75 homes. It had natural boundaries to it, so it was almost like a little village. And it was very hilly. We lived at the end of a dead end street, a cul-de-sac there. Our children were very close in age — you see, they covered a time span of about five years — and that was a major characteristic because they played all with the same children. They played really quite well together, so they had a good community life and they had a good family life. And we enjoyed that life, my wife and I.
A good neighborly neighborhood.
Yes. We still get together with the people in the community. We visit with a next door neighbor who lives up in Connecticut now. We often go there. And it was the kind of community where if a member of the family got sick or if there was a new baby, then the neighbors would fix cakes and bring food over and try to take care of the invalid, if there was such. We had a community Christmas party and a picnic. That was all part of that life. And perhaps that's enough.
What were the circumstances of meeting your wife? Was that in the context of the university?
Oh yes. She lived in a rooming house at the University of Illinois. I ate meals at a scientific fraternity called Gamma Alpha, Gamma Alpha was situated on one street and her rooming house was in between the physics department and the Gamma Alpha house. So I would have to go by her house, and that's how I eventually met her. In fact, I lived in a private residence and I had a roommate who was in the geology graduate department at Illinois. He dated her roommate, so again that's how we got going together. I would often visit her in the evening and then hop into the physics department betatron pickup truck. After 10 o'clock at night I would then work for a few more hours doing experiments at the betatron lab. So those years at Illinois and at the Bureau of Standards, where I did experimental research, were years that were very exciting for me. They were in a new field that was the same field. I did research in high energy physics and in fact helped start that field and continued that at the Bureau of Standards.
While we're at your family, what did your children do? Did any of them become physicists like their father?
Before answering that, let me comment that our attitude was that we didn't want to influence them. We didn't want to have them, if they didn't want to, go into physics, if they wanted to go to another field. In fact, another characteristic of our children was that none of them wanted to stay on the East Coast to go to school. None of them wanted to go to the most obvious candidate for college — the University of Maryland — which would have permitted them to stay home. I don't know quite how to attribute their desire to get away, but we did often come back to New York. My parents lived out on Long Island. And none of us, including myself, particularly liked the hustle and bustle of New York and its surroundings, and the small town attitude that we grew up with with our children was more the kind of thing that they wanted to look for. And so every summer during the time periods that they were looking for colleges, we would make a family excursion. We would go and systematically look at all the small schools, and there seemed to be a small school every 50 miles in Ohio. And we went to Pennsylvania. We went to Massachusetts. So in subsequent summers each of them had a chance to see all these schools and the oldest boy went to a small school in Pennsylvania called Bucknell, and the next child was a girl, and she decided on a large school, the University of Wisconsin. The next boy went to the University of Michigan.
That's John, Kathleen, and Donald.
That's right. And then Robert also went to the University of Michigan, and then Russell, his twin, went to Dennison University in Ohio. In fact, when they applied to their schools, Russell and Robert were admitted to Dennison, and their decision was not to go to the same school. That's how they did not both end up at Dennison University but one went to a very large school and the other one went to a small school. As far as the fields that they went into are concerned, they entered, I think, the freshman years with open minds. They had certain inclinations. I think they all were mathematically inclined, and my oldest boy majored in mathematics and then went to graduate school at the University of Illinois, and he's the only one that got his Ph.D., in computer science. He now teaches computer science in a small school, Wilkes College in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. He's in charge of academic computing there. He did a very interesting thesis at the University of Illinois. It was a classic problem called the four color map problem, where for hundreds of years people have been trying to figure out what is the minimum number of colors required to make world maps so that you don't have two adjacent countries with the same color. The conclusion is that four colors are sufficient to color maps, and his license tag now proudly shows the letters "4-COLOR". He did that thesis in working with two professors at the University of Illinois who were in the mathematics department. He had a frustrating year or so in looking for a thesis problem. Computer science is unlike physics, I think, particularly in that time period, and there did not seem to be many interesting challenging problems. So he tried very hard to find a problem, and then finally changed his research professor and went to these two mathematicians, who were eager to have a specialist in programming. He has continued to do many of those things like going down to the Institute for Defense Analyses at Princeton many summers. He apparently is a specialist on programming for very large systems. Kathleen is next in line. She followed my wife's example and went into home economics, and she now teaches art and home economics in a high school in Colorado. The next one, Don, went to the University of Michigan and was in undergraduate school in physics. He was I believe the most studious of our five children. Of all the children I think he had the most promise, as far as his school went. And from my contact with the people at Michigan, he did very well and was very well liked. He did much undergraduate teaching while he was at Michigan. He then applied to graduate schools and ended up at the University of Illinois in the physics department. He had a very disappointing experience there, though. In fact, he was assigned as a job to help a graduate student who was in his last year. He and that graduate student didn't get along at all, and the result was that Don decided he didn't like physics. He wanted to go into electrical engineering. But they apparently don't permit those kinds of changes, because Illinois is such a large and competitive school. If you don't want to stay in one department, it's very difficult to change. They have their own set of people that are applying in each of these departments, and it's a very great competition. So he ended up getting his Master's degree in physics and then he went to working for a naval laboratory that involved him in testing integrated circuits. Then, after one or two years there, he went to RCA and he's been there ever since. He's an electrical engineer at RCA. He does designing of specialized computer chips, and they're largely working on military programs. When he was in his first year of graduate school, he met a young lady. That probably was one of his problems in wanting to leave graduate school and not spend the seven years that most people project for being in graduate school. They now live very comfortably, I think very securely, working for RCA. The next child, Robert, went to Michigan as a math major. He met a young lady in undergraduate school, and got married to her before he finished undergraduate school. She convinced him to go into music, and he then finished as a music major. He then subsequently got a job as a high school teacher. So we have two high school teachers — the girl who lives now in Denver, and this man. He got divorced from the girl that he married in undergraduate school and is now married to another music teacher, and they are to have their second child now. The last one, Russell, lives in Flushing, New York. He went to Dennison and got his undergraduate degree in physics, and then he and our son Don were looking for jobs at the same time, in a summer that it was impossible to find a job. I tried in every way I could to help the two of them find a job. It's funny how different this was. When my oldest boy, John, was in his next to last year in college, I was able to help him get a job in White Plains for IBM. At that time they took students — were eager to get them — and he worked for IBM in the summer. Then that set him up for life, in fact, because in his last year — because of the IBM experience — he was asked to set up the computer lab at Bucknell. He then — a young man — served as a consultant for a variety of colleges, setting up computer labs. So, in his last year in college, he traveled around as a consultant. And he did that in between the time that he finished undergraduate school and went to the University of Illinois to graduate school. So when Don and Russ were looking for jobs, the job market had changed. It was then impossible to find jobs, and Russ decided that he did not want to go to graduate school in physics. So he got a job in a New York bank, and initially he lived at home. He has been involved in fact in banks ever since, in that he now designs computer systems for banks. He worked for Manufacturers Hanover initially, and one of his jobs was to design branches. They did extensive surveys to see what kind of community to build a new branch in. Then he went from that to the Erickson Telecommunications Company from Sweden, where he has worked designing banking systems. He was a project manager then for the Erickson System that was installed in the Peoples Banks in Connecticut. There's a chain of Peoples Banks. So he installed that banking system. Some two months ago he changed from Erickson and is now doing programming for a software company that installs Tandem computers. Tandem computers came to be quite a prominent computer because of the particular computer architecture that they have that lends itself to decentralized operations, so they're ideal for a bank with lots of branches. They're ideal for airline systems. And the reason is that they decentralize the central processing units. They don't concentrate it as is the tendency in most IBM main frames and so on. They always have had that decentralized concept, and that concept apparently now is getting to be very important. So those are the careers of my children. Maybe next we should start talking about the Bureau of Standards.
I would like to return to the transition from student to associate professor at the University of Illinois. We talked a little bit about that, and I got the understanding that that transition was pretty automatic. You did not apply for other jobs, or did you have other offers at the time?
Didn't apply. I got my Ph.D. in 1944. Then went to England in 1944, and Kerst had in the meantime of course returned to Illinois. When the Japanese War was still on, I applied for a job at Oak Ridge and I went there for six months. I mentioned that earlier. And when I was down at Oak Ridge, it was then that Wheeler Loomis and Don Kerst encouraged me to come back and work with them on the large machine. That was really my only goal. I knew that job. I knew the position. I knew the responsibilities I would want to have there. So I eagerly jumped at that opportunity. And there then were the four of us working — Gail Adams, a new man, Clark Robinson, who took the place of Lyle Phillips, Bob Clark, George Baldwin and I, but Baldwin quickly strayed away. He was a reasonably independent person, and I don't think he particularly got along well with Kerst. Kerst had been gone most of the time that we were working on our degree work. And so Baldwin ended up taking a job at GE, where Kerst had left. I don't know whether it was to spite Kerst or not that he did that, but nevertheless that's what happened to him. So it was then Clark Robinson, Gail Adams and I that were the mainstays, and then there were other people that were added by Kerst. I stayed there then as an assistant professor until a man named Willard Bennett from the Bureau of Standards came out recruiting.
How was the department affected by, or how quickly did the department recover from, the war? What's your experience of that?
I think, very quickly. You know, it's funny, a question like that, because you have to realize that at the time I was doing nothing but research, and at the time the Betatron lab was in the power plant, which was, oh, maybe three miles from the physics department. The knowledge I had of the physics department and the goings on there was obtained from the times when we would return to go to a seminar or the Monday night Journal Club. Other than that, my contacts were not very great, and so I didn't follow much of what was going on. I was so busy with my own work and with helping Kerst. Then we built our own laboratory, where the 80 MEV model and the 300 MEV betatron were built. It was there that we treated this cancer patient and so on, so that was a completely separate facility, quite a distance, from the physics department building but close to the power plant. In fact, you could see the power plant from the new building that was built for the betatron lab. That was all built with state funds. So the knowledge of what went on in the department — I wasn't really very familiar with it. We had other relations. For example, the wives had a physics wives club and they would often meet. That was part of the family affair that I made reference to the other day, where Dave Lazarus, who is editor-in-chief of the American Physical Society and a professor at Illinois, has just written up a history of the department in those early years. Every time I've seen him in the last four months — and I've seen him a number of times because he's now on AIP's Executive Committee — he's commented, what a family affair that was, those early days, where Wheeler Loomis felt personally responsible for each of the department members, and tried to make sure that they got established well. There was a secretary of the department, Della Mae Rogers, who also tried to take care of everybody. There was a machinist — Bill Deam, I think — and at Illinois they had a so-called student shop where people would be encouraged, many times even required, to machine their own equipment. Bill Deam was very much involved in helping people, so he knew everybody and Della Mae Rogers knew everybody and Wheeler Loomis knew everybody, and because I was on a research appointment, I did not attend the monthly staff meetings in the department, so again I was reasonably remote.
You were not involved in teaching either?
No, not at all. My only teaching was the first six months I was there as a graduate student, before I started to work for Kerst. From then on I was doing nothing but research.
So there was a distinction between people who taught and people who just did research? Did most of your group do only research?
Yes, that's right. And it's interesting that you ask that, because there was such a strong distinction drawn between research people and teaching people. Now, at Illinois Wheeler Loomis did not have a high regard for teachers, and in fact there was one man I remember — his last name was Nye. In fact, Lyell Phillips, who had earlier worked with us on the betatron, was so much interested in teaching that he came over and worked with Nye. In fact, I think Phillips married Nye's sister. But Nye and Phillips were dedicated teachers. They felt very strongly that one should receive promotions in the physics department just on the basis of dedication to teaching. Another person who was like that was Gerry Tape, and Gerry Tape — not too many years ago when the Atomic Energy Commission was named Atomic Energy Commission — was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commissioners. Gerry Tape was also prominent at Brookhaven when Lee Haworth was the director at Brookhaven. But Tape, Phillips, Nye — dedicated teachers — had continuing arguments with Loomis about getting advancements, and they didn't do research and they were proud of it. I would say each individually left disappointed because of not being able to make that mark. In fact, I particularly emphasize it because my own career was largely in experimental research, and yet because I was in charge of every group that I went to — and I haven't been at many groups, just three — and because I was primarily a manager, I could understand very well the attitude of Phillips. Maybe that helped form my approach to my professional life. I think Wheeler Loomis would have looked down on both managing and teaching as trivial things one could do. But the hard part was doing research, in his view. I think one of the reasons that I have always felt successful as a manager is that I always tried to encourage the people that worked with me, and every one of the groups I built up from nothing. The Bureau of Standards was the most prominent example before I came here, where we started with two people and developed up to 120 people. I tried to encourage the people in my group as much as possible. I never worried about whether any of them would try to compete for my job. And I think that was an important ingredient of my attitude. A second important ingredient was that I often would look for things that would complement what they were doing. I think I said the other day that I worked on bremsstrahlung experiments which had to be done and yet nobody wanted to do them because it was at the time very difficult theoretically to untangle the theory, and it was very difficult to do experimentally — much more difficult than just looking at radioactivities. So I spent much of my career at the Bureau of Standards on doing experiments on pair production and bremsstrahlung. These are two processes that theoretically are inverse to one another, and the same theory is used for each one of them. Further, in order to do the experiments at the University of Illinois and at the Bureau of Standards on bremsstrahlung, I had to use cloud chambers with a pulse machine, which is a very difficult technology.
To what extent were you able to make use of your managerial abilities already at Illinois? Was that part of your job?
Well, I was given the assignment of developing cloud chambers and large air core magnets, and several of the papers have to do with pair production and bremsstrahlung and these large magnets. I designed and built a 14 ton air core magnet. That was a horrendous magnet, and I had it wound at the Brooklyn Navy Yard here in New York because that was the only facility in the country that could wind something that big.
When was this?
That was in about 1946, because we wanted to have that as a facility. In connection with that large air core magnet, which was my assignment by Kerst, I had to try to make the magnetic field as uniform as possible over the area that the cloud chamber would be located. I did some calculations that are in a Journal of Applied Physics paper, that I was very pleased about at the time. The calculations permitted me to do that design. But you have to realize too that with Kerst and just a few senior people then having a large number of people that were hired, graduate students and so on, helped produce this big machine. It was all hand manufactured at Illinois. So that's how we did it.
To what extent was your research at Illinois guided by one general research program or around one special facility or conception?
Oh, it was all connected with the betatron. But that had so many ramifications, in terms of cancer treatments, depth dose measurements, radioactivity measurements, dosimeters. It was such an excellent background to go then to the Bureau of Standards, to work on standards there.
It was more centered around facilities than concepts.
Yes, it was.
Maybe we should get to the National Bureau then. How were you approached about the possibility for your position?
Well, there was a recruiter who came from Bureau of Standards. His name was Willard Bennett. I think he came specifically to the physics department and the betatron lab, because they had a very prominent x-ray program at the Bureau of Standards headed by a man by the name of Lauriston Taylor. Lauriston Taylor had worked at low energies and had been involved in radiation protection measurements and the development of national recommendations. He retired when he was maybe 65 years old from the Bureau of Standards, and then established as a separate office — even separate from the Bureau of Standards — a National Committee for Radiation Protection, NCRP. That office still operates and I believe he still is involved in it. It has played a very important role nationally. After the Second World War, it established radiation standards for reactors and accelerators of various sorts. Because of that prominent x-ray program, he had purchased a 50 MEV betatron, and he was the instigator of that.
That was before you came?
That was before I came, and in fact it was then that they asked me whether I would be interested in coming and operating it, which I did. And I don't remember when the separate building was built — whether it was built after I came. I think it was. Right after I came they built the betatron lab and then eventually installed in it the 180 MEV synchrotron. The betatron and synchrotron were built by an engineer, Westendorp, at the General Electric Company who had worked with Kerst earlier.
Was it a difficult decision to leave Illinois? Did you have the opportunity to stay there?
Oh yes, I could have stayed. In fact, I think Lazarus's history and his going through the records, will confirm that. I'm going to go to Illinois in a few weeks and I'd like to see what he's found.
Will Lazarus' history be published?
Yes. And I believe he indicated that Wheeler Loomis who upped the offer to have me stay at Illinois was disappointed that I left. But I felt that I had learned all I could there, up to that stage, and I wanted to have another challenge. So I seized on the opportunity to go to the Bureau of Standards, even though I think I had developed before that, as many people had, a prejudice against government laboratories. I was assured that the Bureau of Standards was different, and I believe it's proved to be different. It's quite a unique laboratory.
But that was your first question.
That's right. I emphasized basic research. I recognized that standards are the bread and butter part, and it's necessary to talk both languages, very similar to the way you can think of teaching and doing research in physics, with teaching as the bread and butter part that earns your salary, and the research is the fun part. When I considered going to the Bureau of Standards, I had all kinds of encouragement by Condon (the director) and by Lauriston Taylor. I was told that I would have a free hand and I didn't quite believe that. But we started out with just another man, John McElhinney, who had done research with me on photo fission thresholds. He came, I think, about a year after I started, but he was an important part of setting up the lab, and trying to encourage people to do basic research. In fact, because it was a completely new field, you see, there were no standards. So one could quite easily justify doing basic research because you didn't understand anything about this business. So you did experiments, and then every once in a while you'd work on standards. As time went on, as a matter of fact, we did work more and more on standards and eventually developed quite a reputation as a standards laboratory. Then the Bureau left the site on Connecticut Avenue in the District of Columbia.
When was that?
We actually went into our laboratory in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in 1964 and 1965. And it was a year and a half after we moved and had this laboratory that I then had the offer to come to the American Institute of Physics. But from 1949, then, when I went to the Bureau of Standards, to 1964, we were located in the District of Columbia, and I lived in Silver Spring and I commuted down there. It was fortunate that where I lived in Silver Spring was also about the same commuting distance by car to the new laboratory in Gaithersburg, Maryland. If I had lived on the other side of the District, in Virginia or the southern part, I would not have been able to stay in the same home. So this community that our children grew up in was one and the same, independent of where I worked at the two NBS laboratories.
Did you have other than scientific reasons for moving to Washington, like social life or even salary?
No. It was just the opportunity. I've never really worried very much about salary. It seemed to be enough. The only time I did worry about salary was when our five children, within five years of age of one another, wanted to go to college. Then we started to worry about how to finance that, and that was one of the motivations, but not too important a one, for my coming to the American Institute of Physics.
OK, but that was much much later. How did you find working conditions at NBS, in relation to the assurance you were given of complete independence?
It was excellent. As an illustration of that, we developed this group of theoretical people and experimentalists, largely experimentalists. We had weekly seminars in our betatron lab, and we invited prominent people to come and lecture. We felt we had the best laboratory at the Bureau of Standards, and I think we did. The whole approach was to encourage good basic research and everything else would then follow from that. The standards work would follow from that. But if we had emphasized standards research, we did not think that good basic research would naturally follow from that. Now, in recruiting for extra people, I identified a young man. His name was Michael Danos. And Mike at the time was working for Columbia University in New York City. He had a temporary appointment. He was a Latvian citizen, had worked for Jenssen in Heidelberg, where he had gotten his Ph.D. in nuclear physics — Jenssen was eventually a Nobel Prize winner — and Mike was truly an exceptional all around capable person. He could do experimental work and very sophisticated theoretical work, in almost every field. He was really very well backgrounded and very capable, very bright. So I met this man at the spring meeting of the American Physical Society — at the April meeting — held partly that year at the Bureau of Standards.
That was in April of which year?
Of whenever it was, and I don't remember when it was. Sometime in the fifties. I asked Mike whether he would be interested in coming to work at the Bureau of Standards. Because he only had a temporary job and because it would be in an interesting field, he jumped at the opportunity. And then the question was, since he was not a US citizen, could we hire him? There was a little stigma against hiring non-US citizens at a government laboratory. And it so happened that two weeks after I met him, I discovered, through our personnel department at the Bureau of Standards, that a law had been passed by Congress that was designed to get engineers and scientists from behind the Iron Curtain in aeronautical engineering and in rocket research. That law was to expire in June of that year, so I called up Mike and I said, "We think we can hire you under this law, and it's just a freak that the law exists — it's designed for another purpose — if we make the effort, would you like to come?" He said, "Positively". So he came, and in fact is still with the group at the Radiation Physics Division at the Gaithersburg lab. Mike is so unusual, he dabbles in everything and is knowledgeable in everything, an excellent generalist, and now primarily theoretical, but it was not obvious whether he should go into experimental research or theoretical research until after he had been with us at NBS for a while. I mention Mike because it demonstrated the freedom that I had to develop the laboratory and hire the people that I wanted to. That laboratory in Washington with our weekly seminars and the contacts that that developed also made it possible for me to have another attitude regarding the staff. I always encouraged them to leave and to look for another job, and they always thought that that was a strange attitude for me to take. I did that partly with tongue in cheek, because the result of that was that whenever they had another opportunity — they would come to me and describe the opportunity. They would tell me that they knew that they were being invited to, for example, Syracuse University to give a colloquium and to be recruited for that institution. And they would come back and tell me what the offer was, and then I'd go to the Bureau of Standards administration and say, "Look, we're going to lose this person if we can't do something better". There were some little increments that one could accomplish by that. So the staff appreciated that, and the result was that there was a certain togetherness among the group. We worked extremely hard, and all enjoyed it and had a good time. Now, we went and designed the laboratory out at Gaithersburg, a number of years later. It was a large laboratory, had 77,000 square feet in it, and it was a very specialized lab. 75 percent of it was below ground level, and we'll be getting into talking about that in more detail. But the point I wanted to make is that even though it was much larger than the facility we had in Washington, we had there also a good working relationship with all the staff. Even though the laboratory was so designed that the doors had to be closed in order to allow the air conditioning to function properly — so all the laboratory doors were closed — I as the head of the lab always felt I knew where everybody was. It was a funny thing. For one thing, we had film badges. When you walked into the building, you'd know whose film badge had been taken out, or not. And then I'd walk down the halls and I'd see secretaries and so on and I'd ask about so and so. So I always knew where everybody was, and who was working late at night, who had stayed home that morning because they just were so dog tired from working. It was a good feeling. We had that same good feeling in Washington. I was very pleased at that. I just want to comment that I've always felt that my experiences with our five children completely prepared me for the good working relationship of the staff. It's interesting how you work with children and it's exactly the way you work with a staff. Children, while they're growing up, are continuously trying to test the parents. That's part of the growing up process. And I always felt the same thing was true in a laboratory, where when new staff members came and wanted to take liberties that the others didn't have. It was always my role to set them straight. I always felt it was my role to set a model for the lab. So I always came before working hours, and I usually stayed after working hours. However, I work better in the morning than I do in the evening, as far as thinking and writing things is concerned. I've always been that way. And the result was that I always saw when everybody came, and we always had rules, wherever I worked — in the few places I've worked — and everybody knew what the rules were. I think that was the same experience we had with our family. We told them what the rules were and that's the way it was going to be, and if they didn't like it, that was tough.
Your lab was your extended family, so to speak.
That's right. When I had these five children and my wife was taking care of them, we often would have pets, police dogs. At the time we never had cats but we did have several dogs when the kids were growing up, and I always had a whistle. I can whistle without my fingers and it is a very loud whistle, very shrill. My wife commented — has always commented when she recalls those years — that when I whistled, the whole neighborhood knew it, and all the kids would come running, because they knew that they had to come home. I think it was because of those rules that we developed, and because of my wife's dedication that I think the kids had a good growing up, even though I did not spend all the time I should have in helping them grow up.
Were they exposed to the lab in any way? Did you take them there?
Well, my wife would at times come to pick me up and have the children with her, so yes, they saw the laboratory. We would have annual parties at our house. It's not unusual, in Washington, where everybody drives. The Metro is a recent phenomenon down there. So it's a commuting community, in contrast to New York City. Here, it's very difficult, very difficult indeed to try to bring people to your home, because they're living in all kinds of directions, like the spokes of a wheel with the AIP headquarters here in the center of it, and each of the individuals lives on the outside of these spokes of this wheel. At the Bureau of Standards, because everybody commuted, you could collect people. We had wonderful parties once a year at my house.
Maybe we should say a little more about both the facilities and the personnel at the laboratory at the time you moved to the Bureau of Standards, to get some sense of the size of it and the atmosphere of it then. Then we could talk about the development of that.
OK. I commented earlier that the betatron laboratory was in a separate building. It was in a poured concrete building, and it was just a few feet from the laboratory called the high voltage laboratory. And it was the high voltage laboratory where the lower energy x-ray and electron research was done. That's where they had the Van de Graaffs and a very large GE Cockcroft-Walton machine, and it was so huge that you had to have a room that was about 40 feet cube, somewhat like the betatron lab at Illinois, a very large room. Our group in the NBS betatron lab was quite separate and distinct. There was a certain snobbishness about the group that we had. They didn't highly value the work of the people that were doing the standards work at low energies in the other laboratories. But because of that larger laboratory — the larger group involved in low energy research — we had many facilities available to us there that we would not have had if we were an isolated laboratory trying to start from nothing. We would at times borrow people. There was also equipment borrowed. There was some machining; there were also some test programs. For example Lauriston Taylor took this contract to do developments with A bomb test at Eniwetok, out in the Pacific. Thus there were groups in the NBS high voltage lab that built apparatus. There was an excellent instrumentation and electronic laboratory that since has been absorbed in the Radiation Physics Division at the Bureau of Standards. A man by the name of Costrell was in charge of the electronics lab, and he built much of the instrumentation for the A bomb tests out in the Pacific. So there were techniques and technologies that were exceptional that we could borrow. The development of amplifiers, detectors and so on that was very useful for us. And we worked on the same developments that Illinois had worked on, of removing electrons from the doughnut shaped accelerating chamber. So we could remove the beam and then do research with the electron beams directly. It also permitted us to do dose distribution measurements that we could not have done, and they were extensions then of what was being done at lower energies — half a million volts, a million volts — with electrons. And then out at the new lab in Gaithersburg we had some positive ion machines that could be used for doing dose distributions too. Thus it was a good overall program that my lab helped extend into the higher energies.
There was a betatron there when you arrived in 1949?
A 50 MEV betatron.
Your position, was that a new position?
Oh yes. There was no one there, so Lauriston Taylor and Condon wanted to have someone take charge of that. And it was such a miserable first period, because the 50 MEV betatron had not been properly built by Westendorp and the GE people. There were all kinds of problems, and the 50 MEV betatron that they built was not very much larger than the 20 MEV betatron that was air-cooled that Kerst had designed and brought back. So this was kind of a test machine, and they had copper sheets that were water-cooled in the core of this alternating magnetic field magnet. It was difficult to design properly so that you wouldn't get eddy currents produced in those sheets — excessive loss of energy. Also the tubes that were soldered onto the copper sheets kept on springing leaks. Ed Condon, who didn't take no for an answer, and because of my prodding him, kept on calling the president of the General Electric Company and saying, "damn it, fix this machine! It's not working and you guaranteed it," and all that. Finally the General Electric Company sent a truck down, and they literally disassembled the machine piece by piece in Schenectady, all these 14,000 ofan inch laminations, and wire-wheeled each lamination — recoated them. It was a terrible job and it took two months. I believe them when they say they worked 24 hours a day. They had teams of people trying to fix that machine for us. And when they got it done and delivered it, it was working and it worked beautifully.
Were you involved in that?
Not other than going up and heckling.
It must have been quite a change for you to come from Illinois where you were involved in the whole process of building the betatron. You knew practically each part of it there, and then when you came to the Bureau it was all set up.
That's right. So it was really quite painful to see this machine so poorly developed and delivered by a large company. They wanted to get it out of their laboratory, you see. In fact, they kept on trying to convince us that it was operating, and they would get what we called x-ray yield for a short time — bremsstrahlung coming out of the tube. We'd make measurements and we'd see the needle. It would stay up there for short time, and you'd have to look at it fast because pretty soon it would flop down again. It was very unstable, with water leaks and so on, and we thought that if we were to accept responsibility for it, it would be a terrible thing to try to keep going. Fortunately we complained enough about the 50 MEV betatron that we got it fixed and it was fixed right. Later we had great success with the air-cooled 180 MEV synchrotron. That worked well.
What was the personnel situation when you started there in your lab? How many people worked under you and what kinds of positions did they have?
McElhinney, who came in 1950, was the first. And then I hired other Illinois students like Jim Leiss, who was an excellent person. He, in fact, ended up at the Department of Energy in charge of national accelerator programs. He retired about a year ago from that job. Jim Leiss came as one of the early ones, with Sam Penner and Ed Fuller. They were all Illinois students. I would say by the middle fifties, 1955, we must have had 30 people in the betatron lab. It was not a large laboratory. We had a control room on the first floor. I would say the control room was maybe double the size of this office. It was the same size room at four levels, so these were rooms stacked one on top of the other, and then that was attached to a thick concrete wall behind which was the synchrotron room and the betatron room. And then, in 1962, Taylor retired. The associate director for basic measurements at the Bureau of Standards, a man by the name of Bob Huntoon was, I think, primarily responsible for selecting me as the person to be put in charge of the radiation physics laboratory. There was a choice between me and a man who had grown up with Lauriston Taylor, a man by the name of Harold Wyckoff, a very capable man. He had been involved in a lot of dosimetry work at low energies, a lot of standards writing and so on.
He's on your publications too, quite a few of them.
But Wyckoff — very tall guy, he must have been half again a head above me — was very upset that I was selected rather than himself. But we then got the lab together and designed the new facility. It was the combined group that designed the new facility, and it was a tremendous challenge. Because we had really a lot of money made available to us for this new building, and because we'd developed some prominence, and because of the low energy reputation, we were able to build a beautiful laboratory. It's something I'm very proud of, and it's described in the booklet, the blue one.
What kind of positions did the people under you have? Were they permanent positions at the lab?
They weren't visiting researchers?
No, in fact, it's not easy to have visitors. We did eventually have people like Haakon Olsen come from Norway, but that was a rare exception.
Yes, and it came late.
Yes. We did not have people who came on sabbaticals, for example, for a year at a time. It just wasn't done. I think it was because of the Civil Service system, and the fact that there's an attitude in the government that once you've gone through a probationary period, you have a permanent job. In fact, that's one of the difficulties of having a laboratory that is interested in doing good basic research, because if you hired a person there, you had to be pretty certain that you were willing to live with that person, because —
— you were stuck.
Yes. It was difficult to get rid of him or her. So that's why it was so exceptional to have picked the people — and I hired every one of them — and have them all feel very comfortable. We didn't have very many people leave.
If we look at your list of publications, it's rather glaring — I don't know if that is by chance or what it is — but during your Illinois period which lasted for nine years, there are five publications listed, and then when you came to the Bureau of Standards, in 1950 alone there are six publications. Is that significant? Does that reflect the different natures of the institutions, do you think?
Well, also the time period. You have to realize that when I was at Illinois, we were building facilities. We didn't have any facilities. We couldn't do research. We had the 20 MEV machine, but it was a standard complaint of graduate students that here they thought they were going to do high energy research and they had their arms twisted to build machines. So when I went to the Bureau of Standards, it was a real chance to do research. That was one of the disappointing things at Illinois. I was there during the dogwork period at Illinois. And I enjoyed it, but there was not much chance to do research. And also, it may have — no, I don't want to blame it on Kerst in any way. I think that was it.
Yes, it just had to be that way. So that was the positive side of getting the GE machine installed for you.
Because you could go right on.
A thing that also is a characteristic of the research is as follows. I was for a number of years on the editorial board at the Bureau of Standards, and I was struck by the way some people — like in infra-red spectroscopy, atomic or molecular spectroscopy more generally — would have a piece of apparatus, which a lot of times was commercially built, and they would put a sample in and they'd measure a spectrum and they'd publish a paper. And they'd take another material, put the sample in, measure another spectrum, and publish another paper. Now, our work wasn't like that. Our work was really quite unknown at the time. How to grapple and make a continuous spectrum was a major burden, because every phenomenon was an integrated effect of all the x-ray and gamma ray energies. That was the beauty of Van de Graaff research where if you did a p-gamma ray reaction and got a monochromatic gamma ray, you could then determine the cross-section of a particular energy. Well, our stuff was the sum total. So we had to develop techniques for slowly increasing the energy, know hopefully what the shape of the spectrum of radiation was, and then by differentiating these integrated effects, you then would try to separate out what the effect of a single energy was. So to find a giant resonance in photonuclear research was a very very difficult job at the time, and that was the thing that was so pleasing about one of the experiments that I attempted to do later. We developed what we called a total absorption spectrometer, which ended up being a large sodium iodide crystal, where you get a big light pulse proportional to the x-ray energy that is absorbed in the crystal. Now, the energy resolution wasn't too good but, nevertheless, it still allowed you to sort out the different energies. One of the experiments that we eventually did was to take big long cylinders and do total absorption spectrometry. You could take this continuous spectrum and look at it before the absorber and after the absorber, and then look at the differences. There you could measure directly a total absorption cross-section as a function of the x-ray energy. But it was by and large very difficult research because of that spectrum.
It was never routine in that sense.
No, and you see the pulse nature of the betatron and the synchrotron were such that we would have microsecond long pulses, and then nothing for a 60th of a second or a 180th of a second. The betatron was a 180 cycle machine. It had a triple transformer. And the synchrotron was a 60 cycle machine. So we would have a short pulse of radiation, and nothing, then a short pulse, and nothing. Experimental apparatus would be overwhelmed with radiation for a short time period. And it was a time when amplifiers for short pulse duration work were just being developed, and they were being developed for A-bomb tests, and so this group in the next building (the electronics group) was very very useful to us in helping us with that technology. But, you know, today people are so spoiled with amplifiers being available and all sorts of sophisticated electronics. You buy these parts and plug them together. But in those time periods, you had to build the stuff. Somebody would discover a new design and you'd get their design and then try to use the electronics shop to build it.
That was all part of physics.
To what extent were you able to maintain connections with your old Illinois group? I see that you had at least a paper with Kerst later on when you were at the NBS. To what extent did you maintain that connection?
Well, we'd see them, you know, at each of the Physical Society meetings. That was really the only connection. We didn't have any joint research programs. The people that we continuously hired from Illinois gave us a connection too. Some of them had to go back to finish up thesis research or finish up an experiment. But the ties were not strong, other than these individuals. However, we felt that we knew everybody at Illinois.
Were there other basic differences between the Bureau lab as a lab of a standards place and a lab at the university?
Not really. We felt we had the same freedom, worked just as hard. The bread and butter part of the Illinois situation was building the facilities, and the bread and butter part of the Bureau of Standards was the standards work.
Looking at the publication list, it looks like you had a very strong freedom to pursue research as such.
Yes. I did.
In Illinois you didn't have much of a load in terms of teaching either.
But when it came to doing standards work, what did it consist of? What was its relation to the other research-oriented work?
Well, you see, in order to measure an absolute cross-section for a radioactivity, you would try to untangle the gamma-N or gamma-p or whatever cross-section you're measuring with the radioactivity. You had to know the spectrum, but you also had to know the total flux in the beam. Now, the result of that was that we worked on this total absorption spectrometer. But we also had a total absorption calorimeter, so that we would measure the temperature rise, and that was a very sophisticated technology. You would take this x-ray beam and shoot it into a block of lead, and then almost completely absorb that beam, and then measure how high the temperature goes. Now, the temperature increases were very very small — they were thousandths of a degree — but that technology was learned and worked very well. We could measure, I would say, to a few percent the total flux in a high energy x-ray beam.
That was a very fruitful relationship between those two aspects.
Oh yes. And by having this good basic research background of the people in the lab, and then trying to see how cross-sections measured with Van de Graaffs, with monochromatic gamma rays, we could then get points in order to relate our work with their work.
How large was the research community at the Standards laboratory compared to other work there? How large a part of the Standards lab was basic research?
Well, first, how large is the laboratory? When it finally moved to Gaithersburg, the Bureau of Standards had two locations: one in Boulder, Colorado, and then the Gaithersburg facility; together they had some 3000 employees. I think two-thirds of them were at Gaithersburg, so that's 2000 employees. Of the 2000, there were 120 in the radiation physics division when we were at Gaithersburg. Of the 120, I would guess very roughly that 70 percent were in basic research and 30 percent in standards. But people in the group were charged with doing things like radioactivity standards of selected radioactive isotopes, and they would produce standard samples that were distributed around the world. We also had standard materials — ultra-pure copper or ultrapure whatever — and those were sold. They were made under our direction, tested, and then made available generally. So the tradition at the Bureau of Standards always has been a great dedication of course to its primary role in life, standards, but also, in order to do a good job of standards, they had to do a lot of basic research. And I think that ratio of 70 to 30; I think it pretty well carried across the board. There were of course some groups that were completely standards, also some groups that did nothing but basic research. Now, for example, there was a very important program that started a few years before I left, and that was the National Standard Reference Data Program, and it attempts to fund basic research in acquiring standard numerical data. Standard numerical data in experimental work are somewhat like standard formulas in theoretical work. And it requires capable competent people to do the basic research that's involved in that, and by and large it's pretty difficult work, but I would say that work was primarily basic research. But also the Bureau of Standards did assigned work. For example — and I don't mean to get off into AIP yet — the Congress this year has assigned the Bureau of Standards the job of monitoring the Japanese scientific and engineering literature. Congress said it should be a million dollar a year program, without giving the Bureau of Standards money to do that. So there is a job that is neither basic research or standards work that they've been assigned because they're a relatively large laboratory. It's one of the largest laboratories in the country where there are nothing but physical scientists. In that respect they're comparable — with the 3000 people — to an IBM or a Bell Laboratories. Bell Laboratories is larger, but nevertheless it's still a very significant laboratory. So maybe that answers that question.
Fine. Edward Condon — how close were you to him when you were there, and how important was he for carrying out the work at the Standards? To what extent did he represent a specific policy, for example?
Well, after I came there, he was just there for about two years. And that was an embattled two years.
Yes, it was the McCarthy investigations.
That's right. And he took no comments from Mr. McCarthy, so Mr. McCarthy would accuse Condon of all kinds of red-tainting and so on. So I did not really see much of Condon. The only thing I remember about Condon was, I would ask about things that he had written, that had his name connected with it.
Ask him personally?
Yes. And I would ask about him, because he wrote so beautifully. I asked somebody once; I was convinced by then that he wrote it himself. I said, "How does he write that stuff?" Well, he had the facility — this is an unusual facility — for dictating to a secretary. He would lie on a couch in his office, and he would dictate extensive reports. She would write them up, type them up, and they were almost letter perfect when he looked at them. So he could vocalize a complete paper or talk. In fact, there's a funny story that I've heard, that either Norman Ramsey or someone like that told me. He told me that one time Rabi, who had great difficulty writing papers, felt he just could not start a paper. He would agonize over starting it. Once he'd gotten into it, he could write it OK. But Condon wrote so easily. He used to be a science reporter for a newspaper. He was a newspaper reporter. And Condon came into Rabi's office and said, "What are you doing?" So Rabi said, "I've got this molecular beam result" — or whatever it was — "and I just don't know how to write this letter to the editor of the Physical Review." And Condon said, "Well, tell me about it." So Rabi explained it to him. Rabi had to teach a class, so he went off, and when he got back, there was a paper with a note on it from Condon saying, "Try this." Rabi read it and said it was perfect and exactly what he had wanted to say. I don't know whether he asked Condon whether Condon wanted to co-author the paper with him, but in any event Rabi sent that paper off that Condon gave him to the Physical Review, and signed both their names to it. That was then a joint paper. So that was a special gift processed by Condon. Because of my own characteristics, which I'll mention in just a moment, I was very envious of people who had that facility. For example, there was a man who was living next to us all the years we lived in Silver Spring who for many years was the publicity man for the AFL-CIO. One time when I was at the Gaithersburg lab the newspapers asked me for a story about myself, and I just couldn't write that story. I told this to this man — his name was Henry Fleisher — and I said, "Henry, I just can't write this thing about myself. Anything I write just doesn't sound right." He said, "Come on, let's sit down." He said, "What are the important things that could go into this?" After we talked for 15 minutes, he said, "Look, why don't you go over there and sit down?" So he sat down at a typewriter, typed for a few minutes, took the paper out of the typewriter, and said, "Here." And it was perfect. So some people just have that gift. Now, Motz is a man that I've worked with for years and years. In fact we like to see each other socially even now. Joe still works at the Bureau of Standards. Joe was like Rabi. He just could not write easily. Joe used to envy me because he felt that I could write things quickly. But frankly, I can completely visualize something, a paper or a talk, and think it through, and then I will sit down and take a pad of paper and fill it by hand, and write down every thought as it comes to me, and it usually comes in a logical order. But then I have difficulty reworking it to get it so I feel comfortable with it. Then I agonize. I don't have any difficulty getting started. I don't have difficulty speaking to people. I enjoy speaking to people. But to then put it into what I feel is comfortable English and so on — oh, I agonize over it. For example, each month here, I write my monthly letter that I send to all the Society officers, and I do that on a Saturday morning. I've thought about it. I then sit down, and for about an hour I rework it. I write it. But then, I have to have it typed. I have to see what it looks like. I have to look at the grammar. I have to get other comments on it. It's difficult for me to produce a finished product in the first draft. Now, when I was in college, they had English classes in Queens College that I took, and they also had speech classes. We had to speak. Both of those were very useful to me. But I never felt that I could write well when I was in college. I've written a lot, and I felt that I had lots of good ideas. In fact, I think that has always been my strong point. I'm never short of ideas of how to do an experiment or how to analyze an experiment or how to give a talk or whatever, but to then finally put it into final finished form, that's where I agonize.
I think I can sympathize with that, to tell you the truth. To get back to Edward Condon, did those McCarthy events affect the laboratory in any way? Was it much discussed in the lab?
No. Condon, in fact, during that time, lived in a house that happened to have been on the site of the Bureau of Standards when it was built. This was a frame house, wood frame, and it was just across the parking lot from the betatron lab, on the same campus. So Condon would often have teas at his house. He would invite people to come over for afternoon tea and talk about their research and talk about anything they wanted to talk about, but I was so involved in starting a new laboratory — I was a very young man then — and I didn't really get much into the politics or the impact of that. I was so busy with my own lab.
Well, maybe instead we should talk a little bit about the research accomplishments of the lab, from the beginning and to the end, and also the organization of the facilities and personnel developments.
OK. You mean at the Bureau of Standards?
It's a general question.
Yes. You have to remember the general characteristics of the laboratory, the facilities. Computers were not generally available at the time. Computers came, I would say, in the late fifties, so equipment like a pulse height analyzer, which we used a lot, were difficult devices. That was a technology that was just being learned in the 1950s — to take different amplitude voltage pulses and then measure their heights and put them into a frequency distribution. The equipment that we had — x-ray, electron, positive ion — was quite broad. We ended up at the Gaithersburg laboratory with eleven major facilities. We had almost too many facilities and too few people per facility. Because we didn't have many people involved in any one machine — maybe ten people was a large number — there was a lot of extensive work. I said to you that the pulse duration being so short required that many experiments had to be run with the x-ray intensity much reduced so that you didn't swamp the detectors that we had. The result of that was that there were many experiments that required equipment that was very stable and that could be run for long periods of time. Many times we would run around the clock, and even down at the Bureau of Standards in Washington, typically my wife would make me three lunches and three desserts in a black lunch box, and one man that worked with me, Jim Wyckoff, and I would run this equipment. We always wanted to require two people so that if something happened to one of them, the other one would be there to help. But this business of running continuously was very much a part of our way of life. You asked earlier about people coming to do research from other laboratories. The two most prominent were two Swedes, besides Haakon Olsen from Norway. The two Swedes were Nils Starfelt and Nils Svantesson. I've lost track of Nils Svantesson; he was the greater politician of the two, the greater talker. The more capable person was Nils Starfelt, who actually did research with me. Both came for a year and did research, and then I guess that was used as part of their thesis research. Nils Starfelt in recent years ended up being the Swedish science attache in Washington. So it was nice to meet him in that position during the last few years. But other things — the working relationship between the groups, for example. Kaye Way was a woman who had done extensive nuclear data tables work. She really developed quite a reputation on that. She would examine everybody's research, and put out tables that analyzed nuclear energy levels and so on. She did many publications in Reviews of Modern Physics, for example, and had a service of cards and so on. Initially she was not in my laboratory, but it ended up eventually that she was in the radiation physics division. Kaye Way had good close working relationship with people in my laboratory. For example, Ev Fuller's wife worked for Kaye Way on these nuclear data tables, and then Ev Fuller himself developed, just before he retired from the laboratory at Gaithersberg, a service of photonuclear data tables. He collected world wide data and tried to analyze it and see what made sense, and came up with his recommendations. So Kay Way's influence at the early stage in the fifties continued on, where we then got involved in the Standard Reference Data Program — in these photonuclear data tables. We did similar things in bremsstrahlung work. The paper that I thought was the one most useful and popular of my papers, was the paper that I and Motz wrote on bremsstrahlung cross-sections.
The Review article.
Yes. That really did a major service, partly because for years there was nothing better than that. I don't know whether there still is anything better than that. That was a nice contribution. Then the low temperature laboratories — you know the low temperature work of Ernest Ambler, who's now the director of the Bureau of Standards, and Ralph Hudson. I think I mentioned their names the last time we talked. The two of them had developed this technique for taking, cobalt-60 and so on down to very low temperatures. Then Chien-Shiung Wu at Columbia collaborated with them and they did test the non-conservation of parity, for which I guess eventually Lee and Yang got the Nobel Prize. The later did theory and Ambler, Hudson, and Fay Hayward of my lab did the experiments. But then there were experiments done with low temperature techniques on the betatron and on the synchrotron also, by Ray Hayward, who is married to Evans Hayward, who was a member of the betatron lab. She was a woman who is still working, I guess, at the Bureau of Standards; and is about to retire. Her husband, Ray Hayward, retired a few years ago. Ray Hayward and Evans Hayward were a famous physics couple. Ray did not work in my laboratory, while Evans did, and initially Ray was a low temperature research man, experimentalist, who then got more and more involved in theory. In most recent years, before he retired, he worked on theory of nuclei and beta decay. He worked with Mike Danos too. I don't think they published papers together, but they were a nice complementary pair. They interacted well together. But I mentioned Kaye Way and Ernie Ambler and Hayward and so on to indicate that there was as great community of interests on the part of many of the good research people at the Bureau of Standards, with our group. Karl Kessler was another person who had a great affinity for people in my group. He was in atomic physics and laser research. Karl is still at the Bureau of Standards. In fact he is most recently I think the head of the Institute for Basic Standards that Huntoon had earlier been in charge of. So, the Bureau of Standards is a tremendous research laboratory in the physical sciences. It has never been properly acknowledged, it seems to me, partly because it never found its right niche in the federal government. It was always part of the Department of Commerce, and the businessmen in the Department of Commerce could never understand the Bureau of Standards, and could not understand the reason for basic research. But people like Condon and then Alan Astin and Lew Branscomb and Ernie Ambler — all directors of the Bureau — supported NBS very much and were protective of the Bureau against the businessmen in the Department of Commerce.
Which is a difficult enterprise.
You talked about Lee and Yang and the experimental basis for their work being pursued at the Bureau of Standards. In general, how was the relationship between experiment and theory there?
Excellent. And the reason was partly because of Mike Danos in my lab and a man in the low energy laboratory — high voltage laboratory — called Ugo Fano. Now, Fano, who has just retired from the University of Chicago, left the Bureau and became a professor at the University of Chicago. Fano had been a student of Amaldi in Italy, and had a strong Italian accent, like many Italians do. Fano was a very capable man, and although he never felt that he could have done experimental work like Mike Danos could, Fano was so generally accomplished that he was a kind of a gatekeeper. He would read all the journals and then he would go round and heckle the experimentalists and feed them with information. Mike Danos did the same thing. So there was a very good coupling between theory and experiment.
It was not only experimentalists providing theorists with data, it was also theorists suggesting experiments and correcting the experimenters.
Yes. [Dr. Koch has requested that the following passage "C" be moved here from the 10 March 1987 session in order to retain the chronology of events]
There was an exchange of letters.
Yes, letters around the end of 1950, I think prompted by the Korean emergency on the 16th of December, I think. I think that that correspondence might shed some light on how that affected the National Bureau of Standards in particular. There are two or three pieces of that correspondence. There's an undated letter from Ugo Fano to you, which is clearly sometime before Christmas. That includes a proposal for how to rearrange the laboratory. I think the proposal was meant to be sent to the AEC or something like that, as a result of the Korean emergency. Then it's your response to his letter and proposal which is dated the 23rd of December, 1950; you were away on vacation or something, I suppose. I guess that's why the letter exists at all, which might be a good thing sometimes. Maybe before we go into the substance of it we should identify the main actors and their places in this. Fano belonged to another section, is that right?
Yes. He was the theoretician that was the principal advisor to the long standing low energy x-ray group there, that Lauriston Taylor headed. The high energy radiation section that I headed was a part of the Radiation Physics Division at the time, and there were various sections. Fano was the head of the theory section in that Radiation Physics Division.
Exactly. And Lauriston Taylor was above him again.
That's right. Now, Fano was a very bright Italian physicist who in fact had worked with Amaldi and Fermi back in Italy.
You referred to him as the "gatekeeper" in an earlier session.
Yes. He was a very key individual, just like Mike Danos. I think I've discussed Mike Danos earlier. Mike was a recent addition that I hired in the high energy radiation section. Fano had been there before, and Fano was very strong on the issue of doing basic research, although the Radiation Physics Division was heavily involved in applied research. Part of the group in fact was so applied that they were under contract to the Atomic Energy Commission to do instrumentation for atomic bomb tests in the Pacific. They would in fact have teams that would build instrumentation and then go over to the islands in the Pacific and do testing of bomb shots.
These are other sections than his and your betatron section.
Which was in quantity the larger part of the laboratory, I suppose.
Well, it became the larger part. It finally in essence took it over, because I then eventually became the head of the Radiation Physics Division, taking Taylor's place. But I started on September 19, 1949. I came and brought with me John McElhinney, who's the other person that started this; and he was my deputy there. He was the second most senior person in the high energy radiation section of very young people.
He belonged to your section.
That's right. And you have to realize the context in this; I think we talked about that earlier. The Bureau of Standards always had this problem, and still does, of applied research — working on standards — versus basic research. People, like Fano and myself felt that you couldn’t do good applied research unless you had a good foundation in basic research. I think I mentioned earlier that when Congressmen would tour the Bureau of Standards, we could very nicely talk about applied research. We could talk about the production of radioactive standards that were distributed around the country. We could talk about pure materials. We could talk about our ionization chamber work, that was used to standardize x-ray machines in hospitals. But with the physicists, we would then talk good basic research and we would talk their language. So this laboratory, then, which was partly basic and partly applied research, had imposed on it the Korean War. Then the question was, how do you maintain a group of people that are gung-ho basic research people, particularly with high energy machines that had not yet demonstrated utility for applied research? How do you continue that work in the face of a Korean War where funds are tight and people are tight? I happened to have gone to my wife's home in Marion, Illinois, for Christmas vacation, when all of this broke. Condon, the director of the National Bureau of Standards, sent down the edict that we must examine all of the programs and try to demonstrate how they contributed to the war effort.
In your reply to McElhinney you expressed some surprise that Condon had turned around to the extent that he did.
Yes. The turn of events in that last week was disappointing to me because it was so sudden. It's still hard for me to see how Condon could have suddenly proposed that all non-military problems should be almost immediately discontinued. So the three letters tried to deal with the question of how we can re-interpret the work that we're doing, and in fact try to make a contribution to the war effort. Not that we were trying to be devious in any way, but much of the work did have possibilities of applications, and we were trying to demonstrate how that could be done.
There was some disagreement between you and Fano on how to go about this.
What was the prior arrangement for defense work within the laboratory, and how did that affect your section in the laboratory?
Well, it hardly affected our section at all. That work was done in other sections by the people who were working on the atomic bomb tests. And we were able to avoid that, partly because of all the support from Ed Condon, the director of the Bureau of Standards, because he also was a physicist who also felt basic research was essential. He wanted really to promote our effort, and he was most supportive in every way.
Yes. Did Fano write this on his own initiative largely, or was he encouraged by Taylor or others?
I think he was encouraged by Taylor. In fact, you have to recognize a little bit of politics there, because it was Taylor who had grown up with the low energy research below a million volts. It was Taylor that, I would suspect, had imposed on himself the desirability of going into high energy research by Condon. Condon saw the possibility of getting some money from Congress, and buying two machines from General Electric Co. — the 50 million volt betatron and the, at the time, l00 million volts betatron that was eventually converted into a l00 MEV synchrotron. So it was Condon who supported all that. And so, when the Korean War came, here you have a Lauriston Taylor, who grew up with low energy research and knew its utility for applied research, feeling, "All those upstarts in that other building" — we had our separate building called the Betatron Laboratory — "are the ones that are easily dispensable. I want to be sure to protect my love, which is the low energy research." And so Fano was prodded on by Taylor, and then we were trying to cover our flanks in this bit of politics. It was a temporary thing. It didn't last very long.
He makes an explicit distinction between instrumentation work and physics research, and he of course emphasizes the basic research part of it. Is that because he was more interested in the basic research, or because the instrumentation work wasn't threatened?
Fano, yes. As far as I remember, the proposal refers to the basic research part of the section's work.
Yes. This has been so long ago that I don't really recall the details. All I know is that he was doing a lot of calculations in connection with instrumentation and shielding — shielding particularly. They were able to calculate the penetrability of large slabs of concrete and other shielding materials, and that obviously had practical importance. I would suspect he was trying to protect those interests as well.
Well, Fano's strategy obviously is to go through the projects that are already going, as far as I can see, and argue their relevance for the emergency situation.
And that is essentially what you objected to, I think. I don't know if you think it would pay to go down that list, and let that refresh your memory on.
You ask about whether one would want to go down this list.
Yes. You know, just to refresh your memory on the work at the laboratory — how representative it is, and to what extent Fano's argumentation holds water, you know. We don't have to do that for too long, we can just go down the list.
I'm afraid that I should really do that at some later time. [End of Passage "C"]
Could you evaluate your own contributions at the Bureau of Standards in general terms, not only in relation to your own publications but in general to the work there?
In the laboratory?
Well, in general, both in terms of your own research and in terms of guiding other people's research.
Well, I always felt that my work was kind of secondary. It was supportive of the other work, supportive in the fact that I had these managerial, administrative responsibilities, but supportive also in the involvement in bremsstrahlung work which others didn't want to do. So somebody had to do it. And the people therefore who developed the scientific reputations and I think had more fun were people like Fuller and Hayward, and Danos, and Joe Motz. We were in a messy business, and many research people did not have great confidence in the research that we did because of the spectrum of x-rays we had to deal with. It came painfully. But because we could not measure to a tenth of a percent or even one percent many times, people looked much more favorably on cyclotron research, where monochromatic gamma rays were available, and monoenergetic positive ions were available, and there was much more of that kind of research. You see, there has not really been very much betatron and synchrotron research in the giant resonance region done, even up till now. Now, every institution and their cousin had a Van de Graaff or a cyclotron, so that was the prominent work, and those are the people that talked to one another. We were a little bit outside the mainstream, because the mainstream involved the larger group of people. Then you had people doing neutron research. That was a messy business too, always has been messy. I would say, positive ion research and monochromatic gamma rays are the cleanest in the low energy business. I don't know whether neutron research or photon research, bremsstrahlung research, is messier, but they're both equally messy. But because there were many more people doing neutron research, because there are large national laboratories, there was a great community of interest of large numbers of people there. And in reactor designs and so on. And I would say photometry research came down on the totem pole, and then overriding over that business — at energies from a half a million volts to 20 million volts, 30 million volts — the next thing is the really high energy machines, where you produce mesons, and then that's all the exciting stuff. So that's kind of a hierarchy among the research people. We were very very fortunate in being able to induce a Ugo Fano and a Mike Danos to do the theoretical work, because it was by and large not glamorous stuff. It had to be done. For example, working on dosimetry, Joe Motz and I felt that the dosimetric research has always been very poor, and that there ought to be more of a cross-section attitude in doing dosimetry. What you do in dosimetry typically is to take an ion chamber and stick it in a medium, and you see how much that ion chamber discharges. It's a complete integration of all the radiation that impinges on the ion chamber, and you can't really sort out the physics of it. Joe and I, before I left the Bureau of Standards, had almost written a paper — we sent it in fact to a few people, and I don't know where that paper is now — on the cross-section approach to dosimetry, where you would try to sort out the radiations that were impinging on a dosimeter, whether it be a chemical dosimeter or a liquid that would discolor. You'd try to find out the dependence on the x-ray energy or the electron energy, the alpha energy, whatever was involved. And we sent that to John Laughlin — who's always been a good friend — who's head of physics research at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Research Institute here in the city. John was not very sympathetic to it, as was Lauriston Taylor not very sympathetic. They were the old line and they felt that rads and rems and roentgens were what they'd grown up with and one shouldn't go away from that. They somehow always felt threatened, even John Laughlin felt threatened by this new attitude. We felt that we could do something with a new approach. But because of the attitude of these people who were experts in dosimetry, we felt we couldn't ever get a paper published if we were to write it up with the spirit that we were proposing. So we gave up. It's interesting that one has that attitude regarding whether you could get something published. It's also somewhat similar to another problem, certainly in theoretical research, and that's duplication of effort, where too many people are trying to simultaneously publish something that is very similarly based. In experimental work you have a facility and usually a unique piece of equipment, whereas in theory you have a pad of paper and a pencil. Many people can get the same idea. So, for example, another man who was always very useful to us in theory was Lenny Maximon. Lenny was a Bethe student from Cornell, and Maximon is still at the Bureau of Standards, and he and Mike Danos worked very closely together. Maximon worked on bremsstrahlung calculations and he was a whiz on detailed calculations, untangling them. Now, Maximon on a number of occasions was just about ready to publish something, and somebody else had done the same damned thing, the same calculations. That was somewhat the frustration that my oldest son had when he was at Illinois that first year in graduate school. He worked for a research man who was always traveling — a young man in the computer science department — and John worked on a technique for doing computer programming that he thought was unique. Just as he was writing up this work — and he thought it was going to be his thesis — there was a Chinese professor, a man from China, in the computer science department who often would talk with my son. He was not his research director. But one day he came across a Rand laboratory report, and he sent it to John, and said, "Isn't this similar to what you are working on?" And there this man at Rand had done his thesis problem inside out, with many examples, and used sophisticated techniques and so on, and what a disappointment to my son! Well, Lenny Maximon has had many similar disappointments. So that's the inverse of the problem that Motz and I had, of feeling that we had something unique but we didn't want to publish it. Not that anybody else had published it, but that we couldn't get it published.
So that even though your research work at the Bureau was more isolated than other kinds of research, you did have some competition in some places.
Yes. There were a number of betatrons around the country. But they all had the same difficulty we had. The cross-sections were reasonably small. It was difficult experimentally because of the pulse and because of the continuum of the x-rays. But it was not like Van de Graaff research in the nature of the competition and so on.
Which were the other main places for betatron research?
Well, there were a number of medical laboratories that did good research, like the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois in Chicago, Sloan-Kettering here in New York, and the Naval Research Lab — that's where John McElhinney went. He set up the laboratory at the Naval Research Lab, and he bought a betatron from Allis-Chalmers. Allis-Chalmers got into the business of making 20 MEV betatrons and selling them for x-ray radiography. Then there was good research at Los Alamos and Livermore. In fact, one of the tremendous experiences I had, when I was at the Bureau of Standards in the late fifties, was one summer when I learned a technique for accomplishing summer safaris that were a great personal accomplishment. In the summer of 1957, just before Sputnik went up in November, I was invited to participate in a summer study program that the Air Force ran. The Air Force had contracted with the National Academy of Science. So I was invited to go to Woods Hole in Massachusetts for the whole summer. The reason I was invited to do that was that a few years earlier I had run a conference for the National Academy of Science called the Multi-Channel Pulsite Analyzer Conference — quite a mouthful — and I guess I had done such a good job of that, putting together a Proceedings and so on, that the people at the Academy said, "Ah, he's a worker, therefore we should invite him to go to this summer study program up at Woods Hole." Von Karman, the prominent aeronautical engineer and fluid dynamicist, was in charge of this program up at Woods Hole, which was to study the whole rocket technology, and I did some study papers there. In fact, one time I had the thrill of flying in von Karman's private plane with him. We flew from Cape Cod. I had to come down to Washington for some reason. But that summer, being away from the Bureau of Standards, it just was a tremendous incentive for me, and I then looked for similar opportunities. We developed the total absorption x-ray spectrometer with the large sodium iodide crystals, and got some of the first large crystals — they were I think 8 inches in diameter, and about a foot long. The x-rays really would get absorbed in those, and produce a light pulse proportional to the energy. That technology was developed by another man, Bob Foote, and I. A man Stan Fultz who has since died had just installed an electron Linac at Livermore, and asked me to come out and see if I could do experiments with the sodium iodide crystal. He got his own sodium iodide crystal, and followed the prescription we had published, and then invited me to come out. So I then went there and took the whole family out, as I did up on Cape Cod. Livermore rented us a house in Alamo, California, and for eight weeks that summer — in between school terms, while the children were on vacation — we did experiments, and it was tremendously successful. In spite of the fact that the Linac was a very high current machine, we piled up so much lead and concrete as to thoroughly isolate the sodium iodide detector, and were very successful. I was amazed. They had lots of property there, so we were able to really fill up the experimental rooms with lead and concrete, and put the sodium iodide crystal in it. What we did was to irradiate samples of carbon 12 for example, and there was a 16.1, 5.3 — something like that — gamma rays that were resonance fluorescent gamma rays. The bremsstrahlung would bombard the graphite sample, and would excite the carbon nuclei to that level, and it was very selective because there were only those energy levels, and then the radiation would be re-emitted. If you can imagine hitting this with a million times more intensity than, it could then be coming out sideways, and at 90 degrees we had the sodium iodide crystal, and we were able to see these gamma rays. Amazing! Then we tried silicon and we tried a variety of other samples and were able to see all those gamma rays. That was so successful that the people at General Atomic picked up on it. They had just installed a Linac in La Jolla, south of Los Angeles; they had developed a laboratory that Ed Creutz was the head of. Kerst came there later, from Wisconsin, and headed up plasma research. He wanted to do fusion research at General Atomic. But General Atomic — a laboratory of the General Dynamics Corporation, a very large defense contractor — had the concept that they would permit basic research with much longer lead times to be done at this laboratory. That was the exciting thing of their concept — that they encouraged basic research in an industrial laboratory. But it had to be research that would eventually have a pay-off, even if they would allow a few more years to go by before expecting it. A man by the name of Beyster was in charge of their group and he, having seen my research at Livermore, invited me to go to La Jolla, and I spent eight weeks there. They rented a car, rented a house for us, and we lived a mile away from the beach — it was just wonderful. I worked very hard there, and then subsequent summers after that. I went one summer and taught at Stony Brook, and another time Motz and I were able to convince the Bureau authorities that we should go a summer out to the Boulder laboratories. So each of those summers were long blocks of time.
Starting in 1959?
Yes, about 1959. And our children were able to go to schools at each one of these locations. In fact, it was very important to them because, for example, it's the thing that decided for my daughter, when she got married, that the only state that she would consider moving to was Colorado. So they live now out in Colorado. In fact, that's where my wife and I are going to retire next spring. But it was because of that summer in Boulder that our children were able to form some judgments, and because of our traveling around also. I think that was also the thing that motivated them all to want not to go to the University of Maryland, but to go to the different schools that they went to, and because of our having moved around that way, it didn't bother them to move. You know, some people are very protective of their children, and their children don't want to move. But our kids wanted to move.
So there were no problems of getting leave of absence from the laboratory in those cases?
No. I really had a lot of freedom there. We had one month vacation at the Bureau of Standards, and what I would do is to take an extra month without pay, and it was good. It was very invigorating mentally, to go and see another laboratory and work there.
It's a good way to combine work and vacation.
You were able to bring your family too.
Yes. Every one of the places. Which was nice.
So that went on from say about 1959 and through your period at the Bureau then?
That's right. Until 1966.
What about international aspects of work at the laboratory, both with standards and with basic research?
Well, my first taste of that was really in 1957, when the Atoms for Peace Conference was held in Geneva. I went there, then also to a photonuclear conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, which was one of the Gordon Conferences. The Gordon Conferences are primarily in chemistry, but there are a lot of physics conferences that are part of the Gordon Conference series. There are now, I would guess, at least 30 or 40 Gordon Conferences held every summer, primarily in New England. What they do is to rent the campuses of undergraduate schools and in fact sometimes middle schools, private schools. A Gordon Conference consists of about a hundred people — that's typically the size — of specialists in a given area, and they will have a topical conference for a week. Then one week will be this subject, the next week will be this subject, and so on. And if you look in the springtime in Science Magazine, you will see a list of the Gordon Conferences for the upcoming summer. They always give you the chairperson of the conference, and you can write to that person and say, "I have done this research, I'd like to be considered," and they will then invite you or not invite you. Now, photonuclear research involved such a small number of people nationally, and in fact internationally. Everybody in the business knew one another and we had for many years a Gordon Photonuclear Conference that would at some times be invited to go abroad. This Glasgow Conference was one such conference. I've been at a Photonuclear Conference in Heidelberg, for example. So we had really very good relations internationally with people at Harwell, at Heidelberg. A man that came over from Württemberg — a man by the name of Bernhardt Ziegler — and I published some papers together, he came for I guess two years and we did research. He went back. So Ziegler, Starfelt, Sveneson, Olsen, were about the only four people around that I remember, that we ever had. I worked with all of them.
What's the reason for the strong Scandinavian —?
I don't know. It's just by accident. Olsen — that was because he was a specialist in bremsstrahlung theory, and because of our doing experimental work. But the international ties were more and more increased because the amount of physics research being done outside the United States has steadily increased, so the international ties have gotten better and better. I remember one Photonuclear Conference that was a Gordon Conference, where we had quite a Russian contingent. That was in the fifties. And they have had programs that were not very strong programs. The thing that always impressed me about the Russians is that they had all kinds of manpower. They would, for an experiment that two of us would do at the Bureau of Standards, have I think 30 or 40 people doing it. You know, they would do calculations and build up a bunch of experimental gear and so on. Mike Danos, who as I said earlier was a Latvian citizen, who now has become an American citizen, did not think highly of the Russians. He tells a joke about the way Russian physicists do research. He said, "What they do in Russia is to do a piece of research very quietly and privately, complete the research, and then you go to your research director and say, 'Here's research I'm going to do and I think I'm going to get these results and it will be a cross-section that will look like this and it will take me about 13 or 14 months to complete,' and by golly, they do experiments, but not the experiment that they've already done — they've already done that. But then they work on something new, and then they make a proposal on that experiment that they have just completed as their next experiment."
It leads to some publication delay.
Yes. But he claimed that was the way they did their research. But it was really quite striking, how many people they were able to devote, because they have lots of manpower and they try to push them into research. From my own experiences, they have not been very successful, because there's tremendous competition between one laboratory and another, and we've been talking about a community of interests, a community that shares experiences and interacts, internationally and nationally. They don't interact at all.
Within the Soviet Union?
That's right. One institute's competing with another institute. In fact, one individual or one group is competing with another group. And they don't publish until it's way late.
Was the Atoms for Peace Conference in Geneva your first exposure to the international scene?
Or the Glasgow Conference, yes.
Did you go there in some specific capacity?
No, I just went as a visitor. My principal excuse was the Edinburgh Conference, and then I did visit a number of laboratories. I think I went to the International Standards Laboratory in Paris, the National Physical Laboratory in England, to Heidelberg, and Geneva.
How was international standards work coordinated?
Well, that was largely with — Taylor's group, and that involved comparisons of radiation standards, radium standards. There were intercomparisons of dosimeters. So it was primarily at low energies that those comparisons went on, and with radioactive sources. It was only much later that there were efforts to try to do intercomparisons at high energies.
We'll get back to that kind of international coordination with the AIP too, of course. To get back to research at the Bureau, was that funded by a specific amount of money for a general purpose, or did you also do research for specific purposes with specific grants for the purpose?
I would say about 40 percent of our money came from other agencies. From ONR, from NSF, the Atomic Energy Commission. And those were largely of a nature to test instruments. It was difficult usually to get such transfer money because each of the agencies wanted to do their own work. The photonuclear data tables were funded by the Atomic Energy Commission, for example. The intercomparisons that we did of calorimeters were funded by somebody, maybe the National Science Foundation. I don't remember what other work NSF funded, but I'm pretty sure they funded somebody's theoretical research.
But were those research applications that you decided, or was it assigned work that they wanted?
Largely that they wanted to have done.
There is a small minority of your publications that stand out as not physics research as such, like an article on radiation protection in 1953.
And the food processing business starting in —
— the food processing, that was a contract with the Natick Laboratory of the Army. They always had and still have a big program on radiation processing. That's a technique that's going to become more and more important. Because there are unique things that can be done — for example, sterilizing surgical sutures. You can't use heat and you can't use chemicals for many of them. You have to use radiation in order to sterilize them. So yes, some of that. I also gave talks on high sensitivity to impurities. I guess I was on some advisory committees to the Atomic Energy Commission. That's where some of that stuff came about.
What about Alan Astin as a leader?
He was a good manager, very conscientious, kind of a father figure. I remember one time, this was at Gaithersburg, maybe a year before I left, so soon after we moved in — I would be in his office — his office is the office that Ernie Ambler uses now, it's the top floor of the administration building — and I said to Astin, "I've known you for so many years, and I always call you Dr. Astin. Would you mind if I call you Alan?" And he said, "No, if that makes you feel comfortable, you call me Alan." And I've always remembered that. I don't know why. It's a trivial comment. But he would at times have us to his house for a party. He was involved in the battery additive scandal with the Secretary of Commerce in the 1950s. That was a terrible experience for him to go through. You probably don't remember that.
I'm not sure.
Well, it was a very famous case, and it was about 1953 or 1954, soon after he became director. There was a Secretary of Commerce called Weeks. He had close working relationships with some people from industry. In fact, people who made battery additives. This was a chemical that you would add to storage batteries in cars. And it was reputed to extend the life of the battery. And in order to bolster the sales of this additive, and because the manufacturer was convinced that it would do the things that he said, somehow the Department of Commerce assigned the job to the Bureau of Standards to do the tests. And the NBS came up with the conclusion that the additive was useless. It didn't do any harm, but it didn't do any good. But it was just money down the drain if you bought that stuff. Well, when the Department of Commerce Secretary Weeks heard the results, he called Astin on the carpet, and he said, "This obviously is material that works, there are all sorts of testimonials from satisfied customers, you tell your people to go back and get us a positive test." And he essentially was instructed to give a positive test! And Astin refused to do that. In fact, it's been so long ago that I don't really remember the details, but I think that Astin might have resigned, and by then there was so much embarrassment that he was re-hired by the same Secretary of Commerce. He was highly regarded by all the scientists at the Bureau of Standards for being objective and taking that strong stand. [Dr. Koch has requested that the following passage "D" be moved here from the 10 October 1986 session in order to retain the chronology of events]
The Bureau of Standards of course has covered a large spectrum of activities, from the most basic of basic science to standard work and other work that was closer to the public sphere. Were you at any time involved in any public discussion about the role of the Bureau of Standards? I am thinking in particular of course of the food irradiation business. Was that something that reached the media, or something that you became involved in? Or were there other things? Koch: You have to recognize that Alan Astin as director of the Bureau of Standards and Ed Condon before him were always searching for ways of justifying the Bureau's program. In order to figure out the rationale of the Bureau's program, they would have frequent meetings with division heads. I was one of the division heads, and so we were continuously searching. The Bureau never really has found its proper niche in the whole government structure. I think I mentioned earlier that in some respects it was unfortunate that it was located in the Department of Commerce. So under that kind of organizational relationship, the Bureau had to be very sensitive to the influence of standards developments that were necessary for industry and for commerce. But it always worked in the physical sciences, not in the health sciences, not in the medical sciences or environmental sciences. So people were trying to say, "Now, should we try to emulate the apparently successful National Physical Laboratory in England, which is dedicated to basic research, but doesn't have the word "standards" in its name?" Should they attempt to change the name of the National Bureau of Standards to something like the National Physical Laboratory in the United States? One time, I was being considered for the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Science, as a person who was in between the Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Standards. The Weather Bureau and the Patent Office, were under the aegis of that person. So I was trying to imagine what role the Bureau of Standards could play that was different from what it was playing. It seemed to me that a very reasonable role would be as a National Institute of Technology that was similar to the National Institutes of Health. If you made something that was much broader, much more understandable by the populace and by Congress, you then could have a laboratory like the Bureau of Standards that could be the home laboratory to do research, and that could also fund very broadly all around the country, like the National Institutes of Health fund medical colleges for their research and so on. And in fact, there were ingredients in that kind of a concept where you wouldn't have to go quite as far as a Department of Science. A Department of Science was one concept involving NBS that was talked about for years and years. Even now these thoughts come up every once in a while — how to streamline the scientific effort in the country.
Yes, it goes back to the last century, I think.
Yes. So we were all involved in that. My laboratory only operated for a year and a half after we left the Bureau of Standards grounds in the District of Columbia. So we were in a new laboratory, but it was obvious during that year and a half that there were not going to be adequate funds to do research. Things were almost starting to get tight even then. And then after I left, it got really quite bad. The Bureau of Standards really had not figured out its rationale, and the Department of Commerce wasn't convinced that it deserved funding. It had various encounters, like the ADX-2 battery additive problem, and there were frequent problems of the same sort. The Department of Commerce wanted to do something. In fact, just recently I saw that an individual that some politicians were trying to promote had presumably invented a perpetual motion machine. These are the kinds of problems which they then bring to the Bureau of Standards and say, "Look, you figure out why it doesn't work or why it does work. Is there something that the inventor is trying to pull on us?" Within the last few weeks I saw the results of some tests at the Bureau of Standards. So it never got to be a very popular agency. It never got to be the kind of agency that the Atomic Energy Commission and its laboratories represented in the United States. And yet, it did outstanding work, of very high quality, in basic research, and mostly related to the whole issue of standards. But again, to respond to your question, there were always discussions about the role of the Bureau of Standards, and we all were in on it.
How actively were you involved in the discussion of the role of the Bureau?
Well, just to the extent that we had group meetings, and in these meetings we would try to make proposals, and within our own individual groups we would discuss how to deal with Congress. How do we describe our programs to the best advantage? And it was increasingly difficult. That was one of the other motivations for my wanting to leave the Bureau of Standards and come here, although I was quite happy at the time, and it came out of the blue, so to speak, this proposal that I come to the American Institute of Physics.
Well, you certainly built up something from almost nothing from when you came there until the time that you were leaving.
We had an excellent laboratory there, and it still is.
What was there when you left, in terms of work, in terms of staff, in terms of facilities? We have this booklet, of course, that is a good description of that. That describes essentially what there was. Did the lab represent a reorganization of the National Bureau to some extent?
Well, there was a reactor on the site, and it became operational, I would say, a year after we moved to the new facility. Because of the reactor and its heavy investment and a fairly large number of staff people and their ability for a variety of testing and standardization techniques, the whole question of reorganizing the radiation effort was very much involved. The Radiation Physics Laboratory that I was involved in was part of the Institute for Basic Standards, and the reactor was part of the Institute for Materials Research, I believe was the name of it. So there you had the question of major radiation facilities not being under one wing. It was because obviously the kind of work that we did was electron and x-ray research, which was quite different from neutron research with a reactor.
But still you must have had some interconnections.
Yes. There were some, but not too significant ones. There were not many exchanges of personnel, not many joint research projects with the groups. The strongest connection of our laboratory was with the atomic physics groups, and particularly the synchrotron light research that the 180 MEV synchrotron was converted into. In fact, right now it's used exclusively for light research.
Your promotion in 1962 consisted in being responsible for the betatron, to being responsible for a lot of experimental work.
Betatron, synchrotron, Van de Graaffs, x-ray machines, radiation, radioactivity sources. Our groups made the radiation standards that were sent around to various parts of the country.
To what extent was your promotion at the NBS a transition from work in science as such to work in administration only?
It didn't mean much of a change. While I was there I continued to worry about bremsstrahlung radiation, pair production, theory and experiment, and they were not regarded as hot shot research. It was supportive research. It was essential to know those cross sections in order to interpret the experimental data when you bombarded samples. But the bigger payoff to people doing research was to look at the giant resonance phenomena in nuclei that you could examine with this continuous spectrum of x-rays, and then pull out the cross-section of any one particular x-ray energy. It was the people that worked on the photonuclear part of this that got the bigger credits for doing research.
But after all, you became responsible for a much larger unit.
But that didn't change your work in a significant way. Would you say something about the legacy at the NBS that you left behind? Do you have some comment on that generally speaking?
Well, just that the thing that has always pleased me about the Bureau of Standards work was the esprit de corps that existed among the various staff members in my division — trying to do good basic research, and yet contribute to the mission of the Bureau of Standards, which was in standards. It was not — and I have said this before — it was not at all a typical government laboratory because everyone in that laboratory worked hard and worked long hours and got much thrill out of doing research. So that was the satisfying thing to me, having started that laboratory with just one other person, and having had it develop into what one would call a world class laboratory.
This is kind of a farewell article to the Bureau of Standards, I suppose, your article "Science and Electron Beams."
Yes. That was actually started before I knew I was coming to AIP. I just took a long time to process it through. But I had wanted in that article to summarize what had been done and what could be done with electron beams, in processing food and processing plastic — for example, insulation on wires and vulcanizing rubber. There are really very advanced large fields using this technology which all started with the betatron. You can go from mundane things like treatment of sewage, and the beauty of the electron beam is that you can have 100 kilowatts time average in the beam, and it can be a 1 centimeter diameter spot, and you can direct that beam right at the sewage, or the food or the plastic, and it's really an outstanding technique.
Your article is almost a programmatic statement for part of the NBS's later work anyway, but that was more by chance then. It wasn't intended as your testament, so to speak. It says in the footnote that you were already the director of the AIP.
I think I wrote that in the summer of 1966 at a time that I did not know that I was coming here.
No. That is just the way it happened to come out. I see. So then we should probably turn the tape and move on to the AIP period. [End of Passage "D"] [Dr. Koch has requested that the following passage "E" be moved here from the 10 March 1987 session in order to retain the chronology of events] OK. So then let's turn the page and go to food preservation. You gave me three articles, which I think constitute the main body of your work on this, to discuss. And I think you provided them mainly to discuss your future plans also. But it goes all the way back to 1957, I suppose. To some extent, this is also military related, because I think — you can correct me — the idea to preserve food in this way was motivated to a large degree by preserving food for the Army or soldiers in the field.
Yes, that's right.
So there's a natural transition here, however awkward that may seem. But maybe you could say something about that previous history, to the extent that you knew about it, and to the extent that that motivated you in your first approach to this problem.
It's interesting to have just talked about the letters at the time of the Korean War, and to talk about the relationship of basic to applied research in the group that I was with, because it somewhat typifies my problem as the manager of this high energy radiation group from those early times all the way through my own research career, because I, as the head of the group, had always to be prepared to discuss with people on the outside and with the management of the Bureau of Standards the applied research, at the same time trying to encourage the group in the high energy radiation section to do good basic research.
You were leading a double life there.
That's right. And because of the importance of the Bremsstrahlung spectrum to all the research of the laboratory, I mean, here we had a continuous spectrum; for any photonuclear research, or for the x-ray beam hitting a target, the effect that you got was always the result of all the x-rays in that beam, all the energies. You had to really know the shape of that spectrum, in order to untangle the cross-section that was the probability of an effect resulting at different energies in that beam. Nobody else in the group was really too much interested in Bremsstrahlung research because that was so messy, and it was more of an applied nature. It was the kind of thing that Fano did in connection with the shielding, you see, where you have a big block of material and you have a beam going in there — an electron beam or an x-ray beam. Then you try to see what comes out the other side. Some of the calculations were done by Monte Carlo techniques, where you make guesstimates — and crude guesstimates. Well, the people in my group who were hot shot nuclear physicists, they would prefer to look at the photo disintegration of the deuteron, or look at the giant resonance cross-section, or look at polarization effects in materials.
So that Fano's work, despite his theoretical orientation, was also strongly motivated by the shielding problems. Is that right?
Yes, because they had worked on that for a good many years, and had developed a real good technology for handling thick shields. So that really justified his working at low energies. That was one of the major theoretical experimental problems for low energy research. So I personally started to work in the Bremsstrahlung area because it was applied and because no one else in the group wanted to do so. I had tried to do some of that for my thesis, back at Illinois, and then also in the early experiments, trying to look at pair production in the gas of a cloud chamber. You cannot imagine a more difficult technique, where you try to gain sufficient statistics to get meaningful results. But the pair production process was reasonably well understood, and you could therefore — if you knew the probability for pair production — attempt to untangle the shape of the x-ray spectrum, you see. So I'd started early on that, and when I then headed the group, I realized the importance of understanding that spectrum shape, and tried then to look at that experimentally and theoretically. A man in the low energy work who I developed a great friendship with — that was Joseph Motz, — was worried and involved with spectra shapes at low energies, and so we developed a good partnership. And I would say, the paper that I feel contributed the most to the field was this paper that I and Joe Motz co-authored in 1959, I think it was. That was the Reviews of Modern Physics paper. That paper is often quoted because it contains a lot of very good information that anybody that is tangling with a spectrum really has to understand.
It's still quoted, possibly.
Yes, it is. Because there's been no update since. It was kind of the definitive work. I was very pleased at that. So that was in applied research. In a sense wanting to protect the rest of the group so they could do good basic research, I would often, as the administrator, get involved in various committees. One of the committees was an advisory committee to the U.S. Army Natick Laboratory in food processing. The Natick Laboratory, because of the remarks you earlier made, were interested in finding a technique for preserving meats and vegetables, to prevent the sprouting of eyes on potatoes and onions and garlic, and to preserve steak in a plastic container for six months. This would allow a soldier to carry this plastic container with the steak in it in his knapsack and be able then to make a fire and cook a good meal. That was really very much of a goal for the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, and I was involved in that advisory committee. I was involved with them for a number of years. The Natick Laboratory was the focus in the United States for the Army in that kind of a search. They had a Linac, and they may have gotten a cobalt source as well; I think they did.
Where was the laboratory?
In Massachusetts. In fact, in Natick, Massachusetts. Now, because of my involvement in these advisory committees, I co-authored with Harold Wyckoff "Cavity Ionization Chambers for Radiation Measurements and Food Processing." The date of that was October 4, 1957.
He was in your group?
No. He was the man that headed the low energy x-ray section, within the Radiation Physics Division; he and Taylor had the greatest commonality of interests. And Joe Motz was in Harold Wyckoff's section. Then I co-authored with Elmer Eisenhower, who was my administrative assistant in the Radiation Physics Division when I was the head of the division, this paper on electron accelerators for food processing.
Yes, that's 1965, so that's — seven years later.
Yes. In 1965 I also produced a paper on the radioactivity criteria for radiation processing of foods.
It says 1967 on the list here. That's my mistake; that was before I looked at the list.
Yes, I think it's 1967. And those three articles, plus an article in Science Magazine, which came out just after I joined AIP, that was of a more general nature; but that deals with radiation processing of foods as well. So those four papers, plus the Bremsstrahlung paper with Motz, are the five papers that I would say people today continue to refer to. In fact, I was at a two day conference in Colorado a few weeks ago. I was introduced to the audience as having written these papers, and as having contributed much to the field. That conference, incidentally, was not on food processing; it was on the irradiation of medical devices, which itself is getting to be a big field.
Well, before we go into the future, so to speak, what was your motivation or the background for joining this committee? Was that something that you wanted to do yourself, or did you become a member by virtue of NBS?
By virtue of the NBS. The Natick Laboratory was looking for advice. They set up an advisory committee. They naturally came to the high energy radiation section of the Bureau, because we had similar equipment to what they had. In fact, we could make some experiments at our laboratory that would assist them directly. The Bureau of Standards being the principal physical science measurement laboratory in the country for establishing standards and measurement techniques, was naturally called upon by the Natick Laboratory.
Were there other laboratories involved in the same kind of developments at the time?
Oh yes, I think so. There were many hospital laboratories — Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, the Sloan-Kettering cancer research institute here in New York City. John Laughlin, who headed and still does the radiation physics group at Sloan-Kettering, was importantly involved in much of this work.
Was this something that mainly physicists were interested in at the time, or was the medical profession, sufficiently up to date also to pursue this kind of thing?
Well, the medical profession more and more hired physicists. The evidence of that was the formation of an AIP Member Society, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, and the publication by AIP of their journal called Medical Physics. These are pretty recent phenomena — since 1965 and 1970. In fact, a man that worked side by side with me at the University of Illinois, Gale Adams, was the first editor of Medical Physics. He helped found the American Association of Physicists in Medicine. Thus, the group that Kerst headed had many ramifications. One of the ramifications that we have talked about earlier in our interview had to do with cancer treatments — treatment of this graduate student who had a tumor. That then led to many such machines going into hospitals. Then they were looking for other applications. Allis Chalmers Company, who built betatrons, and High Voltage Engineering and Applied Radiation Corporation, California, all were companies that were promoting the use of these machines. Sure, each of these groups would more and more branch out and see what the opportunities were for even looking at things like free radical production in food. In the 1950s the Bureau of Standards was very much involved with trying to understand free radical production — and the pulse nature of betatrons and the pulse nature of Linacs particularly, would permit you to irradiate a sample under pulsed conditions. They would then look for short time periods and long time periods after the pulse at certain molecules — amino acids that had been produced in the materials. It was therefore a good relationship that developed between the atomic physicists at the Bureau of Standards and our group working at higher energies. You know that we converted the 100 MEV synchrotron into a synchrotron light source, so there again, the ability of one large laboratory — the Bureau of Standards — to have ties with people in other fields and the utility of that, really demonstrated itself. The Bureau of Standards was and is a great laboratory. It unfortunately has never really found its role in our national governmental structure, but we've talked about that.
Yes, we have. Well, in the mid and late 1950s, that committee was the center of national interest for this activity.
Radiation processing. Yes, I think so.
So looking at the constitution of that committee might give an indication of how broad the interests were, in terms of fields.
How large was it, and where did the members come from?
I don't remember. I was involved in many committees at the time. I remember being involved with a committee that Paul Ebersold had at the Atomic Energy Commission. That had to do with, I believe, industrial applications of radiation primarily — radiation that the Atomic Energy Commission was involved in, spent fuel elements and so on. And since the Second World War was called a physicists' war, there were loads of physicists who had been promoted by the war that then were looking for different ways to branch out and become effective and find their own careers. So nuclear physics certainly came into its heyday in the 1950s, and continues importantly to this day.
It's like biochemists becoming patent lawyers today.
Well, physicists have gone into patent law too.
What about the general debate on this? I just looked in the New York Times Index just for the fun of it yesterday, and there was a debate going on at least since the beginning of 1955. It was discussed at the Geneva Conference in 1955, and you had strong arguments for and against, you know, danger of cancer in this. You were of course mostly involved in the technical part of it, but to what extent did you participate, or were you forced to participate, or were you willing to participate, in that larger debate?
I wasn't really involved. The first concern had to do with the radioactivity productions in foods. That's why we did this one paper on radioactivity production. We demonstrated that it was not until you got above l0 million volts that you had significant radioactivity productions in foods. Now, that has been used as the basis of the Food and Drug Administration ruling that you can use — let's see how it goes — either x-rays or electrons. I'm trying to figure out the logic of it, I believe it's with electrons you can go to slightly higher energy, say 12, 13 million volts. With x-rays, you're limited to 10 million volts. The Food and Drug Administration criteria presently are that you can go up to that, and you can go up to certain dose magnitudes. The dose magnitudes are maybe 200 kilorad, and as long as you stay below those limits — 10 million volts and 200 kilorad, you then are permitted to process foods. Fruits and vegetables particularly are prevented from spoiling by radiation of those magnitudes. It's a useful product. Whereas with sterilizing meats, higher dose magnitudes are required, and the FDA is not yet permitting that. So the first problem was radioactivity. Once you had accepted and in fact bypassed the Delaney Amendment, which would permit no radioactivity production at all. Once that has been overcome, which apparently now has happened, you can now treat fruits and vegetables and feed them to people. Those experiments are going on now. But because of all the resistance to reactors — and the processing by radiation of foods has been done with gamma rays that come from spent fuel elements — the people that are against reactors are fighting the radiation processing of foods. [End of Passage "E"] Incidentally, that [Astin not complying with directive from Department of Commerce] reminds me of another thing. I have at home I believe a history of the Bureau of Standards that was written just before I left, I guess, and it was a history that resulted from interviews by the professional writer of various organization unit heads. Lauriston Taylor was still the head of the Radiation Physics Division then, and there's very little mention of the betatron laboratory. And that was the problem that I had, you see. I believe that he and Wyckoff, his assistant, were upset at this upstart Koch that had come and developed this nice laboratory, so you won't see much mention in there of it — I don't know if it's even mentioned.
Is that published?
Yes. I have it at home. I can show it to you. In fact, now that I've mentioned this, I will have to look and see if we are mentioned at all. But I think I recall that. And it's too bad that people have such a pet peeve like that. I mean, of course, when I was named to take Taylor's place, when he had groomed Wyckoff for that, that upset him considerably. I also had the privilege when I was there of having one of the two "PL-313" appointments. Alan Astin with Huntoon's support had given me that appointment. "PL" stands for Public Law, and it was a Public Law that had been passed that made it possible for the director of the Bureau of Standards to appoint certain scientists to certain jobs and give them pay that was out of the Civil Service grade system. When I was appointed there were two of us that were appointed. I was very pleased at that. Well, that appointment was given me before Taylor retired, and I think he was upset by that too.
Your promotion in 1962, and also the building of the new laboratory and your involvement in that, and the implications of that — I would like to talk a little more about that too. That's a rather large topic, of course. I don't know if we could come back to that and then go on to the AIP.
Sure. Let's do that. I think that would be an easy transition. This booklet is a booklet that I and another man who was in the public relations group at the Bureau of Standards put together. I remember that I was identified on the front page as being the head of the division and the laboratory. Before this was printed in proof form — because I knew I was leaving to come here — I removed my name from there in order that this would not be dated.
But you're mentioned in the back there.
Yes, my name is listed in the back. That was fine. But I didn't want to have me identified as being head. We had fun, you know, with this symbol. This was our logo. We were very proud of what was a very nice laboratory.
And it's still going strong.